A/N: I know. I know. I know. It's been much too long. To be honest, because of the response I've received, I owe you guys to finish this out. My heart isn't too much into it; I've really thrown myself into my music lately. I know 9 months is a long time. I am sorry. I do apologize. I do also have a life, and other interests and pursuits. I'm sorry to upset you guys. I am sorry.
About this chapter: Note that the events or chunks do not necessarily stack up chronologically. My mind works in mysterious ways. In my opinion, the chapter works best like this.
After the whole fiasco with Ron, Hermione once again wanted to go into reclusion mode.
What if Ron hated her?
Or what if Harry did?
She couldn't lose the two people who had been with her through her whole life. She just wanted everything to go back to normal, but this crazy Ministry experiment was seemingly never ending. Draco finally coerced her downstairs with the promise of warm, home made waffles. As Hermione should've expected, once she came downstairs, she was assaulted with sweetness.
"Hermione!" Luna said, running to give her a hug. Embracing her tightly, Luna whispered in her ear, "We have to talk later." Hermione nodded.
Seamus popped his head out of the kitchen to say hi, but his mouth was full, and he couldn't do much but wave. She saw Ritchie and Hannah sneak down the stairs, but didn't say hi. A little while later, Harry came downstairs. Hermione sat in the kitchen, talking animatedly with Draco, when he appeared in the doorway and cleared his throat.
"Harry," she said, going to hug him.
He looked at her apprehensively and whispered "So you and Malfoy are a thing now?"
Hermione blushed, and rolled her eyes at him.
"I see you've run into Ron," she said snarkily. Harry visibly hesitated. He wasn't sure whether he should give his friend away, but he wanted to be honest with Hermione. Slowly, he nodded his head. Hermione was about to deny it, when she felt Draco's arm around her waist. She turned her head slightly to look at him, shocked. He pulled her into him and said, "I mean, we are married after all."
Harry looked taken aback but nodded, almost reproachfully. He hadn't forgotten. "Yes, obviously. Well as long as you're both happy, then I'm all for it," he said, forcing a smile. Really, he was quite confused. Was there something wrong with him for not falling in love with Lavender? Did putting a ring on someone's finger help love them? It seemed like everyone was settling in with their match, except for him and Ginny. Well, he didn't even really know about Ginny. He hadn't bothered to ask. If she didn't love him anymore, maybe he should give it a go with Lavender. But then again, she'd said she was in love with someone else. Harry was more than sure it was Seamus. He'd always thought Seamus was a good bloke and he didn't want to come between them.
"Oh Potter, I didn't know you cared!" Draco said mockingly, breaking him out of his reverie.
"I really think Parvati's good for him. He's just a different person with her," Harry continued, directly to Hermione. He didn't care for Malfoy's jokes. Hermione looked at her best friend, not believing her ears. Out of anyone, she'd thought that Harry would want her and Ron to patch things up. They were in love for god's sake! Everyone knew that; everyone knew about Granger and Weasley. It was what everyone expected, what was right. Harry out of everyone should've wanted Hermione to fight for him. He was her whole heart. She was only for him. Quickly, Hermione brushed past Harry, running towards the stairs.
"Well, I don't think that went according to either of our plans," Draco said wistfully. "I'll go take care of the breakfast," he murmured, receiving no response from Harry.
Hermione rushed up the rest of the stairs and busted Ron's door open. Breathless, she stood just staring at him. She could hear the water running in the bathroom. Ron turned towards the door rapidly, alert. Once he saw it was her, he took a seat.
"You should've knocked," he told her calmly.
"Well I suppose you're right. What if you'd been shagging Parvati?" Ron looked at her curiously.
"Don't be silly. I would've locked the door," he said, almost cruelly. Hermione felt as if all the breath had left her body. She held on to the doorframe to stop the world from swaying. This was Ron talking. The Ron who was always meant for her, and only her.
"Do you love her?" She gasped out.
"It's entirely too soon for love, Hermione," he said.
"Did you love me?" She asked, almost inaudibly.
His face softened. "I did, an awful lot. I think I still do. I just don't know if it's enough." Hermione felt a tear slide slowly down her face.
"You kissed me. You told me you loved me," she whispered.
"I do, it'll just never be enough. I'll never love you the way I'm supposed to." Hermione laughed, and he seemed to get angry.
"Don't you understand? You've always been it. You've always been enough, and always will," she told him.
You and I loved each other, Hermione, but we grew up. Things aren't the same," he said. Ron strode over, and kissed her with all he had. The kiss was tinged with longing, sadness, and regret. Could they have made it work? What could've happened if they had truly worked at it? Ron had left, and they hadn't kept each other in their hearts. Hermione had loved him, but in this desperate, clinging way. Ron had loved her, but never realized how important she really was in his life. Now it was too late to fix things. They had to move on.
"Do you understand?" Ron asked her.
Hermione nodded. That kiss had made her realize all of the things she hadn't before.
"I'll always wonder about what could've been, Hermione. I loved you," his voice broke at that last pronouncement, and he looked away. He knew this was the real end. Things would never be the same again. She wiped her tears away, and kissed his cheeks, his forehead.
"I loved you," she murmured. Hermione made to leave but he pulled at her hand. Bringing it up to his lips, he kissed it softly.
"I'll always be there," he said. Hermione nodded slowly. "Everything will be alright."
Harry walked into Ginny's room with a mug of coffee.
"Hermione's come out," he said. Ginny immediately tried to get out of bed. Harry held her back from the door, but she struggled against him.
"Calm down," he said to her. She pushed him away forcefully, giving him a dirty look, and went to sit on the bed.
"Is she alright?" she asked, picking up her coffee.
"Yes, she's fine." Ginny nodded, somewhat reassured. She'd really needed Hermione these past days, and now she'd finally have someone to talk to. She still didn't know where she stood in this entire situation. She knew Lavender and Seamus were in love with each other. She knew she loved Harry more than ever. She didn't know how Harry felt about her. It had been so long since she'd heard it, from his lips, that he loved her. That's all she ever wanted to hear these days. She wanted to be loved by the love of her life. But it all seemed so unrealistic. Harry had known what he was doing when he broke up with her. Maybe he really didn't love her anymore.
"So, it seems like everyone's giving it a go with the people they've been assigned to," Harry said. He could think of no better way of bringing it up. He didn't want to hurt her feelings. What he wanted was for her to rage at him, to ask how he could think that. That they were supposed to be together and that she loved him. Ginny just looked at him angrily.
"Y'know, Hermione and Draco, Ritchie and Susan, Ron and Parvati." Ginny was more than shocked that Hermione and Draco had decided to stay together. But this wasn't about anyone else. It was about them. "So are you saying you're thinking about giving it a go with Lavender?" He turned to look at her, angry that this wasn't going how he wanted it to.
"Well, yeah, I wanted to know what you thought about it." Ginny smirked at him. She was angry that we would even consider bringing this up with her. If he didn't love her anymore, he didn't have to do this, and ask her opinion or whatever.
"I'm not your mum. You can do whatever you want," she said meanly.
"My mum's never been able to tell me what to do, Ginny, or did you forget?," he fired back. Her face softened; she hadn't realized what she was saying.
"God, Ginny, I just want you to tell me how you feel. Is that too much too ask?" Ginny looked away from him. She couldn't bear to look at him anymore. It hurt too badly.
"I love you more than I ever thought possible," she said, her voice breaking. He took her hand, slowly tracing her fingers. He nodded his head, smiling at her. "God, Harry!" She screamed, tearing her hand away. He looked bewildered, and screamed back, "What?" She sighed, exasperated.
"I want to hear you say it too! You haven't told me that you love me in years! I want to hear you love me," she finished, breathless.
I love you. I love you more than I love myself, more than I love everyone else. You're the only person I'll ever love. You're the love of my life," he said, all in one breath. Ginny looked up slowly, giving him a sunny smile. If he'd been standing, his knees would've gone weak. He took his hand in hers again, content.
George was looking everyone, but he couldn't find her. He'd looked upstairs and downstairs and she was nowhere to be found. He hadn't looked in her and Marcus' room because he knew she hated to be in there. He didn't find her in the kitchen or the living room, nor any of the rooms downstairs. Finally he decided to check in her own room. Tentatively, he knocked, and not long after, she came to answer the door.
She smiled widely at him, "Come in." He sat down on a chair near the bed, noticing that there was only one bed in the room. Since when had she and Marcus been sleeping together?
"I'm here to explain," he started.
"Explain what?" she asked.
"What you saw earlier. Fred told me everything once he gave me an antidote," he said.
"Antidote?" She asked, puzzled.
"Yes, an antidote. For a love potion." Katie still looked thoroughly confused.
"She slipped me a love potion, Katie," he said. It seemed to finally dawn on her that he hadn't been kissing Romilda of his own accord.
"Oh. I'm sorry," she said, smiling sympathetically. She was confused. After seeing them together, she'd told Marcus they could give it a go. It seemed as if George had forgotten her. Yet now she found out it'd only been a love potion. What could she do? She didn't want to hurt either of them.
"Katie," George said, and made to take her hand. She moved it away, blushing red. George rubbed his hands on his thighs.
"Katie, what's the matter?" He asked her.
"George, I don't think the two of us will ever work out. I honestly don't. I've decided to give it a go with Marcus," she finished. George looked at her steadily, sad, but unsurprised. It'd always been like this. They had always had obstacles for being together. He figured this was the way it was supposed to be. Maybe they weren't meant to be happy together anyways.
"Okay. I respect that," he said, trying to give her a smile.
"I did want to be with you, more than anything. But things change," she said.
"I understand," he assured her, walked out of that room, and out of Katie's life.
Ron had waited for Parvati to be ready to go downstairs.
"Want to have lunch outside?" she asked him.
"It's freezing!" he answered back. Parvati looked at the frost on the windows and chuckled.
"Good point," she sighed. Ron looked at her closely. He could tell she wanted to talk to him about something, alone, but didn't want to stay cooped up in this room for the entire day. He took her hand in his, coming up with an idea on the fly. They walked swiftly downstairs, and into the kitchen, where they found Hermione and Draco deep in conversation. Hermione seemed to be in hysterics about something Draco said, and her eyes were sparkling with glee. Ron gave her a lingering gaze, then shook himself of his reverie and quickly gathered some food for them to take downstairs. He took Parvati's hand in his and led her down to the library room. She gasped upon walking into the room. She walked along the length of it, tapping the spines with her fingers.
Looking up at the ceiling, she gasped, "It's beautiful."
Ron put his arms around her waist, and whispered in her ear, "As are you." Parvati pushed him away, hard.
Stammering , he said, "I'm sorry." Embarrassed, he avoided her gaze and sat down on the blanket he'd conjured, pulling the food out of the basket he'd brought.
"Well. Sit down," he told her. Cautiously, she walked towards him and sat cross legged on the blanket. They ate silently for a few minutes, looking anywhere but at each other. Finally Parvati got up the courage to ask what she wanted to.
"I heard what you and Hermione talked about," she said. Ron nodded his head. He'd expected this.
"I didn't say anything I regret," he answered.
"Well, how can you be in love with both of us at the same time?" She asked angrily.
"I never said I was in love with you," he replied. She looked like she was about to slap him.
"I never said I was in love with her. I used to be, Parvati. Love doesn't happen overnight, but already, I'm having strong feelings for you. That's all I can offer right now." Her face softened.
"So you're in the process of loving me?"
Ron laughed heartily. "You could call it that. Are you in the process of loving me, Mrs. Weasley?" Parvati was a little taken aback by that, but she liked how it sounded when he said it.
"I am. Far more advanced than you," she joked.
"Well that remains to be seen," he said. Playfully, he started tickling her sides. She squirmed in his arms, not being able to stop laughing. He made her so happy. He was so comforting.
"So you were drawing some comparison between me and ceiling earlier. What was it?" She said, smiling coyly at him. He smiled playfully at her, and drew her into his arms.
"You're beautiful, Parvati. Breathtakingly-"
"Don't pile it on too thick now," she said. They both laughed heartily in each other's arms.
"I look forward to loving you," she whispered. Ron smiled at her sweetly, and leaned down to kiss her. His kiss was short and delicate, but she took his face in her hands, and kissed him with all the passion she was feeling.
Millicent had walked in from running, quite exhausted. She had run for far longer than she planned too. She'd needed even more head-clearing than before. Back in school, Blaise had always been cruel to her about the way she looked. Now he was being nice to her. What would it take for people to realize that she was the same person? Yes, she was healthier. But it bothered her that everyone treated her better now that she was thinner. The attention she'd gotten was the motivation to maintain her weight. She'd almost thrown the towel once she'd shed most of it, but then she had realized that she needed to keep working at it for the weight to stay off. It was absurd, but now that she was so sweaty, she needed another shower. She shuffled up the stairs and walked all the way down the hall to her bedroom. Opening the door, she started taking off her shoes without looking up. She was going to walk into the bathroom when she saw Blaise just standing there, in his boxers.
"Well, I'm going to take a shower, alright?" She said, after he remained silent for about a minute.
"Can I come with?" He asked mischievously.
"No," she deadpanned. He faked pouted and watched her go. He knew most of the time he sounded purely lusty, but he really wanted to get to know the woman Millicent had become. At school she'd been shy and introverted because of her appearance, and now, not only was she pretty, but more importantly, she was confident and radiant. After about 15 minutes, she walked out of the bathroom wearing a blue shirt, and shorts.
"Merlin, woman, it's freezing out," Blaise remarked.
"Yes, out. We're in," she told him.
"By the way, are you ever going to put some clothes on?" She asked him. He looked surprised when he looked down and saw his boxers. He waled over to a cabinet and pulled on pants and a shirt.
"Care to go downstairs for a bite?"
They went downstairs together. The few people who were in the living area turned to look at them. Blaise and Milli weren't usually seen together. They walked into the kitchen to find Draco and Hermione cleaning up some dishes.
"Blaise!" Draco said, going over to pat him on the back.
"Romancing Milli, I see," he whispered. Blaise stepped on Draco's foot.
"Ow! That was entirely uneccesary!" Blaise shot him a look of pure venom.
"Alright, alright," Draco replied. He led Hermione out the kitchen.
"What would you like?" Blaise asked Milli. She shrugged her shoulders.
"Alright, I'll think of something." He went to look over in the fridge and saw some pesto sauce, mozzarella, and tomatoes. He could cook up an amazing sandwich with this, to really impress her. He quickly assembled the sandwiches, and stuck them in the oven. He went over to sit in front of Milli.
"So tell me about how everything's been after Hogwarts," he said.
"Well, I'm an Auror," she started.
"Yes, I know. I work at the Ministry too," he told her.
"Do you?" Milli couldn't remember seeing Blaise since their graduation day at Hogwarts. She didn't see many people after Hogwarts. She and Pansy had become better friends after Milli had lost the weight. Pansy didn't see her as her servant girl anymore. Sometimes they had dinner at Draco's, but it always felt awkward, trying to measure up to Pansy and Astoria.
"I do. Magical Cooperation," he said. Milli nodded. She didn't much deal with that Department.
"There's not much to tell otherwise. I've got a flat in Diagon Alley. I go to work, come home, sleep," she said.
"No night life? No men in your life?" He asked.
"No. I suppose that's why the Ministry set me up with you," she laughed.
"Well, I mean, I've been getting around, but I still got chosen," he said, offhandedly. She looked at him coldly, making him realize what he said.
"Oh. I didn't mean it that way." She was already walking away, her food untouched. "Milli!"
Hermione took a while to come downstairs. When she did, her eyes looked a little red, but she seemed generally untroubled. Happier, even. Draco didn't want to ask anything that would upset her, but he couldn't help his curiosity.
"So, erm, did everything go well?" He asked cautiously.
"Better than you could imagine," she replied. For some reason, that wasn't the answer he'd wanted. He wanted to distance her from stupid Weasley. He'd already hurt her too much. He set down a plate of steaming hot waffles in front of her, and set a place across from her for himself.
"You shouldn't let him hurt you, you know," he said, looking at her intently.
"He didn't. Finally, we're on the same page," she said. Draco tried to keep from showing his emotions, but for some reason, the fact that they had made up bothered him.
"What page is that?" Hermione looked at him curiously.
"Why are you all of a sudden interested in Ron and I?" Ron and I. He detested the way she said that.
"I'm not. I thought it was polite to ask, since you were quite upset earlier." She nodded her head, still looking at him weirdly.
"We know that we don't love each other like we used to. So we're moving on." Draco tried to hide how pleased he was to hear that. He absolutely did not harbor any feelings for her, but he figured it was important for them not to stray out of the marriage. It was only reasonable.
"Well I'm glad to hear everything's well." She nodded, swallowing a mouthful of waffles.
"These are really delicious, by the way," Hermione said, gesturing towards her plate. Draco flashed her his most winning smile, and she smiled back.
"So you've not told me if you had anyone in your life before this whole madness started," Hermione said. Draco's thoughts immediately shot to all the nights he'd spent with Astoria. How shiny and soft her hair was. How her grey eyes sparkled. Her tinkling laugh.
"I did have someone," he said.
"Who?" Hermione asked softly. She almost didn't want to know. She knew what Draco must have expected out of his women, and she didn't want to complete that mental picture.
"Astoria Greengrass," he whispered longingly. With no prompting from Hermione, he continued.
"We were engaged. She was wonderful. Things had been a little rocky, but the wedding was still on. Then my letter arrived. I figured she would wait for me. That's the day Astoria decided to tell me she'd been sleeping with Zacharias Smith. Apparently he made her feel like I never did. So she packed up her bags and got the hell out of my house. That was that. She was pregnant with his child. What if the letter hadn't arrived? How long would it have gone on. I was so blind," he said, finally done. He felt Hermione's hand on his. He looked up to meet her eyes.
"I'm sorry," she told him softly.
"I'm not," he said, leaving Hermione to wonder if maybe, just maybe, something could happen between them.