Continuing Tales


A Harry Potter Story
by MsBinns

Part 9 of 45

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The agitated whispers were difficult to make out at first. Ron didn't know who they belonged to, but he knew perfectly well nobody ever came up to the fifth floor except to talk to him. Still, he did not immediately break away from Hermione. He'd waited too long for this. He'd waited too long to feel her lips come alive against his and actually be able to enjoy it.

"He cannot just lock himself in there!" He heard his mum shout hoarsely. Ron felt guilty for momentarily hoping they were talking about George as his mouth continued to move slowly over hers.

"Molly, you need to let him be!" The louder whisper was definitely his father.

"He should be down with his family!"

"He is coping the best he can."

"Oh, by locking himself in there with her? Doing who knows what?" At the words, Hermione slowly peeled her lips off his.

"It's Hermione!" He heard his dad laugh and Ron wanted to laugh as well at his mum's accusation. Tender close-mouthed kisses, that's what they'd been doing. Still, Hermione slid away from him at the words, as if his mum could somehow see them through the door.

"And I would hope she'd realise she's been with him every day for the past ten months. We are his family!"

"But you must remember those ten months, Molly!"

"We are his family yet he spends all his time…stuck to her!" she sputtered. Ron looked over to Hermione uncomfortably only to see she looked suddenly shameful.

"Remember, he's been through more than just the past few days though. What's happened to them this year – all three of them – it's..." His father's voice drifted away. "I don't know what it is, but Bill said they showed up at his and Fleur's last month in quite a state."

The muscles in Ron's face tightened upon hearing the words. Bill had promised he would mention nothing to the family about their arrival at Shell Cottage last month, but he supposed that had all changed in the last twenty-four hours. He wondered how many details his brother had released. This morning at breakfast he had caught his father again staring at Hermione's scar and the burns on both their hands. He knew his family would start to ask questions soon enough.

Their previous activity was, unfortunately, all but forgotten as they waited uncomfortably to hear the rest of the conversation on the other side of the door.

"Ron! Hermione!" His mother's voice sounded shrill and impatient and was followed by two loud raps on the door. Ron heard the door knob turned and he quickly slid down the bed, putting more space between him and Hermione, who just ran her hands through her hair nervously. They had hardly done anything to warrant the guilty expressions on their faces when Mrs. Weasley opened up the door. Still, Hermione looked mortified by the thought that she'd just been kissing Ron and now here she was staring up at his mother. Ron wondered if his mum knew they both had been able to hear her through the door.

"What is it, mum?" He looked to her with mild annoyance.

"I've put a spot of tea on," she informed them curtly. Ron saw the way she eyed his bed, looking for wrinkles in the sheets or signs that anything other than sitting had happened upon it. "I thought you might like to come join the rest of the family." There was a noticeable accusatory tone to her voice as she said the words.

Hermione avoided her face in a much too guilty manner as she stood up from the bed and walked toward the door. Ron wasn't sure why, but he wanted to laugh. He thought about the innocent string of kisses they'd just exchanged. He thought about their teasing banter about what was "proper" and the way he'd just gone in and kissed her again and again. He felt like a weight had been lifted. He felt an optimism and excitement towards the future run through him that he couldn't ever recall feeling before. He'd done it. He'd gotten through the second kiss. Suddenly, he couldn't wait for the third and fourth. And with his mother still standing expectantly in the door, Ron walked over, took Hermione's hand in his, moved in and kissed her once right on the mouth, and led her through the door and down the many flights of steps.

She looked aghast and very much like she'd like to wrench her hand away from him, but Ron gripped it tightly, not allowing her to break free. He was proud to be with her and saw no sense in hinting around the obvious. The two of them had danced around the subject for years, apparently to the annoyance and amusement of most of the Weasley clan and half of Hogwarts castle. Pretending like they hadn't been doing what they had, no matter how innocent it had been, was silly. Pretending they weren't whatever it was they were was equally useless.

Still, he knew it was no coincidence that the first thing his mother said to Hermione as they took a seat in the crowded sitting room was that she would set the camp bed up in Ginny's room for her. The fact that her eyes were turned to Ron as she spoke the words certainly didn't disguise their intention. He doubted anyone in the sitting room questioned their meaning either. He saw Bill hide his smile behind a cup of tea and noticed the way Harry and Ginny eyed each other, grateful to not be bearing the brunt of Mrs. Weasley's motherly instincts at the moment.

Ron couldn't remember the last time his family had all sat around together like this in the sitting room. It felt quite unnatural, especially with Fred's picture staring down at them from the mantle. He wondered if he was the only one who noticed it up there with the rest of the family photos.

There was Charlie in his Quidditch robes holding the House Cup over his head as he waved wildly, his golden captain badge glittering in the sun. There was a photo of Bill and Fleur twirling across the dance floor at their August wedding. There was Percy proudly displaying his Head Boy badge and Ginny smiling and waving on Platform 9 ¾ ready for her first year at Hogwarts. There he was with Harry and Hermione in Diagon Alley in a photo taken third year. Hermione stood in the middle of the two boys, her arms thrown around both their shoulders. She looked first to Harry then over to Ron where, if his eyes didn't deceive him, her eyes lingered just a touch longer. He eyed the photo that he hadn't bothered to look at for several years, amazed at how carefree they looked and wondering if they'd ever be that carefree again. But it was the photo beside the one of the trio that truly haunted the mantle. There were the twins, in matching dragon skin suits, grinning broadly and standing in front a GRAND OPENING sign. Fred held a box of Wildfire Whiz Bangs and George a pair of trick wands.

"Where's George?" Ron asked quietly, noting his brother's obvious absence from the sitting room where the rest of the Weasley clan was. The downcast eyes of his family indicated his mum had failed to retrieve him from his room the way she had Ron. Ron reached across Hermione for the plate of biscuits sitting on the table, willing someone to break the terrible silence.

"So Hermione, will your parents be coming on Friday?" His father spoke next, but the words were hardly ones Ron would have chosen. He felt Hermione stiffen beside him and saw Harry and Ginny look around uncomfortably.

"My parents." Hermione sucked in a deep breath. "No, I'm afraid not."

"Are they on holiday?" Mr. Weasley looked intrigued. Ron knew his father was fascinated by the various places Muggles went on holiday. He loved interrogating Hermione about what exactly happened on a ski slope and what on earth parasailing meant.

"No, they're not on holiday. Not exactly."

"Well, why won't they be coming?" Mrs. Weasley butted in, looking a bit put-out that the Grangers, who had only met Fred once briefly second year, would not be attending his funeral.

"They would come if they were able," Hermione assured.

"What do you mean?"

"Mum," Ron spoke up in protest.

"Well, she's talking as if - "

"Mum!" The edge to Ron's voice was evident to everyone in the room except his mother.

"It's been nearly two days - "


"She's talking as if they don't know what's happened."

"They don't!" Ron finally blurted out.

"What?" The confusion on everyone, save Harry and Ginny's faces, was all too evident. They all looked past Ron to Hermione, who remained silent and suddenly looked quite pale.

"They don't know anything that's happened," Ron finally clarified. "They're Wendell and Monica Wilkins and they live in Australia." He moved his hand on top of Hermione's and gave it a gentle squeeze. He was pleased to feel her squeeze back, as if to assure him it was okay to reveal what she could not.

"You don't mean - "

"She fixed their memory so they wouldn't be in any danger," he explained quietly for her. "They don't even know she exists." Ron saw five mouths drop open in shock.

"When?" Mr. Weasley croaked in disbelief.

"Last summer," Ron replied quietly, "before the wedding."

"So they've been living…in Australia all this time?" Molly looked almost as ashen as Hermione. She looked like a combination of emotions Ron didn't even know a person could feel at once – horrified and amazed, stunned and saddened, sympathetic and, Ron detected, also a bit furious. "You mean to tell me that - heaven forbid - something had happened to you that your parents wouldn't even have been able to…" Molly's voice drifted and she looked to Hermione. There was a long pause. Ron saw Hermione tug anxiously on her shirt sleeves.

"Shame on you," his mum scolded, finally breaking the silence. "That was not your decision to make." His mother suddenly looked as if she was about to burst into tears, but an anger welled inside of Ron regardless.

It was the type of anger he was used to reserving only for the idiots at Hogwarts who insulted Hermione. Feeling such emotions toward his mother, especially after the events of the past two days, felt odd, but his loyalty to Hermione overwhelmed him. He even felt his fists curl.

"She didn't have a choice! The Death Eaters would have killed them - "

"That is not the kind of decision a child should be making alone!" His mother replied sharply. "No matter how clever they are! You don't have children, when you do you'll understand. A parent should have the opportunity to say g- goodbye to their child!" she stammered, making it all too clear what she was saying now had little to do with Hermione. The sitting room grew uncomfortably quiet. Ron couldn't help himself from glancing up at the smiling picture of his brother in his dragon skin suit.

"He knew you loved him, mum," Bill assured quietly, speaking the words everyone else seemed afraid to. Mrs. Weasley dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief her husband handed to her, but said nothing.

"I can't believe you can do an Obliviate charm," Percy suddenly spoke, looking to Hermione with an admiration that seemed quite ill-suited for the situation.

"She didn't obliviate them!" Ron spoke defensively, appalled that they thought Hermione had completely wiped their memories. "It's temporary. We've got to go find them, see? So then she can reverse it."

"Hermione, that's very advanced magic," his dad spoke quietly. "Very deep stuff indeed."

"She can do it," Ron spoke confidently.

"It's very easy to get wrong."

"Dad!" Ron could hardly believe his dad was now going to slur accusations at Hermione as well. Did no one else see the selfless nature in what she had done?

"He's right," Hermione finally spoke, her voice sounding unnaturally small and meek.

"No, Hermione, you'll be able to do it," Ron looked to her in assurance.

"But he's right. It is very easy to get wrong. And your mum's right too. It wasn't my decision to make," she admitted with a surprising amount of composure, but then her cool façade broke suddenly. "But I didn't know what else to do." Ron shot both his parents accusatory glares as he saw her eyes glisten with tears and he instinctively moved his arm around to comfort her. "They were targeting the families of Muggle borns and I knew it was only a matter of time before they came to mine. Especially when they learned I hadn't gone back to Hogwarts."

"You could have come to us," Mr. Weasley spoke kindly. "The Ministry could have offered protection."

"The Ministry was infiltrated." She shook her head. Ron saw Percy look to the ground shamefully. "You knew it. Everyone knew it. I didn't know what else to do."

"You did what you thought was right," Mr. Weasley nodded his head, but Ron couldn't help but notice the delicate way he phrased the assurance seemed a very polite way of telling her she'd been wrong. He wanted to challenge his father and ask what else she could have been expected to do under the circumstances and what possible alternative there had been to keep her family safe, but he kept his mouth shut. "So when will you be leaving?"

"Soon," Hermione stated simply. "As soon as possible really. I was going to fly there the Muggle way so that I could return with my parents - "

"Don't be silly," his dad scoffed, though he looked quite delighted at the thought of traveling by airplane. "I can see about setting up Portkeys for you."

"Can Portkeys travel that far?" Ron inquired suddenly.

"Well, we'll have to set up a series of them, but it shouldn't be too complicated," his dad assured. "I'll have to talk to… no, Yurick's left the country and well, no Cliff got dismissed after that incident with the Snatcher, Basil might be willing to help, but with his wife at Saint Mungo's now…" he ran through a rather depressing list of colleagues at the Ministry who were either dead, missing, or incapacitated. "Regardless, we'll find someone at the Portkey Office to assist you."

"I know someone who could help," Percy offered unexpectedly. "He's a friend from my first job at the Ministry. He worked as a French ambassador and could probably assist you in getting out of country. Sometimes it's hard to get consent from the other Ministries without knowing someone on the inside, you see." He seemed quite proud both at his ability to help and the fact that he knew someone 'on the inside'.

"Brilliant, thanks, Perce," Ron gave his brother an appreciative nod.

"You intend to go with her, Ron?" His mother inquired. Her tone was much quieter and more subdued than it had been before, but the disapproval on her face was evident.

"Of course." Ron straightened up in his chair, readying himself for a confrontation. None came however. While his mother looked none too pleased at the revelation, she said nothing.

Charlie and Bill made obvious attempts to change the conversation, ranging from what had kept Fleur so long to the weather here in Devon. Unfortunately, there was only so much to say and the conversation quickly stagnated with only two people attempting to carry it.

The silence that ensued was painful. Far from the comfortable silence he and Hermione could share where no words were exchanged and their company had been enough solace, this felt forced. When anyone spoke it was clear it was merely to relieve the tension and draw focus away from the only reason they were all together in the first place. It was odd. His house always felt so cozy and natural. Even Hermione and Harry had told him that. This felt unnatural in every way. He desperately wanted to finish his tea and leave. His family was close and they enjoyed each other's company, but they didn't all sit down for tea together. The pauses were long and frequent and the absence of both twins, as George remained upstairs, was painfully obvious. Ron was almost tempted to eat up all the biscuits off the plate just to have an excuse to leave and go to the kitchen.

"I can't believe so many of your chickens survived, mum," Charlie spoke in another effort to diffuse the tension.

"I put up a charm to keep the foxes out," his mother explained weakly. "Looks like some of them still wandered off though."

"The ones that stayed sure ate up the garden," Bill commented innocently.

"Yes, we'll have a lot of work to do to get the house back in order." Ron was quite sure everyone in the room would have let out a collective groan at the words, but under the circumstances nobody said a word. "We'll have company over and I won't have it looking like this."

"I think it looks quite good for a month with no one here."

"Did you see the cloud of dust when you sat down on the sofa, Charlie?" his mum fussed. "We should get started right after tea."

"We could wait until tomorrow, Molly," his dad suggested softly. "I think everyone could use a day…" his voice trailed away and Ron couldn't help but wonder what he was going to say. His body could certainly use a day of relaxation where he wasn't dodging curses and running for his life. But Ron feared his dad merely meant a day to sit around and mull over the fact that this was all that was left of their family. That was something Ron had no desire to do.

The soft pop that sounded with Fleur's arrival finally broke up the awkward family gathering as Bill quickly departed to greet her. Charlie and Percy disappeared next and even though all Ron wanted to do was go back upstairs with Hermione and get that third kiss, he found himself instead climbing the stairs to explore Harry's new bedroom since his mum had sent both Ginny and Hermione to prepare the camp bed. Ron bit his tongue as he watched her disappear behind the door to Ginny's room, suddenly envious of his sister and wondering if Hermione would ever have the opportunity to disappear behind the door to his bedroom again.

Harry's room looked more like a large box that had been magically attached to the third floor with an extra strong sticking charm than it did an actual room. The dimensions of the already existing structure required the room to be slightly lower than the third floor so there was a rather large step down to enter it. There was also a low entryway that both Harry and Ron had to duck beneath that, when combined with the drop, gave the room the appearance of a cave.

"It's quite cozy," Ron remarked as he stepped down the step and looked around. The room was small, only big enough for a bed and a dresser and was relatively bare, though it appeared his family had attempted to decorate as best they could. There was a homemade quilt on the bed that Ron recalled used to lie on the sofa downstairs, a lamp on the bedside table he thought used to be in the kitchen, and a stack of hand me down clothes folded at the edge of the bed. He wondered if Ginny had made any attempt to decorate. There was a poster from the Quidditch World Cup and a roaring Gryffindor Lion affixed to the wall as well as a picture of the 1994 Gryffindor House team. Ron looked at the picture fondly, trying hard not to fix his eyes on the twins' smiling faces in the back row, but failing miserably. Harry looked to him uncomfortably, like he wanted to say something, but wasn't sure what was proper.

"It's a nice room," he commented instead.

"Yeah, aside from being next to the toilet." Ron jerked his thumb to the south wall and then pointed to the ceiling. "And beneath my parents' bedroom."

"Your parents don't still…" Harry's' voice drifted off uncertainly.

"If I hear anything, I try to convince myself it's just the ghoul." Ron wrinkled his nose and both boys blanched at the implication that anything other than sleeping went on above their heads.

The insinuation over the nature of his parent's relationship seemed to cause both boys to suddenly reflect on their own relationships however and the laughter slowly died away. Harry and Ginny were clearly back to being an item, picking up right where they had left off when Ron had walked in on their passionate kiss last August. Then Ron had fussed at Harry and gotten angry at him for messing her around. He had done nothing the past few days but offer mild encouragement. He found that what he had with Hermione, whatever it was, made him look at everybody else a bit differently. Why begrudge Harry happiness, or his sister for that matter, after all they'd been through?

"I kissed her again, y'know," Ron remarked suddenly.


"Yeah, just before, up in my room," he informed.

"Good…for you," Harry responded distantly, shifting his weight uncomfortably.

"I kissed her a bunch of times actually - "

"Ron - "

"I didn't slip her the tongue or anything - "


"And she kept telling me I had to close my eyes, but - "


"What? Blokes can talk about this kind of thing can't they?" Ron frowned, quite confident that conversations about ones successes with the opposite sex were the kind of thing guys were supposed to talk about. Never mind that he'd not once shared any of the details of his time with Lavender with Harry.

"Hermione's like my sister, remember?"

"Oh. Yeah."

"I'm happy for you, I really am, for both of you. But unless you want to hear about me slipping the tongue to your sister - "

"Right then," Ron cut him off, getting the message loud and clear.

" – I really don't want to hear the details."

"Right." He nodded his head in understanding. "It's just…I don't know who else to talk to and I don't want to mess this up," he admitted sheepishly.

"It's not like Charms class," Harry laughed dismissively, "it's not something you can take notes on and practice."

Ron looked down at the floorboards, feeling suddenly inexperienced compared to Harry, despite the months he'd spent with Lavender. He wanted to laugh with his friend, but he couldn't force it. His relationship with Hermione felt like the most important thing in his life right now. He had no idea what he wanted to do or what he was supposed to do now besides be with her. It was as unsettling as it was exciting. The fate of their world didn't rest on his shoulders anymore, but somehow this felt just as important.

"I could fuck up though," Ron admitted quietly, "worse than in Charms class."

"You won't," Harry assured. Ron gave him a skeptical glare then, his hands shoved deep into his pockets. "Okay, you might," Harry gave a laugh. "But…you'll be all right."

"It's just…it's Hermione, you know?"

"And you're her best friend." Harry gave a simple but comforting shrug then. "You've always been her best friend." At the words, Ron tried to recall when he'd realised growing up that one of his best friends was a girl. He'd fought it at first, trying to convince himself that Hermione was just an acquaintance, just a girl who sometimes hung out with him and Harry. Second year when she'd been petrified had changed all that, of course. He knew then that he cared about her a lot, enough to go into the Forbidden Forest to save her. He recalled how the boys in his year had poked fun at him when the two of them had made that first trip to Hogsmeade alone together without Harry. Some had even teasingly joked that they ought to get married. Ron had started to wonder then what made a girl friend different from a girlfriend. Was it just that they would snog? Or did it mean something more, some kind of change in the friendship dynamic? Could he still make the same jokes around her? Should he watch his mouth around her? Would they still do the same things? Four years had passed since then and he found he still didn't know the answer. How much would his and Hermione's friendship change now that they'd done what they'd done?

"You'll still be best friends." Harry shrugged, seeming to read his troubled mind. "The only difference is now you get to kiss her." He laughed then, but quickly corrected himself. "Just not when I'm not around!"

"Oh, like you never snogged my sister in front of me?" Ron appreciated Harry's attempt at levity and took the opportunity to have a go at him.

"We tried to keep it to a minimum," Harry argued and Ron just smirked back at him.

"Well, trying is about all I can promise from me and Hermione then."

Though his childhood bed offered a sense of comfort and security the four poster bed in Gryffindor Tower had lacked, Ron once again failed to sleep through the night. The memories of the battle that had haunted him at Hogwarts continued to haunt him at home. The quips, the banter, Pius Thicknesse bleeding out on the floor, then the explosion and the words he'd shouted out to Percy.

You can't do anything for him.

Somehow in that moment, he had known it. He had known then that his brother was gone. Yet he lay awake last night still unable to really process what that meant. It meant when he climbed down the stairs for breakfast his brother would not be there slipping canary creams into the porridge or replacing mum's wand with a trick one that shot out great soapy bubbles. It meant the next time he went to Diagon Alley he wouldn't see Fred behind the counter of the store that was his pride and joy. He wondered if this is how he would wake up every day, if Fred would always be the first thing that popped into his mind.

Ron stretched his legs out so his toes peeked out from the bottom of his maroon Cannons quilt. He could hear the sounds of the busy Weasley household starting their day many floors below. The strong scent of bacon had even wafted all the way up to his fifth floor bedroom. Outside his window there was a sudden loud flutter, followed by an incessant tapping and an unmistakably pitiful hoot. He looked to see his tiny owl, Pigwidgeon, hopping madly about the window ledge. Slowly, he moved to open the window and the owl came flying through in a mad dash toward Ron's head.

"Oi!" He covered his head with his hands. The bird's wings flapped about his head with such fervor that tiny feathers started flying off its body and floating through the air. Any hopes that the excitable bird had calmed down in the past year were immediately dashed. He looked out to the exterior ledge where the tiny owl had dropped a mouse nearly half the size of its head. Ron wondered if perhaps the mouse was a gift for him. He grumbled about the 'stupid feathery git' as Pug fluttered madly about his head, but the angry words could not hide his obvious pleasure at the bird's excitement over his return. "All right then, I'm glad to see you too," he laughed as he pulled on a pair of trousers. Pig soared around in circles over his head as Ron staggered down the five flights of stairs.

As delectable as the thought of one of his mother's famous breakfasts was, the memory of the awkward tea yesterday was enough to cause him to take his sweet time traveling down to the kitchen. Today people would wake up and they'd realize the same thing he had when he woke up. Fred was still gone and all they had to look forward to today was preparing for his funeral.

Yesterday had been absolutely dismal. Owls with condolence letters had arrived into the evening. Their arrival had cast a somber cloud over the afternoonRon had spent most of the day doing chores with his mum. She insisted he stay downstairs with her while she caught him up on everything that he had missed throughout the year. She told him about Ginny's Quidditch season while he helped lengthen the table and move it out into the garden. She told him about her decision to plant two apple trees while he scrubbed down five dirty cauldrons and looked out on the young trees. She informed him about the snow they'd gotten on Christmas Eve while he Sourgified the sitting room with her. He felt a pang of guilt when she'd reached into the closet then and tearfully handed him the sweater she'd knitted him last December. She had hoped he'd be home for Christmas. He thought about telling her how much he had wanted to be home for Christmas himself, but he was fearful she would ask more questions about his activity. He was already afraid Bill and Fleur had broken their promise about his surprise arrival at their cottage in December.

His mum, surprisingly, hadn't asked any questions however. She seemed only to want to keep him close to her. Frequently while he was cleaning the bookcase and beating the dust out of the sofa cushions, she'd reach over to smooth out his hair or straighten a wrinkle in the collar of his oxford. He felt a bit guilty shaking her off all the time, but she seemed to revel in the act of fussing over him. "I'm just so glad you're home," she had repeated on more than one occasion. The words were enough to guilt him into remaining downstairs with her a bit longer. By then, it was time to lay the table and call his siblings down for dinner, which had been as awkward and painful a meal as tea. After dinner, she had all but pushed him up the stairs, insisting he have a shower and make sure to wash behind his ears. He'd been so mortified at being treated like a child that he'd given Hermione no more than a nod of the head and a wave good night.

He had no intentions of giving her such a cursory greeting this morning however. Excitement bubbled up inside him at the memory of kissing her yesterday and he couldn't stop his mind from wondering when he would get to kiss her (and perhaps do more) today. His entire family was scattered throughout the kitchen, the garden, and the living room. Fleur and Bill were reading the Daily Prophet together on the couch, the perfect picture of marital bliss. Harry and Ginny were outside in the morning sunlight enjoying breakfast, Percy's face was buried in a book, Charlie was helping Mrs. Weasley scrub potatoes in the kitchen and his dad was fiddling with the oversized wireless that rested in the corner. Only George, who had only emerged last night for dinner under duress, was absent.

Ron shuffled across the room toward Hermione, who was drumming her fingers on the counter and waiting idly on a pot of tea to warm on the cooker. Like everyone else downstairs, she was still clad in her pyjamas and her hair was fixed behind her head into two thin plaits. The memory of their all-too brief kiss up on his bed had his stomach doing somersaults when he looked at her. He wondered how his family would react if he were to plant a big fat kiss on her right now in front of them all. He would hold a hand to her face, like he had done yesterday, the way she had seemed to enjoy so much. He would caress her lips softly with his in a way that would make her yearn for more and kiss him back with the same enthusiasm she'd shown back in the Room of Requirement. Even though he desperately wanted to try, he settled on a most sincere "good morning" and a soft inquiry about how she'd slept. The touch of longing in his voice at the question was difficult to ignore, but aside from his mum peeling her potatoes with a newfound vigor, nobody reacted.

"I slept fine," Hermione replied quietly. Her nervousness at his closeness and the somehow intimate nature of the question was muddled with the obvious look of pleasure that flashed briefly across her face upon seeing him.

"I'll be needing everyone's help today." His mum's voice sounded over the potato peeling. Ron wanted to ask what more needed to be done after the work he'd put in yesterday afternoon.

"Yes, mum," he replied obediently instead, grabbing a piece of toast and rolling his eyes at the thought of more work.

"Yes, of course, Mrs. Weasley. Anything I can do to help," Hermione echoed politely.

"Good! Well, Charlie here, bless him," she reached out and pinched Charlie's cheek, "is helping me prepare lunch. But we need to do a bit to get the house in order." She eyed the stack of condolence cards lying on the counter, as if a reminder of how many people would soon be descending upon the Burrow in the next few days. She summoned Harry and Ginny inside and immediately set about assigning everyone tasks to scrub down every inch of the interior and exterior of the Burrow. Ron couldn't help but detect the tiniest bit of disappointment in Hermione's eyes as his mum assigned them separate jobs.

He stomped up the stairs, making no attempt to disguise his unhappiness at the unattractive tasks he and Harry had been appointed to. Scrubbing the windows and cleaning out the broomshed hardly seemed comparable to the other tasks his family members had been assigned like tidying the closets and shaking out the rugs. Ron dressed himself in the dingiest pair of trousers he owned and an old hand me down t-shirt with a hole in the sleeve as he knew he and Harry would get quite dirty.

Hermione was slowly climbing the stairs as he was stomping down them. He was so angry at the whole situation and eager to complete his silly chores that he didn't bother saying a word as he passed by her, but her eyes held him and caused him to stop momentarily.

"She's just trying to keep everyone busy," she reminded him softly.

"It's a stupid chore," he complained.

"You'll be with Harry. It'll be fine."

"It's just because she just doesn't want me to be with you." He could see Hermione didn't exactly deny his sullen words. "You know that's why."

"She's got everybody else working too," she pointed out.

"It's stupid! Nobody is going to come here and pay any attention to the effing windows on the fourth floor!" he grumbled.

"I think everybody's quite glad for the distraction actually." Ron knew what kind of distraction she was referring to and he would have agreed if he hadn't been staring at her lips and thinking about the string of kisses they'd exchanged yesterday. He wasn't sure whether they should qualify as one kiss or as several. He'd fallen asleep last night thinking back on the whole course of events as their second kiss, but there had been twelve actual kisses. Twelve times their lips had broken apart and come together again. Merlin's saggy left bollock, he was going to be the kind of pathetic bloke who counted kisses and remembered anniversaries and first dates. "Anyway." She reached out and squeezed his arm then. "We'll be done by lunchtime and then we can - "

"Come on, Hermione! Let's get degnoming!" Ginny suddenly thundered up the stairs behind them, leaving Ron's mind to wander in regards to what Hermione was looking forward to happening this afternoon.

The first floor windows were easy to wash, but Pigwidgeon slowed his progress by fluttering around his head the entire time. He apologised to Harry, a bit embarrassed by the owl's behavior, and also a bit guilty as he thought about Harry's poor owl, Hedwig, and the fate she had met last fall. Harry didn't seem to mind, but Ron still couldn't help but feel badly. He wondered if Harry would get another owl. It was odd to think about him having something Harry did not.

Cleaning the upper floors proved to be a bit more of a challenge and required them to summon Percy out to help them. The ensuing effort had required quite a bit of teamwork. Together he and Harry stood on the table, on which they also perched the bucket of suds, while Percy carefully raised it to each level of the ramshackle house. They had a bit of a time balancing at first, but Percy paid careful attention to keep the table steady and they soon made quick work of all the upper windows.

Ron was oddly pleased to see the sill outside his bedroom window was covered with owl pellets and skeletons that seemed to indicate Pig had been bringing him gifts to the window all year. When they got to the other side of the house and Ginny's room, Ron stifled a grin as he saw Harry crane his neck to look inside. Neither girl was in there of course, but he was unable to help but steal a glance himself at the camp bed Hermione had slept on last night. He wondered what it was about simply looking at their beds that captivated them both. Both boys, who had previously been chattering on about taking in a Cannons game this fall, grew quiet and exchanged funny half-embarrassed looks, much like they had yesterday in Harry's bedroom. The look seemed to acknowledge the grip the two girls had over them. The only thing that used to make them both belt up that quickly had been a new broomstick.

They made quick work of the job and as it was only mid-morning, they thanked Percy and quickly readied themselves for the next task. The broomshed, which was crawling with spiders, was one of Ron's least favourite places in the world. He saw little need to clean the old stone building, but his mum insisted it be tidied up to store the broomsticks of everyone who would be arriving to the Burrow in the next few days. The corners of the structure were lined with thick sticky spiderwebs and Ron was tempted to give himself a bubble-headed charm to keep the inhabitants from dropping onto his head.

Aside from Ginny's, most of the brooms had hardly been touched in years. Many, like Ron's old Shooting Star and the ancient Moonbeam all the Weasley children had learned to fly on, hadn't been ridden for a decade. Ron looked rather sad as he picked up his three year old Cleansweep, realizing that his days of competing for a House Cup were over. He hadn't even thought about the fact that he'd be missing his final Quidditch season when he'd embarked with Harry on their journey to destroy the Horcruxes. He wondered if he'd ever play competitive Quidditch again.

Harry too looked sad as he rifled through the pile of brooms, likely feeling a pang for the Firebolt he had lost somewhere over Surrey last August. Harry picked up a slightly older model Cleansweep with a bit of red tape wrapped around the handle. Ron felt his stomach lurch as he caught sight of the old broom his brother had flown.

He remembered when Fred had put the red tape around the handle, like many things, to differentiate it from George's. Even with all the money the twins had made, Fred had never upgraded his broom. Ron remembered when he asked him why, Fred replied that you can't improve on perfection and he reckoned he and the Cleansweep were perfection on the Quidditch pitch. Ron gingerly took the broom from Harry's hands and carefully placed it by itself on a thick patch of grass. He then marched purposefully into the broomshed with his wand aloft.

"Let's just get this done," he grumbled and gave Pettigrew's wand a quick flourish. A jet of red sparks circled around the tiny stone outhouse, the walls of the structure trembled, and the spiders that lined the corners quickly fell to the earth dead.

"Bit much, don't you think?" Harry remarked at Ron's use of such a violent stunning spell for a handful of spiders.

"No, I reckon it was just enough. There's about a hundred in there." Ron motioned down to all the spiders now lying on the ground. Pigwidgeon, who was still following Ron, hopped about the shed happily gobbling up the fallen spiders.

"Well," Harry rolled his sleeves up and stepped towards the outhouse that could just barely fit the two of them. "Let's get to cleaning then."

Ron's speedy disposal of the spiders made scouring the walls and cleaning out the cobwebs with a Scourgify charm very simple. He knew his mum would be pleased. By the time they finished, the tiny stone structure hardly resembled the building that had terrified him for years as a child.

"Fred locked me in there once, y'know?" Ron spoke suddenly as he and Harry both lay splayed out in the grass beside the shed.

"When?" Harry laughed.

"Not long after he turned my teddy bear into a spider." Ron actually managed a laugh. "Kept me in there for over an hour."

"There was probably nobody in the world he enjoyed tormenting more than you," Harry offered, but his use of the past tense made the smile fall from Ron's face quickly. He knew if ever there was someone to talk to who would understand what he felt, it was his best friend. Harry seemed to want to talk to him too, but it was like yesterday in his bedroom when he'd caught him staring at the Quidditch photo. It was as if he didn't know how. Neither of them did. "Erm – want to go for a fly?" Harry proposed uncomfortably instead, glancing at the brooms lying in the grass.

Ron brushed a cobweb off his Cleansweep Eleven and looked to it thoughtfully. He couldn't help but think about the many times he'd come out here with Fred and George. He doubted he ever would have learned how to play Quidditch if not for his brothers. For all their merciless ribbing, the twins had essentially taught him to fly. They'd taught him how to make the most out of the old brooms they rode, taught him the best way to sit to reduce wind resistance and how to tuck his feet on old brooms that lacked footrests. He wondered if he'd ever be able to fly or enjoy Quidditch without thinking of the fact that Fred would never play with him again.

"I don't think so," he declined.

"It might do you some good to be on a broom again," Harry suggested, but his choice of words caused Ron's eyes to flash to him suddenly.

"What do you mean do me some good?" he replied defensively.

"Nothing," Harry retracted the statement quickly. "I just mean…I don't know - being up in the air, feeling a bit of wind in your face - it always made me feel better."

Ron suddenly recalled how after Sirius had been killed flying was about the only thing that made his friend smile. He knew Harry was only trying to help, but Ron couldn't help but feel like the only reason he was trying was because he felt like he had to. He was his best friend, after all, and he knew what it was like to lose people. In some ways Ron couldn't help but think, Harry didn't really know what it was like though.

As awful as it had been for him to grow up without parents, he hadn't known his parents at all when they'd been killed. And while he'd gotten close to Sirius, he hadn't grown up with him. He wasn't a brother. He hadn't spent eighteen years being mercilessly teased and ribbed and loved by him. Harry didn't know what it was like at all.

"I think I'll just go back inside."

"We could just have a quick fly before lunch," Harry maintained persistently.

"I don't think so."

"You could ask Hermione to come," Harry suggested then, seeming to acknowledge that Hermione could reach him in ways he couldn't.

Ron eyed his broom hesitantly and turned the suggestion over in his head. He'd daydreamed of riding off into the sunset with Hermione on his Cleansweep about a million times. The thought of flying with her might just overshadow eighteen years of memories of flying with Fred.

"I bet they're not even working," Ron murmured quietly. "I bet they're making Crookshanks do all the work."

"Only one way to check," Harry grinned. He grabbed Ron's old Shooting Star then and with Ginny's Comet in the other hand, climbed on and kicked off the ground. Seeing Harry on such an ancient and slow broomstick was an odd sight, but Harry didn't seem to mind. He zipped over to the garden toward Ginny and Hermione as fast as the Shooting Star would take him.

Ron picked up his own broom hesitantly. Each of the last three times he'd flown a broom he'd nearly been killed. He almost forgot what it was like to fly just to fly. Swinging his leg over, he sat astride the wooden handle and hesitantly kicked off the ground toward the garden on the other side of the house. Much as he had predicted, Hermione and Ginny were not working and in an odd moment of frivolity, were sunning themselves in the grass on the unusually warm May morning. The sleeves on Ginny's shirt were rolled up, but Ron noticed Hermione's covered every inch of her arms, even in the warm May sun. He had more than a hunch she was hiding the scars from her ordeal at the Malfoy's. She'd kept her arms covered since that day to everybody but Fleur, who had treated the wounds. He had seen them only in their immediate escape from the Malfoy's when he'd carried her into Shell Cottage.

"Working hard, are you?" Harry laughed, circling around Ginny so low he was practically skimming the grass. The gnomes had gotten increasingly bold in the Weasley absence, but Crookshanks was handling them with ease, swatting at them with his massive paws.

"I knew sending you two to the broomshed would end like this," Hermione sighed wearily, the way she did when he and Harry used to blow off studying to practice Quidditch. She smiled despite herself as she looked to Ron. She appeared as if she enjoyed the sight of him sitting tall on his broomstick. He thought he'd caught her eyeing him in a similar fashion the first time he'd stepped out in his Quidditch robes back in fifth year, but then she'd quickly averted her eyes. She wasn't looking away now and the smile she offered him made no attempt to hide the fact that she liked how he looked. He bowed his head and scratched his neck, uncomfortable that Harry or Ginny had somehow seen or read her thoughts the way he had.

Harry, he quickly realised however, was hardly concerned with the way he and Hermione were looking at each other. He and Ginny were locked in a tight embrace, opting to greet each other with their tongues.

"Keep it to a minimum, eh?" Ron frowned, reminding Harry of their conversation in his room yesterday.

"I said we'd try." Harry gave a laugh and the pair quickly flew off to the orchard. Hermione gazed wistfully at the flying duo, who were dipping and weaving happily alongside each other. For the first time, Ron thought it looked as if she wished she owned a broom of her own.

"Climb on then," he invited finally, hoping the cool nature of his voice could disguise the fact that should she climb on the back of his Cleansweep it would be the fulfillment of a lifetime's worth of daydreams.

"Is it safe?" she asked nervously, seeming to forget she'd ridden a broom with him twice before. He lowered the broom to the ground and rested his feet firmly on the ground so she could climb aboard and see for herself. "This doesn't feel like it's built for two." Her voice wavered uncertainly as she stepped over the broomstick and struggled with a place to put her feet.

"Technically, it's not." Ron heard her gasp nervously at his less than assuring reply. "But it's all right, put your feet here and – uh - " He hesitated momentarily and took in a great big gulp of air. "Just hold on tight to me."

He wondered if she knew his eyes were closed as he stood there clutching the broom and waiting to feel her arms around him. He'd flown with her before, but this time they wouldn't be escaping from the Chamber of Secrets with an armful of basilisk fangs or fleeing for their lives from Fiendfyre. She'd be flying with him, holding onto him, simply because she wanted to, not because she had to. Finally, he felt her hands snake around his waist and fix firmly around his body like a kind of safety belt.

"You won't go too fast?" She asked hesitantly. She scooted as close to him as she could get, so close in fact that she turned her head and pressed her cheek against his back. Ron felt his insides twist about nervously. He could feel her breasts up against his back and her heartbeat thumping against him. It felt as loud as his.

"I promise." He hoped she couldn't hear the catch in his voice as he kicked off the ground slowly.

"Where ARE you going?" His mum's shrill voice sounded from the kitchen window as soon as they lifted off the ground. Ron suddenly wished he hadn't done such a good job cleaning that particular window. "Flying around when there's work to be done and lunch is almost ready?"

"But mum, Harry and Ginny are - " Ron attempted a weak protest as he pointed in the direction the pair had gone.

"I'll mind Harry and Ginny when they get their feet back on the ground!"

"Sorry, Mrs. Weasley," Hermione dismounted from the broom quickly and poked Ron in the back in an obvious attempt to remind him to do the same.

"Yeah, sorry, mum." He couldn't help but feel like he was eleven years old and he'd just been caught stealing biscuits from the jar in the kitchen.

"You'd better get washed up!" His mum again managed to make him feel like a child as she scowled at his dirty and dusty clothes. "Charlie's made lunch and it'll be ready in a moment."

"Yes, mum." He climbed off the broom and began trudging towards the Burrow, not before turning around and searching the sky for Harry and Ginny enviously. When they went to Australia, he and Hermione would go for a fly. His mum wouldn't be there to break them apart. It would just be the two of them.

"I had no idea your brother could cook," Hermione remarked innocently as they trudged back to the house, no doubt taking notice of Ron's crestfallen demeanor.

"Yeah, we used to give him a hard time about it," he mumbled. Hermione seemed to know that when he said 'we' he was referring to the twins. Ron's eyes lingered on the corner where he always used to prop up his broomstick. Resting it there seemed a painful reminder of how many times he and the twins had done that after a practice session out in the orchard. He wondered if this was how his life was always going to be. Would everything he did and every place he looked always remind of Fred? Bloody hell, he hadn't even been able to make himself go for a fly unless Hermione was wrapped around him.

"I think it's quite fetching for a man to be able to cook," Hermione remarked as they walked through the door into the busy kitchen where his mum and brother were busying about.

"Yes, it wouldn't kill you to spend some time in the kitchen every now and then, Ron," his mum chimed in, beaming at Charlie who was pulling a pie from the oven.

"What do you want me to do with Fred's broom?" he asked abruptly, ignoring his mum's gibe. "I found it out in the broomshed." His mother gasped as if his words had knocked the breath right out of her and she reached out a hand to steady herself on the counter. He saw Charlie reach over and place his hand over hers for support, eyeing Ron in a manner that suggested he should have used a bit more tact.

"Bring it inside," she whispered, leaning against Charlie. Silently, Ron lowered his head and shuffled back out the door, his own broom still clutched firmly in his hand. Hermione followed after him.

"Do you want some help?" she asked softly.

"Think I can manage a broomstick," Ron dismissed with a weak laugh, but Hermione seemed to know the laugh was just a ruse. She fell into place next to him and leaned into his shoulder.

"You know what I mean." She knotted her fingers through his supportively.

The old Cleansweep was set aside from the other brooms the way he had placed it earlier. Somehow the broom looked sad and discarded. Almost, Ron thought stupidly, as if it knew its owner was dead and it would never be ridden again. He glanced again to Hermione and bent down to pick it up and carry it into the house. He wondered what his mother would do with it. Whether she'd want to display it somewhere or perhaps bury it with Fred.

"Set it by the fireplace." Her eyes rested sadly on the broom as if she were looking at an actual picture of Fred. Ron obliged, resting it neatly against the stone masonry then turning his attention again to Hermione, suddenly eager to talk and think about something other than Fred's old broomstick.

"I think we should bring my broom with us."

"To Australia, you mean?" Hermione inquired, looking a bit uncomfortable that he'd brought the touchy subject matter up in front of his mother.

"Yeah, and Pig too," he added.

"We can't bring an owl with us, Ron" Hermione laughed at the suggestion.

"Why not? He practically fits in my jacket pocket," Ron reasoned.

"But he won't really do us much good, will he? I mean it takes him practically a week just to get to London and back." Hermione raised her eyebrows skeptically.

"He can do it in three days!" Ron was suddenly defensive of the bird he always feigned such contempt and frustration for.

"Still, he'll hardly be able to manage trans-continental flights."

"Well, I like having him for company," Ron reasoned.

"But…you'll have company," Hermione offered quietly. Ron couldn't help but pick up on the slightly suggestive nature of the comment, despite the shy look on Hermione's face. He heard his mother practically choke from over in the kitchen. Fortunately, the rest of the Weasley clan slowly trickled down the stairs and out into the garden before she could comment.

Charlie's meat and potato pie kept everyone occupied for most of the meal. Comments were made only to state how savory it was or to pass their plate down the table and ask for seconds. Ron sensed something was coming though. He knew from the looks his mother kept giving the two of them and the momentary hesitations she would take between bites that she wanted to say something to him. She had given Harry and Ginny a thorough dressing down, which Ron had enjoyed listening to quite a bit. Still, her fury seemed subdued, as if there was something much greater on her mind.

"Ron," she finally spoke quietly and looked down the table to the two, "I wanted to talk to you about Australia."

"What about it?" Ron wasn't even sure why he asked as he was quite sure he knew where the conversation was headed.

"I don't think you should go," she blurted out what Ron guessed she had wanted to say to him since his admission yesterday that he intended to go with her.

"Molly - " His dad stepped in quietly and Ron was cheered briefly by the thought that perhaps his dad didn't agree.

"And why not?"

"I just don't think it's…a good idea for you two to go cavorting off on another adventure - "

"Cavorting?" Ron looked deeply offended at the accusation. "We're going to find her mum and dad!"

"Yes, but I don't think…" His mum licked her lips, trying to choose her next words carefully. "I don't think Hermione's mum and dad would care much for the thought of their daughter traveling so far alone with…" She swallowed loudly and took a breath. "With her boyfriend."

Everyone else at the table, especially Hermione, looked rather embarrassed as she spoke the words. It was the first time anyone had referred to either of them that way. He was Hermione's boyfriend. They hadn't talked about it, but he knew it was true. Ron ignored the funny feeling of pride that rose inside him at the words and tried to stay focused on the issue at hand.

"Is that what you and dad think?" he challenged, his anger rising. "You think we just want to go run off and be alone together?" His bellowing statement increased the discomfort level at the table tenfold. Hermione looked as if she wanted to disappear.

"No, Ron, it's not that." His father attempted to cut in again. "It's just - "

"You'd rather send her off to the other side of the world all by herself then?"

"With the Portkeys it shouldn't take more than a few days, she'd be all right," his dad assured, but the argument sounded very much like one his wife had put into his mouth and not one he believed too firmly.

"Yeah? And what about the Death Eaters still out there?" Ron laughed. "I saw the paper this morning. Five of the ten most wanted still at large?"

"Ron - "

"And what about Muggles? Just 'cause they're Muggles doesn't mean they're harmless!" he continued, recalling the drunken workmen who had wolf-whistled at Hermione on Tottenham Court Road. "She got harassed when she was with Harry and me! Imagine if she was traveling on her own?" he appealed. The table couldn't help but give a collective look of concern toward Hermione at the confession. She just bowed her head and let her great brown hair fall in front of her face. "I'm going with her," Ron stated firmly. "There's no discussion."

"We are your parents, Ron, there very well will be a discussion." His mother looked as aghast as the rest of his family at the defiant declaration, seeming to forget that his decision not to return to Hogwarts hadn't exactly been a family decision either. "Your father doesn't have to make any calls about a Portkey if he doesn't think you should be going- "

"We'll go without a Portkey then," Ron stated simply.

"You cannot just go off and about doing whatever it is you want!"

"Oh, you think it's what we want? You think Hermione did this to her parents 'cause she wanted to?"

"I dare say you two would enjoy yourselves," his mum muttered under her breath loud enough so Ron, and unfortunately Hermione, could hear. She now looked like she was attempting to camouflage herself against the tablecloth

"Are you hearing this?" He looked to the rest of his family incredulously, but they all seemed to take the same escape as Hermione.

"Why don't we talk about this a bit later," his father cut in yet again, "let everyone finish their lunch."

"There's nothing to talk about," Ron laughed defiantly. He pushed his chair out and stood up from the table. "You can't stop me from going with her!" And with that he marched inside and up the stairs to his room

He was lying face down on the bed when she entered, his head buried into his Chudley Cannons pillow.

"Go away!" he moaned into the pillow.

"It's me," Hermione replied softly and Ron sprang up from the bed almost immediately.

"Oh!" he looked thoroughly embarrassed. "Sorry, I thought you were - "

"Next time you see your mum, please don't say 'go away'," Hermione replied knowingly. She walked over and sat down on the bed beside him.


"You shouldn't have left the table like that."

"Probably not," he admitted sheepishly. "Does she know you're up here?"

"She does."

"Is she happy?" Ron inquired with a smirk that said he already knew the answer.

"Obviously not." Hermione looked slightly embarrassed to be doing something to upset his mother. "I really don't think you should come with me to Australia if it's going to upset your family so much," she quickly blurted out. Ron frowned.

"I can make decisions without my family."

"But your parents are right. I don't think my mum or dad would like it," she admitted, a touch of embarrassment in her voice.

"They wouldn't want you traveling alone either," Ron reasoned.

"No, but I suppose Harry could come with me - "

"Do you not want me to come?"

"I didn't say that- "

"Look, if you don't want me to come - "

"I do!" Hermione's reply was immediate. "I do want you to come. I just…hearing your mum say that -"

"Say what?"

"Calling you…" She bit her lip and looked to the floor shyly then. "Calling you my boyfriend."

"It sounds a bit funny, doesn't it?"

"I liked it," she admitted quietly.

"I liked it too."

"It's just hearing her say it, it made me think about what my mum and dad would really say."

"Well, your parents like me, don't they?"

"Yes, but…" Her voice trailed away and she quickly turned a shade of crimson. "But that was before..."

"Before us." Ron smiled broadly.

He doubted two letters had ever meant so much.

Hermione, suddenly seeming to realise they were again alone on his bed, began fiddling with the corner of his Chudley Cannons quilt, which was coming undone.

"This needs mended." He smiled at her avoidance. He wondered if she'd been thinking about being alone and back up in his bedroom all day long like he had. "I could fix it this afternoon if you like."

"Hermione." He was amused at her fixation with his quilt and his smile grew.

"If you leave it like this, you could ruin the whole quilt, you know?" She toyed with the loose orange thread evasively. He couldn't tell whether she was more embarrassed or nervous.

"Hermione." He spoke her name one more time, this time softly, almost like a whisper. He moved his hand to her cheek like he had yesterday when she'd leaned into it, right before he'd kissed her a fourth time. "Relax."


A Harry Potter Story
by MsBinns

Part 9 of 45

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