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don't talk (put your head on my shoulder)

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don't talk (put your head on my shoulder)

I can hear so much in your sighs
And I can see so much in your eyes
There are words we both could say

But don't talk, put your head on my shoulder
Come close, close your eyes and be still
Don't talk, take my hand and let me hear your heartbeat

Listen, listen, listen

There were sounds around her, floating in and out of her consciousness as pain wracked her body.

She couldn’t do it — the searing agony, the losing touch with reality. Her throat was raw from her screams and white-hot knives pierced every inch of her skin. She tried to move, every inch of her existence screaming unbearably out at her, but there must’ve been a spell on her to keep her still, because she couldn’t move while it was on her.

She wished for death, but even more than that, she was filled with desperation. They had to be safe, she had to save her friends and every moment was a reminder of how miserably and unquestionably determined she was, how she was one second away from not being able to lie anymore, one minute away from her mind slipping away from her for good.

In a sad twist of fate, she knew why the Longbottoms had been pushed to insanity. It’d been only minutes and she felt close to it. 

She couldn’t do it. 

Her thoughts left her again, violently as she clutched at them through the chaos, and all that was left was pain. 

Every pause in the agony felt less like a break and more like a torturous wait; the next round was coming. Any breath could be her last.

She had to focus every fibre of her consciousness on making sure that she knew what lies she was telling, keeping her story straight. Every shred of her self control and determination had to be directed towards remembering where she was, remembering who she was, remembering what she had to do to keep Ron and Harry safe.

Ron’s voice was muffled from the cellar. She vaguely registered that he was screaming her name as her throat burned.

Her brain realized that she was going to die.

They’d messed up too far to be saved this time. There was no miracle that was going to let them walk away from this unscatched, no saving grace to swoop in at the last moment.

She prayed to every deity she could remember, any God from every religion she’d ever read about, that when she was killed, Harry and Ron would make it out alive. 

And still, she fought against the truth and told Bellatrix another lie, repeating it desperately enough that it started to become her own reality.

She would die if it meant keeping them safe, and that thought repeated over and over in her head as she lost touch with where she was, who she was, why this was all happening

The curses stopped long enough that she fell into darkness, the sweet relief of something other than pain pulling her in before she could stop herself.

Unconsciousness took her.

Sweet relief.


Then there was a voice again. A voice she knew, urging her to be okay, to breathe. Ron’s voice , she realized to herself, her heart squeezing impossibly tight as someone’s arms tightened around her too. There was another voice soon, one she recognized vaguely in a cobweb-covered corner of her memories but hadn’t heard in what felt like a lifetime. 

Ron’s voice again, the strange voice urging her to drink something as it was placed to her lips, her throat still burning, and then again, thankfully, darkness. 

Hermione noticed a few things as she came to. 

Her eyelids felt impossibly heavy, like lead. She wondered if she’d ever have the energy to open them. 

It was humid in the room, she could feel the condensation on her forehead, and it smelled vaguely salty, like the sea.

Her head pounded, a sharp, stifling pain covered her entire body.

It took a few seconds for everything to come into focus as she opened her eyes, everything too bright and too harsh. She blinked away the stars as her eyes started to run.

She was in a little room, lying on a bed, the beginnings of morning light coming in through the small window. Ron sat next to her in a chair that looked too small for his long limbs, staring down at the floor with one hand buried in his hair and supporting his head. His other hand gripped hers, their fingers intertwined.

He jumped a little at the sight of her peering back at him and the start startled her too. 

She groaned as an unexpected pain washed over her from the jerked movement, screwing her eyes tight again as nausea rose up in her throat.

Ron’s hand left hers and in an instant, she wished it hadn’t.

“FLEUR!" She heard him shout. Too loud, Ron, her brain complained even as she breathed through the pain— 

Wait — Fleur’s here? Where was she? 

She swallowed down the pain, taking as deep of breaths as she could as her ribs screamed in protest, breathing out like she’d seen women do while delivering babies in movies. She tried to string her thoughts together but everything seemed too thick, her brain too slow, her tongue too stubborn.

Snatchers… Malfoy Manor… Banging on the walls beneath her and the sound of her name—

"Ron?" she stammered. Her voice sounded weak even to her own ears.

"Yeah? Yeah, Hermione, 'm here.” His voice sounded almost as shaky as her own did and then there was a warmth in her hand; he had grasped it again, squeezing tightly.

Another run of nauseating pain rushed over her. 

“‘M g’na be sick—” Hermione managed to gasp before Ron had a bin in front of her face. She couldn’t remember when she had last eaten or drank anything, but that didn’t stop her body from rejecting whatever was in her stomach.

The weight shifted on the bed next to her as Ron sat next to her, holding the bin and whispering something that she couldn’t hear over the rushing in her ears. Acid bubbled in her mouth and made her gag.

His voice came back to her, pounding on the walls and another part of her broke, feeling desperately close to the edge.

Her hair got pulled back from her face as fingers ran across her temples so softly she could barely feel it and that was the moment that she came to enough to lose it, sobbing miserably over the bin as her body screamed at her, every movement a reminder of what she couldn’t remember. She could still feel the burning of the curse all over her like it was happening to her all over again — and a different kind of pain, sharp and stinging at her neck.

Was everyone even okay?

Where’s Harry?

The anxiety rushed over her again; she dry heaved and coughed into the bin.

“Harry?” she managed to whimper, spitting into the bowl and wiping at her mouth.

“He’s fine, downstairs,” Ron responded as he looked at her worriedly, his eyes moving to the door quickly and back again, like he was expecting someone to come up. “Luna and Ollivander and Griphook, too. And Dean. T-they’re all okay.”

Her brain reeled at the information and she swallowed against her burning throat. “Luna was there? All of them were there? Where?”

He nodded heavily, pushing her back gently to sit into the pillows again. “Yeah, yeah Luna was there, they were all in the basement when we got there and— they’d been there for a while I guess.”

She felt the need to confirm again. “Everyone’s safe? No injuries?”

“Minor injuries. Fleur thinks malnutrition too.” He swallowed thickly and then looked vaguely like he was holding something back from her. “But they’re all alright.” 

The confirmation of their safety calmed her slightly as she heard Ron mutter a spell under his breath, the bin in front of her suddenly clean and floating back into the corner of the room. Heat rushed up the back of her neck, somehow still able to be embarrassed by the reality of all of it.

She forced her eyes open to look at him sitting on the edge of her bed, his face full of fear still as his eyes searched her face. His hand still rested on her shoulder as she slumped forward, his long arm reaching out between them.

Her throat was scratchy as she asked where they were, the blank room giving her no clues. 

"Shell Cottage. Bill and Fleur's place,” he responded quietly, like he was scared of her as he lifted his hand off her to pour a glass of water from the pitcher at the bedside. “You okay now?"

She took the glass gratefully and took the smallest sip she could bear, tears welling reality crashed over her. She was still wearing her clothes but noticed, for the first time, a pair of floral flannel pajamas that definitely didn’t belong to her at the foot of the bed. 

“I’m fine,” she said. The words felt hollow.

They were safe. They’d made it out.

“I can’t believe we… we got out,” she whispered, feeling what she knew to be medical shock coming on. She looked over at Ron, whose face had taken on some sort of admiration.

“I can’t believe it either, I — you— you were fucking brilliant, Hermione,” Ron said earnestly, his voice thick, turning to her and lifting one leg fully onto the bed, scooting so close that his hip was pressed up against her calf, his knee against her hip.

The surprise of his profanity shocked a laugh out of her. She felt herself reel — confusion and pain and the reality of safety, no matter how temporary, swirled together. 

His hand landed on her knee, a comforting weight even through blankets on top of her. “I can’t believe you could lie like that.”

“I don’t even remember what I said,” she admitted, her voice breaking, her throat burning again as she took another tiny sip of water, afraid of being sick again but too desperate to clear the rancid taste from her mouth.

“Whatever you said,” he insisted, squeezing her knee reassuringly, “you convinced them and without that—”

Too much. Too soon.

“Can we talk about something else?” she begged before she could stop herself, squeezing her eyes shut as her brain took her back to the cold stone floors, her own screams echoing around her, a woman’s cruel voice in her ear—

“Yeah, yeah, shite, I’m sorry,” he said, turning to look over his shoulder towards the door again.

“Where’s Harry?” she asked suddenly, wondering why he wasn’t there with them.

“He’s downstairs,” Ron said, and she realized a moment too late that he’d already told her that, but now he wasn’t meeting her eyes.

Her heart thudded in her chest as her heartbeat echoed in her ears.

"What aren’t you telling me?" she asked. She hated how weak her voice sounded.

“Nothing,” he tried to deny, the tips of his ears going red. 

“Ron—” she started, her voice breaking. 

"Everyone’s downstairs…” he said, after shaking his head like he was disappointed in himself for telling her, like he’d promised himself he wasn’t going to, “with Harry. He's digging a grave for—”

His voice gave out as he cleared his throat over emotion, swallowing thickly.

She could feel her heart plummet rapidly, panic congealing in her throat.

"Who?" she asked. “Who? You said everyone was fine—” 

He took her other hand in his now too, running his thumbs over her knuckles. "Dobby."

“Dobby?” she said, her voice breaking as confusion rushed over her, followed swiftly by another rush of emotion. “Dobby was there?”

“He…” Ron cleared his throat. “Saved us… saved you.” 

She could hardly believe what she’d heard even as she let out a heavy sigh and leaned back, staring up at the cracks in the plastered ceiling. Ron quickly explained that Dobby had shown up and apparated them out but gave little detail more than the basics; his story ended sooner than she expected.

An image came to her mind: Dobby with all of her knit hats stacked on his head, Hedwig perched on top.

Another death. Another life taken from this stupid war, from their idiot efforts. Dobby, who should’ve had freedom and a full life doing whatever he had wanted to do and—

She gasped as she inhaled in shutters, not even having realized she was crying.

When she looked back at Ron, he was still gazing at her, his eyes rimmed in red, his jaw clenched.

"How's Harry?" she asked hesitantly through the tears, not quite certain she really wanted to know.

The tips of his ears tinged pink."Er, I— I dunno." 

It surprised her. "What? Why not?"

"Well — I haven't really uh, been down."

"Ron,” she tried to say gently, but the words came out both incredulous and commanding. “You should go see him." 

He looked at her with confused eyes, like it was a foreign concept to him, even as the sound of padded feet came up the stairwell.

Just at that very moment, Fleur walked in, a basket piled with potions and what looked like medimagic supplies slung on her hip, a dressing gown draped over her shoulder.

"Out," she ordered Ron.

"But-" he started to protest but the Weasley woman was firm and tried to shove him out the door, citing needs for privacy and confidential conversation.

“Go help Harry,” Hermione said sternly.

Ron sighed hesitantly, heavily, and then nodded, making a jerky movement like he was going to go back over by the bed before he left. He shot Fleur an emphatic look before she shooed him out of the room, assuring him that she would call him if he was needed.

"I'll be back soon," he mumbled to Hermione before rushing out. She listened as his heavy footsteps thundered down the hall and Fleur rushed around the room; she was fed what felt like a million potions but was probably only a few, each burning against her raw throat, each one making her feel dizzy and delirious and a little less attached to reality. 

It was, in all honesty, a nice escape.

“There ees a spell to test these things,” Fleur said quietly and seriously after a while. “I did not want to ask while Ron could ‘ear. But I want to confirm with you… that nothing else ‘appened.”

Through the brain fog, Hermione waited for clarification. Her thoughts were still moving too slow. 

“Nothing else that I cannot see,” Fleur asked softly, her brow furrowed in both concern and strength, “any… other sorts of violence.”

Realization flooded her and she shivered violently. 

Of course Fleur would want to make sure there hadn’t been that.

A common war tactic used against women. 

Merlín, they’d been so lucky. She’d been so lucky.

How had they gotten so lucky?

Dobby had paid for their freedom, a little voice at the back of her head reminded her. 

Hermione shook her head in response, her breath shuttering as she tried to stop herself from crying again. “No, no, nothing like that.” 

Fleur nodded and smiled sadly. 

“Ron will not tell us what ‘appened,” she continued gently, dipping the rag she was using in a tub of hot water next to her, gently rinsing each and every cut before applying the tiniest amount of what Hermione assumed was, based on the smell and consistency, a Dittany balm of sorts. 

Hermione, even in her brain fog, was sure that Harry and Ron wouldn't have told Fleur anything and wasn't in the mood to offer up any addition information. 

“We don’t mean to be secretive,” Hermione said, feeling suddenly self conscious, her defenses rising. She has half a thought to question Fleur as to her true identity. 

“I know eet is something you must do,” Fleur said, giving Hermione a knowing look. “But that does not mean I am okay with you teenagers running around.”

The deeper wounds were carefully mended and wrapped with admirable skill and precision. 

“You’re starting to sound like Molly,” Hermione said, which made Fleur smile and roll her eyes. 

“Yes, well—”

“We… We really, truly can’t say anything, Fleur,” Hermione repeated. “I’m sorry but we just can’t.” 

Fleur made a sound of half-acknowledgement and half-disapproval.

Hermione took time to look at the part-Veela while she attended to the shallower wounds, especially as the older woman’s face descended into focus on her task.

Fleur was still startlingly, shockingly beautiful, especially with the remnants of a gentle smile on her face, but what had intimidated Hermione so much about Fleur seemed insignificant now; all the days that she and Mrs. Weasley and Ginny had spent complaining about her seemed silly.

She was sad and numb and grateful and more than anything else, unable to really feel something when everything around her still felt like a dream. All the things were happening around her and not to her. There were four walls around her, protected by a Secret Keeper, with family for the first time in a year. Probably real food in the kitchen downstairs.

“Thank you, Fleur,” Hermione said, suddenly overwhelmed. “I don’t know what we would’ve done if… if we hadn’t been able to come here.” 

“Eet is nothing,” Fleur said humbly, her eyes not even coming up from her work of stitching a particularly deep cut in Hermione’s forearm. “I am ‘appy Ron remembered us.”

“It’s not nothing,” Hermione insisted sternly back, as serious as she felt. “I…”

Her voice trailed off, losing her train of thought to all the danger they were putting Ron’s family in, and Fleur looked up momentarily.

“Eet was quite bad,” Fleur said lightly, swallowing thickly and busying herself with the rag again, “when Ron brought you in. ‘E was pale as a ghost and you were… well. Worse. Much worse.”

Hermione nodded, biting her lip and squeezing her eyes shut as a missed large shard of glass was taken out of her elbow, knowing that the potions running through her veins were dulling the pain to a much more manageable level. It made a hollow sound against the sides of the metal bowl Fleur was dropping all the pieces into.

She shivered again; any one of those could’ve killed her if they’d cut her in the right spot. She tried to remember the names of the arteries in her arm as a distraction from the pain, the image from an old Muggle reference book blooming in her head.

“You will need more potion soon,” Fleur said, pulling what seemed like the final piece out. “Eet will be quite unpleasant, but I do not want to give you Dreamless Sleep again, even another ‘alf dose. You needed the rest, but eet can be ‘abit-forming.”

Hermione nodded her consent. “I understand.”

More moments passed, Hermione’s thoughts floating through consciousness as she tried to get her head right. 

“They are ‘aving a funeral for the elf, Dobby,” Fleur said finally, as she organized the materials in front of her. “‘Arry has dug a grave.” 

“I want to go,” Hermione insisted immediately.

“No,” Fleur said sternly, the no-nonsense tone back in her voice, “whatever ‘appened, you ‘ave been through too much. Eet’s not good for you. You need to rest.”

“He saved our lives. Ron said he saved my life,” she insisted back, feeling slightly hysteric. “It’s… I can’t not...”

Fleur’s face softened just barely and she sighed deeply like she knew Hermione was going to be stubborn about this, nodding in understanding finally before grabbing the dressing gown and helping Hermione get her arms into it.

“Promise me you will tell me if you feel pain, yes?”

“Sure,” Hermione gritted through her teeth in response as her shoulder and head ached viciously and concurrently, lying even as she said it.

Fleur helped her down the stairs, holding solidly onto Hermione as they took each step slowly. Her body didn’t like the movement, any of the movement really, but Hermione pressed on, grateful again for magic when she knew this would’ve been absolutely impossible without it, each stair requiring a gargantuan effort even with the help of the potions.

Hermione wondered absently to herself how she’d gotten up the stairs in the first place. Another mystery she’d have to ask about later.

It was brisk outside, the morning chill starting to roll in from over the ocean. She looked around and realized she hadn’t even seen the house from the outside yet.

The cottage was situated alone on a cliff, the surrounding area startlingly beautiful and the walls of the small property enclosing a tiny garden, hinted with the lightest beginnings of spring flowers. The sound of the sea rushed back and forth as she walked, crashing up against the rocks gently some times and loudly at others. The day was misty, foggy even as the sea swirled beneath them, the sunlight diffused heavily by the thick haze.

She had forgotten what seeing this much sky was like; it’d been so long since she’d been somewhere that wasn’t a tent or a forest. 

Fleur led her to the group, who were standing around a shallow grave, and Hermione immediately stood next to Ron, who wrapped his arm around her in an instant, leaning most of her weight up against himself. 

He shivered slightly against her, and she looked down to find his feet bare against the ground. His shoes and socks were on Dobby who was laid in the grave in front of them. The sight made her shake with a sadness she wasn’t expecting, her eyes filling with tears. 

Ron looked down at her and gave her a comforting, albeit sad, smile, like he was trying to be strong. 

She listened to people talk and tried not to think about the guilt that Harry must be feeling and how it was mirrored in her own heart and then let Fleur usher her back into the house, turning to look at Ron once more.

Hermione was back in bed, looking at the little window cut into the walls.

The rhythmic rush of the sea was a rather comforting sound; it reminded her of holidays to France with her parents, laying out in the sun in a lounge chair. She used to hide her magical books behind her Muggle ones, tearing through her textbooks before the year started, writing letters to Ron and Harry and daydreaming about going back to school.

That reality felt a million miles away.

The door creaked, and she turned her head to find Ron standing awkwardly in the door jam, like he was waiting for an invite. She lifted herself up onto an elbow and he smiled at her, closing the door gently behind him and coming to her sheepishly.

He sat in that little chair again, the legs scraping the worn floor familiarly as he scooted closer to the bedside, right next to her shoulder. He bit his lip and took her hand in his, and after a moment, he brought both of them up to his mouth, pressing a kiss to her thumb before leaning his cheek on their joined hands.

Her heart pounded in her chest as they gazed at each other.

She tried to muster up words, any words, that might suit the situation. Nothing seemed big enough or serious enough or even worth breaking whatever spell was on them that was making him hold her hand like that. It was a small comfort that it seemed Ron, usually equally as vocal, was also having difficulty.

"Hey," Ron said finally, interrupting her thoughts softly. 

“Hi,” she replied, looking down. She was still out of it, still a bit nauseated, still feeling like crap. The funeral had taken something else out of her, seeing Harry so raw with emotion and 

His fingers were wind chapped and slightly raw from digging the grave.

“Thank you for earlier,” she said, reminded suddenly of his kindness while she was sick.

“What else was I going to do?” he replied with an eye roll after a moment, when he’d registered what she was referring to. “Let you get sick all over yourself? Or on the floor?”

Her stomach lurched. “I guess I’m just saying thanks. It must’ve been… unpleasant for you.” 

“Not sure if you remember, but I’m a wizard and I have 6 siblings,” he said with a disbelieving chuckle, rubbing his thumb on the back of her hand. “I’m used to some gross stuff and I’m also used to magic cleaning it up quite quickly.”

She swallowed, second guessing his positive feelings for her now. “Well… thank you anyways.”

“It’s alright,” he said, dropping her hand to pour her and then hand her a glass of water. She immediately missed his hand in hers, despite how cold they’d been against her own. “Fleur warned me it might happen anyways. Can’t be any worse than all the wounds of mine you’ve had to dress and heal over the years.”

She nodded and took a sip, her mouth watering over the nausea, and she distracted herself by really looking at him. 

His eyes were puffy and the tips of his ears were red from the cold outdoors, just like his fingers were chilly against her own. His face looked like it’d been cleaned up but there was dried blood down his pants. Hers?

“I got some of your socks out,” she said suddenly, passing him the rolled pair from the bedside table next to her beaded bag. “I figured you must be cold.”

“Thanks, Hermione,” he said as he looked down at them in surprise and then down at his feet, a smile coming over his face as he took them and leaned over to put them on. 

“Are you alright, Ron?” she asked, wondering suddenly if anybody had asked him that in the last few days, certainly not herself while she was giving him the cold shoulder.  

He looked up at her from his leaned over position as he pulled his pant leg down over the first sock. His eyes were startlingly blue in this light; she wondered how she had ever questioned her affection for him.

“Been better,” he admitted with a grimace. “Had a few dodgy hours there that I’d really like to forget forever.”

She couldn’t help but nod her agreement; it was an understatement at best. His voice was back to normal, she noticed, and it looked like somebody had healed his nose back to normal as well.

“Have you had those cuts looked at?” she asked as she saw the blood on his clothes.

“Don’t worry about me,” he muttered, fixing the second sock. “Bill fixed most of it up.”

“They could get infected,” Hermione insisted. “You’ve got to clean all of them.”

“If they get infected, you can just heal them for me,” he replied cheekily with a knowing look. “‘M fine, Hermione, I promise.” 

“Okay,” she said, giving in. “Just promise me you’ll get those healed today.”

He smiled, a bit sad still, and her stomach clenched. “Okay, yeah. I promise.”

He refilled her water and there were an awkward few moments of silence. 

It was almost too much, thinking about what had happened and what they still had to do. She had a sneaking suspicion that Harry was as overzealous as ever and she couldn’t help but agree with his vigor; it felt like every day that they delayed was another red mark on the ledger of their guilt, another death happening somewhere that they could’ve prevented. 

When she looked up at Ron, he was staring at her intently, biting his bottom lip like he was trying to stop from crying.

He swallowed as he reached his hand up to stroke her hair slowly, smoothing some of it behind her ear with the tips of his fingers as his palm rested on her cheek.

He was so close to her and his gaze was so earnest and searching, like he was trying to see to the very core of her. Her stomach erupted in nerves in an instant and he looked down at her lap to try to get away from the intensity of it. 

She had been so angry with him and it had been so important to her then, to make him pay for what he’d done and realize that she wasn’t going to fall at his feet and thank him for coming back. She’d been so hurt, so angry, so disappointed in not only him but herself, for needing him as badly as she did and not realizing it until he was gone. 

It seemed stupid now; she’d wasted so much time being stubborn and furious and taking out all her frustrations on him. Her lingering anger at him had evaporated more quickly than she even thought possible. 

She could’ve died. It was a close call.

“Ron—” she gasped, overwhelmed and he was on the bed next to her in an instant, one arm around her shoulder and the other around her waist. She threw her arms around him and it was like a floodgate opening, everything she’d tried to push back for the last few hours overtaking her.

Thankfully, he clutched her just as desperately as she clutched him.

“I’m so sorry, Hermione,” he said, his voice this as he buried his face in her hair. “I, I should’ve—”

She couldn’t stand him blaming himself so she spoke even as her voice broke. “You couldn’t have, Ron—”

His voice broke. “They should’ve taken me, I begged them to take me—”

“I know, I know you did,” she cried into his neck. “I heard it, I heard you.”

“I didn’t think we—“ his voice suddenly ended and she realized he was crying against her too. “I thought you—”

“I know, I know,” she admitted, clutching onto him tighter.

“Merlin, Hermione,” he sobbed. She'd never seen him cry like this; she could feel his tears against her bare neck. 

She let herself sink into it, seeing that he needed it just as much as she did. 

“I don’t know what I would’ve done if—” Ron said in an uncharacteristically tender voice, pulling away slightly to cover her cheeks with large hands, tears dripping down his nose. “I couldn’t— I thought I was going to lose my mind.”

“Me too,” she said, swallowing and nodding, looking up at him. “I didn’t think I could take it… I—“

Words failed her. She broke down into sobs again.

“Fucking hell, Hermione,” he said, his voice cracking, kissing her wet cheek quickly before hugging her even tighter. "I'm just so glad you're okay." 

They stayed like that for a while, and she realized the last time they’d hugged while both crying had been at Dumbledore’s funeral, which must’ve only been a year ago. He was here again, comforting her with a tact she never thought he had.

The tears subsided, if not just because exhaustion was taking over, and he pulled away.

“I must look like a blubbering fool,” he chuckled as he wiped at his nose with the cuff of his jacket.

“No worse than me,” she admitted back.

“Definitely worse than you,” he responded. She smiled and shook her head, wiping at her own eyes. 

He handed her the water glass again, urging her to drink. “Drink more, should help with the next round of potions.” 

She took the glass and sipped obediently after realizing how thirsty she was, how depleted she felt, despite the earlier glass. 

“What happened?” She asked after a few moments of silence. “The last thing I remember is… well, you being downstairs. And then I wake up and we’re here.” 

He sighed and looked at her worriedly, still close enough that she could see how his wet eyelashes had darkened. “Do you really want to hear this? Now? We just—”

“Yes,” she insisted. “We can’t wait around forever.”

He sighed heavily, took her hand again, and then started on giving her the long version of the story this time, shushing her as she interrupted for greater details, like how he told Dobby to bring the prisoners downstairs to Shell Cottage. 

“That was very smart, Ron,” she said, her tone betraying her awe.

“Always the tone of surprise,” he said, not entirely lightheartedly but his eyes were free of any insecurity as he stared at her. 

“It’s not surprising,” she insisted, looking down at their joined hands as he chuckled. “It’s not. You’ve… you’re good under pressure. You always have been.” 

“Well thanks,” he replied, the tips of his ears going pink. “I nearly bloody lost my marbles but… thanks, I guess.”

“What happened next?” she asked, curiosity winning her over.

Ron looked down at his hands like he was trying to remember what had happened, his voice getting a little weaker. “Oh, then Pettigrew came downstairs, and he had this weird arm thing? It was metal or something. It uh… it killed him when he… helped us. I guess. Just… suffocated him right there.”

“Oh, Ron,” she said, her eyes filling with worry. 

“A weird circle of events,” Ron said absently to himself, looking back up at Hermione and patting her hand in a way that she knew was meant to be comforting. “Don’t worry about me.”

“And then we went upstairs, and Harry got Bellatrix’s wand and I had Wormtail’s and…” 

Hermione watched him as he paused.

“She…” he looked back up at her questioningly. “Are you sure you want to hear this?” 

“Yes,” she said resolutely. 

“You barely looked alive. And… she had a knife to your throat,” Ron choked out, his face twisted with pain. “And then Dobby dropped this massive chandelier on top of you, I guess to stop Bellatrix or get her away from you, and Harry threw me this wand and told me to go and — I apparated... showed up here.”

She stared at him, in awe of how terrifying everything must’ve been. How while she was hanging onto her sanity upstairs, he was doing the same down below. 

“You never even passed your test,” she tried to laugh wetly.

“Seems stupid, doesn’t it? That after all this time I don't have my license?’ 

“A little bit,” she admitted lowly, all the times he’d been splinched popping into her head. 

“I actually tried to apparate without a wand,” he chuckled through tears, “at Malfoy’s I mean… this is a surprise to you, I’m sure, but it didn’t work too well.”

She looked back down at his hands, all red and swollen, already bruising on the outsides.

“I heard you, you know,” she heard herself saying. “I heard you and I…”

She looked at him as he blinked away tears, wiping them hastily with his sleeve for what seemed like the thousandth time today.

“Budge over,” he said suddenly, gesturing with his head. She looked up at him with confusion and he repeated himself. “Let me sit next to you, Hermione, budge over.”

The back of her neck heated and she moved over as much as she could, giving him slightly more space as he muttered about the tiny bed under his breath.

He sat back against the headboard now, more upright than she was. 

“Much better,” he said, satisfied. 

She looked up at him as he wrapped an arm around her shoulder, their sides pressed together. She winced as she moved, her body protesting being resituated.

“You alright?” he asked, reaching back to fluff some of the pillows behind them.

“Just sore,” she replied. 

She looked up at him, finding that he was already looking down at her.

“Ron, I—” she tried to start. 

He gulped and exhaled like he was trying to stop himself from crying again. She couldn’t blame him; she felt both overwhelmed with emotion and loathe to deal with any of them.

“I’m so glad you’re okay,” she said, her voice cracking. His face fell at her words.

“I would’ve done anything, fucking anything to stop it, Hermione,” he said desperately, his face and voice full of all the honesty in the world.

“I know you would’ve,” she said seriously, her voice strained, squeezing his hand tightly. "I know." 

He smiled wetly and then hugged her again like he couldn’t help himself, resting his chin against the top of her head. 

“If anything had happened to you, to the two of you—” she started hysterically and then she felt like she couldn't breathe again until she'd gotten something off her chest, a weight on her conscience that wouldn't let up. "I'm so sorry, Ron. For the locket and for being so horrid to you when you came back and the birds in sixth year and—"

"I'm sorry too," he said softly, shushing her gently, a hand rubbing up and down her back.

"I had no reason—"

"I promise, Hermione," he whispered gently, settling further into the bed and pulling her closer, sliding another blanket onto her lap. "I promise I've already forgotten it. No more talk of that now."

She nodded and swallowed thickly. “Okay." 

After a few more minutes and another couple of glasses of water, she felt her breathing slow down. Crying always took it out of her and the rest of the days events were surely no help. 

She blinked slowly.

“Put your head on my shoulder,” he said softly, tucking her into his side. She did as he said and let her eyes close.

There were so many words she could say, more apologies to give and get. She could thank him for saving her, for getting Harry safe, for how he’d put shoes and socks on a free elf to give him some dignity in death.

She wanted to say how much she’d missed him while he was gone, how she’d cried herself to sleep many nights, sick with worry for him. How she’d thought about him on Christmas, about the holidays they’d shared together over the years, wished he were there a thousand times to crack a joke and get everyone to smile just once. 

So much to say and yet, different words left her mouth. 

“I can hear your heartbeat,” she said sleepily.

“Sound okay in there?”

“A little fast, but yes,” she chuckled.

“Not everyday your best friend, well… nevermind.” He cleared his throat, the movement jostling her head just a bit.

“I know,” she said, because she did.

It wasn’t everyday that she nearly died and they’d certainly never laid in bed together and he’d never held her hair while she got sick and she’d never seen him cry quite so openly and all of this was happening while she was still completely bewildered that they were still alive.

It was a miracle among the mundane.

“Think you’ll be able to sleep?” he asked, resting his cheek on the top of her head as he looked out the window, like he could tell that she was getting tired. 

“Will you?” she questioned in place of an answer. 

“Oh yeah,” he said dryly, squeezing her shoulder. “Definitely. Like a baby.” 

She chuckled softly, letting his body calm her.

They'd never laid down together like this, their whole edges pressed together like pieces of a puzzle. Her toes were tucked under his calves, thawing under her socks. His sweater and his neck and his hair, which she noted he'd hastily cleaned, smelled just like him and she snuggled in closer to it, inhaling deeply. 

It was comforting. His body was warm and so were his exhales against the top of her head. It made her sleepy, fighting the urge to curl up and go to sleep right there. 

"I think I'll be able to sleep," she said quietly as she dragged her eyes open to look at him one last time. 

“Have a kip,” he said, a hand in her hair and scratching her scalp gently.

She nodded against him.

A feeling on her forehead and then the sound of a softly left kiss. 

“I’ll be right here, Hermione," she heard as she drifted off.

There are words we both could say
But don't talk, put your head on my shoulder