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Chapter 19: To Breathe Again
Not mine. JK Rowlins own the lot. I do not make anything off of this except some self-gratification.
To be completely honest, Ron knew that he would have to meet with Hermione again one day. He felt like a complete tosser for not going to see her in America, he had many opportunities, but he had been too scared to follow through with it. He knew that this was the right time. He was prepared to do whatever he needed to do to make everything up to her.
With a quick prayer and a shaky breath he apparated into the house in the Burrow. A couple of seconds later he was face to face with his sister and Harry.
What Ron was not expecting was to find Harry and Ginny in the middle of an argument. Judging by the color of his sister’s face, she was about to explode. Ron couldn’t quite piece together what was going on and he certainly couldn’t decipher anything from their harshly whispered words.
“…don’t think so!”
“I knew you would react like…”
“Really? You think that this is a place to…”
“I’m just saying that we can contain the situation,”
"You should’ve contained him!” Ginny was almost nose to nose with her husband now.
“Umm…hello” he interrupted them.
They turned in surprise, momentarily forgetting their disagreement. Harry looked as if he'd swallowed a grub, Ginny’s frown turned first to a surprised smile, then a confident smirk. “Ron, you have impeccable timing.”
Her husband’s face started turning almost the exact shade of red as his wife’s. “Ginny, you honestly think this is a good idea? Telling him now?” Harry whispered incredulously. “There are people sitting just outside! She’s probably out there as well. This could all blow up in our faces if she catches wind of this before…”
“You should have thought of that before you agreed to let him talk to her. I think Ron’s input will be the deciding factor, we need a third party’s input!”
Ron stood in the middle of the cramped kitchen with one hand in his pocket and the other in his hair, looking bewildered and getting more anxious as the seconds ticked by. What in the bloody hell was going on?
“I think you both need to calm down and tell me what all this is about,” interjected Ron. “Harry?” he prodded.
After a brief hesitation, Harry resignedly turned to his friend and started talking. He began by telling Ron of the disturbing rumors that had reached the ministry regarding the conduct of some of the guards at Azkaban. Ron had no idea how any of that, as bad as it sounded, could have anything to do with an argument between Harry and Ginny on the night of George’s rehearsal dinner.
At the look of confusion on Ron’s face, Harry then began telling the series of events that led up to Draco’s hospitalization and subsequent release from Azkaban. He told him of the conversations he had with Draco regarding Hermione while the former Slytherin was at Montrose and how he sent him out of the country after agreeing not to tell Hermione of his newfound freedom. The more he talked, the more his friend looked as if he wanted to throttle him. By the time Harry reached the point in which Draco visited him the previous night Ron was standing with his mouth agape, taking shallow breaths; trying to form some kind of coherent sentence. He had come here thinking that this was going to be the time for his and Hermione’s reconciliation, that the timing was finally right, only to walk into a ticking time bomb about to go off.
“Look, I know that it’s a lot to take in at once,” said Harry as he turned and saw the look on Ron’s face, “but we have to decide on what to do. She’s going to be here soon and I promised Draco that I would send her to hi...”
As soon as he heard Draco Malfoy’s name, Ron was certain that he really didn’t want to know the story, but Harry had continued and now it was too late. It was too much for Ron to bear, “Are you fucking joking with me?!” He shouted at Harry as he advanced on him. “The fuck! Do you honestly believe I give a shit about what you promised Draco Malfoy?” By now he was towering over the shorter man. “What the hell were you thinking?”
An instinct for self-preservation made Harry step away from his enraged friend before answering with a question of his own, “Do you think this has been an easy situation to defuse?” he asked. “It’s been a nightmare Ron. By keeping quiet about all this I thought I was doing what was necessary for the greater good of…”
He loudly interrogated, "Bloody hell Harry! What do you mean you're doing it for the greater good? What the fuck does that even mean?"
“Will you hold your voice down?” hissed Harry, and then in a calmer tone, “It means that I had to do what was right for Hermione. It means that sometimes ignorance is better than pain, I had to decide if the chance of her getting hurt was worth her finding out that..,” Harry was once again prohibited from completing his sentence when the rustic old door was thrown open and he was confronted by an extremely annoyed-looking George, a curious looking Josh and a wide-eyed Hermione.
Harry, Ron and Ginny stood frozen in their spots in an almost comical way. It was as if they had been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
George was oblivious to everything except the possibility of a fight ruining the whole affair. He barreled in on Ron. “Oi, there! What do you think you’re doing mate?” he raged as he grabbed the front of his jumper, “You’d better have a damn good reason for all this shouting little brother or you'll soon wish you’d never come home.”
“It’s them you should be shaking,” said Ron pointing at Harry and his sister.
“Ahem..” The two brothers turned at the sound of Hermione clearing her throat.
“Hey Mione,” said Ron as he disentangled Georges hand from his jumper, “Wow, you look great! It’s been ages,” he said as he turned to look at her. “America huh? Um, you been here long?” He realized he was rambling, but seemed unsure of how to stop. He was put out of his misery when Hermione gave him a small smile, walked over to him and wrapped her arms around him. For a few moments, it was just the two of them reconnecting after years of separation. His arms went around her as she laid her head on his chest. It was as if his world was back on its axis without him even being aware of its being off until now. It took only a second in each other’s arms to wordlessly ask for and receive forgiveness. He knew, in that very moment, that he would never stop loving this woman and he would do anything in his power so that she could find happiness again.
Out of the corner of his eye he noticed that Harry and Ginny were quietly slipping to the back of the pack and he wasn’t sure how he had managed to become the bad guy again, but he sure as hell was going to make sure that Harry made this right. George seemed to have calmed down and was observing the goings on with a smirk on his face.
Before Ron could call attention to the two culprits, Hermione turned and reached her hand out to the bloke standing by the doorway, “Josh, come on then, I want you to meet Ronald,” she said. Gently pulling on Josh’s hand she turned back to Ron and introduced him to her boyfriend, “Ron,” she said with a small smile, “I would like you to meet Josh.”
Josh’s hand shook his firmly and Ron was momentarily taken aback as he hadn’t expected for Hermione to have brought someone with her. He knew she was seeing someone, Harry had mentioned it a while ago, but he was still surprised she had brought him here. This was bound to make things messier.
“Josh, good to meet you mate.”
“Same here man. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Yeah, well, you can’t believe everything you hear,” said Ron with a sheepish grin.
“Ronald,” Hermione interrupted, “how’ve you been?” she asked, never taking her eyes off her old love. She felt so many conflicting emotions as she stood before him, but the greatest one of all was happiness. She was truly happy to see Ron, to see him looking healthy and content.
“I’ve been alright, you know, just trying to get by,” Ron looked around, took a hold of her hand and asked in a hushed tone, “Do you think you and I could sit and talk a bit? Alone?” he added with a look at Josh.
The sun was almost set, the sky brilliantly enrobed in pinks, gold and oranges. Two former lovers sat away from the rest of the gathering, on an old bench underneath a tree that had been witness to many of trysts by the same two people.
He asks, “How have you been? Be honest with me please.”
She sees the anxiety in his eyes, “I’m not going to lie, I was in a bad place for a while. It was difficult to find a reason to keep going,” and reaching for his hands, “but everything is much better now. Honestly. California is great. I love my little house by the sea, I’ve made amazing friends, and I’m going to be alright, no, correction, I am alright.”
Unable to meet her eyes, “I’m so sorry for everything I’ve done; you know that, don’t you? I should have never turned my back on you. I should have trusted you, should have known that you knew what you were doing.”
“Are you talking about before or after you left?” was her quiet reply.
“Both, Hermione, I should have had more faith in your ability to stay safe, and,” he said looking at her at last, “when I came back, I should have stood by you in your decision about Malfoy, and I sure as hell shouldn’t have stayed away from you all this time. Please say you can forgive me.”
Her flinch at the sound of his name did not go unnoticed. She could spout out all day about being better, but it was evident that she was not over Draco.
“Please don’t.” she said, “Please don’t beat yourself up over this. The truth is that we were both to blame for the way things ended for us.”
“How can you say that?” Ron asked incredulously. “I left you broken that night, I ran away without a backward glance. I knew you were destroyed, I saw it in your eyes and I left anyway. You’re not going to take the blame for this Mione.’
“I had known for a long time Ron,” she quietly said, “I knew you were miserable and I did absolutely nothing about it. I ignored it, hoping it would go away, but it didn’t, did it? I wanted the happily ever after so badly, that I was willing to look the other way when I saw you suffering. Can you forgive me?”
By this time, there were tears gathering in her eyes. The lifelong friends reached out and embraced each other, whispering words of forgiveness.
Many minutes later, after the sun had completely extinguished, the night illuminated by a crescent shaped moon and white lanterns hanging from the trees, Ron told her about his new life and the woman that had helped him heal. He explained how it was Elizabeth that had forced him to face and reconcile with his past. All was going well until Hermione asked the inevitable.
“Ron, what were you, Ginny and Harry arguing about?”
The moment Ron looked at her he knew he wouldn’t lie to her. “Mione, do you love Josh? Does he make you happy?”
Her downcast eyes told him everything he needed to know. “What do you need Hermione? Tell me how to bring the light back into your eyes and I’ll do it.”
Her whispered, “Not fair Ron,” was almost too soft to be heard.
With his fingers on her chin, he lifted her face up, “What’s not fair is that you have to settle. You want to know what we were fighting about? You.” he continued at her puzzled look, “Yeah, we can’t seem to agree on what it is that we can do to make things right for you,”
“I don’t understand.”
“That’s enough Ron!” Harry had somehow appeared without them hearing them, “You need to let me talk to her.”
“You don’t get to make the decision here Harry,” said Ron as he stood his ground, “This ends now.”
“You think you can just walk in here and take this decision out of my hands?” Harry was livid. “I’ve got this Ron, stand down.”
“You tell her all of it then! Now. I won’t leave until she knows everything.” A hippogriff couldn’t chase Ron away at this point.
Hermione looked the two men with wary eyes. Their arguing blurred to background noise as she tried to figure out what was going on. Something was incredibly wrong; she could feel it in her very bones. Her heart felt like it had on the night Ron had left her, as if it knew that it was about to be dealt a blow that may render it useless. The thought alone was enough to cause her knees to shake. Hermione was well aware that her feeble little heart could not take much more abuse, a fact that was further confirmed by a restless movement across the skin of her chest by her tattoo. Her little dragon was trying to protect that vital organ.
With a shake of her head she cleared all the cobwebs and tried to understand what the men were saying. Before she could make sense or any of it Harry and Ron both turned to look at her and froze. It was as if they had been hit with a freezing charm except for a look of panic on Harry’s face and one of rage on Ron’s. They seem to be looking over her shoulder.
“You were supposed to wait!” Harry was the first to explode, followed closely by Ron’s “What the fuck are you doing here?”
Then a quiet plea from behind her, “Hermione.”
No. Impossible. How? No. That voice. Sweet God. Breathe. Breathe. Breath.
A/N: I love this chapter. It has been a long time in the making. Even though her destiny seems to be with Draco, I don’t believe she would have ever found contentment in her life if the rift between her and her first love was left gaping. Just saying…