Category: Harry Potter
Warning(s): Language, Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Contains Spoilers
Summary: A carefree man who knows little about a life outside of pranks and laughter. A compassionate woman who must distance herself from her own wants and dreams for the greater good. When the two spend a summer together, a wonderful love blossoms. Unfortunately, even the greatest of loves is tested...
Disclaimer: Harry Potter does not belong to me and I am making no profit in the writing of this story.
AN: A ridiculously gigantic thank you to ravenclawprincess for helping me get this chapter out to you after such a long hiatus. She's amazing for stepping in!
Chapter Fourteen: Breaking Point
His disappearance hadn't been his finest moment by far; not that Ron was particularly used to having fine moments. They were quite rare considering his terrible tendency to be both tactless and impatient, which was why it didn't surprise him at all that he'd managed to get himself into his current predicament. He was sure if someone looked back at his track-record, they'd find that he was on Hermione Granger’s bad side more often than not.
Ron doubted he would ever get used to her fury, no matter how often it was directed at him. It was downright miserable being on the receiving end of her stubbornly held grudges. Three months had passed and some days were better than others. Sure, it could always have been worse; at least there were better days to look forward to. He probably would have been hexed into oblivion by now if the days when his best friend was even slightly tolerant didn't exist. However, the bad days were awful. So awful that he could barely stop himself from rising to her challenge and arguing with her over what had happened that day in November when he'd gone nutty and left. It took all of his restraint not to, especially when she baited him in that way only she truly knew how. She'd been perfecting the art of arguing with him for seven years, after all.
The only thing stopping him from a complete blowout with her was his bullheaded determination to use the opportunity presented by the one person in the whole world, besides Death Eaters and You-Know-Who of course, that Hermione loathed more than him at the moment: George. Ron didn't want to jeopardize the foundation his brother had laid for him to have a future relationship with the woman he'd been, sometimes ignorantly, in love with since third year. He doubted he'd get a better chance than now to swoop in and convince her that they belonged together. George had made her vulnerable, and he was going to take advantage of that fact – no matter how awful it sounded when put in that context.
He didn't quite see it as him taking advantage of her. He was merely taking advantage of the current situation. There was a difference. Ron loved Hermione. He wasn't about to force her to love him the way he loved her, and doubted he could, even if he tried. This was Hermione Ganger. She'd once gotten into a gigantic fight with him because he'd accidentally told her it was time to head to the Great Hall for lunch instead of asking. And that was just a matter of her having a slightly too empty stomach. There was no way in hell she could be forced to give her heart to another.
That didn't mean he couldn't strategize though. Hermione may have been the brightest witch of their age, but there was something he could one-up her with; only Ron had played the best bloody game of chess Hogwarts had seen in centuries.
For all of his usual impatience, he was absolutely composed when faced with a chessboard. He wasn't one to analyze and over-think things the way Hermione did all the time; yet, when needed, he had plenty of cleverness up his sleeves to use to get what he wanted. He just had to start thinking of his situation with Hermione as a game of Wizard's Chess. It was him against George, Hermione was George's King, and Ron needed to checkmate the King in order to win the game. Ignoring the fact that Hermione was in actuality a woman, Ron considered this a brilliant analogy.
Now, in order win the game, he'd have to think steps ahead and not be afraid of closed positions, which was why he wasn't put off at all when she said she would never forgive him for being such a "thickheaded prat." He'd known she'd wear down eventually with subtle compliments and supportive gestures, because Hermione was nothing if not a sucker for shows of loyalty.
The times when there were cracks in her cold demeanor made it completely worth it. Those moments made him ache for the future they were slowly progressing towards. Especially moments like now, as Hermione fell into the embrace he'd offered upon hearing her choked gasp when Fred/George's voice had sounded over the radio for the first time after Ron had finally managed to guess the correct password to tune into Potterwatch. About damn time.
Harry leaned forward, reaching out a comforting hand to tuck a curl behind Hermione's ear before turning his attention back to the muffled, but still rambunctious, voice of who Ron was fairly positive was Fred and not George judging by Hermione's relieved sigh. Ron released a long breath, content once his best mate's hand was no longer against the curve of Hermione's jaw. Things had been strained ever since the Riddle-Harry and Riddle-Hermione snog while they'd been attempting to destroy a Horcrux with Godric Gryffindor's sword. He was sure that Harry had always secretly known how jealous he was of him. However, having the proof was awkward to say the least. The two of them covered it easily with their natural banter and good-natured teasing; yet, no matter how much they tried to ignore it, things sometimes became uncomfortable between them due to Hermione.
It wasn't like Ron could really blame Harry for how close he'd become to her while Ron had been away. They'd bonded over his absence, after all, so it was no one's fault but his own. That didn't stop him from being angered by it. It drove him bloody mental. It had taken Harry dragging him off into the woods one day and firmly explaining that he wasn't in love with her for Ron to relax even slightly on the subject. It still grated on him, nevertheless.
Hermione rested her forehead against his chest as she shut her eyes to continue listening to the broadcast. He smiled, his arms sliding around her as he remembered the last time she'd let him hold her like this. It had been ages ago, just before he'd thrown a fit and had a terrible row with Harry. The last time he'd held her had been the night he'd taken Slytherin's locket during her turn at guard duty in November. It'd been just one of the five times he'd relieved her of the burden, knowing it was slowly driving her insane and hating having to watch as the woman he loved became a dark shadow of her normally so kindhearted and compassionate self.
Of course, Ron could never bring himself to regret helping her those few times, even when he'd cursed his rotten luck while trying and failing to get back to Harry and Hermione once realizing his mistake. He'd been angry with himself, angry with Harry, and damn near livid at Hermione for choosing to stay with Harry over coming with him. But he'd never felt for a moment like he shouldn't have taken that ruddy locket away from her. It had killed him to watch her pine for his brother, hiding her pain behind anger whenever the fragment of You-Know-Who's soul was hanging from her neck.
Sometimes the thought that she'd been in love with George at all made him feel like he'd been hit with Snape's Sectumsempra curse to his chest. Ron absently wondered if Hermione had... done things with George while they were together. Then he supposed he didn't want to know – Couldn’t handle knowing. At least not while he was feeling so content with her curled against him. He didn't want anything to ruin the moment.
Ron tilted his head to the side and gently rested his chin against her rebellious curls, which were much softer to the touch than one would imagine. His eyes closed, and he only partially paid attention as Fred encouraged listeners to stop being so bloody dense about reporting sightings of You-Know-Who. He smiled fondly as Hermione let out a reluctant laugh at a Basilisk reference, knowing she had fought hard against showing any emotion toward his brother. Ron figured she'd decided long ago that Fred was just as worthy of her rage as George was, which he really couldn't blame her for. He reckoned somewhere along the line Fred had had a part in George's decision to end things. The twins basically shared a brain.
Hermione shifted against him, her head lifting from his chest and forcing his own up as well. She turned to look at Harry, and only then was Ron aware of his best mate's excited rant. Maybe if he had caught on sooner, everything wouldn't have ended in such disaster. Even before You-Know-Who's tabooed name was off Harry's tongue, Ron was clutching wildly to Hermione, already sensing that he wouldn't be able to protect her from what was about to happen.
The world was exploding around her in vibrant bursts of red and white, like fireworks flaring against her vision as she squeezed her eyes tightly shut in a desperate attempt to make it all go away. Thick waves of tears ran down her face and against her neck as if she were outside in a rainstorm instead of inside, protected from the elements. Her face felt hot as she screamed, begging for the torture to end but unwilling to say the words that would surely make the it stop, whether it be by death or by boredom on the part of the woman who so insanely enjoyed the terror in Hermione's every sound.
Hermione knew that her fear and pain would never be enough to make her tell the wretched woman the truth. She would rather die than betray her friends. Her soul would never survive such disloyalty, and she knew that all that would be left of her tired and broken body following this torture was her soul.
"Where did you find the sword?"
Her throat was tight, her voice shrill and hoarse. She spoke without even realizing she still could. "I don't know, I don't know, I don't kn–"
Everything became piercing and quick.
A cruel laugh and a digging blade. Her muscles ripped apart even as they clenched tightly together in spasms from the aftermath of her earlier suffering. Her body rippled and twitched against the weight of the monster holding her down. The knife was so sharp against her manhandled skin.
Another scream. "Please, please, please, plea–"
A maniacal cackle tore from her tormentor and hot breath seared across her forearm where the crazed woman leaned against her to concentrate on the craft. "Red, so red. Ugly red. Dirty."
Time slowed and warped.
She felt the blood dripping down her arm as her life-force started wavering, growing thin. The curved cuts into her flesh were a raw fire in her veins. She thought she heard a panicked shout of her name echoing around her again, but she didn't know how much of it was her imagination's attempt to free her from this agony and let her mind wander to more pleasant times. The voice sounded like a mere whisper where her consciousness frayed and faded in and out, like it was a call from another land in one of her books.
The world split in half. A white light exploded behind her eyelids as her back arched against the wet, coarse ground and an inhuman scream tore from her throat. She wanted to be free of it. She needed to be free of it.
Lips caressing her bare shoulder. A palm skimming the small of her back. The curve of a smile against her belly as brown eyes with green specks danced in amusement and affection up into hers. Rough fingers curling against her waist. Strong hands holding her against a broad chest, protecting her from the world. A boisterous laugh. A quiet chuckle. The bandaged covering of a forehead. A kiss unlike any other. The skimming of her cheek with the tip of a nose. Her favorite freckle disappearing behind a mischievously coy dimple. A deep, rugged breath against her naked chest. A soft, friendly grin and an embrace in greeting under an old weeping willow. Her confidant. A whispered, "I love you."
"How did you get the sword from my vault?"
"It’s f-fake. We didn't, I didn't–"
All of her muscles felt shattered. Her palms were wet from where her fingernails had bit into them, blood pooling like terrible crescent moons. Her tongue was swollen from her clenched teeth and her jaw felt unhinged from gritting through the pain. Her heart raced and slowed, unable to decide whether to give up or get up.
She was released suddenly, but remained unmoving. She doubted she could stand up, even if she wanted to.
A confusing tussle. A deranged screech. The sound of an old rival.
Then a voice she knew and loved. A hand softly curling around her shoulder.
"You're going to be all right, ‘Mione. You hear me? I’m here. We’re going to get you out."
She felt relief in every bone as colors took shape in her mind.
A young boy smiling at her over a goblet of pumpkin juice. The boy who threw up slugs for her. The same boy, older but not wiser, holding open a door for her with flushed cheeks. The boy, now a fire-headed man, offering his hand to take some of her darkness onto his own shoulders. A soft affection rising slowly in the wake of raging passion. A fond smile watching in amusement as she lectured and scolded. Hopeful love burning bright in baby-blue eyes.
The high-pitched, but welcomed voice of an old friend had Hermione’s memories blurring. She felt a warm stirring of breath against her temple as her fire-headed man cradled her to his chest. Then there was only the uncomfortable pressure of Apparation.
She was going to be all right.
Ron’s head fell into his hands, remorse overflowing as he remembered her tormented shrieks and moans. If he hadn't known the source of the noise at the time, he would have thought it was a wounded animal. But it hadn't been. It had been Hermione – his Hermione – who had whimpered and pleaded and screamed with terror. Ron wondered if it was something he would ever get past or if he'd just have to live with the nightmares for the rest of his life, forever being tortured by memories of her agony. Of how he'd been close enough to hear it but too far away to protect her from it.
He let his hands drop from his face after pushing his palms roughly against his eyes to rid his mind of the last day. His gaze scanned across her body while she lay unconscious. Then he reached for her hand hesitantly, wondering if it was all right to do so. She'd been out of it for two days now, and the waiting was killing him inside. He just wanted to hear her voice, so soft and warm. He wanted to push his terrible memories away with the beauty of everything natural about her. Her smile. Her freckles. Her passion for learning and berating him, sometimes all at once.
As soon as his skin met hers, he decided that he could live with the nightmares as long as he had her with him. They'd all have plenty of nightmares to live with by the end of the war, if they lived to see that day.
But, it would be so much worse for her.
He'd been the first person Fleur mentioned the scar to. She'd slowly eased the door to Hermione's room open and shut, as to not disturb the recovering witch. Then, she'd sat down next to him on the floor outside the room, a spot he hadn't left for a moment since their arrival. It had taken a day for Fleur to feel comfortable enough to leave Hermione on her own. She had refused to let either Harry or Ron stay with her in fear of them getting in the way during the crucial beginning stages of recovery. The men had fought, only to run scared from the temper of the petite Frenchwoman.
"How is she?" he had asked immediately, his voice gravelly and coming out as a croak. He'd cleared his throat afterwards, repeating himself more calmly, before finally looking to his sister-in-law for answers.
“Az can be expected,” she’d shrugged, running the back of her hand over her brow. “But she iz strong, your ‘Ermione. She will be scarred, but she will ‘ave you and ‘Arry by her side.”
“Oui. She will forever ‘ave zat wretched word carved into ‘er arm. Dark magic did it, so only dark magic can undo it. Like, George’s ear.”
Fleur had then motioned Ron to stand and follow her back into the room with Hermione, so that he could see the awful mark for himself. He’d almost fallen over as he cast his first glance at the mutilated flesh, surprised that he hadn’t really seen it when he’d grabbed her back at the manor. He’d felt like his breath had been knocked out of his gut with the force of a Stunner. It was painful to see someone with so much vibrancy and life look so beaten down and small.
Now, a day after first seeing “Mudblood” carved into Hermione’s porcelain skin, Ron dropped his head to rest against her open palm where it nestled against the bed. His eyes fell to the healing word, hating that even with all that had happened, he was jealous of his brother for having something in common with her. They’d both been scarred by dark magic. They’d both once again found common ground in a place that was entirely their own. Would that be enough for them to find their way back together?
No. Never again, he vowed to himself in a silent whisper. I need her.
The wind felt magical against her hypersensitive skin, raw from her time spent at Malfoy Manor. Every gust was a powerful caress, sending shivers up her spine. Her unruly hair whipped in each direction in the fresh ocean air as Hermione stood gazing over the side of a cliff and into the pounding surf below, wondering if this was the quiet before the storm. The setting was almost disconcertingly beautiful. Too perfect to be real.
It had been a week since she had awoken from a deep, dark sleep that was more nightmare than anything else. Her first conscious breath had been a loud, shuddering gasp before each of her hands had been gently tugged to help her sit up. She’d opened her eyes to the anxious faces of her boys, both whom immediately wrapped their arms around her and whispered their worries away as tears trickled down their faces.
Something had changed between them. She felt a magnetic force drawing her to Harry and Ron now. She needed to be aware of their locations at all times, otherwise her heart would clench uncomfortably in her chest and panic would arise. She sometimes found herself calling for them through Shell Cottage, especially at night, just as a reassurance. And she knew they felt the same.
Everyday tasks were now done together. When she sat down for a meal, both boys innately filled her plate before filling their own. When Harry went to visit Dobby’s hand-dug grave, Ron trotted after him to make sure he was alright. When Ron argued with Bill about telling the Weasleys that the trio was at Shell Cottage, Harry and Hermione gently grasped a shoulder each, feeling his fight drain out of him at their touch. They were three parts to a whole now, something Hermione had never thought truly possible on such a chemical level. Sure, they’d been each other’s worlds for the last seven years or so, but now she felt as though her next breath was only guaranteed as long as Harry and Ron’s were as well.
“There you are!” Harry and Ron shouted in unison, breaking her concentration.
Hermione spun away from the cliff, unable to resist a small smile in amusement at how quickly they’d come looking for her. It’d become some sort of a game to her: Where’s Hermione?
“Here I am,” she teased, happy to see that they both looked to be in good spirits, their lips pulled up in grins. Smiles were so few and far between nowadays.
Ron snorted, walking up the narrow path from the cottage to where Hermione stood with Harry only a step behind him. “We thought you’d run off.”
“Ah yes, because there’s so much around for me to run off to,” she said, opening her arms up wide to indicate the vast empty space on either side of her.
“Well, you were gone long enough to at least make it to that rather fun-looking dune over there,” Harry said, doing his best to look serious. “Sand, sand, and more sand.”
They shared a quiet laugh, both men taking up their usual guarding position on either side of her. Sometimes they made her feel smothered, while other times her heart ached at how wonderful they were. Her boys. Her everythings. She felt safe with them, despite what she had suffered through. The world was full of hope as long as she was standing between them.
They each dropped an arm around her shoulders, Harry sharing a cunning look with Ron that had Hermione arching a brow. “We think we have a plan. But you may not like it.”
The quiet before the storm suddenly seemed terribly loud.
AN: Thank you to all who are reading this after almost two years of not updating. I have constantly thought about the story, but as unable to bring myself to put my heart into it due to familial reasons. I want you to know that this chapter is the second to last. Next chapter will end the story, but then there will be an epilogue. And, just in case you're scared of it never being completed, I'll tell you that the rest of the story is written! It just needs to be sent to my beta. :)
Thank you for keeping tuned into A Wonderful Love! I look forward to hearing from you! I'm so happy to be back! I have so many plot-bunnies to delve into now that the creative juices are flowing.
Happy Reading/Writing folks!