Disclaimer: Anything you recognize belongs to the goddess, JKR.

This Time I Will

Ronald Weasley was fast asleep in the lone chair by the bed. His lanky frame had rather clumsily draped itself over the back and arms of the chair in a most alarming manner. Although not snoring, the wide expanse of mouth clearly showed that he was just barely above dead.

Hermione looked at him and smiled. She was still very weak but she was awake and that, in itself, was something. She carefully looked at her surroundings. She was obviously in the infirmary and she was obviously still alive.

"The last thing I remember...what is the last thing I remember?" She thought to herself in sudden confusion. "Ah yes...the green light of the killing curse snaking towards me."

She suddenly trembled. Was she dead? Did heaven look like the Hogwarts infirmary? Or was this a sort of purgatory? What if Professor Snape guarded the pearly gates?

"Now I know that I am not at all well," she giggled, imagining the surly Potions Master with wings...black wings of course and the trademark billowing black robes. Not even a supreme deity could make him change his attire of choice.

Ron stirred at the giggle and blearily opened his eyes. Hermione could see that he was not sure whether or not he was awake.

"Hi, Ron," she said in a quiet voice that did not quite sound like her own.

His eyes grew as large as saucers at her voice and, in trying to get out of the chair, could only manage to fall gracelessly (and with much noise) on the floor.

"You're awake," he whispered.

"It would appear so," she smiled as he got up, cursing under his breath at the various aches from having slept in such an unnatural position.

"You're awake," he repeated as he sat back in the chair in a more normal fashion.

"How long was I...well...asleep?"

He seemed to fidget over the answer and his eyes turned to his hands where nervous fingers suddenly began to attack an obviously offensive cuticle.

"Ron, you don't have any white hair so it can't be that bad," she sighed.

"Sorry...it's just that...it's been a while. We weren't even sure if you would be all right. I mean, Harry...well, you know Harry. Ever the optimist."

"How long?"

"Two months."

Silence. Hermione tried to process the fact that the world had managed to get along without her being actively involved for that length of time.

"Hermione?"

"Where is everybody?"

Ron seemed a little upset by the question as the tips of his ears grew pink.

"Harry is with Dumbledore. They are overseeing the repairs to the castle. Ginny is back at home with Mum and Dad. They wanted me there too, given what happened."

The ears grew pinker.

"What happened, Ron?"

Hermione could tell that she had struck a nerve because Ron went first red then pale.

"We lost...we lost a few friends, Hermione," he started nervously, back to tearing the almost-bleeding cuticle.

"Who?" Hermione managed to ask through the forming lump in her throat.

"Lavender...she died saving a family of muggles from Crabbe Senior. Dean...ambushed by a group of Death Eaters. He managed to kill eight of them before they got to him. Madam Pince...she burned to death trying to save the library when it was hit. Madam Pomfrey...killed while tending a wounded Auror."

"Who is in charge of the infirmary?"

"Snape. He managed to stay alive, of course...the slimy git," Ron sighed suddenly. "I suppose I should be more charitable because he has managed to bring you back."

"Who else, Ron?"

Ron's eyes took on the glassy shine of grief and Hermione heart began to race.

"Percy and Fred. Two of my brothers. They died saving me. I had been taken prisoner by Malfoy when I went searching for you and he...well, I knew the Cruciatus was bad but this seemed so much worse. He was laughing...too intent on torturing me to notice them until it was too late. I was so weak...Percy had to carry me. He was hit in the back by Malfoy's father causing us both to fall to the ground like stones. Fred managed to kill Lucius but not before Lucius sent a killing curse in his direction as well. I was alone, too weak to walk, my wand was on the other side of the room and two of my brothers were dead. All I could think was that I had lost three of the people that had meant so much to me."

Hermione could not even begin to process the fact that two of the Weasley clan...two that she was quite close to...were gone. She could feel the prickling of tears and swallowed compulsively to head them off. She could not deal with it...not without losing what was left of her sanity. So she concentrated on something else he said.

"Three?"

Ron blushed and mumbled something she could not understand.

"Ron...what is it?"

"Well, I thought I had lost you too."

Hermione felt her heart quicken and she bit her upper lip nervously. "Why?"

"You don't know...when I heard that you had been taken...well, I couldn't think straight. I honestly think I went completely mad for a time. Loads of things just going through my mind...it was horrible." Ron looked as if he were reliving something decidedly unpleasant.

"What sorts of things?"

For a moment, Ron looked as if he were having an internal debate about the subject. Shaking his head, he finally turned to her.

"I suppose you're right. You always are. I..."

"Hermione You're awake" Harry's voice interrupted them, causing Hermione to jump and Ron to look at his best friend with what would pass as an excellent impression of a gaping largemouth bass

"Hi Harry," Hermione, although happy to see him, had desperately wanted to know what Ron was about to say.

"Yeah," Ron added, getting up to let Harry sit down. "Hi."

They chatted about the various events that had brought down the Dark Lord and the many things that had happened since. Harry was in good spirits but it was clear that there was a darkness in his eyes that had not been there before. One did not go through all that and remain untainted. His innocence was lost. If he had ever had it in the first place.

After a couple of hours, Hermione realized that she was very tired.

"You had better go. I am starting to feel like I will drop any second," Hermione smiled.

Harry got up. "We will come to visit tomorrow, if you're up to it. I'm just so glad to see you...I can't tell you how worried Ron and I have been."

"I know. Bring some books with you, if you can. Other than studying the cracks in the walls, I don't really have much to do," Hermione smiled.

Harry chuckled and reached over to hug her. Hermione hugged him back and choked back a couple of tears. It was over and they had all made it.

"I'll be right with you, Harry. Why don't you grab your broomstick and meet me on the Quidditch pitch?" Ron asked hopefully. Hermione turned to the red-headed boy with a curious expression on her face.

"I'll bring your broom as well to save you the trip. Take care."

And Harry was gone.

"I thought he would never leave," Ron said in a conspiratorial undertone.

"That's hardly charitable, Ron," Hermione protested.

Ron sat down on her bed and looked at her intently. The ears had turned red once again and Hermione was finding it difficult to breathe normally.

"What I was saying before..." Ron paused, swallowing.

"Yes?" Hermione encouraged him to continue by placing a hand over his.

He looked down at their hands and then looked up at her. "I thought I had lost you, Hermione. I thought I had lost you...and I realized that you were more than just my know-it-all friend, defeater of dark wizards, brewer of potions and bookworm."

"You left out mistress of charms and procurer of butterbeer," Hermione giggled nervously.

"I'm being serious," Ron complained.

"I know...sorry," Hermione held his hand softly. He began to caress her finger with his thumb.

Taking a deep breath, Ron continued. "I realized that you meant more to me than a friend...a lot more. I was floored...absolutely stunned. And I regretted things I hadn't done...swore that, if we were both all right, I would not waste any opportunities."

"What do you mean, Ron?"


"Remember second year? After Madam Pomfrey had revived you? Remember when you came into the Great Hall and hugged Harry and then...well..."

"We shook hands."

"Right. We didn't hug. It somehow felt awkward...but this time...this time I will."

Ron suddenly released his hands from hers and embraced her tightly. Hermione, tears spilling from her eyes, hugged him fiercely.

They sat there, holding each other tightly, for several long moments. They did not say anything...did not need to say anything.

"Ron?" Hermione asked quietly, listening to his racing heartbeat.

"Yeah?" Ron replied, his voice shaking slightly.

"I think...I think I really like this," she whispered shyly.

He released her and tilted her chin up to look at him.

"Me too."

She caressed his cheek and again bit her lip nervously at what she saw in his eyes. Unable to express what she was feeling, Hermione leaned forward and kissed him softly on the lips.

"I'll see you tomorrow?" She asked as he touched his lips in apparent disbelief.

"Yeah...I mean...of course. I'll bring you breakfast...or lunch...or whatever. What do you want me to bring?" Ron asked, his eyes wide and his cheeks burning.

"Just you."