The End of the Beginning

Chapter 3

Ron may have been looking at the television, but his mind was a million miles away. His latest fight with Hermione wasn't the worst they had ever had, but it was perhaps the most frustrating to him.

Everything had seemed to finally come into place. She had kissed him. It seemed like he would finally get the girl he had longed for. He knew he hadn't always deserved her, but she was finally his.

Or so he thought. He had barely had time to cherish his victory when his whole world seemingly crashed around his ears. His best friend in the whole world was going to walk to his death and the woman he cared about more than any other wanted to go with him.

He couldn't even blame Harry. He hadn't asked. Ron knew he never would have. Harry was far too noble for that. Ron could even see in the look Harry gave him over Hermione's shoulder. Take care of her. He meant all along to go alone. On top of it, Ron truly cared for Harry. Loved him like any of his other brothers. Ron didn't want him to go either.

I'll go with you.

Four words that rocked Ron to the core. Just when he thought she had chosen him once and for all, she proved him that Harry would always come first. In fact, the more he thought about it, the more he could see that Harry had always come first to her.

She chose to help Harry over him (and Krum) during the Tri-Wizard Tournament, she wanted Harry (not Ron) to be Prefect with her, she chose Harry when Ron had left during the Horcrux hunt, and she had chosen to die with him over continuing to live with Ron.

But she kissed you. Not him.

The thought comforted him. Maybe it was his own fault. Ron would be the first to admit that he wasn't always the best friend to her or Harry. There had been plenty of times when he put his own selfish considerations over theirs, coming to a head whenever he walked out on them that night right when they needed him most.

He had tried to tell himself that it was just the Horcrux that led him to do it. Tried to convince himself that he was at least somewhat justified in his actions. But he knew deep down that he was perfectly in his right mind when he walked out. It was his choice and he had been wrong. He wasn't sure that he would ever live it down to either of his friends.

But they had welcomed him back with open arms. Harry had said today that he was as much to blame as Ron. Though the exact words had never been said, he knew Harry had completely forgiven him. It did much to quell the fears that had been gnawing at him.

Ron stood in the entrance way looking at Harry. He had spent so long harboring jealousy for his best friend. Secretly, he had always eyed Harry's wealth, fame, and talent with envy. He was everything Ron had always dreamed of being. He hadn't realized when he walked into that compartment on the Hogwarts Express first year that he was adding yet another person in his life he wouldn't live up to. Another shadow to live in. As if his brothers hadn't been bad enough.

Thinking of his brothers brought a twinge of pain. It still hurt Ron deeply that he would never see Fred again. But the pain brought forth a new determination in him. Losing Fred and thinking he had lost Harry had broken him of the illusion that people would always be there. He decided right then and there that he was done looking at people he loved and wishing he had their life. He would be grateful for the family and friends he had and he would live his life. His life. Not settling for sulking enviously in someone else's shadow.

Harry was far from perfect. Hell, nobody was perfect. But he was the best friend Ron had. He had always been able to count on Harry.

Hermione, well she was Hermione. The girl drove him mad, in more ways than one. She was stubborn, emotional, and bossy. She was also loyal to a fault, compassionate, kind, and bloody brilliant. Maybe she was having a harder time with what had happened than Harry, but that made sense with what was at stake for her personally.

A warm feeling spread through Ron's chest. No, his friends weren't perfect, but he wouldn't trade them for anything in the world.

Hermione was purposely engrossing herself in the book in front of her. Any other time, her trusty Hogwarts: A History would have given her a welcome escape from her troubles. Now however, she couldn't get her mind off her last fight with Ron.

It wasn't that she didn't want to be with him. Well, it wasn't entirely because she didn't be with him. Truth be told, Hermione was as confused as she had ever been about her feelings regarding her two closest male companions.

On the one hand, she truly did love Ron. There was a reason she had kissed him in the Chamber of Secrets. She hadn't been trying to move towards a relationship with him since second year for nothing. She genuinely felt like he did lover her, even if he couldn't always express it like she hoped. She was willing to overlook his flaws and see that he really was a good man. While a life spent with him would surely have its moments, it was nothing to sneeze at.

On the other hand, recent events had made her question her feelings for Harry. There had been times when the thought had entered her mind. While it had clearly been under strenuous circumstances, she had to admit that their ride on Buckbeak to rescue Sirius was perhaps the most romantic thing she had experienced in her life to this point. The Skeeter article, while inaccurate, had also made her wonder what it would be like. She had even dared herself to kiss him at King's Cross to see what would happen.

Since then, he had made it obvious by his inaction that he only thought of her as his best friend. Considering just how far Harry's friendship went, this too was nothing she took for granted. So she settled into her role with Harry while working to cultivate her relationship with Ron.

Then, just when she thought things were going to turn out alright, she found herself confused all over again. At Bill and Fleur's wedding, she was completely caught off guard when she found herself looking at Harry, not Ron, with a huge smile on her face and tears in her eyes as they were bonded. It happened so fast she hadn't even realized she was doing it until the emerald in Harry's eyes alerted her to it. It had been so long since she had thought about Harry that way. Why look at him now? Feelings she didn't even know she had rushed to her in a whirlwind that was only compounded by Ron's unexpectedly dancing with her. She had almost been glad for the distraction that the Death Eaters had provided for her whirling mind.

Then there was that night in the forest when Ron left them. Left her. She remembered vividly walking among the trees, getting soaked to the bone while she desperately called him to come back. She remembered crying herself to sleep at night, crying into her pillow to keep Harry from hearing her. She remembered literally feeling pain in her chest as she relived him storming out the tent.

When she hit her lowest point: frustrated with their lack of progress, saddened by Ron's departure, and depressed by the overall feeling of losing the war; Harry brought her a ray of hope. When he danced with her that night, it had done much more than he realized. It reminded her of what was important. They were alive, they were fighting, and Harry was still there. It brought her hope when she needed it most.

There was the night in Godric's Hollow, sharing that intimate moment with Harry before the graves of his parents. She had known that placing the wreath for them had been the right thing and that it was exactly what Harry needed. She always could tell what he needed, even when he didn't say anything.

There was the nightmare of Nagini and Voldemort. Saving Harry's life by the slimmest of margins and praying over his thrashing form that he wouldn't leave her. It was then, while she desperately tried to nurse him back to health, that she began to realize that her feelings for him were stronger than she cared to admit.

Then, out of the clear blue sky, Ron was back. Though deep down she had been over the moon about him returning, she had rightly let him know just how much he had hurt her. How ridiculously irresponsible he had been to leave his friends when they needed him. In spite of it, she determined herself to rekindle what had been lost with Ron. She knew that Harry had spent plenty of nights staring at Ginny's dot on the Marauders Map, so despite what the past few weeks had revealed to her, she refused to allow herself to reach for what she couldn't have.

There was that one shining moment, in the Chamber of Secrets, when it all seemed clear to her that Ron could be the man she hoped him to be. When he had brought up the house elves, it was like the final piece moving into the puzzle of her mind that what she was seeking with Ron was right. It took her a fraction of a second to rationalize trying to snog his brains out right then and there.

It was wonderful, everything she had hoped it would be. It didn't even faze her that the displeasure in Harry's voice was more serious than the excuse he gave. It didn't have to do with the battle currently raging and Hermione knew it. In fact, she had a brief moment of smug satisfaction in knowing that perhaps he was finally wising up to what he had missed.

Then her whole world was turned upside down yet again. There was that awful moment when she realized that Harry meant to die, that moment when she knew without a shadow of doubt that she had no desire to live her life without Harry James Potter.

I'll go with you.

There was nothing else for her to say. If Harry meant to die, she meant to die with him. She briefly lost the ability to breathe as she grasped him in pure desperation. She never wanted to let him go. But Harry was far too noble and cared far too much for her to let it happen.

So she watched him walk away. She was vaguely aware of Ron's presence, of his attempts to comfort her. Her world was over. She stood in the entrance hall and prayed beyond hope that somehow, someway, Harry would come back.

Then she spotted him in Hagrid's arms. It was right then and there that she decided that she had no desire to survive. She would die fighting and she would take as many Death Eaters with her as she could. A world without Harry was not worth living in, even if they had somehow won.

Harry of course, true to form, had evaded death yet again and when Voldemort finally crumpled to the ground dead; a joy filled her heart that she knew might never be matched. Harry was alive and the long dark night was finally over. They could finally live a life without wondering if each day would be their last.

That brought her to now. She hadn't really been lying to Ron. She really was worried about getting her parents back. She really did want to simply enjoy being alive and being with her two best friends. She really did think that now of all times was not the time to enter into a relationship when her heart was so conflicted.

She didn't doubt that she loved Ron. She had pursued him almost since she first arrived at Hogwarts. What she doubted was whether or not there was someone she loved more. She even doubted now if she was wrong to feel that way about Harry. She knew he was hiding something about him and Ginny. She knew him too well for him to fool her. Maybe he wasn't as in love with her as Hermione thought he had been. Maybe there was a chance….

"No." she caught herself say out loud. As long as there was a chance for their current relationships to work, she wouldn't give up just yet. Harry was her best friend. You were supposed to feel that way about your best friend. Harry for sure felt the same way about her and he had chosen to go out with first Cho then Ginny. There wasn't anything to confuse.

She had been chasing Ron for years and had been driven crazy by him in every way possible. There was nothing like the adrenaline that rushed through her when they got into heated arguments (or kissed for that matter) and despite how much of a prat he could be he was loyal, brave, and cared deeply for her.

As impossible as it seemed to her, she was wrong. It didn't make any sense to push him away now that he was finally hers to have.

Well, at least she could make his day tomorrow. She knew she was never going to hear the end of it when she admitted to him that he was right.

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