Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter.
April 4, 2004
To Do Today
Make it past 4pm
It had been a month to the day. She stared at the little flip calendar on her desk, the one that Mrs. Weasley had bought her last Christmas. Even though she and Ron had decided on the breakup back in January, for Hermione, March 4th marked the actual event. It was when she had packed the final box up and left the apartment, kissing him one last time – for old times' sake, she had whispered – before leaving their shared home, shared relationship, and shared life, forever.
The last month had been filled with hurdles, some minor, some major. There had been moments of sharp clarity while staring at the wall and moments that made her feel like she'd be this low for the rest of her life. They came randomly, as if she were in a small boat at sea, unsure of when the storm surge would hit or the sky would be cloudless.
However, today's forecast was imprinted on her mind, as she huddled in her little boat, watching the storm clouds on the horizon.
Because today she was seeing Ron for the first time.
It was complete happenstance that it hadn't happened earlier. She hadn't bumped into him at Diagon Alley, or the Ministry, or the pub. In a way, she preferred this meeting. It was scheduled. And if it was scheduled, then she could prepare for it.
Or at least, that's what she was trying to convince herself.
Earlier in the week, she had opened one of her last remaining boxes to find a book on Quidditch staring up at her. It was Ron's – a complete history of the English league that she had gifted him for a birthday a few years back. Holding it between her hands, as if it were glass that could shatter at any moment, she wondered what to do. Burn it? Throw it out the window? Allow Crookshanks to do with it what he pleased?
Eventually, she settled on the most adult and most painful option. She wrote Ron a quick note, telling him that she had accidentally packed it amongst her things, and asking if he wanted it back.
To her surprise, he had written back almost immediately, asking if he could swing by her new apartment sometime that week to pick it up.
She could've sent it in the mail, or dropped it by the shop, or handed it off to Harry to play messenger. They didn't need to see each other in person to pass off a book.
Maybe he wanted their first meeting to be scheduled, too.
Maybe he wanted to get it over with. To move past it.
Maybe she didn't.
The anxiety had long since creeped in. She was engulfed in it.
Sitting on her couch, twiddling her thumbs, the Quidditch book lay on the coffee table, an omen of dark times to come. Hermione was watching as the clock on the opposite wall moved forward slowly, unbearably slowly.
Ron said he'd come over around 3:30. Hermione had left work a little early today in preparation, apologizing profusely to Clarence on her way out. He had waved her off, unconcerned. Ever since she had handed in her final manticore report, he seemed unbothered about the moments where her eyes glazed over, or she shuffled into work a few minutes late.
She'd gotten home at 3:02, and the clock now read 3:26. Had it really only been twenty-four minutes? It felt like a thousand years and also ten seconds. Time had a funny way of pulling the wool over your eyes when you were really dreading something – it became glacial, while taking on the speed of an avalanche.
Another minute passed.
What would they say? She wondered. Would it be awkward? No scratch that, of course it would be. But would it be painful? How hot would the knife be?
Would they talk? What could she say? What would he say? She had often thought about what it would be like to see Ron again. However, her imagination never moved past the moment of impact. Their eyes would meet, and then instant darkness.
She supposed her mind couldn't conjure a scenario where her and Ron weren't together, which was fair.
For a long time, she hadn't been able to either.
When the knock on the door finally came, the air left her lung in one fell swoop. She felt winded, as if she'd been sucker-punched. With clammy hands and a pounding heart, she stood and walked, as if in a trance, to greet her visitor.
It had only been a month.
She had expected him to look different. However, the deep internal rupture that had plagued them both did not seem to affect him physically. Sure, the bags beneath his eyes were a little darker than she remembered, but otherwise, it was just him. Freckles she knew by heart smattered across his cheeks, messy red hair she had once run her hands through. And ocean-blue eyes that could read her soul staring back at her.
The eyes were the only difference.
They were guarded.
"Hey," he said, his voice softer than in her memories. She felt its tenor pierce her heart, answering her question about the knife.
It was scalding.
"Hey to you, too," she replied, surprised her voice didn't break. "I… uh… how are you?"
"I'm alright," he replied, shrugging, hands in his pockets. "Long day at work."
"Yeah…" she said back, voice losing steam.
Ron was here. Ron was in her apartment.
"Would you… like to come in?" she heard herself asking, as if the neural pathway between her brain and her mouth had been shattered.
And then she was standing aside, and Ron was walking into her home. Closing the door behind them, she watched him walk into her living space. Her new sanctuary.
"Hey Crooks," she heard him say, as the orange traitor appeared at his feet, mewing for attention. "Missed you, old guy."
It was as if she were looking at a familiar picture. Ron in her living room. But it was wrong, the frame a bit crooked.
He didn't belong here.
"Oh, brilliant," he said, spotting the book on the coffee table. He picked it up. "Thanks for finding this, I'd hate to have lost it."
"No problem," she said, her voice lifeless. Inside she was screaming.
The space between them felt infinite, as if he were fundamentally unreachable. And he was, now. But the memory of when he had not been filled the air, the ghost of a past relationship feeling more alive in its death.
She couldn't take it.
"How's work been?" he asked suddenly, glancing up at her.
"Oh, fine," she said lamely, hesitating. "Clarence keeps giving me the hard assignments, and Meredith the soft balls."
Ron chuckled – it sounded like windchimes. "What else is new? Meredith can't tell her rights from her lefts sometimes."
Hermione giggled. He was right, of course. And he had heard it all, months and years of complaints about work, coming home to shouts of 'you'll never believe what happened today'. He knew her frustrations, her annoyances, her opinions and thoughts.
He knew her.
They fell into silence once more.
"Work's good," he nodded, holding the book to his chest. Was he using it like armour? "April Fool's was a bloody nightmare, especially at the Hogsmeade shop. But it's been nice, staying busy, you know."
"Good, I'm glad to hear," she said, and she was. She wanted him to be good. She wanted him to be…
She just wanted him.
"Well, I'd best be going," he said, after a few more moments of awkward silence.
"I… yes, I don't want to keep you," she muttered, suddenly feeling embarrassed. Why had she invited him inside? Why hadn't she just given him the book at the door?
"Don't worry, 'Mione, you're not keeping me," he said softly, a smile playing at the corner of his lips.
She knew that already.
They walked to the door in silence. As he reached for the doorknob, he turned back, an unreadable expression crossing his face. He hesitated.
"Thanks for finding my book," he whispered, the clouds in his eyes disappearing for a moment. Gods, she was drowning.
She crossed her arms over her chest – her own armour.
What did they do now? Did they… did they hug? Did they… did they not? Did they lie and say 'I'll see you soon'? As the question crossed her mind, she realized that she had no idea when she would see him next.
Seeing Ron had been unbearable.
Not seeing him was torture.
After a few more seconds of silence, his eyes became guarded once again. He gave her a tight smile.
"Bye, 'Mione," he whispered.
The first tears didn't start falling until the door was firmly shut behind him.
She was sitting on the floor, back against the door and knees tucked up to her chest. Ron had left a few minutes prior, or maybe it had been hours. Time was making a fool of her once again.
They had said nothing of substance to each other, nothing that should be eliciting this reaction from her soul. But that was the exact problem – after spending years emersed in the depths of one another, now they were just… strangers. Except that felt inadequate as well. There was nothing 'strange' about their interaction. It was painful words of nothingness between two people who had once known the other's soul.
What was that Jane Austen quote? "Now they were as strangers; worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted."
She understood it in her bones.
The cavern in her chest that Ron had left with his departure seemed to be growing. It was as if waves of grief were lapping against her heart, eroding what remained of her.
It felt like the end of the world.
Perpetual estrangement, as Jane would have said.
And so here she sat, on her own floor, crying her eyes out, alone. She was reminded of something Ron had told her back in February, when they were deciding on the apartment. Hermione had offered to find her own place.
He had hesitated, but she could see the disapproval in his eyes.
"Why can't you find a roommate?"
"Why would I do that?"
"I just… I just don't want you to be alone."
She spat out her next sentence with bitterness.
"That's not really your concern anymore, Ronald."
But he had been right, hadn't he? The thought infuriated her. She was alone, right now, curled up on the floor of her apartment, entirely by herself.
Gods… but she didn't have to be.
Who could she call? Who would listen? Harry or Ginny, obviously. But they had heard so much about the breakup already, from both sides. No – not this time. Who else? She could reach out to Luna, see if they could go for lunch later this week.
It was too long to wait.
Pushing herself to her feet, she wiped away any remaining tears from her face and walked out the front door of the apartment, marching herself up one flight of stairs.
Since the party a few weeks ago, she had seen Theo several times. He had made good on his 'open-door policy' and came to visit her apartment whenever it seemed he had the urge. She appreciated it, though it still felt too soon in their relationship for him to be breaking into her home at random.
Nonetheless, it made her feel less alone.
She didn't want to feel alone anymore.
Hermione reached apartment 407B and gave a sharp knock. Wrapping her arms around her chest, she tried to breathe through the pain, holding herself together until Theo took some of the burden.
That's what friends were for.
The door opened.
Embarrassment flooded her cheeks.
"Hey, Malfoy," she muttered, looking at the ground, suddenly aware of how awful she must look – eyes red and skin blotchy. How could she forget Theo's roommate? She hadn't seen him since the party. He was always busy when she came 'round.
"Granger," he said slowly. Hermione still wouldn't look him in the face. "I… can I help you?"
"Could you grab Theo for me?" she whispered, her embarrassment and despair fighting for dominance inside her head.
"Theo's not here, he's with Justin," Malfoy answered, his voice much softer than she had ever heard it.
Disappointment overtook her, giving despair the open net that it needed.
"Oh," she murmured, looking at her feet. She hadn't even bothered putting on her shoes before rushing up here. Her fuzzy socks stared back up at her.
"Are you alright, Granger?" Malfoy asked tentatively, as if he were speaking to a wounded animal.
He was, she supposed.
"I'm fine," she muttered, lying through her teeth, a lie so familiar it felt like the truth, despite all evidence to the contrary. "I'll just… could you tell him I came by?"
She started to turn, wanting to flee the situation as quickly as possible.
"Granger," he called her back. Taking a deep breathe, she turned and finally looked at him. An unfamiliar furrow had appeared between his eyebrows. "Come in."
"I… what?" She must've misheard him.
He stepped back in his doorway, gesturing for her to come inside. "I know I'm no Theo, but you're obviously upset. I can put on some tea."
Maybe it was insanity. Or more likely, deep loneliness, but her feet were moving before she could think too much of it.
She curled up on the couch as Malfoy walked into the kitchen. Hermione could hear him moving about. A few minutes later, he returned with a steaming cup of tea in a mug that said Kiss The Potioneer on the side.
"It was a birthday gift from Theo," he explained as she took it from him. The warmth filled her fingers, contrasting sharply with the ice-cold darkness in her chest.
"Are you a potioneer?" she asked, clutching the mug like a lifeline.
"I did my Mastery in potions," he shrugged, taking a seat on the other end of the couch.
"You did a Mastery?" she asked, surprised. "I didn't realize."
"After my probation," he explained. "I did it in Wales."
"What does one do with a Potions Mastery?" she questioned. Strange, for the time they had spent in each others' orbits recently, she had never asked Malfoy what he did for a living.
"I'm in the Research department at St. Mungo's," he explained. "For almost two years now."
"Really?" she said, sitting up. "That's fascinating. What made you want to work there?"
His jaw tightened slightly.
"Figured I had some making up to do."
There was silence for a moment.
Hermione took a tentative sip of her tea. Malfoy noticed.
"I didn't poison it, Granger," he chuckled.
"It's just hot," she retorted, finally swallowing a bit. Lemon and ginger.
"Do you… uh… do you want to talk about it?" he asked suddenly, his gaze having dropped itself. "About whatever happened to put you in this… state?"
She was about to argue, offended at the implication she was in a 'state'. But she had appeared at his doorway, shoeless, sobbing, asking for Theodore Nott.
It was a bit state-like, she conceded.
She took a deep breathe. "Ron came over."
His eyes snapped up; an eyebrow raised. "What?"
She nodded. "I found a book of his when I was unpacking. He came to pick it up."
Malfoy chuckled. "Ron Weasley owns a book?"
A pang of protectiveness shot through her. "Yes, he does."
The words came out sharper than she intended. She watched as Malfoy realized his error.
"Sorry, meant no disrespect, Granger. It was just a joke."
"It's alright," she murmured, and to her surprise, she meant it. "Anyway, he came over to pick it up."
"And that went… badly, I take it?"
Impossible to determine. "It was the first time I had seen him since the breakup."
"Oh," Malfoy whispered, and she saw understanding fill his eyes. "No wonder you're in such a state."
"I don't know what I was expecting," she said, clutching the tea to her chest, hoping to warm the cavern. "But not… not that."
"Was he… mean?"
"Not at all," she explained, frowning. "He was perfectly cordial. He came over, we talked for a few minutes, then he took the book, and then he left. And it felt like the world had caved in."
"It was the first time you've seen him since, Granger," Malfoy said gently. "Of course, it was bound to be emotional."
"It wasn't even seeing him that was emotional," Hermione whispered, struggling to make sense of how she felt. "It was watching him leave."
Malfoy raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
"I mean," Hermione started, frowning, before putting the mug down on the coffee table. She clasped her hands together, taking a moment to collect her thoughts before continuing.
"When Ron and I broke up, we slept in the same bed that night. And every night afterwards for over a month. There was no giant fight, and no storming out that followed. Eventually, I moved out and that was it. We were over. But that day, he had to watch me walk out the front door and never come back.
"I never had to think about how it would make me feel to watch him walk out because he didn't. Not literally, at least. And I spent all this energy worrying about how it would feel to see him again, that I gave no thought to how it would feel to watch him leave.
"I wonder if that's how he felt," she whispered, squeezing her hands into fists, nails into her palms as distraction. "Watching me walk out the door."
Malfoy didn't say anything for a moment.
"I'm sorry, Granger."
She gave a watery chuckle. "It's alright. I mean, it's not, but it never was going to. It was always going to be awful, and to no one's surprise, it's awful! Can't be surprised at the expected."
"You're allowed to be in pain," Malfoy interjected. "Even if it was to be expected."
"Don't you worry, I am," she continued, feeling her emotions bubble out of her, unable to be contained. "It hurts to wake up, it hurts to go to bed, it hurts to be asleep because all my dreams are memories now. And in the morning, I wake up crying because I was ripped out of a fantasy that I had once. That belonged to me. And I'll reach over to his side of the bed and it's empty, and I have to count to ten. Ten seconds to allow myself to be miserable, before I get up and go to my job or go see my friends and pretend that I'm not falling apart at all moments."
She was crying again, tears streaming down her cheek with abandon, without a single care for her audience. And he did not seem to mind the performance. He sat there, silently, gentle concern permeating her features until the tears stopped falling, as her wells ran dry.
Her cup was completely empty.
Malfoy stood up and left the living room for a moment before returning with a tissue. He handed it to her without comment, allowing her a few more moments to pull it together.
Not that only a few moments were required for that Herculean task.
"Thank you," she whispered, wiping at her face. She was too upset to care about her dignity.
Malfoy pursed his lips for a moment, as if considering something. It was similar to watching a diver prepare to jump – hesitation, contemplation, before finally taking the plunge.
"What if you switch sides of the bed?"
Whatever she had been expecting him to say, it certainly wasn't that.
He shrugged, but the gesture didn't seem uninterested or dismissive. Rather, nervous. "I'm not going to pretend I have a magic solution for your breakup blues, or even that there is one. But if you wake up every day and reach over to his side of the bed, why don't you sleep in it? Make it your side of the bed so that you're not reaching over and finding it empty. You're just… there instead."
She was shocked. A part of her thought that she should be offended, or that he was diminishing her struggles, or that he had overstepped. But when she looked inward, she didn't find the anger she was expecting.
It wasn't a bad idea.
"I… thank you, Malfoy," she whispered, feeling a bit stunned. "What could it hurt?"
He gave her a smile then, and Hermione was reminded of how he looked after the party, when he had apologized to her. When she had called him by his name.
The memory elicited a strange feeling in her chest, as if a small candle had been lit in the cavern.
"Can't hurt anymore than this," he responded, eyes staying on hers a beat longer than felt necessary.
The flame grew infinitesimally.
That night, when she curled up in bed, she went straight to Ron's side.
Maybe one day it would just be hers.
Please review :)