The day he gets the letter starts off as any day. She's making dinner in the kitchen when he walks into the house, completely unaware of the fact that her life is about to change. She's just smiling and humming along with the cackling radio as he slides his arms around her waist and drops kisses on her neck and breathes her.
"Hello, sweetheart," she says, and she looks up to see a dreadful look in his eyes. The spoon in her hand clatters to the bottom of the pot as she drops it. For as long as she's known her husband, Hermione Weasley has never seen his face that serious."What's wrong?" He's grimacing as he looks at her, blue eyes so full of remorse. She turns around more fully. "Ron, what is it?"
Silently, he holds up the letter.
"I'm being called to duty."
Her entire world falls apart with just a few words, causing her to grip onto his shoulders as she sways forward, leaning her head on his chest. He rests his chin on her head, clutching her to his body. She inhales his husband scent and tries not to think about the way that his shoulders are shaking up and down- she hates seeing him cry as much as he hates seeing her cry.
"Please tell me that you're joking," she says finally, and he shakes his head. She can feel it on top of her, chin going back and forth.
Anger consuming her, she snatches the letter away from him and reads it. Oh yes. Ronald Bilius Weasley is definitely being called to duty. The printed words reaffirm it, causing her to clap a hand over her mouth in a futile attempt to muffle her sobs. His arms circle around her, holding on as tight as he can.
Vaguely, it registers with her that they have not been separated for more than a summer since they were eleven. The idea of starting now, ten years later, alarms her more than it should. But she's never known anything but him, never dreamed of anything but the family that they are meant to have together. The idea of never having that fills her with fury and fear.
"I'm sorry," he whispers against her. "God, I'm sorry, Hermione."
"It's not your fault," she mutters, voice broken. "We said everything happens for a reason... this must be the reason that I miscarried. So I wouldn't have to be pregnant through all this."
His eyes squeeze shut, trying to block out the pain of the miscarriage she'd gone through just a month before.
"When I get back," he says, "we'll try again for a family. We'll get it this time, too. I promise you."
She smiles, but it falters almost instantly as the tears swim into her eyes. She closes them. She breathes. And when she opens them, a cold, cruel smile has consumed her face. Her normally sweet face is blank- vacant.
It stays that way for a long time.
For the next few weeks, she's dead. He tries to lure her out of her funk using kissing, affection, adoration, wooing, romance, and everything else that he can think of. But she's so distant that it's like he's already gone, gone to a place that she can not follow. Except he's not, he's still there, and that's the hardest part. Because he knows that he's leaving soon, and he wants to spend every single second with her. He wants to touch her and kiss her and talk to her and make love to her and just always be around her, but she's shutting him out. She's shutting him out just the way she shuts out other people, people who have disappointed her.
He knows that's not it, of course. He hasn't disappointed her in any way. It's more that she wants to distance herself from him, wants to get herself ready to be away from him, maybe forever. She's not allowing herself to be close to him, to know how it is to be that way anymore. Her heart can't handle it. So she floats through life, not human, just a shell of the woman he loves. He wishes he could know what to do about it- but he doesn't. He wants to sit her down on the couch and tell her that love can conquer all, or something equally as corny as that, but he knows he wouldn't be able to get her onto the couch long enough for it. He forces himself to settle for sleeping next to her at night, even if he isn't allowed to hold her anymore. She sleeps as far to the edge of the bed as she can, mostly, he thinks, so he can't hear the soft sobs she emits in the middle of the night.
Unfortunately, he wakes up when the shaking moves the bed. And he knows she doesn't want to be comforted, so he leaves it. But it hurts so damn much.
The day he leaves, she smiles in that same inhuman way, straightens the hat on his new tan uniform, and tells him that she loves him in a very quiet, refined voice. He's almost stopped believing it, and somehow the tone of her words do not help reassure him. She stays in their bedroom, watching as he makes his way down the path of their neat little yard, past the plants she is growing to be pro-war, all the way to the picket fence. He turns around for one last look at her, standing in the window with her hand pressed against it, her hair in its usual neat bun, her face unfeeling. He flashes her a smile. And he turns around and walks some more, trying not to feel the oncoming ache.
There's a sudden scream of, "RON!", and he turns around to see his wife flying at him, her eyes wild, her hair escaping that pristine bun of hers, tears leaking out of her eyes. She's out of breath as she flings herself at him, salty tears mixing with her quintessential Hermione taste. His arms twist around her waist, and she clings to him, sobbing and shaking in his arms. They haven't been this close in weeks. It feels impossibly right, perfect, like they're always supposed to be like this. This is the woman he has known since he was eleven years old- he figured out long ago that she was made to be in his arms.
"I'm going to miss you so much," she says through her tears, pulling back, "I'm sorry, so sorry, Ron."
"It's fine, sweetheart," he croaks, stroking her crazy hair. It's far too bushy to be stylish, but he loves it anyways. In fact, he loves it because of that. Because its hers. Hermione's.
"No, it's not," she protests, covering his face in kissing, body still shaking as she tries to express herself. "I acted so awful... I was just trying to... I love you so, so, so much. Please tell me that you know how much I love you."
"I know!" he laughs. The action is rather foreign to him by now. "I know."
"I'm going to go too," she says fiercely, pulling back. "I'm going to find you. I promise."
"You're going to war?" he scoffs. "Hermione, I think they'd notice that you're a woman. They'd notice right away, actually, due to your extremely feminine attributes."
"Not as a solider," she says indignantly. "As a nurse."
He pauses, staring at her.
"You don't know how to be a nurse."
"Then I will find out," she says determinedly.
"Hermione-" he starts wearily, but she kisses him. Really, really kisses him- knocking the breath out of him, making him forget his middle name, and probably scarring some of the children passing by. She pulls back, crying, pressing her forehead against his.
Finally, he has to go. He separates her from his body, and it feels like he's detaching a limb. It hurts that much. With one final memorization of her face, he tucks a piece of her hair behind her ear, and then he starts walking. He leaves her weeping, clutching onto the picket fence until her knuckles turn white.
He leaves her broken.
Ron's letters arrive sporadically.
She knows he writes them everyday, but she certainly doesn't get them everyday. Usually, they arrive in big clumps, the postman smiling sympathetically. She wants to punch him in the face, but ladies don't do that, so she restrains herself. Of course, ladies also aren't supposed to run to the postman half-dressed every morning, just to see if they have letters. But she does do that. She can't help it. Every time she doesn't get one, the panic starts rising a little bit, the knot in her stomach getting just a little bit bigger. Her dreams are full of horrible scenarios about her husband's head getting blown off in war, about the love of her life lying lifeless on a battlefield.
Meanwhile, she takes classes during the day, trying to learn how to be a proper nurse, one good enough for war. Now that she doesn't have to be a wife to someone, it doesn't really matter what she does anymore. It's a welcome distraction, anyways, going to school. Though she's doing all of it to find him, she isn't really thinking about Ron when she's trying to memorize a thousand things at once. She's forgotten how much she loves school, actually- how nice it is to not have to worry about anything but figures and grades and how she's better than everybody else at it.
For the first time in a long time, she isn't the wife of someone who has tragically gone to war. She is Hermione Weasley, top student, determined to go into a medical field, to help people, to do something with her life instead of being a useless secretary that men treat like a toy. It's exhilarating, blissful, and exhausting- because while she's there, she's one person, and she's pretending. And when she's somewhere else, she's another person, and she's still pretending. She's never had to pretend this much in her life, never. She hadn't known how tiring it would be.
Still, there's nothing better than the day, two years after Ron leaves, that she gets to stand up on a stage and smile while she holds a crisp white nursing degree. She's done it. She registers for the army that day, telling them that they can put her anywhere. She doesn't care where she goes- all she knows is that she wants to get closer to him. Ron.
And speaking of Ron... well, he's going to be so angry when he finds out what she's done.
She can't actually find it in herself to care.
Hermione has never had the chance the prove to him that she loves him so much that she's willing to die for him. And this is it. She will find him or die trying.
He likes to keep a picture of her in his pocket at all times. No matter where she is, there's this gorgeous image of her beaming up at him, making him grin back at it. The men he's with always catch him staring at her picture, and they laugh at him and tease him about his girl. He doesn't care- even shows her off. Because she's perfect, she's the best thing that's ever happened to him, and if anything is going to get him through this war, it's Hermione. He's got to come back so that he can sniff her hair and make love to her and tell her how much he needs her and give her the children that she so deserves. She was born to be a mother, and when he married her, he promised that he'd give her that. He wants to see those perfect little mixes of her and him, with their cute little noses and chubby cheeks and tiny little fingers that wrap around his.
So the men can tease him all they want, but it doesn't really matter to him. He's married to the best woman on the planet, and they're all idiots for not getting her first.
Ron thinks about her constantly. Day and night, twenty four/seven, from dawn to dusk. It's like being a teenager again, falling in love with her and not being able to do anything about it. So he doesn't stop thinking about her- unless he's fighting.
On the battlefield, he does everything he can not to think about her, and he does that for her. One second in which he doesn't use all his senses, and he's completely screwed. He needs to have his wits about him on the battlefield, because if he loses them at any point, he's dead.
He wouldn't mind dying, not really, because he isn't afraid of it. Not like she is- logical woman that Hermione is, heaven is laughable to her. It drives him crazy, and they can argue about it for hours. He tells her that he knows for sure that there is a god, that heaven does exist, that they're going to be together even after death. She just pats him on the cheek patronizingly and tells him to eat his vegetables. It's one of the many things they've bickered about over the years, though it doesn't usually escalate to the enormity of some of their other fights. They can go at it for hours, screaming at each other, shouting, or merely arguing heatedly. And then, in ten seconds, they've made up and are kissing each other like mad. He loves how she challenges him like that, how she can change tracks in a second, because fighting simply serves to remind them of how completely in love they are.
Sometimes, when Ron starts daydreaming, he pictures himself dying on the battlefield. He pictures himself becoming unrecognizable in disfigurement, just as so many of his friends. And then someone finds that picture of her in his pocket, and they know who he is, and they bring him home with that picture clutched in his hand, and she sobs over his body and then they bury him with that same picture, still apart of him the way it was during the war.
He can't let that happen.
He can't do that to her.
He fights harder.
And one day, when he takes out that picture, a man looks over his shoulder- as usual.
"I've seen her before," he says, scrutinizing the photograph very carefully. "Is she a nurse?"
"No," Ron says, shaking his head. "She's at home, where she belongs."
"Strange," the man says. "I've seen that face."
Ron doesn't believe him.
It's scary at first. Being in this war. She hadn't expected to be this panicked- usually, Hermione Weasley is cool and composed. She doesn't let anything touch her. But her first few weeks are the most alarming thing, especially for someone with so little experience. Her hands shake as she tends to the wounds of men, and every time one comes in, she prays that he is not Ron. She knows her goal is to find him, but not like this. Never like this. She's going to find him on her own terms, not those of the enemy. She has to. He's not going to get hurt- he can't get hurt.
Over time, she becomes less nervous. She gets to know the men she takes care of very well, learning what questions to ask and how to make it hurt less, casually slipping in inquiries about Ron whenever her patients are well enough to answer them. Sometimes she even gets responses- proper ones. They tell her little anecdotes about her husband, what he's been doing, how he has a picture of her that he takes everywhere, how he's often teased for looking at his sweetheart so much. But, as she's told, the men secretly love it. They miss their wives too- they're just not fool enough to be so obvious about it. Not when everyone's looking so hard for some real fun, and teasing is all the fun they can get sometimes.
As many stories as Hermione hears, she still doesn't know where he is, exactly. So anytime there is an announcement that they need someone to move to another place, she takes it. She barely stays in one place longer than a few weeks, doesn't allow herself to really get attached. As soon as she settles down, she's off to a new location. It's not exactly like she plans it, it just works out that way. And she doesn't really mind- she likes getting to know the new people, likes hearing their stories, especially likes telling men that they're going to be okay. That's the best part, and though she's seen many a man die, the fact that many of them make it usurps that by a lot.
It happens eight months after she enters the war. She's giving a man stitches in a private area when there's a new arrival- a nurse runs in to tell her that it's twenty men, all hurt. She finishes up quickly and washes her hands so that she can go out and check on the new patients. She smiles pleasantly at them, giving a few people instruction- by now she has become an expert. And, as she moves along the beds, she sees it. A face. A very familiar face, covered in dirt and mud, but still familiar. She can see a long nose and bright red hair peaking out from underneath all of the red and brown, mixing together in a nauseating pool.
"Ron?" she whispers, hardly daring to say his name for fear that it will confirm it.
And slowly, very slowly, one blue eye comes into view. And another. And they both widen in shock and disbelief.
"Hermione!" he says hoarsely. "You've got to be kidding me."
"What?" she replies, "why?"
"You actually did it!" he starts to yell, getting up. She hurries over him and shoves him back onto the bed, using all the force she has. Two years and eight months at war have made him impossibly strong, and it alarms her a little bit.
"Sit down!" she hisses at him. "What did you do to yourself?"
He explains that he got shot in the arm and landed funnily while she pours him a glass of water and raises it tenderly to his lips, smoothing his hair back as he drinks. As soon as he finishes, she lowers her lips to his and kisses him, closing her eyes and relearning that familiar dance that they know so well- they've been kissing like this since they were seventeen, after all. And kissing Ron is just like riding a bike- though she hasn't kissed anyone in two and a half years, it's so easy to fall right back into it. Fireworks seem to explode in her stomach and behind her eyelids, and when she's finally pulled back it's with a chest heaving with tears. Her face is dirty with the mud from his own face, and he tenderly takes the washcloth that had been on his forehead and wipes it over her red cheeks. She grabs a fresh one and dabs him clean, too, then covers his face in kisses, tasting all of him. When she pulls back, he grins at her. But he's different. She can tell. Like all men, war has changed him.
The scary part is that she isn't sure how to change him back.
It hurts. A lot. His body has never been so sore- never. And his arm screams in agony nearly every time he shifts in his uncomfortable cot. Still, he's gotten used to those cots. And he's got his wife with him, taking extra care of him, attending to him in every way she can. He watches her as she moves swiftly through the beds, fixing people. He'd never known how good she'd be at fixing people- it makes him a little less mad at her for going against his wishes and taking classes to be a nurse. Entering this awful war just to find him and to be with him. Because he knows, he's absolutely sure, that he is not worth dying for. She is the one that should have someone die for her, but she should never have to die for anyone. She is glass, pristine, perfection- nothing should be able to break her. She should not be shattered. Somehow, she had made it through that first time, she had gone on strong. But he isn't so sure she'll be able to do it again. There is only so much hardship Hermione should have to take.
When he'd married her, he'd done it only because he had known he would never hurt her. He'd married her knowing how much better she was than him, yet still understanding that she loved him. Somehow. Inexplicably. It was completely unprecedented, yet he had been grateful for it every day since he turned seventeen. Still, he had been determined, at the time, to give her the best life he could possibly could. One with no pain, no suffering. He has failed her, he has gone back on his vows, and this angers him more than anything about this war. It's not fair. He had said he would always protect her, always save her. Now she's the one that's always saving him.
She doesn't let him touch her, of course. As much as they had wanted children, now that they're in the middle of a war, him and Hermione are desperately afraid of it happening. So there's no sneaking into his bed in the middle of the night, no intense kissing behind the private screens, only chaste pecks because both of them know that losing control would be the worst thing possible. And they're both so close to losing control with each other- it becomes more difficult every day, as Ron gets stronger and better. But the idea of Hermione getting pregnant is catastrophic. Repugnant. Repulsive. Not like this- never like this. And she's not going to take any chances. Not by a long shot. It would be unfair to all parties involved. God forbid she get pregnant in the middle of a war with an injured husband and a heavy heart.
As times goes on, he can tell that she's unhappy from the way she moves, and he knows she's hiding something. It starts once he's gotten all better, once he's okay again. She's stopped being fragile with him, he's stopped holding back at yelling at her for putting herself in a situation like this. They're back to normal, until it suddenly all stops. He's quiet about it, though, knowing that she will tell him when the time comes. He waits.
Though, considering, he doesn't wait that long. Because one night, after all the lights have been dimmed, she walks over to his bed with her composed mask on- but he sees the way her hands are shaking. She sits on his bed and smooths his hair back and kisses his forehead and he covers her shaking hand with his own. It's only then that she says what he knows she's been preparing to say for quite a while now.
"You have to go."
It's empty without him. Hermione is used to feeling a slight increase of her heartbeat whenever she goes near the bed that he had occupied, but now there's usually a strange man in it, one that isn't half as beautiful as her Ron. It's always a horrible feeling when she remembers that the man in the bed is not her husband, her safe husband. It's always a brand new heartbreak when she remembers that Ron is out there somewhere, fighting for his country, and she isn't even allowed to seek him out or to see him. She isn't quite as full of heart as she was before- after all, what's left of it is in pieces, and there's nothing to hope for anymore. She's already seen him, taken care of him. There's nothing more that she can do. She can, however, makes sure she stays put. The woman who has gotten a reputation for moving around from place to place plants her heels permanently into the ground.
She isn't planning on moving them until her husband is done with this war. Just in case.
Just in case.
Another Christmas comes and goes without him, and a bitter January mirrors her mood exactly. Her hands are always cold, her body is always cold, and the look in her eyes always seems to be cold. She desperately needs something to cheer herself up, something to make it all better. And she gets that when one of her favorite old patients comes back to the hospital. It's just a gash in his arm, harmless in comparison to some of the other things she has seen, and she fixes it easily, doing everything she can to ensure that it will not be infected. They joke together as she's does it, and for the first time in a long time, she is uplifted. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, one that reminds her of humanity just as she was about to give up hope on people.
That's when Nurse Greene stumbles into the room.
"Nurse Weasley?" she says, shaking. "You'd better come quick."
Hermione stands up instantly, caught of guard buy the expression on the face of her colleague. Quickly, she exits the area.
The sight before her registers with her first- there's a man, lying on a cot. Surrounded by almost all of the staff in their area. And there is so much blood. As soon as this registers her mind, the sound of screaming fills her ears.
"NO! DON'T GET HER! NO! DON'T GET HER! DON'T LET HER SEE ME!" roars a voice.
"Ron? RON!" she screams, and he bellows even more.
"NO! HERMIONE, GO!"
She ignores him, running up to his cot.
"Oh my god," she moans, "Ron, why is there so much blood? W-we have to help him."
"Get her AWAY!" Ron yells, eyes squeezed firmly shut. "NOW!"
Two men grab Hermione's elbows and try to drag her away, ignoring the tears that are pouring from her cheeks and hitting the floor.
"LET GO!" she shrieks, and the entire staff is just staring at her, struggling to get to her husband.
"We have to act now," a doctor says.
"Please, please- let me help!" Hermione begs desperately. "Please."
"No," Ron demands loudly, "do not let her near."
The doctor begins to prep him. He bellows in pain, tears leaking from his eyes as he shakes on the cot. It is this that gives Hermione the strength to break free from the men and lurch forward to her husband.
"R-Ron, l-look at me," she says. "Please."
More than anything, she has to see his eyes, make sure that the comforting blue is still there.
He opens his eyes. There's a pause. Then there's another frightened yell from him as the blue eyes move frantically to and fro.
"Hermione?" he says, and now he's dead quiet.
She feels her heart pounding in her ears as it beats wildly in her chest.
"Why can't I see anything?"
They're both sent home a month later, when it's finally safe to move him. She leads him up the pathway to their home, still there even after all that time. It seems to him as though everything should be different, everything should be gone. But it isn't. She tells him that it's almost the way it was when they left it- granted, her vegetables have long since died. But other than that, their home remains much unchanged.
He isn't sure whether this is a blessing or a curse. It's worse for her, he supposes. She can see it. Taunting her with their old hopes and dreams for the place, wishes that will never become reality. Then again, he isn't sure if what he has is much better. He can't see anymore, so all he's got is memories and images of fear and war. It is not pleasant. Not pleasant at all.
He has to learn how to do everything all over again. How to get dressed in the morning, how to tie his shoes, how to find his way around, how to eat. She's there for everything, of course, he knows it's hard for her. She never lets on, of course, but if she's feeling half as awful as he is, it's bad enough. Clever woman that she is, though, Hermione is able to help him figure everything out. She is amazing. She can fix almost anything- except the fear. The fact that he can't see makes it impossible not to be constantly afraid. What if someone is sneaking up behind him? Trying to kill him? What if someone has a gun on him and he doesn't even know it?
Sometimes, he thinks that he wouldn't mind. Sometimes, all he wants to do is give up. As sadistic as it sounds, he is so sick of trying.
There's the fact that he will never see her face again. The love of his life. The woman that he had always planned to grow old with... he won't get to see her old. Never again will he see her smile, or her hair, or her eyes. And when the baby bump comes along, he can't see that either. He feels it along her body, of course. Sometimes he can even feel the little girl within moving or kicking. It's the most exhilarating thing ever, this baby. His and Hermione's baby.
There's one night that it hits him, that he'll never see the face of his little girl. For hours, all he does is demolish their living room, throwing anything his hands can close in on. He can hear Hermione on the couch, trying to stifle her sobs. He loves and hates her for attempting to be so strong for him.
Still, in spite of all the heartache, Ron loves his baby girl. The one that Hermione goes through hours of screaming for, the one that causes more pain than any war ever could. He can't help her, he can only listen to her. He braces himself on a chair, gripping it so hard that he thinks his fingers might sever themselves from his knuckles.
Afterwards, he holds the baby, and Hermione tells him what she looks like.
"Red hair," she whispers, taking his finger and tracing it over the peach fuzz at the top of their daughter's head. "Brown eyes. Chubby, rosy little cheeks."
"Rosy, huh?" he says quietly. "Maybe we should call her Rose."
They do. Because in the midst of a never ending darkness, a single word is the only real image he will ever be able to associate with his daughter, the only particular he ever will know.