Ron sat down in a chair by a window in Shell Cottage and watched Harry by Dobby's Grave. He was carving something slowly into a stone. While burying Dobby, Ron felt a great sense of remorse for the little elf, but, in truth, most of his shock and grief was not for Dobby. Not that he didn't appreciate Dobby greatly, but his thoughts were of the girl inside, under Fleur's care. He would never forget that first look at Hermione on the floor of Malfoy Manor. It would haunt him; even now the image would not leave him alone no matter what he thought about.
After they had all left Harry alone outside, Ron had helped Hermione inside once more. She did not even sit down however before she turned to Ron saying she was going to take a shower. "What?" said Ron, shaking his head, "No, Hermione, look at you. You can barely stand, you're shaking so badly. You can't, not right now."
"That's right, Ron, look at me," she replied in a hoarse voice. It was so quiet Ron had to lean in to hear her. "Because I can't even stand to. I'm covered in blood. I want this washed off me, now. I don't want to spend one more second-"
"I know, I know Hermione, but-"
"Ron," she whimpered pleadingly, "I… I still feel her on me. I can smell her. I want… I need to get it off, I…"
Hermione shook her head, gave Ron one last look, and headed towards the shower. Ron didn't want to stop her, but he sat at a window close enough to hear her if she fell. Now Ron was watching Harry, or, it looked as though he was, but his eyes were unfocused and greatly troubled.
He sat there in silence for a few moments, hearing the water run, before he heard what was listening for. He ran to the bathroom and slowly tested the doorknob, finding in surprise it was not locked. He opened it slowly with his eyes downcast. "Hermione?" he asked softly.
He heard nothing but the water run for what felt like a year, but then finally he heard a whispered "Ron… please help me."
The pain he heard in her voice caused his heart to clench tightly. "Hermione, I can go get Fleur…"
"No. Fleur will ask questions," she said, quieter still.
Ron swallowed and took his shirt off. He hesitated for a moment in the steamy bathroom, then pulled the shower curtain aside. There was Hermione, fully undressed, and eyes closed in shame and pain. Ron's breath caught in his throat for just a moment before he recovered himself, stepped behind her, and took the place of her soapy hands and began washing her hair. Ron watched as Hermione's hands found their way to the metal bar and she used it for support, her knuckles turning white.
He ran his fingers through her hair gently, not wanting to cause her any more pain than she already was experiencing. While washing her hair from behind, Ron did not lay one eye on the rest of Hermione, trying to give her the most privacy and respect he could. He would not have believed he would have had this much self control even a week ago, but after what he had felt listening to Hermione scream and beg for mercy while he could do nothing, something had changed within him.
"Hermione, I've finished your hair."
Hermione nodded without looking at him. "Could you, just…" she paused, and Ron wasn't sure if it was out of embarrassment or pain, "Just, please wash the upper half of me? That's where most of the cuts are and where she…"
Ron nodded. He took a flannel, wet it with soap, and slowly started rubbing her back. He went as gentle as he could over the bruises but he still felt Hermione flinching under his touch, each time making his throat a little tighter. Finally he had to go to the front of her. He started on her arms. He stopped in horror. What he had thought was just a few scratches was the word "mudblood" etched into her arm by Bellatrix's knife, much like the words "I must not tell lies" he had seen on Harry's hand two years ago. She had hid it from all of them. "Hermione…" he said hoarsely, but she just shook her head and bit her lip.
Ron swallowed and tore his eyes away from her face and back toward the horrible act of cruelty on Hermione's flesh. He, slow as ever so as not to hurt her, ran the wash cloth over it and watched as the blood washed away. He did the same to all the other scratches and cuts all over Hermione's torso, all the while fury burning in him like white hot metal, and a lump was in his throat. How dare that bitch touch her…was the most coherent of his thoughts. It was mostly just hatred at Bellatrix for everything she had done, every finger she had laid on Hermione, every witch or wizard that had ever said the word "mudblood". Every new slash of the knife he found on Hermione was a new surge of hatred and felt like a new stab in his own heart.
Finally, he knew that the only wounds left were the ones on the places Ron had carefully been avoiding with the cloth and his hands, even with his eyes. Ron hesitated. "Ron," whispered Hermione in that same weak, pleading voice, "Just finish. Please."
Her face and entire body had turned very white, and Ron knew she needed to lie down and sleep as soon as possible. Her eyes closed even tighter. Ron turned his eyes finally to Hermione's breasts, and his mouth opened and closed in dismay. His eyes traced over carvings of little tear drop shapes, obviously supposed to be the dirty blood of a muggle born. Ron drew in a shaky breath and let it out just as shakily; afraid the lump in his throat would turn the breath into a sob.
Ron put the flannel tenderly on one of her breasts, and he found it hard to breathe normally. The fullness of them, with the water running down them as well made his heart beat fast, yet he didn't allow any dirty thoughts in, as he was still so overcome with sadness and protectiveness for her. She was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen, and his heart swelled with love.
His hand touched her face softly, and Hermione flinched. "Hermione," he whispered shakily. "Hermione, look at me, please."
Hermione slowly opened her eyes, though she still did not look at Ron. He tipped her face up to look at him. She looked him in the eye for the first time since he had stepped into the bathroom. "You," he said in a very hoarse voice, "are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my entire life."
Her lips parted slightly as her eyes widened. She stared at him, and saw nothing but sincerity in his eyes. They held the gaze for what seemed like hours. Ron didn't want to break the moment for anything in the world, but knew she did not need to be standing much longer, and caressed her cheek before removing his hand from her face and finishing cleaning off her breasts. His eyes, however, did not travel back down, but looked right into Hermione's eyes as she stared back at him. In her eyes, the shame had disappeared, and in its stead was an overwhelming amount of trust in the boy turned man in front of her. Ron was convinced this was the most intimate moment he would ever know.
Neither of them spoke even when Ron finished with the cloth. He would have been unable to speak even if he wanted to; he was still so infatuated with the beauty of the witch standing before him. She stepped under the water once more to rinse off then, after Ron bent around her to turn the water off, she took his hand he helped her step out. He handed her a towel, and she wrapped herself in it immediately, Ron still holding her by the waist to ensure she did not fall.
She stayed there, still for a moment, then Ron saw her shoulders begin to shake. She was finally crying, finally letting her fear from her experience show. Ron quickly turned her so she was facing him and pulled her against his bare chest. Still holding her, he leaned against the bathroom door and sank down so he was sitting on the floor, not wanting Hermione on her feet one second longer. She curled up and hid her face against his chest and sobbed. Ron rubbed her back through the damp towel and closed his eyes. The pain in his chest had grown to be unbearable, and finally a tear slipped out from under his closed eye, and he hugged her tighter, vowing to himself he would never let anyone hurt her like this again.
Slowly her sobs lessened until she was crying softly, breathing heavily still in his arms. Ron was still rubbing her back with one hand, and stroking her hair with another, his mouth pressed against the top of her head. "I was so scared," Hermione whispered.
"I know," Ron murmured back.
Hermione looked up at him and touched his cheek with her hand. "Thank you," she said softly, her voice overcome by emotion.
"For calling me beautiful."
Ron could not speak for a few moments. "Well… you are," was what he finally managed.
The smallest of smiles came across Hermione's face. "After everything Bellatrix Lestrange and the rest of the wizarding world has said to me, it's just good to hear."
Ron found her hand and squeezed it. They again stayed there looking into each other's eyes for a few moments. "Well, Bill will want to talk to us. And Harry will too. Before you can sleep, I'm sure. Let's get you dressed and head to the living room, ok?"
Hermione nodded and the moment was over, but not forgotten. They would not share their first kiss until days later. Many years later they would marry. The images of Hermione lying on the floor unconscious and the sound of her screams did eventually fade from Ron's mind. This moment never faded.