Continuing Tales


A Harry Potter Story
by MsBinns

Part 8 of 45

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He was inside a box now. Ron didn't bother asking where the plain pine box had come from or who had fashioned it into a type of litter with two long poles emerging from the front and back. Charlie and Bill both volunteered to bear him to Hogsmeade Station. Both brothers gripped the poles firmly in their hands, Bill in the front and Charlie in the back. Their wands were nowhere in sight and it reminded Ron very much of the way Harry had said goodbye to Dobby last month. He wondered if perhaps Harry's actions to bury the elf without magic had inspired Bill or if it had been Charlie's idea. Whatever the reason, the effort of the Weasley boys to carry their brother and not use magic seemed to influence many others whose deceased loved ones would also be traveling on the Hogwarts Express.

Ron saw many wands tremble as shaky attempts to move similar pine boxes with a simple levitation charm failed. A simple swish and flick was all it would take, but very few made it into the air. Instead the battered, bruised, and emotionally drained survivors of the Battle of Hogwarts hoisted up similar litters and coffins and made the long walk around the lake to Hogsmeade Station.

The procession was slow moving and looked the way Ron imagined a Muggle battlefield might after a hard-fought campaign. There were frequent breaks as the stretcher-bearers often had to pause and rest their weary muscles. Percy took over for Bill halfway through and Harry even stopped to take over for Charlie, who was struggling considerably though he knew it was not from the physical effort as Charlie was quite strong. Ron knew he should step in and take a turn as well, but he couldn't make himself go near the box. He wondered if inside of it Fred was still wrapped in the same white sheet from yesterday morning. Oddly enough, Ron found he couldn't even recall what Fred had actually been wearing. All he could think of now was the sheet. So he stayed far away from the box and shuffled along hand in hand with Hermione, focused only on putting one foot in front of the other.

The path to the station, much like the castle, was strewn with wreckage. Trees had been uprooted, boulders littered the path and there was even a discarded Quidditch hoop blocking the path at one point. This must have been where the Death Eaters had entered. The random nonsensical wreckage reminded Ron very much of the work of Bellatrix Lestrange. She destroyed things without a purpose, hurt them simply because she could. He couldn't help but glance to Hermione and the bright pink scar on her neck then. He remembered the cuts that he'd seen only briefly as he'd set her down on the bed at Shell Cottage and Fleur had begun tending to her. They'd covered her arms and stomach and looked very much like Bellatrix had made a sport out of making her bleed. Ron squeezed her hand then and looked to Hermione, his eyes resting on the pink scar at her neck. She'd been unconscious when she'd gotten it, her weight supported by the knife, and Ron wondered if she knew Bellatrix had come so close to cutting her throat. He shuddered at the memory and she squeezed his hand back, unaware that he was thinking about her ordeal now and not the pine box.

When they reached the great winged boars that marked the entrance onto Hogwarts grounds, Ron was snapped back to the present. He was hardly surprised to see that only one remained. Still he couldn't help but wonder where the other one had gone as they walked to the tiny Hogsmeade platform.

Hagrid was standing at the Station, waiting for them much like he always was to wish them a good summer holiday. It was the first they'd seen of him since the chaos of the battle and he looked like he had attempted to treat himself rather than pay a visit to Madame Pomfrey. His face was still rather bruised and battered and two of his fingers were taped together in an awkward looking splint that looked more like a plank. His splinted hand did not stop him from lifting all three off the ground in a tight hug as soon as they reached him however.

"Oi! Hagrid!" Ron grimaced against him. He could practically feel his ribs cracking with the force of Hagrid's embrace.

"Sorry," he apologized sheepishly and released them from his grasp.

"Where were you last night?" Harry inquired. Hagrid's absence last night from the Great Hall had been noticeable and had thoroughly surprised the three of them. They had wanted to go pay him a visit, but his mother had hurried them all back up to Gryffindor tower without protest.

"Tendin' to Beaky and the thestrals," he explained. His voice was a bit shaky and Ron noticed it looked very much like he had been crying. "Took on a Gurg, they did, the lot of them." The pride in his voice was mixed with an obvious grief. The night was still a blur to Ron, but he did remember the creatures' staunch defenses of the castle. They'd taken on giants and Death Eaters alike. Ron wondered how many of Hagrid's prized herd were even left.

"They were amazing," Hermione remarked admirably..

"They were, weren't they?" Hagrid beamed and then took out a tablecloth sized handkerchief and blew his nose. "Not all of 'em made it, I'm afraid." He sniffled and then let out a loud howl. "Tenebrus died last night."


"He's the thestral you met fifth year in my class. Sharp as a tack, he was, bit o' a troublemaker, mind you, but a sweet colt." At Hagrid's remark, Ron remembered that when he 'met' Tenebrus last, he had been staring out into nothing and had actually envied what Harry had seen. Last night he'd been able to see their dark lustrous skin, leathery wings, and dragon-like faces.

He saw Hagrid's eyes focus behind him then where he knew the deceased were being loaded onto the train. "I'm real sorry 'bout yer brother, Ron," he said suddenly. "Reckon that's not the right thing to say, but I am."

Ron wondered just how many times he would have to hear that phrase over the next few days. He couldn't even make himself say thank you. He wasn't even sure 'thank you' was the right thing to say.

"How's Grawp?" he changed the conversation suddenly, recalling the sight of the undersized giant bravely taking on his much larger counterparts.

"He's a bit confused," Hagrid sighed.

"He was really brave," Hermione piped in.

"It's you was the brave one," Hagrid clapped Harry on the shoulder. "I can' hardly believe yeh did it, Harry, beat You-Know-Who."

"It wasn't just me," Harry reminded Hagrid.

"Well, of course! All of yeh!" Hagrid reached to grab hold of Ron and Hermione as well. "I've known you lot since you were a couple o' firs' year misfits sneakin' down to me hut, pokin' 'round about the Philosopher's Stone. I jes' can' believe yeh did it!"

Ron, Harry, and Hermione all looked to each other, as if recalling just how odd a trio they had been back in first year. Smiles crossed each of their faces as Hagrid continued to wax poetically about their triumph and how far they'd come. "Mark my words, there ain' likely to be a wizard in England who won' know yer names by the end o' the week." Great big tears threatened in his beetle black eyes. "I'm so proud to know yeh. No braver wizards I ever knew than yeh three!" He blew his nose in his giant handkerchief again.

"We're proud to know you too, Hagrid," Harry replied and it was their turn then to envelope him in a great hug then. Their arms stretched much further around him than they had back when they'd been eleven. Ron himself came up to Hagrid's broad chest now, almost a whole head higher than Harry. Hagrid let out another great blubbering sob as they squeezed him tightly. Alongside them the train groaned to life.

"Well now, don' want yeh ter miss yer train. Better be goin'." Though the words sounded from his lips, Hagrid seemed reluctant to let them go and allow them to climb aboard the Hogwarts Express. Ron wondered if Hagrid had the same realisation he had upon departing from the Great Hall.

They were leaving.

Sure, he'd see Hagrid again. He knew he would be at the Burrow this weekend and Ron would probably come back to Hogsmeade and visit and see him again. But there was a finality to their departure from the station that caused a large lump in his throat.

He tried to push the thought from his mind as he climbed aboard and gave Hagrid one final wave. He tried to ignore how odd it felt to climb aboard and not be burdened with trunks and cages. There was almost no resemblance to the comfy compartments he used to look forward to riding in so much. Most were now filled with adults, which was as odd a sight as seeing adults in the common room last night had been. The only adult they were used to seeing in fact, the squat and slightly hunchbacked witch who pushed the trolley, was nowhere to be seen. Ron wondered with a shudder if she had managed to survive the last year.

It wasn't merely the presence of adults that felt so weird though. It was the fact that they left a castle in ruin and returned home, not for summer holiday, but for funerals. Most people on the train, himself included, would likely be attending at least one. Yet there still seemed to be a jubilant air among many of the passengers. There was cause for celebration, he reminded himself. They'd defeated the Dark Lord. Voldemort was gone. He was no more than a scary story to scare children on Halloween, another chapter in a History of Magic.

"Come sit with us," Hermione called to George from the open compartment she and Ginny had claimed. Ron thought it was an odd request and he frowned at the words. George never sat with them. Asking him to join now just seemed like pointing out the obvious, that the person he usually sat with on train rides was loaded in the back like a piece of furniture. George seemed to share the same sentiments. Acknowledging Hermione with the faintest of head nods, he dragged his feet down the center aisle to slump against the window of another compartment where Percy, Charlie and Bill soon joined him.

Ron couldn't say that he blamed George for opting out. With Ginny and Harry sitting there with joined hands and Hermione resting against his shoulder, the compartment looked very much like Madame Puddifoot's on St. Valentine's Day. That was probably the reason his mother stuck her head in to cast a watchful eye on them all before retreating to the compartment with the rest of the family.

He hated how the comfortable closeness he and Hermione shared vanished quite quickly whenever his mum was around. Hermione was not bashful about leaning deep into his shoulder right now in front of Harry and Ginny or even holding his hand in front of Bill or Charlie, but in front of his parents her cheeks would flush quite suddenly and she would break away. This morning at breakfast she'd been having a laugh at how long his hair had gotten, playfully toying with the bits that curled at the back of his neck when his mother had sat down across from them. Hermione had ripped her hands away then, as if caught doing something horribly indecent, and returned to the piece of toast in front of her. His mum was pleasant enough, obviously having invited her back to the Burrow with them, but Ron felt very much like his mum wished she could renege on her offer. She wasn't cold like she had been to Fleur and it wasn't like fourth year when she had stupidly believed Rita Skeeter's nonsense about Hermione. She was just different. Despite how happy she'd seemed over their coupling at dinner last night, she didn't treat Hermione at all like the girl she'd known for seven years.

Fortunately, the train compartment had the same pleasantly insulating quality as the common room. Ron could feel his whole body relax as he watched the familiar scenery rush past. He couldn't help but wonder as he looked across the way to Ginny and Harry then down to Hermione resting against him, if this is how it always could have been. If their lives hadn't been so chaotic and crazy, if they hadn't always been locked in a life or death struggle, if he'd just admitted back in fourth year that maybe he should have asked her to the Yule Ball, perhaps this is how every trip on the Hogwarts Express could have been. Harry appeared to be thinking the same thing as Ron noted the peaceful and content look on his face. They didn't have books to read or sweets to eat, but it almost felt like old times.

They asked Ginny about Hogwarts this year. Not questions about the Carrows or detentions, but how much Slytherin had been leading by in the House Cup, how Quidditch had gone, who had been named Head Boy and Girl (Ron was disappointed, but not surprised to learn it had been Theodore Nott and Pansy Parkinson). Ginny replied in kind by asking innocent details about their year.

Hermione did most of the talking, telling Ginny about her undetectable extension charm and the beaded bag that had contained everything they needed. They told her about drinking Polyjuice Potion and all the different places they had journeyed. Ron noted that the conversation never strayed to what they had been looking for and he wondered if such avoidance was purposeful or not on Harry's part. When Ginny inquired as to whether they'd celebrated Christmas or not, Ron quickly interjected and changed the subject, embarrassed his sister might learn about his desertion. He was thankful that Hermione and Harry remained silent and allowed the conversation to stray back to what they had eaten and how often they washed their clothes. Only when Ginny inquired about what Hermione's parents thought of her grand adventure did the happy conversation come to a quick halt.

Ron glanced warily across to Ginny, trying to convey that it was a topic that was off limits for the time. Harry too looked at Ginny and shook his head.

Ron didn't want her to have to explain it all again. He remembered vividly the first night she'd arrived at the Burrow last summer. He'd been so thrilled to finally have her there after an agonizing month apart. Dinner with his family had seemed to take forever and he just wanted the chance to be alone with her. When her familiar knock finally sounded outside his bedroom door after dinner he had not been expecting to see her eyes swimming with tears. She had barely passed the threshold into his room before she came undone in his arms. He had grown used to her frequent displays of emotion over the years, but this had been a different sort of grief that caught him entirely off guard. Her speech was halted and choppy – punctuated so frequently by great body wracking sobs - that it had taken Ron several minutes to figure out what she had even done to her parents. Her heaving sobs had indicated quite clearly why she had been so quiet all through dinner that night with his family. It was because at that moment she had no longer had a family. He hadn't known quite what to say. He had only been on page 15 of "Twelve Failsafe Ways to Charm Witches" then and there was nothing so far about providing comfort in times of emotional distress. His arms had enveloped her quickly though, much like they had weeks before at Dumbledore's funeral. He hadn't tried to crack a lame joke or initiate a conversation about all the ridiculous wedding preparations. The situation was awful and there was nothing they could do to change that except be there for each other. And that's what he'd done. That's what he would always continue to do.

He felt Hermione breathe deeply into his shoulder and he looked to her, his brow wrinkled in concern. She had hardly mentioned her parents at all since that night. They had rarely come up in conversation the past year and whenever they did her voice grew shaky and her eyes filled with tears. He knew it was painful. He didn't want to make her do it again. The looks on Harry and Ron's faces were already enough to plant the worst in Ginny's mind however. The longer it took Hermione to respond the more visibly distressed she grew.

"Hermione, they're not - "

"They're all right. They're not…" Hermione's mind seemed to wander as her voice drifted away, but she collected herself. "Well, I think they're all right."

"What do you mean you think?" Ginny's eyes were ablaze with fear now. "Do you not know where they are?"

"I have a general idea."

"And where's that?"


The word seemed to echo around the compartment. Ron even winced as it sounded from Hermione's lips. The mere name of the far-off place seemed a stark and cruel reminder of both the lengths Hermione had to take and the physical distance she still had to travel to fetch them. The lengths they had to travel.


"I did a memory charm, see? To keep them safe." Hermione licked her lips. Ron could hear a sharp intake of breath, as if simply saying the words had knocked the wind out of her. "So my mum and dad live in Australia and they don't know anything that's going on and - " she paused momentarily and took in another quick breath, "-and they don't know they have a daughter."

Ginny's reaction to the revelation was quite similar to what Ron's had been so many months ago. The astonishment on her face was evident and she couldn't seem to make any words sound from her throat.

"It's not permanent is it?" she finally creaked.

"Until I find them and can reverse it, it is." Hermione stared out the window at the passing hills, her thoughts seeming to disappear over the horizon. Ron wrapped an arm around her shoulders in a supportive one armed hug. The action seemed to bring her back and she leaned back against him and tried her best to give him an appreciative smile.

"We'll find them," he spoke softly, giving her a gentle squeeze. She moved her arm around his waist then in a manner so familiar Ginny couldn't help but grin and quickly change the subject.

"So, come on and tell me when this happened." She grinned as she looked to the cozy pair now thoroughly wrapped around each other. Ron would have appreciated Ginny's attempt to steer the conversation away from Hermione's brainwashed parents if he hadn't noted the mischievous glint in her eye as she asked the question. He knew perfectly well she just wanted to see him squirm. "I hope for your sake they haven't been like this all year, Harry," she laughed, "holding hands and hanging off each other every chance they get. You two are worst than a couple of third years!"

"Oh, come off it!" Ron snorted. "As if you two weren't just as bad at the end of last year! Don't think just because I didn't say anything I didn't see you." His comment, while true, still didn't exactly dispel the fact that he knew he and Hermione had been nearly inseparable the past twenty-four hours.

"Was it right after the wedding?" Ginny wagered a guess, eyeing the two carefully. "I bet it was. You did spend about an hour brushing your teeth before the ceremony and- "

"Would you shut it!"

"-and you were awfully nervous asking mum about how many dances there would be - "

"I mean it, Ginny!" he warned, but his sister just giggled.

"You know, there was actually a bet going. Fred and George started it…" Ginny's laughter died in her throat as she realized she'd said the name too late. The smile on everyone's face quickly disappeared and they all grew pale and seemed to forget what Ginny had even been talking about. Everyone except Ron.

He was eager to hear what kind of bet his brothers had engineered and annoyed how it seemed Fred's name or anything having to do was off-limits in conversation.

"What was this bet?" He snapped the compartment out of their momentary depression.

"It was nothing," Ginny dismissed meekly. "Just about when you two would snog and get it over with," she admitted meekly as silence soon filled the compartment again. The mention of snogging hadn't even seemed to make Hermione uncomfortable like it had earlier in the Great Hall. She seemed to be afflicted with the same disorder Harry and Ginny had.

"Did you know about this bet?" Ron broke the silence again by turning to his best friend. Harry went from silently staring out the window at the mention of Fred, to being suddenly interested in a loose thread on his shirt sleeve, which he pulled at with his thumb and forefinger. His guilt was all too obvious. "You treacherous git!" Ron glared at Harry, but had difficulty suppressing a grin. "Did you put money in it?" Ron pressed. Harry again seemed particularly interested in his frayed shirt sleeve.

"The pot got quite big," Ginny informed. "It's been going on since your broke up with Lavender."

"I expect you'll tell me the whole school was in on it?"

"No, just the Gryffindors."

"Just the Gryffindors?" Ron gaped. Hermione looked mortified. "Did you all really have nothing better to do this year than wager on my love life? With all that was going on?"

"Oh please, we all deserve a medal for putting up with you two for the past six years!" Ginny snapped back, but the teasing tone was all too evident in her voice.

Had the whole school really known they fancied each other that long or was his sister just trying to take the piss? He had never voiced his feelings for Hermione to a single soul, not even to Harry. Ginny's words made him wonder if perhaps Hermione had. Could she possibly have fancied him as long as he had her? She never told him how fit he was or clever or funny. She had certainly never taken notice of the thousands of compliments he'd heaped upon her until this past year. He recalled Harry's words up in Gryffindor tower suddenly about how many years Hermione had carried a torch for him. Had everyone really known but him? Was it possible he'd really been that oblivious?

"What was the pot up to?" Hermione finally spoke. Her inquiry was muffled into Ron's shoulder as she continued to lean against him. Ron looked to her with his mouth agape, aghast that of all the questions she would ask right now what concerned her was how much money people had gambled on the two of them. They had just learned that all of Gryffindor tower had wagered sickles and knuts on the day he'd been fantasizing about for years. They'd probably had a right good laugh at him for taking as long as he had.

"It was up to almost ten galleons," Ginny replied. Ron's mouth dropped open and even Harry's eyes widened at the revelation.

"Bloody hell! Were we that popular?" Ron looked to Hermione and couldn't help but give her a thoroughly embarrassed smile. Ten galleons was enough to make him wonder whether the entire school sat around speculating on their coupling.

"There wasn't much to get us through this year," Ginny admitted suddenly. "We talked about you three all the time." Ron was suddenly reminded of Lavender's words. He wondered if she'd contributed a few sickles to the pot. "Knowing you were all out there fighting is what got us through," she confessed. Ron couldn't help but wonder if it was more of a personal confession as his sister's eyes rested on Harry.

"Well, someone's buying us lunch at Diagon Alley," Ron announced, "I mean with that ten galleons."

"You could buy about ten lunches with ten galleons!" Hermione laughed and Ron could see she looked quite pleased at his mention of them as an 'us'.

"Or just one really big one," he grinned. His thoughts drifted to a five course meal at Chez Sorcier with Hermione complete with a goblet of elf-made wine.

"You are ridiculous." Hermione shook her head, but could not hide the affectionate look in her eyes.

"I'm hungry," he corrected.

"You just ate!"

"You should know I'm always hungry." The comment sounded more suggestive than he intended it to and he quickly changed the subject. "So who did win then?"

"You tell me," Ginny settled back into her seat with a devious smirk on her face. Her eyes fixed on Hermione as she spoke the words.

"I told you already that was the first time." Hermione tucked a strand of hair behind her ear uncomfortably after a long pause, clearly referencing an earlier conversation the two girls had had. So she had told her about their frenzied mid-battle embrace. Ron wondered if she'd also mentioned the fact that he hadn't so much as kissed her on the cheek since.

"I refuse to believe you two spent an entire year living together –"

"Well, believe it -"

" - running for your lives no less – fighting Death Eaters and not once did you - "

"Right, Ginny, why don't you stop talking now?" Ron cut his sister off, hardly believing of all the things they could currently discuss that a snog between him and Hermione seemed to be the number one priority. Granted, he didn't want to talk about most of the events of the past few days, but surely there was something else they could discuss. What had they all talked about before all this had happened?

"But who really won?" Harry interjected curiously and looked to Ginny. "I mean, I can vouch for them. Unless, they were carrying on behind my back all year, that really was the first time they kissed."

"Well…" Ginny scrunched up her face and pressed her finger to her temple. She appeared very much like Hermione did when she was trying to recall the specific ingredients of a potion, like there was a master list floating around in the back of her head with a list of dates and situations people had proposed about when they would snog. "I suppose - " Ginny hesitated slightly and the smile dropped quickly from her face. "Well, I suppose Fred won then."

"What did he say?" Ron had a morbid curiosity to know what his brother thought about him and Hermione.

"He said you'd wait until the last possible minute. Something like you wouldn't pluck up the courage to kiss her unless your lives hung in the balance."

Ron laughed softly to himself at the revelation, both because it sounded exactly like his brother and it had certainly fit the bill that night. He didn't bother correcting Ginny that it had in fact been Hermione who had plucked up the courage and kissed him first, not him. Granted, he had certainly met her lips and responded with enthusiasm, but Hermione, he would never forget, was the one who had taken the plunge first. This next kiss would be the one that would require courage, the one he couldn't seem to initiate.

"Well, I reckon we should give the gold to George then," Ron offered, even though prior to Ginny's admission he had been about to suggest that he and Hermione pocket the money made off them.

"George was way off! He said he reckoned you two had already snogged by the end of last year and the real reason you were leaving Hogwarts for the year was so you could – how did he say it – focus solely on extracurriculars?"

"That prat." Ron managed to laugh. "Still, I reckon he should get it."

"They did put in most of the ten galleons," Ginny admitted with a laugh. She stretched her arms out over her head then and promptly got to her feet. "I've got to use the loo."

"Good for you then," Ron scoffed, unsure why she'd felt the need to announce it like she had.

"Want to come, Hermione?" She raised her eyebrows and turned to Hermione expectantly.

"Must you still travel in packs to use the toilet?" Ron groaned.

"I expect they're not going to use the toilet at all," Harry laughed. A thoroughly embarrassed Hermione got to her feet and shuffled toward the door then. Ginny just glared at the both of them as she slid open the door and exited the compartment. Ron knew from dating Lavender what trips to the loo meant. He knew, in this case, it could only mean discussions about him and Harry. Ginny was probably going to press her about the unexpected kiss Harry had vouched for and whether or not it had been duplicated.

"I don't like that at all!" Ron announced and the two boys exploded into laughter.

The light-hearted mood lasted all the way to London. Ron wished it would stay forever. Things felt relaxed and natural, like the four of them had been coupled up like this their entire life. Hermione and Ginny wouldn't let on why they had been gone so long except to say they had run into Hannah Abbott and Susan Bones. Ron had difficulty imagining Hermione gossiping about boys to anyone, nonetheless sensible girls like Hannah and Susan, but he sensed that's exactly what they had been doing. He wondered what details Ginny had tried to press out of her. He wondered whether Hermione had told her about how he'd brought her up to the dormitory and she had curled up next to him on the bed.

He felt a funny sort of confidence the entire train ride to London. He liked how people took note of their compartment as they walked by. He liked that they looked in to gaze at the famous Harry Potter and they saw the brilliant Hermione Granger attached to him when they did. A strange feeling of pride welled up inside him like he'd never known before.

He thought about what he'd suggested last night outside the Great Hall about accompanying her to Australia. They hadn't brought it up since that brief conversation, but every time he let his thoughts wander he could think of little else. He was aware that fetching her parents didn't promise to be a fun task. The details of how they would travel were unclear as were the specifics of locating her parents and reversing the memory charm. There was much about the trip that was up in the air, but he knew enough. It would be him and Hermione together. Every time he thought about it he felt his whole body tingle in anticipation. He wondered if she had thought about it any since last night. Had she told Ginny? Perhaps that's what they had discussed when she had left the compartment earlier. Maybe she had told Hannah and Susan that she'd be going on a trip around the world with him. The thought made him feel strangely confident and unbelievably nervous all at the same time.

He still kept reliving their kiss in the Room of Requirement. He couldn't wrap his brain around what it would be like to kiss her again now that their lives didn't hang in the balance and they had all the time in the world. He wished he'd had the nerve to kiss her at Hogwarts one last time. He felt a pang deep in his chest that he would never have a chance to kiss her in the Gryffindor common room or out on the grass in the courtyard. Whatever happened with him and Hermione would happen outside of Hogwarts, which was a thought that was as exciting as it was terrifying. Their future would play out in places he didn't even know. So much was unknown now. Not the way their class schedules each year were uncertain or the outcome of a weekend's Quidditch match, but a long term uncertainty that was unnerving.

For seven years he knew his future lay at Hogwarts. Even the past year he had known his future would either have two outcomes. He would either help Harry beat Voldemort or he would die trying. He'd actually accepted and come to terms with the likelihood of his own death over the course of the last year. He'd been almost certain of it on more than one occasion. Yesterday morning he had even charged toward it confidently. Barely twenty-four hours had passed and that confidence had seemed to vanish though.

He knew it was silly. Hermione was curled up beside him tighter than Devil's Snare. She'd hardly left his side since their last embrace. If she didn't want to be with him, she could make that clear. The fear of screwing up a second kiss with her still gripped him though for reasons he couldn't even explain.

As the train pulled into King's Cross Station, he wondered when they would ever have a chance to escape from his family so he could even attempt to kiss her again. It was nearly impossible to be alone at the Burrow, especially if his mother maintained the same watchful eye she had the past day. For as pleased as she had initially seemed with their coupling, she didn't seem to want them to ever be alone together.

He felt shameful that they weren't even home yet and all he could think about was getting away, but he didn't want to stay with his family and think about Fred and he knew that's what they would do. Right now, thoughts about second kisses and travels to Australia were the only thing that kept him from thinking about his brother. The moment his thoughts drifted to that last carriage he felt the familiar stinging in his nose that came when tears threatened. His throat would get so tight when he thought about it that it became difficult to breathe. He almost felt ill. It almost felt like second year when he'd thrown up those slugs.

So he hugged Hermione and he let her lean into his shoulder and he tried to ignore questions in his head about how exactly they would transport Fred back to the Burrow and what would happen to his body once they arrived. He tried to focus only on Hermione and that second kiss.

The first sounds Ron heard upon arriving at the Burrow were his mother's dreadful sobs. She'd been quite composed the past thirty-six hours. He hadn't heard her cry since the night when they'd all been crying. She'd held it together surprisingly well as she stood and watched her eldest sons haul Fred off the train. She'd even managed to keep calm as she knelt down beside the pine box on the platform at 9 ¾, placed a hand on the box and along with his father Apparated to the Burrow.

But by the time Ron Apparated outside the stack of dirty cauldrons by the garage, his mother was collapsed in a heap beside the chicken coop. She was sprawled across the pine box like she had been sprawled across his body the other night. The great spasmodic sobs from that night returned and cries of "my boy!" echoed throughout the yard. His dad stood tall and firm, kneeling beside her with his hand on her shoulder. Percy, Bill, Charlie and Ginny quickly circled around their mother in a supportive ring. Even Harry came over to offer his support.

George however seemed oblivious to the gathering. He dragged his feet toward the house without so much as a sideward glance to the rest of his family. Ron's eyes rested momentarily on the mournful circle. He felt a familiar twinge that he ought to go over and be with them. It was the same feeling he'd had when he left the Great Hall yesterday morning with Hermione and again this past morning when they had journeyed to the hospital wing. He knew what Hermione had told him last night was true. His family probably needed him there, but as George trudged past him on his way to the house, Ron couldn't help but follow.

"Ron, no, we should stay." Hermione tugged back on his hand and planted her feet firmly in the earth. She looked to his family and then back to him with a pained expression. He wanted her with him more than anything, but he didn't want to argue about why she should choose him over his family. Staying with his family was the right thing to do. He knew that. So lacking both the words and the strength to reply, Ron simply released her hand from his and followed after George.

Despite the fact that he'd dreamed about returning home for months, his hardly took in the welcome sight. All he noted was that the house bore the obvious evidence of having been unoccupied the last month. The chickens, who must have been released from their pen upon his family's departure, were now roaming freely around the property with the pigs. He wondered how many had survived the month on their own. His mum took good care of the animals, especially the chickens, and he knew it probably pained her to let them go and leave them to fend for themselves. He wondered if she'd ever imagined that this was how she would return to their home.

He kept hoping he'd hear Hermione's feet pattering after him or feel her hand slip in his, but neither happened. He walked through the door to the Burrow alone. He heard his brother's bedroom door slam shut and tried not to think about how empty the room must feel to George. He imagined returning to the flat above Weasley Wizard Wheezes might be even more difficult than staying in their old childhood bedroom. How long would George stay here, he wondered? How long would he and Hermione stay here for that matter? They hadn't discussed their journey to Australia any further aside from the brief conversation about her parents this morning on the train. He wondered how and when exactly they would even broach such a topic to his parents as he climbed up the five flights of stairs to his attic bedroom.

His parents had informed him that they'd released the ghoul back to the attic when they left the Burrow, but he could still smell the remnants of it through his door. He wished he could remember the charm Hermione used to get rid of foul odors, but he couldn't recall the exact incantation. Benolfacto, he thought it was, and a quarter turn of the wrist to right, but he wasn't confident.

He pushed open the door, braving the slight ghoulish odor, and stared inside. Like the Gryffindor common room, his childhood bedroom looked much different than he remembered. The space looked small, his bed looked small, even the ceiling felt lower than he remembered. He looked around at the Chudley Cannons posters and quilt and realised he had hardly thought about the Cannons much at all over the last year. The 1997 schedule was pinned up beside the bed and it was an odd realisation to know he had no idea how the season had finished for them. He felt like a traitorous fan. He felt like he imagined Hermione must have when his mother had mentioned Crookshanks. Almost like he was dusting off an old relic from childhood and recalling how much he'd used to care for it. As if on cue, Crookshanks suddenly appeared from beneath his bed. The great ginger cat weaved between his legs, giving Ron an unusually affectionate rub.

"Did Muriel already drop you off then?" Ron looked down at the cat's great squashed face. "Bet you're glad to be away from that old bat."

"He looks well." Hermione's voice sounded from the doorway and Ron startled suddenly in surprise. "Do you think he remembers me?" Hermione reached down and hoisted the ball of orange fluff off the ground, a loud and contented purr sounding from his fat body.

"I'd take that as a yes." Ron gave a tiny smile, trying to disguise how happy he was that she'd joined him. Being back in his bedroom felt funnier than he thought it would and he was grateful she was there with him. She offered him a tiny smile in return, but then wrinkled her nose quite suddenly. "Yeah, it still smells a bit like the ghoul." He scratched his head nervously, embarrassed by his malodorous room. Hermione lowered Crookshanks to the floor and pulled out the wand of Bellatrix Lestrange. She quickly removed the smell, replacing it instead with the pleasant aroma of freshly cut grass and a crisp spring breeze. "Nice." He raised his eyebrows and noted that the spell had indeed involved a quarter turn to the right.

"I hate using it." Hermione looked to the claw-like wand in her hand.

"Me too." Ron pulled out the chestnut wand of Peter Pettigrew and stared at its oddly curved design. "I miss my old wand."

He walked over to his bed, set the wand down on the small table beside and plopped onto the mattress. The bed looked so tiny he doubted his lanky frame would even fit in it now. If it was possible, he thought he'd grown another inch in his eighteenth year.

"Don't you think you should be with your family, Ron?" Hermione asked plainly almost exactly like she had earlier that morning in the Great Hall.

"In a bit," Ron murmured dismissively in an attempt to convey to Hermione that returning downstairs with his family was the last thing he wanted to do. "Come sit." He motioned to the empty mattress beside him.

She had sat on this very bed dozens of times over the last seven years, but Ron knew she was well aware of the nature of his invitation and she was slow to walk over to the bed and join him. This wasn't the Gryffindor common room or an overcrowded castle. This was his childhood bedroom. This was his childhood… sweetheart? The term sounded bizarre in Ron's head and he almost chuckled out loud. Calling Hermione his sweetheart, any kind of sweetheart, seemed about the most ridiculous thing in the world. Primarily because, aside from their enthusiastic snog two nights ago, his lips hadn't even met hers again.

Still, it was evident and had been for a while now that they were well beyond the plane of friendship. He and Hermione were something more than best friends, something words couldn't even begin to describe. They certainly weren't boyfriend and girlfriend either though. Boyfriends and girlfriends dated. He doubted he and Hermione would ever be the kind of people to go to Madame Puddifoot's and carve their names into a tree. How did people even date outside of Hogwarts, he wondered? He wouldn't wait for her outside her classes or carry her cauldron around for her or celebrate Quidditch victories. He hadn't ever contemplated what life would be like after Hogwarts, nevertheless life with Hermione. She'd become more than just a part of his life now, she was a part of himThe very real possibility of losing her, which he had felt on more than one occasion in the past year, had felt like someone wrenching his soul apart.

She looked expectantly to Ron from her seat on the bed. His family downstairs suddenly seemed a million miles away. She licked her lips and Ron couldn't ignore the hopeful look in her eye. Did she want him to call her sweetheart and ask her on a date, he wondered? She seemed suddenly much younger than her eighteen years. She didn't look like the girl who had hunted Horcruxes and faced down Death Eaters. She looked very much like a schoolgirl waiting for her first kiss.

Of course, he wasn't her first kiss. He knew that. Ruddy Viktor Krum had gotten there first and probably McLaggen too. He knew he couldn't blame her, of course. He wondered if she knew that he blamed himself and that was why his blood boiled every time he heard so much as a mention of Bulgaria. Someone else had gotten there first and had ruined everything. He felt like he had failed her. He hadn't been the first one to realise Hermione Granger was beautiful and snogging her might just very well be the best thing in the whole world.

"Are you going to kiss me again, or not?" Her voice rang out clearly and she turned to stare at him with those knowing eyes of hers that always indicated she was a step ahead of the rest of the world. Her straightforwardness, though it shouldn't have, took him by surprise and he spluttered a few incomprehensible syllables at first.

"Not with…Crookshanks here," he offered lamely and looked to the enormous cat who was now staring grouchily up at Ron with his great squashed face. Hermione responded in kind by immediately ordering Crookshanks out the door. The bandy-legged cat obeyed, but lingered at the entryway a moment. Ron could swear the cat even turned back and glared at him before leaving. Hermione pointed her wand at the open door then.

"Occludo!" The door closed quickly with a loud slam. Ron fidgeted nervously.

"I'll have to remember that one."

"Professsor Flitwick taught it to us third year," she sighed and shook her head.


"Honestly, did you ever pay attention in class?"




"Do you not want to kiss me again?" She didn't sound at all hurt by the concept and Ron was again taken aback by how forthright and honest she was. Where was this Hermione Granger fourth year? When she could have just said, 'Ron, I wish you had taken me to the ball' or sixth year for that matter when she could have just said, 'Ron, I would like to go on a date with you to Slughorn's Christmas party'. Didn't she know a bloke needed to hear straightforward things like that? That beating around the bush like she did just led to him living in his head and doing other kinds of beating alone in his room.

"Of course I do." His reply was a low, but immediate, mumble. There were no protests, arguments, or lame explanations. Where had this Ron Weasley been for that matter?

"Then what is this – about Crookshanks and yesterday outside the Great Hall - "

"I just …" His voice drifted as he looked down at the dusty floorboards that creaked as he shifted his weight back and forth uncomfortably. He really didn't know why he hadn't kissed her again. Merlin help him, he certainly wanted to. He just knew it never felt like the right time and he wasn't quite sure how to go about doing it. He didn't think about why he felt that way. Sometimes he hated how Hermione made him think about things he would never dwell on otherwise. She made him talk about them. "I guess I want it to be - I don't know - " His attention was riveted to the floor and not her as he stumbled over words. "There's just always something else happening, something else going on."

"Well, nothing is ever going to be perfect," Hermione laughed. "If the past seven years have taught you anything, they should have taught you that."

"Yeah, but…you know what I mean," he sighed and leaned back against the wall. He hoped that his incoherent mumbling would somehow convey to her that he'd thought about kissing her so many times since fourth year that he wasn't sure how exactly to go about doing it. He hoped his weary sigh would help her understand that the circumstances of the battle and the realisation that they might not live through the night had filled him with a sense of immediacy that was lacking up here in his bedroom. Now he had time to think. Now they didn't have anywhere else to be.

She raised one corner of her mouth then in a tiny smile and moved toward him. For a moment he thought she was going to kiss him again and he'd be down 2-0 in the kissing count she was no doubt keeping track of as much as he was, but then she raised the walnut wand of Bellatrix Lestrange. Ron frowned until his eyes followed the wand and he saw that she was immobilizing a little black spider that was resting on the wall above his head. He leapt away from the wall and implored her to kill it as she opened the window and set it free outside.

"You should have killed it. You let him go and now he'll go tell all his spider friends to come back."

"You're being silly."

"Fred told me that's what happened when I was little. He told me they'd tell all their family to come back and get me if I didn't kill them."

"Honestly, Ron, I don't know how you could fight off a swarm of Acromantulas and still be afraid of a garden spider," she sighed. He was grateful she hadn't chosen to make a big deal about the fact that he'd mentioned Fred's name like Harry and Ginny had in the train compartment that morning. He liked that he didn't have to stop the conversation and get weird and dwell on the fact that they would always have to refer to his brother in the past tense now. "So is that why you never did anything?" she asked, quickly bringing them back to the conversation she had initiated about why he still hadn't kissed her again. "Because of everything else that was going on?"

Ron turned the question over in his head. He supposed that was a part of it. There were so many things that had kept him from acting on his feelings for Hermione over the years. If he started telling her all of them now they'd never get around to kissing. They'd be here until supper. And despite his hesitation, he really did want to get down to the kissing.

"A bit, yeah," he dismissed with a shrug. "The other night certainly wasn't how I planned it happening." The words had hardly tumbled from his lips before he immediately wished he could take them back.

"You planned it?" she asked quietly, doing very little to hide how touched she was by the confession.

"No, I don't mean I - not like – I didn't - " He stammered over syllables, but quickly gave up trying to take back his words. "I dunno, I just thought it'd be different, that's all. Not in a battle, not with Harry standing right there, not when…" Not when people were dying around us left and right. "I just thought it'd be different." The words, the meaning behind them and all that they implied, rang out in the bedroom. He was admitting feelings to her he had long kept secret. He had thought about kissing her, pictured it in his head even. Never mind that she already seemed to know all that. He was saying it out loud.

"Are you saying you wish I hadn't done it?" Hermione frowned then.

"No!" Ron was quick to respond, but he quickly stumbled over what to say next. "If something had happened and I never got to – I could never - I just – well - I wish – I mean – I wish it had been me," he blurted out at last.

"What should have been you?"

"You know."

"I think I want to hear it." She crossed her arms and he couldn't help but feel like she was toying with him. He looked down at the floorboards again and began playing with the fringes of the rug with the toe of his shoe, hardly believing she was making him do this.

"I wish I'd kissed you first," he mumbled. His voice was barely audible.

"What was that?" she teased.

"I said I wish I'd been the one who kissed you first." His voice was louder and more decisive.

"And that's important, why?" Hermione actually laughed at his remark as she leaned back on the palms of her hands, looking very pleased with herself. Now's your chance, Weasley, a voice rang in Ron's head. He raised his eyes up from the rug to look at her slightly parted lips and contented smile. How hard could it be? He'd fought off Death Eaters, ridden a dragon, and destroyed a Horcrux. Yet he couldn't lift his head and move it ten inches to the right to kiss Hermione Granger.

"I don't know, I suppose just because blokes are supposed to make the first move, that's all." He shrugged, looking a bit embarrassed. "And last time Harry was standing there and, I don't know…" Ron scratched his head, thoroughly humiliated that she was making him talk about all this.

She was still leaning back on her hands so he dropped back on his too. Their heads were even now and mere inches apart. He could do this. He had already done it, he reminded himself. She'd pounced on him and he'd responded with such force he'd hoisted her off the ground. He knew she wanted him to make the next move though. They had had more than a handful of opportunities in the past thirty-six hours to recreate that moment in the Room of Requirement, but she was patiently waiting for him. Despite all that had happened and all that he had just confessed, it seemed like she still needed the reassurance.

Somehow the vivid memory of their previous embrace didn't help Ron to summon any courage however. That had been a different Ron Weasley, the one who had defied Voldemort and killed the fiercest werewolf in the wizarding world. Not the one who wore pyjamas that were too short and slept on a Chudley Cannons pillowcase. His bedroom for some reason kept bringing him back to all his inadequacies. Everything from the creaking floorboards to the box of Chocolate Frog cards by the window reminded him of his childhood and kept him rooted to the spot.

Oddly enough, it was the memory of Greyback that caused his body to twist slightly and lean toward her. It was the events of the past year - the concern for Hermione that had so often swept through him, the genuine fear that she could be taken from him – that finally willed his lips to her.

Time seemed to slow down and it took forever for his mouth to reach hers. The kiss was chaste and sweet, much softer than the frenzied manner they had embraced the other night. They were leaning back on his bed and his body was twisted at an awkward angle so it only lasted a moment. He pulled away slowly, his lips hovering over hers as he gazed at her with a look that was equal parts wonder and adoration. Her eyes were still closed, like she was waiting for more, but the corners of her mouth were turned up ever so slightly in a perfect smile. So he took her hands in his and pulled her forward so they were both sitting upright. Then he moved in to kiss her again, this time quicker and much more easily than the last.

Her hands were still encased in his, which were growing sweatier by the minute. He knew he should be doing something with them while his mouth moved slowly over hers, but he forgot what to do. He forgot how his long nose got in the way and how teeth sometimes clanged together. He forgot how his mouth pooled with saliva because he couldn't even remember to breathe. He forgot everything save the fact that he was kissing Hermione Granger.

He opened up his eyes so he could watch her then while she kissed him back. The movement of her mouth was even slower than his, but her eyes were closed in a blissfully peaceful manner. He rarely dared to look at her this close, but he was amazed at how lovely and smooth her skin looked after all they'd been through. Sure it was marred in places with scratches, scars, and burns, but she still did not look like someone who had been on the road for months. He was so engrossed in watching the muscles in her cheek move as she worked her jaw against his that he hardly realised her eyes had fluttered open.

"Ron!" she squealed suddenly and broke apart from him. "Close your eyes!"


"Because it's proper!" she spluttered, running her hands through her unruly hair self-consciously.

"Oh, it's proper, is it?" he laughed.


"Is that what Witch Weekly says?"

"It's just what…is. It's not proper to keep your eyes open when you kiss someone," she maintained.

"Are those the rules then?" He suddenly felt unusually self-assured in contrast to Hermione's all too flustered demeanor.

"Yes, it's not - "

"Well, you opened your eyes," he argued coolly.

"Just for a moment. Just to see - "

"Just to see this?" He leaned forward and kissed her again, unsure where this well spring of confidence suddenly came from. He kept his eyes open to see her reaction, but her eyelids immediately dropped down once his lips came into contact with hers again. It was almost like a reflex, like when healers banged your knee and your leg flew out. The Hermione reflex. He kissed her and her eyes closed. They soon opened yet again however and she shrieked and swatted at him.

"Ron, close your eyes!" she ordered. He was tempted to tell her to make him, but he just laughed at her sudden girlishness.

"Why do I have to close my eyes?"

"Because - "

"Don't tell me it's proper!" he cut her off.

"But it is! I don't see why you - "

"Well, come on, let's try again then." He gently combed a tendril of hair behind her ear, only this time neither of their eyes closed as they moved in to brush lips.

"Close your eyes!" she giggled against his mouth, feigning anger. "You didn't even try!"

"I don't want to try." He gave an earnest shrug.

"Why must you keep your eyes open?"

"Honestly?" His tone grew slightly more serious. He pulled his long legs onto the bed and leaned back against the wall, hoping there wasn't a spider on it.

"Of course."

"You won't laugh?"

"I've never laughed at you." She put deliberate emphasis on the word "at", indicating the fine line between laughing along with his often self-deprecating humor and laughing at his expense like many at school had often done.

"It's like – well, it's like I have to see it to believe it's happening." His voice was a low and embarrassed murmur. "Because it doesn't feel real. This." He looked down to the bed they had just been kissing on. He remembered all too well the time Fred had Apparated into his room the summer between fifth and sixth year only to find him having a wank under the bed sheets. Who you thinking about, Ronniekins? he had laughed in all too knowing manner, before Disapparating. And that was just it. Not the wanking of course, but the thinking. For so long it had been dreams and thoughts and fantasies. Now they were here on his bed, kissing and laughing and debating the proper way to conduct oneself while having a snog and none of it felt real.

"But it is real. You and me," Hermione stated then, a pleased smile crossing her face. "Finally."

Ron turned the phrase over in his head. You and me. Ron and Hermione. That's what they'd be from now on. When he leaned in to kiss her again this time, with eyes closed at last, he reminded himself to reach out and cup her face with his hand. His fingers were rough and calloused, but she hardly seemed to mind. In fact, she pressed her cheek into his palm, seeming to revel in the surprisingly gentle caress they had both apparently dreamed about for so long. Ron found it hard to remember that days ago they'd been escaping Gringott's and fleeing for their lives in Hogsmeade.

This was bliss, pure uninterrupted bliss. But like just about everything in his life, the bliss was short lived.


A Harry Potter Story
by MsBinns

Part 8 of 45

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