My palms are sweating.
I am walking down the main street of Itchen Worthy. I'm walking at Hermione's pace, not my own and at this rate it will take me a little longer to reach her parents' house.
Cars speed past as I stroll along the path. The drivers are strangers. Anonymous faces are going about their own business, doing whatever it is that Muggles do. They don't know me, they have no idea what I'm about to do and even if they knew, they wouldn't care.
That is an astonishing thought.
I look down at my feet as they move inexorably onwards. One of my shoelaces is coming loose. Should I refasten it? If I stop walking, will I be able to start again?
I am thinking about walking! Walking isn't something you think about; it's something you do automatically. You certainly don't think about putting one foot in front of another using words that your girlfriend would use, words like inexorably.
I have sweaty palms and my tongue is dry.
Can the moisture missing from my tongue be draining out through my palms?
Don't be ridiculous, Ron.
I'm scared. That's ridiculous too.
I spent my school years alongside Harry and for the last three years I've been working as an Auror. I know what being scared feels like, and I know that I am scared. But why should I be scared now? Scared is how you should feel when you think that you're about to die, not when you're going to…
If only she'd been at her flat in Cheyne Walk. This would have been so much easier if she'd been in Chelsea. I had imagined that I'd be walking into her flat to ask the question. But no, I've had to change my plans because Hermione is in Hampshire, visiting her parents. This is going to be really difficult. How am I going to…?
I need to think about something else.
Hermione! I should think about Hermione. After all, she is the reason I'm here.
Hermione is beautiful. She is surprisingly passionate – and not just about house-elf rights. I haven't seen her for four days, because she's been in Brussels again. She will have brought back some wine; she always does, and tonight she planned for us to stay in, just the two of us, and say hello properly. That reminds me of the night before she left. She was…
I am walking up to the front door of her parents' house, so I must not, under any circumstances think about what Hermione and I were doing on the night before she left. But now I've started, how can I stop? I need a distraction.
I need to stick to the plan.
I pull my watch from my pocket and check it. I have to time this carefully, but it's already five minutes past ten.
No sooner than ten o'clock and no later than eleven, that's what we agreed. I wonder how Harry's doing. He's probably already got his answer. I wonder what he was thinking about as he walked up to The Burrow. Then I remember what I have just been thinking about.
Now I must desperately try not to wonder what Harry is thinking.
What will I do if she says no?
That thought brings me to my senses. That's when I finally realise why I'm scared, because if she says no, that would be worse than dying. At least – it would be a different sort of death. In a way I would die if she said no.
How did she get the power of life and death over me, and when?
Malfoy Manor? That was when I knew that I had to do something about it. Dumbledore's funeral? That was when I was finally certain. The Yule Ball? That was pathetic. I was jealous, and too stupid to realise it. Hermione wasn't, and she will never let me forget that.
This is life-changing, Ron. This is commitment. This is … this is what I've wanted since I was … seventeen … probably. But is it what she wants?
This is a stupid idea.
Why did Harry and I agree to do it like this?
Hermione and I have been together for some time; so have Harry and Ginny. We have been two very public couples for more than three years and yet we are still news. We'll be in the news again soon.
Synchronicity! That's what Harry said when I told him what I intended to do, and he told me that he was planning the same thing.
We independently had the same idea. We had reached the same decision. Our girls probably won't believe us, but we hadn't discussed it. Neither Harry nor I said anything to the other until after we had the rings.
I spent weeks looking for the right ring, the ring in my pocket (my hand reaches inside my jacket to make certain that it's still there). I half-emptied my vault to buy it. Harry didn't have to look for the right ring. His mother's jewellery, including her engagement ring, had all been placed in his vault. He simply had it resized for Ginny.
When we discovered that we were both planning the same thing, Harry suggested that we do it this way. I agreed. Because we know what our girlfriends will do when we ask the question. Each will want to tell the other as quickly as possible, and the other will either be disappointed or expectant, and that would ruin the surprise.
I am still walking, but I think that I'm slowing down. My heart isn't. Listening to my heartbeat, you'd think that I was sprinting.
It is going to be fine. There won't be any problems – unless she says no.
But, why would she say no?
Unfortunately, my brain can find dozens of answers to that question. I wish that it couldn't.
I'm useless. I'm untidy. I'm clumsy. I bait her. I annoy her. She's cleverer than me. We argue. I leave toast crumbs in her bed. I completely ignore her when the Cannons are playing.
Let's face it; I'm not exactly a great catch. This is forever. This is commitment. Today, she could leave. I'd follow, of course, and I'd beg, like the pathetic fool I am. But she could lose me easily. If she says yes, she's stuck with me forever.
That's almost enough to put me off! Why would she say yes? She'd have to be crazy to say yes.
I turn onto the drive of her parent's large red brick house. I see movement in an upstairs window. It's Hermione's room. She's seen me approaching. This is it! My feet are crunching on the gravel. My legs are still moving, carrying me slowly towards the door. Good legs, sensible legs. They aren't panicking, unlike my brain.
Why is it my job to ask? Why is it the bloke's job? Why are all of the difficult things in life always the bloke's job? Why couldn't she ask me? Then I'd know the answer.
I know exactly what I'd do if she asked me the question. I'd say yes!
I'd tease her first, of course; I'd make her think that I would say—no.
Pull yourself together, Ron!
Legs, keep walking, ignore that stupid brain.
The front door opens, and there she is.
'Hi, Ron,' she says, smiling.
'Ghjgh-hi,' I say because my dry tongue has stuck to the roof of my mouth.
'What's wrong?' she asks. Her face creases into a worried frown.
She cares, my brain tells me.
Unfortunately, it must have been that part of my brain which should have been watching my legs, because I manage to trip over my own feet.
I should have refastened that shoelace.
I stumble and with flailing, windmilling arms, I fall. I land heavily on my hands and knees on the red gravel. I've ripped the knees of my jeans, and probably skinned my knees too. I think that my palms have stopped sweating. I can't be sure, because now they are bleeding. Hermione dashes towards me, laughing.
I'm bleeding, and she's laughing.
For a moment I am cross; then I see that concern and laughter are combined on her face. I try to visualise what she saw, and realise that I must have looked ridiculous. I certainly sounded ridiculous.
'Ghjgh! Hi,' I say. 'I think that I must have tripped over my tongue.'
She laughs again. I bring my right leg forwards and place my foot firmly on the ground, I'm about to stand, when my brain finally starts working. It stops me from standing and reminds me exactly where I am.
I am in front of my girlfriend, on bended knee and she is laughing at me. And she doesn't realise what I have in my pocket. She cannot suspect what I'm about to do.
Ignoring the pain in my grazed knees, I reach into my jacket pocket with a bloody hand.
'Hermione Jean Granger, I love you. Will you marry me?' I ask.
Her face is wonderful. I watch the emotions, read the thoughts.
It begins with exasperation: he's down on one knee and he thought that it would be a funny thing to say.
It moves instantly to annoyance: I can almost hear her saying "this is not something you make jokes about, Ronald!"
Then there is astonishment, because by that point, before she can speak, I have pulled the tiny box from my pocket and opened it. Her eyes have registered the fact that they are looking at a ring, and that I'm not joking.
I have confused that mighty brain!
'Yes,' she whispers her reply without hesitation, almost without thinking.
I stand and gently slide the ring onto her finger.
Then she begins to cry.
I hug her clumsily, trying not to get blood on her pale green t-shirt.
Sod it, it's only a t-shirt! I hug her tightly.
'Well, that went smoothly, didn't it?' I ask.
She begins to laugh again, but has to stop, because I kiss her.
She said yes.
There was never any doubt, not really.