A/N: Thanks so much to BlackHawk13 for being my super efficient beta!!! :-D
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter in any way, shape, or form.
Hermione studied at the cookbook as if it were a potion text book before a NEWTs final. Ingredients were spilled across the counter, and flour coated the front of her apron. Her hair was impossibly frizzy, thanks to the heat from the stovetop and the summer sun outside. Several pots angrily boiled on the stove, and there was the distinct scent of smoke permeating the air.
Has to be perfect, Hermione thought desperately. Hermione knew she was a miserable cook. But ever since the final battle, Mrs. Weasley hadn't exactly felt up to her usual masterpieces in the kitchen. Hermione had taken it upon herself to try to help, but like it was today, it wasn't working out so well.
Tonight she was attempting Shepherd's pie. If it weren't bad enough, she was also making the meal for ten.
It was in this harried state that Ron found her. She looked as if she were about to cry, her hair flying about her face as if she were mad.
"Hermione, what are you doing?"
"I'm cooking, Ronald, can't you see that?"
Her tone was brisk and biting. He had to hold back a laugh. "I see that you're wearing more food than anything else."
She whirled around, wooden spoon in her hand, tears in her eyes. "I don't need you to point out all that I'm doing wrong, Ronald. I just can't take it…" She punctuated each word with a jab of the spoon, and turned back around before he could see her tears fall. She brushed them away angrily with the back of her arm, and began furiously stirring the contents of her bowl. Ron covered her hand with his, stilling her hand.
"Hermione. Stop," he said in a soothing voice. Her body, so tense before, relaxed slightly at his touch. It had been several weeks since The Kiss, but neither had found the time nor the right moment to address it. It had been wholly inappropriate to start a relationship when there were people to be buried and wounds to be healed. The physical wounds were mostly gone, but the emotional scars would probably never go away.
Still, the tension between Ron and Hermione persisted, intensified by the fact that they found themselves alone for the first time in a long while, and that Ron hadn't removed his hand from hers. Their eyes met, and they both froze. The air was thick with tension, and Ron could feel Hermione's pulse thrumming in her wrist. His matched the same frantic pace.
Hermione parted her lips, as if to say something, but then looked away. Ron felt a flush of disappointment, and released her hand. She continued stirring, looking down. Her busy hair provided a curtain between them, and Ron couldn't read her expression.
He cleared his throat. "Need some help?" he offered.
Hermione looked up and shot him a grateful look. "Yes, thank you. Could you please mind the pots on the stove? Here," she said, thrusting a spoon at Ron.
They cooked in relative silence, Ron only breaking the calm with brief swears as he burned his thumb or splashed boiling water on himself. Hermione felt nervous around Ron, as he felt towards her. Neither wanted to make a move, or be the one to broach the topic of those moments in the Room of Requirement.
Before they knew it, supper was finished, and with a few waves of their wands, the kitchen was clean once more. Hermione sent Ron to get everyone for supper, and she set the table with another flick of her wand. Harry and Ginny appeared soon, followed by George and Percy, Fleur and Bill, and the Weasley parents.
Dinner was relatively quiet, despite Ginny's attempts at humor, but there was still the underlying sorrow that still refused to go away. Ron sat next to Hermione, their shoulders brushing every once in a while. They darted nervous smiles at each other, both silently loving the brief contact. Mrs. Weasley was mostly silent, and finished her meal quickly. On her way out, she patted Hermione on the cheek, saying "Thank you dear. That was delicious." Then she disappeared upstairs.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione all exchanged a long look. It was difficult to watch Mrs. Weasley mourn. They all felt the pain of losing Fred, but Mrs. Weasley, George and Percy were the ones most deeply affected, each shouldering their own versions of grief, guilt and remorse.
Everyone eventually excused themselves, leaving Hermione and Ron alone once again in the kitchen. The tension was back in the air. Hermione felt it in the pit of her stomach. With the others around, it was easy to forget, or at least ignore, how she felt about Ron. But when she was alone, when they were alone, she couldn't think of anything else.
She busied herself with carrying dishes to the sink, and filling it with warm, sudsy water. Tonight she was going to hand wash the dishes. She needed to vent out her frustration and stress, and manual, Muggle labor always seemed to help her.
Ron silently joined her, rinsing and drying the dishes. Both felt the need to say something, anything, but the words wouldn't come out. His thoughts were clouded with doubts and irrational fears. Yes, she had kissed him enthusiastically, blushed in his arms. Yes, there had been hints, clues, downright obvious moments where it seemed like Hermione felt the same as he did. But still, his lingering fears about everything from Viktor Krum to his spontaneous abandonment during the Horcrux search had him wondering if she really could feel the… love… he felt for her.
Her thoughts were no better. She felt an ache in her chest which worsened each moment she stood next to him without saying a word. Hermione desperately wanted to whirl around, ask him what he had thought of the kiss. Maybe he had just kissed her back because they could have died at any moment. Maybe he would have kissed anyone in that moment. Maybe…
Her thoughts were interrupted by the clearing of Ron's throat. She looked up, startled from the silence, and gazed into his clear blue eyes. He was staring at her with a strange expression, one she couldn't quite read.
"Hermione," he started. "We have to talk." Hermione's heart leapt, but she pretended not to know why.
"About what?" she asked quietly, concentrating on cleaning a particularly bad spot on one of the plates.
"About us," Ron said just as quietly. "About… you know… the… our…" His face was scarlet. "About our kiss." He said the last word almost as a whisper.
"Right," said Hermione, feeling herself blush.
"Hermione. Please look at me." Ron grabbed her wrist, turning her towards him. They both felt jolts of heat run through their bodies. "Please don't tell me it didn't mean anything."
"Of course it didn't. I mean, it did, I mean…" Hermione briefly closed her eyes, and gave a short sigh. She looked back into Ron's eyes, and saw the fear and doubt reflected in them. Somehow she found the Gryffindor courage to speak from her heart. "Ron, it meant everything." Her voice was so tiny, he was afraid he hadn't heard her correctly.
"What?" he asked, wanting to hear the words again, make sure that he hadn't imagined it.
"It meant everything," she said in a stronger voice. She took a deep breath, and looked up at him again. She was surprised and thrilled to see a look of pure bliss and happiness on Ron's face.
"It meant everything to me, too. Hermione, it was the only thing that kept me going."
She smiled sweetly. "I know the feeling."
They stared into each other's eyes, gravitating towards each other until Hermione found herself in Ron's arms without feeling as if she'd moved at all. Both ignored the fact that their hands were covered in soapy water. Her hands slid up to his broad shoulders while his hands found the curves of her waist. He pulled her close to him, feeling her against him, for the first time truly. It shocked him how well they fit together, as if they were made to hold each other this way.
Hermione was finding it hard to breathe. It felt too good, his strong arms holding her. Her heart was pounding, so loudly in her ears she was sure Ron could also hear it.
"Hermione," Ron said huskily, the sound thrilling her. "I really want to kiss you. Is that OK?"
"Yes, it's more than OK," she replied softly.
Ron leaned forward, slightly terrified, but more than motivated to make the move to Hermione's mouth. His lips met hers hesitantly, making sure it was really what she wanted. When her mouth moved eagerly against his, he matched her enthusiasm, hopefully running his tongue along the seam of her lips. She granted him access and his world tilted on its axis as he tasted her.
One hand found itself in her crazy hair, the other wound more tightly around her waist and he dragged his mouth across hers. She was sighing and whimpering, threading her fingers into his ginger locks. The kiss was heated and growing in urgency.
Hermione finally pulled back, gasping for air. Ron was also taking deep breaths, his cheeks and ears flushed red. Hermione observed how his hair was standing on end from her fingers, how his mouth was slightly swollen, his blue eyes dark and hazy with what she hoped was lust. She shivered, knowing she and she alone had put him in such a state.
"Hermione, I can't be your friend anymore." Her stomach suddenly dropped, pain seared in her chest.
"What?" she asked, more loudly than she had anticipated. "What do you mean, Ron, we have to be friends, I need you in my life, I-"
"I can't be your friend because I want more… I want to be your boyfriend."
Her mouth dropped open in shock and relief. "I would love nothing more," she said, playing with the hair on the back of his neck.
His face lit up with excitement. "So… so you'll be my girlfriend?"
"Of course," she said, and kissed him again to seal the promise.
A/N II: I'm thinking of making this into a story. Let me know if that's something you'd like to see. :-)