Chapter 1 : Three Steps Behind
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.: Chapter One – Three Steps Behind :.
Thursday, November 1, 2004
Hermione couldn’t understand it. Why the persistence? Why the collaboration? It wasn’t as if she hadn’t planned on coming here herself. She simply hadn’t had the time or the opportunity. With her work being as hectic as it was, it was a wonder in itself that she was here even now. Why they saw it as their duty to drag her here on her lunchbreak, she had no idea. It wasn’t as if she didn’t appreciate all the effort they had gone to, to get her here because she did, she did appreciate it, but the simple fact was that it should have been her choice, her decision to come here; not theirs. It wasn’t the first time they had banded together to coerce her into action and she was sure that it wouldn’t be the last. It was like they felt obliged to give her a little push to speed things up, to make her faster in her decisions and less indecisive. If only they knew. One of them did, but it seemed that even now that didn’t matter so much.
“Come now dear, don’t dawdle. You can’t stand there all day staring at your own reflection. Let’s see what it looks like!” Hermione couldn’t help but think that Molly Weasley’s abilities far exceeded mere magic, she would even go as far to say, that at times, it was as though the woman could see through walls. In this case, it was the curtain of the changing booth.
“Molly, I don’t think I like this one,” she said with a slight grimace, turning so that she could see the back of the dress. “It – it doesn’t seem to fit me properly and, and I don’t think it is exactly the type of dress that suits me. It’s not that it’s not beautiful – it’s just not my style – is all,”
“Oh come now, it can’t be that bad dear. It looked rather stunning on the rack, you said so yourself,” Hermione liked simple, uncomplicated and elegant, not extravagant or excessively detailed. It wasn’t as if she could deny saying it had looked nice, but her words had been merely for the purpose of satisfying Mrs Weasley’s constant comments on how lovely the dress looked. She knew that there would be no way of getting out of this. It was either go out willingly or be dragged out by one, or all of the three women who were currently waiting for her on the other side of the curtain.
“Hermione, love, are you alright in there?” the tentative voice of her mother would normally have soothed any irrational fear she had, for the woman, though exceptionally temperamental, was extremely affectionate when it came to her daughter. For some reason it seemed to only aggravate her fear further.
For a Gryffindor, fear was supposed to be inconsequential. It was supposed to be nothing more than a speed bump. Something that could be easily overcome, or faced simply because their blind courage made it so. Fear could be rational, or irrational. It could be heart-breaking or absurdly uplifting once faced but for Hermione, fear was so much more. For Hermione, fear was in an object. It was in an emotion, an act, but most of all, it was in a person. To overcome her fear it would mean to forgive, accept and look past suspicion. It would mean she would have to learn to trust the one person who had betrayed her, the one person who in her mind, she could never fully trust again.
They didn’t know, at least not all of them. For that she was grateful. She didn’t want Molly or her mother to know. If they did, questions would be asked and answers would have to be given. To answer those questions a second time, even though the last had been three years ago, she didn’t think she had strength enough for it. What they don’t know won’t hurt them. She could be called a hypocrite for the amount of times she had insisted that honesty was the most important thing in a relationship, whether it was honesty between lovers, friends, siblings or parent and child. Nonetheless, this was one thing that she would keep to herself no matter the cost. Resolutely, albeit somewhat unenthusiastically, she sucked in her breath and did the only thing she could do considering the situation. She opened the curtain.
Had she been able to answer her mother’s question, she probably would have told her the truth. She wasn’t fine, she wasn’t happy, she didn’t want to be here and if it came down to facing a giant basilisk rather than this, she would choose the basilisk. Fortunately, Molly Weasley’s delighted shriek seemed to distract everyone, including her mother for which she was sure, had she taken one look at her, would have known something was wrong.
“Oh!” the portly woman who she had come to think of as a second mother seemed to be delighted beyond all belief with the gown, or more the sight of her in it. “You look absolutely stunning! Beautiful! Doesn’t she look beautiful Brenda?” Hermione prayed to god that her mother didn’t choose this moment to disagree with Molly Weasley. Despite their being in cahoots with one and other, along with Ginny, her mother had very similar taste to her own and the dress, in her eyes, was hideous.
“Hermione dear, you look – delightful,” she could have laughed had it not been for Molly’s gushing reel of compliments. Her mother hated the dress. From her pinched expression, to the strain in her voice from trying to remain civil, Hermione could tell that she hated this overly frilly, lace ridden, excessively detailed to the point of it being painful, wedding gown, just as much as she did. That, at least, was some comfort.
“Mum, you’ve got to be kidding me, she looks like a giant bloody marshmallow!” at this she did laugh. Leave it to Ginny to speak the truth, no matter how blunt she was about it.
Age certainly hadn’t diminished the redhead’s capability, or rather talent, at expressing herself and her opinions in a way that could often make even the most cool and collected break into a grin.
At age 24, the redhead had made a name for herself, not only from her exceptional talents as one of the Daily Prophet’s best but from her 5 year marriage to Harry Potter, to which was still going strong despite the tabloids constant reports of there being ‘trouble in paradise’. The couple had been the centre of much unwanted publicity ever since the end of the war, to which Rita Skeeter could take all the credit. After many callous accusations against the redhead’s fidelity and intentions, Harry finally conceded to an interview with a more reputable journalist. His response to which was nothing but astounding. Amongst personally condemning Rita Skeeter for illegally gaining information on his private life, Harry had openly scorned her for being nothing more than a nosey, untalented and extremely unattractive hag who seemed to have no restrictions when it came to invading people’s personal lives. Needless to say, the interview had caused more harm than it had good, but then that wasn’t to say it hadn’t fulfilled its purpose. To say that Rita Skeeter had gotten off lightly for being exposed as an unregistered animagus would be the lie of the century. The woman had been stripped of her job, publicly humiliated and her reputation as a reporter destroyed all in a matter of minutes. As far as Harry was concerned, Rita Skeeter had gotten everything she deserved and more.
“Ginevra Weasley!” came the appalled shriek as Mrs Weasley rounded on her daughter, her face slowly turning a bright shade of scarlet.
“Honestly mum, I don’t see what the problem is,” the unabashed redhead replied, casually leaning against the windowsill, staring down at her nails, “I was simply giving Hermione my opinion of the dress,” pausing momentarily, she looked up and glanced in her direction with an amused expression, “You can hardly reprimand me for that. I was simply being honest. The dress does make her like an oversized snow beast – or was it marshmallow?” Ginny finished shamelessly, eyes twinkling with a mischievousness that only the Weasley twins could match.
“Opinion?” Mrs Weasley started slowly, trying to figure out the best way to approach her daughter’s outright shamelessness. “Opinion!” she repeated, her voice rising dangerously high. The colour in her cheeks flushed a darker shade of red. “You, Ginevra, give your opinion so readily, yet the implications never seem to bother you!” seethed a near murderous Molly Weasley as she pointedly yelled at her increasingly uninterested daughter. “I am sick of your opinions Ginevra! Sick of them! What did I do to deserve this?” screeched the woman, oblivious to the crowd that was gathering around the duo, eager to watch the conflict pan out. “I am asking you, Ginevra, what did I do to deserve a daughter who has the sweetest most caring temperament, when she wants to, but instead chooses to be opinionated, disrespectful, moody –”
“Pregnant,” Ginny added nonchalantly, lifting her eyes to watch her mother’s rant.
“Obnoxious, arrogant, petulant, insuff –” the older woman stopped mid-sentence, looking at her daughter for the first time since she had begun her tirade of abuse. “W-what did you say?” she asked meekly, her eyes wide in astonishment.
“I said,” Ginny began, straightening herself so she could look at her mother properly, “Pregnant.”
Hermione had never been able to understand the volatile, if not unpredictable dynamic that associated itself with Mrs Weasley and her daughter’s relationship. The erratic change from friendly to hostile was almost a given when either woman entered a room the other occupied and vice versa. They could be fighting one moment and hugging the next, or laughing at something the other said, but screaming insults not a moment later. They were unpredictable and uncensored, erratic and impulsive, but for the most, they were mother and daughter. It was a relationship that Hermione had tried to analyse countless times, each without result. In the end, she just gave up trying to do the impossible. Theirs was a relationship no one could understand.
Within a second the previously rolled up magazine that had been brandished like a weapon at the young mother-to-be, was up in the air, a frenzied shriek of delight escaping the older woman’s mouth. In one swift motion, Molly Weasley launched herself at her daughter, tears of joy slowly making their way down her face. Accompanied by Ginny’s infectious laughter that filled the room, the moment would have been perfect had it not been for her stomach twisting into knots at the revelation of her friend’s expecting, yet again, another little bundle of joy.
She should have been happy but for some reason she wasn’t. All her friends were successful in their jobs, much like herself, but she couldn’t help but feel as though she was three steps behind when it came to family. Almost all of them were married with children, or expecting, and if they weren’t then they were blissfully happy being single. She fit into neither category. At times, she couldn’t help but think that there was something wrong with her. She had every opportunity at happiness but she chose to bypass it, postpone it, or sometimes she even refused to acknowledge that the opportunity was there. It was hardly a normal reaction.
Forcing a smile, she walked over to congratulate the proud mother-to-be but was stopped short as a hand clasped around her wrist. Turning around, she was surprised to see her mother’s grim expression staring back at her. Without acknowledging why she had stopped her daughter from congratulating her friend, she gently pulled Hermione toward the changing booth, away from all the commotion.
“Mum?” as much as she tried, Hermione couldn’t conceal the nervous waver in her voice.
“Hermione, I know when something is wrong,” Hermione started to object but the look in the older woman’s eyes told her that it would be futile not to let her finish. “I know you better than anyone else. You can’t deny that sweetie. That’s why I know that something is wrong,” affectionately, Mrs Granger tucked a stray curl behind her daughter’s ear before continuing. “You looked miserable. Not only when you came out of the changing booth, but when Ginny announced that she was pregnant. I would hardly be a good mother if I didn’t notice my own daughter’s unhappiness, now would I?”
“Mum, I –” she couldn’t talk about this, not now, not to her mother. “I have to go.”
“I have to get back to work. I promise I’ll call you later – I just really have to go,” hastily kissing her mother on the cheek, Hermione made a dash toward the changing booth before her mother’s disapproving look changed into a hardened glare. She could call herself a coward later, but for now, the only thought that occupied her mind was the prospect of getting as far away as possible. Perhaps then, the guilt and sense of failure wouldn’t be so strong.
If it was possible, her day had gone from bad to worse in a matter of seconds. When she had left work earlier that day, she had left feeling confident that things would remain relatively quiet like they had been all morning. What she returned to was a far cry from the calm she had hoped for. Apparently some idiots on the second floor had thought it beneath them to attend to a small child, who seemed to have nothing more than a tickle in her throat. A tickle that soon turned into a series of vicious coughing fits, among which was shortly followed by a nasty rash that generally occurred when one had the dragon pox. Of course they had let the child wander around the ward while they had more important things to attend to, namely catching up on the latest gossip and rumours that were circulating around the hospital. Now, because some stupid interns thought they knew better than their superiors, the whole second floor had been sectioned off from the public due to a mass outbreak of dragon pox among its patients. Even though she didn’t work on the second floor, she had been paged to help deal with the outbreak. Her day had gone from bad, to worse, to disastrous, in what felt like the longest minutes of her life. Needless to say, she was not in the best of moods.
She was so tired, beyond tired really. All she wanted to do curl up in her favourite armchair, with a good book, in front of a crackling fire and just wind down. It seemed she wasn’t even aloud that. Almost as soon as Hermione walked through the door, all hopes of the lazy evening she had planned vanished as laughter met her ears.
“Ron, you better not have your feet on the coffee table,” she called out, glancing over her shoulder as she heard the distant echo of feet hitting the floor and the television’s volume decrease rapidly. Silently groaning at the prospect of the evening that was now lost to her, Hermione unbuttoned her coat before continuing. “I thought you had training tonight, did Roberts cancel it?”
“Nah, Crewson broke his arm showing off to some girl in the stands. Idiot fell off his broom while trying to attempt the wronsky feint one handed. He ended up knocking himself out cold. Roberts had to take him to Mungos to get his arm fixed up and it was pointless to practice with only one chaser, so training was cut short.”
“Well it serves him right for being as careless as he was. He could have done a lot more damage than a broken arm and a mild concussion,” she ground out, pulling off her gloves and setting them on the mahogany table beside her.
It was so like Crewson to act without prior thought to the consequences or bodily harm that could come about from his antics. Despite being an idiot in the common sense department, Crewson was one of the best chasers Quidditch had seen in years; why he was attempting the wronksy feint, she had no idea. Puddlemere United had been devoid of talent for decades, its club had never been able to afford anyone of a high standard, nor anyone with much talent. That all changed when an investor decided that enough was enough. With a new boss, new coach, new uniform and new outlook, the team had since thrived and become one of the best in the league. Ron, whose love of the Chudley Cannons had lessened dramatically since his school days, jumped at the chance to play as Puddlemere’s new keeper when the club’s president had offered him the position. It had been almost five years to the day since he had joined the team and Hermione could honestly say that despite her dislike of the game, she had come to appreciate it more, mainly due to the considerable attributes it had in shaping one’s physique.
“It was bloody brilliant to watch though,”
“I’m sure watching someone plummet toward the ground and knock themselves out was absolutely riveting,” she replied sarcastically, rolling her eyes in the process. Hanging her coat on its rack, Hermione turned and walked down the hallway, glancing at the familiar photographs, muggle and magical, that were scatter across the walls.
“You didn’t see Crewson in the emergency ward?” Ron asked, choosing to ignore her previous comment.
“There was a mass outbreak of dragon pox on the second floor,” sidestepping Ron’s training bag that had been dumped on the floor, she made her way toward the kitchen. “The place was like a madhouse. I had to go down and help contain the worst of it, which took about two hours,” she continued absently, pouring herself a cup of coffee in the process. “Then there was the paperwork to get through and it certainly didn’t help that I was an hour late,”
“You were late?” he seemed more shocked than curious; something that tickled her nerves more than it should have.
“You sound surprised,” she commented offhandedly, moving to take a seat opposite him in the armchair.
“Hermione,” he started, looking away from the television briefly to look at her. “Since when are you ever late?”
“Considering I was practically kidnapped by your mother and dragged into central London to go dress shopping, I think I have a good enough reason to be late once in my life,” she snapped irritably, tucking her legs up underneath her. She knew she shouldn’t have snapped but to be fair, her day had been horrible; all she wanted was some peace and quiet. Feeling slightly guilty at the look that crossed Ron’s face after her prickly answer, she added softly that she was sorry; she’d just had a bad day. Silence followed.
“Ginny’s pregnant,” feeling the need to break the uncomfortable silence that now surrounded them, Hermione couldn’t help but blurt out Ginny’s good news, hoping that it would lighten the mood, if only a little. For a moment, she thought he hadn’t heard her because he gave no response, but after what seemed a minute he reached for the remote and turned the television off.
“Harry told me,” he replied, his voice oddly detached. “He also told me that Ginny, mum and Brenda planned on taking you shopping for your wedding dress today – as a surprise,” absently Ron lifted his hand to run it through his hair, like he often did when he was at a loss of what to do, or say. “You know,” he started slowly, spacing his words out as if it was an effort just to say them, “sometimes I can’t help but wonder if you aren’t just trying to put this wedding off as long as possible. It’s like – it’s like you don’t want to get married.”
What was she supposed to say to that, when she herself didn’t know the answer? Everyone expected them to get married, have children and live happily ever after. People wanted the fairytale, the happy ending. Everyone wanted the glass slipper to fit, no matter if it was too small or too big, it had to fit. People wanted Snow White to find her prince. They wanted good to conquer evil and they wanted Wendy’s journey to Never-Never Land. Everyone wanted the fairytale ending. Molly Weasley wanted to plan her youngest son’s wedding. Arthur Weasley wanted to walk her down the isle. Ginny wanted a sister. Harry wanted his two best friends to finally be the family he never had and Ron wanted her to be his wife, but what did she want? That was the one question she had no answer for. What do I want?
For as long as she could remember, Hermione had always known what she wanted out of life, but now, she knew nothing. For so long, she had done what others had expected of her and not what she had wanted. She had blindly done everything in her power to make the ones she loved happy, even if it meant sacrificing her own happiness. She acted for others and not herself, but that didn’t answer the question that now plagued her mind; what do I want?
“Ron, you know that’s not it,” unwrapping her legs from their curled up position underneath her, Hermione forced her tired limbs to move as she slowly made her way toward the couch. “You know that I love you –”
“But?” came the hollow reply.
“But,” bitting down nervously on her bottom lip, she tried to find the right way to word what it was she was about to say. “I feel like there is so much pressure being put on us to get married, that maybe we are doing this for the wrong reasons. Maybe we’ve forgotten why we wanted to get married in the first place,” she waited for a reaction, but got none. “You know, maybe it’s because of all the expectations everyone has that I am as hesitant as I am to make any decisions about the wedding,” she paused, tucking a stray curl behind her ear before continuing. “I just – I need more time. You know what I’m like, I have to go over every little detail. I –”
“You always need more time,” the harshness of Ron’s voice made her freeze mid-step and look at him. By the pinched expression that marred his face and the way his fists were clenched in an effort to reign in his temper, Hermione could tell that he was standing on a knife’s edge, ready to fall into a rage of ill-tempered accusations and hurtful lies. “It’s always more time. Five years ago, it was more time. Two years ago, it was more time! Fuck, Hermione, you always need more time!” he yelled, standing up abruptly to look at her. “How much more time do you need now? What, another year? Maybe two? I mean, you would think that after eight years in a relationship that you’d have all the time you need, but no, you have to have more don’t you?” he paced back and forth, glancing at her every now and again, his eyes telling more than they meant to. “What do I have to do? Tell me, Hermione, what do I have to do?”
“Turn back time,”
“What?” he stopped abruptly and turned to look at her, his blue eyes full of confusion, anger and fear. He knew what she meant, he just didn’t want accept the responsibility of owning up and facing the consequences of his actions. He had lost her trust a long time ago and with it a great deal of respect. Nonetheless, she had stood by him while he pretended that nothing was wrong. She had stood by him because she was afraid of the unknown, of what life would be like without him. He knew what she meant, but would he accept that perhaps it wasn’t a matter of her not wanting to get married but rather, it was he who she didn’t want to marry. It wasn’t because she didn’t love him. It was because she couldn’t trust him.
“Don’t pretend that you don’t know what I mean Ronald,” she snapped irately, taking a few steps toward him. “You know exactly what I mean,” she continued, decidedly turning her back to face him, hiding the unshed tears that now prickled her eyes. “I love you, I can’t and I won’t deny that, but sometimes Ronald, I can’t help but think that no matter how much I love you, I will always resent you for what you did – I can’t trust you – and if I can’t trust you than what hope of a healthy marriage do we have, honestly? What hope do we have of anything but constant suspicion?”
“I thought we put this behind us?”
“Obviously not,” she replied tonelessly, while trying to steady her breathing.
“Just leave,” she didn’t want him to see her like this, she didn’t want him to see her vulnerable.
“Ron, please –” she begged, turning around to look at him imploringly. “You need to go.” Silently, she watched as he made his way to the door. It was in that moment that she couldn’t help but think that no matter how much they had shared together, it would never be enough. She wanted more.
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