“Hello!” Ron called out as he walked in the house, two bags of ice in his left hand.
Angelina popped her head out of the kitchen. “Oh good, you made it in plenty of time,” his sister in law said, taking the bags of ice from him. “Would you mind taking that tray on the counter down for me?”
Ron picked up the tray of taco dip before taking the steps to the large basement theater room two at a time. As he reached the bottom, he had to bite back a groan. George had said the party would be “inner circle plus” and the majority would be serious football fans. Judging by the number of people crammed in the basement, there was no way that was true.
“Ronnie! You made it,” Fred shouted, sounding a little drunk already. “And in time to place your bet. Here, I’ll grab that.”
“So much for the inner circle, huh?” Ron groused as he handed off the dip before reaching into his pocket and stuffing a ten dollar bill in the box.
“Not my house, not my guest list,” shrugged Fred, walking away.
“Hey, we heard you on the way over. The show sounded great,” his best friend said, as he wandered toward Ron and handed him a beer.
“Thanks. Did you save me a seat?”
“I tried,” started Harry. “But—”
“No seat saving! House rules!” said Fred.
“You just said this isn’t your house,” Ron pointed out.
“Or maybe it is,” Fred winked, walking away. Ron rolled his eyes and picked up the pencil on the table.
“Are you really taking the Giants?” Harry asked, watching Ron scribble his name on the paper.
“Hell yeah I am,” said Ron. “Fuck Brady.”
“I would,” his sister piped up. He was about to snap back at Ginny’s totally unnecessary comment when he heard a familiar giggle. His eyes darted across the room and landed on the person it came out of.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” he muttered to Harry.
Harry shook his head. “I can’t explain it.”
Ron walked into the other room where the bar and a buffet of snacks was set up to find the brother that did control the guest list.
George was standing at the beer fridge, chatting with Fred and Lee. “Hey Ronnie.”
“Why the fuck did you invite my ex-girlfriend? You don’t even like Lavender.”
“We didn’t. You know that Ange started that Weekend Executive MBA program at UChicago this semester. She invited people from some project team she’s on. One of the guys is Lavender’s new boyfriend,” George said.
“Seriously? What are the odds?”
“Better than the Giants’ chances of winning this one,” Lee laughed.
Ron rolled his eyes before heading back to the main room. He did a quick scan for an unclaimed spot to squeeze in. There were two options- one that had a view straight onto the TV but entirely too close to Lavender and her fucking giggles. The other was on a small couch in the corner near an unfamiliar woman and probably had a shit angle to see the TV. He sighed and walked towards her.
“Uh, can I sit here?” he asked.
“Oh,” she said, glancing up from her Blackberry and pushing her curly hair out of her face. “Yes, of course.”
“I’m Ron,” he said.
“Hermione. I take it you’re related to Angelina’s husband?” She gestured at his hair with a friendly smile.
“Yeah, my brother,” Ron said. “He said Ange invited people from her project group at school. Is that how you know her?”
“Yes. I just moved here. My company transferred me to our location here after I was accepted into the program.”
“That's kind of cool,” Ron said.
“They’re paying for my MBA, so having me take a merchandising role here was cheaper than paying for transportation and accommodations in Chicago twice a month,” Hermione said.
“Wow,” he said, feeling a bit uncomfortable. Even with the successful small business that the twins established, he knew that his brother and Ange took out a sizable loan for her MBA. Clearly this woman was someone important to her employer.
“I’m just getting settled here and meeting people so it was nice of Angelina to invite me even though I don’t really care about football. Sports are sort of a waste of time,” Hermione commented.
“Oh, uh, sure,” Ron stuttered out awkwardly. Great. So he was at a Super Bowl party with his ex and her random new boyfriend, sitting next to some successful woman who knew nothing about the sport and thought his life’s passion was a waste of time. Could this be any worse?
“What about you?” Hermione asked. “What do you do?”
Apparently it could. “Oh, well—”
“Ron just got promoted to producer of the number one sports radio show in Chicago!” Fred interrupted, beaming. Ron felt his face burn. Leave it to his brother to express pride in him for the first time ever but at the exact worst moment.
“Oh, I didn’t—“ Hermione sputtered.
“You didn’t tell me that! Ron, that’s so exciting!” Fred’s girlfriend Katie exclaimed.
“Except now I’m never going to get through when they take on-air calls,” complained George.
“Yeah, well, that’s just another perk,” Ron replied and the room laughed.
“All right,” announced George. “Since I have everyone’s attention…before the game starts and everyone gets sucked into prop bets, commercials and Super Bowl squares, we have to address a Weasley tradition. Everyone put $10 in the box?”
Murmurs of agreement came through the room.
“And everyone has selected their winner?”
A second chorus of agreement.
“All right. Then we’ll draw a name from those that predicted the winning team and that person takes the pot,” George explained.
“No one actually took the Giants over the Pats, did they?” asked Lee.
“Uh, looks like just Ron. Oh, and Hermione,” George said.
The guy next to Lavender snorted while Lav giggled. “I thought you were the sports expert.”
Ron gritted his teeth. “What can I say? I believe in Eli.”
The party resumed into side conversations as the pregame singing started on TV but Ron and Hermione were silent.
“I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean—” Hermione started.
“It’s fine,” Ron said. “I get it.”
“No, sometimes I speak before I think.”
Silence set in again.
“Why are you taking New York?”
“I grew up in New Jersey so…” she shrugged.
In the corner, Lavender giggled loudly and began feeding her date off her fork.
“You know what? I’m going to go out for a quick smoke,” Hermione said, standing up.
Ron glanced at the disgusting display again. “I’ll join you.”
“Um, uh, okay,” she said.
The two of them walked up the stairs and slid their shoes on. Hermione shrugged her coat on before the pair stepped outside.
“Aren’t you cold?” asked Hermione, looking at his hoodie.
“Nah, Midwesterner,” Ron said.
They stood quietly for a moment.
“I don’t smoke,” Hermione blurted out.
Ron laughed. “Neither do I.”
She stared at him before beginning to laugh as well. “Why did you say you did?”
“Why did you?”
“That guy on the loveseat. He just disgusts me and I had to get out of there.”
“He’s in the same program?” Ron asked.
“Yes, his name’s Cormac,” she said and Ron was startled by the clear distaste in her voice.
“Not a fan?”
“We went on a date two weeks ago,” she said. “Now mind you, he asked me out after the very first day of class and I turned him down because he just seemed arrogant. He asked three more times before finally I said yes.”
“I made the mistake of telling my mom and then she got in my head about giving people a chance. She’s certain I’m going to end up old and alone. I’m not even 30 yet.”
“Now I’m worried we have the same mom,” Ron said. “Does your mom also hate everyone that you do date?”
“Of course!” laughed Hermione. “So anyway, finally I give in and say yes and we go out to this nice restaurant where he orders a bottle of wine. He doesn’t even ask me my preferences or what I plan to order for an entree to make sure it pairs okay.”
Ron chuckled although he had absolutely zero idea of what wine would pair well with any meal.
“Turns out, he didn’t need to ask because he ordered for both of us.”
“What the hell?”
“Two appetizers, one of which he ate entirely himself. Orders a steak for himself, salad for me.”
“Well, sure,” Ron nodded with a wry smile.
“Dessert ostensibly to share but… no, thank you, I declined to share a fork with him. He ordered an after dinner brandy, nothing for me. He was absolutely as obnoxious as I had expected the entire meal— he snapped his fingers at our server at one point! The check finally mercifully comes and he goes, “So 50-50?”
“What a tool,” Ron said.
“And he had the nerve to suggest I invite him back to my place after dinner. I declined.”
“I can’t imagine asking a woman to pay on a first date,” Ron said.
Hermione rolled her eyes. “I’m not some entitled princess but he asked me out. Common courtesy says it’s his treat!”
Now Ron rolled his eyes. “Either way.”
“And as thrilled as I am that he’s now found someone else to bother, I just couldn’t stomach seeing that sweet idiot fawn all over the creep.”
Ron chuckled. “Yeah.”
“Why did you come out here?”
“I dated the sweet idiot for eight months,” he said.
Hermione’s jaw dropped. “Oh my God. I’m so—”
“In her defense, she’s only an idiot about the guys she dates,” Ron teased.
“Is this some sort of attempt to get back at you?”
“No, we broke up over a year ago. I think it’s just a weird coincidence.”
Hermione regarded him closely. “You’re not upset, are you?”
“No, no. I meant it when I said she was kind of a sweet idiot about guys. I tried to break it off with her a couple times and she just clung tighter before it finally sunk in. It’s too bad that this guy’s such a tool because she’s not a bad girl. Just not for me.”
“I suppose even if you dumped her, it’s still awkward to see.”
Ron cringed. “It’s more that she used to do the same stuff when we were together and I don’t want to be reminded of how I ate off her fork or hear my family give me shit for it.”
“Would they really—oh.” She was cut off by Ron thrusting his phone to her face.
“Read it,” he prompted.
“It’s a text from someone named Ginny— oh the girl downstairs? Your sister?”
Hermione cleared her throat and read. “‘In case you’re curious, yes, that is how disgusting you used to look.’ And I think this an emoticon vomiting?”
“Yep. It cost her twenty cents to send that too.”
“Looks like she sent another message that they’re kicking off.”
“We better get back inside. I have to know what happens in order to go to work tomorrow,” Ron said, motioning to the door. Hermione smiled and walked back inside. Ron couldn’t help but let his eyes run over her as he watched her descend the stairs.
The two settled back into their spots and as Ron predicted, the angle toward the TV was less than ideal.
“Do you want to switch spots?” Hermione asked.
“No, it’s fine,” he said.
“You can, uh, you can shift this way if you want,” she said. Her eyes flicked down nervously.
“Yeah, okay.” Ron shifted closer to her.
“Better?” she asked.
The angle wasn’t much improved but… “Yeah.”
Ron watched as the Giants offense trotted out to the field and lined up for their first play.
“Is that Peyton Manning? He’s pretty good, right?”
“No, that’s Eli. They’re brothers. Peyton’s team isn’t in it.”
After two runs for minimal gain, Ron held his breath as they set up for a pass play. “Yes!” he shouted over the general party din as Manning completed a 14 yard pass.
“Why don’t they just pass all the time?”
“What?” Ron asked.
“They get a lot more yards when they throw it, don’t they? Why even run it?”
“You have to keep them guessing. And some teams are better at defending the pass than they are the run,” he said. “Can tire out the defense.”
“Oh,” she said. After a few minutes, he noticed her stand up and walk away and he couldn’t ignore the sting of disappointment that went through him. Why would the universe introduce him to a pretty, funny non-sports fan during the biggest athletic event of the year? One of which he had to pay attention to because of his new job.
“Here,” he heard two minutes later. Hermione was back and offered him a beer. “Yours looked empty but maybe I shouldn’t have assumed…”
“No, this is great. Thanks,” he said, taking the bottle.
“Are you sure you don’t want to swap seats?”
“Nah. You got here early and grabbed the spot with the table. I thought Harry would save me a spot!” Ron said, raising his voice pointedly as he said his last sentence.
“I said I was sorry!” he called back.
“So why were you late?” Hermione asked.
“I was working,” he said.
“I suppose it’s a big day for you,” she said.
“Most of my job is during the week but I was on-air for a bit today.”
“On-air? I didn’t think producers were on the radio.”
“Yeah, not typically but they let me and another producer do a couple hours of pregame stuff before the national coverage switched on.”
“They just let you go on the radio for a couple hours on a day like the Super Bowl?”
Ron shrugged. “It’s not like I’ve never done radio before. I get to do an hour show most weekends on fantasy sports. Football is the most popular but there’s baseball, hockey, soccer.”
“When’s it on?”
“Why?” he laughed. “Sports are a waste of time but you’re a big fantasy fan?”
“Maybe I just want to hear your radio voice,” she shrugged.
Was this woman flirting with him? From the way Ginny’s excited eyes locked on him from her spot 8 feet away, she certainly thought so.
“Yes!” Fred’s whoop pierced the air and others in the room cheered.
“Fuck,” said Ron.
“What’s wrong?” asked Hermione.
“Giants failed to convert here and they’re going to settle for a field goal,” he sighed.
“They’re winning though,” she pointed out as the ball sailed through the uprights.
“Yeah but a ten minute drive only to stall out on the 14? You aren’t going to beat an undefeated team that way. Would it kill Coughlin to be a little aggressive and go for it?” he said, shaking his head.
“Okay, shut up for commercials!” Katie yelled as the broadcast went to a break.
When the game resumed, he saw Hermione glancing at him a few times.
“Another question?” he grinned.
“Sorry, I’m probably bothering you,” she said.
“No! I mean, I do have to pay some attention to the game but I can still talk,” he said. “You’re definitely not bothering me but if you’re asking me questions about sports as some type of apology, it’s okay. You don’t have to. We can talk about other things.”
“I don’t jump into things halfheartedly. I’m at a Super Bowl party and I have a football expert next to me. I should take advantage of that.”
“Uh, yeah, definitely take advantage of me,” he said. Ginny’s head whipped around, gaping at him with unrestrained amusement. God damn it, flirting was hard enough without his siblings watching his every move. “Fuck, I mean—“
“I know what you mean,” Hermione laughed.
Together, they watched the Patriots score a touchdown and chatted through a scoreless second quarter.
“I’m going to grab some snacks,” Ron said, standing up as the half ended. “You want to check out the spread? Ange is a great cook.”
“Sure, I’m not much of a Tom Petty fan anyway,” she said, following him.
They both filled their plates when Hermione glanced around. “Is there a restroom?”
“Uh, the one there looks occupied,” Ron said, gesturing to the hall. “But there’s one at the top of the steps. Here, I’ll hold your plate.”
“Thanks,” she said, handing it off to him. He spotted Harry talking to Ange, George, Katie, and Ginny.
“I don’t look so crazy right now,” Ron needled his friend.
“They’re still losing!”
“Brady will turn it up in the second half,” Harry promised.
“Ron, you’ve been kind of quiet tonight,” said Katie.
“No he hasn’t,” his sister piped up like the interfering brat she is. “He’s not talking to us but he’s been squawking away all night.”
“With who?” Angelina asked. .
“I’m just mingling,” Ron insisted. Angelina glanced at the second plate in his hand and gave him a questioning look.
“Curly haired brunette,” Harry supplied.
“Stay out of this,” Ron groaned.
“Hermione?” Angelina said, her eyes wide. “Really? Wow, okay. It’s just that she’s so smart.”
“I just mean I think she’s the intellectual type. I like her though, the little I’ve gotten to know her.”
“Ange, if your school finds Ron a wife, maybe Mom will back off of us about kids,” George said.
Angelina ignored him and went on. “Dry sense of humor. Seems like she’ll debate about anything.”
“Oh, well this is doomed then,” groaned George. “Ron can’t ever drop an argument even when he’s obviously wrong.”
“I hope not, I like her,” said Ginny.
“You don’t even know her,” Ron responded.
“She’s not feeding you with her fingers so it’s already an upgrade,” Ginny smirked.
“Couldn’t believe she even came to a Super Bowl party. I told her there’d be other non-football fans here and then she sat next to you.”
“Yeah, why are there non-football fans here? I was told inner circle,” Ron complained.
“Come on, it’s all for fun. You’re not even a fan of either team!” Katie said.
“Here, I’ll grab that.” Hermione had returned from the bathroom and approached the group to take her plate back from Ron. She gave him a soft smile that he couldn't help but return. “Thanks. Am I interrupting?”
“Actually, it seems like it worked out for you,” George muttered under his breath to Ron.
“I’m sorry?” asked Hermione.
“Uh, I don't think I met you when you came in. I’m Harry Potter,” his friend interjected, preventing George from saying anything further.
“Hermione Granger, nice to meet you,” she replied, shaking his hand.
“I’m so glad you could come, Hermione,” said Angelina. “Sorry it’s been such a boring game. 7-3.”
“That’s okay,” she replied. “It’s given Ron plenty of time to go over the finer details with me.”
“You’re enjoying learning about football?” Angelina said in the obnoxiously knowing tone that every woman with the last name Weasley seemed to have.
“Well, I’m usually not much for sports but I’m always up for learning something new. And Ron’s a very patient teacher,” she said and he swore her cheeks were a bit pinker.
Ron could see his brother giving him an evil grin so he quickly jumped in. “Looks like they’re about to get the second half underway. I’m going to grab a beer. Do you want another?”
“Yes, thank you. Here, I’ll take your plate back to the couch,” she said, grabbing it with her right hand and walking away.
“Never in your life have you been called patient,” Harry laughed.
Ron threw up his middle finger. “Don’t screw this up for me.”
“You said it was just mingling,” shot back Ginny.
“Shut up,” Ron muttered as they all fell into laughter behind him.
Ron grabbed the drinks and rejoined Hermione on the couch to start working through his plate of food as the third quarter started. Now that he felt more confident that she had interest in him, he vowed to try to ask her more questions about what she liked while keeping one eye on the game.
“They definitely have the best tacos in the Loop but there are better Mexican places out there,” Ron told her after she had started to explain her search for takeout spots in her new city.
“I’m still hoping to find a place that serves—”
“Whoa!” Ron interrupted.
“What the hell is he thinking?” Harry said.
“He’s thinking he’s got the GOAT,” Fred chimed in.
“What’s happening? I don’t understand,” Hermione said.
“Belichick, the Patriots coach, is going for it on 4th and 13 instead of kicking a field goal. Crazy,” Ron shook his head.
“But earlier you complained that the other coach wasn’t aggressive enough on 4th down and that drives you crazy!” Hermione pointed out.
Holy shit, she had been listening to him. “Yeah but this is the Super Bowl. Take the sure thing.”
“That’s what they did in the first quarter!”
“But this is the third quarter,” Ron said.
“Why does that matter?”
“Less time to score points,” Ron said.
“But doesn’t that make it more aggressive and therefore more in line with your theory,” Hermione countered.
“Is it aggressive or reckless?”
“It’s a game that results in brain injuries. Isn’t it always more the latter?”
“Damn it!” yelled Fred as Brady’s pass sailed over the receiver.
“Jump for that!” yelled Lee.
“Ha!” Ron cheered triumphantly. “Reckless.”
“You say that with the benefit of hindsight!”
“Wow. Three hours and you already think you know as much as me?” Ron said, amused.
“Too bad it’s the last game of the season or I might teach you something,” she joked.
“What do you know about baseball?” Ron asked.
“Is that the one with the bat?” she asked playfully.
“Excellent. I’ll see you at Wrigley on Opening Day.”
“You’re on,” she quipped, taking a sip.
Ron’s eyes went wide. Okay, definitely, definitely she was interested. Right? Probably.
His phone chimed to signal a text and he quickly glanced at the message from George.
pls dont fuck this girl on my couch
Apparently his family thought she was.
Ron texted back a quick fu before turning to the game and Hermione again.
The rest of the third quarter went by quickly and turned into an exciting and intense fourth until—
“YES!” The room burst with excitement as the Patriots scored a touchdown to take the lead 14-10.
“Fuck!” yelled Ron.
“Can’t beat Brady and Belichick,” he heard Cormac gloat from behind him.
“Ugh, not only am I going to hear about this from all of them but I’ll get it at work tomorrow too,” he complained.
“There’s still time,” Hermione commented.
“Barely,” Ron grumbled and then shook his head. This night had turned out to be pretty good and while he wasn’t sure he was willing to risk asking her out and looking like an idiot, he definitely didn’t want her to think he was some pouting loser.
“But there’s still a chance,” he forced out in his most optimistic tone. “Let's all just keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.”
Of course, the Giants had a terrible kick return. Ron watched as each play seemed to put them farther away from victory.
“Sorry bro, I think it’s over,” Fred chuckled.
Ron couldn’t help but stand up. “What are you doing?” asked Hermione.
“I don’t know but standing helps,” he said as the Giants lined up for a 3rd and 5. Hermione looked at him before standing up too.
“We’re on the same team,” she shrugged as the ball was snapped.
“What the hell?”
“How did Eli not get sacked?”
“Did Tyree catch that on his helmet?”
A few plays later Eli floated one in the end zone to cheers from Ron and Hermione. Ron couldn’t help but throw a celebratory arm around her shoulder and she gave him a half hug back.
Ten minutes later, Ron grinned as he watched the defeated Patriots slump off the field and the party began to thin out.
“Well,” said George, approaching Ron and Hermione. “One of you is winning a nice stack of cash,” George said as he yanked a name out of the box and opened it. “Congrats Hermione.”
“Oh,” she said, as she took the stack of bills from George. “Thank you.”
“Aren’t you glad you came tonight?” Angelina said, again in that annoyingly pointed way.
Hermione glanced in Ron’s direction quickly before looking away. “Very.”
“I’ll walk up with you,” Ron offered. The two walked up the stairs and out the front door. It had started snowing over the course of the game and now as she stood in front of him, heavy wet snowflakes were catching in her hair.
“You should take part of this money,” Hermione said. “You’re the one that actually believed.”
“Nah,” he said. “It’s yours, fair and square. Plus, I had about six other bets cash in tonight. Uh, not that I’m normally a big gambler or anything. I just…”
“Well then, what if I took you out to dinner? Would you share the money that way?”
Ron grinned. This was a date, right? It had to be. “Only if you pick the wine. I don’t know anything about what pairs with what.”
“That’s okay, Cormac really didn’t either.” They both laughed.
“You’d have to compromise your principles though,” she said, sounding a little nervous.
“Letting a woman pay on the first date,” she replied and bit her lip nervously.
Ron pretended to consider. “I’ll allow it. As long as you let me pay for the second one.”
Hermione’s face broke into a smile. “Agreed. Are you available Thursday?”
“I am,” he said.
After exchanging numbers, Hermione hesitated for a moment before pushing up on her toes and pressing her lips gently against his.
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” she said as she pulled away.
“Good night,” he said. He watched her shuffle down the driveway, start her car, and drive away before turning back to the house.
To see Fred, George, and Ginny pressed up against the small window in the front door.
“Seriously?” he said as he walked back in.
“This must have been what Peyton felt like today in that skybox watching Eli,” Fred said.
“A victory for little brothers everywhere,” agreed George.