Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, characters or otherwise.

Three Small Words

Chapter One: Awakening

Hermione woke, as normal, at five in the morning on February the thirteenth. She brushed her ruffled hair out of her eyes and stared at the canopy of her four-poster. The sunlight filtered in through a gap in the deep red curtains. Her world was tinged with crimson. She thought, with a sigh of longing, that it was appropriate considering the coming holiday. Pulling the thick linens over her shoulders to ward off the winter air, Hermione tried in vain to forget Valentine's Day. She would have no one on a day made for lovers.

It wasn't as if she was the only one who would spend the day alone, though. Harry and Ginny had parted ways despite their obvious desire to stay together. Ron and Lavender had broken up last year as well. Hermione had been kept up all hours of the night after that incident. Lavender had spent weeks either crying herself to sleep or talking to Parvati. On the other hand, Hermione had learned a rather useful spell to get to sleep despite the noise and, though she tried to deny it, she had gotten an odd sort of fuzzy feeling from the knowledge that Ron had seen there was no potential for a decent relationship with Lavender. It wasn't like Hermione to take pleasure in what so obviously caused others pain; she tried to stamp it out.

She stretched her muscles down to her toes, pulling back quickly when her bare feet touched the linens toward the edge of the bed which had not been warmed by her body heat. Throwing back the covers, Hermione groped with her toes for her slippers as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes. Tomorrow would be just like any other day; she would go to her classes, spend hours in the library, and return to the common room to help Harry and Ron do research on Horcruxes. She stood and gathered her neatly stacked uniform from the top of her trunk. She made a mental note to do laundry soon. It was only Wednesday and she was already in need of clean shirts. She washed her own clothes; Merlin knew the house elves needed the help. As it was, they were busy day and night.

Sighing with the boredom of routine, Hermione turned on the shower and disrobed while the water grew hot. She mentally berated herself as she did so. How could she think her life was boring? She had done and was doing so many exciting things in her time at Hogwarts. She was trying to track down and defeat the man who was, disputably, the most powerful dark wizard to ever have lived and, on top of everything else, she had become Head Girl. Hermione couldn't afford to have a love life. N.E.W.Ts were coming up quickly and she had to concentrate.

Still, she couldn't shake the feeling that her life was not complete. As she stepped into the shower and ran her hands over her moistening hair, Hermione told herself it was a normal feeling. No one wanted to be alone on Valentine's Day, did they? She shook her head clear and lathered the soap. At eighteen years of age, she was beyond all of this. She didn't need a man to complete her; she was fine on her own. Things would go according to plan. When she fell in love, she would be ready for it. Until then, her life was fulfilling enough.

xXxXx

The smell of eggs and pancakes lingered in the halls after breakfast. Hermione hung back, walking behind Harry and Ron on her way to their first class. The two young men were discussing the Quidditch manoeuvres Harry had taught the team. Apparently there was a match with Slytherin tonight, but Hermione didn't give a toss about that.

Her eyes seemed focused on the back of Ron's head; she observed his ruffled hair even as she held a book firmly to her chest. She found herself getting lost in the varying tones of his hair as she walked, causing her to veritably run into him as he slowed. He had turned, walking nearly sideways, to look behind him and get her input in the conversation he had been conducting with Harry. She lost her balance, tripping over his foot, but Ron quickly reached out and held onto her upper arms firmly.

"All right, Hermione?" he asked. His blue eyes met hers and she grew hot. She was uniquely aware of the contact of his hands and of the close proximity between the two of them. Quickly regaining her tongue, she looked at Harry as she replied.

"I'm fine. I was just lost in thought." Harry, however, was no help in calming her down. Hermione grew flustered as she caught the small smirk Harry tried to conceal. A blush flew to her cheeks and she looked at Ron once more, confused as to why he had not yet let go of her.

When he was satisfied Hermione had regained her stability, Ron loosened his grip and let his hands drop. Seemingly oblivious to the interaction between Harry and Hermione, Ron turned to his best mate and said, "That's our Hermione: always thinking. She'll likely be written in our books as the most important magical person since Merlin at this rate."

Hermione blushed more deeply as Ron turned and began to walk again. Harry lingered for a moment to gauge her reaction to this statement, smiling as his eyes fell upon her. He caught up with Ron rather quickly, nearly leaving Hermione behind. Regaining herself rapidly, she fell into step with them once more. The miniscule sigh she emitted went unnoticed in the noisy halls. She'd had a crush on Ron a long time ago, but she thought she had moved beyond that. It was plain to see that the two of them didn't have much in common. Where she was a quiet person he was loud and social. He preferred sports while she would rather read. How could two people so completely and utterly different ever make a good couple?

Even so, there was also the problem of actually initiating a relationship. Hermione had long since suspected Ron had feelings for her. The signs pointed to it. He was jealous of the attention she had received from Viktor and Cormac, protective of her, worried about her, yet he often shied away from her when things grew more serious. Despite the possible attraction between them, Hermione was unsure of herself. All the risks she took were calculated, from letting Harry continue on his own in their first year to going to the Ministry of Magic in their fifth. They weren't always the sanest of judgments, but she thought them through carefully and arrived at the logical choice.

As she entered Charms class, Hermione took a seat in the front row as normal. Harry, however, decided it would be best if he did not sit beside her as he usually did. Instead, he sat two seats to her left, inherently forcing Ron to sit between his two friends. Thrown off by this sudden change in behaviour, Ron sat slowly and whispered questioningly to Harry. Hermione, who was much quicker on the uptake, leaned forward to cast a look of warning at Harry as the would-be matchmaker shrugged his shoulders and offered a poorly thought out excuse.

Hermione pulled out a sugar quill and dipped it in ink. It hovered over the parchment as she waited for class to begin. She was glad to be in the presence of a professor once more. On her rounds last night, she had broken up three couples who had been snogging about the castle. A handful of detentions had been given out as well. It simply wasn't the case that everyone had a girl or boyfriend. It only seemed that way because she was alone, she rationalised, miserably alone.

The fact was Hermione was not sure whether she had separated them because of the rules or of the desire to ignore her own loneliness. She was not one to be taken in by her emotions and she was greatly upset by the idea that she could be. What was it that was causing her to be so moody, so irritable and unlike herself? Surely she could manage her own emotions and take control of her life. Even as she told herself such things, Hermione realised she had been staring into space, quill in mouth, for nearly five minutes. Small splatters of ink had rained from point to paper; black teardrops marred her parchment. The lesson had begun without her, moving on even as her mind raced in the opposite direction.

It was Ron who startled her out of her stupor once more. A sheet of parchment slid over to her, buckling as it hit the forearm she had laid upon the table. Her eyes snapped down to it and simply observed for a moment before she lifted her arm and pulled the paper to her with heavy, limp fingers. 'Are you sure you're all right, Hermione?' Ron had written in his trademark untidy scrawl. She read it through twice, unsure of how to respond. A lie would not work with him any longer. He knew her well enough to know she was preoccupied with something and denying it would only serve to worry him.

Sliding her quill from her mouth, she dipped it in ink once more. Hermione paused again, weighing the possible outcomes of her response. A droplet of ink welled up and fell to the parchment, spreading bulbous fingers in every direction as it created an oblong circle. With only her peripheral vision, she could see Ron's face turned slightly toward her own. He was watching her, waiting to read her response. Professor Flitwick continued with his lecture as Hermione wrote 'I've just a few things on my mind lately.'

She returned the note to him, fully expecting that to be the end of the conversation. She focused on the small man in front of the classroom and prepared to take notes though she'd had no trouble with the chapter they were now covering. Ron, however, was not concerned with the classwork though he had likely not cracked the book save for when prompted to do so in class. His quill scratched upon the paper in rapid strokes before he passed it to her.

'You've been working too much. You should take your mind off school for a while. What do you say we go for a walk around the castle tonight? There's supposed to be a meteor shower.'

Hermione's breathing hitched as her eyes followed the slanted lines of his words. It wasn't what it seemed; it couldn't possibly be. 'What about Harry?' she wrote back.

Ron's back stiffened and he looked forward for a few minutes, seemingly listening to the professor. He turned his eyes down once more and dipped his quill in ink. 'I reckon he'll be staying up in the common room for the party tonight. I know you don't like all the noise, though. I don't mind keeping you company.'

She wanted to think logically. She wanted to turn him down, to tell him off for breaking the rules. Students weren't allowed on the grounds after hours and following the rules was only for their safety: safety that was even more important now the Voldemort was attacking more frequently. Hermione should have written a book worth of reasons for why she would not join him on the grounds that night but she wrote only one word. 'Sure.'