A/N: This fic was written in fits and starts (mostly fits!) over almost 3 1/2 years. As we end its journey today, I'd like to speak to three groups of readers.
For those of you who have stuck around since the beginning, I cannot begin to express my gratitude for your patience and encouragement. Your desire to see Hermione and Ron through this summer is what kept me returning to my keyboard when I wanted to chuck the whole thing. Thank you so much!
For those of you who are reading this as a completed work, I would LOVE to hear your thoughts! I'm not brave enough to go back to the beginning and read it all over myself, so I'd really appreciate any comments on flow, plot holes, contradictions, etc.
Finally, for those of you who read Harry and Ginny's story of this summer in Faintest, Slimmest, Wildest Chance-I'm dying to know how you think the two fics fit together (or don't!).
Please feel free to PM me if you don't want to make your comment public in a review.
Finally, to my BFF and beta-I love you dearly, and only you know how true it is when I say I'd never have finished this without you. Mwah!
(Chapter note: A reminder that Ginny refers to Hogwarts events according to her year, which is of course one behind HRH.)
Ron watched as Hermione and Harry walked back inside the Burrow after dinner, turning to Ginny with a questioning look. It was unusual for neither of them to offer to help clear up.
"Early birthday present," she said, smiling. "He wanted to do something special for her this year."
"Ginny, you can help," Mum said, making her way down the table scraping plates. "You won't have any chores at Hogwarts."
It was August thirty-first, the girls' last night at home. Hermione had come over for dinner and was staying the night; Ron and Harry had packed a rucksack each and were staying to see the girls to King's Cross in the morning. Bill, Fleur, Percy, and even George were all here too, though now the meal was over, Ron expected George to make a break for it as soon as he could get away from Bill.
"You are through, Ron, yes?" It was Fleur, reaching an outstretched hand for his glass.
"Yeah, thanks." He pushed back from the table, collected several serving dishes, and followed Ginny and Fleur into the kitchen.
"So, seventh year," Ron said, adding his dishes to the stack by the sink, which Ginny was filling with soapy water from her wand. "Ready?"
A big sigh. "I think so."
"Nervous about being Captain?"
"A bit," she admitted. "But that's going to be fun."
She lowered the glasses into the water one by one. "Hermione and I have never shared lessons … we've never had to compete before."
Ron accepted Fleur's second armful, salad bowls this time. "You're worried about your friendship?"
Ginny shrugged one shoulder. "I don't know, it's just … different. And we'll have some classes with Luna, and you know the two of them are like oil and water."
"Hermione and Luna got along really well when we were at Shell Cottage," Ron said. "Malfoy Manor, it changed both of them. Gave them something in common, even though their experiences were different."
Ginny thought about that for a moment. She had several clean items in the right-hand side of the sink now, so Ron began to rinse and dry.
"I hate that," she said finally.
"We all do. But listen—you and Hermione probably are going to rub each other the wrong way sometimes, especially since you'll be spending so much time together for a lot longer than before. You're both strong and opinionated, but you're also both direct and honest. Just don't do that stupid girl thing where you refuse to talk to each other, and you'll be alright."
"Like when you and she didn't talk after the first Quidditch match in fifth year, or you and Harry avoided her after she told McGonagall about the broomstick from Sirius?"
"Exactly," Ron said, reaching around her to drop in a platter with a splash that soaked her shirt. "Learn from my mistakes."
"What are you doing?" Ron asked several hours later. Harry had followed him up the stairs past Ginny's room.
Ron had assumed some private time for all of them—him and Hermione, and Harry and Ginny—was a given, considering they weren't going to see each other again until at least October, during the first Hogsmeade visit of the school year.
"Hermione has a plan," Harry said simply. "Chess?"
Ron shrugged. "Might as well."
He turned to pull his chess set from under his bed, then remembered. The room was bare except for its furniture and their rucksacks on each bed.
"Oh, right," Harry said. "Guess not."
They sat down on their respective beds, the silence palpably awkward. Ron was just getting ready to ask if Harry had brought any books when the door opened, then closed, apparently by itself.
"It's me," said Hermione's voice, and she lifted off the Invisibility Cloak.
Harry was already standing to take it from her. "I'll be back in the morning," he said.
"Do try to be dressed," he said, giving her a small smirk before disappearing in a swirl of silvery gray and closing the door behind him.
Hermione remained where she stood. "I don't want to go!" she blurted, near tears.
Ron crossed the room and took her in his arms. "You don't want to go, or you want me to come with you?"
He nuzzled her hair, then tucked her face into the curve of his shoulder. "We're not going to fight about this again, are we?"
She shook her head.
"You'll get to Hogwarts and be so busy with lessons and revising and the library, you won't even think about me," Ron said.
"That's not true and you know it."
"Close enough," he teased, swaying back and forth far enough to throw her off balance, making her lean into him that little bit more.
"I'm going to think of you everywhere I go." She sniffed. "Even the library. And the common room…."
Ron stilled, squeezing her more tightly. He couldn't imagine being at Hogwarts without Hermione or Harry; it just wouldn't be right.
"I know. But we have tonight, yeah? And I'll write, I promise I will. And I'll see you in Hogsmeade."
"In two months," she wailed, tears now spilling down her cheeks.
"Hermione? What's this really about?" Other than the day she'd gone to Diagon Alley to get her school supplies, she'd hardly talked about Hogwarts all summer.
She pushed back and sat on the bed, wiping her face with one hand. "It's real now, isn't it? It's actually here. I'm leaving tomorrow."
Ron joined her and took her hand. "But not tonight. Not yet."
She turned her head, bringing their faces close together. "No," she whispered. "Not yet."
They made love slowly, reverently. Removing one piece of clothing at a time, pausing to stroke, then kiss, each new section of exposed skin. Hermione drank it in, forced herself to keep her eyes open when instinct wanted her to get lost in the sensation of Ron's hands. She drew patterns with the freckles on his shoulders, circled his nipples, traced the fine trail of hair below his navel. He held her face between his hands as he kissed her and she did close her eyes then, the better to memorize the feel of them, palms against her cheeks, knuckles at her ear, long fingers digging through her hair into the back of her scalp.
She felt so small in his hands, feminine and treasured. He was making love with his mouth, sucking on her lips, tracing inside them with the tip of his tongue, waiting for her little whine before plunging deep, allowing her to rub her tongue against his, to twine them together….
She fell back on the bed, pulling him with her, reaching for his hips. They were skin to skin now, his chest hair coarse against her breasts. She locked her legs around him and stroked his back, held him close to her, relished his weight and height even as she wedged a hand between them.
He jerked and grunted, and she grinned against his shoulder even as he nipped her collarbone in rebuke.
"I love you," she said.
He raised his head to look down at her, ginger fringe framing those blue, blue eyes. "Hermione, I love you. So much."
They kissed again, more urgently this time, his left hand now braced beside her shoulder to support himself as his right traced her breast in slow, maddening circles. Ron's mouth left hers, trailing little kisses down her neck, along her collarbone, onto the swell of her breast.
Hermione's eyes tried to flutter closed and she forced them open, wanting to have the visual memory to refer to as well as the tactile one. She held her breath as he closed his lips over her nipple, but he didn't move. Her back arched of its own accord, pushing into his face, but it wasn't until she said his name that he acted.
Holding her gaze, he traced her nipple with his tongue, then opened his mouth and sucked her breast inside. Hermione felt she was melting—her breast into his mouth, her bones into the mattress, her insides into a pool between her thighs. Ron made little humming noises, as if she were his favorite sweet dipped in chocolate and topped with whipped cream. The sound of his pleasure in pleasuring her sent heat stabbing through her. She grabbed the back of his head in one hand and a buttock in the other, squeezing both, pulling him into her to increase the friction.
"Wait—wait a minute," he gasped, turning his head to the side and resting against her chest.
"I had—" He groaned as she shifted to nestle their bodies closer together, fondling his arse. "I had plans."
"Later. Next time." The feel of him against her was not nearly enough; she wanted him inside, wanted him part of her.
Something about that statement disagreed with him, though, because he pushed her hands away and gave her a determined look.
"No. Not waiting. This time."
Her breath caught at his tone and she lay still.
He braced a forearm on either side of her and kissed her again, slow and languid, intimate and beyond suggestive. Hermione sank her fingers into the shaggy hair at the nape of his neck, tilting her head to change the angle of the kiss, pleading against his mouth.
He kissed her neck, her shoulders, her chest, talking to her all the while between tantalizing little sucks and licks.
"I love you. I think you're beautiful. It doesn't matter how much time we spend together, I always want more. More of you, your smile and your mind and your laughter." He shifted, lifting one hand to trail down the side of her body from shoulder to knee, and she shivered, breaking out in goosebumps. "More of your body." He began kissing down her trunk, between her breasts, round her navel with a little flick. His next words left his breath on her sex as he dragged his lips along the crease of her thighs.
"I don't just want you to know that, I want you to feel it. I want you to feel my love so clearly, so strongly, that you remember it every day until we see each other again."
She was crying, wet streaks trailing down her temples. "Oh, Merlin, Ron, I love you so much. I do, I do, I do—"
She couldn't pull him to her fast enough so she sat up, smashing their lips together, going up on her knees.
"Wait, wait," he chided, hands pushing against her hipbones when she would have joined them immediately.
Her response this time was a growl, fingernails sinking into the skin of his shoulder while she kept hold of him with her other hand.
"Just for a second. Just to be sure—we remember—exactly—"
Hermione counted to five. "Enough," she declared, and lined them up.
They both groaned at the sensation, and the penetration took forever. She slid her knees out wider, dropping that last little bit to feel his body against hers. Then he laid back, nearly cracking his head against the footboard, and Hermione froze as she realized she was on top. She stared down at him, wide-eyed.
"Told you I had plans." He smirked.
"I—but—" She felt exposed, vulnerable, and suddenly shy, despite the demands of her nervous system for movement, friction, anything.
He sobered, linking his fingers through hers. "Ride me," he said quietly, looking straight into her eyes. "I want to watch you. I want to watch you in my mind's eye every night for the next two months."
"I—" Her hips shifted without her permission, operating on pure instinct, and she knew if Ron held out even a little longer, he was going to win.
"I know you don't know how," he said, guessing her unspoken protest. "Do whatever feels good. I promise, you can't do it wrong."
Hermione squeezed his hands tighter, still hesitant. But he did feel delicious, full and hard inside her, and he looked delicious, stretched out beneath her, and—she was moving before she realized she'd decided, rising up on her knees only to sink back down again, instantly missing the sensation of depth. But this was good too, the friction, and she adjusted her balance and tried again. Very good, beyond good, different than being on her back or even standing up, and—yes, harder was okay, he was thrusting up into her strokes and she thought faster might be better still, fast and hard and long and deep and—
Hermione threw her head back, abandoning her mind to her body, letting go of all inhibitions and shoulds and just being, natural and free and—this was wonderful, this was fantastic.
Ron was barely intelligible around his swearing, mumbling that she was beautiful and perfect and sexy and he "love love loved" her. She focused on his face again, blue eyes blown black, cheeks flushed with exertion, ginger fringe matted dark with sweat.
"I love you," she gasped. "I—" She let go of his hands, leaned forward, and nearly fell at the increased pressure on her clitoris. "Oh, Godric, I—" The pressure broke and she came in long, hot waves, hands spasming around his shoulders, holding on as her whole body shook with violent tremors. She was still awash in aftershocks when he began to chant in swears. Breathless and boneless, Hermione dropped onto his chest, only dimly aware of Ron's arms wrapping round her as she drifted off to sleep.
Hermione woke early on September first. Ron was still asleep, mouth open, one arm flung over his head, the other round her waist. He looked younger like this, softer. Boyish in a way that reminded her of those early days of puppy love.
But this was more, more in a way that was new and exciting but also frightening. She and Ron had never been separated for this long. What would it be like when they could only communicate by letters? Would Ron write to her on a regular basis? Would his letters say more than "I'm fine, training's great, Harry's moping without Ginny"? Would they still feel close, even though they were geographically hundreds of miles apart? What if he couldn't come up for Hogsmeade weekends? What if her parents wanted her home the entirety of Christmas holidays? What if—
She got a grip on herself and stopped borrowing trouble? Hermione took a deep breath and laid her head on Ron's chest, over his heart, reassured by the steady thump. She loved him so much, and after this summer—after this last year, really—she had no doubts Ron loved her too. Really loved her, flaws and all.
It was hard to look past this morning and the pain of leaving him behind, but Hermione knew she wanted to go to Hogwarts. To finish her education, help finish the rebuild, spend time with friends and in the common room and the Great Hall and the library, feasts and Quidditch matches and yes, even prefect rounds.
It was going to be challenging to be a prefect this year. To follow someone else's lead, to care about forbidden items and magic in the corridors and who was out of bounds after curfew. To be the odd person out, the oldest pupil who should have already left school.
To not be Head Girl.
Ron's arms were long enough that the one round her back draped onto his stomach, and she wound her fingers through his, tracing them absent-mindedly. She had made her peace with missing out on the Head Girl position; she had known, given the circumstances, there was a good chance it would go to one of the prefects in Ginny's year, but there had still been a flame of hope that maybe, just maybe McGonagall would….
Hermione sighed. It was done now, and she had no hard feelings towards Siân Jernigan. It certainly wasn't the Ravenclaw's fault Hermione hadn't been at Hogwarts last year.
Something squeezed her fingers, and she shifted to look up at Ron without lifting her head.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to wake you."
" 's alright," he mumbled. His hand slid up her arm to smooth her hair. "You okay?"
"Mm-hmm," she said, letting her own hand slid over his bare stomach and snuggling closer.
Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Harry, and Mum stood amongst the happy chaos of Platform Nine and Three Quarters as people, pets, and parcels swirled around them. There was press too, taking pictures of not just Harry but Ron and Hermione and especially Ginny, putting their heads together to gossip about the witch who was obviously Harry Potter's girlfriend. Ron scowled at them over the heads of—well, everyone.
"Here are your lunches," Mum said, handing a brown paper bag to Ginny and another to Hermione. "Just two this year." She pasted on a brave smile.
"Come on," Ron said in an undertone to Hermione, pulling her towards a nearby signpost as Ginny reassured Mum. "This is Mum's last trip to Platform Nine and Three Quarters as much as it is Ginny's. She won't notice we're gone for a minute."
It wasn't exactly private, but at least they were hidden from the photographers.
"I love you," Hermione said, immediately reaching up to link her hands behind his neck.
"I love you," Ron answered, drawing her close. "I'm going to miss you like crazy."
"Same here," she said, her voice muffled against his chest.
He took her chin in his hand and tipped her face up until she met his eyes, then slowly, slowly bent down to kiss her. He hovered for a moment, his mouth just above hers, her breath warm against his skin, and her mouth quirked in a little smile just before they made contact.
Ron kept it simple, light, just the press of her lower lip between his, kissing her as if they were alone again with all the time in the world. Hermione sighed against his mouth and melted into him, deepening the kiss, and it was slow and sensuous, warm, a kiss to treasure. A promise.
Until his mother's voice interrupted.
"Hermione, it's time to go!"
She made a little noise of protest, then backed away. "I have to go," she whispered.
Her eyes glistened with unshed tears, and Ron swallowed against the sudden lump in his throat.
"I know," he said with a nod. "I know you do."
He leaned in for one more quick peck, but Hermione's brilliant mind had already shifted gears and she turned to board the train, climbing the steps nearest the compartment where he and Harry had stashed their trunks, Crookshanks, and Arnold just a few minutes ago. Steam puffed, the whistle blew, yet Ginny and Harry were still locked together. If she didn't hurry—
"Ginny!" Both Mum and Hermione were yelling now.
Ron watched in dismay as his sister swung onto the now-moving train without so much as a goodbye. But then she stuck her head out the open compartment window and waved at him with both hands.
"Bye, Ron!" she yelled. "Bye, Mum, I love you!"
"Bye-bye, Gin-Gin!" he shouted, grinning as she flipped him off, safe from any consequences from him or Mum as the train picked up speed.
Ron and Harry stood shoulder to shoulder, waving long after the girls' compartment rounded the curve, dropping their arms only when the caboose was out of sight.
"Well," Harry said, still staring down the tracks. "I guess that's it."
"That's it," Ron confirmed. "No more train rides to Hogwarts for us."
Harry turned to him. "Remember when you asked if there was any room in my compartment?"
He nodded. "And you bought one of everything from the trolley?"
"And Hermione came in talking a mile a minute about having read all our schoolbooks?"
"She told me I had dirt on my nose," Ron said ruefully, rubbing it even now.
"You did have dirt on your nose."
"Well, you've got lipstick all over your face," Ron retorted.
"Shit," Harry muttered, swiping the back of his hand across his mouth, frowning when it came away smeared with orange-y red.
"Serves you right."
Harry scrubbed his hand against his jeans.
"Who knew, eh?" Ron said.
"Knew what?" Harry asked, preoccupied with restoring his pre-snogging appearance.
"Me and you. Me and Hermione. You and Ginny. That first train ride—who knew we'd end up here?"
"I—hoped," Harry admitted. "I watched your family on the platform and hoped maybe someday…."
Ron thumped his back. "Someday's here, mate. And tomorrow—"
"Tomorrow we start as Aurors." Harry grinned. "Just like we imagined in fourth year."
"Just like that," Ron agreed, and the two friends turned away from Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, ready for whatever adventures lay ahead.