It had all been Luna's idea. And like most of Luna's ideas, it had started out as something kooky and blossomed into something wonderful.
That's how Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville, and Luna had come to be spending the night in a makeshift camp on the roof of the Burrow.
The day had been incredible, something out of a dream: they'd brought up a stock of butterbeers, chocolate frogs, Cauldron cakes, Fizzing Whizzbees, Every-Flavored Beans, and just about everything sweet they could raid from the pantry and the bottom of Ginny's trunk, leftover from her last excursion to Hogsmeade, where she'd stocked up in case the Carrows decided to cancel any future ones. They'd sat around in the sun, basking in the glow of a starting summer, chatting and laughing. They'd organized a small Exploding Snap tournament, which had come down to a riveting finale between Ginny and Ron— and Ron's charred eyelashes were a sure clue of who'd taken the victory. They'd brought up the radio from the kitchen and tuned it to some Weird Sisters, and they'd had a proper little dance party, stomping on the roof (much to their general delight, Neville and Luna had done a strange little jig she'd no doubt taught him and he'd turned out to be surprisingly adept at) until Molly stormed up the stairs and asked them to please quit it, because they'd woken up the ghoul.
"He deserves it," had grumbled Ron under his breath, flushed red from all the dancing. "Bugger kept my pajamas."
Overall, it had been a splendid day: for the first time in years, they'd experienced the liberty of being carefree, of being happy, of being young. It was surprising how, in so short a time since the Battle of Hogwarts, silence now seemed not unnerving, like something was preparing to leap out of it, but rather peaceful, a calm embrace. And as the day had wound down, so had they: they'd watched the sunset all together from the roof, arms around each other's shoulders, bathing the village in a golden sheen. When the sky had darkened, they'd gone their separate ways, spreading out but still on the roof— and that's where they are now.
Luna and Neville are in the center, where she's excitedly explaining all the properties of a dirigible plum she's somehow pulled out of her boot (and Neville, like any good Herbology enthusiast and even better friend, is listening intently). Harry and Ginny have decided to make up for lost time with some snogging, and they'd be invisible were it not for the giggles that waft up every so often from behind the chimney. Hermione has conjured up a small chair and is poring over a book, her wand alight. And Ron? He's sitting near the ledge, not having moved from where they all watched the sunset just an hour earlier, thinking warmly about how lucky he is to be there.
The Battle of Hogwarts is less than two months in the past, but everything has changed, and so much for the better. It feels strange not to worry. It feels strange not to have fear throbbing in the back of your mind at all times. But it's the kind of strange that signals new things, the good kind of strange— 'like Luna', he thinks with a fond smirk as her voice drifts over to him, now enlightening Neville as to the benefits of brewing dirigible plums in streamwater during waxing-moon nights.
He's pulled from his thoughts by the rustle of a blanket draping over his shoulders, as Hermione sits down on his right. She smiles as a greeting, and he immediately smiles back.
"I thought you'd be reading?"
"Reading by wandlight strains your eyes," she shrugs, and tucks the blanket more closely around herself. "And I'd like my eyesight to last me a few more years." She's so close to him, he could reach out and grab her hand if he wanted to. He wants to. He just doesn't know if he's brave enough to do it.
They sit in a comfortable silence —though one laden with things they're both dying to say— looking off into the distance, every so often adjusting the blanket around them. Ron swears every time she adjusts it she moves somewhat closer: an inch, perhaps, but his right shoulder keeps feeling increasingly warm. He corresponds, and before either of them knows it, their shoulders are pressed together. Now, if she could only tilt her head a bit, rest it on his shoulder...
"Ooh, the sky's so clear tonight, we should be able to pick out some constellations!" Just like that, it shatters: Hermione scrambles to get a better look of the night sky, but Ron isn't even all that bothered. He can't help smiling at the characteristic schoolgirl excitement he's learned to love in these seven years. "Ron, isn't this exciting? We get to put our Astronomy skills to practical use!"
"Huzzah," he remarks sarcastically, "my life is finally complete!"
"Oh, don't get like that," she pokes him playfully, and he swears he can feel the place where she touched him glow. "Come on, let's get on our backs, you can see the stars better that way."
And that's how he ends up laying on his back next to Hermione Granger, under the same blanket and pressed together for heat, as she points up to the night sky and picks out constellations with her index finger.
"That's Orion, there, the one that sort of looks like an hourglass... That's Ursa Major, and Ursa Minor— you know what the Americans call these? 'Big Dipper' and 'Little Dipper', leave it to them to take the grandeur out of literal stars..."
Ron's only half-listening: he's laying up on an elbow, propping up his head in his hand and staring at her with a soft, loving look permeating his eyes. Sure, he's not getting a word she's saying, but he's seeing her go off excitedly about things she loves, and that's more than he can ask for.
"...anyway, the stars look seriously majestic with a sky this clear, I'd do this way more often if I lived out in the countryside like this, Ron," she continues, and his heart leaps slightly. "It's strange, isn't it, how beautiful they are? They look almost like freckles, speckled across the sky..."
Ron's heart skips a beat: freckles? He has freckles. Pretty distinctive part of him, actually. Does she mean what he thinks —what he hopes— she means? His heart is now leaping in his throat, and when he turns to look at her, he's surprised to see that she's giving him a smile unlike one she's ever given him before— a smile that tells him that's exactly what she means. "You look positively wonderful tonight, too, Ron."
She's said it, she's said the thing he most ardently wishes for— so why does his chest feel like it's imploding? Why is his head buzzing uncontrollably? Why does his throat feel like it's tightening? The smile wipes off his face and he puts down his elbow, laying his head down on the roof now, eyes wide.
Hermione's heart sinks when she sees him react that way, and, flustered, she begins sputtering: "Oh no, Ron, I'm sorry, I meant it like— like— what did I say wrong?"
Ron tries to gulp, but the knot in his throat has expanded to bind his chest, and he scrunches his eyes closed as it all rushes back into his head. The locket had said it: he's least loved, least preferred, always second— Hermione could never want him. He's told Harry he knows it isn't true, but years of feeling inadequate can't let go that easily, and so, deep down, a part of him holds on to what the locket told him, to what he heard and believed when he was engulfed by that smoke. The locket saw into the deepest part of him: it knew he feels ugly, insufficient, unimportant. How is he supposed to believe Hermione when she tells him he looks positively wonderful?
She seems to sense what it is, and she also lays down fully on the roof, facing him, tugging the blanket farther up around them. She takes a hand up to his cheek, and places it delicately there: "Do you still hear it?"
Ron raises up his own hand to clasp Hermione's, hold it close against his cheek, hoping she keeps it there, and he feels a hot tear roll down his face. He nods, ever so slightly, and hopes she notices. "And do you believe it?" Another tear, another nod, and his grip around her hand tightens. The silence grows almost unbearable, and then Hermione breaks it tenderly: "Oh, Ron," she says softly, wiping at the tear tracks with her thumb, "oh sweetheart, oh Ron..."
"It's moronic, you know," he says, laughing bitterly. "I spend years wishing you'd say something like that to me, and then when you finally do, I shrivel in like an idiot and I start crying—"
"You're not an idiot, Ronald," says Hermione with stern tenderness, and he feels her other hand wriggle under the blanket to grasp his. "It's okay to feel like this, it's okay to have insecurities, but I wish you'd believe me." He says nothing. She continues. "The locket was horrible, Ron, it was a part of Voldemort's soul, for Merlin's sake. Obviously, he was looking to upset you, to make you feel like this, but that's all the more reason why that's not true—"
"Hermione," he interrupts, and she falls quiet. She's right, but he doesn't feel like being lectured. There's only one thing he wants, and he lets the silence fall over them before he ventures to ask for it, in a soft, cracked voice: "Hermione, tell me I'm pretty."
She draws him closer, her hand never leaving his cheek, and fits her lips to his, pressing softly and lovingly, and Ron thinks he could get lost in these kisses. The kisses get hungrier: her hands fly to his hair while his clasp around her back, rooting her fingers in his red locks to pull him closer to her, to kiss him more deeply. She pulls away briefly and presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth, then begins tracing a line from there to his neck, where she kisses him softly, muttering, "Ron— you're— so— pretty— so— pretty" in between kisses. He just holds her tighter, tears still streaming down his cheeks, hoping the kisses never ends.
They don't: Hermione comes back up and their mouths meet again, moving in time with their heartbeats as she keeps whispering "pretty" every time she comes up for air. The kisses start waning as they get sleepier, but their arms just tighten their hold around each other, hearts pressed together. Hermione presses one last kiss to his neck, mumbles "pretty" drowsily, and falls asleep in his arms, not letting go even when her breathing evens out with sleep. And Ron comes to realize, once again, that he's tangled in an embrace with Hermione, his Hermione, sharing a blanket on a roof under the starlight, and that she's told him he's pretty, that she's made it clear she means it and she's staying— and, finally, he relaxes and allows himself to be what he never thought he would: purely, unconditionally loved.