Chapter 31: My One and Only
"Ron?" Hermione took a hesitant step past the curtain. Her heart gave a wild flutter in her chest when his lips turned up at the corner in his familiar, lopsided grin. "Ron!" She rushed the bed and threw her arms around his shoulders, pulling him tight to her body as she tucked her head into his neck. "Oh my, God." Her arms tightened as tears of relief fell from her eyes and onto the exposed skin of his shoulder. "It's you." She pulled away to look into his eyes, her fingers brushing his dirty, though still fiery red hair back on his head before tracing the gaunt angles of his face and the broad expanse of his shoulder. "It's really you." She fell back into his arms, hiding her face in his shoulder once again.
"Of course it's me." He forced a laugh past his lips trying to lighten the mood even while lifting his arm to rest across her back in a comforting hug. "Who else were you expecting?" His arm tightened across her shoulder as he savored the feeling of holding her in his arms. His heart soared in his chest. He could feel her there, lying against him just as well as the pain of his shattered hand, trapped uselessly between them, and yet besides physically feeling her warmth and his pain, he still expected this to be some illusion that the Death Eaters had concocted to further torture him, and if it was he was going to cling to it for dear life.
"Really!" Hermione sprung away from him at the affronted tone in Madam Pomfrey's voice as she entered the enclosed area. "I highly doubt this is appropriate behavior. Mr. Weasley, we still haven't dealt with your hand and…"
"Madam Pomfrey," Ron broke in, interupting the old matron. "My hand has been like this for two weeks, and I haven't seen Hermione in just as long. Don't you think it can wait a few minutes more while Hermione and I talk?"
Casting about with curiosity, Hermione lowered her eyes to his hand lying limply on his exposed chest. A hand flew up to stifle her gasp as her eyes widened with horror. Ever so gently she lifted his arm at the wrist, turning it over tenderly to see the odd contortions and unnatural flatness of his palm as well as the odd angles of his fingers and joints.
The old nurse's eyes floated between the two teenagers a minute in indecision, but she finally relented giving her head a curt nod. "Just a few minutes then. Your back still needs another application of salve."
Knowing that she wouldn't like what she was about to see Hermione refocused her attention on the odd discoloring and the puckering of his skin at his rib cage as well as the lacerations and lash marks across his abdomen. She lowered the hand that was clapped over her mouth to gently touch the afflicted skin. Ron winced in pain causing Hermione to snatch her hand away immediately. "My God, Ron, what have they done to you?" She sank onto the bed at his hip.
Ron tried to wave away her concern, humbly dismissing it by saying. "Strange isn't? Madam Pomfrey can mend cracked ribs, remove bones and grow them back. But she can't get rid of a few bruises."
Ignoring his attempt at humor, Hermione refocused on his disfigured right hand, taking it tenderly in her lap. She ran her fingers soothingly over the dry, brittle skin. "What happened to your hand?"
"That's not important." He tried to pull it away to hide out of sight but she held firm to his wrist.
"Ron!" She looked beseechingly into his bright blue eyes. "What happened to your hand?"
The redhead sighed in defeat and relinquished his struggle to extract his wrist from her grip. "Lucius Malfoy happened." Her sad brown eyes snapped up to his and caught. Try as he might he couldn't look away nor did he protest when she took his left hand in her own, offering what comfort and support she could. "I was trying to fight them off, Mione, but I… I couldn't. I was rubbish against the two of them." He looked away from her in shame, feeling horribly inadequate. "I dropped my wand," he explained, "and when I tired to grab for it Lucius stepped on my hand. Hard. I could hear every bone snap and grind as it broke. Madam Pomfrey says there's only one or two bones that aren't damaged."
Her brows furrowed in aggravation. "Why hasn't she tried to fix it?" Hermione gazed down at the disfigured hand and had to physically restrain herself from blanching. "This looks horribly painful."
"We were discussing what options I had when you stormed in." Ron smiled amusedly at her but the smile quickly died away when the concerned look remained on her anxious face. "Pomfrey says there are so many bones broken that it might be difficult to mend properly. She thinks the best course might be to remove all of them and start over."
"You mean re-grow them like she did for Harry?" Hermione asked, the feeling of dread and guilt tightening the knot in her stomach.
"Yeah," Ron agreed, chuckling slightly. "I suggested we bring back Lockhart to do it. He's a right expert, you know?" Head lowered, Ron lifted just his eyes, sparkling with humor, up to her. "Madam Pomfrey didn't think that was very funny."
"Ron," Hermione tried to scold but found it quiet impossible when her own lips were twitching fiercely at the corners. "That isn't funny." She looked away from his laughing blue orbs in a vain attempt to maintain control. The mirth died however when her eyes stopped on a wide slash across his chest.
"This looks very painful?" She leaned in close to the wound and began running her fingers gently over his skin, exploring the cuts and scars of his flesh. She found a particularly nasty one that started just bellow his left breast plate and curved down across his side and onto his back. She tried to follow the line of the scar but Ron squirmed further into the bed. "Ron, let me see." She instructed when he continued to resist her.
"Hermione, no. I…"
"Let me see." She ordered more firmly, affectively silencing his argument. Using more strength then he realized she had, Hermione turned him over onto his side and gasped with horror when she saw the many lines and gauges marring his back. Her hand flew to cover her mouth as she physically blanched, barley restraining her stomach from dispelling its contents.
There were so many wounds, several of which hadn't sealed properly, and many that hadn't sealed at all. Some of the lacerations had grown infected from not being treated and were now an unnatural, nauseating color. Tears flooded her eyes once again and her shoulders began to shake. Horrible images flooded her brain of the different ways the wounds may have been inflicted.
Ron began to curl into a tight ball. "I tried to tell you you didn't want to see that." Hermione could barely hear his muffled voice when he spoke. "Madam Pomfrey had to leave the room when she first saw it."
"Ron," she chocked. "I am so sorry." She reached out a hand and softly laid it against one of the many wounds, snatching it away as if it had burnt her. Her shoulders began to shake uncontrollably as a wave of guilt flooded her soul. "This is my fault."
Ron felt a tightening in his stomach at the sound of her tears. "Hermione, no." he turned over onto his back so he could see her once again. "Don't cry, please. I…"
"Why did you do that?" She shouted suddenly, taking him by surprise with her abrupt outburst of anger.
"Why did you do that?" She screamed, flinging herself away from the bed. "What were you…Why?" She thrust her fingers into her hair as she turned about to face him. "They wanted me, Ron. Me!" She placed a hand over her heart. "They didn't want you. You didn't have to suffer like that. I mean…I don't understand why you would … Why would you …sacrifice yourself like that for me? I don't understand."
"Mione, please." He held a beseeching hand out to her but she stepped further away from it.
"No." she shook her head frantically. "No. Just…just stay away from me." She chocked on a sob. "All I do is hurt people. Especially you. Your family must hate me. First Fred and George, now you"
"Mione, stop it." Ron ordered but she ignored him, continuing her self deprecating tirade.
"It's true. Year after year all we do is fight and…and…I know the only reason why you put up with me is because of Harry." She half heartedly whipped at the tears streaming down her cold, pale cheeks. "I understand why you don't like me. I really do. I would hate me to."
"Mione, stop it."
"No." She sank onto the chair that was reserved for visitors and drew her knees up to her chest. "I understand, Ron. I really do. I don't deserve your friendship. I…"she covered her eyes with her hands, her shoulders shook violently with her tears as all the anxiety, fear and guilt she had been coping with came to a head. "You should have just let the troll have me." She murmured under her breath, truly believing it with all her soul.
Ron's heart clenched inside his chest at the sight of her curled into a tight ball, sobbing uncontrollably. Something Harry had said before he left for Hermione's house two weeks ago flashed through his brain. 'Please don't make her cry again. I hate watching her cry. She's so strong and level headed most of the time that when she does…it's really rather scary.' Harry was right. Watching Hermione like this was terrifying. She was supposed to be the strong one. And making him feel worse was the fact that he didn't know what to do to help her. He had never been very good with tears, most of all hers.
Ron swung his legs over the side of the bed, which took some effort as he only had the use of one hand. When he was settled at the edge and was certain he wouldn't loose his balance and tip over, he reached toward her with his left hand.
Hermione flinched when she felt the sudden wait on her head. She looked up just as Ron's long fingers began to run through the soft strands. "Ron," her voice cracked with uncertainty. "What are you doing?"
Ron waited a minute to speak as he continued to run his fingers through the dark mahogany tresses. "Do you have any idea how long I've waited to do this?" He continued to methodically run his fingers through the silky strands in thoughtful silence. "I've wondered what it would feel like to run my fingers through your hair, hell, maybe since that first time I saw you on the Hogwarts Express."
"I know," he wrapped a curl around his finger and twirled it softly round and around his joint, "When the Death Eaters took me from my cell or the Dementors left long enough for me to have a coherent thought, one of the things that I thought about was the fact that I was never going to know what it felt like to run my fingers through your hair." He let the curl slip free of his finger as his hand fell back to his lap. "It was horrible, Mione." His eyes focused on something over her left shoulder, giving her the impression that he was looking at something that was far away. "They had two Dementors guarding me at all times." He laughed a depreciating laugh. "You know, I never really valued my brain or really gave it much thought before. I guess you could say I took it for granted. There is nothing in the world so terrifying then realizing you are loosing your mind." He blinked twice and his eyes slid back into focus to meet hers. "Insanity is a terrifying thing, Hermione. You don't know who you are, where you've been or where you're going. And in my heart, I knew you and Harry were fine, but the brain plays terrible tricks on your mind and all I ever saw were the most horrible moments in my life. Harry disappearing from the maze, learning my dad was dying, realizing we were surrounded by Death Eaters in the department of Mysteries, you not waking up…" When his eyes met hers they were masked in anguish. "That moment after I called you a Mudblood and I realized I had lost you forever." His blue eyes glistened brightly in the intense morning sunlight spilling through the window.
"There was never a break, Mione. The Dementors would leave when the Death Eaters came, either to take me away for…questioning, or when they brought me food. But I was so lost that I didn't even realize they had gone until I heard the key in the lock. And by then it was too late to use it."
"Use what?" Hermione asked when Ron once again fell silent.
The redhead blinked at the sound of her voice. "What?"
"You said, 'And by then it was too late to use it.' Use what?"
Without a word he leaned to the side, stretching out his hand to grasp a piece of dirtied yellow paper resting on his bedside table, propped against his drinking glass. Straightening to a sitting position he gave the parchment a flick and it unfolded easily before her eyes.
Hermione reached out and grasped the parchment and drew it close for inspection. Her eyes widened when she recognized her own familiar handwriting. "My letter." Her eyes snapped up to his. "I forgot about my letter." She turned it over in her hand taking in the dirt marks, as well as the water and blood stains. "If you had my letter, why didn't you use it?"
"Because, Mione. I couldn't." He took the parchment back from her and folded it once again. "This letter has been both my blessing and my curse. I had no light, my cell was pitch dark. When the Death Eaters did leave a torch outside my door not enough light came through the bottom to see by and in order to activate this portkey you have to be able to read the words. And your hand writing is so minuscule that in the little light I had I couldn't read it."
Hermione shook her head in disbelief "Then how did you get it to work?"
Ron swung his legs back up on his bed and pulled the covers over him before he spoke again. "Malfoy came to see me yesterday." He made sure to avoid Hermione's eyes. "He wanted to know why it had taken so long for someone to come after me and why you had left without Harry." Ron finally looked over at her, his eyes narrowed in something close to disbelief. "You left the castle alone?"
Hermione straightened her shoulders defiantly as she met Ron's slightly angered gaze head on. "Yes I did. Harry promised Dumbledore and, more importantly, your parents that he wouldn't go looking for you. But I never made that promise. And seeing as it was my fault that you were taken and I…I almost killed you... Don't you see, Ron? I had to try and save you. It was my fault." She stared at him a moment longer, her entire body trembling. Her tongue darted out to wet her suddenly dry lips. "You know, I should probably go." She shook her head sadly. "You shouldn't have to suffer my presences a moment longer."
Hermione made to stand but Ron's steady, almost cold voice made her pause. "You're right." She fell back in her seat in surprise. "You are absolutely right." He looked up into her tear filled, brown eyes. "I should hate and loath you, shouldn't I?" Hermione nodded despite herself. "I mean, you said it. All we ever do is fight and make each other miserable. I'm sure it would be a lot easier for Harry, what if we never talked to each other again. That would simplify matters greatly, wouldn't it? You know what? You're right. You said it yourself, all you ever do is cause me pain. So go, if that's what you think is right. Merlin knows I've been trying to find a way to hate you all term."
"All right." Hermione gasped through a sob as she rose unsteadily to her feet, heart ceasing painfully in her chest. She was seconds away from completely breaking down and she didn't want Ron to see her when she did. "If that's what you think is best."
"No, Hermione, I don't think that's what's best." He cried out with exasperation, reaching with his left hand to take hold of hers, gripping it tight between his long fingers. "You don't get it, do you?" His fingers tightened reflexively around hers. "I would do anything for you, Hermione. Why haven't you realized that yet?" His grip tightened almost painfully with alarm when she continued to look away. "Hermione." He waited until their eyes met. "I would do anything for you." He repeated. "I would rather die then see you hurt."
"What?" She stepped back in shock, pulling her hand free of his in the process.
His head shook from side to side, causing his still dirty hair to fall into his eyes. "I tried, Hermione. I tried so hard not to love you. You gave me so many reasons not to. But I couldn't help it." He reached up and cupped her face gently with his hand. "I've been in love with you for as long as I can remember and you damn well know that." He tucked a stray tendril of hair behind her right ear. "I lied to you, Mione." He let his thumb come down to trace the curve of her chin. "I told you I didn't believe in the one and only anymore..."
"Please don't interrupt me." His hand fell away from her face and landed at his side. "I told you I didn't believe anymore because it hurt too much to believe. Even when Rane read it in my palm I refused. I… I lied to you, Hermione. I lied when I said I didn't believe in my one and only anymore. I do. And I know who she is."
"Really?" Hermione took the hand Ron held out to her.
"Yes." He lifted it to his lips and grazed her knuckles softly with them. "I do. Hermione…"
"Shhh." She stopped him suddenly be pressing fingers to his lips. She leaned in and touched her forehead to his. "You don't have to say anymore." Her eyes fell closed as she savored the feeling of him so near, his face so close to hers, their hands now clutched tight between their bodies.
"I love you, Hermione." Her eyes opened to find his gazing directly into hers. He laughed with joy when he saw the elation in her eyes. "I was so scared I was never going to get to tell you that."
"You did tell me that."
"Yes," he agreed almost sadly, "but I wanted to tell you and know you believed me."
She pulled away slightly and ran her fingers through his red hair which was dark with dirt and grease. "I always believed you, Ron, even if I didn't know that I did." She lifted his decrepit hand to her lips and began feathering it with kisses. "Ron."
She looked up into his bright blue eyes. "I love you, too."
Ron's lips separated and melted into the boyishly carefree, lopsided grin that always had the power to melt her heart with a single glance. Very slowly his hand came up to cradle the back of her head and draw her close. Hermione's eyes drifted closed just as their lips met and a crackle of electricity shot through them. The jolt found its way to her heart, stilling it as joy and love burst to life inside of her, washing away everything except for Ron and the way he gently held her in his arms as their lips parted and their tongues met in a more passionate surrender.
Conscientious of his broken hand, Hermione restrained herself from losing control and surrendering to his touch. Instead she pulled back, breaking the kiss however reluctantly. Ron groaned in protest at the loss of the contact but ceased when Hermione leaned her forehead against his once again.
"Madam Pomfrey," she explained, "said she was only going to give us a few minutes." Hermione explained when he continued to protest. "I didn't want to give her another reason to bar me from the hospital wing."
The two teenagers sat there a minute like that, heads pressed together, before Ron spoke again.
"Yes, Ron?" she sat up so that she could give him her full attention.
"Will you promise me something?"
Hermione traced his cheek with her fingers thoroughly pleased that she was finally allowed to touch him as much as she wished. "Anything."
"Will you promise me that you'll never really leave me again? I mean, I understand you have to go back to Durmstrange to finish the term but I mean…"
Hermione effectively stilled his lips with her own, a fleeting thought in the back of her mind scolding her for not trying this earlier instead of wasting so much time with pointless bickering. When she pulled away, this time more reluctant then the last, her eyes were filled with sincerity and love. She bit her lip a moment as she searched for a suitable answer. "I promise you, Ron… they'll have to kill me first."
"Thank, Merlin." Ron reached up to cup her face, drawing it down close to his.
"Ron," Hermione stopped him a hair's breath away from her mouth. "Will you promise me something?"
"Anything." He brushed the tip of his long nose against hers.
"Can you promise me to forget about this year, and to never talk about it again? Only, we both made so many mistakes and…"
"Done." Ron agreed, not needing to hear the rest of her argument. He captured her lips in a hungry kiss once again. Instead of protesting and pulling away like Ron feared she would, Hermione eagerly parted her lips and surrender her mouth to his kiss and the invasion of his tongue, sending hers forward to greet his with desire.
"Mmm." Ron groaned when Hermione shifted, breaking the contact of their lips for a moment.
"What?" she gasped, when his lips left hers to feather a train of kisses along her chin and down her neck.
"Mine." He growled, pulling his lips away from her flesh long enough to mutter the word.
"Yes." Hermione smiled joyfully as she thread her fingers through his hair. "Yours."
He left the flesh of her neck to press a gentle kiss to the bridge of her nose before returning to her lips. "My one and only."
Laughing with delight, Hermione lunged at him, forcing him back into the pillows and snogged him with all the love that was in her, oblivious to the shuffling feet outside the curtain.
Holding a finger to his lips, Harry directed Ginny away from the curtained area and back toward the door of the hospital wing. When they slipped through and quietly closed it behind them they both burst into a fit of laughter.
"Did you see the way they were going at it?" Ginny cried, falling against the wall.
Harry shook his head with laughter. "I'd have to be blind and deaf not to."
Ginny stared dumbly at the door as her brain wrapped around what she had just seen. Harry stared at her intently. He could see the transformation come over her, right before his eyes. The look of lost little girl was quickly being replaced with that of the sassy little minx he had grown to love. Eyes lighting up with glee and mischievousness, she glanced over at him. "Do you think we should tell them we know?"
Harry's eyes never left the redhead. The green orbs twinkled with merriment as he stepped closer to her. "No. Let's not ruin it for them. Besides," the same wicked gleam that had come over her eyes was creeping into his. "It'll be more fun to wait until they tell us."
Ginny smiled at him as a sign of agreement before she turned back to the closed door. "Do you think it's safe to go in?"
Before Harry could answer the sound of a vase or a glass falling off a table and shattering on the floor met their ears. "No," his voice was choked with laughter as he shook his head. "Let's give them a few minutes alone." He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her away from the door and down the hall.