Major fluff warnings on the chapter. Sorries!

This one's a bit longer than the rest of them... looks like I couldn't resist the urge to do a some end-of-story smut, though I don't know quite how it got this long since they couldn't even actually do stuff. So it's like, non-smutty smut. Stupid past self thinking the rating would never go up.

This chapter is inspired in part by twilightsorcery's "Quietly", which is a seriously beautiful Ginny/Hermione picture you should all check out. I'll put a link in my profile, so seriously, do it. (And leave some comments, artists love comments!) This picture matched what I had planned for this story so much it was scary. Credit for the wonderful idea for Ginny's outfit goes to twilightsorcery – it was just too pretty not to write into the story.

And now I'll shut up and let you read.

11. The Beginning

"What was that all about?"

Hermione looked over at Ginny and paused to brush a snowflake – it had started flurrying – off her shoulder. "Back at the Three Broomsticks?"

"Yeah."

Hermione shrugged. "I must have hit Harry by accident, and probably he thought I was Ron, and freaked out. Boys. You know." She rolled her eyes, and Ginny laughed.

"Ugh." Ginny shuddered theatrically. "I'm so glad I don't have to go out with one of..." Ginny realized what she was saying and trailed off.

Hermione looked at her expectantly.

"Er, we should probably talk?" It inevitably came out more like a question than she had intended, and Ginny wondered where her courage had gone. She had had plenty of it when it was merely a matter of their feet under a table...

They had managed to escape the awkward atmosphere of the Three Broomsticks eventually, after a few more abortive attempts at conversation (exacerbated by the fact that Ginny couldn't seem to focus on anything other than Hermione for more than a few moments at a time) and the boys had drifted off in different directions soon after. Despite the convenient loss of the male half of their party, Ginny and Hermione had still been unable to find a chance to talk all day. People kept coming up to say hi or chat, and they were never alone for more than a few minutes at a time. For the first time, Ginny had wished she didn't know quite so many people. And then, even when they were alone, it never seemed like a good moment to have a serious discussion.

Now it was getting dark and the village was emptying of students, save for a few amorous couples straggling behind. The sight filled Ginny with equal parts excitement and nerves – if she said something to Hermione, the right thing, then that could very soon be them. But first, she'd actually have to say something...

Hermione brushed another snowflake off Ginny. "Yeah, talking might be a good idea." It was a moment before Ginny realized she was answering her accidental question from before, not reading her mind.

"Mm," Ginny agreed.

"Talking's good," Hermione said.

Ginny would 't be surprised if Hermione was a bit nervous, even if she didn't exactly sound it. She sounded sort of... amused. But wasn't she tripping over her words just like Ginny was? And no wonder – that had been a brash move she had made in the Three Broomsticks, certainly one of the last things Ginny would have expected her to do. The intervening time couldn't have done anything to make Hermione more comfortable, but Ginny doubted she actually regretted it. She had been throwing Ginny covert little glances all afternoon, and she had been sticking a lot closer to her than she usually did, although never quite touching her. She wants it, thought Ginny, she has to, only she's too shy to make the first move again. Well, Ginny could take care of that.

"Right," started Ginny, silently telling her nerves where they could stuff it.

Hermione waited for her to continue, still wearing that slightly amused, slightly affectionate look.

"So," Ginny said, resisting nervousness valiantly. "Talking."

"Mm."

These talks were damn hard to start, Ginny decided, no matter how much you wanted to have them.

Just say something, Ginny. Anything. This is Hermione, she's not going to judge - "So, we kind of played footsie back there in the Three Broomsticks." Ginny forced out the words in a burst. She managed to make it not come out like a question, and was unreasonably proud of herself.

"Yup." Hermione was blushing slightly, but she looked decidedly smug. Ginny turned down a side street thinking that perhaps the main thoroughfare of the village was not the best place to have A Serious Conversation About One's Feelings, and Hermione (the same thought clearly having crossed her mind), followed close behind.

"And you kissed me that time," Ginny continued.

"Two times," Hermione added helpfully.

"Right, two times, that's what I meant." Ginny felt the heat start to rise in her cheeks. Somehow telling yourself not to be nervous seemed to do the exact opposite.

"And...?" Hermione meandered to a halt and leaned against the side of the nearest building, regarding Ginny from the gathering shadows.

"And, um, do you think you'd ever like to do it again?" Whatever Ginny had been planning to say next, that had not been it. Worst possible line EVER, Ginny Weasley, she told herself. Bravo. And then, might as well go all the way with it...

Ginny took a step closer to the wall Hermione was leaning against and propped her hand beside Hermione's ear. "Because if you would, I could arrange that for you..." She tried to use her best sultry voice, really she did, but the corners of her mouth kept tugging up and her voice didn't seem to possess any lower octaves to drop into. These things were supposed to be funny when you looked back on them, not while you were doing them.

The corners of Hermione's mouth danced dangerously, and then she grinned widely, an undignified giggle bursting forth.

Oh thank goodness, Ginny thought, allowing her own grin to break free. At least she wasn't the only one who found the situation slightly ridiculous.

A playful spark lit in Hermione's eyes and she tipped her head as if considering. "Why yes, I believe I would appreciate it greatly if you could arrange something like that for me..."

Ginny lifted her free hand to cup the back of Hermione's head and leaned closer. "Greatly?"

"So much," Hermione breathed, suddenly serious. "If you really want to, I mean."

"You have no idea." Ginny leaned in further, the butterflies beating a tattoo in her stomach. Why was this so much more nerve-racking than the other times? Hermione made a small impatient noise in her throat, and Ginny realized that she was hesitating. That would just not do.

Ginny bunched her fingers in Hermione's hair and closed the remaining distance between them, crushing their lips together in a kiss that was surely the antithesis of hesitant. Hermione responded immediately, all warm and wet and slightly chapped pressure, making Ginny realize exactly what had been missing from the previous kisses they had shared. It was one thing to kiss Hermione, and another thing to be kissed by her, but to kiss her while she was kissing you back – sheer and utter bliss.

Ginny was absolutely sure, in that moment, that if Hermione had ever kissed more people at Hogwarts, her bookishness wouldn't be the first thing she was known for. Bloody most fantastic witch in all of Britain, Ginny thought, if not Europe. Hell, the entire world.

At that point Hermione parted her lips slightly and Ginny gladly abandoned that particular train of thought in favor of devoting her full attention to the matter at hand. Ginny ran the tip of her tongue over Hermione's lower lip lightly, and then more insistently, until Hermione's mouth fell open entirely.

"What're you waiting for, an engraved invitation?" Hermione groaned.

"Something like that." It was all Ginny could do to keep the excitement thrumming through her body in check, but she had waited long enough for this moment and she wanted to savor it. She gave Hermione's lip a teasing nip before soothing it with her tongue and then darting inside her mouth. Hermione's tongue met Ginny's in a silken glide and then she sucked, urging Ginny on. Ginny complied eagerly, and for a while all Ginny was aware of were the hot recesses of Hermione's mouth, the sound of their ragged breaths, the feel of Hermione's hand cupping her nape and of Hermione's hair bunched under her own.

A drop from a late-freezing icicle fell from the eaves onto the back of Ginny's neck, and Hermione wiped it away. Ginny shivered.

"So," said Hermione after a silence which was for once far from nervous or awkward. Blissful, perhaps. Ginny paused in her perusal of Hermione's delightfully reddened lower lip (trying to determine the best angle from which to instigate another one of those fantastic snogs from, of course) to listen.

"This means we're... girlfriends now, doesn't it?"

Ginny beamed. "Yes!" She should have tried the snogging-her-brains-out approach so long ago.

"I think I like that idea," Hermione said, smiling.

Ginny beamed still wider when Hermione leaned in to capture her lips, and the thread of the conversation was lost for long moments.

"Sorry I took so long to catch on," Hermione said after they had caught their breath again.

Ginny shrugged, still grinning. As long as you're here now... "It's ok. Sorry I assaulted you in the common room that time."

"No, thank you," Hermione said, stroking Ginny's face as if to emphasize her words. "Don't know if it would ever have occurred to me otherwise... so oblivious... and it was hardly assault..." She mumbled the last words into Ginny's neck, and kissed her there softly, right above the neck of her sweater. After that the thread of the conversation got lost again, as Ginny became distracted by the soft curve of Hermione's earlobe right there, practically begging...

Ginny took the soft flesh into her mouth and slid her hands down Hermione's back, pulling her closer. Hermione moaned into Ginny's neck and began attacking it in earnest, kissing and sucking and, oh gods, biting, with an urgency that had not been there before. Ginny was overcome by a wave of desire; she had to have this girl, make her her own, mark her just as she was doing to Ginny...

Abandoning the tempting earlobe for the time being, Ginny nuzzled aside the high collar of Hermione's winter coat and fell eagerly upon the newly bared skin, while her hands ventured still lower. She cupped Hermione's arse and Hermione clung tightly to Ginny, emboldening her to slowly slide her hand around to the front, slipping into the space between their bodies, relishing the anticipation at the same time as the tension grew nearly enough to kill her. She got as far as the half an inch inside the waistband of Hermione's jeans, knuckles just brushing against skin, when she felt Hermione still, breathing heavily.

As though with great effort, Hermione spoke. "Ginny, I..."

Abashed, Ginny stopped. "Sorry! I shouldn't have – was that not ok?"

"No, that was ok." Hermione breathed deeply. "Maybe a bit too ok. Just... can we take it slow?"

"Yeah, whatever you want." Ginny kissed Hermione chastely on the lips and removed her fingers from the jeans. "Just tell me how slow." She slid her hand up until it was splayed on Hermione's stomach. She could feel Hermione's pulse through the thin fabric of her shirt. "This ok?"

Hermione's face was flushed and her eyes bright. "Yeah."

Ginny bunched up the shirt inch by inch and slowly slid her hand underneath, stopping when it occupied the same position as before, only now against flesh covered in tiny goosebumps. "Is this ok?"

Hermione's head dropped to Ginny's shoulder, and she hummed an agreement into the scratchy wool.

Ginny nipped Hermione's earlobe in response and began to slide her hand incrementally upward, wondering how far Hermione would let her go. "Just tell me when to stop..."

She felt Hermione's nod, and continued, nerves jangling with pent-up lust. Ginny didn't know how good she was at going slow, but she'd try, for Hermione's sake. She hesitated despite herself when her fingertips brushed against the hard wire's of Hermione's bra.

"Gods, Ginny, don't stop," Hermione groaned, and she was positively trembling.

So Ginny didn't. She moved her hand further, until she was cupping Hermione's breast, her palm filled with the soft heaviness of it and her fingertips digging into the warm, petal-like swell above the the fabric of the. The hard nub of her nipple pressed into Ginny's palm, and shebrushed her thumb over it experimentally. Hermione sighed in pleasure and Ginny echoed her. Figures that they'd feel even better than they look, Ginny thought before she slipped her hand across and inside the bra, turning her attention to a more thorough exploration of the other side.

She claimed Hermione's lips in a lingering kiss as she explored, drinking up Hermione's myriad small sounds of pleasure and encouragement. If I had to pick just one thing to do for the rest of my life, this could very well be it. Maybe going slowly wouldn't be completely unbearable after all. Ginny twisted a nipple and Hermione stifled a practically orgasmic cry in Ginny's shoulder. Ginny's mind instantly occupied itself with all other things she could possibly do to make Hermione do that again. Well, maybe only slightly unbearable.

When Hermione spoke next it was only after the growing cold had forced them to abandon their more adventurous explorations in favor of huddling together as tightly as possible. (Which position, it turned out, involved Ginny's knee between Hermione's legs, so she was more than happy to save further shirtless escapades for some later time – as soon as they got inside, for example.)

"Ginny?"

"Mm?"

"Did you really mean what you said in that note? How do you know?"

Ginny shrugged. "I dunno. I just do. The rest is all nerves and shite, not worth paying attention to." Ginny looked into Hermione's eyes and grew more serious. "I really do love you." Hermione opened her mouth to speak, looking anxious and resolved at the same time. Ginny laid a quelling finger on her lips. "And that doesn't mean you have to say it back. Remember, I've had since fourth year to work this out."

Hermione smiled and grabbed Ginny's hands where they were resting on her sides. "Did I ever tell you how amazing you are, Ginny Weasley?"

Ginny shook her head, eyes dancing.

"No? Well, how about I tell you up at the castle; it's freezing out here."

They were most of the way to the castle, talking excitedly, when Ginny interrupted Hermione mid-sentence.

"Hermione?"

"What?"

"Do you think – do you think that when you come for Easter holidays, you can bring your eyepod?" The words came out in a rush and Ginny's face blazed. Excellent – not only had she just probably scared Hermione off by talking about something so far in the future, she had also managed to acknowledge the existence of a bizarre muggle electronics kink to rival her father's. She was doomed.

Hermione eyed Ginny appraisingly. "Just the iPod?"

Ginny cursed the moonlit night, for Hermione had to be able to see exactly how red she was getting. "Noooo...theearphonestoo?"

"Oh, and the earphones too?" Hermione grinned. "It would be my pleasure."

fin

So, gah, it's done now. That's all I got! Though of course Ginny and Hermione keep dating and express their undying love for each other and get married and have babies and have mad crazy sex all the time. And it's all hilarious, of course. Or maybe tragedy strikes right after the easter holidays and Hannah kills Hermione in a surprise fit of jealous rage and Ginny parishes from a broken heart. Who even knows! But I'm sticking with the first version; that's how it works out in my book. With babies. And mad hot girlsex. G

Thanks to all of you for being fabulous readers! I can't believe you actually put up with me this whole time.

PS: And, for the people who got hints of some Ron/Harry in chapter 10, yes, you did see what you thought you saw. There's a whole ridiculous backstory and everything, but it'll probably never get written because I compulsively over-commit myself. No time! I guess it just goes to prove that I can't actually write a story with no slash in it. Alas. And now there's more author's notes than story, just like when I first started writing this. The circle completes itself!

Shutting up now.

PPS: Go look at that art and leave lurvely lurvely comments for her. Link on profile page!