A Clandestine Reality: 14. A Helping Hand

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.: Chapter Fourteen – A Helping Hand :.
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How had it all gone so wrong? One moment they were sitting at the dinner table, laughing at some ridiculous joke he'd heard at work, and then she was gone. Things had seemed so perfect, so effortless. He had to have been blind not to see. Perhaps he hadn't wanted to. Why would he, when everything was turning out exactly as he had dreamed? He'd had everything he'd ever wanted – Hermione and a child who'd loved him without pause. That was just a fanciful dream now.
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Hermione had been his everything. They'd argued more than any other couple he knew, but that had just been their way. At Hogwarts everyone had joked about them bickering like an old married couple. It was just what they did. Had he been so blind to think that all those fights were just an endearing quirk in their relationship? Yes, he had. He had thought that everything was perfect, that they were who they were, faults and all. The problem with that was his inability to actually see the person in front of him. With Hermione he had seen everything he'd imagined her to be and not who she really was. She'd been an ideal, a dream that was far from compatible with who they were.
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Where she had wanted a career, he'd desired her to be a housewife like his mother. She wanted to wait to have more children. He didn't. Hermione was successful, he was not. They were complete opposites, yet he had managed to ignore every sign that pointed toward their incompatibility from the start. There were numerous times he had felt inadequate standing next to her. He with the simple desk job, compared to a woman who had taken the legal system by storm and changed their world bit by bit. Ron had always envied her that.
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Whatever she did, she was successful. The world parted in the wake of her achievements, like it was bowing down to her ideals of a better, equal and rewarding humanity. Where she had the vision and determination to see her plans through, he did not. It was funny how the world appeared to him now. The loving wife he had adored and the little angel he'd called daughter were now disappearing before his eyes, swallowed whole by the ever-consuming cloud that hung above him. Life was not worth living without them.
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Rose had been his little girl, his mischievous little wood nymph. How could he love someone so much, so much that it physically hurt? Every time he thought of her, of her smile, her eyes, even those goddamn blonde curls, his heart broke just a little bit more. Why couldn't she have had red curls instead of blonde? Red, the colour of his hair and not that bastard's. How could Hermione have done this to him? What had he done to deserve this? Was this some kind of sick, twisted joke? Could it be a dream? He hoped to Merlin, prayed to every muggle God he knew of, that it was. But every morning when he woke up, it was to the same reality he had left the night before.
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Ron wanted to hate her, hate her with every fibre of his being. He couldn't. Despite everything, he couldn't hate her the way he should have, the way she deserved to be hated. He still loved her. After everything she had done, he still loved her. No one seemed to understand that. His mother had gone on a rampage, slurring Hermione's name by giving – of all people – Rita Skeeter her scoop. Ginny had joined in on the fun, even going as far as to bring Harry into the mix. That had been his breaking point, the moment she drew Harry into the firing line. The only person who had given him his space, let him breathe without having to worry about pitying stares, was his best friend.
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Ron knew that his sister could be petty, but she had taken her revenge too far. Harry had done nothing but be supportive, even giving him updates on how Hermione and Rose were settling in at her parents' house. She refused to see him, refused to talk or even listen to what he had to say. He couldn't even see Rose; that was one thing he did hate her for.
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Despite what everyone had first thought, he would never hurt his wife or daughter intentionally. He had just been so mad, so laden with grief that he hadn't thought. Hermione had fallen, slipped when he'd let her arm go as though he had burned her. She'd slipped and hit her head. There was nothing he could do, try as he might. He remembered reaching for her, trying to catch her, but she'd slipped through his fingers. Then Rose had come hurtling down the stairs screaming at the top of her lungs, crying for her mother. It had broken his heart seeing her fearful face staring back up at him.
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All he had tried to do was get her out of there. She'd struggled so hard to get to Hermione, that he hadn't recognised his own strength in trying to restrain her. The only thing that was running through his mind was that he had to get her out of there, stop her from seeing Hermione like that. Ironically, it was the Malfoys who came to the rescue. They had taken so much from his family, belittled and tortured them. He would never stop hating them for that, especially now that they had taken the two most precious things in his life from him.
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Rose wasn't his. Hermione was no longer his. Nothing belonged to him anymore. All he had left were broken memories that haunted him at every turn. He wanted to drown, to hold his breath and never come up for air.
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"Mate, you have to stop doing this," Harry's voice came from the doorway, patient with worry. He barely paid him any mind, choosing instead to lift the half-empty bottle to his lips. Firewhiskey worked wonders.
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After a few moments of silence, Ron lifted his head from the kitchen table where he had let it rest. "It's the only thing that helps," he muttered quietly, taking another swig from the bottle.
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"Drowning your pain with drink isn't helping, Ron," his friend all but whispered, coming to sit beside him. "You're avoiding the truth,"
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"The truth hurts; I know that better than anyone else," Harry sighed, taking the bottle out of his hands. He felt vulnerable without it, without his pain reliever. How was he supposed to cope now? "You don't think I don't feel betrayed by this?" continued his friend, voice loaded with barely restrained emotion.
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Ron sniffed, blinking back tears. He would not cry, not in front of Harry. His friend would think he was a pansy. Regardless, the words he'd kept bottled up began to spill out and he felt naked, vulnerable and exposed because of them. "I thought we were happy. I just – I don't understand how she could do this, Harry,"
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"What she did was unforgivable. It didn't just hurt you, Ron, it hurt everyone," the words cut at him despite their good intentions. "Hermione made a mistake. People make mistakes. Hers was just bigger than most,"
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In spite of everything a small flame of anger flared up inside him. "You're defending her?" he accused, the mix of alcohol and his overwhelming grief clouding his judgement.
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"I'm not defending what she did," Harry answered calmly, a sad look in his eyes.
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"But you are defending her," he persisted.
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"She's still my friend, Ron. Too much has happened for me to just turn my back on her now," his friend sighed, running a hand through his already messy hair. "Yes, she made the worst mistake of her life. Now she has to deal with the consequences," the look on his face showed that he was having trouble remaining diplomatic. "I don't condone what she's done, especially not to you. But Ron, mate, don't make me choose a side, because I can't…I won't," Harry's eyes were beseeching.
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He couldn't do this to Harry, force him to choose between the two of them. It wasn't fair. Hermione was just as much Harry's best friend as he was. They each brought something to the table, and he couldn't make his friend choose which of them he valued more. If only the situation were less complicated, maybe then this wouldn't be so hard.
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"If it had been anyone but him…" Ron felt his anger flare once more, but this time he quelled it. There was no use in being angry; it would only increase the pain. As it was, he could barely breathe. Why had she chosen him?
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"I know what you mean," replied Harry, an edge to his voice. At least he understood.
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"Of all the people…" his voice trailed off as he struggled to find the right words. "Why'd she choose him?" there was a hitch in his voice, a choke of emotion on the last word.
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"I don't think she consciously chose him, Ron. It just happened,"
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"Something like that doesn't just happen, Harry," he scoffed bitterly, wishing he had his pain reliever, his bottle of Ogden's Firewhiskey. Why did he have to start talking about something that ate him up inside? It would do no good.
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