Summary: And somehow, between the chaos that ensues after the Final Battle, Ron and Hermione find hope to carry on.
"Here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)"
She holds his hand through all the funerals they attend after the Final Battle.
Actually, truth to be told, Hermione isn't really sure if she's holding his hand or if he's the one holding hers. But hands are being held, gripped with determination, and they don't let go until the last person is laid to rest, until the weeping stops and grief ebbs a little bit, and being alive when so many people are dead feels just a tad more bearable.
So they hold hands through all the funerals and war memorials. And once they are all over, he brushes his fingers softly again her knuckles, and she knows, just knows that the gesture means as much to him as it means for her.
Somewhere, deep inside of her, the smallest flame of hope lights up.
She shivers against his body, and he knows there are goosebumps erupting on the delicate skin of her arms. He figures she must be cold, and then chuckles at that, because is it possible to feel this cold when one is wearing two layers of clothing in the middle of the hottest summers of the past decade?
He continues to play with her hair, marvelling at its softness, marvelling at the fact that he's now able to do this – something that he'd wanted to do for so long, and now he's able to do this, so freely and intimately that it makes his head spin and his fingers tingle for more contact.
And he wouldn't notice if he hadn't been paying such close attention to her, or maybe if he wasn't still wandering about it, but when his fingertips skimmers against the nape of Hermione's neck, she shivers against his body again, hard.
For about a second he wonders if he has done something wrong. Then he notices the faint pink colouring gracing her collarbone, heating up the uncovered parts of reachable skin. She's blushing, and it's not because she's cold or because she hates what's he's doing and can't bring herself to ask him to stop.
It's because she really, really likes it.
He reddens too, and just to test his theory, he brushes off that wild hair of hers away from her neck. The blush intensifies as does the shivers.
"Ron," she admonishes him, and her voice it's that midst of half-annoyance, half-amusement he'd come to know as her I'm-pretending-to-be-infuriated-but-I'm-secretly-amused tone she often uses around him when's acting like a git.
He smiles, the real and easy sort of smile he hadn't thought it was possible anymore, and when she turns around and smiles back, something flickers to life inside of him. He doesn't want to call it hope, not yet; it's too soon, but maybe...
Maybe, someday, not too far away, he will dare to hope again.
So he burrows his face against her curls, hiding his smile there, and she lets him. It's a testament to how much she knows him, knows that he need this, for she doesn't even complain about the fact that, afterwards, her hair was a tangle and knotted mess that she had to tidy up with her wand.
When they kiss for the second time, they take their time.
There's no urgency in that second kiss, no unstoppable need to let the other know how much they mean to you, no need for a big show of affection to compensate for years of pent-up feelings just waiting to be shown.
They already know everything there is to know.
That's why their second kiss was deliberate and slow, even unsure. It was awkward and gentle, barely a brush of lips, barely a hint of tongue. His hands cradled her face, her hands grabbed his sides, and they explored, adjusted to the feel of each other. It was nothing like that gasoline-meets-flame of first kiss they had, nothing like it because that thought-out kiss was something more, something that went beyond the now to the unknown territory of tomorrow.
Hermione thought it was whole lot easier to kiss Ron when all they had was a moment, the moment. But when it came to creating a future, to daring to hope further than the next couple of hours they still had left, well, that terrified her.
Should she dare to hope?
Would she dare to hope?
In the end, it was Ron who took the choice out of her hands. Because how could she not want to hope for a future with him, how come she wouldn't want him, not when he was so utterly earnest when he told her that they would not part again, and that she really had no choice – they would go to Australia together.
That he would follow her everywhere, anywhere.
Hermione never really stood a chance.
And when he said, "I'm going to kiss you now," all she could do was nod and close her eyes, bracing herself, thinking that maybe it would be a letdown, that it couldn't possibly compare to what it felt to first kiss and be kissed by Ron.
But she wasn't prepared, wasn't even in the slightest ready for how tender he could it be when it came to her, not fully understanding, until that moment, when his lips touched hers with such reverence and care, that he was doing it too – that he was daring to hope for a future.
And that he was doing it with her.
Of course she got teary-eyed.
When he thinks back on that summer, he only tries to remember her. He tries to get past all the darkness and chaos that followed the Final Battle, the numbness that spread through his body seeing Fred lying on a coffin, to recall how it felt having her hands safely enclosed in his, anchoring him to earth, to life, to her.
Oh, he remembers rebuilding Hogwarts, those long, tiring days when every muscle of his body ached with this bone-deep, resigned pain that came with constant use. Ron remembers and tries to forget the haunted look on his Mum's face that, the look that if he tries hard enough he can always find there.
But what he focuses on the most is the parts that involve Hermione somehow, good or bad, because in his memories, when she's there, the bad moments weren't as awful at it would be if she weren't.
Ron has committed to memory the days he spent learning how her mouth tasted like, how they explored every inch of each other's lips. He hangs on to the moments he learned how she liked to be kissed or touched by him.
He remembers the nights when she would crawl into his bed, even with Harry in the room, even right under his mother's nose. How would they lay there, holding each other through the night and nightmares, through all the horrors they saw and won't ever forget it, the horrors that will always stay with them.
Ron memorized her curves, one by one, and how her breasts weighted on his hands, how she giggled when he kissed her stomach, how her belly-button was weird in a cutest sort-of-way, how she gasped when his first touched her clit, and more than ever, how she smelled and tasted like down there.
All those little stolen moments in his bed, or down by the pond or even while they were in Australia searching for her parents and all she did was worry all the time and all he did was worry about her – he catalogues and flips through those memories of Hermione when it gets too hard, too lonely, during the months they spend apart at her final year at Hogwarts.
And somehow, even if the word hope feels a bit too strong and just a little bit too naive to apply on their lives after everything they went through, Ron just knows, when he thinks of Hermione, that there is a million things to look forward to.
She holds his future in her hands.
AN: Long time no see, uh luvs? I hope you liked this story, just a little something to tide you over until the remaining 9 chapter of Crossroads are up and running again. I haven't forgotten, see? Thank so much for all of those who nominated me and three of my stories - "Ephemeral", "I Crave Your Mouth, Your Voice, Your Hair" and "Crossroads" - for so many categorias at the 2009 Ron/Hermione Awards on livejournal! I was completely baffled and honoured, and yes, there were tears involved. If you haven't, but would still like to, go vote for them there!
This story was written as a thank you to Mugglemama and RedHeadsAreHot, for being such gracious and lovely mods at the HP Canon Fest =)