Three Small Words

Chapter Two: Living

Hermione stood in front of the mirror in the room she shared with four other girls her age. It was quiet in the highest part of Gryffindor tower; everyone was in the common room or filtering onto the Quidditch field in anticipation of the match. She gathered her hair loosely and fastened it at the nape of her neck, well aware the wind would pull several tendrils away before long.

Opting for more casual clothing, she put an overcoat on above the jumper she had donned minutes ago. She grabbed the scarf with her House colours and drew it into a loose knot about her neck. Making to take a step toward the front door, the young woman stopped and surveyed herself in the mirror once more.

Even to herself, Hermione looked pretty nice. She was dressed casually enough that no one would think twice, but still enough to make her feel attractive, confident. Confident was anything except how she felt at that particular moment.

Was this to be considered a date? Or was it simply a get together between friends? Without Harry. On Valentine's Day.

She drew in a deep breath and closed her eyes, leaning on the bureau for support. It was a date.

xXxXx

Harry threw on his scarlet Quidditch robes with only the minor nerves he felt after six years of games against his fellow students. Ron, however, seemed more nervous than normal and Harry doubted it had much to do with the game. Indeed, the ginger haired young man seemed distracted as he dressed for the coming game.

"So," Harry said casually, not looking at Ron as he addressed him. "What is this thing tonight?"

"What are you on about?" Ron asked with a quick glance at Harry.

"This thing with Hermione tonight," Harry clarified as he replaced his glasses, knowing full well that Ron was simply trying to avoid the conversation.

Ron sized his friend up before deciding Harry would not back down. He looked toward his locker once more as he fastened his robes. "What about it?"

"Well, is it a date?"

"A…" Ron flustered. "I never said it was. I didn't consider it one." He paused before dropping his voice to ask, "Why, did she call it a date?"

"Not in so much," he replied. "I was just wondering." Harry left then, gathering the members of the Quidditch team to give them a small speech.

xXxXx

Hermione watched as players passed a Quaffle back and forth; the crowd roared about her. Normally, Quidditch was exciting, but today her nerves were jumping not for the closeness of the game, but for her House Keeper. Ron had certainly improved in the two previous years he had protected the Gryffindor hoops. He was surer of himself, less panicky, and definitely more skilled.

However, his eyes kept drifting to the stands where he scanned the crowd repeatedly. Hermione turned pink at the thought that Ron was perhaps looking for her face among the sea of students. Normally she wouldn't have dared, but Hermione found herself hoping he was seeking her out.

Ron, it seemed, was not the only one who had gained more confidence with time. She wouldn't have even thought that Ron could have feelings for her before. In her fourth year, Hermione started to think that, perhaps, he could like her. After that, the evidence began to come, at first in trickles before gradually flooding in.

This, however, was something that left her wondering. Going out with Ron could be a date-it likely was, but it could also be nothing more than his needing to talk to her privately. She dared to think Ron could genuinely be interested in her, but she certainly couldn't assume it.

Before she even knew what has happening, the game was over. Harry held the Snitch firmly in his hand. Ron, as well as the other team members, did a sort of mid-air dog-pile on Harry before flying over to their House section in the stands where they received a warm welcome.

"Hermione," Ron called out, hovering overhead. "Come with me?" He held out his hand for her to take.

"Your broom won't support us both, will it?" she asked, hesitant.

He floated lower into a clearing of students and she took his hand. "It will. It just won't fly too fast."

Hermione held his hand for balance as she slid behind him, wrapping her arms securely around him once she was seated. Ignoring the chatter of the students around them, the two flew off oblivious to Harry smiling as he watched them leave. "Where are we off to?" Hermione asked, unsure. The sun was nearly set and students were being ushered into the castle from the field, but these two were far from there and could no longer hear the excited din of the students. Behind the castle a valley broke and it was toward a stream that they now flew.

"I know I said we would walk around the castle," Ron began, sounding apologetic. Somehow, though, he had gained the easy confidence his brothers had always possessed. His voice was calm, smooth, almost laughing. Inside he was a bundle of nerves, and she figured as much, but his outward appearance did not show it. "But I thought it'd be best if we got away from the lights. We'll be better able to see the stars from further out."

And there it was again. Hermione knew she would have to protest. Being outside after hours was one thing; she had broken that rule many a time before. But being so far from the castle and with so many dangers lurking about, there was no way she could allow this to go on any further. Even so, with her arms wrapped around the exercise-warmed body before her and with her hair blowing behind her, her worries could not penetrate her cloud of elation.

They floated down to the ground slowly, the moonlight sparkling ever more brilliantly on the surface of the stream as the sun sank into the heather blooming in the hills. Her feet touched the ground, only partially jarring her out of the haze she had been in. Ron lay his broom down and turned to her, laying his hands on the sides of her arms and looking her in the eyes softly. His heart beat ferociously. Now that he was committed, he wanted to follow through immediately, but he had to have some tact. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," she replied in a tone similar to a sleepy sigh. "I'm wonderful, really. It's just so beautiful." Her eyes turned to the sky and she found herself leaning more toward Ron. Before long, he accepted her into his arms and wrapped her in his robes with her back to his chest. Meteors were just beginning to become visible as the sky grew darker, but Ron had yet to look. His eyes were either firmly focused on the woman before him, or else blank as he thought of how to say the words, those three small words, that had eluded him for so long.

"Hermione," he whispered, as he lifted a hand and ran it through her hair. She meant to make ask what he had been going to say, but instead sighed and leaned into his touch, her words lost. Craning her neck backward, she searched for his eyes. His hand slid from her hair until it was cupping her cheek. Unable to help himself, his gaze stooped to her lips for a fraction of a second.

"Yes, Ron?" she meant to ask, but her breath hitched somewhere between her lungs and vocal cords, leaving the words only partially spoken. Ron understood, nonetheless, but hesitated again. Finally frustration seized him and he shook his head, angry at himself.

"Gryffindors should face their fears," he chided himself, confusing the woman that so mercifully was still in his arms. She turned around to face him better and began to question him, but he was too busy building up his own courage. "I've been so bloody afraid. Afraid to get hurt, afraid to hurt you, that Voldemort would use you to get to me," the wizard's name rolled off his tongue effortlessly, stunning her, but she continued listening intently. "But mostly I've been afraid to say it because I don't know if you'll say it back."

And there it was – a reason for her hopes to soar unrestrained for the first time in years. A reason for her to think that maybe there was something between them, something more than friendship. Still, she was at a loss for words.

"I've wasted enough time," he went on, "and I don't want another hour to go by without my telling you something. I can't stand to keep from you how I feel about you." He took a deep breath. Had he not been so scared, he might have laughed at the undivided attention she gave him, or at the expression she wore which spoke volumes. She dared not hope against hope. He opened his eyes. "I love you... Hermione," The pause between his statement and her name was infinite. He had intended them to be spoken fluidly, but he found that, after those words left his mouth, it was difficult for him to continue speaking. Perhaps he had never really thought he would be able to say it.

He received, for his troubles, silence. There was no reply. She merely stared at him, though he thought he detected a tremor passing through her. His heartbeat grew faster still and he felt the blood, which had collected in his face and ears drain from his head. The flush he had worn left him and he grew pale as pain gripped his chest. "If you don't lo..." He couldn't say it. "If you don't feel the same way, please tell me. Just don't lie to me, and don't leave me perched on the edge."

Hermione took in a breath finally. Oxygen rushed into her veins and she wondered if lack of it was what was making her feel lightheaded. It seemed doubtful. An answer... She searched her mind. It was blissfully blank. She couldn't think, she couldn't talk. She watched him, agonising over the length before her reply, but all she felt was sheer and complete happiness. He loved her. Ronald Weasley loved her as she had hoped he would since third year.

"Ron, I..." She had a newfound respect for him. He had said the words so beautifully moments ago, and now she was finding them impossible to speak. "I love you." She pushed out each word, but they were said nonetheless and her heart all at once felt free. "I love you," she repeated, with more ease. A smile flowered onto her face and she drew his tensed body into her arms. He hugged her back without thinking, but once her words struck home he could not contain himself any longer and he kissed her. He kissed her.

He kissed her like she always dreamed he would.