"It would have been easier if you had worn dress shoes," Ginny chastised looking down at Ron's worn trainers.
"Well how I was supposed to know," Ron grumbled, looking around the Room of Requirement. Ginny had fashioned it to look similar to the Great Hall during the Yule Ball four years prior, with a large rectangular dance floor and tables lining the edges. It was a little too similar to the previous ball, Ron thought darkly. Images of Hermione and Viktor Krum flashed before his eyes and his scowl deepened.
"Hermione's really going to want to dance with you if you look at her like that," Ginny noted with a chuckle.
Frowning at his sister, he nonetheless followed her out to the center of the dance floor.
"Now," Ginny said, "the most important dance you'll need to learn is the waltz. And I know for a fact that Hermione knows how to dance it, so it'll be the one we concentrate on." She stepped forward and placed Ron's right hand on her waist and took his left hand with her right and held it out to the side. "Okay...this is how you lead. Remember to always keep your chin up and never, ever look down at your feet. Okay the waltz is fairly simply...all you need to be able to do is count to three. You can do that, can't you?"
"You're a real laugh, Gin," Ron muttered.
"Okay," Ginny ignored him and continued. "First thing you're going to do is step forward with your left foot....your other left foot, Ron."
"That's okay. Let's try it again." Ron stepped forward with his left foot, while Ginny stepped back on her right. "Good. That's step one." She paused and shifted a bit. "It might help matters if you relaxed a bit. I think you're squeezing my waist hard enough to leave a bruise."
"That's okay....much better. Now you're going to bring your right foot forward and to the right a bit, sort of like you're tracing an upside down 'L'."
"An 'L'? Er...okay." Ron hesitantly moved his foot as Ginny instructed."
"Good," Ginny said. "That's two. Three is easy...all you have to do is bring your left foot over to your right, so that you're standing with your feet together." Ron did so, and Ginny smiled up at him. "See there's nothing to it. Now the fourth step..."
"Wait," Ron interrupted. "You said there were only three."
"No I said that you needed to be able to count to three," Ginny corrected him. "The waltz is actually, as far as movements go, broken in to two sets of three. So when you dance you have to think 'one-two-three, one-two-three."
"Then why don't they just have you count to six?"
"I don't know why Ron....they just do. The last three movements are the same as the first three, only you go in the opposite direction with the opposite foot."
"Nevermind," Ginny sighed. "Moving on...step backwards with your right foot." A pause. "Good. Now step back and to the left with your left foot, like you're tracing a backwards 'L'."
"I thought you said it was an upside down 'L'?"
"Now it's not." She blew out a breath in frustration. "Before it was upside down and now it's backwards."
"I don't know how you expect me not to mix them up."
"Because you can't possibly step backwards and trace an upside down 'L' without crossing over your other foot. And you never cross over your feet in a waltz. Got it?"
"Er...I think so."
"Okay now that you've made a backwards 'L' with your left foot and finished step five, all you do for step six is bring your right foot over to your left."
"At that's it?"
"And then you repeat the steps all over again."
"Wait...I have to do all that AGAIN?"
"Yes, Ron...most waltzes are more than six seconds long."
"I'll never be able to remember all this by tonight," he groaned. "I'm going to embarrass her for sure."
"No you're not," Ginny insisted. "All you need is some practice."
"What I need is a bloody miracle," he whined.
"Look Ron," Ginny rounded on him, "you're lucky that McGonagall is allowing you and Harry to even come to the ball. It's supposed to be for students only."
"We're war heroes," Ron grumbled.
"There are plenty of students who fought in the battle last spring and still came back to continue their education."
Ron shook his head. "Oh so Harry and I were supposed to turn down Kingsley's offer to enter the Auror Academy without our N.E.W.T.S.?"
"Of course not," she said exasperatedly. "Even though you did--"
"You know why," Ron cut in, his temper flaring.
"Let me finish," Ginny insisted. "Everybody knows how much you want to become an auror, Ron. And what you've done for George by putting all that on hold to help out at the shop..." She had to pause, swallowing against the sudden rush of emotion that lodged uncomfortably in her throat. "I've never been more proud of you." She pulled him into a hug to hide the tears threatening to fall. "Even if you can't dance," she mumbled into his shoulder.
Ron awkwardly patted her back before stepping away, embarrassed at her praise. For him, turning down the auror offer hadn't been a hard decision at all. He simply decided to put his family first. The Academy would still be there when he was ready for it. Kingsley had made him that promise. "Hey I didn't do too badly dancing at Bill's wedding last summer, did I?"
Ginny grimaced as she remembered the clumsy twirling and spinning and kicking that Ron considered 'dancing'. "Stick to the waltz and some basic slow dancing," she advised him.
"That bad, eh?" He ran his hand roughly over his face in frustration. "I do need a miracle. This is a terrible idea... all I'm going to do is embarrass her."
"Hey I thought that it would take a miracle for you to get over yourself and ask Hermione to be your girlfriend," Ginny replied with a smirk. "And look how you proved me wrong. Now she wants to go to the ball with you, whether you can dance or not." She paused. "I know you can learn this." Ginny flicked her wand and soft music began to fill the room. She straightened and gripped his hand a bit tighter. "So why don't we try to prove yourself wrong."
Ron let his hands drop to his sides, shoulders slumping in defeat. "I dunno..."
"Ronald Weasley, if anything, you owe Hermione this after ruining the Yule Ball for her," Ginny hissed. "Now either buck up and learn this dance or I'll be forced to do something drastic like owl Viktor Krum! I'm sure McGonagall would be glad to make an exception for him to come just like she did for you. So stop moaning and get your lazy arse over here."
Ron muttered under his breath, but stepped up to her nonetheless. He listened carefully as she explained how to count out the beats in the music, tapping the rhythm with her foot until he was comfortable with the pace. Bracing himself, he lifted her hand in his and curled the other around her waist.
He wasn't sure how long they stood in that position before Ginny gently prodded him. "In order to dance, Ron, we have to actually be moving."
Taking a deep breath, Ron nodded, and hesitantly stepped forward.
Toes were stepped on.
But after two hours of hard work, Ron learned the basics of the waltz.
And later than night, surrounded by the familiar faces of former classmates and professors, Ronald Weasley escorted the Head Girl to the center of the dance floor. "I'm not very good at this," he warned her as the band started to play.
"Should I lead then?" Hermione asked, lifting her left hand.
"No," he exclaimed, grasping her right hand with his left and maneuvering them into the proper position. "I only meant that I know the basics. Just don't expect any fancy twirls or dips, okay?" Like Krum would do, he silently berated himself.
"Good," she announced, sliding her hand up to rest on his shoulder. "I never cared much for that anyway," she continued, smiling reassuringly. "Always left me somewhat dizzy afterwards. And well... I rather like this." She inched a bit closer.
Ron tapped the beats of the music with his foot while he mentally went over the dance steps. He raised his chin and stood tall and, after taking a deep breath, started to move them around the dance floor.
It didn't take long for him to confuse an upside down 'L' with a backwards 'L', nearly pitching them sideways into another couple. He bit his lip and glanced apologetically down at Hermione. "S-Sorry."
Hermione readjusted her hold on him. "It's fine." Ron stepped off again, keeping his eyes firmly fixed over her shoulder in concentration.
" One-two-three... One-two-three... One-two-three...One-"
"There's no need to count out loud," she teased him.
Ron blushed. "Oh, I didn't realize...sorry."
"Look at me." Ron crossed his feet, catching her toe with his heel.
"Stop apologizing," Hermione insisted. "And watch your language. Seriously, I think you'd do better if you concentrated on me rather than stare at everyone else over my shoulder."
Ron grinned sheepishly and turned his head to look at her. "Honestly Hermione, looking at you drives me to distraction. I'm liable to plow into poor Neville over there. And that would be disastrous because it looks like he's trying to get up the nerve to talk to Hannah Abbott."
Hermione craned her head around to watch their long time friend. "I think you're right," she said with a knowing smile. "And thank you for what I believe was a compliment mixed in there somewhere."
"It's true," he replied, struggling to make eye contact. How did she expect him to be able to maintain the rhythm of the music like this?
"Relax," she urged him. "You're not being graded on your performance."
"Feels like it," He grumbled, catching Headmistress McGonagall watching them out of the corner of his eye.
Hermione pulled them to a stop. "You're too tense," she told him, running the tips of her fingers across the back of his neck.
"I'm trying to stay focussed and not slouch," he disagreed. "I'm trying to do this the right way."
"And I appreciate the effort," Hermione replied, reaching up to brush her lips against his cheek in a chaste kiss. "Really I do. But I also want you to have fun."
He pushed them off again across the dance floor, his eyes flickering over her face as he attempted to appease her. He nearly stumbled when Hermione's hand started to play with his hair. "Hermione," he growled in warning.
She smiled innocently in response, giving the ginger locks a teasing tug. "You cut your hair."
"Mum made me," he groused. "It was starting to touch my shirt collar. She cornered me in the kitchen this morning and said that it wouldn't be respectful to show up at the ball looking like a 'ruffian'."
Hermione couldn't help but giggle at the power the Weasley matron held over her children. "She really called you a ruffian?"
"I was insulted," Ron said. "She always complains about Bill's hair, but she hasn't made him cut it."
"Well I for one like you're hair when it's a bit shaggy." Ron's face fell in disappointment. "But it looks nice like this, too," she hastened to assure him.
"It makes me look like a first-year," he disagreed.
Hermione made a show of looking his body up and down. "Believe me when I say that you look nothing like an eleven year old, Ron." She smirked at the resulting blush that spread across his ears and cheeks. "Especially in these nice new robes of yours."
Ron shrugged. "Well I wasn't about to show up in that dreadful outfit from fourth year. Bought these myself...not a bit of lace found anywhere."
They fell into an peaceful silence, exchanging shy glances and secret smiles until the music faded altogether.
"That was wonderful," Hermione exclaimed, beaming.
Ron nodded, bringing her hand up to his lips. "It was."
The band started up again, a slow song that Ron had never heard before. He saw the hopeful look on Hermione's face and extended his hand in invitation. At least it's not a waltz, he thought as Hermione wrapped her arms around his neck loosely. His own hands rested gently on her waist as they swayed to the music.
"This is even nicer," Ron whispered into her hair.
Hermione hummed in agreement. "How come you didn't dance like this at Bill's wedding?"
"Oh...er...I didn't know how then," he replied.
"When did you...?"
"Today," he answered. "Ginny helped me."
"You learned how to do the waltz today?" Hermione asked, surprise evident in her voice. "And your sister taught you?"
He shrugged. "She's not so bad?"
Hermione shook her head, clearly amused. "What were the terms?"
Ron quirked an eyebrow. "Terms?"
"For the dance lesson," she elaborated. "What are you giving her in return?"
"Oh...er..." He grimaced and Hermione was hard pressed not to laugh at his clearly disgusted expression. "I have to turn a blind eye when she and Harry disappear later on."
"She and Harry...Oh!" Hermione blushed. "Right."
"I'm trying not to think about," he mumbled.
Hermione couldn't help it. She dissolved into a fit of giggles, pressing her face against his chest to muffle the sound. "That's too funny," she gasped. "And a bit disturbing."
"Don't remind me," he replied, relieved when he spotted his sister and best mate still present and dancing across the room. "I hope it was worth it."
Hermione nodded against his shoulder. "Definitely. Especially now that I know the price you had to pay." She straightened and cupped his cheeks with her hands. "And I'm very impressed, you know?"
"Yeah?" Ron asked. "With what?"
"With the fact that you spent the afternoon learning how to dance just to impress me," she told him. "And the waltz isn't easy by any means. I'm very proud of you for learning as much as you did in such a short time."
"I'm just glad that we didn't wind up sprawled on the floor," he said. "Although we came close a few times."
"What's important is we didn't," Hermione stressed. She pulled his head forward and kissed him, just long enough to keep him interested but not enough to get them in trouble. "Come with me."
Ron allowed Hermione to lead him through the throngs of party-goers and out onto an empty balcony hidden behind a heavy tapestry. He slipped off his jacket and draped it over her shoulders as they settled against the stone railing. The sky was clear and the full moon shone brightly, casting a brilliant glow across the landscape. "Alone at last," he teased, pulling Hermione into his arms.
Hermione sighed and snuggled closer. "I've missed you," she murmured into his chest.
"Here, at school?" He replied. "You were always on me about now paying attention in class and assisting me with my assignments. I would think that you'd enjoy your new found freedom now that you don't have to worry about my coursework in addition to your own."
"No I miss you like this," she corrected him, tightening her hold. "It's been months since I've seen you. Owling every other day isn't enough."
Ron was startled by her admissions. "Oh. I thought you'd be too involved with preparing for your N.E.W.T.S. to miss me too much." He was rewarded with a stinging slap to his arm. "Ow, what was that for?"
"For being entirely too thick, Ronald Weasley," Hermione fumed, stepping away from him. "How could you think I'd put school before you? After all we went through during the past year and a half, I thought you'd--"
Before they started dated, Ron would usually storm away when Hermione went into a tirade, because she could shout for hours on end without letting him get a word in edgewise. Now he had a more effective way to halt an argument.
"Don't be daft," Ron whispered against her lips as he broke their kiss. "I know how much you care. I just figured that you wouldn't have time to dwell on it between coursework and studying for N.E.W.T.S. and Head Girl duties."
"Well I do," she replied, her eyes still flashing. "But I don't know why since it doesn't seem to bother you any."
Ron chuckled, and it only appeared to incite her further. "You're absolutely mental if you think that. George has threatened to fire me no less than three times in the last two months because I don't stop talking about you. And Mum has been nagging at me because, according to her, all I do I mope around the house waiting for Pig to arrive with your letters."
Ron nodded. "If I didn't care so much, I wouldn't have this." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box.
Hermione froze, staring up at him in shock. Ron quickly realized her assumption and lifted an hand to steady her. "It's not what you think," he said quickly. "It's a ring, yes, but not the one I have to go down on one knee for." He pressed the little black box into her hands, curling her fingers around it when she didn't make a move to do so herself. "I overheard you talking with Ginny the day before you two left to go back to Hogwarts. I didn't mean to," he hastened to explain before being accused of eavesdropping. "I was on my way up to take a shower after de-gnoming the garden and her door was open. I heard how Harry proposed to her the night before and that they were keeping it a secret until the school year was over. That he didn't even have the opportunity to buy her a ring yet, but wanted to ask her before she left."
"You've known all this time?"
"Well I wouldn't be letting them sneak off like they're planning to if they weren't engaged," he informed her, his overprotective brotherly demeanor coming to the surface. "Anyway, I heard you tell her that you weren't ready for that type of commitment. And it's not like we've been dating very long--"
"That has nothing to do with it," Hermione interrupted. "I only meant that I'd have a lot on my plate with school and trying to plan a wedding on top of that would just put me over the edge." She paused, reaching out with her free hand to take his. "I've known you since you were eleven, Ron. It doesn't matter how long we've been together because I know where my heart lies. With you."
"So if I would have asked you?" His eyes searched hers intently.
"I'd have said yes."
"That's good to know," Ron replied quietly. "But I'm not ready to be married right now, either. Helping out at the shop is exactly that. It doesn't pay well and I don't plan on making a career out of it. I'm not even going to mention how much of an arse George can be when he wants to wind me up. And I'm not going to propose until I can provide for us."
"Ronald Weasley if the next words that come out of your mouth involve me pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen, I'll hex you back to Devon."
"What does bare feet have anything to go with kitchens or pregnancy?" Ron asked, clearly befuddled.
"It's a Muggle figure of speech," she informed him. "Usually coined by sexist pigs who think that men should be the sole providers for a family while the woman's duty is to stay at home and bear his children."
"Oh," Ron replied. "And you'd think that I'd trying telling that to you?"
"You better not," Hermione warned him. "I have every intention of having a career. And I plan on helping to support myself while doing it."
Ron knew that he'd have to swallow some of his pride in order to get what he ultimately wanted. "I understand that. But at the same time, I plan on entering the Auror Academy next summer. And I'd rather wait until the training portion is done with before w--er...I...settle down."
"And does 'settling down' include me?" Hermione asked.
Ron smiled, leaning forward to drop a kiss on her forehead. "I sure hope so." He nudged her with his hip. "Well are you going to open that?"
Hermione unclenched her hand and gently opened the tiny box. Nestled within was a modest ring. Three small stones, mustard yellow in color, sat clustered on a simple silver band. "Oh Ron..."
"I know it's not much--"
"It's perfect," she assured him, slipping the delicate ring onto her finger.
"It's charmed," he told her. "The shopkeeper said it was similar to a muggle mood ring. Only this one is charmed to let you know how I'm feeling instead of the other way around. It was blue for the longest time. I've been keeping it in my pocket for the past few weeks to see if it would change, but it never did. The little guide it comes with says that blue was an indicator of loneliness." He shrugged. "That's how I knew it was working right. I only noticed that it had changed when I emptied my pockets during my dance lesson this afternoon."
Hermione looked at the stones with renewed interest. "That's amazing," she replied, running a finger across the stones. "What does yellow mean?"
Ron blushed and rubbed the back of his neck with his hand, a nervous gesture that Hermione recognized immediately. "Well it sort of means that I'm anxious."
He shrugged. "Dunno. I was afraid that I'd mess up the dancing. I did...to an extent, but it could have been much worse i guess. And well, I didn't know if you'd like the ring. Or if you expected me to propose." He let out an explosive sigh, his breath fogging in the cold air. "And if you'd be disappointed or hate me when I didn't."
"Hey," Hermione interrupted, running her hands up and down his chest before resting them on his broad shoulders. "You're too hard on yourself. You did fine with the dancing. And the ring is beautiful...there doesn't have to be a proposal to make it any more so. We'll have our time, Ron. Whether it's a year from now or five or ten. As long as there's the possibility of becoming Mrs. Ronald Weasley, then I'll be happy."
"Someday," Ron added. "But not today." He brought her hand up to his lips and kissed the ring. They both watched in amazement as the stones turned a bright green color."
Ron fumbled around in his pocket and pulled out a small packet of parchment. "Er....let's see..." He flipped through the pages a moment, then held the paper up to catch the light from the moon. "Green means happiness."
"Much better than anxiety," Hermione teased gently. "And it better not turn blue anymore. Happy thoughts from now on. Understand?"
"Easier said than done, love."
"Think of it this way," she said. "If you're planning on proposing someday, then you'll need to be prepared. There's the ring, first and foremost. Something simple and tasteful...not one of those gaudy rings that'll weigh my hand down and get caught on clothing and scratch things. And you'll have to think of a proper way to propose. Not that Harry's spur of the moment proposal wasn't sweet or charming. But you'll be planning this for a while, so I expect that you'll put some thought into it. Of course, you'll have to ask my father's permission to marry me before you do anything." She broke off as the ring turned a ghastly shade of grey. "Ron?"
"Dread," he answered quietly.
Hermione took one look at his frozen face and broke out into a fit of giggles. "Oh your face, Ron! I was only joking." He still looked entirely unconvinced, and she had fight against the urge to knock some sense into him with her fists. Instead she placed her hand against his cheek and rubbed her thumb against his stubble-roughened skin. "You could ask me on the pitch at the Quidditch World Cup in the pouring rain, kneeling in the mud...without asking for my parents' blessing...holding the gaudiest of rings and I'd say yes in a heartbeat."
A broad smile broke out on Ron's face and he kissed her gratefully. "Quidditch World Cup...got it."
She playfully tweaked his nose. "Do it and I'll make sure that we enjoy an educational honeymoon touring all the art museums in Paris."
"Nevermind," he said resignedly.
"The point is," she cut in, "I don't care how it happens as long as it happens."
"It will," Ron promised. "And I plan on asking for your father's blessing. Your mother's, too. I know that you don't need it, but I want to do this right for you. For us."
"I love you," Hermione whispered brokenly, drawing him into an embrace.
"And I love you," he replied, ducking his head to kiss her. They spent a leisurely few minutes reaffirming their love for one another before the sounds of the ball intruded in on their solitude. "Guess we better go back in," Ron said, a touch breathlessly.
"Actually, I was hoping to sneak away," Hermione admitted with a small smile. "There's still time before the ball ends and I thought you might be interested in seeing the Head Girl's Quarters. It's not as big as the Girls' Dormitory...not that you've seen that either...but the most important thing to note is that it only has one bed."
Ron grinned deviously. "Are you inviting me into your room, Hermione?" He Because I'm pretty sure that's against the rules."
Hermione tugged at his hand and led him away from the railing. "The rules state that I cannot have a male student in the room. And technically, you're a guest, not a student."
Ron chuckled as they walked hand in hand across the Great Hall. "Intentionally bending the rules? Who are you and what have you done with my girlfriend?" He easily sidestepped her playful shove as they made their escape, sneaking by vigilant Professors roaming about the corridors seeking out amorous couples in empty classrooms and closets.
Making it to her quarters without incident, Hermione lifted her hand to open the door. "Can I interest you in a private dance?"
"Is it a waltz?"
"Not quite," Hermione answered, stepping inside and pulling in Ron after her, closing the door behind them. The stones on the ring had changed once more but Hermione Granger, brightest witch at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, didn't need a guide to inform her what the deep red color represented.