Author's Note: I swore to myself that I would never do this, because I just wasn't good enough. But I went and did it. I couldn't resist. So here: short R/Hr ficlet. Enjoy.
She didn't stop to look at herself in the mirror. She knew what she'd find. A malnourished and bruised face. Sunken eyes red from exhaustion and crying. It wasn't something Hermione was ready to face yet. Everything felt so insubstantial and unreal. Her skin was crawling with dirt and the aftershocks of adrenaline, and she wondered absently how she was still standing on her own. Ron had been her crutch for innumerable hours and to suddenly not have his arm around her, to not feel his solid form, his realness, next to her left her stomach turning. She slowly realized she was shaking, then shook her head as if to clear her ears of water. She'd been shaking for the last few days.
Ron had been hesitant to let her go on her own, but she'd insisted on needing privacy, solitude. She regretted saying so; she knew he was probably right outside the door, but the feeling of separation made her chest hurt. A laugh that was more a cough escaped her parched throat, brain reeling at the sheer lunacy of it all. Surely if she had survived this long without him, then waiting another hour for the sake of a bath wouldn't hurt, but she couldn't help it. She'd had a taste now. She knew what it was like to be with him and she didn't ever want to stop, even for a moment.
But she'd insisted, and he hadn't tried to change her mind more than once or twice. That made her lips curl up a bit at the corners. He hadn't wanted to let her go, either.
She lingered at the edge of the empty bath, marveling at how this room managed to survive the destruction of the battle. But then again, it was just a bathroom, albeit a large one, and located in the interior of the castle.
Her hands found the taps she wanted with a practiced ease. She remembered how she used to fill the bath with fluffy, lemony foam that had felt like cream on her skin. She turned a brass knob with a pale citrine gem set into the top, and the bath filled with hot opalescent water that steamed in thick, heavy clouds. As she pulled her clothes off with some difficulty, she wondered how long it had been since she'd changed. Since Gringott's? Hermione shook her head and dropped them to the tiled floor, thinking that she'd like to just set the rags aflame, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. She set her wand on the edge of the bath before slipping into the murky water.
She didn't usually take hot baths, but she needed to do something to rid herself of the unclean feeling she had. She sunk in up to her chin and closed her eyes, breathing deep the salty scent of the water. She needed to scald the grime and the grief away.
She felt like she should still be crying, but she knew that she was just burned out. Exhausted. The tears would return once the hollowness left her.
She let out a weary sigh. Perhaps she should have let Ron come in with her…
Hermione felt her face flush, and she knew it wasn't from the heat of the water. The truth was, she didn't trust herself alone with him at this moment. If he had come with her, who knows what she would have done… Not to mention it would be completely inappropriate. They had only just started… what? Snogging? Sharing a bed? Clinging to each other like the world would collapse upon itself if they let go?
She took a deep breath and submerged herself fully.
But hadn't it collapsed already?
His hands itched.
He didn't know if it was from being burnt again, or if it was from not having something to do, or…
She's on the other side of a door, he thought. I can hear the water running from here. She's fine.
But a door was far too much separation for his own liking. His hand was empty, and therein laid the problem.
Ron needed her next to him. He needed her hand in his, her head tucked beneath his chin, his face buried in her hair. He needed to touch her, feel the life that she was in her, that she emanated even when she was crying. She kept him out of the dark that he could feel hiding somewhere behind his eyes.
His head fell back against the stone wall. One of the few that managed to stay standing. You should be helping somewhere…
He clenched his fist as his throat tightened.
Hermione, hurry up already.
She Summoned a towel from the depths of the beaded bag and began to dry off. She wouldn't have said that she felt better, but at least she felt more human.
She took the time to take an inventory. How many bruises, how many scrapes and cuts? There was nothing overtly serious. She was still sore all over and knew that she would have a few more scars to add to her collection (her hand went to her throat unconsciously), but it was nothing that she wouldn't recover from. Still, she decided it was time to face it. She stepped over to the mirror to further access the damage. She hadn't seen her own reflection clearly since Shell Cottage.
She didn't like what she found.
She was far too thin. Her eyes were sunken and had dark circles beneath them. She couldn't recognize this person, so she turned away and began to dry her hair. There was no point in bothering with her appearance. And since when have you ever cared about that, Granger? She rubbed furiously at her scalp with the towel and combed her fingers through it. Her hand and the towel came away with charred brown stands. Dazed, she put the pieces together.
This was her hair.
She spun back to the mirror and angled her face so that she could better see the back of her head. And sure enough, a good bit of her dark brown curls were missing. Singed off by the Fiendfyre.
Tears sprung to her eyes, and she laughed out loud at the absurdity of her own sudden vanity. Of all the things to cry over… But she was, because it was her hair, and it was ruined. There had to be a spell that would make it grow back, sort of the opposite of how Madam Pomfrey had shrunk her front teeth in Fourth Year. There had to be. But it hadn't been any normal fire. What if it wouldn't grow back? What then?
Hermione stared at her reflection in disbelief, wondering what to do, when a knock came on the door and made her jump.
"Hermione? You alright in there?"
"I'm fine," she stammered back, suddenly angry at him. Why hadn't he told her that her hair was ruined? But it had been put up, she reminded herself. She hadn't taken it down until she had gotten into the bath. Maybe he hadn't noticed.
Her concern over her hair was beginning to frustrate her. There were more important things to be worried about, to be upset over. But there it was. She frowned and examined it as best as she could, turning her head from side to side.
"Well," she muttered to herself. "No choice but to cut it."
She set her jaw and Summoned her potions knife from the beaded bag. Besides, if she couldn't recognize herself, she had might as well include everyone.
Ron let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding when he heard her voice. The doorknob turned and she stepped out. Except it wasn't Hermione.
It took him a moment of gaping like a landed fish before he could blurt out, "What the hell did you do?"
She frowned at him, but it was a contradicted by a self-conscious hand going to the severed locks.
"You don't like it?" she asked, her words a rush. "I know I'm not very good at beauty spells, but I thought a haircut would be fairly simple—"
"It's..." His mouth closed and he frowned back, staring at her like she'd suddenly grown two heads and he didn't know which one to speak to. Hermione watched him watch her, suddenly afraid. Did he hate it? It looked horrible, didn't it? He was going to leave her now, because she had awful hair, more awful than it had been before-
Ron reached out a hand and touched the newly-shorn edges of her curls. They were light and bouncy now, still bushy but less of a mess, and shiny from being freshly washed. He twisted his finger into one and pulled on it, watching it spring back as he released it. His frown deepened. Hermione panicked.
"It's awful, isn't it?" she said in a defeated voice. Ron tugged on the curl again, absently, and then his eyes drifted to hers.
"It's... different," he said.
"You hate it."
Ron actually chuckled for a moment. "I don't hate it. It's just... different." He pulled his hand away and shoved it in his pocket. "But why did you-?"
Hermione sighed. "The Fiendfyre." He nodded, and she took a deep breath. "So... you like it?"
Ron reached out to her and she went into his arms, the hollowness in her chest shrinking just a bit. She felt his chin rest on the top of her head and she sighed in relief.
"I think you're beautiful no matter what," he murmured. "That won't change, no matter what you do to your bloody hair."
She smiled into his shirt, trying not to let tears slip down her cheeks. "Thank you," she whispered.
They stayed like that for a few more moments until deciding to go to the Great Hall, hand in hand, to find something to help with. Hermione's free hand went to her hair on the way, and Ron raised an eyebrow at her.
"All right?" he asked.
"You know," Hermione said, "I sort of like it. I think… I think a bit of a change is what I needed." She smiled at him, and he squeezed her hand.
"I think you're right," he said, his voice low, and his eyes moved to their hands, their fingers interlaced between them. Hermione's smile widened as she felt her cheeks flush, and then his free hand was toying with her hair again and his lips her on hers. When they pulled away, both were breathless and grinning like fools. Ron pulled on a curl again.
"Y'know, I sort of like it."
The curl bounced back into place and Ron shrugged. "Yeah. It suits you. I think I'd even let you cut mine."
Hermione's eyebrows rose. "Really? And usurp your mother?"
"Anything is better than Mum cutting my hair. At least you won't use a bowl and I won't have to butcher it myself afterward trying to fix it."
She rolled her eyes. "Oh, Ronald..."
He laughed and started pulling on her hand. "C'mon. Let's find Harry, shall we? You can cut his hair, too. It's a mess."
Hermione laughed back, the void in her chest feeling a little fuller than it had earlier. She knew it would return later, when all had been done that could be and there was nothing more to do than to grieve, to adjust, to move on. But now, she thought, it wouldn't be as hard as she originally thought. She had this now; she had Ron. And together they would survive and get through, and with Harry and Ginny and their family they would make it through, bruised, but not entirely broken. She smiled at Ron as he tugged her down the steps, rambling on about how she would have to give up her future in the Ministry and become a hairdresser like the witch his mum used to see every other week in town to gossip and get a perm, and her hand went to her new haircut again. Not all changes were for the worse, then. Some were for the better.
(AN: So review and tell me if I should stay out of the sandbox. To my readers of other stories: YES I'M WORKING ON THEM NOW SHOO! Thanks for lingering here and reading!)