Chapter 8: Reality

The autumn night was dark, in that soft velvety way it got when winter was sniffing around the corners. In the Weasley house, all was quiet. Everyone had gone to sleep.

Well, that wasn't quite true.

Ron tip-toed out of his room, trying to close the door behind him with a minimal amount of squeaking from the hinges. He was barefoot, having deemed the need to not wake Harry as more important than the need to have warm feet.

As he headed down the stairs towards Ginny's room, he tried to keep his head empty. His head had felt pretty empty the first hour after Hermione had showed up. Then it had become increasingly full and loud, as if hundreds of tiny trolls were jumping around inside his brain. They had been thumping their clubs and screaming angry curses in his ears. Even though he had been sorely tempted to repeat some of those curses to Hermione, he had manage to keep from it. It had seemed better to say nothing.

And when the trolls finally disappeared, his head had gone blank. It still was in fact, even as he reached the bottom of the flight of stairs leading to Ginny's old room.

The door was open. Ron blinked, figured all bets were off anyway, and went on in.

There was no-one there.

For a second the trolls threatened to come back, before he realised that the window was wide open. The cold wind ruffled the curtains. Ginny used to have a rope ladder in here window, he knew. That's how she had been sneaking out to borrow Fred and George's brooms with no-one knowing.

The rope ladder was hanging in it's usual place, dangling all the way down to the grassy back yard. It was quite dark, so Ron couldn't see very far outside of the light coming from Ginny's room. What he could see was a flickering blue light coming from the farthest end of the garden.

Ron climbed up onto the window ledge, and then proceeded down the rope ladder on increasingly cold feet. Maybe those socks would have been worth it anyway.

When he reached the ground, he could clearly see the dark figure on the old bench by the chicken shed. It seemed she had found a jar in Ginny's room to transport the blue flames in. As inconsequential as it was, the familiar sight of blue flames in a jar made Ron's stomach drop. He hadn't seen those in a really long time. Suddenly, as if a couple of crucial minutes had just jumped past him without bothering to register in his brain, he found himself beside her on the bench.

The night was still dark and quiet as they sat there, but wasn't an uncomfortable silence. Not like that painful impossible silence from earlier in the day, when they had stood facing each other at either side of the gate and Ron hadn't known if he wanted to kiss her or scream at her. Both urges were still in him, but muted.

But then she turned and looked at him, and he found his voice.

"I don't know whether to ask why you left, or why you came back", he said, breaking the silence with a slightly hoarse voice.

She flinched a little but said nothing.

"I can't pretend I'm not angry, you know", Ron continued.

Was this really what he wanted to say? He felt like one of those people on the tee-vee Dean was always going on about, talking from a script of written lines. He sighed at himself.

Hermione stirred beside him on the bench, making a small indistinguishable sound.

"I know", she said.

And there it was. Her voice.

Not the voice she used when his mother asked her how she was feeling. Or when Harry asked about her parents' return from Australia, or even when she thanked his mother for the cocoa, the blanket, the room..

It was her real voice.

The one Ron heard in his dreams every night, the one he had last heard in that amazing moment in the room of requirement when she… Before everything had gone wrong.

And suddenly they were kissing, his lips were on hers and his arm around her waist.

And even though he could feel the salty wetness of her tears on his cheeks and his feet felt like they were about to freeze solid in the october night, he knew.

She wasn't gone. She wasn't lost, and she wasn't imagination. The two of them were, and always been what they were now.

Burning painful gorgeous reality.