Author's Note: Thanks to my usual beta team, you know who you are. This chapter is the main reason this story was rated M. Don't read if that sort of thing offends you.
They remained in front of 29 Somerset Way long after her parents had driven away in the Honda and long after they were supposed to meet Hugo by his car. When Ron quietly suggested they move on, Hermione just shook her head and continued to stare at the house. It was much like her parents had described to Hugo on their postcard: a brick home, like back in Henley, with ivy climbing the side of the garage. It stood out sorely from the other homes in the neighborhood and Ron didn't have to use his imagination to figure out why her parents had been attracted to it. It really was a little bit of England in this beachtime suburb.
"Do you want to wait until they come back?" he asked unsurely. "I can go meet up with Hugo."
"Right. Hugo." Hermione seemed to almost be in a trance.
"You can stay. I can go get him." Ron understood that the sheer fact of seeing where her parents lived and where they had just stood meant something important. He knew she probably wasn't ready to leave just yet.
"It's okay," she dismissed and smiled at him. She wore a hopeful look, one that he couldn't remember seeing on her face all year. He wasn't quite sure what to think at first when she leaned against his chest and started to shake. For a brief moment he thought the sounds emerging from her throat were sobs, but when he wrapped his arms back around her, he realised she was shaking with laughter.
"We did it," she mumbled against him and when he muttered back the words he realised this really was it. This was the last piece. This was the last step to make their lives normal again, or whatever normal would be now. Defeating Voldemort had only been half the fight for Hermione. This had been looming over her all year, but now it was almost over. Her parents were alive and well and she had just seen it with her own eyes.
They took their time wandering back to the car to meet up with Hugo. He was excited to report that the beach was only five minutes from where they'd parked the car. Though he claimed to have been asking pedestrians if they knew where Somerset Way was, his sandy ankles indicated he'd asked only those people he passed while walking along the shoreline. He apologised sheepishly, but Ron could tell by his expression that he had known full well they'd find her parents without him.
"You found them then?" He noted Hermione's broad smile and much calmer demeanor.
"You say hello?"
"No. They were going to the movies," Hermione informed.
"Oh," Hugo replied and he looked around then, as unsure as Ron about what exactly they did next.
The whole reason they'd accompanied Hugo to Perth was to find her parents. Now that they'd found them, they didn't really need Hugo anymore. The uncertain look on Hugo's face told Ron he knew that all too well. Noting the way Hermione was clinging to Ron, Hugo took a step backward.
"So I think I'll just get back to the beach then," he mumbled.
"Can we come with you?" Hermione posited, much to Ron's surprise.
"Don't you want to get a hotel so you can go shag each other's brains out?"
"Let's go to the beach." The plain way she spoke with only a slight flush of the cheeks told Ron everything he needed. They had all the time in the world now. She'd seen her parents. Her head was clear.
Hugo was happy to lead them, but Ron knew the young man was wondering the same thing he was. Ron recalled the unresolved conversation with Hermione this morning about Hugo. He didn't want to just leave him, but he didn't want to lie to him, either. Hugo looked distracted too, like he knew his time with them was now limited.
They walked through a bright friendly neighborhood, passing parks with children playing football and neatly manicured lawns, all the while breathing the fresh ocean air that grew stronger with each step. The beach was a surprisingly narrow strip of white sand tucked behind a long row of smooth terraced lawn and playground equipment. The Indian Ocean gleamed and reflected the last lingering colors of daylight, all vibrant shades of orange and red.
"This is beautiful," Hermione affirmed and sucked in a deep breath of the ocean air. While it was a spectacular sight, Ron couldn't help but flinch at the sound of the sea. The water was brighter and the sun was still shining, but he couldn't hear the waves crashing without being reminded of the last time they'd stood on a beach. She hadn't even stood. She'd been unconscious in his arms. His grip on her waist tightened instinctively and he looked to her bare arms. Hermione caught his gaze, but her smile didn't fade.
"It's pretty great, innit?" Hugo agreed, standing triumphantly with his hands on his hips atop the small dune as if he'd created the beach himself.
"It's pretty great," Hermione repeated, finally lowering herself to the sand and pulling her knees to her chest. Ron followed suit. He knew there was probably so much she wanted to say, but Hugo's presence made her censor herself. Still, maybe that was a good thing. Maybe the best thing they could do right now was just sit on the beach, stare out at the ocean and realise they'd made it through.
He felt so far from the end of the war and those first tentative kisses. They'd made it across three continents now. They'd fought and cried and made it through. Things weren't perfect, but he felt a strange confidence now that they'd get there. It felt real, him and Hermione. Their future felt real. Hermione leaned into him, her hand intimately grazing his in a way that indicated she was thinking about much the same thing as he was. Hugo, still on his feet, just shifted uncomfortably.
"I think I'll...go walk." His shifty behaviour had nothing to do with their proximity, Ron knew, and everything to do with the fact that his purpose had been fulfilled. He'd been their ride to Perth to find her parents and now they were here and they'd found them.
"You can sit," Hermione offered, squinting up at Hugo while the wind whipped her hair across her face.
"I'll let you be alone."
"Stay," Hermione spoke now and the quiver in her voice indicated it was more than just a polite offer.
Stiffly, Hugo lowered himself to the sand beside Ron.
"So do you know where you're gonna stay?" Hugo inquired innocently in an attempt for conversation. "I think I saw a hotel or two right here on the beach."
"Thank you." Hermione ignored his words, but spoke directly to him.
"Well, they might not even have a vacancy, but - "
"No, I mean thank you, Hugo." She didn't say anything more to clarify, but her grateful eyes locked on his then and Ron knew the young man knew. He swept his shaggy hair out from behind his eyes and looked out at the softly crashing waves, then back to Hermione's brown eyes. Ron wondered what colour her parents' eyes were. Hugo knew. He could see the young man likely thinking exactly that.
"You're what they've been looking for, aren't you?" He finally remarked in a wistful manner.
There was a slight pause before Hermione swallowed loudly and nodded her head.
There was no celebratory fist pump or declarative 'I told you so'. Hugo just nodded his head in acceptance, knowing what the admission meant. Ron realised then that there had been more than just a selfish desire to enjoy Ron and Hermione's company behind Hugo's withholding the address.
He didn't want them to take her parents away.
Ron realised from the stories he told that the Grangers were the closest he'd ever come to having a family. And now, like apparently everybody else in his life, they too would be leaving. Hermione knew it. Ron could tell behind the excitement that caused her to cling to him the way she was that there was a hint of guilt as well. Maybe that's why she wanted to wipe his memory. Maybe no memory of any of this would be better than losing it all.
"You don't have to tell me, you know," Hugo declared suddenly then, in a manner so knowing Ron couldn't but wonder if he wasn't a Legilimens.
"Tell you what?" Hermione asked. Ron wasn't sure if Hermione was feigning ignorance or else still wrapped up in the memory of her parents standing before her, squabbling about making a movie and feeding the cat.
"You know, about whoever the two of you are." He shrugged simply and Ron could tell this was not a dramatic feint to get them to reveal it to him anyway. This was Hugo just being Hugo. He picked up on more than they knew. "All that stuff about saving the world and fighting trolls and stuff - you don't have to explain none of it. It's okay."
"When - when we said trolls - " Hermione tried to clarify.
"I told you, you don't need to say nothin'!" he laughed. "I learned a long time ago there's a lot that happens in life you can't explain." Ron wondered then if Hugo was referring to the mysterious circumstances surrounding Hermione's parents as much as those that had landed him in an orphanage at five years old. "I figure you can either drive yourself mad tryin' to figure out why shit happens the way it does. Or...you can just accept that it did and keep on movin'. You don't have to explain nothin' to me. Honest."
Ron and Hermione gaped wordlessly at him.
"You don't want to know any of it?" Ron asked incredulously and Hermione widened her eyes and glared at him for suggesting there was anything to know.
"Does it matter?" Hugo gave a slow shrug.
"I...reckon not," Ron spoke in slow disbelief.
He envied Hugo then, not the part of him that lived a vagabond life with no apparent friends or family, but the part that didn't ask questions or live in the past.
"The hotel was that way." Hugo pointed down the beach suddenly, apparently eager to talk about something else.
"Were there any restaurants?" Hermione inquired and Ron's head shot up at the thought of food.
"Maybe a few."
The invitation was implicit. When she stood up she didn't have to invite Hugo. She just clucked at Ron for taking more time than was necessary to wipe the sand off her bum and headed off down the beach.
They had dinner at a small restaurant perched atop a dune, gorging themselves on crab cakes and steak and a basket of bread that never seemed to empty. It was quite a feast after five days of living off Melba Toast and Freddo Frogs. Much like he'd promised, Hugo didn't ask any questions about where the mysterious credit card that paid for the expensive dinner came from. They simply enjoyed the view over the Indian Ocean and Ron tried not to wonder about what dinner tomorrow night might look like.
He'd live like Hugo and just enjoy tonight and this moment. They laughed about their trip across the continent and shared stories about David and Emily. When Hugo inquired about the purple letters on Hermione's arm and asked whether it was a tattoo gone wrong, she'd replied cavalierly that it was just a bit of nonsense and Ron could see that she believed it. He reached for her under the table after she spoke the words and she just squeezed his hand back. He knew then that he could keep driving himself mad every time he looked at the scar trying to figure out how he could have prevented it, or he could just accept that it did and move on like she was trying to do.
Whether it was the darkness, the foreign city, or a subconscious desire not to let the night end, finding Hugo's car after dinner took longer than it ought to have taken. Ron wagered they'd taken the better part of an hour to travel what was likely little more than a half mile due to numerous wrong turns that ended with them back at the beach. Hugo roared with laughter at their ineptitude and threw his arms around both their necks then.
"I'm gonna miss you both, you know that?" he remarked fondly.
"We're not going anywhere yet, mate," Ron dismissed.
"You will though. Now that you've found 'em," he spoke confidently. "And that's okay! I'll be okay." He waved his hand dismissively. "I've just never met two people quite like you before."
"How do you mean?" Hermione inquired softly then. Ron assumed he was talking about the curious circumstances regarding their appearance.
"You're just so...serious."
"I'm not serious!" Ron argued, affronted by the accusation. Nobody had ever used his name and the word 'serious' together in a sentence in his entire life. He wondered if the war had really changed him that much.
"About her you are." Hugo's immediate response silenced him and he saw Hermione blush. Hugo just shook his head and walked around to the driver's side of the car. "And on that note, I reckon I'll let you two get after it."
"Where will you stay?" She frowned at Hugo, appearing as uncomfortable as Ron at the thought of him disappearing into the night in this foreign city.
"I'll be around."
"You should stay with us," Hermione blurted out then.
"With you two? Right!" Hugo snorted. "I'd actually like to get some sleep tonight."
"Not in the same room, you prat." Ron laughed at the insult Hermione hurled and Hugo just shook his head and fell into step alongside them once again.
"At least three doors down," he insisted.
They got Hugo a room one floor above him. Their suite wasn't as large as the one in Brisbane, but the bed was truthfully all Ron saw. It felt surprisingly familiar stepping back into a hotel room. He hadn't been afraid of the receptionist or fumbled when she'd asked if they wanted one bed or two and he'd even been able to work the door lock without Hermione's help. When the door opened he didn't look at the kitchen or the balcony or the bathroom, he just climbed straight atop the bed without even bothering to take off his shoes. He forgot how much he had missed a real mattress, television, and electric lights.
"Oi, I think I'm turning into a Muggle," he remarked with a loud sigh as he kicked off his shoes and flipped through the television channels, waiting for her to join him atop the bed. She was more methodical as she locked the door, untied her shoes and adjusted the thermostat.
"Your father will be so proud," she remarked with a grin at the sight of him working the television. Ron laughed as he watched her collect his shoes and set them neatly the door beside hers.
"We haven't been here two minutes and you're already cleaning the room?"
"We haven't been here two minutes and you've already made a mess!" she chided.
"Come and lie down with me." Ron invited. He'd missed lying on the bed with her. Resting and relaxing together simply because they could. Because they had all the time in the world now.
Climbing atop the bed, Hermione let out a deep contented sigh. He wondered if she was thinking the same thing.
"Can you believe we found them?"
"I knew we would."
"You knew?" she looked to him disbelievingly, likely thinking about the long hopeless days wandering the streets of Brisbane.
"I believe in you," he stated simply. The words hung in the air a moment until she repositioned herself so she was lying with her head on his chest.
"I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't come with me."
"You would have been fine," Ron dismissed, though he shuddered to think what would have happened if he'd listened to his mum and let her go on her own. She might still be sitting on a bench in a rainy Dijon square.
For a long time they just rested like that with her head on his chest like they'd done so many times before. He recalled the first time she'd done it up in Gryffindor tower the morning after the battle when he'd thought his heart was going to beat out of his chest. Now it felt like the most natural thing in the world to stroke her hair and hear her breathe against him.
"I think I'm going to have a wash," she mumbled against him then.
"Now?" he frowned and wrapped a hand around her in protest, enjoying the intimacy that had been missing the last few days in the Muggle tent.
"We haven't showered for four days." She unpeeled herself from him and rolled off the bed to begin rummaging through the beaded bag for her clothes. A shower would feel good. They'd made do as best they could, but water had been in such short supply in the bush and they'd figured looking too clean would raise suspicion. Ron relented and grabbed the wand that controlled the telly as she disappeared behind the bathroom door. He heard her slide out of her clothes and the water come on and wasn't sure what to think when she appeared from behind the door suddenly, naked save for a towel wrapped around her.
"Do you want to join me?" The boldness of the invitation was lost entirely in the casual way she asked and he laughed dismissively, assuming she was joking.
"Yeah, I'll be right in." He continued searching for something to watch.
"Do you want to?"
"Seriously?" His squeaky voice suddenly sounded like he was eleven years old again.
"Seriously." She stated and disappeared behind the door again as quickly as she had appeared.
For a moment Ron remained on the bed, staring out at the blank television screen, trying to figure out whether this was some kind of a test or a joke or some other mad thing girls did to test their boyfriends. But then he was on his feet, jerking his shirt over his head and hopping about the room madly as he tugged off his shoes and socks. He hurried with his belt and trousers, kicking them off in a frenzy and tripping over himself as he staggered toward the bathroom door.
She had retreated to the shower and he could see her silhouette through the already steam-covered shower door. He took in a deep breath. She'd only had one glass of wine with dinner. This wasn't the alcohol talking or grief over her parents or fear about not finding them. This was just Hermione. Slowly, his hands near trembling with anticipation, he opened the glass door and climbed inside. They'd never seen each other in light like this before, but her hands didn't reach to cover herself like they had any time before when he gazed at her pale perfect breasts or the damp triangle of hair between her legs. Following her lead, he removed his hands from where he was still cupping his bits and let them drop to his sides.
"This is...different." The idiotic utterance echoed around the shower as he watched her eyes survey his pale freckly body and the ginger curls that ran from his navel on down. He wasn't hard yet and he could tell she seemed fascinated to see him like this.
He wasn't entirely sure why she'd invited him in with her or what they were even supposed to do. It seemed a bit awkward. Both couldn't stand under the stream of water at the same time and he was already getting cold.
But while he was unsure, she had found her confidence. Closing the space between them, she showed him they could both fit as long as they were together. He fit perfectly against her and for what felt like minutes they just stood there beneath the stream of water, taking in every sensation of having their bodies aligned like they were, from their lips all the way down. He felt her grin against him as he slowly began to change shape against her, reveling in the feel of their slick bodies pressed against each other. They murmured 'I love yous' to each other while the water sprayed over both their faces, reveling in this new intimacy.
"Charms," he muttered urgently then.
"I did mine."
"Of course you did," he laughed.
"We should actually wash first." She reminded him of the four days camping through the bush.
"We're just going to get dirty."
"Let's get clean," she insisted and Ron dropped the argument as soon as he realised what getting clean meant. They covered each other with soap and bubbles, laughing as they shampooed each other's hair and fought playfully to both stay under the stream of water. They washed each other from front to back and somewhere along the line Ron forgot they were naked. He worked down her thighs to her calves, all the way down to her feet, then from his knees he began working his way back up. Ron noted the way her knees nearly buckled against him when his fingers found certain places. She followed suit, pressing her soaped-up breasts against his back beneath the warm water and following the same path, caressing places like the small of his back or the delicate place behind his knee that she never had before.
There wasn't a spot on either one they hadn't explored with their hands by the end of it. And when they stood facing each other beneath the stream of water, he knew it was about so much more than simply touching each other or just getting clean. It was all washing away. The dirt and grime of not just of the red Australian earth, but of the last year.
He felt clean again, normal almost, as they stepped out of the shower together, dried off and tumbled naked to the bed. There was laughter and smiles now in place of stammering and nerves. He tried talking to her more, asking her constantly if it felt good, asking her to say things back to him, trying to remember all that Hugo had told him. She moved with his rhythm more this time, her hips rising to meet his, increasing the pressure between them. There was no mistaking the sounds coming from her throat now. Soft, exquisite sounding moans with each pump of his hips. Her legs wrapped around his waist, like she couldn't get close enough. Her arms followed until she was literally wrapped around him.
"It's good," she gasped.
"What can I do?" he groaned.
"Closer! I need you closer." She clawed at him and he pulled out suddenly, beholden with a brilliant idea. He was pleased to hear her gasp at the sudden loss of warmth between her legs. Her eyebrows sloped into a frown next as he grabbed her arms and pulled her to a sitting position on the bed. He didn't say anything, but just guided her onto his lap. He wasn't entirely sure how this would work, but if she wanted closeness, he reckoned this was as close as they could get.
She was slow to wrap her legs around his waist, seemingly unsure about the new arrangement, but when he kissed her it seemed to help. His hand tangled up in her wet hair as he held her tight to him, their bodies pressed together now, touching everywhere like they had in the shower. He could both feel and hear the breath leave her lungs when he pushed inside her. She looked to him with wide eyes, looking the slightest bit overwhelmed at the intensity of the new position. Moving his hand to her waist, he helped her move her hips as he moved with her. Together they found a rhythm, rocking back and forth, slowly gaining momentum. It didn't allow for as much movement as before, but he was suddenly aware of every nerve ending and every inch of skin in contact with hers. Her legs hugged his buttocks and her arms wrapped around him tightly just as his were around her. They were completely intertwined, connected in a way that made every time before pale in comparison. He was pleased to see a soft shimmer of sweat on her skin for the first time. His hands were sweaty too as he slid one between their bodies then to stroke the place that had made her legs buckle in the shower. Her mouth fell open then with a tiny gasp and his mouth covered her lower lip and chin.
They were wet sloppy kisses like he'd tried the first time, except this time he felt no need to apologise. Sloppy was okay. They didn't have to be perfect. He didn't have to ask her if it was good anymore. Their mouths, their arms, their chests, every inch of their bodies was touching. The gentle rocking of their hips grew faster as he felt the pressure building. He could feel her heart pounding and her breath quickening. Her limbs tightened around him and he could feel her whole body pulsating. The breathy cries that sounded from her lips were unlike any of the pleased moans and groans that had been such a revelation this month.
She was free. And he just watched as she threw her head back and let go of everything.