Author's Note: None of the people, places, or things surrounding Hogwarts and the Wizarding world are my creation; they belong to the talented J.K. Rowling, who for the past decade has delighted, surprised, and, occasionally, terrified us with her brilliant storytelling.

"D'you think you could just – just hold it in...?" -- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 625

Let Love In

In all her years to come, Hermione Granger would never forget the moment that she first realized her deep love for Ron Weasley. It was during their second year at Hogwarts, when, as a mere eleven year old, Ron had jumped up and cursed Draco Malfoy because he'd called Hermione a Mudblood. Ron had come to her defense without thinking about the potential consequences of his actions: the fact that his wand was dodgy and that he was trying to hex someone who had powerful and strong friends at his disposal, friends that could have easily overpowered Ron. Yet he had defended her, not because he was trying to get her attention or to prove that he was as worthy an adversary as the great Harry Potter, but because it was simply the right thing to do.

So, yes, Hermione Granger knew without a doubt at that moment, as a young girl, that she was meant to love Ron Weasley for the rest of her life. But when did she know that she and Ron were actually meant to be in love together for the rest of their lives? Well, that was a decidedly more difficult question to answer. There had been many bumps and bruises, physically and emotionally, for both of them over the past seven years, and Hermione had to confess that on multiple occasions she wondered if she and Ron would ever really get it together, if they could ever honestly be on the same wavelength. Timing played a large role, of course. They could hardly pursue a typical relationship while on the journey to find Horcruxes with Harry, as he was their first priority and there was little to no privacy.

However, when Hermione managed to take a breath and reflect on something besides Harry's position as the Chosen One and the Dark Lord's final defeat, she was finally able to decide when she knew that no matter what happened, she and Ron were supposed to be together. That even though he might not say the right thing all the time, and she might sometimes analyze his emotions (or, occasionally, lack thereof), and that there would times she questioned her heart for making her fall in love with the obstinate redhead, there really would always be a light – Ron's love for her – at the end of the road, welcoming her home.

"Hang on a moment!" said Ron sharply. "We've forgotten someone!"

"Who?" asked Hermione.

"The house-elves, they'll all be down in the kitchen, won't they?"

"You mean we ought to get them fighting?" asked Harry.

"No," said Ron seriously, "I mean we should tell them to get out. We don't want any more Dobbies, do we? We can't order them to die for us—"

As she walked the now quiet grounds of Hogwarts, it was almost hard to imagine that just a day ago, hours ago, really, the final battle had taken place, the darkest and most evil wizard of all time had been destroyed. But for the moment, a shockingly happier memory than the destruction that had so recently taken place was playing her head.

For the first time, Ron had openly and honestly showed his appreciation for something Hermione cared about. There had been no mockery in his voice, no sense that he was only saying something to appease her. In fact, Hermione reckoned, he probably hadn't realized how deeply his statement would affect her. He hadn't given a thought to S.P.E.W.; instead, he'd merely been concerned for the safety of the elves, worried about their safety above his own, if even only for a moment.

They had finally been on the same page. After years of waiting for that particular moment, Hermione would still be shocked every time she remembered that it had been about house-elves, of all things, but somehow it just fit. And as fittingly, she simply couldn't have stopped herself from doing what she'd wanted to do for at least five years.

There was a clatter as the basilisk fangs cascaded out of Hermione's arms. Running at Ron, she flung them around his neck and kissed him full on the mouth.

So many emotions had jumped, crackled, sparkled, and shimmered inside her as she kissed Ron for the first time. Fear and adrenaline, both from the shock of leaping at him as she'd done, as well as the lingering fear of death from the ongoing battle. Joy and excitement as one of her deepest wishes finally came true. And, the feeling that most shocked and comforted her at the same time, a sense of homecoming, of finally being in the right place, in the arms of someone who had always been there for her – whether she'd always known and appreciated it or not – and who she knew would protect her always and forever, with his own life if he had to, without a second's hesitation.

It could have come at a more convenient time, she knew. A ghost of a smile teased her mouth as she recalled the hazy moments during and after the kiss. How she even was able to process anything but the sensations radiating from Ron and herself was still a mystery, but she had vague recollections.

Ron threw away the fangs and broomstick he was holding and responded with such enthusiasm that he lifted Hermione off her feet.

"Is this the moment?" Harry asked weakly, and when nothing happened except that Ron and Hermione gripped each other still more firmly and swayed on the spot, he raised his voice: "OI! There's a war going on here!"

He'd tried to sound angry, upset that they'd chosen the middle of a battle to show their feelings for each other, but even through the fog of Hermione's lips on his own, the feeling of her in his arms, holding tightly to him, protecting him while also expecting protection from him, Ron saw the glint of satisfaction and pride in Harry's blazing green eyes. He seemed to be adjusting to the fact that he had openly witnesses a quick (but thoroughly intense) snog between his two best friends, while also being immensely happy that he had been able see that sort of love firsthand. Ron would never voice it aloud, and certainly didn't expect Harry to, but he reckoned that seeing the embrace between Hermione and himself had given Harry an added boost of courage, yet another reminder that love, above all else, was what they were fighting for and with.

"I know, mate," said Ron, who looked as though he had recently been hit on the back of the head with a Bludger, "so it's now or never, isn't it?"

He'd been referring lightly to his earlier quotation of the infamous phrase, "all's fair in love and war," but even he knew that the meaning behind his words was much deeper. Love was the most important weapon Harry had at his disposal, yet it was the one which he seemed least inclined to use. To use the power of love, Harry seemed to reason, was to give his apparent permission for the people he cared about most to be put into mortal danger, to be killed, as too many of their number had been that night.

But, Ron thought, now that the proverbial "dust" had settled and he was given the chance to think about things besides Horcruxes, Harry, and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (the three "H's" that had been the bane of the Trio's existence for so long), to not use the power of love meant that Voldemort never really could be finished. Harry might have weakened him again, but unless he embraced the love and undying loyalty of those around him, living and dead, the battle wouldn't truly be over. It had truly been a "now or never" moment, both for Hermione and himself (for Ron had honestly begun to think that he and Hermione were probably meant to get married, but possibly never meant get a good snog in), and for Harry's battle with the Dark Lord using the one tool that Voldemort could never have, because he could never understand it.

Harry finally had realized this. Ron wasn't sure how, exactly, even though Harry had pulled he and Hermione away from the celebrations and explained what had happened when they'd been separated. But whatever the specific reason, Harry had finally seemed to understand that while there had been many tragic losses, both this night and in previous years, his friends would never stop loving him, even if, as was the case for the Weasley family, it meant that one of their own had been murdered in the name of the cause for which Harry fought. In light of that realization, Harry had defeated Voldemort, and the world was now, it seemed, at ease, ready to get back to normal.

And now, Ron walked slowly around Hogwarts, Hermione's hand clasped tightly in his own, he was able to simply enjoy life. Not for the moment, as he put away darker thoughts for a brief ray of sunshine, but forever. He could be happy forever. It was a concept that even he – Ron Weasley, who wasn't the Boy Who Lived, whose entire life until this point had been a ticking time bomb, a story whose "happily-ever-after" was never guaranteed – was having trouble grasping.

"Oh, honestly, Ron, I'm supposed to be the one with brooding thoughts and plans," Hermione said in her trademark admonishing tone of voice. "Or Harry, at the very least. What's got your wand in a knot?"

Ron simply looked down at her and grinned. Phrases like "Merlin's pants!" and "Wand in a knot" were previously very un-Hermione-like, but he'd found that over the past year, she'd adopted some of his mannerisms. Ron couldn't say that he was displeased at the development. Earlier, he'd thought he heard her say "what the bloody fuck?" in response to the request for an exclusive interview from Rita Skeeter, and he'd had to leave the room before the uncomfortable sensation that hearing those words in Hermione's voice had produced in his trousers became uncomfortable for everyone. Besides that, Ron had had to become used to the idea of being with Hermione. It wasn't a hard adjustment to make, per se, but a bit different, simply because he'd never actually thought it would happen in this lifetime. He'd had to train himself not to jump three feet in the air whenever she touched him, held his hand just because, or snuggled up to him while he sat on the sofa, placing her head in a spot under his chin that, Ron suspected, had been created just for her.

And now, walking around the place that been another home to both of them for a large part of their lives, Ron was making the mental adjustment from seeing Hermione as the friend whom he one day hoped to make his girlfriend, to seeing Hermione as the girlfriend he hoped would one day become his wife.


Hermione asked the question again, this time a bit worried, since he hadn't responded to her earlier inquiry. "Is—is something the matter?" She thought worriedly that he might be rethinking the steps they'd recently taken in their relationship. I knew we've gone too fast, her mind shouted at her heart, You've only kissed the one time, and that was in the middle of war carnage, for Merlin's sake!

"I love you, Hermione. More than anything or anyone else. And that's never going to change. You know that, don't you?"

Well, I suppose that's a clue that he's not rethinking this, her heart seemed to taunt victoriously to her brain.

"Oh, Ron," she sighed, pausing to gather her thoughts. He'd been doing this all year, she realized suddenly, showing her in small ways how much he cared. But he'd never actually said the words until now. And even though it wasn't a long speech with several heartfelt reasons why he loved her, it was perfect. Because it was Ron.

"Somehow I had a feeling," she responded with a tremulous smile, tears welling up in her eyes. His brilliant blue eyes seemed to burn more brightly than she ever remembered as he gazed down at her. He leaned down and touched his lips to hers. It felt as exciting, terrifying, and welcoming as it had the first time. She moved closer to Ron, and his arms came all the way around her as he pulled her to him. His arms were trembling slightly, she noticed dimly, and she smiled against his mouth when she lifted her arms to his neck and brushed against his hot ears.

She broke the kiss after several long, wonderful moments. Ron grinned at her, his smile as loving as it was exhilaratingly happy. She hoped that she would always remember the precise look, at that precise moment.

"I love you, too, Ron Weasley."

As he kissed her again, his arms tightening around her, Hermione knew that love, while the weapon that had saved their lives, had ultimately, and perhaps most importantly, given them a chance at living without fear. And that, Hermione thought, as she relished in the feeling of Ron's arms around her, was the greatest reward that could have come from the triumph of good over evil.

"The end of fear is where we begin,

The moment we decided to let love in." -- Goo Goo Dolls, "Let Love In"

It has been an honor to use Ms. Rowling's words as inspiration for my stories, and though the series has come to a close, I will never stop writing about the characters that have become a part of so many of our lives. I'm sure that I speak the same emotion as the other talented fanfiction authors out there, and all I can say is that I'm incredibly grateful that she gave us Ron and Hermione alive and together, so that we can continue writing their lives even after the books have closed.