Title: "Sleeping With Hermione"
Written: June 3rd 2004 – November 30th, 2004
Disclaimer: This fic was written purely in my spare time ( ha! Spare time? I guess that's why it took me five months… ), for no profit. I own nothing in regards to the Harry Potter genre. I just keep churning out the ideas that pester me until they get written.
Rating: PG-13, for slightly adult themes, and a sprinkling of language.
England was at war.
There were no bombs. There were no raids. There were no fighter planes shrieking through the sky overhead. No troops stormed her shores at dawn and no gunfire shattered the night, but England was at war.
A casual observer would see nothing out of the ordinary. London still bustled with activity, teeming with people who were not cowering in fear, or standing to fight their oppressors. Red, double-decker buses still circled on their endless routes, filled to bursting with camera-toting tourists. Politicians still sat at long tables in high rooms to discuss affairs of state. People got up and went to work, fighting the snarls in traffic just like they always did. A casual observer would see only that life - as always - went on.
But only if that observer were a muggle.
Because of course the muggles had no idea there was a war going on. They couldn't see it. They couldn't smell it. It wasn't advertised in screaming headlines, or broadcast twenty-four hours a day on the television or radio. With only a few exceptions, the muggles saw what they always saw.
Which was to say, they saw nothing.
But there was, and always had been, another world beneath the surface. An older world, one in which good and evil took more substantial forms. Battles raged between them, fought by witches and wizards of all levels. Though only those with the highest clearance were in the business of directing the forces, everyone had chosen a side. All were called upon to fight.
Humans and magical creatures centuries old had answered the call, having long anticipated such a war, and they fought side by side with those the outside world would have called children.
But there were no children here, Ron thought.
He had difficulty, sometimes, remembering what it had been like to be a child…happy and carefree. The days when he had nothing more to worry about than filling up all of the space on the two-foot roll of parchment for his Potions homework felt too far removed from his current reality to be true. When actually, it had been mere months since the last time he'd withered under Professor Snape's hostile glare in class. Less than a year since the last time he'd deflected a quaffle from the Gryffindor hoops during a game of Quidditch.
Ron shook his head imperceptibly. His eyes were focused on the signal light across the street as he waited to cross, but his mind was lost in the past.
He knew an argument could be made that they'd never really had the opportunity to be just children…him, Harry and Hermione. It sometimes seemed that from the moment they met, they'd been drawn into one dangerous adventure after another. Harry especially. But even then, it hadn't been all the bloody time. There'd been breaks from it. There'd been days – weeks at a time, even – when they'd been just as bored as everyone else. Just as happy as everyone else. Just as excited to make the trip into Hogsmeade; just as nervous about their test scores. There had been moments of joy, and moments when Ron was sitting in the common room with his friends, content just to be with them and secure in the knowledge that they were all safe.
He brought one such moment to the surface of his mind, remembering the warmth radiating from the fireplace as he sat playing Wizard's Chess with Harry. As always, Hermione occupied one end of the sofa facing them, her legs tucked beneath her. One hand languorously stroked the spine of the orange cat curled up in her lap, while the other balanced the abnormally large book she read on the arm of the couch. In between moves Ron watched her, noting the play of flickering light and shadow across her face. He liked the way the glow from the fire glinted on the highlights in her hair and made her eyes sparkle. He watched her while he waited for Harry to try (and fail) to come up with a suitable defense against Ron's attack, taking in every detail of her.
Her brow was furrowed in concentration as she focused intently upon what she was reading, her eyes scanning back and forth line by line. Her hair was up, absently knotted in a bun that left her neck bare but for a few stray tendrils. Ron admired the graceful arc of it as she bent over the book. Though she'd discarded her robes, she still wore her Hogwarts uniform, shirt buttoned all the way up and her tie properly knotted. It made him crazy sometimes, the way she was always impeccably fastidious about that tie. She never loosened it. She never let it hang down the way other students did. It made him want to unknot it and pull it from around her neck. It made him want to tug open the stiff collar and feast his eyes on her soft skin. He wanted to kiss her there, at the hollow in her throat, and then nibble his way across her collarbone.
He wanted a lot of things, when it came to Hermione, but his obsession over that one, unexposed patch of skin was probably the most bizarre. Really, it was just one more example of the hold she had over him. A hold that she'd always appeared completely unaware of.
In Ron's mind, he saw Hermione lift her eyes to his…perhaps sensing his gaze upon her. Her lips curved into a soft smile for him before her attention returned to the book she held. Face burning with embarrassment at having been caught staring, Ron's eyes quickly darted back to the chessboard.
Ron was startled back into the present when the group of people around him started to move. He belatedly realized that the light had changed, and the signal across the street proclaimed that it was safe for them to cross. Ron kept one hand in his pocket, his fingers curling lightly around the long, slender reed of wood within.
It had been only months since he'd been simply a student at Hogwarts, but times had changed. He'd learned the hard way to never be without his wand.
He stepped up onto the curb, nimbly dodging a focused-looking young woman who bounced along with brisk, no-nonsense steps. A shadow of a smile tugged at his lips as he paused to watch her cross the street. She was tall, blonde, and beautiful, but that wasn't what had snagged his attention. The woman's purposeful stride reminded him again of Hermione, the way she'd been only months ago. Ages ago.
Smile fading, Ron turned to follow the sidewalk. He tried to banish the lingering image of Hermione curled up on the sofa, her gaze locking with his across the common room. He couldn't even be certain if it was a real memory, or just an idealized archetype based upon a hundred such evenings, but he supposed it didn't matter. It was proof, if nothing else, that there had been happy moments. Scores of them, and they helped to sustain him now that there were no breaks. Now that there were no moments of joy, or contentment, or security.
Now there was only the war. Now there was only the struggle to stay one step ahead of Voldemort's forces. Now they were all soldiers.
Though they'd never officially graduated, the trio – along with many of their classmates – had left childhood far behind them.
Ron arrived at his destination, feeling the weight of reality settling back onto his shoulders. It had been nice, for a moment there, daydreaming about the past, but there could be no real escape from the present.
He stood on the sidewalk before the storefront, taking a moment to look at it the way muggles did. The dingy interior was completely stripped. No merchandise remained in the shop. The floor was bare and grimy, coated in a thick layer of dust that revealed no footprints. Only cobwebs decorated the corners, which existed in deep shadows due to the lack of lighting inside. He knew that any muggle who bothered to peer in through the streaked glass would see only this, observing the unswept stoop, the "For Lease" sign in the window, and assume that the store had gone out of business long ago. But like so many things in the magical world, the vacant shop was not what it appeared to be.
Ron casually glanced to his left, then to his right. When he was sure no one watched him, he quickly pulled out his wand and tapped it once against the lock. "Alohamora," he whispered.
The spell that unlocked the door was a very simple one, but it was enough for their current purpose. The empty shop was nothing more than a bolthole…a safe, temporary hideout for witches and wizards on the run until they could make more permanent plans. There were dozens of them scattered across London, and more all throughout England and Scotland. None were strategically vital bases, and that was why the spell was so easy. The main objective was to keep muggles out, but not any witch or wizard in dire need of shelter from pursuers. Slipping the wand back into his pocket, Ron grasped the doorknob in his hand and turned.
The room he entered bore little resemblance to the one visible from the sidewalk. The basic structure was the same – four walls, a floor, a doorway leading to a back room and a spiral staircase twisting in a double helix up to the second level – but there the similarity ended.
While Ron would have classified the room as spare – after all, it was a place of temporary respite, not a four-star hotel – it was furnished well enough to allow a few people to comfortably spend a night or two. There was a round wooden table with chairs off to one side of the room, and a sofa and loveseat combination squared off across from the fireplace on the other. Upstairs, Ron knew, there were several beds, and it was there that he'd expected to find Hermione. So he stopped in surprise when he saw her seated on the sofa.
It startled him for a moment…her sitting there in the way he'd just been imagining. The sofa was even burgundy coloured, like the one back in the common room at Hogwarts, and the two images of her overlapped for a moment before he shook his head, dispelling the memory.
The illusion faded, leaving him with only one Hermione. A Hermione who wasn't absorbed in a book, or glancing up with a smile as she checked on him. In fact, she didn't even appear to register his entrance. She simply sat there, gazing into the fireplace.
Ron supposed that if there'd been a fire blazing, he wouldn't feel so unsettled by her unwavering stare, but there was nothing in the cold hearth for her to see but ashes.
Forcing a light tone, Ron said, "I didn't expect you to be up already. It's early, yet."
Hermione blinked. Her eyelashes fluttered a few times as she woke from whatever thoughts she'd been lost in, but she didn't look over at him. "I couldn't sleep," she said.
Ron knew the feeling. He'd awakened even before the pigeons in the square outside. Noting the blackness of night still pressed up against the window, he'd lain in bed a few minutes longer, staring at the ceiling and wondering what the hell they were going to do. When it finally penetrated that sleep was done with him, he'd risen to check on Hermione. She'd still been sleeping, then…curled up into a ball on her side. Her knees were drawn up to her chest as if she were trying to make herself as small as possible. Ron recognized it for the defensive posture it was. It was like she was guarding herself from attack, even in sleep.
He'd stood over her, watching her slumber. Her brows knitted together in response to some unpleasant dream, and she shifted. One slender arm reached out across the sheet, toward Ron, as if unconsciously seeking him. Ron had swallowed and turned away, before doing something stupid like taking her hand to reassure them both.
He'd told himself he wasn't running, when he set out to get the coordinates they needed, but the thought plagued him. What could he have been running from? If anything, it had been from his own overwhelming feelings. Not from Hermione…never Hermione. He hated to even leave her alone for the short amount of time it would take to meet his contact, but he hated to wake her even more. She needed whatever rest she could find. They all did, these days.
But now it appeared as if she hadn't gotten much more sleep than he had; there were dark circles under her eyes, and she just looked…weary. Still looking into the dregs of a dead fire, she asked, "Did you get them?"
Ron reached into the pocket that didn't contain his wand and pulled out a scrap piece of paper. "Yeah."
He smoothed it out and looked again at the coordinates the old man had scrawled there. Conversation had been minimal. Once the wizard was satisfied that Ron was who he said he was, he'd hastily written down the information he had to pass along. A few moments later the old man's moustache had risen and elongated, lengthening into thick, fleshy whiskers as he transformed himself into a catfish and plopped into the Thames. Ron had caught only a glimpse of his tail fin flicking through the water, and then the animagus was gone.
"Yeah," Ron repeated, when Hermione didn't respond. "We can leave anytime."
Hermione bit her lip. She continued gazing into the empty fireplace as if it were a crystal ball. "I'm afraid to," she confessed. "What if we leave, and he comes here looking for us?"
Ron hated having to puncture her bubble of hope, but he was reluctant to let her remain disillusioned about Harry's chances. He stepped toward her. "Hermione," he said gently, "you know what the plan was. If we got separated, we were supposed to meet here right away. We've already waited two days. If he were able to come…"
"He'd be here by now," Hermione said dully.
Hermione's hands were resting in her lap, and Ron watched as one squeezed into a tight fist. The knuckles went white, and he was sure her nails were digging into the palm of her hand. Her jaw clenched, and she looked down. "I know," she said quietly.
Ron felt his heart tearing for at least the twentieth time in the past two days. It broke for Harry who – though he was currently listed as 'Missing in Action' – was in all probability already dead. Ron had no idea how he was going to deal with this. Fortunately, the reality of it hadn't really hit him, yet, and he was glad. He needed to be strong right now, for Hermione, and he knew he wouldn't be able to do that if he gave in and mourned his friend.
It broke for Hermione, who was so shell-shocked from the past few days' events that she'd barely been able to speak. She moved as would a wraith, ghostly quiet and nearly as insubstantial. He caught the glint of a tear as it fell onto her hands, but she remained silent.
And his heart broke for himself. Unable to help either of his friends…not even knowing if one of them was alive or not…he'd never felt so useless in his life.
Needing to do something, wanting only to comfort her, Ron knelt before the sofa. He gently took her chin in his hand and raised her head so that their eyes met. "Look," he said, "if there's anywhere he'd go now, it would be back to Headquarters. That's where we need to be."
More tears spilled from her eyes as she remained trapped in his intent gaze. "I know," she whispered. "I just…I'm so afraid, Ron. If we lose him…"
"Hey," Ron interrupted firmly, "if anyone could have gotten away, it would be Harry. But we can't do anything for him here, Hermione. We've been here too long already, waiting for him."
Hermione nodded, taking a deep breath. She squeezed his hand, once, and then let go. "You're right," she said, standing.
Ron was relieved. Though he hated to see Hermione cry, tears were better than the solemn, non-responsive girl he'd spent the last two days with. Her finally admitting her fears to him was a big step up from the utter lack of communication between them since coming to the bolthole. The fact that she had some direction now was even better. It was still a far cry from her typical, focused sense of purpose, but it was progress.
He left Hermione to straighten up the room while he took a final trip upstairs to gather their meager belongings. They'd been traveling light; everything between them fit into one knapsack, which Ron slung over his shoulder. He stood in the center of the bedroom and looked around one last time. There was nothing left to show that they'd ever stayed there. It was just as barren as it was two days ago when they'd stumbled in, shaken to the core and desperate for word from Harry.
They still hadn't received any sort of communication from him, and the chances that he'd made it out alive decreased by the hour. Ron felt despair licking at his heart like a cold flame, but he tamped it down angrily. He wouldn't give in to it. He couldn't, not when Hermione needed him to be strong. This mission hadn't been easy for anyone, but it had done something to her in particular. It had hurt her more than the others, and Ron had the sense now that she'd been somehow damaged by her experience. And the fact that they couldn't locate Harry to find out if he was okay or not was definitely not helping.
Ron rolled his shoulders a little, as if attempting to more comfortably seat the burden of responsibility weighted there, and headed down the stairs.
Near nightfall, Ron and Hermione finally stumbled out of their last empty fireplace of the day. They were exhausted and off balance from the rocky ride through the Floo network. For security reasons there was no path that led directly to Headquarters anymore, and coordinates to all of the checkpoints a traveler got bounced to were changed frequently. This was why Ron had gotten up so early to meet the animagus, to receive an updated set of coordinates. They'd spent the entire day traveling from one checkpoint to the next, and both of them were weary beyond belief.
Wanting only to fall bonelessly into the nearest bed, Ron re-settled the strap of the knapsack over his shoulder for the tenth time that day and reached out to help steady Hermione. His hand grasped only air, however, because she was already striding forth from the ashes, like a Phoenix. Exhaustion forgotten, her eyes sought out the guard of the hearth. Her gaze lit upon him with the intensity of a beacon, and the young man wilted visibly under her direct focus. "Has there been any word from Harry Potter?" she demanded.
Ron was sure Hermione's voice sounded strong to the guard, but he himself could hear the anxiety in it. He detected a tremulous waver, indicating just how much she had vested in the answer. Truth be told, he did too, so he listened just as hard.
The guard swallowed, eyes darting back and forth between the new arrivals. He looked about their age, but after seven nearly complete years at Hogwarts, Ron was sure he didn't know the boy. He must have come from one of the other wizarding schools, which was unfortunate. At least the Hogwarts alumni treated Harry, Ron and Hermione like people, and not 'the golden trio'.
It was ironic, in a way. All those years Ron had spent on what he perceived to be the sidelines, mildly envious of Harry and his fame, and now he'd cheerfully shave his head, walk backwards, and wear an eye patch if it would gain him a little anonymity. Only now could he understand what it was like to always be watched. To have expectations heaped upon him just for being who he was.
It was like this everywhere. Unless they were dealing with someone they already knew, they could never get a straight, expeditious answer. There always had to be that pause while the person being questioned goggled at them, and after the day they'd had, Ron had no patience for it.
"She asked you a question," he said sharply.
The boy gulped. "I don't know, sir," he said. "I mean, I don't think so, but…I'm just supposed to keep watch over the fireplace and register comings and goings, you know? I'm not exactly in the loop."
Ron sighed. The 'sir' from someone his own age made him feel even older…even further away from childhood. But the guard was right. Of course he wouldn't have been informed if Harry had been in contact. Most missions were on a need-to-know basis. Clearly, the keeper of the hearth didn't really need to know about any potential communications from field operatives. Ron jerked a nod at the boy to show he understood, and placed a hand at the small of Hermione's back to lead her away. He felt her trembling a little, but noticed that she kept her expression impassive. She didn't hesitate when Ron gently applied pressure, propelling her out of the room.
The fireplace they'd arrived through was not the largest at Headquarters, but it was the most heavily trafficked due to it's position in the house. From the main parlor, Ron and Hermione entered the foyer. To their left was the front door; to the right were the grand, dual staircases. Each was nestled against a wall at opposite ends of the room and climbed up to the second floor like winding ivy. The graceful arcs followed the curve in the walls, meeting in the middle on a landing that led to the next level. The banisters were things of beauty…their flawless, uninterrupted length dipped outward, then in again at the bottom. From the first moment Ron had set foot in the old mansion, the gleaming polish of the mahogany rails had called to him, just begging to be ridden. From top to bottom, a slide down one of those banisters would be the ride of a lifetime. He'd scarcely even noticed the magnificent chandelier, the thick tapestries, the plush rugs. Everything in him had cried out to slide down one of those fantastic rails.
Unfortunately, rail-riding was a very distinctly childish past-time, and not at all an appropriate activity for field operatives to engage in during a time of war. Or so he'd been told by Hermione, when they first arrived here with Harry eight months ago and she'd interpreted the gleeful anticipation on his face. Once again, Ron was struck by the glaring difference between the outspoken girl he'd been friends with for the past seven years, and the silent waif at his side now.
As they crossed the grand foyer, a pretty teenager with long auburn hair broke away from the throng of wizards near the door and met them in the center of the room. Before she'd even opened her mouth to speak, Ron knew there'd been no word from Harry. The deep concern in her eyes told him everything.
He spoke first, hoping to circumvent the bad news so that Hermione wouldn't have to hear it. "Ginny," he greeted his sister. "Is Dumbledore in his office? We need to debrief."
Ginny hesitated, trying to decipher the message in Ron's eyes. Finally, she nodded. "He was meeting with the professors about the in-house schooling sessions, but they should be about finished by now."
Ron nodded a thanks for her discretion, and then glanced from her to Hermione, who was standing there silently beside him. Though her head was aimed in Ginny's general direction, her gaze was unfocused, and Ron realized that she was about to drop. "Why don't you let Ginny get you settled in, Hermione?" he asked gently. "I'll go debrief and meet up with you after."
Hermione's eyes focused, and she nodded. She made no sound as she took the knapsack from Ron and was led away. He watched until they left the foyer through a door directly in the middle of the stairs, and then turned to head up to the second level.
It had been eight months since the official start of the war between Voldemort and the Order of the Phoenix. Dumbledore had seen it coming and – knowing there wasn't enough room for all of their forces at 12 Grimmauld Place – had wisely sought out a new base of operations. He'd found the mansion, and now it functioned as their headquarters, their dormitories, their training center, their infirmary, and their school. For now, it was their world.
It was a vast, sprawling structure with whole wings Ron had never seen. There were so many rooms, he wondered if they didn't mate at night and make little baby rooms. It was, after all, a magical house, and he supposed anything was possible.
At the top of the stairs there was a landing. From it, there was a choice of three directions. One could go left or right, taking corridors to either side. Or forward, into the depths of the mansion. Ron never paused in his forward trajectory, and strode down a long hallway until he reached the door at the other end. He opened it.
Ginny had been right; Dumbledore's meeting had just broken up. Ron was able to surmise this from the sight of several wizards and witches of high rank milling about in the outer office. He didn't recognize any of them, so they must have been professors from other wizarding schools. All of them looked up when the door opened, and their conversations broke off suddenly when they realized who he was.
Ron stood in the doorway uncertainly, feeling the weight of their curiosity upon him. All of them knew his identity. They no doubt wanted to know what had happened, and Harry's whereabouts.
Ron's pulse spiked with anger. Somewhere along the way, Harry had been elected the unofficial savior of this war, and he hated the way all of the people in this room were looking at him. They watched him avidly, like dogs eyeing a treat, and Ron realized again that this was how Harry must feel all the time. Always watched, always staggering under the weight of this burden. Ron felt scrutinized by the people facing him, and he was just the sidekick. He couldn't begin to imagine what it was like for Harry to try and live up to the expectations of this lot, and he felt a shiver of loathing ripple through him.
Here they were, all accomplished wizards and witches who had been teaching or at least using magic for the better part of half a century, and they had the indecency to pin their hopes on a seventeen year old boy who had never asked for the responsibility.
Ron clenched his fists, his first reaction to anger always a physical one. But luckily – for him, or for the professors who were devouring him with their expressive, needy eyes, he wasn't sure – Dumbledore chose that moment to exit his inner office.
Either the Headmaster of Hogwarts didn't notice the ugly vibes in the room, or he chose not to notice. Based upon his experiences with Dumbledore over the past seven years, Ron was willing to bet it was the latter. Dumbledore missed nothing.
The aged Headmaster perked up when he saw Ron. "Ah, Mr. Weasley, you're back. I do hope the checkpoints weren't overly numerous today."
As always, Dumbledore's presence had an instant sobering effect on those around him. The professors – acting like a pack of wolves chased off from circling a sheep by an angry farmer – slunk out. Dumbledore's smile of welcome never changed as he approached Ron.
For his part, Ron realized that Dumbledore was the first person he'd encountered so far today who didn't make him feel a little bit like a rack of lamb for sale in a shop window. Ron calmed as the razor edge of anger inside him dulled, then melted away entirely. The Headmaster had that effect on people, too. He seemed to be the only person nowadays, other than Harry, Hermione, and his own family, who just understood.
At Dumbledore's beckoning gesture, Ron followed the professor into his inner office, which had been charmed to look just like his old office at Hogwarts. Ron remembered the first time he'd been invited into this room. Noting the confused expression on the redhead's face, Dumbledore had explained, "It's just easier to remember where everything is, this way."
Now, Dumbledore offered Ron a seat before taking his own behind the massive desk. Only then did he allow an expression other than benevolence to show on his face. It was concern that furrowed his brow as he looked at Ron. "I couldn't help but notice that Miss Granger did not accompany you for debriefing. Is she unwell?"
Ron cleared his throat. "That's one way to put it, I guess."
When Dumbledore only arched an eyebrow, silently indicating that he should go on, Ron did. "Well, you know the basics already, from the owl we sent you right…right after. We'd lost Harry somewhere in the fighting. After we got the rest of the kids out of there we came back and looked all over, but we couldn't find him. And it wasn't safe to stay. We both knew that, but I had to practically drag Hermione away. Losing him, on top of that kid, it…did something to her. I'm uh…actually pretty worried about her," Ron confessed, running a telltale hand through his hair.
Dumbledore noticed, but said nothing. Ron continued, "She's downstairs with Ginny, now, getting settled in. I didn't want her to have to, you know, go through all this again."
"Your concern for your friend is certainly laudable, Mr. Weasley," Dumbledore said. "As to the lodgings, however, I'm afraid we are 'all booked up' for the evening. You may find your accommodations lacking."
Ron laughed humorlessly. "Don't worry, Professor…no matter how bad it is, we've had worse, I'm sure."
Dumbledore's eyes seemed to dim a little, with regret. "Yes, I'm sure you have."
Ron shifted uncomfortably, waiting out the silence until Dumbledore either picked up the conversation again or relieved him. Finally, the Headmaster spoke, his tone as deceptively light as if they were talking about Quidditch tryouts. "And there was no sign of Harry when you went back?"
Ron shook his head, loss knifing through his chest. He ruthlessly shoved it away. He wouldn't think about it. He couldn't. Not yet. When he spoke, he aimed for the same conversational tone. "No. There were signs of the fighting, and there was lots of…um, blood on the ground, and in the house, but we had no way of knowing whose it was. Harry's, or the Death Eaters'."
Ron paused, remembering. "I'm the impetuous one. That's what Hermione always says. But before I even had a chance to lose it, she did. She…well, after that little boy, she was just… She couldn't handle it, you know? And somehow that made it easier on me. Like, I couldn't help Harry, but Hermione was there, and she needed me. I could take care of her."
Ron suddenly remembered who he was talking to, and looked up, abruptly. A faint blush spread across his cheeks, and he cleared his throat again. Across the desk, Dumbledore smiled faintly. Ron, however, didn't notice because he'd ducked his head again, embarrassed. "Anyway," he finished, "I got her out of there, and we waited at the bolthole for Harry to meet us. But he never showed up."
Back on safe – if grim – ground, Ron looked up at the Headmaster again. His face seemed to want to express hope, but couldn't. "Do you think there's any chance at all that he's okay, Professor?" Ron asked, sounding very young all of the sudden.
Dumbledore thought for a moment before replying. "Like you, Mr. Weasley, Harry's disappearance causes me grave concern. However, I feel that there is always cause for hope. I believe that if he were truly dead, we would know of it. I cannot think of any other reason why Voldemort would not have commenced with his attack by now, if he'd already won that battle."
Ron brightened…Dumbledore's words made sense. If Harry were dead, surely the bad guys would know, right?
Dumbledore saw this, and looked at Ron gravely. "I do not wish to give you false hope, Mr. Weasley. But nor do I wish for you to have no hope at all." He paused, noting how exhausted the young man across from him looked. "Consider yourself relieved," he said gently. "Go find your friend. Get the rest that you deserve, while you can. I will keep you informed if we learn anything about Mr. Potter."
Ron nodded his thanks and stood wearily. As he walked out of Dumbledore's office, he prioritized his next movements. First on his agenda: Find Hermione. Secondly: Climb into the biggest, comfiest bed he was able to find and sleep until he couldn't sleep any more. Everything else could wait.