"He's just there, by that tree."
"That dead one that Charlie hexed?"
"No, the one next to it."
"Where? I don't see anyone."
"Sorry!" Tonks grimaced. "Why's it so bloody dark? Lum-"
"Shh! Do you want him to know we're here?" George hissed, clamping a hand over her mouth. She shook her head. "What're you doing here?"
"Kingsley and Mad-Eye sent me. They had some scrolls that your father needed to see, and Mad-Eye wouldn't let him send them any other way. You know how he is."
"I still can't see him," Ginny complained, ducking down and peering out of the window into the purple darkness.
"There are only two trees in the yard, Ginny. Figure it out," Fred snapped. She elbowed him in the side.
"Did your mum say when Harry could come to stay?" Hermione asked, leaning against the trunk of the tree and picking absently at the bark.
"No. But I was going to ask her to send another owl to Dumbledore," Ron answered.
"I hardly think that he'd forget about Harry," she said snidely, then silently cursed herself for being so short with him, using all of the words that she'd ever heard Ron use. He didn't seem to notice.
"Yeah, s'pose not," Ron said, shaking his hair back out of his eyes. Despite Mrs. Weasley's protests, Ron hadn't had it cut all year, and Hermione suspected that he was going to grow it out like Bill's. She rather liked his hair. Sometimes she found herself wanting to touch it, or brush back the stray lock of red hair that fell over his left eye.
When Ron started talking about the Chudley Cannons game that his brother Charlie had managed to get them tickets to (something he'd mentioned every fifteen minutes all summer,) she let her mind drift. She studied his face, and the way he gestured with his hands. He had great hands. Hermione noticed an eyelash on his cheek. Without thinking, she reached out and brushed it away with her thumb.
Ron stopped talking. His lips were parted, and his eyes stared into her questioningly. They were both so silent that she could hear him breathing. She'd been at the Burrow for two weeks now, and she had been growing more uncomfortable every day. She didn't want to be attracted to Ron. He was her best friend. So was Harry. She didn't want to ruin that.
But what if it wouldn't be ruining their friendship? Maybe she and Ron could be something more…. Throwing caution into the wind, Hermione leaned forward and kissed his cheek.
"What's going on in here?" Bill asked curiously. He could make out four figures crouching around and peering out of the window by the feeble moonlight.
"Ron and Hermione are…er…getting cozy outside," George sniggered.
"They're snogging!" Ginny exclaimed, finally spotting her brother and Hermione. She clapped her hands over her mouth and giggled.
"Oh, is that why we're all in here?" Tonks asked, cottoning on. She peered over Ginny's shoulder and smiled.
"No kidding?" Bill grinned, hurrying over. "I always knew he had it in him."
Outside, Ron was nervously kicking the ground with the toe of his worn out trainers. Hermione, blushing, had her arms crossed, and was waiting desperately for him to say something.
"That was, er…" he finally managed to say.
"I'm so sorry, Ron!" Hermione cried, uncrossing her arms and flinging them up in a helpless gesture. "I don't know what came over me."
"No, it's just… Well, I wasn't expecting…" Ron felt as he'd been hit by a Twisted Tongue curse. He couldn't make himself form all the words that were racing around his head like Bludgers.
Hermione felt tears stinging behind her eyelids. "I understand if you're angry, Ron. I- I'm tired. I'm going to go to bed now," she whispered, and turned back to the house.
"Ron, you prat! Don't let her walk away!" Fred and George burst out in unison.
She turned around. Her head was ducked, and her face was hidden by a large quantity of bushy brown hair. He swallowed. "Hermione, I… That is to say… You – we…"
Hermione sniffled, and Ron realized that she was crying. He was struck by an instant urge to run far, far away, but he just took a deep breath instead.
He took a step closer, and she hurriedly wiped at her face with the sleeve of her sweater, one of Ron's old maroon ones. "Its okay, Ron, I shouldn't have kissed you, and -" She looked up, and he took the opportunity to silence her, pressing his lips against hers awkwardly.
"Don't be sorry," he whispered to her when he drew back. His ears were bright red, but he did not look ashamed. Hermione smiled tentatively. He leaned forward and kissed her again, and this time it was nicer. Softer.
"Way to go, Ron!" George cheered. Tonks, who had been admiring photos of a young Charlie and Bill Weasley playing Quidditch outside a much neater Burrow, was startled. She backed up into one of the twin's beds, knocking over a large ceramic pot, sending clouds of dust billowing into the air. The noise was loud enough to make the pair outside jump apart and look around guiltily.
"Tonks!" Fred exclaimed angrily as patches of his skin turned brown, becoming thick and hard as leather gloves.
"That's all our Wartcap powder!" George muttered, though his voice was distinctly muffled – he'd gotten a good bit in the face, making him look like a walking, talking wooden Pinocchio.
"I thought as much," Bill said, restoring his own arms, and then Ginny's.
"What're you doing with-" Tonks began. But at that moment Mrs. Weasley walked in, waving her wand to light the lamps. Fred and George had yet to reverse the effects of the Wartcap powder, which coated the room like ash.
"So…" Ron said, gratified by his mother's shouts, which they could hear quite clearly. "Does this mean that we're – I mean to say – do you want to maybe, you know, go out with me?"
Hermione felt light headed. She had never been one to get giggly and flustered like Parvati and Lavender, but she could barely manage to stifle a laugh now. "Yeah, I think I'd like that."
"You wanna sit down?" Ron asked, suddenly overwhelmed by chivalry – he took off his jacket and made as if to lay it on the ground, but then draped it over her shoulders. Hermione thought she could burst with happiness.
"Yeah…" They settled down on the grass, leaning against the tree trunk, Ron holding her hand and gently rubbing his thumb over her palm, and watched as the stars appeared in the sky.