A/N: The first two chapters of this were written for the 2006 sshg_exchange (the first or second year, I think…), when they still let us lazy authors get away with that kind of bad behavior. I dawdled and didn’t finish the whole thing until 2011, because that’s the kind of girl I am.
Summary: Ron and Harry are dying to know what Hermione is doing receiving soppy, poetry-filled love letters from a man named Tobias, but what they ought to be asking themselves is why she’s calling herself Eileen in her equally soppy replies.
Rating: This story contains foul language, mentions of violence, and mild sexual banter. Rate accordingly.
Disclaimer: Obviously, if you recognize it, I don’t own it. All poetry is credited to the author either within the story itself or in the notes following the chapter. Or, you know, both, because I believe firmly in covering my own ass. Arse. Whatever.
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The Secret Lives of Librarians
Chapter One: In which the Boys are nosy and Hermione is defensive…
When they had supper at Harry’s flat, they usually wound up getting curries from the shop down the street from his place. His tentative efforts to cook had all ended in trips to St. Mungo’s, and apparently, Ginny had issued some sort of ultimatum the last time she came home and found him wrapped in bandages. It didn’t matter, though, because he more than made up for his culinary failings by playing bartender before and after their meals. Their working theory was that as long as fire or any of its derivatives weren’t involved, he was fine.
Ron, though, always used their suppers as an opportunity to test out whatever new recipes he’d found that his children absolutely refused to try. Since Robby wouldn’t eat anything that had ever been in the same room as an onion, and Carrie only ate foods that were red, this left the field wide open, more or less. He’d fed them everything from seaweed to something he called ‘forty-clove chicken’ that had her tasting nothing but garlic for the next four days.
But this week, it was Hermione’s turn. She hadn’t had the boys over for a while: she’d swapped her last turn with Ron in exchange for a free night’s worth of babysitting, and the turn before that, they’d gone down to the pub two streets over, gotten roaring drunk, and wound up at Florian’s, where they apparently all passed out into their ice cream sundaes. There was no way she could dodge it for a third time. Supper would have to be here, in her flat.
It wasn’t as if she minded the cooking. While she wasn’t nearly as adventurous as Ron, she was perfectly capable of following recipes that didn’t call for anything too exotic. Besides, Harry’s disastrous attempt at borsht had proven that the boys would eat pretty much anything, given enough alcohol.
What she did mind, however, was that it was utterly impossible to keep them from riffling through everything she owned. And asking her about it. And telling her how it all related to the deep unhappiness that they both imagined resided in her heart.
It was almost enough to make her understand why Severus was content living the way he did.
In the end, she had simply resigned herself to it, bought a bottle of tequila, and decided on a relatively straightforward chicken and pasta dish for supper.
Harry was early. “I don’t know why we bother to even set an arrival time,” Hermione grumbled as she opened the door, feeling like a sweaty, frazzled mess. “You’re always thirty minutes early at least.”
“You’ve got flour on your nose, Hermione, darling,” he said with a grin, leaning through the doorway to press a kiss to her cheek.
“Piss off.” She scrubbed at her nose with the back of her hand as Harry laughed at her.
Trailing her as she walked back into the kitchen, he held out a bottle in each hand. “I know you always claim to have stuff on hand,” he said to her questioning look, “but Ginny and I went on this wine-tasting… thing last weekend down in some little town in France I’ve never heard of, and I picked a few things up. I didn’t know what we were having tonight, so I grabbed red and white.”
“Knowing us, we’ll likely get through both. For now, though, I suppose we ought to keep them chilled.” She gave the refrigerator a significant nod as she opened the oven door.
Glass bottles rattled behind her as she peered into the oven and gave the chicken a thoughtful prod, confirming that Harry had taken her hint.
“Ginny, eh?” she continued, closing the door and reaching up to turn on the burner under the pot of water she’d put out a few minutes earlier. “I thought you two were ‘taking time‘ or some such thing.”
If Harry and Ron were allowed to all but go through her drawers, then she damn well felt entitled to ask about their sex lives.
Besides, it made him blush and shuffle his feet like a wayward five-year-old. Hermione resisted the urge to walk over to him and ruffle his hair. “Er…” he stammered. “Well, you know. She came over to the flat to pick up some things, one thing led to another, and we–”
“Stop!” she interrupted, holding out her hand. “You know the rules, Harry.”
With an offended look, he stalked over to the counter, propping himself against it with one hip and folding his arms over his chest. “Give me a little credit, Hermione. I was simply going to say that we resolved matters.”
“Current matters, you mean. And don’t touch that!” Harry’s hand was reaching over to lift the corner of the towel she’d laid over the pasta.
“What?” He sounded wounded.
Rolling her eyes, she moved toward the sink and turned on the faucet. “I took a leaf from Ron’s book and decided to try homemade noodles. Don’t worry,” she said to his startled look, “I bought some of the regular stuff in case it doesn’t work out.” She plugged the sink and reached over for the dish soap.
“Don’t get me wrong, Hermione,” he said, obviously relieved, “I don’t doubt your culinary prowess, but–”
“But I don’t do this often,” she completed, swirling her hand through the soapy water in an effort to generate more suds. Once the sink was filled to her satisfaction, she turned off the water and dropped a few dishes in.
His smile was apologetic. “Not lately, anyway. And your pot’s boiling, I think.”
She looked over at the stove and saw steam rising from around the pot lid. “Damn,” she swore. “I don’t think I should start the pasta until Ron’s here. It won’t take long.”
“Should I turn the burner off, then?” He made a halfhearted move away from the counter.
Biting her lower lip as she thought, Hermione made a snap decision. “Nah, just leave it. Although if you think you can handle it, you can go ahead and pull the chicken out of the oven. It needs to rest before I serve it.”
“Rest?” he asked quizzically as he began rummaging around in the nearest drawer.
“Potholders are in the one to the left of the oven, Harry,” she told him, plunging her hands into the dishwater and scrubbing at a dough-encrusted bowl. “And, yes, rest. When the meat first comes out, all of the juices are at the surface, and it’s important to–”
“Hey, hey,” he interrupted congenially. “I don’t need a science lesson.” The pan made a scraping noise as he dragged it across the oven rack. “Where should I put this?”
As he spun around, outstretched hands cradled around the steaming dish, one of its corners dipped, and some of the sauce spilled over the edge and splattered on the floor. “Oops…” he sighed.
Hermione rolled her eyes. “My fault,” she said. “Shouldn’t have asked you. And you can just sit it on the cutting board.”
“Won’t it scorch?” Harry had learned that lesson the hard way, about eight years ago, if she remembered correctly. He’d lost the security deposit on his old flat because of the wide brown patch marring the white kitchen counter.
“The board’s wood, Harry. And, please, just put it down.”
A bit more sauce sloshed out as he practically dropped it, but at least it was out of his hands. “Shit,” he said, jerking his right arm away from the pan.
“My wrist, as I pulled away… not bad, though.”
With a sigh, she turned the faucet on full-blast, twisting the handle so that the water was at its coldest. “Come here,” she said. “Honestly, Harry,” she scolded, grabbing his arm and forcing his wrist under the flow as soon as he was close enough, “you’d think you could be in a kitchen for more than fifteen minutes without–”
Her tirade was interrupted by a loud knock at the door.
Fixing Harry with a glare, she released him and reached for a dish towel, drying her hands as she walked out of the kitchen. “Don’t move that wrist,” she called over her shoulder.
“Yes, Mum,” came the sarcastic retort.
Before she could get to the front door, Ron began knocking again; loud, rhythmic thumps that she was certain were designed to irritate her more than anything else. “You think you’re funny, don’t you?” she asked nastily, wrenching the door open.
Unapologetic grin pasted to his face, Ron held out a covered platter. “You wouldn’t hurt a man carrying a tart, love.”
“What flavor?” She put a hand to her hip and tilted her head to one side.
“Raspberry. And dark chocolate,” he said quickly, as she raised a fist mockingly.
Hermione heaved a playful sigh. “Well, I suppose I can let it pass, just this once.”
He pushed past her into the flat. “Should I–?”
But a plaintive shout from the kitchen cut off his question. “Hermione,” Harry called. “My wrist’s gone numb!”
“What are you doing to Harry?” Ron asked, smiling and angling his head in the same direction as the voice in question. “If I’d known you were planning that sort of evening, I’d’ve come by much earlier.”
Rolling her eyes, she aimed a kick at his shins.
“Tart!” Ron yelped. “Don’t forget the tart!”
“Put it over on the counter in the kitchen,” she said. “I’ll tend to the walking wounded.”
“Hermione!” Harry’s voice was practically a shriek. “Your pot is rattling!”
She’d forgotten the boiling water. “Damn,” she muttered, hurtling through the doorway. “Damn, damn, damn…”
The pot wasn’t dry, but it was close. Grabbing one of Harry’s stray potholders, she yanked the thing off the burner, moved toward the sink, unceremoniously pushed Harry away, and put the pot under the spigot, all in a single, frantic motion. It hissed and spat lukewarm water at her.
“Sorry, I…” Harry trailed off, blotting gingerly at his wrist with her damp dish cloth.
“Harry, did you break Hermione’s kitchen?” Ron asked as he neatly slid his platter onto the counter, fussing with the cover a bit.
Carrying her refilled pot back over to the hot burner, she put the lid back on and gave it a cross glare. “It wasn’t his fault,” she said. “I stupidly walked away from a boiling pot. Lucky it was just water.”
“The chicken’s not ruined, is it? It’s going to go cold.” Harry leaned over the cutting board and reached out with a single finger.
Hermione batted it away absently. “It’s fine. Now, why don’t you two open one of Harry’s bottles and go over to the table? Supper will be done in about fifteen minutes.”
“Bottles?” Ron asked curiously. “Of what?”
“A rather nice Bordeaux Merlot, and a not as nice but still quite good Bordeaux Sauvignon. I got the Sauvignon mostly because Ginny thought it was hilarious that the taster kept calling it a ‘nervous wine.’ Of course, I could have got the Translation Spell wrong, but I don’t think so,” he said, pulling the refrigerator door open and emerging with both wines. “So, which one, mate?”
“The white, I think,” he replied. “The red will be better after supper.”
Practically on Harry’s tail, Hermione reached into the fridge and took out two bowls: a large one of mixed fresh greens and a smaller one full of a Caesar dressing she’d put together earlier. “There’s vodka around here somewhere, as well. And possibly some vermouth.” The tequila she was keeping for after the boys left.
“Is that a heavy-handed hint for a martini?” Harry asked, waving his wand at the bottle of Sauvignon to remove its cork.
“Not at all,” she said, taking a box of store-bought croutons out of a cabinet and sprinkling them into the greens. After a moment’s thought, she went back to the refrigerator and fetched a wedge of Parmesan. “Expensive French wine trumps martinis any day of the week, but particularly on the days when you’re the one who paid for it.”
“I can grate that,” Ron said, half-rising from his chair.
Sighing, she opened a drawer and took out her grater. “I have to have something to do while I wait on the water over there, Ron.”
“It’s steaming,” he said, pointing.
She looked over and saw that he was right. “Shit.”
The vermicelli was in more or less the same condition that the recipe had described. She added a teaspoon or so of salt to the roiling water and gently added the noodles, saying a silent prayer to the gods of cuisine as she stirred.
By the time she was able to turn back to her salad, Ron was already standing over the bowl, happily grating cheese. “It’s not like I’m going to slice my thumb off, you know,” he said reprovingly. “I’m not Harry.”
“Hey!” Harry protested good-naturedly, safe in his corner.
“You just sit over there and drink your wine, like a good little boy,” Ron said. “It’ll only be a few minutes.”
She watched the pasta like a hawk, even making sure to test the texture of a small piece once the proper amount of time had passed. When draining the water away proved to be a success, Hermione heaved a great sigh of relief and divvied the noodles up into three portions in high spirits. “I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t think it would work,” she said, ladling a generous amount of sauce over each serving and topping off the plates with a chicken breast apiece.
“You should have more faith in yourself, Hermione,” Harry said, topping off their wine glasses as a transparent excuse to refill his own. “After all, it’s not like you’ve ever failed at anything.”
She stuck her tongue out at him and shoved a plate under his nose. “Here. Eat.”
Supper was unhurried and full of light chatter. After teasing Harry about his recent squabbles with Ginny, Ron filled them both in on the latest exploits of his children. Robby had apparently managed to set his own hair on fire three days ago, which wouldn’t have been much of a problem, except that it had happened at his playmate’s house. His Muggle playmate’s house. A Clean-Up Squad had been dispatched, Obliviates had been administered, and Robby had been given a stern lecture on inappropriate displays of magic from both his parents.
Hermione privately suspected that the lecture had been less effective than the fire extinguisher that the terrified Muggle mother had discharged in Robby’s face in an effort to put out the flames, but before she could bring it up, the conversation had moved on to Carrie’s recent efforts to imitate the family owl. According to Ron, she’d glued parchment feathers to the sleeves of her favorite sweater, tied a letter to her ankle, and jumped off the roof. He’d spent the next night warding all of the windows on the top floor while his wife healed Carrie’s broken wrist and various other scrapes and bruises.
Over slices of tart and glasses of the Merlot (the Sauvignon was long since gone), Harry exclaimed, “Are you sure your kids aren’t hellions, Ron?”
He shrugged. “Given what my brothers and I got into when we were kids, they seem to be pretty mild. And Padma says that she and Parvati were right brats when they were younger. So even if they are, they come by it honestly.”
“I still can’t believe you convinced Padma Patil to marry you.” Snorting, Hermione took a sip of wine. “Actually, I don’t even know how you convinced her to ever speak to you again, not after what you did to her in our fourth year.”
“There was groveling involved,” Ron admitted. “And nearly a thousand Galleons’ worth of flowers.”
“Don’t forget the ‘mental improvement,’ mate,” Harry said, grinning wickedly as he ducked the swipe Ron aimed at his head.
With a laugh, she shook her head. “I’d forgotten about that.”
How on Earth had she forgotten the six months Ron had spent, frantically taking notes on his conversations with his girlfriend? “She keeps wanting to discuss all of these books she’s read and I can’t go on pretending that I know what she’s talking about,” he’d moaned, practically staggering under the load of books he’d gotten from the library.
“One of these days, I’m going to tell her about all of that,” Hermione mused.
The look of horror on Ron’s face was priceless.
“What? It’s sweet,” she said. “It’s one of the most romantic things I’ve ever heard.”
Rolling his eyes, he sent Harry a significant look. “Women,” he sighed. “Give me two hundred more years, and I still won’t understand them.”
“You’ll get further along if you don’t keep trying to lump us all into a single category,” she said dryly. “Just for that, I’m keeping the rest of the tart.”
“Only if you give me the recipe for the chicken,” he said. “I think even Robby will eat it. He’ll taste it, at least.”
Hermione offered the wine to each of them before emptying the bottle into her own glass. “There’s parchment in the desk.”
Abandoning his empty plate and glass, he walked through her den and pulled open the top drawer. “Where?” he asked, papers rustling as he shuffled them around. “I don’t see it.”
“It might have gotten pushed–”
“Hang on,” he said, cutting her off. “What have we here?”
With a smile she wasn’t entirely certain she liked, Ron extracted a single sheet from the drawer. “Dearest One, I can but count the days until I see your sweet face again. Forty times over, I have… Hermione!” he said in a falsely sweet voice. “Is this a mash note?”
Harry’s head nearly spun off his shoulders. “Let me see it,” he said.
And she was on her feet, heading around the table as quickly as her feet could carry her. “Ron,” she said sharply.
“Wait, there’s even poetry,” he said delightedly, ignoring her. “After my death, dear love, forget me quite, / For you in me can nothing worthy prove…”
“Bit dark,” Harry said. “But respectable enough. Give it here, Ron.”
“That is quite enough,” she said acidly, finally getting close enough to him to snatch the parchment out of his hands.
“Don’t get stroppy, love,” Ron replied, still grinning. “It’s romantic.”
She fought the urge to elbow him in the gut.
“Who wrote it?” Harry asked. “One of those blokes from the library? Come on, Hermione, spill.”
Grin morphing into an outright leer, Ron laughed. “Some chap named Tobias. Sounds like a right sop. We ought to go around and give him a good talking-to one of these days. Right, Harry?”
Placing a firm hand on his chest, Hermione glared up at him. “You will do no such thing,” she said in her iciest voice. “Either of you.” She spun around to make sure that Harry saw her expression. “It’s my business, and none of yours. Understand?”
“Understand?” she repeated, hands on hips and expression downright thunderous.
“Oh, all right,” Ron said, huffing. “But it’s not a big–”
“Ron,” she interrupted. “I won’t discuss it.”
After a few seconds of tense silence, Harry cleared his throat and stood. “I, erm, dishes,” he muttered. “I’ll wash, and Ron can dry. Is that okay?” He put a tentative hand on Ron’s empty plate.
“Great idea,” Ron said quickly, through the archway and gathering plates from the table before Hermione could so much as blink.
While dishes rattled and the boys talked to each other in low voices, Hermione laid her letter on her desktop, carefully smoothing out the creases where Ron had grabbed it, lips moving as she skimmed over the lines.
I can but count the days until I see your sweet face again. Forty times over, I have dreamed of you in the night, but backward dreams are no substitute for reality, as they say. I long to be near you again, to play chess, to kiss your lips, fifty, even a hundred times. Think of me, in the shadow-show of your darkest night. I will leave you with the Bard’s gentle words.
O, lest the world should task you to recite
What merit lived in me, that you should love
After my death, dear love, forget me quite,
For you in me can nothing worthy prove;
Unless you would devise some virtuous lie,
To do more for me than mine own desert,
And hang more praise upon deceased I
Than niggard truth would willingly impart:
O, lest your true love may seem false in this,
That you for love speak well of me untrue,
My name be buried where my body is,
And live no more shame nor me nor you.
For I am shamed by that which I bring forth,
And so should you, to love things nothing worth.
All of my love,
A/N: Tobias is quoting Shakespeare’s 72nd Sonnet.