He remembers their first kiss, that chaotic clash of lips and noses and bodies and adrenaline flooding through him. And the second, of course, a softer and sweeter one, in the quiet of an empty Gryffindor common room. In the very beginning, he couldn’t help but quantify it, seeking tangible evidence of what he wanted desperately to believe: that she wanted him, continued to want him, chose him to be hers. Other firsts, too, are burned permanently into his brain: her hands sneaking into his trousers; her knickers on the orange carpeting of his bedroom; her back arching with unbridled delight. But at some point in those weeks after the war, he lost track, and now when he looks back, it’s all blurred together into a rush of happiness that most of the time seems too good to be true.
At times he worries that it is, that somehow she’ll slip through his fingers and he’ll wake up one morning to find that he never really had her at all - or worse, that the world will find a way to wrench this away from them. It always feels like he’s on borrowed time.
So they’ve snuck away from Sunday lunch at the Burrow to hide in the apple orchard. Even though it’s one of those cool, foggy days for which England is famous, he’s content to lend her his jumper and let goosebumps rise along his skin, because it means he’s with her, and that’s all that matters.
All is calm between them. They’ve found their favorite little spot at the edge of the orchard, lounging against the trunk of a tree. Hermione’s head rests on his shoulder, her denim-clad legs slung casually over his lap. Her hand slips into his, and as he interlocks their fingers together, he notices ink stains on her fingertips.
A pang of melancholy shoots through him.
“Have you been revising already?” he asks, causing her head to lift up from his shoulder.
“I supposed I should get started on things,” she replies, only a little bit defensive, “I took a whole year off, I can only imagine how behind I am-“
“Mhmm,” Ron interrupts with a barely-suppressed grin. “You’re so behind that McGonagall’s made you Head Girl. That’s definitely it.”
Her eyes narrow at him. “I just think I ought to be prepared. Now that it’s NEWT year, there’s so much more reading, and I’ve had to start on the schedules for prefect duties too. There’s just a lot to do.”
“And what about ‘spew’?” This only deepens her scowl, but he delights in it. “You starting that up again?”
“You mean S-P-E-W?” she says, tone haughty, before heaving a sigh. “I’m not sure, honestly. My two most active members won’t be there with me.”
“Your most active members?” chuckles Ron. “We only joined under duress.”
She scoffs. “You were hardly under duress- “
“We were!” he exclaims. “You came marching in with your badges, told us we were joining and demanded two Sickles from us. Didn’t have much of a choice, did we?” He laughs again at the recollection. “You even gave us jobs - I was treasurer, wasn’t I?”
“According to the governing documentation, yes, you were,” she confirms with a nod. “Harry was secretary, but he was awful at it. He never took minutes at any of the meetings.”
She joins him in laughter, then, and leans into him, and for a second everything is perfect.
“Like I said,” Ron grins, dropping her hand to wind his arm around her shoulders. Idly, his fingers trace random shapes into the fabric of the jumper. “We were under duress.”
Hermione purses her lips as she looks up at him. “So you’ve changed your tune again, then, from a couple months ago?”
“What do you mean?”
Her eyes are shining now, alight with mirth. “I seem to recall a certain someone being very concerned about the welfare of the Hogwarts elves.”
The memory crashes over him like it’s done countless times since it happened: the Room of Requirement, the castle shaking around them, and the never-ending queue of students escaping to the Hog’s Head.
“I just wanted them safe, that’s all,” he says simply. “It’s not like I was standing round trying to think of ways to impress you.“ He sets a hand on her knee, squeezing lightly. “Though, it looks like it worked.”
Ron smiles at her, but his amusement fades when she doesn’t return it, instead puzzling up at him. “That’s not why I kissed you.” As his stomach twists, she adds, “not really, anyway. It didn’t have anything to do with S-P-E-W.”
His fingers stop moving across her shoulder. It had seemed so simple, months ago, when his mind was spinning to process the turn of events: he’d finally done the right thing. Finally proven himself worthy. Had put the last missing piece into place, right in the nick of time, just as everything else was falling apart.
“It is that I looked so dashing about to charge into battle, then? Was that it?”
His attempt at humor falls flat. She’s still contemplative, her eyes fixed on a point somewhere in the middle distance. As Ron watches, her teeth scrape over her lower lip.
“I thought we were going to die.”
The words hang there between them as something tightens painfully in Ron’s chest. Everything about this thing with Hermione has been so marvelously unexpected, right down to the fact that it’s happening at all, but he still didn’t think he would hear that.
He’s not sure what he even thought she would say. Something perhaps about how she can’t live without him, or maybe something remarkably Hermione-ish about how he had finally ticked all the boxes of her boyfriend criteria and was now deemed suitable. Just not imminent demise.
Not as the main reason, anyway.
“So did you,” she says gently when he remains quiet. “You said ‘it’s now or never’.”
“I know.” Thoughts swirl through his anxious mind, slowly formulating themselves into something worth speaking. “I just thought it was about more than ‘we’re about to die, so I may as well’.”
She recoils, clearly stung, and pulls her legs roughly off his lap; his arm drops off of her shoulder. “That’s not what I was thinking at all, actually-“
“Well, then - what if it never happened?” he presses on, even as he can see, as though he’s watching himself from above, that he’s on the verge of ruining the best thing he’s ever had. “What if that battle never happened, or I hadn’t said what I did? Would…” The words stick momentarily in his throat. “Would we even be here right now?”
“If that battle hadn’t happened, we’d probably still be starving in the woods somewhere with Harry,” she says, fingers toying with the lush grass between them. “But I don’t really know, because it did happen, and it changed everything.”
“Yeah, it did,” he agrees. “But is it - are you saying that everything changed but you want to… go back to how it was?”
“No,” she says, with such force that he recoils. “No, of course not-” She shakes her head, baffled. “Ron, we’ve - we’ve been having sex, we’ve said ‘I love you’ to each other-”
He holds his hands up, at a loss. “People get caught up in things-”
She goggles at him. “I have no idea how you can think for even a second-”
“Because you just said you thought we were going to die-“
“ So did you -“
“But then we didn’t.” The words fall heavy between them. “Now we’ve got our whole lives ahead of us, and I’m…”
He hesitates, because baring his soul isn’t something he’s ever been remotely comfortable doing, but then he figures that there’s no harm in honesty. If he’s going to lose her, he at least wants to know that nothing’s been left unsaid.
“I’m scared.” He can feel her eyes on her, though he can’t bear to look. “I’m scared that now it’s not ‘I’m going to kiss him because we’ll be dead within the hour’, it’s this thing that you’ve done that has consequences now-“
“Yeah, consequences. You kissed me ‘cause didn’t think you’d ever have to deal with it afterward, and I…” He exhales heavily through his nose. He can feel himself shaking. “And I’m scared you got more than you bargained for.”
There’s not a sound to be heard, save the occasional chirping of birds and the trickling of the nearby stream. Beside him, Hermione shifts onto her knees and sits back on her heels. Her hands land on his thigh, warm and grounding despite the damp chill in the air.
“Ron.” Her voice is barely above a whisper. “When you said ‘it’s now or never’... what did you mean by that?”
He forces himself to meet her gaze and finds only concern there, only affection.
Maybe it’s not completely bungled after all.
“I just didn’t want to die having never kissed you.” Of their own accord, his hands slip around hers. “My life can be complete without a lot of things, but it wouldn’t have been complete without that.”
Hermione swallows, head bobbing in a shaky nod. And yet, beneath the nerves, there’s a glimmer of happiness.
“I felt the same way - feel the same way. I still do. When you said what you said, about the elves, and Dobby...” The corners of her lips twitch into a faint semblance of a smile. “It didn’t really have anything to do with them specifically. It just reminded me of how wonderful you are, and - and why I love you. I just couldn’t see the point in waiting anymore.”
He picks up her hand, kisses the back of her knuckles. “I love you too.”
Using her hand to tug her close, he leans in to kiss her, but just as their lips meet, she starts laughing against his mouth.
“Do you really think that I just start kissing people for the sake of it whenever I’m in mortal danger?” Even as she’s teasing him, the smile she gives him is downright adoring. He’s not sure what made him question this for even a second, because the proof is right there in front of him. “Is that really what you thought happened?”
“No, of course not,” he laughs along with her. “I just reckoned…” He pauses as the right words slowly come to him. “I guess I just never thought we’d actually have this.”
Her smile fades. “Ever?”
He shrugs. “Somewhere along the way, I just stopped letting myself picture any kind of future, especially a good one, and this - I just reckoned this would be another thing that went wrong. And I wouldn’t get to have everything I want with you.”
Hermione looks at him, eyes dark and intense, and then swings a knee over him to straddle his lap. With hands half-covered in maroon wool, she cups his face and presses her lips firmly to his. He sinks into it, tension seeping out of him at her touch: it really is going to be okay. It’s the first time he’s actually let himself believe it, even with the war firmly behind them. It finally feels safe to let that hope rise above all of the uncertainty and the anxiety that’s had a hold on him for so long. The future doesn’t just consist of stolen minutes and hours and days anymore. It’s weeks and months and years, and she’s in every single one of them.
“I think you’ve actually gone a bit mad,” says Hermione fondly as her hands slide down to the sides of his neck.
“Yeah, well.” Ron tugs lightly on the sides of her jumper. “Whose fault is that?”
“Just for the record,” she goes on, taking that lofty tone that should drive him mad but that he actually loves, “I kissed you because I want all of that-”
“I know, I know.” He steals a quick kiss, smiling when she leans in for more. “Reckon I already did, it’s just hard to believe sometimes.”
“For me, too,” she admits. Her fingertips graze along his shoulders, down to the scarred skin of his forearms, and she tilts her head in alarm at him. “Ron!”
Another shrug. “A bit, maybe-”
“And here I am hogging your jumper, we really ought to go inside-”
“But I don’t really care,” he tells her plainly. “I just wanted to spend as much time with you as I could.”
“We’ve got time.” Her voice is soft, reassuring, soothing the last edges of his self-doubt. “We’ve got plenty of it now.”
He considers this. They’re eighteen years old, and life stretches out ahead of them with no end in sight. Perhaps he doesn’t actually have to grasp desperately at every second anymore.
“Right.” He pats the sides of her legs. “Get up, then. It’s about to be time for lunch, anyway.”
She clambers off of him, and they rise to their feet, brushing stray blades of grass from their jeans as they walk toward the house. He does feel a bit less frantic now. Hogwarts still looms in the future, but there’s still so much more to come.
As they traipse through the garden, Hermione’s hand worms into his, her other one wrapping around his upper arm. He looks down to see her beaming at him.
“I was just thinking,” she says, “that just because I’ll be away, it doesn’t mean you can’t still be involved in S-P-E-W. Maybe you can even head up the London chapter-“
Ron holds up a hand to stop her. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”