Lesson in Surrender
There's only now, there's only here / Give in to love, or live in fear
Something she's always liked is that he's a morning person, too.
It makes her laugh, actually- the boy whose known to eat like a boar and leer at Fleur Delacour like he's paid to, the same boy doesn't sleep in until half the day is over, even though, honestly, it would fit in so well with the cliché. Instead, like her, he's up a few minutes after sunrise, and she's lost count of the times they've bumped into each other in the common room on Saturday mornings, and they'd talk or play chess until the world around them woke up. And since fourth year, she's crept out of Ginny's room in the summer and met him downstairs, in the garden, usually, both of them too restless with energy to sleep in, both of them having been up for hours- talking, laughing- by them time Harry woke up. And there were a couple of horrid mornings where she buried herself under a book while he lurked around the common room in the wee hours of a December morning, trying but failing to get her to talk to him, look at him. The words in front of her blurred, but she was relentless. Sometimes she thinks she should have been a little less… cruel. She has a streak, there's no point denying it, even the Sorting Hat said that, minus her background, she had some definite Slytherin qualities (and never considered putting her into Ravenclaw; but Terry Boot didn't need to know that). The idea of Ron as a morning person, Hermione in Slytherin- it doesn't fit. And yet. That's what they're like- whenever she thinks she has him figured out, whenever she thinks she's got a label to stick on him, he wiggles or jerks out of her grip, and she's left with that frustrating feeling of not being able to put her finger on it, whatever "it" is.
She thinks about all this on another morning, a cloudless July morning as birds around her sing and the sun is already a little too warm in her cheeks. She's sitting by the lake (well, really, it's more of a pond) at the very end of the Burrow's garden, feet dangling in the water, splashing her reflection until it's a blurred mass of color. Ron is nowhere to be seen- she positively snuck out, because honestly, she doesn't quite trust herself to be alone with him in a secluded place. Because the last time that happened…
"God, can't they move to the Room of Requirement or something?" Ron's voice is light, though disgusted, his irritability obviously more something he feels he should display than an actual annoyance. The truth is, and she can't agree more, that he's thrilled about the ease with which Harry and Ginny have found each other, even if that means a lot of kissing in their vicinity, because Harry's Harry and would never, ever ditch the two of them for a girl, not even Ginny.
"Apparently not," she laughs. "But Ron, I didn't think you cared about people kissing in public."
His ears turn a telltale shade of red; he grins at her sheepishly, and there it is again- that feeling, like someone is ever-so-gently running his hands down her back. She shudders involuntarily, and suddenly, she's on her feet, taking Ron's hand in hers and dragging him away from them, along the lake. "Come on, we'll give them some privacy," she laughs.
"I don't think I want to give them privacy," Ron points out. And then it occurs to both of them that they're standing on a tiny lagoon-like beach completely hidden by the trees around them, and they're completely alone, and his hands are warm and rough in hers and it's a very warm day and usually she'd be annoyed with the way they're standing, shoulders touching, arms brushing each other. And somehow, she shifts her body, and before she knows what one earth is happening she's leaning forward and she's kissing him for all she's worth and her hands are everywhere and his are on her waist and working their way up.
The giant squid splashes past, both of them realize what's happening, and they freeze. He looks somewhere between terrified and thrilled, and she can feel the blood rushing to her face and panics. She mumbles something that could possibly be an apology (though, God, she hopes he didn't interpret it that way), and she runs. And at dinner that night, he's particularly nice to her, and while everyone's laughing and talking, he whispers into her general direction: "Whatever that was, don't be sorry, okay? And don't stop talking to me again."
And that's that.
But she knows how careful she has to be, because even though it felt so good, it cannot, possibly, under any circumstances, happen again. Bill and Fleur are getting married tomorrow; they're in the middle of a war and they're going to be hunting Horcruxes soon- this is the wrong to time for her and Ron to suddenly start doing whatever it was they're doing.
And in any case, she doesn't even still know if it's worth it. Maybe they've missed their chance. Maybe she should just get over it- she's not even eighteen years old, it's not exactly likely that this is really as good as it gets.
If we both survive this war, I'm going to kiss him until we've made up for the past six years.
Wherever that thought came from, it's not part of her mind. Her mind is an organized place. Except for the Ron part. That part of her mind is like the drawer you chuck everything you can't really put anywhere else into. The Ron-part of her mind is…muddled. And she hates that.
"Hey," says a voice behind her. She swings around and it's him; wearing a faded pair of Chudley Cannon boxers and a scarlet shirt reading "My brother slew a Romanian dragon and all I got was this dumb T-shirt". She's remarked, in this past, to Ginny, with a viciousness that scared her, that it could also read: "My parents wanted a little girl, and all they got was this dumb boy." It's the streak, again. Is it normal, that people bring out the best and the worst in you, at the same time?
"Hi," she smiles at him. "Couldn't sleep?"
"You know me. Can I…" She nods, and he flops himself down next to her on the bank. There's a pause, in which she tries very hard not to look at him. Then: "D'you want to go swimming?"
"We keep the pond clean enough with this potion Mum makes, it'd be nice."
"Oh come on, Hermione, you can swim, can't you?"
"Of course I can swim, I just choose not to." Eugh, the snappish voice, the impatient, superior tone- why can't she be a little more pleasant?
"Like you choose not to ride a broomstick." Okay, that's why.
"Exactly… no!" She's blushing furiously while he just grins at her broadly. "Ron, we don't even have swimming costumes on."
He laughs. "Those funny things Muggles wear when they go swimming? You don't need those!" He taps her tank top (which, mercifully, is navy blue) and shorts with his wand, mutters "Impervius!" and grins at her- "You taught me that, remember?"
"Yes," she mutters, then sharply drawing her breath as he strips off his T-shirt and charms his shorts. Oh, my.
"Come on, Hermione." And with a hearty tug, he's dragging her into the water. For a second, a jolt of electricity rushes through her, then he lets go of her hand and the sensation of cool, fresh water against her thighs takes over. It is lovely- cool and soothing and surprisingly clean. She's about to ask him about the potion they use when a splash of water hits her squarely in the face. She squeals, and looks up at his broad freckled grin with infuriation. She splashes after him, but he escapes by diving away from her, and she looses her balance and falls, face first, into the bottle green water.
Spraying water and laughing uncontrollably, she resurfaces, paddles away after him. He raises his eyebrows as she comes closer and is too surprised to react when she throws herself headfirst at him, knocking him off his feet. They both tumble through the water, dive, resurface.
"You just wait," Ron grumbles and reaches for her shoulders, pulling her down. She gasps for air and paddles around wildly, freeing herself and managing to dunk him as he resurfaces for air. He comes up and they look at each other, and suddenly it's not a game anymore.
It's like they've always done this. They're wildly and blindly grasping for each other's bodies, looking to dunk the other and drowning with them. Furiously pulling and tugging at each other, skin on skin, locked in a battle that started as a joke, and ended in gasps of pain as they resurface for split seconds, panting so hard it seems like someone's put a full-body-bind on their lungs; never giving the other a moment's rest, a moment's pause, because that would be a sign of weakness, a sign of feeling. Water stings in her eyes, she's boring her fingers so deeply into his shoulders he flinches. And so they mercilessly, restlessly pull each other down, until her eyes are stinging with tears.
"Stop," she gasps, her feet moving until she finds a shallow spot she can stand on, gesturing for him to stay away as she takes great gulps of air, and it's a plea. "Just…Ron, just stop." And to her horror, she's really crying now, her tears mingling with the cold lake water still running down her cheeks.
"Hermione?" He moves a step closer.
Her "NO!" comes out somewhere between a gasp and a strangled yelp. "Just… stop." Stop trying to win me with your best behavior, your hugs, your stupid grin and even stupider six-pack. Stop trying to be nice to me. Stop smiling like that, like you know exactly what I'm thinking, like I'm so ridiculous. "Just leave me alone," she sobs. "I'm serious, Ron. Can't you just give it a rest?"
He looks puzzled for a second, frowns. She shivers in the water, catching her breath. "No," he says, after a while. "No, I don't think I can do that." He wades over to her, and he's so tall and warm and then he gives her one of his Ron-hugs, and she wants to fight it, she wants to untangle herself and run, run, run into the other direction, but she's still catching her breath, she just hasn't got it in her to fight anymore.
And his shoulders are remarkably comfortable and it's only now, that she's hiding her cheeks against them that she realizes she can hear his heart beat, loudly and clearly, like the metronome on her mother's piano. It's just like at Dumbledore's funeral, when she was sure that the only thing stopping her from falling apart in fear and panic and shock and grief were his strong arms around her. He's the most comforting thing she's ever known. He's what keeps her together when she feels like she's falling apart, and when he leaves her, she looses it.
And it's right that she's figuring this out now, isn't it? Because that's what Dumbledore always said, that they need each other and need to love each other, and maybe that's the only thing they have in this war. And maybe, she thinks, pressing her face into his shoulders, breathing him in, maybe that's all they need.
And she gives in. Because, really, what else can she do? It is, really, the logical conclusion to this battle, the perfectly predictable outcome of this battle; a historical necessity if ever there was one. This was a war she never really wanted to win, and she's done pushing her energy into trying to win it; because they've got an actual war on their hands now and they have to win that one, because this is only the beginning, this can't be the end.
And anyway, she thinks, wrapping her wet arms around him and taking in his smiling, surprised face, and kissing him until his smile disappears, and they're both out of breath once again, even if it's true that he brings out her nasty streak and she brings out his, even if they're going to annoy each other for the rest of their lives and she's going to spend some of it wishing she'd been nicer to Ernie Macmillan when she had the chance- that's a small price to pay for this.
And it's a price she's finally willing to pay, because she has begun to understand that the alternative really isn't one at all.