Disclaimer: Not mine. The last time I checked - this still all belonged to Rowling.
"So. You're really going to do it."
"Yeah, it took a while, but I'm certain."
"Ron, I really am happy for you — Marissa is wonderful," Hermione said with a smile as she was pulled into a warm hug by her friend of nineteen years.
"Yeah, I know," he replied, favouring her with a silly grin. Pushing her back far enough to look her in the eyes, he sobered. "You've got to promise me that you won't close yourself off — that you'll get out and try to make new friends, take a swing at an actual relationship." When her smile faltered and she didn't respond immediately, he embraced her again, kissing her gently on the forehead before he spoke. "Hermione?"
"I'll be fine. Things aren't as bad as before — I'm in a better place now. I promise, and I'll actually keep it this time. Marissa will hate me if you both spend all of your time worrying about me," she mumbled into his shoulder as she hugged him tightly before stepping away. "Besides, I've got it easy — you've got to deal with your mum and her expectations. I've been covering for you and Marissa for months. Between Molly and the media fallout. . ."
He laughed. "You really do have it easy — the reporters are terrified of you. I wish I had half the dirt on them that you do."
"They actually like you," she replied before issuing a little a snort. "I needed the dirt to get them to lay off."
"True, that. Besides, you can just immerse yourself in one of your projects until the dust settles."
"I could," she said with a smile. Reaching into her bag, she pulled out her planner and placed it on the counter. "So, when will you propose?" she asked as she made adjustments to her schedule to reflect the change in her and Ron's status.
"I'm taking Marissa out to Muggle London tomorrow. If she accepts, we'll go tell my mum together that evening or the next morning. I figure we have a maximum of three days before the papers hear and run with the story."
Hermione nodded absently in agreement as she flipped forward to make a note, freezing as a look of pure loathing crossed her features.
"What's wrong?" he asked, leaning over to look at what was written.
"This. I can't get out of it, and that means I'll have to deal with all of the idiots that think I need a bit of sympathy or some such," she replied angrily, shoving the planner in his face.
He looked at the entry and winced. "I always did have crap timing."
Hermione looked on as he considered the situation while leaning on the counter, gazing at nothing. When he finally looked back at her, his eyes were bright and he smirked, causing her to cringe in dismay.
"Oh, no. No, no, no — what are you planning, Ronald Weasley?"
His smirk grew even wider as he pushed the planner aside and grabbed her hand.
"It just occurred to me that Marissa would never forgive me if she was subjected to months of wedding planning and media attention — she hates that more than you, so the only solution is to elope. Harry is free tomorrow. It could be the last big adventure for the three of us."
"Molly will kill us all," she groaned, snatching her hand back as she turned away from him.
"Nah, she got her wedding of the century with Ginny and Harry. Both Percy and George had respectable services as well. She'll just have to settle for a grand reception to congratulate us after the fact."
She watched him warily as he walked about until he faced her again, feeling emotions dance in her gut that she hadn't felt in years. He gave her a playful grin, and murmured seductively, "You know you want to — you haven't done anything sneaky in ages."
"I've had good reason not to," she replied huffily.
He shrugged in response. "You realise that if we pull this off, all of us will come out looking good, and before things settle down, you will have taken care of that little obligation there," nodding to the entry in question. "They'll all be talking about how the three legendary friends banded together to give Marissa the privacy she wanted. Even Rita will be hard-pressed to turn the situation into another one of her tawdry smear campaigns."
She had to admit that his idea was strategically sound and would neatly tie up the nasty rumours that would otherwise run rampant and allow her to hang onto the leverage she currently had over the more problematic members of the press.
"If Harry says yes, I'll do it."
"Of course he will, and Marissa will love the idea. Gretna Green at two tomorrow, with a short press release after. You can make the arrangements with Dennis?"
"You're insane Ron, but I wouldn't miss this for the world. I'll take care of Dennis."
"Glad to know some things never change. You and Harry are the best," he replied as he took her hand in his once more. "Friends?"
"Friends." They shook on it.
A/N: I'd like to take this time to thank the lovely Aurette for the fabulous alpha/cheerleader job (there is no one better), Bambu345 for asking the tough questions when I was designing the plot, iulia_linnea for the fastest beta/SPaG on earth (3 days for over 31 thousand words), and talesofsnape for the Brit-picking. I also thank Karelia for the final SPaG after the SSHG Exchange reveal. You've all been exceptionally kid to a new writer.