The morning after Ron's return, a mixture of emotions was racing in Hermione's heart. She was very happy to see him again. During his absence, she'd often feared for his safety. However, Hermione was feeling a bit uneasy about the next step she must take because she still felt hurt over Ron's decision to leave her and Harry. And, especially hurt, from the last words he'd uttered before leaving.
You choose him.
Those words broke Hermione's heart and had echoed in her mind all those weeks he'd been gone. Ron had to know it could never be the truth regarding her feelings for Harry, which were truly only platonic. Ron had to know how she felt about him. She'd given him too many clues during all those years they'd known each other, especially during their sixth year and before Harry arrived at The Burrow before Bill's wedding.
Ron had also showed signs that he cared about changing things between them through the little things he did, such as being more concerned on her behalf, more respectful about her opinions, and by providing those little touches and hugs when she was worried or sad about something.
They had almost reached a level in their relationship that would have allowed them to change it into something deeper and intimate when his insecurities had imposed a double damage on their lives. This time, Ron had messed things up with Harry, too. And it happened precisely when their best friend needed their support and help more than ever. Hermione couldn't help being angry with Ron.
But she believed that Ron didn't mean it. She had begged and cried for him not to leave, but he just left without a last glance back. That really had been the toughest thing for her. However, when Hermione looked into Ron's eyes when he'd returned the night before, she was sure that he regretted every minute he'd been away from his best friends, and especially from her. The intensity of his gaze into her eyes said it better than any words that could have been said between them. She felt better somehow, but she hadn't been ready to make up with him. Not yet.
Hermione couldn't be selfish and only think of herself; she needed to think about what was the best for the three of them and get their priorities straightened out. Romantic reasons should wait. She needed to be well with Ron as soon as possible for all of them to work well together, and she knew that he was sad due to her tough behavior towards him.
Hermione rolled inside her bunk's sheets and sighed. Who was she trying to fool? Using her best dirty looks and oblivious silence against Ron was making her suffer too. She knew it would be pointless to continue that behavior, that it wasn't rational at all. They needed to talk, for the two of them to let everything out, before continuing their search for the Horcruxes.
The fact that Ron managed to find a way to come back to his best friends made Hermione feel less angry with him. He'd also saved Harry's life and destroyed one of the Horcruxes, which made Hermione feel excited because it meant that they were on their way to finding success in their journey against evil. She also felt more peaceful than she had in ages, for she had both of her boys back again. Her nerves had been a wreck all those weeks. She hadn't ever cried as much or felt so useless, and it was good to feel a bit of hope in her heart again.
Hermione took one of her books that she had close to her pillow. When she opened it, she smiled at a dry flower that she was using as bookmark; it was flower that Ron'd given her two days before he'd left. She caressed it softy. On the day Ron gave it to her, Hermione could have sworn that he was close to kissing her. It had happened during one of their walks to collect water, and Ron seemed to be determined to use their alone time well. But Harry appeared suddenly, and the moment was gone. Hermione had just wanted to believe that Ron would try again soon. She believed that they were meant to be together, they just needed more time to settle some things.
She was sure that some words had been exchanged between Ron and Harry, because she knew that Ron wouldn't come back without apologizing to his best friend. It was a bit like what had happened when the boys got angry with each other during their fourth year. It would have made sense. Boys didn't like to make a big deal about some things, like admitting they were sorry about something, especially in front her. The fact that both boys were handling each other well after that entire episode warmed Hermione's heart. At least they'd made up, it was one of the things that most had worried her during this whole situation.
No matter how that talk between them happened, Hermione felt that the three of them would make it, and that was enough for her to focus with all her skills on their journey ahead. During all those weeks, her brain had been too much of a mess to successfully research, and she had felt useless in helping Harry to find answers about the ways to find the missing Horcruxes. Now, she felt ready again.
Hermione sat on the bunk and stretched her arms. She looked over to where Ron was sleeping and sighed. She could imagine the turmoil he had lived through during all that time. Ron wore his heart on his sleeve, and it spoke louder than his mouth. Hermione knew that the locket had affected Ron more than it had either her or Harry. Ron's heart was more vulnerable, and that allowed his insecurities to work against him––like any insecurities he felt about the nature of her feelings towards him. Ron should have known never to doubt them. But maybe she wasn't so obvious about who she fancied during all those years, after all. She knew that sometimes she could seem like a puzzle regarding romantic stuff. There were times when she wished to be bolder, like Ginny, but it was too complicated for her rational mind. She liked to feel that she walked on safe trails. But that was a problem when it came to romance; safety was not the clearest ways to get the desired goals. People had to take risks. She should have learned that lesson before.
Hermione stood from her bunk and changed her clothes after a quick bath in a conjured covered bathtub outside the tent. As she ate breakfast, she looked at her best friends who were still sleeping quietly.
Ron was sprawled under the blanket and snoring against his pillow; his too long red hair covered most of the little pillow he had conjured from a shirt. Hermione wanted to run her fingers though his fringe; it was something she had wanted to do so often before. She restrained herself, like many times before, but couldn't avoid a smile. It was too good having him back.
Ron couldn't have any idea how much Hermione had missed him during those weeks. Hermione wanted several times to speak about him with Harry, but the words always got caught in her throat, and she didn't want Harry to be more upset or worried than he already was. She knew that Harry didn't feel comfortable speaking about feelings, not even when Ginny had been mentioned once or twice during some of their few talks. Harry always changed the subject quickly, and became mute for the rest of the evening until his time to be the watch out began.
Hermione didn't feel comfortable speaking about that kind of things with Harry either. But she felt a need to keep Ron in her thoughts; it was as if doing so could protect him from anything bad. Many times, she felt that if she could speak about him, he might return to her and Harry. She knew she was being foolish, but it made her heart calm down somehow.
To her surprise, the Deluminator had helped to bring Ron back, and it had happened indeed through her voice. Magic wouldn't ever cease to amaze her; it was really more than spells and potions. It was also emotion and bravery, like the power of the strong feelings that helped Ron meet his best friends and get back to them. When Ron spoke about the gang of snatchers he'd met after he left them, her heart almost stopped from worry. She was sure he had endured bad times, just as she and Harry had during his absence, with the extra vulnerabilty of Ron being alone until he found his home. She had never believed that his fondness for his mother's food was one of the reasons for his departure. What had moved him was deeper; Ron wasn't fond of unimportant matters, not when important things like the survival of the Magical World depended on them.
Hermione smirked when she thought of Ron's surprised look when she hit him. She noticed how he seemed sad that she hadn't fallen into his arms when he tried to get a hug from her, and that he had also gulped. But it served him right. How could he have thought she'd prefer Harry over him?
Although, Ron's regretful look did caused her to suffer from insomnia that only ended in the first hours of dawn. She felt so bad after hitting him, even though she tried badly to show that she didn't. Ron had looked at her with such tenderness that she almost melted. But her reasonable side stopped her, and she was glad for that. They needed to talk first, just two of them. There were things that she couldn't say to Ron in Harry's presence. It would be much too embarrassing.
Two hours later, when they got up and left to collect water and search the undergrowth for mushrooms, Hermione avoided any talks with or glances at her best friends. She watched discreetly through the tent's entry as Ron and Harry left. The sound of their feet against some remaining leaves on the ground was the only sound to be heard, interrupting her train of thoughts. Hermione saw Ron throwing two glances towards the tent's entry before he and Harry got too far away. Determined, she went back to researching in her books, her heart lighter.
"I think we should vote on it," said Ron. "Those in favor of going to see Lovegood-"
Ron's hand flew into the air before Hermione's. She couldn't stop her lip from quivering as she raised her own hand. He was too obvious about the reason of his vote; he knew Hermione would win with his support.
"Overvoted, Harry, sorry," Ron said, clapping him on the back.
Hermione felt very flattered at Ron's determination to show her that he cared about her opinions. She was sure that if they were on better terms with each other, he would have taken Harry's side regarding her idea of speaking to Xenophilius Lovegood. She also noticed Harry's smirk about Ron's decision, and Ron's wink to their best friend a couple of minutes after she got back to her bunk.
Hermione turned her back to them so that Ron couldn't see her amused face about the whole situation. It wouldn't hurt taking things slowly but also in a nice way with him. Hermione nodded to herself; she was going to find a way to talk with him tonight when Harry went on his watch duty outside the tent.
However, she didn't need to plan when or how the talk would go, because Ron himself took a chance and approached after Harry left for his watch the night before they were set to leave for Ottery St. Catchpole.
He approached her bunk, where she sat reading, and offered her a cup timidly. "Do you want some tea? I made enough for both of us."
Hermione noticed that his hands shook a bit when he gave the cup to her. She took it slowly, both of them continuing to stare into each other's eyes.
"Thanks. It's nice to drink something before getting some sleep."
Ron seemed to be holding a battle with himself as he spoke to her again. He sat on floor close to her.
"I know that I betrayed yours and Harry's trust when I left… you have every right not to forgive me. But I just need to let you know that I'm very sorry."
Ron gulped, and his fingers played with his cup. His ears were reddening, and he was glancing at her nervously, as if he expected Hermione to start hitting on him as she did earlier. Hermione wanted to say so many things that she had planned for their talk, but she managed only a short sentence. The words she had planned to say to him seemed to be frozen in her throat. Maybe a not-planned talk would work better after all.
"I know, Ron. And I'm sure Harry knows it too."
Ron smiled sheepishly, and made an unexpected gesture that caused Hermione to freeze but in a most warm way: he grabbed her hand softly in between his own. His eyes showed a balance of determination and hesitation. She felt a shiver run down her spine, and she felt her heartbeat beating faster on her chest. His voice sounded more secure.
"I would take back my decision on that night a thousand times. Even though this could seem like a lame excuse to you, that locket made me think things that I always knew weren't true. But I couldn't help myself. Now, I understand the torture Ginny lived when she was under the influence of Riddle's diary."
Hermione nodded and, without thinking, she squeezed his hand back. Ron didn't need to say anything more. For her, it was enough to know he was sorry and to know that he knew the thoughts he'd had weren't true. They knew each other, and she didn't need for him to relive a torture explaining why exactly he left.
"I know you would, Ron. We, and Harry, are living difficult and uncertain times that make all of us think things, have too many insecurities that have no reason to exist. We just need to trust in each other that we'll make it."
Ron kissed her palm softly. Hermione blushed as much as he did but let him kept talking. She didn't trust her speech skills when her heart was beating so fast, and her will to hug him was too great. But she needed to take things with him slowly. It was the best for her; she had felt too enthusiastic about their relationship in the past, and then fate had given her some bitter gifts, like the Lavender fiasco.
"You're right. Can we start over again from this moment, please? I mean… can I fix the things I messed up with you? It's really important to me, Hermione. You know what you mean in my life; you really mean so much to me."
Hermione looked straight into Ron's eyes, and the unconditional sense of friendship and love were too intense and honest for them not to be true. She had never been so sure of his love for her as she was now looking from his pleading eyes into her soul and feeling his warm hands on hers.
She nodded and gave him a little smile. Then she took the book she was reading earlier and opened it. She needed to do something before she flew into his arms and hugged him tightly. Ron smiled back nervously at her and stood up quickly when Harry stepped into the tent.
Ron deserved another chance. Both of them deserved another chance.
Hermione's sleep that night was one of the best in her life.
A/N: Many thanks to my good friend pili204 for her valuable beta work, and also to my good friend queenb23 for her valuable pre-beta work.
This fic was originally written for LiveJournal's hallowedmoments challenge.
Thanks for reading my story