It had been five years since the end of the war, five long and difficult years. With a recently acquired job in the Ministry, working to protect the rights of magical creatures, Hermione had found a small apartment in Hogsmeade village and was finally growing accustomed to her busy schedule. She was thankful, though, for her hectic routine. It gave her very little time to sit alone and let her mind wander back to memories that only ripped her wounded heart back open and for that reason, she had invited Harry, Ron, and Ginny to dinner at her place on her first evening off.
She had just set a small fire under a pot with a flick of her wand, when there was a knock on the door. Setting her wand back in her pocket, she opened the door to greet Harry and Ginny.
“Something in there smells really good!” Harry said before Hermione could greet him properly and stepped through into a sitting room.
“How do you put up with him everyday?” Hermione asked Ginny, rolling her eyes. She and Harry had gotten married only a few months ago with a beautiful wedding at the Burrow.
“I grew up with six brothers, I’m used to it by now,” she replied and followed Hermione inside. “Is Ron coming?”
“Yes, he should be here soon. Why do you always ask that?” Hermione wondered aloud. Ginny seemed to ask that question every time they got together.
“It’s not that you seem unhappy when he’s not here,” Harry started to explain, “but you do seem happier when he’s around. You smile more and we like to see you happy.”
“Oh,” was all Hermione said. It must have been a subconscious change, what they were talking about, because she hadn’t realized it before.
There was another knock a short while later, and indeed when Hermione gave Ron a welcoming hug, a huge grin had plastered itself onto her face. It was as if the atmosphere of the room had changed at once, lightening enough to notice the subtle difference Ron’s presence had made.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said, taking his coat off and placing it neatly in a closet by the door. He was with Hermione so often he knew where everything was. Recently, however, he had been quite busy with training for his upcoming Quidditch match as keeper for the Chudley Cannons and they had spent less time together.
“It’s okay, you’re just in time for dinner!” Hermione said, making her way to the kitchen. Ron let out a quiet laugh and with Harry and Ginny, joined Hermione at the table for the meal she had prepared.
The conversation was light, focusing on what everyone had been doing lately and whether or not the Cannons were ready for the big match only two days away. When the meal had ended and dessert was devoured and gone, Hermione took her wand out to start cleaning up.
“I’ll help you,” Ron insisted, watching Ginny and Harry sit down across from a large blazing fireplace in the next room.
“You don’t have to,” Hermione said, but Ron retrieved his wand, as well, and started rinsing the crumbs off of plates and silverware with some quick spells.
Now that they were alone and out of earshot of their nosy friends, Ron turned quietly to Hermione, a concerned look on his face.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been around lately,” he apologized again, “Have you err... been all right?”
Hermione felt the band around her chest tighten, knowing what he was implying. She continued drying the dishes. “It’s been getting better with all the work I’ve had lately, but you know there are always going to be some rough days. They don’t hit me as hard as they used to, though.”
She tried not to remember her most recent episode, which had occurred after she found the missing hairpin Draco had given her. It had gone missing a month prior and even though it was a relief to find it, it still reminded her of him. She had ended up on the floor of her dark, unlit bedroom, fighting back tears she refused to cry.
“Hermione?” Harry’s voice brought her thoughts back to the kitchen she was currently standing in. He was poking his head in the doorway, looking anxious. “I think we’re going to go. Ginny thinks she’s coming down with something.”
“I hope she feels better and I’m glad you two made it tonight!” Hermione said, seeing Ginny hurrying out of the apartment looking quite ill. She hoped it wasn’t her food that had done it.
“Thanks for having us!” Harry exclaimed urgently chasing after his wife. The door clicked shut behind him and now Hermione was alone with Ron.
“I’ll bet you anything she’s pregnant,” Ron said, sounding both annoyed and amused. He leaned against the counter and Hermione noticed he seemed anxious about something.
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” added Hermione, knowing Ron hated the thought of his sister sleeping with anyone, even if it was Harry and they were married.
She hoisted herself to sit on top of her counter and rested her head sleepily on the cabinet behind her. There was a long silence in which her eyes started to droop from the long day she had had.
“Is it all right if I just ramble on to you about some things?” Ron asked, breaking the calm quiet that had surrounded them. Hermione gave him a skeptical look but nodded for him to begin whatever he was prepared to rant about. She allowed her eyes to shut but made sure she was listening properly.
“Lately, I’ve been thinking,” he started, glancing briefly to his side at Hermione, “I’ve been thinking a lot about all of the time I’ve spent with you over these past five years. I’ve seen your best days and I’ve definitely seen your worst days and I’ve been with you through all of them.”
Unsure of where Ron was headed with his speech, Hermione felt herself start to close up, trying to hold all her emotions together inside herself.
“I think I’ve known for a long time that I’ve felt something stronger than friendship between us. Even when you were with...” he hesitated, trying not to break Hermione down, “when you were with him, and even when I was stupid and went off with Lavender, you were always the one who held my heart.”
By now, Hermione had opened her eyes, feeling it would be the polite thing to do. After all, Ron seemed to be laying everything on the line for her to know and understand.
“I’ve known you since our first year at Hogwarts and there’s no one I’ve ever wanted to be with more than you,” he stood up straight, turning to look her in the eye. Hermione felt her heart constricting as it raced away in her chest. She wasn’t ready for this. “I just want you to know that I’ll always be here for you because I love you, and even if you need more time for things to heal, I’ll be perfectly fine waiting.” With nervous and shaking hands, he pulled something from his pocket and knelt with one knee on the floor.
“What are you doing?” Hermione breathed, her head whirling and making her dizzy. She hopped off the counter, possibly thinking it would cause Ron to get up and stop being ridiculous, but he stayed where he was, gazing deeply into her eyes.
“Hermione,” he spoke her name as if it were the most beautiful name in the world, not breaking his composure, “I don’t care if I’m not your first choice, if this wasn’t how you wanted it to be, if it wasn’t supposed to be me down on one knee, here in front of you, but here I am, and I’m asking you if you would please marry me.” He opened the tiny box in his hand, showing the beautiful ring inside to Hermione, who remained speechless and frozen on the spot.
Thoughts rushed through her head as painful images of Draco surfaced. She knew what he would have wanted, though, and that was for her to be happy, and that’s how she felt with Ron. She never would know the life she could have had with Draco or if that life would have even existed. She felt her eyes well up with tears and took a heavy gasp of air before responding.
“Yes, Ron, I’ll marry you,” She was smiling and crying; these were tears of happiness, though, ones she had been unable to cry for the longest time.
Ron, smiling as well, gently slid the ring onto her finger, kissing her hand softly as he went. He got to his feet and snaked Hermione’s arms around his neck, holding her chin up so their faces were only inches apart. He knew she was afraid, for no one had been this close, held her like this, kissed her lips, since Draco had the night he was killed.
Slowly, Hermione pressed her body against his and felt his lips lightly brush against hers. She smiled into the kiss, the happiest she'd been in years.
A/N: Thank you to everyone who has stuck with this story and a special thanks to all of my reviewers! You guys are wonderful!