There was a light in his room. Why was there a light in his room? He had only just managed to drift off, and now there was this light coming from --
"Whozzer?" he demanded groggily.
"Shhh, Ron. It's only me."
His brain was still sleep-muddled. "Hermione?" It looked like she was carrying a candle. Why did she not just light her wand? He looked around the room, lit by the flickering golden glow. "What're you doing here? Where's Harry gone?"
"I passed him on the stairs. I expect he's gone to see Ginny."
Some part of his brain was slowly waking up. "Ginny? He can't do that! It's night time; she'll be wearing her -- y'know, nighttime stuff."
Hermione smiled slightly at that. "Somehow, I doubt she will."
Ron looked scandalised. "But she -- he -- they can't!"
"I expect they can," Hermione replied, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
It was a candle. She set it down next to the bed and turned toward him, the flickering light and shadow making her expression unreadable.
"That's why I'm here." With no warning at all, she leaned forward and kissed him, her lips pressing hard against his.
"Hermione!" he gasped, uncomprehending, struggling to push her away. "What in Merlin's name are you on about?!" Now that she was so close, he noticed the candlelight was reflecting off tears on her cheeks. "Are you all right?"
"Yes. No." She drew back, shaking her head. "I just thought -- I mean, I want to -- Oh, this is so stupid! I'm an adult, and if I want to do something I should be able to say it. Ron, I want to have sex, in case we die tomorrow."
"With -- with each other?" The expression on his face was so comical that she would have laughed, given almost any other circumstances. "We can't! We're not married, and --"
"And we never will be, if something happens to one of us tomorrow," she finished for him. "If we live, it's not like we can't get married later, if -- if you want to."
It was all going much too fast. They had never even talked about any of this, much less -- "But what about your reputation?" he asked, desperate for an anchor of sanity to which he might cling. "People will think you're some sort of -- of scarlet woman."
She snorted at that. "My reputation? My reputation with whom, exactly? Our friends? They'd understand. Our teachers? Ron, school's over. The Ministry? It's nothing to them. And do you really think the Death Eaters care if a Muggleborn girl is a virgin or not? The only people whose opinions about it matter are right here in this room."
He glanced around, startled.
"You and me, Ron," she said in tones of amused exasperation. "So what I'm saying to you is, I want to. And what I'm asking is, do you?"
He hesitated, torn between his upbringing and what her nearness was doing to his body. "Er -- I guess so. I mean, if you really think it's okay."
"Well that settles it," she said, reaching for the bedclothes.
Ron started, pulling away from her. "What are you doing?"
"Well, there's the notion that both of us have to be in the same bed for this to work," she replied, unable to suppress a tremor of nervous laughter. "And possibly undressed as well."
"Oh. Er --" The dim candlelight hid his blush. Still he hesitated. "Hermione?"
"What, Ron?" she asked patiently.
"If we -- er -- don't die tomorrow, I mean, shouldn't we be worried about maybe --?" His voice trailed off in the darkness.
"Oh." It was her turn to blush. "Don't worry about that. I've taken care of it."
"How?" There was an edge of suspicion to his voice.
"There's a potion for preventing pregnancy. Madam Pomfrey gives the formula to all the girls at Hogwarts. And you can wear this."
He looked at the shiny square she was offering him in puzzlement. "What is it?"
"It's a condom, Ron. It goes on your -- you know."
"What?" he asked, baffled.
"Oh, for God's sake, Ronald! It goes on your penis!"
He looked startled for a moment, but warily took the strange object from her and held it up to the candlelight. Doing so, however, did not shed much light on its purpose.
"What does it do? It looks uncomfortable. For you, I mean."
"You have to unwrap it," she said, biting back a smile. "It keeps the semen from going in and joining up with the egg."
"Do you need me to draw diagrams?" Her tone now verged on impatience. "You know where babies come from, right?"
"Of course I do." His offended tone suggested that he did not see how this was relevant to the topic under discussion. "The man's potion goes in the woman's -- er -- cauldron, and they -- um -- stir it up, and a new life starts."
Hermione could not decide whether to burst out laughing or give up and go back to bed. She stared at Ron in stunned amazement.
"No! That's not -- it's because --" She shook her head. "Never mind. You just put this thing on, and there's no baby, okay?"
"Okay," he replied uncertainly. "But -- er -- how do I --?"
"Oh, give it here." She grabbed the foil-wrapped object from him and ripped back the bedclothes, reaching for the waistband of his pajamas.
Ron threw himself backward against the wall, both hands clutched protectively over his crotch.
She hesitated, then shook her head again. "I'm doing this all wrong."
"How do you know?" he asked, suddenly suspicious. "You haven't -- have you?"
She scowled at him. "I've just done some reading. I wanted to be sure I knew everything I'd need to know before trying it out."
"You think this is something you can learn from books?" Ron asked in amazement.
"Well, why not?" She was defiant now. "Where else am I supposed to learn about it? Not from you, Mr All-I-Know-About-Kissing-Is-You've-Got-To-Use-As-Much-Tongue-As-Possible."
"What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, indignant.
"Just that when you kiss someone, it should be less like choking on a live Flobberworm."
"Oh, that's it! You think I don't know how to kiss?"
Without warning, he grabbed her arm and pulled her to him. His lips were warm and soft, yet demanding against hers, and she unconsciously drew toward him.
"How was that?" he asked a moment later.
"Oh," she said breathlessly. "That was -- um -- better." But she still looked slightly troubled.
"I was just wondering. Did you ever -- with Lavender?"
"What? No! I -- we --" He made an inarticulate gesture down the front of his body. "There was, you know, stuff. But we never -- I didn't want -- Look, are we going to do this or not?"
"I guess so."
Hermione sounded slightly stunned at the idea that all of this might actually be leading somewhere. Fortifying her resolve, she grasped the hem of her nightgown and lifted it over her head. Ron moved to help her, tugging the garment away from her face.
"Ow!" she cried. "Hang on a minute. It's caught on my hair."
He let go to allow her to sort out the troublesome garment, and suddenly realised that she was wearing nothing but candlelight.
"Wow," he whistled. "You look -- really good."
She blushed and smiled lopsidedly, tossing the nightgown away. "Thanks," she replied. "Your turn."
"My turn? Oh." His hands went to the buttons of his pajama top, but a noise made him pause.
Hermione froze as well. The noise came again, then again, and finally settled into a loud, rhythmic banging noise, accompanied by a piercing metallic squeak.
"What --?" Hermione began. Then, "Oh." She cast her eyes to the floor beneath her bare feet.
Ron's face had gone blank with shock. Hermione stifled a giggle and then began helpfully fumbling with his buttons.
"They're not --"
"Yes, I imagine they are," she said matter-of-factly. "Surely you don't intend to stay a virgin longer than your younger sister?"
"You think she's --?"
"Yes," she replied firmly. "She is. Was. Do you want me to help with the bottoms, too?"
"What? Oh." He looked down his now-bare chest at the drawstring of his pajama bottoms. "No, I think I've got it." He tugged at the knotted laces for a moment, then shrugged and pulled them down over his hips and kicked them off into the darkness. "There."
She looked pointedly at his maroon pants, and he blushed and shucked them off as well.
"Oh, so you do want to do this, after all?" she teased.
"Well, I can't help it, can I?" he said, flustered. "It just does that."
She gazed interestedly at the object in question.
"It's rude to stare," he said stiffly. "You act like you've never seen one before."
"Maybe I have and maybe I haven't," she replied, looking up into his face with a teasing grin.
For a second he opened his mouth to ask, but then decided maybe he didn't want to know, after all.
"Look," he said. "Are you going to show me how to put this concord thingy on or not?"
She swallowed a nervous giggle. "Condom," she corrected. "And yes. At least, I think I know how it's done."
She ripped the foil wrapper open. The thin latex film within glistened in the candlelight as she reached for the other half of the equation.
"Oi!" Ron cried, batting her hand away.
"If we're going to do this, I kind of have to touch you, you know," she reminded him.
He looked sheepish. "I know. You just -- startled me."
"Right. I'll give you fair warning this time, shall I? Ron, I am going to touch you penis now. Is that okay with you?"
"Er -- yes?"
He sucked in his breath between his teeth when she laid hands on him, but the delicacy of her touch sent an unexpected shiver through him. He watched interestedly as she rolled the strange device into place.
"There. That should do it."
"What now?" he asked, eyes leaving his own now-protected anatomy to wander up her body to her face once more.
"Well," she said uncertainly, "Now I guess we lie down."
Lying beside her, it seemed natural to put an arm around her. As he did so, he felt her shiver.
"Are you cold?" he asked. "Do you want to get under the covers?"
"No. Yes. I'm not cold, but we could --"
He pulled the blankets up over them, turning toward her as he did so. As their bare skins came together, he realised just how close and how naked they were. He could feel her soft skin pressed against him from chest to knee, and swallowed nervously.
"Do you want to touch me, Ron?" she asked tentatively.
"Yeah," he said, awkwardly putting a hand on her shoulder.
She very gently took the hand and moved it to her breast. "I meant more like this."
"Oh. Ah." Her flesh was soft and warm and pliant under his fingers.
"And I'd very much like for you to kiss me again. Like you did before."
"Sure." He bent his lips to hers, and for a long moment they stayed just like that, not moving.
She pulled away at last, smiling at him shyly. "Are you ready?"
Ron's heart was pounding. Hermione. Naked. In his bed. How many times had he imagined it?
"Um. Yeah, I think so."
She lay back against the pillow and parted her legs. He awkwardly rose to his hands and knees and moved over her. Suddenly he thought of something.
"Isn't this going to hurt? You, I mean?"
"Probably not," she replied, but her voice did not sound terribly certain. "The breaking of the hymen is largely a myth, from what I read. Only about forty-three percent of women bleed the first time they have sex."
He was mildly unnerved by her ability to quote statistics under the circumstances, but he gamely lowered himself until their bodies were pressed together once more. He squeezed his eyes shut as if he were expecting it to hurt him as well as her, but in fact --
"Hermione, I don't think this is working."
"Umm -- try a little bit to the left. No, my left, Ron. Down a bit. Here; let me do it."
Nerves lent an edge of exasperation to her voice. She plunged a hand between them and grasped his wayward anatomy by the root. He let out a most un-masculine squeak, and she loosened her grip slightly.
"Sorry. Just there, okay?"
He thought he could feel where she meant, and his own nerves were suddenly banished by excitement and arousal. They were really going to do it. He thrust his hips downward, and this time it was her turn to squeak. He did it again.
"Oh, wow, Hermione," he gasped as she squirmed slightly beneath and around him.
"It's bloody amazing!"
"Should -- have done this -- ages ago," he panted. "Don't know -- what I was -- thinking."
"What?" He paused, brain catching up to her tone of voice.
"Could you please just stop for a minute?" she asked breathlessly.
He found it difficult to focus on her words, and the bit of him that was doing all the thinking at present was telling him that stopping at this juncture in the proceedings was a terrible idea. He moved his hips experimentally, and she pushed him roughly away.
"Take it out, Ron! You're hurting me!"
He collapsed on his side, mind reeling, trying hard to make his brain work. "I thought you said it wasn't going to hurt."
"Well, I didn't know, did I?" she snapped, pushing back the sweaty bed sheets. "Oh, shit! I'm bleeding!"
"Is there supposed to be that much blood?" he asked nervously, reaching out a hand toward her thigh.
"I don't know, I don't know!" she cried, panicked. "Don't touch me!"
This unorthodox response distracted her from her distress, and she looked around to find a squirming bundle of bedclothes, neatly knotted, where Ron had been. Quickly, she untied the knot and freed him, red-faced and gasping, from his suffocating prison.
"I'm sorry," she said, voice trembling. "I panicked. I can't remember the last time I lost control of my magic."
"It's okay," he gasped. "I think maybe we've had enough excitement for one night, though. Maybe we should try to get some sleep. Busy day tomorrow, yeah?"
She nodded mutely and lay down again, staring at the ceiling. Side by side they lay, rigid as matchsticks in a box. The candle by the bed burned low and then went out altogether.
"Ron?" Hermione said softly from the darkness beside him. "Do you love me?"
He was silent for a moment. "Of course I do," he said at last. "Now get some sleep."
"Oh. Good," she said. "Good night, Ron."
He waited until he thought she was asleep to finish himself off as discreetly as he could manage. He was not sure if the magic of the condom would quit working if he took it off, so he left it on, just to be on the safe side. Sleep was a long time coming to him, and was intermittently interrupted by the frequent rhythmic pounding from the room below.
Well, he thought with a sigh, no matter what happens tomorrow, at least I can be pretty sure it won't be nearly as awkward as tonight was.
The next time he awoke, Hermione was gone.