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Hermione’s hands shake with rage as she storms out of Potions. Her heartbeat is pounding in her ears, she’s grinding her teeth so furiously that she may need to cast Densaugeo on herself to salvage what’s left of them, and she’s reasonably sure that if she were to run into Pansy in the hallways, she’d throw away any sense of propriety she has left and challenge her to a duel, rules be damned. Hermione has never been asked to leave a class. She’s never even voluntarily left a class before being dismissed!

(And no, she does not count Divination as a class, nor would any person with an ounce of common sense.)

And now, thanks to bloody Pansy Parkinson, not only has she been kicked out of class, she’s stuck with a detention she did nothing to earn. She hasn’t had a detention since first year. She’s Head Girl, for heaven’s sake! Head Girls don’t get detentions, they give detentions. 

“Bloody Parkinson,” Hermione mutters out loud as she stalks through the hall on her way to the library, ignoring both the concerned glances from a group of loitering second years and the whispers of portraits as she passes. 

And yes, perhaps she had neglected to add the essence of wormwood to their potion. It’s a stupid oversight, and one that makes Hermione flush with discomfort. She’s not used to making such foolish mistakes, but working with Pansy sets her on edge, and it’s difficult to concentrate when her guard has to constantly be kept up.

Though…perhaps she shouldn’t have been so quick to blame Pansy… 

Hermione frowns as the thought enters her head, scoffs at herself, and pushes it away. Of course she’d been quick to blame Pansy, and she was correct to—the whole bloody mess could have been avoided had Pansy offered any assistance in the first place. If Hermione thought Snape had a compassionate bone in his body, she’d be pleading with him on bended knee to let her switch partners. She’d take anyone at this point. She’d even take Crabbe and Goyle. She can handle their dull, uninspired insults. She can deal with their complete and utter apathy toward learning. She can even stomach Mudblood being every other word out of their revolting mouths. What she can’t stomach anymore is Pansy. Pansy and her never-ending stream of cruelty, and the infuriating way she seems to know just what to say to get under Hermione’s skin.

And that’s another thing—Hermione doesn’t know how she’s managed it, but somehow, Pansy seems to know all of Hermione’s insecurities. Every last one, from her deep-seated concern that everyone in her life simply tolerates her because she’s clever, to her fear that her Hogwarts letter really had made a mistake. Because even after seven years spent at the top of her class, Hermione still has the occasional, uneasy feeling that she doesn’t belong here. That one day, Dumbledore will pull her aside and tell her there’s been a horrible mistake, snap her wand in two, and send her home on the Hogwarts Express, where she’ll spend the rest of her life practicing under the harsh fluorescent lighting of a dental practice.

And of course she knows these things aren’t true. Logically, she does. She’s worked very hard to convince herself that her fears of inferiority and rejection are just that—silly, unfounded fears, born from an overly anxious mind. But that doesn’t stop the odd doubt from occasionally creeping in and setting up shop, making her second guess herself and all she’s accomplished. So to hear everything she’s ever feared fall so easily from Pansy’s cruel, dark lips…

Hermione’s scowl darkens as Pansy’s face flashes in her mind, those same cruel lips turned up in a wicked smirk, her green eyes, glittering with malice. 

Bloody Parkinson,” she says again, forcing the image from her mind as she storms into the library. She ignores Madam Pince’s loud shushing and goes as far as to mutter piss off under her breath as she passes, then immediately feels guilty and apologizes in her head. Her favorite table is mercifully free, and once she arrives, she drops her bag on the floor, throws herself into the overstuffed leather armchair, and bounces her leg restlessly, her adrenaline still racing. She has a free period, and while she’s normally delighted to spend the extra time surrounded by the cozy quiet of the library, right now, it feels stifling. The unnatural silence is pressing down on her and she wants to jump on top of the table, cast Bombarda toward a shelf of books, and watch as they tumble to the ground. She feels destructive and wild, and she hates it. 

She takes a deep breath, holds it, slowly exhales, then repeats the process twice more. She needs to find some way to ground herself before her next class, or she’ll be utterly useless.

What she needs is a distraction. 

And she knows the perfect one.

She grabs her bag from the floor and rummages inside until she finds her parchment. She was halfway through composing a reply to her pal last night when she had fallen asleep, on top of her covers and still in her robes. Her Arithmancy assignment had taken longer than expected, and try as she might, she couldn’t keep her eyes open. And she hadn’t had any time this morning—she had been so exhausted from the night before that she had barely managed to wake up in time to eat breakfast. But now, she has all the time in the world to both reply to her parchment pal’s earlier message and to vent about her Potions’ frustrations. Hermione has a feeling that if anyone will be sympathetic toward her plight, it’s the kind-hearted soul on the other end of her parchment.

Her pal’s silver words gleam at her as she pulls out the page and smoothes it on the table, the comforting smell of parchment and ink already helping to dissipate some of her nervous energy. Her body relaxes even more as she quickly skims what she’s already answered, editing words here and there until she’s satisfied with the final product. Then, she turns her attention back to the silvery paragraphs she’s yet to answer. The comforting voice of her parchment pal slowly helps Hermione put the whole Potions nightmare from her mind, and for the time being, she shelves all thoughts of causing mass destruction in the library.

Good thing too, because when it comes to the sanctity of the library, she doesn’t think Madam Pince is above an Unforgivable Curse or two. 

She traces her finger over her parchment pal’s words as she re-reads.

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.

Hermione bites her lower lip as she reaches for her quill, twirling it a few times as she thinks about how she should approach this section. The message up until this point has been everything Hermione’s come to expect from her parchment pal—warm and comfortingly droll. But this section has a melancholic air about it that Hermione wants to dig into. She has a feeling her stranger is speaking from some kind of experience, and while she certainly doesn’t want to come off as pushy, if there’s a chance her parchment pal wants to talk, then she wants to listen. She puts her quill to the parchment.

I don’t think you a terrible curmudgeon at all. For what it’s worth, I think we can agree that things are never quite as simple as we’d like them to be. But I suppose I find that all the more reason to try. And please don’t think me some kind of saint—there are certainly times I want to give up on people. And there have been times that I have given up on people. But I always try and remind myself that we don’t know what another person is struggling with, or how those struggles have shaped the way they interact with the world. So if I can be the one person who makes an effort to understand, then that’s who I’ll be. 

Hermione pauses, debating whether or not she wants to risk overstepping her bounds. She taps her quill a few times, then sighs and nods firmly to herself. She’s come this far. And she is a Gryffindor, after all. Time to be brave.

I hope it goes without saying that I’d like to be that person for you, too. If you’ll have me, that is. I know I’m just a stranger on a scrap of parchment, but I’d like to think that I’m a relatively decent listener. And if the length of these messages hasn’t clued you in by now, then let me put it plainly: I like hearing from you. More than I ever expected to, and especially after just a day. It’s honestly a bit embarrassing how often I check my parchment to see if you’ve replied. And I want to take the time to understand you, inside and out. Not for the sake of the assignment, but because I just…I just do. I want to know you. So bugger the real world. Things can be simple here. Just you and me and this parchment. If there’s ever anything you want to say, you can say it to me. 

I hope I haven’t missed the mark completely. If you’d rather stick to simple things, we can. I’ll tell you that I love sticky toffee pudding, and I’ll ask what you’d like to eat on our future, highly-anticipated double date. I’ll even tell you that I’m also a bit shit at Herbology, and I’ll never bring up anything that might make you uncomfortable again. But if you’re open to the idea, then here’s a question for you—what was your aunt like? Were you close?

Hermione taps her quill against her chin as she re-reads what she’s written. She’s more or less satisfied with the state of it, but she finds herself a bit torn on where to go from here. She had absolutely intended to use the rest of her message to vent about her horrid day and bemoan the fact she’s stuck with the worst Potions’ partner in the entire bloody school. But now that she’s made such a big, nauseating show of being understanding and empathetic toward everybody under the sun, she can’t exactly say, “now then, let me tell you about the most vile woman I know who is deserving of no compassion whatsoever.” She’d look like a hypocritical cow. 

And to be honest, she quite likes that her parchment acts as an oasis from everything in her life. It’s almost therapeutic to visit this space, where this wonderful stranger is waiting to hear from her. She doesn’t want to drag her baggage into it and force them to deal with her silly venting about Pansy. Bugger the real world, she thinks again. She’ll keep this space sacred. 

After all, there needs to be at least one part of her life that Pansy can’t poison.

She puts her quill back on the parchment.

I’m sorry again for my late reply. I was halfway through answering last night when the dulcet rumblings of my one true love lulled me to sleep. Though perhaps it’s unfair to blame my tardiness on someone who can’t defend himself. So instead, I think I’ll blame it on you. Your messages provided such a delightful distraction throughout the evening that I put off all my classwork until the entire castle was fast asleep. I’m afraid you’re shaping up to be a terrible influence. It seems that nothing else can hold a candle to you and your bewitching prose, bard, although I can’t say that I mind. 

I meant what I said. I want to know you. 

I hope you want to know me, too. 

Yours,
Robin

Hermione leans back and re-reads her message. Once she’s completely satisfied, she taps it with her wand and watches as her words sink into the page.

It’s only after the words are shining back at her that she stops to think about how absolutely ludicrous this entire situation is. 

She traces her finger over the golden “I want to know you” and shakes her head in wonder. How on earth can she possibly be this interested in a complete stranger after a day? It doesn’t stand to reason, and Hermione is nothing if not reasonable. She makes practical choices, she thinks things through to their logical conclusion, and she certainly doesn’t get swept up in ridiculous fairytales and romance. No, she’s always been the first to roll her eyes when Lavender and Parvati start in on whatever boy of the week they’ve found to gush over, preferring the company of her textbooks to their mindless prattling. Because Hermione Jean Granger, practical to a fault, lives in the real world. And this?

This isn’t what happens in the real world. 

This is the plot of one of the ridiculous, made-for-TV Muggle Christmas films her mum loves. It’s the kind of thing that would normally make Hermione scoff at the screen and say something about how no one can possibly know if they’re interested in a person after a month, let alone a week. Hermione thinks about the last time she sat down to watch one of those films with her mum. She had voiced her usual objections, but her mum had simply given her a soft smile and said, “when you know, you know.” Hermione had rolled her eyes at that and left the room, tossing a muttered ridiculous over her shoulder for good measure. 

And now here she is, a day into this project, telling this stranger that she wants to know them, inside and out?

She flushes as she recalls her wording, and wonders what on earth has gotten into her. She’s probably scared her parchment pal off for good. 

And that’s another thing! Hermione doesn’t know a thing about this person! They could be anyone! What if they’re wonderful on paper, but in person, they’re a close talker? Or even worse, a loud chewer? She could even be getting herself involved with someone who thinks housing Voldemort on the back of their head is all in all, a wise choice. After all, Quirrell had seemed relatively normal, all things considered.  

Hermione frowns and sweeps her fingers over the silver message, still shining up at her from her parchment, and runs her finger over the last sentence. 

P.S. You were absolutely worth the wait. 

That doesn’t seem like the message of a mad-man. Or at least, Hermione is relatively sure it doesn’t. She certainly hopes it’s not. Because even though Hermione might be nothing if not practical, she may have allowed herself the odd dream or two about who might be behind her parchment. There’s a hazy picture in her mind—a warm smile, strong arms, kind eyes. The kind of man she’s always dreamt of, but never expected to exist. And while she can’t be certain it’s a man, she has her suspicions. After all, the messages were…well, they were downright flirty at times. 

At least, she thinks they are. She doesn’t have a lot of experience with flirtation. The closest she’s managed was Viktor, but the language barrier hadn’t allowed for much flirtation to happen in person, and even less so in the letters they still occasional send back and forth. And even though she had enjoyed spending time with him and found him to be pleasant, she had never actually found him handsome. He had looked a bit like a vulture—grumpy and sallow, with round shoulders and overly thick, dark eyebrows. When he had leaned in to kiss her during the Yule Ball, her first instinct had been to lean away. The kisses that followed hadn’t been much better. They were usually rushed and clumsy, and Hermione had always been the one to break away first with an awkward smile and an even more awkward pat on the arm. After Viktor left and Hermione had time to sort through her thoughts, she had come to the conclusion that she’d only be with someone if she was truly interested in them, not just if she found them pleasant or kind. 

And her parchment pal…

Hermione shakes her head and runs a frustrated hand through her hair—she’s being ridiculous. There’s no use in thinking about what this mystery person looks like, because she can’t be interested in someone after a day. 

“It’s just not logical,” Hermione says out loud. 

“What’s not logical?” Harry asks, startling Hermione from her thoughts. Harry and Ron are standing before her, watching her with curiosity. Before Hermione can answer, Ron glances down at the parchment in front of her and his eyes widen.

“Blimey. I thought you said you weren’t writing much to your parchment pal,” Ron says, leaning forward to get a better look. “Is that your idea of a short letter?” 

Hermione whisks her parchment off the table and tucks it into her bag. “I suppose I got a bit carried away,” she says, tucking her hair behind her ears and hoping the boys don’t notice the heat spreading up her neck. But when Ron and Harry exchange a look, Hermione figures they’ve noticed the flush. 

“Writing to them about the Potions’ debacle?” Harry asks, pulling out a chair and sitting down. “We wanted to come here straight away, you know.”

Ron nods. “We planned on bunking off Divination,” he says, taking the seat beside Harry. “But Trelawney saw us on our way out of Potions and said she knew we were going to be the first to arrive or some rubbish like that and walked us all the way to class. Practically pushed us up the ladder. Couldn’t escape from her.” 

“Snape was out of line,” Harry says.

“Anyone with eyes could see it was Parkinson’s fault,” Ron adds. 

Hermione feels a slight twinge of guilt. Now that she’s had a chance to cool down, she can see that perhaps she had been a bit more to blame than Pansy. And she’s starting to feel rather guilty about it. She rubs her neck uncomfortably. “It…wasn’t, actually. All Parkinson’s fault. I mean, it mostly was,” she adds quickly. “But I’m the one who botched the potion. I left out an ingredient. And then I may have blamed her and rechecked all of her steps and none of mine,” she says, wincing a bit as she remembers Pansy’s furious, low whisper of “you’re so convinced you’re the only one who knows anything.”

Ron snorts. “Surprised Parkinson didn’t hex the pants off of you for that. Reckon she’ll get her revenge and is just biding her time?” he asks, glancing over his shoulder toward the library’s entrance with concern, like Pansy might burst through the door, eyes blazing and wand out. 

“No. I think…I think I upset her,” Hermione says, remembering Pansy’s face, etched with rage. “I suppose an apology wouldn’t be out of the question,” she adds, frowning at the idea of having to apologize to Parkinson, of all people. 

She’d sooner snog Mrs. Norris.

“Don’t apologize to her. All our potions were shit. Neville’s and Malfoy’s melted their cauldron. Snape was furious,” Harry says, grinning when Hermione’s eyes widen in horror. “And mine was somehow completely solid. Like an oozing, steaming gelatin block. Daphne rechecked all of my steps and I rechecked hers. We were both certain the other had botched it, but even then, we didn’t end up with a detention. You only got in trouble because Parkinson provoked you. So what if you upset her? She bloody well deserved it.” 

“Right. And it can’t be easy to keep a clear head when she’s busy being a prat next to you. It’s not like Nott and I are mates, but at least he isn’t constantly slagging me off. I’m impressed you haven’t hexed the pants off of her, if I’m being honest,” Ron says.

“Don’t think I haven’t considered it,” Hermione says, raising an eyebrow. Ron grins at her and she smiles back with a small, pleased flush. She always feels proud when she makes him laugh.

Desperate for attention, desperate to be loved, desperate to please.

Hermione exhales sharply as Pansy’s words from yesterday echo in her head. She clenches her jaw and tries to force the cruel, mocking voice from her mind.

“Hermione? You all right?” Harry asks, watching Hermione closely. 

Hermione nods. “Just remembering something Parkinson said,” she says, with a small, humorless smile. 

Harry and Ron glance at each other. “About that…we kind of…all heard what she said?” Harry says, looking guilty.

“Hard to miss, really,” Ron adds with a sympathetic grimace. 

Hermione stares at them both with surprise. She hadn’t thought that anyone had overheard their conversation yesterday, but if Ron and Harry had heard that, then what else had they picked up on? She flushes, remembering all the awful, dirty things Pansy had insinuated about her relationship with Ron, and rubs at her overly warm neck. “About that…” she starts, preparing herself for a very awkward conversation, but before she can, Harry cuts her off.

“No. Don’t give it another thought, alright? It’s completely…I mean, it’s just…Hermione,” Harry says, leaning forward suddenly, his eyes serious. "You do know you belong here, right? You belong here more than any of the rest of us do.”

Ron nods beside him. “Definitely more than me. Compared to you, I might as well be a Squib.”

Oh. That’s the conversation they overheard. Hermione feels relief wash through her body. 

She really didn’t want to discuss Pansy’s ridiculous implications with either of them. Especially not Ron.

She spares Ron a smile and says, “that’s not true at all, and you know it. But as for what you overheard…” She sighs and twirls her quill, watching as it spins in lazy circles. “I really thought that I’d be able to handle her after yesterday. But she was so upset that I had the upper hand for once. I suppose I should’ve known she’d come back with a vengeance.” Hermione frowns as she thinks over her interaction with Pansy again, then shakes her head slightly. “I know she’s vile. I know she’s cruel and sadistic, and I know I shouldn’t let her get under my skin. She only says things to get a rise out of me, and I know that. I just…I hate that it works,” she murmurs, almost as an after thought. 

“Hermione…” Harry starts, his voice gentle and concerned, but Hermione shakes her head quickly and gives Harry a forced, bright smile. 

“But there’s no use dwelling on it, is there? And if we don’t set off now, we’ll be late for Transfiguration,” Hermione says, gathering her bag from the floor and tucking her quill away. She doesn’t want Harry and Ron’s reassurances right now. She knows they mean well, and any other day they might convince her, but not today. Not with Pansy’s voice still echoing in her head, whispering words of contempt. 

Words that some part of her still believes to be true. 

Hermione swings her bag over her shoulder and stands. “I’m sure Snape has already informed McGonagall of what happened, and if I’m to be reprimanded, I’d rather get it over with quickly.”

Harry and Ron stand from their chairs, both still watching her with concern and something that looks suspiciously like pity. “Don’t look at me like that,” Hermione says, pointing her finger between the both of them. “I’ll be fine. I’ve co-existed with Parkinson for seven years now. I think I can manage three months.”

She starts toward the door, and Harry and Ron follow in awkward silence. As soon as they’re out of the library, Hermione, desperate to fill the silence, says, “so…did Neville really melt his cauldron?” 

Harry grins. “Oh, yeah. It started eating through the table, too. Probably would’ve burned a hole through the floor if Snape hadn’t vanished the whole thing.”

They spend the rest of the walk to Transfiguration discussing the worst Potions’ mishaps they can remember (Ron practically keels over when he remembers Seamus somehow managing to set Snape’s hair on fire from across the room), and by the time they arrive, Hermione’s feeling much better about the whole ordeal. 

That is until Ron says, “look on the bright side—no Parkinson here. And no Potions tomorrow,” and Hermione remembers her detention. 

Her detention with one Pansy Parkinson.

This is already shaping up to be the longest week of her life. 

***
Hermione is absolutely exhausted as she climbs the staircase to her bed after dinner. Normally, she’d stay in the common room to get a head start on her work, or to chat about the day with Ginny, with the fire crackling and popping in the background. But today has been intolerably long and she feels like someone’s slipped her a Sleeping Draught. All she wants to do is change out of her robes and fall into bed. 

It’s early enough that the dorm is blessedly empty, minus Crookshanks, quietly snoring on the foot of her bed. Hermione drops her bag, checks to make sure his bowls are full, then turns to give him a quick scratch. He opens his eyes and gives a little, surprised meow. 

“Hello, you,” Hermione murmurs, dropping a kiss on his head. “You, my clever boy, have the right idea. Tomorrow, I’m staying in bed all day, where nothing bad can happen. Just try and stop me.”

Crookshanks blinks sleepily at her, then curls his head so his white chin is facing Hermione and promptly goes back to sleep. She smiles fondly at him as she loosens her tie and shrugs off her robes. Once she’s down to her undergarments, she casts a quick cleaning charm on her clothes, then folds them and sets them on her trunk. She pulls on her pajamas and slides into bed, releasing a small, content sigh at the feeling of cool, crisp sheets against her legs. The temptation to close her eyes is almost overwhelming, but she forces herself to stay awake, just a bit longer.

She needs to check something. 

She reaches down to her bag and rummages around inside, trying to find her parchment. There’s a knot in her stomach and she feels anxious. Her parchment pal has been silent since she sent her reply this morning, and she’s terribly afraid she’s botched it all with her brazen overtures. She must have read the entire situation wrong and now she’s scared this wonderful person off for good. 

Her hand closes over the parchment. 

They had said they only wanted simple questions, and she had steamrolled right over their request and—

Her thought process comes to an abrupt halt when she see the long, silver message gleaming on the parchment.

The fatigue that’s been weighing Hermione down all day vanishes in an instant as she hastily sits up against her pillows, heart racing, and begins to read.

Dear Robin, 

I suppose it’s my turn to beg forgiveness for my tardiness. But unfortunately, I can’t blame my little beast, nor anyone else for my late reply. It’s entirely my fault. You see, I had ample opportunity to answer your message today. And I tried many times before now. But each time I sat down to put quill to parchment, I found myself at a complete loss for words. It would seem that somehow, your kindness and compassion rendered me speechless, which is a new sensation for this particular bard. 

But here I am, trying again. So let me start with the most important part: you haven’t missed the mark. I want to know you, too. Completely. Every detail, from the superficial to the significant. It seems a bit silly to say that, considering I’m not even allowed to know the basics about you, but whatever you’re allowed to share, I want to hear.

I must admit, it’s not often I find myself surprised, but somehow, this has surprised me. This whole thing. I’ve been rather taken aback by how intrigued I am by you. And how eagerly I anticipate your replies. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t expect a reply at all when I first wrote, but then you did and everything about you is just…

See? Speechless again. I’ll have to surrender my title at this rate. 

Before I tell you about my aunt, I want to thank you. For offering to be there. Perhaps it seems a simple gesture to you, but to me, it’s somewhat unheard of. I grew up in a rather strict family. Emotions were rarely displayed and one was expected to work through their own problems, or better yet, pretend the problem didn’t exist. Listening would never be considered my family’s strong suit, and as such, I don’t have much experience with discussing what’s on my mind. To be quite honest, I’m rather awful at verbalizing my feelings. But I feel…freer when I write. Especially when I write to you. And I can’t promise I’ll be an open book, but I do want to talk to you. So…

My aunt. She passed when I was eight, so my memories of her are hazy. She’s more of a feeling, really. Whenever I think about her, I remember the sensations associated with her—the scent of vanilla, sunshine on my back as we worked in her garden, the feeling of her arms around me when she’d read to me (she’s the one who introduced me to Robin Hood). I’d spend my summers with her. Her home was a beautiful dream compared to my own—everything was lovely and vibrant and warm. But she was the black sheep of the family and, to put it mildly, there was no love lost between her and my parents. They had certain expectations and views of the world. Ones my aunt didn’t fit into. Because for all her lovely qualities, she made mistakes. Foolish errors in judgment that hung over our household and brought needless tension and stress into our lives. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that she was a deeply troubled woman. So much so that we don’t mention her anymore. But I’m glad to talk about her again. I sometimes think she might have been the only person who would have taken the time to understand me. I loved her, and I miss her, faults and all.

But enough about me. I don’t want to bore you with the specifics of my family drama, nor do I want to take up the entire parchment, front and back. I’d much rather hear about you. I assume, given your general disposition, that you grew up in a more caring environment than I? I certainly hope so. 

And for what it’s worth, I don’t think of you as a stranger on a scrap of parchment. I think of you as a friend. A dear friend, even. Perhaps it’s absurd to, given the time that’s passed between our first messages and now, but here we are. There’s something about you that makes me feel…safe. Safe and heard. And if you hadn’t alluded to the fact that you feel the same, I’d be checking myself into the Hospital Wing and asking Madam Pomfrey if I’ve gone stark raving mad. I’m glad to know that even if I have, at least it’s catching.

But as much as I want to be selfish and hear from you again tonight, I also want you to sleep tonight. So I’ll be a good influence for a change end this message here. Can’t have you blaming me for another sleepless night, can I?

Sweet dreams, dear friend.

Yours,
Bard

Hermione leans back against her pillow and exhales slowly, letting what she’s read sink in. Her heart is beating even faster than before, and though she’s a bit troubled by her parchment pal’s seemingly strict upbringing, she can’t help the smile on her face. She’s very glad the dorm is still empty, or she’d surely have to field questions from Lavender and Parvati about the flush on her cheeks. She feels almost giddy at the reply, and relieved that this stranger—dear friend, she amends hastily—seems to be both baffled at the speed at which their friendship is progressing, yet just as invested in this as she is. 

She has a list of questions she wants to ask, mostly pertaining to her pal’s home life. She feels the need to dig deeper and satisfy her Ravenclaw-esque curiosity, because while she’s not entirely sure, she has a feeling that her pal is hiding something. Something about her pal alluding to their family’s unwillingness to hear problems, coupled with the line I sometimes think she might have been the only person who would have taken the time to understand me had piqued Hermione’s curiosity. If she’s being honest, it almost feels…familiar. 

Not that her parents were unwilling to listen, of course. They had always taken an interest in everything Hermione had put her mind to. But her parents were Muggles, and as such, they would never really understand. Try as they might, they couldn’t comprehend her struggles, so oftentimes, it was easier for Hermione to pretend her problems didn’t exist, rather than try to explain every facet of the Wizarding world in detail. And if her pal’s parents are anything like the Dursley’s—prim, proper, and completely horrified by the idea of magic—then of course they’d be treated like a freak. And perhaps this aunt, with her empathetic views and kind heart, would have taken the time to understand the Wizarding world and made this person feel special, rather than strange.

Hermione is growing more certain that she’s speaking to a fellow Muggle-born. The Robin Hood reference had already made her suspicious, but now there are even more clues pointing toward her parchment pal sharing her Muggle parentage. But Hermione won’t pry…not too much, at least. She’ll ask questions and if her pal wants to talk, then she’ll let them. If not, that’s okay, too. She can put aside her curiosity in favor of being a good friend. 

Hermione reaches for her quill, but before she can grasp it, she’s overcome by a mighty yawn. She frowns, weighing the pros and cons of answering now versus answering tomorrow. She desperately wants to, but her parchment pal had raised an excellent point—sleep is important. And she can always reply in the morning. The exhaustion she’s held at bay seeps back into her bones, and she can already feel her eyelids drooping as she returns her parchment to her bag.

Hermione picks up her wand from her bedside table and quickly extinguishes the lights. She returns her wand to its resting place and settles into her bed, tugging the covers up to her chin and thinking about what tomorrow holds. She frowns a bit when she remembers the detention she’s to serve at seven, but she forces it out of her mind and lets herself think of her parchment pal, and exactly how she’s going to reply. The last thought that passes her mind before she succumbs to sleep is how her parchment pal is more than worth the bother that comes from working with Pansy. 

She wouldn’t trade this for the world.

***

Hermione feels like she’ll never be clean again. 

She and Pansy are halfway through disemboweling two barrels of flobberworms, while Snape grades Potions’ assignments at the front of the class. Her hands are covered in thick mucus and other things she’d rather not think about, and she’s been fighting against her gag reflex the entire time. She can’t wait to strip off all her things and take a nice, long soak in a tub. Perhaps she’ll treat herself to the prefect’s bathroom, with its massive, pool-sized bathtub and hundreds of taps…

No. Pansy will probably have the same idea. She’s just as covered in muck, and she’s always been more fond of the prefect’s bathroom than Hermione. Not that Hermione doesn’t like it, of course. She just so rarely has a spare moment that she can’t spend her precious free time dilly-dallying about in a bath. Unlike Pansy, who seems to float through life on a cloud of apathy and detachment, she has things to do.

Hermione glances at Pansy out of the corner of her eye, watching as she eyes her hands with distaste and flicks flobberworm innards from her thumb. She’s been strangely silent since she swept into the dungeon. She hadn’t spared a glance at Hermione, and she hasn’t said a single word. She had merely nodded at Snape’s instructions, rolled up her sleeves, and plunged into her barrel of worms. Hermione had been thrilled by the turn of events, but now, she’s going to risk it all. Because as much as she doesn’t want to surrender the blissful silence, she really wants a nice bath tonight.

“Do you plan on using the prefect’s bathroom tonight?” Hermione asks quietly, noticing as Pansy stiffens at the sound of her voice. 

“Yes,” Pansy says, slicing through a flobberworm and grimacing as it leaks all sorts of foul substances onto her hand. When she doesn’t elaborate, Hermione sighs heavily. 

“Do you know when?”

“Whenever this bloody detention is over,” Pansy says, keeping her voice low and her eyes on her task. 

“Well, I’d like to use it, too.” 

“Wonderful. Shall I alert the Prophet?” Pansy asks, aggressively dumping flobberworm innards into a glass vial.

Hermione rolls her eyes and reaches for another worm from her barrel. “I’m only telling you so you adhere to the forty-five minute time limit. You can use it first, I don’t mind. Just don’t go overtime.”

Pansy snorts and finally glances over at Hermione with a lifted eyebrow. “Or what, you’ll Bombarda the door down?” 

“If necessary. Or I’ll file a complaint with McGonagall, informing her that you’ve decided to flaunt the rules. I expect she’d dock points from Slytherin,” Hermione says, meeting Pansy’s cool gaze with one of her own.

Pansy tilts her head and hums, thoughtfully. “Holding me to a time limit and threatening to report me. That’s rich, all things considered. Have you forgotten that this whole situation is your fault? Doesn’t seem right to me that you get to reward yourself after the fact, does it?” Pansy asks. 

Hermione shakes her head and looks away, reaching for another worm. “It’s not entirely my fault, and you know it,” she says, ignoring the tiny part of her that’s telling her to apologize. She forces herself to think of Harry’s words and adds, “you didn’t have to provoke me.”

“I fail to see how stating the truth can be confused with provocation. But that’s not what I meant. You botched the potion. You refused to check your steps. You leapt to conclusions. You are the reason we’re here. Not me,” Pansy says. Her voice is still low, but Hermione can finally hear the anger simmering behind her words. It’s clear she’s been trying to keep a lid on it this whole time, but if the ruthless incision Pansy makes on her next worm is any indication, she’s starting to lose the battle. “And yet! Somehow, you have the bloody nerve to hold me to a time limit! To lecture me on bathroom etiquette, when really, the only words I should have heard from you at all tonight were I’m sorry for being a condescending twat who’s shit at Potions and has her head stuck too far up her own arse to admit to it.” 

Whatever small part of Hermione was considering apologizing to Pansy flies out the window. She feels a familiar anger course through her system at Pansy’s remark. It’s the type of anger that seems to be reserved for Pansy Parkinson, and her hand tightens around her knife. She glances at Snape, who is still quietly grading assignments, apparently unaware of, or perhaps purposefully tuning out their harsh whispers. Satisfied for the moment that they’re not about to land themselves in a second detention, she turns back to Pansy and whispers, “and perhaps I would have made that apology, had I ever heard you say sorry I’m a miserable, vile cow, hell-bent on making your life absolutely horrid. Honestly, why on earth would you expect any contrition from me? After the way you’ve treated me, all these years?” Hermione throws a used worm into her discard barrel with more force than is perhaps necessary. “I will never apologize to you,” she hisses. 

“Oh, no, I’m crushed, however will I go on,” Pansy says without looking up from her task. “I’m surprised, though. I thought the saint of Gryffindor would be the first to preach forgiveness and tolerance.”

“It’s always the people who are the most toxic who expect forgiveness, isn’t it?” Hermione asks, picking up a new worm. She stabs at it blindly, abandoning her attempts at clean incisions. She’s glad it’s already dead and won’t have to be on the receiving end of her fury. “I believe in second chances. What I do not believe in,” Hermione says, using her knife to point at Pansy, “is letting someone walk all over me, solely to keep the peace. My forgiveness is reserved for those who show remorse, not for those who have made it their mission to torment me at every turn.”

“Oh, Merlin. Come off it, Granger. You flatter yourself—I barely take notice of you,” Pansy says, rolling her eyes. 

“You insult me every chance you get.”

“Perhaps, but you give as good as you get,” Pansy says, with something that sounds vaguely like begrudging respect.

“You’ve called me Mudblood more times than I can count.”

“And? It’s a statement of fact,” Pansy says with a shrug, capping a full vial of flobberworm entrails and putting it to the side. 

“You jinx me in the halls.”

Pansy turns to Hermione with a frown, her hand suspended over her barrel of flobberworms. “What?” she asks, looking genuinely puzzled. “I’ve never jinxed you.”

Hermione scoffs. “Oh, please. Don’t play dense, it doesn’t suit you.” 

Pansy glares at Hermione and straightens her back. “I can assure you I’ve never played dense in my life. Just as I’ve never jinxed you in the halls. This might come as a shock, but I don’t actually enjoy being in detention. I tend to play by the rules. Most Slytherins do, really. Part of that whole, self-preservation thing your lot doesn’t seem to understand.”

Hermione stares at Pansy, who stares right back, her chin lifted with pride and no trace of a lie in her eyes. Hermione feels like she’s been tossed into the deep end. Perhaps she’s got it wrong…perhaps…

She shakes her head. Of course Pansy has jinxed her. She doesn’t know why she’s doubting it. Pansy Parkinson is not a good person, so it stands to reason that she’d be more than capable of lying. Hermione searches her memory banks for an example, and one comes to her quickly. 

“You cast Langlock on me last year, coming out of Potions.”

Pansy frowns as she tries to place the memory. Then, she scoffs and shakes her head. “That wasn’t me, you daft cow,” she says, pulling a worm from her barrel. “That was Tracey.”

“It wasn’t! I turned around and saw you with that stupid smirk on your face!” Hermione can feel herself getting agitated, so she makes an effort to lower her voice again. “I saw you,” she whispers. “You were laughing and looking far too proud of yourself.”

Pansy drums her fingers against the table and shakes her head slightly. “You’d do well to take a page from your head of house and have actual evidence before you accuse someone of a crime they didn’t commit. Of course I laughed. I’ll laugh anytime someone jinxes you. It’s always amusing, because you’re the only person in the whole bloody school who gets bent out of shape over a measly jinx. You’d think Tracey had used Crucio on you from the way you reacted. But no, Granger. Much as you’re currently making me rethink my stance on jinxing in the hallways, it wasn’t me.” 

Hermione frowns. It’s true, she didn’t actually see Pansy cast the spell, nor did she hear her. She had simply turned around and immediately found Pansy’s eyes, never bothering to look at the other girls flanking her. But still, there must be another time she can think of…

“Fourth year, then!” she says confidently, the thrill of victory already flooding her system. “You cast Ebublio and trapped me in a bubble for twenty minutes.”

The irritation on Pansy’s face fades as she recalls the memory. She snorts and says, “Merlin, I’d almost forgotten. Could hardly hear you through that bubble. Millicent did the whole school a favor with that one.” 

The triumph fades slightly and Hermione frowns again. “Millicent?” she asks, confused.

“Mm,” Pansy hums in confirmation, putting the used worm into her discard barrel. “About five foot eight, dark hair, usually looks homicidal?” 

Hermione shakes her head. “No, I know who…but Millicent didn’t…I could have sworn it was—”

Pansy cuts off her rambling with a scoff. “What a surprise,” she says, her voice cold. “The great Hermione Granger, holding grudges against me for things I didn’t do. Leaping to conclusions, yet again. If you’re going to hate me, at least have the decency to hate me for things I’ve actually done to you.”

Hermione stares at Pansy’s profile, watching her as she slices through a worm. She has no idea how this has happened. Of course Pansy is the one in the wrong, yet somehow, she’s turned the entire situation around and made herself look like some kind of long-suffering saint. Which doesn’t make any sense. Hermione is a good person. She tries very hard to be kind and understanding and empathetic. Pansy Parkinson, on the other hand, is a horrid bully who goes out of her way to torment and belittle anyone she views as beneath her. And yes, Hermione feels mildly guilty for wrongfully accusing Pansy, but that’s where her sympathy ends.

Hermione won’t let her turn this around on her. 

Hermione Granger is not a loser.

“Even if I’m wrong about the jinxes, that doesn’t change the fact you’ve been horrid to me for years now. The comments about my appearance, my personality, my blood…do you think any of those things are excusable?” she asks, anger thrumming anew through her veins as she lists off her many grievances.

Pansy exhales sharply, puts down her knife, and turns to face Hermione. “I already said, your blood status is a statement of fact. Your personality is intolerable, and I won’t apologize for pointing it out. You’re a condescending, overbearing, insufferable woman who can never admit to being wrong, and if I’m the only one willing to say it to your face, then I should be bloody well knighted for it. And correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Potter has called me…what was it? Pug-faced? On more than one occasion. Have you ever chastised him? Or are you only concerned with talk of looks when your own are in question? I’d assume the latter, as that seems to be what you do best—bluster proudly, all the while ignoring your own astounding hypocrisy,” Pansy whispers, glaring at Hermione. “You walk these halls with your nose in the air, acting like you’re better than everyone you meet. But you’re not. You’re just as judgmental as the rest of us. I’m a Slytherin, so I must be evil, right? Don’t tell me it’s never crossed your mind,” Pansy says, eyeing Hermione closely and nodding when she sees the small flush on Hermione’s cheeks. “Of course it has. Because you’re not the charitable, forgiving person you want people to believe you are. You and I both have unconscious biases. But the difference is, I’m willing to admit to them.”

Hermione shakes her head in wonder. “My bias,” she starts slowly, trying to keep her voice low, “my bias against you is based solely on the fact that you’re a horrid person to me and to every other Muggle-born at this school. You think we’re less worthy of being here than you are. You think we’re dirty and inferior to you. So yes. Of course I think you’re awful. I’d be a fool not to. And honestly, it’s not even bias—it’s the only logical reaction to someone using a horrible slur and acting like Muggle-borns are second-class citizens. And if you truly think there’s any dignity in admitting to your biases, to owning them with pride, then I pity you. No one can help the blood they’re born with,” Hermione says, noticing as Pansy’s hands freeze. “It takes a very weak, small person to punish those who are different, all because they’re desperate to cling to power they’ve done nothing to earn.”

Hermione finishes speaking, but she’s not sure Pansy’s noticed. Her jaw is set and her eyes are far away. She almost looks lost in thought, and if Hermione didn’t know any better, she’d think that something she said had struck a chord. But then Pansy snaps out of whatever memory she was lost in and shakes her head. She discards a worm and says, “this is a pointless conversation. I believe what I believe, and you believe what you believe. Pure-blood supremacy is not to be questioned. Not by anyone. Not ever,” she says, her voice harsh and clipped, her knuckles white around her knife. “It simply is, and always will be. There are consequences for thinking otherwise,” she adds quietly, her hand shaking. Hermione’s eyes focus on the tremble in Pansy’s hand, and once Pansy notices, she puts down her knife and clenches her fist to her side. "And that aside, if you think for one moment that your blood is the only thing about you that I find intolerable, then you’re mad. It’s just one thing on a very long list.”

Hermione frowns, watching Pansy for a moment as she reaches for one of the last worms in her barrel, and picks up her knife once more. There’s a slight flush on her pale cheeks, and she looks shaken. If it were anyone else, Hermione would ask what was the matter. But this isn’t anyone else—this is someone she despises with a passion. She couldn’t possibly care less about what’s weighing on Pansy’s foul mind. 

Hermione reaches for her knife and says, “well, I suppose there’s one thing we can agree on.” She makes an incision and ignores Pansy’s mumbled I sincerely doubt that. “We both find each other intolerable. But we can’t switch partners, so as long as we’re stuck together, I think it would be best if we worked in silence from here on out. We can communicate about the potion we’re working on, but nothing else. No commentary, no snide remarks. We’ll bite our tongues and wait for this horrid experiment to be over. Deal?”

Pansy doesn’t even bother to glance at Hermione. She just nods stiffly and mutters, “just try not to botch another potion.”

Hermione rolls her eyes, but stays silent. She’s more or less pleased that Pansy hadn’t thought to fight against her. And if the end result of this detention is Pansy keeping her mouth shut for once in her bloody life, then it was all worth it. She’s not overly optimistic that either of them will be able to stick to it, considering how quickly they seem to get under each other’s skin, but she’s certainly willing to try.

They spend the rest of the detention in complete silence. Pansy finishes first (much to Hermione’s chagrin), and after Snape gives her a curt nod and deems her work satisfactory, she washes her hands, gathers her things, and leaves the dungeon without a backwards glance. Hermione finishes her barrel a few minutes later and once Snape has deemed her work barely passable, she crosses to the stone basin to rinse the muck off her hands. She scrubs slowly as she replays her conversation with Pansy. She feels like she held her own once again, while fills her with a ridiculous pride. But much like the previous two times, Pansy’s words are rattling about in her head, clouding her mind with doubts. Is she inherently judgmental? She’s certainly been quick to judge all Slytherins, regardless of whether or not she’s had any interactions with them. But in her defense, her judgment has almost always proved to be correct. She can’t think of a single time a Slytherin has gone out of their way to be kind to her. They’re not all blood purists, by any means, but even the ones who aren’t are still condescending and elitist. 

But is she those things as well? She knows she’s clever, of course, but she’s always tried to use that to help others. She’s the first to offer assistance to students who are struggling, and she does it in what she hopes is a non-judgmental manner. Perhaps it was true in the past—she had been more or less insufferable her first year—but now, the last thing she wants is to be thought of as condescending.

But Pansy had said…

No, Hermione thinks, firmly putting an end to that train of thought. Bugger what Pansy said. Pansy doesn’t know her. She’s making judgment calls based on a very narrow picture of who Hermione is, and she’s no right to do so. Perhaps if Pansy actually knew anything about her, and not just the bits and pieces she’s collected of Hermione at her worst, she’d take her comments into consideration. Hermione dries her hands and comes to the conclusion that she isn’t condescending, and her judgment is reserved for when people really deserve it. 

And Pansy deserves it more than anyone she knows, even if she’s somehow managed to clear the very low bar of never jinxing her in the halls.

She crosses back to her work station, satisfied for the time being that Pansy’s voice won’t be ringing in her ears, and gathers her things. Then, she sets off toward the prefect’s bathroom. She’s still set on that bath, and she will be holding Pansy to the time limit. Even if she has to Bombarda through the wall to do so. 

***
Hermione stretches out in her bed. She feels deliciously sleepy and content after her lovely bath. She had experimented with the different, golden taps, letting thick, white bubble bath cascade into the water, followed immediately by a heavenly rose bath oil. She had been rather afraid to use the bars of thick, colorful soaps, on the off chance Pansy had replaced any of them with a concealed Frog Spawn Soap. But when she finally risked it and reached for a purple bar, she was rewarded with silky, luscious skin and the delicate scent of lavender. She hadn’t wanted to leave the water, but she didn’t want to run the risk of Pansy reporting her out of spite for going over the forty-five minute time limit. 

And now, she’s in her bed, a candle flickering on her bedside table, Crookshanks purring near her feet. She’s so relaxed, she doesn’t even mind that her parchment pal has yet to reply to the message she sent earlier in the day. She doesn’t even feel the need to check the parchment for the hundredth time, that’s how relaxed she is. She could just close her eyes and fall into a blissful, dreamless sleep. 

…But it wouldn’t hurt to check just one more time. 

She reaches toward her parchment, lying on her bedside table and holds it up to the candlelight.

“What on earth…?” she murmurs. There’s a message there, but it’s short. Shorter than any of their messages have been so far. 

Are you there? 

Hermione frowns as she reaches for a quill, sitting up a bit and whispering an apology to Crookshanks when he raises his head to give her a baleful glare for disturbing his sleep. 

Yes. Is everything alright? she writes. Then, she sits back and waits. 

The reply comes quickly. 

Yes. And I do plan on replying to your message, but I seem to be having trouble sleeping and thought a pleasant distraction might help. Only if you’re up for it, of course. 

Hermione raises an eyebrow. There’s something about talking to her parchment pal and knowing they’re there, really there, that makes her feel a bit nervous. She knows that’s how they started, but now, she’s grown used to having all the time in the world to revise her messages and make herself sound cleverer than she is.

I’m sorry. I hope I haven’t overstepped my bounds. 

Hermione reads the new silver message and grabs her quill. 

No, not at all! I’d love to talk. About anything. Perhaps about what’s keeping you awake tonight?

The reply is swift. 

Nothing in particular, just one of those nights, I suppose. I should have asked, though, are your assignments done? I don’t want to be responsible for another sleepless night. 

Hermione smiles as she replies. 

Ah, perhaps that’s what’s keeping you awake. A guilty conscious. Well, don’t you fret, bard. My work is done. Tonight, I’m all yours.

She sends it before she can really think about how the last line reads. When it hits her, she blushes and murmurs oh no. She wonders if she should send a message, saying that didn’t come out as she intended it to. She had simply wanted to say her parchment pal had her undivided attention. She’s just about to start writing again and clarify her remark, when a new message appears. 

Oh? I quite like the sound of that. And I have to imagine that makes me lucky. You strike me as the type of person everyone wants to be around, and yet, tonight, you pick me. I better make it worth your time. 

Hermione feels the blush spread down her neck as she reads the reply. It’s not overly flirty, but there’s definitely something there. She sits up straighter in her bed and glances around the room, feeling bizarrely worried that someone might catch her in the act. The scandalous act of letter writing, she thinks, rolling her eyes at herself. But luckily, most of her dorm mates are already asleep. Only Parvati is still awake, reading a book in her bed and paying no attention to Hermione. Hermione bites her lip and turns back to the parchment. 

You already have. Hearing from you has been the best part of my night, by far. 

The reply comes almost immediately. 

Really? I expect more exciting nights from the Robin Hood of Hogwarts. You didn’t get into any mischief tonight? 

Hermione frowns. She considers telling her parchment pal all about her detention. She even goes as far as to scratch out the first few lines, but then she remembers her earlier promise to herself to keep this space sacred. There’s nothing gained in telling the truth here—it would just lead to her having to rehash the entire saga between her and Pansy, and she doesn’t feel up to doing that right now. Especially not at the risk of losing the heavy, peaceful content that’s still lingering from her bath. And she doesn’t want to make her parchment pal regret reaching out to her in the first place. So she nods, determined to live up to the promise she made to herself. She picks up her wand, vanishes the lines, then writes…

I spent most of the evening in the library, catching up on assignments. Hardly the life of an adventurer. And you?

She wonders if it’s unethical to lie to her parchment pal about her whereabouts, but it’s too late now. The golden words shimmer on her parchment, a beautiful lie of what the night could have been, if not for Pansy Parkinson. But mercifully, she’s saved the trouble of thinking about her Potions’ partner by a new message appearing on her parchment.

On the contrary—there are more adventures to be found in the library than anywhere else. I hope you found a good one to get lost in. And I’m afraid my evening was rather slow as well—I barely left my common room. The allure of a comfortable chair and a purring cat are hard to fight against. 

Hermione smiles. She’s glad at least one of them had an uneventful night. 

It sounds like we’re both about eighty-years-old. Perhaps we need to liven things up a bit?

The silver reply comes swiftly. 

I’m intrigued…what do you have in mind?

Hermione replies quickly, hoping the sound of her quill flying over the parchment doesn’t arouse Parvati’s suspicion. 

Oh, no. You’re the one who has to make this worth my time, remember? I’m afraid it’s up to you to show me a good time. 

She sends the message and only realizes she’s made yet another blunder when she sees it merrily shining up at her. 

Show me a good time?

She buries her head in her hands, mortified. She can’t believe she said that. If anyone knew…god, she can almost hear Ron’s guffaw in her head. Hermione doesn’t say things like that, not even by accident. She checks every word she writes with a fine toothed comb. But she’s so excited to be talking to her parchment pal directly, she’s tossed the comb out the window. And now, she’s saying things that make her want to melt onto her bed in a mortified puddle. Eventually, she works up the courage to risk a peek at her parchment from between her fingers. There’s a message waiting for her.

It would be my pleasure. As luck would have it, my last Christmas cracker just happened to contain a Time-Turner, so we can redo this entire night. My cat may be disappointed to lose his only source of heat, but he’ll manage. So…what time shall I pick you up?

Hermione bites her lip to keep her smile at bay. She picks up her quill and plays along. 

Seven, please. Where are we going?

The silver words bloom almost immediately.

Anywhere you want. Paris. Florence. Barcelona. Santorini. Say the word, and I’ll whisk you away. 

Paris, I think, Hermione writes, after a brief debate with herself. I’ve never been, but I’ve always wanted to go. It looks lovely. 

It is, but it’s also a dangerous choice, reads the reply. Because once you’re in Paris, you’ll never want to leave. Especially not once you’ve tried the food—golden brown baguettes, slathered in butter and topped with ham, soft camembert paired with a red Burgundy, decadent pain au chocolat that melt in your mouth. We’ll find a little café terrace, tucked away from the crowd and sample it all. 

Hermione has never once been tempted to visit the kitchens and request anything of the house elves. It goes against everything she stands for. But after reading those descriptions, she finds herself wondering if her commitment to S.P.E.W. is really that important. One pain au chocolat from the kitchens couldn’t hurt her cause too much, right? 

While she’s busy rethinking everything that’s ever mattered to her, a second, longer message appears. 

We’ll have to work it all off, of course. And there’s no better way to do that than with a twilight stroll along the Seine. We’ll start near Notre-Dame and peek in at the rose windows. Perhaps if you goad me into it, I’ll even use Flipendo on the bells, just so you can hear them ring. I have a sneaking suspicion that you could talk me into anything. From there, we’ll wander along the river toward the Eiffel Tower. It’s a bit of a walk, but we won’t notice it at all. We’ll be so caught up in our conversation and hypnotized by the lights of the city bouncing off the banks of the river. Lost in our own little perfect world for just a moment, where everything feels softer and slower. Just the two of us, completely oblivious to the hustle and bustle of the city. We’ll feel intoxicated, but whether it’s on the wine, the company, or Paris itself, well…who can say?

Personally, I have a feeling it would be on the company. Something tells me that even Paris, with all its many splendors, would pale in comparison to you, Robin.

The words on the parchment make Hermione ache. The picture that her stranger has painted is so vivid, she can almost taste the wine on her lips and see the lights, sparkling off the water. She finds herself desperately wishing to step into the fantasy and get lost in this perfect world with her stranger by her side, and she can only think to write a few, breathless words in reply.

And if we never want to leave?

The reply is almost instantaneous. 

Then we’ll never leave. 

She feels a warmth blossom in her chest. There’s no doubting it now—her parchment pal is flirting with her. And much to her surprise, she likes it. 

Likes it so much that she wants to flirt back.

I think I’d quite like that. Though to be honest, I have a feeling I’d like anywhere. So long as I’m with you. 

Really? comes the reply. 

Really, Hermione writes, her cheeks flushed and her smile ridiculously wide. She knows that at any other point in her life, she’d be mortified by her own behavior. She’d cringe at her letters, she’d flush with discomfort at her paltry attempts at flirting, and she’d lecture herself thoroughly on the dangers of opening oneself up to a stranger too quickly. But as of right now, she can’t find it in herself to care. She likes this. She likes the letters, likes the secrecy, likes how it makes her feel, and most of all, she likes her dear friend on the other end of the parchment. She loves Harry, Ron, Ginny, Neville, Luna…the whole lot of them. She loves them all dearly, but she can’t imagine having this conversation with any of them. Her parchment pal has somehow managed to fill a space in her life she didn’t even know existed. And so for now, she’s done thinking about how ludicrous this is. It was like her mum said—when you know, you know. And regardless of what happens after this is all over, Hermione knows that as of right now, this is the only thing she wants to be doing. 

Silver words bloom on the parchment.

Then that’s what we’ll do. One day, when this is all over, when I finally know your name and you’re not just a captivating mystery, I’ll whisk you away from here and show you the world. Starting with Paris. I’ll clear my summer, you clear yours. We’ll eat gelato in Italy. We’ll swim in Mykonos. We’ll have sushi in Japan and go to the top of the Empire State Building in New York. 

Hermione picks up her quill and writes, Yes. To all of it. My only complaint with your itinerary is the three month wait. To be honest, I’m not sure I can last that long. I thought I’d enjoy getting to know you little by little, like savoring a good book. But now, I find myself desperate to read ahead. To know every single thing written upon your pages. But fear not, bard—I won’t let myself ask prying questions. I still want to take my time with you, even if I think three months might as well be three years at this point.

Hermione sends the message, then waits for a reply. It takes a little longer to come this time, but when it finally does, she pulls the parchment to her, as eager as ever to read her parchment pal’s thoughts.

I feel the same. If only I had actually found a Time-Turner in my Christmas cracker, I’d use it right now to meet you, face to face. But you know what will make three months pass faster? A good night of sleep, which I think I’m ready for now. I’m sorry—I want to keep talking, but I can hardly keep my eyes open. It seems you were the pleasant distraction I needed, as I assumed you’d be. But I didn’t want to fall asleep and leave you without a reply. 

Very considerate of you, Hermione writes, though she’s a bit disappointed their conversation is coming to an end. Let’s make a promise—no more sleepless nights on each other’s account. I’ll let you go for tonight, but thank you. For the talk, for the dreams, for…everything. Until tomorrow. Sweet dreams, bard. 

Bonne nuit, Robin, comes the reply. Fais de beaux rêves. 

Hermione smile grows impossibly wider at the French words, shining up at her. Of course her parchment pal speaks French. Of course they do. 

She’s done for. 

She puts her parchment away and extinguishes the candle beside her bed. The room is plunged into darkness, and Hermione realizes that Parvati must have already turned in for the night. She hadn’t even noticed—her conversation had entranced her completely. She stretches her legs out under the covers and yawns, suddenly feeling very tired. It’s been an exhausting day, and she’s surprised she’s managed to stay awake this long. But somehow, after the conversation she just had, her detention with Pansy seems ages ago, like it happened in another lifetime. And in this lifetime, there’s no Pansy Parkinson—there’s just beautiful messages, future promises, and dreams of wine-stained lips.  

Hermione’s eyes slide closed as she burrows under her covers. She’s asleep within minutes. 

When she dreams, she dreams of Paris.