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The Unlikely Matchmakers

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-~| Ron |~-

Ronald Weasley leaned back in his chair and rubbed his full belly as he contemplated another helping of sausage. The majority of the Great Hall’s occupants were finishing their breakfast, and soon the students would begin to wander away, off to do whatever activities they thought they could get away with before their classes.

He could remember several carefree mornings of his own, huddled in a dark alcove with Lavender, trying to squeeze in a few kisses and perhaps a tiny bit more before Divination. Even better were the times when he and Harry managed to catch an hour for an impromptu practice on the pitch, dropping into their seats out of breath and with just seconds to spare.

It wasn’t all certain death and impossible odds; we had more than our fair share of good times, Ron thought as he reached for seconds. No sense in possibly offending one of the kitchen elves by not showing enough appreciation for their efforts.

Still, as nice as those pleasant interludes where no one was actively trying to kill Harry had been, Ron found that he preferred mornings like this one.

Mornings where he could look out from his seat at the High Table at all the young, impressionable students, and know that they respected him.

All right, perhaps not all of them. He was pretty sure that Marlow Draven called him an incompetent boob last week, but that probably had something to do with the four fouls Ron had called on the seventh year Slytherin during the last Quidditch match.

But he liked to think that the majority of the student body held him in high regard.

The best part, however, wasn’t that they respected him because he was Harry Potter’s best friend and soon-to-be brother-in-law, or because he fought in the final battle, spent several years as an Auror, or even because he had an “in” with the owner of Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes. No, they respected him because he was the one who taught them how to fly.

That he could execute the Woollongong Shimmy like a pro didn’t hurt.

Once you added in his comfortable rooms in the castle, the delicious meals, and the adoring house-elves that seemed to live for picking up his dirty socks and warming his bath towels, Ron Weasley was the most content he’d ever been in his entire thirty years of living.

Oh yes, Ron’s life was nearly perfect.

Nearly.

“Professor Granger, Madam Pince mentioned that you requested the September issue of Potions Quarterly. Might I inquire as to why?” The way he said it led Ron to suspect that there couldn’t possibly be a valid enough reason as far as Severus Snape was concerned.

Snape.

One of the flies in the pudding that was Ron’s perfect life. One of the banes of his existence, an annoyance to end all annoyances, a... a...

All right, even Ron had to admit that now that everything was said and done and Voldemort was moldering in his grave, Snape wasn’t quite so annoying to be around.

He was still sarcastic and greasy, and he still had the demeanor of a badger suffering from the flu, but at least that badger was no longer also enduring intestinal cramps and a case of the dragon pox.

Actually, now that he was thinking about it, Snape had almost mellowed into someone barely tolerable over the years.

Hermione’s voice broke into Ron’s thoughts, and his gaze flew to the flushed face of his other best friend. She’d been teaching Charms at Hogwarts for just over half a decade, which was three more years than Harry had been in charge of the DADA classroom, and beat Ron’s mere four months as the flying instructor by a landslide.

“Do you have it, then? I suppose that’s why I couldn’t find it. Do you know that I’ve been looking for that issue for nearly two months now?”

There were less than a handful of students left in the Great Hall, Ron noted. He should probably head out to prepare the brooms for this afternoon’s lesson with the first years.

“Of course I have it. It’s mine.”

Hermione seemed taken aback for a moment. “Oh! How odd, I could have sworn that Irma led me to believe that subscription belonged to Hogwarts.”

Ron recognized that tone of voice. It was the same tone that Hermione used when she was pointing out a flaw in one of his or Harry’s more hairbrained schemes.

Even though he remained seated, Snape seemed to straighten and draw himself upward. How is it possible to loom over someone like that when you’re in a chair?

“It is a journal on potions, and while I’m sure you consider yourself well-versed in many subjects, I am still the resident potions expert in this castle, therefore-“

Hermione cut Snape off before he could really get going, and suddenly Ron found himself fascinated by the mini-drama that was unfolding just two seats down from him. “Ah, I see.”

From the fleeting expression on her face, not only did she see the point he was trying to make, she wasn’t terribly impressed by it. “Well, then, may I borrow it from you?”

“Again, I must ask why?”

She sighed, setting aside her cutlery and reaching for her cup of tea. “Ivanivich and Merkham have been experimenting with Charmswork, expanding their efforts into how charms can affect other fields of magic. I’ve been following them for the last few years. There is a paper discussing their first attempts with simple potions in that issue, and I would be very interested in reading it.”

Hermione turned to face him fully, her face animated. “As you pointed out, you are the expert, I would love to hear your thoughts on the paper. Have you read it?”

Apparently, he hadn’t. Or, much more likely, considering it was Snape, he had simply had enough semi-civil social interaction for one morning. He wadded up his napkin and tossed it onto his plate, then stood. “I’ll leave it with Madam Pince before the evening meal. Do try not to damage it, and I shall expect it back in a reasonable amount of time. Good day, Professor Granger.”

Snape’s gaze drifted past her to the only two other people left at the table. “Potter.” His eyes narrowed slightly as Ron offered a greeting, which Snape didn’t bother to return. He simply sneered before leaving, his customary black robes billowing dramatically behind him.

Ron leaned over and snatched a piece of bacon off of Harry’s mostly empty plate. “Oi, how come you get a 'Potter' and I get nothing but a pissy once-over?”

Harry nudged his plate closer to Ron, seemingly willing to let his friend finish off what little was left of his breakfast. “Simple, he hates me less than he hates you.”

At Ron’s look of disbelief, he continued. “I went back to the shack and saved his life, remember? That makes me slightly better than a flobberworm in his eyes, and I’d say you’re probably somewhere around beetle guts stuck to the bottom of his shoe still.”

Although he couldn’t see her because she was seated on Harry’s other side, Ron heard Hermione giggle. “It’s not that funny.”

“I’m sorry, Ron.” Hermione continued to giggle as she carefully folded her napkin and placed it on the table, then stood. “I’ve got to run, I’m meeting one of the seventh years before my first class; she wants to discuss an extra credit project. Do try not to let Professor Snape get to you, Ron.” She headed for the doors at the front of the hall.

The redhead grumbled as he watched her walk away, “It’s been over a decade since I last called him a sniveling git, why hasn’t he warmed up to me?”

“He’s Snape. He doesn’t warm up to anyone.”

Ron was about to agree, but something made him pause in mid-chew, mouth still full of the last of Harry’s bacon. He looked from the door that had just finished its slow swing shut to the door behind the High Table, which Snape had departed through earlier, and then back again.

“I think you’re wrong, mate. I think he has warmed up to someone.”

“Who?” Harry had watched Ron’s head swivel. He caught on quickly, and grimaced. “Hermione? Did you fall off your broom this morning? It’s like standing next to a glacier when those two are talking to each other. All chillingly polite and intensely proper. Sorry, not a hint of warmth there at all.”

“Exactly.” Ron continued over Harry’s “Huh?” without stopping. “With you, it’s barely concealed disdain. With me, he doesn’t even bother to hide his contempt. With the rest of the staff - other than Minerva, of course - he is polite but distant, almost disinterested. But not with Hermione. He even calls her by her title, and it doesn’t even sound like he’s mocking her when he does it.”

Harry stared at him long enough that Ron was starting to think he might have jam all over his face again.

“Let me see if I’ve got this straight. Because he’s not outright rude to her, and once or twice he may have even listened when she was talking to him, you think he’s in love? You’ve gone mental.”

Ron snorted and finally pushed his chair away from the table. “Well, when you put it that way...”

-~| Harry |~-

Most of the day passed without Harry giving Ron’s ludicrous idea more than one or two stray thoughts along the lines of “Snape and Hermione, yeah, that’s likely.”

One of his students, Marlow Draven, had written a paper that, if the boy’s proposed theory was correct, was light-years above the work of his fellow classmates. Or, as Harry’s more cynical nature insisted on pointing out, was probably the “borrowed” efforts of some obscure author. Draven was a bright - if occasionally unmotivated - student, so there was a slim possibility that the work was his own. Harry still remembered what it was like to be judged unfairly; therefore, he had brought the paper to Hermione and asked if she could remember reading anything similar. He had left her in the library an hour before, surrounded by a stack of reference books and journals, and he was convinced that if she couldn’t find an original source, no one would.

Then, not long before dinner, Harry saw something that wouldn’t have made him look twice if it hadn’t been for the insidious seed that Ron had planted in his head.

He had just turned the corner into the corridor in front of the library, when he saw Snape hesitating just out of view of the open double doors. Since Harry couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Snape looking hesitant about anything (sadistically drawing out an already tense moment was a completely different thing), he ducked back around the corner to remain unseen, just in case there was trouble.

“You always think there’s going to be trouble. Hermione says it’s probably a holdover from ‘constantly being in mortal peril during your formative years’ or something. She also says you should probably consider looking into therapy.”

“Ron, do you want to know what I saw or not?” Harry hissed, trying not to attract the attention of any of the rest of the staff, who were currently enjoying their dinner.

Ron rolled his eyes, but gestured with his mashed-potato-loaded fork that Harry should continue.

“So he’s standing, just out of sight, and he starts straightening his clothes. Fixes his cuffs, tugs on the hem of his frock coat, all of that.” Harry was beginning to suspect that Ron wasn’t suitably impressed. “Then, he checked his breath.”

“That bastard,” Ron hissed, eyes wide in horror. Immediately, his expression returned to normal. “He discovered the concept of hygiene, and not a moment too soon. I mean, he’s what? Fifty? Sixty? Anyway, not wanting to walk around with dragon breath is not a sign of an upcoming apocalypse, even for Snape. Hermione is right, mate. Therapy.”

“I’m not done. Then he walks into the library, and by the time I catch up he’s just about to pass by the table where Hermione is working, so close that his robes. Brush. Her. Chair. And he acts like he doesn’t even see her.

“I’m thinking he’s being his usual arse self and ignoring her on purpose, right? He goes up to Pince’s counter and says, loud enough that I could hear it at the door -“

“Wait, you were peeking around the door?”

There was a glare for Ron, but otherwise Harry ignored the interruption. “He says, ‘I’ve brought the journal that Professor Granger requested.’ He produces that thing he and Hermione were talking about this morning, and Madam Pince reaches for it, but he won’t let go. I’m serious, the two of them are both holding it, she’s sort of tugging on it and he refuses to let go.”

Harry was pleased to see that he had Ron’s full attention now. The redhead had even stopped eating.

“Hermione had heard her name, of course, so she went up to the counter to join them, probably to get the journal. I’m thinking it’s about to turn into a three-way tug of war, then Snape jerks the thing back and Pince can’t hold on anymore and the journal hits the counter, then slides off to land on the floor between Hermione and Snape’s feet.”

With one more paranoid glance around to make sure none of the rest of the staff were listening, Harry leaned closer and delivered his pièce de résistance. “Next thing I know, Snape is down on one knee in front of her, holding the journal up like an offering, and both of them have turned bright red. Once Hermione had it in her hands, Snape took off without a single word.”

“Bugger me,” breathed Ron, looking at once horrified and intrigued.

“I’d rather not.”

“I was right, he does like her.” They were both silent for a moment, contemplating the implications of that. “And if you’re right about what you saw, I think she might like him, too.”

“So, what do we do?” Harry whispered as he looked further along the table, where Hermione was sitting next to Snape, obviously attempting to draw him into some sort of conversation.

She must have felt two sets of eyes boring into the back of her skull, because she turned to look at them, offering a tentative smile.

Ron returned her smile, and whispered out of the corner of his mouth to Harry. “Well, we know they’ve got a thing for each other, but I bet you a Knut that they don’t.”

“You’re on.”

-~| Ron |~-

Harry had been in favor of cornering her after dinner and demanding to know what she thought of Snape, but Ron had persuaded him that one did not corner Hermione Granger and demand anything if one did not want an immediate, and probably lengthy, visit to the infirmary.

Besides, he had reasoned, if they just asked her if she had a thing for Snape, she would undoubtadly deny it. Who wouldn’t? Especially if he and Harry came after her, loud and aggressive. She’d probably think that they were looking for some excuse to ridicule the man or something.

“Which we aren’t? Right? I mean, not this time, at least.” Harry felt the need to double-check several times over the next several days, just to be sure that he and Ron were on the same page. “Not about this. Hermione deserves to be happy, and if Snape can do that for her... Snape’s not a bad man.”

Ron had nearly fallen off his broom at that one, and Harry had rushed to qualify his statement. “He’s an arse, but he’s not bad on the same scale as a megalomaniacal psychopath bent on world domination through genocide would be. And, really, after dealing with Voldemort, Snape just doesn’t push my buttons quite as much as he used to. Besides, I think Hermione could take him, if it came down to it, don’t you?”

“It would be close, that’s for sure,” Ron had agreed.

Of course, whether Snape would make Hermione happy or not didn’t really matter if they were wrong and she wasn’t actually attracted to the man.

Which was very possible. Snape wasn’t likely to be asked to pose for Playwitch or anything. Ron’s own copy of the “Men of the Aurory” issue - with him on the cover, complete with a strategically placed shield hat to keep Molly Weasley from having an aneurysm - was framed and hung in a place of pride over the fireplace in his rooms at Hogwarts.

Ron had decided that the best way to approach Hermione would be with stealth and cunning. Or, at the least, the closest approximation that he and Harry could manage.

They kept an eye on the way Hermione and Snape interacted at staff meetings. There was a disappointing lack of soulful glances and longing sighs. Harry said he thought he saw Hermione linger over handing some papers to Snape at one point, insisting that their fingers touched at least a few seconds longer than necessary.

The kicker, in Ron’s opinion, was when Snape gave Hermione the last cake on the platter at the final staff meeting of November. Normally, Ron would have swooped in and snagged the last of the refreshments - purely out of concern for the elves, of course - but this time, Snape beat him to it. Before he’d even had a chance to grumble under his breath, the older man had leaned across the table and offered the treat directly to Hermione, with a softly spoken, “Your favorite, I believe.”

“That was a Jaffa Cake, Harry. A Jaffa. Cake.”

“Not everyone is obsessed with food, Ron. Did you ever stop to think he might have given it to her simply to keep it from you?”

Ron shrugged, perched on the edge of Harry’s desk in the DADA classroom not long after the staff meeting had finished. “Well, yeah. But he could have just eaten it himself, he didn’t have to give it to her.”

Harry finished marking an essay, then leaned back in his chair with a sigh. “All right, you’re got a point. So when are we going to ask Hermione how she feels about Snape?”

“About that...” Ron leaned over the desk, tilting his head to try to read what Harry had scribbled across the top of the essay. “I’m not so sure we should bring it up, actually... I’m pretty sure that’s not what that spell was originally intended to do, would you consider that kid creepy or brilliant? Or both.”

Harry moved the parchment out of Ron’s sight. “What do you mean, don’t bring it up? All this was your idea in the first place. You’re the one who spotted Snape’s odd behavior.”

“What if I’m wrong?”

“Then you’re wrong, and we’ll both look extremely stupid for a few days. It’s nothing new.”

Ron reached for the inkpot on Harry’s desk, only to have it snatched out of his hands moments later. “The thing is, if I’m wrong, and we don’t say anything about it, then no one gets hurt, right? If we say something, and they don’t like each other, then you know Snape will make a fuss about it.”

“Again, so we look foolish for a few days.”

“I’m not worried about us, you berk. I’m worried about Hermione. What if - what if we’re wrong about Snape, but not Hermione. If she doesn’t suspect he fancies her yet, and we lead her to believe it and we’re wrong, she might get her heart broken.” Ron realized he was fidgeting.

“Things didn’t work out between Hermione and I, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about her. She’s one of my best friends, and I love her like she’s part of the family. I don’t want to see her hurt. Hell, I don’t want to see either of you hurt.”

“Oh, Ron.” Harry’s voice seemed off, like he was all choked up or something. Ron turned to face the other man, and froze at the sheer emotion on Harry’s face. “Ron, I - I didn’t know you cared.”

“Of course I care, we’ve been friends for ever, and I dated her for over a year. It’s not like we fought when we broke up, we just -“

“Not Hermione. You care about me, you big lug.” Harry sniffled, and swiped a hand at the corner of his eye. Just as Ron’s heart rate doubled with the first rush of panic, and he began to protest that that wasn’t what he meant at all, Harry winked. “I love you, too, Pookie. Just like a really annoying brother I’d do anything for.”

“You arsehole.”

“But you love me anyway. And when you slapped me upside the head and told me I was ruining my life because I insisted on pushing your sister away, you wanted me to be happy, just like you want Hermione to be happy.” Harry stood and came around the desk to stand next to Ron. “What if you’re not wrong, mate? What if this, as improbable as it sounds, will make Hermione happy? Don’t you think it’s worth a shot?”

“Couldn’t we just get her another cat, or something?” Ron knew when he was beat, but he had to try.

“Look,” Harry began as he slapped Ron on the back. “I say we do a little matchmaking, and if it doesn’t work out, if the bat hurts her, we’ll line all his boots with some of Hagrid’s special fertilizer and I’ll just tell Hermione it was all your idea in the first place so she knows who to blame. How’s that?”

“You really are an arsehole, Harry.”

-~| Harry |~-

Since Ron had agreed, albeit reluctantly, to playing Cupid — with the firm understanding that it was purely a figure of speech and there wouldn’t actually be any diapers or charmed wings involved — Harry had spent several of his free periods plotting.

Originally, the plan had been simply to ascertain the level of attraction, assuming there actually was one, between Hermione and Snape. Now, however, after several weeks of close observation that had earned Harry and Ron several paranoid glares from the Potions Master and a concerned inquiry from Hermione as to their current mental health, Harry had come to the conclusion that if left to their own devices, the socially inept pair would probably continue their cautious non-courtship indefinitely.

“Someone has to do something,” Harry whispered as he nudged his pawn across the chess board toward Ron’s knight. They’d been playing chess in the staff lounge for nearly an hour, using a Muggle board because Hermione hated seeing the melodramatic death throes of the little captured pieces.

“She’s going to kill us, you know. And if she doesn’t, he will,” replied Ron as he took the pawn with his bishop.

“You’ve turned into a real pansy since you left the Aurory, haven’t you?”

“What are you two whispering about over there?” Hermione didn’t bother looking up from the book she was reading. While the boys played, she had made herself comfortable on a settee near the fire, a blanket thrown across her legs to combat the early December chill that the castle couldn’t quite keep out.

“How Ron has changed since he joined the staff here.” Either Ron was intentionally kicking him repeatedly under the table, or he was having some sort of intense seizure below the waist. Harry shifted his legs to the side and out of Ron’s range.

“In what way?” Hermione lowered her book, giving them her full attention for the first time all evening.

“Well, for one thing, he’s much less tense. Remember last Christmas, when George set off that cracker and Ron dove for cover, screaming that we were under attack, and started firing off defensive spells left and right?”

Hermione could barely contain the laughter that was threatening to erupt as she tried to defend Ron. “It was a very loud cracker, with lots of smoke and confetti.” Ron’s harumph broke the dam, and Hermione started giggling. “Oh, remember Molly’s face when the goose got caught in the spellfire and exploded? The - the stuffing - flames - everywhere - bawoosh!“

“Yes, it was hilarious and not at all humiliating for me. So, please, let’s be sure to mention it at every family gathering for the rest of my life.”

Giving up on the chess match for now, Harry leaned back in his chair and chuckled. “Considering the look on Bill’s youngest’s face? The story of the exploding goose is going to be passed on long after you’re gone, mate.”

As if sensing the gathering storm in Ron, Hermione quickly sought to divert his attention a bit. “It was very nice of Minerva to let us move everyone to the castle until the Burrow was completely aired out. And the elves seemed pleased to have several unexpected guests to fuss over that night.” She sat up and leaned toward Ron. “They weren’t the only ones. Even the kids who had stayed here over the holidays had fun. Everyone got into the spirit of the holiday.”

Harry saw the perfect opening and went for it. “Even Snape seemed less - Snape-like.”

“There is nothing wrong with Professor Snape.” He could already see Hermione tensing, as if gearing up for a familiar fight.

“He didn’t say there was anything wrong with Snape. He’s just saying that Snape isn’t exactly the friendliest of people,” Ron jumped in, and Harry knew he’d already been forgiven for bringing up the cracker and goose incident.

Slightly mollified, Hermione was willing to concede that they had a point. “But why should he try to be friendly? People always treating him like he’s a pariah. Officially telling him he’s a hero, then making it clear that they don’t want to be associated with him in any way. Simultaneously admitting that we probably wouldn’t have won the war without him, and insinuating that if he’d only tried harder he could have surely found another way to do it. As if any of the choices he made were easy, as if he wanted to do those things, as if -“

“Hey, Hermione! We’re on your side, remember? Preaching to the choir.”

She blushed. “I’m sorry, Harry, I just... “

“Get overly passionate when you’re defending someone you care about, we know.” He saw Ron flinch from the corner of his eye. Apparently, that wasn’t Ron’s idea of subtle or cunning. Oops.

“Exactly, I - Wait, I never said I - I mean, of course I do, because he’s a colleague and - and why are you looking at me like that, Ronald Weasley?”

“I’m just happy we’re not talking about me any more.”

She fidgeted, rearranging the blanket over her legs until her toes were completely covered. “Not that I’m admitting anything - because I’m not - but if I were to someday, perhaps, harbor an affection for someone, I would hope that the two of you would be mature and supportive. Or a reasonable facsimile thereof.”

Both Harry and Ron nodded, solemnly. “You know we just want you to be happy.”

Hermione smiled and held out her arms. “Come here, you two. Group hug?”

The settee groaned under their combined weight, but the three friends managed to squirm around enough so that they all fit, eventually. They sat in silence, watching the fire for a long moment until Ron’s voice rang out.

“So how long have you wanted to get into Snape’s pants?”

-~| Ron |~-

The next night found Ron and Harry in the dungeons, hesitating in front of the door to Snape’s office.

“You ready?”

Ron shook his head in the negative. “No, but I doubt I’ll ever be ready for something this strange.”

“Good enough.” Harry knocked on the door.

Snape kept them waiting long enough that Ron’s anxiety had begun to morph into relief with the thought that Snape probably wasn’t even in his office, and he and Harry would have to come back later. Perhaps after a bracing visit to Hagrid’s hut to sample some of the half-giant’s special cider.

Sometimes liquid courage was all you had.

Then Snape bellowed, “Don’t just stand out in the hall like idiots, enter,” and completely ruined any hope of a reprieve, temporary as it may have been.

He and Harry trooped into the room like a pair of reluctant students reporting for detention. They found Snape seated behind his desk, ignoring them, which was to be expected.

Ron briefly considered sitting in one of the hard wooden chairs in front of the desk, but didn’t. With any luck, they would be done long before there was any need to sit.

“How did you know it was us?” he asked, to break the silence.

Snape looked up for a moment, then returned his attention to his work. “I didn’t. I knew there were at least two people milling outside my door. It wasn’t difficult to assume that they would be nuisances, whomever they might turn out to be.”

The parchment in front of him was moved to the right and placed on a decent-sized pile of similar offerings from one of his classes, and a new parchment was retrieved from the pile on the left. Snape reached for his quill once more, without sparing another glance for his visitors. “The pair of you are doing very little to prove me wrong.”

That would be our cue to get on with it, I suspect. Ron, generally being smarter than most people were inclined to believe, nudged Harry in the universal signal for “You do it.”

Harry took a step closer so that he was practically touching Snape’s desk, leaned forward just a bit, and said, “We know.”

“Considering it is the two of you, I sincerely doubt there is anything that either of you actually know that would interest me.”

“We know you fancy Hermione.”

Snape was out of his chair, palms flat against the desktop, which only made Ron that much more aware of the fact that Snape’s hands were empty. And that much more unnerved by the sound of the dungeon door slamming shut behind him, and the ominous clink of the lock engaging, all accomplished without a single wave of a wand from the now deathly still Potions Master.

Ron chose to believe that he wasn’t actually cowering behind Harry — he was simply taking up a defensive position as a strategic move.

“As I said. You know nothing.”

Unlike Harry, Ron had never quite grown out of being intimidated by Snape. He didn’t hate the man, by any means. As a matter of fact, since that night years ago, when Harry had ended up drunk enough that he couldn’t remember how to stand, and he had finally told Ron about all of the memories he had received from Snape, not just the ones that had been discussed during the hearings, Ron had felt a twinge of sympathy for the older man.

Not that he would ever, ever, ever even hint at such a thing because Ron did not have a death wish that he knew of.

He’d always wondered how Harry and Snape had managed to keep those other memories out of the public knowledge. The number of people - living at the moment - who knew of Snape’s love for Harry’s mother could be counted on one hand. Ron had expected some hint of it to have appeared in a tabloid or even one of Rita Skeeter’s tell-alls, but there hadn’t been a single peep. Perhaps Hermione had had something to do with it. He knew that she’d kept Skeeter imprisoned for nearly a year — the precedent had been set for suppressing gossip about those she felt protective of. He wouldn’t put it past her to shove another nosy reporter into a jar, Animagus or no.

Good gods, they are perfect for each other.

“I can’t believe how displays like that used annoy the hell out of me as a kid. Now I understand why you’re such a wanker, but back then...”

Snape’s venomous glare dulled just a bit, and Ron thought he heard the other man mumbling under his breath, something about how he knew he should have dragged himself off to a darkened corner to die in peace when he had the chance.

Judging it safe enough to come out from his defensive position, Ron cleared his throat. He immediately regretted it when Snape turned the force of his full attention to the redhead.

“Ah, yes. The former beau. You and Potter managed to work up some idiotic theory about my alleged intentions toward Professor Granger, and you felt the need to confront me. Is this the part where you warn me away from her? Where you attempt to put me in my place by telling me that I’m not good enough for her?”

Ron didn’t want to take a step back, because Snape would surely see it as a sign of weakness, but he was afraid that he was about to be spit on if Snape got any more worked up. “Actually,” he began in the hopes of saving himself from a shower of spittle. “We were sort of hoping to offer some advice. Maybe give you a nudge in the right direction.”

“Ron can tell you all the mistakes he made with her, so you can avoid them.”

“Yeah. For instance, when she says she’s not in the mood, she’s not in the mood. Whinging will only get you locked out in the hall with a bottle of lotion, the spare blanket and orders to make sure you wash your hands before you touch anything in the kitchen.”

That could have been too much information, Ron thought when the room became completely silent and both of the other men just stared at him.

An uncomfortable stretch of time later, Harry spoke, “Then again, perhaps it would be best if you just figured those sorts of things out on your own.”

Snape turned his attention back to Harry, and Ron was oddly grateful when they seemed willing to pretend he wasn’t in the room.

“Have you - already discussed this matter with Professor Granger?”

“Sort of.”

Silence stretched out again, seeming to grow thicker and more oppressive with each passing second. Snape was even desperate enough to send a reluctant glance in Ron’s direction.

Eventually, he snapped. “Are you planning on elaborating your answer at all? Or do you wish me to rip the knowledge forcibly from your mind?”

“We didn’t tell her that you had a thing for her, if that’s what you’re worried about. We were simply trying to figure out if she had any interest in you,” Harry tried to be as reassuring as possible.

“And her response?” insisted Snape.

Ron sighed, uneasy with being the center of attention once more after his earlier faux pas. “She threatened to remove my bollocks with a dull teaspoon.”

Clearly not the reaction he had been hoping for, Snape dropped down into his chair. His expression was closed and cold and almost devastated. Ron realized that he had been needlessly worried about getting Hermione’s hopes up and then crushing them, when all along the one he should have been concerned about was Snape.

“That was a good sign, actually. It means she’s trying to hide something. If she didn’t want in your - didn’t like you, she would have just denied it and told me to soak my head in the lake.”

Harry nodded along beside him. “And if she’s trying to hide something, that means there’s something there to hide-“ He and Ron both ignored Snape’s “Obviously” and continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “Which means, you should ask her out.”

“You could herd a dragon through the holes in your logic, gentlemen.” Snape’s words might have been meant to sting, but Ron couldn’t help noticing that the older man had cheered ever so slightly.

Harry pulled one of the wooden chairs closer to the front of Snape’s desk and sat. Ron quickly followed suit as Harry began offering advice on witch wooing to Snape.

As if Harry is such an expert. Although he is the one getting married, which puts him one up on me, and who knows how many up on Snape.

Good gods! What if he and Hermione get married? She won’t let us keep calling her husband ‘Snape,’ will she? What in Hades is his first name, anyway?

Severe something.

Maybe I could get by with Sev? No, that would be stupid, and most likely result in a stint at St. Mungo’s.

Well, I’m not going to call him Mister Snape, like he’s someone’s father.

A father! What if they have children?! Bushy-haired, beak-nosed freakish children!

“Your children will be bloody brilliant. Scary, but brilliant.”

Once again, the room went silent, Harry’s voice cutting off in mid-word. Snape turned the same shade of green as Ron’s favorite pistachio and chocolate chip ice cream, then the sickly pink color of the stuff that Poppy gave him that time that he polished off three gallons of that very flavor and he thought his stomach was going to expel itself through his nose.

“Right.” Harry didn’t even bother looking at Ron. “Look, Snape, it’s not that hard. Just walk up to her and start a conversation, you’ve been doing that all right already. Only this time, instead of walking away when you’re done, ask her to join you for tea or dinner or something.”

“I can assure you, Potter, that for those of us who are not famous the world wide, it is not that easy to ‘get the girl.’ Most of the discussions I have with Professor Granger tend to be on the heated side, and I can not see a woman who has just been involved in an argument readily agreeing to tea.”

“Have you ever tried asking?” Ron inserted helpfully.

The icy look he received was all the answer Ron needed.

Harry took over again. “Fine, you and Hermione have thought-provoking, passionate discussions, which is not a bad thing. Start one, and if it begins to get out of hand and you don’t know what else to do, just kiss her.”

He could have suggested that Snape ask her if she would be interested in watching Hagrid and Minerva go at it on the front lawn from the expression of utter horror on Snape’s face.

“It was just a thought.”

Ron had to ask, “Does that really work?”

“Worked for Ginny,” mumbled Harry.

“You tried it on my sister?” Ron couldn’t decide if he were more intrigued by the thought that the gambit might work, or horrified that it had been used on Ginny.

“Not exactly.”

“Then what, exactly, did you mean, Potter?” It seemed that Ron wasn’t the only one who was curious.

Harry held his tongue, looking more and more mutinous every second, before turning bright red and spilling his secret in a rush, “I was trying to apologize and she kept telling me to stop talking, and when I didn’t, she kissed me.”

-~| Harry |~-

It had been almost two weeks since they’d had their little talk with Snape, and Harry was beginning to grow impatient. For days, he and Ron had watched the almost-couple, searching for any sign that Snape had made his move. (Or Hermione, either would have been fine — they weren’t going to be picky.)

Nothing.

Nada.

Zip.

Harry, for one, was annoyed. He leaned over to whisper to Ron. “She likes him. He likes her. It’s as obvious as the nose on Snape’s face. So why aren’t they doing anything about it?”

The two of them continued to stare at the back of Hermione’s head. Minerva had called an unexpected staff meeting just two days before most of the students would be leaving for the winter holidays, and Hermione had been seated at the small table in the middle of the staff lounge when Harry and Ron had arrived. Rather than try to squeeze in at the table, and be in direct line of sight of the Headmistress, they had chosen to snag a pair of seats in the back corner. That the seat Harry had chosen was usually taken by Snape, who was notorious for billowing into these sorts of meetings at the very last possible second, was merely a coincidence and had absolutely nothing to do with forcing the man to take the last available chair next to Hermione.

Not that it had done any good, from what Harry could see. “There’s no scorching glances, no fleeting touches. I don’t even see any leaning.”

Leaning, Harry had learned from watching an old Sandra Bullock movie with Ginny the summer before, was very important in a successful romantic relationship.

“What are you talking about?” Ron whispered back, more confused than usual.

Harry continued muttering under his breath as if Ron hadn’t spoken. “I’m half-tempted to lock them both in a supply cupboard overnight.”

“I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes the next morning, if you did,” replied Ron, forgetting to whisper.

“I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes now, Mister Weasley, especially if you don’t make an effort to pay attention whilst I’m speaking.”

Ron gulped audibly, sinking lower in his chair with sickly smile for Minerva. Colleague or not, old habits died hard and when Minerva McGonagall used her “I am disappointed in your behavior, young man” voice, Ron had a tendency to shrink. With any luck, he might outgrow that sometime in the next ten or twenty years, Harry hoped.

“As I was saying, the Ministry and the Board of Governors, irritating busybodies that they are, have decided that they require a list of every book, journal, parchment and scroll available from our library in order to ‘better quantify the resources available to the students of Hogwarts.’ And they want it before term convenes in two days time.”

Snape shrugged, clearly unimpressed with the Ministry’s latest efforts to have some measure, however small, of control in the running of the school. “So give them the list.”

Minerva scowled at him from her seat at the head of the table. “Oh, thank you, Severus. I never would have come up with such a brilliant solution on my own. Whatever would I do if you weren’t here?”

Snape pinched the bridge of his nose as if trying to fight off the beginning of a headache. “There is some sort of a problem, I take it?”

“Yes, Severus, there is some sort of a problem.” Even Harry winced at Minerva’s sharp tone. The Headmistress grimaced and immediately offered an apology, which Snape accepted with only a brief nod.

“If the two of you are done bickering, there is still the matter at hand to attend to,” came the disapproving voice of Vulture McSourpuss, known to the rest of the staff as Irma Pince. She was sitting on Minerva’s right, and was currently wearing the very same expression that had earned her the nickname in the first place, over a decade ago. Not that he or Ron had ever used it in front of Hermione.

“I was just getting to that, Irma. The problem is that the last complete physical inventory taken of the contents of the library was in 1992. Irma has informed me during that last inventory, Albus Dumbledore asked that several volumes remain ‘off the books’ so to speak, and she estimates that approximately half of the Restricted Section has not been properly documented since that time. While I can assume those volumes were ‘forgotten’ for a specific reason, I, for one, would prefer to know what books our more enterprising students could be getting their hands on.”

Hermione raised her hand slightly to indicate that she had a question. “Some of those books are dangerous, and have virtually no markings on their covers. They need to be treated with utmost care and caution. Will Irma be able to document the entirety of the library in time?”

“Of course she won’t, Professor Granger,” drawled Snape, as the answer was so obvious the question should never have been asked. “If she could, we wouldn’t be having this meeting. The inventory will need to be completed in advance of the Ministry’s deadline, will it not, Minerva? You’ll need some time to edit the list before handing it off to the bureaucrats.”

The Headmistress smiled at him, their earlier squabble already a thing of the past. “I believe the Ministry and the Governors have more than enough things to worry about; there’s no need to add to their worries, is there? They would just insist on sending someone here to inspect our security measures, disrupt our classes, and generally be a nuisance. None of us want that, do we?”

The overall consensus seemed to be that Ministry interference was a Bad Thing.

“I was only following orders given to me by the Headmaster of the school,” blurted Madam Pince, as if trying to defend herself.

Minerva reached out to pat the librarian’s hand. “We all understand. Albus always insisted on doing things his own way.”

“It doesn’t make any sense, though,” Hermione mused aloud. “Without proper records, how would Irma have been able to tell if a book went missing? Anyone could have slipped in and taken one.”

Snape shifted in his chair, and Harry tensed, convinced that he might have seen Snape’s leg brush against Hermione’s. Maybe.

“That was probably his very intention, Professor Granger. Even then, Albus was preparing, setting events in motion. There is every possibility that he foresaw the need for one or more of those texts to end up in the hands of - certain individuals - " He paused to direct a pointed look at Harry, Ron and then Hermione. “And realized that others might come to the same conclusion at some point in the future, and attempt to remove them before they could be needed.”

“Or, it could just be that Albus Dumbledore found the Ministry every bit as annoying as the rest of us, and this was one of his ways of thumbing his nose at them. At this point, does it really matter anymore?” Harry piped up.

“Quite right, Harry. Irma assures me that the since her orders only pertained to the books in the Restricted Section, she kept meticulous records of the more mundane texts, and believes that it will only be the matter of a few hours to catalogue the periodicals to bring the inventory up-to-date for that half of the library. With the help of a few people after dinner, we should be able to finish before the library closes for the evening.” Minerva smiled as a few people quietly volunteered, Hermione included.

“Actually, Hermione, I’ll need your assistance in the Restricted Section after curfew. I think it would be best if we waited until our students were tucked safely away in their common rooms before we begin to disturb the books.”

Since Minerva had just ensured that Hermione would be busy for most of the night, Harry turned his contemplative gaze toward Snape. Perhaps another visit to the dungeons is called for. Snape is definitely going to need a swift kick to the arse to get him moving.

“Is that all right, Harry?” From the way everyone in the room was looking at him, it most likely wasn’t the first time that Minerva had asked him a question. Instinct told him to agree with the Headmistress, then sort it out at a less awkward moment, but Harry had learned not to blindly give his word to anyone long ago, even to Minerva.

What was that saying? Better to look stupid, than to open your mouth and confirm it?

“What was that? I didn’t catch the question the first time. Sorry.” He attempted to smile disarmingly.

“I said, I would appreciate it if you, Ronald and Severus could join Hermione and me this evening. Is that all right with you, Harry?”

His gaze flicked to Snape, who looked properly annoyed, which told Harry that the older man would be there. If Ron and I can keep Minerva busy so that Hermione and Snape can be alone, this could work. Books are practically an aphrodisiac to those two.

“I’d be delighted to help out, Minerva. Delighted.”

-~| Ron |~-

“It’s after one in the morning. I’m tired, I’m covered in dust, and that last one bit me!” Ron shoved his hand under Harry’s nose, the fingers covered in razor-thin paper cuts.

“Shhhhh.”

“'Shhh?' Don’t shush me. It’s after one, Pince isn’t even in here, I don’t have to be quiet just because this is a library, you can’t teaaaaahhh!” Bouncing around on one foot, the other clutched in his uninjured hand, Ron wisely decided to switch to whispering, lest Harry stomp on him again. “What did you do that for?”

“Hermione is working on the other side of that shelf over there.”

“So?” Ron whispered back, still nursing his foot and his hand.

“So, I just heard Snape wandering back that way. Come on.”

When he had agreed to help Harry with this matchmaking thing, Ron hadn’t counted on Harry getting quite so enthusiastic about it. Or that he would get so annoyed when Snape and Hermione didn’t move things along fast enough to please him.

As if he has room to judge. He wasn’t exactly quickness incarnate when it came to getting back with Ginny, and none of us really believed that “I didn’t want to bother her while she was on tour with the team” excuse he kept trotting out, either.

Maybe that’s what this is all about? Ginny’s on the road and Harry’s bored.

That’s it. Tomorrow morning, I’m going into Hogsmeade and I’m finding him a hobby. Future brother-in-law or not, he kicks me again and I’m kicking right back.

Grumbling, Ron joined Harry next to a tall shelf, full of books. Harry carefully rearranged several of the books to make a hole large enough that he and Ron could both peek through it. “They should be on the other side.”

He was right. Through the gaps left by some smaller books on the other side of the shelf, Ron could see Hermione. She had her back to them, and appeared to be diligently working. A charmed clipboard and quill were hovering near her side, taking down titles as she spoke them.

There was a rustle of heavy cloth, and Ron instinctively held his breath as Snape appeared.

“Professor Granger -“

Without looking up, Hermione replaced the book she had been studying and reached for another. “Hermione.”

Snape almost seemed at a loss for words. He held a smallish book in his hands, and Ron thought Snape appeared to be gripping it so tightly his knuckles were turning white. “Pardon?”

“Never mind. Was there something you needed, Professor Snape?” She replaced her book, and turned to look up at him. Her expression was so hopeful, so earnest, that Ron wanted to slap Snape upside the head and tell him to just. Do. It.

“I need - you -“ Three different people softly gasped, and if Snape hadn’t been so focused on Hermione, he definitely would have noticed his lurking audience. Heat flooded his cheeks as he quickly opened his mouth once more. “To look at this book, that is. Once again there is nothing on the spine and I’m unable to open it.”

“Damn it!” Harry’s fist slammed against the shelving hard enough to make the massive piece of furniture sway slightly.

Thinking quickly as both Hermione and Snape turned their direction, Ron snagged a book and tossed it down the row. He noisily retrieved it, yelling, “Almost got away, you little bugger! No need to worry, anyone, problem contained. Go back to what you’re working on, we’re fine!”

He stomped past Harry, snagging his friend’s arm to drag him along as he did. “Do you want to get caught? Come on, we need to find a new observation point.”

Several minutes of stealthy maneuvering later, their new vantage point gave them a view of Hermione’s face and Snape’s back.

She returned Snape’s book. They both lingered on the exchange, fingers brushing against each other just a bit more than necessary. “Was there anything else you wanted, Professor?”

Ron could feel Harry tense beside him, barely heard him muttering encouragement under his breath, “That’s a cue, if ever I’ve heard one. Come on, Snape. You can do it.”

Very deliberately, Snape set the book he had been holding on the shelf at his elbow. “There is, actually. But not until - I must insist that you call me by given name.”

“All right, Severus.”

Ron felt the briefest jab of something, probably jealousy, but it immediately disappeared when he saw the look on her upturned face. She was radiant in the candlelight, glowing in anticipation.

If Snape disappointed her now, Ron would personally take a beater bat to his knees.

The Potions Master must have found what he was looking for in her eyes. His hands slowly lifted - as if giving Hermione a chance to change her mind - and grasped her arms, pulling her close. When she made no move to draw away, some of the tension began to ease out of Snape’s shoulders. When her arms slid around him, Ron heard Snape gasp.

Then they were kissing.

Harry reached out and wrapped his fingers around Ron’s wrist as if he didn’t believe it was finally happening, and needed tactile proof of reality.

Snape lifted his head, brushed some of Hermione’s hair from her face, and whispered her name.

Ron slowly backed away, tugging Harry with him, suddenly wanting to give the two some privacy, and bumped into someone. The Headmistress was there, dabbing at the corner of her eye with a handkerchief, watching Snape and Hermione kiss once more.

“It’s about bloody time,” whispered Minerva with a smile in her voice. “I’d been hoping...”

She turned toward Ron and Harry and frowned, reaching out to lightly smack both of them on the back of the head. “Well, don’t just stand there gawking. The books won't sort themselves. We’ve still got work to do. Go on, shoo.”