Once Hermione had finished her seemingly infinite cough-a-thon, Ron decided it was time for him to take charge. He'd read in a magazine that women liked men who were took the lead and were confident... or maybe men liked women who took the lead and were confident? Well, he couldn't remember, but that wasn't the point.
“You ready to go?” Ron asked casually.
“Yeah.” Hermione coughed, putting her hand up to her mouth and making a little face. Ron smiled. It was the most adorable thing he'd ever seen. To cover up the elated feeling it gave him, he covered his face with the map and pointed his finger to it.
“Okay so... the plane is here.” he said, pointing.
“Okay...” Hermione said. “Now, where are we?”
“We're... well, it doesn't say.”
“What?” Hermione said, surprised.
“Yeah. It doesn't say.”
“Give me that!” Hermione said impatiently, grabbing the map. Her mouth dropped open as she frantically searched it.
“You're right!” Hermione said, her voice high pitched. “It doesn't show where we are!”
Ron cursed quietly under his breath.
“Well, what do we do now?”
“We'll just have to ask for directions.” Hermione said reasonably. She turned to start walking, but stopped when she realized that his eyes were on her back, instead of walking.
“Well?” Hermione said, crossing her arms. “What is it?”
“We don't need to ask for directions!” Ron said, looking at Hermione as if George's missing ear had just appeared on her forehead.
“Yes, we do.” Hermione snapped. “Now let's GO.”
She started to walk again, but Ron snatched the map out of her pack.
“I can find out where we are.” Ron said, puffing out his chest as he looked at the map.
Hermione looked at him in disbelief, her mouth wide open. She straitened up and started to walk away for the third time.
“When you're finished being Percy...” she called over her shoulder.
“I refuse to ask directions!” Ron cut in.
Hermione let out a loud groan.
“Ronald, are you serious? Get off of your high horse... Ginny told me men didn't like to ask directions...” Hermione shook her head in disgust.
“See, this is why it took us so long to get together.” she spat at him, stomping off. Ron stood there, in shock, then in three bounds caught up to Hermione and matched her stride.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” he asked heatedly.
“Nothing.” Hermione said, her face red from anger and embarrassment.
“Hey, if it was my fault we took so long to be together, it was your fault it ended.”
“No, it wasn't!” Hermione said huffily. “You were half Ron half alcoholic!”
“I couldn't see you over your work!” Ron challenged.
“Oh, well excuse me for trying to abolish pure-blood rights, then!” Hermione screamed, her hair growing bushier by the millisecond. “Merlin, aren't I just a selfish bitch?”
“Yeah!” Ron shouted. “You ARE! I'm sure the purebloods were just fine until you came along.”
“You didn't have that opinion when I got the job!” Hermione retorted.
“Yeah, well we were still together when you got the job, weren't we? I had a fair chance of getting into your pants, didn't I?” Ron bellowed.
“AUUGGG!” Hermione cried, stomping her foot and sitting down right smack in the middle of the road.
“What're you doing?” Ron asked, lowering his voice.
“I'm staying here until further notice.” Hermione said.
“In human speak, please?” Ron snorted.
“I'm not going anywhere with you, you bastard.” Hermione said, crossing her arms. Ron stood there for a moment. Then he shook his head, bent down and picked up Hermione, heaving her over his shoulder.
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” Hermione screamed.
“I'm getting us to the goddamn jet plane.”
“PUT ME DOWN!”
Hermione started to beat her fists against Ron's back. He smirked and kept walking.
“When did you get so strong?” Hermione gasped.
“Dunno.” Ron said, grinning so broadly Hermione could have knocked all of his teeth out.
Hermione finally let her body relax, and Ron started to relish the moment. They were both quiet, and instead of having Hermione hurled over his shoulder she was more cradled in Ron's arms. Hermione breathed in Ron's scent, a feeling of peace washing over her. Right then, she wanted nothing better then to kiss Ron. She moved her head toward him, inhaling his scent, her lips aiming right at his. Ron seemed to realize what she was about to do. And he dropped her.
“Er- I think you can walk on your own now.” he said, shoving his hands into his pockets.
“Oh.” Hermione said, aghast. “Alright.”
She started to walk again, dirt kicking up at her heels. Ron tried to catch up, but she pulled away, her face burning. He'd wanted to get kissed by Hermione, willingly, for a long time. Why all of a sudden was he shying away? Hermione's stomach plummeted. Was he moving on?
Ron had shoved his hands into his pockets, immediately regretting his decision. He wanted nothing more then to feel Hermione's hand in his, her warm lips on his, her beautiful smile bestowed onto his face. Why had he pushed her away? Why hadn't he taken advantage of her strange emotion toward him?
That was it. He didn't want to take advantage of the fact that Hermione was feeling frightened. Or maybe she was impressed by his new muscles. Ron grinned proudly, then his grin vanished. He'd finally caught up to Hermione, and her face had fallen into lines of sadness and confusion. Ron's stomach flopped. He hated that expression. It made him feel terrible, even if he hadn't done anything. Ron didn't know what to do or what to say. Instead, he moved his hand close to Hermione's, being careful to not hold hers, and kept on walking.
They were silent for most of the treck. There weren't many turns, and no forks at all. In short, Hermione and Ron had managed to avoid the hard part. So far. Now, it was getting dark, and Ron could see Hermione's eyes starting to glaze over. She was getting the look she got when she was tired and hungry.
“Why don't we stop here?” Ron asked.
“Here?” Hermione said. She looked around. It was a dry patch of dirt, nothing special. Hermione wrinkled her nose and checked her map. “Lets see... there's a meadow around the corner. Why don't we slee- er- go there?”
“Yeah.” Ron said, and he allowed Hermione to take the lead, walking with her nose buried in the map, as she'd done with books so many times before. It was sad, really, how much her knew about her.
“Here it is.” Hermione said 5 minutes later, stopping in front of a large, green meadow.
“How is this so green?” Ron asked incredulously, looking back at the dirt road. Hermione glanced behind her too, then pointed to a sign.
“Property of 'Sweet Wizard Studios'” she said dryly. “They're the people who own 'The Perfect Match'.”
“That explains it.” Ron said, plopping down and opening his rucksack. He took out a sleeping bag, some water, some corn bread and some matches. Hermione reached into her backpack and pulled out a sleeping bag as well, plus a medium sized steak.
“Well. It seems they had little faith in us.” Hermione said good naturedly.
“I guess we should go get some firewood.” Ron said.
“Yeah.” Hermione said, getting up and stretching. “Let's go.”
She walked into the forest, Ron trailing behind her. Once she was basically out of sight, he squeezed his eyes shut and said,
“Accio logs and firewood!”
Immediately, woods of all different shapes and sizes started to fly at him. Ron brought the smaller ones back in his arms, levitating the two that would be good for sitting on. When he saw Hermione coming, he lifted the gigantic log over his shoulder and pretended he had been working just as hard as she had.
“Ron!” Hermione said. “That log's huge! Did you carry it all the way from the pond in the forest?”
“Yeah.” Ron said, grimacing in a brave sort of fashion.
“Wow.” Hermione said, looking impressed. “Well, er, set that down.”
She started to arrange the logs and light the fire. Ron watched her carefully while he dragged the two large logs around her workplace. When Hermione had put the steak on a large stick and started to make it, then sat back on a log. Ron opened his little box of cornbread.
“Here, to tide us over.” he said, his mouth watering from the scent of the steak. They ate, chewing quietly.
“The fire's warm, isn't it.” Hermione said, searching desperately for something to say. Ron discarded her comment.
“This reminds me of the hunt.” he said.
“How so?” Hermione asked, looking at him intently.
“Well, we had to fend for ourselves, and cook for ourselves. It was a horrid affair.”
“But someone had to do it.” Hermione joked. Then she sighed. “We got ourselves into this one, though.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the breakup was both of our faults.”
“I wish it had never-”
Ron's sentence was interrupted by the meat bursting into flames. Hermione let out a shriek and put them out. She grabbed the steak viciously and smacked it onto her plate, then started to eat it vigorously, as if it had done some personal wrongdoing to her that could never be forgiven.
“Ehem.” Ron cleared his throat.
“Oh.” she said. “Here.”
She handed Ron his steak. They ate in silence, then crawled into their respective sleeping bags. Hermione turned over on the hard earth, uncomfortable with both the physical and mental disadvantages of her sleeping position.
“Why didn't you kiss me?” she asked, her voice quiet. “I was trying to kiss you... to give you what you wanted. Why didn't you kiss me?”
“I don't know.” Ron said, his voice as confused as Hermione felt. “Something just didn't feel right about kissing you just then... I'm sorry if I hurt you. I never, ever wanted to hurt you.” he said fervently, and Hermione knew he wasn't just talking about not kissing her earlier that day.
So it wasn't that he didn't love her. Hermione breathed in a sigh of relief. They were both silent, then. Hermione chanced a look at Ron's face. He was deep in thought about something. She desperately wanted to know what he was thinking. All of a sudden, Ron got a resolved look on his face. He took in a deep breath and started to speak.
“In sixth year, I got together with Lavender Brown to make you jealous. Ginny had just told me that you kissed Viktor Krum. I felt... weird. I'd thought he was out of my- your- life when he left at the end of fourth year. Then I find out you kissed him. It was an emotion seconded to nothing- not even what I felt in fourth year when I found out he was taking you to the ball. You looked so beautiful, yet you weren't mine.”
Hermione was sitting straight up now, alert, her head propped on her hands, held up by her elbows. Ron was lying on his back, staring up at the stars and the night sky. His voice was a bit strangled, but he went on.
“It was jealousy, I realized, and that scared me, although I wouldn't admit it. I didn't talk about my feelings for you to anyone- not Harry, not mum, not my brothers. I wish I had. They would have advised me not to do anything with Lavender, and the whole mess would have been avoided. But then I thought, hey, you didn't wait for me, right? You probably didn't like me. And anyway, I wanted to be your first kiss. I wanted to be the man you remembered forever, who you told your children stories about. Who signified the happiest time of your life. But right then, all I wanted, all I could make sense of, was the fact that I wanted you to feel that ripping sensation in your stomach, the way I did every time I saw you with Viktor, or even heard his name. He had everything I wanted- including the most important thing in the world to me, even if I hadn't figured that out yet.”
Hermione sat in silence, feeling breathless. She didn't say anything, just turned in her sleeping bag and felt tears prickle into her eyes.
“Well?” Ron said, his voice impatient and worried.
“Say something.” he pleaded. “Anything, please.”
Hermione swallowed the lump in her throat, then spoke slowly, choosing her words carefully, as if she couldn't mess this up.
“We'd made so much progress.” she said. “And then you went to kiss her. I'd just started to think there was a chance that you liked me. I couldn't understand why you'd turned to her. It made me so hurt, so bitter, so angry and jealous. Just like you wanted, I guess.”
She paused, then started up again, on a different track.
“I'm not sure when I started to like you as more then just a friend. Maybe it was there from the beginning. The first time I became extremely conscious of anything remotely different with you and Harry was at the end of second year. I hugged Harry, but somehow the thought of hugging you made my insides twist with excitement and fright. I still remember that. I couldn't do it. I never hugged you. I didn't really touch you either. The thought always brought the same feeling to me, delight and fear.”
She felt tired now, like she'd lived 100 years in the last few minutes. She couldn't get to sleep. Hermione forced herself to keep going.
“When I was in the Malfoy Manor, being tortured, I couldn't think of anything to live for that was worth the pain. Books weren't enough. The satisfaction of killing Voldemort wasn't enough. My parents crossed my mind, but I couldn't do it even for them. And then I heard your voice. Screaming my name. It was like a life preserver, it kept me conscious. I concentrated on it, as faint as it was. I told myself it was like studying for a test. The thing was, I already knew it so well, your voice. But I still completely enjoyed myself. Maybe it's because I love your voice. Maybe it was because you came back, after I'd cried over you so many nights. Maybe it was because I knew I loved you, and I couldn't bear to think about leaving this world without telling you that. Maybe it was all of those reasons, put together. All I know is that, the first time I ever kissed you, it was like my first kiss. Because, somehow, it just didn't compare to the tiny little peck Viktor gave me, even if he'd tried to make it more. Somehow, your scent, your lips... you made me forget about the battle, about everything. It was just you and me, winning the battle that we'd been fighting for seven years, the most important seven years of our lives so far. We grew and changed so much in that time, and we watched each other do it, making us know each other better then anyone else, even our parents.”
“And now we've undergone an unsuspected attack.” Ron whispered, just loud enough for Hermione to hear.
“Yeah.” Hermione said.
“But, Mione, we got through one final battle, and I'm sure we can get through another one.”
Hope curled in Hermione's stomach, and she chose not to answer him, instead curling into a tight ball and trying to squeeze the pain out.
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