Her heels hit steadily against the pavement as she walked briskly towards The Three Broomsticks. The night is cool, the streets lined with snow, yet this did not hinder Hermione Granger's short and professional steps. Her stride was steady, confident, and slightly loud. The streets may have been full, but she still thought she could hear the resounding echo of her heels in the distance. Honestly, ever since she started working at the Ministry, they'd been her thing. Heels- no one ever would have guessed that Hermione would feel empowered by a pair of heels. But she'd noticed that everything was easier at work when she had them on- she was taller, more confident looking, and seemed to be more professional. People respected her more when she could match their height. So she'd just kept wearing the heels, knowing that the feeling they gave her was well worth sacrificing the balls of her feet.
Ron had always teased her about it until she reminded him that it was easier to kiss him when she was closer to his height.
Nearing the bar, Hermione reached out a hand and took one last look at the night sky before opening the door and walking in. A wall of chatter, warm air, and the strong scent of spirits filled her nose as she moved through the crowd, searching for the tell-tale red hair that would lead her to Ron. She finally found it by the bar, nursing a drink all by its lonesome. Shoving people aside in a way that she hoped was polite, Hermione made her way towards the tallest man in the room, plopping herself onto the stool next to him once she had reached him. His head turned towards her immediately, smile lighting up his face as soon as he lay his eyes on her.
"Hi!" he said brightly.
"Hi," she replied warmly. "Happy Valentine's Day!"
"Same. Can I buy you a drink?"
"Scotch on the rocks with a twist," Hermione reminded him, as if he actually needed reminding.
"Got it," he said with a wink. "I think I know your order by now, Hermione."
"Well," she shrugged, "you never know. I'm not exactly sure how much you've been drinking, Mr. Weasley."
"Not much," he promised. "I just got here, really."
"Good," she smiles. "How was your day, by the way?"
"Crazy. But it's funny, watching all the lovesick sods at work who are running around like chickens with their heads cut off about Valentine's Day."
"Usually we are too," she admitted, reaching out for her drink as it arrived. She made a little face as the drink hit her tongue.
"That's true," Ron agreed, flashing her a small smirk at the face she always made upon the first sip of the first drink. But by the time drink two rolled around, she was ready to go. "Not this year, though."
"Not this year," Hermione echoed. "God, I think this is the first year since we broke up that we're both single on Valentine's Day."
"Really?" Ron replied, shooting his eyebrows up. "Wow. We've done well for ourselves then."
"Think about it," Hermione said, frowning in concentration. "The year we broke up was the year I turned... twenty?"
"Twenty one for you, twenty for me."
"And that year you brought your rebound girl to wave her in my face."
"Go me," Ron commented, and Hermione laughed. "But you had that bloke... Leo, was it? You had Leo to wave in my face the next year."
"Yes, you're right, I did. He was nice."
"Just nice?" Ron teased, and Hermione jabbed him in the side.
"Just nice, and no further details than that, per rules of the friendship agreement," she reminded him.
"Awww," Ron complained, and she shot him a look of warning.
"So the next year, we both had dates, right?" Hermione asked, thinking back.
"You had John, the smarmy bastard."
"He was not smarmy," said Hermione, rolling her eyes. "He was perfectly nice."
"Better than Max. He was the guy that turned you into scotch-on-the-rocks Hermione Granger."
"He was not!" Hermione said indignantly. "I did that all on my own, thank you! Granted, it never would have happened to me if we hadn't broken up, so I suppose I have you to blame for the Hermione Granger you see today- the one who wears high-heels and drinks scotch on the rocks with a twist."
"You're admitting it now? I did make you who you are today?"
"No," Hermione said shortly, even though she knew it wasn't true. "Now... who was the girl you brought that year?"
"I don't remember," was Ron's flippant reply. "Who I do remember is the guy you brought the next year. Logan."
"It was Jennifer, who you brought," Hermione reminded him. "And the next year was Victoria. Merlin, was she a slut."
"A slut?" Ron asked, looking slightly offended. "She was not!"
"Hey, if John was a smarmy bastard, Victoria was a slut."
"You're just jealous because she's got long legs," Ron snickered.
"That she spread within ten seconds of knowing you."
"Ouch," Ron said mockingly. "Given my records, are you suggesting that I can only get sluts to date me?"
"Not at all. Were you suggesting that I'm a slut for dating you?"
"No!" Ron denied, unaware that Hermione's tone was still teasing. "You were the least slutty of them all, Mione."
"I was just kidding. I know you don't think I'm a slut."
"Well... well you're not," he responded ineloquently.
"Thank you, Ron," she said, tone genuine. "Just for that, next round's on me." She called over the barmaid and ordered their drinks, then turned back to Ron. "Are we really the only ones this year?"
"Yeah," he shrugged, accepting his drink and bringing it to his lips. "All the other twenty-six year olds are off doing what all respectable adults do on Valentine's Day- either having a nice, overly expensive dinner, or shagging in a nice, overly expensive hotel room."
"That was me last year," Hermione sighed. "Merlin, what happened this year? I really dropped the ball."
"Work," Ron suggested. "You've been working yourself to the bone lately. I keep telling you to go out and have some fun, but you never listen to me."
"I'm not a wild bachelor like you," she said, poking him playfully. "I can't walk into my room and have my way with any woman I want to."
"Now that is a spectacular mental image."
"You having your way with any woman you want to?"
"No. You having your way with any woman you want to."
Her smack across the arm was immediate.
"You put the words right in my mouth, lovey." Hermione smacked him again. "Um, ow!"
"Please," she snorted. "That was a love tap."
She took a calm sip of her drink and stared him down for a moment before they both burst out laughing, collapsing all over each other in an effort to control their giggles. People in the bar turned to stare at them as they laughed hysterically, enjoying the buzz that came from their drinks.
They were silent for a while after they finished giggling. Ron called for more drinks, and they nursed them wordlessly, both lost in their own thoughts.
"Do you remember our last Valentine's Day together?" Hermione asked suddenly. Ron glanced over at her quickly.
"No," he said, much too fast.
"Me either," Hermione replied quickly.
They stared at each other.
"I just remember being a disaster."
"Us as a couple. We were a disaster."
"Oh yeah, we were," Hermione conceded fervently. "We were just... catastrophic."
"A menace to society."
"A horror to behold."
"I can't imagine why we thought we'd work."
"Did any part of us work?"
"Not one thing."
Silence. Hermione looked rather downtrodden, as though she was trying to remember why they had fallen into a relationship in the first place. She took another sip of her drink as Ron began to speak.
"The sex was... excellent."
Hermione squinted, as though trying to remember. Her face brightened as she recalled.
"Oh yeah. Yeah, it was."
"I mean, it was awkward at first," Ron admitted. "But after we got used to each other it was just... it was mind blowing."
"It was definitely... different," Hermione said slowly. "You know what I mean?"
"I do," Ron told her. "Different from what it's like with other people."
"From everyone I've been with since."
"Why is that?" Ron asked, looking rather confused.
Hermione seemed to sober as she stared at his face, looking at his eyes as she frowned.
"Because... because we were actually in love."
"Oh," Ron said blankly. The alcohol was clouding his mind more than he wanted to admit. He felt like he probably would have gotten that answer earlier had he been sober.
"Because when we were together, sex wasn't this thing we did at the end of the date for fun. I mean, it was fun. But we lived together. There was no end-of-the-date for us. Sex was... connecting. It wasn't dirty or wrong. It was fitting together in a way that I was sure I would never be able to fit with anybody else, because you felt so right, you made me feel so whole. Sex was us expressing how much we... how much we loved each other back then... we didn't have end-of-the-night-sex purely because it was an obligation, or morning-sex to delay the awkwardness of actually talking. It was more like we woke up tangled in each other's arms and remembered everything we had gone through to get exactly to that moment and it would suddenly hit us how much we loved each other and it would just consume us and we'd just have to."
"It was me walking into the kitchen and seeing you learning to cook and being overwhelmed by the fact that I lived with you and you were trying to figure out how to cook just to make me happy and just needing to give it all back to you."
"It was me seeing you walk through the door after a long term mission and catapulting myself at you because I had missed you so desperately and every night felt completely empty without being wrapped up in your arms."
"It was hearing you screaming from your nightmares and knowing that I could make you whole again by being with you like that."
"It was... making love?"
She said the word like it was foreign, like she'd never actually said it before. But, in all honesty, she'd said it all the time when they were dating. It seemed cheesy now, now that she'd forgotten what that kind of connection was, but at the time it had suddenly clicked into place. Why making love was called making love.
"I guess," Ron said quietly. "Fuck, when was the last time I did that? Felt like that? I guess not since... not since we were together."
More silence. This time, it was strange. Both were lost in their own thoughts, thinking about the relationship they had let go of five years ago. The little flat that couldn't be theirs anymore, not since they had sold it. The place they had walked walked away from- both physically and emotionally. They hadn't turned back. They had a friendship agreement. They were best friends- closer than Ron and Harry, closer than Harry and Hermione. She commented on his girlfriends without a trace of animosity. He teased her about her boyfriends without a hint of jealousy.
"B-but that was the only good part, right?" Hermione said desperately. "Right?"
He didn't answer her. Instead, he met her question with a question.
"Hermione," Ron said, "do you remember why we broke up?"
Her head snapped up in shock. This, they hadn't talked about. It was an unwritten term of the friendship agreement. Don't talk about the breakup, whatever you do. So they hadn't.
"Er... is it important?"
"Yes," he said sincerely. "And I am far too drunk to remember."
Her eyes swiveled back and forth, brain buzzing as she tried to call back the memory.
"No, I can't remember," she sighed. "Too drunk, probably. Do you want to talk about this while we head towards home? We'll have too walk- it's no good apparating in this condition."
"Sure," he said. Throwing money onto the bar, he helped Hermione off of her chair and they made their way steadily to the door. "My place is right down the street. We can just walk there and you can kip on the couch tonight or floo home when you feel up to it."
"Thanks," she said. "Now be quiet. I'm trying to remember why we broke up."
They walked back to Ron's flat in silence, Hermione's gaze fixated on the sky, staring up at the stars. She was silent when they reached their destination, wordless as they walked up to the door.
"Do you remember now?" he asked hopefully, hand on the knob without turning it.
"Do you even remember who said the words? If it was a fight? Why it happened?"
"I... shit, I can't remember. And you can't either?"
"No," he replied, shaking his head. "Not at all. I mean, I know it was some stupid fight. But that's all it was. A stupid fight ended us. And now we're here."
"A stupid fight," Hermione said emotionlessly. "A stupid fight put me here? A stupid fight caused the breakup that literally changed who I am?"
"Changed who you are?"
"Do you think I'd be like this if we'd kept going the way we were going? No! I'd be... I'd be a Weasley by now. I never would have had a one-night-stand before we broke up. And I never would have become the type of person that becomes a bitchy boss that stays at work all night, because I had you to come home to. And... and I never would have started drinking scotch on the rocks with a twist! That never would have happened! Shit, Ron. What did you do to me?"
"Hey, it wasn't only you! Look at me! I was on my way to becoming a decent human being with you as my girlfriend, but now I'm that weird twenty-six year old bachelor who keeps pulling the slutty birds instead of actually finding ones that I want a relationship with. I thwart all female advances that I think could go somewhere, because they all feel wrong, don't they? I feel squeamish when I meet a woman with long, dark hair who's successful and likes reading books, and apparently that's what I'm attracted to, and you did that to me!"
"What did we do to ourselves, Ron?" she whispered. "How did we get this far off the chosen path? How did we let a small little fight break us up?"
"I don't know," he said. "I wish I did. Or... no. If I'm wishing for things, I should wish that I'd stopped it."
"I just... I can't believe we screwed ourselves over like that. I remember being so, so in love with you. So much that it hurt. And all I wanted was to be with you forever and-"
The rest of her sentence was cut off as he crashed his lips against hers. Teeth slammed into teeth as they kissed feverishly on Ron's front stoop. Without thinking, he flicked his wrist to the side, and the door swung open. They walked over the threshold, still kissing desperately.
She didn't feel drunk on alcohol anymore. Instead, she became completely addicted to the man she was kissing, the man that she had been sure was merely her best friend, because she had never let herself consider it another way for the past five years. A sense of content stole over her just before the fire kicked in, causing her to push him even more desperately into the dark house. He slammed the door shut with his foot and managed to get her to walk backwards to his bedroom, never letting their lips drift apart for a second. They ended up on the bed, and merlin, he was touching her everywhere. Her hips. Her cheeks. Her breasts. Almost like he was relearning her, like he'd forgotten her body and now he was trying to memorize it all over again. She allowed him to, because she needed that. The closeness. The feeling that she remembered but hadn't felt in years. So when he reached down to pull her blouse over her head, all she did was reciprocate with his own shirt. Her bra followed soon after, and she wasn't even scared, because they'd done this so many times and really, not all that much had changed in five years. His lips pulled back from hers, and she would have mourned the loss had she not known what was coming.
Lip against skin, lip against lip, lip back to skin mixed together in a whirling combination of sensations. She kept her eyes firmly shut as she allowed him to touch her anywhere he wanted to, do anything he wanted. Groans of mine and always were poured onto her as he kissed her, sounds that she hadn't expected to hear this time, sounds that she hadn't heard since the last time they were together. And when she knew he was breathless from kissing her skin, she reciprocated. Ron's skin, illuminated by the moon and the stars, became littered with her own kisses as she too relearned him- the muscles in his arms, his back, his stomach.
Foreplay didn't matter, it all passed in a blur. All she knew was that when he was inside of her, her eyes flew open in utter and complete surprise.
Because she had remembered.
He was a puzzle piece. Ron was her puzzle piece. He fit into her perfectly, like he was made for her, like they were meant to be, like they were the definition of forever. They worked together perfectly, easily, like they had never stopped making love. She felt full to the brim as a combination of love and other sensations tipped them both over the edge, and she thought she heard him say I love you very quietly before suddenly the sensation of Ron was gone.
But it was probably her imagination.
The first thing she registered upon waking up was the strange, strange feeling of not knowing where one is situated. Though this wasn't exactly the first time Hermione'd had this feeling, it still brought panic to her, and her eyes widened as they searched around the room. The walls were painted a light gold color, while the sheets she was wrapped in were scarlet red in color. Gryffindor colors? She knew someone whose bedroom was decked out in Gryffindor colors. And that person was... Ron.
At the same time she realized this, she also became aware of the fact that she was stark naked, something that alarmed her further. It alarmed her more, however, how the pounding in her head was not as it should have been. Like she had only been a little drunk. Like she had actually been in control of her actions. Yes, she had definitely been influenced by alcohol. But if her head was any indication, it hadn't been by nearly as much as she would have liked.
It would have been easy, so easy, for Hermione to just get up, grab her clothes, and make a break for it. But there was one complication. She was literally wrapped up in the warm arms of her best friend. He was hugging her to his body, his chin resting on her shoulder, ensuring that she could not escape without her having to physically movie him. Which she couldn't. He was a strong, burley auror. She was tiny, and the most exercise she got was lifting big books. There was no way she'd be able to move his arms, as locked as they were. Not without waking him. So she lay there and waited for the inevitable, trying to think of ways to talk herself out of the situation and get herself the hell away without any damage being done to their friendship. It wasn't like he wanted to be with her. That time was over and done with- they were over and done with. Neither of them wanted a repeat.
She lay there absolutely ridged with fear until Ron began to stir. She braced herself, but the first thing he did caught her off guard. He dropped a kiss onto her shoulder, then the top of her head. Then he stood up and walked to the bathroom. Like it was normal for them to wake up together. Like they woke up like this every day, like they were still dating, like he always kissed her first thing in the morning when she was naked in his arms. The sound of a toothbrush reminded her to point her wand at her mouth in an attempt to rid it of the leftover alcohol taste combined with morning breath. Which was pretty disgusting.
When he came back, she expected him to be either dressed or at least not assume the same position, but all he did was wrap his arms around her again and fall back asleep. It struck her that she probably should have run while she could, because now there was no possible way for escape. However, she lay still. She fretted. She worried. And she fell back asleep, lying there in his warm arms. She was woken up a few hours later by a sloppy kiss on the side of her mouth, a kiss that actually missed most of her lips. It brought back a horde of painful memories, a slew of sloppy morning kisses that she had not let herself think about in a very long time. Ron loved those types of kisses- actually, he liked all types of kisses. It grossed her out when her other boyfriends did it, but when Ron did it, it always just made her seem to adore him more.
It's funny how love works like that. You could be absolutely disgusted by French-kissing with one person, but with another it could be one of the most amazing ways of connecting. It just depended on who you were with. And it had always felt right with Ron. Even the night before, Hermione reflected, it felt right with Ron.
"Hermione?" Ron said, his voice startling her out of her musings.
"Ron!" she said. "Oh. Er... good morning."
"Hi," he said in response, snuggling closer to her.
"I... I'll get out of here as soon as you want me to," Hermione said. "Let's just avoid all the awkwardness, shall we? It can go back to normal in a few days."
Ron stared at her blankly.
"Normal," Hermione repeated firmly. Was it her, or did his face fall a little bit? No, that had to be imagination. "Ron," Hermione said gently. "I know you were drunk last night. It's okay! It happens to the best of us, I'm sure."
"I wasn't that drunk," Ron said flatly.
"You... you what?"
"I had complete and total control over my actions."
"You couldn't remember why we broke up!"
"No, it was you who couldn't remember why we broke up. I remembered once I left the bar. You were the one who was... oh. I see. You were drunk."
"Well, I mean, I wasn't as drunk as I had thought I was... yes. Yes, I was drunk."
"You didn't mean any of it?" he asked suddenly.
"I mean, the sex... and the words..."
"Right before we fell asleep... you told me that you... fuck. Okay. We can get past this. You don't. That's fine."
"I don't what?"
"Love me. You don't love me."
"I told you I love you?" He nodded almost imperceptibly. "Oh. Sorry."
When his eyes met hers, the look in them was cold.
"Door's over there," he said.
She couldn't get out of there fast enough.
Hermione stared at the wall for a very long time. Usually, she would not find that much fascination with a wall. But that day, there was nothing else she felt like doing. She had slunk against it when the sun was still high in the sky, and had remained there until well after darkness. The moon cast eerie shadows all over her living room, making the dark flat seem cold and unlived in. She remembered the warmth in Ron's bedroom, waking up tangled up in his arms, enjoying his sloppy morning kiss. She remembered him telling her that he loved her. She pictured herself, very clearly, saying a sleepy I love you as she was caught up in his arms. And she became very aware of the fact that she may have made a huge mistake.
The type of intimacy she had shared with Ron Weasley was something that she had never been able to get with another person. No boyfriend had ever been able to inspire feelings in her like Ron had. No boyfriend had understood her humor like he did, or made her laugh the way he did. Sure, all of them were smart and actually cared about her day when they asked, but that only enabled her to go on and on about work, now unable to separate her personal life and her business world. Worst of all, none of them understood her ghosts, her nightmares. When she woke up screaming at two o'clock in the morning, they patted her shoulder and went back to bed. They tried to understand her scars, but they couldn't.
And hadn't that led her back to Ron a thousand times? Hadn't she flooed over to his house and banged on his door in the middle of the night, waiting for him to open it and sweep her into his arms and comfort her like nobody else had been able to? She could have gone to anyone- Ginny, Harry, Luna, Neville. Any one of them would understand. But she always went to Ron.
It had always been Ron.
The humor, the nightmares, the history, the sex, the way their personalities balanced each other out- everything with him had made her believe in soul mates. In one person being destined for another person their whole lives. Logical Hermione Granger had been forced to believe that a higher power had given her magical powers so that she could meet Ron Weasley, that she was a muggle gifted with magic specifically so she could meet this boy at eleven years old and fall madly in love with him. When had she let go of that? When had she decided that one person didn't exist, that soul mates were ridiculous? Somewhere along the way, she had lost the part of herself that she liked best. The part that was directly linked to Ron Weasley.
"Oh god. What have I done?" she groaned, hitting her head back against the wall. "Oh, great, and now I'm talking to myself. That's normal. Everyone talks to themselves sometimes, right? Shit, I don't know. I'm so bloody confused, and I'm talking like Ron now, aren't I? What am I doing? Why am I still talking to myself? Bloody bastard is driving me round the bend, that's what's happening here! And that's all that's going to be left, anyways, when I'm ninety years old and all alone- my cats and myself. Shit."
It was the image that did it. The image of herself sitting on the floor talking to herself surrounded by fifty ginger cats. It caused her to spring up as though she had been sat on a stove for the past merlin-knew-how-many-hours and had just realized how hot it was. She stormed towards the door, she threw it open...
...And almost came in direct contact with a swinging fist. With a scream, Hermione ducked, pulling her wand out of her pocket and pointing it towards the front door. She just saw a flash of red hair before the words spilled from her lips, and she was able to trail off mid-spell.
"Fuck," Ron said hoarsely. "Hermione, are you okay? Did I hit you?"
"No," she said crossly. "Were you trying to?"
"NO!" Ron shouted quickly. "No, I was trying to knock, but you threw the door open, and-"
It suddenly registered with her how out of sorts he looked. Faded denims, wrinkled t-shirt, hair still mussed up quite well.
"How long have you actually been trying to knock?" she asked, cutting him off.
Ron flushed, running a hand through his hair and looking at the ground.
"A... a while."
For a second, they just stared at each other. Then both of them looked at the floor, blushing. Hermione thought that she couldn't remember the last time she blushed. She used to blush constantly, but as she got older, as she became scotch on the rocks with a twist Hermione, she had lost that part of herself, too.
Maybe breaking up with Ron had been her coming-of-age moment, her loss of innocence. Actually, not maybe. Definitely.
"D-do you want to come in?"
"Yes. No! No, can we stay out here?"
"Sure," she said, a little confused, and she pulled the door shut behind her as she moved towards him. "So... why are you-?"
"It's just... it's just... I wasn't that drunk."
"And even if I hadn't been drunk, I still would have had sex with you."
"Basically, I've been fantasizing about shagging you senseless since the day after we broke up. Oh, fuck, that came out wrong."
"What I'm trying to say is... Hermione, I never got over you. Can you believe that? Five years of separation. Dozens of girls- none of which I actually felt any connection to. And each and every one was just so I could imagine I was with you again. Just you. Do you know what that's like? To pine after someone like that? We said we were best friends again, and that's great and all, but I want... I want what we used to have. I love your sense of humor. And I love the way you let me cut you off when you're talking about your boring day at work and you don't even mind. And I love the way you always come to me after nightmares. And I love the emotional and physical connection that we used to have- still have, actually- that I have never been able to forge with anybody else. So I'm going to do something that I've never really done before. I'm here to fight for you, to beg for you, to basically do whatever I need to do to get you to take me back. Because I tried to shake you, but I just couldn't. I know you don't believe in soul mates anymore, but I still do. And if you don't tell me that you that you love me too, I'm probably going to end up getting a shitload of cats and dying all by myself, because it never works with anybody else the way it does with you. Shit, I just... I love you. I really love you. Just you. So tell me you love me."
She was silent, staring up at him, her eyes reflecting the moon that was behind his shoulder. A thousand conflicting emotions spread through her, and she found her heart speeding up to a rate that made the pounding in her brain render thinking to be an impossibility.
"Do you really still like sloppy morning kisses?"
"Do you still like them? Because we have changed so much in these past five years. And that's the Ron I want. That's what I want. I want the sloppy morning kisses, the goodnight kisses, the 'hello, how are you' kisses, the 'quick, someone's coming' kisses, the 'wow, it's been a while' kisses, the 'I missed you' kisses, the 'I love you more than I can possibly say' kisses, the 'words just became totally superfluous' kisses. I want a lifetime of that. And if you can tell me that you're going to give me an eternity of sloppy morning kisses, I surrender. I'm going to give up pretending that I don't care about you and let myself be vulnerable with you again. But I don't want to go back to a broken Ron who I keep having those stupid little fights with and who won't try to get me back after them. So, you just have to tell me if you still like those sloppy morning kisses, and if you can give me that small little thing, you can have me."
"That's it? Sloppy morning kisses are the deciding factor here?"
"Ron, I know you've changed. I know you've grown up. But what I want to ensure is that you haven't changed and grown up so much that we won't work as well as we did before. And when you kissed me like that this morning, that was the first time in a long time that I realized how much I missed you, how much I need you now. So if you're going to spend every morning waking up and giving me the same reminder-"
"Yes. Yes, I still like sloppy morning kisses. I like all those kisses, actually. So I'm gonna go ahead and give one to you now. Okay?"
"Okay," she murmured, and that was when her eyelids fluttered shut and she kissed Ron completely sober for the first time in five years. She wound her arms around his neck and he lifted her off of the ground, swinging her in a circle.
"So are we doing this?" he whispered.
"We're doing this," she laughed.
"No regrets. It was always you, anyways. Soul mates, remember?"
"Just you," he agreed, dazed.
Then he gave her the 'hello' kiss of a lifetime.