The Hardest Part
Where are you, where are you...
Hermione's forehead was pressed against the cold glass of one of the many windows lining the walls of the Gryffindor common room. She sat in the window seat, her knees to her chest, arms loosely hugging her legs to her body. No one else was around, all either in the Great Hall getting treated for their injuries or with their families. The sun was rising over the grounds, the lake soaking up the pink and orange of the sky in a distorted reflection that seemed to brighten the world to the point of blinding according to Hermione's heavy, swollen eyes. She blinked, and though she could have cried for so much more, nothing spilled from her bloodshot eyes. She had nothing left.
Where are you...
She knew where Harry must be - already asleep upstairs - though she suspected he'd come down to find Ginny soon. Hermione wasn't sure if she wanted him to see her yet, though she felt so anxious, unwilling to remain here in solitude for very much longer. There had been a time long ago when Hermione could remember feeling satisfied being alone, needing it in some ways. It helped her to think, a limit to the distractions caused by others. But over the years, she had changed. She no longer felt the need to be alone; in fact, she craved just the opposite when it came to...
She blinked once very slowly, her head beginning to pound in the aftermath of crying for so many things, so many reasons now that they all seemed to blur into one.
There was a sudden creak behind her as the Fat Lady's portrait swung on its battered hinges. Hermione's heartbeat quickened, pulsing all the way up her body into her throat where she suddenly lost the ability to swallow... or to breathe. She knew it was him...
"There you are," came his gravelly voice from across the room. Hermione unfocused her eyes on the glass to her right as she continued to stare through it, waiting for him to move closer...
She felt his presence strengthen as he reached her and stopped walking. But he remained standing a foot away, staring down at her.
"Hermione?" He was afraid she was ill, in pain. She had not answered him. She knew how he felt, that his heart was pounding too. The way he said her name...
Why couldn't she answer him?
His shaking hand reached out until it rested very lightly on her knee, his fingertips trembling against her thin cotton pajamas. And instantly, without understanding how it was possible, her eyes filled once more with tears, cascading suddenly, startlingly fast, down her cheeks. Her shoulders shook as she clamped her eyes shut, silently sobbing. He removed his hand, though she didn't have time to ask him to stay or to fear that he was leaving her side, because before she could speak, before she could even open her eyes, he had pushed her knees closer to her body and sat facing her in the same widow seat, barely enough room for them both.
Happily shocked by his actions, Hermione opened her eyes and felt her heart stop. His wide blue eyes stared back at her beneath a fringe of messy ginger hair. His face was still dirty and blood stained in places, bruises forming on his left cheek and the bridge of his nose. He had not taken time yet to shower and change as she had.
She wanted to say everything, to start talking, rambling, and not stop until the sun went down again. She felt she had so many words, so many emotions inside for him, that she would not have run out before the grounds were once again returned to darkness. She swallowed, trying to wet her dry throat. Her back was pressed a bit painfully into the stone frame of the window, her knees very tightly held against her own chest now that he was sitting with her, but then he leaned forward, his forearms sliding down so his elbows locked around her legs, and he pulled her legs closer to his own body, his chest pressed against her shins, resting his chin on her right knee, still watching her with wide glassy eyes.
She looked down, blinking as more tears rolled down her face, and she studied his strong arms around her legs. Small scrapes and bruises ran along his skin. She noticed, as her eyes moved over his arms slowly, that he had actually tanned slightly, his skin not quite as pale as it had been the year before, though she wondered if some of what she was seeing was simply a result of dust and dirt coating him from the battle of the night before. He moved slightly, and she watched a muscle twitch in his right forearm. The motion snapped her back to reality, to the fact that he was watching her studying him. She felt her cheeks heat up as she looked out the window again, though her tears continued to fall silently in thick tracks down her face.
"Do you want me to leave you alone?" he asked in a raspy whisper.
She looked into his eyes again and saw a flash of hurt for the answer he was expecting to hear... or the one that he feared she'd give him. But she also saw his concern - he wanted her to have whatever she wanted. She could not bring herself to speak, so she shook her head, hoping that she was wearing her love for him a bit more openly in her expression now than she would have dared to try before. He smiled, the first genuinely happy smile she had seen on him in a long time.
"Well, I'll have to go soon... for just a little while," he said, and she knew instantly from his tone that he was making a joke... "I look like hell and you look..."
He paused, and she watched his ears redden. He swallowed, and she sensed he was about to say something he had never said before...
She let out a shaky laugh, embarrassed by how relieved she sounded even to herself. Somehow he had made everything better. He always could, though she had become used to the fact that she would never understand how he did it...
"That's nice of you," Hermione began, smiling when she noticed Ron's eyes widen joyfully at the sound of her voice, "but I know that's not true. Just because I took a bath and changed into clean clothes..."
Ron shook his head.
"That's not what I'm talking about. You..." He paused to lick his dry lips... "you could be covered in dirt... doesn't matter..."
She stared into his eyes, feeling him breathe sharply, his chest moving against her legs.
"Your family," Hermione began slowly, needing to know that they were alright, needing Ron to know that so many of her tears had been for all of them... Ron looked away from her and lowered his eyes to the floor to his right... "I'm sorry, Ron," Hermione continued, now feeling foolish for having brought this up with him now.
"No," he said, looking back up at her, his eyes darting between hers. She watched as they began to glow brighter, filling with unshed tears. "I..."
His eyes moved again to Hermione's right, then her left. She furrowed her eyebrows as she watched him. He seemed to be looking for something... And then he moved, leaning up off her legs slightly, his hand stretching down towards hers where it was slightly hidden on the stone seat to her right... his fingers curled into hers and she felt her heart melt at how beautiful it was. He looked up at her again, ready to continue now that he was holding her hand.
"I want to talk to you," he said softly. "You're the only one I..." He sniffed and took a shaky breath, but then a small smile flickered across his face and he rested his chin on Hermione's knee again. "But... but not today. Tomorrow."
Hermione nodded, understanding.
"I have something else I..." He paused again, and she watched his ears turn pink.
"What is it?" she encouraged, her voice almost a whisper.
"Well," Ron said in a stronger voice now, dropping Hermione's hand and leaning away from her legs. "There's a lot to talk about, but first I should shower and change."
He stretched and stood much too quickly for Hermione's liking. She felt an emptiness settle in her chest as he stood over her, no longer so close...
"I'll be quick," he added with a half-smile, and she couldn't help but smile back, wondering if he was as reluctant to leave her as she was to watch him go.
"My bag is on the table there," Hermione said, tilting her head towards the closest table to them. Ron followed her movement and spotted her beaded bag sitting on its side. "I washed our clothes earlier," she admitted, and Ron looked at her again with raised eyebrows.
"You didn't have to-"
"I wanted something to do."
Ron nodded and said nothing else. He picked up the beaded bag and reached into it, pulling out a clean shirt and pajamas. Then he smiled once more at Hermione before dropping her bag back on the table and turning his back on her, heading quickly up to the boys dormitory. Hermione leaned her head against the stone behind her as she listened to his footsteps fade as he climbed up and away from her.
She shivered and stood from the window seat, heading for the fireplace. She needed something to do now that Ron was gone, and making a fire seemed like the perfect thing at the moment. The cold Common Room was not only lonely but a bit desolate, not at all as she remembered it. She felt anxious, a bit nervous just being here, like it held some new meaning, some symbol of everything that had happened here, of all the things now that seemed to overshadow the years of fond memories that she had formerly associated with everything about Hogwarts castle.
But by the time she had finished with the fire and the room was glowing from both the early morning light outside and the roaring flames in the fireplace, Hermione felt a bit better, warmer, more at peace...
She sat on the couch facing the fire, staring into it, allowing her tired eyes to unfocus as her mind raced through everything, all the muddled thoughts she had now, emotions she wasn't sure she should allow to surface. The remnants of fear from all they had been through raced through her mind and coupled with her grief over everyone who had died, everyone who had been so full of life until so recently, until the world had been plunged into darkness and despair...
Then there was Ron. She wanted this wait to be over, wanted all of her tears over him in the past to not go to waste for a moment longer. But he had just lost a brother, and what right did she have to give him another thing to think about, maybe to worry about if he didn't feel...
She shook her head harshly. She had to put away all her insecurities now, all her self-pitying... she had been doing this, playing this game, for far too long. She knew he felt something for her. And thinking it to herself was the only way to convince herself not to doubt it, not to have second thoughts, because he had to... he just-
"You kissed me," and she jumped and turned to look over the back of the couch at Ron, startled by his voice when she hadn't even known he'd been in the room. His skin and hair was clean, and he did look a bit paler now. The blood stains had been washed away from his face, and his hair was still a bit wet from his shower.
"I... I..." she stammered for a moment, staring up at him. He was grinning but rocking back on his heels, betraying his attempts to hide his nervousness. Hermione sighed softly. "Yes, I did."
He waited as she blinked, heat rising to her cheeks again. Desperate to end the awkward silence building between them, she narrowed her eyes ever so slightly.
"Well, you kissed me back," she countered defensively.
"Yes," Ron said, "I did."
Hermione crossed her arms over her chest as he moved around to the front of the couch, his face glowing now in the light from the flickering fire. He sat next to her, but not especially close. He faced her, his right arm draping along the back of the couch and extending towards her, bending his right leg and laying it flat on the sofa between them so his knee just touched the back cushions.
What's he playing at?
"So... you can't really blame me," Hermione continued, still thinking about the kiss and Ron's comment, her mind working at record speed to discern his intentions, "if you kissed me back."
"Wasn't blaming you," he said quickly.
"Then what's your point?" she breathed, her heartbeat speeding up again, her throat constricting as she nervously awaited his reply.
This could change everything...
"You kissed me," he repeated, looking more serious now. Hermione furrowed her eyebrows at him.
"Yes, we've been through this part," she said, her face surely as red as his ears by now.
"But that's the point, that's what I'm saying," Ron said, his voice faltering slightly as he continued to look at Hermione. She sensed that he was desperately trying not to look away, a gesture that made her chest constrict and her eyes soften. He was doing this for her, so she'd know he meant it, so they wouldn't fall back into what they had been doing for years, so they could finally...
"What do you mean?" Hermione whispered, realizing only after she'd started to speak that her voice was lost in the anticipation that was building, the high point of tension between them, waiting for the bubble to burst so they could breathe again.
"You tell me."
His lips were slightly parted, his throat bobbing as he swallowed, breathing sharply through his nose. He was waiting for the same thing that she was. Hermione opened her mouth to tell him, though she had no idea what she was going to say. This was the moment she had dreamed of, the one that they had been climbing towards, and now that it was here, she wasn't sure how to jump without a parachute...
But he caught her, saved her from having to figure it all out by herself...
"Wait." He moved an inch closer across the couch. "Let me do this."
She couldn't speak, couldn't nod, couldn't breathe...
"I know why I kissed you back," he said, his chest moving up and down rapidly. He was terrified. "Because..." He paused, but he continued to stare back at her.
It was like waiting to see if she'd won the lottery. Hermione was sure that her heart could not take another moment of this...
"Because..." He closed his eyes for a brief second, regaining a small amount of composure... And when he opened them again... "Because I love you."
A whimper escaped from the back of Hermione's throat sounding strangled and unnatural. Her eyes scrunched up as she tried not to lose control before she answered him, but it was too late.
"I love you too, Ron," she sobbed, her voice cracking and breaking. But he just laughed, delighted, his voice deep and scratchy but beautiful, completely relieved.
He looked like he was about to move closer to her, but he suddenly thought of a better option. He stood from the couch and moved in front of her, dropping to the floor at her feet, his head level with her lap. He leaned forward, wrapped his arms around her waist, and rested his head in her lap, squeezing her tightly as his nerve induced laughter continued.
A smile broke across Hermione's face, tears running down her cheeks from love and happiness now rather than sorrow and sadness. She reached up to run a hand through Ron's thick hair, her fingers tangling into it. Then she leaned over him, pressed her lips to his head through his hair, and closed her eyes as she kissed him once, twice...
His head moved and she leaned up again, allowing him to lift his head from her lap to stare up at her, awe and adoration written in every feature of his face. His arms moved back from around her torso, but only far enough for him to rest his hands on her sides. Her knees were digging into his chest so she parted them, and he felt himself fall against the couch now, much closer to her. His eyes widened slightly as he realized where he was. He sat up further on his knees and leaned slowly, cautiously, closer to her.
But it was too much for Hermione, torture in waiting for him to reach her. She pushed away from the back of the couch, her arms moving around his neck, and their chests collided an instant before their lips met, both of them staring wide-eyed back at the other as they comprehended what was happening. They sighed in unison, closing their eyes. Ron's shaking hands moved back around Hermione's body, squeezing her as tightly as he dared, not wanting to crush her. His palms spread across her upper back, covering a large portion of her. His lips slowly parted and she felt his tongue very gently, almost accidentally, brush against her bottom lip. A deep moan made its way from her throat to Ron's mouth, and she knew he felt it because she heard him moan his reply...
Suddenly, footsteps on the staircase leading down from the boys' dormitory...
Ron broke away but remained on the floor, looking back at Hermione as if he could not believe it...
"Got to be joking," he muttered.
"We have the worst luck in the world. Surely you know that by now," Hermione commented, trying to suppress her laughter at the appalled look Ron was shooting back at her. He shook his head in astonishment as he moved out from between her legs and leaned against the couch in what he hoped was an innocent position. Hermione looked over her shoulder just as Harry rounded the last corner down the stairs.
He approached them slowly, his eyes only half open.
"Harry," Hermione said gently as she watched him closely. He sat in an arm chair to Ron and Hermione's left, staring into the fire.
"Are you both..." he began, but he choked on his own words, unable to complete his thought.
"We're fine, mate," Ron said, and Hermione was glad that Ron had spoken first, saving her from having to. Harry nodded and looked over at them finally, smiling a bit sadly. But then suddenly, Ron turned his head sharply around to look up at Hermione. "You're okay, right?" he asked, looking a bit horrified by his own assumption, and guilty at the same time for not checking sooner. Hermione just smiled down at him.
"Yes, I'm okay," she said, feeling touched by his concern. Ron nodded, but didn't look away from her again. She felt a familiar heat rise to her cheeks as she stared back at him.
"Ron," came Harry's voice. He seemed distant to them. They were lost in their own world between their locked eyes. "Is... is Ginny alright?" Harry was clearly terrified to ask this question, scared that Ron would lash out, possibly still holding his anger with Harry for what he had done to Ron's sister. But Ron turned towards Harry and nodded.
"Yeah, she's alright," he said without hesitation, and Harry looked instantly relieved. "Last I saw her she was down in the Great Hall with Mum and Dad..." Ron's voice trailed off and he stretched out his legs on the floor in front of him, staring into the fire Hermione had started. Harry looked like he wanted to say so much more but wasn't sure how.
Hermione watched him carefully, feeling overwhelmed. She wanted to hug him, but she wasn't sure if he'd want her to right now...
"I could sleep for days," Harry commented after a moment.
"Mm, me too," Ron muttered enthusiastically.
Hermione stared down at him, smiling gently, though he couldn't see her. He was still facing the fire, and his eyes were closed now. Hermione felt Harry watching her after a second and she looked up, catching his eye. He raised an eyebrow at her, silently asking her a question, one that she immediately understood and knew the answer to... Blushing madly, she broke eye contact with Harry and she heard him chuckle. Was she really that obvious? Had she answered Harry just by saying nothing, by looking away?
"We should black out the windows and sleep down here," Ron suggested, startling Hermione out of her embarrassed refusal to acknowledge Harry again.
"Good idea," Harry said as he stood, stretching.
"Should we go down and help-" Hermione began, but Ron looked over his shoulder at her.
"Mum ordered me out of the Great Hall, told me to come and find you and Harry and rest," Ron said. "I doubt she'd let any of us even enter the Great Hall again if she spotted us."
"I'll get sleeping bags," Harry said. "I'm sure there are some in a closet upstairs," and he left the room, heading quickly back up to the boys' dormitory.
"Is this okay?" Ron asked seriously, shifting on the floor to face Hermione.
"Sleeping down here?" Hermione asked, confused by Ron's question. Ron nodded and Hermione smiled. "Of course it's okay." But as soon as she said it, she realized why Ron had probably asked her. He wanted to be sure it was alright, now that they were... whatever they were, for him to sleep in the same room as her. Ron smiled and slid back up onto the couch next to Hermione. She sensed that he was trying to think of how to say something, or ask something... He pressed his lips together and swallowed.
"Should we say something to Harry?"
Hermione worked through all the possible things he could mean by this, but she could not decide which option was the most likely, and she didn't want to answer him incorrectly... He had a hopeful, pleading look in his eyes, like he wanted her to guess, to just simply be able to read his mind, but as he waited for her reply, the one she could not give him yet, he came to the correct conclusion that she hadn't understood him, didn't know how to answer him...
"About us," he added, correcting any possible misunderstandings in as few words as possible. Hermione blushed.
"I think he knows," Hermione whispered, remembering their very public kiss in the Room of Requirement.
"Yeah," Ron said, clearly remembering the same thing. "I guess he probably does, doesn't he..." Blushing to match Hermione, Ron gave her a sheepish half-smile.
Harry's footsteps became louder and more distinct now as he began the descent back down from the boys' dormitory into the Common Room, but this time, Ron did not move away from Hermione. He was sitting very close, but not touching, and the brief exchange about what to say to Harry, whether they should mention anything about this change between them, had satisfied Ron, giving him what he needed to know that it was alright for Harry to see him close to Hermione, for Harry to know what they both felt for each other, because Hermione didn't mind. In fact, she assumed Harry already knew.
"Catch," Harry said, startling Ron as he tossed a sleeping bag towards the couch. Ron looked back just in time and caught the bag, part of it hitting him gently in the face. "Here," Harry said, handing Hermione one as he reached the back of the couch.
"Oh, how thoughtful, Harry," Ron joked. "Would have been rude to toss it at her."
"Sure would have," Harry smirked, sitting in the arm chair to Ron's left again.
But before Ron could reply, the portrait hole creaked open again. Everyone stared silently at the opening, waiting to see who would be revealed. It was Ginny. Her eyes landed on Harry and she smiled in a relieved way, walking slowly towards him.
"Ginny," Harry said, his eyes flicking over to Ron for a very brief moment as Ginny moved closer, closer...
"Well," Ron said, standing up, "I'll black out the windows," and he turned, heading towards the window where Hermione had been sitting earlier and removing his wand from where he had tucked it into the elastic of his pajamas. Hermione watched him, impressed by his actions, and after a second, she got up and joined him by the window.
"That was nice," she whispered, trying not to listen to Harry and Ginny's soft conversation behind her. Ron shrugged as he aimed his wand at the window and darkened the glass.
"If we leave them alone, maybe they'll leave us..." Ron trailed off, not quite able to complete his thought.
"Good point," Hermione said bravely, marveling at Ron's reaction. He looked over at her with such a perfect smile, his expression soft and caring, his eyes bright and excited. "I'll help you with the windows," Hermione added, breaking eye contact and removing her own wand from the waistband of her pajamas. She moved around the room in the opposite direction from Ron, darkening windows as she went until they met again at the fire, both relieved to find Harry and Ginny sitting close together on the couch but not touching, both looking fairly content but no longer talking.
"You, uh," Ron began, scratching the back of his neck as he directed his words to Hermione, "want to set up over here?" Ron pulled his sleeping bag off the couch where it had been tossed aside to accommodate Harry and Ginny when they had moved to the couch. Ron gestured towards the edge of the rug furthest to the right of the fire. Hermione nodded and pulled her sleeping bag off the arm of the couch, mimicking Ron's movements as he laid out his bag, the head of it at the right end of the couch, and the foot of it extending down towards the fire. Harry and Ginny stood and moved aside, allowing Ron and Hermione as much room as they needed to spread out. Ron sat down on top of his sleeping bag.
Hermione wondered if Ginny was going to stay downstairs with them, but she didn't have time to even wonder if she should approach the subject aloud.
"We'll be back," Harry said, and, a bit awkwardly, he headed upstairs with Ginny.
"Now we really are alone," Hermione said once they had gone, thinking about what Ron had said moments ago.
"So are they," Ron commented, looking over the couch towards the bottom of the stairs long after Harry and Ginny had disappeared.
"Ron," Hermione began, but he shook his head to silence her, turning back to look up at her.
"I don't mind," he said, surprising Hermione. "I'm glad Harry's talking to her. She deserves that much from him. And I know he still... well... fancies her."
"Did he say something to you?" Hermione asked, looking shocked.
"Nah," Ron answered, "but I can just tell, can't you?" Hermione nodded slowly.
"But I never took you for someone who really... paid attention to that sort of thing," Hermione commented as she sat on top of her sleeping bag next to Ron.
"Really?" Ron questioned sarcastically, and Hermione grinned. "To be honest," Ron continued, "it's sort of... familiar." He blushed and Hermione furrowed her eyebrows.
Ron shifted on his sleeping bag nervously.
"Me and you," he said as if that cleared up everything. Hermione raised her eyebrows. "Oh, you know what I'm saying. I'm used to feeling a certain... way... and not being able to admit to it, to really talk about it or let anyone know that I feel it."
"But you could have told me," Hermione said in a tiny voice.
"I'm glad it happened this way," Ron said seriously, and Hermione wanted to ask him so much more about what he meant, but he shook his head again. "Tomorrow," he said, and she nodded, her heartbeat speeding up with anticipation already... She looked away and felt him still watching her. "Don't worry," he said, and she was so glad to hear him saying more about the subject. She wondered if he had really been able to sense just how much it was affecting her not to know what he was thinking, to have to wait those long agonizing hours for him to really talk to her. "It's nothing bad, just hard to talk about. I promise I'll tell you everything tomorrow. But you don't have to worry."
Ron leaned back against the couch and stretched out his legs, smiling sleepily at Hermione. As she watched him, all she could think of was how much she wanted to be closer to him. She wanted it all to be okay, for everything between them to be comfortable and perfect right now, and though she didn't feel that confident quite yet, she set aside her nerves, bravely doing exactly what she wanted, trying not to consider what it meant or what he could be thinking. She removed all complications and just acted on impulse, something she had been doing more of lately... with astounding results. She had never expected to be the one to kiss Ron first, even though it now made so much sense... but she had done it. She hadn't thought about what she was going to do or why... she had just acted. And in the end, it had been the most perfect thing she had ever done.
So now, casting all concerns aside, she leaned against Ron, wrapping her arms around his torso, practically lying on top of him as she adjusted her legs so she was stretched out half on the sleeping bag and half on Ron, her head on his chest. She actually felt him go rigid at first, holding his breath, his heart beating furiously against her face.
And the moment he began to breathe again, he relaxed against the couch, slouching so he was mostly lying down now. His arms moved fluidly around Hermione, one of his hands running up her back to twist into her thick hair.
"I love you," he whispered, and she just barely managed to stop herself from laughing joyfully.
"So I've heard," she whispered back. She felt Ron's chest move as he chuckled.
"Just thought I'd remind you."
Hermione lifted her head to look up at Ron, her face inches away from his. His face was as flushed as she was sure hers was, and the light from the fire made them both glow even more than they already would have been.
"I love you too," she whispered almost inaudibly as she continued to stare into his eyes.
Ron sighed deeply and had to let go of Hermione to keep his balance as he slid the rest of the way down to the floor, his head hitting the rug with a soft thud that might have been painful if he had not braced himself. Hermione giggled as she sat up again, absurdly amused by his every action. He raised his eyebrows at her playfully. She reached up to the couch for two arm cushions to use as pillows and handed one to Ron. He slid it under his head and watched Hermione lay hers at the top of her own sleeping bag, so close to Ron's that they were almost touching.
Shivering very slightly, Hermione unzipped her sleeping bag, only to realize immediately that the zipper was on the side furthest from Ron. She glanced at him, sensing that he had been watching her every move, and she discovered that her suspicion had been correct as he gave her a lopsided smile that was almost guilty... he had been caught staring. She looked away again and scooted off her sleeping bag, flipping it over so the zipper was closer to Ron. He watched her with interest, clearly confused about her actions. He opened his mouth as if to ask her about it, but before he could speak, Hermione slipped into the sleeping bag, not zipping it up, and looked over at Ron with a nervous grin.
"Zipper was on the wrong side," she clarified. Ron looked down at the edge of Hermione's sleeping bag and slowly, he began to understand, though he said nothing. He simply got up, checked the edge of his sleeping bag to be sure the zipper was on the side closest to Hermione, then unzipped it and climbed in, turning onto his side to face Hermione.
"This works now," he said as he reached into Hermione's sleeping bag to take her hand, his cheeks glowing with a light pink blush.
"Exactly," Hermione said, laughing.
They shuffled in their sleeping bags, adjusting their heads on their cushions, and once they were both still, they simply stared back at each other across the cushions, their eyes glowing orange in the firelight. Ron's blinks became more lengthy, his eyes staying closed for longer with each one. Hermione was reluctant to fall asleep now that he was so close, now that she had what she had been waiting so long for. He seemed to be on the same page and kept snapping his eyes open, grinning lopsidedly at Hermione each time he did.
"Everything feels different here, doesn't it," Hermione remarked after a moment, breaking the sleepy silence that had engulfed them.
"Yeah," Ron agreed. "It's colder, sort of uninviting honestly."
"Do you think we'll ever feel at home here again?" Hermione asked in a small voice.
"Well..." Ron began, thinking hard about her question, "we're not really students anymore, are we... so I suppose it'll always be different now we're not a part of it in the same way that we were before we left."
Hermione looked away from Ron, her eyes focused on a random spot on Ron's sleeping bag.
"What?" he asked, his voice laced with a hint of concern.
"It's just that..." Hermione looked back up at Ron, her heart breaking for what she was about to tell him, "if I ever do get the chance, I..."
"You'll want to come back and finish school?" Ron asked, raising an amused eyebrow. Hermione stared at him, trying to read his feelings on this, surprised that he had even been able to guess exactly what she was trying to figure out how to tell him. "Did you think I'd be surprised?" Ron continued, smiling.
"But... you won't come back?" Hermione asked in a near whisper.
"I haven't really thought about it," Ron admitted, but she felt his hand tighten around hers. She wasn't sure if he even knew he was doing it... He looked thoughtful and a bit confused, like he wasn't sure what to say next.
"Tomorrow?" Hermione asked, smiling softly at him. He grinned back.
"Should we start making a list?" Hermione asked.
"Of the things we have to talk about tomorrow?" Ron said, still grinning. Hermione nodded. "I'll remember," Ron added, his tone more serious now. Hermione closed her eyes as she felt his thumb smooth over the back of her hand gently.
"It's freezing," Hermione said, letting out a shaky shiver. Still holding onto Ron's hand, she attempted to zip up her sleeping bag, but she quickly realized that with her arms locked inside the sleeping bag, she'd have to drop his hand... So she did, but she looked very disappointed about it and Ron caught it.
"Looks like you've got to choose between zipping it up and being warm or holding my hand," Ron joked, grinning at Hermione.
"Maybe not..." Hermione said cryptically, biting her lip. A sudden thought had crossed her mind...
"What's your solution then?" Ron asked, his tone still light and playful. "Get bigger sleeping bags so we can share one?"
"I think you can fit in here," Hermione said as she glanced down into her sleeping bag, shocking herself with her own words.
"I..." he began, his eyes focused on hers, almost daring her to blink or look away. But she didn't. She wasn't smiling or laughing. This wasn't a joke, and Ron slowly began to realize that. His eyes widened a fraction as he considered what Hermione was saying, what she was offering him. "I can try at least," he finally said through a nervous laugh.
"Okay," Hermione nodded, scooting over as far as she possibly could in her sleeping bag, giving Ron room to get in next to her. Her brain was working on overdrive, as if she had confused herself by her own forwardness. This was not like Hermione at all, not like who she knew herself to be. So why was it that no matter what, she could not convince herself that this was too much, that she had not done exactly what she wanted?
Ron sat up very slowly. She could sense how nervous he was. This seemed like taking another step. It would be as close as they had ever been. It would be different... exciting... terrifying. And he was going to do it.
He folded his legs and sat on the edge of Hermione's cushion, reaching down to hold onto the top edge of the sleeping bag as he slid his legs inside.
"So far so good," he said, laughing to cover his nervousness.
And still holding onto the top edge, he scooted awkwardly down until his whole body was inside up to his shoulders. Hermione was pressed very tightly against his left side, and he chanced a glance over at her where she was staring back at him. She squirmed slightly, trying to move her arms from where they were now pinned against her chest. Taking an obvious deep breath, Ron rolled onto his side to face Hermione, freeing up a bit a space between them in the process, but still tightly caught between the sleeping bag against his back and Hermione's front... Not sure what to do with his arms, he draped his right one over Hermione, which brought her closer to his chest. His legs tangled tightly with hers and his chest was now flat against hers... Hermione was sure he was holding his breath, and she knew he could also feel her heartbeat now that he was so close.
"This can't be comfortable for you," Ron joked again, sucking in short breaths through his mouth, trying very hard to calm himself down.
Is it. It's perfect.
"I'm fine actually," Hermione breathed. "What about you?" Ron's legs shifted again against Hermione's. He looked into her eyes when he'd stopped moving. There was a long moment between them where Hermione was sure something had changed, something had shifted from nervous and playful to serious and... she didn't know how to explain it. It was like she could literally see what he was feeling laid out between them in the way he touched her, the way his body fit together with hers... His arm clenched tighter around her back, insuring that they remained as securely pressed together as possible.
"I think it's brilliant," Ron finally said, his voice raspy and terrified. But he'd said it. And she knew how hard that had been, how much it took for him to admit how this was affecting him... because it was just as difficult for her. And she hadn't said what she'd really meant, that she didn't want him to move... not for the rest of his life.
A bit of Ron's shaggy hair fell into his eyes and he closed them, shaking his head slightly to force his hair into another position, but to no avail. His left arm was now under the cushion he was sharing with Hermione, and he was obviously reluctant to remove his other arm from around Hermione. It would have been a struggle to make it happen anyway. So, giggling slightly, Hermione snaked one arm up between them and brushed Ron's hair out of his face. He opened his eyes and grinned at her, his heartbeat speeding up against her arm where it was now wedged stiffly between them.
Hermione managed to free her left arm again and wrap it around Ron's body, lower than his arm over her. She felt cocooned and comforted, safe and warm. It was something totally new to her, and it was as thrilling as it was calming.
"Do you care if Harry finds us?" Hermione asked, trying to sound playful, but Ron shook his head seriously.
"Not in the slightest. You?"
"Not at all," Hermione said, grinning.
"Should we?" Ron laughed.
"No," Hermione said, laughing now too. "He disappeared with Ginny. We can do whatever we want to." The moment the words had left Hermione's mouth, she realized how it had sounded and bit her lip, her cheeks reddening. But Ron just grinned back at her, his blinks becoming more labored again.
Don't sleep... not yet. Don't leave me...
Ron's eyes snapped open again, and he chuckled.
"Blimey... didn't know I was this tired..." Ron trailed off and Hermione snuggled against him, feeling the muscles in his back flex as her hand moved lightly over his t-shirt.
"You never ate breakfast," Hermione teased. "I'm surprised you can sleep on an empty stomach."
"Hadn't thought about it," Ron said. "Shocked?"
"Very," Hermione said, feigning seriousness.
"Been preoccupied with other things," said Ron, smirking but blushing.
"Give me an example," Hermione teased again, shocking Ron once more by her flirtation... his eyes widened. But slowly, they returned to normal size, his pulse pounding...
His hand on Hermione's back moved up to her head, his fingers weaving into her hair. She felt him shaking as he moved his head the few inches necessary...
Their lips met for the third time, but it was no less exciting. Hermione couldn't explain why each time felt like the first. She wondered if she'd always feel this way and if he would. Somehow they managed to get closer, though before they might not have realized there was any leftover space between them at all. And as Ron's hand trembled on Hermione's head, his lips parted again, and she met his tongue in the middle, shocks vibrating out from her heart as she was overcome with sensations and emotions. She had never ever kissed anyone like this. Her kiss with Viktor had been nothing, useless, compared to this. And McLaggen... it wasn't even worth thinking about.
She couldn't feel her toes. Her body was numb with pleasure and totally out of her control. She felt Ron rolling onto her, covering her, and though it could have been passion fueled, it felt protective and strong. She felt as if her body was sinking into something beneath her, though there was nothing to sink into. It was like he was surrounding her, every part of her, even the part inside that could not be reached, could not be touched physically... her heart and her soul and everything that she was.
When he parted from her lips, she felt a moment of emptiness before she opened her eyes. But he was staring down at her, and instantly, emptiness turned to the most satisfied peace she had ever felt. And in his eyes, there was something beautiful created from all these years of loss and desperation, love and longing, unfulfilled promises that were now coming to the surface... and it was all over. A denial that had been coursing through them both was now open and free. Anything was possible. The world was theirs.
"Can I say it one more time?" Ron whispered "You aren't sick of hearing it, are you?" He removed his hand from behind her head, allowing her to rest against the cushion behind her again, and he ran his fingers down the side of her face, her eyes fluttering at the softness of his touch.
"What do you want to say?" she asked as if in a trance, delirious out of love, years of dreams coming true in one day.
"That I love you so much. I always will, Hermione," Ron said, his voice actually cracking.
"Ron," Hermione half cried, half whispered, "I'll never get sick of hearing you say that."
Ron grinned and leaned down to bury his face against Hermione's neck, holding his body off of her as much as he could inside the sleeping bag so he wouldn't crush her.
"I love you too. Always," Hermione said into his ear, her lips so close to his skin that she could feel the heat from him against her mouth as she spoke.
"After everything I've done..." Ron began, his hair tickling her face, and Hermione could feel him shaking against her, could hear the guilt in his voice. He had nearly cried his words, and she suddenly understood Ron's need to wait until tomorrow to talk about all the things they had to say.
"Tomorrow, Ron," Hermione said gently. He lifted his head and stared down at her, the deepest love she could imagine reflected back at her in his eyes. He held her close, rolling back onto his side so they were facing each other, sharing Hermione's cushion.
"I'll tell you how sorry I am," Ron said, thinking of tomorrow.
"And I'll tell you that I forgive you, for everything. Like I did from the beginning."
"I don't deserve you."
"No, Ron," Hermione said, holding back her own tears. "I'm the one who doesn't deserve you."
"You're barking..." Ron chuckled sleepily, resting his forehead against Hermione's.
"Maybe I am..." she smiled.
Their breathing slowed, their eyes began to close, and finally, after so many years of fighting, they rested, knowing that tomorrow was a new day... like always. But now they'd have something different than before - they'd be new.
A/N: I'm an official story writing addict. I've admitted myself to the story writing AA...
This was originally going to be a one-shot, but it changed a bit from what I had intended originally as I was writing... and now, I just can't stop thinking about the fun I would have writing those conversations that were saved for "tomorrow"! So, it's very likely that this is going to be yet another post-DH chapter story. I can't tell you when I'll update this next because I've made a few other update promises for "With Me" and "Questions", but I'm sure this isn't the last you'll get of this story :)
I hope you all enjoyed it!!