Somewhere on the other side of the wall, Hermione was screaming. They had taken her -- taken her and promised her to that beast, and the best and worst and only thing he could hope for was that they would let him see her mauled and broken body before they killed him, too.
"HERMIONE!" he shouted, pounding on the wall with his fists, mindless with fear. "HERMIONE!"
Her screams lanced through him like physical pain. She was gone -- raped -- dead -- and he had not been able to protect her.
"Give her to me," Greyback whined to the tall, pitiless woman. "I caught her. What need have the Ministry for one more Mudblood? When you're done with her, give her to me to play with."
"You'll have your turn at her, Fenrir," the woman promised. "But do it outside. The carpets are antiques. I don't want her filthy blood on them."
The werewolf grinned, baring his pointed teeth. "You're mine," he crooned to the girl huddled on the floor. "And when the next full moon rises, the last thing you'll feel will be me changing inside you before I rip your throat out."
"There will be time for that later," Bellatrix said impatiently. "Tell me, girl. Tell me where you got that sword. Crucio!"
The screams were too large for her body. They clawed at her throat as they fought their way out of her. In another moment, her bones would shatter under the pressure. She knew she was dead, but still she fought, sticking to the lie of the sword without remembering why it was important, knowing only that they must not lose sight of the silver blade, or all would be lost.
Snatching the wand Harry threw to him out of midair, Ron dropped to the floor, sheltering Hermione's unconscious body with his own and wrapping his arms around her, Apparating them both away.
Then they were lying on cool grass, with the smell of salt in the air and the quiet sound of waves in the distance. She was so still in his arms, so cold.
"Hermione," he whispered hoarsely. "Don't be dead. Please don't."
"Ron!" called a voice he dimly recognised.
Bill was shaking him roughly by the shoulder. He could see Fleur's pale face behind him, brow wrinkled with concern.
"Ron, what happened? Is Hermione OK?"
Ron looked at his brother's scarred face and summoned the only word he knew they would understand. "Greyback."
Fleur reached impulsively to touch her husband's shoulder. Her eyes met Ron's, full of understanding. "Get her into ze house," she said grimly. "Our bedroom. Care for her."
Someone was carrying her. Everything hurt. And then, mercifully, she felt the yielding softness of a bed under her, pillows behind her head. Someone lay beside her, gripping her hands too tightly. Warm lips pressed against her cold fingers.
"Hermione," he murmured, voice broken with despair.
She tried to say his name, but her throat was torn and swollen from screaming. Muscles trembling with effort, she squeezed his hand.
He felt the small pressure of her fingers on his, and looked up to see that her eyes were open. That was when the shaking started. Sobs wracked his body as he gathered her into his arms, pressing his mouth against her face and neck, breathing in her scent, hands caressing everything he could reach, just to be certain she was really all there.
"Hermione! I thought I'd lost you," he sobbed. "Please. I need --"
She was as weak as a new kitten from her ordeal, but she understood what he meant.
"Me -- too," she whispered. "Need -- you."
It was a compulsion -- a need to join, to prove to themselves that they were alive after all, and had not lost one another. Never had Ron felt anything so overwhelmingly instinctive, and he gave himself to it without question, though he did his best to be gentle with her.
The need that drove them ran deeper than desire. There was no thought of what they did being something new; it was eternal -- primal. Their clothing was discarded and then she was open to him and he was inside her. They saw only each other's faces and felt only fierce relief in the closeness of one another's bodies as their hearts pounded together.
She was whole, present, alive as he was, and only together could they hold back the darkness that threatened to consume them.