Chapter 1 : Chapter 1
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“Oh, for heaven’s sake Ronald, stop complaining,” his wife said exasperatedly, tearing her eyes away from her dusting to glare at her husband. Ron backtracked. Hermione’s expression was uncannily similar to his mum’s whenever she was mad.
“But my -- my back hurts!”
“Well, you’re not the only one who’s working!” Hermione screeched, dropping the duster in annoyance. “Look at me!”
Ron had to admit, she was right. Her bushy brown hair was frizzier than usual, and her pink shirt was covered in dark patches. Her cheeks were flushed and covered with a mixture of grime and bits of plaster from the walls.
“Well, it’s…” he trailed off upon receiving another murderous glare. “Fine, fine, I’m sorry. Need any help with anything else?” Considering that the ground floor was only half set and they hadn’t even started on the upper floors, Ron was sure there was a lot Hermione needed help with. He wondered why they simply couldn't live at the Burrow to avoid all the hassle.
He ignored the fact that it was his own idea that they get a house of their own.
“Why don’t you go upstairs and clean up the cupboard in the smallest bedroom?” Hermione said, returning to the task at hand. She slowly wiped the mantelpiece with a silent Scourgify. “I have a feeling there’s something inside there, and I’d rather you go check it out incase it’s a ghoul or a Boggart.”
“Fine, but if I see a spider, you’re doing it.”
“Of course, Ron,” Hermione replied absent-mindedly, now levitating photo frames onto the mantelpiece.
Shaking his head, Ron made his way up the creaky stairs, making a mental note to fix them the following morning. The landing was still dark; Ron extracted his wand from his coat pocket and lit it, casting ghastly shadows of himself on the wall. The floorboards felt slippery under his feet. The previous night, he and Hermione, along with Harry and Ginny (who had come to help out), had managed to scrape the floor to remove the layers of dust and grime that had been carpeting it. Taking care not to lose his footing, he slowly crept towards the guest room.
His wand aloft, he pushed the door open. He had never been inside the room before, for they had mainly cleaned the lower floor and the corridors. The furniture was covered with white sheets, and the shadows on the wall moved as he walked in, making Ron feel uneasy. The ceiling was low. On one corner of the room sat a large, nondescript wardrobe spanning from floor to ceiling. As he drew closer, something rattled inside.
Once he reached it, he peered closely at the doors. The large brass handles were dented, and the keyhole was rusty. Paint was peeling off the front, and parts of the door were cracked. It was very old -- probably as old as the house itself. And a lonely old cupboard was the perfect habitat for Boggarts and ghouls… and spiders.
His jaws set, Ron pulled open the door.
A blood-curling scream.
The scene that materialized in front of him made his heart nearly stop. Hermione lay in front of him in a pool of blood, bleeding and writhing in pain, screaming. Somewhere from above came a loud, cold cackle, echoing around the room, reverberating in his ears. All the air was drawn out of his lungs. He could think of nothing except the broken body lying in front of him, shrieking.
And he could do nothing to stop it.
She screamed again, and it chilling him to the core.
“Hermione, no!” he yelled, kneeling in front of her, crouching over her body. His brain stopped working as all conscious thought escaped him. He had to do something -- anything -- to stop her pain. He couldn’t bear to see her in so much agony. “Hermione, I’m here -- she can’t hurt you anymore, please…”
Memories of that day so in Malfoy Manor flooded back into his mind. It had been years since that day, and yet the wound was so fresh. He had been so helpless, hearing her tortured screams, feeling the life drain out of his body with every blow she received. He had never known fear like that, wondering with each scream if she would live, if he could ever tell him how he felt… if they could ever have a future together..
And yet she was there now, lying in front of him in the exact same way, and the old fears crept back into his mind.
He tried to approach her, but he was frozen solid. His legs were glued to the floor. He extended his hands towards her, urging her to catch hold of him so he could Apparate them away to somewhere safe, so that she was safe. But she was far away. He couldn’t reach her in time… and if he couldn’t, she would die.
“Hermione…” He was helpless, he thought, as he clutched his hair in his fingers. A single tear escaped his eyes. He was going to lose her to Bellatrix Lestrange, and then he’d be all alone. Without her, he would die.
The cold voice cackled again, followed by a chorus of laughter that was pierced by an almost faint squeal of distress. Despair filled up inside him.
“No, please…. not her…”
From somewhere far away came loud thudding noises.
And from the heavens, the voice of an angel called out his name.
He heard it from far away, but he knew it was her. She was calling out to him, asking for help. She needed him, yet he couldn’t do a thing.
“Ron, what are you -- what -- oh no, Ron! Riddikulus!”
With a crack, Hermione’s writhing form vanished into thin air.
He swiveled his head around, frantically looking around for her, afraid that she was gone. And then his eyes found her again, slightly dishevelled, but unscathed and perfectly all right.
The fear evaporated. She was alive.
“Ron, are you --”
Before she could finish, he strode up to her and enveloped her in a bone crushing hug. “Hermione, you’re okay,” he mumbled into her hair, kissing it, inhaling the scent that was so her.
She knew what he had seen, and she knew why he was so traumatized. Murmuring words of comfort, she stroked his back as he hugged her tight. Harry had told her about that day at Malfoy Manor and how badly Ron had been affected by it, but she had never expected that his Boggart would take the shape of her dying form.
It took Hermione a long time to pacify him, but when he was finally calm enough to talk, he told her what he had seen. Slowly and quietly, as he lay on her lap, clutching her tightly, he told her how the Boggart had sprung up on him, and he had to watch her go through hell once again. He told her how afraid he had been that he was going to lose her. He told her everything.
She listened to him, feeling the ghosts of the past being dredged up in her own head.
“Ron?” She said after a while, stroking his hair absently.
“I need to tell you something.”
He sat up and looked at her, silently telling her to go on.
“I’ve never told you this before, but on that day, in Malfoy Manor…” she paused, taking his hand and looking at him. “When Bellatrix was hurting me, I thought I heard your voice.”
Ron nodded. He remembered that vividly. “I was screaming for you. I tried to come for you, but the door was locked and there was no way out.”
Hermione bit her lip. “I knew you were calling me, and that was what stopped me from slipping away. I felt like I was dying, but it was your voice that kept me alive.”
Hermione nodded fervently. “The only reason I stayed conscious was because I heard you calling for me. I thought you needed me, so I couldn’t just leave you and…”
Ron cut her off with another hug, trying to convey all the emotions he felt in that single moment. He couldn’t express how he felt, knowing that Hermione had fought hard against death just for him, because he needed her to be alive. He loved her so much, and it took him that one experience to realize how deep his love was, despite how corny it sounded in his head.
When they broke apart, he looked at her with a grim expression and said, “You know, I think I’d really prefer those spiders instead, now.”
She laughed and stood up. “Now that we are back to normal, let’s get on with the cleaning, shall we, Ronald?”
He stared at her. “You are impossible.”
Hermione simply held up her head and gave him a duster, thought Ron could swear that as she turned, he could see her smiling.
That day, Ron learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man wasn't he who didn't feel afraid, but he who conquered fear. And that was exactly he was going to do.
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