Hermione Granger was tired, and hungry, and cold. But none of that mattered at the moment because she was, for the next six hours, blissfully free of Ron Weasley.
They were almost a week past his triumphant return with that heinous locket, blackened and twisted as it dangled from his fingers, finally destroyed, and not nearly the peace offering he seemed to imagine it should be. She had no interest in letting him explain himself further; he had said enough when he returned. No—he had said too much. Words that hinted at things she had always suspected, always longed for, and that he had more or less thrown in her face six weeks ago in the pouring rain, horcrux or no horcrux.
A part of her—a tiny part, the only minuscule bit of her that was any longer capable of logical thought on the subject of Ron—knew what terrible acts the bits of You-Know-Who's soul were capable of inciting. Ginny, after all, had nearly murdered her under the influence of the first one they had offed, five years ago. She wondered vacantly why the two Weasleys seemed more affected by the artefacts than herself or Harry; something to do with being pure-blooded? Or blood traitors? Could the objects possibly know that? She snorted to herself, shaking her head. Of course they could; they were made from dark magic the likes of which had never been seen before, and there was no telling what they were capable of. That was part of the problem, wasn't it?She scratched a quick note onto the parchment she always brought out on watch, just in case of wayward thoughts like these, so she wouldn't forget to do the proper research on them when dawn rolled around.
"Find something?" Ron's voice was soft behind her, but in the dead of night, in this deserted bit of forest, he may as well have shouted the words at her.
Hermione quickly turned the parchment over, not wanting to share anything with him. Not her research. Not her thoughts. Definitely not anything about that bloody horcrux. She had been carefully avoiding Ron, as much as was possible in their cramped living quarters, since his return. And to her great surprise, he was allowing her to. Or had been, at least.
"It's nothing," she said briskly. He was silent, but she could still sense him behind her, standing there, watching. "You ought to go back to bed."
"Can't sleep. Thought you might want a cup of tea."
That wasn't any more of a peace offering than a busted up locket after what he had done, so she retorted, "I can get myself a cup of tea just fine."
There was just the tiniest of sighs from Ron, but then a mug levitated down in front of her, as if falling from the sky. She supposed she could take it as a good sign that he wasn't moving any closer, hadn't attempted to hand the mug directly to her. Just a couple more short remarks should be enough to send him back into the tent, away from her. Exactly the opposite of what she had wanted, not so long ago.
She swatted at the mug like it were a pesky insect, and Ron's spellwork landed it on the ground, a safe distance away but still within her reach.
"What do you want from me, Hermione?" he asked. His voice was gentle, even though the words themselves were demanding.
"I want you to go inside and leave me alone." Her response, by contrast, was cold and brittle, the way she had felt every minute of every day since he had walked out on her. Or them. She wasn't even sure at this point which betrayal cut deeper.
"Can't we just talk? Just for a minute?"
Hermione choked out a laugh. "Figures. You ask me what I want and then do the exact opposite. Suppose I shouldn't have expected anything else from you." She twirled her wand around her fingers just for a distraction. She was letting herself get angry with him, and that couldn't happen. The better she was at keeping her emotions at bay, even the ones he rightfully deserved, the quicker they could be done with this little adventure, and the sooner she'd be shot of Ron for good.
"There's some things I need to tell you," he said calmly, not rising to her bait for once. "And if you still hate me after you've heard them, then so be it. But I need to tell you."
Hermione finally turned to him, just enough twist of her shoulders to shoot him an incredulous glare. He had an overall nervous look to him, but there was an air of determination there as well. Determination that she needed to squash. "You don't get to make that decision for me," she bit back. "You have no right to come out here and demand that I hear anything you have to say."
"If it makes a difference, I think you already know a lot of it." There he went again, dancing way too close to words that no longer had any place in her life. It was there on his face, too, now. Before she had only caught glimpses of it, when he thought she wasn't looking. But he was letting her see, letting himself be vulnerable. And she wanted no part of it.
"Yes, well, I thought I did, too." She took extra care to place emphasis on the past tense of the word. What did it matter if she had thought that he fancied her? She didn't dare let herself think of it running any deeper than that, the way her feelings did for him. Ron fancying her, and Ron abandoning her, could not possibly exist in the same universe, and one of those things was cold, hard fact. She could handle facts. He had abandoned her. It had happened. Everything else was just now-refuted speculation.
She shot to her feet, gripping her wand tightly. "Don't, Ron. Just...don't."
He took a tentative step towards her, both of them ignoring the way her wand hand twitched at his movement. She was fairly certain she wouldn't actually hex him, though the idea had tempted her on more than one occasion in the past week. "I owe you so much more than an explanation, I know that." He had his hands out in front of him, trying to show her that he wasn't looking for a fight.
"You don't owe me a damn thing," she spat with a firm shake of her head, making the words as cold and cutting as she could manage. "Maybe if you'd gotten whatever this is off your chest years ago. But any obligation you had to me, real or imagined, disappeared with you six weeks ago." He wasn't budging, his intense gaze still holding hers. He had to leave her alone. She couldn't let him say what he had come out here to say, because if he actually said it, the reality of his leaving would hit so much harder.
"I just want to be honest with you," he argued, his tone just slightly pleading. "I want to tell you everything...things that, you're right, I should've said a long time ago. Hermione, I—"
"Don't!" She cut him off shrilly, and was horrified to feel her eyes watering. "Can't you understand? You finally being ready to say all of these things is not the same thing as me being ready to hear them!" She wiped furiously at the two rebellious tears streaking down her face, knowing she had said too much, but unable to stop now that the dam was breaking. "And if you're trying to say what I think you are, and you actually mean it, then you'll respect that."
They stared at each other for a long moment. "Okay," Ron said finally, taking one step backwards toward the tent. She felt her eyes welling again, because his response told her exactly what she hadn't wanted him to say aloud. "But I want to tell you. Everything. You deserve to hear it. When you're ready. Just...say when." He bent to pick up the mug of tea he'd offered, long gone cold, and headed back inside.