It was finally over. The war was won and Voldemort was dead. The wizarding world was free. It was hard to believe that everything had happened only yesterday. Was it yesterday? Hermione couldn't be sure. The last she remembered herself and Harry had drug Ron from Freds lifeless body up to Gryffindor Tower where they magically enlarged Harrys bed and finally succumbed to the exhaustion of the past year. It had been a good sleep, free of nightmares and horror. It had been warm and refreshing, and for Hermione, had been filled with the 'what if's' of her future.
Pale green eyes outlined by 37 freckles across a long nose, on a sunbaked face. Red haired children playing in the front yard, strong arms holding her securely, and the laugh of the boy (man, he was a man now) she had secretly been in love with for almost seven years. But Hermione knew they were only fantasies made available to her in dreams. Ron and Harry were her best friends, and while they had shared more secrets than most friends shared, they were certainly no closer to being romantic with one another than Voldemort was to coming back to life.
Not wishing to disturb her comrades but no longer able to sleep, Hermione thought back to the kiss. It had been brief. Passionate. Desperate. It spoke of a future hanging in the balance, and a longing that had never been verbally expressed, but Hermione rationalized that it had been one of those 'heat of the moment, this may be the last kiss (first, this was her first kiss) I ever get to experience.' Because really, Ron didn't love her. He couldn't. She was just Hermione after all. Just one third of the Golden Trio; the girl who carried Ron and Harry through much of their school career with her endless notes, and obesessive study schedules, and her soft heart that always had her up til all hours of the morning revising their essays that were due the next day. Heaving a sigh she touched her lips and thought on what could be...if only she were prettier...softer...less bookish and obsessed.
"A penny for your thoughts?" he whispered, and when she turned to face him she was lost in endless green eyes, the color of the sea, and 37 freckles, and the smell of parchment, and freshly mown grass...and spearmint toothpaste.
"We're free aren't we? It's over, I mean," she asked hesitantly.
"It's over 'Mione. We're free," he smiled.
And they were. Free to relax, and to breathe. To celebrate and to mourn. To rebuild and move on. And lost in the momentary idea of freedom, the freedom she found in his soft smile he used only with her, their lips met in a soft, loving kiss, and Hermione was home.
The following week was a whirlwind of emotions and engagements. There were funerals, and ceremonies; celebrations, and dedications. The wizarding world started to rebuild and to document this important time in history. Ron and Hermione both dutifully attended the few interviews that were required, met with Ministry Officials, and humbly accepted their Order of Merlin, First Class designations right alongside Harry, and surprisingly enough, Neville. But then life got in the way and they had their own pieces to pick up. Ron went back home to The Burrow to bury Fred, and mourn the loss of his brother and mentor; to make sure that his mother would be alright, and to reflect on what to do with the future he had been provided.
Hermione fled to Austrailia in search of her parents and to reverse the Obliviate she had preformed on them. They were less than pleased at first, but after Hermione had explained everything that had happened in the past year they found they could not fault her. She had saved their lives after all. But with the knowledge that England was not the place they left, the Grangers decided that Austrailia was now home, and that they would not be returning, unless it was for a quick visit. Hermione however knew that she at least must return. Her final year of Hogwarts was waiting, and she had up and left Harry and Ron with nothing more than a note that said 'Sorry.'
Ron would have followed Hermione to the end of the earth if she had asked, but he reckoned she needed this time alone with her parents to sort everything out. She needed time to find herself, and Ron would wait. After all, how many Hermiones existed in the world? One. And he would make her his if she would have him. But Hermione was smart, and gentle, and...beautiful. He could never compare to her. He was physically strong, and a great stratigist, but she was smart in all the ways of the world. She could be anything...be with anybody. Why would she choose him?
He had stayed gaurded for all those years, at first because he was a silly little boy, and later because he saw how dangerous it was being friends with Harry, and he hadn't wanted to add any extra danger into the mix. He built walls around his heart to keep Hermione safe. She was a big enough target as it was and he would do anything to protect her, even if it meant he would never have her. But then the horocruxes had been destroyed and the end was near, and his walls came crumbling down. He reached for Hermione like a life line and kissed her with the passion of all the kisses he had denied them in the past. He was in love with her and that may have been the only time he had to show her. Life had become a commodity and they were living on borrowed time.
"Hermione!" Ron let out a breath he hadn't realized he been holding when she showed up on the doorstep of Number 12 Grimmuald Place a week before term began.
"Hey Ron," she smiled ruefully.
"Come on. Harry and Ginny are in the study eating eachothers faces, but the library is unoccupied," he said shutting the door behind her.
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "You? In the library?"
Ron blushed. "Yeah, well, our schedule is accelerated this year, and I can't rely on you for help all the time. Figured I'd get a headstart."
"Who are you and where is Ronald?" she asked with a sly smile.
"Funny 'Mione. It's not easy being a third wheel and I dont much feel like watching my baby sister and my best mate playing tonsil hockey."
And so Hermione and Ron spent that last week of freedom reading up on textbooks and catching up on summer homework and never once mentioning the two kisses that had passed between them.
The first half of term had been brutal and Ron and Hermione were no closer to figuring out exactly what they were to eachother than they had been when she had shown up on the doorstep of Harrys home. All around them classmates were getting married, or engaged, and they were still strictly 'friends'.
You don't know me. Not the real me. But I know you. I know everything about you. And I think I love you. But I need to know if you love me too. Please, find me in the Astronomy Tower at midnight. Use Harry's cloak.'
She hadn't dared to sign it in case he didn't come but she needed to know. Her heart was slowly breaking and if rejection was what she was going to face, it was going to be tonight.
A school owl had delivered the note and for the life of him Ron couldn't figure out who sent it. The only girl in their year who had ever shown him any attention was dead, and all the other girls were paired off now. Maybe a younger girl then?
"Hey Harry? Can I borrow your cloak tonight?" he asked.
"Sure Ron, but why?"
"I got someone I gotta meet," he said handing the letter over.
Harry read it and smiled. If Ron Weasley didn't recognize Hermione's writing by now he probably never would. Harry only hoped it all turned out. He loved his two friends dearly and knew neither one would ever be truely happy without the other.
When Ron turned up in the Astronomy Tower at quarter eleven he immediately stopped. Standing there staring out over the grounds of Hogwarts was Hermione. Heart racing, and palms sweating, Ron slowly removed Harrys cloak.
"I know you're here Ronald, and if this was a mistake, if you don't want to be here, leave now. I promise I wont be mad."
"You think you love me?" he squeaked out, and she laughed. Her beautiful, nervous, contagious laugh.
"Why did you kiss me? Twice?" she asked.
"Because I know that I love you. But you could never love me. You're the brightest witch of our age Hermione. You'll go off and do great things, and you'll find someone who can understand those great things. I'm just Harry's sidekick. I'll play quidditch or work in the Ministry or something. You deserve better than that."
"Ronald!" she sighed in exasperation. "None of that matters. There's no point in doing great things if I don't have anyone to share them with. I know I'm not exactly pretty, but I want to share my life with you and-"
And suddenly his lips were on hers and there was no need for words because that one kiss said it all.
"I love you Hermione. You are the prettiest girl I know, and the smartest. And you know everything about me. You accept me. I might never be anything great, but I promise that I will always be yours, for as long as you'll have me."
"I'll always have you," she breathed.
"Always," he smiled.