Ron awoke to see Hermione gazing into his face. She was lying on her side, facing him, looking happier and more at peace than he had seen in an awfully long time.
“Hey,” she said
“Hey to you too gorgeous,” replied Ron.
Hermione’s smile broadened and she lent in and kissed him, to which Ron responded with enthusiasm. After a little while Ron stiffened. Hermione pulled back only to see a tear in Ron’s eye and a pained expression replace the beatific smile he had so recently worn.
“Fred ..” was all he could say. Hermione took him in her arms and pulled him towards her. “I am here for you Ron. Whatever you need from me, just ask.”
Ron held her tightly, drawing all the comfort he could from her as he allowed himself to sob quietly. After a while he sat up and smiled down at Hermione.
“You’ll stay with me today?”
“I’m not leaving you Ron.”
His sadness lifted and he was filled with an enormous happiness that this extraordinary girl loved him just as he loved her, that they didn’t have to pretend anymore and hopefully didn’t need to hurt each other anymore. It still amazed him though. “Brilliant,” he thought.
He looked over to Harry who was still lying on his bed. “You awake Harry?” he asked gently.
Harry grunted but then after few minutes he rolled over and sat up on the bed.
“Actually I think it’s late afternoon.” Ron looked at his watch. “It’s about 5:30, we’ve slept for about nine hours.”
Ron looked around the room. A table had had been set up. A large platter of sandwiches and a pitcher of pumpkin juice had been placed on it. They both had that light pink glow that indicated a fresh lock charm had been placed on them. Getting out his wand he released the lock and grabbed a sandwich. He was starved. “Room service has arrived,” he mumbled through a full mouth. He poured a pumpkin juice for himself and Hermione and handed one to her. There was also an envelope addressed to Harry on the table. Ron was pretty sure it was in Ginny’s handwriting. “There a note for you here too mate,” he said.
He then noticed that a set of fresh clothes had been set out for each of them on one of the free beds. Ron realised that someone must have come in while they slept and placed them there. They would have noticed him and Hermione sharing a bed. He realised too that he didn’t care. They had both been fully clothed and on top of the bed. Even if they weren’t, he couldn’t care. He and Hermione were together now and as far he was concerned the whole world could know. They had come too far, faced too much together to be embarrassed or deterred now. It was up to him and Hermione and only him and Hermione as to what happened between them now.
There was a fresh bouquet of flowers on top of the clothes clearly meant for Hermione. Ron picked them up and presented them to her with a flourish. “Someone loves you my Lady.”
She smiled. “They’re lovely! Where did they come from?”
“Over there, on top of the clothes that have been set out for you. There’s a fresh set for each of us.”
Talk of clothes made them all realise what a state they were in. They were still wearing the same clothes they had worn during the battle. Their clothes were torn and tattered, their faces were streaked with grime and their hair was peppered with dust from falling masonry. Hermione’s bushy hair was almost white.
“We are a frightful sight aren’t we,” laughed Hermione. “Ron, how could you have kissed me when I look like this?”
“I could always kiss you Hermione.”
Hermione’s mood changed when she saw what looked like large blood stains on Ron’s jeans. Ron and Harry both noticed where she was staring.
“It’s not mine Hermione, at least I don’t thinks so,” said Ron gently. He was briefly struck with horror that it might be Fred’s, but then he realised that Fred wasn’t really bleeding. He had been crushed. He didn’t want to think about that either.
“All right, let’s get cleaned up,” said Harry taking charge. “Hermione, you can take the bathroom first then Ron and I will have a go. Take as long as you want Hermione, wash it all away.”
Hermione looked at him gratefully, picked up the fresh set of clothes, went into the bathroom and closed the door. The bathroom was laid out much like the bathroom in her own dorm. There was a change area and several shower stalls. It was much less frilly though and it looked bare without all the brushes and bottles and tubes of perfumes and lotions and potions that usually choked the girls’ bathroom.
She stripped out of her clothes and, knowing she would never want to wear any of these items ever again, she vanished them all with a wave of her wand, all except her belt. She stepped into the shower and let the hot water flow over her, washing away the grime and the dust and her tears.
In the bedroom Harry picked up the letter and opened it. It was from Ginny.
I tried to get in and see you all but these goons on the door wouldn’t let me in. Strict orders from the Minister of magic himself. Hah!
I told them I was Ron’s sister. I told them I was Hermione’s best female friend. I told them I was your blood traitor girlfriend.
They wouldn’t budge.
Anyway, I can’t begin to tell you how relieved I am that you are all OK. Can’t wait to talk to you again.
Ps don’t you ever, ever pretend to be dead again. That was about the worst moment of my life and I have had some pretty bad one’s recently. I never, never want to experience that again. We are going to have words about this Mr Potter!
Harry was elated, upset and angry. Elated because it was clear that Ginny still wanted to be with him, loved him even. Upset because there were more than a few hints that Ginny had had a bad time of it recently. He needed to know what had happened to her and do what he could to make it better. He was angry at himself for causing her pain and he was angry at her because she didn’t understand why he did it. He knew that his feigned death had caused deep distress in a lot of people. He could still hear the cries of anguish that came from Ginny, Hermione and Ron. They had ripped through him. He could still feel the shaking arms of gentle Hagrid as he sobbed carrying Harry back to the castle. But he didn’t have a choice. It was the only way he could live. It was the only way he could win. He hoped one day Ginny would forgive.
Ron watched the emotions play across his best friends face. “Everything OK mate?” he asked.
“Yeah everything’s OK. I’ll tell you about it later.” Harry folded the letter and put it in his pocket.
“OK.” Ron decided to let it rest. He grabbed another sandwich, jumped up on the bed and waited for Hermione to come out of the bathroom.
When they were all cleaned up and dressed Harry sat Ron and Hermione down on the bed they had slept on. He sat down opposite them saying “there is one thing I want to say before we go down and face the circus again. They are going to try and give me all the credit for defeating Voldemort. I am going to make sure they all understand that we did this together, that you two deserve just as much credit for taking down Voldemort as I do. You were both amazing.”
“Harry, we did our bit but you do deserve the bulk of the credit. It was you who defeated Voldemort. Harry, I could never have walked into the Forest to face death as you did,” said Hermione.
“Me neither mate,” echoed Ron “and there is no way I could have stood up against You Know Who face to face as you did mate. It was bloody brilliant!”
“But you did stand up to him Ron. When Voldemort was prancing about taunting everyone saying ‘Harry Potter is dead’ it was you who stopped him in his tracks yelling ‘he beat you’. That was bloody brilliant and it restored everyone’s fighting spirit, including mine.”
“And, Hermione, you did walk into that forest, so did you Ron. When we started this mission nine months ago you had a choice. You are definitely not stupid Hermione, nor are you Ron. You both knew our chances of surviving this year, let alone succeeding, were slim. I know you talked about this. You both still agreed to come, insisted on it. Hermione, you could have disappeared, travelled to Australia with your parents, become Hermione Wilkens. You would have been perfectly safe. And you Ron are a pure blood. Your family was never going to thrive under Voldemort’s regime but you could have survived. I on the other hand had no choice; the evil bastard was coming for me no matter what.”
“Harry, we couldn’t have left you to do this alone,” said Hermione.
“No Hermione, you couldn’t. That’s not who you are. Ron neither. That’s my point. It’s what makes you special. It’s what puts me so deeply in your debt. When I walked into the forest, I was only doing what you two had already done nine months earlier.” He looked earnestly at his friends willing them to understand, willing them to see themselves as he saw them.
“I could not have survived this year without either of you two, could not have solved the puzzles, could not have planned or executed the missions we undertook, could not have destroyed any horcruxes. I could not have succeeded, so please do not downplay your role in this. It doesn’t matter that I delivered the final ‘Expeliamus’. We did this together.”
Harry had spoken with deep conviction and feeling that came not just from profound gratitude for the sacrifices his friends had made, the hardships and horrors they endured , but also from an overwhelming sense of relief that his friends had survived. He knew that he had put them in terrible jeopardy. They had come so close to death too many times. He knew that he would never have been able to forgive himself if either had died. He knew how much he owed them. He was shaking when he finished his little speech. Hermione was crying and moved quickly to hug Harry. Ron’s emotions were reeling as he begun to really see for the first time what he had done, not as Harry’s sidekick but as a man in his own right. He was seeing himself just a little through Harry’s eyes and it was astonishing.
The unbreakable bond that had been forged between the three over so many years had just got a little deeper.
After a while Hermione released Harry and sat down again beside Ron. Harry spoke again. “There’s another reason why I want you to get your full share of the credit. Partly we have been fighting to rid the world of a bunch of monsters. But we have also been fighting the obscene blood status fixation that poisons the wizarding world, the obscenity that says Hermione Jean Granger or my mother are something less than, not worthy even of a wand.” Harry paused, breathing hard, trying to get the anger that had so quickly arisen under control.
”We three are a perfect symbol of how things could and should be. A pure-blood, a half-blood and a muggle born, best of friends all working together to achieve something extraordinary. And not just blokes either, Hermione. It was two blokes and a girl who did this. It is important they know that too.”
“OK Harry,” said Hermione visibly moved “but you know it’s not going to work anyway. The people want their hero and they’ll put it all down to you no matter what you say. If you give other people credit they’ll just say you’re being modest and heap even more praise on you.”
“Well Hermione I’ll just have to try.”
Harry decided to lighten the mood. “Anyway, why should I be the only one getting harassed by the press. I think we should share that around too.”
“Ah,” smirked Hermione trying hard to share his lightened tone. She levitated a pillow with her wand and propelled it at Harry’s head “you’re only being selfish after all.”
They sat quietly together. Eventually a smile lit Harry’s face.
“By the way, you two, together, absolutely brilliant!” Then after a pause “I can’t say much for your sense of timing, though, right in the middle of a battle.”
“Well,” said Ron, looking at Hermione before continuing, “we actually got together a little earlier. We had a long conversation why we were at Shell Cottage.”
“We were going to tell you after Gringotts. We didn’t want to divert your focus from the mission,” added Hermione.
Ron looked down at his feet and then back at Harry. “You’ve known how I feel about Hermione for a long time Harry, you told me I should talk to her about it but I was always afraid, afraid of being embarrassed, afraid of finding out that Hermione didn’t feel the same way, though really that was mental but well you know I still couldn’t believe she really could.” Ron hesitated, looking down breathing shallowly. Hermione put her hand on Ron’s leg encouraging him to go on.
“Anyway, after Malfoy Manor that all seemed so pathetic, so small. My feelings for Hermione were undeniable. I had almost lost her and I had never told her how I felt. It was unbearable. I made up my mind to talk to Hermione as soon as she was better and we could get a private moment, not an easy thing at Shell Cottage I can tell you.”
“I came to the same conclusion,” continued Hermione “If Ron hadn’t had brought it up, I was going to. But he did.” She turned to him smiling and Ron gripped her hand. After a few seconds she turned back to Harry.
“It was awkward to start. We have both had lots of practice at avoiding this topic. But then it was surprisingly easy…and wonderful!” Ron and Hermione turned back to each other again beaming, lost in each other’s gaze. After a while Hermione turned back to Harry and added “I won’t embarrass you with the details.”
“No don’t,” laughed Harry.
It was a testament to the growing depth and maturity of the relationship between the three friends that they could talk so comfortably about this, something they had never done in the past.
Harry grinned and said “You’re both going to hear two things a lot in the next few days. One is ‘heroes’, because that is what you are. The other is ‘about time’ because you two are about the only people in all England who didn’t know that, for a long time now, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley have been deeply in love with one another.” This earned Harry two pillows flying at his head.
“So Harry, you and Ginny?” asked Ron.
“We’re not going to have a problem with this are we Ron?” Harry was annoyed. After all, he was supportive of Ron’s relationship with Hermione and he cared about Hermione every bit as much as Ron cared about Ginny and now Ron was going to go all protective big brother on him.
“I know you love her, mate. I saw you staring at the marauders map night after night when you thought we were asleep. I’m sure it wasn’t Filch’s name you were staring at.”
“You saw that?”
“We both did” Hermione replied “It was a small tent.”
“And of course you discussed it together?”
“Yeah,” they said together.
“I reckon after last year Ginny is strong enough to look after herself and you aren’t the worst person she could be with. So if that’s what you both want, then no Harry we are not going to have a problem with this. Besides,” he paused smiling “the hero always gets the girl and I’ve already got mine.”
“And I’ve already got my man.” They both gazed dreamily at one another. Hermione was swinging her legs to and fro like a little girl.
A single pillow hit them both in the head. “Oi, there’s a conversation going on!”
They all cracked up laughing and for the moment were happy. Outside the room there was still enormous loss and pain to be confronted and felt but here in the room there was just joy in the love of three friends for one another, hope for a brighter future and overwhelming gratitude that they had all three survived.
“So what did Ginny say in her note? … I recognised her handwriting mate”
“She tried to get in and see us but the guard outside wouldn’t let her in. Calling herself my ‘blood traitor girlfriend’ wasn’t enough apparently. So yeah, I guess we are going to get back together.”
“Just take care of her mate.”
“And you take care of my sister, Ron.”
Hermione realised what Harry had just said. She flung herself at Harry. “Love you Hermione,” said Harry. “Love you too Harry,” replied Hermione. They both knew what they meant by that and so did Ron and it was good.
“Come on you lot,” said Harry standing up knowing they could not put this off any longer “time to face the real world.”
All three dreaded leaving that room.
Harry knew that he would be assaulted by the enormous cost of the victory. He would share the pain he saw on every grieving face. He would remember the sight of the lifeless bodies lined up in the Great Hall – Fred, Tonks, Lupin, young Colin Creevey and so many more. He would grieve for little Teddy Lupin now orphaned, just as he himself had been, as a baby by a terrible evil. No matter how many times people told him otherwise he would always feel responsible for what had happened. He would for ever be thinking that if he had been a little bit smarter, a little quicker a little less pigheaded he could have found a way of ending this sooner and without so many being hurt. Despite what he had said to Ron and Hermione, he knew that when people patted him on the back and called him a hero he would feel hollow and a fraud.
Ron knew that out there Fred’s death would be a reality. He couldn’t avoid the pain of it. He couldn’t avoid the pain the rest of his family were suffering. He couldn’t avoid the enormous devastation that George must be experiencing. He couldn’t avoid guilt at his joy in his own survival and in Harry and Hermione’s survival and in his happiness with finally being with Hermione. He didn’t want to leave the room.
Hermione dreaded the pain that both the boys, no men, that she loved would be experiencing. She knew how much family meant to the Weasleys, the strength of the love that they shared for one another. To the extent that she had been allowed to share in it she had been nourished by it. It had helped her be at home in the wizarding world and she would be forever grateful. Now this wonderful family was shattered. Ron was going to need all the support she could give and she would give it to him and to the rest of the Weasleys to the full extent she could. There would be time enough for her own family. As for Harry, she knew him too well. She knew he would be taking on everyone else’s pain, blaming himself for all the grief that would surround them. He would deny it though if she confronted him, not willing to hurt her, not willing to have his mind changed. It was something she had to do though; get him to a position where he could understand in his heart that he was not to blame and could allow himself to fully enjoy the new world he had given so much to bring about. It was going to take time though and she would need Ginny’s help. In the mean time it was Ginny who was going to need support and she hoped Harry would be able to provide it. Harry was never better than when he was helping the people he loved.
“Let’s all go and see your family, Ron,” said Hermione.
Ron gripping Hermione’s hand, the three walked out of the dormitory and down to the common room.