Hermione had the best night's sleep of her life. She slept so deeply she couldn't remember sleeping. After leaving Dumbledore's Office, she, Ron, and Harry and returned to Gryffindor tower. The Fat Lady's portrait had been ripped in two so the tower was no longer password protected. In some strange way that made Hermione feel better. There were people of every age talking and sleeping in the common room. Hermione was so mentally exhausted she couldn't register any of their faces. Ron's hand never left hers as he followed Harry to the vacant boys' dorm and into their old bedroom. Climbing into Ron's bed was done without talking or thinking. She felt Ron's arms wrap around her tightly and as she drifted to sleep one unfamiliar feeling overwhelmed her senses: safety.
The following morning the trio approached the remaining Weasley family in the infirmary. It was the first time they had collectively gathered since the battle in the Great Hall the night before. Hermione felt Ron crushing her hand in his as they came near. The family seemed to be an eerie shell of what it once was. Nobody really talked, only murmured and the only sounds louder than a whisper was when someone started crying again. Hermione caught glimpses of Fred's body resting peacefully on a hospital bed. Unable to take in the sight, she focused her eyes anywhere else in the large, crowded room. There were bodies in every bed and more beds than Hermione had ever seen in the infirmary before. A quick mental math equation told her there were dozens of dead around her. She did her best to keep standing, keep breathing. Ron dropped Hermione's hand to embrace his mother. She could hardly watch. Mrs. Weasley grabbed at her son with such fervor, as if he too would die if she let him go. Together they sobbed. Hermione turned and saw Harry and Ginny reunited for the first time desperately hugging and whispering. She didn't want to interrupt their moment but she needed someone. She felt overwhelmed by raw emotion and she might be sick if she continued to see Ron suffering so openly. Hermione reached instinctively for the couple and Harry allowed her to cry on his shoulder.
Ron finally pulled away from his mother and Hermione watched as he approached Fred's lifeless form. She held an impossible breath, begging herself to look away. She couldn't.
Hermione watched Ron's brain struggling to comprehend what he was seeing. His hands went into his fiery hair as tears flowed down his face. His body fought between wanting to turn and flee and never wanting to leave. Hermione heard him cursing and watched as he wiped dazedly at his face. He dropped to his knees, unsure if they would be able to bear his weight and struggled against the bed to lift himself. Hermione's felt her stomach turn at the sight of Ron's pain and was thankful that her vision was suddenly obstructed by a muted, red t-shirt standing in front of her. She looked up to see George's dry, puffy face, having no tears left to cry. It was an odd moment, to see George so alive. It was like seeing Fred again. He motioned for her embrace and she threw herself into his arms. For some reason Hermione took notice that George was much taller than Ron was, and lankier too. She had never thought about that before. Everyone thought the Weasley kids were all so alike because of their hair, as if Mrs. Weasley gave birth to a litter of identical people. But they were all so different. Different lives, different paths, different talents, different bodies, and different souls. It was in this moment that Hermione knew everyone would be fine. Fred was gone but eight Weasley souls remained. They were hurt souls but they would survive.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." She whispered, not even sure George could hear her. If he did, he didn't respond. George had probably heard those words so much they no longer held meaning. Hermione felt him lift his arm and Ginny tucked herself beneath it next to her. Together, the three swayed and sniffled, waiting for whatever was to happen next.
It seemed hours had passed before Mr. Weasley cleared his throat and addressed the group. "Right. Kids, we are going to need your help. Boys we need to begin to clean up the rubble. Hermione, Ginny, could you head back to the tower and see to it that all your things," he motioned to Harry and Ron as well, "are gathered and sent to the burrow?" They nodded and Fred released them to talk with Charlie, who had arrived sometime in the night.
Mrs. Weasley chimed in, her voice sounding deeper and older than Hermione had ever heard it before. "When you're finished, dears, come find me and we'll head to the Great Hall to help organize medical tonics." Hermione was glad to have a task, something to do besides waiting for something to do. She took a last glance at Ron, surrounded by his brothers and Harry, discussing a plan of attack. His eyes met hers and she offered him a weak smile before turning to follow Ginny.
"Hermione!" She felt her knees quiver at Ron's voice and turned back instantly. He jogged to her, wearing a panicked expression that said 'what the hell do you think you're doing?'
She looked into his glassy, red eyes and waited for him to speak. Instead he reached his hand to her cheek and pulled her toward him, pressing his lips to hers for a quick but solid kiss. She was taken aback that Ron would be so forward in front of his entire family. But none of that mattered anymore; they didn't have to suppress their feelings from anyone. This was their second chance at life, at each other. This was their second kiss. He pressed his forehead to hers and spoke through closed eyes, as if they were the only two people in the room. "I promise to kiss you properly after…well, after this is all sorted and settled." He pulled back to look into her eyes. Hermione saw so much love in them, but his eyebrows were furrowed in concern. He was worried. Did he think she regretted their first kiss? Was he unsure if she was willing to stand by him through the coming days?
Hermione lifted a determined hand to his neck, raking her fingers into his hair. She had no idea what to say, she had no idea how to form words. She could only hope that this moment was enough to reassure him of her feelings. Hermione smiled and nodded, feeling the excitement building already for what their next kiss would be like.
Reluctantly she took a step back and nearly toppled from the sensation. For the first time in her life Hermione felt weighted by physical separation, almost as if she was leaving a part of her behind with him. They belonged to each other now. Although they would only be apart for a short time, Hermione knew in that moment that she needed to be close to Ron. She had always wanted to be close to him, but now she needed to be close to him, forever. As she looked at Ron she saw herself, her future, her life. She looked at Ron and saw everything to look forward to. She looked at Ron until Ginny's hand pulled her out of the infirmary.