I like it here. I wonder if I could just stay here. Not forever, of course. But just long enough. Just until enough time has passed so that I feel I might be able to move again.
But for now I'm content enough to lie here with the moss tickling my neck, the charred grass itching my legs and the damp grass in between soaking through the back of my dress. Although no sunlight has stolen through the thick trees, it's still uncomfortably hot. But if I just lie here, really quietly, slow my breathing and close my eyes then it'll all fade away.
I honestly didn't think this is how it would end. That poisonous hope has failed me.
I'm not tired; I don't think I'll ever sleep again. I'll just listen to the birdsong and the rustling leaves and be grateful that I can't hear the celebration and merriment from a tent not too far away.
I don't feel like me. I'm a shadow, a shell. All the good and horrible things that I have done don't seem real anymore. If they are real, then I took no part in them. I'm not the child who was possessed by a diary in her first year. I'm not the girl who struggled to live after that. I'm not the loner who used popularity and prettiness to mask the torment inside. I'm not the teenager who found solace in a friendship of equals with my brothers' best friend. I'm not the love-struck sap who used to live for the tender moments in the Room of Requirement. I'm not the crushed loser who used to sneak to the Hogs Head to drown my sorrows. I'm not the woman who urged Harry to achieve what he really wanted. I'm not the fool who attempted a real, adult relationship with a man I knew I was never really meant to be with. I'm not the girlfriend who lived with the most noble man in the Wizarding world for years while screwing any pretty brunette in heels that looked at me. I'm not the masochist who brought this angry boil to surface by kissing Hermione a week ago. I'm not the finally whole and complete person who endured delirious ecstasy last night. I'm not even the crumpled, hysterical mess who witnessed the final vows of Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley.
Just a hollow shell, a faint shadow.
Any one of those people would have gone out in a fierce blaze. Even at my most horrible or desperate that woman would have made the world notice that she was leaving. This shadow I am now could fade with the setting sun.
From behind my closed eyelids it seems that clouds have blocked out the sun. Then I hear breathing that is not my own.
I know it's Charlie before I open my eyes. If anyone's looking for me on this day, it's him.
"Ginny you can't lie there," he says, attempting to scoop up my body, awkwardly twisting as if to avoid getting dirt on himself.
Still limp, I raise my eyes to look at him. "Leave me."
"Don't," I murmur, trying to covertly wriggle out of his hold.
"You need to get up!" He snaps and shakes me roughly, trying to haul me to my feet.
"I don't need rescuing, Charlie!" I shout, pushing him away roughly and sitting up on my own. I have been kicked into life once more. One sharp shock was all that's needed. It seems that I cannot fade that easily. I don't know whether or not to be glad of that fact.
He staggers back and regains his footing. He brushes dirt from his trousers and clears his throat.
"I'm not an idiot," he says in a low voice.
"Did I say you were?" I respond in a somewhat hysterical tone.
"It's Hermione, isn't it?" he asks flatly, staring at me. My head bows as I drag myself to my feet.
"I'm leaving tonight, by the way," I inform him haughtily, completely ignoring his accusation. "I'm Apparating to the Portkey station once I get my stuff and I'll be gone."
"You'll still be in love with Hermione, wherever you go," he adds in a low tone.
I bite my lip fiercely and will myself not to swear, not to cry. I've had my moment lying in the dirt and now is the time to raze the earth to ashes.
"Ginny? Just answer me," he implores, trying to catch my eye.
"Congratulations, Charlie, you're right," I reply, somewhat mockingly. "Another point for big brothers observation skills. You are the man, Charlie. Well done."
"I'm not going to talk about my feelings for our now sister-in-law," I spit at him, holding up my hands. "I'm not going to tell you how I've been hurting and lying and cheating and wanting for years. How Ron and Harry are just oblivious bystanders and Hermione is a force so intense that not a human on this earth will understand her actions or her motives. It's done. And I'm going."
He opens and closes his mouth several times. I wonder if it's my words that have caused his temporary speechlessness or if it was the admission that Hermione was the girl I'd described. To Charlie, Hermione would never again be just his brother's wife – she was the woman who broke my heart
Hermione looked along the top table to her parents engaging in deep discussion with several wizards from the Department of Magical Regulation. She wondered what it is they could be talking about – Not magical law enforcement, surely? Percy was alongside them; Hermione wondered if he was translating rather pompously from Wizard to Muggle. Surveying over the rest of the guests in the reception tent, she realised how few she was actually on a conversational basis with. Some Healers and orderlies from St Mungos were here, but she didn't feel compelled to converse with them at that moment. She didn't feel much like mingling at all. It seemed that in an excited room where everyone was throwing down their first and second cocktails of the evening while gibbering to perfect strangers, she seemed to be the only one indifferent to it all.
Ron hadn't moved to mingle either, but she was sure that was because he didn't want to leave her sitting here. He waved to people and exchanged jibes with his brothers while squeezing her hand under the table. He must just have thought her overwhelmed by it all.
Ron leaned in closely to Hermione's ear and whispered, "Do you know why Harry's really not here?"
"No," Hermione replied edgily. "I mean… There's no 'real reason', Ron. It's work, isn't it?"
"Harry would never miss our wedding for work," Ron scoffed, fingering the rim of his champagne glass. "Trust me."
"Well, if he--"
"No," Ron cut her off. "I don't know if Ginny's let you know, I don't even know one hundred percent that it's true, but when I confronted her she didn't deny it."
"She didn't?" Hermione replied throatily, swallowing a near full glass of champagne in one gulp. Before the glass had hit the table, it was refilled. She decided it would be excruciatingly easy to get completely rat-arsed at her wedding with service like that.
"She's really easy to read, my sister is," Ron murmured into her ear. Hermione felt her entire body consumed by frozen dread. When Ron touched her fingertips with his, she felt they may crack like delicate icicles.
"She is?" Hermione replied dubiously, removing her hand from under his and numbly smoothing back her hair.
"I know Mum's told you that Harry proposed, but she didn't actually say yes," Ron continued, leaning back slightly. "I told him to do it again last night when we got in. And now he's vanished and Ginny's looked wrecked the entire day – You don't think that's coincidence?"
"What are you suggesting?" Hermione asked edgily.
"Well, she turned him down and he's off choking down a bottle of Firewhisky and slipping IOU notes in some strippers G-string," Ron smiled faintly.
"That's not funny, Ron," Hermione scolded harshly.
"I know. It's awful. I'm just trying to make light, y'know?" Ron sighed. Hermione let out the deep breath she'd been clinging to as well.
"I know," Hermione said quietly.
"I didn't want to ruin today. I just thought you'd want to know, even though this is our wedding day," Ron said quietly, reaching out to brush Hermione's cheek and turn her to him. "Sorry."
"It's OK," Hermione replied in a tense voice, forcing herself to smile.
"Good," he grinned. "Because by my calculations, it's almost time for our first dance, Mrs Weasley."
Hermione swallowed discreetly and continued her self-imposed expression of bliss and joy. She nodded rapidly, unable to respond to her new moniker.
Ron didn't seem to notice anything odd as he leaned forward to place a chaste kiss on her lips. After, he removed his hand from her and sat back, surveying the party.
"So. Where do you think Ginny is anyway? Don't you need a bit of 'maiding' or anything?" Ron wondered aloud, scanning the tent. He wished it was as easy as looking for the red-headed female but there were so many of them.
"No. I'm fine," Hermione shook her head, turning from him to delicately dab her eyes in an effort to not destroy her eye makeup.
Ron was right – It was indeed time for the first dance as a married couple. As the Twins made their way to the front of the top table, Hermione clutched at the sides of her dress, her fingernails indenting the flesh beneath the silk material. She willed, urged, pleaded with herself to get it together. All she had to do was get up and dance and look blissfully happy. That was all. She could manage that little task, couldn't she?
Fred and George's announcement was succeeded by a din of applause which rang in her ears. Ron was already on his feet and offering his hand to her. She took it and was dumbly led to the designated dance floor by her husband. The quartet struck up the first few notes of their chosen song, which was a popular hit by the Tarantula Trio. It was Ron's favourite. He told Hermione that the summer between 6th and 7th year he'd played that song obsessively as it reminded him of her. He'd insisted on it being the first song that they danced to. Hermione agreed but she had been so nonchalant about the wedding planning process that it was hardly a victory.
As Ron pulled her to his chest and started swaying in time to the music, the surrounding crowd clapped. This rock song actually sounded quite beautiful on the cello, Hermione thought as she attempted to get a grip on the rhythm. Her head rested on Ron's shoulder as they moved together. Hermione struggled to see the faces of the people watching as the white spotlight blinded her.
The vision barely seen out of the corner of her eye caused her heart to hurdle through her ribcage. In the back, behind the faceless swarm, was Ginny. Behind Ginny was the best man, evidently gripping onto her shoulders. From a distance, Hermione couldn't tell if Charlie was forcing her to stay or attempting to pull her away. Through a flash of the lighting and the attending bodies, Ginny and Hermione stared at each other. Ginny had never seemed further away from her, Hermione thought. Even when she hadn't seen her for years, Hermione had always believed her to be in reaching distance. That should she have ever given in on their unspoken exile from each other, she could be with Ginny within moments. But there was no touching Ginny now. One -or both of them- had become untouchable. There was a very clear, very solid obstacle now; the ultimate hurdle, which could not be disregarded easily. The new accessory which fit on Hermione's finger was actually too big and she had to check that it was still there and had not fallen off already.
The circle symbolises the infinite – it doesn't begin and it doesn't end: The bonding witch had said that the wedding band symbolised eternal love. Instead, Hermione thought how impossible it was to escape a circle. With no entry point and no corners to leverage oneself up any escape would be in vain.
It's becoming a beautiful night. I'm sitting on the steps of the Burrow: black travelling cloak over my dirty dress, bag between the knees, heart crushed underfoot and I can't help but be amazed at how beautiful the sky looks as the sun prepares for its daily descent.
Charlie made me promise to stay here until he got back. He has something to give me which will help, apparently. I don't know why I forced myself to watch their First Dance although I'm not sure that it made it all any worse. Usually when I feel like this I immerse myself in tasteless alcohol and find a companion for the night. Whether that helps is debateable, but I doubt anything would now. Not a friendly ear or a meaningful keepsake. I think that's fine though. This horrible, gnawing feeling eviscerating me seems overwhelming and unmanageable but somehow I believe I'll get through it. I have to. There is no other option.
Just as I'm talking myself out of Disapparating on the spot and leaving Charlie hanging, I see that woman in white stride out from the reception tent. My instincts are telling me to run, hide, flee. She's not coming for me though. She doesn't notice anything around her and she heads for her Bridal tent to disappear inside.
I have to go to her. I need this. I need one more moment to finish it all. Against the urging of my body, I stand up and head down to the tent. I pull the cloak around me tightly, feeling colder as I get closer to her. Hesitantly, I pull back the tent door and slip inside. I can't find her. I wonder if she was a mirage.
"What are you doing in here?" Her voice is tense and she's standing right behind me. Now is the time to be brave, now is the time to be a Gryffindor. It would be so easy to run, but I will not.
I turn to her slowly, not letting my body betray my purpose. I am as hard and unreadable as she is and we stand looking at each other properly for the first time as in-laws. Her cheeks are faintly blotchy, scarred by chilly winds and possible tears.
"Ginny – what do you want?" she asks impatiently, turning to the mirror and bringing up a cloth hanker-chief to dab her eyes with surgical precision.
"I don't want anything," I tell her clearly. "Absolutely nothing. I have no agenda for what I'm about to say."
She sniffs and places both hands on the sides of the mirror. Her head bows and she prepares herself to endure whatever bile I may throw at her.
"Hermione, could you turn to me?" I ask softly. "This is important and I want you to look at me."
She stares at my reflection behind her in the mirror, a flash of fury in her eyes. Then with a deep breath she turns to face me.
"I don't want you to say anything. I don't want you to do anything – except listen," I tell her carefully. She gives a curt nod and wraps her arms over her chest.
I know she's waiting for me but I don't want to utter a word just yet. I just want to drink this sight in because should everything work out like it's planned in my head then this will be the last time I'll see her. I don't want a picture or a portrait that I'd no doubt destroy in a fit of rage in the later months; I just want this memory to endure.
Her expression softens and her confrontational stance slackens as she watches me appreciate every last part of her and I think she senses that I mean this to be the last time. It's almost as if I can see the thought entering her mind. Her jaw drops slightly and panic lies behind those familiar brown eyes.
"I'm going, Hermione," I start, knowing that I won't have her silence forever. "I am leaving. Europe. That job. Like I told you. I hope I'm not coming back. It might not be a factor for you, but I definitely couldn't sit down to Christmas dinner with you and Ron after all this—"
"You think that—" she interrupts before I step forward and clamp a hand over her mouth. This, of course, brings us skin to skin and within breathing distance. Not the safest position in the world to assume at this moment. I'm working on delayed transmission from brain to hand and it takes a moment before I pull my hand back, as if burned.
"Sorry," I clear my throat, looking away. "But – listen?"
She nods again, not shuffling backwards but standing her ground.
"Last night changed everything for me. I can't look at you without tasting you," I whisper softly. I can't do this, I can't let myself reflect and allow her to consume me. I must be strong. I clear my throat and try again. "I'm sorry but it's the way it is. I've slept with people, I've had sex with people, I've fucked. But I have never felt what you made me feel last night. It's unforgettable and unavoidable. We've crossed a pretty stark line and I know I can't go back."
She bites her bottom lip as she takes in the truth of my words.
"I will never be your friend. I will never be just an old school pal. I will never be your sister-in-law," I lay out clearly. Her tears have started to fall and lip begins to tremble. "This will never change. I will never not feel delirious when I see you. I will never stop feeling decimated when I see you and my brother together.
"You might look on last night as your last fling, your last gasp of freedom. And that's OK," I tell her, trying to control the shaking in my voice as she holds a hand over her eyes, covering the freely cascading tears. "But to me it was the best night of my life. I have that and maybe that's enough."
"Ginny—" she cries, a bursting, aching sob singeing the air.
"Hermione, you don't have to say anything. I don't want you to say anything that'll make this more difficult or more agonising," I sigh sadly. Her shoulders hunch over as she lets everything go. Instinct desires that I hold her. With one sweeping motion I wrap my arms around her and she weeps on my shoulder, clinging to me tightly.
"You are so beautiful Hermione," I say into her ear in a hushed tone. "Merlin, you look so beautiful. That dress is making me feel ill but… You are divine."
She laughs painfully at the dress comment and pulls back from me. Her hands are still on my neck as mine are still in a hold around her waist. This is a very dangerous position but it's out with my control now.
"I love you," I whisper softly without hope or agenda. Her eyes start to water again. "I realise that's the first time I've said that to you. Which seems surreal and ridiculous considering how long I actually have been in love with you. And with the worst possible timing. But I do love you and I have no doubt that I will always love you. I'm just going to aim to make it hurt a little less every day until I can live with it."
She looks as if she wants to respond in kind but I shake my head mournfully, warning her not to.
I tuck a curl of hair gently behind her ear and smooth her cheek with the back of my hand. I want to remember every place, every time that I have touched her.
"This will be the last time," I whisper, my sore throat tightening. My lips find hers and I feel the stars bursting inside my head, making me delirious and dizzy while my heart pauses for the moment. This kiss is fuller than any I have ever known: full of regret and sadness; desire and emotion; tenderness and the slightest twinge of anger. It's too heavy and too epic to last forever.
All too soon this beautiful kiss is over as I force myself to retreat. She meets my stare with great difficulty, her thumb stroking my chin. Her tears have not ceased. I still taste them on my tongue.
"That was the last kiss," I remind her, extricating myself carefully and wiping my own tears. She hasn't made any move and stands there as if hexed just so.
"I'm leaving now," I repeat my original message. Still she does not move but she does not tear her gaze from me as I back further towards the exit. "I only want happiness for you, Hermione. Do that for me?"
She nods numbly and keeps herself static, staring at every inch of me. Perhaps she's making her own last memory. The last image.
This moment is too complicated and too full to add a farewell into the mix. A goodbye would make it worse somehow. So I just back out of the tent wordlessly, still gazing at her until the white curtain blocks my view.
I take a few moments to compose myself and then realise that I better get as far away from this tent as possible before she re-emerges. I'm about to break into a sprint back up to the house when I see Alicia Spinnet standing outside the Reception tent with Katie Bell and Oliver Wood. The couple are engaged in playful conversation but Alicia spots me. She leaves her friends without word and makes her way towards me.
"Ginny, how are you?" she asks, quick stepping to keep up with me.
"I'm… I'll be OK," I tell her, turning to smile faintly. "I'll be OK."
"You look as if someone's just…" she trails off, looking back down at the path behind me. "Were you just with Hermione?"
"Just saying goodbye," I reply with a deep breath, reaching the house steps where my bag still sits. Alicia looks down at my bag and then up at me.
"Going somewhere?" she asks tentatively as I pick it up and swing it over my shoulder.
"New job," I tell her with a small shrug. "Europe. Several years."
"This wouldn't be running away?" she asks, raising her eyebrow.
"Away – Towards – There isn't much difference," I laugh softly, wiping my eyes once more. "It's time for me to go. I need change. I need something big."
She studies the wreckage of me dubiously. "Well, I wish you luck."
"I'm due some," I utter under my breath, looking around. "You haven't seen Charlie, have you?"
"I think… I think he had to go and sort out the speeches," Alicia replies hesitantly, expecting that this information will cause me to combust. Instead I just nod slowly.
"He said he had something for me. Tell him I'm going to wander down to the stream, where we used to play, a few fields over. I won't be there for long," I instruct her. I won't be back here for a while so a visit to the spot I spent many hot, blissful, simple summer afternoons seems necessary. Water always calms me. I'll sit and stare at the stream for a while before travelling.
Alicia just nods, taking it all in.
"If you ever fancy a holiday then Owl me, find out where I've ended up," I grin at her. "Maybe I'll have a couch for you."
She nods, smiling herself and watches me as I start my journey away from the wedding, the burrow and this whole painful situation.
After Ginny had left, Hermione could not move. She stood – not crying, not speaking, not stirring – in the middle of her tent. Her skin was clammy as the warmth of the sun slowly faded and her hands felt increasingly sweaty. Without warning, her wedding band slipped off her finger and dropped soundlessly to the ground. She didn't know how long it was since Ginny left or how long she had been away from the Reception but it was significantly long enough for her father to come looking for her.
"Hermione?" he called out, pulling back the curtained door.
"D-Dad?" she uttered, shaking herself out of her near catatonia and turning away from him. She picked up the hanker-chief she'd been using earlier and set to work on making herself look like this was supposed to be the happiest day of her life. She groped for the makeup box as he appeared behind her. He looked at her reflection and placed his hand on her shoulders.
"Are you OK? What happened?" he asked in a low voice.
"Oh, you know," Hermione replied, flustered. "Emotional day. Just needed a minute."
"Well they're about to start the speeches," her Dad informed her. "We can't find Ginny – Isn't the maid of honour supposed to say something?"
'She's said plenty,' Hermione thought, barely restraining herself from speaking it aloud.
"No, no, Dad," Hermione shook her head as she applied powder to try to even out her colour. "She's not making a speech."
"Where is she?" he asked, looking around the tent. "Shouldn't she be here to do whatever it is you're doing?"
"She left," Hermione replied shortly.
"Left? Left where?" he asked, taken aback. "Does anyone know?"
"I don't know," Hermione shrugged, trying not to think about it. She didn't want to think of Ginny leaving her life forever at this very moment in time. That would cause her to break down again and she couldn't spend the rest of the night curled up in a corner of the tent, crying her broken heart out. Even though that did sound like a more favourable option at the moment.
"She left in the middle of your reception?" Gerald said incredulously. "Why? Did you have an argument? Or… Or…"
"She has a new job, remember?" Hermione said quietly. "She's left-left."
"But her parents don't even know!"
"She'll send them a postcard," Hermione said under her breath as she reapplied her eye makeup.
"Well it's really inconsiderate," Gerald commented.
Hermione opened her mouth to respond but there was nothing she wanted to say.
"Ready to go back?" he asked, looking at his daughters ready reflection. She nodded wordlessly and he sensed she was holding in a deep sigh of defeat. He had no idea what could be making his daughter so desperately sad, but his imagination had began constructing a few far fetched ideas.
Hermione brushed her hair, stood straight and nodded to the mirror. 'Just get through this day and it'll all be over.'
"Right, Dad, can't keep everyone waiting," she told him clearly, picking up the front of her dress.
The glinting circle of gold caught Gerald's eye as he followed in her wake.
"Hermione? Lose something?" he called after her, staring at the object.
"Like what? My marbles? My mind?" Hermione retorted, rolling her eyes.
"Your ring?" he replied quietly. She spun around at once and looked at him the way she might have when she was a child; caught with something that she shouldn't have or found doing something she shouldn't have done. This was purely imagination and conjecture, because Gerald believed that he had never discovered Hermione in such a position. She was either extremely skilled in hiding her illicit dealings at home, or she had none.
Hermione's face flushed as she stooped to pick up her wedding band. She held it between thumb and finger for a long time, staring at the oversized ring.
"It's too big," she mumbled. "It's a magical compound of gold. It's enchanted. Witches and wizards enchant their rings, you see," Hermione explained, looking up at her father from her crouched position. "There are thieving hexes, bonding charms, location charms all embedded in this ring. If I'd have moved twenty feet from it, it would've called me back. A magical ring is not easy to lose."
"Or throw away?" her father asked hesitantly. Hermione stood up at once and slid the ring easily on her finger. She held her hand in front of Gerald's face, shaking it to demonstrate how loose this new piece of jewellery was.
"See? Too big," Hermione said defensively, turning and heading for the reception. After a sigh, Gerald followed suit.
The spotlight was on an uncharacteristically flustered Charlie as he made his Best Man's toast to the wedding party and congregation. Beside Hermione, Ron was laughing and slapping the table at what she guessed were the appropriate moments. The rest of the reception were laughing along as well, seemingly enjoying it. Hermione couldn't listen; she couldn't concentrate for the life of her on anything as she slid her ill-fitting ring up and down her finger. The faces in front of her blurred together again and she felt a tight squeeze on her thigh from her husband as he stood up.
It seemed that Charlie's speech was over now and he had handed the floor to his brother. Ron cast sonorous on his throat and gave the crowd a wide grin.
"Thank you everyone for coming today," he started, beaming round at the room. "This has been undoubtedly the best day of my life and the start of many more fantastic days to come. Every day with Hermione has been beyond magic – Fighting as teenagers, living together as adults and now growing old together. This is what I always wanted."
Hermione continued to look up at him as he spoke sincerely and earnestly about their wedding and ensuing marriage. Everything in him was tingling with excitement that this day was finally here. Every time he looked down to grin at her, she felt another throb of pain and guilt. Everything caged was seeping out. Looking up at him framed in the light she noticed that his red hair so much paler than Ginny's. Hermione couldn't stop the barrage of images of his younger sister from plaguing her thoughts. Her heart quickened and her breath grew short as she closed her eyes briefly and relived her last few moments with Ginny. That was it – Ginny was done, she was gone. And here Hermione sat at the right hand of her Groom.
Earlier, Hermione had been too relieved that she had made it through the wedding to notice what kissing her husband for the first time actually felt like. She could vividly experience every kiss with Ginny, if she let her mind go there.
She watched Ron, laughing and joking with the people who had put on their best robes to see this young couple wed and a moment of clarity – an epiphany hit her. Those moments with Ginny – the ones where she teetered so close on the precipice of living or dying – were gone. Her life would be the mediocrity she'd talked herself into wanting. Every morning she would wake up numb and sleepwalk through life until she expired or awoke. Never again would she see streaking stars as she kissed the true love of her life.
With Ron, with anyone who wasn't Ginny, everything was muted and half as potent as something with Ginny: Anger burned brighter, sadness wallowed deeper, contentment floated into nirvana, laughter charged life and love was almost too supreme to comprehend.
Ron would never kill her and revive her with a single kiss. He could never make her skin dance by holding her hand. And a whispered word in her ear from him would never decimate her nervous system.
Didn't she want safe? Didn't she want predictable? Wasn't his solid affection the reason why she had convinced herself that this was the right choice?
Hermione's own written words floated before her eyes - 'If this is the way it's supposed to be, then why do I feel like this?'
They were as true now as they ever were.
Ron exuded happiness. It oozed from his every pore. Was he settling like she was? Was he playing to destiny? When he kissed her did he get the same bloody, awe-inspiring, knee trembling gut reaction that Hermione got from his sister?
Hermione couldn't decide which was worse and in that moment of pity she realised that though she may appear to be Ron's One, he would never be hers. Hermione's One was readying herself to sip sangria and eat baguettes for the next few years – possibly for the rest of her life. Though not a romantic by nature, Hermione knew through and through that in this life you only got One.
Every time she thought of Ginny, the red head seemed achingly further away. She was slipping away quickly, not waiting any longer. Ginny's absence threatened to bring her to tears again but something deeper was mounting inside Hermione.
"…And now I'd like to let my beautiful wife say a few words. As I'm sure any of you who know her believe she's capable of more than just a few," Ron chuckled, touching his wand tip to Hermione's throat and muttering the spell.
"No," Hermione said immediately, awakening from her self-imposed trance. Her voice echoed so loudly she was sure that she had just spoken.
Ron laughed and looked at Hermione bizarrely.
"You don't want to say anything now?" he asked her jovially, theatrically rolling his eyes at the crowd. "If I could be so lucky for the rest of our marriage!"
"Ron. No. I'm sorry," Hermione said firmly, standing up.
Ron's smile faltered. He knew that something was not right.
"W-What is it?" he asked quietly as Hermione took his wand and cast 'Quietus' on them both. Murmurs quickly filled the silent vacuum from both the congregation and the family on either side of the table.
"We need to go outside, Ron," Hermione told him clearly, her heart now thundering louder than any sound in the tent.
"Outside? Why?" he asked, furrowing his brow. His mouth went dry. He was absolutely sure this wasn't part of the plan. Had he done something? Has something happened he didn't know about? The family or his speech—Had something not went perfectly? Was he so oblivious he could have missed what had upset his new wife? All of Ron's ever-present fears about being an incompetent husband came bubbling to the surface.
"Ron, please, outside," Hermione said briskly, trying to not look at the prying eyes of the crowd.
"Hermione, I don't want to go outside," Ron mumbled, becoming paler. He was sure no good would come of going outside. Surely she wouldn't yell at him in front of all their family and friends. It was best to stay here. Was it about the slightly risqué drunk groping story he told during his toast? "Whatever it is we can talk about it here."
"I'm serious, Ron. I won't do it here—" Hermione started warningly in as hushed a voice as she could muster.
"What won't you do? Is it something bad? Something good? Are you pregn—" Ron spluttered, also trying to keep his voice low. Out of the corner of his eye he could see that Fred and George were trying to redirect attention onto them by doing a stand up skit of some sort.
"No, of course I'm not! This is completely the wrong place—"
"It's also completely the wrong time—"
"And then the dragon walks up to the barkeep," Fred shouted over the arguing newly weds as George waved his arms, acting out the joke to attract the attention of the room.
"Ron, I know—"
"Hermione, you're really starting to worry me here! I know this is stressful but the hard part's over now—"
"Ron – This is becoming an embarrassment! Will you bloody shut up and get outside!" Hermione hissed violently.
"Then the Dragon says 'Well at ten galleons a Butterbeer, I'm not surprised!'" George called out as he finished with a flourish. There was a titter of polite laughter as it was clear everyone was still watching the main attraction which was quickly turning this beautiful wedding into a farce.
"Is it about Harry? Is Harry OK? Did something happen—" Ron guessed fearfully.
"No!" Hermione bellowed breathlessly. Over Ron's shoulder she could see the parents readying themselves to intervene. The resolve that had been building within her hardened as she closed her eyes briefly. The only image in her mind was the reason.
"Then if it's not about life or death can't it wait?!" Ron hissed impatiently. "This is our wed--"
"Ron, it's over, I'm sorry," Hermione said loudly enough for the entire party. Everyone froze, stunned and strained to hear what they assumed would be an immediate retraction of this statement from Hermione.
Ron gawped at his wife, not sure that he had heard the right thing either.
She sighed, shook her head and looked at him sadly. "Are you coming outside now?"
Wordlessly, Ron stepped away from the table and strode out the back flap of the tent. Hermione followed him, her hands now sweating profusely. Behind her the gossip and discussion was deafening.
Once outside, both bathed in the pink glow of the nearly setting sun, they turned to each other. Hermione felt light headed and wanted something sturdy to lean on. She felt wretched and elated. Her heartbeat was less audible now but her breathing was no less shallow.
Ron paced and attempted to form several words. He looked to have given up on language all together and held out his arms in a baffled manner.
"Ron—" she started with a deep breath.
"What the fuck, Hermione?" he tore in, apparently regaining use of his voice. "Really? What the fucking fuck?"
"I'm sorry," she exhaled. "Sorry. So, so sorry."
"So fucking sorry," Ron repeated incredulously. "Wonderful. You're so fucking sorry. How could you say that to me on our wedding day? Cruel, horrible, cruel joke. Trying to get my attention? What could be so important that you have to talk to me about that you'd use that? What you think our parents are thinking right now? Huh?"
Hermione's jaw now dropped. He thought it was a joke – a clever ploy to get his attention.
"Well? What's so fucking important, then?" Ron raged, rubbing his forehead. "What's so important that you scare me half to death like that? On today of all days?"
Hermione couldn't muster up the words to respond. She'd done it – she'd said it. In there, at their reception, in front of all those people. And now she had to convince him?
Ron crouched down, holding his head and tried to regulate his breathing. The shock was almost too much for him to withstand.
She watched him try to pull himself back together and she felt as if she had been torn to pieces. For a moment she forgot about Ginny and what she wanted. Was it too late now? Was this it? Would she destroy him if she did this here and now?
She almost reached out to touch and comfort him but something deep inside stopped her. Courage swelled within her. She would not be a coward. She would not resign them both to a life they did not deserve. She deserved to be happy, she deserved to be honest. She deserved to be courageous and fight for what she needed to avoid a life of placid mediocrity. She deserved to be lit on fire and driven crazy with desire. He deserved someone who felt that way about him.
It was late, yes, but better than not at all.
"Ron," she said calmly as he looked up at her for this explanation. "I wasn't joking."
"W-What?" he stuttered, looking up at her.
"I'm sorry, I really love you, Ron. And I really didn't want to lose you. That's why I've kept this up for so bloody long. I was so afraid I'd lose you. If I lost you then I'd lose everything and be completely alone," Hermione said shakily.
"I'm missing something – are you leaving me?" Ron spluttered, pushing himself up to standing.
"I am," Hermione swallowed, trying not to break down.
"Actually leaving me? How can you be leaving me?" Ron asked, his voice escalating.
"I'm so sorry Ron," she repeated.
"It's our fucking wedding day!" he yelled, completely horrified. "We just got married! You just promised to be with me forever so how can you leave me on our wedding day?"
Hermione was sure that the entire tent could hear their conversation now. Even without spells or extendable ears, Ron was loud enough.
"Hermione – Why?" Ron asked, eyes wide and wild. "We're happy! We've been happy for so long and this is what happy people do. They get married. We have a house! We were going to have kids in a few years, remember? We planned our lives, Hermione! When did this happen?"
"I know it doesn't seem like it," Hermione swallowed sorely. "Because this is the most terrible timing ever, but this way is far kinder to both of us than continuing on like this."
"Fuck your platitudes, Hermione!" Ron said incredulously. "How dare you? How could you?"
"I'm sorry," Hermione said quickly.
"I don't need you to say you're sorry," Ron whimpered, squeezing his eyes shut and attempting to clear his head.
"I don't understand," Ron pleaded, grasping hold of her limp hands. "Make me understand. This is a nightmare, I know it is. This doesn't make any sense."
"Ron," Hermione started before taking a deep breath as she looked in his eyes. "I'm not in love with you. I love you, I'll always love you – but I'm not in love with you. I can't be."
"Is-Is there someone else?" Ron asked with great difficulty, furiously wiping his eyes. "Have you been… Is there someone else?"
"I am in love with someone else," Hermione admitted quietly, not looking at him. He immediately pulled his hands out of hers with a look of disgust and staggered back.
"I can't believe it," he whispered to the air around him. "I can't."
"I'm so sorry," Hermione repeated, sliding off her wedding band and her engagement ring. Ron stood with his back to her, arms folded and head bowed. She wasn't sure if he was crying or about to burst into a tirade.
There was nothing more to say. She couldn't make this any better and could probably make it worse. Now was the time to leave.
"I'm just leaving these here," she said quietly, bending down to place the rings in front of her. His back was still turned but she knew that somehow he would find them.
With one last look at her husband and childhood best friend's hunched frame, Hermione turned and pushed back through into the tent.
All eyes were on her, as it should be on her special day. But this was for a very different reason than other Brides. Everyone was congregated together in clumps, apparently all rabidly discussing what had just happened. Now there was only silence. Hermione thought about making an announcement of some sort, to save Ron the burden. However, as she had re-entered alone and the reception had obviously heard their argument it seemed unnecessary.
Instead she faintly smiled at the crowd and looked for her safest path to the exit. As she attempted to dart past her parents, her mother caught hold of her arm.
"What happened there?" Alison demanded, aghast at this unconventional turn of events.
"Are you all right? What happened?" her Dad asked at the same time.
"Ron... Ron and I are over," Hermione said in one breath. "And I can't explain right now because… because I need to run after the woman I'm desperately in love with."
Hermione's mother looked as if she had simply failed to hear her daughter correctly, but could not part her lips to bark questions at her. A faint glimmer of realisation sparked behind Gerald's eyes as the pieces started to fall into place.
As neither had an immediate response to that news, Hermione gave them a quick relieved nod, a tight smile and continued on her way before they recovered.
It seemed like every person she passed fired questions at her about what happened and why. The best she could do was to duck them and block out the ensuing gossip.
Hermione slinked outside and finally smelled the fresh air that accompanied freedom. She was going to head up to the house in the vain hope that perhaps Ginny was still in her room packing. Hermione prayed to no higher power in particular that she hadn't left yet.
Before she made it there she felt a hand on her arm. She whirled around and was faced with the sympathetic figure of Alicia Spinnet who had seemingly followed her outside.
"Alicia, I'm really sorry but I have to—" Hermione started impatiently, her gaze travelling up to the empty Burrow.
"That was… something, Hermione. I never knew you felt for Ginny what she feels for you," Alicia said softly. "I hope you're not too late."
Hermione was taken aback by the kindness in her former Housemates voice but worried by her last sentiment.
"Me too," Hermione barely managed to choke out, averting her eyes.
"To be honest, I thought you were stringing her along. But everyone knows now… And your timing's terrible," Alicia finished with a smile.
Hermione couldn't help but laugh abruptly. "Isn't it?" she replied as she shook her head and grimaced.
"How do you feel?"
"Wonderful," Hermione realised slowly, cocking her head to the side. "Terrible, awful, heinous… but wonderful. I've reached the bottom of the rabbit hole and it's not frightening – it's incredible."
Alicia just smiled bizarrely at her, having no idea what that meant.
"The reason I came after you wasn't to get the gossip - I assume you're going after Ginny?" Alicia asked. Hermione just inclined her head slightly. "Well, you won't find her up there. She went the other way around, across the fields and towards the river. She said she was going to a place she used to play as a child. Do you know it?"
Hermione nodded. She knew it. She smiled gratefully and without another word she rounded the reception tent at speed. She was still vaguely aware of the loud conversation taking place in her inauspicious absence. She wondered if Ron had went back inside yet. She wondered if Molly and Arthur knew. She wondered if her parents had shared the tidbit of information regarding the gender of her actual love.
She pushed these questions out of her mind and ran in the direction Alicia had pointed her towards, leaving the reception, her marriage and her husband in her wake. She hiked up her dress awkwardly and tried to sprint as well as she was able. She cursed herself for not bringing her wand. It was in Ginny's bedroom of all places. There wasn't actually much room for a wand in a boned corset wedding dress and slipping it in her garter seemed rather tacky, her mother had told her.
Still. Nothing productive would come of cursing what she did not have. What she did have was an eager heart and sharp eyes. She would find Ginny, she just had to after what she had just done. She couldn't be gone yet, could she?
Hermione remembered Ginny in the bridal tent, so void of hope. Hermione chose to believe that there was still a shred lingering after that would cause Ginny to wait just a little longer.
And if she had already Disapparated and grabbed the next Portkey to mainland Europe, then Hermione would find her.
As Hermione reached the top of the hill she could see the countryside for miles around. She saw where the fields were intercepted by a running stream – the stream that Alicia had talked about. Frantically, her gaze raked the scene for Ginny. She would find her. She would.
Hermione's mouth curved into a triumphant smile.
She had found her.
I blink as a single figure invades my vision of the setting sun. That woman in the white dress. And she's tearing down the hill, heading straight for me.
"Ginny! Ginny! Stop, wait! I'm coming!" Hermione calls as she runs at a staggered pace down the steep hill. The speed at which she is hurtling down could cause her to fall at any moment. I won't be there to catch her. And I don't know what new torture she has envisioned for me now, coming after me like this.
I want to turn away and run. Even more efficiently, I could half turn and Disapparate and be hundreds of miles away from her before she has the chance to reach me.
I'm too slow; cursed by curiosity and the desire for just that little extra inch of hurt. More than anything, the option of being in her presence again is too much to resist. As she closes the distance, I see her face is shining. Something is desperately different.
She doesn't waste any time after she grinds to a halt in front of me. She leaves no time for my sharp inhalation and a gruff dismissal.
"I'm coming with you," she blurts out, breathless and almost manic.
"W-What?" I stagger. That was the last statement I expected from her and my comprehension skills are so poor in the wake of that declaration that I can barely understand what exactly she's getting at.
"Coming with you," she repeats in a steadier voice.
"Hermione… I don't… Your life is here. You can't come with me," I tell her, exasperated and flabbergasted. I'm still not understanding what she's trying to say to me. Coming with me? What the Hell does she mean by that?
"My job is here. My family's here. All my stuff is here. But that's not my life. My life is here," she implores me, placing a gentle hand over my chest. The sudden contact of her warm fingertips on my cool flesh releases a wave of shivers.
"Don't be a complete fucking idiot," I mumble, pushing her hand away. "You're going on your honeymoon. Your reception's still—"
"No, Ginny, don't you be a complete fucking idiot!" she laughs softly. "Don't you get it? I've just walked out on my reception. And my honeymoon? I think it's off. I just told Ron that I'm leaving him, I told my parents that it's over – I think the whole party heard."
"W-What? You what?" I stammer, eyes wide and not able to fully process this information.
"I left him," she says simply, not taking her eyes from mine. "I told him I'm in love with someone else. I told him it's over."
"No," I blurt out. I can't work out if this is reality or a hallucination. "No, this isn't… Tomorrow you'll just… Tomorrow you'll go back…"
"No, I won't," she breathes out calmly, taking my hands in hers. "You are my tomorrow. I want you - I need you to be my tomorrow. That's what nearly killed me as I sat there listening to everyone toast the newlyweds and wish us a happy life together. And I thought about tomorrow. I'd wake up in Bermuda, half a world and a whole life away from you. And when I got back, I wouldn't see you because you'd be gone. I wouldn't see you tomorrow, or probably any day after that for a long, long time. I need you in all my tomorrows, Ginny."
"You're serious…" I establish slowly, her beautiful words overwhelming me.
"Of course I'm serious!" she grins. Her patience is not waning. "I'm sorry it took me such a long time to get here. I'm sorry I didn't understand days, months, years ago. I'm sorry I denied myself from loving you for so long and wasted all this time. I know we've both went through a lot to get to this point. But this is the point, Ginny. Us. Here. Now. We made it and I don't waste to waste another moment," she finishes breathlessly, taking my hand with a slight hesitation, entwining her fingers through mine and bringing it up to her mouth for a kiss.
I cannot stop the surge of elation that manifests as a ridiculously goofy grin. I think I get it now. She grins similarly back at me, clutching my hand to her chest.
"Well?" I smirk, barely unable to stop myself from bursting into fits of joyful laughter. "What are you wasting time trying to convince me for?"
Her lips purse playfully as she shakes her head in faux menace as if warning me that I shall be chastised for my impudence. That would be fine with me.
Instead of the haughty lecture I've become so used to, she grins as she slips a hand in my hair, to the back of my neck and swiftly pulls me to her for a sweet, painless kiss. Inside, my deep, dark wells of suffering and loneliness become unbridled fountains of joy and hope. My liberation from the constant oppression of love is more euphoric than I ever could have imagined.
No more struggle, no more desperation – This is it. This is what I've been waiting for. All those hurtful, horrible events that have caused me to hate myself as I betrayed those I love; All those empty nights searching for someone who simply wasn't there; All those lies that I've told to shield myself from the world; All the long hours of yearning and weeping: All this and more has lead to this one moment in time. It's not over, it's just beginning and I couldn't fathom feeling more magnificent.
I can't stop feeling her, kissing her and it appears she's feeling a similar lack of restraint. Oh, to never be parted again. At this rate, I don't think it'll ever be physically possible. She offers gentle promises of love and tomorrows for me to have and to hold.
She sighs blissful words of love and adoration into my mouth, which I full-heartedly return. Our lips meet again because there is nothing more wonderful that we could be doing right now.
This is how I think every love story spread across years and littered with broken hearts should end: With a passionate kiss and a heartfelt promise of forever in front of the dying sun.
Authors Note: And now, the end is here. And so I face the final curtain. To commemorate this, I'd like to do a little gushing and to thank some people that have constantly encouraged, reviewed, chatted, poked, prodded and just been gleefully silly.
From LJ: redbeargrl (who welcomed me with open arms, pimped me and whooped, grimaced, gushed and growled appropriately and wrote some of the most beautiful comments), lashlarue (who always gave good bear warnings, encouraged and gave lovely feedback – even though she's threatening to set this house elf on me half the time… Or put me over her knee), zee014 (for all the pretty picspam that will fill the lonely nights now this is done-should you get back to posting mo' damn picspam), accoustics1220 (who followed from fictionalley and not only still remembered it after years but continued and gave me the same f-love as always), popthetoaster (always good with the first reaction and lovely things ;) ), hggw31 (unwavering and thoroughly lovely reviews – always makes me smile) gj7x (who said she made an lj just so she could comment ;) and for the much encouragement)and many, many others.
From : Cloogle (who, looking back, always seems to be one of the first to read a new chapter and say lovely things), hpequalsgreatlit (who seems to have stuck with it for a very long time and gives good comment), xonaomiox (who always posts the kind of reviews that make me smile), Jezebel/Company Calls (for this: "i am simply in awe of your brilliance" and many more wonderful comments). s3xy-lady (another long-timer and ever so good at the polite but firm poke to update), Zelz Saihitei (for wonderful, detailed comments on the technical side), flOAtIngOndAmArIs (someone who stuck with it for quite a while, gave me encouraging comments and I only hope you made it to the end) ChrisGranger (long timer and ever so good at the reviews which turn me into a happy lump), morte206 (for the oft lovingly emotional analysis – that's what I adore), zoner04 (for the lovely song amongst others) and ridiculously many, many more
If I haven't mentioned you personally and given you my undying gratitude when you think I should have then I apologise profusely and my ass is yours to kick.
I write because I enjoy it and if no one had read then I would've have minded – but hearing from people that they identified personally with situations, emotions, characters etc made it intensely more gratifying. That's why fandom's awesome. I honestly don't know what my next fic will after this – I have a few ideas, a few unposted and unfinished kicking around – but you can find me over at LJ (lynsangelic1) should you feel the need to pop by for a chat and a cup of tea.
And to everyone who has lurked, read and enjoyed: thank you as well. I've enjoyed it but I hope it was worth it for anyone who patiently waited and still cared when it was updated months apart... :p
(In addition: I have considered an epilogue. But we all know what a fucking awful horrible hash JK made of it – so what hope have I? grin)