Disclaimer: None of the characters you recognize belong to me; they are property of JK Rowling. No financial gain is being made by this fanfiction. You know the drill!

I hate Harry Potter.

My best mate, the man I almost died saving, the man I fought valiantly with in the Last War, the man I would do ANYTHING for, the man for whom I have recently developed an intense, burning hatred… left me alone. With… her.

Oh, I can understand he "wants to spend time with Ginny". Or, rather, I could understand that, were that the case. However, I think this is another one of Harry bloody Potter's not-so-subtle pushes in a certain someone's direction.

Nonetheless, here I am. He left me with Hermione. Hermione Jane Granger, who, might I add, I am hopelessly head over heels for. Yes, that's right, I'll admit to it now.

Shut up.

But back to the point. He left me with Hermione – alone. There we were, standing in the middle of the street, watching that traitor and my sister skip away, waving cheekily and smirking to each other.

Did I mention it was Valentine's Day?

What idiot made up this pathetic excuse for a holiday, anyways? I mean, honestly, can you really take a holiday seriously when it involves fat little half-babies in nappies, flying around shooting arrows at everyone? And besides, everyone is too… "in love" today. Damn that Cupid! I want to shove those ridiculous little arrows right up his…

Maybe I'm getting myself too worked up over this. Maybe the most "romantic" day of the year spent in the company of Hermione isn't too bad. Maybe the pheromones floating around in the air won't affect me at all.

Right. And maybe Professor McGonagall will strip down to her birthday suit and streak through the halls of Hogwarts, singing, "Here We Come A-Wassailing".

… That was, hands down, the most disturbing thing I have ever thought. Way to reach new lows, Ron.

Well, here I am, sitting in this tiny café that Hermione can't get enough of (personally, I find it cramped, boring, and full of hippies who haven't bathed in months), sipping a butterbeer, directly across the table from Hermione.

There are people who don't think Hermione is very pretty. And once, maybe I would have agreed with them. She's fairly plain, her hair is too frizzy to be tamed by mere brush alone, and, let's face it, she's blunt to the point of obnoxious, and smart to the point of annoyance. But what they don't see is the real essence of Hermione – the brilliant, funny, albeit aggravating witch that drives me crazy… and I love it. Those people… they never saw her eyes light up when she prattled on about god-knows-what cause she had invested herself in this time around. They never saw her cheeks flush with anger, or felt the calming cool of her palm resting on their hands when they thought the world was ending. They were never lifted up to new heights simply because of a few words, or a smile, or a brief catch of her perfume.

I could never tell her this, you see. We've been through hell together (granted, sometimes creating it for each other… I still shudder every time I see canaries, and I'm almost certain the smell of lavender makes her sick). We've skirted around the elephant in the room for going on nine years now. The closest we've come is a kiss on the cheek, a stroke of the hair, a fierce hug in the heat of a battle. And I still can't work up the courage to tell her any of this. And I hate myself for that.

Sometimes I wish she would –

"Ron?"

- just notice that -

"Ron!"

- I really do care about -

"RONALD!"

I swear I just lost five years of my life right there.

"What! Good LORD, Hermione!" I scowl, and wipe at the butterbeer on my pants. I spilled a little when she yelled – no, it didn't startle me! She just… has a very shrill voice. Yes, that's it.

I look up at her. Her face has a deep flush, one that I know only comes from intense anger or embarrassment, and she's so attractive right now that my spine tingles. It's nothing new; her blush always gets me like that. Why blushing, you may ask? Damned if I know.

She glares at me angrily, and then her expression shifts into one of embarrassed confusion. "Ronald… you're staring at me."

Whoops. I attempt an innocent look, and mutter, "Uh, you have some… butterbeer dripping down your chin."

"Oh." She swipes at her chin and looks away, blushing harder. The silence stretches. I feel stupid; the patchouli in the air is making my head pound. Looking out the window, I notice one of those absolutely adorable, lovey-dovey, snogging-like-the-world-can't-see-them couples. I feel like hunting down and brutally murdering all of them. Starting with Harry. I'll get an axe, and –

"Isn't this just the most ludicrous excuse for a holiday?"

I turn to look at Hermione. It seems she has followed my stare, and is also glaring at the couple out the window. I grin sheepishly.

"Erm, yeah… I was just thinking that, actually."

I'm also thinking about how much I like you.

She smiles. "It's absolutely pointless. And it makes it really awkward to be with ANYONE of the opposite sex for more than a second…"

"I agree."

Her lips… her lips are… Ron! STOP!

Hermione breaks her gaze away from the window and glances at me shyly. "And, I mean… you – you don't need just one day to show someone how much you care about them."

My heart is thudding madly. Without noticing, I start leaning in closer. "Yeah?"

"Yes," she says, her eyes leaving my face for a moment, and the blush returning to her cheeks. She takes a shaky breath. "I think…"

Kiss her, stupid!

"… you should show it…"

Lean in a little bit more…

"… every single day."

That did it. Screwing up my courage, I purse my lips, squinch my eyes shut, and lean in quickly. I start at the sensation of my lips touching hers, my nose tickling hers…

Then it hit me. I'm kissing Hermione! I'm kissing Hermione! I'm kissing Hermione…

Really, REALLY badly.

Somehow, the magic leaves and reality smacks me across the face. I realize all too suddenly the severity of what I've done… I tightened my lips together, scrunched up my face, and slammed into her lips with a speed that rivaled any broomstick. I'm awful at this! I've never actively initiated a kiss with anyone! Lavender always started this sort of thing, I just… participated (badly, as is now apparent). It must look and feel so dreadful from her end.

I pull away quickly, looking anywhere but at Hermione. "Um… uh… s-sorry… that was really, uh…"

"No, no…" I hear her whisper, and chance a glance at her. Her face is a maroon color, and a smile is tugging at the corners of her lips.

I try speaking normally, but it comes out in a harsh whisper. "Uh… it was… that was pretty bad, wasn't it."

Hermione's face twitches, and she pauses for a moment. "Well, yes... yes, it was rather awful."

That's it. I'm off to go bury my head in some sand. Owl me in, oh, fifty years or so.

Her eyes narrow slightly. "I would have thought that you had plenty of practice with… her." Hermione spits out this last word like it left a bad taste in her mouth.

I shrug, still mortified. "She was always… well, she kissed me. I usually just kind of… worked my mouth with… uh…" I stop as her eyes darken. Wow. I'm scoring high today, aren't I?

I hang my head, mortified, but start as a cool hand descends on my own. The familiar sensation is enough to ebb away at my shame. I look up and my eyes meet with Hermione's.

She is still serious, her features drawn, the blush still lingering on her cheeks. "You've been pretty stupid as of late."

That stings. I want to retort – Viktor! Mclaggen! CANARIES!

But one look at the tears starting in her dark eyes stops me cold, and I sigh. "Hermione, I…"

"But I've been stupider."

I stare, rather dumbfounded. "Beg… beg pardon?"

Hermione blinks, and I feel a stabbing in my chest at the tears rolling down her cheeks. Her hand briefly flutters to her eyes, and she sighs. "I had so many chances, Ron. Chances to tell you how… how I… how I love the smell of chocolate, because it reminds me of you and those teeth-rotting Chocolate Frogs you love. How every time we fight, I'm secretly so pleased to have found someone who can hold their own against me. I want you to know that… I've memorized every word of "Weasley Is Our King", and I sing it to myself whenever I'm alone, because I love the memory of your smile the day you won the Cup. I love watching you fly, watching you do something you enjoy so much. There's such passion in your eyes, and… did you know, when I found out you liked the Cannons so long ago, that I bought a book on the stats of all the team members, and have followed them ever since - just to be able to share that with you?"

She laughs shakily at this. I am numbly aware of my mouth hanging open, and I don't even care.

"And… and Ron… I always thought you were a hero. No matter where you were, if there was danger, you faced it, brandishing your wand like a knight with his sword, fear replaced by loyalty and a courage I have never possessed, and could never understand. And I love you for it." She gasps. I sit there, frozen.

"Love… I love…you." She murmurs, and I think it's the first time she's ever even admitted it to herself.

There is silence for a moment. My throat burns, and my eyes are hot.

"Hermione…" I finally choke out. Her dazed look is quickly becoming one of utter humiliation.

"I'm sorry. Oh, Ron, I…" Her face disappears behind her hands. I gently lift them up and away, and stare into her bright eyes, mine threatening to spill over as well.

"Hermione…" I shake my head. Her lip trembles, and she closes her eyes. "I don't… I've never been good at communicating, you know that. It's like there's a damaged link somewhere, between my brain and my tongue. I just… you can't imagine how… how deeply, and desperately, I wanted to be the first to tell you... I…"

Her eyes meet mine. I take her chin in my one hand, and wipe away her tears with the other. "I love you, Hermione Granger."

And I lean in for a second time. There is no surprise when I meet her lips now, just the salty wet of tears and the sweet smell of patchouli lingering in the air. Her arms slide around my neck, pulling me closer. There is no groping, no fondling, no sweating… just her soft skin and my chapped lips and her frizzy hair, and the stunning realization that the woman I am holding is the last woman I ever want to hold.

And one lone thought skitters across my mind, as I sit there in bliss, kissing the woman I love.

Harry Potter is getting one hell of a Valentine's gift.

A/N: Some people from the Ron/Hermione site Checkmated may have recognized this story, or at least the foundations of it. It was formerly titled "It's Not Always Pretty", but I was reading over it and decided it needed a little bit of revision (as it was now sort of AU). An hour later, this came out, so I decided to roll with it. Good? Bad? Meh? Sequel? All feedback appreciated.