"O may the moon and sunlight seem / One inextricable beam…
For it is certain that you have / Reckoned up every unforeknown, unseeing / Plunge, lured by a softening eye/ Or by a touch or a sigh/ Into the labyrinth of another's being…
Aye, sun and moon and star, all/ And further add to that / That, being dead, we rise/ Dream and so create / Translunar Paradise…"
--W.B. Yeats," The Tower"
She's a clever girl—she prides herself on her intelligence and foresight, and everyone knows this—and she never expected this would be easy. She always knew that it wouldn't really be over after the end. Their problems wouldn't disappear with the defeat of Voldemort; when Harry's spell struck true (for this is how she imagined it), no fallen loved ones would return, no bridges would be rebuilt, no scars would disappear. Some things would come to an end, but nothing would be put together again. That would be left to work and time.
She had expected the mourning, the rebuilding, the healing they would all have to do. She had anticipated that there would be years of work ahead of them and that it would be difficult to assimilate to normal life again. Nothing would be the same; nothing would be untouched.
But somehow, despite all her plans and foresight and expectations, she never thought it would touch him.
His grin, his temper, his laugh, his clear eyes, his awkward gait, his smell, his loyalty—these have been her constants for years. As the last six years passed and the world darkened and people changed and even the next sunrise was uncertain, she always knew that at least he would be the same. He would mature—she hoped—grow, learn, but he would only become more of who he had always been.
Watching him over the weeks with the locket was torture. She had not thought it possible to hate an inanimate object as much as she hated that locket. But after only a few days, she wished desperately for a basilisk tooth so that she could attack it, destroy it, obliterate it, break its power.
Whenever she wore it, she felt like a Muggle cartoon character with a little rain cloud that floated above her wherever she went, and she saw that Harry felt the same way. But seeing Ron's eyes grow darker and emptier, seeing the sullen set of his mouth and the grey pallor of his cheeks, hearing him snap at her for things that wouldn't have even prompted an eye roll in the time before—that was the heaviest burden to bear. The changes in him—her wonderful, bright boy—wore her down far more than the locket did. And when he left, her last moorings were cut and she was lost in a midnight sea.
When he returned, though his eyes were clearer again, shame lingered there, caught in the blue; he seemed taller and straighter, but his shoulders were so bowed; he was more sure of himself and broken all at the same time. She barely recognized him at first.
Things were easier and harder after that, but at least he was there. And the idea began to haunt the dustier corners of her mind that when it was all really, truly over, he would finally come back to her. She never examined this belief, never admitted it to herself, but she clung to it desperately, and it came to define the way she looked at him. Her only real thought of the future was, Someday, Ron will be Ron again.
When it was finally over—Harry had died but was alive and Voldemort was irrevocably defeated and she didn't really understand and wasn't sure she ever would—she turned to him and met his eyes.
The moment that should have been full of joy, euphoria, relief, gratitude, instead cut her legs out from beneath her.
He wasn't back. Not really.
There is enough of the old him still there—in the brush of his hand against her cheek, the joy he takes in flying, his desperation to protect her and Harry and his family (just because the Final Battle has been fought doesn't mean that the danger is over). But he is what the war has made him, and all her love cannot change that.
His eyes are still darker than she remembers—the color of the moment before a winter dawn breaks, no longer the pale of a summer afternoon. They don't light with laughter as often as they used to—when she remembers her school days, she thinks of the velvet of the Gryffindor Common Room couches under her hands, sunlight lancing through high windows and dust motes dancing, the smell of old books, the taste of pumpkin juice, and his laugh—and when they do, the joy almost breaks her heart.
He hovers and suffocates her sometimes—her voice snaps and she can do it herself, Ronald—but in the end she can never be angry with him. The agony in his voice in Malfoy Manor was far greater than the pain of the Cruciatus, and the sound of him screaming her name as he fights his nightmares is even worse.
He jokes sometimes, too loudly, playing more of the buffoon than he ever did, but there isn't a bit of that lanky carefree humor about it then—but she doesn't even roll her eyes, because he's missing Fred far too much.
He still touches her like he did when he carried her from the beach into Shell Cottage—like she's covered with bruises and open wounds and he might hurt her far worse than she already has been. She doesn't ever remember Ron being so gentle with anything, but then, she also doesn't remember him looking at anything with worship in his eyes, and that's the way he looks at her now. She still blushes under his gaze. Perhaps she always will.
He almost never sets down his wand. She remembers him in first and second years, careless of his wand, never quite sure what pocket it was in or if he'd left it on the bed that morning. Now he sleeps with it curled in his fist; when a task requires two hands, he puts it carefully in his pocket and snatches it up as soon as he has a free hand. Worst of all, he isn't even aware he's doing it; it's become so ingrained over the last few years. She gently pries open his fingers and sets it down at the nightstand before bed, and he stares at his open hand as though she just cut off one of his fingers. She puts her hand in his and he grasps it gratefully, whole again.
Sometimes when she shakes him out of his nightmares, she can tell he isn't dreaming about her torture. He's weeping with guilt and shame and he crushes her to him and the only thing he can gasp out is I'm sorry; I'm sorry over and over again and sometimes I swear I'll never leave again. She would never tell him that in her nightmares, he does.
He teases her like the old days sometimes, but he always ends it with a kiss to take away the sting and his eyes search her face worriedly. She knows that he feels guilty for having exactly what he always wanted when so many are lost to them. She also knows that he's slowly coming to terms with that guilt, thinking more reasonably—as reasonably as any Weasley can—and realizing that those they lost would have wanted him to build this simple, happy life they're both working so hard at.
He isn't jealous of Harry anymore, and that's a relief. Before she drifts off to sleep at night, he tightens his arms around her and whispers, I don't want glory. I just want a place to call my own, a job to do, a broom to fly, and you.
Their fights are perhaps more intense than ever. Before when they fought, the words that they said were masks for the ones they didn't have the courage to verbalize, but now the words are exactly what they seem, and though they sometimes cut and sting, there is no deception in them. Fear is what creeps in around the edges, but they recognize it for what it is. He can still make her cry like no one else can, but now she's free to let him hold her and whisper clumsy apologies when the anger dies away. Once she flings an especially cruel taunt in his face and he walks out the door, face stone. She hasn't been this frightened in such a long time, but she doesn't let herself cry. She climbs into bed with a book she can't read and prays to a God she still isn't sure she believes in that he'll come back. He does.
There's a scar across his cheek now, and it makes him look younger somehow. She always makes sure to kiss him right there. He still runs his fingers over the one across her chest, the one from the Ministry all those years ago, like he's asking for her forgiveness for not protecting her. The Cruciatus doesn't leave scars. She sometimes thinks it would all be easier if it did.
The house is small and cramped with her books and his brooms and the new cat, but its lines are straight and it's theirs. He walks through it and runs his fingers over tabletops and banisters and doorjambs, and it looks like healing. He whispers that he can feel her in the wood.
In the time before, he would be taunting her one minute, and the next his face would be split by a devastating grin. Now his shifts are slower, they melt into each other, and she'll blink, surprised, because when did that smile begin?
There's an apple tree in the garden and sometimes he convinces her, begging and pouting till they're both laughing, to climb up and sit on the lowest branch. Their bare feet dangle down in the afternoon sunlight and she can hear him breathe.
The first time she sees him hold Victoire, she realizes that even though the person he is now is different, he might also be better.
He hates being an Auror. He hates the Ministry, despite all the good he and Harry and Kingsley are doing there. He hates leaving her at home or work to worry. But he thinks it's his duty, because, after all, no one else has quite the experience he has. And he works harder at it than anyone, and he saves lives. But he doesn't start living till he comes home.
It's hard for him to visit the Burrow. He seems all too conscious of the empty chair, and he can barely look at George sometimes. The atmosphere there isn't at all like she remembers it; even when there was an empty seat that should have been Percy's, the Burrow was still always hope and warmth and love. Now, though, hope is harder to come by, it takes more work, and the love may or may not hold a note of desperation. It's just going to take time.
It's all just going to take time.
One summer twilight, they're visiting Hogwarts, an annual pilgrimage, for they all know they could never really leave this place behind. They're lying in the velvet grass by the lake, and his arm is wrapped tightly around her. Their breathing and heartbeats fall into the same rhythm and their thoughts do, too: familiar thoughts, memories revisited till they wear grooves in their consciousnesses that are as familiar as the feel of her hand in his.
The first star comes out, and it's red as blood and throbbing, and he whispers with each pulsation of scarlet light, I love you. I love you. I love you.
And she realizes she loves him all the more for the changes, for the hell that he went through that did not break him, for the mistakes that he made and the forgiveness he sought, for the redemption he found and the love that he gives. She still loves the laughing schoolboy with the hand-me-down robes and the mischievous grin; she will always love that boy. But she isn't the girl she once was; she is a woman now, tested and true, and it is the man lying beside her that she is in love with—his scars, his darker eyes, his nightmares, the rasp in his voice, the gentleness in his touch, his fears, his regrets, his hopes, his love.
She's never loved him more than at this moment.