Ron and Harry stood at the bottom of the stairs at the entrance of the Great Hall. The doors were closed, but they could hear the students inside talking, laughing, and overall just having a good time.
Ron sat on the last stair with his head resting on his hand and his elbow propped on his knee. Harry paced slowly back and forth. He had no idea why he was nervous. The butterflies in his stomach reminded him of his and Ginny's first date. Of course, he knew he had no reason to be nervous. After all, they had come a long way from the first time he asked her to dinner, but it didn't stop his stomach from feeling queasy.
"Bloody hell, Harry, stop pacing," Ron groaned.
"I can't help it," Harry explained, running his hand nervously through his hair.
"What do you have to be nervous about?"
Harry sighed. "I can't dance."
"So, Ginny likes to dance and all of her other…boyfriends were good dancers and I'm…"
"Thanks for the confidence, Ron."
Ron shrugged. "She's already agreed to marry you. How much more confidence do you need?" Harry didn't reply. "Look, she loves you for who you are, not for how well you can dance."
Harry glanced over at Ron, surprised sometimes at the deep things that came out of Ron's mouth. As Harry opened his mouth to say something in response, he saw her at the top of the stairs.
"What?" Ron asked, thinking Harry was looking at him.
Harry couldn't help but stare at Ginny. She looked unbelievably beautiful. It wasn't often that they all had an excuse to dress up. As matter of fact, the last time Harry had probably seen Ginny so well dressed was back at the Yule ball. He made a mental note to start coming up with more excuses to get her in a dress.
"Would you stop drooling over my little sister?" Ron asked, looking back at Ginny and then placing his head back in his hands.
"Oh, shove off, Ron," Ginny remarked as Harry began to walk up the stairs, his eyes transfixed on hers. "Hey there, handsome," she said as Harry approached her and placed a kiss on her cheek.
"Hi," Harry replied. "You look…amazing."
She blushed as she linked her arms with his. They began to walk down the stairs together.
"Going to sit there all night, Ron?" Ginny asked as they brushed past him.
"Have you seen Hermione?" He mumbled.
"Oh, I'm sure she'll be around sooner or later," Ginny answered, smirking. She squeezed Harry's hand, letting him know that everything was going to work itself out.
"Come on," Harry said, "I think we've kept Professor McGonagall waiting long enough."
Still with their arms together, Harry and Ginny walked towards the front doors. Sighing, Ron got up and followed. The doors swung open as they approached.
The Great Hall was decorated more magnificently than any of them had ever seen. The old, wooden tables were covered with pure white linens. The benches had been replaced with intricately carved wooden chairs. At each place there was a full setting complete with more forks than any of them knew what to do with, all trimmed in gold. The ceiling reflected the night sky and was alive with shooting stars. Gold and silver streamers made of silk were hung from wall to wall and all four house flags hung proudly from every wall.
"It's beautiful," Ginny said as they walked in.
The entire school was already inside, not sitting, but talking amongst themselves and mingling. Harry barely recognized anyone without their robes on. Even the teachers were among the students, laughing and listening to the music that was playing even though no one could tell where it was coming from. A large area towards the front of the Great Hall had been completely cleared and couples were already beginning to dance.
"Harry," Ron whispered, nudging Harry in the back.
"What?" Harry asked, looking back.
"Nobody's staring at us."
Harry looked around. Ron was right. No one was looking at them. No one was pointing at them. No one was even whispering about them as they walked by.
"Looks like that chat Hagrid said that McGonagall had with everyone worked," Ginny said as they made their way to what was usually the Gryffindor table. As they walked, they noticed that it didn't matter what house you were in, everyone was sitting wherever they wanted, simply enjoying each other's company.
"Ron! Harry! Ginny!" Neville called from across the room. Dressed in a handsome set of dark green robes, Neville approached them.
"Hey Neville," Harry said, shaking his hand.
"I'm sorry I haven't gotten a chance to see you guys much. Professor Sprout and I have a batch of wigglyleaves that need constant attention or they wiggle right out of their pots."
"Sounds fascinating, Neville," Ron remarked somewhat sarcastically. At that particular moment, he couldn't have cared less about wigglyleaves. He just wanted to find Hermione.
"Luna and I have some seats at the table over there," Neville explained, pointing to a table in the far right corner.
"Luna's here?" Ginny asked.
"Well, she was. I think she's gone off looking for her shoes. Seems the nargles are at it again," Neville explained, smiling.
"Neville, are you and Luna…dating?" Harry asked.
Neville blushed. "For the past few months. She came to visit and we sorta…clicked."
"Sure, everyone's love life turned out great except for mine," Ron mumbled under his breath.
"Don't mind him," Ginny interrupted. "He's just mad because he screwed up."
"I heard about what happened," Neville said.
"Great," Ron grumbled. "Does the whole castle know?"
"I don't think so. I overheard Jackie Andrews talking to Faith Donalson, a third year Gryffindor, about how she snuck into the Gryffindor common room and made Hermione run out of the room crying."
"That must be how Jackie got the password," Ginny remarked. "Another Gryffindor gave it to her."
"Sorry to hear that you and Hermione are having troubles, mate," Neville said, placing his hand on Ron's shoulder. "Always thought you two made a good pair."
"Yeah, thanks," Ron mumbled.
"Well, it was nice to see you all. I'm going to go find Luna. Maybe we'll see you later. I'm sure she'd love to catch up with you."
"Bye Neville," Ginny said as Neville walked away. Ron looked around, noticing that most everyone was coupled with someone else. Everyone except for him.
"I'm going to go sit," Ron said. "Coming Harry?"
"Forget sitting," Ginny exclaimed. "Harry, do you want to dance?"
"Oh…I…" Harry stuttered.
"Please," Ginny begged. "For me?" She batted her eyelashes at him, knowing that he could never resist when she made her pouting face.
"Well, I wouldn't want to leave Ron here all by himse…"
"Trust me, he'll be fine," Ginny said, tugging on his hand.
"Sorry mate," Harry grumbled as Ginny dragged him away.
Trying to not look at any of the couples that surrounded him, Ron made his way to the table Neville said he and Luna were sitting at. He sat down in one of the chairs, sighing. He picked up his cup, happily surprised that it was already full of pumpkin juice, and he took a sip.
"A gentleman would offer his lady a drink before he took one for himself," Hermione said.
Nearly spilling the pumpkin juice all over himself, Ron turned in his chair and saw her standing a few feet away.
"Hermione," he whispered, barely able to get the word out. He wasn't sure what left him speechless more, the fact that she was standing there apparently talking to him or the fact that she looked drop dead gorgeous.
She could see from his eyes what he thought of her and it made her smile.
"You like?" She teased, twirling around.
"Hermione, you look…you're…"
She stepped towards him.
"I'm what?" She asked somewhat seductively, still with a smile on her face.
"You're beautiful," he finally said.
He reached for her hand and was pleasantly surprised that she didn't pull it away when their fingers made contact. He slowly lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed it lightly.
"Hermione…" her name seemed to be the only word that he could manage to coherently get out of his mouth. He had always thought she was beautiful, but tonight she was sensational.
"Come on," she said, "let's dance."
With his hand in hers, she headed for the dance floor.
"Wait, Hermione…" Ron began to say.
He couldn't figure her out. One minute she was so angry with him that she wouldn't even speak to him and the next minute she wanted to dance. Although he loved dancing with her, or rather, he loved anything that allowed him to put his arms around her, he had so many things he wanted to say to her. There were so many things that he needed her to understand.
She ignored his protests and instead led him to the dance floor. When they found an empty spot amongst the other couples, Hermione wrapped both her arms around his neck as he placed his hands on her hips. She rested her head against his chest, leaning into the crook of his neck. They swayed to the music, but barely moved from the spot they were standing in. Ron was just treasuring the fact that he was holding her again.
"I've missed you," she whispered after a few moments of silence.
"Hermione, I'm so sorry," he replied quietly, holding her closer.
She picked up her head to look at him.
"It's not your fault," she said. "I shouldn't have pushed you. And I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions about you and Jackie. I mean, I saw that nothing…"
"Nothing happened between us, Hermione, I swear."
"And nothing ever will."
"I was foolish for what I did. I should have told her off the minute she started talking to me. I should have…" He sighed, trying to think of all the things he had practiced telling her in front of the mirror, but, looking into her eyes, he couldn't think of any of them. "I love you, Hermione," he said simply. He watched a tear fall down her cheek. "I've always loved you. And I should have told you every day from the moment I met you. I was just so scared of…"
She put a finger to his lips, silencing him.
"You don't have to explain it to me. You don't have to say anything because it doesn't matter. All that matters is that we're together."
She placed her head against his chest again.
"How about I just say four words then?" He whispered into her ear.
He let go of her waist and disentangled her arms from around his neck.
"Ron, what are you…"
He got down on one knee and pulled a small, black box out of his pocket.
"Will you marry me?"
Hermione brought her hands to her mouth and gasped.
"Ron, you don't have to…I mean…you don't have to if you're not ready or if you're not sure."
He shook his head.
"I've never been more sure of anything in this world. I love you, Hermione. And I will love you for the rest of my life. I want to be with you for the rest of my life. And I'm sorry that it took almost losing you to figure that out. But I never want to lose you again. Would you do me the honor of being my wife?"
A trail of tears ran down her cheek.
"Yes?" He repeated, wanting to make sure that he had heard her correctly.
"Yes!" She shouted.
He jumped to his feet, and embraced her. He lifted her off her feet and swung her around. Everyone around them, including Harry and Ginny, stopped dancing and circled around them.
Ron crushed his lips against Hermione's, kissing her more passionately than he ever thought possible. He had made the decision to propose to her the minute she had told him she needed time after she had seen him with Jackie. He knew from that moment that he couldn't bear to spend any more time without her. He had gone to Hogsmead the next day and bought the ring with some of the money he had been saving from working at The Leaky Cauldron. Hermione might have thought the job was below him, but Ron had already begun to save enough money to start their new life together.
"Everyone's watching," Hermione whispered against his lips.
"Who cares?" Ron asked as he again captured her lips with his. They could hear everyone clapping around them, but that didn't break their kiss.
"If everyone will please take their seats," Professor McGonagall said at the podium that was at the front of the room.
Ron and Hermione finally broke and walked together to their seats, as did everyone else. Ron slipped the ring on Hermione's finger as they sat. Not having even had the chance to look at it, Hermione admired it. It was a nicely sized solitaire, diamond cut ring that fit perfectly on her finger.
"I love it," she said to Ron as everyone else took their seats.
"And I love you," he said, kissing her cheek.
"You two are so cute, it's disgusting," Ginny commented as she and Harry sat across from them.
"Look who's talking," Ron replied, pointing to Ginny and Harry's interlocked fingers.
"Your attention, please," Professor McGonagall said, her voice projecting through the entire room. They all turned so that they were facing her. "As you all know today we are celebrating the death of evil and the day that changed the wizarding world forever for the good. I'd like to first pay tribute to all those friends and family we lost by having a moment of silence."
Hermione reached for Ron's hand and squeezed it as the entire room grew silent.
"And now," Professor McGonagall began to say, after a solid three minutes of silence, "I'd like to thank every witch and wizard who aided us in this battle, especially those students who stepped up to fight for everything they believed in. Some of them couldn't be here with us tonight, but I am honored and proud to see some of them sitting among us."
McGonagall looked around the room before her eyes fell directly on Harry, Ginny, Hermione, and Ron. She took a minute to look them each in the eye. They all simultaneously nodded at her, knowing that this was her way of thanking them all for their contributions.
"Let us hope that the wizarding world is always graced with such presences." She quickly wiped a tear away from her eye. "So, without further-a-due, let the feast and festivities begin! Oh, one more thing," McGonagall said before the food could appear on the table. "Congratulations Ms. Granger and Mr. Weasley. And might I add that it is about time."
More food than any of them could ever consume appeared on the tables. Hermione blushed as Ron put his hand to her cheek, tilting her head so she was facing him. All eyes fell on them as he kissed her deeply. The hall erupted into applause, but they didn't notice, knowing that nothing would be the same since Ron had said the four words that would forever change their lives.
Okay, phew! It's done! I honestly didn't know if I'd ever get to this point because this is one of the longest-running stories I've ever written, but it was my first Harry Potter fic and I really liked the way it turned out. I know I probably could have turned this last chapter into two chapters, but I honestly wanted to be done with it and to get it out there to all of you. Thank you so much to all of the people who have read and reviewed this story. You are all the reason that I keep writing! Thanks again and stay tuned for my next Harry Potter fic (although, I might be taking a little time off before I jump into another endeavor like this one)!