Firstly, to anyone waiting on the Harry/ Draco story I've been talking about, it's on its way, I promise! This is actually a little prequel/ teaser to that story. I've never even read a Hermione/ Ron fic before, so apologies if this is familiar territory to some of you, but in my head it's completely original... um... if it seems a bit stream- of- consciousness-y then it's supposed to be that way; to tell every last little detail of the six week period this covers would be a full length story, and I never set out with the intention to do that. The gaps are there for a reason, is what I'm trying to say.
My lovely, faithful greeneyedgirly is reluctant to dive into the world of HP fic and I can't say I blame her. I've seen the results of her Twific obsession. It is therefore with great trepidation and excitement I can say that this is totally self- edited, unbeta'd and all mine; it feels like going back in time by two and a half years to when I started writing fanfic!
I would love, love some feedback, writing this has been a blast, I hope you enjoy reading it.
- HFS xx
The Aftermath Before The After
In the days that followed, opportunities to be alone were limited. The whole Weasley family pulled tightly together and Hermione was warmed, in some place of her heart that could still feel those emotions, that Mr and Mrs Weasley considered her part of their family. There was no resentment that she had lived while they had lost one of their sons, only joy that she had found love with one of Fred's brothers.
Hermione had explained to Molly in a low voice in a corner of the Great Hall that she wasn't ready to go and find her parents yet. Relief flooded her at the assurance that of course, she was welcome back at the Weasley's home. Hermione knew where her parents were, sort of, but there would be so many questions and explanations to make, and she wasn't ready to face that yet. Monica Wilkins didn't know her daughter was grieving, or in pain, so it wasn't going to hurt her for Hermione to wait just a little while longer until she felt strong enough to explain it all properly.
Leaving Hogwarts and heading back to the Burrow was gut- wrenching; it felt like leaving too many things behind. Like the opportunity to reverse decisions that the universe had made had passed, and that now, all they could do was live with it. All of it.
All she wanted, all she craved was some time alone with Ron. It made her feel selfish and ashamed and sort of hot and squirmy in her stomach. After the initial fear that grief and pain would mean he would pull away, she relaxed with gentle touches on her bare wrist and the occasional soft kiss into frazzled hair.
The first night back at The Burrow no one wanted to sleep alone. After vague attempts going back and forth to bedrooms, Arthur and Charlie rearranged all of the furniture in the living room at around two in the morning, stacking things precariously on top of one another and holding them there with fixing charms. Then duvets were pulled from beds and the whole family, plus Fleur and Harry and Hermione curled up on the floor in a scene that reminded Hermione of a night spent in squashy purple sleeping bags on the floor of the Great Hall while teachers searched the castle for Sirius. Unfortunately that thought lead her to more macabre memories of people lying in rows on the floor of the Great Hall, but for much darker reasons. The loss of Sirius and Fred hit her hard, making silent tears slip down her cheeks.
Sure as she was that her tears weren't making a noise, a hand still slipped over to brush them from her cheeks. The feel of bitten down fingernails were familiar as they gently tucked hair behind her ear, then gently, gently stroked across her lips in a silent, secret kiss.
The days passed and Harry returned to Grimmauld Place after much arguing with Molly. Hermione had a long conversation with the woman who had taken it upon herself to step into the mother role for any and all waifs and strays that her children had brought home, attempting to reassure her that despite the fact that yes, Harry probably shouldn't be alone, he'd earned the right to make those sorts of decisions for himself.
Selfishly, she knew that this meant that Ron's room was now only occupied by Ron. Alone. At night.
The first night this happened, Hermione snuck out of Ginny's room with an embarrassed 'Oh, shut up!' and up the creaking staircase to where he was sleeping. She was sure he would be sleeping and slowly pushed the door open, letting it fall back with a surprised 'Oh!' and only just catching it before it slammed.
"Why are you still awake?" she hissed as she crept over to the bed.
"What are you doing in here?" he asked, answering a question with a question, annoying her something stupid even as he sounded more than slightly amused.
"Coming to see you," Hermione said with redness pooling in her cheeks. She looked around at zooming orange walls and determinedly not at the half dressed man in the very small bed.
"Come here, then," Ron said slowly. He edged over in the bed, closer to the wall and she tucked herself under his arm.
"You're still awake," she said unnecessarily.
"Mhmm," he agreed, his nose in her hair. "I was reading."
"Don't be," he said. Ron's lips edged down to her ear.
"Wait. What were you reading?"
Ron had to hide his snort of laughter. "Just something to get my eyes tired. I do read, you know."
"I know," she said, rubbing her hand over her face in exasperation. "This is weird."
"A little bit," he agreed. "If my mother catches you in here she'll kill us both."
It was Hermione's turn to stifle a giggle. "Probably," she agreed. "I think Ginny is covering for me."
Ron shifted down in the bed so they were lying facing each other. "In that case we're both screwed."
Suddenly Hermione was aware that this wasn't her childhood friend in front of her. It was a strange time for this realisation to happen. Ron wasn't freckley and gangly any longer; he was tall and broad and there were real muscles under his skin, which was pale and smooth. There was a light fuzz on his jaw that her fingers itched to explore and Molly hadn't gotten to him for a haircut in a while so it curled slightly under the shell of his ear. Eyelashes weren't so pale up close, and blue eyes were even more piercing.
Ron didn't seem to mind Hermione's gentle exploration of his features. He shifted to slide his arm under her neck to curl around her shoulder, his thumb rubbing gently back and forth over a very thin cotton strap. Hermione shifted forward a little more and tucked her head under his chin, breathing in his familiar cedar smell and warmth. Her arm snaked around his back and her palm flattened over his light blue t shirt, then bunched it up in her fist.
With his free hand Ron reached for his wand and turned the lights off then reached for his duvet and tugged it up so it covered them both. Their legs tangled together under the covers; Ron's long, bare ones against Hermione's pink cotton covered ones.
She sighed softly in contentment, and fell asleep in his arms for the first time.
They were awoken the next morning by a knocking on the bedroom door. Ron started, too hot and with his arms full of soft, sweet smelling girl.
"What?" he called out with a rough voice as the girl stretched and yawned next to him.
"Can we come in?" George called out sweetly.
"No!" Ron said, panicked.
"Really? Why not? What are you doing in there?"
Hermione heard female giggles and knew that they'd been betrayed. There was a slight scuffle, then George, Charlie and Ginny fell through the door.
"Get out!" Ron yelled, too close to her ear and making sure she was covered.
His three siblings climbed off each other and to their feet, each looking like the cat who ate the canary.
"I don't know whether to be pleased or disappointed that you're both fully clothed," Charlie mused. George snorted. Ginny blushed.
"Would you get out before Mum hears you?" Ron demanded. Hermione pulled herself closer to his chest, determined not to look at the assembled Weasleys behind her.
"She's gone food shopping," Ginny said. "And Dad's in the shed. You're safe for now."
There was more arguing as Ginny seemingly shooed her brothers out of the room and only when the door clicked shut behind them did Hermione dare to look up.
"I'm sorry," he said, his cheeks flushing.
"Don't be," she insisted. "I was the one who came up here. It's my fault really."
She leaned up and kissed his cheek then rolled inelegantly off the bed. Ron watched her retreating back with a mixture of lust, love and amusement.
Molly was back by the time Ron and Hermione arrived- separately- for a breakfast of cereal and avoiding eye contact, ducking groceries which were flying into cupboards and Molly's vague comments about their sleeping late.
"What are your plans for today?" she demanded.
"Going to Harry's," Ron said around his cornflakes. "He's trying to redecorate. Gonna take George."
"Good. That's good," Molly agreed.
The task of redecorating Harry's inherited London home had become more daunting than exciting. They had prioritised the rooms that needed the most work and the living room had been transformed into something warm and inviting with no Black or Slytherin references anywhere. Everything from the carpet to the sofas were new and with the door closed, it was almost possible to forget that it was 12 Grimmauld Place, former headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix.
"Remind me why we agreed to this again?" Ron sighed as he opened another box of white tiles in the third floor bathroom; they were replacing the sickly green ones they'd spent days removing.
"Because Harry's our friend," Hermione told him.
Ron pouted. "I hate tiles."
"That's because there's no magical cheat," she teased.
He stuck his tongue out and she poked his ribs to tickle him.
"Again?" a voice sighed and two pairs of eyes snapped guiltily to the open door.
George raised an eyebrow. "We're gonna get some lunch, if you kids can keep your hands off each other long enough to eat."
"I haven't got my hands on her," Ron objected. Hermione pushed him over and from his position perched over the box of tiles, he fell flat on his ass.
George laughed and slung an arm around her shoulders. "Welcome to the family," he said, although she couldn't help but notice that his smile still didn't quite reach his eyes.
That night, Hermione barely waited for the house to be silent before sneaking out of Ginny's room again. She knew to shut the door carefully behind her and only once it was secured, then magically locked from the inside, did she turn to the man in the bed.
"I was hoping you'd come back," he said, scooting over to make room for her.
"Of course I came back," she told him. Falling into his arms was familiar now. She knew how to make her body fit next to his.
Hermione felt that warmth in her chest again as he looked down at her. Her teeth worried her bottom lip until a warm thumb tugged it free. Her heart started thudding harder in her chest as unconsciously, her lips closed around the pad of his thumb, and the very tip of her tongue swept over it.
Ron swallowed thickly and put his hand on her lower back.
"Hermione," he whispered and leaned in to press his lips to hers.
It wasn't their first kiss. But it was the first time like this, laid out on a bed so that their stretched bodies were pressed together, without layers of clothes separating them. Hermione rolled on to her back, pulling Ron with her and threaded her fingers in his hair. The warmth and strength of his chest pinned her to the bed as their kisses became more frantic, more searching and intense than they had shared before.
She felt him pull back just as she wanted to push him forward, to demand more and take it from her. She would give it to him, whatever he wanted. She had a feeling it was probably already his.
He smiled at her and cupped her cheek in his palm, lowering his head to pierce her with another intense kiss. She was aware of how thin her pyjama top was. Maybe he could feel... Maybe... But coherent thoughts were drowned out and reduced to soft whimpers as his lips drew a path from her ear down the side of her neck, and suddenly the hands on his back were hanging on for dear life, rather than holding him close for comfort.
"Oh wow," she murmured as his tongue swept out to taste her collarbone and his nose inhaled the lingering scent of her perfume.
"You're so perfect," he whispered back.
You are too, she thought, wanting to say it but not sure she could find the words, or even if her throat could make them. The hand that was curled in his t shirt tugged inconsequentially upwards until Ron was chuckling under his breath and helping her remove the offending item.
She had seen him shirtless before, and her fingertips traced the fine, faint scars from where he'd been splinched, and more from the dark magic of the brains they'd found in the Department of Mysteries, and one or two tiny scratches on the inside of his elbow that could only have been made by a rebellious canary. Welts, scratches and bruises were healing from a fight that had been won only days before. She wanted to kiss them all away.
He watched her with intense eyes as she explored tight bands of muscle and soft, fine hairs; dark pink nipples that tightened under her touch and made her blush.
Hermione badly wanted to kiss him again and angled her head to make the stretch up to his lips easier.
"God, Hermione," he gasped. "I want to, but I don't, I mean, I'm not going to pressure you into it..."
She took a deep breath, forced, now, to make a decision.
"Not tonight," she agreed.
"Okay," he nodded. "Not tonight."
With that edge of pressure taken off, they relaxed into slower, searching kisses that just kept the nice edge that they had before, with none of the previous questions or expectations. She felt, every time he pulled back, that her heart would burst at his easy, lopsided smiles.
He pressed a kiss to the corner of her mouth, then stood awkwardly, clambering off her.
"I'll be right back," he said.
Hermione nodded, noticing even in the dark and the moonlight that the tips of his ears were very red. She smothered her face in the pillow to hide her sudden fit of giggles and felt, for the first time, powerful and female and exciting. Like she was... attractive. And if it was only that one man who felt that way about her, then that was okay, because she loved him too.
A few minutes later his feet padded back up the stairs and she smiled widely and held the duvet back for him.
"Lock the door again, would you?" he asked.
"Mm," she agreed and felt on the floor for her wand.
Ron climbed back over her with his back to the wall, and it felt nice when his arm wrapped tightly around her waist, pulling her back to his chest and holding her close. He kissed her shoulder, then the back of her neck and she wriggled until his knees slotted into the crook of hers and they were once again touching, head to toe.
"Goodnight, Hermione," he mumbled with his lips still on her shoulder.
"Goodnight," she echoed.
"I did something and you're not going to like it," Harry said.
Hermione studied him over the top of her mug of tea and sipped delicately. Ron leaned back on his chair at the kitchen table in Grimmauld Place and smirked at his best friend.
"It won't be the first time," he said.
Harry turned a large brown envelope in his hands over and over. It was only big enough to contain paper and not a lot more, but something heavy clunked every time it touched the table. After a few moments of hesitation, Harry pushed the envelope across the table to where Hermione and Ron were sat. There wasn't anything written on the outside of it.
Hermione's eyes glittered with the challenge of an unknown entity.
Ron gave her a small, inconsequential shrug which clearly said 'you open it', so she slid her thumb under the flap and pulled out several sheets of paper. With her instincts whirring she skimmed the words on the page, wanting to figure out for herself what the secret, or the problem was by herself, without anyone else explaining it.
"These are deeds to a house," Hermione said, still looking through the pages.
"Well, a flat, but yeah," Harry said. He wouldn't meet her gaze.
"Ostrich Court, that's just around the corner, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Harry repeated.
"Harry." Hermione's voice was grim. "Do you want to explain to me how there came to be a house in mine and Ron's name, just around the corner from where you live?"
"What?" Ron broke in. Hermione shushed him.
"I didn't buy it," Harry said quickly. "The Ministry told me they were going to give it to me. I don't know, as a thank you or something. I told them I didn't need it, and they were going to give it to me anyway. So I got them to put it in your name instead."
"Why would you do that?" Hermione demanded.
Harry chanced a small smile. "Because you would never accept it from me," he started, ticking the points off on his fingers. "Because it's nothing to do with me now, I didn't buy it, I don't own it, and you can't give it back because it's already yours. The only thing would be to sell it if you don't want it, and even then it means you've got the money to buy a place of your own."
"What makes you think we want to live together?" Ron asked, slightly panicked.
"Well, George told me you're sneaking into each other's room at night, and I thought there's better places to do that than at your mother's house." It was Harry's turn to smirk.
"There's no 'that' going on," Hermione blushed furiously. "We just..."
Harry threw his hands up in a 'woah' gesture. "Don't want to know. You can move in there whenever you're ready. It's furnished. Complements of the Ministry."
"We can't accept this," Hermione said, sliding the papers back into the envelope and pushing it back across the table.
"Hang on, hang on," Ron interrupted her but his protests were ignored.
"Don't give it back to me," Harry told her. "It's not mine." He smirked at her, knowing that he'd won.
"You're right," Hermione sulked. "I don't like it."
"We have a flat? Our own flat?" Ron asked.
"It looks that way," Hermione grudgingly agreed.
"Do you want to see it?"
Two sets of eyes, one blue, one brown, fixed on Harry, who merely shrugged. "It's hooked up to the Floo. I don't really want to walk."
Hermione surveyed the flat in Ostrich Court with wide eyes and a hand tucked safely into Ron's. The building was a red brick, 1800's tobacco factory which had been converted into beautiful, warm, light apartments with high ceilings and beautiful fireplaces.
The deeds called it a flat, but the property contained two levels and a huge, open plan living area which was so far beyond anything that she would ever have dreamed of owning. The furnishings were sparse, but the bedroom space was dominated by a huge wrought iron bed. When they had walked into the room Ron's lips had pressed into the back of her neck, then stretched into a smile.
"This is unbelievable," Hermione whispered as they walked back down to the kitchen where Harry was perched on a counter, as was his usual spot in his own house, eating a shiny green apple from a basket next to him.
"What, this dump?" Harry teased, waving his apple for emphasis. "Nah. You have it. I don't want it."
"It'll need some decorating," she mused and both boys groaned. "What? There's no colour anywhere. It's all cream and beige."
"I think they call it 'stylish, sleek and modern' in the brochure," Harry argued lightly.
"We could have a bookcase on that wall," Hermione continued, ignoring him and tugging Ron's hand to show him the spot. "Floor to ceiling, full length of the wall."
"Are we going to live here?" Ron asked.
"Yeah," she said, turning in his arms and hooking her hands behind his neck. "Yeah, I think so."
At her smile he grabbed her waist and spun her around in a dizzying circle, making her laugh then squeal with delight.
Members of the Order had assembled back at Grimmauld Place, at Harry's insistence, to arrange the funerals of Fred, Lupin, Tonks and Snape. There were, of course, other tragedies to consider, other funerals to arrange, but these were ones that would require their full attention. The best, as Harry kept repeating, nothing but the best for his friends.
Ron and Hermione held back from the group and sat in the middle of one side of the long table, easily lost among friends, and held hands where no one could see. She knew, even if no one else at the table did, how torn up inside Ron was. He had always known, probably since he was twelve years old and his sister was hurt in the Chamber of Secrets, that his family would be targeted because of his close friendship with Harry Potter. The Weasley's had survived over and over until at last, one of them hadn't. Hermione knew that there was nothing she could say or do that would stop Ron from blaming himself, even in the dark places he wouldn't let her see.
Andromeda Tonks was sat next to Hermione with a sleeping baby Teddy on her shoulder and her husband on her right. When he started to fuss, Hermione quietly held out her arms for the baby and took him out into the hallway where she could pace with him and not disturb the others. After a few minutes, Ron joined her.
"How do girls know that?" he asked, sitting down on the bottommost step of the grand staircase.
"Know what?" she asked in a quiet voice so as not to disturb the portrait of Mrs Black.
"How to deal with babies."
Hermione smiled and brushed her lips over Teddy's soft, fine hair. "I don't know. Instinct, maybe? A mothering instinct."
"Something Hermione Granger doesn't know," Ron teased her, leaning back on his elbows.
"Shut up," she muttered.
He watched her in silence, not wanting to admit even to himself what it did to him to watch her with an infant in her arms. It transported him forward in time by about ten years.
"Do you want to hold him?" Hermione asked, breaking him out of his silent reverie.
"What? Hmm? Oh. No, you're alright," he said.
She sat down on the stair next to him and smoothly moved the baby from her shoulder to the crook of her elbow, where he screwed up his face like he was about to scream; Hermione and Ron held their breath until he settled back down.
Hermione wriggled until she could rest her head on his shoulder and he dropped his head sideways so it laid on top of hers. After a few moments, his arm wrapped around her shoulder and he kissed her hair; the smoothness of it where she'd tied it back into a loose knot at the nape of her neck.
"This is so hard."
"I know," she agreed. "You're being so strong, Ron. So strong."
"I feel like I have to be. For you and Harry and George and Mum."
She sighed. "There's no right way to act when something like this happens. The war is over, but the danger hasn't passed, not really. Our guard is down and we're all so vulnerable."
"What do you mean?"
"I read the Prophet this morning."
"Go on," he encouraged. He stroked at the baby's hand until the tight fist loosened and he could wriggle his index finger between the tiny fingers.
"Lucius Malfoy has been sentenced to life in Azkaban. It seems that the Ministry will only forgive a last minute change of heart once."
"And his wife?"
"Mrs Malfoy got five years."
He nodded. "I suppose we'll have to accept that."
"There's something else." She took a deep, cleansing breath. "Draco was given a suspended sentence."
"What does that mean? I thought the whole point of us going to his trial was to keep him out of Azkaban?"
"No, he won't to prison."
"I don't understand."
Hermione sat up and twisted so she could face him. "There's a charm placed on him which tracks his movements and who he contacts. Everything he does will go on record with the Ministry for at least five years. The thing is, Ron, he doesn't have anyone left. All his family are dead or in Azkaban."
She felt sorry for him, she couldn't help it. He was the child who had called her 'mudblood', forced to grow up into a scared young man fighting someone else's war.
"Maybe that's a punishment in itself," he said.
Turning her head, Hermione brushed her lips over his cheek. Ron smiled and turned into her lips; he kissed her lips, then her nose, then her forehead.
"Come on," he said, taking her hand. "The others will start to miss us."
He didn't let go of her hand all the way back to the table.
The next big challenge would be telling Molly that they were going to be moving out. There had been enough of a fuss made when Harry had moved out, and he wasn't one of her children, not by birth, anyway. The loss of Fred from their lives had made her clingy in her grief and at first, she didn't want to let Fleur and Bill go back to Shell Cottage, or Charlie back to his home and work in Romania, or Percy to the flat in London they'd learned he was sharing with Penelope Clearwater, his girlfriend from school.
Charlie had agreed to stay, mostly to help George. The two were sharing the twins' old room.
"In our house, there won't be any sneaking," Hermione said as she magically locked the door and set her wand down on the bedside table. "Nor will there be an orange bedroom."
Her lips went to his cheek and he chuckled into the curve of her neck as he tugged her down on top of him.
"Aw, you mean I can't put my Canons posters up?"
"No," she said, poking him in the ribs. He pouted and she lightly kissed his lower lip.
"No," Hermione laughed softly. "The problem wasn't that you didn't say please, it was that you're an eighteen year old man and you don't need your Quidditch team posters on the wall any more."
Hermione smiled slowly, hooked her leg over Ron's and ran her fingers through his hair. His eyes warmed at her touch.
"Okay. No posters."
His hands folded on her lower back. She didn't know if her pyjama top had ridden up by accident, or if he nudged it out of the way; either way he was touching her bare skin. She was pretty sure she liked it.
It seemed right for them to be quiet for a few moments. Just to... be, and to be with each other.
"This is all happening so quickly," he said.
"I don't know. It's hard to balance being this happy with you, against being so fucking sad about everything else. Sad and mad."
"I know. I really do."
"It's a week ago tomorrow. So much has changed already."
"Ron," she scratched her fingers through his hair again. "Please, hold me."
"Oh sweetheart," he said, pulling the covers back. She wriggled under the sheet and into his now familiar, bare chested embrace. Her tears were hot on his skin and his made tendrils of her hair stick to her forehead.
Tonight was one to grieve, and to be comforted.
He waited. Then waited some more. He found an old Extendable Ear under his bed and threaded it down the stairs, checking that everyone really was asleep and wondering where the hell she was. After about half an hour he gave up and decided to face Ginny's room and the humiliation that was probably lurking there, rather then face the possibility of spending a night without her.
Half way out of the door, Ron realised that he was in his now normal bedtime attire of just a pair of black boxers. Hermione had taken to pulling his t shirt off if he wore one anyway.
He muttered to himself as he dug around on the floor and found a hooded sweatshirt to pull on so that he wasn't completely naked when he walked into his sister's room. Because of this, he was already blushing when he knocked (as lightly as possible) on Ginny's door.
"Come in," his sister's soft voice of called out.
Ron tentatively pushed the door open. Ginny was sat up in bed writing in her journal. Hermione was slumped in her makeshift bed by the window, a book open and face- down on her chest, and she was snoring a little bit.
"I was wondering if you'd come looking for her," Ginny teased, her eyes sparkling with mischief. Ron got the impression he wouldn't hear the end of this for some time.
"I, uh, got worried," he mumbled, "you know. When she didn't turn up."
"Don't mind me," Ginny said. She emphatically turned back to her journal and started writing again.
Ron quietly stepped over the piles of stuff on Ginny's bedroom floor and lifted the book off Hermione's chest. He marked her page and put it next to her things, then scooped her up into his arms.
"Oof," he grunted.
"What?" Hermione mumbled sleepily, rubbing her eyes.
"That was a lot more romantic when I imagined doing it," he told her. Hermione smiled at him and wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing his cheek.
He braced his arms and tried not to let the struggle of carrying her up the short flight of stairs show. Back in his room she wriggled out of his grasp but kept her arms where they were. Ron wound his arms around her waist and they swayed to music only they could hear.
"How was today?" she asked him.
"Okay," he agreed. "It doesn't get easier, you know, but you sort of get used to it."
"I know," she said softly.
Ron tugged at the sash of her dressing gown and pushed it from her shoulders. He wasn't prepared for her to be wearing shorts... every night before she had worn long pyjama bottoms. He swallowed and hoped she didn't notice.
Hermione smiled and helped, or rather, forced, Ron to lose his sweatshirt. Back in his arms again, against the warm skin of his bare chest, she sighed.
"I'm sorry I'm not prettier," she said in a very small voice.
"Hermione." He took her chin and forced her to look up at him. "You're very, very beautiful."
"You have to say that," she sniffed.
"For the cleverest witch in our year, you do say some silly things sometimes." He rested his cheek on her head.
"I have dumpy thighs."
"Who told you that?" he laughed softly.
"Pansy Parkinson used to say it frequently. And a fat bum."
"Hmm," he hummed. He had gripped one of his wrists with the other hand as she swayed in his arms, but now he flattened his hands on her skin and gently ran them down her sides then cupped her bottom, groping it while still laughing under his breath, then leaned in closer to her to kiss her bare shoulder as he rubbed the sides of her thighs.
"I can't find any problem," Ron said, his voice purposefully innocent. She turned her face to him again, smiling now. "Come to bed."
She nodded and Ron turned off the light, locking his door since her wand was still in Ginny's room.
They settled in bed easily, knowing each other's space and routine, and he finally felt whole again as her warm back pressed against his chest.
"Don't do that again, okay?" he whispered.
"I fell asleep," she bit back, sounding indignant.
"I know. I just... I don't know if I can sleep without you here any more."
Hermione rolled over, awkwardly shifting her weight in the small bed until she was facing him. "If we move into Ostrich Court then we can sleep together every night."
He raised an eyebrow and smirked at her.
"I didn't mean it like that and you know it." Hermione reached a hand up and gently stroked his hair back from his face.
"Look, Hermione," Ron started, staring fixedly somewhere over her shoulder, "I'm not great at being romantic. I'm not a good boyfriend and I don't really know how to show you how I feel... how to tell you how much I love you. But I do. Love you, I mean."
"I love you too," she whispered.
"If I'm not, you know, telling you enough, or showing you enough then for fuck's sake tell me. Because I probably won't know."
"I will. I promise."
He leaned in and brushed his lips over hers. "You mean the world to me, Hermione. The absolute world."
Hermione nodded, not embarrassed to be a bit overwhelmed at what they were sharing. The thought came into her mind slowly, but after thinking about it, and looking into his clear blue eyes, she decided to go with it.
After leaning in to kiss him again, she crossed her arms over her tummy and grabbed hold of the hem of her pyjama top. One swift pull took it up and off over her head and smiling, she tossed it somewhere behind her.
Ron's eyes were comically fixed on hers instead of her naked breasts; his tongue swept out and wet his lips.
"What are you doing?" he asked, his voice rasping on the words.
"I'm taking my top off," she said coyly. His hand stayed firmly stuck to the familiar curve of her hip as she pressed her body, skin to skin, against his.
Ron couldn't help but appreciate twinkle of mischief in her eyes, something that he loved about her but had been sorely missing for too long now. As Hermione wrapped her arm around his back, pressing them together, he decided to just relax and go with what she wanted. He'd promised her not to pressure her into doing anything she wasn't comfortable with, so he needed to trust her not to do something that she didn't want to do. If she wanted to be topless, in his bed, then he could handle it.
Or so he thought. When she kissed him again he could feel the tight, hot peaks of her nipples as they were mashed against his chest and his heart started to pump his blood harder than before. He gasped as she bit down lightly on his bottom lip. Hermione smiled. She was making the laid back, slightly childish man she had fallen in love with lose control.
"Okay, hang on a minute," he mumbled against her lips.
Ron leaned over and groped on his bedside table for his wand. Hermione kept her lips on his neck and shoulder, smiling into his skin as she felt the evidence of his distraction.
"Would you stop that?" he said without conviction as she ran her hands over the strained muscles and smooth skin of his back.
"What?" she asked innocently.
When he had leaned over, she had automatically rolled on to her back to give him more space. Now, with his arm locked tight as he hovered over her, he could see the length of her beautiful body, and he wanted her. So, so badly.
Grabbing his wand, Ron rolled back onto his side.
"Remind me of the spells?"
"What spells?" she asked in a breathless, laughing whisper.
"I don't even know."
She giggled against his shoulder and gently extracted his wand from his hand.
"Hold on," she whispered.
"To me, you muppet." He did. "Wingardium Leviosa."
Ron laughed as the their twined bodies levitated a few inches off the bed. "Swish and flick," he said, wriggling an eyebrow suggestively.
Hermione giggled against his lips and they landed back on the bed with a soft thud.
"I was talking about protective enchantments?" Ron said. "Locking the door properly might be a good start since you're not wearing a lot."
"Crap," she muttered, making him laugh again. She spoke the words that sealed the room from outside intrusion, blocking the sounds from within and a few more elaborate spells ensured that even if they wanted to, anyone else in the house couldn't interrupt them.
The smile in his eyes faded and they darkened; more intense now, he looked down the length of her body again. When their lips met again it was with a new passion that promised new things, more skin, more touching, more this.
His hand was moving. From that familiar spot on her hip it slid purposefully up her side, then his thumb brushed over the curve of her breast. She gasped into his kisses and arched her back; he groaned low into her mouth.
A little voice in his head was saying that she wanted this just as much as he did- she wanted his hands and his kisses. Ron had no idea what he was doing, but his instinct was pretty much screaming over that little voice to keep going, wherever it may be that this took them.
He kissed down her neck, making her whimper. Licked her collarbone. Ran his nose down the gentle slope of her breastbone until he was right there, her boobs were right there and fuck, did she smell good, look good, feel fucking awesome.
Tentatively, he licked at one dark pink nipple. Hermione writhed underneath him and brought both hands to grab at his hair, holding him firmly in place. He wouldn't have moved even if he could. He tried wrapping his lips around her nipple and sucking and she cried out.
"You're so sensitive," he marvelled into her soft, soft skin. She laughed breathlessly.
He looked down her body again to the last scrap of fabric covering her. Then looked back. She nodded almost imperceptibly, heart started to thud harder in his chest. But something was more important than getting into her underwear. Hermione smiled against his lips as he leaned up to kiss her again, and again. She seemed almost surprised as they fell back into the familiar communication of kissing; slowly licking at each other's tongue and teeth as his hand gently cupped her breast now, his thumb moving over the tight flesh he'd dampened with his tongue.
Her hand found his and she linked their fingers together, completely disbelieving that this was finally happening, and desperate to make it real. Hermione let him control the beautifully innocent kisses as she slid his hand down her skin, over her tummy and under the waistband of her shorts, where she was bare underneath.
Ron pressed his forehead to hers, looking at closed eyes, fluttering eyelids and an expression of flushed excitement.
"Is this okay?" he asked; whispering, even though they could be screaming and no one else in the house would be able to hear them. The thought of her screaming made his cock twitch.
"Yes," she whispered back. "Please."
He swallowed thickly and pressed his lips to the spot where her neck joined her shoulder. Together, their hands explored the unseen secrets of her body; she taught him to be gentle and careful and he learned where she was hot and oh, so wet and ready for him.
"There," Hermione gasped. "Right... there."
"Like that?" he murmured, rubbing the little knot of flesh under the pad of his thumb.
Her back arched up off the bed again and he took the offering, slipping two fingers just a little way inside her. Hermione's free hand reached up and grabbed his hair in her fist. She violently tugged his face down to hers and he faltered in the tentative rhythm he'd built as their mouths clashed together.
When it happened, he had to watch. She whispered his name against his cheek, then cried out with her lips an inch from his ear, and he rubbed harder until she was panting and lying loose and relaxed under him.
"Fuck," he muttered, sure he was going to come too if she so much as breathed on him.
Instead of scolding him, Hermione giggled. "That was incredible," she said, her fingertips gently rubbing the sore spot on his scalp where she'd pulled his hair. "Can I touch you?"
The sweetness of her voice made his heart give a painful thud.
"You can," he said dubiously. "But I don't think I'll last long."
"That doesn't matter to me," she said solemnly.
"Okay," Ron agreed.
Hermione kissed the corner of his jaw; a lovely spot where the bone came to a rounded point and he sometimes had little nicks from the awkwardness of shaving there. Her hand flattened on his belly and her fingertips wriggled under the line of black elastic to grip him where he was painfully hard and hot and wanting her.
He groaned, low in his throat and screwed his eyes shut. Her little hand felt so different to his own, softer, more tentative as she slid her hand down to the base of him, then back up to the tip.
Ron considered thinking about something else, delaying the inevitable but she simply felt too fucking good; it was only when he heard her laugh again that he realised he'd said that last bit out loud.
"I don't know what I'm doing, I'm sorry," she murmured against his jaw.
"What you're doing is fine," he croaked. "You can, uh, grip it tighter if you want."
"Okay," she agreed.
Hermione found a strange sort of rhythm, undoubtedly hampered by his tight boxers but he didn't have the strength to banish them or the inclination to get her to stop long enough for him to take them off. He found her lips and shuddered against them as he released into her hand, peppering her with tiny kisses when he had the wherewithal to do so.
She reached up and gently stroked the back of his neck as his breathing returned to normal and the erratic thudding of his heart slowed down.
"Here, um, let me find something to clean you up," he mumbled.
"It's okay," she laughed and cast a spell that left him feeling... scrubbed, like how his teeth felt after a vicious brushing with a very minty toothpaste.
"I love you," he said again as she nestled into the space on his chest he now knew was hers, yawning widely and curling her arm around his back.
"I love you too."
From the kitchen window in The Burrow, two figures watched as the young couple stood in a rain sodden garden, exchanging what appeared to be screaming insults.
"How long have they been out there?" Arthur asked, topping off both his and Molly's mugs of tea.
"About twenty minutes or so," she said musingly.
Arthur shivered in sympathy. From what he could see, they were soaked to the bone. "Can you hear what they're fighting about?"
"No." She sounded impressed. "They've cast a spell which stops their voices carrying."
"Who do you think is causing the thunder?" Arthur asked, sipping his tea.
"Ron," Molly said.
"Oh yes. Almost definitely."
"How can you tell?"
"Well, if you look, Hermione's wand is sparking and it's setting the Flutterby Bush on fire."
"And Hermione is certainly a very skilled witch, but even she cannot cast two nonverbal spells simultaneously with one wand."
"Oh. I'm impressed," Arthur admitted. "Ron's weather charms are obviously very advanced."
"They always have been." Molly hummed in agreement. She sipped her tea and watched as Hermione threw her arms up in the air then pushed her wet hair back from her face in frustration. "Did you know that Hermione has been sleeping in Ron's room?"
"No!" Arthur spluttered into his mug. "Since when?"
"Since we got home, I think."
"How do you know this?"
"Oh, I have my ways," she said with a smile. Outside, Ron snarled with frustration and spun around on his heel, storming away a few paces and then back again. Above him the dark sky cracked, thundered and it started to rain, if it was possible, even harder. "Do you think I should call them in?"
"No," Arthur said decisively. "Hermione reminds me of someone. I don't want to get in her way when she's spitting mad like that."
"Who does she remind you of?" Molly asked, setting down her mug and wrapping her arms around his waist.
"Oh, I don't know. A young Molly Prewett, perhaps."
Molly threw back her head and laughed. "In that case, they'll be alright."
Ron was surprised that night when she snuck into his room like normal. Hermione shut the door behind her and locked it, then stripped off her dressing gown and silently climbed into bed.
He wrapped his arms tightly around her and buried his face in her hair. It was frizzy from where she had let it dry naturally instead of with a brush and a hairdryer liked her watched her do most mornings, to make it smooth and straight.
"I was worried you wouldn't come tonight," he admitted.
Hermione sighed heavily and turned into his chest. "We had a fight, Ronald. It doesn't mean I don't want to be with you any more."
He smoothed her hair back and sought out her lips for a soft kiss. Then another one.
She pulled the covers up over their shoulders and wrapped her arm tighter around his waist.
"Don't ever think I don't want you here, okay?" he said into her hair. "I always, always want you here."
He did. He didn't let go.
The days sometimes stretched; with Bill, Charlie, Percy and Mr Weasley all returning to work at the Ministry to help with the aftermath of the war. It meant that they were left to their own devices, sometimes spending time alone together or trying to tempt George back out of hiding. They had managed to get him to visit Ron's room, and occasionally as far as Grimmauld Place, but he refused to go much further or out in public at all.
"I think," Ron said hesitantly, running his fingers through his hair and looking like he was searching for confidence he didn't feel, "I think it would be good if you opened up the shop again."
Hermione nodded in agreement.
"No," George said. He shook his head slowly, sadly. "No, I'm not ready for that yet."
"You need to do something," Ron said before Hermione had chance to interject. "Fred wouldn't have wanted this."
"How do you know what he would have wanted?" he snapped.
"I'm his brother too," Ron said softly, slipping into the present tense by force of habit. "You know as well as I do that he would have hated this. Us sitting around doing nothing. We should do something for him, honour him somehow."
"Why don't you have a big reopening party?" Hermione suggested. "Give it a few days and we should be able to put that together."
"We could put an advert in The Prophet," Ron added.
George looked thoughtful for long minutes while the others waited in silence. "It could be sort of like a tribute," he said eventually.
"Exactly," Hermione smiled.
George stood, muttering words to himself that she couldn't hear, and eventually dug out a quill and a piece of parchment. "You're good with words, Hermione, help me?"
It took a few hours, designing the layout of the advert which had transformed into a full page tribute, complete with photograph and discount coupon at the bottom.
"It looks good," Ron said, leaning back with a sigh. "It looks really good."
"Yeah," George agreed. He scanned the words again and handed it over to Hermione. "Do you think you can get this in tomorrow's paper?"
"I'll see what I can do," she promised.
It was the next day when the advert actually ran; Hermione's powers of persuasion meant that they were featured on page three, for the three days leading up to the reopening. George, thrilled with the progress of Ron's idea, had decided to offer a different Skiving Snackbox with each coupon presented. The editor at The Prophet was excited by this idea too- it meant more people buying his newspaper for three consecutive days.
Hermione was quietly proud of what they had achieved in just a few short days. Although she and Harry would be there for moral support, the Memorial Day/ Grand Reopening of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes was to be run by the Weasley children on their own. She, Hermione, had arranged for extra uniforms to be made and unknown to the others, a section of the wall behind the tills where normally there hung advertisements, soon would show a large, beaming photo of Fred who would pull faces at his customers.
The newspaper arrived by owl just as she was washing up hers and Ron's breakfast dishes. She slipped the bronze coin in its pouch and settled back down at the table to spread it out properly. Eagerly, she flicked through the pages until she found the product of all their hard work, although really, it was difficult to miss.
In the bottom corner of the page a picture of Fred was waving up at her while various explosions went off behind him. The words Weasley's Wizard Wheezes- Grand Reopening Day flashed obnoxiously at the top and even though she'd written it, her eyes automatically skimmed the text underneath:
George, Bill, Charlie, Percy, Ron and Ginny Weasley are proud to announce the grand reopening of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes on the 17th May, in honour of their fallen brother and hero, Fred.
In Fred's memory we are not holding a candlelight ceremony or a wake, Fred wouldn't have wanted this. He should be remembered exactly as he was in life: full of fun, energy and laughter. This will not be a memorial of black and flowers and tears and sadness, it's one of colour and jokes and joy.
Fred was with us for only 20 short years, but he will never, ever be forgotten. He was a twin most of all, but a brother, a son and a deeply loyal friend as well. This is his legacy.
So. We want you to come. We want Weasley's Wizard Wheezes to be full of children again- every Hogwarts student will receive 50% DISCOUNT on 17th May! You can also bring in the coupon at the bottom of this page for a FREE SKIVING SNACKBOX! Collect the coupons for the next two days for TWO MORE FREE SKIVING SNACKBOXES!
Weasley's Wizard Wheezes was opened to bring a little bit of light into the darkest of times. Now, when things have never been darker for our family, we hope that you will join us in bringing that light back again.
Hermione looked up as George wandered into the kitchen, absently scratching the scar where his ear used to be.
"Here," she said, pushing the paper towards him.
George's face, which had been so resolutely despairing for the past few weeks, broke into a slow grin. It was still a shadow of his previous, mischievous features, but it was an improvement.
"Wow. This is awesome."
"I thought so," she smiled. "We just have to make sure you're ready, now."
"We will be," George said confidently. "I need to go down to London to make sure we're well stocked up, but it's going to happen."
"How's the production of the snackboxes going?" she asked.
"We'll be ready," he said again.
Since they'd decided what the coupon offer was going to be, Bill, Fleur and Ginny had turned the spare bedroom at Shell Cottage into a factory making sure there was going to be enough stock to cover the extra demand. Ginny seemed to be staying there now instead of coming back to The Burrow at night. Hermione thought it was likely to do with Harry, and the probing questions Ginny must know she was dying to ask. Hermione Granger knew when she was being avoided.
"What's going on?" Hermione demanded moments after she'd landed in Harry's Floo.
"I don't know. You just turned up." Harry turned on the sofa from where he'd been settled, reading a book entitled Britain's Greatest Quidditch Players.
"With you and Ginny," she qualified.
Harry blushed and ducked back behind the book.
"Don't know what you're talking about," he mumbled.
"Harry James Potter," Hermione said, stamping her foot.
"I don't like it when you Middle- Name me," Harry whined.
She strode over to him and snatched the book from his hands. At the look on his face, she softened her approach as she sank down, perching on the edge of the coffee table opposite him.
"Please," she implored. "I'm worried for you both."
Ginny had been acting more and more strange over the previous few days, to the point where she was refusing to take her meals with the rest of her family and often spent her time away from the house, wandering the streets of Wizarding London until well after dark. She had been telling Molly that she was with Harry, but an innocent enough question, dropped at precisely the wrong time, had revealed her web of lies.
"She dumped me," Harry said with a shrug.
"She what?" Hermione shrieked.
"Don't," Harry begged. "It's bad enough as it is."
"But… But…" Hermione floundered.
"I have too many 'issues'," Harry said sarcastically, making air- quotes with his fingers. "She can't handle my problems as well as her own and her family's."
"Your issues?" she hissed. She was insulted. And hurt. She thought Ginny was stronger…
"Yeah. Apparently I can't support her because of all of the stuff that I'm dealing with for myself. So she wants to stay friends, but just friends. And she wants me to keep my distance and respect her wishes on the romantic front."
"Oh Harry," Hermione sighed, her hand coming to rest on his knee. "Are you okay?"
"I'll survive," he said grimly. "That's what I do, right?"
"This is different," she said. "You know that you can't let this ruin your friendships, don't you?"
"What do you mean?"
She sighed again. "With Ron, and the rest of the family. Molly would be devastated if you stopped visiting them now. You know she thinks of us both as her surrogate children."
Harry shrugged. "Dunno."
"Come back with me tonight. Gin's out."
"Where?" Harry asked in a small voice.
"With Fleur. They're having a 'girl's night' at Shell Cottage."
"Weren't you invited?"
Hermione blushed. "I didn't want to go."
"Oh no," Harry said, holding his hands over his ears. "I don't want to know about your sordid affairs."
"There's nothing sordid about it," she said, affronted, covering her embarrassment with bravado. Then she softened again. "He loves me, Harry."
"Of course he bloody well loves you!" he exclaimed in an exasperated voice. "He has for years."
She nodded. "I think I have too. Loved him, I mean."
"You two have been pains in my arse since our Fourth Year," Harry sighed. "I just hope you're working off all of that built up tension in private so I don't have to watch it." He smirked at her.
"Shut up," Hermione muttered, waving a mortified hand at him.
"There's no point in being coy about it," Harry said, getting into the swing of teasing his friend now. "You know Ron will tell me everything."
"He better not!" she said hotly.
Harry just laughed and got to his feet, stretching. "Come on," he said, tugging his most loyal friend to her feet and into a hug. "If Molly's cooking I don't want to be late."
She 'harrumphed' into his chest, but wound her arms around his waist and squeezed him once, hard.
Ron was alone in his room when his door creaked open. George looked in pain. More so than what had become normal.
"Come with me," his brother said in a hoarse sort of voice. Ron followed silently.
The route down to the twins' bedroom was familiar. The room itself looked exactly as it had always been; two rumpled beds with only a short space between them, leaving more space at the other end of the room for joke shop stock. Ron looked down at a camp bed in confusion, wondering who else was sleeping in here too until it hit him. Charlie was sleeping on the camp bed. Fred's bed hadn't been moved, or made, since he'd been called away to Hogwarts to join the battle.
He was also struck with how close his brothers must have been, despite their age. There wasn't enough room at The Burrow for them to have their own bedrooms (Ron had shared with them when he was younger, until Bill moved out and he'd moved up), but every day of his life George had slept with his twin close by. The beds were set in such a way that, while sleeping, the two brothers would have been almost nose to nose.
"You're almost the same height as me," George said, pulling Ron's attention back.
"Yeah," he agreed, confused.
"The same height as Fred, too."
Ron wasn't sure he understood, but George wasn't meeting his eyes- he obviously didn't want to ask outright.
"Anything you want, George. You know that. If I can do anything…"
A strong arm wrapped around his back, the forearm pressed flat along the groove of his spine. George's forehead pressed into his shoulder, silent tears slipping down his cheeks and Ron mimicked the gesture unconsciously. He'd never seen the twins like this before. But it clearly meant something.
He put his head down too, and let his own tears fall.
The Weasley brothers weren't particularly afraid of showing emotion; growing up with their mother they were used to overbearing hugs, and felt no shame in loving each other. If this was what George wanted, for a few moments to forget, to pretend that a brother was a twin, then Ron could do that.
Ron pulled George closer. The moment passed, reality fell around them once again, and they sank to the floor together, sharing the grief and loss as one.
At breakfast the next morning two owls arrived with identical letters addressed to Mr Ronald Weasley and Miss Hermione Granger. They both bore the Ministry seal. Before they had chance to open them Harry appeared in the Floo, clutching his own letter with a concerned expression on his face. Molly quickly served up another bacon sandwich and fussed over how thin he was; Harry's worried eyebrow and imperceptible shake of his head made both of them hold their questions.
Before Harry had managed so much as one bite the Floo roared again, and the head of Neville Longbottom appeared.
"Did you guys get a letter this morning?"
"Come through, Neville!" Molly enthused.
Harry seemed to be able to silently communicate with Neville as well as he could with Ron and Hermione. Neville joined the breakfast table without giving anything further away. They made their excuses about clearing some space as Charlie, George and Ginny trod down the stairs for the second sitting of Mrs Weasley's excellent bacon sandwiches, moving the conversation into the garden where a light, very British rain was falling.
"What's going on?" Ron said, sounding exasperated already.
Hermione cast a spell which repelled the rain from around a picnic bench at the same time Harry cast Mufflatio, reminding them all suddenly, and uncomfortably, of months in the countryside, protecting themselves from Dark forces.
"The Ministry want me to join a team of Aurors hunting down Death Eaters that escaped before or during the battle and other Death Eater supporters who have since gone underground." Harry said all of this in one long breath.
Ron's jaw dropped.
Neville said "Me too."
Hermione was tearing open her letter, reading it as fast as she could possibly absorb the information. "Wow. Me too."
"Well I bloody well hope that's what mine is about," Ron muttered as he opened his own letter.
"What are you going to do?" Neville asked, directing his question at Harry.
"I don't know," Harry said with a deep sigh. He ran his palms over his scruffy jaw then through his hair. "I think I should, but I don't want to."
"Same," Neville said. "Gran wants me to do it."
"I'm pretty sure Mum won't let me do it," Ron said.
"Wow," Hermione said again. "This is a big deal, you know? A really big deal. We're not even qualified. We haven't done our exams."
Harry dropped his head to the table, his shoulders shaking with silent laughter. Ron leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. He was holding back his amusement too.
"Oh, you're together now?" Neville asked with a genuine smile for his friends.
"Yeah, I suppose we are," Ron said with a shrug.
It wasn't the most romantic thing he'd ever said, but she knew that Ronald wasn't the most romantic of men. She offered him a shy smile. He smiled right back.
"Ron, you know what this means," Hermione started slowly.
"Do I?" he said.
"It's time. To tell your mum."
"Oh yeah," Ron said. "That."
Molly's reaction to the news that Ron was leaving was as bad as could be expected, all things considered. There were tears, and declarations of independence that fuelled the fire, and declarations of love that diminished it. Hermione hovered by the window in the sitting room, anxiously twisting the hem of her t shirt over and over in her hands, watching the row between Ron and his mum escalate, not wanting to interrupt.
"And you had nothing to do with this?" Molly demanded, turning on her heel and addressing Hermione for the first time.
"Don't you dare speak to her like that!" Ron roared.
"No," Hermione said quietly, now trying to smooth the wrinkles out of her t shirt. "Harry gave us the deeds to the flat. I've looked into it, Mrs Weasley, honestly I have. But he was right, the flat belongs to us now, and we can sell it but that just means we have a lot more money to buy somewhere else. You know I'm going back to Hogwarts at the beginning of September anyway, and Ron…" Her voice trailed off and she flushed crimson, becoming suddenly very interested in the toes of her trainers.
"And Ron what?" Molly demanded in her scary quiet voice, turning back to her son. "Tell me the end of that sentence was 'and Ron is coming with me to finish his education so he can get a good job and support me like a real man should', or so help me…"
"I'm not going back to school, Mum," Ron said bravely.
Molly turned an interesting shade of purple.
"Now look here, young man, I put up with your running off around the country with Harry, circumstances being what they were, and with what we all up against-"
"Voldemort might be dead, Mum, but there are still others out there," Ron interrupted.
The colour drained out of Molly at once, and she sank into a nearby arm chair.
"Please don't' tell me you're going on some self- serving mission to track down latent Death Eaters," she said, her hand on her chest.
"It's not self- serving, it's Ministry serving," Ron said with a sigh. "Accio letter from the Ministry."
The piece of parchment flew down the stairs and into Ron's outstretched hand. "Harry and Hermione and Neville have been invited to go, too," he added.
"And you're going?" Molly asked Hermione weakly.
"No, I'm going back to Hogwarts," she said.
"So you don't care that he's going to be off, risking his life…"
"It's no more than what you and Dad did for the Order!" Ron said hotly.
"And your father nearly died!" Molly shrieked. Then she deflated again. "And Harry and Neville, too. Poor Augusta."
"Mum," Ron said softly, sinking down to sit on the coffee table to face his mother, pulling her hand from her chest and cradling it gently between both of his. "Mum, we're going to go and do what all of us have been saying for years we want to do. We're going to help, to make things better so that some other nutter doesn't try to rise up and take over where Voldemort left off."
"You're going to be an Auror, aren't you?"
"Yeah," Ron said with a sheepish smile. "Well, not a real one. But we'll be reporting to the Auror office. They'll be trained Aurors with us, all the time, but you know how many people they lost when we were fighting, they need us."
"You're not ready, you're not trained, you haven't even finished school," Molly recited but even Hermione could hear that her heart wasn't really in it any more.
"We fought," Ron said. "And it wasn't just luck that kept us all alive. We've got more experience than half of the Auror department. I know you never approved of the DA, Mum, but it's the reason why I'm still here. I need to do it. For Fred and Sirius and Lupin and Tonks and everyone else who can't fight for themselves any more."
Molly shook her head. "Well, I can't stop you."
"But you could give me your blessing."
She levelled with her son and smiled. "You have my blessing. Just don't die, because if you do I'm going to kill you."
He laughed, then. "I promise. And the flat? And Hermione?"
In the corner by the window, from her vantage point where she was attempting to crawl into the wallpaper, Hermione blushed.
"I don't approve of you living together before you're married," Molly said, a distinct motherly tone back in her voice now. "But if you wanted to get married, I've still got a list of all of the contacts from Bill and Fleur's, it shouldn't be too much trouble to get that marquee again…"
"We're not quite ready for that yet, I don't think," Hermione said quickly.
Ron stopped his indelicate choking from the coffee table and smiled at her gratefully.
"Nonsense," Molly said briskly. "If you're ready to live together then why not get married?"
"Because it's the twenty first century," Ron said.
"Less of your cheek," Molly said with affection. "You know I'm not ready to let you grow up."
"I'm eighteen, Mum."
"And I know that at your age, you think you're ready to take on the world."
"We did take on the world. And we won."
Molly shook her head and rubbed her hands over her face, knowing that sparring with this teenage child probably wasn't going to get her very far.
"Okay, fine," she said wearily. "You're going to do it all anyway."
Ron silently held a hand out to Hermione and she came over to where he was sat, and he tugged her down so she was sitting on his knee.
"Mum. This is Hermione. I love her, very very much. One day I'm going to marry her and we'll have lots of grandchildren for you to fuss over… I mean, for you to love. For now, she's my girlfriend, and we're going to live together, and I hope you like her because she's going to be around for a long time."
"You soppy date." Molly's eyes were swimming with tears. Hermione buried her face in Ron's shoulder, breathing him in deeply as he squeezed her reassuringly. That was all the approval they needed.
Approval or not, Hermione still snuck out of Ginny's room under the cover of darkness for their last night at The Burrow before they moved into the new flat. Although they had discussed waiting for their first time together, Ron seemed slightly sentimental about saying goodbye to the room where they'd fallen so much deeper in love with each other.
He watched as she stripped down to just her underwear, then welcomed her into his arms. They both wriggled silently until they fit together perfectly.
Ron sighed and laid his cheek down on her head.
"Will you make love to me?" she whispered into his chest.
"What?" Ron shifted down the bed so he was face to face with her. "Now?"
"Tonight, yeah," Hermione said. She wriggled her nose and blushed furiously.
"I want to," he said slowly. "Tonight is special. I won't forget this, no matter what happens."
She stroked his hair back from his face and kissed him softly; warm, dry lips pressed against warm, dry lips. They kissed for an indeterminable amount of time, tangling lips and tongues and hearts until both were slightly breathless and she pulled back.
"Ron, please," she whispered.
"Do we need to do something for, um, protection?" he asked, blushing slightly but determined to do right by her.
"I've done the charm for tonight," Hermione said. "I can start taking a potion for a long term solution if we need it."
"If we need it?" he whispered. "I hope we'll need it."
"Shut up," she mumbled. It was her turn to blush and hit his arm, because that was what they did.
"Fire," he whispered, confusing her.
"I can't see you properly. It's too dark. Make that pretty blue fire?"
"Oh," she said. "I need something to put it in. Stay here."
She wriggled off the bed and whispered 'lumos', searching for something that wouldn't burn. On his windowsill she found a squat water tumbler that he'd failed to return to the kitchen and rolled her eyes, not that he could see her. The charm worked as well as it always had and she turned back to him, cradling the glass in both hands.
Ron had sat up and swung his legs out of bed, perched on the edge, watching her with an unfamiliar expression on his face. She set the charmed fire down next to the lamp on his bedside table and wondered why they hadn't put that on instead. Looking back at him, she figured it out. Fire was more romantic. And Ron had known this when she hadn't.
His hand snuck out to her hip and tugged her body so that she was standing between his legs. She was smiling as she gently threaded her fingers through his hair, entirely comfortable with her state of undress now. Both of Ron's arms wrapped around her waist and he rested his chin on her tummy, looking up at her. Meeting his eyes, she smiled wider.
"You're mine, okay?" he said seriously as his hands splayed out over her back, holding her close. "Mine. No one else's."
"Yours," she affirmed. "So completely yours, Ron."
She sat down, straddling his lap so the heat of both their bodies were pressed tightly together. He was hard already. Hermione kissed him again, arching her back so her breasts were pushed into his chest, firmly gripping his hair and unconsciously rocking her hips.
"Mine," he groaned as he pulled them around so they were laid out on the bed again.
It just felt... right. He knew how to wriggle his fingers to make her gasp and then groan, then come with trembling ferocity with her teeth adding to the scarring on his shoulder. She was naked, he only had to kick off his boxers and swing his leg over so he was straddling her, then the moment was right there.
With his heart pounding in his throat, he looked down at his girl. Reached up and smoothed her hair back from her face, let his hand linger so she pressed a kiss to it.
"I love you," he whispered as he pressed forward, taking her.
Hermione gripped his shoulders and he knew that he must be causing her some kind of pain, then she relaxed and bit down on her bottom lip and he had to control every instinct he had not to come before he was properly all the way inside her. When her hands flattened and wrapped loosely around his waist, securing their bodies together, he relaxed and pushed the rest of the way.
"Nothing between us," Hermione said in a lost sort of voice.
"Are you okay?" He brushed a kiss against the corner of her mouth, not daring to move.
"Yeah," she said and caught his lips with hers.
That was all he needed. He wasn't sure if she really was okay, or just saying it for his benefit, but he had to move or else he'd die, so he rocked his hips experimentally. She gasped into his next kiss. I'm inside her, he thought as she gently stroked his lower back. She's mine and I'm inside her. She was hot, and wet, and it felt like she was gripping him harder than she ever had with her hand, and it was incredible.
Ron came with his face pressed against her neck in an attempt to stifle his cries of pleasure. Her hand on his back didn't still.
They fell asleep, holding on to each other as tightly as when they were joined.
"You lost it," Charlie said with a smug grin the next morning at breakfast.
"Lost what?" he mumbled. George snorted into his cereal.
Once it had been established that anyone of a female gender was out of the vicinity, Charlie leaned across the table.
"You had sex," he hissed in a gleeful whisper. "Nothing other than sex puts that stupid grin on a man's face."
"Oh, that," he mumbled. "Well, yeah."
"How was it?" George demanded.
"Good. Amazing, actually."
The two elder brothers looked to each other in disbelief.
"You don't have to lie, you know. It will get better."
"It gets better?" he said incredulously.
The others were laughing now.
"Yeah," Charlie promised. A lot, lot better."
George shook his head. "Was your first time like that?" he asked of Charlie.
"No way. It was a disaster. Constance Merrythorpe," he said with a dreamy, faraway expression.
"Okay," Ron said, glad the topic of conversation had been directed away from himself. "How old were you?"
"Last year of Hogwarts. So seventeen."
"You?" Ron rounded on George.
"Sixteen, mate. And Katie Bell, before you ask."
"Really?" Ron asked, screwing up his nose.
"Yeah," George laughed. "Night of the Yule Ball. Fred…" his voice trailed off for a moment, then he cleared his throat and the brothers ignored this lapse in conversation. "Fred and Angelina did the same night."
"In the same room?" Ron seethed.
"No, and don't be such a prude," George said. "Fred won the toss of the knut. He got the room and I ended up with the Room of sodding Requirement. Apparently the Room didn't think we needed anything more romantic than a broom cupboard."
Charlie snorted on his coffee and George helpfully thumped his back until the blockage cleared.
"So it was alright then," Charlie asked taking another, experimental sip of his drink. "Because your room was suspiciously quiet all night."
"Well it would be," Ron retorted. "You don't think I'd be so stupid as to not ward the door?"
"You warded the door?" Charlie goaded.
Ron blushed again. "Well, Hermione might have done it. But that's beside the point. Mum would go spare if she found out she was sleeping in my room. She didn't let Bill and Fleur share a room until after they were married."
"Well, Mum's old fashioned, isn't she," Charlie shrugged.
"Do you have a girlfriend?" Ron asked suddenly.
"Nah, not at the moment," he said. "Work is busy, you know. And dragon hunting isn't the best profession to go into to meet girls."
"I could have told you that," George offered.
"Well, it's alright," Charlie continued. "There are a couple of girls in different towns who keep an eye out for me when I'm passing through." He winked slyly.
"A girl in every port," George nodded. "I'm impressed, big brother."
"Everything alright though? Seriously? You're being careful and everything? Because I don't think Mum is ready to be a grandmother just yet. Not by you and Hermione, anyway."
"Yes, everything's fine, and yes we're being careful."
Charlie laughed and slapped his scarred, calloused hands down on the table, pushing back to stand. "Well, as much as I'd like to spend all morning talking about women and their many mysteries, I've got things to do. Want to help with the last of the moving?"
"Not today," George said, shaking his head and taking his breakfast things to the sink.
"Want to hang out?" Ron offered.
"Later, maybe," he said and left with a sad sort of smile.
"Is he okay, do you think?" Ron asked when George was safely out of earshot.
"No," Charlie said. "It's going to take a long, long time. And maybe not even then." He clapped one of his hands on Ron's shoulder. "Just keep being there for him, that's all any of us can do."
"Okay," Ron agreed.
"Same goes for you. I know you're on your own now, but that doesn't mean the rest of us aren't here for you."
"Thanks," Ron said, shuffling his feet. Then, in a rush, "And thanks for helping me move."
"No problem. Ron?" The younger brother looked at the older with a small smile. "It's gonna be alright."
"I don't like this bed," Ron opined as she lead him through to the bedroom. They'd just finished unpacking. Well, Hermione had finished unpacking. He'd tried to help but she'd only changed anything he did, so eventually he stopped trying.
"Why? It's beautiful," Hermione said as she ran her hand over the beautiful ironwork.
"It's too big," he murmured. "I'm used to sleeping up close to you."
"We can still sleep close together in this bed," she said, oddly touched. "Look."
She tugged them both down to laying down, then curled into him as had become so familiar.
"Yeah, but there's too much room for you to move away from me."
Hermione had time to wonder what on earth had happened to the insensitive git she'd grown up with. But she wary of making reference to the subtle changes in his personality; the ones that meant he got nervous when she wasn't around. Ron knew as well as she did, the only time something bad had happened to Fred or George was when the twins were separated.
"Okay," she told him. Hermione pulled her wand from her pocket and concentrated immensely for a moment- she had never attempted this spell before on an object of this size. "Contractus."
They both felt the shift as the bed shrank around them until Hermione flicked her wrist to end the spell. It was now about the same size as Ron's bed back at The Burrow, probably a bit bigger. Just a little bit bigger. She liked the extra room so she could actually move.
"Better?" she asked.
"Much," he laughed.
"I can think of how it could be better," she said in a low, suggestive voice.
Ron laughed. "If you took all your clothes off?"
This was where she fell deeper in love with him. They were laughing and being silly and tickling each other as they quickly divested each other of their clothes, and then he was hard and naked and his skin was so warm, and she wasn't laughing any more.
When he kissed her again she arched into his touch, wanting to align their bodies and pull him in where she was already aching and wanting him.
"Is this okay?" he asked. His hand stroked down the naked curve of her body.
"Of course it is," she said, her dark eyes shining.
"I um, didn't know... if you were hurting, um, or anything. From last night."
"Oh." Her fingers spread as she tugged them through his hair. "I'm fine. Good. Thank you for checking."
Hermione wrapped her hand around the back of his neck and pulled him in for a slow, sensual kiss that was given an extra thrill by their lack of clothing. It was a thrill she hoped she'd never get used to.
"You're the most beautiful woman in the whole world," he murmured as his hand skimmed up and down her body.
"Make me yours again?"
She was amazed, again, at how incredibly gentle he could be. Their first time had wrenched her heart open and laid her bare to him; rather than take advantage of her weakness, he'd been sweet and loving and filled her heart with all his love. Hermione didn't know, hadn't expected for their physical relationship to bring them so much closer emotionally.
Not that Ron would see it that way, she was sure.
This time when he entered her there was no pain, just the immediate throb of pleasure that she'd felt hints of the night before. He'd felt large in her hand, but inside her was different; she hadn't quite worked out all of the angles and dimensions yet but it felt good.
He started slow and in the muted light of the rainy afternoon she had the courage to keep her eyes open and watch him loving her. Ron's eyes were shut and his face twisted in concentration; she took the opportunity to look down the pale, smooth, muscled lines of his back. On whispering his name he opened his eyes too and smiled warmly as she searched his face.
"Mine," he said again. Hermione had a feeling it would be a word he repeated often.
Their kisses grew more frantic, heated, wanting and searching and finding as they moved together. She watched in fascination as he threw his neck back, baring the tight cords of muscle in his neck to her appreciative gaze. He had reared up on his arms and this was... different, more, something harder. More animal. He was, she realised with a twist of lust in her belly, fucking her. It wasn't altogether unpleasant.
Ron opened his eyes. The intensity in his vivid blue gaze seemed to reflect the love and lust that she was feeling and vocalising.
"Are you okay?" he asked, faltering in his relentless thrusting.
"I'm incredible," she said honestly. "Come closer?"
He slowly lowered himself so they were once again laid out touching head to toe. Ron curled his arm under her neck and scooped her leg at the knee, running his fingertips under the sensitive, ticklish skin on the back of her leg up to her hip and carefully folding her leg back.
"How does that feel?"
Hermione couldn't quite make the words to explain. Ron chuckled breathlessly, the noise tickling the light hairs on the side of her neck. Her hand fisted in his hair and gave it a painful jerk. He stopped laughing and started kissing her again.
It was different to when she had orgasmed before; those sensations were concentrated on that one spot that she had learned to manipulate so skilfully to bring about her own release. Now there was a heat that was concentrated deep inside her, he rubbed against it and the coil of tension grew; right there, she wanted to tell him, but her throat was making other noises and words had almost escaped her.
When it exploded, she forgot everything.
Her head was still fuzzy and her body trembling as he pulled the heavy duvet over them both and she snuggled into the crook of his neck. His hand stroked down her back, cheekily caressed her ass, then curled sweetly around her waist.
Ron sighed deeply and Hermione kissed his neck. His pulse jumped under her lips.
She woke a few hours later to the almost- darkness of dusk and the sound of heavier rain on the windows.
"Sleeping beauty," Ron mumbled into her hair. Hermione yawned, stretched, and sighed in contentment.
"If you keep saying things like that I might one day believe you."
"You were a funny looking eleven year old, I'll grant you that, but you're not any more."
"Ugly duckling," she mumbled.
"Don't worry. Muggle children's story. I'll tell it to you one day."
He found her sitting on the deep, soft brown sofa in their living room, pouring over an album of Muggle photographs with tears pouring from her eyes. He went to her and silently pulled her into his lap, gently cupping her head and encouraging her to lay it down on his shoulder.
"What's the matter, sweetheart?" he asked.
Still she sobbed, so he rocked her gently, letting her cry herself out. With his lips to her head, she finally admitted: "I miss my mum."
"Okay," he whispered. "Do you want to go get her back?"
Hermione gave a wet laugh into Ron's neck. "I wish it was that easy."
"Um, it is," he said with an apologetic sort of shrug. "I asked Kingsley to track them down. We know where they are because I didn't want you to have to wait to see them again."
"Are you being serious?" she whispered.
Ron abruptly stood, his arms still full of girl. Hermione gave a short squeal as she was hoisted up and fastened her arms securely around his neck, then chuckled as he walked with her through the flat to the bathroom.
"You like doing this, don't you?" she asked, teasing him.
"No," he said, lying. She just laughed.
Ron put her down on the counter next to the sink and ran the cold tap. He found a soft flannel in the towel box and ran it under the water, then gently cleaned the tears from her face as Hermione sat with her hands quietly folded in her lap.
"Better?" he asked, putting a kiss on the end of her wet nose.
"Ron? When did you turn into this lovely man?"
He blushed. "I don't know. Somewhere around the time that losing people I love became something very real."
She reached up and ran her fingers through his hair. "Love you."
"Love you too."
He wound his arms around her, completing the circle and bringing her into his chest, where she belonged. Things had changed. They were still changing. The difference was, this time they had each other.
"Now, this is not the end.
It is not even the beginning of the end.
But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
- Winston Churchill