When they reached McGonagall's office, they were greeted by the sight of a solemn looking Professor Dumbledore, a confused looking girl who seemed to be a mini Fleur and Cho Chang.
“Ah, Mr. Weasley, Miss Granger. So good of you to finally join us.”
“We got- er- sidetracked.”
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled at them.
“Did you? Well then, Minerva, we must excuse them. Now, you must be wondering why you're here. Basically, you all are the things that the champions will miss most.”
Ron did quick math in his head.
“How come Harry gets two and Krum gets none?”
“Ah,” Dumbledore said. “Well, seeing as Miss Granger was the first person Mr. Krum asked to the Yule Ball, and he's shown interest in her above the other girl he brought as his date, we thought he might be more enthused if Miss Granger was his hostage.”
“No,” Ron said immediately, glancing fervently at Hermione and shaking his head. “No way.”
“Mr. Weasley, is there a reason why you do not wish Mr. Krum to rescue Miss Granger?” McGonagall asked, looking at him closely.
“Uh, yeah!” Ron said instantly. “A few, actually. Firstly-”
But Hermione stomped on his foot, looking at him with troubled eyes, and he stopped talking.
“That'll be just fine.” she said firmly. “How are we going to remain under the lake for an hour, Professor?”
“I'll be putting you all into a bewitched sleep.” Dumbledore said happily. Hermione opened her mouth, perhaps to start spewing out every little detail she knew on bewitched sleeps, but she closed it quickly, remembering that she wasn't in class. Ron, meanwhile, crossed his arms over his chest and glared in the direction of the wall. Hermione, feeling as though this was getting a bit out of hand, said,
“Excuse us for just a moment, please.”
And she grabbed Ron's hand. She tugged him into the corner and slapped his arm.
“What's wrong with you?” she demanded. “Why is this an issue?”
“Firstly, you'll be in that lake, and I'll be worried about you!”
“You'll be asleep, Ron. Right next to me.”
“Right, yeah. But Krum is going to take you in his arms and deliver you to safety, and that's my job, isn't it?”
“Ron, you've saved me countless times,” Hermione said genuinely. “Give someone else a chance.”
“I don't want to.” Ron replied stubbornly.
“He'll never been my knight in shining amour. If you understood that, you'd be so much better off.”
“Okay.” Ron said grumpily, but he seemed to melt a little bit.
“Good,” Hermione replied. “Because you're so much better then Viktor Krum any day.”
The two turned back to the group and Hermione said,
“Alright. We're ready.”
“Good.” Dumbledore said. “Now, the spell will take effect the second you touch the water. I'll put it on you tonight and you can sleep in the hospital wing.”
Everyone nodded, and Dumbledore took out his wand and performed the spell four times. Ron felt like water had been dumped on his head, but when he reached a hand up to feel it, he was totally dry. Hermione looked delighted at this new form of magic, and Ron couldn't remember the last time he'd seen her this excited. He sighed endearingly. What a curse it was to have an amazing, gorgeous, smart girlfriend.
The group headed down to the hospital wing, and Madam Pomfery shoved Ron and Hermione into beds right next to each other. The matron made sure to draw the curtains before she left, but they knew this couldn't stop them from talking. So they did, about ten minutes after the Nurse had gone to sleep.
“Remember when you were in here, Hermione?” Ron asked.
“Er- I try not to.” Hermione responded, and Ron guessed she was blushing. He didn't have to guess for long, though, because a second later Hermione drew back her curtain and he drew back his. They grinned at each other.
“You were an excellent cat.” Ron said.
“Oh, I'm sure. But which was worse, when I was a cat, or when I was petrified?” she teased.
“Petrified, for sure.” Ron told her. “It was so terrible to see you there, looking like wax, unmoving and unthinking, with you eyes wide in horror. If your arm hadn't been raised, I'd have thought you were dead. At least when you were a cat, I had an excuse to look at your arse.”
“Well, it's your turn next,” she said, shaking her head. “Harry's been in several times, I've been in three...”
“I can hardly wait.”
“This doesn't count, then?”
“None of us are sick! Of course not. You're going to have to find another way.”
“Maybe I'll attack a merman.”
“Now that I'd like to see.”
“I'm glad. I'd really like you to be there as I'm ripped to pieces.”
“I'd protect you!”
“No vote of confidence? And in your daydream, you save me?”
“You need saving in my daydream.” Hermione smirked.
“You always save me!”
“No. I don't.”
“Let's see... that plant in first year. And you helped nurse me back to health when I passed out on the chessboard. And you were there for me when the dementors made me remember the time Fred turned my teddy bear into a spider. And... um...”
“See, that's it.”
“Fine, but when have I ever saved you?”
“It's the little things. You've never saved my life, but you save me in other ways.”
“Care to elaborate?”
“You save me from you occasionally. And you make me feel worth something, and you make me feel safe. You're comfortable, and you're my sounding board, and I know that you'd be willing to do anything for me. Knowing that helps when I want to kill you.”
“Good to know.”
A wall had been broken down, and they talked for hours before Hermione finally told Ron that they needed to go to bed.
“Why? We'll be in an enchanted sleep for an hour tomorrow!”
“No. No way! I'm tired Ron.”
But he gave himself away by yawning hugely and letting his eyelids slide down.
“There we go,” Hermione said softly. She slid out of her bed and kissed Ron on the forehead, touching his hair before backing out of his section and closing his curtains. Ron heard her draw her own curtains shut before slipping back into her bed. He sighed, content with the thought that Hermione was sleeping in the bed that was next to him, and turned over, drawing his covers closer.
“Goodnight, Hermione.” he murmured. “I love you.”
There was a pause. Ron bolted up in realization of what he had just said. No. No way. But maybe she hadn't heard him. Just then, the curtain flew back, and Hermione was reveled standing behind it. Her hair was extra bushy, and she looked a little crazy.
“What did you just say?”
“No! It's not! You said something! What did you say?”
“I- er- I dove you.”
“Shhhh! You'll wake everyone up!”
“Weasley, I swear, what the hell did you say?”
“I said I loved you, okay?” Ron said, looking harassed.
“And did you mean it?” Hermione shot at him.
“You're scaring me.”
“Yes! Yes, I meant it! I think.”
“I think I love you. I think I'm in love with you.”
“Oh my god.” Hermione whispered.
“Thanks. That's the reply I wanted.” Ron said irritably.
She paused with her mouth open, then shook her head, whirled around and went back to her bed, sliding the curtains shut again. Ron gulped. He didn't think this was good. He thought this might be bad, actually. Wasn't the girl supposed to say it back? He felt a burning in his throat, and swallowed it away. Then Ron turned over and took a while to fall asleep. He was in the middle of a dream when he felt a shaking on his shoulder.
“Ron? Ron, you prat, wake up!”
“Hmm?” Ron said, turning over. “What's wrong?”
“Nothing's wrong, idiot!” said a familiar voice. Ron opened his eyes to see a pair of brown eyes looming over his face.
“Well then why the bloody hell are you waking me up?”
“I love you too.” Hermione said, now satisfied with herself.
“That's nice,” Ron said. “Now can I please go back to sleep?”
Hermione looked at him, surprised. Then she sighed and backed away from him. As she closed his curtain, he heard her say,
“By the way, you snore like an old man.”
The next morning was a bright, sunshiny day. Ron could hear students heading down to the great hall, buzzing excitedly about the first task. At first he thought that this was what had woken him up, but then he became aware of a pair of lips on his. He opened his eyes to see Hermione, looking very pretty with her bushy hair in a half ponytail and a clip pushed into it, adding color to her robes.
“Are you wearing make up?” Ron asked incredulously. Hermione grinned at him and shrugged nonchalantly.
“It felt like a make-upish kind of day.”
“But... you own make up?”
“Ginny gave me some for my birthday. Mum sent it when I found out about the yule ball. By the way, you need a breath mint.”
“What the bloody hell did you expect, Hermione? It's morning! I haven't gotten out of bed yet.”
Hermione wordlessly handed him his toothbrush, and Ron, getting the hint, got out of bed and went to go brush his teeth. He would have felt awkward letting Hermione see him in his pajamas, but she'd already seen him like that so many times. It was difficult to feel awkward with her at all. Especially because they'd been best friends for three years before they'd started dating. When he was finished brushing his teeth, Ron ambled out of the hospital bathroom to see Hermione sitting on her bed, reading. He felt a sudden upsurge of emotion at the sight of her licking her finger before turning the page. She always did that. She hated bending anything that wasn't meant to be bent. He was just wondering whether or not he should disturb her when Madam Pomphrey came in, accompanied by a floating table filled with food.
“Eat quickly,” she told everyone. “You need to get down to the lake.”
Ron and Hermione sat next to each other, Ron eating enthusiastically, Hermione sparingly. It was just one of the ways that they were opposites, and one of the things that endeared them to each other. When they were all finished, they walked down to the lake. Before they went in, Ron muttered to Hermione,
“Just remember what I said last night, okay? When you're in the arms of Viktor Krum, I mean.”
“You insecure little...” Hermione started, smiling, but just then Dumbledore appeared, and told them to go into the lake. Everything suddenly went black, and the next thing Ron knew, he was looking at Viktor Krum grabbing Hermione in his arms and swimming up to the top. They both emerged, sopping wet, and were immediately taken by Madam Pomphery. She wrapped them in blankets, and the first thing out of Hermione's mouth was,
“Harry and Ron haven't returned yet, my dear.” said the nurse.
“Were Viktor and I first?”
“No, Cedric was. Fleur got stopped at the grindylows, and you and Viktor are outside of the time limit. Mr. Potter is well outside of the time limit.”
“Oh no.” Hermione whispered. “Ron will be okay, though, right?”
“Certainly. The only problem is, the spell only lasts a certain amount of time. But if the Headmaster feels the need to, he can go underwater and recast it, or just have the mermaids return Mr. Weasley. Your friend will be fine.”
Friend. If only it were that simple. Hermione looked like she wanted to shout that she and Ron were in love, but she kept her mouth shut and allowed Viktor Krum to steer her away from the crowd.
“Herminny, I've never felt this way about another girl,” he told her. “I have watched you in library, and you are truly one of a kind. Would you accompany me to the next Hogsmeade visit?”
Hermione shook her head.
“No, Viktor! I'm sorry, but I'm not interested.”
“I'm in love with someone, and he's not you.”
“Who is he?”
But just then, there was a roar from the crowd, and Hermione looked around to see Harry and Ron emerging from the water with... Fleur's little sister? Immediately, Hermione ran to Ron and threw her arms around him in a very wet hug. Loosing his head completely, Ron leaned down and kissed her. Suddenly, Hermione seemed to remember where they were, and she pulled back and looked around. Not one person was paying a single bit of attention to her or Ron, except for Viktor Krum. Everyone's attention was on the judges as they gave their marks. Breathing a sigh of relief, Hermione kissed Ron once more before letting him go, clearing her throat, and stepping a bit away from him so that they wouldn't be standing so close.
“See?” she muttered as Fleur's marks went up. “You didn't have a single thing to worry about. Krum asked me to Hogsmeade, but I turned him down.”
“Yes. I think it went very well.” Ron said happily.