Chapter Forty-One: The Journey Home
Ron woke up at dawn, not quite sure why or how. For a brief second he panicked, wondering why on earth he was sleeping in a strange, and enormous bed, under blankets that were not his and...good lord...wearing nothing at all...when he heard a soft sigh next to him. He let out a breath and turned his gaze to the sleeping girl next to him, and a grin spread over his face and he slumped into his pillow.
He snuggled up to Hermione and wrapped an arm around her. He closed his eyes and nuzzled her neck. She sighed again and stirred, then rolled over onto her back under the covers. Her eyelids fluttered, and she awoke.
'Hey,' he said, smiling down at her, his fingers in her now very tangled hair. He began to trace very light kisses over her face.
'Hi,' she said, smiling dreamily. 'Did you sleep okay?'
'Yeah,' he said, and he couldn't stop smiling. 'Last night was amazing.'
'Was it?' she said, arching her eyebrows.
He nodded. 'You don't...regret it, do you?'
'No,' said Hermione, and she moved close to him. He felt the brush of her bare skin against his and swallowed, and felt a whole lot of stirring down below.
'I don't regret it,' she said. 'It
'I love you,' he said, suddenly overcome with emotion, not quite believing the previous night had really happened. She turned to him and kissed him slowly.
'I love you, too,' she whispered. They kissed some more and Ron felt the stirring down below; morning sex sounded just fine to him, but perhaps Hermione wasn't as keen.
But after a few minutes of kissing, she shifted underneath him and took his hand and guided it beneath the covers.
'Bloody hell,' he muttered, when he found her. She didn't correct him on his language, because she was caught up in what he was doing, and it all progressed from there, with their hands and mouths, until they finally brought themselves together a third time, and it was beautiful.
Ron was perfectly content to stay where they were for the rest of his life and keep doing what they were doing, but Hermione very practically reminded him that it would be very suspicious if they missed breakfast. Ron relented, but pouted a bit.
They dressed quickly and set to work cleaning up; it didn't require a whole lot of effort.
They hurried back to the common room, checking constantly to see if they'd been spotted. Hermione went first. Ron waited for a full minute, then went inside. The common room was empty.
Hermione was standing by the cold fireplace, smiling at him shyly.
'Well,' she said. 'I...I suppose I should change. For breakfast.'
'Me, too,' said Ron, feeling suddenly rather awkward.
'See you in a bit, then?' she said, moving toward the girl's staircase.
'Right,' said Ron. She smiled and started toward the stairs.
'Did we--I mean, was last night--it was real, wasn't it?'
'It was real.'
She kissed him quickly on the lips and started up the stairs.
He watched her go, and he wondered if he would ever stop smiling.
Breakfast was a hurried affair. Ron was famished; he guessed last night had something to do with it. He was in a tremendously good mood. He couldn't seem to stop smiling as he piled his plate high with bacon, eggs and toast.
Hermione had left the Great Hall early to finish packing; Susan was doing the same. Harry and Ron were nearly alone at the Gryffindor table. Harry was watching Ron with narrowed eyes. It took several minutes for Ron to notice this, so happily was he tucking into his breakfast.
'What?' he asked, through a mouthful of eggs.
'You're in a good mood today,' said Harry.
'Yeah, well, it's the summer holidays,' said Ron. 'Course I'm in a good mood.'
'That's not it,' Harry said..
Ron swallowed his eggs and blushed. 'Uh, yeah it is.'
A grin broke out over Harry's face. 'You and Hermione. Last night.'
'What about me and Hermione?'
'You two, you know.'
Ron affected a lofty, disinterested air. 'No, I don't know.'
Harry rolled his eyes. 'Number four. Sex. Shagging.'
Ron blushed even deeper red. 'Oh. That. Well, I...'
'I knew it,' Harry hissed. 'So, how was it? Where'd you go, anyway?'
'Room of Requirement,' Ron admitted.
'And...' said Harry. 'How was it?'
'How do you think?' said Ron, and then he bit his lip when Harry looked down sadly at his toast.
'Sorry,' said Ron quickly. 'Shit, I'm sorry. That was a bloody stupid thing to say.'
'It's okay,' said Harry. 'Really. It was...it was good, then?'
'Yeah,' Ron mumbled. 'It was really good.'
'More than once?' said Harry.
'Yeah,' said Ron, and he felt very stupid and selfish for being happy about shagging.
'That's great,' said Harry.
'No, I mean it,' said Harry
firmly. 'I'm happy for you. For the both of you.'
Ron didn't know what else to say but 'Thanks,' so he said that, and felt wretched anyway. It wasn't fair that Harry had been robbed of that kind of happiness. Not just the shagging kind, but the whole girlfriend/boyfriend thing. Ron felt a flash of anger toward Susan, who was nowhere to be seen this morning. That was something at least.
'What about Dumbledore?' said Ron. 'You talk to him?'
'Yeah,' said Harry. 'He's okay, but...you know, he's so damn old. I mean, I guess I always knew that but the past couple of years. Anyway, he told me I don't have to spend as much time at the Dursleys this summer, thank god.'
'Good,' said Ron. 'You can come to the Burrow whenever you want.'
'Thanks, mate,' he said. 'I...I think I will. That is, if you and Hermione don't mind...'
'Shut it,' said Ron. 'Of course we don't mind, you idiot.'
'Okay,' he said. 'And Ginny won't mind, either?'
'Why should she mind?' said Ron, confused.
'I dunno,' said Harry. 'Sometimes I think she feels a bit left out...you know, with the three of us.'
'Right,' said Ron, and his face darkened. 'Well, that's not going to happen anymore. Especially not after...what that sick freak said to her.'
Ron lugged his trunk outside the castle doors to wait for the carriages to arrive to take them to the Hogsmeade station. The day was bright and clear. Hagrid had taken over herding the first years, for which Ron was grateful.
'Students!' McGonagall's voice pierced the bright summer air. 'Line up, please. The carriages are coming.'
Ron stacked Pigwidgeon's cage on top of his trunk and turned to see the horseless carriages coming toward them. He gasped, and then understood.
Thestrals. Thestrals were pulling the Hogwarts carriages. Ron swallowed. He had completely forgotten about the thestrals. They were eerie creatures, horrifying and yet beautiful at the same time, with their sleek, black bodies and huge bat wings.
'Impressive, aren't they?' said Harry softly.
'Yeah,' said Ron, feeling very strange inside.
'Welcome to the club,' said Harry, sounding very sad. Ron nodded, feeling very sad himself all of a sudden.
The journey back on the Hogwarts Express was quiet. Ron and Hermione paid only cursory attention to their patrolling duties, and more than once one would pull the other into an unoccupied cubicle, lock the door, and they'd wind up snogging each other senseless for several minutes. Ron decided trains were absolutely wonderful things and couldn't wait until the first of September, when he and Hermione could snog in a cubicle again.
Most of the journey, however, was spent in a compartment, with Harry and Ginny. Susan Bones passed by the compartment, and for a brief moment her eyes met Harry's, but he looked away, and she swallowed before disappearing to another train coach. Colin Creevey made an appearance, and for a while he and Ginny disappeared, but then Ginny returned to the compartment alone. Ron wondered again just what was going on with the two of them, but Hermione had told him they were just close friends. And then Ginny would talk at length with Harry, and Ron decided that his sister was good like that--able to talk to just about anyone in a way that made the other person feel a bit better. A few times while talking to Ginny, Harry smiled. Considering that Harry had never before smiled in the aftermath of his break up with Susan, Ron took this as a very good sign, and when Harry wasn't looking, he mouthed a quick 'thank you' to Ginny, who smiled and shrugged.
They played several games of Exploding Snap, bought all they could from the food trolley, and Ron and Harry once again played a few games of wizard chess.
'Damn!' said Harry, as Ron won their third game. 'I give up, mate. Maybe you should go on the road, become a professional chess player.'
'Nah,' said Ron, folding up his chess set and putting away the broken pieces. 'Too boring. Especially if I have to play blokes like you.'
'Ha ha,' said Harry dryly, and he dipped his hand into a box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans.
'Hey, where's Neville?' Ginny asked.
'He's with Luna,' said Hermione. 'I saw them in a compartment when I went to the loo before.'
'She took her O.W.Ls, can you
believe it?' said Ginny, shaking her head.
'Sounds like she and Neville are getting a bit serious,' said Hermione absently, thumbing through a copy of the latest Witch Weekly.
'Good for them,' said Ron firmly. 'Luna's a nice girl. Bit weird, but nice. And Neville. Well, I mean, talk about a match made in heaven.'
'Ron,' said Hermione, rolling her eyes at him fondly.
'Did you hear about Malfoy, though?' said Ginny, accepting a Chocolate Frog from Ron. 'Bill says he made a deal with the Ministry. He's going to testify against his dad.'
'No kidding,' said Harry coolly.
'Does that mean--' Ron began.
'Yeah,' said Ginny, sounding annoyed. 'He'll almost certainly be coming back to school next year.'
Ron said nothing. He wasn't entirely comfortable broaching the subject of Draco Malfoy, because his feelings for Malfoy had become so complicated. On the one hand Draco had joined up with Voldemort, had betrayed them all to Voldemort, had almost poisoned Hermione. On the other hand, he didn't have the will to do it, and he fought the Death Eaters who only moments before he'd pledged allegiance to. There was a small part of Ron that was grateful to Draco for, in the end, helping him get Hermione out and for using the spell that had resulted in Wormtail's capture. Because of that, Sirius's name had been cleared. And that was something.
And Ron would never forget the
look on Draco's face when his own father turned him over to be murdered with
the rest of them. Ron tried to imagine his own father doing that to him, and
the idea was purely hateful. Ron hated Draco Malfoy, but a small part of him
was not only grateful to him, but pitied him. It was a very uncomfortable
feeling. He shook his head and tried to think of other things.
He looked up at Harry, who was talking quietly with Ginny again. All of a sudden Ron realized just how much things had changed between him and Harry. How would Harry be around him and Hermione later this summer, when Harry and Hermione invariably came to visit him at the Burrow?
Hermione was right, thought Ron. It WAS simpler when we were little kids. Ron smiled when he thought of all that he, Harry and Hermione had been through. Burping up slugs, escaping a three-headed dog or a giant spider, taking exams, going to Yule Balls and Halloween balls, winning Quidditch matches, none of it seemed like a very big deal to Ron anymore. Important, but not that much so.
And then there was the whole 'I could be a Seer' thing, that Ron had not yet shared with anyone but Hermione. He had been keeping his journal quite faithfully, and so far, it hadn't really yielded TOO much information, but Ron had begun to wonder if maybe there was something to what Dumbledore had said. And the more Ron wrote in the journal, the less scary, actually, the whole idea seemed. He decided that he would be philosophical about it. If he was a Seer, he'd deal with it, and if not, he'd deal with that, too. Only in the fullness of time could he figure it out, so there was no point in getting stressed about it.
The events of the past year had irrevocably changed them all, and Ron realized with a jolt that perhaps all this was what it meant to be a man. To face one's fears, to make choices out of love for others instead of simple anger, to follow one's friends even to death, to become a better, stronger person, to be a part of something bigger than himself. He looked at Hermione, whose nose was buried in Witch Weekly. Then at Harry, who pushed his glasses up his and was comparing Chocolate Frog cards with Ginny. Something inside Ron flooded his heart and he felt a lump rising in his throat. He swallowed very hard and moved closer to Hermione, putting his arm around her, wishing just then that he could preserve that moment for the rest of his life.
Ron pulled his trunk off the train with a jolt.
'Hello, Ronniekins,' said Fred jauntily. 'Lemme help you with that trunk. Twin! Help me out here!'
George rolled his eyes and joined Fred in carrying Ron's trunk to the trolley. Ron greeted his mother, who was crying ('Mum, get a grip, I'm fine, you just saw me a week ago,'), and his father, who was beaming with pride. Charlie was there, to Ron's pleasant surprise ('Stupid git, don't you ever do anything that barmy again. And I've already given Bill the what-for.').
And Percy. Percy looked a bit fuller in the face than the last time Ron had seen him. He was dressed in plain, dark blue robes and was leaning heavily on a simple wooden cane. He started toward Ron, limping noticeably, but moving quite well all the same. He stopped in front of Ron.
'Ron,' he said, nodding. 'Good lord, you're tall.'
Ron smiled. 'You feeling okay, Percy?'
'Yeah,' said Percy. 'My new accessory.' He indicated his cane. 'Penelope says it makes me look very distinguished.'
Ron smiled again, and then without a word he put his arms around Percy.
'What's this?' Percy asked, hugging Ron back.
'Nothing,' said Ron, coughing, stepping back. 'Just...just glad you're okay. You...you staying on this summer?'
'Yeah,' said Percy. 'Fred and George forgave me. They even gave me their room.'
'They moved out a week ago,' said Percy, smiling fondly at the twins as they greeted Bill and Fleur. 'Found their own place in Diagon Alley, with Lee Jordan. The three of them in one flat, that ought to be...interesting. Mum's sad about it, of course, but if you ask me it'll be nice not to have to listen to explosions coming out of their room every two minutes. I'll have plenty of peace and quiet to work on my cauldron thickness reports.'
Ron gave Percy a look, and Percy
chuckled. 'Just kidding,' he said.
The rest of the luggage came off the train and was loaded onto carts. Two by two they walked through the barrier from Platform 9¾ and onto the platform in King's Cross station.
Meeting them were Tonks, Lupin, Kingsley Shacklebolt and Mad-Eye Moody. Moody had on his usual heavy purple cloak and bowler hat. Tonks's hair was bright blue and spiky. She wore jeans, motorcycle boots, and another Weird Sisters t-shirt. Lupin looked as shabby as always, thinner and paler than usual, but he clutched Tonks's hand. Something was definitely going on between them, Ron thought, smiling to himself.
'Harry,' said Lupin, his voice a bit scratchy. 'Good to see you.'
'Hi,' said Harry. 'You-you okay?'
'Fine,' said Lupin. 'Well, I feel better than I look, anyway.'
Hermione greeted her parents, who hugged her tightly for quite a long time. Past Lupin, Tonks and Moody Ron could see the pinched faces of the Dursleys.
'All right then, Harry,' said Moody. 'You know the drill. Write to us early and often.'
'Thanks, Mad-Eye,' said Harry. He turned to Ron.
'See you soon, mate,' he said, clapping Ron on the shoulder. Ron, however, grabbed Harry and pulled into a tight hug. Harry paused for a moment, then hugged Ron back. They broke apart quickly.
'So, uh, don't go scaring the Muggles,' said Ron, looking at the floor. He then shook Harry's hand. 'See you soon, yeah?'
'You bet,' said Harry.
''Bye, Harry,' said Hermione, hugging him tightly. 'Take care of yourself.'
'I will,' said Harry, smiling.
'See you soon, Harry,' said Ginny, and she hugged him tightly.
'Thanks for everything, Ginny,' said Harry, hugging her back.
Ron noticed for a moment that the
Dursleys were to a one tapping their feet impatiently, and that Harry's Uncle
Vernon was turning an impressive shade of purple.
Harry waved to them all and walked slowly over to join his relatives, who all rolled their eyes and him. The massive son, Dudley, walked far away from Harry, clearly not wanting to get too close to him for some reason.
'Do you think he'll be okay?' Hermione asked.
'Yeah,' said Ron. 'He's got us, he's got Lupin, Tonks, all those folks.'
'Time to go, Hermione,' said the kind voice of Hermione's mother. She and Dr. Granger were heading toward the escalator.
'In a minute, Mum, please?' said Hermione. She turned to Ron and took his hands in hers.
'I'll miss you,' she said softly, her eyes filling with tears.
'We'll see each other soon,' said Ron, but he, too, was feeling more bereft than usual at having to say goodbye to her.
'Write me,' she said. 'A lot.'
'You promise?' said Hermione.
'I swear,' said Ron. 'C'mere.' He pulled her into a hug and buried his face into her hair. 'I love you.'
'I love you, too.'
He held onto her, not wanting to let go. 'I dunno how I'm supposed to manage a whole month without a shag,' he murmured.
Hermione pulled back and rolled her eyes. 'Ron!'
'What?' he said, feigning innocence.
'You like me this way,' he said.
'I love you this way,' she said. 'Which means I am definitely mental.'
'I've known that about you all along,' said Ron, shrugging. 'I love you anyway.'
'Which means you're mental, too,' she said.
'Well, there you have it,' said Ron. 'We're perfect for each other.'
She giggled, and pressed something small and rectangular in his hand.
'You forgot this, by the way,' she said.
'What--' Ron began, and then he realized what it was. 'Oops.'
'You left it under your pillow,' she said. 'Thought you might want some light summer reading material.'
'Normally I'd say no,' said Ron, 'but as this is a subject that interests me greatly...'
Hermione rolled her eyes again,
and hugged him.
'Just don't let Fred and George catch you with it, or they'll never let you hear the end of it. Oh! And don't forget, you have Apparition tests this summer, remember?'
Ron laughed and hugged her tightly.
'Coming, Mum!' Hermione pulled back and was starting to back away when Ron pulled her close again and kissed her, not long enough--he hoped--to make her father angry but long enough all the same to--he hoped--convey everything he was feeling at that moment.
She blushed and back away and walked, very slowly, to rejoin her parents. To Ron's relief they didn't look upset that he'd just kissed their daughter in front of them. They waved to him and the other Weasleys and headed off, up the escalator. Ron watched Hermione all the way out of the station, until he could no longer see the bobbing of her curly hair.
'Let's go and get the car, dear,' said Mr. Weasley, giving Ron's arm a playful sort of punch as he walked by. Mrs. Weasley, still crying, hugged Ron tightly.
'That's so wonderful, you and Hermione!' she sobbed, and hurried after her husband.
'Well, well, well,' said Fred, clapping Ron on the shoulder. Ron quickly stuffed the book Hermione had given him in his jacket pocket. 'Looks like ickle Ronniekins has finally gotten the girl.'
Ron smiled to himself, and then at Fred.
'I got a lot more than that,' he said, clapping Fred on the shoulder and picking up his trunk.
'What's that supposed to--ohhh, no. Ickle Ronnie achieved Number Four!'
'No way!' said George. 'Our ickle sibling is a man!'
'He's even shaving and
everything!' said Fred.
Ron ignored them, dragging his trunk and Pigwidgeon's cage toward the escalator. For the first time, the twins' teasing didn't bother him in the least. Let them think what they wanted; he knew what he meant when he'd said he'd gotten more than the girl. He felt a grin play across his lips as he boarded the escalator. Pidgwidgeon hooted happily and fluttered back and forth, as though doing a wild, ecstatic dance. Ron grinned at the tiny owl.
'I know exactly how you feel, mate,' said Ron, grinning widely all the way to the car.
Author's Note: And it's over. Thanks to everyone who's read and reviewed--and a special thanks to my dedicated readers who read the whole damn thing AGAIN. I hope you liked the rewrite--I am so much happier with it, in so many respects. It was very hard to have Susan break poor Harry's heart. I hope I haven't turned people against her too much--I like the character in canon (even if we don't know much about her) and I didn't write her to be a bad person. But as I am planning a sequel that will eventually feature Harry/Ginny, well, I had to find a way to somehow end things with Harry/Susan in a way that I thought would fit the story, and in a way that doesn't make Susan out to be a complete villain. One thing I liked about Harry/Susan in this story is that Harry finally realizes what it's like to have a healthy relationship with a girl. So even though it doesn't work out in the end, in the long run he'll be much better for the whole experience.
As for this planned sequel, I couldn't begin to guess when that will start up; I'm going out of the country for a while so I won't have access to a computer until literally next year, and I am quite sure my writing won't go as fast, either, because next year promises to be a busy one. But I will definitely be writing. So thanks again to everyone who's read and enjoyed my stuff, and Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!