The End of the Beginning

Chapter 6

In the room next door, Hermione was wide awake. Now that she had written down the evening's events in her journal, she walked to her window and stared at nothing in particular as she processed the night's events.

Ron and Hermione walked hand in hand towards the opera house at the end of the street. They were idly chatting about nothing in particular. Hermione was struck by how comfortable she felt. For it being their first real date of any significance, she felt no nerves gnawing at her. While on the one hand, it shouldn't have surprised her that much considering how long they had known each other; Hermione had to wonder, on the other hand, why this change in the relationship didn't make her the least bit anxious.

When they reached the opera house and found their seats, Hermione had a field day explaining all the intricacies of the opera to Ron. Ron, for his part, was genuinely curious. Though he typically struggled to understand the muggle world, the way that they amplified the voice with the building's design particularly intrigued him. Hermione was enjoying explaining it to him without his usual impatience towards her gushing.

They sat in companionable silence during the performance, Hermione leaning her head onto Ron's shoulder. Again she was surprised by how little reaction she experienced with her physical contact with Ron. She had fretted all afternoon while dressing how she was going to react when these things would happen, but she was consternated by the lack of any reaction in her. Maybe she and Ron would bypass all of those early relationship worries and feelings.

She spent the intermission talking to Ron about the plot of the performance and about their future career choices. Hermione was considering a wide variety of choices while Ron was hedged between helping George with the shop and being an Auror. It was so nice to be talking to Ron in civilized tones. She had always enjoyed his company when they weren't bickering.

After watching the final acts and heading back to the street, Ron suggested a walk in a neighboring park. Hermione gladly accepted and they walked for the better part of an hour and a half, talking about everything that came to mind: the opera, Hogwarts, past adventures, and everything in between.

It was while walking around the park that it finally hit Hermione. The reason why she felt so comfortable with Ron, the reason why it didn't bother her in the slightest that she was on her first real date and holding hands with the man she had pursued off and on for six years. Despite how happy she had been, despite how great it was to kiss him and spend tonight with him…she wsnt in love with him.

Oh she loved him. She loved him so much she would die for him. But she wasn't in love with him and that made all the difference. The previous day had been throwing a band-aid on what was already a foregone conclusion. He drove her crazy when they were fighting and yes he was a great kisser, but when it was just the two of them like tonight…there was nothing beyond her and one of her best friends.

In her heart she knew that she wasn't in love with him anymore and probably never would be again. She had given him so many chances over the years. All second year, the Yule Ball fourth year, both before and after Lavender (a pain shot through her chest at the thought of her dead dorm mate), after Dumbledore's funeral, and finally even after he walked out during the Horcrux hunt. Every time up until now he had dropped the ball.

She suddenly felt the overwhelming feeling of being tired. Tired of being let down. She was just now realizing it, but when he left the tent that night, he had given up his last real chance with her heart. She couldn't give him her heart anymore because she no longer trusted him with it. Not like that.

That was the real reason she had fought against the label. She could dress it however she wanted in her other cares and fears, but at the end of the day it was because she flat out didn't want it. It made her feel awful.

He was still her friend. One of her two very best friends. She loved him and would do anything for him. He had come back and if recent events told her anything it's that he would never leave again. But he could never get back the trust she once placed with him to hold her completely. That was a barrier he couldn't cross again because she couldn't let him.

"Ron, what do you say we head back?"

"Sure. Let's go get a cab."

All the way back to the hotel she thought about how tonight had been a perfectly wonderful evening, and how Ron really had changed. She thought about how badly she had once wanted to be with him. She felt a real sense of loss in knowing she wouldn't feel like that towards him again. Completely unsure of what to do, she resolved herself to let the night play itself out and straighten her own head out before doing or saying anything rash.

Ron helped her out of the cab at the hotel and they walked silently back to their rooms. Out of habit, they walked together into the boys' room to find Harry asleep in front of the television.

"He's asleep Ron."

"I'll wake him and have him move to the bed when you've run off. Tonight was fun."

"Really? I was worried at first you would think opera to be boring."

"I can't say it's my favorite activity, but the company was good."Hermione was disappointed that she didn't blush harder than she did.

"Well tonight has shown you can be sweet. It's nice to know."

Hermione pulled Ron into a firm embrace. She felt a small flutter in her stomach. He smelled good, like he had a very light fragrance on. She felt very safe in his arms. Maybe she had been overreacting. This felt very nice.

"I had a wonderful evening Ron."

"I did too. It's the first time in a very long time I didn't once think about what could be around the corner or about….well…you know."

"Me too Ron, can I ask you something?"

"Of course."

Hermione had a brief and violent struggle in her mind. What she really wanted to ask was how he felt about their first date and her, but thinking that she wasn't quite ready to have that conversation, she went with plan b.

"Why….why can't we be like this more? We didn't argue or fight one time tonight and it was the best time I've had with you that I can recall."

There was a moment of silence before Ron answered. "To be honest Hermione, I don't know. I just…I guess a lot of my arguments with you stem from feeling….you could say…inadequate?"

While Hermione had often thought it, to hear Ron express it was something else entirely. "Ron, how could you.."

"Think about it Hermione. You've always done better than me at spellwork and schoolwork. You've always seemed to know more than I do. I guess most of the time I would argue so that I could try and prove something to you. Prove that I could be good enough for you."

Now Hermione felt herself really blushing. "Ron, I….I don't know what to say. So tonight you…you don't feel that way anymore?"

"I can't say I've kicked it entirely. But I'm trying. I guess I'm becoming more secure in who I am, determined to just be me instead of trying to measure up to someone else."

Hermione very well knew who that someone else was. He was asleep on the couch. However, she felt like Ron was growing up in front of her. A warm feeling spread from her heart.

"Well, I'm happy for you Ron. Thanks again for such a wonderful time."

She leaned in to give him a goodnight kiss. She saw him close his eyes as she drew to his face, but before her lips brushed his, she felt a panic rise up in her chest and she changed direction to give him a peck on the cheek instead.

"Goodnight Ron."

Hermione saw the disappointment in Ron's eyes.

"Goodnight Hermione."

The entire night replayed in her head. Why didn't she kiss him? It's not like it would be the first time. Why did she panic at the last moment?

She, of course, knew the answer to these questions. Maybe it was finally time to admit to herself that things just weren't going to work out with Ron. He was funny, brave, and endearing. He was a wonderful man and if the past few days had been any indicator, he was becoming more of one every day. She loved him, but her heart no longer belonged to him. He had broken it one too many times.

She walked back to her bedside table and picked up a tome about Vienna's history with the magical world. There would be plenty of time to talk to Ron about this. Later.

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