One of the worst parts about the whole damned affair (not the worst, just one of a fairly long list) was that he had been feinted completely out of position by that ape Warrington. Warrington had been bringing the quaffle up the field and Ron was certain he had read the older player's approach perfectly. It was going to be a simple underhand cast from an overpass of the goal. It was a simple, basic play that Warrington liked because he was so large. Blocking it required a very physical effort on the part of the keeper.

Later, Harry told him that it wasn't that Warrington had faked him out but that it was clear that Ron had read the approach and was moving properly into position. Warrington had to improvise and was just lucky it went as well as it did. Ron was unsure if he believed it, but even so it was good of Harry to say it.

In either case, what had looked like an underhand cast from an overpass of the center goal suddenly became a cross-chest cast at the left goal and Ron was completely out of position. His effort was impressive, even he had to admit. He dove sharply and twisted, reaching for the block with both arms. His entire attention was on reaching for the quaffle and he didn't see the bludger coming at him. It took him in the shoulder and the side of the face, but that wasn't the worst of it, not even nearly. His dive became an out of control spin, with his arms still awkwardly out. They made contact with the goal as he whirled past, both hitting between the elbow and wrist. He barely missed hitting his head.

The pain of the fall and the blow to his face were nothing compared to the two broken arms, but even that wasn't the worst part of the whole damned situation. That came later.

Ron had obviously passed out when he hit the ground. He was certain of that because he clearly remembered the fall and the shock of his impact. When he had finally awakened, he at first sighed with relief because he found things just as he expected them to be. On one side of the bed sat Harry, still in his Quidditch robes, dirty and sweaty. On the other was Hermione, looking windblown and upset. "Did we win?" he asked quietly.

"'Course we did," Harry said, smiling. "The snitch was caught. You do remember who I am, don't you?"

Ron chuckled weakly, "I seem to recall you. You're the ugly fellow I share a room with, aren't you?"

Ron glanced over at Hermione, not wanting to miss her eyes rolling. He was not disappointed. "I'm off to shower," Harry said, standing. "I believe I've befouled this place of healing long enough." He stopped after a few steps and looked back over his shoulder. "By the way, Ron, you blocked the shot. It wasn't entirely your doing, but the bludger sort of knocked you into it. Good show."

"I wonder," Hermione said acerbically, "if you've even noticed that your arms are both in casts."

"No, Hermione," he said, matching her tone, "I'd missed that completely."

"I mean since you were working so hard at being funny and all," she went on.

Ron stared at her, confused for a moment. "Are you mad at me?" he asked.

Hermione sighed and leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms. "No," she said, still sounding petulant. She shook her head slightly as if to clear it and smiled a little. "Are you terribly uncomfortable?"

"Not bad," he said. "It's not great and I bet it's going to get worse, but I'll live." Hermione nodded, still with the little wrinkle around her eyes that showed she was thinking about something and not understanding. "What is it?" he asked, beginning to feel exasperated.

"Was it worth it?" she blurted out suddenly.

Ron was honestly confused. "Was what worth it?" he asked.

Hermione sighed and hesitated, but finally spoke. "About a minute after you got hurt, Harry got the snitch and we won by 130 points. Was it worth it to get hurt for ten points that ended up not meaning anything anyway?"

"Of course it was," he simply replied.

"But why?"

Ron was at a lost. Putting in your very best for your team was as unalterable a truth as gravity or time. It simply was and there was no explaining it. He had tried before on several occasions to make this clear to her, but she simply couldn't. Still, he felt it his duty to try. "Why is the sky blue?" he asked her.

"Because of the thickness of the atmosphere and the refraction of the light hitting it," she replied archly.

Ron shook his head in something very like pity. "That was a rhetorical question," he said. "The sky is blue because it's bloody well blue! There is no reason! It just is!"

"And that relates to Quidditch in that, like the color of the sky or something, that silly game is some great philosophical truth that has to just be accepted," Hermione said in scornful disbelief.

Ron nodded agreement. "Now you get it."

Hermione covered her eyes with one hand, shaking her head and muttering something he couldn't understand. He couldn't help chuckling. After a moment she looked up at him. "Well, I'm not going to argue with you while you're injured. It wouldn't be very fair, would it?"

"And why is that?"

"Because you wave your arms around when you yell and you can't do that right now," Hermione smiled as she spoke.

Ron just nodded in reply. He was beginning to feel tired. He yawned and settled into his bed. "I hate sleeping on my back," he said.

"I can't imagine how loud the snoring will be in here." Hermione stood "I guess I had best leave you to it." She stepped next to the bed and leaned over him, giving him a quick hug and kiss on the cheek.

That's when the very worst thing happened. As Hermione leaned over him, her hair fell around him, in his face and around his shoulders and chest, all soft and warm and smelling so good. The rough material of her sweater rubbed against the bare skin where his shirt had been cut away and he could feel the swell of her breasts pressed for a moment against him. He wanted more then anything to grab her and hold on, even for just a moment, but he couldn't. She pulled away and smiled at him; softly saying "I'll bring you up your breakfast in the morning."

What made it worse was that Hermione was dressed very normally and that it took about ten seconds. In the time it took for her to lean in, hug him, and stand up, Ron had become completely erect. It was quite obvious even through the covers. He blushed a very bright red.

Normally in these kinds of circumstances, he would move, or get up, or something so the situation wasn't obvious. He was just then unable to do any of those, so he could only lay very still and hope she didn't notice. When she did, it was the very worst, most embarrassing thing he had ever experienced.

Hermione stood and as she turned to leave she was saying, "Well, you try to rest some and I'll...eeep!" She made an almost silenced little explanation and quickly turned to look him in the face. She was blushing furiously and stuttering, "Yes... well... you, you know, get some sleep, and I'll see you in the..." The entire time she was trying to speak her hands were fluttering nervously. She gave up on trying to speak and hastily muttered, "Bye" as she ran out of the room.

The night had not been an easy one for Ron. While he was only going to have to wear the casts until about four the following the afternoon, they were terribly annoying. The potion he had to take to mend his arms caused them to throb and as he had told Hermione, he hated sleeping on his back.

This was on top of his humiliation. Every time he thought about what Hermione had seen, he blushed again.

Even more to his annoyance, there were even further difficulties in that department. Being unable to use his hands had prevented the obvious solution and resulted in frequent reoccurrences.

He had thought that Hermione would surely not come with his breakfast. She would send Harry and pass on some excuse that Ron fully intended to accept at face value. He could hear himself now, "Oh? Hermione is busy having tango lessons with Snape? Very good then." Her adamant attitude in regards to her given word was, unfortunately, as strong as ever. At about 8:00 AM, she and Madam Pomfrey almost ran into each other as the latter left and the former arrived, napkin covered plate in hand. They exchanged pleasantries as they passed.

"Good morning, Ron," Hermione said in a bright, cheerful tone. "Are you feeling any better?"

Ron saw her approach immediately and was glad to meet her halfway. It never happened. "Some better. It aches a bit."

"Maybe you'll be more careful next time," she said as she pulled a chair beside his bed.

"Maybe," he allowed with a smile. "Your concern for my well being touches me deeply."

"I have to be concerned. You're helpless without me." She took the napkin off the plate and sort of held it out to him with an expectant look.

Ron looked back, perplexed, "Exactly what do you expect me to do?" he asked. For a second her eyes got big, but then she laughed. "How stupid of me. You really can't eat, can you?"

"Not really," Ron said.

"Then I suppose you'll just have to wait until supper," she said thoughtfully, putting the plate aside on the nightstand, "it's not that long."

"Hermione!" he moaned, following the plate with his eyes.

"It's not my fault you can't feed yourself," she replied snippily.

"Well it isn't mine either," he responded.

"Who felt it made sense, in fact that it was a moral imperative, to risk injury to swat at a ball?"

"Me and every other real, red blooded male in the world!"

"Then get some red blooded male to come spoon feed you!" she said, smiling sweetly, "because I certainly won't be doing it!"

"Are you making fun of me?"

"Well, obviously," she said. "As if I would forget you couldn't use your arms when I promised to bring you breakfast." She picked up the plate and took fork in hand. "Open wide, ickle Ronniekins," she said in a cooing baby voice as she offered him some eggs.

"If you're going to be like that," Ron said, after, of course, taking the bite, "I will go hungry."

"You're taking all the fun out of this for me you know," she said.

"Yeah," Ron said, "and I'm all broken up about it."

She grinned at him as she picked up a half piece of toast for him. Before she thought, she picked it up with her fingers, as she would if she were eating it herself. After he took a bite, she suddenly said, "Oh! I'm sorry. I guess you won't want the rest of that."

"What do you mean?" he asked after hastily swallowing.

"I picked it up."

"So?"

"I touched your food," she said, "I wouldn't want to eat something if you were pawing at it."

"And I wouldn't blame you," he said. "I wouldn't eat after myself if I didn't have to. You're cleaner then I am, give it here," he said.

She offered him the toast again. He took what remained of it in one bite, surprising her. They were both surprised further by the fact that his lips closed on her fingertip for a bare second as she pulled away. It was entirely inadvertent, but he kissed her fingertip. What happened next was not inadvertent. It was entirely advertant.

Hermione froze in shock as she felt the contact. Ron glanced down; perhaps to verify that what he thought happened had in fact happened. As he did, he saw a speck of jelly on her fingertip. Before he thought, before she could move, he deftly licked it clean.

Ron's eye became slightly larger. He honestly didn't know what had motivated him to do that. It had just seemed like the thing to do at the time. Hermione's first response was mild revulsion. Ron had licked her! The thought of the feeling of the brief contact ran quickly through her mind and a sudden feeling rushed through her chest and stomach, down to somewhere deep inside. She swallowed and hoped he wouldn't mention it. In the spirit of just moving on, she picked up the fork and offered him more eggs, which he took in silence.

After a few silent minutes, Ron cleared his throat, "Where's Harry this morning?"

"Sleeping in," Hermione replied shortly, also having to clear her throat to speak.

"Ah, good for him."

"Yes," she agreed, "very good."

After the desultory attempt at conversation, they remained silent for the short time it took for him to finish eating. As she gave him the last bit of bacon, fingers held well clear, she saw that he had some crumbs and a small bit of jelly on his face. At first she resolutely ignored them, but when she stood and started to say goodbye, they seemed to just leap out at her and it bothered her. She took the napkin and wiped his face for him. She didn't acknowledge, especially to herself, the fact that she took perhaps more time then was strictly needed. Ron would never admit that he turned his cheek slightly into her hand and even if he did admit to that, he certainly wasn't doing it because he wanted to feel her touch.

It had an effect on him, again. With her closeness and the contact Ron could no more have controlled his reaction then turned back the tide. Somehow, he didn't care at the moment that it was as obvious as it had been the night before.

"I should go," Hermione said, "and let you rest."

"I'm not tired," he said.

"What if I am?" she asked, a hint of a smile at the corner of her mouth.

"You can rest here," he said quickly.

"Being with you isn't restful."

"But it's fun," he replied.

"Yes," she said, her voice oddly chocked.

"We could play cards," he suggested.

"I don't want to play cards," she said.

"We could play chess."

"I don't want to play chess."

"Do you want to leave?" he asked.

"No," her voice was gaining strength.

"What do you want to do?"

"I don't know."

"It's too bad," he said with a chuckle, "I can't write or we could do homework."

"All this time wasted," she said pointedly, "over a silly game and meaningless risk taking."

"I think after all this time, Hermione my dear, we're just going to have to live with the fact that you simply can never understand the vital importance of Quidditch."

"I don't suppose I will," she said, beginning to sound upset, "when there are so many other ways to get hurt that we don't have a choice about!"

"Don't get mad, Hermione," he said, and after a pause quietly added, "this has been... nice."

For a long moment, Hermione was quiet, the sudden flare of anger fading as quickly as it came. "Nice?" she asked, surprised.

Ron looked away, out the window. "Yeah."

Hermione matched him by also looking away. She turned her head and looked towards the door, part of her hoping Madam Pomfrey would come back or that Harry had awoken and would come walking in. Neither happened, but she did see that Ron had an erection again. It was kind of funny, but the books appeared to be right about boys his age. It also seemed humorous to her that even in her own mind, she used the word "erection". In a quick recitation, she went through all the crude words for it she had ever heard. She turned back and saw Ron looking at her, his face flushed and looking mortified. "Hermione, I..." he began.

She took a deep breath, not having realized she was holding her breath and said, "It's okay. Don't be embarrassed."

"I'm not if you aren't," he replied.

"I'm not. Maybe a little," she said, "I mean, it's normal, isn't it? At your age..." Her voice trailed off. After a brief pause, she asked almost in a whisper, "Why is it?"

He looked at her, confused. "You really don't know?"

"Of course I don't."

"You."

Her breath caught. "Me?"

"Yeah," he said, looking down again. "I hope it won't make you mad or think I'm sick or something."

"Hormones," she murmured. "Any girl..."

"That happens too," he said, "but not the same way. It's... different." He felt foolish at his loss for words.

"But I'm not very pretty," she said.

"Are you fishing for compliments or do you want the truth?" he asked in a tone that surprised her with its calm maturity.

"The truth," she said almost fiercely, "Always the truth."

"Then no, you aren't like Lavender or Pavarti or all those types," he said, "but you look just right to me."

"Really?"

"I think you're pretty," he said. "Anyone who says you aren't, including you, has me to answer too."

"You're just saying that. It's very sweet of you, but I know..."

"Everyone spends so much time telling you how smart you are," he interrupted, "and you believe them when they say that. Why don't you believe me when I say this?" She shrugged. "I have proof," he said after a moment.

"What's that?" she asked. He glanced theatrically down towards the foot of the bed and her eyes automatically followed. "Oh," she said, smiling in spite of herself and shaking her head.

"Believe me now?" he asked, clearly amused.

Hermione cocked her head at him and said quietly, "I believe you think I'm pretty. I also believe you're really very thick."

"Hermione!" he said laughing.

"You're daft," she said, her voice not changing.

"I'm not," he countered. For some reason, he didn't care what she was saying, just how she said it, all soft and sweet, and how her eyes seemed so wide and locked with his.

"Blind..." she trailed off and was surprised to find her hand had moved, apparently of its own accord since she didn't recall making any decision in the matter, to run her fingers through his hair, "foolish boy."

Ron wanted more then anything to reach out and touch her; her hair like she was touching his, her face, her hand, anything. The restriction of the cast was a torture. He could only watch her as she smiled down at him. "Pretty girl," he replied.

Hermione closed her eyes and took a deep breath, "Ron..." she said, but stopped, not knowing what she wanted to say.

"My pretty girl," he murmured.

It was too much. Suddenly, it was all just too much for her, there were too many things she didn't understand and Hermione couldn't stand it for another second. The possessiveness of his words, the possessiveness he had always had for her, her own arousal and the obviousness of his, and many other things were coming together and it was simply too much. She stood up. "I have to go!" she said urgently, even as she was backing away.

"Hermione, what?" Ron said, looking confused and hurt, "Did I..."

"No," she cut him off, "no, I just can't. I have to go now." She turned and was all but fleeing the room.

She had made it to the door and was reaching for the handle when his voice cut the air, surprising her with its force. "Hermione!" She stopped, almost against her will, but she didn't look back. "I'm sorry if I've offended you or if..." he paused for the barest second, "or if I've gone too far."

Hermione didn't turn. "No, you didn't. I'm not angry, I just have to go now."

"I'll see you later, then." She left without saying another word.

The door slammed behind her. Ron shook his head, wondering what her reaction meant and, as much as she was, trying to understand what had just gone on. He glared down towards the foot of the bed and muttered accusingly, "This is all your damned fault, you know."

It was nearly an hour later when Harry, still yawning, had finally shown up. He walked in without speaking and sat in the chair next to the bed. They were both waiting for the other to start. Harry raised an eyebrow at Ron, who responded by raising both of his. "Well, then," Harry said.

"Yes," Ron said, "Have a nice lie in?"

"Very nice," Harry said. There was another pause. "Feeling better, are we?" Harry finally said.

"Quite well," Ron said blandly. "I get this wretched thing off this afternoon," he said, indicating the cast.

"Good," Harry said, nodding sagely.

"Yes," Ron agreed.

Another pause. "So, you've had your breakfast then?" Harry asked.

Ron looked out the window. "Yes, quite good. Lovely weather I'm missing outside."

Harry glanced out the window and nodded vague agreement. "I imagine it wasn't easy."

"What wasn't easy?"

"Eating breakfast," Harry replied, gesturing at his restrained arms. "How did you do it? Just ram your face in the plate and suck it down?"

Ron gave him a warning glance. Harry returned an overtly innocent smile. With a resigned sigh, he said, "Hermione fed me."

"Nice of her," Harry said, the grin starting. "She was a little... well..." the grin was threatening to become a smirk, "flustered when I saw her. Barely said good morning as she ran past up to her room."

"Did she seem upset?" Ron asked quickly.

"Not at all," Harry answered promptly, "just sort of distracted."

"Okay," Ron said, visibly relaxing. Harry kept grinning at him. Tiring of dragging it out, he said, "Oh, hell, Harry. Just say it."

Harry's smirk came on full force and his voice held barely contained laughter, "You got wood, didn't you?" Ron didn't answer and Harry started laughing.

"Stuff it, Potter," Ron growled. "It was embarrassing."

"Not just for you, I guess," Harry said. "She caught you?"

"Bloody damned cast," Ron muttered. "Can't roll over or get up or anything."

"You didn't think of, I don't know, sort of raising one leg?" Harry said, laughter again disrupting the flow of his speech.

"I was having a hard time thinking at all," Ron said, "I was just sort of hoping she wouldn't notice."

"I knew something had happened to embarrass her," Harry said, regaining control. "Given your respective positions, it was easy to guess."

"At least she said she wasn't angry," Ron said.

"She likely just felt sorry for you, poor little fellow," Harry's smirk was back.

"This cast isn't permanent Potter."

"I'm shaking in my boots," Harry shot back. "You could never catch me."

Ron grinned at him, and was glad of growing up with several older brothers. "You have to go to sleep some time."

"That's a bit scary," Harry said. "What are you going to do for lunch?" he asked.

"Not sure," Ron said.

"I'm certainly not going to feed you. People will talk."

As it turned out, it would have been unnecessary in any case. Madam Pomfrey did the job and he had no problems of any kind with that.

It was late afternoon when he reluctantly returned to the common room. It was somewhat to his surprise that when he did clamber through the opening, she grinned and waved as if everything were completely normal. Ron was glad of that. Harry also greeted him normally, just the hint of a devilish smile floating around his lips. "Are you feeling better?" she asked.

"Perfect," Ron said. He gestured up in the general direction of the infirmary. "That woman really knows her stuff."

"Good thing, too," Harry said. "We give her enough work."

Ron chuckled, "True. If it weren't for the three of us, they'd have to put her on half pay."

Hermione giggled, which was a little odd for her, "The quality of care would suffer."

"That's it then," Harry said, "We have no choice but to keep getting improbable injuries. It's for the good of the school."

"Well, it's someone else's turn next," Ron said.

"Yeah," Harry cut in quickly, "you did just get a bone..." he spoke very quickly and sort of half coughed. He cleared his throat, "Break some bones, I mean."

Ron glared at him and Hermione looked away and blushed. "Might want to be careful," he said, "that cough may be a sign that you're going to be in some pain."

Hermione's head came up as Ron spoke. It struck her strongly that he was being protective of her, as he had so many times in the past. He didn't want her to be embarrassed. What also struck her was that he was trying to protect her from Harry, even if it were in only the least significant way. She carefully considered this new thing. All day she had thought about the things Ron had said and done in the infirmary. Parts she replayed over and over in her mind. Other parts came unbidden into her mind and wouldn't leave. She was no fool, by any measure, and she knew what was happening. Ron was clearly attracted to her. Thinking of the words "my pretty girl" almost made her shiver. The idea of she and Ron was easy for her to contemplate. It seemed, at this point, that it was just a matter of time.

On the other hand what of Harry? What the three of them had was special. For a long time now there had been "us" and "them". It was they three and the rest of the world. Could that survive a pairing off? He was so lonely and even now, when his mood was good and he could laugh, Harry was always a bare inch from falling into morose unhappiness.

She knew that only Ron and she really helped. He was the best mate, the staunch supporter and valiant companion. It was with some resentment she recalled when it appeared there was only transport for two to London that Harry assumed it would be Ron who would go.

She was mother and sister rolled up in one, a role she shared to a certain extent with Molly Weasly. She comforted Harry and worried about him. She nagged him when he needed it and did her best to take care of him.

Harry needed them both and deserved the pains they took for him. Could the two of them have any sort of closeness that didn't involve him? It seemed that Harry had always been first for both Ron and she. Could the rare closeness they all shared survive the wrenching change of that fundamental fact?

But, if that's what she and Ron wanted, didn't they deserve to be happy? Wouldn't Harry want that for them and be upset if he thought he was somehow preventing it?

Why did wanting to have something with Ron make her feel selfish?

A sudden, gentle shove on the arm brought her out of her reverie. "Hey," Ron said, "you really zoned out."

"Oh! I'm sorry," she said. "I just sort of got distracted thinking."

"That's our girl," Harry said fondly.

The words "our girl" resonated strongly with her just then.

Hermione was not alone in some of the conclusions she had come to. Ron was not stupid, and he had seen the way she was looking at him in the infirmary. Even to him, with his allegedly teaspoon-like emotional development, could not have remained oblivious through that. His thoughts, unlike hers, were more concerned with ways and means just then. Should he simply act as if they were together, sort of assume it to be true and expect it to be so? Somehow he felt that wasn't the way to go.

The standard Hogwarts thing to do was to ask to go to Hogsmeade together. That seemed a little inane to him. After so many years of being so close, the idea of he and Hermione going to the village and walking around all moon eyed and nervous was just silly. Not that the idea of doing that didn't in some ways appeal to him. It just seemed that they were somehow beyond it.

Perhaps he should just sit down with her and tell her? It would certainly appeal to her practical side, but he wanted to appeal to her romantic side, if he could find it. He smiled to himself, looking over at her. He had found it earlier. At one point she was downright flirting with him. That was it. Honesty always worked best with her.

Hermione was staring at nothing, he saw, so he put his hand on her arm and gently shook her. She said she had gotten distracted thinking and Harry had said, "That's our girl". He was curious why she frowned just a bit at his words.

Ron waited that night. He managed to slip Hermione a note that simply said, "Stay up with me". She had made quick eye contact with him when she read it, as if expecting trouble of some kind so he tried to give her a reassuring grin. Apparently his intent was clear, because she lowered her head for a second and let her hair hide her face, a very feminine gesture he had never seen her use before. He found it adorable.

The hour had grown quite late by the time Harry stood and said, "I'm off to bed. See you later." They both said goodnight to him and it all looked just as normal as could be.

Once Harry was gone, Hermione turned and said directly, "You wanted something?"

"I just wanted to talk a bit," Ron said, moving out of his armchair and next ton her on the couch. They weren't yet alone, so they kept their voices low and were forced to sit close.

"Without Harry?" she asked and he could hear the slight upset in her tone.

"Does that bother you?" he asked.

"Well, yes, sort of, it does," she said hesitantly. "I know why you wanted me to stay, Ron."

"Why did I?" he asked.

She gave him a withering glance, which he smiled through. "I was there too, remember? I know you..." she trailed off, uncharacteristically at a loss for words.

"Think you're pretty?" he ventured.

In spite of herself, she smiled. "Yes, that. And you said..."

"My pretty girl," he interrupted, his voice soft and even a little wistful. "I said you were my pretty girl."

She felt hot all over and she was sure her face was flushed. "You said that."

"Are you?" he asked.

"Yours?"

"Yes."

Hermione sighed. "I don't know."

Ron's heart dropped out of him. His throat tightened and for just a moment he thought he couldn't breath. "You can say 'no', Hermione. I'll still be your friend."

"I don't want to say no," she whispered.

"But you aren't saying yes," he replied. She looked forlorn and upset, so much so that he couldn't resist awkwardly reaching for her.

She took his hand gratefully. With a deep breath she said, "Yes, Ron. I want to see what this thing with us really is. I want it very much. I have very strong feelings for you."

The smile that broke on Ron's face was so beatific she couldn't help but return it. He was also amused at her choice of words. "I have very strong feelings for you, too, Ms. Granger."

Hermione's smile faded quickly, "But there's Harry."

"What's he got to do with this?" Ron asked. "Do you..."

"No!" Hermione interrupted. "It's just that he needs us. He needs us so much and it's as if our whole relationship is built around what Harry wants and what we can do for him. I know, and you do too, that he's going to be important in the war. What if this makes things harder on him?"

Ron nodded slowly. "I see what you mean."

Hermione released his hand and made an abortive gesture of confusion. "So, I don't know what to do."

"Harry's our friend and we'll always do our best for him, but we count too. He would want us to be happy."

"He'll feel excluded," Hermione almost whined.

"Sometimes," Rom admitted.

"It's terrible to feel like that," she went on. Ron looked at her curiously. "You two are my only friends and you're both boys. I feel like that sometimes."

"We never did it on purpose," Ron said defensively.

"I know that," she said, "but it still happened and it wasn't any fun."

They were silent for a moment. "Let's try something new," Ron said suddenly, his voice becoming more normal as he realized they were now alone. He didn't remember when the remaining people in the common room had left.

"What?" Hermione asked, a little suspiciously.

"Let's not think about Harry. Let's think about ourselves."

"Selfish," Hermione said.

"Maybe so," he said, "but let's try it anyway."

Hermione smiled wanly. "It would be fun to have a boyfriend, I think."

"Would it help that he was over the moon for you?"

Hermione's cheeks took on a little color. "Yeah."

"My parents would be ecstatic," he said, "Especially my mum. I swear she would..." he trailed off.

Hermione nudged his shoulder with hers, "What would she do? She thought I was a scarlet woman who threw over her darling Harry in fourth year."

Ron chuckled. "How long have you been holding that one in?"

"Since fourth year. What would she do?"

"Well," Ron said hesitantly, "she gets overexcited about things. Outside she would yell at me a lot to make sure I was being a gentleman and that sort of thing. Inside, I think she would be planning weddings and picking baby names. She really likes you, you know."

Hermione giggled. "That would be a little premature, don't you think?"

"A little," Ron admitted. "I think it would be fun to have a girlfriend," he added after a pause.

"Would it help that she was over the moon for you?"

"Yeah." They were sitting very close on the couch. Ron was sitting slightly turned to face her and Hermione had one leg folded under her, her knee against his hip, sitting almost sideways. He smiled for a long moment, regarding her face closely. "I was thinking earlier about asking you to go to the village with me," he said.

Hermione said, "That would be good."

"But I don't know if that's, well, appropriate."

She raised an eyebrow and asked, "What could you possibly do in the village that would be inappropriate?"

"I just don't think it fits us," he replied slowly.

Her throat felt suddenly full. "Why doesn't it fit us?"

"I see all those couples there on the weekends and they're all holding hands and being silly."

"You don't want to be seen in public with me?" she asked in a teasing voice, knowing it wasn't true.

"Sure, I've been fighting the shame of it for all these years and I've just now given up. No, it's like they're trying too hard, those couples I mean. As if they're trying to see if they can get along, or if they really like each other. I think we already know those things."

"Wow" Hermione whispered.

"What?"

She cleared her throat softly. "I guess I'm surprised is all. I thought you would say those people were being stupid and romantic and stuff. That was really nice." She suddenly looked at him oddly, her head cocking to one side. "You're sweet talking me!"

Ron laughed out loud. "Not on purpose. I'm just telling you what I was thinking. Besides, you were the one being a little flirt, hinting that you want me to try something inappropriate in Hogsmeade."

"I wasn't hinting," she said in a haughty tone. "I was clarifying."

"All right," Ron said, nodding.

"You'd better not be agreeing with me just to be agreeing with me."

"What?"

Hermione shoved his arm, "I mean if you're going to agree with me, it better be because you know I am, as always, right and not because you want me to be agreeable."

"Mental," Ron said, shaking his head. "My girlfriend is mental."

Hermione made a chocking sound, and turned more fully towards him, sitting on her knees. "I am not mental," she said, "and I haven't said if I'm your girlfriend yet!" It was a struggle not to smile, but she felt no inclination to laugh. Her voice was low and she tried to make it sound angry, but was sure she was failing.

Ron turned further and found that she was face-to-face with him. "Then decide," he said. "You know what I want."

Hermione closed her eyes and wondered why she had so many reservations before. If Harry were unhappy about them, then he wasn't worth their regard. She knew he wouldn't be upset, or not for long if he were. As Ron said, they deserved to be happy. Leaning forward, half unconscious of the movement, she rested her forehead against his and with one hand she reached up and touched his cheek. Her heart fluttered and she again felt hot all over. She stay still a moment and then looked him directly in the eyes. "I am not mental," she whispered.

Ron was almost afraid to move. Slowly, he matched her, one hand going to her face. When she made her declaration, they both shook with mild laughter. "Are too," he said.

"Am not," Hermione rejoined.

"Are to. What about the other?"

"Am not," she said and took a deep breath. "Yes."

Ron felt so very calm, which surprised him in some distant way. "Good." He kissed her quickly, a light contact of the lips. They kissed that way again, and a third time, before deepening the next. The next several minutes were very busy, a bit wet, and wonderful.

They broke away for a moment, as much to breath as for any reason. She settled her head on his shoulder and put her arm around his chest. He reached around her shoulder and pulled her as close as possible. They sat silent for a time, till Hermione started giggling. More then a little consternated, Ron asked, "What is it?"

"For goodness sake, Ron," she said, gesturing toward his waist, "can't you control that thing?"