It starts on a cold winter night, tears still glistening on your face. It's not as though you weren't expecting it. But everything else, all knowledge and logic and brilliance, seems to have gone out the window tonight. Those things vanished in the face of insults and dances and tears and laughter and a million other emotions that seem like they're fromtwo separate worlds, separate places, separate nights. It's strange for you to be here, right here, now that you've already experienced that other moment.

Crying on the stairs.

In front of everybody.

Ron's voice echoing up the stairs and into the background about how you're scary and overreacting and crazy and he doesn't understand you.

So it's easy to understand why you're a little confused as to how you got right here.

Outside.

Pressed against the stone wall.

Viktor's breath coming out in cold spurts as he whispers something about how he wants to kiss you.

But, as said before, you were expecting this. A kiss. A seventeen year old boy doesn't just invite a sixteen year old girl to go to a ball and then not kiss her, right? You're not stupid. You've read books, watched some films, you know how it goes- they have to be right, to an extent. Which begs the question… why are you here, right now? Why are you allowing yourself to live this moment? Why did you say yes when he asked, knowing that it would bring the inevitability of this moment. This could easily be any other girl in the entire school, some beautiful veela or Quidditch fangirl. Someone who is not wishing that Viktor Krum is somebody else. Someone who does not desperately fancy Ron Weasley.

Your thoughts are a messy jumble as he leans closer to you, and all you're doing is trying to decide whether you should allow him to kiss you or save your first kiss for the boy that you actually like. After all, first kisses are supposed to be special, are they not? First kisses are supposed to be with someone special. You don't think Ron's kissed anybody. Has he? Maybe he has. And if he has, it's not like he's waited for you. So why should you wait for him?

Why wait? Why wait to grow up, to learn new things? Kissing is just another experience that everybody has in her life. Why shirk away from it because of the stereotypical, cliché demands of society's definition of romance? You've never cared about what society wants before, not really. Why care now? Why fall into the traps set by films and books and seventh years in the girls' dorm talking about how they're going to move in with their boyfriends and live a perfect, happy life because she's with him.

There are no guarantees. That shouldn't be so appealing. At seventeen years old, being in love like that can really only lead to heartache, so why bother to even consider it? Why bother to romanticize life? Because, logically, your heart is going to smash five thousand times, just like it did earlier today when you were sitting on the stone steps of Hogwarts sobbing because the boy you've fancied for a year still, still, still hasn't pulled his head out of his arse and realized that he should fancy you in return. That he's so good for you, and you're good for him. And there's nothing romantic about this feeling.

So you close your eyes. You take a breath. And you allow a pair of foreign lips to tentatively touch your own. It's not so bad at first. You're too busy figuring out this foreign language to actually think about how it feels to kiss someone, so when he pulls back a few seconds later you can't actually recall how it is to be kissed. You just take a breath and allow him to kiss you once more, this time with a bit more enthusiasm. Still, all you can think about is Ron. How this sort of feels like a backwards sort of revenge on him. How this is supposed to be him. How this would be so different if it was him. You imagine that he'd do something blundery the first time he kisses you, like missing your lips or something to that effect. And you'd both pull back and giggle and laugh and then, magnetically, come back together. You'll always come back together. That's when it's perfect.

Viktor pulls back and smiles at you, one of the first smiles you've ever seen on his face. Even when he's happy he seems surly, and a tiny little part of you wonders what is wrong with him and whether or not you could figure out how to fix it.

"Er… thank you," you say, and for some odd reason you feel shy, more you've ever been in your life. Maybe because you've shared something with him that you've never shared with anybody else. Maybe because right now you're so painfully self-aware, so conscious of every breath, every step, every movement.

"May I valk you to your dorm?" Viktor asks quietly, and you smile and blush a little bit, because in spite of the fact that you are totally void of any feelings for him, he was your first kiss, and that has to count for something.

"That would be lovely," you say genially.

Of course, the two of you don't talk. He clasps your hand in his, and it's big and rough just like you always thought Ron's might be, but it definitely isn't Ron's. The trip gives you a chance, anyways, to consider exactly how you feel right now. Different? No, not really. Quite the same, as a matter of fact. You'd thought that kissing was supposed to be some sort of monument in one's life, but it doesn't really seem to be anything to write home about. It doesn't even seem like that kiss counted.

And if this is all that kissing is, you're not really sure you care for it too much.

You tell Ginny about it a few days later, when she's all curled up on your bed and gazing at you with eyes that can only be considered doleful. You're putting away your clothes and she's staring at you like she knows you've snogged someone, which seems kind of ridiculous because it's not as though you've walked around shouting it to the world. You weren't even going to tell anyone, not even your mum, which is strange because you tend to tell your mum everything. But there's Ginny, who is such a wonderful friend, who is the only girl you can really get along with, and who is the only girl you'd actually want to be girly with. It's under her expectant gaze that you shrug and admit it, admittedly not expecting the squeal of delight that she released upon having her suspicions confirmed.

Another thing you weren't expecting was the next step in the process of being girls, the beg for details.

"Details!" she begs. "Give me details!"

Seriously, details? Does she really need to know the exact information of how long the kiss was, and what his lips felt like, and what Viktor said to you before and after, and what you said to him? Yes. Apparently she does. But you try not to hold it against her, because Ginny is your only girl friend and you think that life might become a little intolerable if all you have every day his stupid boys who are completely clueless about absolutely everything in the entire world. In some ways, Ginny is smarter than Harry and Ron put together.

Besides, you've seen those knowing looks and the gleams in her eyes whenever you're around Ron, or when you say his name, or when he says your name. You have a feeling that an angry Ginny is a lethal Ginny. You're not going to go there.

In any case, it actually feels good to be able to talk to her like that. To have a friend who is a girl, to have a person who you can giggle with. True, you don't want to be giggling all the time. But there are those moments, those random moments thrown into your day, that you just simply need to be a teenage girl. Not Harry's mum. Not the Brightest Witch of Her Age. Just a girl. Ginny can give that to you, and in that, she becomes invaluable.

You hadn't known exactly how much you needed Ginny until the two of you got older, but every year your bond seems to increase. She's become someone that you always turn to for advice on everything that you cannot, in spite of your brilliance, understand- clothes and makeup and boys. She's the one you turn to when your feelings for Ron finally need confessing. If you hadn't been able to tell her, you're pretty sure you would have imploded at some point. And while her advice is born from listening to her mum and reading magazines, there's one blind spot she does have- Harry. You happen to be an expert on Harry, having raised him and all that. You're happy to help her in return for all the girl time she's given you.

Based upon your recommendation, Ginny goes out with other boys. She has her first date, her first boyfriend, her first kiss.

In the years to come, you'll always remember Ginny's first kiss to be one of the most confusing days of your adolescence, which, honestly, is saying something. You can picture the scene clearly because you spent so much of your time recalling it and trying to figure out some logical equation as to how Ginny's first kiss was so different from yours. She's hung up on a boy too, isn't she? She's hung up on Harry just like you're hung up on Ron. How in the world could her first kissing experience be so different from yours? You don't really remember coming back from that scratchy stone wall with flushed cheeks and a beam on your face and the desperate urge to leap about and scream into pillows and smile incessantly. But that's what Ginny does. And when she's done, she spills her guts about how much she loves kissing and how amazing it is and how it's so much fun and how she can't believe you didn't tell her how good it was before because if she had known she probably would have done it sooner. You stare at her like she has two heads, and they're both so up in the clouds that she doesn't even notice.

From then on, you're very conscious of how the rest of the female population looks at kissing. They all seem to love it. Kissing, they say, is better than makeup. Better than Quidditch. Touching a guy is even better than looking at him. Fireworks are the best feeling any girl can have, bar none. Lips? They're amazing. Tongues? They're the best part.

Seriously. Tongues. These girls are parading around talking about tongues and trading good make out songs. When Hermione looks back on her first kiss, she physically shudders at the idea of having Viktor's tongue in her mouth. It's a tongue. What could possibly be appealing about having somebody's tongue forced into your mouth?

She actually goes as far as to ask Ginny one day, so perplexed that she can't keep it to herself anymore. Ginny just laughs lightly and flips her hair knowingly and says,

"You'll see."

Hermione can't stand how snide she is. She hates not knowing, not understanding. There's nothing like snogging to make her feel like she knows absolutely nothing about life. Useless. Stupid. Like she hasn't lived. Which is ridiculous, because she spends every single year having adventures with two wonderful teenage boys that are her best friends. They don't seem to feel the need to talk about snogging while they're off fighting Voldemort. Or ever. At least, not around her. Maybe neither of them has snogged. Maybe Ron hasn't snogged. Maybe he's just as perplexed as you are. You don't understand why everyone likes snogging so much, but you're pretty sure that if you have to have anybody's tongue shoved down your throat (you don't bother to ask about gag reflexes, because while you're certain that it's impossible to literally have someone's tongue down your throat, you're also not entirely sure what the alternative is) it had better be Ron's tongue.

You and he can figure it out together.

You like that idea. The idea of learning new things with him. Discovery. Becoming different people together- growing together. You picture it like two vines starting separately and then intertwining, never to be pulled apart. You know you're attracted to Ron, knows that there's something physical there as well as mental, but on that level you're not entirely sure what you want from him… how far your daydreams should go… what would be good with him and what is overwhelming. You know you're supposed to be like the other girls, all giggly and hormonal, and ready for anything. And, sure, you have your moments- like when Ron stretches in class and a thin strip of flawless skin appears above his trousers and below his hemline. But at the same time there's a part of you that's thankful Ron doesn't fancy you. You don't think you're ready to succumb to him the way these girls succumb to their boyfriends. While it's still desperately painful to be in an unrequited love situation, it's an entirely different thing to have snogged a boy and then sit there waiting for him, either waiting for him to call or waiting for him to realize he wants something else. To Hermione, dating seems like perpetual waiting.

Besides, snogging is a vulnerable thing, isn't it? You have a feeling it would be. And you're not sure if you're really ready to expose yourself to someone like that. Allow them the chance to laugh at you. Tease you for not being good at something, just in case you really are an awful kisser. Becoming emotionally attached to someone enough that every little thing you do and think revolves around him in some way. Experience something as personal as having his tongue in your mouth. It's probably only because of the way snogging surrounds you that you become frightened of it, but you do, eventually. It seems to be such a big deal to you, yet these girls are treating it as such a simple, mindless thing. Like you can fancy yourself in love one day and then move onto a boy the next.

If you thought snogging was flummoxing, this has to be the most bamboozling thing of all. Because you can't imagine being able to fall out of love with Ron that easily. If these girls have found true love (and they say they have every single time), it should not be that easy to lose it. If it were easy, it wouldn't be painful. If it were as simple as having a good cry, eating some ice cream, and meeting a new boy, you would have moved on ages ago. But you haven't. You've stuck by the same boy since second year, and this only further proves to you that you are actually in love with Ron.

A conviction that strengthens in you when you see him snogging Lavender Brown.

To be honest, you're not really sure what it says about your character. How you can be so emotionally attached to someone that when you see him snogging another girl you actually just love him more, and that, in turn, makes it hurt more. He may have never been yours, but now he's someone else's, and that causes an emotional pain far deeper than anything you've ever experienced in your seventeen years. Before, it never really felt like you'd lost him. It always felt like there was a little bit of hope that clung to that distress, lessening the enormity of the anguished feeling that you'd never be together. And the hope was the only thing that actually made it tolerable. Now it's gone, and it just leaves a deeper scar. To further rub salt into the wound, Lavender decides to spend at least half of her time bragging about her latest conquest, totally and irreparably smashing the dream of growing and learning with Ron. He's chosen to grow and learn with Lavender instead. He's taken his first kiss away from you, just like yours was taken from him.

Not like he wanted it in the first place, anyways.

Despite the fact that you are inherently flawed (all humans are, and, besides, you're too self-deprecating not to admit it to yourself, even if you put up a haughty façade most of the time), you have never actually wanted to change yourself so longingly as you do while Ron is dating Lavender. You're so ashamed of your own fear of letting go, of throwing caution to the wind, and you're a little confused because you are not just like the other teenage girls. Which is why, during those dark, lonely winter months, you can't help but wish that you are a curvy blond who has absolutely no fear of snogging. You're embarrassed by it, and you're also embarrassed by the way you can't even hold yourself together that well during that time. There's crying and anger and heartache and plethora of other things that you wish you had avoided.

In the end, you can conquer it. You know your shortcomings and you know that you're going to have to grow in order to be able to change them. Shortcomings, however, do not include not being blond and curvy. You are pale and skinny and have bushy brown hair and that is a fact.

After Ron and Lavender break up, though, you once again stop caring about it.

To be very truthful, it is difficult to think about snogging while you're on a horcrux hunt. After all, you're fighting for your life, for the lives of your loved ones, and for the lives of people that you don't even know. Snogging is sort of second tier to all of those things. Still, you and Ron have always specialized in these oddly charged moments during which you think maybe, maybe he wants to be with you just as much as you want to be with him. But you've never been able to tell whether he feels the same or if you're just crazy. And sure, as time goes on it has become a little clearer. But you were so close to finally believing it when Lavender came into the picture, and look what happened then? You don't want to make that mistake, just in case. That is a life changing mistake. That is a friendship wrecking mistake.

It's not like you haven't been missing the little things. The increase in complements. The increase in tenderness. The looks that he's been giving you more and more often every day. Which is why it's not even that surprising that it sort of builds up. Really, it does. It starts off as a small hum deep within your heart, and then every time he looks at you the orchestra gets a tiny bit louder, and after he leaves it dims, and after he comes back it soars, and after you're tortured it make a huge leap and so by the time he's saying that you should all do something about the House Elves that are still in the kitchen it's reached a climax, an inferno, a roaring song in your ears.

And you know, right then, that the only way to turn the sound back down to a din is to finally, finally kiss him. So you do. You're not thinking about it, so you don't really have time to be nervous. It's not something you consciously decide to do. You just kiss him.

It's been building for seven years. You've been waiting for what feels like a century. You've hoped, you've dreamed, you've dropped out of conversations and missed things in class. All for this little moment. And the horrible thing is, when you pull back, you can't even remember what it's like to kiss him.

You realize it in a horrified manner a few minutes later, when you're scared and running and you try to close your eyes and remember, just for a moment, what it was like to have Ron's lips on your lips. And you can't. Because you were so busy thinking about the fact that you were snogging him that you hadn't even been feeling the snog.

You feel like a prat, as Ron would say. An overthinking prat who honestly should be slapped across the face because she is allowed to want something since she was thirteen years old and when she finally gets it she isn't even good enough to remember it. If you had died that day, you probably would have murdered yourself once you were already in heaven just to punish yourself for your sheer stupidity. Luckily, neither of you perish in the battle.

Which is how you get to the couch in the Gryffindor common room, all comfortable and scarlet colored. There's a soft fire in the fireplace to keep you warm, because for some reason you feel chilly even though it's May. And neither of you can be separated, somehow needing each other more than ever in spite of the fact that all the real danger is gone. But, as evidenced by the common room that is practically in pieces around you, the repairs are just beginning.

Starting with this, right here.

The kiss. The real kiss. Not an in-the-moment heat-of-the-battle kiss, one that you won't even remember later. No. This is going to be an actual kiss, probably longer than the first one, probably slower and sweeter and still totally passionate because you know. There is no question now that Ron wants you. There is no question now that you want him. And in spite of the fact that you've wanted this for years, you've also been dreading it for just as long. Being vulnerable with your feelings. Exposing yourself emotionally. Letting a person have a memory of you in that manner, therefore having power over you. More power to embarrass you. More power to hurt you. For years you've been asking yourself if you're ready, for years you've been longing for him to just kiss you while simultaneously dreading it, and now-

He lurches forward suddenly, taking you by surprise. It's so fast, and he's leaning so close, and… he misses. He misses. His lips land on half your lips and half your cheek, causing him to pull back a bright red color, spluttering. A surge of disappointment overtakes you, followed by a stream of love that suddenly circulates through your body, making you feel warm all over.

This is Ron. Your Ron. Ron Weasley. The boy who you've grown up with. The boy who came back. And of course you can be vulnerable with him. Of course you can give him the right to see you weak. If anybody in the world has ever deserved it, he does.

"Shite, Hermione, I am so sorry, I don't even-"

"I love you," you say, cutting him off quickly. "I'm in love with you, Ron."

"I love you too," he says, expression on his face so shocked that if you hadn't known it to be true you may have thought an alien had taken over his body and said the phrase for him. "You love me?" (you nod). "You really love me? Even though I tried to kiss you and I missed and everything I own is second hand and I'm not smart like you or a hero like Harry or-"

"Shut up," you advise him, and then you place both hands on his cheeks, lean forward, and kiss him.

It's beautiful. It's amazing. It's exceptional. Any residual fear that was left in your body about kissing and relationships and not being perfect enough slide out the window as you move your lips over his.

Because you finally feel it.

You feel the fireworks.