The next few hours were a whirlwind. After quickly eating, Hermione left to debrief with Dumbledore. Ron longingly watched her leave, and then turned with a sigh to finishing his duties for the night as quickly as possible. By the time he finished settling in the new arrivals, working out the Prefect patrol schedule for the next week, and breaking up a minor squabble between two houses from Beauxbatons, most everyone else had gone off to bed.
Ron yawned widely. There wasn't much he wanted more than to go to bed right now, himself…except for one thing. He had to find Hermione.
All night long, he kept remembering their too-short encounter in the hallway, reliving every moment of it. And while it had been wonderful…okay, amazing…okay, the best few minutes of his life, it didn't feel finished. Life – as it had a habit of doing – had butted in and interrupted their moment. And Ron, for one, had waited too damn long to not see this through. There were too many things he still needed to say; there was too much he still needed to hear from her.
And so instead of turning down the hallway that led to his own room, he began searching for Hermione.
He was doomed to disappointment. Everywhere he could think of to look for her – the library, the ballroom, the dining room – he had no luck. Each room was dim and deserted, devoid of people.
It was with a heavy heart that he returned to his room half an hour later. He hadn't been able to find Hermione anywhere. He felt unfinished, incomplete and restless.
He felt all of those things until he walked into his room and found Hermione in his bed.
She was sitting up on what he'd come to regard as 'her side', engaging in some light reading. Which – since it was Hermione – meant that her legs were pinned under a massive book.
Ron couldn't have been more surprised. "Hermione!"
As she looked up at him with a smile, he noticed that she'd changed into her pajama bottoms and one of his old t-shirts. He realized that she'd settled in for the night. Here. In his room. She expected to stay with him again.
Hermione's smile was slightly quizzical. "Where've you been all this time?"
"Uh," Ron said. Then, realizing that his response had lacked a certain panache – as well as an answer – he elaborated. "I took over some daily stuff. With both you and Harry gone, for awhile I really…needed to keep my mind occupied."
Hermione's smile dimmed. "I'm sorry, Ron. I hate that I made you worry."
Ron shook his head, dismissing her concern. "It doesn't matter. You're back, both of you."
He glanced at his feet, trying to find the words to begin. "I've been looking for you," he finally confessed. "All over. I…uh, didn't expect to find you here."
To his surprise, Hermione blushed. "Oh, um…I'm sorry. I shouldn't have…I'll go."
Ron was alarmed when Hermione began to scoot off the bed. "No!" he shouted, a bit more forcefully than was necessary if her startled expression was any indication. He tried it again with less volume. "No. It's okay. Stay. I mean I'm glad…that you're here, that is."
Her smile tentatively returned. "Oh," she said, visibly happy. "All right." She stopped making her way to the edge, and just sat there in the middle of the bed, looking soft and desirable.
He abruptly seemed to be having more trouble than usual forming complete sentences. "It's just that it's…a little different now. I wasn't sure that you'd still… I mean, I didn't know if you'd want…
Hermione's smile turned gentle. "I'm here, aren't I?"
Now it was Ron's turn to blush. His heart was expanding, again, and he returned her smile with a lopsided grin. "Yeah, you are."
It was sort of odd, how shy they suddenly were around each other. Odd, but wonderful, too. Ron stammered that he had to go and change for bed, and Hermione nodded, returning to her book while she waited for him.
When he returned a little while later, he found the room dim, and Hermione was under the covers – sans book – on her side.
Feeling more awkward than he had ever since that first night on the sofa, Ron peeled back the sheet and blanket and slid in next to her. He was surprised when Hermione rolled over and turned to him, snuggling up against his side and draping an arm across his chest. "I thought you were asleep," he said softly.
"Hmm mmm," she answered in the negative, resting her head just above his shoulder with a sigh.
Ron wrapped his arm around her waist and turned his head so that his lips brushed her forehead, closing his eyes so as to better savor the sensation of having her in his arms again. It was amazing, how right this felt. In this position he could smell the sweet, clean fragrance of her hair. She filled his arms, warming him, and once again he was struck by how much he seemed to need this, with her.
It was as if Hermione were reading his thoughts. "I missed this," she murmured.
It was on the tip of Ron's tongue to share that he had, too, but Hermione had gone on. "I couldn't sleep, the whole time I was gone."
He felt a pang of regret that he hadn't been able to be there for her. "The nightmares?" he asked, tightening his embrace.
He sensed her shaking her head. "No. Once I figured out what they meant, what the root of them was, I was able to deal with them. They're mostly gone, now. And now that I know Harry's safe, too…well, I don't think I'll be having any bad dreams, tonight."
She shifted, and he glanced down to find her looking up at him seriously. "No, I…I couldn't sleep because I missed you. Missed being here with you," she said. Though he couldn't see her clearly due to the lack of light in the room, he felt certain that she was blushing. She was certainly embarrassed; he could tell from the way she suddenly dropped her gaze and began fiddling with the border of the blanket.
Ron's heart tripped, and he wondered if being in love might be bad for his health. It seemed that he was suffering from a lot of cardiac irregularities, lately. Somehow, though, he couldn't seem to muster any concern for it. Not when it felt so wonderful.
"Me too," he confessed, earning himself a soul-searching look from Hermione. "This…with you and me, it feels right."
"Yeah," Hermione agreed tenderly.
Still absurdly shy, but desperately needing to have this conversation, Ron plunged onward. "You said…before, you said that you've always…"
Hermione smiled again, wrapped up in the newness of it all. "Yes."
Ron swallowed, trying to figure out how to convey what he was actually trying to ask. "I mean, you told me that you always have, but you didn't actually…you know, say it."
Now Hermione stared at him blankly, not understanding.
"Would you…I mean, could you…say it?" Ron stuttered on. "I just need…"
Finally, Hermione got it. She propped herself up on one elbow and looked down at him. "I love you," she interrupted, putting an end to his suffering. The hand that had been resting on his chest now moved up to lightly brush a lock of hair from his forehead. "Ron Weasley," she continued in a whisper, "I've always loved you."
That was it, Ron decided. Love was going to kill him. His heart was racing triple time, and his sigh was so huge that he thought his lungs would burst. He reached up to grasp her hand with his own. "I love you, too," he said back wonderingly.
Never taking her eyes off his, Hermione leaned down very slowly and brushed her lips against his. The butterfly-soft kiss was maddening, just enough to entice him, but too feathery light to be truly satisfying. Needing more, Ron used his elbow to push himself up so that his lips pressed against hers firmly.
Hermione made a surprised sound, but didn't pull away. After a brief hesitation she slid her arm around him, freeing him to place his hand on her waist again. He drew her against him, and she came willingly to lie half on top of him.
Some time later, they managed to tear themselves away from each other's lips long enough to settle into sleeping positions again. Hermione's head once more rested on Ron's shoulder, and his arms wrapped around her comfortably. "So," Ron said, clearing his throat when he found his voice to be a bit rusty. "Always, eh? Seems like you could have said something before now, then."
Hermione giggled at his teasing tone, sounding very un-Hermione-like. "And when was I supposed to tell you? Back in first year, when I was a 'nightmare'? In third, when we were fighting all the time? Or maybe in fourth, when you were drooling all over Fleur Decleur?"
"I wasn't drooling," Ron said uncomfortably. "Besides, you're the one who went to the bloody Ball with Viktor Krum. And after I asked you!"
Hermione's jaw dropped. "After you asked me?!" She sounded scandalized by his version of events. "In what province does 'Hey Hermione, you're a girl. You could go with one of us!' constitute a serious invitation?!"
"Okay, okay," Ron said hurriedly, not overly anxious to begin that argument again. "The point is, you chose someone else over me."
"The point was," Hermione contested, "that all you had to do was ask me from the beginning. Because you wanted to. But you were too thick to realize how I felt about you, and couldn't see it."
"And don't even say that you weren't thick about it," Hermione said immediately, sensing that he was about to disagree. "I even told you to ask me first, the next time, and you never did." She looked up at him, and her expression said 'so there'.
"Besides," she went on, obviously taking his silence as unconditional surrender on the matter, "why didn't you ever say anything before now?"
Ron shrugged self consciously. "You were one of my best friends," he said. "It took awhile before I saw you as anything else. And after I realized it, I didn't think that you…" Ron paused, thinking about what she'd just said, and remembering her parting shot at the end of their infamous Yule Ball row. "Okay, you're right, I was a bit thick about it."
He joined Hermione in brief laughter. When it died down, Ron realized how much easier it was to discuss certain things with her, now that he knew she returned his feelings. "I've...uh, always beena little jealous of him," he admitted.
"Of Viktor?" Hermione asked. Then she arched a sarcastic eyebrow at him. "You don't say."
Ron felt his face heat up. "It was that obvious?"
"Oh, it was infuriating! You were so irrationally upset that I went with him – I mean honestly, 'fraternizing with the enemy'? – and yet you were utterly blind to why it bothered you. I spent so much of that year being frustrated with you."
Ron grinned. "You spend a lot of your time being frustrated with me."
"I can't deny that," she replied a little wryly, but her lips twitched with amusement.
Braver now that he was secure of her feelings, he thought it safe to say, "But that's why you love me, right?"
"One of the more perplexing reasons," she allowed, affecting a mock-stern expression.
"Same goes," Ron said with a smile.
Hermione returned it, and then stretched up for another kiss. It was even more tender than the first, and Ron felt his stomach do a lazy roll over. When she pulled away, he struggled for words.
"Hermione, I… Merlin, I don't know how to say it."
"How to say what?" Hermione asked, a tinge of worry in her voice.
"Oh, nothing…nothing bad," he reassured her. "It's just that you…I mean us…the way I feel. It's more than I can say, and I'm so frustrated because I want to tell you everything, but I feel like I can't say it right. Like I can't make you understand."
"Ron," she replied softly, "you don't need any words. I already understand, because I feel the same way."
Love washed through him, making him feel bold and reckless. He suddenly felt like doing something daring. Something brave. Something to celebrate the best day of his life. And he knew just the thing.
"Hermione," he started.
Picking up on the change in his tone, Hermione cocked her head. "Yes?"
Ron gave her his most charming look. "Would you do something for me?"
Hermione smiled back, but a little wariness crept into her tone. "Well…depending upon what it is…"
Ron scooted closer to her, nuzzling the side of her neck. Finally able to indulge himself, he dipped his head and kissed the hollow of her throat, then planted a string of tiny kisses along her collarbone. He smiled when he felt her shiver. "It's something I've been wanting to do for ages," he replied. "And I think now is the perfect time."
Visibly nervous, now, Hermione cleared her throat. "You…you do?"
He eased back a little, looking soulfully into her eyes. "Trust me."
Ten minutes later, he was still trying to convince her.
"Ron, I don't think I'm ready to…"
"Yes you are," he interrupted. "You'll be fine, trust me."
"I can't do it, I'm too scared."
"There's nothing to be scared of. It won't hurt, I promise."
"You have to, that was the deal. You can't go back on the deal, Hermione."
Her voice was laced with anxiety. "It's just that it's so…long. And I don't know if I can…" She broke off, panting a little from exertion.
"You're almost there, Hermione. Oh, you've got it! Now just relax and lean forward a little…"
"Ron, I really don't think I can do this."
Ron was nearly frantic with excitement. He couldn't allow her to back out, now. Momentum was the key. "It's too late now, Hermione, you're already on. Nothing left to do now but enjoy the ride."
She was close to caving, now, he could tell. It was time to use the secret weapon. "Come on, love. For me?"
Hermione's voice softened. "Oh, you just called me…" She sighed. "All right. Just don't…don't let me fall, okay?"
Ron smiled. "Never."
Taking a deep breath, Hermione steeled herself and relaxed her grip on the hard length between her thighs. Then, she leaned forward as Ron had indicated. The result was immediate, and she couldn't hold back a squeal.
In fact, her high-pitched shriek lasted the whole way down.
At the bottom of the stairs, Ron grinned hugely as Hermione slid down the banister. He'd done it himself just a few minutes before, but he hadn't really believed he'd be able to talk Hermione into it.
Now, as she rode down the rail screeching like a banshee, Ron laughed and held out his arms. She hit him like a ton of bricks and landed on top of him when they struck the marble floor. Ron's back absorbed the brunt of the impact, with Hermione cushioned safely in his embrace.
Ron gasped for air, finding it difficult to do so while laughing at the same time. Hermione seemed to be suffering from the same problem, though she was doing a much better job at swallowing her giggles. She placed both of her hands criss-cross over Ron's mouth. "Shhhh!" she scolded. "You'll wake the whole mansion!"
Ron pried her hands away. He held onto them as he put his arms around her, so that her wrists were pinned behind her back. She was now defenseless, lying atop him, and she didn't really seem to mind. Not at all.
"I think you screaming your head off already took care of that," Ron teased. Hermione opened her mouth to argue, and Ron took advantage of the opportunity by lifting his head from the cool, hard marble and kissing her.
As Hermione sank back with him to floor, Ron forgot to worry about the possibility of someone coming to see what all the noise was about. He forgot to worry about the next mission, or the one after that. He forgot all about the war, the Death Eaters, and Voldemort.
For now, it was just him and Hermione, and everything was wonderful.
A special thanks to everyone who reviewed! You guys make it all worthwhile :)