Ron looked up from his chess game to see a fair-skinned brunette yawning as she came down the stairs, running her fingers through her hair to pull out her braid. She was just waking now, as the morning turned into the afternoon, because she had been up all night with nightmares. Thankfully, she did not awake screaming or crying this time. Ron looked up at her with big, bright eyes and an anxious smile.
"Morning, boys," Hermione smiled, blushing and avoiding eye contact with Ron. She couldn't look at him with his face like that or she would probably throw herself at him. Of course, he couldn't read her thoughts, he just saw her blush.
"Hungry, Hermione?" Harry asked, knocking out Ron's bishop. "Fleur's gone to her mother's, there's stuff for sandwiches in the fridges."
"Sure, thanks," she smiled over Ron's head. There was a clatter of chess pieces and Harry groaned.
"I was thinking of going back to the Burrow today, I still have to get some of my things," Ron asked, looking between the two of them. "Care to join me?"
Harry, of course, jumped right on it. He hadn't had a moment alone with Ginny in such a long time and he would take any chance he could get to see her.
Hermione was the one who hesitated. Ron looked up at her, his eyes glistening, waiting. She didn't have to come, they could go without her, but he wanted her to. He just watched her face, waiting.
"Fine, sure," she laughed, overting her eyes from his near-puppydog face. She ate her lunch, got dressed, and within the hour they were in the yard, ready to aparate.
As they climbed through the kitchen door of the Burrow, they were not bombarded with Molly Weasley's hugs. Normally, she would be right there to squeeze them tight and interrogate them on how well they'd been eating. Instead, Ginny came climbing down the stairs, jumping into Harry's arms. He held her tight, stroking her long hair just once, before she pryed herself away to hug Hermione and Ron.
"I didn't know you were coming!" She smiled at them.
"Yeah, I needed to grab the last of my things. Where is everyone?" Ron asked.
"Dad's taken Bill, Mum and George to the Ministry to meet with some lawyers. Percy's upstairs, no clue where Charlie is."
"Well, we'll be upstairs," Ron began. They went to follow, but Ginny caught Hermione's arm.
"You boys go ahead, I'm stealing her for a while."
Hermione climbed up onto Ginny's bed, perching herself on the end. The red-haired girl jumped up with her, sitting crosslegged across from her.
"Talk," Ginny said, waiting for Hermione to speak.
"Ron. Spare me the gorey details, only, I have a feeling there aren't many. I know you two. You're still being stubborn, aren't you?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. She wanted to prove Ginny wrong, but she was right. "Yeah, I guess you could say that. He's driving me nuts. Mixed signals like you wouldn't believe."
Ginny laughed. "Well, you're not exactly the best at that either."
"He knows how I feel."
"I'm not sure he does!" Ginny tilted her head. "Hermione, he's just as obvious as you are. If you can't tell how he feels, he can't tell how you feel. Now tell me what's actually going on."
She nodded. "He's driving me mad. One minute he's so distant, he barely even notices my presence, and then he's looking up at me with these big puppydog eyes, following me around. But he never seems to want to talk about any of it."
"Hermione, he's mad about you! Believe me!"
"That's what Harry said."
"Because it's true! I've been catching him staring at you when you're not looking since your third year. He's been defending you since second year, and he hasn't made fun of you without you around since first year! He's never looked at anyone like he looks at you. You're his best friend..."
Hermione rolled her eyes.
"What? How does you being his best friend make it worse? I think it makes it better. It means you're not just the centre of his world, you're his whole world."
She laughed. "Let's not be overdramatic here."
Ginny laughed too. "All I'm saying is, I know you're terrified, I've been there. I know it's scary to put your heart in someone's hands, but believe me, Hermione, the last thing he wants in this world is to hurt you."
"Yeah. I'm pretty sure if you tell him how you feel, he's going to tell you he feels exactly the same way."
Hermione let out a breath. People had been telling her for a while how much Ron cared about her, but no one put it as matter-of-factly as Ginny, and it helped. Perhaps tonight or tomorrow she would get Ron alone for a few moments.
There came a knock at the door. Harry peered his head in, smiling. "Sorry, can I have a minute with Ginny?"
Hermione jumped up. "Of course! Sorry. I'll, err, be upstairs." She left the two of them alone.
Upstairs, Ron was in the middle of a rather grueling match with his copy of the Monster Book of Monsters. Hermione laughed. "You know, you're supposed to stroke the spine!"
He rolled his eyes, standing on a chair. "I know. I knocked it off the shelf and it fell open."
Hermione rolled up her sleeves, far too pleased with an opportunity to laugh at Ron. Together, they blasted at the book a few times. Finally, Hermione caught it under the bed and shouted "Immobulous!" There was a pause of silence, then she reached under the bed, dragging it out by it's belt, then buckled it shut again.
Ron let out a breath. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it," she laughed, pushing hair from her face with her left arm. As she lifted her arm, Ron couldn't stop himself from staring at the scar. He hadn't seen it in a while, she kept it covered. She caught him looking and froze, embarrased. Her ears grew hot. She expected him to pretend he hadn't seen it.
Instead, Ron went around the room and opened a shoe box full of viles and bottles left over from potions class. He dug out a small dropper bottle and came over to her, taking her arm and holding it out infront of him. He dropped some of the dittany onto her arm and rubbed it in a little with his thumbs. The liquid disappeared into her skin.
"It won't help now," she said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ears and avoiding his eyes.
"Well, it can't hurt, can it?" He handed her the bottle. For a moment, their eyes stuck. Hermione could feel how close he was. Her heart pounded as she looked straight into his face. He wanted to move closer, she could tell, he looked at her the same way he did before they kissed in the room of requirement...
There was a clatter downstairs. The voice of Arthur Weasley came booming through the kitchen door, accompanied by his wife and two of his sons. Ron and Hermione looked back at each other for a moment before they both turned and walked away. Their moment would come.
Harry dove at Ginny the moment Hermione left the room. She laughed as he burried his nose into her hair, though he was really no taller than she was. It was her that kissed him - full on the mouth, a long, deep kiss that had them both out of breath and hearts pounding.
"It's been too long since we've done that," Ginny laughed.
Harry responded by putting his hand on the back of her head and kissing her again. He moved his other hand up and touched her cheek, and she gripped his shoulders tight as they became so light-headed and dazed that the world dissappeared around them. They'd waited a long time to be together without that dark weight around their heads.
"So I think it's safe to say you'll be my boyfriend again?" she teased, sitting down on the bed.
He moved in close, looking down into her eyes. He spoke with a surprising confidence that she loved. "Did I ever really stop?"
She melted into his arms.
"Come back with us tonight, Fleur wouldn't mind extra company."
"I can't. I've been invited over to Luna's."
Harry groaned. "Tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow," she laughed, looking up at him. He kissed her nose.
Harry stood for a long moment, staring down at Ginny Weasley. All his life, he'd been close to her, and yet it took him so long to notice her. Of course, they were young, and when you're young, age difference seems bigger, girls have cooties, and when they don't have cooties, they have something basically the opposite of that, making boys just as blind. Now, he looked down at a girl who believed in him like Dumbledore and Sirius did, scared him like Cho did, trusted him like Remus and Hagrid did, looked after him like Molly did, accepted him no matter what like Ron and Hermione did, loved him like... well, like Ginny did. And he adored her for it, along with a thousand other things.
Before they could get far, a noise arose from the kitchen. The others had returned. Harry left her and went upstairs to find Ron and Hermione. They'd see each other tomorrow.
That night, the three returned to the Burrow, and although Hermione had plans to talk to Ron, although Harry saw them together and thought it best to give them space, they ended up sitting around the kitchen table untill late into the night. Harry made a comment about Ron just barely beating him at chess that morning, and everyone got reved up, laughing as Harry insisted that Ron wasn't that good at wizard's chess. In the end, Harry announced that he could beat Ron at anything else, and so Bill brought out an old deck of cards to play regular muggle poker, giving Harry, of course, the advantage. The five of them sat around the table for hours, laughing as the two boys got over-competitive and excited.
Although it wasn't much, Harry was unbelievably greatfull to spend the evening that way. Although Ron would go back to his bed and cry instead of sleeping, and Hermione would stay up with nightmares, although Harry would gaze out the window wishing that his parents, or Remus, or Sirius, or Fred, or Dumbledore could say something to him, and Bill and Fleur would disappear into their room solemnly, the evening was spent in a place where they could laugh and be happy together. It was a step toward something better, something more peacefull in their lives, and he was greatfull for just a moment of it.
As Ron and Hermione went to bed that night, they were, too. It was the begining of a good life.