He watches her. Carefully, subtly, longingly. Because on Reaping Day, the only thing you can do is savor the people that you love. And he loves her. Most definitely, he loves her. He knows he shouldn't be able to, shouldn't want her this way, because he's never even kissed her before. But she's been his best friend since childhood, and he's never known anybody as well as he knows her and Harry, and that's just fact. So all day, every day, he watches her. But especially today. They're seventeen. It's their second-to-last chance. And it's true that she's never had to take out tesserae, but he's still so, so scared that she'll be called. So worried that he'll have to stare up at a giant screen and watch as dangerous people tries to kill her.

Sensing that he has his eyes on her, she looks over at him. He's just standing there in the section for boys, and he doesn't bother pretending that he isn't staring at her. Not today. Not when everything is at stake. She seems to sense that, too. Her face breaks out into a weak, weak smile as her nervous eyes dart over his face. In that moment, it's then, just the two of them. For a second, he has this odd sense of everything being completely alright. Maybe it will all work out. This calm, perfect feeling just washes over him, and they're the only two people in the entire world.

That is, until the mike is tapped on, a masculine voice is sounded through the crowd, and the man who is to announce who exactly will be sentenced to death this year. Ron turns away from Hermione only to look upon this man with an intense loathing. He only wishes that looks could kill- this man would have died long ago. Everyone in the district hates the sight of his face. Yes, the Hunger Games can sometimes be a cause for excitement. But that doesn't change the fact that one of the two people will end up dead as a doornail. Ron lets a bitter little smirk drip onto his face as he glares at the man, disbelief marking his expression. Disbelief at the way a person could walk onto a stage knowing that he's about to ruin lives, and do so with an enormous Capital smile on his face. It's absolutely disgusting. And insulting. And just wrong. How could anyone do that every year? How could anyone deal with something like that on an annual basis?

"Good afternoon and happy Hunger Games, District Three!" the man says, voice deep but enthusiastic. "Let's get started with the Reaping, shall we?"

The crowd seems to be divided. Half of them assent with wild cheers. The other half stays silent, staring up at the man with a mixture of fear, impartiality, and anger. It's interesting to see how the response varies with different people. Ron looks over at Hermione and sees her watching everyone with a curious look on her face, trying to see exactly what their reactions are. It's not judgmental. It's just interested. He values that about her so much.

But suddenly the man is reaching into one of those big, clear hamster balls, and his hand picks up one piece of paper before laughing and dropping it, putting it back down. Someone's life has just been saved. Someone's fate has just been decided. Who's? The man's fingers clamp around another piece, and he lifts it out of the ball. A ball of nerves comes together in Ron's stomach, causing his heart to thump wildly. Pleasedon'tletitbeHermione, pleasedon'tletitbeHermione.

"Hermione Granger," the man says jovially.

And Ron's entire world collapses around him.

"No," he says, and his voice carries through the crowd. "NO!"

Next to him, Harry jabs him roughly in the side.

"Don't Ron," he hisses, face contorting in pain as he stares at Hermione. She walks slowly to the stage, and Ron can see her sucking in deep, deep breaths, the same ones that she takes in before a test. This is a test. The Hunger Games are a test. It has never hit Ron so powerfully as it does when she turns around and stares at the audience, at her friends, who are so relieved that it wasn't one of their own loved ones. It's hard to keep being horrified when it happens every year and it doesn't always directly effect you.

Shit. Shit, shit, shit. He can't do this silently. He can't just watch his worst nightmare play out. He can feel the scream rising up in himself as his eyes unwaveringly attach to her. Somehow, her own beautiful brown eyes come to meet his in the crowd, amongst all the other boys. Seeing him seems to stiffen her resolve. She draws herself up, the look in her eyes becoming empty and unreadable.

Good girl.

He doesn't change his face, just looks at her intensely, and when her eyes widen he knows that she's aware of what he's going to do. She frantically shakes her head, eyes widening. It doesn't matter. He feels bile rise up in his throat, nausea. Tears threaten to spill out of his eyes as her expression silently pleads with him. No difference is made. When the boy's name is called- whoever the hell it is, Ron doesn't really give a shit- he leaps forward and shouts,

"I VOLUNTEER!"

His voice isn't the only voice that does it. Next to him, Harry has also lept forward, ready to take the stage with Hermione. Ron silently pushes him back with his hand.

"No, let me go, Ron," Harry says desperately. "I'll protect her, and when she comes back you can actually be with her. If you go, there's no chance of that. One of you will be left empty or both of you will be gone."

"I'm sorry, Harry," Ron says quietly, "but I don't trust you with her life. I don't trust anyone but me with her life. Not with these stakes."

He hasn't spent seventeen years of his life falling in love with her to just let her go like this. So he steps up to the stage, letting a hand touch her back reassuringly as he crosses to his side. Her eyes are closed, trying to squash the fury that she feels at him. He can still see it in the way her brows are creased. He knows her that well, knows what all her different eyebrow movements are. And it's this that makes him love her- the little things. But also the big things. It's just an overwhelming sense of everything. It's Hermione.

Goodbyes are probably the hardest part. His mum and dad and brothers are awkward, so angry at him for making this choice. They think it's a reflection on them. The whole thing is very strained, Ginny the only person meeting his eyes. Which hurts. He isn't going to lie. But how is he supposed to tell his parents and brothers that this has nothing to do with them? That he's not going into the Hunger Games because he wants to die, but because he's so irrevocably in love with Hermione that the idea of her dying alone- or dying at all, really- is too much for him to bare by sitting idly by. At some point in their seventeen years of knowing each other, she took presidence over everything else. Over his family and friends and even his own mortality.

His feelings turn him insane. He feels too much, of that he is sure. When they were little, she used to defend him. She would berate his brothers for teasing him, and Ron remembers being so embarrassed by that. Harry handled it better. He would glare at them, but stay silent, knowing that compromising Ron's manliness would anger him, even though Ron would never get angry at Hermione. Of course, Ron's manliness was compromised so much that it shouldn't have bothered him at that point. Harry and Hermione were so much more well off than him, living in much nicer houses. Harry was popular with the girls, being brawny and different looking- not many people in their District had green eyes. Hermione was the smartest girl in their class. Ron was just normal, useless, poor. He had never been particularly brave and special, had just silently fallen in love with his best friend. And now he had done it. He had volunteered. He had done something brave and special and he knew that it was going to cost him his life.

"Goodbye, Ronnie," his mother says, fighting back tears. She hugs him, not meeting his eyes. Fred and George are staring at each other, trying to communicate without words. Percy is standing off to the side, not quite apart of the family. Bill and Charlie aren't looking at Ron. And his father's gaze goes back and forth from the floor to Ron. Ginny stares at him unwaveringly, her eyes on fire. She's angry, but also proud. He's thrilled to see that in her expression.

What do you say when you're bidding someone goodbye forever? How do you express your emotions, your feelings, how do you thank them for every little thing they've ever done for you in a few little words? He struggles with this as he hugs his mum back, letting her tears drip onto his shoulder.

"This isn't your fault," he says. "I didn't volunteer because of any of you. It's just-"

"You did it for a girl," Percy snaps incredulously. "How exactly do you think that's going to work? You just lost your entire chance with her by raising your hand to go die!"

"It's not a girl," Ginny says angrily. "It's Hermione. Totally different."

It seems to Ron like everybody knows that he's in love with Hermione except for Hermione. He cringes.

"I'm sorry you don't understand," he tells the room at large.

"I do," Bill sighs. "Really, I do. It's just... this. It seems kind of extreme."

"The Hunger Games are extreme," Ginny says, raising her eyebrow at her brother. Ron feels pride gush through him. She and Harry are so well suited. They'll get each other through this.

"Bye, Ron," Ginny says. flinging herself at him to give him an enormous bear hug. "Fight your arse off for her. Stay alive as long as you can for her. And if you need to send her back to me... I forgive you."

He's amazed at how perceptive his little sister is to his plan. Then again, it seems like everybody must have figured it out. There's no other reason he would have volunteered himself.

After he's given out the appropriate goodbyes, Ron's family leaves. He's sorry to see them go, knowing that he'll never see them again.

Harry strides into the room just then, his walk angry. Ron looks at him guiltily, only now feeling bad for what he's about to do. He's about to leave Harry alone in this world, and Harry doesn't deserve to be left alone. Still, he has Ginny. Ginny is worth even more to him than Ron is, maybe.

"Look, Ron," Harry says, jumping right into the point. "I get why you're doing this, and I'm happy for you and everything, but you have to do it right."

"Right?" Ron asks, lifting an eyebrow.

"Don't die for her in the first ten seconds just because you know you're going to kick it anyways. Fight. Be resourceful. Don't do anything rash. Be careful with her life, but also with your own. And for the love of god, tell her how you feel!"

"Do you honestly think now is the right time to tell her how I feel?" Ron laughs. "Seriously, Harry."

"Seriously, Ron," Harry says. "I honestly do."

He scrutinizes his best friend for a second, then nods.

"Take care of Ginny."

Because, really, that's all the words he has in that moment.

***

That first dinner on the train is weird. She's trying to pretend like she's angry at him, but he knows that she's grateful. She's not doing this alone, and having him with her makes it so much easier. As their tribute guides talk amicably, Ron and Hermione silently communicate, something they've gotten down to an art in their time together. They're just as good as Fred and George. The tribute guides don't seem to notice that their tributes know each other so well. They comment on how brave it was for Ron to volunteer, and how funny it is that the two of them have been in school together for years. It doesn't occur to either of them that Ron and Hermione could be friends. It doesn't occur to either of them that Ron is not in this for glory.

They're in the middle of discussing the last Hunger Games when Ron politely clears his throat, cutting them off.

"Could I be excused, please? It's been a long day, and I need to build up my strength for the Games."

"Of course," the mentor, whose name Ron has not bothered to learn. "You're right, you do need to be strong."

He seems to be sizing Ron up, trying to see if he's tough enough to make it. From the grim smile on his face, Ron can tell that he likes what he sees. For a boy who sits around in a classroom all day, Ron has muscles. He's always enjoyed playing sports, and is so tall that he tends to excel at them. Seeing as his father doesn't like them, Ron often plays with Harry and his father. James Potter happens to be excellent at athletics.

"Same here," Hermione says, throwing her napkin down with a swift glare at Ron. They haven't had a chance to talk to each other all day. He knows she wants to rip into him. "Please," she adds. "I'm so very tired." He nods again. "Thank you," Hermione beams sweetly.

Christ, can she be manipulative. It's sexy.

The two of them walk out of the room- Ron slowly, Hermione practically a tornado in her haste. He feels a small smile etch its way onto his face as he watches her, so Hermione-esque. She waits until they're a decent amount away from the dining car before she explodes, of course. They're in a dark corridor when she rounds on him. There's the sound of flesh on flesh as she slaps him clean across the face, and he closes his eyes, trying to ignore the stinging.

"Ronald Weasley, you stupid, idiotic, horrid-"

She's cut off as he leans down and presses his lips against hers. For a second, she simply lets him kiss her, but then something seems to change in her, and she kisses him back harder, arms winding around his neck. He's got her back pressed against the wall, and she's making adorable little whimpering noises in the back of her throat. He pulls back, pressing his forehead against hers, breathing insanely hard.

"-gorgeous, wonderful, selfless, perfect-" Hermione goes on, seemingly in a stupor. She stares up at him. "I don't know what that was. What was that?"

"That was," Ron begins, tapping his chin and thinking. "That was 'I've been in love with you for all seventeen years of my life and I need you to know it before we go in there.'"

"Oh god," she moans, leaning her head back against the wall. "Are you serious? Don't do this if you're not serious."

"Why do you think I volunteered?" he demands, slightly insulted that she didn't just buy right into his explanation and go back to kissing him.

"Because you have a death wish," she manages to huff out. "Not because you're in love with me."

He leans down and kisses her again, then pulls back.

"Yep, definitely in love with you."

"Oh God," Hermione repeats, amazement gracing her expression. "Why are you telling me this now?"

"Because... because I volunteered so that you wouldn't die, and I need you to know that, okay Hermione?"

"No," she argues. "Not okay! I'm not letting you do that!"

"Like you have any choice," he snorts, covering her retort with his lips as he kisses her again. She succumbs quite easily, but then he pulls back, frowning down at her. "Hang on, you didn't say it back!"

"Oh," she says, looking very flustered. "Well... I love you too. Obviously."

"Obviously," Ron teases, kissing her again and pulling back quickly. "Of course. Obviously."

"I really do," Hermione says, threading her fingers into his hair as his lips trail down to her neck. "I have as long as I can remember. You were my childhood and I've never been able to grow out of you."

"Good," he responds, voice muffled in her skin.

She pulls away suddenly, fingers slipping out of his hair.

"I need to process before we can... yeah," she says quietly. "See you tomorrow?"

"See you tomorrow," he agrees. He kisses her cheek before they walk opposite ways down the train to their rooms.

They're both very, very anxious as they walk into the training room. Sure, they've seen the other tributes before, but never quite like this. The way they're all practicing, gearing themselves up, preparing themselves to survive. Ron looks at all of them like dead meat: he will kill every single one of the people here before he lets Hermione die. But some of them seem oddly nice... the boy tribute from District Five smiles at the two of them as they walk into the room. Ron remembers his name to be Neville. He doesn't smile back. Hermione, however, does.

"Hello," she says, waving at him. Neville waves back. Ron looks at her oddly as they cross the room, away from Neville. "What?" she asks.

"Why are you cozying up to him?" mutters Ron. "We're trying to keep you alive, remember?"

"I'm not trying to keep me alive. And I'm not cozying up to him! I'm being friendly. Poor boy hasn't even lost his baby fat yet."

"Oh, Hermione," Ron sighs. He leans down to kiss her, but thinks better of it and pulls back, patting her awkwardly on the head instead to disguise the movement of his hand coming up to caress her cheek.

"Oh, Ron," she says back in a tone that has now become extremely familiar to him, and he gives her a warning look.

"You want to flirt now?"

During their time on the train, the idea of the two of them being a couple has sunken in much more. They've spent their days locked away in any corners that they can find, their nights sleeping cuddled up together. The feeling of an upcoming demise for both of them has, perhaps, been a huge factor in the speed they're going, but Ron has made sure that Hermione hadn't done anything she would regret. As a matter of fact, he's the one that is far more controlled about their relationship than she is. For someone who is so uptight and bookish normally, Hermione has no trouble with being totally passionate when she's in the middle of kissing him.

"Sorry," she laughs, smiling up at him. "What would you rather I do? Flirt with Neville over there? Or maybe that boy... what's his name? Draco?"

"Uhg, god, flirt away with me. You have a sick mind, Hermione."

The two of them head over to the knot tying station first, although Ron eyes the weights with intense interest. Hermione notices, telling him to go over there. He grins down at her like she's the best girlfriend in the world, then kisses the top of her head before walking over to the weight station. As he picks them up carefully, he glances around at all the other tributes. Luna Lovegood- who honestly seems to him like she's the craziest girl he's ever encountered- is at the camouflage station, painting herself into a field of daisies and seeming to be oblivious to everything around her. Her expression is oddly blank, like she's on morphine. Draco Malfoy is throwing spears with great agility, and Ron remembers that he is a Career, so he's someone to watch out for. There are two boys from District Two that Ron thinks are named Crabbe and Goyle. They are huge. Good god. And a small little boy from District Twelve that Ron remembers to be named Colin. He desperately wishes that he could protect the little boy, as some internal instinct is telling him to, but he can't. He can't become attached to anybody but Hermione. The emotional issues of that could compromise his mission.

She doesn't seem to be having the same issues. She's over at that same knot tying station talking to Neville again, smiling very kindly and genuinely at him. Jealousy rears up in Ron, and he tries to tell himself to quench it. Hermione has chosen him. Not Neville. There's no reason to hate him.

But still, Ron vows to have an absolute hatred of Neville Longbottom.

She steps out of his bathroom wearing a towel and a bathrobe, giving him the shock of his life. The worst part is that he swears to god she knows what she's doing. She settles down onto his bed and begins running a towel through her hair, eyes never leaving his face as she scrutinizes him.

"What?" he inquires, raising his eyebrows at her.

"What was wrong with you today?" she asks, looking a bit annoyed. "Everybody was so nice-"

"-everybody?"

"-and you just completely ignored them!"

"Who was nice?"

"Neville. And Luna. And Cho. They were all so nice!"

He shrugs.

"I don't care about any of them. They compromise my mission here."

"Your mission?" she replies in a patronizing tone.

"To get you out alive."

"That's stupid, and it's not happening. I'm not letting you sacrifice yourself for me. You can't think that this idea is actually going to be followed through on."

"Why?"

"Why? Because I'm an only child, but you have an entire family to go back to."

"You're my family," he says unblinkingly.

"And you're mine," says Hermione gently. "But I'm not the only one. Think about Harry."

"He has Ginny."

"Think about your mum."

"She has dad."

"Think about me. How am I supposed to sit there and watch as the hovercar takes you away?"

"You're the strongest girl I know," is his honest response. "You'll be perfectly fine."

"Flattery will get you nowhere."

"Flattery gets me everywhere," he says in return, leaning forward to kiss her. "For example, I think you want me to tell you how good you look in this towel."

Their lips meet.

"What makes you think that?" she murmurs.

"Because you didn't bother with the autodryer, which means that you wanted me to see you sopping wet and in a fluffy bathrobe."

"Now why would I want that?" she questions.

"You were attempting to seduce me into not saving your life. It's not going to work."

"It isn't?" she giggles.

"No, you manipulative wench."

He isn't sure if this counts as dirty talk, but when she rolls her eyes and kisses him, he guesses that he wins anyways.

It's the type of moment that every girl dreams of- he's fully aware of that. He knows it as she walks towards him, silver dress floating behind her in a gorgeous train. He can see the soft smile that lights her face, and the sheepish expression she wears for actually loving this dress. He can see it in her eyes that she feels beautiful, and he's relieved. She needs to be as comfortable as possible for this. Because this is about to be hell. The cameras, the people, the competition itself. And if the capital can give Hermione one night to feel pretty, one night to feel special... well, that's fine with him. She actually seems happy, as if she's trying to forget. As if maybe she's already forgotten.

Then again, she's Hermione. She acts. She's so good at acting, so good at pretending. It's all apart of how strong she is, how strong she has become. Still, right now, she just looks like a teenage girl. A girl who he is completely in love with and wishes with everything he has that he could spend the rest of his life with. Had this never happened, they would be getting married in two years, having kids in three. That was the way it worked in the Districts, and that was what was being stolen from them. A life together. Just because of a simple little piece of white paper.

"You look beautiful," he says, catching her around the waist as she comes toward him.

"Thank you," Hermione beams. "You look handsome yourself."

He runs his fingers through her straightened hair, fingers seeming to be surprised at the lack of resistance they meet in the knot-free locks. Usually, her messy and bushy hair is framing her face in a while mass of chaos. Usually, her hair is not so smooth and silky. He can picture her hunched over her books, brushing those flyaway pieces of hair out of her face.

And if this is the first thing that the Capital changes about her, he wonders what will be next.

They head into the enormous entertainment center holding hands, not caring about people seeing. It doesn't matter. Not anymore. They're here, and the fact that they're in love will probably be a good angle anyways. At least that's what their mentors said, once they figured it out. Ron and Hermione's seats are right next to each other, so they stare up at Ceasar Flickerman side by side, sensing each other's nerves just with that closeness, because that is how well they know each other. He tells a few jokes, and the interviews begin. Seeing as they're from District Three, they have to wait a bit, but not very long. All too soon, Ron is giving Hermione's hand a reassuring squeeze as she makes her way up to the stage.

For a second after she sits down in the chair, all she does is stare out at the roaring crowd. And an innate sense of disgust seems to settle on her face. Ron groans inwardly. Now is not the right time to let her human rights obsession kick in. She needs to focus on getting herself out alive, not killed by the gamemakers for her rebellion.

"Well, hello," Ceasar Flickerman says. "Aren't you lovely!"

"Thank you," Hermione says stiffly. Ron can see that the cheering of the capital citizens has washed away the high she'd gotten from feeling pretty for once. Now she just looks pissed off. He inwardly begs her eyes to meet his, and when they do he smiles in an exaggerated fashion, reminding her. She looks slightly sheepish before turning back to Ceasar Flickerman. "I'm so excited to be here!" she giggles.

There it is.

"We're excited to have you here. What do you like most about the Capital so far?" Ceasar asks.

"The autodryers," Hermione says unblinkingly, and Ron nearly chokes on his own spit.

Seriously, now she's making him picture her wet and in a towel. This is purposeful. This is evil.

Ceasar doesn't seem to notice the slip- and he wouldn't. He has no idea. He just moves on with the interview.

"And what do you miss most from home?"

Hermione glances off of the stage and looks over at Ron.

"Well, I think the thing I would have missed most is here with me."

He's shell shocked as the camera turns on him. This wasn't apart of the plan... was it? What is she doing?

"Oho! Is there something you'd like to tell us about you and Mr. Weasley, Miss Granger?"

"Well... we've been friends since childhood. And now we're dating. And he has followed me into the Hunger Games so that he can die for me."

"Oh no!" Ceasar says, but written all over his face are the words oh the romance! "That's horrible. Tell me, how did you feel when he first volunteered?"

"Angry," Hermione says clearly. "Because I can take care of myself. I don't need him dying for me. And he just took every chance we had of being together and threw it out the window."

Ron is flushes now, thinking about his mother and father watching this at home.

"But surely you must be slightly grateful!" Ceasar asks, looking shocked.

"Not a tiny, tiny bit," Hermione promises him. "I am not grateful that he's throwing his life away. So while Ron is fighting to keep me alive, I'm going to be just as determined for death as he is."

Ceasar looks around nervously, than leans forward.

"Perhaps you shouldn't be broadcasting that to the other tributes," he stage-whispers. Hermione leans forward, too.

"I'm not saying that for the benefit of them. I'm saying it for Ron. He can't argue with me when I'm all the way up here."

Ceasar laughs.

"Good point! Very smart, Miss Granger."

"Well, that's what I am," she says bitterly. "Smart. Bookish."

"And this is a bad thing?"

"In the Hunger Games it is. That won't do me any good here... I need to be brawny, don't I?"

"Can't you be clever?" the man asks.

And that's when Hermione hangs her head and says,

"I'm not sure I have it in me."

Actingactingacting. She's going to kick all of their asses with her cleverness.

"Well, we'll all be rooting for both you and Ron," Ceasar tells her, placing a hand on her shoulder. "Really."

"Thank you," Hermione replies, wiping a fake tear out of her eye.

He knows what she's doing, of course. She's trying to get them to underestimate her. She's trying to get them to think she's a defenseless, sniveling little girl who needs her boyfriend to save her. That was the original plan. None of this "I don't need my boyfriend to save me" crap. It leaves kind of a mixed message, doesn't it? Ron almost wants to laugh at how the Capital citizens will be mulling that over, completely confused by it. But all too soon she's out of her seat and walking over to him again and he's being called to the stage. He passes her with a smirk on his face. He's soooo going to one-up her.

"Hi, Ceasar," Ron says, giving his hand a shake.

"Nice handshake," Ceasar says. "Firm. Strong."

"Thank you," comes Ron's gruffest voice, and Ceasar gestures for him to sit down.

"So how about that little show from your girlfriend?"

"She's something, isn't she?" is Ron's response, gazing down at Hermione with love in his eyes.

She narrows her own eyes at him, cocking her head suspiciously. Now they're just improvising, plans be damned.

"I'm sure she's a fighter," Ceasar says, and Ron thinks to himself that this actually seems genuine.

"Of course she's a fighter," he says. "She has been from the day we were born."

"And how exactly would you know that?" Ceasar says, eyes twinkling as though he's expecting a good joke to come out of it.

"Well, I wasn't born yet. But my mother was there."

"Your mother?"

"Yes. Our mothers were best friends, along with the mother of another boy. They called us 'the golden trio' because we were always together, just the three of us. From age zero, our mothers had us playing with each other. We literally grew up together, and when it came time to go to school, we were all in the same class. Every experience I've ever had has been shared with Hermione, every stage of my life, every moment. I haven't got a single memory that doesn't involve ink-stained fingers and bushy hair. I don't think I've lived a single day of my school-career without her telling me to get my homework done. She's been there for everything- the infant stages to the awkward stages to here. And she is everything. So you see, that's why I couldn't let her come to the Hunger Games by herself. I needed to be the one that saved her. Because I've spent my entire life falling in love with her, my entire life leading up to this time where we could be together. And I'm going to savor every moment I have with her until I die, but I'll be damned if she goes too."

Ceasar looks surprised at Ron's confirmation.

"So she's right? You don't plan on making it out of the games?"

"Not if I can help it," Ron admits. A glance over at Hermione tells him that she's not looking at him, though her cheeks are bright red. He wonders if this is from frustration or embarrassment.

"What exactly would you tell the sponsors, then?"

Ron thinks for a second, them smiles grimly.

"Support me, support her. This girl is the most brilliant student of her age, and she can only benefit your technology and lives. To waste such a mind as hers is just that- a waste. Don't waste Hermione Granger. Don't do it."

***

It's dark when she's finally able to tiptoe into his bedroom. He can hear the soft turn of the doorknob, see the whiteness of her cotton nightdress as she tentatively tiptoes- barefoot- into the room. The door closes with a soft creak, and then there's a sigh as she crawls onto bed with him and into his arms.

"Hi," he says tiredly, but her voice is much more awake as she says,

"Hi."

He presses a kiss against her hair, then sniffs it in what he hopes is a surreptitious manner. He can never get enough of her hair. It's back to bushy now, and he runs his fingers through it once more, happy to encounter the various knots and tangles that are characteristic of the Hermione that he has grown up with.

"How about those interviews?" he probes, yawning.

"They were... interesting," she concedes.

"Interesting?"

"They made me think," she says carefully.

"About what?"

"About us. About everything that the Capital is taking away from us by putting us in these games, by ensuring that one of us dies. See, there are all these things that good couples are supposed to go through together. First fights, marriage, first child... and we will never experience these emotions. I want to feel some of that, the trials and the tribulations. Because I've wanted that with you for so long, and now they're just being ripped out from under us. I need to experience some of that with you before I die."

Ron wants to tell her that she's not going to die, but he decides to just ignore it, just this once. Hermione doesn't seem to be in the mood for a fight tonight, which is different for her, but not unwelcome.

"I don't know what to say to you," he says, defeated. "We can't do that stuff, Hermione. We're never going to get married and live together and have children and send them off to school and watch them grow up and then get older together. I don't know what I could do to give you one of those experiences."

She looks up at him from where her head is on his chest, a slight crease between her eyebrows.

"I know," she whispers.

"You... know?" he says blankly, and she nods again. "What?" She kisses him in response. He thinks that she's not going to answer until he suddenly catches on. "No. No way. It's been a couple of weeks. We're not going to-"

"It's been seventeen years!" she argues. "Stop trying to protect me, you idiot! I need to feel something before I go into those Games, I need to have some life changing experience. I've never had a life changing experience like that. And I've always wanted to... with you... and..."

"This is so fucking awkward," Ron groans, hitting his head against the headboard. "I don't want to talk about this."

"We're about to die, Ron," Hermione says harshly, sweet tone vanished from her voice. "Work with me here."

"You're going to regret it."

"I am not," she protests, and he almost laughs, thinking about how she'd probably stamp her foot if they had been in a standing position.

He stares at her, eyebrow raised.

"You actually mean this. You want to have sex."

"Yes!"

"You're serious."

"Yes."

"You're crazy."

"Yes!"

"I don't think it's-"

"Fine!" she yells, throwing her hands up into the air. "FINE! We'll just go to sleep."

"Okay," he says, slightly suspicious of her quick change of heart.

"Goodnight, Ron."

"Goodnight, Mione."

She settles herself away from him, on the other side of the bed. He can hear her breathing begin to get more rhythmic. In spite of his protests, he's slightly disappointed. He'd been hoping she would stick it out until she wore him down.

That's when she rolls over. And she's pretty much on top of him. And when she sighs in her sleep, her head moves up and down, and she's rubbing her nose against his neck, and he's painfully aware of the way she's pressed up against his body, rubbing against him, and he suddenly feels like his brain is about to explode.

"ALRIGHT! FINE! WE CAN HAVE SEX!" he shouts. "Whatever."

"Thank you!" she says triumphantly, eyes popping open. "God, that didn't take long at all- you were relatively easy to manipulate."

Her lips move to his, kissing him, and it's not nervous at all. Just electrified, like everything is these days. They're going so fast, but it's not like they have any other choice.

In the Hunger Games, it's fast or nothing.

But as he swipes his tongue over her bottom lip and tastes the taste that is Hermione, he suddenly loses himself in her kiss. Lip on lip, tongue on tongue, heart on heart make all of his worries vanish into non being as he devours his girlfriend and is devoured by her. He forgets everything, the Hunger Games, his death wish, his need for her to live, and suddenly it's just him and Hermione. The boy-next-door kissing the brightest girl of her age, the only girl that he's ever been in love with. The feeling of being two teenagers in love just makes everything go away, all the pain and sorrow and worry. They may be running out of time, it's true.

But for now, this is enough.