Often the test of courage is not to die but to live." ~Conte Vittorio Alfieri
He was cold.
The summer sun was shining overhead, and the sky was a clear, bright blue. He hadn't seen it this blue in years. The people gathered around were looking down, some crying, and some staring stoically straight ahead. There was an official looking wizard from the Ministry of Magic standing in front of the group, and a coffin next to the hole in the ground.
The hole in the ground chilled him.
Hermione's warm hand held his, and he gripped it tightly as the Ministry wizard droned on about loss, and grief, and other things he didn't want to think about. He'd become an expert at not thinking about things.
Like the fact that this was the last funeral for the "Heroes" of the "Second War against Voldemort", which is what the media were calling the war they'd finished fighting only two and a half months ago. He'd made it through other ones—including Professor Lupin and Tonks—but didn't think he could make it through this. This wasn't a person he barely knew, with a name he only recognized from an obituary in the paper.
It was Fred
Fred, who'd always been so alive, brimming with laughter and mischief. He was glad Hermione was with him. He hadn't seen her in a few days, since he was busy helping George in the store and she was helping with the cleanup and repair of Hogwarts.
Of course, he wanted to be with her all the time, but it was too soon. He felt stretched, brittle, as if he would break apart at the slightest push. They'd been in fight and survive mode for so long he didn't know if he'd be able to live.
"…so, today, as we lay Fred to rest, we look to the future. Life must go on."
The wizard finished his speech, and his mother's sobs were the only sound. He didn't particularly want to hear how life must go on, and he couldn't imagine his mother or George wanted to hear it, either.
"Ron, we're leaving."
He glanced up to see Hermione looking at him. The rest of the family was headed toward the road that led to the Burrow, and she's stayed behind to walk with him. Hermione was smiling, but it didn't quite meet her eyes. It never did anymore.
Ron suspected his answering smile didn't either.
Determined to put the smile back into her eyes, he walked toward her and took her hand, tucking it into his arm. "You look nice today."
"Thank you," Hermione replied. "You don't look too bad yourself."
He hadn't told her earlier, with grief caught in his throat and the air he'd been breathing choking him, but he was glad he remembered to say it. He didn't know if it was appropriate for a funeral, but didn't quite bring himself to care.
"It was a nice service," she said as they walked the slightly rutted dirt path out of the cemetery and continued on the road.
"Yes," Ron agreed. "But nothing like Fred. Fred would've hated it."
He looked down at her when she didn’t reply. Ron didn't know whether she agreed or not because she was concentrating on the ground as she walked. Her hair was down, and the black dress robes were conservative and sedate. She looked beautiful.
He suddenly felt a need to kiss her.
"Hermione," he said, and she must have caught something in his voice because she stopped, turned to face him, and wrapped her arms around his waist. He wrapped his arms around her back and dropped a kiss on her forehead.
She closed her eyes, smile growing.
"I miss you, Ron."
He brushed hair out of her face and leaned in.
The kiss was sweet, slow, a gentle brush of lips. Hermione sighed and moved closer.
"I don't want to be away from you," he whispered against her ear. "I wish we could see each other more often."
"George needs your help right now." Her words were muffled against his neck. "He needs his family. Especially now. You can't leave him after this."
This encompassed everything that had happened over the past year, Ron knew. Fred, the battles, the losses. The funeral. The chance for a future, as the Ministry wizard had said. They finally had it. The future was in front of them.
"I need you."
She blushed, looked up at him as she pulled back slightly. She smiled, and finally, it reached her eyes. With her flushed face and bright eyes, she'd never looked prettier.
"Come with me," he said, pulling back and grabbing her hand. "Please."
He looked around. The Burrow was still out of sight around the corner, and trees lined both sides of the road. "In the trees."
"We have to get to the Burrow," Hermione said, though she wasn't letting go of his hand as he pulled her toward the side of the road. "Your family'll wonder where we are."
"There's so many people there, no one will notice we're even missing." Ron stopped in a small clearing about 20 meters off the road. "I just want to hold you." He wrapped his arms around her and felt hers wrap around his waist. Sighing, he tucked her head under his chin.
He didn't know how long they stood there, the birds chirping and sun streaming through the trees. With his eyes closed, he could smell the grass, and the trees. Hermione's hair smelled like strawberries—it must've been her shampoo. It was quiet, and he focused on slowing his breathing.
He rubbed his hand up and down her back, and she sighed and pressed her lips to his neck. Ron sighed.
"We should probably get back," Hermione said, tightening her arms around him.
"I don't want to," Ron replied. "I don't want to make small talk with people I barely know, who'll tell me how sorry they are."
He imagined everyone was tired of saying how sorry they were. Most of the Wizarding World, after all, had spent the past two and a half months attending funerals or memorial services.
"We can't just stay here forever."
"I've noticed you're not going anywhere," he told her. Hermione hadn't moved since she'd said they should get back.
"Would you kiss me, please, Ron? I mean, really kiss me."
"My pleasure," Ron murmured.
He leaned down, placed his lips over hers. Their tongues met, tangled. Ron placed his hands on either side of her face, nipping lightly at her lower lip, and deepened the kiss. Her arms were wrapped around his neck, and he moved his to her waist, picking her up and swinging her around.
Hermione laughed, a little breathlessly, as he set her carefully back on the ground. Her face was flushed, her eyes sparkling. And her smile made his knees weaken.
"Hermione," he began, and heard a cough behind him.
They turned to see Harry standing near the edge of the clearing.
"Mrs. Weasley sent me to find you," Harry said. "It's time to eat."
"We'll be right there."
Harry nodded and left. Ron looked down at Hermione. She was still smiling, but he imagined the flush staining her cheeks had turned to embarrassment.
"Thanks for walking with me," he said.
"Thanks for kissing me."
Ron laughed, his heart lifting. He grasped Hermione's hand, and walked home.
Into the future.