Disclaimer: None of the people, places, or things surrounding Hogwarts and the wizarding world are my creation; they belong to the wonderful Ms. Jo Rowling.

No Matter What

It was fate, Harry decided, watching Ron and Hermione argue about…something, he supposed…at the kitchen table at the Burrow.

Sometimes their constant fighting, in an effort to mask their true feelings, was right annoying. Still, he couldn't fight the grin that spread across as his face as he watched Ron and Hermione together. They deserved happiness, especially with all that they were going to face in the coming year. And—he couldn't deny it—seeing the two of them so obviously oblivious in their love—made him forget, even for just a moment, all that had happened last year.

From the frequent appearances at the Slug Club, to the Penseive, to the Horcruxes, to Dumbledore… Harry felt the tell-tale sting of tears behind his eyes, even now, weeks after the funeral. Losing Sirius, then Dumbledore. Harry wryly figured that fate had it out for him. That was precisely the reason why, even when Ron and Hermione argued about the most minute of things, such as whether Ron should be using butter that came in a stick, or from the homemade tub, he didn't put a stop to it.

It was, he admitted, normalcy in a time where nothing felt normal, not for very long. "You guys are amazing, you know that?" he asked out loud, bringing himself out his reverie.

Ron and Hermione promptly stopped bickering and turned to glance at him. Harry saw how their eyes flickered back and forth to each other. He knew that he hadn't been talking as much this summer, so whenever he did say something, the two would always analyze it. "I mean it. Coming with me. Going…well, you know where, later," he added sincerely, smiling a genuine smile for the first time in almost a month.

His friends stared at him. Ron was about to open his mouth in what was sure to be a sarcastic remark, and he could practically see the wheels turning in Hermione's head, trying to tell if he was nutters. "Plus," he continued with a chuckle, "You are just funny to watch. Going off on each other when you both know that…" He trailed off, watching as Ron's face paled and Hermione's cheeks turned pink.

Harry stood, wiping his hands together. "Well, never mind then, I suppose. Listen, I meant it, really. Thanks for being there for me. I'm going—well, I'll be around." He turned and walked out of the kitchen and out the back door, towards the large tree in the backyard. He'd always loved this spot. It was his favorite place outside the Burrow. Calming, once he got past the faint screams of the lawn gnomes a few meters away.

Inside, both Ron and Hermione were staring at the door through which Harry had just departed. Neither knew exactly what had just happened. "Er…do you think we should—" Ron began, but Hermione waved a hand in the air.

"No, just let him go. He needs…he just wants to think, that's all. We can't expect anything different. After all that he's been through this past year." She paused. "Although that outburst…" She shook her head. "No, I think he did mean it, Ron. He is getting better, feeling happier, gradually."

Ron nodded slowly, then looked at Hermione, his cheeks reddening. "What'd you reckon he meant back there? About—" His voice squeaked and Hermione fought the urge to giggle. "About us," he finished in embarrassment. "About us being…funny…for him to watch."

Hermione smiled knowingly, and once again, Ron felt like everyone knew something besides him. "What?"

"Ron Weasley, do you ever use your ears and brain together?" she asked.

His mouth opened with a nasty retort, but then he shut it, knowing better. " 'Course, I do," he mumbled. "I'm just not always the brightest bloke."

Hermione's gaze softened and she moved almost imperceptibly closer to Ron. "Think about it, Ron. Going off on each other when we both know…"

"Know what?" Ron asked the question, though he feared he already knew the answer.

"If you don't know, then I'm not going to tell you," she said innocently, throwing his words from two years ago back in his face. "But I think you do know."

Ron groaned in frustration, vaulting from the chair and beginning to pace back and forth across the room. "We always do this, Hermione. Why? Why can't we just—it's so hard for us to just get on well together. How come?"

She shrugged in a semblance of relaxation, but her eyes were serious. "It's just how we are, Ron. We argue about the little things. It's always been that way, hasn't it?"

"Yeah, I reckon it has, Hermione…but…I don't know. Don't you ever wonder if—if we'd be better off—"

"Pretending to be civil to each other all the time?" she cut in with a smile, shaking her head. "No, Ron."

His eyes widened in disbelief at her statement. Since they'd met, all Hermione had done was complain that Ron was an insensitive prat; all he'd done was talk about how she was a bossy know-it-all. Now she was announcing that she was perfectly fine with that.

"That's simply us, Ron," she added quietly, looking straight into his eyes. "Although naturally, there are times when I hopelessly wish that you were a girl and we didn't have this problem, but—"

"What problem?"

Hermione blushed. "Um, just…you know, the fighting." She looked away, pulling slightly at her hair. Without properly thinking about what he was doing, Ron reached over and pulled her hand away from her face, forcing her to turn back to him.

"You're lying," he said softly, still gently holding her arm.

Her eyes began to blaze in anger; she hated when others told her what she was "really" feeling, and after knowing her for over six years, Ron was completely aware of that. "How do you know?" she asked irritably.

"Because I know you," he said, and then before Hermione could think, kissed her squarely on her mouth. Hermione still had her eyes open, in utter shock, but she quickly calmed when she realized that Ron was kissing her. It felt like everything in the past six years of knowing each other had been building up to this.

Hermione reacted then, closing her eyes and leaning into the kiss. His hands reached up to hold either side of her face. He broke the kiss—had it only lasted a few moments?—but didn't release her cheeks. He caressed them gently, and Hermione leaned into the warm, blissful feeling. Standing here, with her arms around Ron, she felt like nothing could hurt her. Even if Death Eaters stormed the Burrow in the next five minutes, she felt like she'd be ready. Because Ron was here. And no matter what, he'd keep her safe.

"I love you, Ron," she said quietly, unable to keep the words inside any longer. He'd said them to her once, towards the end of last year. At the same, it had seemed like he'd said them out of sheer gratitude for homework help…But now she wondered if there might be more…

Ron was looking down at her, a mixture of shock, relief and joy in his eyes. He grinned at her. "I love you, too, Hermione. Always have…"

"Always will," she finished with a satisfied smile. Ron nodded, then bent down and took her lips again.

This time the kiss wasn't as shy and gentle. Ron's hands moved from her face, to encircle her waist and pull her closer to him. Hermione, in an effort to become as close to Ron as possible, leaned into him and placed her arms around his neck, her hands lightly brushing the fiery red hair at the back of his neck. Ron's tongue skated around her lower lip, and with a small whimper, Hermione opened her mouth. Suddenly the kiss was hot, but so wonderful. Ron groaned a little, pulling her even closer, until there was no space left between them. He pulled away, raining kisses on her forehead, nose, both cheeks, before coming to rest on her mouth again. It was as if he was pouring everything into this kiss—all the hopes, heartbreaks, and now, love, that had been there since they met each other.

Then his mouth was trailing light, feathery kisses down the hollow of her throat, and Hermione ceased analyzing what was going on. This was RON! Ron was making her feel this—this light and tingly feeling all over her body. His hands were slowly moving farther up her waist, resting at the hem of her shirt. Suddenly though, he pulled back completely, his mouth leaving her neck, and Hermione whimpered at the sudden loss.

"Hermione, is this…?" His voice was unsure, his eyes conveying the question and Hermione loved him all the more for his nervousness. She knew as surely as she knew her place as Hogwarts' resident know-it-all that Ron would never take things farther (or faster) than she wanted to go.

"I reckon you make me lose my head, you know?" he continued shyly. "And—and I want this to be more than just… I mean, I don't want you to think…" He growled in frustration.

Hermione cocked her head at him. "You know, I never thought I would be saying this, Ronald Weasley, but…" She reached up, placing her lips against his in a soft kiss. "You've always been the one thing that—no matter what—can distract me. Make me think about…things."

Ron's eyes widened as he felt Hermione's hand take hold of his own, guiding it back to the hem of shirt, then slowly to the warm skin underneath. Ron swallowed hoarsely as he gently caressed Hermione's lower back and stomach. He chanced a glance at her. Her eyes were half-shut, her pupils dilated and her cinnamon eyes almost black. He couldn't take it anymore. Pulling her close to him again, his hands still beneath her shirt, he kissed again, this time roughly and more passionate.

"Hermione…" Her name came out a groan as he stroked her back. Hermione's hands were in his hair now, mimicking the motions he was making.

For many long moments, there was no speaking. Finally, Hermione pulled away, and both gasped for air. "Wow," she breathed, placing a trembling hand on her heart.

"Yeah," Ron said shakily, then, "How the bloody hell did it take us this long to realize what we could have?"

Hermione grinned widely. Those were quite possibly the most romantic words—aside from the "I love you," of course—that Ron had ever said to her. She shrugged. "I'm not exactly sure. Of course, those arguments and fights did set us back…Not to mention your ridiculous affair with Lavender Brown."

Seeing Ron's face as soon as she'd said that, Hermione would have given anything to take back her words. She and Ron had made it so far…after all this time. And now she'd had the stupid audacity to start another fight. She wanted to slap herself silly.

"Hey! What about your precious Vicky?"

Hermione waved a hand in the air. "Don't be silly, Ronald. You should know that there was never anything more between—"

"Ginny said you snogged," he broke in bluntly, and Hermione's mouth snapped shut, her eyes now blazing. After a few moments of silence, Ron's shoulders slumped. "You're not denying it. I knew it! I knew that I was the only one left…the only one who hadn't…"

Seeing him upset broke her heart, just a little bit, but she couldn't resist the banter for just a little longer. "Ron, please don't tell me that was the reason you took up with Lavender."

He turned back to her, his normally bright blue eyes downcast. "So what if it was? You—you had Vicky!"

"TWO years ago, Ron!"

"So? He was the on you snogged first!"

That was it. Hermione strode up to Ron, erasing the distance he'd put between them (quite unfortunately, she had to admit). She took hold of his cheeks so he couldn't look away. "Yes, but you, you insufferable prat, were the one I loved first…and always."

He had the courtesy to shamefully blush, at least. "Always?" he whispered.

"Always and forever…no matter what," she answered. Ron sighed, then pulled her to him in a fierce hug, placing her head beneath his chin. Hermione sighed again.

On the landing above them, Harry couldn't resist grinning. Yes, things were going to be difficult, and yes, there wouldn't be many times during the next year that he could grin…but this felt like one of them. It was bound to happen, he observed, seeing his two best friends in the place they had always been meant to be.

Together. No matter what.

A/N: Wow...that was such a marshmallow story. I tried this time to at least put in more physical touching, with the intense snogging and such(thus the "T" rating...), but it was still ultra fluffy. Review! I smile whenever I see a new review for one of my stories! It makes me so happy that people like my writing. Knowing that all of you are out there is what keeps me putting my ideas onto paper. I appreciate more than I can truly say.