Author's Notes: Well, folks, this is it. I'll keep it short and sweet: I want to thank anyone and everyone who has read this story, in any of its incarnations. I want to thank anyone and everyone who has reviewed this story, in any of its incarnations. And I especially want to thank Night Zephyr, my absolutely supercalafragalisticexpialadocious beta reader, for helping me to take a story that was pretty good, and make it into something amazing. You rock my socks, NZ.
Do not fret – there is a sequel, for those of you who did not know. It's called "Perfect World", and can be found here on ff.net, under none other than Silver Phoenix25. Gotta love that random 25 at the end of my pen name.
Thanks again to everyone – and don't forget to stay tuned at the end of this chapter for one last review song. ^_^
"But I don't understand!" a breathless Hermione Granger exclaimed as she walked down the corridors of Hogwarts, her fingers entwined with Ron Weasley's. Behind them, they could still hear the sounds of loud partying, though the official graduation ceremony had ended nearly two hours ago. A flustered Professor McGonagall had had to usher loud, loitering students out of the Great Hall herself so that the house-elves could begin to clean up after the feast. But that only meant that the party had been taken to other areas of the school - and a glance into an empty classroom, its door partly open, revealed that a few of the students were still quite busy partying indeed. Hermione and Ron shielded their eyes as Filibuster's Fireworks were set off in the classroom to much hollering and cheering.
"They just…let you go? Just like that?" Hermione continued in wonder. Despite the feeling of euphoria that was coursing through her body, she couldn't help but be curious.
"Just like that," Ron answered happily. "It wasn't a big deal; most chaps don't last five years, never mind seven. Frankie Fallon lasted a year as an Auror before retiring and settling into a nice, comfy job in the Department of Muggle Relations. Moody and the department head, Nick Foran, owled me back almost immediately. They both seemed happy that I was staying at Hogwarts."
"But Harry…" Hermione trailed off, not wanting to jinx anything. She had a fleeting mental picture of Ron slapping his forehead and yelling, Oh yeah, Harry! and then rushing off to withdraw his resignation. Hermione shook her head to clear it and decided that imaginative mental pictures were a direct result of giddiness.
"He was fine with it. Encouraged me, actually. And I suppose he'll find a new partner," Ron shrugged, attempting to look indifferent. But the look in his eyes betrayed the fact that he would miss his best friend and partner. Hermione squeezed his hand and gave him a small smile as they turned a corner and entered the staff common room.
After returning her smile, Ron wrinkled his forehead and looked thoughtful. "But who could he possibly - "
Hermione suddenly stopped dead in her tracks as something hit her. "…Oh."
"He wouldn't…" Hermione stared into space.
"What are you talking about - ?"
"Earth to Hermione!" Ron waved his free hand energetically in front of her face. "Care to share your sudden discovery?"
"I hope she hasn't left yet," Hermione mused, chewing her lip. "I'll be right back," she suddenly said to Ron, briefly kissing him on the lips and then dashing off through the staff common room's entrance and down the hall. She skidded around a corner, down two flights of stairs, and came to the entrance to the dungeons.
Hermione stared at the cold, stone steps leading down to the dungeons. They stared back at her. Without another moment of hesitation, she hurried down the stairs and into the cold dampness of the dungeons.
Hermione turned left instead of directly into the Potions classroom, and stopped in front of a familiar door. Her breath materialized in front of her face in the frigid air of the dungeons, and Hermione briefly wondered how anyone could work down there. She pushed the door open, only to find the office's occupant rummaging through drawers in a small desk, periodically sending objects flying into a nearby trunk. The office would have been neat had it not been for the objects sailing through the air and the trunk splayed haphazardly on the floor. Its walls were bare, and apart from the desk, a bookcase stuffed neatly with old and ragged-looking books was the only piece of furniture. The office looked and felt cold, but Hermione couldn't help but think that it suited its occupant.
"You're going," Hermione said, amazed.
Diana Drago jumped at her words, swiftly drawing her wand. She relaxed somewhat when she saw it was only Hermione, and smiled wryly. "Potter made me an offer I couldn't refuse," she replied with a slight shrug, continuing to dig through the drawers.
Hermione couldn't stop the grin tugging at the corners of her lips. "You're just going to leave? Just like that? Before exams?"
"It's now or never," Diana replied, her voice muffled as she practically stuck her entire head inside a drawer, searching around for something. "Ah ha," she said triumphantly, emerging with a Sneakoscope. It sailed across the room and into her trunk as Diana delved into the desk once more.
"What about - ?" Hermione began.
"I've arranged it all with Dumbledore."
Hermione shook her head slowly. "Why, though? I thought you loved teaching…"
"I do," Diana replied simply. "But I figured that it's time for a change of pace. I was getting a bit restless, cooped up in this big, old castle. I need to get out, have some misadventures," she said with a wry grin. Something suddenly flashed in her cold eyes, and she turned serious. "I want to make up for the mistakes my father made," she said firmly.
Hermione smiled at the Potions Mistress, beginning to back out of the office. "Tell Harry I say hello," she said. "And good luck."
Diana glanced up once more, seeming to size Hermione up as her eyes briefly scanned her co-worker's face. "Thanks, Granger," Diana said shortly, before quickly returning to searching through her desk. Hermione nodded and left the room, softly closing the door behind her. She trudged up the dungeon steps, a smile tugging at the corners of her lips.
Ron was waiting for her in the staff common room, stretched out on the sofa in front of the fire, looking puzzled. He opened his mouth to speak as Hermione approached, but before he could ask any questions Hermione sat down, placed her hands on his chest, and kissed him. Ron's confused look disappeared as he returned the kiss, slowly and softly. Then, quite suddenly, the kiss turned from innocent to passionate, as Ron eagerly kissed her even more deeply, sparks seeming to fly between them. Hermione felt her face burn red as she suddenly found her back pressed up against the arm of the sofa, and Ron's body pressed up against hers. Her head was swimming, and a thrilling sensation was working it's way through her veins. Hermione abruptly pulled away, gasping for breath. She could see that Ron's red hair was tousled, and realized that she'd been running her fingers through it.
"What?" Ron asked, out of breath. "Is everything okay?"
"Did you quit for me, or did you quit for yourself?" Hermione whispered, frowning slightly. "I don't want you to be miserable because you stayed here because of me."
Ron smiled and lightly kissed her cheek, then trailed kisses down her neck. "I quit because I wanted to," he murmured, then brought his face level with hers. "You were just an added bonus," he said with a wink.
Hermione smiled, satisfied with that answer. Eagerly, Ron leaned towards her to continue the kiss. His lips seemed to be burning; they left a trail of warmth on her neck, her forehead, and her own lips. Ron suddenly pulled back, momentarily looking exactly like the shy teenager Hermione remembered so vividly.
"I love you," Ron blurted out huskily. Hermione felt a thrill run through her again at the three words.
"I love you, too," she responded softly, feeling her cheeks glow. She softly kissed Ron's neck and then re-arranged herself on the sofa, resting her head on his shoulder.
Hermione suddenly laughed. "I do hope everyone's gone to bed," she whispered, snuggling against Ron's warm body. "Can you imagine if Professor McGonagall walked in here and we were – "
A loud snore from Ron cut her off. Furrowing her eyebrows, Hermione sat up and stared at him.
Ron was fast asleep, his mouth hanging open. He snored loudly again.
Hermione suppressed laughter and relaxed, resting her head on Ron's shoulder again. Feeling perfectly at peace with the world, and not caring what the consequences would be should their colleagues find them in that very position the next morning, Hermione drifted into sleep.
"Dungeons," Harry said. The Gryffindor common room was quiet, as if lying in silent wait for the momentous events that night would inevitably bring.
"Should we take the cloak?" Ron asked quietly.
"There's no point," Harry answered, shaking his head.
"Then…then let's go," Hermione whispered. "Together."
The Gryffindor common room began to fade, along with its occupants. Hermione tried to reach out towards them, but they were becoming smaller and smaller. Everything became dark, and suddenly Hermione was swimming in a sea of voices and faces.
"I've been called back to work…"
"Need to get out, have some misadventures…"
"It…it doesn't matter anymore, anyway…"
"They think they've found the fifth…"
"I love you…"
Then Hermione was standing in an empty corridor. It was definitely in Hogwarts; moonlight was pouring through a tall window on her left, torches lined the stone walls on her right. Her own hand, white and shaking, was reaching towards a door that she had never seen before…and a sinister voice, in her ear –
"Give me the scrolls…"
Hermione bolted upright, shocked and confused, and put a clammy hand to her neck. She felt as if the protest had been ripped from her throat. Her recurring nightmare had ended differently for the first time in seven years. She cautiously removed her hand from her throat and put it against her forehead, only to feel she was drenched in sweat. Hermione's pounding heart began to slow, and her breathing, though ragged, began to return to normal.
As she slowly slid back down into the comfort of her bed, Hermione went rigid. This was not her bed. And there was something…someone…lying beside her.
Carefully, Hermione dared to glance at the warm body next to her - only to discover that it was Ron. A smile played across Hermione's lips as her eyes adjusted to the darkness of the staff common room. All that remained of the fire was glowing embers, and the sky outside was slowly lightening to a bluish-purple colour. Hermione sighed and cuddled against Ron, feeling his slow, deep breathing as he slept peacefully. She wrinkled her forehead, trying to remember why she had woken up - but memories of the dream were already slipping away from her, and the harder she tried to remember, the faster they slipped away. Shrugging slightly, she sighed contentedly and put her arms around Ron's body.
He started snoring again. Loudly.
Stifling laughter, Hermione stretched and sat up on the couch, blinking away sleep. It would be morning soon, and it would not do for a member of the staff to discover the two of them entwined on the sofa. She reached out to prod Ron awake, and then had a change of heart; even snoring loudly, he still managed to look peaceful and innocent in sleep. Hermione smiled and decided she would let him sleep – there was no harm in him spending the rest of the night there. Hermione leaned over to kiss him softly, her heart suddenly swelling. Ron was here. He was hers. And he was staying.
Feeling extremely content and unusually confident, Hermione was suddenly hit by a strange sense of daring. Biting her lip, she sounded out a word in the dark, only mouthing it. Then she heard Ron murmur her name in his sleep and reach for her, and the sense of confidence suddenly strengthened. This year, she had conquered her fears, put aside her past, and most importantly, found her two best friends again. Surely she could speak a simple name. Hermione dared to put sound to the word she was mouthing.
"Voldemort," Hermione whispered to the darkened room. She cringed, half-expecting the Dark Lord himself to burst into the room. But when nothing happened, save for a slight pause in Ron's snoring, she tried it again. "Voldemort. Voldemort. Vol-de-mort."
Hermione smiled in the dark.
And now, for the most disturbing review song I've ever written…a direct product of way too much sugar…the infamous…"I'm Too Sexy". Enjoy, friends. Enjoy.
Ron: Hello, all! It's bad enough that Silver Phoenix here made a story about my thick-headed attempts to win Hermione over, but now she's making me sing against my will! Is there no justice?!
Silver Phoenix: Sing, you! *cracks whip*
Ron: Yeesh. *Clears throat. Voice suddenly becomes extremely low and sexy*
I'm…too sexy for my shirt,
Too sexy for my shirt,
So sexy it hurts!
*Removes maroon shirt and begins to do tai chi*
Music: Do do dodo do…
Ron: I'm…too sexy for Hermione,
Too sexy for Hermione,
Take that Charles Griney!
And I'm too sexy for Harry Potter,
Too sexy for Harry Potter!
(Yo, Harry's jealous 'cause I'm hotter.)
And I'm…too sexy for my wand,
Too sexy for my wand,
Nothing good rhymes with wand…except maybe pond…or bond…ahem.
I'm Ron Weasley, and if you review,
Then I'll do my little turn on the catwalk!
Yeah, on the catwalk, on the catwalk, yeah!
I'll shake my little tush on the catwalk…
Hermione: *walks into Ron's room to find him parading around in front of his mirror in Spider-Man underwear* …What the hell are you doing?
Ron: …SHE MADE ME DO IT! *points wildly at Silver Phoenix*
Me: Mwahahahaha! *winks and is gone*
…Yeah. Insane even for me, eh? o_0
But if you want Ron to do his little turn on the catwalk…REVIEW!