It was almost expected. They didn't know the exact date. They didn't know for a fact that they would be standing in front of his grave when he was still young and could have had a bright future. There was a chance that he might have come back from the brink of hostile insanity. Insanity was a harsh word... Perhaps obsession was better. They watched him as he fell farther and farther into his pit. Of despair, of grief, of regret and pain. Nobody could pull him out. Nobody alive anyway. She was the source of it all and there was nothing to be done about it. He was fueled by her death to defeat all the darkness in the world and perhaps in some way, her death was good. It had brought about good, anyway. But nobody dared say that, or even think that, in his presence. They weren't even allowed to say her name, not unless they wanted the whole house brought down on their heads. And the look in his eyes when he heard it spoken from anybody's mouth, it was pure rage. There was a constant deep, overwhelming despair in his eyes, but it was shielded by his sheer hostility with anybody who dared say her name near him.
Ron stared down at Harry's headstone with a mixture of relief and loss. Perhaps now Harry wasn't so tragically haunted. Maybe now he had some time to breathe, to relax, to just be. He had spent the first eleven of his years stuck with a family that treated him like a slave, never showing him what love was. They beat him, both mentally and physically, and he only knew the inside of a cupboard beneath the stairs as his home. So finding out that he was a wizard, the most famous of his time to be sure, was something of a dream for Harry. And Ron was more than happy to be his friend. Not just because he was famous and had that lightning bolt scar that proved it, but because he was Harry. Harry who enjoyed Quidditch, who didn't think he was the dumbest bloke around, and who seemed to enjoy his company just as much. They were brothers in some unwritten way, and he relished in that. Sure there were moments of selfish jealousy on both their parts, Ron because he wanted fame, Harry because he wanted family, but they were best friends until the very end.
Harry's dream life soon became a nightmare, one that he couldn't wake up from. Ron sometimes wondered if maybe that was the price Harry had to pay to have a life of fame. He could never be normal, he was too well known to ever have normalcy. The most regular thing Harry had was hanging around with Ron and playing Quidditch, or being nagged by Hermione to finish his homework. Other than that, it was all about The Harry Potter and all that he encompassed, and after awhile it wore Harry out. Maybe it was the insanity accusations or the attempts on his life, either way, Harry didn't really want to be The Harry Potter any more. Ron didn't really understand it sometimes, because it was something he'd always wanted, always strived for, but there were moments when it was quite clear.
The Final Battle had been gruesome to say the least. Ron was never all that eloquent with words, so he couldn't exactly explain the horrors he was met with. If she was alive, she'd probably say something wise and penetrating, something that really made people think. Something purely her. Because she was brilliant and exceptional. Because she was the brightest witch of her age. Hell, brightest witch since Rowena Ravenclaw. And maybe Ron was biased, maybe he was embellishing just a bit, but he had seen Hermione's intelligence first hand, and he was quite sure there was nothing else like it.
It wasn't so long ago that they were a trio. The trio, really. The golden three. The heroes and heroine of Hogwarts and the Wizarding world combined. Their names were known world wide, their faces were recognizable to all, legends and stories were made to sustain their very lives. And maybe at one time, Ron would have relished in the fact. But standing where he was, looking down on two headstones, he was stripped of any pride in his position. It was saving the Wizarding world that took two-thirds of the trio. Different times, different killers, different circumstances, but they were both dead and nothing could change that. And maybe that made the legends all the more incredible. A tragic love story to add to the adventure of bravery and courage. Ron couldn't stand to hear them talk about it. None of them knew how it really was. They didn't know Hermione and Harry like he did, like his family and friends did. They had a figment of imagination to grow on, a story to embellish. The Harry Potter and Hermione Granger. Brightest witch, most powerful wizard, desperately in love, die saving us all. It was true, sure, but there was so much more to it than that. So much more...
Ron remembered when he realized they were together. He remembered thinking he'd lost out to Harry again. That Hermione was just one more thing Harry would get and he couldn't. It took awhile for him to recognize the fact that Hermione and him never would have worked out. They were all bluster and fighting and anger and misconceptions. They bumped heads on the smallest of issues, let alone the big ones, and they had nothing but fight between them, which had been mistaken for romantic tension. And it was hard not to see how Hermione and Harry seemed to fit together, like two halves that had always been just inches from finally connecting. The end of the story that was waiting to be written until somebody finally picked up the quill. Ron had seen it long ago, he just preferred not to acknowledge it. The way they spoke without words, or fought about things that were so much more important, or how they feared for each other on a level higher than the rest of the world. It was always there, just waiting to be noticed.
If the rest of Grimmauld place thought it odd or hadn't expected it, they were good at hiding it. He knew Harry and Hermione had been spending their nights together. Harry had taken a room to his self after they moved back into Grimmauld place, saying he needed the space. They had returned after months of searching out Horcruxes and living out of dingy motel rooms, all sharing one room to save money and keep watch over each other. Sleeping in three distinct time slots, so that at least one of them would be wide awake and ready should a Death Eater or Voldemort himself appear to do them in. There had been a few close calls when their trail had been picked up, but they always managed through. And some time near the beginning of spring, they had destroyed all of them. It was a shock to the system, knowing they were just steps away from the Final Battle. That they had completed the mission they had set out to do so long ago, and yet just yesterday it seemed they were sneaking out the window of Harry and Ron's shared bedroom. And the next thing they knew, they were walking into the Burrow, to be greeted by shouting and tears and hugging. An overwhelming thing to be sure, when they had gotten so used to having nobody but each other.
Sometimes, while they were out on their mission, Ron would see them together. The close proximity they kept that was so unlike how he was with Hermione. While hunting for the Horcruxes, Harry and Hermione seemed to have their own way of communicating with their eyes. They were always pulling each other back from things, or sticking close to each other as they walked through dangerous and unknown territory. Ron picked up on little things between them, the way Hermione pushed food on Harry, and he'd take it if he saw it came from her, but scowl if a waitress would kid with him about the food or if Ron mentioned he should get eating. It was hard not to notice that Hermione was the only one who could talk him down from one of his pity sessions or brooding days. She seemed to balance him out, while he gave her a purpose. They worked.
When it was his night shift, he noticed how they shared the bed so effortlessly. The blanket spread across them evenly, their bodies curling around one another in a way that was intimate and yet somehow innocent. Harry often held her in his sleep, his arm wrapped tight around her waist, hand pressed against her stomach. Some nights though, he'd lay on his back, his arms crossed over his chest. Most of those nights, he'd suffer from painful nightmares. But before they could get far, Hermione would roll right over, still mostly asleep, and she'd wrap herself around him and stroke his hair, while whispering 'shhh' in a soft, slurred, tired voice. And he'd calm down, pull her closer and fall into a peaceful slumber. Ron never had those nights with Hermione and certainly never with Harry. They kept to their respective sides and their arms stayed far away from each other. He often wondered how she'd react if he tried to hold her like Harry did and every time he imagined it, he ended up on the floor with nothing but a hard, stiff pillow and a stinging cheek.
When they returned to Grimmauld, he became accustomed to hearing Hermione sneak out of the room she still shared with Ginny to make her way over to Harry's. The first few times she knocked softly, but then she just walked right in. Ron placated himself for awhile, thinking it was just the lack of body beside her that kept her awake and in need of Harry. But it was obvious after awhile that they weren't going to each other for the comfort of having someone laying there, though that probably factored in after. It was the middle of the night when Ron stumbled out of his room, rubbing his eyes and trying to find his way to the stairs. He was thirsty and couldn't get the memory of his mum's chocolate cake out of his head. Licking his lips, he rubbed his hands together in anticipation and not just a little bit against the chill of the house. He was almost down the first step when he heard the first noise.
Grunting and panting, quite distinct in the quiet of the house. Moaning followed and groans of pleasure permeated the air. The movement of sheets being kicked off or blankets being moved around rustled the silence. A small, feminine giggle that he knew well, a deep, friendly laugh that he was well acquainted with. More panting, more moaning, and then a cry of Harry's name, a drawn out groan of Hermione's. Ron was stuck in place, his mouth dry, his brows raised, his body tensed. He'd entertained the thought of them becoming intimate, though it sat funny in his stomach. It wasn't much like Hermione to be sneaking off to a boy's room late at night, every night. It was too intimate, too big to be nothing. And Ron was irrationally angry with them at first. He could feel his skin become as red as his hair, if not darker. Forgetting chocolate cake and cold milk, he made his way back to his room to grumpily try to get to sleep, hoping it was all a dark nightmare.
The next morning he half-expected them to come skipping in, their entwined hands waving between them, but he didn't see anything like that. That would have been too flashy, too obvious, too unlike Harry and Hermione. Instead, while he sat moodily eating his breakfast, stuffing bread in his mouth when he heard her soft voice approaching the door, he glowered up to see them walk in, hands kept to themselves. Harry followed her to the counter as she served them up a couple cups of tea. Ron watched as Harry's palm moved to rest on the small of her back as he whispered something to her while she poured. She turned to him, smiling, their noses almost brushing, but didn't say anything. Her eyes were glittering with amusement and, much to Ron's chagrin, love. He wondered if it had been going on awhile, or if had been the first time last night. Had he not noticed the little intimate touches between them this long?
As they walked back to the table, they kept stealing glances at each other, the backs of their hands brushing, fingers flicking out to touch the other briefly. They took seats next to each and a little farther away from the rest of the inhabitants of the house. Ron looked around to see if anybody else had noticed, but was greeted with Fred and George whispering conspiratorially, not seeming to have seen anything out of the ordinary. Bill and Fleur were at the end of the table, behaving much like a newly married couple would, which Ron simply rolled his eyes at. His brother Charlie was off to the side, sipping a cup of tea and reading some of his post with furrowed brows. His mum and dad were talking over by the stove, a grave matter apparently, as neither of them looked happy. And Ginny was eating her breakfast, occasionally tossing a curious look over to Harry and Hermione, but not saying anything. Ron wondered if she'd seen it, heard it, or noticed anything late at night when Hermione snuck out, but knew better than to ask.
And so it went, every day with the small intimacies between them but no real acknowledgment to the rest of the house. Ron woke up numerous times to hear them down the hall and considered shouting at them to put up a silencing charm but flushed when he realized he'd have to admit that he knew about them, could hear them. One angry night, he decided he'd had enough and he stomped out there to tell them off. For lying to him every day, for never thinking of him when they disregarded the trio and played duo at night, for never letting him have his chance with Hermione. He was always the side kick, never the hero. The hero got the girl and Ron was stuck tossing and turning in bed, grumbling over the fact that he was alone and it seemed his best friends didn't need him anymore.
He was halfway down the hall, his face curled with anger, when he stopped dead in his tracks. His mother was standing at the top of the stairs, twisting her nightgown in her hands and frowning sadly. She seemed stuck between wanting to stop it from happening and just pretending she didn't know anything about it. When she looked over to him, she sighed. She motioned for him to follow her downstairs and with a resigned nod, he sluggishly made his way down the stairs. He wasn't too far away that he didn't hear Harry call out Hermione's name, a rare openness to the sound. Like he was baring his soul with that one word and Ron's frown dissipated just a little. He followed his mum into the kitchen and slumped into a chair as she moved to pour them a cup of tea. He waited uncomfortably, hoping she wasn't going to turn around and tell him that he should wait for marriage and that sex was bad and evil. He didn't need the talk. He wasn't the one upstairs tangled with a pretty girl in his bed. Unfortunately.
His mum let out a soft sigh as she placed the steaming cup in front of Ron and sat down, her mouth tight with worry. "How long have you known?" his mum wondered, glancing up at him.
"Awhile," Ron replied, shrugging as he squirmed in his seat. "Found out a few weeks ago. Knew she was going to sleep with him at night, but I didn't know they were..." he trailed off, flushing brightly.
She simply nodded, sipping her tea. "Your father thinks I should leave it alone. They're adults now, by Wizarding laws. They..." She shook her head, frowning. "They know what they're doing and they have a lot to deal with, so..." She exhaled heavily, looking as though some part of her had been lost. "I suppose I never really remember how old you all are, or how much you've seen and done." She closed her eyes, pressing a hand to her mouth.
Ron squirmed, not sure what to say to placate her. "Ya still got Ginny, mum. She's still pretty young."
"Only a year below you, Ron," his mum replied, chuckling lightly. "And she's not like other sixteen year olds either." Her face became dark, sad and understanding. "Voldemort has taken the innocence of so many," she murmured, her hands shaking as she lifted her tea. She turned to him, frowning. "You're not a little boy anymore, Ron. And neither is Harry," she added, nodding. "I'd like to think that one day you're all going to revert to how you were that first day I sent you off to Hogwarts. So young, so bright, so... unblemished," she said with soft reminiscence. "But that's lost now, dear. You'll never be those people again. Perhaps that's a good thing. Maybe I should learn to know the people you are now before I start wishing you were those eleven year old replicas." She sighed, her shoulders slumping. Her eyes lifted, staring at Ron, and she asked him the one question he'd been avoiding all along. "I just want the best for you all, Ronald. Do you know... Do they love each other?" She stared at him patiently, waiting for him to reassure her that while they may be seventeen, young, and heavy with too much responsibility, the two people she thought of as her adoptive children, were not simply reacting to hormones.
And Ron sat, ready to tell her that no, Harry and Hermione were just two friends who found solace with each other once in awhile. But, he couldn't. He still remembered how Harry and Hermione had looked at each other that morning. How they kept trying to touch each other, even the smallest bit of contact. How they finished each other's thoughts, understanding each other in a way Ron could never know or learn. How they got each other. "Yeah, mum," he replied, nodding sagely. "Harry and Hermione love each other a lot."
She nodded, a slow smile appearing then. "Okay," she said, quietly. She sipped her tea then and reached out to pat his hand in her motherly manner. "If this world could use a little more of anything, Ron, it's love. I don't know two people who ever worked harder for a cause." She smiled at him sadly, knowing that he was hurting, too. "You're a great friend, Ron. A wonderful son, and an incredible person. Harry got this girl, but that doesn't mean there isn't one for you. Maybe..." she smiled, staring at him in a knowing way, "maybe this assurance that you were going to be with Hermione sort of blinded you to other possibilities, yeah?" she asked, in that way that meant she knew something he didn't. Before he could reply, she stood up. "Don't penalize them for not telling you, Ron. Harry's whole life has been known by everybody before him all along. Almost everyone he's ever loved has been taken. And Everything he knows, he knows a moment too late. Let him have this, have her, just to himself for as long as he possibly can," she told him, before walking out of the kitchen, leaving her son to ponder her words.
And Ron hated to admit that maybe she was right, maybe he was being just a little bit selfish. So he stopped blocking out that infuriating voice that told him why Harry and Hermione made a good couple, why they were right with each other. He listened as a voice that sounded suspiciously like loony Luna Lovegood's informed him of all the reasons Harry and Hermione made a better couple than she and Ron ever could. He gave in to the dreamy voice that reminded him he didn't much care for books or studying. That he didn't like it when Hermione was bossy and how he constantly considered her a know-it-all. And he accepted the fact that Hermione smiled more when Harry was around, that Harry didn't seem so empty with her beside him. Ron finally gave in to the idea that his best friends were in love and that they fit.
His mother was right, too. There were no two other people that had worked harder for a cause. Not that he knew, anyway. If he were to mention it to Hermione, he had no doubt she'd list numerous people who had worked for the welfare of others. She wasn't all that great with praise and she knew so much about everything, that she would never be able to accept the idea that perhaps she was a hero herself. That one day a book would be written about her, and it'd paint her in the light of all the people she read about. Heroes and heroines, those witches and wizards that thought little of themselves and more about others. Because Harry may have been thinking of how his life would be better without Voldemort, about how he could finally have some space, but he was doing it for everybody else, too. The truth of it was, if Harry didn't want to save the rest of them, he could have disappeared long ago. He could have packed up and left it all behind. But he had too much heart, too much courage to just leave them all to suffer. And Hermione was a bleeding heart through and through, she couldn't leave anybody behind. Harry was the courage while Hermione was the brains, and together they'd save the world. It was only right that in doing so, they deserved a little peace themselves.
Harry had always deserved love, had always wanted to be loved. He had searched for it through various people. Be them mentors, girlfriends, or friends. And while he had a family in the Weasley's, and mentors in Dumbledore and Lupin, he'd never really found that all encompassing love that he wanted. The kind of love his parents had for each other, and that he'd dreamed of having for himself. Ron wasn't sure when it was that Harry opened his eyes to see that Hermione was the girl he'd always been looking for. That she was smart and beautiful, in her own frazzled way, and that she would lay her life down for his without a second thought. But he knew that Harry knew it now. It was obvious that he had found what he was always looking for, evidenced in the way he looked at Hermione now. Ron frowned at first, found himself sighing when he caught his best friend's lovesick staring at the bookworm of their trio, but then he saw it for what it was. Hermione was Harry's future, his reason for fighting, for living, for facing each day.
There were so many moments where Ron honestly worried that Harry might just give up. He'd lost so many already, he'd sacrificed himself day in and day out for the cause. A cause that he had no real choice over, one he was prophecized to deal with. It wasn't up to him, whether he believed he could or wanted to. He had to. It was him or no one. Either he did it or everyone died. That was a lot to put on a boy's shoulders. A lot to put on anyone's shoulders. But Harry picked it up, and while it scared him, weighed him down every day, he didn't give in. Hermione held his hand, she kept him steady, she held the burden half on her shoulders, too. And suddenly it wasn't so lacking, so bare and unforgiving. There was a light at the end of the tunnel, a dream to look forward to.
Ron couldn't help but feel a little grateful to Hermione for being there, because he wasn't good with all that emotional stuff. He was there for Harry, he'd always be there, but he was rot at emotional connections or uplifting speeches. He was the fun and the entertainment, the one that kept them from becoming too serious. He liked his position, even if it made him look a little less in the eyes of others. Where would they be without him to keep them smiling or laughing or reminding them that every once in awhile, they could be seventeen? They'd be lost, tired and depressed in a library, surrounded by books and tearing their hair out from frustration. He had a purpose. It may not have been as big as Hermione's, maybe not as deep or worthy of telling in a legend, but Harry needed him, too.
When Harry and Hermione finally came out with their relationship, Ron was pretty sure that everybody already knew. Whether they heard their loud, intimate nightly routine or simply picked up on the little moments between them, Ron wasn't sure. He noticed Fred and George smirking to each other knowingly, but they could've been planning a prank, too. He saw Remus smiling to himself behind his Daily Prophet, but then, Ron was pretty sure he'd always thought Harry and Hermione would wind up together anyway, so that wasn't so surprising. Ron's mum doesn't even blink and his dad simply nodded at the couple in good morning. Ginny seemed to have come to some sort of revelation as she saw them, like it had all become very clear for her. Ron saw her shrug and return to her meal, and he realized he was expecting more from her. But then, maybe his sister has been considering this for awhile herself and she, like Ron, may have just come to accept that it was what it was.
Hermione and Harry paid no mind to the lack of notice to their relationship, they simply held hands and sat down to eat. They talked quietly to themselves, smiling and laughing softly, all in their own little world. And for a moment, jealousy reared its ugly head at Ron, but then his mum patted his shoulder and he was reminded that maybe there was another girl out there for him, one that didn't much care for green-eyed heroes. So he ate his breakfast and he learned to get used to it, because there wasn't not much else he could do when faced with the reality of things.
Over the next couple months, Ron was brought back into their inner sanctum a little more. They revealed that they'd been together since somewhere back when they were hunting. Ron was upset with them, a little hurt that they could keep it to themselves, but he understood. Because he was Ron, and he'd known them for over six years. By that time he'd already figured them out, already knew that they were meant for each other, that they'd belonged to each other for much longer than even they knew. Years before, back when they laughed at articles calling them lovers, they were together then, too, they just didn't know it. And he got used to the way Harry always played with her hair, or how Hermione always needed to be touching him. Whether she was holding his hand or clutching the back of his shirt, or those moments where her finger curled around one of the loops of his pants. She just needed to be close to him, to know he was still there in some way. Ron barely noticed anymore how often they kissed, or the way Harry seemed to draw Hermione away from things at random intervals, because he needed to be alone with her, even for a few moments. It rolled off his back after awhile, the way they seemed so gentle with each other, so separate from everyone else and yet unequivocally together with each other.
They became one identity to the others. "HarryandHermione," as if they'd become joined by some force and it couldn't be undone. And Ron got used to it, too, even began to think of them as one sometimes. He wasn't losing two friends, he was gaining a whole. He still played chess with Harry, and Quidditch when the other adults were sure that there was no danger. He still bickered with Hermione and avoided as much research and reading as he could. But they were together, and they weren't falling apart like he thought they would. They were still the trio, because even if Harry and Hermione were one identity now, they were still two different people. They might become extra worried if one went out for awhile and didn't return at the exact time they said they would, they might constantly talk about the other if one wasn't there, but they had their own lives, too.
Harry still enjoyed spending time with the twins, planning pranks or talking about their business. He still liked discussing Quidditch and getting a butterbeer with friends. He was up for it when the twins suggested Firewhiskey and getting smashed for the hell of it. And he smiled all through Hermione's lecture, buzzed from the alcohol and telling her she was beautiful when she was angry. And Hermione still enjoyed her books, taking time out to herself just to read and enjoy, in her weird bookish ways, the history of other wizards and magic itself. She still took time to hang out with just Ginny and talk about boys or makeup or whatever it was girls talked about. So Ron wasn't always stuck with the one identity known as HarryandHermione. He sometimes got just Harry, or just Hermione, and he enjoyed whatever he got. They weren't the perfect couple. They had a few fights, too. They'd shout and yell and be furious with each other for hours and once even a few days. But they'd always come back to each other, apologize and talk it out. Perhaps that was another thing that proved Hermione and Ron wouldn't have made it. When Ron and her bickered there was no real sincere apologies, it was all show. It was to end the feuding and simply move on. But with Harry and Hermione, they had honestly thought it out and wanted to figure out the problem so they could understand each other. And then they were right back at it again. Back to the touching and the holding, sharing a bed together and not even going through the pretense of Hermione going to Ginny's room first. Back to the kissing in every crevice of the house, of the reading together while cuddled up in armchairs, and quietly talking in whispers so they had only each other to communicate with and no outside world to interrupt.
It wasn't so bad when Luna came to visit and Ron found himself somebody else to occupy his time. Without his interest in Hermione to draw his attention away, he found Luna was rather fascinating, in a crazy, oddly wise way. She wasn't half-bad at chess either, which was continually interesting. He'd always remember what she said when she first noticed Hermione and Harry were a couple. She sighed softly, smiling at him in that dreamy way, and said, "The stars never lie." Then she nodded at him, moved her piece and said, "Checkmate, Ronald. Now, how about a butterbeer to console your shattered pride?" He agreed, his eyes still on the board, trying to remember what it was she did and how she managed to win. She drug him off before he could think on it much, and he caught his mother's knowing look as they sat down for a butterbeer at the kitchen table.
Before they knew it, the end of a school year at Hogwarts was approaching. Or it would have been, had the school not been shut down for the year. Too many parents were worried about their children's safety and so McGonagall simply canceled school until further notice, which really meant until Harry defeated Voldemort. Everybody could feel it coming, the War was on the brink of breaking out, and Ron could see the occupants of Grimmauld place all feeling the itch of the impending maelstrom of ends.
The adults could almost always be found talking in the kitchen, discussing strategy or attacks. The Daily Prophet was always being scoured for information and everybody's eyes seemed a little more open, their attention always on edge. There was likely a lot the adults were keeping to themselves, somehow thinking they were sparing Harry, Hermione, him and Ginny, but he couldn't help thinking they were just scared about making it real. To say Voldemort's name still made them jump, to admit that Harry would be facing Voldemort once and for all was like something from a nightmare never survived. But no matter how hard they tried to hide, to pretend it wasn't coming, it was. They didn't know when, there wasn't a formal date written in stone somewhere. They were just waiting for somebody to tell them, "Voldemort is waiting," or something to that extent. "It's time to fight." They weren't about to walk into it blindly, of course. Hermione was researching defensive spells, teaching them to him and Ginny whenever she could. Ron was pretty sure that sometimes, late at night, when they weren't cuddled up in their bed, Harry and Hermione were sparring or readying themselves. He somehow couldn't imagine Hermione not teaching Harry all that she knew when time seemed so little and thinning.
The adults, though they never admitted war was coming, took part in training them everyday. Ron found himself even more in awe of Bill when his brother began training him in defense and movement. His brother was big, strong, and smart, so Ron couldn't help but wish he was more like him. But Bill could be ferocious when he needed to, and his scars made him that little bit more edgy. Ron listened to his every word, hanging off of it better than he had any of his professors during Hogwarts. Bill didn't let up until he was sure that Ron knew what he was doing, that he wasn't sending his little brother out unequipped, and Ron walked away a little more proud of himself, and with renewed pride in his brother.
Remus picked up his professor persona and taught them all they need to know in Defense of the Dark Arts, and Ron was almost sure that within a couple months, he could be a DADA professor himself. He could take the exams that Hermione still worried about, even though they weren't in school, and feel confident that he'd do well, which was a first for him. Tonks joined in the classes sometimes, though Ron was sure it was because she enjoyed watching Remus in his teaching position. She'd ask questions on occasion, sometimes knocking things over when she threw her hand up, even though she could've just interrupted him, like Ron was apt to do. The metamorphmagus and the werewolf weren't the most obvious couple, but Ron found himself rolling his eyes on occasion as they flirted while Remus was supposed to be teaching them about a dark creature or spell. They usually tried to act professional, but Ron had found them snogging in the study once, which he took great pleasure in bringing up, given that in her shock, Tonks had jumped up, bumped her head into Remus', knocked over a bookshelf, and tore down a curtain. He found himself in hysterics every time he visualized it, though he did try and forget the mental image of Remus kissing.
Moody took pleasure in appearing out of nowhere and scaring them half to death with his loud cries of, "CONSTANT VIGILANCE!" Ron laughed for ten minutes when Harry nearly took the old man out, blasting his magical eye right off his face. Instead of being angry, Moody let out a gruff, grating laugh, smashed Harry's shoulder happily and hobbled off, using his wand to fix his magical eye. He taught them, from his long experience, how to defend themselves in the worst of situations. Ron enjoyed some of his stories from his earlier Auror days, though they were grim and bloody. Hermione often looked queasy when Moody spoke of those days, but she never excused herself. Ron got the feeling she was trying to prepare herself for what she might see or hear in the last battle. For Harry's part, he often looked pensive, as if he was trying to imagine it all. Maybe to prepare, or perhaps he was already beating himself up over the loss of lives that hadn't come to be yet.
The twins weren't about to be left out either, modifying experiments and spells to use in the battle. Hermione commended them on their brilliance, looking a little jealous, and Ron couldn't help but think the Weasley family was worth more than what they were portrayed as. His brothers weren't book smart like Hermione, and they couldn't spout off the oddest, though usually useful, information there was, but they could pull a prank like no other, they could create things only a genius could, and they were brilliant inventors by trade. Worthy of being looked up to, brave enough to walk into the fight with their heads held high, and filled with enough humor to keep the darkest moments from swallowing everyone whole, Fred and George were already heroes.
By the time the Last Battle hit, Ron was pretty sure that they were going to win. He remembered Harry telling him that he was supposed to have a power Voldemort knew not and that Dumbledore assured him it was love. Seeing Hermione and Harry together, Ron was almost completely sure that Voldemort didn't stand a chance. So he stepped out onto the grounds of Hogwarts with his head held high, his pride swelling in his chest and his courage clearly written on his face. He saw Hermione on the other side of Harry, her hand wrapped around the end of his shirt, just trying to keep some part of him near her. And Harry was staring out, his expression resolute and ready. They'd trained for this. Hard and unforgiving. With charms, hexes, Unforgiveables, and everything they can think of. They learned how to defend themselves when spells were aimed their way, to duck low and move quickly, to keep their heads in bad situations, to ignore obstacles meant to distract and keep a level and concise mind. They were as ready as they'd ever be.
They'd got a world of good behind them. Witches and wizards with their wands drawn tight in their hands and thinly veiled fear on their faces. They had professors and students, shop keepers and Aurors, friends and acquaintances standing behind them. And people would die. Many would die. But Ron was sure that when it was all over, he'd still be in a trio. He'd walk away with his two best friends, and things would be grim, but they'd have each other. And when he glanced at his family, all red hair and blinding courage, he was almost completely certain that he wouldn't lose one of them. Because they were Weasley's, and Weasley's are strong, smart, and brave. All of them were Gryffindor's, after all, and they believed in the just cause of freedom and equality. If they did die, they would go bravely into the night, and they'd take down their share and then some.
"For Cedric," Neville said near them, his tone level.
"For the Longbottoms," Ginny declared, lifting her chin.
"For Sirius," Hermione added, her eyes staring out over the vast area as the Death Eaters approached in the distance.
"For Dumbledore," Ron put in, drawing in a steadying breath and squaring his shoulders.
"For my parents," Harry finished, his wand raising and his face hardening.
They were children once. The five of them. They sat in classrooms, they chuckled and talked about little things like Quidditch and school work. They walked down hallways to classes, did their assignments and spent their afternoons goofing off or hanging out. They enjoyed feasts in the Great Hall, where students and professors discussed a new year, a world of possibilities. They had futures once. Where dark lords had no bearing and the Wizarding world looked bright and open. They could have been anything once. Shop keepers, Aurors, Ministry officials, professors, Dragon Tamers, Curse Breakers, anything. But now they were going to war. Just seventeen and eighteen, the five of them were running to kill or die. To live or fall. They were children once, but they weren't any longer. They were soldiers on a battlefield. A battlefield that had once been the grounds of a school full of bright futures and broad minds. That was once, but this was not then, it was the end of things. Of what, they could only hope.
And they ran across that field, meeting death and destruction head on. The space between them, the air and sky, was filled with colour. Such bright colours that made up death and loss, victory and doom. Death Eaters, hiding away in their black garb and silver masks rushed them, wands drawn and evil permeating from them. And voices rose up to the heavens, cursing one another, killing each other, fighting for their cause. Ron was shoved, hexed, thrown, and harmed from every angle, but he pushed through and he fought and he never once thought of lying down and waiting for the feet to pummel him to death. He could see Hermione's busy hair and hear her precise voice as it shouted various spells, to save her, to save others, to keep the world as they knew it on its axis. Ron caught Harry as he pushed through the crowd, his deep, familiar voice moving obstacles from his way, bringing him closer and closer to his rival.
The crowd around Ron thinned out so it was easier to move and he didn't have to worry so much about his arm being stuck behind others as he tried to defend himself. He knew what it meant though, when there was a little more space to move. It meant the ground was now littered with bodies. People he knew, people he had to literally step on to keep moving and fighting. He found himself in a circling fight with a Death Eater, one who seemed shorter than most of the others. And the sneering voice of his opponent had him shaking his head and spitting his name, "Malfoy!"
"How goes it, Weasel?" Draco replied, laughingly. "Is that your mother back there, being cursed right now?" he wondered mockingly.
Ron ignored the terrifying need to look back just in case, remembering Moody's words, "CONSTANT VIGILANCE!" which he at first thought was in his head, but then realized the old, gruff man was shouting it as he battled with a group of Death Eaters, Kingsley at his back, covering him.
"I dunno, is she standing on top of your mother?" Ron instead replied, smirking as he noticed Draco's shoulders stiffen and his body stand a little straighter.
Draco pulled his mask off, obviously giving up on any pretenses of who he may or may not be for others. He smirked at Ron, his wand slowly raising. "Don't worry, Weasel, it'll be quick. That way, you don't have to witness Potter's demise. Although, it would be amusing to see your tearful face as he fell," he said maliciously.
Ron sighed, "You talk too much, Malfoy," he said, before shouting a hurling hex at the platinum haired boy. While he flew through the air, Ron aimed a binding spell at him, making sure he would be properly tied up and unable to get loose. A stunner followed and he hurried across to get to the prone boy where he landed. Using a hovering charm, he moved him to hide him in some bushes, just to be sure that another fellow Death Eater wouldn't revive him. Smirking down in victory, he kicked Malfoy in the gut before he ran back off to the field to continue fighting.
As he scanned the area, he was reassured seeing that they were beginning to outnumber the Death Eaters. They were gaining ground quickly, though the field seemed to be made up of fallen witches and wizards by now. In the far distance, Ron could see Harry standing before Voldemort, his wand raised. Even from so far away, Ron gulped. The man known as Voldemort, or Tom Marvolo Riddle, was a terrifying sight. He wasn't even really a man, if Ron wanted to be correct in defining him. He looked like part lizard, with the shape of a man and the face of a creature. His head was completely bald and red beady eyes stuck out of his snake-like face. Ron quickly shook himself out of his stupor and made his way back into the thick of things, needing to clear the way to victory outside of Voldemort. He looked around, searching for Hermione. He could have sworn he'd seen her thick hair pass by his vision not long ago.
He was quickly distracted by a Death Eater, which was much harder to battle than Draco had been. He found himself panting and sweating as he managed to get out of the way of numerous hexes and a couple Avada's. The effort was drawing more effort than fighting back though, so he started throwing everything he could think of at the man. Unable to dodge everything, the Death Eater was promptly knocked out and left in a weird, jiggly mess, no doubt from the odd combination of a few of Ron's spells. He thanked Merlin that he had been trained by Aurors and professors. So many others, those that he jumped over and stepped on, had not been so fortunate. And maybe that was wrong in some way. They all came out to support and fight for their existence, but they weren't trained or readied, not like him. He didn't have time to ponder on what made him more important, besides the fact that he just happened to be Harry's best friend. War was still raging and he was stained with blood, his own, others, smeared and staining him. His arm ached, his cheek was sore, and his leg had a bit of a limp to it. He hadn't noticed the pain before, but now that he was slowing down, he was beginning to notice it all.
He heard his mother calling out for him and turned to see her. He feared at first that something might have happened, but when he caught sight of her, she was still safe. His dad was next to her and they walked clearly toward him, no real obstacles in sight any longer. Behind them, he could see that the Death Eater's were either retreating or being captured. The Light side did all they could to avoid killing, but judging by the field of bodies, it had been necessary numerous times. Perhaps it was luck that all the Weasley's seemed to be accounted for. Ron breathed a sigh of relief at that and turned to round up the last of the Death Eater's. He caught sight of Harry far in the distance, his face dark and angry. He seemed to be having a conversation with Voldemort, about what, Ron didn't know. Ron could tell though, that Harry had already had to dodge a few attacks, his robe was singed and his face was spattered with dirt. His mouth seemed to be bleeding, too, and if Ron really squinted, he thought Harry's glasses might just be broken. He had the oddest thought that Hermione would know how to fix them, before he turned to scan for his other best friend.
She was closer to Harry than he was, but preoccupied with a Death Eater that Ron wasn't surprised to see was Lucius Malfoy. She was holding her own well enough, but Ron still thought it was safer not to leave her alone with a man known for being cruel and tricky. He looked over his shoulder to see how his family was doing, only to find that they were off fighting against the last scattering of Death Eater's. Apparently Voldemort hadn't noticed that his following was quickly being taken under, he was too focused on Harry. Ron grinned as he noticed Voldemort lose his temper and attempt to Avada Harry, because his friend had been expecting the attack and promptly escaped it, shooting off a hurling hex as he jumped, which connected with its target nicely.
Ron turned his attention back to Hermione and his chest clenched. Bellatrix Lestrange was approaching Hermione from behind, a maniacally gleeful expression on her gaunt face. Hermione was too distracted by Lucius and the curses and hexes he kept throwing at her to pay any heed to her back or outside surroundings. Ron shouted at her, trying to gain her attention so she'd turn, but the yell died out against the sudden explosion of green coming from the right. It swallowed up a huge part of the field, lighting up the sky and catching everyone's attention. For one stark moment, Ron was terrified that when the light died away, Harry would be the one dead on the ground. He was stuck between seeing if Hermione was okay and making sure Harry had won. As the light faded away, his eyes happened to be on Harry, who was standing up, alive, his wand trained on a black mass on the ground, limp and dead. Ron's chest leaped then and he gave a loud shout of victory. His arm pumped in the air, a swell of happiness exploding inside of him. It was over. Finally! It was really over!
He turned, sure he would see Hermione smiling and possibly even running to Harry, to hug him, to congratulate him, anything. But she wasn't moving toward Harry, she was arched up, her arms pointed out from her sides as Bellatrix shot a vicious Crucio to her back. Hermione shook and quivered in the air, suspended and cursed into pain. Ron raised his wand, intending to hurl Bellatrix away, but she dropped the Cruciatus curse and turned, grinning. She wasn't looking at Ron though, she was staring at where Voldemort used to be. Her expression changed to one of sorrow and she let out a piecing cry of defeat and agony before she glared darkly at Harry and then turned swiftly back to Hermione, who was now left kneeling on the ground, panting with exhaustion and pain. Simultaneously, with equally disturbing grins, Lucius and Bellatrix shot off green curses at the girl between them.
Harry hadn't even had time to take in what was happening. Ron watched as he only took notice of Hermione and Bellatrix as the crazed woman screamed her agony over her lost Lord. Ron had been running across the field, distantly he could hear the stomping footsteps of people behind him, who he assumed were his family, or at least his allies. Harry had begun running toward Hermione as soon as he saw her position, but he wasn't quick enough to stop Lucius or Bellatrix. The Killing curses met their target and sucked the life from Hermione immediately, leaving her drained and dead, slumping to the grassy ground beneath her.
Red and green flew by Ron's vision, directed at the two murderers standing on either side of Hermione, so many he couldn't count them. Some of them collided, exploding against each other and missing the target. Others landed on the ground before Bellatrix and Lucius, but only two met them, leaving Lucius without an arm and Bellatrix thrown back a few feet as a Reducto met her shoulder. Unfortunately, the few Killing curses never made it. And Harry wasn't even attacking them, too shocked to do anything. Ron was nearly to Hermione when his eyes found Harry kneeling on the ground, his hands hanging limply by his sides, his face pale and drawn. Ron wasn't sure if he should go to his living best friend, or his dead one. It was all too much. They were supposed to walk away alive. All of them. The Golden Trio.
Ron's feet slowed until he was standing ten feet from her, his arms hanging useless by his sides. He stared down at Hermione's lifeless face, her eyes wide and coloured with a sickening green in the very center. He swallowed the bile rising in his throat. The people behind him ran past her, rushing after Malfoy and Lestrange as they fled, bleeding and injured, from the battlefield. He left it up to them, too stunned to do anything but stare down at Hermione. Her arms were laying in a funny angle, one trapped beneath her, while her legs were turned up, as if she were about to run. He wasn't sure how long he stood there, but Harry had come over to kneel beside her. Ron swallowed the building emotion in his throat and let himself fall as his knees gave out beneath him. He could do nothing but watch as Harry took in Hermione.
Harry reached out with a shaking hand, moving the soft tendrils of Hermione's hair from off her cheek. His fingers softly stroked her face as his green eyes took in all of her, searching for some falsity in her death. He turned her so she was facing him, before drawing her up into his lap, cradling her limp body against his chest and burying his face against her neck. Ron could hear his shaking sobs as he cried against her, mumbling, "No, no, not her, please, no." Ron couldn't say anything that would somehow make it better, he couldn't think of anything that would console him. Hermione was the one who dealt with emotion, she was the one who could calm Harry down. But she was dead. She was dead and nothing he did or said was going to change that. He found himself rocking, back and forth on his knees, not believing what had happened, unable to really process it. She was right there, right in front of him. He had shouted, hadn't he? For her to move, to get out of the way, to look out. And then she was arched, being Crucio'd, and he had been running, but not fast enough. He was so close and yet so far, and he didn't save her, he couldn't save her.
And Harry was shaking her, going back and forth between holding her close to him and shaking her in front of him. "I told you, I told you they'd be after you," he shouted at her, his voice anguished. "Oh God, come back, come back," he pleaded with her, hugging her tight against his chest, his chin on top of her head, his eyes closed, and Ron noticed his glasses were broken. But he had no one to fix them. Hermione always did that. Would he never get them fixed then? "I don't know what to do without you. I don't know. I don't know," he murmured, sounding rather insane with his grief. He pulled her up closer, dragging her until he had all of her in his arms, his hand buried in her thick curls, his face pressed against hers, cheek to cheek. "I love you. I love you. You're supposed to live! You were the only one... You were the only one I couldn't lose." He shook his head, crying against her, his arm tightening around her to be almost crushing.
Ron opened his mouth, but closed it, having no words. It should have hurt that Harry could have handled losing him, but didn't. Because he knew. He understood. She was Hermione. Ron had known her for nearly seven years, rocky as their friendship had been. And he found that her annoying nagging was something he'd miss most about her. Who was going to tell him to do his homework now? Who was going to tell him he was being an idiot? What would he do without her there to fix his mistakes and correct his misconceptions? Who would he argue with? On the small, inconsequential things in the world? Who would he bug about her fear of flying now? Or her obsession with books and learning? He had nobody there anymore. There was no trio. It was just two boys. Two parts of a triangle, and one part was falling apart, shattering in front of him. What were they now? Without Hermione, what could they ever be? She was the defining part. She was the part that made them all whole. Without her, they were brawn and courage, right? What was that? That was nothing. That was lacking. What could brawn and courage do without intelligence. Nothing. They were reduced to nothing. Merlin save them, he thought, as he rocked. Merlin save them all.
Harry lifted Hermione's right hand, which was when Ron caught sight of the little emerald ring on her dirt smudged finger. Harry pressed her palm against his face, still rocking them back and forth, crying and muttering to her, to himself. Ron swallowed thickly. HarryandHermione, married, children, a real future. It was all gone now. They weren't one identity any longer. They were broken. That wasn't the way it was supposed to be. The ending, they were the heart of the story, weren't they? They were supposed to get the epilogue with their own happily ever after, where darkness never interrupted their lives again. This wasn't supposed to happen. It wasn't right. Not right at all.
"I can't do it without you, I can't do it," Harry told her, shaking his head and exhaling a big whoosh of shaky air. "You promised, you promised, you said... Hermione," he pleaded, pulling her close again, his face pressed down into her shoulder. Ron couldn't hear what he said after that, the words too muffled by Hermione's body in his arms. Little words like, "married" "forever" "children" and "love" made it to him, but everything else was drowned out.
Like any dark, anguished scene before it, this wasn't finished without the sky opening up and pouring a thick torrent of rain on them, making the ground beneath them muddy and sludgy within moments. Harry ignored it, not appearing to notice the rain at all as he continued to rant to Hermione, his pain slowly becoming anger. Ron was certain it wasn't entirely at the girl in his arms, but mostly at those who had caused it. Every once in awhile, he'd shout that she promised not to leave him, that she had said she was going to be there in the end, alive, but then Ron would see the dark, vicious glint in his eye as Harry began talking about revenge and retaliation and he knew that Harry's rage was directed at Lucius and Bellatrix. For one moment, Ron almost felt sorry for the two Death Eater's if they were ever left alone with Harry, but looking down at Hermione, that pity disappeared completely.
Ron wasn't sure how long they were left in the rain, with Harry holding Hermione and him watching in his shaken, shocked state. Finally, his family ventured over, with Remus and Tonks, Moody, but no Kingsley. Ron looked up at them, his face stark and grim, unable to speak or ask them if they were injured at all. He barely recognized their injuries or their pained expressions. They were just there, all of them, alive. And then his mother was holding him, tightly her arms wound around his body, and she sobbed. She sobbed for him, for Harry, for Hermione. While Ron just sat rigid in her arms, comforted on the inside but unable to show it to her. He sat in the mud, staring at Hermione and Harry as his mother held him, telling him over and over that he did all he could, that Hermione was in a better place, that she was proud and she loved him.
Ron could see Remus approaching Harry out of the corner of his eye and seeing the hysteria in Harry's eyes, he knew it could only turn out bad. "Don't touch him," Ron warned, his head shaking just an inch to the left. It hurt to talk, his voice burned his throat. "He'll kill you," he told him bluntly.
"He wouldn't—" Remus started, looking startled at Ron's words.
"He would," Ron told him, looking up with certainty in his eyes. "Hermione's dead," he told him, his voice shaking. "And all he can think about is killing Malfoy and Bellatrix. If you touch him, you're a dead man." He wanted it all to disappear. The people, the scene around him. He wanted to be left alone in a dark room, because then he wouldn't have to see Hermione dead and Harry dying. Maybe not physically, but Ron could see the life draining from his eyes. It was all over now. The war, the bright future, the trio. He'd lost it all.
Remus stared at him a long moment, before glancing at Harry, giving a sharp nod and backing up.
"We can't leave him out here," Moody said, gruffly. "Boy'll get sick and die on us before we can celebrate his victory."
"He won't celebrate anyway," Ron said, shaking his head. He wouldn't celebrate either. The defeat of Voldemort seemed to pale in comparison to everything. His best friends, two people who had made up his identity for almost seven years were lost to him. "And he would welcome death." Ron was fairly sure that he too would want death, along with Harry. He wasn't sure how much longer Harry would live, but he wouldn't grow to be an old man. Not without Hermione, not with all that he'd lost and sacrificed. There was only so much a person could give and Harry had nothing left.
"Ron," Arthur started, but stopped as he caught sight of Ron's expression. His father swallowed thickly, his face twisting with sorrow.
Ron wondered if his dad could see how different his son was since the moment he stepped on the field and now. He felt different. Strange. He felt like part of him was missing and he'd never find it again. Like most of him had been replaced with somebody older, harder, more calloused. And that little part of him that was still Ron, wasn't interested in pleasantries or hope. It was sitting quietly in the back, rocking back and forth, crying.
"We could levitate him," Tonks suggested, her voice hoarse.
"Both of them?" Ginny asked from the side, her eyes glossy, her expression one of shock. She didn't seem to notice she was crying, but the rain hid it well.
"The others won't react well to seeing their savior with his dead girlfriend," Moody said glibly.
"Fiancée," Ron corrected and was sure that everybody winced.
"We have to do something, we can't just leave him out here like this," Bill said, walking forward. Everybody looked around at each other, seeming to search for an answer in their friends and family.
Sighing, Ginny crept closer to Harry and Hermione. "Harry," she called out, her voice soft and coaxing. "Harry, it's r-raining, we should go i-inside. The b-battle is o-over now," she told him, her mouth shaking.
Her only reply was Harry shaking his head and rocking Hermione a little more, his mouth moving as he spoke to the dead girl in his arms, but not loud enough for any of them to hear.
"Come on now, Potter, buck up," Moody said, trying the emotionless route. "Get up outta the mud and come on inside. Hermione'll be laid to rest soon." He frowned down at the boy, waiting for a response. "I think he's gone round the bend," he told them all bluntly.
Arthur shook his head, kneeling down and crouching as close as he felt safe. "Harry, it's Arthur," he told him, slow and soft. "Looks like Hermione is getting quite wet," he said, his voice shaking, "Maybe... maybe you want to bring her inside? Warm her up?" he asked him, his eyes glancing back at the people who were now mumbling under their breath about the suggestion. He turned back to Harry, only to jump in mild fear. Harry was staring right back at him, his emerald green eyes dark and lifeless.
Ron sighed, watching the scene unfold and thinking to himself over how wrong it all was. Hermione wasn't supposed to be dead. She was supposed to be celebrating with them. She was supposed to be hugging Harry, snogging Harry, doing something that made Harry extra happy. It was all wrong. All so very, very wrong. They should be at the Three Broomsticks now, sharing a butterbeer and shouting their victory. And they'd pay homage to all they'd lost, they'd talk about friends they'd lost or the good people who fought. They would discuss Sirius and Dumbledore and they'd cry for the loss. But they'd have each other, because they always had each other. But that wasn't going to happen. That could never happen.
Instead of replying, Harry nodded agreeably to Arthur, but when the man he had often thought of as an adoptive father tried to reach for Hermione, Harry's wand raised to point directly at Arthur's heart. "I told you," Ron said quietly. "I told you and you didn't listen. Hermione is dead," he couldn't stop telling them that fact. "Hermione may have been the brains, but I have some common sense. She may have known Harry in a way I didn't, but I was his best friend for seven years. Unless you want to die, get away from him," Ron told his father, his voice lacking any real emotion.
Harry watched Arthur, his face expressionless, and when he felt the older man was a good distance away, he dropped his wand, his hand returning to hold Hermione's cheek. "They think you're dead, but you can't be, because you promised," he told her, and it was so quiet around them, save for the patter of rain, that they all heard it. They all heard his disbelieving sorrow and their hearts broke a little more for the boy-who-loved-and-lost-again.
To be continued...