Disclaimer: I own nothing except a pair of really cool orange socks. Sue me for them, and we shall fight to the death! Avada Kedavra!
A/N: Wow…last chapter! Awesome, huh? Now we're in my own realm…what I feel should've happened in the tent! And I'd like to thank all of my reviewers high fives all of you and give a special thanks to the-missing-arm-of-krum, who was the first to holla at me with a WOOT! And to Jaded Imagerywho has a very keen eye when it comes to spotting genius songs.
After the bitter sting of ice water and wind, stepping inside the tent was like being enveloped in a warm bath. Being away for so long had made me really appreciate the return…and although I knew I'd have a job on my hands getting back into Hermione's good graces, I'd deal with it. I had no other choice.
Things were started to die down after our rather hectic reunion; Harry, after tossing and turning in his bunk for the better part of an hour, admitted defeat and ambled off to sit just outside the flap, letting the biting cold air clear his head. He wasn't alone…none of us could sleep.
The only light in the tent apart from the bowl of dancing bluebell flames was the tip of Hermione's wand, which was moving rhythmically back and forth across the pages of a thick book. She was propped up against a stack of pillows, her lips moving involuntarily as she read with her nose an inch from the page.
It wasn't an unfamiliar sight, I mused, lying opposite her with my hands tucked behind my head. It was almost comforting…it felt normal. It felt as though we were in the Gryffindor common room, and she was tucked into her favorite armchair, studying. The fact that I was lying close by, watching her intently…that was awfully normal as well. Many times, I had been stretched out in the floor alongside the fire, enjoying her company, and she would raise her head, give me one of those amazing smiles, and say…
"Just what in the bloody hell are you looking at?"
Her sharp tone hurled me unpleasantly back into the present; I gave my head a slight shake to rid myself of the glorious image in my mind, and told her, quite calmly, "You."
She appeared slightly taken aback, but regained face quickly as she snapped, "I'm well aware of that, Ronald. Perhaps you need to find someone else to goggle at."
I shrugged. "If it bothers you," and I directed my gaze to the canvas ceiling, watching the dark shapes of snowflakes drifting over in the glare of the pale moon. I'm sure at any other time I would've found it quite entertaining. But now, not even Gwenog Jones herself could've torn my tangled thoughts away from Hermione…I hadn't seen her for what felt like forever, so if I wanted to look at her, damn it, I was going to do just that.
It was for this reason that I once again raised my eyes to her; with a jolt in my guts, I met her gaze…she had been staring at me, almost intently as I had her. I felt my breath lodge in my throat as I took in her expression; no longer was she glowering at me with a fiery anger. Her eyes were soft, pained, and confused…I'd have rather she used an Unforgivable on me, than to look at me like that.
"How could you?" she asked quietly, and the misery I heard made me want to throw myself back into that pond and drown, like I deserved.
I ducked my head, hating myself, not wanting to meet her gaze. "I don't know, Hermione," I mumbled. "I don't have an excuse. That damn locket was throwing me for loops, but I know I can't hide behind that…"
"I didn't ask you why you left!" she snapped. And then her voice grew gentler. "I asked how could you?" there were tears in her eyes. "I came after you, begging. I ran round that whole stupid hilltop crying for you. And you…you just…" she broke off, trembling.
I couldn't stand it anymore. In one quick bound, I crossed the tent and eased myself down on the side of her bed. As I slipped my arms around her and pulled her to my chest, I half-expected her to punch me…sort of hoped she would, I suppose…but to my surprise and relief, she merely quivered against my shoulder, holding in her sobs.
"After you promised that nothing would h-happen to me or Harry, y-you just left!" she stuttered. I felt an uncomfortable swooping sensation in my chest, as my brain unwillingly focused on that day at the Burrow as she cried over her parents…
"I know I did," I whispered, feeling my own eyes stinging and willing myself not to break down in front of her. "And I hated myself every blasted day I was gone. When I saw you tonight…" I let the sentence die away, fearing I was coming dangerously close to revealing the secret I'd worked so hard to keep. But she was looking at me, a question hovering in her warm brown eyes, and I had no choice but to continue. "When I saw you, it was like waking up from a horrible dream. Like I'd been sleepwalking. Which, I guess I have," I admitted, tearing my gaze away from hers. "I'd been thinking some pretty horrible things when I was gone…wanting to know you were okay, but scared to really find out."
She was staring at me, mouth slightly agape. "Well…I suppose for the emotional range of a teaspoon, that's not too bad."
It was a mark of how turned around the whole world had become, when Hermione tried to lighten the mood with a joke. But I'd waited too long to get this off my chest, and I wasn't stopping now. "Every second that I didn't know what was happening was like a Bludger to the face," I told her quietly, twirling a finger around her chestnut curls. "But I'm back now, and Merlin knows I'll not be leaving anytime soon. Not for Horcruxes or swords or…"
"But you did leave, Ron!" she exclaimed, tugging away from my embrace…and at the same time breaking my heart. Her eyes were narrow and accusing, a far cry from the gentleness I'd seen just a few moments before. "You did leave, and even though you came back, you can't expect me to forgive you just like that…"
"Yes, I do!" I told her forcefully, grabbing her shoulders. "You have to forgive me for this now, Hermione!"
"WHY?" she screamed.
"You said it yourself!" I bellowed back. Her eyes widened in confusion. "You said it last summer, at the Burrow. We don't have the luxury of time anymore! Anything could happen! If the right Death Eaters found us, we could be dead before we could get to a wand! And I'm not going to die knowing you're upset with me!"
She gave a little gasp, and then began to cry in earnest. I sat there for a solid minute, marveling at myself. Weasley, you a git if there ever was one. Not able to put it off any longer, I once again wrapped my arms around her and whispered, "Blimey Hermione, I'm sorry. I don't know what's wrong with me. I just can't…"
"No! No, don't a-apologize," she sat back, careful to stay within in my grasp, and wiped at her eyes. "You're right…you're completely right, Ron. We c-can't afford to f-fight like this, and I know h-how much it had to hurt you to leave…"
I was utterly shocked. No amount of preparation would have prepared me for this. I always knew the girl was bloody brilliant, but she'd outdone herself. Relieved, though still disgusted with myself, I began slowly stroking her hair, reveling in the feel of it. "It did, but I still shouldn't have done it. And I know I hurt you as well…"
She leaned against my shoulder, her breath tickling my ear. "It's just that, after…after losing Dumbledore, and sending Mum and Dad off to Australia, and then having to leave Ginny and your family…I was losing everyone, and then when you left, it just hit me and…"
Her words faded into silence as she took a moment to gather herself; I, on the other hand, now had such a grip on her neck I'm surprised it wasn't painful.
"…and it hit me that I didn't have anyone left. I was losing everyone I loved, and then you were gone…and Merlin knows I love you more than anything…"
At that moment, somewhere off in the world, wizards and Muggles alike were falling to their deaths at the hands of Death Eaters. Students at Hogwarts were being tortured…for all I know, maybe some of them were dying. But all that seemed to disappear in a whirl of smoke and color, dissolving into nothingness as her words echoed inside my brain like tolling church bells.
But unfortunately, I'm a Weasley: slow at the starting line, a bit thick, and daft to the point of it being a problem. So I acted like any Weasley man would.
"Oh Ron, surely you're not that thick?" she said disapprovingly, wiping the last traces of tears from her eyes. "After all, you're the one who picked up on Harry's feelings for Ginny...so I knew you weren't completely oblivious…"
Well in my defense, she'd kept it hidden pretty bloody well.
"But I thought…I reckon I always thought you'd fancied Harry," I mumbled, feeling a blush working its way into my neck.
I could feel her eyes on me. "Me?" she asked in disbelief. "Fancy Harry? Ginny would murder me!" she reached out and slid her fingers under my chin, forcing me to look at her. I almost lost my head at her soft touch. "When have I ever given off any impression that I fancy Harry? Over you, at that?"
"Well, you two never fight…never have any of those blazing rows we have. You always just seem so comfortable with each other…and with us, sometimes you could cut the tension with a knife!"
"Thank you for proving my point."
I sat there on the edge of her bed, my fingers still intertwined in her soft hair, thinking. If she was telling me the truth…and I'd never known her to lie to me…and I understood her correctly…well that meant…"So let me get this straight. If I'd just out and told you what I wanted to at the Burrow…"
"Merlin's beards, Hermione," I leaned forward so that my forehead touched hers. "You know I love you. More than anything. Even more than Chocolate Frogs or Quidditch."
She blushed pink, realizing how serious I was being.
"…So if I'd up and told you last summer…then we would be…?"
"Oh, I daresay we'd be in the exact same position we are now," she told me matter-of-factly. "I doubt any amount of persuasion on my part would've stopped you once you'd got it into your head to leave…"
"That's where you're wrong," I told her softly, running my fingers out of her hair and along her shoulder blades…drowning in the sensation that the overwhelming love I'd felt for so long was mutual. It was quite a feeling. "I suppose one of the main reasons I left was that I thought you were…choosing Harry," I ended in a mutter, ashamed of the truth. When I realized she hadn't answered me, I looked up fearfully.
She was smiling at me, although she appeared very sad. "Oh, Ron…Harry needed us. Both of us…and when you left, he needed me. Just like I needed…just like I need you. Although perhaps not for quite the same reasons," she added, making me grin. "And like I said, I know how hard it must've been for you to leave us…but there's no reason to dwell on it any longer."
"But I did," I repeated ruefully. "And of course I'm going to dwell on it, Hermione; you act like you don't know me…"
Anything else I meant to say was cut off quickly; Hermione head tucked her hand firmly behind my neck, and the next second she was kissing me, kissing me like no one ever had…not even Lavender. It was passionate, and yet gentle at the same time. Only one of her many strengths, I suppose. I raised my hands to her face and responded eagerly, focusing all the anger and relief I'd felt in the last few months into kissing her…
Then she drew back and whispered "Don't dwell on it," sincerely into my ear.
"Dwell on what?" I breathed, struggling to capture her mouth again.
"Oh, Ron," she laughed, pulling back and swatting me on the head. "Pull yourself together."
She chuckled again, bringing her head down to rest on my shoulder. "Oh…and we can't let Harry know…"
"Harry knows. Trust me," I assured her, remembering the words Harry had told me as I sat rocking on my knees in the forest.
"I suppose you're right…but we can't flaunt it in front of him…"
I gently pushed her back down on the bed and lay down next to her. "I understand why you wouldn't want to flaunt me in front of him," I told her seriously, pulling her into a tight hug. "Making him jealous for taking me away and all that…" she snickered into my shoulder. "But is there another reason?"
"How do you think it would make him feel, seeing us together all the time when Ginny's so far away?" her voice was low with tiredness and sadness.
"Blimey…you're right. All right, I'll behave…I'll try, anyway."
Her laugh was like music, and she buried her face in my maroon Weasley pajamas, one hand raking across my shoulder. I rested my head against her delicious-scented hair…trying to let it all sink in…
"Made up then, have you?"
I gave a start of surprise and looked up to see Harry's amused face grinning down at us. So much for keeping it from him…but he couldn't have look more pleased with himself. Maybe he assumed he was responsible.
"Well, we are in the middle of war, mate. No reason to be losing our heads over every little row."
Harry snorted as he climbed into his bunk. I could feel Hermione shaking with silent giggles, and had just reached over to give her a quieting nibble on the ear when…
The two of us were blasted apart as Harry's Shield Charm erupting between us. Now both of them were roaring with laughter, and it was with a defeated attitude that I clambered out of her bed. "Really need to work on your timing there, mate," I told him darkly as I climbed into my own bunk.
He sniggered. "Get the lights, will you Ron?"
Mocking him silently, I removed the silvery Deluminator from the depths of my pocket and clicked it. Expectedly, the small swirls of bluebell flames soared gracefully inside…and in the ghost of the dancing indigo light, I could swear I saw a pair of twinkling blue eyes beaming at me, and in the faint whoosh of wind that crept whispering into the tent, I heard the echo of a kind old man's wise chuckle.
Dumbledore had known all along that I'd want to come back to her…come back to them. And of course…as it always had been, and always should be…
Dumbledore had been right.
----So what did you think? I'm anxiously awaiting reviews! And you haven't heard the last of me…a new fic starring Snape/Lily is in the works! Thanks again to all my reviewers!