We can have it, thought Ron. We can.
It all seemed very simple and obvious - how Harry would laugh! But there it was again, darting in and out of his mind like a minnow, and as he stared at the crack of light in the curtain he was nearly brought to tears by it, feeling absurd, suddenly rather exasperated with himself. The end of seventh year had come so quickly, and so had the events following - masses of evil, blackness tangible and knife-like. Torture and battling and horrible nights, horrible nights sitting alone in front of the window watching and waiting for the madness to reach Grimmauld Place. And then - being swept up himself, failing a spell, wand skittering out of his fingers. Crucio. He never heard what had happened to Harry, as he had spent most of the war in St. Mungo's - lying awake in the bed and hooked to muggle machines, unvisited, gathering dust in the corner. By that time, most of those working at the hospital had been killed or injured themselves - and so drastic measures had had to be taken, and one of these had been relying upon muggle equipment, sharp points leading to bags full of colorless fluid, oxygen and sanitary wipes. Father would have been thrilled.
It wasn't until August that he heard about Neville, and by that time he had already known, felt a kick in his gut - had already known. One person came to see him, and that was Nymphadora Tonks - with a basket full of cookies and flowers, a note from mother, a gift from Hermione. He had been relieved to learn that most of the Order was still together, but in hiding - and that they had gathered quite a few new members. The knowledge of this kept him somewhat cheerful and a good companion for the last nurse, who always appeared shell-shocked and had acquired a patch over one eye.
Now, he sat thinking of this and did not cry - but for days after Hermione and the twins had come to fetch him, he had lain in bed and sobbed his heart out, more for the things he hadn't done than the things that had been done to him. Sitting in the shell of the old Gryffindor common room, he glanced backward for Harry and did not see anything but a small dark figure on the stairwell, gazing fondly up at the way to the dormitory.
We can have it, he thought again. All we have to do is run away.
There came Hermione's sigh again, her spider fingers - and then a rough gasp, the room taking a lurch to the left as if fleeing from Ron's feet. Stockinged feet, no less, in the kind of stockings only a Weasley could appreciate - and in an instant they'd flown up and over his head, his body tumbling in an arc, coming down with a crack on the dusty tile.
"Honestly, Ronald," said Hermione, as if he'd chosen to trip and skin his nose for Merlin's sake. And she grinned, too, stooping there in her nightgown - knees bare beneath his nose, white as plaster, dusted with the same sunny freckles he could count along her arms and across the bridge of her nose. She was thin and bird-like now, with hollow ribs and jutting hips - no different than his own, but somehow purer and cleaner. Delicate, smaller than he'd ever remembered her being before. Old clothing from before the war hung like drapery on her shoulders. She was candle bright, and wavering.
Dragging himself to his knees, he could not see anything but the expanse of Hermione's exposed skin, the pink of her fingernails and the whites of her eyes. It was bitter, and it was sad, but he did not know how to be alone anymore.
"Ronald," came her voice from upstairs.
"You don't suppose Harry is lost, do you?"
Ron cleared his throat. "No."
There was a pause, and then came a sound that both frightened and amazed him - static, the static and jumbled words of a detuned radio. "He isn't back yet, Ronald."
"I noticed, Hermione, I'm not bloody blind-"
"Oh, do give it a rest."
"You can go first, really, be my guest."
"I'm only being sensible, Ronald. You astound me."
"Harry is NOT lost, and you're-"
The radio gave a particularly loud blast of unintelligable noise, and he could've sworn he heard Hermione gasp. Moments later, she spoke again: "He very well could be; we only just arrived here, after all, and we can't all be map-saavy like you."
"Oh, haha. Funny, Hermione - such wit."
"No, really, Ronald - you're in a class of your own when it comes to directions and direction taking. T for troll, darling."
"I'll murder you."
Still, they sat bewildered in the kitchen again, this time on the green counter - Hermione's nightgown unbuttoned, her neck swan-like and still healing bruises, craning to see if Harry were coming. Ron wondered vaguely what sort of hands had done the throttling. Were they Malfoy's, maybe, Malfoy's nails digging half-moon cuts? Or Nott, Theodore Nott - great thumbs pressing into her windpipe as if crushing a paper bird.
The Cruciatus had been meant for her.
Out the window, there was nothing but green: cobblestones jumbling, hydrangeas, grass that needed cutting. Crookshanks lay sunning himself near the mailbox, sleeping on the plastic of the recycling bin. Beyond him were rushing people, muggle autocars, smoke and the smell of fish and chips, creeping ivy, grime.
Ron wondered if Hermione meant for her gown to gape open as it did - but he watched, hardly able to breathe, as her chest rose and fell cleanly, reliably, like the shutting of a window. Her skin was the color of milk, pure; a spray of roses embroidered along her collar. Catching himself, he sucked his teeth irritably and thought of saying he loved her; but then the peeling of blue paint on the wall caught his eye, and he knew in an instant that it was best to stay quiet and calm, pretending to look out for Harry.
Hermione never moved, eyes flicking unhappily from the mailbox to the street, shyly drawing her fingers through her hair.
So much for living together.
"I wish you would stop," Ron said, having listened to the squeal of the quill for the good part of an hour.
"I will not," she hissed, kicking him under the table. "It's a letter! ... To your mother, Ronald Weasley, yes, I'm writing a letter to your mother."
"Fine, don't speak to me." And he left the table in a huff for the third time, wandering up the stairs.
There was one portrait in the room he was supposed to sleep in - and that was all in the room, really, one small portrait hanging near the window. Its frame was tattered cardboard, and beneath the left corner someone had scrawled a signature and a small message that Ron could not read no matter how hard he squinted.
The picture itself was of a dark man with bags under his eyes - which were blue and startling against the sallow of his skin, against the grey curls falling about his shoulders, the powder blush high on his cheekbones. He never spoke, and only watched: smirking as Ron pulled his shirt up over his head, blinking irritably as he received the finger.
"Where are you, Ron?" Her voice was pinched, muffled. He heard the clatter of dishes and then nothing else.
"I'm... er... In the kitchen, Hermione."
"I can't find the other nightgown!"
"Look in the boxes," he sighed.
"What do you think I've been doing?"
There was a heavy thump, but Ron was not startled from his post: watching sleepily out the window. "... Look in the other boxes."
"What are you talking about?"
"The boxes upstairs, Hermione."
"Only your boxes are upstairs, and I daresay my other nightgown would not be in your boxes."
"Fine, go without your other nightgown."
Later on they found it, a bit of pink lace among his maroons; Hermione blushed furiously, clutching it to her chest and skittering out of the room. They did not say anything afterward, and the old portrait stared as if transfixed upon the place where she had been, smiling in a way that reminded Ron painfully of Neville, smiling as if at a funeral or tending to someone very, very sick.
The refridgerator was not well-stocked, and Ron still had a rough time of understanding how it did its job. He remembered vaguely his own father, standing over the blueprint for such a contraption, going on and on about it, wearing Bill's ears off. He also remembered vaguely stepping out of the room, tired of muggles and everything except Quidditch. ... Had it really been so simple once?
Hermione had slipped down to a grocer earlier in the morning, when he'd complained of hunger and half the boxes were still sealed up tightly, furniture hiding under great white sheets. She'd returned with orange juice, muggle white bread, a box of grape popsicles, three apples, three croissants for in the morning, a small stick of butter, and an apple pie in a tin. Being on good terms with Ron at that point - still groggy with sleep and unable to reprimand him for accidentally breaking the china vase - she'd offered him the pie as a treat. But not, of course, until after letting Crookshanks have a go at it. Why? It could never be explained. Needless to say, the cat had spent most of the afternoon vomiting into the street, leaving Hermione red with anger and about ready to kill.
Now he took it out, staring lovingly down into the gleam of the tin. By now it was only half an apple pie, but still oozing golden and crusted beautifully. It was also cold, but Ron had never been a picky one; rooting about for a fork, he felt almost as if he were at home for once and immediately started on it.
Hermione at once began complaining about his manners, staring incredulously and waving her arms angrily about - until he shoved the fork in, of course, smiling like a shark. It was funny how he resembled Fred and George in that moment, though his body was anything but stocky and his eyes were not always glittering mischieviously. Or... at least, his eyes had not once always been glittering; now they shared quite the same dull glare of his brothers', the eyes of boys who grown up all too quickly. Perhaps it wasn't even that - perhaps the dull glare was rather like the dull roar of battle, something Fred and George had certainly seen much more of than Ron. Weasleys would always fight, even if there was nothing left to oppose them.
Hermione stared, a bit startled, and then began chewing: with a close eye on his fingers, surveying the dirt under the nails. He did not shy away as he would have done before, and only let her take him in as she finished - swallowing and glancing demurely up at him. He knew apple was her favourite as well - really, who didn't love apple pie? - and allowed her the final slice, giving it in small golden bits, enchanted by the crisp closing of her teeth, the way she sat sprawled, moon-coloured legs dangling from the tabletop. Wild, she seemed - hair long in ringlets, face pointed and dark and wise. There was an air about her that reminded him of Bellatrix, and in that instant he truly did shy away, backing away into the countertop. "You... er... you ate my pie."
Hermione laughed, studying him, the shy curve of his mouth. "I'm sorry."
Then she was gone, and he did not watch her go. He tossed the tin and absentmindedly began licking the fork clean.
"Then stop standing out there and get into the bathtub, Ronald."
There was a moment of silence as he slipped calloused feet into the water, wincing at the cold of it; then a gravelly cough as he sat for a moment on the lip of the tub, toying with the soap. He could not help but be anxious - in part because of what she had proposed doing, and in part because he did not quite feel comfortable standing bare before her - certain she was surveying all the scars, oogling at the bruise left by the muggle IV. But she did not seem bothered at all by it, though her cheeks were a flustered pink. "Are you sure you have to do this?" he asked, staring up into the flickering light fixture.
"Your back is a living bruise, Ronald."
"That doesn't mean you have to - oh, ARRGGHH-"
She had clapped her hand firmly between his shoulder blades, causing a searing pain to run like mad over his spine; grimacing, she pushed her fingers into the skin of his back, kneading into the sores, wincing as he gasped; and then slowly helped him slip further into the tub - which was rather comforting now, and full of sparkling green bubbles. He cursed terribly, wiping the tears from his eyes - more ashamed than anything else, ashamed to have shown that he hurt. He'd been determined to keep it to himself, and here she had seen right through it; making him wonder, of course, what other parts of him she could pry open, if she enjoyed laying him open and inspecting his insides. Quietly she moved to ruffle his hair, looking quite apologetic - but he didn't buy it for a second. "I'm sorry, Ronald, but you never would have gotten in if I didn't do something drastic-"
"Get your bloody hands off me," he snapped. "Don't even think about touching my back."
But she did, as was to be expected; this time smoothing something cool and pleasant into his skin - cooing small noises of reassurance, as if he were an animal or screaming child - fingers moving like water bugs skating surfaces. He stared awkwardly down into the foam and the sloshing green water, and then began to clean himself: running the soap over his elbows and the skin of his forearms. It smelt of oatmeal in a way, and he sat breathing deeply, holding it in; because, no matter how far he was from the Burrow and from the past, he could remember smelling something like this on Ginny's skin. He had nothing to remember her by, no hair ribbon, no abandoned doll. He could not even look into her room or go back to visit the places where she had lived, because half of them were dead; and so it came to this, sitting in a dingy bathroom with soap slipping in his fingers, remembering Percy on the hill with wand held high, defending his sister until a spell came and spilled blood from his mouth, crumpling them both into shells.
"I apologise," came Hermione's voice, then: stark and hollow in the white expanse of tile. It was all the same colour as her skin, minus the freckles - instead sporting pores and cracks, a nest of porcelain shards behind the toilet. "I didn't want to hurt you."
Ron said nothing and instead concentrated on the faucet, glimmering silver, tempting.
"I really didn't want to, Ron; I just had to. I hope you're listening to me."
"You don't love us," he murmured, as if just realising it. "You don't love what's left of us."
Hermione did not speak to him for the rest of the night, choosing instead to sit on the counter watching for Harry.
Ron was sure that somehow she had forgotten their friendship in the weeks he'd stayed at St. Mungo's. He brushed his teeth angrily, rubbing his gums raw; and washed his face at least three times, hoping to stall, wanting to occupy the bathroom as long as he could. Of course, Hermione didn't care. When she needed the bathroom, she simply walked in; hardly caring if he were indecent or that he would see her go about her business. ...He didn't really watch, but sneaked boyish glances - bright-eyed and round-cheeked, peeping as she brushed her long curls, rebuttoned the gown.
When Hermione walked in for the fourth time, he stood to face her - muggle dental potion in his mouth, stinging and sloshing between his teeth. She did not speak for a moment, but brushed coolly past - "Merlin, Ronald, you're worse than Lavender."
"Get out of my bedroom."
"No! I have no mattress, Hermione, and the old portrait-"
"I don't care! You can't sleep here with me, I won't allow-"
"Why NOT? We've slept in the same bed before, and you didn't-"
"Honestly, Ronald, you're the thickest person I've ever met in my entire life."
"...Do you really want me to sleep on the floor, Hermione?"
"However did you guess?"
"...Even with my back and all?"
"I don't give a bloody... oh, your back."
They spent the next hour lying on the mattress in silence, Ron's lips black and cold - popsicle melting in his hands, sticky puddles on the floor. Hermione did not speak, but opted instead to watch as it grew darker and darker outside, the lights across the street disappearing behind fabric and smog, car horns muffling, people shouting good night. All the noises that said the night life would soon be waking and prowling; every sound the sound of a murderer on the creaking floorboards, pulling the door from its frame. Every sound.
Ron glanced at her every now and then, admiring the subtle curve of her hip, the way the fabric of the gown fell over her knees, shielding the scrapes. ... He imagined that Viktor had never understood the truly beautiful parts of Hermione, and ground his teeth miserably wondering if all Krum had been able to see were her breasts, if that was entirely it. He decided with a pang that it was not so if he would take years writing her as a penpal; and thinking of the letters left Ron bitter, throwing the popsicle to the floor and turning on his side with a huff. The mattress was full of lumps, and he squirmed irritably trying to find a comfortable space. Soon realising there were no comfortable spaces - and not only on the mattress, throughout the house as well - he settled for resting on something that felt quite like a boot poking into his hip.
Hermione sighed then, a quiet musical noise - and the mattress shifted as she moved to face the window, moon light streaming in ribbons over them, thick and sweet. He could feel the bones of her spine nestling up against his, two of a kind; the tickle of her hair against the back of his neck. The sound of her breath was quiet, seeming to fade into the nothing that surrounded them; but he hung to it, listening to see if it would stop, scolding himself for being so childish. He wondered if she lay awake, imagining that her eyes stood open and wide, and could not bear it.
In his mind her face took on the shape of agony, of the night; the night from which clear memories would not surface, only the sharp, bittersweet notes of pain reawakening in his joints. He remembered the curse flowing in him, breaking bones but never breaking them, stabbing into his lungs, closing the system, eating his heart; he remembered collapsing, the wand useless, tears slurring his spell; he remembered Malfoy's laugh, the proud eyes of Lucius; he remembered the floor.
And then, admidst it all, standing unchanged like a statue, quiet and poignant: the memory of Hermione's face glistening with stars, crying aloud to the ceiling as fires sprang up on the steps and Draco Malfoy was engulfed in yellow mist.
Ron woke with Hermione's lips against the back of his neck, warm, lingering - her fingers resting lightly on the birdcage of his hips, and the sun shining in through the window as if night had never come at all.
Then came Harry's voice, calm, rubbed raw, and the sound of boots on the floorboards. "I'm back, I've come back."
He spent the next few days trying to understand what had happened.
Harry would not tell them all, but only relayed the story in snatches, answering Hermione's questions - giving Ron apologetic glances, sometimes clapping him on the back, sometimes offering him bits and pieces about the Weasleys. The house grew to smell of something musty and foul, and the bathroom continued its descent to hell. Three toothbrushes lay in the sink at all times, while the bathtub was always full of plaster from the ceiling, the mirror seeming to crack all on its own and frequently, so that Hermione did not even bother to charm it over again. The portrait developed a habit of howling at random intervals, usually when Ron passed the door. They had no laundry service, and nobody felt inclined to go and wash the clothing themselves. Boxes remain unpacked, most of which were stacked on the first step up. Clothing lay on the floor in the one bedroom that was ever occupied, the one with the lumpy mattress - and at night they all three crowded onto it, Ron always in the middle, amazed at how warm Hermione was, at the cold knot that was Harry, at the feeling of legs and arms caging him in. Protected.
But nothing happened.
Days went by, and nothing happened. Hermione spent her time writing, usually, sitting on the porch and scribbling as the autocars chased past. She grew thin and tan, heartbreakingly dark and wispy, as if she had never eaten in her life. Ron took to sleeping long hours so that it was amazing he ever dozed at night, sometimes following Crookshanks sleepily through the hallway and down the stairs, sometimes sitting at Hermione's feet and arguing with her about the usage of salad tongs, sometimes falling asleep against her knees. Harry wandered, fleetingly in the house for meals and a good nap, always vanishing into the pavement and sticky bars that belonged to the muggles. Ron often caught him alone, and often they sat talking; Harry would ask questions, staring up through his eyelashes in a way that reminded Ron fleetingly of Parvati. There were no answers to many of the questions.
"Are you sad?" Hermione asked once, over the din of the radio. Ron was sitting at the kitchen table scribbling vague words to Fred and George, and he looked up so quickly it was almost startling. Her face was pinched and motherly, irritable.
"No, not at all," he assured her. Harry was staring at them both, playing with a disposable camera he'd bought at the dime store; laughing, he pointed it and pressed the button with a click. Ron screamed at the flash, whimpering as it whirred; and later on, the picture returned, still and lonely as most muggle photographs turn out.
In it, Hermione stood lovingly over him, and the look on her face was astounding, not at all the look he'd thought he'd seen - not at all the irritating smile, eyebrows raised. She was adoring, eyes half shut, pouting; and there he sat beneath her, one hand on the table and the other in his hair, smile creeping onto his face - looking ready to laugh.
In the background, they saw the sun - screaming through the window, the silhouette of a tree in solitude.
It was only half-heartedly that Ron agreed to let Hermione salve his back again - and it was mainly because of Harry, insisting that it was the best thing to do, insisting and twisting his mouth up in knots, puckering like lemons. Ron stood staring blankly at them for all of a minute, clutching the towel about his waist - and managed to squeak out, "I'm not getting in the bathtub, not with Harry here. I'll lie on the mattress."
Neither protested, but the lights in the bathroom seemed to flicker suddenly. Hermione appeared to be carrying a small cauldron, and smiled happily up at him - as if she couldn't remember the last time she'd salved him, what he'd said. The bedroom seemed a bit confining: bare walls menacing, the window not at all large enough. A large pile of Hermione's clothing rested in the doorway, and he'd nearly killed himself tripping over her brush. The only thing he was thankful for, really, was the feminine scent of her bath products, the open bottle of bubbles near the corner of the mattress. Harry was the first into the room, and immediately began laughing.
"Quit," grumbled Ron.
"Make me," said Harry.
There was one morning when Ron woke alone with Hermione, and in that instant he knew something had happened.
No cold knot. No dusty heels brushing against his, nothing of Harry's feverish mumblings.
But he did have Hermione: her hair in his mouth, legs twined into his, the scent of lavender.
"Whassat," she mumbled. "Wheresat."
"Nothing, 'Mione. Go back to sleep."
They did not see Harry for three days. There was no reply from Fred and George, either.
Hermione moved as if there were weights attached to her ankles, and Crookshanks often wandered along with her: mewling for food, turning his nose up at the dead flies on the windowsill.
Ron went about his business as usual. He washed himself frequently - usually using Hermione's soaps - and ate without gusto, without tasting anything but dust. He often played chess alone, though how he did it without going mad he couldn't tell. Sometimes, he wrote letters - but usually did not send them, having given up. At night, he rested starting with Hermione's back to his, jigsaw spines. In the morning, there were her arms again; looping like chains about him, hips pressed to his, the smell of her comforting, sweet.
They ate every meal together, but often did not see each other during the day unless Ron happened upstairs, which he didn't. He did wonder what she was up to in the bedroom, seeing as there was nothing to really do there; and decided that she must be continuing with the writing, far from the autocars. He suspected they were rather distracting.
And so, the house fell into a dreamy, quiet sleep.
"Ron?" Hermione asked on the second day, while rearranging silk flowers in a vase.
"I wonder why this doesn't feel like an actual home."
He eyed her inquisitively over the brim of his mug, which was full of somewhat chalky tea. "What?"
"I feel like I'm in limbo."
"You're being too sensitive again," he informed her.
"No, I'm not. You can't tell me you don't feel it yourself."
"I don't feel like I'm in limbo, thank you."
"How do you feel, then?"
"I feel as though I may have been wrong..." he said warily, setting the mug down with a firm crack. "About running away."
"We didn't really run away."
"Yes, we did. We packed and left without a word. That's called running away, Hermione, if you didn't know."
"None of them complained or asked where we were going."
"So if you run away, people are supposed to look for you! Honestly, Ronald!"
On the third day, Harry came - flustered, dirty, his jacket in tatters. Hermione let out a shriek, dropping the book she'd been holding, and staggered foward to trap him in her bathrobe embrace, hair still dripping from the shower - where she'd left Ron, humming contentedly, soaping up his nonexistant pectorals.
"I'm sorry," said Harry, looking very amused. "Lupin called for me."
Ron stood watching for a moment or two, clutching the towel around his waist - and then laughed as Hermione pulled away, curls dripping, laughed - more at her expression than anything else, one of unequaled joy. "You are insufferable," he informed Harry. "You could have at least left a message, or warned us."
Hermione nodded in earnest.
Harry looked speechless for a moment, saying nothing - and then rather abruptly made his way to the kitchen, rubbing his hands together expectantly. "Well! What's for dinner?"
"At least let me take that jacket," snapped Hermione, hot in pursuit. -
Something in her changed that night, and nobody could have known at first. They fell asleep quite the same way they always had, fighting for space on the mattress; and woke quite the same as well, with Harry sucking his thumb on the floor and Hermione twined into Ron like a rogue vine, sunlight washing over them like nature's bleach, the noises of the city loud as always.
Yes, something changed. The first thing she did upon waking was inform Ron that he was an insufferable git for touching her while she slept, storming out of the room in a hurry. For one reason or another - most likely because it was still early - he did not feel like chasing her and only rolled over, gesturing for Harry to come share the mattress. They lay listening to the clatter of Hermione downstairs, and mumbled for a bit about how they felt, about the war. Then Harry began to snore, and Ron drifted off soon after, lying with his nose crushed against his forearm.
Hermione woke him by rolling him off the mattress, leaving Harry entirely alone, and dragged him by the arm down to the kitchen. As they walked, he wondered vaguely what was wrong - but did not say anything, instead yawning and stretching, scratching his manly attributes. ...Mostly doing the things Hermione hated seeing him do in his underwear. She turned on her heel, staring into his face for a moment - and then sighed, collapsing against his shoulder. "I'm going to fix the entire house today," she informed him, "and I'd rather you not parade about in your underwear. We are hiring professional help."
"There's nothing wrong with me being in my underwear. You're practically in yours all day."
"Yes, well - underwear or no, we're going to start behaving like a family, Ronald."
He had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. "How?"
"We're going to take care of eachother," she informed him, as if reciting a passage of text.
From that day on, the house was a home. Every box was unpacked and every surface cleaned, every bit of clothing folded and stored away, every room furnished, the portrait replaced. Ron finally had his own room, and so did Harry - the little nook on the lower floor, close to the garden - and the bathroom began to look something more like a bathroom, and not a war zone.
It took three days to finish, and the boys hardly did anything - cowering in the garden with their chessboard while Hermione and her 'help' purged room-by-room the limbo house. When it was over, they all three sat in the kitchen and attempted to eat a normal meal. Ron had two grape popsicles.
"Since the war is over..." Harry began, turning the flower over in his hands.
"Since its over and all, we don't have to be in hiding anymore, you know."
"It's been over, Ron, it's been over since you got out of the hospital."
"I want to live here," Ron hissed, tearing the flower out of Harry's hands. He promptly stuck it back in the vase, a car passing and lighting twin suns on the wall - and turned half-away, afraid to look into the green eyes, afraid of the twisting mouth. "I'm happy, you know."
"I'm not," said Harry matter-of-factly, and suddenly his hands were up and kneading Ron's shoulders: gentle circles, torn fingernails digging into collarbones.
"Don't touch me."
"I thought you were dead for six months! I thought Voldemort had you! Nobody would say... Nobody would tell me where you'd gone, what happened to you."
"It's over, you said it was over yourself-"
And then Harry was crying. "I'm sorry I was gone that night, I'm so sorry-"
"You couldn't have done anything," said Ron, lip curling. "There were too many-"
"I don't care, I don't care! We're the trio; I promised to stay with you and Hermione and then I was-"
"It's over, Harry, the war is over."
The new room was lonely.
Ron's bed stood in the corner facing the window, and there was nothing on the walls but dried roses nailed to the doorframe. His dresser was old and full of carving: initials into every drawer, a large lopsided heart. He suspected something was hiding in the closet, but did not get up to see, instead turning irritably to face the wall. "Shut up," he told it. "Stop banging about."
Hermione woke him in the morning with a large cup of the chalky tea, and he realised that he'd never noticed her changing. Now instead of a milky-white she stood with the color of summer girls under her skin, glowing with iced tea and swimming pools and late sunsets, hair curling like ivy. Her hands were calloused now, gentle brown, half-moon nails tapping porcelain - and with a smirk, she ran one down the side of his face.
"Good morning, Ronald. Did you sleep well?"
Ron debated telling her about the closet, but instead reached for the mug - and nodded, sticking his nose into the steam, smiling contentedly.
She watched him for a moment, seemingly transfixed upon the faint scar near his collarbone, and stood. "Harry went out."
"Where?" he asked. "Where could Harry go this early in the morning?"
"Back to the order."
"Back to Grimmauld Place, Ronald - for a visit."
He was angry, but did not say anything more.
"Oh, don't be silly, Ronald. He wanted to see Lupin."
They ate breakfast in silence: Hermione with the newspaper, Ron finishing his tea. He was wearing Harry's bathrobe, a raggedy green one Lavender had given him around Christmas - and was flipping through the photo album Harry had left along with other posessions, mainly ones that could be replaced.
"Look at this one," he mumbled. "Seamus and the tree."
Hermione leaned in to see, shaking her head. "Always too reckless," she clucked.
Ron wanted to hit her, but instead bit his lip. "Err... and here's the twins."
"Which ones do you think?" Came the indignant reply. Ron held the album up for her to see - the Patil twins were cleaning the windows of Grimmauld place, semi-circles, bubbles and foam. "Those ones."
Hermione didn't say anything, folding the paper instead. Her nightgown was slipping dangerously off a shoulder, something dark glittering on a chain about her neck - and he could see it was a locket. Squinting irritably, he tried to remember where he had seen it before: perhaps around Lavender's neck? No, Ginny's - Ginny's, framed with fire-red hair, dark stones above a dark dress, classic. Opening his mouth to speak, he was suddenly quieted by the light playing in Hermione's hair, lilting like music in chestnut. He remembered vaguely what it had been like on the mattress, waking with her curls in his face, the sweet and somewhat unsettling smell of her body polluting his head. He wondered what it would be like to lie with her again, if they would sleep spine to spine.
"If I were to paint a picture," she asked suddenly, "What would it be?"
"No, Ronald, a real picture."
"Crookshanks could be a real picture."
One particularly hot afternoon they lay together with a pitcher of iced tea, both curled like cashews to face the window.
Ron had never liked his bedroom more.
"You know," he told her, "running away wasn't so bad."
Hermione nodded, breath fluttering like wings against the back of his neck. He shivered as her lips pressed into his shoulder blade, finally turning to face her - and afterward, he realised they had had it all along.