"Are you drunk?"
She stood in shocked disbelief. She had heard that line overused in hundreds of Muggle novels and movies and had never, never thought she'd use the trite, stale statement herself. But there was nothing else for it. Ron was smashed.
And he wasn't even denying it, he merely shrugged at her, grinning madly as he leant against her bedroom doorjamb.
"I was… and you just…" she stammered, relief and fury warring in her mind. Yes, he was safe and here, he came back to her.
But drunk, he came back to her drunk! And leering, he was leering at her, stepping into the room and shutting the door, just like he had hours ago, before he left her worried and frustrated and in tears.
"I'm sorry," were the first words out of his mouth, whispered and slurred just a bit. His eyes were glassy and his cheeks flushed. He looked like he had weathered a snowstorm to see her, not a balmy May night.
And what was he apologizing for? For drinking, for being a complete prat? For leaving her alone with Harry in those woods so many months ago?
All things he should apologize for, but it irritated her not to know which he meant.
Always talking in circles, always!
"You're sorry?" she asked, steeling herself with a deep breath. Her instincts kicked in and years of fighting with Ron, of hurling insults and weathering his ridiculous decisions and horrid moods had prepared her. Her shoulders were thrown back, her teeth grit. "You're a complete arse, you know that?"
But her tirade was halted when he nodded. "Mhmm, I do. I know that," he whispered, still advancing.
"I'm a complete and utter prat," he continued, now standing in front of her and having to look down to catch her eye. "I was teasing you and I shouldn't have, I know how stressed you are."
"That's completely off the point!"
"It's not," he whispered, tilting his head as he regarded her. His breath washed over her face, spicy with the after effects of the whiskey he must have had. "I'm sorry."
"But you're drunk!" Hermione cried, pushing at his chest to back him away. She felt confused. By rights, she should be furious. And she was.
I am. I really am!
But he was so tall and his chest was so firm and even through the glassy state of his eyes, she could still look into them and see that he loved her. He was practically shouting it.
And his lips, they were just the slightest bit wet, and plush, yes definitely plush. Perfect for kissing.
And he was here. He was back. He didn't hate her. He wasn't leaving her. Relief flowed through her so strongly that most of the rage was swept up in its tide.
Ron looked away from her at her last comment. He sheepishly brought his hand up to rub the back of his neck. "Er, yeah, I am. I guess."
"There's no guessing about it, Ron! You're completely smashed!" Hermione accused, crossing her arms tightly. "You leave me here all worried about you, worried that you left, no word, no anything, and then you just waltz in hours later bloody well pissed? That's not—"
Hermione was cut off as Ron's lips crashed with near violent force into her own. She stumbled back under the pressure only to be caught by his hands, which had circled behind her and were now pressing into her lower back.
Anger, it swept blindly through Hermione's mind and her hands found their way to Ron's chest. But her fingers didn't push, they curled. Her hands curled into his rumpled shirt and she pulled, pulled him closer, so hard that he almost lost his footing and toppled them both. But his hand shot out, bracing himself against the desk she was backed up against. And there was a moment when she could have broken away, when his hand wasn't holding her to him, when his mouth bumped off hers and the air felt cool against her wet lips and she could feel the breath panting from Ron, but she didn't.
Her mouth sought his, responded to his movements even as her brain screamed at her to stop, to be angry, to protest. And then she was kissing him, snogging him, using teeth and tongue and lips and fingers and anything she had to draw him in and closer. The anger swelled inside her, shifting and roiling until it spread and mixed with the ache in her belly, the tingling between her legs.
She wanted him, every part of him, and in that moment she didn't care how it happened.
His lips left hers, trailing to her jaw. His chin nudged her face up until he had unrestricted access to her neck. She knew that what he was doing would leave marks. She moved against him, needing friction, needing something to ground her. But he had shifted his hold, moving his hands from her lower back to her hips, pressing her against the edge of the desk. She writhed against his hold as his tongue drove circles into the flesh of her neck.
But his hands didn't stay locked on her hips for long, his fingertips found the edge of her shirt and stole underneath, searing the skin of her stomach. She surged forward, tightening her hold of his shirt until she felt the seams strain. And his hands surged up, raking over the flesh of her abdomen and further, taking the shirt with them.
She wasn't wearing anything underneath, but when he finally ripped the shirt over her head there were no awkward pauses this time, no breathless moments of wonder. There was just his hands encasing her, stroking her, teasing. And when he rolled her nipple between his fingers her head fell back and she keened.
The next moments were a blind shuffle. He was lifting her. She was on the desk. He was between her legs, close and yet not nearly close enough. His shirt was lost. Her breasts were tingling, gooseflesh everywhere. His stubble left a burning trail in it's wake as his lips found hers again. She stuttered into his kiss when her breasts pressed into his bare chest.
And it was so real, so fast, and so blindingly consuming, that she almost missed it. Here, in Ginny's bedroom, pinned to a desk, topless, with the man she had wanted for ages.
But not like this.
Not fast and without thought, not in his sister's bedroom, not on a desk!
Not the first time.
Ron's fingers fumbled with the ties of her pajama bottoms and Hermione tensed.
And not with him drunk.
It was that thought that caused Hermione to reach out and grab her wand, the thought that Ron wouldn't want this, not really, not their first time, not with him drunk.
Would he even remember in the morning? Would he forgive her for letting him? Didn't they just talk about taking it slow?
She was disconcerted at the drop in her stomach as her fingers curled on her wand, as Ron's lips dropped and encased her nipple. It was disappointment. She didn't want to stop, not really. But she had to.
She whispered the spell against his fiery hair, the words that would have him sober in moments. She felt it happen, felt him come back to himself even as his hands were still stroking her bare skin.
"Fuck," he muttered and she watched his eyes go wide as he stumbled back and away from her. "Fuck Hermione, I'm so sorry!"
He turned his back and kept walking, reaching the door and leaning into it. His head hung. "Sorry, sorry."
And when months ago she would have taken this as a crushing rejection, now she just smiled fondly. He wanted this, it was obvious and she knew. He was disappointed in himself more than anything, probably thinking he had ruined things between them. She slipped a shirt over her head and hopped down from the desk, noting the tension in his shoulders as he winced.
"You know—" she started, moving forward, hearing the smile in her voice.
"I know, I'm sorry!" he interrupted. "I'm an arse, I really am. We'll go slow. I mean it, I'm sorry, it was the firewhiskey, it—"
"No Ron, I don't think this is going to work," Hermione said softly, coming to stand behind him.
"Hermione," his voice was strangled, hoarse, and it had nothing to do with the firewhiskey. She put her arms around his back, his solid, warm back, and hugged him tightly.
"Slow doesn't seem to be really working for us, does it?"
Then she laughed. He turned and she laughed again, giggled really, and it was so unlike herself that she couldn't help it and she couldn't stop.
He was grinning now too, sheepishly, but grinning. She reached up on her tiptoes to kiss him and felt it, felt the fire and the longing and the passion. It was all there, just under the surface, and it was all she could do to pull away. It would ignite again, and soon, she knew that. But…
"It shouldn't be here," she whispered, only inches from his lips. Her eyes were closed but she could feel him nod. "But soon," she continued. "It needs to be soon, I think."
His laugh rumbled from his chest and when she opened her eyes, she saw his sparkling with mirth.
"Yes, soon," he agreed, nodding. "We're pathetic."
She nodded through her laugh. "We really are."
"Australia?" he asked, leveling his gaze at her. And she wasn't sure if he was asking if he could come with her to Australia, or if he was asking if it would happen in Australia, but she nodded. Because, yes, she wanted both.
The rooms were booked, the bags packed, and Hermione had cleared Portkey transportation for three to Australia.
It seems I'm destined to travel in a group of three, she mused, smiling to herself. But it was different this time. This time there were two rooms booked, one for the boys and one for her, but she knew she wouldn't spend every night of this trip cold and alone. There was a buffer between her and Ron, not a best mate he was jealous of, whose motives he always questioned when it came to her; but a brother, broken and confused and hurting and needing them both. There was no one chasing them this time. There was no death threat hanging over them and their loved ones were safe. There was nothing to interrupt the long nights she would spend tangled in Ron's arms. And he would be there, with her, always.
Every time she felt that familiar clench of panic, that fear that seemed to have lived in her chest for the past who-knows-how-many years, she thinks of Ron. That he's hers, and she's his, and they've finally sorted that out and been given the time to enjoy it. Enjoy it, fight, bicker, make-up, fight again. Because she knew she'd never stop pushing him, and he'd never stop baiting her, because that was what they did. That is what she loved. The challenge. She didn't think she would be able to stand it any other way.
My stubborn, red-headed git.
He was saying goodbye to his mother, hugging her tightly and promising to write and use the telephone. It had been Hermione's gift to the Weasley family. She got it just the other day, an old fashioned rotary phone that she had magicked into working. She thought it would be easier for them then the cell phone she had bought herself. But she wanted something for them and Ron and George to stay connected with. Mrs. Weasley seemed wary but Mr. Weasley was delighted. He beamed when she explained it and seemed overly excited about her phone that had "no wires at all!"
It was nice to see him excited like that, even if it was short lived.
They were still hurting. They would be for some time, of course. Maybe always. Anyone could see that. As difficult as it was for all of them, Hermione thought that maybe Mr. and Mrs. Weasley might have it the worst. No parent should lose a child. It has to be the worst pain.
It was why Hermione had erased all memory of her from her parents' mind. She didn't want them to hurt like that. She didn't want anyone to have to hurt like that.
That pain in Hermione's chest clenched every time she looked at Ron's parents. Mrs. Weasley, the strong woman who had killed the embodiment of every one of Hermione's nightmares, Bellatrix LeStrange. And yet watching her hug Ron now, she looked almost frail. And Mr. Weasley just looked lost behind his glasses. Who would help them?
Guilt at taking Ron and George renewed, surged. Hermione swallowed hard, hating the feelings that bombarded her. Hating that the panic and fear and guilt still plagued her, though with different sources. And in the end, the only thing she could think of to soothe them was to find her parents. Find them and bring them home and sleep in her own bedroom with them just down the hall. Eat breakfast in their cozy nook off the kitchen, watch the neighborhood kids kick a football down the street, chat with her mum while her dad yelled at the telly. Normalcy. She craved it.
Would she sleep better then? Would that fix it?
Not all of it, no, probably not. And even if it did, it wouldn't fix anything for Ron or Ginny or their mum and dad. Maybe nothing would.
Or maybe time would. Maybe given time, loads and loads of it, they could all find their way back together.
Hermione's eyes found Harry. He stood behind Ginny, his chin resting on her fiery hair, his arms wrapped loosely around her. She caught his eye and found the strangest thing there. Peace.
She couldn't remember ever seeing him like that. He had been haunted, always; by grief and loss, by the burdens he always took upon himself. But he wasn't now. Maybe he wouldn't be ever again. He seemed whole.
Every trial he had ever been through flashed through Hermione's thoughts. His parent's death, living with the Dursley's, Voldemort hunting him nearly every year of school, Snape and Dumbledore atop the tower, the battle, dying: more horror and tragedy than she had experienced by far. And there he stood. Smiling.
He cocked his head at her, questioning her stare. And she wiped tears she hadn't even realized had formed away with the back of her hand. He stepped around Ginny and folded her into an embrace. Long gone were the days when embraces from him would be awkward. He was Harry and she was Hermione and they were friends that had seen each other at the absolute lowest of their lows. She squeezed him tightly.
"They're alright, Hermione," he whispered. "You'll find them and it will all be okay."
She nodded into his neck.
"It's going to be okay, isn't it? All of this, it's going to be okay?"
He pulled back and looked her in the eye. "It is."
Simple and direct and honest. That was Harry. And resolution swept through her. It would be okay. All of it.
All they needed was time. And that was the one thing that surviving the war did promise them.
A/N Now I know most of you are yelling at me for how long this took to finish, and probably the same amount of people are yelling about me stopping things between Ron and Hermione. I am sorry on both counts. I needed to come back to this story because I hate leaving them unfinished. And yes, this is it. It's all over now. The support for this story has been so wonderful! I really appreciate all the heartfelt reviews I've received.
Fanfiction has become an outlet for me, a rarely used one, it's true, but an outlet just the same. I can let loose here in a way I find myself restricting when writing original pieces. I'm working on that, believe me! I'm currently working on my third original novel. Nothing published yet, but I've recently made up my mind that publication will happen for me sometime. So I'm plugging away. I think they say the average for most authors is publication by the time you've written your sixth or seventh book, something like that anyway. So with only two complete, I have my work cut out for me. I'm not sure if that number includes fanfiction.
As always, thank you in advance for your reviews. I don't always get the chance to respond, but I cherish each and every one of them. Thank you.
And as a last side note, I had considered doing a short story line with Hermione, Ron, and George in Australia. I do not think I'll ever have the time for that. But if anyone out there does, feel free! And let me know where to find it. I'd love to read it.