The first time she visited the oak tree, she was still a child, dragging a book almost twice her weight. She had pressed her chin into her hands and flipped the pages earnestly, relishing in the solitude for a blissful moment.

From her place just before the slope of a small hill, she could see Harry and Ron clearly from below her lashes. They were trying some spell that Fred and George had taught them, and despite all their efforts, they weren't succeeding. Every so often sparks would fly from Ron's wand.

She propped her shoulders on her knees and watched them, as the breeze rolled through her hair and the autumn leaves started to drift around her.

In the beginning, when they were still children, it was Harry and Ron.

She visits the oak tree after things have changed, and it looks no different than when she was a girl.

She had forgotten to bring a book with her this time — between everything that had gone on, she had regretfully forgotten what it was like to read for pleasure.

But the tree still looks the same, and the leaves are starting to turn crimson and gold with the coming cold winds, so she feels as if nothing has changed. Perhaps she's growing.

She closes her eyes with her head against the trunk, humming a soft lullaby to herself, when she can hear muffled footsteps in the grass around her.

She blinks open her eyes just as his hand moves instinctively to brush a leaf from her hair. "You had a bit of a…"

Ron fumbles to explain and she simply nods at him, eyes wide, desperately trying to remember how to talk to him. Between Lavender and…

She doesn't pretend anymore.

He settles beside her, close enough just so their shoulders are brushing. Together they watch the world turn crisp with autumn. It's her favorite time of the year.

It's as if he couldn't say it enough. "Hermione, I'm so —"

She nudges him a little. "I know."

Maybe they've forgotten how to breathe.

She's perched on the edge of the tree stump, a memory of the past that had, along with other bridges, been burned. She imagines she could come back to this place with the leaves floating around her and a book in her hands, but times aren't so simple anymore, and their lives are hectic with the aftermath of their fame after the war.

He finds her there, perhaps out of a shared longing for the simplicity of their youth.

She smiles at him as he sits beside her. The oak tree has long since been gone, and in its place instead lies a stump, like a sort of gravestone.

Ron pulls her hand from out of her lap and holds it in both of his, pushing a small object into her left palm and curling her fingers over it. She turns to look at him but he has deftly turned away.

She gingerly peers at the jewelry box, a hitch in her breath as she opens it a crack to see what's inside.

He doesn't get on his knees like he's supposed to. Maybe simplicity is overrated.

She licks her lips and laces her fingers carefully through his, nodding into his shoulder as an answer to the question he didn't ask. She hears a thump, like the sound of his heart giving a quick jump, and as she buried her face into his shirt, she felt the softest brush of his lips on the part of her hair.

The time they lost seems irrelevant now. She almost imagines she can feel the leaves whisking across her skin.