Author's Note: This is a revamped edition of the original All Was Well, so now Chapter 1 is much longer but also much lovelier! Do enjoy.
Disclaimer: Not in my wildest dreams.
Those first few minutes after Voldemort fell were surreal. Harry's ears burned as the shouts, the cheers, the sobs fell upon them. There he stood in the middle of them all—hundreds of people pressing in to hug him and touch him, to look into his eyes and see the triumph and disbelief shining in his bright green pupils. The people Harry loved the most formed the inner circle around him, and they all hugged him and hugged each other who knew how many times. How many times did Ron grab his shoulders and let out a noise of elation, how many times did Hermione smile through her tears as she embraced him and kissed his cheeks, how many times did Ginny gaze at him with love and radiance, how many times did Hagrid nearly break his back when he pulled him into a fierce hug, how many times did Mr. and Mrs. Weasley hold each other, how many times did Bill and Fleur share a celebratory kiss? Each of these things could have happened once, or they could have happened a thousand times. What mattered was that they happened.
Harry was beside himself. There were people present who had spoken to him perhaps only once, or maybe they had only stared at him as they passed him in the corridors of Hogwarts, but they had fought on his side in the end; there were shopkeepers who had assisted him in Hogsmeade, including Madam Rosmerta, who had given him Butterbeer in what seemed like another lifetime; there were those revered professors who had taught him most of his magical skills; there were members of his old Quidditch team, of Dumbledore's Army, and of the Order of the Phoenix, people of the finest caliber; and most importantly, there were Ron and Hermione, and Ginny, and Neville and Luna, and Arthur and Molly, Bill and Fleur, Charlie and Percy and George, and Hagrid...those people for whom he had the deepest love, and who loved him enough to keep fighting even when they thought they had lost him, and who had loved him all along. Half of Harry was broken, for he had the greatest yearning to glimpse Fred's and Tonks' and Lupin's victorious faces joining in as well, but they were gone, and he would have to celebrate with those he was fortunate enough to still have by his side.
By the time all the tumult died down, Harry felt as if he had just drank a dozen vials of Felix Felicis: that light, giddy, happy feeling overwhelmed him.
And then the aftermath began. Official business had to be taken care of: the Ministry and the media had to be dealt with, the family members of the injured and deceased had to be notified, the Death Eaters had to be rounded up and carted off to Azkaban or else disposed of.
Most important was the need to eat, drink, and talk. The House-Elves, with the assistance of some of the students who had remained behind, filled the House tables with abundant amounts of food, pumpkin juice, Butterbeer, wine, and mead. The result was an impromptu feast that drew people together for table conversation while those witches and wizards above Hogwarts age handled pressing matters in between bites of bacon and gulps of juice.
In the midst of this scene, new people arrived at the castle. Xenophilius Lovegood, who had been released by his captors, was reunited with Luna, who cried happily as she clung to her father; Andromeda Tonks' arrival was not quite as joyous. Kingsley, McGonagall, Arthur and Molly comforted the bereaved woman as they made plans for Lupin and Tonks and what was to be done for Teddy.
And at one high point, Kingsley Shacklebolt was named temporary Minister of Magic. The news was met with cheers and roars from all the occupants of the Great Hall, and Kingsley wanted to act right away, which was why, when Ron looked up from one of the long tables, he saw Kingsley having a serious conversation with his parents.
"Look at that, Perce. I'll bet Kingsley's asking Dad to be his right-hand man," Ron said. "You might actually have the chance to work in a decent organization now."
Percy smiled humorlessly, and then glanced at George, who was watching Kingsley grasp his mother's hand.
"Ron's right, Perce," said George as he turned his attention to his elder brother. "This is your chance to do something more at the Ministry than just study samples of dragon fertilizer from Norway."
Ron laughed in spite of himself, and the small ounce of humor caused the corners of Percy's and George's mouths to twitch.
"I know that was you, by the way," Percy told George, lifting his eyebrows.
"What do you mean?"
"The dragon dung!" said Percy, so loudly that some people actually looked around at him. Percy lowered his voice. "It took me a little while to figure it out, but I eventually guessed that it was...that it was you two."
The feeble spark of light in George's eyes went out; he swallowed, smiled sadly, and said in a falsely cheery voice, "Ah, well, no sense denying it now, I guess. I hope you liked the pretty pink package we sent it in."
Charlie and Bill walked over just then and sidled onto the bench beside Ron, Bill clapping Ron on the back as he sat down. "Did you see Kingsley with Mum and Dad?" Charlie asked his brothers.
"Yeah," said Ron. "'Bout time he gets what he's deserved for so long."
"So Kingsley definitely made him an offer?" Bill asked.
"We're not sure," said Percy, "but it looks that way."
Bill and Charlie looked pleased.
"So when are you gonna tell us, Ron?" George asked suddenly. He seemed keen to keep conversation going, to keep himself engaged in what was going on around him.
Ron was confused, not least by the slightly manic expression on George's face. "Tell you what?"
"Come off it!" said George. "What you've been doing all year! Running 'round with Harry and Hermione, chipping away at You-Know-Who bit-by-bit, getting closer to Hermione bit-by-bit..."
Ron's ears turned pink in trademark Weasley fashion, and his brothers didn't miss it.
"Has something happened with Hermione?" asked Percy, as Charlie said, "Yeah, did I miss something?"
Ron shrugged. "Nothing really," he said evasively. "We just finally got where we've been heading..."
"The altar?" asked George, a twinkle of mischief illuminating his face again.
"No, you git," said Ron. "I just meant...we're sort of together...I think."
"Congratulations, Ron," said Percy, who was clearly trying to act like a good older brother.
"Yeah, glad you finally got there," Bill chimed in.
"So what about everything else?" asked George. "Why you broke into Gringotts, what the hell a Horcrux is..."
"You know," said Ron thoughtfully, "I have a feeling it's a story Harry will want the whole family to hear. So you'll find out soon enough, I expect. Once everything settles down. I couldn't tell you everything without Harry, anyway...he hasn't filled me in on the last few hours yet."
His brothers accepted this answer, and the five redheaded men lapsed into a thoughtful and, though not one of them said it, bereft silence, each of them experiencing acute pangs and wishing there could be just one more brother sitting at the table with them.
Hermione found Ron eventually. She had kept her eye on him all throughout the morning as his company changed from that of his brothers to the other Gryffindor boys to that of his mother and father. It didn't surprise her that they had been apart for most of the morning; he needed his family, she knew, and she also knew they had yearned for the company of their other friends for so many months now. Yet she had had her fill of other people for the time being, and it was Ron she wanted to sit with, and Ron she wanted to talk to.
"Hi," he said brightly as she sat down next to him.
Hermione found his hand and squeezed it."How are you doing?"
Ron shrugged. "So-so. I'm more tired than anything, to be honest."
"Me too." She propped her elbow up on the table and leaned into her right hand. Ron mirrored her action and turned his face toward her.
"Can you believe it's finally over?" he asked.
She squinted in the bright sunlight streaming through the windows. "No. It all feels so strange."
"Yeah," said Ron. "I don't know that I'll fully grasp it all until we get a moment with just the three of us."
Hermione nodded in assent. "I hope that happens soon. It's really disconcerting to go from spending all my time with you and Harry to having to share you with the entire castle."
Ron smiled. "I know what you mean. But he'll come find us eventually—you know he can only stand so much of this."
Again she nodded. Then, in the quietest of voices, as if afraid she was pushing her luck, she asked, "Ron? How's your family?"
He looked away for a full minute. Hermione feared that she had made a mistake and touched his arm gently.
Ron turned to look at her. "My parents are a wreck," he said quietly. "Mum has this deadened look in her eyes, and Dad's voice shakes when he speaks. I tried to talk to them but..." he trailed off. "And my brothers are devastated. George is trying to keep a brave face on, he's still cracking jokes, but I can tell just by watching him that he's completely messed up. And I haven't even had a chance to really speak to Ginny yet..."
Ron swallowed and breathed in; Hermione watched the movement in his chest.
"I feel so awful," Ron whispered.
Hermione could do nothing but caress his hand with her fingers; she kept her eyes trained on his wet blue ones, wishing she could take his heart and wrap it in her own and make it whole again.
"If I said I felt hollow," Ron muttered, "would you know what I meant?"
Hermione nodded. "I feel hollow, too, Ron," she whispered, "but I think your hollowness is much bigger."
"Yeah," said Ron, hanging his head and nodding gravely. Then, a moment later: "But you know what, we can talk about this later."
The sudden change in his voice and his body language threw Hermione for a loop, and she frowned; she was clearly concerned. "Are you sure?" she asked him.
"Hermione," said Ron, "please stop worrying so much. I promise I'll still feel just as depressed later on, so you can take care of me then. But if we keep talking about this now I'm bound to lose it, and I'd rather not cause a scene in the Great Hall."
"Alright. Let's not talk about it, then."
"Good," Ron sighed, filing his grief away in the back of his mind. "Let's talk about happy things. Like the fact that Kreacher has promised to make me a four-course dinner later on."
"You honestly asked him to make you a four-course dinner? Ron, he's celebrating, too! You can't tear him away from the party so he can make you dinner!"
"Actually, Hermione," Ron said with a lift of the eyebrows, "he volunteered to do this, and it's for a very special occasion, you see."
"What special occasion? What could possibly be more special than Harry's defeat of Voldemort?"
"I have a big date tonight," Ron explained, "with a very special girl, and I want her to have the finest dining experience available."
Hermione looked confused for the slightest second, but then, slowly, her face split into a wide smile. "Are you asking me on a date, Ron?"
"Well, not asking so much as telling, but yeah." Ron grinned, looking very pleased with himself. "I'm taking you down to the kitchens so we can have some privacy. Does that sound alright?"
Hermione could not stop beaming. "That sounds lovely, Ron."
"Would you mind if I kept all this dirt and grime on me, or were you thinking we should dress up?" she teased.
"Oh no, I prefer theme-dating, Hermione, and tonight we should go with the 'War Hero' theme. Definitely."
Hermione placed both of her hands around his. "I'm glad you haven't lost your sense of humor, Ron. It's one of the best things about you."
Ron's ears went pink for the second time that day.
Harry was talking to Neville when he saw Kingsley, Arthur, and Molly approaching him. His heart beat immediately sped up; he was dreading speaking with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, wondering what he could possibly say to the parents who had lost their son because of him.
"...and did you see Gran take out Brodney? She was great, hit him straight in the face with a Stunning spell!"
"Yeah," muttered Harry distractedly, staring over Neville's shoulder.
Neville looked around and saw Kingsley and the Weasley's. "Oh," he said. "I'll give you a moment. See you, Harry."
He sped off and a horde of girls immediately surrounded him. Harry was left standing alone in a corner of the Hall; Kingsley reached him first, placed a hand on his shoulder, and said, in his deep voice, "Harry. The man of the hour. How are you feeling?"
"Fine," Harry answered, making eye contact with both Kingsley and the Weasley's. Arthur and Molly were smiling at him.
"We've been discussing what to do with the Death Eaters," said Kingsley. "Those that remain, that is. We're still trying to figure out whether or not Thicknesse was actually Imperiused, but regardless, he left behind a huge mess we'll have to clean up." Kingsley glanced at Mr. Weasley. "I've asked Arthur to be my Chief Operations Officer, which is essentially second-in-command, and fortunately, he has accepted the offer."
"Congratulations, Mr. Weasley!" said Harry, smiling in spite of himself and shaking Arthur's hand.
"Thank you, Harry," Mr. Weasley returned graciously.
"Harry," said Kingsley, "I thought we should tell you that the media has now been informed of everything that's happened in the past twelve hours or so, which means the news of your victory will be spreading all over the country and throughout the world. I just wanted to warn you so you're not overwhelmed if there's a significant response...which," he added, "I think there will be."
"Right," said Harry.
Kingsley nodded. "I'll do my best to keep it under control, I know it's the last thing you want right now."
"Thanks, Kingsley," Harry said. "I really appreciate that. And congratulations, by the way."
"I should be the one congratulating you, Harry, but thank you." He patted his shoulder. "I'll be around," he said, nodding to Arthur and Molly; then he strode away.
"Harry," said Mrs. Weasley, grabbing him and pulling him into a tight embrace, "I'm so very proud of you."
"So am I, Harry," Mr. Weasley added. "You were extremely brave."
Harry was reminded of his own parents' words to him in the forest, and the parallel caused a lump to form in his throat.
"Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, I'm so sorry about...about Fred."
Molly released him and patted his face as Arthur touched his shoulder. "We are, too, Harry," said Molly, tears welling in her swollen eyes, "but we're so grateful for everything you've done."
"No, please..." Harry swallowed. "Please understand how very sorry I am. It was my fault—"
"Harry," Arthur interrupted, and Harry was surprised to hear the sternness in his voice, "We will have none of that. This was nobody's fault except Voldemort's. Our family willingly chose to fight—as did Lupin, Tonks, and everyone else—because we believed nothing was more important than defeating him. We understood the danger we were facing."
Harry blinked several times and nodded.
"Harry," said Mrs. Weasley gently, "we would have stuck by you no matter what, don't you know that? You're a part of our family."
The lump in Harry's throat was nearly overwhelming him; his eyes were itching.
"We're just so thankful that you and Ron and Hermione are safe," said Mrs. Weasley. "We worried about you all year."
"We worried about all of you, too," Harry told them. "And I definitely missed your cooking, Mrs. Weasley."
Molly smiled. "Yes, well, you certainly look much too thin, Harry. We'll have to fix that. As soon as things at Hogwarts clear up, we'll all head home and spend some time together."
Harry smiled back as she patted his cheek again. Nothing was going to be easy, but at least he had family.
Ron and Hermione were talking softly to each other when Harry, under cover of his Cloak, found them. There were people sitting all around them, but Harry's two best friends were almost isolated in a way, completely focused on each other and their quiet conversation. Of course, Harry thought, thinking that nearly everyone else had jumped at the chance to shake his hand, to give him a hug, to quiz him in detail about how he had defeated Lord Voldemort. Yet Ron and Hermione, in the mark of true friendship, had not done such a thing. They sat at the end of a table minding their own business, completely unassuming and at ease: they must have known he would come find them in the end. Harry's heart warmed at the sight of them.
"It's me," he whispered, crouching down between them. Both Hermione and Ron started, but the brief movement went unnoticed by anyone else.
"Will you come with me?" Harry asked them.
At once, they rose from their seats, turned, and followed Harry out of the Hall. Not until they were on the ruined marble staircase did Harry remove the Invisibility Cloak.
"I reckon you'll still have to carry that thing around, Harry," said Ron, as Harry stowed the Cloak in his pocket, "but for fear of mentally unstable fanatics, rather than Death Eaters."
Harry laughed. "Yeah, well, at least they won't be after my blood."
Ron raised his eyebrows. "I wouldn't be so sure. People are really creepy these days. Remember that one lunatic fan who was obsessed with Lockhart?"
"You mean that Gladys lady? Or whatever her name was?"
"No, I meant Hermione," said Ron.
"Ron, I will punch you in the face," said Hermione as Harry roared with laughter. "And who cares about obsessive Harry Potter fans? I want to hear about everything that happened!"
In painstaking detail, Harry told Ron and Hermione the story of everything he had seen in the Pensieve, stopping only once to hear the ludicrous song Peeves was singing ("Really gives a feeling for the scope and tragedy of the thing, doesn't it?" asked Ron). Ron and Hermione were both in awe of the story of Lily and Snape, which they felt was the missing piece that answered so many questions about Harry's story, and both of them looked angry when Harry told them about Dumbledore's Machiavellian approach to Voldemort's defeat.
"He was using you?" said Ron angrily.
"I can't believe this! Maybe you were right about him all along, Harry!" Hermione fumed.
"No, I wasn't. Listen..."
And he told them about everything that happened in the forest, including how he had resurrected his parents, Sirius, and Lupin. Hermione had tears in her eyes and Ron looked unusually sympathetic. Harry recalled the meeting with Voldemort and the Death Eaters, of how he had heard the Avada Kedavra curse, and of the bizarre meeting with Dumbledore in King's Cross.
"But was it a dream?" asked Hermione in amazement.
"I doubt it," said Harry.
"Well then what was it?"
"Your guess is as good as mine. But everything Dumbledore and I talked about is, I think, true."
He then went on to explain how he had found himself lying face down on the forest floor, miraculously alive; of how Narcissa lied for him so that she could save Draco; of how Hagrid had carried him through the forest.
"And, well, you know the rest," said Harry.
Hermione and Ron didn't speak for a couple of minutes: they both looked somber.
"What?" asked Harry. "What is it?"
Hermione looked up at him as they walked. "We were just really scared, that's all."
"Yeah," said Ron. "We really believed you were dead."
Harry looked at the floor. "Oh."
"You can't imagine what it was like, Harry, to hear Voldemort say that as we were standing in the middle of all that...carnage. I felt like I'd just walked into a thousand Dementors."
"All of us—the whole family—we all started panicking, and then we ran outside and saw you like that..."
"Yeah," said Harry, uncomfortable with the notion of his friends mourning him, "but you kept fighting, didn't you?"
Ron looked surprised. "Well, yeah, of course we did."
"It just—it means a lot to know you would've kept going even though you thought I was dead."
Ron shrugged in a "Well, duh" kind of way, and Hermione placed her arm around Harry's waist and squeezed him as they walked.
"We're just thankful you're here, Harry," she said thickly.
"And I'm thankful you two are here," said Harry.
"Yeah," said Ron, as they reached Dumbledore's office, "and I'm thankful that Peeves has finally stopped singing."
Peeves had, indeed, quieted down at last. Harry, Ron, and Hermione stepped onto the spiral staircase that wound its way up to the Headmaster's Office, Ron and Hermione still emitting noises of amazement and wonder at Harry's tale.
When they entered the room, the portraits on the walls applauded for minutes on end, and then Harry spoke to Dumbledore. Ron and Hermione listened intently, marveling at their best friend and their old Headmaster and the grand resolution which had just unfolded. Harry sought advice for what to do with the Deathly Hallows, and, though Ron thought him mad, decided to put the Elder Wand back where he had found it.
Dumbledore's painted face was still wet with tears when Harry turned back towards Ron and Hermione. He had an air of finality about him, like he had just sealed a business deal. "Want to head up to Gryffindor Tower?" he asked them. "I could probably get Kreacher to bring us some food up there."
Hermione glanced at Ron and rolled her eyes; Ron grinned back before responding to Harry. "That sounds brilliant, mate. I'm in."
She smiled. "Let's go."
Dumbledore smiled fondly at the three of them as they strode to the door of the study. And Harry, as he placed his hand upon the doorknob in order to take his exit, couldn't help but think that the last time he had left this office, he hadn't expected to come back.
"Do you think she'll remember us?"
"Of course she'll remember us! We've only been gone a year, Hermione."
"But think of all the new people she's met by this point. And think of how long she's been around for, Ron. She can't possibly remember everyone."
"We're not everyone. There's only one Harry Potter to have ever gone through this school, and I'm pretty damn sure she would remember him."
"Well that's great for Harry, Ron, but you're not Harry."
"Will you two shut up?" said Harry. "We'll find out in a minute anyway!"
It turned out that the Fat Lady did remember them ("I told you, Hermione," said Ron smugly) and swung forward to admit them as usual, remarking as she did so that it was an honor to serve the most worthy Gryffindors she had ever known.
The three of them walked into the common room and immediately felt at home. It was just as they remembered it; apparently the Carrows had not been able to enter Gryffindor Tower and pervert it with their own stylings. Harry walked over to his favorite armchair by the fire, reclined in it, and closed his eyes.
"Are you planning on sleeping there?" asked Ron.
"Shut it," said Harry. "My arse hasn't been this comfortable in a year."
Grinning, Hermione and Ron followed suit and sat down in their old chairs.
"It feels great to be back here," said Harry.
"Yeah," Ron agreed. "I'm glad Gryffindor Tower wasn't destroyed by the battle."
Hermione let out an mmhmm and the three of them sat in silence for a few minutes, eyes closed, savoring the opportunity to finally relax.
"Alright," said Harry, pulling off his glasses and rubbing his face, "now I'm ready for my four-poster." He stood up and stretched, then looked at Ron and Hermione, who had not moved.
"Aren't you turning in for a bit? We've been awake for—" he checked Fabian Prewett's watch—"nearly 30 hours now."
Ron looked at Hermione, who looked at Harry and said, "Well, actually, Ron and I have a—thing—to do later, so we can't go to bed just yet."
"'A thing,'" Harry repeated.
"A date," Ron clarified. "I'm taking her on a date."
Both Ron and Hermione glanced at Harry, waiting to see how he would take this bit of news. Harry looked merely baffled at first, but then his face broke into a genuine grin.
"Right," he said smugly, looking between the two of them. "I'd almost forgotten about what happened in the Room of Requirement."
"Well that's funny," said Ron, "seeing as how you're the one who interrupted us."
Harry shrugged. "You have to admit, it wasn't the most opportune timing. I guess it was bound to happen, though; you two couldn't have lasted much longer. I should have expected it."
Ron and Hermione blushed.
"So does this mean you're all 'official' now?" Harry teased, ignoring their obvious discomfort.
Hermione raised her eyebrows. "Harry James Potter," she warned, "I don't care if you've just defeated the Dark Lord: I will curse you, here and now, if you take the mickey out of us one more time."
Harry laughed as Ron grinned appreciatively. "Alright, Hermione, alright," Harry said. "I'll stop. Go have fun on your date."
And with that, he headed up to the seventh year boys' dormitory.
Ginny and Luna had been out on the grounds for nearly half an hour's time when Ginny's patience left her.
"Where have they got to?" she asked Luna. "They've been gone all year, traveling to God knows where, and now that they're back here they just wander off!"
Luna smiled sympathetically. "Ginny," she said calmly, "I'm sure they just had some final business to attend to. They do want to see you, of course."
Ginny sighed. "I really, really missed them, Luna."
"So did I. I was so happy when I got to see them again."
"Do you think it will be weird?" Ginny asked in a quiet voice, and when Luna looked confused, Ginny decided to admit to the small fear that had been plaguing her for some time: "What I mean is," she said, "the three of them have been on their own for nine months now, and I don't know anything that's happened. But now the rest of the Wizarding World will be finding out at the same time as me, and I'm just worried they'll get sucked into some kind of celebrity hailstorm, and I'll be left behind—"
"Ginny," said Luna in an unusually authoritative voice, "that's enough. You know them better than that. You fell for Harry because he wouldn't do that at all."
Ginny stared and blinked. She felt ashamed of herself, not least because she had gotten Luna worked up. "You're right," she sighed. "Of course you're right. I just really love him. I love all three of them. But now they're back, and I'm not sure where I fit into all of this."
Luna's eyes, so big and blue and reassuring, looked into Ginny's. "Let me tell you," she said, her voice returning to its dreamy quality. "They need you, Ginny. They've spent months on the run, dealing with things no person would want to deal with, and it's going to be hard for them to readjust to normal life. It will be hard for all of us, but especially for them. And they need you to make the transition easier...Harry especially."
Luna's words put Ginny's heart at rest. "Thanks, Luna," she said. "You're much keener on people than I would have expected. I don't mean that in an offensive way, though."
"No, I know," said Luna. "I'm difficult to figure out. That's what my mother always told me. Dean said so as well." She smiled serenely, like it was her greatest joy that people thought she was difficult to figure out. "You should go find them, Ginny."
It was the small push that Ginny needed, and she set off for Gryffindor Tower at once, feeling excited.
Hermione was drying her hair when the door to the bathroom opened. She glanced in the mirror and saw Ginny's smile reflected there.
"I was hoping you'd be in here," Ginny said.
Hermione turned around, towel in her hair, to face her friend. Ginny still looked battle worn and exhausted; her eyes were red—proof of her grief—but at the moment she looked content.
"Getting cleaned up, are we?" asked Ginny.
"Attempting to. But I've still got burns and scratches all over myself—"
"Oh, it won't matter, Ron likes his women rugged."
Hermione smiled, and Ginny must have seen something in it, for she cried, "Her-my-oh-nee Granger! Something's happened, hasn't it?"
Hermione was caught off guard for a moment, but then she exclaimed, "How do you do that? All I did was smile! I don't see you for months, then you come in here for two seconds and you've already figured me out!"
Ginny marched over, plopped herself down in one of the vanity chairs, and said, "Details. Now."
It wasn't like Hermione to take orders from anyone, but this was Ginny, her makeshift-sister and strongest female ally, so what choice did she really have? She was dying to tell someone anyway...
"I kissed Ron."
Ginny gaped, almost comically. "What! When?"
"Only hours ago, in the Room of Requirement. He said something about wanting to save House-Elves, and I went a bit...crazy." She grinned sheepishly.
Ginny still stared at Hermione with wide eyes, but then she began to laugh with delight. "Oh Merlin, Ninny...I can't believe it."
"Do not start calling me that again."
"Why not? I've told you, according to that Muggle baby names book, it's a perfectly suitable nickname! And it rhymes with mine. What more could you want?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Do you want to hear about the kiss or not?"
"Hmm...good question. I've only been waiting about three years for this to finally bloody happen—"
"Well then shush! You're probably the only person I'm going to tell, so I want to do this right."
Ginny smiled fondly at her, all silliness aside. "Okay, I'm listening, Hermione. Tell me everything."
Hermione wasn't even sure where she should begin. After thinking it through for a minute, she settled on telling Ginny everything that had happened between herself and Ron from the night of Bill and Fleur's wedding up until the present; she recounted the hand-holding, the talks, his reaction to her torture...everything except his desertion. Ginny was giggling one second and widening her eyes at the next—she had heard only a few small details about Hermione's rumored torture and was eager to know the full story, but Hermione wouldn't hear of it.
"That," she said contemptuously, "is something I'll tell you another time. We want to tell the whole family together. So, anyway, when we were at Shell Cottage..."
And finally, Hermione told Ginny about what happened in the Room of Requirement and everything that had led up to it: how Ron had had the idea to procure some basilisk fangs and how he and Hermione had gone into the Chamber of Secrets together.
"What?" Ginny asked, feeling her pulse quicken. "Why on earth did you need to go down there?"
"I'm sorry," said Hermione, thinking she had been insensitive. "It was all part of destroying Voldemort, I promise we'll tell you really soon."
Ginny looked hurt and bewildered, so Hermione hurried on: "Well then we met up with Harry, and we ran down into the Room of Requirement and saw you, and right after you left, it happened!"
"Are you kidding me?" said Ginny. "For years now I've been hearing about you and Ron, and you decide to kiss him the minute I leave? I mean, not that I would really want to see that, but still..."
Hermione laughed. "No, I imagine you would have had the same reaction as Harry."
"Which was what?"
"He interrupted us," Hermione explained, earning a gleeful laugh from Ginny. "I didn't really catch the first part of what he said, because I was so preoccupied, obviously, but then he said something about us being in the middle of a war, and Ron said something like, 'Yeah, we know, so it's now or never,' but then Harry asked us to 'hold it in' until we had found the last Horcrux!"
Ginny sniggered. "Hold it in ?" she repeated. "Really? How very like him..."
It was silly, really, that the first thing she thought when she traipsed down the girls' staircase and found Ron waiting for her in the Common Room was that this was how she always imagined the Yule Ball could have been. She felt pretty, and what was more, she felt confident. The combination of cuts, burns, and bruises on her body with her done-up hair and make-up made her feel both heroic and sexy.
Ron was leaning against one of the couches, looking casually cool. He had shaven and cut his hair and was wearing his nicest navy sweater. He was also wearing the most delighted smile on his face: a smile that had been triggered by her sudden appearance in the stairwell.
"Hi," she said breathlessly.
"Hi," he returned. "Ready?"
She nodded nervously. Ron shocked her by holding out his hand to her; she grasped it eagerly with her own, and they walked out of Gryffindor Tower together.
Hermione felt dazed and overwhelmingly giddy. She was punch-drunk with tiredness, she knew, but she was also dizzy with excitement. As they walked, she began to talk nervously about the goings-on of the castle: whose parents had come to call, who was out of the Hospital Wing, who she had had time to catch up with. Ron contributed his own bits and pieces to the conversation, all the while pulling her along with his hand, a look of delirious contentment upon his face.
They reached the kitchens in no time. Ron let Hermione do the honors of tickling the pear in the portrait of fruit: the door opened easily and the two of them stepped inside to the warm and inviting kitchen.
There were only a half-dozen elves occupying the kitchens this time; the rest of them were still enjoying the festivities in the Great Hall. Kreacher hurried over to Ron and Hermione and bowed, his long snout touching the floor like always.
"No need for that, Kreacher," said Ron, "but if you can manage it, we'd like a table for two. The best seats in the house, if you don't mind."
Kreacher led them to the only table in the room, which was small, round, and covered with an old lace table-cloth. Two small candles had been lit and placed in the middle of it.
"Oh, Kreacher, this is wonderful!" Hermione gushed. "Thank you so much!"
Kreacher grunted and left them to sit down.
"Not bad, eh?" said Ron. "It's perfectly private, just like I wanted. Well, except for the House-Elves, of course, but it's kind of fitting that they're here, isn't it?"
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, come off it, Hermione. House-Elves are practically the cornerstone of our relationship!"
Hermione looked at him like he had gone mad.
"Ah, come on now, think about it," said Ron. "All those years you drove me crazy with your spewstuff, and I finally got it in the end, didn't I? If I hadn't said anything about wanting to save them all—"
"—I wouldn't have passionately attacked you in the Room of Requirement?"
Ron grinned. "Precisely."
"Well, you're wrong there," said Hermione. "I probably would have done that at some point or another, you just finally provided the one impetus I couldn't resist."
"Right: the Elves. So, therefore, they're our cornerstone!"
Hermione laughed. "Well, that's an interesting way to think about it, I guess...I mean, I wouldn't exactly say they're the cornerstone of our relationship..."
"What is, then?" Ron challenged.
Hermione smiled uncertainly at him. "I would venture to say something more along the lines of friendship, a mutual trust, the notion of 'opposites attract'..."
"Oh." Ron smiled again. "Yeah, well, those would probably be better descriptions, now you mention it."
Just then, Kreacher sidled over with a basket of bread rolls and placed it on the table between them. They thanked him, and as he walked away, Ron jerked his head in Kreacher's direction: "I still owe the House-Elves, though. Like you said, they gave you the 'impetus' to finally kiss me!"
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "You know, you could have just kissed me if you wanted it that badly."
"Oh, believe me, I wanted to," said Ron. "But it always seemed to be the wrong time. Especially when I came back at Christmas hoping to tell you how I felt about you, but you punched me instead..."
"Well, I apologize for the punching," said Hermione, squeezing his hand. "You could try now, though."
"Telling me how you feel."
Ron looked taken aback. He paused in the act of breaking his roll and blinked at her a couple of times. She tried her best to hold his gaze.
"Alright," he said after a moment, shifting in his seat a little bit. "Here's the truth of the matter, Hermione." Hermione's heart pounded as Ron took a deep breath and said: "Thing is, I've wasted years and years because of my own idiocy, but I don't want to be an idiot anymore. What I want more than anything is...to be with you."
Hermione let out the breath she didn't realize she had been holding. Ron seemed to take this as a good sign because he continued, "We've talked about everything that's happened in the past. You know that I'm sorry and I know that you're sorry."
"And we talked after everything that happened at Malfoy Manor."
She nodded again.
"So I know we've both been on the same page—at least, I think we have." He glanced at her worriedly for a moment and waited for her to smile before he carried on. "Well, now I suppose the only thing that's left to say is the fact of the matter, which, like I just said, is that I want to be with you. Properly."
Hermione blushed. Something in her inner being was shifting into place. "I suppose I didn't have to make you say all of that," she said quietly. "We both know how we feel."
"It's okay," said Ron, "a little confirmation never hurt anyone. And besides, we had to wait forever to actually have this conversation."
"Yeah," said Hermione, "and it feels weird, because I feel like we should be talking about where to look for Horcruxes or which location to pitch the tent in next."
They both laughed softly, and then Ron said, "You know, it's funny. We spent all those months putting off getting together, saying we couldn't focus on our relationship because Harry needed us. And then at the one time we really should have been focusing on Harry and the war—"
"—We couldn't control ourselves."
Ron laughed. "Yeah."
"Well, you know what they say...heat of the moment and everything. But I'm glad it happened."
Ron looked at her tenderly. "So am I, Hermione."
The walk from the kitchens back to Gryffindor Tower seemed impossibly shorter, or maybe that was just the tiredness that was taking its toll on the two of them. Hermione felt like she was seeing spots, and as she watched Ron, he kept widening his eyes and blinking rapidly in order to keep his eyelids open.
They were about to round the corner that would take them to the portrait of the Fat Lady when Ron came to a halt. Hermione had tried to keep walking, but he tugged on her hand and she doubled back.
"What is it?" she asked him.
Ron looked nervous. "I want to kiss you again before we get back."
Hermione's heart started pounding. "Oh. Well...yes, that's a good idea."
She stared at him. He stared at her. Neither one of them breathed.
Hermione was still gripping Ron's hand. She looked down at their fingers, feeling shy and nervous. Her cheeks were warming.
"Hermione?" Ron asked breathlessly.
Hermione looked up at him. "Yes?"
Ron bounced on the balls of his feet. "I'm...I'm not quite...are you as scared as I am?"
Her heart was racing as she tried to keep her cool. "Scared of what?"
"I'm not...sure. It's just that I've always wanted to kiss you so badly that I sort of don't know how to begin."
His words were delightful, and yet she felt so timid. She looked down at their joint hands again and said, "I think it's hard because we're being deliberate this time. And in the Room of Requirement it just sort of...happened."
There was silence for a full thirty seconds as Hermione looked down at their hands and Ron looked down at the top of her head.
"Would this be less awkward somewhere else?"
She considered. "Maybe we could go sit on the couch by the fire?"
Ron nodded with far too much gusto. "Yeah. Yeah, let's do that."
The Common Room was mercifully empty when they entered it less than a minute later. Ron pulled Hermione over to the sofa by the fireplace and they sat themselves upon it. Hermione pulled her wand out of her pocket, pointed it at the grate, and caused huge flames to erupt in it.
Ron was studying her when she turned back to face him.
"What?" she asked, causing him to blush.
"I'm just wondering," said Ron, "how you feel."
"What?" she asked again.
"You asked me in the kitchens how I felt about you and I told you. Now it's your turn. How do you feel about me?"
Hermione thought he was joking. Had she not just intimated to him only an hour ago that she felt the same way? The corners of her mouth drew upwards in a smile as she waited for him to give up the gag.
He wasn't letting her off that easy, though.
"I need to hear you say it, Hermione," he said earnestly.
"Hear me say what, Ron?" she replied, testing the boundary line. Ron wasn't giving anything away. He simply stared at her with eyes full of apprehension and hope. Was he waiting for her to say...
"...that I love you?" Hermione asked quietly.
Ron drew in the slightest breath, and Hermione received all the confirmation she needed in that small gesture.
"Oh," she said in wonder. "Yes, that is what you want me to say, isn't it?" She raised her arm and touched the side of his head with her hand. His thin red hair was soft and she could smell its distinctive scent, that rich, clean aroma which she had detected in the Amortentia in Slughorn's potions class.
The emotion inside her chest was welling. It was both familiar and refreshing: the kind of heartfelt buildup she experienced whenever she thought of Ron and what he meant to her. Why not tell him tonight, on the same day as their first kiss? She remembered the conversation she had had with him a full year ago, when they had stood looking out over the grounds, discussing Harry and Ginny's relationship: "If he loves her," Ron had said, "he should just tell her. I don't buy that whole wait-until-you've-been-together-for-a-certain-amount-of-time thing. If you love someone, you should let them know."
Hermione sucked in a breath and felt like she might choke on it. "You should know, Ron," she said shakily, "that I love you very much. Very, very much. More than anything in the world. That's how I feel."
Ron's cheeks were on fire and his disbelieving smile was overtaking his face. Hermione felt a lump in her throat; it felt so good to say those words that she felt her eyes start to water. And the next thing she felt was Ron's hand on the back of her head pulling her face close to his, and then their lips were touching again and she was somehow both crying and making out with Ron at the same time.
"Aren't you going to...say it back?" Hermione asked between kisses.
"Can't," said Ron as he kissed her again, "I love you so much that I can't express it with words."
Hermione giggled. "You just did."
"Oh damn," said Ron dryly, "so I did." Then he pulled her to him and kissed her again—kissed her in a way he had never kissed anyone before, because this was Hermione, and he was in love with her, and Voldemort was gone, and their future was spread out before them with endless possibilities.
Some time later, when they started to nod off while still attempting to snog, Hermione decided it would be prudent for them to finally get some sleep. After she had searched through her now-unnecessary beaded bag to find their pajamas and toothbrushes, they fell into Ron's bed in the old circular dormitory, elated and exhausted. Hermione sunk into the pillows, reveling in the feel of a soft bed beneath her and Ron's arm around her, his hand stroking her hair.
"Hermione?" Ron asked softly.
"Hmm?" was her reply.
"I'm really bloody tired, but I don't want to sleep."
Ron felt a restriction building in his throat; he swallowed and said, "This night was so wonderful. I don't want it to end. The longer I postpone sleeping, the longer I can postpone waking up. And I don't want to wake up because then I'll have to deal with the reality of...things."
Hermione opened her eyes, rolled over to face Ron, and looked at him tenderly. "Oh, Ron..."
He felt the sting in his eyes and blinked several times in rapid succession. "It actually happened, didn't it," he said in a hollow voice.
Hermione's eyes filled slowly with tears as she looked at him: his resolve was finally cracking. Lifting her hand, she settled it softly upon his forehead and proceeded to brush his hair away from his eyes. Ron closed his eyes and tried to feel nothing at all except for the beautiful, calming sensation of her warm fingertips on his forehead and in his hair. "I'm trying not to think about it," he whispered to her.
"You can think about it when you're ready to," she told him. "There's a lot to process right now."
"I'm afraid to see my family tomorrow," Ron said, his voice breaking. "We can't hide from it anymore. It's bound to sink in now that the shock of winning is over."
Silence fell for a minute or two as Hermione continued to smooth back Ron's hair.
"I wish I knew how to help you, Ron," Hermione whispered. "I know the pain I'm feeling is nothing compared to what you're going through."
Ron felt a couple of loose tears make their way down his cheeks and he gripped Hermione's hand tightly. "Just promise me you'll be here," he said weakly.
"Of course I will," Hermione said gently as she leaned forward and kissed away the tears on his cheeks. "I would never want to be anywhere else."
Ron took a great steadying breath. "Thanks."
"Just try to relax. We'll take everything step by step, alright?"
He nodded and she felt some of the tension leave his body. She snuggled in closer to him and he kissed the crown of her head.
"I love you," he whispered.
"I love you, too," she replied.
Exhaustion finally had its way with them, and they fell into a heavy sleep.
Harry woke up the next morning, his heart never having felt lighter, as if he had taken off a belt that had been wrapped around his chest. Turning over, the first thing he saw was his two best friends in the bed next to his, their legs intertwined and their hands loosely linked.
Harry stared at them contentedly for a moment, watching their sleeping forms in the golden sunlight. Then he got up, tucked the covers more securely around them, kissed Hermione on the temple, ruffled Ron's hair, and tiptoed quietly from the room, still in his pajamas, but not before having scribbled a quick note:
Hey you lot,
Meet me in the hall for breakfast when you finally wake up (assuming you can untangle yourselves—eww).
Love you both.
a.k.a., The Boy Who Lived—Twice.
(Sorry, couldn't help myself.)
Author's Note: Thoughts on the newly-revised first chapter? Please let me know! (Especially because it's so darn long!)