Eventually, after the funerals and the tears and the endless dealings with the Ministry and trekking across half of Australia to find her parents, life was starting to return to something resembling normalcy. This normalcy was foreign to Hermione. Her life had been turned upside down the summer before she turned 12 when a sodding owl showed up to drop off a letter signed with a flourish and hadn't attempted to right itself since. She was almost 19 now and every time she thought of going back to school in just over a week she nearly hyperventilated with worry. How exactly did Hogwarts work without Harry and Ron there? Without the threat of Voldemort breathing down their necks? Without Snape lurking in the dungeons? The thought of this sudden peace was overwhelming to her. She had spent a tearful two weeks with her parents explaining everything and telling all the secrets she'd been keeping for years. Then she packed up and went to stay at the Burrow. Try as they might, her parents just couldn't understand. The rest of the Muggles just went about their day, pushing their prams through the supermarket, whining about the weather, and Hermione couldn't stand it. It quickly became clear to her that she had to go and be with the people who had lived the experience with her. Apparently everyone else had been having the same issues, because when she sent Ron a letter explaining her request, Pig had come back almost immediately with a letter so short that even he hadn't struggled with it. "Of course. Apparate? Lunch is at 1. –R". Hermione had expected as much, so she grabbed her wand, slipped her already packed bag over her shoulder, tucked Pigwidgeon under the other arm, and turned on the spot.
Harry was there to meet her just outside the Burrow's fence. "Ron said you would be coming," he said by way of explanation as he crushed her against in his chest in a bear hug that made the already disoriented Pig screech. Hermione let him go and then turned back to Harry who was beaming at her.
"Everyone alright here?" She asked Harry, eyes serious. She had left just after Fred's funeral and hadn't been in contact sense. Hermione hadn't known how to begin a letter to Ron and hadn't received one from him either. Harry had been keeping her updated, but his long letters were regularly broken up as he was interrupted by this Weasley or that one and he had a tendency to gloss over the problems at the Burrow. The details were few and far between and never of the sort that Hermione especially wanted but couldn't ask for (things like how well Ron was sleeping at night and whether or not he'd mentioned her).
"Eh," Harry shrugged and turned to lead her through the gate, apparently wanting to leave it at that, but Hermione caught his wrist and turned him back.
"No," she snapped. "No 'eh's. If you're going to meet me alone before I have to meet them, the least you can do is give me a head's up of what exactly it'll be like."
Harry sighed. "It's alright enough. Everyone's here – Fleur, Bill, Charlie, Percy. Teddy's here too – Molly said she'd take him until Andromeda Black can figure out what she's going to do. Fleur's mostly taken him over though. I think she's hounding Bill for a baby. Everyone stayed after the funeral, anyway. George is the worst off, obviously. He doesn't talk about it a lot. Molly's been putting on a brave face, acting like nothing's wrong, but it's easy to see through. Arthur, Ron, Ginny, they're all dealing with it well enough. Remember when Molly had us doing all that work to keep you and Ron and me from heading off? She's like that now. Everyone's working all the time, but at least she's letting us talk now."
"And Ron?" Hermione asked, unable to help herself. Harry grinned and Hermione scowled, shifting her bag back up her arm. "No, Harry don't be – I mean, is he okay?"
Harry rolled his eyes and led her through the gate.
In the five days since Hermione had arrived, they had: stripped and re-made all the beds in the house three times, made 15 near-gourmet meals, de-gnomed the garden anytime Molly could semi-reasonably imagine she'd heard or seen one, built another chicken coop (this one for actual chickens), fenced all of the Weasley property (Fleur, Harry, and Hermione couldn't find any rhyme or reason to the layout of the grounds but all the Weasleys seemed to have a map of the apparently random bounds of the property burned into their brains), re-carpeted all the carpeted rooms, finally fixed that old leaky sink, cleaned the entire place to a spotless shine, and were now in the process of painting the house a certainly very interesting shade of sunny yellow.
Ron, for his part, had been avoiding Hermione since she had arrived. Hermione, uncomfortable and taken aback, had promptly followed suit and so they had exchanged no more than forced pleasantries as they waited for the loo or passed a plate at the table. She had caught him staring countless times and he would have caught her, too, if he didn't have his head so far up his own arse. Harry and Ginny, for their part, were disgustingly in love and offensively aggressive about pushing the two of them together. They had both tried several times to leave them alone but with Ron and Hermione both avoiding it and Molly's insistence on complete obedience amongst her troops it had yet to happen. Hermione had, by now, enjoyed nice conversations with every other one of the Weasleys. She discussed the possibility of beginning to translate The Tales of Beedle the Bard with Bill and the state of the Ministry with Percy. She and Charlie had a long conversation on the issues with the Ministry's Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures over the digging of postholes for the north side of the fence. Fleur had told her all about raising a magical child while bouncing Teddy on her hip while Hermione shucked enough corn to feed a small army. Ginny and Hermione stayed up all night one night talking about Hogwarts in the previous year and paid for it dearly when they sleepily scrubbed floors all the next day. Harry and Hermione got lost in a poorly conceived attempt to escape from Molly's orders that day and spent several hours alternating between quiet discussion and comfortable silence. When left alone one afternoon with Molly in the process of making dinner, Hermione had been hugged for several long minutes as Molly openly wept into her shoulder before pulling herself together and acting as though nothing had happened. Arthur had cornered her after she made an errant comment about Muggle plumbing and she had explained to the best of her knowledge as they'd spent the morning fixing the Weasley's sink. She had even sat down with George one night and prodded him into explaining what exactly the prank prototype in his hand did. It had gone surprisingly well. But still, Ron avoided her.
Hermione brushed a curl of hair out of her eyes. She'd taken the time this morning, a selfish moment to breathe in front of the mirror, to slick her hair back into a French braid, but now, at about eleven on a July morning, the curls were already breaking free. She adjusted her overalls (yes, overalls – Harry had sniggered for far longer than necessary when he first saw them) and dunked the over-sized brush into the can again. Nobody had asked why they were taking hours to do manually what could have been finished with magic in just a few minutes; it was something to do, something to ease the pain and off-set the happiness for a time when it wouldn't be bitter-sweet. Besides, Hermione suspected Molly was running out of jobs. The Burrow looked the best Hermione had ever seen it – although the yellow was not as definitively an improvement.
Harry and Hermione had originally been delegated this task but Harry quickly pointed out that he wasn't near finished emptying out the attic yet and did Ron have a job? Molly had acquiesced without a second thought before going to warm a bottle for a suddenly wailing Teddy. Ron had blushed scarlet and all but jogged for the front of the house as soon as he had sprinted to grab a bucket of a paint and a brush.
As she splashed another few coats of yellow onto the Burrow, Hermione debated using her wand to get this all good and done with, but before long, her mind started to drift.
They had finally gotten a moment alone and he hadn't snuck away. His mouth was on hers, warm and wet and insistent. His hand was tugging her hair and her hand was flat against his chest. She pulled back, panting, and- suddenly, she heard a loud thud. "Oh!" Hermione exclaimed and fumbled to keep from dropping her paintbrush, painting the entire left side of her chin and most of her collarbone in the process. Ron, whose startled clumsiness had apparently caused the noise as he dropped his paint bucket, was reaching for his wand – an instinct fostered by seven years of war. He faltered even further when he realized what he'd done and who he was now looking at and that he was partially covered in yellow paint. He promptly shoved his wand back into his trousers and nervously crossed his arms over his chest.
Covered in paint and in – for Merlin's sake – overalls, she felt as self-conscious as he did and, in her opinion, she felt that way for better reasons. His dark trousers clung to legs and an arse that she had only ever seen in stolen peeks. He must have ditched his shirt at some point in the sunny morning because that was definitely his pale flesh peeking out from under his crossed arms. His stomach was soft and slightly rounded and covered in peach fuzz and golden freckles. And Merlin, he was beautiful. He was pale – the only viable reason Hermione could come up with that he might be shy – blindingly so, but Hermione supposed she was smitten enough to not be bothered. His face was pink, partially from the beginnings of a sunburn but mostly from embarrassment, and his blue eyes momentarily hidden by a sheet of flaming red hair and a ducked head. Her first instinct was to want to vehemently ask why he'd want to cover that fit (she'd never think a bad thing about Quidditch ever, ever again), pale chest, but she somehow saved herself from saying that, at least. "Y-y-y-you're all finished with the other side, then?" She asked instead, flustered. Sod it. At some post between leaving Grimmauld Place and the Battle of Hogwarts she had given up on choking down inappropriate thoughts of Ron entirely – it seemed a fool's errand – but she did curtail them when they distracted her. They were certainly distracting her now! Where was her self-control?
"Yeah... I uh-" He started, but was cut off by a suddenly very shrill Hermione.
"You must be a faster painter then I am!" she said loudly. Bloody hell! For lack of something to do with her hands she patted her hair down, not realizing her mistake until she spotted her yellow palms after her hair had been thoroughly smoothed.
Ron pressed his lips together and nodded, absentmindedly letting one hand sneak up to rub at the back of his neck and the other went down to slip into the front pocket of his jeans – Hermione sucked in her breath at the now exposed chest. It startled him, and his arms snapped back into place. Bloody fu-
"Yeah, I guess I am... But, you know, you get started thinking and-" He trailed off absently, watching her guardedly as though expecting her to cut him off again. She probably would have, too, if she hadn't been far too busy cursing every deity she could recall. Maybe it was safer if she just didn't speak? "I got started thinking and didn't really think about what I was actually doing," Ron finally added.
"Yeah, me too..." Hermione said, abandoning her plan of silence quickly. This probably wasn't the best plan either, however. She hadn't actually been listening and was clueless as to what she had just agreed to. "I guess I just move slower than you do." Please Merlin, she thought, let us still be talking about painting! "What were you thinking about, then?" she asked, hoping to reroute conversation to a subject she could actually keep up with this time.
He opened his mouth to say something, caught himself, and then quickly restarted again. "Oh, well... nothing, really... You?" He was peeking down at her, blue eyes wide, and the last word struck her as verging on desperate. Perhaps it was her imagination.
Hermione was half-tempted to say something playful but threw that out idea out largely because her brain was not functioning on nearly a high enough plane for that sort of mind game. Oddly enough, she was even more tempted to tell him the truth but of course this last impulse was thoroughly unacceptable. "Nothing, really."
They stood in silence for a moment, looking at anything but each other – the trees, the grass, that hideous shade of yellow they'd been slathering onto the house – when Hermione suddenly felt a hand along her jaw-line and looked up to see a fiery-red halo of hair hanging over her face just before his lips smashed into hers.
Once she was aware what he was doing – and oh, Merlin, once she was aware, she was aware – one hand snaked into his hair and the other splayed across his back with the quickness and ferocity of lightning. She got her hand there just in time to feel the tensed muscles of his back relax and then tense once more as his lips touched hers and she opened her mouth to laugh before she realized that she should have opened her mouth a long time ago for much better reasons. He seemed to take her sudden attack on him as a cue that he wasn't going to be yelled at or hexed by canaries and his hands slipped to her hips, which he held like they might disintegrate at any moment. Of course, all other thoughts of anything else flew from her head once she felt his tongue. Hermione struggled to keep herself upright and mentally present, all the while kissing him fiercely. He attacked her just as passionately, and she could feel him curling over her, his back hunched in an effort to reach her lips. She stood on her tiptoes, feeling her bare toes dig into the grass as she did. Instinctively, Ron started walking Hermione back towards the side of the house. "Wait," she said, breathlessly jerking away.
"What?" Ron half-whined. He swallowed hard, then cleared his throat.
Hermione twisted away from him to take his hand and gestured with the other one towards the fresh yellow paint he had just been about to use to pin her. He smiled and she pulled him to a section where the Burrow wall behind her was not yet painted. He leaned down to kiss her once more, gently at first and then suddenly pressing her against the Burrow with force. Unable to help herself, she squirmed and without thought on either Ron's part or Hermione's he picked her up, one hand just under her arse and the other pressed against the Burrow next to where her head now rested. Hermione's breath caught at the sudden new contact and Ron's face heated against hers as he immediately went to let go but Hermione clung to him.
"No, please, don't," she murmured, unable to put any considerable power behind her words. "I like it, really." She lost her breath momentarily as he growled softly at her words and leaned his forehead against hers. Displeased at the pause, Hermione launched herself at him once more, throwing Ron off balance. He stumbled for a moment before managing to settle her back against the wall. Hermione flattened one of her hands against his chest, utterly raw at the feeling of his muscles moving beneath her, while the other was wound around his neck, pulling him closer. She whimpered softly as his hand shifted beneath her bum, rubbing gently, almost reverently. Hermione could feel him smile against her lips and she was just about to smile back when a soft thud sounded behind them.
Hermione froze but Ron flinched back and dropped her as though she was on fire. He turned quickly to stand stiffly in front of a still off-balance Hermione in what was once more clearly a war-bred habit. Hermione peeked around Ron's arm to see Harry standing there, a bucket of paint to one side, and a huge grin on his face. Hermione couldn't help but giggle.
"It's about bloody time!" Harry snapped. "Ginny and I were about to die from all the sexual tension coming off you two – and now I owe her two galleons, you two took so long! I bet less than three days, but she said something about Ron being too shy. Guess she was right. Anyway, Molly sent me to tell you lunch was on the table but, er... I believe I'll tell them you just wanted to do a bit more work. Have fun." He smiled cheekily, picked up the bucket of paint with a flourish, and headed back into the house with an extra skip in his step.
For a while, Ron and Hermione stood, staring blankly at the spot Harry had filled, until, softly, Ron chuckled. Hermione giggled at his laugh, which made Ron laugh again, and soon they were back where they'd started.