In which Hermione finds herself feeling overwhelmed by her new relationship with Ron.
Age eighteen, Hogwarts Castle.
"I love you."
Hermione blinked, and a roaring, rushing sound filled her ears. She looked at Ron. His face was so open and earnest. Her hands, holding a bundle of bandages, shook a little. They were on their way up to the Hospital Wing, bringing supplies to help those wounded in the battle the day before—Voldemort and his Death Eaters had been killed, at last, but at a price. There was always a price.
"I—I'm glad," she stammered. What kind of an answer was that? "I mean, I love you too." She managed a shaky smile, and Ron's face lit up with relief. He stopped walking and tugged on her sleeve, turning her around to kiss her; Hermione hurt her neck a little by stretching over her armload to reach him. She started to pull away, but he put his hands on either side of her face to keep her there. The familiar feeling of exasperation that rose up in her was drowned in a swell of guilt. He just wanted to show affection. That was fine. And it wasn't that she didn't enjoy kissing him. It was only that she had this armful of bandages, awkward and in the way, and she wanted to get to the Hospital Wing already to put them down.
Eventually she had to shift to precariously balance the entire bundle in the crook of one arm to free her other hand, which she used to gently push Ron away. He looked a little hurt. She smiled at him, which seemed to help, and then allowed him to put his arm around her shoulders as they walked on down the corridor, even though their paces weren't entirely synced up due to his longer legs and he kept jostling her.
Her mind raced. Goodness, that was fast. They'd had their first kiss a day and a half ago and he was already telling her he loved her. She supposed it wasn't the end of the world. A man who could express affection openly was a good man to have around. She worried, though, about her response. I'm glad. It seemed to her that declarations of love should come after a while of being with a person, measured in weeks or months, not days. And she supposed, yes, it was valid enough because they'd been friends for so long and really, in the past couple of years there had been a kind of a slow courtship going on that neither of them really fathomed until, well, things happened, so yes, she could certainly understand where Ron was coming from. Still, it felt a little fast.
They reached the Hospital Wing without dropping any of the bandages, which Hermione counted as a small victory. They were taken out of her arms by a volunteer nurse who whisked by, in the middle of three tasks already, no doubt. Hermione cast her gaze around the packed room. Every bed was filled, and there were people lying on cots and conjured mattresses on the floor between the beds as well. Volunteers bustled and hurried around the room administering whatever aid was needed. Everyone spoke in hushed, tired tones. Hermione's eyes rested on a dark-haired young man crouching beside a cot, holding the hand of a little girl whose arm was wrapped in stained bandages from shoulder to fingertips. She was just in the last stages of falling asleep. Hermione's gaze softened.
Ron put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. "I'm going to go find my mum and dad. Come with me?"
"I think I'll help out up here for a while," she said, and internally smothered another pang of irritation when Ron sighed dejectedly and nodded.
"Alright. Give us a kiss." She turned her head and pecked him on the cheek, not really feeling in the mood for a lip-smack in the middle of all these people and all the injured, and he put on a mopey, mournful look that made her grit her teeth. "Come on," he said, and kissed her mouth. It always felt like it went on just a second or two too long. He cupped her cheek in one hand. "Love you."
Merlin, again? Hermione forced a smile. "Mhm, you too." Couldn't he see what was going on in the room around him? Didn't it make him the slightest bit uncomfortable? It certainly did her.
Ron left. Hermione walked over to the end of the cot with the sleeping little girl. Her attendant looked up, and the corners of his green eyes creased in a smile when he saw Hermione there. "Hey," said Harry, standing. Hermione stepped forward and rested her forehead on his chest. He laid a hand on her back. A smile ghosted across her face and she relaxed.
This felt comfortable. This felt normal. Harry helped her to feel less...overwhelmed.