Hermione Granger Ron Weasley
Romance Action
Multiple Eras
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Order of the Phoenix Quidditch Through the Ages Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Published: 06/06/2004
Updated: 01/06/2005
Words: 243,073
Chapters: 26
Hits: 84,040

Hermione Granger and the Beginning of the End

Ann Margaret

Story Summary:
This is the story of the beginning of the trio's last months at Hogwarts, the beginning of the end of their childhood and the end of the war. But will good prevail? Will they survive? And why the hell did Ron Weasley throw away his relationship with Hermione? Once again, a lot more action, darker, but perhaps this time we shall have a happy ending...or not...

Chapter 05

Chapter Summary:
There's two Voldemorts now...Ginny is an inch away from death...could things get anymore scary? Well...

If there was one thing above all others that Hermione despised about hospitals, it wasn't the odor, it wasn't the overbearing Madame Pomfrey--it was the infernal waiting. No matter what the size of the hospital was, there never seemed to be anywhere to go or anything to do. You certainly weren't going to leave, however, because you had to find out just what had happened to your loved one that's being treated. So--you just sit around and wait. And while you wait, all you can think about is what would happen if whoever was being examined wasn't going to get better, or all of the good memories you have with that person that you may never get to share with them again. Or, perhaps you reflect on all of the things that you should have said, but never did, and think that now it may be too late. Honestly, Hermione wondered at times what was worse--to actually be the one in medical crisis, or to be one of the many concerned people hovering around waiting for news.

Ginny was currently being examined by Madame Pomfrey while Dumbledore hovered nearby, in case his sorcery was needed in an emergency. She was the only patient, so all of the beds were free to be occupied by the many people who were incredibly anxious to hear about Ginny's condition. Neville Longbottom, Colin Creevey, Michael Corner, Luna Lovegood, and several other people that Hermione knew by face, rather than name, took up about four of the beds, sitting side by side and talking quietly to each other. Madame Pomfrey had agreed to let them all stay, as long as they kept their voices down. They all remained on one side of the room, staying clear of the bed that Harry, Ron, and Hermione had hunkered down on. Harry was seated at the front edge of the bed, leaning forward with his arms resting on his legs. His fists were clenched firmly together, and his eyes were completely riveted to the curtain that shielded his view of Ginny. Ron had been sitting on the chair next to their bed, but he would continuously get up to pace around as he became overwhelmed with his own emotions, not to mention the strong emotions radiating from the plethora of concerned people around him. Hermione had started out sitting cross-legged at the foot of the bed, but was now lying on her side, using her jumper as a pillow to cushion her slightly bruised cheek. Whether the headache that was currently thumping away inside of her skull and behind her eye was caused from Riddle's blow, or from the stress and trauma of the situation, Hermione didn't know, but she did know that burrowing her face into her jumper helped to dissipate the pain somewhat.

Two hours passed without Hermione, Ron, or Harry saying a single word to each other. They all just simply watched and waited, lost in their own thoughts. Ron was off pacing, when Harry finally spoke for the first time since his arrival in the hospital wing. "What did you mean when you said that you could still be alive even if you're not breathing?"

Hermione shifted her face slightly in order to look at Harry's profile, and keep her cheek on the comfort of her jumper at the same time. "In third-year," she explained in a low voice, "when you fell off your broom in the first Quidditch match, you stopped breathing for a few moments." Harry appeared to be quite visibly shocked by this news but he still didn't tear his eyes away from the powder-blue curtain that shielded his view of Ginny. "That's why we all thought you had died."

Her stomach twisted with that memory. That had been one of the worst of many bad memories of the hospital wing. She had been convinced that there was no way Harry could have survived a fall like that, despite Ron's reassurances. Ron and Hermione had raced into the hospital wing, just in time to hear Madame Pomfrey state that Harry had stopped breathing. Ron had turned white at that statement, and Hermione herself had stopped breathing--she had been so sure that he was dead. The extremely competent nurse, however, had appeared to be unfazed by Harry's plight, and had calmly performed a spell of some sort to help Harry's lungs function once again. That's when Hermione had burst out into relieved tears, and that had been one of the first times that Ron had hugged her. Well, it hadn't been a hug, really. He had seized her arm and squeezed when Harry had let out his first breath, after the charm had been performed, and his other arm had jerked as though he was ready to hug her--if it hadn't been for the arrival of the Gryffindor team.

"Wow," Harry breathed with a surprised sigh. "Wasn't expecting that one." His fingers burrowed themselves into the thin hospital blanket he was sitting on. "Do you think she'll be okay?"

Hermione hesitated. This was a difficult question to answer. She wanted to tell Harry that of course Ginny would be fine, but she had never lied to him before, and this certainly wasn't the time to start. "I think," Hermione phrased her words very carefully, "I think that Ginny is one of the strongest people I know, and she's overcome powerful dark magic before. I know she has it in her to do it again."

Harry nodded slowly for a moment before his head stopped abruptly. "But he couldn't--he didn't have a wand."

Hermione sat up. "What?"

"He didn't have a wand," Harry repeated, eyes finally straying from Ginny's bed to look at Hermione. "Dean and Ginny both had their wands on them. Whatever he did to them, he did without a wand."

Hermione's insides went cold. Her eyes strayed over to the inquisitive students huddled on the other side, and scooted closer to Harry. "Are you saying that whatever he did to Ginny, he did with wandless magic?"

"Yeah." Harry's head dropped wearily into his hands, hopelessness evident in his voice and posture. Hermione bit her lip as she watched him, wishing that she knew what to say.

"Hey." Ron returned with two mugs of tea. "Lupin's insisting that I force these down your throats, so drink up." Hermione turned slightly, surprised to see that several members of the Order had congregated near the entrance of the infirmary, Professor Lupin among them. Hermione took her mug gratefully, wrapping her chilled fingers around the hot porcelain. She savored the warmth on her fingertips, but didn't drink any just yet. Harry, still absorbed with his own problems, silently took the steaming hot mug and promptly set it down on the nightstand, ignoring it. Ron stared at him for a long moment before awkwardly clearing his throat to attract Harry's attention. "No one blames you, mate."

Ron's low, sincere, earnest tone struck Harry squarely in that extremely sensitive region under his ribs--Ron had uttered the precise words that Harry had needed to hear. For once in his life, he really believed them. Harry didn't acknowledge that he'd heard what Ron said, but he silently picked up the tea, and took a long sip.

Hermione glanced up at Ron and mouthed "Thank you," before carefully taking a drink, herself. Ron smiled slightly at his friends, but his attention was soon diverted over Hermione's shoulder by someone's entrance. She turned again to take a look--Daphne Greengrass had just entered the hospital wing.

"I'll be back," Ron told them, though he didn't leave straightaway. He paused briefly before sticking his hand into his pocket, and extracted an electric blue thick wad. "Here." He held it out for Hermione to take and she did, frowning as she inspected the object. It was spongy, slightly damp, and very cold--it reminded her of a Muggle ice-pack. "It's for your face," Ron explained as he indicated her bruised cheek. He scurried away before Hermione could respond.

"What's with your face?" Harry inquired as he leaned forward to take a closer look at the cheek averted from him.

"I fell," Hermione said absently. It wasn't as though she were lying--she had fallen, thanks to the thud of Riddle's backhanded swipe across her face. She just didn't think that the entire truth was the best thing for Harry to hear at the moment. Hermione held the ice-pack over her bruised cheekbone, and despite the coldness of the ice-pack, her cheeks burned hot with a fiery blush. She felt the slight swelling vanish almost instantaneously, and the soothing balm quieted the achy muscles and splitting headache. However, it did very little to alleviate the butterflies fluttering madly away in her stomach. With all that had been going on, with all of his other problems, Ron had still taken the time to notice, and had attempted to help her with the minor injury.

"Good of her to come," Harry spoke with a nod towards Daphne, who was giving Ron a sympathetic hug. "Especially since they aren't even that serious," he added in a casual voice. However, Hermione knew better. "She has that Hufflepuff bloke waiting for her, from what I understand."

"I'm glad she's here for him too," Hermione said quietly. She lay down again with the ice-pack nestled between her face and the jumper she was using as a pillow. This felt much better.

"He needs you more." Hermione's head lifted once again at this statement, but Harry wasn't looking at her--he was staring off at Ron with a small frown. Hermione rolled over so she could pretend to be staring up at the ceiling, when in all actuality she was surreptitiously watching Ron talk to Daphne. His face was an outward mask of calm, but Hermione knew in a second that he was anything but. Ron was running around talking to people, running errands, and doing whatever he could in order to distract himself from the intensity of the situation. She could sense the waves of extreme anger, frustration, fury, fear, panic, and hopelessness radiating off of him as strongly as if he had written the feelings out in bold letters across his back. He was mentally screaming on the inside, but was doing nothing to release that horrible tension that must be threatening to eat him alive. What concerned Hermione the most was that Ron never suppressed his emotions so much. Because he was such an emotional person, it had to be killing him. He was fighting to maintain a grip on the fine line of sanity by distracting himself and not dealing with the intensity of his thoughts, but it wouldn't help. He was eventually going to lose hold and fall hard into the depths of his despair, and Hermione knew better than anyone how deeply and intensely Ron felt emotion. If he continued to bottle it up like this, he would literally combust.

"I've never seen him like this," Hermione commented painfully under her breath, wishing with all of her heart that she could do something to make his agony go away.

"I have." Hermione turned her head back toward Harry in surprise. Harry looked rather uncomfortable, as he leaned the back of his head against the wall behind him. "He was like this the day after he broke up with you."

Her stomach leaped up to swallow her heart whole, and Hermione hated herself for a brief moment for being the cause of Ron's anguish. She could make amends, though, Hermione reminded herself as she rolled over again to lay down on the soothing comfort of the ice-pack Ron had thoughtfully brought for her. She hadn't been able to help Ron get through his pain the first time he experienced it, but she sure as hell was going to be there for him this time.


She didn't get the opportunity to follow through with her vow until much later that evening. The majority of Ron's family had arrived, so Ron had been dealing with them. News on Ginny's condition hadn't been released until almost eight o'clock that night. It had been a great relief to hear that Ginny Weasley was expected to make a complete recovery in a few weeks time.

However, the news of what precisely had happened to Ginny had been anything but good. As Harry had correctly guessed, the Cruciatus curse had been administered on Ginny. The fact that Riddle had done this without the use of a wand was even more terrifying. That had caused the greatest extent of the damage, but there was evidence of Riddle using physical force against Ginny. However, that wasn't even the worst part. There was also evidence that Ginny Weasley had been raped.

Madame Pomfrey could not be certain of this until Ginny revived completely, so there was still the slim hope that Harry and Ron had frightened Riddle away before he could finish the deed. Ginny had awakened briefly, but had drifted off soon after receiving the many potions she required for full recovery. She hadn't been coherent enough to explain what had happened, so they would have to wait until early morning to find out for certain. Ginny was due to receive a fresh bout of medication at around three o'clock in the morning, and the nurse was hoping that she would be more alert at that time.

After hours of waiting, there was nothing more to do but wait even longer, so the majority of the concerned students and family were shooed out of the hospital wing. All of the students besides Harry, Ron, and Hermione were ordered back to their common rooms. Bill and Charlie had to leave to serve their Order duties of the night, and Mr. Weasley went back to the Ministry. Professor Lupin left to convene an emergency meeting of the Order, and Fred and George went to see about finding a guest room for their family for the night. Mrs. Weasley was stationed firmly at Ginny's side, and Harry had gone off with Dumbledore to discuss what had happened...

And no one had a clue where Ron had gone. He had slipped out silently, without a word to anyone, soon after Madame Pomfrey gave her report on Ginny's condition. Mrs. Weasley had looked rather worried when no one knew where her youngest son had gone, especially after all that had happened. That had given Hermione a very good excuse to go on a search for him.

Surprisingly, she had known exactly where to go. When she and Ron had gone up to the Astronomy Tower last night, she had mentioned to him that she hadn't been up there since they had broken up. He had then admitted to her that he'd been going up there every once in a while, whenever he needed to get away from things. It was rather ironic that the Astronomy Tower had originally been her hideaway, but now it was his. She quietly pushed open the door. Sure enough, Ron was standing with his back to her, staring out onto the quiet grounds. Hermione's heart flipped joyfully, as it always did at the sight of him. However, it sank in the same instant as she realized that he was still feeling very, very poorly. Even the news that Ginny would eventually be just fine was not enough to relieve his weary brain from its whirlwind of intense emotions. Hermione just hoped that she would somehow be able to give Ron the relief that he so desperately needed.

"There you are," Hermione said quietly after staring at his back for a long moment. Ron tensed up slightly, but appeared to be too intent on running two of his fingers absently over the stone barrier to turn around and recognize her presence. "Your mum is looking for you," she continued in the same gentle tone.

"I know."

"Don't you want to see--"


Ron's reply came out so quickly, so forcefully, that Hermione started slightly at the sound of it. "Okay." Hermione kept her voice as even as she could, hoping that her extreme concern wasn't blatantly obvious. Ron wouldn't open up to her if he realized that she was so worried about him that she felt like throwing up. So many horrible things had happened today, and the fact that Ron was feeling this awful made the whole situation a thousand times worse. The world may believe that Harry was the strong hero, but even a hero needed someone to depend on. That person for Harry Potter was Ron Weasley. So when the hero fell, it was horrible and terrifying, but Hermione could deal with it. When the rock that the hero relied on crumbled, the world became an infinitely colder and more frightening place.

She started to carefully make her way toward him. Ron still wouldn't look at her, and Hermione began to wonder if she had made a mistake. Maybe Ron did feel this awful and horrible every once in a while, but he worked through it on his own. Maybe he didn't need her to take care of him. She swallowed hard at that thought. She really hoped he still did, because in spite of everything, there was no one in the world she'd rather care for than that prat. "Do you want me to go?" she offered.

"No." Ron's reply came out just as swiftly and vehemently as before, and he turned slightly to make sure that she had heard him. Hermione instantly stopped her progress toward him, and just stared expectantly instead, hoping that he could still read her as well as he always had, so that he'd know she was ready to do anything for him.

"You're shivering," he noted quietly as a chilling burst of winter wind swept past them.

"So are you," Hermione returned. Ron turned so that he was facing her directly, back leaning against the wall behind him, but his eyes were focused on Hermione's Mary Janes. He didn't look ready to talk about whatever was troubling him, so Hermione decided to keep up with the small talk. "How long have you been up here?"

"Not too long," Ron answered. "Had to do something for McGonagall. Some of the third-years tore up the common room."

"Why didn't you come get me?" Hermione couldn't help asking with her brisk Head Girl voice.

"You were talking to George and Mum," Ron replied, and he shrugged one shoulder awkwardly.

Hermione just stared at him with a slightly dropped jaw. This boy had spent his day going down into the Chamber of Secrets, finding Dean's dead body, helping transport the corpse out of the Chamber, gotten help, realized that Tom Riddle was back, found his sister an inch away from death, and spent the remainder of the day waiting in the hospital wing for news of whether his only baby sister would live or die. After all that, he still had the consideration to contact and greet his entire family, talk to all of Ginny's friends that couldn't fit into the hospital wing, answer questions for the Order, conjure an ice-pack for her face, and have a long talk with Harry. Hermione hadn't been involved with the conversation, because she'd dozed off for a bit. After waking, however, Mrs. Weasley had told her that while she'd been sleeping, Ron had told Harry something that had made him smile and look infinitely more peaceful. Now she learned that he'd not only took care of his prefect duties, but had taken over Hermione's as well. He was just unbelievable.

And he still hadn't dealt with his own emotions. He'd been so concerned with taking care of everything and everyone else, that he hadn't taken care of himself. Hermione was certain that he wanted to--Ron couldn't stand keeping things locked up inside him. He had witnessed for seven years the detriments of bottling up emotions by being Harry Potter's best friend, and he knew that Harry's process of dealing with situations such as these did not work for him. The problem was that Ron cared for others more than himself, so he focused all his energy and effort towards them first. At the end of the day, when there was no one was left to deal with but himself, he was just so bloody exhausted at that point, that he didn't have the energy to release the tension and pain he had been concealing all day.

Well, that was going to change, Hermione silently vowed to herself. She was either going to get Ron to release his thoughts, or sleep, if it was the last thing she ever did. "Come on," she said in a soft but firm voice that left no room for arguments. "It's too cold out here. Let's go back to the tower and get some sleep."

Ron obediently followed her off of the rooftop, but he didn't intend on accompanying her back to the tower. "I-I should find my mum." Ron jerked his thumb in the direction of the hospital wing.

"No," Hermione contradicted. She lowered Ron's wrist and began to physically lead him down the corridor. "You are exhausted, and don't bother trying to argue with me, because there is no way you're going to win."

"Hermione, no." Ron weakly planted his feet into the floor but it was enough to stop their progress toward Gryffindor Tower. "I don't want to go in there."

"Why not?"

Ron let out a long breath, his eyes wearily half-open. "I don't want to go to the dormitory," Ron admitted under his breath, "because I was in there earlier, and Seamus..."

Hermione's fingers tightened inadvertently around Ron's wrist. She hadn't seen Seamus since she had raced out of Myrtle's bathroom, and she couldn't begin to comprehend the grief Seamus must be experiencing at the moment. Considering that she had spent the entire day grieving over Ron when he had been kidnapped, Hermione knew that Seamus was most likely undergoing a similar bereavement process. Ron had been the one to discover Dean's body, and the last thing that he wanted was to be around Dean's best friend. He was having enough trouble coping with his own anguish over Ginny and Dean, that Seamus's grief would only push him over the edge.

"Okay," Hermione said slowly as she tried to think of how to make this work. "Okay," she repeated before pulling on Ron's arm again, and this time he followed her all the way to the Fat Lady. He opened his mouth to protest again but before he could, Hermione positioned herself directly in front of him and stared up at him determinedly. "Trust me." After a second of uncertainty, he nodded, and went with her through the portrait hole into the common room. No one was there, much to Hermione's relief, and she turned to him again when they were only a few feet away from the door to her dormitory. "Okay," she told him. "Close your eyes."

Ron's eyes shut instantly, and Hermione scooted around him in order to open the door to the stairwell leading to the girls' dormitories. She reached out and pulled Ron forward, until the tips of his toes were a mere millimeter away from the first step leading to the sanctity of the girls-only area of the tower. She kept her hand on his lower arm, focusing, and channeling the comforting feeling of the complete trust she had in him. She wanted him to know that he could trust her just as much as she did him. After a few moments, Hermione pulled out her wand, and with a very familiar flick and swish, she muttered, "Wingardium Leviosa." Ron jerked lightly up into the air as if an invisible string was tugging on his head. She only allowed him to float just high enough so that his feet wouldn't touch the sensitive stone step. With one hand on his arm, she carefully walked backward all the way to the top of the tower, her concentration never wavering until she reached the landing and released Ron from her spell.

"Whoa," Ron remarked with a ghost of the smile she hadn't seen on him all day. "That was wicked."

"Thanks," Hermione returned as she led the way to her room. She opened the door, and bit her lip as she held it open for Ron to pass through. She was breaking a very important school rule, and although she would do it again in a heartbeat, she couldn't help feeling edgy about it. She knew it was the right thing to do, but it didn't help matters that she also knew she could lose her Head Girl badge if she were caught. Ron was worth more than ten thousand Head Girl badges, of course. Nevertheless, she would still be quite disappointed to lose it. There was also the niggling fact that this was Ron she was taking into her bedroom, but this wasn't the time to dwell on those pesky feelings of being totally and utterly in love with this boy.

Ron was staring about the room with curious eyes. After all, he'd never seen her bedroom before. Hermione found herself oddly seeking Ron's approval at her living arrangements, but he didn't say a word, instead drinking in his surroundings. She knew couldn't stare at his profile forever, so she cleared her throat slightly and gestured toward the bed. "Have a seat. Make yourself at home."

Ron turned to gape at her, face pale with nerves. The fleeting glee he had felt a moment before had evaporated, and Hermione knew that grief had again crashed down upon his shoulders. He was standing not a foot away from her bed, and that fact made some not-so-appropriate thoughts rush through Hermione's mind. She could only hope that these thoughts weren't as evident on her face. "Whoa," Ron said again, raising his hands in disbelief. "I can't--Hermione, I can't stay here tonight," he stammered. "It--it's against the rules and it's...it's..."

Hermione didn't know when Ron had become the model, rule-abiding prefect, and when she had become the cheeky slacker, but she didn't care. Right now, the cheeky slacker needed to take care of the model prefect. "Ron." Hermione cut him off sharply as she stood on tiptoe in order place both hands on his shoulders and push him down into a sitting position on her bed. "Ron, please." Keeping one hand on his shoulder, she brought up the other to brush back a bit of his hair that was drooping out of place onto his forehead. She hadn't touched him with such familiarity and tenderness in ages, and now she knew why she hadn't--it felt so good. Touching him felt like coming home. She had restrained herself for all this time, with the hope that she would forget how good it felt to not only have Ron's fingers on her, but to have hers on him. But Ron needed someone to comfort him like this right now, and even if it made her want him even more, Hermione wanted more than anything to be that person to care for him, especially whenever she caught of glimpse of those eyes. His eyes were such a crystal shade of blue that she could see every tear brimming behind the surface, and it was killing her that he wasn't letting her help make it go away. "Ron, please, just for once--let me take care of you the way you've always taken care of me."

She thought he was going to refuse for a second, until her hand stroked through his hair once more. His eyes half-closed with the movement, and he nodded slowly, leaning lightly into her touch. Hermione's heart had become flooded with a mixture of burning warmth and pure apprehension. He trusted her. He trusted her implicitly, and Ron Weasley, the boy who was so openly emotional and yet never verbally expressed his inner thoughts, was letting his guard down to her--not his girlfriend, not his parents, not his brothers, not Harry, but her. It was both thrilling and touching at the same time, that someone trusted her that much, but even so, she couldn't help being rather nervous. All she wanted was to make that awful, pained look on Ron's face go away, but she had no idea how. This wasn't something she could read in any book--she was going to have to go purely on instinct and previous knowledge of her Ron. Hermione thought she could do it, she really did, but she was also deathly afraid of mucking things up and making Ron feel even worse.

She slowly kneeled down in front of him, and this movement caused Ron's eyes to jerk open, and his body tensed up. He relaxed, however, when he realized that she was only taking his shoes off for him. Hermione dropped the trainers carefully to the floor and got back to her feet, considering his attire carefully. She obviously couldn't ask him to take his jeans off, but she could see the hem of a T-shirt poking out from underneath his jumper, so she stepped forward to gently tug at the wool. Ron understood, and obediently pulled the sweater off. Static electricity made his hair stick up adorably in the back, and Hermione instinctively smoothed it down as Ron tossed his jumper to the floor. Her hand dropped down, ran across his shoulder, and down onto his bare arm. She stepped forward again to examine it. She hadn't seen his bare arms in a long while, and she couldn't stop her jaw from dropping slightly at the sight of them.

"Ron," she breathed in awe, "they've healed."

Every inch was blissfully and miraculously smooth, pale, and unblemished except for the numerous freckles that dotted up and down his biceps. "Yeah," Ron replied thickly as her fingers wonderingly traced up and down his freckled skin, feeling for a trace of the horrendous welts and scars that had marred the smooth skin for a year and a half.

"With all of those injuries, I didn't think they'd ever heal," Hermione continued, and she rather abruptly pulled her fingers away from him. It was becoming very difficult to keep her hands just on his arm, so she felt it would be best to cease contact all together.

"I didn't either," Ron admitted as he too peered down at his arms. "You were right about them," he added. Hermione glanced up at his forehead, and realized that their faces were way too close. This explained why she was tingling all over, so she took a surreptitious step backward to make sure she was out of the danger zone. "They were connected to the empath thing," he explained.

"How do you know?"

"'Cause it's not as easy to feel things anymore," Ron replied. He clenched and unclenched his fist, watching his skin and veins contract and expand with each movement. "I mean, when I had the scars it just would hit me and I would know who was feeling it, and I knew what to do to help, but now," Ron shook his head, "now I can't."

"You can't feel anything anymore?" Hermione asked quietly.

"Not exactly," Ron explained. "I still get flashes and stuff, but it's different. It's not as strong as it was."

Hermione nodded. "That makes sense. Madame Pomfrey mentioned that the mental effects of that accident would take longer to heal and--no, wait." Hermione stopped nodding, and started shaking her head, a puzzled frown creasing her brow. "That doesn't make sense, Ron. You've talked to me in," she waved her hand to indicate her head, "you know."

"Oh, yeah." Ron shrugged one shoulder awkwardly. "Yeah, well, it's been a bit different with you."

"How do you mean?"

Ron finally moved his gaze from his arms to look at her directly. "With you, it'll never go away."

The warm feeling in Hermione's entire torso swelled to a raging hot fire in her heart, while her stomach launched itself up into her chest. When he looked at her like that and said things like that, Hermione found it very difficult to believe that his sole feelings for her were of friendship. It was taking all of her self-control to keep from asking him flat out what the devil he was playing at. It felt as though he was trying to tell her that the empathic connection wasn't the only thing that hadn't gone away. However, this was not the time, or the place, to have that discussion. Besides, Ron had already gone back to looking at his arms, and she could tell that he wanted to talk about something else.

"We were talking to Seamus today--Dean hadn't showed up yet for detention--and he told us that Dean had a diary," he began quietly. Hermione stood very still in front of him, knowing precisely what he wanted to do. He wasn't telling her this solely for her own benefit. Harry had filled her in on bits and pieces of what had happened earlier. He wanted to let it out all out, like he had in St. Mungo's right after his kidnapping. She didn't know how or why, but apparently telling her everything helped him heal somehow. "I mean, all of us knew that Dean always wrote in a journal. It was right in front of us this whole time and we never knew." Ron glanced up at her momentarily, and gave a short laugh. "I bet Harry is kicking himself, now, that he never knew that Riddle was right in our room for over a year."

"So, Dean did get the diary that day in Hogsmeade?" Hermione asked quietly.

Ron nodded. "Seamus said he started writing in it in December of last year. Harry figures that Pettigrew used Polyjuice to turn into Seamus, and that after you left them in the woods, Seamus convinced him to start using the diary. Seamus mentioned that Dean had had a hard time dealing with what happened that day, and one time even thanked Seamus for the suggestion of how to deal. Seamus hadn't known what he was talking about, but Dean must have done it because he thought Seamus gave him the diary."

Hermione nodded. She had figured that that was what had happened, although they would probably never know for certain, unless for some reason Peter Pettigrew spilled his guts on the matter. Ron shifted uncomfortably on the bed as he got to the more difficult part of the story. "We'd finished the one boys' loo, so we went over to Moaning Myrtle's. It was flooded. Myrtle was howling about some boy who had spoken in that funny language she'd heard before she died, and it had upset her." Ron's head was turned away from her, and his voice was so low that she had to move closer in order to hear him. "And then we saw that the sink was open, so someone still had to be down there.

"Harry jumped down straight away without saying anything. He knew." Ron had to swallow hard before continuing. "I didn't know what was going on, and I don't really remember what I said to Seamus, but I managed to convince him to stay put. I jumped down after Harry, and found him where the ceiling had caved in. We went in together.

"Never been in there before." Ron glanced up at her. "It's so cold in there, Hermione--I'm glad you've never been in there, because it's awful. It's like you can feel evil in there. I--I've never felt anything like that just from walking into a bloody room." Hermione couldn't stop herself from reaching out to graze her fingertips along the back of his hand to let him know that she was there, now that the hardest part of the story had arrived. "Dean was on the floor in the dead center of the room. I started to go, but Harry made me wait--said it was too much like last time. So we waited, and when nothing happened, we went to him."

His Adam's apple bobbed at the mention of his murdered friend, and Hermione found herself quietly sitting on the bed beside him, shoulders barely touching. Ron sniffed hard. "He was already gone, and Harry just about lost it. He knew that Riddle had to be back." Ron stared down at his hand, wishing that Hermione's fingers were back on his skin. "I've never seen Harry almost lose it before," he added almost as an afterthought. "Yeah, I've seen him upset and all, but never really lose it. Have you?" Hermione was so surprised when he directed this question at her, that she nodded her reply before she could stop herself. "When?" Ron asked in shock.

"When you left," Hermione said flatly after a long pause. She didn't want to remind him of that, but she also knew that he would've pressed her until she told him.

She could sense that Ron was rather taken aback by her words, but he didn't choose to respond to them. "We got Dean out of there, and Harry summoned his broom so that we could fly him out." Ron gulped. "Seamus was still waiting, so he was there when he saw--it had to be..." Ron shook his head in a horrific sympathy. He couldn't even conceive of how he'd react if it had been him waiting in the bathroom only to have two people barge in with Harry's or Hermione's corpse in tow. "I didn't know what to do, so I just left him--him and Dean--so Harry and I could go get help. I went to get McGonagall and then Madame Pomfrey, and I knew that you knew what was happening, because you were really scared. I thought that Ginny did too, because she was scared as well, but I couldn't help you two, because then there was Harry.

"He told me that he was going to Dumbledore, but he lied." Ron's brow furrowed slightly as he tried to remember precisely what he had felt from Harry. "I dunno--I told you that it was different, you know." He gestured to his head again to indicate his empathic powers. "But if it's really strong, then I feel it. I mean, it's easiest with you, of course, but Harry and Ginny are pretty easy to feel, too. I just can't do the same stuff I can with you." Ron's ears were slightly red at this revelation, but he continued on. "I'd never felt Harry that scared before, and I reckon I was confusing him a bit with Ginny, but I really thought that Ginny was just scared, because she was with you. I knew you'd found Dean, so I thought that explained it." Ron rubbed his head wearily for a moment. "So, I managed to find Harry, and he was a wreck. He was running all over the school and checking every room. He said he knew that Riddle would go after Ginny first, and that we had to find her before it was too late. I tried to tell him I thought she was with you, but luckily he didn't listen to me.

"I don't know if Harry somehow knew, or if I knew, or if it was luck, but the Potions room was one of the first places we went, and there she was. She--uh," he uttered as his voice cracked, and he leaned forward with his arms on his legs, fists and jaw tightly clenched. His posture was rigid with tension as he fought with every fiber of his being to keep the moisture from escaping his eyes. "I--I c-can't..."

"You don't have to," Hermione soothed. "You don't have to say another word if you don't want to." Ron let out a huge breath, and Hermione's fingers slowly, lovingly grazed over the rigidity of his shoulder muscles. She wished that she could somehow soak up his anguish and tension, solely by touch. She moved her hand across his upper back, in the same soothing circles that Ron himself had used on her with great success. Ron ducked his head away again, but Hermione felt the hidden sob ripple through his shoulders, shattering her heart in the process. Ron was crying.

Phoenix tears were not the only ones with healing powers, however. Hermione knew all too well the usefulness of releasing pain through the pouring out of salty drops. She could understand why Ron wouldn't want to cry; she herself had fought tears numerous times. She never liked to cry, and she hated the actual process of sobbing, but it was the calming sensation that arrived directly after the final tear had been shed that made the awful process worthwhile. She knew that Ron desperately needed that serenity more than anything.

She scooted forward, close enough to wrap both arms around one of his, and the side of her head burrowed into his strong shoulder. Ron didn't indicate if he liked feeling her presence against his side, but he didn't push her away either. He kept his head bowed, and let the tears drip slowly and painfully down his cheeks and nose until they plopped onto the carpet below. This lasted for several minutes, until he let out a loud sniff and straightened up, causing Hermione to have to draw back and have a good look at him. His face was splotchy--beet red in places, ghostly pale in others--and tearstains streaked along the curves of his cheeks and jaw. However, his eyes were infinitely clearer and devoid of future tears; Ron had finally cried himself out.

Her hand then went up to the back of his neck to wind her fingers in his fiery hair. "Better?" she whispered hopefully. She knew that she could be saying reassuring things such as "it's not your fault," or "everything is going to be all right," but she also knew that Ron didn't really need that right now. No matter what she said, he probably wasn't going to believe her. What he needed was a comforting, supportive presence. He needed to know that she would always be there for him the way he had always been there for her. Hermione hoped with all of her heart that Ron's empathic abilities still allowed him to be completely in tune with her. She wanted him to know just how much she loved him and how she was never, ever going to believe that he was at fault for what happened today. Concentrating ever so slightly, she tried to fuel all of her emotions, all of her love, all of her faith through her fingers into his very soul, so he would realize without a doubt just how wonderful he really was.

Ron swallowed hard and leaned his head back so her fingers could press more firmly into him, and although her hormones were currently on a rampage, she didn't care. She was going to control them, because that was what Ron needed right now. He needed her, not a lovesick puppy who secretly thought he was more attractive than Gilderoy Lockhart himself. It may make her die a little on the inside from longing, but if it made Ron feel just a bit better, then it was worth it. She had always known that Ron was worth dying for and this just proved it. She may die from wanting him, but if he was happy, then that was all that really mattered.

"Come on," Hermione soothed quietly as she knelt on the mattress and tried to make Ron lie down on the bed.


"No," Hermione cut in before Ron could even try to protest. "You need to get some rest, and you already said that you don't want to go to your dormitory, so you're staying here." She scooted back to give Ron enough room to lie down.

"What about you?" Ron asked hoarsely, still not obeying her request.

"I'll figure something out," Hermione told him.

"Ginny gets new medication at three," Ron continued distractedly as he started to look at his watch, but Hermione grabbed his wrist.

"I'll go for you," Hermione reassured as she continued to hold his wrist, despite the fact that he had stopped trying to look at the time. "And I'll tell your parents and Harry that you're asleep, so they won't worry. If there are any prefect responsibilities that arise, I'll take care of it." She tilted her head so she could look seriously into his troubled eyes. "And I don't want you to think one more thought about any of us tonight." She bit the inside of her lip to hide the tremor that was struggling to break though--Ron always hated it when she cried. She moved her free hand to his face, and his cheek flushed much too warmly under her cold hands. "You take such good care of us, Ron, so for once in your life I want you to be selfish. Don't think about Ginny, don't think about me, don't think about Harry. Just focus on you." Ron appeared to be terribly tempted by her offer. She knew that was what he wanted, but he couldn't bring himself to accept, so Hermione decided to go about it another way. "If you can't do it for yourself, do it for us--I don't want you to be collapsing from exhaustion." She found herself smoothing his hair back again. It was rather fitting, really, that she had such a fascination with running her fingers through his bright red hair. When they had dated, he had always been as equally captivated with her rambunctious locks. "Please, Ron," she pleaded, "get some sleep tonight, so that tomorrow you can go back to being you." Hermione had wanted to add a few of the plethora of wonderful adjectives she often used to describe him, but found that all of those emotions and thoughts shone vividly through just by saying his name.

Ron looked as though he was ready to cry again, but much to Hermione's infinite relief, he nodded his consent. Hermione handed Ron another pillow. She had learned from staying with Ron at Grimmauld Place, the hospital wing, and St. Mungo's, that he liked sleeping with two pillows under his head. She had always teased that it was because of that big head of his, and he had always countered with, if that was true, then she must need three pillows to successfully hold all of that hair of hers. Ron tossed it down at the end of the bed as Hermione pulled back the duvet. He hesitated briefly, before sliding underneath and laying his head on the down pillows.

"Do you want some water?" Hermione asked after a moment. She'd always found that a glass of water helped after a good, long cry. Ron raised his head slightly and nodded soundlessly, so Hermione quickly slid off of the bed. She slipped over to the small table near the door where she kept a pitcher of water, glasses, and other assorted items. Her eyes caught on a small bottle filled with a sky-blue liquid. Madame Pomfrey had given her a sleeping potion in third-year, when she had been so stressed out that sleep had seemed impossible. Hermione had never used it, but had kept it nevertheless, which was why it was sitting among the various medications she kept on the small table. She hesitated briefly before adding a few drops to the water she had poured for Ron. It wasn't as though she was drugging him. The amount she put in his drink wouldn't be enough to knock him out, it would only help him fall asleep a bit faster. She just hoped he wouldn't suspect anything was amiss. Although he really shouldn't--most sleeping draughts were tasteless.

When Hermione turned back to her bed, however, she found that the water was completely unnecessary--he was already asleep. Hermione quietly set the glass on her nightstand, in case Ron woke up and was thirsty. The comforter wasn't covering him completely, so Hermione leaned over to bring the maroon duvet up to his shoulders. His face was leaned toward her, and Hermione found herself, not for the first time, absolutely mesmerized by him. Her hand lingered on his shoulder for a long moment as she stared, captivated, by the freckles adorning the bridge of his nose, the strength of his jaw, and the vivid redness of his eyebrows. It wasn't often that she saw Ron at utter repose, and his face was so relaxed and peaceful that Hermione found herself wishing with all of her heart that she could see him like this more often. Hell, she just wished that she could see him more often. She wished that she could spend every moment of her entire life with the prat.

It was amazing, Hermione thought, how the definition of prat could change over the years. When she had first called Ron a prat, it had highlighted his immaturity and occasional idiocy. But now--now whenever she thought of the word, it brought a rush of warmth and affection to her mind. Now, prat meant the love of her life.

She let her fingers slide off of his shoulder, but before she could head over to her window seat to pass the time before she needed to be back to the hospital wing, her hand was instantly captured by Ron's. He kept his eyes closed and didn't say a word, but she knew in an instant what he was asking her to do just from his touch. Electric currents of desperate, pure need were shooting up and down her arm, and for the first time since she and Ron had broken up, she really felt as though he still needed her the way she had always needed him.

Slowly, Hermione climbed up onto the bed. There was just enough room between the edge of the mattress and Ron's lanky form for her to stretch out her legs and sit with her back against the headboard. Her right leg firmly pressing against Ron's side, she brushed her right hand through his hair with a constant, reassuring rhythm that she hoped would lull him into unconsciousness. A low, deep, contented sigh blew out of Ron's lips, and to her great relief, a small, very faint smile flickered across his face as he slung an arm around her waist to hug her even closer to him. He left that arm draped over her, as he finally allowed himself to drift off into a complete sleep. It was only when Hermione was absolutely certain that he was fast asleep that she allowed herself to bring her free hand up to stifle the noise, as she finally stopped fighting the inevitable and let tears of her own flow freely down her cheeks, all the while continuing to soothingly stroke Ron's hair.

Author notes: Once again, huge thank you to Heather, my beta reader, who without her, this chapter probably wouldn't be up at the moment due to dialouge formatting (hehe)

next up: more fallout from chapter four and Hermione makes a decision about Ron