The Night before the Rest of Her Life

Hermione lay flat on her back on the spare bed in Ginny's room, hugging a pillow to her chest. It was five weeks since the funeral. It was the night before the rest of her life, and she was wondering—abashed at her own triviality but wondering all the same—why Ron still hadn't kissed her.

Ginny and Ron and Harry were playing Quidditch in the twilight. Through the open window, she heard their swoops and shouts. Ginny was already wearing her captain's badge. Harry and Ron were determined to transmit to her every shred of Quidditch know-how they possessed, to ensure a winning season for Gryffindor. Pretty arrogant of Ron, who didn't play half so well as his younger sister. Hermione had not asked, although she had wondered, how they could play Quidditch at a time like this. Not that it was so much better to be indoors. It was never much fun to lie awake through the night before the rest of your life.

It had been August also, nearly six years ago, when Hermione lay awake in the little green and white bed, in the little green and white bedroom, in her parents' trim little bungalow north of Leeds, curled in fetal position, hugging a pillow to her chest, contemplating the mystery of Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. Contemplating the strange new schoolbooks that she had devoured without understanding. Regretting the village swimming pool and the roller rink. Regretting the educational computer programs that taught her typing and geography. Regretting the opportunity to learn Latin and algebra, the stately brick grammar school that she would not, after all, attend. Blinking back tears, clutching her brand-new wand. Regretting the stuffed animals she had accidentally levitated across her bedroom, the gingernuts that had accidentally baked themselves. Regretting Priscilla Massey, who had been her best friend for three years in the gifted and talented program at Whitefriars Primary School and whom, all of a sudden, she didn't know how to talk to anymore.

Funny, thought the new, grown-up Hermione, funny that I thought so much less of what I was gaining than of what I had lost. And she had gained so much more than she had lost.

Once, at the funeral, he kissed her hair. And Hermione thought, he kissed my hair. I am sobbing in his arms, and he is crying too, and he kissed my hair. Is this the future?

Once, at Number 4, Privet Drive, she crawled out from under Harry's bed (she was scrubbing the floor clean of owl droppings) and into his arms. She wasn't sure which of them had been more surprised.

Once, at the Burrow, they sat in the dim parlor, reading The History of Dark Magic in the British Isles and Which Broomstick, and his arm drifted around her shoulder. When Bill and Fleur came in, he took it away.

They had danced at Bill's wedding, under the fairy lights on the lawn, and he left his hand on her waist for a minute when the music stopped. They had congratulated the other newlyweds, the ones who were moving, doe-eyed and heart-sore, into Harry's house at Number 12, Grimmauld Place, to coordinate intelligence and live with ghosts. Or what Muggles called ghosts. They had toasted Harry's coming of age, and somehow, for thirty seconds, ended up holding hands.

She wondered if he was still mad at her for kissing Viktor Krum. She wondered whatever had possessed Ginny to tell Ron she had kissed Viktor, and how Ginny knew. She hadn't told Ginny about that.

She wondered why he hadn't kissed her. He had certainly kept busy last winter, snogging Lavender. And she thought—she hoped—she suspected—and on the whole, she really thought—that he hadn't liked Lavender half as much as he liked her.

Night fell, and the Quidditch match continued. She heard Ginny's voice raised in gloating victory, and Harry's with a catch in it. She's going to keep him out there playing Quidditch half the night, thought Hermione ruefully. Ginny is going to keep Harry outside until two o'clock in the morning. Well, she knew it was easier to be the Girl Who Came Along than the Girl He Left Behind.

The door opened and Ron came in. He didn't see her. He crossed the room to the shelf where Ginny kept her Quidditch things. Hermione sat up in a hurry. He started when he saw her in the moonlight.

"Hermione?" he asked. "Hermione, what's wrong?"

She jerked her head and said nothing.

"Hermione," he said, sitting on the edge of the bed, "are you scared about tomorrow?"

She shook her head. She was scared out of her wits. Scared of not going back to Hogwarts with Ginny, scared of not taking her NEWTs, scared of death and danger and not having directions to follow and not knowing what to do. But the die was cast and talking about it wouldn't change it.

Yesterday morning, when the Hogwarts letter with the captain's badge arrived for Ginny, there had been no letter for Hermione. There had been no letter for Ron. And there had been no letter for Harry. Across the breakfast table, Molly's eyes sought Arthur's. They looked at their three children, their youngest son and his two best friends, more in sorrow than surprise. No one spoke. Ron stared at the ceiling, Harry at the floor, brushing limp black locks out of his eyes.

Hermione looked straight ahead, unflinching, almost calm. She nodded. Slowly at first, slightly, again and again. Her head bobbed with confidence.

Mrs. Weasley sobbed convulsively and fled the room.

Mr. Weasley stood up slowly. He looked tired. He looked old. He put a hand on her shoulder and a hand on Harry's. He put two hands on the shoulders of his gangling youngest son, and he nodded. The die was cast, and talking about it wouldn't change it.

They still hadn't told anyone about the horcruxes. They hadn't even told Professor McGonagall. They hadn't even told Professor Lupin.

"I'm wondering why you've never kissed me," said Hermione suddenly, and it was the truest thing she had ever said.

Ron frowned slightly. He opened his mouth but didn't speak. He touched her hair. And all of a sudden she was flat on her back on the spare bed in Ginny's room, hugging Ron to her like a pillow, mouth to mouth, chest to chest, and something flickered between them.

They sat up.

His face was flushed and his eyes were wild. "I—I'm sorry, Hermione. I didn't—I didn't mean—I'm sorry."

She touched his fingers. She curled them into hers. "Don't be sorry," she said, and her own voice sounded strange to her. "Don't be sorry. That was all I needed to know."