On the first anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts, Hermione Granger decides to take up baking. Not for some planned "event" – Merlin knows, no one in their right mind is throwing a party to commemorate that day. Nor does she do so in preparation for some witchy version of womanhood, as Molly Weasley has been urging her to do for years.
Instead, Hermione starts baking in the same manner she started everything else she's ever done: like it's a calling. Something akin to a religion that requires her determination and focus and whole self to accomplish.
So this is how it begins, at 4 a.m. on the second morning of May, with Ron Weasley stumbling blearily into the kitchen of her tiny flat. Hermione's face is covered in smears of something purple and her curls, white with flour, rise to uncontrolled heights from the sweat of her efforts. She's so absorbed in her task that she doesn't even notice Ron's entrance.
"'Mione?" he croaks, after a few minutes of watching her scurry between two separate mixing bowls, muttering something that sounds an awful lot like an incantation. "What are you—?"
She cuts him off with an impatient wave of her hand, not even glancing up from the bowls. Unfortunately, the gesture flings a tiny glob of what Ron learns in hindsight is blackberry jam, right onto the front of his white tee shirt. Ron peers down at the purplish smudge, frowns, and then peers back up at her. He tries again.
"What exactly are you doing, Hermione?"
She sniffs once and goes to scrutinize a third bowl full of dough. She seems distracted by her project, but he knows her well enough – almost as well as his own siblings – to recognize when she's avoiding eye contact with him.
"What does it look like I'm doing, Ron?"
He swipes one hand down his face. Rubs the back of his neck. "Well, to be quite honest…going a bit mental. That's what it looks like."
That gets her attention, and her gaze finally snaps up to his. She narrows her eyes and her fists ball onto her hips – a parody of that childhood stance she's always used against him.
"I'm not going mental, Ronald Weasley." Her voice edges back into the familiar, swotty octave he hates, and even though she cringes internally at it, she never can seem to escape it. Not with him. "I'm making a blackberry crumble. Clearly."
Ron blinks once, twice. "A blackberry crumble?"
"At four in the morning?"
A pause, and then: "Yes. Clearly."
Ron also pauses, but not long enough to take the sting out of his next statement.
"Hey, is this about what we decided last night?" he asks her. "Because it doesn't have to be forever, 'Mione, if you don't want it to be. Our break, I mean. I just…I feel like we need some time, yeah? Some space. Before all of it becomes too much, and I start to hate you for talking too much, and you start to hate me for not talking enough, and we're stuck with it and—"
"It's not about last night!" she snarls, cutting him off. But, abruptly, her expression softens. "Sorry, Ron. That was…it isn't about last night, okay? Really. It's just…it's about today."
"Today?" he asks blankly.
She gives him a pointed look, all raised eyebrows and pursed lips. As if to indicate, Yes, today. To. Full Stop. Day. Full Stop. But Ron still doesn't seem get it.
Trying hard not to roll her eyes or sigh, Hermione points to the date on the Muggle calendar push-pinned to her kitchen wall. Ron blinks at it, still confused, until her fingernail starts tapping on the number "2."
"Oh. Today." He drags the words out in realization. "Today, today."
"Exactly," she says. Then, with a prim nod, she turns back to her mixing bowls. Ron waits for further explanation, but it isn't forthcoming. There's just a resumed whirl of activity as Hermione continues to blunder through her very first crumble. Without much else to do and with sleep now impossible, Ron heaves a sigh and sits at her tiny kitchen table.
He stays there until just after dawn, when she pulls the baking pan out of the oven and serves them each a plate of piping hot blackberry mess. It's ugly and unstructured and runny because of the heat. But it's also surprisingly good. He tells her so with far more enthusiasm than today's date and last night's conversation actually calls for. After they've each finished a serving, he helps her clean their plates and stow the leftovers. Then, with a grim set of his lips, he gathers up the few items he's stored at her flat – a toothbrush and comb, some spare pyjamas and a few Quidditch magazines – and makes his way to her fireplace.
She follows behind and grabs a fistful of Floo powder for him, since his hands are full. They stand there for an awkward moment – him in the fireplace, her on the hearth – until she leans in to give him a small, lingering kiss on the cheek.
"Goodbye, Ron," she murmurs in his ear. Before things can grow even more uncomfortable, she tosses in the powder and calls out for the Burrow. Without another word, Ron Weasley is whisked away from her flat to his childhood home. Where he is undoubtedly breathing much easier now.
Hermione stares at the empty fireplace for a solid ten minutes. She knows how much time passes because she counts each second backwards, starting at 600. Then, digging the heels of her palms into her dry eyes, she returns to the kitchen.
For the rest of the day, Hermione stirs and chops and kneads and pours. She ignores the handful of knocks on her front door and the numerous letters that keep landing in the basket beneath the open, owl-delivery window that she's installed in her sitting room. Most of the correspondents are probably reaching out to her because of today's date. But a few might be doing so because Ron has already shared the news.
Honestly? She can't muster up the energy to care about the difference.
It's a mandated holiday, May second, from now until whenever wizards can't remember how to spell Voldemort, much less say it. It's also Hermione's first day off from the Ministry since she started working there after her rescheduled N.E.W.T.'s at Christmas. And by Merlin, she intends to put this day to whatever use she sees fit.
It isn't until very late that night, when she's surrounded by three pies, five dozen biscuits, two cakes, and one treacle pudding, that she allows herself to inspect the clock over her stove. She watches, breath caught in her throat, as the numbers tick from 11:59 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. As the second of May becomes the third of May. Then she carefully folds a stained tea towel over the edge of her sink, sits at one of the kitchen chairs, and begins to sob uncontrollably into her hands.
Two months and six days after their break-up, Hermione arrives at the flat Ron shares with Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnegan. Hermione decides to call on Ron the old-fashioned, Muggle way: via the front door. He answers on the second knock and, for a moment, her heart constricts. His eyelids are puffy with sleep, his hair is ruffled, and there's a small, purplish smudge on his white shirt that no amount of Molly's bleaching spells have been able to remove. Blackberry is notoriously hard to get out, or so Hermione's heard.
She smiles at him shyly and holds up a towel-covered basket by way of a greeting. Ron, ever the bloodhound, sniffs the basket and lifts up a corner of the towel.
"Muffins?" he asks, his face still hidden by the fabric.
"Chocolate ganache-covered banana nut muffins."
Ron drops the towel. "Sounds bloody disgusting."
"I suppose you'll have to try them to find out, won't you?"
He lets her inside and they sit together on opposite ends of the sofa. She sets the basket on the makeshift coffee table in front of them (two milk crates pushed together, honestly?) and plucks out a muffin for him to sample. Never one for formality, Ron takes a huge bite without offering to hang her coat or make her a cup of tea. While he chews and analyzes, Hermione removes her trench and scarf, folding them neatly over one arm of the sofa.
Ron finishes the muffin in four bites, licks his fingers clean, and gapes at her with something like incredulity. Hermione laughs outright, then. His expression is a familiar one, flashed to her over so many spells and potions and please-let-this-save-our-lives moments during their school years. But she hasn't seen that look in a while, and she can't believe how much she missed it.
"That…'ganache,' you called it?" he asks, still wide-eyed. "It's stupid good."
"And the way the chocolate complements the banana nut? It shouldn't work, but it does. It really does."
Ron hums a small sound of assent and reaches for another muffin. "I should've known better than to bet against Hermione Granger."
Her answering laugh is warm, without a trace of the bitterness that might have been there if he'd said that to her three months ago.
"Save some of those muffins for your flatmates, please. I made enough for a whole regiment, so they should tide you lot and Harry over until…." She makes show of checking her wrist, where a watch would be. "At least this afternoon."
"Sod 'em," Ron mumbles around crumbs. "Harry's with Ginny at the Burrow today, getting a head start on the wedding planning, and Dean and Seamus will sleep until sunset if you let them."
He takes another mammoth bite and continues to talk around his food. "I say we kill off these muffins and talk until you have the urge to bake. Which you are welcome to do, by the way. Anytime."
A third, joyful laugh escapes her; three of those are a record for them, given the last six months of their… relationship? Friendship? She likes "friendship" better, and so she tucks her feet under her skirt to settle in for a good chat.
Hermione and Ron spend nearly that entire Saturday on the boys' ratty, hand-me-down couch, talking and eating muffins. They don't talk about them, or what went wrong, or what could have been. Instead, they talk about their jobs and ganache and Ginny's almost-certain place in the next Quidditch World Cup. They talk about tea and the wedding and how to properly test a cake for doneness.
Finally, after a very long time, they talk about the War. And that makes sense to her, in a sad way. It's always been like this with Ron: always a clear line between what they can discuss, and what they can't. For him, "Ron-and-Hermione" and the War don't have places in the same conversation. Despite the Horcruxes and heartbreak and first kisses in the midst of hell, Ron has always insisted that the War and them remain mutually exclusive topics.
So they talk War. And they cry. And they talk some more. And something that has been holding a tight, sharp, War-shaped place inside her heart releases. Just a bit.
When she leaves that evening, Hermione and Ron are all smiles and hugs. And she knows, without having to confirm it with him, that they will be from here on out.