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Title: Counting Scars
Word Count: 8443
Summary: Ron and Hermione during the aftermath of the War. "I cried for him rejecting me and everybody else, and for that first kiss that never got another peaceful chance to be repeated."
Warnings: Narrated from Hermione's POV.
A/N: Originally written for the 2010 hp_canon_fest. This is the fic I'm more proud of. It took me like three months to write it and I'm really pleased with the results. It just sucks that my recipient dropped out. I added tons of things she asked and that would be special for her but won't make any difference for the rest. Meh...shit happens. I'm still happy with my creation. And it's the longest fic I've written!
Everything seems blurry now. I just can remember flashes of that day. And they are so sad that I would rather not remember anything at all. Mrs. Weasley's sobs, Ron's silence, George refusing to let go of his twin's body, Ginny looking at the door in the hope that Harry will appear in the Great Hall to join the others in their sorrow... It all seems like a fading nightmare. The happiness of killing Voldemort for good escaped from everybody's hands after a few minutes of celebrating...if they were minutes at all. The number of casualties was difficult to ignore. Especially if someone so close to you was in that number.
Not receiving any reaction from Ron, I convinced Ginny to come with me so we could clean ourselves and rest. I hadn't realize how tired I was until the hot water from the shower hit my muscles and made my wounds sting. Thirty-six hours. I've been awake, fighting, crying, thinking, worrying for thirty-six hours non-stop.
I woke up in the dimly lit, sixth-year, Gryffindor girls room. Ginny's bed was empty. The clock marked half past midday. I slept nineteen and a half hours... with a frown I went down to the Common Room. I hadn't noticed how different it looked until now. Curtains ragged, windows shattered, couches with burned marks, chairs broken and scattered all around the place. I couldn't stop the tears that were forming in my eyes. The room where I've felt the safest, where I've read so many wonderful books, where I've studied amazing things, where I've spent so many happy moments with Ron and Harry, was unrecognizable.
Taking a shaky breath I dried the first tears of the day and went straight to the lake. I had woken up that morning knowing what I was going to do with it. The wand in my possession wasn't mine. It belonged to the person who had killed many innocent people; and I felt as dirty as her while holding it. So once I was close enough to the water I lit a fire with the wand. The last spell this wand will cast, I thought to myself.
With all the hate I had for that woman, I threw it to the fire. The last living trace of Bellatrix Lestrange didn't exist anymore. I was safe now. I could be without a wand for a while. I had people to protect me; but the real danger was gone now. A wave of wind started moving the trees' leaves and I moved just in time as the water of the lake put out the fire, covering the area next to the shore.
Slowly, I headed to the Great Hall. I scanned quickly the room and spotted a bunch of redheads, but the one I wanted to see the most wasn't there. Just as I was about to head to the Gryffindor table, a tall figure appeared by my side. There he was. Bags under his eyes, messy hair and way too skinny body. War has taken my lanky yet muscly Ron from me, but he was still beautiful to my eyes...and just because it was him. Knowing he was alive and by my side made me want him even more than ever. But I knew this wasn't the time. He wasn't ready, and I respected that. So I limited myself to giving him a tight hug, which he responded to with awkward pats on my back, and guided him to join the rest of the Weasleys.
The day I feared the most was here. The day of the funeral. I knew what I had to do today. This was not my day to mourn or be weak. No, this was their day to do that. This was his day to do that. And I was willing to be there for him through all that. So I dressed in the black dress I found in my trunk, which Bill and Fleur kindly brought from the Burrow the day before, and I headed to the Common Room. There he was. Staring out the window. The room was back to itself after McGonagall repaired it the yesterday. Hesitatingly, I went to his side.
"Hey" I whispered, stretching my hand to touch his upper arm. He didn't answer. He just put his hand over mine and kept looking outside, where you could see people preparing everything for the funeral.
"Good morning." The husky voice reached my ears. I turned to look at Harry, Ginny by his side. I hadn't seen him since right after the battle when he told us everything in the Headmaster's Headmistress office.
"How are you feeling?" I asked, though I knew he was in good hands. Ginny's been with him since yesterday afternoon, feeding, cleaning and comforting him.
"I'm alright. You?" He said, his eyes turning from me to Ron. I understood that he was asking for both of us. But Ron hadn't turned his head towards them, ignoring the couple as if they were not there. The only movement he made since they arrived was letting go of my hand. So I only could give Harry a sympathetic smile and a small shrug after glancing at Ron from the corner of my eye.
Before Harry could say anything else, Bill was there, telling us the funeral was about to start. So without a word, we all went down to the grounds. It was worse than I expected. Ron just sat there, between Charlie and me, not saying a word, not crying, not even glancing at the coffin that held Fred's body.
After the ceremony he just stood up, went next to the coffin and placed his right hand over it. It was only for a few seconds. The next minute he was quickly walking towards the castle, ignoring my shouts.
We –me and Harry included- all returned to the Burrow the night of the funeral. It's been two days now. Well, a bit more than two days since we came back to the place I've secretly called home for three years. Fred was buried in the cemetery close to the nearest town. Just half a mile from the Burrow. Since then, Ron has been doing the same thing George has. They both stayed in each of their rooms and came out just to use the bathroom. Both doors locked, no answer from any of them, and what upset Mrs. Weasley the most, they hadn't even touched their food trays.
I was getting desperate. I respected his grief, but couldn't I just grieve with him? Was he regretting the kiss? Or was he just embarrassed about it all? I would give him until Monday. Six days of stubborn, isolated, grieving would be more than enough. If he hadn't eaten anything by Monday I would personally drag him out of his bedroom and stuff his mouth with Molly's food.
"Hermione are you okay? You've been in there a long time. Can I come in?" Ginny asked, knocking on her own bedroom's door.
I couldn't help it. I couldn't ignore how many new marks my young body had. I was showering and discovered four new scars along my arms. Without even realizing what I was doing, I grabbed the dry towel and head to Ginny's bedroom covering myself with it. I locked the door and stood in front of the tall oval mirror next to Ginny's desk. I dropped the towel and start examining every inch of skin. Twenty-three scars. An eighteen-year-old girl young lady had more scars than years, more scars that probably any normal teenager should. But, when the word 'normal' has been one used to describe myself I can't recall...
"I'm fine, Gin. Just give me a second; I'm getting dressed" With one last lingering look at my naked figure, I opened my trunk to find something to wear for the day.
"Good morning dear" Mrs. Weasley said to me with a warm, yet sad, smile. The War brought more worried wrinkles that practically wrote in her face the lost of a child. She's been trying to be her old self after that talk with Bill during our first night back here, but her suffering is clear to anyone that knew her before her horrible loss.
I couldn't help my disappointed face when I saw just Mr. Weasley and Percy at the table. Every day, it's been the same. And every day my disappointment was reaching the point where sadness and anger made its appearance.
"He hasn't come down yet dear. Give him time. Maybe he'll be ready today" said Mr. Weasley with a sympathetic smile.
"Yeah, I hope you're right" I murmured, taking my place at the table. Minutes later, heavy steps were heard coming down the stairs. My head snapped towards the door but another wave of disappointment flashed through me when I noticed it was just Harry.
"I'll take the trays for the boys" announced Mrs. Weasley, looking at me from the corner of her eye. I noticed. I'd noticed every time that sentence was said out loud. Everyone expected me to go to Ron's room with that excuse and start nagging him until he comes out. I'd promised myself I'd give him the space he needed. But today...today was the day I decided I'd given him enough space.
"I'll take them Mrs. Weasley" I offered, quickly borrowing Harry's wand, levitating both trays and making them follow me up the stairs.
I went to George's first. He'd been eating at least since last Saturday, to everyone's relief. However, that just reminded me that Ron had barely touched his; clearly eating the minimum anyone needed to live. I reached the fourth floor. I knocked on his door but he didn't answer.
"Ron? Ron please open up. You need to eat. I brought you breakfast." Could I have just heard movement or was it just my hopeful mind playing tricks on me? "Ron...it's me, Hermione. Can't you open the door? For me?" I had reached the point of begging him through a door. This wasn't me. I loved Ron but I couldn't be someone I'm not because he was refusing to talk to anybody.
I had enough; I had to do something. So I ran downstairs and headed to the backyard of the house, very conscious of everyone staring at me as I passed the kitchen. I went to where all the brooms are kept. I grabbed the first one my hands touched and lifted off the ground. Every cell of my body was shaking. I felt my blood leaving my face to rest in my stomach, causing that uncomfortable feeling I get whenever I fly. But I had to do something. I had had enough of not acting.
In the most unstable way anyone has ever flown, I reached Ron's window. His curtains were closed but I could still tell the room was dark except for the faint light of his lamp.
"Ron" my voice was barely above a whisper. I couldn't believe my stupid fear of heights got in the way this time. "Ron" I tried again to no avail. Even the shouts from the Weasleys and Harry were higher than my voice. So I hesitatingly loosened my tight grip on the broomstick to knock on Ron's window. After just two soft knocks I got distracted by Harry's screams. I could see him heading towards me in his room before I lost balance. The next thing I know, Ron was grabbing me by my wrists and I was ungracefully hanging from the fourth floor of the Burrow.
"Hermione, what the bloody hell do you think you're doing?" his voice was husky, clearly from lack of use. "Harry, help me"
I could feel Harry's arms around my waist lifting me through Ron's window and Ron's large hands pulling me towards him. The second my knee reached his windowsill, I threw my arms around his neck and started sobbing. I could hear muffled voices talking to me but I didn't understand any of them. I was just focusing on his smell, on his muscles tensing under my embrace and the swirl of emotions I was feeling from what had just happened. I was scared, relieved, angry at myself and at Ron; but over all these things, I was happy, happy to see him again after almost a week.
I couldn't remember at what time I fell asleep. I just knew that waking up in his bed, surrounded by his smell, was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. However, I was confused by not feeling his chest under my face or his arms around my back. I'd assumed we'd both fallen asleep in the very same position held all day yesterday.
I scanned the room once my eyes got used to the darkness. He wasn't there and another wave of anger and disappointment rushed through my veins for something like the hundredth time in a week. Why was I so stupid? After that silly impulse that nearly cost me my life, I wasted my chance to tell him all the things I wanted to tell him.
I'd spent all day in his arms just crying, unable to speak the words that were achingly accumulating in my throat. My angst couldn't be held in any longer. The minute I touched him, tears began to flow. I cried for everything I hadn't cried for before: the War, Fred's death, everyone's death, my parents, the innocent people killed, the material loses, Harry's suffering, Ginny's suffering, George's mourning and, above all things, Ron. I cried for his suffering and isolation, him rejecting me and everybody else, and for that first kiss that never got another peaceful chance to be repeated.
By reflex, my hand went to my pocket looking for my wand. Right, I always forget I don't have one. The minute I saw everyone was safe and we were heading to the Burrow, I got rid of that horrible wand that had murdered and tortured so many people. Sighing, I got out of his bed and opened the curtains and window to let fresh air and light enter the room that has apparently been sealed off for far too long.
At least ten minutes had passed since I woke and Ron still hadn't come back. Maybe he decided to stop being such a prat and joined the family for breakfast. So I turned to leave the room but before my hand touched the doorknob I saw a folded piece of parchment with my name on it. My heart stopped. Those seconds (or were they minutes?) are still blurry in my mind. I was thinking of so many things that I can't remember a single one. Just eleven words stuck in my head as a memory of that day:
I can't do this, Hermione. I need time. I'm sorry.
"I'll be okay. I'm capable of taking care myself, honestly"
"We know that dear, but I would be more calm if I know Arthur, Bill or Percy is with you. You can't go by yourself to a foreign country you don't know!" I appreciated her worry, I really did, but I wanted to do this by myself. I needed to do this by myself. I needed to focus on finding my parents and not worry who I was dragging along. I had to explain everything to my parents and it was something I preferred to do alone. Besides, the one one person I wanted to come with me was out of the question after...everything.
"Don't worry, Mrs. Weasley. I'll be fine. Kingsley told me he was going to ask the Minister for Magic from Australia to get someone to help me with finding them. So I won't be totally alone. And traveling and accommodation issues will be arranged beforehand. Probably this week, since Kingsley wanted me, Harry and—" I couldn't think of him now. I had to put my brave face in front of them. "He told us he wanted to discuss our futures and I'll arrange everything with him then. So you don't need to worry about me at all. Really." I assured her for what felt like the hundredth time that day.
Silence took over. Just the clicking of forks and knifes were heard. Mrs. Weasley was watching me warily, as if deciding whether to let it go or not. The rest of the Weasleys intently watched their food plates while Harry stared at me until I looked him in the eyes. He had a look that clearly said "I'll let it go now, but we have to talk later". I gave him a small discreet nod while internally wondering when our friendship became so strong that we could communicate with just a look.
Before I could cut a small piece of the steak, a very fragile, old owl came flying through the window. Mrs. Weasley stood up and quickly opened the small letter.
"It's from Bill" she beamed. "He says Ron is okay, that he's eating a lot. But that he's very quiet and all but ignores him and Fleur"
"Well, that's not a surprise. He ran away to be alone and the last thing he needs is a french Veela nagging–" George eyed his mother and cleared his throat before continuing. "He probably needs more time to think"
"He says Ron takes long walks on the beach and and disappears for hours at a time" Ginny started staring at her mother and lightly kicked George under the table. Both Weasleys noticed my face and dropped the subject. I'd been silent all the way, just barely playing with the beans, but I couldn't hold in the tears any longer so I stood up.
"I'm finished, if you'll all excuse me." I couldn't believe my traitor voice! How did it dare to break at the end of my sentence? I'm sure that gave me away.
And I was right. Just when I reached Ginny's room, Harry was knocking the door. The lump of anguish that was stuck in my throat didn't even let me answer him so I just sat on the bed, knowing he would eventually come inside.
I sat on my cot and start sobbing for the first time since Ron had left. Harry must have silently come inside at some moment, for I only felt his arms around me when the mattress gave way to his weight next to me. I couldn't take it anymore. Could I pretend that the hand that was now caressing my messy hair was Ron's? Would it be too bad to pretend in my head that Harry's brotherly gesture was Ron trying to comfort me like that day in his room? Yes, it would. That would be kidding myself, and it would be more painful when I opened my eyes to not see the redhead in front of me. So I just let myself be grateful for having Harry's company. Despite my wish for him to be another person.
"It's okay, Hermione. He'll come around. Ron just needs time to cope with everything." Harry whispered in my ear, trying to soothe me. But he hadn't realized that that was my biggest fear. That he was trying to cope with everything. I could handle him mourning his brother, but the fact that he was thinking about us when there wasn't even a formal "us" was devastating.
"You know how many scars I have, Harry?" I choked after a few more minutes of crying. And I could imagine Harry's confused face, even though I couldn't see it through the tears. I could sense him thinking hard for the "right answer" that wouldn't make me cry even more.
"I have twenty-three scars, Harry" I told him, seeing he wasn't going to answer me. I stepped out of his embrace and went to wipe my face with the tissues on Ginny's desk. "There are twenty-three reminders of what we've been through. Twenty-three marks I see every time I take a shower, every time I change my clothes, every time I feel too self-conscious to join Ginny when she goes to the pond to sunbathe..." Harry's face contorted in nothing but guilt. "I'm not blaming you for anything Harry. I chose to have them. I chose to fight by your side. But part of me...a bigger part of me...fought for a selfish reason. I had to do everything I could to have the future I wanted; the peaceful future I wanted since I was thirteen years old."
Harry seemed speechless. He clearly didn't know what to say to me. And I noticed that my voice was gaining volume word by word. So I took a deep breath and continue in a whisper, feeling the tears building up in the corner of my eyes one more time.
"I have twenty-three scars that remind me that, despite all my effort-all our effort-I probably won't have the happy future I wanted." The next thing Harry heard from me that night was the slam of the door as I locked myself in the bathroom.
I sighed at the sight of Errol. My hopes were smashed again when I saw he was carrying nothing. It was the seventh letter I'd sent and no reply had come. I sent him one each day he was gone...two the first day. The tea in my hand no longer tasted good. The bitter taste in my mouth contrasted with the sweet, warm liquid.
I fed the tired owl, whose face showed how pitiful my situation was, and went to look for another piece of parchment.
"Do you think you can handle another trip, Errol? This is for Kingsley, though" I whispered to the owl, who just softly pecked my hand while I wrote.
"Are you ready? Do you have enough money?" Mrs. Weasley asked, while anxiously collecting the empty bowls after breakfast.
"Bill said we would go to Gringotts first so that won't be a problem" Harry answered for me.
"I'm ready!" said Ginny skipping down the stairs.
"Oh no young lady, you're not going! Streets are not completely safe yet"
"But mum...!" Ginny started whining in the most childish way I've ever seen. But seeing her mother's reproachful look, she chose another path of convincing her. "Mum, you very well now I'm capable of taking care of myself and others. Bill and Fleur will be with us and I'd still be more safe than Hermione...at least I have a wand!"
I softly scowled at that. I'd been too long without a proper wand so I'd knew where our first stop would be.
"Ready guys?" Bill's booming voice came from the living room. No sign of his brother joining us apparently...
"Yep, we're ready, Bill" Ginny beamed before Molly could object. "We'll be careful, mum. And we won't be wandering much on the street. Harry and Hermione have that meeting with Kingsley in two hours, so we've better hurry if we want to shop around a bit and get Hermione's new wand."
"You're coming, Ginny?" Fleur asked with a heavy french accent. "That's great! We can go shopping for clothes while 'Arry and 'Ermione have their meeting" She smiled at a not so happy looking Ginny.
"Okay, enough chattering. Are we going or not?" Everyone looked at me, surprised at my rude tone. It's not the first time I'd reacted this way. I didn't mean to, but I ended up snapping at everyone as if it were their faults that Ron hadn't replied any of my letters and that he refused to see me, not even showing up for our meeting at the Ministry.
"Sorry" I couldn't look at their faces anymore.
After a few seconds of silence Harry awkwardly spoke. "Well, shall we go then? It's getting late"
"Oui. Come on Bill, you take Ginny and 'Arry, I'll take 'Ermione" Fleur said, cheerfully grabbing my arm and apparating us after stepping out of the Burrow's grounds.
"Coming!" I answered. I knew they were going to find me. As soon as I left the note on the kitchen table, I knew it.
"There you are! What did you think you were doing? Just leaving a note!" Ginny started screaming in a way that would make Mrs. Weasley proud.
"Ginny...she can go wherever she wants whenever she wants" Harry tried to soothe his frantic girlfriend.
"Harry, do you think a note with just an address and a stupid line saying "would be back by sunset" is appropriate?" The redhead's arms flying everywhere with my note in her hand.
"I'm sorry, Ginny. I just couldn't sleep and I thought it would be good to clean the house before my parents come back" Suddenly, a thought struck my mind. "Wait, how did you get here? You can't apparate...and I thought your mum was going to be the first one to come here yelling at me"
Ginny and Harry exchanged a nervous look. Harry shifted from foot to foot while Ginny bit her lower lip. I started to worry...
"Guys, what's wrong?"
Harry gave up with a sigh and started, "Hermione, we snuck out. Nobody saw the note but us...Ginny saw it in the middle of all the fuss this morning..." he glanced at Ginny from the corner of his eye "...and- and when...someone asked where you were..."
"Arrgg, Harry, tell her already! Hermione, Ron's home. He came back this morning and started asking for you. We said you were sleeping. So we better go now before mum notices. We've taken long enough"
I couldn't breathe anymore. The moment Ron's name came out of her lips I couldn't think of anything but the sudden fear I felt. Fear? I think it's the first time I've been afraid of Ron or of what he was going to do and say...Without another word, I grabbed Harry and Ginny by their elbows and apparated to the Burrow.
Day Twenty One
What an odd feeling. Hollowed deeply but not enough. Wrinkled but smooth at the same time. Some long and some short. Some more meaningful than others. Some bringing more intense memories than others but all important in their own way. They are little marks that take me back to all those unhappy moments.
How can my twenty three scars suddenly be full of just sadness, sorrow and angst, when only days ago they were full of promises and happiness?
I wasn't able to talk to him. I just couldn't. Why? Even I don't know the answer to that question. I just know that the minute I saw him, heavy tears started to fall from my eyes. I didn't say anything; I couldn't say anything. The words got all stuck in my throat and made me choke in my dreadful silence, bringing even more salty tears to my puffy, red eyes. Stupid me...! I just stood there. Everybody looking at me and Ron. Ron looking intently in my eyes, evidently trying to say something that I, for the first time in my life, didn't bother to decode.
So, after what felt like years, I broke into a run. I ran until I was out of the Burrow's boundaries and apparated to the other side of the lake next to the house. I could still hear Ron's and the rest's screams but I didn't care. I just kept running and running. Choking and hyperventilating due to my crying, anger, frustration and the wind that hit my face with such a force that, eventually, I had to close my eyes.
But I got back. It was night time when I realized I was still lying on the grass, crying my eyes out. I probably wouldn't even noticed then if it weren't for Charlie. Apparently he was looking for me. But, the only Weasley I barely know, was the most understanding one. He just supported me with his left arm around my waist and I let all my weight fall over his side as my right arm surrounded his broad shoulders (or what I could reach of them).
He brought me back to the Burrow. Took me silently to the bathroom and left me there, where a change of clothes and a warm towel were waiting for me. So I took a shower and stayed the rest of the night on the bathroom floor tracing with my fingers each and every scar on my body, thinking.
It's still dark outside now. I can see the moon through the tiny window on the wall opposite me. I had put the towel around my naked body and laid on the floor hours ago. I'd been here for quite a while but I didn't care. I just sat and counted my scars over and over again, making sure I wasn't missing any imperfection. Five... Thirteen... Eighteen... Nineteen... Twenty... Twenty one...Twen—
Someone knocked on the door. I wasn't surprised. It must have been late and I hadn't been back to bed. Ginny must have realized this.
"Come in, Ginny" I murmured, not taking my eyes from the deep scar on my right thigh. My fingers had traced it so many times that it was red around the edges.
"Not Ginny" he murmurs and comes in. He seats on the floor next to me with such determination that I didn't dare to look at him. I was scared of what I would see in his eyes.
Now I understood what all that fear I felt yesterday -or was it today?- was. I was scared of what I'd see in his eyes. Of the conclusion he came to, during his stay at Auntie Muriel's. He said he couldn't do this...he needed time to think. And if he's back...it's clear that he's done thinking.
My fingers rubbed the scar with more pressure. The skin around it blanched white for a few milliseconds due to the pressure before turning deep red. I kept at my ministrations. Over and over again. White, red, white, red, white, red, white, red. The silence only made my fingers press deeper into the scar. My breathing turned shallow. My brain thought millions of things at the same time. So many things that I couldn't make out a single piece of them. Too many thoughts, too many emotions. And the worst thing is that he just sat there. Sat there staring at the moon, not moving, not talking, barely breathing...
White, red, white, red, white, red. "How...erm...how've you been?," he finally whispered. White, red, white, red... How dare he..."I know...stupid question" He rubbed his face with his right hand.
"I...I...mis—I missed you, Hermione," his voice barely audible. My breathing quickened. Such shallow intakes of breath that my lungs barely noticed them. White, red, white, red. I started to count. Each time I traced the scar, another number. White, red; one. White, red; two. White, red; Three... White, red; twenty. White, red; twenty one. White, red; twenty two. White, scarlet; twenty three. The last one harder than the rest. I stop and start again. White, red; one. White, red; two...
He missed me? If he really missed me he would have stayed here. He would have let me be with him. He would clarify where are we standing now... We kissed for God's sake! Didn't it mean anything to him? He said he had doubts, that he 'couldn't do this'... I knew I loved him, I didn't have any doubts; I didn't need any time to think. I knew the moment I saw that message when he left for Bill's that he wasn't referring to Fred's death or the War. I know Ron. There was something personal in those words. Something that told me he needed to think of our relationship, of our future together...or lack thereof.
He moved, though I didn't know why. I concentrated on my counting, on the colours around the scar, on my shallow breaths and my thoughts. On the fact that he left me, that he didn't want me... that the supposed future these scars held was no longer in the cards for me because he didn't feel the same way...
"Hermione, you're bleeding!" Ron snapped my hand out and grabbed my wrist when I tried to reach the scar again to continue counting.
"Leave me alone! I was on number twenty two!" I screamed, trying to free my hand from his hold. He just grabbed harder and pressed me against the corner so I'd stop striking him with my left arm and legs.
"Hermione, what are you on about?" I couldn't stop moving. I couldn't give up. I needed to get to number twenty three. I needed to. I needed to take those scars out of my body. Those scars that no longer promised happiness to me. Everything was a blur. My bleeding thigh, his face, the moon, locks of my hair falling in my face, his arms, his eyes, the scar...so I just closed my eyes. I kept struggling and closed my eyes.
"Leave me alone! You can't just not talk to me, go away for days, come back and expect me to forgive and forget!" There. I just said it. Well...yelled it. Our yells had woken everybody by now. Knocks on the door. Voices muffled by the heavy wood.
And suddenly, he froze. And so did I. We stared at each other. His face was blank, mine was wild. Wild with frustration, anger and bitterness. Noises and calls from the hall reached our ears, but we didn't move. We didn't care. We just stared at each other in silence. Having millions of telepathic conversations at the same time. And then, "You're right," he said, loosening his grip. "You're right. I'm sorry." Shame written all over his face. Understanding visible in the position of his shoulders. And surrender shown in the quick and smooth movement of his body as it moved away from mine. I could read him more easily than an open book... The thought slapped me in the face like a splash of cold water. I knew that. I always knew that, but I didn't understand it until that moment.
A sudden, almost uncontrollable, urgency to kiss him rushed through all my body. From the tip of my toes, to the top of my head. So I stood up and threw myself at him. My anger gave me more force that I thought I had. I wanted to kiss Ron, yes. But I wanted to kiss him hard. I wanted to make it passionate and painful. I wanted to hurt him through a kiss. I wanted him to know what he took away from me. What his doubts had done to my beloved and longed-for future. Deep down, I knew it didn't make sense, but I had let myself get carried away by my emotions several times; and I knew this is not the time to stop my impulse.
I pressed him against the door. The pum making the people outside shut up. His face, confused and shocked, two inches from mine. Our breathing quickened at an incredible fast pace. I could feel my heart pounding against my ears and my blood rushing so fast that it made my veins feel warm. My eyes locked on his lips and when I was about to close the tiny distance between us the door opened with such a force that it made us fly to the other side of the small room.
I hit my hip against the toilet seat. I felt the stare of the Weasleys against my back, and I was suddenly aware of my loosened towel (which had lowered, leaving my right breast uncovered) and the dense, hot drop of blood falling down my leg, past my knee.
Day Twenty Two
I saw him sitting at the foot of the tree. I hesitated for a second before starting to walk there. I slept through all day yesterday and just woke this morning when an owl from Kingsley asked me to go to his office as soon as I could to arrange the last details of my trip to Australia.
I got to the Ministry even before Kingsley. So now I just got back and the first thing I saw from the fence was Ron. I sat next to him. Almost four feet separated us. He didn't acknowledge my presence. Minutes passed. We both just stared, ahead contemplating our surroundings while the soft breeze danced through our hair. It must have been an hour before I spoke aloud without even planning what to say.
"Why to Bill's? Why not stay here?" I was surprised at my impulse, at my question, at my calm and casual tone... He didn't move or answer. And just when I was counting to ten to leave, he grabbed a little twig from the grass and started playing with it.
"It's...it's a...," he sighed, "I noticed it's a spot to vent when the thoughts in my head are... overwhelming," his voice going lower and lower after each word. So much that I have to decode the last word before understanding it. "There's were I went when I... when I left you during the hunt. I needed time to think and I did. There I found the peace I needed to get my thoughts sorted. There I understood that what I wanted and needed most was to be with you and Harry", he continued.
So he had to think. Big thing! We all have to do that after everything that happened the last year (if not more). Couldn't he do it here? With his family, with Harry... Oh, who am I kidding...with me?
But I didn't voice any of these thoughts. I just nodded softly, replaying his words in my head over and over again. "Segregation never! Integration now!" I said strongly.
Why am I unable to think before talking or acting when Ron is around? Get a grip Hermione! He's just Ron, your best friend... Yeah...a best friend that you kissed in the middle of a battle that could have killed you both, a best friend that you've barely seen since then, a best friend that hasn't said anything about it, a best—
"What?" He looked at me, frowning. My head snapped in his direction, my eyes wide with shock. His cheeky expression was so familiar that it made a hot ball of fire start in my stomach and spread through all my body. Such a familiar feeling, yet strange; for it had been almost a month since I felt it. "What's 'segregation never, integration now'?" he asked with a ghost of a smile. It was so subtle that I though I was just imagining it.
"It's from Hairspray. It's a movie." I see his frown growing deeper and his smile...well, it's definitely the ghost of a smile. And suddenly, I was thirsting to see again that crooked smile I love so much. That smile he gives me when I explain things to him, when I give definitions as if they were my own name. "A movie is a sequence of photographs projected onto a screen with sufficient rapidity as to create the illusion of motion and continuity; and they tell a story. The movie I quoted is called Hairspray. It's a musical. So the story is told and mixed with musical numbers. It's set in the sixties and it's about a 'plump' teenager who pursues stardom as a dancer on a local TV show and rallies against racial segregation."
I got so caught up with the explanation that I couldn't think of anything else but recounting in my head all those times he gave me that lovely smile when I was explaining things to him. That smile was what I first loved about him. It was a very particular smile. It was...knowing. Like he was thinking of a million things while he still listened to what I was saying.
I breathed after finishing, forgetting the whole point of the explanation. I just felt dazzled by his smile and the memories. But then he said, laughing, "Okay... but what does that had to do with me going to Bill's? I'm not discriminating anybody doing that."
"I don't know." I whispered and his smile faded. Desperation came to me as if it were brought with the last blow of the wind. I needed to keep explaining and talking. I needed to see that smile again. That smile that made me feel at home. "I think...I think that what you said reminded me of the movie because...," I frowned and stared at the grass. "Segregation never, integration now..." I repeated. "I guess I relate that quote with what you said because you ran away. You separated me from your problems instead of integrating me with them." I flinched at my slip. "Your family was really worried," I said, trying to make him ignore my confession, my need for him to know he can count on me.
"I see... My family had more important things to deal with, though." There it was again that, stupid low self-esteem.
"Ron, don't start," I said sternly. "You know they all care for you; everybody was worried. Me and Harry were here too. You can always count on us..." I started picking at the grass around me.
"That's the thing... It wasn't just about...the war. I couldn't talk to you about my doubts of-" he stopped mid-sentence and looked away from my gaze. His body was suddenly rigid. I could sense it even from this distance.
The silence became unbearable. He had doubts about us. I was sure of it. He just confirmed he had doubts about us. I tried to stay calm. I looked at the sky. The sun hid behind a big grey cloud. It looked like it was going to rain. Ron had doubts about his feelings, about the kiss...
I couldn't take it anymore. So I got up; but he grabbed my wrist tightly. A reflex probably. I stared down at him. "Where were you?", he asked.
"When?" I felt guilty. Was he referring to where I was when I didn't run after him? Did he expect me to go after him? If so, he should have let me see him when I went to Bill's. And I did send all those letters...
"This morning. I woke up and you weren't in the house." I had to swallow my answer. I was ready to snap at him, yelling my indignation at the thought of him expecting me to run after him like a silly...bimbo! I sighed, trying to calm myself down. He wasn't referring to that...
"I'm going." I stated simply.
"What? Where?" His eyes searched for something in mine. His grip tightened, almost as if he were afraid to let go.
"I'm going to Australia. To look for my parents and bring them back." My shoulders lost their firm position. As if all this wasn't enough, the mere mention of my parents made me want to cry like a little girl. The little girl who had run into his father's lap the day before Hogwarts started. The girl that was sad because she wouldn't see her parents for months...
"When?" His fingers loosened but stayed around my thin wrist.
"Tomorrow" I whispered, not able to look him in the eyes. He dropped my hand and I took the chance to leave. I couldn't take it anymore. This was my turn to run.
So I walked back to the Burrow and a few drops fell over me. It started raining. When I got to the porch, the drizzle had made my bushy hair stick to my head, all wet. I looked back. Ron just sat there, below the tree, which clearly was not thick enough to protect him from the rain.
Day Twenty Three
The day arrived. I had all my packing done. All my paperwork, and my parents' paperwork, was in my handbag. I spent the rest of the day yesterday just sorting through all the last details of my trip. I haven't seen Ron again. Maybe if I don't see him today before leaving it will be easier to be away for a few weeks. Maybe I'll be able to forget him if I don't see him all this time...
"Yeah Hermione. Keep dreaming..." I said aloud, while saving the perfume Ron has given me as a Christmas present a few years ago.
Someone knocked on the door. "Come in."
"Are you ready, Hermione?" Arthur asked, after poking his head through the door.
"Yes, ready" I replied over my shoulder while stowing the moving photograph of me, Ron and Harry of our first year in my handbag.
I have asked everyone to let me go to the portkey station by myself. I didn't want to bother anyone and it will be easier to say goodbye if I don't see them there. So I went down and hugged everyone. Everyone except the one I wanted to hug the most, the one I was going to miss the most.
"Are you sure you don't want me to go with you to the station, dear?" Molly asked for the millionth time. And I answered just like all the other times:
"No, it's okay Mrs. Weasley. It's easier this way," I smiled at her. "I'll send an owl as soon as I get there, though it'll take a few days to get here..." I added.
I hugged Harry last. "Set things straight. It's time." He whispered in my ear. I kissed him on the cheek and smiled back.
"I will. I need to get my parents back." I reply. And he looked at Ginny from the corner of his eye, sharing a knowing and secret look. I was about to ask them what they are hiding from me when a horn announced the Ministry car was waiting for me.
I sat in the back seat after putting my luggage in the trunk. I opened the window, waving to everyone and asked Ginny to come closer. "Tell Ron... tell Ron I've left him a note under my pillow. I'll..." I couldn't continue. A huge lump formed in my throat.
"Don't worry about that Hermione," she winked at me and hugged me one last time through the window before the car started.
The portkey station was in the middle of the countryside. Nothing was around but a few Ministry workers and thousands of old boots, cans, hats, etc. In the middle of those men all close together, apparently discussing something, I saw a flash of red hair. I looked more carefully, even though my head was telling me it was just my imagination. I couldn't stop myself. I broke into a run towards him.
"Ron? Ron!" I screamed and ran all the way to the top of the hill. The screams mixed with the baffled driver's, who was calling after me with a loud "Ms. Granger! Your luggage Miss Granger!"
The redhead turned around, flashed a smile towards me and caught me with his lanky arms. I crashed toward him with such a force that he stumbled backwards, bumping into a short Ministry worker and making him fall to the ground.
"What are you doing here?" I squealed, despite of myself.
"We have a lot to...talk about. We have some catching up to do, don't ya think?" he whispered against my ear.
I stepped out of his tight embrace just enough to see his face. My expression was clearly amusing to him, since he chuckled and explained further.
"I'm going with you to Australia."
"What? But...your parents? I thought you..." I lowered my head. My mind was trying to process all this and connecting it with the events of the last twenty three days...Twenty three. The same number of days as scars in my body... the scars that held the promise of a future at some point, a future that was shattered only days after my life actually began...
"I talked to them. I'm sorry Hermione. I thought I didn't deserve you, I didn't deserve being happy after everything that's happened. After Fr—After everything. And I know that if I decide to be with you it's... It's forever. So I decided I deserved- I wanted to be happy, Hermione. And you held a promise to the future I want. You are my future, Hermione. I was just too thick to understand that. I'd understand if...if you don't...take—wanna take me back. I was a bloody bastard for leaving...again." His sad, remorseful tone snapped me out of my thoughts.
"I will always take you back, Ron." I whispered, facing his chest. Our arms still around the other's body. I didn't know if he had heard me in the middle of his stuttered speech until I felt his big, right hand lifting my chin so I had no option but to look into his eyes.
Such pure eyes that always left me breathless... I could read those eyes again. I always could, but now I wasn't refusing to do so, as I've done the last couple of days. And I understood now. I saw what his solution is. I knew why he wanted to come with me to Australia. I got what Harry meant with 'set things straight'. Everything made sense now. Even the days I had to wait for this moment. I comprehended that we had to go through all of this. And I know it was fate or whatever it is that planned this. The coincidence between the number of scars and days. The number of promises and suffering. It was the start of a new life. This was just a rite of passage I had to go through. We had to go through. All this finally sank in but I didn't care, because right then, the only thing I could think of and feel was his lips over mine for the second time in my life. His arms tightening around my waist; pressing my figure close to his and making me lose balance. He supported me and we kept kissing. His tongue savouring mine, transmitting all those emotions I always knew I felt for him. But feeling them returned with equal force was the greatest thing I could ever ask for. To love is an amazing gift in this life game. But being loved in return is something my scars always knew I'd have.
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