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Chapter 1: Coming Home
It has been a month, almost to the day, since she left, and never has a month seemed longer. You have been apart before, and for longer than this, but this isn’t a summer vacation, and this isn’t that time you walked out on her (and how could you have walked out, when she begged you to stay?). It is a normal and planned separation, and that is what made it so hard. Because you could count down to the hour on your mental calendar how long it would be until she came back.
Not that you’ve had nothing to do while she’s been away, of course. Life moves on in that funny way life has, and you’ve been making the gradual transition away from the Auror office to help out the brother that needed you. There was a lot more paperwork involved in that than you’d anticipated, and having someone else from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement talk you through it felt all wrong, like putting on socks inside-out.
And of course, you’ve had other things besides work – like dinner with Harry and Ginny, every Saturday at seven, like always. Playing third fiddle felt increasingly more uncomfortable as the month wore on, but Harry was good enough not to say anything about it. He’d known about you and her even before you did, after all. It’s what best mates were for.
It has been so long since you’d traveled on Muggle transportation – no brooms, no Floo Powder, no Apparition – that the clacking and roaring of the subway is stuck in your head, long after you’d left subterranean London. That happened on the way up, too, but it is louder now that you are just walking through Ottery St. Catchpole, and not London proper.
A month was a long time – did people change in a month? Would you know when you got there, or would it be something you’d have to discover over time?
You are sitting in the home that is still your home, and yet you do not live there anymore; a home is not four walls and a roof, and your flat doesn’t have the feeling that this ramshackle, half-collapsed building carries with it. You wonder if flats ever could, or if that sort of magic can only be cast by plots of land and hurriedly-added bedrooms and people coming and going with equal amounts of love and welcome parceled out without prejudice.
You are wishing for the first instant in your life that the clock on the wall actually told the time. Everyone has assembled here, all your brothers, and your sister, and your friends, and her friends, and your parents’ friends, because she is well-loved. And that makes the fact that she chose you to love all the more special, and something inside you squeezes at the thought. Can you really be that lucky?
Any moment now, you know that she will be coming up that lane, and walking through that gate, and knocking at that door, and standing on that rug. But you have played that game so often with your mind this month that it still does not feel real.
There’s a sort of murmuring of voices in the background of everything, melding together until you can’t tell one from the other, but you don’t really want to participate in the conversation. For now, you are just content to sit here.
This road has become familiar to you over the years, and walking it now, your suitcase clutched in your left hand, feels very natural. It is a sort of home you are going to, apart from the one you left several years ago with your parents’ blessing, and it takes everything in you not to run there outright.
You wonder if he is waiting there, or if he’s late – he’s late a lot – and someone else is going to stand in the way of that first glimpse. Harry, maybe, because that wouldn’t be too terribly awful. But it is not Harry’s face you have been waiting to see these past thirty days. It is his.
On the top of the small hill, the hodgepodge that he calls a home comes into view, and you catch your breath without quite realizing you have. You are so close now. The suitcase feels lighter, and your feet feel lighter, and maybe your soul feels lighter too. This is what love is like.
Your mum offers you a mug of tea (Earl Grey, two lumps of sugar, and a dash of milk), even though you’ve already been too polite to decline the first two. Not to mention that tart that was still steaming on the stove, and you aren’t normally one to turn away pudding. You don’t think there’s any more room in your stomach for another. Besides, Mum doesn’t make it quite like she does. How does she make it? She must do something special to it.
A bit of a panic seizes you, and you expected it, because your self-esteem is a bit shoddy where women are concerned. For some reason, she makes you nervous in the best way. She’s going to cause those internal twists for the rest of her days – for the rest of your days, together – and you are happy again to think that those days will be spent with you. But maybe she has taken your ring from her finger in the month she’s been gone. Does that ever happen?
His ring is still on your finger, and you look down almost instinctively as you start the climb up the hill. No one is visible from this distance, and you wonder for a fleeting moment if you might be early, or late, despite the fact that you must have read his letter at least a dozen times by now, if not more. Even now, it is in the pocket of your coat, and you can hear it rustling with every step your right foot takes.
Perhaps this is all a dream. It would not be the first time you’d dreamed of coming home, and who could blame you, with what’s waiting at the end? But you do hope that, if it is a dream, you’d at least be allowed to reach the end this time. But you are too pragmatic to dream in such a lovely reality, and you tell yourself to just live in this moment, right now.
A few steps more. Not far at all now.
Someone says that they can see her at the end of the lane, and you have become frozen to your chair. You think it’s a very cruel joke, if they’re joking, but then one of your brothers (don’t they all look the same in this frazzled state of mind?) gives you a less-than-gentle shove.
How did you get to the door? How did you get to the bottom of the steps? Why are there cauldrons and Wellington boots by your feet? Maybe you should make a run for it. Yes, running would be best.
And then she is there, and she has seen you, and her smile erases any sort of flight from your mind.
He is standing there with the silly sort of grin that you love best, his arms limp at his sides as though he doesn’t know what to do with them. And, bless him, he probably doesn’t. After all, it has been a month for him, too.
You set your suitcase down (it doesn’t seem important anymore – why are you carrying it in the first place?), wiping your hands delicately on your jeans. Every movement is poised and precise and delicate, as though if you do something wrong, something will fracture.
He steps toward you, still smiling in that silly way
and her smile only grows bigger, her hands clasped expectantly in front of her, and you clasp her to you in a crush of something that smells of parchment and soap and her
wool and grass and him
and she is yours
and you are home.
A/N: If I had to pick one pairing that I ship above all others, I think it'd be Ron/Hermione. From the very first book, I always thought they'd end up together, and I think they have one of the most realistic fictional relationships I've ever read -- I can be sold on realism. And so it sort of surprised me to recently learn I'd never actually written them as a couple before, not as a main focus. And a few days ago I got the urge to write a stylistically experimental one-shot, and this came without too much effort. I hope you've enjoyed it!