The Sugar Quill
Author: Ara Kane (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Everything But "I Love You"  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

EVERYTHING BUT

Disclaimer: Everyone and everything belongs to JK Rowling except Seamus' "three women laughing" remark, which belongs to Olivia Goldsmith, and the concept of a Hogwarts graduation, which is purely mine.

Author's Notes: One big thank you to Seldes Katne, my beta reader; to Missy Hallan, for her invaluable input; and to everyone who clamored for a follow-up to "Sisters." I honestly wasn't planning on doing one, but here it is. Enjoy!

 

EVERYTHING BUT “I LOVE YOU”

 

“Oi! Out of the way, Potter!”

“Yeah, let me have a go!”

“You had the mirror before he did, Thomas; it’s my turn now!”

“Really, dear,” the Gryffindor seventh year boys’ dormitory mirror chimed in, “shouldn’t you give your friends a turn?”

“Will the lot of you just shut up?” Ron Weasley roared in frustration from his bed, crumpling up his fifteenth piece of parchment and flinging it toward the nearly full wastebasket at his feet. “I can’t hear myself think!”

“Give Harry a few more minutes,” Neville Longbottom ordered, but there was a good-natured grin on his round face. “Let him enjoy his hair a bit longer. Merlin knows when he’ll have it that way again.”

Harry Potter finally tore his gaze away from the sight of his perfectly groomed hair when Seamus Finnigan and Dean Thomas sniggered. “I heard that.”

“Good,” Dean said, shouldering Harry aside so he could have a turn with the mirror. “Your tie is askew, dear,” the mirror told him.

“I say, Harry,” Seamus told him, “your head looks funny without your hair exploding all over the place.”

“My head feels funny,” Harry admitted, patting his hair gingerly.

“Well, you did use up two extra-large bottles of Sleekeazy’s Hair Potion on it.”

“I did not. Ron used some of my Sleekeazy’s, too — didn’t you, Ron?” Harry asked his best friend.

“Don’t talk to me,” the redheaded boy snapped, bending over a fresh sheet of parchment. Unlike Harry’s hair, Ron’s stuck up in Sleekeazy-stiff spikes from the many times he had run his fingers through it in desperate bids for inspiration.

“What’s he doing, anyway?” Neville asked Harry softly.

“He’s making a list of reasons why Hermione should marry him,” the other boy replied, a trace of amusement in his voice.

“Really?” Dean asked. “So he’s going to do it tonight?”

Harry must have nodded, because a chorus of loud catcalls followed the black boy’s question. Ron could feel his ears begin to burn, but he kept his eyes fixed on the parchment before him. Concentrate, Weasley, he ordered himself, reaching into the pocket of his graduation robes to touch the ring he had put there. You have one hour to finish this list! Now, Number One…

In one hour, all the seventh years were due in the Great Hall for something called “graduation,” a ceremony especially for them, the first of its kind in Hogwarts’ entire history. It was originally supposed to be a celebration of Voldemort’s downfall, but Dumbledore suggested that it would be nice to hold it every year and give the seventh years a send-off of sorts before they officially left the school. Hermione Granger, Ron’s girlfriend, would be giving a speech on behalf of the seventh year class; but other than that, no one knew exactly what was planned.

At any rate, Ron’s entire family was downstairs to watch him and Harry finish their final year at Hogwarts. After the ceremony, there would be the end-of-term banquet and since Ron would then have to entertain eight Weasleys, their wives/girlfriends and children, he would be too busy to work on his list.

Ron bit off a curse as Seamus bounced down next to him, jostling his arm and making his quill swing wildly over the parchment. “How many have you got so far?” the sandy-haired boy asked cheerfully.

“I haven’t got anything so far,” Ron growled, glaring at his fellow Gryffindors. “No thanks to you lot.”

Dean flopped down on his other side. “What d’you need a list for, anyway?”

“Well, you know Hermione,” he replied, “she’s a thinker. She won’t fall for an ordinary flowery speech. Everything I say to her has to have substance.”

“But, Ron,” Harry pointed out, “you’re asking her to marry you, not writing an essay for Professor Binns. Can’t you just say ‘I love you, please marry me’ and have done with it?”

“No!” Ron insisted. “I need to give solid, logical reasons why she has to marry me and I can’t come up with any with you lot just sitting around, passing snarky remarks!”

Neville took one look at Ron’s slightly hysterical expression and rose to the challenge. “Well,” he suggested, “since she loves learning, you can tell her it’ll be a great learning experience. So she can witness a traditional wizard wedding.” He looked uncertain. “Was that the sort of thing you wanted?”

The redheaded boy brightened. “Yeah! She might buy that!”

“But that was the stupidest reason I’ve ever heard,” Dean said as Ron began his list with Number One: Learning experience — chance to witness traditional wizard wedding.

“At least I’m helping!” Neville retorted.

“Any more?” Ron asked eagerly, looking up from his parchment. “What about you, Harry? Got any ideas?”

Harry shot his friend a pained look. It was plain that he thought Ron’s search for “solid, logical reasons” was insane, but he was going to help even if it killed him. “Well…you and Hermione are the best of friends, aren’t you?” he ventured. “Tell her—tell her that a friendship is the best foundation for a more permanent relationship!”

“You sure you’re not thinking of how you’re going to propose to Hermione, Harry?” Dean asked slyly.

The dark-haired boy shot him a withering look. “Of course not. I knew that Ron and Hermione were meant to be even before either of them did!”

“Not really,” Seamus corrected. “Hermione knew it before either of you did. ‘Ask me first next time, not as a last resort’ and all that, remember?”

Ron groaned loudly. That was at the top of the list of the many things he wanted to forget. “Let’s get back to the list, shall we?”

“Gladly,” Harry said, glaring at Dean before turning to Ron. “Hey, how about this: if you managed to survive Voldemort, you ought to be able to survive being married.”

“Good one, Harry.” Number Two: Friendship a solid foundation for relationship. “Mention Voldemort,” Ron murmured, finishing with a flourish. The late and unlamented Dark Lord’s name was just another word to him now. “Any more?”

“You’re forgetting one of the most important things: money,” Dean pointed out. Ron’s hackles rose at the mention of money — the Weasleys’ being poor remained a bit of a sore point — but there was an earnest smile on the black boy’s face. “It’ll be cheaper for you to live together, won’t it? I mean, you’ll be undergoing Auror training, and Hermione will be…what will she be doing?”

“She doesn’t know yet,” Ron told him.

“Hogwarts is trying to get her to take an apprenticeship here,” Neville said. “If Dumbledore accepts the offer to become Minister of Magic, McGonagall will replace him as Head and they’ll need someone to teach Transfiguration.” Neville himself was taking an apprenticeship at Hogwarts. He would be taking over Herbology when Professor Sprout retired.

“Well, besides that, she’s gotten offers from the Ministry and the Daily Prophet, and she’s also thinking of studying some more or becoming an Auror, like me and Harry.” Ron frowned. “What do I say when she tells me to just share a flat with Harry, then?”

“I thought the answer is fairly obvious, my friend.” Seamus grinned. “She’s a lot more fun to live with!”

Ron blushed crimson as the other boys, including Harry and Neville, laughed. “Oi, shut it, you gutter-minded gits.”

“It’s all very proper, Ron,” Dean soothed. “You’re proposing marriage first, not just asking Hermione to shack up with you.”

The redheaded boy’s face burned even more at the mention of “shacking up.” “That’s the most disgusting—“

“Just write it down already, will you?”

“Well, if she argues with me on this one, I’m telling her to go get an explanation from you,” he grumbled as he wrote Number Three: More practical to live together.

“Why don’t you just say ‘I love you, please marry me’?” Harry suggested again. “She can’t argue with that.”

Ron ignored that. “Next!”

“In-laws,” Seamus said cryptically.

“So what about in-laws?” Ron asked.

“Your parents love her, don’t they?”

“I can’t imagine Mr. and Mrs. Weasley not loving any child,” Harry said with a smile. Even though they already had seven children and a growing brood of grandchildren, Ron’s parents were more than willing to take in anyone who needed a family. Harry, who had only been a baby when Voldemort had killed his parents, knew that better than anyone.

“Yeah, they even took in Malfoy when his dad disowned him, remember?” Ron added, remembering the shock he had felt at finding Draco Malfoy, the bane of his existence, sitting at the Weasleys’ kitchen table one morning during the summer after sixth year. (That shock, however, did not compare to the one he had received upon finding out that the unexpected guest was a closet fan of the Chudley Cannons.)

“That’s all very nice,” Seamus said impatiently, “but that wasn’t what I meant. You know I’m half-and-half, right?” he asked. “Well, Dad and Mam get on great, but Mam’s parents think she could have done so much better than marry a Muggle.” The sandy-haired boy shrugged. “If your parents approve of Hermione, then she won’t have any trouble with them when they become her in-laws.”

“That makes sense,” Dean praised. “How do you get on with Hermione’s parents, Ron?”

“Oh, they just love him,” Harry said. Ron bent over his list quickly, trying to ignore the ribbing from his friends and the burning of his ears as he wrote Number Four: No trouble with in-laws.

They were still grinning when the redheaded boy looked up again. “Anything else?” he asked.

Harry leaned over to peer at the list. “Number Five: you love her.”

“Will you shut up, Potter? I’m not using that one! Now come on, just one more!” Ron encouraged his classmates. “It’s less than an hour to graduation!” he added when they all looked stumped. “My future is at stake here! Why else she should marry me?

“Because you love her and will make her happy!” Harry insisted.

“I already said I wasn’t—“

“Just tell her the Weasleys are a good-looking family,” Neville broke in, sounding as if he had had enough, “and if she marries you, she’ll have good-looking children. Lots of good-looking children,” he added after a moment’s thought.

Dean clapped the round-faced boy on the shoulder. “Now that’s a good one, Neville!”

Seamus grabbed the quill and scribbled Number Five: Ron is a sexy beast. “Right. Here’s your list.” He threw the quill onto the bed and hauled Ron to his feet. “Let’s go.”

Ron scooped up the parchment before it fell to the floor. “Where are we going?”

“You’re going to ask Hermione to marry you, aren’t you?”

“B-but I wasn’t planning to ask her now!” the redheaded boy sputtered as panic seized him. They made a short stop at the mirror, where Dean smoothed down Ron’s hair, Harry fixed Ron’s scarlet-and-gold house tie, and Neville beat the lint from Ron’s robes. “I just needed to finish the list! I was planning to ask her after—“

“Well, you’ve got time before graduation starts,” Seamus told him with an impish grin. “Might as well get it over with!”

“Don’t bloody touch me!” Ron roared as the sandy-haired boy pinched his cheeks painfully.

“Just putting some color in your cheeks, mate; you’re as white as a sheet!”

“Good luck, dear!” the mirror chirped as Ron was hustled out of the dormitory.

The Gryffindor boys dragged him down the stairs and into the common room, en route to the girls’ dormitory. “You do have the ring, don’t you?” Seamus asked.

“I–I have it,” Ron replied, pulling it from the pocket of his robes. It was a plain gold circlet, set with just one small ruby, and it had been in his mother’s family for many generations. He wondered why they hadn’t sold it off when times began to get difficult. Perhaps they just couldn’t get rid of it.

“All right, now put it back in your pocket. You’ll look like a right plonker if you propose without a ring. She might even refuse.”

“Don’t scare him,” a female voice said. Ron’s sister Ginny stood in the common room with Colin Creevey, her fellow sixth year Gryffindor. There was an amused look on her face. “Ron’s nervous enough as it is.”

“What are you doing here, Gin?” Ron asked as he shoved the ring (and his hand) into his pocket. “Shouldn’t you be downstairs with Mum and Dad and the others?”

“I just wanted to see you before you came downstairs,” she replied.

“Hmph.” She wanted to see Harry, more like, Ron thought dryly. He wasn’t jealous of the attention Harry was getting from Ginny; rather, he was still having a bit of trouble adjusting to the idea of his best friend and his sister being “friendlier than friendly.”

“Uh — how about a photo, fellows?” Colin Creevey asked, holding up his ever-faithful camera. The thin, mousy-haired boy had hero-worshipped Harry ever since his first day at Hogwarts.

“I don’t know, Colin,” Dean told him, cocking his head meaningfully toward Ron. “Ron’s got something really important to do.”

“It’ll only take a minute,” Ginny coaxed. “Colin can make copies for you so you can remember your graduation.”

Harry grinned at his fellow seventh years. “Come on,” he said. “For once I won’t mind Colin taking my picture. It’ll be nice to have one of all of us, won’t it?”

Ron snorted as he joined the others. His best friend could shake off the Imperius Curse, but he was no match for Ginny and her Weasley charm. No one could resist the Weasley charm for long, he thought smugly. Ron only hoped that he could muster enough of it today to present a convincing argument and get a yes from Hermione.

Colin snapped the picture. Judging from the copy he later sent along, everyone except Ron looked good. In the center of the group stood Neville, his round face beaming. To his right, Seamus and Dean grinned cheekily and waved. At the very left, Harry pushed up his glasses and smiled, happy to share the spotlight with his friends. And between him and Neville stood Ron, who was staring straight ahead with a dazed expression on his face.

Years later, Ron still cringed to think that he had looked like that when the Gryffindor boys came upon Hermione with Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil in the seventh year girls’ dormitory. The three of them were standing together and giggling. “There’s nothing like the sight of three beautiful women laughing,” Seamus said, announcing their presence.

Ordinarily, Ron would have thought the remark smarmy to the extreme, but today, he couldn’t help but agree. Just like them, the girls were all dressed up for graduation, and they had done all the things girls did to make themselves pretty.

Ron’s hand tightened around the ring in his pocket as he saw Hermione. She wasn’t just pretty; she was beautiful. Her bushy brown hair was pulled back neatly, but somehow she still looked like the girl he fell in love with. She was flushed pink from laughing, and there was a wonderful, genuinely happy smile on her face that made him melt inside.

“You look very nice, Hermione,” he heard Harry say, and Ron felt a thump on his back. “Doesn’t Hermione look nice, Ron?” Harry asked him loudly.

Hermione turned that wonderful smile on Ron and for a while he was unable to speak. It was as if he had swallowed a Ton-Tongue Toffee. Come on, Weasley charm; work your magic for me now! “Oh—er—of course she does,” he agreed. What kind of an answer is that?

“Very nice,” Ron added. Argh. Good going, Weasley. Can’t you at least smile?

To his great relief, Hermione didn’t get angry at his inability to compliment her. Instead, she looked pleased. “Thank you,” she said, her gaze meeting his and then skittering away. “You—you look very nice, too.”  

“Oh, you’re just saying that,” Harry joked. Everyone laughed. Hermione did, too; and Ron supposed he should be laughing as well, but he was too busy staring. Hermione’s eyes met his again.  

“Well,” Lavender said into the pause that followed, “I think I’ll go down to the Great Hall and look for my family.”  

Ron looked at Lavender, startled. The blonde girl winked at him and Parvati sent him a coy little smile. They knew!  

“Good idea,” Seamus said loudly. “I want to see how me Dad likes Hogwarts so far.”  

“We’ll go with you,” Dean and Parvati chorused.  

Bloody hell. Ron’s heart started to pound. He fought to keep the panic from his face as his friends brushed past him.  

“See you later,” Harry said. “Good luck, mate,” he added in a whisper before clapping Ron’s shoulder and following Neville and the others down the stairs. “Don’t forget the ring!”  

How had Harry felt just before he had engaged Voldemort in that final battle? Ron wondered, watching numbly as Parvati said something to Hermione. Had his palms been sweaty? His legs shaky? Did he have Blast-Ended Skrewts roiling around in his stomach?

Presently, Parvati brushed past him, leaving him all alone with Hermione. She stood still further inside the dormitory, watching him warily. To Ron’s surprise, nervousness flickered across her face.  

This is it. Ron gripped the ring for dear life. Make it good! “Hermione, I—“ he began in a dry croak. Blushing, he cleared his throat and fought to get past the tightness in his chest. “I have something to discuss with you.”  

That’s better, Weasley. You sound like Percy, but this is a solid, logical proposal anyway, so that’s all right.  

“What is it, Ron?” Hermione asked softly.  

He fumbled in his other pocket for his list, but his hand was trembling too hard to do anything other than drop it. No! he thought wildly as she crossed the room, clearly intending to retrieve the bit of parchment, but Ron was unable to move or speak. This was worse than his first Quidditch match against Slytherin back in fifth year.  

Hermione bent down and picked up his list, her robes swishing as she did so. A cloud of her lily-of-the-valley perfume drifted up to him and Ron breathed it in, trying to draw courage from the familiar, beloved scent.  

The next thing he knew, Hermione was reading the list. He exhaled on a strangled wheeze, then forgot to breathe again as he watched her skim over the list with the practiced eye of the avid reader. “What’s this?” she asked after a seeming eternity.  

His fingers tightened even more around his ring. “A–a list.”  

“What kind of a list?”  

Percy. Percy. Remember Percy. Rational. Logical. Ron drew himself up to his full (and considerable) height and raised his chin, assuming what he hoped was a calm, rational expression. “It’s a list of inarguable—irrefutable—absolutely right reasons why you…why you should marry me.”  

“Oh.” There was a strange sparkle in her eyes. Was she laughing at him? “I see.”

He waited for her to say something after that, but when she didn’t, he felt he had to speak. “Hermione?”

“Yes?”

“I…” He groped for the beginning of the perfect speech he had hoped to give, but then realized that he had never gotten around to preparing it. Ruddy Seamus had hustled him out of the dormitory the minute they had finished his list.

Only one coherent thought remained in his mind. It rang clear and true, like a phoenix’s song, over the pounding of his heart. But it was the one thing he had vowed not to use in his proposal. Damn you, Harry! If you hadn’t been so bloody persistent—

“What is it, Ron?” Hermione asked. She sounded…did she sound hopeful?

Aaah, to Hades with it! “Hermione, I love you. Will you marry me?”

Ron’s heart seized up as she stiffened. With growing trepidation, he watched her look back down at the list in her hand. Hadn’t she been expecting that he would ask her to marry him?

What was she going to do now? Laugh at him? Slap him? Present her own list of logical reasons why she should not marry him, beginning with the fact that she was already engaged to the Beetle-Browed Bulgarian Git Who Must Not Be Named?

Will you please just say no already? he thought wildly as Hermione finally raised her eyes to meet his.

Her eyes were bright and her lips curled in a shaky sort of smile. She looked like she was just as nervous to speak as he had been.

“Yes, Ron, I’ll marry you.”

He was so startled that he dropped the ring. It bounced off the floor, did a loop-the-loop around his head and jumped promptly back into his hand, snuggling tight around his index finger to keep from being dropped again. “You will?”

“Yes.” A laugh burst out of her and Hermione smiled at him, a genuinely joyful smile that told him that she truly meant it. She really did want to marry him. Everything was going to be all right.

But Ron, being Ron, just couldn’t leave well enough alone. “But why?” he asked as she crossed the room to put her arms around him.

She was flushed and beaming, but at the same time a tear had slipped from her eye. He cupped her cheek in one hand and wiped it away, his thumb drawing small circles over her soft skin.

“Because it would be a great learning experience,” Hermione replied. Her beautiful brown eyes glittered and another teardrop emerged. “You are one of my very best friends as well as the man I love. It would certainly be cheaper to get one flat instead of two. I love your family and mine loves you. You are a damned sexy beast. And you just said you love me.” She giggled and drew him closer. “It would be absolutely irrational of me to let you get away.”

//
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