Ron was standing on the edge of the dock. He watched a duck swim around the water, her ducklings following in a row behind her. His arms were crossed and his shoulders where stiff from standing, but he couldn’t move. He didn’t want to move. The adrenaline had worn off hours ago, along with the alcohol, leaving behind a headache and nausea. Ron could feel anger course through his veins like a mantra.
Betrayal. Hurt. Fear. Anger. Betrayal. But most of all, confusion clouded his mind.
Why would Hermione do this to him? He knew what he saw. Hermione had been lying on top of Malfoy, Malfoy, the Ferret! Why? She had been so distant lately, pulling from his embrace, bickering with him over trivial things, disappearing in the middle of the night. This, this was the last straw. He could understand if it had been Harry, or really anyone else besides him.
He felt her before he heard her walk up behind him. It had always been that way. Even if he wasn’t facing the door, he could always tell when Hermione walked into a room. The air somehow… lifted. And he felt better. But not this time; all he felt was a deep sadness.
She walked up and stood next to him on the dock. He didn’t look at her.
“Ron, I need to tell you something.” He didn’t answer, so she took a deep breath and spoke.
“Ron, the other morning, I woke up from a dream and went for some tea.”
“What does this have to do with what’s going on with that Ferret?”
“He went with me.” Ron stiffened. “We, um, oh God Ron, I’m so sorry.”
“What are you talking about Hermione?” He finally turned to her.
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, steeling herself. “We kissed.”
Ron nodded curtly, looking down, and then up. He tried desperately to block out her words, to stay composed as his heart shattered into pieces.
“And last night?”
“He wanted to talk about it, because he told Astoria.”
“Were you planning on telling me?”
Her silence answered him.
Ron’s hands clenched into a fist. “Did anything happen last night Hermione?”
“No.” She tentatively held her hand out and touched his shoulder. He jerked back.
“How can I believe you?”
“Ron, have I ever lied to you?”
“Tell me why you did it Hermione, because I just don’t understand.” His piercing blue eyes stared into hers. “Did you like being called a Mudblood? Is that it? Or getting tortured by his family? Or was it his charm, his money” He spat the word. “that drew you to him?”
He turned suddenly, and grasped her forearm. Ron roughly pulled the sleeve of her shirt to reveal the scar on her arm. “Remember this? He stood by and watched, as Bellatrix did this to you!” She pulled her arm from his grasp and slid the sleeve of her shirt back down.
He was leering now, but she could see the pain in his eyes. Nevertheless, each question stung like a slap to the face. Tears sprang up in her eyes and she blinked furiously to dispel them. Hermione shook her head, looking up into his eyes, which were now cold. Her tears feel, but she kept her composure.
“I can’t believe you said that.”
For a moment, Ron faltered. But then the image of her sprawled across Malfoy’s lap assaulted his mind once more and he steeled himself.
“I can’t believe you would kiss the boy who made your life a living hell, but life is full of surprises isn’t it Hermione?”
She was angry now. “Ron, Draco gets it! He understands how it feels to not be safe in your own home, to have that constant worry surround him like a cloud. You don’t. You'll never understand how that feels!” She was yelling now.
“All your life you have been surrounded by love and security. But Draco didn’t have that. I used to not have that. We’re both afraid of falling asleep because we don’t want to dream.” She wiped her eyes with her forearm.
“I love you! I have loved you since the day we met Ron!” she screamed. “But he understands what I’ve been through. I made a mistake kissing him. I should never have done it. But I will not regret the friendship I have with Malfoy, and I will not end it just to assuage your jealously. If you don’t understand that I love you by now, then I don’t know what to do.”
This caught his attention. “Oh? How about NOT kissing other men? Maybe that will help.”
She didn’t think. Her hand went flying of its own accord, and she slapped him soundly across the face. His head jerked to the side, and he brought a hand up to his cheek, shocked.
“What was that for? You’re the one who cheated!” She took a deep breath. Then she slumped down onto the deck, burying her face in her hands.
“I’m so sorry,” she whimpered. “I didn’t mean for it to happen.”
Ron couldn’t stand watching her cry. He never could. He sighed and sat down next to her. Because even though he was mad as hell, he still loved her.
They were silent for a long time, each just sitting there looking across the water.
Finally Hermione spoke. “What can I do to earn your forgiveness?” she whispered, looking up at him. Her voice was broken, resigned.
Ron’s eyes filled with tears, and he bit his lip, looking down. “I don’t know if I can forgive you yet Hermione,” his voice was anguished, his expression torn. Finally he looked her in the eye. His tears had fallen, streaking his cheeks. "I don't know if I can forgive you at all.
“How can I ever trust you again? How do I know that you won’t do this again? I love you Hermione, more than my own life. But I can’t be in a relationship with someone who cheats on me.”
“Ron, please…” she began to cry. “Please, just give me one more chance.” He began to shake his head, almost unconsciously. Hermione tried to pull his hand to her.
He pulled away from her grasp. “I-” he took a deep breath. “I need some time Hermione. I need you to leave me alone.”
“Don’t do this Ron, I love you!” But Ron just stood, and walked away.
Hermione watched him walk away from her for the second time, until he was out of sight, and even then she watched, hoping uselessly that he would return. Tears didn’t fall. She watched well into the afternoon, but he didn’t come back. Finally she stood, and apparated back to the Burrow.
No one made eye contact with her as she entered the kitchen. She turned away from Harry and Ginny, heading to the stairs.
She hurried upstairs to Ron’s room. She knocked tentatively, but he wasn’t there. She opened the door quietly and gathered her things. Then she made the lonely trek back down to Ginny’s room. As soon as she was unpacked, she sat down at the desk overlooking the orchard and cried. She didn’t hear the door behind her slowly open, but she did hear the soft footsteps that approached behind her. Nevertheless, she jumped when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Hermione looked up. Surprise flickered across her face as she met Astoria’s emerald gaze. Hermione lowered her head in shame.
“I’m so sorry Astoria. I don’t know what to say.”
Tori, knelt down in front of Hermione and lifted her chin. “I forgive you Hermione.” Those four words broke Hermione, and a sob escaped from her lips. Why couldn’t Ron?
“Why? I don’t deserve it!”
“Of course you do,” she answered.
Hermione looked up at Astoria. Tori’s expression was kind, and Hermione whimpered. Tears were streaming down her face and she couldn’t stop them.
“I lost him, Tori. I need Ron like I need water. And I just let him walk out of my life, because of one stupid mistake.”
“Hermione, he will forgive you.”
“How do you know?”
She smiled knowingly. “Because he loves you,” she replied simply.
Hermione shook her head. “You don’t know him. Once lost, it’s nearly impossible to gain his trust again.”
“Exactly, nearly impossible. That boy loves you, and you don’t just throw love like that away. Give him his space, and he will come to his senses.” She stood. “Now come on, dinner’s almost ready.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“I don’t care. You’re eating.” She held out her hand.
Hermione looked at it for a moment and took it. She knew how stubborn Tori was. Astoria lifted her up and pulled her into a hug. “It’ll all work out, just you wait and see.”
They headed downstairs and set the table. Dinner was tense.
Ron finally emerged from the den, and sat down at the far end, where his father normally sat. Mr. Weasley was working late. Hermione sat next to Ginny, across from Draco and Tori, and as far away from Ron as possible. She only picked at her food. Ron threw Draco glares every few minutes.
Harry and Ginny were in their own little world, holding hands under the table. Ginny was wearing her engagement ring, but they weren't ready to tell everyone just yet, so she put it on her right hand. Every once in a while Harry would graze his fingers along the stones, and she would blush. The only sound was of the silverware against the table.
Finally, Mrs. Weasley slammed her fork onto the table.
“What is going on here?” she asked imperiously. Ron and Hermione’s eyes met, but they both looked away quickly. Harry and Ginny looked up, confused.
“Nothing Mum,” Ron said quickly.
“Uh huh, and Nargles exist, they just don’t like the public eye.”
Tori giggled. “Do you want the long or the short of it?” she asked.
“I don’t want to talk about it!” Ron said hotly.
“Well it concerns me as much as it concerns you.” Tori replied evenly. “So, long story short, Draco and Hermione kissed a few days ago and it’s been a little awkward since. Ron just found out today, and he’s angry.”
“Damn it Tori!” Ron stood up suddenly; Tori just looked at him.
“You’re acting like a child Ron. They have apologized for their actions, what more can you ask?”
“Oh, I dunno, maybe you can just up and forgive them, but personally, I can’t just let go of the fact that my girlfriend made out with a Death Eater.”
Draco flinched, and stood. “Ron—”
“DON’T TALK TO ME!” Ron exploded.
Mrs. Weasley was out of her chair before the words were even out of Ron’s mouth, torn between concern and disappointment.
“Ronald Bilius Weasley! You watch your mouth!” Her gaze was so fierce that everyone at the table shrunk down a bit in their chairs. Ron’s temper extinguished, and he flinched. He sat back down, breathing deeply.
“Now,” Mrs. Weasley continued, her voice much gentler now that Ron had calmed down a little bit. “What happened?”
Harry and Ginny were sitting awkwardly between Hermione and Ron. They looked at one another, and then they stood.
“We’re, uh, we’re going to go… um, away,” Harry stammered. They quickly exited the room, leaving the two couples alone with Mrs. Weasley.
The atmosphere was tense, but no one was willing to speak up. Finally Draco leaned forward. “Ok look…” he trailed off, trying to find the words. But he didn’t have to because Hermione began to speak.
“Mrs. Weasley,” she took a deep breath. “There are many things you don’t know about my past. Things that I have deliberately kept from the people I love. I’ve had… experiences… that are incredibly difficult to deal with, and, and Draco can understand those experiences. He was able to comfort me, and I reacted in an inappropriate manner.” She let herself look across the table to Ron, but he wouldn’t meet her gaze.
“Did we kiss? Yes. And I am sorry for that. And that’s all I really have to say about it. Excuse me.” She pushed her chair back and left the room. Draco watched her leave.
“What is she talking about Ron?” Mrs. Weasley asked. “What experiences is she talking about?”
“Mum, it’s not really my place—”
“She was abused as a young child, as was I.” There was a shocked silence, but Draco tried to continue.
“It is very difficult to trust another after something like that happens. And when you find someone who understands why you wake up screaming in the middle of the night… it’s difficult to let that connection go. I just…we just got caught up.” He tried to meet Ron’s eye, but he still didn’t look up. “Ron, please, we didn’t mean for it to happen.” He looked to Astoria.
“I love you Astoria.” He turned back to Ron. “And Hermione loves you.” With that Tori and Draco stood, quietly heading upstairs, leaving Ron alone with his mother.
“Ron, I know this is difficult for you, but you have to learn how to control your temper. You’ve loved Hermione for years, so I can understand why you are angry. But did you even give her a chance to explain herself?”
Ron shifted uncomfortably in his seat. His mother had always been able to see through him.
“Mum, I have loved Hermione for so long,” his voice broke. “How could she do this to me? I mean, she went to the one person who always made her life hell. Why couldn’t she go to me?” He took a deep breath, trying to hide the tears that began to flow from his mother.
Mrs. Weasley stood, and crossed the room, taking him into her arms. “Oh honey, you’ve been so sheltered. If she’s really been abused like Draco said, how can you blame her for finding it difficult to control her emotions when she finds someone who can understand just what exactly she is going through?” Ron stiffened.
“Yes I can blame her! She cheated on me. With Draco Malfoy!”
“Why does the who of it matter?”
“Because it’s Malfoy! He made her life hell for seven years. Why him?”
“Ron, you’ve had a happy, normal—well almost normal— life. It would be very difficult for you to understand the pain that she experienced. And Hermione is strong. She doesn’t like to appear weak. She cares about you more than anything else in the world; do you really expect her to want to look weak in front of you?”
Despite his efforts, Ron couldn’t stop her words from sinking in, evaporating his anger, leaving behind only regret.
“Mum, she could never look weak to me. I admire her too much, but how can I ever trust her again?”
“How do you know you can’t?”
That brought him up short. He looked up from his hands; his blue eyes were bright with unshed tears.
“I’m not saying you should forgive her right now. But you should forgive her. You need her, and she needs you. A person isn’t who they are in one moment. It’s the sum of who they’ve been throughout your entire relationship with them.”
With that she stood, giving him a strong hug. She flicked her wand toward the pile of dishes. She turned her back on Ron, waiting. A few seconds later she heard the kitchen door open and her face fell in disappointment. He was supposed to go upstairs.