Author's Notes: I apologize for the delay. The first week of school hit me like a hammer, and I've been reeling from the shock. Yes, this isn't undergrad, folks. Welcome back to grad school, Year Two.

The title of this chapter refers both to Dumbledore ("The Only One He Ever Feared") and to Harry.

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The Only One... +

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It's nice to be loved, thought Ron the day the commencement of "The Break." He was being sarcastic of course, because at the time he thought it, he was watching Hermione run towards the library and away from him. Deciding he would have to get used to this, Ron returned to the common room with a sigh and sat beside Harry and Ginny, who were holding hands. They seemed unaware of Hermione's absence, even though she had been gone for the most part of the past two days, or if they had noticed, then they didn't care that Hermione was always holed up in some dark corner of the library, collecting dust along with the books. After all, it wasn't wholly unusual for Hermione to be on her own in the library. There was no reason that Harry and Ginny should be suspicious, especially when there was so much to research: R.A.B., new spells to use in combat, etc. etc.. Ron, however, missed her more than ever before. Sometimes if he passed the library entrance, Ron would glance in and hope to see Hermione coming out to greet them. He would try to think of an excuse to go up and say hello, thinking that maybe she would let him pick up a book and help her research, if that would not be too much of a distraction.

What made Ron loneliest of all was not that Hermione was not beside him, but the fear that he might go up to sit near her and not be wanted there. There was a painful distance between the two of them now, something completely different from what had existed during their frequent spats in the past. Rather than struggling to keep silent whenever they were in each other's presence, they forced themselves into polite conversation, the kind that would be had among strangers. Yet underneath the formality, Ron sensed all the time that they were really saying, "I miss you." Or at least that was what he wanted to think. At dinner he translated the fragments of his conversation with Hermione thus:

"Pass the pumpkin juice, please." "I miss you."

"Here, and could I have the salt?" "This is bloody stupid, Hermione."

"Thank you," "I know."

Of course, Ron knew that when Hermione was asking for the pumpkin juice, all she really wanted was the pumpkin juice. Once dinner ended, Hermione had leapt up from the table to race back to the library.

As it turned out, Hermione's frequent vanishing acts were short lived.

After the first two days of their "break" had flown by, she went to the library once before breakfast and returned straightaway in the middle of the meal. She walked back with Ron and Harry and Ginny to the common room and curled up with Crookshanks in the chair beside them as if she'd never been gone. Ron presumed that she had found something.

Ron leaned over the arm of his chair and tried to say, "I missed you." The words were on his tongue when he saw that Hermione was not looking at him. In fact, he realized that she had not even said hello. The message then became garbled in his head and he couldn't put half the emotion into his words that he'd meant. It came out, "Why aren't you in the library?"

Hermione straightened her skirt, miffed by his seeming assumption that he thought she should be elsewhere. "I can't find anything," she informed him. "I wanted to spend time with you and Harry and Ginny, if that's all right with you."

"Fine with me," Ron muttered under his breath. Aware that his enthusiasm was not coming out as it should, he slouched down into his chair and began to sulk. He flashed back to the old days when he and Hermione had fought like dragons and afterwards lapsed into icy silences. He tried not to feel the resentment that crept over him as he remembered how Hermione had abandoned him. She obviously thought that she was the only person with troubles and that Ron himself had no need of comfort. After all, his brother was all but recovered, and what had Dumbledore ever meant to him anyway?

Ron sank lower into his chair, glowering at the floor. Eventually, he heard the crinkle of newspaper, meaning that Hermione had pulled out her Daily Prophet.

"Anyone we know?" asked Ron, sitting up a little. He sounded gruff on purpose.

"No," she said, answering his question for the umpteenth time. Their eyes met for the briefest of moments and Ron forgot to glower as they exchanged a silent note of relief. He even allowed himself to smile. When Ron looked away, he discovered Ginny staring at them with such a thoughtful expression on her face that Ron could practically see the gears of her brain turning. He didn't know what she was thinking about. Harry, on the other hand, seemed oblivious. His fingers were intertwined with Ginny's and he seemed to be admiring her profile.

Feeling embarrassed, Ron averted his eyes and suggested going to the infirmary now rather than later. Harry and Ginny expressed their willingness, but Hermione said nothing at first.

She probably has to go back to the library, thought Ron bitterly.

When he looked her, he discovered however that Hermione was watching him, wearing an expression similar to what Harry's had been just a moment ago. To his delight, Ron realized to his satisfaction that she had been admiring him. He smiled, sitting up higher. When Hermione saw that she had been caught, she blushed and looked away. She seemed confused, Ron decided, and (he hoped) a little unhappy.

For the next twenty minutes until they departed for the infirmary, Ron daydreamed that Hermione was throwing herself at his feet, begging for him to kiss her because she couldn't stand being without him.

Unfortunately, by evening Hermione was in the library again and Ron was sitting alone by the fire, playing chess against himself. He was squeezing the heads of his chessmen so hard that they began to shout abuses at him and refused to move any more.

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The days passed quickly by until the funeral was nearly at hand. On the day before, Ron and the others paid their final visit to the infirmary. The corridors were nearly devoid of students. Many had gone home, while others had been instructed by their parents to go no further from their beds than their common rooms. The daring few were outside, enjoying the fine weather, yet they seemed too gloomy to do anything more than stroll around the lake. The atmosphere was so foreign that Ron felt like a stranger in his own school.

When they entered the infirmary, Fleur was present as usual and was fussing over Bill. Madam Pomfrey seemed to have surrendered most of her work to Fleur, meaning she had nothing to do since Neville had gone back to Gryffindor Tower two evenings before. She sat sulking in a corner, and once Ron could have sworn she put in earplugs when Fleur began to talk about the wedding.

"Eet will be perfect!" she exclaimed. "I am so glad zat Bill will be well in time for eet. We were so afraid that zere would be need to postpone eet. All those special floral orders would be wasted...you know, I had them specially grown? Timing ees very important for zeese things, no? Also, Ron might have outgrown his dress robes if we postponed for even a week."

Fleur patted his hand. "You are getting so big!"

Ron saw Hermione roll her eyes and hoped she was jealous.

Bill, who was eating his lunch, swallowed a bite of his steak tartar and joined in the conversation. "So Hermione, I can imagine you're going crazy at the prospect of the school closing next year. I should think that if it stays open, you'll be in the running for Head Girl."

Ron realized that he hadn't heard a peep from Hermione about the school closing, and thought this was very odd.

"Oh, I haven't really given it much thought, actually," she said, glancing up at Harry, who seemed far away and sad. Ron found something in her concern that he did not like. Why didn't Hermione ever look at him like that? As if she would do anything to know what he was thinking...

"I think you'd miss the library," Ron snapped. "You spend enough time in it."

Hermione's head shot up angrily, and Ron waited for whatever she had to say. He was pleased to have been able to get her riled up over something this break thing that she'd gotten away with far too easily.

"I don't believe they'll close the school," said Ginny very suddenly. "How will you get ready for the N.E.W.T.S.?"

Harry shrugged. "Private lessons?"

Bill swallowed another bite of his steak. "Well," he said, looking at Hermione, "maybe it's all for the best. Seventh Year was fairly dull, if I recall correctly. There wasn't much for me to do as Head Boy. The Prefects did all the work. And it was so stressful what with the exams and all."

"I still don't believe they'd close the school," repeated Ginny.

"Maybe it doesn't really matter if they do or don't," suggested Harry, cryptically, before falling silent.

Ginny took Harry's hand, and Ron looked away.

"Will you be able to come to the funeral tomorrow?" Ron asked Bill.

"Of course. And if I can't walk, I'll have Fleur levitate me down the stairs."

"But of course you will be able to walk," said Fleur. "You are getting stronger all ze time."

Bill smiled, which looked strange under his scars, but it was not entirely unpleasant.

"You're right, darling. After all, it's my face that was hurt, not my legs."

"It ees these potions he takes," spat Fleur with some disdain. Ron noticed that Madam Pomfrey was looking irritated from her corner and was readjusting her ear plugs. "They are so unhealthy, I think. They numb all his muscles so he cannot do much of anything."

And Fleur continued to complain for a full fifteen minutes before Hermione managed to change the subject.

That evening Ron watched Hermione, in accordance with her routine, unroll her copy of the Evening Prophet.

"Anyone else we know died?" Ron asked her. It was the first thing he'd said to her since their near spat in the infirmary and she winced at the harshness in his voice, which made him feel instantly like a giant prat.

"No," she said. "They're still looking for Snape but no sign..."

"Of course there isn't," said Harry, his temper rising in his voice. As he got worked up, he accidentally kneed Ginny in the back where she was sitting in front of his legs. "They won't find Snape till they find Voldemort, and seeing as they've never managed to do that in all this time..."

"I'm going to bed," said Ginny, rubbing her back as she yawned. Harry didn't notice. "I haven't been sleeping that well since...well...I could do with some sleep."

Out of habit, Ron looked away as his sister kissed Harry goodnight, inadvertently finding his gaze on Hermione. She was not admiring him, however, as he had caught her doing before. Instead, she was watching Ginny disappear up the stairs, and was obviously not thinking about what he'd been thinking about as he stared at her profile against the fire behind her. Miserably, Ron wondered not for the first time if Hermione really had been breaking up with him and had only taken pity on him at the last minute. Maybe that, "I love you" meant she loved him as a friend.

"Harry," she was saying, oblivious to Ron's turmoil. "I found something out this morning in the library."

"R.A.B.?" asked Harry, catching Ron's attention. But it turned out to be about Snape being the Half-Blood Prince, something Ron supposed Hermione would blame herself for not discovering sooner. He could almost hear her now, "If only I had made the connection! If only I hadn't been thinking about myself...!" Hermione didn't realize that she was never thinking only about herself. She always had room in her thoughts for Harry. Harry seemed to occupy three quarters of her brain, in fact.

This situation reminded him vaguely of a conversation about Tonks they had had several months ago at the Burrow when they had speculated that Tonks was blaming herself for Sirius' death. What was it Hermione had called it? Survivor's guilt? Harry was obviously feeling it. Maybe Hermione was too.

"I should've shown the book to Dumbledore," said Harry, lowering his head. "All that time he was showing me how Voldemort was evil when he was at school, and I had proof Snape was too —"

"'Evil' is a strong word," whispered Hermione. To Ron she seemed to sink beneath the weight of her own unhappiness.

"You were the one who kept telling me the book was dangerous!"

"I'm trying to say, Harry, that you're putting too much blame on yourself. I thought the Prince seemed to have a nasty sense of humor, but I would never have guessed he was a potential killer..."

Her voice caught in her throat. Ron saw her peering up at him, with tears shimmering in her eyes. He pressed his lips together in a thin line.

He sat up and said to Harry, "None of us could've guessed Snape would...you know..." but he looked at Hermione, who nodded, almost imperceptibly, at his words. The three of them said nothing further for a long while, and in the silence Ron found himself thinking along the same lines as Harry and Hermione. He tried to imagine what would have happened if they had known beforehand that Snape would turn traitor. Perhaps they could have tried to sabotage his plans, only to be caught and expelled from school, and Dumbledore would die anyway...whenever Snape's chance came again; or they could have convinced Dumbledore that he was in danger, only...what proof could they have offered?

It was possible that nothing would have gone differently at all, and they might still be sitting around the common room thinking, "What if?"

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Morning came like an unwelcome guest. It was Ron's last day at Hogwarts, possibly forever.

Ron awoke with the sun and dressed silently. Harry was already packing, but he was doing it the Muggle way. He folded everything twice and straightened his books three times, as if he couldn't bear not to be doing something. Ron simply found his wand and flicked his wrist so that all his books and clothes tumbled into his trunk, but he sat on his bed staring out the window until it was time to go down to the Great Hall.

Harry closed his trunk and locked it, but he did not get up or remove his hands for a long moment. He looked as if he were praying, but Ron had never seen Harry pray before.

"Harry?" he asked.

Neville and Dean, newly awakened, shuffled past them on their way to the loo. Their intrusion upon the quiet of the morning drove Harry from his thoughts. He stood up and straightened his dress robes.

"I hope Scrimgeour doesn't try to talk to me," said Harry, suddenly. Then he shrugged off his own statement, silently asking Ron not to make too much of it. Ron watched Harry stare at the door of the dormitories, out from which they would soon go, perhaps never to return again. Had Harry realized that?

Ron had his answer within fifteen minutes when they headed out to go to breakfast. Ron went out first, quickly so as to get it over with; but when he headed toward the staircase, he discovered that Harry was not beside him. He turned around and found Harry pausing at the threshold, resting his palm against the cool stone of the lintel.

"C'mon," said Ron. Harry stepped forward and didn't look back. They discovered that Hermione and Ginny were waiting for them at the bottom of the stairs, wearing their best uniforms, which had been impeccably ironed and creased. They did not smile as Harry and Ron joined them. The other Gryffindors shuffled past them on their way to breakfast and for a long time the only noise was the sound of feet on the steps, but the mood was too somber too soon.

When they passed the portrait and entered the hall, they at last heard someone speak. One of the Creevey brothers was talking to a young Second Year girl about something mundane. Candy perhaps. Suddenly, conversations burst out all over the hall. By the time they reached the staircase, there was a healthy roar of hallway noise.

"I forgot to mention it before, but what will you do for the summer?" asked Hermione to no one in particular, simply making small talk. "After the wedding, I mean?"

Harry didn't answer. Ginny shrugged.

Ron supposed he would do whatever his Mum told him to do, but what that was he didn't know. He said nothing. They proceeded to the Great Hall for one last breakfast and found, as they had expected, that Scrimgeour and his Ministry toads (including Percy) were presiding at the Head table.

Ron had all but forgotten Percy and found it strange to see him now. He had cut his hair since Christmas and had grown something of a moustache, most likely in an effort to look important. Percy would do better to join the Order and fight Voldemort, thought Ron. He looked ridiculous up there by Scrimgeour, hopping up and down like an anxious puppy whenever he thought the Minister wanted a glass of pumpkin juice. Ron speared his kippers, thinking that half the school must be slandering the Weasley name in retribution for the year of persecution at Head Boy Percy's hands.

It was a mercy when breakfast ended. They processed single file from the Gryffindor Table out into the great narthex outside. No one was speaking, and if anyone tried to speak he instantly thought better of it and remained silent. The whole school had been rendered mute.

When they reached the lake, Ron and the others took their seats in a single row and, like the condemned waiting for execution, waited for the ceremony to begin. There was a rustle of velvet and silk robes as Fudge and Scrimgeour and other "important" persons took their seats. Ron looked at his shoes when Percy walked by.

He did not look up until the music began. Merpeople. It was a strange, haunting melody that Ron could not dare to criticize. He looked to the lake, from whence came the sound, and was moved by the grief held in those voices.

Then Hagrid appeared in the aisle, carrying the body over his shoulder. It confused Ron to see how small the bundle was. Surely, Dumbledore could not be that thing wrapped in cloth. Ron had always seen Dumbledore as someone great, indomitable, invincible with a dignity beyond mortal measure. This bundle of cloth could not be him. It could never contain his great spirit or even half the sum of what Dumbledore was. No, Dumbledore was elsewhere.

But it was Dumbledore's body, for Ron saw above the heads of those in front of him, that Hagrid had laid it out upon the table. The traitorous sunlight fell upon it. Ron felt the day was far too beautiful for the occasion.

A little man dressed in black got up to give the eulogy. Ron only remembered hearing one eulogy before, and had never understood how anyone could sum up a life in ten brief minutes. It seemed to him that the eulogy's sole purpose was to prolong the final farewell for as long as possible, and that this was the only reason people would put up with one.

"Few could ever understand his nobility of spirit," the man was saying. "For he truly believed in the existence in good and righteousness, and sought to bring out such qualities in every single person he ever met. Hogwarts and its pupils, both present and future, have suffered an irrevocable loss. It is doubtful that any could ever match his intellectual contribution, and it is certain that no one will ever match his greatness of heart. But Albus Dumbledore would not wish us to lose hope. He would tell us not to give in to fear, but to band together...to fight...!"

Just then, Ron heard a muffled sniff and looked over to find Hermione sobbing quietly. Her hands that were folded over her lap were trembling. The back of her left hand was wet with tears falling from her face. Ron didn't care if they were on a break or not. He reached over and offered her his hand for comfort.

Without taking her eyes off the speaker, Hermione took it. Ron knew that he was witnessing a funeral. He knew that he was supposed to be saying good-bye to a beloved hero. But as he held Hermione's hand in his, he couldn't help but feel happy.

The speaker took his seat again, and then the pyre was lit. It was over in a burst of smoke and ash, and whatever Dumbledore had been was gone forever.

The congregation slowly trickled out, row by row. First in silence, then among a low rumble of conversation and sorrowful whispers. People swarmed around the four of them and then dissipated. Beside him, Hermione was struggling for control, perhaps trying not to cause a scene in the midst of so many people. She still clutched Ron's hand. When the crowd around them had thinned, Ron stood, leading Hermione apart from the crowd and she followed without question.

They had gone several paces, out of earshot of Harry and Ginny, when to Ron's surprise, Hermione stopped him. She placed her head on his shoulder and wept into his robes. A lump came into Ron's throat as he stared at the pyre over her head. It was smoking, but the fire had been put out. All traces of the purple cloth were gone, as if nothing had ever been there at all.

Unbidden, a tear slipped from his eye and down his cheek. Ron cried with Hermione, releasing with his tears all his insecurities for the future, all his confusion and sadness for Dumbledore and all his love for her.

Ron tenderly stroked her hair with his hand, trying not to let his tears fall anywhere upon the chestnut cascade. He wanted to ask, "Are we still on a break?" but this was not the right moment. He felt that he should say something, however.

Ron wanted to tell Hermione that he would do anything she asked, that she was the only girl he would ever love... He opened his mouth to say it all, when suddenly she lifted her head from his shoulder. Ron saw that her reddened eyes were fixed on Ginny's retreating figure. Then both of them glanced the opposite way, looking for Harry, and found him being chased by Rufus Scrimgeour.

With a sigh, Ron knew his declaration must wait. "C'mon," he said. "Let's go rescue him."

"Wait," said Hermione, pulling Ron back. He watched her, waiting for her to say what she must say. She was fidgeting and looked nervous. Ron hoped that she wasn't going to tell him that it hadn't meant anything, crying on his shoulder, and that she only wanted to be friends. He looked down at his feet, as she said, "I just want to be here for a moment with you. We're leaving today, and I just wanted you to know that..."

"I would never ask you to choose between me and helping Harry, you know," he said quickly. "I don't know if that would change what you're going to say, but..."

He wanted to say more, but he couldn't get it out his mouth. He wanted to say something that could only be felt. It was too precious, too complex for words. "I want to tell you that...I..."

Ron couldn't finish. Not when Hermione was looking at him like that and when he didn't know if she still wanted him. He gulped and tried again, but he couldn't remember what it was that he had wanted to tell her. "I want to say..."

"Oh Ron, I already know," she said. But how could she know when he didn't even know it himself? He couldn't even remember what he had been about to say, except that it was incredibly important and that it would have made him completely worthy of Hermione for once because it was something along the lines of I love you only it had been even better, and...

"You wear your heart on your sleeve," said Hermione, with a patient smile. Only somehow she seemed disappointed.

"But I want to tell you..."

Hermione waited, letting Ron have his chance. Ron opened his mouth, ready to say it. He could have sworn Hermione was holding her breath.

Then Ginny appeared. "I'm going back in," she said. Ron swirled around to find Ginny standing alone without Harry. There were tears running down her cheeks and she was trying to hide them behind her hair. "Hermione, I wanted to say good-bye because you'll be sitting with the prefects on the train, I think..."

As the girls hugged, Ron looked around for Harry. He spotted him talking to Scrimgeour a little ways on. When Ginny left them, Hermione took Ron by the hand and they walked in that direction. They caught up to Harry beneath old the beech tree.

"What did Scrimgeour want?" asked Hermione.

Harry was leaning with his back against the tree, staring off into the distance. He barely acknowledged their approach. "Same as he wanted at Christmas," he said. "Wanted me to give him inside information on Dumbledore and be the Ministry's new poster boy."

To Ron it sounded like one of Percy's ideas, and it angered him that Percy had suggested the previous year that he distance himself from Harry and was now so willing to use his friend. He didn't know how to apologize for his brother, and so he said, "Look, let me go back and hit Percy!" Ron was turning away when Hermione grabbed him by the arm.

"No," she said, and Ron knew she was right.

"It'll make me feel better!"

They all had a laugh, because each of them knew that Ron hadn't really wanted to hit Percy (at least not on this day of all days), but that he would have done it for Harry's sake.

Hermione swept her gaze over the castle towering above them. "I can't bear the idea that we might never come back," she said. "How can Hogwarts close?"

"Maybe it won't," said Ron. "We're not in any more danger here than we are at home, are we?"

"I'm not coming back even if it does reopen."

It was Harry who had spoken. Ron stared at him, remembering Harry's pause at the threshold of the dormitories and the way his eyes raked over every detail of the castle, trying to make it last. Truly, Hogwarts had been Harry's only home, and now it seemed that he was going into exile.

Beside him, Hermione whispered, "I knew you were going to say that. But then what will you do?"

"I'm going back to the Dursley's once more," replied Harry, surprising Ron. "Because Dumbledore wanted me to. But it'll be a short visit, and then I'll be gone for good."

"But where will you go if you don't come back to school?"

Harry breathed out slowly, considering the question for a moment. "I thought I might go back to Godric's Hollow," he said at length, and there was a tremor in his voice. "For me, it started there, all of it. I've just got a feeling I need to go there. And I can visit my parents' graves, I'd like that."

Ron nodded. "And then what?"

"Then I've got to track down the rest of the Horcruxes, haven't I? That's what he wanted me to do, that's why he told me all about them. If Dumbledore was right—and I'm sure he was—there are still four of them out there. I've got to find them and destroy them, and then I've got to go after the seventh bit of Voldemort's soul, the bit that's still in his body, and I'm the one who's going to kill him. And if I meet Severus Snape along the way, so much the better for me, so much the worse for him."

At first Ron didn't know what to say. He half expected Hermione to start lecturing Harry on how it was bad to want to kill one's teachers. However, when she said nothing, Ron realized she felt the same way about it that he and Harry did. They wanted Harry to find the Horcruxes, and they wanted Voldemort defeated. And he and Hermione both knew that it was a fight that one man alone should never undertake.

Ron saw that Hermione was biting her lip, at a loss for words. Perhaps she was thinking about school and about her Head Girl badge, the N.E.W.T.S.; but Ron knew that if she didn't speak now, she would always regret it. If she didn't go with Harry, she would hate herself.

"We'll be there, Harry," he said.

"What?"

Ron pressed onward, and he saw Hermione nodding her support. "At your aunt and uncle's house. And then we'll go with you wherever you're going."

"No—"

Hermione found her voice then. "You said to us once before that there was time to turn back if we wanted to," she said. "We've had time, haven't we?"

"We're with you whatever happens," said Ron. "But mate, you're going to have to come round my mum and dad's house before we do anything else, even Godric's Hollow."

Harry's face scrunched up in confusion. "Why?"

Ron wondered how Harry could have forgotten Fleur's forty-minute lecture on flower arrangements, but he supposed that on a day such as this anyone could forget that something good was about to happen. "Bill and Fleur's wedding, remember?"

Harry smiled, a genuine and unfettered smile, "Yeah," he said. "We shouldn't miss that."

----- ----- ----- ----- -----

Epilogue:

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The train from Hogwarts rolled into King's Cross Station with a screech, and almost immediately its passengers began to pour out of the cars. The steam from the engine car was still rising when Ron and Harry emerged and headed toward the platform, hauling their luggage behind them. Hermione was lagging behind to say good-bye to Luna and Neville. She had already bid farewell to Harry.

Until Ron and Harry neared the barrier, nothing was said other than, "Blimey, this is heavy," and "Ouch, my foot." Once they reached the barrier, however, Ron embraced Harry like a brother.

"When we see each other next, we won't have to say good-bye again," he told him.

Harry shook his head, ready to protest, "But..."

"No buts," said Ron, silencing his friend.

"I guess...I guess I always knew that I couldn't convince you not to come with me."

"Don't forget it either," said Ron.

Despite himself, Ron's gaze drifted to where Hermione was as she stepped onto the platform. They had not said their good-byes yet, and Ron wondered what words might pass between them. Would she tell him they weren't on a break anymore? Maybe she would let him kiss her before they parted ways. Ron decided that he would tell her everything this time, no stammering or pauses this time. No sarcasm, just honesty.

Harry suddenly coughed. "Are you and Hermione...?"

Ron blushed a little at having been caught. "Yes," he answered, without further hesitation.

"That's what I thought. Ginny said that she suspected something was going on," said Harry, looking sad. He let out a long, tremulous sigh. Ron saw that Harry was watching Ginny, who was now emerging from her car alongside Seamus and Neville.

"I wish..." Harry began. But he did not finish telling Ron what he would wish. Instead, he lapsed into silence, shaking his head sadly. "I'll see you at the wedding, mate."

Ron watched Harry go, dragging his trunk to the barrier through which he would find the Dursleys waiting for him, scowling and already counting down the days until his departure. He was the only one trudging up to the barrier, and he looked like isolation personified. Everyone else was standing around, hugging before going out to meet his or her parents.

As Ron tried to understand the unfathomable loneliness his friend must bear, he knew that he would never be able to comprehend it. Ron turned around and strode towards Hermione, who had seen him and was smiling.

For now it was just the two of them.

-----

Finis

Burgundy: Thanks for pointing out those typos! I fixed them the morning after you told me. I really do appreciate that.

WeasleyGirlYeah: Thank you for your chapter by chapter reviews! They came at a time when my mind was somewhere else (on my schoolwork) and gave me enough impetus to finish the story. You stopped reviewing, though. I guess you either got tired or stopped liking the story. :(

ZetZet Zoe: Well...the point of Hermione apologizing is not that I thought she ought to apologize, but that it was right for her character to do so at the time. Hermione, like most women inexperienced with dating, has been waiting for Ron to come to her to say the flowery things that men say in books and movies, but Ron isn't like that because he is just as insecure and inexperienced in love as she is. She is furious with him because he went out with Lavender, but she can't express it properly. She lashes out because she is still waiting for Ron to make the move. However, once Ron is poisoned, Hermione wakes up. She realizes that she really loves him and would rather put up with Lavender and be close to him than be apart. Ron isn't yet capable of coming to her, and she sees that she can't make him come to her by punishing him. So by apologizing, even when she wasn't necessarily in the wrong, Hermione is showing maturity. She's weighing her pride against her friendship with Ron and the friendship wins.

R/Hr Rulz: I submitted this to Checkmated, but there's a long queue and my editor hasn't finished editing Chapter One yet.

Joyrok: I can't remember how I felt about the break-up. I think I wasn't all that surprised either, but I do remember having flashbacks to Spider-Man.

Ruth3: Wow! Welcome to the R/Hr ship! You're new like me. :) I've managed to find several good R/Hr fics at SugarQull, but they're hard to find because the website doesn't separate stories according to ship.

And thanks to all my other faithful reviewers that I haven't responded to directly this time around!