A/N: Uhhhhhh… hi. That's really all there is to say at this point.

Oh, and if you are as lost as I would expect anyone to be after such a long hiatus, there is a "previously, on this fic" outline at the start of chapter 23.

Thank you for not egging my house while I slept for the past 2 years.

Love you.

ETA: Why did no one call me on "bandage?" *corrects all usages and hangs head*


I'll Be Your Maps, I'll Be Your Eyes, Part Three

"We should do the rest now," Hermione said slowly, as they pulled apart from each other.

Ron's tired eyes sought hers, and she couldn't look away.

"Explain this to me," Harry said. "You're planning to scar yourselves in a way that can't be replicated?"

"Yes," Hermione said to Harry, still staring up at Ron.

"Can't we just..." Ron started, looking lost, "not leave each other's sights?"

"For the rest of our lives?" Hermione questioned, crushed a bit by how much he really didn't want to do this. "That's completely impractical. We'd have to watch each other sleep."

"I know," he sighed, "but you wanted me to give you another idea, if I had one, but you're right… I really don't have one."

"Ron..."

She watched his eyes dart before he licked his lips.

"What if… we talk to someone, y'know, maybe at the Ministry?" he tried, still grasping around for anything. "See if there's another way-"

"You know we couldn't," she quietly interrupted him. "How would we ever know for sure that they could be trusted, and then how could we be positive that if we used their suggestion, they couldn't use it against us later? Even if we checked them for charms, Polyjuice, all of it… I only trust you. And Harry."

"Bloody hell."

"This is the only way, Ron. We do it right now, while you know who I am."

He stared at her for a long moment, but it was no use. He sighed then, deeply, and shook his head.

"I know you're right, but I fucking hate it," he said, his rough voice sharpening the edges of his words.

Harry stepped closer to them, opening his mouth and on the verge of interjecting something, when the door opened behind him. Alarmed, all three of their heads whipped toward the sound, wide-eyed as a group of four Ravenclaw girls walked in, talking amongst themselves as if they hadn't just interrupted a girl and two boys having an intense conversation in a girls' lavatory…

Harry glanced between Ron and Hermione who looked at each other and then back toward the newcomers, who had apparently taken up permanent residence by the sinks, where they were attempting various makeup charms and discussing what looked best…

Hermione grabbed up the last of the Polyjuice Potion and cups, cleared her throat, and shifted her eyes toward the exit. Harry and Ron followed her quickly, escaping into the corridor.


"Where else won't we be bothered?" Hermione thought aloud, as she began walking briskly toward the nearest staircase.

"Is it actually normal to walk into a girl's loo and find two blokes?" Ron said with the raise of an eyebrow.

"Honestly, didn't think anyone else ever went in Myrtle's…" Harry added, grinning.

Ron smiled back, but he turned serious again quickly, clearly recalling what they were about to do in the first place. And as they ascended the stairs, Hermione glanced over her shoulder to find a queasy look flashing across his face.

"What about the Room of Requirement?" Harry suggested, and Hermione nodded, several paces ahead of Harry and Ron.

"That should work…" she agreed quietly, turning them left at the top of the stairs, heading down a familiar route.

They walked in silence, and she could feel his eyes on her back, anguished over coming up with an alternative plan in the minutes that remained before she did what they had to do.

But she felt numb to the idea, and it hardly registered as a problem to her, looking at it merely as an obstacle to overcome. On the other side, scarred, she could see herself living a life much closer to the one she'd envisioned back in a canvas tent, in the middle of the woods, in the middle of the night, when the only thing that squeezed in between insomnia and obsessively researching by lantern light was the idea that if only they could make it, they might be happy again. Eventually.

But she had been vague with Ron on purpose. She knew the risks of what they were about to do. She wouldn't be so keen on it had she not just spent the last four months in agonising desperation. But there was a light now. She wondered distractedly how she was going to talk Ron and Harry out of doing the hex themselves, if it went poorly on her first...

They reached the seventh floor, empty and dimly lit, and Hermione paused, considering what they would need. It wouldn't take very long, once they got started. So, she paced, crossed the familiar spot three times, and the door appeared. But before she could open it, she felt a warm hand wrap around her wrist, and she looked up into Ron's glistening eyes.

"They'll pay for making you do this… for everything," he said, voice low and rough. "I can't tell you I'm sorry enough times to make up for-"

"Don't," she said, gently. "We've made it this far. It'll be over soon."

She tried to smile, and she thought she might have managed it, really, but his eyes flashed understanding, sadness, and something else… some protective fire that she'd seen before… as he'd been dragged away from her, locked in a cold dungeon to listen to her screams above him.

"Better hurry," Harry said, opening the door to the Room of Requirement. The sounds of a small group approaching down the next corridor over could be heard too clearly, their conversation muted only by the single wall that separated them.

Ron and Hermione followed Harry inside quickly, the large, stone door shutting behind them with an echoing thud.


They silently surveyed the room created from Hermione's thoughts. It was small and stark, nearly bare black walls rising high around them, simple sconces spaced evenly and lit, flickering golden. In the centre was a large copper basin, a small table containing a few supplies, and three chairs. Ron approached the table, glancing ominously down at strips of cotton and a bucket of water.

"This looks fine," Hermione said, walking up behind him. "It shouldn't take long."

"I'm going first," Ron said, not waiting to give anyone else the chance to volunteer.

"No," Hermione countered, "I think it should be me. We'll have to make sure it really worked afterward, and I'm not testing a spell on you that I've never used before."

"Right, and how do you think I feel with you testing it on yourself?" Ron scoffed, narrowing his eyes at her.

"Actually, I won't be, because it doesn't work quite like that…" Apprehension rose, and Ron's expression turned from stubborn to confused. "It won't work properly if you do it to yourself. I'll… have to show you what to do, and you'll have to curse me."

His eyes widened as he stared at her.

"Oh, well that's just fine then!" he said, as sarcastically as possible.

"I could make your argument pointless and volunteer," Harry suggested, shrugging. "What's one more scar?"

"I'm the one she impersonated," Hermione reasoned, "and far too well. We've got no proof that anyone could do that with either of you. This whole thing was my idea, I've worked it out, and I'm going first." She rolled up her jumper sleeves past the elbows, pulled the closest chair up to the table, sat, and cleared her throat. "Let's get going so we can see Professor McGonagall about leaving for the Ministry today."

She reached into her bag and pulled out a small leather-bound book, one Ron recognised from her note-taking this year.

"Please," she said, glancing back up at him finally, when he wouldn't respond. And her eyes were glistening in candlelight, making it hard for him to swallow.

"Uh, hang on… Hermione," Harry began, circling the table and picking up a strip of cloth. "Exactly how safe is this?"

"You're both being dramatic," she sighed. "It'll be fine."

"Then why does it look like we've raided the whole hospital wing for plasters?" Ron asked, stepping closer, his leg brushing Hermione's knee.

"Just in case," she said quietly, flipping through her notebook to find the page she wanted.

"Just... in case... what?" he asked, eyes narrowing.

After a brief, tense moment, she answered him...

"It's going to bleed a bit."

He froze, staring down at her, because she wouldn't look at him again, and that could really only mean one thing.

"How much is a bit?" he asked, warily.

"I'm just trying to be prepared," she answered, vaguely, and she gestured to the chair on her right.

He sat, but only to look at what she had written down in her notebook.

"This is it," she said, running the tip of her finger under a few short sentences of her own neat handwriting as Harry pulled up a chair on her left.

The wand motion wasn't too complicated, and the incantation itself, though unfamiliar, would be easy to remember once she helped them with pronunciation. But it was the bit after that…

Resulting wound sometimes requires cauterisation to stop bleeding in emergency situations.

"Hermione," Ron choked, "this really is a fucking terrible idea."

She closed her eyes before turning roughly to look at him.

"Then what do you propose we do? I told you, this is all I know that will work. So, you two can come up with a better plan, right now, or let's do mine and get it over with."

And, just then, as he stared so intently back at her, he finally noticed, really... her piercing eyes stopping his heart. So much of what she'd longed for had been out of her reach. Before, when she hadn't known if he'd ever want her the way she had miraculously wanted him... And, recently, knowing that he had, but that he didn't, any longer. And she'd missed it.

And now, knowing that their lives had been altered - in some ways, irreparably - by forces that had beat them, deceived them… All she wanted was to take the shortest path between the misery and shame she'd felt for something that had never actually been her fault and the relief they could have in trying to move forward.

He had to do what she was asking him. He owed her that much.

"Alright... I'll do this for you," he said softly, "if you're sure-"

"I'm sure."

Harry reached over her to drag the book across the table, closer to him, for a better view.

"We should stay far away from major arteries, yeah?" he said, scanning Hermione's brief notes.

"Right," she said, dropping her wand to the tabletop. "And someplace not too hard to show each other."

Still feeling queasy, but resigned, Ron opened his hand, palm up, flexing his fingers.

"What about here?" he sniffed, pointing to the fleshy bit at the first joint of his thumb.

Harry and Hermione glanced down at his hand, both nodding.

"Seems good," Harry said, straightening his glasses and reading Hermione's notes a second time.

"You're easy to convince, mate," Ron teased, and Harry shrugged, still reading.

"You did a lot of barmy things for me without really understanding them."

"To be fair, you didn't understand them, either," Ron pointed out.

"We've come this far because we trust each other," Harry added, looking back up at Ron and Hermione again, "with everything. Can't let anyone change that. She hasn't won, and she never will, because we've still got that."

"Let's make a promise, right now," Hermione suggested, eyes watery once more. "If I ever do something idiotic like break up with Ron again, just know it's absolutely not me. You have my full permission to hex me if I do."

Ron tried to smile, his heart light to hear her say something so perfect, but the truth was too real, just then. And he had to wonder, distant and calculating, if a stranger had been inside his head, found his insecurities and weaknesses, seen his memories… known he'd have a hard time accepting that Hermione could want him as much as he wanted - and needed - her. But his wandering fear could serve him no good, not yet. So, he pushed it all to the back of his mind, thinking, instead, about their lives at the end, as he'd done for many months to get him through. Before, it might have only been that Harry and Hermione would survive the war, that they'd be alright, that nothing else needed to matter, including his own heart. But, today… he could think of the life they would have, together. She'd told him so. And she wanted it, as much as he did.

He was swept back to seventeen, holding her hand as she slept on the floor at Grimmauld Place. He was surprised by every new glance, every flush of her cheeks, every smile just for him.

And the months he'd shared with her imposter suddenly felt like someone else's life, the girl he'd been with no longer resembling the beautiful person sitting next to him now.

"Agreed," Harry smiled. "Now, how do we pronounce this rubbish?" He pointed at the three Latin words on their own line at the bottom of Hermione's page of notes.

"Cicatrix Sanguinem Mansurus," she said slowly.

Harry nodded, then shook his head, contradicting himself.

"Okay. Let's just catch me up a bit," he began, backtracking. "Where'd you find this?"

"Researching everything I could about Ron's memory of what I did," she explained, "every spell that could alter a person's appearance… but it didn't seem that important at the time. This particular curse is quite old and no longer used, but its original intent was to permanently mark someone who had committed a crime of a certain nature, or someone who had been cast out of a community. The curse creates a distinctive, individual scar for each person, and it cannot be duplicated."

"So, you're saying this will scar a specific set of marks onto each of us, and each one will be unique?" Harry asked.

"That's right."

It was brilliant then, as Ron had known it would be, coming from her, despite his hesitance to go through with it.

"That'll work," he admitted. "Let's get the ruddy thing over with."

"Alright," she said, turning to fully face him, her left arm resting on the tabletop. "Harry, move that basin over here and put it between my chair and Ron's."

Harry did as she asked, and Hermione slid her notes into Ron's view so he could read the spell again.

"Say it one more time," he requested.

"Cicatrix Sanguinem Mansurus," she said slowly.

"Cicatrix Sanguinem Mansurus," he repeated, and he thought he actually sounded pretty accurate.

"You've gotten really good at that, you know," she pointed out, but he didn't quite follow what she meant, arching a brow at her. "You can copy a sound, once you've heard it, like speaking Parseltongue just because you remembered what Harry sounded like when he did it. I couldn't have done that."

"Course you could've."

"She's right, you know," Harry added. "Your voice passed easily for Wormtail's at Malfoy Manor."

He felt oddly embarrassed at their words. Hearing two people give compliments within the space of seconds was apparently making it a bit difficult for him to string words into a sentence.

But she smiled at him, and he tugged the corner of his mouth up to match.

"Say it again," she instructed, and he broke her gaze to glance at the words once more.

"Cicatrix Sanguinem Mansurus."

"Perfect. Have you got the wand motion?" She pointed to her brief instructions and basic drawing which showed him what to do.

He followed her curving lines and cleared his throat, glancing back at her expectant face again.

"Can't believe I agreed to do this," he muttered a bit shakily, as she opened her right hand and rested it on the table, close to him.

"I'm sorry," she said softly, but he shook his head.

"Nah, let's go. I've got it in my head right now."

But she seemed to second guess something, curling her fingers slightly and giving him an apologetic grimace.

"Wait…" she started. "I wasn't trying to trick you, not really... but…"

She paused and sighed deeply.

"I left some things out," she continued, voice cracking a bit, "and I'm sorry. I know we need to do it, and I didn't want to waste too much time convincing you. But now… I don't want to mislead you. The cut will be deep and it will probably look like a lot of blood. The spell is designed to pull more blood from the veins than normal. And we can't use dittany or it'll ruin it. I'm sorry, I-"

"Shit."

"But, Ron… this is a safe spot," she added, indicating the base of her thumb, where he had suggested, "and we can stop it. If we have to burn my hand to cauterise it, we can do that."

He knew she'd been softening how severe this would be, and he'd seen her alarming notes to cement it, but her explanation now confirmed just how far she wanted to go to put an end to everything that had come between them.

He really, really didn't want to do it.

"Promise we'll go to Madame Pomfrey if we can't handle it," he requested, knowing that it would mean admitting to using a spell they were absolutely not supposed to be messing with if they did.

"Okay," she said, quietly, and whether she was only trying to appease him or not, he would be carrying her to the hospital wing himself if she tried to protest later. That was enough to cover the sharpest edge of nervous fear that had risen, and he nodded, raising his wand over her hand.

"Hold my hand flat so I won't flinch?" she asked.

Wordlessly, he reached out and flattened her fingers to the table with his much larger left hand. Clearing his throat again, he clenched his jaw, staring down at her unmarked skin, repeating the spell in his mind and trying to stop thinking of anything else…

"Cicatrix Sanguinem Mansurus."

It was as if a dagger had been plunged into her flesh, deep slices cutting through her in an intricate pattern as she clenched her eyes shut and cried out. Blood pooled up from her open skin, flooding over her thumb and spreading across the table, coating Ron's palm.

"Fuck!"

Harry furiously gathered strips of cloth as Ron dropped his wand to the floor and gripped her hand in both of his, squeezing tight. Her breath hitched sharply, forehead creased in pain, but she wouldn't open her eyes.

"Hermione!" he said a bit urgently, as her blood trickled off the edge of the table and into the basin between them.

"I'm okay," she said tightly, breathing in shallow bursts through her mouth.

"Move your hands, Ron," Harry instructed, as he knelt by the basin, cloth held between his own hands, ready to wrap around her wound.

"Quick, Harry!" and Ron let go of her, Harry's cloth replacing his hands almost instantaneously, but not fast enough to stop a gush of blood from running thick off her wrist, splashing to the basin below.

Ron grabbed up the long, loose end of the cloth and helped Harry wrap it tightly around her hand, watching with mounting panic as deep red soaked through layer after layer.

"T-Tighter," Hermione said in a tiny, shaky voice, and Ron's eyes flashed up to hers, finding them finally open and catching sight of a few stray tears leaking from the corners.

Harry began wrapping another layer of cloth as tight as he could manage, and Ron leaned forward, attaching his teeth to the tail end and tugging as Harry looped and knotted the other end over it.

"I'm s-sorry," Ron muttered, a bit choked, squeezing her wrapped hand in both of his own again, elevating it, her elbow resting on the tabletop.

They sat in silence for a moment, where all they could hear was their rapid breathing and the hollow, plunking sound of thickening blood slowly dripping off the edge of the table.

"Why'd you let me do that?" Ron asked under his breath, not really expecting an answer.

"It's okay, I'm okay," she whispered back, shaking slightly.

He watched her closely, seconds ticking past as a bit of rage built to mingle in with his fear. This… everything… her life had been torn away from her. And wherever she'd been, those missing months… He was going to find the goddamn arseholes who had taken her, fucked with her memories, led her to this moment, her blood running thick, pointless, if not for them. He should have stopped them. He should have done so much more. He should have known.

He would drive himself mad, most likely, before he could forgive himself.

"Do you think it's stopped?" Harry asked, after a while, waking Ron from his racing thoughts and staring between the blood-soaked table and Ron's pale hands, stained heavily in blotchy red.

"Hermione?" Ron asked gently, and she sniffed, catching a breath at the back of her throat and nodding.

"I think so," she said hoarsely. "We'll have to take the dressing off after a bit, and we can see for sure."

His heart was beating so fast, so fiercely, and he felt slightly lightheaded, though he didn't think that was entirely fair given he hadn't been the one who'd just been bleeding profusely.

Damn Jen Moran. Damn the Ministry for not finding her sooner. And damn everyone who had been with her imposter for being too thick to figure out it.

"I know what you're going to say," Hermione started, staring intently down at her hand, his own still clutching it back with surprising pressure, "but I… I don't think I can do that, to you."

He didn't much fancy having it done to him, if he was being honest, but there was no way in hell he would let her be the only one.

"I'd do it to myself if I could," he said, "only you said it didn't work like that. But it'll be fine. We have to."

"If you'd gone first, do you think you could really d-do that to me?" she asked, and he hated the way his heart sank, knowing the truth. Though it occurred to him that he might have to use the curse again. And that was probably the only thing he could do, to save her having to do it at all.

"Hang on," he said, voicing his thoughts. "You don't actually have to do anything. Harry and I can scar each other."

But God, he didn't want to hurt Harry, either.

"Actually, maybe Harry's fine anyway," he amended, grasping for loose threads. "You can just do me, mate, and we-"

"Yeah, that's alright, then," Harry snorted. "I'll just keep some Polyjuice in my back pocket, and one of you can turn into me for an hour every time I come back from the loo, just to be safe…"

Ron closed his eyes briefly, sighing.

"Look, Hermione's basically always right," Harry said, and Ron smiled before he opened his eyes, "and I'll admit it's pretty mental to purposefully cut ourselves open… but she's already had it done on her, so what does that make us if we can't follow through? We're in this together, and that's how we need to leave. No point doing something halfway, particularly when Hermione's already bleeding all over us."

Hermione smiled tentatively, her breathing now pretty well back to normal, and Ron shifted in his chair, resigned again that Harry was making some sense.

"Right, so who goes first?"

"Go on and scar me," Harry said, holding out his hand over the bloody basin, "while you've got the hex fresh in your mind."

"Ron, thank you," Hermione said quietly, so sincerely, only he had no idea what she meant.

"What for?"

"You didn't want to do this at all, and now you're doing it twice."

"Well, Harry gets the same deal you did. If it goes badly, I'm hauling him over my shoulder and carrying him to the hospital wing."

"You're a wizard-" Harry started, smirking.

"Levitation's boring. Way more fun to carry you."

Harry laughed and shook his head before straightening up and flexing his left hand, clasping his wrist steady with his right.

"Well, I hate to rush you," he said, "but I drank too much juice at breakfast."

"Hermione," Ron started, glancing around, "shoulda told the Room we needed an extra bucket for Harry to piss in."

"Oh, just scar me, already."

"Oi, I like to take my time when I'm cursing my best friends…"

But Ron slowly let up the pressure on Hermione's hand, afraid to see it bleeding fresh, but it did seem to have stopped. She replaced his hands with her own right hand, pressing down over the wound and nodding.

"It's okay," she reassured him. "Go on."

He reached for the bucket of water on the table, dunking his blood-coated hands into it and rubbing them together until his freckles showed vaguely through light pink stains. Drying his hands on his jeans, he bent to pick his wand up off the floor, swishing it at the pool of Hermione's blood that was quickly drying on the tabletop. It vanished, leaving a clean surface behind it, and Ron returned his attention to his next task, taking a deep breath as Harry waited.

"Remember back when we used to say to ourselves 'right, after this one final insane plan, we'll have normal lives?'"

"No," Harry and Hermione replied in unison.

"Oh, just me then," he said, grinning. But his smile faded fast as he repeated three words again inside his head. "Reckon I'm ready. Hermione, can you grab one of those clean cloths?"

She let go of her injured hand, keeping it elevated as she gathered up several strips of cotton, eyes flicking alertly to Harry's hand, anticipating.

"Okay," Ron said, focusing. "Shit, Harry. I'm sorry. Cicatrix Sanguinem Mansurus."

The base of Harry's thumb split open, blood gushing out as slices of flesh ripped apart.

"Oh, GOD, that hhhurts…" He screwed up his face and was probably holding his breath.

Ron's wand clattered to the table, and Hermione urgently passed him a clean strip of cloth, which he applied as fast as possible to Harry's streaming wound. As Harry raised his hand higher, his blood trickled in thick rivers down his forearm.

"Here," Hermione said, tersely, leaning forward swiftly to help with a second cloth, holding it tight as Ron twisted layers over and over, until the blood stopped soaking through as rapidly. Leaning closer, he rested his elbows on his knees, clasping Harry's hand tight in both of his own.

Hermione rested her good hand on Harry's shoulder, sniffing as she watched him.

"Hermione, you didn't properly warn me," Harry complained through clenched teeth. "That's bloody brutal."

"I'm s-sorry," she stuttered, sadly. "I only wanted to do it to myself."

"No, had to be done," Harry replied dismissively, still sucking in sharp breaths. "Doesn't make it any less horrible though… damn."

Ron eyed Harry through his fringe, thinking how going last was probably worse than first… or second. But at least he was done fucking cursing people…

He glanced down to the basin full of blood on the floor between them.

"Jesus, that's a lot. How do you two feel?"

Hermione shrugged, and Harry remained speechless, hunching forward slightly.

"You're both filling me with confidence…"

"It's not exactly comfortable," Harry finally said, "but I think we'll live."

Hermione was clutching her hand again, and Ron sighed, shaking his head to shift his fringe out of his eyes, both hands still occupied. She hadn't spoken much, and he suspected she was in a lot more pain than she was letting on. Comfort was surely the only benefit of enduring hurt, and he wanted to skip to the end, to give her whatever she needed, whatever she would let him.

Something tickled the inside of his elbow, and he glanced down to find Harry's blood dripping off his arm to stain his jeans.

"Wonder what they look like," Harry pondered, glancing up from his wrapped hand to Hermione's.

"Once Ron's is done," Hermione said, quietly, "we'll have to check them and possibly wrap them again, so… we'll see."

"Speaking of Ron's," Ron said, "you ready to get this over with, mate?"

"Should be done bleeding, don't you think?" Harry questioned, glancing sideways at Hermione as Ron slowly let up his hands' pressure. "Can't have much more in me to come out, anyway."

"Do you feel dizzy?" Hermione asked.

"Eh, not really," Harry answered, distractedly, as Ron's hands separated from his completely. The active flow of blood had ceased, at least, and Harry removed his wand from his pocket with his good hand.

Ron dunked his freshly blood-soaked hands into the water bucket again, cleaning them quickly.

"Reckon you've got the words down?" he asked, as Harry bent over Hermione's notebook, reviewing one last time.

Hermione sniffed again, a catch of a shallow breath in her throat as her eyes flicked down to Ron's hands. She snatched up a few fresh cloths, a nervous edge to her voice as she spoke.

"Ron, make sure you elevate your hand straightaway," she instructed, unnecessarily, given he'd done this twice already. "And Harry, be ready to wrap it quick."

"Go on," Ron urged, pushing down the apprehensive shudder he felt roll through him and giving Hermione a soft smile before holding his hand out over the basin, clutching his own wrist, and locking eyes with Harry.

Harry cleared his throat and wordlessly practiced the wand motion a couple of times, watching Hermione nod curtly at him before his eyes fell to Ron's thumb.

"You sure you're-"

"Ready as I'll ever be."

"Okay, but-"

"Don't warn me, just go."

Harry's green eyes flashed up to Ron's bright blue ones. And then he crossed his wand through the air, aimed down…

"Cicatrix Sanguinem Mansurus."

The pain was almost blinding, and he imagined it couldn't feel any worse if his whole hand was being sliced off at the wrist.

"Fuuckin'HELL."

There was a clatter as Hermione knelt beside him, trying her best to cover his rapidly gushing wound with clean white cloths as he raised his hand higher. His whole arm was shaking a bit as she pressed down tight, pain ripping through him and all the way up to his elbow as he caught sight of a few silent tears slipping free to roll down her cheeks. Harry stretched out a second cloth, using his free hand to hold it tight as Hermione attempted to wrap faster than the blood was soaking through.

But then, Ron noticed. She was using her bad hand.

"Hey, stop," he said quickly, attempting to brush her injured hand out of the way without hurting her further. Failing, he snatched the end of a cloth away from her instead and clamped his teeth around it as he had done with her own, tugging tight as Harry and Hermione finished wrapping and tied the ends together.

Their escalated breathing and the drip drop of blood were the only sounds for several moments afterward, before Hermione reached up and clutched his hand in hers. She rested her elbow on his thigh and lowered the side of her head softly to his knee as Harry clasped his slightly larger hand over Hermione's where it was shaking a bit, attempting to apply maximum pressure to Ron's wound.

Searing pain receded to make way for a deep, throbbing ache. He could feel his own heartbeat settling by the pulsing rhythm through his hand.

Exhaling deeply, he rested his good hand on Hermione's back, unaware of his own movements, gently sliding his palm across her shoulder blades, until he heard her make a sound somewhere between a sob and a laugh, lifting her head from his leg to wipe the back of her wrapped wrist across her watery eyes.

"Don't know what I'd do without you," she said, glancing from Ron to Harry and back again.

"Probably be living a much calmer life somewhere," Harry pointed out, smiling.

"Not worth it," she said, sniffing noisily again.

"Hermione," Ron began, voice scratchy and raw, "we're tossers for not believing you all these months."

"About made up for it today," she said, attempting a smile through her tears.