"Ron had had a fit of gallantry and insisted that Hermione sleep on the cushions from the sofa, so that her silhouette was raised above his. Her arm curved to the floor, her fingers inches from Ron's. Harry wondered whether they had fallen asleep holding hands."

--p. 176, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


"Do you reckon they're really all okay?" Ron's voice asked in the darkness that settled like dust on the living room of number 12 Grimmauld Place. Hermione almost laughed.

"Of course they're 'really' okay, Ron!" she replied.

"What if--"

"If you're thinking that wasn't your dad's Patronus, no one else could have set it with their voice." she said, "And since there's no doubt that your dad sent it, what reason could he have for lying to us?"

"Well, I suppose he knows I'd go a bit mad if any of the family or the guests were hurt," Ron whispered and explained his quieter tone by jerking a thumb at Harry, already soundly asleep, "Even Auntie Muriel--"

"I've been insulted many times, but Muriel's the first to critisize my ankles."

In the dim halflight, Hermione saw Ron fight a grin, "I didn't know you were self-concious of your ankles."

"I'm not!"

Ron paused momentarily and then said, "You've got lovely ankles, Hermione."

For the first time since Bill and Fleur's wedding, Hermione laughed, "Erm, thanks, Ron."

It took a moment for him to reply, so happy was he to hear her laugh. The light moment passed when she asked solemnly, "Do you reckon there's any way we'll beat him?"

"We have to." said Ron solidly.

She rolled onto her stomach on the sofa cushions, easier to see him in the shadowy room, and she said quietly, "But what if we can't?"

Ron swallowed. He wanted to grab Hermione and Apparate anywhere that she might be safe. He wanted to hide her from those poor Imperiused blokes, roving Death-Eaters, Dementors, Inferi, blimey, if the Heliopaths, Wrackspurts and Snorkacks that Luna warned them about were real, he'd guard her from them as well. She would never stand for it, though. She couldn't bear to hide while people fought and died around the warm cage of his embrace, because however warm it was, she would view it as a cage. She'd stride onto the battlefield with her head held high and start aiming curses at anyone who she reckoned deserved it. Hermione could just as easily abandon the quest they were on as she could abandon a History of Magic essay.

And she could never ever abandon Harry.

"Hermione, we have a huge advantage! We know about You-Know-Who's Horcruxes and Dumbledore seemed to reckon they were the only way to beat him." Ron said fervently, "He was afraid of Dumbledore--"

"So he had Dumbledore killed without a second thought!" Hermione shuddered, "If Albus Dumbledore couldn't stop him, how can we?"

"We've got your brains and Harry's...well, we've got Harry. Harry reckons You-Know-Who has no idea that we even know he's got Horcruxes. By the time he realizes what we're up to, they could all be destroyed!" her brow creased; she knew it would be tougher than Ron seemed to think, "We need to believe we can or we'll never succeed!"

"I suppose you're right, but..." her voice was precious more than a whisper, "What if...what if we destroy most of his Horcruxes, but we...we...don't...survive..." her voice cracked on the last word.

"No one's going to hurt you, Hermione, no one." he said.

"Don't be stupid, Ron," she shook her head, "By October half the wizarding world will be after us, or at least after Harry. And when they reach him," she didn't let him interrupt, "Because some of them will, do you think they'll spare you and me?"

Ron sat up a bit, "Harry won't let them get us."

"He'll only have to choose if we let them get him." She sighed, "Ron...I'd die if it meant we'd win."

"So would I!"

"Well, we can't win without Harry and I'd put Harry's life before mine if it meant beating You-Know-Who." he reached for her hand and squeezed it. It seemed small in his fingers and she seemed small in the darkness.

"Hermione...we're going to beat You-Know-Who and you are not going to die before you can enjoy our victory." Ron wanted to hug her and steal all her pain away, "I won't let you die."

Ron could hear her smile, "That's quite an irrational promise, Ron." He wanted to light his wand just to see her smile. There was a silence and she asked, "You really think we'll win?"

"Harry is the 'Chosen One', isn't he?"

"What if that isn't enough?"

"Well, Harry's not only the 'Chosen One', he's Harry." and Harry would never let Voldemort win, she practically heard Ron thinking. For some inexplicable reason, this was exactly what she needed to hear to feel better...or was it his hand around hers that stole away all her fear and misgivings...? The faint moonlight that fell through the grubby drapes showed her his face. She didn't want to sleep so she spoke.

"Where do you suppose the Horcruxes are hidden?"

"Well, they're supposed to be in places where You-Know-Who went during his life before the First War...places that made a difference in his life or something. The Orphanage where he grew up, Hogwarts, Borgin and Burke's in Knockturn Alley...maybe that Albanian forest he's supposed to have hidden in before he possessed Quirrell. Harry reckons that that snake--Nagini is it?--is a Horcrux. But getting to it ought to be about as easy as dueling You-Know-Who." they both recalled that their best friend happened to have done just that three years ago. Neither mentioned it as Ron continued, "He also reckons that there's one at Hogwarts, but..."

"That ought to be as easy as killing Nagini." she nodded.

"I hope it's not as impossible as it seems." Ron said soberly.

"Ron, listen to yourself, you're right! We're going to beat You-Know-Who and none of us are going to die before we can enjoy our victory!" She laced her fingers through his and she heard his breath waver at her touch.

After a pause he said, "We ought to get some rest."

"Goodnight, Ron." she squeezed his hand, "Just...don't lose hope, okay?"

"Things won't always be so rotten, Hermione." He replied in agreement, "I swear they won't."

"They can't.", His hand convinced her.

The smile that flitted across the worried lines of her face showed him the truth in his own words. Maybe the best weapon against Voldemort wasn't magic, or even the 'Chosen One', but love as Dumbledore had always believed. And slept came to them, in a sea of loss and pessimism; two beings united by love and faith.