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All JKR's. This slots in with Carpe Diem Chapter 6, for those who needed to know more!

An Aside

Ron Weasley sat in the stuffy History of Magic classroom fighting to keep his eyes open. Professor Binns was droning wearily on about some Scandinavian thing that controlled people's destinies, and the monotony of his voice, combined with the warmth of the room was absolutely fatal. He propped his chin on his hand and glanced over to where Harry was sitting, looking to all intents and purposes as if he had been hit with the stupefy jinx they had learnt for the final task of the Triwizard Tournament last year. Hermione was a couple of seats away from him, scribbling away on bits of parchment, and he marvelled at her concentration. How did she do it?

He wondered fleetingly what was bothering her. She hadn't looked or sounded like herself much lately, but then there had been a lot going on, he reasoned. Harry collapsing so suddenly on the way back from Hogsmeade had been quite a terrifying experience. They'd both seen Harry with scar pains before, but never as severe as that one had been, and Hermione had looked absolutely petrified when he'd left her with Harry to run up to the castle for help. Voldemort was biding his time, and it looked suspiciously as if this time it was going to be worse than ever. No wonder Hermione was looking so tired and pale.

He probably hadn't been helping her mood much, he mused as Professor Binns turned a page in his copy of their text book and continued his lecture. He seemed to do nothing but fight with her these days. He saw her pause in the middle of feverishly scribbling something down to push her hair out of her eyes. More memories came drifting across his mind, this time making him smile to himself. The feeling of her curled up, fast asleep with her head against his shoulder in the hospital wing two days ago. That warm, secure sensation he had felt when he held her tightly in his arms, her wayward hair tickling his chin. Ron could feel himself turning red, and immediately shifted his thoughts to Quidditch and the coming match with Ravenclaw on Saturday.

At the end of the lesson, as they were packing their things away he muttered to Harry,

"What's up with her?" and nodded across to where Hermione was sorting out her enormous pile of books. Harry didn't seem to know either but they both hurried out to catch up with her in the hallway.

"Hermione?" Ron said tentatively.

"What?" she snapped, whirling round to face him. Instead of the argument he was expecting he was alarmed to see her eyes filling with tears "Just leave me alone Ron. Please? I can't take much more of this." She turned and fled up the corridor, books hugged tightly to her chest and headed up a staircase to the third floor.

"Go after her," Harry urged him, seeming to know more about what was going on than he did. Ron ran his hands through his hair in bewilderment. What was going on? Why was she so upset? Then suddenly he realised what it must be. He knew he had to sort this out with her, one way or another. Grabbing his bag up off the floor, he swung it over his shoulder and sprinted after her, determined to put things right.

Up the staircase, onto the third floor, and he could see her ahead of him, running down the corridor, black robes flying out behind her. He was gaining on her, as she unexpectedly ducked around a suit of armour, through an archway and up a narrow stone spiral staircase, which only led to the owlery. Ron paused at the foot of the stairs, thinking quickly. This mattered more than he had wanted to admit to himself, but he wasn't going to lose her now, especially not after the Viktor Krum episode. He slowly climbed the twisting stairs until he reached the heavy oak door to the owlery. This was it. Taking a steadying breath, he pushed the door open and hastened through to find her.

Soft hooting noises came from the rafters of the room as owls of all breeds, shapes and sizes huddled together sleepily. His own Pigwigeon was up there somewhere, and Ron hoped fervently that the tiny owl hadn't spotted him, as the last thing he needed was an over-excited bird fluttering around his ears. Moving quietly round the edge of the circular room he soon found Hermione, sitting on a window ledge with her head buried in her hands. His heart gave a sudden jolt, and he realised he was shaking.

"She's worth it," he reminded himself silently. "You've been a fool not to do this long before now."

"I'm sorry," he whispered, so as not to scare her. She looked up at him, her face streaked with tears, and eyes searching his face, desperate to believe him. "I've been such a git to you, haven't I?" Instinctively he reached out, and pulled her to him, holding her tightly. Her arms crept around his shoulders, and he felt her burying her head there, breathing unsteadily. "I am so sorry," he repeated, his words muffled by her hair.

"It's fine," she replied weakly, without lifting her head. "You didn't ask me to be feeling like this. It's not your fault."

"It is, you know," he insisted, lifting her gaze towards his own. "I should have been honest with you from the start."

"Ron, you've never been anything but honest," she snuffled, burrowing her head back into his Weasley sweater. "I know you just like me as a friend, and that's fine, really it is."

"And what makes you think that?" he asked softly. "Maybe I don't want you just as a friend."

"Ron?" a flicker of a smile played about her lips. "Did you really just say what I thought you did?"

"Yeah," he confessed, blushing madly. "You know, recently I've felt like hiding round corners from you, like Ginny used to from Harry. "

"Ginny spotted how we felt about each other months ago," Hermione teased him, beginning to sound a lot more like her normal self. "She's a lot more on the ball about these things than you are."

"Ginny knows?" Ron's expression was one of pure horror, making Hermione laugh out loud. He groaned. "She's never going to let me hear the end of this! And what's Harry going to say? I mean, we're his best friends."

Hermione bit her lip to stop herself from laughing.

"But what about Harry?" Ron repeated after a pause.

"Ron, he knows already," her eyes sparkled at him irresistibly in amusement. "It was just you being painfully stupid about it."

"What? Let's get this straight," Ron spluttered, hiding his own laughter. "You know, Ginny knows, Harry knows… don't tell me; half of Gryffindor know how I feel about you?"

"Do you care?" she asked him curiously, still holding him tightly as if she was afraid to let go. "Anyway, if Harry had worked it out Ginny was bound to. Just look at the time the two of them spend together now. You saw how close they were in the hospital wing yesterday."

"No way!" Ron's voice rang round the room emphatically. "Ginny might have had a crush on him once, but Harry's got more sense."

"But Ron," Hermione persisted.

"Look," Ron interrupted testily. "There is no way I'll let my little sister go out with Harry Potter. If she does get close to him it'll put her in danger with You-Know-Who again, and I'm not having that."

There was silence, and Hermione reached out her hand to smooth his hair, sending tingles down his spine. This time he did not look away.

"So what do we do now?" asked Hermione cautiously, smiling at him. "About us, I mean."

"I know I've been a bit slow on the uptake, Hermione, and I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you, but I've never felt this way for anyone before," he murmured, kissing her on the forehead.

"Well, you got there in the end," she replied softly, making his heart beat erratically.

"I was just so jealous of Krum," Ron continued thoughtfully, reproaching himself.

"Shh! Forget it. It's all over now."

"Hermione?"

"Yes?"

"If you're sure you can put up with me, I want to make this work," his voice was as tender as hers, and their eyes seemed locked together for eternity. Slowly, slowly their lips met, and warm embrace melted into a gentle kiss.