Disclaimer: Not mine.
A/N: This was written at approximately 4am last Thursday. I had a bout of insomnia and this is the result:) Thanks and love to Mizaya for beta'ing this for me.
The silence was beginning to close in on Ron. They'd been on the Hogwarts Express for only two hours and the only words that had been passed between them was when Ron apologized for accidentally stepping on Hermione's foot. And that had been when they'd first boarded the train.
Ron peeked stealthily at his watch and saw with no small amount of relief that is was nearly time to go on his prefect rounds with Hermione. Their final rounds...Ron wondered if Hermione had realized that yet.
Clearing his throat, he said, "Hey, Harry?"
Jumping slightly, Harry gave him a startled look, as if he'd forgotten about Ron and Hermione's presence in the compartment.
"Yeah?" he finally asked, shaking his head a bit.
"Er..." —Ron threw Hermione a glance— "we have to go on our prefect rounds now, but we should be back soon, mate."
"Our last prefect duties," Hermione suddenly interjected. Harry's face clouded over.
"Hermione, this is exactly why you and Ron need to return to school next year—"
"Oh Harry," she sighed. "Do shut up."
Ron and Harry gaped at her for a few moments before Harry spluttered, "Excuse me?"
"I wasn't waxing nostalgic about it being our last prefect rounds," she explained. "In fact, I was going to say that I am rather glad that I'll never have to do them again, to be honest."
Harry's eyebrows flew into his hair and Ron was also having trouble believing her.
"Anyway," she continued blithely, "Ron, I think it's time to do this. We'll be back soon, Harry."
Hermione stood, touched Harry's shoulder briefly, and then walked out of the compartment. Ron glanced anxiously at Harry once more before following her into the corridor.
"So how many cars do you figure we'll have to check?" Ron asked as he slid the door closed behind him.
Hermione looked up and down the empty corridor before saying, "Not too many, I don't think. Anthony said earlier that he'd take care of the first few cars with the other Ravenclaws, and Ernie said he could handle the middle cars." She paused and blew out a breath, which caused a stray curl to fly up. Ron's hands itched to touch it. "Since the Slytherins are still...reeling from what happened, they won't be much help, so I believe we can do this car plus the three behind it."
Ron nodded, momentarily mesmerized by the way Hermione's body swayed in motion to the rocking of the train. "Okay," he said uselessly. Hermione nodded and looked to the front of the car, appearing distracted and sad. Ron swallowed and before he could talk himself out of it, quickly grasped Hermione's hand with his own. She whipped her head back around and gave him a startled look.
"Ron?" she said softly.
He gave her hand a squeeze. "Let's get this over with so we can get back to Harry, yeah?"
Smiling slightly, she nodded and allowed Ron to lead her to the front of the car. He gripped her hand once more before he let go and said, "I'll take the left, if that's all right."
She nodded and began knocking on compartment doors. Ron did the same on his side, but soon discovered, to a growing sense of sadness, that nearly every door he opened revealed an empty compartment. A sense of loneliness suddenly washed over him, leaving him cold.
Hermione was having some better luck, for she seemed to be engaged in a discussion with some students several doors back. She waved him to continue going ahead, and Ron plowed on. The next two compartments were also empty, and he was beginning to think there was some kind of prank being played on him, when he opened the next door without knocking.
There were only two people inside, and although their backs were nearly turned to him, Ron knew immediately who they were.
Ginny was curled up in a ball against the window, her arms wrapped tightly around her shaking body. Holding her close was Luna, stroking Ginny's vivid hair and murmuring in her ear. Ron sucked in a breath when he realized that his sister was crying. Luna then suddenly turned her head and locked eyes with Ron. Swallowing and feeling faintly ill, he closed the door as softly as he could and backed away quickly.
Unfortunately, Hermione happened to be right behind him, and he ran into her with an oompf She looked up at him, startled and a little amused, until she caught sight of his pale, stricken face.
"Ron? What is it? What's the matter?" she asked worriedly.
Staring at her, Ron found that it was difficult to talk and his chest began to constrict on itself. "Hermione—" he croaked. "Why is my baby sister sitting in that compartment crying?"
She looked confused for a moment, but then her mouth formed an "O" and her eyes flickered briefly to the closed door. Licking her lips, she said, "I'm...I don't know, for sure...But I suspect it's because Harry broke up with her at Dumbledore's funeral."
"Be quiet!" she hissed. Grabbing his hand, she swiftly pulled him into the nearest empty compartment. Once inside, Hermione placed a Silencing Charm on the doorway, and then turned to Ron and said, "I wasn't sure, but since they weren't sitting together here on the train, and you say she's crying, well...I suppose that means they broke up. Ginny looked very lost after the funeral...and after Harry walked away from her."
Ron gave her an incredulous look. "But why?" he spluttered after several moments of staring at her with his mouth open and tongue lolling out. "I thought they were happy together!"
"Oh, they were, Ron," she replied, distress lacing her voice. "They were. I'd never seen Harry so happy, not in years. But he's leaving; he's leaving her and Hogwarts and your family, and he probably won't be back for a long time..." She trailed off, refusing to say out loud that it was possible he wouldn't be returning at all.
"I—" Ron screwed up his face. "I don't understand."
"Don't you see?" she said desperately. "He's doing it to protect her; he doesn't want her to get hurt. He loves her, Ron."
The room suddenly plunged into silence as Ron took in her words. He backed away from her slowly and turned around to face the window, watching the landscape flash by in a blur. Hermione watched him carefully, unsure as to what his reaction would be to this information.
Turning around suddenly, he licked his lips and opened his mouth, only to close it again. Hermione bit her lip and this seemed to snap him out of his stupor.
"Well that's just stupid," he declared, a hard look in his startling blue eyes that made Hermione shiver. "I'm not trying to stop you from going, am I? I'm not trying to protect you, am I?"
Hermione felt all the air leave her body and she started to shake. She couldn't keep Ron's intense gaze, and she had to look away.
"Everything is changing," he blurted, running a hard harshly through his hair. "And I feel like I'm on a crash course and I don't know what the hell I'm doing and I'm scared. I'm scared, Hermione. Bloody hell, our lives are never going to be the same and I've never been so frightened in my life, not even after following those ruddy spiders into the forest second year. But I'm okay with it, with this, the change, because I know that you're always gong to be there by my side. You're my constant."
Ron strode forward suddenly and grasped Hermione by her upper arms. "I don't know what I would do if I lost you. I can't lose you," he gasped. "Hermione, you and Harry mean the world to me, but for two entirely different reasons."
Hermione clenched her eyes shut and pulled Ron into her arms. They stood together for a long time, scared and shaking and completely clueless, just holding each other and taking comfort in the other's presence. They were out of their minds, hurtling towards a dangerous and unknown entity, where they might not live to see the next day, but they were there, together in each other's arms, holding tight, and at that moment, Hermione had never felt so safe.