From the Silver Doe to Malfoy Manor

He Who Hesitates

Harry was lying in his bunk when Ron went in, so Ron brushed his teeth and changed into his pajamas. He sighed when he realized how short they were. They barely reached his ankles. He was clearly growing again, which explained why he was hungry all the time. He sighed and went to bed, but as he approached the bunks, he realized Harry had turned to face him and was awake.

"She alright?" Harry asked.

Ron shrugged. "I guess. I got a couple of complete sentences out of her, so I think that's progress."

"Sounds like," Harry said, and rolled back over.

Ron climbed into his bunk and ignored his stomach when it growled. He had third watch, so if he fell asleep now, he could be fully rested when it was his turn outside. Ron had always been blessed with the ability to sleep easily and soundly, so when he heard the initial shout, he stirred but didn't come fully awake until the second shout, shriller, closer. "Harry!" Ron rolled out of bed, not stopping for shoes or a coat, just grabbed his wand and ran. He wasn't fully awake until the cold air hit him as he popped out of the tent. Hermione was standing in her pajamas, which he couldn't help noticing were riding quite low on her hips.

"Just stay there," she was saying. "I'll come down."

"No. I'm fine," Harry said. "I just slipped. It startled me. I'm sorry I woke you."

"What's going on?" Ron said, standing next to Hermione. Harry was down the slope sitting on the ground.

"Nothing," Harry said. "I'm fine. Just went for a slash and slipped on some leaves on the way back."

Ron walked down the slope. "If you're fine, why are still sitting here?"

"I'm just catching my breath. The fall knocked the wind out of me."

"So, all your bits are intact then?" Ron said, chuckling and reaching out his hand. Harry took it and Ron pulled him to his feet.

"At least my bits aren't on display," Harry said.

Ron glanced down and realized two of the buttons in the front of his pajamas were undone. "Bloody hell." He turned around, tucked himself away, and buttoned back up. He hoped Hermione hadn't seen him wagging about.

Harry snorted.

"Come on then," Ron said. "You're covered in mud."

"Right," Harry said, and they trudged back up to the top of the hill where Hermione was anxiously waiting with her arms crossed tightly.

"Be careful, there are a lot of wet leaves," she said.

"If only I'd taken note of that earlier," Harry said.

"Or just used the toilet in the tent," Ron said.

When they reached the top of the hill, the light from the tent illuminated them and Hermione said, "Harry you're bleeding. Come inside."

"Don't fuss," Harry said. "It's not bad."

"Don't tell me not to fuss when you're bleeding," Hermione said.

Ron thought she'd gone quite pale and was clearly upset.

"Hermione, it's okay," Harry said.

"Just go sit down. I'll get the Dittany." She hurried into her room for her beaded bag. Generally, she had it on her and at night, Ron was pretty sure she slept with it.

Harry sat down on one of the wooden chairs by the table and Ron cast a cleaning charm on him. Without the mud, the blood was more obvious. His khaki pants were torn and his left knee was quite bloody. His left hand was also scraped and his coat was torn on the left elbow.

"Guess you slid on your left side," Ron said.

"Brilliant deduction there, Ron," Harry said, but without malice.

"Right?" Ron teased. "Hermione's clearly not the only genius around here."

Harry laughed.

Hermione emerged from her curtained off bedroom holding a small bottle. In the light, Ron could see that her pajamas hung so low on her hips because they didn't fit anymore. He'd seen those pajamas before, when she'd stayed at the Burrow, and knew that the long-sleeved shirt was meant to come over the top of the pants, but now, there was that tantalizing strip of skin. Worse, she wasn't wearing a bra, and she was cold. He shook his head to keep from staring and went to change into a jumper and jeans. He pulled on his boots and went back out to the sitting area.

Hermione was holding Harry's hand flat and let a drop of Dittany fall on the cut. She'd already taken care of his knee. They seemed so comfortable together in the moment. Harry seemed unaffected by her closeness or that her pajama bottoms were slung so low on her hips. Ron couldn't decide exactly why that was. Was Harry disinterested because he still loved Ginny, or was being so physically close to Hermione old hat? Ron cleared his throat. "I'll take the rest of your shift."

"No," Harry said. "I'm fine now."

"Nah," Ron said, "Mine's starting soon anyway." He didn't stick around to argue. He needed very badly not to be in the tent anymore.

"He's right," Hermione said behind him. "You should get some rest."

Ron plopped down in front of the fire and stared out into the night. He didn't even feel jealous, not really, alright some, but mostly he was sad and angry at himself for ever walking away. He shook his head to clear it. He didn't know anything. He was making inferences based on very little evidence. It was probably all in his mind brought on by the despair of her barely speaking to him. Harry had said the locket was lying and that he thought of Hermione as a sister and Ron believed that. He did. Only, Hermione wasn't actually Harry's sister, so… He had to think about something else. Either they had or they hadn't. There was nothing he could do about it and it wasn't his business anyway.

He was startled out of his musings by Hermione coming out of the tent. She'd pulled a heavy wool jumper over her pajama top and it hung past her hips. She handed him a cup of coffee.

"Cheers," Ron said.

She stood looking at him for a moment.

"Are you alright?" he asked.

"You didn't hesitate," she finally said.

"What?" Ron said, not sure what she was talking about.

"Just now, with Harry, I stopped at the top of the hill, but you just went down and got him."

Ron rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, but he told us what happened, didn't he? I knew to mind the leaves."

"You dove into the water after him too," she said softly.

"That bloody locket was trying to drown him," Ron said. "I had to do something. You'd a done the same thing."

"I'm not so sure," Hermione said.

"You know," Ron said, "You're right. You probably would have done something clever, cast a spell or something, but you would have acted. You've done it often enough."

She made a non-committal noise.

"Look," Ron said. "It's taken both of us to keep that nutter alive all this time. I plow ahead and you stop and think, which is a good thing, because while sometimes my way works, sometimes it doesn't, and you have to save us both with a clever plan."

A ghost of a smile played across her lips but then disappeared.

Ron sighed. "I know I left you on your own to manage him. I know that wasn't fair, but I'm back, and I promise I won't leave again. I'll see this through, Hermione, I swear."

She stood there for another long moment staring at him before she went back into the tent.

Ron sighed and put another branch on the fire and wondered again if she'd ever really forgive him.