Hermione was cranky, pissed off and confused. It was the middle of February and she had her midterm assignments for Kermartin due in less than two weeks, and yet Ron absolutely insisted that they have dinner out that night. And in the middle of the week no less, not like on a Friday or Saturday night, the usual date nights for two people as busy as they were. On top of which, why in Merlin's name would Ron, now a professional cuisine artist – chef was too low a word for the creations that came out of Ron's kitchen – want to take her to The Gallivanting Gourmet, the very same restaurant where he worked to begin with?
She supposed she shouldn't complain, it didn't hurt that she did have a boyfriend who was skilled in the culinary department (Hermione could barely make toast without causing a natural disaster), and he was always puttering around in the kitchen with some herb or sauce that smelled like heaven during her long hours of study. He even catered a few of her study groups, providing trays of homemade granola bars and date squares and of course his favoured jam tarts. Though he claimed he liked using her hungry classmates as his guinea pigs, Hermione secretly knew it was Ron's way of making sure she took regular breaks and didn't study herself into anorexia.
And of course, there were those times when he'd snuck a little essence of Satsuma plant into her dinner bowl of soup or sprinkled it into her afternoon tea so that she'd take a break and relieve some of the tension physically with him. Those times, lying in bed or on the couch or, on one particular adventurous occasion the kitchen table, were the ones that Hermione thanked the creator of that particular horticultural hybrid and actually made the million pounds of legal texts seem like lead weights.
But those were also the times of September and April, when she could afford the time to spare an hour or two indulging. Right now she needed all her spare waking minutes preparing for her exams. The last thing she was interested in doing was getting all dolled up for a Wednesday night outing with Ron, and – the sneaky bastard – he'd sent his sister over to help her get dressed to make sure she wouldn't beg off on him.
All Hermione could do was run her fingers through her hair and look at the lovely sheep's wool sweater Ginny was thrusting at her.
"Really, Ginny, you'd think he'd be able to pick his battles a little better."
"Hermione, no one knows more than me how inconvenient men can be. Look at Harry and me; do you think that hooking up with me when he was in sixth year and I was fifth was the right time? I had my OWLs to worry about and he was going through his own personal hells about You-Know-Who."
"It's not the same, Ginny. You and Harry, you've both grown up and changed so much and you guys, you were just destined to wind up together, which I think is pretty obvious now," Hermione said grandly, gesturing to the diamond on Ginny's finger. "Does it still feel funny calling Harry your fiancé?"
"It did after the first few months but now I'm more nervous about the wedding we're planning for August. You think it's far away, but really, it's not!"
Hermione only smiled. She still had trouble wrapping her head around the idea that Ginny and Harry were engaged. It had been a wonderful little proposal, over Sunday dinner at the Weasley house. Everyone was there, even Charlie who was on vacation from Romania. Ginny and Harry had gone for a walk in the autumn twilight and moments later everyone heard a splitting shriek from outside. They'd run outside, coming to a screeching halt when Ginny all but yelled, "I'm getting married" as she wrapped her arms around Harry and smothered him with kisses. Mrs. Weasley, naturally had burst into tears, wailing, "My only daughter, engaged!", making Ron and Harry both turn rose red from scalp to chin.
Hermione knew it was probably since Ginny had made her a bridesmaid, but she was beginning to wonder if she'd see Ron getting down on bended knee for her in the future. Highly unlikely, as anytime Ginny or Hermione mentioned the wedding Ron squirmed like a Flobberworm on a fishing hook. Hermione didn't understand why the idea of marriage flustered men so much. The idea of a wedding, certainly; weddings were expensive, time consuming affairs not to mention the fact that it was public declarations of love, something which most men had a great difficult expressing in private. But marriage…Hermione never thought she'd say it, but she genuinely liked the idea of being Hermione Weasley the more and more Ginny's wedding was mentioned.
Still, those dreams would have to wait. Right now she wanted to finish making up her face and dressing for this dinner date with Ron. She turned in a circle for Ginny's approval of her snug-fitting charcoal sweater and olive green skirt. "What do you think?"
"The shoes. You should wear the pointy-heeled boots."
"Those death traps?" When Ginny set her jaw, Hermione relented. "Alright."
"There, now you look much better."
The two women walked out to the living, as Hermione stepped into the Apparating corner. She turned in a graceful circle, envisioning the front entrance of the Gallivanting Gourmet. When she arrived, for a moment, Hermione thought she'd gone to the wrong place. Normally the GG was bouncing with activity on a cold winter's night like this but there was not a soul to be seen, nor a drop of music, or ever sound come to that, emanating from the popular restaurant. Hermione peered in the window, saw a lone table lamp lit; her breath fogged the window, preventing any further inspection. She yanked open the door, looking inside for any sign of life.
"Hello? Ron? Imelda? Anyone?"
A well dressed wizard Apparated before her, offering his arm to her. "Miz Granger?" he asked in a thin French accent. "Mr. Wesley asked me to escort you to your table."
Confused beyond comprehension, Hermione allowed the wizard to lead her over to the table – the single table she'd seen lit from the window – where a bottle of sparkling white wine waited in a silver bucket. A basket of gardenias sat beside the bucket, filling the air with fragrance. Unwinding her scarf, Hermione sat as the wizard uncorked the wine, and poured a glass. Then quickly as he appeared, he disappeared, leaving Hermione to wonder just what the bloody hell was going on.
Hermione twisted in her seat at Ron's voice, and felt her jaw drop. He was more dressed up than he'd ever been in Muggle clothing, in a nicely cut dark shirt and slacks, and he'd gotten a haircut. His hands were, as usual, jammed into his pockets, and he seemed more nervous than she'd ever seen him before, even worse than his keep tryouts in sixth year at Hogwarts.
He greeted her with a warm kiss, squeezing her hand tightly as he sat down across from her at the table.
"Ronald, what is going on? You're being very mysterious, inviting me to your restaurant all dark and deserted. Where is everyone?"
"I booked the restaurant out for us tonight." Knowing he had only a few moments, he took a deep breath. "Do you remember that music box your mother gave you as a birthday present?"
"Of course. It sang the song about the mocking bird. She got in when she was on vacation in America."
"Well, I tuned it up a little for you." Ron took out his wand and pointed it into the darkness so that it zoomed over to their table. "I hope you like it."
Hermione looked at the little box, made of sturdy mahogany and a tiny little bird etched into the top. When she lifted the lid she gasped out loud.
Inside was a miniature bird just like the one on lid of the music box. In its mouth was a diamond ring. It was a thin band of woven wires that held a princess-cut stone, no bigger than the bird's eye. When Hermione held out her hand for the bird to hop out, the bird instead flew over to Ron and dropped the ring into his hand.
Then, like a bolt of lightening, everything made total sense. She felt her heart hitch in her chest, her throat close up. She buried her face in her hands; when she looked up, Ron was on his knee in front of her, holding the tiny ring in his hand.
"The first time I met you on the Hogwarts train, I thought you were the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen."
"We were eleven."
"I know, and I knew right away I'd be ruined for anyone else. Hermione Granger, will you ruin me? I mean marry me?" Ron corrected himself, embarrassed beyond belief that he'd muddled up the most important speech of his life.
"Yes," Hermione whispered as he slid the ring onto her finger, then pulled him to his feet as he kissed her. "Oh my God, Ron, I can't believe you did all of this for me."
"Do you know how long it took me to learn how to conjure a bird like that?"
"I can only imagine. But why is this place all dark?"
Ron only grinned. "I told you I rented it out for us tonight. Okay, you can all come in now!" he added, raising his voice.
Hermione looked around, and saw nearly fifty people streaming into the room. The Weasleys, all of them, were there, as were Harry and Neville and Luna and so many other classmates, as well as all of Ron's co-workers, who brought out steaming platters of food from the kitchens. Overwhelmed, Hermione launched herself into Ron's arms
"Ronald, you're going to spoil me rotten, I think."
"I know I am."
"Do you have any idea what we're getting ourselves into?"
"Not a clue. But I can't wait to find out."
Hermione kissed her boyfriend- no, her fiancé now. "Me neither."