or, The Way Things Were Supposed to Happen
As he stared at the ceiling of his childhood bedroom, he couldn't help but think that this wasn't the way things were supposed to happen.
He squeezed his eyes shut, guilt gnawing at his chest. He'd asked for this, after all. In his darkest moments, he had begged the powers that be to bring him to this very moment.
Be careful what you wish for, his mother used to say.
How many times had he prayed that he would wake up in the morning and not be one of seven children? He had wanted this for as long as he could remember. If only his parents had fewer children, he could have had more attention. Maybe if there were fewer mouths to feed, there would be more money to go around and maybe he could have clothes that fit, for once. If he had fewer siblings, maybe being Ronald Bilius Weasley wouldn't have been nearly so bad.
Be careful what you wish for, indeed.
How many times had he hoped that the blasted war he had found himself in the middle of would just end already, consequences be damned?
Isn't this exactly what he wanted? He hadn't pictured it this way, of course, but all he wanted was to go home. He wanted to finish the job they had started so he could be back at the Burrow with a full stomach. He just wanted it over, no matter the cost. He never imagined anything could cost this much: Fred's life, George's sanity, Mum's spirit, Ginny's smile...
How many times had he wished that, one day, he would get the opportunity to fall asleep with Hermione Granger in his arms?
She stirred next to him, as if she knew he was thinking about her. He wondered if this was the universe's idea of a cruel joke. He finally knew what it felt like to have Hermione's body pressed up against his side, one of her arms folded under her and the other placed gently on his chest, her hand firmly planted over his heart. The girl of his dreams- quite literally- rested her beautiful head on his cotton-covered shoulder.
This was infinitely better that each and every one of his fantasies, and yet it was also immeasurably worse.
He had all but begged her to stay with him after Fred's funeral. She had agreed, excusing herself only momentarily so that they could both change and get ready for bed. Harry had taken one look at him- barely standing, breathing heavy to keep from crying, clinging to Hermione- and insisted he would see him in the morning, fleeing their shared bedroom with his blanket and pillow in hand.
Ron had barely managed to remove his dress robes before he collapsed onto his bed, clad only a pair of boxer shorts and an ancient undershirt. Hermione had reentered his room moments later and encouraged him to climb under his threadbare sheet. He complied, wordlessly, and was sure he was about to pass out until Hermione nudged him over and crawled under the sheet with him.
His heart began racing so fast he wasn't sure he would ever sleep again. He vaguely realized that she must know this, for her hand was pressed firmly on his chest, but she hadn't mentioned it. She hadn't said anything at all, but he knew she was awake; After all those months spent in the tent, he could tell whether she was sleeping or not by the rate of her breathing.
She sighed and shifted against him. He bit his lip to stifle a groan. This wasn't the way things were supposed to happen. If he were ever lucky enough to have her in his bed, she was supposed to be there by choice, not because he was such an emotional wreck that she didn't trust him to take care of himself. Did she even want to be there, this close to him, wearing a slip of a nightdress that he was sure would drive him absolutely insane if he had not buried his brother that morning? Was she babysitting him?
Or worse: was she there because she knew he wanted her to be there? Was it possible that she didn't want to be there at all, but she was too kindhearted to reject him after all his family had been through? The thought wrapped around his heart like an evil brain's tentacle and squeezed til it hurt. He felt dizzy.
He knew she cared for him, and he knew that something had been building between them for quite some time now. She had kissed him, for Merlin's sake. A snog was a far cry from sharing a bed, though. Wasn't it? Why did everything have to be so confusing?
"Hermione," he whispered, before he had consciously decided to speak.
"Ron," she replied, pushing herself up on her left elbow.
"Would you be here, if... if it wasn't like this?" he asked, hoping she wouldn't ask him to elaborate. He didn't think he could use the words Fred and funeral in the same sentence. She knew that, didn't she?
"Would I be at the Burrow?" she asked, brows knit together.
"No, would you be here," he said. When she showed no signs of comprehension, he forced himself to elaborate. "In my bed." He blushed and closed his eyes as soon as the words had left his mouth.
"Oh," she said. "Well, I suppose if... if it wasn't like this," she continued, using his words, "your mother probably would have been far more observant and she would have stopped me before I left Ginny's room in my pyjamas. So no, I probably would not be in your bed if it wasn't like this."
His heart sunk momentarily, before realizing how carefully she had chosen her words. He opened his eyes. She was still leaning over him.
"You're being difficult on purpose."
"No," she insisted. "I'm answering the question you asked. If you'd like to ask me another question, I'll answer that too, but you don't have to ask if you don't want to." She looked nervous, and she averted her eyes and began to sink down next to him.
"This isn't the way this was supposed to happen," he blurted out suddenly, hoping she would continue to lean over him and look him in the eye. It worked. She propped herself back up on her elbow and pursed her lips together.
He swallowed thickly
"I know-" she started.
"No, you don't know," he said, cutting her off before he lost his nerve. "I'm not talking about... this morning. I'm talking about right now. This," he mumbled, pushing himself up into a sitting position and gesturing back and forth between them.
Hermione sat up, sliding her body up to lean against his headboard. She ran her hands down her thighs, smoothing out her nightdress. His breath caught in his throat and he willed himself to focus on anything but her body.
"How was this supposed to happen?" she asked him, in a voice so small he almost didn't believe it was hers. He couldn't help it; he laughed.
"You don't want to know," he said, still chuckling nervously and rubbing the back of his neck as if doing so would make it less red.
He busied himself by repositioning his body, joining her near his headboard as if they were just seated on a very long sofa and not, somehow, in his bed together. He stretched his legs out in front of him, adjusting the sheet so that it was still covering them both. He avoided looking at her until he realized that she was staring at him.
He met her eyes, and was surprised to see her brows once again furrowed in confusion.
"Why don't I want to know?" she asked, as if she really had no idea why he was reluctant to share this bit of information with her.
"Hermione," he groaned, hoping she would save him from his own embarrassment. He ran a hand through his hair in frustration, cursing himself for starting this conversation. She may have kissed him once and agreed to sleep next to him tonight, but there was no way he was going to admit to Hermione that he had dreamed about her climbing into his bed multiple times under far happier and far more improper circumstances.
"If it makes you feel any better," Hermione said, wringing her hands nervously, "this isn't how I imagined it either."
For a moment after she had spoken, Ron was sure his heart had stopped. In any case, he had definitely stopped breathing. He realized this when his lungs constricted, causing him to gasp for air and cough in protest.
"Ron, are you all right?" Hermione asked, rubbing a hand up and down his back that was probably meant to soothe him, but only made his heart beat faster.
"I'm fine," he managed to choke out, trying not to focus on the feeling of her hand running across his shoulder blades. "Sorry, I just thought you said..." he trailed off, not daring to repeat the words he had heard: words that he was sure he had misheard, because there was no way the subject of every last one of his randy teenage fantasies had just admitted to picturing herself in his bed.
"You heard what I said," she whispered, removing her hand as she spoke. He simultaneously mourned the loss of contact and welcomed the increased blood flow to his brain that separation provided.
"Merlin, Hermione," he muttered, hoarsely. He trembled with effort, silently begging his body to not react to the words that had come out of her mouth. "You can't just say things like that to a bloke," he said, because he wasn't brave enough to say 'you can't just say things like that to me.'
She met his eyes, and instead of looking disgusted- which she should have been, given the nature of his thoughts- she merely looked slightly sheepish, her cheeks flushed a pretty pink color.
"Maybe we shouldn't be talking about this right now," Hermione said, looking away and folding her hands in her lap. "It's been a... a long day, and you need to sleep."
Hermione's mention of the day that led up to this moment sobered Ron's thoughts immediately. His head swam, and he was suddenly overwhelmed by all the feelings that had caused him to cling to the girl next to him in the first place: feelings that had nothing to do with thin nightdress and rosy cheeks and everything to do with his broken family.
"Yeah," he admitted, not sure if he was pleased or not by the change of subject. It had saved him from what was certain to be more embarrassment, but had made his heart feel much heavier than it had moments earlier. "I should sleep," he said. She nodded and fidgeted nervously. It was strange to see Hermione so uncertain. "You'll stay, right?" he asked, his voice gravelly.
"If you'd like," she whispered.
"I would. You know I would," he said, and he shifted so that he was laying on his back, much like he was when this strange, terrible, wonderful conversation had started. She followed his lead, boldly curling up next to him and placing her hand over his heart, as it had been when they first crawled into his bed. When she settled, Ron summoned every ounce of Gryffindor courage he had left in him to wrap a long arm around her small form.
They lay in silence for a few moments, neither daring to move.
"Hermione?" he asked, finally, knowing he wouldn't be able to sleep until he did.
"Mmhmm," she said in acknowledgement, her voice muffled against his shoulder
"D'you think maybe we could talk again tomorrow? About things I still want to happen, regardless of everything else that's happened? I mean, things that I've wanted to happen for a long time, and I finally think finally can happen, now that everything's over." He cursed his uncertain tone and his vague words, silently begging her to understand what he was trying to ask.
"Of course," she whispered, in a strange breathy and girly voice that he wanted to hear more of.
"Good," he said, letting out a breath he didn't know he was holding, "cause there are a lot of things I need to say to you."
"All right," she said, in that same girlish voice he didn't know she had until moments ago.
"I'm glad you're here," he blurted, when he meant to say 'goodnight.' He worried for a moment that she would wonder if 'here' meant 'at the Burrow,' or 'in my bed,' and what he would admit to if she asked him to clarify.
"I'm glad I'm here too," she said, without hesitation, her voice much sleepier now.
"Goodnight, Hermione," he whispered, suddenly feeling very tired himself.
This still wasn't the way things were supposed to happen, but in that moment Ron felt calmer than he had in a very long time. He knew that waking up in the morning next to Hermione would probably be more awkward than anything else, and that entering the Burrow's kitchen for breakfast tomorrow would be no less depressing than it was today. He also knew, though, that this night had ended a lot better than the morning had started, and he reckoned if things like that kept happening everything just might be all right in the end.
Hermione's breathing slowed as she shifted against him, and Ron smiled. It had taken her mere moments to fall asleep in his arms. That had to count for something, right? Even if she hadn't entered his room as part of some sexy fantasy or grand romantic gesture, she was still there. More importantly, she was comfortable enough with him to find sleep just seconds after she said goodnight to him- and that was a far cry better than some bloody fantastic snog in the middle of a warzone.
This still wasn't the way things were supposed to happen, but as Ron drifted off to sleep he couldn't help but be grateful that whatever was happening between him and Hermione was happening at all.