Not JKR, anything you recognise is her wonderful creation.
Ron sat glumly at a table on the edge of the dance floor, kicking the leg of his chair in vague time with the music. The day was drawing to a close – vows had been exchanged, bridesmaids had been danced with, cake had been eaten, and everyone, bar Ron, by the looks of things, was having a wonderful time.
"Wotcher," Remus said brightly, and then frowned at how odd the word sounded coming from his own lips when from another's he found it delightful.
The corners of his mouth pulled upwards in the beginnings of a smile as Ron looked up, startled, a bemused expression on his face. "I thought I'd try it as an alternative to 'hello'," Remus said, sinking down into the red velvet-covered chair next to him, "but I really don't think I can pull it off."
"Maybe not," Ron said through a snigger, and, chuckling, Remus dropped one elbow onto the table and toyed with a pale lilac sugared almond. "Where's Tonks?"
"Getting us some drinks," Remus replied, nodding to the other side of the dance floor, where Tonks had three bottles of Butterbeer precariously clutched in her hands, a look of intense concentration on her face, her tongue gripped between her teeth. "Wait for it," Remus said, smiling wryly at the thought of what he knew was coming.
The bottles fell to the floor and splintered into a million glittering pieces, and over the music and chatter, the words, "Bugger it! Sorry, Molly," could clearly be heard. Remus met Ron's eye and smiled, raising an eyebrow.
"She'll be a minute," he said, and Ron laughed.
For a moment, they watched Bill and Fleur dance, twirling in front of them in a way that suggested they were both either annoyingly, unnaturally graceful, or had been taking lessons. Ron shifted in his seat, and reached for a sugared almond, tossing it into his mouth and then cracking it loudly with his teeth.
"Could I ask you something?" he said, swallowing with difficulty, and Remus dropped the sugared almond he'd been playing with back onto the table, where it rolled in a little circle, and clasped his hands in front of him.
"Of course," he said.
"It's a bit – well – personal," Ron said, shifting nervously in his seat and then shrugging apologetically. Remus leant forward, regarding him evenly, a smile just tugging at the corners of his mouth.
"Those are the very best kind," he said, and for a second, Ron stared intently at the cuffs of his dress robes, picking at the seam, and Remus thought, perhaps, that Ron had changed his mind.
"I was wondering about you and Tonks," he said, his eyes flickering between the table top and Remus' gaze.
"Ok," Remus said, settling back in his chair. "Fire away."
Questions weren't something he'd been unprepared for; after all, it wasn't every day that teenagers found out that their former teacher was romantically involved with someone, let alone someone much younger, with pink hair and a certain disregard for equilibrium. He'd wondered a couple of times what they made of it all, although he'd lacked the nerve to ask for fear of what they might say, if he was honest.
Ron leant back in his chair, poking at a small pile of enchanted confetti and making it flutter up off the table. "You – you know – love her, don't you?" Ron said, meeting Remus' eye tentatively from beneath dipped eyebrows, as if he was unsure whether it was too personal a question, if he was risking being put in detention.
Remus smiled, hoping to put him at ease, because of all the questions about him and Tonks Ron could have asked – what on earth does she see in an old duffer like you, do werewolves get kinky around the time of the full moon – that was the easiest to answer.
"Yes," Remus said. "More than I ever thought I had the capacity to love anyone."
"And she – " Ron swallowed, and reached for another sugared almond – yellow this time – tossing it into his mouth and sucking on it thoughtfully. " – she loves you?"
Remus considered his answer for a moment, toying with the idea of a glib reply – well, she says she does, she'd better – but these days it didn't feel like something he wanted to be glib about, and so instead he just said, "yes."
Ron nodded, then frowned, and Remus couldn't help feeling that they were just getting to the heart of the matter. "Do you ever – " Ron fiddled with the confetti again, meeting Remus' eye almost shyly, but with determination, too, not to flinch from what he wanted to ask. "Did you ever – I don't know." He rolled his eyes, and Remus raised his eyebrows at him in encouragement, gesturing for him to go on. "Did you ever feel that the fact that you love her, and she loves you, and that it's such a given – that it kind of – gets in the way?"
Remus frowned, a little puzzled by the question. "How so?"
"I mean, like everything you do is more important because you love each other – and that's good – great – but it makes everything harder, too?" Ron sighed, sinking back in his chair. "I mean – I went out with this girl, Lavender – "
Ron's eyes widened in horror. "What have you heard?" he said, his eyes darting across the dance floor to where Molly was helping Tonks clear up the glass. "Mum doesn't know, does she? She'll kill me – " Remus chuckled, holding up his hand to stop Ron before he got more panicked.
"I just guessed, Ron. There aren't that many Lavenders, even in a school like Hogwarts."
Ron swallowed, his ears just starting to turn red around the edges, although whether it was his reaction to the idea of being caught out by Molly, or the thought of whatever he'd done with Lavender Brown, Remus couldn't say. "Well," Ron said, grinning sheepishly with a kind of grim determination to move past his, not inconsiderable, embarrassment, "when we were together, it was like things didn't matter that much. I could just say, 'do you want to go for a walk?', and that was all it was, but with Hermione – "
Remus' eyes widened at the revelation, and Ron stopped in his tracks and winced, realising what he'd said, his cheeks positively lighting up in a bright pink hue. "It's all right. I won't tell her," Remus said, quietly. "Or your mum."
He stifled a grin, thinking that he hadn't seen that coming, but on reflection he thought he was in no position, really, to balk at the idea of people who didn't seem particularly similar on the surface finding something in the other that no-one else saw.
Ron pressed his lips together for a second, glancing up at the sky as he thought. "It's just with – " He swallowed. " – Hermione, there's a lot to lose, you know? It's not just a walk, or a trip to Diagon Alley, or wherever."
"No," Remus said. "I can see what you mean. You've known each other for a long time."
"It's like – well, it feels like whatever we do, it'd have to be the start of something big, because we're friends – and with Harry – and everything. And if it goes wrong, well, it's not going to go just a bit wrong, is it? It'd be a – I don't know, a catastrophe, or something even worse than that. It's a lot to risk, you know, when I'm not sure."
Remus nodded, and watched as Ron's gaze drifted over to the other side of the dance floor, where Hermione and Ginny were standing together, laughing, Hermione tapping her fingers on her hip in time with the music and swinging slightly to the rhythm. Remus thought that the look on Ron's face as he took her in said that he was more than sure, although he wasn't entirely sure how he'd go about convincing him.
"How did you know?" Ron said. "How did you know it was love love and not, y'know, something else?"
"I didn't," Remus said, with a faint smile. "Not for a long time. Denial, I believe they call it," he added, with a sigh of amusement.
"What made you realise?"
"Just – well – " Remus rubbed at his jaw. " – I suppose it finally dawned on me that if it wasn't love love that things between us wouldn't have been so – difficult, and complicated. It would have been easy, if we both hadn't cared so much."
"Right, see, that's what I mean," Ron said. "It's not like me and Hermione could just go out once, is it, to see if we liked it? It's just – "
Ron trailed off into a sigh and slumped down in his seat. "The stakes are too high," Remus said, and Ron nodded.
"What made you – I mean, how did you..?"
"Find the courage?"
"Dumbledore," Remus said. "The times we live in, I suppose."
Remus took a deep breath, traced a crease on the tablecloth with his fingertips. "I realised that we could be on borrowed time, both of us, and all the things I thought mattered didn't." He paused for a moment, and met Ron's eye, wondering why it was easy to say this to a seventeen year old wizard, when it had been so hard to explain to himself. "I thought about what it would have been like if that killing curse had hit me – or some other good hex had finished me off – how she'd feel, never knowing how I really felt, what she meant to me. And in the face of that, well, all the things I'd been concerned about crumbled."
Ron nodded. "That's the thing, Ron," Remus said. "It's only when the stakes are high that there's a big prize on offer."
Ron smiled half-heartedly and let out a short snort of amusement, and reached for another sugared almond. Remus wondered if he was the only person eating them. "And of course," Remus added, leaning forwards conspiratorially, "when it comes to love, we do have the head start of being Gryffindors."
"Why's that a head start? 'Cos we're supposed to be brave?"
"Well that too," Remus said, suppressing a laugh. "But Gryffindors are lucky in love. Notorious for it."
Ron laughed around his sugared almond, and Remus sat back in his chair, stretching his legs under the table. "Maybe you should ask Tonks," he said, nodding his head in her direction as she crossed the dance floor, that same adorable look of concentration on her face, "get a female perspective on the matter. I'm sure she won't mind."
"Wotcher, Ron," Tonks said, nudging Remus' shoulder with her hip as she set three bottles of Butterbeer down on the table. "Second time lucky, eh?" she said, gesturing to them, and Remus smiled and reached for one, handing the other to Ron.
"It's been a corking day, hasn't it?" Tonks said.
Remus pulled out the chair next to him, and Tonks sank down into it, resting her foot against Remus' under the table, rubbing his ankle with the toe of her boot. "You both look very serious," she said, her gaze switching between them. "Wedding blues?"
"Something like that," Remus said, tipping his head in Ron's direction.
"What's up?" Tonks said, reaching for her Butterbeer and taking a sip.
Ron toyed with the label on the Butterbeer bottle in his hands for a moment, and then rolled his eyes at himself and took a deep breath. "If you were Hermione," he said quickly, "and I asked you out, would you say yes?"
Tonks grinned cheekily. "If I was me and you asked me out I'd probably say yes," she said, gesturing at him with her bottle. "You're a fine looking fella."
Ron blushed, and Remus knocked Tonks' arm with his elbow, meeting her eye and raising an eyebrow at her. "Is that so?" he said, and Tonks smirked by way of a response, her eyes dancing with amusement. "I always knew you'd leave me for a younger man," he said, mock-wearily, and Tonks laughed.
"Just giving you the opportunity to find someone more your own age," she said teasingly, her eyes sparkling. "I hear Madam Marchbanks is single – "
Remus elbowed her in the ribs and she laughed, narrowly avoiding spilling Butterbeer all down the front of her dress robes. "Seriously, though, Ron, what have you got to lose?" she said.
"Well there's my dignity –"
"Overrated," Tonks said, fixing Ron with an amused, yet steely, grin.
"Self-respect?" Ron offered, his brow creasing in thought.
"Will you really have more self-respect if you don't do it?"
Ron considered it for a moment, and then sighed, taking a sip of his Butterbeer. "You have to admit, Ron," Remus said, chuckling quietly, "she's got a point."
"And I know what I'm taking about," Tonks said, shooting a wry glance in Remus' direction. "What would have happened if I hadn't abandoned my dignity in the hospital wing?"
"She might say no," Ron said. "She might just like being friends."
"She might say yes," Tonks retorted. "She might like being friends so much that she'd really like to be more."
Ron opened his mouth to say something, and then, apparently, couldn't think of anything, and closed it again. Tonks leant forward, smiling at Ron reassuringly. "The thing about stuff like this," she said, "love and stuff, is that it's only when you have to fight for it that you know it's really worth having. And yes, saying you like someone as more than a friend is scary – scary as hell – scarier than any Death Eater you'll ever meet or any curse they might throw at you – but that's why it's worth it. It wouldn't be half as great to have if it was easy to get."
Remus reached for Tonks' hand under the table, laced his fingers through hers, and gave them a squeeze, and she met his eye and smiled. "That's why people in love always look so smug," she said, laughing.
Remus ran his thumb over the back of her hand, and met Ron's eye. "So, are you going to ask Hermione to dance?" he said.
In spite of their words of encouragement, Ron looked largely terrified at the very thought, and picked up his Butterbeer, taking a swig. "Maybe later," he said, reaching for another sugared almond.
The wedding had finally drifted to a close. Bill and Fleur had headed off, most of the guests had gone, and the big clear up had begun.
As Ron picked up yet another bag of rubbish and tossed it onto the pile he'd created in the corner, he glanced over at Hermione, stacking chairs, her hair coming slightly undone and cascading down her neck, a slight smile on her face even though he'd heard her say earlier that her feet were killing her.
Tonks looked up from the left-over sandwiches she was hitting with preservation charms, and gestured towards Hermione with an encouraging shooing motion, and behind her, Lupin grinned and muttered something to her that made her turn to him, smirk, and poke him in the chest with her wand. He raised his hands defensively, and they both laughed, unable to take their eyes off each other, and they seemed… different, Ron thought.
For a second, he wondered what it was; and then it hit him, like the Knight Bus. They were happy. In spite of everything in their past, and everything that stood in front of them, they were happy.
He looked back at Hermione. She was saying something to Fred and George – by the set of her eyebrows he thought she was telling them off, and he wondered if it never worked on them because they found the look as endearing as he did.
She looked lovely when she was frowning, sternly. Well, he thought, she looked lovely all the time.
He wondered if Tonks and Lupin were right and if he should just ask her out, but a nagging, doubting voice in his head chimed in with a load of unhelpful what ifs. What if she doesn't like you like that? What if you make a fool of yourself?
But then he stopped. Did he just feel like this because he knew how much there was to lose? Was that a good sign? Did the fact that he knew how much there was to lose mean that losing it wasn't a possibility?
Ron sighed. He didn't know why this was so bloody complicated, and what made it more complicated was that the person he'd normally turn to to help him out of muddles like this was Hermione – and she was the one person he couldn't ask for help.
He chanced a glance back at Tonks and Lupin. Lupin had turned his attention to the crisps on the buffet table, but every now and then his eyes darted to Tonks, fiddling with slices of leftover wedding cake, and when she met his gaze he raised an eyebrow and threw a crisp at her, which she dodged, laughing.
They'd taken a chance, Ron thought, even though they knew the stakes were high, and it had paid off; they'd walked away with something better than the best prize he could imagine.
For a moment, he thought about going back to the rubbish – there was certainly plenty left, streamers, balloons, all that damn enchanted confetti – and thinking about it more later, but Tonks and Lupin were right. There was no point putting it off, and the more he did, the more confused he got and the more complicated things seemed, when really everything was very simple.
Tomorrow, they really, really could be dead, although obviously he hoped they wouldn't be, and how would he feel – would he be able to live with himself if he died and she didn't know?
Ron dropped the bin bag he'd been half-heartedly filling, and took a moment to straighten his clothes. Then, he ran a hand through his hair, hoping it looked all right and wondering why his mouth had suddenly gone completely dry.
He swallowed. It didn't help.
But he wasn't going to put it off even long enough to get a glass of water – and so, before he could talk himself out of it, he walked across the dance floor to where Hermione was.
It was the longest twenty feet he'd ever walked, he thought, and it seemed to take an age to get there, but once he was, he was suddenly certain what he wanted to say.
"Hermione?" he said. "Would you like to dance?"
Hermione looked up from the two chairs she'd just stacked, brushing a strand of hair out of her eyes with the back of her hand. "What?" she said, and Ron cleared his throat.
"Would you like to dance?" he said, feeling his eyebrows dip entirely of their own accord into something approaching an anguished expression.
"There's no music, Ron," she said, straightening up and looking at him enquiringly, her lips twitching in what he hoped might be a smile. "The band went home ages ago."
"I know," he said, holding out his hand, hoping he didn't look too earnest. "But would you like to dance?"
Hermione considered him for a moment, one hand on her hip, and then she glanced down at the ground. She bit her lip, and though he knew it could only have been seconds, it felt like a double History of Magic lesson before she looked up again. She met his eye, and smiled. "Yes," she said.
As she stepped closer, his palms sweated and his fingers shook and his heart pounded, and he was more scared than he'd ever been of anything – Tonks was dead right about that – but as Hermione's hands settled, one on his shoulder, one on his waist, and he could feel her breathing next to him, he felt still, too.
For a moment he wasn't sure where to put his hands, but they did the thinking for him, settling on her back. She shifted a little closer and they swayed on the spot for a second, and then turned in a slow circle, and even though they were nowhere near as graceful as Fleur and Bill had been, they weren't bad at it either, he thought.
And he wasn't sure why, because it was only dancing and not even that, but suddenly, everything seemed very, very simple, and the prize he'd thought was miles away over loads of hurdles just wasn't. It was right here in front of him, and all he needed to do was –
"Hermione?" he said, and she pulled away a little, just far enough to look at him.
"Yes?" she said. Her eyes were smiling, but nervous, too, as if she wasn't quite sure of something.
"Nothing, just – "
He took her face in his hand, and gently pressed his lips to hers, just for a second.
Heart positively thundering, he met her eye, raising his eyebrows in question. It had only been for a second – the briefest of kisses, really, but he knew that she'd know what he meant.
He looked at her. If he'd had to pick a word to describe her expression, it would have been 'shocked', although he thought – hoped, probably, more than thought – that it was a good, nice, kind of shocked, rather than something that would bring his pounding heart crashing about his ankles.
"Ron?" she said quietly, and he hoped – more than hoped – that it was pleased uncertainty he could hear in her tone, and not something else.
"I just – well, tomorrow we could be dead, couldn't we?" he said. "I didn't want to waste any more time."
For a moment Ron wondered if she was offended that he hadn't said something more romantic – done something more romantic, waited for a better time, because this, with Hermione's feet killing her and his sugared almond breath, and both of them tired from the day, and rubbish to be cleaned up and chairs to be stacked – well, it was hardly the kind of things dreams were made of.
He smiled, tentatively.
It wasn't the stuff dreams were made of traditionally, he thought, but he was glad he'd done it, and glad he'd done it like this, because no dream had ever come close to feeling as good, and he was sure – well, nearly sure – that she'd felt that, too.
"Oh," she said, and then she let out a breathy kind of laugh, and smiled.
Ron swallowed, and out of the corner of his eye, he could see Tonks and Lupin stop what they were doing, glance at each other and exchange a grin. He could just make out Fred and George too, open-mouthed, and Ginny, raising her fingers to her mouth to wolf whistle, until Harry elbowed her in the ribs to stop her.
But he didn't care about any of them and what they thought, he only cared what Hermione thought, and the second that passed between them as he waited for some kind of answer to a question he hadn't even asked felt agonising.
"Good thinking," Hermione said, and then she smiled, and moved closer, and pressed her lips to his.
A/N: Happy Easter, everyone. Chocolate-flavour rewards for anyone who reviews, lovingly presented in a gift box, with a HP character of your choice to do with as you wish ;).