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She first notices it with Pig.

This makes sense, because, though much smaller than she was, Pig is still an owl. He’s a little more subdued than he was, but barely. For the most part, he is his same energetic self from all those years ago. He doesn’t deliver so much mail these days, but, for all Ron may say otherwise, they do love him.

Harry is no exception, obviously. But Hermione has known him for a very long time, and so all she can wonder is how it has taken her this long to realize how very sad he is.

It’s the same with Crookshanks, she comes to see shortly thereafter. Oh, he treats them both with care, clearly enjoys having them around, but sometimes there’s this look he gets, the same one he gets sometimes when he thinks about those who died in the war. And, eventually, it occurs to Hermione that while she and Ron still have their pets from their school days, Harry does not.

He misses Hedwig.

This is a sort of loss they can’t quite understand, but Hermione asks Ron about it, figuring that, after his loss of “Scabbers,” he might have more insight than she does.

He looks almost offended she would even think so, though.

“Well, he’s dead now,” Ron mutters. “And good thing, too! Still can’t believe—the same bed! He slept in my bed!”

“That’s not the point,” Hermione says impatiently. “What should we do?”

Ron shrugs. “Get him another owl?”

She slaps his arm—perhaps a little harder than necessary, because he is glaring at her now. “That could be really bad for him, Ron!”

“Then a different pet?” He rubs at the spot where she hit him, scowling. “Or we just leave it, don’t you think? Two is enough, really, so many mouths to feed—”

“Oh, shut up.” Hermione huffs. “What could we get him, though? He likes Crookshanks well enough—”

“—Much as anyone can like him, I reckon—”

“—but he’s not much of a cat person. Oh, and definitely not a dog, that seems a little…”

“A deer?”

“I don’t think you can just buy those—”

“Buy what?” Harry asks brightly, and Hermione nearly jumps out of her skin before whirling to face him, trying hard to keep the guilt off her face.

“I didn’t hear the door open,” she says weakly, while Ron snickers at her.

Harry just smiles, though, then leans forward and absently presses a kiss to her cheek before pushing deeper into the kitchen of their flat, apparently searching for something to eat—or cook, rather, because if he is home, surely it must be nearly time for tea.

This has been their routine for about a year, now. Hermione herself mostly works from home working on magical creatures’ rights cases, while Ron helps out George at the joke shop. Harry, on the other hand, opted to stay out of the eye of the wizarding world for a while, and has been attending a Muggle culinary school in central London for seven months, now, to be finished this summer. None of them are really where they expected to be, but this is not so bad, not really. Hermione thinks that they are all far happier here than they would be as Aurors or budding politicians, though the options will likely always be open for them should they ever change their minds.

Hermione’s not always so sure about Ron, but she doubts Harry will change his mind. Whether he does anything with his diploma or not, he certainly won’t be entering the field as an Auror, Hermione knows that.

“There’s nothing here,” he finally declares, returning to them. “It’s Friday, though. We could go out, get takeaway or something.” He shrugs. “Y’know, there’s that French-looking place, remember, Malfoy reviewed it in the Prophet.” He laughs, in that way he always does when anyone brings up Draco Malfoy’s current occupation as a food critic—he had been annoyed to see his name in the paper all the time at first, but eventually he began to find it ironic: “If I ever opened up a restaurant, he wouldn’t even give it one star,” he joked, and ever since the very topic has been quite funny to him.

“That one on Diagon Alley?” Ron asks, leaning against the wall behind him. “George said the owners are pretty young, were in the year above him. Speaking of, it’s pretty close—he said he might get an order in this afternoon, so let's stop by so I can give him a hand if he did, yeah?”

Harry grins. “Sometimes I feel like you like him more than us,” he says, but he’s picking up the keys again and reaching for the coat he apparently discarded on the back of one of the kitchen table’s chairs.

“You need to stop doing that,” Hermione tells him, disapproving. “You know there’s a hanger by the door?”

“I forget,” he says. “Besides, you’re not gonna pick it up, are you? You know, I feel a bit like an abused housewife around here some days, cooking and cleaning for you two all the time—”

“That’s not funny!”

He grabs her by the wrist and tugs her forward, shooting her a wink. “You know I’m just kidding, though. Anyway, what do you think, Hermione?”

“I think you should change into something nicer,” she informs him.

“What, just me?”

Hermione glances at Ron, then back at Harry. “Both of you, then.”

He drops his hold on her with a hefty, exaggerated sigh. “Fine, fine,” and now he is dragging Ron away instead, saying something under his breath that has Ron laughing all down the hall.

Hermione shakes her head at them, but can’t keep the smile off her face. Not every day is a good day, but they mostly are, and she (perhaps not-so-secretly) thinks they are better for Harry’s and Ron’s presences in her life. They have never not been together, though it was nearly a fully year after the end of the war that they put a name to their relationship now—less for Ron and Hermione, but it took them a while to realize that they only really worked as long as Harry was around too, and back then they were all busy trying to figure out their own lives. Now, though, they are—well, comfortable, and in this respect, it is the best place Hermione can imagine being right now.

When the boys return, they set out together and head for the nearest Apparition point. They ask about their respective days along the way, though they don’t tend to have any new stories anymore. Sometimes Hermione thinks that Harry and Ron get antsy with such a regular lifestyle, but occasionally one of them will say something offhandedly about appreciating the time to just do nothing, or the consistency of their schedules, and she understands that they all actually feel quite similarly about it all, that they have done enough for one lifetime already and now, as they are just entering into their twenties, they finally have a chance to rest a bit and work a little—comparatively, that is. Really, all of them work quite a lot, but now, at least, there is no world to save.

When they arrive in Diagon Alley, they first head to the joke shop.

“You don’t have to stay,” Ron tells them. “I’ll be, I dunno—twenty minutes?”

“We’ll just wander,” Harry says, glancing down the street thoughtfully. When Ron disappears into the store, he grabs Hermione’s hand and pulls her. “Let’s go to the Menagerie,” he calls over his shoulder.

She stumbles slightly, but recovers in quick enough time to ask, “The pet store?”

“Yeah.” He smiles mysteriously. “I made a friend, see. I’ll introduce you.”

“I didn’t know you knew anyone here,” she says once she has caught up to his side. She doesn’t drop the hold he has on her, instead moving to intertwine their fingers.

“Well, I don’t, really.” At the store in question, he turns and opens the door, letting her in ahead of him. “I was just—you know, I came by to get owl treats, actually, but then he started talking to me, and at first I was a bit surprised, ‘cause I thought maybe I wouldn’t be able to understand anymore, but he understood me too, so we chatted.” He shrugs. “I came by to visit a couple times, just...well, he’s not so bad, I think.”

They’ve come to a halt before a glass cage, which doesn’t seem to hold anything in it at all as far as Hermione can see. She glances around, but the only employee within sight is at the counter, and they are the only customers here.

“Who is he, then?” she asks, uncertain.

“I think he’s shy.” Harry leans down, peering into the small enclosure. “See, there— He doesn’t have a name, apparently, but I figured I probably shouldn’t give him one. Might be confusing for him later on, I dunno.”

She follows the point of his finger to see something amongst the sand on the bottom of the tank that her eyes previously skipped over as a part of the scenery. Now that she is looking, though, she sees that it is in fact actually a small creature.

“A snake?”

“Yeah.” He looks over and smiles, just a bit. “He’s not so scary, though, is he? I used to like snakes, before I went to Hogwarts, but the basilisk and Nagini...ugh. But this one’s pretty, erm, cute? I guess? Don’t you think?”

”Cute” isn’t exactly the first word that comes to her mind, but she doesn’t say so. Instead, she asks, “What is it?”

“A corn snake, I think. He’s not quite fully grown yet, he says, but pretty close. Here, let me introduce you.” He reaches up and lowers his hand into the tank. Though it seemed to have been sleeping, the snake slithers towards him, then up his arm. He lifts it to eye level and hisses something in that language that never fails to send a shiver down Hermione’s spine, and yet there is nothing frightening about this, about her boyfriend talking to a tiny orange snake. Actually, it’s a little endearing, if odd.

As she watches, Harry quiets and the snake hisses something in response. Sounding amused, Harry translates for her:

“He says you have a funny name.”

Hermione has definitely heard that one before. “I suppose it is a little different,” she allows.

“He also says you’re very pretty.”

“Somehow, I doubt that.”

He grins. “No, seriously. Just because you can’t understand doesn’t mean I’d lie, really, Hermione.”

“Well, tell him I say thank you, then.”

Harry apparently does. After the snake has responded, Harry brings it closer to her, so she can see the details of its scales, the spots of near brown amongst the more dominant orange. Its eyes are small, black and beady, but it is clearly a harmless creature—and, she notes, seeing the way it has curled itself around his arm, clearly likes Harry.

“He really doesn’t have a name?” she asks.

“Well, not one he knows, anyway.” He hisses something and the snake hisses back; then, to Hermione, he says, “You can touch him, if you want.”

She doesn’t, but she can tell he wants her to, so she reaches up and strokes its back. It is surprisingly smooth, though she knows it is not really a surprise at all, that she knows snakes like this are not really harmful, or even “gross,” not really.

Finally, she feels herself relax fully. “He seems nice,” she remarks. “When did you meet?”

“Oh, not long ago. A few days?” He pulls his hand away and lowers the snake into the tank again. “I saw him and I wasn’t sure if—well, you know, I wasn’t born a Parselmouth, so now that he’s dead, I wasn’t sure if I’d still be able to speak it, but apparently I can. It’s not so bad, talking to one like this. He’s never threatened to eat me, at least,” he adds jokingly.

Hermione shudders at the reminder of Nagini, but pushes the thought away just as quickly as it comes. “Well, that makes sense,” she says. “How could you possibly unlearn a whole language?”

He steps back from the tank. “Dunno,” he says. “I never actually learned it in the first place, though, did I? Anyway, Ron’s probably waiting for us. Let’s get going.”

She lets him lead the way out too, shooting one last look at the little corn snake behind them. They are silent on the way back while Hermione’s mind moves furiously. It should have been obvious—who else do they know who could have a pet he could talk to? Of course, none of them knew he could still speak Parseltongue, but Hermione, at least, honestly never considered he might not be able to anymore.

Harry did, though. She wonders how often he thought of it before speaking to the corn snake in the shop. He doesn’t seem displeased by the fact that he can still speak it, but there is always the possibility that he is bothered by it, by the reminder of his old connection to Voldemort.

But Voldemort is dead now, and Harry is the last known Parseltongue, at least in Britain, isn’t he? They already said, years and years ago, that being a Parseltongue doesn’t make Harry evil, and, anyway, how evil can a language be? It’s all superstition, except for the coincidence of Voldemort and his Slytherin ancestors, that is.

When they meet up with Ron again, she decides they can discuss it later, when Harry isn’t around. Ron might not be so thrilled at the prospect of housing a snake, but, if nothing else, it is a place for them to start.

~

“You really think he’d like it?” Ron asks for the hundredth time, surely, as they make their way down Diagon Alley towards the pet shop.

“I think so,” Hermione answers calmly, for the hundredth time. “You didn’t see him. He seemed really fond of it already, so as long as it’s still there…”

“Should be,” Ron mutters. “Dunno who would want a pet snake.”

“If you don’t want one—”

“Well, if it’s so small I reckon it’s not gonna eat me, but I don’t really get why Harry would want one, Hermione, honestly.”

But Hermione has been thinking about this too, and so she says, “Some bad experiences haven’t ruined them for him, that’s all. Besides, this one is quite small. It’s also not venomous, and it can hardly kill a person, especially not with just a look. He said it was cute.”

Ron looks downright disturbed at that. “Cute? You’re kidding. He’s mental.”

“You might think so too,” Hermione teases. “It’s almost as orange as your hair.”

“We’d never lose it, then,” he grumbles. “All right, show me, then, where is it?”

She follows the same path Harry led her through just the other day, stopping before the tank and then leaning in close to spot the corn snake. This time, it sticks out to her, and she taps Ron’s arm to draw his attention to it.

“Here,” she says. “He just picked it up, but I don’t know—I don’t think that’s allowed, actually.”

“Oh.” Ron squints at it, thinking. “Huh. It’s small.”

“That’s what I was saying.”

“Well, I didn’t know!” he protests. “It’s not like I know much about snakes. Do you? What would this thing have to eat?”

“Well, mice, probably.” Hermione peers around him to see what’s around the tank, though there doesn’t seem to be much. Compared to in the Muggle world, snakes are rather unpopular pets here, apparently.

Ron makes a face at this, to which she rolls her eyes.

“I did a bit of reading,” she begins, and now he is rolling his eyes.

“Of course you did,” he says. “I’ll go home and look at the bookshelf and there’ll be five new books there about snakes.”

“They’re actually quite interesting.” She huffs. “But no, I didn’t buy books about them. I went to the library. Wizards have all these superstitions about snakes, and I figured it would be easier to just find a Muggle source. Corn snakes aren’t exactly magical creatures, anyway.”

“And you think we can look after it?” He looks doubtful, suddenly. “I dunno, Hermione. Are you sure he even wants another pet?”

Hermione opens her mouth to reply, but is interrupted by someone from behind Ron asking, “Can I help you two with anything?”

Ron turns to face the woman, who, Hermione realizes, is the same employee that was at the desk when she was here with Harry the other day. She doesn’t look very old, perhaps just a year or two younger than they themselves are, likely a fresh graduate from Hogwarts though not one Hermione herself recognizes.

“Oh, hey,” the employee says, blinking. “I know you! You’re Harry Potter’s friends, aren’t you? I’ve seen you in the papers.”

“Friends, yeah.” Ron snorts.

“Yes, we are,” Hermione cuts in as the girl’s eyebrows begin to furrow. “Is this snake for sale?”

“Oh, him?” She glances over at the orange corn snake. “Yeah, someone brought him in a couple weeks ago, didn’t want to look after a snake, I guess.”

“Oh, great,” Ron groans. “It’s got a tragic orphan story too? No wonder he found it.”

“Does he have a name, then?” Hermione wonders.

She thinks about it for a moment, then shrugs. “We’ve just been calling him Orange, but the old owner never mentioned a name, as far as I’ve heard. Do you want him?” She wrinkles her nose slightly. “He’s not very—well, he’s not magical, I mean, but he is still a snake.”

Hermione nods. “Yes, we know. So? Ron? Should we get him?”

Orange?” Ron asks. “We can change that, can’t we?”

“It’s not that bad.”

“It was the best way to identify him,” the employee offers. “But there’s nothing stopping you from calling him something different. I don’t imagine he can understand, anyway, not the way a Crup or a Kneazle might, right?”

Hermione just smiles as Ron bursts into laughter. “Right,” she agrees. “Then, we’ll take him, I think.”

“I guess so,” Ron says once he has gotten a hold of himself again. “I dunno if I really fancy all that hissing, though. You know, they could be talking about us, we’d never even know.”

“Oh, yes, Ron, because this tiny snake is going to have so much to say about you.” Hermione shakes her head, then says to the employee, “We’d like to take him home today, if we can.”

She blinks, looking surprised. “All right, then. Um, let’s get him ready to go, then, and you can pay up at the front.”

And so it is that in only a few more minutes they are leaving with the tiny snake in a box. Hermione carries it, though Ron seems much less uncomfortable with it than he did when they first entered the shop. He is, after all, a very small snake, and really not frightening in the least. Rather, he himself seemed frightened when they put him in the box. Hermione remembers what Harry said before, that he thinks the snake is shy.

“I think he’ll be happy,” Ron says suddenly. “Harry, I mean. I dunno about this little guy. I think—well, we’re home a lot, but it’s a bit different. You’re obviously Crookshanks’s favourite.”

“I don’t think Pig has a favourite.”

“He also spends half his time at the Burrow,” Ron points out. “I mean, pets aren’t so important to me, not really, but it could be good for him. Hedwig was…”

“Yeah,” Hermione says softly. “We probably couldn’t have found anything more different than an owl, though.”

“Well, you said so, didn’t you? That an owl might not be a good idea? Besides, I reckon—well, she was a gift, wasn’t she? First one he ever got, far as I know.”

Hermione stops, blinking. “Oh,” she says. “I didn’t even really…”

“It’s not a replacement, though. Just something new. So, er, I know you—I know why we did this, but let’s not mention…”

She nods. “Good idea. Something new. I think that’s good. I mean…I mean he’s been doing loads of new things, so this…”

“Right. It’ll be good for him.”

“Right.”

Ron grins at her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and steering her down the street again. “So,” he says, “can we Apparate with this thing?”

~

They have to wait a few hours before Harry is home, but in the meantime they give “Orange” a chance to explore the sitting room, keeping Crookshanks temporarily locked in the bedroom. Hermione puts a warming charm over the box, then sets it aside so he has a place to return to later. They could have gotten a tank like the one in the pet shop, but Hermione thinks they could probably Transfigure something even better, if they all put their heads together on it.

“I guess he’s all right,” Ron finally allows, watching Orange slither along the surface of the coffee table. “Wonder what he’s thinking.”

“It would be fascinating to be able to speak to him,” Hermione says wistfully. “They smell everything, don’t they? Because their eyesight is poor?”

“Well, I don’t know. You’re the one who read the books!”

“They do, I’m saying they do—”

But before she can finish, the door opens and closes, cutting her off. Nervously, she looks up as Harry enters, then stops and stares at the two of them. From where he is standing, she doesn’t think Orange is visible, not yet, anyway.

“Am I in trouble?” he asks after a moment, stepping into the room properly. “Is this one of those interventions? I haven’t done anything this time, I swear.”

“This time,” Ron mutters, but Hermione sees his lips twitching.

“Oh, good. So it’s not my intervention?”

Hermione raises an eyebrow at him. “What would you even need an intervention for?” 

He seems to think about it for a moment, before finally shrugging. “Dunno,” he says. “So, what’s up, then?”

Just as she goes to tell him, though, his gaze drops down to the table. It would be very difficult, Hermione thinks, to miss the snake, so starkly orange against the dark wood as it is.

“There’s a snake on the table,” Harry says, as though to inform them, though he sounds confused, too.

“Yeah,” Ron agrees. “There is.”

“Why, though?”

Hermione wrings her hands, not looking at him. “Well,” she says. Stops. Tries again: “Well, he’s for you, actually.”

Harry is very quiet. When she finally glances up at him, she sees him watching Orange, pensive. Then, he kneels down in front of the table and hisses at him, drawing the snake’s attention to him, until it is crawling over his hand. He looks up at Ron and Hermione again and grins. “This is the snake I introduced you to!”

She nods. “I thought—well, you seemed to like him, and he obviously likes you, and—”

“And surely there are better conversation partners out there for you than us,” Ron jokes. “And you’re the only wizard in the world mental enough to want a snake, I reckon.”

“He’s not evil, honest. He just wants to eat and sleep, mostly.”

Hermione can’t quite keep her lips from curving up at that. “So, he’s just like Ron, you mean?”

“Oi!”

Harry laughs. “Definitely. And they’re both so orange, look—”

“Hermione said that one already,” Ron complains. “It’s not any funnier when you do it, you know.”

Harry straightens up, then comes around the table to squeeze in between them on the settee. “Well, really, he’s completely harmless. You really bought him?”

Hermione nods. “When we went in, the employee told us that he had been abandoned, so…”

“Sort of your thing, right?” Ron bumps his shoulder lightly, grinning.

“Oh, yeah.” Harry lifts his hand, watching as Orange winds himself around his fingers. “He told me that, when we met before. Said he couldn’t remember much, though, just that he’d never been in one place for very long. Dunno what happened to his family. Reckon that’s why he doesn’t have a name, but I s’pose snakes probably don’t name their kids like we do.”

“They were calling him Orange at the store,” Hermione informs him. “But we could call him whatever you like, I imagine.”

“Orange,” Harry repeats, amused. “Well, he is, isn’t he?”

“It’s a stupid name,” Ron says. “He ought to have a cooler name than that, don’t you think?”

Harry hums thoughtfully, turning his gaze to the snake again. He hisses something at it, and then they are suddenly engaged in a seemingly short, urgent—though Hermione suspects anything would sound urgent when it’s hissed like that—conversation. Eventually, Harry looks up again and declares, “He likes Orange.”

Ron sighs. “Of course he does.”

“But,” Harry continues, “he doesn’t actually know what an orange is.”

Hermione ducks her head, hiding a smile behind her hair. “Well, of course,” she says. “He wouldn’t need to eat one, would he?”

“No, I suppose not.” Just as suddenly as he sat, Harry rises, squeezing past Ron to make his way to the kitchen.

Ron shoots an amused glance at Hermione, then scoots closer to her again.

“Do we even have oranges?” he asks.

“I’m not sure.”

But as soon as she says it, there is a series of small thumping noises from the kitchen, followed by a muttered oath, and then, louder, “Everything’s fine, don’t worry!”

Ron rolls his eyes, then gets to his feet too and offers a hand down for Hermione. She accepts it, letting him pull her to her feet and then in close enough for a soft kiss against the lip. When they separate, he leads the way into the kitchen, where they find Harry on the floor surrounded by numerous different fruits.

“There may have been a, ah, slight avalanche,” he remarks. Orange is still wrapped around his hand, while he holds an orange in the other.

“All this for one orange,” Ron says heavily, in that way he sometimes does that—though he would be horrified if either of them said so—makes him sound an awful lot like his mother.

Harry smiles sheepishly. “I could only use one hand, you see.”

“You can catch the Snitch with a broken arm but you can’t dig an orange out of a fruit bowl with one hand?”

“That’s different,” he protests. “Anyway, he doesn’t seem that impressed with his namesake. Says it’s boring.”

Hermione tilts her head, thinking. “What in the world was he expecting?”

“Dunno. Guess snake’s minds work differently than ours, anyway. Ron, c’mere, let me introduce you.”

Ron gives Hermione that look, the one he reserves specifically for when he thinks Harry is doing something idiotic but knows better than to tell Harry so. There’s a fondness to it, too, of course; Harry’s idiocy can be quite endearing, at least when it isn’t getting them nearly killed.

Still, he pulls his hand away from Hermione’s and settles down on the floor beside Harry (after collecting a couple apples and setting them on the counter, safely out of the way). He watches Harry expectantly as Harry hisses down at Orange again.

“He says you’re very large,” Harry translates. Orange must say something else to him, because he snorts. “And he wants to know if Hermione is my mate or yours.”

Hermione blinks, affronted, while Ron snickers.

“Well, that’s rather presumptuous of him,” Hermione says promptly. “Maybe I’m neither.”

“Seems we’ve had things wrong all along, mate,” says Ron, mournful. “It’s just us after all.”

“Yeah, but I think mate implies children,” Harry points out. “Snakes don’t exactly wait to ‘settle down’ before they have kids. He’ll get it eventually,” he adds, as if in Orange’s defence. “He’s not even really very old yet himself, you know.”

Hermione’s chest swells with that feeling, like she doesn’t know if she should kiss him or kick him.

“I’m only kidding,” she tells him, sliding down to the floor next to Ron. “You want to keep him, don’t you?”

For a moment Harry looks startled, then a guarded expression crosses his face, that same expression he tends to get when he thinks he’s about to hear something he won’t like.

“You don’t want to?” he asks, and Hermione winces, realizing how her words must have sounded.

But it is Ron who says, “Of course we do, mate. You look like a kid on Christmas right now.”

Harry makes a face at that. “I hope not. The only kid I ever saw on Christmas was Dudley, and I certainly don’t want to look like him.”

“It’s just an expression,” Hermione says. “He just means you look happy, and if you’re happy then we’re happy too. But,” she adds, making her voice go stern, “he’s your responsibility to look after, you hear?”

He grins. “Yes, Mum.”

She huffs. “I’m serious, Harry! I left a book on the shelf—”

“So you did buy some!”

She sends Ron a dirty look before continuing: “So you can do some reading about it. He’ll be pretty low maintenance, but he is still a pet. And...um, also...there’s Crookshanks. He might think Orange is a toy for a while, so maybe just be a little careful around him.”

“And owls eat snakes.” Harry nods smartly. “Got it. This is an unsafe environment for a poor little corn snake. Any other imminent hazards?”

“He’s a little small,” Ron muses. “Might step on him.”

At that, Harry looks horrified. “He doesn’t even have arms to protect himself, Ron!”

That’s the first thing you’re concerned about?” Hermione demands. “There are plenty of other creatures in the world who don’t have arms either, you know, and they get on just fine.”

“Yes, but they’re big.”

Ron snickers. “Harry Potter,” he says, “saviour of corn snakes.”

“I just don't want him to get squished.”

“He won’t get squished,” Hermione insists. “You shouldn’t doubt his intelligence, either. Just because he’s not a magical creature doesn’t mean he isn’t smart. Actually, snakes are some of the smartest creatures in the animal kingdom, apparently, and given that you can communicate with magical and non-magical snakes alike, it doesn’t seem that there’s much of a disparity between them, in that respect.”

They’re both giving her those looks—Harry, amused, with one eyebrow raised and Ron, mouth slightly parted as though to interrupt her, eyes shining with something that is not quite exasperation nor quite solid mirth—the ones they give her when she, according to Ron, “sounds like a textbook.”

“I’m just trying to help,” she says.

“Consider me reassured, then.” Harry flashes her a smile. “Anyway, you know—thanks for going back for him. I’d thought about bringing him home, but I sort of just assumed…”

“Bit of an unconventional pet,” Ron says honestly. “But we’re a bit unconventional ourselves, aren’t we?”

Harry leans over and presses a kiss against the corner of Ron’s mouth. “A bit,” he agrees, “but, you know, I think that’s all right.”

“Oh, definitely,” Hermione puts in, smiling. “It wouldn’t be our lives if it was normal.”

“As long as snakes are as weird as it gets,” Ron warns. “I’ll leave you both if you try to convince me we should get a pet tarantula next.”

Harry slants a mischievous look in Hermione’s direction. “Did you hear that? He’s giving us a suggestion, obviously—”

“Oh, shut up.”

Harry laughs. “Guess it’ll have to be a surprise then, Hermione. Next birthday?”

“You want to get rid of me, do you?”

“‘Course not,” Harry says, leaning against him. He lifts Orange up and hisses something to him, then grins when the snake responds. “Orange likes you too, he says, both of you.”

Hermione bites back a smile, her chest warming. There are times when Harry is, frankly, downright miserable, but when he’s not, his happiness is quite infectious. And while he would protest if she said so aloud, he’s rather adorable too, with this tendency towards childlike wonder at moments like this despite all he has been through. Even still, after all, he is not accustomed to getting things because he wants it—he’s barely even used to getting things he needs.

“Well, I’m glad,” she says. “Now Crookshanks, on the other hand…”

Harry grimaces. “Guess all families have to be a little dysfunctional, huh?”

“Unconventional,” Ron corrects. “We’re perfectly functional, mate, I dunno what you mean.”

He laughs again. “Sure, sure, if you say so. Really, though...thanks. He’s brilliant.”

And it is obvious he thinks so, Hermione can see, from the shine in his eyes, the small curve of his lips. No, no pet could replace Hedwig, but Orange would never be a replacement anyway, not in Harry’s eyes. Regardless of what motivated her in the first place, Hermione is confident, now, that she made the right choice.

It’s a bit unconventional, yes, particularly amongst wizards. But a perfect fit for Harry—for all of them, really—nonetheless.