It turned out that Greece became slightly more enjoyable when you could walk through the streets holding hands with the person you were in love with. It also turned out that sharing a hotel room had advantages that Hermione and Ron hadn't thought they'd be needing. They shared the bed, they sat in chairs together, they shared the jacuzzi- it was really quite wonderful. They arrived at home three days later with bright, beaming smiles on their faces, and instantly when Hermione arrived at Harry and Ginny's to say hello, Ginny knew what had happened.
“Holy shit, Hermione! You got laid, didn't you?”
Harry, who had been reading a Quidditch magazine, quickly looked up and got whiplash. He groaned as he massaged his neck, but was shocked to see exactly what Ginny meant.
“Who was it?” Ginny asked. “Please don't tell me it was some hunky Greek guy.”
“What if it was?” Hermione (who did not feel like denying the fact that she'd had sex) replied defensively.
“I-” Ginny started, but suddenly the door opened and Ron walked jauntily through. He rushed forward to hug Ginny and then pulled a spluttering Harry in at the same time.
“Hey, Hermione,” he said, noticing her standing there looking as though she'd slept with a hanger in her mouth. “All right?”
“Mhmmm,” Hermione said lightly.
Ginny let out a scream.
“YOU GOT LAID TOO! OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS!”
She really wanted to say What were you thinking? but couldn't quite bring herself to do it, as it was mainly her fault. She just hadn't quite expected them to take the bait so beautifully. Besides, both of them looked extraordinarily happy, happier than either Harry or Ginny had seen them in a long time.
“Don't tell anyone, though,” Hermione warned.
“Yeah, don't, really,” Ron said.
“Not even Aimee?” Ginny asked. “Because I think she'll be really-”
“No, don't tell Aimee!” Hermione cut in. “She'll think we're bad people.”
“We arebad people,” Ron said, going over to stand next to her.
“No one can know. Youshouldn't know,” Hermione added.
“Were you even going to tell me?” Ginny asked. Hermione and Ron simultaneously shook their heads.
“If you hadn't guessed we never would have told you,” Ron said.
“Yeah, do you think we're happy with ourselves?” Hermione demanded.
“Um... kind of,” Ginny said. Hermione looked up at Ron, and Ron looked down at Hermione. Together, they grinned.
“Yeah, we sort of are,” Ron said. “This was like the kiss during the Final Battle. Except totally different than that.”
“Exactly!” Hermione said enthusiastically. “You're so smart, Ron.”
“You get me so well, Hermione.”
They gazed happily at each other while Ginny made a retching noise.
“What are you going to do?” Harry asked, breaking Hermione and Ron's gaze.
“About what, mate?” Ron asked.
“About your relationship,” Harry clarified. “Are you going to keep this going?”
“Of course not,” Hermione replied breezily. “It was fun in Greece, but now that we're home it has to stop. We won't be doing it again.”
“What?” Ron spluttered. “But I don't want to sto-” Hermione stomped on his foot, and it dawned on Ron. “Riiight. No, of course we won't.”
Wow, she's devious.
“Sure,” Ginny said, rolling her eyes. “Well, I'm glad the two of you are back. And... um... I'm glad that you got laid. I think.”
“Your plan worked, Ginny,” Harry said, eyes back on his magazine. He looked up three seconds later to see them all staring at him. “Oops.”
“I knew it was a plan!” Hermione cheered. She rounded on Ron. “Didn't I tell you?”
“You're sosmart, Hermione,” was Ron's response.
“You're so cute when you call me smart, Ron!”
“This is worse than the first time they got together,” a horror struck Harry said.
“At least they were shy about it back then,” Ginny agreed. “But this... merlin's pants.”
“We're not together,” Hermione reminded Ginny. “We really aren't.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Ginny said. Somewhere upstairs, either James or Al began to cry. “Be right back,” Ginny said, diving for the staircase. Harry sighed. He'd wanted to go and tend to the babies instead of having to stay with his friends.
“So, I have to go,” Hermione said. “I have a meeting in ten minutes.”
“Oh, I have to go too,” Ron said, perking up.
“Really?” Harry moaned. The sneaking around was so obvious it was almost painful.
“We should go together!” Hermione said.
“You can help me apparate,” Ron added.
“Wouldn't that be fun?”
And then the two of them practically skipped out of the house. Harry thought he heard a giggle before the front door closed shut behind them.
“And so it begins,” he said, half-amused and half-exasperated. After shaking his head wisely, Harry Potter returned to his Quidditch magazine, a better and safer thing than best friends, romances, and whiplash.
Over the next few weeks, Ron Weasley often showed up at work at the exact same time as Hermione Granger. He also wore an outright smirk everywhere he went, which matched the one of the aforementioned female. Somehow, people were expecting them to get together so little that the rumors didn't even match what was actually happening. Everyone had said that Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger had to be done with each other. They said that the couple had completely given up. With the encouragement of Ginny and a slightly unenthusiastic Harry, Hermione and Ron's reputations were completely saved. The ministry workers had a thoroughly delusional impression of their innocence- all because Ron and Hermione getting back together was simply too good to be true.
Seeing as Hermione's supposed husband lived elsewhere, Ron was able to come to her cottage any time he wanted. Meanwhile, on a more public note, Hermione and Ron found themselves making up excuse after excuse as to why they should leave a room, the other one following soon after. It was almost as if they wanted to be caught, somehow, and Ginny and Harry both knew why. If they were caught Lavender would surely leave Ron, which was what Hermione wanted. And if they were caught Viktor would definitely divorce Hermione, which was what Ron wanted. Neither Hermione nor Ron had anything to lose from being caught, but they both thought that the other did. It was all very confusing, very strange, and very wrong. Harry and Ginny wondered what had happened to the morals of their friends.
“I can't believe this,” Ginny said to Harry in an undertone. It was Sunday night, and they were all attending dinner at the Burrow. Ron had, with a wink, vanished to the bathroom, and Hermione had gone after him roughly three minutes later. Everyone looked disgruntled at this, especially Harry and Ginny, who were working relentlessly hard to cover everything up for their friends and did not appreciate their lack of secrecy. Yes, Ginny was an excellent liar. Hermione and Ron, however, had never been the most subtle people. “I've never known either of them to act like this.”
“Ron always did think that Hermione was sexy when she broke the rules,” Harry said to his wife, but he too looked annoyed at the behavior of their friends. “God, it's like he's dating Lavender all over. I never wanted to redo my sixth year. Well, except for the parts with you. But other than that it was absolutely intolerable...”
“It's just so unbelievable! It's wrong. I know they're in love, but I would have thought that they would have been able to restrain themselves.”
“You do call these the ex games, Ginny,” Mrs. Weasley, who was next to her daughter, said. “They're playing games, and we're just going to have to wait until the Honeymoon stage passes for them to go quite back to normal and recognize what they're doing.”
“How long did the Honeymoon stage last the first time?” Audrey wanted to know.
“Two years, minimum,” Fleur sighed. She didn't like to see a good romance tinted by false adultery.
“This won't take two years,” Mrs. Weasley said confidently. “I didn't raise Ron to be like that, and Hermione's parents taught her better. Pretty soon it's all going to come out, and then instead of sneaking around they'll be snogging in our faces.”
“Just like the old days,” George said sarcastically. He was a little annoyed that his little brother's sex life was about twenty times more scandalous than his ever had been.
“Maybe I should have a talk with Hermione,” Mrs. Weasley said, glancing in the direction the two had gone in.
“She wants cooking lessons,” Fleur interjected. “You could offer to give them to her.”
“Yes, I think I will,” Mrs. Weasley agreed. So when Hermione and Ron emerged from the bathroom and took their seats again, she called down the table, “Hermione, dear, I hear you want cooking lessons?”
“Oh, a little bird,” Mrs. Weasley said nonchalantly. “I was wondering if you'd like me to teach you, dear?”
“Of course!” Hermione said, brightening. “That would be wonderful.”
“How about next Saturday? We can make a delightful lunch.”
“I'll clear my schedule,” Hermione promised.
“Mum,” Ron said loudly. “I want cooking lessons too.”
Everyone's fork clattered onto his or her plate. Ron Weasley asking for cooking lessons? Even if it wasjust to spend more time with Hermione, that was simply unheard of.
“He must really love her,” Angelina whispered to George.
“Alright, Ronnie,” Mrs. Weasley said finally. “You can share Hermione's time.”
“But you can't just eat the food we make,” Hermione said warningly. “You have to actually help.”
“Okay,” Ron said instantly. He flashed Hermione a smile, which she returned glowingly.
That night, when they were snogging on Hermione's couch, the former Gryffindor felt her first twinge of nervous regret. She was planning on spending her life with someone who was willing to cheat with her. Honestly, it wasn't exactly her fault that what they were doing was considered cheating. She actually blamed it on Viktor. Hermione was willing to tell Ron her marriage was over as soon as he left Lavender. And she had also been willing to make the first leap with leaving Krum.
She wasn't going to tell Ron, of course. She was going to try to get away with the whole lie and not tell him until they were at a point where they couldn't get out of being in a relationship. Of course, she had to warn her fake husband first, lest he do something to ruin the whole thing. One wrong step and the whole thing would come crashing down upon them. Unfortunately, Viktor was on a business trip and Hermione couldn't reach him. The only thing that kept her going on this whole thing was the fact that Ron wasn't happy in his relationship with Lavender. She had lied to him by saying that she was pregnant with his child. It wasn't even his kid, and Ron didn't know that Lavender had miscarried! Then again, Hermione thought, I'm no better.
In spite of all of her regrets and twinges and the guilty little voices in the back of her head, Hermione kept going with it. Ron was still a good man. She knew that. He had known that she wanted him, known that she was pretty much checked out of her “marriage”. He had checked and made sure of both those things several times before suggesting they did what they were doing. And still it didn't feel like them. It never failed to scare Hermione that Ron could get her to do practically anything. He had succeeded in the weeks since their trip to make Hermione feel better than she had in over two years. She loved how special he made her feel. She also loved it when she had her bad dreams and would wake up and find him there, ready to comfort her. Yet it wasn't the same pure and blissful comforting that the two of them had enjoyed when they were dating for the first time. It was different- tainted, if you will.
And then there was the strange part of her that felt like what they were doing was absolutely right. Hermione knew that, in theory, cheating was wrong, but she had this misguided conception that she and Ron were somehow different from everyone else. Hurting Lavender was okay because she was a lying bitch, and she had stolen Ron from Hermione in sixth year. And helping Ron cheat on Lavender was okay because they were Ron and Hermione. They were meant to be, they belonged together. Nothing about them was normal because they were such opposites. But for some reason, they wanted and needed each other, and they just clicked. They were, in a sense of the word, soul mates. Not the kind that were exactly the same- a different type of soul mates. The kind that knew that they were going to be together forever.
To sum it all up, Hermione Granger was confused. She wanted Ron, wanted him more than anything else. But this was immoral, and there were things that she had done that she couldn't possibly take back. She was sure that Ron had done some bad things as well, but none of them could have ever been as bad as what she had done. And she was scared of what might happen if the whole wall she had built came crumbling down around her. Being with Ron was what she wanted. But after that wall was completely down, he might not want to be with her anymore. And that would be a major problem. Still, she kept her head held high, waiting until the days that the Quidditch season ended so that she could figure out where to reach Viktor (unlike Hedwig, Hermione's owl could not find people without an address). When Hermione wasn't with Ron were usually the times that she felt guilty, so she merely threw herself into her work, never stopping to breathe or think.
It was with that same head held high that Hermione headed to Molly Weasleys' the next Saturday for her cooking lesson. She emerged into the Burrow with a smiling face and readily greeted Mrs. Weasley, who looked happy to see her. They stayed and chatted until Ron walked into the door, and then Mrs. Weasley stood up and eyed Hermione and Ron a little menacingly.
“There will be no food fights this time,” she said sternly. “I will not have my kitchen turned into a battleground again.”
“Got it,” Ron said. He went over to the rack where Mrs. Weasley hung the aprons and put one on. Then he turned around to see his mum and girlfriend-type-person in fits of laughter. “What?” he asked.
“You look ridiculous,” Hermione said lovingly.
“Thanks, sweetheart,” was Ron's sarcastic response. They both tensed after he called her a pet name and glanced over at Mrs. Weasley. She pretended not to notice, and both inwardly breathed sighs of relief. “So, today we will be making corn pudding to go with our steak. Ron, would you be a dear and go grab that mix?”
And so it went, completely void of any food fights, much to the delight of Mrs. Weasley. Carefully, she watched Ron and Hermione. And the more she watched the harder it became to do what she wanted to do. She had thought that this would be an opportunity to get them to confess the truth to each other. Yes, it would be hard, but Molly Weasley found that she could be very persuasive if she wanted to. She knew that it might tear Ron and Hermione apart if they confessed the truth to each other (no doubt they'd blame themselves but disguise this in anger at the other), but she thought that they would probably end up right when all was said and done.
As Molly watched them, however, she saw how in love they were. And this didn't encourage the idea of Ron and Hermione having a huge fight. She had heard about their fights from Harry, Ginny and George, and found that the idea of this one was even worse than the time Hermione's cat may or may not have eaten Ron's rat. Molly told herself over and over again that she had to do it. Cheating was wrong, even though they weren't actually cheating on anyone. It was the mentality that they were and they were still willing to do it. But no one was perfect, she told herself. Maybe they would figure it out soon enough anyways. Maybe she wouldn't have to throw herself into the middle of the mess and end up making it worse.
Molly didn't trust herself to make the decision on her own. When the corn pudding and steak were done, Mrs. Weasley interrupted Ron (who was heavily complementing Hermione on how well she'd done with the stirring) to ask the both of them to please clean up. Then she hurried from the room and gone to her husband's study to talk to him. It was a small, dingy room, full of extremely worn second-hand leather couches, but Arthur loved it dearly, and as long as he didn't spend too much time in there, Molly didn't really mind. Sometimes that den had been their only escape from the children. When Bill was old enough to keep a watchful eye on his siblings, Molly and Arthur had locked themselves in that room for at least ten minutes and just sat there relaxing, talking, or breathing. Breathing was something that was difficult when you had as many kids as the Weasleys did. Now, Molly walked into the room and plopped onto one of the couches. Arthur looked up from the radio he was tinkering with.
“How's it going, love?”
“Not good,” Molly replied. “I don't want to do it!”
Arthur scrutinized her. He was a goofy man, but he could be surprisingly wise and mature. Out of all her sons, Molly rather thought that Ron took after his father the most. Though Ron was slightly less polite then Arthur, he had undoubtedly inherited his inability to understand when a girl fancied him.
“Well, why not?”
“They're perfect together. They're happy, Arthur. I just want Ron to be happy, and Hermione's making him happy.”
“He's also doing something wrong.”
“But he isn't really! Did I mention the fact that he's happy?”
“You might have,” Arthur said. “Well, Molly, I suppose it comes down to what you're comfortable doing, and what you think is the right thing. Ron and Hermione's case isn't exactly a textbook example, so you're going to have to go on your own morals.”
“What if I do the wrong thing?” Molly asked.
“Then you can learn from it. We learn something new every day, don't we?”
“Of course we do,” Molly replied, standing up. She straightened her robes and walked back into the kitchen. Upon reaching the doorway she stopped in shock. Hermione was sitting on the kitchen counter, and Ron was kissing her. She hadn't seen Ron kissing his girlfriend in over two years, and in those 730-plus days she had forgotten what it looked like. It wasn't what someone expected cheating to be. He was kissing her like she was unique and precious. He was more gentle than Molly had ever seen her son be. One of his hands was on her cheek, the other in her hair. It wasn't fast paced or lustful. It was slow, loving and sweet, with its very own brand of passion that Molly felt like Ron and Hermione specialized in. Quickly, Molly backed out of the room and went back to her husband's study, where she stayed until Ron came to knock and ask where she'd gone off to.
She wasn't going to talk to them about their situation. Not today.
It was nice to be back in the dress shop. It held one simple but marvelous memory for Hermione, and she had closed her eyes and re-lived it a few times when she had first stepped into the shop. Sadie had greeted Hermione quite excitedly, and as the girl had twittered happily about Ron and Hermione's kiss (to the chagrin of Hermione and joy of Ginny and Aimee) Hermione had realized that she didn't quite have the heart to tell her what was going on in her and Ron's life at the moment. She had just told Sadie that she and Ron were, in fact, together, at which Sadie practically burst with joy.
“You're a little green, Aimee,” Hermione said, looking at her friend in the mirror. “Should I be concerned?”
“Of course not,” Aimee said, glancing at herself in the mirror. She swallowed. “I don't know if I can do this.”
Hermione gazed jealously at the fairytale dress that her friend was standing in. Ginny rolled her eyes.
“Of course you can. Don't be stupid.”
Meanwhile, Hermione chose to take a more gentle approach.
“Every thing's going to be perfect,” Hermione told Aimee kindly. “You look gorgeous- Greg's eyes are going to fall out of his head.”
“Ron's did when he saw her,” said Sadie from the corner.
“But that's exactly the problem,” Aimee said, stepping down from the platform on which she was surveying herself. “Ron.”