A/N: Written for lirecasander for the Love in Full Bloom exchange at the LiveJournal community rwhgficexchange.Thank you do much to Shannon for the beta and coming through for me like she always does. This is my first exchange fic so please, if you are going to review any of my stories, this is the one I would love to hear from you on.
Ron was tired. Well, he thought he was, or at least, that he should be. He hadn't slept for almost two days, most of which had been spent either breaking into the most secure wizarding bank in existence or fighting for his life. This was what he told himself as he lay on a bed in the seventh year boys' dorm, the bed that would have been his had he come to Hogwarts. He'd been lying there for almost five hours now, on that bed listening to the rhythmic breathing of his friends as they slept around him, but he had not slept a wink.
Feeling defeated, he rolled over and out of the bed and collected his clothes, deciding that if he couldn't sleep, a hot shower was the next best thing. He crept quietly across the dorm and into the bathroom, careful not to disturb the others, placing his clothes on the bench. He stripped off his pyjamas and moved under the hot stream of water, letting the water run down his body. He had missed showers while they had been on the run; they had relied purely on cleaning charms until they reached Shell Cottage, where the hot water had been limited due to the number of people staying there. Here at Hogwarts, though, he could stand in the shower for as long as he wanted, thinking about whatever he wanted.
He thought of Fred and that last moment he had seen him alive, just seconds before the room had exploded, the walls and roof falling on them relentlessly, bricks and beams tumbling down and ending his brother's life. Ron remembered pulling himself out of the rubble, taking in great volumes of dusty air as he began to look for his friends and brothers. He remembered the sheer terror in Percy's voice as he had shouted Fred's name in agony and how he had known, even before he reached them, that Fred was dead.
He could still feel the bitter anger that had welled inside him and the need to make someone pay – to make them die -- just like Fred had. He wiped the tears from his eyes as the steam continued to billow around him and he remembered how close he had come to becoming a murderer. Had Hermione not grabbed his clammy hand with hers and pulled him into a crevice in the wall … he was scared to think about what he could have done. What he would have done.
Almost immediately, his thoughts turned to Hermione - her hair flying behind her as she had rushed towards him and kissed him in the heat of the moment in the midst of the battle. He could still remember the feel of her soft lips moving against his and the awkward, yet wonderful, clash of their teeth as they had tried to work out the mechanics of kissing each other for the first time. It hadn't been perfect, but it had been bloody brilliant just the same, and now, all he could think about was when he was going to get the opportunity to do it again.
The hot water ran down his body and he wondered what Hermione was doing at that very moment. Was she asleep? Was she thinking about him too? Or maybe she was wide awake like him and enjoying a hot shower also? Ron groaned at the thought of her in the shower – naked and wet - and rested his head on the cool tiles. She was his undoing. He wondered if she had any idea of the sheer power she held over him now and if she had meant it when she kissed him, or if it had just been a spur of the moment thing. He wondered if she expected him to bring it up with her or was he just supposed to wait until she was ready to do something about it? He hadn't had to worry about stuff like that with Lavender. She had always been completely clear about what she wanted.
He turned the shower off and stepped out, wrapping a towel around his waist and picking up another to dry his long red hair which, due to their months on the run, had grown so long that it now rested just above his shoulders. He shook his head to loosen any remaining droplets, raising one hand and running it through his hair as he grasped the door handle with the other and pulled it open. He stepped into the hall and straight into Hermione, who was mid-turn and slightly out of breath, as though she had been pacing rapidly for some time.
"Ron!" she squeaked as his hand instinctively moved to his waist to ensure the towel was still firmly held in place. "I- I'm sorry," she mumbled, her hands over her eyes, a blush of embarrassment creeping onto her cheeks as she stood in front of him. Before he could stop himself, Ron's hand reached out towards her, stretching towards the pink patches of skin on her face. It was only when the tips of his fingers began to tingle did he realize how close he was to making a complete and utter fool of himself. He snatched his hand back before Hermione could move her hands from her eyes.
"I should go," she said, straightening herself up and meeting his eyes with a false confidence. "I'll see you downstairs whenever you get down there."
Ron watched her as she stepped away from him, and just before she reached the door that would take her through to the common room, he called out to her.
"You don't have to go," he said, almost instantly regretting it. How would that sound to her, asking her to remain in his half-naked company? He quickly rectified the situation. "I mean, just let me get changed, and I'll walk down with you. If you want," he added, not wanting Hermione to think he was ordering her around. She nodded and pointed awkwardly to a spot by the top of the stairs.
"If you're sure," she said slowly, watching him carefully. Ron couldn't stop himself from smiling at her.
After changing quickly, Ron met Hermione in the stair well and the two of them descended the stairs in silence. Ron, who had fallen slightly behind, kept stealing glances at the back of her head.
"You cut your hair," he said as they entered the common room. Hermione turned to him and self-consciously patted her hair.
"It was a mess. Parts of it were all burnt from Gringotts and the Fiendfyre and it was dreadfully tangled. I didn't really have a choice," she replied, with a mildly defensive edge in her tone. Before he could stop himself, Ron reached out and took a strand of it between his fingers.
"I like it," he said, watching her reaction carefully. "It's shorter than I've ever seen it. It's nice." Hermione smiled and flicked his hair.
"It's not too much longer than yours now," she noted. "In fact, yours might actually be longer than mine. There's a first!" Ron batted her hand away in mock indignation.
"It's not that bad. Mum'll most likely want it cut, but I kinda like it. Maybe not this long, but not as short as Mum seems to cut it."
"I'm sure it will look good however it's cut," said Hermione, almost instantly clapping a hand over her mouth. Ron wasn't sure what to do. Was she flirting with him? For a second, he wished Hermione was as obvious as Lavender had been because with her, he knew exactly what was going on most of the time and what he had to say to make her happy.
With Hermione, one small step out of line, one comment with the wrong undertone or said at the wrong time could make or break where they were going. Where he thought they could go. He didn't know whether to push for it or just let it happen or if it was even the right time to be thinking about how wonderful Hermione's lips had felt on his the night before. Or how wonderful they looked right now, slightly parted as she watched him intently. He couldn't bring himself to speak. It would be so easy for him to just reach out, take her hand, and pull her towards him. And never let go.
The thought consumed him, scared him. Was this the love that Bill had described to him the day after he arrived at Shell Cottage that first time, alone and regretful? Was this that forever kind of love that never faded? Was he ready for that? Was she? Ron couldn't think of the answers and panicked momentarily before remembering Bill's final words to him. Just because you don't know the answers, it doesn't mean they aren't there. It just means you might not be quite ready to hear them. He was shaken from his thoughts by Hermione, who was tugging gently on his arm.
"Ron? Ron? Are you okay?" she asked, her voice littered with concern. He nodded mutely. "You were off in another world." They began to walk again in silence, out of the common room and in the direction of the great hall. As they passed the entrance to the kitchens, Ron paused and grabbed Hermione's wrist to stop her.
If he walked into that hall without saying anything, they would be so swept up in the grief and the busy months ahead and they would suffer for it. He needed her. He may not be able to answer any of those big questions, but he knew he needed her. He could only hope that it was enough for her at that moment.
"Hermione, I-" he cut off nervously and ran a hand through his hair. Hermione didn't say anything. She just watched him with wide eyes, her breathing labored, as though she couldn't focus on him and breathe at the same time. Ron swallowed and took a step closer to her, his line of sight darting between her eyes and her lips, drawing him closer and closer with each glance. Hermione looked up at him.
"I- I can't think of the right words," he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "I'm not good at this stuff." Hermione nodded and Ron closed his eyes, unable to hold her gaze any longer.
"You don't have to say anything," she whispered. "I understand, I really do. It's not the right time."
"How do you know what I'm thinking? I barely even know what I'm thinking," replied Ron, in awe of her intuition. She giggled softly, took his hand and pulled him towards the Great Hall.
"I'm really not that good. Did you honestly think it didn't cross my mind? That I might be a little bit- Oh! Hi George!" They came to an abrupt halt as the double doors opened and George barreled out. Out of habit, Ron waited for Fred to follow, but he was snapped harshly back to reality when the doors closed and George stood in front of them alone, his face pale with black bags under his eyes. Ron felt Hermione squeeze his hand. George smiled tightly.
"Alright?" Ron asked, immediately feeling as though it was the stupidest thing he had ever said, wincing and pulling his hand from Hermione's as if he had been scalded. George, noticing Ron's discomfort, stepped towards him, slung his arm loosely around Ron's shoulders, and smiled apologetically at Hermione as he pulled Ron down the hall slightly. Hermione gave them a half wave and opened the doors to enter the hall.
"I'll see you soon." Ron nodded.
"You're allowed to ask, you know? Just like I'm allowed to ask you. Are you alright? You've had a pretty big few days; a pretty big year," George asked softly, in a voice Ron didn't recognize. Gone was the usual mirth that accompanied their usual brotherly talks. In its place was a forced voice laced with pain and fatigue.
"It's been…interesting," replied Ron slowly, feeling the lump in his throat surfacing as he looked at his brother.
"You broke into Gringotts and stole a dragon. I'd say that's a bit more than interesting," said George, slightly incredulous, and Ron couldn't help but laugh out loud. But almost as soon as his laughter had started, he stopped abruptly, feeling ashamed.
"You're allowed to laugh, Ron. You can be happy. You can snog your girlfriend," added George as an afterthought, nudging his head towards the doors Hermione had disappeared through.
"She's not my girlfriend," mumbled Ron, turning away from George to hide the blush that was creeping up his cheeks.
"Why isn't she?" asked George pointedly.
"It- it's not right to … not now … people died," Ron stammered in frustration. He ran a hand through his hair and stepped further away. George sighed, also in frustration.
"Don't use it as an excuse Ron. Don't use Fred dying as an excuse. You know he would want you to get things going with her. Hasn't all this shown you that you can't just let things go and think that you have tomorrow to sort them out? Look at Percy. He came back after all this time, and he had to watch him die, right next to him, knowing that he didn't get a chance to make things completely right," he paused and mirrored Ron, running a hand through his red hair. "Don't use it as an excuse."
Ron nodded with his back still facing George. "I need to- I'm going for a walk. Can you tell Hermione?"
She found him, just like he knew she would, lying on the grass by the lake and staring at the sky. There had clearly been a lot of work done in the time he had been trying to sleep. The many bodies had been cleared away, the bloodstains vanished, and the flashes of spellfight long gone. He'd heard her before he had seen her. She had walked up behind him muttering the security spells that had become so familiar over their time on the run. He looked at her in question.
"Harry made me promise," she said as she sat beside him. "He overheard Kingsley and your dad talking about a few of the Death Eaters they hadn't found yet, and he didn't want us taking any stupid risks."
Ron nodded in understanding and rested his head back on the soft grass, looking up at the stars again. Hermione followed suit and they lay there in silence for a long time. After a while, Ron felt Hermione's hand grasp his, and he spread his fingers apart in invitation. She sighed and entwined her fingers with his. He hoped she couldn't feel him shaking -- he was sure she'd think he was a complete girl -- but if she did, she didn't say anything about it.
"How are you?" she asked moments later, breaking the silence. "I mean, I know that you aren't … I just thought you might want to talk about it."
Ron didn't really want to talk about it, but he knew he had to, if not for him, but for Hermione's peace of mind. She needed him to share with her. He took a deep breath. "You know, since you came and found me upstairs, I've constantly felt like I'm waiting for something. There were so many things that it might have been. There are things that I'm waiting for, but none of them seemed to fit. But I think I've figured it out. I've been waiting for Fred. I've been waiting for him to come and tell me how brilliant we were for getting into Gringotts, or to tease me about-" he cut off and looked across at her, "-about someone and I've been waiting for him to walk in at the wrong time and catch the wrong end of the stick, but he's not. I'm still waiting." Hermione squeezed his hand and he squeezed back.
"I've been waiting for it too," she replied. "I was waiting for him to tease me about holding your hand and touching you hair. But I think I've mostly been waiting for him to prompt you like he normally would. He'd be the one to ask you 'Ron, why are you and Hermione holding hands? Standing a bit close, aren't you two?' and then you would answer, most likely annoyed, but I'd know. I wouldn't have to guess. I wouldn't have to wonder…" she trailed off.
"It wasn't a mistake," Ron confirmed, pulling his hand from hers and sitting up. Hermione followed and turned her head to the side and looked at him.
"Then why haven't you said anything?" she asked, and he couldn't miss the mild panic in her voice.
"I haven't known what to say. I've wanted to say something so many times, but then I'd think about what happened last night and this morning, and I couldn't think of anything good to say," he said, unnerved at opening up as much as he was. Ron didn't talk about feelings. He usually shouted about them and the quiet, hushed tone of their voices was so unfamiliar to him.
"You feel guilty?" she whispered, and he nodded. "Me too. I'm so sad, about Tonks and Remus, about Fred, but then there is this whole other part of me … This is embarrassing, but all I can think about is … well, you." She hid her face in her hands.
Ron felt a weight lift off his shoulders at her words. He wasn't the only one who was feeling guilty. He wasn't the only one consumed with thoughts about the two of them and their kiss and what it meant for them.
"What do we do?" he found himself asking out loud.
He wasn't just asking her though, he was silently asking himself. He knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to pull her into his lap and kiss her. He wanted to run his hands through her hair and then wait a while before going back up to the hall and his family and try not to smile when everyone noticed them holding hands and said things like 'Finally,' and 'It's about time.' On the other hand, he didn't know what he should do. He thought maybe she needed to tell him that bit. He glanced over at Hermione and saw her deep in thought with her eyebrows furrowed. He looked away again and felt a slight rush of air a few moments later, turning to find Hermione kneeling in front of him.
"I want to kiss you again," she said, her eyes shining in the moonlight, a soft breeze blowing her hair across her face. He didn't think he had ever seen her look more beautiful. He couldn't move.
"I need to kiss you again," she affirmed, and that was Ron's undoing. Here she was, inches from him, and telling him that she both wanted and needed to kiss him again, and he couldn't -- didn't want -- to stop himself anymore. So he didn't.
Like a magnet, he was drawn to her, kissing her top lip, then the bottom, then both lips at once. They were both trembling, he could feel it, but it was difficult to focus on the nervousness when she felt this good, tasted this good. Ron smiled against her lips when he realized she must have had pumpkin juice in the hall when he was talking to George.
She kissed him with a renewed vigour, causing herself to topple forward into his lap, and Ron had the wind knocked out of him momentarily. They both laughed, but he couldn't stay away from her for long, and he kissed her again, finally tangling his hands into her hair like he had always wanted to do, and he shivered, both from the way her hands were on his sides, moving up and down light over his shirt, the sensation of his tongue tangling with hers as their kiss intensified.
He knew it wasn't fair to deny them this blissful moment, but he couldn't stop his mind from wandering to what happened next. Did they keep it a secret from everyone else? Did he want to hide this? Did he want to hide how she made him feel? Was it selfish to be happy like this right now?
"Stop thinking so much," Hermione whispered against his lips before pulling away. Ron pulled back and held her gaze.
"I'm just wondering what we're going to tell people. If we're going to tell people," he said, gesturing silently to her sitting in his lap. "I don't want to hide it, but I don't want to be throwing it in people's faces. I mean, I'm happy about this -- about us -- but there is so much I'm not happy about. Can I be both?"
Hermione nodded. "You can be both. Maybe we can just … why don't we just go back up there and see what happens? We don't have to go out of our way to tell anyone but we won't lie if they ask. I don't want to pretend nothing's happened."
"Fred would be happy with this," said Ron as the two of them stood up. "About you being my girlfriend, I mean, although he probably wouldn't have liked to watch us snogging." He laughed quietly.
"Is that what I am? Your girlfriend?" she asked and started towards the castle. Ron quickened his step to catch up to her.
"Well I thought … I mean …" he replied in confusion.
"You haven't asked," Hermione pointed out, taking his hand. Ron spluttered.
"Well, it's us, Hermione. I didn't think I had to ask. I thought we -- I thought we just were."
Hermione stopped them and turned to him, kissing him quickly. "You mustn't have read your book very thoroughly," she said smiling at him. "It's all right there, on page 247. Honestly." She rolled her eyes and walked away from him, a bounce in her step, leaving Ron standing there repeating her words in his head. His mouth fell open as he realized she knew about the book. How did she know about the book? He stared up the hill before taking off after her.
"Hey, how did you know that?"