She doesn't cry.

Not because she doesn't want to, because Merlin knows that would at least be normal…but then, when has she ever been normal?

Not because she thinks she shouldn't; on the contrary, she finds it rather alarming that she isn't, and from the long looks cast her way when they think she isn't looking, it's obvious that they agree.

She just simply can't.

She's been sitting in this corner for two days now; it's uncomfortable and too small and she's beginning to truly hate that gentle baby-blue wallpaper across from her, but she relishes the familiarity of her corner. If this spot in the room hasn't sprouted dementors or inferi or Death Eaters in the last two days, it isn't likely to do so now.

That thought almost prompts a laugh when she realizes that she used to be logical.

But that's the thing, isn't it? There's no mystery to solve, no book to read, no library to spend hours scourging, searching for elusive answers, knowing everyone's lives are at stake. There's just the silence and the ugly aching that comes from knowing—firsthand—that there are horrible things in this world, things too horrible for tears.

Hermione can't reason her way out of this one.

"Hermione."

It's the first spoken word she's heard in what feels like three thousand years. It's uncomfortable and too loud, and she wants to scream at him to shut up and leave her to her thoughts, where she doesn't have to answer to anybody.

"Hermione," he insists, and at that she looks up, startled, because this is Ron and Ron is bumbling and silly and clueless, and when has he ever said her name like that before?

"What?" she chokes out, and she doesn't mean for it to sound so biting, but the look on his face tells that he's a bit taken aback, and she wants to cut her tongue out.

"You need to eat," he says, giving her a long, hard look. Just then, she registers that he's carrying a tray, standing awkwardly in the doorway, waiting for her permission to enter into her cave.

She's not hungry, but she's too tired to argue. "Ok," she says simply, and it's enough. He crosses to her side of the room, water sloshing precariously close to the rim of the glass he's carrying, and he sits in front of her, cross-legged, the tray resting on his lap.

"It's soup," he offers lamely, gesturing at the bowl of creamy…something…meant for her. "Fleur made it. It's pretty good." She doesn't care much for his opinion on food; he'll eat practically anything, so long as it's not alive.

Hermione reaches for the bowl with her long, knobby fingers, noting briefly the torn nails, the red, patchy, dry-as-bone skin, the layer of dirt that she's begun to think of as a second skin.

And then her sleeve, too short for her long limb, rides up, revealing a d, jagged and messy, like a child's gleeful scrawl upon first discovering that she can write.

Her breath catches in her throat, because she doesn't want to discuss this, or think about it, or even bloody acknowledge it, but she knows that he sees and she watches his face contort into something ugly.

Ron doesn't say anything, and she breathes a sigh of relief. Someday—if they live—he'll want to talk about it, and she won't, because he cares too much and she cares too little.

She brings the soup to her lips and it slides down her parched throat. It's hot and creamy and not very good, but she is hungry. A few minutes pass silently, but Ron, not uncharacteristically, breaks the silence, though his words are not at all what she expected.

"You're going to be ok, you know."

She pauses mid-bite, trying to digest what he just said, because she hardly ever hears Ron speak so totally seriously. For the first time since he's sat with her, she meets his eyes in the dim lighting, and it feels like she's waking from a deep, groggy, sleep. His eyes are blue, that blue she's always loved, and he's looking at her with such a fierce look in his eyes that she can't help but feeling alive for the first time in so long.

And it's too much. It's like she's been falling, dropping further and further down into an endless pit, and suddenly she's hit the bottom and she's alive but it hurts and the pain takes her breath away.

The spoon falls to the carpet with a soft thud, and a sob bursts up in her throat before she can think about what's happening. Her vision blurs with fat, salty tears, but she can still see Ron moving towards her, Ron pulling her into his arms, and if things had been any different she would have registered how wonderful it was that he's finally here with her, but all she can think of is how much it all hurts.

Hours pass. Days. Years. Maybe eternity. But eventually the tears run out, and she's left feeling empty and dry.

"I'm sorry that she hurt you," Ron says into her hair, his arms still woven around her thin frame. She's about to speak, about to tell him that this isn't about her, that Crucio is hell personified but that it doesn't matter-

-But he continues, not letting her speak. "And I'm sorry that I left you for so long. But most of all, Hermione," he says, and his voice is so soft that she has to strain her ears to hear his words, "I'm sorry that we live in a world where innocent people are dying and being tortured. I'm sorry that I am sitting here holding you because you've been tortured, not because I just damn well want to, because Merlin knows that I do.

"I'm sorry because this world is unfair, and I'm sorry that we have to be the ones to fix it, but I'm proud to have you by my side, fighting for what's right, being sorry about the injustice right along with me."

And she wants to cry all over again, because she's never felt so known in all her life.

Hermione pulls back from him, and she sees tears shining in Ron's eyes. He doesn't shed them, and it will probably be a long time before he ever does, but it doesn't matter, because she can't stop thinking, when did Ron change before my eyes?

And suddenly, it's not sixth year anymore. He's not off snogging other girls, or acting like a prat. He's here, with her, all tender gestures and soft words and fierce protectiveness, and though they haven't said the words yet, they don't need to. Because Ron, though he still says the wrong thing and acts the wrong way and annoys her to no end, is a man now, and man who has made it clear that he loves her. And that is more than enough.

Hermione still aches, but they may not live to see the end of this fight—or even tomorrow-so she stops hiding behind her books, behind her logic, behind her sharp wit and abrasive tongue, and plunges in, leaving carefulness behind her. Because there's no time for that anymore.

She takes his hands in her own, and his eyes meet hers, and his face is still as awkward and shy as ever. "You're more important to me than anything else that I have," she breathes, and her voice shakes, because bearing your heart is so much harder than it should be. "All I've ever wanted is to have you with me. So please don't leave me again, because I am going to fight with every last breath in my body to make this world right again, and I am going to need you with me."

The words are grandiose, but she doesn't care, because this is a bloody war, and they might die any moment, and if that doesn't call for grandiose words, she doesn't know what does.

And they're also the truest words she's ever spoken.

His eyes close, and he takes in two deep gulps of air, and she feels his hands tremor. And when his eyes open again, there's…something…in his eyes that's never been there before, like he suddenly know what's like to feel alive, too.

"You have no idea what that means to me," he breathes, and reaches to envelop her in a fierce hug. "I love you, Hermione, and I'm going to fight everything that's keeping me from you, do or die."

And even though she's an idiot for falling in love when the world is falling apart, she knows that this is what she's fighting for—for people in love who deserve to be together, for relationships and friendships and world where things are better.

And the tears flow freely now, because she is in pain and darkness, but she's alive again.