Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters from Harry Potter. I'm making no money off this story and no copyright infringement is intended.

Author's Note: This was my first fanfic story, and after leaving it unfinished for several years, I've decided to go back to it and completely change the direction in which it was originally headed. It's going to be Hermione/Ginny, so read no further if femmeslash and same-sex pairings aren't your thing.

Chapter One

"Just because I've been hurt doesn't mean I'm going to be bitter."

The fact that Hermione spoke these words in the bitterest of tones did nothing to persuade Harry. The two friends were sitting at a table in the corner of The Three Broomsticks one weekend at the start of their seventh year. Harry put his steady hand on top of Hermione's shaking one, and said quietly,

"Look, Hermione, everyone can tell you're still angry at Ron. And no one blames you. What he did to you over the summer wasn't exactly...er...gentlemanly. So I understand why you wouldn't want to be friends with him again right away."

"I have to be friends with him again! Don't you see, Harry? While I've been at Hogwarts, it's always been you and Ron. I can't give that up, even if Ron treated me like I was worth nothing at the end of our relationship. It was a mistake to date him, but I'm not letting that ruin a seven year friendship."

"I didn't say you shouldn't be friends with him ever again," Harry said gently. "I just said you didn't have to immediately. These things take time. What I'm trying to say, Hermione, is that it's okay for you to stay pissed off at Ron for now, if that's how you really feel. There's no point in pretending everything's all forgiven and forgotten when you're obviously still hurt. It doesn't help your chances of patching things up with Ron, and it sure as hell doesn't do you any good."

Hermione stared into the bespectacled eyes of her friend, and her own eyes poured out tears of gratitude. "Oh, Harry, you're so great...and so loyal. I can never thank you enough for being there for me..." Harry enveloped her into a swift hug before she could burst into tears.

"C'mon," he said, "let me get you another butterbeer. Getting a little bit tipsy usually makes me feel better."

What really made Hermione feel better was to totally immerse herself into a warm bath. That night in the bathroom of the seventh year Gryffindor girls' dorm, she drew the water just high enough so that when she slipped in and lowered herself down, the water covered her ears and she could see and breathe but not hear. It was comforting to have all sound muted and distorted; perhaps it was a regression back to that forgotten time in her mother's womb. Whatever it was, she could lay there for hours, listening to nothing but the persistent sound of her own thoughts.

Of course, all her thoughts these days dragged her against her will to Ron and how he'd treated her at the end of their relationship.

Everyone, it seemed, had been delighted when she and Ron had gotten together during the winter holidays in their sixth year. As they later found out, their friends had long ago noticed their flirtations and thought that they would be "the cutest couple," despite their constant bickering. And, for a while, they were. Ron took her on picnics, bought her myriads of candies from Honeyduke's out of his own meager pocket, and used his best magic to do romantic things for her - such as enchant a piano to play her favorite piece, Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." Hermione and Ron could always be seen stealing kisses in the halls of Hogwarts, and holding hands as they walked the streets of Hogsmeade on weekends. Their relationship could not appear to be any more adorable.

But after about six months, all of the adorableness wore off. Ron, for no reason that Hermione could figure out, stopped writing to her almost completely over the summer. Hermione sent numerous owls to Ron inviting him and his family over to dinner at her parents' house in London:

Please say you'll come. It'll be so much fun, Ron. I always love spending time with your family - there's not a single one of them I don't like. Your dad could ask my parents all he ever wanted to know about Muggles. And most of all, I just want to see you, Ron. I miss you. Please respond soon. Yours, Hermione.

It wouldn't be until nearly two weeks later that Ron would send Errol or Pig to give Hermione a very brief and terse reply, such as:

Herm, sorry, can't do the dinner thing. Maybe another time? Talk to you later, R.

"Herm," Hermione said, her voice and the hand that held the letter both shaking. "Herm. He couldn't even be bothered to write my whole name."

She was furious, but most of all she was bewildered over how her once doting boyfriend could suddenly become so distant. Her confusion and agony continued until Ron finally broke up with her in late August, shortly before school started again. Hermione, fed up with Ron's behavior, owled him a note that said:

Ron, we need to talk. If you don't send a reply, I will apparate to the Burrow and confront you myself. I'm not waiting around for you anymore.

The next day, to her complete shock, Ron apparated to her front door and rang the bell. It was the first time he had come to see her in almost two months, but Hermione knew immediately that he was doing it not to enjoy the pleasure of her company but to break her heart. She struggled to stay calm as he finally explained awkwardly, "I-I just want to be your friend, Hermione. My feelings for you changed over the summer, I don't know why."

Hermione, not wanting to let Ron see her weep, finally cried out, "Leave, Ron! Just leave me alone!" And so he did what he'd been doing all summer long: he left her alone. Once he disapparated back to the Burrow - back to the lovely home and wonderful family she'd dreamed that she might someday be a part of - she locked herself in her bedroom and stayed in there for hours. She only came out when her parents heard her crying, and knocked on her door to ask worriedly what was wrong.

Breaking up was difficult; the aftermath was just as hard. For the next several days before she went back to Hogwarts, she moped about her parents' house like a zombie, too depressed to even read her books anymore, and dreading facing Ron again. However, since she knew that she had no choice but to see him eventually, she tried her best to be strong. Not wanting to put Harry in the middle of what was going on between her and Ron, she joined them both in Diagon Alley to buy school supplies, as always. When she was forced to sit in the prefects' compartment on the Hogwarts Express with Ron, she stared out the window during the entire train ride, saying little. That was awkward, as was the experience of having the rest of their friends and acquaintances find out that the Perfect Couple was no more, because apparently she wasn't perfect enough.

He no longer wanted her...suddenly being loved, and then just as quickly cast aside, left Hermione with an emptiness that had never ached in her before. Ron had been only the second person to be attracted to her in that way (if her brief, chaste fling with Viktor Krum even counted), and now his attraction was inexplicably gone. Even he couldn't give her a reason for why his feelings had changed. How did she know, she now wondered, that any future relationship of hers wouldn't turn out just as fickle? Could she have love without it being taken away from her the way a pickpocket nicks a ring off an unsuspecting person's finger?

Hermione suddenly bolted upright in the bathtub as a sound rang out that was loud enough for her to hear through the water she'd submerged herself in. Someone was pounding on the bathroom door.

"Granger, hurry up! You've been in there almost half an hour."

"Yeah, you're not the only one who uses this bathroom."

The voices belonged to her roommates, Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil respectively. Hermione sighed and called out, "Just a minute!" She made up her mind just then that she would start using the prefect's bathroom, even though she'd initially thought that the idea of the prefects having their own bathroom promoted inequality among the students. Suddenly this principle was less important than her getting the privacy she so desperately needed.

She quickly stepped out of the bathtub and onto the soft mat that covered the cold stone floor. As she grabbed her bathrobe, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror. There she stood, a nearly eighteen year old girl, naked of both clothing and pretensions - wanting nothing more than for some kindred soul to see her for who she was, to want her, to love her, and not change their mind. It would be worth waiting for the real thing, she decided. She just didn't know how long she could endure the pain and loneliness that waiting brought.