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a red rose grew up out of ice frozen ground

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Merlin. What happened to you?” 

Pansy, who has been sitting alone at the very end of the Slytherin table with her eyes closed and her head propped up in her hands, manages to drag her heavy lids open. She squints against the light in the Great Hall to find Daphne standing before her with a faint sheen of sweat on her brow (most likely the remnants of an early morning run) and concern in her eyes.

“Late night,” Pansy manages to mutter, closing her eyes again.

She hears both Daphne’s hum and the soft thump of a bag hitting the floor. “Well, you look atrocious,” Daphne says. 

Pansy groans and sits up, rubbing at her eyes and fighting against the almost overwhelming urge to put her head down on the table for a quick nap. “You’re too kind,” she manages to grumble, watching as Daphne begins to load her plate with baked beans and sausage. 

“I’m sorry. I mean, you’re obviously still better looking than everyone at this school. Present company excluded, of course,” Daphne says with a wink. “But you look like you’re half dead.”

“Feel like it, too,” Pansy says, stifling a massive yawn.

“And I can’t even remember the last time I saw you without eyeliner,” Daphne continues, paying no attention to Pansy’s interjection. “I was beginning to think you just had it tattooed on.”

Pansy lifts a hand to her eyes self-consciously. “I brought it with me. I was going to do it before class, but if you can’t handle being in the company of a troll that long, I can do it now.”

Daphne shakes her head as she spreads strawberry jam on a piece of toast. “I’m no stranger to the company of trolls. I spent a considerable amount of time sleeping with Blaise, remember?” 

Pansy snorts weakly as she reaches for her coffee. She usually drinks tea in the morning, but today, she’s making an exception. Because today, Pansy is tired. 

No. That’s a colossal understatement—Pansy is fucking exhausted

She had only clocked three hours of sleep last night, and honestly, she’s surprised she managed that. It had taken absolute ages for Pansy to finally settle down after the attempted attack on Hermione. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been so fucking terrified, and had there been any doubts still lingering in her mind as to whether or not her feelings for Hermione would ever be as strong as her feelings for Robin, her reaction had certainly put them to rest. And even hours after the attack, when her heart had finally stopped feeling like it was going to explode from her chest, she still hadn’t been able to sleep. She had laid awake, replaying the events of the night, plagued by useless what ifs.

What if Hermione had noticed the reckless panic in her eyes?

What if the rumor spread that she was a blood-traitor?

What if she had finished her rounds just a few minutes earlier?

She knows the answer to that question—she would have returned to the dungeons, climbed into bed, and waited patiently for Hermione’s nightly message. But the message never would have arrived because Hermione would have been at the mercy of two abhorrent, repulsive fourth-years who never should have been trusted with wands in the first place. Merlin only knows how long they would have tortured her. And Merlin only knows how long it would have taken someone to find her, lying there broken and bleeding on the cold steps. 

The image of Hermione being tortured at the wands of Baddock and Montague had looped over and over in her mind as she laid in bed, and it was so horribly vivid that Pansy had to remind herself multiple times that she hadn’t finished her rounds early. She had been there to save Hermione, and the Gryffindor was currently fast asleep, safe in her own bed.

Her paltry reassurances hadn’t helped her sleep, though. Because each time she tried, the loop would morph into a different, more familiar scene—petrified green eyes, a blood stained face, her father’s cold voice. And even when she had eventually managed to fall into a fitful, shallow sleep, her dreams somehow managed to blend both events together in a horrifying, endless nightmare—Hermione on her dining room floor, terror in her hazel eyes, Pansy’s father’s wand trained on her. Her aunt pinned down by Montague while Baddock cast curse after curse at her. Glassy, empty eyes, staring at Pansy, sometimes green, sometimes hazel, always lifeless.

Pansy had awoke from the nightmare in a cold sweat, tangled in her bedsheets and gasping for breath. And even though it had still been absurdly early in the morning—the rest of her dorm was still sleeping—she had decided to stay awake for the rest of the night, rather than risk the nightmarish scene again. 

Which was of course why she now found herself half-awake at the breakfast table, wondering if it was worth begging Madam Pomfrey on bended knee for a draught of Wideye Potion before class.

“So out of curiosity, would your late night have anything to do with that?” Daphne asks, pulling Pansy away from her thoughts with a nod toward the Slytherin hourglass, nestled in the far corner of the Great Hall. 

Pansy glances over her shoulder at it with a wince. Yesterday evening, the hourglass had been filled with sparkling emeralds, proudly declaring to the entire school that Slytherin was in first place in the race for the House Cup. 

Today, it’s been decimated. 

The one-hundred and fifty points Pansy took from Montague and Baddock last night would have been enough to notice a difference, but it’s clear that Hermione had also taken a considerable amount of points from the boys. And while Pansy may be tired, she’s not deaf. She’s heard the outraged remarks from her fellow Slytherins, all wondering how the bloody hell they had managed to lose two-hundred and fifty points in one night. But Pansy’s not stupid, either—there’s no way she’s telling anyone she played a massive hand in the deduction. 

Well…anyone other than Daphne, of course. 

“It…may be connected,” Pansy says. She takes another sip of her coffee, then glances around to make sure no one is listening. “Montague and Baddock were expelled last night,” she murmurs, keeping her voice as low as she can manage. 

Daphne’s eyes widen and her hands freeze over her food. “Expelled?” she repeats, astonished. “Why? What happened?” 

“They tried to use the Cruciatus Curse on Granger.” 

Somehow, Daphne’s eyes grow impossibly wider. “No,” she says, shaking her head slowly. “No, you’re not serious.” 

Pansy nods. “Her back was turned. The foul gits thought they’d take her by surprise,” she says, rancor filling her voice as her hand tightens around her mug. 

“Merlin…” Daphne says quietly, shaking her head. “I’ve always hated Baddock. Fucking entitled little prick. But I never thought he’d…” she trails off, then looks up swiftly at Pansy. “Was she hurt? Granger, I mean, was she…?” she asks with genuine concern in her eyes.

“No. No, she’s okay.”

“Thank Merlin,” Daphne breathes. But then, a small frown flutters to her face and she puts down her silverware. “Hang on…you said her back was turned?”

Pansy hums in acknowledgment, and Daphne’s frown deepens. “I don’t understand. If her back was turned, how on earth is she okay?” 

Pansy runs her finger over the rim of her coffee mug, trying to delay the inevitable and merciless teasing she’s about to endure. Finally, she says, “I…may have protected her.”

Daphne raises an eyebrow. “You may have protected her?” she repeats slowly. 

“I did protect her,” Pansy says, flushing as a slow grin starts to spread over Daphne’s face. 

“Well, well, well. Who’d have thought? Pansy Parkinson, dashing hero to damsels in distress.”

“Fuck off,” Pansy mutters, abandoning her coffee for the time being and reaching for her bag. She roots around inside, searching for her eyeliner and a mirror. Once her hand closes over what she needs, she pulls both items out and tosses her bag back to the floor.

“Well, not damsels in distress. Just the one damsel,” Daphne says with a knowing smile. 

“Fuck off,” Pansy grumbles, flicking open the mirror. She glances at the purplish shadows under her eyes with a small wince, then she begins to expertly apply her standard winged eyeliner. Once she’s done, she examines both sides closely, then gives a satisfied nod. At least she doesn’t look half dead anymore. Now, she only looks about a quarter dead.

“I have to say, I didn’t think you were taking operation Woo the Pants Off Granger seriously, but saving her from torture?” Daphne whistles. “That’s next level wooing, Pans.”

“I despise everything about you,” Pansy says crisply, snapping the mirror closed and tossing it back in her bag, along with her makeup.

“So what happened after?” Daphne asks, ignoring Pansy completely. “Did she swoon? Or better yet, did she snog you in the hallways to show you her appreciation?” 

Pansy looks around quickly to make sure no one is listening to their conversation. Daphne must notice her glance, because she scoffs. “Oh please, no one is listening to us. Everyone’s too busy moaning about house points, which means you’re free to tell me all the scandalous details.” 

“There are no scandalous details,” Pansy says with a small glare. “Nothing happened. She thanked me, we talked a bit, then we said goodnight. That’s all.” 

“You talked a bit? Adorable,” Daphne says, picking her fork back up and spearing a sausage. “If only you had offered to walk her back to her common room. Then you’d really be her hero,” she adds with a smirk. 

Pansy’s face must turn bright red, because Daphne’s eyes begin to sparkle. “Pansy. You didn’t,” she says with a delighted smirk. 

“I…it was late! And need I remind you, she had almost been tortured,” Pansy hisses, her glare turning murderous as Daphne’s smirk morphs into a broad grin.

“And here I thought I’d have to teach you how to woo. Looks like I could stand to take lessons from you."

“Oh, piss off,” Pansy grumbles, reaching for a piece of toast and furiously ripping it in half.

“So what did you talk about?”

Pansy rips one of the halves of toast into a smaller pieces. “I don’t think I should tell you anything anymore,” she grumbles, squeezing a tiny piece of toast in her fist. 

“Oh, don’t be like that. Look, I’ll be on my best behavior. Promise,” Daphne says. She reaches for her tea and takes a sip, then she places the mug back on the table and folds her hands in her lap, waiting patiently for Pansy to speak. 

Pansy rolls her eyes, but finds herself relenting. She does want to talk about this, even if telling Daphne is akin to telling Peeves—neither will take it seriously, and they both make Pansy want to bash her head against the wall. “Fine. But if you make even one shit comment…” Pansy says, raising a threatening eyebrow. 

Daphne mimes zipping her lips, and Pansy relaxes a bit. She idly fidgets with the crushed toast in her hand and stares at the table, trying to remember everything they had discussed last night. “I…I suppose we…or rather, she…or, no, hang on…I think it was me…”

Daphne unzips her lips. “Had I realized this would be a shit story, I wouldn’t have promised not to make shit comments.” 

Pansy glares at her. “I’m trying to remember!”

“Well, remember faster. Merlin, at the rate you’re going, we’ll be done with seventh year before you manage a full sentence.”

Pansy shakes her head, then exhales sharply. “She asked me why I was so hard on them. Baddock and Montague.”

“Because you want to shag her,” Daphne says matter-of-factly with a serious nod. 

“Daphne! What did you just promise?” Pansy asks, dropping the mangled toast pieces onto her plate in exasperation.

“I promised no shit comments. I didn’t think telling the truth fell under shit comments. My mistake,” Daphne says lightly. “But anyway…you were saying?”

Pansy rolls her eyes at Daphne’s antics. “I was saying, she wanted to know why I was hard on them. She didn’t expect me to take house points or offer my account to Snape and Dumbledore.” Pansy pauses, then says, “and I may have cursed Baddock.”

“You what?” Daphne asks in stunned delight. 

“He wouldn’t stop talking,” Pansy says with a shrug. “So I used Oscausi.” 

“In front of Granger? I’m surprised she didn’t take house points from you. Or did she? Is that why our hourglass is so bloody low?”

Pansy snorts. “No, she didn’t do anything to stop it. But when I refused to reverse it, she stepped in. Not for Baddock’s sake, though. She seemed worried that I might get in trouble,” Pansy says, remembering the distress in Hermione’s gaze. She also remembers the soft, concerned way Hermione had murmured her name, her first name, and how it had made something strange and intoxicating flood Pansy’s entire body. If she’s being honest, she’s desperate to hear her name fall from Hermione’s lips again and again and again.

But she’s not bringing that up to Daphne. 

“So she’s worried about you now? That’s a step in the right direction,” Daphne says before taking another bite of her toast. 

“She…” Pansy frowns, remembering the way Hermione had looked at her after she had disclosed some of her father’s parenting methods. “Yes. I think she was concerned. I…I may have mentioned some things about my father,” she adds, noticing the moment Daphne’s eyes snap to her face. 

“You did?” she asks, seeming stunned. Daphne knows all about Pansy’s father, and has expressed her vehement hatred toward him on multiple occasions. “That’s…Merlin, that’s huge, Pans.”

Pansy shrugs. “I didn’t go into detail, but I think it may have helped to garner some sympathy for my cause.” She takes another long sip from her now lukewarm coffee. “She asked me about forgiveness,” she adds, as casually as she can manage. 

“She did?” 

Pansy hesitates. “Well…she asked parchment me about forgiveness,” she says, growing a bit warm under Daphne’s steady gaze. 

It’s not exactly something she’s proud of, but last night, when Hermione had mentioned her via the parchment for the first time, she had felt a stupid, selfish need to dig a little deeper. To be honest, she wanted to find out exactly what she was up against. Did Hermione still hate her as much as she used to? Was there any part of her that was starting to view Pansy differently? And was there any chance that they could one day be…friends? 

It’s still surprising how desperately Pansy wants that to happen, but she’s done being embarrassed by her feelings. Because she does want to be friends. More than anything. 

(Well, not more than anything. She’d obviously like to be a bit more than friends, but she’s going to respect Hermione’s boundaries, even if it destroys her.)

The change hadn’t been immediate, per se, but it had certainly happened faster than Pansy had expected. She thought she’d need more time to adjust to the thought of Hermione and Robin being the same person. She figured it would take weeks, months, perhaps even years.

It took about four days. 

The first few days post-realization had been tricky, of course. Not only had Hermione been deeply suspicious of her altered behavior, but Pansy had still occasionally found herself gritting her teeth to keep heated, stinging replies from slipping past her lips. Feelings or not, there was still no one who could get under Pansy’s skin as quickly and easily as Hermione Granger. 

But the more Pansy had fought to stay neutral and calm around Hermione, the less confrontations they had managed to find themselves in. And the less confrontations they had, the more they seemed to find themselves in some strange, tenuous place of peace. There were even times when Pansy would mutter something under her breath and Hermione’s lips would subtly twitch at the dry commentary. It was these moments that continued to fuel her newfound quest to be a halfway decent person to Hermione. And now, a few weeks into her experiment, Pansy is seeing more flashes of her Robin in Hermione than ever before. And Merlin, does she love it.

Had anyone told Pansy a month ago that she’d actually be looking forward to the time she spends with Hermione in Potions, she’d have thought they were positively barmy. But somehow, against all odds, it’s true. Potions has become her favorite class of the day and attempting to make Hermione smile has become her favorite pastime. And what’s more, it doesn’t seem entirely one-sided—as of late, Hermione has been less prickly and less prone to anger. Her lips twitch more often, her words are less laced with suspicion, and she’s stopped flinching every time Pansy makes a sudden movement. And perhaps the biggest indicator that something was shifting between them happened last night, after Pansy had saved her from the Cruciatus Curse. When all was said and done, Hermione had looked at her strangely, almost as if she was seeing her in a completely new light. Her eyes had been open and curious and something had felt…different between them. Wonderfully different.

So it was only natural that when Hermione had brought her up that night in their messages, she hadn’t been able to ignore the burning curiosity ignited by that moment. 

She feels badly about it now, of course. Because she had made a promise to herself to not use the parchment in any way that may be viewed as manipulative, but when the opportunity arose, she conveniently managed to “forget” that promise. Though she hadn’t been manipulative…not really. Because she hadn’t told Hermione to forgive her. She had simply spelled out the things Hermione already knew, and told her to do what was in her best interests. 

That wasn’t that bad…was it?

“Let me get this straight,” Daphne says slowly, drawing Pansy back to the present moment. “Granger asked you…for your advice…on whether or not she should forgive…you.” 

Pansy flushes. When she hears it spelled out like that, it doesn’t sound great. “I…yes, that’s more or less it,” she mutters, refreshing her coffee to give her twitchy hands something to do. “But for what it’s worth, I didn’t say she should forgive me. I told her she should never forgive out of obligation.” 

Daphne snorts. “Oh, how wonderfully noble of you. No, really!” she says lightly, ignoring Pansy’s dark look. “Perhaps they’ll erect a statue of you somewhere on campus—a monument to the most selfless, altruistic witch of our times.” 

“Why do I tell you anything,” Pansy grumbles into her mug. 

Daphne shrugs as she wipes off her mouth. “Search me,” she says. Then, she tilts her head and studies Pansy thoughtfully. “But really…do you think Granger is genuinely considering forgiving you?” 

Pansy hesitates as she swallows the last of the bitter dark roast. “I…I’m not sure. I think so? She’s certainly noticed a change in me,” she adds, gently running a finger over the mug’s handle as she speaks. 

“Helps that you’re not being a massive twat to her anymore.” 

Pansy rolls her eyes. “I suppose so. But she thanked me this morning for my message. Parchment-me, I mean. And she said she’d consider what I said, so…” Pansy shrugs. “I don’t know where she’ll land.”

“Well, at least she had an impartial and unbiased person helping her sort things out,” Daphne says with an arched eyebrow. 

Pansy glowers, but before she can reply, Daphne says, “so the two-hundred and fifty points we lost? Was that all you?” 

“No,” Pansy says with a small shake of her head. “I only took one-hundred and fifty. The other hundred were from Granger, I’d assume.”

“You realize if anyone finds out, you’ll be the most reviled Slytherin of all time?” 

Pansy raises an eyebrow. “Do you care?” she asks. 

Daphne waves a dismissive hand “Merlin, no! You know how I feel about the House Cup.”

“Well, you’re the only Slytherin whose opinion I care about, so…” she shrugs. “It doesn’t really matter what the rest of them think.”

Daphne smiles at Pansy, then glances toward the hourglasses with narrowed eyes. “I don’t know why anyone is upset in the first place. The whole thing is so bloody arbitrary. Slytherin could be in the lead by two-hundred points, but if Dumbledore decides he likes the way Potter combed his hair that morning, then boom. Two-hundred and one points to Gryffindor. Complete and utter rubbish.”  

Pansy nods absently, but Daphne isn’t done yet.

“And if this school was serious about inter-house unity,” she continues, pitching her voice up to sound more like McGonagall, “they wouldn’t waste their time mucking about with magical parchment. They’d get rid of the bloody competition that pits students against each other and by the very nature of its existence fuels inter-house rivalries. Merlin, they’d get rid of the houses altogether! They’re detrimental and inane.” She huffs a frustrated sigh, then catches Pansy’s very amused gaze and says, “…what?” 

“Nothing. Just…some very strong feelings you’ve got there.” 

“Oh, I’m just annoyed that this is all we’re going to hear about for the rest of the school year,” she says, glaring at the hourglasses once more. Then she deflates a bit and reaches for her tea. “But all things considered, I suppose I wouldn’t change it. After all, the whole mucking about with magical parchment thing worked out for you, didn’t it?” Daphne adds with a smirk before draining her mug. 

“That remains to be seen,” Pansy says as she gathers her bag from the floor. Both the coffee and the knowledge that she’s about to spend an hour with Hermione have given her the smallest bit of energy, and she manages to stand up without immediately wanting to sit back down. “Ready?” 

Daphne nods, collects her own belongings, and stands. But before they’re able to make any movement toward the main doors, someone clears their throat.

“Miss Parkinson?” 

Pansy turns to find Professor McGonagall, gazing at her over her glasses. 

“Erm…yes?” Pansy says stupidly, wondering if she’s done something to get in trouble. She quickly casts her mind back over the past few days, but the only thing that stands out is the Oscausi she used on Baddock. She doubts Hermione mentioned it, but perhaps Baddock ratted her out after she left him to Dumbledore and Snape’s mercies. 

“A moment of your time, please,” Professor McGonagall says, sounding serious.

Oh bloody hell. Is she about to be expelled, too? Three Slytherins in one go has to be a record.

Pansy slowly nods, then glances over at Daphne. “Go on without me,” she says, shrugging slightly when Daphne gives her a curious look.

“Right, then. I’ll suppose I’ll see you in class,” Daphne says, backing away toward the main doors, her eyes flicking between Pansy and McGonagall. 

Pansy gives her a small wave and turns to follow Professor McGonagall. She’s taken about four steps before something occurs to her. 

“Professor? I forgot to tell Daphne something, may I…?”

Professor McGonagall stops walking and gives her a curt nod, and Pansy quickly rushes after Daphne.

“Daph! Daph!” she whispers as she approaches. “Can you do me a favor?” 

Daphne turns and raises an eyebrow, waiting to hear what Pansy wants. Pansy takes a step forward and lowers her voice. “When you get to Potions, would you mind picking up the pewter cauldron with the scrollwork on the base and putting it on my table?” 

Daphne’s eyes narrow. “Why? You know that’s my favorite cauldron,” she says suspiciously. 

“I know, but…” Pansy trails off, and rubs her neck, trying to fight against the flush on her cheeks. Daphne must notice it though, if her sudden, massive eye roll is any indication.

“Oh, Merlin. I forgot. It’s her favorite too, isn’t it? She always glares at me anytime I end up with it.” Daphne heaves a huge, theatrical sigh, as if she’s the most put upon woman in the entire school, then says, “fine. I suppose if it’ll help with operation Woo the—”

Pansy smacks Daphne’s arm. “Will you shut up?” she mutters, hoping no one at the Slytherin table is listening. 

Daphne grins wickedly. “Never, darling. But I’ll get your cauldron. Honestly, the sacrifices I make for you…” she says, walking backwards toward the doors. 

“You’re a martyr,” Pansy replies dryly. “Perhaps if you’re lucky, they’ll erect a statue of you next to the one of me.” 

Daphne shakes her head with an amused smile, then gives her a wave and turns, setting off toward Potions. Pansy turns and hurries back toward Professor McGonagall, who watches her approach with a raised eyebrow. 

“Is everything alright?” Professor McGonagall asks. 

“Yes, sorry. Just had to sort something out before Potions.” 

Professor McGonagall nods, then turns, headed toward the owl lectern at the front of the Great Hall. Pansy follows her, absently glancing toward the lectern as she walks. 

When she sees that Hermione is already standing beside it, patiently watching their approach, she almost stumbles over her own feet. 

Before Pansy can open her mouth to ask any of the dozens of questions that spring into her mind, they arrive in front of the lectern and Professor McGonagall turns to face both of them. 

“I know you both have a class to get to, so I won’t keep you long,” Professor McGonagall says, clasping her hands in front of her. “But in light of the attempted attack on Miss Granger last night, the faculty have decided it would be in the best interest of the students on patrol if they did their shifts in pairs. So starting next week through the end of the year, the Head Boy and Girl and all prefects will patrol with a partner.”

Pansy raises her eyebrows in surprise and glances at Hermione properly for the first time. She looks a bit tired and Pansy’s notices that she’s not the only one sporting dark bags under her eyes this morning. But in addition to the bags, Hermione’s also sporting a puzzled frown. “But there wouldn’t be enough prefects for that,” she says. “It would leave too many hallways unmonitored.”

“Faculty members will be patrolling all hallways left without a prefect presence. We’ll be taking shifts to ensure the safety of all students and no part of the castle will be unmanned, I assure you.”

“Oh,” Hermione says. “Well…I suppose that’s a prudent decision,” she murmurs. “Though perhaps it’s unnecessary? I won’t leave myself open for attack in the future. I shouldn’t have last night, I know, I just…”

“Miss Granger, this has nothing to do with your skill level or your competency, both of which rank among the finest of any student I’ve ever had the pleasure of teaching. It’s simply a matter of making sure all students are safe.” 

“Yes, but if it inconveniences the faculty…”

“It doesn’t,” Professor McGonagall says, calmly cutting her off. “We’ve been discussing prefects patrolling in pairs for quite some time now. The attack last night was simply the impetus we needed to put the plan into motion.” 

Hermione fidgets beside Pansy, but doesn’t say anything. Pansy can tell she’s uncomfortable and feeling like she’s let McGonagall down, and she desperately wants to reach out to her, to comfort her and tell her that’s not true. She wants to repeat the words she had penned last night and erase the doubts that are clouding Hermione’s mind. 

Instead, she looks down at the floor and clasps her hands behind her back, waiting for McGonagall to continue.

“Now as for your partners,” Professor McGonagall says. “I believe you and Miss Parkinson are on Tuesday and Thursday night patrols, correct? The second and third floors?”

Pansy and Hermione both nod. 

“For the sake of an easy transition, we had you two partnered together. But upon further reflection, I thought it might be wise to give you a choice. I know the two of you have a…a complicated history,” Professor McGonagall says tactfully, and Pansy somehow controls the urge to snort at the gross understatement. “Normally, I’d expect you to look past your differences and work together,” she continues. “But considering there are so few remaining weeks in the school year, I’m willing to make an exception. So if your history would put either of you in danger during your patrols for any reason, we can see to it that you’re patrolling with other prefects.” 

Professor McGonagall breaks off and looks at them both expectantly, and Pansy’s heart sinks. She knows there’s absolutely no chance Hermione will voluntarily stay partnered with her. But she also knows that Hermione might feel guilty about being the one to ask for a change. So to save her from any awkwardness, Pansy scrapes together whatever altruism she has left and prepares to tell McGonagall it would be for the best if they patrolled with different partners, her own wants be damned.

“I think…”

“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Hermione says from beside her. 

Pansy’s head whips around to Hermione in surprise, and Hermione turns to meet her gaze. “Unless Parkinson has an objection?” she adds, raising an eyebrow. 

Pansy swallows hard. “I…no. No, I don’t have any objections,” she manages to say, hoping her face isn’t as red as it feels. 

Hermione nods once, then turns back to Professor McGonagall, who’s watching them both with surprise. 

“I see,” Professor McGonagall says slowly, glancing between the two of them. “If you’re sure…?”

“I’m sure,” Hermione says, and Pansy manages to weakly nod beside her.

“Well! I suppose that makes things easier,” Professor McGonagall says. “In that case, you’ll both remain on Tuesday and Thursday night patrols, but you’ll both be patrolling the second floor. Professor Flitwick will be taking over the third. And if at any point you decide you’d rather patrol with someone else, come see me. Now, then. Do you have any questions?” Professor McGonagall asks, peering over her glasses at Pansy and Hermione. 

Pansy shakes her head no slowly, though it’s not exactly the truth—she has a million questions about what just happened. 

They just all happen to be for Hermione. 

“Very well,” Professor McGonagall says with a nod. “And one last thing,” she adds, turning to Pansy. “Miss Granger has informed me that not only did you protect her last night, you were also extraordinarily quick to fairly discipline members of your own house. So for both quick thinking under pressure and the courage to do what was right rather than what was self-serving, I’m awarding one hundred points to Slytherin. Well done, Miss Parkinson,” Professor McGonagall adds, looking at Pansy with something akin to respect. 

Pansy shakes her head in confusion. “What? No, I…I mean, that’s not…” 

“Now, off you go. Best not to keep Professor Snape waiting,” Professor McGonagall says, interrupting Pansy’s confused babbling. She turns and walks back to her seat, leaving Pansy to stare after her, dumbstruck. Finally, Pansy manages to turn to Hermione with wide eyes. “She can’t give me one hundred points,” she says, all other thoughts momentarily erased from her mind.

“Why not?” Hermione asks, looking genuinely puzzled.

“Because I’m a prefect! I did what was expected of me, I…” Pansy trails off and shakes her head. “Ten points, maybe. But one hundred?” 

“I think she was more than fair. You did show tremendous courage last night. What did Dumbledore say, first year? It takes more courage to stand up to your friends than it does your enemies?”

Pansy manages to scoff. “Baddock and Montague are not my friends. And anyway, you’re just proving my point—he gave Longbottom ten points for that,” she says, stressing each word. 

“Oh, don’t be obtuse, you know what I mean,” Hermione says, rolling her eyes. “And that aside, two-hundred and fifty points is a ridiculous amount to lose in one go. After all, you didn’t know I had already taken points and it’s not right to punish an entire house for the poor decisions of two of its members, is it?” Hermione asks. But before Pansy can reply, Hermione quickly adjusts her bag on her shoulder and turns, heading toward the Great Hall doors. 

Pansy watches her leave, feeling both strangely disappointed that their conversation had ended so abruptly, yet vaguely optimistic that there had been no trace of suspicion or disdain in Hermione’s eyes. But before she can begin to replay their entire conversation back in her head and analyze everything Hermione had said and done, down to the smallest gesture, Hermione pauses and turns around. 

“We’re going the same way, you know,” she says, raising an eyebrow. 

“I…what?” Pansy asks stupidly.

“Potions?” Hermione says. “You’ll be late if you wait for me to leave, and I’ll feel ridiculous if you trail three steps behind me, so…” she tapers off and looks at Pansy with something both expectant and guarded in her gaze, as if she’s not sure if her offer is a mistake. 

“Oh,” Pansy says, mildly stunned. “I…right. Potions…right,” she finishes pathetically. She sounds about as articulate as Crabbe, and she wants to kick herself for it. 

Instead, she takes a few hesitant steps toward Hermione, who turns and begins walking again. Pansy awkwardly falls into place beside her, trying to keep up with Hermione’s long strides. She’s hyper aware of every part of her body (have her arms always swung in such a stupid manner?), and she hopes her cheeks don’t look as flushed as they feel.

Once they’ve safely made their way out of the Great Hall and away from any potential eavesdroppers, Pansy decides to ask the question that’s rattling about in her mind. 

“Why didn’t you switch?” 

A small furrow mars Hermione’s smooth brow, and she glances at Pansy. “Switch what?” she asks.

“Your patrols partner. You’re already stuck with me in Potions. Why not take McGonagall up on her offer?” Pansy asks, starting down the stone steps to the dungeons. She risks a glance at Hermione’s profile, just in time to see a muscle in her jaw jump and something hard settle in her gaze. 

“Even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t have. I don’t want to be more of a burden than I’ve already been,” she mutters, angling out of the way to let a Slytherin second-year pass by. 

Pansy frowns at Hermione’s reply. “A burden? In what way?” 

“The only reason they’re doubling us is because I was too weak to fend off the attack in the first place,” Hermione says bitterly. “I already feel awful enough as it is. I wouldn’t want to cause more trouble by asking for a new partner.” 

Pansy feels a wave of disappointment at Hermione’s words. She had preposterously found herself thinking that there was some small part of Hermione that had actually been okay with the idea of patrolling beside Pansy. She had hoped that perhaps Hermione was viewing it as an opportunity to work out what was behind Pansy’s change in personality, or perhaps even an opportunity to get to know her a bit better. But of course, she was wrong. It was foolish to have hoped for anything different. 

Pansy holds her head high to mask her wounded feelings, then says, “it wouldn’t be too much trouble to swap, you know. Corner and Macmillan are on the Tuesday-Thursday shift as well. It’d be a simple switch.” 

Hermione shakes her head and slows down as they approach the Potions classroom. “They’re both in the West Tower. They go directly from class to patrols. It’d be an unnecessary hassle to make them trek to the second floor.”

“I see,” Pansy says, crossing her arms in front of her. “Well, I’m sorry you’re stuck with me,” she adds, noting how ridiculously petulant she sounds. 

Hermione raises an eyebrow at her remark. “I’m not,” she says. “I saw your Protego. Even I’ve never managed one quite that strong.” She comes to a stop just before the Potions doorway and scrutinizes Pansy with a small frown. “And I never said I wanted to swap partners. I said that even if I had wanted to, I wouldn’t have.”

“You…what?” Pansy asks, staring at Hermione, completely taken aback. She’s dimly aware she sounds like Crabbe again, but she’s so surprised by Hermione’s words that she doesn’t particularly care. 

Hermione shrugs and leans against the stone wall. “You protected me last night,” she says simply. “You had my back when it mattered, and I trust that you’d do it again. What more could I ask for in a partner?” 

Pansy somehow finds it within herself to scoff. “Oh, I don’t know…I suppose you could ask for someone you don’t think is a miserable, vile bitch?” 

Hermione regards Pansy closely, as if she’s a particularly tricky puzzle she can’t quite work out. A few moments pass by before she shakes her head and sighs. “I’m not sure what I think anymore,” she murmurs, more to herself than to Pansy. 

Hope springs immediately within Pansy’s heart, but she manages to keep her expression neutral. It would seem Hermione’s still confused about the shift in her personality. But confusion is a good thing. Confusion means forgiveness is still on the table. 

All Pansy has to do is earn it. 

Hermione pushes off from the wall and turns away, but before she can take a step toward the doorway, Pansy finds her voice. 

“Granger?” 

Hermione pauses and turns back to face Pansy, curiosity lingering in her hazel eyes. 

“You weren’t weak,” Pansy says. She knows that she reassured Hermione last night, but it’s clear the doubts have cropped up in her mind again. More than anything, Pansy wants to make them disappear. 

“I meant what I said last night—you could have flattened those two in your sleep. Baddock was a sneaky, opportunistic coward. No one would have stood a chance against an attack like that, so don’t give it another thought. You’re not weak, and you’re certainly not a burden. You’re…you’re one of the best bloody witches in the entire school. The best,” Pansy amends awkwardly, shifting a bit under Hermione’s surprised gaze. “So just…don’t let two pathetic, cowardly excuses for wizards make you think otherwise, okay?”

Hermione’s eyes are wide with shock and there’s a pale flush on her cheeks. “I…thank you,” she says uncertainly, studying Pansy once again with a question lurking in her gaze. But before she can vocalize it, Snape rounds the corner. He stops short when he notices the two of them and eyes them both suspiciously.

“Miss Parkinson. Miss Granger. Are you lost?” he asks. 

Pansy glances dumbly at the entrance to the Potions classroom, less than two feet away from her, then back at Snape. “Er…no?” 

“Then perhaps you can tell me why you’ve decided to loiter outside of my classroom?” he asks, raising an unamused eyebrow.

“Oh. Yes. I…we…”

“We were discussing the events of last night, Professor,” Hermione puts in quickly. “I asked what happened with Baddock and Montague. Pansy was just…filling me in,” she says, glancing at Pansy to corroborate her story. 

Pansy nods quickly. “Yes, we were…I…that’s…yes,” she says, finishing with another firm nod. She glances back at Hermione who’s staring at her with exasperation, as if she can’t believe that the same girl who’s managed to verbally berate her for seven years is so absolutely useless at thinking on her feet.

“I see,” Snape says. He turns to Hermione. “I’m sure Miss Parkinson has already informed you, but both Baddock and Montague have been expelled. It is…most regrettable what transpired last night. As head of the Slytherin house, I offer my sincerest apologies,” he says stiffly and insincerely. “And if anyone threatens you again in any way, you’re to immediately inform a faculty member,” he adds, waiting until Hermione nods to continue. 

“If there’s anything you’d wish to discuss about last night, Miss Granger, you may see me after class.” Snape’s mouth twists a bit as if he can’t believe that offer just escaped him. “My door is…always open,” he adds, sounding somewhat pained. 

Pansy scoffs quietly at Snape’s pathetic attempt at consolation, but Hermione manages to thank him for the offer. He nods curtly, then says, “class is starting,” and brushes by them.

Hermione glances at Pansy once more with curious eyes before turning and walking through the doorway without another word. Pansy watches her go, letting her gaze linger for just a moment. 

There had been no bitterness in Hermione’s eyes and no sharp edges to her words. A small flame of optimism flickers deep within Pansy’s heart as she replays their conversation, and she lets a slow smile spread on her face. Because if she didn’t know any better, she’d think that Hermione had decided to try forgiveness after all. And if that’s the case, then perhaps Pansy’s in better shape than she thought. Perhaps they’re only a step away from peaceful coexistence. And perhaps someday, operation Woo the Pants Off Granger might actually pay off…

The smile disappears from Pansy’s face at the thought, and is immediately replaced by a dark glower. She can’t believe she just used that ridiculous name. 

She’s going to throttle Daphne. 

***

Pansy leaves Potions, still exhausted, but remarkably lighter than before. All things considered, it had been a fairly productive hour—she and Hermione had brewed a perfect Wound-Cleaning Potion, and they had managed to maintain civil conversation, during which Hermione had seemed mostly forthcoming, if still somewhat guarded. But Pansy could tell Hermione was actually attempting to give her the benefit of the doubt, and for that, she was immensely grateful. 

But perhaps the greatest thing to happen in the past hour is something she never would have expected: Pansy had kind-of-sort-of apologized. 

And Hermione had kind-of-sort-of accepted it. 

Pansy thinks back on the interaction with a small, secret smile, replaying every second in her mind.

It had started with Ron, who had spent the entire hour throwing dirty looks at Pansy from two tables away. It had been so bloody distracting that Pansy finally decided to ask Hermione about it at the very end of class. 

“He thinks you had something to do with the attack last night,” Hermione said, a muscle in her jaw jumping as she gritted her teeth. 

“He…what?” Pansy asked, staring at Hermione’s profile in confusion. “That doesn’t make any…why on earth would I—”

“Oh, I’ve no idea. And I spent the entire morning trying to dissuade him of the notion. But Ron is nothing if not tenacious,” she muttered tersely, stirring their potion with more force than was necessary.

Pansy glanced at Ron’s table again to find cold blue eyes boring into her. There was a part of her that knew she shouldn’t poke the bear, but there was a much bigger part of her that wanted to see just how much she could piss Weasley off. So she lifted a hand and gave him a little wave, wiggling her fingers and smiling as his eyes widened and his nostrils flared. 

“Oh, what are you, five?” Hermione muttered, noticing the movement. “Don’t taunt him.” 

“I’m not taunting him. I’m simply…being neighborly,” Pansy said thoughtfully. 

Hermione snorted as she removed the spoon from the potion and gave it three quick taps against the cauldron. “Being neighborly,” she echoed. “Do you even have neighbors in whatever massive castle you live in? I’d imagine your dragon eats anyone who dares get too close.”

“Not quite,” Pansy said as she began to clean up their ingredients. “Most people tend to fall into the moat, and once they do, well…” Pansy shrugged. “The merpeople take care of the rest. Quite gruesome, really.”

She glanced at Hermione to find her watching her with horror, her hands frozen over the cauldron. “Merpeople?” she said, sounding aghast.

Pansy managed to keep a straight face for about five seconds before breaking. “Merlin, Granger. I’m joking. Do you actually think we have a moat?” she asked, regarding Hermione with fond amusement. 

Hermione turned bright red and she began to bottle furiously. “Well, how should I know?” she asked hotly. “It’s not out of the question, considering there’s a dragon guarding your money. I don’t know what pure-bloods do.”

“The dragons are provided by Gringotts, you know,” Pansy said with a smirk. “Surprisingly enough, we didn’t bring our own dragon when we opened the account. But anyway, we’re getting off track…why does Weasley think I had something to do with the attack?”

Hermione screwed the bottle top in place and put the sample on the table. “I believe his exact words were ‘she put them up to it. She’s pure evil,’” she said, leaning back and gazing at Pansy with a raised eyebrow. “He thinks you let them take the fall as some part of greater, nefarious scheme you’re planning.”

Pansy hums contemplatively. “You know, I take back everything I’ve ever said about Weasley. Why, with those powers of deduction, he’ll make a splendid Auror someday. …I mean, only criminals would find him splendid, but still. A win is a win.” 

Hermione’s lips twitched infinitesimally, and Pansy couldn’t help her small, victorious smirk. It was one thing to make Hermione smile, but to make her smile over an insult about Weasley of all people?

Before she could fully bask in her victory, a shadow fell over their table. Pansy looked over her shoulder to find Ron, gazing at them uneasily, his arms full of ingredients. 

“Alright, Hermione?” Ron asked, without taking his eyes off of Pansy.

“Oh, hello. We were just discussing you,” Pansy said lightly, enjoying the way Ron’s gaze immediately narrowed. 

“Were you, now?” Ron asked, his eyes shifting to Hermione, who quietly sighed. 

We weren’t discussing you. Parkinson was,” Hermione said, picking up her quill to neatly label their bottled sample. “I was trying to finish bottling our sample.” 

“Yes, but you were also telling me how Weasley thinks I had something to do with the attack on you last night,” Pansy said, never taking her eyes off of Ron. He had the decency to flush as he turned his stung gaze toward Hermione.

“Are you mental? Why would you tell her that?” he asked, his voice high and baffled. “You don’t tell the person you’re onto that you’re onto them!” 

Hermione rolled her eyes, tucked her quill back into her bag, and turned to face Ron with exasperation etched in her face. “Because I’m not onto her. She didn’t have anything to do with it. And I told you at breakfast, if you’re going to continue being obstinate, then I don’t want to continue discussing this. You're clearly not willing to listen to reason, so there’s no point.”

“Reason?” Ron repeated, looking completely flummoxed. “Maybe you’ve forgotten, but this is Parkinson,” he said, glaring at Pansy once more, who smiled sweetly back at him. “Reason doesn’t exist around her. She’s cruel! She’s horrid, she’s…she’s…”

“She’s sitting right here,” Pansy said, raising an eyebrow as she dropped her gaze to study her fingernails.

“She’s vile,” Ron finished, his tone scathing. 

“She has been,” Hermione agreed with a nod, but before Pansy could feel any disappointment at her statement, she continued. “And if you want to judge her on that, then by all means, do. I won’t stop you. But her past transgressions don’t play any role in what happened last night, and it’s absolutely ridiculous to pin this on her just because you don’t like her.”

“But—” Ron started with a fire in his eyes, but Hermione cut him off quickly.

“And honestly, I wish you’d just listen to me when I tell you something, rather than inserting your own bloody opinion every time. It’s like you think you’re the only one who could possibly know the truth of the matter,” she said, running an aggravated hand through her hair. “It’s frustrating, and quite honestly, it's insulting to me. And if you really think she took one-hundred and fifty points from her own house, had two students expelled, and painted a massive target on her back, all as part of some ludicrous scheme against me, then…then…” Hermione’s rant trailed off and she looked a bit flustered as she searched for a way to conclude it. 

“Then you’re even dumber than you look,” Pansy put in helpfully. 

No,” Hermione said sharply, glaring at Pansy. She turned her gaze back to Ron and her eyes softened a bit. “Honestly, Ron. I know you hate her. And I…I’m certainly not her biggest fan,” she said, stumbling a bit over her words. “But trust me when I say that she had nothing to do with this. So please, for my sake, leave it alone. I don’t want to keep reliving it,” she added quietly. 

Pansy felt a twinge of sympathy in her chest at Hermione’s quiet plea, and she glanced up at Ron with hard eyes, daring him to see what would happen if he pushed his luck. But for once in his life, Ron looked properly shamed. 

“I’m sorry,” he said, his brow crinkled in concern. “I don’t want that either. I just…” he sighed and juggled the ingredients in his arms a bit. “I’m just worried about you. And we all know she’s done things in the past,” he added, glancing coldly at Pansy again. “So it wasn’t out of the question. But I do trust your judgment, so…I’ll let it be.” 

Hermione gave him a small smile. “Thank you. I appreciate it.” She eyed the ingredient bottles, balanced precariously in his arms and added, “now go and put those back. I keep worrying you’re going to drop one of them.”

Ron nodded, spared one more dark glance for Pansy, then walked toward the ingredients cupboard. 

“I’m sorry about that,” Hermione said, pulling Pansy’s gaze away from Ron’s retreating form. 

“About what? Weasley?” 

Hermione nodded. “He’s protective. Sometimes too protective for his own good. But you don’t deserve his suspicion. At least, not over last night,” she added.

“He was right, though,” Pansy said quietly, wincing at the credit she was extending to Ron. “I certainly didn’t mastermind anything last night, but after everything we’ve been through, he wasn’t out of line to think it.”

“No. No, he wasn’t,” Hermione said. “And had I heard about what happened secondhand, I probably wouldn’t have believed your innocence, either. But I was there. I saw the way you reacted.” Hermione gave Pansy a long, level look. “There are a great, great many things you’re not innocent of, Pansy. But you didn’t do anything wrong last night. And you shouldn’t be made to feel as if you did.” 

Pansy’s hands fidgeted. To give them something to do as she sorted through her thoughts, she hastily reached for a small glass vial and rubbed her thumb absently over the surface.“I know I’m not innocent,” she finally said. “And I know I’ve done things that can never be excused, no matter how many excuses I try. But even so…even knowing that, I want you to know that I’m…I’m…” She huffed a frustrated sigh as she placed the vial back down on the table. It shouldn’t have been so hard to say, after all this time, but Pansy still found the apology curiously stuck on her lips. Admitting she was wrong wasn’t something she was fond of, and admitting to seven years worth of horrendous wrongdoings was another thing entirely. A long silence descended on the table, and Pansy wondered if it was better to just cut her losses and give up entirely. But then, she glanced up at Hermione and caught her hazel eyes and reminded herself—this isn’t just Hermione Granger. 

This is Robin. 

And Robin deserves an apology.

A sudden rush of remorse shot through her body, and the words slipped out. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for…for everything,” she said. There was a long list of sins she’d have to eventually make amends for, but right now, “everything” seemed a good enough catchall. Still, she winced at how ineffective and shoddy the apology sounded as it lingered in the air between them. “That doesn’t mean a whole lot, does it?” she asked, trying to read Hermione’s expression.

Hermione held Pansy’s gaze for a moment, her eyes carefully guarded. Then she looked away and scrutinized the ceiling with a small frown. “It…” she shook her head quietly, seemingly lost in thought. “It’s a start,” she finally said, looking back at Pansy. “But no, there’s not a lot of substance to it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to hear it,” she added quickly. “And I do believe something is…different about you. I don’t know what’s caused it, but I believe it’s genuine. But after seven years of…how did Professor McGonagall put it? Our ‘history’? After seven years of our history together, ‘I’m sorry’ feels a bit…hollow. I mean, you hated me. And I hated you, so to just suddenly show remorse and act like everything is different, it’s…” Hermione broke off suddenly and looked at Pansy closely. “What did cause it? The remorse, I mean. Why now? You told me you were breaking up with Malfoy, but ever since, you’ve been a completely different person. It can’t all be because of Malfoy, so…what, then?”

Pansy bit her lower lip. She obviously couldn’t tell Hermione the real reason, but perhaps she could tell her something truth-adjacent. Perhaps she could let her in on some of the secrets of her past. “I…”

Before she could say anything, Ron appeared at their table again, this time free of bottles and vials. 

“Almost done?” he asked, studiously ignoring Pansy. “Harry and I will walk you to the library if you are.”

Hermione looked up at him in surprise. “I…” She glanced at Pansy, who lowered her eyes to the table. “Yes,” Hermione said, looking back up at Ron. “Yes, we’re done. For now, at least. You don’t mind taking care of…?” she asked Pansy, nodding at their ingredients. 

Pansy shook her head. “No, go ahead. I’ll clean up.” 

“Thanks,” Hermione said, standing from her stool and bending to retrieve her bag. She slung it over her shoulder, then looked at Pansy again and lowered her voice. “I meant what I said, though—it is a start. And for what it’s worth, I hope you don’t stop before you’ve begun.” Then with the smallest of smiles, Hermione turned and walked to the back of the classroom with Ron, where Harry was already waiting. 

Pansy sighs and adjusts her bag on her shoulder. She wishes she had been able to give Hermione an explanation for her sudden show of remorse. She has a feeling the whole “forgiveness” thing might be expedited if she could manage to give Hermione’s logical brain some concrete reason to latch onto. But Ron had bungled everything by looming over their table like a massive, ginger troll, hell-bent on swooping Hermione away before their conversation was done.

Still, though, it had been a productive hour, and Pansy feels more hope than she’s felt in quite a long time. Plus, Hermione had stood up for her. And to Weasley, no less.

A smile returns to her face as she makes her way to the third floor for Charms. Perhaps this day isn’t going to be as dreadful as she thought. 

“Pans! Pansy, hold on!”

Her smile fades at the familiar voice behind her and she turns to find Draco, rushing after her, robes fluttering behind him. When he arrives in front of her, he takes a moment to catch his breath. Once he’s more or less recovered, he says, “I was calling you, didn’t you hear?” 

Pansy rolls her eyes. “Obviously not. Had I heard, I would have stopped,” she says, then turns to resume walking toward Charms. She’s only taken two steps when Draco’s hand closes lightly around her upper arm, holding her in place. Pansy grows rigid as she glances down at his hand, then back up to his face. 

“Hold on a moment,” he says, releasing his grip and regarding her with twinkling eyes. “I have a proposition for you.”

“Oh? Marvelous. Could you tell me about it on the way to Charms?” Pansy asks, looking over her shoulder toward the staircase leading to the third floor. 

“No. Because we’re not going to Charms,” Draco says with a sly grin. 

“We’re not?”

“Nope,” Draco says, popping the p a bit and rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. 

Pansy hums. “And out of curiosity, when did we make this decision?” she asks, feeling a flicker of irritation at Draco’s presumptions. It’s not that she’s against skipping class, but she’d at least like to have some say in the matter. 

“We’re making it right now. Theo and Blaise are in the Hospital Wing, and…”

“What?” Pansy asks, cutting him off quickly in alarm. “What happened? Are they alright?” 

Draco waves off her concerns. “Nothing happened, they’re fine. They tried to charm an Exploding Snap deck to make the explosion stronger, but neither of them realized the other had already had a go at it. They ended up making the deck four times stronger and it blew up in their faces. It burnt off their eyebrows,” Draco says with a smirk. “They look ridiculous. But anyway, they’re in the hospital wing, and I’ve bribed Crabbe and Goyle with sweets to stay out of the dorm. So…” he trails off and raises an eyebrow. 

Pansy stares at him blankly. “So?”

Draco huffs impatiently. “So the dorm is empty. And if you and I skip Charms, then…” Draco steps closer and lifts a hand to Pansy’s face, gently trailing his thumb over her cheekbone. “Perhaps we could find a way to utilize it?” he asks, dropping his voice and closing the distance between them.

Oh. That. 

Pansy shifts uncomfortably, but doesn’t immediately pull away. “Draco, I…I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she says.

“No, nor do I. I think it’s a bloody brilliant idea,” Draco murmurs, leaning his forehead against hers and letting his hands trail slowly down to her hips. 

“No, it’s…” Pansy sighs and finally takes a step back, putting space between their bodies. “Instead of four Slytherins missing from Charms, you want it to be six?” she asks, crossing her arms. “Flitwick will tell Snape and we’ll all lose points. And after last night, I don’t think we need to lose any more points, do you?” 

Draco frowns. “We won’t lose points for skipping one class. And even if we do, who cares? We’re down two-hundred and fifty points already. We’ve lost the Cup. Losing another ten or twenty points won’t hurt.”

They’re actually only down by one-hundred and fifty now, but Pansy doesn’t bother correcting him. Because aside from Daphne, no one knows that she was involved in the stunning loss of points and she’d very much like to keep it that way. Instead she simply shrugs. “Even so. Best not risk it.”

“There’s no risk, it’s—”

“And anyway, I skipped Charms last week, remember?”

“Yes, but we can—”

“I can’t skip again. Some other time, okay?” she asks, patting him awkwardly on the arm. “I promise, just…I can’t today.”

Draco’s jaw tightens and his lips twist into a tight, angry smile. “Of course you can’t,” he says quietly. 

“No, I really can’t. You know, with the N.E.W.T.s coming up—”

“So it’s the N.E.W.T.s this time, is it? At least that’s a new one.”

Pansy frowns. “What does that mean?”

“It means that there’s always a bloody excuse,” Draco says bitterly.

“It’s not an excuse,” Pansy says, trying to keep the impatience from creeping into her voice. “Look, I’d like to, but—”

Draco snorts. “You’d like to,” he echoes. “That’s…that’s rich.” He shakes his head and stares at the floor as a light flush spreads over his neck. 

“Excuse me?” Pansy asks, crossing her arms. 

Draco turns his gaze back to Pansy, but this time, his eyes are blazing. “I said that’s fucking rich. You don’t want to, Pansy, and we both know it.”

“I most certainly do, I just—”

“Because if you actually wanted to, you wouldn’t trot out dozens of excuses anytime I so much as fucking breathe in your direction,” he hisses, refusing to let her get a word in edgewise. “If you actually wanted to, you wouldn’t freeze every single time I touch you. If you actually wanted to, then you would. But you don’t.”

“I do—”

“You don’t,” Draco says again, cutting her off sharply. “And you can stop lying.”

“I’m…I’m…you’re putting words in my mouth,” Pansy says hotly, trying to defend herself while simultaneously trying to maneuver around the fact that she is, in fact, lying. 

“I’m not! I’m commenting on what’s right in front of me! I’m not stupid, Pansy. Anytime I bring up sex, you manage to find an excuse. I told Daphne we’d spend the day together,” Draco says, raising his voice in a poor imitation of Pansy. “I barely slept last night. I’m on my monthlies. I’m bloated, I have a headache, I’m behind on my homework, I couldn’t possibly skip Charms.

Pansy grits her teeth at the long list of familiar excuses. Still, she manages to hold Draco’s gaze as she evenly replies, “those are all valid reasons, and you know it. And can we not have this conversation here?” She glances around to see if anyone is listening. “Believe it or not, I don’t want the entire school knowing what we get up to.”

“What we get up to?” Draco repeats, staring at Pansy with wide eyes. He scoffs and says, “are you…Pans, we don’t get up to anything! It’s been…” he trails off and looks around, then takes a step closer and hisses, “it’s been over a month.”

Pansy frowns and shakes her head. “No, it hasn’t. It’s only been…it’s…” 

She tapers off uncertainly. Has it been that long? She knows she’s been making more excuses as of late, but she’s sure she’s folded at least once in the past month. After all, she has to make some effort at keeping up appearances. She casts her mind back, trying to remember the last time she had let Draco pull her into his bed, and when the memory finally comes to her, she flushes with discomfort. 

It had been almost two months. 

Draco’s watching her, clearly waiting for her to continue where she left off, so Pansy quietly says, “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize it had been that long.” 

Draco nods. “And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Most people would realize, because most people would care. Most people want intimacy. But you don’t, do you? You don’t want it. You don't care.” He breaks off and looks at her a bit desperately. “Why don’t you care?”

Pansy bites her lower lip and studies her shoes for a moment, feeling hot and uncomfortable. Then, she glances back at Draco. 

Draco, who she’s been friends with since she was a child. 

Draco, who knows how to make her laugh, knows how to comfort her, knows how to make her feel safe. 

Draco, who had once purchased every single pear drop from Honeydukes, her absolute favorite sweet, just because Pansy was having a shit day.

Draco, who despite everything, she does love. 

Just not the way he needs her to. 

And in that moment, Pansy decides it’s time to do the right thing. It’s time to stop using him as a shield and to treat him with the respect he deserves. It’s time to be brave. 

Merlin, if the Sorting Hat could see the decisions she’s been making lately, it might put her in Gryffindor. 

Pansy takes a deep breath and slowly exhales. “I…Draco,” she murmurs. “I do care. I care about you more than you know. But…” she trails off and glances around, her eyes landing on an empty bench just outside the Great Hall. She nods toward it. “Can we…?”

Draco follows her gaze, then nods stiffly. 

They walk toward the bench in silence, but Pansy’s mind is racing as she desperately tries to figure out what to tell Draco. Because while she may have made up her mind to break things off, she also has no intention of giving him the real reason. It’s one thing to tell Daphne—she’d never break Pansy’s trust, not in a million years. But as much as Pansy also trusts Draco to have her best interests at heart, there’s a slight chance he might let it slip to his parents when they inevitably ask why Pansy broke things off. And if he tells his parents, it’s only a matter of time before her parents find out. 

She can’t risk that. Not just yet. 

But she can still do the right thing. 
 
Pansy sits down on the stone bench and nervously twists her hands in her lap. Draco sits beside her, ramrod straight, his gaze trained on the wall before them. She’s sure he knows what’s about to happen, and she already feels miserable over the fact she’s going to hurt one of her only friends.

She takes another deep breath, then quietly says, “I haven’t been honest with you. And I should have been. Right from the beginning, I should have been. But I was…scared, I guess.” 

Draco doesn’t say anything, so Pansy continues. 

“When you showed up at my house over the summer…do you remember what happened?” Pansy asks. 

“I don’t want to play a bloody guessing game,” Draco mutters.

“It’s not a game, I just…I want to know if you remember what happened.”

“I asked you to go to Fortescue’s. You said yes,” Draco says stiffly. 

Pansy shakes her head. “No. I didn’t,” she murmurs.

At that, Draco turns to look at her, anger flashing in his stormy eyes. “What? Of course you said yes! I didn’t fucking abduct you.”

“Draco,” Pansy says as gently as she can manage. “I never said yes. My mum did.”

“What are you…” Draco trails off and frowns. His gaze is far away, as if he’s replaying the scene in his head. After a moment, his eyes clear and he looks at Pansy with surprise. “You didn’t,” he says, sounding a bit stunned. “You didn’t say yes.”

Pansy exhales sharply and shakes her head. “No, I…I think you took me by surprise. It’s not every day one of your mates shows up in your fireplace, completely pissed, and asks if you’d like to go on a date. But you did, and you stunned me into silence and my mum took advantage of that. It was probably the happiest day of her life, to be honest. But it…I…” Pansy tapers off and runs a hand through her hair. 

“But you wouldn’t have said yes,” Draco says, completing her thought with a faraway tone.

Pansy nods miserably. “I should have told you. But you know what my parents are like, and I just…I didn’t want to upset them,” she says, picking at a loose thread on her jumper. “So instead, I hurt you. And I can never apologize enough for it.”

“Why didn’t you just tell me?” Draco says, staring at her with betrayal in his eyes. 

“I don’t know. I don’t…” Pansy bounces her leg restlessly as she gathers her thoughts. “I think…I was hoping that something would change. That after a while, I’d feel the same way you did.”

“And you never did?”

Pansy shakes her head. “No. I tried. I really did, but I just couldn’t. But you were so happy and I didn’t want to hurt you so I—”

“So you thought you’d…what? Play with my emotions instead?” Draco asks. 

“No. No, I never meant to…I mean, I know I did, but I didn’t want to, I just…I didn’t want to hurt you,” she says again, quieter this time. The explanation is weak and pathetic and Pansy desperately wishes she could tell him the truth without fearing the repercussions.

“You strung me along for a year. I think that ship has long since sailed,” Draco says, his tone significantly cooler than it was before. “You could have told me at any time, but instead, you let me act like a fool for a fucking year. I kept trying and trying to connect with you and all the while you were…what? Laughing at me behind my back?”

Pansy shakes her head vehemently. “No. Not at all, I just—”

“Why?” Draco interrupts, turning toward Pansy. His face is taut with anger and a muscle in his jaw is jumping. 

“Why what?”

“Why didn’t you feel the same way? Was it something I did?” 

It’d be so much easier to just tell him the truth. It would save her the trouble of making excuses, and he might actually be comforted, knowing that he had never stood a chance. But instead, Pansy miserably shakes her head. 

“No, it’s nothing you did. I just…I’ve never felt that way about you. I’m sorry,” she adds quietly. 

“That’s not true. We were good together in the beginning. You didn’t flinch when I touched you…you would even touch me first. So what changed?” 

“Nothing changed, I…” Pansy bites her lower lip, wishing there was something she could say to get out of this conversation without hurting Draco in the process.

Something besides the blindingly obvious option of “I’m a lesbian,” of course. 

“It’s like I said. I was trying in the beginning. I thought I’d be able to feel the same way you did if I spent enough time with you. But I couldn’t, and once I realized that it just became a chore.”

“It’s been a chore to spend time with me,” Draco repeats in a voice tight with anger, and Pansy winces.

“No, not…that came out wrong,” she amends hastily. “I meant trying to match your feelings was a chore. Spending time with you has never been a chore. I do love you, Draco. And I love spending time with you. You must know that,” she says desperately. “I just…I don’t want to be with you. At least, not like that. And I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, but I’m telling you now, so…” 

She trails off and waits. Draco is silent, so she risks a glance at his profile. His eyes are guarded, his cheeks are still flushed, and the muscle in his jaw is still jumping. Pansy feels her stomach twist uncomfortably, knowing that she’s the reason he looks so upset. 

“Draco?”

He shakes his head and a small, angry smile appears on his face. “So what? We’re just…done? It’s over, just like that?” 

“I…yes. I think it is. But it’s for the best,” Pansy says quickly. “You don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t have feelings for you. You deserve so much more than me. You deserve a person who makes you feel…makes you feel everything, all at once,” Pansy murmurs, her thoughts straying ever so briefly to her parchment and clever, hazel eyes. 

Draco chuckles humorlessly. “I thought I had found that person,” he says, finally turning to look at her, his gaze burning. “My mistake. It seems I only found a self-serving, opportunistic coward.”

Pansy’s brow furrows. “You don’t mean that,” she says uncertainly, stung by both the venom and the truth behind his words.

“Oh, I most certainly do,” Draco murmurs smoothly. “Because from what I can tell, the only reason you decided to date me was to appease your parents. You decided to use me for your own gain and if I was hurt in the process, well, who cares, right? It’s only Draco.”

“No. No, that’s not fair,” Pansy says, shaking her head quickly.

“Isn’t it? You say you love me, but no one would ever treat someone like this if they actually loved them. So what was it then, Pansy? Just another lie you told yourself to feel better?”

“It’s not a lie,” Pansy says frantically. She wants to convince Draco, but his eyes are cold and he’s staring at her with fury. It’s clear he wants nothing to do with her, and she knows that any attempt at making him see her side of things would only fall on angry, deaf ears. 

She tries anyway.

“I do love you, and I know I fucked up. I’m sorry. But just because I’m not in love with you, doesn’t mean I don’t care about you. I wanted us to work! You don’t know how much I wanted us to work. It would’ve been so bloody easy, but I just…I couldn’t. And I should have told you sooner, I know, but I didn’t know how to do it.” 

“Well. You’ve figured it out now, haven’t you? Congratulations,” Draco says spitefully. “One less chore on your list.”

“Draco, would you just…” Pansy reaches out a hand toward his shoulder, but he jerks away from her. 

“Don’t touch me, I…” 

He stands quickly, his posture rigid and his gaze trained on the wall behind her. “I think it would be best if we didn’t speak again,” he says. 

Pansy’s heart sinks. “Draco, please. You don’t have to do this.” She’s aware she’s pleading, but at this very moment, she couldn’t care less. She doesn’t want to lose a friend. 

He shakes his head for a second and looks up at the ceiling. When he finally glances back toward her, his eyes are cold and guarded. “Goodbye, Pansy,” he says.

“No. No, not goodbye! Would you stop that? There’s no need to be dramatic, we can still be friends.” 

“No. We can’t.”

Pansy pushes her bangs out of her face in frustration and stands up. “Look, I’m sorry, I don’t know what else I can say. I fucked up! And you can be angry at me! You can be fucking furious, but you don’t have to do this.”

Draco surveys her for a moment. “You know, I actually was stupid enough to think that one day, we were going to be…” he trails off and shakes his head. Then without any warning, he quickly turns on his heel and strides away from her without another word.

She watches him leave the castle and slowly sinks back down on the bench, her heart pounding in her chest. She knows what he was going to say—that one day, they’d be married. To be honest, she had always assumed the same, as had everybody else in their lives. And while she knows deep down that she’s done the right thing by ensuring that will never come to pass, it doesn’t make this any easier. Her heart is aching for Draco and she’s furious at herself. She had never wanted to hurt him.

Then how could you have used him? 

The thought makes her shift uncomfortably on the bench, because it’s the cold hard truth; she had used him. And she had done so without any regard for his own emotions. 

Pansy sits there for ages, fighting off tears and feeling miserable and small. She knows she’ll be replaying the disdain in Draco’s eyes over and over again until she drives herself mad, and she’s probably just ensured another atrocious night of sleep. 

If this is the price to be paid for being brave and telling the truth, it’s not worth it, and all Gryffindors are fucking imbeciles

It’s far too late to go to Charms, so instead, Pansy gathers her things and heads toward the library. Perhaps she can distract herself with studying. Or better yet, her parchment. 

As she stands up, something suddenly occurs to her—somehow, despite her best efforts, six Slytherins are skipping Charms today. 

They’re definitely going to lose more points. 

***

The Three Broomsticks is absolutely packed. It’s colder outside than it’s been in weeks and the welcoming warmth of the pub has lured in just about every Hogwarts student idly milling about Hogsmeade. Each table is occupied and Madam Rosmerta is serving eight people at once, yet she’s still managing to sling drinks across the bar with practiced ease. 

Pansy and Daphne are seated at a tiny two-person table with people pressing in around them from all sides. They’re nursing butterbeers and attempting to have a conversation, but the raucous group of Ravenclaw seventh years seated beside them is making it difficult to hear anything.

“What did you say?” Daphne asks, sparing a withering glare at a particularly loud Ravenclaw boy who won’t stop boasting about some Quidditch maneuver he’s managed. “I can’t hear you over the sound of ostentatious grandstanding next to me,” she says raising her voice and staring pointedly at the boy. 

“Perhaps we should go somewhere else? Somewhere quieter?” Pansy asks, watching as the Ravenclaw takes a swig from his third firewhisky of the day. Liquid dribbles down his chin and Pansy’s nose wrinkles in disdain. “And somewhere with less distasteful company?” 

“Oh, no. Not until I’ve finished every last drop of this,” Daphne says, gesturing to her butterbeer. “A Sickle and ten Knuts for a bloody butterbeer, can you believe it? At these prices, I’d bet Rosmerta has more money than both our families, put together.”

Pansy glances around the well-loved pub, clocking the dingy chairs, stained tables, and dated decor. “I sincerely doubt that,” she says, lifting her foaming tankard and taking a sip of her butterbeer. Once she’s swallowed, she sighs with quiet disappointment. She likes butterbeer well enough, but right now, she’d give anything for a firewhisky. Really, she’d give anything for whatever would help take the edge of the past few days. Because ever since she broke things off with Draco, things have been…difficult, to put it mildly. Despite all of Pansy’s efforts, he’s still refusing to speak to her. Glacial silence has replaced easy banter and frosty glares are standing in for soft and fond glances and Pansy hates it. She misses her friend and she despises herself for hurting him so deeply.

And it’s not just Draco—quite a few of her classmates are giving her the cold shoulder. Crabbe and Goyle, obviously, but Blaise, Theo, and Tracey have all decided that they’re staunchly team Draco as well. Only Daphne has been firmly on Pansy’s side. 

Well, Daphne and Millicent, who had simply shrugged at the news and said I thought you broke up ages ago.

But Millicent and Daphne aside, it’s been a rough few days. She’s sick of hearing her name whispered in the common room, she’s sick of catching Draco’s disdainful gaze, and quite frankly, she’s making herself sick with wondering how she can make things right between them. 

“Maybe once we’re done here, we can stop by Honeydukes? I’ll buy you pear drops?” Daphne asks, pulling Pansy away from her bleak thoughts. 

Pansy manages a weak scoff. “You mean you’ll buy us pear drops,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a stash of pear drops that you haven’t managed to ransack. You’re like a giant, blonde raccoon.”

Daphne shrugs. “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine,” she says simply. 

“Oh, please. You threatened to hex me if you ever caught me borrowing your foundation again, remember?” 

“Yes, well, obviously not the foundation! Are you mad? It’s thirty-five Galleons per ounce. I wouldn’t share that foundation with anyone. Not even my own child.” 

“Your maternal instincts never cease to amaze me,” Pansy says into her butterbeer. 

“I happen to think I’d make an excellent mother,” Daphne says cooly. “For instance, I’d be able to teach my child that nobody bloody cares if he caught the Snitch during a Sloth Grip Roll and that quite frankly, he’s boring all his friends to death,” Daphne says, raising her voice and staring once more at the Ravenclaw, who’s still recounting his Quidditch heroics. 

This time, the Ravenclaw boy hears her, and he turns to her with a bleary-eyed glare. Daphne plasters a sweet smile on her face. “Oh, hello! I wasn’t talking about you,” she says. “Just my dreadfully dull hypothetical child who’s been cursed with unearned confidence and the unhappy ability to lull his companions into a stupor with the same bloody story he’s been telling for fifteen minutes.”

The boy turns bright red. “Ah, piss off,” he mutters. He lifts his tankard and downs the rest of his firewhisky, then stands up unsteadily. “Let’s go, lads. Best to let someone else spend their day seated next to a massive bitch.” 

He wobbly starts toward the door and his friends stand to follow him, tossing dirty looks at Daphne and Pansy as they leave. Daphne waves cheerfully at them and once they’re all gone, Pansy drops her head into her hands. 

“Great. That’s four more people who hate me,” she mutters.

“They don’t hate you. They don’t even know you. And anyway, why on earth would you want mister I brag about myself to make up for my tiny tallywhacker to like you?”

Pansy lifts her head and stares at Daphne. “Tallywhacker?” she asks, completely bewildered. 

Daphne shrugs. “My gran calls them that,” she says, lifting her tankard and taking a sip. 

“Oh,” Pansy says. Then she frowns and reconsiders. “No, wait. I don’t know why I didn’t question that, that’s…why have you been discussing tallywhackers with your gran?” 

“Oh, she’s got some good stories. Some of them are absolutely filthy,” Daphne adds with a grin. “Trust me, next to my gran, I’m a complete prude.” 

Pansy shakes her head fondly and picks up her tankard. But before she can take a sip, the door to the Three Broomsticks opens again. She squints toward the doorway to see two backlit figures, but as soon as the door closes behind them, she’s able to make out the newcomers. 

Hermione and Ron. 

Hermione and Ron on their bloody date

Her eyes grow wide and she puts down her tankard with more force than necessary. 

“Oh, fuck,” Pansy murmurs. Her leg immediately starts bouncing under the table, and she knows her flush is obvious when Daphne curiously glances over her shoulder to see what’s happening behind her. 

Pansy hears Daphne’s sharp inhalation and when she turns back to face Pansy again, she’s grinning broadly. “Well, well. This little excursion just got far more interesting,” Daphne says, her eyes sparkling with delight. 

“Daphne…” Pansy says, a warning in her voice.

“Hm…if only there were an open table somewhere,” Daphne says, tapping a finger to her chin, thoughtfully. When her eyes land on the recently vacated table beside them, she widens them comically and turns to Pansy. “Oh, wait a minute! There is a free table!” 

“Daphne, I swear…” Pansy says. She looks toward the door where Hermione and Ron are still standing, scanning the Three Broomsticks for any available space. Neither of them have noticed that there’s only one table open in the whole bloody pub, and it happens to be practically on top of her table with Daphne. 

Without any warning, Daphne grabs her wand, points it toward Pansy’s tankard, and murmurs Evanesco, then does the same to her tankard. Both of their butterbeers immediately vanish and Pansy looks up at Daphne with surprise.

“I wasn’t done with that!” Pansy says with a small glare. 

Daphne offers no apology. She simply stands up, winks at Pansy, and says, “you can thank me later.” Then without another word, she strides quickly through the crowd toward the bar.

Pansy watches as she pushes her way behind the bar and sidles next to Madam Rosmerta, who immediately glares at Daphne and gestures angrily for her to leave. Leave it to Daphne to get us permanently banned from the Three Broomsticks, Pansy thinks as she watches the ludicrous display. But Daphne doesn’t leave. Instead, she leans in close and murmurs something in Madam Rosmerta’s ear, and after a few brief moments of back and forth discussion, Madam Rosmerta shakes her head, rolls her eyes, and holds out her hand. Daphne smoothly shakes it, then without another word, she slips out from behind the bar and starts back toward Pansy. When she sits back down, her cheeks are flushed and her eyes are shining. 

“…What was that?” Pansy asks, eyeing her skeptically. 

Daphne tsks and shakes her head. “Patience, Pans. All in good time,” she says with yet another infuriating wink. 

“Would you stop that?” Pansy asks hotly.

“Stop what?”

“The winking! Stop winking and just tell me what you—”

“Excuse me?” 

Pansy stops short and glances up to find Hermione and Ron, standing beside the empty table. Hermione’s eyes are on her, and Pansy stares at her in stunned, frazzled silence. 

She’s never seen Hermione out of her school robes before. 

She looks good

She’s taken off her heavy wool coat to reveal a dark blue summer dress that falls just above her knees, showing off her long, smooth legs. Legs that Pansy could spend quite some time staring at, if it wasn’t for her altogether distracting face. Her thick brown hair is framing said face, with two pieces pulled back on either side and braided down the back, leaving the rest to fall in perfect, soft waves over her shoulders. She’s put on just enough makeup to make her hazel eyes pop, and Pansy dimly wonders if her eyes have always shined like that, or if it’s just a trick of the light. She’d like to get close enough to examine them for herself…to put a delicate hand on Hermione’s cheek and study the shifting brown and green tones until she’s able to replicate them in her dreams. But if she did that, she’d get so distracted by Hermione’s stupidly perfect cupid’s bow that she’d forget what she was doing in the first place. Pansy’s not sure she’s ever seen lips quite like Hermione’s before. They’re soft and inviting and they’re moving and Merlin, she wonders what they taste like and…

…They’re moving. 

Hermione is asking her something. 

Pansy snaps out of whatever stupor she had found herself in and manages to drag her eyes back up to Hermione’s, all the while hoping her face isn’t as red as it feels. Hermione is gazing at her expectantly, and Pansy wants to bang her head against the table because she has absolutely no idea what Hermione’s asked. 

“Sorry, I…could you repeat that? It’s a bit loud in here,” she says, flushing even darker when she hears Daphne’s light snort from across the table. 

“Is this table open?” Hermione repeats, raising her voice a bit. “It seems to be the only free spot, but if you’re holding it for someone—”

“No!” Pansy says, a bit too quickly to sound natural. “I mean…no, no, we’re not holding it. You can…” Pansy gestures toward it weakly, all the while hoping some kind soul will take pity on her and knock her unconscious with a strong Stupefy. At least then, she wouldn’t risk saying anything monumentally stupid. Or worse, risk staring at Hermione’s annoyingly perfect mouth again. 

Hermione nods in thanks, then moves to sit down on the side closest to Pansy. As she sits, her dress rides up her thighs just a bit, and Pansy quickly looks away from the newly revealed skin, her face flaming and her heart beating faster. They’re close enough that she can feel the heat radiating from Hermione’s body, and Pansy’s reasonably sure that if Hermione were to accidentally brush up against her, she might pass out.

“Honestly, Hermione, we don’t have to stay,” Ron says. He’s still standing and looking at Hermione with pleading eyes, clearly desperate to be anywhere else. “We could go to Madam Puddifoot’s. It’d be easier to talk there. And I’m sure the company would be better,” he adds, glancing at Pansy with distaste. 

“Why, Weasley, didn’t anybody ever tell you, you shouldn’t talk about your own date like that?” Daphne asks, lifting a mockingly scandalized hand to her heart. 

Ron glares at Daphne. “I obviously meant you two,” he says, then he turns back to Hermione. “But really, we can come back here some other time. And Madam Puddifoot’s could be a nice change of pace. After all, I like tea and…and…tea,” he finishes weakly, clearly unable to come up with anything else Madame Puddifoot’s might have to offer. “So…what do you say?” he asks, looking at Hermione encouragingly.

“Ron, you know I don’t like Madam Puddifoot’s,” Hermione says calmly. “And you’re making this more uncomfortable than it needs to be. I’m sure Parkinson and Greengrass don’t want to talk to you anymore than you want to talk to them.” 

“Yes, but…”

“And I don’t know about you, but I’d quite like a butterbeer,” Hermione adds. 

Ron shifts on his feet for a moment, then sighs, seeming to deflate a bit. “Fine. But the moment a different table opens up and we can get away from these two, we’re moving,” he adds with another glare at Daphne and Pansy.  

“Oh, no. And here I was, looking forward to our impromptu double date,” Daphne says blithely.  

Hermione rolls her eyes and chooses to ignore Daphne’s comment. “We’ll move when we can,” she says to Ron, her voice soothing. “But until then…do you want me to get the drinks?”

“What? No, of course not, I’ll get them. Or actually…we could both go?” he asks, looking hopefully at Hermione.

“I think one of us should stay here. If I leave, someone might take the table,” Hermione says gently. 

“Oh. Oh, right. No, of course. I’ll just…” he gestures toward the bar, but before he can start toward it, Daphne pops up. 

“I think I’ll accompany you. It appears we’ve run dry, too,” she says, glancing pointedly at her empty tankard. She catches Pansy’s eye and grins at her, and Pansy has to fight the urge to bury her head in her hands. That’s why she vanished their butterbeers—to force Hermione and Pansy to be alone together. 

Ron seems completely taken aback by Daphne’s statement. He stares at her as if she’s just announced she’s carrying Snape’s child and says, “you…what? No, don’t…don’t accompany me.”

“Merlin, Weasley, I’m not asking you to marry me,” Daphne says, rolling her eyes. “We’re just going to the same place.” She pulls a face at Pansy as if she’s saying can you believe him? then turns back to Ron. “But if you’d like to keep your date waiting to avoid walking fifty feet with me, then by all means, stay. If there’s one thing every woman is impressed by, it’s pure, idiotic stubbornness.” 

With that, Daphne starts toward the bar, leaving Ron to look after her, more flustered than he was before. 

“I…I…” he trails off and shakes his head, and after a moment, he turns to Hermione. “I’ll be right back,” he says. “But if you need anything, just call for me.” 

Hermione nods. “I’ll be fine, Ron,” she says. “Go on.” 

Ron gives Pansy one last suspicious look, then starts off toward the packed bar, leaving Pansy and Hermione seated close together, side-by-side and all alone. 

Pansy’s not sure if she wants to kill Daphne or kiss her. 

She reaches toward her tankard and idly fidgets with it, wondering if she should say something or just continue to sit in awkward silence. Mercifully, Hermione saves her the trouble of making a decision. 

“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it so crowded in here.”

Pansy glances toward her in surprise. Had Hermione just…spoken to her? 

Voluntarily?

Things have certainly been changing between them during Potions, especially in the days since Pansy’s attempted apology. Conversation hasn’t been exactly easy, but it’s certainly been better than it’s ever been before. Hermione had even snorted on Friday at something Pansy had said (and yes, Pansy had been on cloud nine for the rest of the day). But that was the thing—it was usually Pansy making the extra effort and trying to prove to Hermione that there was more to her than the monster she had known for seven years. 

So the fact that Hermione had initiated conversation… 

Pansy stares at Hermione’s profile for a moment, trying to work out if the comment had in fact, been directed toward her. Hermione must feel her gaze, because she turns to meet Pansy’s eyes. 

“I’m sorry, by the way,” she says. 

Pansy stares at her stupidly for a moment, having completely forgotten how mesmerizing Hermione’s eyes were in the soft light of the pub. She’d probably be content to stare at Hermione for the rest of the day, but when she arches an eyebrow at her silence, Pansy realizes she should probably say something. 

“Sorry for what?” she finally manages to ask, pleased that even in her trance, she had somehow managed to remember what Hermione had said. 

“Ron and I. I’m sure we’re the last people you want to be next to. Though it was very good of you to let us sit,” she adds, tilting her head a bit to survey Pansy. “I’m not sure you’d have made the same decision a month ago.” 

It’s an accurate statement. Had Hermione and Ron asked to sit beside her pre-parchment pal reveal, she’d have scoffed and flat-out refused, undoubtedly with a rude remark or two thrown in for good measure. But now, knowing what she knows, she’s not just thrilled Hermione’s seated next to her; she’s positively desperate to keep their tentative conversation going. Pansy straightens her shoulders, feeling determined. There’s no way she’s going to be the one to drop the ball. This is her opportunity, delivered to her on a silver platter by Daphne, and she’s not going to waste it.

“No, I probably wouldn’t have. Though to be fair, you’re not the last people I’d want seated next to me. That honor will always go to Crabbe and Goyle.”

Hermione hums. “Not as revolting as Crabbe and Goyle,” she says. “You really know how to deliver a compliment.” Her tone is light and though the din in the pub makes it hard to tell, Pansy could swear there’s a bit of a teasing lilt to it. 

“I do my best,” Pansy says with a small smile. “And for what it’s worth, I’m sure you’d rather not be on a forced double date with Daph and I, so…I’m sorry to you, too.” 

Hermione, who up until now had seemed relaxed and calm, immediately stiffens at the mention of her date. It’s a surprising reaction, and Pansy’s instantly intrigued. 

“How’s that going, by the way? The big date with Weasley?” she asks, trailing her finger up her tankard and lightly circling the rim. She’s trying to be casual, but she’s dying to hear the details. “Everything you dreamt of and more?”

“It’s…” Hermione trails off and frowns, and Pansy feels hope stir in her heart. Then, Hermione looks at her swiftly and with skepticism. “Why are you asking? Are you just going to make fun of him again?” 

Pansy quickly shakes her head. “No. Just…making conversation, I suppose,” she says with a small shrug that she hopes looks unaffected. “And anyway, it’d be good to know what Daph and I are about to become an unwilling part of,” she adds.

Hermione doesn’t look completely convinced, but after a moment, she sighs. “It’s going fine. He’s been lovely so far, and it’s all…” she trails off and looks conflicted, then she shakes her head slightly and says, “it’s fine. We’re having a good time, and it’s…it’s fine. Although it’s taking a while for Ron to get our drinks…” 

Hermione cranes her neck to peer toward the bar, and Pansy watches as her eyes widen. 

“What on earth…” Hermione murmurs, looking stunned. 

Pansy twists around to see what’s happening, and when she finds the source of Hermione’s surprise, she can’t help the grin that spreads over her face. Because standing behind the bar, looking miserable and harried, is none other than Ron Weasley. There are about four people ordering drinks and he’s looking about frantically, trying to listen to all of them at once.

Pansy thinks back to Daphne, smoothly shaking Madam Rosmerta’s hand with a devious twinkle in her eye. She must have bribed her somehow, and Ron tending bar is the wonderful end result. 

Merlin, she loves Daphne.

“Where’s Madam Rosmerta? And where’s Greengrass?” Hermione asks, and Pansy turns back to see her still studying the scene before her, confusion etched on her face. 

“Perhaps she needed Daphne’s assistance in the back?” Pansy says, trying to keep her face neutral. “Good of Weasley to help out, though,” she adds, glancing over her shoulder once more, just in time to see Weasley drop a full glass of gillywater on the floor. Ron’s face turns bright red as it shatters and he looks at the ground miserably.

Merlin, she loves Daphne.

“Do you think…should I help him?” Hermione asks. 

Pansy turns back to find Hermione, watching Ron with concern. 

“I’m sure Madam Rosmerta won’t be long,” Pansy says. “He’ll be fine.” 

“Yes, but…” 

Before Hermione can finish her sentence, the door to the Three Broomsticks opens again. Both Hermione and Pansy glance over to see if they know the newcomers, and once they’re fully in view, Pansy’s stomach drops. 

It’s Draco. 

He looks pale and drawn, and he doesn’t seem to be listening to a thing Theo is saying beside him. His eyes scan the pub, looking for an available table in the sea of people. Pansy clenches her fist, waiting for his eyes to inevitably find her.

It only takes a few moments. The second he sees her, his entire expression changes. His face immediately hardens and his eyes grow cold, and Pansy swears she can feel the chill from his gaze in her bones. She can make out the familiar muscle jumping in his tense jaw, and there’s an angry flush staining his pale cheeks.

It takes Theo and Blaise a few seconds to finally notice Pansy, but once they do, they both immediately glance toward Draco with concern. Pansy feels a wave of shame wash over her; she’s the reason they’re looking at him like that. She’s the reason Draco looks so furious.

She feels as if she’s frozen under Draco’s bitter gaze. She knows she should take this opportunity to make him listen, to tell him that she hadn’t been trying to hurt him and that she’s been fucking miserable without his presence in her life. She knows she should stand and cross the pub and demand they have an actual conversation. She knows she should do something

Instead, she stays rooted to the spot, paralyzed by his piercing eyes. 

A few long moments pass as they stare at each other. Then, without any warning, Draco turns and swiftly exits the pub, leaving Theo and Blaise to hurry in his wake. 

Pansy watches as the door swings shut behind him. She sits motionless as she stares at the space where he was, feeling shaky and ashamed, and when the familiar remorse begins to seep through her veins, she welcomes it like an old friend. 

“Are you…are you alright?” comes Hermione’s hesitant voice from close beside her. 

Pansy tears her eyes away from the door and glances to her left. Hermione is watching her with concern, all thoughts of helping Ron seemingly shelved for the moment. 

“I…” Pansy sighs, then shrugs despondently. “I don’t know.”

Hermione nods. “I heard about what happened. Between you and Malfoy. I’m…I’m sorry,” she says cautiously. 

“Are you? I’d have thought you’d be overjoyed. Not like you particularly like either of us,” Pansy murmurs.

“No, but I also don’t find joy in the suffering of others,” Hermione says. “That may be who you are, but it’s not who I am,” she adds, somewhat stiffly.

“I didn’t mean that as an attack on your character, Granger. I just…it’s a statement of fact. We’re both nasty gits, so you’d be right to be happy about it.”

“Oh. Well…perhaps. Though to be fair,” Hermione says slowly, “you’re not the nastiest gits. That would be Crabbe and Goyle,” she says, giving Pansy a small, hesitant smile as she echoes her joke from earlier. 

Pansy returns the smile with a weak one of her own. “It would seem that we have at least one thing in common—we’re well matched when it comes to atrocious compliments.”

Hermione hums, then tilts her head and studies Pansy. “I am sorry, though. I’m sure it wasn’t easy.”

“No, it wasn’t,” Pansy says quietly. “And now he hates me. And the worst thing is, he’s right to.”

“I’m sure he doesn’t hate you. People lash out in horrible ways when they’re hurt. He’ll come around.” 

Pansy shakes her head as she fidgets with her empty tankard. “You don’t know Draco.”

“I don’t,” Hermione agrees. “But I know that relationships end everyday, and I’m sure he’s not blameless in whatever happened to end yours.” 

“He is, though. Blameless, I mean. He did everything right, and I…it was all my fault. I never wanted to go out with him,” Pansy admits, frowning down at the dark, stained table. “From the moment it started, I knew it was all wrong. But I did it anyway.”

Hermione’s close enough that Pansy can feel the moment she tenses beside her. “May I ask why?” she asks, her voice curiously guarded. 

Pansy exhales heavily and pushes her bangs back. “I…” she trails off as she ponders how to approach this. She obviously doesn’t want to come out to Hermione right now, but she wants to take the opportunity to let herself be vulnerable. To show Hermione that she actually has a heart. “I wanted to please my parents,” she finally says. “They expect certain things from me and when Draco asked me out, it was like Christmas morning for them. I didn’t even say yes,” Pansy adds with a humorless laugh. “My mum said she’d be delighted for me.” She shakes her head in frustration. “But I knew right then. I knew it was wrong and that I only saw Draco as a mate. And I used him anyway.”

“I’m not sure I’d call it using,” Hermione says, a bit weakly. 

Pansy snorts. “What else can you call it? I knew I didn’t want to be with him, but I kept seeing him for my own selfish reasons, bugger the consequences.”

“Well, yes, but…perhaps you thought something would change? If you stayed the course, I mean. Perhaps you thought if you just forced yourself to go through the motions, you’d eventually feel the right way. Right?”

Pansy’s brow furrows as she studies Hermione. Her eyes are wide and she almost looks…panicked? There’s a dark flush on her olive cheeks and if Pansy didn’t know any better, she’d think Hermione was looking to her for reassurance. 

But why would she want reassurance? Unless…

Oh. 

Oh

Perhaps the date with Weasley isn’t quite as fine as Hermione had let on. Perhaps Pansy’s story had felt a little too familiar. 

Perhaps Hermione’s been telling herself all the same things Pansy did to justify her date with Weasley. 

In which case…

Pansy feels a small flicker of hope cut through the heavy shame, and she slowly sweeps a finger against the sticky table as she gathers her thoughts. “I think,” she starts carefully, “that anytime someone needs to force themselves to go through the motions, that’s a bit of a red flag, don’t you? I shouldn’t have had to force anything. If I wanted to be with Draco, I should have been thrilled. But I wasn’t.” 

“Yes, but…feelings can develop differently from person to person,” Hermione says in what seems to be a desperate attempt to justify herself. “And just because someone has feelings for you first doesn’t mean that you won’t eventually grow to love them.” 

“That may be true for some people, but it wasn’t for me. Because I wasn’t conflicted. I knew right away that I didn’t see him as anything more than a friend. And mind you, I did try. Because Merlin knows, it would’ve been easier for everyone involved if I could have just magically developed feelings for him, but…” Pansy shrugs. “I couldn’t. And I should have ended it after a few weeks. A few days, even. But I didn’t,” she says bitterly. “Instead, I used him. I treated him like a prop because it was easier to hurt him than it was to face…” she waves an uncaring hand, “to face all the other shit in my life.”

Hermione shakes her head slightly. “It’s…no. No, it wouldn’t hurt him, it…” she tapers off and her eyes flicker toward Ron at the bar. 

Pansy glances over her shoulder briefly. Ron’s sweating now as he pours a glass of firewhisky for a demanding, portly man leaning against the bar. He places the glass down and looks toward their table. When he sees Hermione, he smiles sheepishly and waves. Pansy turns back to look at Hermione, who’s staring at Ron with pained eyes. 

“May I tell you something?” Pansy asks quietly. 

Hermione’s eyes flicker to her and she waits quietly to hear what Pansy has to say. 

“Draco and I have been friends since we were children. Before Hogwarts, even. Aside from Daphne, there’s no one in this world who knows me better. He’d risk life and limb for me, no questions asked, and I’d do the same for him. But now…?” Pansy glances toward the doorway where Draco had stared at her with such fury. “Well…you saw the way he looked at me,” she says with a bitter smile. “I can’t begin to tell you how much it hurts to have someone you love look at you with such contempt. And perhaps worst of all, to know that you’ve earned that contempt. If I could go back and throttle myself for not ending things sooner, I would. But I can’t.” Pansy gazes at Hermione with open and earnest eyes and she murmurs, “I don’t need to be a Legilimens to notice something’s amiss between you and Weasley,” Pansy says, lifting a hand to cut off Hermione’s inevitable protest. “I don’t know what, and I won’t pry. But I know that for some daft reason, that ginger nitwit behind the bar is your best friend. And take it from me, Granger…you don’t want to hurt your best friend. No matter what the reasoning behind your decision.” 

Hermione shakes her head, but something in her eyes still looks pained. “No, I…I told you, things between Ron and I are—”

“Fine?” Pansy puts in swiftly, noticing Hermione’s small wince at the familiar word. “Things between Draco and I were fine for months.” Pansy straightens her spine and decides to press her luck. “Look, maybe I’m overstepping my bounds here, and if I am, then by all means, tell me to piss off. But I’m not blind, Granger. I saw the way you just looked at him.”

“I…” Hermione trails off and rubs her face miserably. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she murmurs, so quietly that Pansy can barely hear her.

“Nothing’s wrong with you,” Pansy says firmly. “I know he’s your best mate, and he obviously has feelings for you. And it only seems right that you should return those feelings, but you know what? If you don’t return them, there’s nothing wrong with that. So he’s not the right one for you,” Pansy says with a shrug. “Trust me, it’s better to tell him in the long run than to go through months of deception.”

“But it doesn’t make any sense,” Hermione says, looking at Pansy a bit wildly. “He’s wonderful! He’s funny and caring and the sweetest man I know, and he’s been absolutely lovely today and…” she breaks off abruptly and blinks at Pansy as if she’s seeing her for the first time. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this,” she says, sounding a bit stunned. “Why am I telling you this?”

“Because you obviously can’t tell Potter or girl-Weasley,” Pansy says with a shrug, trying not to let on how fucking thrilled she is by this turn of events. “Sometimes you need to vent to someone who’s removed from the situation,” she adds, ignoring the fact that she’s not even remotely removed from this situation. But she’s a Slytherin, so she’ll just pin her involvement on her propensity to dwell in life’s grey areas. 

“I…I suppose that’s true,” Hermione says quietly. “I just don’t understand,” she murmurs again, looking lost and broken.

“Who does?” Pansy says, masking the urge to reach toward Hermione and comfort her with a carefully casual shrug. “I learned long ago that when it comes to matters of the heart, the mind is simply there to play the part of a foolish bystander. You can think about things logically and rationally until you’re blue in the face, but the moment this decides to have its say,” Pansy says, tapping her chest lightly, “all bets are off. Take Draco and I for instance,” she says. “On paper, we’re perfect. We get along famously, he makes me laugh, I trust him…we tick every box. Logically, we work. But logic has no place in love,” Pansy says. “You can be presented with the perfect person, but your traitorous heart will stab you in the back and give itself away to the last person you’d ever expect.” 

“Are you speaking from experience?” Hermione asks, raising an eyebrow.

Pansy chuckles quietly. “Does it matter?” she asks. “What matters is this: love is absolutely ridiculous. So you don’t have feelings for Weasley. Who bloody cares? Life is too short to waste time forcing emotions. When it’s right, it’s right. Anything else isn’t worth your time.”

Hermione bites at her bottom lip once more, and Pansy’s eyes are immediately drawn to the action. When Hermione speaks again, it takes Pansy a considerable amount of effort to drag her eyes away from her lips and focus on what she’s saying. 

Bloody traitorous heart. 

“And what if when it’s right, it’s someone you’d never have expected? Someone that…that scares you a bit?” 

Pansy raises an eyebrow. “Scares you? In what way?” 

Hermione’s brow furrows and she runs her finger over the edge of the table. “In that I feel like I don’t know myself anymore,” she murmurs. “And I’m scared of what that might mean.” 

The words are so quiet that Pansy’s not even sure if she’s heard her correctly. But before she can ask her to repeat herself, two butterbeers are slammed down on the table in front of Hermione. 

Pansy and Hermione both jump and whirl around to find Ron and Daphne, finally back from the bar. 

“I’m so sorry, Hermione,” Ron says, looking at her with wide, earnest eyes. “Madam Rosmerta had a shipment come in and she asked Greengrass to help with it, but that left the bar unattended, so…” Ron shrugs. “She asked me to look after it and I felt bad for her so I said yes. But I didn’t think it was going to take ages.” 

“The shipment was delayed,” Daphne says, taking her seat and giving Pansy a small, secret smile. “But on the bright side, your drinks were free,” she adds to Hermione.

“Were they, now?” Pansy mutters.

“Right then!” Daphne says, clapping her hands and ignoring Pansy. “What did you two get up to while we were gone? I’m a bit surprised the place is still standing, if I’m being honest. I figured we’d come back to a smoking ruin and the two of you in the center of it with your wands out.”

Pansy glances at Hermione to find her already staring at her. Her eyes are wide with panic, as if she’s worried Pansy’s about to spill every hushed and frightened thought she had just divulged. Pansy supposes that the reality of who she’s just confided her relationship woes to are finally setting in, but Pansy has no desire to recount any part of their conversation in front of Daphne and Ron, so she simply shrugs. “Please. You think I want to get banned? It might be overpriced, but it’s better than Hog’s Head. Granger and I can control ourselves if it means frequenting a moderately clean establishment instead of that disgusting hovel the barman calls a pub.”

She looks toward Hermione, who stares at her with surprise. “I…yes, I suppose we can,” she says, her cheeks tinged pink. She hastily reaches for her butterbeer and drains about a quarter of it in one go, completely unaware of Ron’s surprised eyes. 

Pansy glances at her own empty tankard, then back to Daphne. “I thought you were getting us refills?”

“I was, but it took too bloody long. And I still have an errand to run before we leave, remember?”

There’s no errand to run, but Pansy’s grateful for the lie. Because as much as she was thrilled to have Hermione seated beside her, the thought of suffering through her turning all of her attention toward a besotted Weasley makes jealousy crackle across Pansy’s skin like lightning. So she nods and says, “right. Your errand, I forgot. Shall we, then?” 

“We shall,” Daphne says, standing up. “Weasley. Granger. Enjoy whatever ill-fated experiment this is,” she says, ticking a finger between them and smiling when Hermione shifts uncomfortably. Then without waiting for Pansy to stand, Daphne starts toward the door. 

Pansy quickly stands up and looks at Hermione. “I…”

Hermione looks back, waiting for Pansy to finish her thought. And Merlin, there’s so much she’d like to say. 

Don’t stay here with Weasley. 

Don’t be afraid of your real feelings. 

I’ve been your bard all along. 

I think I’m falling in love with you.

Instead, Pansy swallows and murmurs, “Granger,” then gives a short nod, grabs her jacket, and quickly heads to the doorway, not bothering to wait for Hermione’s reaction. 

Once she’s outside, she slumps against the closed door, shuts her eyes, and takes a massive breath of crisp, spring air. 

“So! How’d it go?” 

Pansy opens her eyes to find Daphne, leaning against the wall and regarding her with shining eyes. 

“You are absolutely mad,” Pansy says. 

“Mm. And I’m down eight Galleons to Rosmerta, so it better have been worth it.” 

“What on earth did you tell her?” Pansy asks, pushing herself off from the door to shrug into her jacket.

“Just that I needed Weasley’s drinks stalled for at least fifteen minutes. She came up with the actual reasoning. Merlin, who would have expected her to make Weasley tend bar? Devilishly clever, that one,” Daphne says with respect lingering in her eyes. 

Pansy nods and starts walking. Daphne falls into step beside her and loops her arm through Pansy’s, then gently presses against her side. “You’re stalling. Was it worth it? If it wasn’t, you owe me eight Galleons.”

I don’t owe you anything because I didn’t tell you to act like a nutter and bribe the barmaid,” Pansy says with a scoff. “But…yes. It was worth it,” she adds with a small smile. 

“Why, Pansy Parkinson! All you needed was fifteen minutes to charm the pants off of her, eh?” Daphne asks, steering them toward the nearest shop. “I wonder, what could you do with a few more…?” 

“I didn’t charm anything off of her,” Pansy says, then glances up in surprise when they come to a stop outside of Zonko’s, of all places. “Daphne…why are we at Zonko’s?”

“I need to pop in and pick something up,” Daphne says lightly. 

“Why?” Pansy asks, her eyes narrowing. Daphne hates Zonko’s more than anything in the world, so there’s no way she actually needs something. 

But Daphne merely regards Pansy gravely and says, “because I am a very funny person, Pans,” without a trace of a smile. She doesn’t even break when Pansy snorts in amusement.

“Hilarious,” Pansy says dryly. But before she can say anything else, Daphne gives a small shiver. Pansy’s scrutinizes her closely. “Wait…where’s your coat?” she asks, her suspicion doubling. “Did you leave it in the Three Broomsticks?” 

“Hm? Coat? What coat?”

“Your bloody designer coat that costs a million Galleons! The coat you wouldn’t shut up about for months! The coat I’m not allowed to borrow, which by the way, is yet another hole in your what’s mine is yours nonsense.” 

“Darling, I’m afraid I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about. Perhaps you had one too many butterbeers,” Daphne says airily. “Now! You wait out here while I pop inside. I’ll only be a moment.”

“Daphne! Why?” Pansy asks, desperation entering her voice as she realizes she’s in yet another one of Daphne’s harebrained schemes. 

Daphne looks at Pansy with twinkling eyes and says, “because I love you, you daft cow. And to be frank, you need all the help you can get. Now stay out here and don’t follow me in,” she says, pointing a warning finger at Pansy. Then she blows her a quick kiss and disappears into the shop.  

The urge to bang her head against the wall is almost overwhelming, so Pansy shoves her hands into her pockets and paces instead. Leave it to Daphne to somehow hatch two idiotic schemes in the space of an hour. After a moment, Pansy stops pacing and ponders what the best plan of action is. She doesn’t want to continue standing outside the shop like an idiot, so after a bit of back and forth, she decides to march into Zonko’s, drag Daphne by the arm back into the Three Broomsticks, and force her to pick up her bloody coat.

She’s taken one step toward the door when she hears hurried footsteps behind her. 

“Pansy! Pansy, wait a moment!”

Pansy freezes in place. Before she turns, she glances in the window of Zonko’s and makes eye contact with Daphne, who mouths you’re welcome, then continues sorting through a barrel full of Hiccough Sweets. 

The steps are closer now, so Pansy turns around to find Hermione hurrying toward her, Daphne’s jacket carefully folded over her arm. 

“I’m glad you’re still here,” Hermione says as she stops in front of Pansy. “I believe this belongs to Greengrass?” she asks, lifting the jacket. 

Pansy manages a weak nod, and Hermione holds the jacket out. “I’m surprised she didn’t notice it was missing. It’s quite cold today.” 

Pansy takes the jacket and rolls her eyes a bit. “I suspect Daphne manages to stay warm, what with her constantly being full of hot air.” 

Hermione’s lips twitch and Pansy feels a warm glow radiate from her chest at the sight. “I’m surprised it’s still in one piece,” Pansy says. “I’d have thought Weasley would have tried to burn it on sight.”

“He…may have wanted to do something to that effect,” Hermione admits sheepishly. 

“Well, then, it would seem that Daphne owes you a debt of gratitude for saving it. I’ll see that she gets it when she’s done in…in Zonko’s,” Pansy finishes, wincing when she awkwardly stumbles over the shop name. 

A puzzled frown appears on Hermione’s face as she gazes past Pansy into Zonko’s. “The errand she had is in…Zonko’s?” Hermione asks, sounding confused. “That doesn’t seem like a shop she’d frequent.” 

“No, it doesn’t, does it?” Pansy agrees lightly, glancing over her shoulder. Daphne is now examining a display of Nose-Biting Teacups with a serious frown etched between her brows and a sneer on her lips. She picks one up and holds it at arm’s-length, looking at it with complete and utter revulsion, then she drops it back down and turns her disgusted gaze toward another display. “But looks can be deceiving,” Pansy says, turning back to Hermione. “And I can assure you that Daphne is full of tricks.”

Hermione hums thoughtfully, then wraps her coat around herself a bit tighter. “Well, then, I suppose you’re not the only Slytherin who’s full of surprises,” she murmurs. 

“What do you mean?” Pansy asks. 

“I…” Hermione tapers off and is quiet for a moment, appearing to gather her thoughts. Finally, she meets Pansy’s gaze. “I thought you were going to tell Ron. When Daphne came back and asked what we’d been up to. I thought to myself you naive fool. Of all people, why would you tell Pansy Parkinson? But then you didn’t,” she says, staring curiously at Pansy. “Once again, you proved me wrong, and I…” she breaks off and shakes her head. “Thank you. For not saying anything to Ron. I…I appreciate it.” 

Pansy nods. “I wouldn’t have,” she says, but when Hermione raises her eyebrows in disbelief, she quickly amends, “I mean, up until very recently, I would have. But I wouldn’t now. And I won’t.”

“I suppose I’ll have to take your word for it. But I would appreciate your discretion. I didn’t mean to tell you…well, any of the things I told you, really. So it would mean a great deal to me if you didn’t repeat them.”

“I won’t,” Pansy repeats. “I swear upon my honor as a Slytherin,” she adds solemnly, but with a small smile and a mocking hand over her heart.

Hermione raises an eyebrow. “I suppose no one ever told you you’re supposed to swear on something you actually possess,” she says dryly, then she sighs and glances back toward the Three Broomsticks. “Anyway. I should be getting back,” she says. “Ron is…well, I don’t want to keep him waiting.”

“Right, you’ve got…you’ve got your date,” Pansy says awkwardly. “I’ll just…” she lifts up Daphne’s coat, and nods toward Zonko’s. 

Hermione nods, then turns around and starts back toward the Three Broomsticks. 

Pansy should let her go. She should curb the urge to call after her. Honestly, she should leave well enough alone. Daphne is waiting in Zonko’s and it’d be cruel to leave her in there any longer, so really, she should just…

“Granger?” 

Hermione pauses at the sound of her name and glances back over her shoulder at Pansy, giving her a questioning look. 

“I…I know this isn’t my place. But what you said before Weasley came back? About not knowing yourself anymore? And being scared?”

Hermione stiffens and she crosses her arms. “What about it?”

“I just…I wanted to tell you that it’ll be okay.” Pansy winces at how foolish she sounds, and she quickly adds, “I mean, I can’t know what you’re going through, but from my own experience, it…it’ll be okay.”

“Your own experience?” Hermione asks, raising an eyebrow as she turns to face Pansy fully. 

“Yes. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I’ve been having a bit of a crisis of faith lately,” Pansy says dryly, shoving her hands into her pockets. “And as such, it’s made me reevaluate everything I thought I knew about myself. And it hasn’t been pleasant. Actually, it’s been quite…scary,” she says slowly, contemplating exactly how she should phrase the next bit of her speech to both allude to her own changes, and to whatever doubts Hermione might be struggling with. She takes a deep breath and says, “but even though it’s scary and I know it’d be far easier to stop…to just…be the same person I’ve always been and believe in the things I’ve been told my whole life…I know I can’t do that. Because I know that if I do, I’ll be left with questions and doubts and I’ll feel miserable all the time, wondering if I made the right choice or not. So everyday, I make the decision to keep going. To dig into everything that makes me uncomfortable and stare it in the face and say I’m not afraid of you. Because I know that eventually, I won’t be afraid of it. I’ll find my way to the other side and I’ll be a better person for it. Perhaps a happier person, too,” she adds softly, watching as Hermione looks down to study the ground, a pale flush upon her cheeks. “I suppose at the end of the day, I’m a firm believer that worthwhile things are rarely easy. And so even though I hardly recognize my own thoughts anymore…and even though the consequences of my questions are terrifying…I know I can’t stop. Because it’s worth it. And like I said, I can’t know what you’re going through, but whatever it is…even though it’s not easy right now, perhaps it will be worthwhile in the end.”

Pansy’s glad Daphne’s in Zonko’s right now. Had she heard that last statement, she’d give Pansy so much grief about how ridiculous it is that Pansy’s alluding to herself as being worthwhile. 

But Daphne’s not here right now and Hermione is. And she’s staring at Pansy with a look Pansy can’t quite decipher. It’s something scared and overwhelmed and Merlin, Pansy hopes she hasn’t put her foot in her mouth.

Hermione opens her mouth. “I…I…” 

“Hermione?” 

Somehow, Pansy manages to tear her eyes away from Hermione’s anxious gaze to look past her. Her eyes land on Ron, standing a ways behind Hermione, his eyes flicking between the two of them. 

“Is everything alright?” Ron asks, letting his gaze linger warily on Pansy. 

Hermione stares at Pansy for a moment before turning to look at Ron. “Yes, sorry. I just…yes. Everything is fine, I…” she breaks off and frowns. “Why are you out here? You shouldn’t be out here, we’ll lose our table.” 

Ron shakes his head. “Seamus, Dean, and Neville came in. I asked them to watch it while I checked on you.” He tilts his head and studies Hermione carefully. “You’re sure you’re alright? You look a bit…off. Did Parkinson say something?” he asks, lowering his voice a bit.

Pansy rolls her eyes and clenches her fists in her pockets. “I had a question for Granger about our Tuesday patrols. That’s it. I didn’t mean to keep you,” she adds to Hermione.

“No, you…you didn’t, I…” Hermione’s gaze is still perplexed, but after a moment, she shakes her head as if she’s clearing a fog and turns back to Ron. “I’m sorry. I’m afraid I’ve been horrible company so far. Should we start again? No more distractions, I promise.” 

Ron gives her a lopsided grin. “Sounds good to me,” he says, then offers her his arm. As Hermione takes it, Pansy feels envy trickle through her. Because she wants to be the one offering her arm to Hermione. Not Weasley. Her

Hermione glances at Pansy. “I’ll see you later,” she says, then adds quietly, “and for what it’s worth…I think it is worth it.”

Ron frowns at her words, but before he can open his mouth, Pansy asks, “for me, or for you?” She doesn’t care if she sounds a bit too urgent to be casual; she needs to know whether or not Hermione’s going to make the effort to ask herself the scary and hard questions. 

“For you? Certainly. For me…” Hermione glances at the ground, then back up at Pansy. “Maybe. I’m not quite sure yet,” she says quietly, her eyes faraway and troubled. 

“Sorry…what’s worth it?” Ron asks, glancing between them with a confused frown. 

“Just a patrols thing,” Hermione says without taking her eyes off of Pansy. 

Before Ron can ask for any clarification, Hermione turns to him, pats his arm, plasters on a smile, and says “shall we?” She spares one more puzzled glance at Pansy, then turns and begins walking back toward the Three Broomsticks.

Pansy watches them go. The jealousy is still there, but after hearing Hermione’s quiet murmur of maybe, it’s more muted than it was before. Because a maybe means there’s a chance Hermione will sort through her feelings and realize exactly why she’s so uninterested in her date with Weasley. That she’ll stop running from whatever feelings have been ignited in her heart and actually sit with them, as unexpected and scary as they are.

Of course, she could be projecting. Perhaps Hermione isn’t attracted to Ron simply because she isn’t attracted to him. That doesn’t mean she’s decided to question her sexuality, and it’s incredibly naive of Pansy to get her hopes up.  

But as she watches Hermione disappear into the Three Broomsticks, the same stupid little kernel of hope glows brightly in Pansy’s heart. 

She’s dimly aware of a tinkling bell in the background, but she doesn’t turn to investigate the source. It’s only when she feels a chin resting on her shoulder that she realizes it was Daphne, leaving Zonko’s. 

“Well…she certainly doesn’t look like she hates you anymore,” Daphne says, her voice close to Pansy’s ear. 

“No…I don’t think she does,” Pansy murmurs, amazed. 

Daphne hums. “Normally, I’d tell you to name your first born after me as a thank you for my sacrifices, but I guess that’s not applicable in this case, is it?” 

Pansy shrugs Daphne off her shoulder, thrusts her coat at her, and starts walking. After Daphne puts her coat on, she loops her arm through Pansy’s and continues. “I suppose I’ll just have to live with you two naming one of your many, many cats after me.” 

“For your sacrifices?” Pansy asks, repeating the phrase with a scoff. 

“Yes.”

“And what would those be?”

“Pansy. I just spent five minutes of my life in Zonko’s. I had to pretend to be interested in Frog Spawn Soap. Frog Spawn Soap,” Daphne repeats, horror in her voice. “The grotesque salesman talked to me about it for ages. Those are minutes I’ll never get back. I deserve a bloody medal.”

“You know, you didn’t have to leave your coat behind,” Pansy says, nodding absently at a group of Slytherin fifth years passing by. 

“Why is it so hard for you to say, thank you, Daphne. What would I do without you, Daphne? You’re the reason for everything good in my life, Daphne.” 

“Thank you, Daphne. What would I do without you, Daphne? Live a calm, pleasant life without having a bloody anxiety attack every five minutes, Daphne?”

Daphne snorts and bumps against her hip. “Close enough, I suppose. But I do want you to name a cat after me.”

Pansy rolls her eyes, but says, “fine. You have my word. If by some bloody miracle, the stars align and everything goes according to your mad plan, we’ll name a cat after you. Happy?”

“Quite.” Daphne’s quiet for a moment, then suddenly, she turns to scrutinize Pansy’s profile. “Hang on…I’ve seen the squashed face monstrosity Granger calls a cat,” she says suspiciously. 

“Mm. What of it?” Pansy asks, starting on the path back toward the castle. 

“What of it?” Daphne says, outrage in her voice. “Pansy Parkinson, if you name a horribly ugly cat after me, I’ll never forgive you.” 

Pansy chuckles. “Full of demands, aren’t you?”

“Pansy…” Daphne says, a warning in her voice. 

Fine. This isn’t even going to happen, but fine. I’ll only name a cat after you if it’s attractive enough. Happy now, you nutter?”

“Yes. Delighted, actually. And I wouldn’t be so sure it’s not going to happen…I saw the way she looked at you. Like she couldn’t figure you out, but was still intrigued. If my own experience being on the receiving end of that look has taught me anything, I’d say you’ve got a shot.” 

“I don’t know about that,” Pansy says, absently kicking at a rock on the path.

“I do. She’s starting to see you as a person and not just a massive wanker. And for what it’s worth, I’ve never seen someone look so unenthusiastic about a first date. Perhaps it’s because her thoughts are on a certain parchment pal…?”

“No. Maybe. I don’t know,” Pansy mutters.

“It’s all there, Pans. All the pieces are there. We’ve just got to make her see it.”

“I—”

“And you have to not botch it all before it’s even begun,” Daphne adds.

“You know, for someone who wasn’t very enthusiastic over the idea of her best mate having feelings for…for Granger,” Pansy says, dropping her voice, “you certainly seem comfortable with the idea now.” 

Daphne shrugs. “Perhaps I just want you to name a cat after me,” she says easily. “But either way, you should know that once I put my mind to something, I’ll go to great lengths to make it happen. And right now, I’ve put my mind to making sure you’re happy.”

Pansy glances at Daphne and smiles at her fondly. She wants to tell Daphne how grateful she is for her presence in her life, but she has a feeling Daphne will brush it off with a joke. So instead, she just squeezes her arm a bit and says, “great lengths indeed. Down eight Galleons and spent five minutes of your life in Zonko’s, all to have an ugly, squashed face cat named after you.” 

Daphne’s head whips around. “Don’t you dare,” she says. 

Pansy just laughs. Because for the first time since she ended things with Draco, she feels curiously light and cautiously optimistic. She takes a deep breath and exhales slowly.

Perhaps things are about to turn around for her. 

***

Tuesday morning finds Pansy and Daphne in the Great Hall, seated away from the rest of their classmates as they chat over their breakfasts. Daphne’s particularly excited—today is the day her Witch Weekly is to be delivered. 

“There’s supposed to be a delicious exposé on the Weird Sisters. Apparently, Myron’s been shagging Donaghan’s girlfriend for months. Can you imagine? Who would shag Myron? Donaghan’s the only decent looking one in the whole bloody band. Well…I suppose Gideon’s not bad either, if you’re into that whole, 12th-century Scottish warrior look,” Daphne adds with a shrug. “Personally though, I wouldn’t.”

“Right,” Pansy says, absently stirring sugar into her tea.

“Oh, fine, I would. But I’d never shag Orsino. He looks like he’d stand at the foot of the bed and watch you sleep all night,” she says with a small shiver. “Something’s off about him.”

“Something tells me this will never be a problem for you,” Pansy says. She blows lightly on her tea, then takes a sip. 

“You don’t know that,” Daphne says. “I made very meaningful eye contact with Donaghan at the Yule Ball. And besides, that’s not the point. The point is to have fun with a hypothetical.”

Pansy hums lightly. “I’ll have to take your word for it.”

“Oh, come on, live a little,” Daphne says, leaning forward with interest. “Surely you’ve thought about who you’d shag, given the chance?”

“Who would I shag from the all-male Weird Sisters?” Pansy asks, raising an eyebrow. “Do we have to go over how this whole lesbian thing works again?” she asks, lowering her voice just in case anyone is listening.

Daphne waves a dismissive hand. “You know what I mean. There’s no one that’s caught your eye? Someone on the The Holyhead Harpies, perhaps? Ooh, or maybe the lead singer of Spellbound? She’s quite fit.” 

“I—”

Before Pansy can answer, she’s distracted by a roar of pain from the Gryffindor table. She glances over Daphne’s shoulder to find a Nose-Biting Teacup hanging from Dean’s nose, and Seamus doubled over with laughter beside him. 

Pansy rolls her eyes at their idiotic antics, but before she looks back to Daphne, she lets her gaze wander to Hermione. She’s watching the display with a small grimace, but somehow, even when her face is twisted in displeasure, she’s still the most frustratingly beautiful girl Pansy’s ever seen. 

It’s been strange for Pansy to fully admit the extent of her infatuation to herself. Because up until very recently, Hermione’s entire personality had tempered any attraction Pansy had toward her. She could admit to herself that she found Hermione somewhat attractive, in a charming, girl-next-door kind of way, but her repulsive, entitled personality had kept her from going any further with those thoughts. Now however, she’s finally willing to confess that she finds Hermione attractive in every conceivable way. From the faint smattering of freckles dusting her nose, to the glints of gold in her soft brown waves, to her perfect smile, to her equally perfect, completely maddening lips that Pansy still wants to taste, to—

“Well, I suppose that answers that question.”

Pansy pulls her gaze from Hermione to find Daphne watching her with mirth in her eyes. 

“What question?” Pansy asks.

“I asked who you’d shag, given the chance, and you proceeded to stare at Granger for thirty minutes.” 

Pansy’s face flames and she glances around to make sure no one has heard Daphne. When she’s satisfied their conversation is still a private one, she turns her gaze back to Daphne. “It wasn’t thirty minutes,” she says hotly. “And I wasn’t even thinking about your bloody question, I just…got distracted.”

Daphne takes a sip of her tea. “I get distracted like that too, you know,” she says casually. “Usually though, I just snog whoever’s causing the distraction and go about my day.”

Pansy grits her teeth and reaches for a croissant from a basket of pastries. “I’ll keep that in mind,” she says, tearing the croissant in half. 

“Do,” Daphne says. She blows lightly on her tea, then adds, “and if you ever need a pick-up line to expedite the process, you know who to come to.” 

“Not you,” Pansy says with a small snort. 

“Excuse me?” Daphne asks, looking offended. “My pick-up lines are legendary.” 

“Whispering Alohomora to a boy’s crotch is hardly legendary,” Pansy says, spreading jam onto the croissant. 

Daphne’s mouth drops open and she puts down her mug. “How dare you! I’ve never used such a sophomoric line in my life,” she says, sounding genuinely upset at the implication.

“Oh, I assure you, you have,” Pansy says with a smirk as she puts her knife down. “End of year party last year? You smuggled in a bottle of firewhisky and finished most of it yourself?”

“I…” Daphne trails off and studies the table with a faraway gaze. 

“Terence Higgs…?” Pansy prompts, trying to spark the memory. 

At the name, Daphne groans and buries her head in her hands. “Oh, Merlin.” 

“There it is,” Pansy says before taking a bite of her croissant.

Daphne looks up and gazes at Pansy with betrayal. “Why didn’t you stop me?” 

“I did. You called me a miserable old bag and tried to wrestle me to the ground to get back to Higgs. So I cast a Full Body-Bind on you,” she says casually. “You fell asleep before it could wear off,” she adds, before taking another bite of her croissant. 

“Merlin,” Daphne groans again. “There are some memories that are better off forgotten. That was one of them.” 

The sound of hundreds of wings descending upon the Great Hall momentarily distracts Pansy, and she glances up to find the owls delivering the morning post. She spots Nashira and looks back toward Daphne with a grin. “Look on the bright side—perhaps there will be an actual pick-up line or two in your Witch Weekly.”

Daphne scowls at her. “Say what you will, but if my very hazy memory serves, Terrence was more than ready to…release his basilisk, if you will.” 

“No. Absolutely not,” Pansy says with a pointed look. “Never say that again.”

Nashira flutters down and lands on Daphne’s shoulder, delivering her long-awaited Witch Weekly. She waits for Daphne to coo at her fondly and give her a quick scratch before spreading her wings and flying off again. Pansy turns to watch her go, and as she does, her eye is drawn toward another, familiar looking owl, soaring toward the Slytherin table. 

Her stomach drops as it gets closer. 

It’s her family’s owl. 

And tied to its leg is a red envelope. 

She’s been sent a Howler. 

Daphne must notice it too, because she whispers, “oh no.” Pansy turns to face her with wide eyes and Daphne says, “run. He’ll follow you outside and no one will hear it. Go now,” she says, looking anxious. 

But Pansy feels as if she’s been glued in place. She turns back and watches numbly as her owl begins its descent, her mind flickering through all the hundreds of horrible things the Howler could contain. 

Her owl doesn’t bother to land on her shoulder. It simply drops the red envelope in front of her, clicks its beak, and flies away, leaving Pansy to stare at the envelope in fear. And it’s not just her eyes on it—by this point, everyone at the Slytherin table has noticed the Howler, and there’s a palpable sense of anticipation lingering in the air.

“Take it outside, Pansy,” Daphne whispers urgently. “Go now, before it explodes.” 

Pansy shakes her head. “It’s too late,” she murmurs. The envelope is already smoking and Pansy knows that if she tried to run, it’d explode in her hands. There’s nothing to do but open it and hope for the best.

Slowly, she picks up the envelope with a shaky hand. She takes one very deep breath, mentally prepares herself for its contents the best she can, and then, she opens it.

I’VE BEEN INFORMED OF THE DECISIONS YOU’VE BEEN MAKING LATELY, PANSY. I’D HATE FOR YOU TO COME TO REGRET THEM. DO BE CAREFUL, MY DEAR. I SHOULD THINK YOU’D REMEMBER WELL THE COST OF INSUBORDINATION. 

The amplified voice of Pansy’s father fades away, and the Howler bursts into flames, leaving a small pile of ash behind on her breakfast plate. 

Pansy stares at the ash and tries to control herself. The Great Hall is curiously muted around her, almost as if she’s underwater. All she can really hear is her own ragged breathing and her father’s threat, both echoing loudly in her ears. His message had been clear—continue making decisions that harm the family’s name, and she’d face the same end as her aunt.

Cold fear drips down her spine at the thought of her aunt, lying on the floor, twisted and broken, and her father, standing above her body and regarding her like she was no more than a piece of trash littering his pristine dining room. 

Would he do the same to her? Would he turn his wand against her and torture her until—

“Pansy? Pans, look at me.” 

Daphne’s voice cuts through the void, and Pansy manages to look up from the ash coating her unfinished croissant to find Daphne, staring at her with fear. Almost immediately, the sounds of the Great Hall rush back into focus, but somehow, it’s not overwhelming. On the contrary, Pansy’s actually glad for the noise—the sudden cacophony helps her feel a bit more grounded and whisks her away from her dark thoughts. She takes a few deep breaths and manages to force the image of her aunt from her mind for now. There will be time to think about her father’s threat later. To replay the disdainful, silky words over and over again until they’re burned into her mind. But this isn’t the time to fall apart. Not now. Not in front of the entire student population. 

A Parkinson does not show weakness.

She straightens her back and looks at Daphne. “It’s fine. I’m fine, he just—” 

No. No, don’t do that. Don’t make excuses for him, do you hear me?” Daphne asks, fury lacing her words. “He can’t do that. He can’t fucking threaten you in front of the entire school.”

Pansy shakes her head and pushes her soiled plate out of the way. “It wasn’t a threat, it was just a reminder,” she says, trying to both soothe Daphne’s nerves and to somehow make herself believe what she’s saying. “You don’t need to worry. He wouldn’t actually hurt me.”

“Wouldn’t he?” Daphne asks, her eyes hard and angry. 

“No. He wouldn’t,” Pansy says. “Though I wish he’d just sent me a letter, like a normal person,” she adds, brushing ash from her skirt. It’s one thing to deal with the fear and shame in private. But now, everyone knows that Pansy’s done something to earn the wrath of her father, and it’ll be the only thing anyone talks about for days. 

Quickly, she looks around the Great Hall to gauge the reaction to her Howler. Most of the professors seem to be gazing at her with concern, but unsurprisingly, most students just look delighted by the unexpected early morning excitement. And perhaps even more unsurprisingly, the Gryffindor table seems happiest of all. 

All but one. 

Hermione’s troubled gaze is boring into Pansy, and she looks deeply concerned. It makes something in Pansy’s stomach twist, and some mad part of her feels the need to reassure Hermione. To show her that she’s okay, even though in actuality, she’s three seconds away from falling apart. Somehow, she manages a small, pitifully weak smile, but it doesn’t seem to be convincing because Hermione’s brow furrows even more at the sight. But before Pansy can think of another way to reassure Hermione, Daphne asks a question. 

“He said decisions, didn’t he?”

Pansy tears her eyes away from Hermione and looks back at Daphne. “What?” 

“In the Howler. He said he’s heard the decisions you’ve been making. Decisions. Plural. Obviously, he’s heard about your involvement with Baddock and Montague. I’d imagine that was the insubordination bit. But what else was he referring to?” 

Pansy frowns. She hadn’t stopped to think about what her father was referencing, but she lets herself ponder it now. “I…I’m not sure, I…” 

Suddenly, a suspicion flutters into her mind. She looks away from Daphne and lets her gaze fall farther down the Slytherin table, searching for familiar grey eyes. She doesn’t have to look hard, though—they’re already trained on her. 

Draco’s face is red with shame and his eyes are panicked, and Pansy’s suspicions are immediately confirmed. She knows the other decision her father had been referring to. 

“Draco,” she says. 

“What?” Daphne asks. 

“Draco,” Pansy repeats, glancing back to Daphne. “He was referring to the end of our relationship. Draco must have told his parents, who must have told mine,” she says dully. “I suppose good news travels fast.” 

“I’m going to fucking destroy him,” Daphne mutters, glaring down the table at Draco, who has the decency to look down at his plate with shame. “How fucking dare he. He knows what your father is like,” she hisses with fury. “He knows what he’s capable of.” 

Pansy nods and reaches for her tea with a slightly shaky hand. “Yes. But he was bound to find out eventually. And anyway, I already told you, he won’t do anything to me,” she says, glancing into the mug and wrinkling her nose when she notices a fine layer of ash coating the top. 

Daphne scoffs. “Well, perhaps you and Draco have both forgotten what your father is like, but I haven’t,” she says.

“Neither have I,” Pansy says, setting her mug down once more. “But I also know what my mum is like, and she’d never let him hurt me.” 

“Are you sure about that? She seemed perfectly willing to let him hurt her own sister.”

Pansy looks up swiftly, feeling as if she’s been punched in the gut. Before she can retort, Daphne lifts her hands. “I’m not saying that to upset you,” she says quickly. “I’m saying that to make you see how serious this is. Pansy…he could really hurt you. He could…he could…”

“He won’t,” Pansy says fervently. She knows what Daphne was thinking—he could kill her. But she doesn’t want her to voice it because for some mad reason, Pansy knows that if Daphne says it out loud, she’ll lose whatever tenuous grasp she has over her emotions right now and she’ll break. 

Daphne looks at her with shimmering eyes. “You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t believe that.”

“Well, you’ll have to. Because there’s no alternative.”

“Are you mad? Of course there’s an alternative” Daphne asks. She leans forward and whispers, “Pansy…you can turn him in.”

Pansy stiffens and looks away from Daphne, choosing instead to stare at the table. “No,” she says. “I can’t.”

“You can,” Daphne whispers, her tone livid. “You’re the only one who fucking can! You were an eye-witness account to what happened! You could go to the Ministry and talk to an Auror and lock him in Azkaban where he belongs.”

“I can’t. He’s my father,” Pansy says, refusing to meet Daphne’s gaze.

“He is. He’s also a fucking murderer,” Daphne says. 

“I can’t have this conversation with you,” Pansy says, reaching down to grab her bag. But before she can stand up, Daphne leans forward and grabs her wrist.
 
“Pansy. Don’t you think she deserves it?” 

Pansy frowns and looks up to find Daphne’s gaze on her, desperate and pleading. 

“What?” Pansy asks.

“Your aunt,” Daphne says, releasing Pansy’s wrist. “Don’t you think she deserves justice?”

Pansy shakes her head a bit. “I…I don’t…”

Daphne reaches for Pansy’s hand. “After all this time…all the years you’ve spent shouldering this burden by yourself…all the years you’ve spent torturing yourself, wondering what you could have done to save her…Pansy. This is it. This is the only thing you can do to help her now.”

“I…”

“You can finally get justice for her, after all these years. And you can protect yourself at the same time.”

“It’s not that easy,” Pansy finally murmurs, releasing Daphne’s hand.

“I know it’s not. I know he’s your father and I know you’re afraid of him. You’re right to be. But I won’t stand by and let him threaten to do the same thing to you that he did to Beatrice. Not if there’s a chance we can stop him.”

Pansy laughs shakily and looks toward the ceiling, blinking back the tears that are threatening to fall. 

A Parkinson does not show weakness. 

“I know you mean well,” she starts slowly as she tries to regain control of her emotions. “And…perhaps you’re right. About all of it,” she adds, glancing back toward Daphne. “But it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing I can do.”

“Of course there—”

“No, there isn’t. You don’t understand how connected my father is. How many friends in high places he has.”

“You’re underestimating the Department of Magical Law Enforcement,” Daphne says.

“I’m not.”

“You are, and if you’d just— ”

“Do you honestly think I haven’t considered this before?” Pansy asks with frustration. She exhales sharply and pushes her hair back from her face. “Fine. Fine, let’s pretend there’s a chance I can stop him. Let’s pretend I tell an Auror what I saw. Then what?” she asks, raising an eyebrow. “He has contacts throughout the Ministry. He’ll be tipped off to any investigation immediately. And once he’s been tipped off, he’ll prepare for an interrogation. He’d barely even need to prepare,” Pansy adds with bitter smile. “My mum would never go against him. All he’d have to say is I was eight-years old at the time. My daughter had a bad dream, as children do,” Pansy says, imitating her father. “Terribly sorry to waste your time. And that would be that. The entire case would be dismissed.”

“No, that’s not…I mean, your aunt is a missing person,” Daphne says, shaking her head, but before she can continue, Pansy cuts her off. 

“She’s not. She was never reported missing. As far as the Wizarding world knows, she’s still alive and well. And even if I were to report her missing, it still wouldn’t hold water. Because even when she was alive, she was flighty. She’d pick up her life whenever she felt like it and start over somewhere new without telling a soul. She spent the first three years of my life in Greece. She lived in Italy for a year. Spent some time in America, too. All he’d have to say is we hear from her now and again. Fake a letter or two.” Pansy shakes her head. “I can’t bring him down, Daphne. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. So the best thing for me to do is to keep my head down. Besides, if he wanted me dead, he wouldn’t have sent the Howler. He’d have just done it and moved on with his life.”

Daphne stills at Pansy’s words and grows pale. “If he touches a single hair on your head, I’ll fucking kill him,” she says, her voice low and dangerous.

Pansy manages a shaky smile at the threat. “He won’t,” she reiterates. “I just need to be more careful. I promise you, I’ll be fine, so long as I play by the rules.”

“And you’re willing to do that?” Daphne asks, raising an eyebrow. 

Is she? Is she willing to undo all the progress she’s made over the past few weeks to appease her father? Can she revert to being a person she loathes, just to keep herself alive? She’ll have to use cruel language again, simply to fit in and avoid suspicion. She’ll need to rekindle her relationship with Draco. She’ll have to marry him one day. Perhaps have a child or two.

She’ll have to keep Hermione at arm’s length for the rest of their time at Hogwarts.

Something in Pansy’s stomach plummets at the thought, but she grits her teeth and forces herself to ignore the overwhelming despair inundating her body. It doesn’t matter how she feels about any of this. Because if this is what she needs to do to keep herself and the people she loves safe, then she’ll do it. 

Even if it destroys her, she’ll do it. 

“I have to,” Pansy says dully. “It’s either that or…” she trails off, the word die stuck in her throat. She swallows heavily around it, then murmurs, “I have to.” 

“So that’s it, then?” Daphne asks quietly. “You take all these steps toward being a better person, toward actually being happy for once in your life, and you’re just going to…what? Let your father push you right back into Draco’s arms? Let him scare you back into the closet?” 

“I…” Pansy glances past Daphne once more toward Hermione. She’s listening to something Ron is saying with a weak smile on her face, and Pansy feels a pang in her heart for what could have been. “Yes. It’s the only way,” Pansy whispers. “Because if I keep going down this path, I’d end up risking her, too. My father might not kill me, but he’d certainly have no qualms about killing the Muggle-born witch I have feelings for. And I won’t let that happen,” she adds, her tone leaving no room for argument. 

“Pansy…”

“We should go,” Pansy says abruptly, speaking at a normal volume. “Don’t want to be late for Potions.”

“We’re not done—”

“We are,” Pansy says with a warning glance. “We have to be done.”

“Pansy, would you just—” 

“And if we hurry, you can get you that bloody cauldron you love so much.”

“Pansy!” Daphne says, slapping her open palms down on the table in frustration.

“What?” Pansy hisses.

“Stop shutting me out. If we just think about this, we can figure something out.”

“We can’t,” Pansy says, feeling something inside of her break. “We can’t beat him and I will not risk anyone else’s life by trying. This is just how it has to be, but that’s okay! Because I can live with being fucking miserable for the rest of my life if it means everyone I care about gets to live.”

“But it’s…that’s not fair,” Daphne says, looking at Pansy desperately.

“No. It’s not,” Pansy says. “But just…promise me you won’t make this harder than it is, okay? Promise me you’ll respect my decision?”

Daphne absently trails her fingers over the glossy cover of her forgotten Witch Weekly. After what feels like a small eternity, she mumbles, “I promise,” sounding absolutely miserable. 

Pansy exhales shakily at the words and whispers, “thank you.” She glances down at the cover of Daphne’s Witch Weekly, remembering how simple their conversation had been ten minutes ago. Ten minutes ago, when the only thing she had been focused on was the gentle stirrings of butterflies in her stomach that seemed to happen every time she thought about patrolling with Hermione tonight. Now, she just feels tired and numb inside, as if someone has scooped out her insides, leaving her hollow and raw.

As Daphne gathers her things, Pansy lets her eyes fall on Hermione one more time. She’s absently nodding along to something Harry’s saying, but some part of her must feel Pansy’s gaze on her, because she turns away from Harry to meet Pansy’s eyes. They hold each other’s gaze for a moment and in those few, precious seconds, Pansy lets herself imagine a world in which things were simpler. A beautiful, easy world in which she’d have never been poisoned by her father’s beliefs. She’d have treated Hermione well, right from the start. She wouldn’t have been put off by her eagerness or by her know-it-all tendencies; instead, she’d have recognized her boundless intelligence, her sparkling wit, her radiant warmth. They’d have been friends. Perhaps they’d have even been more than friends, one day. And perhaps one day, if the stars managed to align just so, Pansy would have made good on her promise to show her the world. 

Merlin, how she would have loved to show her Paris. 

“Ready?” Daphne murmurs.

Slowly, Pansy drags her eyes away from Hermione’s concerned gaze. She nods to Daphne and picks up her bag, then stands and starts the long walk to Potions. And as she walks, she lets go of all the dreams she had secretly been harboring over the past few weeks, one by one. As each one flies away, she feels her heart crack, just a bit.

When she lets go of Paris, it shatters into pieces.

***

By the time patrols roll around, Pansy’s exhausted. She’s gone through her whole day in a fog with her father’s voice ringing in her ears. She’s ignored all attempts her housemates have made to get her to discuss the Howler and she had even turned her back to Draco when he had found her after Potions and started toward her with an apology lurking in his eyes. She didn’t want to discuss the morning’s events with anyone, especially not with him.

But it wasn’t just her housemates who were trying to get her to open up. 

Hermione had asked about the Howler as well. 

She had tentatively brought it up during Potions, and more than anything, Pansy had wanted to tell her what was going on. She wanted to spill all her sordid secrets, to air out every dusty, moldering skeleton lurking in her closet in the hopes that Hermione would know what to do with the shattered and splintered bones. But she had remembered her promise to keep Hermione safe by keeping her at a distance, so instead, she had simply given her head a quick shake and shut down the hesitant attempt at conversation. Hermione hadn’t pushed—she seemed to realize that Pansy was in a dark space, and she had simply sat beside her in understanding silence. 

But now, they’re thirty minutes into a completely silent patrol and it’s clear Hermione wants to talk. She keeps glancing at Pansy out of the corner of her eye and her body language is restless and twitchy. At first, Pansy thought it might be because she was on edge, remembering what had happened last Tuesday on patrols. But as time went on and the glances became more and more pronounced, she realized that the source of Hermione’s anxiety wasn’t the possibility of another unexpected attack—it was Pansy

If she hadn’t recently sworn to keep Hermione at arm’s length, it would have boosted her spirits. But now, it just makes her feel despondent. 

After what must be her fiftieth worried glance, Pansy sighs. It’s clear that Hermione won’t stand for being ignored all night, so perhaps Pansy can continue to keep her at a distance, minus the cold shoulder. 

Pansy clears her throat a bit and murmurs, “I’m fine, Granger. I’m just…thinking.”

Hermione stops walking and stares at her. “I didn’t say…I mean…what?” she asks, sounding surprised. 

Pansy pauses and studies Hermione. “You’ve been looking at me like I might combust every three seconds since we started this. I just…you don’t need to be…concerned,” she finishes hesitantly. It feels a bit odd to assume that Hermione’s worried over her wellbeing, but to be honest, there’s no other way she can interpret the nervous glances. 

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I just…” Hermione trails off and bites her lip nervously, and by some miracle, Pansy’s eyes don’t stray to the movement. “The Howler,” Hermione finally says with a small wince. “It sounded…I mean…that was a threat, wasn’t it?” 

Pansy anxiously fidgets with her wand. “It was a reminder,” she says carefully. 

“From your father?”

Pansy shrugs. “It’s not important.” 

“If your father is sending you threats in the form of Howlers, I’d say that’s important. I certainly don’t know much about him, but from what I’ve gathered…” she breaks off and gazes at Pansy with concern. “If he’s threatening you, you need to tell someone. You need to tell Dumbledore.”

Pansy shakes her head. “I don’t need to tell anyone. I know what my father expects, and I’m willing to do it.”

“Yes, but—”

“That’s all there is to it.”

“I know, but—”

“That’s all there is to it,” Pansy repeats, raising an eyebrow as if she’s daring Hermione to continue questioning her. 

Hermione huffs and purses her lips in frustration, but doesn’t continue pushing. Instead, she starts walking again, heading past Pansy toward the girl’s bathroom. But just as she’s about to pass Pansy, her eyes grow wide as they fix on something near the ceiling. Before Pansy can turn to see the source of Hermione’s surprise, she hears glass exploding behind her. 

Everything seems to slow down at the sound. It’s clear they’re under attack again, but unlike last time, Pansy might be too late to protect Hermione.

That doesn’t mean she won’t try.

Heart in her throat, Pansy whirls around. With one arm, she pushes Hermione behind her, intent on shielding her from all harm. Then, she flings out her wand and a nonverbal Protego explodes from the tip, shimmering in front of her and illuminating the dark corridor in a misty blue glow. Content that they’re safe for the moment, Pansy looks around wildly for the source of the attack, panic bubbling in her throat when she can’t find the culprit. Glass from a shattered lantern is glittering on the floor, but there’s no one in the hallway who could’ve caused the explosion.  

It’s only when Hermione lays a gentle hand on Pansy’s rigid arm and nods toward the ceiling that Pansy raises her gaze.  

Floating high above them is Peeves, wiggling his bare toes toward them and flashing a shit-eating grin.

Pansy’s grip tightens around her wand. “I’m going to fucking kill him,” she hisses, her heart still thumping wildly in her chest. She glances at Hermione quickly to make sure she’s fine to find hazel eyes already trained on her, regarding her with surprise and something else that she can’t quite place. But before she can think too hard about it, Peeves draws her attention again by blowing a massive raspberry.

“Oooooh! Threatening Peevesy, are you? Naughty, naughty,” he says in his infuriating sing-song voice. “And such a potty mouth, too! Naughty potty, naughty potty, naughty potty,” he says with a high-pitched cackle. 

Hermione sighs from beside Pansy, then pulls out her wand and points it toward the shattered glass on the floor. She murmurs Reparo and the glass shards immediately float up and begin to knit themselves back together. After a few moments, the lantern is completely fixed. Hermione relights the flame inside and with another flick of her wrist, hangs it back on the wall. Then, she turns to Peeves. “Don’t you have better things to do than harass us?” she asks flatly.

“Why, I’m not harassing, not harassing at all,” Peeves says. “Not doing nothing wrong! No danger for Granger, not while Peevesy is around! Lantern exploded on its own, it did,” he says with a broad grin. “BOOM!” he yells suddenly, then devolves into hysterical laughter.

“Let me kill him,” Pansy mutters beside Hermione.

Hermione ignores her and with the patience of a saint says, “I’m afraid I’ll have to call the Headmaster for this, Peeves. And I don’t think he’ll be understanding. Especially not after the attack last week,” she adds casually. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he forced you to leave Hogwarts, what with your propensity for dangerous antics. Better that than risk a student’s safety, don’t you think?”

Peeves frowns and his grin falters uncertainly. There’s only one thing that can scare Peeves off, and that’s threatening to call either Dumbledore or the Bloody Baron. And from the look on Hermione’s face, she’s not making an idle threat. 

“No, no, no need to call anyone, no need at all,” Peeves says. “Was just having a little fun, I was, but now I’m done. Shan’t give you anymore trouble, not me! But before I leave you two all alone in the dark…” His dark eyes glitter with malice and he puffs out his chest. “BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!” he bellows with glee. Then cackling madly, he zips away through the ceiling, presumably off to bother other patrollers. 

“I don’t know why Dumbledore lets him stay,” Pansy mutters, staring at the space previously occupied by Peeves with bitterness. 

“Why did you do that?” 

Pansy glances away from the ceiling and back toward Hermione, whose piercing gaze is trained on her. 

“Do what?” Pansy asks, arching an eyebrow and pocketing her wand, hoping that she won’t need it again tonight. 

“You pushed me behind you. Why?” 

“Oh. I…” Pansy trails off awkwardly. She’s desperately glad for the dim lighting in the hallway, masking her warm cheeks from Hermione’s eagle eyes. “I…I had my wand out already. You didn’t,” she finally says with a shrug, hoping it sounds somewhat convincing. 

Hermione shakes her head. “It was your first instinct to protect me. You didn’t even hesitate,” she says with quiet wonder. “And don’t pretend like that’s the norm for you,” she adds sharply. “You told me yourself, Slytherins err on the side of self-preservation.”

“So what, you thought I’d use you as a shield?” Pansy asks with a small scoff. 

“No. But…” Hermione shakes her head as if she’s trying to make sense of what just happened. Finally, she looks back to Pansy. “You’d protect yourself first. You wouldn’t make sure that I was safe before you cast Protego. Which by the way, how can you manage such a strong non-verbal Protego?” she asks, sounding genuinely impressed. 

Pansy winces uncomfortably. She could tell Hermione the truth: that she had locked herself in an empty classroom in the weeks after they first learned the charm, forcing herself to practice it over and over again non-verbally until she had finally managed to produce a weak version. It would raise more questions, though, because her practicing sessions had been conducted a full two years before non-verbal magic had even been introduced in their standard lesson plans. But growing up in a Wizarding family meant that Pansy knew the basics of non-verbal magic. That, coupled with her desire to never be left to her father’s mercies had been all she needed to master the spell. And now that she’s able to cast a powerful non-verbal Protego, she’s working on casting it wandlessly. Because if there’s one thing Pansy’s certain of, it’s that she’ll never be useless again. She’ll never stand by while her father hurts someone she loves. 

Hermione is still watching her, waiting for an answer. “I…I don’t know,” Pansy finally says, refusing to meet Hermione’s eyes. “I suppose it just comes naturally.” 

“You’re lying,” Hermione says calmly. 

Pansy’s eyes narrow. “Excuse me?”

“You’re lying,” Hermione repeats, unbothered by Pansy’s reaction. “You’re not the only one who’s been practicing non-verbal magic. I know firsthand how difficult it is. So to manage a Protego that powerful…” she shakes her head. “It doesn’t just come naturally,” she says. “You’ve been practicing it, and presumably for quite some time. …Why?” 

“For reasons that are my own,” Pansy says. She turns away from Hermione and starts walking toward the girl’s bathroom to continue her patrols. 

“Would those reasons have anything to do with your father?”

Pansy stops walking and feels every muscle in her body tense. She grits her teeth, turns, and says, “I’m not sure that’s any of your business.”

“You’re right. It’s not my business at all, but…” Hermione hesitates, and Pansy waits patiently. Finally, Hermione seems to deflate a bit. “You gave me good advice at Hogsmeade,” she says. “Advice I’ve been thinking about ever since. And I know we’re not friends, and we never will be, but I’d like to try and return the favor. I can’t force you to talk, and I never would,” she adds seriously, “but…sometimes you need to talk to someone who’s removed from the situation, remember?” she asks, repeating Pansy’s own words from the Three Broomsticks back to her. “And you’ve clearly been out of sorts since it happened. So if this isn't something you can discuss with Greengrass or Malfoy, then…perhaps you could tell me.” 

Merlin, she wants to. She wants to tell Hermione everything. To let her in the same way she had let Robin in, all those weeks ago. But instead, she shakes her head and mutters, “I can’t.”

“Why not?” Hermione says, refusing to back down. 

“I just can’t, Granger,” Pansy says. She’s aware of the pain in her voice, but at this moment, she doesn’t particularly care. She’s hurting, she’s exhausted, and after the debacle with Peeves, her nerves are still on edge.

Hermione must pick up on her anguished tone though, because she takes a step forward. “Because you’re afraid of him?” she asks without a trace of judgment in her eyes. 

“I…” Pansy closes her eyes and exhales sharply. “Yes,” she murmurs. She opens her eyes and looks at Hermione. “I am.”

“And he’s hurt people you love,” Hermione murmurs, a small furrow on her brow. 

Pansy nods weakly. Alarm bells are faintly ringing in her head, telling her she’s doing the exact opposite of what she decided on at breakfast. Instead of keeping Hermione away, she’s desperately hoping she keeps prying into Pansy’s past and unravels the whole sordid story. And if the look on Hermione’s face is any indication, that’s exactly what she intends to do. 

“If he’s dangerous, you need to tell someone. You need to tell Dumbledore,” Hermione says again, more urgently this time. 

“I can’t,” Pansy says.

“Why not? From the sound of it, you’d be doing the world a service.”

At that, Pansy smiles ruefully. “I would be,” she concedes. “But I can’t.” 

“Why?” Hermione asks taking another step forward, her eyes boring into Pansy’s. 

“Because,” Pansy says. “He’s dangerous. More dangerous than you could ever know.”

At this, Hermione scoffs. Instantly, her gaze turns apologetic. “Sorry,” she says quickly. “I’m sure he is, it’s just…I’ve been helping Harry fight Voldemort since I was eleven. I’m quite used to dangerous men by now.”

“I suppose that’s true,” Pansy says, wincing with discomfort at Hermione’s casual use of the name. 

“It is,” Hermione replies evenly. “And honestly, anything you’d tell me about your father would be small potatoes in comparison. I bet I’d hardly even react,” she adds lightly. “Go on. Try me.” 

Pansy stares at Hermione for a moment. “Are you…are you actually trying to taunt me into spilling my tragic backstory?” she asks with amazement. 

Hermione shrugs. “Maybe. Is it working?”

In spite of herself, Pansy snorts. “I don’t think so.” 

“Well, worth a shot,” Hermione says. But even though her tone is light, her eyes are still concerned, and Pansy knows she’s not done trying. “It’s just…I can see this is troubling you and it wouldn’t hurt you to talk about it,” she says carefully. “Perhaps I could help.”

Pansy shakes her head. “I appreciate it the offer. Really, I do, but…” she sighs and slumps back against the wall behind her. “The less you know, the better.”

Hermione arches an eyebrow and gives her a wry look. “I’d suggest you remember who you’re talking to, Parkinson. I’ve never subscribed to that belief and I never will.” 

Pansy manages a small smile. “No. No, I suspect you wouldn’t,” she murmurs, regarding Hermione with far too much fondness lurking in her eyes. Quickly, she shakes her head before Hermione can notice and says, “it just has to be this way. There’s no alternative. My father expects certain things from me, and it’s my responsibility to deliver them.” 

“I understand,” Hermione says. Then she sighs and her shoulders slump a bit. “As I said, I won’t force you to talk. But know it’s a standing offer. If you ever decide to air your frustrations about your father, then…well, what he doesn’t know won’t kill him,” she says. Then, she turns and walks toward the girl’s bathroom to continue patrolling. 

Pansy nods absently and is about to push off the wall to join her when Hermione’s statement actually registers. 

What he doesn’t know won’t kill him.

Pansy’s thought process momentarily stalls and she frowns a bit. She repeats it to herself, almost hesitantly.

What he doesn’t know won’t kill him.

Pansy inhales sharply as she realizes the massive, idiotic flaw in her logic. How could she be so bloody stupid? She doesn’t have to actually revert to the person she once was—she can just pretend, a fact that had conveniently escaped her anxious, addled mind a few hours ago. Because somehow, in the depths of her despair, she had thought the only option to convince her father that she was still the same daughter he had raised was to be that person. But if there’s one thing Pansy knows she can do better than her father, it’s pretend.

She didn’t spend years in the closet for nothing.

She straightens her back against the wall as she considers this new turn of events, and the more she thinks about it, the more hope she feels.

She doesn’t have to date Draco again. She just has to be brave and tell him the truth, the whole truth this time, and hope he’s willing to cover for her until she can escape her parent’s house.

She doesn’t have to revert to horrid language—she can simply talk to her fellow Slytherins about Muggle-borns in the same snide, awful way that she always has, but this time, ditch the offensive slur. 

She doesn’t have to keep Hermione at arm’s length—she can tell her what’s happening. She can let her in on everything while still ensuring she stays safe.

Pansy’s certainly hinted at her troubled past before, but now is the perfect opportunity to fully open up and explain her childhood to Hermione. To tell her every last detail and hope that by the end, she’ll understand why Pansy’s desperately trying to make changes in her life. She’s cautiously optimistic that they’re finally in a decent enough place that Hermione will be open to listening, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt her own cause to practice being more vulnerable. 

And perhaps more than anything, Hermione deserves the whole story. Pansy owes it to her.

She digs her fingernails into her palms and takes a deep breath. 

Now or never. 

She glances back to Hermione, who’s currently peering into the girl’s bathroom. After a moment, she lets the door close and turns back to face Pansy. “All clear in there,” she says, then turns to continue down the hallway. 

“Granger. Wait,” Pansy says, quickly pushing off from the wall. 

Hermione stops and turns to face Pansy, raising an eyebrow. “Change your mind about talking?” she asks dryly. 

“Yes.”

Hermione’s eyes widen a fraction and she shakes her head. “I was just…I was joking, you don’t have to—”

“I don’t. But I want to.” Pansy glances around, then nods to a bench outside of the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. “Can we…?” 

Hermione follows her gaze, then frowns. “We’re meant to be patrolling,” she says, sounding a bit conflicted. 

“And we will. We will, I just…please?” she asks, unable to come up with a good reason. But Hermione must take pity on her, because she sighs, nods, and starts toward the bench. Pansy follows her and sits down cautiously, leaving a healthy amount of space between them. Once they’re both settled, Hermione turns to face Pansy expectantly. 

With a deep breath, Pansy starts talking. 

“The Howler…how much of it did you hear?” 

Hermione gives her a look, as if she’s trying to figure out if she’s joking or not. When Pansy just gazes back at her, Hermione arches an eyebrow. “All of it. Hower’s aren’t exactly known for their subtlety.”

Pansy fiddles nervously with her skirt. “So you heard the bit about remembering the the cost of insubordination?” 

Hermione nods, and Pansy sighs. “He was referring to something. A very specific moment in my life.” 

She stares at the wall across the way for a while as she tries to work up the nerve to speak. Hermione is quiet for a while, but when Pansy remains silent, she murmurs, “you really don’t have to tell me.”

“No, I…I do. I…” Pansy sighs and runs a hand through her hair. “The Parkinson family isn’t the easiest family to be born into,” she starts quietly, sorting through her thoughts. “You have to play by certain rules, and if you don’t…” Pansy breaks off as she thinks about lifeless green eyes. She shakes her head a bit and continues, “there are consequences. And when I was a child, I found out what they were. My…” Pansy hesitates briefly, biting her lower lip. She had been on the cusp of saying my aunt, but she had quickly remembered that she couldn’t tell Hermione the complete truth. After all, Hermione knows that her bard had a rebellious aunt who had died when she was eight. It certainly wouldn’t take a genius to connect the dots. Even Weasley could probably manage it. 

Instead, she decides to skirt as close to the truth as she can. “My grandmother,” she says. “My maternal grandmother. She was different than the rest of the family. Used to tell me that Muggle-borns were just the same as us. 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,” Pansy says, quietly quoting her aunt’s long-ago words, whispered to her in the safety of a warm, wonderful library. “She was the farthest thing from a Parkinson as you could get. I think that’s why I loved her so much…she was the one bright, warm spot in what was otherwise a horribly bleak childhood. But her tolerance and acceptance infuriated my father to no end. He said she was making a laughingstock of the Parkinson name. Said he wouldn’t stand for it. He and my mother started to call her a blood-traitor. They eventually banned me from seeing her altogether. I was devastated,” Pansy murmurs. She takes a deep breath as she steels herself for what’s to come. “She had given me this doll,” Pansy finally says with a small smile. “A beautiful doll that she found in Italy. It had green eyes and black hair. She thought it was the loveliest thing she had ever seen…said it reminded her of me,” she adds quietly. “I’d carry that doll with me everywhere. It was my only friend for quite a while, so of course I had it that night when my…my grandmother came over to our house. She hadn’t been there in ages, but my father had invited her and I was so happy,” Pansy whispers, feeling the tell-tale burning of tears in her eyes as the scene unravels in her mind. “I dropped the doll from where I was playing underneath the table and ran to her and she hugged me, and…Merlin, her hugs. No one hugged quite like she did.” Pansy leans her head back against the wall and closes her eyes. “But my father told me that the grown-ups needed to discuss things. He told me to say goodbye to her.” Pansy opens her eyes and looks toward Hermione. “Say goodbye. Not goodnight. Perhaps it should have struck me as odd at the time, but I was so young.”

Hermione is watching her with troubled eyes and Pansy finds herself curiously unable to speak under her gaze. She turns away and tilts her head toward the ceiling. “Anyway. I said goodnight to her and my mum took me upstairs. Tucked me in and closed the door. And it was only after a few minutes that I realized I had left my doll downstairs. I couldn’t sleep without her. I’d have nightmares,” she adds with a rueful smile, thinking of the nightmare to come. “So I snuck out of bed and crept back downstairs. The back door to the dining room was open, so I knew that I could pop in without anyone noticing, get my doll, and run back to bed. And no one did notice me at first,” Pansy says. “I crawled along the floor and snuck underneath the table where I had left her. And I was going to leave immediately, but I heard what my father was saying, and I…I stayed to listen,” Pansy whispers. “He was saying awful things to her. Calling her all sorts of horrid, cruel names. Calling her a blood-traitor, telling her that she had brought shame to the Parkinson name. He said he had been lenient for far too long, and that she’d finally have to face the consequences of her actions. But she was never one to take things lying down, so she was yelling back at him. Goading him, taunting him. She was spirited. She couldn’t have known at the time what was going to happen.” Pansy closes her eyes and exhales slowly, the continues. “The first Crucio came out of nowhere. I almost thought I had misheard…he was so calm. Eerily calm,” Pansy says as the ghost of her father’s voice echoes in her ears. “But when she started screaming, I knew I hadn’t misheard. I’d never heard screams like that before. Bloodcurdling. Like she was being ripped apart at the seams. It went on for so long. I couldn’t breath the whole time. But once she was quiet, I thought that was the end. That it had just been a threat to keep her in line. But then he said I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but you’ve left me no choice. The next Crucio was even worse. As was the one after that, and the one after that, and so on and so forth. And each time it ended, I would desperately hope that that was it. That he’d given up. But he never did,” Pansy whispers, her voice breaking. 

“My god,” Hermione murmurs beside her, quiet and horrified. 

“She tried to get away from him each time. She’d crawl a bit further along the floor, just trying to escape the pain. And eventually, she got far enough that she could see me, frozen and terrified under the table. She wasn’t in her right mind by that point,” Pansy says quietly. “She couldn’t speak. But when she saw me, she stared at me so desperately. I don’t think she even knew who I was anymore, but it didn’t matter. She was begging me to do something, and I just…I couldn’t,” Pansy hissed, clenching her fists. “All I could do was watch.” Pansy blinks away hot tears and says, “that’s why I can cast a non-verbal Protego. So if I ever find myself in that situation again, I’ll be prepared.” 

“Pansy…” Hermione murmurs, but Pansy shakes her head. She’s not done, and if she stops to let Hermione ask questions or offer consolations, she’ll never finish. 

“My mum eventually noticed me. Gathered me up from under the table and took me back to my room. But not before I got a good look at my…my grandmother’s eyes,” Pansy says. “She was barely alive. I’m not even sure if she was alive, to tell you the truth. I think I just wanted to believe that she was. But she was so broken. Her body was broken, her mind was broken, and it was just…” Pansy quickly brushes away a stray tear. “She was the strongest, kindest, best woman  I’d ever known. So to see her like that…” She trails off and takes a shaky breath, forcing the familiar image out of her mind. “After it was all done, my father came to talk to me. I was so sure he was going to kill me that night. I remember waiting for him to turn his wand on me. But he didn’t…he just sat on the side of my bed and told me that what I witnessed was what happened when people went against pure-blood supremacy. That if I believed in the same things she did, I’d face the same consequences.”

God,” Hermione says, exhaling sharply and shaking her head. Horror is etched on her face, her mouth is twisted in revulsion, and Pansy notices that her fingers are gripping the bench so tightly that the tips have turned white. After a few long, silent moments, Hermione finally glances at Pansy. “So the threat in the Howler…” she says, a question in her voice. 

“Was a reminder. A reminder of that night. Of what he can do to me, if I stray from his teachings. If I dishonor the Parkinson name. I’d assume he heard that I was the reason Baddock and Montague were expelled. That I went against two pure-blood students in order to save you. A decision I don’t regret, by the way,” Pansy says firmly, trying to assuage the guilt lurking in Hermione’s eyes. “Not in the slightest. But that decision in and of itself screams blood-traitor. And when he heard I broke things off with Draco…I suppose that was one transgression too many.” 

Hermione shakes her head. “I don’t understand,” she says quietly. “If this is the burden you’ve lived with all of these years…if you know what your father is capable of, then…”

“Why am I trying to change?” Pansy asks, reading the unspoken question in Hermione’s eyes. Hermione nods hesitantly, and Pansy sighs. 

She wants to say you, but she controls the impulse. Instead, she says, “I’ve spent years blocking out the details of that night. Justifying the things my father did in some mad attempt to make it make sense. And it worked. I convinced myself that he was right, that she deserved it, that she was dangerous…but recently, certain…certain things have happened that have forced me to revisit that night,” she says. Her eyes dart quickly toward Hermione, the unknowing sole source of Pansy’s crisis of faith, then flick back toward the floor. “And it’s been difficult, to say the least. But it’s something I should have done ages ago. And in the process, I’ve come to realize a few things.”

Hermione lifts an eyebrow but stays quiet, waiting for Pansy to continue. “I’ve realized that as much as I desperately wanted to believe my father was acting in our best interests, he wasn’t. He never was. He’s been a monster all of my life, but I just wouldn’t let myself see it. Mostly because I was terrified of facing the same fate as my grandmother, but also because I didn’t want to believe that he was capable of such a horrifying, inhumane act without good reason. But he didn’t have good reason, which was the cause for my other realization, and perhaps the one that you’ll be more interested in—I’ve realized that she was right all along. My grandmother, that is. Muggle-born, pure-blood…it…it doesn’t really matter, does it?” Pansy asks, raising her eyes to meet Hermione’s surprised gaze. “She was right—no one can help the blood they’re born with. But somehow, my father managed to convince me that she was the mad one. That her words were poison and that if I believed them, that if I showed even the slightest hint toward being sympathetic toward Muggle-borns, then he’d…well. You know.” She twists a bit so she’s fully facing Hermione and says, “none of this is an excuse. I realize it shouldn’t have taken me this long to get to here, to reach these conclusions. But I suppose…I don’t know. I thought that after seven years, you deserved the full story. To know what motivated me. To know where I come from and why I believed the things I did. So…that’s it. That’s my story.” She slumps sideways against the wall behind her, leaning her weight against her shoulder as she waits for whatever judgment Hermione might have in store for her. 

Hermione takes a deep breath and exhales slowly as she pushes a hand through her hair, clearly trying to digest everything she’s just heard. After a few long moments, she turns to Pansy. “Thank you,” she says, her gaze clear and earnest. “That couldn’t have been easy for you. I can’t even begin to imagine the torment you must go through each day, being forced to live with that memory. The burden you’ve carried for so long,” she adds, her voice laced with pain. “I’m sorry. No child should have to experience such a horrifying trauma, but to see it at the hands of someone you’re supposed to trust,” Hermione says, shaking her head in disbelief. “He can’t get away with that, mind you. And we won’t let him,” she adds, her tone hard. But before Pansy can raise the same objections she did to Daphne, Hermione continues. “But really, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for you, I’m sorry for your grandmother, I…I wish I knew the right things to say to make it easier, but I just…” she trails off and shakes her head again. “I don’t know what to say besides I’m sorry. But that doesn’t do much, does it?”

Pansy smiles a bit and shrugs. “You don’t need to say anything. Honestly, it’s enough that you were willing to listen,” she adds. “I’d imagine it’s not the easiest story to sit through.”

“No, it’s certainly not,” Hermione murmurs. “And I’m not even sure how I feel right now. Part of me is so horrified on your behalf that I can barely stomach it, but a bigger part of me is angry enough to march past your massive moat or whatever ridiculous thing you have guarding your mansion and arrest your father myself, rules be damned,” she says, her eyes flashing dangerously in the dark.

Pansy smirks a bit at the fire in Hermione’s tone, finding herself much more appreciative of it when it’s not directed at her. “Well, much as I understand your reaction, I’d still recommend against it.” She absently crosses her legs and says, “I can assure you, I didn’t tell you the whole tragic tale in the hopes that you’d descend on him like some righteous angel of vengeance. I only told you because…” she shrugs. “I thought you deserved to know. After everything that’s happened between us, I mean.”

Hermione nods. “I won’t lie, it’s certainly helpful for me to understand where you’re coming from. And to be honest with you, I’ve been having a hard time wondering whether or not I should trust this change of yours. And I’ve been having an even harder time trying to figure out if I should forgive you or not. I even asked a friend of mine,” she says, bouncing her leg a bit as a slight flush comes to her cheeks.

“Oh? And what did this friend say?” Pansy asks, all the while feeling fairly confident that she’s the friend in question.

“She told me to never forgive out of obligation. To only forgive if it’s in my best interests.”

Pansy hums thoughtfully, pretending to ponder her own words. “Good advice. Almost sounds like something a Slytherin would say,” she adds, keeping her tone purposefully light.

Hermione’s brow furrows just a bit, as if she’s never really considered that possibility. Then she nods slowly and says, “I suppose it does. But no matter who said it, it is good advice. And I’ve been mulling it over for a while now.”

“And?” Pansy asks. She’s trying to sound casual, but her heart is in her throat as she waits to hear Hermione’s verdict. 

“And…” Hermione sighs and studies the empty space on the bench between their bodies, lost in thought. Slowly, she says, “I think that there is grace, dignity, and humility in changing your mind. In admitting that you were wrong.” She lifts her eyes to Pansy’s and says, “I think you’re genuine in your remorse. I think you’re trying to be a better person. And I think that kind of effort should never be ignored, or scorned, or belittled. It’s never easy to change, and knowing what I know now,” she shakes her head a bit. “Frankly, I’m stunned it’s even happening.” 

“Does that mean…I mean, do you…do you,” Pansy huffs at her inability to form a complete sentence, then says, “what does that mean?”

A small frown creases Hermione’s brow as she considers the question. “It means I don’t feel like punishing you anymore. It means I have sympathy for how you were raised, and an enormous amount of respect for the courage you’re showing in pushing back. It means I trust that you won’t revert to who you were before and be a horrid person to me tomorrow. It means…” she trails off and once again, studies the bench. After a moment, she lifts her eyes back to Pansy’s and says, “it means…yes. I think I can very tentatively consider…forgiving you.” 

Pansy exhales sharply as she feels a weight lift from her shoulders. Because ever since she made the decision to try to show Hermione her real self, she’s been struggling with the knowledge that there was a good chance Hermione would never forgive her. That she’d try her hardest and at the end of the day, she’d still find cold contempt lurking in Hermione’s eyes. But there’s no contempt in her gaze right now. Instead, there’s something cautious there, something genuine, yet still tentative, and Pansy wants to fling out her arms at the sight and laugh hysterically. Relief is coursing powerfully through her system and even though she’s been wrong about this countless times before, there’s some part of her that feels like this might be the start of something genuinely good in her life. 

Desperately, she fights off the grin that’s threatening to take over her face, instead managing to school her features into something more appropriately grateful. “I…I appreciate that, Granger. Thank you,” she says. 

Hermione nods, then says, “for what it’s worth, I really hope my faith isn’t misplaced.”

“It’s not,” Pansy says quickly. “I meant what I said in Potions last week. I am sorry. For everything. For being a twat to you for so many years, for being so cruel when you did nothing to deserve it, for calling you…well, you know,” she says awkwardly, refusing to let the slur pass her lips. “I’m sorry for all of it.” 

“All of it, really?” Hermione asks with an arched brow. “I seem to remember you saying you should be knighted for calling me out on never admitting when I’m wrong.” 

Pansy fidgets uncomfortably for a second, but then Hermione says, “honestly, you were right about that bit. I’m notoriously bad at admitting to being wrong. Even Harry and Ron would probably agree with you.” She shifts a bit on the bench, then says, “and for what it’s worth, you’re not the only one who’s said some particularly nasty things over the years. I’m certainly not…entirely blameless,” she says carefully.

Pansy scoffs. “You are. Because your particularly nasty lines were always comebacks to the skirmishes I initiated.”

“Well…yes, I suppose that’s true.” Hermione studies the floor for a moment, then lifts her head. “Why me?” she asks, tilting her head curiously. “If you don’t mind me asking. Of all the Muggle-borns at this school…why me?”

“It’s going to sound ridiculous,” Pansy says, running a nervous hand through her hair.

“Oh? Try me.”

Pansy swallows heavily, then nods. “I saw you judging me,” she murmurs. “First year. We’d never even had a conversation and you were looking at me like I was two seconds away from changing into Death Eater robes at the breakfast table. It irritated me. That you’d judge me simply because I was wearing green. And I suppose I’ve always been a bit petty, so I decided if you were going to look at me like that, I’d give you a reason to.”

“I…I don’t remember that,” Hermione says with a small frown.

“No, why would you? It was ages ago. And anyway, I’m sure you were right to look at me like that. I was next to Draco at the time and Merlin knows, he had probably done something stupid and worthy of judgment. But like I said, I’m a petty, spiteful fool and I didn’t like you looking at me like that, so I suppose I just wanted to knock you down a peg or two. Especially once I found out how bloody brilliant you were,” Pansy says with a small smile and a wry shake of her head. 

Hermione stares at Pansy with a slightly open mouth, seemingly amazed that she’s just willingly called her brilliant. Pansy takes advantage of her bewildered silence to continue trying to explain herself. “I think…I think it started as something of a game,” she murmurs, bouncing her leg a bit as she casts her mind back to those early days between her and Hermione. “You were so righteous and such a know-it-all that all I wanted to do was make you lose your temper. And after a bit, it became a personal challenge of sorts…to gain the upper hand on the great Hermione Granger. I always wanted to see how far I could push you. But somehow, no matter what horrible things I said to you, it always seemed to backfire. You were always there with some clever retort or withering putdown and I always ended up looking like a fool. At first, I just used it as inspiration to get better. To refine my insults and sharpen my words. But the longer it went on and the older we got…” she trails off and stares at the wall across the way, letting her mind run through some of their worst encounters over the years. She winces a bit and says, “It stopped being a game. I became bitter and angry at looking like a fool in comparison, which of course led me to lash out at you more often in some mad attempt to one-up you. A stupid, vicious cycle. And obviously, I always had my father’s voice in my ear, telling me that you were nothing compared to me and that if I let you have the upper hand, I’d be disgracing the family name.” Pansy shakes her head and sighs. “It was all a bit of a perfect storm of my own making, but I was too stubborn and too stupid to see it.”

She stops talking and looks at Hermione, who’s staring at the wall, lost in thought. After a few long moments, she looks at Pansy with guarded eyes and says, “and now?” 

“And now, I know what an idiotic, pathetic twat I’ve been,” Pansy says, desperately hoping Hermione can hear the honesty in her voice. 

“But why?” Hermione asks. “I can understand how reliving that night with your grandmother would make you reassess certain views, but there’s nothing wrong with just disliking someone. And if you disliked me for my personality, rather than the fact I’m Muggle-born, then that’s one thing. But…” she shakes her head and says, “maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like you don’t even dislike me anymore.” 

“I don’t,” Pansy says, her voice low and dangerously full of emotion. 

Why?” 

It’s a question Pansy’s been waiting for. It’s also one she’s been trying to figure out an easy explanation for, and she’s fairly confident she’s landed on something a little less shocking than I’m kind of falling in love with you, also, I’m your bard. She drops her gaze to her lap and says, “I suppose that revisiting that night…it made me rethink quite a few things in my life. One of them being my relationship with Draco,” she says slowly. “At the end of the day, I knew I couldn’t let him be a part of my future. That I needed to do the right thing for both of us and end it. But it wasn’t an easy decision, and I was having a difficult time. Maybe you remember? It was the day you had completely convinced yourself that I was going to attack you in the middle of Potions,” she says, rolling her eyes fondly at both the memory and Hermione’s petulant glower. “Anyway, that was the first day that I was too tired to fight with you. It was strange—I felt mostly numb, yet at the same time, I was full of so many new thoughts that I didn’t know what to do with. And I think that mix of emotions led me to talk to you like you were a person for the first time, mostly because I was too tired and confused to do anything else. And once class was over, I realized it was kind of…nice,” Pansy says awkwardly. “Not having to waste so much energy being cruel, or trying to put you down. It was nice,” she repeats. “So I did the same thing the next day, and the day after that, and…I don’t know. It was just easier. You were easy to talk to.” She glances toward Hermione and adds, “turns out, you’re not so bad when some obnoxious arse isn’t trying to provoke you at every turn.” She hopes ending her explanation on a lighter note will be seen as a good thing and not something that irritates Hermione.

It seems to work in her favor though, because Hermione gives a small snort. “Thank you, I think,” she says. Then, she leans her head back against the stone wall behind her and studies the ceiling. After a few moments, she says, “I appreciate you telling me all of that.” 

“Like I said, you deserved to know the whole story. Every last bit of why I’ve been such an unrelentingly awful person for seven years. And you also deserve to know how sorry I am. For all of it. And I know that I’ll never be able to make it all up to you but I can try. And I will try.”

“I believe you.”

The words are delivered so simply that Pansy’s certain she misheard them. She shakes her head a bit and says, “what?”

“I believe you,” Hermione repeats, turning her head to look at Pansy. 

“You…do?” Pansy asks, a bit stupidly.

Hermione nods. “I do. It’s like I said—I believe your remorse is genuine, and your explanation for everything makes a certain amount of sense. And even if I haven’t completely forgiven you for years of bullying, I can at least somewhat understand what motivated it.”

Before Pansy can say anything, Hermione says, “plus, you’ve already realized that blood-status doesn’t matter, and you’ve started calling me a Muggle-born. All things considered, you’re making a remarkably good start. Though, actually…” she frowns, and Pansy waits nervously, wondering if she’s abruptly changed her mind about forgiveness for some reason. “You’ve saved me twice now, you know,” Hermione finally says, seemingly from out of nowhere.

“I…what?” Pansy asks, confused. 

“Two times. First from Baddock and Montague, and then tonight with Peeves.”

“Oh…I…yes. I suppose I have,” Pansy says, still completely lost. When Hermione doesn’t say anything, Pansy quirks an eyebrow. “So?”

So I think that anyone who would risk their neck for me not just once but twice should probably call me by my name,” Hermione says, tilting her head and studying Pansy with a challenge glimmering in her eyes. “My actual name.”

“Oh,” Pansy says, feeling completely caught off guard. “I…I suppose I can. But only if that’s what you want,” she adds quickly. 

Hermione gazes at her with amusement. “I genuinely prefer to be called by my given name, yes. I think most people do.” 

“Right. Right, I can…I’ll just…make that change, then, shall I?” Pansy asks. She’s aware she’s babbling like a complete idiot, and it makes her want to bash her head into the wall behind her. It’s only when she sees Hermione’s mouth lift up into a tiny smile that she feels a bit better about her sudden inability to speak English.

“Excellent,” Hermione says. Then the smile fades and she clasps her hands together. “Now that we’ve sorted through all of that…” her gaze turns serious and Pansy feels a bit apprehensive at whatever is coming next. “Your father,” Hermione says.

Oh. That. 

Pansy shifts uncomfortably. “What about him?”

“What about him?” Hermione echoes with incredulity. “Pansy, you can’t let him get away with…with murder,” she says, lowering her voice as if someone might overhear them in this completely empty hallway. “He’s an abhorrent tyrant who thinks he’s above the law, but he’s not. And he needs to be brought to justice. So…do you have a plan?”

“No,” Pansy says, readying herself for the same conversation she’s already had with Daphne. 

“Why not?” Hermione asks swiftly, her back straightening. 

“Because there’s nothing I can do about him,” Pansy says weakly. “I’ve already made up my mind to pretend to be the person he wants me to be. And it’s actually the best option,” she says. “He thinks I’m still under his thumb, and I…I get to live. As does everyone that I care about.” 

Hermione crosses her arms and studies Pansy, unamused. “That’s not the best option, and you know it. The best option is you getting to live the life you want, all while a murderer goes to Azkaban to pay the price for his crimes.”

“It’s not that simple. I’ve already gone through this, and I’ve discussed it with Daphne. No matter what I think of, no matter how many ideas I have, I can always think of a way he’d sneak around them. He’s got friends in the Ministry. He knows how to get around standard interrogation techniques. He’s slippery,” she says with a sigh. “Which is why pretending to adhere to his rules is actually the best option.” 

“There must be something you haven’t thought of yet,” Hermione says pragmatically. She taps her foot restlessly, then looks up quickly with interest glimmering in her eyes. “Have you gone to the library yet?” 

Pansy stares at her, bewildered. “I…have not gone to the library, no. What, do you think I should check out some books and chuck them at his head whenever the mood strikes?” 

“No,” Hermione says with a scoff, then she pauses thoughtfully. “Well…yes, why not? Could be cathartic. But no, that’s not what I meant. The library has records of thousands of Wizengamot trials, dating back to the 1700s. Any crime you can think of, there’s a record of it in the library. And there are plenty of books about Aurors and their interrogation techniques, the most creative ways to trip up dark wizards…everything you could ask for, really. And just last week, I saw a biography written from a dark wizard from Azkaban. It details all his crimes in horrifyingly graphic detail and how he got away with them. I thought it was just disgusting and unnecessarily braggadocios pulp at the time, but it’s actually perfect!” 

“Is it?” Pansy asks, watching with baffled amusement as Hermione’s entire face starts to glow as she discusses the wonders of the library in enraptured bliss. 

Merlin, the way she feels about this ridiculous witch…

“Yes!” Hermione says brightly. “We can put ourselves in your father’s shoes! Figure out how he’d avoid detection and then ensnare him using his own logic! And I’m sure some of those Wizengamot cases will be relevant. It’s just a matter of sorting through them all and finding the right ones.” 

“So, let me just see if I’m following you,” Pansy asks, leaning her head against the wall once more and uncrossing her legs. “You think the best way to defeat a dark wizard…a cold-blooded killer…is to go to the library.” 

Hermione glares at Pansy’s light, amused tone. “Yes,” she says, lifting her chin. “As a matter of fact, I do.” 

“Fine, fine,” Pansy says, lifting her hands in a truce motion. “I’ll humor you. Let’s say I go to the library and find all those books. It would take me absolute ages to get through them. And even if I managed to get through it all before I turn eighty, I’d still have no guarantee that I’d find anything worthwhile. It’d be a massive, bloody nightmare. And frankly, it’d be more trouble than it’s worth when I could just go on pretending that everything is fine.”

“It would be a nightmare, yes,” Hermione agrees easily. “But it’d be worth it.”

“Would it?” Pansy asks. 

“Yes. Actually, a very wise witch recently told me something that might be relevant here. She said that she was, and I quote, a firm believer that worthwhile things rarely come easily,” Hermione says, adopting a lofty, posh tone as she parrots Pansy’s words from Hogsmeade back at her. 

“She sounds like a miserable old bat,” Pansy says flatly.

“Well, she’s that, too,” Hermione says with both a surprised laugh and a broad, genuine smile that lights up Pansy’s entire body like someone’s lit off a Dr. Filibuster’s Firework inside of her. It’s the first time Hermione’s ever actually smiled at her. Not just a slight twitch of the lips or a vaguely amused smirk, but a genuine, beautiful, honest-to-Merlin smile. 

And her laugh! Merlin, her laugh. Pansy decides then and there that her future is settled. She doesn’t need to take her N.E.W.T.s, she doesn’t need to find a job at the Ministry. She’ll simply spend the rest of her life chasing that perfect laugh and searching for that flawless smile. She’ll never want for anything, so long as she can be the recipient of both those magical things for all of her days.  

“But even if she’s a miserable old bat, she was right,” Hermione says, pulling Pansy back into the moment at hand. “Because yes…you could go on pretending. It would be easier. But you’d be miserable. And honestly, wouldn’t you rather be happy? Wouldn’t you rather live authentically?” she asks. As soon as the word escapes her lips, a small shadow passes over her face. Before Pansy can think too much about it, Hermione hurries on. “Plus, you’d be getting justice for your grandmother. And I for one thinks she deserves that. Don’t you?” 

The mention of her “grandmother” brings Pansy back down to earth, and she runs a hand through her hair. “Of course I do. And she does deserve it. More than anything. But I can’t fight against him. People will get hurt. He’s too strong and too clever and too crafty. I just…I can’t do it on my own.” she finally says, sounding weak and defeated.

“Well, obviously not,” Hermione says with a scoff. “I’ve seen you in the library…twice? Maybe three times, if I’m being generous. You don’t know it anywhere near well enough. But luckily for you, I do.” 

Pansy turns to Hermione, stung. “I’ve been in the library loads of times! Just because you’ve always got your nose stuck in a—” she stops suddenly as Hermione’s words register, and she looks at her, completely flummoxed. “Hold on. Are you saying that you’d…you’d help me?” she asks, her eyes widening at her own words. 

“I happen to love a challenge,” Hermione says easily. “And I happen to be a firm believer in justice, even in the face of danger. And I also happen to be a Gryffindor. We tend to be a fairly determined lot, especially when it comes to righting wrongs.”

“Annoyingly so, yes. But…I mean, you’ve barely decided to forgive me and now you want to help me take down my father?” 

“That about sums it up, yes,” Hermione says. 

“Why?” Pansy asks, tapping a restless finger against her thigh as she tries to puzzle out Hermione’s motives. 

“Because I don’t believe in letting evil cowards prosper,” Hermione says simply. “And what’s more, I believe that evil only holds power so long as it continues to go unchecked. If you never stand up to your father, if you spend the rest of your life living in fear of what he might do to you, then he’s won. So don’t. Don’t let him have that power,” she says, her tone even and calm. “Don’t let him win.” 

“I…”

And I think you’re making headway at being a genuinely decent person. I wouldn’t want your father to get in the way of that. We need all the genuinely decent witches we can get nowadays, so if I can help keep you on that track, then I will.”

“I…suppose you’re right,” Pansy says uncertainly.

“I know I’m right,” Hermione replies easily. “After all, I think it was you who called me the brightest witch of our age?” 

Pansy snorts, remembering when she had tossed the phrase at Hermione weeks and weeks ago, intending it as an insult. Now, it just makes her smile. “And so humble, too.” But just as she’s about to agree to Hermione’s help, she remembers her promise from this morning. She can’t risk Hermione actually getting involved in this debacle, because she can’t risk Hermione getting hurt. So she sighs and shakes her head. “As much as I appreciate the offer, I’m afraid I can’t accept your help.” 

“Why?” Hermione asks, tilting her head curiously.

“Because,” she takes a deep breath, then says, “because I wouldn’t want you to get hurt. I already failed to save one person, and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if something happened to you because of me,” she says, honesty seeping through her voice. “And believe me, my father would have no qualms about hurting you if it got back to him that you were involved in any of this.” 

“I can take care of myself,” Hermione says proudly, and Pansy rolls her eyes somewhat fondly at Hermione’s set jaw and tilted chin. 

“I’m sure you can, but it’s not just you. He’d find out where your parents live. Your grandparents. Your aunts, uncles, second cousins, twice removed…it wouldn’t matter to him. He wouldn’t stop until he’s destroyed everything and everyone you care about.”

“Then we’d better make sure he never finds out.” 

Hermione says this as if it’s the simplest thing in the world, and Pansy can’t help but quietly scoff. “And how do you propose we do that? Obliviate every student in the library?”

“No, nothing that drastic,” Hermione says. “We just need to use the library when no one else is around.”

Pansy quirks an eyebrow. “Are you suggesting we break into the library?” she asks, biting her tongue so she doesn’t add how very Robin Hood of you.

“No. Well, not exactly. I…I may have special access to the library?” Hermione says, looking a bit self-conscious as she fiddles with her tie.

“You what?” Pansy asks, raising her eyebrows. As far as she knows, Madam Pince has never allowed a student to stay even a minute past closing. She can’t imagine what Hermione had to offer to be allowed special access. 

Perhaps Pince also demanded a cat be named after her.

“How on earth did you manage that?” Pansy asks. 

“I didn’t. Professor McGonagall did. She talked Madam Pince into letting me use the library after hours three nights a week. She thought it would be a far wiser academic decision for me than trying to use a Time-Turner again.” 

Pansy’s about to absently nod to Hermione’s statement when it actually registers. “I’m…I’m sorry, did you…did you just say you had a Time-Turner?” she asks, her mouth agape. 

“Oh. I…yes?” Hermione says. “I mean, I haven’t had it for a while now,” she adds quickly. “That was when I was thirteen, and—”

Thirteen?” Pansy echoes, her voice high and strangled.

“Well, almost fourteen, actually. I’m older than most students in our year, so it wasn’t that…” She cuts her rambling off with a small shake of her head and winces slightly. “I’m actually not supposed to tell anyone about the whole Time-Turner thing, so could you maybe…forget I mentioned that?”

Pansy nods, a bit dazed. “Thirteen years old and with a bloody Time-Turner,” she says. 

“Pansy…”

“And McGonagall approved it! Merlin, how are any of these people qualified to be professors?” 

Pansy.” 

Hermione says her name a bit desperately and somehow, Pansy manages to snap out of her stupor. She nods once more and says, “right, sorry. I…mum’s the word.” She mimes zipping her lips, for extra effect. 

She can always interrogate Hermione about the Time-Turner later. 

“You were saying something about the library…?” Pansy asks, steering the conversation back into slightly safer waters.

Hermione nods, seeming grateful that Pansy’s agreed to drop the topic for now. “McGonagall thought it would be a good idea to give me extra access, what with my course load and all. I think there’s past precedent for it, but even so, Madam Pince was furious. And she’s still furious. Mind you, it’s been months now, but she still glares at me every time she sees me and whispers about how I’ve been manhandling her books like an ill-bred miscreant. But there’s nothing she can do about it. She’d never dare go against McGonagall.”

“And you’d risk your privileged status for me? What if McGonagall finds out and revokes it?”

Hermione frowns a bit. “It’s a possibility,” she says slowly. “She said she was counting on me not to abuse her trust. But I think even she’d agree that drastic times call for drastic measures. And anyway, we wouldn’t actually be doing anything wrong,” she adds quickly, as if she’s trying to convince herself. “We’d simply be using it for its intended purposes—research and learning.” 

“Even so, I don’t think you should risk it. I wouldn’t want you to lose your access because of me.”

Hermione huffs next to her impatiently. “Do you honestly think I’d rather keep my special access to the library for three nights a week instead of helping you bring a murderer to justice?”

“I…” 

Pansy trails off and frowns, thinking carefully about the question. After a few long moments of contemplation, Hermione exhales sharply in frustration.

Pansy!” 

“I’m thinking about it, give me a minute!” Pansy says, finally breaking into a grin. “It’s a tough question! I know how much you love that library. How am I supposed to know where your priorities lie?”

Hermione rolls her eyes, but there’s a smile lurking around the corners of her mouth. “Well, just this once, I’m putting justice over a few extra hours spent with books.” Her smile fades and she looks seriously at Pansy. “It’s the right thing to do. We won’t let him get away with this. We’ll figure it out.”

Pansy shifts uncomfortably. “I know it is, I just…I don’t want anything to happen to you,” she murmurs. She’s aware that she sounds a bit too invested, but at the moment, she doesn’t particularly care. She just wants to protect Hermione.

“I’ll be fine. We just need to do our job and do it well. That way, he’ll never hurt anyone again.”

Pansy shakes her head weakly. “I…I’m sorry. I do appreciate it, but I really can’t let you do this.” 

Hermione chuckles. “You’re not letting me do anything. I want to. And what’s more, I’m going to, whether you decide to help me or not.”

Pansy looks at her swiftly. “What? You’re…no, you can’t—”

“I can, and I will. I told you, I like a challenge. So I’m going to right this wrong, with or without you.”

“No, I…I didn’t tell you the story so you’d march headfirst into battle! I just wanted you to know where I was coming from, I…” Pansy breaks off and looks at Hermione wildly, imagining all the horrid things her father could put her through. The thoughts make her frigid with terror, and she looks at Hermione with desperate eyes. “Please. Please don’t do this. It’s too dangerous. You could get hurt.”

Hermione scoffs. “It’s not like we’re going to duel him, we’re just going to be doing some research. What’s safer than research?”

“Doing nothing!” Pansy says, feeling deeply flustered. “Doing nothing won’t put you on my father’s radar! Doing nothing won’t get you killed!”

Hermione’s eyes soften just a bit. “Pansy…I’d rather risk getting hurt in the process of doing what’s right than stay safe and do nothing at all. I’m afraid that’s just part of who I am, and that won’t ever change.”

“And as noble as that deeply misguided stance is, I’m afraid I can’t—”

“If you weren’t afraid of me getting hurt, would you want my help?” Hermione asks, cutting Pansy off calmly.

“I…yes, of course I would, but that’s—”

“Pansy. I swear to you, I won’t get hurt. I won’t tell anyone what we’re doing. Not even Harry and Ron. And what’s more, no one will even know we’re doing it. It will never get back to your father. And if we don’t have a solution by the end of the year, then we’ll stop, alright? I promise we will. But until then…I think we should try. For your grandmother’s sake. For your sake. Can we just…can we just try and see what happens?” 

Pansy stares at the ground and thinks about the empty green eyes that have haunted her nightmares for years. But before she can shake herself out of the familiar memory and tell Hermione no for the last time, she lets her thoughts wander to her father’s eyes. They had been cold and devoid of anything resembling humanity. He had looked like a monster that night, because he was a monster. He was a monster who had tried his hardest to wring out whatever compassion and kindness was left in Pansy’s soul. He was a monster who had controlled her past, her present, and her future with an iron fist. He was a monster who she had spent her entire life being completely terrified of.

But he was also a man. And men are not infallible. 

More than anything, Pansy wants to stop being afraid of this man. She wants to be able to think about her future and actually feel optimism instead of dread. She wants to spend all of her days on this earth doing what she wants to do, not what she’s expected to do. And she wants to be able to think about her aunt again with something other than horror, guilt, and remorse.

And all things considered, Hermione’s right—as long as they’re careful, there’s no way this will get back to her father. Because as connected as he is, he won’t have spies in the Hogwarts library after hours. She’s just being massively paranoid in order to protect Hermione, but when she thinks about it logically, she feels a bit foolish. They just need to avoid detection, and they’ll be alright.

And as long as Hermione stays safe, she’s willing to try.

Slowly, she turns to Hermione who’s been watching her process in silence. “Are all Gryffindors this stubborn?” she asks, with the faintest trace of a smile. 

“Only when we know we’re right.” 

Pansy sighs the heaviest sigh she’s ever managed. “Fine. We can try. But we will quit if nothing happens before the end of the year. Or if anyone finds out what we’re up to,” she adds, giving Hermione a stern look.

Hermione nods. “I promise,” she says solemnly. Then, a small smile sneaks onto her face. “But you’re making the right decision. And we’ll figure it out, I swear. No one else is going to get hurt. Besides, men like your father think their success is guaranteed. He’d have no reason to think you’d fight back after a Howler. He’s probably gazing over his moat right now and patting himself on the back for scaring you into submission again. His hubris will be his downfall, just you wait.” 

Before Pansy can reply, Hermione claps her hands together. “Anyway, now that we’re finally on the same page…shall we meet in the library tomorrow around 8:30?”

Pansy still thinks it’s hopeless. She thinks it’s a fool’s errand and that they’re both going to be wasting what little free time they have. But somehow, the thought of spending even more one-on-one time with Hermione cuts through the pessimism and fear and makes her feel light with a wonderful sort of anticipation. And not only that, she’d be spending more time with a Hermione who’s finally starting to talk to her in a way that feels delightfully familiar. Her tone has been wry, warm, and teasing tonight, and it all feels almost Robin-esque, if she’s being honest. So even though she thinks it’s a massive waste of time, she finds herself nodding in agreement.

Hermione smiles at Pansy once more, a brilliant, genuine grin, and more fireworks whizz about and explode inside of her, making her briefly forget about the trepidation and fear lingering in her heart.

It’s only at that moment that Pansy realizes something with startling clarity—she’d agree to anything in the world, no matter how ridiculous or dangerous, if it meant spending time with Hermione Granger.

The thought sinks into her stomach, heavy and true, and Pansy knows immediately that she’s fallen hard. Not for Robin, but for Hermione. She also knows how dangerous that could be, especially if word got round to the wrong people. It should make her immediately walk back her promise to try and trap her father. It should make her want to hold Hermione at arm’s length again and to forget about those mesmerizing hazel eyes once and for all.

But right now, seated beside Hermione in a dimly lit hallway, basking in the intoxicating glow of her flawless smile, she finds it hard to remember why she should do any of those things.

“Grang—Hermione,” Pansy says, catching herself at the last minute and letting herself savor the name and all the tentative trust that comes with it. “Thank you. Really. I don’t deserve your forgiveness, and I certainly don’t deserve your help. But I’m grateful for both. More than you know.”

Hermione’s eyes grow wide at the sound of her name falling from Pansy’s lips, and she nods, seeming a bit shocked. “I…of course And thank you. For telling me everything. And for…for trying.” She leans forward just a bit, and Pansy feels her heart rate increase at her proximity. “We will get him,” she says, her voice low and fierce. “We’ll get justice for your grandmother. I promise you. He won’t hurt anyone again.” 

Pansy nods. “I hope so,” she murmurs. 

It’s just one hope in a long string of them that Pansy seems to be collecting. But as they sit there, holding each other’s gaze in the middle of the dim hallway, she lets exactly two things happen: she lets herself believe in a world where she’s free from her father’s tyranny, and she lets herself believe in a world where Hermione will be something to her. Whether it’s a dear friend or something more, she doesn’t care. All she knows is she wants this mad, brilliant, infuriatingly beautiful, devastatingly clever, lionhearted witch in her life forever. 

And if she also happens to let the dream of Paris sneak back into her heart, well…

So be it.