Chapter 1 : there you are
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Author's Note: This piece is very, very experimental, as I believe you will come to notice. I've played around a lot with tenses and sort of hoped for the best. I've been in a Ron/Hermione mood for ages now, and wrote this on a whim. That said, I'm honestly very happy with this. So, enjoy and let me know what you think!
Hermione remembers, thinks back; she sees it all clearly in her mind, moments etched on her retinas, and like a spool of film, they play out inside her head – sounds, smells, feelings as real as the day she lived them.
The day following the Battle of Hogwarts had dawned bright and promising, the rays of the sun trying their best to chase away the darkness that had for so long loomed outside, and within, the castle walls. But they did not manage to eradicate the cloud of complete and utter sorrow that felt palpable as one looked around oneself; this place of wonder and magic now tainted. They had won a war, but there was still defeat hanging heavily in the air.
Hermione remembers clearly the confusion she had felt as she had woken up the day following the battle. With a start, she’d woken up and looked at her surroundings in exhaustion, wondering what had happened to the tent she had become so accustomed to. Then she had recalled everything that had led her up to that precise point in her life and for a split second she revelled in the absence of that weight upon her chest that had, after Dumbledore’s funeral, become a constant companion.
Peeking through the hangings of her four-poster, Hermione found herself quite alone in the dorm, which made her wonder what time it was.
Her wristwatch showed 3 p.m., and realization dawning on Hermione, she mumbled horrified, “You’ve got to be joking.”
She jumped out of bed and headed for the adjoining bathroom, eager to wash off the events of the previous night, of the previous year, wondering if she’d ever truly get rid of the dirt and the blood, feeling for a second as though it had all seeped into her skin, become one with her.
As she thinks back to that afternoon, however, she’s unable to recall what was running through her mind. The faces of the dead – eyes unseeing, bodies cold – or maybe Harry, the look of determination on his face as he had cast that final spell that had killed Voldemort, and relief for her friend? Had it been the Weasley’s, had it been them? Or Ron, and the memory of their kiss, her lips still tingling, all the things she so desperately wanted to tell him burning the tip of her tongue? Hermione can’t remember. Maybe those thoughts are all lost to her now, just as so much else is lost, gone. Not unlike time itself.
The Entrance Hall was filled with people. The buzzing of people’s low conversations, mixed with agonized sobs filling the air, they claw at her eardrums as she remembers. She reached the main staircase, and looked upon the heartbreaking sight of family and friends to those lost in the battle hug and comfort each other. In the crowd, Hermione spotted Professor McGonagall talking to a distraught man, who was holding onto his son: Dennis Creevey. She recognized him and then realized just as quickly that Colin was dead.
“Mum! What are you doing out here, it’s freezing!” Rose suddenly wakes her from her thoughts, from her memories and Hermione asks herself Where am I?
She’s sitting in the orchard of The Burrow – (how did I get here?) – there is no Entrance Hall, there are no people, there’s just her.
“I like it out here, darling,” she says simply, recovering from the confusion, and looks at her only daughter, who’s wearing a frown on her features. Hermione chuckles at the look and remembers fondly how she used to reprimand Rose as a little girl for frowning, when she ought to be smiling.
“What’s going on?” Rose asks in a slightly suspicious voice, as well as, Hermione notices, a wary one.
“Nothing. Just taking in the beauty, I suppose,” Hermione assures her only daughter and looks at the sight before her – the sun lowering beyond the horizon, painting the countryside in hues of oranges, yellows and pinks. “Go back inside, I’ll be right behind you.”
Hermione turns her gaze at her daughter, hoping with all her might that she’s conveying something of reassurance in her expression. She realizes she wants to be alone with her memories, if only for a little while longer.
Rose doesn’t look convinced at all, however. The lines of her daughter’s face show it clearly, but there’s something in her eyes that are saying something else entirely. Ron’s eyes.
“I’ll be back in a bit to check on you, alright?”
Hermione nods and her daughter pecks her cheek, looking behind her shoulder several times as she returns to the house.
Hermione smiles fondly.
Returning to her memories, there’s now a sudden hurry in how she sifts through them. She needs to remember.
She couldn’t stand the sight of families being torn apart at the seams as they learnt of a loved one’s death. Hermione, eyes dry but heart like lead, hurried off to the castle grounds. The wind greeted her by caressing her sore body, the sun doings its best to be a comfort. She was surprised to see that the grounds were quite deserted, and she wondered where everyone was. The Great Hall, most likely, she concluded. She scanned the grounds, for any sign of life, but heard disembodied voices which suggested that people had gone off to different nooks of the grounds for privacy. The voices were unrecognizable – no Harry, no Ginny, no Ron in the vicinity. Had they left? No, she thought to herself. No, they would never leave. He would never leave.
The orchard is quite forgotten now, as is the setting, autumn sun; all she sees, the very air she is breathing, it’s all from a time long, long gone.
And that’s when it hit her – he wouldn’t be in the Great Hall, she just knew this. He’s by the lake. The thought was sudden but it gripped her heart with a force of conviction she hadn’t felt in a long time.
He was sitting by the tree they had spent so many afternoons under, happier times in their own way. Something told her that they might have quite a long journey to find those times again.
The familiarity of the moment knocks the air out of her lungs; she’s there, she’s never left.
She doesn’t say anything as she approaches. Hermione observes the hunched shoulders, the pebble in his hand that he’s turning over and over. His cheeks are quite dry, she sees, but everything about him reminds her of the losses they've all suffered.
He doesn’t acknowledge her, not until she’s sitting beside him and intertwines their fingers like it’s the most natural thing in the world. They say nothing, not for a long while; he’s changed his position so that he’s resting his head on her shoulder, and while it can’t be all that comfortable, they sit like that, holding hands, for what seems like hours.
“Around what time did you wake up?”
The question is simple, exuding normality in a situation where nothing is normal (nor would it ever be, not once you’ve lost someone you love). Hermione settles on small-talk, knowing that heavier topics would be dealt with and discussed all in good time.
“’Round two. I was the last one to get out of bed, the others already gone down. I s’pose they’ve been helping around the castle all morning and afternoon,” Ron concludes, his voice hoarse after the previous night.
“I see... Have you seen Harry?” she asks next – not carefully because they’re well past that point of Ron showing jealousy where Harry’s concerned.
“Yeah, he was with Ginny. I reckon they’re making up for lost time,” he says and squeezes her hand.
“Sounds fairly reasonable. Your parents, are they still here?”
Ron doesn’t answer immediately and Hermione waits patiently. “Yeah... They’re all still here. Me, Bill and Percy were helping them with, er, with some funeral arrangements.” He’s not done explaining – she knows this – and sure enough, a second later, he continues. “They’re all going to... They’re going to be buried here, by the outskirts of the forest.”
She doesn’t say anything; everything is, in that exact moment, beyond words. She looks down at Ron, and the motion wakes him up for his thoughts, leaving the resting place on her shoulder. Hermione looks earnestly into his face, but he’s not meeting her gaze. She pecks him gingerly on his cheek, the stubble there reminding her of how much they’ve grown up in so little time.
Ron met her gaze, surprised, and she could see that his ears had gone a tad bit red. And despite the weight of the recent battle, the raw wounds, despite the weight of the coming months in which they all would have to rebuild and strengthen, not only Hogwarts and the wizarding society, but themselves as well, Hermione’s heart swelled inside her chest and she could feel her cheeks turn pink.
The intensity of his gaze had always somewhat increased her heart-rate, but it had never affected her as it did in that moment. For several seconds, or maybe hours, she could never tell, would never be able to tell, she forgot everything around her – the sounds of the chirping birds, the smell of the lake filling her nostrils – everything disappeared but Ron. She pictured for those seconds her life, their life together, taking her quite by surprise, because yesterday there had been no such future, no certainty at all if they would survive.
Hermione can’t say for sure, if she’s sitting with Ron by the lake at Hogwarts grounds or if she’s out on the orchard by The Burrow, but that gaze, those clear, blue eyes taking in everything she is made of, it would never waver, not even in later years. In that moment he might have been right next to her; and maybe he was.
“Hey. You still there?” Ron asks her – asks her or asked her? – and he looks, for a tiny second, worried.
“I’m here, Ron,” Hermione replies, certain. “I haven’t gone anywhere.”
He cupped her cheeks in his hands, never taking his eyes – clear, clear blue – off of her face and for some reason, tears of utter joy and relief form in her eyes. Maybe because it’s over, maybe because they’re alive, because she goes quite alive beneath his touch, because they’re there, together, she’s right there with him –
“Ron?” she whispers into the steadying darkness, the last rays of sunshine gone for yet another day. “Ron? Where are you?”
In her memories, he’s kissing her tentatively; their second kiss wasn’t as hurried as when she’d flung herself onto him, tired of waiting. They’re savouring the moment – lingering in their kiss, exploring, taking their time.
“Ron? Where have you gone off to?”
The wind rustles the leaves that so desperately cling on to the branches of the trees, not quite ready for the descent to the ground; announces its presence by disturbing the surface of the pond, causing ripples in the water. Hermione listens wistfully to the sounds in the background, to the sounds of her family laughing inside the walls of The Burrow. Just how she remembers it.
“I’m here, Hermione. I never went anywhere.”
There he is.
She’s missed him.