A/N: Gosh, you guys. Here is it, at last. An update. And to be honest, I think I'm going to do another chapter. Just one more... I see it in my head and know what it could be, so yeah. I... I probably will :)
Thank you so, so much for sticking this out with me and I really hope you enjoy this new chapter!
I'm dedicating this one to my ff[dot]net pal ObsessedRHShipper. Hope you're having a fantastic start to a new year and that your birthday was super awesomely fantastic! xx
Chapter 15 - The Final Battle, Part 2
"Hang on a moment!" Ron shouted, stopping in his tracks. "We've forgotten someone!"
In all the chaos, he wasn't sure why he'd suddenly remembered them, but he had. And of course, they had to do something. The three of them were really the only ones who could, at the moment.
"Who?" asked Hermione, turning to look up at him.
"The house-elves, they'll all be down in the kitchen, won't they?" Ron explained, logically.
"You mean we ought to get them fighting?" asked Harry.
"No," Ron said, quite seriously. "I mean we should tell them to get out. We don't want anymore Dobbies, do we? We can't order them to die for us-"
But from there, nothing else really registered, because seconds later, he hardly had time to gasp at how close one of Hermione's discarded Basilisk fangs had come to stabbing through his trainer before she was off the floor and in his arms. A series of clatters surrounded him - the rest of the fangs? - and he was suddenly holding Hermione in his arms, and...
He melted against her with a sigh, squeezing her tighter against his chest - was that physically possible? Was this really happening? He must have dropped the things he was once holding - the broom and his own collection of fangs - but he couldn't remember doing it. He was holding Hermione off the floor, her feet dangling against his shins. Her arms gripped his neck so forcefully it might have been painful if he wasn't so incredibly distracted by pleasure.
But. Why now?
Surely he didn't have enough logic left at the moment to answer questions such as that. And he smiled against her lips as she clutched him tighter still, her hands seemingly everywhere.
...was someone speaking? He wasn't sure. Sod it anyway. He was kissing Hermione!
Ron reluctantly opened his eyes and moved half an inch away from her, separating their lips, and lowering her gently back to the floor.
Right. Harry. Harry was here. They were... in the middle of a war? Yes, that was right. Okay...
"There's a war going on here!" Harry shouted, cementing the newly remembered fact into Ron's mind.
"I know, mate," Ron said, looking into Hermione's eyes.
They were so close. He was sure he'd never been this close to her eyes before. He could hardly breathe. He might have been borderline drunk, somehow... actually. It was the closest thing to this new, perfect feeling that he could ever recall experiencing... "So it's now or never, isn't it?"
"Never mind that, what about the Horcrux?" Harry shouted. "D'you think you could just - just hold it in until we've got the diadem?"
Ron wasn't sure if he felt his cheeks burning from the amazing, incredible, perfect thing that had just happened, or because it had to happen at what was arguably the worst possible moment, because now they had to stop. It was completely unfair. But completely true. And he slowly untangled himself from Hermione who looked like she wasn't going to regain the ability to speak for some time yet. She was so damn brilliant, he just wanted to fly away from all of this with her and kiss her approximately infinity more times...
But instead, he looked away from her lips, her eyes, her rosy skin...
"Yeah - right - sorry," he said, gathering fangs as his heart pounded in his ears.
And then they were running...
She couldn't think straight. They'd survived. But... nothing felt right. Nothing at all.
Somehow, she'd gotten from the ruins of the castle to the Burrow and was perched on the edge of a camp bed, sunset glowing around Ginny's silent room. She wasn't sure what she'd expected, or where she should go from here. All she could do was collapse onto the bed and close her eyes, trying her best to release everything she couldn't stop thinking about, couldn't stop reliving... a strange combination of sorrow and fear and dreams coming true...
Ron's face as Fred fell to the castle floor... debris and dust falling, coating their clothes as they ran... and his blue eyes, shining and wide, an inch from her own... her lips encased by his...
She woke up the next morning absolutely freezing, with no recollection of falling asleep. She blinked and tried to sit up, but everything ached. She was calmed momentarily by the sound of Ginny's soft snores. But soon, it wasn't nearly enough just to know they were alive and it was over. She needed him.
She stood from the bed, wincing, but ignoring the pain she felt, and she left Ginny to sleep alone, creeping down the silent hallway towards the stairs...
But then, suddenly, she stopped, frozen. He hadn't come for her. He'd slept alone, floors above her. And he hadn't said a thing about what had happened between them. She suddenly felt selfish and needy, and it was wrong to go to him now. All the wrong thoughts were jumbled inside her head, weren't they? He'd lost his brother! And she thought she needed him?
If he needed her, he'd come to her. And he hadn't. So he didn't.
So, she crept back into Ginny's room, sat on the edge of her bed, and drifted off with her own thoughts...
She spent the next day alone, wandering the grounds of the Burrow, trying to read, and catching Harry's eyes where he sat on the porch with Ginny. It wasn't until dinner that she saw Ron again.
His face was stained from crying, and he wouldn't look directly at her. She felt her heart drop as she wondered if they'd broken before they'd really been fixed.
But she didn't have time to think about it for long. She was soon upstairs, dressing in all black, trying to hold back a bit of each breath to keep from breaking down... in case he did need her.
The ceremony was short, and concluded with a round of George's fireworks. Hermione wasn't sure she'd actually seen George at all since the battle had ended, and today, he looked almost unrecognizable. She realised that her eyes were too frequently wandering to back of Ron's head, where he was huddled with his siblings in silent sobs. Fred was gone, and that was never going to change.
She wanted to go to him, to tell him how sorry she was, but it meant nothing to apologize. She hadn't been the cause of his grief. And she had no way to cure it. She found his hand wrapped around hers later, as he held onto Harry. She wasn't sure how it had gotten there, but her body felt lighter than air as he clung to her. But then, before she'd had nearly enough time to breathe properly, it was over, and she was clearing the yard of chairs and discarded cloaks, Harry following her silently until night fell.
She looked for Ron, until she approached his closed bedroom door, silence echoing from the other side. Not wanting to disturb him, she paused for a long breath, contemplating his solitary grieving. She wanted him to know she was there for him. She didn't want him to think she hadn't made an effort, or that she wasn't available. And so, reaching into her back pocket, she retrieved a scrap of parchment, an old habit from her school days still lingering... carrying parchment and quills on her wherever she went. She'd almost laugh at the way she'd clung to routine, but she had more important things to do.
She wrote a quick note, not bothering to sign it, taking a moment to revel in knowing he'd recognize her handwriting without a doubt.
I'm here for you, if you need me, she wrote, and she left the tiny scrap of parchment hovering in the air at what she concluded was approximately Ron's eye level, just outside his door.
And without another pause, she went to bed alone, clutching her blanket up under her chin.
She blinked twice and sat up in bed, drawn to the sound of his voice. He was standing in the doorway to Ginny's room, looking exhausted.
"Ron?" she called back, as if she couldn't quite believe he was here, and that she could actually hear him. She felt like she was still trapped in her dreams, the echoes of distant screams and sobs physically draining all recovery she might have received in rest, leaving her as worn down as if she hadn't slept for a moment.
She sat up further and brushed loose hair out of her eyes. Ron cleared his throat and nodded unnecessarily - he existed, still.
She smiled softly at him, no idea how to continue or what he was here for. But she felt a weight lift at the mere sight of him, watching her from across the room.
"I'm sorry to wake you," he whispered, but she shook her head and tried to smile. To her astonishment, he returned it, moving into the room until he was standing feet away from her. "Saw your note. I just thought we could... talk?"
She glided out of bed, towards him, no need to answer with words. It didn't matter that it was the middle of the night, or that she was wearing far too little... She'd been waiting for him to find her, and he had. And it was perfect.
He took her hand, not meeting her eyes. Her stomach dropped pleasurably, fluttering as he tugged her back towards the door, leading her up the stairs towards his dark, silent room at the very top. As she followed him inside, she pondered the fact that she'd never been alone with him here before. It was somehow more intimate than she'd realised, just being here with him... being allowed...
He dropped her hand and sat on the edge of his narrow bed, looking up through pale lashes as he waited for her to sit with him. With a tentative smile, she joined him, scooting an inch closer until their thighs were pressed together. She froze, waiting for him to move away, but instead, she felt him relax his muscles, and she caught him glancing at her before he turned his head forward, to stare down at the floor.
Her heart pounded as she waited for him to speak, nerves on higher alert than usual. It wasn't just the war, but the idea that now that it was over, there would be no more waiting. At least, she hoped...
"I feel like... I think... I've been a bit of a prat to you," he said, gently, and she leaned back a few inches with shock. It might have been the last thing she'd been expecting...
"Ron, what are you on about? !" she demanded. "Of courseyou haven't-"
"I didn't want our lives to start off like this," he interrupted simply, turning to look at her fully, a soft, sad expression melting across his face.
"Of course you didn't," she nearly whispered, "but it's not your fault. It doesn't make you a prat that..." but she couldn't say the words. He didn't seem to require them, and he nodded, though she knew it wasn't in acceptance of her words, merely in understanding.
"I just realised..." he continued, "even though I'm here, I've sort of left you alone again, and I never wanted to do that. Ever."
It didn't make sense to her. He'd needed time for himself, hadn't he? And that wasn't anything to be ashamed of... or to apologize for. But then he was Ron, and she was starting to see a lot of things in him that she'd somehow missed before, or simply glossed over.
"I wanted to give you some space," she explained, "I thought that's what you... wanted," but as she puzzled through his words, she slowly realised what he'd meant. And she saw just how much time he'd spent apologizing for leaving the tent that night, even though she hadn't known he had. He'd been apologizing over and over again, and she'd missed it. All of it.
He'd been doing it through his eyes, and every other word he spoke. Whether it was to ask for her beaded bag so he could take a turn washing their clothing, or to be the one to stay up for her night watch when she'd come down with a cough in mid-January...
"I gave you the wrong impression," he said. "I realised that tonight, and I couldn't sleep until I'd made it right with you," and she watched him apologize yet again, in the way his eyes softened, holding her gaze. How had she missed it so many times before? How had she been so blind to how much this was killing him, to think that maybe she hadn't... forgiven him?
So that was it, then. He was still making up for his mistakes. How long would he keep trying? How long would he have, if she hadn't ever figured it out?
"Ron! I... I..." she started, but her eyes filled with tears, and her throat constricted against her words, trapping her between what she needed him to know and the words she needed to say to make him know it.
"Oh," she heard him whisper, eyebrows furrowed as he reached a nervous index finger up to brush beneath her eye, removing any traces of her soon-to-fall tears.
"Stop, Ron," she pleaded. "Stop being sorry for everything!"
His expression turned confused and distraught, and she squeezed his wrist suddenly with her left hand, fingers wrapping around skin and bone...
"I don't want you to apologize anymore," she said firmly, growing more aware of their increased proximity as his lips parted, stunned as he stared at her. "You know... you have to know that I've forgiven you..."
"I wasn't... really apologizing for that..." he said roughly, but she shook her head.
Silence engulfed them for a long, heavy moment, and she watched as his eyes crinkled around the edges, almost as if he wanted to smile, to lighten the weight of the room, but he couldn't quite make himself do it.
"We do a lot of..." he gestured vaguely, "saying things in a way that makes it so we don't really have to say anything at all... don't we," and she did smile then, because it was true. Because it was so true, in fact, that it was beautiful. And he'd been the one to say it, which coloured it that much more brilliantly as she considered the changes they could make, right now, if they only chose to make them...
"Yes," she laughed, softening her grip on his wrist until her fingers were resting, quite still, against his skin... "We do." She cleared her throat then and made to pull her hand away, but he grasped it in his own and linked their fingers together, staring down at their joined hands as her heart pounded away again.
"Well, let's stop doing that, shall we?" And at last, the smile he'd been holding back came crawling to the surface. She nodded, feeling light and so very hopeful.
"Okay," she added, unnecessarily.
"I've missed you," he said, cheeks flushed as she watched him trying so very hard not to look shyly away from her.
"You too," she said, awed by his openness. She'd been waiting for this, hadn't she. And now that it was here, it seemed almost surreal...
"I didn't need space, you know," and she wondered, for a split second, what that meant, exactly, and why it was that if he'd not needed to be left alone... well, why he hadn't sought her out before now. "I just... sort of... didn't know what to do."
She nodded, hoping she understood, wondering if he'd say more... But before she had the chance to reply, he leaned sideways, closer, touching his shoulder to hers. She closed her eyes, words knocked too far away from her. She only had to lean a few inches down before her head was resting pleasantly atop his shoulder. She felt his body exhale, and she echoed his breath with a deep, satisfied one of her own.
"You think people are making plans, now that they have a future?" Ron asked, and she opened her eyes as he tilted his head right, to rest the side of his cheek on top of her head.
"Mmm, maybe," she said. "Yes, I think so."
Silence surrounded them again, and she simply closed her eyes once more, comforted by the feel of his breathing, shoulder rising minutely up against her jaw.
"Should we?" he finally asked, and her eyes popped open again as he removed his head from hers to look down at her. She lifted her own head from his shoulder to meet his eyes, drawing back a few inches to see him properly.
"We're different," she concluded, because though she'd spent so much time planning her life, she wasn't sure she wanted to have it all figured out, now that she really could. It was odd, to be so carefree. She'd never felt that way before, and she knew... it was him. He was making her free.
"Why?" Ron asked, a lopsided grin spreading across his face.
"I don't think most people wait four years to tell someone that they're in love with them," she breathed, only realising exactly what it was that she'd admitted to when his grin morphed immediately into a shocked, dazed stare. All logical speech was evidently lost to him, and he could do nothing but mutely move his mouth as his eyes widened.
"Oh, come on," Hermione breathed, somewhat nervously. "You can't honestly say you didn't already know..."
But when Ron still said nothing, his eyes fixed unblinkingly on Hermione's, her expression turned much less confident.
"Ron," she began in an unsteady voice, "say something. You're making me nervous."
Her eyes parted from his to look anywhere but directly at him. But then, suddenly, he'd dropped her hand, and both of his hands were on her face. She had no time to register what was happening before he'd pulled her towards his own face and his lips had crashed down against hers, his eyes squeezing tightly shut as he pulled her closer still, one of his hands moving around to the back of her head. She let out a surprised squeal into his mouth as her brain caught up to what was happening. She closed her eyes and relaxed into him as his thumb moved gently across her cheek. She moved her hands slowly up his arms to his shoulders, and she tried to melt even closer, wrapping her arms around his neck.
It was much too easy to kiss him. It was like returning to an addiction she'd long ago forgotten... though she'd never had the chance, before a few days ago, to taste it at all to begin with! Her head was spinning with confusing and nearly impossible thoughts... and his lips were way too soft and warm and...
She was getting lost, and when she felt his bottom lip slip between hers, she parted her lips even more, automatically. He groaned out some sort of deep, throaty sound, one she instantly recognized as completely new and completely perfect...
But at last, Ron separated from her just enough to look into her eyes again. But he didn't move his hands from where they rested, one against her cheek and the other buried deep within her hair.
"Blimey," he breathed, looking completely overwhelmed. "I love you."
Hermione's breath hitched in her throat for a moment before she let out a tiny relieved moan.
"Finally," she whispered back.
"Always did, just never bothered telling you about it..."
Their mouths turned up into matching grins as Ron pulled her back to his lips again. He kissed her through his smile and she held onto him tightly, her arms squeezing him to her as close as she could. It somehow wasn't close enough, and she soon found herself parting from him a second time to crawl up into his bed, without asking permission. He smiled and sighed as he followed her, pressing her into the wall with his own body as she turned onto her side, head cushioned by a deliciously Ron-scented feather pillow...
He brushed her hair back from her face and slipped his cheek the inch or two necessary along his pillow to bypass her nose with his and kiss her a third time. No, fourth! She laughed into his mouth as they parted their lips simultaneously, tongues meeting somewhere in the middle. Shocks of pleasure coursed through her, and she worked her bare foot between his legs, closer... closer... until her leg, all the way up to her bare knee, was sandwiched by his own cotton pyjama-clad knees. Her chest was absolutely crushed to the much more firm and solid plain of his. She could feel his heart right against her own, beating just as fast as hers.
When he separated from her again, it was only to rest his forehead against hers, the tip of his cold nose still touching hers. He breathed warmly against her flushed face and she smiled.
"I think we were supposed to talk about a few things," she finally said, softly. She wasn't sure why it was that now, in the midst of the best thing ever, she was bringing this up. Perhaps it seemed that they ought to, before things went too far. Before she got lost.
"Go on," he whispered, breathlessly.
"Well," she tried to continue, but she was finding it incredibly difficult to think straight, the front of her body completely pressed up against his, half of her leg buried between his, and his eyes, blurry this close to her, but still effectively burning through her.
He moved his head an inch against their shared pillow and closed his eyes, and she wasn't sure she could remember seeing him so peaceful. She couldn't bring herself to say anything more, not with his hand sliding slowly down her side to rest at her hip, body heat scorching through her thin top, edging up under the elastic of her pyjama shorts...
"I'm listening," he said, still whispering, reassuringly.
"Maybe we don't have to do this now," she sighed, and he opened his eyes again, moving his head back from her, far enough to see her properly.
"No, it's okay," he said, "I think we should."
She studied his face for another long moment, looking for signs of the boy whose bedside she'd occupied at twelve years old, reprimanding him for nearly getting himself killed... and she grinned. Because as he blinked, sleepily, she could see him so well it was nearly blinding. He hadn't changed so much inside, despite the ways in which he sometimes made her believe that he had. He was still Ron. Still the person she'd unknowingly chosen, from those first moments, to stick by... for the rest of her life. He'd have to tell her to go. He'd have to, if he wanted her to.
"Ron," she managed, after a very long silence that seemed to stretch indefinitely in all directions... "I think this might be your last chance to ditch me."
"What?" His eyes opened wider as he stared at her, confused.
"Once we talk it all through, I'm afraid you might be stuck with me forever," she explained, sucking her bottom lip halfway into her mouth as his legs moved a fraction, rubbing against hers.
"Blimey," he sighed, "well, that might just work out perfectly for me, then."
"How?" she asked, because her heart was suddenly beating painfully once again, and his eyes were darting around, and she had to be sure she really understood what he was saying.
"Because... dunno, you said we're different," he began, licking his lips mesmerizingly before pressing onward... "and I've spent the last several years having dreams about our future house and... one time, yeah, about our kids. Is that mental?"
He blushed deeply, and she was suddenly laughing against him, trying somehow to move closer, though it wasn't strictly possible, given the laws of physics...
She couldn't speak, so she shook her head, tears gathering daringly in the corners of her eyes, a slow grin spreading wider with each breath.
"So," he laughed, eyes lighting up at the sight of her grin, "let's have that talk, shall we? Get it over with so we can..."
"So we can what?" she whispered, noting the way her voice laced across the words as if they held some very obvious meaning that he was clearly going to pick up on.
And through impossibility, he actually seemed to understand, because he shivered head to toe, and she was sure she'd felt a light groan vibrating from his chest before he leaned in closer, kissed the corner of her mouth, and backed away again, waiting for words. So many more words. Words that she suddenly wasn't sure were entirely necessary, now that it was time to say them.
"You're waiting for me, aren't you," she sighed, content not to speak at all, now that she was supposed to.
"Reckon so, yeah," he grinned. "You're the one who said we had things to talk about."
"Don't we?" she questioned, so certain that only moments ago she'd felt compelled to bring up all sorts of things which now seemed vague and distant and unimportant.
"Dunno," he laughed, shuffling on top of the quilt and swallowing audibly as her leg worked its way higher up between his, accidentally.
She sighed again, smiling as she closed her eyes. She felt much too warm and happy and finally tired in that satisfying sort of way that made sleep much more appealing than it had since before Ron had run away from them that night, in the woods...
Recalling memories now didn't hurt like they had before. But they were jumbling and swirling into what ifs, creating those half-dreams that always began just before sleep.
"Don't say I didn't try," he whispered, hot breath running through the flyaway hairs of her frizzy fringe, and that was just about all she needed to hear to completely forget words altogether... Just his wonderful voice, against her skin, so close he might as well have been injecting her veins with his words.
"Mmm," she grinned, touching her forehead to his again... and falling pleasantly, perfectly, to sleep.