The crowded life of the living room had faded, just like the fire of the chimney. Ron had been left on the couch to the dangerous mercy of his own thoughts. Bill and Fleur stood right behind him, deep into discussion, but Ron wasn't listening. The weight of his body was sinking in the couch, and his head spun with images, his thoughts were crowded like never before. Never before had he experienced so many images running across his head. Not even after they broke into the Ministry, not even after the night he lost himself to anger and jealousy, driving him to leave everything behind.
Now all those memories where dancing in his head at the same time, along with new images that formed new, painful memories he really wished to let go. There were small moments were the images were accompanied by the despairing ghost of Hermione's echoed screaming, and Ron only wondered if he would be able to let go of that madding sound any time soon.
Bill broke his concentration when he sat by him on the couch. "Fleur went to get some blankets. You three will sleep here in the living room. The girls can sleep in one room. We'll have to get accustomed until we can send Mr. Ollivander back…and well, apparently we'll have to get used to Griphook…" Said Bill resentfully, to which Ron simply nodded, still unable to stop torturing himself. The night had been long up until now, almost endless, but Ron had been distracted since they arrived at Shell Cottage, his mind had been focused on many things. After questioning the goblin and the wand maker, Hermione, Harry and him had been trying to figure it all out at once, until they realized how late it was getting, and Hermione admitted that she was too tired to keep going. Now, that he had been left alone in the living room for more than a minute, he became slave of his own thoughts.
"Ron…" said Bill, clearly hesitating. "Who did this to all of you? Who stabbed the elf?" He stopped, then continued. "Who tortured Hermione?"
Ron shook his head, eyes still on the fire.
"For heaven's sake Ron!" Bill stood up impatiently. "You have to say something! We could help, you know. I understand you but…" He rested his body against the chimney. "But, this is getting out of hand. You have us in the dark." Ron didn't look at him.
"Sorry Bill." Bill shook his head in disapproval but took a deep, patient breath.
"Never mind," he said after seconds of silence, acknowledging that once again he wasn't going to get a word out of Ron. He walked towards him again, leaned and rested a hand on his shoulder. "I get it. You won't say a word." Ron shrugged, his face was unreadable. "Anyway, you are all here, and you are alright. That's what matters." Ron let a groan escape his mouth involuntarily. He took his hands to his face. He wasn't alright, the images where still playing with his head. And now the still image of Hermione lying unconscious with her neck bleeding, and covered in tiny glasses, was the one conquering it all. He couldn't stop remembering the feeling he had had only hours ago, when he thought for a moment that she wasn't going to open her eyes ever again.
"I want to kill her," he said, between his fingers, because he wanted Bellatrix to feel the same amount of pain Hermione had felt, even if Ron didn't know what it had been like, since he hadn't been the tortured one. Bill didn't ask any questions, and after frowning for a moment he understood quickly, or at least made Ron believe that he understood how he felt, even if he didn't really know what had happened to them. When he spoke again his voice was firm, mature and very serious.
"I would want to kill anyone who hurt Fleur like that." Ron raised his eyes at Bill. Bill, the sensate, well centered son of the family wouldn't commonly encourage such an aggressive statement on his little brother. But Bill held his grip tight on Ron, because, through his dark unawareness of what had happened to them hours ago, he was trying to understand his brother's feelings.
Fleur walked with a pile of blankets and a few pillows in her arms, behind her walked Dean and seconds later Harry entered from the bathroom, all crowding the living room again. Bill held his brother's shoulder tightly before letting go completely.
"'ere you go," said Fleur putting everything down. "I'll go get ze zings for ze girls." She walked away again.
"Bathroom's free," said Harry as he sat on a chair near them.
Bill patted Ron's back before standing up. "You should get cleaned up. Get some rest."
With a quick nod Ron stood up from the couch and walked his way up the stairs to the bathroom, although he didn't want to be left alone again, he didn't want his mind to torture him again.
Once he stopped in front of the bathroom door he changed his mind instinctively. Instead of entering he walked a few steps more and knocked one of the bedroom doors of the hallway. Luna's soothing voice encouraged him to enter the room. The little room held two small beds; in one of them laid Hermione, her eyes closed. Luna was covering her up with a small blanket.
"She fell asleep really fast. She was still talking and all…" said Luna. Ron walked forward; it was hard to move around without bumping into something. He silently sat on the same bed Hermione was, his eyes fixed on her closed ones. Luna stayed still for a moment but reacted faster than he had expected. "I'll be right back," she said calmly as she left the room, closing the door behind her.
Ron gazed at her, she was breathing very slowly, and other than her chest rising very other second she wasn't moving at all. Her hair was spread unevenly across her face and the pillow. Some of her curls, dry and messy, wrapped her neck, but Ron could spot the small scar that was left on her skin.
He didn't know what made his hand move towards her neck, but he didn't avoid the impulse. Maybe it was the fact that she was asleep what drove him to be a little more daring than usual.
With the tip of his index he touched the small new scar, and wondered if it would fade out completely, or if she would have it to remember her of that night every time she looked at herself in the mirror. Without noticing his thumb traveled through the expression lines of her neck, and after a second the rest of his fingers joined in the act of caressing her skin, a portion of her skin he wasn't used to feeling, for he had never touched her bare neck before.
Feeling her pulse pounding under her skin his fingers went up her jaw line. Her face was pale, her cheeks lacked of that natural pink blush that characterized her, that same pink blush that turned into an infuriated red each time she was mad, something he was good at identifying, and had silently admitted to be attracted to. That same pink blush covered her nose as well whenever she was embarrassed. But now it was not there. Her pale face showed her to be absent, not entirely recovered.
His thumb traveled up her skin again and landed on the most forbidden of all the places of her face. Ron had concentrated his thumb on her lips, he traced a path upon them, a path he would have preferred to trace with his own mouth.
A little ray of sanity struck him. And just as he realized that it was time to stop his odd behavior, Hermione slowly opened her eyes. Ron let go of her face, half hoping that she hadn't noticed, and half hoping that she had.
Once she had opened her eyes entirely a small smile covered her lonely lips.
"Sorry, I woke you..." he said, through the rough sound of his throat. She shook her head slowly, she seemed a little disconcerted, probably because the last person she had seen before falling asleep had been Luna and now it was Ron sitting closely to her, caressing her skin without permission.
"Is it still night?" she asked. He nodded acknowledging that she wanted the night to finally be over. He wanted that as well, because it really had been a long night, and he simply wanted to leave it behind. They stared into each other's gaze for a few seconds. Hermione looked steady, tranquil; he didn't understand how she could be so calmed, maybe it was her lack of strength.
"How are you feeling?" he asked, not knowing what to really say.
"I'm alright." She shrugged her shoulders. He didn't stop looking straight at her, he just couldn't stop realizing how close she had been of slipping away.
"What?" She asked after a while of silent stares. "What is it?"
"Then stop looking at me like that."
"Like what?" He asked innocently. She rolled her eyes but smiled widely, a smile he returned anxiously. "You must be tired," he concluded, thinking that his late night visit could be making her uncomfortable. He really shouldn't be there. But when he was about to get up she stopped him. The touch of her skin embracing his wrist was more than enough for him to settle again, this time closer to her, but neither of them pronounced a word.
She moved slowly, looking clearly uncomfortable with her position on the bed. She had complained a while ago about how bad her body ached.
"You sure you're alright?"
"Yes Ron, I'm fine," she repeated breathlessly. "I'm sure I'll feel better tomorrow. I just—"
"—How did you do it?" he interrupted out of nowhere, although the question had been dancing in his head for a while now.
"Keep it together for so long…" he couldn't stop his eyes from revealing how much he really admired her. She didn't answer right away, and after a moment of waiting he fixed his sight on a curl that had slid his way down her forehead, covering one of her eyes.
"You would have done the same..." Ron reached to push away the curl that was blocking her powerful gaze, he caressed her forehead and that gave her enough encouragement to speak again. "I was scared," she admitted, softly, almost through a whisper, just for him to hear. And after a pause she spoke again. "Where you scared?"
He felt ashamed of his answer. She had no idea. She didn't witness how he lost his mind down at the cellar, she didn't hear him cry her name a million times, she didn't know that in his desperation he blacked out for a moment, and he still couldn't remember parts of it. She definitely had no idea.
"To death…" he answered, his hand now resting shamelessly on her cheek. "Hermione… I'm…sorry…"
"What?" she said, thrown off by his apology.
"I'm sorry…about everything."
"Ron, stop." She grabbed tightly the hand that had been feeling her skin, as firmly as her strength allowed her. He closed his fist immediately so he could trap her small hand inside his. "Stop apologizing."
"I just…I've been—"
"Really Ron, stop it. If anything…you are the one who has to forgive yourself." He had heard that. He knew he had heard those same words somewhere before, nights ago, no, weeks ago. In that same cottage he had been told just the same thing.
They didn't say much after that last, and Ron didn't let go of her grip, he felt the coldness of her skin vanishing, and it wasn't long before her hand felt warm again. He knew how wonderful it was to hold her hand, and he regretted the fact that up until now he hadn't done it all the times he had wanted to. Ron didn't know how long they stayed like that.
"You really should get some rest Ron," said Hermione, after a silence that hadn't been uncomfortable at all. "You look terrible," she finished with a teasing smile. He couldn't hold back a chuckle.
"Yeah well, you look terrible too," he replied, unable to restrain a Retort. The basis of their relationship had been sustained over the years by fighting over who was last to talk, and moments like these weren't an exception.
Still holding tightly to her grip, his free hand reached for her face again. He didn't hesitate when he caressed her skin once again, and he couldn't restrain the impulse of settling on her still pale lips again. But this time she was wide awake, conscious and she wasn't putting any resistance at all.
He didn't acknowledge that the distance between them had shortened significantly until the knock on the door broke everything that had been warming up for the last minutes. Ron straightened himself, and let go of her hand, breaking the connection between them. Fleur walked in, holding another set of blankets.
"Oh! I'm sorry I –"
"No, that's fine. Just leaving," he said clearing his throat. As he got up he threw one last glance at Hermione, who smiled freely.
He tried to walk away as fast as possible, fighting the pleased smile that was taking over his face. But when he got to the door frame Fleur acted faster than he had expected.
"I was right, was I not?" she whispered, leaning against the door. Ron looked down, avoiding her sight, for his skin was already turning scarlet. Fleur looked back at the bed, Hermione's eyes were already closed. "I told you she would forgive you, didn't I?"
Ron looked up at her, but he didn't answer or nod, or thank her for her encouragement. She had been right, but he just smiled shyly, which was enough for Fleur to smile back.
"I 'ope you gave 'er a good reason…" she said, this time smirking slightly.
Ron knew the tone of his skin was definitely red by now, but before walking away, to avoid any more embarrassing comments from Fleur's side, he couldn't restrain the need to glance at Hermione again, deep in sleep. "I don't know…" he said softly, through an unconscious smile. "I think…she already had one."
A/N: Yep, the end of this three-shot! I loved writing Ron's point of view. I hope you enjoyed reading it, because more than a missing moment this is just me exploring a little inside Ron's head. Please, a review won't take you more than a second or two.