The evening seemed like something out of a horror story. Ominous clouds rolled over the sunset, casting a gray shadow over the charred Albanian landscape in front of three young travelers. The rain whipped sideways, and cut the cheeks of a beaten and bruised trio of people standing among the ruins of what was once a grand mansion. Everything seemed cold and dead, and the ground was frozen despite the fire burning in the center of the lawn.

Ron Weasley made a futile attempt to wipe some of the ash off of his face, but only managed to mix it in with his blood to make a macabre paste across his skin. Ron winced at the movement of his arm, as he knew there was a very large wound across his chest from a rogue beam as the foreboding building collapsed. As the smoke and dust cleared, Ron searched for Harry and Hermione. Harry came rushing forward, shouting for Ron.

"I'm here, I'm fine. Where's Hermione?" Rona asked Harry, taking note of the horrid scratches on Harry's neck.

"I'm okay, I'm just a bit stuck at the moment," said Hermione from somewhere to Ron's left. Ron and Harry quickly pulled Hermione out form under a few pieces of loose rubble. Compared to Ron and Harry, Hermione looked relatively unscathed. However, the deep pale gray of her complexion and her blue lips told another story.

Harry had done it; he had found the location of Hufflepuff's cup. So in the dead of February, Ron found himself lugging rucksacks to Albania to find Voldemort's hideout. They had managed to get into the old structure, but had barely gotten out with their skin.

The lifting of the cup from a shelf unleashed a horde of death and darkness. Every light including their wands was replaced by an eerie, almost glowing black. As soon as Ron felt Harry and Hermione run into either side of him, that familiar cold sensation caught them, and two dementors came floating in.

Ron focused on Hermione's arm currently pressed against his. He pictured her in soft purple dress robes, smiling incessantly at Bill's wedding. He thought of what it would be like to kiss those happy lips, and a tiny Jack Russell Terrier emerged from his wand.

Ron saw his little dog nip at the heels of a dementor as Harry's gigantic stag was bounding it out of the room. A soft whimper drew Ron's attention away from his victory, though. The other dementor had Hermione cornered, and Ron could see the light being drained from her.

"Oi!" Ron heard Harry yell as he directed his stage over to Hermione. Ron waved his wand and the little dog followed.

Hermione got shakily to her feet and Ron moved to help her, but Harry had yelled at that moment. Inferi seemed to be digging their way from the walls inward, causing the foundation to begin to collapse. Ron grabbed Hermione and hurried out of the house as wood and shards of glass hit their already bruised bodies. Harry lit the structure on fire as he went, to keep the Inferi from following. The once grand house collapsed in smoke and flames just as they had exited into the rainy outdoors.

Now, here they stood, glancing at each other among the rubble, one step closer to the end. They were all pale, bloody, and filthy. They hadn't slept in a warm bed or had substantial food in weeks. They had just suffered the most frightening attack yet, and now they stood, gazing around at the destruction. Ron was about to move to start gathering their stuff together, when Hermione fell to her knees and began to sob.

Ron rushed to her and pulled her into his arms. The dementor had affected her worse than she let on. He sat there with her tiny shoulders wrapped in his arms, trying not to focus on how wonderfully she fit there, but on comforting her. Harry was running his hand down her hair.

"I'll get some chocolate," Harry croaked and rushed to his pack. Ron felt a loss as Hermione pulled away and began to eat the chocolate bar. She breathed in deeply, looked Ron in the eye for a split second, and then spoke as if nothing had happened.

"What next?" Hermione inquired in a very business-like manner.

"We go back to Hogwarts. I want to check for information on a possible item of Ravenclaw's. McGonagall has given me a way to get into the castle…" Harry looked wearily up and Ron and Hermione, "This is the last one." He nearly whispered, his voice catching in his throat. Ron felt his chest tighten, which aggravated his wound. This is only going to get worse before it gets better.

The walk from Hogsmeade to Hogwarts was steeped in an eerie silence. No one wanted to talk. There seemed to be a worry that all of the fear, uncertainty, and maddening determination would spew out the moment their mouths opened. Ron's jaw seemed locked in anger, fear, ad so much dread he though he would explode.

The castle loomed ominously as they trudged up the stone steps. The dark plaguing this cold, winter day had seemed to infect the castle as well. Harry opened the large wooden doors with a deafening creak and they slowly made their way in. As was his custom, Ron quickly scanned the grounds before restoring the locking spells on the door.

The castle felt dead. There was no bustling of students laughing and shouting in the corridors. There was no scent of food emanating from the Great Hall due to a grand feast. The faint glows of torches were not dancing on the walls like shadows. Even the warmth that usually welcomed students as a mother would into her arms seemed to be missing. Ron wrapped his cloak more tightly around him, as the three headed for Gryffindor Tower, accompanied only be the echoing sound of their shoes in the hall.

Gryffindor Common Room seemed to be immune to the darkness that the rest of Hogwarts had fallen victim to. The setting sun that was mostly obscured by clouds cast a warm glow off of the red wall hangings and the cushy chairs were calling for Ron to plop unceremoniously into them. Ron did just that as Harry dropped his bags and sighed. Harry was finally home. The look on his face showed contentment he hadn't expressed in a long while.

Ron settle himself in a chair and kicked his shoes off. Hermione, of course, began to unpack and enlarge her books and lay them across her favorite study table. She leaned over the side of the table and began to pour over a particularly large book

Ron couldn't help himself. He let his gaze wander over the delicate curve of her spine and rest where her tee shirt had ridden up to reveal a small slit of dark skin on her back. Ron's hands twitched with longing as he imagined how soft that spot must feel. He took the liberty of allowing his eyes to wander further downward. He marveled at how her long legs could hold her bum so perfectly in place, leaving it deliciously rounded in shape. Ron's cock twitched and he knew he had to find something else to do and soon.

"I think I'm going to call Dobby. He may be able to scrape up some food," Harry said, patting his stomach wearily. Both boys looked to Hermione, waiting for an admonishment, but she just sighed.

"Anything is better than bread and old fruit," she said in a tired voice. She bit out a whimper as her stomach growled and tilted her head back in frustration. Someplace much lower than Ron's stomach seemed to growl at that point. He needed to get out of that room before his body betrayed him.

"I think I'm going to take a shower before we eat. I probably smell like a goblin's ass," Ron said, gathering up his clothes.

"Ronald!" said Hermione, her voice sounded affronted but the little smirk on her face told Ron she thought he was funny. Ron puffed his chest out a little more as he moved toward the stairs.

"I'll go too!" shouted Hermione. For a split second, Ron's mind let him think that she was coming with him, but reason took over as he saw her busy head disappear up the girl's steps.

Ron could hardly wait to get under the warm water and scrub all of this gore and filth off of him. He didn't know any healing spells, but upon taking of his shirt, he knew he needed to get his injury cleaned out. There were splinters and clots of blood stretching across the length of his chest. Ron turned on the water and grabbed the door of the shower stall.

"Scourgify," he said, pointing his wand at the gash. Luckily the water was running loudly, because Ron could not suppress the shriek of pain. The cut was now clean, but bled freely. Ron hoped that would subside as he was showering.

He slowly moved under the water and tried to avoid direct pressure on his cut. All was forgotten though, as the soothing water began to cascade down his back. Ron took his time, leaning against the back of the shower, his forehead against the wall. It felt so good to be warm, and safe for that matter. Ron could feel the tension slowly leave his body. It felt like a layer of skin was being shed, and he could move freely in his new body. Ron had to laugh at how stupid it was to be enjoying a simple shower so much.

Ron wondered to himself if it felt that good for Hermione as well. This was not a good train of thought to get on, but Ron was just happy to be alone long enough to think those things. So he rested in the warm water and pictured the slow soothing droplets rolling down Hermione's soft skin. Ron felt that twitch in his cock again, but now that he was alone, he encouraged it.

Ron's hands twitched as he imagined what it would be like to run a warm, soapy cloth along her back, leaving a sweet trail of suds. Ron couldn't help it now, and he let his long fingers wrap themselves around his hardness.

Ron let his favorite images dance in his head as he imagined Hermione's hand taking place of his. He started in reality, picturing one of those cold nights when Hermione scooted herself closer to Ron, or when she grabbed his hand on a walk in the dark and he could feel her softer fingers tuck in between his. He pictured her at the wedding, when Hermione allowed Ron to clumsily take her hands and lead her on to the outdoor dance floor.

Ron sighed as he remembered that dance, his hand quickening it's pace to fill the gaps of longing he had. Hermione had worn a basic dress, but it was low in the back, and Ron had committed to memory the feeling of her exposed skin, her body pressed against his.

This always led to the sweetest part of Ron's fantasy. The part where he had to brace himself against the shower wall. He felt intensity and a fire within him that made his stomach clench and his hips jerk forward involuntarily.

Ron pictured what it would be like, the dress gone, and them pressing against one another, the warm water cascading down. He would press her against the wall, and she would wrap her legs around his waist. Ron knew he would kiss her. Kiss her like he's always wanted to but never got up the courage: Possessively, fiercely, but with a tenderness that could make all of this darkness melt away. A kiss that could destroy the world and leave just them.

Ron could almost feel her as he pictured his lips kissing that spot just below her ear that he had often focused on. Ron sucked in his breath as his mind's eye led his hands over what he assumed was the most amazing bum in the world. Ron let out an almost desperate cry as he came on the shower wall, whispering her name like a spell. He cleaned himself off and caught his breath. As he stepped out of the stall, the icy air hit him like tiny knives. He wrapped a towel around himself and sat down wearily on his old bed.

How could he tell her now? Would she even accept him? Ron didn't see how they could start something in a time like this. He didn't want to give them something to hope for when it could so easily be taken away. It was this thought that made Ron resign himself to stolen looks, a longing in the pit of his stomach, and fantasy. No one could take those things away.

Ron walked back into the common room to the most amazing smell. Laid out across the tables were three place settings and more food than Ron has seen in months. There were potatoes, pot roasts, fried chicken, mince pies, roast carrots and buttered rolls. Ron's mouth began to water as he saw an array of desserts stacked on a small table off to the side. Dobby had outdone himself.

Ron couldn't help but snicker under his breath at the sight of Dobby staring reverently at Harry. The house elf kept trying to tuck a napkin into Harry's shirt and dish out huge portions onto his plate. Harry finally got Dobby to back off by thanking him profusely and sending him off with another worn pair of socks. The house elf disapparated with tears brimming his orb-like eyes.

Ron heard a gasp at the other side of the room. Hermione was standing there gazing with wonder at the food laid out before her. Her hair was falling in wed tendrils down her back, which was dotted with droplets of water on a white cotton shirt. She looked happier and more relaxed then she had been in ages. Truth be told, they all did. Ron sat down and began piling spoonfuls from every dish onto his ever-expanding plate. He was eating so quickly, he was sure he would burst. Just like everything good in the world, he was sure he wouldn't last.

Hermione walked brusquely over to the dessert cart and grabbed a large dish filled with spotted dick. She sat in the free chair across from Ron, delicately unfolded her napkin, and placed it in her lap. She sat up as straight as she could and bit her lip, breathing in the treat deeply.

"Hey!" Ron shouted across the table.

"What, Ronald?" Hermione answered, annoyed to be taken away from her dessert studies.

"You're supposed to save the dessert for after dinner, you know, save the best for last!" Ron said jokingly.

"There are occasions, Ronald, where one has to bend the rules. This just happens to be one of them," said Hermione haughtily, sliding her fork into her dessert. "Besides," she said, her lip curving up slightly, "You know you want some."

Ron swallowed hard. Was she flirting? "Yeah I do," he whispered.

Hermione met his eyes, and he saw something flicker in that chocolate brown, but he was not so sure what it was. She took a bite and closed her eyes, chewing slowly and savoring every bit. A small speck of custard had rested on the side of her lip, and Ron licked his lips imagining the taste. He realized that Spotted Dick was now his favorite dessert.

Harry began to chortle a big at the sight of Ron so besotted. Ron looked down to see the custard-covered dessert in from of him. Only, suspended above it in glowing letters was:

"Keep your tongue in your mouth you horny git!"

Ron didn't hesitate to fling his potatoes right at Harry's smug face.

"What was that for?" yelled Hermione, looking indignant.

"Nothing…Her…Hermione," laughed Harry, vanishing the food from his face. "I deserved that one." Ron simply looked at his food. He felt his face would spontaneously burst into flames.

"Honestly," Hermione muttered, straightening herself back up, she spoke more clearly. "I think we should start looking into possible items Rowena Ravenclaw had that Tom Riddle would have found valuable."

"That's a good idea, Hermione. I also wanted to get with Dobby and try to find possible secret rooms Ravenclaw might have kept in the castle," Harry said, the smile was gone and the worn dark look in his eyes was returning. Ron was barely listening, still reeling from being caught in a stare.

"Ronald and I will get started in the library," Hermione said, gathering up some papers and her bag.

Panic hit Ron like a lightening bolt to the heart. The castle was dark and empty. There would be no other students in the library, no teacher to watch their every move, and no Mrs. Norris lurking in the halls. He would be completely alone with Hermioen for the first time since the summer before sixth year. He was convinced he would make an ass of himself and scare her off for good.

"I'm sure Harry needs more help. Besides, you know I'm shite at studying," Ron said, trying to find some quick excuse. Hermione looked slightly put off, but didn't respond.

"Actually, I really want to be alone for a while," Harry said, leaving the common room quickly. Hermione began to angrily throw her things back into her pack.

"I guess you're stuck with me tonight, Ronald. Unless you just wanted to stay here and do nothing," she snapped.

"No. No. I'll come with you!" Ron said, thinking about the terrible hole he had dug himself into. "I just…I…though I'd be in the way," Ron attempted to explain, as he lifted her heavy back off of her shoulders. She looked mollified, but she simply signaled for him to follow her.

They walked in comfortable silence all the way across the castle to the library. Hermione walked slowly in front of him, occasionally running her fingers along different tapestries or carvings, as if trying to remind herself of happier times. Ron touched each area of the wall she did, as if it could reinforce something inside of them both. Ron loved the way she walked: Straight back, hard steps full of purpose, and swishy hair that cancelled out the sternness of her delicate walk.

They reached the library and Hermione quickened her pace to enter. She closed her eyes and breathed in the smell of old books slowly. Ron resolved upon looking at her that someday, luck permitting, he could build her the biggest library he could…just so that he could duplicate that look on her face.

"Alright, we'll start in the general section. Look for any books having to do with Rowena Ravenclaw or The Founders. You can do the top shelves," she said, moving down the first massive aisle of books. Ron reached up to grab a book about the Founders and felt a tearing pain in his chest. He tried to hide the shriek behind a cough, but it didn't work.

"I knew it! I knew you were hurt. Why didn't you say anything?" asked Hermione, wide-eyed and red-faced with her hands on her hips.

"I didn't want to worry anyone. Harry's got so much on his mind. I didn't need anyone wasting their time on me. Besides, you know Harry would have just blamed himself," Ron said, shrugging his shoulders.

"Well that's no excuse. Now it could be infected," Hermione said as she grabbed his hand and led him to sit in a chair at the end of one of the study tables.

"I cleaned it out, Hermione. I did a 'scourgify' and it HURT!" Ron exclaimed.

"Oh, Ron! That must have hurt terribly!" Hermione whispered, putting a hand on his shoulder. Ron couldn't' help but get Goosebumps. "And besides, it wouldn't' have cleaned it out nearly as good as some of the potions I have."

"Really, Hermione, I'll be okay," said Ron, trying to smile through the pain, but only managing a weak grimace.

"Take off your shirt," Hermione said very quickly, through her cheeks were pink. Ron opened up his mouth to complain, but Hermioen was quicker and vanished his shirt. She let out a choked gasp.

Looking down at his chest, Ron was beginning to see what the big deal was. There was a thick purple bruise surrounding a large gash. The gash was oozing blood and many other fluids Ron wasn't ready to identify. He could see almost to his ribs his cut was so deep. He heard Hermione sniffle.

"Oh, 'Mione, Don't cry. It isn't so bad," Ron said softly, looking up at her shining eyes.

"I'm fine. I'm fine," she murmured as she rummaged feverishly through her bag. She pulled out a tiny box and enlarged it, and took three glass bottles out of the container. She then carefully mixed two of them.

"Hermione, what are you going to do to me?" Ron yelped, getting a scared look as she pulled out a pair of shears.

"You've got to trust me, Ronald. The first mixture is to clean you wound. I'm not going to lie; it's going to hurt very badly. It is not only cleaning out possible infection, but any residual curses or dark magic that may have been in the wood that struck you…" Hermione bit her lip, "You may want to grab on to something." Ron closed his eyes, clenched his jaw, and grabbed the edge of the table. Hermione whimpered slightly before pressing two fingers into his chest.

The pain was instantaneous. It felt like someone had lit his skin on fire, and the fire was now zooming around between his rib cage, burning everything in its path. Ron was yelling without inhibition now, tears freely falling from his cheeks. Hermione had finished applying the evil liquid and was now looking back at him, tears in her eyes as well. She soothed Ron with her voice, telling him it would be done soon. And sure enough, as quickly as it came, the pain was gone. And the fog in Ron's mind had cleared. He moved his hands, trying to restore color to his knuckles and looked up at Hermione.

"I'm so sorry!" she cried, voice cracking.

"Well it's fine now, I'm sure the stinging will go away soon," he answered, but his eyes were still a little teary. Hermione ran her hand down Ron's cheek, flicking away his tears. On reflex, Ron reached up and pressed the palm of her hand to his lips.

"Right then. Let me…ummm…just put on some of this pain potion," Hermione said, her face completely flushed. She lathered a cool blue substance onto a length of bandage. She walked back over to Ron and stood frozen, seeming to consider something. "Ronald, I'm going to have to get quite close," Hermioen said, taking a hesitant step forward.

Ron gulped back a lump in his throat, "By all means," he managed to murmur as she bent down to him, her breath on his neck. She placed the bandage carefully over where the wound started at his shoulder. Ron felt overwhelming relief as she carefully laid the cool bandage across his burning chest. She was leaning in so closely, that her hair was ticking his shoulder. Ron let out an embarrassing moan ad her soft fingers began to press the bandage into place. He lost all hope of returning to sanity when she leaned her chest against him to wrap the bandage around his back. He couldn't resist pushing his head into the soft of her neck and sighing with relief. He ran a tentative hand up her back, acting on impulse alone. Hermione jumped back.

Ron kept trying to talk, to explain himself, but he was at a loss for words as he stared into her wide eyes. Ron hung his head, deflated.

"Oh bloody Christ!" he heard Hermione sigh. The sound of her swearing jerked his head up just in time for her lips to meet his.

AN: This story is dedicated to all my R/Hr shippers at the Emma Watson forums, where Spotted Dick is the official dessert of the Good Ship. Stay tuned for Part II. Tell me how you like it!