A/N: I wrote this at the request of a reviewer to my story A Kiss Before Dying. It's my first Ron/Hermione fic. Please review!
More like a cupful
The sound of waves crashing onto rocks in the blackness below was almost deafening from where Ron sat on the cliff, and he was glad for it. The noise and darkness combined to cover him like a blanket, hiding him and his thoughts from everyone back at Shell Cottage. They were all asleep.
Well, she was asleep, at least. Ron had not left her side until he was sure of it, sure that the potion Fleur gave her had done its job to ease the pain and allow her, finally, to rest. Away from the memories. Away from the nightmares that were sure to come later. Even, at least for a few hours, away from him.
The girl who, in a few short moments, had gone from someone he thought he knew to someone he knew he loved. Someone he almost lost before he truly found. Someone who had shown a bravery he couldn't even begin to imagine, even though the past year had been filled with more acts of courage than he could count.
And that was why he was hiding here, on the cliff. He wanted to examine, to reflect, and to try to understand the emotions that were swirling through him.
But he was just so damn scared.
He was scared of what he knew he would uncover about his feelings for her. Scared of what it meant for the two of them, and for the three of them, for that matter. Scared, most of all, of what would change.
But, if he admitted it to himself, he wanted it to change.
And, if he admitted a bit more, it already had.
Before tonight there had been feelings, of course. Even he, dense as he could be sometimes, okay, most of the time, could see that. Had he understood what those feeling were, as he and Hermione bickered and argued and apologized and repented, only to do it all again?
Maybe. But, maybe not.
This was all so new for Ron, this feeling of, what was it? He didn't even have its name.
Anger, now that he understood. And jealousy, and guilt. The teaspoon-sized trio of emotions that seemed to dog him all too often, obscuring what was true, and what was right. But in spite of all his failings, (he couldn't let himself believe that it might even be because of them), Hermione hadn't turned away. Not for good, at least. She always seemed to understand. She balanced him - studied logic calmed his hot-headed anger, intense caring mended his recklessness, her own brand of fire and determination got him to do things he never would have otherwise. Hell, she got him to study. But it was more than that. She believed in him. She made him believe in himself.
And not because he was best mates with Harry Potter. Because he was Ron.
The signs had been there for a while, even when he ignored them. Even when he let his anger and jealousy obscure them. In fact, that jealousy should have been proof, shouldn't it? Why had he cared so much, that horrible night, when he let himself believe she had chosen Harry over him? Because he was mad at his two best friends for not agreeing with his frustration about the search? Or because he worried that there was a hint of truth in his words – that Hermione did care more for Harry? Again, he had let his anger take over. And it almost ruined everything.
Because now he could see it wasn't true. Of course she had to stay with Harry, no matter what she felt. They had promised. She was not the kind of person to break that promise.
And now, sitting with the benefit of time, he could see that his jealousy was misplaced. That Harry had spoken what had always been true when he said he considered Hermione a sister. You only had to see the way that Harry looked at Ginny to recognize the difference. And now Ron could see it too; Hermione had never looked at Harry that way. But how had she looked at him? Aside from the exasperation, the worry, the hurt. Had those other looks been there too? How could he have missed them?
He would not miss them again.
Ron forced himself out of his thoughts. Those terrible days were in the past. Replaced with present ones even more horrible.
Was it hearing Hermione scream, that made him so sure? Because he was sure. Sitting there, on the cliff, Ron understood with utter clarity why Harry had broken up with his sister. Why he had refused to tell her of their plans, why he had ignored her for almost an entire year, why he barely spoke her name. It wasn't because he wanted to keep her safe. It was because he needed to keep her safe. Because he had understood, even where Ron had not, what it would mean to see the girl he loved get hurt in this fight. He could not have gone on, if something had happened to Ginny.
And Ron knew. If Hermione had not survived this night, nothing else would have mattered.
For a moment, Ron was back in the dungeon of Malfoy Manor. He remembered the utter desperation that had made him want to claw at his hair, dig through the stone walls with his bare hands until they bled. He hadn't wanted to be in his own skin, listening to Hermione scream and being helpless to stop it.
And when it did stop, periodically, the silence was worse. So much worse, that hearing her start to scream again was almost an odd sort of relief. At least . . .
Ron couldn't form a coherent thought, down in the dungeon. He was useless, he was maniacal in his agony, he thought he would explode. Only Harry kept his head enough to somehow, miraculously, find a way out.
But only because it wasn't Ginny, up there, screaming.
And Ron understood. It wasn't that Harry didn't care for Hermione; his eyes had reflected their own desperation and pain as he listened to the torture. But it was different.
And afterwards, as they made their escape, as he was trusted with her, to hold her and protect her, and get her to safety, Ron knew. Even though his thoughts were still unformed, and hazy. He held her in his arms, unaware of anything except the feeling that finally, here was something solid to do, solid to hold. A reason to be.
It was her. He was needed. She needed him.
And he needed her.
He closed his eyes, memories from earlier in the evening filling his mind. The events had a dreamlike, or nightmarish, quality, but Ron needed to examine them, just the same.
To make sure he hadn't missed anything. Because he didn't want to do anything wrong to her. Ever again.
"Bill!! BILL!!" Ron screamed hysterically in the direction of his brother's cottage. He didn't care who heard him, as long as someone heard him. He was barely aware of anything other than a chanting voice pounding in his brain. It might have been his. The words, over and over, "Shell Cottage, Shell Cottage, PLEASE, Shell Cottage," giving away to "Be okay. Be okay. Be okay. PLEASE, 'Mione, Be okay."
Strong hands were there. A familiar voice.
"Ron, thank Merlin you made it." He peered at Hermione. "What the . . . ? Fleur!! Fleur – I need you!!"
His burden was lifted away, leaving his arms empty. Ron stumbled to his feet, following.
"Wait, Bill . . ." He could see Hermione, cradled seemingly unconscious in his brother's arms, her head and feet the only things visible from where Ron followed behind. Her head, tilted back, her eyes, closed, her mouth, slack.
Oh Merlin, no. She can't . . . she just can't.
Fleur met them halfway back to the cottage. She took a single look at Hermione, rested her hand, briefly, on Hermione's cheek, and then nodded at Bill, running back into the house.
Ron jogged a bit until he was walking side by side with Bill. Then he ran ahead and pushed open the door. To do something.
"Is she . . ?" Ron couldn't say the word.
"No. She's breathing." The most beautiful answer ever. "What the hell happened?"
Ron paused. "I can't say."
A look from Bill. "Ron . . ."
A look back from Ron. Defiant. Equal to his older brother. And Bill backed down. It was the first time Ron had ever won a disagreement with him. And he didn't even care.
Luna and Dean stood in the background, staring. Ron had forgotten about them. And Harry. For the first time, he pulled his thoughts away from Hermione, now laying on the sofa, her eyes still closed. Where was Harry?
A groan . All thoughts of Harry fled from Ron's mind. Hermione's eyes flickered, once, twice, and then opened slowly, wincing in the lamplight. Fleur waved her wand and lowered the lamps, bathing the room in shadows.
Ron quickly knelt at Hermione's side and put his hand on hers. It was cold, and she shivered at his touch. Her eyes had closed again.
"Ron?" She spoke thickly, her voice hoarse with the effort.
He had no idea what to say.
"I'm here, 'Mione. I'm here. Don't worry. You're going to be all right." Dimly, Ron was aware of more shouting from the lawn. Bill and Fleur looked at each other and ran outside. Dean and Luna backed away into the kitchen. He didn't really care where they went, his attention was focused on the figure in front of him.
"Is everyone okay?" Leave it to Hermione, worrying about everyone else first.
"Everyone's fine." Ron lied, still having no idea about Harry. He didn't want to upset her.
Hermione nodded and sighed, wincing. Then, quietly. "She hurt me."
Her statement broke Ron's heart. Hermione never admitted to pain, either emotional or physical. She was more likely to hide her hurt from everyone, or else let her feelings explode in a dramatic, and uniquely Hermione-ish way, such as by conjuring an insanely complicated flock of birds. He had never seen her truly vulnerable before. Maybe because he hadn't looked closely enough.
"I . . . I know," mumbled Ron, the lump in his throat making it difficult to talk. "I could hear you." He looked down at her. "But you were unbelievable, fighting her like that." He couldn't say any more about what they had just escaped, right now. The memories were too fresh. Instead, he squeezed her hand and brushed the hair away from her cheek.
"I could hear you too." Hermione's voice was quiet, but there was something in it that made Ron look up.
"When they pulled you away from me. I could hear you screaming my name. And even when you were gone, I could still hear you, in my head." Hermione took a deep breath and gave Ron a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes, still masked with pain.
"And then you were back. You picked me up. You got me away from her." Hermione shuddered for a moment, remembering, and Ron instinctively grabbed both her hands again.
"You held me." Hermione spoke again, her eyes closed.
"Yes." The memory of her, laying like dead weight against him as he frantically Apparated them both away overcame him for a moment. He had never held a girl like that before. Not even with Lavender – especially not with her. He had held Hermione with a fierce desire to protect and nurture, his own safety inconsequential.
"Would you hold me again?"
There was nothing else that needed to be said, at that moment. Ron shifted from his position kneeling by the sofa and gently sat down next to her, taking her into his arms, watching her face as it relaxed, her smile reaching closer to her eyes, this time.
He had put that smile there.
Looking down at Hermione, Ron suddenly understood.
She felt safe. In his arms, she felt safe. The power he felt at that realization had nothing to do with how many dangerous spells he knew or the importance of the task that he and Hermione and Harry were undertaking. It was a humbling power, that he could make Hermione feel so safe, and as he gently rubbed her small hand in his, a tear snaked its way down his cheek, then another, dripping softly onto her forehead. She opened her eyes and looked at him.
He had never cried in front of her before.
"Thank you," she said softly.
And they sat there, quietly, until Bill and Fleur had come in carrying the injured Griphook with the news that Dobby was dead and Harry was digging a grave.
Hermione and Ron had been equally stricken at the news that their rescuer had been killed. They looked at each other silently, knowing what it would mean for Harry.
"Hermione. . ." Ron began, not wanting to leave her.
"Go, Ron." She understood. He had squeezed her hand, and then, without really thinking about it, pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead. Suddenly embarrassed, he muttered "let me know if you need me," and hurried out the door to Harry.
After he, Harry and Dean had finished digging the grave, Ron had wanted nothing more than to get back inside, to make sure Hermione was okay. But then, here she came, walking on her own. He had to restrain himself from running to her, she was so pale, and looked as though she might fall over any second. As soon as she reached him, he automatically wrapped an arm protectively around her, as much for his own comfort as hers. He was silently amazed when she leaned into him as if it was the most natural thing in the world, which, he realized, it was.
With barely a dozen words between them since leaving Malfoy Manor, he and Hermione had fallen into an understanding that something would be forever different between them. What had started with a question their first night in Grimmauld Place, as they fell asleep holding hands, was now, firmly, finally, answered. Not out loud, not yet, but Ron knew. There would be no going back.
On the cliff, Ron was startled out of his remembrances by a sudden crash of waves. It was almost pitch black, and the wind was getting stronger as the tide came in below him. Standing up, Ron slowly started walking back towards the cottage, soon once again lost in thought.
There would be no going back. He just hoped he could figure out the right way to go forward. Because, standing there with his arm around her, Ron knew that the events of the night had created a new place in his heart, one made only for Hermione. And what made it so wonderful was that he knew she felt it too.
After the service, they walked back to the cottage together, leaving Harry with his thoughts. Ron had so many things he wanted to say to Hermione, about Malfoy Manor, about the escape, about the two of them. He wanted to make sure she was truly all right, that she wasn't scared to continue their quest. And if she was, he wanted to reassure her it was okay with him, and that he would make sure it was okay with Harry too. He didn't want her to have to be scared like that again.
And most of all, Ron wanted to try to put into words he wasn't even sure he had just how much she meant to him. He wanted there to be no mistake.
But then Harry was back, a determined look on his face. He was speaking urgently, authoritatively, to Bill, and then marching upstairs to talk to Griphook, turning only to call Ron and Hermione to join him. And everything else was forgotten while they talked and learned and guessed that night, of Horcruxes and Hallows, the Elder Wand and Gringotts. The task still before them was so unbelievable it didn't even seem real. When Ron stopped to think about what Harry proposed to do, he couldn't let his mind get around the folly of it, for to do so would have introduced doubt, and fear, and failure. But Ron was determined; he would not walk away this time.
Finally, voices hoarse from talking, the trio separated, Harry bedding down on the floor of Bill and Fleur's living room and immediately falling asleep. Ron turned towards Hermione, a million thoughts in his head that he wanted to put into words, but one look at her face changed everything. She was exhausted, and the pain was returning, he could tell. Nearly seven years of friendship and Ron realized he could read her face as easily as a book. Probably easier than many books. Hogwarts, a History, for example.
There would be time for talking later.
Ron steered Hermione into the spare bedroom she would share with Luna. He gently helped her out of the borrowed dressing gown she wore, smiling faintly at the familiar pajamas underneath. She leaned heavily on him as he pulled back the covers on the bed and turned to help her into it, but something in her eyes made him stop.
She was looking at him with a curious expression. Part gratitude, part pain, and part something else he wasn't sure he could identify. He just stared at her for a second, taking everything in. The face he came so close to never seeing again. Slowly, she brought her hand up to his cheek, rested her palm against it. Just looking at him.
Ron closed his eyes for a moment against the pressure, savoring the touch. So slowly he might have been moving in a dream, he turned towards her then, wrapping his arms securely around her waist and letting her body melt into his. She rested her head against his shoulder and stood there silently for a long minute, until exhaustion overtook her and Ron realized she was close to collapsing. When he pulled away to help her into bed, he saw that this time, it was her tears that had flowed between them. He brushed a few away and then spoke the first private words they had exchanged since before Dobby's burial.
"We're going to be okay." It was spoken as a statement, but the question hung in the air. Ron wasn't sure if he was talking about the fledgling plan they had worked out that night, or their recovery from the evening's events, or about him and Hermione and the new place they had found together. All three, probably. She looked up at him.
"We're going to be fine," she repeated, with more conviction than he. Ron started to say more, but Luna came in, ready for bed, and then Fleur, with more pain potion. Without being asked, and without asking permission, Ron sat at the end of Hermione's bed until her breathing became slow and even and he was sure she was asleep. Only then did he escape outside with his thoughts.
Now back in the warm living room of the cottage, Ron was surprised to hear footsteps overhead. He was even more startled when Hermione appeared at the bottom of the stairs, the dressing gown wrapped around her, still pale, but her eyes clear. She looked just as surprised to see Ron.
"I woke up," she said unnecessarily.
"Are you in pain? Do you want me to get Fleur?" Ron was halfway to the steps already when Hermione held up her hand to stop him.
"No, it's okay. I just . . ." she blushed suddenly, then looked at him shyly. "I just wanted to see if you were awake."
"Oh." Ron stuttered for a moment. "Do y-y-you, uh, want to sit down?" He gestured towards the sofa.
Hermione looked at the floor, to where Harry slept heavily, deeply, probably because he felt safe for the first time in months. She nodded, and sat down, looking out towards the windows at the front of the cottage. Ron sat next to her, but sideways, his hand automatically finding hers, his thumb gently rubbing over her palm.
Hermione looked down, surprised for a moment, then tightened her grip in his. The silence was comfortable, but charged with expectation. Ron felt he should say something. Something about, well, them, he supposed. But he didn't know what. He had never talked to a girl about relationships before. Lavender didn't count. They hadn't talked about anything, unless you counted his listening to her call him "Won Won" and suggesting new ways to style his hair. No, their relationship had been primarily of the nonverbal sort. And quite unsatisfying too.
Ron shook his head. This was completely different. This was Hermione, for Merlin's sake! Why was the thought of talking to her so hard?
"Hard," said Ron out loud.
"Oh, umm, I was just thinking about our talk with Harry earlier. It's going to be really hard."
Hermione frowned. "I know. I . . . I can't believe we're going to try it. It has to be nearly impossible."
She looked worried, and Ron hastened to reassure her. "It'll be okay. After all, look at all the impossible things we've already done. Look at what you've done! It's me that should be worried." All of a sudden, the guilt that he had been suppressing for weeks bubbled forth. "After all, I'm the type of bloke who quits when things get too difficult," he finished bitterly, not looking at Hermione.
He half expected a loud denial from her, excuses for his earlier behavior, a "No, Ron, it wasn't you, it was the Horcrux," or something like that.
Instead, she took her hand to his chin, turning his face so he was forced to look her in the eyes.
"Not anymore," she said softly. "You may have been that type of boy, once, but that's not the man you are, now. That boy wouldn't have kept his head enough to save me tonight."
Ron shivered under her touch, his guilt and shame melting away at her words. He had to confess. "I . . . I didn't keep my head, 'Mione. I almost lost it completely, when I heard that woman hurting you. I couldn't stand it. If, if Harry hadn't . . ."
"Shhh," she pressed her fingers to his lips. "Not Harry. You. If you hadn't been there, in my thoughts, while she was . . . while I . . ." Hermione's voice died away, the unspoken implication clear.
Ron swallowed. "Well, okay then."
Another few minutes of silence. Then,
"It's always been you, you know. Never Harry."
Ron looked up in surprise. "But . . . h-h-how did you . . . ?"
Hermione shrugged. "It was kind of obvious, wasn't it? That . . . that night."
Ron didn't look away this time. That awful night, when he had abandoned his two best friends, was behind them now. And he finally knew it.
"And," Hermione continued, "after you . . ."
"Came crawling back," Ron supplied helpfully.
Hermione swatted him. ". . . saved Harry's life," she finished meaningfully, "he made a point to tell me he thought of me as a sister, and not in any sort of romantic way." She smirked. "As if there could be any question, after watching him moon over Ginny's dot on the Marauder's Map for the last nine months. I mean really, could you ever see it? Me and Harry?"
"No, said Ron quickly. Too quickly? Maybe not, because Hermione smiled at him and squeezed his hand.
They grinned at each other then, and a second later, their smiles dissolved into giggles, and then Ron snorted, and they were laughing, together, tears streaming out of their eyes. Just laughing.
Because they could. Because they had, thankfully, something to laugh about, if only for a minute.
Eventually, their laughter gave way to gasps and giggles and sighs, and then they were quiet again. Ron looked down. He had dropped Hermione's hand at some point. What did he do now?
Hermione made the decision for him. Her face broke into an enormous yawn and Ron realized how late it was. Or early, if you looked at it that way. They needed to sleep.
He stood up and held out his hand to Hermione, helping her up off the sofa, walking with her over to the stairs. She stopped there, as if to say goodnight, but he shook his head, keeping his arm around her, and helped her back up to her bedroom.
At the door, they looked at each other for a long moment. The silence stretched between them, and Ron knew what he wanted to do, but something held him back. Not fear of rejection, he was pleased to realize, not anymore. It just wasn't the right time. Not when she stood there exhausted, needing to rest. But the right time would come, he knew it.
Instead, he put his hand on Hermione's cheek and looked into her eyes, willing her to understand that this was not a brush off, but a promise. She looked back at him steadily. She understood.
"If you need anything, anything at all, come get me. Send your Patronus if you're too tired."
She nodded and smiled, a teasing in her voice. "It had better speak pretty loudly, to wake you up, Weasley."
He grinned back. "I'll always wake up, if I know you need me."
Hermione smiled again. "I know you will."