She shakes off the past as she stands up, taking the parchment from the owl. “Let me get you a treat,” she murmurs, opening the canister to get a few treats out. She doesn’t recognize the owl, but he’s polite enough not to snap her fingers when she feeds him. She pets his head, earning her reluctant approval. She smiles before opening the parchment, blinking in surprise as she reads it.
“You can go now,” she says, knowing that she won’t be sending a reply back quickly. The owl hoots at her while fluttering his wings before settling down. She can just see the superiority and smugness in his ruffled feathers, and she knows he must have been told not to leave without a reply. Fine. He can wait.
After reading the letter again, she tosses the parchment on the table. The invitation is so unexpected that she isn’t sure how to respond, so she’s going to pour a glass of wine and think on it for a bit. She’s too old for this sort of thing, but it’s not like she can ignore the invitation without being rude. Of course, the fact that she didn’t automatically send a negative response is the reason she needs wine. It’s been enough years since Ron’s death that she can still love him and miss him without the grief overpowering her, but she isn’t sure that means she’s ready to move on yet.
This is obviously Hugo’s fault. It reeks of his subtle interference, which is unlike Rose’s obvious meddling. The casual questions during her stay with him hadn’t been meaningless. That little sneak had been interfering worse than his sister. She’ll be sending him an owler about that for sure. Right now, though, she has to deal with the judgmental snowy owl perched on the back of the sofa making himself comfortable. Now that she knows who he belongs to, she isn’t at all surprised by his pretentiousness and superiority.
Hermione sips her wine before she reaches for the parchment, skimming it again. The reference to their last year at Hogwarts, the year when she went for her NEWTs while Harry and Ron became aurors, brings back memories of awareness and curiosity that could never go any further because she loved Ron. She closes her eyes as she remembers the lingering looks and awkward flirting that happened. She had been so tempted despite her feelings for Ron, but, in the end, she had resisted. There had been the occasional ‘what if’ over the years, usually when Ron had irritated her, but she has never had any regrets about that decision. It’s been fifty years, but that blasted man still somehow knows how to tempt her.
While the words he writes are polite and casually friendly, she knows it isn’t just a simple invitation for dinner. It’s been years since she’s even seen him, at a charity ball hosted by Astoria, and that’s why she knows Hugo’s to blame for this owl taking over her sofa. She drags her thumb over the signature, tracing the letters with her fingernail, moving back and forth over the Z. Hugo is friendly with Zabini, has been since they worked on a project together many years ago, and that must be why she’s received this invitation out of the blue.
Hermione rubs her eyes with the heel of her hand, feeling them stinging as she thinks about Ron and everything they had together. Merlin, she does miss him so much, and she feels guilty for even considering the invitation from Zabini. It’s been so many years that she wonders if maybe she’s making assumptions, if this might be a friendly reunion dinner for two people who were friends during a year at school a lifetime ago. He’s still an extremely handsome man, his age making him distinguished instead of saggy and wrinkled like it’s made her.
The owl is now chewing on one of her loose curls, tugging it just enough to feel. She swats at it before she looks back at the letter. By the time she finishes her glass of wine, she knows what she’s going to do. She gets up and walks to her desk, getting a clean piece of parchment and dipping her quill into the inkwell. As she writes her acceptance to the dinner invitation, she swears she can feel Ron kissing her cheek, actually looking up when she thinks she hears him whisper I love you.
“I love you, too,” she whispers, smiling as she wipes her eyes and gives the reply to the snowy owl before she has time to change her mind. It hoots at her before flying off with her acceptance.
The howler to Hugo can wait until the morning.