Disclaimer: I don't own it, if you couldn't tell.
A/N: Part one of two.
As It Always Would
When it ended, as (if she was being perfectly honest with herself) Hermione always knew it would, there was a surprisingly small amount of commotion. Oh sure, she and Ron didn't talk for a few weeks, and yes, she did sob in Ginny's arms more than once, and true, they both got drunk several times with friends, but after a while, everything just sort of slid back into place.
"Hey," the redhead said, with all his typical Ron eloquence. It was the first thing he had said to her since the "Fuck you, I don't care either," he had screamed at her back as she walked out of their apartment.
Hermione looked up from the book she was pretending to read.
"Hey," she said back.
And everything was alright.
All she wants to do is kiss him again, which really, given the circumstances, is completely inappropriate.
She's hurting too, she tries lamely to defend herself to the judging inquisition in her mind. She's fucking aching with all this stuff. She knew that when it ended it was going to be nasty, and to be honest, she's still amazed they all emerged alive, but she wasn't expecting the hurt.
And yet, all she wants to do is kiss him again.
Hermione is always thinking, except for that brief moment she hurled herself into Ron's arms and finally did what she'd been fantasizing about since second year. It was the right thing to do then, in spite of it all, in spite of the fact that they were all about to die, to just take the moment and snog the hell out of the man she loved. It fit.
But now, it's after, and she hadn't really thought about that. There are too many funerals, too many messes to clean up, too many nights she wakes up almost screaming because she keeps seeing Hagrid walk out of the forest with Harry limp in his arms. Looking at baby Teddy is like a stab in the chest, watching Molly's fierce grip on all her sons chokes up her throat, and seeing George alone hurts possibly the most, hurts in ways she would have never thought before to describe.
Besides, she has no idea if he wants to kiss her. Sure, he kissed back, but that was in an extreme situation, everyone's emotions running high. Harry probably would have kissed back if he had been the one she jumped. Ron hasn't really said anything lately, not to anyone. He stays with his mother, helps George at the shop, even studies for the NEWTS they still get to take. He's like a different Ron, only still hungry.
It's incredibly frustrating.
Two months after The End (as she can't help but think of it), she officially gives up. Done. So ends the saga of Hermione and Ron, doomed to be a tale of missed opportunities, mixed messages, and one completely oblivious boy who can't seem to pull his head out of his arse.
She thinks she'll leave the country for a while. She still needs to find her parents, after all.
"Balancing," she told Ginny over lunch. "We just couldn't balance each other and everything else we wanted to do. His traveling, my work schedule…and we both wanted our jobs, you know? We love our jobs. Both of us." She began to gesture with her fork, completely missing the glazed look in the redhead's eyes. "It's like, we each had a scale, and we put our jobs on one side, and each other on the other, and it came out…no, no, bad metaphor, it's like we only had so much room to carry things, like pack mules, or something…"
"Immaturity," she said to Harry while they were unpacking her books in her new apartment. "I'm not saying it's him that's the immature one, I mean the whole relationship was immature. We fell in love when we were twelve, of course it couldn't last. We both need new things, new experiences. It's like we were kids pretending to have a relationship. It's always been playground rules with me and Ron, we just can't function as proper adults around each other…"
"Fantasy," she told Ron one day while they watched a movie together. "On the ethereal plane of fantastic ideas and wonderful relationships, you and I were superstars. We were epic. But here in the real world, it just didn't quite work."
"You're mental," he said, and got up to get another butterbeer.
"Aren't you curious why we didn't work?" She shouted after him.
"We just didn't, Hermione," his voice came muffled from the kitchen. "Stop thinking so much."
"Get me one too?"
"You're tan," he says.
They look at each other. She doesn't understand why this is so strange. They haven't even hugged yet.
He seems to have the same thought and moves towards her awkwardly. The hug is clumsy, stilted, and nothing like she remembered. He smiles a little when they move apart and start walking towards the Burrow.
"Mum'll be happy to see you, she never shuts up about when you're coming back. Harry's out right now, he was angry he couldn't be here right when you showed up, but his training, you know…"
They enter the house and Hermione is hit by a ferocious Ginny hug.
"Took you long enough! Four months, what the hell were you thinking?" Her friend berates as she squeezes her half to death.
"Gin…I can't breathe," Hermione wheezes.
The younger girl releases her.
"How are your parents?"
Hermione nods. "Good, good, they're staying in Australia actually, they really love it there." Why is she so uncomfortable?
"Mum's in the kitchen, come on, she'll be furious if you don't say hello right away." Ginny charges off, full of irrepressible energy.
Hermione and Ron are left in the entry room together. It is far too small.
"Well," she says lamely. "Better go."
They both try to move forward at the same time, bump into each other, laugh nervously, and finally, after much hesitation and several false starts, Hermione leads the way, suddenly anxious to not be looking at him.
So this must be what it feels like to fall out of love, she thinks.
It's just sex, she kept telling herself. Just sex, just hot, wild sex.
Hermione threw the rejected dress onto her bed and went back to her closet to find a different one.
So what if this was the first dinner they were having together? It couldn't be a date. It wasn't a date. You went on dates with people you liked, not people you hated and just happened to have incredible sex with.
Hermione let out a snarl of frustration as she ripped off yet another rejected dress. Why did she care so bloody much?
The doorbell rang, and she froze. Fuck. Here she was in a bra and panties, her silly bra and panties no less, no perfect dress in sight, and there he was already at the door.
A wicked idea suddenly popped into her head, and she smiled a smile that was entirely un-Hermione-ish. She swept the discarded dresses off her bed and onto the floor, slipped on a pair of heels, and walked out of the room.
It was just sex. They weren't dating, they were being…naughty. Or something. So if she answered the door in just her underwear, that kept it firmly out of date territory, right?
She almost giggled as she reached for the handle, but composed herself and set in body in what was undoubtedly a sexy and alluring pose.
"A little early, aren't you?" She purred seductively as she smoothly opened the door and promptly slammed it again.
"Ron! What the fuck are doing here?!"
"Oh, God, Hermione, what the hell are you doing?"
"It's my bloody apartment, isn't it, I…" She felt like her face was going to literally implode from embarrassment.
"What are you doing answering your front door in your knickers?"
"I wasn't exactly expecting you to show up, now was I?" She screamed at him as she frantically searched for something to cover up with. She spotted a blanket on the back of the couch and draped it around herself in some semblance of decency before opening the door. Ron entered, hand covering his eyes.
"I'm not looking, I'm not looking," he mumbled right before he tripped on her rug.
"I'm covered Ron, it's fine."
He tentatively lowered his hand from his face, ears as red as his hair, and grinned shyly.
"Bloody hell, why couldn't you have worn that when we were going out?"
Hermione blushed again and hit him.
"You never asked."
"A bloke doesn't always have to ask, does he? I mean, once in four years could have been nice…"
"Shut up, Ron." Hermione clutched the blanket tighter to her body and tried to regain some semblance of dignity. "Now. What are you doing here?"
"I came for some advice about Padma, but you're obviously a little busy. When did you start shagging someone?"
"None of your business."
"I'm your best friend. You haven't dated anyone since we broke up, it's my business."
"Who?" he asked accusingly.
Hermione sniffed. "That guy from accounting, once. And Dean for about a month."
"We didn't really talk about it to other people, anyhow, I still don't see how it should matter to you."
Ron grinned. "Two guys in two years, Hermione, impressive."
"Well, three, if you count the mystery man." Ron said, sitting on the back of her couch and settling himself casually. "Who is he?"
Hermione resisted the urge to slap the smirk off his face.
"Ron, tell me what you want, so I can just do it and get you the fuck out of here."
"Am I interrupting?" a voice drawled.
Ron's head whipped towards the door and Hermione closed her eyes prayed for a giant chasm to open up beneath her and swallow her whole.
"That is my name, yes."
"YOU'RE SHAGGING MALFOY?!"
"Weasley, say it again a little louder, I don't think they heard you on the continent."
"He has a bit of limited vocabulary, doesn't he Granger? Sexy blanket."
Hermione almost opened her eyes, but decided against it.
"Ron," she said, trying to keep her voice calm. "I believe you've met Draco."
"You pet a kangaroo?"
"My mum's just mad about them. We went to this wildlife preserve at least once a week. She loves them."
Hermione leans over Harry's sleeping form to grab a handful of cherries. The three of them are sitting outside of the Burrow, having a picnic and catching up. After hugging Hermione and stuffing his face, Harry, who had just returned from a vigorous session of Auror training, quickly slid into sleep on the old blanket Mrs. Weasley had provided.
Ron and Hermione sit in silence. Not exactly a companionable silence, Hermione thinks, more like the awkward silence that happens when you realize that for all intents and purposes, the two of you are alone and you have too much to talk about to actually start talking.
She eats cherries instead of looking at him.
Ron clears his throat a little and shifts. This does not make Hermione's heart lurch, as it would have before, because she is no longer in love with him. She keeps one of the cherry stones in her mouth, rolling it around and smoothing it with her tongue.
"We all missed you, you know," he finally says.
Hermione shifts the stone to her cheek.
"I missed you all too."
Silence again. Ron coughs slightly. She wonders if he has a throat condition.
She stood in front of his door for ten minutes without knocking, just staring at the handle.
I should go, she thought, but her feet were rooted to the floor beneath them.
Hermione raised her fist tentatively, preparing to make contact with the wood, but her concentration was broken by the sound of people moving inside the apartment.
"Susan, I'm just nipping down to the shops, be back in a moment," Hermione heard a male voice say on the other side, followed by a muffled female response.
Her resolve suddenly drained away, Hermione started moving as quickly down the hallway as she could, but before she could even reach the landing, the door opened and Ron stepped out.
The redhead looked at her for a moment, eyes narrowed in confusion.
"Hermione? What's going on?"
Hermione stared back at him and suddenly, alarmingly, dissolved into tears.
Before she even knew what was going on, Ron had her in his arms, supporting her as she sunk to the floor.
It's been three months since Hermione returned and fell out of love with Ron Weasley, but she's beginning to wonder why she measures time like that. One week since she loved Ron, two weeks since she loved Ron…Hermione might have always been a little delusional when it comes to the redhead, but she's not that delusional.
It's a big change, she thinks. Clearly it's bound to be a little weird. She's loved him for so long, not loving him takes some getting used to.
After she scores perfect NEWTS, she gets an incredible job working for the Ministry, head of a department she suspects Kingsley created just for her: the Department for Disenfranchised Magical Creature Welfare. A bit of a mouthful she knows, but enough of a blanket term that she can turn her attention where it's most needed. House elves sometime in the future, but for now, Muggleborns and Squibs. Ron and Harry help her move into her office, which is so large she has no idea what she'll put in it. By the time she's all moved in, though, she realizes that she still has too many books for the amount of bookcases she has, and soon, the entire space is cluttered by stacks of paper, making the entire room look much more disorganized than one would expect of neat Hermione Granger. She likes it, though, spends more time here than she should.
The boys drop by whenever they can, though, like the day she moved in, they're more of a distraction than anything. She loves seeing them, but when she gets into her work zone, she's not sure she appreciates having the boy-who-lived and the boy-she-no-longer-loves sitting in her desk chair and playing with her paper weights. She sends them out for take-away just to get rid of them, but they always bring it back and coax her out into the Ministry foyer to eat with them. Hermione never admits it, but she does enjoy it when they can get her to forget her about work.
Harry comes by one Monday morning, too early for lunch, a strange, sheepish grin on his face.
"Morning," he says, blushing.
Hermione gives him a quizzical look.
"Morning," she replies, a little suspiciously.
"So…" he drifts towards her bookcase, his hands jammed in his pockets, eyes idly glancing at the book spines.
"So…" she prompts, her pen poised over her work.
Harry reaches out and pulls a book off the shelf, flips through it, replaces it. Hermione's eyes narrow. He is acting far too casual.
"Harry. What's going on?"
He turns toward her with a start, as if he's forgotten she's there. He blushes again.
"Um, what are you doing a month from Saturday?" he finally blurts out.
For one bizarre moment, Hermione thinks he's trying to ask her out.
"Nothing that I know…" she replies, still suspicious.
"Well, cause I…um…" He's stammering a little, anxious. "It's, um, Saturday, I mean, a month from Saturday, it's uh, sort of…well…Gin and I…our…our…engagement party…" A huge grin breaks out over his face as it turns a brilliant red, and he ruffles his hair with one nervous hand.
"Harry!" Hermione squeals, and launches herself out from behind her desk, nearly knocking Harry over in a hug. "When did you propose?"
"Saturday," he replies, laughing. "I took her to Hogwarts, and to the spot we went when we first got together."
Hermione pulls back. "Saturday?" she asks.
He nods, then lets out a short cry of pain and Hermione punches him in the arm.
"It's Monday, you prat! When were you going to tell me?"
"Um, today?" he replies, then hurries on as he sees the expression on her face. "We wanted a couple days of just us…you know…like a secret. You're the first person I told!" He finishes, trying to belay her anger.
At that, Hermione smiles.
"Oh, Harry, I'm so happy for you!" She launches herself at him again.
"Happy about what?"
They look up to see Ron standing in the doorway, smiling down at them.
Something in Hermione lurches, but she tells herself it's just her excitement for Harry.
"I'm going to kill him."
"I am. I'm going to make that creep wish he'd never been born."
"You're not going to kill him, Ron."
"Yes. Yes, I am."
Hermione closed her eyes wearily and reclined against the back of the couch. She was emotionally and physically exhausted after sobbing in Ron's arms for the better part of an hour. Susan had tactfully left the apartment to give them some space.
"He hurt you."
"It was my fault."
"How in the hell –"
"We weren't dating, Ron! We said we wouldn't get attached, we promised, and I did. So it's my fault."
"He's a bastard."
Despite her present mood, Hermione couldn't help but smile a little at Ron's stubbornness.
"I knew you'd say that."
A hand under her chin forced her to open his eyes and look at him.
"Hermione." His blue eyes were solemn and worried as they gazed into hers.
At that, she felt herself start to tremble again.
"I fell in love with him, Ron," she whispered. "I don't know how, or why. But I did." She caught a breath sharply in her chest. "And he hurt me. He hurt me!"
Unbidden, the tears started to flow again, slow and hot and pulsing. Ron reached out and gathered her to his chest, stroking her hair and kissing the top of her head.
"I know," he said softly as he held her. "Can't I kill him just a little?"
That drew a small snort from her.
"Fine, then. Just a little."
"Who are you bringing?"
Hermione looks up sharply.
Ginny rolls her eyes.
"To the party? Who's your date?"
"I need a date?"
The younger girl smiles at Hermione's consternation.
"You should have one. Not just for the party, you know. It'd be good for you."
"I busy," Hermione grumbles as she turns her attention back to the invitations she's helping Ginny prepare.
"Ron has a date," Ginny says, waiting for the brunette's reaction.
"Oh, really?" Hermione says, her voice incredibly calm.
"Hmm hmm. Some girl he knows from Auror training. Apparently, she's absolutely brilliant."
"I'm sure," Hermione says, carefully inking the name "Dean Thomas" onto a piece of cream colored stationary.
"You know, you could use magic for that," Ginny nods towards the calligraphy pen Hermione holds in her hand.
The older girl shrugs.
"I used to do calligraphy with my mum. I like it. Anyway, I think they look better by hand."
"By your hand, maybe," Ginny laughs. "If I did it, it would look like Teddy wrote them."
"I haven't seen Teddy in weeks. How is he?"
They work in silence for a few moments, until Ginny, fiddling with a piece of ribbon, looks at Hermione.
"So you don't mind?"
"That Ron's bringing someone."
"Of course not," Hermione says, not meeting the redhead's eyes. "Why would I?"
Ginny says nothing, but Hermione can feel that she wants to.
"I ran into Draco the other day," Hermione began mildly, and out of the corner of her eyes, she saw Ron and Harry stiffen.
"Really?" Harry asked.
"Yep." Hermione toyed with some nuts in the bowl in front of her and takes a sip of her drink.
"How was it?" Ron's voice was normal, but Hermione knew that he and Harry were looking at her with concern.
"Just fine." She took another sip, then smiled. "He's getting fat."
Harry chuckled next to her, but Ron wasn't going to let it go that easily.
"Are you alright?" He asked.
Hermione turned on her barstool to face him.
"Ron. We were together for less than a year, over a year ago. I'm fine. Really."
"Okay," he said, but his voice is still a little suspicious.
"Oh for heaven's sake," Hermione turned back to the nuts. "You boys really think I'm going to just perish in heartbreak, don't you?"
"Well, now that Malfoy's fat, no. You clearly won that one," Harry said, motioning to the bartender to bring them more drinks. Tactful as always, he changed the subject. "So Ron, how's Karen?"
The other man shrugged.
"In America, last I heard."
"You broke up?" Hermione asked, her turn now to worry.
"Yeah, a couple weeks ago. She wanted to move in together, I didn't, she said something like 'I can't do this anymore, Ronald,' and then she went to America."
"You okay, mate?" Harry took the beers handed to him by the bartender and passed one down to Ron.
"Yeah, actually. Wasn't too attached, anyway."
"You know Ron, for all the flack you give me for never dating, you sure have trouble holding onto women." Hermione smiled a little into her new martini.
"Hey, I break up with them, okay? You make it sound like they run screaming."
"You'll have to settle down sometime, Ron."
The redhead stole some nuts from Hermione and threw them at Harry, who ducked, grinning. "You sound like my mother. What happened to you?"
"The love of a beautiful woman."
"I've had the love of many beautiful women, thank you very much. Just because you settled for the first one who'd take your stupid gob…"
"Second," Hermione broke in. "There was Cho."
Harry shuddered a little.
"And let's not dwell on that one, thanks. I didn't ask you guys to meet me here to talk about Cho."
"Why did you want to meet, Harry?" Hermione asked, fiddling again with the nuts until Ron stilled her hand, glaring at her.
"Don't touch them all if you aren't going to eat any of them."
She popped a couple in her mouth and glared back.
"When you two are done…"
Chastened, they turned back to Harry, who clearly was about to grin himself to death. They looked at him expectantly.
"Ginny and I are going to have a baby."
Unfortunately, the combination of alcohol and barstools proved to be a dangerous one as Hermione's hug knocked Harry to the ground, her landing on top of him.
"Is she going to do this every time?" Harry croaked, his eyes meeting Ron's.
The other man grinned at him.
The girl Ron brings is brilliant. Brilliant and beautiful, though her nose might be a little too big for that adjective, Hermione thinks, and her laugh is too loud to make her as charming as everyone seems to think she is. Come to think of it, she's really quite annoying, telling those stories and looking at Ron like that. Everyone's probably laughing at her jokes because they feel sorry for her, big-nosed thing she that is.
"That Melissa's funny, isn't she?" Molly says as she floats past Hermione, beaming with joy that her daughter's getting married. It is, Hermione reflects, the first time she's seemed truly happy since Fred died. Happy, but clearly delusional, as Melissa isn't funny at all.
"Funny girl, that," Harry says when she encounters him at the buffet table. "Troy seems nice."
Hermione makes a noncommittal noise, grabs a miniature tart, and walks away from her best friend, who has also clearly lost all perspective on humor.
"Hermione, there you are!"
She looks up at Troy, the eager, young Ministry employee who agreed to be her date enthusiastically. A little too enthusiastically, she thinks. Men shouldn't act like puppies.
"I was just getting a tart," she replies, and he smiles.
"Can I get you a drink? Anything? God, Hermione, have I told you how beautiful you look?"
If he had a tail, she thinks, he would be wagging it.
"Um, another glass of champagne would be nice," she says.
"Okay! Don't move, I'll be back in just a second."
The moment he disappears in the crowd, she beelines around the house to the empty side of the lawn. She leans her back against the wall of the Burrow and closes her eyes. She doesn't know why she feels so out of place. She's so happy for Harry and Ginny, she's glad that everyone seems joyful and light for once, but she can't help feeling like there's an aching expanse in her chest, and she has no idea why.
Troy's cute. He's cute and smart, and he is clearly infatuated with her. Then why does she feel like she'd rather be on a date with McLaggen again then suffer his adoring gaze?
Her eyes snap open and she straightens up quickly, her hands automatically smoothing the wrinkles out of her new blue dress.
"Hey," he says, coming over to her. "I was wondering where you went."
"Oh, you know," she scuffs the ground a little with her toe. "I needed some quiet."
This is clearly a cue for him to leave, as the unexpected beating of her heart is making it anything but quiet. Ron, oblivious as always, doesn't take the hint.
"Me too," he says, and leans against the wall beside her. She fiddles with the folds of her dress, for some reason not wanting to look at him.
"Melissa's wonderful," she says finally, breaking the silence.
"Isn't she? I knew everyone would love her."
"Well, yeah, everyone does!" Hermione forces a little laugh that sounds awkward and strange.
"She was really glad I asked her, you know."
"I'm sure," Hermione mutters, but Ron misses the dark tone in her voice and carries on.
"It's good for her to get out a bit. Her girlfriend's out of town, and she's just been moping around."
"What?" Hermione's head snaps up to look at him. He is clearly surprised by the force of her reaction.
"Her girlfriend. She's off on a mission in Scotland, been gone about two months, and Melissa's just gotten all moody and depressed. Thought it would cheer her up a bit to go to a party."
Hermione stares at Ron, still not comprehending.
"So she…she's a lesbian?"
"Um, yeah," he replies, looking at her as if she's mental. "You okay?"
"So the two of you – you aren't…"
"What? No!" He laughs. "You thought we were together? Merlin, no!"
"Stop laughing at me," she says, looking away again, trying to ignore the fact that her stomach is knotting painfully.
He complies, and straightens up again. When he speaks again, his voice has changed.
"No, 'Mione, it's, I'm not seeing anyone, it's not like that…."
Hermione can't look at him. She won't look at him. Her hands clench in the fabric of her dress as she fights for self-control.
"Hermione," Ron says softly, and suddenly she can't breathe. "You know I…I mean….there's never been…I've always…god, I'm bollocksing this up, aren't I?"
She surprises both of them by starting to cry.
"Hermione, I –" He reaches out and turns her to face him, but she still doesn't meet his gaze. He reaches out and lifts her chin in one hand and finally, she raises her eyes to his. He is looking at her as if she is both light and dark at the same time, and he can't figure out how she came to be here.
"Look, I –" He swallows. "Screw it," and he is finally finally kissing her.
End of Part One