What little Harry had seen of Hermione since her breakup with Ron left him feeling guilty and ashamed for allowing her to leave him too. She'd saved his life on numerous occasions, and yet when she broke up with Ron, he didn't even attempt to stay friends. At the time, he'd told himself it was because of Ginny being Ron's sister, but the reality was, it was just easier to let Hermione go rather than try and navigate life like the child of divorce bouncing between warring parents. After a while though, he really started to miss Hermione in his life, and the guilt of letting her go weighed heavily on him, which was when he'd decided to stop by the house in Kent with such disastrous results. She had just come off a night of partying and was packing to move in with Viktor. They'd argued about Ron. It hadn't been a good encounter.
He didn't see her again for eight months aside for brief moments at various events, but he had remembered to send her a birthday card. The next time he saw her to say anything significant was quite by accident in the main hall of the Ministry of Magic. She was on her way to lunch and he had just finished getting permits for a project they were doing with the students at Hogwarts. He'd literally bumped into her in the crowded hallway.
"Hermione?" he said.
"Harry!" she said, smiling. They hugged.
"How are you?" he asked.
"I'm good. Just on my way to lunch." He was pleased to see that, unlike when he'd seen her at her townhouse, she looked like herself. She still seemed too thin, but her hair was down and curly like he was used to seeing it, and she didn't have the pallor that had so disturbed him before, and best of all, she didn't reek like a dance club on Sunday morning.
"I was going to get lunch too, mind if I tag along?"
"I'd be delighted," she said.
They made their way to The Leaky Cauldron, managed to find a table in the back, and sat down.
"So, what brings you into the city?" Hermione asked.
"Permits. You wouldn't believe some of the hoops the school has to jump through just to do the simplest things. It's like they don't trust us."
Hermione chuckled. "I'm sure that's annoying."
"I don't suppose you have that problem in your line of work," Harry said.
"No. The Ministry would rather not know what the Department of Mysteries is doing most of the time. There's a reason they call us Unspeakables."
Harry nodded. "Having been in your department fifth year, I can understand why."
"It's slightly less disturbing when you know what you're looking at," Hermione said.
"Only slightly?" Harry asked, raising his eyebrows.
"Yes. Much of the department's activities remain fairly terrifying."
Harry shook his head. "And yet you chose to work there."
She shrugged. "Terrifying but fascinating. There really isn't anything else like it."
"I'll take your word for it. Do you know what you want?"
"I'm starved," Hermione said. "I haven't eaten since yesterday afternoon, so I think I want bangers and mash with mushy peas and a glass of pumpkin juice."
"All right then," Harry said, and got up to place their order at the bar. He was pleased that she hadn't ordered anything stronger to drink and wondered if maybe she was trying to cut back. She'd been completely legless at his and Ginny's wedding, fairly drunk at Seamus and Lavender's wedding, and when he'd seen her in Kent, she was clearly coming off a night of drunken debauchery.
When he came back to the table, she smiled at him.
"You look good," he said.
"Thanks, so do you. How's Ginny?"
"Good. The pub is doing really well. I wasn't sure about it when she said she wanted to buy the Three Broomsticks, but it turned out to be a good idea."
"Not surprising," Hermione said.
"No, I suppose not. Everyone loves Ginny. I think she's half the draw for the place."
"I'm sure," Hermione said, smiling again.
Their food came sailing over and they both plucked their plates out of the air.
"Fish and chips still your favorite, I see," Hermione said.
"You know me."
Her smile faded. "I used to."
Harry sighed and put down the chip he was about to pop into his mouth. "I'm sorry about that. I've been a rotten friend to you. I'd like to change that if you'll let me."
"You haven't been a rotten friend. You're married to his sister. You were in an awful position."
Harry shook his head. "No. I shouldn't have chosen sides. It was lazy and lame. Besides, it's been what, almost two years now. You're with Viktor. Ron's dating. You've both moved on; it's time I did too. I want to see you on a regular basis, like real friends do."
"How does Ginny feel about that?"
"Fine. Gin knows it takes two to tango. Breakups are never just one sided."
"Right," Hermione said softly, looking away.
"So, I was thinking," Harry continued, undaunted, "We could have dinner, the four us. What do you think?"
"Really?" Hermione said, looking at him.
"Sure. I mean, you and Viktor have been together for quite a while now, it's time we got to know him better, don't you think?"
Hermione twisted her napkin in her lap. "I guess."
"Great," Harry said cheerily. "When do you think you two might be available?"
"Well Quidditch season just started, so it could be awhile," Hermione said.
"Okay, talk to Viktor and then let me know some dates and we'll work it out."
Hermione nodded. "All right then."
Harry picked up another chip. The rest of the meal was spent catching up on mutual friends.
It took almost two months to find a matching break in their schedules. They decided to meet for dinner at the Leaky Cauldron. Hannah Abbot, who ran the pub and inn, offered them a private room for dinner, so they could eat in peace. Unfortunately, when Viktor and Hermione arrived, Ginny wasn't with Harry.
"I'm so sorry," Harry said. "Her night bartender came down with Mumblemumps and she had to fill in. She's really disappointed not to be here."
Hermione was disappointed Ginny wasn't there too. She was really looking forward to seeing her.
Viktor was a lot less brooding than Harry remembered from the Triwizard Tournament and regaled them with stories from this year's Quidditch matches. He wasn't boasting. He told stories of the triumphs of the team as a whole, or funny stories about other players he knew. He was fairly self-effacing when it came to his own accomplishments. Hermione would occasionally comment if she felt that he'd left out one of his significant contributions. Harry, as a big Quidditch fan, enjoyed the conversation very much. It was fun to gain insights into his favorite players.
For the most part, Hermione was quiet. She couldn't talk about her work and she didn't do much outside of that beyond partying with Viktor and the team and she wasn't about to discuss that. Ever since Harry had reached out to her to rekindle their friendship, she'd grown increasingly embarrassed about her appearances in the gossip columns and on the cover of Witch Weekly. She'd never liked it, but now she found it particularly humiliating. Viktor continued to enjoy working hard and then playing hard. She'd yet to decline him, but she was much more cautious about the press. If Viktor noticed, he didn't say anything. He did, however, notice her drinking, so when she raised her glass for her third beer, he leaned over and whispered in her ear. "Make this the last one."
She glared at him. She didn't need a nanny and she wasn't even the slightest bit drunk. He sighed and ignored the glare and returned his attention to a story Harry was telling about a fight that had happened at the Three Broomsticks earlier in the week.
As they were getting ready to leave, Harry hugged Hermione and said, "Why don't you two come to our place next time? Dobby can make dinner and we can relax and enjoy the evening."
"That sounds fantastic," Hermione said.
It was another couple of months before everyone's schedules aligned again for them to get together.
Hermione was changing out of her work robes, when Viktor came into their bedroom. "We should be leaving soon," he said.
"I'm just about ready," Hermione said.
"Are you not going to put up your hair?"
She glared at him. "Why do you care how I wear my hair? I don't tell you how to wear yours."
He frowned at her. "When you leave it down and messy like that it gets everywhere. I lean over to kiss you and end up with a mouth full of hair. It's nicer when it's up. Besides, you have a lovely neck."
She clenched her jaw. "Well, you'll just have to deal with the mess tonight. They're my friends. Maybe I just want to look like myself."
"Is that what you're trying to do?" Viktor asked. "Pretend that nothing has changed?"
She dropped her eyes.
"Wearing your hair down isn't going to fool them," he said. "And real friends would understand that bad things have happened."
She looked up sharply. "I don't care if they'd understand. I don't want them to know."
"Hermione," he said, his tone softening. He cupped her face in his hand. "You're allowed to make mistakes."
She shook her head.
"Come here," he said. He pulled her into a hug and held her tight. She clung to him for a moment before backing up.
"We should get going," she said.
"Yes," he said. She turned to go but he touched her arm. "Hermione, if you want your friends to really think you're fine, you should let up on the drinking. I'm not the only one who notices."
She swallowed hard and nodded.
When they arrived in Godric's Hollow, Hermione was once again disappointed that Ginny wasn't there.
"She forgot tonight was Lavender's baby shower," Harry said apologetically. "She was going to skip it, but Molly, Fleur, and Angelina were all going, and Molly gave her such a hard time about not going that, in the end, she felt she couldn't back out."
Hermione tried not to be hurt that she wasn't even invited. She couldn't help wondering if the only reason she'd been invited to Lavender's wedding was so they could say they'd had Viktor Krum in attendance. "That's fine," she said with a slight smile. "Of course, she had to go."
Dinner was delicious. Dobby outdid himself with thick steaks, hasselback potatoes, and roasted broccoli. When Hermione reached for the wine to pour a fourth glass, Viktor squeezed her thigh under the table. She set down the wine glass and picked up her water goblet instead. He smiled at her and she smiled tightly back at him.
Harry was talking about the challenges they'd faced rebuilding his parent's house when Hermione got up to use the loo. As she walked through the parlor on the way back to the dining room, the fireplace flashed with the green flames of the Floo Network and Ron stepped out.
Her mouth dropped open when she saw him and she backed up until she hit the wall. She could hear a chair scrape the floor in the dining room and Harry saying, "I'll go check."
When Harry stepped into the parlor, Hermione had her back against the wall and Ron stood just outside the fireplace staring at her.
"I didn't realize you had company," Ron said quietly, glancing at Harry. Then his gaze returned to Hermione. He spoke directly to her never breaking eye contact. "I'm sorry. It was entirely my fault. I'm so sorry," he said again and stepped back into the fireplace.
Hermione's lips were moving, but no sound issued forth. She'd gone quite pale.
"Hey," Harry said. She shook her head and went back into the dining room.
"Who was it?" Viktor asked.
"Just a friend," Harry said. "I'll talk to him later. I'll get dessert."
"I need a fag first," Hermione said, taking Viktor's almost full wine glass from the table, and walking to the back door.
Viktor went to stand, but Harry held out a hand. "I'll go."
Viktor considered for a moment, but then sat back down. He could let Harry do this.
Hermione had set the wine on the stone wall of the back garden and was desperately trying to light a cigarette with shaking hands. Harry took the lighter and lit it for her.
"Still?" he said. "After all this time."
She took a deep drag on the cigarette and wouldn't look at him as she reached for the wine.
"You've been with Viktor for over two years. You guys seem solid. What's the problem?"
"This has nothing to do with Viktor," Hermione said and took another drink of wine.
"Tell me what happened," Harry said. "Why was Ron apologizing?"
"For showing up uninvited, I imagine," Hermione said without conviction.
"He does that all the time. You and I both know that's not it. Tell me what happened with you two. Why did you leave?"
Hermione closed her eyes and finished the wine. "I just did."
"That doesn't make any sense," Harry said.
She took another drag on her cigarette. "Why don't you ask Ron if you're so curious."
"I have asked Ron," Harry said, irritated.
Hermione blew out a long stream of smoke. "And what does he say?"
"We've had this conversation before. He says you just left."
She gave him a sad smile. "Well, there you go then."
"But why did you leave?" Harry insisted.
"Why I left doesn't matter. It's that I can never go back that's important."
"Why would you say that?" Harry said, confused by the whole conversation.
"Because it's true." She took a last drag on her cigarette and stubbed it out against the wall.
"Does that mean you would if you could? Are you not happy with Viktor?"
Hermione sighed. "Viktor is a good man. He looks out for me. He doesn't judge me."
"For what?" Harry asked, still feeling like he was missing something.
"For anything." Hermione said. She knew that wasn't entirely true, but she was hardly going to get into specifics with Harry. "We should go back in." She walked toward the house without waiting for him.
Viktor and Hermione left shortly after dessert. When they popped back into his apartment, Hermione went straight for the bedroom.
"Stop," Viktor said, catching her arm. "Talk to me. What happened tonight? Who came through the Floo? Was it Ron?"
She turned toward him intending to say something flip, but his expression was so earnest, she couldn't manage it. "Yes."
"What did he say to you?"
Viktor arched an eyebrow at her. "Really? Because he had quite a lot to say the last time you saw him."
He told Harry he didn't realize he had company and then he said he was sorry and he left.
"You needed another glass of wine and a fag for that?"
Hermione drew in a breath and stood up straight. "He just took me by surprise, that's all. It was unexpected. No big deal."
He frowned at her. "It's always a big deal when you see him. You never take it well."
"It's been over two years. It doesn't matter. Let it go."
"All right," Viktor said. "Well, in that case, I'm leaving to start practicing with the national team tomorrow, so I won't see you for a while." He slid his arms around her waist and pulled her to him. "So, I was thinking perhaps we do something for me to remember during all those lonely nights."
She ran her fingers through his hair and asked, "What did you have in mind?"
Hermione lay on her back staring at the ceiling for a long time waiting until she was sure Viktor was sound asleep. When his breathing evened into a slow deep rhythm, she slipped out of bed and pulled on her dressing gown. She found her cigarettes and went out on to the balcony. Viktor's flat had a nice view of Diagon Alley with Muggle London shining over the rooftops. She leaned against the railing and lit a cigarette and stared out into the night. Not for the first time she contemplated how completely her personal life had derailed. She wanted to love Viktor. She wanted Viktor to love her, but neither of them ever said that word to each other about each other. Why then were they still together? Was it laziness, guilt, their mutual enjoyment of a good, hard shag, or maybe some combination of all of that? She didn't know, but the more she settled into the situation as it was, the more it unnerved her. She wondered if it bothered Viktor too. Was it different for him? After all, he could never have his fiancé back. She was dead, but Ron was still very much alive, and yet, Viktor didn't seem all that bothered by Ron. Did he understand something she didn't or was it that it didn't really matter to him? Why did Ron still have such a hold on her? Why couldn't she just let that part of her life go? The war was over. They'd both moved on. Why then did his words cut through her like a curse? He couldn't have been apologizing to her. Why would he after all this time? And even if he had been, to what end? The cigarette was helping calm her mind, but it wasn't providing any answers. Neither did the second or the third. In the end, for whatever reason, she was still with Viktor. Eventually she went back to bed.
Viktor played with the Bulgarian National Team for the World Cup, which took two months of training and a month of competition. During his brief breaks, they would meet at various resorts around the world. Viktor's best friend Todor and his wife Pietra would often join them if they were in Europe.
Hermione didn't see Harry again until late April and then it was just for a quick drink at the Leaky Cauldron. He was in town shopping. Hermione was on a break from work. When Harry suggested the four of them try getting together for dinner again, Hermione was evasive. She'd just finished a big project at work and Viktor had just finished a Victory tour with the Bulgarian National team. They were headed to the Riviera for a month-long holiday.
"That's sounds really great," Harry said.
"Yes," Hermione said. "The Riviera is beautiful this time of year. It's not peak season, so it isn't crowded. It's too cold to swim, but it's still nice to be there."
"Well, maybe when you get back," Harry said.
"Sure," Hermione said. But when she returned from vacation, Hermione had gotten approval to start trials on String-Apparition and she was too caught up in work to think about socializing.
It was late in July when she and Harry met again for a quick lunch. She told him that Viktor was due to leave on an exhibition tour of the United States in early September.
"Are you going to join him?" Harry asked.
"He wants me too. I might go for a long weekend. To be honest I don't really enjoy the tours."
He raised his eyebrows and smiled. "The photos in Witch Weekly make it look like you do."
"Really?" Hermione said, frowning. "Is everything they say about you accurate?"
"Hey," he said, squeezing her hand. "I'm just teasing you. I know they take loads of photos and only show the ones that support the narrative they want to tell."
She sighed. "Sorry. I'm touchy about the publicity lately. I'm so tired of feeling like the whole world is watching every time I walk out my front door. I just want something different."
"Like what?" Harry said.
She sighed again. "I don't know. Nothing I can have, so it doesn't matter. I should get back to work."
"Oh, okay," Harry said, standing as she stood. "Look, Gin would really like to have you guys out to dinner again when she can be there. Let's try and make that happen, okay?"
"Sure, Harry," Hermione said, as she hugged him goodbye.
When Hermione got home that night, Viktor was sitting at the kitchen table in his flat writing letters. Even though she'd lived there for more than two years, it still felt like his flat, not theirs.
She leaned over to kiss him. "Who are you writing?"
"Oh, I'm just trying to get the details settled for the upcoming tour." He turned and put a hand on her hip. "I wish you would come."
"I can't come for the whole tour. I might be able to meet you for part of it."
"But it's better when you're there. The whole team thinks so. You know the guys love you."
She smiled. "I'll do what I can, but I'm really busy at work right now."
"I know," he said and returned to his letter, but Hermione sat at the table next to him. He looked up from his writing. "Was there something else?"
"I was just wondering what your plans were for next season?"
"What do you mean?"
"It's just you've done a lot of extra playing this year what with the national team and this exhibition tour. I was just wondering if you plan to continue that next year."
"I don't know. It depends on whether or not they want me."
"Oh, alright then," Hermione said and started to stand.
He grabbed her hand. "What?"
"I just…" she sat back down. "Is this it?"
"Is this what?"
"Is this our life, just this? You work all the time. I work all the time. We occasionally take a vacation together. That's it?"
"What more do you want?" Viktor said.
Hermione took a deep breath. "I don't know. More of a life. A family maybe. Something."
He looked at her and cocked his head. "You want children?"
A tear slipped down her cheek and she brushed it away. "Don't you?"
"Yes. I mean, eventually. Right now, though, I'm at the peak of my game. I don't want to lose opportunities while I still get them. Eventually, they won't offer."
"How long do you think the offers will continue?"
He sighed. "I don't know, Hermione. With injuries being what they are, my next game could always be my last."
"Alright," she said softly.
He stroked his thumb along hers. "Besides, what's the rush? You're still young and it's only been a couple of years since-"
"Don't!" she said harshly. "Just don't!"
"Okay," he said. "Calm down. I'm not trying to hurt you."
"Then don't bring it up."
"All right," he said. He stroked her cheek. "We're okay. Everything in good time. Right now, is Quidditch time. Eventually, it will be family time. You'll see. It will all be fine."
"Right," she said. "I'm going to go change." She came back out of their bedroom less than a minute later. "I've just had a thought, I'm going to go back to work."
"Are you serious?" Viktor said.
"Don't wait up, I'm not sure how long this will take." She Disapparated before he could voice his protest.
Ron was at a cocktail party with Michelle. Her friends, David and Emily, had moved in together and were having friends over as a housewarming and, as they said, an excuse to drink in the middle of the week. Ron had spent most of the party nodding and offering half smiles to conversations he wasn't really following. Michelle and her friends had been just two years behind him at Hogwarts in Ravenclaw, but sometimes it seemed like they attended completely different schools.
He looked at her as she chatted amicably with Emily and another couple whose names he'd already forgotten. She'd been so excited to come to this tonight. She'd been working such long hours at St. Mungos studying to be a healer that she didn't have a lot of free time to be social. He shook his head. They'd been together for a few months now and he enjoyed her more than he'd enjoyed anyone but Hermione. Michelle reminded him a lot of Hermione. She was so driven to be a great healer. She was a very talented witch. He found her single-mindedness and strong intellect appealing. She also had all that long curly hair. It was blonde, but it felt right in his hands. He mentally kicked himself for thinking that way. Michelle was wonderful on her own merits, not as some kind of stand-in for Hermione. Why did he always do that?
Looking for some peace and quiet, he got himself another ale and stepped out on to the balcony to enjoy the crisp evening air. David and Emily's apartment was right across from the Ministry of Magic, which even at this time of night had people coming and going, and then he saw her appear out of thin air. Hermione. She looked good. One of the people coming out of the Ministry stopped and talked to her. Ron stood there transfixed.
"There you are," Michelle said. "What are you doing out here?" She glanced down to the street below. "Seriously?" She put her hands on her hips.
"What?" Ron said, feeling his ears go hot. "I came out here to get some fresh air. It's kind of stuffy in there, don't you think?"
"You came out here to stare at your ex-girlfriend," Michelle whispered hotly.
"Don't be ridiculous. How was I supposed to know she'd be going into the Ministry at this hour?"
Michelle glared at him. "Whatever." She turned around and went back inside. He looked back down at the street just as Hermione looked up. He knew she couldn't possibly see him in the dark, but it felt like she could see right through him, like she could see how lame he was, as if his inability to move on was written all over him. She glanced away and went into the building. Ron sighed and rejoined the party, but Michelle was already saying her goodbyes when he stepped inside.
Ron smiled weakly, quickly said his goodbyes, and followed Michelle out of the flat. She didn't say a word to him as they went downstairs and out into the night. She Disapparated the minute they hit the pavement. He wondered if she'd gone back to his flat, which they'd been sharing for the last couple of months. He was somewhat surprised to find her there when he Apparated into his living room. "Hey," he said. "Look, I'm sorry."
"Really?" Michele said. "Are you?" She went into the bedroom and began emptying the drawers that were hers into a duffle bag.
"I'm sorry you're upset," Ron said. "What are you doing?"
"What do you think I'm doing?" She huffed at him. "I'm getting out of here. You're impossible."
"Seriously? I just stepped out for some fresh air. I can't control where Hermione goes or what she does."
"And I don't expect you to, but do you have to stop everything you're doing and stare at her every time you see her."
"I don't do that," Ron said, but even he could hear the weakness of the statement.
"Yes, you do. You're pathetic. You say her name in your sleep."
"I…no, that could be any…the war…" he stuttered.
"No. Don't blame this on the war and don't try to pretend I'm hearing something else. She has a pretty distinctive name."
"Michelle," Ron started.
"Don't. It's my fault. I don't know what I was thinking. I should have left the first time I heard it. You're not over her. I'm not sure you'll ever be over her."
"I am over her," Ron lied. "I'm with you. I thought we had something good here."
"Oh please! You know what? I'm pretty great. I don't deserve to be a substitute."
"You're not," Ron said, but again he heard how weak his response was.
"Oh, I know I'm not. You're the problem here. You might have been some big hero in the war, but let me tell you, you're pathetic at regular life."
"Hey!" Ron said.
"Have you ever even told her you want her back?"
"What?" Ron said, confused by the shift in the conversation. "No. I'm with you."
"Not anymore you're not. If you're smart, you'll pull your head out of your ass and go tell her how you feel, because you're worthless to anyone else as long you're holding on to her."
"Wait a minute," Ron said, reaching for her. "Just wait. I can fix this. She's with Krum. I'm with you. I can be better."
She sidestepped his reach. "Fuck you, Ron!" she shouted and threw a jumper she'd been folding at his head. Without bothering to zip the bag, she grabbed it and stormed out of the bedroom. She'd Disapparated by the time he reached the parlor.
Ron looked down at the jumper in his hand. "Fuck." He walked back into the bedroom and looked at the drawers she'd emptied and left open and the gap where her clothes had been in his closet. He threw the jumper in the corner of the closet and closed the door. Then he pushed the drawers back in and looked around. "Fuck."
He poured himself a glass of Ogden's in the kitchen and went out on to his balcony. Clouds had moved in while they were arguing and now the air hung heavy with the anticipation of rain. He considered Michelle's words. He'd never told Hermione he wanted her back. She'd started dating Krum within days of their breakup. It happened so fast he couldn't help wondering if maybe something had been going on while they were together. He knew that probably wasn't true, but at the time, it seemed possible, and the press certainly implied it. Her seemingly endless appearances in the gossip columns and on the cover of Witch Weekly didn't help either. Hermione and Krum had been together for more than two years now. He couldn't believe it had gone on so long. Somewhere, in an ugly little corner of his mind, he'd assumed Krum would tire of her and move on, and then Ron could swoop in and save the day, but alas, that didn't seem to be happening. All the things he'd complained about when they were together, about her unwillingness to go out and her inability to lighten up, she seemed to have overcome with Krum. Even if the gossip columns only had it half right, she partied hard. In all the pictures, she seemed like a harder, edgier version of herself, and yet, when he'd run into her at Harry and Ginny's house, she'd looked like herself and there was nothing hard or edgy in her expression when he'd apologized.
He'd been looking for an opening with Hermione since Lavender and Seamus' wedding and their disastrous interaction on the dock. Why had he brought up the smoking straight away? Who cared if she smoked? Who cared if she was drunk? That wasn't what he'd gone down there to say and yet the words popped unbidden from his mouth as though someone else had said them. Suddenly, he'd become a scolding little eleven-year-old boy of the sort that he'd never actually been. What the hell? She'd just been so unlike herself in that moment that he'd lost his focus and blurted out what he'd thought instead of what he'd meant to say. Stupid.
The days were getting chilly in London now that they were deep into October, but in Miami it was sticky humid and still hot despite the late hour. Hermione had been shocked and delighted to see George in the club. After mutual assurances that neither of them would ever mention what they'd seen each other doing, they'd gone for coffee. It was so good talking to him. There was something heartening and cheering about all of the Weasleys, well, except Percy. She saw him at the Ministry all the time, and he always made a face, as though the sight of her was offensive. As Hermione walked back into the club, she caught sight of herself in the mirrored hallway. She almost didn't recognize herself. She was sporting so many glamour charms she was virtually unrecognizable. She stood blinking at her image for a few moments before entering the massive dance floor. The team wasn't too hard to spot, they were mostly still congregated near the bar where she'd left them. Viktor stepped out of the pulsing crowd.
"Where have you been?" he shouted.
"I ran into a friend," Hermione shouted back.
"Here?" Viktor shouted.
"Yes. I'm tired. I'm going back to the hotel."
"I will go with you." He turned to tell Oliver they were leaving and stepped in behind her as they made their way out of the club. It was a short walk to the hotel. Hermione didn't like to step out of the club dressed as she was, but Viktor told her not to be ridiculous. He took her hand and practically pulled her on to the sidewalk. She thought about George offering her his shirt just a little while ago and realized that she didn't want to do this anymore.
When they were finally back in their hotel room. Hermione turned to Viktor and said. "I'm done."
"Done with what?"
"This," Hermione said. She took out her wand and started at the top of her head and dropped every charm she currently had effecting her looks. When she reached her toes, she stepped back from Viktor. She stood there with her hair down and curly, wearing a bikini top and a mini skirt. The scar between her breast as well as the thick one down her side were visible. She wasn't wearing makeup and the image she could see in the dresser mirror over Viktor's shoulder looked sad and tired. "I can't do this anymore. I don't even recognize myself when I'm out with you."
Viktor shrugged. "You don't want to do glamour charms, don't do them."
Hermione sighed and closed her eyes. "It's not just the charms. It's the whole lifestyle."
"Hermione, if you don't want to go out, don't go out."
"Okay, so when am I going to see you? Are you going to stop going out?"
He scowled at her. "What is the matter? Why is this suddenly a problem? What friend did you run into?"
"I ran into George, but he doesn't have anything to do with this."
She steeled herself for his response. "George Weasley."
"You went to the loo and ran into Ron's brother and you were gone for almost an hour."
"We went for coffee."
"You left the club with Ron's brother," his scowl had deepened into a glower.
"Yes. It's impossible to have a conversation over the music."
"And now you tell me you don't recognize yourself."
"That has nothing to do with George," she reiterated.
"Weird coincidence then," he said sarcastically.
"Viktor, I told you before you left that I'm tired of this. I don't want this lifestyle anymore. I find it exhausting."
"Ah yes, because suddenly you want to be a mother and have babies."
She glared at him. "There is nothing wrong with wanting a family."
"Are you going to quit your job?"
"Because if you don't, I don't see how you have time for babies."
"Obviously, there would have to be adjustments," Hermione sputtered.
His face softened and he ran his hand down her deeply scarred side. "Have you even talked to a healer since—"
She pushed his hand away angrily. "There is nothing wrong with me."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm fine," she hissed.
"And what about the drinking?" he said. "When is that going to stop?"
"I wouldn't drink if I was pregnant. You know that."
"You'll have to stop smoking too," he said quietly.
She clenched her jaw.
"You talk about my lifestyle being the problem, but it's not just me."
She blew out a calming breath. "You know what? You're right. Look, you saved me at a time in my life that I really needed saving, but I think we're holding each other back now instead of holding each other up." A tear slipped down her cheek. "I will always be grateful to you, Viktor, but I don't think I can stay with you anymore. I'm getting lost in all this. I don't feel like myself anywhere but at work, and that's no way to live."
He frowned at her. "Then stop living like that. What has that got to do with me? That's your choice."
She nodded. "Maybe, but I can't get myself sorted like this. I just can't."
"Hermione—" he said.
"Don't. Just don't. Finish your tour. Live your life. I'm going home. I'm done here."
She Disapparated to the roof. Picked up the Portkey she'd made for the return and charged it to go. A few minutes later she was back in England. She packed her clothes in his flat. Planning to get the rest of her stuff some other time, she Disapparated back to her parent's old house.
As Christmas approached and the trials for String-Apparition were coming to a successful close, Hermione found it increasingly difficult to be on her own. She'd forgotten how large and empty her parent's house was. She'd gotten rid of everything downstairs when they were murdered, but had left the upstairs intact. After she left Viktor, she'd cleaned out the rest of the house, but after she'd gotten rid of everything and put a fresh coat of paint on the walls, she hadn't replaced most of the furniture. Only the bottom floor was furnished, and that had been done when she'd lived here before she'd moved in with Viktor. Now she didn't even have a bed. When she slept there instead of at work, she slept on the sofa in the parlor in front of the fireplace.
The day before Christmas Eve, she found herself with no reason to go into work and nothing to do. It had been awhile since she'd bought any new clothes that weren't for going out to parties or clubs. While she'd been purging her parent's house, she'd purged her closet as well. Anything that looked like she'd be ashamed to wear it in front of her father went into the rubbish bin. In the end, her closet was devoid of most anything but the traditional robes she wore to work and some old clothes she had before she started dating Viktor. She made a good salary and didn't spend much, so she decided her day was best spent on a shopping spree.
Furniture shopping was too daunting, so she Apparated to Diagon Alley and then walked down the street to Madam Malkins. Padma and Parvati greeted her with big smiles when she walked into the shop. They'd recently purchased the place from the original Madam Malkin, but intended to leave the name as it was. They asked her about the recent article in Witch Weekly that featured her breakup with Krum.
"Oh," Hermione said. "We just wanted different things in the end. The article made it sound a lot more dramatic than it was."
"So, you didn't have a screaming row in America?" Padma asked.
"No. It was more of a quiet disagreement. Although, it was in America, so they got that bit right."
Padma and Parvati both shook their heads. "You must be sick to death of the publicity," Padma said.
Hermione nodded. "So much so I could vomit."
"How can we help?" Parvati asked. "What do you need?"
"Just regular clothes. Jeans, shirts, and jumpers. Socks, underwear, boots, the lot really."
Parvati nodded. "Any particular colors?"
"Nothing flashy. You know me. I want to look like myself. That's all."
"Of course," Parvati said. "Let me pull some things and you look around and see what catches your eye. You look thinner than the last time I saw you. Can I get some measurements?"
"Sure," Hermione said. "But if it's too form fitting, I don't want it. I'm a bit over that at the moment."
Parvati nodded again. "I understand."
A few minutes later, Hermione was standing on a pedestal in her underwear behind a curtain in the back of the store as Parvati took her measurements with a charmed tape measure. She appreciated that Parvati didn't mention the scars or the war or Ron. She did her job quickly and told Hermione to get dressed. She pulled on her jeans that were just about worn through at the knees and a flannel shirt she'd worn during her days on the run with Ron and Harry. She sat down on the pedestal to pull on her boots, which had also seen better days.
Parvati gave her a concerned look. "Are you alright?"
Hermione sighed. "I'm just really tired. This whole thing has been exhausting."
"Of course, it has," Parvati said. "But you'll get through it. You just need time."
Hermione smiled. "Thanks."
"Go look around. I'm going to pull a few things I think you'll like and then we'll see what we have."
Hermione went back out to the front of the store and wandered through the clothing racks.
She was looking at underwear when she heard the bell indicating someone new had entered the shop. Hermione looked up to see Ginny walk in. Ginny smiled broadly when she saw her.
"Hermione," she said and walked over to give her hug.
Hermione hugged her back.
Ginny stepped back. "How are you? I heard about, you know."
"Fine," Hermione said. "I'm good. It was a long time coming. I'm really happy to see you. It's been ages."
"Yeah, yeah, it has. I'm so sorry about missing the last two dinners. I really wanted to see you."
"I was really disappointed you couldn't come, I wanted to see you too."
"So, what are you doing here?" Ginny said.
"Oh," Hermione said. "I felt the need for a wardrobe change. Happy Christmas to me."
Ginny smiled sympathetically. "I can understand that. What are you doing for Christmas?"
"Um," Hermione said. "I hadn't really thought about it."
"You should come to the Burrow if you don't have plans. Mum and Dad would love to see you, and so would the brothers and their various and sundry broods. You know Harry and I want you there. You should come."
Hermione shook her head. "I don't think so. I doubt all your brothers would want to see me. Besides, I ran into George a few months ago and he said Ron was seeing someone seriously, so I don't think she'd appreciate my presence."
"Are you talking about that healer he was seeing? That's been over for weeks now. He's on his own these days. Hasn't been dating anyone lately and I know he'd love to see you. Not to mention, none of us want you spending Christmas on your own. We can't have that. Come Christmas Eve and stay over. It'll be fun. Say you'll come."
"You're sure?" Hermione said hesitantly.
"Well, I couldn't come in until late. I have a rather significant meeting tomorrow afternoon that's likely to run several hours."
"On Christmas Eve?"
"It's an international meeting. Not all the countries involved celebrate Christmas, besides it's kind of a critical issue and that was the first day we could get everyone involved there."
"Alright then, come late."
Hermione bit her bottom lip, considering the implications. "You know what? I will. Thank you. Christmas at the Burrow sounds wonderful."
"I wouldn't go that far. It's a madhouse really, but it's fun."
Padma came over with a dress bag. "Here you go Ginny."
"Thanks," Ginny said, taking the bag. "Padma altered a dress for me for New Year's Eve."
"And Parvati says she has a stack of clothes for you to try on Hermione," Padma said.
"Great," Hermione said.
"I'll see you in a couple of days then," Ginny said with another warm smile.
"Right," Hermione said. "I'll see you then."
That night Hermione sat in her parlor sipping wine and staring at the fire. She was nervous about the idea of Christmas at the Burrow, but also excited. It would be so nice to be back with the Weasleys. She loved Ron's family and had missed them a lot, but she couldn't help wondering how Ron would feel about her being there. Ginny seemed very blasé about it, which probably meant Ron was completely over her, so it wouldn't matter to him. She wondered if there was any way they could ever be friends again. She missed him. Ron could always make her laugh when no one else could. Would it be possible to have that kind of friendship with him again? Could you go back to being friends after you'd been lovers? She wasn't sure. If only he wanted her back the way she wanted him, but she knew he didn't, or at least she thought she knew until she'd run into him at Harry's. Even though she'd denied it to Harry at the time, it did seem like Ron was apologizing to her. Still there was no point going down that line of questions. Better to go with the assumption that he was done. She would be casual and friendly. It was time to let bygones be bygones. Maybe they could be friends again. It wouldn't be the same, but she'd take something over nothing any day.