A/N: THE ENTIRE CHAPTER IS A FLASHBACK! FLASHBACK! FLASHBACK.... STILL A FLASHBACK.
She had that feeling again. The sore, exhausted feeling that came with sitting there doing things that gave you headaches for a long amount of time. While her first day back had been nice, it had also been exhausting. There was an excruciatingly large pile of tedious paperwork on Hermione's desk, and she had stared at it for about ten minutes that morning before finally getting started. The woman had gotten used to being lazy, lounging around her hotel room with Ron, making good use of the champagne and strawberries, a wonderfully cliché tradition usually associated with honeymoons. But, hey, when was the next time they were going to be in a hotel room in Greece together? Probably never. Hermione was forcing herself to hang onto every second of this strange existence with Ron, knowing that he could decided to go back to Lavender any day.
Hermione wondered if Ron's day had been as awful as hers. She'd seen him in the cafeteria, but she'd purposefully ignored him, as both Harry and Ginny had gotten angry at Hermione and Ron a few separate times for simply being too conspicuous. Ron had tried to beckon her over, but Hermione, upon realizing just how right Harry and Ginny were, had surreptitiously shaken her head and moved to sit with one of her ministry friends. She hadn't had time to gauge Ron's reaction to this, or even see his face enough to tell whether or not he was in a good mood at all. That said, she had decided to send him a letter explaining her behavior at lunch. He had returned this promptly, inviting her over to his place after work.
At the time, Hermione had been thrilled to accept. Now, though, she wished she had declined and instead taken a very long bubble bath. Hermione exited the ministry wearily, rubbing her eyes and giving halfhearted goodbyes to her coworkers. She flooed to her home and changed out of her work clothes, putting on a pair of comfortable jeans and one of her favorite shirts. It was one of those evenings where she needed something to cheer her up, and, aside from that, she wanted to look nice for Ron. Although she had a feeling the shirt was just going to end up on the floor anyways. After debating for a few seconds on whether or not to wear it, Hermione decided to just go for it and apparated to Ron's house a few seconds later.
“I had the worst day ever,” Hermione moaned as she walked inside. She collapsed on the couch and buried her face in the pillows. “My secretary's incompetent, my boss probably hates me, there was a merlin-load of paperwork waiting for me when I got in, and they were out of chicken sandwiches in the cafeteria. Mmm, smells good,” she added as an afterthought.
“Weird,” Ron said, commenting on the sandwiches. “They had them during my lunch. As a matter of fact I think I grabbed the last...” He trailed off, noticing Hermione's previously calm face that had turned mutinous. “Do you still love me?”
As he said this he handed Hermione a cup of tea. He had evidentially realized how bad her day was due to the tone of her letter. Seeing as he was good at predicting what time she got out of work, he'd probably prepared the tea in hopes that it would calm her down. It was a sweet, thoughtful and surprisingly intimate gesture. Hermione wondered if he'd be willing to let her have that bubble bath after all. Maybe she could just go home and pop back later. Or perhaps he'd let her use his tub! Then again, Ron had his own ways of relaxing her.
“Yes, but I want to kill you. Ron, I was forced to eat the ministry corned beef!”
“Uhg,” Ron said, wrinkling his nose. “I hate corned beef.”
Hermione grinned at him, thinking of the times that she had gone to the Burrow over the summer. No one except her would notice it, but sometimes Ron, who hated corned beef, would eat every single bite of those sandwiches. His mum would be so busy she'd forget that he hated the meat, and he'd just grit his teeth and eat it. Those were just her first glimpses of the ways Ron Weasley could surprise everyone by being selfless and thoughtful. That was how she knew, all those years, before anyone. Before Harry, before Lavender Brown... even before Ginny, who often called Ron a selfish pig.
“I know you do,” was all she said. Ron had heard this story before, and, besides, his lopsided grin made it extremely hard to think. She curled up into a little ball and put her arms around him, pressing herself against his warmth. He held her readily, always there and always prepared to be a guard against bad dreams, bad thoughts, and bad days. She had missed that the past two years. She had missed simple little moments like these, because while she loved kissing Ron, she also loved the aspect of their relationship that didn't necessarily have to be physical. She loved that they could say so many things without words, and that they knew what to do with each other's moods instantly. How many people could boast that of their relationship? Hermione didn't really know. She'd never been in another besides this one.
There was a sudden, loud noise as Ron's owl soared into the house. Instantly, Cow made a dive for Ron and Hermione, hooting energetically. He dropped a letter from Ron's mum into Ron's lap, then made his way over to Hermione. He attempted to nip her finger affectionately, but ended up doing it much harder. Hermione groaned, annoyed, as she saw the blood pooling on her finger.
“Cow!” she admonished. “Don't bite people that hard.”
“Honestly, you're just getting worse as the years go on,” Ron said sternly to the bird. Cow had the decency to bob his head. “Plasters in the bathroom cabinet,” Ron added to Hermione, and she nodded and went to get one.
Inside of the bathroom, Hermione pulled open the door to the cabinet. She expected to find the usual array of medical supplies, but instead she found something entirely out of place: a folder with words written on the outside.
“The Hermione Project?” Hermione said wonderingly.
She glanced out into the living room. Ron was still stroking Cow, talking to him in a firm voice. Swallowing, and knowing in her heart that what she was doing was wrong, Hermione plucked the folder from the cabinet and opened it. Her mouth flew open as she read the words written in the girly scrawl of one Lavender Brown. She scanned the words with an urgency she hadn't known she possessed, and a large smile found its way onto her face. A weight seemed like it had been lifted from her stomach, and she almost felt like she wanted to cry with joy. Instead, she screamed.
“Hermione!” Ron shouted, running to the bathroom. “What's wr-?” But he saw the look on her face, and his panic turned to confusion. With another shriek, Hermione tackled Ron to the ground and kissed him as hard as she could.
“Ron,” she said, sitting up so that she could stare down at him.
“I'm not married to Viktor Krum. I've never been married to Viktor Krum. Actually, Viktor Krum is gay, but that's no matter here. The point is I am unmarried and unattached and we can finally be together and I don't even have to pretend to go through a whole divorce process!”
“Are... are you pulling my leg?” Ron asked, hardly daring to believe all these facts. “And how... how the hell is he gay?”
“Um, I don't know,” Hermione said, staring down at him. “In what way to you want me to answer that? Physically... mentally... where are we going with this?”
Ron started at up at her before closing his eyes and shaking his head.
“Wait...” he said slowly. “So... so you're telling me that you aren't married to Viktor Krum?” he asked. She nodded. “Holy-” Ron started, but upon seeing the warning look on her face he finished, once again, with, “shoot! HOLY SHOOT!”
He lifted his arm, locked his fingers in her hair and brought her head down so that he could kiss her furiously. He rolled them over, then lifted her up, never allowing his lips to leave hers. Quickly, he made his way over to the couch, which he dropped onto, Hermione in the same straddling position as she'd been in a few seconds ago. Laboriously, Ron broke away.
“Okay, as much as I want to celebrate that, I have to get more details here.”
“Wait!” Hermione said, holding up a finger. “I think there's something you need to tell me first.”
Ron blinked at her.
“Wha-? Oh! Oh, right,” He grinned at her then, and Hermione's heart seemed to expand with love just looking at that lopsided grin and those beautiful blue eyes. “I... I made up the whole thing about me being engaged to Lavender Brown. She's not pregnant either,” he added as an afterthought.
“I know that now. I read your notes on what Lavender called 'The Hermione Project'. That's actually what made me tell you. I was planning on going the rest of our lives without doing that.”
“I'm going to pretend you didn't say that,” Ron muttered, brushing her hair away from her neck and attaching his lips to a spot.
“What are you doing?” Hermione asked, amused, aroused, and annoyed that he didn't want to finish their conversation.
“I was afraid to give you a love bite when I thought you had a husband. But now... well, you're going to be covered in them. Everywhere.”
Hermione laughed and swatted him away.
“C'mon, Ron! We have so much to talk about!”
“Fine,” Ron sighed, pulling back and eying her neck longingly. She pushed her hair back into place.
“You're no fun.”
“Take it back or I will be no fun!” Hermione growled. There was a seconds pause, then Ron kissed her again, burying his nose in her hair when he'd pulled back.
“I bloody love bickering with you.”
“You swing my mood so easily it's scary. Now can we please talk about this hell we've been going through the past few months?”
“Right,” Ron said, nodding. “As long as you promise to answer all my questions, I'll be on my best behavior.”
“Good,” Hermione said, satisfied.
“You know, Lavender told me to keep those folders safe, but you can't even fathom how glad I am that I didn't.”
“You did,” Hermione argued. “That was a very good hiding spot, Ron.”
“Well then I'm glad my owl bit you.”
“So... what happened after you left? What happened really?” he amended hastily.
“I left and I went to France,” Hermione said honestly. “I-”
“Did you date?” Ron asked abruptly. Hermione closed her eyes as she shook her head.
“No, I didn't date,” she said, and she could almost feel the relief wash over Ron. “I never got over you, you know that. I missed you every day. And every time a guy asked me out I just compared him to you and all of his chances went down the drain.”
“Who asked you out?” Ron demanded. “Do I need to pummel anyone?”
Hermione kissed his nose.
“No, Ron. Seeing as we weren't together at the time I daresay you have absolutely no right at all to do that. Besides, I can't even remember most of their names.”
She added this last part- a lie- for the benefit of Ron. He seemed to appreciate it.
“How about you?” Hermione asked. “Did you date?”
Ron shook his head.
“Nope. I became a terrible work-o-holic... I basically shut myself away from everyone. Grew a beard because I just didn't care enough to shave, that type of thing.”
“How did it look?” Hermione asked, a small smile beginning to grace her features. Almost unconsciously, she reached a hand up and rubbed Ron's clean-shaven jaw.
“Pretty damn awful actually,” Ron laughed.
“I can't imagine you with a beard.”
“Try not to. It's not a pretty sight.”
“Oh, I don't know,” Hermione said, leaning down a dropping a few light kisses on his jawline. “I think it could be sexy.”
“Well, I'll let you be the judge of it,” shrugged Ron. “Maybe I'll grow one another time.”
“I like you clean-shaven too, though,” she said musingly. “So don't do it quite yet.”
“Anything,” Ron said adoringly. Hermione beamed.
“So what happened to it, then?” she asked.
“What?” Ron, who had just accidentally become distracted by her eyes, responded.
“Your beard,” Hermione said. “Your masculine, grown up beard.”
“Obviously I shaved it off. A week before you got back, actually.”
Hermione's smile diminished.
“Ron, what happened that day? Why did you lie?”
Ron closed his eyes, trying to remember exactly what he had been feeling that had caused him to do this to both him and Hermione.
“I remember your hair,” he said clearly. “It was straight.”
“Yeah...” Hermione said slowly. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“I wanted so badly to tell you that I like your hair better naturally,” admitted Ron as he fondly tugged on a piece.
“And why didn't you?” Hermione asked. “You know I would have jumped on you and started kissing you right there if you'd done that.”
“Now you tell me?”
“No really, Ron. What happened?”
“I thought you were happy. I was afraid that you were happy, and that you had moved on and were with someone else. I didn't want you to know how worthless and miserable my life had been since you
left. I had built all of my visions of the future around you, Hermione, and you were gone. Didn't know what to do with myself, not at all. So I just let myself go, didn't bother with dating or even my family. Not really.”
“You ignored your family? That's terrible!” Hermione admonished.
Ron rolled his eyes.
“Do you think my family would let me ignore them? I tried to, but Ginny caught on instantly and got my sorry arse over to the Burrow for Sunday night dinner.”
“Ron,” Hermione said quietly, “I told you that I would come back for you. Didn't I promise you I would? Didn't I tell you I'd always love you?”
“Please,” Ron snorted. “Honestly, Hermione, like I'd believe you! Haven't you ever grasped how insecure I am?”
“Numerous amounts of times,” responded Hermione dryly. “Why do you think we broke up in the first place?” Ron's grip around Hermione's waist instinctively tightened. “Oh Ron,” she sighed, exasperated. “I'm not going anywhere. Not unless you want me to.”
“Perdita,” Ron said, remembering. “Hermione, I thought you weren't going to want me because of Perdita.”
“Oh, right,” Hermione said, looking momentarily put out. “I suppose in light of everything that's just happened between us she seems insignificant, doesn't she?”
“She does, yeah.” There was silence as they stared at each other, soaking each other in. “Well, anyways, I lied to you about being engaged, causing you to lie to me,” Ron said obviously. “And at the Burrow that night, with the-”
“Food fight,” Hermione finished for him, grinning. “That was the best moment of my life, I swear to god. When you told me that I was always meant to be Hermione Weasley I nearly had a heart attack. I thought I'd gotten a huge amount of whipped cream in my ears and I wasn't hearing right. I was euphoric.”
“Glad to hear it,” Ron said, grinning at her. “Have we cleared up all the questions yet?”
“I think so.”
“Does that mean we can snog now?”
“Well... okay, I'm torn.”
“Between getting my body covered with hickeys or going and telling Ginny the good news.”
“Er- she knows you're not married to Viktor Krum, right?”
“Of course,” Hermione said, waving her hand impatiently. “She just doesn't know that you and I know and that the whole secrets out, obviously. Goodness, she's been keeping both our secrets the whole time! How is her hair not gray yet?”
“No clue,” Ron smirked. “It's certainly an accomplishment.”
“Maybe she colors,” Hermione suggested.
“What?” Ron asked, confused.
“Oh, it's this muggle thing, I guess. We use chemicals to make our hair different colors.”
“Weird,” Ron said fervently. “Witches can just make any gray hair they have their natural color with a reasonably simple potion. You'd have been able to make it in first year- no beauty potion is nearly as complex as polyjuice.”
“My my, Mr. Weasley, was that a compliment?” Hermione said smugly. “I could have sworn you and I had a different way of flirting.”
“You want to go back to the bickering?” Ron grinned. “Because I'm not in the mood to pick a fight with you. It'd be halfhearted.”
“I'm only kidding,” Hermione said honestly. “I don't want to fight with you either.”
“Let's shag instead.”
“No, wait! Aren't we going to tell your family?”
“Who cares about them?”
Hermione looked a little put out.
“We do. Don't we?”
“Meh. A little.”
“At least your mum and Ginny deserve to know! They've been keeping this secret for so long it's a miracle they haven't exploded.”
Ron smiled very mischievously suddenly.
“The only reason I agreed to work with Ginny on the wedding was to see if I could get a bit closer to you. Did you know that?”
Hermione raised an eyebrow.
“You agreed so that you could work with all the food,” she told him.
“Well, and that,” Ron allowed.
“That's funny,” Hermione said, leaning down to kiss his collarbone.
“Because that's the only reason I allowed Ginny to recruit me. I was hoping that it would inadvertently allow me to spend more time with you.”
“We're so pathetic.”
“Yeah. It's kind of wonderful.”
Ron lifted Hermione off of his lap, then stood up and made his way over to the small kitchen.
“What is it?” Hermione asked, watching him. He pulled a book out of a drawer and began flipping through.
“We're not eating my cooking.”
“Why not?” Hermione wanted to know.
“Because we're going out to dinner to celebrate the fact that neither of us are married or engaged.”
Hermione bit her lip.
“But if we go out the dinner we'll have less time for shagging,” she said regretfully. Ron's head snapped up.
“Okay, compromise,” he said reasonably. “Any suggestions?”
“Tomorrow we can eat out and tell everyone that the cat's out of the bag. But for now... well, want to take a bath?”