Title: At Last
Disclaimer: It's all JKR's. I just admire from afar.
Summary: In the aftermath of the final battle, Ron and Hermione finally manage to slip away, and find a moment for themselves. Not that I would ever complain against the Ron/Hermione bits we were given in Book 7, but a teensy bit of me was still left wanting, and this kind of covers that. A good kiss is one thing, but they have a LOT left to talk about. Just my bit of sweet to add to the end of Deathly Hallows.
AN: Many thanks to Pigwithhair at Checkmated for giving this a sharp look-over a while back when I originally wrote it. I may actually resubmit it there now that I've actually bothered to clean it up a bit.
Ron Weasley took one long look around the scene of the Great Hall before him. It was almost midday by now, but hardly anyone who’d been involved with the final battle had left yet, unless it were on official business, and more and more wizards and witches were showing up all the time. Hogwarts was buzzing with people who’d come to help, or who’d simply needed to see for themselves if the rumors were true, if the Dark Lord had indeed been defeated, and those who might have had the authority to turn them away were too busy looking after other things.
The Great Hall was a mass of subdued energy. Everywhere he looked he could see people embracing, leaning on each other, or huddled in small groups, talking over what had passed. Ron caught sight of an older woman holding onto a baby and looking nearly frantic with grief. His stomach turned over. It had to be Andromeda Tonks. So far as he knew, she’d lost everyone in this war, except for Remus’ small son Teddy there. He wondered what would happen to her now. How did someone even survive something like that?
He turned away.
With some surprise, he saw Luna Lovegood sitting at the Gryffindor table, apparently sleeping, her head resting on Dean Thomas’ shoulder. To his greater surprise, he saw that Dean didn’t seem to mind, and in fact had his cheek resting on the top of her head, and an arm around her waist, supporting her.
Dean caught his eye, looking in equal measures, supremely befuddled and content. Ron sent his friend the faintest of smiles. The pair looked oddly right together. Maybe one good thing had come of last night, at least. Or two. Harry and Ginny had both disappeared a little while ago.
Some people, maybe who’d lost less, or been less involved, were even celebrating. The sight baffled Ron. But then he was such a mess at the moment that he could hardly even feel relief that the Dark Lord—Voldemort, there was no reason to avoid the name now—was dead. He couldn’t even bring himself to believe the truth about Fred just yet. Mostly he was worried about George. And grateful that Harry wasn’t really dead. And that Hermione—Hermione…
“Ron?” She was coming towards him then, looking very tired and very small, wrapped in someone’s cloak—he thought it might be his father’s. “Oh, Ron,” she repeated, slipping her hand into his. He gripped her smaller one tightly. Part of him was amazed that there had ever been such an awkwardness between them. It felt like the most natural thing in the world, now, holding onto her.
“Hey,” he murmured. It was almost all he could manage. His other hand moved to smooth her hair a little, almost without thinking.
“Ron, I can’t stand to be here another minute,” she said, looking almost guilty. “I can’t find Harry, but I talked to your Dad, and— Please, can we - can we just go to the Burrow?” she asked, coming even closer and leaning into his side, her head on his shoulder. He felt his heart knock against his chest a bit. Maybe he was still a bit awkward.
When her question registered, he looked down at her, a little surprised, and took in her appearance for the first time in hours. “Don’t you want Madam Pomfrey to look over those burns?” he asked, when he found his voice.
She shrugged. “I’m so tired I hardly feel them,” she admitted, though she winced slightly as she burrowed just a little closer to him. “I just want to get away from all these people. Besides. It would be kind of nice to let your mum fuss over us later, at home. I think she’d like that.”
Home. The Burrow. He felt a rush of homesickness then that he hadn’t allowed himself in months, and pulled Hermione that much closer to him. “Yeah, she would like that.”
“I feel like I could sleep for a year,” she said, and hid her face in his shirt, so that her next words were muffled. It wasn’t until she spoke that he realized it was out of embarrassment. “If we could just go to your room…”
All the blood in his system seem to jump in his veins then, and he rested his chin on the top of her head, really hating that he had to say this next part. “There’s a ghoul in my room,” he reminded her. “It may not be inhabitable for months.”
Hermione looked up at him, then, her cheeks pink. “Oh. Oh of course. How stupid of me.” He had a vague inclination to joke about just how “stupid” she was, but she was speaking again, and he let it pass. “Then I suppose we could go to my room. I mean, Percy’s room. Erm. Where I was staying.” She hid her face again.
Ron raised an eyebrow. That was right. There were rooms to spare at the Burrow, now that most of the Weasley children were grown and gone. It was still an odd idea to Ron. Most of his brothers had their own places now, of course, he was used to crowded Christmases and family gatherings—usually when he'd been home, everyone else had been, too.
“Yeah, okay,” he heard himself say. “We could do that.” He glanced down at her. “You think you’re up to Apparating?” He was pretty sure he was up to it, himself, but he certainly wasn’t the expert, between the two of them, and he didn’t exactly fancy the idea of seeing either of them splinched out of exhaustion. “We could Floo from Hogsmeade, if you like.”
“I’m fine,” she said, as they headed down towards the large gates, which stood open due to the number of witches and wizards now heading in and out. He was fairly sure that the wards on the school were useless after the night before, but the uselessness of Apparating on the grounds had always been one of Hermione's favorite natterings, and it felt comfortable to go along with them just at the moment.
Once they’d past the gate, he was about to ask her whether they should go separately or together, but he didn’t get the chance, as Hermione, clutching his hand, had already nimbly turned on the spot. As he was sucked into the familiar darkness, he felt an acute stab of embarrassment—and the smallest shade of relief. Apparently Hermione hadn’t wanted to chance seeing him splinched again, either.
The next moment, they stumbled a bit, landing on grass, and standing there before them, in all of its haphazard glory, was the Burrow. Ron shared a weary, but grateful grin with Hermione, before they both headed towards and into his childhood home.
The moment he was inside, Ron allowed the feel of the place to wash over him. It wasn't quite what he was used to—the Burrow was empty and quiet, and had obviously been so for some time. His family had been staying with Aunt Muriel, after all. Still, it was home. Messy, haphazard, lovely home, where he'd always had a bed and food and—food.
His stomach made a noise, and he was suddenly painfully reminded that he hadn’t eaten properly in ages. While there had been some food at Hogwarts, provided by the house-elves, amazing little creatures that they were, he hadn’t been interested in any of it just then. But he could do with something now. The way Hermione had her eyes on the door to the kitchen told him she was probably thinking the same thing.
“C’mon,” he murmured, giving her hand—which he was still holding—a light squeeze. “We're bound to find something in the pantry.”
They rummaged around for a bit, coming up with a small platter of meat pies and some biscuits and jams—bless his mother's amazing preservation spells. Once that simple task had been finished, though, Ron started to realize the reality of the situation.
He realized with a shock that he was alone in his house, with Hermione Granger. Hermione Granger, who’d wanted to be alone with him in the room she’d stayed in half the summer so that they could—
What? So that they could…
“Ron?” Her questioning voice pulled him out of his thoughts. He turned towards her in time to see her cover her hand over an enormous yawn, and a strong protective feeling washed over him, pushing other thoughts aside. To sleep, then. She needed sleep. They both did.
“Right. Coming.” They headed up the stairs, with Hermione levitating the platter of food in front of them, though Ron wasn’t entirely sure he was hungry anymore.
As they entered his brother’s old room, he couldn’t stop the thought from hitting him again. It was the first time he’d been alone in a room with Hermione since the Chamber of Secrets, when he hadn’t even had time to notice the fact. And that had been before she’d kissed him, anyhow. Ron stopped for a moment, and leaned on the doorframe, his eyes closing of their own accord at the remembrance. She’d kissed him. He still couldn’t believe it.
They hadn’t really had a moment alone since before the wedding, other than that. Harry, at the least, had always been there.
He wasn’t here now. But that didn’t mean… He swallowed. He didn’t know what it meant.
He watched as Hermione set the platter down. She started picking at the crust of one of the meat pies, but after a moment she turned away from it, and without ceremony, stretched herself out on the bed, giving a little sigh.
Ron’s heart was in his throat. A million feelings hit him at once. Exhaustion, relief that they were okay, a simple and undeniable love for the small, remarkable girl before him.
He cleared his throat roughly. “You should get some sleep,” he said, stating the obvious. His voice was coming out thick. And then before he could stop himself, “Do you want me to go?”
She stirred lightly, blinking her eyes open, as if it took some effort, and looked him straight in the eye, and again he was struck by how young she looked. In the past year he’d seen her do more amazing things than most witches would amount to in a lifetime, but she was still only eighteen. They both were. It was something of a shock.
“No. Don’t go. Please. I…” she looked a little embarrassed, but didn‘t break eye contact. “I can’t stand to be away from you, just yet.”
Relief flooded through him, and he dropped to sitting on the bed, next to her. “Good.”
“You can… lie down if you like,” she said, looking pink in the face. “You have to be just as tired as I am.” He took it as a good sign that she was almost as nervous to be there with him as he was.
“Alright,” he said, his voice scratchy. He kicked off his shoes, then almost without thinking, bent to take hers off her feet as well, as gently as he could. She was watching him, her eyes wide and somber, and he felt his ears go hot at her close scrutiny. She sat up partially, in order to make room for him on the bed, and he barely suppressed a groan as he stretched his long form across the bed. He was aching all over, and it really did feel heavenly. His breath escaped him in a hiss just moments later, though, as she lay her head back down not next to him, as he’d expected, but on his shoulder, her one hand reaching across him, laying somewhere over his heart.
He didn’t dare move or speak, afraid he would break the spell and spoil things somehow. It was usually how things worked. They lay that way for several moments, and he thought she may have fallen asleep after all, but then she spoke.
“Do you think Harry’s going to be alright?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper.
It was the exact type of question that would have bothered him months ago, or even days ago, if he was being honest with himself. He’d been just as concerned about Harry as she had over the years, but it had been hard to know that Harry had needed to be her first priority, at times. “Sure he will, eventually. We’ll make sure of it. He’s with Ginny now, I think.”
He didn’t look, but he could hear the smile in her voice as she answered. “I’m glad. She’s good for him.
“Yeah,” he answered, absently. He wondered suddenly why he’d never allowed her obvious approval of Ginny to factor in as an argument when he’d been worried over her feelings for Harry. Had he really been that determined to believe that she couldn’t possibly feel as strongly about him as he had felt about her all along?
Not that she’d ever really said how she felt about him. She hadn’t really said anything, at all. And suddenly, the weight of seven years’ worth of missed communication and things left unspoken were pressing down on him like a boulder, and despite the kiss, despite the fact that she was now literally lying in his arms, he had to know. He had to know. He had to hear it out loud.
"Hermione," he said abruptly, his voice hoarse, as he half sat up, bringing her along with him. She sat back on her heels, looking at him questioningly, but now that he was looking at her face to face again, he couldn't think of a single word to say to her. He cast about for something for a moment, but came up empty. He was struck with the thought that the reason nothing had ever been said between them before was because he was absolute rubbish with this stuff, and the mute, but intent way that she was looking at him said that she wouldn’t be offering him any help.
He heard a frustrated sound much like a whimper coming from the back of his throat, and before he knew what he was doing, his hands were in her hair, cradling the back of her head, and he was kissing her like she was oxygen and he had only just learned how to breathe.
She made a soft sound of relief then, as she leaned into the kiss, and he got the impression that she’d been waiting for him to do this ever since they’d gotten to the Burrow, if not longer. He’d been dying for it himself ever since Harry had stopped them the night before.
It was like nothing he’d ever felt before. Kissing Lavender had been interesting, and good, in its own way, but this was Hermione. Kissing Hermione was like… like coming home. It reached into every part of him. It was soul-satisfying.
“I thought I’d lost you,” he heard himself saying raggedly, as they came up for air. Hermione was placing small kisses along his jaw, and up across his cheek, but she stopped and pulled back when he’d spoken. She looked something akin to shocked. His arms were around her tightly, and he didn’t know why he was thinking about that night now, but he couldn’t stop himself. “When that bloody Lestrange woman—” She flinched, and he shook his head. “You weren’t moving, Hermione. And for a minute I thought—”
His voice broke, and he looked away from her, but then she was smoothing her hands over his face, gently guiding his line of vision back to hers. “It’s alright now,” she soothed. “It’s alright. I’m alright. You got me away from there.”
“I can’t forgive myself for what she did to you,” he admitted, amazed at himself for being able to say as much. “For letting her...”
“Well you’d better,” Hermione said sharply, pulling away from him slightly. He looked at her in surprise, and her eyes softened as she touched his face again, looking distant. “I could hear you, you know. Calling for me. I don’t want to ever put you through that again.” And then her eyes sharpened on him, and the hardness returned to her voice momentarily. “And I don’t want the memory of that woman to have any power over me. Or you, for that matter. It’s done, Ron. I don’t ever want to think about her again.”
He nodded, a little uncomfortably. He couldn’t in good conscience promise that the memory of that night wouldn’t continue to haunt him, possibly for the rest of his life, but she was right. It was done.
“Your hair’s grown so long,” she mused, suddenly, and then all thoughts of that horrible night vanished, as he was initiated into the amazing feeling of having his hair run through by Hermione’s small fingers.
“I could cut it if you like,” he managed.
“Yes, some,” she agreed. “Not too short, though… I rather like it.”
Hers had grown quite a bit, also, and was longer than he could ever remember seeing it. He fingered a few curly strands of it, wondering when he had stopped thinking of it as a bushy mess and started to think of it as a wild, beautiful thing of nature, almost. He’d been wanting to have the freedom to touch it for ages.
“I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like after this,” he said, hardly knowing or hearing the words he was saying.
“Can’t you?” she asked, bringing his attention back to her. A moment later she was kissing him again, and his hands were traveling her back and her hands were in his hair and—
“I love you,” he rasped out, as they broke for air again. He didn’t know what it was about kissing her that forced these admissions out of him, but now that the words were out, he went absolutely still, his breath caught in his throat. His lips were millimeters away from hers again, but he just hovered there, waiting. He’d hardly allowed himself to think those thoughts before, let alone say them out loud, and now, if she didn’t… if she wasn’t…
“I can’t tell you how much I love you, Ron,” she said, breathlessly, hardly noticing his pause as she kissed him again, quickly. “I’ve been waiting for this for so long… waiting for you to…” she stopped, her eyes flittering over his, nervously. “Waiting for you to see me.”
“See you?” He looked at her like she was mad. “Who d’you think’s been driving me crazy for the past seven years? Because it wasn’t Harry, I can promise you that.”
There was a smile threatening to break out on her face, but she simply rolled her eyes. “I suppose I was waiting for you to stop being a stubborn git, then,” she amended, and he shrugged.
“Guess I can’t fault you for that.”
“I really didn’t want to make the first move, you know. I may still hold a grudge against you for that.”
Rather than try and find an answer to that, he adjusted the pillows and lay back again, so that he was raised up, and when she lay on his shoulder again, he could still see her. “What will your mother say when she finds us like this?” Hermione asked faintly, looking up at him. “She’s going to go right back to thinking I’m some sort of scarlet woman.”
He snorted. “Not likely. That was years ago, Hermione. My mum loves you, you have to know that.”
She looked unconvinced. “Yes, well. Not if she finds me corrupting her youngest son.”
“Got ideas then, have you?” he asked, suggestively. He didn’t know where all this nerve was coming from, exactly, but then he had been a Gryffindor. He supposed that had to count for something.
“Ron, don’t look at me like that,” she scolded.
“Like what?” he asked, innocently.
“Like… you want to have your wicked way with me,” she said, wrinkling her nose delicately.
“Well… I kinda do,” he said, somewhere in between joking and embarrassed.
She turned faintly pink. “Well that will just have to wait,” she said, opening her mouth in a small yawn, which wound up getting away from her and lasting several seconds.
She looked a little embarrassed herself, then, but he found it quite cute, and her words were still spinning around in his head. It will have to wait. Meaning she wasn’t ruling it out entirely. He swallowed.
“I’m sorry about your brother,” she said in a small, trembly voice, and all the delicious playful feelings he’d been having a moment ago vanished, leaving a queasy sort of emptyness.
“I don’t know what to think about it just yet,” he said, his voice sounding strangled and strange to him. She put a comforting hand on his shoulder, and stayed quiet, breathing slow against him.
It was once again that Hermione broke the silence. “Ron… I have to ask you something.”
He stiffened slightly. A moment ago he could have told her anything, but the hesitant tone of her voice gave him pause. Still he said, “Go ahead.”
Her voice was still terribly small-sounding when she continued. “It’s just… the night you left—”
Renewed guilt flowed through him for that, and despite his aching fatigue, he pulled away from her and sat up on the edge of the bed, away from her. She‘d never even let him apologize, thoroughly. “Hermione, I’m so sorry about that. I know you called after me, and I never wanted to hurt you, I was just so out of my bloody mind with that Horcrux and—”
“I—I know that, Ron,” she said, her hands were on his back, soothingly, and then trying to pull him back on the bed, from where she’d also sat up. “I didn’t, I’m sorry, I wasn’t talking about that at all.”
He looked at her, confused. “What, then?”
“It’s just something you said,” she started, still a little hesitant. “Right before you walked out, you—” her voice faltered for a moment. “You asked me to go with you, and then when I refused, you said, ‘I get it. You choose him.’” There was a moment of silence. Part of him wanted to look at her, but he stared resolutely at his feet, breath held. “I—Ron. You couldn’t possibly have thought…”
He snorted derisively, surprising them both. “Thought what? That you were maybe in love with the greatest wizard of our time? Instead of his poor, clumsy git of a best friend?” In his mind, he saw the taunting looks those awful Horcrux versions of Harry and Hermione had given him. He shuddered, shutting his eyes against it.
Hermione made a small noise of disbelief, and he glanced at her. “Ron how… how could you possibly think that, after everything?” He lifted one shoulder in a shrug, oafishly, but she wasn’t about to give up. “I mean, you - you never saw me throwing a flock of birds at Harry for kissing another girl, did you?” she demanded. “You never saw me attach myself to a beast of a Quidditch player to make Harry jealous, did you?”
He was a bit pink himself now, and slightly pleased at having half-held thoughts confirmed, but he only said noncommittally, “Harry doesn’t get jealous.”
Hermione snorted. “Oh yes he does,” she said, smiling. “Just not over me. Don’t you remember him with Dean when Ginny was dating him?”
Ron sighed, and the majority of the tension he’d been feeling eased out of him. “I’m… sorry about Lavender,” he admitted, after a moment of silence. “Probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
She smirked slightly, affectionately. “Yes, that’s quite possible.” And then the smile fell from her face and she looked unsure again. “I’m sorry, too. About how I reacted. I just… I’d never really thought of you with another girl. I always thought that somehow, some part of you wanted me.”
Her voice died out, but he turned and pulled an arm around her. “I did. I always did. But I never… I never thought I was good enough for you,” he mumbled.
“Oh come off it,” she started, but he wouldn’t let her continue.
“I’m serious. You drive me mad, Hermione. Even the first day I saw you… I think part of me knew the minute we met that you were completely and totally out of my league.”
“Ron, stop it,” she said, more gently, but he didn’t. He’d been wanting to say this all for a while, he realized.
“You were so clever, and haughty, and completely mental—”
“Thanks,” she said, huffily, but he could tell part of her was pleased, and she didn’t pull his hand away from where it had found its way into her hair again, so he went on. He couldn’t stop himself.
“And then there was that day with the troll. When you lied to McGonagall for us? And you’d looked so small and scared, and - and I don’t know. I’d never felt like that before. I wanted to pummel whoever it was had made you cry and left you all vulnerable like that. ‘Course that would’ve been difficult, considering it was me.” His ears burned in an old shame. How many times had he made her cry over the years?
“Ron, that was first year,” she said, soothingly.
He shrugged, noncommittal again. “Already fallen for you, hadn’t I?” he mumbled. And then she said something that made him forget his slight embarrassment in a trice.
“So had I.”
Ron had been purposefully looking away from her for most of his admission, but when she said that, he spun towards her, looking her right in the eye, his heart in his throat. “What are you on about?” he asked, sure she couldn’t be speaking sincerely.
Hermione, however, was looking at him steadily, her eyes more open than he had ever seen them. “Well,” she started, slowly, “why do you think I was crying in the first place?” He opened his mouth to answer her, but she shook her head at him. “Lots of kids made fun of me, Ron,” she said, guessing—correctly—what he’d been about to say. “Lavender could be as mean as anyone if she wanted. And of course there was Malfoy.” His eyes darkened, but she went on, as if she hadn’t noticed. “None of them ever had me running in tears to the lavatories, though.” She looked at him meaningfully.
His throat was quite thick when he tried to speak. “Why—why, then?” He found it hard to believe that she’d fallen for him because he had the uncanny ability to make her cry.
Hermione shrugged, and looked a little embarrassed. “At first, well I was… I suppose I rather liked impressing people, didn’t I?” she asked, looking thoroughly pink. “And… well, I never could manage to impress you.”
Ron shook his head, flabbergasted. “Hermione, everything you do impresses me,” he said, incredulously. “You even breathe more intelligently than anyone I know.”
She was even pinker now, though obviously pleased. “Well you never would have said anything like that back then,” she argued.
“Well, I was a bloody prat, wasn’t I?” he asked, making them both laugh.
“And it seemed like the harder I tried to impress you, the meaner you got.”
“Well, I was jealous, I expect,” he said, feeling a bit uncomfortable. “You and Harry… things always come so easily to the pair of you.” His voice was hardly a mumble towards the end. Again he couldn’t quite look at her. He’d never said that much to anybody, out loud. The arm that had been around her had fallen listless behind her.
As if it had taken a breath of space for what he’d said to sink in, Hermione turned to him, slowly. Amazement and disbelief covered her face. “But Ron…” she lifted a hand to touch his face, and he sucked in a breath as she touched his cheek, running her thumb over his skin. “That’s exactly why I love you.”
The words gave him a shock, even though she’d said them earlier, and his mouth went dry. She loved him. She loved him. But… he didn’t understand. “What do you mean?”
“Like I said, at first, I was just trying to impress you. But you ended up impressing me, instead.”
“What are you talking about?” he asked, completely baffled. Maybe she’d been a little messed about in the head and nobody’d noticed it yet. He was a little worried, and half-inclined to take her back to see Madam Pomfrey after all.
She didn’t look like she was mentally capacitated, though, and he kept his mouth shut. He wanted to know what she was going to say.
“You’re the most loyal, hard-working person I know, Ron. You never give up on something you believe in, and it’s not…” her gaze faltered a little, “it’s not just because you always have to be right… like me.”
“Hermione, you’re the most hard-working person I know,” he corrected her, when he could find his voice. “Next to you I look like the laziest person on the planet.”
“But it’s not the same. You’re always fighting to improve on your weaknesses, Ron, and I… I run from mine. Constantly. If I don’t excel at something right after I’ve learned it I just… I get so frustrated that I want to give up. But you’ve improved so much, just in the past year, in… in every way possible, and you just… you amaze me.”
Ron sat for several minutes, staring at her. He didn’t quite know what to do with all of that. Usually when he was the target of praise he made light of it and let himself act a bit cocky over it, but that had, more often than not, been done in an attempt to prove something to her. Something that, apparently, she’d always believed more than he had, anyhow.
He couldn’t think of a single word to say in thanks of what she’d said, he could hardly believe that she’d said it. She didn’t seem to be waiting for a thank you, though, and finally succeeded in pulling him back onto the bed, and settling on his shoulder once again, and he settled for laying a feather-light kiss atop her head.
“Hermione?” he asked, several moments later.
“Hmm?” she managed, obviously half-asleep by this point.
“Do you think… would it be alright if I went with you to Australia, when you went to fetch your parents?”
She turned her face towards him, speechless and obviously touched by what he’d just asked. He felt his face go warm. “I… absolutely. Of course you can.”
“I just… I just don’t want to be away from you anymore, if I can help it. I don’t want to let go of you.”
There was a sheen of tears in her eyes, then, and she smiled at him. “Don’t let go, Ron.” She lay her head on his shoulder, kissing his chest lightly before closing her eyes with a sigh. “Don’t ever.”
He watched as her breathing evened out, and his last thought before sleep claimed him, was that the sight of Hermione Granger asleep on his chest was the most beautiful thing in the world, and somehow, some way, she was his. At last.
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