Disclaimer: I own nothing.

A/N: This chapter is a wee bit depressing. But things start looking brighter towards the end. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Unfortunately, no Draco. Next chappie, I promise.


Chapter Two

Turning the lights back on, Hermione decided it was time to leave. If this was her last night of freedom for the next three months, she wasn't going to waste it at the Ministry. One last hurrah, as it were. However, there was a slight problem. Even if she had no desire to waste her time at work, where would she waste it?

Her flat was woefully empty, the friends she was still in contact with (read: Harry and Ginny) were busy, her parents were out of town, and she had no boyfriend. There was always her old friends, but she hadn't spoken with them in ages and wasn't sure how to get in touch with them. Fortunately, all was not lost. There were three cases full of books waiting for her in her flat, just itching for her fingers to rediscover them. How very…depressing.

Well, who said she needed another person to have fun anyway? She'd go out by herself. But where? She needed something new. Something exciting. Hermione sat back in her chair and dug through her desk drawers. Aha! There it was. Earnest Edgewater's Exciting Excursions: Wizarding London, 1999 ed. She knew it would come in handy one of these days. Perhaps there was one last hurrah left in her, after all.

Even though she'd never opened it, the copy was a bit worse for wear. Not from herself, of course. She'd never harm any of her books, or anyone else's for that matter. The tome's mistreatment had come at the hands of others, and she'd rescued it from the Lycurgus Rochefort Magikal Publik Librarie's used bookstore. It was just around the corner from the Ministry, and she spent many of her lunch breaks there.

Now where to go? She cracked the travel guide open to the middle and began paging through the 'new and exciting' places wizarding London had to offer. Grimstone Gaol? Heard it wasn't nearly as impressive as the Tower of London. Madame Fabuleux Wax Museum? She shuddered, wondering how they'd rendered her likeness. And her hair. Ministry of Magic? Ha! Mordred's Museum of Monsters? They had a new exhibit on Voldemort and Deatheaters. As if she wanted to pay the price of admission to relive the terror and trauma of her childhood. Besides, she'd come across enough giants, acromantulas, and trolls to satisfy her for a lifetime. Next! Newt Scamander's Menagerie of Magical Beasts? Maybe. If she were eight. Twenty year olds were much too old for the zoo. Pemberley Stadium? Yawn, which meant that the Museum of Quidditch was also out. Qizilbash Quality Confectionary Factory? That was more up Ron's alley…

Setting the book down, her eyes drifted to the stack of files still atop her and Malfoy's desks. There really was a lot of work to be done. Hermione gathered the first of Brooker's files, just in case she had a few minutes to spare before her wild night. Oh, who was she kidding? The only place she was going was home. Grabbing as many files as she could fit in her arms, she teetered toward the door. Merlin, she was boring. And depressing. No wonder Ron had dumped her.

By now everyone but security had left. She stared down the hallway at the closed doors of the lift. There was probably no one in there, but given the horror of this morning, it was a risk she was unwilling to take. She headed for the stairs. What were three flights of burning thighs and calves in exchange for some peace of mind?

After some fancy footwork, she'd managed to open the entrance to the stairwell. Once she'd entered, she used her body to shut the door. Looking around and seeing she was entirely deserted, Hermione leaned against the wall, sinking slowly to the floor. Not smart. Now that she was on the ground, she had no idea how she'd get up. Not that it mattered. It wasn't like she had any pressing plans. If she was going to be miserable and alone, the Ministry of Magic's stairwell betwixt Levels Six and Four was as good a place as any.

With her thoughts unoccupied by work, her focus automatically shifted to Ron…and Pansy. Unbelievable! She'd invested nearly a quarter of her life into him and then their relationship. Yet in just one month (ONE!), he'd started dating someone else. She'd barely had the chance to grieve the death of their relationship, and he'd already asked Pansy to marry him. Ron hadn't even done that once in the year they were together.

But that spark of anger was easily soused by the deluge of pain she was currently drowning in. The suffering was indescribable, which was saying a lot considering her history. Yet she'd never hurt like this before. Not from the insults of Death Eaters and the prejudiced bigots and bullies at Hogwarts. Not even during Bellatrix's torture. Not during the war. Not from the loss of friends she considered family. Then she had been fighting an enemy. But Ron…he was her boyfriend, her first love. He wasn't supposed to hurt her, but somehow he'd managed to wound her more than any dark curse ever could.

The tears Hermione had held back earlier in the day somehow managed to crack the dam she'd erected and were slowly seeping out the sides of her eyes. They continued their way down her face, splashing onto Brooker's files, which she tightly clasped to her chest.

Hermione dashed her forearm across her watery eyes. How could she be so stupid! Even up until that morning, she had held out hope that Ron would come back to her. Didn't he know? They were supposed to get married, have a girl and a boy, then live happily ever after. That was the plan, and she'd done everything within her power to accomplish it. But then the impossible happened. She'd failed. And what was a Hermione Granger who didn't succeed? Absolutely nothing.

This was something new, something huge she couldn't wrap her head around no matter how hard she tried. Some might have accused her of overreacting, but they were wrong. Perhaps her feelings for Ron began as a girlish infatuation, but they had long since matured into something far greater than that, something beautiful. She'd loved Ron more than anyone or anything she'd ever loved in her entire life, and she was proud of the way she loved him. She hadn't been selfish, she was considerate of his needs and feelings, encouraging and honest, patient and understanding, but it hadn't been enough.

She hadn't been enough.

A tiny sniffle escaped her nose, and she flinched as it echoed in the cavernous stairwell. To her horror, a few seconds later, it was joined by a few other sounds: huffs of breath, clomping feet, and whistling. There were only a few seconds left before some stranger sprang around the corner of the stairwell and saw her heart-sore, puffy-eyed, and snot-nosed. Not a good combination under any circumstances.

Hermione scrambled to her feet, and in her haste spilled the files across the floor. She stared at them stupidly, on the verge of abandoning them entirely. But something wouldn't let her. Whether it was her own work ethic, the threat of Malfoy killing her, or her stout moral upbringing, Hermione dropped to her knees and began picking up the papers, though she had enough presence of mind to turn her back so the stranger wouldn't see her tear-stained face.

"Hello, there," the person said upon seeing her. Hermione's head snapped up at the sound, and she burned as bright a red as the hair on the head of her "stranger."

"Need some hel…" Ron's voice trailed off as he saw her face.

Forcing her head back down, Hermione kept picking up her papers, hoping Ron would just leave her to her misery. But he didn't. He knelt down and began helping her. With his head bent so close to hers, she could smell his familiar scent. It had been so long, she'd almost forgotten it. A memory she'd been trying to repress wrestled free to taunt her. Her and Ron seated on the couch, cuddled next to each other, watching movies and eating popcorn. Another wave of melancholy washed over her. All she had now were memories, and soon not even those. They'd give way to time and inaccuracy, and then eventually they'd be forgotten altogether without any chance of renewal. Ron was with Pansy now, not Hermione. And he'd never be with her again. Hermione took a deep breath, steeling herself against a very bleak future.

They both stood at the same time, and he handed his stack of papers to her.

"Thank you," she managed, still unable to look him in the eye.

"Don't mention it."

Doing what she should have done earlier, Hermione shrank the files and placed them in the pocket of her robes. Her hands instantly went to the folds of fabric, twisting the material in her fingers as she tried to stand still. For his part, Ron was doing his best imitation of a hornbeam tree. Mute and immoveable. It was all so damned awkward and painful. Fumbling for the doorknob, Hermione decided that perhaps the elevators weren't so bad after all.

"Well…I should be going," she mumbled, turning away.

"Hermione, wait…"

She sighed. Everything in her positively ached with weariness. She didn't want to have this talk. Not here. Possibly not ever. But it needed to be done. Drawing from her stores of energy and dignity, which were running on fumes, she turned back around with a smile on her face. "Yes, Ron?"

He cleared his throat, running his fingers through his already ruffled hair. "I should have told you about Pansy sooner…I never intended for you to find out about it in the papers."

"Perhaps if you hadn't been haunting the Ministry's stairwells for the past month, we would have run into each other sooner. Now, could we speed this up? I'm in a bit of a hurry." The words came out clipped, detached. Just as she wanted.

He snorted, gesturing to her pockets and the shrunken files. "To do what? Work at home?" Ron crossed his arms over his chest, stubbornly lifting his chin. "I knew you'd be like this. That you wouldn't understand."

"No, I don't understand! Please enlighten me, Ron. How is it that you managed to fall in love with Pansy Parkinson and ask her to marry you all within the space of a month? That's quite impressive, considering you were both already in long-term relationships WITH OTHER PEOPLE! And that doesn't even touch upon the fact that you hate Slytherins and that Pansy Parkinson is the most prejudiced, materialistic, and spiteful snake of them all."

Wake up, Granger! This has probably been in the works for a while now.

Malfoy's words roared in her mind, and she took a step towards Ron, whose ears were now an electrifying shade of red.

"You don't like her, fair enough, but she's my fiancé now, and I don't appreciate you talking that way about her. And as for me and Pansy, it's not like I meant for it to happen that quickly. It just did."

Hermione ignored him, too angry to care if she was making a fool of herself and certainly not caring what she said about that pug-faced witch. "But to do it in only thirty days. The destruction of two relationships. Turning love to hate. That's a serious undertaking. For most people it would take a year. Probably two. Or at least a Time-Turner. Did McGonagall lend you hers? Or maybe, maybe it wasn't that complicated at all. Maybe you just cheated on me."

"Wait. What? You think I cheated on you?"

"I don't know. Did you?"

Ron stared back, clearly horrified. "I would never do that to you. I wouldn't even let myself date her until after I'd ended things with you."

"How considerate of you. So how long did you have to struggle with pretending to like me?"

"Hermione, don't be like this."

How did he expect her to act? He'd ripped out her heart, stomped on it, and then handed it to Pansy to do likewise. Under the circumstances, she thought she was being more than civil. But just to humor him…

"Fine, say what you need to say," she said.

"I didn't mean for it to happen. I just met her in the Ministry one day when she was visiting Malfoy, and it kind of went from there."

"When was this?"

"Four. Five months ago."

"Sounds like cheating to me."

"I told you I didn't start dating her until after I had broken up with you."

"Well, that's a relief. I'll be sure to remember that when I'm crying myself to sleep every night."

"Merlin, Hermione, what do you want me to say? I'm sorry, alright! It wasn't something I wanted to happen. It just did. Like love at first sight, or something."

Hermione's eyes widened. How could anyone be this dense? "Hogwarts, Ron! You saw her every day for six years!"

"Look, I don't expect you to understand. Until it's happened to you, you can't."

Of course she understood what it was to love someone else. That's what she'd been doing with Ron for the past four years. Hermione stumbled back, reaching for the wall, but Ron was oblivious. He was too lost in reminiscing about the sheer wonderfulness that was falling in love with Pansy Parkinson.

"From the moment I saw her there was this spark. I tried to ignore it. I didn't want to hurt you. I tried to convince myself that I was still happy with you, but I just couldn't anymore. I just…I think I outgrew you. I mean we were such kids when we started dating. I didn't really know who I was. I was so stupid, too stupid to be in any kind of relationship. But now having been out in the real world, I really think I know what I want now. I have to do what makes me happy."

So that was that. He regretted their relationship. Considered it nothing more than a mistake of his youth and immaturity. Hermione nodded her head, her treacherous tears starting to spill forth once more.

"Please don't cry," Ron said, taking a step towards her, obviously wanting to offer comfort, but she turned away from him. He wasn't her boyfriend anymore. She might still love him, but she couldn't take consolation from him, and the sooner she accepted that, the better.

"How could you, Ron? You said you loved me."

"I did."

Hermione let out something that sounded like a cross between a groan and a wail, and Ron placed a hand on her shoulder, which she quickly shrugged off. "I mean, I do. When I said that, I meant it. It's just…I do love you, Hermione… just not in the same way as I do Pansy," he said, so quietly she almost couldn't hear him. "Please…please stop crying, Hermione. I feel terrible."

But she couldn't stop crying. The sobs wracked her body, and she was having trouble breathing. Ron pulled her in his arms, and she leaned into him, too wretched and tired to care about who was hugging her. She just felt so alone, and she needed to feel that there was someone out there that cared and understood what she was going through. Obviously, that person was not Ron Weasley, but sorrow had short-circuited her normally logical brain, and so she stood there, wrapped in the embrace of the most insensitive prat in the world.

Her breathing was just beginning to return to normal when a loud sound reverberated up the stairs. "Raw-ohn!"

Ron's arms quickly dropped from around her, and he widened the space between them. "That's Pansy," he said, somewhat alarmed. "I should go. I'm really sorry. We'll talk later." And then he bolted down the stairs to intercept his fiancé. "Be right there, Pans."

Hermione tried to move, but now that Pansy wasn't going to see her like this, she tortured herself by listening to the conversation taking place out of sight on the floor below.

"I've been waiting in your office for twenty minutes," Pansy said, clearly annoyed. "I finally asked the guard where you went, and he said he saw you come in here. What are you doing in the stairwell?"

"I ran into an old friend, and we got to talking. Sorry for making you wait, but I promise I'll make it up to you."

"And who was this old friend? Not Hermione, I hope."

"No, it was Lee Jordan."

"Good. Poor girl. I hear she's still in love with you, not that I blame her. Still, I'd hate to have to be jealous. And you know how much I dislike sharing."

"You have nothing to worry about. Even if she still cares for me, I've chosen you. I love you."

Hermione covered her mouth, stifling a sob.

"That's right. If anyone should be jealous, it should be Granger. After all, I'm the one with a fiancé."

"So am I forgiven for making you wait?"

"I don't know," Pansy said in a sing-song-voice. "Should I forgive you?"

There was no sound for a few moments, and Hermione realized they were kissing under her feet. Maybe she could convince Hobbes to take the anti-apparition wards down from the office. Then she'd never have to run into anyone ever again.

"Am I forgiven, soon to be Mrs. Weasley?"

"I don't know, Mr. Weasley. I think I need some more convincing." And then there was girlish giggling and more silence.

Hermione wasn't a masochist. It was time to leave. Rushing out of the room, she ran down the empty halls straight to the elevator. Thankfully, there was no one there. Taking it down to the Atrium, she flooed to her apartment, where she planned to crawl into her pajamas and die.

On her hands and knees, she saw that her plans for an early death would have to be postponed. She had visitors.

"Hermione!" Ginny raced over to the chimney before Hermione had the chance to get up from her hands and knees, and pulled her into her freckle-covered arms.

Hermione could only imagine how terrible she looked. She'd been sobbing for the past fifteen minutes at least, and she was not a pretty crier. Her eyes would go red, as would her nose, which swelled and was no doubt beyond bulbous.

Lifting her head from Ginny's shoulder, she could see Harry scowling from his seat on the couch.

"I'm so sorry I couldn't have been here sooner. And that I'm related to that bastard. How he could go off and get engaged to that pug-faced cow…All of us want to disown him," she said, patting Hermione's head. Stepping back, Ginny took a look at her and frowned. "Why don't you go change and join us back on the couch?"

Nodding, Hermione stumbled into her bedroom and into the comfiest pair of pajamas she had. When she came back to the living room, there was a cup of tea and a box of Kleenex waiting for her. Both Ginny and Harry had scooted to opposite edges of the couch, and Ginny motioned to the empty cushion between them. On top of it was a white medium-sized box wrapped with a red ribbon.

"Harry and I got you something," Ginny said.

Hermione picked the heavy box and set it down on the coffee table in front of them. "Thanks, but I'm not in the mood for presents right now. I'll open it later."

Ginny and Harry exchanged looks, but said nothing.

"Alright. Tell us what happened," Ginny said.

"You read the Prophet. What else is there to say?" Hermione said, trying to keep her voice even. In the last month, she'd cried enough for two lifetimes. And she had the feeling, she wasn't even close to finished. But she wanted to keep it together for at least a few minutes more.

"You were fine in the lift this morning. Something else must have happened," Harry said.

Hermione nodded.

"Well, what was it?" Ginny said.

"I ran into Ron in the stairwell of the Ministry."

Ginny and Harry stared at her as if she were a banshee, and perhaps she was. Hermione had tried to speak calmly, but by the end of her sentence, her voice was pitched so high, it was best suited to communicating with bats and dogs.

Ginny shoved the mug of tea into Hermione's hands. "Here, have some of this."

Hermione dutifully drank the hot liquid, which tingled as it coursed down her throat and into her stomach. Somehow, she felt better. Now, instead of wanting to die, it only felt like a herd of hippogriffs had been playing gobstones with the shredded pieces of her heart. A vast improvement.

"What is this?" Hermione asked, sniffing the oddly flavored drink.

"Nettle tea," Ginny said.

Harry coughed.

Ginny raised her index finger and thumb, holding them less than an inch apart. "I may have mixed in a tiny bit of calming draught."

Harry coughed again.

"There might also be a bit of firewhisky. Alright, a lot of firewhisky."

Didn't have to tell her twice! Hermione quickly emptied the mug.

"So what happened?" Harry said.

By the time Hermione had finished recounting her stairwell saga, her head and feet were resting in Ginny's and Harry's laps, respectively. Ginny's fingers ran through her hair, while Harry kept his occupied, alternating between curling them into fists and cleaning his glasses on the hem of his shirt.

"I'm so sorry, Hermione," Ginny said. "But at the same time, I'm glad you aren't with him anymore. For for him to have the nerve to say those things to you…If my parents knew, they'd kill him."

Harry stood, causing Hermione's feet to flop onto the couch cushions. "Won't be necessary. I plan on doing it myself."

"Please don't," Hermione said.

"But he deserves it. Especially after what I told him today," Harry said.

"What?!" Hermione said, sitting up. "Why would you talk to him about me?"

Harry looked over at her, surprised at the sudden signs of life. "I told you in the elevator I was going to speak with him."

Oh, yes. Harry's coded message about kicking Ron in the You-Know-Where.

"No. I distinctly remember you saying you were going to hex him in his nether regions," Hermione said.

"Well, obviously I meant something else," Harry said.

"What else could 'I'm going to hex You-Know-Who in the You-Know-Where' possibly mean? Back me up here, Ginny. Doesn't it sound like Harry was talking about Ron's--"

Ginny shuddered and slapped her hands over her ears. "Sorry, Hermione, but I am neither physically nor emotionally capable of having any part in a conversation where my brothers' manly bits are the main topic. It's just not right. But that doesn't mean I'm siding with you, Harry," she said, her voice louder than she probably intended.

Harry threw up his arms, exasperated. "Honestly, no guy would ever hex another guy there. It goes against all manly decency. It's inhumane. Barbaric."

"Spare me your archaic 'bro code's," Hermione said, rolling her eyes.

"If you didn't want me to speak with him, you should have said something," Harry said.

"I did! I said 'I'd rather not talk about it.'" How was that not clear? Any normal person of even subpar intelligence could not have interpreted that in any other way but, 'do not share humiliating information about me with Ron.' It was as plain as day. Or the nose on Viktor Krum's face.

Apparently, Harry had never seen Viktor's face. "That's not the same thing! Ginny, tell her it's not the same thing."

Ginny uncovered her ears. "What? Were you guys talking to me?"

"Never mind," Hermione and Harry said in unison.

"Look, what's done is done. But I need to know exactly what you said to him." Hermione said.

"You know, stuff," Harry answered.

This was not good.

Sensing the danger, Ginny poured her some more nettle tea/calming draught/firewhisky and held out the mug to Hermione, who chugged it down before continuing. "Harry. What. Did. You. Say?!"

Harry looked over to Ginny for help, but he might as well have asked Snape to name his favorite Marauder. "Yes, Harry, tell us what you said to dear old Ron," she ordered, folding her arms across her chest.

"Nothing really. Just that he hurt you. And maybe that you were lonely and sad. You know, stuff," he said.

Hermione felt her wand hand twitch and cursed the fact she'd left it in her bedroom. "Why, Harry?! Why would you do that?!"

Harry shrugged, but he wouldn't look her in the eye. "Why wouldn't I? It's not fair that Ron doesn't know how miserable he's made you," he mumbled.

Hermione buried her face in her hands, disbelieving what she was hearing. Thankfully, Ginny knew why she was so upset and explained to the clueless Harry. "You're right, it's not fair, but no girl wants her ex knowing how desperate he's made her—no offense, Hermione—"

Hermione groaned and fell back on the couch.

"See," Ginny continued, pointing to Hermione. "It's humiliating. As of now, Hermione's feelings are no longer Ron's business. He is officially cut off, and if you tell him anything like this again, you will be too."

Harry sat back down beside Hermione. "I didn't realize…"

Hermione waved away Harry's apology. "Doesn't matter now. If you hadn't given it away, I surely did by blubbering all over him in the stairwell."

"I'm sorry, Hermione. I just wanted him to make things right," Harry said.

"It's not your fault," she said.

"I know. It's Ron's. That coward. He was in the stairwell to avoid you. Not apologize," Harry said.

"Did you honestly expect him to leave Pansy and come back to me?" Hermione said.

"No…Well, maybe at the time I did. But if he does it now, you should tell him to bugger off. Really, all I wanted was for him to apologize and set things right."

Hermione laughed mirthlessly, the sound echoing in the emptiness of her chest. "Well, he did."

"I'd hardly call what he did apologizing. For him to tell you that your relationship was a mistake, lecture you about what love was really like, and rub in how happy he was with Pansy…He is an ass." Harry shook his head, sending his black hair flying into his eyes. "I can't believe he actually said he had to do what makes him happy."

Hermione grabbed a tissue and blew her nose. Ron's words had made her feel about as loveable as a blast-ended skrewt. "Obviously I couldn't make him happy. Is it really fair to expect him to stay with me when I make him so miserable?"

Ginny shook her hands with such anger, Hermione wondered if she was picturing them wrapped around Ron's throat. "If he wants to pursue his 'happiness,' fine. The idiot's welcome to it, though good luck trying to find it with Pansy Parkinson. But to not even wait a month before he got engaged to her. And to not explain to Hermione the real reasons he broke up with her..." Ginny paused, taking a deep breath. "Augh!"

"It's not like we were married. Or even engaged," Hermione reminded them through her sniffles. "I should have been more careful. Not hoped for a future he never promised me."

Ginny turned to look at her, her brown eyes brimming with tears. "Hermione, don't blame yourself for this. Ron might not have asked you to marry him, but why wouldn't you expect that he would? All of us thought it would happen, and it wasn't just because of wishful thinking. He talked about your future together. You didn't just make that up." Ginny sighed, rubbing her forehead. "But that's Ron for you. Speaking without thinking about the consequences of his words."

Seeing both her friends so upset with Ron cheered her if only because it validated her feelings of betrayal. But she also knew that blood was thicker than water, and Harry's friendship with Ron ran deep. Even if she wanted to exact a promise that they'd always choose her over Ron, she knew she couldn't. She wasn't going to turn into one of those people.

"I want you both to know how grateful I am for your support, but I don't expect you to stay angry at Ron forever. I won't hold it against you if you decide to spend time with him, but I can't. Maybe in the future, but now…it's too painful. Still, I'd hate for this—for me—to ruin your relationship with Ron."

"What relationship? I'd rather vomit slugs than see him. And he has another thing coming if he believes I'm letting him keep those Cannon season tickets," Ginny said. "Probably thinks he can take that pug-faced cow to the games. Over her dead body."

"You didn't ruin anything, Hermione. This is Ron's fault, not yours. I can't believe…" Harry let the words trail off, his eyes filled with violence. "Did he really think he could do this without hurting you? And then beg you to forgive him not because he actually did anything wrong, but just so he could feel better?"

Hermione knew if she spoke again, she'd start crying, so instead she leaned over and hugged Ginny.

"It's not fair. I really wanted you for my sister-in-law, and now I'm going to get stuck with that thing," Ginny grumbled, wiping her eyes. "Would you ever consider dating Charlie? He's single."

"So is Percy," Harry added, helpfully.

"No one wants to date him," Ginny said, dismissively, then seemingly changed her mind. "Actually, if his type appeals to you, who am I to say anything? I just want you in my family."

Hermione smiled at Ginny's generous donation of her brothers. "Thanks for the offer, but it's a little too soon for me to think about dating anyone. Ask me again in about ten years."

"Ten years?! You need to get back out there again. Show Ron that he was nothing," Ginny said.

"But he wasn't nothing," Hermione said, effectively sucking out any humor from the room. What was wrong with her? Did she want to drive everyone away with her thunderclouds and sobbing storms?

"I know," Ginny said, hugging Hermione tightly. "But when you're ready, let me know. I already have five guys in mind for possible dates, besides Charlie…and Percy."

Harry looked over at Ginny, alarmed. "Geez, Gin. She just got out of a relationship, and you're already throwing her to the wolves."

"They're very good looking wolves. I doubt she'd mind," Ginny said.

Hermione shook her head. "Good looking wolves or not, I think I need time to myself. It's not just Ron. There's a lot of things in my life that I'm unhappy about, and I should fix those problems before I get involved with another person," Hermione said.

"But you're perfect. What could you possibly want to change about yourself?" Ginny said.

Hermione snorted. She was far from perfect. This went deeper than the usual insecurities everyone had about themselves. She was dissatisfied with how she was living her life, and she needed to change that. And this was the perfect time to start over. But communicating her new hopes after her previous ones had been so brutally dashed was about as pleasant as riding bare back on a Thestral. Hermione gripped her hands together, twisting them in her lap. "Well, it's just that I get really lonely sometimes. I've only really kept in touch with you, Harry, and Ron. Obviously, Ron and I aren't friends any more, and you and Harry have your own lives to live. I can't expect you to drop what you're doing every time I feel lonely. So I need to find things to keep me busy. Things I've always wanted to do, but just haven't for some reason. Like joining a book club. Or taking photography lessons. Or writing a book."

"Have you thought about getting a roommate?" Ginny asked. "I know Luna was looking for a place to stay."

Luna Lovegood as her roommate. That would certainly be…interesting.

"I don't know..." Hermione said.

"Well, it was just a thought. Anything else?" Ginny asked.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Malfoy. He drives me up the wall, and I just found out I'm going to be working with him on a long-term project. So a lot of my free time is going to be spent with him. I need to find a way of dealing with him, or we'll kill each other."

"I hadn't thought about Malfoy," Ginny said, tapping her finger to her chin. "He's kind of cute."

"Ginny!" Harry and Hermione shouted.

"What? I'm just stating the facts. No need to jump down my throat."

"Here are some more facts. We hate each other and he has the interpersonal skills of a troll," Hermione said.

"A rich and good looking troll. And can you imagine how jealous you two would make Ron and Pansy if you started dating? In any case, he can't be worse than Ron."

"Feel free to ignore her, Hermione. I think she had a bit too much firewhisky before you arrived," Harry said.

"No need to worry about that," Hermione said, reaching for another tissue to blow her nose. "The day Malfoy and I—" Hermione shrieked, yanking her hand back. "Why did my gift box move?"

"Looks like your present got tired of waiting to be opened," Ginny said, smiling.

"What is it?" she said, excited despite herself.

"Look and see," Ginny said.

Ginny shared the same genetic code as Fred and George Weasley, so Hermione had no idea what to expect. She carefully unwrapped the box, afraid of what would jump out. And she had every right to be, because the instant she opened the lid, something warm and wet attacked her hand, and she screamed again.

"Why are you two laughing?! I have just been viciously attacked—"

Harry pulled the murderous creature out.

"—by a puppy," Hermione finished lamely.

Hermione was already holding out her hands and stared into its warm brown eyes and droopy face. "It's adorable."

"I'm so glad you like him," Ginny said, beaming. "We know how sad you were when Crookshanks ran away while you were searching for Horcruxes, so we thought another pet might cheer you up."

"How did you get him to be so quiet?"

"We gave him some sleeping potion. I was so worried he'd wake up and run the box off the table."

Harry nodded. "Gin and I found him at a shelter. He's a Tibetan Mastiff and already toilet-trained."

"And neutered!" Ginny added. "We left the rest of his supplies outside, so you wouldn't see them."

Harry reached inside the box again. "Also got you this book."

Puppy Love: How to Raise Your New Best Friend

Hermione held her new pet up to her face, and her furry friend happily covered her face with doggie kisses. "I think I love him already."

"What are you going to name him?" Harry asked.

"I don't know. I'll have to think about it."

"You should call him Malfoy," Ginny said. "I bet he'd love that."

Hermione laughed. "If you wanted me to name him Malfoy, you should have gotten me a snake. Or better yet, a ferret."

"I'll keep that in mind," Ginny said.

Soon after that, Harry and Ginny left. Drained from the events of the day, Hermione retired to her bed, where she quickly fell asleep, with her puppy snuggled up next to her.

A/N: Thanks for reading. Please review.