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a red rose grew up out of ice frozen ground

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“What’s got you so cheerful, Parkinson?” 

Pansy looks up from her parchment to find Daphne, painting her nails on her bed and watching her with an eyebrow raised in amusement. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say someone is enjoying the experiment they called...what was it? ‘A complete and utter waste of time?’ Did I remember that correctly?” She dips the brush back in the dark green paint (a deep, dark, forest green), and smirks at Pansy. “It would seem someone likes their parchment pal?”

Pansy rolls her eyes, puts down her quill, and reaches out to pet her cat, Felix, sleeping at the foot of her bed. “Hardly. If you must know, I think my parchment pal is quite possibly illiterate, if their atrocious attempts at spelling are any indication. Based on that alone, I’m reasonably sure I have Weasley.” 

Daphne’s nose scrunches in distaste. “Merlin, can you imagine? Having to converse with Weasley for three months? And poor Theo, stuck with him as a potion’s partner! Though you have Granger, so I suppose poor you is more in order,” Daphne says, giving Pansy a sympathetic wince.

Pansy scowls at the mention of Granger. That insufferable, intolerable know-it-all. Answering every bloody question with a little self-satisfied smirk on her face, like she thinks she’s the cleverest person to ever sit in a Hogwarts’ classroom. She’s never met anyone as smug and condescending as Hermione Granger, and for that matter, somebody so fucking hypocritical. Because while Pansy has certainly been less than charitable over the years, Hermione hasn’t exactly been a saint either. She treats anyone wearing Slytherin green with distrust and distaste. Pansy can still recall the first time she had noticed Granger, Potter, and Weasley, watching the Slytherin table with suspicion lingering in their eyes from across the Great Hall. They had only been at Hogwarts for a few weeks and Pansy had barely taken notice of Hermione’s existence, but it was abundantly clear that the Gryffindors had decided to hate all Slytherins on principle. 

…And Draco had probably been a twat to them, but that’s beside the point.

Shortly after that, Pansy had decided to put Hermione on her radar. Because if an entitled little Mudblood was going to hate Pansy on sight, Pansy might as well be generous and give her an actual reason to do so. She upped the name calling, she fine-tuned her insults, and she tried to make Hermione’s life as unpleasant as she possibly could. 

But Granger was never one to take things lying down. She gave as good as she got. The Potion’s debacle from earlier flashes in Pansy’s mind, and her scowl deepens. She’s not still upset about what Hermione had said—to be fair, she hadn’t been far off—but she’s furious she showed any sign of discomfort. To let Hermione both think she has the upper hand and that anything she said had rung true infuriates Pansy to no end.

She won’t be that weak next time. 

A Parkinson never shows weakness. 

Daphne is still watching her, so Pansy shrugs. “Could be worse. At least I’m not stuck with Longbottom. I might despise her, but at least we’ll always get top marks. And I’ll never have to worry about her accidentally blowing the both of us up,” she adds, thinking about how miserable Draco had looked when he saw his name next to Longbottom’s, and how hard it had been not to laugh at his plight.

Daphne shrugs. “Suppose that’s true. But still…Granger,” she says, with a small shudder. 

“Need I remind you that your partner is Potter?” Pansy asks, slowly dragging her quill back and forth across her comforter, watching as Felix follows the movement with sleepy, golden eyes.

Daphne cocks her head and frowns in thought. “Oh, he’s insufferable, yes. And I’m sure all that chosen one nonsense has gone to his head. But if I’m being honest, he’s not exactly…bad looking, is he?”

Pansy hand freezes and she stares at Daphne as if she’s just announced she’s going to elope with Hagrid in the morning. “Are you insinuating,” she says slowly, “that you think Potter is…attractive?” 

“Mm, I suppose something about that Seeker build really does it for me,” Daphne says with a wicked grin. “You’d understand that though, wouldn’t you?” she says, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively at Pansy. Pansy chooses to ignore the implication about her relationship with Draco and just shakes her head in disbelief.

“Potter,” she says, with wonder in her tone. “Potter! Next you’ll be telling me you fancied Mad-Eye Moody all of fourth year.”

“Oh, come off it!” Daphne says with a laugh, putting the final coat on her nails. “You’ve never stopped to look at him? He’s got gorgeous hair.”

Moody?”

Daphne reaches behind her and chucks a pillow at Pansy’s head, which Pansy hastily ducks. In the process she startles Felix, who lifts his head and gives her an annoyed look. “Oh, don’t look at me like that! Blame her,” Pansy says, pointing at Daphne.

“Oh, no, don’t you turn Felix against me! Even he knew I meant Potter, you daft cow,” Daphne says, rolling her eyes. She glances down at her hand and pouts. “Now look what you’ve done, you’ve made me smudge my nails."

Pansy rolls her eyes and reaches behind her to grab Daphne’s pillow. “I didn’t tell you to chuck a pillow at my head. And as for your question, no. I’ve never noticed Potter, much less his gorgeous hair.”

Daphne tsks as she hastily fixes the smudged nail. “Well, you wouldn’t have to, would you? But as for the rest of us…well, put it this way, we weren’t all practically betrothed to Draco from the cradle. Some of us have to keep our eyes open for viable options. By the way, how’s that going? You and Draco?” she asks, looking up at Pansy with interest. 

Pansy fidgets with the Daphne’s pillow, running her fingertips over the crushed velvet to buy herself time. She and Draco have been official for four months now. He had asked her out in a terribly romantic way—by getting spectacularly pissed one summer night, showing up in the Parkinson’s fireplace, asking her to go to Florean Fortescue’s for an ice cream, then immediately getting sick all over the Parkinson’s polished wood floors. Pansy had hoped that such a dismal display might sour her parents on the idea of their only daughter dating what appeared to be a barely-functioning alcoholic, but they had been elated by the turn of events.   Pansy hadn’t even been the one to answer Draco’s question—her mother had said “she’d be delighted to accompany you, Draco,” leaving Pansy to smile tightly and nod at Draco as he looked up at her with a grin, his hands on his knees, his eyes, hazy and bloodshot. 

Everything after that had happened rather quickly—Pansy’s father had grabbed Draco by the shoulder and taken him through to the study, presumably to talk about his intentions, or some other godawful, archaic thing men find to talk about in regards to women. Her mother had pulled her into an awkward, stiff hug, then immediately swept from the room to announce the news to every busybody vulture she knew. That left Pansy, standing still in the center of the room as one of their house elves hastily cleaned Draco’s mess, watching as her free will slipped away from her in under than a minute. 

Their ice cream date had been altogether unremarkable, but Draco had sent flowers after the fact (his mother’s influence, no doubt), and they had continued to see each other almost every day for the next two months. And it hadn’t been that different, really. They talked, the same way they always did. The only real difference was that sometimes, Draco would lean in to hold her hand, to brush the hair from her face, to kiss her, and Pansy would have to make a concerted, heroic effort to fight against the tension in her body and act like she was equally invested. 

When September 1st finally arrived, Pansy and Draco had boarded the train hand in hand as their parents looked on with pride. And it wasn’t just their parents. All eyes had been on them, and she knew why—the Slytherin power couple was finally together. And frankly, they looked good—Draco, with his commanding presence, his intense gaze, his strong jaw and broad chest; Pansy, with her carefully sculpted eyebrows, her dark lips, her high cheekbones and jet black hair. They looked like they were meant to conquer the world, to grind inferior beings beneath their heels. Pansy had found a worthy partner, one that would eventually command respect. She would continue the Parkinson tradition of marrying well and one day, she would bear a proper, pure-blood heir. Everything was as it should be.

A shame she had never been more miserable in her entire bloody life. 

Pansy looks up to find Daphne looking at her, her eyebrows raised in concern. She realizes she’s been silent for a while, lost in thought. “Sorry,” she says. “What did you say?”

“I asked how things are between you and Draco, and it sent you into a fugue state. Should I be concerned?” Daphne asks, her tone light, but her eyes worried.

“Oh. No, I was just…lost in thought, I suppose. It’s…fine. I mean, we’re…we’re fine,” she finally says, painfully aware of how lackluster the answer sounds. She doesn't want to say too much on the subject, though. Because if there’s one thing Daphne is good at, it’s dissecting relationships and identifying the root cause of a couple’s problem. 

And Pansy really doesn’t want her to identify the root cause. 

Daphne narrows her eyes, clearly unsatisfied with Pansy’s weak answer. “Just fine?” she asks.

“No, I mean…it’s…well, you know! It’s…it’s comfortable?” Pansy amends, then winces a bit. She’s somehow made it all sound worse. 

“Comfortable,” Daphne echoes, eyeing Pansy carefully. When Pansy doesn’t elaborate, Daphne says, “right. Well, have you two…you know…” She trails off with an expectant look.

Pansy feels the heat rise to her cheeks at the question. She was hoping to avoid it, but honestly, knowing Daphne, she’s surprised it took her this long to ask. She stares at Felix, who has resumed his evening nap, and after a few moments she gives a stiff nod, unwilling to look at Daphne to see her reaction. 

“Ah. Not a good experience, I take it?” Daphne asks, her voice gentle.

Pansy looks up to find Daphne watching her with sympathetic eyes, her brush still hovering over her nails. 

What’s Pansy to say? That the whole thing had felt…mechanical? That she hadn’t once felt anything that came even remotely close to pleasure with Draco? She was relatively certain sex wasn’t supposed to feel like a task (and a distinctly unpleasant one at that), but every time they’ve been intimate, she’s had to grit her teeth and let her mind wander to get through it. And it’s not for lack of trying on Draco’s part. She’s fairly sure he cottoned on to her lack of interest early on, and he spent weeks trying everything he could think of to bring her some kind of pleasure. She had finally had to become an extraordinary actress practically overnight to get Draco to stop trying so hard. If there’s one thing she’s taken from this whole experience, it’s the ability to fake an orgasm like no other.

Pansy finally manages a small shrug and says, “it was fine.” 

Daphne sighs. “Oh, Pans. You know that’s normal, don’t you? It’s always weird the first time. Honestly. My first time with Blaise was awful. I’ve never told anyone this, but the first time we got together?” Daphne bites her lip, leans forward, and whispers, “I couldn’t stop laughing. Every time he touched my tits! Sent me into absolute hysterics, no matter what he tried. It was mortifying. Blaise was upset for weeks. The next time we tried, he refused to touch them. Just maneuvered around them, like they were explosives strapped to my chest. Don’t tell anyone I told you that,” she adds, pointing a warning finger at Pansy, who mimes zipping her lips. “But eventually, it got better. I stopped laughing, he stopped being afraid of my tits…it got better. It always does.” Daphne replaces the brush and twists the top of the bottle, then looks at Pansy with a small frown. “You do like him, though. Draco? You are interested?” she asks.

Pansy bunches the pillow in her hands and manages a weak scoff. “Of course, don’t be daft,” she says, hoping she sounds somewhat convincing. “And it wasn’t even that bad, it was just…” she frowns at the pillow and shrugs, remembering how desperately she had wanted it to be good, to be something she enjoyed. To erase all the doubts and uncertainty that had been wreaking havoc on her mind for years. “I just hoped it’d feel different. That I’d feel different,” she admits quietly, picking at the crushed velvet with her fingernails. She glances up at Daphne to find her gazing at her, her brow furrowed in concern.

“Pansy…” she says, then she exhales sharply and says, “look, maybe it’s not my place, and you can tell me to piss off if you want to, but…if it’s not right, then it’s not right. And forcing yourself to be with someone because your parents expect it is absolutely mad. I know you want to live up to expectations, and I know they’re thrilled that you and Draco are together, but you have to think of your own happiness.”

Pansy shakes her head swiftly. “I am,” she says, suddenly aware that their conversation is taking a dangerous turn. One she has to steer away from immediately. 

A Parkinson never shows weakness.

“I want to be with Draco,” Pansy says, quickly shifting into the cool, lofty tone the Parkinson family has always been known for. “Simple as that. It has nothing to do with our families.”

“Pansy…”

“So he was shit in bed,” Pansy says, ignoring Daphne. “That can be fixed. Draco and I work well together. I understand him. I know what he needs, I know what he wants. He’s the right person for me. And frankly, I’m rather offended you’d insinuate anything to the contrary.”

Daphne shakes her head and looks at Pansy with something dangerously close to pity lurking in her eyes. She opens her mouth, then closes it, shakes her head, and sighs. Pansy feels the knot of tension that’s been sitting in her chest release—Daphne isn’t going to fight her on this. She’s known Pansy long enough to know when she’s finished with a conversation, and it’s obvious that there’s nothing left to be said. So instead of belaboring the point, Daphne says, “fine. But a word of advice? Try not to sound like you’re discussing a business venture when you talk about your boyfriend.” 

Pansy stares at Daphne, bewildered. “I don’t sound like anything of the sort!” 

“Oh, you absolutely do,” Daphne says with a small smile. She gives her nails a final glance, nods with satisfaction, and seals the color with a quick charm. Then, she stands from her bed, gives Felix a quick scratch, plucks her pillow out of Pansy’s hands, and tosses it back on her bed. “Right. I think that’s enough girl talk for one night, don’t you? I always forget how absolute shit you are at it, and I’m starving anyway. Dinner? Everyone else should be down there already.”

Pansy glances down at her parchment and her unfinished message. She shakes her head. “Not hungry just yet. I’ll be down soon, though. Go on without me.” 

“Fine. Have fun tormenting your parchment pal. I’ll save you a seat,” she says. She gathers up her bag and heads toward the door, but stops just short of it, her hand on the knob. She turns to face Pansy, her face serious once again. “Pans? Keep in mind what I said, yeah? Plenty of other blokes in this school. You don’t have to be with Draco, no matter what anyone says. Fuck expectations. Just…be happy, okay?”

As Daphne stands there, biting her lower lip in concern, Pansy feels a ridiculous wave of fondness wash over her. Daphne may be an insufferable gossip at times, but she’s her insufferable gossip. She’s been her best friend and chosen family practically since their first night in the dorm together, when a much smaller Daphne had plopped down on Pansy’s bed and demanded to know whether it was true the Parkinsons lived in a mansion staffed by twelve house elves.

(Which was ridiculous, of course. They only had three house elves.)

Pansy looks at Daphne, still waiting by the door, and nods. “I will. It’s really fine, though, I promise. But…thank you, Daph. For caring, or whatever,” she says, feeling a little uncomfortable, as she always does when she tries to express her feelings out loud. “It’s appreciated. Much more than you know.” 

Daphne grins. “Merlin, don’t hurt yourself,” she says with a fond smile. 

“Oh, piss off. Last time I try to be nice to you.”

“Love you too, Pans. Enjoy writing to Weasley. Give him my love,” Daphne says. Then she blows her a kiss, opens the door, and leaves the dorm. 

Pansy waits until the door closes before burying her head in her hands and bunching her hair under her fingers in frustration. She replays parts of the conversation in her head and groans out loud. Merlin. Could she have been any more obvious? Why couldn’t she just lie? It’s not like Daphne had slipped her Veritaserum. All she had to do was say Draco was bloody good in bed, and that she had thoroughly enjoyed herself, thank you very much. Instead, she had turned into a tongue-tied mess. Calling their relationship comfortable, admitting to Daphne that her first time with Draco had been altogether lackluster (and the second time, the third time, the fourth time, and so on and so forth, but at least she kept that under wraps). She had even practically admitted to being…

A Parkinson never shows weakness.

Pansy shakes her head firmly and tucks her hair behind her ears. She won’t be going down that route. Not right now. 

Instead, she decides to forget all about her conversation with Daphne and get back to the task at hand. Her parchment pal. The perfect distraction.

She takes a deep breath, and slowly releases it, willing the tension to leave her shoulders. Felix opens his eyes and blinks at her from the foot of the bed. “Hello, you,” Pansy murmurs, reaching out to scratch behind his ears. “Fat lot of good you were,” she says. “Couldn’t have introduced a different topic of conversation? Maybe dropped a mouse on Daph’s bed?” Felix stares at her, then yawns and closes his eyes again. Pansy smiles fondly at him, then glances down at the parchment in front of her, re-reading the last, silvery message her pal had sent. She smiles a bit when she reads “Yours, Robin” again, then she glances back down at the line she left off on, before her conversation with Daphne. 

Please don’t feel the need to reply tonight. I realize I’ve written a fair amount.

Pansy twirls her quill a few times, trying to remember where that thought was going. She skims over what she’s written so far and winces a bit at the length of her message, hoping she won’t scare off her parchment pal with her mindless prattling. It’s just…something about the person on the other end of her parchment makes her want to keep writing, just to hear what they’ll have to say in return. She feels a strange kinship to this mystery person, even if she knows next to nothing about them.

Well, that’s not exactly true. She’s put together a few clues—she obviously knows they’re not in Slytherin, despite their excellent choice in favorite color. But they seemed to have no knowledge of Robin Hood, so chances are, they grew up in a wizarding household. Pansy had slipped the reference in, solely to see if they’d admit to knowing the Muggle story. She only knows it because of her favorite aunt. Her mother’s youngest sister, Beatrice, a gentle, kind woman, with the largest library Pansy had ever seen, stuffed full of wizarding books and Muggle books alike. She had read every last one of them, and even now, she secretly thinks that all of the Muggle books were far superior to the wizarding books, though she’d never admit it. 

Aside from the lack of Muggle knowledge, she knows her pal seems to be a bit of a troublemaker with an impressive knowledge of school secrets. If the Weasley twins hadn’t already left to open a joke shop, or something equally absurd, she’d have a horrifying suspicion she was conversing with one of them. 

But this isn’t a Weasley. She feels relatively sure of it. Whoever this is, they’re fiendishly clever. A Ravenclaw, most likely, and probably a sixth or seventh year at that. And they’re intriguing Pansy in a way she never could have expected. She had thought she’d dash out a quick message, her pal would reply with a word or two at best, but more likely wouldn’t reply at all, and that would be that. 

But her pal had replied, and had immediately captured Pansy’s attention. So now, here she is, cross-legged on her bed for well over an hour, composing message after message and finding herself more charmed with each reply she receives. She’s rather surprised at how invested she is in this conversation. But after the foul day she had and the encounter with Granger that’s still stinging, conversing with this stranger feels like a balm for her frayed nerves.

She picks up her quill and finishes where she left off. 

Once I start, it seems I can’t stop. The life of a bard, I suppose. I hope you don’t mind.

Yours, ramblingly, 
Bard

She taps her wand to her message. An older message near the top of the parchment fades away to make room for the new one, and the fresh ink sinks into the parchment, shimmering and shining. Then, she sits back and stares at the parchment, absently twirling her wand as she waits. She lets a few long minutes tick by before she realizes how absurd it is that she’s waiting for a reply to the novel she just sent, so she stands from her bed and stretches, waking Felix again in the process. 

“Do you know, I told my parchment pal all about you,” Pansy says, kneeling on the ground to stroke his soft, grey fur and smiling when she’s rewarded with a low, rumbly purr. “I’m afraid I did you no favors. Told them how you’re a menace to society who refuses to use his perfectly good cat box. But for some mad reason, I love you anyway,” she says, kissing the top of his head. He wriggles a bit to get away from her, and she chuckles. “You know I’m allowed to bother you, right? I paid for you, fair and square. But fine, be grumpy. I think a bath is in order, anyway,” she says. Felix eyes her warily. “For me, not you,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Best to wash off this whole ridiculous day.” 

She moves to the trunk at the foot of her bed and gathers what she needs for her bath, precariously balancing her toiletries in her arms. When she finally gets to the bathroom, she deposits everything, bends down to turn on the tap, adjusts the temperature, and slips off her robes so she’s left to shiver in her undergarments. She rubs at the ever-present tension in her neck, then suddenly remembers the bubble bath her mother sent to her from Paris last month, stuffed somewhere near the bottom of her trunk. And after the day she’s had, quite frankly, she deserves a bubble bath. 

She lets the tub continue to fill as she crosses back to her trunk and sifts through her various bottles and tubes to find the bubble bath. When she finally finds the ornate glass bottle, she stands and closes her trunk, then drops another kiss on Felix’s head. As she does, she notices a new, silver message, shining on her parchment.

“Why didn’t you tell me they’d answered?” Pansy asks, grinning despite herself. Felix blinks at her, completely unconcerned, yawns widely, and goes back to sleep. Pansy rolls her eyes and immediately grabs the parchment to read the new message. 

Dear bard,

The length of your messages doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, the longer they are, the more delighted I am to read them. If you really want to know the truth, I could hardly contain my smile while I read your most recent message, and I was viciously mocked by my housemates because of it.

Though I desperately want to ignore the real world and reply to you straight away, unfortunately, duty calls. But rest assured, I’ll respond in full soon. I hope it will be worth the wait when I do. 

Until tonight, then.

Yours,
Robin

Pansy smiles softly at the name, tracing over it with her finger. She puts the parchment down, runs back into the bathroom to turn off the tap, then returns to her bed where she grabs a quill and writes before she can stop to second guess herself.

Robin, 

Something tells me you’ll always be worth the wait. 

Until tonight. 
—Your bard

Pansy quickly taps the message with her wand, then bites her lip as the ink settles into the page. She hopes the message wasn’t too forward. She doesn’t know this person, and that message sounded a bit…well, a bit flirty, if she’s being honest. 

But then again, why shouldn’t she be flirty? It’s not like anything will come of this. They’re just harmless letters to a stranger. And even if she wanted them to more than that, it’s not like she could do anything about it, anyway. Not when she has Draco. Not when she has her family, breathing down her neck. Not when she has so many expectations riding on her shoulders.

Pansy takes a deep breath, then slowly exhales, forcing the intrusive thoughts from her mind. Once they’re gone, she nods firmly, pleased that she was so quickly able to regain control over her emotions. After all, there’s no use in worrying over things she can’t change. So she’ll go on with her day. She’ll finish her bath, she’ll join her friends for dinner, she’ll finish her Potions assignment. 

And she won’t let anyone even come close to suspecting that things aren’t perfect in Pansy Parkinson’s life. 

***
Merlin, I’m full,” Daphne groans, tossing her bag on the floor beside her bed and kicking off her shoes. “I’m never eating again.” 

Pansy snorts as she takes off her own shoes. “What are you on about? You had a spoonful of peas, at most.” She loosens the tie around her neck and sits down on her bed, looking around for Felix, who is nowhere to be found. Pansy shrugs, fills his bowl with food, then reaches into her bag for her Potions assignment and her parchment. The bloody cat will show up when he wants to. 

“I had more than that and you know it,” Daphne says, pulling a folded, fluffy towel from her trunk. “I need to digest. I’m going for a bath. No one bother me,” she says, shooting a warning glare around the dormitory. 

“Sure you’ll fit into the tub?” Tracey asks from her bed, exchanging a smirk with Millicent. 

“Oh, ha-ha, very funny. Pans, hex them if they try and disturb me?”

“You can just use the prefect’s bathroom, you know. I’ve given you the password,” Pansy says, tossing her bag back on the floor beside her bed.

“And trek all the way to the fifth floor? Absolutely not,” Daphne says with a sniff, before closing the bathroom door behind her. 

Pansy rolls her eyes, then glances at her parchment, her eyes widening as she sees the new, very long message that’s waiting for her. She looks toward Tracey and Millicent, but they’re both working on their Potions assignments in their respective beds. Quickly, Pansy places her parchment inside her Potions book to hide the length of the message. She spent quite a long time at dinner telling everyone how her parchment pal was illiterate and communicated in the written equivalent of grunts, simply because she wants to keep her correspondence with her parchment pal private. She doesn’t want them to call her out on it now. Once she’s satisfied her parchment is blocked, she begins to read.

Dear bard, 

You think I have a happy way with words? That’s quite the compliment, considering I’m reasonably sure you’re a published poet by day moonlighting as a Hogwarts student by night.

I’m afraid I’m no closer to figuring out your identity, though I can promise to keep your favorite color a secret. And much like you’re tempted to hide in the corridor outside of the kitchens and lie in wait for me, I’m now equally tempted to climb a tree at sunset and wait to spot the person lost in their own fancies and reveries. But I suppose if we both did that, you’d spend all night in a drafty corridor, and I, in a tree, and the only thing we’d have accomplished by morning would be an awful night’s sleep. I assume spending the night in a tree would be befitting of my moniker, though?

It would seem you and I are kindred spirits, at least when it comes to pets—I also have a cat. And I hate to say it, but I think he may be cleverer than the both of us. He’s absolutely gorgeous and has ruined me for all other cats. Is it a bit sad to say he might be the great love of my life? …Yes, now that I can see it in writing, I can tell it’s more than just a bit sad. Please don’t judge me. I promise I have human friends as well. And it’s not their fault that they don’t measure up to my cat. Though in my experience, very few humans are capable of measuring up to cats.

As for your question...perhaps you’ll judge me for this as well, but I actually quite like History of Magic. Binns’ teaching leaves much to be desired, but the subject itself is fascinating. I find history opens up new avenues of thought that I wouldn’t think to explore on my own, which in turn, helps me to understand people outside of just those who look and think like me. 

(Perhaps answers like that are why a cat is the great love of my life.)

I would tell you my least favorite subject, but you asked for my second least favorite, so I’ll play by the rules, just this once—it’s Potions. I don’t hate it by any means, but I find the precision required to be tiresome. It reminds me of baking, which I’m not ashamed to say I’m complete rubbish at. But at least in baking, you don’t run the risk of blowing the entire castle to bits. …Actually, I have a feeling I could do that in baking, too. Why limit myself? And you? What’s your second least favorite subject?

I hope I’ve already convinced you that there’s no need to apologize for the length of your messages. I’m already impatiently awaiting your next message, and I’ve yet to even send this one. That said, I very much hope I was worth the wait.

Yours, in eager anticipation, 
Robin

Pansy bites her lip to keep her smile in check. She reads over the entire message again, noting the bits she wants to reply to, then sets her Potions assignment aside and picks up her quill. She really does have to get the assignment done tonight, but she finds herself unable to resist the temptation to reply to her parchment pal. She’s desperate to figure out who she’s talking to, because to be honest, she can’t believe a student like this even exists at Hogwarts. For the past seven years, she’s been surrounded by people she can barely tolerate. But somehow, in a world of loudmouthed Weasleys and boastful Potters and insufferable Grangers, there exists this person. This absurdly wonderful breath of fresh air, who somehow has managed to bring a smile to Pansy’s face with every letter. This charming, self-deprecating stranger who Pansy can’t bear to keep waiting. 

Pansy quickly writes her reply to the first few parts of the message, then pauses when she gets to the bit about History of Magic. She re-reads what her parchment pal has said a few times, trying to place what it reminds her of. 

I find history opens up new avenues of thought that I wouldn’t think to explore on my own, which in turn, helps me to understand people outside of just those who look and think like me. 

Her aunt Beatrice. That’s what it reminds her of. Her aunt Beatrice, with her walls and walls of books, her warm smile, and her even warmer hugs. Pansy had loved spending time with her in the before times. Before she had been old enough to comprehend the differences between pure-blood wizards and Mudbloods. Before her parents had forbid her from spending the long, lazy summer months at her aunt’s. Before they had started whispering words like blood traitor across the dining room table whenever Beatrice’s name was mentioned. 

Pansy closes her eyes and thinks back on a particular day, rain pounding against the windows, a fire crackling nearby, and Pansy, no more than seven, warm and safe, wrapped up in a heavy, knit blanket, her aunt’s arms around her, her voice in her ear.

We’re all just people, in the end. Don’t listen to anything others might tell you. No one can help the blood they’re born with, just as you and I can’t help that we were born with green eyes, now, can we? Differences should be celebrated, not punished. Remember that, love. Please try to.” 

Pansy comes back to herself quickly and shakes her head, trying to forget the soft, melodic voice, whispering beautiful lies to her over the steady beat of the rain. Tries to forget the warm, safe arms, the steady heartbeat against her cheek. She has to forget, because if she doesn’t, she’ll remember.

Remember the wide, terrified green eyes and the blood stained face, gazing at her across the room, pleading for help that Pansy hadn’t known how to give at eight-years-old. Remember her father, repeating Crucio in a curiously flat voice, like it was an ordinary, everyday spell. Remember her mother, realizing Pansy was hidden in the room and pulling her away from the nightmare before her.

Pansy rubs her eyes furiously until the memory fades. She digs her fingernails into her palms and forces herself to take a deep breaths, focusing instead on the scratch of quills from across the room and Daphne’s humming behind the bathroom door until her heart rate finally slows.

She won’t be weak.

And she hasn’t been. Not since that day, when her father had commended her for not crying out at what she saw (Good girl. A Parkinson never shows weakness). The same day she had learned that her aunt was a blood traitor who had brought shame upon the Parkinson name. That day, Pansy made herself a solemn vow never do anything that would tarnish her family’s reputation. After all, they were pure-bloods. And it was as her parents had always said—they were above Mudbloods. Always had been, always would be. And anything Pansy’s aunt had said, well…it was rubbish, plain and simple. A fanciful concoction created by a poisoned mind. No, Pansy had learned early on that the Parkinson family held certain, steadfast views, and they certainly didn’t celebrate differences. And Pansy was a Parkinson. She would never let down her family. 

Even if it came at the price of her own happiness.

She turns her attention back to her parchment re-reads the line that gave her pause, tracing her fingers over the words, “which in turn, helps me to understand people outside of just those who look and think like me.” She sighs, picks up her quill, and writes:

I’m afraid we may never see eye-to-eye on whether or not History of Magic is a worthwhile class, but I had an aunt who would’ve liked that sentiment. That we’re all worth the time and effort of being understood. It’s lovely on paper. But I’ve found that when applied to the real world, things are never quite that simple, much as we wish they were. I suppose you’ll think me a terrible curmudgeon now, but I’m afraid I haven’t been exposed to many people with an optimistic outlook on life, such as your own. As such, mine isn’t what you’d call rosy.

Pansy frowns at what she’s written, wondering if it makes a lick of sense. She obviously can’t come right out and discuss the intricacies of blood status, nor can she admit to…to being less than enthusiastic about the idea of being with Draco, so to speak. She has half a mind to vanish the entire section, but she finally decides to let it stay, if for no other reason than to see what her parchment pal has to say in reply. 

Once she’s tackled the hard part, the rest of the message comes easily.

In keeping with my role as the resident curmudgeon, I’m happy to report that my great love might also be a cat. But we can take comfort in this, knowing that someday soon, we can go on a double date together. You and your cat, me and my beast. You’ll have us over for tea, perhaps put a Victoria sponge in the oven, and we’ll all pray that the kitchen doesn’t come down around us. 

(On second thought, perhaps I’ll do the baking.)

As for my second least favorite class…it’s absolutely and without a doubt Herbology. I think I was cursed as a child to always have two black thumbs. Everything I touch in that class seems to wither and die. Sometimes I swear, I can feel the plants tremble when I set foot in the greenhouse. “The plant killer is here,” they whisper to each other. “Take cover, and pray those black thumbs don’t descend upon you.” I’m surprised Sprout still lets me in, if I’m being honest. You’d think by now she’d have sealed up the greenhouse with the same security measures they use at Gringotts, but no. Perhaps when it comes to the capabilities of her students, she shares some of your optimism. 

May I ask another question? In anticipation of our future double date, I’d like to know what your favorite thing to have for pudding is. Might as well get a head start on what I’ll be making. 

Your curmudgeon, 
Bard

P.S. You were absolutely worth the wait. 

Finally. I thought you’d never finish.”

Pansy looks up quickly to find Daphne, returned from the bathroom and sitting crosslegged on her bed, watching Pansy with amusement. “Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought your parchment pal communicated in the written equivalent of grunts. So shall I assume you’ve taken it upon yourself to help and all that was…what? An introduction on how to properly use the English language?” Daphne asks, her eyes shining.

Pansy looks around the room quickly, but Millicent and Tracey aren’t paying any attention. She turns back to Daphne and says, with as much dignity as she can muster, “There is a slight chance that I…may have been lying.” 

“You? Lie? Never.” 

“Piss off,” Pansy says, tapping the message and watching as her words sink into the parchment. 

“Mm, sorry, afraid you’re stuck with me. Now!” Daphne leans forward and rests her chin in her hands. “Why were you lying, hm? What could be so special about your parchment pal that you couldn’t tell your best mate?” 

Pansy shrugs, uncomfortably. “Nothing,” she says, fiddling with her quill.

“Pansy…”

“Oh, I don’t know. I wanted to tell you. I did, but I just…I wanted to keep it to myself, too? To keep this person to myself. It feels…special. They feel special,” she says, gazing down at the parchment and gently sweeping her fingers over its surface. When she looks up, Daphne is gazing at her with interest. 

“Why, Pansy Parkinson. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were smitten.” 

Pansy scoffs. “It’s been less than a day. You can’t be smitten with someone in under a day, unless you’re positively barmy.” 

“Well, then, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were positively barmy.”

Pansy glares at Daphne and puts the parchment away for the night. “So I find them interesting. That’s hardly a crime. Especially considering what I normally have to converse with,” Pansy adds, raising an eyebrow at Daphne, whose mouth opens a bit in surprise.

“For the sake of our friendship, I’m going to assume you meant Tracey and Millicent,” Daphne says. Pansy shrugs with a smile, and Daphne tsks. “In any event,” she continues, “there’s nothing wrong with taking an interest in your parchment pal, Pans. I told you to be happy, didn’t I? Far be it from me to disapprove of you taking my advice for once. If you want to write tawdry, steamy love letters to your mysterious beau, I won’t stop you.”

“They’re not love letters,” Pansy says as she finally opens her Potions’ assignment and takes out a fresh sheet of parchment. 

“Not yet,” Daphne says, reaching for a bottle of lotion on her bedside table and pumping it twice. “But the world is full of possibilities,” she adds, rubbing the lotion into her hands. “So? What are they like?”

Pansy sighs, and looks up from her parchment. “Must we do this?”

“Unless you somehow got your hands on a Time-Turner and are meeting me for the first time, then you should know that yes, we must do this.” 

Pansy sighs once more for good measure, then thinks about her parchment pal. “They’re…wonderful. They’re smart and funny and interesting. The way they write is so…” Pansy trails off, unable to find the right words to properly describe how she feels when she reads a message from her parchment pal. “I don’t know. I can’t describe it. They just have this quality about them that makes me want to keep talking to them. Like I could learn everything about them and I’d still want to know more. Does that make any sense?” Pansy asks, looking up to find Daphne’s eyes on her, soft and understanding.

“It does. And they sound wonderful. I’m happy this mad experiment is working out for you,” she says. She pumps more lotion into her hands and rubs it into her forearms, then glances at Pansy with a grin and says, “don’t tell Draco about this, though. He’ll think you’ve got a secret bloke on the side. Though come to think of it, jealousy might be just the spice your relationship needs.”

Pansy smiles and looks down at her Potions’ book, but she doesn’t bother reading. Instead, she gently rubs the pages between her fingers and thinks about what Daphne’s said. She had seemed relatively convinced that if Pansy was interested in her parchment pal, they must be a man. But Pansy has a sneaking suspicion that her parchment pal is a woman, which is yet another reason she desperately wanted to keep it quiet. Because it’s clear she’s invested. And she doesn’t want Daphne to notice just how invested she is and put two and two together.

Because Pansy Parkinson does not show weakness. But the way Pansy is already starting to feel about the person on the other end of her parchment? 

It’s weakness.

***

“I don’t understand.”

For the first time in her life, Pansy Parkinson finds herself in complete agreement with Hermione Granger. 

They’re sitting side by side, staring at their Draught of the Living Death which has been tormenting them ruthlessly for the past forty minutes. It’s a notoriously tricky potion, but Hermione had seemed relatively confident going in (which had of course, irked Pansy to no end). But try as they might, things have been going wrong at every turn. Their potion has yet to turn the right color at any stage, they’ve been sniping back and forth since the class began, and a muscle in Pansy's jaw has been working overtime, jumping each time Hermione opens her bloody mouth to make yet another bloody useless comment.

“It’s not supposed to be that color,” Hermione says, peering at their potion for the hundredth time and twisting her hands in distress.

Case in point, Pansy thinks to herself. 

“Did you stir counterclockwise with your left hand?” Pansy asks, watching as the viscous, blueish liquid in the cauldron bubbles with a vengeance. 

“You know I did,” Hermione says, tersely. “You saw me do it.” 

“I did nothing of the sort. I try to treat you the same as I would a Basilisk—I assume looking directly at either of you would result in instant death, so I generally avoid it,” Pansy says, drumming her nails against the table, increasing the volume when she sees Hermione glare at her hand with irritation. She glances around the room and is relieved to see that everyone seems to be staring at the contents of their cauldron with a mixture of horror and revulsion. Draco is hissing something at Longbottom, who’s turned white as a sheet, Weasley is red in the face and sweating profusely, Potter and Daphne are staring at their cauldron in silence with matching frowns, and Millicent looks positively homicidal. Pansy looks back to her cauldron to see that their potion has turned a lurid shade of green.

“Oh, no. That can’t be right,” Hermione mutters, watching the potion with dismay in her eyes. 

“Another astute observation from the great Hermione Granger,” Pansy says, her words clipped and frustrated. She’s already been having a bad day (mostly due to her parchment pal’s lack of reply this morning, but she’s trying not to think too hard about what that might mean), and everything that’s happened in the past forty minutes is pushing her closer and closer to the edge. “Tell me, how many people did you have to pay off to be considered the brightest witch of our age, hm?” Pansy asks. Then she frowns and cocks her head, thoughtfully. "On second thought, what money could you possibly have had to offer? I suppose you just had it off with Dumbledore in a dark alley?” Pansy asks, keeping a wary eye on their potion, which seems to be rising closer and closer to the cauldron’s edge. 

Hermione’s nostrils flare, but she doesn’t engage. Instead, she picks up the wooden stirring spoon and gives the potion a cautious extra stir.

“Oh, that’ll do it,” Pansy mutters, watching the motion with a frown. “Someone owl the Prophet, Granger’s just discovered the secret to fixing a shit potion—stirring.”

“Have you got a better idea?” Hermione snaps, lifting her arm to wipe at the sweat on her brow. “Maybe something didn’t dissolve properly,” she adds, watching the potion with a ridiculous glimmer of hope in her eyes. 

“Or maybe extra stirring will make it even worse than it already is. Is this your first Potions class?” Pansy asks, snatching the stirring spoon out of Hermione’s hand in frustration. “You know the number of stirs is precise for a reason.”

Hermione turns to glare at Pansy. “Well, I don’t see you trying to fix it!” 

“Because there’s no bloody fixing it! Look at it,” Pansy says with frustration, gesturing to the cauldron where their potion is slowly fading from bright green to pitch black. “It’s supposed to be clear as water right now. Do you really think there’s any saving this? We botched it. Best to cut our losses and bottle what we can.” 

“No,” Hermione says, grabbing the stirring spoon back from Pansy and using it to point at her. “You may be perfectly content to give in the moment things go sideways, but I’m not. I can fix this. I don't run from problems. I’m not a quitter,” she adds with a small glance at Pansy, who grinds her teeth in frustration. 

Hermione turns back to her open Potion’s book and traces her finger down the steps, mouthing the words as she reads. “Did you chop the Valerian roots into three two-inch squares?” she asks, not bothering to look up at Pansy.

“Believe it or not, I can read,” Pansy says, her voice tight with anger.

“Two-inches exactly?” Hermione repeats, this time looking at Pansy with accusation in her eyes.

Pansy frowns and taps a finger against her chin. “Come to think of it, it might have just been one,” she says, raising her right middle finger to Hermione, who glares at her and turns back to the book. 

“There’s no need to be crass,” Hermione says, turning a page to see if there may be an instruction she overlooked. “You measured out seven drops of the Sopophorous bean’s juice? Seven drops exactly?”

“Yes,” Pansy says, clenching her fist at her side. 

“And you’re absolutely sure there were no traces of the Valerian root in the juice?”

Pansy grits her teeth and manages a nod, but she can feel her temper starting to get the best of her. Bloody Granger. Where the hell does she get off, double-checking Pansy’s work like she’s a first-year? Pansy is good at Potions—it was one of four O grades she earned when she sat for her O.W.L.s. And yet Hermione’s making her feel like she’s on the same level as Longbottom. Any other day, she wouldn’t appreciate the implication, but today, it’s enough to make her see red. 

She tries to push down her anger, to stay level-headed and cool, as a Parkinson should, but it’s of no use. Hermione is emitting gale-force sighs every two seconds, tapping the fingers of her left hand against the table while her right hand traces over the steps in the book. The repetitive noises coupled with the unwarranted suspicion are both driving Pansy absolutely mad. She’s never hated working with anyone as much as she hates working with this absolute cow beside her, and she’s reasonably sure that she’s one comment away from pulling out her wand and giving her first Unforgivable Curse a whirl.

“We just need to continue retracing your steps,” Hermione says, absently tucking an unruly brown curl behind her ear. “We’re bound to find the mistake eventually.”

Pansy stills as she lets Hermione’s words sink in.

Your steps? 

How dare she. How dare she only check Pansy’s steps and have the fucking nerve to admit to doing it. 

The anger she’s barely been keeping at bay floods her system, white hot and potent. It poisons her mind until the only thing she can think of is how to hit Hermione where it hurts. The words come to her, harsh and angry, and if there’s any part of her that remembers her parchment pal’s words about practicing tolerance and understanding, or whatever nonsense they had prattled on about, she pushes it to the back of her mind. 

“The mistake?” Pansy says, her voice low and simmering with fury, “I know what the mistake is. The mistake is you, Granger. But you know that, don’t you? You know that you don’t belong here. It’s why you work so bloody hard all the time. You try to prove your worth by being the smartest person in every class because deep, deep down, you know that you shouldn’t be here. That if you make one mistake, everyone will see you for what you are—a pathetic, utterly inadequate, laughable excuse for a witch,” she hisses. She feels a heady thrill go through her when she sees Hermione stiffen and a muscle in her jaw jump, but it’s not good enough.

She doesn’t just want to hurt Hermione. 

She wants to break her. 

“But do you know what the real mistake is? The real mistake was made the moment Hogwarts degraded itself and decided to let Mudblood filth like you study here in the first place.”

Hermione breaks.

She slams the wooden stirring spoon down on the table and turns to glare at Pansy. “You foul, loathsome, wretched…! Where the hell do you get off?” she asks, her face flushed and her fists clenched. “You vile woman! Had you spent even a minute trying to help me at any point during any of this, then this,” Hermione says, gesturing to their bubbling potion, which is now the color and consistency of tar, “wouldn’t be happening. Instead, I’m stuck doing all the bloody work, trying to fix this while you sit on your arse and make shit comments. Because that’s all you can do, isn’t it? You can’t be of any assistance, because you’re absolutely worthless, blood status be damned. I deserve to be here,” Hermione says, her back straight and her eyes blazing. “I deserve to be here, and you know it! You know I’m ten times the witch you’ll ever be, and it kills you to know you’ll never be as good as a Mudblood.” 

Hermione’s voice is raised, and Pansy is aware of other table’s glancing their way, their potions suddenly forgotten. Pansy digs her nails into her palm. She will not let Hermione have the upper hand again. And certainly not with people watching. Her hand twitches toward her wand, and she sees Hermione’s eyes track the movement, her body immediately tensing in anticipation. But before either of them can do anything, a shadow falls over their table. Pansy tears her eyes away from Hermione and looks up to find Snape, glaring down at them. 

“It would seem this class is trying to set a record for most detentions earned in one week,” Snape says, a deep frown on his face. “In that case, I am more than happy to oblige. Miss Granger. Miss Parkinson. If you’re not able to work together peacefully in my classroom, perhaps you’ll manage it in detention. You’ll report here tomorrow night at seven sharp. And thirty points from each of your houses for disturbing class. As for the rest of you,” Snape says, turning to survey the class, "if you’re this dedicated to letting Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff win the House Cup, by all means, continue on as you are. However, for those of you who want to win, I’d suggest finding a way to work with your partner amicably.”

“But Professor—” Hermione starts in outrage. 

“Thirty points was my way of showing extraordinary generosity, Miss Granger. I suggest you accept it with gratitude. I’ll be speaking to your head of house about this little outburst, but in the meantime,” Snape glances at their cauldron and grimaces. He waves his wand, and the foul potion disappears. “Perhaps you should spend more time focused on your potion than on petty house disputes. You’re both dismissed. The rest of you, begin to bottle. I’ll be checking your work in three minutes,” Snape says, turning away without another word.

Hermione is deathly still beside her, but Pansy is immediately in motion, wanting to put as much space between the two of them as she possibly can. She grabs her wand and slips it into her pocket, then picks up her book, shoves it into her bag, slings the bag over her arm, and stands from her stool. 

“Are you happy now?” Hermione asks suddenly. Her voice low and seething, and she’s refusing to look at Pansy.

Pansy stops and turns to look at her profile. “Do you think this was my fault?” she asks, trying very hard to ignore the tempting weight of her wand in her pocket. 

Hermione turns to look at Pansy, her eyes still blazing, her hands clenching the ends of the table. “Of course it was your fault,” she hisses. “If you didn’t feel the need to provoke me at every turn, we wouldn’t have detention. But you can’t help yourself, can you? It seems to be the only source of joy in your miserable life.”

Pansy opens her mouth to answer, but pauses when she spots something. 

Hidden behind Hermione’s Potions’ book is a small, unused vial of essence of wormwood.

A vial that Hermione had apparently neglected to add to their potion. 

She shakes her head slowly, staring at the tiny vial that could have saved them a whole mess of trouble. Then, without any warning, she reaches past Hermione to grab it, ignoring how her entire body tenses at Pansy's presence. She slams the vial down on the table between them and says, “or maybe if you had thought for one bloody second that the mistake could’ve been yours, if you hadn’t leapt to conclusions like you always do, I wouldn’t have had to lose my temper. But you never think past yourself. You’re so convinced you’re the only one who knows anything and the rest of us are just worthless. You always have been. Once you’ve made up your mind, there’s no changing it.” Pansy looks at the vial again, and exhales sharply. “The next time you start double-checking steps, do us both a favor and start with yours,” she says. 

She doesn’t wait for Hermione’s reply. She turns on her heel and storms out of the classroom for the second day in a row, ignoring Daphne’s worried gaze and Draco’s whisper of “hex her next time.” 

Once she’s out of the dungeons and far away from Hermione, she feels some of her fury ebb away, replaced quickly with a deep, aching exhaustion. She still has three more classes today, but all she wants to do is go back to her bed and burrow under the covers until this house unity nonsense is over and done with. Because while she’s certainly grateful to have her parchment pal, she’s starting to wonder if that alone is worth having to work alongside Hermione for another bloody minute. 

But despite what Hermione had implied, Pansy is not a quitter. So for the time being, she’ll square her shoulders, smooth her expression, and act like nothing happened. She’ll go about her day, she’ll cross her fingers for a reply from her parchment pal, and she won’t let anyone see how much Hermione’s words get under her skin. 

Because after all, a Parkinson never shows weakness.

***