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And They Didn't Live Happily Ever After

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Chapter Five
"Mirrors, Illusions and Reflections"

 

Disclaimer: The usual. Rowling owns it all and is fabulously rich (deservedly so!), and I'm a bored housewife who hopes the tech sector will improve so I can go back to work.

 

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Hermione cried for an hour before she could stop. She cried for Ginny's predicament. She cried for the broken façade of Ginny and Harry's marriage, and all the things she believed their marriage held that hers didn’t with Ron. She cried because she was certain she would never experience the kind of love that her friend had described.

 

It pained her to think about it, but upon further analysis later in the afternoon, she came to the conclusion that she loved Ron, but wasn't in love with him. Except that there was no one else in her life that she loved as much as him. It was a lukewarm love at best.

 

She continued to cry, out of pity for her own pathetic sex life, and all the things she was growing ever resentful of: Fudge, her job, her husband, her in-laws, her life. She was especially angry at Fudge and Moody for that law. It certainly did a thorough job of controlling the Death Eaters, but at what cost to Malfoy and Snape? It had been blindly applied to them. It angered her more that Snape, for all his years of hard work and thankless toil of spying, had eventually been stabbed in the back by a fellow member of the Order. And those who would speak up in defense of them were blackmailed into silence. This was the sort of injustice she fought against, and here it was staring her in the face. The work for a better world only resulted in one that appeared to be pretty, but hid grotesque atrocities.

 

Once calmed down, she noticed that Ron would be home soon from Quidditch practice, and she did not want to fend off questions about why she looked like a demented hag from all her crying.

 

Hermione still didn’t know what she would tell Harry tomorrow. She knew she was going to have a long night ahead of her in which to lie awake and contemplate things to say.

 

First she had to get to her medicine cabinet and use some of Lovely Lavender's Puffy Poof Eye Crème. A dab under the eyes always took away the tired crying look.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Ron bolted through the door with his usual enthusiasm after a good practice.

 

"'Mione? You home?"

 

"Yes," she called out from the bathroom. Mrs. Weasley checked herself in the mirror one last time for any signs she had been crying. Convinced she looked passable, she walked out to greet her husband.

 

"You're home early," he commented with surprise.

 

"I had some errands to run this afternoon. They took so long that it wasn't worth it to go back to work, so I just came home." It was true, in a manner of speaking. She had told Marge the same lie, so her fibs would correspond.

 

"What's for dinner?" he asked, his face bright and cheerful in expectation of another meal cooked by his lovely wife.

 

Hermione tried to not look pained. She hadn’t even thought of dinner. Glancing over her shoulder, she looked at the kitchen. Ron had not done the dishes as he’d promised for the last three days. They were beginning to teeter back and forth, threatening to fall over. She hadn't noticed the state of the place while Ginny was there, and now felt a bit ashamed that her friend saw what a pigsty it was.

 

It had been a very emotionally taxing day for her and the thought of having another battle with Ron over his share of the housework made her inwardly wince. The beginnings of a headache was starting to creep up from the base of her skull and wrap its meaty hands on either side of her head, gripping it like a vice till the pain shot through her temples like an arrow through her head. If she didn’t get a dose of headache relief potion soon, it would quickly turn into what Hermione termed as a 'knitting needle through the eyeball' migraine.

 

Not bothering to answer Ron's question, she ran back to the bathroom and downed a vial in hope that she caught it in time.

 

Ron appeared in the doorway and leaned against the jamb. "You look exhausted, love. Let's go out to dinner instead. You look like you need the break."

 

She looked at him out of the corner of her eye and weighed her options. Spend money, which they had little to spare, for a mediocre dinner that was a tad overpriced for the fare, or avoid a battle over housework while still figuring out what to fix for dinner. With what she had been through, she was willing to toss a few Galleons away for a little relaxation.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The chicken was rubbery, the sauce had separated and the wine was corked. She was willing to overlook those appalling culinary blunders in search of some quality time with her husband.

 

Since Ron had taken a second job at The Listing Broom, the couple had become as passing ships in the night. She would be in bed when he came home from the evening shift at the pub, and she would be up and out of their flat before he rose and went off to Quidditch practice. They had the weekends, but most of them were taken up by a weekend Cannons game, in which she would come and play the supportive Quidditch wife. She always brought a book along, just like in her school days, and would periodically peer up from it to see how the game was progressing. On a few occasions, the Keeper for the Cannons had been injured and Ron would get a chance to play. Hermione would put her book down and watch her husband fly about, and do a fair job of blocking the Quaffle. The game would give them something to talk about for a few days, with Ron asking if she had noticed a new move he had been working on with the team during the week.

 

Ron had been rambling on about how the coach was considering moving him to first string, an ongoing promise that the man never delivered on, when Hermione interrupted him.

 

"Do you think we could talk about something other than Quidditch?" she asked, hoping her request had not seemed peevish, but polite instead.

 

"Like what?" he replied, as if there was nothing in the world better than to talk about his favorite sport.

 

"Oh, I don’t know." Hermione's mind frantically searched for a topic they could mutually discuss, a dim fear growing in the back of her mind that she and Ron truly did not have anything in common anymore. "Don't you ever wonder what happened to Snape after the war?"

 

"That overgrown bat? You must be joking. Yeah, he did some stuff for the Order, I'll grant you that, but if I never see or hear of him again, that's fine by me."

 

"Don't you ever wonder if the Death Eater Decree was applied to him? If he got away? He did work for the Order, so he shouldn't have to be punished under that law."

 

Ron frowned and answered in a sour tone, "Well, I think he deserves a little hell, especially after all those years he tortured us and treated us like something he scraped off his big, black boots." He ignored the injustice of the situation and seemed glad at the idea of Snape suffering.

 

Desperate for a new topic, she blurted out, "I haven’t talked to your Mum, yet. Are we all going to the fountain dedication ceremony?" She really didn’t want to talk about his family, but it seemed she was short on ideas to talk about at the moment.

 

"Yeah, Dad mentioned something about it. You haven’t heard anything on what the new sculpture is, have you? There's a betting pool going down at the bar. If you had a hint, then maybe I could win us a nice pile of Galleons."

 

"Ron," she whinged, "please don't go wasting any Galleons on some bet. No one knows except Fudge, McPebbles and Dennis Creevey."

 

It was starting again. The lecturing tone and if she didn’t stop it now, they would end up bickering again.

 

"You're no fun sometimes, Hermione." That comment raised her ire unlike the other times he had said it to her before. "It's not like I go spending Galleons left and right. It's a one-Galleon bet. The pot stands at five-hundred ten Galleons and I thought it would be nice if I won, then I could buy you some new robes and shoes."

 

"Well, maybe if you hadn’t quit Auror training, you'd have a decent job instead of trying to live some childhood fantasy you won't let go of. Face it; your coach is never going to give you the position of Starting Keeper. He's kept you strung on the line for almost four years now, promising you that position. Other teams have made you offers and you keep turning them down. Some silly dream to be Keeper for the Cannons. Maybe if you made choices and decisions in life as well as you play chess, then maybe we wouldn’t be so poor!"

 

Hermione realized her voice was rising in volume, and dropped it several decibels before continuing her tirade is a hissing whisper.

 

"I'm tired of picking up after you. Two simple bloody chores–dishes and trash–and you don’t even do those. I do all the shopping, laundry, cooking, pay bills, run the household, buy all the presents for Christmas and birthdays for your whole family, work overtime at the Ministry in the feeble hope of a promotion for all my hard work. And for what? A tiny flat, and barely enough money to exist, but not live?"

 

Furious, Ron's ears were turning purple, but Hermione couldn't care less. Her nerves were shot. What was worse was that she realized that maybe she and Ron were better together as friends, and not as husband and wife. She felt like a shrew when he was around. She didn’t mean to, but with greater frequency, that seemed to be the case. The worst part was she finally admitted to herself that they had grown apart. He was still the same dreamer she knew at Hogwarts and she had moved on to mature into someone else.

 

Ron stood up. "Don't expect to see me home tonight," he said venomously; then he Apparated before leaving the restaurant.

 

Hermione scrubbed her face with the heels of her hands, quietly muttering under her breath, "Bugger, fuck, double bugger, shit… bugger all."

 

She got the bill and quickly left, after throwing down some money with a meager tip for the abysmal food.

 

Desperate for a shoulder to cry on, she wanted to go visit Ginny, but after that afternoon, and with the thought of Harry there wondering if his wife was cheating on him, she banished the thought. Ron's brothers and their wives could not provide the solace she needed, especially with wailing babies and ungovernable toddlers to abrade her fragile nerves.

 

It had been so long since she had talked with any of her old schoolmates from Hogwarts, she had fallen out of touch with most of them. The Weasley clan demanded much of her free time and she had let correspondences lapse. Instead of going to visit anyone, she wandered Diagon Alley for a while, lost in thought.

 

Her mind returned to Ginny's confession earlier in the day. Her bad sex life, the lack of mutual interests, and the lackluster marriage. It was shockingly like her own in many ways. It scared her, too. Was she doomed to leave Ron? And why did she not want to have children, besides the financial issues involved? And she knew why, but ignored the truth. She would get stuck raising the child, or children, all by herself. If Ron did make Starting Keeper, there would be a huge pay raise, but he would be gone more than he was now. So in addition to keeping house and working, she would have the children to look after. She knew Molly and the other wives would be more than willing to help out with taking care of the children, but there was still more to it. And until that afternoon, she’d been unaware of the binding magic of having children with someone. But ultimately, the thought of her giving up her career to raise children was a concept she didn’t even want to entertain, ever. So she would have to find a way to make kids and work mix, if it ever would with Ron.

 

When she thought about it some more, Hermione realized that she had never met a witch or wizard from a magical divorced family. Not one. Children with divorced parents were a common enough thing among Muggles, but she could not recall a single pure- or half-blood schoolmate that had divorced parents.

 

This would definitely be worthy of further investigation before she even considered getting pregnant by Ron.

 

She had more pressing matters to think about right now. At the top of the list was whether she was going to tell Harry about Ginny and her not so slight peccadillo. The thought of them together still made her shudder.

 

Harry was her best friend, but Ginny had become her best friend, as well.

 

If she told Harry, Malfoy would get the Dementor's Kiss and Ginny would leave Harry. If she didn’t tell Harry, Ginny might not leave him and maybe she could help them patch things up.

 

It just seemed so wrong, the idea of lying to Harry. But he said himself that he didn’t know what was worse, knowing or not knowing.

 

Somehow, Hermione wound up at a bar called Blotto's. Sitting in a back booth, she looked in her bag and wondered if she had enough money to get blind, stinking drunk. She hadn't gone on a bender since the end of her N.E.W.T.s, but tonight certainly called for ethanol-induced oblivion.

 

Just as she was about to splurge and buy a whole bottle of Doodle's Dragon Blood Wine, she heard a familiar voice.

 

"Mind if I buy you a drink? You look like you could use a friend."

 

Hermione looked up. The first thing she saw was the gray and pink summer-weight houndstooth tweed dress under a very expensive pink linen robe, noticeably charmed to resist wrinkling. There stood Lavender Brown, smiling beatifically at her.