Nothing had changed since the war, but at the same time everything had changed. There were still gnomes wreaking havoc in the yard of the Burrow; his father still went to work every morning; and there were still Chudley Canon posters plastered on his walls. The differences lay within the people inside the Burrow.
The gaping hole in their family left by Fred’s death would never be filled in the same way. Each and every day it killed him to know that he would never again hear his brother laughing. It bothered him greatly that his family would never be the same.
What bothered him most of all, however, was that Hermione had changed. She was still the same bookworm he knew, still the brightest witch of her age, and still one of his closest friends. When he looked into her eyes now, he could see an older, much wiser Hermione. She had always been wise beyond her years, but there was a knowledge that had never been there before. He wondered if that had developed after she had been tortured.
Ron was so consumed in his thoughts while lying on his bed that he didn’t realize someone was standing in his room until he heard his name. He knew instantly who it was; he never had to look when it was her. It was almost as if he could sense her presence when she got too close to him. She called his name again, tentatively this time, and he lifted his head up to look at her.
Hermione was standing just inside his door, clutching a folded paper and looking rather nervous. He sat up and smiled slightly at her, “Mum hasn’t sent you to drag me to do something, has she?”
Hermione smiled then and shook her head, “No, I’ve hardly even seen her today. And Ginny and Harry are out in the garden–”
Ron sighed and stood up suddenly. He had to have a chat with Harry before anything further went on with him and Ginny. He wanted to make sure his little sister would be all right. Ron would have continued on out the door if Hermione hadn’t stopped him with the slightest touch on his arm.
It felt like a shock, even though he knew it wasn’t one. He could actually feel a tingly sensation from where she touched him. He looked into her eyes as she shook her head, “Please Ron, I need to give you something.”
It was the look in her eyes and the tone of her voice more than anything that made him hesitate. She sounded almost heart-broken. He took her hand in his, marveling that he was able to without fearing rejection, and looked into her golden brown eyes. “What is it?”
She smiled slightly as she took a step closer to him. They had only been dating for a short week, but Ron knew that he would be as happy with her in fifty years as he was now. “It’s something that I actually wrote you.”
Ron raised an eyebrow, “You wrote me a letter?”
She nodded, “Yes, but I never gave it to you before. The time just didn’t seem right.” She paused and looked down at their joined hands before looking back up at him. “I feel as though you could understand what I’ve written better now than you could have when I wrote it.”
Ron chewed on her words for a minute, trying to understand her message properly. He finally gave up and asked, “When did you write it?”
The corners of her mouth turned upward in a slight smile as she passed him the letter in silence, looking down at their hands as she did so. When the letter was in his hands, their eyes met again and Ron felt as though she was looking into his very soul. “You know where I’ll be,” she said quietly.
Before he could respond or reach for her and try to take away her sadness, she had turned and left the room. He watched her until she was out of sight before sitting back on his bed and glancing at the paper.
He had received letters from her before, but this one felt special, as if it held some bit of magic that linked them together. He unfolded it and wondered again when she had written it.
It didn’t take him long to realize. He was only three lines in when he realized what it was. It was about when he had left them; left her. Her words seemed to leap at him from the page, and he took a shaky breath. How could all of that have meant so little to you?
Those simple words burned through his brain like wildfire and he felt a new pang of guilt at all the memories that assaulted him. He had been such a prat to leave. He continued to read only because she had wanted him to. The letter was a horrible reminder of what he’d done, and it was only made worse when she talked about the blanket.
He closed his eyes at her words, and in his mind’s eye he could see her sitting on the chair, clutching his blanket and crying. The mental image broke his heart as he silently cursed himself for causing her so much grief.
When he finally read on, his heart began to lift once more. She had felt as strongly about him as he had about her. Ron breathed a sigh of relief as he continued to read the proof that she had always cared for him as more than a friend. His stomach flipped as he read that she loved him. She hadn’t yet said it to him in person, but she had written the words. And long before they were together.
“‘I was head over heels in love with you’,” he read aloud, smiling happily over her words. “I was too, Hermione,” he whispered to his empty bedroom. He still was, and he realized that he needed to tell her as soon as he finished reading.
His stomach clenched when he read the words, ‘You are my knight, Ron.’ What kind of bloody knight was he, when he went running off and abandoning her? He forced himself to read on, growing angrier with himself as the time passed. As he read the line about wiping her parents’ memories, his mind flashed back to that particular day.
His door opened and he made to yell at whoever it was to leave, but caught his words as he saw Hermione standing in the doorway. At first he smiled at her and stood to give her a welcoming hug. After a moment he looked closer and realized that not only was she on the verge of tears, but she was shaking horribly.
“Can I come in?” She asked. Her voice seemed to break on the words and he nodded quickly. She stepped inside and closed his door, and although she was so clearly distressed, he felt his stomach flip slightly at the sight of her. She was more beautiful than he remembered, but then again, she always was.
She bit her lip and then looked at him. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
He hadn’t yet got the second word fully out when she burst into tears. He stood there helplessly for a moment before coming to his senses and wrapping her in his arms. He felt her arms wrap around him as he held her close. They were closer than they had ever been, both physically and emotionally. He wasn’t sure how long she cried for, but after what seemed like an hour or two, he broke the silence.
“Hermione, what’s the matter?”
“I-I did it.” She said in between sobs. “I erased my parents’ memories.”
He pulled her over to the bed and sat her down, taking her into his arms immediately after again. “You did it to protect them, Hermione. It’s only temporary.”
“Yes, but what if it’s not?”
“It will be, because we’re going to succeed and finish what needs to be done.”
“I’ve just–”She paused for a moment and sniffed. “I’ve never used magic against them, and I just feel so horrible about it.”
In what was most likely his wisest moment yet, Ron blurted out, “You used that magic to help them, though. Yes, you pointed your wand at them, but you did it out of love, not hate. Isn’t that what we’re fighting for?”
She gave a small laugh and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, “Thank you, Ron.”
If he hadn’t known that she had written this after he left, he never would have guessed it. She wrote the letter as though she still loved him anyway, regardless of him leaving. He didn’t see how.
Yet, at the same time, hadn’t he always loved her? Even when she set those damned canaries on him? Of course he had. He read the rest of her letter and felt an understanding fill him. He knew what she meant about every bit of the day and night being hard to get through – he had gone through the same emotions trying to get back to them. She had haunted his dreams, plagued his waking thoughts, and he had spent every effort and bit of energy trying to get back to her.
He stood up, setting the letter gently on his bedside table, and Apparated outside. He knew exactly where she’d be – out by the tree where they had talked for hours about their lives and relationship.
He stopped when he was but a foot away from her and waited until she looked up at him. “I love you,” he said quietly. Oddly enough, he felt none of the previous trepidation he always had felt before. He always thought that when he said those words to her, he would feel panic well within him. Yet here he stood, saying them freely and deeply, and he didn’t feel even the slightest bit of worry.
“I love you, too, Ron.” She stood and clasped her hands together in front of her. Tears welled in her eyes as she continued in a quiet voice, “I always have.”
“So I read,” he smiled. All he wanted was to pull her into his arms and kiss all her sadness away. He couldn’t do that just yet, however, and so he stuffed his hands in his pockets, lest he be tempted. “I want to apologize again for being such a prat, ’Mione.”
She took a very audible, shaky breath and looked directly into his eyes, “You’ve already apologized.”
He shook his head, “Not properly. I didn’t know half the pain and grief I’d caused you until I read your letter. I am so sorry, Hermione. I have hurt you horribly in the past, but I want you to know that I will never hurt you again.”
She smiled faintly at him, “Of course you will, Ron.” He barely had time to blink at her words before she continued, “I know we’ll still fight…it seems to be our nature to, doesn’t it? And sometimes you say the wrong things and hurt my feelings. It is enough that you love me and want to be with me, though. As long as I know that, it doesn’t matter if you hurt me.”
He stepped closer to her and gently pulled her hand into both of his. In a soft voice, he said, “It matters to me, Hermione. I want to spend the rest of my life making it up to you.”
She used her free hand to wipe the tears from her eyes, and he found himself wanting to do it for her. “Ron, that’s all in the past. I want what we have here and now, and I want to make it work. None of the pain or fights matter anymore, because I have you now. I love you.”
“I love you too,” He told her. She smiled as she twined her arms around his neck and leaned upwards to kiss him. Just as her lips were about to touch his, he whispered, “I have always loved you, and I always will. It’s only ever been you.”
“There’s never been anyone else for me, either,” Hermione told him, gently pressing her lips to his. Ron wrapped his arms around Hermione and held her close to him. It had taken him a long time to be able to hold her in his arms and kiss her, and he wasn’t about to let her go. He would never give up the woman of his dreams; she was his beautiful bookworm, and he was her flawed knight.