This might turn into something more eventually but it's been swirling around in my head for a week. Needed to get it out before I lost it.

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Ron had nothing but fond memories of Shell Cottage from his childhood. A cozy family retreat, he loved visiting his relatives who lived in the modest house on the water. None of the Weasleys were exempt from the pale freckled skin susceptible to vicious sunburn, but as long as they were smeared with the ointment their Mum always had on hand, Ron and his siblings could dive from the rocks into the coming waves all day long and not turn into human lobsters.

When they were small, he and Ginny being only a year apart, were often left out of the games their older brothers played in the water. The two youngest Weasley children would contentedly sit side by side and push their toes into the wet sand and watch their brothers climb up on each other's shoulders and launch themselves into the largest waves, sometimes even riding them all the way up onto the beach.

When their mum wasn't watching, they'd beg Charlie to toss them in. Charlie would smile his lopsided smile, take one of them around the waist and wait for a medium-sized wave to come along. Bill would wade out further into the water in case Ron or Ginny got a mouthful of water and needed a rescue.

As soon as just the right wave was upon them, Charlie would count "one…two…three!" and they would be up in the air squealing with delight and landing in giant splashes.

"Not so high, Charlie!" Their dad would admonish him. Mr. Weasley kept watch over his brood and never breathed a word to his wife about their two youngest being thrown around like the quaffle in a tight quidditch match.

Ron would help Ginny search for the perfectly smooth stones she liked to try to skip in the water when the tide went out. Ron had shown her the technique Charlie taught him and she's laugh with delight when her stones would skip two or three times before sinking beneath the surface of the water. Ron would try not to gloat when his stones would skip four or five times.

As they got older, Bill and Charlie stopped joining them at the cottage. Fred and George would miss no opportunity to swim in between Ginny's legs when she wasn't paying attention and lift her up out of the water, promptly letting her scream and flail a bit before she plugged her nose and fell backwards. Ron didn't get off so easy. He'd have to be vigilant when he couldn't see where his twin troublemaker siblings were. If one of them went missing, he was most likely sneaking up behind Ron, ready to pull his swim trunks down. Percy was a victim of the twin's pantsings as well so in time, he refused to be in the water with them; choosing instead to retreat to a flat rock under a tree with a book, his tortoiseshell glasses speckled with sand and salt water.

Ron tried very hard to keep those memories in the forefront of his mind when he thought about the house on the rocks. The good days. Before the outbreak of this war. Before he stopped sleeping soundly, hoping upon hope that he'd live to see the morning; hoping that no harm would come to anyone he loved, Hermione and Harry in particular. More the former than the latter, hated to admit even to only himself.

Feeling the horcrux's stranglehold on him was the most out-of-body experience he ever had. He felt his eyes burning with hatred for his best mate and the girl he'd do anything for. The way they talked, often completing each other's sentences and sharing low conversations when they thought he was resting on his camp bed. It made him rage-filled to think that they were excluding him, maybe even contemplating taking off together and leaving him alone.

Intellectually, Ron knew that would never happen. When he took the horcrux off to hand it to its next unhappy recipient, he felt an enormous weight lift from his shoulders, but the thoughts still lingered. If Hermione handed Harry his tea or whatever meal she'd managed to scrape together before Ron had his serving he'd clench his jaw. If Hermione said goodnight to Harry first, Ron's stomach would lurch.

It was only a matter of time before he lost control over his emotions. He had yelled at the two people who would never abandon him and left them very much still in imminent danger. Hermione's voice, strangled with tears calling his name rung in his ears every waking minute of every day when he was gone. He couldn't go back to the Burrow. He wouldn't be able to look either of his parents in the eye and tell them that he abandoned the mission he'd set out on. Abandoned Harry. Abandoned Hermione.

Bill and Fleur might not understand or approve, but they would let him stay with them and not ask too many questions. He mostly sat on the old bed with the wrought-iron headboard all day, staring at his shoes; his inner monologue never straying far from the repetition of admonitions:

Coward. You're a ruddy coward. They never would have left you, you sodding arsehole. They never have left you before. They chased after you into untold danger when you were dragged into the secret passage of the Shrieking Shack. The pair of them have always been there for you - sod it - she has always been there for you. Now you've certainly lost them forever. If they die, it's your fault.

When he heard Hermione's voice echoing out of the Deluminator under his pillow, his heart leapt. Something in his gut told him this was the only chance to find them and rejoin the horcrux search-and-destroy mission.

When he saw Harry peeling his clothes off standing on the ice, Ron feared his best friend was under the influence of the Imperius curse. Why would Harry willingly jump through a hole into the icy water? Chills stabbed Ron all over his body when he dove in after Harry and his heavy, soaking wet clothes nearly drowned the both of them. Thanks to his long muscular legs and years of swimming, Ron was able to get Harry out of the black abyss, the Sword of Gryffindor in hand. He was grateful to Harry for not rebuking his return and grateful for the opportunity to destroy the locket that almost ruined his life. Her greeting was less enthusiastic than he hoped for, but she didn't tell him to leave.

Listening helplessly to her tortured cries while he was trapped in the basement of Malfoy Manor almost killed him. Being forced to hear the sound of her life being slowly sucked out of her by that evil Lestrange bitch was the single worst experience of his life.

He knew he couldn't live without her…couldn't imagine life without Hermione. What would he do without her? He screamed her name, to let her know he hadn't given up on trying to rescue her, and to try to drown out the howls of pain coming out of her very soul. He'd killed the masked Death Eater that attacked Tonks and him already. Killing Bellatrix Lestrange would be much easier. Listening to her scream in pain would be a pleasure for him. The Cruciatus curse was Bellatrix's specialty but Ron knew he would enjoy ripping her to pieces for what she was doing to Hermione.

The other murder Ron would gladly carry out was Greyback. Not only for mauling Bill; disfiguring his brother for life, but for the implications of what he'd do to Hermione if given the chance. In many ways, Fenrir Greyback frightened Ron more than Voldemort. Voldemort had rules, there was a rhyme and reason for the things he did, even if they were cruel and cold-blooded. Greyback wanted nothing more than to spread lycanthropy and viciously attack defenseless children, like Remus. The palpitations in Ron's chest when Greyback licked his lips looking at Hermione haunted him.

As soon as Ron felt his trainers sink down in the soggy sand of the beach surrounding Shell Cottage with Hermione in his arms he felt like he could breathe again. She was so weak, every bit of her body trembled. And then poor Dobby. His small body, about the size Ron was the first time he played with his brothers on that very sand, laid limp in Harry's arms. The little elf who had been their friend had shown so much courage; not only a free elf, but a valiant one.

Ron took Hermione up to the bedroom he had used when he stayed there those awful weeks and laid her carefully down on the creaky mattress. She curled up in a ball but winced when the fabric of the duvet touched the raw skin of her forearm. Ron felt the air heave out of his body when he laid eyes on the word carved into her beautiful skin. His shoulders collapsed into convulsions and he almost ran out of the room, screaming in rage. His breathing was shallow and his pulse quickened.

He held back the chunks of vomit that tried to escape his stomach. Fleur came into the room and saw the look in Ron's eyes. She sat on the bed near enough to Hermione to place a hand on her uninjured arm.

"Ermione, let me look. I'll do vot I can…" she said softly as Hermione lifted her cursed arm off the bed a bit. Ron saw Fleur's hand snap up to her mouth to stifle a cry and she exhaled deeply.

"I'll be right back." She said, rising and leaving the room.

Ron pulled his chair close beside her and pushed her hair from her eyes. Hermione was focused on a specific place on the wall and was barely blinking. It scared the living shit out of him. When Fleur returned, Bill was behind her.

"Ron." Bill said quietly waving Ron over to him. Ron didn't want to budge but Bill narrowed his eyes and motioned with his head, insisting.

He leaned in close to her face, "I'll be just outside the door, Mione. I promise. I'll be right back." He didn't resist the need to touch his lips to her temple. When she felt him kiss her she closed her eyes and he saw tears fall down her face.

Bill shut the door and they spoke quietly.

"Fleur can handle this, Ron. She knows a thing or two about taking care of curse scars." Bill said, gesturing to his face. He tried to comfort him, but he could see Ron was in agony. He put his hands on Ron's shoulders and held his brothers' icy blue stare.

"You made it out of there alive, Ron. Only just, but you're safe here." They both jumped, hearing Hermione yelping in pain through the door and Fleur gave words of comfort.

Ron closed his eyes and his head tilted back as he let loose a low wail. "Is she going to be alright, Bill? Don't lie to me. Is she?" He implored.

Bill broke eye contact.

"It won't be soon, but I think she will be. Stay with her. She shouldn't be alone." Bill didn't need to give his blessing on that, there was no way in hell Ron wasn't going to stay with her. He'd never leave her side again.

Ron turned the knob slowly and Fleur was finishing putting a bandage on Hermione's arm.

"Il sera bien, Hermione. Il va guerir." Fleur said sweetly.

"Merci beaucoup." Hermione whispered. "Ou est Ron?" She asked.

Fleur looked up quickly and smiled at Hermione, "Il est ici, cherie. Ne vous l'aimez autant que j'aime son frère?"

"Oui, peut-être plus." Fleur smiled and kissed Hermione on the cheek before she stood.

"Get zome zleep, Ermione."

Ron knit his brows together. He heard Hermione say his name, he knew they were talking about him, but he had no clue what they were saying. He was just thrilled Hermione was enough of herself to remember her second language – Ron had trouble remembering English at the moment.

Fleur gave him a small smile as she squeezed past him. He approached her slowly and sat in the chair near the bed.

"Can I get you anything?" He asked her quietly. She shook her head. She looked up into his eyes, sighed and fell asleep without a word.

Ron sat in that chair for hours while she slept. Fleur had brought them trays of food but his stomach was the size of a gobstone. He felt his head start to lull backward against the upholstery when he heard her moaning softly in her sleep. His eyes popped open, all thoughts of sleep gone.

Her bandaged arm was twitching. Almost imperceptibly at first but then it would jerk in a painful-looking awkward motion up off the mattress. Her fingers contracted into a claw and her wrist snapped angrily at the air.

His first instinct was to take her hand and hold it down until it relaxed, but he didn't. He also thought better of trying to wake her. He watched her eyelids spasm rapidly as she dreamed. Whatever was happening in Hermione's head, he wanted it to stop.

Ron kicked his boots off and tossed his jacket to the floor. He crept around to the other side of the bed and got in close to Hermione. He curled his legs into hers, and put his strong arm around her waist while he rested his head on his other arm. Her breathing quickened, but he pulled her in closely exaggerating his slow, even breaths until their chests were rising and falling at the same rhythm.

"R-Ron?" She asked, stirring.

"I'm here, Mione. Shhhh."

He heard her exhale and soon she was still again, her arm no longer twitching unnaturally. His nose burrowed into her hair. It didn't smell of coconut anymore. It stunk of the heavily-incensed air of Malfoy Manor.

"I'll never leave you again, Hermione Granger." He whispered.