The pain was still piercing her body in random waves every now and again. Or rather, it was just the memory of the pain inflicted, her brain playing tricks on her body. Hermione lay motionless in a small bed listening to the foamy roll of the sea just outside of Shell Cottage. She figured they had arrived here sometime in the past 24 hours, the hours before that a living nightmare beyond anything she could have imagined. She also figured they had given her a sleeping draught and now that it had worn off she was able to reflect on the events of the day before with some detail.

They had just escaped the clutches of disaster at Lovegoods and landed straight into another pursuit. This time it was Snatchers, vile heathens paid to round up "Mudbloods" and "Blood Traitors". The three of them literally ran for their lives but were outnumbered. Hermione attempted to cast a stinging spell to render Harry unrecognizable, to no avail in the end. Her fear of Harry being recognized was forgotten immediately when she felt herself caught and steadied, arms behind her back by one Snatcher and felt their leader's breath in her ear, "What do they call you beautiful?" he said as he ran a finger down her cheek. Her voice cracked with fear but she knew she needed to speak with certainty, "Penelope Clearwater, half-blood." she said with withering confidence. "Get away from her!" she heard Ron call from a few feet away. He was laying stomach-down on the ground with a large man kneeling on his back; both of his hands were now being tied behind his back. Oh God please don't let them hurt him! She could see fierceness in his eyes as he registered her own terrified gaze.

"Half-blood ay?" the leader said snidely, "Soft skin…" he ran his hand on her cheek and down her neck and she winced and pulled back, only to feel the other man who was holding her snort a chuckle in her other ear. She felt her body freeze. The leader moved his body directly in front of her and slowly began to unzip her jumper, "Beautiful half-blood girl with these two ugly gargoyles, let me ask you lovely, have they been minding their manners with you?" She started to feel herself panic when she realized that he was meaning to undress her upper body. "No please…" she whimpered. She heard Ron again scream out something in anger but heat rose up into her ears so that she was nearly deaf.

Once he had pulled her jumper apart the leader took her blouse in both hands and ripped it open, exposing her chest, shoulders, and stomach to the cold air. "Black, my favorite color, how did you know?" he said with a smile. "Now I need to know if you completed the look beautiful…" he reached down to unbutton her jeans and his cold hands brushing her skin caused her stomach to tremble uncontrollably, the trembling radiated up through to her chest as she began to sob and beg, "No please…I beg you please…" He pulled back the waist of her jeans to expose the top of her knickers, "Good girl." he said to her quietly. She was shaking beyond belief as he ran his fingers across her stomach while leering at her chest. She didn't dare look in Ron's direction; she was completely mortified as she became aware of being half-naked, exposed in this way to all of these disgusting Snatchers. Her heart ached for how helpless he must be feeling right now. Harry had been knocked unconscious but was beginning to come around, his eyes however were still swollen shut from the sting.

The leader turned and spoke to his crew, "You four take these two down to the river and tie them up. Half-blood princess and I would like some time alone time." He turned and grabbed Hermione's arm, dragging her farther up into the woods away from Ron and Harry. "Hermione, RUN! RUN!" Ron shouted in a desperately panicked voice and then she heard a thump, "Shut up!" said one of the Snatchers and as she heard a thump, she knew he had been knocked cold. She tried to pull loose from the leader with no success. She was beyond panic now and freezing as she was dragged along up the hillside.

Just when she felt herself feel faint, she heard one of the Snatchers call out, "Oi! Scabior! We've caught Harry friggin' Potter here!" He stopped in his tracks, turned and yelled out, "What?!"

"It's Harry Potter! the one with the fat face-it's him!." He grabbed her hair pulling her close and whispered angrily, "Two timing me with Harry Potter princess?" then with a jerk he was racing back toward the others, dragging Hermione with him. "You better be sure about this you stupid jackals!" Scabior seethed at the others as he threw Hermione aside into the arms of another Snatcher, who offered her a gentler touch, held her around the waist allowing her hands free to right her jeans and zip her jumper. Scabior examined Harry's face intently with an angered scowl, "Well…looks like this party's taking a slight detour." He moved over to Hermione and leaned in again to her ear, "Rain check?" She felt herself near faint again and her knees buckled, but the Snatcher holding her steadied her balance. She found the courage to look for Ron; he had just come to from the blow. She searched his eyes for some kind of reassurance, but the look on his face, she couldn't quite comprehend.

As they walked into the night toward an unknown destination, she felt the heat of humiliation and shame wash over her. She began to regret all of the decisions she made that led them up to that moment of being overtaken by the Snatchers. Had she not insisted that they visit Lovegood, they would never have found themselves in an area so thick with Snatchers. She was the one who had disapparated them there. Her careless decisions had put them all in danger and now some unknown fate lie ahead. She wanted to run off into the night alone, away from all of this, find an ocean and swim to her parents in Australia. That was possible right? Maybe she couldn't swim the entire time, maybe she could just float for most of it. They wouldn't know her of course, even if she did make it. But it would be worth it just to see them now-wouldn't it? To know that they are safe? Even if she could never restore their memories, she could befriend them and become the daughter they never had?

Like a jolt, she felt a warm hand reach out to hers. It was Ron; she could see that he was trying to hold her hand discreetly, so as not to bring attention to them. Her heart melted in her chest as she looked over and saw tears swimming in his blue eyes. He looked away from her quickly but kept a firm grasp on her hand. It was only a few more steps until their destination came into view, "Here we are, Malfoy Manor." Scabior proclaimed.

The events that followed at Malfoy Manor were difficult to recall clearly for Hermione. The only thing that she really remembered was the pain, of course, but she also remembered the sound of Ron screaming her name from somewhere below. Many pieces were blank for her as she tried to recall them all. She knew Draco was there, and that he was the one who identified her. But the rest was just hazy. After Harry and Ron were taken downstairs, her thoughts were focused on their safety until the torture began. And then…white pain.

The first time she realized they had escaped was when she felt Ron stop to steady his grip on her as he carried her up the beach. She opened her eyes lightly but light of the bright day caused a searing pain in her head. She kept her eyes closed and wrapped her arms around Ron's neck. She felt him pull her body closer to him and heard him say as he buried his face in her neck, "You're going to be okay, we're safe, we got away."

"Harry is ok?" she mumbled. "Harry is fine." he answered.

"Did they hurt you?" she asked him, reaching to caress his face in her hand. He paused, "I'm fine. We're going to be okay." He sped up his pace.

"Ron?" she mumbled again. "Yeah?" he said breathlessly, "Will you take me home?" He brought her close again, kissed her forehead and kept his lips pressed against her skin as he walked on.

Now she sat upright in bed, wondering what happened next and how long she had been asleep. She heard muffled voices in the hallway, or the next room, she couldn't tell. She pulled her legs from under the blanket and stood up next to the bed. For the moment, the pain had subsided, but there was no telling when it would hit her again and she was worried of being caught off guard by it. Perhaps if she moved around a little her body could recalibrate itself and get a grip. She was familiar with the Cruciatus curse enough to know that it left no lasting physical damage to one's body, the mere psychological impact though could be debilitating. She walked over to the small window in the bedroom and looked out onto the view-to the beach and onto the sea. She looked down and realized she was wearing the same clothes from the day before; she unzipped her jumper and saw her blouse ripped apart and remembered. But then she noticed that her left arm was bandaged from her wrist to her elbow.

Just then a faint knock at the door came and she quickly zipped her jumper. "Come in." she said. It was Ron. He looked clean and exhausted. "Hey." he said gently, "How are you feeling? Wait, why are you up? You should be resting!" She watched as he straightened the blankets and sheets and then took her by the arm, attempting to guide her back to bed. She protested.

"No Ron, I've slept enough, I'm not tired."

"Hungry then?" he asked hopefully.

"Um, maybe, but I would like to get cleaned up first." she said. "You look really tired, maybe you should get some sleep." She pointed at the bed.

"Yeah, maybe I will in a bit. Let me show you the bathroom." He led her out into the hallway and to the bathroom. He gave her a towel from the hall closet. He held up his hand, "Oh and wait, Fleur left some clean clothes for you to change into. She went to the Burrow for a few days to let the family know we are here and that we're … ok." He put a small pile of clothes into her arms. As he plopped them down she felt a sharp pain in the left arm from under the bandage, "Ouch!" she exclaimed. "Oh, sorry, what hurts?" he asked with concern.

"I don't know, my arm hurts, it has a bandage on it. I don't remember." He looked at her sadly; he realized that she hadn't seen the injury. He knew he should show it to her.

"Hermione, come with me." He took her gently by the elbow and led her into the bathroom, "Can you pull up your sleeve so I can remove the bandage?" he asked. She tried. "No, I am going to have to take off my jumper. Remembering her ripped blouse underneath, she said, "Uh, it's okay I can do it myself okay?" she said slightly flushed. He looked at her again with sad eyes and he felt a sudden urge to scoop her up and never let her go. "I want to help you okay? Hermione…please trust me." He was so cautious with his eyes and she let go. She unzipped her jumper and pulled her uninjured arm out; he took the sleeve of the other arm and held it as she gently slid out her bandaged arm. His eyes stayed fixed on her own and she felt tears begin to swell and her chest began to rise and fall heavily as she tried to hold back a complete meltdown. His breathing also increased to a rapid pace when he saw tears begin to fall down her cheek. Her ripped blouse hung open and her black bra clearly exposed to him, as it was yesterday, she almost doubled over with the shame of it, her head hung low. He took her face in his hands and wiped her tears with his thumbs. "You are so brave." He said, "You are just absolutely fierce. Do you hear me? "She gave a half-hearted nod and he let his hands drop to her shoulders. She let her head hang again toward the floor. "I made so many mistakes," she said in a regretful tone, "so many bad decisions…"

"No!" he said, pulling her face up to meet his eyes. "You have saved our hides so many times, I've seriously lost count." she laughed lightly through her tears and let it go. He looked down at her exposed body and turned bright red. His expression was not one of embarrassment though, it was anger. "Hermione, when he had you, and did this to you," he nodded downward, "I was just…I am just…" he was truly at a loss for words and overwhelmed with emotion. "I should have done something." He let go of her face and ran his fingers angrily over his own face and through his hair and made an gritty, frustrated grunting noise.

"Ron what could you have done? There were six of them! And Harry was practically blind! Ron, please don't!" she started to cry. He gave her an apologetic look and then turned slightly away. "He knocked me cold after I told you to run, I was out for a bit wasn't I?" she could see his ears turn even more red as he spoke. "I saw him take you up farther into the woods … what … did he hurt you?" He turned back to her with tearful and wide eyes. She understood, he thought that Scabior had attacked her while he was unconscious, he didn't wake until after Harry's identity had been compromised. He needed to know.

"No Ron, he tried to but…somehow they discovered it was Harry and they called to him, he dragged me back down to the others and to you and Harry, then we were off to Malfoy Manor." Ron closed his eyes, let out his baited breath signaling his relief but in his eyes the pain was still vividly clear.

They were quiet for a moment, he was deep in thought and staring at her intensely, and then she remembered her arm, "Ron, my arm…" he seemed to have awaken from his thought and said, "Oh, right. Here let me help you then." He gently removed the bandage from her arm and prepared himself for her reaction. As the bandage peeled away she saw it, the word deeply carved into her forearm … Mudblood. Ron pulled her in as she gasped and put her hand over her mouth. "The dittany wouldn't remove it, Fleur will get something from mum to remove it…mum knows how to remove wounds made by dark magic. Hermione…Hermione?" he felt her body go limp as she collapsed toward the floor but he held her up and into him close. The white pain returned and her body shook from it. She faintly heard Ron's voice trying to comfort her and she felt him pull her even closer. His arms were strong and he was so warm. After a minute or so she regained control and pulled away from him, embarrassed of herself. "I really do want to take a bath now okay? Thank you for helping me but I think I am going to be okay now. I'm sorry for that."

"Sorry for what?" he asked, immediately regretting his harsh tone.

"Sorry for letting it get to me, the pain, it is just in my head."

He looked annoyed, "You cannot seriously be apologizing for that after all you've been through the past 24 hours?" he asked her.

She wiped her face with her uninjured arm and gave him a weary smile, "Ok, then I'm not sorry, you should be running my bath and bringing me hot tea, cakes, and oh…and fresh flowers!" He gave her a mischievous look, "Oh really?" he asked, "Ok, maybe I will do just that!" He then walked over to the bathtub, started the water and adjusted the temperature. "Can you get in on your own then? Are you sure?" he asked, his shyness coming through in the form of a bright red glow.

"Yes, I think I can but if I need help I will call you, how's that?"

"Okay" he said with a smile. "So tea, cakes and fresh flowers, anything else?"

"What? No Ron! I was only joking!" she said with a laugh.

"I'm not joking!" he said. "But I don't think I'll bring cake, you need to eat real food first and Bill made a good stew. Stew first, then cake." She smiled and nodded her head slightly and he backed out of the bathroom, keeping her smile fixed in his line of sight, he backed right into the door and stumbled. "Damn! Oh, sorry! Be right back!" It feels good to laugh, she thought. She found some French bubble bath on a shelf, added it to the water, undressed and slid into the hot water. It felt amazing.

Ron closed the bathroom door and made his way to the end of the hall to the top of the stairs. He needed a minute. He sat down, taking some deep breaths to try and clear his head. His insides had been twisted into a knot since yesterday. He didn't even dare let himself recall the look of her standing in the woods, her body exposed, her eyes filled with terror and humiliation. It was too painful to remember. He didn't dare let himself recall his own feelings of rage and helplessness. He instead focused on the flood of relief he felt and finding out that she had not been attacked. When they had arrived at Shell Cottage, he let Fleur tend to Hermione, because he was somewhat out of his mind with worry about her Fleur and Bill calmed him down and instructed him to take a seat downstairs, but he didn't mention their experience with the Snatchers. He wondered if he should have told Fleur about what might have happened, for Hermione's well-being, but at that point he had not fully accepted that it could be true. The torture she endured at Malfoy Manor would have some lingering effects on her psyche it seemed; he hoped that by making her feel safe the effects would be minimal. And the wound on her arm could be healed with the proper antidote according to Fleur and Bill. He had spent the night sleeping in the chair next to her bed, waiting for her to wake and just listening to her breathing. Seeing her just now, so vulnerable yet so resilient, gave him a renewed feeling of hope and determination.

"Ron, everything okay with Hermione?" Bill called up from the bottom of the stairs.

"Yea, she's up, she needs to eat." he answered.

"You okay?" Bill noticed his little brother looked rattled.

"Yea, I'm better actually." Ron said.

Fifteen minutes later, Ron knocked lightly on the bathroom door. "Hello?" he said gently.

"Hello?" she replied.

"Uh, do you want your tea?"

She smiled. "That would be lovely, thank you."

"Uh, want me to just leave it here then, by the door?"

She was up to her neck in bubbles, knowing that he wouldn't be able to see anything but her head floating above the water, she told him,

"Just bring it in, I'm decent."

"Oh, ok." The door opened slowly and he tried to slide himself through the door while keeping it open only narrowly. He had one hand shielding his eyes and the other holding a steaming cup of tea.

"Ron its ok you can't see anything I promise." She said laughing. "Please watch where you're going with a cup of hot tea in your hand!" He moved his hand away from his eyes but kept them closed; slowly peeking through until he realized that she was indeed completely unrevealed beneath the bubbles. She looked very small in the huge bathtub. He held out the mug of tea from as far back as he could manage and then slinked back toward the door. "Mind if I stay and talk for a bit then?" he asked her.

"Sure, but sit on the floor, over there, by the door." she pointed and he obeyed with a sly smile. They sat talking for a while. He told her about Dobby and she cried, he wanted to comfort her but doubted that she would want him to pull her into a hug at given the circumstances. She pulled herself together well, and asked about Harry. Ron explained that Harry had been keen on sitting on the beach alone over the past day thinking about what to do and where to go next. "Does he have any ideas?" she asked him.

"Don't know, he's not saying much." Ron replied. He also told her about Griphook, Luna and Dean. "Luna and Dean are here?!" she exclaimed, "They are ok?!" She was so happy to hear it.

"Isn't your water getting cold?" Ron asked her.

"Yea, actually it is but I hate to get out, it feels too good. This tea is really good too." She took another sip and slid down further into the water. Ron felt a wave of heat rush to his head. He had a brief vision of himself undressed and sliding into that bathtub with her. What are you thinking about you stupid git? She has just been through hell! But still, it was a nice fantasy.

"I am hungry though so I should get out." she said reluctantly.

"Right. I was going to bring your food up." he told her as he stood.

"Oh, no Ron I want to come down and see everyone. I don't want to be held up here like some hospital patient. I'll be down in a few minutes okay?"

"Sure, okay then. Don't forget if you need help just call me." he couldn't help but smile again and then he slowly exited the bathroom.

Hermione felt loads better after the bath and some food. It was nice catching up with Luna and Dean. She noticed Ron watching her closely as she ate; he seemed intent to keep her eating and was disappointed when she told him she couldn't possibly eat more. Bill teased Ron that he was turning into Mrs. Weasley with the insistence on eating. Everyone but Ron laughed heartily. After she ate, Hermione wondered aloud to Ron if they should go find Harry on the beach and discuss their next steps. He didn't seem eager to do that and she was still quite weak from their ordeal so she didn't pursue it. She was worried about Harry; he had not even called in to check on her yet. But maybe he thinks I'm still sleeping, she thought to herself. Ron was so busy fussing over her he hardly noticed Harry's absence. He was being a constant source of comfort for her and she was letting him. She was never a girl who wanted to be 'taken care of' by anyone else, but that was indeed what she was letting Ron do for her, and it felt good. He seemed to be enjoying the role.

"Come on then, you should get back to bed for a bit. I'll find you some books to read in bed from Fleur and Bill's bookshelf. No Ancient Runes or Horcrux research tonight." he told her.

"That sounds good." she told him. He looked pleased with himself.

Upstairs she climbed back into the bed and started to feel normal again. She had not felt the white pain since that moment in the bathroom and her anxiety about the pain returning had somewhat dissolved. Ron entered the room and sat down on the edge of the bed with three books in his hands, "Ok, I found two books on French cooking and one that I know you like, Pride and Prejudice."

"Oh I do love that book!" she cried. "How do you know I like that book?" she asked him, "it's a Muggle book."

"Well, I know you carry it with you all the time and when you were stressed out about your classes, you just put all the schoolbooks aside and pulled this one out." he told her.

"That's right." she said in amazement.

"Good then, here you go." He handed the book to her. "I think I want to just take a nap if you don't mind? I can pull my blankets in here on the floor so if you need me I'll be here?"

"Oh no you take the bed and I'll just read in the chair." She said getting up.

"No!" he cried. "You need to be in bed. Please."

"Oh Ron don't be stupid I'm not going to let you sleep on the floor, you are exhausted!"

He looked perplexed, he paused and then said, "Ok, how about this: I will take a nap here next to you on the bed while you read."

Hermione's eyes narrowed at him, "You're sure? You really need sleep too you know."

"Yea, it will be fine. Better than actually." he tried to contain a smile. He was trying to be playful but also was cautious about how far he should go. They become very close the past year, but somehow the events of the past day and a half caused him to feel more cautious about how to approach her. She clearly warmed to his embrace when she needed comfort, but he knew that now was not the time for anything more than that. Unless of course, she initiated.

"Ok." she answered. He removed his shoes and climbed into the bed facing away from her while she wiggled herself in next to him. It wasn't exactly a bed made for two, but it was a little bigger than a single. "Lucky you're so small." he said to her, "Otherwise we might not fit."

She giggled and started to read. They were quiet for a moment and then he turned to face her, "So what is this book about anyway?"

"It's a love story." she said without looking up, "You wouldn't like it."

"I take offense to that!" he cried, "What makes you think I don't like love stories?"

She giggled more. "I just know you and I don't think you would like this book."

"Well, there's only one way to find out. Read it to me." he said grinning.

"Ron, no, you need to get some sleep!"

"Just a little, if it's boring it might help me fall asleep." he said in a pleading tone and with pleading eyes that he had perfected over time. She rolled her eyes at that, "Oh, alright…"

The eye roll and the "Oh, alright" was like home to Ron. This was the exact same response she had been giving him for nearly seven years every time he finally convinced her to do something for him. He just realized though, it wasn't getting her to do something for him that felt good. It was her. It was getting her: her time, her attention, her presence-that was what made it feel so good. The realization brought about a deep feeling of warmth inside him. She began to read and he was almost immediately out.

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