"Blimey, 'Mione," Ron said from the other side of the Floo, "you're putting it on, aren't you?"
"Thanks for being so considerate, Ron, as always," Hermione sniped back, rolling her eyes. She loved him, but sometimes he was just such a blockhead. In her defense, she was sitting in such a position that her belly prominently blocked out as much of Ron's face as possible. And also gave him an unabridged view of how plump she'd gotten since she'd last seen him.
"Sorry," he said, abashed. "I just… you know. I miss you. And, you know, I think you look cute when you're chubby."
Hermione wished she could say the same about missing Ron, but she hadn't thought much about Ron and the demise of their relationship in a while. At least not since the school year started.
"Thanks," she said, ignoring his chubby comment. "I'm keeping myself busy," she said, fluffing herself up like a hen. "I mean, being a student was a cakewalk compared to this."
"I'm sure," Ron said, smiling. "I can't believe we're not together anymore, 'Mione."
"Well, you'd better start believing it," said Hermione crossly, "given everything we've gone through. Don't tell me you are getting cold feet about Rodney?"
Ron blushed a furious red. "Don't say that," he said with a grimace. "It's not like that at all. In fact, we're moving in together."
"Oh." Hermione plastered on a fake smile, thinking of their little flat in London, where he still lived. She knew Rodney cursorily, and she really wished that Ron had fallen in love with one of the surely-abundant more-aesthetically-sensitive gay men in the world. The whole flat's color scheme was white and khaki, not colors that would stand up well to Rodney's large muddy boots. "Congratulations. When is that happening ?"
Ron looked down, mortified. "Erm. Whenever I tell my folks, I guess."
"Can't you just… pass as roommates for a while?" Hermione suggested, though she was sure Ron had a good reason that this wouldn't work.
"We talked about it," said Ron, "but neither of us is particularly interested in pretending. He's… he's being really patient, 'Mione, but I'm afraid that either my parents are going to disown me or he's going to leave me. And I really don't want either of those things to happen."
"Well," Hermione said gently, "you've got to tell them sometime."
"Do I?" Ron asked, and in his eyes she saw the strategist. "I mean, if I think of a way out of it - why not take it? I just need to come upon the right course of action." He looked at her with puppy-dog eyes. "I love my family and Rodney both. Why should I be forced to choose?"
"There's no guarantee that you'll be forced to choose," Hermione said, "Your father would definitely not disown you. I know him. He's sympathetic to queer issues."
"But it's not dad I'm worried about," said Ron with a sigh.
Both of them knew who he was worried about: Molly, the ever-doting "when am I going to be having grandchildren?" matron. When Hermione and Ron had, while still together, implied that children were going to be out of the question because of Hermione's desire to remain career-focused, Molly Weasley's eyes had burned, and she had begun a tirade the likes of which Hermione had never seen before directed at her.
Am I not good enough for you because I'm a mother and housewife? Children are the future of the world. Do you not care about the world's future? You're an intelligent witch - you should be morally obligated to have children. Children are everything! If you will not bear my son's children, you will never be a part of this family.
Thus, Hermione had a lot of empathy for Ron, when Ron wanted to avoid coming out to his family as gay.
"Well, anything I can do to help, let me know," Hermione said. "Have you spoken to Harry recently?"
Ron shook his head, somber. "I don't know if we'll ever talk again," he said, with deep pathos. "You know."
"Yeah," Hermione said, sadly. "I know."
Harry hadn't been particularly helpful when Ron came out to him a few months ago, though granted he was really put on the spot by Ron's declaration of love for him, and Hermione couldn't blame Harry for needing some space. When it came between choosing between the love of your life and her brother… well, as an unequivocally straight dude, Harry had chosen the love of his life, and Hermione couldn't blame him. At least Harry, without needing a reminder, promised to keep his lips sealed about Ron's non-normative inclinations.
"I guess I understand it," Ron said, still in grief, "I guess in his place, it'd feel a little weird."
"Sure," Hermione said, though she herself couldn't imagine abandoning one or the other of the boys because of something as uncertain and flexible and relatively unimportant as unrequited affection. She'd gone between fancying one, then the other, then both, then neither of her best mates, with some fluctuation in between. Ultimately, having them as friends was more important than having either one of them have a relationship with her in any particular way.
"So what are you doing for fun, 'Mione," Ron said, trying to be encouraging. "Are you seeing anyone?"
"No, not really." Hermione flushed red. She really wished that she could call what she did with Snape some amount of 'dating,' but was quite unable to do so. "But I do see a lot of Snape, though."
"Wait," Ron said, stunned. "What?"
"Oh, you didn't know?" Hermione said, though of course she knew Ron didn't. She wanted act casual about the whole thing, knowing that Ron still harbored a great deal of hatred for Snape. "Snape's alive. Came back to do research here. He and I are…" she paused. "Friends? I guess?"
"Hermione," Ron said, emotional. "I forbid you to see that man as a friend."
"Well, too bad," Hermione said, "you definitely don't have a say in who I see as a friend. Even when we were together, I never allowed you to define what I did with my time."
Ron rolled his eyes, aggrieved, but he knew he wasn't going to get anywhere.
"Just… Hermione? He's such a slimy git. Are you sure he's not a vampire, coming back from the dead?"
She just laughed. "He's definitely not a vampire, Ron," she scolded. "And I'll have you know that I don't intend to sit idly by while you keep on saying cruel things about him."
"What, would you stop him if he was mocking Harry and me," Ron said with a growl.
"Yes," Hermione responded, "believe it or not, as I get to know him, you and he have some real points of similarity, now that he's not running around being a double agent."
"Yeah, right," Ron said in disbelief. "Merlin, at this rate, 'Mione, next time I talk to you, you'll be engaged."
"Not likely," said Hermione firmly. "He's got a girlfriend."
"What?" Ron said, his mind clearly blown. "Snape. Has a girlfriend."
"Yeah," Hermione said, shaking her head at Ron's reaction.
"Snape has a girlfriend," Ron repeated. "Well, she better watch out." He was shaking his head. "I can tell you got the hots for him."
"Maybe a little," she admitted. "But don't you dare tell anyone."
"Oh, I was thinking of shouting it off the rooftops," he responded, still shaking his head. "'Mione, you got to know that he's a slimeball. You know I can tell. I never liked him."
"How on earth is that supposed to be a good barometer," she said with a sniff. "You started hating Viktor once we started dating."
"But that's because I fancied him, you arse," he responded. "Come on, 'Mione, you know I care about you."
"Then let me make my own mistakes," she said, and added, despite her better judgment not to, "Don't try and be your mum."
He clouded. "Okay. Fine. I won't. Go on. Go fuck that slimeball. When he dumps your arse and come back crying to me, I'll tell you that I told you so."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Ron, again, he's taken. I'm not stepping into that mess."
"I can't imagine he'll be taken long," Ron said with a grumble. "He's too much of a slimy git to stay in someone's hands when there's something more attractive to look at."
"You're presuming he finds me more attractive," Hermione said, getting frustrated of this conversation.
"Who wouldn't!" Ron cried, then clarified, "Erm, what straight guy wouldn't! Or lez girl," he added, fumbling as Hermione flat-out laughed at him. "I dunno. You're attractive, 'Mione. Don't underestimate the power you have as a drop-dead gorgeous girl."
She just shook her head. "I never, and still don't, understand why you think I'm so irresistible. I don't do makeup. I don't work out. I don't eat small portions. I suck at managing my hair. And I rarely shave my legs and whatnot."
"None of those things matter," Ron said, smiling ruefully. "You don't know men, 'Mione. There's something else about you that makes men swoon over you."
"And what's that?" Hermione asked, indulging him.
"Charisma?" Ron suggested.
"Well, gee, that simplifies matters," Hermione sniped. "I'll stop taking my charisma pills. Then I won't be attractive to the likes of Snape, and I'll keep celibate until one day you preemptively dump Rodney, and you decide you want to pretend to be straight for your parents' sake, and you buy me a wedding ring. And then we'll suffer through twenty years ofwhere's my grandbabies and, in the end divorce quietly. This plan okay with you?"
"Shut up," Ron said, laughing lowly. "You know we're past that point."
"Just a reminder," Hermione said, smirking. "I'm willing to go to the mat for you, my dear, but a life-long commitment to misery isn't a simple matter of defending your best mate from a cruel world."
"We could make it work," Ron joked, though it took her a moment to see he was joking. "This place is a two-bedroom. One bedroom for you, one for me. You can fuck as many blokes as you like - or, or women, I guess - and I'll fuck as many blokes as I like. If we get bored, we can fuck each other. And someday, if Harry decides he's into the idea, we can fuck him together. Sound good?"
"Perfect," Hermione said with a hearty laugh. "Just what I envision for the rest of my life. One big house of fuckery."
"That's what we can call it," Ron said, "House of Fuckery. Or just to confuse people, we could call it House of No Fucks, for no fucks given."
"That's great, Ron," Hermione said with an indulging laugh. "Well, I'm gonna ring off now. Got loads to edit for class tomorrow."
"That's right," Ron said with a grin. "Well, call me when you end up fucking Snape."
"Which won't happen," said Hermione, trying to persuade the inkling of hope that was winding its way around her heart the more that Ron talked about it.
"And later you'll be mortified you were in such denial," Ron replied, chipper. "Go on, have fun. Bang the slimy old cock."
"I love you," she said, trying to shut him up, a smile on her face.
"I love you," he replied, "talk to you later."
He threw some ash on his end, and the floo went back to normal flames.
Hermione heaved herself up out of her chair and went to the kitchen for some water. As she passed the door, she noticed there was an origami swan next to the door, flapping its wings and looking highly annoyed at having been kept waiting.
"Oh," she said, wondering how long it had been there. It gave a little squawk, and she picked it up, whereupon it unfolded into a flat piece of paper.
Sleep cycle's fucked up, read the note. Dinner tomorrow instead of breakfast?
"Yes," she said, and began to look for a quill, but as she spoke, the word formed on the page.
Whereupon the swan refolded itself, dove out of her hand, and slipped under the door without another sound.
Hermione was touched by the delightful little thing, and she got the distinct sense that it was a little attempt to show off.
Which got her to thinking - was her attraction to Snape all that obvious? She knew that Snape was aware that she liked to watch him eat. But did he realize that it extended beyond that?
If he did, what did that mean?
She wasn't sure. All she knew was, she was looking forward to dining with him without the obstruction of class terminating their time together.
She wondered what would happen instead.