Notes: Many thanks to leftsockarchive for her beta help. All remaining errors belong to me.
A Library With A View
It rained ash for three days.
The Muggle news would speak of a massive volcano eruption on some island no one had heard of before. They would spin tall tales of an explosive upsurge of pent-up gases escaping violently from the swollen earth, and of the magma that broke into pieces as it rushed through the air in a column of dust and fiery fragments. The cinders from that outburst would ride the jet stream and travel around the world covering the planet in a thin layer of soot and grime, and people groused as they brushed it off their cars and cleaned it from their windows.
It was easier that way, he supposed. Easier to explain that the filth that clung to their skin and burned their eyes came from some natural disaster that could not have been avoided, on some deserted island that they never knew existed. It was far easier than explaining that a war was fought under their noses and a hundred people died saving the world.
Easier than explaining that the thick black dust was once a man.
Ron Weasley watched the black shower drizzle over the Earth from the confines of his hospital bed. He asked the Healers to move his bed toward the window so he could watch it fall.
"There's nothing going on out there, Mr. Weasley," they would insist.
"Exactly," was his only response.
One didn't refuse a war hero anything, especially not Ron Weasley, so they complied, though they couldn't understand why he would want to watch the dark rain that polluted the air. They didn't ask why he wouldn't sleep or why he wouldn't take the potions that could make him more comfortable. Ron Weasley simply wanted to be left alone and they considered it the least they could do.
On the fourth day after the great battle Ron heard thunder roll across the sky. He looked up in time to see lightning flare and light up the Earth. Almost immediately water fell in huge droplets from dark gray clouds; it poured from the heavens in thick sheets, pelting the grounds and washing away the grime that previously covered it.
That was what he was waiting for, for Mother Earth or God or whomever was in charge of such things, to reclaim the planet. To wash away the last traces of battle and hatred. To cleanse his soot-stained soul. Now the war was truly over, now there could be peace, and now he would sleep.
When he woke up it was morning again. He looked out the window to see a crisp blue sky and an open field of grass, rich and thick and vibrant green. In a chair next to him, wearing a similar dressing gown to his own, sat Harry Potter.
"What are you doing out of bed?" he rasped, his voice sounding much older than he remembered.
"I got bored," Harry replied as he smiled. "How do you feel?"
"About a hundred years old," Ron answered. "Why does everything still hurt?"
Harry laughed. "You won't allow them to give you anything to ease the pain. What did you expect?"
"I just didn't want them to make me sleep," he said plainly. "I wanted to be awake for the rain."
Harry nodded, understanding even better than Ron what that meant. "It was beautiful, wasn't it?"
"Sounds good to hear you say that, mate," Harry said with a wide grin. "I was afraid I might never hear you curse again. You've been asleep for a long time."
Ron tried to sit up, but his joints were stiff and every muscle of his body felt cinched and tight . "How long was I out?"
"About three days."
"Three days! No wonder I feel like crap. When the hell can we get out of this place?"
"Don't know," Harry answered, his voice thick with annoyance. "They say they want to keep us around for observation but I think it's just a way to keep tabs on us for a bit longer."
Harry shrugged but didn't answer; Ron supposed he knew. Harry was an incredibly powerful wizard, one who just blew the greatest Dark Lord in history into millions of specs of dust. They were afraid of him, of what he was capable of. Harry was a weapon, after all, and a weapon is great as long as it is under control. What happened when it wasn't needed anymore? How could they just allow that kind of power, that kind of force, to roam free?
As for Ron, he was a general in an army. He killed Death Eaters and trolls, and kept a hundred Dementors at bay on his own, buying Harry the time to do what he needed to do. They might have been a little afraid of him, too. Hermione planned the whole thing: coordinated the efforts, mobilized the troops. Chances were that they wanted to keep track of her as well.
They were trapped, it seemed, all of them in a world that created monsters but didn't know what to do with them once they served their purpose. His mind drifted to Hermione, to the bookish schoolgirl turned warrior. She should have been at a university writing complicated papers or running some research facility. She was the smartest witch in the world and she deserved better than to be locked up here.
As if she knew she was in his thoughts, she entered the room. "Finally awake, I see."
Ron wanted to speak, wanted to answer her, to make some smarmy comment that would evolve into one of their fabulous rows, but he couldn't. All he could see was the dark circles under her eyes, the angry gash that cut across her cheek, and the scar that ran from her ear to her shoulder. Her hair was cropped short; he knew parts of it were singed in battle and he figured she cut it all off rather than try to fix it. It was coarse and crinkly looking, and seemed to only accentuate the bruises on her face. She stood with her chin out, almost daring him to say something about her appearance. And he wanted to say something. Anything. But he couldn't. Nor could he look away.
She seemed to grow uncomfortable under the scrutiny. "I've been writing letters," she said suddenly as she turned to Harry.
"I've sent one to everyone I know who survived the last battle. I'm not staying here one second longer than necessary. Someone's got to get my post and respond. Someone has got to help us get out of this place."
"Have you really thought about it?" Harry asked suddenly, the smile slipping from his face.
"About what?" she asked.
"About leaving this place. About what happens to us when we leave."
Ron was taken aback by the question. In truth, he hadn't thought about it; he hadn't expected to make it out alive. What would they do?
"We live, " Hermione answered, directing her response to both Harry and Ron. It surprised Ron little that she knew what he was thinking.
"But what does that mean?" Harry asked, shaking his head. "Can you see yourself renting a flat? Applying for a job? Going back to school? Because I can't. I can't picture anything other than war. Preparing for it. Fighting it. Trying not to die."
Ron sat up as best he could. "What are you trying to say? That they're right in keeping us trapped here? That we can't function outside of war?"
"Can we?" Harry asked, his voice pleading for an answer.
"We've never had a chance before, have we?" Ron began. "We did normal things once. We played Quidditch and Exploding Snap. We raced brooms and stuffed our faces with sweets. I don't remember ever thinking about what we were doing, I only remember doing it."
"That's kid stuff, Ron," he said, his shoulders slumped in defeat.
Ron smiled softly. "I don't know about you but I'm still pretty young. I think a bit of time to do some kid stuff wouldn't be so bad right now." Harry smiled back and Hermione beamed at Ron. It wasn't much but it was good enough to be going with.
He asked to go outside that night. After nearly an hour of debating the matter, he was granted a short visit to the courtyard. He threw a bathrobe over his dressing gown and stepped out into the brisk autumn night.
It was colder than he expected it to be but he didn't care, and he didn't bother to close his robe around his shivering frame. Instead, he breathed deeply, inhaled the frigid air deep in his lungs and relished each goosebump that rose in response on his body. He took his slippers off and walked in a circle, savoring the feeling of the cold grass under his bare feet. Why had he never walked on the grass before? Had he done so once and simply forgotten? Had it felt this good when he did?
Ron sat on the grass and reached down to run his fingers through the thick blades. He absentmindedly began to tear at bits of the lawn, and watched silently as the shreds scattered at his feet. Harry's words, which had been buzzing through his mind all day, were suddenly echoing loudly:
I can't picture anything other than war.
Ron began to wonder how far from the truth Harry was. Could he, Ron, truly picture a normal life? And what would this normal life entail? He didn't have a head for school nor the patience, not enough to go for an advanced degree of any kind. Applying for a job seemed ludicrous as well. Mostly because he couldn't think of what he wanted to do. He remembered a time not too long ago when he wanted to be an Auror, when nothing in the world sounded quite as exciting as capturing Dark Wizards and hunting escaped criminals. But he'd had enough of that; the thought of it alone froze him in ways the coldest nights never could. He knew he would spend his lifetime trying to erase what he had seen these last few years; he felt no need to add to his nightmares.
He had had enough destruction and he had had enough loss. He didn't want to take things apart anymore; he wanted to put them back together. He wanted to build something.
An idea struck him, one so simple he marveled that it took him so long to think of it. He suddenly felt warm. It started at a place deep inside his stomach and slowly spread through him until it reached the tips of his fingers. Without knowing why, he turned back to the hospital and up to the window that he thought was Harry's, and then Hermione's. He threw himself back and lay on the grass looking up at the crescent moon that pierced the sky. He would remain there until the Healers made him go back to his room an hour later.
No one questioned Ron when he asked for several feet of parchment, or a huge supply of ink and quills. No one bothered him when he shut himself up in his room. Everyone needed a bit of space. Hermione kept writing letters. Harry kept wondering how to live in a world without war.
Hermione's curiosity got the better of her.
Nearly a week had passed since Ron had begun locking himself away. He would emerge for meals and only smile in response whenever he was asked about his mysterious activities. Hermione found it all odd but didn't say anything; she had her letters to write and once they were out of this ridiculous place they could go back to normal…whatever that was.
But when Ron began to request books from the hospital's staff, she became concerned. That was very unlike him. When he began skipping meals entirely she became distressed. Enough was enough.
She stood before his closed door for an hour while she got up her nerve. Why she was so anxious was anyone's guess-- this was just Ron. She's known him most her life, hadn't she? It was with a small jolt that she realized she didn't. Didn't know him anymore.
There once was child in second hand robes who stood in the shadows of others. There once was a knight who challenged a faceless Queen and sacrificed himself. There once was a friend who faced a convicted murderer and screamed, "…you'll have to kill us all." There once was a boy who was jealous and made her cry. There once was a keeper who was too insecure to realize his own potential. There once was a soldier who fought the greatest of evils.
Ron was a little bit of all these people, some of which she hadn't seen in a very long time. But everything was different now and the Ron who was on the other side of the door could be all or none of them.
"Ron," she called softly. "Ron, can I come in?" Hermione was worried about him, worried enough that her nerves would have to wait until she got her answers. She brought her arms up and wrapped them across her chest as she waited for a response.
Minutes passed and then she called out again. "Ron, are you all right?" She reached down and grabbed the door handle. After taking a deep breath she turned it only to find it had been unlocked the whole time. The door creaked loudly as she swung it open.
It was a sight she'd never seen before-- not even when they were studying for O.W.L.S. or N.E.W.T.S. or anything. Ron sat amidst piles of books, bits of parchment crumpled in balls all over the floor, and ink splattered on his cheek. He was making notations on some sort of diagram, studying the document so intensely he didn't even realize she had entered the room.
"Ron?" she asked again, raising her voice in hopes of getting his attention.
He looked up with unfocused eyes and a rather dark smudge of ink on the edge of his nose. "Yes, Hermione?"
"Ah, Ron. Are…are you all right?" That wasn't what she wanted to ask but that was all that came out.
"I'm fine. I'm almost done." His eyes lit up as he spoke. Whatever he was working on, it was plain to see he was proud of it.
"Done with what?"
"With my plans."
"You've been planning something? Can I …can I see?" She couldn't remember a time when Ron planned something on his own, not without at least asking her opinion. As far as she could remember, they always did things together. She was unreasonably saddened to realize that wouldn't always be the case.
"It's supposed to be a surprise," he replied, the side of his lips turning upward.
She was a bit relieved to see he was teasing her. It had been so long. "A surprise? For who? For me?"
"For you and Harry?"
Of course. "Right, for me and Harry."
"Do you really want to see it?"
"Only if you want to show me." She did want to see. For some reason she wanted to see it more than she'd wanted to see anything in her life.
"Come on." He got up from the floor where he had been working and spread the parchment out on the bed; there wasn't a table in the room. He motioned for Hermione to sit next to him, which she did eagerly. She looked down at the document in his hands and realized they were the blue prints to a…
"House? You're drawing up plans for a house?"
"I'm going to build it." His eyes shone brightly as he said those words.
Hermione tried not to let the shock show on her face but failed. "Build it?"
"Yes," he answered excitedly. "My parents' property extends a good distance. I've always liked the section nearest the pond. There's a lot of really big trees we'd have to clear away to make room but it will be brilliant when it's done."
"Ron, do you even know how to build a house?"
"We've built smaller things. We made a table to seat twenty and chairs to go with it. We built a shed to keep all of Dad's Muggle stuff. This won't be too much harder."
"You built them without magic?"
"Dad loves using his Muggle tools. Besides, my parents' house was made with magic and you saw how that turned out. This one will have straight lines. I've been going through all these books, looking at all these different plans, trying to find the perfect design."
Hermione smiled. He seemed so excited about the project and so proud that he'd done so much research. She was still skeptical, but Ron's enthusiasm was infectious. He could always talk her into things that others could not. She put her worries aside; she had seen him accomplish much greater tasks. "It…it… it looks like it will be a lot of work."
"It will be, but it will be great when it's done. It will have lots of bedrooms so whenever anyone stays there they'll have their own room. And lots of bathrooms so you don't have to wait in queue on cold mornings. There'll be a room just for Quidditch supplies so that when my brothers come over we'll have plenty of equipment to play."
"What's this?" Hermione asked, pointing to a large room that was on the first lever of the house with an 'H' scribbled in the center.
"That? That's your library."
"My what? Library?"
"Yeah. Hold on." He got up and went to the pile of parchments still on the floor and began digging through them. After discarding several papers he found what he was looking for and joined Hermione on the bed. "See, here's another view of it."
He held out a more detailed plan for the library. Three walls had book shelves from floor to ceiling, the fourth wall was mostly window. In the center was a rather large chair with a table next to it.
"It's the biggest room in the house. I figured you needed at least that much space for all your books. You'd need a really comfortable place to read so I figured we could get one of those oversized chairs. You could use the table to hold a drink if you get thirsty or a meal if you forget to leave the room."
Hermione stared at the plans in her hands. Her heart was pounding quickly against her ribcage. She should say something, but for the life of her she couldn't figure out what.
"It's going to be blue because I read in one of these books that blue is a very relaxing color-- comforting and peaceful. We'll put it here, in the east side of the house, because you'll get the most sunlight during the day. That ought to help your eyes out after staring at that tiny print for so long. It works out really well because then you'll get a view of the pond. Really it will be the best room in the house."
"For me?" she asked as if she was only just understanding what he was saying. "You're going to do this for me?"
"Of course," he said, his brow knitting tightly. "I want you to be happy there."
"Happy there? Am I living there?"
"Of course," he answered without hesitation. "Where else would you live?"
He seemed so earnest, so incredibly sincere. Hermione felt an odd tingle in his fingertips that seemed to travel up her arm to her throat, tightening it. She wanted to speak but found herself too overwhelmed to say a word. Then suddenly, without prelude, a thought hit her. "Is Harry going to live there too?"
"Of course," Ron replied, seemingly surprised at the question.
And just as quickly as it began, the tingling stopped and she felt her stomach drop. "Of course," she said as blithely as she could manage.
Something must have shown itself in her timber because Ron immediately asked, "What's wrong? Don't you like it?"
"I love it," she said honestly. "I think it's lovely."
She looked at his bright blue eyes, ones that had dimmed over the last few years. In these past several weeks they had regained some of their youthful luster. In them she saw a bit of the Ron she remembered from school. The boy she met on the train with the dirt on his nose and the chip on his shoulder. The loyal friend. The insecure boy.
Before they knew war. Before they became soldiers.
Hermione had felt so old, for so long, she'd forgotten that they were all still so very young. Ron could change that. Ron could remind her. "But nothing," she said with a smile. "It's beautiful and I think you've done an outstanding job of preparing."
Ron's face broke into a huge grin and he dropped all the papers in his hands and reached out to her, picked her up by the waist, and twirled her around the room. Despite herself, she giggled.
"I knew you'd love it!" he beamed. "What won you over: the big, comfy chair or the blue paint?"
"You won me over, Ron," she said breathlessly. And he stopped.
It's odd how quickly things can change. One minute we're discussing one thing, and the next it changes completely into something we didn't mean to talk about, something we didn't even know we wanted to discuss. Something that pushed everything else out of the way until nothing else existed, until there was nothing else to talk about.
Ron stopped. He stopped twirling her the moment she said it and stared at her as if seeing her for the first time. As if realizing fully that there was a girl in his arms and she fit in rather comfortably. Hermione held her head up and jutted her chin out, waiting for him to ask what she meant. In truth she didn't know. Until that very second she didn't realize it was even true.
Her heart was pounding in her chest again, so powerfully she thought it would burst through. She was sure he heard it, sure he felt it. How could he not?
He kissed her then, amidst piles of books and bits of parchment crumpled in balls all over the floor. He placed his hands on either side of her face and pulled her towards him, bending down to better reach her lips, pressing his mouth to hers as if he were a dying man and she was his only chance at living.
And as she ran her hands up his chest and hooked them around his shoulders, he wrapped his own arms around her small frame and lifted her up off the ground. When they finally pulled apart Ron would look perfectly calm and composed, while Hermione was shaking so badly she thought she might break into tiny pieces. He smiled as he ran his fingers through her cropped hair. She sighed and leaned into the touch.
They both had ink smudges on their noses.
It was one of those defining moments, a single place in time that changed everything, and they both knew it. Part if it felt like rebirth, the reincarnation of two lives held in stasis for too long. Part if felt inevitable, like there was really no other path either could have followed. But mostly it felt like coming home, and for two people who hadn't been home in a long time it was the most incredible place to be.
"Tell me more about our house," she said.
"It will have lots of windows," he replied softly. "Big, bright rooms with tall ceilings. And no fireplaces, so no one can disturb us if we don't want them to."
"Will we have a garden? Can I plant apple and pear tress?" she asked hopefully.
"Anything you want. And we can have house-elves—" She raised an eyebrow. "--whom we will pay generously, give weekends and holidays off, and invite to join us at meal times."
She laughed loudly and threw her arms around him. "It sounds perfect."
"It will be."
She brushed her cheek against his chest as he held her close. "Home," she said wistfully.
"Home," he answer back.
And with the word still hanging in the air he reached down and kissed her again.
Harry Potter stood in the doorway, a dozen letters clutched in his hand. Hermione's work had paid off and they would soon be released. As much as he wanted to tell his friends that they'd be free soon, he thought it would be all right to wait a bit longer.
Instead he sat at the doorway and listened to them speak of the color of walls and an owl house for the back yard. He listened to Ron tell Hermione he was going to get her a new cat and actually say that he missed Crookshanks. Listened to Hermione, whose cheeks were so red he thought she might faint, ask where her bedroom would be. And Harry saw her knees give way when Ron said she would have the big room down the hall until they were properly married then he could move in as well.
It occurred to him that this was life and they were living it. That war hadn't destroyed everything, only postponed it a bit. They were still young, all of them, and there was time now. Time to play Quidditch and Exploding Snap. To build homes. To fall in love.
He placed the letters in the pocket of his robes and decided he would go for a walk. The sun was shining brightly, the air was cool and crisp, and he found himself lying on a patch of grass daydreaming of a library with a view of a pond and a garden with apple and pear trees.
He smiled and wondered if he could talk them into building some Quidditch rings. Really big ones.