Disclaimer: The following is not purely original fiction, but rather characters, settings, and situations as created by J.K. Rowling. No money is being made of this piece of fanfiction and can not be reproduced for any purposes but strictly private entertainment. (Please, folks. I couldn't afford the defense lawyer, let alone pay the inevitable suit.)
A/N: This piece set out to thoroughly look at the HG/SS pairing from a rather different viewpoint. Along the way, however, the 'tool' characters rose up in rebellion and demanded their rights. I could have dealt with one or two of the little brats, but they asserted themselves at roughly the same time, with Harry being the most forceful git you can imagine, and when Neville started banding with them against me too, I knew I was done for. Thus, there's a lot of side-dish characterisation of the four who do all the yapping in this fic, while Hermione and Snape fell by the wayside. But that's all right. I don't write about the former enough anyway, and this was a great deal of fun, and I look forward to debating the finer points of this 'projected' characterisation with anyone who cares to argue about it when he or she reviews.
It had never been particularly unusual, but was becoming more and more common of late, when Harry and Ron knew what was going through the other's mind, which was the same thing as was in their own, and it happened now; namely: an attempt, largely unsuccessful, to reconcile a deadly, war-torn world with a pile of textbooks and the need to write about specialised spells for fixing modern conveniences.
Such as magical wirelesses.
The fire burned ever lower, but seemed noisier, as most of the Gryffindors were happily abed. Occasionally a group of sixth-years around the fire burst into very distracting laughter that put the boys into an even worse mood, and Ron was seriously considering threatening them with detention, but Hermione would have killed him, so it was a mere pleasant daydream. Or a regular night dream. Considering the time.
Ron's eyes were glazed with lack of interest and sleep. Harry sighed deeply - something of a huff - as he flicked automatically toward the index with no desire to actually find anything.
They were blessed with a welcome diversion when Ron caught sight of Neville, also homework-laden but disgustingly wide awake.
'Oy! We're got Trevor over here…'
'Oh, good, thanks,' said Neville complacently, taking a seat of their coffee table in a far corner of the common room. Harry, who could remember the days and years gone by when his toad's disappearance was catastrophic for Neville, eyed the pet in question blearily. Trevor, the most self-sufficient toad to ever live outside of its natural habitat, looked inexplicably hearty and hale (Harry rubbed his eyes just seeing his effortless bound across Ron's Charms text). And Neville seemed to have realised that Trevor didn't need much worrying after.
'It's not back here,' Harry mumbled. Ron swore.
Neville made a face. 'Oh. The Charms stuff? I've still got that.'
'I don't care about how to fix a wireless,' Ron moaned through a yawn. 'You just prod it a lot with your wand and curse at the thing until it works again.'
'Or until it explodes.'
'Sod off, Longbottom,' groaned Ron, burying his head in his arms as Neville unrolled a new piece of parchment and headed it. With empathy, Neville ignored him and asked what question they were on.
'The, er, fourth,' said Harry, going on to admit: 'We skipped the first and the third, though…'
For the next few minutes they kicked question number four about between them, not making much progress. Question five they found three different non-compatible answers for but no clue as to which was in the right direction. They managed to answer number six, but it took them a while to create a Kszesinski theory diagram for it, as no one could tell the others how to do so without relooking it up.
'D'you reckon we should wake up Hermione?' asked Ron, looking as though he had just emerged fresh from a battle as he set down his quill and flexed his wrist.
'Nah, not if she's sleeping,' Harry replied, reluctantly polite.
'She can't be,' said Ron. 'She's probably rereading An Encyclopedia of Toadstools for the twentieth time or something.' (Neville glanced up eagerly at the mention of the title.) 'She just can't be sleeping. She finishes the homework in half the time we do and she doesn't even have Quidditch. What's she have to be tired about?'
'She is Head Girl,' pointed out Harry.
'Besides, you couldn't get to her dormitory anyway,' Neville remarked helpfully, an inkblot on his nose.
'My sister can,' said Ron rebelliously. 'But okay, two down, eighteen to go, another subject after this, half-past midnight - no sweat, right?'
Harry, looking at it from that perspective, and realising that he had one more assignment than Ron, glanced down at his parchment, glanced up at the sixth-years, glanced down, made his decision, and glanced up. 'Hey!' he hissed loudly. 'Ginny!'
Ginny extracted herself from the knot easily, having looked and perhaps actually felt bored with the proceedings, and came over with a bottle of nailpolish, three finished nails, and a very cool, unconcerned air in the silhouette of the fire. Each was a personal insult to their own burden of work, and Ron scowled at her openly.
'Yeah?' she asked. 'I was just about to go up to bed, once I finished these.' She flashed them a hand with a few red nails.
'Can you get Hermione up while you're at it?' Harry's tone was desperate and beseeching.
She didn't wilt.
'So what do you guys have?' she asked, nudging Ron over to lean back on the couch, applying long, practiced strokes to her nails.
'Well, right here we have twenty questions here for Flitwick for tomorrow,' scowled Harry. 'About repairing Floo grates and watches and wirelesses…'
'Repairing a wireless?' Ginny said mildly. 'Don't you just poke it a couple of times with your wand and mutter a few swearwords? Always works for me.'
'And after that,' continued Harry, 'I've still got to memorize the artifacts in the D classification - '
' - for Nosfle,' finished Ron.
'And I'm s'posed to have some ingredients already skinned by tomorrow for Snape.'
'And I have to make up two dueling practice scenarios,' said Ron, with a semi-friendly scowl, 'for Potter.'
Harry was in the midst of feeling indignant (the D.A. was not a class, and he was offended at the implication) when Neville put in,
'Maps on three each of the species in all of the magical botanical zones for all seven continents showing their respective habitats and indicating climate for Sprout.'
Ginny smiled carelessly. 'He wins.'
'Well I could have made mine sound all impressive if I'd had the chance too,' Ron grumbled.
'All I can say is that you better start nonsensising your answers,' said Ginny. ''Cause it's almost one o'clock, and I'm not waking Hermione.' She blew on the fingers of one hand.
Ron and Harry gave her reproachful looks. Neville gave a rueful grin.
'He's finished with that,' Ron scowled. 'Has been for days.'
'Oh yeah?' asked Ginny casually, mind clearly elsewhere, shifting as she transferred her instruments of beautification from one hand to the other.
'Yeah,' said Ron, rather more viciously than his wont. 'Came skipping around all starry-eyed. "Oh, Professor Sprout just gave us this really great treat, I can't wait, d'you reckon I should stop chatting her up and ask her out?"'
Everyone stared at him in astonishment, Neville's surprise tinted with embarrassment and anger that died somewhat - in the Nearly Headless Nick fashion - when he realised that Ron didn't know what he was saying any more than his sister just had.
Ginny asked first.
'What's up with you?'
Ron slammed his quill against his parchment and missed, inking the table and mashing his nib. 'Well what's up with her?'
For a moment Neville wondered confusedly if he meant Ginny, while Ginny thought he meant Sprout, and only Harry realised who the antecedent in question was.
'She's just busy, Ron,' he said, dismissing a question that had been running through his own head for a while now.
'Busy with what?' Ron, over-worked and sleep-deprived, roared.
Several of the sixth-years were glancing at them. Ginny kicked him in lieu of asking him to quiet down.
'It's not just Head Girl stuff,' he said, while Ginny and Neville used his context to figure out whom he meant. 'Because then we would know about it. She was always yammering away about all the challenges and all the problems, remember?'
'Maybe she's found someone else to yammer to,' Neville said, quietly but blinking earnestly above his inkblot.
Ginny tried to kick him as well, but with a table between them, all she managed to do was to capture the attention of the uninitiated.
'Someone else like who?' demanded Harry, glad to finally give into the suspicions that had been bugging him for some time - not worrisome enough for active investigation in the face of the news that reached them behind annoyingly safe castle walls, but worrisome enough to flit on his radar in odd moments.
Neville blinked again, not quite so earnestly this time.
'Yeah, like who?' Ron demanded, in his best threatening to make good if arbitrary use of certain prefectorial powers if irked tone.
'Well - I mean - I just meant - maybe she decided to talk it over with - with the other prefects, maybe,' Neville said weakly, quailing under his roommates' doubled interrogatory glares. 'Or - maybe she found a - a b - ' He choked as if on a sudden image and apparently couldn't bring himself to say the word.
Ron pounced. 'A what?'
'A - a friend.' Neville apparently felt that this term was even worse than the one he had euphemised to begin with. 'I mean, from. From another House. Or - something.'
'Oh Neville, just shut up,' said Ginny in exasperation. She hissed cattishly as her bottle began to spill, scooping it up and gingerly reaching for her wand to clean.
Harry and Ron blinked slowly and out of sync.
'What's going on?' asked Harry, quietly but with an underlying ring of a wizard trying to tacitly remind certain people that he has been in the habit of meeting with and besting exceedingly powerful and murderous Dark wizards since his babyhood.
Ginny sighed, screwing her lid halfway on as if ready to give up that enterprise for the night. 'Hermione may or may not have a boyfriend.'
Ron's eyebrows ascended several inches.
'You may or may not get any sleep tonight as well as or not as well as in the next several weeks if you can or can't get more definite than that,' said Harry.
'Harry, you are such a git sometimes,' Ginny replied companionably.
'Who?' asked Ron, sounding blindsided, as well he might.
Ginny shrugged. Without saying a word, she communicated that out of a sense of feminine solidarity she knew and was sticking by the knowledge that this was not her news to tell. Ron turned to Neville, who looked up like the Kneazle who ate the puffeskein. 'What?' he asked, and then betrayed the innocence in his own tone by preemptively declaring, 'I know nothing, all right? Really I don't.'
Harry's eyebrows joined Ron's at their exalted altitude. He cast around for suitable past incidents to throw at Neville, found sadly few, and came up with, 'Why no, Professor McGonagall, I had no idea that it was past curfew and that I was going up to the North Tower.'
'Look, okay, so you're not going to tell us who it is. Fine, just fine.' Ron forced calm practicality into his voice. 'But just answer me this. How come you two know and we don't?'
'Neville doesn't know,' Ginny said promptly. As two dark glances came his way, Neville nodded and bent over his homework, suddenly studious and industrious.
'Why do you know?'
'I'm a girl,' replied Ginny easily.
'What's that mean?' asked Harry.
'Hermione's one too.'
Speaking while on the verge of scowling, Ron declared, 'There are so many bad ways this could go just now.'
'Ginny Weasley, girl; Hermione Granger, girl; check, check.' Harry glared. 'And?'
'And, well, you two are boys.'
The two boys in question groaned. 'All right?' prompted Ron.
Ginny glanced up, looking mildly bemused at their confusion. 'Well, sometimes Hermione needs to confide to another girl. I think that's my sole purpose in life sometimes. And I guessed, really.'
Ron's head was in his hands for about the tenth time that evening.
'Besides,' said Ginny casually without looking up, seized by an imp of mischief with a firm grip, 'she needed someone to help her sneak around, and you two attract too much attention now for that.'
Everyone quieted as the sixth-years began to rise; no one spoke until several minutes later, when they had all gone to bed.
'All right,' said Harry, patient through gritted teeth. 'So evidently this boyfriend's something of a secret. Since, obviously, she didn't deign to tell either of us.'
'Who wouldn't she tell us about?' asked Ron, rather fearfully. He abruptly rounded on Neville. 'Not Malfoy!' Neville jumped at suddenly finding Ron yelling with their faces two inches apart. 'Other prefects? Not Malfoy?'
'No!' exclaimed Neville.
'I thought you knew nothing,' Harry said in scorn.
Neville had a recently acquired poise - so recently that it often failed him, as it had earlier, but that other times frustrated those who thought they knew him to no end. 'No,' he said, almost primly, 'but I know Hermione, and she would just never get involved with Malfoy.'
Harry frowned, and was almost glad Neville didn't glance up, because he couldn't have resisted the temptation to break certain personal vows and to use Legilimency to see whether or not he was bluffing.
Ron, too, was frowning, at Ginny. 'What's so funny?'
'You were almost laughing, there. So who is it? Oh come on,' he said impatiently, while Ginny had on her Gringotts security expression. 'It's us. We wouldn't - '
He cut himself off, apparently at a loss to articulate it.
Ginny understood. 'I know you wouldn't. But she has to tell you, not me.'
'When's that going to be?'
'Dunno,' Ginny shrugged. 'She wouldn't've told me if I hadn't guessed.'
Harry turned back to Neville. 'And what's your story?'
While Neville was formulating another denial, Ginny jumped in.
'Neville walked in on something one day. Hermione and I figured a while ago that he might have drawn some conclusions.'
'Look,' Neville said pleadingly as Ron and Harry continued to take out their frustration by glaring at him, 'I can't tell either. It's Hermione's secret. And don't nag me, because I'd really rather not think about it.'
'Just tell me this. Is it Malfoy?'
'No,' said Ginny.
'But we're not answering anything else,' Neville said, surprisingly firm.
'But it's someone at Hogwarts, right?' queried Ron. True to their resolutions, neither replied, nor even looked him in the eye, but that much, at least, they didn't really need confirmation on.
'It has to be… a Slytherin then,' said Harry slowly. 'Or someone like that… or else she would have told us.'
He and Ron shared a wide-eyed glance.
'I don't even know most of the Slytherins,' said Ron. 'It's not the Troll Twins, though - can't be.'
'Theodore Nott? He's the only other bloke in there I know that's our age…'
'It isn't a girl, is it?' Ron asked.
Ginny gave him a dirty look. 'Oh, yes. Just because someone can stand to live without the masculine charms of Ronnie, then they must be a dyke. Right.'
'Ginny,' said Harry quietly, quick to speak in Ron's defence. 'That's not fair. You know it.' Ron and Hermione's brief attempt at romance ended mutually and in total friendship. She had made it sound as though it had been Hermione who had up and left when really - when really it had just happened, and then slipped out of happening. 'So,' he said, to alter the darker mood, 'it's not a girl, then.'
'She could be bluffing,' muttered Ron, still smarting.
'Why couldn't it be Hermione?' demanded Ginny in a tetchy tone. Apparently she planned to argue it both ways just for the sake of it. 'Because the only lesbians are the ones who can't get guys? Get real.'
'Krum can't be around, can he?' asked Ron, still reflexively making a face of distaste at the name.
'There's nothing in it. And he's probably playing a game on the other side of the world right now.'
'Internat prelims,' Ron said happily.
Ginny rolled her eyes. Much as she liked Quidditch, she occasionally thought other things were more important. At least, that was the tacit way she always put it to her closest brother.
Ron sobered. 'What other Slytherins do we know?'
Harry shrugged. 'Never mind.' He was tired of speculating like fools in front of the two privy to the information of which they were ignorant in any case, and packed up his Charms. 'I'll ask her about this tomorrow.'
'This, or the homework?'
'Two minutes before Charms, homework's going to be the priority,' said Harry heavily. 'Should glance at the Potions, then…' He pulled out the chart, which was mind-numbing and sight-handicapping, and groaned as his eyes failed to take anything in. He had almost wrapped his mind around the first row when he had to jump.
'NO!' Ron had just shouted.
Harry glanced up, tired and irritable. 'What?'
Ron's eyes were fixed on Ginny as he ripped the parchment from Harry's hand. Harry blinked and observed Neville closely - but Neville had been given time to compose himself, while Ginny hadn't.
Harry blinked again. Ron was gaping.
'She - she wouldn't!' he said hoarsely. 'It's - it's him! Snape!' He paused, and, as something of an afterthought, added, 'He's a teacher!'
'Well,' said Ginny pithily, 'then I imagine there's a good chance that she didn't.'
'Oh God,' Harry mumbled pitiably after her words. 'It's him.' She would. Actually, he couldn't quite believe that she, indeed, could, but Ginny's knowledge was very plain despite her best attempts.
Meanwhile, Neville gave up the charade and put down the homework (he had been tracing over the words of his answer to question number six, giving them a double-vision and very untidy appearance).
'But - but - it's Snape. It's Snape.' Ron's head was in his hands again, and his words were muffled but clearly strangled. 'I mean, it's… I mean, she always did stick up for him, but…'
'Ginny,' said Harry, sounding frighteningly reasonable to his own ears. 'This is Hermione we're talking about. This is a teacher-student relationship we're talking about. The former would never, ever consider the latter. And even Snape…' He paused, and reconsidered. He couldn't say anything for sure about Snape anymore. While he was struggling with that, Ginny said calmly,
'Well, I'm not sure if it is quite a relationship. In fact I'm pretty sure it's not. It's just that they've grown quite friendly - well, their brand of friendly, with intellectual talk and scholarly debates and arguments about stuff that really doesn't matter but that they seem to enjoy - ' (she took a moment to inhale) ' - but in any case there's no doubt that they both want there to be a relationship.'
Ron groaned deeply from behind his hands. Neville was grinning, broadly if a little guiltily, apparently enjoying the sight of someone else grappling with the idea that he had been grappling only somewhat more successfully with for several weeks now. Harry, too, sat back, closed his eyes, and tried to process this information. Considerately, Ginny and Neville left them to it for a few moments before Ron emerged from his attempts to suffocate himself.
'Are you sure?' he asked weakly. 'Are you really, really sure?'
'I'm sure,' said Ginny. 'She's talked to me about it.'
'Only it's - it's Snape.'
'Yes, I think we've established that it is, in fact, Snape.'
Harry opened his eyes, which were glinting darkly. 'You say she's talked to you about it?' he asked coldly.
Ginny gave him a cool, disapproving look. 'Yeah.'
'And she's said that she - wants there to be a relationship?'
'Yeah,' said Ginny defiantly. 'Whatever we're going to call it. She wants to have sex with him. Do the nasty. Pop his cherry.'
'We are so, so not having this conversation,' Ron said to a sympathetic Neville. Harry bounded to his feet, and broke whatever there was left of a light tone.
'What the hell has he done to her?'
'Charmed his way into her heart with his effervescent personality,' Ginny said immediately, with a grin.
'This is Snape we're talking about - '
'Yeah, is anyone still in doubt of that?'
' - you know, former Death Eater, student of the Dark Arts, Potions Master - '
'In that order?' muttered Ginny, while Neville took his turn to process breathtaking information.
'Don't you get it?' Harry shouted. 'Obviously he's magicked her emotions!' They stared at him blankly, and he waved his arms to accent his points. 'Think about it! He knows Dark Arts! He could make Love Potions! And probably worse! I'm off, I tell you, I'm off to tell Dumbledore about all this right now - '
He wasn't, really, not until Ginny protested and tried to stop him, at which he suddenly decided that without a doubt that was precisely what he was off to do. He and Ginny engaged in a scuffle by the portrait hole.
Then came Ron's voice from back in the corner.
Ron's head peeked up over the couch. 'It's just - remember third year?'
Harry gave him a Look.
'Yeah. Which part, precisely? The part where Snape managed to take a round total of at least four hundred points from Gryffindor during the course of the year? The part where he gave his stamp of approval to Malfoy's infamous let's-just-get-a-living-creature-executed-so-that-Hagrid-looks-bad plan?' Ron made a noise to interrupt, possibly to point out that Snape had never actually shown any sign of approving Malfoy's plan beyond his usual favouritism, or else to point out that four hundred was a very conservative estimate. Harry raised his voice to drown him out. 'The part where he almost expelled me? The part where he was about to send Sirius off for the Kiss without listening to a single word? The part where he threw numerous temper tantrums when that failed that would make Dudley look like a kid who actively campaigned against the idea of instant gratification? Oh, I forgot, you were knocked out then. So perhaps you either mean the part where he got Lupin sacked, or where he made us prepare Malfoy's ingredients during class.'
('Again,' said Ginny sardonically to the nearest armchair, 'in roughly that order. From the least important to the most.')
'Nah,' said Ron, grimacing at several of the mentions as he patiently waited for Harry to run out of breath. 'I meant the part - well, the part were I was knocked out, I s'pose. You and Hermione told me that Snape was telling Fudge that Sirius had used Confundus Charms on us. And, well, he hadn't.'
'So?' asked Harry coldly.
'Well, you're pretty much accusing him of that same thing and… and maybe you're wrong this time.'
It took that ellipse for Ron to gather up the nerve to actually suggest that The Boy Who Lived had Lived To Occasionally Be Wrong. Not that Ron didn't know full well that was the case, but it was hard to say so nonetheless. Especially when Harry also seemed in on the plot to make his cousin look good.
'I mean,' he said, seeing that Harry was unmoved, 'think about it. This is Hermione, she's not stupid, she probably went through a whole bunch of tests to see whether or not she was under any magical influence, bet researching that's why she's always been disappearing lately… I mean, besides the whole rendezvous-with-Snape thing.'
'It's not ABOUT being stupid or not stupid!' snapped Harry. 'I don't care how clever Hermione is, she's no match for Snape, he knows the Dark Arts! Quite frankly I hope she DOESN'T know how to tell whether or not she's under some of that stuff!'
'Over Christmas,' Ginny interrupted pointedly, 'Hermione turned eighteen.'
Harry stared. 'So?'
Neville, apparently finding his voice again, spoke up from the table. 'Well, when wizards are eighteen, they get a free examination by a top specialist in the area of magical influence. You can pick up a lot of stuff accidentally just at school and all, without even realising it. It's fascinating, really, some kids who absorbed a lot of unknown stuff go through whole personality changes once it's all taken off and everything. You're supposed to have it done every five years. Most don't, although they're a lot more vigilant about it during a war and all.'
Everyone had blinked initially, having forgotten him. Breaking the silence was Neville speaking again, voice altered, and quite high-pitched, 'Erm, former Death Eater?'
He seemed to have shed a year or two in which he had mastered so much magic and gained so much height and heft that the Slytherins would no longer have dreamed of picking on him even if they hadn't been distracted by middingly bigger matters, such as a civil war within the Wizarding community.
'Yes,' said Ginny, preemptively glaring at Harry. 'Former.' At Ron's stare, she shrugged. 'Hey, Hermione's not here. Someone has to say it.'
Without looking at her, Harry made his way back to his seat, feeling a bit stupid but not at all entirely relieved of his suspicions. As he saw Ginny following from the corner of his eye, he said abruptly, 'Look, it still doesn't make any sense.'
'I know it doesn't, Harry - '
He cut Ginny off. 'I don't just mean oh-my-God-can-you-believe-it. I mean it's wrong. Hermione's Muggle-born.'
Ginny frowned vaguely. 'Yeah, but I never saw Snape giving any sign of being an extremist. I always thought he joined up Voldemort just for the power or whatever - '
'I heard him call someone a Mudblood once,' Harry said flatly.
'When?' challenged Ginny.
Ron watched his best friend closely; Harry startled at the question, and then looked uncomfortable.
'Didn't think so,' said Ginny airily.
'I did, all right! I just - just…'
Silence. Save for the fire cackling at its bare embers.
'Right,' said Ginny. 'And we all know how many times you've been right tonight, so we'll be sure to consider that.'
Harry flushed, and looked ready to say something sharp, but Neville cut in.
'All right, so we may or may not like this - ' (It was too soon after the storm for jokes, and only Neville grinned, before subsiding.) ' - but Hermione's looking out for herself, she has looked out for herself, and she's happy with it. Well…' He gave a shuddering sigh. 'All right, so I just really, really don't want to think on it too hard, so let's just leave it at it's all right.' He looked at Harry. 'Healer Libson is the absolute best, Harry. If Snape had done anything, she would have found it. And if she hadn't found it, Hermione would have.'
'She's not acting like herself at all,' Harry muttered rebelliously. 'With a teacher. Is that like Hermione?'
'Actually, mate,' said Ron, recovering enough for a valiant if failed attempt a grin, 'it sounds exactly like Hermione.'
'It's not as if she hasn't broken rules before,' Ginny pointed out. 'You two were a bad influence on her - nice job, by the way.'
'All right then,' said Harry, sighing exasperatedly, 'with Snape. Is that like Hermione?'
'What, sticking by the ones nobody gives a damn about?' asked Ron thoughtfully. 'You know, it is. Although,' he added, suddenly and deeply uneasy, 'if she tries to lecture me on how misunderstood he is and how I ought to try and be a bit nicer to - ' He halted, and then glanced at Ginny. 'Tell me, oh please tell me that she doesn't call him Severus during your little girl-talk sessions.'
'Not aloud,' said Ginny comfortingly. 'Can't tell you what she's thinking…'
Ron was beginning to look sick again. Harry and Neville appeared to share the sentiment.
'Oh hell.' Harry had glanced down at his torn Potions chart. 'I can't study. I can't even look at this tonight. I have class with him tomorrow.'
'Maybe you should have minded your own business, I don't think you can afford to be distracted during that class as is,' suggested Ginny, still rather snippy in her attitude toward him. She had been tapping each finger clean in turn, as her work had gotten rather ruined during the tussle with Harry.
Ron turned sharply and grabbed Harry's shoulder; reflexively, Harry almost hit him at the speed. Quite pale, Ron asked, 'How - how does she act during class?'
'I didn't notice anything,' said Harry, thinking it over.
'Not that that's saying much,' muttered Ginny.
'Lay off, Gin.' Ron's response was automatic. He released Harry and felt back into the couch with relief. 'So, okay,' he said. 'I can almost understand it. It's actually beginning to seem a little believable, y'know? But - I have to ask you as you're the only female here - is it, uh, possible to be attracted to - to him?'
'Yeah,' agreed Harry fervently.
She threw them a pointed, impatient, dangerous look. 'Yes. And you two, of course, are just absolutely delectable - '
'Hey,' Ron said, reddening but obstinate for the sake of his reasonable point, 'I don't have to wring out my hair twice a day - '
Harry and Neville, brought up in decorous homes, looked sick, and even Ginny, briefly, pulled a face before asking matter-of-factly, 'Well he doesn't, really, so - '
'Who says he doesn't?' demanded Ron.
'Trust me. It's the sort of thing that everyone would know about if it were true. Too disgusting to not reach everyone's ears.' She seemed somewhat offended, and had adopted her previous air of cool indifference by examining her fingernails again, long vivid hair spread out on the couch's arm about her.
'So,' asked Ron the Lionhearted, 'is it? I mean, can you see it?'
She threw him the barest look before averting her eyes regally again. 'Certainly,' she said, tone airy. 'He's got wonderful eyes. And hands.'
Neville blinked slowly in total incredulity. Ron nearly gagged, and so Ginny chose to bait him some more.
'Imagine him actually looking at you so that you had his full attention with those eyes,' she went on, in a mock-musing tone. 'My God. Yeah, I suppose that's worth a few rows. Could make it better, really.'
Harry and Neville exchanged glances of despairing horror.
'All right, so I really don't think it's quite, you know, moral of me to even bring this up with my little sister, but I really want to know if you considered the awkwardness of kissing him.'
'What awkwardness?' asked Ginny idly, while Harry groaned as a tribute to the sheer awfulness of the topic now at hand, and wondering at why, despite the obvious motives of morbid curiosity, Ron would even consider bringing up the idea of kissing Severus Snape.
'Well you'd think that his nose would get in the way - '
Harry snickered deliberately; Neville, against his will.
'Well,' said Ginny, even more deliberately, 'you know what they say about men and noses - '
'NO!' shouted Ron. 'No! No! Forget it, forget I said anything!'
Ginny gave a lazy smile, victress, while Ron treated in haste and in no good order behind his hands again. When he lowered them from his face, it was to see Neville leaned forward, peering at him.
'I'm sorry, Ron,' he said, and sounded honestly apologetic before he broke into a laugh, 'but you so totally had that coming.'
Both Weasleys broke down as well; there was a great deal of tension demanding release in any case. Harry was still fuming at their dismissal of his perfectly appropriate and reasonable concerns and from Ginny's treatment of him.
'Mind you tell Hermione tomorrow that I didn't tell you,' said Ginny, standing.
'You know what I want for tomorrow?' asked Ron, and, without waiting for a reply, 'A boggart. And Neville. If that won't bring her to her senses…'
'Then we'll know it's true love,' said Ginny briskly. She went on too swiftly for the boys to blink torturedly at her, which would have broken the mood again. ''Night, everyone. I've had enough of all of you, thanks.'
Harry was facing the entrance to the girls' dormitories, and refused on principle to move his head or eyes just because his temporary rival was in his line of vision.
'I have to agree with that,' said Neville, still shining a little with excitement and amusement. 'Going over to you two to do homework was the worst idea… it was nice to get that all out, though.'
'What'd you see, Neville?' asked Ron.
'Nothing, just them talking,' said Neville hurriedly, gathering up his schoolbag, seeming to say again tacitly that he didn't want to think about it. 'Look, I'm going up to our room, obviously I'm not going to get anything done with you two around.' They exchanged good-nights - amiable on Ron's part, absent on Harry's. Neville paused before going up, and Harry could hear him behind them: 'Don't tell Hermione I saw anything, all right? It - it wasn't important, I swear - really' (as Ron started sniggering) ' - but, you know. I don't have to know anything, I'll keep quiet.'
'Yeah,' said Ron. 'Does anyone else know?'
'Well - her roommates, obviously. Parvati and Lavender think like you, there's a secret boyfriend, I think they think it's Malfoy. Can you imagine?'
'Are you kidding? I still can't imagine Snape.'
Neville chuckled. 'I know. Well, there's a Ravenclaw - Jonas Graveview, he's a few years below us, and I think he suspected something was up when we went after class to ask Snape a question - '
'What d'you mean, Ravenclaw, that's a Gryffindor - '
'Not necessarily,' said Neville in dour self-deprecation, to which Harry replied moodily without taking his eyes off of the entrance door,
'Oh shut up, Neville, we've all see at least a dozen times why you're a Gryffindor and you know it.'
There was a moment of silence. Harry couldn't see whatever looks they were giving him; upon realising this, Neville continued, 'And then I think Luna might. You know her.'
'You think she'll tell?' Ron sounded worried.
Neville smiled. 'You're going to help her out? Supporting the affaire?'
'No! I just - ' Ron ran a hand through his hair. 'Yeah, I suppose. She has a good name to protect if nothing else,' he added defencively.
'Well, she probably won't, but if she does, what's the worry? Once Luna says it no one will ever believe it.'
Ron laughed. 'Cheers, Neville.'
The common room was heavy with silence once Neville left. Ron coughed and then knelt to pick up his homework, too tired to worry overmuch. A few hours' sleep, and then they'd see what they could do… finding out about Hermione and Snape was an exhausting half an hour. 'Look, Harry,' he said at last, 'I'm not thrilled with it either - '
'I went inside Snape's memory.'
Ron blinked. He had been doing a lot of that tonight, but then, there had be a lot more Snape-related revelations tonight than he had ever wanted as well. And he really didn't follow this one. 'Er - '
Harry sighed with impatience that not everyone did as many stupid things as he did.
'You remember the time I went into Dumbledore's Pensieve? Saw all those trials?'
'Yeah - but how - '
'Well, fifth year I went into it while Snape was using it. I don't know, he got called away for something - oh, yeah, remember what your brothers did to Montague? Anyway, that's when I heard Snape call somebody a Mudblood. It was my mum.'
'Hey, wait up.' Ron held up a hand. The other one burrowed his face yet again. After a few moments, both hands were relieved from duty as their owner registered this. 'Okay. You went into Snape's memory. Voluntarily. Gryffindor and all that - hey,' he added, 'was that the time he ended those sessions?'
Harry sighed again. Still with impatience. Ron was vaguely annoyed. It wasn't even as if Harry was willing to make eye contact with him - for his friend's gaze was still fixed on the girls' entrance, and his voice was heavy, dull, and monotone.
'Well?' persisted Ron. 'Was it?'
'Ha!' After a moment when this did not provoke Harry quite enough to transfer his death-inducing glare from the door to Ron, the latter went on calmly. 'Oh. So. What was your mum doing inside Snape's memories?'
'Trying to prevent his pants from being taken off.'
Poor information-overloaded Ron attempted to deal with this in stride. It was too late at night for success. 'Um, okay,' he choked. 'Right.'
Still sulking, Harry totally missed the chance to correct Ron's disturbing impressions. Besides, to Harry, the truth still seemed worse than Ron's interpreted version of it. 'Well,' he said irritably, 'just so you know I didn't make it up and all.'
'Yeah.' More morbid curiosity inspired him to ask, 'What else did you see?'
'I really don't want to talk about it,' said Harry in such rude tones that Ron could not help but take offence.
'Oh? Really then? Fine,' he said, swinging his schoolbag violently over his shoulder. The effect would have been properly dramatic and histrionic, except that he hadn't closed the main compartment, and its contents flew out in a hailstorm of inkbottles and stray Botts beans, and in a lazier downshower of parchment that sliced through the air more slowly. Ron swore. Picking it up, however, took up much of his frustration, and by the time he was done he had recovered enough calmness to say civilly, 'So. Good-night.'
'You know who she reminds me of?' asked Harry abruptly, as if they hadn't come dangerously close to having a real fight.
'Who? Who's "she" - Ginny?'
Harry nodded slowly, and, at long last, finally turned his head Ron's way, so that Ron's eyes were held by familiar large green ones.