Author's Note: So, I'm not dead. Four years have gone by, and I just started writing again. I did debate whether or not to upload again, though. Your feedback and follows are so, so, so incredibly appreciated, but some of the feedback I've received made me wonder if the story was going to be enjoyed by others. I'm writing the story I wanted to read when I discovered HP fan fiction, and it's not going to have a fairytale ending. It's going to be a little dark. A little depressing.

I have one more chapter completed, so I will upload that shortly, if there's interest. After that, I can't promise timely updates, I'm afraid. Although hopefully they'll come sooner than 4 years...

If anyone is still reading this, you are troopers, and I appreciate every single one of you. And I am so sorry for the wait.

- CBot

PS: This website's formatting sucks. Apologies in advance.

Chapter Fifteen

You can't find any sign of Ginny after Ron and Harry leave. When she's not at lunch, your dorm-mate Marie informs you she is sleeping. "She said she didn't sleep much last night. You know?" she winks at you. You flush and turn back to your food, hopefully before she notices.

You spend the afternoon alone in the library, but you can't concentrate on studying. You keep replaying everything that happened with Ron over and over in your head. Saturday went so well, the visit from Skeeter and the incident with Snape notwithstanding (you don't think about that, you can't think about that). So why were things so strained with Ron today? You know that as a couple you don't have the intimacy of Harry and Ginny, which you thought you were fine with but... You can't even talk alone for a few minutes without arguing.

You realize then that that is the problem. You and Ron have barely ever been alone. You were very rarely alone all summer. The only time you had truly to yourselves were the moments stolen in his bedroom late at night, hidden behind wards and charms, exploring each other's bodies while the rest of the house slept. During the day, although subdued to an extent in its grief, the Burrow was its usual chaotic self. Being together, all of you as a makeshift family, was what kept you all sane those first few months after the shock of everything wore off and all that was left was the raw pain.

You close your textbook, rubbing your sore eyes as your mind starts to spin. Have you and Ron ever truly been alone? Had conversations alone? Shared feelings, secrets, hopes, prayers, fears, like Harry and Ginny, or even like you did with Viktor?

You know the answer is no. You haven't. What's worse, you can barely be affectionate in the light of day. You've only ever made love at night, in the dark. You've only ever kissed passionately, felt those butterflies in your belly, when things were secret, hidden. You thought that was normal, you didn't even think of it. You thought that you had time to move slowly, to explore other intimacies. But with Ron rushing things, you feel almost... trapped.

You feel the prickling of tears behind your eyes. You blink furiously. Your table is secluded and the library is practically deserted the day after the memorial, but you don't want to cry here. And yet you can't seem to help it. You feel a tear roll down your cheek. Your thoughts are truly spiralling now, like they have been so often lately, but now it's about the one thing you thought you were sure of. Ron.

You are so frightened. What is happening? How could things have been simpler right after a war, and now, as the Magical world is starting to settle down, they're becoming so much more complicated? What you want and what Ron want are two very different things. The truth is you don't know what you want, but the feeling of dread that seeps into your chest every time you think of moving in with him, making a home, a life, a family with him, isn't positive. Is that how you imagined your life? Is that what you want for it? You have so many things you want to do. You may have changed since the war, but your core is the same, isn't it?

Are you the same?

Is he?

You can't breathe. You pick up your things quickly and run back to your dorm. You skip dinner in favour of hiding in your bed, the curtains drawn, doing your best to breathe deeply, to stay calm. When you feel the castle get cooler and the light get dimmer, you get up only to use the loo and brush your teeth.

When you sleep, you are haunted by all your familiar dreams.

Over the next few weeks, the confusion over your situation with Ron weighs heavily on your mind. He doesn't write you much, but you don't mention it to Ginny. If she notices the lack of letters she doesn't say anything, and you are grateful. You spend your free time, as before the memorial, on the Quidditch pitch watching her practice or play, or in the library. You fall back into the routine of studying until you can't stay keep your eyes open, only to sleep soundly for a few hours a night. But the amount of time you can sleep without dreaming is getting shorter and shorter, no matter how tired you make yourself during the day, and sometimes you choose not sleeping and secretly studying in your bed over the nightmares.

Your encounters with Snape are brief and limited to the classroom and the Great Hall where you see him at most meals. Although you watch him every day, as you have for months, trying to determine if his face is filling out, if the skin looks less sallow, if he looks any healthier at all, he is back to ignoring your presence completely. And you are, perhaps surprisingly, content with that. Where his blatant ignorance of your person infuriated you before, now you are almost relieved. Not only is it familiar, it also lets you off the hook. You don't want to think about what you feel when he looks at you, what you felt when you touched him, what you felt when you thought of him with Ron inside you. You can't think about it, because every time you do, you feel something in your belly, something you don't want to name, and you feel the sickening stab of guilt pierce your chest. And you remember the feeling of the wetness in your knickers, the look in his eyes as he took you against the wall in your imagination, and the stab in your chest becomes unbearable until you can't breathe, and you have to stop. So you don't start.

But the tentative calm you are experiencing doesn't last long. Everything goes to pot in mid December.

Breakfast in the Great Hall. Distracted by a book, you don't notice one of the Gryffindor girls tap Ginny's shoulder, and hand your friend The Daily Prophet. Ginny curses under her breath, and only then you look up. "Bugger, bugger, bugger," she whispers sharply.

You look over her shoulder and instantly feel sick when you see what she's reading.

"SEVERUS SNAPE: SCOUNDREL OR SAINT?": Exclusive to the Prophet, an interview with Rita Skeeter, author of the new tell-all. Available December 20, just in time for the holidays!"

"It seems she's dropping your name again," Ginny says angrily. "'It is not only Harry Potter, the most infamous wizard in the world, who seems to be adamant on clearing the name of one Severus Snape,'" she reads in a hushed voice, "'but also Hogwarts' resident Golden Girl, Hermione Granger. 'Attempts to reach Mr. Potter and Miss Granger for comment for the book were unsuccessful, however I have it on good authority that she visited him in St. Mungo's nearly every day,' says Skeeter. 'It makes you wonder what they know that we do not. Do they have redeeming information, or were The-Boy-Who-Lived and his vulnerable female friend persuaded to lie for him? My opinion, and the answers to those questions and so much more, is all in the book,' Skeeter smiles.'"

Your eyes dart to the Head Table. From the look on his face, you know Snape has seen the paper. He is whispering with the Headmistress, and with a sharp nod at something she says, he abruptly leaves the table and the Great Hall.

"Come on," Ginny says, standing up. "We're leaving. This is bollocks." You nod and follow her, doing your best to ignore the many eyes that follow you.

Later that day, you get a letter from Ron.

Pig arrives during lunch. After a harrowing morning dodging questions from nosy students you are on edge, and therefore apprehensive when Pig delivers Ginny's letters as usual, and then one to you.

You know it's from Ron before you even see the writing. You are nervous. You have a bad feeling about opening it, one you can't explain. You are so uneasy, you almost forget to feed Pig, and he gently pecks at your hand until you give him a piece of turkey.


Sorry it's taken me so long to write, things have been busy.
I'm going to be in Hogsmeade tomorrow. I know it's short notice, but I know it's a Hogsmeade weekend for you. I'll be at the Hog's Head at 12. Let me know if you can make it. Pig will wait for your reply.

Love, Ron.

The letter is innocent enough, but you still have a strange feeling. You pull parchment and a quill from your bag and quickly write your affirmative reply before tying it to Pig.

That afternoon, sitting in the Potions classroom before the start of the lesson, you wonder if Snape will be there. Certainly he wouldn't skip a class based on fear or cowardice, but his desire to escape his position as soon as possible is no secret. Along with the prank on the blackboard, you wonder if Skeeter's ridiculous book will be another, and perhaps the final push out the door for him. He must be tired.

But he arrives, ten seconds before the beginning of class, with his customary scowl. He begins lecturing as if nothing has happened. As you take notes you realize this incident must be nothing to him. He is most likely very used to it. He must get his fair share of Howlers, maybe even worse, that you don't know about. Being hated and gossiped about is just another day in his life.

Your heart feels heavy for him, having to endure that. You may be hated, but it is mostly by the less desirable of wizarding society; Voldemort supporters, Death Eaters, most in Azkaban (and of course Ron Weasley groupies, but they hardly count). Snape is hated by the very witches and wizards he almost died trying to protect.

For the umpteenth time, you wonder if he cares, if he is lonely.

The next day you meet Ron at the Hog's Head, as agreed. You are still nervous. Though you're still not sure why, the reporters following you around Hogsmeade aren't helping. You are grateful when they don't follow you into the pub; you feel a ripple around you as if you are going through a ward, and you wonder what sort of spell Aberforth put up. Whatever it is, you make a mental note to ask about it. The place is blissfully quiet, and you instantly spot Ron sitting alone at a table with two butterbeers. When he sees you, he grins and gets up to greet you.

"Sit down," he says before you can even say hello. "I've got great news."

You take off your coat and mittens, hoping you don't look as apprehensive as you feel.

Before you can get a word in, Ron blurts out, "I quit Auror training."

Your mouth actually falls open. "What?"

"I quit Auror training!" Ron repeats, looking incredibly pleased. "Wasn't really working out, you know? Couldn't picture being there much longer. So I talked to George, and the new store in Hogsmeade is doing so well he was thinking of starting up on mail-orders too. But he's too busy to do it alone, so he asked if I'd be interested in managing them. And I said yes!"

You don't know what to say. You take a sip of your butterbeer and force yourself to blink. "So... so... you just quit?"

"Yeah!" Ron laughs. "Harry wasn't too happy, but I never really wanted to be an Auror. Not like he does. But I haven't even told you the best news. I have a flat here now!"

"A... a flat?"

"Yeah, a block away from the shop. Pretty nice, actually."

You know you're shocked, and you feel that is reasonable, but suddenly from the pit of your belly you feel anger. So much anger. You take another sip of your drink to calm yourself down, but you're starting to shake.

As calmly as you can you say, "Ron, I didn't... I... I didn't even know you didn't like Auror training."

He shrugs. "Well it was all right, I just couldn't see being there forever, you know?"

"But... this was a huge decision. A life-changing career decision."

"I know, isn't it exciting?"

"But what about me?"

"What do you mean? I have a flat now! You can move in once you're done NEWTs, it's exactly what we discussed."

"That's not what we discussed."

"Yes it is. Why? What's wrong?"

You're trembling now, unused adrenaline coursing through your veins. Your hair starts to fluff out, crackling with static electricity and magic.

"You didn't even tell me," you say. Your voice is quiet and shaky, and by the look on Ron's face that seems to confuse him even more. "Don't you care what I think? I didn't even know... I don't know anything, do I? The girls at the Ministry, how it's going, how you felt about it... I don't know... I don't know anything about you."

"What are you talking about?" he asks, scowling now.

You shake your head. "I don't know!" you say, your voice louder this time. Ron jumps. You can tell he thinks you've gone mad; he has that look in his eye. "You don't listen to me. We don't talk. I'm not even really a penpal, never mind a girlfriend!"

"What are you talking about?" Ron repeats. "I thought you'd be happy!"

"Happy. Happy!? How can I be happy? Look at me, Ron. Look at me!"

His face reflects more open confusion, and you know he doesn't understand. That he'll never understand.

"I have to go, Ron. You're not listening. You never listen." You put on your jacket and without doing it up, run outside. You're not crying. Why aren't you crying?

Ron doesn't run after you.

You don't find Ginny. You don't wait for any of your classmates or professors. When a reporter finds you and begins asking you questions about Snape, you cast a poorly-aimed Jelly-Legs Jinx and run. You run back to the castle alone.

You don't want to leave your bed.

You're afraid of seeing Ginny. You're afraid of seeing anyone. You're afraid of being asked questions.

You're furious, but do you have the right to be? Is Ron being so unreasonable? You can't tell. You can't see past your emotions... circling, spiralling, sickening. You don't know how to deal with it... you've never been like this.

You're hurt, and tired, and... you're lonely. But more than that, you are so, so afraid. Ron makes you feel trapped. Ron makes you feel suffocated. Ron doesn't know you. You don't know Ron. If you are honest with yourself, you know you made a mistake thinking a relationship would be a good idea while you completed school, while he started a career, and while you were both grieving. If you are honest with yourself, you know you don't want this. Not anymore.

But you do love him. He's your family. The Weasleys are all your family.

You have no one else.

You can't stop shaking.

You know you have to talk to him. You have to tell him everything.

That night, with the curtains around your bed charmed to (gently) zap anyone who tries to open them, you write:

Dear Ron,

I'm sorry I left you like that today. That was immature of me. I suppose I didn't know how to tell you what I was feeling (I know, me at a loss for words? must be a miracle). So I left.

I was angry that you made such an important decision without me. Not because it's my place to make decisions for you, but because I thought, as your girlfriend, you would want me to be there for you. I didn't even know you were unhappy with a career as an Auror.

We don't talk, Ron. Not the way we should. Not even the way we used to when we were friends. Do you miss that? I do. You're my best friend and I love you. But I don't think it's right that we barely know each other anymore.

I want to see you again. I should be saying these things in person, not in a letter. If I ask the Headmistress, she may let me go to Hogsmeade next weekend. Or I suppose I could sneak out. Please let me know.

Love, Hermione.

Just before curfew, you go to the Owlery and send the letter off. When you get back to your room, Ginny is sitting on your bed, waiting for you.

You have all your excuses made up. You assume she has spoken to one of the Weasleys, other students, or even reporters by this point, and probably hates you. You open your mouth, but when you do she shakes her head.

"No," she says. " Just come here." You don't know what else to do, so you do. You sit beside her.

And then she hugs you.

"It doesn't matter," she says softly into your hair. "He's my brother, but you're my sister."

You're shocked at first. Ginny has been a constant in your life, for years, but with exceptions. Her loyalty to her family has been unparallelled, even at your expense. But now…

You're my sister.

Without warning, you start to cry. Ginny smells sweet, like perfume and shampoo and soap. It reminds you of Mrs. Weasley. Of safety. of your mother. You miss your mother so much. How many times did she hold you when you cried over a boy, or being lonely? All the years without friends, being teased, being rejected... You were so unwanted, for so long. You'd been alone for so many years, before Harry and Ron and Ginny. But you always had your mum. You miss her so much...

You hug Ginny back, and she holds you. She even rocks you, and pats your back. And you cry.