Everything in this story belongs to J.K. Rowling. Absolutely nothing belongs to me. Sadly…..
The familiar feeling of having his insides sucked out settled over Ron as he spun on the spot and felt himself being instantly transported away from the Malfoys' house. He concentrated hard on his destination, praying to every deity he could recall that he make it there safely and completely intact. The answer to his prayers seemed to arrive moments later, and he found himself hitting the hard ground full-force.
Apparently he wasn't so good with the landing part yet.
He hit hard and let out an involuntary oomph as the full-weight of another person landed directly on top of him. He glanced at Hermione's lifeless body quickly, checking to make sure that he hadn't accidentally splinched her or anything as he pushed her aside so that he could stand up. He stumbled to his feet and wondered how he was supposed to keep standing when the entire world seemed to be spinning around him. He didn't have time to waste pondering such things, though, because the most important person in the world to him was lying unconscious at his feet. He didn't even feel embarrassed at the fact that his brain instantly connected her as the most important. He was way, way past the point of embarrassment and was realizing more than ever that nothing and no one mattered to him more.
A fact that could possibly explain why he'd never been more terrified in his entire life.
He looked around quickly, wondering where the hell he'd managed to Apparate them to because he definitely was not in Bill's kitchen. His nerves calmed just slightly when he spotted Shell Cottage some hundred feet away. He'd overshot himself, unsurprisingly, but he didn't care as long as he was somewhere in the vicinity.
Without thinking anymore, he reached down to get Hermione. He struggled under her weight and wondered how such a tiny girl could be so heavy. Her body was limp in his arms, hanging with no kind of support, and her head dropped over his arm and hung back at an awful angle. He could see the cut on her neck from Bellatrix's knife and noticed that tiny of drops of blood were still visible.
He wanted to vomit.
He managed to swing her head up slightly, wanting not only to balance her more carefully but also to make her as comfortable as possible. Even if she couldn't feel it. He didn't hesitate anymore before heading as quickly as he could toward the small house in the distance. He felt as though he walked for hours, even though he knew it was probably really less than a minute, but when he neared the edge of the yard, he felt inexplicably even more terrified.
Bill was running toward him, obviously having spotted him as he'd made the short journey. Behind him, he could see Luna and Dean standing by the house, both of them looking far more worried than he could ever remember seeing them.
"Ron, are you alright? Where's Harry?" Bill caught up to him, panting slightly as he stopped and stared at him in horror.
Always bloody fucking Harry!
"I don't know," he mumbled, feeling his heart drop as he looked down at Hermione again and saw that she was no more responsive now than she'd been back at the Malfoys'.
The backdoor to the house flew open, and Fleur came hurtling out, running past the two teenagers who stood in the background and right up to her husband. "Ron!" She, too, seemed out of breath. "Oh, god, 'ow are you?"
He didn't answer her, his eyes still focused on Hermione. He found himself silently willing her to wake up, to move, to open her eyes, or do something. Something other than lie there lifelessly in his arms, her head once again falling backwards to fully expose her blood-stained neck.
Bill and Fleur seemed to notice this, and Fleur gasped in shock. "Eez she… eez she dead?"
Ron felt anger explode inside of him. How dare she! How dare she even think that! Out of nowhere, he heard himself bellowing at her. "Shut up! Shut the fuck up!"
Fleur was quite obviously taken aback at his outburst, and Ron could tell by the tone in Bill's voice as he said his name so sternly, "Ron!" that he had crossed the line. But he didn't care. He only cared about one thing...
"I'll take her inside," Bill said, glaring slightly at Ron to let him know in no uncertain terms that he was going to get it later. He reached to take her, but Ron turned his back, pulling Hermione closer and once again shifting her so that her head came back to a more normal position.
"No, I've got her," he said quietly, not looking at his brother. "I can carry her."
He could see Bill shaking his head from the corner of his eye and heard him sigh heavily. "Fine. Take her to our bedroom. Fleur's already put Ollivander in the spare."
A loud popping sound drew both of their eyes to a spot several yards away. Harry appeared out of thin air, clutching Dobby's hand in one of his own and Griphook's in the other. Ron couldn't see him well enough to read the look on his face, but he could tell it was him.
"Take her now," Bill went on, turning back to Ron briefly. "I'll check on Harry and then come up."
Ron went without further instructions. It infuriated him slightly that Bill was clearly more concerned with Harry than he was with Hermione, but it also didn't really surprise him. Everyone was always more concerned with Harry. Didn't they know how important she was?
"Is Hermione okay?"
He looked up, his own thoughts pushed aside as he made his way up the front stairs of the house. Luna and Dean were following him. He was glad at least someone was concerned.
Luna looked a lot less calm than she had in the cellar at Malfoy Manor, and Ron found himself wondering how that was possible. Here where she was safe, he figured, she should feel relief. But she was looking at Hermione with what he thought might be tears in her huge round eyes. "Is she okay?" she asked again, reaching out a hand and placing it against Hermione's cheek.
If anyone else had touched her in that moment, Ron realized, he would have yelled at them to give her space and leave her alone. But somehow he couldn't do that to Luna. He had no idea why.
"She's fine." He hoped his voice didn't tell on him and reveal that he had never been less positive of anything in his entire life.
Luna just nodded, swallowing uncertainly as she moved her hand from Hermione's cheek and gently smoothed her hair just a bit before leaning in and placing a soft kiss on the cheek where her hand had just been.
Ron would never, ever understand that girl.
Luna said nothing else, just glanced at Dean and then quickly back at Ron before turning around and hurrying across the yard to where Bill and Fleur were headed.
"Ron…" Dean said, his voice wavering dangerously as though he had started speaking without knowing what he wanted to say. 'D'you want some help?" he finished lamely. "I can help carry her… if you want."
Ron shook his head. "She's fine," he repeated, trying to convince himself as much as anyone else.
Dean seemed to know that this was not true, but he didn't push it. "Alright, mate. Let me know if you need anything."
Ron nodded wordlessly and watched him head over to the small crowd of people that was gathering around Harry. He turned and walked into the house, noticing that it looked drastically different from the last time he'd been there, as everything was now sans Christmas ornaments and decorations. Now it looked less homey and more modern, a more-fitting style for Bill and Fleur. He found himself wondering why the hell he was thinking about home décor as he climbed the stairs to the second floor of the cottage and turned down the hallway that would lead him to the master bedroom.
The door was open, and the bed was freshly made. The covers were tucked in carefully, and the corners of the bed were sharp and perfect. Fleur, despite the fact that she was outwardly such a princess, was quite the housekeeper. He wondered how much of that she had picked up from his mum the summer before. That seemed like a very long time ago.
He carefully laid Hermione onto the bed and fought the urge to pick her back up. It didn't matter that he felt an inexplicable emptiness the second he let go of her. This wasn't about him. He sat down beside her and moved the pillows so that one was resting under her head. Her hair billowed out against it, as wild and out of control as ever. She wasn't moving, and he winced as his mind flashed back on its own accord to second year when he'd spent several nights in the Hogwarts infirmary staring at a petrified Hermione. She suddenly looked far too close to that little girl.
He was terrified.
He realized all too easily that he had no idea what to do to help her. She looked absolutely awful. Her skin was void of all natural color and was scattered instead with quickly showing bruises that looked horrible. He assumed they were the result of the falling chandelier and couldn't bear to think of how painful they must be. He was almost glad that she was unconscious because at least she wasn't suffering- or at least he hoped not.
His eyes scanned her unmoving body and fell on the small span of skin that was showing between the top of her jeans and the place to where her shirt had risen. It was marked with several long red slashes, and he tried to figure out what could have caused them, what other horrible curses Bellatrix had thrown to cause such physical damage. He gently lifted her shirt even higher and saw that the cuts were scattered all across her stomach, almost as if she'd been beaten with a whip. He knew, of course, that she hadn't, but he still wanted to throw up at the possibilities of what really could have caused the marks.
"How eez she?"
Fleur had returned to the house and was standing in the doorway of the bedroom. Her arms were crossed, and she was leaning against the doorframe. She looked almost scared to enter her own room, and Ron wondered vaguely what was going on outside.
"I don't know," he mumbled. "She's hurt."
He realized that he was still holding the hem of her shirt and that someone might construe the situation in a way very different from how he intended it to be. Truthfully, none of those thoughts had even remotely crossed his mind. All he wanted was to make sure that she was alright and to get rid of her pain as quickly as possible.
"Let me see." Fleur finally entered the room fully and crossed to the bed. Ron moved the material to give his sister-in-law a better look at the marks. "What exactly 'appened?" She was peering at the cuts with a look of worry.
Ron hung his head, wondering how he was supposed to explain what he had no idea about. It pained him to even say the word. "Cruciatus…"
Fleur gasped and withdrew her wand, touching it carefully to the cuts on Hermione's stomach. Ron watched for a few moments until he heard his name being called. He turned around to see Bill standing in the doorway with his arms crossed, much the same as his wife's had been moments earlier, though instead of timid, he just looked angry.
"Ron, I need to see you."
Looking first at Hermione and then back at Bill, he gave him a desperate look. "I need to stay with her," he pleaded.
"Fleur can take care of her. I need to talk to you now." His voice left no room for argument, and Ron regrettably moved away from Hermione and out to the hallway with his brother.
As soon as the bedroom door shut behind them, Bill grabbed Ron by the upper arm and literally slammed him against the wall. "What the hell is wrong with you?" he demanded sternly.
Ron realized he couldn't really remember how to breathe properly. Everything around him seemed to be going in slow motion. He had no words to answer his brother's question.
"You will apologize to Fleur, do you understand me? You will not come into my house and speak to my wife like that. Am I clear?"
Bill was still holding him against the wall, and Ron hung his head shamefully. He knew that Bill was referring to the way he had spoken to Fleur outside after she had asked if Hermione was, well.. dead. He hadn't meant to be so disrespectful, but he was terrified. Quietly, he mumbled, "I'm sorry."
"Don't tell me," Bill snapped. "Tell Fleur. Tell her you're sorry for being an ungrateful little brat after she let you stay here and fed you up and put a roof over your head and took care of you for weeks."
When they were younger, Bill had had almost the same liberties as their mother and father when it came to disciplining Ron and the other younger children, namely the twins and Ginny. Hearing the tone in his voice, Ron half expected to be sent to stand on his tiptoes in the corner, even though he knew logically that he was far too old for that now.
"I will," he mumbled, still not looking up to meet his brother's eye. After a second of silence, he posed his own quiet question. "Is Harry okay?"
He was met with another moment of silence, and dread filled him almost instantly. He could tell that something was wrong, and he forced himself to finally look up. Bill's look of anger had faded into one of concern.
"Harry is fine," he said finally. "The house-elf, though..."
"Dobby? He saved us."
"He didn't make it."
Ron heard the words, but it took them several seconds to register. "Are… are you sure? He was fine, he's..."
"He's dead, Ron."
Ron couldn't believe it. Dobby had been with them for years, always saving the day, always sneaking them the best of treats from the kitchens. He couldn't be dead.
Tears prickled his eyes.
"How is Hermione?" Bill was now speaking softly and soothingly, his grip on Ron's arm loosened considerably.
He could not speak.
"Is she alright? What happened to her? What happened to all of you?"
"She..." He couldn't form the words. Dobby was dead. Hermione was... The tears that were stinging the corners of his eyes suddenly spilled over without warning.
Before he knew it, he was sobbing.
He felt all of the emotion he'd been bottling up since he'd left the Malfoys' come pouring out. He wasn't even sure where it was all coming from. All he knew was that he was sobbing and that he could not stop.
He felt Bill's arms go round him and envelope him in an embrace. He was not embarrassed by the hug or by his own tears. He knew that he could not have cried like this in front of any of his other brothers, as they would have either looked at him as if he were mad (Charlie or Percy) or taken the mickey out of him relentlessly (Fred or George). Bill, though, simply allowed him to cry and held him tightly as his youngest brother's tears soaked through his shirt.
He might have been crying for hours, Ron had no idea. All he knew was that he could not stop. Bill finally grasped him by the shoulders and pulled away just enough to be able to look him in the face.
"What happened to Hermione?" he asked, firmly but gently at the same time.
Ron shook his head, afraid to repeat himself.
"Ron, I need to know so that we can help her."
Figuring that at least that much was true, he managed to answer him between still choking sobs. "Cru… cruciatus. And I... I don't know what else."
"Cru… Ron, what the hell were you three doing? Who did this to her?"
"Bellatrix Lestrange." Ron looked up ruefully, saying her name for the first time made him realize that if he were to ever see that bitch again that he would make damned sure she didn't live to speak about it.
"Why were you with Bellatrix Lestrange? Where were you?" Bill was looking at him very seriously.
"At the Malfoys."
"At the MALFOYS?! Ron, why the fuck were you at the Malfoys? You could have all been killed!"
Ron knew this was true. They'd come incredibly close, too. He wanted desperately to tell his brother everything, but he knew he couldn't. "I can't tell you," he whispered.
"You can't tell me? Do you realize that this is not a game?"
Ron looked at him like he was crazy. "Not a game? Bill, my best friend is being hunted by hundreds of people who want to see him dead! And the girl that I-" he cut himself off quickly, realizing he'd almost said way too much. And not even about the Horcruxes. "I just can't tell you." He once again set him with a pained look. "Dumbledore made us swear, I just can't…"
Bill sighed, having heard the "Dumbledore made us swear" line before. He obviously was not going to push the issue. He let go of his younger brother and shook his head. "I hope you know what you're doing…"
They didn't. Not one of them had a fucking clue what they were doing. Not him, not Harry, not even…
Ron said her name without realizing it. Bill looked at him strangely, and Ron felt the tears start to fall again. "Please," he begged genuinely. "Bill just… just fix her, please!"
Bill looked at him pityingly. He didn't speak, just nodded.
Ron started to cry even harder. "You just have to!" he said desperately. "Just make sure she's okay, and just… fix her!" He had never felt younger in his entire life, begging his big brother to make everything better.
He also didn't care.
The only thing in the world that he cared about at that moment was lying unconscious in the room behind him.
"Please," he barely whispered. "Just fix it, okay?"
Bill just nodded again and squeezed his upper-arm. "I'll go and check on her."
Together, they reentered the bedroom. Fleur had apparently removed Hermione's clothes and replaced them with one of her own dressing gowns. Several small bottles lay on the table beside the bed, and Ron assumed that she had been using them to treat Hermione's wounds.
"How is she?" Bill placed a hand on his wife's shoulder and looked down at the unmoving form on the bed.
"She will be better and 'ealthy," Fleur said slowly. "She needs 'er rest."
Bill nodded and glanced at Ron. In an undertone that he clearly did not want his brother to hear, he added another question. "Have you checked her mind?"
Ron's heart sank almost immediately as flashes of Neville's parents crept into his head. They had been tortured to insanity with Cruciatus. By the same fucking bitch who had hurt Hermione.
Fleur bit down on her lower lip and ran a hand over Hermione's hair. "Not yet. She 'as not awoken yet. But I do think she will be alright. I 'ave given her zee right medications."
She had to be alright. She just had to be.
"I should go and check on zee other man." Fleur stood up, Ron assumed, to check on Mr. Ollivander. She grasped Bill's hand quickly before she left.
"Fleur?" She turned around at the sound of her name. Ron glanced at the floor. "I'm sorry for before…"
"Eet is fine, Ron," she gave him a gentle smile.
"It was rude, and… I'm sorry. And… thanks," he added lamely. "For helping Hermione."
Fleur smiled again, almost sadly, and said nothing as she left the room.
"She will be okay, Ron," Bill said, seeming to read his mind. "You got her here in time."
Wanting nothing more than to be close to her, Ron sat on the edge of the bed. He didn't say anything as he, too, smoothed out her hair, tucking a single curl behind her ear. His hand moved to her face where he gently ran his fingertips over her warm cheek, stopping momentarily at her lips before gliding across them.
He didn't even notice Bill leaving and shutting the door silently behind him.
He sat wordlessly beside her for an indeterminable amount of time, simply staring at her, his fingertips randomly tracing lines across her face and down her neck. At some point, he took her hand, wanting her to know, wherever she currently was, that he was there and waiting for her.
He could not wrap his mind around the fact that this was really happening. That this was real. Hermione was the strongest person he'd ever met in his entire life, and it did not make any sense for her to be lying there in front of him, still and unmoving and god only knew what else.
It didn't make any sense.
He was jerked out of his thoughts for the countless time and looked up to see Dean standing nervously in the doorway.
"I knocked," he explained, glancing around the room, his eyes falling on Hermione. "I don't think you heard me…"
"How is she?" He nodded toward the bed, hesitated a moment, and then walked over. "I mean, is she going to be okay? Your brother said she was."
With one hand still grasping Hermione's, Ron raised the other to rest on her forehead. "She hasn't woken up yet."
"But she'll be okay, though," Dean was chewing on his lower lip. "I mean, when she wakes up. Won't she?"
"She's strong," he muttered, afraid to voice his fears.
Dean nodded, sitting down carefully on the other side of the bed. "She is. And smart."
"I copied the final Transfiguration assignment from her last term. You know, the fifteen inches? I got full marks. That was the first time I've ever gotten full marks on anything for McGonagall."
Ron stared at him. For some reason, this struck him as funny, and he shook his head. "How did you manage that?"
"Lavender stole it from her," Dean explained, cracking a grin and looking down. "She let me copy."
"Lavender stole her homework?" he asked incredulously.
Dean shrugged. "I don't think they were getting on too well at that point… She said Hermione was a thief, so she could be one, too."
"What the hell? Hermione didn't take anything from Lav-" He cut himself off as realization washed over him. He felt his cheeks heat up. Dean, for what it was worth, did not tease him, just smirked a little.
"Well, still. I got perfect marks on it."
Ron felt himself smile a little and shook his head. "You better hope she can't hear you right now."
Dean laughed. "She'll be fine, I'm sure. If for no other reason than to nag us about NEWTs when all of this is over."
Ron figured this was true. Hermione was far too stubborn to let something bad happen to her. Not when there were such important tests looming in the future.
"I do… not… nag."
Both boys gasped and looked down between them. Hermione's lips were moving difficultly, and words were being forced. Her eyes were not open, but she was clearly waking up.
Ron immediately placed a hand against her cheek and leaned over her. "Hermione?" he whispered, squeezing the hand he still grasped. "Hermione, can you open your eyes?"
She groaned and mumbled something that he couldn't make out.
"Come on," he coaxed gently. "Just open your eyes, okay?"
And she did. With seemingly much effort, she managed to force them open, blinking several times in the light of the room.
Ron could not, in his entire life, recall having any emotion even remotely close to what he felt wash over him at that moment. It was absolutely pure elation mixed with several other things he couldn't even begin to pinpoint. Nothing had ever been as beautiful as her eyes were in that moment.
"You saved me," she muttered, looking up at Ron as he beamed back down at her. "I knew you would…" Her eyes fluttered back shut, and she swallowed several times as she drew in steadying breaths. "I knew you would," she mumbled again. "I'm cold."
Ron immediately grabbed the blanket that was folded at the foot of the bed and pulled it over her, doing it all one-handed, as he refused to let go of her hand. "Is that better?"
"Crookshanks didn't kill Scabbers."
Ron looked at her, his mouth slightly open while he tried to make sense of her mumblings. He looked over at Dean who was somewhat mirroring his expression and shrugged in response to the unspoken question.
"Hermione…" Ron was starting to worry. She seemed to be talking out of her head.
She let out a very loud sigh and cleared her throat, getting her voice back, although her words were still slightly mumbled and extremely slurred. "I can't believe that bitch stole my homework…"
Dean snorted, clearly in shock of what was probably the first time he'd ever heard Hermione swear. And Ron, who had heard her swear a few times, simply stared at her in surprise.
"I didn't nick anything from her." Her eyes flew open again, and this time she looked directly at Dean. "I did not steal her boyfriend," she said firmly. 'That's what she said. Stupid cow."
Dean looked like he was going to crack up at any moment and burst into unbridled laughter. Ron just couldn't believe what he was hearing.
Her head turned slightly in the other direction, and her eyes locked with his. "Ron!" She smiled dreamily in a way that reminded him strongly of Luna Lovegood. "Oh, Ron…"
He had no idea what to make of any of it. She was clearly still very, very out of it. He was thankful beyond anything that she was awake and alright, but he couldn't make sense of anything she was saying.
She reached up toward him, and he took her wandering hand in his own open one, bringing them down to rest on her stomach beside their other hands.
"How do you feel?" he asked gently, running his thumb across her forefingers.
"Crookshanks didn't kill Scabbers, Ron," she said seriously. "But I'm sorry."
He felt his forehead wrinkle. "Scab- Hermione, do you know how old you are?" He half-thought that she had reverted several years into the past and had no clue about anything that was really happening.
"Yes," she answered calmly. "Eighteen. What are you on about?"
"Then Scabbers… What are you talking about?"
"What about Scabbers?" she asked, obviously confused. "Peter Pettigrew is at the Malfoys', Ron, I just saw him."
Ron stared at her wordlessly. He glanced up at Dean who was peering back at him, obviously having the same sort of thoughts. "I'll go get your brother," he said quickly, standing up and looking a bit nervous. "Uh… I'm glad you're alright, Hermione…"
"What is Dean doing here?" Hermione watched him leave the room and posed her question to the other boy in the room with her. "And where are we anyway?"
"At Bill and Fleur's. Hermione, do you remember anything about what happened?"
She stared up at him, her brown eyes blinking slowly before brimming lightly with tears. After seconds of silence, she finally whispered, "It hurt so badly..."
Ron felt all of the breath leave him. "Oh, god," he muttered, refusing to let his own tears form. "How is it now? Does it still hurt a lot?"
She shook her head, but tears were still welling in her eyes. "No, I don't feel it. I just… my head hurts."
His heart fell. He couldn't stand the thought of anything causing her pain, and he wanted to take her into his arms and hold her and make it all disappear. He wanted to rock her the same way his mother used to rock him when he was very small, hoping to give her some kind of comfort. He just wanted to take care of her.
He wasn't sure when his top priority in life had changed to protecting her. He'd always felt some sort of need to protect her, taking great offense to anyone who ever tried to hurt her or say bad things about her. But he realized all too suddenly that he now felt as if he'd been put on the earth solely to take care of her.
It killed him that he couldn't.
He squeezed her hands and lowered his face until their foreheads touched. Choking back a sob, he whispered, "I'm so sorry."
Bill burst into the room at that exact moment, Luna on his heels.
Ron sat up at once and moved back a bit as his brother leaned over Hermione and started peering into her eyes. "How is she?" he directed the question to Ron, though he continued to examine Hermione.
"She seems okay," he stuttered, releasing one of her hands as Bill took her wrist and obviously checked her pulse. "Maybe a bit off."
"A bit off?"
"I'm not off, Ron!" Hermione seemed offended.
"She's just been out of it some," he explained quickly, not brave enough to look her in the face at that moment. "Ask her something smart."
Both Bill and Hermione looked at him like he was mad. "Something sm- Ron, what are you on about?" Bill shook his head, clearly incomprehensively.
"Something smart!" he stated again. "Ask her something you'd know and she'd know… but, you know, normal people wouldn't know."
Bill rolled his eyes and didn't even grace him with a response. Instead, he posed a very simple question. "Hermione. Are you alright?"
"Yes, I'm fine," she answered calmly, shooting Ron a bit of a dark look, he assumed because he had called her abnormal in a roundabout way.
"I think so, too," Bill announced. "I'll send Fleur in in a bit when she's done checking on the others. Just to make sure. But I think everything is fine, you just need to rest, Hermione."
She nodded and gave him a weak smile of thanks as he disappeared from the room.
"Luna!" She seemed to have just noticed the other girl.
"Hello, Hermione," Luna said brightly. "Do you feel okay?"
"Yes, I'm fine."
"Yes," Luna nodded matter-of-factly. "Ronald said you would be."
Hermione smiled again but shook her head slightly. "But where did you come from?"
"Oh, well, Dad says firewhiskey played a bit part in it. But didn't your mother ever have that talk with you?"
Ron snorted despite the situation, and Hermione's cheeks flushed. "No, just now," she said pointedly. "Where did you go after the Death Eaters took you from the train?"
"Oh, I've been in the cellar there at the Malfoys'. With Mr. Ollivander, of course. They've been keeping us down there, I don't know why. I expect it has something to do with the Grubbly Snickerbanks Mrs. Malfoy has been illegally smuggling into Britain."
Ron had no words.
Hermione opened her mouth to say something, but she closed it a second later and simply smiled instead. "Yes, I expect you're probably right."
Luna seemed pleased with herself. "Is there anything you'd like me to get for you, Hermione? I see you've got new clothes, but I could probably find you something to eat if you'd like."
"No, no," Hermione shook her head quickly. "No, I'm fine. Thanks, Luna."
"Okay, then. I'll go and see if Harry needs anything. He's digging a grave for Dobby."
Ron really wished she hadn't heard it that way. He'd known, of course, that he would have to break the news to her somehow, but he'd hoped to do it more gently than that.
Luna looked scared, as though she sensed she had done something wrong. Ron shook his head at her to let her know that it was okay, not to worry about it. He would take care of it. She nodded and drew herself up. "I'm very glad you're okay, Hermione," she said genuinely.
Hermione just gave her a bewildered look but nodded nonetheless. "You, too, Luna. I'm glad you're okay."
Her words seemed to mean the world to Luna.
When she was gone, Hermione sat up and looked at Ron expectantly. He didn't even know where to begin.
"Dobby saved us," he explained slowly. "He could Apparate, you know, into the cellar… He took Luna and Dean and Mr. Ollivander. Then he came back and saved you. And us. But…"
"But he's dead?" she finished blankly.
Ron looked away from her, not wanting to see the look in her eyes. "Apparently."
She didn't say anything. He finally looked back at her and saw that her eyes were closed. As if sensing his gaze, she opened them again. "Harry's okay, isn't he?"
"Yeah," he nodded. "Harry's fine."
He saw that she was starting to cry, and he moved closer to her quickly. He wrapped both arms around her and hugged her from the side. He hated seeing her cry, he hated it maybe more than he hated anything else in the world.
Still, though, he let her shed her tears, knowing that it was probably what she needed most at the moment.
He laid his chin against her shoulder, and before long, she had turned to face him completely, burying her face into his neck and soaking the skin there with her tears. He held her tightly, wanting to make everything okay, to let her know that nothing was going to hurt her while he was there.
"I could hear you," she whispered, her words mixed with tears. "Back there… I could hear you."
He didn't know what she was talking about, and his momentary silence apparently led her to expand on her statement.
"When Bellatrix was…" she didn't seem to be able to form the words. Her fingers twisted in his hair as she buried her face even further into his neck. "During that, I could hear you. Screaming for me…"
"I was terrified," he breathed, not caring that he was very close to saying far too much once again. "Hermione, I thought… I didn't know…" The words weren't coming.
"You saved me." She pulled back slightly and looked him in the eye, her hands still wrapped in his hair.
He shook his head. "No. No, Dobby did. He saved all of us." He refused to take credit for something when he'd done absolutely nothing.
"You did," she repeatedly softly. "I heard you, and I knew then, I knew I had to fight her and not give up." Her eyes were still swimming, but her tears had died down significantly. "I could hear you screaming for me…"
"She was torturing you," he replied darkly. The sounds of her screams still echoed in his head, and he felt sick to his stomach.
"I knew, though," she said seriously, "I knew that if I let her win that everything… I'd never get the chance to… we'd never…" Her eyes fluttered downward. She stopped talking.
He stared at her. Bushy brown hair, bruised cheeks, chocolate eyes. She was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen in his life.
And then he started crying.
Not the quiet tears he'd shed in front of her at Dumbledore's funeral the year before, either. He was literally sobbing, just as he'd done with Bill earlier, grabbing onto her shoulders and dropping his head onto her chest. She held him tightly and comforted him, smoothing a shaky hand over his hair. He was horrified to be breaking down like this in front of her, but his emotions were clearly beyond his control.
"I'm sorry!" he sobbed, clutching her so tightly that he was afraid he might actually end up hurting her. "I tried… I couldn't…"
"Shhh…" she soothed him quietly.
"No, I should have been able to protect you and stop it. I shouldn't have let them!"
It sickened him to think that he had stood by and done absolutely nothing as she was attacked. He hated himself in that moment, hated himself for being so useless that he was powerless in the one moment that mattered most.
"I tried," he mumbled, still crying desperately. "I swear…"
"I know," she whispered, once again pulling back some to look at him. "And I heard you, and that's all that mattered." One of her hands framed his face, brushing away tears before it came to rest on his cheek.
Her touch instantly calmed him. And he realized far too quickly that their faces were only a couple of inches apart, and he could feel her breath on his face. Her own face was dirty, wet tears were streaked through the dirt, leaving tiny little paths. There were bruises on her cheeks, and everything looked a bit swollen. She was hurt, but she was here.
And Ron was damned if he was going to keep standing by and wasting time.
"You know, right?" he asked breathlessly.
"Know about… how I feel." The words sounded stupid, but he didn't care. "I don't have to say it, do I?" He would if he had to, but he knew they wouldn't be significant enough. Nothing would.
Luckily, though, she was the brightest witch of her age, something that worked in Ron's favor for the countless time. She just looked at him, and he knew- knew that he didn't have to say anything because they were so in tune with each other that words weren't even necessary. She knew exactly how he felt, and he was almost positive she felt the same way.
And that's why he decided to kiss her.
Just as his lips were millimeters away from hers, though, the door to the bedroom flew open once more, and Fleur entered, carrying several more bottles of various potions and balancing her wand behind her ear in much the same fashion that Luna was so prone to.
" 'ow are you feeling, 'ermione?" she asked breathlessly.
"Oh, I'm fine," Hermione answered, pulling away from Ron quickly. "Really, I'm fine."
"Well, I will check on zat." Fleur did not seem to be the type to take anyone's word for anything. "I will need to see zee scars again. You," she said promptly, focusing her eyes on Ron, "must leave. Zis is not for boys."
Ron glanced at Hermione and saw that she was blushing once again. He was glad to see any color in her cheeks, however, and he stood up to leave as instructed. Before he could go, though, Hermione grabbed his hand.
She said two very simple words that somehow meant so, so much more. He knew exactly what she was saying, knew the question she was answering, and knew exactly what she knew. Well, perhaps that was a bit of an exaggeration. He would never, even if he lived to be a hundred and seventy-five years old, know all that she did.
But he knew that.
And so did she.
And that was all that mattered in that moment.
With a lopsided half-smile, he nodded wordlessly and left her alone with his sister-in-law. He was going to find Harry, and they were going to bury Dobby. That was this moment's priority.
He had time to get around to the rest of it later.
I know it's a bit sappy, but…. please review! Feedback is greatly appreciated!