XIX.

They had all developed odd quirks to keep themselves sane from the endless days and nights spent in the tent. They were mundane things, actions that were barely given a second thought on any normal occasion, though in a situation like this, kept the line between sanity and insanity a bearable distance apart. It was odd how some things thought little of now meant more than practically anything.

It was the simplicity of it that they all needed. Something controllable that needed little thought, though routinely needed to be done. They were facing such large, powerful, abstract opponents, things they could barely wrap their minds around. And though it was highly illogical, and couldn't be compared to fighting Death Eaters of finding Horcruxes, it was comforting to know that at least there were was something that they could handle. A simple task that could be started and finished, unlike so many others they would have to come to terms to.

Ron, for example, washed the dishes. After every meal he would stand by the rusted sink in the kitchen that spurted out water unevenly and unpredictably changed temperatures, washing the dishes. He was very methodical about it: silverware fist, plates and bowls second, and glasses or teacups last. By the time he got to glasses, steam usually rose to the surface, and Hermione had to put impervious charms on his hands so he wouldn't burn them. But even so, he spent so much time with his hands in the water that they had grown dry and cracked, and Hermione had lent him her hand lotion, on the condition that she wouldn't tell Harry he was using it.

Usually, when Ron washed the dishes Hermione sat on the counter next to the sink and dried them. They would develop a perfect, comforting rhythm that sometimes glitched when Ron missed a spot or Hermione got hung up drying every inch of a teacup, but it was perfect anyway. Mostly, they stood and sat in silence, exchanging some words but usually disappearing into their own minds. Washing the dishes was Ron's escape and she didn't want to intrude. Sometimes she hummed and he pretended not to hear, and he would watch her and she would pretend not to notice. Sometimes it was the other way around.

Since he had come back, she hadn't resumed her position on the counter next to the sink, a damp towel in her hand. He had picked up his routine of washing dishes, though now he dried them with magic. One night when she was feeling spiteful, she collected the dishes herself and washed them with magic, though afterwards she felt awful. The truth was, she missed her position on the counter, the edge of it pressing uncomfortably into her legs, her back sore from resting on the cabinet.

The night after their close escape from the Lovegood's house, she stood anxiously in the doorway as Ron collected the plates from their dinner of bread and soup Harry had stolen from a market in the town up the hill from where they had pitched their tent. She leaned against the doorframe, playing with her hands and feeling her heart jump into her throat as she watched his back as he turned on the water and picked up her fork. She wanted to so badly but... After wrestling with herself for the better part of five minutes, she finally gathered the courage to just ask.

"Do you need a hand with those?" she asked quietly, and Ron turned around, startled. When he saw her standing there, her eyes wide, he grinned broadly. At the sight of his smile, her heart melted and her heart beat even faster, in a wonderfully familiar way.

"Sure, that would be great," he said, and she smiled too. She practically skipped to her spot on the counter, hopping up and taking the dishtowel. For the next half hour they washed and dried the dishes without exchanging a single word, though the silence between them was so comfortable, Hermione didn't mind at all. She hummed an old song under her breath, and Ron shot her long glances from under his even longer fringe, and for a moment, everything was right in the world.

It was with regret shared by both of them that Ron turned off the tap, having cleaned the last teacup for more than ten minutes. She, equally keen on dragging out this moment for as long as possible, spent another five minutes making sure it was absolutely dry before placing it in the cabinet by her left elbow.

"Have you got any laundry to fold? I can sit with you." Ron asked, as Hermione jumped gracefully off of the counter. She smiled slowly at him. Laundry was her quirk that kept her sane, like washing the dishes for Ron. She enjoyed the fact that she could quite simply turn every article of clothing into a perfect square or rectangle. It was simple and easy and at the same time manageable and satisfying and made her feel shamelessly like she had accomplished something. Usually Ron kept her company as she folded the laundry, just as she kept him company by drying the dishes. She saw right through what he was trying to do.

Her smile widened. "That would be nice," she said, and she meant every word. She turned to leave the kitchen, flicking her wand at the lamp hanging from the ceiling to extinguish it. But as she was heading to the warmly lit living room, she felt something brush her wrist and she turned around, looking at Ron, who was standing stiffly in the dim kitchen, his eyes wide and his hand enclosed around her wrist.

"Hermione..." he said, his voice low and gravelly, and she knew immediately what he was going to say. She wondered if had been thinking about it as they had washed dishes, if he had been wanting to say it since he had returned. And all of the sudden, she didn't want him to say anything.

She stood on her toes and kissed him softly on the cheek. "I know," she whispered, and Ron made an odd noise as his ears turned red. "I know," she repeated, standing straight again, and wriggling her hand so that he was holding it, not her wrist. She smiled shyly at him, and he smiled back.