For a while, life is exhausting. There's no slow setting after all, only a fast pace, because when you're scared you have to run, run, run and keep running. And Ron and Hermione are not used to not being scared. They're used to the panic of being on the run, the constant fear of being about to die, and even after the war that hasn't entirely gone away. So life is just as fast as it was a few years ago, and equally as stressful. Hermione's out of school, finally, and the ministry has swept her up like a prize, dangling offers of equality for house elves above her nose like candy. She swallowed it whole. Ron is also at the ministry, training to be an auror. He and Harry had gone into it in the August program a year after the war, Ron because he was finally done helping George, and Harry because all he really needed in those few months was to move on. He couldn't do that if he was constantly being reminded of the war and fighting. Hermione and Ginny had, in fact, pretty much bullied him into not taking the job. He was still thanking them a year later.

Auror training is tiring. Ron strides into the ministry in the morning with confidence, but by the time he comes home at night he's slumped up against the couch, his tiredness written all over his face. It's worst when they do the scenario training, when the men have to put themselves into a situation. He's usually shaking afterwards, memories of the war bleeding out of his eyes and his ears as she leans in to hug him, to hold him, to press his body up the solidness of her own or place his ear over her heartbeat to remind him. Reminders- that's what they need. The constant reminders that everything is going to be alright, that they've made it out and now they've got decades to spent together. She needs it as much as he does, and the great part is that neither of them need to tell the other when hugs become necessary. It just happens naturally, much like their first kiss. Everything about Ron and Hermione falls into place. Maybe it's the emotional maturity they gained during the war. Maybe it's the shock of almost dying that fighting for their lives gave them. Maybe it's that year they spent apart from each other, living for the holidays and the days that Hermione can sneak out of the school via the whoomping willow. Or maybe it's the home that they have built together, just a small condominium but somehow completely perfect.

It's their first year living together, and it feels like an unnecessarily giant leap to take. Two years ago Ron was snogging the hell out of Lavender Brown, now he's living with Hermione. But so much has happened in between then that it's not too much, not at all. Hermione been twenty years old for two months, Ron is nineteen, and they're finally ready to begin anew. Which means new everything- new clothes, a new relationship, a new place to live. And it's fitting that the place their living is a place they have together. Why would they get their own places when they knew they'd eventually end up sharing another one in a few years? They've done their best with it, most of the decorating being done by Hermione. It may seem to be quick, yes, but Hermione likes to joke that they've been dating for seven years. So, if you look at it that way, in the way that shows them as two people who've been bickering like a married couple since they were eleven years old, this isn't too fast at all. There's still the added complication of the two of them not really knowing how to coexist like this with anyone. Roommates are different than people you're dating. What are the rules on sleeping and sex and clothes and exactly how much are you supposed to share with a person? They decide to let it happen naturally, but sometimes there are those awkward pauses in which they both stop and try to figure out how the hell they got there, because neither can really remember.

It's kind of earth shattering when they do.

It's their first Christmas together, too. For some reason, this is huger to Hermione than any holiday she's ever spent with Ron. Valentine's Day, the anniversary of the battle- anything. Because this is a holiday for family, and the fact that they're doing all of this together means that they are family now. It inspires her to wonder whether she will still be Ron's family in three years, in five years, in ten years. Twenty. Forty. Sixty. The best part is that she thinks she will be. She can't see this all crumbling down at their feet because that would make no sense. Not when it's going so well. Not when it works like this, so beautiful, puzzle pieces clicking together with a satisfyingly loud sound. So she's determined to get it right. This time, there's no half-arsing Christmas. They're going to jump, they're going to leap, because Hermione is pretty sure this will be the start of many traditions and she wants to be able to tell this story as many times as she wants to without people getting totally and completely bored by it.

She wakes up on December first with a huge smile on her face. Twenty five days until Christmas- they're starting today. She's been planning this all week, what they're going to say and what they're going to do and how amazing this is going to be. Stretching luxuriously, Hermione's head turns to her boyfriend, who is sleeping deeply next to her. She smiles at him even though he can't see it and feels her fingers aching to touch him. Except that would be crossing some sort of boundary, wouldn't it? Because she doesn't usually touch him while he is sleeping unless it's to tap him and wake him up. Sleeping in the same bed every night is so new to them that they are surprisingly chaste about it, considering what is actually done in the bed. It's been a while now, but the y seem to have this weird reservation about kissing each other awake. Hermione decides right then that it is ridiculous. Without further thought, she leans down and presses a kiss against Ron's freckled arm. She kisses her way upwards, neatly hitting his mouth as he wakes up. In the years to come, she will learn that Ron prefers giving sloppy morning kisses instead of the right-on-target ones Hermione has perfected. It will come to be one of the things she loves best about him.

"Hi," he says, blue eyes fluttering open. She almost lets out a sigh at how gorgeous they look, framed by ginger lashes and accented by the bright morning sun. She wants to tell him he's beautiful, but she bites her tongue. They both still have morning breath, and she decides that it's too early for Ron to be blushing like a tomato. She'll keep it peaceful for now and tell him later.

"Good morning," she replies, and his eyes open wider.

"You just kissed me, didn't you?"

Great, now she's blushing. She holds her fingers a few inches apart and grimaces.

"Just a little?"

Ron laughs.

"I'm glad someone crossed that boundary. It was getting to me."

"What are you on about?" Hermione asks, rolling her eyes. "I'm usually awake before you."

He shrugs, burrowing himself further under the covers.

"That's what you think."

She isn't sure what to make of that, so she yanks the covers off of him and throws them across the room.

"Get up. It's December first."

"So?" he replies.

"We're decorating," Hermione tells him as though it's obvious. "It's a tradition for us to decorate on December first."

"No it's not," Ron frowns. Hermione kisses him on the nose.

"That's what you think," she says, and then she gets out of the bed and walks out of the room. "UP!" she yells back at him.

"Yes, ma'am," Ron mutters, saluting her.

Hermione's already halfway through making waffles by the time her boyfriend ambles into the kitchen. He wraps his arms around her and begins to drop kisses on her neck, but when she tells him that he's distracting her from making the food he backs away quickly. Predictable. The waffles are on the table in five more minutes and Hermione sits back and watches Ron devour them with an expression that he rarely sees her use while he's eating.

"Today," Hermione says suddenly, "we are decorating for Christmas."

"Okay," Ron says, adding more syrup to his waffles. Hermione's eyebrows are up in an instant.

"Okay?" she says. "I said Christmas. Isn't that the magic word or something?"

"Not really," Ron shrugs. "I mean, Christmas is great and all, but it's been done before, hasn't it? Same thing every single year… I'm really kind of sick of mum's enthusiasm."

Hermione looks put out, but she recovers quickly.

"Well, anyways, this isn't your mum's Christmas. This is mine. We're going to make new traditions for our… selves. And then when ourselves are old enough to appreciate it, we will practice these traditions with ourselves."

Ron looks up from his waffles for the first time and squints at her.

"You were going to say our children, weren't you?"

Her poker face is firmly in place as she says,

"Um… no."

"You were!" he shouts, laughing joyfully. "You slipped."

"Did not," she scoffs disdainfully.

"Admit it. Or I will squirt syrup on you and lick it off."

"Yes, that's a punishment," Hermione laughs. "It's not that much different from our usual nightly activities, sweetheart."

He gazes at her admiringly.

"I swear to god, you get better with age."

"Mhmm. I always told you I was like a fine wine that way."

"Wicked."

She thwarts his advances as he leans in to kiss her, holding up a finger in warning.

"Look, just… play along, will you?"

"Fine," he replies, and she's satisfied with this.

They begin going absolutely crazy, decorating the house like mad. Hermione's got some ornaments from her childhood, she'd procured some from Ron's, too, and she'd also been collecting new ones. She hangs them carefully after Ron finally untangles the lights and hangs them on the tree. Afterwards , she bakes cookies and they watch Christmas movies sitting on the couch and cuddling. It's absolutely perfect, just sitting there together and watching the lights and wondering how in the world something so wonderful had happened to them. She remembers the Christmas they had gone through two years ago, with the snake attacking and the incessant fear hanging in the air. This is so much better than that- this one has Ron. Everything is better with Ron. It's not even a question, it's just a fact. She needs him in her life. And that's why she's so sure they're going to work out. Ron isn't a choice- he was never a choice. It was never 'oh, maybe I'll go after Harry, maybe I'll go after Ron'. It was always 'oh my god, when did I fall in love with Ron? Why do I want to be with this prat? God, I'm such an idiot'.

The movie finishes without incident, and Hermione stands up quickly as Ron's lips landed on her neck.

"I'd better go clean the kitchen," she says, and he groans in protest.

"Please?"

"No!" she laughs. "Ron, we live together. It's not like your mum's going to be home in ten minutes and we have to rush through it. There's so much more time, and I'd definitely have more fun if my kitchen was clean."

"Your kitchen?"

"Our kitchen."

"There it is," he teases.

So she walks into our kitchen and turns on the radio and is soon swaying back and forth to the Christmas songs that burst through the speakers. She hums along softly, trying a little too hard not to dance to the songs, because even after almost half a year of living together Hermione has still not let Ron see her dance in a completely unguarded manner. She completely forgets, however, when the opening strains of Baby It's Cold Outside swell through the room.

"I really can't stay, but baby it's cold outside. I've got to go away, but baby it's cold outside. This evening has been so very nice –"

"I'll hold your hands, they're just like ice."

She turns around to see Ron standing there, looking extremely amused. He's leaning against the doorframe with a remarkably smug look on his face, and she turns bright red but never falls out of step with the song.

"My mother will start to worry-"

"Beautiful, what's your hurry?"

She put down the plate she was washing and raised her eyebrows at him.

"My father will be pacing the floor."

His eyebrows raised back.

"Listen to the fireplace roar."

""So really I'd better scurry," she says, turning back to the sink. In a second he's jumped

around and blocked her with his arm.

"Beautiful, please don't hurry."

Hermione laughs.

"Well maybe just a half a drink more…"

"Put some records on while I pour."

Grinning at the sound of Ron using the world records, Hermione continues with the song, wanting to see how far he'd take it.

"The neighbors might think-"

"Baby it's bad out there," he sings, placing a hand playfully over his heart while the other arm braces himself against the wall and simultaneously locks Hermione in place.

"Say, what's in this drink?" Hermione asks, glaring at Ron. He peers outside the window, glancing around.

"No cabs to be had out there."

"I wish I knew how-"

"Your eyes are like starlight-"

"-To break the spell."

"I'll take your hat, your hair looks swell."

He grins jauntily at the look on her face when he comments on her hair. At the sight of his smile, Hermione moves closer to kiss him, and he closes his eyes. She ducks under his arm and taps him on the shoulder.

"I ought to say no, no, sir."

He turns around.

"Mind if I move closer?"

He advances, she backs away until he finally catches her against the opposite wall. He can see her eyes closing as she sings the next line.

"At least I'm gonna say I tried…"

"What's the sense in hurting my pride?"

"I really can't say," she murmurs softly.

"Baby don't hold out."

They miss the next line because he's leaned down to kiss her, but she springs away in time for the next part.

"I've got to go home!" she sings, running in the opposite direction. She turns around when she suddenly feels a splash of water against her back, and sees Ron smiling sheepishly at her. He shrugs.

"But baby you'll freeze out there."

"Say, lend me your coat?"

He moves to her in two steps and sweeps her into his arms.

"You're up to your knees out there!"

"You've really been grand," she nods, and then she makes a put me down gesture.

"I'm thrilled when you touch my hand."

"But don't you see?"

Here she hops out of his arms.

"How can you do this thing to me?" he responds in complaint, dropping to his knees. She backs away.

"There's bound to be talk tomorrow…"

He puts his hand against his forehead and places the other one back on his heart.

"Think of my lifetime sorrow."

"At least there'll be plenty implied," Hermione replies delicately.

"If you caught pneumonia and DIED!" Ron sings, leaping up and grasping her arms.

"I really can't stay!" She protests, jumping out of his arms and hopping onto the couch, as far away from him as she can get. He follows suit.

"Get over that hold out…"

"Oh but it's cold out-"

And then she can't hold it in anymore and she kisses him. The song ends, the radio goes on commercial, but they keep on kissing.

"Side," Ron finishes after he's pulled back. For a second, the two of them just stare at each other, standing there on the couch. Then they both burst into laughter. Ron leans forward to hug Hermione and she nuzzles her nose into his sweater.

"I love you," he sighs.

"I love you, too," she reminds him. "So much." Pause. "Where the bloody hell did that come from?"

He laughs.

"While mum was driving us crazy with Celestina Warbeck, dad was usually being equally annoying with muggle Christmas songs. I know most of them."

"Do you realize how sexy this is?" Hermione asks now.

"Not until this very moment," he admits. "Do you realize how sexy it is when you dance like that?"

She laughs.

"Sarcasm not appreciated."

"Oh no, I'm dead serious."

When she hugs him again, he runs a hand through her hair. Slowly, they sink onto the couch together.

"You know what?" he whispers into her hair.

"What?" she says back.

"I think you've found your tradition."

And then she realizes that she absolutely has. For a moment she can see them dancing around with their kids after a long, hard day of Christmas decorating and her body fills with warmth. For some reason, when she is pulled back to the world and sees his face again, she gets butterflies in her stomach. So she smothers him with kisses and wonders how she could have been willing to die in the battle of Hogwarts and never have learned this side of Ron. This is the best side of him that she has seen in nine years of friendship and love. This side, the side he only lets her see, is the one that she loves most. So she says it.

"You're gorgeous." And he laughs and his eyebrows raise and he's about to make some sarcastic comment but she cuts him off. "Shut up. Don't say it. Don't ruin it, for the love of god."

"I'm so excited to marry you some day," he tells her seriously, and her eyes grow wide in shock.

"Are you serious? It's not only me?"

"Of course not," he answers. "C'mon, don't be an idiot, Hermione."

"So why were you teasing me so much this morning?"

"Because it's what I do! I get your knickers in a twist and bend you out of shape and you still love me for it later."

"I do, fortunately for you," she responds, and then she grins. "Want to pull out that syrup after all?"

He shoots off the couch.

"Of course! But- er- could we have another go with Baby It's Cold Outside first? Just one more?"

For the record, it's ten before they get sick of it. And then next year they do it all over again.