Chapter 8 : Like It Means Something
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When Hermione awoke she knew that lunch would probably have been long devoured and thrown away by now. The clock ticking on Ginny’s wall told her it was already four o’clock, which meant she’d been sleeping for almost three hours. She quickly threw the covers off and flung open her suitcase to change. She didn’t have many clothes; most of her outfits from her school days were either too loose on her skinny body now, or she’d given them to charity, having had no use for them.
She dressed in her usual pair of jeans and slipped on a light-weight, sheer tank top over a white undershirt. In an effort to make herself look better put together, she tucked in the shirt and dug through Ginny’s closet for a belt of some sort. She knew her hair would be hopeless, but she glanced at it in the mirror, tying it back at the nape of her neck. It would have to do, she thought.
Someone must have come in and drawn the blinds in Ginny’s room, for when she stepped into the hall, brilliant sunlight filtered in throughout the house. It was the time of day she’d always loved, particularly in these warmer months, when the days were just a bit longer. The sun bounced off every surface, casting darkly beautiful shadows and painting a golden glow on its canvas. When she was younger, she liked to think it had made the gold in her hair stand out, like she was a duckling transforming into a swan.
The stairs creaked as she crept down them, unsure of who awaited her at the bottom. An overwhelming part of her wished Ron would be down there alone; that the rest of the family would have gone off on a late afternoon stroll, and that they would have time to talk and patch the past up. A smaller part of her wished that he would take her in his arms and kiss her lightly on the forehead and all would be forgiven just upon seeing her. But she knew that was impossible – he’d already seen her once, hadn’t he? The way he’d stared at her with such pity… It was a look she didn’t think she’d ever forget.
When she finally made the final step into the kitchen, she was disappointed to see that Ron was nowhere to be found, but was happy to greet Luna, sitting aloofly on the kitchen counter snacking on a carrot.
“Hello, Luna,” Hermione said softly, heading toward the cabinet. Luna positively glowed in the light of the afternoon; she didn’t seem quite real. The house was silent around them, the kind of silence that one only finds after they wake up from a day of napping, a silence that comforts them instead of disturbs.
Luna beamed. “Hello, Hermione! It’s nice to see you again.” She hopped down from the counter and took a dainty bite of her snack.
“It’s nice to see you as well. Sorry about… you know, before… How have you been?” Hermione self-consciously poured herself a tall glass of water.
“Oh, fine,” Luna responded in her usual dreamy way. “My father and I have found a small infestation of Moon Frogs in our garden… We were quite worried, you see, but I think they may have simply fallen from the sky. We’ve done an article on it.”
Hermione bit her lip, nodding thoroughly. “Yes, I suppose that is possible.” What rubbish, she secretly thought. But she’d learned long ago not to argue with Luna over the existence of imaginary creatures. “I hope everything works out.”
Luna just stared on past Hermione. “Yes, thank you. I think you have a visitor.”
Hermione turned around mid-sip and subsequently choked on her water. Ron was standing by the stairs, his hands folded in front of him, watching as Hermione drooled and wiped the water that was leaking from her mouth on her arm. Both he and Luna stared as she coughed a few times and then gasped.
“Alright there, Hermione?” she asked. Hermione nodded, embarrassed. Luna simply hummed to herself and skipped out to the garden, where presumably the rest of the Weasley family was.
Hermione stood rooted to her spot, unsure whether to say anything or not. She wanted to run to him, wrap her arms around him and bury herself in his scent. But she wasn’t supposed to do that, was she?
“Hi,” she said softly. She was met with silence, but it was not the same comforting quiet she’d greeted before. It was brutal and unwelcoming.
Ron moved past her, careful to leave as much space between them as possible and reached for a biscuit. Just the way he moved around her felt forced and tense. But then she heard it.
Their backs were to each other. Hermione tilted her head to the side, biting her lip. She wished more than anything that she could feel beautiful, the type of beauty that men write about in romances, the type that’s supposed to come from this stark vulnerability. But she only felt awkward and alone.
Hermione straightened her shoulders and crossed her arms, spinning around on her heel. “How have you been, Ron?”
She watched his shoulder blades clench but it was subtle. Then he faced her and shook his head. She ground her teeth in anticipation.
“Are we gonna do this, then, Hermione?” His words were flat and emotionless. The tone made her flinch, but she stood her ground. Just apologize, she thought quickly. Of course, she wouldn’t take her own advice.
“Well, we have to do this eventually, don't we, Ronald?” she fired back, trying to sound nonthreatening.
Ron’s face grew red, though, and he slammed his fist on the counter. A shock electrified Hermione’s spine, for his anger was both terrifying and thrilling. He whipped around, fuming.
“What is wrong with you?!” he yelled at her. His body was slightly bent over, distorted, leaning towards her. She could almost feel the heat radiating from his body, but she did not step away.
“You think you can just show up here and everything will go back to normal?”
“No, I –!” Hermione muttered
“What, did you think I would just accept you back into my house and pretend that you never bloody ripped my heart out of my chest? I mean, what happened to your new life? What about that lovely lad you’ve got pent up in London? Are you just messing with him, too, Hermione? You got what you wanted. You got a whole new life, just as you wanted! I was out of your life, so why can’t you now just get out of mine!”
Something within her had sparked, something instinctual, and she couldn’t hold herself back. For some reason, although she didn’t enjoy it, arguing with Ron felt very familiar – natural even. It was almost like a game that she was suddenly being thrown back into.
“If you would just let me talk to you, instead of running off every time you see me – ”
“Me running off!? Really!? Is that what happened at the pub last week?”
“ – than you would realize how horrible I feel and how hard everything was for me. Ginny understands! Harry, as well! Do you think I'm really so dim that I think everything will be normal again? I knew this would be hard, Ron, but at least I'm here and I'm trying to fix things!”
Ron laughed. “Oh, I'm sure Ginny’s completely forgiven you for abandoning us all! I know Ginny better than you ever will and she is furious! She’s probably just cutting you some slack because she missed you so bloody much –!”
“She has, Ron, because she understands what I was going through!”
“Don't try to make me feel sorry for you!”
“You don't know what it was like for me after everything that happened! How could I have just got on with my life?! How was that even a possibility!? And – us – you and me – I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I’d just gone along, being so deliriously happy that you – ”
“You're not even grateful, are you?” he spat, but his voice was lower and he’d stopped yelling.
“Grateful?” she reeled. “For the worst experience of my life?”
He stared at her as though he could not believe the words she spoke. She wasn’t thinking anymore, though. The words kept pushing their way out of her mouth, completely independent of any thought, fueled only by emotion.
“It was horrible for all of us, Hermione, not just you. God, you're so selfish –”
“I know, Ron! Don't you think I know that?” Hermione only then realized that hot tears had welled up in her eyes. They danced on the edge of her lids, not quite spilling over. The corners of the room grew blurry.
“You hang onto your pain like it actually means something,” Ron continued. “Well, let me tell you – it’s not worth shit. So let it go.”
“I can’t!” Hermione screamed back at him. She wasn’t even vaguely aware of the people in the garden, who could surely hear every word they said. She didn’t care.
Ron took three giant strides toward her so that their noses were almost touching. She stood on her tip toes, trying not to back away.
“You were – you really don't – you had the world at your feet, Hermione! People needed you, because you were always the most caring, the most together! You had infinite possibilities! You still do, and all you can do is whine!”
Her jaw clenched. “Well, what am I supposed to do?”
“What do you think?” he fired back. “You can do anything. At least you're alive. Cos, you know, not everyone is. You know – what’s a little pain compared to that?”
Leaning away, Hermione took a step backwards. This was the part she’d feared most: the inevitable moment when someone would point out to her that she did not have it that bad. People had died… Fred… Lupin and Tonks… others, people she didn’t even know. Ron had lost his brother, and then he’d lost her, too.
She turned her shoulder, desperate to put some distance between them.
“It can’t be that simple.”
His eyes did not leave her face. “What if it is?”
Silence engulfed them once again. And like the wreckage after an accident, Hermione finally noticed that there were onlookers who simply could not tear their eyes from the self-destruction that lay before them. A blush didn’t even creep to her cheeks, though; she was past the point of embarrassment.
She was crying, though, and that was a bit annoying. Hot tears carved their path down her cheek, her lower lip trembling. Using all of her restraint, she carefully side-stepped around Ron, making absolutely sure that they did not touch, and marched up the stairs to Ginny’s room. She didn’t have to look behind her to know that her friend would follow her.
Once inside the safety of Ginny’s room, she practically sprinted to the bed, curling up in a neat ball and wrapping her arms around herself. She heard quite a few things: the door shutting quickly behind her, soft footsteps on the wooden floor, the silence of a sympathetic stare, and finally, the bed sank down by her feet and Ginny’s warm hands were on her back.
At her touch, Hermione burst into a fit of sobs. As she gasped for air, heaving breaths racked her chest, shaking her whole body.
Ginny’s voice was soothing and kind. “Don't, Hermione.” Her fingers drew circles on Hermione’s back.
Between sobs, Hermione choked out a response. “I can’t stop crying!”
She sat up quickly, pressing her palms into her eye sockets and stomping her foot angrily on the floor. Ginny shushed her but didn’t remove her hand from her back. Hermione wiped her eyes.
“And now I’ve gone and ruined it all, haven’t I?” she whispered hoarsely.
Ginny shook her head. “Of course not. Why would you think that?” Hermione hiccupped. “You know how Ron is,” Ginny added. “He needs time to cool down.”
No, I don't think so, Hermione wanted to say. Instead, she leaned her head on Ginny’s shoulder, still crying. “I'm scared, Ginny.”
“Oh, rubbish. You have nothing to be afraid of!”
“No!” Hermione moaned. She looked at her friend. “I'm scared because if I can’t stay here, I’ve got nowhere to go.”
A piece of Ginny’s flaming red hair was stuck to Hermione’s wet cheek. She wiped it away and sat up, facing forward.
“That’s not true,” said Ginny. “I'm here with you. You know, I’ve always thought of us as sisters.”
With a swelling of her heart, Hermione perked up. “You have?”
Warmth spread through Hermione’s body, trickling down her spine. Ginny had always been such a great friend, she thought. And she’d never appreciated her when they were at Hogwarts. School had always come first, or whatever was going on with Harry and Ron. Yet Ginny had stood by in the background, never fully getting the credit she deserved.
The room was quiet for a moment before she found her voice again. “Do you reckon he’ll be angry with me forever?”
Ginny shook her head. “Definitely not. Ron’s still very much the same as he’s always been – he blows up, goes off on his own, and once he’s thought about what he’s done, he comes crawling back, all humble and lovely and grinning. But he knows when he’s wrong.”
Hermione wasn’t so sure. Because how could Ron be the wrong one in this situation? It had always been Ron – he’d always had the wrong answer, or asked the wrong question, or had the worst idea… She’d always been right. It didn’t seem so black and white nowadays.
What was she talking about? She thought to herself, twisting her ring around her finger. Of course things weren’t black and white – she’d learned that the hard way during the war. Once upon a time, Hermione had believed in good people and bad people – right and wrong, the truth and a lie… all of the edges had been blurred. Things were simpler when they had one definition, one answer. But this was a problem Hermione couldn’t solve logically. Sure, she could make a plan and carry it out, but there was no way of knowing, no way of predicting whether Ron would accept it when it was done. She hardly knew him anymore, and it would be arrogant of her to think she could still guess what he was thinking.
And even if he did eventually forgive her… Did she want him to? Right now, in this moment, Hermione wished more than anything that he would forget about what she’d done and that all would return to normal. Life didn’t work like that, did it? Could she really picture herself here at the Burrow a few months from now, having dinner with the Weasleys and chatting with Ron like old friends? No, she couldn’t. Her brain rejected the idea, and a different vision started to form in her mind… A life with Ron that consisted of more than just platonic friendship. But this was too painful, as well. As if he could ever see her that way again! She had no alternatives. If Ron were to forgive her, it would only cause her more heartache, for he would never love her in the same way he had. Perhaps he did once, but that time had passed. And Hermione was left with nothing.
Ginny’s voice was soft and sympathetic when Hermione heard it. “I get that you may not want to hear this right now, but I think you should know how it was when you left.”
Her last word hung in the poignant silence surrounding them.
Hermione didn’t say anything, and Ginny must’ve taken her silence as denial. “I deserve the chance to tell you, Hermione.”
“I know,” was all she answered with.
Ginny sucked in a breath. “I remember everything really well…”
A fast, concerned knock sounded on Ginny’s door. She stumbled out of bed angrily and swung the door open. Ron stood on the other side, his face paler than ever.
“Have you seen Hermione?” he asked frantically.
Ginny, still fuddled with sleep, yawned. “What are you going on about?”
Ron gave a frustrated sigh and turned on his heel, walking swiftly down the stairs. His bitter mood awoke Ginny and she stomped after him, confused.
“Hey! What’s going on? What about Hermione?” she called after him, skipping in her bare feet to keep up.
He looked back at her once they’dreached the kitchen and stood there for a moment, trying to find the right words. His hands were out in front of him, as though he was waiting for someone to place something in them.
“She – I dunno, she’s just not here,” he said quickly, obviously flustered.
“What do you mean, ‘She’s not here’?” Ginny squinted at him. When her brother only stood gaping at her, a nervous flutter rose in her stomach. “Ron, stop,” she said quickly. “Should I be worried or something? Where is she?”
Her heart nearly stopped as she watched his face sink. It was as though she was witnessing his very lungs deflate from within and all the emotion sucked out of him. His eyes were darker than normal. She glanced at the old clock on the wall, suddenly very aware of how early in the morning it was. But Ron didn’t make any attempt to answer her questions, and the nervousness she’d felt before reared.
“Ron, you're scaring me, okay?” she laughed meekly. Her voice was weak. Butterflies flew in her gut; it was the feeling she got whenever her mother said, ‘I have to talk to you.’ A feeling that something had gone wrong, and although she wasn’t aware of what it could be, she knew it would be bad. And she didn’t want to know.
With what appeared to be all his energy, Ron slowly reached into his shirt pocket and revealed a small, crumpled piece of paper. Ginny reached for it with shaking hands.
I'm so very sorry, but I’ve got to go. It’s not you. I just can’t live in this world any longer. Don't come after me.
All my love,
“We looked for you, even though you told us not to,” Ginny finished. Hermione had listened to her story quietly, holding herself together and keeping her face fixed in the same emotionless mask that she’d grown accustomed to over the years. Even though she’d yearned to cover her ears and scream as to not hear Ginny’s words, she couldn’t bring herself to do it. As she had said, Ginny deserved this much, at least, from her.
“Well,” she edited, “we all did, except for Ron. He thought that if you wanted to be left alone than you should be.” Hermione felt a light pressure on her knee as Ginny laid her hand there. “He was more devastated than anyone. Of course, we were all furious, me probably the most,” she laughed. “But Harry always told me that you’d come back one day. And that when you did, we’d have to forgive you, because you were Hermione, and we owed it to you. I didn’t really agree with him at first, but I started to understand when you showed up today. It just felt… right – to forgive you. And so I have.” She paused. “I wanted you to know that.”
Hermione nodded curtly. She knew that if she did any more than she would begin to cry, and she was too exhausted to go through that again.
“Thanks, Ginny. I mean it.”
Ginny smiled. “Well, come on, then. Will we go down?” When Hermione grimaced, she beamed. “You can’t hide up here forever!”
She took Hermione’s hands and dragged her to her feet, pulling her down the stairs. As they reached the kitchen, Ginny spun around to face her friend, grinning wildly.
“Alright, then,” she started, her floral perfume making Hermione feel at home. “Hermione. Look at me.”
Hermione raised her eyes to meet Ginny’s. She had a strange feeling about this.
“Just forget about Ron,” Ginny urged passionately. “Forget about it all. Just be here and be yourself and give it a go!” Hermione bit her lip and Ginny continued. “We’re gonna have fun.”
Maybe she could do that. Maybe she could leave all of her inhibitions behind, like she’d spoke of before, and have some fun. She could only stay here with her friends for so long… eventually she would have to sort out all of the messy details of her double life. But for now, she could focus on being herself, like Ginny had said. She could do it. She always found a way.
A/N: Wow, record time, I think, for this chapter! It was so much fun to write and I'm very happy with it, but let me know what you think! xx Kristen