Waiting For You

Here's a new one. I've been playing around with this in my head, and it's taken a while for it to come out. This does not follow Invisible Scars, so the beginning is totally different. It will also be in installments. Every chapter is a new year. This will have HBP stuff in it, so if you haven't read it, shame on you (just kidding). You have been warned:) I hope you enjoy!

Chapter 1 – Godric's Hollow

Despite how hot it had been all afternoon, as the August day slid into a dark night the clouds looked as if they threatened to open up at any moment and drench the world with cold, unrelenting rain. Ron's eyes scanned the darkening sky through the smudged pane of glass, landing finally on a hunched figure sitting toward the back of the expansive yard.

He sighed, running a hand through his messy hair. Ever since their arrival at Godric's Hollow five days ago, Harry spent more time outside at his parents' graves than he did anywhere else. Hermione was in a right state about it, but Ron had done his best to try and calm her fears that Harry was becoming too maudlin for his own good. As usual, she'd barely listened to what he said, opting to scrub the house from top to bottom, as if the cleanliness would draw Harry back inside.

He watched as Harry shifted where he sat, and for one moment he thought his best mate might in fact be calling it quits for the day. No such luck. Harry had simply been reaching into the bag at his side for a rather large book, which he opened on his lap and began poring over as if it held all the secrets of the world.

Ron growled in frustration, partly at Harry and partly at Hermione. She had been the one, after all, who had given Harry the ancient book she'd found in Lupin's private library. The book contained legends and myths of Dark Artifacts, and although Ron knew they really needed to learn all they could before striking out on their…mission…for lack of a better word, he couldn't help wanting to tear the pages from it piece by piece until there was nothing left but a bit of old leather.

He was terrified about what lay ahead, and he wasn't too proud to admit it. They had always had Dumbledore around to protect them, and now with him gone, they were truly on their own. Harry wouldn't hear of asking for anyone's help, and Ron knew it was useless to argue. He felt lucky that Harry hadn't tried to ditch him and Hermione yet – since he was so hell bent on 'protecting' people. Sometimes, Harry could be the most stubbornly obstinate person he'd ever known, and with his own family, that was saying something.

He grew even more pensive as his thoughts turned to his family. He recalled the way they'd all laughed and carried on at Bill's wedding last week, and a small smile crossed his face briefly. The day had been as close to perfect as Ron could have expected. Bill had never looked happier in his life, and although his mother cried consistently throughout the day, Ron knew they were the good kind of tears. There had been no unhappiness or fear that day, and Ron could only hope that there would be more moments like that for his family for a long time.

"What are you doing?"

His thoughts were interrupted by Hermione's quiet voice calling out to him tentatively from the bottom of the stairs.

"Nothing," he answered, not turning to face her. Somehow, she always knew what was going on in his head, and truth be told it was damned annoying. Especially when he was in as sulky a mood as he was in now.

"Is Harry still out there?" she asked, her voice sounding closer now. She must have moved away from the stairs. He still didn't turn around as he nodded. He knew she'd have something to say about it, and she didn't disappoint.

"It's going to start pouring any moment now. Maybe I should go out there…"

"Hermione, let him be. He's smart enough to come in if it starts raining," he said, finally turning to face her.

Her hurt expression didn't help matters any. Things had been tense between them all summer, almost as if neither knew exactly what to do or say any longer. They were both worried about Harry, scared of the future, scared for their families, and to top it all off, they seemed to do little else but bicker back and forth over the silliest things. He had thought that the damage they'd done to each other last year had been buried along with Dumbledore. At his funeral, Ron had held her and cried with her…they'd leaned on each other as if nothing had changed between them at all.

In a way, maybe that was why they were at each other all the time now. They had seen each other's weakness, and neither one of them had ever been really good at feeling exposed and helpless. Or maybe they were just taking things out on each other because there was no one else around to take it out on.

"I know that," she snapped, punctuating his point. "It's just not healthy for him to be –"

"What?" Ron interrupted. "Mourning his parents properly for the first time?"

Hermione rocked back on her heels as if he'd slapped her. The hurt expression on her face slid into one of tightly controlled anger. He realized he'd gone too far, but it was too late. The storm clouds had shifted from the skies outside into her eyes.

"How dare you?" she bellowed. "Do you really hate me that much that you would say something so…so…" Her voice died off as she tried to think of a word that would be strong enough to describe his crime.

"Come off it. I don't hate you; I just want you to leave him alone," he said through clenched teeth. He knew he was being unreasonable, and he knew he was wrong, but he couldn't help the words coming out of his mouth. She was an outlet for his anger at the world, for the unfairness of it all. Somehow, it became all her fault in his mind.

"Fine," she stormed, a sudden brightness leaping to her dark eyes. "While I'm at it, why don't I leave you alone as well. At least until you stop behaving like an immature, unfeeling, self-centered git."

She turned on her heel and practically stomped out of the room. Ron's gut ached with remorse as he watched her disappear up the stairs to her makeshift room, not tearing his eyes away until he heard the door slam violently, echoing through the silent house.

His gaze retreated back out the window, a million things flying through his mind all at once. He hated this feeling he had. It was as if they were all stuck in a space where all they could do was wait. Nothing moved forward, and the past seemed like it happened a million years ago. He felt restless, agitated and frustrated beyond belief.

His eyes landed on Harry again, who was now closing the large book on his lap and looking up at the sky. A second later, when sheets of rain came pounding down in quick succession, Harry shoved the book under his shirt and dashed for the back door.

"Typical," Ron muttered, cursing the weather as if it, too, was the cause of all their problems. Harry entered the room a moment later, water dripping from his flattened hair and wiping at his glasses with his free hand.

"Hey," Ron said, sinking onto the arm of the nearest chair.

"Hey," said Harry, carefully removing the book from under his shirt and placing it on the table in front of the fireplace. He waved his wand at it, drying it quickly with a wordless spell that made Ron wonder just how many nights he'd stayed up practicing since his run-in with Snape.

"There's still a few sandwiches left in the kitchen if you're hungry," he said, keeping his gaze off the offensive book. Harry could look up all the information he wanted, but Ron didn't have to like it.

"I'm fine," said Harry, now flicking his wand over himself, drying him almost completely. There was a patch of hair in the front of his face still dripping wet, and Harry forced it off his forehead with an irritated gesture. His scar looked more pronounced than ever, Ron noticed, and he didn't know whether it was because Harry had become so pale in the last two months, or because he knew it was now bothering Harry constantly.

"Oh. Well, do you want to play some chess or something?" Ron asked, truly hating the gnawing frustration he was feeling toward both of his best friends at the moment.

Whereas he and Hermione did little else but argue, he and Harry did little else but avoid talking about what they were about to face. They went through the same routine every day. Ron would try and get Harry to do something, anything, that didn't have to do with death or war, and Harry would beg off and hole up somewhere to brood, or think, or do whatever else it was that he felt would prepare him best for what he considered his fate.

"No, I'm kind of tired. I think I'll turn in early," said Harry, pocketing his wand and grabbing the book off the table. "See you tomorrow."

"Yeah, see you tomorrow," muttered Ron at his back as Harry trudged up the same stairs Hermione had stomped up before. He let himself fall over the arm into the large cushioning of the chair and stared into the unlit fireplace for a very long time. Finally, he reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wand, pointing it into the empty grate.

He concentrated with all his energy on lighting a fire without speaking the words, and after a full minute, all he'd been able to manage was a small flint which struck a log and immediately fizzled out.

Cursing angrily, he flung his wand onto the table and leaned his head back against the cushion, closing his eyes. If the evening hadn't been bad enough, now he was reminded that he was pure rubbish at everything he ever attempted. He had barely passed his second Apparition test, and although neither Harry nor Hermione had said anything, he knew they'd been nervous for him. If Ron had failed, he would have been a hindrance to them; how would they have gotten around with him in tow?

This was not how this was supposed to be. They had been best friends for what seemed like forever, and now that they needed each other the most, they seemed to be coming apart at the seams. They had faced countless dangers before this, and come through it together, stronger than they'd been when they started out. Why were things falling to pieces now?

He didn't realize he'd drifted off until the creaking of the stairs jolted him upright. He automatically grabbed for his wand, whirling in his seat with it stretched out before him.

He lowered it immediately when he heard Hermione's startled gasp, and as his eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room, he saw her clutching her chest with one hand.

"Bloody hell, Hermione," he grumbled, tossing his wand back onto the table. "Scare me half to death why don't you."

"I scared you?" she whispered harshly, drawing her robe more tightly around her. "What are you doing down here in the pitch black, anyway?"

"Fell asleep," he answered, rubbing at his tired eyes. "What are you doing up?"

She stood hesitantly in the middle of the room, her arms wrapped around herself almost as tightly as her robe. "I couldn't sleep."

Just then, Ron heard Harry call out loudly from his room on the second floor, and knew exactly why Hermione couldn't sleep. Harry had been having nightmares almost nonstop since the beginning of the summer, and when he'd been staying in Ron's room at the Burrow the week of the wedding, Ron had barely gotten more than an hour or two of solid sleep a night.

Ron's eyes found Hermione's in the darkness, and for the first time in a very long time, they seemed to come to some sort of silent understanding. She lowered her eyes almost immediately, however, and she shuffled uncertainly toward the chair next to his.

"It's freezing down here," she said quietly. "Why didn't you light a fire?"

And just like that, the silent ease that Ron had felt only moments ago disappeared as the memory of his incompetence washed over him. He glared at his wand as if it was the reason he seemed to fail time and time again.

"It's August, Hermione. I'm not cold," he said, unable to keep the harshness out of his voice. He could feel Hermione studying him from where she sat, but he couldn't look at her.

"Well, I am," she replied, picking up his wand and swishing it at the fireplace. She didn't utter a word, and yet, to his anger and frustration, large flames began dancing in the grate nonetheless.

"Bully for you," he muttered under his breath. It didn't shock him that she had mastered wordless spells, just like Harry had.

"What was that?"

"Nothing," he said, ignoring the growing gnaw of irritation flaring up inside his gut.

They remained quiet for a while, each lost in their own thoughts as they watched the flames consuming the logs hungrily.

After a few minutes, he heard Hermione shifting uncomfortably in her chair. He turned and looked at her, ready to spout off something else that was sure to get under her skin. When his eyes landed on her, however, he paused. She was hugging her knees tightly to her chest, her chin resting on the tops of them with her gaze fixed on the fire.

She looked so sad and…lost. The flare of irritation turned into a dull ache as he watched silent emotions fly across her face, gently lit by the glow of the flames.

"What are you thinking about?" he asked before he could stop himself. They hadn't exactly been on the best terms lately, and if she decided to answer him honestly it would be a small miracle.

Her gaze flickered to his quickly before returning to the fire. "Nothing," she said quietly, a look of fierce contemplation on her face.

Well, so much for small miracles. "Whatever," he said, turning his own gaze back to the fire. If she wanted to sit here in the awkward silence with him, then that was her business. He wasn't going upstairs any time soon, not until he had given Harry a little longer to try and find some peace while he slept.

He heard her voice hitch in her throat and knew he was in for another row. What exactly was it about her that turned him into such a…what was it she'd said? An immature, unfeeling, self-centered git…

She said nothing, however, and after a moment, his eyes swung back to her again. It had always been like that with her. No matter how angry he was with her, or she with him, he found himself being drawn to her whenever she was in the same room. And when he couldn't see her physically in front of him, thoughts of her plagued him until he was sure he could conjure her out of thin air simply by recalling every detail of her down to the curve of her slender wrists.

She was still staring straight ahead, her eyes blazing along with the red-hot flames, but the sadness that was visible before appeared magnified and enhanced now. He took a steadying breath, willing himself to say something civil…something that would at least make the hollowness in her eyes go away.

"So, you think the school is going to open this year?" he asked, hoping he sounded as off-handed and lighthearted as he wanted to sound.

It must have worked, at least a little, because instead of looking hollowly at the fire, she was now looking hollowly at him.

"Do you?" she asked, her voice sounding as small as she looked right now.

"I dunno…I mean, I think so, but I don't see a lot of parents wanting their kids back there now," he said, not really having considered it before. Now that he thought about it, he wasn't sure that any parents would send their kids back to a school that had just been attacked by the largest gathering of Death Eaters in one place since before he was born.

Hermione nodded absently, silently, and hugged her knees more tightly to her, if it was possible. She appeared to be trying to revert so far inward that she would cease to exist. Ron felt the overwhelming urge to pull on her arm so she wouldn't disappear into herself.

"It seems so strange to think of school, knowing that Dumbledore isn't there, and that we're not going to be there either," she said after a while, fiddling with the cuff of her robes pooling around her toes.

"Yeah," Ron replied, feeling the small pull of grief he always did when he thought of Dumbledore these days. Before he could sink behind his thoughts, however, he righted himself in his chair. "What are you going to miss most about not going to school this year?" he asked, more to keep the first civil conversation they'd had in weeks going than anything else.

He saw her eyes flicker brightly again, and hoped she wouldn't start crying. Although he'd been the cause of her tears more often than not, he still hated seeing her cry.

"You'll laugh at me," she said, ducking her head further onto her knees, avoiding his gaze.

"No, I won't. I promise," he added when she huffed disbelievingly into the fabric around her knees. She seemed to consider his words for a while before she sighed softly and shrugged.

"I really would have liked to have been Head Girl," she said quietly, her eyelashes casting shadows on her cheeks. "I know it sounds silly, considering…"

"It's not silly," he said automatically, cutting her off without realizing he'd even spoken. When she finally raised her eyes to his, he found that this time, he couldn't look away. Something in the way she'd said what she'd said made him realize that even though they may not be seeing eye to eye about quite a bit lately, they still had so much binding them together. Her aspirations for her future, his own, the desire to have something that belonged to them and them alone…not as Harry Potter's best friends, but as Hermione and Ron…

"You would have been, you know," he continued, when she'd remained quiet at his outburst. "No contest."

"Thanks," she said, her voice laced with a sadness and a regret that he now understood as being shared by them equally. "What about you? What are you going to miss most?"

A million things ran through Ron's head at her question, and although he had almost as many answers, he couldn't bring himself to say the one that was the most honest, the most truthful.

He had always assumed that he would have the chance to realize the vision he'd seen in the Mirror of Erised what seemed like lifetimes ago. Himself as Head Boy, Quidditch captain, winning the house cup for Gryffindor…only now, thinking on the vision over six years later he wondered if, alongside those desires, he'd see something else.

Or someone else, to be exact.

"Quidditch," he said quickly, reverting his gaze to the fire. "I'd miss trying to defend the championship."

Ruddy coward, he thought as he stared gloomily at the burning grate. Now she was going to think that on top of being an immature, unfeeling, self-centered git, he was also a simple little boy who thought of nothing more serious than a silly game played on broomsticks.

She remained silent for a long time, not responding to his juvenile thoughts. He chanced a look at her out of the corner of his eye and found her studying him closely. He shifted uncomfortably under her gaze.

"What?" he asked.

"Nothing, it's just –" she started, shrugging inconsequentially. "I would have liked to have seen you play your last year. You always seemed happiest when you were playing Quidditch. You would get this look on your face right before a game that…"

She trailed off, her eyes getting a bit wide as if she'd allowed herself to say too much.

Ron's chest constricted as he thought of her watching him that closely, noticing the little things in the same way he'd always noticed the little things about her. Like how she bit her lip when she was concentrating during an exam, or how she would play with a strand of hair while reading a particularly engrossing book. He could feel his face beginning to flush, and averted his gaze quickly at the same time as she tore hers away from him.

An awkward silence sprang up between them, and it was accentuated by the spitting and hissing of the fire as it burned behind the grate. There were so many things he wanted to say to her, and had always meant to say to her when the time was right. Here they were, alone, with very little chance of being interrupted…and he couldn't find the slightest bit of courage to utter even one word of it to her.

In a way, it was so much simpler to be rowing with her. That much he understood. He knew how she'd react and how she really felt, underneath all the mean, sometimes spiteful words they would toss at each other. He knew that no matter what they said to one another, they wouldn't stop being friends. He was more sure of that than he was anything else in his life.

Telling her all of the other stuff, however, was foreign territory…strange, dangerous and possibly disastrous. He had no idea how she'd react and how she felt. No, it was much safer to keep things as neutral as possible, especially now. They didn't have time for anything else. They had to focus on what they were about to do, and they had to have all their wits about them.

Now was most definitely not the time to tell her that he hated it when other blokes looked at her, or how pretty she was whenever she laughed at his stupid jokes. Now was not the time to try to explain that only after he saw her in the morning did he feel as if his day had really started. Now was not the time to admit that even if he didn't see her, he could always tell when she entered a room from the way his body began buzzing.

No, now was definitely not the time.

As if to prove his point, Harry's shouts pierced out in the darkness again, causing both of them to jump slightly. Ron looked toward the stairs at the same time as Hermione, and once again, their eyes caught and held.

The infinite sadness was back in Hermione's eyes again, and this time, it didn't look like it would be going anywhere anytime soon. Ron sighed, sinking back against the cushion as he laced his fingers on top of his head. Somehow, it helped the pounding headache he was beginning to feel creeping into his skull.

Hermione sat rigidly in the same position she'd been in all night, and Ron could only watch her as she pulled her bottom lip into her mouth to keep it from shaking too badly.

"His nightmares are getting worse, aren't they?" she asked quietly after some time. "I mean, I've heard him off and on all week, but the last two days it's been pretty constant."

"Yeah," said Ron in response, the only one he could think to give. He had no idea what it must be like for Harry, and frankly, he hoped he never knew. What Harry must see when he closed his eyes at night…

"Sometimes, I get so sad for him I don't know what to do," Hermione confessed in the same quiet voice as before. "In the past three years he's had to watch three people die right in front of him. I think I would have lost my mind by now if I was him. Cedric, then Sirius…Dumbledore - " She stopped speaking suddenly and shook her head.

"I'm just so afraid that it's going to happen to me," she whispered, her voice weak and broken. His heart constricted painfully at her words, at the desperation and loss written clearly now across her face.

"You're not going to die, Hermione," he stormed, suddenly and inexplicably angry. "How could you even say something like that? How could you think that I…we would let anything happen to you?"

Hermione's eyes closed briefly, as if it was too much work to keep them open any longer. "I'm not afraid it's going to be me," she corrected heavily. "I'm afraid that I'm going to have to watch one of you die right in front of me, and I'm going to be powerless to stop it."

To this admission, Ron had absolutely no answer. He sat perfectly still, breathing shallowly as her words drifted around in the silence once more.

He reached for something, anything to tell her that would reassure her that no one was going to die, but the words didn't come as quickly this time. Perhaps it was because he'd had similar thoughts for the past few weeks. After listening to Harry's nightmares the first few days at the Burrow, he'd started having his own nightmares in which he was frozen in place as Voldemort raised his wand to Harry and Hermione. He'd had to watch them collapse to the floor so many times in his head that it couldn't have seemed more real.

Still, seeing the look of incredible loss on Hermione's face made his entire body hurt. He had to say something. He reached for the first thing that came into his mind.

"I certainly don't plan on going anywhere, and I'm fairly sure Harry's of the same opinion," he said, keeping his tone as light as he could. "So you have nothing to worry about."

Hermione's eyes grew even brighter at his words, and when she spoke, Ron could practically hear the tears she was desperately holding back. "You can't say that, Ron. You can't make promises or assurances this time. Everything is so much different now, and there's no way we can know for sure what's going to happen."

"Well, you're right about that," he reasoned, leaning forward onto his knees so she could see his face more clearly. "But the way I see it, we have two options. One, we can give up before we even start trying, thinking about how we're going to fail and how much we stand to lose." Hermione's brow scrunched up and she looked as if she was about to say something, but he pressed on. "Or two, we can go into this with a little bit of confidence and do the bloody job right so we won't ever have to worry about any of this again."

Hermione began shaking her head, as if she didn't quite believe him. "I don't think it's that simple," she said in a quavering voice.

"Of course it's not, but what other choice do we have?" Ron argued, a blazing look crossing his features.

Hermione's eyes glistened still, but Ron saw that she was beginning to take up his challenge instead of dwelling on the uncertainties. "We have no choices here, and that's what's so infuriating. All of our choices have been taken away from us." she retorted, uncurling her legs finally and leaning toward him as he had just done.

"Of course you have a choice, Hermione. You can choose to stay behind, to return to the school if it opens, to –"

"That's not a choice for me!" she snapped. "If you two go, I'm going. I can't lose either of you!"

"I told you, we're not going any-"

"You can't say that!" she practically shrieked now, leaning so far forward that their knees were barely touching. "You almost died this year, and we were fighting, just like we are now, and it was the most terrified I've ever been in my life!"

Her words hit him with the force of a bludger, making him feel incredibly warm throughout every fiber of his body. She looked as if she was torn between wanting to burst into tears and throttling him with her own two hands, but he didn't spend too much time thinking about how nice it would have been to perish with her fingers wrapped around his neck. He was too busy reeling from the realization that she wouldn't have been so scared for him if she didn't care about him, at least a little bit.

"It was?" he asked, before he could stop himself. If Voldemort himself had appeared right in front of him, he didn't think he'd be able to tear his eyes off of her lovely, now very confused face.

"Well…of course…I mean, you almost died…" she stammered, repeating herself as if it was necessary, or as if he may not have been clear on things the first time. But he'd been clear. He'd been very clear.

She averted her eyes and began inching back on the chair, away from him, and he sprang into action before he knew it. His hand shot out and took hold of her arm, just above her elbow, halting her retreat. Her gaze fixed on his hand as if it was burning her skin, but he didn't remove it.

"I didn't, though," he said, feeling as if his voice was coming from somewhere very far away. It sounded distorted and odd, and he cleared his throat hoping to regain some semblance of normalcy. "I'm alright, see?"

She sighed, expelling the breath from her lungs slowly. "I know, but that doesn't mean it wasn't scary at the time. One minute, you and I were barely speaking to each other, and the next, Harry's running up to me in the corridors telling me that you'd been poisoned and had lost consciousness," she said, shuddering slightly under his touch at the recalled memory. "I was so scared you'd die that night, without giving me a chance to apologize for being such a horrible friend to you all year."

Of all the shocking and surprising things she'd ever said to him, this had them all beat. "What?" he asked, his brow furrowing in confusion. "What are you on about? If anything, it's me that should be apologizing to you."

"What for?" she asked, now trying to extract herself from his grasp in small movements. "All you did was find a girlfriend. I should have been more supportive of your relationship. After all, I was happy for Ginny and Harry when they got together…"

"It's a completely different thing," he blurted out, interrupting both her comment and her attempts to move away from him.

He supposed his words must have halted her more than his grip, however, because he wasn't holding her all that tightly. Her gaze came up to meet his, and for the first time since their conversation had started, he realized just how close they were sitting. He could see the gold flecks in her dark eyes and the tiniest sprinkling of small freckles across the bridge of her nose.

"How so?" she asked, her voice sounding a bit breathless.

He opened his mouth to respond, but found that the words wouldn't come. He closed his mouth promptly so as not to imitate a gaping fish and finally took his hand off her elbow.

"I just mean, well…I was the one who acted like such a complete git to you after you invited me to the – but I had to go and mess it all up, and then I guess I just got a bit caught up in having someone around who…that is to say –" he muttered quickly, not really knowing how to tell her he'd made the worst mistake of his young life by taking up with Lavendar.

Hermione's eyes were now focused solidly on the carpet in between their feet. "In any case, I felt horrible about things, and it killed me that you could die without knowing how I…I regretted all the time we wasted being mad at each other all year," she replied, her tone so quiet that he almost had to strain to hear her.

This time, when the silence overtook both of them, it was neither uncomfortable nor unpleasant. In a way, Ron felt that it was almost needed. They hadn't talked about last year's complications at all this summer, and although they seemed well past it in some ways, the air finally seemed somewhat clear between them now.

Ron felt better than he had in weeks. He never realized how much he needed Hermione until she removed herself from him. She brought a sense of balance to him that he didn't even know was missing when she wasn't around. All he ever knew was that he couldn't quite function properly unless she was right there keeping him grounded.

"I regret a lot of things about last year, too" he offered finally, staring down at his hands dangling between his knees. He began fiddling with his watch band. "I would have done so many things differently if I could."

"Like what?" Hermione asked softly.

He shrugged, not knowing exactly how to phrase it where he didn't come off as a lovesick schoolboy. Which, ironically, he had been, he thought to himself.

"I don't know specifically, just, you know…stuff," he said, grimacing inwardly at his own cowardice. How hard could it be, really, to tell her he would have liked to have gone to the party with her, as they'd originally planned? How he'd blown it by completely losing it when he heard she'd snogged Krum? How every time he snogged Lavendar he was thinking of her instead?

When he finally found enough courage to look at her again, he found her eyes already on him. She was studying him with a practiced look she reserved strictly for him, and although he found her ability to see into his thoughts so bloody annoying, it excited him all the same. She never looked at anyone else that way. Not even Harry.

"Yes," she said slowly. "Stuff can be very regrettable."

Their eyes held each other's steadily for a long moment, in which Ron could almost hear the gaps filling themselves in. Things began to shift into place slowly, methodically, as if piecing together a particularly trying puzzle.

"I'm glad we're not fighting anymore," she continued after some time in a quiet voice.

"Me too."

Just then, a loud crash sounded above their heads, and they instantly sprang to their feet. Ron grabbed up his wand, quickly following Hermione to the foot of the stairs.

Before they'd reached the second step, though, they heard Harry curse out loud, growling about the ruddy book Ron hated so much.

All the tension seeped out of Ron's body slowly as he propped himself against the wall. Hermione leaned against the opposite railing, her face white and her eyes wide with full alertness.

"We really should put a Muffliato spell on his room, don't you think?" Ron asked, pocketing his wand carefully.

Hermione shook her head, although she looked to be in full agreement. "We've discussed this before. What if something really was to happen in the middle of the night? We need to be prepared for anything."

Ron nodded, running a hand through his hair. "I know, I know…it's just, it would be nice to get a good night's sleep for a change."

Hermione gave him a look that hovered somewhere between disapproval and wistfulness.

They stood on the same step, barely inches from each other, and neither of them made a decisive move to be the first to retire upstairs. Hermione's toes disappeared under the hem of her robes, and although the action was completely innocent and normal, Ron's pulse began to speed up crazily.

"I suppose I should turn in," she said, a bit of color rushing to her cheeks. "Best to get our rest while we still can."

"Yeah, I think I'll turn in, too," he said. Then, he remembered the fire in the grate and pulled out his wand again. "Don't want to burn the house down," he explained as he flicked his wand at the grate and extinguished the flames.

Even in the new darkness of the room, he could see the outline of her face. It really didn't matter anyway, seeing as how he could recall, with perfect clarity, every inch of her.

"Well, goodnight then," she said softly, ducking her head and moving past him on the stairs.

"G'night, Hermione," he said, equally as soft, watching the shadow of her body blend slowly into the darkness.

It was only after he heard her door shut that he realized he'd performed wandless magic competently for the first time ever just now. He smiled to himself as he climbed the stairs, marveling in how Hermione managed to make all things possible, simply by standing beside him.

All of the other stuff could wait. As much as he hated the idea of continuing to hide all of the things he felt for her behind the shield of friendship, he would do it because it was the right thing to do. They needed each other way too much to let anything else get in the way. The more he thought about it, the more he realized it was enough.

For now.

Well, there you have it. Chapter One of the new story. I have many ideas for this one, and the next installment will be after a year of them looking for Horcruxes. Don't know when it will be out, though. Quite a busy schedule this week. As always, thanks for reading and giving of your time. Hope you liked it.