Continuing Tales


A Harry Potter Story
by MsBinns

Part 10 of 45

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He felt his brain go fuzzy like it was full of Nargles or Wrackspurts or whatever it was Luna said made your brain turn to mush. This was different from the last time they had kissed. He wasn't worried about how it would happen or whether or not she still wanted to or whether or not he would be rubbish. The looks they had exchanged this morning and last night at dinner indicated they were both eager to pick up where yesterday's innocent kisses had left off.

He couldn't imagine a time when kissing Hermione would just be natural, an everyday occurrence they wouldn't have to sneak around to do. He still didn't believe any of it. He was kissing Hermione. He was kissing Hermione alone in his bedroom. She'd come up to his room deliberately for this purpose. He was kissing Hermione. That was all his brain could truly process. Her lips. His lips. Kissing.

It was a different kind of kissing, too. Different from yesterday in his bedroom, different from their brief but passionate embrace in the Room of Requirement, different from any snog he'd ever had with Lavender. There was a mixture of gentleness and intensity to the kiss that he felt when he ran his fingers almost reverently through her hair. This was so much more than just a kiss. This was the anger that had bubbled up inside of him during the Yule Ball, the jealousy he hadn't even known was jealousy while watching her dance with somebody else when he was fourteen. This was the confusion those summer nights at Grimmauld Place when he finally began realising his best friend was a girl and that he found her attractive. This was the beat his heart skipped when she'd kissed him on the cheek before his first Quidditch match. This was the frustration he felt when she ignored his compliments time and time again, the feelings he'd never known what to make of for years. He could kiss her now, though. He could kiss her the way he'd dreamt about for years.

"Hang on."

She dragged her lips from his and squirmed away. He frowned at the withdrawal, but then realised that she was merely trying to free her hands, which had gotten trapped between their chests.

"Sorry," he apologised with a grin, though he was quite sure they were probably both to blame for coming together so eagerly they'd sandwiched her arms between their bodies. She gave no verbal assurance in reply, but simply lifted her newly freed hands up to his face.

"What?" he laughed, noting her flushed cheeks and unusual expression. He couldn't quite make out what it meant. She looked a bit like she did before she opened their book lists and schedule for a new term at Hogwarts.


Her cheeks were a distinctly rosy color. They'd been that color since they'd first come together.

"Is this all right?" he inquired cautiously.

Her fingers simply brushed his ginger hair back from the sides of his face in reply. The intimacy of the action surprised him and he was pleased she didn't look embarrassed by it. He closed his eyes at the feel of her hands on his cheeks, the sheer knowledge that her face was mere inches from him, and before he could open his eyes again she was kissing him with a renewed vigor and enthusiasm.

All he had wanted since yesterday was to steal away upstairs like this and it felt ridiculous that this was their first chance to be alone again. He felt an odd peace and serenity up here with her, which felt odd considering the circumstances. He wanted to scream at his mum for being a bloody hypocrite and trying to forbid him to go to Australia with her. When she and dad had been his age they had practically been hitched with a baby on the way. Meanwhile, he and Hermione were still reveling in the joys of a private kiss and the ability to do things like push his hair behind his ear without eight sets of prying eyes on them.

He felt her tongue cautiously brush against his lips, mimicking the way he had just followed the line of her lower lip and tried to coax her into opening her mouth, but then she withdrew suddenly, her cheeks even pinker than before.


"About what?" he inquired breathlessly.

"Just…" She couldn't get out more than that one syllable and looked as embarrassed as he could ever remember seeing her.

"That was all right." He was quite confident that the assurance was the understatement of the century. He wondered if Hermione knew there was little she could do to him that would ever NOT be all right.

"I read in France they call it baiser amoureux?" she spoke suddenly, pushing a loose strand of hair behind her ear.

"Call what?"

"You know." She bowed her head in embarrassment, a clear indication that she was referring to the act with her tongue she had just unsuccessfully tried to initiate. "It means 'lovers kiss'."

Ron felt a strange pit in his stomach at the word and all thoughts about whatever he wanted to do to Hermione quickly vanished. A love kiss. Is that what her hesitation was about? Did she want him to say that to her? He had said it once before, of course, but that had been more of an exaggerated thank you than anything else. He'd told Kreacher he loved him after he'd made lamb chops one night at Grimmauld Place. Besides, she'd been so nonchalant when he'd said it to her last year and they'd never made any mention of it. He wondered if she wanted him to say it now though. He felt suddenly uncomfortable at the expectation and his palms began to sweat. Sure, he loved Hermione. He loved Harry and George and his mum too. Loving Hermione, loving her the way he knew she probably wanted him to say, was different though. That was for adults. People like Bill and Fleur and his mum and dad.

"Can I bay-zay am-a-roo you?" He sputtered then, choosing to ignore the significance of the word she'd just said and hopeful that they could just get back to the snogging.

"Baiser amoureux," she corrected his horrible pronunciation with a laugh.

"Yeah, that." Ron nudged closer to her, grateful that she didn't seem to be fixating on the other word that made him so uncomfortable. "Can I?"

Hermione appeared unsure of how to respond to the forward request and she pushed a bit of hair out of her face to delay saying anything. Ron gently brought her fidgeting hand down to her lap, familiar with her nervous habits after seven years as her best friend. He wanted to tell her it was okay to be nervous, that he was a little nervous too, that he was still convinced he'd wake up any moment and find this part of his life was all just one of the twins' patented Daydream Charms he'd experienced three days ago. But all he could do was make silly jokes and edge closer to her. When she remained silent and still didn't answer his question, he raised his hand to her face. She might have thought he was just being goofy, but he had no intention of doing anything Hermione didn't want, even something so simple as this, without asking first. He would not screw this up.

Thus far all they'd really done was sit up with their backs to his headboard exchanging enthusiastic, but thus far closed-mouth kisses. In an odd way, he had enjoyed it simply because it was so different from anything he'd ever done with Lavender. When he and Lavender had first embraced, he'd been so eager that he thrust his tongue right into her mouth without so much as a second thought to what she might prefer or be comfortable with. She'd hardly seemed to mind and so they had never kissed any other way. It had always been dueling tongues and wet sloppy kisses. But with Hermione it was different. He had no idea a plain old kiss could be so pleasurable. There was something arousing about feeling Hermione Granger's lips settle against his in such a familiar way. Still, he was eager to do more than simply kiss her. He wanted to taste Hermione, really taste her. So he licked his lips then and called up a bit of Gryffindor courage.

"Do you want to lie down?" He was thoroughly surprised his voice came out sounding as calm as it did. The question seemed to ring about the room and the more time that passed without a response the more he felt like a prat. He should have just been happy kissing her. Why did he have to go and muck everything up?

"Okay." He hoped the tentative nature of her voice, when it finally sounded, belied her actual enthusiasm.

Ron sucked in a deep breath and attempted to steady his breathing as he watched her scoot down the bed until her head was even with his pillow. Hermione Granger was lying down on his bed. How many of his fifth year fantasies had started exactly this way? Ron felt his heart rate quicken and his whole body grow suddenly warm as he slowly stretched out alongside her, sliding his hips down the bed until his feet were practically hanging over the edge. He turned to look at her then as they lay side by side, their faces mere inches apart, and they both let out a nervous giggle.

"What if your mother comes in?" She looked toward the closed door. Thus far every wary glance his mum had given the two had merely been speculative. He knew should she catch them like this it would certainly raise her level of distrust. Ron could only picture her swinging the door wide open and hollering so loudly at the sight of them that everyone in the house would know what they were up to.

"Right." He reached across her body to grab Pettigrew's wand from the small table beside his bed. "Colloportus!" he whispered and gave his wand a flourish. The already closed door now sealed itself with a faint glimmer. Hermione looked impressed at the effortless display of magic.

"She'll know that's more than just a door lock." Ron knew she was well aware he had just made it impossible to enter the room from outside without using magic.

Ron plopped the wand back on the table and replied with a careless shrug. He truthfully didn't care if his great Aunt Muriel, who was rumored to be arriving in the next few days, walked in at this point.

"Well, I was about to bay-zay whatever you." His mouth hovered over hers and he grinned playfully.

"You're never going to let go of that are you?"

"Only you would bring up a language lesson in the middle of a snog." He just shook his head and laughed as he looked over to Hermione. "You're barking."

"You love it," Hermione teased. The second mention of the word that afternoon wasn't lost on Ron. This was different though. He wasn't frightened to admit that there were an innumerable amount of things he loved about Hermione. He loved that she tried to give him a language lesson in the middle of a snog, he loved that she was too stubborn to admit that she wanted to be alone with him, he loved that she was brave enough to leave his family to come and see him. He loved how that morning at breakfast she'd known when he said two sugars with his tea he actually meant three. There were plenty of things he loved about her, but saying he loved her…that was different.

"I do." He lowered his head and placed a small kiss on her neck just below her earlobe.

It marked the first time either one of them had kissed the other somewhere other than the mouth or the cheek. He looked up at her to gauge her reaction, then lowered his head and dropped another soft kiss on her neck. Her eyes closed and he smiled to himself as he watched the now familiar Hermione reflex. He kissed her and her eyes closed. Ron could not suppress the grin that formed on his face.

He knew the more time they spent alone in his room the more it gave his mother to be suspicious about. He knew the more suspicious she was, the more likely she was to put up a fuss about his leaving for Australia. But he couldn't pull himself away from Hermione and she seemed reluctant to pull away from him.

She was a quick learner. Ron knew he shouldn't be surprised. She was brilliant at everything else so it went without saying that she'd quickly find the rhythm and figure out this complicated dance. She was soon exploring his mouth and running her hands through his unkempt hair with a bit more recklessness and freedom. It was not his mother or father, nor Harry or Ginny, but Crookshanks who finally interrupted their activities on the bed. Ron opened his eyes briefly to readjust his position only to see the cat's great squashed face was staring up at him from the bedside table. It surprised him so much he jumped up from the bed and nearly bumped his head on the low ceiling.

"Fucking hell!" Ron exclaimed. The cat's yellow eyes narrowed on him. "Your cat's staring at me!"

"I highly doubt Crookshanks is staring," Hermione sighed. "I think he's just curious."

"Well, make him be curious about something else," he complained. "It's weird."

"It's a cat, Ron."

"I'm telling you, he gave me the eye on the way out the door yesterday and now he's staring at me!" Ron grumbled.

"Maybe we should go outside anyway." Hermione chewed her lip thoughtfully and propped herself up on her elbows. Ron shrugged.

"Why? Everybody else is probably doing the same thing we are."

"Somehow I doubt that." Hermione gave Ron a look as if to remind him of what exactly they'd just been doing.

"I mean they're probably up in their rooms is all." He laughed. "Except Harry and Ginny, I suppose. Harry said mum won't let them be alone."

"Yes, Ginny's quite put out about it," Hermione commented. "She says it's not fair that she gets treated like a baby still after everything that's happened."

"Well, she is their only daughter. I reckon she'll have to be married before mum and dad ever let them alone. Can't say I blame them, really."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, just that Harry did a number on her. Walking away like he did at the end of last year. You weren't here, you didn't see how she took it."

"She wrote me." Hermione puffed her chest out defensively.

"Well, she may have written one thing, but I saw her every bleeding day."

"Your sister doesn't strike me as the kind to mope."

"I'm just saying she was upset. Mum and dad probably haven't forgotten is all," Ron explained with a shrug.

"Still, it seems a bit like the staircases at Hogwarts, doesn't it? You're allowed to bring me up here, but Ginny's stuck playing cards downstairs with Harry and Percy?"

"Well, I wouldn't say mum really likes the thought of you up here either." Ron grinned mischievously, but the comment only made her sit upright.

"Right. We should go downstairs." She sounded flustered and Ron cursed himself for being so stupid as to mention his mum.

"I was only joking." He tugged on her arm as she made to exit the bed. "Stay."

"I really shouldn't have come up here," Hermione suddenly looked embarrassed, like it had only just dawned upon her that she'd left his family, chased him up the stairs and disappeared behind the door for the last hour.

"I'm glad you did," he spoke honestly. He stroked her arm softly with his thumb, silently pleading with her to stay. "I've been wanting to kiss you like that for…" He licked his lips and swallowed loudly, his throat feeling suddenly dry. For what? Weeks? Months? Years? "For a while." His blue eyes held hers and, for a moment, Ron thought she was going to confess the same thing. She didn't say a word, but simply lowered herself back onto the bed so she could lie flat on her back beside him.

"Was it all right?" The sharp inquiry surprised him.

"Was what all right?" Ron turned his head to look to her, but she was staring up at the ceiling.

"You know…" She screwed up her face, but still would not look at him.

"What?" He laughed at her vague elusiveness.

"The kissing," she whispered as if somebody five floors below would hear them.

"Was kissing you all right?" Ron laughed again at the ridiculous question, but she did not join in his laughter. She looked much too distressed.

"Was my kissing all right?"

"Better than all right!" he sputtered in amusement. He was used to seeing her so confident and better than him at everything. He had never thought about the fact that perhaps he was more experienced than her in this area. Truthfully, he found her hesitation and nervousness endearing.

"Yes, but…are you sure? I mean really?"

"I'm quite confident, yes." Ron's carefree laughter didn't seem to put her at ease at all.

"Stop laughing!"

"I can laugh when you're being ridiculous," he maintained.

"Well, I don't really know what I'm doing!" She sounded thoroughly exasperated and rather cross with him.

"You mean, you haven't read any books about this?" he teased.

"You're making fun of me." Hermione glared at him and Ron had a difficult time suppressing the smile that threatened.

"Maybe a little."

"I was awful wasn't I?" Hermione sighed. "I knew it."

"Hermione, you couldn't be awful at anything if you tried," Ron assured, but she simply gave him a disbelieving look. "Okay, chess. You're pretty awful at chess."

"Hey, I've beaten you before!"

"Yeah, but I think I let you win both those times," She rolled her eyes at the remark. "And you couldn't get your broom up our first flying lesson," he reminded her, "so you're rubbish at flying too."

"That was when I was eleven!" She seemed rather indignant now and Ron was quite pleased at how he'd managed to distract her from her earlier concern.

"And we all know you don't have a career in Divination," he continued with a joking smile and this time he was pleased to see her finally laugh as well. "So you are awful at some things." He grinned and rolled onto his side so he could face her now. "But not snogging." He reached out to touch the side of her face gently and kiss her once softly. "Definitely not snogging."

"I should go downstairs." She said the words, but Ron saw her bite her lip uncertainly.

"Stay," he whispered.

"I really shouldn't be here." She said the words, but made no effort to get up from the bed.

"I'm eighteen," he reminded her and moved a hand to her waist suggestively. "It's my room."

"It's your parents' house."

Ron could see it was a losing battle and he just sighed and relented. He was mildly amused at the fact that he could get Hermione to bend and flat out break the rules at Hogwarts, even break the law, but crossing his parents in the Weasley Household seemed to be going too far. Ron wondered if it had anything to do with having earned the cold shoulder of his mum once before, back when she thought Hermione had toyed with Harry's heart. Ron removed his hand from her waist and she immediately swung her legs over the edge of the bed and ran a hand through her now even more wild looking hair. He watched her smooth out the wrinkles in her clothes, like the evidence of what had just happened between them would somehow be obvious to anyone who noticed the crease in her blouse.

Ron had to pinch himself as he watched her from where he remained sprawled out on the bed. He could hardly believe that they had just lain on his bed and kissed and rubbed up against each other for the better part of an hour. There had been a fair share of giggles and awkward moments, but those had been fewer and fewer as time went on. There was a reluctant smile on her face that made Ron wonder whether she was thinking the same thing. He lay back onto the bed, unable to will his body from it and leave this room where so many of his daydreams were coming true. Up here his life was like a dream. Downstairs was the reality.

"You look quite pleased." He couldn't help himself from commenting on her tickled expression. The reluctant grin grew bigger and bigger on her face at his remark.

"I just…" She bit her lip and looked back down him with a shy smile. "I just can't believe how right it feels."

"How right what feels?" Ron inquired, though he knew full well what she was referring to.

"You know." Hermione rolled her eyes at his attempt to play dumb. He just grinned at her.

"I think I need to hear you say it," he teased, repeating the same phrase she had said to pry a confession out of him yesterday.

"But you know what I mean."

"But I want to hear you say it." Ron spoke more seriously now and he sat upright on the bed finally. Sure, they'd kissed twice before and held hands through the corridors at Hogwarts, but this afternoon had been different. Sometimes when they had broken into laughter in the middle of a kiss he had been afraid she would decide this was just wrong. He worried she might realise moving on from seven years of friendship was a gross mistake that would forever ruin what they had.

Seeming to sense his seriousness, she returned to the bed and sat down beside him. He was so tall she had to tilt her head up to look him in the eye. She looked as if she was tempted to take his hand, but she left them folded neatly in her lap. She wasn't fidgeting at all now. She looked quite composed and sure of herself.

"Being with you…" She paused a moment as if to choose her words carefully. Ron thought he felt his heart stop beating momentarily in his chest as he waited to hear her next words. "Being with you is like the most natural thing in the world." He could manage nothing in reply at the revelation that so matched his own feelings, so Hermione kept talking. "It feels like when I got my Hogwarts letter," she continued. "I got my letter and everything just made sense. Everything I'd ever done up until then, everything I couldn't explain for the longest time. It all just fit. And I knew - " She halted for a moment, her eyes dancing across the floor for a moment before returning to him. "I knew the best part of my life was ahead."

The words warmed him, almost like the way a mug of butterbeer did on a cold afternoon or the way a warm bath in the dead of winter felt. Even his toes tingled with the feeling that accompanied her confession. The best part of my life was ahead. He wanted to tell her she made him excited for the future, too, in a way he'd never felt, but he wasn't quite as eloquent as Hermione. He still didn't know what to say in situations like this.

"I never got my Hogwarts letter," he replied lamely instead. "Fred and George stole it before mum and dad could see and they tried to convince everyone in the family I hadn't been invited and my name wasn't in the book."

"That's cruel!" Hermione looked aghast, hardly seeming phased at his abrupt change in conversation.

"Yeah, I was a bit distraught. I believed them completely," he laughed at the memory. "Even when mum and dad got hold of the letter and showed me I was convinced it was a fake."

"Professor McGonagall delivered my letter." Hermione looked a bit sad as she spoke the words and though she said nothing further Ron knew it was because she was thinking of her parents.

"Did you do a lot of magic when you were little?" Ron got a funny feeling inside picturing Hermione as a small child.

"I relit all the candles on my birthday cake one year," Hermione laughed at the recollection. "It's the first magic I really remember doing. It was my fifth birthday, I think, and it was this great sponge cake with melted chocolate on top. The wind blew all the candles out, but somehow I relit them all."

"Did everyone panic then?" Ron could just picture a party full of five year olds running for the hills.

"I don't remember. I remember how good the cake was though!" she laughed.

"A girl after my own heart." He grinned affectionately at her.

"Do you remember the first magic you ever did?" She turned the tables on him.

Ron scratched his head as he sifted through his earliest magical memories.

"I dunno really. None of what I tried ever really worked. It was mostly just the twins trying to get me to do stupid stuff and it usually went wonky."

"But you could always do magic?"

"Not very well, but yeah," Ron shrugged. "I bet you could do loads of stuff." He couldn't help but think of Hermione as a child again and smile.

"I was really afraid to do things in front of my mum and dad before I got my letter," she confessed. "I was afraid if they saw – that if they knew what I could do…" Her eyes got the faraway look they had yesterday on the train. Though there was no glassy sheen to them, he could practically see the tears starting to form behind her eyes.

"I'll bet they were real proud," Ron spoke softly, finishing her sentence for her. The faraway look remained so he draped his arm around her gently and gave her a squeeze. "Hey," he called her back to him, "your parents are proud of you."

"Were," she spoke plainly. "They were proud of me."

"And they'll be proud of you again," he spoke solemnly. "Trust me."

"You don't know that."

"I know it'd take an idiot not to be," Ron replied without even thinking that he may very well be referring to her parents and his entire family as idiots. "What you did? Putting someone's well being in front of your own like that? That's not something a lot of people can do."

"You did," she blurted out suddenly. Ron saw her eyes rest just above his left eye. Though it had been inflicted almost a month ago, the mark from Bellatrix's blow after he'd implored her to take him instead was still visible. Her rings had dug deep into his flesh when she'd backhanded him, scraping a chunk away from his brow. The mark wasn't nearly as noticeable as the red scar on Hermione's throat, but it was a reminder every time Ron looked in the mirror of how he'd failed to protect her.

Aside from a brief mention of her quick thinking back at Shell Cottage, they'd never truly addressed any part of what had happened to her at the Malfoy's. Ron wasn't any more keen on reliving the memories now than he had been when Ginny brought it up. He got to his feet suddenly, eager to steer the conversation in another direction, even if it meant leaving his bedroom.

"We should go find Harry and unpack."

"Right," Hermione agreed. She pulled at the edge of her left shirt sleeve and got to her feet, seemingly as eager to move onto something else as he was. The conversation was a perfect example of how little they could actually talk about. His brother, her parents, the events at the Malfoys - the faintest mention of any of them caused them both to get funny. Ron wondered if they'd ever be able to talk about any of them again. The only time he was ever able to forget about any of it was when he was kissing Hermione.

He wanted to kiss her now. Not the way they had been on his bed for the last hour, just a brief brush of her lips simply because it was the most natural feeling in the world, she'd told him as much.

So he took hold of her waist before she could undo any of the enchantments on the door and pulled her to him. The kiss was slow and sweet, lacking the excitement of their previous embrace, but not the passion. He realized he needed one last kiss before returning to reality the same way he and Harry needed a hearty breakfast before a Quidditch match or a bit of Pepper-Up Potion before going in to take their O.W.L.S. He needed the lingering memory of Hermione's lips on his to hang over him for the remainder of the day. He needed the reminder that, just as she had said, no matter what might happen and what the day held, the best was still ahead of them.

The beaded bag looked so small and inconspicuous sitting in the middle of the floor of Ginny's room. They had put off unpacking it for days. Ron wasn't looking forward to going through its contents, but he knew Hermione was tired of wearing Ginny's clothes. He certainly had no complaints about her new wardrobe. Ginny's clothes were a nice change from the same clothes he had seen Hermione wear for the last year. Her clothes were also a bit too big in areas for Hermione too and she had to continually pull her tops up, which Ron enjoyed more than he'd ever admit.

Much like they had when he was scrubbing the windows, his eyes couldn't help but drift to the place where Hermione slept. He wasn't sure why the sight of her bed was so alluring, especially after a year of living in close quarters with her. She had made the camp bed up neatly, the corners folded neatly around the tiny mattress and the quilt perfectly smoothed with not a wrinkle on it. Ron recalled how she'd insisted on making up her sleeping bag every morning this year so that it looked neat and proper, even fussing at him and Harry to do the same. Their adventures out in the woods and the beaded bag already seemed like ancient history. Ron had difficulty looking at the bag and remembering just how often its contents had kept them all alive. He never wanted to smell Essence of Dittany or look at a vial of Polyjuice Potion again.

"You mean to tell me that little thing is the bag you were telling me about on the train?" Ginny asked skeptically from her bed as she looked to the bag that was small enough to be hidden in a sock. Hermione nodded her head, looking quite pleased at the complementary remark. She reached her arm in up to her elbow and pulled out An Appraisal of Magical Education in Europe and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts. She stacked the books on the bed, beside the growling Monster Book of Monsters and Hogwarts: A History, which Ron couldn't help but notice seemed to have been set aside as if in a class by itself.

"Did you bring enough books with you, then?" Ginny laughed incredulously

"Did you expect anything less from Hermione?" Ron remarked. He picked up Break With a Banshee and snorted. "I still can't believe you brought Lockhart's rubbish book. We ought to have used this for fuel that night none of us could keep the fire going." He recalled a particularly cold and miserable day in late November when the fire they had created with a simple Incendio spell kept getting snuffed out by the wind. The trio grew suddenly silent as they all seemed to recall that the night Ron mentioned had been the last one they'd spent together before he'd left them. He wondered if Harry had told Ginny about his departure.

"I suppose Bill might like this back." Harry reached in next and pulled out the tent they had borrowed from Bill and Fleur days ago. Had it really only been that long since they'd departed Shell Cottage? Ron felt like a lifetime had passed since they'd been preparing to break-in to Gringotts and continue to Hogwarts. Bill's tent had been nicer than Perkins' tent and smelled much less like his old Aunt Muriel's flat. Ron was sad they'd never even gotten a chance to use it.

"Well, I reckon we ought to take it, Hermione." He eyed the tent and glanced back up at her. "You know, for Australia."

"You mean you still intend to go?" Ginny asked with wide eyes. Ron couldn't help but detect a bit of jealousy behind them as well. He was reminded of his conversation with Hermione about how much his sister resented being treated like a child.

"Course I do."

"Mum was furious at you." Ron knew Ginny was referring to his abrupt exit from the lunch table that afternoon. He bowed his head uncomfortably. "You should have heard her after you left the table."

"It was quite dramatic," Harry teased. Though Ron blushed slightly, he was grateful for his friend's attempt at levity.

"I just don't see how they think they can stop me," he muttered.

"You're they're son." Ginny looked about as pleased with his attitude as his mum had been.

"And I'm of age. We both are." He motioned to Hermione and sat up a bit straighter. "And I'm not going to let her go traveling to the other side of the world all alone. End of story."

"You need to be a bit kinder to her. You've been gone nearly the whole year. You couldn't possible expect her to take the news that you're going to be leaving again well?" Ron pretended not to listen to Ginny's perfectly reasonable explanation and instead busied himself with pulling out Phineas Nigellus' portrait, which was stuffed underneath twelve pairs of socks. He was fortunately not in and Ron was quite grateful as he was sure the former headmaster would not think kindly at being placed among their dirty laundry.

"I suppose I ought to take that back to Grimmauld Place at some point," Harry picked up the empty portrait frame. Ginny's breath caught suddenly in her throat at his words, causing them all to turn and look at her curiously. "What is it?"

"It's nothing."

"What?" Harry pressed, seeming to sense it was very much something.

"It's just…the Death Eaters ransacked it, Grimmauld Place," Ginny finally admitted. "Dad said Yaxley led the raid. It's completely destroyed." A guilty look washed over Hermione's face and Ron knew it was because she'd been the one Yaxley caught hold of on their escape from the Ministry.

"I didn't plan on going back anyway," Harry tried to comfort her, but Ron wondered if the words were a lie. Grimmauld Place had been Harry's only remaining tie to his Godfather. Despite the filthy decrepit feel to the building, he knew it had to hold some sentimental value. Harry had spent most of their time at Grimmauld Place holed up in Sirius' bedroom while he and Hermione had remained downstairs on the sofas in the drawing room. He knew the bedroom had been a comfort to Harry as one last link to Sirius.

"I wonder if they came to my house," Hermione murmured suddenly. "I put charms around it, but I wonder if they still got inside?"

"I bet it's all right," Ron assured as always, but Hermione looked unconvinced.

"I should probably see it before I leave." She looked distraught at the thought. "If I bring my parents back - "

"When," Ron corrected. "When you bring them back."

"-I can't bring them back to a house that's been destroyed, can I?"

"You don't know it's been destroyed," he countered yet again.

"I need to make sure it hasn't."

"Well, we'll go then," Ron offered simply. "As soon as we can. This evening if you like."

"Ron - " Ginny butted in, in obvious protest.

"I've never seen your house." Ron attempted to be cheerful, but Hermione now appeared utterly convinced that her house had been destroyed like Grimmauld Place. Nobody spoke so he hastily pulled out a maroon shirt and several pairs of jeans from the bag, cracking a lame joke about how everything they'd worn into Gringott's would probably permanently smell like geriatric dragon.

Hermione's gaze, now far away from the beaded bag and the task at hand, indicated she was thinking about her parents again. Ron knew what he'd do to cheer her up if they were alone, but somehow he sensed Harry and Ginny would both object to such efforts even though they hadn't been shy about snogging in front of them earlier that morning.

When nobody moved to unpack the bag any further he simply picked it up and emptied its contents onto the rug in Ginny's room. Harry's rucksack came tumbling out along with a whole wardrobe full of clothes, including all of Hermione's undergarments. She shrieked at Ron in embarrassment and quickly tried to cover them with other clothes on the floor.

"Well, it was quicker than taking everything out one by one!" Ron defended and his hands flew to his head instinctively to protect him from the swat he knew was coming. The blow never came however. Hermione was much too preoccupied piling up the clothes so no hint of anything ever worn under her shirt or trousers could be seen.

"You idiot," Ginny laughed at him and knelt down to assist Hermione.

"Here, we'll take our clothes down to the scullery," Ron couldn't help himself from crouching down and offering to help as well, but a very flustered Hermione just ordered him and Harry out of the room.

Ron wanted to tell her it's not like he didn't know she wore knickers and a bra. Seeing the items fall out onto the floor didn't exactly constitute a revelation. Hermione appeared thoroughly mortified, however. He couldn't help but think she got much more easily embarrassed these days. He wondered if it had to do at all with what they'd been doing up in his bedroom just before and the fact that it probably didn't take a Legilmens to know he'd been thinking about what was under her clothes.

"Come on, Ron." Harry all but shoved him out the door before he could make a further mess of things. Ron stomped glumly down the stairs after Harry, angry at himself for messing up something as silly as unpacking clothes.

He had been correct in his earlier prediction that everybody else had been holed up in their rooms the way he and Hermione had been. The ground floor was completely deserted save for his mum who was busying about the kitchen, already preparing supper. Ron almost turned on his heel to march back up the stairs upon seeing her. He knew it was childish, but he didn't care to get into another heated conversation about why he shouldn't be allowed to go to Australia with Hermione. His mum wasn't going to stop him and he doubted even the hour he'd spent up with Hermione had calmed him down enough to talk civilly with her.

Harry jerked on his sleeve in reprimand however and Ron willed himself down the stairs. His mum lifted her head to look at him from the kitchen, but immediately went back to washing the head of cabbage she had in her hands. Ron shuffled out toward the garden evasively and Harry followed after, but his mum's voice sounded before they could pass outside the door.

"I'll be doing a load of laundry, Ron," she spoke calmly, her words sounding careful and measured. He halted at the door, unsure whether the comment was an olive branch or simply an attempt at formalities.

"Hermione should be bringing some down in a minute," he spoke shortly.

"Is there anything we can help you with, Mrs. Weasley?" Harry suddenly spoke, eager to defuse the growing tension. His mum smiled sweetly and proceeded to rattle off a list of chores the boys could do. Ron just glared at Harry and they trudged out to the chicken coop together.

"What'd you do that for?" he grumbled to his friend.

"I just think Ginny's right." Harry shrugged. "You ought to be a bit kinder to your mum."

"A bit kinder? She's the one who treating me like a child! And have you seen the way she looks at Hermione now?"

"But Ginny's right - "

"I should have known you'd take her side." Ron pulled the door to the chicken coop open so hard he nearly jerked it off its hinges. It was dark inside the tiny cramped coop and Harry immediately cast a Lumos charm.

"I'm not on anyone's side, Ron."

"You know, I didn't say anything about you taking up with Ginny again!" He gathered the eggs from the straw so forcefully he almost broke several in his clinched fists. "I think it's a load of waffle the way you treated her, but I didn't say anything 'cause Hermione told me not to." The larger of the two roosters pecked at Ron as he grabbed two eggs from a nearby nest. "I don't like that you're messing with her feelings again." Ron retracted his now bleeding finger immediately and glared at Harry.

"Like you never messed with Hermione's!" Harry retorted. It marked the first time the two had really disagreed or argued in any way in a long while. Ron forgot how awful it felt. Still, he wasn't about to back down.

"That's different - "

"Saying you'd go to a party with her and then snogging another girl? Walking out on her this winter when she needed you the most? How is that any different?" At the mention of his abandonment this winter, Ron grew very still. Harry seemed to know he'd touched a nerve and for a long while neither said anything. "I'm just saying we both made mistakes is all."

Though it seemed to be water under the bridge after all that had happened, his desertion still hung over Ron's head. He ducked his head and stepped back outside into the bright afternoon light, wiping his bleeding finger off on his trousers.

"You don't know what it's like to live with that," Ron finally murmured.

"You ever apologise?" Harry inquired innocently, plopping down next to him. Their previous exchange seemed to melt away.

"Bit late for that now, isn't it?" Ron sighed. He had apologised once, in the tent, when she'd still been fuming at him. He honestly didn't think she'd even heard it. Or rather, she had and didn't care to forgive him.

"It's never too late for an apology," Harry suggested. Ron gave Harry an unconvinced shrug in return. He watched a fat grey chicken emerge from the coop. 'Maggie' he thought his mother called it. She had names for the whole flock of chickens, even the two roosters who loved to peck at Ron when he went to gather the eggs. Maggie was good at catching grasshoppers, he recalled, and laid beautiful blue eggs. He wondered what the chickens had done when his family had been forced to flee the Burrow. He knew his family hadn't had much time to leave once his whereabouts were made public. His mum must have just opened up the coop, put up a protective charm to keep things out and hoped for the best. But there had been no charm to keep things in. He wondered if any that had wandered off had survived. He wondered if chickens could feel regret and if any that had left had tried to return, but didn't know how to get back.

"You know I only did it because I care about her," Harry offered quietly. "Ended things with Ginny, I mean." Ron only grunted in reply. Seeming to detect Ron's reluctance to hear about his feelings for Ginny, Harry changed his tone. "You ought to be grateful, you know."

"How's that?"

"Your mum won't even let us in her room with the door closed," Harry managed a laugh. "Even made a rule that both of our feet must be touching the floor at all times. Bit embarrassing really. I think she charmed the floor."

"Better than the way she looks at Hermione," Ron huffed, though he was slightly comforted by the news. He and Hermione definitely hadn't had both their feet on the floor that afternoon.

He was surprised at how nonchalant Harry seemed about the situation, but reminded himself that Harry and Ginny had had plenty of time alone together last spring. They'd been able to lie out by the lake and stroll around the Quidditch pitch the way he'd always imagined doing with Hermione.

Ron grinned suddenly as he thought about the lost time they'd made up for that afternoon. He'd known Hermione for seven years. In that time, he'd learned details as mundane as her favorite color and her favorite flavor of ice cream. He knew how long it took her to get dressed in the morning and he knew the five days a month not to cross her (though he would never admit to her that he knew). He knew the look on her face when she was about to cry and he knew the best ways to make her laugh. He thought he'd seen every side of Hermione there was to see. But then this afternoon had changed all that.

He'd seen parts of Hermione he hadn't known existed. The way she'd held his face and run her hands through his hair and kissed his neck as they'd lain side by side on the bed had been possessive and reckless, in a thoroughly arousing sort of way. And it was Hermione. The same Hermione he'd known to rewrite three feet of parchment because of the tiniest of smudges and who arrived ten minutes early to every lesson. There was no one else who could appreciate how very un-Hermione like her behavior had been but Harry. Yet he knew he would not want to hear it so he kept his secret smile to himself. The rest of the chickens slowly started to wander outside and the same rooster that had pecked at Ron inside took another run at him.

"I bet you're the bugger that woke me up this morning, aren't you?" Ron glared at the large rooster and gave it a poke as he got to his feet and stepped over the fence.

"What do you want to do then?" Harry followed after Ron and climbed over the waist high chicken wire into the garden.

More chores weren't high on Ron's list of things he wanted to do, but neither was Harry's suggestion of a game of Quidditch. Quidditch reminded him of playing with Fred and memories of Fred left him feeling hollow and angry. All Ron truly wanted to do was go back upstairs in his room with Hermione and plan their trip to Australia.

When they returned to the Burrow it was apparent his mother had other plans. She had already put Hermione and Ginny to work in the scullery with the load of laundry from the beaded bag and she practically pushed him and Harry up the stairs to collect anything else that needed laundering from the rest of the house. Ron didn't bother to point out to his mum that the house hadn't been lived in for almost a month and they had only returned from Hogwarts yesterday so there couldn't be that many clothes.

She had a multitude of tasks for everybody to do that never seemed to end. It reminded Ron all too much of last August. The only difference was that last year the wedding tasks she had them do, though irritating and never-ending, had at least been attached to a joyous celebration. Now everything they did, everything they dusted, polished, or brought downstairs was in preparation for a funeral.

People arrived at the Burrow into the evening. Many did no more than offer their condolences and pass on that they would not be able to make the weekend funeral. Still others arrived just to tell them in person that they would be in attendance and how deeply sorry they were. Somehow Ron had been left the task of answering the door, which meant by the end of the day he had been forced to listen to at least fifteen different stories about how people had made Fred's acquaintance. They were his mates from school, family friends, frequent customers to his store, a French student from Beauxbatons who had apparently admired him from afar. Always they blathered on about what a wonderful young man Fred had been. Ron never thought he could hate a word so much as he hated that simple three-letter word. Had. As in something in the past, something that would never happen again. All any of the visitors talked about was Fred and how he wasn't here anymore.

Hermione didn't talk about Fred. She didn't ask Ron how he was feeling or whether he felt like talking about what happened. She was just there for him like she'd always been. And he wanted to go up to his bedroom with her and never come down. Yet here he was downstairs polishing serving trays and dusting punch bowls while Hermione was upstairs folding his underpants with Ginny. Every time he completed one of his mother's assignments she sent him off to do something else. He was growing quite tired of the charade and greatly resented the fact that he was the only one left answering the door.

His attitude was more evident than ever that night at dinner. He glared at each member of his family, jealous both of the fact that they'd escaped the manual labor he'd been corralled into as well as the fact that they hadn't been subjected to the constant stream of visitors passing on their condolences.

"The Fawcetts came by today," his mum announced. Ron had to bite his lip to keep from interjecting. She hadn't been the one to answer the door when the Fawcetts had arrived, he had. "They said they'd certainly join us after the burial." Again Ron could only grind his teeth together at the statement. He'd been the one to pass the news along to his mother that the Fawcetts would not be at the actual funeral. His leg bounced up and down in agitation. This time Hermione was not there to keep it from shaking as his mum had deliberately seated her across the table from him.

She could stretch out and rub her foot up against his though, and while a warm feeling coursed through his body at the brief contact, it did little to actually calm him. In fact, all it did was make him more eager to leave. "That brings the number well past fifty. I daresay we're going to need more chairs, Arthur."

"I think we'll be all right."

"Ron, how many chairs did you count today?"

"Thirteen," Ron remarked flatly. "Including the dining chairs, twenty-one." Hermione's foot gave him a particularly long rub at the calmly delivered reply, almost like a reward for his restraint.

"See, that doesn't leave much. We'll have to come up with at least fifteen more." Ron wondered if his mum could see that nobody else at the table seemed particularly interested in making funeral arrangements. "And all you were able to conjure today was a bench, Arthur." Ron glanced at his dad, having more than a hunch as to why his dad was having such difficulty. Nobody had done much magic and the little that they did usually came out wonky.

He looked across the table to George, who was seated as usual at the farthest edge of the table. The only time George had appeared the last two days was for meals. Ron wondered if anyone else in the family noticed that when he joined them he always sat with his earless right side to the family. Ron hardly thought it was coincidence. Unlike the rest of his family, who knocked on George's door every hour, Ron hadn't made any attempts to draw him out.

Fred had been his brother, his mother's son, but he had been George's twin. Ron didn't know what it was like to have a twin so he certainly didn't pretend to know what it was like to lose one. As far as he was concerned George could stay locked in his room for the next year. There was no need to draw him outside and pretend like everything was dandy because it wasn't. There was no use dragging him out of the room and pretending like they knew what he was going through because they didn't.

"Does anyone have any suggestions on what we should serve?"

"Could we talk about this later," Ron finally spoke wearily, annoyed by her constant need to plan the funeral.

"Well, it's easy for you to say! I'm the one who has to prepare the food," she spoke sharply. "If as many people come as have said already I'll be cooking for three straight days.

"People will bring food, Molly," his dad said kindly.

"You know I'll help, mum," Charlie replied.

"Yes, and I can help Mrs. Weasley," Hermione piped in helpfully.

"Yeah, Hermione's a good cook," Ron informed his mother. There was a touch of a challenge in his voice that seemed to set everybody at the table on edge. "Isn't she, Harry?" He looked to Harry, who while not appearing to hold the exact same sentiment, nodded his head nonetheless.

"Yes, she's quite good."

"Makes a good stew," Ron added. Despite how much grumbling he had done about her meals while camping, Hermione had managed to do a fair amount with nothing more than mushrooms and the occasional rabbit. Hermione looked down at her plate uncomfortably.

"Yes. Hermione. Certainly." Mrs. Weasley spoke in short halting words. "That would be lovely."

"We need to travel to her house in Henley tomorrow." There was a touch of a challenge to his voice and Hermione spoke quickly to correct the statement.

"No, we don't. We don't have to go tomorrow." She eyed Ron warily.

"Well, we need to go at some point. We've got to make sure the Death Eaters haven't been there." The entire table, save George who hadn't heard, looked suddenly uncomfortable at the mention of the Death Eaters.

"I'm sure it's all right," The uncertainty in his father's assurance wasn't difficult to miss.

"Well, she wants to check for herself," Ron shrugged. Hermione kicked him beneath the table hard enough so that Charlie, who was seated beside him, noticed and had trouble suppressing a grin.

"I'm sure your father can get someone from the Ministry to go."

"She wants to see for herself, mum." Ron's defiant tone returned. "It's her home."

"I can wait. Really," Hermione stammered uncomfortably.

"But we're going before we leave." Everyone at the table, Hermione included, seemed to let out a collective groan at the reference to their leaving. Ginny especially shot Ron an icy look from down the table.

"And when are you thinking that will be?" His mum spoke after a long pause. The words sounded trained and rehearsed and very much like his dad was behind them. Ron was so taken aback by the acceptance implied by the question he had to look to Hermione in question. They hadn't actually discussed their plans at all.

"Well…we don't – we don't quite know yet," Ron sputtered. His surprise was evident and Ginny even stifled a laugh at how caught off guard he'd been.

"Your father sent off a letter today to see about the Portkeys," his mum stated coolly and looked across the table. Ron guessed logistics were about the only thing she could probably discuss calmly. Percy coughed loudly in a very obvious manner. "And Percy is helping as well."

"I expect it'll take a few days to get them all worked out," his dad informed. "Kingsley will have to secure you passports and you'll probably have to go through Russia and they're notoriously strict about allowing international Portkeys."

"How many Portkeys will it take to get there, do you think?" Hermione asked inquisitively.

"I reckon about six or seven."

"That many?" Ron practically choked on his piece of chicken.

"They don't go as far as they used to, Portkeys. Too many abuses and security issues, I'm afraid," his dad explained. "People placing Portkeys in places with Muggles without going through the proper channels. It creates a real mess."

"Next to flying and Apparition, it's probably one of the highest risks of exposing our world," Percy added.

The conversation that ensued quickly strayed from their trip to Australia and instead to a discussion about breaches in Muggle security, spearheaded by Percy. Everyone seemed grateful for the change in topic. Ron eyed his mother curiously, eager to know exactly what had taken place between her and his father since lunch to cause such a change. He was grateful, but skeptical that her feelings had changed much since earlier. His suspicion was all but confirmed by the wary look she gave him and Hermione both as they disappeared up the stairs after dinner.

"There's pudding, Ron!" she called after them. "Apple crumble and custard, one of your favourites."

"We'll be down," he called from halfway up the first flight of stairs. He heard murmurings from below and glanced behind only to see Harry and Ginny glaring at him jealously as they sat on the sofa next to his dad.

"I reckon we ought to have stayed downstairs," Hermione spoke quietly as they rounded the fourth staircase.

"I said we'll come back down for pudding," he dismissed. "Just wanted to be alone a minute." He stopped before the door to his room and placed his hands on her hips, grateful he had the top floor bedroom and could steal a kiss right now without worrying about someone passing by to use the toilet.

"You want more than a minute." She laughed shyly.

"Don't you?" He raised his eyebrows in question.

She didn't reply, just grabbed the doorknob and pushed the door open wide. Ron couldn't keep the broad smile from creeping across his face as they stumbled backwards, lips never breaking apart, and collapsed back onto the bed.


A Harry Potter Story
by MsBinns

Part 10 of 45

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