Wow, has it really been that long since the last chapter? I'm not really sure how to begin apologizing for my absence, but please know that I am very sorry that it took so long. I want to thank all of you for being so awesome about it, and so kind and patient. Your continued interest in this story is what helped me along the way so please keep it up!
This chapter in particular was the most difficult piece of writing for me to date. That is probably because of the hiatus, or maybe because there is barely any smut (Sorry guys, this is your warning! This chapter is very different from the others.), or I just plain lost it, but I do know that if it weren't for my more-than-awesome beta, hedwigshero, then this chapter would not be here for you to read right now. It would be in a gutter somewhere, covered in my own blood and tears, with me shredding it to pieces and yelling with fists to the heavens, "Why do I suuuuck?!" So yes, as much as she is my beta, I feel this time that term doesn't quite cover it. She is a brilliant writer with a unique talent, and has an account here with both Romione and Grintson fics! She also has an AO3 account with Grinstson fics- her penname over there is Otterlybrilliant. Read her work and try not to pass out from the beautifulness of it all before you review. And do say that I sent you. I get extra virtual hugs from her when that happens. If you need links tweet me at JesWithOneEss or ask via my Tumblr: mypatronusisacupcake.
So, just in case you completely forgot what happened last time in this story here is a bit of the ending from Chapter 15 before the new chapter starts… Enjoy!
"Then come with me! Now, Hermione! Let's leave!"
His chest is moving rapidly up and down, and I can see puffs of warm air leaving his mouth into the cold night air. I can't breathe. I gulp in air and shake my head again, grabbing his hand just in case he decides to bolt anyway.
"He didn't mean it, Ron! Just come back, please!"
"He needs us!"
"He made it clear he doesn't-"
"None of us are in our right minds, Ron!"
"Are you coming or not?"
"I can't! We can't! You can't leave!"
Even through the unrelenting rain his gaze is steady, and I know he's dead set on this. He's leaving. He's going to leave, and I can't do anything about it...
"If you leave... if you leave me here-"
"Then come with me!" He tugs on my hand and our wet jumpers are stuck together. I can feel his heartbeat, and it's faster than the rain, but at an equal pace to mine. He drops my hand, and I let him as he cups my cheek, and then kisses me.
I don't hesitate to kiss him back. Both my hands are on his wet face, and I put everything that I can into this kiss: my heart, my soul, my mind, everything to show him what he would be missing if he goes.
But then he pulls away, and his eyes are still closed, and I know.
"Ron... if you leave-"
"I have to. I can't stay. It's too fucking hard."
"You'll have me. I'll talk to Harry, make him understand."
Something dark crosses his eyes then, he snorts, and that cold look is back. He steps away from me and now I feel cold all over, shivering from head to toe. I've lost contact with him, and when I reach for his hand he pulls it back. I reach for his wand instead and when he takes another step away from me I feel a rage build inside of me. He's being unreasonable, and stupid, and stubborn.
"Don't you dare leave, Ron! If you do... then- then we're over! Finished!"
"You're willing to throw away what we have- for him! For Harry!"
"Not for Harry! And I'm not-"
"Are you coming or not?" His voice is loud and booming, and it makes me gasp, afraid. I'm sobbing again, choking on my words.
"I'm so fucking sorry," he says in a quieter tone and, with another step back, he is outside of the protective wards.
With a crack as loud as thunder he's gone.
Just like that, he's disappeared right in front of my eyes. I'm stunned, but my eyes are moving around frantically. I'm stuck to the ground as I blink rapidly against the rain. My hair is plastered to my cheeks and my neck as I continue to shake. I can't believe I let it get this far. I should have seen the signs. I should have done or said something to stop their row sooner. I'm angry at Harry for driving Ron away. At Ron for letting the locket take over, and then actually leaving, and not believing in me or our love enough to stay despite what had happened. I'm angry at him for breaking my heart into a million shattered pieces.
"Ron... Ron!" I'm screaming into the rain and wind. I know it's useless, but I scream for him anyway. I'm hoping he merely disapparated somewhere nearby, and is now watching me and waiting just in case he changes his mind and decides to come back. But then I remember if he did he wouldn't be able to hear or see me due to the enchantments that I had set for us.
I cry out loud, sobbing and not caring if I get sick from being wet and cold. I feel lost and unsure of what to do next; I drop to my knees, and I slam my fists in the mud, feeling reckless and wild with emotion.
I wrap my arms tight against my stomach as I double over, and rain is dripping from the top of my head onto my knees. And something new and foreboding is coursing through my bones, and I hate it; there's an emptiness that I have never experienced before in my entire life, and I know exactly what it means:
He isn't coming back.
Look at Me
There's a leak in the tent. The first drop lands on my forearm, the next on my forehead, and a third on my nose that trickles down onto my lip. I gasp and a short gulp of air catches in my throat. I swallow, just before his tongue sweeps across my hard-tipped breast, large hand and long calloused fingers pressed eagerly around the other; the dual sensations cause me to shudder and smile.
One leak quickly becomes two, then more until I lose count, and when I open my eyes I see the tent has vanished and dark, tumultuous clouds stare down at me, rain turning ground into mud. And as our knees sink into the freezing earth water laps over our thighs.
His hot tongue flicks across my nipple, and I swear I see steam rising. I let out a low guttural moan when he envelops his lips around my breast, taking it slowly into his mouth. His hair drips onto my chest, tiny beads roll down my torso, and strands of dark red drag along after, weaving wet trails like snakes in the sand on my skin. There is nothing but me and Ron, and the water saturates us, lubricating our bodies as they slide against one another. Our naked bodies... I realize we are, in fact, without clothes, and this sudden revelation should startle me, but then he moves his mouth between the valley he had created by pushing my breasts together, momentarily burying his face between them, and the thought is completely forgotten. I feel him breathing in my scent, as if to ingrain my essence into his memory, and everything else is a blur of rain and muted colors.
"So good..." Ron whispers hoarsely. He lifts his head- eyes half-closed, drenched hair clinging to his forehead, cheeks and neck, as shallow breaths dart in and out of his moist, parted lips. But then his grip on me slackens and he looks down at his now upturned hands; water is brimming over the edges of his fingers, cascading like a waterfall to the pool below. And through the rain I see his features change, darken, and suddenly I'm overwhelmed by fear; but it's not mine, it's his, and I feel him begin to slip away.
Alarmed, I move forward, and my arms splash through the lake that has formed around us as I reach out to him, wanting desperately to feel his hands on my skin once more, wanting his hot mouth to melt the icy feeling in my heart. I want his lips on my breasts again, his fingers trailing over my naked back, pulling me in to heat my insides. I push hair off his face and when I move in to kiss his pale lips he retreats. I choke back a sob as I try to speak. "It's okay," I whisper comfortingly. "I want this."
The rain has escalated to a storm, and the pool is up to our waists. Our eyes lock, and I see anger and torment inside of him that I know – no, I feel – isn't his. It is a sinister feeling, unlike anything I'd ever felt before, and it makes my blood run cold.
"I'm sorry," he whimpers miserably, but offers no explanation.
I can't believe this is happening, not again. Sobbing, I lock my fingers behind his slippery neck and hold on tight, pressing my forehead to his, as I feel the current pushing on my chest, trying to pull us apart. Our bodies make waves as we struggle to our feet. We're gasping for breath, this time to fight against the pounding rain and rising water, not from the flood of our desires.
"No! You can't! Please... don't go…"
I sputter my words as my mouth fills with rain, and I'm forced to close it. I can barely see; I'm blinking rapidly as the world becomes nothing but a sea of rain mixed with a flood of tears that quickly rises to my shoulders. There is nothing else to hold onto as the force of the downpour pushes my arms down until our hands connect and his short nails are scratching the back of my wrists, claiming hold on me for as long as he can, and I fight to do the same.
I can't breathe, can't see, and my toes are no longer grazing blades of grass. I kick to stay afloat and try to scream for Ron, but the sound is forced back down my throat by the water and I choke. We fumble, desperately trying to keep hold, but he's suddenly and cruelly torn away from me- or I am from him, I can't tell. All I see are sheets of water between us. All I feel is rain as it stings like hail upon my head and cheeks, and my mouth fills once more. I swallow, and the water turns to a boulder in my lungs and it pulls me down, choking me, and my chest is about to burst. A silent scream escapes in bubbles as Ron disappears completely...
I open my eyes and it takes me a moment to realize that I no longer have to fight against the strong current; I'm no longer trapped by an ocean on all sides. However, I'm coughing, choking for breath as if still confined by the shackles of the ocean and fear. I see the bottom of Harry's bed above me; the tan canvas of the tent in my peripheral vision is back in its rightful place, dry and intact. The candles are out, but the setting sun is peeking through the open tent flaps and snow is sparkling as it falls through the elongated rays of light. The snow creates a blanket as it lands on the outside of the tent, shadowing me in a reverse snow globe.
I sit up, blinking away remnants of tears on my face; I was crying in my sleep. Whether in a dream or wide awake, I feel the loss of Ron in every moment, every painful breath, and I can't escape it any more than I can escape this mission.
He left, I remind myself, not only in my dreams, but in reality. Even after not seeing or hearing him for weeks at a time, Ron still has the ability to make my heart race with desire, anger and devastation- sometimes all at once. It isn't fair! I love him, but I hate him for what he did, but most of all I'm afraid that I'll never be able to forgive him, not even if I wanted to.
It's Christmas morning and here I am, sitting on a comfortable, soft bed in the spare bedroom at Bill and Fleur's cottage on the beach overlooking a white, sandy shore and the bluest ocean. Every day since I arrived I've been warm and fed 'til I'm full- not a single disgustingly grey mushroom in sight. Everything I had been complaining about for the past five months has been restored: comfort, food, family. But without Hermione and Harry I feel lost and miserable, more depressed than I've ever been in my life. My stomach twists in knots just thinking about Hermione- who cooked those awfully inedible... things. Fucking hell, I'd eat a hundred slimy mushrooms if it meant having never left Hermione, if it meant never letting her out of my sight, not for one second.
I lie back down with a heavy sigh and stare out the window; warm colors filter through a grey sky as the sun rises behind the still falling snow and all I can think about is Hermione, about how much she'd love it here. I can bring her back, when this is all over, as part of our reconciliation. I'm imagining us walking along the cool, windy beach side by side, our arms around each other with her hair just everywhere. She'd gaze over at the sunrise, then at me, smiling and looking bloody gorgeous, and... happy. It's a brilliant daydream- one that I hope becomes reality, if I ever get the chance. Blinking slowly over glassy eyes, trying to hold on to the image of Hermione's brilliant smile and creamy smooth shoulders... Then I'm wrenched from my fantasies like a fish out of the ocean; A voice had come from my pocket and I sit up so fast I almost fall right off the bed. I catch the window ledge with one hand to steady myself and halt my breathing, listening hard. I shake my head, unable to believe what I just heard, but there is no denying someone had just said my name. It was muffled, but it sounded a lot like… Hermione?
I fall back on the bed, dig a hand into my jeans pocket to wrangle out the deluminator, and sit up again, staring down at it. And now I'm sure of it: Hermione's voice came out of this thing, and she said my name; she said 'Ron'! I don't know how or why this is happening, but hearing her voice after so long makes my heart pound and my stomach leap into my throat. I gulp at the memory of us in the rain that day, of her pleading with me, crying out for me to stay with her and Harry. The biggest mistake of my life was Disapparating right there in front of her, the cruelty of that act I know is unforgivable. The look on her face right before I left is one I will never forget for as long as I live. It will haunt me always, and even if by some miracle she does forgive me, I will never be able to forgive myself.
Imperfections and insecurities, fear and anger- the Horcrux cuts and digs these awful feelings out of us like a spade, piles heaped everywhere we turn. And the stench of them lingers and festers long after the locket is taken off. And once we finally get a breath of fresh air, our turn will come to wear it again and it's back down into the pit of self loathing, regret and doubt.
I have to find a way to climb out. If this nightmare has taught me anything it is that I cannot control nor change what has already happened. I need to accept the fact that Ron is no longer here with us. However, not knowing exactly where he is, whether he's alive or dead, has me crippled by anxiety. I listen to the radio Ron left behind. It is a comforting distraction and makes me feel closer to him, but I'm also desperately praying not to hear his name among the dead.
Harry comes in through the opening of the tent, shaking snowflakes from his hair and shoulders as he ambles toward me. I try my best to look as if I wasn't just crying, but I know he can tell; he clears his throat and thankfully doesn't ask me what is wrong. Instead he hands me back my wand and says, "I think the snow is letting up a bit. Stay safe out there, yeah?" He speaks softly and offers me a small smile. I nod as a thank you before he climbs over my head onto his bunk, plopping down heavily without even changing his clothes. His boots drop to the floor beside me and I stare at them as I focus on breathing properly for the first time since awakening.
It is then I realize that this morning, while talking with Harry about his broken wand, was the first time, to my recollection, that either of us had uttered his name. I close my eyes, and after taking a deep breath, I whisper his name again as quietly as I can, wanting to believe that there is power in wanting something so badly that thought and words alone can magic it into existence.
I click the deluminator and the gas lamp on the dresser goes out, as I expect it would, but from the corner of my eye I see another light coming from right outside the window. It's a bluish ball of some sort, bright and pulsing, and suspended in midair. It's brilliant and I feel an unexplainable conviction settle inside of me. I can't explain it, but I just… know. And that it resembles those warm, blue flames Hermione is so adept at conjuring isn't lost on me; this was meant to happen.
So, with a firm hold on the deluminator and my eyes never leaving the blue light, I hastily grab my things from around the bedroom and stuff it all inside my rucksack, sling it over my shoulder and shove my feet into my trainers. I hesitate only for a second because now I have to leave and lose sight of this tiny ball of hope in order to go outside. But I risk it. Holding my breath as if that would keep it from disappearing, I race through the door, haul arse across the kitchen and out the back door into the garden.
It's still there! The tiny ball of light hovers by my window exactly where I left it, and I can breathe again. As I approach it starts moving away from the cottage and I follow until it stops behind the shed. I'm not afraid, but rather mesmerized as it starts to float toward me, continuing to move… straight into me. Bloody hell! I gasp as warmth spreads through my chest, growing hot. I look down and there is a faint blue glow shining through layers of t-shirt, jumper and jacket. It seems almost too simple, but I know this will take me where I need to go, back to Harry and Hermione. Despite all that had happened the day I left, and how they must feel about me right now, I close my eyes and allow a smile to sweep across my face. I am putting myself in the hands of fate, trusting this light to guide me. I swish my wand to Disapparate, but not with a destination in mind, only faith. And all I hear is Hermione's voice in my head as I feel that familiar tug deep in my stomach, and I am gone.
Harry and I barely speak because it's so hard to be heard over the worry that fills the tent. Hunger and stress fight for our attention as we sit on edge, listening for any signs of malice outside the tent. It's the middle of the night; the sky is now completely dark and there is a fresh coat of snow on the ground. I'm huddled in the entrance to the tent, reading A History of Magic by the light of my wand, freezing, with the wind whipping my face. I wonder if it is the wind making me hear things, because I swear there is something out there, blundering around through the trees. However, every time I stop to listen I am met with silence. I hear something again, but it's only Harry coming out from the tent behind me. I'm more than relieved when he suggests we move on before daybreak.
Morning finds us in the Forest of Dean. My heart breaks a little, remembering how my parents and I came camping here once. It's sad to think of Mum and Dad, but I remind myself that what we are doing is for them, for the future of both our worlds.
And with a habitual set of motions we've practiced many times already, we set up the tent and protection spells around our campsite, then retreat inside for warmth. Throughout the day I wonder to myself who must have been out there in the woods. Were they were alone, or was it more than one person? Were they for Voldemort, Death Eaters? Snatchers? Or were they for our side, like those we overheard talking with Dean by the river? Could we have helped whoever was out there?
I don't recognize where I am, but this is where that ball of light took me, so this is where they must be. I didn't expect them to just appear right in front of me; I know the protective spells we place around the campsites are strong enough that I won't be able to penetrate it, but there might be a chance they can hear me; someone is always on watch. So I yell and make as much noise as I can as I meander about, snapping twigs and stomping leaves on the off chance Harry or Hermione will come to investigate.
It's mid-day when I finally take a rest. The sun is high over my head, bright and warm, but the air is still bitter cold. I plop down on the wet stump of a tree, and drop my rucksack to the ground in front of me. As I sip my water and nibble on some crisps, I keep my eyes and ears alert, searching for signs of human life. Nothing.
But as the sun prepares to set and still no sign of 'em, I find a clear spot on the ground to set up my sleeping bag, and as I slip inside I remind myself that not all is lost. I'm on my way back to them. Soon I'll be able to set things right, or at least try. I miss them, I need them. And there has to be a part of them that wants and needs me, too. This is as much my mission as it is theirs, and it's about time I fight, not only for what is right, but for what I want. And if I ever want to win Hermione back I'll have to prove that I'm good enough for her.
I've been staring into these blue flames all day, watching the sapphire light strain against the walls of the jar its confined to. And I can't help but feel the same way: trapped in this tent, bound by this mission, and sometimes it feels like my oxygen is about to run out.
I take watch the first night we stay in the Forest of Dean, practically demanding Harry get rest, but I can hear him inside the tent, bustling around, and cot springs squeaking as he tosses and turns.
I'm worried about Harry. All day he looked just as ill as he did after escaping Godric's Hollow, hunched over and pale. Of course, it may just be from the cold, but I sense there is more to it than that. If Ron were here he'd - not so politely - say that I was hovering, that I wasn't giving Harry room to breathe as I ask if he's alright, as I hand him copious amounts of hot tea and scold him for not resting as often as possible. I wonder if Harry is thinking the same thing, wishing Ron was here to put the brakes on my smothering. I almost smile at the thought, at both boys teasing me… but the fact is Ron isn't here, which prevents the smile from forming.
Every time I think about him the pain is fresh, like it's happening all over again. His angry expression, accusations, and impossible ultimatum are still razor sharp, and they cut my heart to shreds. And with every gash I hate him a little bit more. My resentment builds around the thought of him and what he did to our relationship. Would I feel differently had we not been together, shared so many intimate moments, and expressed our love for one another? Perhaps. But I know without a doubt that I'd still feel hurt as hell. And I know I'd still miss him terribly. The fact that we were together, and that he does know how I feel- well, that just makes this whole situation more confusing, heartbreaking and utterly unbearable .
The sun had set hours ago, which means I've been waiting out here all day and night, and still no sign of Harry or Hermione. I was hesitant to move from this area in case I missed their departure, but now I wonder if they left already without showing themselves at all.
Frustrated, and feeling like a prat for lying on the ground all day, I kick my way out of the sleeping bag, stand up and shove it inside my rucksack with numb fingers; my nose is runny from the cold, but none of that matters. If I show up with a few less fingers and pneumonia, then so be it; I've already lost a fingernail when I Splinched myself getting away from those Snatchers- maybe Hermione will be sympathetic and hold off on hexing my bollocks off… Right, I don't think so either.
Despite the risk of losing my bollocks, I dig the Deluminator out from my pocket and, hoping that the same magic that brought me here will still work, I hold my breath once more and click it. The same ball of blue light dances out and I want to greet it like an old friend, I'm so grateful it worked. The muscles in my chest relax and I exhale, welcoming the glow and the heat that comes with it.
In an instant I'm in the middle of a massive forest full of tall trees bent low, heavy with snow, and even more falling down around me. The ground is thick with the stuff. I pivot around in a circle, but of course Hermione's protective spells are too good and I can't see or hear them. I drag my sleeping bag out from my rucksack and use it as a blanket around my shoulders, tucking my hands into my armpits, before I settle down on a snow-free area of ground against a tree.
And again, I wait.
All bloody day I wait. It isn't until nightfall that I see it: Far off to my right, through narrow trunks of trees, I see a bright silver light that is taking shape before my eyes. It looks like a deer- a stag maybe? The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and my heart is beating so loud I'm certain it'll scare the creature away. I try to remain calm as I silently rise to my feet, the sleeping bag left on the ground.
Then suddenly it stops, looks around and heads back in the opposite direction. Whatever is going on I have a strong sense that I am now a part of something major, something bigger than me, and that I was brought here, to this exact moment, for a very important reason.
It's the second day here in the Forest of Dean and on the outside it would seem like more of the same: snow, cold, Horcrux still intact, just me and Harry in this blasted tent eating berries and leftover biscuits. But there is this clenching feeling in my gut that will not subside. Something is going to happen, and soon; I'm not sure if it will be good or bad, or worse, but I'm troubled by the fact that I can't shake it off. I consider it rationally, and come to the conclusion that it may just be a reaction to the inaction of the past two days. We've been stagnant for too long, and I'm worried our next brush with Death is closer than we think.
I decide to reread the book Dumbledore left me in his will, Tales of Beedle the Bard, simply to keep my mind busy, to do something to distract from thoughts of Ron, Harry, winter and food. We have no idea where to look for the next Horcrux, let alone how to rid ourselves of the one we do have, but there must be something I've missed in these pages. This hunt is all I have right now to keep me focused, so I continue to grasp at straws, not willing to let emotions get in the way.
It grows darker outside, which is where Harry is since he insisted on taking this watch. I didn't protest; I'm utterly exhausted, both physically and mentally. That anxious feeling is still there. I can't place it, and I try to ignore it, but I can't, which also means I cannot concentrate on what I'm reading. I put the book down and stretch, hoping that sleep will come quickly once I slip under Ron's covers. And as much as it pains me to think this, I also hope I don't dream of him tonight.
I'm about to follow the Patronus when I see Harry running full speed after it. My body reacts instantly and I take off after him; branches whip my face as trees rush by in a blur, and then we are in a clearing, an ice-covered pond glows like it's been lit from beneath. And just when I am thinking how odd the scene looks it goes from strange to absolutely mental when Harry breaks the ice and jumps in!
Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck! Now what?
Not wasting another second, I run, take a deep breath and jump in after him. I'm paralyzed instantly as icy claws attack me, squeezing my insides, almost breaking my spine. But then I see Harry thrashing and kicking, his hands pulling at something around his neck; the locket! Instinct takes over as my hand grasps a sword handle, my arm slashes the water, a chain is cut, and my legs kick madly as I resurface, holding a semi-conscious Harry against my chest.
I stagger to my feet, dripping wet and coughing my fucking lungs out. That's when I realize I'm holding the Sword of Gryffindor- holy shit. If I hadn't shown up, who the hell knows what would've happened to Harry..?
It all happens so fast, an explosion of action and emotion, and I can barely make sense of it even now as I pull the shards of memory from my aching head...
"No, you should do it." Harry said when I tried to give him the sword. He wanted me to destroy the Horcrux, me. Hatred, shame, jealousy, self-loathing and all my inadequacies suddenly materialized around me like angry wolves and began to close in.
My chest was so tight, I couldn't breathe, I couldn't think; I needed more time. But Harry was already speaking Parseltongue and the locket was about to open at any second. I didn't want to do it, I couldn't do it... But as my hands gripped the sword and raised it over my head, I knew I would regret not facing the thing that fucked me ten ways from Sunday, the thing that perhaps destroyed the most important relationships in my life, the thing that I ran from like a coward.
The locket began to tremble as if frightened- frightened of me, and the power I was wielding in my fists. My resolve thickened and everything suddenly became crystal clear: why Hermione said my name, why that light came out of the Deluminator, why I waited and froze my arse off these past two days.
This was my moment.
But when the locket opened I was forced flat onto my back. Any confidence I had was knocked out of me along with my breath, and I watched in paralyzing horror as the locket played the most heart-shattering scene above me.
Tears streamed down my face as I let the darkness trap me, pin me down, and torture me. Weak, useless, unloved... The locket knew everything, and it turned my secrets against me like hundreds of angry spiders biting and clawing at me as I lay helpless on the ground.
And right then I just wanted to die; it was too hard. I couldn't beat it.
But when the sinister cloud transformed into Harry and Hermione and they began to snog, something snapped inside me; blinding fury tore through me, it seared my lungs and made my blood boil. It melted my frozen limbs and gave me the strength I needed to rise.
Adrenaline kicked in and before I knew what was happening I was running with the Sword of Gryffindor held high over my head, screaming like hell.
My whole body was on fire and I felt a power like never before as the goblin-made steel smashed through the locket like it was nothing more than biscuit.
And as the locket burst, screeching in agony, dying at my hands, I wondered if Voldemort could feel a part of his soul was gone. I wondered if the world could feel the destruction of a bit more of the evil it was shrouded in. I wondered if anyone could sense a change in the air...
But as Harry and I sit on the frozen ground, still breathing heavily and leaning on eachother to regain our strength, I know now that the impossible just became possible: We are now one step closer to destroying Voldemort, and I am back where I belong, for better or for worse.
"Hermione! Hermione!" Harry's voice seems distant, but alarming, as it slashes through my dream. And then I'm being shaken awake. Harry is speaking rapidly and the urgency in his voice makes my heart skip about five beats in its race to catch up. I don't know what he's saying, but I remember that gut feeling I had earlier and I sit up fast, blinking into the near-dark tent. I'm ready to run, to grab Harry's hand and Disapparate on the spot, because I think we're being ambushed.
"Hermione, it's alright. Nothing bad happened. Well, not exactly," Harry says as I swing my legs over the edge of the bed and hastily grab for my boots.
"Not exactly?" Impatient and scared, I swipe strands of frizzy hair away from my face, and speak rapidly, not pausing in getting ready to leave. "You wake me up, yelling my name, you're all out of breath... Tell me what is going on!" I demand as I tug my jumper over my head and stand up. "Just let me grab my bag and-" But I'm interrupted by a new voice, deep and shaky, coming from the entrance of the tent behind me. A voice that makes every muscle in my body clench, yet turns my bones to jelly. A voice I never thought, but desperately hoped, I would hear again. I must still be dreaming...
"Hey... Hermione." His voice cracks as he says my name, and I hear all of his anxiety and hope, and my knees almost buckle in on themselves. If this is a dream then that means he is only going to disappear. And not even in a dream am I able to go through that again.
My arms hug my body to try and stop it from shaking and I bow my head, close my eyes and let out a long breath as I whisper, "Are you real- are you really here?"
"Er... Yeah. Well, I'm not anywhere else, am I?"
"Hermione, Ron is back. I swear it's him. He just saved my life!" Harry's standing in front of me, his eyes rapidly scanning my face, and nodding with a smile that is curling and uncurling, unsure and waiting for my reaction. All of my senses are telling me this is real, and Harry is practically jumping up and down confirming it. But I cannot bring myself to turn around.
I hear Ron shuffle toward me and I stiffen, trapped in his shadow. His breath is on my hair and I'm trembling on weakened knees, the sensation trickling down my spine, and I don't know whether I am going to collapse or float away. Harry mumbles something about leaving and scoots around us, but I am unable to sense anything but Ron's scent.
And now I'm crying; clashing emotions pour out of me and cascade down my face into my hands: happiness, sadness, disbelief and rage all pool together in my palms and I don't know which tears to believe .
"Hermione, I don't - I'm..." He sighs as his hand touches my shoulder. I gasp and he drops his hand, and I miss it already. I finally turn to face him; I could feel, smell, and hear that he's here, but, oh, to see him again... My throat tightens as my eyes dart around his face, taking in every eyelash, every freckle, just to make sure this is real. His eyes grow wider as he bites his lip, waiting for me to say or do something. And for once I don't know how to react. All I know is that I am suddenly light-headed, and that if he doesn't touch me again I just might die.
So I kiss him. Hard.
I grab the sides of his neck and pull him roughly down to my level as I stand on my toes. I crash my lips onto his and thrust my tongue into his mouth, moaning loudly. I hear a thud as he drops everything he was holding and his arms eagerly wrap around me, pulling me so tight against him there is no room for oxygen. But I don't need it; I don't need anything, nothing, nothing but this...
The kiss is so hungry, wet with need, and heart-poundingly urgent. My fingers are in his hair, tugging at strands of red icicles. Large hands that I've missed so incredibly are now rubbing up and down my back and around to my sides, squeezing me with such ferocious purpose, his thumbs indenting the flesh of my hips. And I'm lost in it- in him, this kiss.
"Fuck, I've missed you," he murmurs, his lips pressed against my forehead, when we finally part for air. I pull back to look at his face again - flushed, freckled and dazed. Then my brain switches back on, shedding light on all my memories and weeks of torment. Anguish and all-consuming anger hit me, and I stumble backward.
"You- complete- arse- Ronald Weasley!" I scream at him, punctuating each word with an angry fist to his midsection. Ron's kissed-swollen face goes from dazed to petrified, as he realizes what just happened was too good to be true, that he should've known better than to think it would be that simple.
"It's been weeks!" I push him hard with both hands on his chest. He attempts to shield himself, his arms over his chest as he stumbles back, lowering his head in shame. "Weeks!" I screech at him, unable to say anything else, sobbing and waiting for him to yell back at me, to tell me I'm wrong for being mad, or to tell me it was all a trick, a cruel joke. Or perhaps that the past two months really were a dream, that he's been here all along, that he never left...
I'm spiraling; I'm coming down from the high of that kiss- the feel of his lips and the taste of him again... I was propelled up into a galaxy of bliss for that one moment. But the weightlessness was fleeting, and now I am plummeting back down into the pits of betrayal and depression. It's all too much and I feel dizzy, overwhelmed, and for all the wrong reasons. I was so anxious for so long to have him back, to have him close to me again, but now that my wish has been granted all I want is to get as far away from him as possible.
"Bloody fuck, Hermione! Can I at least explain?" he asks desperately, trying to hold onto my arms to keep me from pummeling him. I'm seething- I'm also relieved that he's alive, but most of all I'm so angry I can spit.
"No! Nothing you say will ever change what you did!," I yell, glaring at him. I lied, of course. I want nothing more than for him to say something that will fix everything, to make things right again. But a vengeful part of me doesn't want to give him the satisfaction of thinking he's forgiven. But after that kiss I'm afraid the message got slightly... misinterpreted. "As far as I'm concerned we were finished the moment you left. When you left! Remember? You, not me!" I scream at him, trembling from head to foot, hot with anger. Ron looks as though he's been hit by a bludger, but there is fire in his eyes; he is preparing to fight back. But for once I'm not up for it. I cross my arms tightly over my chest and look away from his piercing blue eyes and wavering chin.
"Hermione, you can't mean that... Just hear me out-"
But my eyes are shooting daggers and the words retreat back into his mouth. I can't stand it: his panicked gaze, tears streaming down his flushed cheeks, and his supplicating voice... his tall body, covered in dirt, wracked with nerves and cold, is shivering uncontrollably. There's so much of him to take in at once, and I'm suffocating. I can't think, I can't breathe, unable to negotiate my feelings. I have to say something, anything, to keep from hearing his voice again, to get as far away from this situation as possible until I can figure out my next course of action. But it's easier said than done; rejecting him actually hurts more than being rejected by him, and that thought invites a coldness to grip my heart, nearly cracking it in two, and I burst into tears.
"I- I'm glad-you're not... d-dead," I manage to choke out, interrupting what I'm sure would have been a long-winded explanation, full of excuses- none of which I'm interested in at the moment. I push past him, barely escaping his grasp. But his voice follows me, and the sound of my name, loud and hoarse, clings to me as I rush out of the tent and into the blinding, white winter morning.
A/N: Okay, say you hate me, but you secretly love the drama and angst. Besides, the time they spent apart is over. It can only get better from here, am I right?
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