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a red rose grew up out of ice frozen ground

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As Hermione sits beneath the shade of the beech tree, her face tilted toward the sun, she knows she should be thinking about her bard. She knows that she should be beside herself with excitement and filled to the brim with nervous energy.

And she is. She absolutely is. She can’t wait to finally meet the person she’s been dreaming about for months.

But even though most of her mind is on the meeting at hand, there’s just a tiny little part of her that’s still thinking about Pansy.

But it’s tiny. It’s just a little blip in the corner of her mind.

It’s honestly inconsequential.

What matters right now is her parchment pal.

Just her parchment pal.

…But really, how could she not be thinking about Pansy, too? How could she just forget about the things Pansy had said in the Great Hall?

I hope she’ll always make you feel beautiful. Because you are. So, so beautiful

A small shiver goes through Hermione as she remembers the way Pansy had delivered those words. There had been something so earnest in her voice and her eyes had been somehow soft and intense, all at the same time.

I hope that she’ll make you feel loved. Because you deserve that. More than anyone in the world, you deserve that.

Hermione shakily exhales as Pansy’s voice echoes in her mind, and when she closes her eyes, all she can see are shining, green eyes, looking at her like she’s the only thing that matters in the entire universe.

Hermione’s chest swells with warmth and she keeps her eyes closed, remembering exactly how she had felt in that moment. How she had felt under that gaze. It had made something in her chest ache and more than anything, she had wanted to tip her head forward and capture Pansy’s tempting lips between her own.

Which of course, wasn’t a new sensation. Not by a long shot. Over the past few weeks, it’s taken a considerable amount of will power to not give into her overwhelming desire to kiss Pansy senseless. Because she wants to. God, does she want to. In a very short amount of time, Hermione has gone from thinking she was someone who had no interest in romantic entanglements to realizing she’s someone who desperately wants to be entangled in every conceivable way with the most stunning girl she’s ever laid eyes on. To be honest, the amount of times she’s imagined Pansy’s sinfully dark lipstick staining various parts of her body is quite frankly, embarrassing (and also a frequent feature in all of her recent imaginings when she feels the need to take care of her urges, so to speak).

And she’s had so many chances to kiss her. It’s like the universe has noticed her mounting desperation and has kindly presented her with countless opportunities. She’s come close quite a few times, too. But anytime that need flares in her chest, strong and potent and almost overwhelming, Hermione has managed to stop herself and remember that there’s a person in her life that she’s already promised herself to.

Her parchment pal.

Her parchment pal, who she’s currently waiting to meet.

Her parchment pal who she’s in love with.

Hermione raises a hand and rubs her forehead in frustration, trying to force the thoughts of Pansy from her mind.

Perhaps she was lying. Perhaps there was more than just a tiny part of her that’s always thinking about Pansy.

Perhaps it’s actually quite a large part of her.

All things considered, though, it makes sense. Because after everything that’s happened between them, it would be absurd to not find her thoughts straying to the beautiful, sharp tongued Slytherin at all hours of the day and night. The unfairly gorgeous girl who makes Hermione feel like she’s losing control of herself whenever she spends more than two minutes in her intoxicating presence. The maddening, sometimes infuriating witch who looks at her like she’s something to be cherished.

Something to be desired.

Which is of course another thing that’s changed—Hermione no longer thinks she made a mistake that night in the library. Now she has a feeling that had she given into her temptations and actually kissed Pansy, it would have been more than welcomed. Because even though she might not have a lot of experience in this particular realm, Hermione isn’t stupid; she can see the way Pansy looks at her. She can hear the things Pansy says. She can feel the way the air sometimes changes around them, growing thick with anticipation and something else.

Something that seems an awful lot like mutual want.

Hermione can remember with crystal clarity the way Pansy’s gaze had changed after they had successfully brewed Amortentia—normally clear and clever green eyes had darkened considerably, to the point where it had made arousal coil tightly in Hermione’s stomach. She remembers the way Pansy’s heavy lidded gaze had dropped to her breasts and how the already-blown pupils had somehow managed to grow impossibly darker as she surveyed the rise and fall of Hermione’s chest with an almost desperate hunger. She remembers how Pansy had licked her lips, and how the simple motion had made the heat in Hermione’s stomach zip down to make its presence known between her legs.

Hermione shifts a bit on the grass and bounces her leg, trying to forget about the physical sensations of that day.

Stop thinking about Pansy.

She’s going to meet her parchment pal. That’s the only thing that should be on her mind.

Not the way Pansy had felt, safe and curled up against her side in the library, as if she had been made to fit there, soft with sleep and whispering words against her neck that had made Hermione shiver uncontrollably.

Not the way Hermione had wanted to stay there all night, tucked around Pansy and content in the knowledge that she was safe. That nothing would ever happen to her again. That she’d be okay for the rest of her days.

Not the way Hermione’s chest had burned when she thought about the rest of Pansy’s days and how much she desperately wanted to be a part of them.

And not in a friendly sense.

“Oh my god,” Hermione mutters, rubbing both her hands over her face.

Stop. Thinking. About. Pansy.

Today should be the greatest day of Hermione’s life. She shouldn’t feel like her heart is being torn into two pieces. Like half of her is here, sitting on the banks of the Black Lake, and the other half of her is miles away in the Slytherin common room, watching some ridiculous arm wrestling tournament. She shouldn’t feel guilty over meeting her parchment pal for the first time.

She shouldn’t be in love with Pansy when she’s already in love with someone else.

But that’s exactly what’s managed to happen. And as she sits there, waiting to meet the person she’s absolutely mad about, she can’t find it in herself to feel excited. Not when she has these feelings swirling inside of her. Not when she feels so fucking guilty for thinking about Pansy right now.

So, yes. Today should be the greatest day of Hermione’s life. But instead, she’s absolutely miserable and wracked with shame. Because somehow, against all odds, she’s managed to fall in love with two separate people at the same time.   

Hermione exhales sharply, and as she turns her head toward the path that leads from the school up to the beech tree, she thinks about how much simpler things would be if the timing had been just a bit different. If the parchment pal experiment had happened a few months earlier, she wouldn’t have had the time to develop these new and deeply confusing feelings. She wouldn’t have had so much time to spend with Pansy, and she wouldn’t have been so mesmerized by her frustratingly gorgeous face.

She sighs, anxiously tucks her hair behind her ears, and pushes said gorgeous face from her mind. She keeps her eyes on the path, looking for any signs of movement, and as she worries her lower lip and bounces her leg, she comes to a decision.

No more.

Today is about her parchment pal.

So with some effort, Hermione manages to turn her thoughts away from Pansy and to her bard.

Her bard who she loves. Her bard who makes her laugh. Her bard who makes her feel safe and cared for and heard. Her bard who she’s promised Paris to. Her bard who she would trust with her heart, her dreams, her life. Her bard who—

Hermione’s back stiffens as she hears something behind her.

Something that sounds like a footstep.

She holds her breath and listens carefully, and after a moment, she picks out the sound of another footstep, followed closely by another.

Hermione continues to hold her breath as the person behind her draws a bit closer. She can feel her heart rate pick up with each soft step, and she feels a wild rush of nerves flood into her chest as she realizes that this is it.

It’s finally happening.

It’s finally here.

She’s about to meet the person she’s in love with.

One of the people you’re in love with.

Hermione digs her fingertips into her thighs and pushes the traitorous thought away.

She can deal with that later. She can deal with all of it later. Right now, she just wants this moment to be as perfect as she can manage.

She takes a deep breath as she prepares herself. Because the moment she turns around, everything will change. Her bard won’t just be a soft, lovely dream anymore. Her bard will be a real, living and breathing person. She’ll finally be able to put a face to the soul she knows by heart. She’ll finally know what their voice sounds like, what their laugh sounds like. She’ll finally get to know everything about the person she’s given her heart to.

The footsteps have stopped, and Hermione knows that her bard is right behind her, waiting for her to make the first move. And even though her heart is thudding alarmingly fast and she’s so nervous, she feels like she might pass out, somehow, she manages to gather her Gryffindor courage together and prepare herself to take one of the biggest leaps of her life.

She takes one more deep breath.

She squeezes her fists tightly.

She exhales slowly.

She straightens her back.

And after months and months of waiting, Hermione twists her body around to finally, finally meet the person she’s been dreaming of for ages.

And when her gaze lands on incredibly familiar green eyes, her heart stops.

***

Hermione’s been stunned into silence plenty of times in her life.

When she was seven, she broke her wrist trying to save a cat stuck up a tree.

She had climbed higher and higher and as she was reaching for the last branch, she had slipped and tumbled to the ground. Her wrist ended up pinned between the unforgiving pavement and her body, and the pain was so enormous that she hadn’t been able to breathe for a few moments. She had simply laid there on the ground, trembling and completely shocked.

(Of course, the cat had jumped down moments later, completely unscathed.)

When she was ten, a tall, somewhat severe looking Scottish woman had turned up at her front door and completely upended her entire life.

She had been seated at the table eating breakfast while Good Morning, Britain played in the background on the telly. As she lifted her spoon for her very last bite of Coco Pops, she heard a knock at the door.

Hermione remained in the kitchen at first, completely uninterested in whichever friend of her parents was visiting so early in the morning. But when she heard a prim voice speaking of witches, wizards, and magic, her curiosity had managed to get the better of her. She had slid from her chair and tip-toed toward the living room, intent on figuring out why her perfectly normal parents were entertaining such an odd woman at eight o’clock in the morning.

It only took a few minutes for the woman in question (a Minerva McGonagall) to explain to the gobsmacked Granger family that their one and only daughter was a genuine witch, capable of casting actual, magical spells, and that her place at a strange, magical boarding school was secured, should she choose to attend.

Hermione hadn’t managed to say a word the entire meeting. Her normally quick-thinking brain had completely shut off, and instead, she had simply stared at McGonagall in stunned, awed silence.

When she was fifteen, Viktor Krum put his tongue in her mouth during the Yule Ball.

She had needed to take a break from her absolutely horrendous attempts at dancing, so she had politely asked Viktor if he’d accompany her to refill her punch. They had picked their way through a throng of people and when they finally made it to the refreshment table, Hermione had turned to ask Viktor if he’d like a refill as well.

Instead of answering her question, he had slowly leaned toward her with a determined look in his dark eyes. To his credit, he had given her more than enough time to back away. But in those brief seconds before his lips made contact with hers, Hermione had reasoned that this was something she should want—she should want to snog a famous Quidditch player. So instead of leaning away as she had so desperately wanted to, she had fought against all of her instincts and let him kiss her.

The tongue was a surprise.

Her eyes had flown open and she had stepped away so quickly that some irrational part of her was almost afraid she’d pulled Viktor’s tongue from his mouth. His brow had furrowed and he had quietly inquired if she was okay, but Hermione had been so surprised by the turn of events that the only thing she was capable of doing was taking his arm and silently leading him back into the throng of dancing students.

So, yes. Hermione has been stunned into silence plenty of times before.

But none of her experiences compare to the way she feels right now.

Because right now, Pansy is standing before her.

Right now, Pansy is standing before her on the banks of the Black Lake, right where her bard should be.

Right now, Pansy is standing before her on the banks of the Black Lake, right where her bard should be, and Hermione can’t fucking breathe.

She can’t breathe, she can’t move, she can’t speak…she can’t even manage to string a thought together. Not when Pansy’s looking at her like that—with nervous eyes and a shy smile and so much raw, undisguised love burning in her gaze that it makes Hermione’s stomach flip wildly and her pulse pound in her ears.

Somewhere in the very back of her mind, Hermione is aware that her mouth is hanging open. She knows her eyes are wide and her body is rigid and her fingernails are digging into her palm and she must look ridiculous, but none of these things really register.

The only thing that registers is that Pansy is standing before her.

Right where her bard should be.

And if Pansy is here, then that means…

“Hello, Robin.”

The words are delivered gently, but they still manage to turn Hermione’s world on its axis. She takes a sharp breath and finally manages to close her mouth, all while strange, disjointed thoughts tumble through her mind, each one passing by too quickly for her to fully grab onto. Her breath is coming in quick, shallow puffs, she’s vaguely concerned her heart might quite literally explode, and she feels so lightheaded that she has to press her fists into the ground beneath her in an attempt to tether herself to reality.

A few long seconds tick by as Hermione tries to ground herself and come to terms with what’s happening. Her pulse is pounding in her ears and all the while she’s desperately trying to remember how to think, how to speak, how to breathe, Pansy is watching her nervously—her shoulders are high and tense, there’s a small furrow between her brows, and she’s dragged her lower lip between her teeth. But even though her entire body is tight with anxiety, her eyes are still so full of love and warmth and hope that it takes Hermione another few seconds to remember how to form words.

When she finally manages it, she’s only capable of one.

“Pansy?”

Her voice is hushed and full of so much awe that she’s not sure if Pansy has even managed to hear her. But when Pansy gives a small nod, Hermione’s head reels again.

“I…I don’t…” Hermione shakes her head, trying to jumpstart her thoughts. She blinks rapidly a few times, then somehow, against all the odds, she manages two more words.

“It’s you?”

“It’s me,” Pansy replies, her quiet confirmation hitting Hermione like a bolt of lightning and striking her dumb once more.

Her bard is Pansy.

Her bard is Pansy.

“It’s…I…” Hermione shakes her head once more. “I don’t understand.”

Which is a colossal understatement, considering she feels like she’s been hit by a freight train.

Pansy glances at the ground in front of Hermione and inclines her head. “May I…?”

Hermione nods stupidly, watching as Pansy gently lowers herself to the ground. She elegantly folds her legs beneath herself and takes a moment to carefully smooth down her skirt, then she looks back to Hermione.

“I’m…I…” Pansy trails off and exhales slowly. She lets her eyes roam over Hermione’s face, tenderly taking in each detail as if she’s trying to commit the moment to memory, then she says, “I don’t know what to say. You’d think after all the letters we’ve sent…after all the time I’ve had to imagine this…you’d think I’d know what to say, but I just…” she gives a small, wry smile and says, “I suppose you never expected that your bard wouldn’t be able to string a sentence together?”

Of all the things Hermione had never expected, that’s fairly low on the list.

Her bard is Pansy.

Her bard is Pansy.

A curious sensation bubbles in Hermione’s chest, almost as if she wants to laugh, but she manages to suppress it. “I…I don’t …how?”

Pansy must think she means how did you know, because she says, “the day we brewed Veritaserum. You had your parchment out and you were writing to…well, to me,” she says, sheepishly running a hand through her hair. “When you left to put the ingredients away, I…I sort of saw your parchment. And when I realized I could read it, well…” she shrugs. Something must occur to her though, because she quickly lifts her gaze to Hermione’s. “And I wanted to tell you. I did, but I had to wait until you…well, until you didn’t hate me. Which took quite a while,” she concedes with a small wince. “But once it happened, once I thought we were actually friends, I got it into my head that if I waited just a bit longer to tell you, it would be this big, romantic declaration. Silly, I know,” she says, rubbing her neck self-consciously. “But eventually, I couldn’t wait any longer. Which is why I asked you to meet today. I mean, to be honest, I was going to tell you weeks ago in the library but…well, you know,” Pansy trails off with a small shrug as if she doesn’t know what else to say.

It’s all together a decent answer, and it certainly helps to alleviate at least some of the confusion, but it’s not the answer to the question Hermione had been asking. So somehow, she manages to push through her shock and say, “no, I…how is it you?”

Pansy gives her a puzzled frown. “What do you mean?”

“You told me you weren’t participating,” Hermione says. “That day in Potions. You…you said it was a waste of time. That you’d never talk to a stranger for a few house points.” The confused haze in her mind is finally starting to lift and complete thoughts are beginning to form once more, but they’re coming too quickly for her to keep up with. “And so I never thought it could be…I mean, I would have wanted it, obviously, but I didn’t…how could I have? It…I—”

“You would have?” Pansy asks, interrupting Hermione’s ramble with hope in her voice. “You…I mean, you would have wanted it to be…me?”

The question cuts through the tangled jumble of thoughts in Hermione’s mind, and she brings her gaze back up to Pansy.

Pansy, who is looking at her nervously, her hands twisted together in her lap and a small furrow on her brow.

Pansy, who has somehow managed to become the one person Hermione looks forward to seeing every single day. Who makes her laugh, challenges her, and fills her heart with every conceivable emotion under the sun.

Pansy, who Hermione is attracted to in every possible way.

Pansy, who had drawn her in with shifting green eyes and a sinfully slow smile, and had kept her on the line with her quick wit, her quiet bravery, and her surprisingly big heart.

Pansy, who somehow—improbably, wildly, ridiculously—Hermione is in love with.

As Hermione slowly begins to put the pieces into place, as she begins to realize that yes, somehow, miraculously, Pansy is her bard, the same strange feeling enters her chest again, like a frothy, effervescent laugh bubbling through her system. But this time, instead of suppressing it, she lets it fill her to the brim. Because this time, she knows what that feeling is.

It’s relief.

It’s pure, powerful relief.

It’s relief that she isn’t in love with two people at once. Relief that she won’t have to worry about choosing between her bard and Pansy. Relief that it’s Pansy, beautiful, exasperating, infuriating Pansy, standing before her, asking with shining eyes if Hermione would have wanted it to be her.

And of course she would have.

How could she have wanted it to be anyone else?

There are other emotions, of course. There’s so much confusion, Hermione will probably need a shovel to dig through it all. There’s certainly a fair bit of frustration at herself for having missed the obvious similarities between Pansy and her bard, and tiny bit of irritation at Pansy for keeping her in the dark for so long. There’s an incredible amount of nerves at what this all means, and at how their relationships is going to change. But somehow, all of those things seem to pale in comparison to the shining, glorious relief that’s still lighting up her entire body.

Because her bard is Pansy.

Her bard, the one person she knows better than anyone in the world, the person she gave her heart to, is Pansy.

Her bard is Pansy, and she’s so, so, so in love with her.

And Hermione knows there are things they need to talk about. There are questions she needs to ask and plans they need to make. In almost any other situation, Hermione would be gathering a bulleted list of thoughts to fire toward Pansy, demanding solutions and action from the other girl.

But sitting here with Pansy, none of those things seem important. Because for the past few weeks, all Hermione has been able to think about is Pansy. And anytime she’s felt her thoughts or desires getting the better of her, she’s turned her mind to her parchment pal.

But now that her parchment pal is Pansy, all bets are off.

Hermione can do whatever she wants.

And if that means shelving all the rational, practical thoughts she’s so famously known for for once in her life and letting her heart lead the way, then she’s going to do it.

For once in her life, she’s going to act first and think later.

She pulls herself out of her thoughts to see Pansy’s lips moving.

“And I know you’ll have questions,” Pansy is saying, almost as if she’s been able to read Hermione’s mind. “I mean, obviously, you’ll have questions,” she adds with a small, adorable wince that makes Hermione’s heart flip. “And I’ll answer them. I’ll answer every last one of them, whenever you want me to. But if you need to take some time and space to think about all of this, then I completely underst—”

“No.”

Pansy freezes mid-sentence and looks at Hermione nervously. “No?”

“No,” Hermione repeats.

She doesn’t want time or space.

She’s had more than enough time, and quite frankly, after months and months of thinking, yearning, wanting, wishing, and hoping, space is the last thing on her mind.

In this moment, after everything that’s happened and after falling in love two times over, the only thing Hermione wants is Pansy.

“I—”

“I don’t need any more time,” Hermione says. “And we can talk about all of those things later,” she adds, slowly leaning toward Pansy.

Pansy notices the movement, and her breath catches. “We…we can?” she asks, her voice a bit shaky as she watches Hermione with nervous eyes.

Hermione nods as she moves more fully into Pansy’s space, her eyes lingering on Pansy’s mouth. “We can. Because all those things can wait. But to be honest,” she whispers, “I don’t think I can wait another second to do this.”

There’s a breathless pause before Hermione closes the distance between them, and in those precious, glimmering seconds, she thinks about everything that’s led to this very moment. Every single event that had to be put in motion to lead to the two of them sitting here, in the shade of the towering beech tree, about to jump hand-in-hand into an unknown future.

But when Pansy’s soft breath ghosts over Hermione’s lips, she stops thinking rational thoughts and instead, focuses solely on Pansy. She takes in the way Pansy’s eyes have already fluttered closed and the pretty pink blush that’s spread across her cheeks. Absently, Hermione lifts a hand to trace over the flush, privately marveling at the way Pansy’s breath catches as she slowly caresses her thumb over a sharp cheekbone. And after a few long and lingering swipes, she moves her hand to gently push Pansy’s hair behind her ear and presses forward just a bit, letting her nose bump against Pansy’s. Somehow, over the pounding of her own heart, she hears the other witch emit a soft, shaky sigh from barely parted lips and at the sound, Hermione lets her own eyes slide close.

Her body tingles with anticipation as she leans forward just a tiny bit more, and in the space of a single breath, she finally, finally lets her lips brush against Pansy’s.

It’s simple at first—just a gentle press of closed lips against hers. But it’s enough to send heat flooding through Hermione’s entire body. It radiates from her neck down to her chest, pouring into her fingertips—which are still hovering gently on Pansy’s cheek—and spreading all the way down to her toes. And even though she’s hot all over, she still manages to shiver slightly at the gentle pressure against her mouth. Slowly, her hand migrates from Pansy’s cheek toward the nape of her neck and once it’s there, she lets her fingers tangle in silky, dark hair. When she tugs gently, a quiet gasp leaves Pansy’s mouth, and it sends a surprising jolt through Hermione’s system.

She wants to hear Pansy gasp again.

She wants to make Pansy gasp again.

There’s a part of Hermione that’s dimly aware that Pansy’s holding back. That she’s purposefully taking things slow in some chivalrous attempt to not scare Hermione off before they’ve even begun. And in any other situation, Hermione might be touched by the incredible amount of concern Pansy’s showing for her.

But in this particular moment, she couldn’t possibly care less.

Because in this particular moment, all Hermione wants to do is to give into the overwhelming desire she’s been fighting off for months. She wants to listen to this strange, almost-primal instinct that’s telling her to push forward and claim everything she wants, and she wants to let the heat that’s still flickering over her skin like wildfire devour her, all while Pansy’s lips follow along its scorching trail.

And if she has to take control to make her fantasies a reality, she’ll do it.

Hermione purposefully runs her tongue along the seam of Pansy’s mouth, and it’s a testament to how much she wants this that she doesn’t pull back in surprise at the sound of shock that immediately rips its way out of Pansy’s throat. It’s a sort of half-gasp, half-whimper that Hermione can feel across her entire body, setting every last nerve ending she has on fire in its wake. And the whimper isn’t the only thing she can feel—Pansy’s hands, which had up until now been settled lightly on Hermione’s knees, immediately splay and grab at her desperately, as if she wants to hold her in place forever.

Hermione might just let her.

Pansy parts her lips to deepen the kiss and the moment their tongues brush, Hermione feels the heat in her body intensify. She hums with pleasure as it sinks into her stomach and the more Pansy takes control of the kiss, the more it seems to concentrate, burning lower and lower until she can feel it settle between her legs. She continues to meet Pansy’s tongue stroke for stroke, and when she feels hands tantalizingly trail their way up her legs to rake against her sides, Hermione can’t help the low, needy groan that leaves her body.

Somewhere in the very back of her mind, she thinks that maybe she should be embarrassed by her emphatic reaction. But when she swipes her tongue against Pansy’s once more and feels the other girl kiss back hard, feels fingertips dig into her side, feels the way Pansy seems to desperately press closer to her, any lingering thoughts of embarrassment fly from her mind.

She pulls her lips from Pansy’s, only to return again a moment later, like she’s been magnetized. And maybe she has been, because even though it’s only their first kiss, she already feels addicted. Addicted to the little sounds of pleasure Pansy makes, addicted to the taste of her, and addicted to the way Pansy seems to know exactly what Hermione needs at every turn. Because while Hermione doesn’t have a whole lot of experience, she can tell that Pansy is a very good kisser. She’s thorough in a way that makes Hermione’s toes curl with unbearable pleasure and her insides burn with desire. It’s as if each press of her soft lips and every stroke of her tongue is perfectly calculated to completely unravel Hermione’s already tenuous self-control, and even though she feels like they’re teetering on the brink of some sort of blissful, beautiful destruction, Pansy seems more than content to take her time getting there. It’s like kissing Hermione is the only plan she has for the rest of her life, and she’s going to put everything she can into it.

And to be perfectly honest, Hermione’s more than okay with that plan.

But even so, she knows she’ll have to break the kiss eventually, mostly because she knows that if she doesn’t, there’s a very good chance she’ll end up throwing caution to the wind and straddling Pansy out in the open where anyone could see them.

Where anyone could see them.

The thought enters Hermione’s lust-fogged mind and even though every part of her wants to disregard it, to continue kissing Pansy until her lungs burn and her lips are numb, she forces herself to focus on it long enough to figure out that she probably should be worried about people seeing them.

Pansy’s lips leave her own for a moment, and before they can return, Hermione leans back, desperately trying to catch her breath and to put some space between their bodies.

It takes a long moment for Pansy’s eyes to blink open and when they do, it takes all of Hermione’s will power to not immediately surge forward and kiss her again.

Because honestly? Hermione’s never seen a more attractive sight than a just-kissed Pansy Parkinson. Her heavy lidded gaze is still trained on Hermione’s mouth, her pupils are blown with want, and her chest is rising and falling rapidly. Hermione watches with hungry eyes as Pansy sucks her lower lip in and catches it between her teeth, and she feels whatever will power she has slowly slipping away at the sight.

She’s never seen Pansy look so turned on, and knowing that she did that, that she’s responsible for Pansy looking like she’s two seconds away from devouring her increases the lust hovering in her mind. But even though all she wants to do is chase after the heady desire, she forces herself to take a deep breath instead.

“Pansy,” she starts, her voice low and breathy.

Before she can say anything though, Pansy’s eyes darken just a bit, and she surges forward to capture Hermione’s lips again.

Whatever nonsense Hermione was thinking about will power immediately flies out of her mind as she moans in surprise and desperately returns the kiss. Desire thrums through her body at the knowledge that Pansy had wanted more from her, and as Hermione nips at Pansy’s lip, she feels almost giddy. Because she knows just how badly she’s been wanting this. So knowing that Pansy had evidently been wanting this just as much? It does something to Hermione. It makes something delicious shiver down her spine and fills her with an almost unbearable need to explore more of Pansy’s body.  But before she can think to act on that need, Pansy snares her lower lip between her teeth and bites down just hard enough to draw a long, needy whine out of Hermione.

God, Pansy is unfairly good at this.

Their lips hungrily press and part against each other for a few more long moments, and when Pansy pulls back just far enough to let them both take a ragged breath, Hermione somehow remembers what she was going to say once more.

“Pansy…someone could…someone could…oh, fuck.”

That is absolutely not what Hermione meant to say. It’s not even language she would normally use out loud, but when Pansy’s lips move down to suck at Hermione’s pulse point, she can’t really help it. She feels completely wild and untethered, as if Pansy is taking her apart piece by piece, but she doesn’t care at all.

She fucking loves it.

She hears the surprised way Pansy inhales at her curse, and if anything, Hermione’s unexpectedly foul language seems to spur Pansy on, pushing her to explore more of Hermione’s neck with her teeth, her lips, her tongue. Hermione gasps and closes her eyes as her hands shakily curl against Pansy’s jumper, tugging her impossibly closer. Her head involuntarily lolls back to give Pansy better access to her neck, and Pansy murmurs against her skin in quiet appreciation. And when Hermione feels teeth graze against her already-sensitive pulse point, she can’t help the way her mouth falls open, nor the low, breathy fuck that tumbles from her lips once more.

When Pansy finally finishes mapping the skin of her neck and returns to brush her lips against Hermione’s, she feels like she might implode, right then and there.

“Pansy…we…we…”

“Public,” Pansy murmurs against her mouth, staying close enough that their noses brush. “I know. I know,” she says, catching Hermione’s eager and willing lips once, twice, three times more before pulling back. “I just…Merlin, Hermione,” Pansy murmurs, trailing her hands up and down Hermione’s sides and staring at her with dark eyes that make Hermione want to immediately drag her back for another long, hungry kiss.

After a moment, Pansy finally drags her eyes away and manages to sweep her gaze behind Hermione. “We’re still alone,” she says as she drops her hands to idly draw patterns with her fingertips on Hermione’s thighs.

“Good,” Hermione murmurs, surprised by the way Pansy’s touch seems to burn right through her jeans. “That’s…that’s good.”

“Fuck,” Pansy breathes. “That was…I mean, you’re…” she shakes her head and whispers, “you’re really good at that, did you know?”

Hermione manages a low, surprised laugh. “You’re not so bad yourself,” she says, lifting a hand to brush her fingers against Pansy’s swollen lips. “But to be honest, I’ve been wanting to do that for a while,” she adds, dropping her fingers down to sweep over Pansy’s jaw.

“You have?”

Hermione smiles fondly at the amazed tone in Pansy’s voice. “I have,” she confirms, leaning forward to capture Pansy’s lips one more time, just to really drive the point home.

And as Hermione kisses Pansy, marveling in the overwhelming feeling of soft lips against hers, her heart thumps harder when she realizes that she can do this anytime she wants. She can kiss Pansy anytime at all.

Because Pansy is her bard.

Before she can help it, a laugh escapes from her lips, causing Pansy to pull back in surprise.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Hermione murmurs, reverently trailing her fingertips along Pansy’s jawline. “I’m just…I’m so glad it’s you.”

Pansy smiles. “I’m glad, too. And for what it’s worth…I’ve been thinking about it, too. Kissing you, I mean. I’ve been thinking about it for ages.”

“Really?”

“Mm. Honestly, it was starting to drive me mad.”

Hermione hums. “Well maybe if you’d told me sooner, we wouldn’t have wasted so much time just thinking about it.”

Pansy winces at the reminder of her deception and says, “about that…I know we got a bit sidetracked, but are you…are you upset with me?”

Hermione leans back as she ponders the question for just a moment. She’s not upset that Pansy had kept her in the dark for such a long time, because she can more or less understand all of Pansy’s reasonings. And for all she knows, had roles been reversed, she would have made the same ridiculous decisions. But even though she’s not really upset, there are a few things that are weighing on her, so she glances back to Pansy and says, “upset? No. Annoyed? …Maybe just a bit,” Hermione says, raising a wry eyebrow. “I mean, honestly. Did you have to tell me I was talking to Millicent, of all people?”

Pansy eyes light up at the reminder of her prank. “Surely the brightest witch of our age hasn’t forgotten that Slytherins are cunning by nature?” she asks, tapping Hermione’s knee lightly.

Hermione rolls her eyes. “I hate that stupid nickname, you know,” she mutters. “And anyway, there’s a difference between being cunning and being a massive prat.”

“Well, luckily for you, I happen to be both.”

Hermione scoffs, then tilts her head and surveys Pansy. “So you said it was the day we brewed Veritaserum?” she asks, going back to what Pansy had said before she had thoroughly distracted her. “That was when you saw my parchment?”

Pansy nods. “I nearly had a heart attack,” she says dryly. “And I was this close to dropping out of school so we’d never have to meet face to face at the end of this mad experiment.”

“I’m glad you didn’t,” Hermione says, reaching out to tangle her hand with Pansy’s. “Can I ask what convinced you to stay?”

Pansy hesitates for a moment, then says, “Daphne. She stumbled upon me in the midst of a complete meltdown and I sort of told her…well, everything. I came out to her, told her I was falling in love with my parchment pal, and told her that my parchment pal just so happened to be you.”

Hermione raises her eyebrows in shock. “That’s…that’s quite a lot to take in all at once.”

“It was. But Daph was…she was amazing. She accepted it all and she’s the entire reason I decided to try. She told me that I should get to know you. That you were quite literally the same girl I already had feelings for and that if I would stop being a twat to you, I might see that you were…well. That you were Robin, I suppose,” Pansy says, her voice warm and fond.

Hermione smiles at the nickname as she lightly strokes her thumb over Pansy’s hand, but then something occurs to her. “So…Greengrass knows?” she asks, her thumb pausing in place. “About…about everything?”

Pansy shakes her head quickly. “I didn’t tell her what you told me in the library. I would never do that. But she’s annoyingly observant,” she says with a grimace. “So she probably knows more than she should. And she knows everything on my end. Knows how I feel about you, knows that I was meeting you today…”

“That day in the Three Broomsticks,” Hermione says, realization dawning on her. “Rosmerta didn’t have a shipment, did she? I thought it was strange at the time, but…”

“Daphne bribed her,” Pansy says, wincing slightly at the memory. “I didn’t ask her to,” she adds quickly. “But she’s nothing if not determined.”

Hermione shakes her head in wonder at the confirmation. “You know, normally, I’m not a fan of sneaky tricks, but I suppose in this case, I’ll make an exception. I think that conversation was the entire reason I broke things off with Ron and figured out who I was and what I actually wanted.” Hermione looks at Pansy with wide eyes. “God…does this mean I owe Greengrass a thank you?”

“If only she was that easy to please,” Pansy mutters darkly.

“What does that mean?”

“It means I already owe her something absolutely mad. But no, you don’t owe her anything.”

Hermione hums. “Well, either way. I’m grateful to her.”

Pansy frowns a bit as she absently plays with Hermione’s hand. “Can I…can I tell her about this? About us?” she asks quietly. “If you don’t want me to, then I won’t,” she adds quickly. “I can keep it a secret, if that’s what you’d prefer.”

“I…”

Hermione’s thrown by the question. She hadn’t really thought about who should know about their relationship, if anyone at all. But the thought of keeping this completely secret seems absolutely absurd. How could she possibly keep secret the way she feels about the witch before her? How could she not let Harry, Ron, and Ginny in on this monumental development?

“No. No, I don’t want you to keep it a secret,” Hermione finally says. “At least, not from Greengrass. She’s your best friend and she certainly deserves to know. But that said, I do think we should probably limit the amount of people we tell.”

“Really?” Pansy asks with a sardonically raised eyebrow. “You didn’t want to make a special announcement tomorrow morning at breakfast?”

Hermione scoffs. “God, can you imagine? I mean, I’ll have to tell Ron and Harry eventually, but that’s not exactly the way I’d go about it.”

“You’re going to tell Potter and Weasley?” Pansy asks, her eyes widening with surprise.

“Of course. I mean, I don’t know when, but…they’re my best friends. I can’t just not tell them that I’m in love with—”

Hermione cuts herself off so abruptly, it’s almost comical. Her eyes grow wide as she realizes what she was about to say, and she looks at Pansy with alarm, fully prepared to apologize for her slip of the tongue. But Pansy is already staring back at her with burning eyes and a beautiful smile.

“Why’d you stop?” Pansy asks, her smile growing impossibly wider.

“I…I mean we…we haven’t even talked about what we are yet,” Hermione says, letting go of Pansy’s hand and running flustered fingers through her hair. “I didn’t think I should be saying that I’m…that I’m…well, you know, that I’m—”

“Hermione. May I tell you what I think we are?” Pansy asks, smoothly cutting off Hermione’s pathetic ramble.

Hermione nods her head, grateful for the interruption.

“I think,” Pansy says slowly, “that we’re something unexpected. I think that we’re two people who know each other, inside and out…from the tiniest, most inconsequential things to the big, awful, messy secrets…though most of those are mine, mind you,” she adds with a small smile. “But I think we’re two people who against all the staggering odds, somehow bring out the best in each other. I think we’re two people who think about each other all the time…who think about what tomorrow holds and the day after that and the day after that and every day that we’re lucky enough to spend together. And I think…” Pansy takes a brief pause and Hermione waits with bated breath and shining eyes for her to continue. “I think,” Pansy finally murmurs, “that we’re in love with each other. I think that despite all of our faults and all of the odds and all our past, we love each other. At least, I hope we do. Because I know that I love you. I know that I fell in love with you before I had any idea who you were, and I know that I’ve only fallen more in love with you every day since. You astonish me, Hermione Granger,” Pansy murmurs, taking Hermione’s hand once more. “And I don’t want to wait around any longer, pretending that I haven’t spent the past few months completely head over heels for you. And maybe that’s mad!” she says with a small laugh. “Maybe it’s absolutely reckless and mad and far too soon, and I’m sure Daphne would smack me for telling you all this before we’ve even gone on a date. But I don’t care. I don’t care, because all I know is that I love you. I’ve wanted to tell you for weeks now, and now that I can, I’m never going to stop myself again. I love you, Hermione. And I’ll spend every day of my life loving you, if you’ll let me.” Pansy lifts the hand in hers and brushes her lips against Hermione’s knuckles.

Hermione watches the gesture with damp eyes and so many feelings exploding in her chest that they all come pouring out in a burst of laughter. “I…I…” she reaches up to swipe her sleeve against her eyes. “How did I not realize it was you?” she asks with a stunned shake of her head.

Pansy lifts an eyebrow, clearly not expecting that reply. “What do you—”

“I love you, too,” Hermione says quickly. “I love you, and I…god, you talk exactly the same, I don’t know how I didn’t…I mean, I thought I was in love with two different people, but you didn’t even try to hide yourself, and I just…”

A slow smile stretches over Pansy’s face. “I didn’t, did I?”

“Not even a little.”

“So…if I pulled one over on the brightest witch of our age,” Pansy says thoughtfully, “does that mean that I’m the brightest witch of our age now?”

“Oh my god…”

“No, really! That has to be how it works, right?”

“You’re ridiculous.”

“Is there some kind of ceremony? Ooh, or a crown? Do I get a crown? I mean, if I’m the new brightest witch of our age, surely I deserve a crown?”

“You, Pansy Parkinson,” Hermione says, “are the most infuriating, insufferable, frustrating witch of our age.”

“I—”

Hermione leans forward and gives Pansy a quick kiss, her lips curling up when she hears Pansy’s surprised inhalation. She cups her hand to Pansy’s cheek, swipes her thumb over soft skin, and pulls back just an inch to gaze into green eyes. “And I’m so in love with you.”

Pansy smiles, then immediately leans back in to kiss Hermione. And Hermione lets her for a moment. She lets her eyes flutter closed as Pansy’s fingertips skim along her jaw. She lets her hands tangle in Pansy’s hair once more as she eagerly parts her lips. She lets the same wonderful, overwhelming sensations settle into her chest as she catches Pansy’s muted whimper of pleasure in her mouth.

And she’d probably be content in completely losing herself in Pansy’s intoxicating kisses for the rest of the night when something suddenly occurs to her. She pulls back and fixes Pansy with a wary look. “Wait. Is this what you wanted to tell me in the library?”

“What?” Pansy asks, blinking her eyes open and looking completely confused as to why Hermione’s lips were no longer on hers.

“Before you left. You wanted to tell me something. Was it this?”

“Oh. I…uh…yes?” Pansy says sheepishly.

Hermione stares at her incredulously. “Pansy.

“What?”

“Why didn’t you just say something?”

The haze lifts from Pansy’s eyes and she manages to roll them. “I tried,” she says with exasperation. “But you kept interrupting.”

“Because I thought it was going to be something stupid! I didn’t think it was going to be this!”

“Why would I have wanted to tell you something stupid?” Pansy asks, leaning back and sounding completely bewildered.

“I don’t know! I just…you could have been killed and you didn’t think I’d want to know that you were my bard all along?”

“No. I definitely thought you’d want to know, which is why I tried to tell you,” Pansy says, stressing each word.

“Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable.”

“It’s not my fault you never stop talking!”

“Maybe don’t lead with this might make you angry.”

“Well, it might have! I didn’t know how you’d react! And besides, I tried to tell you the week before, but again, you wouldn’t stop talking!”

“When?”

“After you figured out the wire. After you almost kissed me.”

“That’s not fair,” Hermione says quickly. “I thought I had made you uncomfortable. I didn’t know you felt the same way!”

“Right, which is why I was going to tell you, but then you told me that I wasn’t your type.”

“I—”

“Which, I’m no expert, but based on the way you just kissed me, I’m going to say that might have been a lie?”

Hermione rolls her eyes at Pansy’s cocky smirk.  “You’re unbelievable,” she repeats.

“Thank you, but we’re not discussing my snogging prowess right now.”

Hermione laughs in spite of herself. “And so humble.” Pansy grins, and Hermione shakes her head. “Okay. First ground rule of this?” she says, ticking a finger between them. “You tell me important things before you march off into battle.”

“I can agree to that,” Pansy says amicably. “Mostly because I never plan on marching into battle again. But considering I was mad enough to fall in love with a Gryffindor, I suppose I should say that the same rule goes double for you.”

Hermione smiles. “Agreed. And second ground rule? No more massive secrets.”

Pansy nods, then, something flickers in her eyes. “I suppose there’s one more thing I should tell you, then…”

“Oh, here we go,” Hermione says, preparing herself for another one of Pansy’s ridiculous bits.

“McGonagall knows about us.”

Hermione rolls her eyes at Pansy’s newest attempt to bait her. “Hilarious. Honestly, you’re wasted at Hogwarts. You should be performing in Muggle comedy clubs.”

Pansy shakes her head emphatically. “I’m not lying.”

“Of course you’re not. Let me guess, does Sprout know about us, too? Flitwick? Or, no, I know…Snape. Does Snape know about us?”

“Merlin, I hope not,” Pansy says with a wince. Then she tilts her head and says, “but you must have noticed the way McGonagall looked at us, though?”

Hermione’s gaze narrows. “What do you mean?”

“That night she found us in the library? And I said we were dealing with a personal problem? You didn’t notice anything?”

“I…”

Hermione drops Pansy’s gaze to study the grass, trying to remember the moment in question. Eventually, she pulls together a memory of McGonagall looking between them with wide, almost shocked eyes. And when she remembers the way McGonagall had said in the future, try to tend to your personal problems outside of the library with a small, mischievous smile, Hermione brings her own shocked gaze back up to Pansy’s.

“She knows?”

Pansy shrugs as she scoots back a bit to settle her back against the trunk of the beech tree. “Seems like it.”

“But…but…”

“And it probably didn’t help that she found us essentially sleeping together in Snape’s office.”

Hermione’s cheeks burn at the implication. “We weren’t sleeping together, we were just…”

“…Sleeping together?” Pansy puts in with a smirk when Hermione is unable to find the right words.

“We weren’t. We were about to sleep together,” Hermione says. But when she realizes that her correction somehow sounds even more suggestive, she immediately covers her face with both hands as Pansy laughs in delight in the background.

“Merlin! If only I had managed to stay awake a bit longer,” Pansy says. “I mean, had I known what you had in mind, I would’ve taken a second Wideye Potion.”

Hermione shakes her head back and forth, her face still covered by her hands. “You’re impossible,” she mutters.

“I am. But you love me.”

Hermione lowers her hands at the simple statement and flashes Pansy a small smile. “I do,” she says, the truth in the words burning brightly in her chest and filling her heart to the brim.

Pansy’s face shines at Hermione’s words and she leans forward to tug on Hermione’s arm, gently pulling her closer. Hermione willing follows and after a moment of repositioning, she finds herself seated between Pansy’s legs with the other girl’s arms wound loosely around her. She lets her head fall back to comfortably rest against Pansy’s chest, and when she feels slim fingers gently comb through her hair, she closes her eyes and sighs in content. Pansy drops a kiss to Hermione’s temple and murmurs, “I love you, too. Even if all our professors think we’re shagging.”

Hermione snorts quietly, then as cooly as she can manage, says, “well…all in good time,” with a light squeeze to Pansy’s knee.

Pansy’s body stiffens behind her, and when Hermione cranes her head back to catch Pansy’s eyes, she finds the other witch grinning with surprise shining on her face. “Always the ones you don’t expect,” Pansy says.

“Hm?”

“Nothing,” Pansy says, ducking her head down to drop a quick kiss to Hermione’s lips. “Just remembering something Daphne once said.”

She kisses Hermione once more, then they fall into a comfortable silence. Pansy’s fingers gently play with Hermione’s hair and Hermione absently runs her thumb over Pansy’s knee, and for a few lovely and long seconds, the only sounds are the water lapping in the Black Lake and the birds, still trilling merrily around them. But after a moment, Pansy very tentatively breaks the peaceful quiet.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Anything.”

“Does this mean that we’re…together?” Pansy asks nervously. “I mean, together together?”

Hermione scoffs. “Well, I genuinely don’t make a habit of snogging my friends or telling them that I’m in love with them, so…yes. I’d say this means we’re together. I mean, if that’s okay by you?” she adds, once again tilting her head back to find Pansy’s eyes.

Pansy grins. “That’s very okay by me.”

Something occurs to Hermione, though, and she sits up out of Pansy’s hold and bites her lip nervously. “It’s not…I mean, it’s not too soon, is it? After everything that happened with your father, I don’t want you to jump into something you’re not ready for. I mean, obviously, I want this. I want us to be together more than anything, but…” She trails off, then sighs. “You offered me time and space, and I think it’s only fair I do the same to you. If you need to put this on hold until you’ve sorted through things, I’ll understand. And I’ll be here whenever you’re ready.”

Pansy’s eyes soften and she shakes her head. “No, I…I don’t  want to put anything on hold.” She frowns at the Black Lake for a moment, and when she speaks, it’s carefully measured. “I won’t lie to you…I have a lot to work through, and it might take me a while. And I can’t promise that I’ll be the…the easiest partner in the world. I unfortunately seem to come with more baggage than I’d like,” she adds with a rueful smile. “But I want this, too. More than I’ve ever wanted anything before. And as long as you don’t mind putting up with an occasionally poor bedfellow, then no. It’s not too soon.”

“I don’t mind that at all,” Hermione murmurs, her mind immediately turning to a lovely vision of Pansy in her bed, tucked under her covers, legs tangled with her own as she holds the other girl close. It makes her heart ache with want and she feels momentarily breathless when she realizes just how possibly her little daydream is.

“So…we’re dating, then?” Pansy asks, pulling Hermione out of her private fantasy.

“I suppose we are,” Hermione says, a small thrill running through her body at the confirmation. Her old, familiar butterflies swarm in her stomach, making her skin buzz and her heart thud just a bit faster.

It still doesn’t feel real. She still feels like she’s in the plot of some idyllic Muggle movie and at any moment, it’s all going to slip away. Because in Hermione’s experience, life doesn’t work out like this. It’s never neat and tidy and clean. There are always curveballs, or unexpected bumps in the road, or twists you never see coming. So to have everything boil down to something as simple as Pansy being her bard? It feels unreal, but in the best possible way.

But then Pansy is smiling at her and Hermione is feeling everything and she knows that nothing has ever been this real before.

“You know, most people don’t say they love each other before they’ve even decided that they’re dating,” Pansy says. “And most people don’t decide they’re dating after a day, for that matter.”

“Well then, most people are terribly dull,” Hermione says.

“Mm. I suppose no one can ever accuse us of going about this in a dull way.”

“I’m the Robin Hood of Hogwarts, remember? I couldn’t be dull if I tried. And you,” Hermione says, taking Pansy’s hand once more and gently playing with it. “You have a dragon.”

Pansy rolls her eyes. “The only thing she ever remembers,” she mutters, tilting her head up and directing her words to the sky.

“Well, it’s not dull, is it?”

“Hundreds of letters! Hundreds of letters, and you’re still stuck on the bloody dragon. It’s like you don’t know anything else about me,” Pansy adds with a fake, petulant pout.

The pout is surprisingly endearing, and Hermione finds herself leaning forward to kiss it away almost on instinct. It’s a gentle, affectionate kiss, but one that still makes Hermione’s body fill with so much warmth, it’s almost overwhelming. After a moment, she leans back and says, “I know everything about you, Pansy Parkinson.” She gazes steadily into green eyes and lifts a hand to gently cup Pansy’s cheek. “I remember every last thing you’ve ever told me. And do you know what?” she whispers, her lips just a breath away from Pansy’s.

“What?” Pansy asks breathlessly.

“Nothing has ever been,” Hermione murmurs, kissing Pansy once more, “nor ever will be,” she adds with another light kiss, “as good as the dragon.”

She can’t help the grin that immediately forms on her face and when Pansy pulls back to aim an exasperated look at Hermione, she simply laughs.

“I’m beginning to think you just want me for my dragon,” Pansy says, raising a petulant eyebrow.

“Caught me,” Hermione says. Then she tilts her head. “Well, that, and you’re a good kisser.”

“Mm. So is that the foundation of every good relationship, then? A dragon and a decent snog?”

“It’s certainly the foundation of ours.”

A devious twinkle enters Pansy’s eye. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to really strengthen the foundation, then, would it?”

Hermione frowns in mock-thought. “I’m not sure how we’d go about strengthening a—”

“If you say dragon, I’m leaving,” Pansy says with a warning in her tone.

Hermione grins at Pansy. “Oh. Did you mean the snogging bit?” she asks innocently. “No, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to strengthen that, either. But maybe we could work on it behind the tree this time?” she adds, deciding to think about the quite large matter of privacy before she’s rendered completely useless by Pansy’s talented lips.

Pansy cocks an eyebrow and says, “I can work with that.” She flashes an almost sultry smile that immediately turns Hermione’s insides to jelly, then stands up and impatiently tugs Hermione off the ground. And as Hermione follows her behind the tree to work on strengthening their foundation, she genuinely can’t remember the last time she’s been this happy.

And of course, there are still questions. There are still so many things to discuss and so many things to figure out. She wants to ask Pansy how she knew about Robin Hood in the first place. She wants to poke fun at her for having the absolute nerve to give her advice on forgiveness that long ago night. She wants to know exactly how much Greengrass knows, and whether or not she’s been honest with Malfoy. She wants to know more about Pansy’s grandmother (or perhaps her aunt…?) She wants to figure out how they’re going to navigate a secret relationship for the rest of this year. She wants to know if Pansy’s as serious as she is about going to Paris.

She wants to know everything and more, because no matter what, for better or for worse, Hermione will always be the girl with too many questions and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

But when Hermione finds herself pushed back against an unforgiving tree trunk and feels Pansy’s body press firmly against hers, she thinks that those questions can probably wait.

When she lazily winds her arms around Pansy’s back and feels her blood start to run hot at the first touch of dark lips to hers, she completely forgets what questions she had in the first place.

And when she sucks Pansy’s lower lip into her mouth and nips at it, drawing a low, desperate groan from the other girl, she becomes fully focused on a much different unquenchable thirst.

They’ll figure it all out later. But as of right now, they’re too thoroughly wrapped up in each other and too desperately in love to care.

And Hermione has never been happier.

***

There you are. Did you get lost?”

Hermione slides into her seat beside Ron in the Great Hall for dinner and reaches for a plate. “Sorry,” she says, purposefully avoiding Ron’s gaze. “I lost track of time. I was finishing an Arithmancy essay.”

Hermione feels Ron shrug beside her, easily accepting her explanation, and she exhales slowly when he immediately turns back to Harry and Ginny to finish whatever story he was in the middle of telling when she arrived. She keeps her eyes down as she loads her plate with vegetable curry and smiles to herself, pleased that no one had noticed the slight flush on her cheeks and her decidedly swollen lips.

She had lost track of time.

She had just lost track of it while thoroughly enjoying Pansy’s company.

She glances toward the Slytherin table to see Pansy’s eyes, already trained on her. She’s seated beside Daphne, but she’s clearly not paying any attention at all to whatever story Daphne is regaling Theo and Millicent with, because the moment she notices Hermione’s looking at her, her eyes grow warm and she gives her a tiny, secretive smile. Hermione’s own lips tick up as they hold each other’s gaze, but after a moment, Daphne directs a question to Pansy, and she’s forced to tear her eyes away and give her full attention to her Slytherin housemates.

Hermione watches her for a moment longer as she lets herself think back on what had just transpired between them.

They had decided to talk through their plan for keeping their relationship secret before dinner, but to do that, they needed to find a private room.

It had been easy enough to walk through the halls, side by side, discussing an imaginary change in schedule for patrols. None of the students they had passed had given them a second glance, simply taking their businesslike tones and clipped words at face value. For all anyone knew, Pansy and Hermione still barely tolerated each other. And if the loudly delivered excuse Pansy had provided for their interaction was any indication, no one would be thinking anything else for quite some time.

“Well, if you’re going to be out on Tuesday, then you’ll have to be the one to tell McGonagall. I’m not going to suffer through a chat with your head of house just because your anal warts aren’t clearing up, Granger.”

Hermione had stopped short and glared at her for coming up with such an unpleasant reason, while at the same time trying to ignore the flicker of heat that rose in her stomach at hearing Pansy call her Granger again.

“I know you’re still sore at me for complaining to Snape about your excessive flatulence, Parkinson , but there’s no need to make up stories.”

Pansy’s eyes had flashed with amusement and something else, something that had made Hermione’s heart beat a bit faster. They had held each other’s gaze for just a moment before almost immediately increasing their walking pace in their attempt to find an empty classroom.

When they had eventually found themselves alone in an unused, dusty room, Pansy had wasted no time in closing the door and locking it behind her. Hermione had raised an amused eyebrow at the action and when Pansy had turned around and noticed, she had flushed and said, “to keep our conversation private. Merlin, such impure thoughts.”

Of course, it hadn’t taken long before those impure thoughts had become a delicious reality.

And now, Hermione is seated beside Ron, replaying their precious, stolen moments with a secret smile. Subtly, she brushes her fingertips against her still-tingling lips, remembering both the taste of Pansy and the way she had immediately deepened their kiss, much to Hermione’s immense delight. She remembers how Pansy had gripped at her hips and impatiently pulled Hermione flush up against her, intent on connecting their bodies at every conceivable point. She remembers the way her own hands had eventually pushed up the fabric of Pansy’s jumper to press against the soft, warm skin of her waist, and she remembers the low moan the simple action had pulled from Pansy’s throat.

Hermione shifts on the bench a bit as she remembers how she had felt in that moment, like her entire body was on fire and the only thing that could possibly control the flames was Pansy. Pansy and her lips and her touch and her gasps and her groans. But of course, pressing desperately closer to Pansy hadn’t quenched the fire at all; it had only made it burn brighter, blazing across her skin and scorching whatever rational thoughts had been left in her mind until the only thing she could think was Pansy, Pansy, Pansy.

When she had eventually moved her hands to the small of Pansy’s back and scraped her nails against the skin there, Pansy had gasped against her lips and arched against her, and Hermione had felt the inferno rage deep within her, threatening to incinerate her from within. A kind of wild desperation had crawled into her body, pushing her to explore more of Pansy’s skin until she had learned the other girl by heart. And she would have given into that single-minded pursuit had it not been for Pansy’s stomach, rumbling between them, low and ridiculous sounding. The noise had cut through the lust in Hermione’s mind like a knife and reminded her that stopping was probably for the best.

And it was. Because even though it wasn’t entirely apparent to her at that moment, she really does want to take the physical side of their relationship slow. She doesn’t want to lose control of herself in a dusty classroom, like some ridiculous teenage boy with no control over his libido.

But in her defense, she had never really understood the appeal of kissing. And now that she finally sees what all the fuss is about, she has to make up for lost time.

And really, when Pansy looks at her the way she does—when Pansy kisses her the way she does—how can Hermione not lose control of herself?

“Hello? Earth to Hermione?”

Hermione jumps a bit and looks up from her plate to find her friends watching her with concerned amusement.

“Sorry…what did you say?” Hermione asks, her voice coming out a bit breathless.

“Twenty minutes late for dinner, not listening to a word we’re saying, and wrecked a potion for the first time in months,” Ron says, raising an eyebrow. “Are you feeling alright?”

“I—”

“Wrecked a potion?” Ginny asks with interest as she picks up her goblet. “That doesn’t sound like you.”

“Not just any potion,” Ron adds. “A revision on Everlasting Elixirs. A fifth year potion.”

Hermione quickly lifts her own goblet for a sip of water, hoping the motion covers up her burning face.

“Everyone else in the class managed it, but Hermione’s…” Ron trails off and grins. “Hermione’s exploded.”

“It hardly exploded,” Hermione says, a cross little frown settling on her face as she adds a side of rice to her untouched curry.

“Harry, how would you describe what her potion did?” Ron asks, turning to Harry with shining eyes and ignoring Hermione’s quiet tsk of irritation beside him.

Harry shifts uncomfortably beside Ginny. “It…discharged rather alarmingly?” he says awkwardly, wincing when he hears how ridiculous he sounds.

“Exactly. It exploded,” Ron says.

Harry ignores Ron and catches Hermione’s eye from across the table. “It happens to the best of us,” he says with an apologetic shrug.

Hermione manages a tight smile as she finally takes her first bite of curry.

It’s not that she disagrees…potions mishaps do happen to everyone. They’ve even happened to Hermione from time to time.

Though this is the first time a mishap has happened because she’s been so thoroughly distracted by her infuriatingly beautiful potions partner.

And not even in the way anyone would necessarily expect.

Because yes, Pansy had decided to whisper things to Hermione, things that had made her normally steady hand shake and her usually cool, collected head fill with irritatingly vivid images.

And obviously, those things were distracting.

Do you know how many times I’ve thought about kissing you, right here in the middle of class, with everyone watching?

I almost pushed you against the table that day we brewed Amortentia. But it wasn’t because of the smell—I just wanted to know how you’d taste.

Merlin, Hermione. You’re so beautiful.

I really, really want to kiss you right now.

But even though the words were distracting in the best way, and even though there was a large part of her that wanted to toss her book aside, pull Pansy in by her tie, and kiss her absolutely senseless in front of the entire class, Hermione could deal with it.

And even when Hermione had felt a warm hand settle on her knee, making her heart skip a beat and something pleasantly warm pool in her lower stomach, she knew she could deal with that, too. She had simply clenched her teeth together tightly in an attempt to stay focused on the potion at hand. The contact had once again been distracting, but altogether manageable.

But everything had changed when fingertips had gently started to trace patterns against her skin. Her control had slipped a bit and she had found herself tuning into the lazy patterns Pansy was drawing under the cover of their table.

And even now, Hermione’s fairly certain she would have managed to brew the Everlasting Elixir successfully, had it not been for the pattern Pansy decided to trace on her knee.

She had recognized it almost immediately as an ancient rune, but it had taken a moment to click in her head. Hermione had found herself cataloguing through all the runes she knew that Pansy might choose to trace in that moment—love, desire, need, want, partnership—but none of them had been right. And Hermione, ever the academic, had wanted answers. She had quietly instructed Pansy to trace the rune again (in a voice that came out a bit too low and throaty to be construed as casual), and Pansy’s eyes had darkened, clearly thinking that Hermione was enjoying the teasing sensation.

Which…of course she was, but that wasn’t the point.

The point was she wanted answers.

It took three more tracings and quite a lot of careful concentration for Hermione to finally realize what it was.

“Acromantula?” Hermione had said, turning to Pansy with wide, surprised eyes.

Pansy’s hand had hesitated and she blinked at Hermione, some of the desire dissipating from her gaze. “I…yes?” She shook her head and said, “you could decipher that on your leg ?”

Hermione put down the stirring spoon. “Not at first. That’s why I asked you to repeat it.”

That’s why you asked me to repeat it?” Pansy echoed in disbelief.

“I wanted to know what you were tracing, but I… Acromantula ?” Hermione repeated again, staring at Pansy with amazement.

‘“I—”

“Is this some sort of kink I should be aware of?”

Pansy flushed darkly at the amusement in Hermione’s voice. “No, I…I didn’t think you’d be able to tell what I was tracing. I forgot that I’m dating the brightest witch in the bloody universe,” she added.

Hermione felt a delightful, warm pressure settle in her chest at Pansy’s words, at the fact they were dating , but she still wasn’t done quizzing the other witch. “Even so, why on earth—”

“It’s the only rune I remember,” Pansy muttered. “I only took the intro class but it was all so bloody boring. I don’t know why, but Acromantula was the only thing that stuck,” she added with a small shrug.

Hermione snorted as she surveyed Pansy with fond eyes. “Very romantic,” she said. “Really, top marks.”

“Oh, piss off.”

“No, honestly! Now if we ever want matching tattoos, at least we’ll know what to get.”

Pansy’s lips twitched. “This is the last time I try to be romantic.”

“Oh, don’t say that. What’s more romantic than a species that eats the corpses of their dead?”

Pansy’s nose wrinkled in distaste. “You’re enjoying this far too much.”

And Hermione had been—so much so, that she hadn’t noticed the way their potion was starting to boil over.

“You know, if you really want to spice things up, there are other runes you could learn…”

“Is it too soon to split up after a day?”

“Ooh, what about the rune for fire-breathing chicken? That’s quite suggestive.”

“That’s not a rune,” Pansy said, but with a small furrow to her brow, as if she wasn’t quite sure.

“How would you know? You only took the intro class. Fire-breathing chickens are all over the advanced levels.”

Pansy scoffed. “Merlin…”

“Though come to think of it—”

But whatever Hermione was about to say would be lost forever. Because in that moment, their long-ignored Everlasting Elixir had splashed up wildly, bubbling up and over the edge of the cauldron. Both girls had turned to it with panicked eyes, completely unaware of how to act in such a situation. They hadn’t botched a potion in ages, and even then, their Draught of the Living Death hadn’t looked quite so angry.

Hermione’s mind had flown through possibilities, and eventually, she had reasoned that an extra dash of morning dew might help to subdue the quickly increasing bubbles. She had reached for it quickly, but the moment she tilted the bottle, Pansy extinguished the flame.

The combination of the immediate lack of heat and the new ingredient caused their Everlasting Elixir to immediately explode and managed to draw the surprised eyes of every single person in the room. Harry and Ron had looked dumbfounded, Snape had looked incredibly annoyed, and Neville had looked concerned.

Only Greengrass had looked deeply, deeply amused.

Once everything was over and they were leaving the dungeons together after cleaning up, Hermione had set a third ground rule for their relationship—no more distractions in Potions.

Hermione’s pulled from her thoughts by Ron, mimicking the way the potion had exploded with delight shining on his face, and she rolls her eyes as she takes another bite of curry.

“Merlin,” Ginny says, looking toward Hermione with surprise. “I mean, wrecking a potion makes sense for these two,” she says, nodding toward Harry and Ron, who both shrug in agreement, “but that’s just…are you feeling alright?” she asks, peering at Hermione with interest.

“I’m fine,” Hermione grumbles. “And everything was going well for most of the brewing, but I just…I got a bit distracted near the end.”

“Oh? By what? Your new best friend?” Ron asks, raising an eyebrow. Some of the happiness has left his face as he regards her, and Hermione feels her hackles immediately rise as she prepares herself for yet another go-around of the conversation they had already had three times since Sunday afternoon. Because suffice it to say, neither Harry nor Ron could understand why Hermione was suddenly acting friendly toward someone who had up until a few months ago, been her sworn nemesis.

Which…all things considered was actually quite fair. After all, she’d have a hard time if Harry suddenly decided that Malfoy was his best mate.

But at least Harry had tentatively tried to understand her very abridged explanation.

Ron, unsurprisingly, has refused to accept it.

“New best friend?” Ginny asks with interest at the same time Harry grimaces.

“Ron…” he mutters with a small shake of his head.

“She hasn’t told you?” Ron asks, ignoring the warning in Harry’s voice.

“Honestly,” Hermione mutters tersely. “Do we really have to do this again?”

Ginny glances back and forth between the three of them. “Okay…what am I missing?”

“Nothing,” Hermione says, pushing her curry around. “Ron’s just being ridiculous.”

I’m being ridiculous?” Ron asks, his voice higher than normal. “You don’t think you’re being ridiculous?”

“No,” Hermione says stiffly. “Not at all, actually.”

“You know that the fact you don’t think you’re being ridiculous is ridiculous in itself, right?”

“Ron, we’ve gone over this,” Harry murmurs, clearly trying to diffuse the situation before it can blow up in his face.

“Yes, but—”

Ginny puts her utensils down and glares around the table. “Right. Would someone please tell me what the bloody hell is going on?”

Ron looks at Hermione for a moment, then turns his gaze to Ginny. “Hermione’s lost her mind and befriended Parkinson,” he says, his lip immediately curling up in a disgusted grimace.

Hermione doesn’t bother to look at Ginny for her reaction. She’s too busy glaring at Ron, thoroughly annoyed at him for blurting out the news like he’s some sort of second-rate Rita Skeeter. “Lost my mind?” she echoes, irritation simmering in her voice. “Oh, that’s nice, Ron. That’s so nice.”

“Well, what am I supposed to think?” Ron retorts hotly.

“I don’t know! Maybe you could think for once that I know what I’m doing? God, it’s like you haven’t listened to a word I’ve said,” Hermione says, running a frustrated hand through her hair. “But you never do, do you? You just steamroll ahead with your opinions and your advice and your input.”

“I—”

“I haven’t lost my mind and I’ve already told you, she’s not the same person she used to be.”

“Great, so she’s not a completely evil, vindictive bitch anymore?” Ron mutters darkly.

“You don’t know the first thing about her,” Hermione says quietly, her fist tightening around her fork as anger bubbles in her stomach. “Which maybe you would, if you’d have taken the time to listen to any of my explanations.”

“I—”

“And honestly, how many times do I have to tell you that I’m sick of this? I’m so sick of you acting like you know better than I do and second guessing all of my decisions.”

“Yeah, because your decisions are mental! Someone has to second guess them!”

“No,” Hermione says, her voice raising a bit in frustration. “No one needs to second guess them, and especially not someone claiming to be my best friend! If anything, you should be the person supporting me! You should listen to me and realize that I’m more than capable of taking care of myself!”

Claiming to be?” Ron splutters, looking deeply offended. “I’m not claiming to be anything, I am your best friend. And I want to support you, but how can I when you’re making decisions that don’t make sense?” he asks, leaning forward with desperate eyes. “Hermione, this is Parkinson we’re talking about! The same girl who put you through hell for seven bloody years!”

“I’m not having this conversation with you again.”

“Of course not. Because you can’t justify any of—”

“Three times!” Hermione says, slamming her fork down as she cuts Ron off swiftly. “I’ve told you three times now that Pansy’s changed and that I’ve forgiven her! Three times that she’s given me all the explanations and apologies that I need. Three times that she’s taking the steps to be a better person.”

“And what, that makes up for the past seven years? I mean, bloody hell, Hermione! Do you want me to throw her some kind of parade for doing the bare minimum? So she apologized! That’s not something to be impressed by! If anything, it’s fucking pathetic it took her this long!”

“You don’t know anything about her,” Hermione seethes again, her tone low and dangerous.

“What, and you do?”

“Guys…” Harry says, his voice nervous and strained.

“And even if you do, who’s to say that any of it is true?” Ron asks, ignoring Harry. “She’s spent seven years being vile to you,” he adds, his voice filled with righteous fury. “Stands to reason she might be lying to you now, doesn’t it? Who knows what her end game is?”

“She’s not—”

“She’s evil,” Ron says. “She’s been evil and cruel and she’s berated you at every opportunity, so yeah. Yeah, you’ll have to forgive me for having the nerve to be worried about you and to think that you might be making a mistake!”

Hermione’s fists clench as she glares at Ron. “I won’t sit here and make excuses for who she used to be—”

“Really? Because that’s exactly what you’re doing—”

“But I will not let you slander the person she is now,” Hermione says, raising her voice just enough to speak over Ron’s protestations. “She’s not evil and I won’t listen to you talk about her like she’s…like she’s a Death Eater.”

Ron’s face darkens. “Give it time,” he mutters, his gaze dropping to his plate.

Hermione grows deathly still. Her breath comes out in sharp, angry puffs as Ron’s bitter words sink into her skin, and she slowly shakes her head in infuriated disbelief. “What did you just say?” she whispers.

“I said give it time,” Ron repeats, raising his voice and swinging his incensed gaze up to meet hers. “You think for a second she’s not going to follow in her family’s footsteps? She wants You-Know-Who to come back like the rest of them and she’d take the Dark Mark in a heartbeat. She’ll stab you in the back the moment it’s convenient because that’s what Parkinsons do. They’re all evil cowards.”

All of Ron’s words make Hermione see red, but the implication that Pansy is cowardly thoroughly enrages her. Her blood rushes through her ears and when she speaks again, her voice is trembling with rage. “How dare you—”

But before Hermione can reply, Neville suddenly falls into place next to her. He’s red in the face and his eyes are shining with pure joy, and somehow, he seems completely and blissfully unaware of the decidedly furious atmosphere at the table.

“She said yes,” Neville says with a massive grin.

At the interruption, Ron drops his seething gaze to scowl at his plate, but Hermione lets her eyes burn on the side of his face for a moment longer as his insult against Pansy continues to ring in her head.

She’s fucking furious.

How dare he assume anything about Pansy. How dare he sling such horrible accusations without knowing any of the hell she’s been through.

She clenches her jaw as rage boils in her blood, so all-consuming, she feels as if her veins are pulsating, and Neville’s presence is quite literally the only thing that’s keeping her from unleashing an unholy tirade right now. She’s never been so upset at Ron in her life, perhaps never been more upset, full stop, and more than anything, she wants to stand up for Pansy’s honor. To stand up for the person she knows Pansy to be.

“Sorry, who…who said yes?” Harry says nervously, dutifully answering when it becomes clear Ron and Hermione aren’t going to say anything.

“Hannah! I finally did it! I finally asked her out and she said yes!” Neville’s grin somehow grows even broader and he claps his hands down on the table with delight. “Can you believe it?” he asks, turning to Hermione with exuberance.

Hermione lets out a very slow, measured breath in an attempt to cool off her scorching temper. Because even though she’s still incensed over what Ron had said, she can temporarily put that aside to support her friend.

Because that’s what friends do after all, she thinks furiously.

She turns to Neville with something she hopes resembles a smile. “That’s wonderful, Neville,” she says, her voice tight and her words clipped. “I’m delighted for you. For both of you,” she amends.

“Thanks, Hermione,” Neville says with warm eyes. He’s clearly over the moon with joy, because he doesn’t seem to notice the odd tone to her voice, nor the angry flush staining her cheeks.

“Well done,” Harry says from across the table with a decidedly strained smile as his anxious gaze flicks between Hermione and Ron. It’s clear that seeing his two best friends more furious with each other than they’ve ever been before is making him incredibly uncomfortable, and it’s obvious that he wants to fix it, but with Neville at the table, there’s not much he can do about it. So instead, he has to pretend nothing is wrong at all. He turns his eyes to Neville and says, “I suppose that means we’ll have to make space here every once in a while?”

“I…blimey, do you think she’d want to eat here?” Neville asks, his voice soaked in awe. “I mean…here? With me?”

Ron clears his throat from beside Hermione and gruffly mutters, “I mean, yeah. That’s genuinely what people in relationships do, mate.”

“I suppose it is,” Neville says. He rubs his neck and grins broadly up at the enchanted ceiling. “I can’t believe she said yes.”

“Oh, Neville. How could she not?” Hermione says, ignoring the potent anger that had licked at her skin once more at the mere sound of Ron’s voice and instead, laying a gentle hand on Neville’s arm. “You’re wonderful,” she says, squeezing his forearm lightly.

“Yeah, but she’s…I mean…she’s…blimey,” he murmurs with dazzled eyes.

The joy shining on his face is such a ludicrous juxtaposition to the angry tension still crackling around the table, and if Hermione wasn’t so mad, it might make her laugh. But at the very least, some of the most potent, white-hot bits of fury fade as Hermione takes in the absolute look of wonder in Neville’s soft brown eyes.

She wonders if her own eyes look similarly whenever she thinks about Pansy.

She has a feeling they do.

“Oh. I should have asked,” Neville says, his eyes clearing as he looks back toward Harry. “Would it be okay if she sits here? I mean, I don’t want to presume or anything, but I—”

Harry manages a scoff. “Obviously.”

“Right. Why not? Seems like we’re fine with anyone nowadays,” Ron adds tersely.

Hermione stiffens at the unsubtle dig against Pansy, but she refuses to turn her head to meet Ron’s eyes. Instead, she clenches her jaw once more and grips her thighs to the point of pain to keep herself from reacting.

“Good,” Neville says with relief, apparently not picking up Ron’s tone, nor the tension in Hermione’s body. “Good. I just…I’d like you to get to know her better,” he says a bit sheepishly. “I mean…you’re all important to me. You’re my best mates, and she’s…well…y’know…” He shrugs, then repeats, “it’d just be nice if you all got to know each other.”

Harry nods and leans forward to say something, but Hermione doesn’t hear whatever it is. Instead, she’s more tuned into the way her gut had painfully twisted at Neville’s words. A strange sense of despair immediately mixes with the anger still boiling in her body, and it leaves her feeling too many bewilderingly strong emotions, all at once.

I’d like you to get to know her better.

They’re words that Hermione can never say, even if she wants to. She wants to sit down at the table breathlessly and announce that she’s found the girl of her dreams. She wants Harry and Ron to grin at her with excitement and immediately invite Pansy to eat with them. She wants to be open about her feelings. She wants to share all the excitement and tender, delicate feelings of new love with her best friends.

But she can’t.

It’s not that she’s never going to tell them. She is. But she knows that even when it’s all out in the open, they’re never going to want to get to know Pansy. And if there was any hope in her heart, if there was even the smallest part of her that thought she might be mistaken, Ron’s reaction had certainly extinguished it.

Her best friends are never going to accept any of this. And even if by some miracle, they decide to accept the fact that she likes women, they’ll never accept that the woman she’s chosen to love is Pansy. They’re never going to ask teasing questions about her relationship, they’re never going to ask Hermione to bring Pansy along to events or parties or holidays, and they’re never going to even want her to sit at their table. And what’s more, Pansy can’t sit at their table. Not when they’ve decided to keep their entire relationship more or less secret, and certainly not when it could jeopardize Pansy’s safety in her own house.

A strange sense of loss sweeps over Hermione, and though she’s dimly aware that Neville is still talking, she tunes him out and lets her gaze fall on the Slytherin table once more.

Pansy is rolling her eyes at a smirking Daphne. She shakes her head briefly, then glances toward the Gryffindor table again, as if by habit. When Pansy sees Hermione watching her once again, she starts to smile, but when she notices the look that must be painfully evident on Hermione’s face, her brow furrows in immediate concern and the smile quickly turns to a questioning frown. She ever so slightly tilts her head to the side and raises an eyebrow, silently asking if everything is alright. Hermione manages to shakily exhale as she shakes her head just a bit.

Everything isn’t alright, but it’s the way it has to be.

She gives a small sigh and prepares herself to tune back into the conversation at hand, and to do her best to ignore the mingling feelings of anger and grief in some mad attempt to share in Neville’s exuberance, but just before she can twist toward him again, her eyes fall on Ginny.

Ginny, who’s been curiously silent for the past few minutes.

Ginny, who is looking at Hermione from across the table with serious, guarded eyes.

Ginny, who knows more about Hermione’s recent revelations than anyone. Ginny, who had made it her mission to find out which thoroughly unexpected girl had caught Hermione’s eye. Ginny, who had undoubtedly heard the unmistakeable fire in her voice when she had defended Pansy.

Ginny, who isn’t stupid.

Not by a long shot.

Before Hermione can say anything, Ginny swiftly glances over her shoulder, back toward the Slytherin table.

The Slytherin table where Pansy is still watching her.

The moment Pansy notices Ginny’s eyes, though, she flushes and immediately looks away, turning her full attention back toward Theo and Millicent. But there’s no mistaking the tension in Pansy’s body, nor the way her her face has turned red.

There’s no mistaking that Pansy is hiding something.

And there’s also no doubt in Hermione’s mind that Ginny has easily sleuthed it out.

Hermione watches as Ginny’s shoulders set and she counts the seconds it takes for Ginny to slowly exhale, before she finally turns back to Hermione. Her gaze is still serious, but there’s a new, grim set to her mouth that wasn’t there before, and it makes Hermione’s stomach drop.

After a moment, Ginny lowers her gaze to study her mostly-full plate. Her eyes stay downcast for a few, unbearably long seconds, and Hermione waits with bated breath for her to look up once more. When she finally does, there’s a frown on her face and a muscle jumping in her jaw, and before Hermione can fully comprehend what’s happening, Ginny is standing up.

“Can I speak to you outside?” Ginny asks quietly, her gaze trained on Hermione’s face.

Harry and Neville, who have up until now been talking, fall silent and look at Ginny.

“Everything alright?” Harry asks, a concerned frown settling on his face as he glances between Ginny and Hermione, clearly worried that even more people he loves are suddenly on the outs.

Ginny nods. “Yes. Yes, and sorry, Neville,” she says, tearing her eyes away from Hermione to look apologetically at Neville. “I was a bit lost in my own head, but I’m…I’m dead chuffed for you. Really, that’s great news. We’ll have to go on a double date soon,” she adds with a forced smile.

Neville grins brightly. “That’d be brilliant. I know Hannah loves Madam Puddifoot’s.”

In any other situation, Hermione would be stifling a laugh at the way Harry’s eye immediately twitches at the mention of the tea shop.

But this isn’t any other situation.

Her heart is pounding in her throat and even though Ginny’s managed another smile for Neville, it’s still far too somber for the situation at hand. “Well, then, we’ll have to plan something soon. But right now, I’m afraid I really do have to borrow Hermione.”

Hermione glances down at her plate, as if she’ll find an excuse there. “I’ve…I’ve barely eaten,” she says, her voice quiet and a bit shaky.

“I know. But it won’t take long,” Ginny says.

Harry grazes his knuckles against Ginny’s thigh. “You know, you don’t have to trek outside,” he says, his eyes quickly flicking between Hermione and Ginny. “You can say whatever it is you need to say in front of us. No secrets here.”

Hermione involuntarily winces, but Ginny spares Harry a small, genuine smile. “I know. But this is…it’s a bit delicate,” she says, choosing her words carefully. “Best discussed with another women. The sort of thing that’s not appropriate to talk about around men, if you catch my drift?”

“Oh,” Harry says. He reaches up to fiddle with his glasses and nods. “Right, then, that’s…you should probably…”

“Go outside, yeah,” Neville puts in without missing a beat. “That’d be for the best.”

And even though Hermione is a ball of nerves, she still has to fight the urge to roll her eyes at their ridiculous reaction to whatever this delicate topic is that they’ve managed to come up with in their heads.

Honestly. Men.

“Hermione?” Ginny asks, raising an eyebrow.

Hermione swallows. “Right. Right, I’ll just…” She stands up and spares a smile for Neville and Harry, all while carefully and purposefully avoiding Ron’s downcast eyes.

As she follows Ginny out of the Great Hall, she catches Pansy’s wide, nervous gaze. And even though she feels like she might be sick over whatever is about to happen, she still manages to give Pansy a tiny, hopefully reassuring smile.

Pansy’s brow furrows, but Hermione can’t linger to see anything else. She’s following too closely on Ginny’s heels, and the redhead is practically speed walking toward the doors. She leads them out of the Great Hall, then out of the castle, and when they’re finally far enough away to ensure no one will hear a thing, she turns around to face Hermione.

Hermione shrinks back a bit at the thunderstruck look on Ginny’s face and the confusion burning in her eyes.

“Tell me I’m wrong,” Ginny whispers, her voice low and fierce.

“What?”

“Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me that I didn’t see any of what just happened back there,” Ginny says, jerking her head toward the castle.

“I…I don’t know what—”

“Don’t lie to me, just…” Ginny thrusts a hand through her hair and stares at the sky for a long moment. Finally, she drops her head back down and stares at Hermione incredulously. “What the fuck, Hermione?”

Hermione shivers a bit, whether from the chill in the air or nerves, she can’t tell. “I don’t—”

“I saw how you just looked at her! And I heard the way you defended her, and apparently you’re friends now? And I just…Pansy Parkinson? Of all the girls at this school, Pansy Parkinson is the one you decide to have a crush on? She’s…she’s…” Ginny trails off and after a moment, she exhales sharply through her nose. “I don’t want to sound like Ron, but Merlin, Hermione! She’s not a good person.”

“I—”

“And specifically to you! The things she’s said to you over the years! The things she’s called you! I mean, the last time we talked about her, you were telling me how close you were to casting an Unforgivable Curse on her! You fucking hated her!”

Hermione winces at the memory. “I…that was a long time ago,” she murmurs.

“Clearly,” Ginny says, the word coming out biting and harsh. She turns her head away and stares back at the flickering, yellow torchlight emanating from the castle, and Hermione watches as a muscle in her jaw works furiously. After a moment, she turns back to Hermione. “So does that mean I’m right, then? You have a thing for Parkinson?”

Hermione hesitates. There’s a part of her that considers lying, just to make that awful look in Ginny’s blazing eyes disappear. But then, she thinks about Pansy and her soft gaze and her gentle touches and her slow smile, and she realizes that the last thing she wants to do is hide her away. She wants to tell everyone how she feels about Pansy, how in love she is with her, and if she can’t manage to be brave and tell Ginny of all people, then there’s honestly no hope for her.

And if Ginny decides never to speak to her again, then…

…Well. She’ll cross that bridge when she comes to it. But for now, she knows she needs to take the chance. She needs to follow her heart, and she needs to give Pansy the respect of actually treating her like a partner, rather than a dirty secret.

She needs to be brave. Even if she’s terrified, she needs to be brave.

God, she hopes Ginny understands.

She takes a deep breath, slowly exhales, and takes the leap.

“Yes,” Hermione murmurs, flinching a bit when Ginny quite visibly reels at her quiet admission. “You’re right. Pansy and I…we’re…we’re…” she breaks off, takes a beat to compose herself, then pushes past the nerves. “It’s not just a crush. Pansy and I are together.”

Ginny’s face pales in the hazy glow of the moonlight and her eyes grow wide. She clearly thought Hermione was harboring one-sided feelings for Pansy, and the knowledge that it’s something decidedly more than that strikes her dumb for a few long moments. After a long while, she shakes her head. “You’re…you’re…”

“We’re dating. It’s a recent development,” Hermione adds quickly when she sees Ginny sway on the spot. “Only as of yesterday, actually,” she adds, marveling a bit at just how much has happened in the space of a few days. “But it’s real, and I’m…I’m happy. I’m so, so happy,” she admits, her voice cracking as she finally gets to express the smallest fraction of the emotion she’s been feeling for the past twenty-four hours.

Ginny’s mouth opens and closes a few times without sound and Hermione crosses her arms tightly over her chest as she waits for Ginny to emerge from whatever stupor she’s entered into. Though to be fair, she’s glad Ginny seems to be completely stunned; it’s a far easier reaction to deal with than blistering anger.

After a moment, Ginny slowly sinks down to her knees and kneels in the grass, and Hermione, realizing this is going to be a long conversation, follows her down.

They sit there in silence for a while, Ginny, wide-eyed and processing, and Hermione, nervously biting on her lower lip, waiting for her friend to finally regain her senses. And when she finally does, it’s only to say one word.

How?”

Hermione manages a small laugh. “That…is a long story.”

“I have time.”

So Hermione tells her.

She sticks to the Pansy-centric part of the story first, deciding to clue Ginny in on the parchment pal angle after the fact, just to keep things as straightforward as possible.

And she tells Ginny just about everything. She had already asked Pansy what she could and couldn’t let her friends in on, and minus a few very specific details about her aunt, Pansy had given her free rein to use whatever she needed. She told Hermione that she trusted her to only use her sordid past (Pansy’s words, not Hermione’s) in a way that would be helpful to them in the long run.

It takes a long while to get through the whole story, but eventually, Hermione tells Ginny everything that’s happened over the past few months—every interaction, every change of heart, every conversation, every secret, every apology, every moment. And when Hermione finally stops speaking, she sits back in the grass and waits, watching as Ginny absorbs every last detail Hermione had dropped on her.

It takes a long time for Ginny to even blink, but Hermione doesn’t push her into speaking. She’s willing to wait. Though now that the adrenaline has worn off, the chill from the night air is seeping into Hermione’s bones and making her shiver. She surreptitiously reaches for her wand and casts a quick warming charm and immediately, the air around them becomes pleasant. The change in temperature seems to somehow shake Ginny from her thoughts, and she finally turns her struck gaze back to Hermione.

“That’s…Merlin. I…I don’t know what to say.”

Hermione nods. “Neither did I.”

“So this whole time you’ve been “studying” in the library, you’ve actually been…”

“Helping her take down her father. Helping her avenge her aunt.”

“That’s…I just…that’s…” Ginny shivers a bit. “I can’t believe he tried to kill her. I mean…her own father?”

Hermione nods, but before she can reply, Ginny says, “and I can’t believe my dad helped her and didn’t say anything! I mean, your life was in danger! The least he could have done is send a bloody owl!”

“He was sworn to secrecy,” Hermione says with a small smile. “They all were. It’s in Pansy’s best interest that as few people as possible know what happened.”

“Right. Right,” Ginny murmurs, lost in thought. But once Hermione’s words register, she looks up quickly and says, “I won’t tell anyone, mind you. I promise, I just…Merlin. Her own father. That’s…that’s…” She stares down at the grass for a few seconds, then looks back to Hermione. “I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of someone so evil. I never would have guessed she was dealing with…with…”

Hermione nods. “No, nor would I. But she fought back,” she says with a proud smile. “She fought back against all of it.”

“She did,” Ginny agrees. “Is it awful to say that I’m not sure I would have done the same in her situation? I mean…the things she saw. How do you get over that?”

“I’m not sure you do get over that,” Hermione says, remembering Pansy’s stories of long nights and the ever-present nightmare that often kept her from rest.

“Right. No, I suppose you wouldn’t.” Ginny bites her lip, then says, “and is she…is she okay? I mean…as okay as one can be in that situation, I guess?”

Hermione nods. “She’s getting there. And I think she will be. She’s strong,” she adds, her voice turning soft and fond. “She’s so much stronger than she knows. I honestly think the Sorting Hat should retire, because there’s a very big part of me that thinks Pansy should’ve been in Gryffindor.”

“What, so you can snog her whenever you want?” Ginny asks, raising an eyebrow.

Hermione’s mouth falls open and she feels her cheeks heat up. She’s so embarrassed by Ginny’s unexpected question that she doesn’t even really realize that the other girl no longer looks upset by the whole situation. Instead, she looks stunned.

“Hermione Granger!” Ginny exclaims. “Have you snogged her already?”

“I…I…”

Ginny’s eyebrows fly up at Hermione’s stuttering. “Well! You’ve always been efficient, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.”

“I—”

“I never thought I’d be asking this about Parkinson, but…how was it? Was it good?”

Hermione lifts a hand and rubs her hot face as she thinks about just how good it had been. “I liked it better when you were furious about all of this. Can we go back to that?”

Ginny rolls her eyes. “Please. I’m not Ron. I’m willing to listen to facts. And if everything you just told me is true, then…I believe you. I might not understand any of this, and I might not like her, but I believe that she’s trying to be a different person. A better person.”

“You do?” Hermione asks quietly, hope in her voice.

“I do. And I trust your judgment. I mean, I’d be mental not to, you’re the smartest person I know. And anyway, there’s no way you’d be giving Parkinson the time of day if she hadn’t actually changed. You’d see right through her.”

Hermione smiles, but before she can reply, Ginny worries her lip, and says, “though, actually…about Ron…”

Hermione shakes her head. “I don’t want to talk about Ron right now,” she says stiffly as the words Death Eater echo in her mind.

“No, and we don’t have to, but I just…” Ginny gives a gusty exhale. “He’s an arse and he’s so bloody stupid, but…he means well. And he’s worried about you. He might show it in an awful way, but he really is. Because he loves you,” she adds quietly. “More than just about anyone.”

“Ginny…”

“And that’s all I’ll say on the matter,” Ginny says quickly. “Mostly because there are bigger questions at hand. Like how was the kiss?”

Hermione’s grateful for the change in topic, mostly because she’s still angry at Ron and she really doesn’t want to discuss any of that right now. So she shelves Ginny’s comments, manages a sly look, and says, “which one?”

Ginny’s eyes immediately widen with surprise. “There’s been more than one?”

“Well, we’ve had to make up for lost time,” Hermione says with a carefully casual shrug.

“Hang on a minute,” Ginny says. “Was that why you were late to dinner? Were you having a sneaky snog?”

“I’ll neither confirm nor deny that. But I will say that I finished my Arithmancy essay three nights ago,” Hermione adds with a sheepish smile as she negates the excuse she had provided earlier in the night.

Ginny shakes her head in amazement. “I can’t believe you’ve already kissed her! That’s…that’s…” She trails of as something occurs to her, and she frowns just a bit. “Hang on…what about your parchment pal?” she asks. “I thought you were dead set on her?”

Hermione shifts a bit on the grass. “I am dead set on her,” she murmurs. “That hasn’t changed. I still want to be with her more than anything in the world.”

The furrow on Ginny’s brow deepens a bit as she considers Hermione’s words. “Right…I’m no expert, but something tells me Parkinson might not be too keen on being the other woman?”

“It’s a good thing she won’t be, then, isn’t it?” Hermione asks with a chuckle. “After all, I’d imagine it’d be quite tricky to be the other woman with yourself.”

Ginny’s gaze narrows. “What does that…” She breaks off abruptly as realization dawns in her eyes, and her mouth drops open. Hermione can’t contain her laugh at the pure shock radiating on Ginny’s face. “I…I don’t…I mean…Parkinson?”

Hermione nods.

“All along?” Ginny asks, her voice saturated with wonder.

“All along,” Hermione confirms. “I’ve been talking to Pansy for months without knowing it.”

“Bloody hell,” Ginny murmurs. “That’s…I mean, that’s…Parkinson! All along, it’s been Parkinson! I just…I mean…did she know?”

“Not immediately. She found out about a month ago.”

“Why didn’t she tell you?”

Hermione snorts. “Because as you said, the last time we discussed her, I was threatening to curse her. She figured I wouldn’t take it well, and honestly, she was right. I probably would have burned my parchment on the spot. She had to wait until I didn’t despise her.”

“So when did she tell you?”

“Yesterday.”

Yesterday?”

“She had asked if I wanted to meet via parchment last Saturday and I did.”

“And you didn’t tell us?”

“No, I…I wanted to, but I was so nervous that something would go wrong. And then when it was finally time, I felt so guilty,” Hermione admits.

“Why? Because you broke one of McGonagall’s mad parchment rules?” Ginny asks with a sly smile.

Hermione scoffs. “No. Well…maybe a little,” she amends with a smile of her own. “But no. I felt guilty because the entire time I was waiting for my parchment pal to show up, I couldn’t stop thinking about Pansy.”

“Oh,” Ginny murmurs.

“I had imagined that moment so many times, and it was always so perfect. But then, Pansy snuck in and…I don’t know how it happened. I still don’t, actually. But all I knew was that somehow, she had managed to make her way into my heart. She meant so much to me. I thought about her constantly and I…I knew that I had feelings for her. But when I thought something had happened to her, when I thought her father had hurt her, I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t breathe or think or do anything until I knew she was okay. And when I finally saw her again…when I finally had her in my arms, and I knew she was safe, I think…I think that’s when it really hit me,” she murmurs. “That’s when I knew I was in love with her.”

“Merlin…” Ginny says quietly.

“So when I was waiting for my parchment pal to show up, I felt awful. I didn’t know how I was going to pick between them. But then…I didn’t have to,” Hermione says simply. “Because it was Pansy. It was Pansy all along.”

Ginny’s quiet beside her as she stares into the distance, contemplating everything Hermione’s just said. After a long moment, she turns back to Hermione and says, “I would have been furious.”

“Why?”

“Oh, I dunno…for not telling me that she was my parchment pal sooner? For making me feel confused and miserable?”

Hermione shrugs. “I suppose I was a bit annoyed at how long it took her, but…I understood why she made the choices she did. And in her defense, she did try to tell me. Twice, actually.”

“Oh? What happened?”

“I wouldn’t stop talking,” Hermione says with a smile as she puts air quotes around Pansy’s words. “And she’s right—I didn’t really give her a chance.”

“You?” Ginny asks with overly-wide eyes. “Talk too much? No, that doesn’t sound a thing like you.”

Hermione rolls her eyes good-naturedly. “Oh, piss off.”

Ginny laughs in genuine surprise at Hermione’s unexpected phrasing. “Piss off? Sounds like Parkinson’s already rubbing off on you.” She tilts her head back and studies the stars for a moment, before eventually glancing back at Hermione. “And you’re sure this is happening? Because it sounds an awful lot like the plot of one of those awful romance novels my mum likes.”

Hermione laughs. “It does, doesn’t it? But no. No, it’s really happening. And…and it’s good, Ginny. It’s so, so good. She makes me so happy.”

Ginny exhales slowly and after a moment, she says, “well, then. If that’s true, I suppose she can’t be all bad.” Then, she frowns and says, “this might be a silly question considering…y’know, all of this, but is she in love with you, too?”

Hermione nods and feels her smile soften. “She is.”

At the confirmation, Ginny shakes her head in wonder. “Merlin…I spent years pining after Harry. Years! And then you two come along and fall in love in two minutes flat. I mean, who does that? People don’t just decide to date on a Sunday afternoon and profess their love by Sunday evening! That’s mental. I just…” she breaks off and tilts her head thoughtfully. “Maybe there’s something to be said for dating women. Less mucking about and waiting for the other person to get on the same page.”

Hermione snorts. “I definitely wouldn’t say there was less mucking about. But it did help that I already know everything about her.”

Ginny nods, then she gives Hermione a small smile. “I am happy for you. Even if this is quite possibly the most shocking thing I’ve ever heard, which…y’know, considering where we go to school, that’s saying something. But if I’m being honest,” she says, sweeping a hand over the grass nervously, “I…I can’t say I exactly understand what you see in her. I do trust you, but I guess I still have my reservations. But for your sake? I’m willing to try. If you want her to meet your friends, I mean.”

“I do,” Hermione says softly. “I…I’d really like that. Actually…” she trails off and tilts her head, her brow furrowing just a bit as she studies the grass below her.

Ginny groans. “Oh no.”

Hermione looks up. “What?”

“You’ve got that look on your face.”

“What look?”

“That look that means I’m about to say something that I think is a good idea, but no one else will agree with.

Hermione’s frown deepens. “That’s a look I get?”

“Mm. We have a free hour—let’s spend it in the library!” Ginny says, putting on a chipper voice that Hermione assumes is supposed to sound like her.

(And honestly, it does, but she’ll never admit to it.)

I’m putting together a Charms study group, will you be my first recruits? Why not skip Quidditch practice and get a head start on our Potions essays? If you lot wear the Spew pins, everyone will wear the Spew pins!”

“Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare,” Hermione corrects immediately. “But I think I get the picture.”

“So? What is it this time?”

“It’s…” Hermione bites her lip and says, “Pansy asked if I’d be willing to meet Greengrass, and I said yes, but I’m a bit nervous about it. But if you’re willing to meet Pansy, then…”

“Hermione,” Ginny says, looking pained. “Please, please tell me you don’t want to have a double date with Parkinson and Greengrass.”

“Absolutely not,” Hermione says. “I want to have a double date with you and Greengrass. Pansy and I would be seated together,” she adds with a grin.

“Merlin…”

“Obviously, you don’t have to, but it’d be a good way for you to get to know Pansy and for Pansy and I to get to know each other’s friends,” Hermione says practically.

“Or it’d be a very quick way to ensure the end of your relationship,” Ginny grumbles.

“Or that,” Hermione concedes. “But I have the utmost faith in you.”

“Don’t.” Ginny sighs and runs a hand through her hair as she ponders Hermione’s request. Finally, she says, “I guess if it’ll make you happy…”

“And it will…”

“Then…I’ll go on a double date with you and…and…” Ginny breaks off and grimaces. “Why is this so hard to say?”

“It won’t be that bad,” Hermione says encouragingly, even though she’s already hypocritically made a mental list of every awful outcome that could arise from spending time with Daphne. But at least she’ll feel a bit braver having Ginny by her side.

“No,” Ginny says. “A double date with Neville and Hannah won’t be that bad. But this? Let’s just say I don’t make a habit of spending time with people who owe me a fair amount of apologies. I mean, Greengrass once implied that my entire wardrobe consists of hand-me-downs from the house elves, and that’s the least offensive thing she’s said to me. And Parkinson…”

A dark shadow passes over Ginny’s face and Hermione feels her stomach drop as she imagines all the things that are probably running through the other girl’s mind right now. All the insults and whispers of blood-traitor that have followed Ginny through the halls for years, the cruel remarks about Tom Riddle’s diary, the disparaging comments about her family.

Hermione’s heart constricts and she feels shame flood her body. Because even though she’s happy, and even though she’s managed to forgive Pansy, she’s somehow managed to forget that she’s not the only person Pansy’s wronged over the years.

She has a sneaking suspicion it’s actually quite a long list, and filled with the names of a lot of people she loves.

“I know,” Hermione finally murmurs. “Trust me, I know. And I really won’t force you to go. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have even asked you in the first place. That wasn’t fair of me. Just because I’ve changed my mind, doesn’t mean you have.”

Ginny shrugs. “It’s just a lot to wrap my head around.”

Hermione nods. “And I don’t expect you to, honestly. But…if nothing else, I think Pansy might eventually appreciate the chance to apologize. And whether you accept it or not is completely up to you,” she adds quickly. “I won’t be upset if you don’t. Not at all. I’d understand. And if you don’t never want to hear her apology, I’ll understand that, too. I…I know it’s a lot to ask, and believe me, I never would have imagined that I’d be the one vouching for her, but…”

“Love is stupid,” Ginny says flatly, and Hermione laughs in complete surprise.

“Love is stupid.”

Ginny sighs. “For your sake, I’ll do it. And I’ll hear her apology. I mean, Merlin knows, she was ten thousand times worse to you than she ever was to me, so if you can forgive her, then I suppose I can try. But…I can’t promise anything. I mean, if you’re hoping for us to all become best mates, then…” she winces. “You might want to adjust your expectations.”

“I—”

“I meant what I said—I am happy for you, and I’m glad you’ve managed to forgive her. You deserve to be happy, even if it’s with the last person I ever would have imagined. And knowing the full story, it…it helps,” Ginny says carefully. “It does, but it’s just…you’ve had more time to change your view of her, and to me, she’s still just…”

“An awful cow?”

“That’s putting it very mildly, but yeah.”

“I know.”

Ginny shifts a bit on the grass, then says, “can I ask you something?”

Hermione nods.

“I obviously won’t tell Harry any of this and I know you’re sore at Ron, but…” Ginny bites her lip nervously. “Are you planning on telling them?”

Hermione nods once more. “I am. And hopefully soon. I don’t have much hope for Ron,” she says, her voice turning brittle, “but…I think Harry will understand. Or at least, he’ll feel the same way as you. Ron will probably try to send me to St. Mungo’s,” she mutters.

“If he finds out I’m voluntarily having dinner with Parkinson and Greengrass, he’ll send me there, too. We can share a room. Just do me a favor? Promise me you won’t snog Parkinson in our shared room?” Ginny asks with a raised eyebrow.

“Promise me you won’t snog Harry,” Hermione counters easily.

Ginny frowns as she considers the request, then she huffs. “Fine, you can snog her. If I’m already at St. Mungo’s, I’ll just ask them to Obliviate it from my memory.”

“That’s fair,” Hermione says. Then, she twists her hands nervously in her lap and says, “Ginny?”

“Hm?”

“Thank you. For…for trying to understand all of this. I know it’s not easy and I know it’s…unexpected.”

“Again, putting it very mildly.”

“I know. But I just…I appreciate that you’re willing to try.”

“Of course. But that said, you know that if she hurts you in any way, then I get to destroy her, right?”

“Right.”

“No, I mean it. If she so much as looks at you the wrong way…”

“You have my full permission to destroy her,” Hermione says gently, mostly because she can no longer envision a world in which Pansy would do anything to hurt her.

“Good. I’m holding you to that.”

Before Hermione can reply, her stomach rumbles loudly, and Ginny immediately looks down apologetically. “I guess that would be my fault, yeah?” she asks, nodding toward Hermione.

“My stomach?” Hermione asks confused.

“I mean, I did sort of forcibly drag you away from your dinner.”

“Oh. You did, but it’s fine. I wanted to tell you. Now was as good a time as any. And honestly, you were a good warm-up for whenever I tell the boys. Something tells me they won’t take it anywhere near as well as you did.”

Ginny shrugs as she stands up and brushes grass from her robes. “Who knows? They might surprise you. I mean…Ron never has before, but there’s a first time for everything, right?”

She reaches out a hand and pulls Hermione up. “I suppose so,” Hermione says, picking grass off of her own robes.

They start their walk back to the castle together, and even though they’re making conversation, part of Hermione’s mind is still on the task to come. Because it’s true—Ginny had taken it fairly well. And if she knows Ron and Harry as well as she thinks she does, she knows that it’s going to be a struggle.

But she has time. And as of right now, she has someone tentatively on her side. It’s more than she could have asked for, and even though she’s still nervous over everything her future holds, there’s a part of her that’s growing cautiously optimistic.

As long as she and Pansy can keep this under wraps until the end of the year, things might actually work out okay.

***

Hermione Granger is good at a great many things, but keeping a relationship secret is proving to be a challenge.

But in her defense, it’s surprisingly hard to date someone in secret at a magical boarding school where everyone shares a room. Which is why most of the time, Hermione and Pansy find themselves carving out alone time in various unused classrooms.

And it’s exactly where they find themselves Friday night after dinner.

They’re in what Hermione thinks is an unused Muggle studies classroom. At the very least, it would explain all the strange items strewn about. There’s a large basket of stress balls on what used to be a teacher’s table, an unplugged and dusty lava lamp sitting in the corner, a strange assortment of what appear to be Muggle carnival games, six bicycles, all in various states of disrepair, and a massive wardrobe in the corner, which seems to be filled with Muggle clothing throughout the eras.

They had ducked in here to discuss who should know about their relationship, but the room had immediately distracted Hermione. She had walked around, peering at various items and making idle observations about everything she saw.

“Why on earth do they have six bicycles? Wouldn’t one be good enough?” Hermione had run a finger over the seat of a rusted red bike and her nose wrinkled at the amount of dust covering it. “God, it’s all filthy.”

“What’s this?”

Hermione had twisted around to see Pansy poking at an old rotary telephone. “That’s a telephone,” she said with a smile.

Pansy’s eyes lit up in recognition. “The Muggle owl thing?” she asked, bending to examine it a bit closer.

Hermione nodded. “But it won’t work here, of course. And that’s actually quite an old model,” she added, wondering how on earth Hogwarts couldn’t manage to get their hands on a current telephone.

“How’s it work?”

“The short version?” Hermione asked, crossing to Pansy. “All Muggle households have an assigned number—a phone number—and once you poke in the number of the person you want to talk to, you’ll instantly be connected to them and you can talk to them in real time. You lift this bit to your ear,” she said, tapping the receiver, “and their voice comes out. It’s like they’re right there beside you.”

“Huh. That…that’s actually quite impressive.” Pansy said as she lifted the receiver, gently shaking it to see if anything would happen.

Hermione smiled fondly at the action, then said,“It is. Most Muggle inventions are, really. Which is why I honestly don’t understand the Wizarding world’s aversion to doing things the Muggle way.”

“No arguments here,” Pansy said, putting the receiver down to absently spin the phone’s dial. After a moment, she looked up and around at all the various items with interest. “You know, I was thinking I’d like to learn more about Muggle Studies.”

The offhand remark took Hermione by complete surprise. “You would? Why?” She was relatively sure a Slytherin had never shown any interest in Muggle Studies before. She didn’t think a Slytherin had even been near the door of the classroom.

Pansy shrugged as she continued to gaze around the room. “I don’t know. I suppose…I suppose I’d like to know more about this world. Your world,” she added with an endearing half-smile.

Hermione felt her heart swell as she regarded Pansy with soft eyes, completely overwhelmed by the admission. “You would?” she asked, aware of the slightly emotional quiver to her voice.

“I would,” Pansy murmured. Then she schooled her expression into something casually cool. “And anyway, it’d be an easy pass. I’ve already got two legs up, after all.”

“Oh?”

“Mm. I happen to be very familiar with the Muggle concept of wires, and it just so happens that I’m dating a Muggleborn,” Pansy said, adding the last part nonchalantly.

“Are you now?” Hermione asked with a grin.

“I am. I think you’d like her, actually. Though she’s a bit stubborn at times. And sometimes hot headed…and occasionally too smart for her own good…”

“Don’t oversell her,” Hermione said, amused by the list.

“Oh, she’s other things, too. She’s empathetic. She’s loyal. She uses her intelligence to help people, but even though she has this…this boundless love for learning, her love for her friends is somehow even greater. She’d do anything for the people she loves, no matter how mad or foolhardy it may be. Because she’s brave and willing to fight for what’s right…often to my chagrin,” Pansy added with a smile. “She’s passionate and she’s driven, and she’s ambitious. I mean, she wants to change the world and make it a better place, and honestly? If anyone could, I think it’d be her. Which is actually quite Slytherin of her, come to think of it…”

Hermione, who had been listening to Pansy up until then with suspiciously damp eyes, gave a small, surprised laugh. “Pansy…”

“But even though the shoe fits, she’d probably get upset with me for calling her a Slytherin, so…keep that between us,” Pansy said with a sly grin. But as she took in Hermione, her grin slipped just a bit, replaced by something earnest and passionate. “And she’s just…she’s so, so beautiful. In every way. She’s the most wonderful person I’ve ever met and sometimes, I can’t believe that she wants to be with me.”

Hermione managed to shake her head a bit. “The way you talk about her?” she murmured. “She’d be a fool not to want you.”

Pansy smiled, holding Hermione’s gaze for a long while. Then, she looked back down at the telephone and said, “either way, I think she could clue me in on all this Muggle stuff.”

“I think she could,” Hermione said. “After all, I have it on good authority that she took Muggle studies her third year.”

Pansy lifted surprised eyes to Hermione. “What?”

“What?”

You took Muggle Studies?”

“Yes?”

“But…you’re a Muggleborn.”

“Well spotted, Miss Parkinson,” Hermione teased. “Ten points to Slytherin.”

Pansy rolled her eyes with exasperation.“No, I just…why would you take a class if you know all about it? I mean, that doesn’t…” Before Hermione could reply, though, Pansy gasped. “Why, Hermione Granger! Were you fishing for an easy ‘O’ on your O.W.L.s?”

Hermione tsked. “Absolutely not. I was just interested in hearing about Muggle culture from a Wizarding perspective.”

“Mm…spoken like someone who’s used to defending her decision to take the easy way out,” Pansy said, grinning when Hermione glowered at her. “And was it? Interesting, I mean?”

“No, not really,” Hermione said. “Professor Burbage was wonderful and supportive and knew so much about Muggle life. But at the end of the day, I didn’t learn anything new. The brunt of the class was about learning Muggle technologies and less about how wizards perceive Muggles.  That said,” she added, tilting her head thoughtfully, “I think the non-Muggleborns in the class learned quite a bit.”

Pansy hummed. She opened her mouth to ask something else, but then, something across the classroom caught her eye. “Merlin…what is that ?”

Hermione huffed out a laugh. “Pansy, we’re not in here to actually learn about Muggle technology! We’re here to discuss something important.”

And they had been. They had wanted to have a conversation about whether or not Pansy should tell Draco about their relationship.

But like so many of their conversations, they had somehow become terribly sidetracked by each other’s lips halfway through.

It would almost be irritating to Hermione that they haven’t managed to finish a conversation in over a week, had she not been so wonderfully okay with the distractions.

Which is how Hermione now finds herself seated on a table, her thoughts slow and heavy with desire as she kisses Pansy thoroughly. She doesn’t even remember how she wound up on the table, nor how her legs had somehow managed to wrap themselves around Pansy’s back. All she knows is one second, they were in the middle of a discussion and the next, she was on the table with Pansy standing between her legs.

And it’s easy at first. They’ve kissed so many times in the past few days that some of the desperation has faded, allowing Hermione to simply enjoy the way their lips press and part almost languidly.

It isn’t until Hermione feels one of Pansy’s hands slowly start wandering up her thigh that things start to change. Almost immediately, Hermione can feel a familiar desperation start to coil in the pit of her stomach, and she uses her legs to pull Pansy in closer, her thighs tightening imperceptibly against her sides.

Pansy of course feels the movement and starts to kiss with more purpose, and Hermione has no complaints about that—she greedily meets Pansy’s tongue stroke for stroke, letting the need coil impossibly tighter in her stomach. Her skin burns as the hand on her leg starts to migrate higher with a slow and steady purpose, and Hermione can’t help the low groan that escapes her when Pansy’s fingers eventually brush against her inner thigh. Pansy grins at the sound, but when Hermione nips down on Pansy’s lower lip, only to suck it into her mouth a moment later, the smile immediately fades, replaced by a needy whimper.

And Hermione loves that. She loves the noises Pansy makes when they kiss. The soft gasps and the murmurs of pleasure, the desperate groans that seems to come from somewhere deep down inside of her, the noisy exhalations that happen anytime Hermione takes control of the kiss, and obviously, the desperately whispered curses.

Which is exactly what she’s treated to now.

Pansy pulls back and tilts her forehead against Hermione’s, leaving just a sliver of space between their lips. “Fuck, Hermione,” she murmurs, her voice low and reverent. She speaks the words like they’re a prayer—like Hermione is the only thing she’ll ever worship—and god, if that doesn’t do something to her. It makes her feel wanted. It makes her feel desired. It imbues her with a heady power that threatens to take over her entire being, and it makes her feel confident in her own body in a way she’s never felt before.

So much so that she wants to use her body in any way she can to draw out all those noises she loves from Pansy’s lips.

So she does.

She roughly pulls Pansy back and catches her in an urgent, searing kiss. Her lips twitch upwards ever so slightly when she hears the noisy, surprised way Pansy exhales through her nose at the wild need behind Hermione’s actions.

Mission accomplished, Hermione thinks as she savors the feeling of control running through her body. She catches Pansy’s lips with her teeth once more and lifts her hands to sweep the pads of her thumbs over the other girl’s face. It’s the same perfect, beautiful face she’s seen behind closed lids anytime she’s imagined this very thing happening between them over the past few weeks. But now, Pansy’s hands are actually on her, and she doesn’t have to imagine.

Before she can let her tongue swipe against Pansy’s again, the other witch smoothly pulls away and kisses from Hermione’s jaw to her neck, drawing an immediate whimper from Hermione. Pansy starts high, dropping hot, open-mouthed kisses to a spot just below her ear, and Hermione fully expects her to continue trailing down her neck. And for a moment, it seems like she’s going to. But when Pansy hears Hermione’s low hum of approval, she changes course and swiftly lifts her mouth to suck Hermione’s earlobe between her teeth.

God,” Hermione groans, her hips canting forward involuntarily when Pansy swirls her tongue across her ear.

“Good?” Pansy murmurs, her breath trailing over Hermione’s ear and pulling a desperate shiver from her.

Pansy had recently found out that Hermione’s ears were surprisingly sensitive, and she had been using that information to great success ever since.

Hermione’s hands grasp tightly at Pansy’s hair as the other witch slowly licks along the shell of her ear. “Pansy, that’s…” she shakes her head a bit when she feels teeth graze along her earlobe, completely unable to come up with any coherent words. “Fuck,” she eventually breathes, her voice coming out low and unsteady.

Pansy’s lips release her earlobe, but there’s no time for Hermione to regain her bearings. Not when teeth are immediately scraping with a new and hungry purpose down her neck, all while a hand grips hard at her thigh. And even though Hermione’s quickly losing control of her mental faculties, she still manages a small smile. Because that’s something she’s learned rather quickly—Pansy really, really likes it when she swears.

And her curse had once again done its job—Pansy’s lips move with a fervid hunger across Hermione’s skin, leaving trails of wildfire blazing in her wake. And when Pansy finally stops to suck against Hermione’s rapidly thrumming pulse point, all she can do is close her eyes while her head falls back and a throaty moan slips past her parted lips.

Pansy’s not sucking hard enough to leave a mark, which would normally be a good thing, as Hermione doesn’t like to bother with glamours or makeup. But as her legs tighten like a vice around Pansy, she finds herself strangely frustrated. She’s more turned on than she’s ever been in her life, yet somehow, she wants more. She wants Pansy to leave a mark. She wants to see it in the morning and remember exactly what had led to it. She wants to run her fingers along it and remember the way her body had felt, like her blood had turned to fire and was burning her from the inside out.

Fuck, Pansy,” she breathes again. “I…I…” She whimpers as her fingers tighten in Pansy’s hair, and before she knows what she’s saying, she manages to groan out, “harder.”

She hears Pansy’s sharp inhalation against her neck at the command, but to her credit, she takes the direction without any hesitation. Her hand moves quickly to Hermione’s hip and the moment she finds purchase there, she grips her tightly, holding her in place. Then, she draws the flesh beneath her lips in harder, so much so that Hermione can’t control the ragged moan that explodes from her. Her hips involuntarily buck up off the table and god, it’s everything she wanted. She knows without a doubt that Pansy’s leaving a mark, and it makes something deep within Hermione roar with approval. Pansy works the spot over and just when Hermione feels like she might break apart, she feels a tongue press firmly against her skin, temporarily soothing the fire. But before she can regain any semblance of control over herself, before she can even take a full breath, Pansy’s sucking at her neck again, going over the same spot and making stars explode behind Hermione’s closed eyes.

Pansy,” Hermione breathes, her back arching forward. She’s desperate to feel Pansy’s hands on her sides, her thighs, her breasts. She wants to feel Pansy everywhere, needs to feel Pansy everywhere, but instead, the other girl remains in place, simply tightening her grip on Hermione’s hip at the sound of her name and remaining completely focused on the task at hand.

Hermione tugs sharply on Pansy’s hair, completely lost in the overwhelming sensation, and once Pansy seems satisfied by what she’s done, she gently nips at Hermione’s skin one more time before soothing the spot once again with her tongue. Then, she kisses her way back up Hermione’s jawline until she meets eager lips. Hermione’s completely intoxicated by the way Pansy’s lips move against hers and desperation claws underneath her skin, making her feel feverish with need. There’s a steady pressure between her legs now that seems to be building toward something, and she rocks her hips up unthinkingly, searching for some sort of release, some sort of friction that might help take care of the deep, persistent ache.

She needs to find a way to get Pansy closer.

One of Hermione’s hands falls uselessly to her side to grip at the edge of the table as Pansy’s tongue starts to move in even, firm, maddening strokes against hers, and as her fingers flex helplessly against the wood, her mind puts together a foggy plan.

She’s on the table. If she can get Pansy on the table, she could get her closer. And if she could get her closer, she could take care of the mounting, desperate need overwhelming her body. But how? How?

And somehow, through all the potent desire clouding her thoughts, she comes up with a solution.

The next time Pansy’s lips leave hers, Hermione pulls back, far enough that Pansy can’t reach out and capture her again.

At the loss of Hermione’s lips, Pansy slowly blinks open dark eyes. She’s panting, her hair is beautifully disheveled, and she’s looking at Hermione with just the slightest hint of concern dancing in her hungry gaze. “Hermione…I—”

But whatever she’s about to say dies on her lips. Instead, her eyes flash with interest as Hermione slowly moves backward across the wide table. When she’s sure she has enough room, she leans forward and deliberately winds her hand around Pansy’s tie. Then, without ever dropping Pansy’s gaze, she gently tugs on the tie and quirks up an eyebrow, silently challenging Pansy to meet her.

Pansy’s mouth falls open just a bit at the invitation, but it doesn’t take long for her body to start moving. Slowly, Hermione starts to lie back, but at the last minute she props herself up on her elbows, intent on watching Pansy’s face as she climbs onto the table and settles over her. And she’s glad she does, because Pansy takes her time, letting her smoldering gaze rake over Hermione’s body, taking in every part of her in a way that feels almost visceral.

Something molten rushes through Hermione’s body at the look, scorching through her veins, and as she watches Pansy settle her hands on either side of her, she lifts a finger to gently trace the other girl’s swollen lower lip, allowing herself just a moment away from the potent desire to fully appreciate how absurdly beautiful the girl above her is. Green eyes grow impossibly darker at the simple touch, but Pansy doesn’t lean down to capture Hermione’s lips. Instead, she waits as Hermione continues to trace a lazy finger over her lip, her chest heaving and her breath coming in sharp, erratic puffs.

Hermione shouldn’t feel this way. She shouldn’t feel absolutely beside herself with want and so desperate to explore every part of Pansy’s body, because that’s just not who she is. She’s logical and practical Hermione Jean Granger. She’s the person who had always looked down her nose at the couples she’d find on patrols, desperately wrapped up in each other, hands sometimes hidden indecently in places she couldn’t see. She’s the person who had always rolled her eyes and wondered why it seemed to be so hard for them to keep their urges under control. She had always assumed that if she was ever lucky enough to find someone, she’d be smart enough to make good decisions and show restraint.

Because that’s the kind of person Hermione is. Which is why right now, she should be thinking about how this can’t happen, not here in an unused classroom. She should sensibly say, “maybe it’s time to stop.” She should be thinking about how they should absolutely be putting space between their bodies.

But right now, Hermione doesn’t feel like being sensible. And she certainly doesn’t want to practice restraint.

All she wants is Pansy.

As Hermione continues to lightly trace Pansy’s lip, she lets her heavy-lidded, entranced gaze settle on the other girl’s mouth.

“Do you have any idea what you do to me?” Hermione asks in a rough voice that’s so low, it’s almost unrecognizable to her own ears. She lets her hand trail lower, fingers gently sweeping against the sensitive skin of Pansy’s neck. “How you make me feel?” She swipes a finger along Pansy’s collarbone before letting it trail up and down between Pansy’s breasts. She watches as the other girl shivers in anticipation, then raises her gaze to lock eyes with Pansy. “Do you know how many times I’ve thought about you when I’m alone at night?” she murmurs. She sees Pansy’s breath catch at the words, at the sheer implication behind her statement, and somehow, Hermione finds the nerve to whisper the final part of her confession. “I want you, Pansy” she breathes, never taking her heavy gaze off of Pansy’s equally lust glazed eyes. “I want you so fucking badly, I—”

And once again, the simple curse works its magic, because Pansy’s immediately surging forward to steal the words from Hermione’s lips in a rough, almost lewd kiss that Hermione can feel all over her body.

There’s a small part of her that wonders what her friends would say if they could see her right now, absolutely beside herself with need. She wonders if they’d be surprised by her blown pupils and her reddened lips. She wonders if their eyes would grow wide with shock at the way she desperately groans, or the way she wastes no time in pushing Pansy’s robes off her body, only to toss them onto the floor a moment later. She wonders if they’d even recognize her when she immediately wraps her arms around the other girl and pulls her flush against her, at the way something in her brain seems to short circuit at the feeling of Pansy’s chest against hers, or at the way her hands slide underneath Pansy’s jumper to slowly scrape fingernails down Pansy’s back while she bites at a soft lip.

But when Pansy releases a ragged moan and her hips jerk down sharply against Hermione’s, she forgets to think.

All she wants to do is figure out a way to get Pansy’s jumper off.

All she wants to feel is skin on skin.

She lets her hands start pushing up the fabric of Pansy’s jumper as a bolt of anticipation streaks through her body.

They haven’t gone this far yet. Normally, one of them would remember themselves and pull back, insisting that they at least try to take things slow. But right now, neither Hermione nor Pansy seem to be at all interested in slowing down. All either girl is interested in is how many groans of pleasure they can draw out of each other in this quiet, unused classroom.

But quiet, unused classrooms are something of a rarity at Hogwarts, and there’s almost always someone looking for one.

And even though Pansy had locked the door, some people refuse to take no for an answer.

The quiet in the room is shattered by a loud, splintering crack as the door is roughly shoved open, and immediately, Pansy and Hermione break apart to look toward the source of the sound with wild-eyed panic.

When Pansy’s able to make out who’s standing there, she whispers, “oh, fuck.” Her voice is still ragged and low, but Hermione can hear the fear in her tone.

And the fear is warranted, because standing in the doorway, watching them with impossible to read eyes, is Millicent Bulstrode.

There’s a moment where everything grinds to a halt, as if the entire world has frozen and time has ceased to exist. Whatever blinding lust had been ravaging through Hermione’s body dissipates in an instant, and in that strange, frozen moment, she finds herself wildly thinking of all the things Millicent could do to them right now. Each scenario is more awful than the last, and they all leave her body tight with fear. Yet somehow, it’s not the imagining that’s the worst part.

It’s the waiting.

Because Millicent is just standing there, staring at the two of them, her face completely devoid of emotions, and Hermione feels like she’s going to be sick. Her heart is hammering in her chest, her breath is coming out in spurts, and if she has to lie on the table for even a moment longer, waiting for whatever awful torture Millicent is coming up with, she just might die.

And then, just when she thinks she won’t be able to take anymore, Millicent finally speaks.

“Will you be much longer?”

It takes a moment for the flatly delivered words to register, but once they do, Hermione’s mouth drops open. The words are so wildly unexpected that she has absolutely no idea what to make of them. Somehow, she manages to pull her gaze off of the tall Slytherin to look up at Pansy, who’s still hovering above her. She’s hoping that Pansy might be able to shed some light on the situation, but she’s staring at Millicent with a pale face and complete bewilderment in her eyes.

“Will we…I mean…what?” Pansy finally manages to ask, her voice high and strangled.

“Will you be much longer? I need to practice,” Millicent adds, nodding toward something in the corner of the room.

Somehow, Hermione manages to shake herself free of shock, long enough to crane her neck toward the thing Millicent is looking at. And there, tucked away with all the other ridiculous Muggle carnival games, is an arm wrestling machine. There’s a human-like arm sticking out of the front of it, its hand open and waiting for a challenger, and after a few moments of stupidly blinking at it, Hermione turns her gaze back to Millicent.

“You need to…to…what?” Pansy asks once more.

“Practice. Arm wrestling,” Millicent adds, her tone still flat and bored.

Pansy glances down, her lips parted and her cheeks burning, and it’s only in that moment that she seems to realize that she’s still basically lying horizontally across Hermione. She fumbles her way off of her and sits down on the corner of the table, her hands gripping desperately at the edge, like she’s trying to anchor herself. Hermione follows suit, sitting up and tightly crossing her arms across her chest, all the while purposefully avoiding Millicent’s gaze. She glances toward Pansy, but the other girl is simply staring at Millicent, completely mystified. A few silent seconds tick by as Hermione waits for Pansy to take the lead, but when it becomes abundantly clear that Pansy’s lost the ability to speak, Hermione grits her teeth and pushes past her discomfort in an effort to find out just how fucked they are.

“Sorry,” Hermione says, her voice low. “You…I mean…aren’t you…upset?”

Millicent’s dark gaze ticks over to Hermione and as she looks at her, an emotion finally flickers into her dark brown eyes. But it’s not the usual revulsion and hatred Hermione’s used to seeing from certain members of the Slytherin house. It’s something more muted, like simple dislike and annoyance, and Hermione feels bizarrely comforted by the sight. Because at the very least, it seems like Millicent isn’t going to curse them.

At the very least, they might get out of this room in one piece.

After a moment, Millicent says, “upset about what?”

Pansy seems to come back to life at the remark, laughing almost wildly beside Hermione. “Upset about what?” she asks, thrusting a hand through her hair. “Upset about what!” she repeats, her voice still coming out far too high.

Hermione lays a hand on Pansy’s thigh, but when she remembers who’s watching them, she thinks better of it and quickly removes it. “Upset about…about what you just saw?” she somehow manages to ask, her cheeks burning as she thinks about how much Millicent had just seen. “I mean, I’d imagine it’s a shock,” she finally manages, dropping her gaze with embarrassment, “but I just—”

“It’s not.”

Whatever Hermione’s about to say dies on her lips. Instead, she raises confused eyes to Millicent. “It’s…it’s not?” she hazards.

“No.”

“But I…I don’t…” Hermione trails off as she ponders the strange reply, and after a moment, something occurs to her. “Wait,” she says, raising cautious eyes to Millicent. “Did you already know?”

She feels the way Pansy’s body tenses beside her, but before she can even turn to glance at her, Millicent shrugs. “Yeah. Doesn’t everybody?”

Hermione opens and shuts her mouth a few times as she stares at Millicent with wide eyes. She feels as if Millicent has somehow managed to Stupefy her with her words alone, and she’s not entirely sure if she’d be able to put together a full sentence right now.

Luckily, Pansy has regained the ability to speak.

“What do you mean, doesn’t everybody?” Pansy asks, her voice somehow impossibly higher. “No, everybody doesn’t know! What do you…I mean, how do you…” she trails off, then shakes her head almost wildly. “How?”

Millicent’s brow furrows a bit. “I dunno. Potions, I suppose.”

Pansy makes a strange, strangled noise beside her, and Hermione closes her eyes as she remembers that yes, Millicent sits directly behind them in Potions. And even though their tables are separated by a fair margin, and even though Pansy and Hermione have been careful to keep their voices low, it’s still not entirely unheard of that someone might have noticed the change between them. But then something else occurs to her, and she looks up quickly.

“Wait…does Parvati know?”

Parvati is Millicent’s Potions partner, and if Millicent knows, chances are Parvati knows. And if Parvati knows, then the entire bloody school will know—she’s one of the biggest gossips at Hogwarts.

But Millicent shakes her head. “No.” A small smile flickers to her face. “She’s scared of me,” she says with pride as the smile shifts into a tooth-bearing grin. “She doesn’t really notice anything.”

And for the first time in seven years, Hermione finds herself absurdly grateful for Millicent’s ominous persona. Because she has a feeling Millicent is right: if Parvati suspected anything, she would have changed the way she interacted with Hermione over the past few days. And what’s more, Lavender would know, too. But both girls have been the same way they’ve always been around Hermione—kind enough, but largely uninterested in her, and more than satisfied to spend their time gossiping together about other students.

“I’m sorry,” Pansy says beside her, pulling Hermione from her thoughts. “I just…you know. You know, and…and…have you told anyone?” she asks, her leg bouncing nervously.

Millicent shakes her head. “No.”

“Why?”

“I thought everybody knew,” Millicent says, looking vaguely annoyed at having to repeat herself.

“Right. Right, you did say that. And…you’re…you’re not upset?”

“No.”

Why?”

Millicent shrugs. “You seem happy.”

She delivers the words so simply that it stuns Pansy into silence for a long while, and when she finally manages to speak again, it’s in a whisper. “I…I…” she shakes her head, her gaze on the table. “I don’t understand. Why is that…I mean, even if I’m happy, how are you just okay with this?”

An almost imperceptible furrow comes to Millicent’s brow, like she’s puzzled by the question. “Because you’re my friend,” she says, once again delivering the words simply and with little emotion.

Pansy reels just a bit beside Hermione. “I am?” she asks, her voice strangled and surprised. But when Hermione very subtly elbows her, Pansy quickly coughs, then says, “I mean…I am. Yes. That’s…okay. I am. …Good.” She frowns for a moment, then she slowly says, “just to be sure I’ve got this right…because you’re my friend and you want me to be happy, you’re just…okay with this?”

Millicent’s eyes flick back toward Hermione, then back to Pansy. “I don’t like her,” she says, nodding toward Hermione. “She talks too much. But other than that…yeah. ‘Spose so.”

Hermione remembers the Ebublio that Millicent had cast on her back in fourth year, and she exhales sharply.

Honestly. She doesn’t talk that much.

But she decides to not press her luck right now. Instead, she waits as a strange silence descends upon the room, and after a long moment, Millicent shifts on her feet and says, “so, will you be much longer?”

Hermione quickly shakes her head, relieved for the escape route Millicent’s provided. “No, I…no. We were just going.” She gets down from the table, but the movement makes her notice just how uncomfortably wet she is. She winces a bit and tries to surreptitiously adjust her knickers the best she can, but when she glances at Pansy and sees her watching the movement with blazing cheeks, she immediately drops her hand and instead, stoops to pick up Pansy’s discarded robes. “Here you are,” she says, shoving them toward her, as if finding Pansy’s robes on the floor is a normal, everyday occasion.

“Oh. Right. Thanks,” Pansy says with a ludicrously stiff and formal nod.

“We’ll just…we’ll just be going, then,” Hermione says, taking hold of Pansy’s arm and steering her toward the doorway.

Millicent steps aside to let them pass, and once they’re outside, she turns to close the door. But just before she can, Pansy stops her. “Millie?”

Millicent pauses, her hand on the door as she waits for Pansy to continue.

“Can I ask you to keep this to yourself? It’s not exactly something we’re telling many people about, and I just—”

“Sure,” Millicent says, sounding completely unbothered.

“Right. Right, that’s…thank you,” Pansy says. “Anyway…we’ll just…” she nods down the hallway. “Have fun…arm wrestling,” she adds lamely.

Millicent nods, then shuts the door on their faces.

Hermione and Pansy stand there staring at the door, both stunned by what had just transpired. Hermione can barely wrap her head around the fact Millicent knows, and even though everything had ended up relatively fine, she still feels sick with anxiety.

After a long while, Pansy finally turns to Hermione with a concerned furrow on her brow.

“Am I a bad prefect?”

Hermione frowns, taken aback by the strange question. “What?”

“I mean…she’s out past curfew, but I didn’t say anything about it.”

That’s your takeaway?” Hermione splutters, bewilderment filling her voice.

Pansy shrugs helplessly. “No? I don’t know. Maybe?”

“Millicent Bulstrode knows about us, saw us snogging, and that’s what you decide to focus on? Unbelievable.”

“I’m sorry! I just…I think I’m still in shock.”

Am I a bad prefect,” Hermione mutters with a snort. “Honestly.”

She starts down the hallway and Pansy falls into step beside her. “Merlin. I can’t believe she knows,” Pansy says. “And I can’t believe she said we’re friends,” she adds, ridiculously managing to sound more stunned about that than the fact Millicent had walked in on them snogging. “I mean, I’ve never really thought about it because Millicent’s…well, y’know. And she’s not exactly the type to admit to friendships. Or emotions,” she adds, almost as an afterthought.

But Hermione’s not really listening to Pansy’s dazed and confused babbling. Instead, she’s thinking about how foolishly reckless they’ve been, and how they’ll have to be much more careful from now on if they want to have any chance at keeping this secret.

Which means things need to change.

Hermione stops short and runs a hand through her hair. “Okay. So obviously, this isn’t working,” she says, leaning against the wall as she gathers her thoughts.

“—I mean, she’s never even laughed, and I just…”

Pansy stops talking abruptly as Hermione’s words sink in, and she turns to face her with stunned, wide eyes.

“What?” Pansy asks, looking completely stricken. “Hermione, I…I…”

“Not us, Pansy,” Hermione says, shaking her head in disbelief. “This situation isn’t working. We can’t be snogging in classrooms where anyone could walk in.” She fixes Pansy with a sharp look and says, “did you honestly think I meant we weren’t working?”

“I—”

“Were you not present for what was happening before Bulstrode barged in? Which mind you, who forces their way into a locked room? Maybe we should have taken points,” Hermione says, glancing back down the hallway with narrowed eyes, as if she’s contemplating taking on the hulking girl singlehandedly.

“Wait,” Pansy says, shaking her head as she tries to gather her thoughts. “Wait, I just…” She exhales slowly. “So, just to be clear…we’re working…right?” she asks, nervously fiddling with her tie as she looks for confirmation.

A fond exasperation sneaks into Hermione’s eyes. “Considering I was three seconds away from ripping your jumper off back there, yes. I’d say we’re working just fine,” she teases. “But we do need to find somewhere private. Somewhere people won’t walk in on us.” She thinks for a moment, trying to avoid the most obvious solution, but when nothing comes to her, she sighs. “I suppose we’ll just have to use the Room of Requirement.”

Pansy stares at her blankly. “The room of what?”

“The Room of Requirement. It’s a secret room on the seventh floor that only appears when you’re in great need. It can transform itself into whatever you want it to be. Dobby told Harry about it, and it should—”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I just…” Pansy runs a hand through her hair and stares at Hermione. “Did you say that the room…transforms itself?”

“Yes. I assume it has some sort of sentience, so if we just—”

“It’s sentient?” Pansy asks, cutting Hermione off to gape at her.

“Well, not in a weird way,” Hermione hastily amends.

“I’m sorry, is there another way for a room to be sentient?”

Hermione tsks. “It’s not like it watches what happens inside of it.”

“How do you know? If it can transform itself at will, which by the way, is an absolutely insane thing I’m choosing not to think about right now, then why wouldn’t it be able to know what’s going on inside of it?”

“Because…because…” Hermione huffs and folds her arms across her chest, unable to come up with a good explanation. “That’s not the point. The point is, if we want somewhere private where no one can barge in on us, then that’s the place.”

“Right. So you just want us to…what? Put on a show for this creepy room, then?”

“It’s not a creepy room! It’s actually quite nice. I mean, depending on what you need it to be, I suppose.”

“Absolutely mad. Absolutely mad.”

“Look, do you want to have privacy or don’t you?”

“I mean, yes. Obviously, I do, I just…” Pansy trails off, and stares at the floor for a moment. A frown settles on her face, and she looks back at Hermione. “Hang on. If you knew about this bizarre, Peeping Tom room—”

“It’s not—

“Then why have we been snogging in classrooms for the past week?”

Hermione flushes a bit. It’s a fair question, and it’s not like it’s never crossed her mind to make use of the room. But at the end of the day, she decided that snogging wasn’t a worthy enough use of the room’s talents. So she tells Pansy as much, but when Pansy immediately rolls her eyes, she knows she’s in for an argument.

“So this horrifying, sentient room just sits empty all of the time, waiting for someone to use it, but when you finally had reason to, you just…didn’t?”

“Because it should only be used for important things! Not for something as silly as snogging,” Hermione reasons.

Pansy snorts. “What’s more important than snogging?”

Hermione raises an unamused eyebrow. “Health, family, friendship, learning, love—”

“Yes! Love. Which snogging is a part of,” Pansy says triumphantly.

Hermione scoffs, but doesn’t disagree. Instead, she simply says, “so does this mean you want to use it?”

Pansy bites her still-swollen lip for a moment, then heaves a long-suffering sigh. “I still think it’s creepy, but if it means getting to kiss you in peace and quiet, then…fine. Fine, we can use it and I suppose dirty old Tom can watch.”

“Pansy. You can’t name the Room of Requirement.”

“I can, and I did,” Pansy says with a small grin.

Hermione bites back her own smile as she shakes her head and pushes off from the wall. “I’ll show you how to use it tomorrow,” she says. “But for now…walk me back to my room?” she asks, holding out her hand.

Pansy’s eyes soften and she takes Hermione’s hand and threads their fingers together. “My pleasure.”

They make their way through the deserted hallways, and when they near the Gryffindor common room, Hermione slows down and glances up and down the corridor quickly. Once she’s sure no one is around, she pulls Pansy into a shadowed alcove to kiss her good night.

Pansy smiles into the simple kiss, and when she leans back, she lifts a hand to push tumbling, brown waves behind Hermione's ear. “Tonight was lovely,” Pansy murmurs, her thumb idly tracing over a cheekbone. “Minus the interruption.”

Hermione hums, her skin tingling pleasantly where Pansy’s caressing her. “It was. But from here on out, no one else is going to find out unless we want them to find out.”

“I can agree to that,” Pansy says. Then she frowns and adds, “though I’m still not thrilled that dirty old Tom is going to know…”

Hermione exhales in amused frustration. “You can’t name the Room of—

Her protestations are swiftly cut off by Pansy’s lips, and even though she huffs a bit at first, she eventually ends up leaning into the kiss and tuning out all the thoughts and worries still lingering in her mind in favor of enjoying the feeling of soft lips against hers.

After a moment, Pansy pulls back, and Hermione’s eyes flutter open. “Sneaky,” she murmurs, lifting a hand to brush Pansy’s hair back.

“What do you mean?” Pansy asks, her face the picture of innocence.

“Kissing me to get out of a conversation? How very Slytherin of you.”

Pansy grins, looking far too pleased with herself. “Oh. That.”

“Yes, that.”

“I’d say I’m sorry, but honestly, you knew what you were getting yourself into,” Pansy says with a smirk. “Though I suppose if it’s too much for you, you could always find yourself a nice, dull Hufflepuff girl,” she adds with sparkling eyes.

“Hufflepuffs aren’t dull,” Hermione says, dropping her hand to play absently with Pansy’s tie. “But I don’t want a Hufflepuff,” she adds, arching a suggestive brow.

“No? Maybe a know-it-all Ravenclaw, then? You could stay up all night in the library researching together and call it foreplay?”

“I don’t want a Ravenclaw, either,” Hermione says, winding Pansy’s tie around her hand for the second time that night and using her grip to tug Pansy impossibly closer.

Please tell me you don’t want a Gryffindor,” Pansy murmurs. Her body is flush against Hermione’s and her hands are busy making tantalizing trails up and down Hermione’s back.

“Mm. Not my type,” Hermione replies, winding her arms around Pansy and tilting their foreheads together.

“Then what is?” Pansy asks, her voice barely above a whisper.

“Kiss me again and find out,” Hermione breathes, her words ghosting over Pansy’s lips and pulling a small shiver from the other girl.

And in the dim light of the empty hallway, tucked away in a shadowy, private alcove, Pansy does just that.

***

Hermione’s lying in the grass with her face toward the sun, letting the warmth pleasantly lick over her skin. It’s her free period post-potions, and now that classes are beginning to wind down, she doesn’t feel the need to spend it hunched over a book in the library. Instead, she’s been taking the time to enjoy the fresh air and to bask in the beauty of the Scottish countryside surrounding her.

And at this particular moment, she’s completely at peace.

…Well, not completely. There’s still the small fact that she and Ron haven’t spoken in over a week. She knows it’s been driving Harry insane, but she also knows she doesn’t want to be the one to break the icy silence that’s descended between them.

But other than that, everything is fine.

…Okay, there’s also the small matter of what had happened yesterday while Hermione was waiting for Pansy to finish in the bathroom before patrols.

She flushes as she replays the moment in her mind.

She had been leaning on the wall outside of the prefect’s bathroom, waiting for Pansy to finish her ridiculously unnecessary bath. The other girl absolutely insisted on bathing after her evening Herbology class, saying that she couldn’t possibly patrol with dirt under her nails, and she refused to hear Hermione’s suggestion that she just use a cleaning charm. So Hermione had stood there, checking her watch every few minutes and heaving increasingly gusty sighs. And after what felt like an eternity, the door had finally opened.

“Finally. I was beginning to think you’d drowned,” Hermione had said, raising an eyebrow.

Pansy had chuckled as she closed the door behind her. “No. But if it would have meant missing the inevitable cleaning charms lecture that I know you’re dying to give, maybe I should have.”

“I’m not dying to give any lecture,” Hermione said grumpily. She bit her lip for a moment, then said, “but honestly, I just don’t understand why—”

“And there it is,” Pansy muttered.

“— why you need to take a bath when cleaning charms are every bit as good!” Hermione said, refusing to acknowledge Pansy’s comment.

Pansy scoffed. “Please. They’re nowhere near as good. A bath is a luxury. A cleaning charm makes me feel like I’m a dirty dinner plate .

Hermione tsked at the comment, then checked her watch. “Well, you went seven minutes over, so your luxury just made us late for patrols. I hope it was worth it.”

“It was, thank you. And anyway, I—”

But whatever Pansy was about to say was lost. She cut herself off abruptly, cocking her head as Hermione’s words registered. “Hang on…were you actually timing my bath?”

Hermione flushed a bit. “I…might have been,” she admitted.

“Hermione!”

“Sorry! Sorry, it’s…old habits,” she said with a sheepish shrug.

Pansy’s eyes sparkled and she opened her mouth to say something, but when a small group of Gryffindor fourth years passed by and eyed them curiously, she quickly schooled her expression into something cold and aloof. “Merlin, you’re impossible. It takes time to sanitize the tub, Granger. Which I have to do because one of the Gryffindors who uses it just so happens to have a terrible case of anal warts.”

Hermione, having also noticed the Gryffindors, rolled her eyes and crossed her arms, trying to match Pansy’s expression. “Oh, grow up, Parkinson,” she muttered in as scathing a tone as she could manage. “Don’t you have better things to do than gossip about Ron’s medical issues?”

Pansy’s lips twitched at the unexpected reply and her nostrils flared dangerously, and as the Gryffindor group left the hallway, tittering loudly over what they had just heard, Pansy finally let the laugh out. “Merlin, that was cruel!” she said with delight. “I almost feel sorry for Weasley.”

“Don’t,” Hermione muttered as she started toward the storage room to drop off their bags. “After the things he said, he deserves a fictitious case of anal warts.”

“Mm, slandering Weasley?” Pansy said with a smirk. She leaned closer and murmured, “is it wrong to say that I’ve never been more attracted to you?” Hermione felt a wave of warmth at the words, but before she could reply, Pansy frowned, then quickly shook her head. “Hang on…nope. I’ve changed my mind. Not attracted to you anymore.”

“What? Why?”

“Because I’ve just remembered you were timing my bath again.”

Hermione laughed, entirely unsurprised that Pansy had circled back to her unfortunate slip of the tongue. “Well, for what it’s worth, it wasn’t to report you this time,” she said.

“Glad to know we’re past the days of threatening to tattle to McGonagall.” But then, Pansy hummed and a dangerous glimmer entered her eyes. “Actually…do you remember what you threatened that night? During our detention?”

Hermione frowned as she came to a stop in front of the storage room. “Not really, no,” she said, her hand resting on the door handle.

“You threatened to Bombarda the door down if I went over time.” A slow, suggestive smile stole across Pansy’s face as she cocked an eyebrow. “You know, if you were that desperate to see me naked, all you had to do was ask.”

Heat immediately flooded Hermione’s face at the implication, and before she could deny it, she was hit with the very clear and very tempting mental image of Pansy, glistening and bare in the massive, soaking tub, surrounded by thick bubbles and intoxicatingly fragrant steam. Green, heavy-lidded eyes were locked on hers, and she lifted a finger to beckon to Hermione, inviting her to join her in the hot water with a slow and sultry smile.

“Hermione?”

Pansy’s voice pulled her out of the vivid fantasy, and Hermione swallowed heavily as the image faded. She dragged her gaze back to Pansy, who was watching her with amusement. “Sorry, what?” Hermione asked, her voice coming out breathless.

“Maybe you need to take a bath, too,” Pansy said with a smirk. “Y’know, to deal with all those dirty, dirty thoughts?”

Hermione flushed darker. “I wasn’t—”

“Oh, you absolutely were, darling.”

The little term of endearment made Hermione’s heart glow, but she still managed to huff in exasperation as she unlocked the door. “Well, alright. Maybe I was.”

Pansy hummed at the admission, then moved just a bit closer to Hermione. “Do you know the best part about fantasies?”

Hermione’s hand hesitated on the door handle. “What?”

“Making them realities,” Pansy said, lifting a suggestive eyebrow.

Hermione swallowed once more as she realized that yes, they could one day share a bath together, but before she could let her imagination run rampant once more, Pansy moved on. “And anyway, I guess all things considered, it’s nice to know that if we ever get tired of letting dirty old Tom watch, we’ve got another option.”

Hermione rolled her eyes as she tossed her bag inside, the spell momentarily broken. “For the last time, you can’t name the room,” she said, waiting for Pansy to deposit her bag. “But…I suppose that is good to know. Even if I’d probably have to report both of us to McGonagall for time violations,” she added, closing and locking the door once more.

“So? She already knows. She wouldn’t be surprised. If anything, she’d probably be proud.”

“She wouldn’t be—”

“Twenty points to Slytherin and Gryffindor, for extraordinary stamina,” Pansy said, overemphasizing her words and exaggerating her vowels in some sort of tragic attempt at a Scottish accent.

“Is that supposed to be McGonagall?” Hermione asked dryly.

“And another thirty in the spirit of house unity,” Pansy said, keeping the accent and refusing to reply to Hermione’s remark.

“House unity?” Hermione asked against her better judgment, completely confused by the addition.

“Mm,” Pansy hummed, a sly look on her face. “Y’know, for… coming …together?”

Hermione shook her head at the ludicrous joke. “You’re impossible,” she said, but she could still feel a tell-tale heat spreading down her neck at both the thought of them actually having sex, and how her body had immediately reacted to the idea with a low, unmistakable wave of desire.

“I wasn’t the one implying we’d go over the forty-five minute time limit, now, was I?”

Hermione’s lips parted in surprise. “I only meant—”

But before she could say anything else, Pansy took a step closer. “Would you like to know why I was seven minutes over time?” she murmured. She glanced around the hallway, checking to make sure the coast was clear, and once she was satisfied, she leaned in and whispered in Hermione’s ear, “it’s because I was thinking about you. I was thinking about what you said the other night…about how you’ve thought about me when you’re alone.”

Hermione shivered at both the words and Pansy’s warm breath, ghosting across her ear. “Oh?”

“Mm. I was thinking about how good you felt underneath me that night,” Pansy said as she placed a warm hand on Hermione’s hip. “Thinking about how if we hadn’t been interrupted, I wouldn’t have been able to stop myself from touching you.”

Hermione exhaled shakily, shutting her eyes and clenching her fist in an attempt to control herself. Because everything Pansy had said made her want to forget about their stupid promise to be careful and kiss her right then and there.

“I was seven minutes late,” Pansy murmured, her lips brushing against Hermione’s ear, “because I was letting myself imagine everything that would have happened.”

Hermione pulled back to find Pansy’s blazing eyes, and she felt a familiar heat coil in her stomach. “And what were you doing?” she asked in a low voice, never taking her gaze off of Pansy’s. “While you were imagining…what were you doing?” She was strangely desperate to hear the confirmation of what she already knew.

“I…I was—”

“Hello, Hermione. Hello, Pansy.”

Even though there was a bit of space between them, Hermione still jumped backward from Pansy. She whirled around to find Luna, wearing oversized pink glasses and a necklace featuring a large, used quill. There were paint spatters covering her hands, robes, and hair, making her look like some sort of brilliant, colorful tapestry, and she was watching Pansy and Hermione with a soft, dreamy smile.

“Luna! I…I didn’t…” Hermione ran a flustered hand through her hair as her heart pounded in her chest. She stole a quick glance at Pansy to find the other girl staring at Luna with wide eyes and red cheeks, then looked back to Luna.“Where did you come from?”

“Just in there,” Luna said, nodding toward a room a few doors down. “I like to paint after dinner. It helps me sort out my emotions. And it’s good for digestion, did you know?”

“I—I’ve never heard that before,” Hermione said diplomatically as her heart rate slowly began to return to where it had been before the interruption.

Luna nodded pleasantly. “I’m only a few dinners away from finishing my Blibbering Humdinger painting. Daddy says if it’s good enough, he’ll print it in next month’s Quibbler. Would you like to see it?”

Hermione managed to shake her head, pleased that Luna didn’t seem to be suspicious at all. “Maybe some other time, Luna. We’re meant to be patrolling.”

“Oh, well. It’s probably for the best. I don’t think I’ve managed to get the wings just right yet.”

“Well, once you do, I’d be happy to take a look,” Hermione said. Then, in an half-hearted attempt to take interest in her friend’s hobbies, she added, “do you always paint creatures?”

“Oh, no! I paint all sorts of things. Creatures, tea cups, lost socks, artichokes…”

“Artichokes?” Pansy muttered beside Hermione in disbelief, inhaling in surprise when Hermione subtly elbowed her.

“And once I finish my Blibbering Humdinger, I’m moving onto auras,” Luna said.

“I’m sorry…did you say auras?” Hermione asked with a puzzled frown.

Luna hummed, then tilted her head to survey Hermione. “I think I’ll start with yours. It’s rather lovely today.”

“I…thank you?”

Luna nodded, then very calmly said, “I suppose that lovely color means you two have figured things out, then?”

Hermione’s eyes widened a bit, and she risked a glance toward Pansy, who was staring at Luna with bewilderment.

“I’m sorry,” Hermione said. “What do you mean we’ve ‘figured things out’?”

“Oh, you know,” Luna said pleasantly. “Before, your auras were so tangled up and sad. Every time you’d be near each other, it was just pale blues and greys, like the sky just before a storm. But now, you’re both the most lovely shade of pink.”

At that, Pansy seemed to come back to herself, and she snorted from beside Hermione. “And would that shade of pink look anything like your glasses?” she asked dryly, gazing pointedly at the very pink glasses perched on Luna’s face.

“Oh, no. You’re pink even without the glasses,” Luna said easily. “They just make it easier to see it.”

Hermione slowly shook her head, trying to figure out the best way to approach this unexpected situation. After a moment, she said, “Luna…I’m not sure what you think you know, but—”

“It’s a unique shade of pink, you know, but not terribly so. Harry and Ginny have a similar one. And Neville and Hannah seem to have one, too. Though theirs is a bit like a carnation,” Luna added with a thoughtful tilt of her head. “The one you two have is darker than that. Like a beautiful, dusty rose.”

The implications behind her words were clear, and Hermione once again glanced to Pansy, who shrugged helplessly. “Perhaps we should have just made an announcement at breakfast,” she said, referencing the farcical plan they had made to announce their relationship and sounding bizarrely resigned to yet another person knowing that something more than friendship was happening between them.

“Luna…” Hermione started, rubbing at her forehead in distress.

“You’ve certainly been through more shades than most people,” Luna said lightly. “You used to be such an angry, crackly red. I didn’t like that one very much. Then came all those muted blues…that was yearning, I think,” she said with a thoughtful nod. “And now, pink. Pink is my favorite one by far.” She tapped her finger against her chin. “Though perhaps I’ll paint all of them on one canvas.”

Hermione sighed as the same resignation that Pansy had already embraced slowly began to fill her body.

It wasn’t ideal, but at the very least, Luna was better than Millicent.

“Luna, could you do me a favor?” Hermione asked. When Luna nodded brightly, Hermione said, “could you not tell anyone about our…our auras? It’s just…we’d like to keep them private.”

Luna nodded once more with a gentle smile. “Of course. I can see why…they are quite special.”

“Thank you,” Hermione said, completely unsure how to reply to the strange remark. She was still thinking of what to add when two more Gryffindors passed by on their way back to the common room and Hermione remembered what they were meant to be doing. “I’m sorry, Luna, but we really do need to get to our patrols.”

“I’d watch out for the end of this hallway,” Luna said, her gaze turning serious. “I’ve seen signs of a particularly large infestation of heliopaths and I wouldn’t want either of you to get burned.”

Hermione fought back against her overwhelmingly strong first instinct to argue that heliopaths were absolutely not real, and instead managed to say, “thank you. We’ll be careful.”

“Good. But if you do run into any, remember, heliopaths have a natural aversion to water, polka music, and cabbages.”

Hermione exhaled noisily at the ludicrous advice, then glanced toward Pansy, who was looking more bewildered than she’d ever looked before. It almost was enough to make Hermione laugh, but somehow, she managed to control herself. Instead, she looked back to Luna and gave a nod. “We’ll be sure to have a cabbage or two handy.”

Luna smiled once again and said, “right, then. I’ll see you later. Bye, Hermione. Bye, Pansy.” She walked past them on her way to the Ravenclaw common room, but after a few steps, she paused and turned back. “Oh, and Hermione?”

“Yes?”

“I do hope you and Ron fix your auras, soon. I miss your old color.”

Hermione opened her mouth, but Luna simply gave a little wave, then walked away.

Pansy and Hermione stood there, staring after her in silence. And after a long moment, Pansy finally murmured, “Merlin…is she secretly a genius?”

“She’s…she’s certainly something,” Hermione replied, feeling a bit off-kilter from Luna’s last remark.

“I mean…she can read auras? Can Trelawney even do that?”

“Sybil Trelawney is a fraud,” Hermione grumbled as her old grievance flared up and shook her from her surprised state.“She wouldn’t be able to read our auras even if we painted ourselves up to look like flamingos and snogged in front of her.”

Pansy laughed, and Hermione wilted a bit and gave a small, resigned shrug. “You know, all things considered, it makes sense that Luna and Bulstrode figured it out.”

“It does?”

Hermione hummed. “Think about it. They’re both solitary, internal sorts, whether by choice or necessity. But they’ve both managed to find ways to be content in the quiet spaces of life. And it’s often in those quiet spaces where the most keen observations occur.”

“Are you telling me you think Lovegood and Millicent would get along?”

“Oh, yes. Famously,” Hermione said with a wry grin. “I mean, at the very least, I doubt Luna would be afraid of Bulstrode. She’d probably even call her Millicent.”

“She did call my by my first name,” Pansy said with a confused shake of her head. “Merlin…whoever would have thought I’d end this year actually being impressed by Lovegood?”

“Is that the most surprising thing that’s happened this year, then?” Hermione asked dryly.

Pansy tilted her head in thought, then shrugged. “Nothing else comes to mind.”

Hermione chuckled and started walking. As soon as Pansy fell into step beside her, she gently nudged against her shoulder. “So what is that? Three people who know?”

“Millicent, Lovegood, McGonagall, Daph…”

“Four, then.”

“Not to mention half of the Auror Department.”

“Oh my god…”

“And quite possibly Arthur Weasley.”

Hermione took a deep breath, then slowly released it. “Okay. Okay, that’s…” She trailed off and shook her head. “How is that possible? It’s been a week .”

Pansy shrugged. “At least we’re efficient.” Then, she tilted her head with interest. “Do you think Lovegood would give us that aura painting once she’s done with it?”

Hermione came to a stop and blinked at Pansy. “I don’t…I mean…would you want it?”

“Why not? I’ve never inspired a painting before.”

Hermione shook her head fondly at the glimmer of interest in Pansy’s eyes. “I’ll be sure to ask her once she’s done.” She folded her arms over her chest and said, “you know, you’re taking this awfully well.”

Pansy nodded. “I suppose I am. It’s just…I’m not really upset about it. I mean, in an ideal world, everyone would know already. I wouldn’t have to hide the way I feel about you for a second. So if a few people know and they’re all okay with it, then…I mean, that’s a good thing, right? That’s what we want?”

“It is,” Hermione murmured. “It is, and it's a very good thing.”

“I just hope everyone else will be as understanding as Lovegood.”

“And Bulstrode.”

“Merlin, don’t remind me. I’m not sure which one is worse, Millie or McGonagall.”

Hermione smiles as she opens her eyes, remembering the heated debate that had ensued. But after a moment, her mind jumps back and she finds herself thinking about what Luna had said once more…

I hope you and Ron fix your auras soon.

She sighs and brings a hand up to rub her eyes in frustration. Because as much as she misses Ron, and as much as she really needs to tell both Ron and Harry about her relationship with Pansy, she still very stubbornly doesn’t want to be the first one to cave in and break the icy silence that’s existed between them for the past week. Honestly, she’s still quite mad at him. And it’s not that she even minds that he’s cautious and concerned about the change in her relationship with Pansy. She’d be every bit as concerned if the roles were reversed. It’s the constant second guessing that still makes sharp, powerful irritation flare in her chest and makes her want to see this strange, bitter war through to the end. She hates that Ron feels like he has some sort of ownership over her life, and she hates that in their seven years of friendship, he’s almost never once accepted that she might just be able to take care of herself without his input. And what’s more—

“D’you reckon her morning tea foretold us skipping her class?”

Hermione’s eyes open in surprise as a very familiar voice carries toward her.

She cranes her head back, and perhaps her thoughts had been strong enough to conjure Ron, because sure enough, there he is, making his way across the gentle slope of the hill with Harry by his side. Neither boy has noticed her yet, and she feels something painful twist in the pit of her stomach at the sight of her two best friends together, having a lovely time without her.

But then, the knot in her gut twists impossibly tighter as something dawns on her—she could technically take this opportunity to finally get everything she needs to say out in the open.

Of course, it’s not perfect timing; in an ideal world, Ron would have apologized by now, and she wouldn’t have to add even more confusion and anger to his already very full plate. But the end of the year is quickly approaching, and she has a feeling that if she and Ron go into summer holidays nursing massive grudges toward each other, they might never manage to mend the rift. And Hermione is sensible enough to realize that even though she’s still quite upset, she doesn’t want to lose him completely. Because she loves Ron. Even though he’s a massive prat, she loves him and she misses him. She misses his sense of humor, his infectious laugh, his easy, lopsided grin. And she thinks he deserves to know the full story before he makes whatever decision he wants to make. He deserves the opportunity to have a decent reaction for once in their friendship. And if he doesn’t, well…she won’t beg for his acceptance. She’ll be disappointed, but she won’t let it change the way she feels about Pansy, nor about herself. She’s already let go of the residual shame and guilt she had felt around liking women, and she won’t be forced to feel it ever again, no matter what anyone might say to her.

And what’s more, she’s seen the effect their fight is having on both Harry and Ginny, and it makes her feel horrible. To be fair, they’ve both been absolutely wonderful about spending equal amounts of time with both Hermione and Ron, but she’s tired of the guilt slithering through her veins every time Harry and Ginny are forced to split their time.

All things considered, now is as good a time as any.

Harry and Ron are closer to her, and she sits up to watch their approach. It only takes a few more seconds for them to notice her, and when they do, they both come to an abrupt stop. Harry immediately glances between the two of them, his eyes wide with worry, and Ron quickly averts his gaze to stare down at the grass, the tips of his ears turning bright red.

“Hermione,” Harry says. “I…I thought you’d be in the library?”

She shakes her head and ignores the pang she feels, knowing that they didn’t even think to look for her. “Not today, no. I thought I’d enjoy the sunshine.” She tilts her head and raises an eyebrow. “I thought you’d be in class?”

Harry grins sheepishly. “Couldn’t take another day of making fake predictions. There’s only so many times I can find myself in a dire situation before it feels like I’m just tempting fate.” He lifts a hand to rub his neck and says, “I suppose you’re disappointed in us for skipping?”

“On the contrary. I’m proud of you,” Hermione says. “And I’d be prouder still if you finally dropped that ridiculous class…if you can even call it a class,” she adds darkly.

Harry grins, and Hermione notices the corners of Ron’s mouth twitch up just a bit.

Maybe he was more open to airing things out than she suspected.

Before she can say anything, Harry’s gaze jumps from Hermione to Ron and back again. And perhaps Hermione is better at Divination than she thought she was, because she somehow knows exactly what Harry’s about to say the moment he opens his mouth.

“Y’know, since we’re all out here…do you think that maybe…it might be a good time to…” Harry trails off and shifts on his feet uncomfortably. “What I mean to say is, do you think you might…or, that you could—”

“Harry?” Hermione says, neatly cutting off his awkward rambling.

“Yeah?”

He looks at her expectantly, and in that moment, Hermione makes a decision. Because there’s never going to be a perfect time to tell them. And considering the amount of people who already know, she’d much rather they hear this from her than through the Hogwarts rumor mill.

She surreptitiously wipes clammy, nervous hands against her skirt and takes a deep breath. “I’d like to talk to you about something. To both of you,” she amends, looking at Ron.

Ron glances up at her in surprise, but when he sees her eyes on him, he immediately looks back down, studying the grass as if he’s never seen it before.

“Oh. Oh, okay. I mean, yeah. Yeah, that’s…yeah,” Harry says quickly and somewhat eagerly. He clearly hadn’t been expecting her to actually want to talk, and he’s not about to miss out on the opportunity to fix things between his best friends. Immediately, he drops down to the grass and crosses his legs, then he glances up at Ron and nods at the space next to him expectantly. Ron frowns just a bit, but he slowly sinks down to sit beside Harry, all the while studiously avoiding Hermione’s gaze.

Once they’re both seated, Harry claps his hands on his knees and looks to Hermione. “Right, then. What do you want to talk to us about?”

Hermione’s heart is beating quickly, and as she takes a second to gather her courage, she looks between Harry and Ron, these two, ridiculous, immature, brave, caring, kind, silly, sometimes-infuriating, amazing boys that she loves with her entire heart and soul. Just in case things go poorly, she wants to one day be able to remember them both like this. As simply her two best friends who would do anything in the world for her. The two people who had somehow and against all the odds, decided to befriend the swotty, obnoxious try-hard, way back in first year. The two people who saved her from her constant homesickness and sleepless nights spent crying into her pillow, wishing McGonagall had never showed up at her front door in the first place. The two people who showed her for the first time what it was like to have friends. To feel valued.

To belong.

Shakily, Hermione releases the breath she’s been holding, twists her hands in her lap, and desperately hopes they’ll still make her feel like she belongs once everything is out in the open.

“There’s something I should have told you about weeks ago,” she starts, choosing her words carefully. “But I…I was scared. Scared and ashamed, I suppose.”

“Ashamed?” Harry asks curiously. “Ashamed of what?”

Hermione looks up at the cloudless sky and collects her thoughts, then looks back down to meet Harry’s concerned eyes. “Do you remember the day you lost to Hufflepuff?”

“Kind of hard to forget,” Harry says with a small wince. “But yeah. What about it?”

“I…I…”

“Oh, no. No, Hermione…don’t tell me you were secretly rooting for Hufflepuff?” Harry interrupts with a grin.

Hermione manages a strained smile. “No. No, nothing quite as unforgivable as that. It’s…” She runs a hand through her hair and sets her shoulders. “That was the day I told you about my parchment pal. Do you remember? I told you that…that she was a woman?”

Harry nods, seeming a bit surprised. “Right. I remember.”

“Good,” Hermione says with a nod. “Good.”

When Hermione trails off into silence, Harry prompts her. “What about it?”

“I wanted to tell you that, because…well, obviously because you’d find out at the end of the year, anyway,” Hermione says. “But that wasn’t the only reason. I wanted to tell you because there was more to it than just that, and I knew I’d have to eventually tell you all of it, so I figured that would be good practice, but…but…”

Harry frowns, clearly confused by her rambling . “But…?”

“But I didn’t expect your reactions,” Hermione says with a small wince as she remembers the revolted look on Ron’s face.

Harry’s frown deepens and he shakes his head. “What reactions? I don’t…” he trails off and studies the grass for a moment. After a moment, he says, “I remember being surprised, and I remember Ron being pleased, but I don’t…”

Hermione shakes her head swiftly. “No, not to that…I mean, I don’t…” She takes a deep breath and tries again. “Do you remember what we were discussing just before Jimmy interrupted us and asked you to go to the Hospital Wing?”

Harry shrugs a bit helplessly. “I can’t say I do.”

Hermione’s heart is pounding in her chest, and all she wants to do is change the subject. But instead, she moves her hands to her knees and grips tightly, centering herself as best she can for what’s still to come.

“We were…or rather, you were talking about…about blokes who fancy blokes. And…and women who fancy women,” Hermione says, her knee bouncing against the grass. “And Ron brought up how it was weird and…and wrong. But I…I…”

Harry’s eyebrows raise in surprise, the frown that’s been present on Ron’s face for the duration of the conversation deepens ever-so-slightly, and Hermione’s heart leaps into her throat. Because even though they might not be quite as smart as she is, they’re certainly not dumb, and they’re more than capable of connecting the dots and reading between the lines.

“Right,” Harry says, sounding completely stunned. “Right, we…I remember that now. But I mean, why are you…” he trails off and shakes his head, like he’s trying to clear a fog. “Hermione, what are you trying to say?”

“I told you my parchment pal was a woman, because I knew that one day…I’d have to tell you the whole truth.”

“And the whole truth is…?” Harry asks.

Hermione takes a deep breath.

Now or never.

“That I’m in love with her.”

The confession sits heavily between them. Hermione’s heart continues to hammer in her chest and she grips at her knees, looking between Harry and Ron and waiting for one of them to break the unnatural, awful silence. But it seems as if she’s stricken them both completely mute—Harry’s eyes are wide with shock and Ron’s face has turned a strange shade of red. The silence lingers, growing more and more uncomfortable with each passing second, and just when Hermione thinks she’ll have to say something, Harry raises a hand and runs it roughly through his hair.

“So…hang on. Hang on. If you’re…if you’re in love with her, then that means…you like…women?” he asks slowly, lifting an eyebrow as he waits for her to confirm his question.

“I…yes,” Hermione manages. “I do.”

“Oh,” Harry murmurs. He frowns, then says, “and is that an exclusively kind of thing, or…?”

Hermione nods. “It is.”

And it really is. She’s content with who she is, and it doesn’t scare her to admit to it anymore. She and Pansy had actually already discussed how she identifies: Pansy had asked if she thought she might like both men and women, and when Hermione had told her that she was fairly confident she only fancied women, Pansy had shaken her head in disbelief and said, “took me years to be brave enough to admit it to myself, and you come along and do it in a few months. Do you ever get tired of being such a bloody overachiever?”

Hermione smiles slightly at the memory, then pulls her eyes back to Harry’s. “It is, and I was so scared when I realized it, but…but not just because of what it might mean for my future. I was scared because I was so afraid of losing you. Of losing both of you,” she adds, once again glancing toward Ron, who’s staring somewhere far-off, his eyes strangely hard to read.

Harry shakes his head immediately. “What? Hermione, I…how could you even think that? You could never lose us,” he says, sounding a bit bewildered. “I mean, I won’t lie…I’m surprised, but I don’t…I mean, you’re still you. You’re still the same person, and that doesn’t change. That’ll never change. I still love you, it’s just…it’s just a surprise,” he finishes. But then he quickly adds, “but I’m glad you told us. I’m sure it wasn’t easy.”

Hermione manages a weak laugh. “It wasn’t, no.” Then, she very timidly asks, “but you’re not…I mean, you don’t…you don’t think there’s something wrong with me?”

Harry raises his eyebrows. “I mean, I’d be a pretty massive hypocrite if I thought there was something wrong with fancying girls,” he says with a small grin.

Harry’s words draw an actual laugh from Hermione, and his eyes soften just a bit. “But no. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you. I mean, I guess I’ve just never really thought about…about gay people?” Harry says, looking nervously at Hermione to confirm he hasn’t said something wrong. When she nods encouragingly at him, he continues. “So it’s not something I’m familiar with outside of y’know, what other people have said about it. But that’s all just secondhand stuff and I mean…I know you. And like I said, you’re still you. Fancying women isn’t going to change who you are, is it?”

Hermione exhales quickly as relief fills her body, making her feel wonderfully warm, as if she’s just had a full mug of butterbeer. Harry’s still looking at her nervously, but it’s not because he’s upset, or thinks there’s something wrong with her—it’s because he loves her. He loves her and he needs to make sure she knows it. She should have known better to doubt him, this wonderful, kind man who is, for all intents and purposes, her family. She should have known he’d be in her corner, no matter what.

“And anyway, you can’t really help who you fall in love with, right?” Harry adds, pulling her from her thoughts.

“No. No, you really can’t,” Hermione says, giving Harry a soft, appreciative smile.

Steeling herself, she risks a glance at Ron, who’s remained silent throughout the entire conversation. “And what about you?” she asks, her voice a good deal more guarded than it had been when she was talking to Harry.

Ron shakes his head and raises his eyes to Hermione. “I…I don’t understand.”

“Don’t understand what?” Hermione asks, feeling something sink in the pit of her stomach when she realizes that Ron isn’t like Harry. He’s once again going to make things harder than they need to be.

“I just…how can you be sure?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, you didn’t want to date me. And that’s fine! That’s fine, but there are other blokes at this school, and I just…how do you know that you won’t like dating one of them? Or even someone outside of Hogwarts? I mean, I just think it’s a pretty massive leap to just suddenly give up on men and decide you’re a…a…”

Hermione arches an eyebrow. “A lesbian?”

Ron flushes. “You’re not that,” he mutters uncomfortably.

Familiar frustration thrums underneath her skin at Ron’s words, at his insistence that she doesn’t know her own feelings, and Hermione exhales in irritation. “Are you actually going to do this again? After everything we’ve been through?”

No! No, but I just…c’mon, Hermione! You of all people are not a…a…”

“A lesbian, Ron,” Hermione repeats coolly. “You can say it, it’s not a dirty word. And yes. I am,” she adds. “And I didn’t just suddenly decide it. I may have recently realized it, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t signs all along. The clearest sign being that I’ve never fancied boys.”

Which is only a mild lie. Because the clearest sign was probably the state of her soaking knickers after every interaction with Pansy, but she’s not about to bring that up.

“But there are other men out there!”

“Which wouldn’t make any difference—”

“And I mean…you don’t look like one—”

Harry winces. “Ron…”

“No, but she doesn’t!” Ron says, turning to face Harry a bit wildly. “I mean, look at her,” he says, gesturing at Hermione. “And…and fine. Fine, so you have feelings for your parchment pal, or whatever. Fine. But that’s all up here,” he says, tapping his head. “That doesn’t mean it’s going to translate to anything physical. You’ll probably just wind up as best mates or something. I mean, once you meet her, you’ll see.”

Hermione shakes her head in complete disbelief as anger seeps through her body. “Unbelievable,” she says. “Unbelievable,” she seethes. “Do you know, I actually thought you might prove me wrong? I thought for once, you might decide to be supportive and to actually act like a friend, but no. No, of course you couldn’t do that. You couldn’t support me if your life depended on it, could you?”

“I could! And I will, but I just think that you’re not thinking clearly! You shouldn’t make any decisions until you meet her! It’s not—”

“I’ve met her.”

Hermione’s coldly delivered words stop Ron in his tracks, and he opens and shuts his mouth a few times like a fish out of water.

“You’ve met her?” Harry repeats, his voice high with surprise.

Hermione drags her furious gaze away from Ron and back to Harry. “I have,” she confirms. “Last Sunday.” Then she glares back at Ron and says, “and you’ll be pleased to know that it did translate into something physical.”

It’s only after the words have left her mouth that she realizes how it sounds. She had only meant to imply that she’s incredibly attracted to Pansy, not that they had done anything physical, but both boys have clearly taken it in the latter context. Ron’s eyes grow ridiculously wide and he makes a strange stuttering sound at the admission, and even Harry looks completely thrown.

Strangely, though, Hermione doesn’t care. They might as well know. And what’s more, it’s not like it’s a lie.

“Hang on,” Harry says, sounding dazed. “Hang on. You’ve…you’ve met her, and you’re…I mean…” He trails off for a moment, then shakes his head and cuts right to the chase. “Are you together?”

Hermione hesitates for just a moment, then nods. “We are.”

Ron makes another noise, this one sounding a bit like a whimper, but Hermione refuses to look to him, instead keeping her eyes trained on Harry. “I know it’s surprising,” she says gently, as if she’s speaking to an easily spooked horse. “Believe me, I know. And I’ll answer any questions you have, but I just—”

“Do we know her?”

Hermione stops speaking at Harry’s immediate first question. Her heart rate picks up and she swallows around a sudden lump in her throat.

It’s finally here. The last of her secrets.

If she’s being honest, she’s a tiny bit surprised that neither of them have managed to put it together yet, but she assumes that the absolute shock of her confession was enough to make them both temporarily forget about her friendship with Pansy.

And now, it’s time to tell them that it’s so much more than a friendship.

That it’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to her.

That she’s so, so in love.

One more push. One final burst of Gryffindor courage.

For herself.

For Pansy.

For their future together.

“Yes,” she whispers. “Yes, you know her. It’s…it’s Pansy.”

It’s almost cartoonish the way they both react. Harry’s mouth drops wide open and Ron, who has up until now been varying shades of red, turns completely white, as if he’s about to pass out. He opens his mouth and Hermione can hear the way his breath comes out in strange little gasps, almost as if her confession had sucked the air straight out of his lungs.

A small eternity ticks by before Harry finally says, “Pansy.” He’s sitting deathly still and his green eyes are filled with shock and something that looks a bit like horror, and Hermione squirms uncomfortably on the grass. “Pansy as in…Pansy Parkinson?”

Hermione nods.

“You’re…in love…with…with Pansy Parkinson?” Harry asks. He’s speaking slowly, as if his brain is no longer communicating with his mouth and he has to manually force each word to fall from his uncooperative tongue.

Hermione worries her lower lip for just a moment before she nods once more. “I am.”

There’s another long moment of silence, in which the only thing Hermione can hear is the sound of her blood rushing past her ears. But then, the silence is splintered by a furious, low voice.

“Are…you…absolutely…mental?” Ron hisses. The color has flooded back into his face, and his cheeks are now splotchy and red. His blue eyes are blazing with fury, and a prominent vein stands out on the side of his neck. Hermione’s never seen him look quite so enraged, and while normally, it might make her feel guilty that she’s responsible for that rage, now, after everything they’ve been through, it just fuels her own fire.

She pulls back her shoulders and meets Ron’s furious glare with an icy one of her own. “Of course. I’ve made a choice Ronald doesn’t understand, so of course I must be mental.

“No, don’t do that,” Ron says, pointing a finger at Hermione. “Don’t pretend this makes any sense. Don’t pretend there’s any normal fucking universe in which you falling in love with Parkinson is something I should be supportive of. A woman, I can wrap my head around. But Parkinson?

“Maybe if you ever bothered to listen to what I have to say—”

“Nothing you say will make this okay!” Ron explodes. “I mean, unless she’s been Imperiused for the past seven years, or…or…a Polyjuiced imposter, or—” he breaks off and thrusts both his hands wildly through his hair. “Why?” he asks, looking at Hermione desperately.

“Because there’s so much more to her than you know, and if you’d just listen to me, then—”

“How do you even know it’s Parkinson?” Ron interrupts, once again refusing to let her finish.

“What?”

“I mean, how do you know she didn’t just figure out who your real parchment pal was and pretend to be them?”

“Why on earth would she do that?”

“I don’t know! But I know that you can’t be in love with Parkinson, so…so maybe this is all a scheme,” Ron says, his wide eye boring into Hermione’s desperately. “Get you to fall in love with her so she can hurt you later. Something like that.”

Hermione bristles at the implication and folds her arms tightly over her chest. “Do you think I’m stupid?”

“What? No, obviously not! But I just—”

“So why are you treating me like I’m a complete imbecile?”

“I—”

“She’s not bloody tricking me! She’s in love with me, and whether or not you choose to believe it’s true, I’m in love with her.”

Ron shakes his head wildly. “You’re not,” he says, practically begging her. “You’re not! You can pick any other girl at this bloody school for all I care, but you’re not in love with Parkinson!”

Hermione can feel her feeble grasp on her temper slipping away. “I don’t want any other girl,” she says. “I want her.”

“You don’t—”

“And if that’s a problem,” Hermione says, her trembling voice rising as she refuses to let Ron cut in, “if you can’t handle that, then you are more than welcome to take your opinions—your opinions which I’ve never asked for, mind you—and get the hell out of my life.”

The words leave her lips, sharp and biting, and in the deathly silence that follows, Hermione feels some of her rage slip away. She hadn’t meant to sound so cruel, and she immediately wishes she could reel the words back.

But it’s too late. Ron’s staring at Hermione as if she’s slapped him. His lips are parted in stunned surprise and his eyes are wide, and she has just a moment to start formulating a hasty, guilty apology before Ron’s face settles into something absolutely thunderous. “Right. Right, because you don’t need me anymore,” he whispers, his voice shaking with rage and an angry flush traveling up his neck. “You don’t need me and you don’t need Harry. Not now that you’re shagging the biggest bitch in the entire bloody school.

Whatever guilt Hermione was feeling evaporates immediately as the rage comes rushing back to her, potent and dangerous. “Don’t you dare,” she whispers in a low voice, her fists tightening at her side.

“She must really be something,” Ron spits out. “I mean, how good does someone have to be in bed to make you turn a blind eye to the fact they’re a pure-blood supremacist?”

“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” Hermione seethes. “And if you’re going to keep insulting Pansy, I’d suggest you leave.”

“Yeah, you made that pretty clear with the whole, get the hell out of your life thing,” Ron says, his nostrils flaring as he repeats her words. He eyes Hermione coldly and says, “so, what? That’s it then? She tortures you for seven bloody years, but the moment I say one thing about her—one true thing about her, mind you—I’m bang out of order?” Ron shakes his head incredulously. “Seven years of being your best friend and you’re picking her over me?”

“I’m not picking anyone, and I’ve never said you weren’t within your rights to be worried,” Hermione says, frustration coloring her words. “You can be as worried as you bloody well please! What I’m upset about is you constantly second-guessing my judgment, telling me I don’t know who I am, refusing to listen to any of my explanations—”

“I—”

“And insulting Pansy for no reason.”

Ron’s eyes flash. “No reason?” He barks out an angry, cold laugh that’s so unlike him, it makes Hermione’s hair stand on end. “Sure. Sure, Hermione. Whatever you have to tell yourself.”

“I don’t have to tell myself anything,” Hermione says. “I know who she was, and you don’t need to remind me. But I also know who she is now and the guilt she feels over everything that happened, and if you think for a second that I’m going to sit here and let you insult her, let you invalidate everything she’s done,” she says, her voice growing louder when Ron scoffs, “all the bravery and hard work and trauma she’s gone through to get to this place and be a better person, then you don’t know me at all.”

Ron stares at her for a long, silent moment. The air around them is thick and oppressive, and Hermione feels like she’s two seconds away from either screaming or crying.

Suddenly, Ron stands up. He stares down at Hermione with completely guarded eyes and in a strangely flat voice, says, “you’re right. I guess I don’t know you at all.” Then he turns from her and without another word, strides away, back toward the castle.

Hermione watches him go until he disappears from her line of sight. She takes a deep, shaky breath, desperately willing herself not to cry, and after a moment, she manages to turn to Harry. “Well? Are you going to go after him?”

Harry’s watching her with concerned eyes. “No, I—”

“Why not? You think I’m mad, too, don’t you?” Hermione asks with a wet, humorless laugh. “I saw the way you reacted. You think I’m mad and stupid. You probably don’t want anything more to do with me, and, and…”

A traitorous tear falls down her face, and she hastily reaches up to brush it away, but when it’s quickly followed by another and then another, she realizes she’s fighting a losing battle. She lets them fall as she buries her head in her hands, her body shaking with massive, awful sobs that claw their way out of her throat in choked, strangled gasps.

But before she can let her thoughts turn bleak and fall prey to self-loathing, she feels warm, strong arms wrap around her, cradling her close. “It’s alright,” Harry murmurs into her hair. “It’s going to be alright. I’m here. It’s alright.”

Hermione shakes her head violently against his chest and reaches up to grip at his jumper, pulling him closer to her. She’s embarrassed by how hard she’s crying, but no matter how many times she tries to stop the tears, they just keep coming. She can only wait until she’s thoroughly exhausted herself, and try to find comfort in both the way Harry’s hand runs soothingly up and down her back, and the quiet words of love and support he continues to murmur into her hair.

They stay like that for a while, and when Hermione’s tears finally start to subside, she pulls back from Harry. He looks down at her, his brow furrowed in concern, but before she can reassure him that she’s okay, she notices the state of his jumper.

“Oh! Harry, your jumper!” Hermione says, reaching out a finger to touch the massive wet splotches where her tears had soaked through the material. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’ll dry it off, let me just—”

“What this old thing?” Harry asks, fingering the fabric lightly. “It’s alright,” he adds, distracting her before she can reach for her wand. “Don’t you know by now that I’d sacrifice every jumper I own for you?”

Hermione spares a watery smile as she wipes at the residual tear tracks on her face. “I suppose this didn't go the way you expected it to, did it?” she asks, somewhat wryly.

“No. No, that…” Harry shakes his head and says, “maybe I should stop skipping Divination. At least then I might have seen some of that coming.”

Hermione tries to smile, but it almost immediately falters on her face. “Do you think I’m mad?” she asks quietly. The persistent insecurities are whispering in her ear, and she finds herself craving some sort of reassurance. Nerves settle into her body and as she waits for Harry’s reply, she absently bunches the material of her robes in her fists.

“No. Well…okay, I mean…” Harry hesitates, then carefully says, “no, I don’t think you’re mad, but I won’t lie—I’m confused. I’d barely wrapped my head around you and Parkinson being friends, and then you tell us that you’re…I mean, you tell us that you like women, and now…”

Hermione winces. “I know.”

“And I…I don’t want to start an argument,” Harry says quickly, green eyes gazing earnestly into hers, “I don’t, but the last thing any of us knew, you hated her.” He frowns and drops his gaze down to study the grass. “Though I suppose now that I’m thinking about it, you haven’t complained about her in months.”

“No. No, I haven’t. And like I said, I’m not upset that you’re cautious. It’d be mad if you weren’t considering everything that’s happened in the past. I know you’re just being a good friend, but I just…will you let me try to explain?”

“I would love for you to try to explain.”

Hermione nods, grateful that unlike Ron, Harry’s willing to hear her out. She takes a moment to think through the story she had told Ginny last week, and once all the details are clear in her head, she settles in and tells Harry everything.

He’s quiet throughout her story, giving her his full attention, and even when she gets to the bit about Pansy’s father, his eyes grow wide, but he doesn’t interrupt. And after Hermione’s told him every last detail, down to her recent interactions with Millicent and Luna, she sits back and clasps her hands together, waiting for his final judgment.

Harry stares at the grass for a long while, and when he finally looks up, there’s a worried set to his brow. “You’re sure her father is in Azkaban now? I mean, you’re sure you’re safe?”

Hermione’s heart swells just a bit. Because after all of that, after literally telling him how she had fallen in love with her biggest enemy, of course the one thing Harry is most concerned about is her wellbeing.

God, she loves him.

“Yes,” she says with soft eyes. “I’m sure.”

Harry nods. “Okay. Okay, that’s good. That’s…” he trails off and studies the grass for a while longer. After a moment, he heaves a massive sigh and looks back up at Hermione. “Thank you for telling me everything.”

“Mm. I’d imagine the context helps,” Hermione says.

“I mean, yeah. It’s good to know why she was the way she was. And it’s nice to know you didn’t forgive her immediately.”

Hermione scoffs. “Contrary to what Ron believes, I didn’t just forget about our history overnight. It took time. Time and a lot of effort on both of our parts. But she…she’s come so far,” she adds, a proud note in her voice as she thinks about the person Pansy is today and the struggles she’s had to face to become that person. “Believe me, I wouldn’t have even given her a second glance if she was anything like she used to be.”

Harry nods. “I do believe that.” He takes his glasses off and rubs at his eyes, then glances up at Hermione. “You know, even though the context helps, this is still…” He trails off and shakes his head, unable to find the right words.

“I know,” Hermione says, filling in the silence.

“I mean, of all the girls at this school, Pansy Parkinson is the last person I ever would have expected you to—” Harry cuts himself off, then says, “no, I suppose Bulstrode is the last person I’d expect you to fall in love with. But mind you, Parkinson’s up there.” He puts his glasses back on and scrutinizes her carefully. “But you’re happy?”

“I am,” Hermione says with a gentle smile, touched by the simple question.

“And she treats you well?”

“She does.”

“Right,” Harry says with a nod. “That’s good.” He rubs at his forehead and says, “I can’t say I’m thrilled about any of this, and I’m still going to be worried about it for…well, probably forever. But  if you could forgive her and if Ginny’s going to make the effort, then I guess…I guess I can try to understand it, too.” He shakes his head once more and murmurs, “Parkinson,” in a dazed voice.

“You still think I’m mad, don’t you?”

Harry lifts his eyes to meet Hermione’s gaze. “I mean, just a little,” he says with a tiny smile that undercuts his words.

“I can deal with that,” Hermione says with a smile of her own. But then, she thinks about the cold, almost detached way Ron had looked at her, and her smile falls.

“Hermione?”

She looks up and shakes her head a bit. “Sorry, I just…I don’t know what to do about Ron.”

“Oh,” Harry murmurs with a small wince. “I mean, he means well, but—”

“Does he?” Hermione interrupts swiftly. “You were confused but you still managed to treat me with respect, which is all I’m asking for. I just don’t understand why he gets so belligerent.”

“He’s overly protective. And he’s a stubborn arse.”

“And I’ve told him how much that frustrates me. I’ve told him so many times, and I’m just sick of having the same bloody conversation every time I have the audacity to make a decision he doesn’t agree with.”

“I know. I know, and I agree with you, but…you have to admit, this was a shock,” Harry says, choosing his words carefully. “And Ron’s not exactly someone who deals with shock well.”

“I know. But he doesn’t have to be so insensitive.”

“I’ll talk to him,” Harry says. “I don’t know if he’ll listen, but I’ll try.” He reaches out to squeeze her knee, but before he can say anything else, they’re both distracted by noise from the castle doors. Hermione twists around to see a steady flow of students, streaming out of the castle, on break between classes.

“What time is it?” Hermione asks with a small frown. She shakes back her sleeve to check her watch, and her eyes grow wide. “Oh, Harry! We’re going to be late for Transfiguration!”

Harry blinks at her. “You still want to go to class?” he asks, sounding bewildered.

“Of course I do! I will not lose points by being late because of Ronald Weasley.” She stands up quickly and smoothes down her robes, then she lifts an eyebrow at Harry. “And what’s more, I’m not about to let you skip two classes in a row.”

He sighs and clambers to his feet. “One of these days, I’ll get you to skip a class.”

Hermione scoffs. “You’ll have to Confundo me first.”

She waits for him to sling his bag over his shoulder, then she starts back toward the castle. As they walk, she bites her lip, then murmurs, “Harry?”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you for not reacting like Ron did. For still loving me. For…for trying to understand even though it’s mad.”

Harry glances at her out of the corner of his eye. “Of course. And I meant what I said—I’ll never stop loving you. Not even if you decided to start snogging Malfoy.”

Hermione shudders in revulsion. “Don’t be disgusting.”

Harry laughs, then pauses and turns to her. “You’re my best friend, Hermione. That hasn’t changed. So whatever decisions you make, no matter how mental they seem, I’ll always try and support them. Granted, this one is really putting that to the test, but even so,” he says with a smile. “I love you. No matter what you do, I love you, and you’ll never lose me. You couldn’t if you tried.”

Hermione swallows past a painful lump in her throat. “I love you, too, Harry Potter. More than you could ever know,” she murmurs in a thick voice. “God. How did I get so lucky?”

“Could ask myself the same thing.”

Hermione blinks back more tears as she steps forward to gather Harry in a massive hug. She squeezes him as tight as she can, hoping he can feel every single bit of the way she feels about him in her embrace. All of her love, her gratitude, her relief. She wants to blanket Harry in it in the same way he’s just blanketed her with his acceptance and the promise of his steady, unwavering presence in her life.

After a moment, she turns her head to drop a quick kiss on his cheek, then she pulls back and straightens his tie. “Come on, then. Don’t want to be late for class.”

“I think McGonagall will manage if we’re two minutes late. I mean, maybe not if it was just me, but it helps that I’m with her favorite student.”

Hermione hums, and as she starts walking again, she says, “that’s one thing I forgot to tell you.”

“What?”

“McGonagall knows about us”

Harry stops walking and stares at her in stunned silence. “About you and Parkinson?” he asks, his voice completely stricken.

Hermione laughs and tugs on his arm, forcing him to keep moving toward the castle. “No stopping,” she gently chastises. “And yes. I was mortified. I still am mortified,” she corrects. “She thinks we were shagging in the library,” she whispers, her voice low and positively aghast.

What?”

“Which we weren’t! Obviously, we weren’t! We haven’t even done that yet, but I just…I mean, honestly. Can you imagine? Who would shag in the library?” she mutters darkly, like it’s the worst atrocity she could ever imagine.

“I…I…”

A sudden laugh bubbles out of Harry, carefree and joyful, and though Hermione rolls her eyes at the sound, it still pulls a smile from her. Because no matter what, she knows that they’re going to be okay. That even with these monumental changes in her life, she and Harry will still always find a way to laugh together. And even though she’s still feeling awful about everything with Ron, as she recounts the horribly embarrassing encounter in the library to a completely delighted Harry, she feels like a massive weight has been lifted from her shoulders. Because she still has Harry. She still has Harry, she has Ginny, she bizarrely has Luna, and of course, she has Pansy. She has more than she ever could have dreamt of. So even thought things aren’t perfect, and even thought there’s still so much to work through with Ron, she feels tentatively optimistic about the next few weeks before the end of the year.

Maybe they won’t be that bad after all.

***

This is assuredly the worst day of Hermione’s life.

No. Stop thinking like that. Be reasonable.

Hermione exhales slowly and forces herself to put things into perspective—perhaps she’s being a bit dramatic.

But it’s definitely going to be in the top five.

Because as she sits in the Room of Requirement on Saturday evening, waiting for Daphne and Pansy to arrive, she can’t help but feel like she’s made a massive mistake in setting this whole plan in motion.

“Would you stop that?” Ginny mutters beside her, glaring down at Hermione’s rapidly bouncing leg. “You’re making me nervous.”

“Sorry,” Hermione says. “Sorry. I just…they were supposed to be here ages ago.”

Ginny checks her watch, then rolls her eyes. “They’re four minutes late.”

“Yes, but—”

“We were sixteen minutes early.”

Hermione flushes. “I didn’t want to be late!” she says, defending her choice for the third time.

“Which is why we should’ve shown up five minutes early. Sixteen minutes early is absolutely mental.”

Hermione’s leg starts bouncing again. “Right. No, you’re right, but I just…what if they changed their minds? I mean, what if Pansy couldn’t convince Greengrass to come?”

“Then there’s no bloody way I’m staying, and again, would you stop that,” Ginny mutters crossly, lifting a hand to slap lightly at Hermione’s practically-vibrating knee.

“Sorry,” Hermione says, forcibly stopping her bouncing. “Sorry.” She exhales and pushes a hand through her hair, and as the nerves flare in her chest, she can’t help the words that pour out. “This is a mistake. This is such a mistake. I don’t know why I agreed to this. I don’t know why you agreed to this,” she adds, completely missing the way Ginny scoffs in disbelief. “I mean, you and Greengrass? I…I….” She turns to face Ginny a bit wildly. “Should we leave?”

“What?”

“I can tell Pansy something came up and we couldn’t make it.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know,” Hermione says miserably, wincing when the first thing that pops into her head is Pansy’s old standby of anal warts.

She won’t be saying that.

“I don’t know, but—”

There’s a sound by the door and Hermione’s mouth snaps shut as she turns to stare at the entrance with wide eyes.

It’s too late to run away. They’re here.

She feels Ginny tense beside her, but before she can say anything that might be vaguely comforting or helpful, the door opens and Pansy and Daphne step inside.

Hermione’s eyes are immediately drawn to Pansy (as they always are), and even though she’s beside herself with nerves, she can’t help the small frisson of desire that runs through her like an electrical current at the sight of Pansy’s outfit. It’s simple enough, but it hugs Pansy in such a way that Hermione can feel her hands twitching in her lap, desperately longing to reach out and touch her.

She’s wearing crisp, black cigarette pants that flatter her lithe figure, and if Hermione finds her very appreciative gaze lingering just a little too long on Pansy’s backside when she turns to close the door, she’ll never admit to it. Pansy’s movements are graceful and refined, and the closed-toed stilettos that she seems to practically live in adds a dash of elegance to her outfit. A simple white tank top is tucked into her pants, showing off smooth, fair arms with just the faintest hint of definition. And as Hermione watches the subtle flex of said arms as Pansy double checks the door behind her, she can’t help but remember the way they feel when they’re wrapped around her body, holding her in place in this very room as dark lips expertly ignite a fire deep within her core.

And speaking of Pansy’s lips, they’re painted a darker color tonight—they’re practically purple, and for the hundredth time, Hermione finds herself wishing that Pansy didn’t insist on charming her lipsticks not to smudge.

One of these days, she’ll get to wear all of those beautiful colors on her body.

Pansy’s taken extra care with her hair and makeup tonight—not a single strand is out of place, and it’s clear she took the time to make a good impression. But even though for all intents and purposes, she looks like a 1940s Muggle bombshell who’s just stepped off the silver screen, when she catches Hermione’s eye, she looks ludicrously bashful. It’s such an endearing juxtaposition to Pansy’s entire appearance that Hermione can’t help but smile fondly.

But before Pansy can take a step toward them, she glances around the room for the first time, and her eyes grow wide with surprise. Because even though Hermione and Pansy have been in this room a few times since they swore off of snogging in abandoned classrooms, it’s never looked quite like this.

It almost resembles the Gryffindor common room, though there’s no scarlet or gold to be found. Instead, there’s a crackling fireplace on the rightmost wall, and in the center of the room are two identical, leather couches with a low table between them. Candles illuminate the space with a cozy, warm glow, in the very far corner of the room are a pair of overstuffed, dark brown armchairs, and there’s now a small kitchen tucked away in the back of the room that Hermione could swear wasn’t there before.

But before she can think too hard about the mysterious kitchen, Pansy finally manages to pull her astonished gaze back to Hermione, her eyebrows raised in disbelief.

Hermione stifles a smile.

She’s clearly wondering where the bed went.

Which even though they had both stopped short and stared at the queen sized bed in embarrassment the first time they had entered the room, and even though Pansy had immediately muttered there’s no way I’m doing anything on that bed with dirty old Tom watching, they had both eventually come to greatly appreciate its comforts.

Not that they’ve had sex yet. They haven’t, even though each encounter leaves Hermione’s body wanting it more and more. But she’s never had sex before, and what’s more, she’s never even gone this far with anyone, so she’s trying very hard to take the physical side of their relationship at a reasonable pace. Which she sometimes thinks might be a bit silly. After all, her one stipulation had always been that she’d wait to have sex until it was with someone she was in love with, and god knows, she’s in love with Pansy. So all things considered, there’s really no reason to be holding off.

But truth be told, as much as she wants it, she’s still a little nervous over the entire idea of it.

Pansy’s been absolutely lovely and supportive, though. Even though Hermione knows that she’s had sex before, she’s not rushing anything or acting impatient. If anything, she’s always quick to check if Hermione’s okay with any new step they take, and has stressed multiple times that she’s fine with taking things at whatever pace Hermione is comfortable with.

Of course, with every encounter, that pace changes. And lately, it’s been changing rapidly. Hermione knows that with every clandestine meeting, they’re getting closer and closer to crossing that line, to finally making all of her desperate imaginings a reality. But considering summer holiday is rapidly approaching, she’s not sure if they’ll manage to cross it before graduation.

But she doesn't really mind. After all, Paris is still on the table.

And Hermione certainly wouldn’t mind having sex with Pansy for the first time in Paris.

“You’re telling me this room has been here all along?”

Hermione looks up from her thoughts with flushed cheeks to see Daphne, staring around the room with shock. “Merlin…I can't believe I've been shagging in the greenhouses for years,” she says.

“The greenhouses?” Pansy asks, her brow creasing in a disgusted grimace as she makes her way toward the couch opposite Hermione. She sits down and places a surprisingly large bag on the floor, and Hermione eyes it for just a moment before she’s distracted by Daphne sitting down beside Pansy.

“Mm,” Daphne confirms, placing her own reasonably sized bag on the floor. “Haven’t you heard? It’s the best place for someone to…plant their seed,” she says suggestively, grinning when Pansy immediately groans.

Daphne turns her gaze away from a now-flustered Pansy to cooly survey Hermione and Ginny. “Weasley. Granger.”

“Greengrass,” Ginny says, the name falling stiffly from her lips.

Pansy, having quickly bounced back from the seed quip, looks between Daphne and Ginny nervously, then lets her eyes settle on Hermione. “Hi,” she says, directing the soft word toward Hermione and giving her an equally soft smile.

“Hi yourself,” Hermione returns, forgetting for the moment about how bizarre and awkward this encounter will most assuredly be. Instead, she finds herself wishing she could pull Pansy into her lap and wind her arms around her. She wants to drop long, lazy kisses to her neck. She wants to feel Pansy, shivering against her with need.

She wants to trace the ancient rune for Acromantula against her thigh.

(She does that quite often.)

(Pansy never finds it quite as amusing as Hermione does.)

“Sorry we were a bit late,” Pansy says.

“Were you? I didn’t notice,” Hermione says, desperately fighting the urge to swat at Ginny when she hears the quiet snort of disbelief from beside her.

But Pansy doesn’t seem to hear the noise. Instead, she says, “you look lovely tonight,” as her eyes sweep appreciatively over Hermione’s body.

Hermione flushes, but before she can reply, Daphne gags. “Revolting. Absolutely revolting. If I wanted to spend my evening watching two people disgustingly fawn over each other, I’d watch Blaise talk to himself in a mirror.”

Pansy turns to glare at her. “We’re not—”

“That little display is exactly why I came prepared, though,” Daphne says, calmly cutting Pansy off. She leans over to dig in her bag, and after a moment, she pulls out an almost-full bottle of Ogden’s.

“You brought firewhisky?” Pansy asks, staring at Daphne with wide, alarmed eyes.

“Obviously. I mean, really, darling. Did you think I’d get through this evening sober? No offense, Granger,” she adds. Then, she opens the bottle and takes a quick swig, wincing slightly as she swallows. But she doesn’t bother to recap the bottle. Instead, she tilts it toward Ginny and raises an eyebrow. “Care to join me?”

Hermione raises her eyebrows, absolutely stunned that Daphne had willingly offered to share something with Ginny. But before Hermione can firmly remind Ginny that she’s underage, Ginny exhales sharply, reaches across the gap, and grabs the bottle. She swiftly lifts it to her lips and takes a drink, wiping her lips with her sleeve once she’s done. Leaning forward, she places the bottle on the table, then gives a nod to Daphne. “Thanks.”

“Ginny!” Hermione says, disbelief coloring her tone.

“What? I mean, she has the right idea. This is…this is absolutely mental.”

“See, Pansy? I told you that you were worried about nothing. We’re already getting along splendidly. Be careful, or I just might replace you before the night is done,” Daphne says.

Pansy simply shakes her head with the weariness of someone who’s deeply familiar with Daphne’s antics, then she turns her gaze to Ginny. “I know this is mental. Trust me, I know, but I just…thanks for coming anyway,” she says quietly. “I’m sure you’d rather be doing other things right now.”

“Is other things her nickname for Potter?” Daphne asks.

Pansy tilts her head toward the ceiling and groans. “Daphne.

“Sorry,” Daphne says, studying her nails with a tiny smirk and looking completely unapologetic.

Pansy sighs, then turns to Ginny once again. “Like I was saying, I’m sure you’d rather be anywhere else right now, but…I’m glad you’re here. Truly. And know that I don’t take this opportunity lightly.”

Ginny nods tightly. Her gaze is hard, but she manages to say, “I’m only here for Hermione’s sake.”

“Well! There goes our beautiful, new friendship,” Daphne says, looking up from her nails with an injured sniff.

“I know,” Pansy says ignoring Daphne. “I know you are, but I just…thank you. For trying.”

Ginny nods once more, but doesn’t say anything else. An awkward silence descends on the room for a few seconds before Daphne clears her throat and turns toward Hermione.

“I’m offended, Granger. Don’t I get a thank you for trying?”

Hermione knows she’s joking, but she doesn’t give into the bait. Instead, she says, “actually, yes. I’ve been meaning to thank you for a while now.”

Daphne’s eyes narrow suspiciously. “You have?”

“I have. Pansy told me how you reacted when she let you in on everything, and I just…” Hermione sighs and clasps her hands together as she tries to find the right words to say. “It would have been far easier for you to distance yourself,” she eventually murmurs. “For you to be cruel, or intolerant, or judgmental,” she adds, wincing when her thoughts turn to Ron briefly. “But you weren’t. You supported her. You made her feel loved. And what’s more, you supported us. Even though you didn’t understand it, you supported us…and even lost eight Galleons to Rosmerta in the process, or so I’m told. So yes. Thank you, Green—” Hermione cuts herself off abruptly, swallows around the block in her throat, then says, “thank you…Daphne.”

Daphne’s eyes widen, but before she can say anything, Hermione adds in a proper, clipped tone, “though that said, I can’t say I approve of your operation name.”

Daphne’s head snaps around quickly and she stares at Pansy with furious betrayal. “You told her?”

“I…may have,” Pansy says sheepishly.

“Pansy Parkinson!”

“Hang on…operation name?” Ginny asks, cutting Daphne off and looking between Pansy and Hermione.

Hermione sighs. “Operation Woo the Pants Off Granger,” she says, trying not to smile when she sees the scandalized look on Ginny’s face.After Pansy found out I was her parchment pal, she decided to try and actually get to know me, and Green—and Daphne nicknamed the plan. Very respectfully, I might add,” she says dryly.

Daphne’s regained control of herself, so she simply shrugs. “It’s a good name and I stand by it. Though speaking of…” she says, leaning forward with a devious twinkle in her eye. “Has the plan name finally come to fruition?”

Ginny splutters next to her, and Hermione feels her cheeks grow warm at the question, but before she can open her mouth, Pansy turns toward Ginny, and in an attempt to steer the conversation far from their rather heated snogging sessions, she loudly asks, “and how is your father?”

“My…my father?” Ginny repeats. She looks completely off-kilter as she turns to stare at Pansy with wide-eyes.

“Suppose that answers that question,” Daphne murmurs with a self-satisfied smirk.

“Your father,” Pansy says, raising her voice to cover Daphne’s. “I…I met him. At the Ministry. Nice chap,” she finishes a bit lamely. “I meant to owl him actually, but I haven’t found the time.”

“You meant…to owl…my father,” Ginny repeats slowly, as if she’s not quite sure what any of those words mean anymore.

Pansy nods. “He helped me in what some might rather dramatically call my darkest hour. And he made sure Hermione was safe.” Her soft eyes flicker toward Hermione, then she glances back to Ginny and gives a simple shrug. “I’m indebted to him for the rest of my life.”

Ginny blinks at her a few times. “I…I mean, he’s fine. He’s…” She breaks off and before Hermione can register what’s happening, Ginny has the bottle of Ogden’s in her hand. She takes another swig and swallows with a grimace.

“Ginny!” Hermione says in frustration, all while Daphne chuckles in the background.

“Sorry! Sorry, it’s just…this is mental. Pansy Parkinson is asking after my father, and you two are…I mean, Hermione, this is—! I’ve never seen you be so much as cordial to each other, and now you’re looking at each other like…like…” she shakes her head. “And obviously, I know you’re together now, which is…” she gives a short, strangled laugh and runs a hand through her hair. “But it’s weird. It’s so bloody weird and then she asks about my dad, and I just…I mean, what am I supposed to say to that?” Ginny asks, sounding a bit wild. “What am I supposed to say to any of this?”

But before Ginny can continue to spiral, Pansy stands up abruptly. “You don’t have to say anything. And actually…I was wondering if you might be willing to help me with something?”

Ginny shifts her gaze to Pansy. “Sorry, you…you want my help?”

Pansy nods. “I figured we were all skipping dinner for this, so I nicked some stuff from the kitchens. Thought I could cook something, and there’s a kitchen, so…”

Oh. So that’s what the kitchen was for. Pansy had a plan all along and the room had simply adjusted for her needs.

Clever old Tom.

“And you want my help?” Ginny asks again.

“I mean…only if you’re willing,” Pansy says, nervously rocking on her feet.

Hermione waits anxiously for Ginny to reply. Because she knows what this is—it’s Pansy’s attempt to get Ginny alone and apologize to her properly.

She can only hope Ginny’s actually open to it.

Ginny stares at Pansy for a long moment, and just when Hermione thinks she’s going to refuse to help, she seems to wilt a bit. “Fine. Why not? But I won’t be any help—I’m a rubbish cook.”

“That’s okay,” Pansy says quickly, her shoulders sagging in obvious relief as tension seeps out of her body. “You won’t need to do much. Just hand me things now and then and…and…watch pots,” she adds lamely.

Ginny sighs once more, then stands up. She glances down at Hermione. “You’ll be alright here?” she asks, her eyes flicking to Daphne and back again.

Hermione nods in a way that she hopes is convincing. “I’ll be fine.”

Granted, she’s nervous about the idea of spending any one-on-one time with Daphne Greengrass of all people, but she might as well try. And if it only makes her want to bang her head against the wall—which from everything she knows about Daphne, it will—she’ll never have to do it again.

Ginny frowns for a moment, then nods in acceptance. “Right. Right, why not?” she adds, almost like she’s trying to motivate herself. “Cooking dinner with Parkinson…” she mutters. “The amount of favors you’re going to owe me after this is done,” she adds in a low voice to Hermione.

“Anything you want,” Hermione promises. “Now go and make sure she doesn’t burn down the castle.”

Ginny sighs what might be her third massive sigh in less than a minute, then starts off toward the back of the room with a slight stomp in her step.

Pansy stoops down to sling the heavy bag over her shoulder, then turns to Daphne. “Best behavior, right?”

Daphne nods solemnly. “I swear upon my grandmother’s grave,” she intones, her voice reverent and serious.

Pansy nods, then stops and exhales sharply. “Your grandmother is still alive,” she says, folding her arms across her chest in irritation. “Both your grandmothers are still alive.”

“Are they?” Daphne says, widening her eyes with fake-surprise. “Hm! Isn’t that strange? I suppose they are.” But before Pansy can reply, Daphne waves a hand. “But enough about me! Go on. You’ve got your little cooking date to get to. Granger and I will be more than happy to keep each other company.”

Pansy shakes her head, then turns away from Daphne. She catches Hermione’s eye. “Don’t let her be a prat.”

“I won’t. It’ll be okay,” Hermione says. Pansy gives her a look that says she doesn’t really believe it, but she hikes the bag up on her shoulder and starts toward the small kitchen. As she passes by Hermione, she reaches out to let her fingertips gently graze against Hermione’s shoulder. It’s intended to be a quick move, something fond and reassuring done just in passing, but Hermione finds herself catching Pansy’s hand for a moment to hold her in place.

“Kind of need that hand to cook, love,” Pansy says, dropping her voice and looking at Hermione with fond and amused eyes.

“I know,” Hermione says as she idly plays with Pansy’s fingers, her heart glowing with warmth at Pansy’s words as a foolish smile spreads across her face.

She still hasn’t quite adjusted to Pansy’s new terms of endearments, but god, does she love them. They catch her off-guard in the best way every time, and she finds herself constantly yearning to hear them.

“I know,” she eventually repeats. “But I just wanted to say…you can do this. And no matter what, I’m proud of you.”

Pansy gives her a beautiful, almost shy smile. “Thank you.” Then, she quickly schools her expression into something playfully serious. “And for the record, I’ve never burnt anything in my life.”

Hermione rolls her eyes—she knows that. She’s read all of Pansy’s letters and knows the other girl can cook. But as she gently runs her thumb over Pansy’s knuckles, she still finds herself teasing. “You know, some might argue that blowing up a potion counts as burning something.”

Pansy flushes and tugs her hand back with an exasperated eye-roll. “If you hadn’t been so caught up in the bloody Acromantula, it wouldn’t have blown up.”

“And if you had just warned me about your kinks before we started this, I wouldn’t have been so surprised.”

“Circe’s sake,” Pansy grumbles. “You’re insufferable. Why am I even trying to be nice to your friend?

“Because you love me,” Hermione says simply.

“Merlin knows why.”

Hermione drops her voice down to a whisper and says, “because I’m a much better snog than an Acromantula.”

Pansy tsks. “Absolutely insufferable,” she says, but her exasperated words are undercut by her shining eyes.

Hermione flashes Pansy a grin, then turns and glances back toward the kitchen where Ginny is staring at the stove, lost in thought with a frown etched on her face. She twists back to Pansy and murmurs, “are you ready?”

Pansy gazes at Ginny, then gives a resigned shrug. “Not really, no. But I suppose I have to be.”

“It’ll be fine. Ginny will hear you out. She’s reasonable.” Hermione pauses, then adds, “well, compared to the rest of her family, she’s reasonable.”

“I really hope you’re right. But if this goes sideways and she offs me instead, always remember that I loved you.”

Hermione snorts, then says, “I love you, too. Now go.”

Pansy gives her one more smile, skims her shoulder once more, then she turns to join Ginny in the back of the room.

Hermione watches her go, her skin still tingling from where Pansy had caressed her and her heart still glowing from the simple, beautiful words that she’s certain she’ll never grow tired of hearing.

“Do you know, it’s actually stranger to see in person than I thought it would be?”

Hermione turns around to find Daphne, watching her with a quirked eyebrow. She’s trying to keep her face somewhat impassive, but the surprise is still lingering in her eyes from everything she had just witnessed.

Hermione flushes a bit, mostly because some part of her had mildly forgotten that Daphne was watching them and had clocked every interaction, every glance, and every touch they had just shared. It’s embarrassing, but at the very least, Hermione is fairly sure that they had been speaking quietly enough to not be overheard.

At least, she hopes they were—she really doesn’t want anyone thinking Pansy wants to actually shag a spider.

“Sorry,” Hermione says, rubbing at a warm cheek. “I suppose that was a lot to see.”

To her surprise, Daphne laughs. “You think that was a lot to see? Please, Granger. Pansy’s literally walked in on me having sex. I think I can handle a scandalous brush of the shoulder.”

Hermione stares at Daphne in shock. “She what? I mean…how? And where?”

“The prefect’s bathroom,” Daphne says with an unaffected shrug.

“Oh. Oh, I…” Hermione immediately stiffens as Daphne’s words actually sink in. “Wait…you’re not a prefect.”

Daphne sighs, her face crumpling in concern. “You know, sometimes I worry about your little Golden Trio, Granger.”

“What?” Hermione asks, surprised by the completely unexpected remark. “Why?”

“Because if you’re considered the brains of the operation, that really doesn’t bode well for anyone, does it?”

Hermione glares, but before she can retort, Daphne says, “Pansy gave me the password ages ago. And I usually remember to lock the door, but, well…you know. The heat of the moment, and all that. Which I’m sure you’re very familiar with by now?” she adds with a smirk.

But the remark barely registers. Hermione’s too busy shaking her head in horror as she finally fully comprehends what Daphne’s admission means. “I use that bathroom,” she says. “I…I…” She runs a hand through her hair then sharply says, “did you at least clean it after?”

“No,” Daphne says with a scoff. “But if it’s any consolation, we obviously didn’t finish.”

“Oh. Well, that’s good, I suppose—”

“That time. We finished all the other times, though,” Daphne adds with a devilish grin.

Hermione stares at her in aghast silence. Finally, she whispers, “I’ll never be clean again.”

“Oh, don’t say that! Perhaps a soak in the prefect’s bath would help?”

No. I’m cleaning every surface in there tomorrow,” Hermione glowers. “And I’m having McGonagall change the password.”

“Go ahead. Pansy will just give it to me again,” Daphne says, clearly not intimidated by the threat.

“No, she won’t.”

“You think she’d deny her best friend the simple pleasure of a bath?”

“First of all, it’s clearly not just a bath you’re after. Secondly, you’re not a prefect,” Hermione says, stressing each word in annoyance.And thirdly, yes. I do. Because only one of us can withhold snogging, and it’s not you,” she finishes, arching a victorious eyebrow.

Something that looks like amusement sparkles in Daphne’s eyes. “Devious, Granger,” she says, cocking her head and surveying Hermione with respect. “I didn’t think you’d have it in you.”

“There’s a lot you don’t know about me,” Hermione counters easily.

“Clearly. But I suppose now that you’re dating my best friend, that should change.”

Hermione leans back and crosses her legs, trying to project cool confidence. Because even though she’s surprised by Daphne’s suggestion, she agrees—she should get to know the most important person in Pansy’s life, even if she’s certain Daphne will make a spectacle of the entire ordeal.

“You can ask me questions, if you want. I mean, we’ve got the time.”

Daphne’s eyes dart toward the back of the room for just a moment, presumably to make sure Ginny and Pansy are still busy, then they return to Hermione. “Alright. I suppose I’ll start off when an easy one, then.” She leans forward and asks, “what’s your favorite position?”

Hermione tilts her head to the ceiling to avoid the smirk that immediately spreads across Daphne’s face, and she forces herself to exhale slowly. She shakes her head in complete exasperation, then looks back toward Daphne. “You just lost first question privileges.”

Daphne’s smile grows wider. “Touchy, touchy.”

“I’ll go—what’s your favorite subject?”

Daphne’s smile immediately fades and she rolls her eyes. “At least my question was interesting,” she mutters, leaning back. She crosses her arms and says, “Charms.”

“Charms?” Hermione echoes with interest. “Why?”

“Oh, no. No, you don’t get two questions in a row. It’s my turn.” Daphne tilts her head and takes a moment to think, and in that moment, Hermione reflects on how insane this is. She’s being quizzed by Daphne Greengrass of all people, in the middle of the Room of Requirement, all while her girlfriend tries to win over one of her best friends in the back by apologizing for being a complete arse for years.

It’s all mad, and it boggles Hermione’s mind. But even though she’s not exactly comfortable with spending time in Daphne’s company, at least it’s already going better than she had been anticipating. She had expected to snipe back and forth with Greengrass, all while the other girl made increasingly sexualized jokes and rude quips at her expense. So all things considered, being quizzed isn’t too bad.

“Right. I’ve got one,” Daphne says. “And you have to answer this time.”

“Fine.”

“Did you snog Weasley?”

“What?” Hermione says, her eyebrows raising in surprise. “No! Of course not!”

“Oh, don’t act so surprised. We did run into you on a date with him, you know.”

“A date which you made it your mission to ruin,” Hermione reminds her.

“Yes. And you’re welcome,” Daphne says, somewhat smugly.

Hermione scoffs. She crosses her legs, then says, “no. I’ve never kissed Ron.”

“Good. Because if you had, I think Pansy would have to burn her lips off.”

Despite herself, Hermione feels her own lips twitch. It’s true—Pansy would die if there was any chance she was kissing the same lips Ron had kissed. “Well, I certainly wouldn’t want that.”

“Mm. Not when you’re so fond of them,” Daphne says, raising an amused brow when Hermione fidgets uncomfortably. “Right, then! Your turn?”

Hermione nods, grateful for the quick pivot. She thinks for a moment, then says, “oh, I know. Did you get any Os on your O.W.L.s?”

Daphne shakes her head incredulously. “Merlin’s tits.”

“What?” Hermione asks, confused by Daphne’s reaction.

“It’s like having a conversation with my gran. And not my fun gran, mind you. What’s your favorite subject? How were your O.W.L.s?” Daphne mimics. “Next thing I know, you’ll be taking your teeth out and going to bed at eight.”

Hermione bristles. “Well, it’s a better question than what’s your favorite position?”

“It most certainly isn’t,” Daphne says with a scoff. She taps her fingers against her knee, then says, “four Os—one in Care of Magical Creatures, one in Herbology, one in Transfiguration, and one in Charms. And if the next question you ask me has anything to do with schoolwork, I’m leaving,” she adds. Before Hermione can reply, Daphne claps her hands together. “Now, then! Back to the fun questions—have you ever snogged Potter?”

“Oh my god.

“What? That’s actually interesting! And Merlin knows, you’ve spent enough time together.”

“As friends,” Hermione says, exasperation coloring her tone. “You’ve spent enough time with Pansy…have you ever snogged her? And actually, has it escaped your notice that I’m dating a woman?”

“No, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t snog a boy, just to be sure.”

“Well, I didn’t,” Hermione says. She hesitates for a moment, then begrudgingly adds, “snog Harry, that is.”

Daphne’s eye immediately light up. “So you have snogged a boy? Who?”

“If I don’t get two questions in a row, neither do you,” Hermione says with as much dignity as she can muster. She ignores Daphne’s overly loud tsk and asks her next question. “What do you want to do after you graduate?”

Another gran question?”

“It’s not! It’s a pertinent thing to ask all seventh year students!”

“Merlin’s tits. You know, I hope you change out of your scaggy granny knickers before you and Pansy shag.”

Hermione shoots Daphne a withering glare. “My knickers are not—”

“Chief of the Wizengamot.”

Hermione stops mid-sentence and stares at Daphne, her glare slowly fading into something completely bewildered. “You…you want to be the Chief of the Wizengamot,” she repeats slowly, unsure if she’s heard correctly. When Daphne nods, she very cautiously asks, “why?”

“So I can convict you for asking such boring bloody questions.

“Well, excuse me for taking an interest in what you want to do with your life and not just who you’re shagging!”

Daphne huffs out a sigh. “Fine. A columnist for Witch Weekly,” she says. “Or a trophy wife to someone fabulously wealthy,” she adds with a smirk. “I haven’t decided yet.”

Hermione’s somewhat taken aback by the fact Daphne’s actually answered her question, so she puts her indignation to the side for a moment and manages, “I’d pick the former, if I were you. Better working hours.”

“Noted. My turn?”

Hermione nods.

“Excellent. Did you snog Viktor Krum?”

Heat rises to Hermione’s cheeks and she glares at Daphne. “My questions might be gran questions, but do you ever think about anything other than…than…physical intimacy?”

“Don’t call it that,” Daphne says, her nose wrinkling in distaste. “You sound like McGonagall trying to give us some sort of lecture on sex education.”

“I—”

“And anyway, you knew I was going to ask a follow up.”

Hermione runs a hand through her hair as she stares at the wall behind Daphne in irritation. She doesn’t necessarily want to answer, but at the same time, she figures there’s no harm in telling the truth, so after a moment, she clicks her tongue and says, “yes.”

Yes you knew I was going to ask a follow up, or yes you’ve snogged Krum?”

“Yes, I’ve…the second one,” Hermione says, sitting up straight and holding her head high and with as much pride as she can.

“You snogged a professional Quidditch player?” Daphne asks, sounding suitably impressed.

“I mean…not often? I usually tried to avoid it,” Hermione says, wincing as she thinks about the time she toppled backwards into a fountain solely to avoid Viktor’s lips and once again wondering how on earth she had ever thought she was straight.

“I mean, obviously, I saw how he followed you around during the Tournament, but I didn’t know you’d…” She turns to Hermione with interest sparkling in her eyes. “How was it?”

“Two questions,” Hermione says raising an eyebrow.

“Oh, humor me, Granger. Just this once?”

“Fine.” Hermione thinks about it carefully for a moment, then slowly says, “he was considerate—”

Daphne groans. “Considerate? Merlin, never write a romance novel…”

“—but considering I’m going to be kissing women exclusively from now on, it wasn’t exactly a great experience for me.”

A surprised laugh bubbles out of Daphne. “I suppose that’s fair. Still, though…what I wouldn’t give to snog someone famous…”

Hermione rolls her eyes as Daphne loses herself for a moment in daydreams. “My turn?”

Daphne’s eyes snap back to her. “Mm. But don’t you dare ask another gran question.”

“I like my questions,” Hermione mutters. “But fine. Speaking of your gran…” she trails off for a moment and worries her lower lip as she tries to decide whether or not she should ask the question on her mind. Things are actually going fairly well, and she doesn't want to jeopardize this tenuous peace between them, but she also finds herself desperately wanting to know the answer. So even though it’s probably ill-advised, she decides to ask it anyway. "What’s your family like? I mean…are they anything like…like Pansy’s?”

It’s a decidedly more serious question, and Hermione can feel the way the air shifts around them immediately. She waits with bated breath, completely sure that Daphne is going to either snappily change the subject or make some sort of stupid joke about how her grandmother and Hermione would get along famously. But instead, she surprises Hermione. Her brow furrows slightly and she shifts a bit on the couch as she thinks over her answer. Finally, she says, “no. No, they’re not like Pansy’s.”

“Good,” Hermione exhales. “That’s good.”

“But they’re not like the Weasleys, either,” Daphne adds. “I mean, they’re not vile by any means, but they’re not exactly what you’d call tolerant.”

Hermione nods. She knows the Greengrass family is part of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, so it’s not like it’s a surprise. To be honest, it’s why she asked the question in the first place. And it’s actually more of a surprise that in the seven years she’s known her, Daphne’s never mercilessly berated Hermione for her blood status. But even though she’s fairly certain that she knows the answer to the question on her mind, she finds herself asking it anyway.

“Do they believe in pure-blood supremacy?”

“Two questions,” Daphne says flatly.

“Humor me.”

Daphne sighs. “Yes. But not to the same extent as Pansy’s family. Nowhere near that extent, actually. They’re quieter about it, but you know it’s there. In the way they look sometimes. In the way they speak.”

Hermione hesitates, then asks, “and do you agree?”

“Three questions, Granger? Unbelievable. It’s like there aren’t any rules anymore.”

“You can have three after. But I’d like to know.”

Daphne surveys Hermione carefully, then she shakes her head. “No. No, I don’t.”

“Why?”

Daphne shrugs. “I don’t know. I never really did. I mean, Pansy believed in it because she had to. Because if she didn’t, her father would…well. You know,” she says, her expression briefly turning dark as she thinks about Pansy’s father. But then the shadow passes and Daphne says, “but like I said, my parents aren’t like that. They never threatened me. I think they just assumed we’d follow in their footsteps, but unfortunately, they failed to take into account that I’ve never respected either of them,” she says, arching an eyebrow. “I suppose that predisposed me to question everything they believed in and naturally made me want to go the opposite way. And if I’m being honest, it just never made sense to me. If you’re magic, you’re magic. I mean, we’re all here, aren’t we? And…”

She trails off and flushes, and Hermione tilts her head with interest. “What?” she asks. She’s already pleasantly surprised by the content of what Daphne’s said so far, and she very much wants to hear the rest.

Daphne bites her lip as she contemplates something, then she sets her shoulders and says, “I don’t want to inflate what I’d imagine to be an already astoundingly large ego, but it actually had something to do with you.”

“With me?” Hermione echoes in surprise. “What?”

“If you tell anyone I’m about to say this, I’ll…”

She trails off and turns to stare at the door for a long moment. Hermione glances toward it, then back at Daphne in confusion. “Did you hear something?”

“No. No, I was just waiting to see if some future version of me might come bursting through the door to stop me from saying this. Because if you tell anyone, I will find a Time-Turner and stop this whole bloody conversation from happening.”

“I won’t tell anyone,” Hermione promises, intent on hearing whatever role she had played in Daphne’s surprising beliefs.

“Fine. Fine, I…” Daphne lifts a hand and runs it through her hair, then huffs out, “I suppose I figured if the smartest sodding person in our entire year was a swotty Muggleborn, then pure-blood supremacy must just be a ridiculous and discriminatory way of maintaining some type of archaic power structure and that it was idiotic to think blood had any influence on magical ability.”

The words come out in one rapidly delivered sentence, and Hermione blinks stupidly at Daphne, completely taken aback. “That’s…I…”

Daphne lifts a hand. “Shh.” She glances expectantly toward the door one more time and waits. After a moment, she turns back to Hermione. “Either I couldn’t find a Time-Turner, or you kept your word. I certainly hope it’s the latter.”

Hermione breathes out a surprised laugh. “I’ll keep my word. I just…that’s…that’s a really admirable way to look at things,” she says, keeping things simple as to not embarrass Daphne or cause her to rattle off a string of offensive jokes to undercut the moment. Instead, she tilts her head in thought, then asks, “do other Slytherins feel this way?”

“Some do, some don’t. Stunningly enough, we’re not all cut from the same cloth,” Daphne says, arching an eyebrow.

Hermione flushes a bit at the thinly veiled implication that she had thought all Slytherins were the same, but before she can weakly protest, Daphne huffs and says, “and anyway, that was at least seventy-three questions, which means I get to ask you just as many.”

Hermione leans back as she finishes absorbing everything she’s just learned about Daphne. It had all been surprising, because even though Daphne had never been cruel per se, she certainly hadn’t liked Hermione, which had led Hermione to assume that the other girl simply believed her to be inferior. But now that she knows that Daphne had never actually subscribed to her family’s views, it’s…

…well, honestly, it’s still a little upsetting. Because that just means Daphne had disliked Hermione based solely on her personality, which isn’t something that anyone wants to hear. But she’s cautiously optimistic that now that they have a reason to get along and now that her blood status isn’t an issue, they might actually manage it.

She glances up to find blue eyes, trained on her, waiting for a reply.

“Fine,” Hermione says, content to not press Daphne any further and to let her take her turn. “But if any of them are about snogging, shagging, or any other form of physical intimacy—”

Physical fucking intimacy,” Daphne mutters.

“—then I reserve the right to remain silent.”

“Merlin’s tits. I hope you’re not this uptight with Pansy.”

At Daphne’s words, Hermione has a sudden flash of the last time she and Pansy were in this room together. It’s a vivid scene—jumpers discarded on the floor, Pansy astride Hermione with her head thrown back in pleasure and her hands tangled in curling hair as Hermione dropped hot, open-mouthed kisses across the swell of pale breasts.

“Granger?”

Hermione glances back at Daphne with flaming cheeks. “Sorry, I…did you say something?”

Daphne’s eyes sparkle. “Oh, I see. Uptight when it comes to talking about it, but not so much when it comes to doing it?”

“I—”

“Don’t bother denying it. Your face just told me everything I need to know.”

Hermione glares. “Did you have a question?”

“I do. I mean, mostly it’s what on earth were you just thinking about? but considering that probably falls into your absurd no physical intimacy rule, I’ll leave it be for now.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that,” Hermione says stiffly. “What’s your question?”

Daphne hums, and Hermione thinks she’s about to smirk and say something else completely lewd and inappropriate. She steels herself for the inevitable, but as she waits, Daphne’s face does something unexpected. She frowns and looks almost hesitant, like she’s worried about whatever she wants to ask. Hermione’s never seen Daphne look so nervous, and she finds herself waiting with curiosity to see what the question is.

After a few silent seconds, Daphne works up the nerve to ask it.

“Have you forgiven Pansy?”

Hermione stares at her, completely bewildered. “Of course I—”

Daphne shakes her head. “I mean really forgiven her. Forgiven her for all of it. Because…” she hesitates, then sighs. “I can see how much she loves you. But I worry that there’s a part of her that will always feel guilty for your past. That she’ll feel unworthy or undeserving and then she’ll internalize it in that stupid way she does and refuse to talk to anyone about it, and it’ll fester until—”

“Wait. Wait, hold on, I just…” Hermione shakes her head and nervously bounces her leg as she wonders if she’s been misreading things all along. “Did she tell you this? I mean…is that how she feels?”

“No. But I’ve known her for long enough to know how her mind works. Which is why I need to know that you’ve reallyforgiven her. That there’s no part of you that’s still holding onto any anger toward her, or anything that you could use against her one day.”

“I would never—”

“Even by accident,” Daphne adds. “Even if it’s unintentional. It just…it doesn’t take much for Pansy to blame herself for things. She’s surprisingly good at it, actually. Especially if she thinks she’s hurting someone she loves. And I’m just concerned that with everything that happened between you two, you might hold onto something or…I don’t know, use your history together against her in an argument someday. I’m worried she’s priming herself for a lifetime of self-hatred or feeling inadequate. And I won’t let that happen,” she adds, her eyes flashing. “So if there’s any part of you that still has grievances against her, I want to know.”

Hermione manages a small smile at the passionate way Daphne is defending Pansy before shaking her head. “No, I…I’ve already forgiven her for all of it,” she says. “I mean, obviously, it wasn’t an ideal situation, but I know why she acted the way she did. She explained it all. She apologized. And what’s more, I forgave her before any of this was a thing. I forgave her back when I thought we’d only ever be friends, so if you think I’m just ignoring everything in our past because of some sort of…of honeymoon phase, I’m not,” she says firmly. “I know who she was, and while I can’t forget our past, I’ll never hold it against her.”

“You’re sure?” Daphne asks.

“I’m sure. The person she is now is leagues away from the person she was then. And what’s more, I know how hard she worked to get here. I’d never belittle that by throwing past indiscretions back in her face. The only things I’ll hold against her are the stupid things she does from here on out,” she adds with a quirked eyebrow.

“Of which there will be many,” Daphne says, looking more or less comforted by Hermione’s words.

Hermione smiles, then decides to be even more honest with Daphne, even if it might make them both uncomfortable in the process. “I love her,” she says simply. “And I don’t care that she doesn’t have a perfect background—I love every part of her. Even the messy bits. And I’ll spend every day reminding her of that and showing her just how wonderful she is and how lucky I am to be hers.”

Hermione’s concerns about making Daphne uncomfortable seem to be unwarranted, because Daphne’s eyes grow just a touch softer at her words. But of course, she’s still Daphne, so she manages a scoff. “See, that’s how you’d write a romance novel. None of that he was considerate nonsense.”

“I’m a lesbian,” Hermione says flatly. “Honestly, what did you expect me to say about kissing a man?”

Daphne snorts as she crosses her legs. “Fair enough. Anyway, you’ve answered my question. Any more for me?”

“Yes, actually,” Hermione says. She takes a deep breath, then says, “are you really okay with all of this?”

“With what? You and Pansy?”

Hermione nods as she crosses her arms across herself anxiously.

Daphne glances toward the back of the room, smiles a bit, then looks back to Hermione. “All I want is for Pansy to be happy,” she says, sounding more honest than she’s ever sounded before. “And for some reason, you seem to make her happy, so…yes. I’m really okay with it. But Merlin, is it strange. I mean, you and Pansy? It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever heard of. I mean, I could shag Flitwick and that would make more sense.”

“I—”

“I could shag the fat fucking Friar and it would make more sense.”

“I’m—”

“I could shag the portrait of Sir Cadogan and it’d make—”

“I think I get it!” Hermione snaps, interrupting with a cross frown.

“It never hurts to make oneself clear,” Daphne says with a smirk. But the smirk quickly falls away as her gaze turns serious. “But you’re not the only one who loves Pansy. So even if it’s bizarre and makes almost no sense, if it makes her happy, then it makes me happy.”

“I…thank you,” Hermione says. “Really. Thank you.”

Daphne hums, then tilts her head. “And to be honest with you, I can’t think of anyone else who could keep Pansy in line. You’re probably one of the only people who will be able to keep up with her.”

Hermione’s eyes widen in surprise at the compliment, but before she can acknowledge it, Daphne adds, “anyway, I don’t know if you’ve decided to tell people, but when you do, know that I’ll curse anyone who so much as breathes at either of you in the wrong way.”

Hermione’s eyes grow even wider at the threat and the very specific language Daphne had used. “Really? I mean, Pansy, I understand. But…either of us?” Hermione asks in surprise, trying to work out if it was just a slip of the tongue.

Daphne shrugs. “Pansy loves you. I love Pansy. Which means that as long as you’re a part of her life, you’re a part of mine. And you’ll come to find that Slytherins are a surprisingly loyal bunch to those they decide to protect.”

“I…I…”

Daphne saves Hermione the trouble of trying to find words. “Speaking of, I have another question,” she says. “I know we haven’t always seen eye to eye—”

“An understatement,” Hermione scoffs.

“—and I suppose I should apologize for letting Nashira nest in your hair…” Daphne says, ignoring Hermione’s interjection. She breaks off and frowns, then shakes her head, “no, I won’t apologize for that. That was my favorite part of sixth year, actually,” she says proudly. “You know, she really does miss you.”

Hermione taps a finger against the couch in frustration. “Is there a question here?”

“So impatient, Granger. But yes, there is. Putting all of that aside…do you maybe want to…make an effort to…get along?” Daphne asks with a somewhat pained grimace, each word of the question coming out strained and forced.

Hermione stares at Daphne for a moment before managing to ask, “for Pansy’s sake?”

Daphne immediately rolls her eyes. “No, Granger. Because I’m in love with you, too.” She huffs, then says, “obviously for Pansy’s sake. Merlin’s pants.”

“Right. Right, I…I suppose that would be a good idea. At the very least, it’d make Pansy’s life easier.”

“Which in light of recent events is something I’m sure we both want.”

“It is,” Hermione says. “So I suppose we already have something in common.”

Daphne nods, then fixes Hermione with a level gaze. “So…for Pansy?”

“For Pansy,” Hermione agrees.

Daphne inclines her head once more, and they hold each other’s gaze for a moment, both silently seeming to realize that they had just formed some sort of strange, delicate bond together, based solely around the Slytherin witch they both love. But to be honest, Hermione’s fairly sure she’d try to befriend anybody at this school if there was a chance it would make Pansy happy.

She’d do just about anything to make Pansy happy.

Before Hermione can say anything else, Daphne’s eyes light up and she leans forward. “Ooh, I have another question.”

“Technically, it’s my turn,” Hermione says. “But fine.”

“I know the answer to this is probably no, but…have you ever snogged Longbottom?”

What?”

“I have a theory about him that I want to check.”

“I…I…”

“Everything alright over here?”

Hermione looks up in a daze to see Pansy and Ginny, both holding two full plates of pasta each, and glancing between the two of them with interest.

“Oh, good, you’re just in time to hear if Granger’s ever snogged Longbottom,” Daphne says cheerfully.

Longbottom?” Pansy asks. She stares at Hermione with wide eyes. “I…I mean, have you?”

“Obviously not,” Hermione says, finally regaining her ability to speak. She glares at Daphne. “And if it’ll put an end to this ridiculous line of questioning once and for all, I’ve snogged three people total—Viktor, Terry Boot, and Pansy.”

“You snogged Terry Boot?” Ginny says with surprise, putting two plates down on the table and summoning one of the armchairs to her. She sinks down into it and looks at Hermione with interest. “When did that happen?”

Snogged is the wrong word,” Hermione amends. “He and I ended up under the mistletoe together last year and he…rather enthusiastically tried to kiss me,” she finishes with a small flush.

Pansy, who had been in the process of lowering herself down to sit beside Hermione, freezes. “But you didn’t want to?”

“Well, no, obviously not. I was surprised. But it’s not like it was much of a kiss. He mostly missed my lips and when it became clear I wasn’t interested, he was terribly embarrassed.”

Pansy’s face darkens. “I’ll hex his balls off,” she mutters.

Hermione turns to look at Pansy with surprise, finding herself unexpectedly intrigued by the seething jealousy in Pansy’s voice, and for a moment, she wishes they were alone so she could kiss Pansy properly and show her that she’s the only person she’s ever had eyes for.

Instead, she tucks her reaction away for later, places a hand on Pansy’s thigh, and turns back to Daphne. “Anyway, no. I’ve never snogged Neville, nor will I ever. And what’s this theory you want to test?” she asks suspiciously, wondering if she should be concerned for her friends’ safety.

“Oh, Merlin, not this again,” Pansy mutters. Daphne’s eyes shine and she opens her mouth, but Pansy points a finger at her and says, “no. No tallywhacker talk at the table. Not when we’re about to eat.”

“Tallywhacker talk?” Hermione echoes in confusion.

Daphne pouts at Pansy. “You’re no fun.” She turns toward Hermione and says, “I’ll tell you later,” with a very surprising wink.

“I’m…I…” Hermione blinks a few times, completely thrown off by the unexpected wink.

“What’s tallywhacker talk?” Ginny asks, reaching for her fork.

“Something Pansy and Granger are decidedly uninterested in,” Daphne says, smirking as she shakes out a napkin and gently drapes it over her lap.

“Merlin’s beard,” Pansy mutters. She glances toward Hermione and says, “I hope spaghetti is okay? I thought it would take too long to make anything else, but had I known how helpful Ginny would be, I might have changed the menu.”

Hermione clocks the casual use of Ginny’s first name, and she turns to look at Pansy with bright, questioning eyes. Pansy glances back at her with a tiny smile and nods her head, and Hermione feels her own smile practically double.

It would seem that Ginny had been open to Pansy’s apology, and Hermione feels her heart swell. She’s beyond thrilled that she won’t have to tip-toe around Ginny, and that someday in the future, she might actually be okay with Pansy joining them for meals, or with coming round their place for dinner.

Hermione flushes at where her own thoughts had immediately gone. She’s getting a bit ahead of herself. She shouldn’t be thinking about a their place right now.

(But if she were to think of it, it would be a lovely little cottage, somewhere in the countryside outside of London, filled with books and light and laughter and Pansy.)

“Already trying to win points with me?” Ginny asks with a small scoff as she twirls her fork into her pasta. “I didn’t do anything,” she says, looking toward Hermione. “She managed it all. I reckon she could give my mum a run for her money in the kitchen.”

“I doubt that, but thank you,” Pansy says with a small, modest smile as she lifts her fork to her mouth. “I just like cooking.”

“Which is surprising,” Daphne says with a suspicious twinkle in her eyes. “I would have assumed you’d much prefer…eating out.”

Ginny’s face flames, Pansy chokes on the food in her mouth, and Daphne lifts her fork for another bite, looking far too satisfied with herself.

Hermione spares an exasperated look toward Daphne, then she puts down her fork and raises her hand to gently rub Pansy’s back as she continues to cough around her mouthful spaghetti. As she continues her gentle ministrations, Hermione glances toward Ginny, intent on steering the conversation back into less suggestive waters. “I know how hesitant you were to…to cook, so thank you for being willing to try. Really, it…it means a lot,” she says, hoping Ginny knows that she’s not just talking about cooking.

Ginny seems to catch on, because she nods. “To be honest, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. I mean, it could be the Ogden’s talking, but…I can kind of understand what you see in her,” she says, raising an eyebrow toward Pansy. “She’s not that bad when she’s not being a massive troll.”

“Thank you,” Pansy says, sparing a small, appreciative smile for Ginny that makes Hermione desperate to know all the details of their talk. “Anyway, how were things here? What did you two find to talk about?”

Hermione swallows the bite she’s just taken and opens her mouth to reply, but Daphne beats her to it. “Granger’s scaggy granny knickers and whether or not she’s ever snogged Potter.”

Hermione turns to Daphne with hot cheeks and angry eyes. “My knickers are not scaggy!” she says furiously.

“You’ve snogged Harry?”

“What? I—no,” Hermione says to Ginny, whose fork is suspended in the air in disbelief. “Of course not, I…” She trails off and looks helplessly at Pansy. “Is she always like this?”

“Every bloody day of the week,” Pansy mutters around a mouthful of pasta. She swallows, then looks at Hermione. “You get used to it,” she adds with a shrug.

And even though she’s frustrated by the annoying smirk on Daphne’s face, there’s a part of her that’s buoyed by Pansy’s words. Because she will get used to it. She’ll get used to Daphne in the same way Pansy will get used to her friends, because they’re going to make this work. Even though all the odds are stacked against them, they’re going to make this work. They’re both bright, passionate, and surprisingly stubborn, and there’s no doubt in her mind that if any two people could somehow navigate a secret relationship, it’s the two of them. So even if Daphne is currently driving her mad, as she looks around this small, intimate gathering, tucked away in the most secret room Hogwarts has to offer, she still feels surprisingly happy and hopeful.

Their friends are making an effort, they’re all more or less getting along, and at the end of the day, it’s all going to be fine.

They’re going to be fine.

***

It’s just past ten when Hermione and Ginny arrive back at the Gryffindor common room. Hermione’s stomach is full and her heart is light, and as she discusses the events of the evening with Ginny, she can’t help the smile that seems to have taken up permanent residence on her face.

“And you really had an okay time tonight?” Hermione asks for what might be the tenth time.

“Minus the inquisition at the end here?” Ginny asks dryly. “Yes, I really did.”

Hermione’s smile grows even brighter. Ginny had filled her in on the details of Pansy’s apology and from what she can tell, it seems like it had been well received and that they had come to the same conclusion that she and Daphne had—for Hermione’s sake, Pansy and Ginny would try their hardest to get along.

“And do you…I mean, you liked Pansy well enough?” Hermione asks nervously as they come to a stop just out of ear shot of the Fat Lady.

“I still don’t know if we’ll ever be friends, but…yeah. I mean, you’re right, she’s not the same person she used to be. And I think if she stays this way, then we’ll be able to get along,” Ginny says. “Like I said, she’s okay when she’s not being a troll.”

Hermione chuckles, but before she can reply, Ginny looks her in the eye. “I told you before that all I want is for you to end up with someone who treats you well and makes you happy. And I saw the way you two interacted tonight. It’s pretty clear that you love each other, which…again, it’s completely mad, but…I’m happy for you.”

Warmth flares in Hermione’s chest and she has to swallow past a lump in her throat before she’s able to whisper, “thank you.”

Ginny nods, then says, “but next time we double date, I’m bringing Harry. I don’t think I can handle Parkinson and Greengrass together ever again. I’ve never been so exhausted.”

Hermione laughs in surprise and starts toward the portrait, where the Fat Lady is already eyeing them expectantly. “Deal. I want Harry to get to know her anyway. And to be honest, I’m not sure I can handle Greengrass ever again either.” She turns to the portrait but before she can give the password, the Fat Lady interrupts.

“Out awfully late, aren’t you?” the Fat Lady says, eyeing them both with interest.

Hermione checks her watch, then shrugs. “I suppose so. But I’ve been out later than this,” she says, thinking of all her late nights in the library, and as of recently, her even later nights in the Room of Requirement.

“Trust me, I’ve noticed.” The Fat Lady sighs rapturously. “Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be young and sneak out to meet with gentlemen callers again…”

Hermione glances at Ginny with bewilderment. “We weren’t…I mean, I wasn’t…”

“Custard creams,” Ginny says, rolling her eyes as the portrait swings open to admit them.

“Ginny!”

“What?”

“We were in the middle of a conversation!”

Ginny scoffs. “I just did you a favor. Trust me, you don’t want to have a conversation with her about this…she’s the biggest gossip in the entire bloody school.”

“I heard that,” comes a deeply offended voice from behind them.

“You were meant to,” Ginny calls back over her shoulder.

The portrait slams shut behind them, and Hermione winces a bit. She’s not sure how, but she’s fairly certain she and her friends face the Fat Lady’s wrath more than any other Gryffindors.

“One of these days, she’s going to lock us out for good,” Hermione says, but Ginny just laughs as she glances around the common room.

Even though it’s late, there are still a few small groups of students spread throughout the room. There’s a trio of third years, huddled by the fireplace and working collaboratively on an essay, a lanky and pale seventh year, reading a book with an absurdly fat, grey cat curled up on his lap for company, two fifth years playing chess in the far corner of the room, and…

…Ron, sitting on a couch, watching her with nervous eyes.

Shit.

Immediately, she straightens her back and folds her arms across her chest. Her gaze must grow hard and cold, because Ginny glances toward the couch and when she sees Ron, she inhales softly.

“Hermione…” she starts, but Hermione doesn’t want to hear it. Instead, she swiftly starts across the room with her head held high. She knows she’ll have to pass by Ron to get to the girl’s dormitory, but she won’t spare him a glance.

She hasn’t said a word to him since Tuesday, and this time, there’s no part of her that feels the need to mend the rift. She couldn’t possibly care less if they go into summer holiday furious at each other.

She’s done trying.

As she passes by Ron, she hears him clear his throat nervously. “Hermione…I…could we…?”

She pauses briefly, but doesn’t turn to look at him. Instead, she folds her arms even tighter across her chest, stares straight ahead, and mutters, “we have nothing left to say to each other.”

But before she can stalk away, Ginny grabs at her arm.

Hermione glances down at the hand holding her in place, then raises her eyes to Ginny’s, her gaze narrowing suspiciously as she waits to hear what Ginny’s going to say.

“I know you don’t want to, but…will you hear him out?” Ginny murmurs.

“Why should I?” Hermione says, her tone icy. “He’s made his feelings on everything abundantly clear.”

“I know, but I just…” Ginny glances at the ground, her eyes searching back and forth as she bites her lip, lost in thought. After a moment, something in her gaze sets, and she looks back up with determination. “You said you’d owe me a favor if I helped Parkinson with the cooking, right? Anything I wanted?”

Hermione frowns. “Yes…” she says slowly. “But I—”

“Then this is it. This is what I want my favor to be.”

Hermione shakes her head. “No. No, Ginny, I—”

“Just hear him out. That’s it. For me?” she adds, looking at Hermione with so much hope that it makes some of her firm resolve crumble. Because after all, Ginny did just sit through a dinner with two people she strongly dislikes, and she listened to Pansy’s apology, all for Hermione’s sake. She went above and beyond what she had to do because she knew it would make Hermione happy.

Because that’s what a good friend does.

“Fine,” Hermione eventually says, both her tone and her posture stiff. “But only because of what you did for me tonight. And after this, we’re even.”

Ginny nods quickly. “I can accept that. Thank you.” She turns to Ron and says, “So you know, I just cashed in a massive favor for you and if you blow it, I’m shoving a Filibuster’s up your arse and lighting it.”

Ron visibly pales and Ginny, evidently satisfied that her threat has landed, claps her hands together. “Right, then! I’m exhausted so I’m off to bed.” She pulls Hermione in for a quick hug and whispers, “give him a chance. He might surprise you.”

“He hasn’t yet,” Hermione says.

“No. But neither had Parkinson, and she managed it.”

Ginny gives Hermione a final squeeze, then pulls back. “See you in the morning,” she says. She turns toward Ron and says, “Good night. And remember—I’ve got an extra Filibuster’s with your name on it.”

Ron swallows heavily at the ominous promise. “G’night,” he manages to mutter as Ginny walks by. Once she’s gone, he turns his nervous gaze to Hermione. “Hi,” he says weakly.

Hermione arches an eyebrow at the pathetic greeting, but doesn’t reply.

“D’you…I mean, would you maybe want to sit?” he asks, nodding toward the chair beside the couch.

“Not particularly, no.”

Ron winces at the ice that’s still present in Hermione’s tone and anxiously rubs at his neck. “Right. Okay, that’s…that’s okay. It’s just…I have a lot to say—”

“What a surprise,” Hermione mutters.

“—and it might take a while to get through. So…I mean, it might make sense to sit?”

“I’m only here as a favor to Ginny,” Hermione says, her words coming out clipped. “I don’t want to sit. I don’t even want to be doing this, so whatever you want to say, say it quickly.”

Ron sighs quietly, then he nods. “Right. Okay, so…so first thing’s first—I’m sorry.”

Hermione’s eyes narrow at the earnest tone in Ron’s voice, but she doesn’t say anything. Instead, she waits for him to continue.

“I’m sorry that I didn’t listen to you the first time around. Or the second. …Or the third,” he says, sheepishly rubbing at his neck once more and making the skin under his hand turn bright red. “And I’m sorry for some of the things I said. I was upset and confused, I guess. And I know you hate it when I second guess you,” he says, raising earnest eyes to bore into hers. “I do, and I’m sorry for that, too, but I just…” He winces a bit, then says, “can you see it from my perspective? I mean, I know I went about it the wrong way, but I just…I’ve spent seven years, standing by and watching Parkinson hurt you. I’ve heard the things she says to you and I’ve seen how it affects you, and I just…I mean, I’m your friend,” he murmurs. “And as your friend, that’s not exactly something I can just put aside, you know?”

Hermione nods tightly. “I know that. Which is why I told you that I wasn’t upset that you were worried.”

“I know,” Ron says quickly. “I know that. It was the way I expressed it, so…can I try to express it differently? I mean, can we just…can we try to have a conversation and not an argument?”

A muscle in Hermione’s jaw jumps at the phrasing. “I don’t know, Ron. Can we?” she asks, her voice surprisingly sarcastic.

Ron flinches a bit, seeming surprised that Hermione’s even capable of sounding that harsh, then wilts. “I deserved that,” he murmurs with downcast eyes.

Hermione sighs at the defeated tone in his voice, and after a long moment, she crosses to the chair near Ron and against her better judgment, she perches on the armrest. “We can try,” she says, recrossing her arms tightly. “But if you insult Pansy even one time, I swear, I’ll—”

“I won’t,” Ron says. “I mean, I have questions, but…I won’t insult her.”

Hermione takes a deep breath, then slowly exhales. “Fine. Fine, we can have a conversation.”

Ron manages a small smile. “Thanks,” he says. He takes a moment to gather his thoughts and Hermione waits patiently. After a few long seconds, he carefully says, “I don’t mean to second-guess you. Everything I’ve ever said, I’ve said out of concern and as your friend. Because I care about you. And I don’t want to see you hurt. So when the only thing I know about Parkinson is that she’s made it her mission to hurt you for seven years, and when I know how much you hated her, I mean…what was I supposed to think?”

“You could have let me explain. Like Harry did. Like Ginny did.”

“Right. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I’m not exactly known for my cool head under pressure,” Ron says with a self-deprecating smile.

“So does that mean you’ll let me explain now?”

“You don’t have to. Harry already told me everything.”

Hermione hadn’t expected that piece of information. “He what?” she asks with a puzzled frown, slowly letting her arms unfurl as she gazes at Ron.

“Don’t be cross with him,” Ron says quickly, looking concerned that he’s just put his foot in his mouth. “He just thought it’d help if I knew the whole story.”

“I see,” Hermione says. “And did it?”

“Yeah. A bit. I mean, I still don’t really get it, but…” Ron trails off and bites his lip for a second, then shrugs. “But I know I need to stop second-guessing you, even if I don’t get it. And I know you’re the smartest person I’ve ever met, and I know you can take care of yourself. That’s not it at all. It’s just…it’s sometimes a bit hard not to question a decision when on the surface it seems a bit…a bit…”

“Mental?” Hermione asks. Her tone has considerably softened now that she can tell Ron’s actually making an effort and isn’t going to start a fight, and she tentatively lets some of the fight ease out of her body.

“I mean, yeah,” Ron says. “And if it was any other witch…but it isn’t. It’s Parkinson, and I just can’t turn off the way I feel about her. I can’t shut down seven years of grievances against her for hurting someone I love.”

“And I can appreciate that,” Hermione says, shifting from the arm of the chair to sit in it properly. “And believe me, I don’t expect you to ever be her best mate. I don’t even expect you to even like her. But that’s not what the issue here is. The issue is that you don’t trust me. You don’t trust my judgment.”

“I do,” Ron says quickly, but Hermione shakes her head.

“If it was just this time, I’d believe that. But it’s been so many things. I mean, even when I told you that I like…that I like women,” she says, glancing around and lowering her voice, “the first thing you did was tell me I was wrong. The first thing.”

Ron flushes and shifts uncomfortably on the couch. “And I’m sorry.” He runs a hand through his hair, then says, “it’s not an excuse but you caught me off guard and I reacted…well, like a complete tosser, if I’m being honest,” he says with a wince.

Hermione exhales sharply in something that almost resembles a laugh. “I won’t disagree.”

Ron spares her a smile, but it’s only present for a moment before it morphs into something more serious. “But about that. I want you to know that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you.” When Hermione raises a disbelieving eyebrow, Ron shakes his head quickly. “Really, I don’t. I know what I said, but I just…” he picks at the fabric on the couch for a moment, then says, “I was just thinking about it in a sort of abstract manner, I suppose.”

“An abstract manner?” Hermione echoes with confusion.

“There’s probably a better way to put that, but yeah. Just…y’know, the idea of a bloke with another bloke, it’s just…” His face twists with discomfort for a moment, then he shrugs. “I suppose it’s just something that seems a bit weird to me? And I know it shouldn’t. I know it doesn’t matter and it doesn’t impact me in the slightest, but…I mean, it’s like Harry said, isn’t it? I’ve never actually met anyone who’s…who’s…”

“Gay?” Hermione prompts gently, trying to keep her tone as calm as she can.

“Right. That. So it’s something I need to change the way I think about. And I will,” Ron says, his tone so earnest that Hermione can’t find it within herself to doubt him. “I will, I promise. But I just need you to know that I don’t think there’s something wrong with you. Though mind you, I am a little suspicious of your taste in women…”

Hermione immediately scoffs. “This coming from someone who dated Lavender?” she asks, arching an eyebrow.

Ron flashes her a crooked half-grin. “Suppose that’s fair.” His grin fades and he sighs. “But anyway, I just wanted you to know that I…I still love you. No matter what.” But before Hermione can react to the simple declaration, Ron adds, “and I mean, it’s not like I disagree with you. I wouldn’t fancy blokes, either. Which I guess is why I reacted the way I did to the whole idea of it. But I mean, who would fancy a bloke, given the alternative? Blokes are disgusting, and I should know—I’ve lived with four of them for seven years now. Honestly, the smells in that room alone…”

That draws a real smile to Hermione’s face for the first time, and Ron must notice, because his lips turn up tentatively .

Hermione’s slowly let some of the ice around her heart thaw, and even though she’s still a bit sore at him, she decides to accept the olive branch he’s extending. “Thank you for saying you’ll try. I know that this isn’t what you were expecting, so I appreciate the effort.”

Ron snorts. “Considering I was kind of expecting the two of us to end up together and instead, you’ve ended up with Parkinson? No. It’s definitely not what I was expecting.”

“Trust me, no one is more surprised than I am,” Hermione says. She frowns a bit, then tentatively says, “and as far as the second-guessing goes…”

“I’ll stop. Or at least, I’ll do my best to stop. I’m not always good at catching myself,” Ron admits, “but I’ll try. And you can call me out anytime I mess up and…and…I dunno, shove a Filibuster’s up my arse.”

Hermione laughs, taken aback by the remark. “I don’t know if I’d go to such drastic measures.”

“You could,” Ron says. “I’d honestly deserve it, after all the shit I’ve put you through.” He nervously clasps his hands together, then leans forward and says, “do you remember what I told you? After you said you didn’t want to go out with me? Which, mind you, I feel loads better about now, knowing what I do,” he adds with a wry smile.

Hermione rolls her eyes, then shakes her head. “Not off the top of my head, no.”

“I told you that I didn’t ever want to hate you,” he says, his voice quiet and his eyes serious. “And I don’t want you to ever hate me. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve kind of hated the way things have felt between us lately. I hated being mad at you and I hated that you were mad at me. Which is all my fault,” he adds quickly. “I know I’ve been a massive prat, and you were right to be mad, and I’m sorry. But I just…do you think you could maybe forgive me?”

Ron’s tone is hopeful, but his face is creased in concern, and Hermione feels the last of the ice melt from her heart as she looks at him. Because he might be a prat, and he might put his foot in his mouth, and he might even continue to second-guess her a time or two in the future. But even though he might be all of those things, she still loves him. She loves his fierce loyalty and his determination to protect his loved ones. She loves that he’s not completely stuck in his ways and he’s willing to change his mind. She loves that even if he went about it wrong, his heart was in the right place, and everything he did was out of love and concern for her.

She loves him.

“I can forgive you,” she says. “So long as you promise to make the effort, I can forgive you. I know you were only worried about me, and I appreciate that. And I…I know I said some things I shouldn’t have—”

“It was all deserved.”

“I’m not sure about that,” Hermione says with a small wince. “But even when I was cross with you, I still loved you. And I’ve missed you,” she adds, her voice breaking just a touch. “You and Harry mean everything to me. I hope you know that.”

Ron’s eyes soften. “I do. Same goes for you, obviously. You and Harry.”

Hermione nods, then worries her lower lip. “And as for Pansy…I know it’ll take a while to adjust to. And that’s fine. You can take all the time you need, and I promise, I won’t force you to spend any time with her until you’re ready. And actually, for what it’s worth, you don’t ever have to get along with her. I mean, I’d love it if you would both try, but…” she sighs and shakes her head. “Let’s just say I’m not sure which of you would have the harder time playing nice. You’re both surprisingly stubborn.”

“Well, there’s one thing we have in common. And it seems like we both care about you, so…” Ron shrugs. “Two things isn’t a bad start. Mind you, you’re right—we’ll never be mates, but…if she’s willing to try, I guess I am, too.”

Hermione laughs. “That probably makes you the bigger person, because I honestly don’t know if she would be willing to try. But I’ll talk to her.” She tilts her head thoughtfully, then says, “you know, something tells me the fact you’re willing to try will spur her to one-up you. You might become friends out of pure, competitive spite alone,” she says, a fond smile flickering to her face as she thinks about her completely ridiculous witch.

Ron surveys her quietly for a moment, then says, “you actually love her.” There’s no judgment, spite, or surprise in his tone. He just says it as if it’s a statement of fact, and Hermione smiles at him and shrugs.

“I actually do.”

“Blimey. That’s…I mean, You-Know-Who was literally sharing a head with Quirrell for all of first year, and somehow, this is still stranger.”

“It’s certainly up there,” Hermione says, privately thinking that Quirrell and Voldemort sharing a head was just a tad stranger than her and Pansy dating. “But even though it’s strange, I just…thank you for apologizing. And thank you for trying to understand. And for not second-guessing me anymore.”

“Sorry it took so long,” Ron says with an apologetic grimace. “Though to be honest? I don’t think there’s anything you can ever do that’ll ever top this. You could probably make any other mental decision in the world and I wouldn’t second-guess it. I think I’m beyond being surprised by you at this point.”

Hermione chuckles and leans back in her chair. “So if I told you I was dropping out of school to trek after yetis with Gilderoy Lockhart…?”

“I’d buy you snowshoes,” Ron says without missing a beat.

“And if I told you I’ve secretly fancied Rita Skeeter for years, you’d…?”

“Support you all the way, no questions asked.”

“And if I said I thought the library was overrated and I’d decided not to study for my exams?”

Ron’s gaze turns serious. “I’d figure out who the ruddy hell was impersonating you and get the real you back.”

Hermione laughs. “Good. I’d expect nothing less.”

Ron smiles at her, but then falters for just a moment. “Hang on…you don’t…you don’t actually fancy Rita Skeeter, do you?” he asks nervously.

Hermione stares at him for a moment, completely taken aback by how absolutely absurd and quite frankly, offensive the question is.

Does she fancy Rita Skeeter.

Honestly.

But then, in the space of a few seconds, she makes up her mind to have some fun.

Because after all she’s been through, surely she deserves it.

“Would it be a problem if I did?” she asks nervously, taking care to school her face into something suitably anxious.

Ron gapes at her for just a moment before quickly managing to splutter, “no!” His face is bright red and Hermione grips her thigh tightly to keep her smile in check. “I mean, no, not at all,” he says. “You can…you can absolutely fancy her. That’s…I mean, she’s…she’s….”

Hermione raises an eyebrow, interested to hear how Ron is going to complete this particular sentence. “She’s…?”

“Well, you know! She’s…I mean, she…she’s got a nice…jaw?”

Hermione somehow stifles her urge to laugh at the ridiculous remark and instead, nods. “She does. And actually, it’s funny you should say that, because that’s what attracted me to her in the first place,” she says, making her voice sound vaguely dreamy, as if she’s lost in fond memories of Rita Skeeter’s jaw.

“Is it?” Ron says weakly, looking as if he might be ill. “I mean, I can see why. It’s…it’s…commanding,” he manages to add, his face practically puce and his mouth twisted into something that resembles half a smile, half a grimace.

“Mm. And that’s what really does it for me,” Hermione says, her voice trembling with barely concealed laughter as she cocks a suggestive brow. “A commanding jaw.”

Ron’s lips part in shock, but somehow, he manages a jerky nod. “Right,” he says miserably as he pushes a hand through his hair. “Right, well…that’s…I mean, that’s…”

As Ron continues to stutter around something that sounds vaguely like support, Hermione finally loses her battle and an inelegant snort escapes her lips. And when Ron swings his gaze up to stare at her with wide eyes, she can’t keep up the facade. Immediately, she dissolves into helpless laughter.

“Hermione…why are you…”

She manages to lift her gaze to find Ron watching her with narrowed, suspicious eyes. She laughs even harder as he folds his arms across his chest, and after a moment, she waves a weak hand as she tries to get herself under control. “Sorry. Sorry, I just…a commanding jaw,” she manages to wheeze, before dissolving into laughter all over again.

“Well, how should I know?” Ron mutters darkly. “I mean, after Parkinson, all bets are off.”

When she finally gets herself under control, she wipes at her watering eyes and says, “oh, please, Pansy’s gorgeous. Rita Skeeter looks like a constipated bulldog and has the personality of a cruel, vile mosquito. If I ever decide to fancy her, you can second-guess me as much as you like because I’ll have officially lost my mind.”

“Good to know there’s a line,” Ron says with an amused look.

“There is, and it will always be Rita Skeeter.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. But as for Parkinson…” Ron says, once again running a hand through his hair as he circles back to the main subject at hand. “I can’t say that I’m ready to spend time with her just yet. Maybe one day, but…something tells me if we tried now, we’d just end up in a massive fight and we’d inadvertently force you to pick sides and that wouldn’t be fair to you, would it?”

It’s a surprisingly fair appraisal of the situation at hand. “You’re probably right,” Hermione says. “I suppose I’ll have to introduce you two to each other like cats.”

“How do you introduce cats to each other?” Ron asks with interest.

“Very, very cautiously,” Hermione says with a smile. “And actually, I think you’re supposed to set up meals with a closed door between them. So maybe one day if you’re up to it, you and Pansy could eat dinner with a door between you.”

“I’m not sure a door will stop her from insulting me, but I guess we could try.”

Hermione winces a bit at Ron’s flatly delivered words. Because now that the ice in her heart has melted and she’s thinking more levelly about things, she realizes that the same situation that was true for Ginny is true for Ron—Pansy hadn’t exactly ever been kind to him.

She’d actually been fairly awful over the years.

“I’m sorry,” she murmurs, thinking for the first time about how this impacts Ron. “I got so caught up in my own feelings that I didn’t stop to think about your relationship with Pansy.”

Ron grimaces. “Maybe don’t refer to it as a relationship…

“You know what I mean,” Hermione says, rolling her eyes. “But I just…I know things between you two have never been good. And I know she’s done things to you and called you names and—”

“I’m not sure she actually knows my first name,” Ron puts in dryly. “I think it’s always either been Weasley, Weasel, or blood traitor.” He cocks his head and says, “suppose she’s in the same boat now, though. Could have Mum knit matching jumpers for the two of us.”

Hermione has a sudden, vivid image of Pansy and Ron in matching jumpers, and the furiously grumpy expression on Pansy’s face makes her smile despite herself. “I’ll be sure to broach the idea,” she says. “But like I said, I won’t take offense if you never want to know her. Though I think she’d probably be willing to apologize,” she adds, less sure about that statement than she had been when she made a similar promise to Ginny.

Pansy really, really dislikes Ron.

Ron shrugs. “We’ll figure something out. I mean, I certainly don’t plan on going anywhere,” he adds, his eyes bright and a small, almost smile lurking on his face. “I’ll always be around, so long as you want me.”

“And I do,” Hermione says quickly.

“Then I guess I’ll just have to figure out a way to coexist with…with Pansy Parkinson. Of all people, Pansy Parkinson,” Ron says, amazement coloring his tone. “I mean, Merlin’s pants, Hermione…you really are the most surprising person I’ve ever met.”

Hermione smiles and leans back in her chair. And as Ron continues to ask her questions about her relationship with Pansy, somehow, she finally feels at peace.

Harry knows. Ginny knows. Ron knows. And they’ve all managed to reach a place of understanding. Of acceptance.

They all still love her.

There are still worries, of course. One day, she’ll have to tell her parents, and of course, there’s still the thought of how the world in general will react. But in this moment, neither of those things really matter. All that matters is that her friends still care about her, and they’ve all decided to tentatively accept the fact she’s chosen Pansy to love. It’s more than she could have ever hoped for, more than she would have ever dreamt of, and even though the path ahead is still largely unknown, it’s a path she can’t wait to embark upon.

Because she and Pansy are together.

She still has all of her friends.

And somehow, at long last, she’s at peace.

***

Hermione checks her outfit for the fifteenth time in the mirror, biting her lip nervously as she runs her hands down her sides.

“You’re sure this dress isn’t too much?” she asks, glancing toward Ginny who’s seated on her bed, idly flipping through the Daily Prophet that Hermione had left there earlier in the day.

Ginny glances up and quirks an eyebrow. “I mean, considering how fast it’s going to be on the ground? Maybe. But other than that, no. It’s perfect and you look gorgeous. Parkinson won’t know what hit her.” She tosses the Prophet to the side and says, “And to be honest, I don’t even know why you’re worried. You could show up in a potato sack and she’d still want to snog you.”

Hermione’s brow furrows as she takes in her appearance once more. She’s wearing an elegant and shimmering silver evening gown with a slit up the right leg, and she’s paired the dress with low, strappy heels and a pair of diamond drop earrings her mum gifted her for her last birthday. Her hair is pulled back in a simple, stylish chignon, she’s wearing makeup, and to be quite honest, even though she looks good, she feels ridiculous. Because really, who wears an evening gown for a date?

“I just think this is overkill. I mean, it’s a date, not a royal wedding.”

Ginny scoots forward to the edge of Hermione’s bed and crosses her legs. “You’re sure she said to dress this formal?”

Hermione shrugs helplessly. “I think so? I don’t know. Yesterday was mad.”

And it was. Because yesterday was the day parchment pals had finally been revealed.

“I didn’t think I’d be so nervous,” Ron had said, bouncing his leg beside Hermione. “I mean, I haven’t even really talked to mine. All we’ve done is play chess.”

Harry had shrugged and through a mouthful of food said, “’s normal. Three months of waiting builds anticipation.”

“Suppose so. I mean, for those of us who managed to wait three months,” Ron added, sparing an amused glance toward Hermione.

She flushed and took another bite of her poached eggs. “I was only two weeks short,” she said with as much dignity as she could manage. “In the grand scheme of things, that’s hardly anything.”

“Two weeks, a day…all I’m hearing is Hermione Granger didn’t do an assignment properly,” Ron said with a grin.

Hermione picked up her mug and rolled her eyes, but still managed to return his smile. Over the past week, things had gone back to normal between the two of them, and frankly, Hermione was thrilled.

She really had missed him.

Harry, Ron, and Ginny kept up a steady stream of conversation as they hypothesized about who their parchment pals could be, and after a few minutes, the moment in question finally arrived.

“If I may have your attention?”

Hermione looked up toward the lectern to find McGonagall, patiently staring down at the assembly of students. She had amplified her voice to be heard across the Great Hall, and it didn’t take long for every eye to turn toward her. Once the chatter died down, McGonagall nodded and clasped her hands together. “Today marks the conclusion of the…the parchment pal experiment,” she said, still sounding less than enthused about the name, even three months later. “I’d like to thank all students who participated, and I’d like to especially thank those who adhered to the rules.”

“Reckon that leaves you out,” Ron muttered under his breath to Hermione.

“I sincerely hope this was an enjoyable experience—”

Too enjoyable for some of us,” Ginny said with a grin toward Hermione, who huffed in frustration at the apparent brother-sister tag-team mocking.

“—and that you’ve come to the realization that no matter what colors you wear, in the end, you are all Hogwarts students,” McGonagall said, gazing around the Great Hall. “Now, one more note before names are revealed—in order to be eligible for your house total, you’ll need to submit your essay before the last day of finals. Failure to submit your findings will disqualify you, even if you participated in the experiment.”

“Oh, Merlin’s balls…I forgot about the bloody essay,” Ron grumbled.

McGonagall picked up her wand and gave it a quick flick. “You’ll find the name of your pal written on your parchment, as well as pertinent information to help you identify them, should you choose to meet. All parchments will be collected at the end of breakfast, so be sure to look now, if you want to know,” McGonagall said. “When you leave the Great Hall, please leave your parchment on the table.”

As the words sank in, Hermione’s brow furrowed in confusion.

She hadn’t realized she’d have to give back her parchment.

Her eyes flickered to the Slytherin table to find Pansy looking just as disappointed. She noticed Hermione watching her and gave a small, resigned shrug. There wasn’t much either of them could do, and a magical object imbued with so many powerful charms quite frankly shouldn’t be left in the hands of students. But even though she understood why she’d have to part with her parchment, it didn’t stop her from feeling depressed over it.

Though of course, it didn’t really matter. All that really mattered was she had Pansy.

Hermione turned her gaze back to McGonagall to listen to the rest of her speech. “While I understand that this is a highly anticipated day, please do try to keep your excitement to a reasonable degree. That said, I sincerely hope you’ve all learned and grown from this experiment, and I hope to see a greater camaraderie between houses in the future. If you have any questions, do see me, but other than that…please enjoy the rest of your breakfast.”

An immediate buzz of excitement erupted over the Great Hall as McGonagall sat down, and even though Hermione already knew what her parchment would say, she still found herself reaching into her bag to pull out the familiar sheet.

Her eyes were immediately drawn to glistening, green ink, just below the last message Pansy had sent her this morning.

Pansy Parkinson

Slytherin

Year seven

Hermione smiled and lightly traced a finger over the name, studying the parchment with a soft, fond smile.

“I knew I had a Slytherin,” Ginny said, pulling Hermione’s focus away from the dark, green words that had made her heart skip a beat. “Aidan Williams, Slytherin, year two.” She frowned and said, “I’m a bit offended a second year didn’t want to talk to me.” She glanced to Harry. “Who’s yours?”

“Claire Darrington. Hufflepuff fifth year.”

“Do you know her?” Ginny asked.

“Name sounds familiar, but no, not really,” Harry said with a shrug. “And she barely talked to me, either, so I guess we both made shit first impressions over parchment.”

“Well, we can’t all be Hermione,” Ginny said. “Though selfishly, I’m glad you’re a piss-poor writer and didn’t make this Claire fall in love with you,” she added, smirking at Harry.

Harry chuckled. “Guess the two piss-poor writers are stuck with each other.”

“Guess so,” Ginny agreed, leaning forward to drop a quick kiss on Harry’s cheek.

Harry grinned as he soaked up a bit of egg yolk with a small piece of toast, then he turned to Ron. “Who’d you get?” he asked, popping the toast in his mouth.

“Judy Quinn, Ravenclaw fourth year. Suppose that explains why she was so good at chess. Though I was only a few moves away from beating her last game.”

“Easy to say that when she’s not here to defend herself,” Ginny said.

“No, really! I was! Two more moves and I would’ve had her.”

“Sure, Ron. You definitely would have had her,” Ginny said, exaggeratedly rolling her eyes for Hermione and Harry’s sake.

“No, I—” Ron’s eyes lit up and he pushed his plate away. “Here, I’ll show you…”

Ron bent down to grab his travel chess set out of his bag, and Ginny immediately groaned. “I take it back. You would’ve beaten her. Just please don’t set up that stupid chess set.”

“It’s not stupid,” Ron muttered, placing the board on the table and tossing his bag back to the floor. “It’s handy. And it’ll prove my point.”

“Maybe, but what you’ve failed to consider is no one here cares ,” Ginny said. “Can’t you go find Julie Quinn—”

“Judy Quinn,” Hermione automatically corrected.

“Whatever,” Ginny said, waving a hand. “Can’t you go find her and bore her to tears?”

Ron started moving pieces around quickly. “What? No, don’t be mad.” He frowned, consulted his parchment, then swapped two pieces and nodded with satisfaction. “I can’t find her before I’ve set the board.”

Ginny blinked at him a few times. “You’re actually going to find her?”

“Well, yeah. Wasn’t that the whole point of this parchment pal thing, anyway? Making new connections outside of our house? And besides, she was beating me by two games. I need this game to close the gap,” Ron said, sounding surprisingly eager. “Now! This is the board right now. And this is what my next move is going to be…”

Ginny groaned and buried her head in her hands with a muttered remark that sounded a bit like “fuck me,” but Hermione did Ron the favor of watching for a few moves and even pretended to be interested in his strategy.

But then, something familiar caught her eye.

Silver lines of writing on her parchment.

She swiftly looked toward Pansy to find the other girl already watching her with a smile. The rest of her table was still thoroughly entranced in conversation, but Pansy was twirling her quill, completely ignoring everything around her. When she noticed the wondering look on Hermione’s face, she shrugged. Clearly, she hadn’t been expecting the message to go through either, but she seemed pleased that it had.

Hermione tuned Ron out and pulled her parchment toward her to read whatever Pansy had sent.

Dear Robin,

Now that everything is out in the open, and now that this might be the last message I ever get to send to you, I’d like to ask you something that I’ve been wanting to ask since day one…

Will you go on a date with me?

I know it’s a long shot—someone like you must have countless suitors, ready and waiting to sweep you off your feet. And to be honest, I don’t have much to offer you. But there is one thing I could give to you that none of those other suitors could…

I have a dragon.

(Also, I’m desperately, madly, deeply, incredibly, wildly, head-over-heels in love with you.)

I hope one of those two things will be enough to sway you.

I eagerly await your reply, but until then, I remain yours, always and forever,

Bard

Hermione couldn’t fight off the smile on her face as she read, and old habits had her immediately reaching for her quill. Before she could start writing, she glanced toward Ron to make sure he was still preoccupied with his chess game (he was), and Ginny and Harry, to make sure they were every bit as tuned out as she was (they were).

Satisfied that Ron would be able to entertain himself for a little while longer, she picked up her quill to send a long, equally lovely reply, but at the very last minute, she hesitated. She tapped the feather against her lips a few times, then with a smirk, she scribbled out one single sentence and tapped it with her wand.

What kind of dragon are we talking about?

She watched as Pansy looked down at her parchment, and the moment Pansy rolled her eyes, Hermione grinned.

Pansy spared one quick glance for her, shook her head in amused disbelief, then started writing. It didn’t take long for her message to come through.

I see how it is…the dragon supersedes love?

Hermione wrote back just as quickly.

I mean…I’ve heard a rumor you have a somewhat strange fascination with Acromantulas. Just need to be sure there’s at least one worthwhile reason for me to go on this date.

Hermione glanced up once more and when she saw Pansy give an incredulous huff at her message, she couldn’t help but emit a small snuffle of laughter. She didn’t take her eyes off of Pansy, watching with amusement as the other girl’s hand flew across the page. The moment she touched her wand to the paper, Hermione looked down.

It would seem you’re talking to an unreliable source. I’d imagine it was a Gryffindor seventh-year? Swotty but absolutely gorgeous Head Girl? Goes by the name of Hermione Granger? I wouldn’t listen to a word she says—she’s desperately in love with me and just jealous I’m asking you on a date. A date which I still don’t know if you’ve accepted, mind you.

Hermione smirked as she replied, once again, completely lost in the world she and Pansy had created together.

A swotty Head Girl, hm? I’d watch out for that type—they’re usually surprisingly incapable of keeping their hands to themselves…especially around pretty girls. But as for your question, yes. I’d love to go on a date with you. Anytime. Anywhere.

Pansy finally seemed pleased by Hermione’s answer. She smiled at the page, then quickly scratched out a few more lines.

Meet me outside of the Great Hall tomorrow. 10PM.

Hermione raised her eyebrows in surprise at the location choice. Obviously, the Great Hall would be locked at 10PM on a Saturday. So where was Pansy actually planning on taking her?

She pondered the delightful mystery but before she could reply, another message showed up on her parchment.

Oh, and wear something nice.

The directive was surprising, and Hermione quickly replied.

How nice?

The reply was swift.

The fancier, the better.

Hermione’s brow furrowed as she tried to figure out what on earth Pansy had in mind, but before she could ask anymore questions, she was distracted by a roar of anguish from Ron.

Startled, she looked up to find him staring at the chess board with wide, stunned eyes and a red face, and a complete stranger sitting opposite him, an eyebrow arched and a smug smile on her face.

“What was that about “almost having her beat?”’ Ginny asked gleefully. She clapped the strange girl on the back (who Hermione reasoned must be Judy Quinn, Ravenclaw fourth year), and said, “that was brilliant. You’re brilliant. And you’re welcome here anytime, so long as you keep handing Ron his arse on a regular basis.”

Judy gave Ginny a small smile, then primly stuck out her hand to Ron. “Good game.”

Ron stared at the hand for a long moment, so long that Hermione had to elbow him to get him to take it. “Good game,” he grumbled, shaking her hand begrudgingly. As soon as he dropped it, he quickly said, “rematch?”

Judy’s dark eyes sparkled just a bit and she tucked her hair behind her ears. “Sure. I’m always happy to help beginners improve,” she said. The corners of her mouth twitched up just a bit as she reset her side of the board.

Hermione laughed, Harry practically guffawed, and Ginny’s mouth dropped open in complete delight. “Okay, where have you been all my life?” she asked.

“Piss off,” Ron grumbled at Ginny as he reset his side of the board.

“No, really. She’s brilliant,” Ginny said. “Honestly, I take it all back—you can bring your little chessboard out anytime at all, so long as Judy’s here.”

The rest of breakfast had been spent watching Judy and Ron play speed chess (she won four games to his one, much to Ginny’s absolute delight), and as they were about to start a sixth game, Hermione had to gently remind them that they had Potions in a few minutes. While Ron packed up his chess things, she reached for her parchment to tuck it back into her bag, only to be interrupted by Harry, clearing his throat.

“We’re supposed to leave those on the table, aren’t we?” he asked, nodding at her parchment.

“Oh,” Hermione murmured, looking down at the paper. “You’re right.”

Slowly, she placed the parchment down on the table and let her fingers sweep over the surface one last time. After a long moment, she cleared the words with a tap of her wand, and as they faded away, she couldn’t help but feel like she was losing something important. Hermione was quite sentimental, and leaving behind the scrap of paper that had changed her entire life was breaking her heart. After all, she and Pansy had managed an entire courtship on that simple sheet of paper. They had laid their souls bare, offered their hearts to each other, confided in each other, laughed with each other, and had somehow, managed to fall in love without even knowing the other’s names. It seemed wrong to leave the parchment behind when it had played such a vital role in their relationship.

But then, she glanced up at Pansy, who was laughing at something Daphne had said, and as she watched, she realized that as much as it hurt her to leave it behind, she really didn’t need it anymore. After all, the parchment had done its job. It had stripped them bare of their preconceived notions and forced them to talk to each other. It had made them realize how much they had in common and opened their eyes to how much they could love each other. It had done precisely what it set out to do, and now that Hermione has the real thing, she doesn’t need Pansy’s voice on a scrap of parchment. Not when she has Pansy.

With one last gentle sweep of her fingers, she said her goodbyes and murmured, “thank you,” to the parchment, ignoring the curious looks from Harry and Ron. Then, she turned her back to it and started toward Potions.

“Hermione?”

Hermione looks up from her memories and turns to find Ginny, peering at her with interest.

“Sorry,” Hermione says. “Sorry, I just…” she smooths down the fabric of her dress and says, “I think I’m just a bit nervous.”

“About the dress?”

“About all of it,” Hermione admits. “I mean, we’ve never gone on a date before, and even though logically, I know it’s no different than anything else we’ve done, it just…it feels different. More real, I suppose. And I don’t want to immediately ruin it by showing up and looking ridiculous,” she adds, turning to scrutinize herself once more.

“You don’t look ridiculous at all,” Ginny says, catching Hermione’s eye in the mirror’s reflection. “You’re stunning. I told you, Parkinson’s not going to know what hit her.”

“Thank you,” Hermione says, lifting a hand to fuss with her hair. “I hope you’re right.”

“I am. Though actually…how are you planning on getting past everyone in the common room? You’re going to get some questions, looking like that.”

Hermione chuckles. “Honestly, thank god Lavender and Parvati are out. They’d have so many questions, I’d never make it past the door.” She fidgets with the slit at her leg and says, “I’ll transfigure everything before I leave. It’ll hold until I get to the Great Hall.” She turns around and looks nervously at Ginny. “You really think I look okay?”

“Hermione. You’re absolutely gorgeous. Honestly? I think you’re going to do the impossible.”

“The impossible?” Hermione echoes, tilting her head in confusion.

“Mm. You’re finally, finally going to render Parkinson speechless.”

Hermione laughs in surprise. “Thank you,” she says, sparing a quick, grateful smile for Ginny and her words of reassurance. Then, she frowns and asks, “actually, what time is it?”

Ginny checks her watch. “Quarter til ten. If you’re going to transfigure your clothes, you’d better do it now.”

“Right. You’re right,” Hermione says. She checks herself carefully one last time in the mirror, gives a satisfied nod, then reaches for her wand and gives it a quick flick. Immediately, the dress transforms into a standard robe and the heels morph into a pair of sensible trainers. She reaches up, takes off her earrings, and tucks them into her pocket for safekeeping. There’s not much she can do about the hair and makeup, so she’ll just have to hope the common room is mostly empty. Once she’s satisfied she looks like she would any other night of the week, she turns back to Ginny.

“Good?” she asks, spreading her arms and letting Ginny inspect her handiwork.

“McGonagall couldn’t have done any better.”

“I sincerely doubt that, but thank you.” Hermione takes a deep breath and says, “right. I should go.”

Ginny stands from her bed and stretches her arms over her head. “You should. But I want to hear all about it tomorrow.”

Hermione blinks at her a few times in surprise. “You do?”

“Yeah. I mean, I’m honestly dying to know what she’s got planned. Harry and I never know where to go on dates. We usually just end up walking around the Quidditch pitch and snogging under the stands, then going to the Great Hall for dinner,” she says. “Doesn’t exactly scream romance, does it?”

“No, not really, but I’ll be sure to pitch it as an alternative if Pansy’s idea doesn’t work out,” Hermione says as she tucks her wand into her pocket.

“Well, whatever she has planned, I hope it’s worth all the effort you just went through,” Ginny says, heading to the door.

“I hope so, too. And…thank you,” Hermione murmurs, following Ginny through the door. “Really, it…it means a lot to me that you’re taking an interest.”

Ginny nods and steps into the common room, which is thankfully, mostly empty. As they walk toward the portrait, she says, “I’ll always take an interest. Especially when I can see how happy it’s making you.” She stops in front of the portrait and before Hermione can let herself get emotional over Ginny’s simply delivered words, Ginny says, “right, then! Go on. And don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

Is there anything you wouldn’t do?” Hermione asks curiously.

“Absolutely not,” Ginny says, giving her a devilish smirk.

Hermione laughs as she opens the portrait, then says, “I’ll keep that in mind. And I’ll see you tomorrow. Thanks again for helping me get ready. And for…for everything,” she adds quietly.

Ginny smiles. “Anytime. Now go and woo the pants off Parkinson,” she says, her eyes twinkling.

Hermione’s mouth falls open in surprise, and Ginny laughs. After a moment, Hermione collects herself and says, “god…Daphne rubbed off on you.”

“I wouldn’t go that far, but she did have one or two good ideas,” Ginny says. Before Hermione can reply, though, she adds, “anyway, those pants aren’t going to woo themselves off, so go. And have fun tonight.”

“Thank you,” Hermione says as she exits the doorway, deciding not to comment any more on the state of Pansy’s pants. She gives Ginny a little wave, then sets off toward the Great Hall. As she walks, she takes her earrings out of her pocket and puts them back on, all the while trying to think of what Pansy might have planned for the night. Her best guess as of right now is some kind of outdoor picnic, perhaps under the beech tree where they had first kissed. She’s also entertained the thought that Pansy might want to utilize one of the secret passageways and sneak into Hogsmeade—she had seemed quite taken by that idea when Hermione had told her about the passage that led directly to Honeyduke’s, and Hermione has a feeling she wants to test it out and replenish her stash of pear drops. But even though Hermione’s not above breaking a rule or two, she’s not sure if she’d allow Pansy’s love affair with pear drops to sway her into sneaking off school grounds at ten o’clock at night.

By the time she finally arrives at the Great Hall, she’s practically vibrating with anticipation. She’s invented all sorts of scenarios in her mind, and she can barely wait to find out what Pansy has planned. And as luck would have it, she won’t have to wait long—Pansy’s already there, waiting for her arrival.

The other girl hasn’t heard her yet, so Hermione stops just short of where she’d be visible to almost hungrily admire the way Pansy looks from afar.

Because god, does she look good.

She’s wearing a dark green, velvet suit with jet black lapels. She’s buttoned the suit coat at the very bottom, but the top features a plunging neckline, and in a very welcome turn of events, Pansy’s elected to not wear anything underneath. Hermione swallows hard as she takes in Pansy’s exposed skin and the tempting curves of her breasts, finding herself already eager to explore everything before her with her lips. Slowly, her eyes track the rest of Pansy’s body, from the sky-high, emerald green heels, all the way up to her dramatic makeup. She’s sporting a smokey eye and a dark red lip, and even though she’s cutting quite a figure, Hermione can still see the spark of anxiety in her eyes as they sweep the room. And even though Hermione would be more than happy to simply drink in the way Pansy looks all night, she decides to put her at ease and make her presence known.

She takes a quick moment while she’s still in the shadows to transfigure her clothing back to its previous splendor and lifts a hand nervously to her hair, then with a deep breath, she steps into the light and walks toward Pansy.

Pansy immediately hears Hermione’s heels and as she turns to watch her approach, her mouth falls open. Green eyes are wide with wonder, a pink flush immediately rises to pale cheeks, and somehow, just as Ginny predicted, Hermione has rendered Pansy absolutely speechless.

Hermione comes to a stop before her and gives her a soft smile as she takes in the awe-struck look in Pansy’s gaze. “Hi,” she says quietly.

Pansy’s eyes sweep over Hermione as her mouth opens and closes wordlessly. After a moment, Hermione laughs. “I hope this is a good speechless?”

“It’s…it’s…Merlin,” Pansy breathes. “You look…I mean, I can’t…I’ve never…” Pansy shakes her head in wonder, and after a moment, she seems to come back to her senses. “You are so beautiful,” she whispers, her voice low with emotion.

Hermione’s heart jumps at both the declaration, and at just how beautiful Pansy’s gaze makes her feel. She murmurs back, “you’re one to talk” and takes Pansy’s hand, grazing her thumb over soft skin. “You’re stunning.”

Pansy flushes with pleasure at the compliment and glances down at her own outfit. “You like it? I wasn’t sure, but I thought…”

She trails off a bit sheepishly and Hermione releases her hand to gently tug at the lapels of the suit coat. “I love it,” she says, letting a finger gently trail over the bare skin of Pansy’s chest for just a moment. Pansy quietly inhales at the sensation, and without taking her eyes off of the skin in front of her, Hermione murmurs, “is there anything under this?”

Pansy exhales shakily. “If this date goes well, maybe you’ll find out.”

Hermione lifts her gaze. “I’ve always responded well to incentive,” she says, arching a suggestive eyebrow. Pansy’s eyes flash, but before she can say anything, Hermione takes a small step back and says, “and speaking of this date…where are we going?”

A secretive smile slides onto Pansy’s face. “Not far. Actually, just through those doors,” she adds, nodding to the Great Hall behind them.

“The Great Hall?” Hermione asks, confusion flickering to her face as she surveys the very heavy and presumably, very locked doors. “How? It’s locked.”

“Yes, but—”

“And I’m sure there are all sorts of security charms on the room itself. We wouldn’t make it past the entrance.”

“Probably not, but—”

“And even if by some miracle, we’re able to bypass the charms, how on earth will we—”

“Hermione. Do you trust me?” Pansy asks, cutting off Hermione’s questions.

“I…of course I do, but I don’t—”

“Then just close your eyes.”

Hermione’s gaze narrows as she eyes Pansy suspiciously, and Pansy huffs out a laugh. “I’m not sure that’s the face of someone who trusts me.”

“I do trust you,” Hermione says emphatically, “but breaking into the Great Hall—”

“We’re not breaking in. And I’ll answer everything, but first…close your eyes.”

Hermione worries her lower lip, and after a moment, she closes her eyes. Immediately, she feels a warm hand slip into hers, gently tugging her forward. She takes a few steps and pauses, waiting for Pansy to presumably open the Great Hall doors. Hermione can hear a  series of locks pop open, then the groan of heavy wooden doors creaking slightly. As soon as the noise settles, the hand pulls her forward once more.

“Wait right there and keep your eyes closed,” Pansy says, her voice echoing through the Great Hall.

Hermione hears the Great Hall doors close and lock behind them, and she breathes out a small sigh of relief. At the very least, no alarms are blaring, and no professors are storming in, demanding answers. They seem to be safe for now.

Through her closed lids, Hermione sees the lighting in the room change, and after a moment, she feels Pansy return to her side and take her hand once more, leading her further into the room.

“Don’t let me crash into a table,” Hermione says.

Pansy chuckles. “You’ll be fine, love. Just a few more steps.”

After a moment, Pansy slows beside her and squeezes her hand. “Okay,” she murmurs. “Open your eyes.”

Hermione exhales slowly, then opens her eyes.

And this time, it’s her turn for her mouth to fall open.

Because somehow, they’ve stepped back in time.

Somehow, it’s three years ago.

And somehow, Hermione is standing in the middle of the Yule Ball once more.

The entire Great Hall is decorated just as it was that night. Snow covered conifers line the front of the room where the professor’s table should be, a pristine, white dance floor has taken the place of the four house tables, and high, glittering archways of ice stretch overhead, catching the glow from thousands of twinkling fairy lights and making the entire hall sparkle. Every detail is the just as Hermione remembers, up to and including the snack table, pushed off to the corner and featuring a massive, silver bowl of punch and something that looks suspiciously like her favorite sticky toffee pudding.

She opens her mouth to try and form a sentence, when suddenly, she becomes aware of quiet strains of music, floating from somewhere in the room. It’s not the Weird Sisters this time—it’s something softer and mellower, and perfect for dancing.

Hermione’s head reels at both the resplendency surrounding her and the overwhelming nostalgia, and she takes in the room with starry-eyes, trying to figure out how any of this is happening. After a long, dazzling moment, she turns her astonished gaze to Pansy to find the other girl watching her with soft eyes.

“Pansy,” she whispers. “I…I don’t…I mean, how—”

“I couldn’t get my hands on a Time-Turner,” Pansy says. “So I did the next best thing.”

“I…I…” Hermione shakes her head, still too overwhelmed to speak.

“That night in the library,” Pansy says. “The night we danced together. After we talked about what the Yule Ball could have been, I just…I kept thinking about it. I kept thinking about how badly I wanted to go back and change everything, and how much I wanted to shake myself for all the time I wasted, but I…” She exhales softly and drops her gaze to the ground with a small, sad smile. “I can’t. I can’t change our past,” she says. Then she turns her gaze back to Hermione. “But even though I can’t redo that night, I can make every moment from here on out something worth remembering. Which is why I did this. After that dance, I wanted to come as close as I could to redoing that night. I wanted to give us both the Yule Ball we deserved.”

“Pansy…I…”

Hermione trails off, overwhelmed with emotion. Because somehow, this witch before her—this gorgeous, mad, absolute hopeless romantic—has somehow managed to give Hermione a private Yule Ball.

Part of Hermione wonders if this is all some elaborate dream. Because there isn’t any reality that could possibly be this perfect. Things like this only exist between the pages of a fairytale.

But then again, she reasons, I am Robin Hood and she is my bard.

They’re already the stuff of fairytales. Perhaps at long last, this is their happily ever after.

And if it is, it’s quite a good one. It’s extravagant and it’s beautiful and it’s just so Pansy that all Hermione can do is shake her head with quiet wonder

“It’s beautiful,” Hermione finally manages to say, blinking hastily to keep a surprising round of tears at bay. “You’re beautiful,” she adds. “I mean, just to think about something like this, I…” she trails off and laughs a bit. “You know, if you had told me a few months ago you were a massive romantic, I’d have never believed it.”

Pansy immediately scoffs. “I’m not a romantic.” She crosses her arms in front of herself as if she’s insulted by the very idea.

“We’re standing in the middle of the Yule Ball, love,” Hermione says fondly. “The Yule Ball you recreated just to give us something worth remembering,” she says, quoting Pansy’s words back to her as she moves further into her space and lifts her hands to gently tug on Pansy’s lapels. “I think you might need to reevaluate yourself, just a bit.”

Pansy flushes a bit. “Oh, fine,” she grumbles, letting her hands fall to Hermione’s hips. “Maybe I am. But only for you.”

“I can accept that,” Hermione says, bumping their noses and using her grip on Pansy’s jacket to pull her forward just a bit and brush their lips together. Pansy smiles as she returns the kiss, but before Hermione can properly kiss her, she pulls back to eye Hermione warily.

“You’re not going to tell anyone about this, are you?”

“About what? The Yule Ball, or the fact you’re a hopeless romantic?” Hermione asks, idly playing with Pansy’s lapels. “To be fair, I think they’d infer the latter from the former.”

“Merlin,” Pansy grumbles, tilting her head down and scrunching her eyes closed. “I already have Daphne on my case about all of this. She’s been driving me mad for the past week. The last thing I need is Ginny Weasley taking up the cause.”

Hermione chuckles as she places a finger beneath Pansy’s chin and gently angles her head back up to kiss her once more. “If it’s any consolation,” she murmurs, pulling back just an inch, “I think she’ll be too jealous to really think about the whole hopeless romantic thing.”

“Jealous? A–about what?” Pansy asks, her breath catching as Hermione slowly moves her lips to gently graze her teeth against a sensitive spot just below Pansy’s ear. When she hears Pansy’s noisy exhalation, she smirks.

Hermione drops a long, lingering kiss to the spot, then pulls back just a bit. “Harry and Ginny’s idea of a date is walking around the Quidditch pitch and snogging under the bleachers,” she says. “So something tells me Ginny is going to be beside herself when she hears about this.”

Even though Pansy looks a little breathless, she still manages a small, cocky grin. “It is pretty good, isn’t it?”

“It’s…”

Hermione pulls her eyes away from Pansy to take in the room once more.

It’s not pretty good.

It’s astounding.

“How did you manage any of this?” she asks. Her natural curiosity sneaks in and manages to overwhelm her physical needs for a moment, and she takes a step back to more fully view the decorations. “I mean, it’s almost identical. And how did you manage to do this in the Great Hall without anyone knowing?”

At the question, Pansy flushes. “I…may have had a little help,” she slowly admits, looking a bit embarrassed.

Hermione’s eyes swing back to her. “You did? Who?”

Pansy rocks back and forth on the balls of her feet. “I may have asked McGonagall.”

Hermione has no idea who she had been expecting Pansy to say, but it certainly wasn’t McGonagall. Her eyes grow wide and she shakes her head a bit. “I’m sorry…did you say McGonagall?”

Pansy nods, and at Hermione’s incredulous silence, she deflates. “Turns out, dating her favorite student makes her more receptive to granting mad favors. When I told her I wanted to do this for you, she…” Pansy runs a hand through her hair and says, “she gave me this strange look. Almost like she thought it was funny. And I thought for sure she’d say no. I mean, I don’t even know why I asked her, I was so sure she’d say no…”

“But?”

Pansy sighs. “She said after the year we’ve had, we deserved something nice. Said that as long as we promised to be out by midnight and not make a mess, she’d help me set all of this up.” She hesitates, then adds with a small wince, “and I also may have agreed to help grade her first and second year Transfiguration students' end of year exams."

“You did?"

“I’m hoping she’ll forget,” Pansy says. She looks decidedly annoyed at the deal she had presumably struck in order to use the Great Hall, and Hermione can’t help the smile that comes to her face.

“Be nice to them," Hermione says. "No writing mean comments on the page."

"No promises," Pansy grumbles.

Hermione grins, then glances back at the ice archways with appreciation. “I can see why McGonagall struck that deal, though,” she says, craning her head back to get a better look. “This must have taken her ages.”

“Not really,” Pansy says, regarding McGonagall’s handiwork. “It actually took her about five minutes. All the ice is just a modified Glacius charm. Clever, but not particularly tricky. And the designs aren’t as elaborate as last time. Though they’re still better than I could do,” she admits. “The extra tables were in storage, and all the trees are transfigured. To be honest, the hardest part was those things,” Pansy says, nodding toward something on one of the tables.

Hermione glances over and for the first time, she notices that the ice sculptures in the center of each table are different than they were three years ago. Back then, they had been crystalline, glittering palaces, with every intricate detail carved to perfection.

But now, standing proudly at the center of each table, is a beautifully sculpted dragon.

Hermione laughs in delight as she crosses to one of the tables. “McGonagall did these?” she asks, trailing a finger over the icy wing of a Swedish Short-Snout as she admires the careful craftsmanship in the sculpture.

“Actually, no.”

Hermione hears Pansy’s heels click across the floor, then feels warm arms wrap around her waist. “I had a little help with these, too,” Pansy murmurs in her ear.

Hermione glances over her shoulder and raises an eyebrow, waiting to hear who Pansy had recruited.

“Turns out, Lovegood is…surprisingly talented,” Pansy says with a shrug.

“You got Luna to do these?” Hermione asks, her words colored with shock at the implication Pansy had willingly talked to Luna at any point in time. “I…I…”

Pansy loosens her grip and steps to Hermione’s side to examine the dragons for herself. “I ran into her last week and for some reason, she stopped to talk to me. She had just finished her Blubbering Dingbonker painting—”

“Blibbering Humdinger,” Hermione corrects automatically, then immediately exhales in frustration for even having that piece of ludicrous information tucked away in her mind in the first place.

“Right. That. Anyway, she asked if I’d like to see it, and since we’re doing this whole try to be nice to each other’s friends thing, I said yes. Which, mind you, you got off a lot easier in this ridiculous deal than I did,” Pansy says, pulling out a chair to sit down and eyeing Hermione with amusement.

“What do you mean?”

Pansy reaches out and tugs on Hermione’s arm, guiding her to her lap. “I mean I have Daphne,” she says once Hermione is comfortably seated and Pansy once again has her arms wound around her. “You have half the bloody school.”

“You’re exaggerating.”

“Am I? Think about all the people I’ll eventually have to be cordial to,” Pansy says as she runs a hand up and down Hermione’s thigh. “Lovegood, Longbottom, Potter, Weasley, Weasley…Weasley, Weasley, Weasley, Weasley, Weas—”

Hermione laughs. “You don’t have to meet the entire Weasley family, you know. Just Ron and Ginny.” She tilts her head for a moment, then adds, “and I suppose it’d be nice if you knew their parents. Oh, and Fred and George, too—”

“Weasley, Weasley, Weasley, Weasley…”

“Fine, you’ll have to meet the entire Weasley family,” Hermione concedes. After all, the Weasleys were essentially a second family to her, so it’s only right they get to know the person she loves. “But for what it’s worth,” Hermione adds, “I might have more people, but Daphne requires the same amount of emotional energy as all of my friends put together.”

Pansy snorts. “Suppose that’s fair.”

“Trust me, it is. Anyway, what about the Blibbering Humdinger?”

“Oh, right. Sorry,” Pansy says. “I went to see it and it was…it was pretty good. As were the artichokes, actually,” she adds, thoughtfully gazing at the floor. After a moment, she clears her throat and says, “anyway, once I realized she was capable, I asked if she’d be willing to help with an idea I had. She agreed. Said she knew it was for you because when I asked her, I was extra pink,” Pansy says, raising her voice to mimic Luna, “and that she’d be happy to help. And…” she gestures toward the ice dragon. “She did."

“They’re amazing,” Hermione says, admiring the detail once more, from the imposing, curved horn, all the way down to a perfectly chiseled snout. “Luna outdid herself.”

“Mm,” Pansy hums. “And I’m glad, too. After all, the entire reason you agreed to this date was because I promised you a dragon.” She drops a light kiss to Hermione’s shoulder, then says, “I had to deliver.”

“And you did.” Hermione looks around the room and shakes her head in absolute wonder. “I can’t believe you did all of this. No one has ever done anything like this for me before. I can’t…I mean, I…”

“You’re worth all of it,” Pansy says, gently interrupting when it becomes clear that Hermione is still overwhelmed. “You’re worth grading papers and talking to Lovegood and meeting all two hundred and seventy-two Weasleys. I’d throw you a Yule Ball every night of the week if I could.”

Somehow, Hermione finds it within herself to push past the immediate wave of love that settles in her chest, a wave that’s heavy and warm and beautiful and makes her feel so many things, all at once, and she manages to gently tease Pansy. “And you think you’re not a romantic.”

Pansy chuckles. “Oh, piss off,” she says fondly. Then, she quietly asks, “but you like it?”

“I love it. And I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Pansy says, kissing the bare shoulder before her once more and sending a little zip of electricity throughout Hermione’s body. Pansy’s fingertips sweep along Hermione’s dress and she says, “I know I already said this, but you really do look amazing. I didn’t think you’d top your last Yule Ball dress, but this…” she trails off and shakes her head appreciatively.

Hermione’s not what you’d call vain, but the simple, honest words still manage to make her feel warm and tingly inside. But then, something occurs to her. “You remember my dress?”

To her surprise, Pansy laughs. “Kind of hard to forget, love. I mean, you were the most beautiful girl in that room, and that’s including Delacour. It infuriated me to no end at the time. Somehow I hated you, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of you.”

“That night in the library,” Hermione says as the gears turn in her mind. “That night we danced. You said you noticed me?”

“I did. Everyone did. Though it’s only because you weren’t being fair.”

“What do you mean?” Hermione asks, her brow furrowing a bit as she tries to puzzle out Pansy’s meaning.

“You were already the cleverest witch in the entire bloody school. You had no right being the most beautiful, too.”

Another wave of warmth fills Hermione’s chest, but she still manages to scoff. “You’re being too kind.”

“I’m not. And had I managed to pull my head out of my arse earlier, I would’ve spent the entire night completely furious at Krum for getting to dance with you all night. To be honest, I’m still furious at him for getting to kiss you that night.”

“Don’t be,” Hermione scoffs. “There was no part of me that wanted that kiss. And if I’m being honest, I’m sure it was one of the worst kisses he’s ever had. Possibly the worse,” she adds with a wince as she remembers how quickly she had recoiled from his over-eager tongue.

Pansy however, looks buoyed by the words, and she smirks. “Well, if you play your cards right, maybe you’ll find someone more worthwhile to kiss at this Yule Ball.”

“Oh?” Hermione asks, arching an eyebrow and running gentle fingertips over Pansy’s arm. “Did you have anyone in mind?”

“I—”

“Invited an Acromantula or two?”

Pansy heaves the heaviest sigh Hermione’s ever heard and gently pushes a laughing Hermione from her lap. “Merlin,” she grumbles good-naturedly. “You’re like a dog with a bone.”

“Oh,” Hermione says, widening her eyes as she stands up. “Did you mean you?” She grins, takes a step closer, and winds her arms around Pansy’s neck. “I suppose I could be persuaded.”

She leans forward, letting her eyes flutter close and lovely anticipation swirl in her stomach, but just before she can capture Pansy’s lips, the other girl takes a step back. “Oh, no,” she says, eyeing Hermione. “No, just for that, I’m making you work for it.”

Hermione blinks her eyes open. “You…what?” she asks a bit stupidly. “Work for it how?”

“It’s a ball, isn’t it? And you know what you have to do at a ball…?”

“You want to dance?” Hermione asks. She glances down at Pansy’s feet and raises an eyebrow. “Can you dance?” she adds dryly.

“How dare you,” Pansy gasps. “I’ll have you know I can dance in heels twice this height. I could dance with actual knives strapped to my feet.”

“You know you're just describing your shoes,” Hermione says flatly.

“That…may be true,” Pansy concedes. “But anyway, I didn’t ask the prettiest girl in school to the ball only to sit at a table all night.”

“I—”

And this time, we have music.”

At the reminder, Hermione cocks her head and tries to place the quiet strains floating through the air. It’s vaguely familiar, all lush strings and muted trumpets, and after a moment, she glances back to Pansy with surprise. “Is that Muggle music?”

“It is.”

“How on earth did you get your hands on Muggle music? And how on earth are you playing Muggle music?”

Pansy grins, grabs Hermione’s hand, and pulls her toward the snack table. As they grow closer, the music gets louder, and before Hermione can place the song, Pansy points to something tucked away beneath the table.

“That’s a boombox,” she says. She sounds so pleased with herself for remembering the word and her eyes are shining and for a brief, ludicrous moment, Hermione is reminded of Arthur Weasley.

She wisely decides to not make that comparison to Pansy.

“I put the tape into the boombox,” Pansy adds with a note of pride. She pulls her bright gaze away from the boombox to look at Hermione. “Have you ever used one of these before?”

The question is so earnest and Pansy’s eyes are sparkling and Hermione can’t help the little laugh that bubbles out of her. “Yes,” she says, squeezing the hand she’s still holding. “I’ve used one. My dad has a whole collection of tapes at home, actually.”

Pansy’s lips part in surprise. “There’s more than one?” she finally asks in pure disbelief, pulling another delighted laugh from Hermione. She decides to temporarily ignore Pansy’s ridiculous rule about having to earn it and leans forward to kiss Pansy.

It’s slow and easy. Pansy’s lips are warm and her mouth tastes of something sweet (pear drops, Hermione thinks as her tongue sweeps against Pansy’s). Pansy’s arms circle Hermione’s waist, pulling her close, and even though it’s a relatively simple kiss, it still makes Hermione’s pulse thud in her ears and her skin buzz pleasantly, just like every other simple touch that came before. She had never realized her body was capable of feeling so many things from a soft brush of a hand or a warm press of lips, but when it comes to Pansy, all bets are off.

After a moment, Pansy pulls back with starry eyes. “What was that for?”

“You,” Hermione says simply. “You’re adorable, did you know?” She leans forward and drops another quick, chaste kiss to Pansy’s lips, then asks, “where did you find a boombox?”

Pansy hesitates for a moment, as if she’s trying to decide whether or not she should say something. Finally, she says, “I spoke to Professor Burbage.”

Hermione’s eyebrows rise at the unexpected mention of the Muggle Studies professor. “You did? About boomboxes?”

“That would be oddly specific,” Pansy says with a wry smile. “No. I…I was asking her about Muggle Studies. I wanted to know if I could take classes with her over the summer.”

Hermione stares at her, overwhelmed. She knows Pansy had mentioned it in passing days ago, but she had assumed she had just been day-dreaming about what could have been. But if Pansy had actually talked to Professor Burbage, then…

“And? What did she say?"

"She said she'd be happy to tutor me. Honestly, I think she was just thrilled to have a Slytherin show interest."

“But…what about your housemates? I mean, I know we'll be out of school soon, but I don’t want you to put yourself in any danger if they find out before then.”

Pansy shakes her head. “Only Crabbe and Goyle would be stupid enough to instigate something, but luckily, I could take them both on with all my limbs missing.” She pauses thoughtfully and adds, “I could probably take them both with my head missing, come to think of it.”

Hermione wrinkles her nose at the mental image, but Pansy doesn't seem to notice as she continues on. “Everyone else is…” she trails off, then shrugs. “I don’t think they’d understand it, per se, but I doubt they’d be cruel.”

“Really?” Hermione asks nervously.

“Really. Despite what your lot like to think, we’re not all bad,” Pansy says with a wry smile. “You just had the unfortunate distinction of knowing me.”

“Oh, stop. You weren’t that bad.”

Pansy scoffs. “Are the ice dragons and boombox blinding you to our past?”

“No. I mean, you weren’t great—”

“Understatement.”

“But even so, I wouldn’t change our past.”

Pansy’s body stiffens beside Hermione. “You know you don’t have to say that,” she says, her gaze more serious than it’s been all night. “I know you’ve forgiven me, and trust me, I’ll never take that for granted. But you don’t have to act like you’re okay with everything that happened. You don’t have to forget.”

“I’m not forgetting,” Hermione says calmly. “I couldn’t if I tried. But everything that happened between us is a part of me. It’s a part of me, it’s a part of you, and it’s a part of our story. And while it may not be a perfect story, it’s ours.”

“It is. But it would have been nice had it started differently. Or had one of the main characters not been irredeemable for the first few chapters.”

“You weren’t irredeemable,” Hermione says. “You may have been a bully, and you were certainly misguided, but everything you did made sense, and you’ve apologized. And anyway, that doesn’t matter because I wouldn’t want a different beginning, either.”

“You wouldn’t?”

“Well…I might have changed a few things,” Hermione admits with a smile. “But at the risk of sounding horribly cliche, everything that happened in our past made us the people we are today. And I like those people. I like the people we grew into.”

Pansy exhales quietly and murmurs, “so do I.”

Hermione takes a step forward. “And if we didn’t have our past, we wouldn’t be standing here right now.” She lifts a hand and gently brushes her knuckles against Pansy’s jaw. “I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t trade this moment for the world.”

Hermione gently lets her thumb trail over Pansy’s lower lip, noticing the way Pansy’s eyes darken and immediately fall to her own mouth.

“No,” Pansy says quietly. “Nor would I.”

She takes a step forward and pushes Hermione’s hair behind her ear, but she doesn’t immediately kiss her. Instead, she lets her gaze linger over Hermione’s features, and after a moment, a slow smile steals to her face.

“What is it?” Hermione asks, her voice hushed.

Pansy shakes her head. “The way you look at me sometimes,” she says, sweeping a finger back and forth across Hermione’s cheek. “I just…I can’t believe we’re here. I can’t believe it all worked out.”

Her other hand wraps around Hermione’s waist and she gently tugs her closer, completely eliminating the distance between their bodies. Warm breath ghosts over Hermione’s lips, and just before Pansy can capture her lips, Hermione murmurs, “breaking your own rules now, are we?”

Pansy pulls back just an inch to eye Hermione carefully. “What do you mean?”

“I thought you were going to make me work for this.”

“I think we’ve both worked hard enough, don’t you?”

“Maybe,” Hermione says as she winds her arms around Pansy. “Or maybe you’re just worried you won’t actually be able to dance on those spikes,” she whispers, brushing her lips against Pansy’s.

She feels Pansy’s smile against her mouth. “Merlin’s pants. You know you might look stunning, but at least an Acromantula wouldn’t have been as mouthy.”

“You’d be surprised,” Hermione says, pulling back to gaze seriously at Pansy. “They’re surprisingly talkative.”

“…Do I want to know why you know that?”

“No, probably not. But anyway, being mouthy isn’t a bad thing. At least, it wasn’t two nights ago. I distinctly remember you being quite fond of my mouth,” Hermione says, thinking back to how Pansy’s hips had jerked up from the bed when she had sucked hard against the uncovered skin just above her waistline.

The memory is clearly replaying in Pansy’s mind, because her breath catches just a bit. Somehow though, she manages to steel her face into something almost apathetic and with a surprising amount of dignity, says, “I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh?” Hermione says, scratching her nails lightly against the nape of Pansy’s neck and smiling when the other girl shivers. “That’s too bad.”

“It is. Perhaps you could remind me?”

Hermione smiles at the invitation, but before she can lean forward to claim Pansy’s lips, she pauses and frowns. “Hang on…you said we only had the room for two hours?”

“Mm. McGonagall said if we were still in here at midnight, she’d kick us out. She also told me we were strictly forbidden from attending to our personal problems here,” Pansy adds with a flush, though Hermione’s not sure whether it’s from McGonagall’s warning or Pansy simply thinking about how badly she wants to take care of said personal problems.

But the mention of McGonagall immediately changes the mood for Hermione, and she takes a step back. “She didn’t say that,” Hermione says, completely aghast.

“She did. I almost transferred to Beauxbatons then and there. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve even looked her in the eye since then. Anyway, why do you ask?”

Hermione decides to shelve the newfound and awful knowledge that her favorite professor had expressly forbidden them from having sex in the Great Hall, as if that’s even something Hermione would consider.

She can always be properly horrified later.

With some effort, she pulls her thoughts back to the matter at hand. “I just think we should take advantage of the room,” Hermione finally manages. “I mean, as much as I’d like to spend the entire night kissing you, I can do that any day of the week.”

“Ooh, cheeky, aren’t we?”

“Well, it’s true. But this?” Hermione says, looking around the Great Hall. “This is special. It’s not every day two students get a private Yule Ball.”

“You know, all I’m hearing is that you’re desperate to dance with me,” Pansy says with a sly grin.

Hermione scoffs. “And risk impaling my feet with your ridiculous knife-shoes?” Pansy shakes her head in fond exasperation, and Hermione smiles at her then says, “I just want to make sure we do this right. I want to make the most of every minute with you. I mean, everything you’ve done tonight is…it’s all perfect and I suppose I don’t want this night to end without doing everything we should have done the first go-around. And if I’m being honest, I don’t want this night to end period,” she confesses softly.

“No, nor do I. But it has to end,” Pansy says gently, taking Hermione’s hands. “After all, we’ve got the rest of our lives to get to.”

Perhaps Hermione should gently chastise Pansy for thinking so far ahead, but she won’t. Because she believes her. She believes that they’ve got a lifetime ahead of them, filled to the brim with memories that are theirs for the taking. And the fact of the matter is, Hermione can’t imagine her future with anyone else. She gave her heart away months ago to a mysterious bard, and now, she’s trusting Pansy with it til the end of her days, til the mountains crumble and the stars fall, til forever comes and goes. Because she knows that this is it for her. She knows that Pansy is the love of her life in the same way she knows the sky is blue—it’s a simple, immutable fact that no amount of time could ever change. It sits heavy and true in her chest, somehow both more logical and illogical than anything has ever been. She can’t explain it—it simply is, and it always will be.

Because when it comes down to it, they just work—Pansy’s dry practicality cuts through Hermione’s sometimes naive idealism; Hermione’s tendency to see the good in others balances Pansy’s somewhat less-than-favorable outlook on mankind; Pansy’s Slytherin streak reminds Hermione to take time for herself while Hermione’s Gryffindor core pushes Pansy to fight for what’s right.

And at the end of the day, Pansy will take care of Hermione when the days are hard and she’s exhausted to her core and Hermione will take care of Pansy when the nights are overwhelming and sleep proves elusive.

They’ll be there for each other for the rest of their days to balance each other, to sharpen each other, and to love each other, flaws and all.

And as thoughts of the future and all its beautiful, wonderful opportunities build in Hermione’s chest, she can’t help the ridiculous tears that spring to her eyes.

“What is it, love?” Pansy murmurs, clocking the tears and lifting a hand to gently caress Hermione’s face.

Hermione manages a wet laugh. “Nothing. It’s nothing, I just…” She shakes her head, surprisingly overcome by emotion.

Pansy’s eyes soften and she leans forward to kiss Hermione. It’s soft, sweet, and completely unhurried, as if Pansy has also realized they have all the time in the world together. Their lips press and part and this time, there’s no undercurrent of fire licking across Hermione’s skin. Instead, there’s something more—something deeper and almost sacred.

Something that feels like a silent promise of forever.

After a moment, Pansy pulls back and tilts her forehead against Hermione’s.

“Have I mentioned,” Pansy says against Hermione’s lips. “That I’m really, really glad you were my parchment pal?”

Hermione’s heart flips and she manages a shaky laugh through the remnants of her tears. “Not as glad as I am,” she says, smiling at Pansy’s hum of pleasure and the way her eyes immediately soften.

Pansy kisses her one more time, then pulls back and murmurs, “now, then. About that dance…?”

Hermione places her hand in Pansy’s and gives it a gentle squeeze.

“Lead the way.”