The small fire cackled in the empty living area of Shell Cottage, its soft orange light the only thing illuminating the room. Normally, Hermione would hate to read in such dim light, but it was so late in the night that she didn’t want to wake anyone, and besides, she could barely focus on the words in front of her anyways.
Since when did Hermione Granger have trouble focusing on a book? Since months of living in a tent, war brewing, and after nearly an hour of the cruciatus curse, she thought to herself. Every inch of her body hurt - not the same sharp, all encompassing pain she’d endured in the hours after arriving at Shell Cottage just barely conscious, but rather a dull ache as her bones were nearly mended, like an itch she couldn’t scratch, no matter how hard she tried. And sleeping had been awful - she’d slept for more hours in the past week than she had in months, but was plagued with nightmares. For the week they’d been at Shell Cottage, nearly every night she’d gone to sleep with Luna on a spare mattress beside her, and woke to the sound of her own screams, Ron by her side, Harry in the doorway, and nearly the whole household stirring. She figured, just this one night, she’d stay quiet downstairs. Then the rest of them could manage some sleep, at least.
After trying to adjust herself on the couch by the fire, with a groan she put down her book in frustration and slid to the floor. She nearly jumped to her feet (and perhaps would have, if her body didn’t ache quite so much) at the sound of someone clearing their voice - she whipped her head around and saw Ron’s familiar tall frame at the foot of the stairs, an empty mug in his hands and an unsure expression on his face. “You alright?” he asked.
The mere question made her want to cry - of course she wasn’t alright, but none of them were, were they? - but she turned back towards the fire and said, “I’m fine. You should be asleep.”
Ron placed the mug on one of the end tables by the couch and slumped down on the floor beside her. “So should you,” he retorted.
“I’ve gotten plenty of sleep the past few days,” she waved her hand in response.
“Not good sleep,” he said meaningfully, his gaze so direct she could feel the heat on her cheeks.
Hermione sighed and leaned into his shoulder, and gingerly, he put an arm around her. “I went to check on you and your bed was empty, for a minute there, I was worried…”
“Sorry,” she mumbled, blinking hard. She was tired of them worrying about her, she was tired of hurting, she was tired of all of it.
“S’alright,” he said back.
A slight jolt of pain spread from her nearly mended ribs to her fingertips, and she twitched, adjusting herself once more and letting out a groan. “I just can’t get comfortable, that’s all, and these rotten bandages on my ribs are so damn itchy.”
She moved to scratch at them, even though Fleur told her not to, but Ron grabbed her wrist to stop her. “Let me help,” he said, and truly, if she wasn’t so uncomfortable, she might have melted.
He moved to lift the hem of her shirt, just barely, and looked at her briefly for reassurance, the tips of his ears bright red. She nodded and swallowed, and didn’t take her eyes from him as his fingers gently danced along the bandage, finding the corner where the tape met her skin. “The gauze got bunched up,” he whispered, his voice hoarse. “Here.” Slowly, he stretched out the soft gauze fabric and repositioned it underneath the tape. When he pulled his hand away, it felt as though the room got unbearably cold, but only for a second, until he rested his hand on her leg, just above her knee on the soft fabric of the pajamas Fleur had lent her.
His eyes met hers and she faltered underneath his gaze, turned to look at the fire instead. “I don’t even need these bandages,” she muttered, willing her mind as far away as possible from the feeling of his hand on her leg. “The skelegrow healed everything, I’m just sore.”
“You broke three bloody ribs, Hermione. Just follow Fleur’s orders.”
“Yes, because Fleur knows everything.”
“She saved your life,” Ron said back, the usual playfulness gone from his voice.
She glanced at him, his expression so serious and vulnerable, and blinked. In a small voice, she said, “I suppose you’re right.” With a wince, she turned back to look into the flames. “Old grudges die hard, I suppose.”
For a moment, the two of them were quiet, leaning into one another on the floor, the only sound the cackle of the fire and the in and out of their breath, almost in unison. Until finally, Ron spoke. “Why… why’d you always hate her so much?”
“It’s stupid,” Hermione said back immediately, her cheeks so hot she wondered if they could fry an egg. “I don’t…I didn’t…it was immature, really.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Ron raise his eyebrows, waiting for her to continue. It struck her, in that moment, how much he had changed - not only in the seven years she’d known him, but just in the last few months. A year ago, he might have interrupted, assumed she meant something she didn’t, and she would have done the same just back. But now, when she spoke, it was like he hung on her every word. The war had aged them, but perhaps, she thought, it had aged Ron the most.
“I suppose one could say I was… jealous,” she mumbled.
“Seriously?” Ron let out a snort. “Hermione, there’s nothing you should be jealous of.”
She turned to look at him and was surprised to find him holding her gaze, unwavering, though the blush had spread from his ears to his cheeks, and his hand, still on her leg, was sweaty. Looking at him, she felt her resolve soften. “That’s not true, but thank you.”
“It is true,” he said back.
She shook her head and looked away. “You know, I never thanked you properly.”
“I thanked Fleur for all she did, but I never thanked you. For…for saving me. You saved me too, Ron.”
She felt his body tense beside hers, with the memory of their time at Malfoy Manor. She placed her hand on top of his to hold him steady. He shook his head. “I should have done more.”
She shook her head in return. “I heard you, you know. Yelling my name, from below… I tried to focus on the sound of your voice, and I thought…I thought, I can’t die, not yet, because there’s so much I haven’t…told you.” She dared a glance up at him, and found that they were so close now, like a magnet to metal, and without realizing it her nose was just mere inches from his. He met her gaze and there was something in it that she hadn’t noticed before, perhaps something that hadn’t been there, or something she’d been too in her head to acknowledge. “Ron,” she whispered, his name somehow both a confession and a warning, her breath on his lips.
“Yeah,” he said back, and moved closer, but not in the way she expected - his lips brushed against her cheek where it met her lips, just barely catching the corner of her mouth.
“We can’t,” she whispered back.
She felt him start to pull away, but grabbed him by the wrist to stop him, pressing her nose against his and swallowing hard. “I want to,” she whispered, her mouth so close to his, and every doubt he’d ever had disappeared, along with nearly every coherent thought in his mind. “But we…we can’t be distracted.”
“That ship sailed a long time ago for me,” he whispered back, and the feeling of his breath on her lips nearly propulsed her to do it, to close the gap between them, and she thought that maybe she could, because for the past few years, ever since Voldemort’s return, they hadn’t gotten to be teenagers, not properly, and maybe they wouldn’t get a chance -
But then, a loud crash near the stairs jolted the two of them apart. “Er, shite, sorry,” came the stuttering voice of their best friend, knocking into a bookcase and dropping a half-full glass of tea. It shattered onto the carpet, spilling onto the books that Harry knocked from the bookcase in his stumbling.
“Just - fuck - just, I woke up and my tea was cold, and I wanted some more - “
Hermione and Ron looked at one another, both their mouths playing at a smile. Hermione shook her head and then let out a giggle, and it was the sweetest sound Ron had ever heard, especially after nearly a week ago when he feared he’d never hear it again. So with a groan he stood and pulled out his wand to put the pieces of the broken mug back together. “Start drying the book pages, you prat,” he muttered to Harry, whose face was so pale he looked as though he might be sick. “Right, yeah,” he mumbled back, avoiding eye contact with Ron.
After a few more minutes of fumbling, Harry ascended the stairs with a mug of hot tea in his hands, mumbling, “Right then, I’ll leave you two it… er, I’ll go back…stairs.”
“Shall we?” Ron smirked at Hermione, offering her a hand to help her up. “You need sleep.”
She nodded and as they ascended the stairs, she snuggled in close to him, his body warm against hers, his touch healing her pain, somehow. Perhaps he was right. She too was already far too distracted for her own good. But perhaps that wasn't such a bad thing.