Disclaimer: I am not now, nor have I ever been, mistaken as J. K. Rowling. These are her characters entirely. I make no money from their usage, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Notes: This story is quasi-DH compliant. It was written for the 2007 Winter LiveJournal sshgexchange exchange; the recipient was rayvyn2k. Essentially, I ignored the parts of the novel that I did not feel were unnecessary to the facilitation of this fic.
I would like to take a moment to express my deepest gratitude to DeeMichelle, Jane Average and ubiquirk for their extraordinary beta skills and Brit-picking. These ladies are truly amazing, and I would be lost without their guidance. Any mistakes found within are entirely mine.
Hermione was fairly certain she had slipped into another universe somewhere between the trip from Platform Nine and Three-Quarters to the kitchen of the home she shared with her husband of fifteen years. There was simply no other rational explanation available considering the conversation in which she and Ron were currently engaged. Truth be told, she could not honestly call herself an active participant. From the moment he began to speak to when Ron's words actually penetrated her empty nest haze, all Hermione could do was stare wide-eyed and mentally chant, This isn't real. He's just having a go at me. This cannot possibly be the same man that was just lecturing first years on house loyalties.
"Hermione, please say something … anything," Ron begged, pulling her from her thoughts.
Hermione's tongue was thick and heavy, her mouth a proverbial desert of indecision at just how to proceed. The mental voice of a sure-to-be Woman Scorned raged for her to verbally flay the impostor that stood before her—clearly,her Ron would never say such things to her—while the desperate cries of her confused and wounded heart begged to be saved from drowning in the churning tide of her anguish. Gathering the remains of her fractured courage, Hermione did her best to articulate her worst fear.
"Is … is there someone else?" she whispered with trepidation, her untamed hair curtaining her bowed head.
Ron's beautiful baby blues welled thick with tears at her question. "Kia …" he choked.
Ron's use of his favourite endearment for her—his surprisingly clever turn onknow-it-all—caused a sob of despair to reverberate throughout her already-emotionally-charged body. At the sound, Ron moved immediately to close the physical distance between them.
"Never!" he assured her as his hands reached to cup her face tenderly, raising her head so that their eyes met.
"Let me make this plain: not since that day at Hogwarts, when I kissed you and made you mine, has there ever been even a thought of someone else," he declared, the veracity of his words evidenced by the look on his face.
"Then why?" she pleaded, her voice hitching slightly.
"Because," he paused to press his forehead to hers, "you're too bloody noble and stubborn, and I love you too much to let you keep pretending this is really what you want from life."
Hermione drew back, irritated at his presumptuousness. "Since when did you become an expert in what I wanted?"
"Honestly? When I stopped being a selfish arse and took a good, long look at you, me, and us," he said seriously, brushing away the lone tear that now travelled down his cheek.
Hermione instinctively reached to comfort him, but he stayed her hand with his own. "Do I make you unhappy, then?" she asked.
"Not in the general sense, no, but lately whenever I look into your eyes, I see a longing for something more … the yearning for what could have been, and it just breaks my heart. I can't bear knowing that this," Ron motioned between them, "is holding you back, which is why I have to end it."
"Please let me finish, Kia," he interrupted, pain colouring the tone of his voice.
She pressed her lips together tightly to keep from trapping the tender flesh between her teeth and nodded for him to continue.
"I found the letters, Hermione," he blurted in a rush.
Hermione looked at Ron, confusion evident in her expression, as she was not entirely certain as to what letters he was referring.
"The letters, Hermione," he repeated in aggravation. "The ones from Headmistress Vector, Professor McGonagall, and the Department of Magical Law Enforcement."
Panic flashed across Hermione's face. No! He could not possibly have found them unless …
"Yes, I was snooping in your lingerie drawer," he said perceptively. "Now before you go and have a kitten, it was the first time I had ever been in there. I was looking for that saucy red number Ginny got you for our anniversary. At the time I was hoping, well … you know," he finished sheepishly.
Her mouth formed a distinctive 'o' as she put together his reason for rummaging through her things in the first place. While it did not excuse his invasion of her privacy, she couldn't help smiling at the thought of him sorting through her knickers. Her smile quickly faded though and was replaced by a look of shame as Ron pressed further.
"That's when I came across them. At first I thought it was some sort of trick, but the more I read, the worse I felt. All I kept wondering was why you didn't say anything. Was I so terrible a husband that you felt you couldn't come to me?"
Hermione was completely perplexed about how to respond, fearing that whatever she said would be wrong or misinterpreted.
Ron's famous Weasley temper began to flare at her prolonged silence. "Merlin, Hermione! You didn't even give me a fucking chance. You just made all the decisions for me, for us, without as much as a by-your-leave. Did you honestly believe I would stifle your need to succeed or thirst for knowledge? Have I ever held you back?" he finished in fury.
"Not since we were kids," she whispered, unable to return his ire.
Ron dragged his hand through his ginger hair in what appeared to be an effort to calm himself. "What I'm trying to say is that I never expected you to give up anything for me or to become a copy of my mum. That's the last thing I wanted. I knew exactly what I was getting into when I fell in love with the bossy, bookish, kind-hearted brain of Gryffindor."
The depths of his intuitiveness startled Hermione wholly. Ron had made great strides from his days of perpetual immaturity, growing up to become a positively amazing man. How had she missed it?
Realising she could no longer hide the truth from him, she chose her next words carefully. "I guess I just thought after I had Hugo and Rose that everyone would look to me to fall in step with the rest of the Weasley women." Hermione sighed deeply. "We'd spent a majority of our lives always fighting something. The last thing I wanted was another great battle, and I anticipated it would be, especially with your family and their patriarchal view of things. I think I got lost along the way, trying to blend and be normal, keep things on an even keel," she said, her eyes pleading with him to understand.
He sighed. "But you can't do it by lying to yourself, to me, Hermione. I won't let you, not anymore."
Hermione's eyes closed in resignation. "It's all gone pear-shaped, hasn't it?"
"Maybe so, but it's not the end of the world, love," he said, a solemn look in his eyes. "A lot of good came from what we had. Just look at our two amazing kids."
Hermione gave a watery smile and nodded in agreement at the mention of Rose and Hugo. "So what happens now?"
Ron squared his jaw in determination. "First, you're going to do what you should have done months ago: you're going to march in there, Floo McGonagall and accept the position of O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. tutor at Hogwarts," he stated, pointing in the direction of the fireplace.
She could feel her aggravation building as she stared at him incredulously. "Now you wait just a bloody minute, Ronald Wea—"
He cut across her. "Don't go getting your wand in a knot before you hear me out," he said, waving his hands to halt her forthcoming tirade.
"Fine!" she bit out angrily.
"I'm not trying to undermine your feminist sensibilities, love, but it's time I had some say in things," Ron said sternly. "You need to take some time away from all the memories we have here and figure out who you are and what you want out of life. Besides, this will be a great opportunity for you to get your foot back in the door of academia."
Hermione reluctantly conceded his point with a huff, but not before questioning his turns of phrase. "Feminist sensibilities and academia, Ron? Has Minerva been coaching you, or could it be my bookish nature is finally having a positive effect?"
"Give me a little credit, Hermione," he teased trying to lighten the mood. "You're the smartest person I know. Some of it was bound to stick eventually."
"But how do we tell the kids, my parents, your parents?" she whinged, returning to the subject at hand.
Again, Ron rested his forehead against hers, brushing her nose with his. "We'll do what all responsible couples do when a marriage ends—what we have to: handle it one day at a time."
"They're going to hate me, your family," she said sadly, her shoulders slumping.
"I won't let them, love. We both buggered this to hell. I'll handle my family, don't fret over it another minute. As for your parents, I'll go with you if you want."
The taut worry lines around her eyes and mouth lessened somewhat at his assurance. The last thing Hermione wanted was to lose the near lifetime of closeness she had with her in-laws or become their pariah when they learned of the marriage's demise. "I'd appreciate that," she said with relief.
Ron's voice was wrought with emotion as he stated, "As for the kids, they're smart and well on the road to maturity. I think as long as we're honest with them and show them that we're just as committed to being the best parents tomorrow as we are today, they'll understand. It might hurt for a little while not having their mum and dad together, but in time, they'll see it was for the best."
"What of our friendship? I can't bear the thought of us not being best friends anymore. I don't know how to let you go," she whispered gravely.
Ron kissed her gently, then gathered her into a tight embrace as his tears began to flow freely. "I would be lying if I said there wasn't some fence mending that needed to happen between us, Hermione. You betrayed my trust. But never doubt that you will always be my best friend, now and until the day I die, come what may. Nothing can ever take that away from us."
Hermione began weeping in earnest at his declaration. "I can't believe it's really over," she said aloud as if the words themselves were unbelievable.
"Don't look at this as an end, Hermione," Ron chastised while rocking her tenderly. "If anything, it's just the beginning. We're both marching into the unknown, the next great adventure, armed with knowledge, experience, lessons learned."
Hermione squeezed her husband tightly. After what seemed like a lifetime, she released him and pressed kisses to the corners of his mouth. "For what it's worth, I love you, and I am so sorry."
He bowed his head in acknowledgement of her apology as he reached for a small crock on the kitchen's worktop. "Now if it's all right with you, I'm going to go turn down the bed so we can have one last cuddle," Ron said, pressing the jar of Floo powder into her hands. "Go ahead, love, Minerva's waiting."
As Ron retreated towards their bedroom, Hermione made her way into the sitting room. She set the jar on the fireplace mantle, freeing her hands so they could smooth her face and hair, straightening her appearance. Strengthening her resolve and clearing her throat, Hermione took a pinch of the fine powder, tossed it into the hearth and called, "Minerva McGonagall's quarters."