Summary:

Breaking up is hard to do, but Ron and Hermione are about to learn that trying to put the pieces back together is even harder.

Author's notes:

There will be some swearing from Chapter 3 onwards (Hurrah!), hence rating.

Not remotely DH-compliant ('cos that epilogue was rubbish)

Hope you enjoy, and please review!


F A U L T L I N E S

by Pinky Brown


Chapter One: The Letter

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I re-read Harry's letter for the umpteenth time, with shaking fingers.

"Hey Hermione,

Friday night's fine with me, as long as you provide the paintbrushes and some beer! It shouldn't take more than a few hours to do the whole room, even if we do it the Muggle way. Famous last words, I know! Oh, by the way, I thought three pairs of hands might be better than two, so Ron is coming. Hope that's OK. See you tomorrow!

Love, Harry."

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Ron is coming. Ron is coming! I feel shaky and sick and have to sit down, still staring at the letter in my hand as though the words might change their meaning. How can Harry write something like that in such an offhand manner? "Oh, by the way…" "Hope that's OK." No, it's not OK! How can you even ask that? Why is he coming? It's been nearly two years. Maybe Harry's just fed up of never being able to see his two oldest friends in the same room. The same town. Maybe he thinks that after two years, we should be able to be civil to each other. Harry should know better.

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I don't think I can bear to see him again. It's too much. Too soon. Too soon, after two years! All these old emotions I thought I would never feel again are surging through me. Ron is coming. Why, why is he coming? Why now? Maybe he's met someone. Instantly I'm certain this must be the answer. Yes, that's it, he's met someone, and that's why he can come here and help Harry paint my front room when we haven't spoken in twenty three months. He's met someone else, and he's over me, and he's doing this to prove that he is. My stomach gives a funny lurch. I don't know how I feel about this. I don't want him to have met someone else. I know I have no right, but I can't bear to picture him happy with another girl. Even though until yesterday I thought I was over him. Now I realise I haven't even started to get over him.

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I did all my crying in those six weeks before I left. Those awful six weeks where we just screamed at each other for what felt like twenty-four hours a day. Knowing each other all your lives can be a bad thing at times like that. You bring up things you haven't argued about in years. Old wounds get re-opened and gnawed at. You find yourself saying things just to hurt the other person, because you know them so well, you know exactly what buttons to press, where to twist the knife. You find yourself bringing up something he said offhand when you were fifteen, or a row you once had when you were both a bit drunk after a party.

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He said I cared more about my career than I did about him, I said he should be supporting me in what I wanted to do. He said I was always undermining him, I said it wasn't my fault he had no ambition. I said he was being over-emotional, and he said at least one of us seemed to actually care. He brought up Viktor Krum, who I kissed once, when I was fifteen, before Ron and I even got together, and hadn't seen except once by accident, in seven years. I brought up Lavender, who he went out with at school for a few months, again, before we even got together, and who I know he never even really liked. We both said a lot of hurtful things. We rehashed every argument we'd ever had. We broke a lot of plates. It went on like this for weeks.

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By the time I finally left, I was just sick of the whole thing. Sick of screaming my throat raw. Sick of the endless, endless arguments that went round in predictable circles and never seemed to get resolved. Sick of bursting into tears all the time; at home, at work, on the tube, everywhere. Sick of him, too. I was just worn down by everything. It seemed to make sense to put a bit of distance between us, so I could see things more clearly. I knew that eventually he would come after me and we would sort things out and everything would be alright again. But he never did come.

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Days passed, then weeks. I had just moved to a new town, had a new flat, a new job. I threw myself into my work, bought furniture, put up pictures, just got on with things, because what else could I do? For the first few weeks I was just relieved there were no more arguments, grateful for the peace and quiet. I didn't even want to see him. I didn't want any more rows. Oh, I thought about him sometimes, of course I did. But then I'd remember some of the things he'd said and I'd get angry and upset all over again. And the whole time I was so sure he would come. I told myself he'd have to crack eventually. I knew him, I knew he wouldn't let it go on like this indefinitely. I didn't think for one second about going to see him. That's what he does, he comes after me. He always has. Whoever's fault it is, he always comes after me and says that he is sorry. But this time… this time he never came.

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I think we both knew that it was up to me to make the first move. I should have gone to see him, I should have told him I was sorry. I should have gone back. Maybe other people might not have let it go on so long, but we're both stubborn, always have been. He wasn't going to come after me and beg. I left, it was my fault, I should go and see him. And I wasn't going to go crawling back. I thought he should understand that my work is important to me. He should support me in what I wanted to do. And anyway, he'd give in and come eventually, and I'd let myself be persuaded and everything would be alright again. He'd come, because he always came. Wouldn't he? Then after a while, when he didn't… I just carried on. For two years. Now, I don't know how I managed it.

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I look around this flat and it just reminds me of everything I lost. I should have gone to see him. He should have come to see me. We should never have let things get so out of hand. The whole thing started because I went for a job interview without telling him, and we argued about that, and then we started arguing about other things, and then everything just spiralled horribly out of control. I don't know what happened. I don't know how we managed to ruin something that I thought was unbreakable, that had survived twelve and a half years, that had survived a war, in only six weeks. We should have been able to work through it, we should have been able to get past it, we should have a lot of fun making up. But we didn't, because I left.

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And Ron was my life. His family was my family, my friends were friends we had together, his sister was my only girl friend and confidante. When I left him I left all of that behind. I haven't seen any of them since. Well, there was the time about a month afterwards when Ginny turned up unexpectedly in my office and told me that Ron wasn't coping and I needed to come home, and I told her I wouldn't. The last thing she ever said to me was, "I will never forgive you for this."

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I bumped into Fred and George once as well, in Diagon Alley, about a year after I'd left. I could see them exchange worried glances when they saw me approach, but there was no way of avoiding each other. We said hello and then I said, "How is everyone?" and Fred said, stiffly, "Fine." I said, "Oh, good. Everyone?" and there was a pained silence and then George said, "If you want to know how Ron is, just ask." I spluttered and protested but there didn't seem much point in pretending, so I just said, "How is he?" George said, "Fine" and Fred added, pointedly, "Now." Then they both just stood and glared at me, so I made an excuse and left in a hurry. I haven't been back to London since.

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The only person I have any contact with at all now is Harry, and I only see him about once every two or three weeks. Our conversations are always slightly awkward because there's one rather large subject beginning with "R" that we can't talk about, that's still so much part of both our lives. We can't talk about the past at all. We can't talk about people we know, all we can talk about is work and things we've read about in the paper or seen on TV. And Harry doesn't even own a TV, so even those subjects are quickly exhausted. The flat I live in now is owned by Muggles, so it has all the conveniences I never had and never missed when I lived with Ron. A television, microwave, fridge freezer, washing machine, even a power shower, for God's sake. It's funny how quickly you can get used to things again.

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It seems weird now to think I didn't watch television for years, but I didn't. I remember watching it once at my parents' house with Ron years ago, and how quickly he got bored. It was "Friends", I think. He kept driving everyone mad, asking "Who's this bloke again?" "Why don't they just go home for coffee when they only live round the corner?" "Is this supposed to be funny?" I had to drag him out of the room and outside for a walk eventually, just because I could see my mum getting more and more annoyed. He always did have a low boredom threshold.

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Oh God, he used to make me laugh so much. We used to make each other laugh, all the time. I can't remember the last time I laughed. It probably was at "Friends" or something like it, something not real. Friends. I don't have friends anymore. Well, I have Harry, but it's not the same. I know it's a cliché, but Ron was my best friend. We were best friends for six years before - well, before we became more than that. We used to tell people we'd been together for twelve years, because we had, we'd spent nearly every day together since we were eleven. They'd say, that's impossible, how old are you, early twenties? You can't have been together twelve years! Twelve and a half by the time I left. He was part of my life for so long - so long - that being away from him, up here, on my own, was like being a different person.

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Maybe that's why I let it happen. It felt like it wasn't really happening, or that it was happening to someone else. Maybe I was in shock. Maybe I was in shock the whole time, and today… today was like having someone throw a glass of water in your face. I feel as though I just woke up from a bad dream. I can't believe it's been over two years. How did that happen? Why am I here? Why is he there? Why did I let things go on this long? Why am I only now getting round to painting this flat? Is it because it's never really felt like home? I hardly spend any time here, I just work, and sleep, and watch TV. Sometimes I leave the telly on at night because it drowns out all those night-time sounds that might otherwise keep me awake. I'd never lived on my own before and I kept waking up thinking, "What's that noise?" I even started sleeping with my wand under my pillow. After all we went through with Harry you'd think I could cope with a few burglars, wouldn't you?

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Ron used to say proudly that I wasn't afraid of anything, but I knew that wasn't true. It was only really true when he was there with me. I always felt safe then. Ron made everything okay. Ginny once said to me that we'd been through so much together there she didn't think there was anything we couldn't handle, but she was wrong.

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I thought about getting a cat once, just so I wouldn't be on my own. Another cat, I should say. I used to have a cat but he got run over. Ron found him all crumpled and bloody in the gutter and carried him home in his arms. Oh, I cried so much. Poor Crookshanks. The perils of living in London. Apparently something like 70 per cent of domestic cats are killed by road accidents. I must have read that somewhere. Anyway, my lease doesn't allow me to keep pets, and I live on the second floor, so it wouldn't have been practical even if it did. So it's just me, up here on my own, in this flat. It's much bigger than our old flat, but there's only me in it. I've lived here two years, but I don't think I've ever really lived in it. It feels empty, this flat. Even with all my books in it and the new furniture that I bought, and all the files and cardboard boxes piled up everywhere that I brought home to work on at weekends.

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Ron never had much stuff but what he did have was always lying around all over the place, taking up room. Before we moved in together he said, "You never know, I might turn out to be really tidy", but of course he didn't. Big surprise. He used to say that all the time. It was one of his stupid little Ron phrases. I'd hear other people saying it sometimes and it always made me laugh. He had a sarcastic streak a mile wide. We could both be very dry, especially me. In fact, I remember he once said that I was so dry he could use me as a towel, and I said anytime, and he laughed so much at that he nearly choked on his drink.

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He was the only one who thought I was funny. Everyone thought Ron was funny, he was well known for it, but nobody would ever have said that about me. Sensible, boring, serious Hermione. We'd be talking to people sometimes and one of us would say something that only we would get, and we'd both start laughing, or nudge each other, or just catch each other's eye and know exactly what we were laughing about. That kind of shorthand you develop when you've know each other as long as we had. We wouldn't even need to say anything. We were at a party once, and I caught his eye across the room and seconds later he appeared at my side with my coat, like he knew, just from that look, that I'd much rather be at home in my pyjamas with a nice cup of tea and my feet up, and that what I'd really like was for him to bring me hot buttered toast and lie on the sofa with his head in my lap.

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We had a little flat in Archway, just off Highgate Hill. Some people might have tried to pretend it was really Highgate, but it wasn't, it was Archway. Even though we were renting it from wizards, we still couldn't have afforded to live in Highgate. It wasn't much, but it was ours, and I loved it. I miss it. I miss the patchwork quilt we had on the bed in Winter that Ron's mum made us as a moving in present, and the photographs of family and friends we put up on the wall, and all my books piled up from floor to ceiling, and his socks all over the floor. I miss him bringing me bacon sandwiches in bed on Sunday mornings. I even miss the stupid bright orange flashing Chudley Cannons season chart that Ron insisted on putting up on the back of the kitchen door every September. He'd fill in the results every Saturday evening, usually grumpily when they'd inevitably lost another match. How many weekends were ruined because he supported a team who hadn't won the League in over a century? Typical Ron. Always sticking up for the underdog.

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Oh, and I miss him airing his trainers on the window ledge. He laughed the first time he saw someone else doing it - "Muggles are weird!" - but then he started doing it as well. We'd be about to go out and he'd be running around the flat swearing like mad having completely forgotten he'd put them outside to air. I used to think he'd grow out of the swearing, but after a while I got used to it. Sometimes I'd tell him off, but mostly I'd just let it go. And anyway, he knew I didn't like it so he started apologising before I'd even said anything. "Where are my fucking shoes - sorry, Hermione!" Now I think about it, that was pretty sneaky of him, because then he still got to say it but I couldn't complain because he'd already got his apology in first. Damn him! He was always much smarter than he gave himself credit for.

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Oh, I miss that flat. Our lovely little flat with the tap that always dripped, and the bathroom window that was painted shut, and the creaky floorboard on the landing. I think one of the reasons we liked it so much was that we briefly lived in another flat nearby, but we had to move out after only two weeks. It was about half a mile further down the hill, closer to the tube and the shops and the noise and the people. It was alright for the first few days. We were just so excited to finally have our own place, even though it was above an off-licence and drunks would hang around outside. We used to lie in bed listening to them arguing in the street below, and laugh, and wonder aloud if we should call the police; "Only if we hear breaking glass or screaming…"

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It stopped being funny pretty quickly though. On the fourth day we lived there I came home and one of the drunks was sitting on our doorstep and started abusing me while I was trying to get my keys out of my bag. Ron said he didn't like the idea of me being out there in the dark and one of them trying to grab my bag, or worse. I said I'd fought Voldemort, and I thought I could cope with a few drunks. We argued, quite badly. And then two days later Ron got mugged on the way home, 200 yards from our front door. They were just kids, about fourteen or fifteen years old, and one of them had a kitchen knife. Ron said he knew he had his wand in his back pocket, but he calculated his chances of getting to it in time against the fact that they were clearly desperate or on something, otherwise why pull a knife on a young fit bloke of six foot three when there were plenty of easier targets around. So he decided not to risk it and just handed over his wallet. I was very glad he did.

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And as for why they picked on him… I think there is a statistic that young men are much more likely to be the victims of violent crime than just about anyone else. And Ron is more conspicuous than he realises. He's tall and he has the reddest red hair you've ever seen, and just that alone seems to annoy people for no reason at all. Not to mention that he is a wizard and he sometimes dresses, well, in a way that some Muggles might consider to be slightly peculiar. So he is an easy target. A couple of times in pubs or in the street complete strangers have started in on him for no reason at all. Maybe it's just a London thing, but I don't think so.

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God, he was shaking so badly when he came in I had to make him a cup of tea with four sugars in it. Of course, they didn't get much for their trouble because Ron never carries much Muggle money, only a ten pound note and a few coins, for emergencies. All they'd have got apart from that would have been some "funny foreign money" that no bank would exchange and a photograph of me in my pyjamas that for some reason Ron liked and carried around with him.

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Typical Ron, he was worried that they'd find the photo and see him go into our house, and they'd know I lived there too, so he walked around the block a couple of times in a daze before coming home. We started looking for somewhere else to live the very next day. So when we found our little flat we were just pathetically grateful. Ron used to complain because we had to walk up Highgate Hill to get to it, but I knew he didn't mind really. We'd go up to the Woods or the Heath for long walks on Sunday afternoons and Ron would always say, "Why can't we just Apparate there? What's the point of being a wizard if you have to walk everywhere?" I'd say, "The exercise is good for you," and he'd say, "Yeah, but we're going there for a walk, the exercise bit's already covered..." Or; "I can think of much better ways to keep fit than walking up hills..." We used to be able to argue each other into a corner, but in a good way.

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I remember our first Winter in that flat. We moved in in late October. I know this because I remember walking up to Parliament Hill on Bonfire Night and watching the fireworks going off all over London, and the lights of the city spread out below us as far you could see. It really felt like the start of something wonderful. There was something incredibly romantic about it, standing on the top of the world, holding hands - even with thick gloves on! - as though we'd just arrived at the start of our lives and here were all the possibilities of the city opened up to us. I remember showing Ron how you could write your name in the air with a sparkler, and how fantastic he thought it was that the word would just hang there, your name written in light - "like magic!" Of course, it worked for him - only three letters in his name! I'd start writing and by the time I'd got to the "M" the first three letters would have disappeared.

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I kept forgetting how many things I took for granted about the Muggle world Ron didn't know. Little things like not realising you had to put a pound coin in the slot to get a trolley at the supermarket. He never got the hang of the money the whole time we lived there. I don't imagine he's got his head around it now. He never liked getting the Tube either. He'd take buses if he had to use Muggle transport, so at least he could see where he was. This from someone who thought it was perfectly normal to travel by fireplace!

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Poor Ron, I'm sure that if it wasn't for me he wouldn't have lived in London at all. He'd drop these clanking great hints about us moving "back" to the country, even though I wasn't from the country, and had never expressed any desire to go and live there. "When we move back to the country", he'd say, "I think we should get a pig!" Or, when we were kept awake all night by the neighbours upstairs apparently playing basketball, "When we move back to the country, we won't have any neighbours!" I just humoured him; "Yes, Ron, maybe in ten years…"

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I always wanted to live in London, he never did. I wanted the bright lights, the noise, the people, to be in the centre of things. The drunks outside the door, the kids with knives, the noisy neighbours, the constant traffic noise, the cars that run over your pets… Now I live in a much smaller town, I find I don't even miss it, ironically. I miss our little flat. I miss him. And besides, I'm a witch, I can live anywhere in the country and Apparate to work in three seconds flat. He said that to me when I left; "Why do you have to go, why can't you stay here?" And he was right, I didn't have to leave. I was so sick of all the arguing that in a fit of pique I told him it was a condition of the job and I had to move up here or they'd give it to someone else. I lied to him. And then, once I'd lied, I couldn't tell him that actually, I didn't have to go after all. I came up here to find somewhere to live, and I packed up all of my stuff, and before I even knew it, it was the day I was supposed to leave. I don't think I ever really thought I would have to go through with it. I don't think he ever really thought I would go.

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Funnily enough, that last day we didn't argue at all. I suppose we both realised this was actually it, I was leaving, and he wasn't going to be able to stop me, no matter what he said. He didn't speak to me all morning, actually. He watched me packing up the last of my things and tidying up and generally delaying it until I'd run out of excuses not to go. And finally, when I couldn't delay it any further, I told him, "Well, I'm off, then." As though I was just going away for the weekend! I went to give him a hug - I'm sure I thought I was being terribly adult about the whole thing - and he held me very tightly and said, hoarsely, "Don't leave". And I left.

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Harry didn't say as much, but I gather that after a few months Ron couldn't afford the rent on his own so he had to move into Harry and Ginny's spare room. It was supposed to be temporary, but he's still there. Knowing Ron, I bet he hates it. He's never liked what he sees as sponging off Harry, and I'm sure he must see it as charity, that Harry lets him stay because he feels sorry for him. Because I left him. I left him on his own. He's not good on his own. He mopes. He dwells on things. He talks himself down. I knew that, and I left him anyway. I can cope better; I'm an only child, I'm used to it. Ron's the second youngest of seven. He hates silence, it makes him nervous, always has. I suspect that's partly why he'd always be the one to come after me when we argued. I could always win just by refusing to continue the argument. I can hear him now, wailing, "Oh, don't give me the silent treatment! Anything but that!"I didn't speak to him once for about three months, and that just about killed him. Mind you, that was at school, and we weren't even going out then. I only started speaking to him again because he nearly died - Oh. I haven't thought about that in the longest time, and my stomach just gave a funny lurch remembering it. Why is he coming? Why now? Why drag up all these feelings and memories I thought I had buried forever?

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Next: Ron's back!