Harry looked into Ginny's blazing eyes and knew that she was moments away from tears.
Few people saw through Ginny's exterior. She was powerful, fiery, and stubborn; yet also witty, kind, and lighthearted. It had taken Harry years to discover she had still another side. The side that wept liberally, often for him, but rarely where others could see. Harry pulled her tightly into another embrace, certain that side was only moments away from being revealed.
"Why does it always seem like I'm saying good bye to you?"
"I've often wondered the same thing," she murmured into his shoulder, clinging to him tightly. "Come on, Potter. It's not forever." She drew back and plastered a smile on her face. "I'll write to tell you about Hogsmeade visits. Maybe you can tear yourself away from Auror training long enough for a quick visit to Madame Puddifoot's," there was a mischievous quality to her voice that didn't quite reach her eyes.
Harry cringed at the memory of the only time he had ever set foot in that establishment, but his face quickly broke into a grin at the implication. Ginny's ability to lighten up any situation was only one of the many reasons he loved her. Too much of his life had been devoid of joy; he needed her.
Her gaze turned serious. "Harry Potter, I know you. You are going to throw yourself into training with more than you can afford to give." He opened his mouth to protest, but she silenced him by pressing a finger against his lips. "It's all right, that's one of the things I love about you; you never do anything half-way. And I get it, you need to do this. It's who you are, but I am telling you right now, I will be back for good in ten months and you need to figure out where I fit into your life by then." She dropped her gaze and struggled to keep her voice from trembling. "Because I don't think I can stand to say good bye to you any more."
In that moment, Harry hated himself for everything he had ever done to hurt her. He gently reached out and raised her chin until he was staring directly into her eyes.
"I will, I promise. I can't lose you again either." He had never meant anything more in his life. Looking into her eyes, Harry made a promise to himself that he would make it all up to her. When she was finished with school, and he was done with Auror training, he would dedicate the rest of his life to making up for all the hell he had put her through, all the times he had left her behind, all the tears he had caused her to shed. As long as she would have him, he would be there.
Ginny held his gaze for a few seconds, then threw her arms around his neck and pulled him in for one last kiss. Harry's breath was taken away by the need he felt underlying the passion. Too soon, she was pulling away.
"I've already waited seven years for you. I guess I can wait one more." Then, with a wink, she turned her back and made her way back up the path toward the Burrow.
Well, this was awkward. How do you say good bye to your best friend turned girlfriend as you are about to spend the longest time apart from one another that you've spent since you met? Apparently a quick peck on the cheek and a "Say 'hi' to your parents for me" is not the appropriate answer. Now it looked as though Hermione was heating up for an epic row when all Ron wanted to do was get the hard part out of the way so he could go back inside and sulk for ten months.
Best to suck it up and apologize before she leaves angry, I suppose.
"Look Hermione, I'm--"
"Good-bye, Ronald," Hermione interrupted stiffly, sticking out her hand as if to offer a handshake.
Bloody hell, I must've really wrecked things if she's offering me a farewell handshake. Well, only one way to solve that...
Ron threw an arm around Hermione's waist and swept her up for a good, old fashioned snog. He was relieved to feel her put up only limited resistance before relaxing into the embrace and returning the kiss.
"I'm sorry, Hermione," Ron blurted out the moment they parted. "You know I'm a royal prat and I always make a mess of things. Truth is, I hate that you're going to spend a month with your parents," Hermione pulled out of his arms and glared daggers at him. "Don't get me wrong," Ron continued in a rush, "I completely understand why. I know you haven't really spent any time with them since we all returned from Australia, and you need some time to explain everything and make them understand. It's just that I hate that it's one more month that I have to spend away from you."
He noticed that the venom in Hermione's glare seemed to lessen in severity, so he continued. "And then you're headed straight back to Hogwarts, so I'll hardly see you at all for practically a year. And, well, blimey Hermione, that seems like a long time to go without being with the person you love, now that you've finally admitted you love her...er, you."
Hermione continued to stare at him for a few seconds, then she flung herself into his arms and pulled him into a kiss reminiscent of their first.
After several blissful moments, she pulled away.
"Now that, Ronald, is how you say goodbye."
They just stared at each other for a moment. As the years had passed, fewer and fewer words had needed to be spoken amongst them. They understood each other so well. Not well enough that they hadn't had their fair share of arguments and disagreements, but well enough to know that some things didn't need to be said...but some things did. What would a year apart do to them? Especially now. Could their friendships really survive unscathed?
Tears were already rolling down Hermione's face as she reached out a hand to each of the men standing beside her. They absentmindedly linked hands with her and then with each other, completing a small circle, continuing to stand in silence, heads bowed, as if in prayer.
Harry finally broke the silence. "My parents didn't live long enough for me to have brothers or sisters. Growing up, I always wondered what that would’ve been like, what it must feel like to have a family. I don't have to wonder anymore. I never would have made it through everything without the two of you. You taught me what a family is, really is. When I faced down Voldemort for the final time, I got a glimpse of what I could have become if it hadn't been for you. Thank you for always sticking by me. I love you both, and nothing will ever change that."
Silence followed Harry's speech and several long moments passed before Hermione began in a trembling voice. "I always wished that I had siblings, too. I never really fit in when I was younger, never had any real friends. I thought that if I had siblings, that wouldn’t be the case. When I got my letter, I was so excited. I knew that things would be different at Hogwarts. I didn't fit into the Muggle world because I wasn't a Muggle, but I would have to fit into this other world. Only I didn't, until two brave little boys rescued me from a giant troll and taught me what it means to be a friend. You both mean more to me than words could ever express. I love you."
More silence followed, broken only by the muffled sniffling coming from Hermione's direction. Ron cleared his throat.
"Well, I had loads of siblings," he began. "And I never really wanted any more." Harry and Hermione both jerked their heads up in surprise. At the look on Ron's face, Harry burst into laughter while Hermione glared disapprovingly. "It's true mates," he continued, releasing their hands and raising his own defensively. "You try growing up with five older brothers, a younger sister, and one loo. It's not all parties and picnics."
Hermione's glare faded as she too began to giggle, but the levity was short-lived.
"Come on, Ron. This is serious. We've never been apart this long. What if things really do change?" Hermione scolded.
"So what?" Ron asked boisterously. "Things have changed before. We'll just change with them."
"He's right, Hermione," Harry added. "If everything we've gone through this far hasn't made us reconsider our friendship, I doubt one little year can tear us apart."
Hermione rolled her eyes, but smiled sheepishly. "I suppose you're both right. We were being a bit dramatic. It's not as if this is forever. We'll see each other again soon. I suppose it was too much to hope that three people could go through their entire lives without ever being separated." Her smile faded. "But I still hate saying good bye."
Ron pulled her into his arms. "I know, love. Good byes are hard." He placed a kiss upon the top of her head before releasing her.
"Especially when we've already had to say so many," Harry added, as he and Hermione embraced as well.
"I suppose, in the grand scheme of thing, this good bye is much easier than some of the others we've had to say," Hermione pulled away from Harry. "Doesn't seem easier though."
The trio stood and stared at each other once again. There was so much and so little left to say.
"Enough of this," Ron broke the silence and embraced Harry. "Best of luck at Auror training, mate. Hopefully you'll be able to show me a thing or two so I'll have a leg up when I enter in a couple of years."
Harry nodded briskly in response. "Absolutely, Ron. Try to keep George from blowing up the shop."
Ron rolled his eyes. "Hey, no promises."
Harry turned to Hermione, and embraced her again. "You'll be an amazing head girl, especially without Ron and I to distract you and get you into trouble. Watch out for Ginny for me, won't you?"
She nodded into his shoulder. "Of course I will, Harry. Please be careful."
"You know me, Hermione," he grinned, releasing her. "Caution is my middle name."
She returned his smile, rolling her eyes before she was swept up again by Ron.
"Hermione, love, take care of yourself. Don't overdo it. You don't have to learn everything right this minute." For once, Hermione accepted the jab at her studiousness and returned Ron's kiss without complaint.
Then, she and Harry both backed away, extending their small circle of three. Hermione turned toward Harry, and blew him a kiss, which he accepted with a smile and a nod. They turned in simultaneous, but separate circles and vanished with a 'pop'.
Ron stared at the spots where his best friends had just been and finally allowed his tears to come.
"You know, I was lying when I said I didn't want any more siblings," he whispered. "Growing up, I always heard the story of the famous Harry Potter, the boy who lived, sent off to live with his muggle relatives. I begged Mum to take you in so we could live together as brothers. Then we met and it all came true, except, somewhere on that first train ride, I stopped thinking of you as famous. You were just Harry, and you became the best mate a guy could have. And Hermione, I never thought of you as a sister. You've always been so much more. I can't pinpoint the exact moment that I fell in love with you, but when you were petrified back in second year, my heart stopped, thinking that I had lost you. I'm only able to spend this time apart because I know that we'll be spending the rest of our lives together. And every time that thought crosses my mind, it makes me grin like an idiot. I'm sorry I couldn't say this while the two of you were here, but somehow, I think you must already know. So stay safe and be well. I love you both."
With that, Ron turned around and headed back toward the Burrow. A lot could change in a year, but love as hard-earned as theirs couldn't fade in so short a time.