Hermione curled up in the lounge at The Burrow, finally alone on Christmas Evening, finally able to give in to what she felt. Tears dropped from her eyes as she gazed at the photograph album open on her lap. Tinsel was draped round her hair and her festive earrings jangled against her neck as she shook with tears. She had never been one to go in for Christmas in a big way, but this year she'd needed a reason to be happy. They all had. They'd managed for most of the day as well, mostly for Molly's sake. She had already lost one of her son's, Percy hadn't contacted them since the notorious argument, it was hard enough for her to even contemplate losing another, let alone be reminded of it at Christmas. She was trying so hard to make this Christmas special for them all, especially since it was Bill and Fleur's first Christmas together, and Charlie was back from Romania for a week. She just wished…more than anything else, that they could be here with her.
Ginny had left for the hospital an hour after Christmas Dinner had finished, as soon as it was polite to do so, and had been there ever since, but Hermione couldn't face Harry today. She couldn't watch him, bandaged and stark white, mumbling, on Christmas Day. She knew he wasn't alone. And he was getting better. She knew that, the Healers had told them the day before yesterday. He would be awake in a few days. But Ron…
She stroked her fingers over the photograph. It was the most recent one she had, and she hadn't developed it in photographic potion yet, so it didn't move. It was a simple snapshot that Ginny had taken of them before the holidays started, back before it had happened. It showed the three of them, the Golden Trio, sitting together in the library. She was sitting in the middle, pointing something out in a book. Harry sat on one side of her, apparently listening but she could see his fingers, caught mid drum on the tabletop and on her other side, Ron sat, rolling his eyes affectionately with one arm slung over the back of her chair. How could she not have seen earlier? She remembered the moment he had finally summoned up the courage, the worst possible moment.
"They're coming," his voice was still but she could see the fear in his eyes as he spoke to her. Harry moaned between them. He had taken a hit earlier and they were pretty sure his leg was broken. Something else had happened too, since he was incoherent. They were both incredibly worried about him.
"I know they are Ron." She said, gripping her wand tighter and adjusting her grip on Harry, wincing as more blood dripped from the cut on her left arm and the world swirled for a moment, "We'll fight them when they get here. They're not getting Harry. We'll do this, together."
He looked at her then, finally looked, with an expression on his face that she'd never seen before.
"Not this time Mione." He said wryly, a smile on his face again, though it was a brittle one, she knew. She recognised it, though couldn't remember where from.
"What's that supposed to mean?" she bristled, an automatic response to confusion with him.
"You know what it means. There's six, seven of them, and only three of us, two who can fight. There's no way we're going to be able to fight our way out of this, especially not with Harry…you know, and you're injured. I saw that hex deflect off your arm, don't think I didn't."
"So what are you saying? We give ourselves up to them? We let him win?" she asked incredulously.
"I didn't say that. Look, what I'm saying is…Harry's the most important isn't he. He has to get out of here alive. We don't. I don't."
"Ronald Weasley don't you even think that I'm going to let you…"
"No Hermione. We have to. Don't you see it? The only way either of you is getting out of here is if they have some sort of distraction while Harry gets away." She remembered now. This was the expression he'd worn in first year, when he was getting taken on the chess board, terrified but determined. He was even using almost the same words. But he wasn't doing that to her again.
"No. I am not letting you be a distraction. You'll get hurt, caught…"she couldn't finish but the word loomed between them. Silence held for a few seconds, "I'll do it. If Harry needs to get out, you take him, and I'll distract them, here," she began to shift the now delirious Harry into Ron's arms. He shook his head sadly.
"No, use that logic you're always telling us about Mione. You're injured, I'll last longer. And you know you're better at Apparating than me. You'll have to go Side-Along with him; he won't be able to do it without us. I'll splinch us both, you know that, I'm too tired and I've never mastered it. You know that. You'll have to take him, Mione." He was trying to be brave, be a proper Gryffindor, but he was terrified. She could tell. The logical part of her brain was trying to convince her that he was right, she should take Harry to safety, he wouldn't be able to Apparate on his own, and Ron hadn't mastered Side-Along.
"But…Ron…you can't go out against them on your own. It's suicide." She whispered, tears welling up in her eyes. He took a deep breath and locked eyes with her.
"I know." She had to hand it to him. He had such conviction in his eyes that she was almost convinced that he was fearless.
"Ron…"she was breaking. She knew it. Maybe it was the dead weight of Harry slumped against her, or the pain in her arm from the still bleeding cut, or the numerous cuts and bruises all over her.
"No Hermione. I won't let you talk me out of this. You know I'm right. But…before you go, could you promise…please…tell my mum I love her, in case… I don't get back to you," his voice was beginning to shake, and his conviction beginning to waver. She took a deep breath, readying herself to prop up his strength with her own.
"Of course I will. But…you'll get back and be able to tell her yourself. Of course you will. I'll come and find you, after Harry's recovered. We'll come and find you together. We'll see each other again. I promise you Ron. This isn't it." She knew she sounded desperate, trying to convince herself as much as him. He still seemed to appreciate the effort.
"Mione," he said finally, "There's something else…since I'm doing the whole brave Gryffindor bit…" he was looking down now. She reached out and took his hand with her wand hand, wedging her was between their fingers but there was nowhere else to put it.
"Yes Ron?" she said.
"Mione…I think I love you." He whispered. She gasped. She had never even suspected that he felt the same as her. A bubble of something rose up within her and she leant forward pressing her lips firmly against his.
"I love you too, idiot. I just wish you'd told me bloody sooner." Her hand snaked into his hair as she pulled him closer, enjoying what could be the only kiss they had together. A crack echoed on the other side of the alleyway and they sprang apart.
"Go! Take Harry and go now Mione. I love you." He said desperately before springing out from the bins they were hiding behind, flinging hexes at the Death Eaters as the Apparated in. The faint crack that signalled Hermione's escape was barely noticeable.
She hadn't heard from him since. It had been eight days. Eight awful, painful days. The Order had been there within hours of her return, but he was gone. Nothing had been heard since. But she had promised that she would see Harry better before she left to search for him. As soon as Harry was conscious, she would return to that Alley and search for herself, not satisfied with the work of others.
With this resolution in mind, she wiped her eyes and began to put the photograph back in her pocket when the door creaked open. She assumed it was Molly, come to supply her with yet another cup of tea and quickly hid her face to hide her tears.
"Mione…" A voice she knew too well croaked. She looked up, letting the hopeful tears flow easily. And then she saw him. He was really here. His hair was matted and dirty; his shirt was ripped in several places and there were holes charred into it; he looked completely and utterly exhausted and there was blood on his jacket, but it was unmistakeably him. She crossed the room in less than a heartbeat and threw herself into his arms, sending him sprawling backwards into the wall but she didn't care. He was back. He was here, in the Burrow with her, for Christmas.
And she let the tears flow again, safe in the arms of the man she loved.