"The Fun In Dysfunctional"
Disclaimer: Rowling owns it and them, I don't. 'Nuff said.
The silence in Hermione and Ron's flat was golden. It was such a drastic change from the Burrow; the absence of noise was almost ringing in her ears.
Hermione was quite glad to be back home.
Over the years, the twins had abandoned their adolescent methods of physical anarchy, preferring instead the subtler pleasures of emotional and mental chaos. This was often accomplished by bringing up things their other brothers had done over the years that upset Molly. Fortunately for Ron, he had to go to work before they could bring up the flying Ford Anglia event in his and Harry's second year. That always got Molly to beat her dead horse, recalling the whole event with fervent clarity, as if she was living it again.
Someone usually got in the grand matron's hot seat, when the twins decided the party was getting boring. Though the mentioned incident had happened many years ago, that person – be it Bill, Charlie, Ron, or Ginny – was roundly lectured once more for their lack of forethought, insensitivity or brashness. Molly would sometimes go into her usual histrionics about she could never imagine a child of her would do something so foolish before sighing, then saying how it was now ancient history, as if her final word had laid the issue to rest. Hermione was amazed at how that woman could go from hot to cool and calm in the blink of an eye.
Percy, as usual, sat in the holier-than-thou arrogance that he never did anything with such a careless and irresponsible behavior. Sometimes the twins would bring up the rift that occurred in the year just before the Battle at the Department of Mysteries. It was when Percy would say how he got a big promotion after working for only a year at the Ministry, that he would pointedly ask Hermione why she hadn't been promoted yet, that she felt that Percy deserved to have the twins unleashed on him. Molly's rant at him would usually put him in his proper place.
Purging the less pleasant aspects of the evening out of her mind, she remembered the photographs she browsed through after dinner. She had gone to the study to peruse some of the family photo albums. Two particular things she wanted to do were compare photos of Ginny at her own wedding to Ron, to that of Ginny at the redhead's wedding to Harry. The other was to look at photos of the Order.
Looking at the snapshot of the whole Weasley clan on one side and her own, much smaller family on the other, Hermione was brought back to her own wedding day. She remembered battling what her mother called, “a case of cold feet”. Hermione was told that it was normal to experience feelings of uncertainty when one was about to make a major change in one's life. The odd thing was, she had made many major decisions before, and yet she had never felt so uncertain as when she was about to marry Ron. During the honeymoon and ensuing weeks, her nerves subsided as she and Ron settled into the routine of married life. The pressures of work and the real word quickly ended the honeymoon phase, or so she thought. Reflecting upon it further, Hermione pondered if it was never a honeymoon period, but just a denied case of nerves that she was making a mistake. All the jittery excitement was perhaps her way of panicking, while she tried convincing herself this was what she wanted.
The image of Ginny dressed in her best robes, standing beside her as her bridesmaid, haunted Hermione. In the photo, Ginny looked more excited that Hermione did, as if the world was about to open its doors to her and give her free access to its delights. She remembered Ginny mentioning the previous week that she and Draco were going to tell her family about their relationship the day after the wedding. The Ginny captured in the moment on that August afternoon showed her practically bouncing on the balls of her feet with exuberance, as if she could not contain some great and wonderful secret.
Mentally flipping to another image from a photo she had imprinted in her mind, she recalled the look on Ginny's face from her wedding day to Harry the following spring. There was a resigned quality to Ginny's smile, like the reluctant acceptance of an unwanted outcome. Knowing what she knew now, Hermione could read all the emotions on the redhead's face; the bride's smile in the photograph was devoid of any exuberance and elation. Ginny looked less than thrilled at her own wedding. Hermione's image seemed to be overjoyed at the occasion, as her own image waved wildly. Harry looked overjoyed, as if there was some desperate wish that came true with his marriage to Ginny. He rarely smiled like that anymore.
During her search for photos of the Order, she became frustrated. It seemed that Malfoy and Snape had never had a single picture of them taken by anyone in the Order, or at least none in Arthur's possession. Hermione guessed that if Death Eaters ever raided the Burrow, such a photo would have been life threatening to them both, raising suspicion of their loyalty to Voldemort. There was one much older picture Arthur had of Snape, but the frame was empty and had been for years. Even the image of Snape did not want to hang around longer than it deemed necessary. She remembered he was the exact same way at Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, just before her fifth year.
Hermione did her best to recall what Snape looked like. She had spent seven years in his classroom and seeing him at the Hogwarts Head table, but for some reason, she could only remember a caricature of her old Potions professor. The only traits she could recall were greasy hair, big nose, pale waxy skin and a mean disposition. She could not remember what his eyes looked like; yes, she could remember they looked black, but she couldn't remember their shape. He had fixed her with many stares, as if he was trying to penetrate her mind without Legilimency, somehow knowing she and friends were up to mischief, but still her mind could not remember what they looked like.
Even for the year of working for the Order after graduating Hogwarts, her memories of him were faded, much like the memories of her grandmother that had passed away some years ago. There were fleeting recollections, but the only strong memory of Snape was the color black. His hair, his eyes, his robes and disposition all had the same quality, all light absorbing and nothing reflective. She vaguely wondered if his soul and heart were the same color, as well.
The perplexed witch was lost in thought when she heard the telltale pop of someone Apparating into her living room.
Before she could turn around to see who it was, the brunette witch could hear Ginny give a great huff as she began frantically pacing around the tiny parlor. Hermione furrowed her brow while regarding her friend.
"That bloody wanker!" Ginny fumed. "He can go shove that broom of his up his arse and fly to the North Pole and back that way!"
Rising from her seat, Hermione asked in slightly exasperated tones, "All right, what's Harry done this time?"
It was a rarity that Ginny came over in a snit like this. Usually she saved her occasional ranting for their weekly luncheons, but it seemed that Mount Saint Genevra was due to blow tonight. It surprised Hermione actually. With a row this big – Hermione guessed it was really big for redhead to come over in this state – Harry would owl her the next day, requesting her input to buy Ginny a present as part of reparations for his transgressions. Now that she thought about it, perhaps spending money was Harry's way asking forgiveness instead of opening himself up to his wife instead. She wouldn't be surprised that a shrink – should Harry go and seen one – would come to the conclusion that Dudley getting a plethora of presents, and Harry receiving neither love nor material goods, resulted in a complex of Harry expressing love through his pocketbook. Having been emotionally repressed for years as a child, growing up in a household where he could never share a single thought without reprimand, it was easier for him to spend than open himself up to his wife.
But before Ginny could answer, the fireplace roared to life. Out of the green flames step Ginny's husband.
"You didn't answer me!" he roared.
Folding her arms in front of her chest defiantly, Ginny glared back. "I'm not talking to you like this."
Hermione, taken aback by Harry's out of character demeanor, looked at him, then at Ginny, then back to Harry. She noticed the black haired wizard place a slightly uncoordinated hand on the mantle to steady himself as he swayed a little.
"Harry," Hermione asked with great consternation, "are you drunk?!"
"You bet he is!" Ginny replied acidly.
This was not the jovially drunk Harry that Hermione remembered from seventh year, or from post Victory Day celebrations. This was mean-drunk Harry, the one Ginny described encountering once before, but Hermione never believed until this moment.
His eyes blazed as he glowered at his wife with dark regard. Harry's anger towards her smoldered just beneath the surface, ready to rupture just like Ginny, at any given moment. He no longer looked handsome and gentle, but cruel, by the way his mouth was set with a contemptible snarl and his brow furrowed with rage.
"Don't fucking lie to me anymore! Go ahead, she's here! Say it! Say it so I know you're lying!" he screamed.
"What the…" Hermione muttered to no one in particular. Looking at Harry, she addressed him, "What is this all about?" After she spoke the words, she then began to hope this whole row wasn't in regards to the errand she ran for Harry the previous week, but about something else entirely.
"Go ahead! Say it again!" he sneered. "I dare you," he hissed in a low voice.
Hermione turned her head to look at Ginny. The other witch let a malicious grin spread slowly across her face, her features changing from wary anger to snide triumph.
"Fine!" Ginny retorted. "Let me say it again for all to hear. Hermione is NOT going off potions. This is merely a stalling tactic to get my mother off our backs."
A loud silence settled upon the room as Hermione waited for the rest of some startling revelation to come, but Ginny said nothing more.
Turning to look at Harry, the older witch raised her brows as if to say, 'Yes, and…'
Harry's face turned red and he shouted, "Well, she's lying, right?!?"
"Lying about what, Harry?" Hermione replied, feeling eerily calm despite her two seething friends.
"About… you... going off potions!" he sputtered, as his arms gesticulated wildly to explain what he could not articulate.
Hermione's stomach dropped through the floor. Now she wished she didn't say anything at the family gathering until she and Ginny both spoke to their husbands before hand. But something in the back of Hermione's mind knew that this fight would have taken place regardless, but hopefully while Harry wasn't drunk.
Looking at her oldest friend, Hermione sighed. "She's not lying. I merely said what I did to get Molly to stop pestering us. I'm not ready for children, yet."
She sat in a chair with the heaviness of the situation pressing down on her. 'I may never be ready for kids with Ron,' she mentally added.
Taking a deep steadying breath, she continued, "Fleur said this is what both she and Angelina did to get Molly to stop nagging about grandchildren." Lifting her face up to look Harry squarely in the eye, she further drove home the point. "You don't get the constant pressure from her, we're the one's who are made the villains for not popping babies out. Do you know what's involved with having children, Harry? Do you?"
Hermione rose from her seat as Harry dropped his head and looked away.
"I want a family of my own," he said sadly.
There was something very pitiful in his dejected manner that made Hermione feel for him.
"Well, I can tell you this," Hermione gently lectured, "children add strain to a marriage, they don't strengthen it. And by what I've seen and heard lately from both of you, this marriage is hanging by a thread. It's not just a matter of you inseminating Ginny and reaping the rewards of baby nine months later; it's a lifestyle change. You have to be there for Ginny, and not just financially, but emotionally and physically too. You two don't talk now. My God! What would happen when a child came along?"
'Not to mention a question of the child's paternity if your wife keeps shagging her gigolo boyfriend, who happens to be Malfoy,' Hermione thought to herself, with the sudden cold realization of another reason why Ginny wasn't ready for children.
She walked towards Harry slowly, hoping her words were sinking in.
"And Ginny's the one who has to carry the child." Recalling all the complaints her sister-in-laws have had over the years she began ticking them off. "There’s the emotional roller coaster, from all the hormones running through you, morning sickness, fatigue, back and hip pain, stretch marks, shortness of breath, poor sleep, and not to mention you can't ride a broom or Apparate, and no Portkeys last trimester. It's walking or Floo, that's it. No alcohol, no potions. And then after the baby comes a year of nursing, sore nipples, mastitis, leaking at the most inappropriate moments, aching breasts, and baby blues, then add on top of that constantly changing nappies until they're toilet trained at about two or three. It's not just children at your convenience, but they're constantly demanding your attention. You both have to be ready. It's a lot of responsibility and if you're at work most of the time, that leaves Ginny to raise them. If she's not ready, she's just not. Ron and I both work, but I know I'm the one who'll have to do most of the work. I'm not ready yet. My mum was almost thirty by the time she had me… and she's a Muggle. I won't hit menopause until I'm about seventy. There is plenty of time for children, Harry."
If anything, her little speech convinced herself she definitely wouldn't be ready for children for some years.
She placed a hand on his shoulder, as she noticed her speech made his body slump with the realization that she was right.
"I know you want children, but…" she trailed off, wanting to say more, but not with Ginny present.
Hermione wanted to say how his lack of trust for his wife was an anchor sinking his marriage, however, she could not bring that up as it might lead her to tell Harry more lies about Ginny. Harry had good reason not to trust his wife, but she promised herself and Ginny she would not tell him. To tell him would shatter what chance they could have to repair the large cracks in their marriage. Harry would make Draco disappear from Ginny's life if he knew, which would lead to Ginny definitely leaving Harry. If she could just get Ginny to love Harry the way Harry loved her. But who was she to think of love? Ron loved Hermione wholeheartedly, and only recently did she, herself, come to realize that her love for her husband was only halfhearted at best.
She wished she’d never known about Ginny's affair, and all that revelation entailed. More than that, Hermione wished she was ignorant of the facts and could continue to be blissfully unaware of Mrs. Potter's activities, therefore never questioning her own life and lack of passion and communication in her own contractual union. Granted, her life had been plodding along at a slow, mind-numbing pace with no stimulation, but at least she’d lived in a deluded state, convinced that it was what she wanted, regardless of her regrets. Now she saw what a wreck Harry and Ginny's marriage was, how unsatisfied she was with her own marriage and life, and the injustice of the Death Eater Decree. Her eyes were wide open, and to look upon the truth hurt her with its harsh glare.
A slow fury was building in Hermione, mostly upon frustration from the situation. Knowledge was not just a powerful tool, but it could make you feel powerless at times. To know that there was no incantation or potion to set everything right, and yet still unable to accept the facts, proved to be a test of her resolve at times. She was crowned the 'Brightest Witch in a Century' at school and yet she could not think of how to fix what lay before her.
"I tried telling him this," Ginny petulantly began, but was cut off by Hermione's harsh glare.
"You," the brunette barked at the younger witch, "be quiet!"
Shocked, Ginny snapped her mouth shut, partly from Hermione’s threatening look and partly from her tone, which had changed from soft and logical moments before, to suddenly agitated and terse.
"Harry. Go home and sober up. If you don’t make an appointment with a psychiatrist and a marriage counselor with the Muggle Alliance tomorrow first thing, I'll make it for you and drag you to it myself."
The remorseful wizard lifted his head and looked at his wife. "I'm sorry," he started to say, but stopped there. He could not find the words in his still inebriated state.
Before he threw a handful of Floo Powder into the grate to go home, Hermione grabbed Harry’s hand to stop him.
"And no presents," Hermione amended. "No lingerie, no jewelry," she gave Ginny a meaningful look that Harry missed, "and no flowers."
"You both need to talk. You both need counseling. No more talk of children until this relationship is on steadier ground and you are both ready."
Harry nodded again and sighed with a whisper, "You're right."
He limply threw the powder, which had been slowly sifting through his hands during Hermione's parting speech, into the fireplace and went home.
Staring at the dying green flames, the pit of older witch's being began burning with an all too familiar sense of indefinable unsettledness. Part of it was guilt, but part was from frustration heaped upon the state of her life.
"Thank you so much–" Ginny began, but was cut off.
"Shut up!" Hermione growled, rounding on her. "You aren’t to see Malfoy ever again! You are to get your arse to counseling and fix this marriage!"
She knew it was a bit hypocritical to try and force Ginny to love her husband in a way she was not capable of, no more than Hermione could love her own husband, but Ginny was not aware of Hermione's disillusion with her own marriage. Hermione would try her damnedest to keep that fact from her now. If Hermione had to live the lie, then so would Ginny. She would be especially careful to keep the fact of her own appointment with her gigolo secret from Ginny. The whole hypocrisy of it all stung and bit at Mrs. Weasley's conscience, like a large welting mosquito bite that bled from too much scratching, but still begged to be itched, only to make it bleed and scar some more. It nettled and vexed her, but she tamped down the wave of guilt by mentally noting that she at least didn’t shag her gigolo. And for the reason that she had not done anything in the physical realm of infidelity, she was able to make a self-deluded jump to the morally superior position.
"I will not make any such promise!" Ginny protested adamantly.
"You can and you will!" Hermione threw back at her. "I so much as catch a whiff you're seeing him, even to talk, and I'll spill all to Harry." It was a bluff, but Hermione was feeling short of any generous platitudes. Ginny had ruined her little fantasy world and Hermione felt as if the broken pieces had been left at her feet to repair, but without wand or glue to put it back together again.
Instead of argue or plead, Ginny hung her head and reluctantly agreed.
Unsure if the younger witch was just placating her by false promise or if she was sincere, Hermione decided that she didn't want to know if Ginny would hold good on her word and not see Malfoy again. She discovered that night that sometimes denial was a fine and dandy way of living at times. It was no longer important to know everything in the world. Ignorance at times could be bliss. And she had been lacking bliss in her life for quite some time.
Severus could always tell if someone was a cheap drunk by the ruddy complexion that bloomed across a person's face. It was if the inebriated would turn pale that it would require enough alcohol to be consumed to constitute alcohol poisoning before speech would begin to slur and vision double.
Draco and Severus, both pale to begin with, were as white as freshly bleached, boiled and pressed sheets by the time they killed the fifth and last bottle for the night. They had already gone through five rounds of chess, four games of backgammon, two hours of wizard's poker, three games of arrows, and now both lay sprawled across various pieces of furniture in Severus' room.
The blond wizard, who was draped across the length of the settee, had initiated the latest verbal game of 'can-you-top-that.' The topic was sexual positions.
The elder wizard sat on the floor with his back propped up against his bed, his legs akimbo, arms limp at his sides, head lolling back onto his coverlet, while he stared blankly at his black bed curtains – charmed to be that color when there were no clients. He spoke slowly to avoid sounding drunk, "You know that position…" He lost his train of thought for a moment before he regained it. "The one where they bring their legs up… roll their back so they bring their knees to either side of their head?"
If Severus knew yoga, he would have named it as the Sasangasana Posture.
"Yeah," Draco said, half-listening as the room spun about him like a carnival ride he read about in Muggle Studies years ago.
"Well, take the legs and wrap them about your waist."
Draco was sure he had a much more interesting position than that to beat the other wizard's answer, but could not recall it in his drunken haze. Surely it would come to him in the morning, most probably with a vivid recollection of it involving Ginny screaming out his name, but he decided to let Severus have this round.
"You win this time," he said, his eyes randomly fixed on the prominent Adam's apple the protruded from Severus' neck, his head bent back. "New topic." He had an idea of one he could surely win, though in some ways, it was nothing to brag about. "Fastest a woman made you come."
Severus noted how Draco left out the word 'client' and used the generic term 'woman' instead. He remembered, with unease, his own clumsy loss of his virginity. Thinking back to his youth, he recalled Lucius' impromptu stag party for him, held behind the Three Broomsticks during the last Hogsmeade weekend in his seventh year. She was a witch, probably under the Imperius Curse, but he cared not at the time. She was there for his pleasure, for his "amusement and education," as Draco's father called it at the time. It was more like a guarantee he would not go to his wedding night a virgin.
There were times he remembered the warm spring air still holding onto the chill of winter in the cool shadows, the air making the skin on his legs and arse goose-pimple, as his trousers lay rumpled about his ankles. The witch glassy eyed and moaning with mechanical grunts from his few thrusts, her back up against the mossy bricks of the old building, as she had one leg wrapped about his waist. He’d hoped that Lucius had paid for her services, but instinctively knew an Obliviate was cast upon her shortly after he walked away from her.
Tamping down the memory, he would not let his mind eventually wander, in his drunken state, to thoughts of his wife. She was dead and could never be brought back, no matter how much he thought of her, so he avoid all thought of her as much as possible.
Draco did not answer, nor laugh or make any derisive remarks.
"Well?" Severus prompted.
Draco took a deep breath and exhaled. "One kiss."
"What?" The dark haired wizard pulled his head up from the bed and fixed his companion with one eye, keeping the other one closed, as it was easier to see one Draco rather than two sitting on his two couches that periodically blurred back into one before splitting into two again.
"I said, one kiss."
Snorting a half laugh, Severus drawled, "You're joking."
Draco would have shook his head, but that would mean the carny controlling the ride his head was on would had sped up the spinning contraption, resulting in a swift production of pavement pizza on Severus' prized silk and wool Tabriz rug.
"No," he said rather solemnly.
"Explain. You must have been a virgin," Severus surmised.
"No. I had had half the girls in Slytherin already before that happened," Draco replied. "It was three days before that fucking decree."
Severus knew who the girl was from that statement.
Draco continued, "We’d kissed for the first time in that silly Muggle cinema the week prior. It was the last time we saw each other before the decree. I still remember the dress she wore."
He hoped Draco wasn't going to get maudlin, but he should have guessed he would have, considering the turn of events over the past week.
"It was this little sundress with straps instead of sleeves and I teased her about getting freckles in patterns that made dirty pictures on her back. I even offered to charm them to move when she spun around and socked me in the stomach… hard. She caught me off guard and I almost bent over double. She caught my face and kissed me hard. In three days time we would tell her family. And that kiss she gave me held so much promise…"
Had he been sober, Severus would have stalked off at the forlorn, romantic ramblings of his friend, instead he was too drunk to move and was forced to listen. Somewhere in a corner of his heart, he felt the slight sting of jealousy that this young man had experienced love on a level he was unable to discover for himself. Long ago he had written off love as a luxury he could not afford. Instead of acknowledging his envy, he subconsciously identified it as irritation and boredom. He could have asked or demanded Draco to stop his sentimental reminiscences, but held his tongue instead. For some reason he could not, nor would not identify, he let him continue.
"In that kiss, I could feel the passion in her for me. In my mind, I could feel her legs wrapping around me, begging me. Not a stitch of clothing came off, no hand up the shirt or down her knickers, just a simple kiss that let me know just how much she wanted me. Arms twined around each other, hair mussed, total and complete loss of time and space. We were breathless and never wanted the kiss to end. I wanted her so badly right there and then. And I just…"
Draco trailed off and never finished his sentence.
Still staring at Draco, he blinked his one open eye to make sure that he was correct in seeing the younger man had not fallen asleep, but was still awake staring off into space. Turning his head, Severus glanced at the clock and noted that it was now midnight. It was time to call an end to their celebrations as Victory Day was now officially over.
"Rise," the darker wizard gently commanded. "Go back to your rooms and sleep. We have much work ahead of us tomorrow and I doubt Miss Brown will give you a reprieve from your day job when she has seen fit to stock our bathrooms with hangover relief potions. It's time for bed."
Draco rose with the last bit of grace he had left, despite his wobbly legs, propelling himself forward towards the egress of Severus' flat.
The younger wizard placed his hand upon the doorknob. Before he turned it, he swiveled his head and considered his mentor. "So, is Mrs. Weasley still going to pay seven Galleons?" There was the faint hint of a smirk playing at the corner of his mouth as he asked his pointedly taunting question.
Severus wasn't sure about Draco's non sequitur, but answered it. "Actually, it's ten Galleons a visit from now on." He let the smug smile spread across Draco's face before delivering the final blow. "But with the forty percent profit sharing from the sex potions we are going to develop – my royalties based on the condition of taking her as a client – it may work out to about… oh… say… fifty-thousand Galleons a visit… or more."
He relished the stunned look that quickly washed over Draco's face. Out of a rare moment of pity, he amended his statement by adding, "The cut rate was probably out of some obligation Miss Brown feels for Hermione. If it weren't for Hermione's efforts, Miss Brown would not have the cheap labor force she now has today. Thus we would not be able to undercut the competition with our prices, nor dominate the market like we do." He finished he statement with a grandiose sweep of his arms.
During the summer after the Golden Trio graduated from Hogwarts, a strategy of creating chaos on the home front of the Death Eaters was hatched. Hermione came up with a plan for fellow member of the Order to discretely slip clothing that had been transfigured into food items, into the shopping baskets of Death Eater's wives. Once the items brought back from market were handed off to the house-elves, the transfigured items would turn back into clothes, thus freeing many house-elves in the employment of Death Eater families. It had gained the Order quite a bit of time to recoup, as many of the Death Eaters had to spend a great deal of time doing tasks they took for granted with their servants, who were now free.
'And all thanks to a know-it-all Gryffindor with an over abundance of righteousness. Perhaps I can make use of that abominable streak and put it to use to get myself out of this deity-forsaken country,' he thought bitterly to himself before he flopped on his bed and passed out.
Draco exited the room without a backward glance at his softly snoring friend, hoping he could make it to his rooms before he resorted to crawling on his hands and knees.
At least the house-elves would come in and tuck Severus into bed, charming him out of his clothes and into his pyjamas after he was properly under the covers, making sure his necessary vial of hangover relief potion was within arms reach, and the heavy drapes were drawn against any offending morning light.
Most of all, the Potions master would not be awake to ponder the twinge of envy in his heart. Of how he had been denied the chance to see if he and his wife could develop a relationship that included love. If only she had not died, if only she had learned to hold her tongue might she still be alive today.
By morning time he would probably forget about it and immerse himself in his daily grind of Potions by day and women at night, leaving him little time to reflect upon the younger wizard's words.