Three Death Eaters appeared at the mouth of the cave.
Realizing what he had done, Hagrid summoned the last of his strength and threw himself at them, with a mighty roar. The killing curses struck his chest just as his dying hulk crushed the stunned Death Eaters beneath him.
Without thought, Ron grabbed Hermione’s hand and turned on the spot.
They appeared in the woods overlooking the remains of Shell Cottage. Its wards down, it was no more than a smoking ruin.
In shock and anger, Hermione turned on Ron. She slapped him full force across his face. “Ron! How could you leave him!!?”
Ron took the blow, expecting it, and seized Hermione in his arms, a single tear rolling down his cheek.
“Hermione! HERMIONE! LISTEN TO ME! He was dead before he hit them; there was nothing we could have done but wait there for more Death Eaters to finish us off! He died saving us! Did you want that to be for nothing?”
Shuddering as she painfully accepted the truth, Hermione began to sob into Ron’s chest. As he embraced her, Ron allowed several of his own tears to fall for their dear friend. Farewell, Hagrid. You’ll be missed.
As he comforted her in his arms, a slow, grim comprehension began to spread through him. After the soul crushing loss of his family, Ron began to understand just how alone Harry must have felt; he also began to understand the sense of determination that his best mate always seemed to have. Harry, is this how you always managed to press on? Was it always this difficult for you? Gods, I wish you were here.
“How does this end, Ron?” The words were muffled by Ron’s chest and Hermione’s tears.
“I don’t know.” Bracing himself, Ron continued, “Hermione, you’re the only family I have left. I won’t lose you. I . . . love you.”
Hermione stared up into his blue eyes. “I love you too.” She pulled him into a desperate kiss.
They stood in a lingering embrace. Ron was unwilling to break the moment, but knew he had no choice. “We can’t stay here. This was just the first place that I thought of. The house is probably being watched.”
Composing herself, Hermione flicked her wand, “Homenum Revelio . . . It seems safe for the moment,” she said, trying to steady herself. “Let’s have a look around.”
“Carefully,” Ron admonished.
Ron steeled himself at the sight of the wreckage that used to be his eldest brother's home. Hermione felt Ron stiffen as he took it in. Gripping his hand tightly, Hermione asked, “Are you up to this?”
Ron nodded grimly.
After several minutes of scouting, and several more Revelio spells, it seemed that they were safe. Slowly, they approached the ruins of Shell Cottage. What wasn't burned, appeared to have been crushed by spells or giants.
Hermione headed to where the kitchen had been; Ron towards the storage room. Somberly, they began to sift through the wreckage, neither of them speaking.
Ron looked up in alarm when he heard shifting and splintering wood. He relaxed when he realized it was Hermione using a levitation spell to shift the pile. He smiled weakly at her. She nodded and made calming gestures with her hands, assuring him she was fine, once she understood that she had startled him.
Then, with a concerted effort, as he tried to control his grief, Ron dug through the debris. At first, he was afraid that what he was searching for had been consumed in the fire. In desperation, he muttered “Accio tent.”
Miraculously, a magical tent, slightly smaller than the one they had used in the previous weeks, leapt to his arms. It was a bit charred, but otherwise, it seemed fine.
Hermione looked a question at him.
“Bill,” Ron choked up at the mention of his oldest brother’s name, calmed himself and continued, “Bill, had offered this to me when we were here last.”
“I found some food. Not much, but at least we can eat,” Hermione said, although it sounded as if she had no appetite and, for the first time that Hermione could remember, Ron seemed just as disinterested in food as she was. Even though it was clear to her that Ron was grieving, it still surprised her how much the last few days had changed him. How determined he seemed and how . . . strong.
“Right. Take my hand,” Ron said. “Where?”
“Further east. I think I know a place.”
Ron nodded and Hermione turned on the spot. They appeared in the woods. A small brook running off to the left, hills rising slightly to the right. The area was quiet and, luckily, devoid of any Death Eaters.
Without a word exchanged between them, Ron dropped the tent and cast Erecto. Hermione began to cast the protection spells. Ron stood back and watched, for the first time trying to take in the details of her spell work. Hermione could feel his eyes on her, but rather than becoming annoyed, she found it comforting. Ron didn't know it at the time, but Hermione, at that moment, had come to a decision.
Several hours later, the protection spells in place and the tent up, Ron and Hermione sat together, curled up in a chair, in silence. They’d forced themselves to eat, with little relish. They clung to each other taking solace in each other’s touch.
Ron knew they had to plan, to discuss all that Hagrid had told them and to suss out how Hermione had survived a killing curse. But neither could bring themselves to it. Usually, this much silence between them would not have bode well. But, this time, the opposite was the case. Outside, a gentle rain had begun to fall.
Then it happened.
Hermione slowly turned her face to Ron’s. Her breath caught. She brought her face up to his and their lips met. As the passion of their kiss intensified, Ron pulled her onto his lap, facing him, his hands in the locks of her hair. Hermione ran her hands down Ron’s chest, pulling his shirt off and burying her face in his neck, biting him gently.
Ron moaned, as he removed Hermione’s jumper and fumbled with her bra. Stopping himself, Ron breathed, “‘Mione, I don’t . . .”
She hushed him with her finger. “Ron. I want this. We need this.” The words passed from her lips as she locked her chocolate eyes on his, a gentle determination in her voice.
Rising, she let her bra fall to the floor. She took Ron’s hand, leading him to the bedroom, their clothes slowly trailing away behind them.
As the rain spattered on the tent, Ron held Hermione close to him. He made love to her gently, caressing her body, as she caressed his. They felt the grief and fear slowly being driven from their souls.
A silent tear ran down Hermione’s cheek as they reached the end. If only for a few moments, they had managed to find peace and succumbed to a dreamless sleep.
AN: I do not own Harry Potter. The toys belong to JKR; she just lets us play with them.
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