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a red rose grew up out of ice frozen ground

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Hermione Granger loves special announcements. 

They always fill her with a delicious anticipation, bubbling up, up, up until she can hardly stand it anymore. And they almost always bring good news. 

But when she voices this particular opinion to Ron and Harry during breakfast, they both eye her warily.

Good news? What are you on about?” Ron asks. “They’re never good news. It’s always ‘don’t go into the Forbidden Forest, you might get your soul sucked out,’ or ‘steer clear of the massive, vicious three-headed dog we’ve decided to keep in the castle.’ Good news,” Ron snorts into his pumpkin juice. “Bollocks.” 

“It isn’t bollocks! You’re choosing to purposefully omit several data points,” Hermione says. “What about the Yule Ball?” 

“You mean the same Yule Ball that saw me in frilly dress robes? Pink frilly dress robes, in case you’d forgotten?” Ron asks, arching an eyebrow.

“I hadn’t,” Harry says. “All that pink and red . . . really brought out your eyes.” 

“Piss off,” Ron grumbles. Harry just grins and adds a sausage to his already overflowing plate, knocking off a few potatoes as he does. 

“Fine,” Hermione says, determined to win her case. “Just the Triwizard Tournament itself, then! You were just as excited as anyone else. Practically wet yourself over meeting Viktor, if memory serves.” 

The tips of Ron’s ears turn pink as he scowls down at his goblet of pumpkin juice. “I didn’t wet myself. Besides, anyone in their right mind would be excited to meet the Seeker for the Bulgarian National Quidditch team! Proper artist with a broom, Krum is,” Ron adds, his scowl clearing and his eyes turning soft and reflective. “No player alive who’s more effortless. Graceful, even,” he adds thoughtfully. 

“Look what you’ve done, Hermione. You’ve made him wet himself again,” Harry says around a mouthful of sausage.

Ron snaps out of his reveries and glares at Harry. “Piss off, the both of you. There's nothing wrong with noticing artistry. But as for your point,” Ron says, raising a fork loaded with roasted potatoes toward Hermione, “The Triwizard Tournament was terrifying. Harry almost died how many times?”

“Oi! I never came close to dying,” Harry says, his pride clearly wounded.

Ron rolls his eyes. “Come off it, mate. You’re brilliant. But you’d be dead without Hermione. And Neville. And, I don’t know . . . Moaning Myrtle? Who else helped you? The Fat Lady? Peeves? A particularly animated branch from the Whomping Willow?”

Harry grumbles something that sounds like tosser, but it doesn’t deter Ron in the slightest. 

“I’m just saying, even things that seem exciting on the surface end up being awful death traps when you look a little closer. So whatever this is going to be,” Ron says, waving his still-full fork toward the speaker’s podium, “it’s not going to be good.” His point made, he eats the potatoes on his fork, sparing a shrug for Hermione.

“I don’t know. Might be good for some of us,” Harry says. “Depending on what it is, we might get to see you in those dress robes again.”

"Oh, come off it. I should Obliviate that from your memory," Ron says darkly.

Harry shrugs. "Go ahead. I've got the pictures."

"There are pictures?" Ron asks, looking horrified.

Hermione sighs and nibbles on her toast, deciding to tune out the boys’ squabble for now. Besides, it doesn’t matter what Ron thinks. She knows announcements are always something splendid. Like announcing the day of a special exam.

Come to think of it, perhaps that is the special announcement. Perhaps Professor McGonagall is going to announce the first day of the N.E.W.Ts. Or perhaps even a special study group!

Excitement bubbles anew, and Hermione finds herself lost in a daydream about her N.E.W.Ts and which of her seven classes she thinks she’ll do the best in. She’s just decided that she’s most likely to get top marks in Charms, Transfiguration, Ancient Runes, and Arithmancy, and could probably use the special study sessions in Potions, Herbology, and Defense Against the Dark Arts, when she’s yanked out of her daydream by a splash on the sleeve of her robes and a ferocious yell. 

She looks up startled to find Ron, sopping wet and red as a quaffle. His goblet of pumpkin juice is toppled over on the table, and he’s on his feet, yelling toward the Slytherin table. Hermione twists around to find the entire Slytherin table in absolute hysterics. 

“You bloody arseholes!” Ron yells. “Which one of you was it?” 

“Really, Weasley, such uncalled for suspicion!” Draco Malfoy says, holding a hand over his heart in mock surprise. “It could have easily been a Ravenclaw! Fiendishly clever with charms, that lot.”

“And if we’re casting suspicion, let’s not rule out Potter and Granger,” Pansy Parkinson says, her eyes shining. “Why, if I had to sit with you for every meal and listen to whatever it is you like to prattle on about, I’d have emptied gallons of pumpkin juice over your head by now.”

“Oi!” Ron says, his expression like thunder. Hermione notices his hand, twitching toward his wand.

“But look on the bright side, Weasley,” Pansy says, waving an uncaring hand toward him, “this is a time for celebration—the one and only time you’ve ever made Granger wet.”

The entire Slytherin table bursts into a new wave of hysterics as Ron’s expression takes a quick turn toward homicidal. Hermione feels herself flush uncomfortably just as Pansy catches her eye. One sculpted eyebrow is arched in amusement, and her dark red lips are twisted up in a cruel smirk. A smirk Hermione would very much like to smack off of her face.

Before Ron can answer, the amplified voice of Professor McGonagall fills the Great Hall.

“That’s quite enough! Students, you will be seated at once!” 

Ron turns to face Professor McGonagall, looking rather pitiful in his sopping robes, betrayal etched on his face, pumpkin juice dripping from his nose. “But Professor! You can’t let them get away with this!” 

The Hall quiets to hear Professor McGonagall’s reply. She sighs and says, “I’m afraid I didn’t see the incident as it happened, and I don’t make a practice of punishing without the proper evidence. That said...” She takes out her wand, aims it at Ron, and in a moment, he’s clean and dry again. “There. And this is the perfect segue into today’s announcement. Though I am sorry it came at your expense, Mr. Weasley,” she says. 

Ron glares at the Slytherin table one more time before slowly lowering himself back into his seat. Professor McGonagall waits until all eyes are on her, then nods firmly. “Now. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, house tensions have been at an all-time high. And while I’d normally be the first to admit to enjoying the spirit of competition, I believe we’ve reached a point where something must be done. The conduct of certain students has been nothing short of appalling,” Professor McGonagall says, and Hermione is pleased to see her eyes dart toward the Slytherin table for just a moment, “and it can’t be left unchecked. While the mission may have become somewhat...muddled over the years, Hogwarts was founded on the spirit of teamwork. To encourage students to nurture their distinct gifts, all while working together with their fellow classmates, regardless of their house. And so, in that spirit...” 

Professor McGonagall waves her wand, and a blank sheet of parchment appears before every student in the Great Hall. 

“Oh, bloody hell, an essay?” Ron mutters. “See, Hermione? What’d I tell you? All announcements are rubbish.”

Hermione kicks him lightly under the table. “You don’t even know what we’re supposed to do yet,” she says crossly, running her finger over the parchment in front of her and shivering when she feels the familiar tingle of magic emanating from it. Charmed parchment? She knows it’s possible, but she hasn’t run into anything like this since her run in with a certain diary. Her curiosity is piqued, and she looks back toward Professor McGonagall with rapt attention.

“Each of you has been given a piece of parchment, which is magically linked to one other piece of parchment, owned by another Hogwarts student. They’ve been charmed to only let the parchment’s owner write messages. Once you write a message on your parchment, it will appear on the parchment that is linked to yours,” McGonagall says.

Hermione catches Harry’s eye and he lifts an eyebrow in return. “Because that worked out so well for everyone involved last time, didn’t it?” he asks, darkly. “Oh, no. Ginny’s going to hate this,” he adds, looking around the Great Hall with concern to see if Ginny has made it in time for the announcement.

“Each parchment has a concealment charm placed upon it, so your handwriting will be obscured. They’re also charmed to block out any attempts at revealing your identity to your...your parchment pal,” McGonagall says, her face twisting in displeasure. “The name was not my idea,” she clarifies. “In any event, identifying the owner of your linked parchment will be next to impossible, so I wouldn’t recommend you try. You will not be able to read the messages on anyone else’s parchment except for yours and the one your parchment is linked to. Each parchment has been charmed to only be deciphered by the intended reader, so no one else will have access to your conversation. All...parchment pals have been randomly assigned, but you will not have a student from your house.” 

“Great, a magical scrap of paper. What’s the point of this, besides wasting our time?” Ron whispers to Harry. But Ron's whisper carries, and McGonagall immediately turns to him with a sharp look. 

“The point, Mr. Weasley, is to build a bond with someone outside of your house. To strip away all identifying features. No Gryffindors, no Slytherins. No Ravenclaws, no Hufflepuffs. No gender divide. No year divide. Simply two Hogwarts students, carrying out a pleasant conversation.”

Malfoy snorts from the Slytherin table. “I’d rather snog a hippogriff,” he says, loudly enough for the rest of the Great Hall to hear. 

“Please. A hippogriff has standards,” Harry says. 

“What did you say, Potter?” Malfoy asks, his pale face flushed. 

“I said—” 

“Ten points from Slytherin, ten points from Gryffindor,” Professor McGonagall says. Both boys turn to her, outraged, ready to fight, but she holds up a hand. “Would you care to make it twenty?” 

Harry and Malfoy glare at each other a moment longer, and McGonagall sighs. “These kinds of ridiculous outbursts are the entire reason we’re doing this. If you had been able to control yourselves in the past, we wouldn’t be here today. As it stands...” she sighs again and shakes her head, looking discouraged. “Now, while both Professor Snape and Mr. Filch were in favor of a punishment based system to ensure your participation in this project, I rather think a reward system would be a better incentive. That said, I’m capable of changing my mind at any point, and Mr. Filch is always happy to have extra hands in detention. Or in shackles,” she adds, with no hint of a smile. “As for the reward...the house with the most students participating in the challenge, and I do mean actively participating, will be awarded three-hundred house points.” 

A murmur of interest goes through the Great Hall, and Hermione eyes the hourglasses against the wall. Slytherin is in first by a fair margin, something that she’s heard no less than twenty times since last week from Ron. Three-hundred points would completely close the gap and then some. She glances around the other tables to see that most students have perked up and are paying closer attention. Out of curiosity, she turns to see how the Slytherin table has reacted. Malfoy still looks annoyed, Crabbe and Goyle aren’t listening, Daphne is braiding her hair, Blaise is whispering something to a snickering Theo, Millicent is...it appears she’s attempting to bend a fork? and Pansy is idly studying her fingernails, looking bored. 

Hermione turns back to Harry and Ron. “We have to win. The Slytherins don’t even look interested. There’s no way they’ll win, so we have to,” she whispers. 

“Obviously,” Ron says, nodding enthusiastically. “We’ll destroy those Slytherin twats by any means necessary.”

“Completely against the spirit of the thing, Ron, but I can’t say I disagree,” Hermione says, before tuning back into what Professor McGonagall is saying.

“We do have ways to check that you’re participating, though rest assured, we will not be reading your private correspondence,” McGonagall says. “The only two people who will have access to your conversation are you and your...your...”

“Yer parchment pal!” Hagrid puts in happily.

“Yes. Your...your that,” McGonagall says. “Now. Are there any questions?”

Hermione’s hand is first in the air. She hears the murmur of irritation around the Great Hall, but pays it no mind. Let them grumble. She wants to win. 

“Yes, Miss Granger?” 

“What does active participation look like, in your mind? A sentence each day? Or perhaps a paragraph or two a day? Is there a required word limit? And are you penalized if your parchment pal doesn’t reply? Will we be required to report on our learnings about our parchment pals? Is there a reporting system in place if our parchment pal is hostile? Will—”

“Miss Granger. Please,” Professor McGonagall says, looking exhausted and pained. “One question at a time. But active participation means having an actual conversation with your...your pal. There is no required word limit, but you must actually get something beneficial out of this experience, so yes, you will be required to submit a short report of your findings after this experiment has concluded. You’re to discuss what you’ve learned from the experiment as a whole, how it pertains to your journey at Hogwarts, and how your perspective toward other houses did or did not shift over the course of the experiment. Failure to submit your findings will disqualify you from your house’s total.”

“Told you it was an essay,” Ron mutters.

“You will not be penalized if your fellow student fails to reply, so long as you make a worthy effort to reach out multiple times,” McGonagall continues. “There is no official reporting system in place, but if you face any sort of unwanted contact or hostility from your fellow student, please reach out to the head of your house, and we’ll see to it that the matter is dealt with swiftly and efficiently. Any sort of unwanted contact will be severely punished, so do not abuse the privilege of your parchment. I can assure you, you will come to regret it,” McGonagall says. It’s clearly a threat, and one that seems to reverberate around the entire Great Hall if the deathly silence that follows is any indication.

“Now then. If there are no other immediate questions...?” McGonagall doesn’t even bother looking around the room. Instead, she gazes patiently at Hermione who blushes a bit and shakes her head. McGonagall nods and says, “very well. The experiment begins tonight at six o’clock and will conclude in three months time. I encourage you to all see this as a learning opportunity, and to get to know your fellow student without any biases standing in your way. If you have any further questions, please ask your head of house. For now, you may resume your meal. I trust there will be no more interruptions,” she adds, shooting a pointed look toward Malfoy and the Slytherin table, before turning to sit back down.

“So...this is different,” Harry says, turning his parchment over a few times and peering closely at it, as if his parchment pal has already written him a novel. 

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Hermione says. “The lack of inter-house unity is quite frankly, abysmal. We’re all Hogwarts students, aren’t we?” 

“So you don’t see any problems that could arise from this little experiment?” Ron asks, raising an eyebrow. 

“Well, of course. There could always be unforeseen complications. But the reward is great enough that I suspect most students will take this challenge seriously. And for those who don’t, well, it’s their loss, isn’t it?” Hermione asks, scraping her plate clean and finishing her pumpkin juice quickly, just in case any Slytherins try for an encore performance. 

“And say you discover your little parchment pal is none other than Gregory Goyle. What then?” Ron asks. 

“Won’t be a problem,” Harry says with a lopsided grin, his mouth full of potatoes once again. “There’s no way Goyle’s literate. Probably was excused from this activity on sympathetic grounds.” 

Ron snorts. “No way McGonagall would pair us up with Slytherins, though, right?” he asks, his brow creasing in concern. “She wouldn’t be that cruel to students in her own house?”

“Honestly, Ron, she’s not going to play favorites. You already heard her say that the whole thing is randomized. But think of the number of students in each house. The odds of any of us getting someone both in Slytherin and in our year are already fairly slim,” Hermione says, drumming her fingers against the table. “If you do the maths on it, then—”

“Hermione. It’s half past nine. Please don’t do the maths,” Ron says, looking mildly horrified. 

Hermione tsks. “All I’m saying is you’re more likely to be partnered with someone you’ve never heard of. The odds of you getting Goyle are ridiculously slim. Now,” Hermione claps her hands and stands up. “Let’s hurry and get to Potions. I want to get my favorite cauldron. Last time, Greengrass got to it before me, and my potion was absolutely horrid because of it.” 

“But we’re not done eating,” Harry says, his eyes flickering down to his half full plate. 

“You would be if you didn’t insist on depleting the kitchen’s stock every morning. Honestly, Harry, that much food can’t be good for anyone,” Hermione says, frowning at Harry’s plate with concern.

Harry pouts for a moment, then shrugs, shovels the remaining potatoes into his mouth, and pockets a few sausages in his robes. Then he turns to face Hermione, his cheeks bulging, flashes her a thumbs up, and says something that sounds like I’m ready, though Hermione can’t quite make it out.

Instead of asking him to repeat himself, she stares in abject horror at his bulging pockets. “Harry, don’t! You’ll never get the grease stains out of those robes!” 

“Bloody hell, how many times do you think she can forget she’s a witch with magic before we have to have her committed?” Ron asks.

Hermione flushes, then straightens her spine proudly. “It doesn’t hurt for one to know how to do things the old fashioned way,” she says with dignity, before turning on her heel and marching toward the doors, leaving Ron and Harry to hurry in her wake. 

***

“See? The finish on this cauldron is far superior to the rest of them,” Hermione says, running her finger lightly over the rim. “It really does pay to get here early.”

“Hermione, we didn’t even get that cauldron,” Harry says, glancing at his own, dingier cauldron. “It only paid for you to get here early.” 

“Honestly, Harry, the cauldron doesn’t make the potioneer! You can brew an excellent potion in any cauldron you end up with!” Hermione says, brightly.

“Then why did you insist on getting here early to—”

Ron elbows Harry and mutters not worth it out of the corner of his mouth. Hermione glares at him, and is about to reply, when she hears voices echoing off the stone walls outside of the dungeon. She bristles and prepares herself for the arrival of her classmates. 

“It’s like a pack of violent baboons, roaming the halls,” Ron says. “Just once, I’d like to have Potions with the Hufflepuffs. Or the Ravenclaws, even if they’d wipe the floor with us. But no. It’s always Slytherins. Why is it always Slytherins?” he groans, burying his head in his hands. 

The Slytherin group comes through the doorway and immediately start jockeying for position around their chosen work stations. Hermione watches with her lip curled in disgust. She really does try to be kind to everyone, but she just can’t with this particular group of Slytherins. She’s never met such a foul, vile bunch of people. They take pleasure in causing pain, in calling names, in tormenting. And the worse the tormenting gets, the more gleeful they seem to become. Hermione hesitates to call it evil per se, but she feels it in her bones that she’s sharing this classroom with future Death Eaters. 

“See something you like, Mudblood?” Crabbe sneers at Hermione. 

Hermione startles. She realizes she’s been lost in thought while staring at the Slytherin’s table, and they’re all looking back at her like she’s a decaying carcass that had the audacity to die in their presence. She’s barely registered Crabbe’s slur by the time Harry and Ron are on their feet. They’re both furious on her behalf, and Harry’s wand is out and pointed at Crabbe’s chest.

“Say that again,” Harry says, his voice low and dangerous, his wand steady.

“What are you going to do, Potter? Hex Crabbe in a classroom? Think you’ll get away with that?” Malfoy says with a smirk. “Then by all means. If you insist on defending the Mudblood’s honor.” 

Hermione reaches out and places an arm on Harry’s shoulder. “It’s not worth it,” she says urgently. “Harry, it’s not. Please sit down.”

Harry doesn’t lower his wand. “They can’t call you that. They can’t do it and get away with it,” he says, never taking his eyes off of Crabbe, who is leaning back in his seat, a grin stretched wide on his repulsive, greasy face. 

“I’d rather they call me that than see you in detention for the next month,” Hermione says, tugging on Harry’s arm to no avail. Years of Quidditch training have made him surprisingly strong despite his lanky stature, and she’d have better luck trying to move the statue of the one-eyed witch guarding the Hogsmeade passage. She’s still tugging on his arm when a dry voice cuts through the air.

“My, my. What have we here?”

Professor Snape stands in the doorway of the Potions classroom, surveying the scene in front of him, his dark eyes glittering in the dim light of the dungeon. Malfoy smirks one more time at Harry before turning to Snape. 

“Potter’s threatening us,” he says easily, as if he’s delivering the daily weather report. 

“We’re all terribly frightened,” Pansy drawls next to him, studying her fingernails again. Self-absorbed twat, Hermione thinks coldly.

“Professor, it wasn’t like that,” Ron says, still flushed with fury, his fists clenched at his side. “Crabbe called Hermione a...a...” 

“Mudblood,” Hermione says, quietly. “He called me a Mudblood. And Harry was just—”

“Defending your honor?” Snape says, his lip curling in distaste. “How very noble of you, Potter. But much like your esteemed head of house, I’m unwilling to punish without the proper evidence. There is no evidence that Mr. Crabbe used such foul language toward Miss Granger. In fact, the only evidence I see here is you, Potter, holding a wand on an unarmed student, in the middle of my classroom. I am inclined to trust my own eyes, rather than specious arguments. Fifty points from Gryffindor, and a detention for you, I think,” Snape says to Harry, his dark eyes shining with barely tempered delight. 

“But Professor—“ Hermione starts, outrage in her voice. 

“Would you care to join him in detention, Miss Granger?” Snape asks. 

Hermione looks to Harry, who shakes his head. “Not worth you getting in trouble, too,” he murmurs, slowly taking his seat and putting his wand away. She closes her mouth and glares at Snape instead, hoping to make him feel even the slightest tinge of remorse. Fifty points and detention. How dare he give Harry such a harsh punishment without punishing the people who instigated the situation in the first place? She has half a mind to bring this up to Dumbledore, but she has a feeling he’d agree with the “no evidence, no punishment” rule the faculty seems to have grown very keen of in the past hour. 

“Now if everyone has settled...” Snape says, turning his back to the students to sweep to the front of the classroom. He waves his wand, and ingredients fly off the shelves and land gently in front of him beside his cauldron. Ground scarab beetles, cut ginger roots, armadillo bile, and newt spleens. Once he’s assembled everything, he looks back up at the class. 

“Who can tell me what potion we’re making today?” he asks, gazing apathetically at the class. 

Hermione knows the answer. Of course she does. It’s on the tip of her tongue, begging to be voiced, but she doesn’t want to volunteer when she’s still furious at Snape. But when the silence starts to stretch on, and even Ron mutters, “just say it,” out of the corner of his mouth, Hermione sighs, and lifts her hand. 

“Yes, Miss Granger?”

“Wit-sharpening potion,” she says, her words coming out harsh and clipped. She doesn’t even volunteer any of the extra information she knows about this particular potion, which is quite frankly, killing her. But she holds strong as Snape nods, and says, “correct. Five points to Gryffindor. For the rest of you—the future of the wizarding world—perhaps a draught of this will do you some good. Gather your ingredients. You’ll find the potion listed on page 342.”

Snape sits down, and the class breaks into a low murmur of conversation. Hermione gets up from her seat, but before she can move, Snape says, “and one more thing. In the spirit of...inter-house unity,” he says, his lip curling, “you’ll no longer be working with your current partners.” 

The low murmur of conversation grows louder, and Snape holds up a hand. “That was not an invitation for idle chatter,” Snape says. “The faculty has decided to enrich the...parchment pals assignment," he says with a grimace, "by requiring students work with partners outside of their house during class. So...” 

Hermione feels her stomach drop in anticipation of what’s about to happen. She doesn’t often wish to be wrong, but she finds herself desperately hoping the next words out of Snape’s mouth aren’t what she thinks they’re going to be. 

“You’ve all been assigned new partners. Until further notice, Slytherins will be working with Gryffindors.”

There are immediate cries of outrage from around the room, equal parts Slytherin and Gryffindor. Snape looks at them coldly and says, “you’re wasting your breath. This decision was not mine. But it will be respected as if it were.” The room quiets, and Snape waves his wand lazily. Names appear on the board behind him. “You’ll find your name written beside your new partner’s name. I expect you to all be on your best behavior,” he adds, but he doesn’t sound as if he means it or even cares.

Hermione looks up at the board. She sees Ron is partnered with Theo and Harry has Daphne. She glances to them to show her sympathy, but they’re already watching her with twin pained expressions. 

“Maybe it’ll be okay?” Ron says, more as a question than a statement. 

“She’s not...I mean, she’s... Harry says, trailing off and rubbing his neck. 

Hermione frowns, then realizes with a sinking feeling that she hadn’t found her own name on the board. She looks back and there it is, near the bottom of the list. Written next to it in neat print is PANSY PARKINSON. 

Oh, no. 

Oh, no

Of all the people. There isn’t really a good Slytherin to be partnered with, per se, but Pansy is most assuredly the worst. For the past seven years, Pansy had made it her mission to torment Hermione at every opportunity. She’s taken every excuse to mock her viciously, she’s shot furtive jinxes at her in the hallways, she calls her a Mudblood on what feels like a daily basis...there’s no way this is ending without one of them in the hospital wing. And she knows she won’t be allowed a switch. After all, Neville has been partnered with Malfoy, and he’s already white as a sheet and trembling. If anyone deserves a switch, it’s him. So Hermione decides to dig down deep and tap into her Gryffindor courage. After all, she can give as good as she gets. And if there’s one thing she knows, it’s that Pansy Parkinson will not break her.

She can manage this.

***

She can’t manage this. 

They’re forty minutes into their potion and Pansy is being a complete and utter cow. She’s purposefully been moving as slowly as she possibly can, but all the while tossing rapid-fire insults at Hermione. If Hermione wasn’t so frustrated and angry, she’d find Pansy’s seemingly endless string of nasty remarks rather impressive. But as it is, she’s one insult away from emptying the entire cauldron over Pansy’s head. The one saving grace of the whole situation is Pansy seems to be relatively invested in getting high marks on this potion, so even though she’s moving slower than a flobberworm stuck in toffee sauce, she hasn’t made a mistake yet. All things considered, it could be worse, even if she is forcing Hermione to find reservoirs of patience she didn’t think existed.

“I’ve always know your blood was filthy, but I didn’t think the rest of you would be, too,” Pansy says, grinding the scarab beetles in the mortar, taking care to make the most obnoxious, slow scraping noises she possibly can.

“What?” Hermione asks, teeth clenched at the sound, three seconds away from hexing Pansy into next week. It would be worth the detention. Perhaps even the expulsion. 

“You. You smell awful. You do know there’s a prefect’s bathroom, right?” Pansy asks, somehow managing to grind the scarab beetles even louder and even slower. It sets Hermione’s teeth on edge. 

“You know perfectly well it’s the armadillo bile and not me,” Hermione says, now only two seconds away from hexing Pansy.

Pansy leans down toward the rancid smelling bile, takes a deep sniff, cocks her head to the side, then shakes her head. “No, that’s not it at all. Perhaps it’s your blood, after all.” She sniffs the air. “Yes. Definite hints of mud.”

“Have you finished with the beetles?” Hermione asks, refusing to give into Pansy’s incessant needling. Pansy makes a show out of grinding the beetles one last time, dragging the pestle as slowly as she can against the granite mortar. The sound is so awful, it makes Hermione shiver involuntarily, which makes Pansy smirk. She slides the mortar and pestle toward Hermione, who picks it up and adds the contents to the cauldron, satisfied when the potion turns a deep, dark red. 

Pansy peers into the cauldron. “Looks like Weasley’s face this morning. Do you know, I’ve never seen him so angry! Must have touched a nerve, then?” she asks, turning to look at Hermione with wide, innocent eyes.

Hermione has no idea what she’s referring to. She frowns, thinking back on this morning’s debacle. Then, she remembers Pansy’s overtly sexual comment. The steam from the potion has already made her flushed, but she feels her face grow warmer at the memory. 

“Ooh,” Pansy says, noticing the darker flush. “I did touch a nerve. I suppose a you’re welcome wouldn’t be out of place, since it sounds like that’s the only part of you that ever gets touched.”

Hermione glares at Pansy. “For your information, Ron and I aren’t together,” she says, making sure to keep her voice low so Ron, two tables over and looking absolutely miserable, doesn’t hear what they’re talking about. 

“Oh? Well, it can’t be because you’re a Mudblood. That’s never bothered the Weasleys. Notorious blood traitors, the lot of them. Oh, I know!” Pansy says, snapping her fingers. “Perhaps he thought he was shagging you this whole time, but it was actually a troll. Easy mistake to make,” she says as she slowly chops the ginger root. 

Hermione exhales heavily, but decides not to answer. Anything more will just give Pansy more ammunition. Ignoring her will make her petulant, but Hermione can deal with a petulant Pansy Parkinson easier than she can a sadistic one. 

“It’s truly astonishing, though,” Pansy says, chopping the last ginger root with a faraway expression. “Because I’m sure you’ve entertained the idea. You and Weasley. Late at night, in your bed. Curtains drawn, a quick Silencio, an awkward fumble or two while you desperately try to get off on the idea of sucking his ginger prick. But to give so much time and energy to someone who doesn’t care about you at all,” Pansy says with a shake of her head. “Extraordinary.”

Hermione raises her head at this and looks at Pansy with confusion. “What do you mean? Of course he cares about me. He and Harry are my best friends.” 

Pansy hums, finishes chopping the ginger root, and pushes the pile toward Hermione. “And how did that come to pass?” she asks, turning the knife on its point against the table. “When they realized there was a brain under that horrid pile on your head you call hair? A brain they could use to coast through the next seven years?”

Hermione shakes her head, depositing the ginger roots into the cauldron and watching as the potion turns green. Once she’s satisfied with the hue, she begins to stir clockwise. “No. As a matter of fact, that was the reason they disliked me when we first met. They thought me an insufferable know-it-all. And they were right, I suppose. Social skills weren’t exactly my forte when I was eleven,” she says, ignoring Pansy’s muttered nor are they now. She lets the potion sit for a moment and looks toward Pansy. “I’ve never let them copy my assignments, if that’s what you think. I help them, but I don’t let them use me,” she says. 

“Oh, please,” Pansy scoffs. “Spare me, Granger. They’ve used you at every turn, whether you care to admit it or not. Just because you don’t let them copy your assignments, I’m sure that doesn’t stop them from asking incessantly. And tell me, how often has Weasley bothered to remove his oversized head from his oversized arse and take notice of someone other than himself? To ask about you, or your day? He’s a tactless, self-centered, lazy twat who found the one girl in this entire school willing to put up with it. Because that’s what you do, isn’t it? You desperately cling to anyone willing to give you the time of day. It’s why your hand is always the first up in class—you’re desperate for attention, desperate to be loved, desperate to please. Poor little Mudblood. No wonder you’re desperate to be fucked by Weasley,” she says, her eyes glittering. “You’re still the same ugly little girl you’ve always been, crying out for someone to want her. And when he eventually decides you might be slightly more tolerable than the troll, he’ll use you one more time and leave you behind when he’s done.”

Hermione knows Pansy is looking for some kind of reaction. And she’d be lying if she said some of Pansy’s diatribe didn’t cut a bit deeper than she’d like. Particularly the bits about her desperate needs to be loved and to please. But she also knows that giving Pansy the reaction she’s looking for will mean she’s lost this little game they’re playing. 

And Hermione Granger is not a loser. 

So she simply snorts in mild amusement and shakes her head. “You seem to have spent a fair amount of time thinking about my personal life, Parkinson. But I’m sorry to say, you don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talking about. You don’t know me, and you’ve certainly no idea what my relationship is like with Ron, so you don’t get to make assumptions. Just as I wouldn’t make assumptions about your relationship with Malfoy Though if I wanted to, I’m sure I could reasonably assume most of the same things you just did. I’ve seen the way you hang off of Malfoy. What was it you said about me? Desperate to be noticed and desperate to please? Sound familiar?” Hermione notices Pansy tense beside her, and she feels emboldened. She stirs the potion and says, “I could assume even more, if I tried. Like how you and Malfoy were probably promised to each other as children for the sake of blood purity or whatever nonsense your families like to prattle on about. And judging by the way you’ve always fawned over him and his complete lack of reciprocal interest, I’d say he’s not too keen on the arrangement. I could even assume from the way he looks at Greengrass that he’d rather be with any number of Slytherin girls than so much as lay a finger on you. So if I were to make wild assumptions, I’d say you have more knowledge than most about what it’s like to desperately want someone who wants absolutely nothing to do with you, and most likely, finds you completely repulsive. But you know that, don’t you, Parkinson?” Hermione asks, unable to stop herself from twisting the knife in further. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t remember you ever dating anyone other than Malfoy, if you can even call what the two of you do dating. Performance theatre, more like. So perhaps it’s more than just Malfoy. Perhaps the entirety of your house finds you positively repulsive. Certainly would explain why no one has ever wanted to be with you voluntarily. No, the only way the great Pansy Parkinson can land a man is if there’s a binding magical contract involved.”

Hermione glances at Pansy and sees a muscle flexing in her jaw. She’s staring straight ahead, her eyes dark with fury, her face flushed, and her fists clenched at her side. Hermione bites her lower lip, trying to keep the smile at bay. But she can’t help it—she feels flushed with pride and the thrill of victory. She’s never spent enough time with Pansy to actually engage in any sort of conversation with her. It’s usually a one-off insult tossed her way during class or a meal that Hermione almost always chooses to ignore. This is the first time she’s ever kept up her end of a conversation, and judging from Pansy’s expression, she’s done quite well.

“Aw, touched a nerve, Parkinson?” Hermione asks, deciding to see if she can stick the knife in any deeper “Don’t worry. I’m sure you can touch something else later tonight when you’re in bed and pretend it’s Malfoy touching it,” she adds, pleased when Pansy’s flush grows even darker. Normally, Hermione wouldn’t stoop to such childish, sexualized insults, but in this case, she’s glad she made the exception. 

Pansy turns to Hermione, eyes blazing, leans forward just a bit and hisses, “fuck you, Granger. Where the fuck do you get off, you filthy—”

“Miss Parkinson. Miss Granger. I trust that the Slytherin and Gryffindor prefects will be able to set an example for the rest of their classmates?” Snape asks, glancing at their cauldron. He’s approached so quietly, and both girls jump slightly at his unexpected presence. Hermione collects herself quickly and nods, even though her heart rate hasn’t quite recovered.

“Of course, Professor. And our potion is complete, if you’d like us to bottle it?” Hermione asks, desperately hoping Snape didn’t hear the last thing she said to Pansy. Because while she’s proud of it, she’d never want a professor to hear her make such dirty comments, least of all Professor Snape. 

Snape looks at the potion, then nods. “It looks...satisfactory. I assume you took the lead, Miss Parkinson? Well done. It seems you’ll be an excellent influence on Miss Granger,” he says, before sweeping off to check another cauldron. Hermione digs her fingernails into the palm of her hands to keep the frustration at bay. I assume you took the lead. Honestly. And when Hermione’s the one sat in front of the cauldron. She shakes her head a bit and shrugs it off. All that matters is she made it through her first class period, their potion was correct, and quite surprisingly, she managed to get the upper hand on Pansy. 

“I’ll clean up, you bottle a sample,” she says, getting up quickly to collect the ingredients and re-shelf them. Pansy doesn’t make eye contact with her, just nods tersely and takes Hermione’s place in front of the cauldron. Hermione’s a bit surprised that there’s no cutting remark, no attempted jinx from Pansy, but she decides to take the victory and get through the rest of this class as quickly as possible.

She strides away from the table, walking past other Gryffindor-Slytherin pairs, all of whom seem to be failing miserably at working together. Ron even mouths help at her as she passes, and she grimaces in sympathy. Once she reaches the storage closet, she stashes the leftover ingredients back in their proper places, leans against the cool, stone wall for just a moment, and takes a deep breath, trying to center herself. 

“That bad, eh?” 

Hermione jumps about a foot in the air. She glares at Harry, who’s chuckling as he replaces his leftover ingredients. 

“Harry Potter, you nearly gave me a heart attack,” she says, rubbing her chest. “Honestly. I should put one of Crookshanks’ spare bells around your neck.” 

Harry grins, tips the last of his leftover scarab beetles back into the tall, glass jar they came from, then turns to face her. “Not sure it’d go with my style,” he says, ruffling his hair. 

“Hm. Well, if you ever find one, I’ll be sure to weigh in,” Hermione says. “And as to your question, it...wasn’t pleasant. But I think I may have had the upper hand on her at the very end. She looked like she wanted to hex me, which I think is Parkinson for you win this round,” she says with a small shrug. 

Harry raises an eyebrow. “Blimey. What’d you say to her?” 

Hermione flushes a bit, thinking about her last insult. “Oh, nothing to be repeated in polite company. But I must have hit my mark. I’ve never seen her so angry.” 

“Good for you,” Harry says, nudging her with his shoulder.

Hermione hums in agreement. “And you? How was Greengrass?”

Harry shrugs. “Didn’t do any work. She bossed me about while I did everything and insulted me at every turn. About what I expected, if I’m honest. Maybe even better than I expected, considering she didn’t deliberately sabotage our potion.”

Hermione chuckles and starts back toward the tables with Harry in step beside her. “Well, one class down, only three months to go,” she says, then stops short. Harry glances at her, questioningly, then follows her gaze toward her table. It’s completely clean, save for a bottle of their potion, neatly labelled and sitting on the center of the table. Pansy is nowhere to be found. 

Harry whistles. “Must have done a number on her. Not sure I’ve ever seen Parkinson accept defeat before.”

Hermione feels a twinge of guilt for a moment, but then she scoffs at herself. If anyone deserves to be thoroughly insulted for once in their life, it’s Pansy. Let her lick her wounds. It’s not like she’ll come back a changed person. 

She pushes the guilt aside and resumes basking in her glory as she packs up her satchel. She has bigger things to worry about than Pansy Parkinson’s mental state. 

She slips her Potions book into her satchel, right next to her magical parchment and decides to focus on that instead. After all, she has to figure out what to write to her parchment pal. But she has the rest of the day to figure it out. She’ll come up with something. 

***

She’s come up with nothing

Hermione stares at the blank sheet of parchment in front of her. It’s two minutes past six and she’s in the library, desperately racking her brains to come up with a fun, interesting opener that will make her parchment pal want to continue the conversation. She taps her quill against the table and bites her lower lip, willing the words to come to her. When her mind stays blank, she groans and buries her head in her hands. 

“Writer’s block?” 

Hermione lifts her head. Ginny is looking at her, her brow crinkled in sympathy. She drops her bag on the ground and pulls out a chair, then flops into it with a sigh. 

“I’ve spent all day trying to come up with a good opening line for mine,” she says, placing her blank parchment on the table. “Dunno why I’m making it so much harder than it needs to be.” 

Hermione chuckles. “You’re in good company. Everything I try sounds desperate, overly cheerful, or horrid and fake.”

“We need to be more like Rita Skeeter,” Ginny says, ignoring Hermione’s look of absolute horror. “She churns out shite articles all day and night. Probably never agonizes over her opening line. The best one I have so far is, ‘what’s your favorite Quidditch team?’” Ginny says, then looks at Hermione with a grimace. “It makes me sound like I’m six years old.” 

“Better than me. I was going to start with ‘what’s your favorite class subject,’” Hermione says. 

Ginny snorts. “Yeah, best not give away it’s you that early on,” she says. She looks down at her blank parchment again and exhales sharply. “Right. Sod it. I’m going in. Now or never,” she says. She picks up Hermione’s quill, grabs her parchment, scribbles something down on it, then taps it with her wand. The black ink seals into the parchment and turns to a shimmery gold, gleaming on the paper.

Hermione and Ginny both stare at the parchment like they’re waiting for it to burst into flames. But it just sits on the library table, Ginny’s message shining in gold ink. Hermione leans forward to read the message, but finds herself curiously unable to decipher it. She looks up in confusion, but Ginny’s one step ahead of her. 

“Charmed so only me and my pal can read it, remember?” 

Hermione nods, remembering that McGonagall had said something to that effect. “What did you write? If you don’t mind my asking,” Hermione adds quickly, not wanting to overstep her bounds. 

So what do you think about this whole parchment pal business?” Ginny says with a shrug. “Not exactly groundbreaking stuff, is it?”

“That’s not bad,” Hermione says with a shrug. “Gives you a good idea of what kind of person they are based on their response. I might copy that.”

“Hermione Granger, copying my schoolwork? I never thought I’d see the day,” Ginny says, with a grin. 

“First time for everything,” Hermione says. “By the way, how do you feel about this whole thing anyway?”

“You mean is it giving me bad flashbacks to a certain cursed diary?” Ginny shrugs. “Not really. It’s different enough and the idea behind it is innocuous. If I was corresponding with Tom Riddle again, mind you, I might feel differently. Maybe that should’ve been my opening line—do you now or will you ever harbor a deep desire to get rid of your entire nose?” 

Hermione laughs out loud, then claps a hand over her mouth when she sees Madam Pince turn to glare at her. She mouths sorry, then turns back to Ginny. “You almost got me banned from the library,” she says, laughter still shining in her eyes. 

Ginny grins. “Might do you some good. There’s a whole world outside of these walls, you know. But no, I’ll be alright. Harry was worried about me, too,” she adds, her smile turning a bit softer. 

“Stands to reason. Seeing as he’s completely besotted with you.” 

Ginny flushes, and shakes her head. “He’s not. We’re mates. Good mates. And he’s a mate I don’t want my brother to kill for looking at me the wrong way.”

“Ah, so you want him to look at you the wrong way?” Hermione asks, raising an eyebrow. 

Ginny’s flush darkens. “Sod off. Besides, you’re one to talk. I heard there was quite a commotion this morning about whether or not my brother has ever made you...” Ginny’s face contorts, and she shakes her head. “No. No, I can’t actually say it. But what’s the story there? Did he finally ask you out?” 

Hermione frowns down at the table and fiddles with the edges of her parchment. “No. We’re just friends. And that’s all I want.” She looks up to find Ginny gazing at her, sympathy in her eyes. “Don’t look at me like that. It is all I want. Besides, he’s been making eyes at Lavender for weeks now. God knows why, she’s got as much depth as a puddle.”

“Mm, and that would be a struggle for someone like Ronald, so famously known for his depth,” Ginny says. 

“Well, he’s got more than she does! But no. We’re just friends. And that’s fine,” Hermione says, ignoring the pity in Ginny’s eyes.

Has she secretly wanted more? Of course. She’s thought of it from time to time (and not in the privacy of her own bed, as Pansy had so crudely insinuated). But she’s happy with things the way they are. She doesn’t want to risk ruining her friendship with Ron, so she sees no need to change things now. And to be fair, it’s not as if she’s desperate for things to change. She’s just seen other students, holding hands in the hallways, whispering to each other, exchanging glances, and...it looks nice. Quite nice. Like something she might want to experience herself. But no boys have ever particularly interested her outside of Harry and Ron, and Harry is both practically her brother, and completely smitten with Ginny. So that leaves Ron. He’s certainly nice looking, he’s protective, and he makes her laugh. And there’s definitely passion between them, which she knows is a key ingredient in a successful relationship. She just sometimes wonders if that passion should stem from something other than getting in fights over whether or not Ron can copy her homework. 

“If you ever want me to talk sense into him, say the word. Or send a letter to Mum. She’d be more than happy to send a Howler. She’s absolutely desperate to make you a proper member of the family. We all are, if I’m being honest,” Ginny says, reaching across the table to squeeze Hermione’s hand.

Hermione smiles and squeezes Ginny’s hand back. “Thanks. I’ll let you know.” 

Ginny nods. She releases Hermione’s hand, slips her parchment back into her bag, and stands. “Please do. But I’ve got to be off. Practice tonight. If you want, I’ll ask Peakes and Coote to send extra bludgers Ron’s way?” 

Hermione smiles, but shakes her head. “Tempting as that is, I think I’ll pass. Thank you, though.” 

Ginny shrugs. “Suit yourself. Might do it anyway, just for a laugh. See you later tonight?” 

Hermione nods. “Maybe by then, I’ll have decided on an opening line.” 

Ginny glances down at Hermione’s parchment. “Might not need to,” she says, nodding at it. “Looks like your pal did all the hard work for you.”

Hermione looks down quickly to see a silver message, shining up at her from her parchment. She looks back to Ginny with wide eyes. “Oh, no. No! Ginny, they’ll think I’m bad at time management! Or worse, that I don’t care about assignments,” she says, looking positively aghast at the idea. 

Ginny laughs loudly, ignoring Madam Pince shushing her across the room. “Look on the bright side—it’s the perfect cover. No way Hermione Granger wouldn’t send a message at six o’clock on the dot. By not sending it, you’ve completely disguised yourself. Flawless, really,” she says. “Anyway, that’s me off. Good luck answering, hope they wrote something good,” she adds over her shoulder as she walks away.

“Thanks,” Hermione says absently, staring down at the paper. The message written there is simple, but she’s able to pick out a few things from it. It reads:

I can’t say I ever expected the school to resort to bribery to make us all get along, but I also can’t say I’m completely against the idea. 

She can already tell by the language and tone that her pal is most likely an older student, probably a fourth year or above. Everything is spelled correctly, so not Crabbe or Goyle, thank goodness. Perhaps a Ravenclaw? And the fact her pal isn’t against bribery as a tool doesn’t exactly scream Hufflepuff, but there are certainly quite a few Hufflepuffs she knows that would be more than open to the idea of bribery. 

She picks up her quill, taps it against her lips a few times, then scratches out her reply. She reads over it, edits a few words here and there, then taps it with her wand and watches as the ink sinks into the page and turns to gold. 

I wouldn’t put anything past Hogwarts. This is the same school that decided a proper detention would consist of traipsing eleven-year-olds through the Forbidden Forest at midnight. 

She reads over the message again. While this detention did happen to her, it’s also a fairly standard detention at Hogwarts, so it doesn’t give anything away. She feels confident her identity is still under wraps, at least for the time being. She watches the parchment for a moment, but when no new words appear, she puts it aside and opens her Arithmancy book, determined to get some work done. She’s read about a page when glistening, silver ink catches her eye. She immediately drops her book and pulls the parchment toward her, desperate to see how her pal has answered.

At the risk of exposing my identity, I’m proud to say I was never subjected to that particular pleasure. But I will (somewhat shamefully) admit to having served a detention or two under Filch’s watchful eye. Next time you see the trophy case, I hope you stop in reverent awe, knowing that the trophies are shining because of me. 

Hermione is reaching for her quill with a small smile on her face, when another message comes through. 

And you? Have you ever served a detention, or are you a pinnacle of virtue and goodness? In which case, I hope I haven’t scared you off. I promise, I’ll be on my best behavior from here on out. For instance, whereas before I would have told you about the time I slipped a hiccoughing sweet into Snape’s morning pumpkin juice, now, I wouldn’t even dream of saying such a horrid thing.

Hermione’s smile widens as she quickly writes out her reply, tapping it with her wand when she’s satisfied. 

I’m afraid I’ll never be mistaken for a pinnacle of virtue and goodness, and I’ve never used any of Zonko’s wares against our esteemed professors, though I’m very glad you’re on your best behavior and would never mention such a thing to me. And yes, I’ve served a detention, but just the one. Which all things considered is rather impressive, if I do say so myself.

She bites her lip, then adds an extra line and taps it with her wand. 

The trick is to not get caught. Perhaps I can give you lessons? 

She abandons her book to stare at the parchment, willing the next line to come through in record time. She feels like she’s been staring at the parchment for ages when the new message finally appears. She reads it quickly, trying to pick out clues here and there. 

Such hubris! And you offer lessons in mischief after I promised to be on my best behavior. A right terrible influence, you are. This experiment has already corrupted me beyond repair. But as far as I can tell, there are three options here—one, that you’re embellishing your exploits for the sake of our conversation, as you’re too embarrassed to admit you’ve never broken any rules and are altogether, a remarkably decent sort. Two, that you’re some sort of brilliant, troublemaking savant. Filch’s worst nightmare. A Robin Hood-esque figure, bringing hope to the masses through your adventures and close calls. Three, you’re a prefect or a head boy/girl. Can’t get into trouble if you’re the one enforcing the rules. So tell me, Oh, Robin Hood of Hogwarts . . . am I close? 

Hermione raises an eyebrow at the last guess. Her pal has figured out a piece of her identity in less than fifteen minutes. She won’t admit to it being correct, obviously, but she’ll have to be more careful moving forward. But she herself has learned a clue—her pal mentioned Robin Hood, and that’s something that only a student with some knowledge of the Muggle world would know. She sighs in relief as a knot in her stomach loosens. Probably not a Slytherin, then. It’s also something she can use to further disguise her identity. She picks up her quill and answers as quickly as she can, not wanting to keep her parchment pal waiting. 

It’s not hubris if you can back it up. As for your guesses, I’m not familiar with Robin Hood, but through your description, I feel a certain kinship. I certainly don’t think I bring hope to the masses, but I must say that when it comes to close calls, I’m unmatched. Would this Robin Hood of yours know secrets about Hogwarts no one else would? If so, you may call me the Robin Hood of Hogwarts, as I could tell you things you’d never believe. 

Hermione taps the message with her wand, watching as the ink turns to gold. It’s not technically a lie—she could tell her parchment pal about the Room of Requirement, the secret way to sneak into the kitchens, or the numerous hidden passages revealed to her by the Marauder’s Map.

She bounces her leg restlessly under the table, waiting for a reply. The sun has long since set, and the library will be closing soon, but she’s already fascinated by the mysterious presence on the other side of her parchment. She finds herself liking them immediately. Liking their dry, sardonic tone, liking the way they use words, liking the gentle humor every now and then. She glances at her Arithmancy book, forgotten in the center of the table, and frowns—this little experiment could set her back in her studies, if she’s not careful. Because strange as it is, she already finds herself desperate to continue this conversation, even at the sake of schoolwork. 

She barely recognizes herself.

Silver ink blooms on the parchment, and Hermione eagerly reads the new message. 

Robin, I’m afraid you now must put your money where your mouth is, so to speak. I’ll let you keep almost all of your secrets, but you must indulge me in at least one. After all, how is a myth to become the stuff of legend if not for the faithful bard, whispering splendid tales for those willing to hear? 

I jest—your secret would be safe with me. That is, if you’d care to share it. But if you think I may be vying for your title, dear Robin Hood, I’ll understand your hesitation. 

Your humble servant, 
The bard

Hermione grins foolishly at the new message, then tilts her head, trying to decide which fact to share.  She finally decides to share the most mild secret she knows, and the only one she never makes use of, as a matter of principle. She secretly hopes her pal won’t use this knowledge either, but she can’t exactly control that. And besides, sharing this particular tidbit doesn’t seem like something the founder of S.P.E.W. would ever do, so it’s yet another layer of deception. She picks up her quill and writes.

Dearest bard,

I don’t give my secrets away to just anybody. But I suppose for the sake of house unity, and as a gesture of goodwill, I’d be willing to share one with you. Are you familiar with the painting depicting a bowl of fruit, underneath the Great Hall? If you tickle the pear, you’ll find the the answer to all your late night cravings.

She pauses, sorely tempted to add but please don’t, as the house-elves deserve more freedom than they’re granted, and even if they think they’re happy, it’s only because this is the only way of life they’ve ever known, isn’t it? So on the whole, it’s actually quite a dreadful practice. P.S. Would you be interested in joining S.P.E.W?

She doesn’t add it. 

But she’s tempted. 

Sorely tempted.

She continues where she left off.

I must ask you to keep this secret to yourself, as I’m sure you could imagine the chaos that would descend upon the school if students were granted full access to the kitchens. I myself have only benefitted from this knowledge once, and don’t plan to in the near future. 

Now, what say you, bard? Have I earned my title?

Yours, 
Robin (?)

She taps the message, and before she can even look up, she hears the harsh sound of someone clearing their throat from above her. She jumps and looks up to find Madam Pince, staring down at her like a bird of prey, her beady eyes, cold and dark. 

“The library is closed,” she says. “Please gather your materials and leave. Quietly.” 

“I’m sorry, I must have lost track of the time,” Hermione says, quickly gathering her books and her parchment and shoving them all into her bag. She stands up quickly, her chair scraping against the hardwood floor. Madam Pince exhales sharply at the noise and Hermione quickly apologizes before she can say anything else. She hurries toward the doors, and once she’s through them and safe on the other side, she slumps against the wall, letting her heart rate return to normal. After she feels more or less collected, she adjusts her bag on her shoulder and sets off toward the Gryffindor common room, eager to continue her correspondence. She practically flies through the hallways, ignoring the fact that as Head Girl, she should technically be reprimanding herself for running through the halls. But as her pal said, you can’t get in trouble if you’re the one enforcing the rules. 

She arrives in front of the Fat Lady’s portrait a few long minutes later, completely out of breath. She bends down, hands on her knees, and tries desperately to catch her breath, trying not to dwell on how embarrassingly out of shape she is. 

“Goodness! Whatever is the matter? Is someone chasing you?” the Fat Lady asks, peering at Hermione in concern. 

Hermione shakes her head and manages to wheeze “toad in the hole.” The Fat Lady sighs, mutters, “never a conversation with these students,” and swings open to admit Hermione. She clambers inside, drops her bag on the ground by the nearest open chair, sinks into it, and immediately reaches for her parchment.

“Blimey. You alright, Hermione?” Neville asks from a few chairs away. 

Hermione nods. “Just rather involved in a conversation with my parchment pal and didn’t want to keep them waiting for my answer,” she says, her hand closing around the page in her bag.

“Oh. Mine hasn’t answered yet,” Neville says, sounding a bit despondent. “Nice you’ve got one that wants to chat, I suppose.”

Hermione makes a vague sound of agreement as she puts the parchment down on the table in front of her, barely registering what Neville’s said. She only has eyes for the new, silvery message from her pal, which reads: 

Dear Robin,

You’ve satisfied this bard’s curiosity, but you have my word, I won’t share your secret with anyone. I doubt I’ll even make use of it myself, as I’ve never been one for late night cravings.

I must confess, though, I’m terribly tempted to hide in the corridor and see if a mysterious, cloaked figure passes that way. Perhaps you utilize this knowledge frequently, and are trying to throw me off the scent. There’s no need for that—I’m rather enjoying the aspects of secrecy this particular method of communication offers. To that end, I won’t ask any more probing questions about you. Just simple things. Like this: what’s your favorite color? 

Yours, faithfully, 
Bard

Hermione smiles, tracing her finger over the silver signature. 

“Good letter, then?” 

She looks up in surprise to see Neville gazing at her, his Potions assignment strewn across the table in front of him. He’s the only other one in the common room, his back to the crackling fire, and his hair slightly mussed from where he’s undoubtedly thrust his hands through it in a Potions-induced frustration.

Hermione nods. “A very good letter. But that’s no excuse for blowing in here and ignoring everything and everyone in my path. I’m sorry. You said your parchment pal hasn’t replied? What did you write to them?”

Neville shrugs. “Nothing much, just a how’s it going. With my luck, I probably got Goyle,” he says, looking a bit worried. 

Hermione shakes her head. “I very much doubt that. It’s still early, I’m sure you’ll hear back soon.”

Neville nods, then glances at Hermione’s parchment, and his eyes grow wide. “Blimey,” he says, a bit stunned. “You’ve written that much in an hour or so?” 

Hermione glances down and sees that the parchment is almost completely filled with gold and silver writing. “Oh. Yes, I suppose so. They’re quite easy to talk to.”

“So not Goyle, then,” Neville puts in, with a laugh.

“No, definitely not Goyle. I don’t think this is a Slytherin,” Hermione says, skimming the last message again. 

“Oh? Why?”

“Just a hunch. Some of the things they’ve referenced are things only someone with an interest in the Muggle world would know. And they seem...kind. Intelligent. Genuine. Things I don’t often associate with Slytherins,” Hermione says, her mind briefly flickering back to her horrid Potions experience with Pansy. 

“Lucky you,” Neville says. “I hope mine is—” he glances down at his parchment and he grins broadly. “Well, you were right! Patience pays off. I just heard back. All they wrote is Avoiding transfiguration homework. You?” he says. 

Hermione chuckles. “Sounds like you’ve got a scholar on your hands. If McGonagall hadn’t already told us we wouldn’t be matched with members of our own house, I’d think you were matched with Ron.” 

Neville grins at her, then grabs his quill and bends down over the parchment. Hermione takes this as a cue to do the same. She reads over her pal’s last message again, then begins to write. 

Dear bard, 

I wish I had your strength, but unfortunately, I’m not above the late night calling of a cream horn. It would seem that even legends are terribly human at times.

I’m also enjoying the secrecy, so there’s no need to stalk the halls late at night and try to uncover my identity, though you’d never manage to catch me even if you tried. But perhaps my favorite color will give you a clue. It’s green. But a specific green. A deep, dark, forest green. The kind of green you see when you look at the Forbidden Forest from afar—dark, mysterious, hypnotic, yet somehow tranquil at the same time. I love how alive it feels. Can a color feel alive? I think it can. There, bard, did that reveal my identity to you?

I want to know your favorite color, but I think it only fair I get to ask a question as well, don’t you? So here is yours—do you have a pet? Whether here or at home? You don’t have to specify where the pet is, if it even exists in the first place. 

Yours, 
Robin

Hermione taps the message and watches as the ink turns to gold. She sighs, stretches in the chair, and reaches into her bag for her forgotten Arithmancy textbook. 

“You were writing a while. You’ll have a novel done soon enough,” Neville says with a smile, standing from his own chair, leaving his Potions assignment behind, and heading toward the common room entrance. “Hungry?” he asks. 

Hermione shakes her head. “Not right now. Besides, I need to do my Arithmancy reading. I keep getting distracted. But that was a slightly longer message, so hopefully, I’ve bought myself some time.” 

Neville nods. “Best of luck. Hope you get your work done,” he says as the portrait opens. He gives her a quick wave and climbs out, and the portrait swings shut behind him. 

Hermione settles into the chair with her textbook, and is about ten pages in when the portrait swings open once again, and the members of the Gryffindor quidditch team come into view, laughing raucously and trailing mud in behind them. Ron catches sight of Hermione and gives a little wave before heading toward the boy’s dormitory, presumably to shower. The rest of the team, save for Ginny and Harry, head toward their rooms, their voices growing fainter as they disappear from sight.

Ginny drops down next to Hermione heavily, sweat still glistening on her brow. “So? Figure out your opening line?” Ginny asks, peering at the parchment beside Hermione to see if there’s anything written on it. When she sees the amount of text there, her eyes widen. 

“I did, as you can see,” Hermione says with a laugh. “The conversation has been quite natural. They seem lovely.” 

“Lucky you. Mine answered. Said they thought the program was a load of rubbish and they wouldn’t be participating, house points be damned. Just my luck to get a Slytherin,” Ginny says. 

“Could be a Ravenclaw,” Hermione says with a shrug, putting her Arithmancy textbook aside once again. “They seem like the sort to find this kind of thing unworthy of their time.” 

“Unworthy of whose time?” Harry asks, joining their conversation. He crouches beside the fire to warm his hands.

“Ravenclaws,” Ginny says. “I was telling Hermione about my parchment pal’s reply. She thinks it could’ve been a Ravenclaw.”

“Really? Seems like a Slytherin, through and through. But I suppose I should write to mine. My parchment is still blank. Might as well make the first move,” Harry says turning from the fire to flop onto the overstuffed, red couch in the center of the common room. “Right after I rest my eyes,” he adds, stretching out comfortably.

Ginny rolls her eyes fondly, watching Harry with a small smile, which makes Hermione shoot her a sly grin. Ginny notices, rolls her eyes, and stands. 

“I’m going to shower. I’m covered in muck. Someone thought it’d be a good training exercise to douse the field in water and stimulate rainy day conditions,” Ginny says.

“Always good to be prepared,” Harry says from the couch, his eyes closed but a small smile playing on his face.

Be prepared. For rain. We’re in bloody Scotland, and Harry wants to make sure we’re prepared for rain,” Ginny grumbles, grabbing her bag from the floor and swinging it over her shoulder. “When I’m done, I'll meet you lot for dinner in the Great Hall, yeah? I want to hear all about your parchment pal. Practically written an essay to them so far, so you better have something interesting to share,” she says.

“Dinner sounds lovely. As long as I get my Arithmancy done, that is.” 

Ginny nods. “Get on with it, then. I don’t want to eat alone.”

“I could come with you,” Harry says from the couch.

“You could, but who knows? You’d probably decide it’s best to always be prepared,” Ginny says, mimicking Harry’s voice, “and flood the entire Great Hall. Never know when you’ll have to eat in a storm,” she adds, dropping her voice again.

“It was a good learning experience!”

“It would’ve been if we didn’t live in bloody Scotland,” Ginny says. Harry grumbles, but doesn’t reply. Ginny grins at Hermione, mouths ridiculous, then heads toward the stairs. Hermione turns to her book with a smile, but decides to check her parchment before she starts. Just in case. She’s sure there won’t be a new message. Her message was fairly long, and her parchment pal probably has things to do, they can’t possibly have already—

There’s a new message, and it’s by far the longest one yet. Hermione’s eyes widen, and she wonders how on earth her parchment pal managed to write so much so quickly, but she decides not to question it. She’s just glad they did, so she has more to enjoy. She settles back, nestled into the chair, and with the fireplace crackling and popping in the background, she begins to read. 

Dear Robin, 

A deep, dark, forest green. I expected nothing less from the noble Robin Hood. After all, the forest is where he makes his home. Something tells me he’d agree with your description, which by the way, was lovely. For a student at a school that decided rudimentary skills weren’t worth teaching past the age of eleven, you have a happy way with words. Sometimes I think it a wonder that we’re not all woefully illiterate.

Your identity remains a secret to me, at least for the time being. Surprisingly, your favorite color wasn’t enough to crack the case (though if I were to be collecting clues, it might give me a hint as to what house you’re in . . .?) 

(Hermione, ever the proud Gryffindor, crinkles her nose in distaste at the implication, but notes that her pal must not be a Slytherin if they think she could be one.)

As for my favorite color . . . normally, I wouldn’t admit to this, as I have somewhat of a reputation to uphold amongst my circle, but for you, Robin, I’ll tell the truth: my favorite color is dusty rose. You know those brief moments, just after the sun has set, when the world is illuminated in pinks and purples? That’s the color. Sometimes I find myself staring at the sky during twilight, lost in my own thoughts (none of which are befitting of the performance the sky puts on, I assure you). I suppose if any of my friends were to ask, I’d answer blue, or green, or black. But here I am, my soul laid bare to you on a scrap of parchment. I trust you to keep my secret.

As for your question, yes. I have a pet. A fat, lazy, menace to society. He’s a six-year-old cat who’s absolutely awful—a listless, tetchy, pugnacious brat, and I love him desperately. I’d give my life for this beast, though he has no qualms about using my shoes as a cat box. If there was ever irrefutable proof that love doesn’t make an ounce of sense, it’s currently purring contentedly at the foot of my bed. Do you have a pet? I sincerely hope if you do, it’s more appreciative of you than mine is of me. 

I hate to make this even longer, as I’m sure you have better things to do with your night than read an essay, but here is my question for you— what’s your least favorite subject? And you aren’t allowed to pick History of Magic, as that’s everyone’s least favorite subject. So let me rephrase: what’s your second least favorite subject?

Please don’t feel the need to reply tonight. I realize I’ve written a fair amount. Once I start, it seems I can’t stop. The life of a bard, I suppose—there are always words at hand. I hope you don’t mind.

Yours, ramblingly, 
Bard

“Are you smiling at your homework?”

Hermione looks up to find Harry, sitting up and watching her with a small, confused smile. “I mean, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Not exactly out of the ordinary for you, is it?”

“What? I’ve never smiled at my homework,” Hermione says. 

“Yeah, you have,” Ron says, walking into the room, his hair damp and tousled. “You do it all the time, actually. Did you not know that?” 

“I...” Hermione trails off, and thinks of a particularly fun Ancient Runes essay she was working on a few nights ago. She flushes and says, “Well, maybe I do, but I enjoy learning!” 

Ron snorts. “Barmy, she is. Positively barmy. But I’m positively starving. Dinner?” 

“Please,” Harry says. “Hermione? You almost done with your Arithmancy?” 

She glances down at the parchment in front of her. She desperately wants to write more, but just as she’s coming up with an excuse to stay behind, her stomach emits a long, low rumble. She winces in embarrassment. “I can always come back to it later,” she says.

The boys start toward the portrait, but Hermione doesn’t feel right leaving her parchment pal without a reply. “Just give me one moment,” she says, and leans down to write out a quick reply. The boys shrug and start talking about something that happened during their quidditch practice, as Hermione’s hand flies across the page.

Dear bard,

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

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

Until tonight, then.

Yours,
Robin

“Right! That’s me sorted. Ready?” Hermione asks, straightening up and putting her parchment in her bag. 

“I could eat Hagrid right now. That’s how hungry I am,” Ron says. 

Hermione rolls her eyes, but follows them through the portrait. She tries to keep her mind on the conversation at hand as they walk to the Great Hall, but she finds herself thinking back on her parchment pal’s message, looking around the hallways to see if any of the passing student might be her mysterious pen pal. Their most recent message was Hermione’s favorite yet. From their favorite color, to the way they spoke of their cat, Hermione found herself utterly entranced the entire time. 

“Hermione?” 

She jumps a bit, and finds both boys peering at her. They’re almost at the Great Hall, and she’s barely registered any of the walk. 

“Sorry,” she says. “My mind was somewhere else. What did you say?” 

“I asked if you’ve made contact with your parchment pal,” Ron says, raising an eyebrow at her. 

“Oh. Yes, I have.”

“And? What have you said?”

Hermione frowns, suddenly a bit unwilling to divulge too much information. It’s not that she doesn’t want to share, per se. She does. She wants to tell both of them about how thoroughly interesting her parchment pal is, and how she’s desperately wishing she had replied to them before she left. But there’s something delicious about being the only one to know about the wonderful person on the other end of her parchment. She doesn’t want the boys asking her to relay every message, to try and collect as may pieces of information as they can, or to sit through Ron’s attempts at sleuthing out her pal’s identity, as she knows he’d attempt to do. She wants this person to be just hers. Hers and hers alone. To talk to, to confide in, to learn inside and out. It feels slightly ludicrous, to already feel a connection with someone she’s only sent a handful of messages to, but she can’t stop the feeling that this person is something special. And so for now, she’ll be selfish. Why not? She deserves a little something, just for her. 

“Oh, not much,” she says with a shrug. “Mostly about the assignment, and whether or not we’re both keen on participating. It seems they’re interested, though I doubt we’ll be exchanging messages with any frequency. And you? Have you heard from yours?” 

Ron nods. “I asked if they like Wizard’s Chess. They do, so we started up a game. We’ve just been sending moves back and forth. Pretty sure I’m going to win, though,” he adds with a grin. 

Hermione smiles fondly at him as they arrive at the Great Hall. They walk toward their usual seats, and Hermione glances toward the Slytherin table. Greengrass, Bulstrode, and Nott are there, but there’s no Malfoy, no Crabbe, no Goyle, and blessedly, no bloody Pansy Parkinson. She’s glad. She doesn’t want a repeat of lunch. 

They take their seats, and Ron and Harry immediately begin shoveling food into their mouths. Hermione grimaces at the display, sets her bag down beside her, and takes a reasonable portion of steak and kidney pie. But before she starts eating, she glances at the parchment, visible in her bag.

There’s a new, silver message.

She lifts the corner of the parchment out of the bag so she can make out the message without arousing the boy’s suspicion, but they’re not paying attention anyway, too lost in their own plates. 

Robin, 

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

Until tonight. 
—Your bard

Hermione flushes at the message, and a warmth spreads through her. 

Yes. This person is definitely someone special.

***

Chapter Text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She won’t be that weak next time. 

A Parkinson never shows weakness. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moody?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Parkinson never shows weakness.

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

“Pansy…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Parkinson never shows weakness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours, ramblingly, 
Bard

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

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

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

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

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

Dear bard,

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

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

Until tonight, then.

Yours,
Robin

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

Robin, 

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

Until tonight. 
—Your bard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear bard, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours, in eager anticipation, 
Robin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She won’t be weak.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your curmudgeon, 
Bard

P.S. You were absolutely worth the wait. 

Finally. I thought you’d never finish.”

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

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

“You? Lie? Never.” 

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

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

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

“Pansy…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s weakness.

***

“I don’t understand.”

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

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

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

Case in point, Pansy thinks to herself. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your steps? 

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

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

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

She doesn’t just want to hurt Hermione. 

She wants to break her. 

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

Hermione breaks.

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

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

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

“But Professor—” Hermione starts in outrage. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because after all, a Parkinson never shows weakness.

***

Chapter Text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What she needs is a distraction. 

And she knows the perfect one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She puts her quill back on the parchment.

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

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

I hope you want to know me, too. 

Yours,
Robin

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

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

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

This isn’t what happens in the real world. 

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

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

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

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

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

P.S. You were absolutely worth the wait. 

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

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

And her parchment pal…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Snape was out of line,” Harry says.

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

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

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

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

She’d sooner snog Mrs. Norris.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her detention with one Pansy Parkinson.

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

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

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

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

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

She needs to check something. 

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

Her hand closes over the parchment. 

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

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

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

Dear Robin, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet dreams, dear friend.

Yours,
Bard

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

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

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

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

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

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

She wouldn’t trade this for the world.

***

Hermione feels like she’ll never be clean again. 

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you know when?”

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

“Well, I’d like to use it, too.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You insult me every chance you get.”

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

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

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

“You jinx me in the halls.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hermione Granger is not a loser.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Pansy had said…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you there? 

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

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

The reply comes quickly. 

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

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

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

Hermione reads the new silver message and grabs her quill. 

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

The reply is swift. 

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

Hermione smiles as she replies. 

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

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

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

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

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

The reply comes almost immediately. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The silver reply comes swiftly. 

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

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

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

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

Show me a good time?

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

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

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

Seven, please. Where are we going?

The silver words bloom almost immediately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And if we never want to leave?

The reply is almost instantaneous. 

Then we’ll never leave. 

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

Likes it so much that she wants to flirt back.

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

Really? comes the reply. 

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

Silver words bloom on the parchment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She’s done for. 

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

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

When she dreams, she dreams of Paris. 

Chapter Text

Spring has finally arrived at Hogwarts. 

Sunlight streams through the trees and softly washes over the rolling green hills, dotted with daffodils, honeysuckles, and bluebells. They fill the air with a sweetness that blends into the heavy, wet smell of the damp earth in which they’ve been planted. Birds dart to and fro, high up in the treetops, singing their praises of springtime to the students lounging below on the grass. Everything is fresh and alive, and the stark, grey winter days seem like a lifetime ago.  

Daphne and Pansy have carved out their own spot on the sloping lawn leading down to the Forbidden Forest. It’s finally the weekend, and they’re determined to make the most of the change in the weather. Pansy can hear the water from the Black Lake lapping languidly in the distance, and there’s a low hum as a bumblebee passes by on its way to a nearby flower. Dappled sunshine warms her pale, bare shoulders as the softly swaying branches of a tree cast long, lazy shadows on the ground. The gentle spring breeze feels soft on her skin, and the gossamer clouds hang in the sky like spun-sugar. It’s as close to a perfect day as Pansy can imagine, made even more perfect by the conversation she’s currently having with her parchment pal.

“I thought we’d never see blue skies again,” Daphne says. She’s stretched out on the grass beside Pansy, lying on top of her discarded robe. With her eyes closed and her face tilted toward the sky, she looks a bit like Felix when he basks in the sunlight. “Sometimes I wish Hogwarts was in Capri. Or maybe Ibiza. Anywhere but bloody Scotland. Can you imagine coming out of class and boom—there’s the beach, right at your feet?”

Pansy makes a vague noise of assent, but doesn’t look up from her parchment. 

“I suppose I could’ve gone to Beauxbatons, even if mum says it’s a school for the buxom and the brainless. Did you know she calls it Beauxbosoms?” Daphne says with a small snort. “Though I’ve always thought that their uniforms would wash me out. Do you think blue silk does me any favors?” 

Pansy hums noncommittally, her quill scratching across the parchment.

“I suppose it wouldn’t matter. I’d have a tan if I lived in the south of France, wouldn’t I?” Daphne asks. 

Pansy doesn’t even bother making any noises this time, so thoroughly lost in the sentence she’s busy crafting. 

“Sod the uniform. I’ll just wander around completely nude.”

At this, Pansy looks up from her parchment with bewilderment. “What? Why are you nude?” she asks Daphne, glancing down at her like she might have stripped while Pansy was distracted.

“I’m not nude,” Daphne says, sitting up, exasperation on her face. “But I am trying to get your attention. Which seems to be an impossible task now that he’s in the picture,” she says, waving a hand toward the parchment Pansy’s been bent over for the past ten minutes.

Pansy sighs and puts down her quill. “I’m sorry,” she says with an apologetic wince. “I just meant to write one sentence, but it seems to have snowballed a bit. I suppose I’ve been rather shit company today.”

Daphne scoffs. “Today? Oh, no, darling. You’ve been rather shit company ever since this bloody parchment experiment started. A whole month you’ve had your nose stuck in that thing! All the while I feel like a circus monkey, pitifully banging on my cymbals, begging for a scrap of attention. Honestly!” Daphne says, flopping back down on the grass and crossing her arms over herself. “I’d understand it if you were at least shagging, but all you do is send saccharine novels back and forth. And I know the men at this school,” she says, propping herself up on her elbows to give Pansy a sharp look. “Not one of them has anything to say that’s worth listening to.” 

Pansy snorts, then rubs the corner of her parchment between her fingers with a soft smile. “Well, then, I suppose I found the anomaly.”

Daphne makes a gagging noise. “Happiness is a revolting look on you,” she says, lying back down on the grass. “All I can say is with the amount of effort you’re putting into these letters, he’d better be the anomaly. Which by the way,” Daphne says, sitting up rapidly again. “How is it that Draco still doesn’t know about your little affair?”

Pansy flushes at the implication. “It’s not an affair,” she says, running a hand over the manicured lawn and refusing to make eye contact with Daphne. 

“Oh, please. An emotional affair is still an affair. I should know, my parents have been having them with other people since I was in the cradle. Along with actual affairs, mind you, so I know what I’m talking about. And the amount of time you spend with Draco versus the amount of time you spend dry humping that bloody parchment is ridiculous,” Daphne says, waving a hand when Pansy splutters inelegantly at the accusation. “You’re still no closer to finding out who he is?” she asks, eyeing Pansy closely.

Pansy shrugs, watching as a ladybug climbs up a blade of grass beside her. “Not really. I have a few clues, but nothing concrete.” 

Pansy’s lying. She knows her parchment pal better than she knows anyone at Hogwarts. Minus the big, important details, of course. But over the past month or so, she’s come to realize that those things don’t matter at all. So she doesn’t know her parchment pal’s name, house, or year. 

She knows more important things. 

She’s spent the better part of the last month hoarding facts, clutching each one to her bosom, like a niffler with treasure. And now, she feels like she possesses an abundance of wealth, all on her favorite subject. For instance, she knows that her dear friend loves strawberry peanut butter ice cream, loathes knitting, is afraid of flying, and prefers autumn to all other seasons. She knows they broke their wrist when they were seven in a heroic, but misguided attempt to save a cat stuck up a tree. She knows their first kiss occurred during the Yule Ball, was altogether unremarkable, and ever since, they’ve been waiting for the right person to come along. 

(Pansy is particularly fond of fact.) 

But it’s more than just the small facts she’s collected—she knows that her friend is passionate and empathetic, guided by a strong moral code and a devotion to help others. She also know that for all their strength, they still worry about not being good enough, or smart enough. There’s a constant current of self-doubt that runs through their messages, and Pansy finds that ludicrous. She’s certain that she’s never met anybody kinder or smarter in her life, and she’s told her parchment pal as much on multiple occasions. Once, she went as far as writing, “you’re ten times smarter than the self-appointed “cleverest witch at Hogwarts,” Hermione Granger,” but her parchment hadn’t let her send the message. Apparently, using a name had triggered the parchment’s concealment charms, and the words had shined red at her until she had begrudgingly changed them to something far less belligerent. 

But the information hoarding is certainly not a one-way street—Pansy has confided more to her parchment pal than she’s ever confided to anyone before. She’s told them more about memories with her aunt that she had long ago buried. She’s told them about her parents and the all around lack of love that was a staple of the Parkinson household. She’s told them about the pressure she feels to be the perfect child, and the fear that comes with the thought of disappointing her parents. She’s told them how she’s learned to put on a strong facade so no one can ever tell when she’s close to breaking. 

And while it’s obvious that her parchment pal is concerned by Pansy’s home life, they’ve never asked anything to make Pansy feel uneasy, or worse, like she’s about to give away her identity and all that she’s said will be leaked back to her parents. But her deep seated paranoia aside, she feels remarkably safe with them. Safer than she’s ever felt in her life. 

Safe enough that she’s working up the nerve to tell her parchment pal her biggest secret.  

“How is that possible?” Daphne asks, startling Pansy from her thoughts. “I know the professors were thorough, but there are workarounds to at least some of the parchment’s charms. You haven’t done the color trick yet?”

Pansy shakes her head. The color trick was discovered a few days into the experiment, when a student realized they could ask pick one—red, blue, green, or yellow and figure out what house their pal was in. It’s how Daphne knows she has a Gryffindor, and Draco knows he has a Ravenclaw. 

“No. Why would I? There’s no way that works anymore,” Pansy says with a small shrug. Which is true; she’s certain the professors had fixed that particular issue and most of the other little flaws in the experiment that had popped up during the past month. But she’s still skirting around the truth. Because she had broached the color question with her parchment pal. But in the end, they had decided they liked the secrecy provided by the parchment far too much and had mutually decided not to reveal their favorite color. Pansy knows Daphne wouldn’t understand why, so she decides to stay silent. 

“Well, you must know something that can help us identify him!” Daphne says, crossing her legs beneath her and leaning back on her hands. “You’re not even the tiniest bit interested in figuring it out?” 

Pansy shrugs again. Because she is interested—she’s desperate to know who this person is. But after a month of conversations, she almost certain that her parchment pal is a woman, and she’s starting to get nervous. Flirtation has been a staple of their messages from the beginning, and while Pansy normally delights in the coy, teasing remarks, lately, they’ve been making her gut churn. Because while she’s fairly sure that she’s speaking to a woman, she’s deeply concerned that her parchment pal hasn’t come to the same realization. And if they think they’ve been talking to a man for the past month, then…

…Pansy doesn’t want to think about that. 

But she’s cautiously optimistic—she’s made a few vague references to a part of herself that people are quick to judge, or would choose to be cruel about, and while she’s never elaborated, her parchment pal had seemed to understand. She had replied with both empathy, and tales of a similar struggle. Ever since then, Pansy has been hopeful that she’s talking to someone like her.

“Of course I’m interested,” she says, stretching her legs out and wiggling her bare toes against the cool grass. “But I don’t need to know. I’m enjoying things the way they are now.” 

Daphne shakes her head and tsks. “Leave it to you to somehow bring back Victorian-era courting techniques. Letter-writing. Meanwhile, while you’re busy pretending to be Beedle the Bard, Draco can barely get you to say a word to him. Tracey told me he’s been moping around for weeks now.” 

Pansy raises an eyebrow at the source of information. “Oh? I didn’t realize Tracey and Draco were spending so much time together.”

“Poor thing has been in love him since first year,” Daphne says with a shrug. “It’s why she’s been so tetchy with you. She’s dead jealous.” 

Pansy snorts. “Please, Tracey has been tetchy since birth. She probably chastised the nurse who delivered her for their rubbish technique. But good for Draco. He needs friends outside of Crabbe and Goyle. Merlin knows what he sees in those two.”

Daphne eyes Pansy curiously. “So you’re not worried?”

“About what?”

“Draco…and Tracey…” Daphne says, trailing off with an expectant look. 

“Oh. No. Should I be?” Pansy asks with a puzzled frown.

“Pans, you’ve barely acknowledged Draco in weeks! And I’m sure he’s noticed your preoccupation with your parchment. Honestly, you’d have to be blind not to notice. If you don’t start showing him some affection soon, he’ll find what he’s looking for in Tracey’s bed. Is that what you want?”

Pansy’s taken aback by Daphne’s blunt delivery. “Obviously not,” Pansy says, sounding a bit stung. “But since when are you Draco’s biggest supporter? I thought you wanted me to be happy,” she says quietly, her eyes inadvertently falling to her parchment before looking back up at Daphne. 

Daphne’s eyes soften and she puts a hand on Pansy’s knee. “Don’t be daft. You know I do,” she says, her voice sincere. “More than anything. Which is why I’m genuinely asking you…is that what you want? To have an excuse to wash your hands of the whole situation? After all, if Draco falls into bed with Tracey, no one could blame you for wanting nothing more to do with him.”

Pansy shakes her head. “No, that’s not what I want,” she says, but she can hear how weak her voice sounds. It’s getting harder and harder to pretend to be invested in her relationship with Draco, and the only thing keeping her from ending it is the fear of how her parents will react. It’s strong enough that she’s almost certain in a few years time, she’ll be Mrs. Draco Malfoy. The thought makes her involuntarily shiver. 

“Then what do you want? Because from where I’m standing, it’s clear you’ve never had feelings for him,” Daphne says, holding up a finger before Pansy can mount a weak defense against the accusation. “Don’t try to convince me otherwise. I’ve known you far too long and I can see through your shit. I’ve kept quiet up until now, but I can’t anymore. We both know this was arranged by your parents, and we both know you’ve been miserable. But then this bloke comes along…” Daphne says, gesturing at the parchment. “I haven’t seen you this happy since…” she trails off, then gives a small, incredulous laugh. “I’ve never seen you this happy. And as nauseating as it is, it makes me happy, too. So maybe it’s time to take all of that into consideration and do the right thing,” she says, her voice gentle. “Maybe it’s time to talk to Draco.” 

“Talk to me about what?”

Pansy and Daphne both jump, then turn around to face Draco. He’s striding down the hill toward them, his robes slung over his shoulder.

Merlin, Draco! Give us a warning next time,” Daphne says, her hand to her heart. “I’m not spending the one day of decent weather we have all year in the Hospital Wing because you decided to give me a bloody heart attack.” 

“Sorry,” Draco says. He spreads his robe on the ground next to Pansy and sits down on it, then leans toward her to give her a kiss. She turns her head swiftly, and his lips brush her cheek. A sharp, frustrated exhalation puffs against her skin, so she pats his knee and gives him a smile that she hopes isn’t strained in an attempt to placate him. He returns it with a tight one of his own.

“What are you doing here?” Pansy asks. “I thought you had an extra Quidditch practice?” 

“We did. Still do, actually, just been pushed by an hour. Turns out Hufflepuff booked the field before us. Merlin knows, they need more practice than we do, so…” Draco shrugs, then looks between Daphne and Pansy. “What were you talking about? Just now. I heard my name?”

Pansy looks to Daphne, panicked. She’s not ready to have this conversation now, no matter how much she desperately wants to end this facade. She needs more time to plan things out and to figure out what to tell her parents. Daphne must see the fear in her eyes, because she sighs, turns to Draco with serious eyes, and says, “Tracey. We’ve noticed you’ve been spending more time with her.”

“Oh,” Draco says, frowning slightly as he unlaces his shoes and sets them aside. “I suppose so. Is that a problem?”

“It is when she’s practically in love with you,” Daphne says. 

Draco scoffs as he peels off one sock. “She’s not in love with me.”

“She is.”

“She isn’t! We’re mates.”

“You’re blind,” Daphne says. “She’s mad about you and everyone knows it. And when Pansy sees you enabling it, well…what’s she to think? Honestly, Draco, you should know better.”

Draco shakes his head incredulously, his second sock forgotten in his hand as he stares at Daphne. “I’m not enabling anything. I’m just—”

“Oh, so you spend all your free time talking to Tracey, because…?” Daphne trails off, her eyebrow raised. 

“Because we’re mates. I talk to Crabbe, too. Want to accuse me of having a secret fling with him?” Draco asks, finally tossing his second sock away and stretching his legs out. “And for the record, I want to talk to Pansy! And I would talk to Pansy if she…” Draco turns to face Pansy, “if you were ever bloody around! But you’re either in class, or studying, or taking a very convenient girl’s day on the one day I ask you to go to Hogsmeade. Merlin knows why, you two live in the same damn room,” Draco grumbles.

Pansy opens her mouth to reply, but Daphne beats her to it.

“There’s no need to get upset just because Pansy has a life and you don’t. Honestly, it’s positively medieval to assume a woman will always be there to serve your every need. Is that what you want, Draco? Someone who’s always at your beck and call? Who will drop all of her interests and needs because you want to go to Hogsmeade?” Daphne shakes her head. “And here I was thinking you were different than the rest of them. But if that’s what you want, then you might as well be with Tracey, because Pansy is far too independent to put up with that kind of shit,” Daphne finishes smoothly, and Pansy looks at her with wonder. How this woman is able to spin anything, she’ll never know. But she’s extremely grateful for it. 

Before Draco can answer, Daphne says, “But if that’s not what you want, then you best start acting like it and treat Pansy right. She might be busy from time to time, but that doesn’t mean you get to have it off with Tracey, understood?” 

“No!” Draco says. There’s a flush on his pale cheeks and his normally perfect hair is out of place from where he’s run his hand through it in frustration. “No, it’s not bloody understood, because nothing has happened with Tracey!”

Daphne shrugs. “Whatever you say,” she says cooly, with a pointed look to Pansy. Then her face clears and she claps her hands together. “There! Now that you’ve discussed the matter with Draco, we can get back to the topic at hand—would blue silk wash me out?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, you’d look amazing,” Pansy says without missing a beat. She forces herself to settle against Draco’s front, leaning back into his uncomfortably muscular frame. It’s not that she wants to, but she has a feeling it might help soothe him after the unwarranted lambasting he’s just received. Plus, it wouldn’t hurt her to at least try to look invested in their farce of a relationship. “Draco, tell Daphne she’d look gorgeous in blue silk,” she says, tapping his knee. 

“I have no idea what’s just happened,” Draco says from behind her. “I feel like I just faced the Wizengamot. And for a crime I didn’t even have the pleasure of committing.” 

Daphne tsks. “Oh, don’t be dramatic, it doesn’t suit you. And anyway, we’ve moved on, darling. If you’re going to stay here, then you’d best have an opinion on me in blue silk.”

“Must I?” Draco mutters, irritation creeping into his voice.

“Wasn’t your Yule Ball gown blue silk?” Pansy asks, ignoring Draco.

Don’t remind me,” Daphne says. “It was, and I matched with Granger. Maybe that’s why I’m so put off by the idea of blue silk,” she adds, tilting her head thoughtfully.

“Why? Because Granger looked better than you?” Draco asks. 

Excuse me?” 

Daphne looks aghast, and Pansy gives Draco’s knee an admonishing swat.

Draco shrugs from behind her. “I may hate her, but I have eyes,” he says, simply. 

Pansy almost hums in absentminded agreement, but manages to catch herself just in time. Because as much as she hates to admit it, Draco has a point. Hermione had cleaned up well that night. And Pansy may despise her (Merlin, does she despise her), but she can’t deny that Granger has a certain…appeal. One that doesn’t do anything for her, obviously, but she can see why someone might be interested. If one was able to see past her abhorrent personality, of course. 

“Disgusting,” Daphne says. “I’ve never been so insulted in all my life. If you weren’t with Pansy, I’d assume you had no taste, whatsoever. No, she didn’t look better than me,” Daphne says, raising her chin proudly. “Nor will she ever. But anyway, we don’t bring Granger up. Pansy doesn’t need to be reminded of her on one of the few days she doesn’t have to see her.”

“Sorry,” Draco says. “It seems like things are better between the two of you though,” he adds, running his fingertips lightly back and forth over Pansy’s thigh, making her grit her teeth. “At the very least, you haven’t been tossed into detention again.”

“A small miracle,” Daphne says with a laugh, leaning back on her arms and tilting her face to the sun. Then, she inhales sharply and looks at Draco. “Oh! I’ve been meaning to ask you…you and your family went to Greece last year? We’re planning a trip for this summer, and I need recommendations. Athens and Mykonos.”

“Ah. How long are you there? We spent a week in Athens, and…”

Pansy settles more fully against Draco and tunes out their conversation. Instead, she lets her mind wander back to the past month with Hermione. They have managed to avoid any more detentions (which Pansy would call a large miracle), and they rarely snap at each other anymore. Instead, an icy silence has descended upon their table and when they need to communicate, it’s always in harsh, clipped whispers. It’s bad enough that other tables glance their way with concern multiple times during a class period, and even Snape has eyed their table from time to time with something close to unease. Pansy can’t count the number of times she’s felt Weasley’s glare or Potter’s gaze on the side of her face, and she feels she should be sainted for the restraint she’s shown in not hexing them both into next week. But all in all, Pansy’s glad for the silence. Certainly because she hates every insipid, scornful word that comes out of Granger’s mouth, but also because she can still remember what Granger had said a little over a month ago. 

No one can help the blood they’re born with. 

The very same words her aunt had whispered to her, time after time, all those years ago. Hearing them again had sent Pansy into a tailspin that night, and she had only managed to fight her way out of it thanks to her parchment pal and promises of Paris. But the damage had been done—between Hermione’s speech and Pansy opening up about her aunt after years and years of repression, she’s found herself thinking about that bloody saying more often than she’d like to admit. 

No one can help the blood they’re born with. 

They’re the words that were responsible for her aunt’s death. She knows that. She knows it’s a dangerous, poisonous sentiment, she knows her aunt had brought immeasurable shame and scandal upon the family, and she knows that her father had taken the action he deemed necessary at the time to protect them from danger. 

Or at least, she used to know that. She had always trusted her father implicitly, and she knew that if he had made the decision he did that night, something must have been horribly wrong with her aunt. More than that, she knew that she herself must have been wrong for having loved her. But the more Pansy lets herself remember, the more doubt seeps into her mind, clouding her thoughts until she isn’t sure what she believes. 

And she’s been remembering a lot. 

Now that she’s not actively repressing them, the details of that awful night are coming into focus. Specifically, her father, coming to speak to her after the fact. There had been no tears; she figures now it had been shock overwhelming her system, but at the time, she had let herself believe it was strength. She can remember her father standing beside her bed, towering over her as she trembled uncontrollably in her flimsy nightgown. The candle in her room had thrown shadows on the sharp lines of his face and made his normally handsome features look grotesque and sunken. Fear had overwhelmed her, and she had wondered if he was going to turn his wand on her next and make her scream, the way her aunt had.

Do you understand why I had to do what I did, Pansy? 

She had nodded, still trembling. 

Your aunt was a sick woman. We couldn’t let her go on like that. Do you understand?

Another nod. She had focused on her father’s low, soothing voice, letting it drown out the echoes of piercing screams replaying in her head. 

I am sorry you had to bear witness to it. But since you did, let this be a lesson for you. Now you know what happens when you’re sick. You’ve seen the consequences. 

There had been a long pause while Pansy continued to shake, all the while hoping her father wouldn’t see it as a sign of weakness.

You spent time with your aunt. You must have discussed certain things. Certain values. Tell me, did she ever discuss blood purity with you? 

Pansy had hesitated, uncertain of which answer would spare her the wrath of her father’s wand. Finally, she had nodded. 

Ah. I thought as much. Poisoning my daughter’s mind…

He had clenched his jaw and exhaled heavily, and Pansy knew she had picked the wrong answer. Her whole body had tensed as she waited for her father to calmly turn his wand on her. Perhaps he would be kind, she remembers thinking. Perhaps he’d skip the torture and go right to the Killing Curse. 

Instead, he had sat down on the side of her bed. Flecks of still-wet blood stood out against his white collar, shining dark in the candlelight. The dark shadows under his eyes had given him an awful, ghoulish appearance and Pansy had recoiled away from him, pressing herself as far back into her pillows as she could, but he hadn’t seemed to notice. After a long moment, he had turned to her and regarded her, almost mildly. 

Do you believe it? What she told you? Her…unique views?

Pansy had shaken her head no as quickly as she could, certain that this time, she had picked the right answer. Her father had continued to gaze at her, then he had nodded. 

Are you familiar with the term “blood traitor,” Pansy? 

She had nodded yes. 

Good. Your aunt was a blood traitor. She wanted to ruin our entire family. Everything we’ve ever worked for. And all because she thinks Mudbloods are like us. Because she would put the well-being of Mudblood filth over that of her own blood. 

Her father had put his hand on Pansy’s shoulder, and she had frozen at his touch. 

She never loved you, Pansy. If she had, she never would have entertained such dangerous views. She never would have put your safety or your future in jeopardy. And yet, she did. Does that sound like the actions of a woman who cared about you? No. I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but she was using you. Trying to spread her toxic rhetoric to you before you knew any better. You were simply a tool to her. An empty vessel to poison. She never cared for you. She never loved you. Do you understand?

Pansy had slowly nodded. Her lower lip had trembled as she desperately fought off the tears threatening to fall.

Good girl. Don’t cry over her. She wouldn’t have spared a thought for you. She never loved you. She was damaged. Deeply, deeply damaged. But now you know. You know better than to listen to her lies, and you know what becomes of those who tell such lies. Pure-blood supremacy is not to be questioned, Pansy. It simply is. And always will be. Do you understand? 

Another nod. 

Good. 

He had watched her for a few, long moments, then he stood from her bed and walked toward the door. When he reached the door frame, he had turned back. 

…Will you be you alright? 

He had said it almost as an afterthought. Pansy had managed to nod again.

Good girl. A Parkinson never shows weakness.

The door had clicked shut behind him, leaving Pansy locked in a room that still smelled faintly of blood. As her father’s footsteps faded into the distance, Pansy found herself gasping and choking for breath, as if she’d been holding it the entire time. Her heart was pounding like it did when she ran races against imaginary friends in her garden, and she had wondered if there was a chance it would simply run out of its allotted beats, right then and there. She’d use them all up in one fell swoop and in the morning, her mum would find her, stiff and cold. Like her aunt.

Sleep hadn’t been in the cards that night. Each time she tried, she saw wide green eyes staring back at her, pleading for help. The one time she had managed to fall into a fitful sleep, she woke feeling violently ill and gasping for breath, with her father’s cold gaze lingering in her mind. Rather than attempt to sleep again and risk replaying the nightmare, she had stayed awake all night, thinking about what her father had said. Her father didn’t lie. Her father loved her. And if Pansy’s aunt had been a threat to the family, he must have done the right thing. She had simply been too young and too far under her aunt’s spell to see how sick she really was. And while she didn’t quite understand the finer points of blood purity, she knew now to never question it. 

She had laid there, staring at her ceiling until the early morning light illuminated her walls in soft pinks and oranges, repeating the things her father had said over and over until she believed them. Until she was sure she would never do anything that would tarnish the family name.

And she never had. But now, all these years later, she’s racked with doubt, and she doesn’t know what to do about it. The nightmare that’s plagued her dreams since she was a child occurs almost every night, and she’s horribly used to waking in the middle of a panic attack, cold sweat covering her body and ghosts of long-ago screams lingering in her mind. She still tells herself that her father didn’t lie, that he had simply been forced to make a horrible decision, mostly because it makes her physically ill to think about the alternative—that her father had murdered her aunt in cold blood. That everything she’s built her life on is a lie. 

But the more she thinks about it, the more she knows one thing for certain: her aunt wasn’t ill. Aunt Bea had been wonderful and warm and full of life and laughter. She was the sole source of brightness in Pansy’s childhood, and despite her father’s best attempts to make her believe otherwise, she still believed her aunt had loved her. Perhaps she had been using her, but that didn’t make everything else a lie. And perhaps her aunt’s views hadn’t matched with those of her parents, but…did that make them wrong? After all, they’re the same views every professor at Hogwarts holds, and they can’t all be mad, can they? 

Which of course would mean that Pansy’s father had lied to her, and that he was…

“Pans?” 

Pansy looks up, startled from her current train of thought to find Daphne staring at her. 

“Are you alright? You look rather pale,” Daphne says with a concerned frown.

Pansy manages a nod. “Need I remind you we live in Scotland? We’re all rather pale,” she says, trying to keep her voice light. She shifts away from Draco’s hold, which suddenly feels overwhelming and stifling, and says, “I’m perfectly fine. Just lost in a daydream. I’m afraid I tuned out somewhere around Greece, though. Did I miss anything?”

“Nothing important,” Daphne says, scrutinizing Pansy’s face closely. Pansy meets Daphne’s eye and schools her expression into something she hopes is neutral. She has a feeling Daphne can see right through her, but mercifully, she doesn’t press the issue. Instead, she sighs and says, “but honestly, Greece can’t come fast enough. I can’t believe I have to wait two more months.” She turns over onto her stomach and props her head up on her hands. “What about you? Going anywhere special for the summer holidays?” 

“Paris, I think,” Pansy says, grateful for a distraction from her current train of thought, and even more grateful to turn her mind back to her favorite subject. She knows the conversation with her parchment pal had been an extravagant, romantic dream, but she’s still allowed herself a private fantasy where it all comes true. The two of them, actually together in Paris. They still mention it from time to time, and it’s one of the only things that brings Pansy peace when she feels like she might combust. She clings to the hope of making the fantasy a reality like a life preserver. 

“Paris? I thought your family was there two summers ago,” Draco says with a puzzled frown. “Why would you go back?” 

Pansy shrugs. “Oh, I don’t know. We haven’t really planned anything. I was just thinking aloud. It’s lovely there.”

Daphne hums in agreement, watching as Pansy’s eyes stray to her parchment with a small, knowing smile. “I suppose it is. With the right person, of course,” she adds, giving Pansy a meaningful glance. 

Ah,” Draco says, clocking the look between the two of them with knowing eyes. He smirks like he’s just discovered something huge. “I understand now. If you wanted to go to Paris together, all you had to do was ask,” he says, giving Pansy a wink. 

Pansy forces herself to smile back at him, but the thought of Draco, inserting himself into her Paris fantasy makes her feel queasy. Which to be fair, seems to be how she feels most days. Between her fraudulent relationship, memories of her aunt, questions about blood status, and working with Hermione every week, she’s starting to feel like these might be the longest two months of her life. 

Daphne catches Pansy’s eye, grimaces, and mouths sorry

“Maybe someday,” Pansy says with a shrug as she pats Draco’s knee. “And whenever I go to Paris next, I’ll nick an Beauxbatons’ uniform for you,” she says to Daphne. “See if you can actually pull off blue silk.” 

Daphne grins. “Well, I hope you get to Paris soon, then. Mostly for my sake, of course.” Her eyes soften and she adds, “but a little for yours.”

Pansy smiles down at her parchment. 

She hopes so, too.

***

Pansy’s curled up on the massive leather sofa, facing the fireplace in the Slytherin common room. Felix is asleep beside her, and she’s absentmindedly petting him as she waits for a message from her parchment pal to arrive. 

It’s late enough that most students have retreated to bed, exhausted by another full day of sunshine and fresh air. They’ve been lucky enough to have an entire week of beautiful weather, and Daphne has insisted they spend every free moment they have soaking in the sunshine. But despite the extra activity, Pansy’s still wide awake. She’s always been something of a night owl, preferring the stillness that comes with the cover of darkness to the hustle and bustle of the day. Her peaceful, solitary nights provide her with a much needed sanctuary from the world, so much so that she had always been a bit cross when someone else had the audacity to be awake at the same time. But that, like so many other things, had changed in the past month. Nowadays, Pansy finds herself pulling her parchment out of her bag eagerly and penning her customary nightly message to her dear friend as soon as the common room is empty. They’re the only person she wants to share her sanctuary with.

She tries not to think too hard about what that might mean

(She knows what it means.)

She glances down at tonight’s message, shining in gold ink. 

Did you enjoy the weather today? I did. Though I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more if I was with you. 

It’s only a tiny bit flirty, but that seems to be how they do things. Pansy usually gets the ball rolling, and by the time they’re both ready to go to bed, their messages are…well, they’re flirtatious enough that they’ve made Pansy grin like a fool on multiple occasions. They’re at the point in their relationship now where she feels like her parchment pal is decidedly more than a friend. Had they had done this the real way, had they had been just two strangers to lock eyes in a crowded room, she has no doubt they’d officially be together by now. But things are a little less clear over parchment, and as much as she thinks her parchment pal feels the same way, she doesn’t know how to broach the subject.

And of course, there’s also the slightly more pressing matter of her still undisclosed sexuality,  which has been weighing on her mind heavily for the past few days. So heavily that tonight, Pansy hadn’t been as eager to reach for her parchment. Because tonight, she’s finally decided to reveal her biggest secret to her dear friend. It’s the first time she’s decided to tell this to anyone, but as terrified as she is, she doesn’t want to continue flirting with someone who may be horribly straight. 

And to be frank, she’s tired of hiding. Her pal had recently revealed herself to be a woman, and ever since then, Pansy has been going out of her way to disguise her own gender. To be fair, she hasn’t been doing it for very long—it was only two nights ago that her pal had divulged her struggle with painful monthlies, and quite frankly, Pansy was surprised the parchment hadn't managed to censor it. But because it was a recent revelation, she feels slightly more comfortable knowing that she hasn’t been purposefully duping her pal for an entire month. After all, they’d both been evasive about specific, identifiable details, and she had told herself that as long as her pal hadn’t confided anything about their gender, then she shouldn’t have to either. Turnabout was fair play, after all. 

But now that she knows, the responsibility to be honest lies squarely on Pansy’s shoulders and Pansy’s shoulders alone. And while she’s worried her confession might alienate her pal, she knows she has to be brave. The last thing she wants is to be cruel, or purposefully deceptive, and it’s completely unfair to her parchment pal to continue on like this. Pansy hasn’t even been sending her normal messages over the past two days, too afraid to cross a boundary. She’s been more reserved, and she has a feeling her pal is starting to notice. So tonight, she’ll tell the truth and hope for the best. And if things go poorly and she needs to shut it down and abandon the dream of Paris, then she’ll do it. As much as it pains her, she’ll do it.

She glances down to find a silver message waiting for her.

I did, but as always, I found my thoughts turning to you. Wondering what you were doing. Wondering if you were one of the people near me, enjoying the sunshine. Wondering if every laugh I heard belonged to you. I wonder what your laugh sounds like often, did you know? You have a curious way of being able to occupy my every thought. I’d find it quite distracting if I didn’t like it so much. But I had to force myself to stop thinking about you because I was being terrible company to the people I was actually with. 

Pansy smiles at that, and picks up her quill. She’s going to tell the truth, but she allows herself just one more message before she shatters the illusion.

You too? I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I’m far too attached to a piece of parchment. But I think that anyone would be attached to a piece of parchment if you were on the other end of it. I can’t imagine anyone not liking you. …Well, that’s not entirely true. You may have at least one uphill battle ahead of you—my best mate is terribly cross with you for constantly stealing my attention away. I’m not sure you’ll ever be able to make up for such an awful first impression. 

She sends the message and gazes at the flickering fire, trying to soothe her nerves. Her leg bounces restlessly and she checks her parchment at least fifteen times before she finally finds a new message waiting for her.

It seems we both have uphill battles ahead of us. My best mates are exactly the same, which is why I didn’t want to say anything about you in the first place. But they’re nothing if not persistent. And now that they know about you, they’re nothing if not a complete pain in my backside. Did I tell you, they wanted to spend the summer holidays together? They had a whole plan in place, but I told them I was already booked for Paris. With you. I’ve never seen them more aghast! They’re positively convinced that you’re secretly mad, and just waiting to sink your gnarled claws into me. But they’ve always worried about me too much. It’s like they think I can’t handle myself. 

Pansy bites her bottom lip as she reads the message, trying to pick out any part she can reply to with a breezy and casual, “very interesting, also, did you know I’m a gay woman?” She feels a knot in her chest release a bit when she realizes she still safe, and she can draw out the inevitable just a bit longer. 

I can understand their concern, but at the end of the day, we’re both Hogwarts students. It’s not like you’re conversing with someone in Azkaban. Do you mind if I ask why they’re so protective? From what I know of you, you seem to be the most competent person I’ve ever met (…figuratively speaking, of course), but this isn’t the first reference you’ve made to them worrying about you. 

She sends the message and sits back. She knows she’s stalling, but to be fair, she does want to know the answer to her question. If her parchment pal has horrid friends, she’d like to know sooner rather than later so she can put on a good front when she eventually meets them. 

If she eventually meets them. 

The next message comes after a few minutes, and Pansy leans forward, scratching Felix behind the ears as she reads. 

Oh, they mean well. But I suppose I’ve always had an easier time making friends with blokes, and it seems to be their natural instinct to want to take care of me. Which is sometimes sweet, but usually, completely maddening. Is that just a bloke thing I don’t know about? Perhaps you can fill me in. But don’t worry—I’ve put my foot down and told them they aren’t allowed to interfere anymore with this, and that I know what I’m doing. To be perfectly honest, I may have threatened a well-placed Langlock the next time they decide to voice their opinion on you.

And there it is. Her parchment pal has given her the opening she needs:

Is that just a bloke thing I don’t know about? Perhaps you can fill me in.

It’s not the first time she’s read something like this, something that seems to be carefully designed to fish for information in a casual manner, but it’s the first time she’s faced with the prospect of answering honestly. In the past, she’d have either ignored it completely, or said something innocuous and misleading, like, “I’m afraid I don’t know if all blokes are like that, but I’m sorry yours are,” and she wouldn’t feel bad because her parchment pal would have done the same. They had both made an art form of skirting the real answers in favor of something more coy. But she can’t do that now. 

Not anymore.

It’s time to be brave. Because anything else would be weakness. And Pansy Parkinson does not give into weakness.

She picks up her quill, places it on her parchment, then hesitates. Her heart is in her throat and she feels like she might be sick. She puts the quill down with a shaky hand and takes a deep breath, trying to ground herself. “I’m doing the right thing, aren’t I?” she asks Felix. He continues to quietly snore, and Pansy sighs, running her hands through her bobbed hair. She knows there’s a fairly good chance she’ll lose her parchment pal forever. She knows it’s completely mad to hope they’ll still feel the same way after this. And it’d be easier to just not. To just go on with the charade until the end of the experiment. To play dumb when all is revealed and pretend she hadn’t picked up on the clues and thought she was talking to a man, too. To use a fake laugh and a fake smile and all the other fake things Pansy’s accumulated over the years she’s spent in hiding.

It would be easier.

But it wouldn’t be right. And she also knows she won’t be able to live with herself until she tells the truth. 

She picks up her quill again and nods firmly.

“This is right. She needs to know. She needs to know all of it,” she finally murmurs. She takes a deep breath and says, “wish me luck, Felix.”

She puts her quill on the parchment and starts to write.

Before you jinx your friends, I have to tell you something. I’m afraid in my quest to disguise my identity from you, I haven’t been entirely honest. And while at first, it didn’t seem to be that important, now I feel like I’m being purposefully deceptive and it’s not fair to you. Not fair at all. Because our messages to each other…they’re not just friendly, are they? I don’t know. Perhaps they are, and I’m reading it all wrong. But if I’m reading it correctly, then it’s only fair I tell you something. 

Two nights ago, you told me about your monthlies. And while I had had my suspicions on your gender up until that point, that of course, solidified it. But it also made me realize something—in all our messages, I had never given you any clues to my gender. I suppose it didn’t matter at first, not when we were both trying to hide as much about our identities as we could. And to be fair, at the time we were simply two strangers, developing a friendship. But we’re not strangers anymore, are we, Robin? And this…this doesn’t feel like any friendship I’ve ever known. It’s so much more. You are so much more. 

Which is why I need to be honest with you, so long as the parchment will let me. Because the last thing I ever want to do is hurt you, and I know that if I don’t tell you this, I’m running that risk. Of making you feel like you can’t trust me, or worse, that I’ve been using you. I never want you to feel that way, which is why I’m telling you now what I should have told you two nights ago but was too afraid to—I can’t tell you if it’s a bloke thing, because I’ve no idea. What I do know about is monthlies. Because I get them, too. 

I’m sorry, Robin. I think there’s part of me that assumed you suspected. But I don’t know why I didn’t just tell you straight away, two nights ago. Fear, I suppose. Worry that if I had it wrong, if you hadn’t suspected, you wouldn’t want to talk to me anymore, or that you’d think I had been purposefully leading you on. I promise, the thought didn’t even cross my mind. But I’ll understand if you need to change the cadence of these messages, and I’ll be happy to do so. Just say the word. What I hope more than anything, though, is that you can find it within your big, wonderful heart to understand what I’ve told you. You’re the first person I’ve ever told any of this to.

…Not that I get my monthlies. I just realized how absurd that sounds. People do know that. But to put it in a way that won’t alert the parchment censors, this is the first time I’ve ever told anyone that I’m more than comfortable with the idea of sending flirtatious messages to women. I’ve mentioned in the past that there are parts about me that no one understands, but I was vague before. Now you know what I was alluding to.

I’ll understand if you need time to think about what I’ve said. By all means, take all the time you need. But I hope you can understand. More than anything, I don’t want to lose my dear friend over this. Regardless of what we end up being to each other in the long run, I like talking to you more than I like talking to anyone. And all I know is that I want you in my life. Whether that’s as friends or perhaps something else, I don’t care. I just want you in my life. 

Pansy drops her quill like it’s scalding and sits back, her heart thumping erratically in her chest. She feels slightly dizzy—she’s just come out for the first time ever. It makes her want to giggle hysterically and also dive into the couch cushions and never resurface. Perhaps that’s what she’ll do…to generations of future Slytherins, she can be known as the mad lesbian who lives in the couch.

That does make her giggle, and before she knows it, she’s laughing somewhat hysterically. All the feelings she’s kept bottled up for years seem to pour out of her in that moment, and she feels wild and untethered. But once the giggles have run their course, she glances back at her message, still waiting to be sent on her parchment. 

She picks up her wand and looks it over. With one tap, she’ll have officially come out for the first time in her life. And she’ll have revealed to her parchment pal that she’s genuinely interested in her. Her wand hovers over the parchment as she thinks through all the repercussions—her parchment pal abandoning her; everyone in her year somehow finding out; her parents disowning her, or worse…

“Sod it,” Pansy mutters. She taps the message and watches as the ink sinks into the parchment. She stares at the words, shining in gold, and is suddenly seized by a mad urge to chuck the parchment into the fireplace and watch it burn to ashes. She’ll never have to know how her parchment pal reacts if she can’t actually read the parchment. 

Pansy fights off the urge and stares at the parchment for a few long moments. Then, she stands up so abruptly that Felix opens his eyes, surprised by the sudden movement. 

“Sorry. Sorry, I just…” Pansy trails off as she paces around the room, biting nervously on her bottom lip and hoping she won’t have to stagger down to the Hospital Wing for an emergency Calming Draught. She’s never been so anxious in her entire life, and she feels like if she doesn’t move, she might explode.

She glances at the parchment as she paces past the couch, but there’s no reply. So she continues to pace, once, twice, three times around the room. Each time she makes a full lap, she checks the parchment, and each time, it remains blank. On what must be her hundredth pass, she sits down heavily on the couch and stares at the paper, willing an answer to come through. She doesn’t particularly care what the answer is anymore, she just needs some acknowledgment that her parchment pal has seen her message. The waiting is making her mad.

With each passing minute, the anxiety churning in Pansy’s gut seems to double, but she’s trying very hard to convince herself that there’s no reason to panic. It had taken her a while to compose her message. There’s a very good chance her parchment pal might be fast asleep on the other end of the page, completely oblivious to the fact that Pansy just bared her soul to her. So if she doesn’t get a reply tonight, well…it’s not the end of the world. Right?

Or maybe, she’s horrified. Maybe she’s ripped her parchment in two and has vowed to never reply to you again. Maybe she thinks you’re sick.

Pansy inhales sharply as the thought enters her mind. “No. She’s not like that,” she murmurs out loud, trying to convince herself. 

How do you know? If she thought she was talking to a man, then why wouldn’t she be disgusted? She’d have every right to be.

Pansy shakes her head. She won’t fall down this rabbit hole. And anyway, she knows her parchment pal. She knows what’s in her heart, and she knows that even if she doesn’t feel the same way about her, she won’t abandon her. 

She curls up on the couch, her head resting near the parchment, Felix near her feet. The cracked leather cools her flushed cheeks as she stares at the parchment, willing a message to come through. 

The space beneath her message stays maddeningly blank. 

Eventually, the adrenaline that had been thrumming through her system vanishes completely, replaced with a heavy, leaden feeling. It’s getting harder and harder to convince herself that her parchment pal had simply fallen asleep without seeing the message. Ever since that first night, they’ve always exchanged goodnights, even if one of them is in the middle of a reply. Had her parchment pal had been on the brink of sleep, she would have let Pansy know. But she didn’t. She had been waiting for a reply, so she must have seen what Pansy wrote. And while Pansy can’t be sure of the time, she’s certain an hour has passed. Probably more. So the only explanation that remains is that Pansy had scared off her parchment pal. Perhaps for good. 

She squeezes her eyes shut, forcing the traitorous tears to remain at bay. 

She will not cry over this.

A Parkinson does not show weakness. 

Instead, she pinches the bridge of her nose and exhales slowly. There’s no reason to borrow trouble—there are other things that could be causing the delay. Perhaps she’s just taking her time to think of an appropriate reply. After all, Pansy had dumped quite a bit of personal information on her pal all at once. And she has a sneaking suspicion that she had been right in thinking her pal was convinced she was talking to a man. Add that confusion to the pile, and it’s not surprising that Pansy’s still waiting for a reply.

Pansy sighs and sits up. She can be patient. Besides, she was the one who had told her pal to take all the time she needed to process her message. A decision she regrets now, but it’s only fair that she be understanding. She gathers her things in her bag and slings it over her shoulder, then bends to scoop up Felix. He blinks sleepily at her and starts purring, and she drops a kiss on his silky head.

“It’ll all be okay. She’ll understand,” Pansy murmurs as she starts toward her bed, all the while ignoring the vague sense of dread that’s settled in her chest. 

***

Two days have passed, and Pansy hasn’t heard a word from her parchment pal. 

She’s sent two short follow-up messages over the weekend, both of which have gone unanswered. And now they seem to be mocking her every time she glances at her parchment with a stupid flicker of hope that there might be a reply waiting for her. 

I know I said you could take all the time you need, and you still can, but…could you let me know if I’ve botched it all? I’m afraid I’m not as patient as I’d hoped to be. To be frank, I’m an anxious mess. 


I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Robin. I truly never meant to hurt you. Please say something. Anything. 

I miss you. 

The messages make her cringe now. She sounds desperate and pathetic and weak

She’s managed to cycle through every emotion in the past two days—denial, guilt, apathy, depression, guilt again, more depression. And now, much to the frustration of everyone in her life, she’s finally settled on anger. Because anger is safe. Anger doesn’t make Pansy feel guilty or sad or stupid. Anger makes her feel righteous and justified. 

And that’s exactly how she feels right now, seated at the Slytherin table in the Great Hall for breakfast. She’s hasn’t touched her food, and she’s barely aware of the Monday morning commotion around her. The clatter of plates and hum of conversation fades into the background as she loses herself in thoughts, all of them bitter. Because to be frank, she doesn’t know why any of this had caught her off guard. Why on earth had she thought her parchment pal would be any different? All that talk of empathy and wanting to be the one person to understand. It was all bullshit in the end. A fresh wave of anger seeps into Pansy’s veins. Anger at her parchment pal, yes, but mostly, anger at herself. Because Pansy knows how the world works. She knows that empathy and compassion are for fools, and that the world is cruel, full of unfeeling people and unfettered hatred. The world doesn’t celebrate differences, and it never will. No matter what trite bullshit her parchment pal had spewed, or what pretty, poisonous lies her aunt had whispered in her ear.

More than anything though, Pansy’s furious that she had let herself be tricked again. She had let herself believe in the lovely words her parchment pal wrote. She had let herself believe that the world would be understanding of someone like her, that her parchment pal would be understanding. Merlin, she had even begun to doubt her father and everything she’s been taught to believe.

“Would you stop that?”

Pansy looks up, torn from her thoughts to find Daphne, Draco, Millicent, and Theo staring at her. She glances down at her hand where she’s been restlessly and loudly tapping the handle of a spoon against the wooden table. 

“It’s doing my head in. And I know you’re stuck in whatever this broody bullshit phase is, but can you not take it out on the rest of us?” Daphne asks, glaring at Pansy. 

Pansy drops the spoon with a clatter. “I’m not being broody,” she says, aware of the edge in her voice. 

Draco snorts quietly beside her and Daphne rolls her eyes. “Please. Over the past two days, you’ve somehow managed to make Millie look cheerful. No offense, Millie,” Daphne adds. Millicent just shrugs and continues slicing a sausage. “It’s fine that you won’t tell us what’s crawled up your arse and died. That’s your prerogative. But could you try not being completely insufferable in the process?” 

Pansy glares at Daphne. “Nothing crawled up my arse,” she mutters, picking up a fork and stabbing at a sausage. “And I’m not being insufferable. And if you have something to add to this conversation,” Pansy says, her head snapping around to Draco who has snorted again, “then by all means say it, rather than snorting beside me like a bloody pig.”

Draco lifts his hands in an attempt to placate her and says, “sorry, it’s just…she’s not wrong. You’ve been a bit…” he trails off. 

“Bitchy,” Theo says.

“Bloody impossible,” Daphne mutters. 

“A right cow,” Millicent says around a mouthful of sausage. 

Touchy,” Draco says, glaring at the rest of them. “You’ve been a bit touchy over the past few days. And that’s okay,” he adds quickly, facing Pansy again with annoyingly earnest eyes. “But we’ve all noticed. And if something happened, you can tell us. Maybe we could help?” he asks. 

Pansy thinks about her parchment pal. Thinks about how she put everything on the line, only to be treated to cold, oppressive silence. Thinks about how she almost had thought she was falling…

She scowls, and before her mind can complete that traitorous thought, says, “nothing happened. I’m fine. Or at least I would be if you lot would sod off and stop sticking your noses where they don’t belong.” She stabs at the same sausage again, hoping they listen to her for once and stop prying.

“Pansy…” Draco starts, but Daphne cuts him off.

“Of course they belong there, you daft prick,” she says, sounding completely exasperated. “We care about you.” 

Pansy grits her teeth at that. It reminds her far too much of someone else who said they cared and would always be there to listen. Her grip tightens around her fork. “Well, don’t,” she says, her voice low and angry. “I don’t need you to care. I don’t need any of you to do anything for me, okay?” Pansy says, pushing her sausage around her plate and trying desperately to maintain some kind of composure. But the more they push, the closer she is to snapping. “Just piss off. The lot of you.”

“Gladly,” Theo mutters around his goblet, and Millicent nods in agreement. But Draco and Daphne exchange a look, and Pansy knows they’re not done with her. 

She feels her temper flare. She’s had to put up with enough of their ridiculous tantrums over the years and she always knows when to pry and when to leave well enough alone. But the one time she needs them to return the favor, they decide to tag-team her instead in some pathetic attempt to get her to talk.

It won’t work.  

Draco puts a hand on Pansy’s knee under the table, and she freezes in place. She has half a mind to take the knife from his place setting and forcibly remove it from her leg. 

If she happens to forcibly remove it from his arm at the same time, well…so be it. 

“Pans,” Draco says, in what Pansy thinks is a poor attempt to be soothing. “We just want to help.”

“And I’ve already told you, I don’t need your help,” Pansy mutters tersely, shifting her leg away from Draco’s hand and ignoring how his body slumps in disappointment beside her.

“Oh, I’d beg to differ. You said you don’t want us sticking our noses where they don’t belong,” Daphne says, raising her voice obnoxiously in what Pansy assumes is supposed to be an impression of her. “Which means there’s something you’re keeping from us. And you should know by now that you can’t keep secrets from me, so…” she trails off and looks at Pansy with a raised eyebrow. 

Pansy digs her nails into her palm in a last ditch effort to maintain her composure. “My only secret is how I’ve managed to stay friends with a group of pushy, obtrusive bellends for so long.”

“Pans…” 

Pansy slams her fork down. “Would you just drop it?” she asks, glaring at Daphne. “I’ve said I’m fine. And Merlin knows none of you are known for your intelligence, but I should think you’d be able to rub together the three brain cells you have between the lot of you and realize that you’re coming dangerously close to overstepping your bounds.” 

Daphne sighs heavily, then shrugs. “Fine. If she doesn’t want to talk about it, then we won’t make her.”

She’s right here,” Pansy says, stabbing at the same, long-suffering sausage that she has no intention of eating.

“Well, if she wants to act like a child, then we’ll discuss her like she’s a child,” Daphne says cooly, reaching for a piece of toast from an overflowing, silver platter. “Which honestly seems fitting, considering how completely incapable you are of handling your own emotions,” she adds.

Pansy looks up at her swiftly. “Excuse me?” 

“This is what you do,” Daphne says with a shrug, buttering her toast. “Something bothers you and instead of being rational, you have a meltdown. You shut down and you lash out, just like a child. Whereas if you’d just talk about it…”

“Oh, that’s rich,” Pansy says, cutting Daphne off. 

“What is?” Daphne asks, pausing her buttering to look at Pansy. 

“You, lecturing me about how to handle emotions? In what universe do you have the nerve to talk to me about that?” 

Daphne frowns and lowers her knife. “I know more about it than you do. All you know how to do is shut down. The moment things become hard, you shut down completely. Because that’s what the Parkinsons do, isn’t it? Merlin forbid anyone think the bloody Parkinsons might be weak. Or worse, human.”

Pansy’s eyes flash dangerously. “I’d rather shut down than become a wretched, blubbering fool. The way you acted after Blaise fucked Lisa Turpin was pathetic,” Pansy hisses, feeling her control slowly slip away. She’s been pushed too far, and all the anger that’s been pooling in her system seems to come to a point. It’s probably painted all over her face, too—Theo and Millicent have stopped eating and are watching them with trepidation, and she can feel Draco’s leg, bouncing restlessly beside her.

“It’s called having emotions,” Daphne says, glaring at her. “And perhaps if you tried it, perhaps if you opened yourself up for one fucking second,” Daphne hisses, “rather than this bullshit stoicism routine you always pull, you wouldn’t spend all your free time with a cat and a piece of bloody parchment. Talk about pathetic! And you know what?” Daphne says, pointing at Pansy with her knife. “I almost feel sorry for whoever’s on the other end of your parchment, getting saddled with a stubborn, sodding Parkinson.”

Pansy’s entire body stills at the mention of her parchment pal. She’s vaguely aware of Draco saying something beside her, something that sounds like I don’t think that’s entirely fair, but it’s hard to hear over the rushing of blood in her ears. Saddled with a Parkinson echoes in her head, mocking her. Her fist clenches at her side as she thinks of her blank parchment and of the humiliating rejection she had been dealt over the weekend, and she feels a fresh wave of fury flow through her, lighting her nerves on fire. She’s done trying to keep herself under control. The only thing Pansy wants to do now is make someone hurt as much as she does. 

“And what, you think it’s more commendable to spend your free time fucking anything with a pulse? Because that’s what the Greengrasses do, isn’t it?” Pansy whispers, her voice dangerously low as she spits Daphne’s words back at her. Her whole body is coiled tight with rage and she can’t stop the cruelty as it spills from her lips. “They fuck anything that moves, completely oblivious to the fact that their entire family is a fucking laughingstock. But at least you’re continuing the family tradition,” Pansy says, feeling a little thrill run through her when she sees Daphne’s eyes widen with hurt. She’s completely out of control, but she can’t seem to stop herself. “Maybe instead of worrying about me, you should sort out your own family first. Maybe deal with the fact that your parents are fucking somebody different every night, your mother is an alcoholic, your father hasn’t spent a night at home in years, and neither of them give a shit about you or your sister. Which makes you so fucking desperate for an ounce of attention that you’ll spread your legs for anyone who gives you the time of day.” 

Daphne draws in a sharp breath, and Pansy immediately knows she’s gone too far. Theo and Millicent are both staring at her with wide eyes, Draco’s gaze is trained on his plate, and Daphne’s cheeks are flushed with hurt and anger. All at once, the overwhelming fury seems to drain from Pansy’s system, leaving her numb and hollow. All she wants to do is turn back time and take back what she’s said. 

“Daphne, I…”

Daphne’s eyes snap to Pansy and Pansy immediately shrinks back. “No. Fuck you, Pansy,” she hisses, standing up. “Fuck you. If this is how you treat the people you claim to care about…” she trails off and shakes her head. “You want to act like a bitch? Fine. Then I’ll treat you like one.” Daphne grabs her goblet with a shaky hand and before Pansy can react, she’s covered in lukewarm coffee. Pansy dimly hears the gasps and laughter from around the Great Hall as she watches Daphne stalk away from the table without a backwards glance. 

She sits there, completely still, coffee dripping down her face. Daphne’s hurt eyes flash through her mind, and she feels completely mortified by her own behavior. She has half a mind to go after Daphne immediately, sopping wet and all, but she has a feeling she’d be hexed on sight. And she’d certainly deserve it. Because while this isn’t the first time that they’ve argued, there are certain things that they’ve both tacitly agreed to never bring up during their fights, no matter how upset they get. And Pansy had just broken that trust in a truly spectacular manner. 

Maybe she’ll hex herself, just to save Daphne the effort.

Everyone will love that, Pansy thinks, bitterly. She’s painfully aware that the entire Great Hall is watching her to see how she’ll react to the indignation of having a drink tossed in her face. Steeling herself, she chances a glance around the room. Almost every eye is on her, and most people are laughing. With her chin held high, she scans over the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables, defiantly meeting each and every gaze, before finally coming to rest on the Gryffindor table. Apart from winning the House Cup, she’s not sure she’s ever seen them look so bloody delighted. Finnigan and Thomas are grinning smugly at her, girl-Weasley is sporting an insufferable smirk, Potter and Weasley are both still laughing, and Granger is…

Pansy frowns. Hermione seems curiously detached from the entire situation. It’s almost as if she hasn’t noticed anything had happened at all. She has her quill out and she’s frowning at a piece of parchment in front of her, like it’s a problem she can’t quite solve. 

Before Pansy can put anymore thought into what assignment could possibly be more interesting to Hermione than watching her nemesis finally get her well-deserved comeuppance, she feels a small whoosh from next to her. Coffee stops dripping down her face, and her robes and hair are immediately dry.

“Thank you,” Pansy murmurs quietly to Draco, who puts his wand away and gives her a curt nod, but doesn’t look up from his plate. She can tell he’s upset by what she said—they all are. Everyone likes Daphne. She wears her heart on her sleeve and she’s maddeningly easy to love. And even if Pansy hadn’t been the biggest twat in the world, there would still be no question whose side they’d all take. Pansy glances around the table to see if she can find a sympathetic gaze, but no one at the Slytherin table will make eye contact with her. She takes a shaky breath and releases it slowly, nodding to herself. The entire room is against her, and she feels worse than she had when she sat down.

“I think I’ll sit outside for a bit,” Pansy says quietly, standing up. She doesn’t want to stay here in this oppressive silence, surrounded by people who think she’s a complete bitch (which, to be fair, she is). No one makes a move to stop her as she collects her things and quickly makes her way out of the Great Hall, ignoring the mocking laughter and cruel whispers that follow her. Once she’s through the halls and safely outside, she slumps against a stone wall and tilts her head back, forcing the tears to remain where they are. She doesn’t have long before she’s to be in Potions, and she doesn’t fancy showing up with red-rimmed eyes. 

She takes a few deep breaths of the cool, early morning air, forcing herself to stay calm as she comes up with a plan. She’ll apologize to Daphne, first chance she gets. She’ll make her understand. Even if she has to stun her into listening. Even if she has to get on bended knee. 

Even if she has to tell Daphne the truth. 

The thought sits heavily in Pansy’s stomach. She knows it’s the right thing to do, but it still makes her anxiety spike. But it couldn’t possibly go worse than it had with her parchment pal, could it? 

Pansy snorts humorlessly at the thought, then rubs her exhausted eyes. She’s not sure if one step really counts as a plan, but it’s a start, and a start is all she needs. 

After a few more deep breaths, she pushes off from the wall and heads toward the dungeons. And as she walks, she finds some solace in the knowledge that no matter what happens, there’s no way this bloody day could possibly get any worse. 

***

There’s a jovial atmosphere in the Potions classroom when Pansy arrives. Snape’s desk at the front of the classroom is empty and most students are chatting amongst themselves, taking advantage of the extra free time before class starts. Pansy hesitates by the door, uncertain of where she should go. Normally she’d make a beeline to Daphne, but she knows she won’t have cooled off in such a short time. She doesn’t want to try and explain herself to Draco, the thought of making small talk with Millicent or Tracey exhausts her to her very core, and she’s rather climb into a cauldron and boil herself alive than spend any time with Crabbe and Goyle.

Pansy glances toward her table and raises an eyebrow when she sees that Hermione is already there. Normally, she’d take advantage of the extra time before class starts to avoid Pansy and prattle at Potter and Weasley about house-elves, or whatever nauseating new cause she’s championing that particular week. But today she’s bent over the table, using her Potions book to shield whatever she’s writing and studiously ignoring the chatter around her. Pansy supposes she’s still working on the assignment that had taken all of her focus during breakfast and finds it within herself to roll her eyes.

Try-hard, know-it-all git. 

She glances around the room one more time, then sighs and starts toward their table, deciding that somehow, against all odds, Granger is her best option. Before she can get to her seat though, Neville walks by and trips over Hermione’s bag, haphazardly discarded on the floor. It’s placed as if Hermione dropped it while distracted, and if Neville hadn’t managed to stumble over it, Pansy’s sure Snape would have. It’s honestly the better of the two options, although Hermione might disagree. Because somehow in the process, Neville had managed to lurch forward and spill an entire vial of flobberworm mucus over Hermione’s robes.

Hermione immediately yelps in surprise and stands up so quickly, she knocks her chair over. Pansy grins broadly at the spectacle, and without thinking, glances toward Daphne to exchange a look with her. She catches Daphne’s eye, but instead of rolling her eyes and mouthing serves her right like she normally would, Daphne’s smile vanishes, her eyes turn cold, and she swiftly turns away. The smile fades from Pansy’s face and her heart sinks. Slowly, she continues trudging toward her table, watching as Hermione makes her way toward the sinks, Neville trailing behind her, apologizing profusely. 

Once she finally arrives at her seat, Pansy drops her bag on the floor.

“Alright, Parkinson? Almost didn’t recognize you dry,” Ron says from two tables away with a smirk. He looks all together too pleased with himself, and Pansy can’t live with that.

“Oh, I should think you’d be very familiar with girls being dry in your presence,” Pansy says lightly, pulling out her chair and taking a seat. 

Ron’s face turns bright red, and Pansy spares him a sickeningly sweet smile. He seems to be searching for a comeback, but when nothing comes to him, he simply glares and says, “fuck you, Parkinson,” before turning away from her.

Pansy freezes for a moment, then her shoulders slump. “Yes, that does seem to be the consensus today,” she murmurs at the now familiar words.

Once she’s satisfied that no one else is going to try goading her, she glances toward Hermione’s half of the table. There’s some flobberworm mucus near her things, and she idly wonders if she could get away with pushing Hermione’s Potions book into one of the thick, sticky spots. Or better yet, whatever assignment Hermione had been toiling over. Let her hand in her precious paper covered in flobberworm secretions. Maybe it’d knock down her final grade a few points and deflate her ludicrously swollen ego. 

Pansy looks toward the sinks to make sure Hermione is still busy, and she is. She’s drying her hands, listening to Neville with a tight smile on her face. Perfect. She has all the time she needs.

She stretches her arms out and yawns, trying not to call any attention to her actions. Inch by inch, she moves her fingertips toward Hermione’s Potions book, and once she has a grip on it, she tugs it closer. Smoothly, she flips the cover of the book open so she can get a better look at the parchment Hermione’s hiding underneath. She raises an eyebrow when she catches a flash of silver and gold, but before she can look any closer, she’s stopped in her tracks by a stern voice. 

“What do you think you’re doing?” 

Pansy glances up to find Hermione, glaring down at her.

“Your things were dangerously close to flobberworm mucus,” Pansy says with a shrug. “I was simply making sure they stayed clean.” 

Hermione rolls her eyes. “You must think I was born yesterday,” she mutters, bustling past Pansy to pick up her chair from the floor and take her seat. She whisks the parchment into her bag, leaving just her Potions book open on the table. 

“That would explain your atrocious social skills and inability to say thank you when someone takes the extra effort to look out for your belongings,” Pansy says, idly studying her fingernails. She’s slightly upset that her plan was thwarted, but she’s hopeful she’ll get a second chance near the end of class.

“Oh, please. I’m not stupid and you’re not altruistic. It doesn’t do either of us any good to pretend otherwise,” Hermione says, vanishing the excess flobberworm mucus from the table with a flick of her wrist. “I don’t know what your end game was, but let me be clear—touch my things again, and I’ll hex you.”

Pansy hums in appreciation and lifts an eyebrow. “Threatening bodily harm so early in the morning, are we? I thought that was my thing.” 

Hermione doesn’t bother replying, so Pansy decides to needle her, just a tiny bit more. 

“Come now, what’s the matter, Granger? Afraid I’d get a glimpse at your charmed parchment?”

Hermione bristles, and Pansy lets a slow smile spread across her face. Good. She’s not the only one having issues with the bloody assignment. But at least now, she can have some fun with it at Hermione’s expense. 

“Oh, you are afraid. Why? Think I’ll see that you’ve written hundreds of desperate messages to someone who wants nothing to do with you in return?” 

Pansy’s painfully aware that she’s largely describing her own situation, but for the moment, she doesn’t care. It almost feels good to talk about it like it’s an abstract concept, and not something that’s been torturing her for the past few days.

Hermione stares straight ahead and refuses to answer, so Pansy props her chin in her hands and says, “that’s it, isn’t it? You’ve managed to become completely besotted with your parchment pal, and they’ve just informed you that they’d rather have a conversation with a banshee than with you. Merlin, Granger,” she says, pulling a face. “That’s tragic.”

Hermione’s cheeks are flushed and her posture is rigid. “Fuck off, Parkinson,” she whispers, and Pansy’s eyes flash with surprise. She’s used to all sorts of barbs and insults from Hermione, but very rarely does she resort to foul language. Pansy must have touched a nerve. 

“There’s no need for such language,” Pansy says with a holier than thou air. For the first time all morning, she feels a bit like herself again, and she’s relishing it. “Just because you fancy your parchment pal—”

“I said fuck off, Parkinson!” Hermione says, turning to her with red cheeks and furious eyes.

Eyes that remind Pansy of Daphne’s. 

The brief cheerfulness fades away at the reminder of her shame, and Pansy shrugs, pulling out her Potions book and dropping it on the table with a thud. “Fine. There’s no need to be so touchy. And by all means, don’t let me stop you from writing your bloody love letters,” she says, her voice clipped. “I couldn’t read it if I tried, nor would I want to,” she adds.  

Hermione seems to consider this for a moment, and after a brief hesitation, she reaches into her bag for her parchment. But before she can pull it out, Snape sweeps into the dungeon and tells them to open their books to page 474. Hermione’s shoulders slump momentarily, then she flips through her book and glances absently at the potion they’re to brew. Pansy raises another eyebrow at that—Hermione is almost always obnoxiously excited over brewing new potions, but today, she doesn’t seem remotely interested in the fact they’re brewing Veritaserum for the first time.

“Now, then,” Snape says. “Who can tell me about Veritaserum?”

Pansy sighs and drums her fingers on the table as Hermione lifts her hand and says something about jobberknoll feathers and powdered moonstone. She’s hardly paying attention though, too bothered by the fact that even bloody Granger had made her feel awful about herself. It’s decidedly a new low in what seems to be a day filled with them. 

She manages to tune back in when Snape says, “Slytherins, you’ll be behind the cauldron today. Gryffindors, gather the ingredients. Do so quietly.”

Hermione turns and regards Pansy with contempt. “If I see that any of my things are out of place…”

Pansy rolls her eyes and pulls her book closer to skim the ingredients list. “Believe it or not, I couldn’t possibly care less about your life, Granger, and I don’t want to touch your filthy things. Who knows what might be lurking on those surfaces?” she adds with a small shudder.

Hermione eyes her warily for a moment, then shakes her head and walks away without taking the bait. Pansy starts the fire under their cauldron and reads over the instructions as she waits for Hermione to return with the ingredients.

Once she does, they settle into their usual routine of working in silence, which despite being uncomfortable, is actually startlingly effective—apart from their ill-fated attempt at brewing the Draught of the Living Death, they’ve been the first pair to successfully finish every potion for weeks now. They only communicate in terse comments or grunts of acknowledgment, which has done wonders for their efficiency, and is why after only forty minutes of work, they’re on the final step of their Veritaserum. 

Pansy watches silently as Hermione crushes the Sopophorous Beans with the blade of a silver knife and quickly adds it to the mixture. As soon as it’s in, they both sit back and watch as the potion starts to clear. Once it’s translucent, Hermione nods, satisfied, and Pansy extinguishes the flame without a word. They’re done with fifteen minutes to spare, but Pansy knows Snape won’t let them leave early. He always expects them to get a head start on their nightly assignment, even though she rarely does. She usually spends her free time charming notes to send to Daphne, two tables away, always taking care to make sure the notes hit Potter in the head as they land on their table.  

She frowns slightly when she realizes that’s not an option today. 

“It needs to cool before we can bottle,” Hermione says, pulling her away from her thoughts before they can turn too maudlin. 

“I know. This might startle you, but you’re not the only one who can read a book,” Pansy mutters. 

Hermione rolls her eyes and closes her Potions book, and Pansy eyes her with surprise. Because while she never gets a head start on the nightly assignment, Hermione always does. And what’s more, she usually finishes it, much to Pansy’s constant irritation. She’s about to ask Hermione if she’s recently suffered from a concussion or something of the like, but before she can, Hermione leans down toward her bag and plucks out her parchment.

“Merlin,” Pansy mutters at the sight of it, bitter that Hermione is apparently having splendid conversations with her parchment pal while she’s being tortured with prolonged silence by hers. “You actually are obsessed with this person.”

Hermione doesn’t answer. She’s opened her book again and is using the cover to shield her parchment from Pansy’s gaze. Her quill scratches at the surface and Pansy watches for a moment. There’s a part of her that wants to reach for her own parchment to see if there’s a reply, but the thought alone makes her feel anxious and awful. So instead, she decides to spend her free time on something slightly more amusing. 

She’s going to find out what kind of sad, damaged person would willingly talk to Granger.

“Why?” she asks calmly, tilting her head and studying Hermione’s profile.

Hermione doesn’t bother to look up. “Why what?”

“Why are you obsessed with this person? You don’t know a thing about them.”

Hermione pauses, her quill hovering over the parchment. She turns to Pansy with a small frown. “That’s not true at all. Believe it or not, some of us have actually taken the time to get to know our parchment pals,” she says. Then she snorts and says, “oh, but let me guess—you didn’t even bother with the assignment?”

Pansy shrugs, trying to project apathy. “No. Why would I?” she lies, absently picking at the corner of her Potions book and hoping her cheeks aren’t flushed. “Why would anyone willingly spend their time talking to a stranger for a few house points? Honestly, it’s a horrid idea and a complete waste of time, if you ask me.”

“It’s not,” Hermione says, her voice surprisingly soft as she glances at her parchment. There’s something curious in her eyes as she regards it. Pain, Pansy thinks. Perhaps remorse. But before she can think too hard about the swirl of emotions in her eyes, Hermione turns back to Pansy and regards her with scorn. “But I wouldn’t expect you to understand. Heaven forbid you think about someone other than yourself for once. No, really!” she says when Pansy scoffs. “Did you ever stop to think that your parchment pal might have wanted to participate in the project?” Hermione shakes her head. “Of course you didn’t. Because you never do. You just decided you knew best and didn’t even give it a chance. Though I suppose in this case, you were actually right. It was for the best. I wouldn’t wish a correspondence with you on my worst enemy.” 

Pansy clenches her fist under the table. It’s the second time she’s heard someone say something to that effect today, and even though it matters less coming from Hermione, it still stings. “Trust me, Granger, the feeling is very much mutual,” Pansy says, darkly. “I pity whatever poor soul is forced to read your letters. What I wouldn’t pay to see the look on that person’s face when they realize you’re their parchment pal,” she says, gesturing toward Hermione’s still obstructed parchment. “And I’d pay double to see the look on their face when they realize you’ve gone and fallen in love with them. With a complete stranger! How bloody daft can you be?” Pansy asks somewhat furiously, well aware that most of that fury is directed toward herself. 

“I haven’t,” Hermione says, though her cheeks are flushed again and her knuckles have turned white around her quill. 

Pansy scoffs. “Whatever you say. Let’s just hope for his sake, he has a thing for shrewish, obnoxious cows.”

Hermione’s flush darkens, but before she can reply, they’re interrupted by Snape clearing his throat. They both glance up to find him looming over their work station, regarding them like they’re two flesh-eating slugs degrading the sanctity of his classroom.

“Shall I presume by your constant bickering that you’ve both finished tonight’s assignment?” 

Pansy and Hermione both slowly shake their heads, and Snape’s mouth twists in distaste. “I should think you’d both be clever enough to use your time wisely. And yet,” he says, pronouncing each word with cold disdain. He glances at their cauldron and after a small hesitation, gives it a nod. “This looks…adequate. Parkinson, bottle a sample. Granger, clean up. See if you can manage it without the usual, petty theatrics you both seem to take such delight in,” he adds, before turning and walking away. 

Hermione exhales sharply and puts down her quill. She flips her parchment over, spares a glares for Pansy, then stands up to gather their used ingredients. Once she has everything, she stalks away from the table, this time not bothering to give Pansy a warning about disturbing her things. 

As soon as she’s gone, Pansy begins bottling quickly, intent on leaving before Hermione returns. She fills a bottle with their cooled potion and twists the cap into place, then picks up her wand to vanish the rest of the Veritaserum from the cauldron. Before she can cast the spell though, she glances down and sees Hermione’s parchment. Pansy frowns and lowers her wand, then glances toward the far corner of the room that houses the ingredients cupboards. Hermione is nowhere to be seen.

She knows she shouldn’t. She knows it’s petty and childish. She knows she’ll probably get into heaps of trouble and maybe even land herself with another detention. But she’s also had an absolute shit day, and if dousing Hermione’s parchment in their leftover Veritaserum will bring Pansy even an ounce of joy, then she’s bloody well going to do it. A detention will be more than worth it. She’ll serve the whole thing with a smile on her face if it means wrecking Hermione’s day. And it’s not like she doesn’t deserve her comeuppance, after some of the things she said today. 

Pansy makes sure Hermione is still out of sight. Then, heart in her throat, she leans toward the parchment and flips it over, keeping an eye on the room as she does to make sure no one is watching her antics. As her eyes sweep the room, she catches the familiar glimpse of gold and silver shimmering in her peripheral vision, confirming that this isn’t just some dull, school assignment. Pansy smiles, pleased she has her hands on the right parchment— she wouldn’t take any pleasure in dousing something as impersonal as an Ancient Runes essay.

There’s some part of her that’s mildly disappointed that she won’t be able to read anything on the page. She might have found new material to use against Hermione, or at the very least, some pathetic confession of love to parrot back at her for the next two months. But she’s seen her fair share of charmed parchments and she knows that the concealment charms scramble everything on the page, making it impossible to decipher what’s written. So there’s no point in trying to read Hermione’s parchment. She’ll just grab it, dunk it into the cauldron, and be done with it. 

Satisfied that no one is paying attention to her, Pansy snatches the parchment and lifts it up toward the cauldron. She smirks at the gold and silver words that will soon be washed away by their perfect Veritaserum. It’ll be worth it, solely to see the look on Granger’s…

Pansy freezes.

She replays her last thought. 

The gold and silver words. 

Words.

Time seems to slow as she pulls the parchment to her, and the sounds of the room fade around her as her eyes fly over the parchment. She shouldn’t be able to read anything on the page, and yet… 

It’s a trick of the light, Pansy thinks frantically as she scans the page, taking in words here and there. That’s all it is, just a trick of the… 

Her gaze falls to the most recent silver message shining on the page. 

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Robin. I truly never meant to hurt you. Please say something. Anything. 

I miss you.

No. 

No

Cold horror seeps into her veins as she stares at the painfully familiar words. Her ears are filled with the ragged sounds of her own breathing, and the more she stares at the words, her words, the more she feels like she might pass out. Quickly, she slams the parchment back onto Hermione’s Potions book face down and grips the edges of the table, forcing air into her lungs. 

It’s a mistake, she thinks, somewhat hysterically. It’s a fucking mistake. Granger must have taken someone else’s parchment by accident. 

But then why was she writing on it? Surely, if she had taken someone else’s parchment, she would have noticed the mistake. She would have realized she couldn’t read anything written on it and immediately alerted McGonagal to the mix-up. 

In which case…

No. There’s no other case. There’s been a mistake. She doesn’t know what the mistake is, but she knows that somewhere along the line, there’s been a colossal fuck up.

Hermione Granger is not her parchment pal. 

The thought alone makes a strangled noise leave Pansy, and her grip tightens on the table. There’s a curious ringing in her ears, but somehow, a voice manages to cut through it. 

“Pans? Are you alright?” 

Pansy looks up wildly to find Draco looking at her, his spare ingredients balanced in his arms and his brow creased with concern. 

“You don’t look good. Did something happen?” Draco asks. He leans forward to deposit his ingredients on her table so he can take a closer look at her. As he does, Pansy looks past him to see Hermione on her way back from the ingredients cupboard, her eyes lingering on the two of them suspiciously. 

Pansy takes a sudden, sharp breath at the sight of her. Getting as far away from this classroom before Hermione returns suddenly seems like the most important thing in the world. The only problem is, she’s not sure if she can move. It’s as if someone has hit her with a particularly strong Jelly-Legs Curse, and she has a feeling if she releases her death-grip on the table, she’ll crumple to the ground in a pathetic heap.

Draco follows her gaze and narrows his eyes when he sees Hermione. 

“Oh. Bloody Mudblood,” he mutters. “What did she say to you? Say the word and I’ll hex her,” he adds, lowering his voice. 

Pansy shakes her head, frantically. “No, I…she…I didn’t…I mean, she never…I have to go,” she babbles incoherently, finally releasing the table. Pinpricks of pain tickle her fingertips as the blood slowly returns, but she barely notices. The only thing she’s aware of is the voice in her head, telling her to run. She grabs her bag from the floor and tries to shove her Potions book inside, desperately hoping that Draco doesn’t see how badly her hands are shaking.

“Right…are you sure? Maybe you should go see Madame Pomfrey instead? You really don’t look good,” Draco says, peering at her closely. 

Pansy shakes her head frantically, still wrestling with her Potions book. When it refuses to go into her bag, she gives a short, somewhat hysterical laugh that makes Draco’s eyes widen with concern. “Bloody book won’t go in,” she says, trying to sound overly cheerful and not like she’s two seconds away from screaming until her lungs burst and her eyes pop out. She puts her bag on her chair and slams the book down a few times, laughing again when she hears the crack of an ink bottle breaking somewhere in the depths of her bag. The book finally settles into place just as Hermione returns to the table. 

Pansy freezes and stares at her, suddenly petrified that Hermione somehow knows the cause of her distress. Her whole body heats up uncomfortably as she watches Hermione’s eyes track down to her bag, which by this point, is in quite a state, then back up to her face. Her gaze narrows as it flicks between Pansy and Draco and she opens her mouth, but before she can say anything, Pansy remembers her one objective is to get as far from this classroom and Hermione Granger as she possibly can. 

Run.

Her body blesses her with a sudden burst of adrenaline, and she turns on her heel and flees from the classroom, ignoring how mad she must look to both Draco and Hermione. 

She flies through the dungeons without a destination in mind, ignoring a dirty glare from Filch when she almost trods on Mrs. Norris’s tail. Shock has settled into her system and has made her blind to everything and everyone around her. She feels completely untethered. It’s almost as if someone else is controlling her body like a marionette, yanking on her strings, turning her left and right through the dungeons. A few people glance at her as she passes by with something resembling concern, but she’s too oblivious to notice. She doesn’t know where she’s going, but she knows she needs to be alone, and she has half a mind to walk into the Forbidden Forest and never return.

Somehow, without trying, Pansy finds herself in front of the plain stone walls guarding the Slytherin common room entrance. “Boomslang,” she manages to say in a rough, low voice. The wall falls away and she rushes through the opening and down the stone steps, lit by the flickering torches that line the walls. Once she’s in the common room, she flies past a few third years lounging in front of the fire, throws open the door to her dormitory, and slams it shut behind her. Her chest heaves as she leans against the door, and she takes a few moments to catch her breath. When she’s relatively sure she isn’t about to pass out, she shakily makes her way toward her bed, sits down on it, and stares at the wall across from her. 

Her mind has been curiously blank until now, the shock of the discovery rendering it useless. But now that she’s alone, she feels as if the volume has been turned up in her head. Every thought is overwhelming, and they race and tumble about in an awful, mad cacophony. But the one that keeps jumping out at her is the one she manages to latch onto with fervor. 

It’s a mistake. There’s been a mistake. 

It rings comfortingly true. There has to have been a mistake. Because the alternative is quite frankly, impossible. Pansy would know if she had been conversing with Hermione this entire time. And there’s just no way. There’s absolutely no bloody way. For starters, she hates every word that’s ever fallen from Granger’s repulsive lips. It’s impossible that the same witch she finds abhorrent could be responsible for some of the most achingly beautiful messages Pansy’s ever read. 

But you’ve only ever argued with her. Did you really think there was only one side to her?

Pansy frowns at the thought, but doesn’t push it away immediately. After some consideration, she admits that yes, perhaps Hermione is different when she’s talking to someone she likes. And Pansy is certainly not someone she likes. But still, there are too many things that point to this being a mistake. Perhaps most obviously, Hermione is a Mudblood. She would certainly know who Robin Hood is. 

You included that in an attempt to throw her off of your scent. She feigned ignorance to do the same. 

Pansy inhales sharply and shakes her head, bunching her sheets in her fists. Something else, then. She thinks back on their earlier messages and remembers the Paris conversation. It had happened the night she and Hermione had served detention together. It was the same night doubts about blood status had begun to swirl in her head and sleep had eluded her, so she had reached for her parchment to soothe her frayed nerves. And she distinctly remembers her pal saying they had had an altogether uneventful night in the library. There had been no mention of a detention. 

You didn’t mention the detention either, you stupid twat. 

Pansy groans and buries her head in her hands. She hadn’t. She hadn’t wanted to cloud her parchment pal’s view of her by admitting to being in detention, and she had wanted even less to bring up her feud with Hermione. It had felt like too big of a bloody mess to try and explain to an innocent bystander. It stands to reason that Hermione had felt the same way that night and had chosen to ignore it completely. 

Now that Pansy’s opened the floodgates, disjointed thoughts and memories start to race through her mind, one right after the other. 

Pansy refilling her punch during the Yule Ball, catching a glimpse of Viktor Krum, leaning in to kiss a stiff, awkward looking Hermione. Her underwhelming first kiss, presumably. 

She tended to make friends with blokes, and referred to her “best mates” often. Potter and Weasley. 

The orange cat that sometimes trailed after her, and that Hermione looked at with far too much raw affection in her eyes. 

Her way with words…not the brightest witch of her age for nothing, then. 

A devotion to help others—bloody S.P.E.W. Bloody Gryffindor. 

A persistent fear of failure. One of the things she herself had planted in Granger’s mind. 

Something about her that others judged and were cruel about—her blood status. 

Pansy groans again, falling back onto her bed. She hadn’t even thought about blood status. Not since the Robin Hood comment in their very first messages had convinced her she was talking to someone with Wizarding parents. Of course that was what Hermione was referring to. It had never been about her sexuality. 

Pansy shakes her head as every piece of the puzzle slots into place. 

It was all there. All along. 

Her parchment pal, her Robin, is Hermione bloody Granger.

Pansy can’t decide if she wants to laugh or cry. Because somehow, the person she likes the best, the person she thought she was falling in love with, is also the person she hates more than anyone and anything. 

She stares up at the ceiling, shell-shocked and numb for what feels like hours. There’s no way she’s going to any of the rest of her classes today. Or tomorrow. 

Perhaps she’ll drop out of school entirely. 

That way, when the parchment pals are finally revealed and this is all out in the open, she won’t have to be there to see the revulsion on Hermione’s face. She’ll be long gone by then, and the parchment pal business will just be a ridiculous memory she’ll laugh about someday.

Pansy sits up and sighs. There’s no use thinking about the future when she still needs to deal with the horrifying realizations the present has brought her. And the first step she needs to take? Shutting this down. Before she drops out of school and lives in the Forbidden Forest with the centaurs, she needs to do the right thing. Which at the very least, shouldn’t be hard, considering the state of things. She wouldn’t have pegged Hermione as homophobic, but her silence speaks volumes. Ridiculously, Pansy finds herself somewhat glad for the days of silence now; it’ll make shutting this whole farce down easier, and she won’t feel cruel about writing a rude message to Hermione.

She reaches for her bag, finds her parchment, and pulls it out. But before she can reach for a quill, she freezes. 

After two long days of waiting, there’s a new message on the paper. 

A message from Granger, Pansy reminds herself firmly. She shouldn’t even read it. She should shove it back into her bag, never to see the light of day. She should use it as kindling in the fire crackling outside of her door. She should shred it and toss the tiny pieces out the window, letting both the parchment and her dreams flutter away over the pine green hills.

She should do these things. 

She doesn’t. 

The only thing she does is try not to be embarrassed by how quickly she starts reading.

Dear bard, 

Before I say anything else, let me apologize—you asked me to give you some sort of reassurance that I was still here and that I still cared, and I failed. I failed you miserably, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to apologize enough. I never should have taken two days to reply to you, and I’ll always feel wretched for it. But please know that even though it didn’t seem like it, I did think of you. Every moment. And I know this might not be worth much to you right now, but let me offer my belated reassurances: I’m still here, and I still care.

But as to why it took me two days to reply…

You weren’t wrong. When you said that our messages weren’t just friendly. You weren’t wrong. You were honest with me, and now I think it’s only fair I do the same with you: I had feelings for you. 

(Pansy tries not to think too hard about why her heart drops after she reads the word had.)

They took me by surprise, but they were real. And if I’m being honest, you were the first person I’ve ever had those feelings for. You were the person I thought about, morning, noon, night, and every time in between. I’d find myself breathless with anticipation when we’d correspond, desperate to read everything you had to say. I don’t know how it happened. All I know is that somehow, against all odds, you had become everything to me. 

Which is why when you disclosed your gender, I was…surprised, to put it mildly. Upset, to be blunt. And it’s taken longer than I care to admit to come to terms with the fact that you weren’t toying with me from the start. Which is regrettably, what I thought when I first read your letter. But with further reflection, I realized you were right—you had never said anything to deliberately mislead me. That was entirely my doing, my assumptions, and no fault of your own. We both disguised large parts of our identities, so it’s unfair of me to feel hurt or deceived by your revelation. 

You asked if the cadence of these letters should change. And while I still want to talk to you and still consider you one of my dearest friends, I do think that we need to change the way we speak to each other. That’s not to say I don’t want to hear from you every day, or that I’m not still dying to find out who you are. But it wouldn’t be fair to you to give you false hope. Because I’m afraid that’s what it would be. So from here on out, we’ll just be friends. The dearest of friends, but friends, nonetheless.

I know how much it must have taken to admit this to me. To be so brave. And for me to react with silence…honestly, if you never want to hear from me again, I’ll understand. I’m ashamed of my conduct. But if you’ll let me, I’ll make it up to you. In any way I can. Because I still want to be the person you talk to, and I promise you that your revelation doesn’t matter to me. Well, that’s not true; it matters in that I’m delighted you told me, and I want every happiness for you and whomever you decide to love (she’ll be the luckiest girl in the world). But at the same time, it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t change the way I feel about our friendship. Which I very much hope you’re still invested in. 

Again, I’m sorry it took me so long to reply to you. I don’t want to lose my dear friend, either, and I’ve missed you terribly the past few days. All my own doing, I know. But still. 

I promise, I won’t be an awful twat ever again.

Your (deeply ashamed) awful twat, 
Robin

Pansy leans back against her pillow, letting the words sink in. She’s been given the perfect escape. Her parchment pal (Granger, her brain supplies traitorously), had told her that if she never wanted to speak to her again, she’d understand. Pansy could simply let the message go unanswered and be done with it.

But there’s something strange about how easy it is for Pansy to separate Hermione from Robin. Even though logically, she knows now that they’re the same person, she had still felt the same eagerness she had always felt when reading one of her parchment pal’s messages. And even now, she feels her hand itching to reach for her quill and reply immediately. Because to not reply to Hermione would be one thing, but to not reply to Robin would seem like cruel and unusual punishment. Especially after she had essentially accepted what Pansy had told her with open arms. And yes, Pansy’s still hurt that it took her two days to reply, but she can more or less understand her parchment pal’s hesitation. If the shoe was on the opposite foot, she’d also feel confused and betrayed. To be honest, she’s not sure if she’d have even penned such a nice message. 

Her hand reaches for her quill.

But it’s Granger

Right. It’s Granger. The same Granger that Pansy has always despised with a passion. Her hand stalls, hovering over her quill. She can’t possibly be entertaining the idea of continuing a correspondence with her parchment pal, knowing full well that it’s her sworn nemesis on the other end.

Pansy thrusts her hands through her hair and hisses fuck a few times, trying to figure out what she should do. She’s never felt so at war with herself. What she needs is an outside opinion on this whole mess, but of course, Daphne isn’t speaking to her. 

Then suddenly, as if by magic, the dormitory door opens, and Daphne appears. Pansy stares at her stupidly, wondering if she’s somehow managed to summon her by sheer will alone. 

Daphne steps into the room, humming absently to herself. She closes the door behind her, turns, and sees Pansy. Immediately, her eyes harden. 

“Bunking off without an excuse now, are we? I should tell Snape.” 

Pansy’s eyebrows raise at the comment. She hadn’t expected Daphne to say anything to her at all. The fact they’re on any sort of speaking terms gives Pansy some hope, and she shelves all thoughts of her parchment pal and sits up straighter, absolutely determined not to botch this. She knows she has a decent shot at her apology going well, because while Daphne is quick to anger, she’s also quick to forgive. She’s the only member of the Slytherin house who seems to think people are always worth a second chance and is willing to give it, freely and gladly. It’s something Pansy’s always viewed as a flaw but right now, it’s something she’s going to try and take full advantage of. 

Because more than anything, she needs her best friend. 

“Daph…”

“Don’t,” Daphne says sternly, crossing the room to her bed. She bends down to root around in her trunk, avoiding eye contact with Pansy. “I’m not here to talk to you, I just forgot my Charms book. I’m still furious with you.” 

“I know. I’m sorry,” Pansy says, watching as Daphne tosses a silk scarf onto the floor. “You have every right to be furious with me. But I need you to know how sorry I am. I shouldn’t have said any of it. I didn’t even mean it,” Pansy says, then she pauses. “Well, no. Your parents are awful, and I won’t take that back. But the rest of it…I was bang out of order.” 

Daphne stands from her trunk and tosses the covers back on her bed, still searching for the book. “You called me a slag in front of the entire bloody school.” She’s still not making eye contact with Pansy, but the tips of her ears are pink. “You think that piss-poor apology is going to make everything right?”

Pansy shakes her head. “No. Obviously not. And you’re not a slag. And even if you were, who fucking cares? You can sleep with whoever you bloody like, whenever you bloody like, I just…” Pansy trails off and exhales heavily. “I was frustrated and angry and I just wanted to be left alone so I said something so colossally stupid. Something I don’t even believe and I…I wish I could take it back,” she finishes quietly. 

Daphne sits back on her heels and finally looks at Pansy, her eyes guarded. “We all get frustrated and angry sometimes. But it doesn’t give us the right to be unnecessarily cruel. Especially when people are just trying to look out for you.”

“I know,” Pansy murmurs. “I’m sorry. But you were right. When Parkinsons are upset, we do things…terrible things,” she says, thinking about her father’s cold eyes with a small shiver. “We lash out and we’re vile and awful, even to the people we love the most,” she says, looking up to find Daphne’s eyes. “I know I hurt you, and I’m sorry. And I know you hate me right now. I don’t blame you. You can hate me for as long as you want, and I’ll understand. I hate me, too, if it’s any consolation.”

Daphne frowns. “I don’t hate you. I’m angry and I’m hurt.” She stands from the floor and sits down on her bed. “I just wanted to help. I care about you. I love you. Merlin knows why, though when you go and act like…like…”

“A mad bitch with a severe case of constipation?”

“I was going to say a complete cow, but that works, too,” Daphne says, the tiniest hint of a smile flickering at the corners of her mouth. 

“I know. I’m both. A mad, bitchy, constipated cow,” Pansy says cautiously. The small smile has made a spark of optimism flare within her, but she doesn’t want to push her luck. 

“I think that suits you,” Daphne says. She picks at her pillowcase and bites her lower lip. “Although…I suppose if we’re both apologizing…I shouldn’t have pushed you, or goaded you into talking.” She looks up swiftly and says, “make no mistake, you’re still in the wrong here. But there’s a slight chance I may have…purposefully added fuel to your fire.” 

Pansy feels relief wash over her. They’re going to be okay. Daphne’s acknowledgment of her role in their argument is enough for Pansy to exhale and let go of some of the tension that’s been sitting on her shoulders all morning. Still, she affects a careless shrugs and says, “I shouldn’t have even come to breakfast. I knew I was in no state to. I’ve had…a lot on my mind.”

“Oh? I hadn’t noticed,” Daphne says, dryly. 

Pansy grimaces. “Sorry.”

“Well, whatever is on your mind, you can keep it there. I know better than to ask about it.”

“No, I don’t…I want to tell you, I’m just,” Pansy sighs and blows her bangs out of her face in frustration, wishing there was an easier way to go about this. “I think I’m scared,” she finally says, her voice low.  

“Scared? Impossible. Pansy Parkinson doesn’t get scared.”

“No, you wouldn’t think so, would you? But she does,” Pansy says. “And she has been. But…I think it’s time I face what’s been making me scared.” 

Daphne leans back against her bed post and raises an eyebrow. “Right then. Go on. I’m listening,”

Pansy bites her lower lip. The same anxiety she had felt a few nights ago when she came out to her parchment pal is swirling in her gut, making her second-guess herself. It would be far easier to avoid this conversation. But then again, it would be far easier to marry Draco and live the rest of her life in absolute misery. And it’s high time Pansy stops doing the easier thing in lieu of the right thing.

Whatever her reaction is, she’ll just have to live with it. 

“I told my parchment pal something. Something…delicate,” Pansy starts, slowly. Daphne frowns and cocks her head, waiting for Pansy to continue. “I…explained that I have feelings for them.”

Daphne’s eyes widen. “You did?”

Pansy nods, steeling herself for the harder part still to come. 

“Merlin. And what, he said he doesn’t have feelings for you?” Daphne snorts before Pansy can say anything. “That’s absurd. No one spends that much time talking to someone if they don’t have feelings for them.”

“No, that’s…that’s not what happened. The feelings are mutual. Were mutual,” Pansy corrects herself, remembering her parchment pal’s newest message with a small wince. 

“Oh,” Daphne frowns, then shakes her head. “Then I don’t understand. What’s the issue? Is it Draco?”

Pansy manages a small scoff, then shakes her head no. She wishes it was as simple as Draco being in the picture.

“Well, if it’s not Draco, then what? You like him, he likes you. It’s a bloody fairytale.”

And here it is again. The moment that will change everything. Pansy gathers all of her courage and looks at Daphne. Her eyes are open and curious, and Pansy finds herself desperately hoping this won’t be the last moment she sees her eyes like this. She doesn’t think she’ll be able to handle it if all she sees is revulsion dancing behind Daphne’s gaze from here on out. 

It’s the right thing.

She takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, and leaps toward the unknown. 

“She.”

“What?” 

Pansy opens her eyes to find Daphne gazing at her, puzzled. “She,” Pansy repeats. “She likes me.” 

Daphne’s frown deepens for just a moment. Then it vanishes, replaced with wide eyes and a slightly open mouth. “Oh. Are you saying you’re…” she trails off and looks at Pansy with a raised eyebrow.

Pansy hesitates, then nods slowly. Her heart is pounding in her chest, and she desperately wishes she had a Calming Draught on hand to take some of the edge off. 

Oh,” Daphne says. She stares at the wall across the way for a moment, a frown marring her smooth brow, seemingly lost in thought. Pansy watches her closely, looking for any sign of disgust or discomfort. After a few excruciatingly long moments, Daphne turns back to Pansy. She looks upset and there’s something in her eyes that makes Pansy want to fold in on herself. Shame floods her veins and she has half a mind to apologize for saying anything in the first place, but before she can open her mouth, Daphne says, “and you told your parchment pal before me?” 

“I…what?” Pansy asks stupidly, uncertain if she heard Daphne correctly. 

“Bloody unbelievable!” Daphne says. “What did I say? A circus monkey! That’s what I am to you. I’ve been your best mate for seven years and you tell a stranger before me!”

Pansy’s slightly bewildered. “I…yes?” Daphne scoffs and shakes her head, so Pansy quickly says, “but to be fair, I only said something because I had feelings for her!”

That’s something I’m choosing to ignore,” Daphne says sharply, and Pansy feels her heart sink for just a moment before Daphne says, “no, actually. I can’t ignore it. Thought I could, but I can’t.” She turns to Pansy and scrutinizes her closely. “Why her? What’s wrong with me?”

Pansy stares blankly at Daphne. “I don’t…I mean…what?” she says, completely flummoxed by the question. “Are you…gay?” she asks, cautiously.

“Merlin, no!” Daphne says, rolling her eyes like it’s the dumbest question she’s ever been asked. “But I’d still like to know why you didn’t even consider it. I never crossed your mind?”

Pansy shrugs, somewhat helplessly. This conversation isn’t going the way she thought it would, but she supposes it’s far better than most other outcomes. “No? Why would you?”

“Well, now you’re just being rude,” Daphne sniffs, looking deeply offended. 

Pansy shakes her head, completely mystified by everything that’s happening. “I’m not! You’re fishing for compliments, which is mental considering I’ve just come out to you,” Pansy says, stressing each word. “But if I have to stroke you massive bloody ego before we discuss that, then fine—you could be half-Veela, and you know it. You’re gorgeous. But that has nothing to do with it. The reason you haven’t crossed my mind is because it would be bizarre. You’re family, Daph. You know that, don’t you? You’ve been my only family for a while now. So no, of course I don’t bloody fancy you!”

Daphne seems to consider this for a moment, then she nods, looking satisfied. “Fine. I can accept that.” She tilts her head thoughtfully. “Part-Veela? Really?”

Pansy shakes her head and looks toward the ceiling. “The only thing she latches onto,” she mutters in amazement.

“No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to take away from your announcement, I just…I guess it doesn’t matter. That you just came out, I mean.” Daphne grimaces and shakes her head. “No, that came out wrong. It obviously matters. I’m glad you felt safe enough to tell me. Even if it was after you told a literal bloody stranger,” she adds with a massive eye-roll. “But Pans…you’re my family, too. And I love you, no matter what. Even when you’re being the biggest twat in the world, which mind you, I still haven’t completely forgiven you for. Fiendishly clever of you to come out in the middle of an argument though,” she says, shaking her head and fixing Pansy with an amused look. “But that aside, I couldn’t care less. You’re still my best friend. So you like women. Big deal. And honestly, being attracted to men is a bloody nightmare that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. We should all be so lucky.” She pauses. “Wait. Was your parchment pal a git about it? Is that what happened?”

Pansy hesitates, then shakes her head. “No. Not exactly. I mean, she didn’t reply for two days, which is why I was so upset at breakfast this morning,” she adds, noticing Daphne’s sympathetic wince. “Still not an excuse, I know. But I didn’t take her silence very well.”

“No, nor should you have. Two days to reply?” Daphne shakes her head in wonder. “Talk about a mad cow with constipation.”

Pansy immediately feels the need to defend her parchment pal, but then remembers all at once that it’s Hermione. Which is something else she needs to tell Daphne. 

One thing at a time. 

“She’s not,” Pansy says quietly. “She answered just now. Before you came in. She said she was confused and upset, but she apologized for taking so long and said she still wants to be friends.”

“Oh. Why was she upset? Did she think you were a bloke?” 

Pansy nods. “And when she thought I was a bloke, she had feelings for me. She said I was the first person she had ever had feelings for,” she says quietly, still marveling at that particular confession, all the while steadfastly refusing to let herself think of Robin as Granger.

Daphne raises an eyebrow and says, “and then she took two days to think about how to reply because she was…confused?” 

“Not like that,” Pansy says. “I think she felt like I was leading her on. Which I never meant to do, obviously. But she seemed fairly certain that she wasn’t interested in me like that.”

Daphne hums. “Perhaps. But who knows, maybe you put a thought into her mind she had never considered.”

“I sincerely doubt it,” Pansy says, finally letting herself think of Hermione, whose eyes always seem to go soft around Weasley for some inexplicable reason. 

“Fine. So you just stay friends,” Daphne says with a shrug. “I’m sure it’s disappointing, but there are other fish in the sea. And who knows, maybe she was hideously unattractive. It’s probably for the best. You get a friend out of this, and all’s well that ends well, right?”

Pansy sighs. “Not exactly…”

Daphne frowns and looks at Pansy, waiting for the rest of the sentence.

Pansy’s leg bounces restlessly as she thinks about how to tell Daphne the rest of this sordid story. Somehow, ludicrously, telling her about Hermione feels harder than coming out. But Pansy’s come this far. It’s time to reveal her last secret. 

“I…may have accidentally found out who she is.”

Daphne goes deathly still as she regards Pansy with wide eyes. “You what?”

Pansy sighs. “I said I know who she—” 

She doesn’t get to finish the sentence. Daphne has grabbed a pillow from behind her and is pummeling Pansy, a massive grin on her face. “You git!” she says with glee. “You absolute git! You know who she is and you didn’t tell me?” she asks, punctuating each word with another blow from her pillow. 

“I just found out today!” Pansy says weakly, arms up to shield herself from the next attack. 

Mercifully, the next attack never comes. Daphne drops the pillow immediately and eagerly leans forward. “Who is she? Do you know her? Do I know her?”

Pansy nods slowly and Daphne’s eyes glitter. “Ooh. Delicious. Let me guess.” She studies her comforter for a moment, deep in thought. “Oh!” she says, lifting her eyes to Pansy. “Is it Sue Li? She’s…sporty, so to speak.” 

Pansy rolls her eyes at the euphemism, then shakes her head no. 

“Abbot? I could see her sending long, romantic notes.”

“No,” Pansy says. She’s not sure if she wants this to be a guessing game, but she also finds herself curiously unwilling to admit to her parchment pal’s real identity.

“Copplestone? No, I’ve seen her ogling MacLaggan. Shit taste, that one. Ooh, Dodsworth? She’s rather pretty.”

Pansy shakes her head no again, her leg bouncing double-time as she waits for Daphne to exhaust herself guessing. 

“Well,  I don’t want to name the whole school, so you might as well just…” she cuts herself off, then fixes Pansy with an aghast stare, and Pansy’s sure she’s about to ask if it’s Hermione. She steels herself and waits for the inevitable.

“Pansy. Is it Lisa Turpin? You can be in love with whoever you want, but I swear, if you’ve fallen in love with Lisa fucking Turpin, I’ll scream.”

Pansy exhales sharply. “It’s not Turpin,” she manages to say. 

“Thank Merlin. Can you think of anyone worse? Honestly, can you?” Daphne thinks for a moment, then snorts. “Oh, I know. Loony Lovegood. Can you imagine? Though you’d know straight away, wouldn’t you? All her letters would be about sparkly, purple bowtruckle fairies,” Daphne says, raising her voice in a decently dreamy imitation of Lovegood, “or whatever drivel she likes to talk about.”

Pansy manages a weak smile, but Daphne isn’t done yet. “Or no! No! I know who would be worse,” she says with a sly grin.

Pansy waits, her heart in her throat.

Granger.”

Pansy’s heart drops. 

“Oh, Merlin. Can you imagine falling in love with Granger via letter?” Daphne says with a laugh. “You’d tell her you’re in love with her and she’d correct your grammar and ask for rewrites.”

Pansy doesn’t say a word. Her face is flaming and she’s twisting her bedsheets in her hands uncomfortably. Daphne glances over at her with a puzzled frown, apparently confused at Pansy’s complete lack of reaction. As she studies Pansy’s face, her frown slowly fades, giving way to wide, incredulous eyes.

“No. No. Pansy, no. You’re joking. Tell me you’re joking.”

Pansy winces, but doesn’t say anything else, and Daphne’s mouth drops open. 

Granger? Your parchment pal is Hermione Granger?” 

Pansy shushes her frantically and glances at the door in alarm, but Daphne waves a hand in annoyance. “Don’t you dare shush me! You’re telling me you’ve gone and fallen in love with Granger and you expect me to be quiet?”

“No!” Pansy says, horrified at the thought of falling in love with Hermione. “Absolutely not! Not with Granger! With…with her,” she says, gesturing at her parchment. “And it’s not love. I just…have feelings for her. Had feelings for her,” she corrects herself quickly. Best to start thinking in past tense.

“For Granger,” Daphne says flatly.

“No!” Pansy says, running a hand through her already disheveled hair. “It’s not Granger! I mean, it is Granger, but it’s not!”

“So this whole time you’ve been complaining and moaning about Granger being your Potions partner, you’ve been falling in love with her on the side.”

“Would you stop saying that? I’m not in love with her,” Pansy says, her voice high and strangled. Merlin, she hopes these walls are soundproof.

“And how the bloody hell didn’t you know?” Daphne asks, ignoring Pansy’s interjection. “All those messages you sent to each other! All the bloody hours you spent hunched over that piece of paper! You must have complained about your shit Potions partner at some point!”

Pansy winces and stares at her comforter like it’s the most fascinating thing she’s ever seen to avoid Daphne’s hard gaze. Daphne clocks her silence and exhales sharply. “Unbelievable. You’re telling me you wrote each other novels, and you never once talked about your day to day life?”

“No, we did, it’s just…that particular part never came up,” Pansy says weakly.

“How on earth is that possible?” Daphne asks, sounding completely bewildered. 

“I don’t know,” Pansy says miserably, bouncing her leg and fighting the urge to get up and run from the room. “I don’t know. It just didn’t.”

“Well, what the bloody hell did you talk about, then?” Daphne says, her voice raised in frustration. 

“I don’t know!” Pansy repeats. “Everything! We talked about everything, just not that!” she says, growing more frazzled by the second. The idea of living in the Forbidden Forest is sounding better and better, especially if it means escaping this conversation. “I just never wanted to bring it up because it felt like too much to explain,” she adds, restlessly twisting her sheets under her hands.

Daphne shakes her head in wonder. “But all those messages! Honestly, Pansy, how could you not have known? Or at least suspected? You must have!”

The accusatory tone in Daphne’s voice rankles Pansy, and she lifts her eyes defiantly. “You think I would’ve let it go this far had I known?” she asks, her voice slightly raised. “You think I’d have willingly put myself in this situation?” Pansy shakes her head. “She never crossed my mind! Of all the people at this school, I never would have even suspected—! And why would I? She’s…she’s…” Pansy trails off and rubs her eyes, suddenly very tired. “No. I had no idea,” she murmurs.

Daphne sighs. She seems to notice the fight go out of Pansy, and she gazes at her with something close to pity. “And you’re sure it’s her?” she asks, her tone considerably gentler than it was before.

Pansy nods and Daphne exhales heavily. “Merlin,” she murmurs. “What a bloody mess.” She’s quiet for a moment, then she tilts her head and says, “how did you find out? Did she say something?”

“No, I…I saw her parchment. Today, during Potions,” Pansy says, conveniently ignoring the part where she was going to destroy it for her own amusement. “I could read it,” she adds quietly. 

“Oh, Pans,” Daphne says, sympathy coloring her voice. She’s still for a moment as she studies the opposite wall, then she turns to Pansy with a suspicious gaze and says, “just so you know, if you’re pulling one over on me, it’s not funny.” 

Pansy gives a dry, humorless laugh. “I’m not. I wish I was. You don’t know how badly I wish I was. But I’m not.”

Daphne sighs, then shakes her head with wonder. “Unbelievable. Hermione Granger,” she says. She pauses, then scoffs and murmurs Hermione Granger again, placing a sort of horrified awe on Granger’s surname. 

They sit there in silence, Pansy staring at her bedsheets, Daphne staring at the wall, both taking in the absolute absurdity of the situation. After a few long moments, Daphne finally turns her gaze back toward Pansy, and Pansy stares back.

“Hermione Granger,” Daphne says again, still shaking her head in disbelief.

“Hermione Granger,” Pansy repeats quietly.

Then without any warning, Daphne’s lips twitch. 

“Daphne…” Pansy says, her eyes narrowing at the movement and a warning in her voice.

“No, right. Sorry. It’s just…” Daphne trails off and tries valiantly to fight against the smile that’s settled on her lips. She schools her face into something that looks appropriately serious, but when she opens her mouth to speak, a snort of laughter erupts from her. Immediately, she claps a hand over her mouth, but another snort follows, then another, until soon, she’s laughing hysterically. Pansy glowers at her and bunches her sheets in her hands. “Oh, piss off,” she mutters.

“I’m sorry, it’s just…this whole situation! And Granger!” Daphne dissolves into a fresh round of giggles. “Of all the people in all the world! Granger!” 

Pansy plucks a pillow from her own bed and throws it at Daphne. “Would you stop laughing?” she asks. 

Daphne lifts a hand as silent laughter shakes her body. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’ll stop…” She catches Pansy’s eye and an explosive laugh rips out of her. She doubles over on her bed as Pansy glares at her, waiting for it to run its course. Once it finally does, Daphne sits up and holds out both of her hands. “I’m sorry. I’m done now. Promise. I just…Granger,” she says again with wonder. “You truly have a spectacular knack for getting yourself into the most bizarre situations. Granger!”

Pansy nods, shaking her foot restlessly. “I know,” she says, then sighs heavily. “I don’t know what to do. Usually, I can figure it out, but this time, I just…I don’t know what to do,” she repeats, looking at Daphne helplessly. “I feel like I’m two different people right now. I hate Granger. You know I hate Granger. But her…” she says, gazing down at her parchment. “I don’t hate her. Not in the slightest. The way I feel about her is…” she trails off and shakes her head, unable to put it into words. “And I don’t know how to reconcile any of this. How can I reconcile the fact that the person I have feelings for also happens to be Granger?”

“I thought you said you had feelings for her,” Daphne says.

Pansy shakes her head. “No, I…they’re still there,” she murmurs. “I wish they weren’t, but they are. And even when I remind myself it’s Granger, they don’t go away. It all gets more confusing, I suppose, but when I read her most recent message, I…I still felt something. Even though I knew it was Granger, I still…” She trails off and looks up at Daphne with a small frown. “Do you think I’m mad?”

Daphne sighs, gazing down at Pansy’s parchment. “I don’t know. Maybe? Probably. But that’s the thing about feelings, isn’t it? They’re inherently mad. You can’t control them. You can’t help when they spring up or who they’re for and it can be a bloody nightmare. I shouldn’t have still had feelings for Blaise after the first time he slept with Lisa Turpin, but I did.” She looks up at Pansy, the set of her mouth turning serious. “I can’t say I like the idea of my best friend having feelings for Granger in any capacity. But she,” she says, pointing at the parchment, then looking at Pansy with soft eyes, “she makes you happy. She makes you very happy, which is all I want. And if she makes you happy, then it stands to reason Granger would too. I mean, they’re the same bloody person. So maybe…before you self-destruct and shut down completely…maybe you should…get to know Granger,” Daphne says, then immediately shudders and grimaces like she’s stumbled upon a rotten egg flavored Bertie Bott’s bean. “I genuinely cannot believe I’ve just said that.”

“Nor can I,” Pansy says. 

“But I did, and I mean it. I think. Do I?” She tilts her head thoughtfully, then nods. “Yes. I do. …It is mad, Pans. It’s absolutely stark raving mad, but…who cares? Life is stark raving mad. Stranger things have happened. …I mean, I can’t think of any right now, but I’m sure they have. And anyway, you already know Granger. It’s not like you’re in for any surprises. She’s the same girl as that girl,” she says, nodding at the parchment. “But the difference is that girl doesn’t hate you. So if the two of you can manage to stop being twats to each other for more than two seconds, you might find that you can have the same kind of conversations in person as you do on that bloody paper.”

Pansy frowns. She knows Daphne’s right, but the thought of being nice to Granger…

“You don’t even have to be nice to her,” Daphne says, as if she’s read Pansy’s mind. “Not at first. Just don’t be a complete bellend. Because honestly? If you treated me half as poorly as you treat Granger, I’d hate you, too. It wouldn’t kill you to show her that there’s another side to you, Pansy. But if you both still hate each other after that, well…you can’t say you didn’t try. Though Merlin, it’ll be awkward when she discovers that it’s you she’s been talking to all along,” Daphne says with a grin. “Actually, can I be there for that? I’d pay good money to see it.”

“Piss off,” Pansy says, managing a small smile for the first time since they started talking. “I just…I don’t know if I can do this. Be nice to her, or…whatever.”

“You’ve already been nice to her. You just didn’t know it,” Daphne says, nodding toward the parchment. 

“That’s different. I don’t know if I can be nice to her face to face.”

“Of course you can. You’re a stubborn, sodding Parkinson,” Daphne says, repeating her words from earlier in the day with a smile. “You can do anything you put your mind to. And if that’s wooing the pants off of Granger, then…I’ll support it. Very reluctantly, mind you. But I’ll support it nonetheless.” 

Pansy face twists in disgust. “I don’t want to woo the pants off of Granger.” 

“No, of course not. Just your parchment pal.”

“Yes.”

“Who is Granger.”

Pansy glares at Daphne who smiles angelically at her. “You’re never going to let this go, are you?” Pansy asks.

“Merlin, no! Are you mad? This is the best thing I’ve ever heard. Genuinely. I’ll never hear anything better than this. You’ve been sending love letters to Hermione Granger for an entire month. This was completely worth skipping Charms for.”

Pansy snorts, then rubs her eyes. “Daph?”

“Hm?”

“What if…what if I try and she just…doesn’t like me? And I mean honestly, why would she?” Pansy asks, her voice coming out pathetic and small. “I’ve been horrid to her for years.”

Daphne nods. “You have been. But you already know she likes you. The real you. The person you were when you weren’t trying to tear her down or put on a front. You without any of the bullshit. So…just try and be that person. Be Pansy. Start slow. Say something nice to her. Eventually you can apologize for being a twat and try and explain yourself. And whatever happens, happens.”

Pansy taps her fingers restlessly against her covers, her mind still clouded with doubt. Daphne watches the motion for a moment, then slides off her bed and crouches beside Pansy’s, covering Pansy’s hands with her own. She gazes at her steadily and says, “you’re stubborn. You’re a complete cow most of the times. You can drive anybody mad with your sharp tongue. Not a euphemism. Well…not yet, at least,” she adds with a wink. “You’re guarded and prideful and set in your ways…”

“Is this a pep-talk, because you’re shit at it,” Pansy grumbles.

“And those are the only things you’ve ever let Granger see. But you’re so much more than that. You’re smart. You’re witty. You’re the most loyal person I’ve ever met. You grew up surrounded by so much shit and you’re still a good person. To your friends, at least,” Daphne adds. “But you care so deeply, and you go out of your way to listen to people. Really listen. You’re a wonderful person, which means a lot coming from someone who’s still a bit upset at you. But I won’t lie—if you’re serious about this, then you’ve got a ways to go. You’ve got a lot of apologies to make if you ever want a chance at being…something with her. But if you decide to let her see the person I’ve just described, then…” Daphne shakes her head and smiles fondly. “Pans, how could she not like you?” 

Pansy nods shakily and squeezes Daphne’s hands. “I don’t deserve you,” she murmurs after a moment, her voice a bit thicker than she expected. 

“No. You certainly don’t. But you’re stuck with me,” Daphne says with a smile. “I love you. Everything about you.”

“Even though I’m a stubborn twat?”

“Even though you’re a stubborn twat,” Daphne says. “You deserve to be happy. No matter what form that happiness takes.”

“Thanks. I love you too, you know.”

Daphne smiles softly. “I know.”

Pansy nods and glances at her parchment. Daphne follows her gaze. “So…are you going to try?”

If anyone would have told Pansy that she’d agree to being nice to Hermione Granger at the start of this day, she would’ve laughed in their face. But now, she finds herself slowly nodding. She knows it’s mad. She knows there’s no way Hermione will ever want to talk to her, no matter how nice Pansy attempts to be. She doesn’t even know if she’ll be able to be nice to Hermione, once she comes face to face with her again. Old habits might flare up and destroy any chance she has.

But she also knows there’s a stupid, stubborn part of her that wants to try. That wants to scratch Hermione’s abrasive surface to find the wonderful person she knows is lurking below. Because she knows that person. Knows her better than she knows just about anyone at this school. And she likes that person. 

She could maybe even love that person. 

So she’ll try. Even if she knows it’s mad, she’ll try. 

“Brilliant,” Daphne says with a grin once Pansy nods. “Then operation Woo the Pants off Granger is a go.” 

Pansy groans and buries her head in her hands. 

What is she getting herself into?

Chapter Text

It's been six hours since Hermione replied to her parchment pal.

Well, six hours and twenty-seven minutes, but who’s keeping track?

(She is. She’s keeping track.)

Conversation flows relaxed and easy throughout the Gryffindor common room, but Hermione is decidedly neither of those things. She’s sitting stiffly on a squashy, red couch, her chin resting on her knees and her eyes trained on her parchment.

Harry and Ginny are seated beside each other on a neighboring couch, shoulder to shoulder. They made their relationship official three weeks ago to both Hermione’s delight and Ron’s immense discomfort. But Harry and Ginny have so far been careful to avoid anything that might alienate Ron. They studiously avoid displays of affection, they wait until he’s out of the room to discuss dates, and they’ve made it clear that their relationship won’t get in the way of their friendships. Little by little, Ron is warming to the idea of his best mate dating his sister, and while he still eyes them with wariness from time to time, he’s more or less settled into the new dynamic. Which is why he’s currently sprawled out comfortably on the floor in front of the fireplace, propped up on an elbow as he recounts the story of a long-ago Christmas mishap to the three of them.

Harry laughs loudly at something Ron’s said, startling Hermione out of the broody silence she’s been stewing in for the past few minutes. With considerable effort, she manages to drag her eyes away from her parchment and back to Ron, who’s grinning broadly.

“Every last one of them!” Ron is saying, his eye shining as he regales them with one of Fred and George’s long ago exploits. “To this day, we don’t even know how they managed to do it. Nine-years-old, and they managed to buy twelve Stink Pellets! Where did they get the money?”

“My question is how’d they manage to get them into the Christmas crackers without anyone noticing they’d been tampered with?” Harry asks.

No one knows,” Ron says, his voice reverent. “I’ve asked them, but they refuse to tell me. Say they can’t give away the tricks of the trade, whatever that means.”

“It means they’re planning to sell them in their shop so they can profit off other wankers torturing their families on Christmas,” Ginny puts in with a fond eye roll.

“Sounds about right,” Harry says. “Speaking of…how’d your Mum react?”

“Oh, you know Mum. She’s nothing if not cool and collected,” Ron says, with a sly smile.

“She marched into the living room and cast Bombarda on every single one of their presents,” Ginny says, grinning at the memory. “All that was left was a little smoldering pile of ash under the tree where their gifts had been. Dad was livid. Said they weren’t made of money, so why couldn’t they just return the gifts, rather than destroy them?”

“Mum said it was the principle of the thing,” Ron says. “But Fred and George couldn’t have cared less—the whole house smelled of Stink Pellets for a week, and that was the only Christmas gift they needed.”

Harry laughs, and Hermione makes an effort to smile and look engaged, but her traitorous eyes stray once more to her parchment.

It’s still blank.

Restlessly, she taps a finger against the arm of the couch, tuning out from the conversation once more. She’s starting to feel somewhat desperate, which is honestly ridiculous, and she knows it. She lost any right she had to be impatient when it took her two days to answer her parchment pal’s message.

Heat that has nothing to do with the crackling fireplace in front of her crawls up the back of Hermione’s neck as she remembers the distressed messages she had received.

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Robin. I truly never meant to hurt you. Please say something. Anything.

I miss you.

And God, had Hermione missed them, too. Desperately. Two days without their voice in her life had felt like an eternity.

But she hadn’t missed them at first. After she had read the initial message, she had been upset. Upset and humiliated and confused that the person she had trusted so deeply could have been leading her on in such a spectacular manner. Even after a night of sleep and a re-read or two (or three, or four, or five…) of the message, Hermione had remained unreasonably bothered. She had spent an entire day brooding and snapping at anyone who asked her what was wrong, and every little thing had set her off. When she saw Neville writing a message to his parchment pal at breakfast, her glare had been so intense that Ginny had to nudge her and mutter Neville’s our friend, remember? When Harry had noticed her lack of interest in her parchment and asked why she wasn’t spending time with her boyfriend, she had gone on a lengthy rant about the dangers of assumptions. And when her rant was finished and Ron had muttered must be her monthlies to Harry under his breath, she had scrambled to find her wand to teach Ron that there were repercussions to tone-deaf and sexist remarks.

By the next evening though, Hermione had cooled off significantly and had finally taken the time to think logically about the situation. And when she was done, she realized what an absolute fool she had been. Worse than that, she had been cruel. Her parchment pal had been enormously brave, and she had responded with icy silence. Had she witnessed anyone treating another person that way, she would have been absolutely furious and leapt to their defense. But in this case, there was no one to be furious with but herself.

So she was. Furious and ashamed. And that shame had fueled her to finally reach for her quill and start penning a long overdue message. It had taken her ages to figure out what she wanted to say. And once she had finally found her rhythm, she had been interrupted by Parkinson, sticking her nose where it didn’t belong. But by the time she had finally sent her reply during her free period after Potions, she was more or less content with how she had handled the situation. More than anything, she had hoped her parchment pal would be sympathetic as to why it had taken her so long to reply. And even though her parchment is still blank, she’s still somewhat optimistic that they’ll be understanding.

That she’ll be understanding, Hermione thinks, hastily correcting herself.

It’s an odd switch to make, considering that she’s spent the past month absolutely convinced the voice on the other end of her parchment belonged to a man. And not just any man—the man of her dreams.

Which is of course another reason why Hermione had been so taken aback by the message. Because for the first time in her life, she had had actual feelings for someone. They had started slow, but over the past month, they had blossomed into something she had never expected, creeping into her carefully guarded heart like wild growing ivy. And once the feelings had taken root, all logic had flown out the window. Gone were the days of second-guessing herself over whether or not it was wise to have feelings for a voice on a scrap of parchment. Instead, she had welcomed the feelings with open arms. And truth be told, she had never been happier. She’d catch herself humming on her nightly patrols, beaming at students who were out past their curfew before remembering she was supposed to be enforcing said curfew; she’d recall a joke her pal had made and find herself grinning at her dinner plate like a fool, while Harry and Ron had looked on with matching frowns; she’d think about her parchment pal first thing in the morning, when she was still heavy with sleep, and last thing at night, when her thoughts turned soft and dreamy.

So to have the entire fantasy turned upside down with the stroke of a quill…

It had been…confusing, to say the least. And was still confusing, if she’s being honest. Because as much as she wants to deny it, the feelings are still there, lurking deep down inside her. But she knows that there’s a logical explanation for that. After all, it’s not the sort of thing you can just turn off and be done with, like a light switch. Feelings that strong don’t happen every day, so naturally, it’ll take time for her to recalibrate and adjust to the new dynamic between the two of them. That’s all it is.

…Right?

Hermione’s knee bounces restlessly as she thinks about it, the same question ringing in her mind that’s been there for the past two days—should the feelings have gone away immediately? Is it strange that they hadn’t? And if they hadn’t, could that mean…

“Hermione? Are you alright?”

Hermione lifts her head quickly to find three sets of eyes, watching her curiously.

God, she hopes her cheeks aren’t as red as they feel.

“Yes, sorry. Just a bit distracted,” she says, repositioning herself on the couch and wincing as she straightens out her legs. “You were saying something about Christmas crackers?”

Harry and Ron exchange a look, and Hermione knows she’s been caught out. “Yeah, like…three minutes ago,” Ron says, raising an eyebrow. “A bit distracted?”

“Perhaps more than a bit,” Hermione admits quietly. Her eyes tick down to her parchment, and when she glances up again, Ron’s rolling his eyes.

“Ah. Still obsessed with that thing, then?” he asks, having clocked her glance. His voice is gruff and the tips of his ears are turning pink, and Hermione sighs, readying herself for the conversation to come.

Over the past few weeks, Ron’s grown to despise Hermione’s parchment pal. It hadn’t started out that way—he had been interested in them at the start of the experiment. He had asked questions and had seemed eager to figure out who Hermione was talking to. But the more invested Hermione had become, the more annoyed Ron had grown. Snide remarks became the norm, and now, it’s reached the point where anytime Hermione so much as brings out the parchment in his presence, he turns surly and petulant. It’s why she generally tries to answer their messages (her messages, she corrects) in private. But right now, she’s so on edge and so worried that she’s botched everything that she doesn’t particularly care. If Ron wants to be upset, she’ll manage.

Tonight, the parchment is staying in her eyesight.

“I’m not obsessed,” Hermione says. “And I’m sorry. I am listening, it’s just…I’m waiting for a reply to something.”

“Aren’t you always?” Ron grumbles, picking at a loose thread on his jumper with a scowl.

Harry gives Hermione a little wince, like he’s apologizing for Ron’s outburst. “Anything interesting?” he asks, keeping his tone light.

Hermione fidgets a bit under his gaze, but manages a shrug. “No, not really. I just…I asked them something…something rather delicate, I suppose.”

“Ooh,” Ginny says leaning forward, her eyes flashing with interest. “Hermione Jean Granger. You didn’t.”

“Didn’t what?” Hermione asks with a puzzled frown.

“You finally told him you’re interested?” Ginny asks.

Almost immediately, Ron makes a strangled, violent sound, somewhere between a cough and a yelp.

Ginny rolls her eyes at him. “Alright then, Ron?” she asks dryly, raising an unamused eyebrow as Ron devolves into a small coughing fit.

Once he finally gets a hold of himself, he glares back at Ginny. “Don’t encourage this,” he says, his face flushed. “You don’t know who’s on the other side of that paper. It could be anybody,” he stresses, his eyes narrowing as if he’s considering every single suspect on the long list of dodgy people Hermione could be talking to.

“Honestly, Ron. She’s talking to a Hogwarts student. You’re acting like we’re all penpals with nutters in Azkaban,” Ginny says.

“It could be a future Azkaban nutter, for all you know! And in case you’ve forgotten, Quirrell was a professor. Just because it seems like it’s on the up and up, doesn’t mean it is, and I think we’d all do well to remember that.”

“Please. You’re just being paranoid,” Ginny says.

“I’m not! Harry agrees with me. Don’t you?” Ron asks, turning his gaze swiftly and expectantly to Harry, who seems to shrink back against the couch cushions.

“Oh, does he?” Ginny asks, turning her head to study Harry, who somehow manages to press himself even further into the couch, as if he’s hoping it will take pity on him and swallow him whole. His gaze darts between them and he looks a bit like a trapped mouse caught between two predators. Finally, he glances at Hermione with panic in his eyes, and she sighs heavily, deciding to save him from his predicament.

“It doesn’t matter what Harry thinks, and to be frank, it doesn’t matter what you think either,” she says, gazing sharply at Ron, who seems to wilt under her stare. “You seem to have forgotten that I’m my own person, and I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”

“I haven’t forgotten. I know all that,” Ron replies earnestly. “I’m just trying to protect you.”

“Oh, spare me. What is this, the Dark Ages?” Ginny asks. “Women don’t need protecting.”

“That’s not what I mean! You’re purposefully twisting my words. It doesn’t have anything to do with the fact she’s a girl. I’d look out for Harry in the same way,” Ron says. “It’s just dangerous is all. You don’t know who you’re talking to. Like what if…what if you’re spilling all your deepest, darkest secrets to Malfoy?” Ron asks, looking at Hermione somewhat desperately.

Harry scoffs and shakes his head. “Impossible. Hermione’s got better taste than that. She’d know if she was talking to a Slytherin wanker.”

“Mm. Besides, Malfoy would only talk about himself. Or his father,” Ginny says, dropping her voice to imitate Draco. “He couldn’t manage an actual conversation, even if you paid him.”

“That’s not the point,” Ron says, rubbing the back of his neck in frustration. “Even if it’s not Malfoy, it could still be anybody. And you’re giving them a whole arsenal of information to use against you.”

“Oh, yes, I’m sure they’ll be able to do irreparable damage, now that they know I like sticky toffee pudding,” Hermione says, rolling her eyes. When Ron continues to desperately stare at her though, she sighs. “Honestly, you’re getting yourself worked up over nothing. I haven’t told them anything that could be used against me. And I know more about them than they know about me, if that makes you feel any better.”

Ron grumbles something that sounds like it doesn’t, but Hermione doesn’t care to ask him to repeat it. Before she can glance down at her parchment again though, Ginny says, “now then! If Ronald’s done with his little temper tantrum, can we get back to the matter at hand?” She leans forward and says, “did you tell him you’re interested?”

Heat prickles again on the back of Hermione’s neck, and she’s acutely aware that they’re all watching her—Harry and Ginny with interest, Ron with wariness. “No,” she says hesitantly, looking down and rubbing the fabric of the couch absently, all while refusing to make eye contact.

Ginny huffs in frustration. “Well, why not? You clearly are, and there’s no doubt he is,” she says, gesturing toward Hermione’s parchment. “You should tell him how you feel.”

Hermione feels the heat from her neck spread to her cheeks at the implication, but before she can reply, Ron mutters, “you know, just because you two are coupled up, doesn’t mean everybody has to be.”

“Obviously,” Ginny says, rolling her eyes. “And no one is saying otherwise. But the fact of the matter is, he makes her happy,” she says, gesturing toward Hermione’s parchment. “Which is a fat lot more than you’re doing right now with all your bloody paranoia.”

“I’m not being paranoid! I’m being a good friend,” Ron says, thrusting a hand through his hair in frustration. “Why is this so difficult for you to comprehend?”

“Oh, honestly,” Ginny says, anger flashing in her eyes. “You’re not being a good friend. A good friend wouldn’t keep harping on the same thing, even after Hermione’s said she’s perfectly capable of taking care of herself. What you’re being is a judgmental prick.”

“I’m not—”

“And more than that,” Ginny says, refusing to let Ron get a word in edgewise. “You’re throwing yourself some ridiculous pity-party because you can’t stand that your friends have found people to be interested in and you haven’t. Honestly, just because Lavender saw sense and decided to stop letting you maul her every two seconds doesn’t mean you get to be a massive bellend.”

Ron turns bright red and glances at Hermione with apologetic eyes before turning his gaze back to Ginny. “I didn’t maul her, we were dating! And I’m not being a bellend,” he says hotly.

Ginny scoffs. “You were hardly dating, you were together for two weeks. And yes, you’re a bellend, and it’s annoying. Hermione’s happy, you twat. And you’re her friend, so you should be supporting her. Instead all you’ve done from day one is borrow trouble and try and put doubts in her head, which isn’t something an actual friend would do. So why don’t you do yourself a favor and stop? Try supporting her decisions, for once. Because she’s old enough to make them without you sticking you nose in and offering your unsolicited opinion. Is that understood?” she asks. Her eyes are narrowed and her head is tilted to the side, and in that moment, she both looks and sounds uncannily like her mum.

Ron turns beet red, perhaps cowed into silence by Ginny’s resemblance to their mum. Instead of continuing to argue his point, he simply shrugs and glares at the floor, seeming to give up the fight for now.

Hermione spares Ginny a small, grateful smile, which Ginny returns.

Frankly, Hermione’s still surprised that Ginny had been so quick to support her burgeoning relationship with her parchment pal. Because of all the people to want Hermione and Ron together, Ginny had always been the most vocal. But the past few weeks of Ron fooling around with Lavender, coupled with Hermione’s very obvious interest in her pal seem to have made Ginny reconsider her stance. Ever since, she’s been pushing Hermione to drop subtle hints that she’s interested in her pal, while simultaneously berating Ron for his appalling lack of taste.

(Ginny’s words, not Hermione’s.)

And while it’s become blindingly apparent to everyone that Ron is immensely jealous that his friends have romantic interests while he doesn’t, it’s even more apparent that Ginny has completely run out of patience and sympathy for him. It’s why she’s leapt to Hermione’s defense anytime she happens to be around when Ron starts to glower.

Hermione had asked her two weeks ago why she was so quick to berate her own brother, and Ginny had shrugged. “He missed his chance,” she had said, simply. “He could have asked you out, but he didn’t. So he doesn’t get to act like the world’s biggest arsehole about it when you have the audacity to be interested in someone who’s actually showing interest in you, too.”

“I thought your end goal was for me to be an official member of the family, though,” Hermione had said, tilting her head curiously.

Ginny had rolled her eyes fondly. “Don’t be daft. You already are. With or without Ronald.”

Hermione had been ridiculously touched, and ever since then, she’s been quick to show her appreciation whenever Ginny jumps into battle against Ron on her behalf.

“Right, then! Now that the big baby has settled down…” Ginny says, clapping her hands together and startling Hermione out of her memories. She glances up to find Ginny’s eyes on her, bright and expectant. “No more distractions. I want an answer. Did you tell him? What did he say?”

Hermione frowns and reaches for her long-forgotten mug on the table and takes a sip of her cold tea. It’s honestly revolting, but she needs to buy herself time while she ponders how to reply.

She is going to tell them. She’ll tell them everything, eventually. But right now, she doesn’t want to face the reactions she knows she’d get—wide, surprised eyes from Harry, disappointment from Ginny, and a palpable sense of relief from Ron. Considering she’s still grappling with her own feelings from the fallout, she doesn’t think she could handle theirs.

Swallowing the tea with a slight grimace, she shrugs. “It’s nothing like that.” She reaches for her wand and taps the tip to the bottom of her cup lightly, watching as tendrils of steam rise and curl from her now-hot tea. Lies fly through her mind as she takes another sip and tries to settle on a story that sounds believable, but not gossip-worthy. Finally, she decides on one. “I just asked if they’d like to meet in person,” she says, as nonchalantly as she can manage.

“You did?” Harry asks, his eyebrows raised in surprise. “That doesn’t sound like you. What happened to degrading the assignment is wrong and quite frankly, against the whole spirit of the thing?” he asks, his voice pitched up to mock hers.

“Right, or and besides, we don’t need to meet in person. We’re enjoying things as they are,” Ginny adds, settling against Harry with a grin

“Can’t forget doesn’t the secrecy give you a thrill? There’s something refreshing about communicating like this,” Ron adds, seeming to forget he’s sulking long enough to join the mockery.

Hermione glares at all of them. “Perhaps the reason I asked to meet in person is because I’m desperate for a friend who isn’t a complete tosser,” she grumbles.

Harry laughs. “Oh, come off it. Those were decent impressions. Uncanny, really.”

“Hardly,” Hermione says with a snort.

“Fine, fine. We’ll work on them,” Harry says with a grin. “But really, though,” he adds, leaning forward with interest. “You asked them to meet?”

Hermione’s hands tighten around her mug as she nods, hoping they can’t tell that she’s lying.

All things considered, it’s a believable enough lie. After all, it’s not as though people can’t meet their parchment pals in person before the three months are up. They’re just not supposed to. But like the other, smaller loopholes in the parchment’s concealment charms, this one had been discovered a few weeks ago and abused ever since. All students have to do is sprinkle a thinly veiled invitation to meet up throughout their message, all while avoiding specific days, times, and places, and they’re able to evade the parchment censors. It’s a massive oversight, but one the professor’s can’t seem to figure out how to fix without calling off the entire experiment. Eager students had jumped on the opportunity, and McGonagall had been forced to make a special announcement, strictly prohibiting parchment pals from meeting before the three month time period had elapsed. Anyone caught breaking that rule was automatically disqualified from their house’s tally.

The threat has only been semi-successful; Hermione’s only heard of a handful of people who have been caught and punished. But strangely enough, it seems as though most students are content to let this particular loophole alone. Most participants seem genuinely interested in the process and have made no attempts to meet their pals before the three month mark. Even Ron had shrugged and said what’s the hurry when Hermione had broached the subject with him.

And that’s certainly how Hermione feels about it. There was something magical about the entire process—no preconceived notions, no biases, no outside influences. Just her, her bard, and their messages.

So yes, while the opportunity is there, Hermione and her parchment pal have refused to take advantage of it.

But that doesn’t mean she can’t cling to it as a plausible story.

“Why do you want to meet? You’d risk house points for this person?” Ron asks, suspicious now that the amusement has worn away.

“I don’t know,” she says with a small shrug. “It was just an idea. I wanted to broach the subject and see how they felt about it. Two months is a long time to wait.”

“Little less than two months now, though,” Harry puts in.

“Yes, but still. And it doesn’t have to be immediate. I’d just rather meet them for the first time face-to-face, rather than see their name show up on my parchment. I don’t know why, but that feels a bit…anti-climactic, don’t you think?” Hermione asks, surprised to find a kernel of truth hidden in her lie. She hadn’t thought about it until now, but she’d much rather meet her parchment pal for the first time face-to-face.

“Not really,” Ron says. “You’ll find out one way or the other. And for what it’s worth, I don’t think you should be risking house points over this,” he adds, his tone vaguely supercilious. “What if we end up losing the House Cup, all because you had to meet this person two months early?”

“Oh, since when are you the purveyor of justice and righteousness?” Ginny says, tossing Ron a dirty look. “Hermione’s not stupid. She won’t get caught. And if we lose the House Cup, it won’t be because of her. It’ll be because you lost us sixty points when you decided to transfigure Malfoy’s bag into a massive bloody cockroach,” Ginny says, rolling her eyes when both Ron and Harry grin at the memory of Draco, scrambling to get the huge roach off of his back.

“If memory serves, you bought me a butterbeer for that,” Ron says, smirking at Ginny.

“All I’m saying is, the House Cup isn’t riding solely on Hermione’s shoulders, and it’s daft to act as though it is. So if she wants to meet him early, she should.” She turns to Hermione and glances at her parchment. “But he hasn’t replied yet?”

Hermione follows her gaze and almost spills her tea all over herself.

There, shining in silver ink, is a reply.

Immediately, she sets her mug aside and grabs at her parchment.

“Suppose that answers your question,” Harry says with a laugh.

“I just don’t understand how he sends one message, and suddenly the rest of us are completely inconsequ—”

Ron’s complaint fades into the background as Hermione tilts her body away from them. The sounds of the common room fade away as she starts to read.

Robin,

Your reply was more than I could have hoped for. Not many people would be understanding of what I’ve told you. That’s putting it mildly—most would go out of their way to be cruel. And yet, you didn’t. I had hoped you wouldn’t, of course, but I learned a long time ago never to trust people. Even those you’re closest to.

You certainly have an uncanny knack for surprising me. In every conceivable way, it would seem.

And I did tell you to take as much time as you needed, so I certainly can’t fault you for that. I understand why you needed to take two days—it’s not easy adjusting your views, is it? Especially not ones you’ve held onto so tightly.

If it’s any consolation, know that I’m struggling with the same thing right now.

That said, I find that I don’t want to stop talking to you, either. Even though things may be different or hard going forward. And I must confess, I may be a bit…stilted in the days to come. I suppose it comes with the territory when one is relearning how to interact with someone. But I’m happy to make the change, so from here on out, our messages will be strictly friendly. I’ll be on my very best behavior.

(Hermione tries not to focus on why that sentence makes her feel curiously disappointed.)

But that said, I’m afraid I have to end my note prematurely. I’d like to write more, but my cat has decided the most comfortable seat in our entire common room just so happens to be my hand. As you can imagine, it’s a bit awkward to write with just the one. Perhaps this is his way of telling me to take an early night—you wouldn’t believe the day I’ve had. Do you ever reach the end of a particularly long day and feel as if you’ve aged thirty years, all at once? I’m afraid that’s my current lot in life. I have a feeling that I’ll wake up tomorrow and be greying, saddled with a dead-end job in the Ministry, and wearing horribly sensible shoes.

I hope you’ll still want to know me when you eventually see me for who I am.

(By which I mean, a middle aged, Ministry flunkey in dingy brown penny loafers.)

Enough about me, though. How was your day?

Your (suddenly ancient),
Bard

Hermione exhales slowly. The knot that’s been slowly tightening in her chest all day has loosened somewhat at her parchment pal’s familiar voice, but it’s not completely gone. Because there’s something about this message that reads differently, and it’s making her feel uneasy. There’s still the same, familiar dryness, and she hadn’t seemed upset by Hermione’s late reply…

Hermione frowns, skimming over the letter again. She can’t quite put her finger on it, but it almost feels…

Stilted, that was the word her parchment pal had used. It feels stilted. Perhaps it’s just the lack of flirtatious comments that’s throwing her off balance, but it almost feels like her parchment pal is trying to navigate a completely new relationship with her. Which is preposterous—they were friends before the messages had turned flirtatious. It stands to reason that they can make the switch back without any issues.

The strange pang of disappointment zings through Hermione once more at the thought, but she pushes it away. After all, there’s no reason for her to want to continue flirting, now that she knows her parchment pal is a woman. And any disappointment she may be feeling over the change…well, it was as her parchment pal had said: it’s not easy adjusting views.

Especially not ones that had taken over her mind and filled her heart to the brim.

“Well? What did he say?”

Hermione glances up to find Ginny watching her with interest. She takes a moment to both remember the lie she had fed to her friends, as well as to create a plausible conclusion to said lie. Slowly, she puts the parchment back down on the table and picks up her mug, gathering her thoughts. “I think we’re both eager to finally meet in person,” she says slowly, “but it would seem my parchment pal is more cautious about breaking the rules than I am. They requested we continue corresponding via letter for the time being.”

Ginny’s face falls, but Ron looks delighted. “Sounds like a sensible bloke,” he says, which is the first kind thing he’s said about Hermione’s parchment pal in weeks. He sits up straighter and grins. “D’you reckon it’s because he’s hideous and he just doesn’t want you to find out yet?”

“Honestly,” Ginny mutters, glaring at Ron.

“No, really! He’s probably squat and sweaty and covered in spots. Balding too, I’d bet. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you,” Ron adds, giving Hermione something that resembles an encouraging smile. “If anyone can look past that and see the good inside, it’s you.”

“And what, you think you’re a prize?” Ginny asks sharply, glaring at Ron.

“I didn’t say that, I just said—”

Hermione tunes out the rest of their argument as she glances back toward her parchment, a small frown creasing her brow as she skims over the words. She doesn’t want things to be awkward between the two of them, but she’s worried she’s changed their dynamic for good. But there was no other option; she had to request the change. There was no way she could have continued flirting with her parchment pal, all the while knowing it was a woman on the other end. Just thinking back over some of their earlier messages makes something strange simmer deep down in her gut, and she shifts uncomfortably on the couch, hoping the unfamiliar sensation passes quickly. While she waits for it to pass, she takes a sip of tea and reassures herself for the hundredth time that she made the right choice. Because as hard as it was to tell her parchment pal they’d have to change the cadence of their messages, she couldn’t have kept flirting with a girl.

…Right?

“Hermione?”

Harry murmurs her name quietly, as to not draw any unnecessary attention. He’s scooted away from Ginny and is now seated on the far end of the couch. Ginny and Ron are none the wiser, still fiercely arguing with each other.

“Hm?” Hermione hums, keeping her voice low.

“Are you alright? You look a bit…flushed.”

Hermione absently raises a hand to her cheek, pressing it against the overheated skin. “Oh. I suppose I am. Probably just the tea,” she says, taking another sip.

Harry glances at her mug with a raised eyebrow. “Must be scalding,” he says, amused.

“It’s… ” Hermione trails off and glances at him. He’s watching her with a small smile and she knows he doesn’t believe for a minute that her lukewarm mug of tea is the reason for her flushed cheeks. “I’m fine,” she finally says. “Just…thinking about something, I suppose.”

“You seem to be doing that a lot more nowadays. Anything I could help shed some light on?”

Hermione starts to shake her head, but before she can, her eyes catch on Ginny, who’s jabbing a finger toward Ron in the middle of an impassioned speech. She watches for a moment, then looks back to Harry, whose eyes are still on her, open and attentive.

“How did you know?” she asks.

Harry frowns. “How did I know what?”

“Ginny,” Hermione says, turning her gaze back to Ginny who’s now openly mocking something Ron’s said. “How did you know that…that you had feelings for her?”

Harry follows her gaze and watches Ginny for a moment, his eyes softening. “Oh. I don’t know. I suppose I just…I just knew.” He glances back at Hermione with a wry look. “That’s not very helpful, is it?”

“No, not really,” Hermione says with a small smile.

Harry sighs and runs a hand through his hair, his eyes far away. “I guess…I thought about her. Every second of the day, it felt like. Something would happen and she’d be the first person I’d want to talk to about it. And even when I was in a foul mood, I still wanted to be around her. It was like…like I knew she’d make it better. I’d find excuses to talk about her, just so I could say her name. She was my first thought in the morning and my last thought at night. Sounds a bit obsessive, doesn’t it?” Harry asks, with a sheepish grin.

“No,” Hermione replies, vaguely aware that she sounds a bit breathless. “No, it doesn’t.”

If anything, it sounds horribly and achingly familiar.

Harry nods, and turns his gaze back to Ginny, who’s now off the couch and beside Ron, roughly shoving at his shoulder with her open hand. “She’d sit down next to me and I’d feel like I was on fire, anywhere her body touched mine. Even the slightest touch. It drove me insane. She crashed into me once after Quidditch practice. Practically landed on top of me. I don’t think I took a breath for a solid minute and a half. God knows how I didn’t pass out around her constantly,” Harry adds with a small chuckle. “I collected every fact I could about her. Even the stupid, little things that no one would need to know. I made excuses to talk to her. I’d find myself smiling just thinking about her. …It really sounds a bit obsessive,” Harry breaks off, shaking his head with wonder.

“It doesn’t,” Hermione says. “It sounds…it sounds perfect. And I’m so happy for you. You know that don’t you? You’re lucky. You’re both very lucky,” she adds, reaching toward Harry and squeezing his hand. He squeezes it back and gives her a small smile.

“For what it’s worth, I think you could be that lucky, too. The way I’ve seen you look at that parchment,” Harry says, nodding toward the paper with a small, secretive smile, “it’s the same way I catch myself looking at Ginny.”

Hermione abruptly lets go of Harry’s hand with a small frown. “I’m not sure it’s exactly the same…” she starts, but Harry cuts her off.

“Trust me. It is.” He leans closer to Hermione, his green eyes sincere and open. “Look, I know Ron and I have been worried about all this. And maybe we’ve been a bit overprotective. Well, Ron more so than me,” he says with a small grimace. “But more than anything, I just want you to be happy. And I’ve never seen you as taken by someone as you are by this bloke,” Harry says, smiling at Hermione encouragingly. “I mean, the sheer amount of times he’s managed to make you ignore an assignment in favor of talking to him?” He gives a low whistle and raises an eyebrow with mock-impression. “He must really be something special.”

Hermione manages a weak smile and hopes Harry doesn’t notice the discomfort swimming in her eyes. “I suppose so, but…”

Whatever she’s about to say is cut off by Ron, yelping from the floor. Hermione and Harry both glance over to find Ginny scrambling to sit on top of him with a face like thunder. She’s brandishing a pillow and is walloping him in the face with it, completely oblivious to the fact they’ve managed to draw the eye of everyone in the common room.

Harry frowns at the display before him. He watches it for a moment, then says, “I should probably…”

“Deal with that? Yes, you should,” Hermione agrees, watching as Ron gives a mighty bellow and manages to flip himself over to regain the upper hand to the cheers and shouts of Seamus and Dean, across the room. Harry shakes his head with a sigh, gets up, and kneels on the floor to break up their tussle. Once he’s gone, Hermione's eyes stray to her parchment again, and she can’t help the ache that fills her heart.

Everything Harry had said rang true. Every last thing. From thinking about them constantly, to collecting every fact she could, to smiling for absolutely no reason…

Hermione frowns. There was one thing that hadn’t rang true.

Harry had mentioned the physical side of things. And even though they’ve only corresponded via parchment, it’s something Hermione is confident wouldn’t be an issue. Certainly because she’s never experienced physical attraction toward a woman, but mostly because she’s never really experienced physical attraction period. It’s always been something she’s struggled with. It had seemed to come so naturally to her dorm mates as they sat up and gossiped about boys well into the night, but Hermione had never joined in. Instead, she had rolled her eyes behind whatever book her nose was buried in and had done her best to tune them out. But her own lack of interest had never bothered her; she had simply assumed her classmates were the bizarre outliers, burdened with an abundance of hormones that made them capable of having far too many feelings for far too many people.

But what if she was the outlier all along?

Her frown deepens as she thinks over her one and only brush with physical intimacy. She had gone through all the motions with Viktor and hoped that eventually, something would click into place and she’d finally understand what Lavender and Parvati were always giggling about. She’d feel the way she was supposed to feel. But by the end of the day, the only thing she’d felt when she was with Viktor was a desperate need to get away. Anytime he had come close to her, she’d immediately found a way to put space between their bodies. If she noticed his hand inching toward hers, she’d whisk hers away and use it to hastily fix her hair. The few times he’d tried to put an arm around her, she’d immediately thrown her own arms out in an absurd, comical yawn. And the one time he had tried to kiss her while sitting on the stone ledge of a fountain, in her haste to get away, she’d tumbled backward and landed with an inelegant splash in the water. He had sulked as he offered her his hand and pulled her out of the fountain, and she’d had to pretend she had seen a bee in order to spare his feelings.

Her face warms at the memory. At the time, she had written it all off as a simple matter of not being attracted to Viktor. And surely, that’s what it still is.

But what if it’s not?

The thought enters her mind unbidden, and she bounces her leg restlessly as she desperately casts through her mind for any time she’s felt some kind of physical attraction.

Her eyes fall on Ron, red in the face and speaking animatedly to Harry while gesturing at Ginny, and she cocks her head thoughtfully as she surveys him. He’s…nice looking, isn’t he? There’s certainly something about him—he has clever eyes and strong hands and full lips. She’s not embarrassed to admit she’s imagined those lips against hers once or twice. And each time it had left her feeling…fine.

Hermione huffs at herself impatiently. Because fine is an overstatement. Her imaginings had left her feeling absolutely nothing.

But that’s completely normal, she reassures herself. It just means that like Viktor, Ron isn’t the right one to be fantasizing about.

What she needs is someone that every girl seems to find universally attractive.

There’s Cormac McLaggen, but he’s a complete tosser, and the thought of his perpetually chapped lips anywhere near her own makes her want to gag.

She remembers Lavender had thought Oliver Wood dead gorgeous, but she had never quite understood the appeal. He had been too lanky, like a wooden puppet come to life.

Blaise Zabini is objectively very attractive, but she can’t very well fantasize about a Slytherin, can she?

Hermione’s mind goes blank and she almost scoffs at herself. How is it possible that she can’t come up with one bloody person at this school to think about snogging?

Perhaps you’re thinking about the wrong type of people…

The thought pushes its way to the forefront of her mind, and this time she does scoff. It’s absolutely mad. She’s never fancied a woman. She’s never even looked twice at a woman. Obviously, she can appreciate when a woman is pretty—she’d have to be blind to not notice Fleur, with her shining, silvery hair and captivating eyes. Or Cho, with her perfect skin and dazzling smile. Or even Tonks, who had made Hermione feel like a tongue tied mess more than once with her effortless confidence and self-assured manner. But it’s not because she’s attracted to any of them—it’s simply because she’s able to recognize when a person is attractive. And she certainly has never wanted any of those women to touch her.

The thought alone makes her cheeks burn and floods her stomach with the same vaguely uncomfortable, simmering heat she had felt before. But this time, the sensation isn’t unwelcome. Instead, it makes the tension riding on Hermione’s shoulders vanish, and she sighs in relief.

Well, then, there’s your answer, she thinks. If the feeling is any indication, it’s clear she’s uneasy with this train of thought, which means she absolutely made the right choice in calling things off with her parchment pal. Honestly, she doesn’t even know why she’s doubting it. She knows herself, and she knows that while this will be a strange adjustment to make, it’s the right one. And it’s one she knows she can do. After all, Hermione Granger is no stranger to facing down difficult situations.

So what if she had been just a little bit in love with her parchment pal?

She’ll get over it.

***

“Come on, Hermione. Just this once?”

Hermione shakes her head as she walks toward the Potions classroom, keeping her gaze trained straight ahead. Ron has been trying to persuade Harry and Hermione to skip class today and take full advantage of the most beautiful day they’ve seen all year, but his pleas are falling on deaf ears.

“You’re wasting your breath,” Hermione says flatly. “It wouldn’t matter if today was the only day of sunshine we get all year—I’ve never skipped a class, and I don’t plan on starting now.”

“It’s just one class!” Ron says, stepping ahead of Hermione quickly and walking backwards to maintain eye contact with her. “And you wouldn’t have to deal with Parkinson! Come on, doesn’t a whole day without her sound amazing?”

“It wouldn’t be a whole day without her. We’re both on Tuesday and Thursday night patrols,” Hermione says, rounding a corner on her way to the dungeons and getting in front of Ron once more.

“Yes, but not together!” Ron whines from behind her. “You could avoid her tonight, and you could avoid her today. What do you reckon, Harry? Fancy sitting outside and enjoying the sunshine?”

Hermione glances over her shoulder to find Ron gazing at Harry hopefully. Harry however, shakes his head ruefully. “I want to, but we don’t need Snape docking even more points from us than he already has. But if you want to skip, we can tell him you took sick at breakfast?” he offers.

Ron scoffs. “And what, I’d sit outside all by myself? No thanks.” He turns back to Hermione with desperation. “I just don’t understand. You of all people should want to skip, rather than be stuck with that cow for an hour.”

“Of course I’d like to skip,” Hermione says, lowering her voice as they approach the Potions’ doorway. “But I can’t take the easy route every time something difficult pops up.”

“Yes, but—”

"And we’re brewing Felix Felicis today. That’s a N.E.W.T.-level potion,” she adds, her tone turning serious. "Wouldn’t you like to get an O in Potions this time around? Not that there’s anything wrong with an E, mind you, but there’s room for improvement! And if you want to improve…”

“Which I don’t,” Ron mutters.

“Then you’ll come with us to Potions,” Hermione finishes brightly, ignoring Ron’s comment.

She turns from Ron and walks through the doorway, but immediately stops short and stares at her table. Pansy is already seated in front of the cauldron and Daphne is in Hermione’s seat beside her, whispering something urgently. Pansy looks tense and uncomfortable, and she shakes her head harshly at something Daphne’s said.

“What do you make of that? Reckon they’re up to something?” Ron asks, following Hermione’s gaze.

Hermione shrugs. They probably are, but she’ll cross that bridge when she comes to it. “Who knows?” she says, then squints toward the cauldron on their table. “I just hope Parkinson picked out the right cauldron for once. She knows I have a favorite, but she’s ignored it every time to spite me.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it. A wise witch once told me that the cauldron doesn’t make the potioneer,” Harry says with a smirk.

Hermione rolls her eyes at the familiar words. “And I stand by it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have a favorite. And I can’t tell if that’s…” She tilts her head as she studies the cauldron on the table, ignoring Harry and Ron as they make fun of her in the background. But before she can pass judgment on the cauldron, Pansy glances over her shoulder and catches sight of her.

Their eyes meet, and Pansy’s body visibly tenses. Her gaze tracks quickly over Hermione and comes back to rest on her eyes for a moment. They stare at each other for a beat, then suddenly, Pansy whips her head back around. Daphne must notice something is amiss, because she glances to the back of the room with confusion to see what’s spooked Pansy. When she notices Hermione, she smirks, gives a small wave, then turns back to Pansy, whose shoulders are practically level with her ears.

Bewildered, Hermione turns to ask if the boys had noticed the strange display. Before she can though, Neville arrives at the door, panting and red in the face.

“Am I late?” he asks, putting his hands on his knees and bending over to catch his breath. “I was tending to the Mandrakes and lost track of time,” he wheezes. “If I’m late one more time, it’s detention for me.”

“Snape isn’t here yet. You live to fight another day,” Harry says, patting Neville on the back.

“Thank goodness,” Neville says, straightening back out and putting his hands on top of his head, his chest still heaving. “Blimey, I don’t know how you two manage to stay in shape for Quidditch,” he says. “I feel like my heart might explode.”

“Not sure Pomfrey can fix that, mate,” Ron says.

“Best to play it safe and sit down, then,” Harry adds with a laugh, and starts forward toward his table. Ron and Neville follow, leaving Hermione, standing in the doorway, frowning at Pansy’s still-tense back.

“Hermione? You coming?” Harry asks, glancing over his shoulder.

Hermione tears her gaze away from Pansy and nods. She starts toward her table, eyeing Daphne and Pansy suspiciously. It’s been quite a while since Hermione was jinxed in the halls by a Slytherin, or was made the butt of some cruel, practical joke, and she has an uncomfortable sensation that today might be the day to change that.

When she arrives at her table, she drops her bag on the stone floor to announce her presence. Daphne turns to eye her with something akin to curiosity, and Pansy looks almost…afraid? Her face is slightly pale and her leg is bouncing restlessly.

Hermione’s eyes narrow as she glances between the two of them. Ron was right—they’re definitely up to something.

Maybe she should have skipped Potions, after all.

“Granger,” Daphne says, surveying her cooly. “You’re looking well.”

“Greengrass,” Hermione replies. She bends to pull her Potions book from her bag. “You trained your owl to land in my hair last year because it was practically the same as a nest,” she says, her tone measured. “You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t believe you.”

Daphne smirks. “Nashira still misses you, you know. She glances your way with such longing, every time she drops off a letter. It would seem that every nest pales in comparison to you, Granger.”

Hermione straightens up, her gaze hardening, and Daphne lifts her hands. “A compliment, I assure you. Nashira is accustomed to only the finest things in life.” She tilts her head and scrutinizes Hermione closely, letting her gaze slowly wander her entire frame. “But really. There’s something about you today…I don’t know what it is. Can’t seem to put my finger on it, though. Can you, Pans?” Daphne asks, turning to Pansy with wide, innocent eyes.

Hermione turns to Pansy and readies herself for whatever insult is about to fall from her lips, but surprisingly, Pansy doesn’t even spare a glance toward her. Instead, she glares at Daphne. “No. But perhaps you can try to put your finger on it from your own seat,” she murmurs, her green eyes flashing dangerously.

Hermione glances at Pansy, surprised by her dark tone. Because in all the years she’s known them, they’ve always been thick as thieves. So what could have happened to make Pansy react so vehemently to Daphne’s question?

Suddenly, Hermione remembers the commotion that had occurred yesterday at breakfast. She had missed most of it as it had happened, too distracted by her reply to her parchment pal, but she had been treated to a full reenactment from Ron on the way to Transfiguration. And it had been quite a decent reenactment, too—Ron had raised his voice and said “fuck you, Pansy,” with all the fervor of a stage actor. Unfortunately, he also had all the projection of one—McGonagall had overheard and immediately docked fifteen points from Gryffindor for spreading gossip and had refused to overturn it, even when Ron launched an impassioned defense that he had simply been keeping his fellow students abreast of the current news, as was his civic duty. For her part, Hermione had assumed Ron was blowing things out of proportion, simply to amuse her. But if the way Pansy is currently glaring daggers at Daphne is any indication, they might still be sore at each other.

Except Daphne doesn’t look angry at all. She looks…almost giddy, Hermione thinks, more puzzled than ever.

“Oh, you’re no fun. If you’d only look at her, you’d see there’s something different,” Daphne says, turning back to Hermione. “A sparkle in the eyes, perhaps? A flush on the cheeks…” Suddenly, Daphne’s mouth falls opens and her eyes shine. “Why, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were in love.”

Hermione frowns, completely taken aback. Of all the things she expected Daphne to say, this certainly wasn’t one of them. Why on earth would she think she’s in…

Oh.

Parkinson. Parkinson and her big mouth. She must have told Daphne about her long letters to her parchment pal, and now they’re both going to mock her mercilessly for it.

Hermione feels a fire flicker in her. It’s been an emotional few days, and she doesn’t have the patience for this.

She slams her book down on the table, slightly pleased when both Pansy and Daphne jump at the noise. “That’s what this is about? My parchment pal? God, you’re relentless,” Hermione says, crossing her arms over her chest and glaring at Pansy. “I know it must drive you absolutely mad to see me happy, but let me assure you—if you think you’re going to make me feel embarrassed or guilty over this, you’re sorely mistaken. You can make fun of me all you like, but it won’t make a bit of difference to me. And you know what? If you were so bloody keen to talk about parchment pals all day, perhaps you should have made the effort to write to your own.”

“Mm, she’s got you there, Pans,” Daphne says, pulling a rueful face at Pansy.

Pansy glares at Daphne for a moment, then turns her eyes to meet Hermione’s gaze. She opens her mouth to reply, but before she can, Snape sweeps past their table.

“One would think that after a month it wouldn’t be difficult to remember who you’ve been partnered with,” he says as he walks. “That said, if you continue having issues Miss Greengrass, I’m happy to assist you with a wit-sharpening potion,” he finishes smoothly, turning to face Daphne as he reaches the front of the class.

Daphne’s cheeks turn pink and she huffs. Then she stands up primly and spares one more amused glance at Hermione. She turns to leave, but before she’s taken a step, she pauses, then leans toward Pansy and murmurs something in her ear. Something that sounds suspiciously like remember what we talked about.

Hermione stiffens.

So they are planning something.

She watches Daphne as she sits down beside Harry, then turns her attention back to Pansy.

“I don’t know what you’re planning, but if I see you make even one move…” she murmurs as she slips into her seat, taking care to both keep her voice low and to put as much space between her body and Pansy’s as she possibly can.

Pansy glances quickly at her, then immediately lowers her gaze back down at the table. “We’re not planning anything,” she whispers back, her voice curiously flat and her shoulders tensed.

Before Hermione can reply, Snape crosses in front of his desk and begins his lesson on Felix Felicis, effectively shutting down her line of questioning for the time being.

Hermione remains on edge throughout the lecture. When she raises her hand to answer a question and feels Pansy’s gaze on the side of her face, her other hand closes around her wand in her pocket, almost instinctively. An attack in the classroom would be brazen, but not out of the question, so she remains alert. But when the lecture comes to an end and Snape tells the Slytherins to gather ingredients, Pansy simply slips off her stool and heads toward the ingredient cupboard without a word.

Hermione watches with a small, suspicious frown as she disappears from view. She’s up to something. She doesn’t know what, but she’ll figure it out.

Slowly, she thumbs through her Potions book until she lands on Felix Felicis, skimming the steps, all the while waiting for Pansy to pounce.

A minute ticks by, and nothing happens.

Hermione re-reads the steps, wondering if she should also be keeping an eye on Daphne. Either one of them is liable to strike without warning.

Another minute, and still, nothing happens.

She reaches for her wand in her pocket and places it on the table. She feels safer, having it so close at hand.

One more minute gone.

Hermione glances up from her book to find Pansy, returning with the ingredients. She reaches their table and carefully places the jars and vials down, all while Hermione scrutinizes her face in silence. Pansy is purposefully avoiding her gaze, but there’s still a slight flush on her cheeks which is enough to further Hermione’s suspicions.

“Why did Daphne ask about my parchment pal?” she says quietly, noticing as Pansy’s hands hesitate for the briefest of moments.

“I don’t know.” Pansy says, placing down the last of the ingredients.

“You’re lying.”

Pansy exhales sharply. “I…may have mentioned something about it yesterday.” She glances at Hermione quickly, then looks back toward the vials. “It’s nothing nefarious, though. You were right—she just wanted to have a laugh at your expense. You can relax.”

“Oh, that’s rich. Do you tell mice to relax around cats, too?” Hermione asks coldly, lighting the fire underneath their cauldron. Once she’s adjusted the flame, she turns back to Pansy. “I know you’re up to something.”

“I’m not,” Pansy says, flipping her own book open to the recipe and trailing a perfectly manicured finger down the list of steps. The flush on her cheeks has spread down her neck and Hermione’s suspicions double at the sight.

“I heard what Daphne said.”

Pansy grows rigid and her finger pauses on the last step in the book. “Oh? And what do you think you heard?” she asks. Her tone is light, but she can’t disguise the undercurrent of tension running through the words.

“She said remember what we talked about. And right after all that nonsense about my parchment pal. I’m not daft. It’s all obviously connected, so…what is it? What’s your end game?”

Pansy’s body seems to relax as she reaches for a frozen, bright red Ashwinder egg and adds it to the cauldron with a small splash. “I already told you, there’s no end game.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Which is your prerogative,” Pansy says, opening a vial of horseradish and carefully measuring out the required four grams. Once she’s packed it down, she deposits it into the cauldron, then glances to Hermione quickly and somewhat expectantly.

Hermione immediately tenses under her gaze. Is this it? she wonders. Is Pansy about to strike? Her hand twitches toward her wand, but before she can reach for it in earnest, Pansy sighs. “You need to adjust the heat,” she says.

“…What?” Hermione asks.

Pansy sighs again, clearly realizing that Hermione isn’t focused on the task at hand. “The heat, Granger? You need to increase it.”

Hermione blinks a few times before glancing stupidly toward her open Potions book. Once she’s confirmed what Pansy’s said is true, she picks up her wand and adjusts the flame under the cauldron accordingly.

Once it’s done, Pansy gives a nod and turns away from the cauldron, reaching for a squill bulb and a press. Once the bulb is secure, she squeezes the handles of the press together and collects the juice in a clean, empty vial, which she then holds out toward Hermione without making eye contact.

Hermione doesn’t take the vial. Instead, she simply stares at it, long enough that Pansy has to turn to her to see what the hold up is.

“…Are you going to—”

“What are you doing?” Hermione asks, keeping her voice low.

Pansy glances down at the vial in her hand, then back up at Hermione. “I’m…passing you the squill bulb juice,” she says, slowly. “For the potion? You know…the one we’re supposed to be brewing?” she adds, the tiniest bit of irritation finally seeping into her tone.

“You’re up to something.”

Pansy places the vial down between them and exhales sharply. “I’m not. Merlin, Granger, what do I have to do to convince you? Let you use Legilimency on me?” She sounds annoyed, but as soon as the words leave her mouth, she glances at Hermione with a concerned frown. “You’re not a Legilimens, are you?”

“So you are hiding something,” Hermione says, almost triumphantly.

“Bloody hell…”

“Well, why else would you ask if I’m a Legilimens? And you’re acting bizarre. You haven’t even insulted me once today—”

“Merlin knows how…” Pansy mutters, picking up the glass vial of squill bulb juice and reaching past Hermione to deposit it into the cauldron.

“So I’ll ask you one more time—what are you planning?”

Pansy exhales sharply and glares at Hermione. “Currently? I’m planning to fail this potion, because my bloody partner is refusing to do her job. So you know what?”

Suddenly and without any warning, Pansy reaches for her wand. Hermione immediately scrambles for hers, but before she can close her fist around it, Pansy flicks her wrist.

Hermione’s eyes squeeze shut as she braces for the impact of whatever spell Pansy’s fired at her.

But nothing happens. No pain floods her body, all of her limbs feel intact. Hesitantly, she cracks open an eye to find a wooden spoon in their cauldron, enchanted to vigorously stir their potion. She glances at Pansy with a puzzled frown, but she’s already watching Hermione. Her eyebrow is arched and something that looks suspiciously like amusement dances around the corners of her mouth.

“And here I thought you were a competent dueler,” she says.

“I am,” Hermione replies defensively, as she watches Pansy turn away from her to begin chopping the anemone-like growth from the back of a Murtlap.

“Mm. Is that one of your signature moves, then? Closing your eyes and waiting to be hexed?” Pansy asks, this time with an actual smirk. “Shame I didn’t know about that back in our Dueling Club days. I might have had a better record.”

“I…what?” Hermione asks, completely confused.

Pansy sighs and puts down her knife. “I’m not going to hex you, Granger. And I’m not planning anything awful, so can you do us both a favor and just…relax? I’d rather not fail this potion. It’ll be on the N.E.W.T.s., you know.”

Hermione blinks at her. Of all the people to know the contents of the N.E.W.T.s., she would never have expected Pansy. “I know, but…”

“And I’ve already told you, I don’t make a habit of doing things that land me in detention. Do you honestly think I’m going to attack you in the middle of class?”

Hermione hesitates for just a moment, and Pansy’s eyes flash with something that almost looks like guilt. She turns away from Hermione and quietly says, “well. I suppose that’s only fair.” She pushes a brown glass bottle toward Hermione. “Tincture of thyme,” she says. “Three drops, then stir slowly.”

Hermione takes the bottle, unscrews the top, and squeezes three drops into their cauldron. Once it’s done, her eyes widen as she finally takes in what she’s neglected to notice up until now. “You picked my favorite cauldron,” she murmurs with surprise, running a finger gently over the rim.

“What?” Pansy asks, glancing toward her, an Occamy egg in her hand.

“Nothing, I just…” Hermione sighs and scrutinizes Pansy through narrowed eyes. “What’s wrong with you today?”

Pansy raises an eyebrow at the question. “Nothing? I’m perfectly fine.”

“You’re not. You’re acting bizarre.”

Pansy snorts. “Need I remind you that I’m not the one who marched in here like the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, hurling accusations left and right?” she asks without a trace of rancor.

“Like that!” Hermione says, taking hold of the wooden spoon and starting to stir. “That sentence, right there. Why did you say it like that?”

Pansy stares at her blankly. “Like what?”

“Like you don’t think I’m dragon dung, stuck to your shoe! You’re acting strange. And if you’re not up to something…”

“Merlin, you’re like a dog with a bone, aren’t you?” Pansy says, shaking her head.

“Oh, I’m sorry. You’ll have to forgive me for being suspicious. It’s not as if the past seven years of torment have led me to doubt your intentions,” Hermione says, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “You’ve treated me horribly, day in and day out. So logically, you must have a reason for acting like this,” Hermione says, gesturing toward Pansy. Her eyes narrow. “You haven’t been Imperiused, have you?”

Pansy scoffs. “Don’t be daft.”

“Well if you haven’t been cursed, then that leads me back to my original conclusion—you’re planning something. Why else would you be treating me so…” Hermione trails off. She knows that kindly isn’t the right word, but she finds herself at a loss in regards to the best way to describe Pansy’s current mood. “So…so differently?” she finally settles on.

“You’re not going to drop this, are you?” Pansy mutters, her voice tight.

“I’m not.”

“Even at the risk of spoiling our potion?”

“There will be other potions,” Hermione replies evenly, all the while desperately hoping her eyelid doesn’t twitch at the statement. She’s never meant a sentence less in her life, but she can pretend that failing a second potion doesn’t bother her if it means getting to the bottom of this mystery.

Pansy squints at her, the reply seeming to take her by surprise. “Merlin, Granger. You’re sure you haven’t been Imperiused?”

“Stop deflecting,” Hermione says, refusing to break eye contact. “Tell me what you’re up to.”

Pansy sighs, frustrated. “I already told you, I’m—”

“You’ve called me Mudblood filth more times than I can count,” Hermione interrupts, her tone even and her eyes hard. “Called me pathetically inadequate. Insulted my looks, insulted my intelligence. You’ve implied that I only have friends because they want to use me. Worse than that, you’ve implied that I’m so desperate for love, I’d let someone use me in the worst possible way. And you’ve reminded me at every turn for the past seven years that I’m beneath you. But for some reason, today, you’re acting like we’re…what? Casual acquaintances? Not one insult, not one snide comment.” Hermione removes the spoon and taps the excess liquid off on the side of the cauldron, then turns to study Pansy. If she didn’t know any better, Hermione would almost think she looked ashamed at hearing her long list of insults rattled off with cold precision. Hermione sets the spoon down on a cloth beside the cauldron and says, “despite what you might think, I’m not stupid, Parkinson. I know you’re up to something, and I’m going to find out what, mark my words.”

“I…”

Pansy frowns and trails off. A muscle in her jaw works as her gaze flits around the room for a few moments, before finally landing on the back of Draco’s head. Her gaze seem to lock onto him, and a new, determined glint enters her eyes. She places the egg on the table and turns to Hermione. “Fine. You want to know what you overheard? Then fine. If it’ll get you to focus on the bloody potion, I’ll tell you. Merlin, if it makes you focus on the potion, I’d tell you how to break into our vault at Gringotts,” she adds. She glances around the room to make sure no one is listening. Hermione waits patiently.

“What you overheard…what Daphne said…it had nothing to do with you. It’s…I…”

Pansy takes a deep breath, then slowly exhales. “I’m…I’m breaking up with Draco,” she mutters. As soon as the words are out, her shoulders slump a bit, as if she’s released whatever long-held tension has been riding on them, and she glances at Hermione out of the corner of her eye. “Happy? Now you know. Nothing sinister at play, I’m just a bit…out of sorts over it, I suppose. And I don’t feel like picking a fight with you today, because I just…” she breaks off and shakes her head, looking tired. “I just don’t. All you overheard was Daphne giving me a pep talk. And as for your parchment pal…” Pansy trails off for a moment, then shrugs again. “Like I said, I discussed it with her yesterday. She was just…giving you a hard time, I suppose. She’s a twat, though. It’s in her nature. She’d do it to anyone, me included,” she adds.

With that, Pansy reaches for the egg again, cracks it open, and carefully deposits the contents into a waste bin before tossing the shells into a stone mortar. Her movements are fluid and casual, almost as if she hadn’t just revealed something massive to Hermione. The only sign that she’s divulged anything lies in her jaw, which is tightly clenched.

Hermione bites her lower lip as she watches Pansy grind the shells with vigor. She glances away from her and studies the table, lost in thought.

She knows what Pansy would do, if their situations were reversed—she’d gleefully mock Hermione for the rest of class, finding new and increasingly inventive ways to slip pointed, gouging insults into their standard Potions discussion. It would become something of a game for her: how far can she push before Hermione shatters into pieces? So knowing all of that, it’s positively absurd that Hermione is sitting here, feeling almost guilty for having forced the information out of Pansy.

No part of her should feel guilty. Not after Hermione herself had just listed out the long list of grievances she holds against Pansy. She despises her with a passion, so all things considered, she should be positively delighted that Pansy’s hurting. She should be reveling in it.

But she’s not. Had she just left well enough alone, Pansy wouldn’t have felt the need to confide her secrets to her worst enemy. And while Hermione knows that rationally, she should never feel guilty around Pansy Parkinson for any reason whatsoever, there’s still a little, niggling part of her, whispering at her to apologize. Because while someone like Pansy might take delight in mocking a person when they’re at their lowest point, that’s not who Hermione is. She’s not cruel. She’s better than that, and she was raised better than that. So with a small nod, she straightens her shoulders and makes up her mind to say two words she never thought she’d say to Pansy.

“…I’m sorry.”

“Why? It’s not your fault,” Pansy says without looking up from her task.

“No, but I shouldn’t have pushed you. Or jumped to conclusions. It wasn’t fair of me,” Hermione says, somewhat stiffly.

Pansy’s hand pauses for just a moment. She glances at Hermione and studies her face for a second, looking for any sign of mockery or derision. When she doesn’t find anything to make her doubt Hermione’s intentions, her jaw relaxes and she shrugs. “It’s for the best, really. He and I…we were never going to work.” With a final tap of the pestle to the mortar, she passes the ground eggshells to Hermione, who adds them to the potion, picks up the spoon, and resumes stirring.

“Why? Because he’s a massive bloody git?” Hermione mutters bitterly and without thinking. But once her brain catches up to her mouth and reminds her of who she’s talking to, her eyes grow wide. She looks to Pansy, certain that she’ll find fury in her eyes for defaming not just a pureblood, but her soon-to-be ex. But instead, Pansy’s regarding her almost wryly.

“He can be,” she agrees with a nod, reaching for the last vial on the table, a dark blue bottle of powdered, common rue. “But it’s not his fault,” she adds, studying the back of Draco’s head thoughtfully. “Not really.”

“Is that right? It’s not his fault that he’s a horrible, intolerant prick? Pray tell, then, whose fault is it? No, let me guess,” she says coldly. “It’s my fault, for having the audacity to be a Mudblood studying at Hogwarts.”

Pansy’s knuckles grow white against the glass bottle as she tightens her grip on it, and she shakes her head. “No. It’s not your fault. It’s…” she sighs. “He’s just the product of his raising. As are we all.”

Hermione snorts. “And what, you think that conveniently excuses yo…his behavior?” she asks, catching herself from saying your behavior at the last moment.

Pansy shakes her head. “No. No, it doesn’t excuse anything, but…” Pansy exhales heavily and opens the bottle of rue. “There are things people like you wouldn’t understand.”

“Mudbloods?” Hermione asks, the word coming out harsh and sharp.

Pansy hesitates, then slowly nods. “Yes. Things about pureblood families. Expectations. Sometimes, in our mad attempts to appease our family, we do things we might ordinarily not. Believe things we might ordinarily not,” she adds, quietly. She shakes a bit of the powdered rue into a silver spoon, levels it out, then places it on the table. “We’re all carefully taught from a young age how the world works,” she says, staring at the spoon, speaking quietly, as if she’s forgotten Hermione is there. “But it’s our parents’ idea of how the world works. They teach us that people who aren’t like us are horrible, wicked abominations. That they’re going to destroy our families. And when you’re a child, what else are you to do but believe them? And even if you don’t…even if you fight against those ideals, it’s…” she pauses and the muscle in her jaw jumps again. “It’s ill-advised,” she finishes.

Hermione gazes at her, stunned into silence. It’s certainly the most Pansy has ever said to her without an insult or two being slipped in, but that’s not why she feels as if someone’s cast a particularly strong Stupefy on her. No, Hermione is gobsmacked because if she didn’t know any better, she would almost think that Pansy was showing…remorse.

Which is ludicrous. She knows Pansy Parkinson. She’s never shown remorse for a single thing. She takes delight in stomping others beneath the heel of her expensive shoe, and she’s never shown any indication that she doesn’t wholeheartedly believe in pure-blood supremacy.

Or…had she?

Hermione thinks back to their detention over a month ago, and a moment that had stood out to her at the time as being strange. She remembers telling Pansy something along the lines of how Muggle borns couldn’t help the blood they were born with, and how those simple words had practically frozen Pansy in place. Her face had paled and when she had spit back some half-baked line about how pure-blood supremacy was never to be questioned, she had seemed…

Shaken, was what Hermione had thought at the time. And something else, too, but she had been too mad to think about it in depth. But now, she remembers the slight tremble in Pansy’s hand, and the haunted look in her eyes. Had she been…scared?

Hermione scrutinizes Pansy now. She’s gazing at her open book, her jaw clenched and her eyes guarded. But there’s also something different in her energy…something that seems almost vulnerable. And there had been something real and almost raw behind Pansy’s words.

A voice within Hermione urges her to fight against her natural instinct to be harsh, cruel, and antagonizing. She has a feeling this is the first time Pansy has ever voiced these particular thoughts to another person before, and she doesn’t want to immediately berate her, or deride her for coming to these conclusions far too late. While it could be a stupid miscalculation—there’s an excellent chance that Pansy’s just become an extraordinarily good actress and is baiting Hermione for her own twisted amusement—she decides to listen to her gut.

She dickers back and forth on how she wants to reply, all the while feeling like one of those bomb disposal people in Muggle movies, staring at a tangled mess of wires. If she snips the wrong one, everything might blow.

“I can understand that,” she finally says, reaching for the spoonful of rue and taking care to reply in a calm, measured way. “But at a certain point, he’s responsible for his own actions. Draco’s parents aren’t here. There are no expectations to live up to, but he still chooses to act the way he does.” She deposits the rue into the cauldron and watches as the potion turns a muddy yellow, then she begins to stir it vigorously. “Sympathy can only go so far, especially when faced with the reality of the world. Had y…had he,” Hermione says, correcting herself again, “decided to change his views at any time over the past few years…had he made even the slightest effort to show change or growth, then I’d be far more sympathetic to his upbringing and his home life. But at a certain point, that can’t be the thing he clings to to excuse his intolerance. I told you once before—my forgiveness is given to those who show genuine remorse. And much as I’d love to be proven wrong, based on every interaction we’ve ever had? I’m just not sure I can believe that’s the case with…with Draco,” she finishes awkwardly, again fighting the urge to say with you. She puts down the spoon, adjusts the flame beneath the cauldron once more, then looks toward Pansy, who very surprisingly, shrugs.

“You’re right,” she says.

Hermione raises her eyebrows. “I’m what?” she asks, mildly stunned.

“You’re right. Everything you said…it makes sense. But that doesn’t negate what I said. There are things you wouldn’t understand. And at a certain point, it’s easier to fall in line with a particular way of thinking if you know it will spare you from…from things you wouldn’t wish on anyone. Horrid things,” Pansy adds quietly, with a small wince. “But it’s a dangerous game—once you fall into that line of thinking, once you genuinely make yourself believe in it, it’s almost impossible to see outside of it. To admit that you might be wrong, or that all the people you’ve ever loved and trusted were wrong. When something is the cornerstone of your life, it’s…it’s not easy,” Pansy finishes, staring down at the table.

Hermione doesn’t reply. Instead, she puts down the wooden spoon, stares at Pansy’s profile, and lets herself fully comprehend the insanity of what’s currently happening.

She’s having a conversation. With Pansy Parkinson. And somehow, against all odds, it hasn’t devolved into a mess of insults and slander.

Hermione glances down at their cauldron, wondering if they’ve mistakenly brewed Essence of Insanity and the fumes are starting to get to her.

This is impossible. It’s absolutely mad. It’s…

“Why are you telling me this?” Hermione asks suddenly. “I mean, of all people…why me?”

Pansy frowns. “I…I…” She lifts her gaze and stares at Hermione. There’s a storm of emotions swirling in Pansy’s eyes that takes Hermione by surprise, but she can’t make heads or tails of it. Before she can try and work out what any of the emotions might be (pain? Longing? Anger? Fear?), Pansy blinks and shakes her head. “I don’t know. I guess…it’s like I said—I’m out of sorts. This whole ordeal…it’s been mad, and it’s made me a bit…” Pansy trails off and stares into the distance. Then all at once, she seems to return to herself. She shrugs, her guard up again. “Anyway. You asked what was wrong with me. I told you.” She glances at the cauldron. “The potion needs finishing,” she says, nodding toward it.

Hermione watches Pansy for a few seconds, then nods, deciding not to push her luck. She can think about whatever just happened between the two of them later. For now, she picks up her wand, waves it over the cauldron in a figure-eight pattern, and says Felixempra. The potion immediately begins to bubble and Pansy and Hermione watch closely. Once the bubbles clear, they can see that their potion is against all odds, perfect. It’s a thick, molten gold, and every now and then, tiny droplets rise from the surface and leap and sway, like dancing water.

“Huh. Not bad, Granger,” Pansy says, sounding genuinely impressed. “Perhaps even good enough to get us an O on the N.E.W.T.s. Had I known spilling all my sordid secrets was the key to a perfect potion, I’d have started long ago.”

Hermione raises an eyebrow at the remark. Once again, there’s that strange hint of dry amusement lurking in Pansy’s words. Which doesn’t stand to reason, because if there’s one thing she knows, it’s that Pansy hates her. And what’s more, she hates Pansy. That’s how it’s always been. They don’t have cordial conversations, and they certainly don’t joke with one another. So they’ve finally managed a civil conversation after seven years—that’s hardly something to be celebrated. And even if Hermione is right, and Pansy is finally putting some thought into her awful, intolerant views, it doesn’t mean she has to be nice to her.

But that said, Hermione isn’t in any hurry to disturb this very strange, very tenuous peace that’s somehow settled between them. And if by some miracle, she can get through the next few weeks of Potions without wanting to pull out her hair or hex Pansy into oblivion, then she can play along with whatever madness has descended upon their table. After all, it’s one less stress on her overflowing plate. So for the time being, she simply hums in agreement. “I believe you said something about the secrets to your Gringotts vault?” she asks innocently.

Pansy turns to her with surprise in her eyes. It’s clear Hermione’s comment has taken her off guard, but she seems to quickly find her footing. “I did. Maybe if we don’t botch the next one, I’ll let you in on the secret. But let’s just say, however you managed to keep Potter from getting killed in the first task of the Triwizard Tournament? It might come in handy,” she says, with the smallest hint of a smile. Then, as if she’s just realized she’s smiling at Hermione, she abruptly stands. “I’ll just…return all this,” she says, beginning to gather their unused materials.

“I’ll…I’ll bottle,” Hermione says, more baffled than ever. Both by the knowledge that an actual dragon is guarding the Parkinson’s vault in Gringotts, and that Pansy had actually told her about it.

Pansy finishes gathering their ingredients, but before she can leave, Hermione looks up swiftly. “Wait. How did you know I helped Harry with the first task?”

Pansy rolls her eyes. “You’re the only one of his friends with a brain, Granger. And Flitwick hadn’t taught us The Summoning Charm yet. I sincerely doubt Potter mastered it on his own, and you’re the only student in our year both clever enough and capable of teaching it to yourself, so…” she shrugs. “Simple deduction.” With that, she walks away, leaving Hermione to stare after her in stunned silence.

Was that…a compliment?

Hermione once again looks at their potion. It must be Essence of Insanity. Because if it’s not, then…

What the bloody hell is happening?

***
A week passes by quickly, and the following Tuesday, Hermione finds herself trudging into the Great Hall for dinner at a quarter to seven. Tuesdays are always exhausting—minus her free period post-Potions, she’s in back to back classes until six-thirty. Normally, she can make it to the Great Hall with plenty of time for dinner before her patrols at seven, but Ancient Runes had run long today. And while she’s usually delighted when classes run long, today, it’s just made her exhausted. It would seem that the stress of a busier than usual Spring semester, coupled with her less than stellar sleep schedule are finally taking a toll. She knows she told Ron that she’s never skipped anything in her life, but she’s seriously considering asking one of the prefects to cover her shift tonight so she can catch up on her long-neglected sleep.

Once she reaches the Gryffindor table, she sits down heavily beside Ginny and pulls a plate to her without so much as uttering a greeting.

“Well, hello to you, too,” Ginny says.

“Alright then, Hermione?” Neville asks with an amused smile.

“Sorry, just…exhausted,” she replies, putting a thick slice of roast beef on her plate, followed by a hefty spoonful of creamy, buttery mashed potatoes. “And seriously considering making someone else take my patrols tonight,” she adds, pouring a ladle of thick, rich gravy over her plate.

As expected, Ron snorts. “Oh, now it’s okay to skip. But when I wanted to last week, it was unheard of. What happened to I couldn’t possibly take the easy way out just because something is difficult?” he asks, putting on a ridiculously posh accent to mimic her words.

“That was a week ago. And why is it you all seem to remember everything I’ve ever said, verbatim?” Hermione asks, cutting the roast beef on her plate with a small smirk. “Honestly, it’s like you’re all obsessed with me.” She takes a bite and says, “for the record, I’m not considering skipping because it’s difficult. It’s because I’m completely knackered.”

“Still not sleeping then?” Neville asks with a sympathetic wince.

Hermione shrugs, but before she can reply, Ginny jumps in. “Yes, but it’s not insomnia that’s keeping her awake…” She wiggles her eyebrows suggestively, and Hermione feels heat creep into her cheeks at the reference to her late night chats with her parchment pal. Hastily, she takes a sip of water to avoid replying.

She glances at Neville to find him staring at her, his fork hanging in midair with a forgotten roasted potato skewered on the end of it. There’s a small flush on his own cheeks and his eyes are strangely wide, but then he seems to snap out of whatever strange trance he’s in and he begins to nod furiously. “Right! Well! I mean…good for you, that’s…that’s really…I mean…” He glances at Ron uncomfortably, then back to Hermione. “So I suppose that would mean you two are…?” he asks, trailing off and raising his eyebrows.

Hermione frowns as she glances at a red-faced Ron, then back to Neville. “We’re what?” she asks, trying to understand what on earth Neville’s going on about, and why Harry is suddenly smirking at his plate.

“I mean…I just assumed, if you’re up at night…doing…doing…well…you know,” Neville says, his face turning bright red. “Who else could it be?”

Harry is now grinning broadly, and Ginny looks between Ron and Hermione slyly. “Why, you cheeky bastards,” she says. “Were you planning on telling us?”

Hermione’s frown deepens, as she glances around the table. Ron and Neville are now the same shade of red, but she doesn’t know why they’re both being so…

Oh.

Oh.

Honestly. What are you, twelve?” Hermione asks Ginny, crossly stabbing at another piece of roast beef. “That’s not what she meant,” she adds, glancing at Neville, who by now looks completely miserable. “She meant I’ve been staying up late to talk to my parchment pal, and you can stop laughing at any point now, thank you very much,” she adds, tossing a glare toward Harry across from her, who’s still trying to stifle his laughter.

“It’s not that funny,” Ron mutters, pushing a roasted carrot around his plate with a small, irritated frown.

“Sorry, it’s just…blimey, I’ve never met someone with such a knack for getting the wrong end of the stick,” Ginny says, grinning at Neville.

“Well, what else was I supposed to think? You did that…that thing with your eyebrows, and Hermione and Ron have always been…” he trails off and looks at Hermione desperately.

The implication makes her a bit uncomfortable, but she still manages a small shrug as reaches for a roll. “It was a perfectly valid assumption to make, given the delivery of the statement,” she says, cutting the roll open and smearing fresh, salted butter into the still-warm interior.

“It was?” Ron asks, glancing up at Hermione with a mixture of surprise and hope glimmering in his eyes. It’s clear this is excellent news to Ron, and Hermione feels a little flicker of anxiety race through her as she considers why he looks so optimistic. Before she can either confirm or deny anything, Neville clears his throat.

“So your parchment pal, then?” he asks, seeming desperate to steer the conversation to safer waters. “Still going strong?”

“Oh, more than strong. Last week she asked him to meet,” Ginny says, lowering her voice like it’s some big, dramatic secret. “Head over heels, she is,” she adds as she uses her roll to soak up the leftover gravy on her plate.

“I’m not—”

“Really? Blimey. What’d he say?” Neville asks, cutting Hermione off before she can protest what’s just been said.

“No,” Ron says, too quickly to be casual. “He said no, I mean,” he adds, quickly correcting his tone to something nonchalant as he cuts himself a thick slab of apple pie. “I reckon that means he’s trying to hide something, don’t you?”

Hermione glances down at her plate as Neville replies, hoping they don’t notice her blush. She could tell them right now what her parchment pal had actually been hiding and why she’d felt the need to concoct a story in the first place, but…

It’s a lot of people to tell at once, she reasons to herself. It’s just one in a long list of convenient excuses she’s been creating over the past few days, but she doesn’t let that deter her from clinging to it. After all, if she’s going to confess this, it’ll be to just Harry and Ron, or maybe just Ginny. Less people leads to less questions, and less confusion, too.

Questions about what? Why are you so hesitant? a voice in her head asks. It’s been popping up more often than usual as of late, always with some variation of the same questions.

She takes another bite of roast beef and chews it slowly, thinking over tonight’s question. It’s not that she’s hesitant, it’s just that…it’s just…

You’re afraid that if you tell them, they might think you’re gay, too?

Hermione stops chewing and frowns at the thought. How absurd. She’s not afraid of that, because it’s preposterous. They might make fun of her for the whole debacle, but they wouldn’t jump to that conclusion. And anyway, she’s not. She already figured that out days ago.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. She’s actually been pondering starting a new society to help her parchment pal navigate life at Hogwarts as a gay woman—she’s thinking of calling it Students of Hogwarts Against Gay Slander. She might even make buttons again, with a cute little abbreviation.

But that’s all beside the point. The point is, she shouldn’t be hesitating to tell anyone that her parchment pal is actually a woman. It has absolutely no bearing on her.

But even though it’s been well over a week, you still have feelings for…

It has no bearing on her, she repeats to herself firmly, stopping the pesky voice in her head in its tracks. No one will think she’s gay, and if they do, well…she’ll just set them straight.

…Pun not intended.

“It’s five minutes till seven,” Harry says, shaking Hermione from her thoughts.

“Sorry?” Hermione asks.

“Patrols?” Harry says, studying Hermione carefully as he rips off a piece from his roll and pops it into his mouth. “Maybe you should ask someone to swap. If you’re that tired, I mean.”

“Hannah will probably swap with you. She’s good about things like that,” Neville says, peering over Hermione’s shoulder toward the Hufflepuff table. “And she’s here right now, if you want to ask her. Or I could?” he adds, somewhat eagerly.

Hermione shakes her head as she quickly eats the last of her dinner. She eyes a piece of apple pie sadly, wishing she had had the time to enjoy it, then sighs. “No, I’ll manage. It’ll be a slow night, I’m sure. And God knows I’ll sleep well tonight if I’m exhausted,” she adds.

“Not if he writes to you,” Ginny says with a smirk as Ron glowers and taps his foot restlessly.

Hermione rolls her eyes as she finishes the water in her goblet. “At least I won’t have to put up with your gossiping on patrols,” she says as she gathers her things from the floor.

“Please. You love it,” Ginny says.

Hermione scoffs, then stands up. “Right, then. That’s me off. See you two later,” she says to Ginny and Neville. “And as for you two,” she says to Ron and Harry, “remember your Transfiguration essay is due tomorrow.” They both stare up at her blankly, and she sighs. “Principles of Re-Materialisation? Honestly, how you two manage to scrap by year after year…” she says, shaking her head with an amused smile. Then, with a small wave, she starts off toward the main doors.

She’s just outside of the Great Hall when she hears hurried footsteps behind her.

“Hermione!”

Hermione turns to find Ron, panting a bit and looking nervous.

“What is it? Did I forget something?” Hermione asks, frowning as she checks to make sure her wand in her pocket.

“No, I…I…” he bites his lower lip and gazes at the floor, and Hermione watches with concern as his face turns red.

“Are you alright?” she asks, watching as the flush spreads down his neck.

“Yes? I think so, I…” he pauses and shifts restlessly from foot to foot. “I was just thinking…I mean, not just thinking. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, actually…I just didn’t know how to…” he breaks off and rubs at his neck.

Hermione tries to wait patiently, but when Ron doesn’t continue speaking, she gently says, “patrols are starting, Ron, can we…”

“Right. Right, sorry. I just…”

He takes a deep breath and gives the tiniest nod, like he’s working up the nerve for something. When he looks back up at her, his gaze is determined.

“What are you doing? This weekend, I mean.”

Hermione’s sure the surprise is evident on her face, because Ron immediately says, “if you have plans, that’s okay. I mean, you probably do, and I wouldn't want you to change them, but…if you don’t have plans…would you maybe want to…”

Something twists uncomfortably in Hermione’s stomach. She knows what the next words out of Ron’s mouth are going to be, and she knows that the thought of saying yes is already filling her with more anxiety than she could have imagined.

“Would you want to go to Hogsmeade? Just the two of us,” he adds quickly. “We could go to Madam Puddifoot’s, if you like? Or…or…Tomes and Scrolls? If you’d want to look for a book?”

He’s gazing at her with so much hope, and she feels dreadful that she’s actively trying to come up with a reason why she can’t go on a date with him. But then she realizes that there’s an obvious reason right in front of her, so she schools her face into something she hopes resembles resignation and says, “Ron…what about Lavender? I know you’re upset about everything that happened, and perhaps you’re feeling lonely, but I don’t want to be your…your…rebound relationship.”

It’s true. Perhaps at one point, she would have considered it. But now, she has too much self-respect. Now, she knows what it feels like to be the actual center of someone’s world. To be the person someone actually thinks about first, day and night. To be the person someone might have been a little bit in love with…

Not the time, not the time.

She shakes her head a bit before her thoughts can fully stray to her parchment pal and looks back at Ron to find him wincing.

“You wouldn’t be. I’ve been thinking about that. Really thinking about it, I mean. And I think the whole reason I was with her in the first place was because I was…I was afraid.”

“Afraid? Of what?” Hermione asks.

Ron looks at her with surprisingly soft eyes. “I was afraid of asking you out.”

Hermione stares at him, completely taken aback. Before she can answer, though, she’s distracted by Pansy, storming out of the Great Hall with her head down. She looks deeply annoyed about something, and Hermione watches her go, idly wondering if she’s finally managed to break things off with Malfoy. Ever since she had confessed her plans to Hermione last Tuesday, Hermione has been waiting for Draco’s mood to change. But as far as she can tell, it still hadn’t happened. They still sit side by side in the Great Hall and Draco still obnoxiously drapes his arm over Pansy’s shoulders any chance he gets. Hermione wonders if Pansy’s changed her mind about breaking things off. She’s even thought about asking her during Potions, once or twice.

Because that’s another thing—Pansy’s off-day was quickly turning into an off-month. Much to Hermione’s immense surprise, she’s continued to be more or less reasonable during Potions. Every once in a while, she’ll even slip in dry remarks that make Hermione’s lips twitch against her will. Not everything is sunshine and rainbows, of course—they still snap at each other from time to time. But nothing has managed to turn into anything that even remotely resembles one of their standard arguments. And it’s been…nice, actually. To not have to worry about keeping her guard up at every turn. Though Hermione’s still a bit cautious around her. She still doesn’t trust that this isn’t an elaborate long con, intended to make Hermione the butt of yet another cruel joke. But for now, she’s happy to keep her head down and continue this bizarre peaceful dance they seem to be doing together. At least until the end of the year, that is. Then, she’ll never have to work with Pansy again.

“Erm…Hermione?”

She glances back to Ron, who is watching her with confusion. “Did you…did you hear what I said?”

Right. Ron. Asking her out. Right now.

She shelves her thoughts of Pansy for the moment and sighs.

“I did, it’s just…Ron, I don’t know—”

“I know it’s mad,” Ron puts in quickly. “It doesn’t make sense but…well, Lavender was…she was safe.”

“Safe?” Hermione repeats stupidly.

Ron nods. “I didn’t have any strong feelings for her, so there was nothing to lose. But with you…” he breaks off and smiles at her, sheepishly. “Well…Neville said it already, didn’t he? Who else could it be?” He shakes his head. “I think it’s always been you, Hermione. I’ve just been too much of a stupid twat to see it. But this business with your parchment pal has made me…well, it’s made me a right jealous arse, if I’m being honest about it. But it’s made me realize a few things, too. Plus, y’know, Harry and Ginny are happy, and it’s because they took a chance on something more than friendship. They were brave. And we’re Gryffindors, aren’t we? We can be brave, too. So…here’s me, being brave, I suppose,” he says, looking at her with a small, nervous smile.

“Ron…” Hermione starts, with a small shake of her head.

“I know. I know I was a twat with Lavender. And I’ve been…what did Ginny call me? A massive bellend? I’ve been a massive, massive bellend as of late. I have, and I know, but just…tell me you haven’t thought about this,” Ron says, taking a step closer, his gaze earnest. “Tell me that this, that you and me together, has never crossed your mind. Because it’s crossed mine. All the time. I mean, we’re good together. We make each other laugh…we push each other…you keep me from failing every class I have,” he says with a grin.

“I…”

“Just one date. If it’s awkward, or you’re miserable the whole time, then we never try again. But at least we can say that we did try.”

Hermione looks at Ron, whose eyes are shining with hope, and she feels her heart break a little. Because the idea of dating Ron had crossed her mind. Quite frequently, if she’s being honest. But as of late, she hasn’t given it a single thought. She wasn’t even slightly jealous when he started seeing Lavender, much as everyone in her life had assumed she’d be. Why should she have been jealous, when she had her parchment pal?

And now that she knows what it should actually feel like to have proper feelings for someone, she knows that she has to let him down. She’s done some difficult things in the past few years. Things that would give even the bravest of Gryffindors pause. But turning down this sweet, lovely, good man before her? It ranks among the hardest things she’s ever done.

Hermione shakes her head slightly and looks at the ground. “Ron, I…I’m…”

Ron must read the look on her face, because immediately, his face falls. “No…Hermione, please. Just think about it.”

“I have, it’s just…”

“Is it because of Lavender?”

“No,” Hermione says, nervously fiddling with the strap of her bag.

“Well, then…what? Because I’m not rich and famous, like Krum?”

Hermione looks up at him, surprised. “Absolutely not. That has no bearing on—”

“Or is it just because I’m not him.”

Hermione pauses in the middle of her reply and frowns at Ron’s statement. “Not who? Krum?” she asks, confused.

“No. Him. Your parchment pal,” Ron mutters, scuffing his shoe against the floor miserably. “I know you have feelings for him. I mean, we all know that, but I guess I just hoped…I don’t know…I guess I hoped that you might have had some feelings for me, as well,” Ron says quietly. He glances up at Hermione with a small, sad smile. “Stupid, I know.”

A strange, prickly heat creeps up Hermione’s neck as she begins to fully realize the absurdity of what’s happening right now.

Is she really turning down Ron, one of the best blokes she knows…because of her parchment pal?

Her very female parchment pal?

No. Obviously not.

It seems like you are.

Hermione blinks uncertainly at the thought. She supposes it’s true enough…it does seem like she is. But she’s not.

Then why not go out with Ron?

Because she doesn’t want to go out with Ron.

Because he’s not your parchment pal?

Well…

Or just because he’s a man?

No, Hermione thinks furiously. Obviously not because of that. It’s as she said before—she doesn’t want to be anyone’s second choice. Which is a perfectly valid reason to turn down a date.

But he explained that away, the annoying voice in Hermione’s head helpfully supplies. And in a very logical manner, too.

Yes, but…

Hermione frowns when she can’t complete that thought. He had explained it away, and while Hermione isn’t a Legilimens, she’s certainly good enough at reading Ron by now to know that he hadn’t been lying. She had honestly believed him when he said that Lavender was the safe choice, and that he had had feelings for Hermione all along.

So then…why not say yes? Hadn’t this been what she had wanted, not even two months ago?

It was. But that was before you decided you desperately wanted your parchm—

No, Hermione thinks crossly. Why won’t that bloody thought leave her head?

Fine then—you’re not attracted to him.

That’s not it either. She is. Or at least, she could be. She’s always thought there was something pleasant about Ron. There had been times when he had draped his arms around her and Harry as they were walking, and it had always made her feel pleasantly warm inside. Plus he’s tall, he’s funny, and he always smells nice, like fresh air and sandalwood soap. There are so many wonderful things about Ron. So what if her imagined kisses with him hadn’t done anything for her? That certainly doesn’t mean that actually kissing him would result in the same outcome.

And perhaps the best reason to say yes is that this date might finally put all the newfound and pervasive worries ignited by her parchment pal to rest. She can assure herself once and for all that her feelings for the mysterious woman are just a curious one off. Surely once she’s actually on a proper date with Ron, she won’t find herself thinking of her.

Hermione glances back up swiftly to find Ron staring dejected at the floor. She straightens her back and takes a deep breath.

“Ron…I never actually said no,” she says, trying for small smile.

Ron looks up at her, gobsmacked. “You…you didn’t?”

“No, I just…you took me by surprise. But yes. I’d love to go to Hogsmeade with you this weekend,” she says, ignoring the uncomfortable twist in her gut that tells her she’s lying.

“You would?” Ron asks, his eyes widening comically.

I wouldn’t.

“I would,” Hermione says firmly. “Saturday, then?”

Ron nods slowly as a grin spreads across his face. “Saturday,” he repeats, then he laughs. “Saturday! Brilliant. Yes. Saturday.”

“Okay, then. Saturday,” Hermione repeats weakly, though she’s trying hard to sound even a tenth as excited as Ron currently looks. She glances over her shoulder toward the staircase. “I’m sorry, I should…”

“Right! Patrols. You’ve got to…y’know,” Ron cracks his knuckles and pulls an intimidating face. “Keep them in line, and…and whatnot.”

Hermione stares at him. “Ron, I don’t beat students,” she says with a raised eyebrow.

Ron flushes. “No, of course you don’t. I mean, obviously, I know. I don’t know why I said…” he rubs his neck and looks at her sheepishly. “Well, then. I’ll just…I’ll leave you to it. But I’ll see you on Saturday.”

Hermione nods and forces another smile. “You do know it’s only Tuesday, don’t you? I’d expect you’ll see me loads before Saturday.”

A strangled and strange laugh escapes Ron as he nods. “So it is! Tuesday! That’s…that’s quite…I mean, that’s brilliant, Tuesday is. It’s really a…a brilliant day,” He starts walking backward into the Great Hall. “But you need to…” he gestures vaguely toward the third floor, “so, I’ll just…be going then.”

“Right. Yes, I’ve got…yes. I’ll…I’ll see you later,” Hermione says, giving him an awkward wave, which he returns.

“See you later, alligator,” Ron says cheerfully, then he shakes his head a bit and looks annoyed with himself. “I don’t know why I said that either,” he mutters. Then, he gives her another little wave and turns around.

Hermione watches him go with a new knot in her stomach, but she quickly convinces herself that it’s just due to excitement. Excitement and nerves. After all, it’s not every day that she finds herself redefining a relationship with someone. And certainly not with a dear friend like Ron.

Not the dear friend you wanted though.

Hermione exhales sharply, shakes her head, then turns toward the staircase. All the while, the uneasy feeling in her stomach seems to grow.

Butterflies. That’s what the feeling is, Hermione decides. There are butterflies in her stomach because she’s just anxious to go on the date. And if there’s one thing she’s learned from being the unwilling spectator to Lavender and Parvati’s late night chats, it’s that butterflies are a very common feeling when you’re attracted to someone. So really, this feeling is perfectly normal.

Isn’t it?

Do you really think this awful feeling is the same as what you feel for your parchment pal?

Yes. It’s the same. This is what she wants, Hermione tells herself firmly as she climbs the stairs toward the third floor where her patrols are to begin. And any other feelings she may be having…well, they’ll fade with time. Right now, it makes sense to focus on the relationship that has potential. And that’s Ron.

She’s making the right choice.

With her thoughts momentarily quieted, she steps off onto the third floor landing to find Pansy, leaning idly against a door.

Pansy’s eyes flick up to Hermione immediately. “Shirking your duties are we, Granger?” she asks, her tone a bit cold but her gaze, curiously blank. “Patrols started five minutes ago, you know.”

“I know. I was…detained,” Hermione replies.

Something dark flashes in Pansy’s eyes. “So I saw. What, Weasley was whispering sweet nothings into your ear and you couldn’t tear yourself away?” she asks, an eyebrow quirking up.

Oh, no. Pansy had heard that?

Hermione tries to ignore the embarrassment trickling through her. Instead, she straightens her spine and crosses her arms. It would seem Pansy’s in a belligerent mood, and Hermione’s too bloody tired to put up with her tormenting tonight, so she says, “no. But I don’t need to explain myself to you.” She narrows her eyes as she surveys Pansy. “Why are you here, anyway? You know I always start on the third floor on Tuesdays.”

Pansy shrugs. “Flitwick and McGonagall are talking on the second. Figured as long as that floor was covered for the time being, I’d start on the third. You know, since you were clearly otherwise occupied.”

“Oh,” Hermione says. She does remember hearing Professor Flitwick’s voice as she climbed past the second floor. “Well, I’m here now,” she says, turning to unlock the room where prefects and the Head Girl and Boy store their bags during patrols and dropping hers on the floor. “So you can go,” she adds, closing the door and locking it again.

Pansy pushes off from the wall. “What’s the rush? They’re probably still talking and the other floors are covered. And I’d imagine you’re absolutely gagging to tell someone the good news,” she adds, her lips twisting into a cruel smirk. “You and Weasley, together at last, hm? Congratulations. Where’s the first date going to be? Diagon Alley to beg for spare Knuts? I’d imagine he’ll have to scrounge up the money to pay for dinner somehow.”

“Just because his family’s money isn’t guarded by a dragon doesn’t mean they’re destitute. And more importantly, this isn’t any of your business,” Hermione says tersely. She’s not about to stand here and let Pansy mock Ron for any reason, especially not his family’s financial status.

“No, but neither was Draco, and you managed to get that out of me,” Pansy says, glaring at Hermione. “So Zonko’s, then?” she asks, crossing her arms.

Hermione frowns, moving out of the way to let a small group of Ravenclaws pass by. “No, I…why Zonko’s?” she asks, against her better judgment.

“Zonko’s is a joke shop, and I can’t think of a bigger joke than going on a date with Ron Weasley.”

Hermione grits her teeth. “Oh, please. Ron is wonderful. He’s kinder and more talented than any member of your house, and you know it.”

Any member of my house? I’m afraid not. I’ll give you Crabbe and Goyle, though—a recently deceased flobberworm would be more talented than those two, put together. But hang on…” Pansy says, cocking her head to gaze at Hermione. “I thought he was manhandling Brown?”

Hermione exhales sharply at the reminder. “He was, until she called things off,” she says, then she realizes how that just sounded. “I mean, he wasn’t manhandling her,” she amends hastily while giving an awkward smile to a confused third-year Hufflepuff passing by. “But he was seeing her. And again, this isn’t any of your business. So if you’d excuse me,” she says, straightening her back and holding her head high, “I’d like to start my patrols.”

“Merlin, Granger. Do you really not have any self-respect?” Pansy asks, sounding somewhat…dismayed?

“I…what? Of course I do,” Hermione says, startled at the abrupt shift in Pansy’s tone. “Which is why I’m telling you, this conversation is over. So by all means, feel free to stay and…guard the staircase, or whatever it is you want to do,” she says, waving a hand toward the marble stairs behind her, “but I’m going to start my—”

“No one with an ounce of self-respect would have said yes to Weasley after the way he’s carried on with Brown for weeks now,” Pansy interrupts with a frown, as if she hasn’t heard anything Hermione’s just said. “And yet he snaps his fingers and you come running?”

“He had a perfectly reasonable explanation for that,” Hermione says crossly. She doesn’t know why she feels the need to defend her decision to Pansy of all people, but she does.

“Oh? What was it? Did he get tired of being in a committed relationship with his right hand after a few days?”

Hermione tsks at the crude remark. “You’re disgusting,” she mutters, annoyed with herself for letting the conversation go on for so long.

“And you’re deluded,” Pansy replies evenly.

“I’m not. I know this may be an unfamiliar concept to you, but Ron is a good person. Anyone would be lucky to go on a date with him,” Hermione says, fighting the desire to wince when she hears how forced her words sound.

Pansy snorts, as if she can somehow tell she’s lying. “Okay, Granger. Whatever you need to tell yourself.”

Hermione scowls at Pansy, who has unwittingly stumbled upon the very thing she’s actually been telling herself.

“I don’t need to tell myself anything,” she says, trying to sound more convincing this time. “This is what I’ve wanted. What I’ve always wanted,” she adds for good measure. But once again, her words ring hollow and false in her ears.

“What you’ve always wanted is to be Ron Weasley’s second choice?” Pansy asks, quirking an eyebrow as her dark lips twist up in a fake, simpering smile. “Well, congratulations!” she says, mock-enthusiasm dripping from her voice. “You know, I guess it’s true what they say—women really can achieve anything nowadays! You’re an inspiration for us all.”

Hermione feels a fresh wave of irritation flow through her at Pansy’s mocking words. “That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”

“Isn’t it, though?”

“But that doesn’t matter to you, does it?” Hermione asks, ignoring Pansy’s interjection. “All you do, all you’ve ever done is take my words and twist them around and try and make me feel bad. And you think you know me well enough to do it successfully, but you know what? You don’t. You don’t know the first thing about me,” she says.

Pansy stares at her for a moment, then tilts her head up at the ceiling and grins broadly.

“What?” Hermione asks, eyeing Pansy suspiciously. She had expected sharp words, or a cruel insult in return. Not whatever Pansy was doing right now.

Pansy snorts and shakes her head. “Oh, nothing. Nothing at all,” she says. “I suppose you’re right, Granger,” she adds, her smile slowly fading as she looks back at Hermione. “I don’t know you.”

“No. You don’t. So I’d appreciate it if you kept your comments to yourself,” Hermione says.

Pansy shrugs. “Fine. And you know what? To show you I can be the bigger person, how’s this—I sincerely hope you and Weasley will be incredibly happy in your run-down treehouse, or whatever it is he lives in, filled with your seventeen ginger children he’ll expect you to care for.”

“He’s not like that,” Hermione says hotly. “You don’t know him, either! And anyway, why do you care? So I decide to date Ron. So what? It’s just more fodder for you to use against me, isn’t it?” she asks.

Pansy’s expression darkens and she opens her mouth, but before she can reply, laughter floods into the corridor from the stairway as a group of students pass by on their way back from dinner. The sound pierces through whatever strange bubble Hermione and Pansy had found themselves in. Pansy glances briefly toward the staircase, then back to Hermione, regarding her with something that looks almost like sadness. But the emotion is only there for the briefest of moments. It flickers away before Hermione can be sure of what she’s seen, and Pansy straightens her back and raises her chin. “You’re right again, Granger. I don’t care what you do. And frankly, I’ve wasted too much time listening to your absurd and appalling life plans,” she says, then she starts off toward the stairway without another word.

Hermione watches her go with a small, puzzled frown. Because somehow, bizarrely enough, their back and forth had been almost…mild. Yes, Pansy had mocked her, but it hadn’t been their worst interaction. Not by a long shot. When things had started to get heated, Hermione had braced herself for barbed remarks and the same, familiar flood of all-consuming anger she gets anytime she’s around Pansy for too long. Frankly, she wouldn’t have been surprised had their conversation ended in one or both of them hastily reaching for their wands and dueling in the middle of the hallway. But thanks to Pansy’s off-month, it had ended more or less…okay. Uneventfully, at least.

Hermione shakes her head with wonder. She doesn’t know what’s happening, but she’s convinced that Pansy should break up with her boyfriends more often, if this is the end result.

***

As Hermione sneaks into her room post-patrols, she’s met with a blissful, beautiful quiet (save for Lavender’s quiet snoring). Even though it’s only eleven, the lights are all out and everyone is asleep. Hermione’s glad for it—she didn’t fancy explaining her night to anyone just yet.

After her conversation on the third floor with Pansy, patrols had been quiet, as they normally were. She had dealt with all the usual things—students loitering after hours, couples hiding in dark corners to better enjoy each other’s company, Peeves trying to drop a cauldron full of spiders on an unsuspecting Mr. Filch. Nothing had been out of the ordinary, until the very end of her patrols.

She’s still not sure what to make of it as she drops her bag and sits down heavily on her bed, still fully dressed.

Crookshanks opens his eyes at the movement, blinks at her, then goes back to sleep, but Hermione continues to watch him, soothed by his rhythmic inhalations. After a few moments, she tears her eyes away and tilts her head back, replaying the events of the night for what’s probably the fifteenth time.

The scene slowly materialize in her mind.

She had spotted two Slytherin fourth-years on the Grand Staircase.

“It’s after hours. Back to your dorm,” Hermione said, adopting the lofty tone she only used while on patrols. It had always been surprisingly effective, and most students respect the command without complaint, though a few will trudge back to their common rooms with a surly remark or two tossed over their shoulders.

The Slytherin boys didn’t move. They exchanged a look, then the taller one slowly looked Hermione up and down, his gaze lingering uncomfortably on her chest.“Or what?” he said, smirking as she hastily crossed her arms over herself. His eyes finally moved up and came to rest on her face, and he arched a taunting eyebrow.

Hermione’s defenses immediately flew up, both at the blatant lack of respect, and the disgustingly unsubtle attempt to objectify her. She straightened her shoulders and looked the boy in the eye, trying to pretend she wasn’t incredibly unnerved.“Or I’ll report you to Snape and he’ll be more than happy to give you both a week’s worth of detention. I’m sure the boy’s bathroom needs a good scrubbing,” she added, pleased that her voice hadn’t betrayed her—she still sounded commanding.

The other boy hummed and regarded her with amusement.“Snape isn’t in the habit of giving detention to his own students, is he, Malcolm?”

The taller boy, Malcolm Baddock, smirked. “He’s not. And moreso, I don’t think he’d like a Mudblood talking to us like this, do you, Graham?”

Hermione clenched her jaw at the slur. “Ten points from Slytherin,” she said, keeping her tone even. “And if you don’t leave now, I’m happy to take an additional twenty from both of you.”

“Awfully high and mighty for a Mudblood, aren’t you?” Malcolm said, his eyes narrowed.

“Twenty points,” Hermione said, forcing herself to remain calm, even though she could feel the slightest twinge of panic rising within her. She was almost entirely confident she could handle both of the boys if things got ugly, but if they decided to physically overpower her before she could reach for her wand, well…

Malcolm took a step forward and Hermione felt her heartbeat quicken, but she stood her ground. “I’d be very careful if I were you, Mudblood,” he murmured. He was close enough now that Hermione could see an old, silvery scar, just above his lip, and pure hatred shining in his cold, blue eyes.

“Thirty,” Hermione said, as calmly as she could manage. “And if you don’t back away from me voluntarily, I’ll be more than happy to make you move,” she added, slipping a hand into her pocket and grasping her wand. While the Head Girl rules stated that wasn’t allowed to use magic to discipline students, they also said she could use magic if she ever found herself in an uncomfortable situation. She was sure this qualified.

Malcolm’s eyes flicked down to her hand and he scoffed, but he took a step backward. “Come now, we’re just having a pleasant conversation. There’s no need to get upset,” he said lightly.

“I’ll ask you one more time to go back to your room. If you continue to push back, I’ll have no choice but to alert Dumbledore,” Hermione said, her grip tightening around her wand.

Malcolm stared at her for a long time, sizing her up and determining whether or not she was worth the fight. Finally, he shrugged. “Fine. We’ll go. Probably best not make her take any more points,” he added to his friend. “I doubt she can add that high.” He turned back to Hermione and let his gaze linger on her once more, a slow, lewd grin spreading on his face as he took her in. “It’s been a pleasure, though.” He put his hands in his pockets and started backing away. "Good night, Mudblood.”

“Forty points,” Hermione said, watching closely as they both turned and walked down the stairs, heading toward the dungeon.

She stayed where she was, waiting to see if they’d double back to try anything. As she waited, she could feel her anxiety increase. The unnatural silence of the castle pressed in on her and exaggerating both her ragged breathing and her heartbeat, pounding in her ears. Adrenaline coursed through her veins making her feel wild, and the dark hallway stretching eerily in front of her made fear drip down her spine, cold and persistent. A sudden sound from above made her jump and whirl around. She whipped her wand out of her pocket, gripping it so tightly she was concerned it might splinter, and held it in front of her, waiting. All she had wanted was a quiet, uneventful patrol, followed by a peaceful night with Crookshanks by her feet and her parchment in her lap. But now, she found herself running through an exhaustive list of protective spells as she uneasily anticipating an attack.

She waited for a few long minutes, staring into the unsettling darkness before her and listening for any sign of life. Finally, after what felt like ages, she exhaled slowly. It seemed the boys weren’t going to try anything. She relaxed her grip on her wand and slipped it back into her pocket. Then, she turned around and started back up the staircase to do a final sweep before heading to bed.

She only managed four steps before she heard the curse, shouted from behind her.

“Crucio!”

There was no time to turn, no time to reach into her pocket once more for her wand. All Hermione could do was wait for the curse to hit her and hope that her screams of agony would quickly draw someone’s attention.

But the curse never hit.

After what felt like a small eternity, Hermione relaxed her shoulders. Her heart was still pounding in her chest, but she shakily managed to turn around to see what had happened.

Her eyes widened at what she found.

Rippling before her was a massive Shield Charm, with the angry, crackling red light of the Crucio trapped momentarily in its web. And behind the charm, wand still outstretched and eyes blazing, was Pansy Parkinson.

Hermione stared at her in shock, but before she could say anything, Pansy rounded on the two boys.

“Do you have any idea what you…you could have…” she said, her eyes flickering toward Hermione momentarily. Fear and concern burned in her gaze, so powerfully that it almost took Hermione’s breath away. Pansy quickly dropped her gaze and looked back to the boys. “One hundred points from Slytherin,” she said, her voice trembling with rage.

Their eyes grew wide, but before either could protest, Pansy hissed, “what the fuck is wrong with you?”

“What the fuck is wrong with you? You can’t take one hundred points from us,” Malcolm said, staring at Pansy with betrayal. “It’ll sink us! You’re our prefect!”

“I am. And as your prefect, I’m being fucking generous,” Pansy snarled. “But trust me, I’m happy to make it one hundred each.”

Malcolm glared at her. “What, for reminding a Mudblood of her place?”

“Tread lightly, Baddock,” Pansy muttered, her voice low.

“Tread lightly?” Malcolm repeated with a scoff. “Never pegged you for a blood traitor, Parkinson. You have a problem with saying ‘Mudblood’?”

“I have a problem with a student using the Cruciatus Curse on a Head Girl. Do you have any idea what that spell does?” Pansy asked. Hermione had never heard her sound quite so furious before, and she found herself unable to look away from Pansy’s blinding rage.“Do you?” Pansy repeated, her eyes burning

Malcolm shrugged. “Yeah. Well, kind of,” he added, scratching his ear uncomfortably.

“Kind of,” Pansy echoed. “Well, then. Allow me to refresh your memory. The pain it causes is excruciating. People have tried to describe it, but no one can really get close. Because what words are there to describe the feeling of your cells, mutating and transforming from within?” she asked, her face taut with rage. “To describe the unbearable, searing agony of your skin rupturing and your bones shattering inside of you? It’s been compared to white-hot knives piercing through every inch of your body, but that’s not quite right,” Pansy says. “Quite frankly, knives would be preferable. But it’s not just physical pain,” she adds darkly. “Oh, no. It’s the mental side that does you in. You might stay lucid for a few rounds, but eventually, your mind starts to crack and splinter. And soon, you won’t remember where you are, what you’ve done, or who you were. All you’ll be able to do is plead for death. That is, if you can somehow form words through the blood bubbling in your throat,” Pansy said, her eyes shining in the dimly lit hallway.

Hermione couldn’t tell if it was from rage or tears.

“I think I get the picture,” Malcolm said quietly, staring at the floor.

“Oh, I don’t think you do,” Pansy whispered. “But I’d be more than happy to show you,” she added, twirling her wand dangerously.

Malcolm watched the movement with a frown. “You can’t do that,” he said, uncertainly.

“Nor could you, but you didn’t let that stop you.”

“Had I known you’d leap to the Mudblood’s defense, I wouldn’t have,” Malcolm muttered darkly.

“Language, Baddock. That’s another fifty points,” Pansy said.

“Are you serious? I’ve heard you use that word! And I’m in your bloody house, for fuck’s sake! This is ridiculous. Draco would never dock us points,” Malcolm said furiously, glaring at Pansy. “Besides, it’s not like I cast the Killing Curse on her. And had the spell even hit, it wouldn’t have done any real damage! I’m a fucking fourth-year, I can’t cast a proper Cruciatus Curse!”

“I don’t give a fuck what year you are and I don’t give a fuck what Draco would or wouldn’t do,” Pansy spat, her eyes blazing once more. “Draco’s not here. I am. But don’t waste your time pleading your case to me. Save your breath for Dumbledore. In case you were unaware, using an Unforgivable Curse on a student is grounds for expulsion.”

Both boys grew pale. “He can’t expel us,” Graham said uncertainly, glancing at Malcolm for reassurance. “It’s…we were just trying to knock her down a peg or two, not actually hurt her.” He looked back to Pansy. “He can’t expel us for that…can he?”

“Oh, he most certainly can. Honestly, what did you think would happen? You’d cast an Unforgivable Curse on the Head Girl and there would be no repercussions?”

“I…”

“The penalty for an adult using that curse is a life sentence in Azkaban. I’d say you’re getting off easy with an expulsion.”

“But…”

“And if Dumbledore needs an eyewitness account, I’m more than happy to provide one,” Pansy added, her eyes hard.

“Are you fucking kidding me? What kind of a Slytherin are you?” Malcolm asked hotly, his fist clenched at his side.

“A better one than you could ever hope to be. Attacking someone when their back is turned is cowardly and pathetic,” Pansy said, taking a step forward. “Attacking a Head Girl is foolish,” she said, continuing her advance as Malcolm hastily backed up directly into the railing. “And attacking Granger of all people is ignorant—she could flatten both of you in your sleep,” Pansy said, now so close to Malcolm that there was hardly an inch of space between them.

Malcolm snorted, but he eyed Pansy uneasily. “She couldn’t.”

“She could.” Pansy took a step back and Malcolm visibly exhaled. “And I have half a mind to give her the chance to,” she continued, “so I’d suggest you both go back to the dungeons immediately and wait in the common room for Snape and Dumbledore. But before you do, one more thing,” she said, lowering her voice so much that Hermione had to strain to hear her. “If by some bloody miracle you’re not expelled, and if I ever catch either of you out after hours again, I’ll go to great lengths to make sure you don’t have the opportunity to do anything like this again.”

Malcolm stuck out his thin chest in what seemed to be a pathetic display of intimidation. “Please. You can’t threaten us. You’re a prefect. And anyway, once I tell my father about this—”

“Oscausi.”

The end of his sentence was abruptly cut off. With a simple flick of Pansy’s wrist, Malcolm’s mouth had vanished, leaving only smooth skin behind.

Hermione’s eyes widened, almost as much as Graham’s did as he regarded Malcolm with horror. She recognized the spell as a particularly tricky dark charm, and a little voice inside her head dutifully reminded her that prefects weren’t to use spells on students, and they especially weren’t allowed to use dark magic.

But a much louder voice reminded her that at this very moment, she couldn’t possibly care less about the git who had tried to torture her.

Pansy took another step closer to Malcolm, who was clearly trying to scream. At her movement, his eyes widened with terror and he grew deathly still. “I’d suggest you never threaten me again,” Pansy murmured, her voice dark and silky. “I’ve always thought you were a simpleton and a disgrace to our house, but you’ve certainly gone out of your way to prove it tonight. So let me be clear—I have powerful friends, Baddock. More powerful than yours.” She paused and tilted her head thoughtfully. “Your father’s name is Alistair, correct? Alistair Baddock?”

Malcolm’s face paled. His breath was coming out in fast, uneven puffs, but he still managed to jerk his head in a nod.

“He works under my father. Small world, isn’t it?” Pansy said, almost lightly. “And I’m sure my father would be more than happy to show him what happens when someone threatens his daughter. What was it you said earlier? You didn’t use the Killing Curse? Well, let me assure you, Baddock—my father can make no such claims. So if you ever decide to exact revenge, whether on me, Granger, or anyone else…well. Let’s just say you’re not the only one who can threaten to contact their father. Do I make myself clear?”

Malcolm and Graham both nodded quickly.

“Good,” Pansy murmured. “Now, then!” she said, raising her voice and sounding cheerful. “I believe you’ve both overstayed your welcome. Run along. I’ll see you both in the common room shortly.”

Graham looked between Malcolm and Pansy uncertainly. “Pans…uh, Miss…Parkinson? Are you…are you going to…”

“Reverse the spell? You know, I would, but it seems I’ve forgotten the incantation! Shame, that,” Pansy said, studying her fingernails idly.

At that, Hermione, who up until that point had been silenced by shock, finally managed to find her voice. Because as much as she didn’t mind seeing a particularly noxious student given his comeuppance, she found herself curiously concerned that Pansy might get in trouble for casting the curse in the first place. And for some mad reason, she didn’t want Pansy to get into trouble. At least, not for this.

“Pansy…” Hermione pleaded, completely unaware that for the first time ever, she had used her first name, rather than her surname.

Pansy stiffened at the sound of her name falling from Hermione’s lips. She looked up toward where Hermione was standing, still rooted to the spot, and studied her face for a moment. Then, she shrugged. “Fine. But it would do you both well to notice which one of us is taking pity on you,” she said to the boys. She carelessly waved her wand and with a small pop, Malcolm’s mouth returned. He frantically reached for his lips, desperately gasping for breath as he did.

“My, my. Dramatic, aren’t we?” Pansy almost sounded bored as she resumed studying her fingernails.

“You’re…you’re fucking…insane,” Malcolm gasped, staring at Pansy with wide, terrified eyes.

Pansy glanced up with a dangerous smile and flicked an eyebrow up. “And you’d be wise to remember that. Now. Do as I say and run along,” she said, waving her hand at them dismissively.

Without hesitation, both boys turned and ran down the stairs. Pansy watched them go, her back to Hermione, who was studying her closely. Even though her tone to the boys had been light, Hermione could tell she was still on edge—her posture was rigid and she was still holding tightly to her wand. Somehow, she seemed almost as upset about the whole debacle as Hermione herself was. It was as if she too had almost been tortured.

“Pansy?”

Pansy exhaled sharply, turned, and looked up at Hermione, who had finally found her voice again and was staring at Pansy like she was seeing her for the first time.

“Are you…are you alright?” Hermione managed.

Pansy’s eyes widened. “Am I alright?” she echoed incredulously, shaking her head in disbelief.

“I just…you look upset.”

Pansy shook her head again. “Don’t worry about me, Granger. I’m fine. But are you…” Pansy gazed at Hermione for a long, silent moment, scrutinizing every inch of her like she was searching for signs of injury. Finally, Pansy shifted her worried eyes back to Hermione’s and said, “are you hurt?” The question was uncertain, as if she was concerned she might be overstepping her bounds by asking.

“No. No, I’m just…shaken. Perhaps in a bit of shock, too,” Hermione replied, quickly sorting through her emotions. Perhaps the full scope of what had happened tonight would hit her later, but as of right now, she just felt a bit numb. She looked back to Pansy, who was still eyeing her closely. “But I would have been hurt. If not for you,” she added. “I…” she trailed off and studied Pansy like she was trying to solve a puzzle. “Thank you,” she finally murmured, lowering her eyes.

Pansy nodded. “Of course.”

“Why were you here?” Hermione asked, glancing back up, her brow slightly furrowed. “I thought you’d be back in the dungeons by now.”

“I would have been. But I heard voices on my way back. Caught the tail end of your conversation with Baddock and Montague and figured I’d stay, on the off chance you needed backup. So I watched and waited,” Pansy said with a small shrug. “After they left you, they hid behind a statue and waited until your back was turned.”

Hermione’s eyes widened. “So…you knew it was me?” she asked.

Pansy nodded.

“And you still cast a Shield Charm,” Hermione murmured, too quietly for Pansy to hear. She tilted her head and studied Pansy. “What I don’t understand is…” She trailed off, trying to find the right way to ask her question without sounding offensive. But before she could figure it out, Pansy interrupted.

“Why was I so hard on students from my own house?” she asked, arching one of her perfectly groomed eyebrows.

Hermione hesitated, then slowly nodded. “They weren’t wrong, you know. Draco wouldn’t have done any of the things you just did. Taking house points, going to Dumbledore…to be honest, I’m not so sure he would have even bothered to cast a Shield Charm,” she added, noticing how Pansy shifted uncomfortably. “So…why did you?”

“I’d never let anyone be attacked on my watch,” Pansy said, her voice firm and her head tilted up, revealing the set, sharp angle of her jaw. “Especially not with that curse.”

“No, I…I believe you,” Hermione said, somewhat stunned to find that she actually did. “I just…after you stopped the spell. You could have taken ten points and sent them on their way. You could have vouched for them, or at the very least, not offered your eyewitness account,” she said, remembering Pansy’s harshly whispered promise to the boys. “And to be honest, I’ve never seen you so furious. Which believe me, I’ve seen you furious,” Hermione added, almost wryly. “I just don’t understand why you would—”

“I’m a prefect,” Pansy said quickly, her eyes guarded in the dim light. “And I would have done the same to any student, regardless of their house. I take my duties seriously and I follow the same rules you do.” Pansy paused, then said, “well, maybe not the same. I might let a Slytherin off with a warning if they released a Dungbomb, whereas I’m sure you’d confiscate it and endlessly moralize,” she said with a small smirk. “But attacking a student is a different story,” she added, the smile vanishing as quickly as it appeared. “And I don’t coddle or reward cowards, even if we both happen to wear green.”

Hermione nodded at the straightforward explanation, then frowned. “I don’t moralize,” she said, sounding upset at the accusation.

Pansy stared at her for a moment before snorting, and Hermione eyed her suspiciously. “I’m sorry, it’s just…that’s what you choose to focus on right now? You were almost hit with an Unforgivable Curse, I single-handedly decimated Slytherin’s chances at winning the House Cup, you heard me actively threaten a student’s life, and you decide to focus on the fact I think you moralize?” Pansy asked, wonder in her tone.

“I’m choosing to ignore the threat against a student’s life,” Hermione said, raising an eyebrow and fighting off a small smile.

It wasn’t lost on her that she was having yet another normal conversation with Pansy Parkinson. But after everything that just happened, it was the least of her concerns. Perhaps it was the after effects of saving someone from torture, but Hermione couldn’t help but feel as though something had subtly shifted between them. Gone was the voice in Hermione’s head, whispering that Pansy might be setting her up. Gone was the concern that their conversation might turn into a massive row in the middle of the dark castle. Gone was the constant, simmering revulsion in her gut that had been solely reserved for Pansy for years now. Gone was Pansy’s acrid tone and cruel words and cold eyes.

Instead, Pansy was still gazing at her with something that looked shockingly close to concern. Her tone was lighter and kinder, and she seemed almost cautious, like she too had felt the shift and was worried about shattering this new, delicate space they found themselves mingling in together.

Before Hermione could read too much into it though, another question occurred to her. “Where did you learn that spell?” she asked, interest coloring her voice.

“What, Oscausi?” Pansy asked. Hermione nodded, and Pansy shrugged. “An old family favorite,” she said, running a delicate finger absently along the staircase railing. “My father would use it on me anytime I talked back. Apparently it’s just as frightening to a fourth-year as it was to a five-year-old,” Pansy said with a chuckle, not noticing Hermione’s horrified gaze.

“Five?” Hermione managed to whisper, aghast.

Pansy’s finger stalled as she looked back toward Hermione. “I…yes? It wasn’t that bad,” she added quickly. “I mean, it wasn’t pleasant, but…it could always be worse.”

“Oh,” Hermione said weakly, staring at Pansy and dimly remembering her words from a week ago. She had said something about how it was easier to fall in line if it meant being spared from horrid things. Things she wouldn’t wish on anybody. It had been easy for Hermione to write off her comment at the time as a weak excuse for narrow mindedness and bigotry, but now, after hearing Pansy’s painfully accurate description of the Cruciatus Curse…

Hermione was starting to get a clearer picture of Pansy’s home life and the people who had shaped her. And while she still didn’t think it excused all the horrid things Pansy herself had done, as the pieces fell into place, she found herself more inclined to be sympathetic. Perhaps she herself would be different had she been raised by monsters, whispering poison in her ear and resorting to physical violence to make a point. Perhaps had she been raised by a man stained by the Dark Mark, she too would have believed in pureblood supremacy rather than go against his whims.

Perhaps it was a small miracle Pansy wasn’t worse than she was.

A question danced on her lips, but she was afraid to vocalize it. Pansy must have noticed though, because she eyed Hermione closely.

“Something you’d like to ask, Granger?”

Hermione blushed. “No, I…I just…” she trailed off and absently picked at her robes. Finally, she looked up again. “The Cruciatus Curse,” she said, noticing as Pansy stiffened. “The way you explained it. I…did…did your father ever…”

Pansy glared darkly at the floor, and Hermione knew she had overstepped her bounds.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—”

“Yes.”

The rest of the apology died on Hermione’s tongue as she gazed at Pansy with horror. Pansy’s entire body looked tense and miserable, but before Hermione could say anything, she kept talking.

“Not on me. He’s come dangerously close, a few times, but I’ve made an art form of staying out of his way and under his radar. But on other people. My mum, once or twice. My grandfather. And other…other relatives,” Pansy said, her voice momentarily cracking. “I used to think they deserved it, you know,” Pansy murmured, almost as if she was speaking to herself. “That if my father was using that spell, they must have done something wrong. I…” Pansy trailed off and stared unseeingly at the ground, lost in her thoughts.

“Pansy…” Hermione murmured, taking a few hesitant steps down the staircase. She wasn’t sure what her end result was—to console her? To snap her out of her thoughts with some sort of comforting touch? Whatever it was, all she knew was the girl before her had certainly witnessed enough people she loved suffering at the hands of someone she was supposed to be able to trust, and it made something in Hermione break.

Before she could get any closer though, Pansy looked up swiftly, freezing Hermione in place. She managed a tight smile. “It’s fine. I’m fine. I’m…” she trailed off, then shook her head quickly. “But speaking of using that spell, I should find Snape. You’re welcome to come with me, but I assume you’d rather not relive the entire affair? I’m sure he’d be happy to speak to you tomorrow, if you’d prefer.”

Hermione was surprised by Pansy’s offer, but still managed a small nod. “I…yes. I’d appreciate that,” she said.

“Right. Then I’ll just…” Pansy jerked her head back toward the dungeons. She glanced at Hermione and seemed to hesitate for a moment, before finally saying, “you’ll be okay? To get back to your common room, I mean? I can…”

Hermione shook her head, even more surprised by Pansy’s newest offer. “No, I’ll…I’ll be fine, I…go and deal with them,” she said.

“Okay. Okay. I will. I…” Pansy trailed off. She bit her lower lip like she was thinking about something, and after a few moments, something in her eyes set. She looked back at Hermione and in a painfully stiff, proper tone said, “good night, Granger.”

“…Good night, Parkinson,” Hermione replied slowly. The words had felt foreign in her mouth, as she had never expected to direct such a benign, pleasant phrase toward Pansy Parkinson, of all people.

Pansy blinked at her a few times, as if the exchange had momentarily stunned her. The dim lighting made it almost impossible to be sure, but Hermione could have sworn there was a faint flush on her pale cheeks. Before she could look closer though, Pansy nodded, turned, and started off toward the dungeon.

Just before she disappeared completely into the shadows, Hermione called out after her.“Pansy?”

Pansy turned quickly and looked back at Hermione curiously.

“Thank you again,” Hermione said quietly.

“Oh. Of course. Good night, Granger. …Again,” she said, shaking her head slightly as she repeated herself, as if she was annoyed at her own redundancy. Then, she turned and disappeared into the darkness.

“Good night, Pansy,” Hermione murmured, gazing after her.

Crookshanks stretched out on her bed, bringing Hermione back to the present. She runs a hand through her hair, tugging at her loose, wavy curls and trying to make heads or tails of her latest encounter with Pansy. There was no doubt that Hermione felt sympathy for her now—how could she not after the things she had heard tonight? And it was certainly starting to seem like Pansy’s off-month was something more than a fluke. Hermione sighs, closing her eyes and thinking back over that strange, tentative peace that had sprung up between them. She finds herself faced with an interesting question—if Pansy was actually trying to be a better person, was Hermione really open to the possibility of actually…forgiving her?

She sighs once more and shakes her head. It’s all too much to think about right now, and while the events of the night had certainly made her forget about her exhaustion, she still doesn’t have the mental wherewithal to ponder forgiving the person she’s spent seven years hating.

Even if it is the same person who had just saved her from an Unforgivable Curse.

Hermione opens her eyes again and involuntarily shivers as she thinks about what would have happened had Pansy not intervened. Would the boys had left her alone after the first curse hit? Or would they have stood over her and tortured her for hours with sadistic glee glittering in their eyes? And would they have stopped at just physical torture? Hermione grows cold as she remembers Malcolm, lewdly staring at her chest.

Is there a chance something else might have happened had Pansy not saved her?

A swirl of panic fills Hermione as she considers the possibility. She takes a few deep breaths to try and settle herself, but the panic remains, stealthily weaving its spindly tendrils throughout her body. Briefly, she wonders if she could steal one of the Calming Draughts Lavender secretly keeps in her bedside table without being caught. She needs something to distract her from the anxiety that’s slowly starting to grip every part of her.

She needs a distraction…she needs…she needs…

She needs her parchment pal.

Hastily, she leans over and reaches into her bag with trembling hands. Once she finds the familiar page, she pulls it out and turns on the gas lamp beside her, adjusting it so it’s bright enough to read by, but dim enough to not disturb any of her dorm mates. She grabs a quill and runs the tip of it over her lips as she thinks about what she wants to say.

She’s not worried about holding back—things have been good between the two of them. They had a few days of awkward notes back and forth, and once or twice, Hermione would forget herself and reply to something innocent with something a little too flirty to fall under the umbrella of friendship. But apart from those mishaps, they’ve fallen back into their natural rhythm as if nothing ever happened. Things are as they ought to be, and she couldn’t be more thrilled to have her dear friend still in her life.

And okay, perhaps Hermione misses the flirtatious messages from her parchment pal every once in a while. But that’s to be expected. She’s still adjusting, after all.

And fine, perhaps she still finds herself thinking of this person, day and night.

And yes, maybe she’s still a little bit in love, but it’ll go away as soon as she goes on her date with Ron. She’s sure of it.

Hermione places her quill on the parchment and decides to make sure her parchment pal is even available.

Are you awake?

She taps the words with her wand, then sits back and waits. It’s a bit later than usual, so she wouldn’t be surprised if her pal has already fallen aslee—

Yes. I was hoping to hear from you tonight. I meant to message you earlier, but I’m afraid I was unexpectedly sidetracked.

Hermione exhales slowly at the message, already feeling some of her anxiety ebbing away.

I’ll forgive you, just this once. I hope you were sidetracked by something enjoyable, at least?

She sends the message, then closes her eyes and rubs at them while she waits for a reply. When she finally opens her eyes a few moments later, there’s a new silver message waiting for her.

Nothing worth writing about, I’m afraid. And you, Robin? Did you have a busy night? I’d assume so, as this is later than I usually hear from you.

Hermione taps her fingers against her thigh as she considers the question. Normally, she’d say something innocuous, like how she’d been studying and lost track of the time. Any white lie was good enough if it meant keeping her parchment a safe space. Because somehow, even after all this time, it still acts as her oasis. It’s a place for her to forget about the troubles of the day and envelope herself in the comforting warmth of her dear friend. No drama, no strife, no heartache. Just her and her parchment pal, lost in a soft wonderland together. But after tonight, she’s reconsidering her stance. Because although her anxiety has lessened, it’s still there, zipping under her skin like streak lightning, begging to be released. And she has a sneaking suspicion talking about its cause might help.

She chews on her lower lip as she debates the pros and cons of revealing some of the details of her night.

Pro: It would help her process and hopefully, help to alleviate her anxiety.
Con: She’d be breaking her one and only rule.
Pro: Her parchment pal would most assuredly know the right things to say and would help her calm down.
Con: She’s not sure if she has the energy to retell the entire tale.
Pro: It would be nice to have an outside and unbiased perspective on Pansy. Should she decide to bring that up, of course.
Con:

Hermione frowns. She can’t think of another con. Which means for the first time ever, she’s about to shatter her oasis and tell her parchment pal about her night. Or at least, as much of it as the parchment censors will allow.

She places her quill on the page, takes a deep breath, and begins to write.

It is. To tell you the truth, I’ve had an awful night. Not to get into too much detail, but…let’s just say I was out late and I ended up having a…a nasty encounter with two boys, to put it mildly. They tried to attack me, to put it less mildly. Normally, I wouldn’t tell you about things like this. I don’t know if you feel the same, but I like to treat this parchment as kind of a safe space. A place away from all my normal concerns and bothers. But I suppose I’m still a bit shaken up about what happened tonight, and I’m hoping talking about it might help settle my nerves.

Quickly, she skims what she’s written. It’s vague enough, but there’s still a chance that her pal might catch onto the fact that she’s a prefect or Head Girl. Though she also might assume Hermione was out late, breaking the rules herself. Hopefully she hasn’t given too much away.

She taps the message with her wand and is leaning forward to pet Crookshanks, when she’s distracted by a flash of silver.

Are you alright?

Hermione picks up her quill again, but before she can write, a steady stream of messages floods her parchment.

I’m so sorry, Robin.

Are you hurt?

Who were they?

What can I do?

Anything. Name it.

I wish I could be there with you right now.

Hermione smiles a bit at the rapid-fire pace of the messages. She feels a rush of fondness and something that feels suspiciously like longing wash over her at the last line, and she places her quill on the paper.

I’m not hurt, and much as I wish I could tell you their names, something tells me the parchment might frown on that. Rest assured, they’re being dealt with. I’m okay. Really, I am, I just needed to put it on paper, I think. It feels better to write it down, rather than let it simmer.

But I wish you were here, too.

As she sends the message, the longing in her chest grows stronger and morphs into a dull ache. Hermione bites her lower lip at the sensation. She supposes there’s no use denying that she does want her parchment pal here. More than anyone, if she’s being honest. More than Harry, more than Ginny, more than Ron. She wants this person here, by her side, holding her close and telling her everything will be okay.

A slow flush stains her cheeks as she realizes what she’s just thought. Does she want her dear friend…to hold her? She drums her fingers restlessly against her thigh again, but before she can start the now-familiar spiral over her own traitorous thoughts, a new message appears.

I’m sure their punishment will be adequate, but even so, I’ll personally see to it that those boys never have a moment’s peace. Even if I have to target every boy in this school to make sure I exact vengeance on the right ones. It’ll be worth it. But if it helps you to write about it, then tell me everything. I won’t close my eyes at all tonight, if that’s what you need. I won’t close my eyes all week.

The longing spikes once more in Hermione’s chest, but she quickly tries to temper it. Her parchment pal is just expressing friendly concern, nothing more. Hermione herself would be just as furious if someone tried to hurt Harry, so she shouldn’t be reading anything into this.

Not that she even wants there to be anything to read into it, it’s just…

Hermione sighs exasperatedly at her own circular thoughts, thrusting a hand through her hair. To distract herself, she picks up her quill and starts writing quickly.

I certainly won’t ask that from you, nor will I ask you to terrorize the two boys. You’re right—their punishment will be adequate. So much so that I sincerely doubt I’ll ever have to see them again.

But if I’m being honest…I was scared. And it’s not often that I’ve felt genuine fear. At the risk of sounding horribly cocky, I tend to pride myself on my ability to be prepared for every circumstance, but this time…I wasn’t prepared. Anything could have happened because I turned my back at the wrong time. And it was my fault. I should have known better. I should have known to keep my guard up, I should have been proactive. I suppose the whole thing just makes me feel stupid and weak, which is something I haven’t felt in a long time. But these two boys managed it. And they would have managed worse, had it not been for someone else saving me. Which I’m obviously grateful to her for showing up when she did, but I just…I don’t like feeling indebted, or like I can’t fight my own fights. And I really don’t like this feeling. This weak, frightened, helplessness.

Hermione picks up her wand and sends it without rereading. It’s probably a complete mess, but she doesn’t want to try and methodically sort through her feelings right now. She just wants to get whatever emotions are swirling inside of her out on the page.

While she waits for a reply, she decides to go about her nightly routine, starting with brushing her teeth in the bathroom. She takes care to make as little noise as possible, sneaking through the dorm like a Muggle spy. Once she’s in the bathroom, she looks at herself in the mirror and is briefly surprised by her own reflection—she looks pale and worn down. Her eyes are a bit dull, and the shadows under them seem more pronounced in the dim light of the bathroom. She gazes at herself for a moment, then with a sigh, she turns from the mirror to begin her bathroom tasks. Hopefully tomorrow, she won’t look like a zombie.

Once she’s done in the bathroom, she creeps back toward her bed. Quickly, she loosens her tie and tugs it off over her head, then she pulls off her jumper. The cool night air of the dorm hits her bare skin, and she hastily takes off the rest of her clothing. Once she’s stripped down, she kicks the pile away and reaches for her favorite nightgown, tugging the soft, worn fabric over her head. Then, she casts a quick warming charm at her bed before quickly climbing back into it and releasing a content sigh at the feeling of toasty sheets against her bare legs. Once she’s settled, she reaches for her parchment to read the new message waiting for her.

I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine. Your feelings are more than valid, but if you’ll allow me, perhaps I can help set your mind at ease.

From what I can tell, it seems as though these boys tried to take advantage of your back being turned. And I’m certainly not an expert in dueling, but that doesn’t seem like a fair fight. If they knew their best shot at getting the upper hand was to strike when you weren’t expecting it, that implies that they knew you were the stronger party. Hardly the behavior of two people who think their target is weak.

But no matter what, it most certainly was not your fault. The fault lies with the two boys who thought they could attack you on school grounds. You did absolutely nothing wrong, and as tempting as it is to shift the blame onto yourself and think through what you could have done differently, please try and fight that urge. This wasn’t your fault. You couldn’t have expected this, no more than any of the greatest Aurors of our time could expect a surprise attack. They’re surprises for a reason.

And as for feeling stupid? I hardly want to dignify that with a response, but if I must… Robin. You’re the smartest witch I’ve ever met. And if your magical abilities are anything like your writing acuity, I’d imagine you’re one of the best witches in all of Hogwarts. The only witch who might be smarter is Professor McGonagall, but I bet even that’s debatable.

These boys were halfwit cowards. Nothing more. I’m glad someone was able to come to your aid tonight, but had it been a fair fight, I’m sure you wouldn’t have needed her help. You are absolutely brilliant, Robin. You shouldn’t spare a second thought for those foul boys.

Hermione releases a small sigh. As she had hoped, her parchment pal’s words were the balm she needed. Everything her pal had said soothed her, from her reassurances that Hermione wasn’t actually weak, to her surprisingly helpful comparison to Aurors and surprise attacks. Even her comment about the boys being halfwit cowards had made her smile, even if it had vaguely reminded her of Pansy.

She picks up her quill once more and scratches out a reply.

Thank you. Truly.

You were the only person I wanted to talk to tonight, because I knew you’d know what to say. You always do. I have a feeling I’ll be licking my wounds for a while longer, but I don’t feel anywhere near as helpless or anxious as I did when I initially sat down to write to you. Though I suppose even that was preferable to the numb shock I felt before. It’s strange—right now, there are a million things running through my head that I wish I had said to those boys. But at the time, I just stood there, feeling utterly useless. I let the person who saved me do all the talking. Though to be fair, she probably did a better job than I would have. She’s always possessed a remarkable talent for cruelty and insults. One I would almost find impressive, if she didn’t direct it at me quite so often. I have to admit, it made a nice change of pace seeing someone else on the receiving end of her remarks. And you might have actually agreed with her tonight—she also seemed fairly convinced that the boys were halfwit cowards. But aside from that, you couldn’t be more different.

With a tap, the message sinks into the parchment, shining in gold. It’s bizarre to actually be talking about her day-to-day life for once, but it seems to be helping. And to be frank, it’s been almost impossible for Hermione to avoid complaining about Pansy every day to her parchment pal. She’s already interested in what her dear friend will have to say about the other witch, and what her thoughts are on the newfound peace that’s somehow blossomed between them.

And as luck would have it, it doesn’t seem like she’ll have to wait long—there’s already a new message, shining beneath hers. Hermione raises her eyebrows, stunned by the turnaround. Her parchment pal has always been speedy with a quill, but this might be a new record.

I’m happy to have helped. And that always seems to be the way, doesn’t it? I’ve come up with some of my most withering comebacks and devastating insults thirty minutes after whatever event necessitated them in the first place. If only there was some potion we could brew that would help us say exactly what we needed to say, when we needed to say it.

Though it would seem you need a potion like that more than me…? I have to say, I didn’t expect to end up with so many new enemies tonight, but as it turns out, I automatically despise anyone who so much as dares to look at you in the wrong way. So regrettably, I’ll have to add this savior of yours to my list. I’m glad she used her dubious talents to help you tonight, but if she’s been cruel to you in the past, then I’ve no choice but to declare her a complete and utter cow.

Since you’re using the parchment to air your frustrations and grievances tonight, perhaps you’d like to talk about her? Only if you want to, of course. If you’d rather continue to use the parchment as a safe space away from the troubles of real life, I completely understand. But I’ve found through personal experience that telling you what’s weighing on me has been hugely beneficial in the long run. And whatever you’re struggling with, I’d like to try and help.

Hermione smiles at the offer, then tilts her head back and studies the thick velvet curtain above her. Does she want to talk about Pansy? She’s certainly been confused by her behavior the past week, and it’d be nice to get an outside perspective on what it could mean…but then again, she doesn’t want to force her parchment pal into playing the role of her therapist tonight.

Though that’s not entirely fair—she herself had encouraged her pal to open up, and when she had, Hermione hadn’t felt burdened at all. Quite the contrary; she had been honored that her dear friend trusted her, and she had genuinely wanted to help in any way she could. Mostly for respectable reasons, but certainly for some selfish ones, too—chief among them, her almost obsessive desire to collect every little fact she could about her pal. She has enough now to write a dissertation, and she still wants to learn more.

So if her parchment pal feels the same way about her, well…who is she to deny her the chance to obsessively collect facts?

But there’s no denying that the events of the day are starting to catch up with her again. A massive yawn escapes her, and she stretches her arms over her head, wincing at the slight pop in her shoulder. And when another yawn escapes her almost immediately after the first, she realizes that as much as she wants to bring up the entire saga with Pansy, she doesn’t have the energy to write out seven years worth of grievances.

But she does have a question she’d like to ask her dear friend. One that’s been skulking about in the back of her mind ever since she watched Pansy walk away tonight. So she gathers whatever energy she has left, picks up her quill, and begins to write.

Thank you for the offer. I’d like to tell you about her. Really, I would. But it would take quite some time to explain everything that’s ever happened between us, and I’d have to bore you with far too many specifics. Perhaps if it wasn’t the middle of the night, I might have the energy to put down in words the whole sordid story. But I can feel the exhaustion starting to seep into my bones, and I’m afraid I may have to succumb to the siren song of sleep soon.

But before I do, I have a question for you—what are your thoughts on forgiveness? It’s something I’ve been thinking about, and I’m having a hard time deciding where I land. I’ve always thought that I’d be willing to show forgiveness if I believed someone was showing genuine remorse and was making a real effort to turn over a new leaf. But I now find myself in a situation where forgiveness may be warranted, and I’m not sure if I can manage it.

I suppose a bit of backstory may be needed after all—the person in question, the “complete and utter cow,” as you deemed her, has made my life miserable for years. She’s berated me, belittled me, and insulted me. But over the past week, she’s been…different. There’s been a tentative sort of peace between us and she hasn’t been cruel. What’s more, she’s alluded to a few troubling things about her upbringing, which has led me to believe her behaviors and beliefs were a necessity for survival. There’s a part of me that thinks she may finally be fighting against some of the views she’s been indoctrinated into. And tonight, after the boys left, she seemed almost…concerned about me.

So knowing all of that…should I attempt to forgive her? I’ve told you before, I’m no saint. And there’s a part of me that wants to cling to my bitterness. To tell her that she’s years too late to be showing remorse. But there’s also a part of me that’s curious about why she’s acting differently. And most of all, there’s a part of me that believes it’s my duty to show forgiveness. That it’s the right thing to do.

I’m sorry, this was a longer question than I anticipated. If you need to think on it and reply tomorrow, please do. I know it’s late. But I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Hermione touches the tip of her wand to the parchment and sends the message, then leans back and closes her heavy eyes. After a moment, she opens them to see a single, silver lining on the parchment.

I’ll reply tonight, but please get some rest, Robin. After the night you’ve had, you’ve certainly earned it.

She bites her lip as she ponders whether or not she should stay awake to read her pal’s thoughts, or if she should submit to the fatigue slowly weighing down her body. Her pal is certainly quick with a quill, but it’s a heavy question and she has a feeling it’ll take more than a few minutes to get a reply. But at the same time, she feels like she did when she was a little girl, hiding under her covers with a book and a flashlight, pushing herself to stay awake just a bit longer to see what was going to happen next. She doesn’t want to fall asleep and miss the end of their conversation. She wants to know what happens next.

So while she does close her eyes, she doesn’t let herself sleep. Instead, she checks her parchment once every few minutes, waiting for the silver words to materialize. Each time she checks, it gets harder and harder to open her eyes, and she’s sure she’s going to fall asleep before there’s a reply. But on what’s probably her twentieth glance, her sleep-heavy eyes grow wide. Because there, shining on the page in front of her, is an extremely long, silvery reply.

The smallest bit of exhaustion seems to lift from her body at the sight, and somehow, Hermione finds the energy to sit up in bed and read the new message.

First, let me apologize—no one should have to put up with someone like that. I can only hope your assumptions are correct and she’s starting to see the error of her ways. But I stand by what I said earlier: she seems like a massive, miserable cow.

As to your question…

Forgiveness is…tricky. But before I divulge my thoughts on your situation, let me first say this—it is never your duty to show forgiveness. If you decide you don’t want to forgive this miserable cow, that’s absolutely understandable. People seem to think that an inability to forgive is an act of selfishness, but I vehemently disagree. I think you should only forgive someone if it’s in your best interests. Not because you feel it’s your duty. There’s an inherent strength in setting limits to what you will and won’t put up with, and you should never feel guilted into forgiveness just because someone chooses to blatantly disrespect those limits.

Never forgive out of obligation, Robin.

As for your situation with the cow, though…you’re right to be wary. It sounds like she’s hurt you deeply over the years. But as you know, I’ve faced my own struggles with family, so I might have a slightly better understanding of where she’s coming from. Because families can be surprisingly toxic. They can poison your mind and embed it with all sorts of slithering, venomous thoughts. And while I certainly don’t think this excuses her behavior, it does give you a window into why that behavior might exist in the first place. Especially if it’s all she was exposed to while growing up.

If she’s acting differently now, there’s a chance that something’s happened recently to shake her from her complacency and force her to examine her views. I believe you once said that we never know what another person is struggling with, and that may be the case here. We all carry our own burdens, and perhaps she chose some awful ways to deal with hers in the past. Ways that hurt you. Perhaps some foolish part of her decided that you were her enemy, and for some strange and stupid reason, she believed it because it was what she had been taught. But I’d like to hope that it’s never too late to make a change, so perhaps she’s finding new, less cow-like ways to cope with her struggles. And perhaps she realizes now that you were never the enemy.

And one last thing: if you truly believe that she adapted for her own survival, then the fact she’s starting to form her own views separate from her family’s wouldn’t be something I’d take lightly. I’ve heard some horrible stories from other students about their family’s propensities for violence. Truly awful things. And I know from firsthand experience that fear can be a powerful and persuasive weapon.

I suppose at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself—is it in your best interest to forgive her? If she’s being genuine, will it make you feel better to let bygones be bygones? And if it doesn’t, that’s fine. If it does, that’s fine, too. And even if you do decide to forgive her, nobody is saying you have to be best friends. Perhaps just being able to coexist peacefully would be reason enough.

But now that I’ve done my duty as your logical, rational friend and put my thoughts on paper as calmly as I could manage, let me say what I’m actually thinking, as your dear friend: what a miserable git. Only a complete dullard wouldn’t be able to see what a wonderful person you are, and I genuinely don’t know if she deserves your forgiveness. I hope you know that I’ll never forgive her for the way she’s treated you, even if she spends the rest of her days trying to make it up to you. You deserve the world, Robin. And if she was too blind to see that from the beginning, then she’s the biggest fool in this school.

I sincerely hope you’re sleeping right now. I’m about to do the same. But you know you can write to me at anytime about what happened tonight. Or about anything that’s weighing on your mind. I still want to know everything about you. I always will.

I hope I’m not overstepping my bounds when I say that the thought of something happening to you tonight filled me with a level of terror I didn’t think possible. Because somehow, despite all my best efforts, you still mean the world to me, and had anything happened to you, I…I don’t know what I’d do.

I’m sorry. I know I promised to never say anything like that again. But I suppose it’s human nature to tell someone how much they mean to you after a situation like tonight. And since I’m only human…Robin. You still mean everything to me.

And I think you always will.

Sweet dreams ♥

Hermione sits back in bed and traces her finger over the little heart, noticing how her own is beating a bit harder in her chest. She smiles softly at her parchment, and she’s aware of a pleasantly light, fluttery sensation in her stomach. It almost feels a bit like…

Butterflies.

Actual butterflies.

Not the heavy dread she had tried to pass off as butterflies with Ron, but real, honest-to-god butterflies, floating in her stomach.

Butterflies her parchment pal had somehow conjured with just a few words.

Which means that…

Hermione sighs and runs a hand through her hair. Not this again. She’s been down this road with her annoyingly persistent internal monologue too many times before, and she’s not going down it again. It’s too bloody late. And besides, it’s pointless. She’s already acknowledged that yes, she still has feelings for her parchment pal, but they’ll fade in time. There’s no doubt in her mind that after her date with Ron, these feelings will just be a strange, distant memory. She’ll look back on this someday and laugh about it, wondering what on earth had gotten into her.

What if they don’t go away?

They will. She’s sure of it. Because if there’s one thing she’s absolutely certain of, it’s that she’s not gay. Not even a little bit. She proved that when she tried thinking about physical intimacy with a woman. She still remembers the prickly, uncomfortable way her body had reacted to the thought of a woman touching her. And if that’s how she reacts to the thought of a woman’s hands, or even a woman’s lips, trailing slowly over her body, then…

As if on cue, the now-familiar heat simmers low in her stomach at the thought. But this time, it’s accompanied by a strange and slight pressure between her legs. A pressure that distracts her completely from her thought process and makes her freeze in place on her bed with her face on fire.

Is that…?

No.

It couldn’t be.

She’s never felt…

But it seems like…

At least, she’s heard that it feels like…

But it couldn’t be…

Arousal? her head supplies helpfully, stopping her from thinking in disjointed and ridiculous half-baked thoughts.

She glares sharply at her own thought as she puts her parchment on her bedside table and forces herself not to think about the tight coil in her stomach and the subtle aching between her legs.

It’s not arousal. It’s just…it’s just…

…Arousal? her head repeats, almost mockingly.

It’s just something she can’t quite put her finger on, she thinks crossly as she sits back in bed.

You could put your finger on it. Might help.

Hermione’s glare turns deadly at her own snarky, treasonous thought. Where did that come from? It’s the kind of dirty thing Pansy would have gleefully vocalized with a slow, lewd smirk and a suggestively quirked eyebrow. But Hermione doesn’t make innuendos like that, not even in her own head. Clearly, she must be even more exhausted than she thought.

And anyway, the innuendo doesn’t even make sense. Because it’s not arousal. Whatever it is, it’s not that. But it’s decidedly uncomfortable, and all Hermione wants is for it to go away and never come back. She bounces her leg restlessly, then immediately stops when it makes the ache between her thighs morph into a dull, faint throb. Her face flames as she digs her fingertips into her thigh, desperately casting her mind around for something else to think about. She needs something neutral and safe. Something to take her mind off the feeling that she’s not ready nor willing to analyze at this very moment.

Boggarts. Dementors. Werewolves. Acromantulas.

Creatures. Creatures are safe, so she continues to list them in her head.

Hippogriffs. Thestrals. Abraxan. Pixies.

You know what this means.

Flobberworms. Unicorns. Bowtruckles. Dragons.

It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a peculiar sensation. One she can’t even name with any authority. And perhaps tomorrow, when she’s not as bone-tired as she is right now, she’ll revisit this feeling with a clear head. Tomorrow, she can rationalize whatever she’s currently feeling until she’s blue in the face. Tomorrow will be a time for answers and logical justifications. But tonight, she just wants to seal this feeling in a box and store it on a faraway shelf in a dark and dusty corner of her mind.

Explains why you’ve never shown interest in boys.

Crups. Puffskeins. Basilisks. Grindylow.

She has shown interest. It’s why she’s going on a date with Ron. A date she’s actually starting to get excited about.

Liar. Admit it, you’re—

Kneazles. Griffins. Imps.

She’s not. And anyway, this isn’t a problem for right now. It’s a tomorrow problem.

She’ll think about it all tomorrow. She’ll make it make sense tomorrow.

The feeling is starting to subside some, and Hermione exhales with shaky relief. Hastily, she tosses her quill onto her bedside table, glancing at her parchment once more as she does. The little silver heart shines back at her, and Hermione grits her teeth. She’s frustrated with it for causing this spiral, but most of all, she’s frustrated with herself. Of all the things to focus on, she had to pick the bloody heart. All the incredibly helpful advice and insights her pal had provided, both about the attack and Pansy, and she gets sidetracked by a stupid little symbol?

God, is this what Lavender feels like all the time?

Hermione extinguishes her lamp, then leans forward to drop a kiss on Crookshanks’ head and give him a small scratch. Once that very important nightly task is complete, she lies down and pulls the covers up to her chin, deciding to actually be a decent parchment pal and mull over the advice her dear friend had supplied. It’s something she wants to do, it’s something she needs to do, and it’ll be the distraction she needs from the now very much diminished, but still vaguely-present feeling she’s trying desperately to ignore.

She was running out of creatures to list, anyway.

Slowly, she lets her thoughts wander away from her physical sensations and back to her dilemma with Pansy. She thinks about the question her parchment pal had posited: is it in her best interest to forgive the Slytherin? She had certainly seemed genuinely concerned for Hermione’s well-being tonight, and for the first time, it hadn't raised any of Hermione's alarm bells. And if her pal was right, if something had really caused Pansy to reexamine her views, then shouldn’t Hermione try and be supportive of her newfound decency? After all, it’d be better to have one less vile troll roaming the halls of Hogwarts.

Trolls, there’s a creature she forgot to list.

And it’s not like Hermione would have to be friends with her. It was as her pal had said—they could simply coexist peacefully.

Hermione snorts lightly against her pillow. If anyone had told her she’d end this absolutely mad day considering peaceful coexistence with Pansy Parkinson, she’d have assumed they were under a particularly strong Confundus Charm. Yet here she was, doing just that.

But her parchment pal had seconded some of the things Pansy herself had said—most noticeably, that family could be horribly toxic, and that sometimes, the only thing you could do to survive was adapt. And if that was true, if Pansy had truly grown up in a nightmare with no escape, then perhaps it was time for Hermione to actually put her money where her mouth was. She had always talked a good game about being understanding. Maybe now was the time to back it up with action. Maybe it was time to extend the benefit of the doubt to Pansy Parkinson, of all people.

Pansy, who had looked at Hermione with such concern tonight.

And if Pansy…

If Pansy…

If…

Hermione’s mind draws a complete blank. Whatever thought she was about to have about Pansy is gone now, having fluttered away from her drowsy grasp. Sleep must be on the horizon. Her body feels heavy and leaden against her soft mattress, and random snippets of her day flash quickly through her mind.

Crookshanks plopping down on her face to wake her up this morning.

Ron laughing so hard he’d choked on his morning pumpkin juice.

Neville’s red, embarrassed face at dinner.

Malcolm’s cold eyes.

Pansy’s burning ones.

A small, silver heart that made her feel entirely too much.

The words “you still mean everything to me.”

Hermione’s only a few moments away from falling into what she hopes will be a dreamless sleep, as she certainly doesn’t want to relive the events of tonight. But perhaps unsurprisingly, her last thoughts before she succumbs to sleep are of the stranger on the other end of her parchment. And though she’s flirting with unconsciousness, she still manages to drowsily notice the moment butterflies flutter back into her stomach.

She’ll deny it all in the morning, of course. She’ll come up with excuses, rational, and logic to explain away the sensations and feelings brought on tonight.

But as of right now, snuggled comfortably in her bed on the very precipice of sleep, she knows without a doubt that despite everything, she’s still a little bit in love with her parchment pal.

And she’s not sure if she’ll ever get over it.

Chapter Text

Merlin. What happened to you?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, it’s been decimated. 

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

Well…anyone other than Daphne, of course. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No. No, she’s okay.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So what did you talk about?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You what?” Daphne asks in stunned delight. 

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

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

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

But she’s not bringing that up to Daphne. 

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

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

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

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

“She did?” 

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

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

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

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

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

It took about four days. 

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

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

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

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

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

That wasn’t that bad…was it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Miss Parkinson?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is everything alright?” Professor McGonagall asks. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, but if it inconveniences the faculty…”

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

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

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

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

Pansy and Hermione both nod. 

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

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

“I think…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They just all happen to be for Hermione. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I…what?” Pansy asks stupidly.

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

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

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

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

“Why didn’t you switch?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Pansy has to do is earn it. 

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

“Granger?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh. Yes. I…we…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She’s going to throttle Daphne. 

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“About what? Weasley?” 

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

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

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

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

This is Robin. 

And Robin deserves an apology.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pans! Pansy, hold on!”

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

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

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

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

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

“We’re not?”

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

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

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

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

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

Pansy stares at him blankly. “So?”

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

Oh. That. 

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

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

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

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

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

“There’s no risk, it’s—”

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

“Yes, but we can—”

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

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

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

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

Pansy frowns. “What does that mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

“I most certainly do, I just—”

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

“I do—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It had been almost two months. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Draco, who despite everything, she does love. 

Just not the way he needs her to. 

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

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

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

Draco follows her gaze, then nods stiffly. 

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

She can’t risk that. Not just yet. 

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

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

Draco doesn’t say anything, so Pansy continues. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And you never did?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Draco?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She tries anyway.

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

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

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

“Don’t touch me, I…” 

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

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

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

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

“No. We can’t.”

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

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

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

Then how could you have used him? 

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

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

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

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

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

They’re definitely going to lose more points. 

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hermione and Ron. 

Hermione and Ron on their bloody date

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Would you stop that?” Pansy asks hotly.

“Stop what?”

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

“Excuse me?” 

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

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

She looks good

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

…They’re moving. 

Hermione is asking her something. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, but…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voluntarily?

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

So the fact that Hermione had initiated conversation… 

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

“I’m sorry, by the way,” she says. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hermione cranes her neck to peer toward the bar, and Pansy watches as her eyes widen. 

“What on earth…” Hermione murmurs, looking stunned. 

Pansy twists around to see what’s happening, and when she finds the source of Hermione’s surprise, she can’t help the grin that spreads over her face. Because standing behind the bar, looking miserable and harried, is none other than Ron Weasley. There are about four people ordering drinks and he’s looking about frantically, trying to listen to all of them at once.

Pansy thinks back to Daphne, smoothly shaking Madam Rosmerta’s hand with a devious twinkle in her eye. She must have bribed her somehow, and Ron tending bar is the wonderful end result. 

Merlin, she loves Daphne.

“Where’s Madam Rosmerta? And where’s Greengrass?” Hermione asks, and Pansy turns back to see her still studying the scene before her, confusion etched on her face. 

“Perhaps she needed Daphne’s assistance in the back?” Pansy says, trying to keep her face neutral. “Good of Weasley to help out, though,” she adds, glancing over her shoulder once more, just in time to see Weasley drop a full glass of gillywater on the floor. Ron’s face turns bright red as it shatters and he looks at the ground miserably.

Merlin, she loves Daphne.

“Do you think…should I help him?” Hermione asks. 

Pansy turns back to find Hermione, watching Ron with concern. 

“I’m sure Madam Rosmerta won’t be long,” Pansy says. “He’ll be fine.” 

“Yes, but…” 

Before Hermione can finish her sentence, the door to the Three Broomsticks opens again. Both Hermione and Pansy glance over to see if they know the newcomers, and once they’re fully in view, Pansy’s stomach drops. 

It’s Draco. 

He looks pale and drawn, and he doesn’t seem to be listening to a thing Theo is saying beside him. His eyes scan the pub, looking for an available table in the sea of people. Pansy clenches her fist, waiting for his eyes to inevitably find her.

It only takes a few moments. The second he sees her, his entire expression changes. His face immediately hardens and his eyes grow cold, and Pansy swears she can feel the chill from his gaze in her bones. She can make out the familiar muscle jumping in his tense jaw, and there’s an angry flush staining his pale cheeks.

It takes Theo and Blaise a few seconds to finally notice Pansy, but once they do, they both immediately glance toward Draco with concern. Pansy feels a wave of shame wash over her; she’s the reason they’re looking at him like that. She’s the reason Draco looks so furious.

She feels as if she’s frozen under Draco’s bitter gaze. She knows she should take this opportunity to make him listen, to tell him that she hadn’t been trying to hurt him and that she’s been fucking miserable without his presence in her life. She knows she should stand and cross the pub and demand they have an actual conversation. She knows she should do something

Instead, she stays rooted to the spot, paralyzed by his piercing eyes. 

A few long moments pass as they stare at each other. Then, without any warning, Draco turns and swiftly exits the pub, leaving Theo and Blaise to hurry in his wake. 

Pansy watches as the door swings shut behind him. She sits motionless as she stares at the space where he was, feeling shaky and ashamed, and when the familiar remorse begins to seep through her veins, she welcomes it like an old friend. 

“Are you…are you alright?” comes Hermione’s hesitant voice from close beside her. 

Pansy tears her eyes away from the door and glances to her left. Hermione is watching her with concern, all thoughts of helping Ron seemingly shelved for the moment. 

“I…” Pansy sighs, then shrugs despondently. “I don’t know.”

Hermione nods. “I heard about what happened. Between you and Malfoy. I’m…I’m sorry,” she says cautiously. 

“Are you? I’d have thought you’d be overjoyed. Not like you particularly like either of us,” Pansy murmurs.

“No, but I also don’t find joy in the suffering of others,” Hermione says. “That may be who you are, but it’s not who I am,” she adds, somewhat stiffly.

“I didn’t mean that as an attack on your character, Granger. I just…it’s a statement of fact. We’re both nasty gits, so you’d be right to be happy about it.”

“Oh. Well…perhaps. Though to be fair,” Hermione says slowly, “you’re not the nastiest gits. That would be Crabbe and Goyle,” she says, giving Pansy a small, hesitant smile as she echoes her joke from earlier. 

Pansy returns the smile with a weak one of her own. “It would seem that we have at least one thing in common—we’re well matched when it comes to atrocious compliments.”

Hermione hums, then tilts her head and studies Pansy. “I am sorry, though. I’m sure it wasn’t easy.”

“No, it wasn’t,” Pansy says quietly. “And now he hates me. And the worst thing is, he’s right to.”

“I’m sure he doesn’t hate you. People lash out in horrible ways when they’re hurt. He’ll come around.” 

Pansy shakes her head as she fidgets with her empty tankard. “You don’t know Draco.”

“I don’t,” Hermione agrees. “But I know that relationships end everyday, and I’m sure he’s not blameless in whatever happened to end yours.” 

“He is, though. Blameless, I mean. He did everything right, and I…it was all my fault. I never wanted to go out with him,” Pansy admits, frowning down at the dark, stained table. “From the moment it started, I knew it was all wrong. But I did it anyway.”

Hermione’s close enough that Pansy can feel the moment she tenses beside her. “May I ask why?” she asks, her voice curiously guarded. 

Pansy exhales heavily and pushes her bangs back. “I…” she trails off as she ponders how to approach this. She obviously doesn’t want to come out to Hermione right now, but she wants to take the opportunity to let herself be vulnerable. To show Hermione that she actually has a heart. “I wanted to please my parents,” she finally says. “They expect certain things from me and when Draco asked me out, it was like Christmas morning for them. I didn’t even say yes,” Pansy adds with a humorless laugh. “My mum said she’d be delighted for me.” She shakes her head in frustration. “But I knew right then. I knew it was wrong and that I only saw Draco as a mate. And I used him anyway.”

“I’m not sure I’d call it using,” Hermione says, a bit weakly. 

Pansy snorts. “What else can you call it? I knew I didn’t want to be with him, but I kept seeing him for my own selfish reasons, bugger the consequences.”

“Well, yes, but…perhaps you thought something would change? If you stayed the course, I mean. Perhaps you thought if you just forced yourself to go through the motions, you’d eventually feel the right way. Right?”

Pansy’s brow furrows as she studies Hermione. Her eyes are wide and she almost looks…panicked? There’s a dark flush on her olive cheeks and if Pansy didn’t know any better, she’d think Hermione was looking to her for reassurance. 

But why would she want reassurance? Unless…

Oh. 

Oh

Perhaps the date with Weasley isn’t quite as fine as Hermione had let on. Perhaps Pansy’s story had felt a little too familiar. 

Perhaps Hermione’s been telling herself all the same things Pansy did to justify her date with Weasley. 

In which case…

Pansy feels a small flicker of hope cut through the heavy shame, and she slowly sweeps a finger against the sticky table as she gathers her thoughts. “I think,” she starts carefully, “that anytime someone needs to force themselves to go through the motions, that’s a bit of a red flag, don’t you? I shouldn’t have had to force anything. If I wanted to be with Draco, I should have been thrilled. But I wasn’t.” 

“Yes, but…feelings can develop differently from person to person,” Hermione says in what seems to be a desperate attempt to justify herself. “And just because someone has feelings for you first doesn’t mean that you won’t eventually grow to love them.” 

“That may be true for some people, but it wasn’t for me. Because I wasn’t conflicted. I knew right away that I didn’t see him as anything more than a friend. And mind you, I did try. Because Merlin knows, it would’ve been easier for everyone involved if I could have just magically developed feelings for him, but…” Pansy shrugs. “I couldn’t. And I should have ended it after a few weeks. A few days, even. But I didn’t,” she says bitterly. “Instead, I used him. I treated him like a prop because it was easier to hurt him than it was to face…” she waves an uncaring hand, “to face all the other shit in my life.”

Hermione shakes her head slightly. “It’s…no. No, it wouldn’t hurt him, it…” she tapers off and her eyes flicker toward Ron at the bar. 

Pansy glances over her shoulder briefly. Ron’s sweating now as he pours a glass of firewhisky for a demanding, portly man leaning against the bar. He places the glass down and looks toward their table. When he sees Hermione, he smiles sheepishly and waves. Pansy turns back to look at Hermione, who’s staring at Ron with pained eyes. 

“May I tell you something?” Pansy asks quietly. 

Hermione’s eyes flicker to her and she waits quietly to hear what Pansy has to say. 

“Draco and I have been friends since we were children. Before Hogwarts, even. Aside from Daphne, there’s no one in this world who knows me better. He’d risk life and limb for me, no questions asked, and I’d do the same for him. But now…?” Pansy glances toward the doorway where Draco had stared at her with such fury. “Well…you saw the way he looked at me,” she says with a bitter smile. “I can’t begin to tell you how much it hurts to have someone you love look at you with such contempt. And perhaps worst of all, to know that you’ve earned that contempt. If I could go back and throttle myself for not ending things sooner, I would. But I can’t.” Pansy gazes at Hermione with open and earnest eyes and she murmurs, “I don’t need to be a Legilimens to notice something’s amiss between you and Weasley,” Pansy says, lifting a hand to cut off Hermione’s inevitable protest. “I don’t know what, and I won’t pry. But I know that for some daft reason, that ginger nitwit behind the bar is your best friend. And take it from me, Granger…you don’t want to hurt your best friend. No matter what the reasoning behind your decision.” 

Hermione shakes her head, but something in her eyes still looks pained. “No, I…I told you, things between Ron and I are—”

“Fine?” Pansy puts in swiftly, noticing Hermione’s small wince at the familiar word. “Things between Draco and I were fine for months.” Pansy straightens her spine and decides to press her luck. “Look, maybe I’m overstepping my bounds here, and if I am, then by all means, tell me to piss off. But I’m not blind, Granger. I saw the way you just looked at him.”

“I…” Hermione trails off and rubs her face miserably. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she murmurs, so quietly that Pansy can barely hear her.

“Nothing’s wrong with you,” Pansy says firmly. “I know he’s your best mate, and he obviously has feelings for you. And it only seems right that you should return those feelings, but you know what? If you don’t return them, there’s nothing wrong with that. So he’s not the right one for you,” Pansy says with a shrug. “Trust me, it’s better to tell him in the long run than to go through months of deception.”

“But it doesn’t make any sense,” Hermione says, looking at Pansy a bit wildly. “He’s wonderful! He’s funny and caring and the sweetest man I know, and he’s been absolutely lovely today and…” she breaks off abruptly and blinks at Pansy as if she’s seeing her for the first time. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this,” she says, sounding a bit stunned. “Why am I telling you this?”

“Because you obviously can’t tell Potter or girl-Weasley,” Pansy says with a shrug, trying not to let on how fucking thrilled she is by this turn of events. “Sometimes you need to vent to someone who’s removed from the situation,” she adds, ignoring the fact that she’s not even remotely removed from this situation. But she’s a Slytherin, so she’ll just pin her involvement on her propensity to dwell in life’s grey areas. 

“I…I suppose that’s true,” Hermione says quietly. “I just don’t understand,” she murmurs again, looking lost and broken.

“Who does?” Pansy says, masking the urge to reach toward Hermione and comfort her with a carefully casual shrug. “I learned long ago that when it comes to matters of the heart, the mind is simply there to play the part of a foolish bystander. You can think about things logically and rationally until you’re blue in the face, but the moment this decides to have its say,” Pansy says, tapping her chest lightly, “all bets are off. Take Draco and I for instance,” she says. “On paper, we’re perfect. We get along famously, he makes me laugh, I trust him…we tick every box. Logically, we work. But logic has no place in love,” Pansy says. “You can be presented with the perfect person, but your traitorous heart will stab you in the back and give itself away to the last person you’d ever expect.” 

“Are you speaking from experience?” Hermione asks, raising an eyebrow.

Pansy chuckles quietly. “Does it matter?” she asks. “What matters is this: love is absolutely ridiculous. So you don’t have feelings for Weasley. Who bloody cares? Life is too short to waste time forcing emotions. When it’s right, it’s right. Anything else isn’t worth your time.”

Hermione bites at her bottom lip once more, and Pansy’s eyes are immediately drawn to the action. When Hermione speaks again, it takes Pansy a considerable amount of effort to drag her eyes away from her lips and focus on what she’s saying. 

Bloody traitorous heart. 

“And what if when it’s right, it’s someone you’d never have expected? Someone that…that scares you a bit?” 

Pansy raises an eyebrow. “Scares you? In what way?” 

Hermione’s brow furrows and she runs her finger over the edge of the table. “In that I feel like I don’t know myself anymore,” she murmurs. “And I’m scared of what that might mean.” 

The words are so quiet that Pansy’s not even sure if she’s heard her correctly. But before she can ask her to repeat herself, two butterbeers are slammed down on the table in front of Hermione. 

Pansy and Hermione both jump and whirl around to find Ron and Daphne, finally back from the bar. 

“I’m so sorry, Hermione,” Ron says, looking at her with wide, earnest eyes. “Madam Rosmerta had a shipment come in and she asked Greengrass to help with it, but that left the bar unattended, so…” Ron shrugs. “She asked me to look after it and I felt bad for her so I said yes. But I didn’t think it was going to take ages.” 

“The shipment was delayed,” Daphne says, taking her seat and giving Pansy a small, secret smile. “But on the bright side, your drinks were free,” she adds to Hermione.

“Were they, now?” Pansy mutters.

“Right then!” Daphne says, clapping her hands and ignoring Pansy. “What did you two get up to while we were gone? I’m a bit surprised the place is still standing, if I’m being honest. I figured we’d come back to a smoking ruin and the two of you in the center of it with your wands out.”

Pansy glances at Hermione to find her already staring at her. Her eyes are wide with panic, as if she’s worried Pansy’s about to spill every hushed and frightened thought she had just divulged. Pansy supposes that the reality of who she’s just confided her relationship woes to are finally setting in, but Pansy has no desire to recount any part of their conversation in front of Daphne and Ron, so she simply shrugs. “Please. You think I want to get banned? It might be overpriced, but it’s better than Hog’s Head. Granger and I can control ourselves if it means frequenting a moderately clean establishment instead of that disgusting hovel the barman calls a pub.”

She looks toward Hermione, who stares at her with surprise. “I…yes, I suppose we can,” she says, her cheeks tinged pink. She hastily reaches for her butterbeer and drains about a quarter of it in one go, completely unaware of Ron’s surprised eyes. 

Pansy glances at her own empty tankard, then back to Daphne. “I thought you were getting us refills?”

“I was, but it took too bloody long. And I still have an errand to run before we leave, remember?”

There’s no errand to run, but Pansy’s grateful for the lie. Because as much as she was thrilled to have Hermione seated beside her, the thought of suffering through her turning all of her attention toward a besotted Weasley makes jealousy crackle across Pansy’s skin like lightning. So she nods and says, “right. Your errand, I forgot. Shall we, then?” 

“We shall,” Daphne says, standing up. “Weasley. Granger. Enjoy whatever ill-fated experiment this is,” she says, ticking a finger between them and smiling when Hermione shifts uncomfortably. Then without waiting for Pansy to stand, Daphne starts toward the door. 

Pansy quickly stands up and looks at Hermione. “I…”

Hermione looks back, waiting for Pansy to finish her thought. And Merlin, there’s so much she’d like to say. 

Don’t stay here with Weasley. 

Don’t be afraid of your real feelings. 

I’ve been your bard all along. 

I think I’m falling in love with you.

Instead, Pansy swallows and murmurs, “Granger,” then gives a short nod, grabs her jacket, and quickly heads to the doorway, not bothering to wait for Hermione’s reaction. 

Once she’s outside, she slumps against the closed door, shuts her eyes, and takes a massive breath of crisp, spring air. 

“So! How’d it go?” 

Pansy opens her eyes to find Daphne, leaning against the wall and regarding her with shining eyes. 

“You are absolutely mad,” Pansy says. 

“Mm. And I’m down eight Galleons to Rosmerta, so it better have been worth it.” 

“What on earth did you tell her?” Pansy asks, pushing herself off from the door to shrug into her jacket.

“Just that I needed Weasley’s drinks stalled for at least fifteen minutes. She came up with the actual reasoning. Merlin, who would have expected her to make Weasley tend bar? Devilishly clever, that one,” Daphne says with respect lingering in her eyes. 

Pansy nods and starts walking. Daphne falls into step beside her and loops her arm through Pansy’s, then gently presses against her side. “You’re stalling. Was it worth it? If it wasn’t, you owe me eight Galleons.”

I don’t owe you anything because I didn’t tell you to act like a nutter and bribe the barmaid,” Pansy says with a scoff. “But…yes. It was worth it,” she adds with a small smile. 

“Why, Pansy Parkinson! All you needed was fifteen minutes to charm the pants off of her, eh?” Daphne asks, steering them toward the nearest shop. “I wonder, what could you do with a few more…?” 

“I didn’t charm anything off of her,” Pansy says, then glances up in surprise when they come to a stop outside of Zonko’s, of all places. “Daphne…why are we at Zonko’s?”

“I need to pop in and pick something up,” Daphne says lightly. 

“Why?” Pansy asks, her eyes narrowing. Daphne hates Zonko’s more than anything in the world, so there’s no way she actually needs something. 

But Daphne merely regards Pansy gravely and says, “because I am a very funny person, Pans,” without a trace of a smile. She doesn’t even break when Pansy snorts in amusement.

“Hilarious,” Pansy says dryly. But before she can say anything else, Daphne gives a small shiver. Pansy’s scrutinizes her closely. “Wait…where’s your coat?” she asks, her suspicion doubling. “Did you leave it in the Three Broomsticks?” 

“Hm? Coat? What coat?”

“Your bloody designer coat that costs a million Galleons! The coat you wouldn’t shut up about for months! The coat I’m not allowed to borrow, which by the way, is yet another hole in your what’s mine is yours nonsense.” 

“Darling, I’m afraid I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about. Perhaps you had one too many butterbeers,” Daphne says airily. “Now! You wait out here while I pop inside. I’ll only be a moment.”

“Daphne! Why?” Pansy asks, desperation entering her voice as she realizes she’s in yet another one of Daphne’s harebrained schemes. 

Daphne looks at Pansy with twinkling eyes and says, “because I love you, you daft cow. And to be frank, you need all the help you can get. Now stay out here and don’t follow me in,” she says, pointing a warning finger at Pansy. Then she blows her a quick kiss and disappears into the shop.  

The urge to bang her head against the wall is almost overwhelming, so Pansy shoves her hands into her pockets and paces instead. Leave it to Daphne to somehow hatch two idiotic schemes in the space of an hour. After a moment, Pansy stops pacing and ponders what the best plan of action is. She doesn’t want to continue standing outside the shop like an idiot, so after a bit of back and forth, she decides to march into Zonko’s, drag Daphne by the arm back into the Three Broomsticks, and force her to pick up her bloody coat.

She’s taken one step toward the door when she hears hurried footsteps behind her. 

“Pansy! Pansy, wait a moment!”

Pansy freezes in place. Before she turns, she glances in the window of Zonko’s and makes eye contact with Daphne, who mouths you’re welcome, then continues sorting through a barrel full of Hiccough Sweets. 

The steps are closer now, so Pansy turns around to find Hermione hurrying toward her, Daphne’s jacket carefully folded over her arm. 

“I’m glad you’re still here,” Hermione says as she stops in front of Pansy. “I believe this belongs to Greengrass?” she asks, lifting the jacket. 

Pansy manages a weak nod, and Hermione holds the jacket out. “I’m surprised she didn’t notice it was missing. It’s quite cold today.” 

Pansy takes the jacket and rolls her eyes a bit. “I suspect Daphne manages to stay warm, what with her constantly being full of hot air.” 

Hermione’s lips twitch and Pansy feels a warm glow radiate from her chest at the sight. “I’m surprised it’s still in one piece,” Pansy says. “I’d have thought Weasley would have tried to burn it on sight.”

“He…may have wanted to do something to that effect,” Hermione admits sheepishly. 

“Well, then, it would seem that Daphne owes you a debt of gratitude for saving it. I’ll see that she gets it when she’s done in…in Zonko’s,” Pansy finishes, wincing when she awkwardly stumbles over the shop name. 

A puzzled frown appears on Hermione’s face as she gazes past Pansy into Zonko’s. “The errand she had is in…Zonko’s?” Hermione asks, sounding confused. “That doesn’t seem like a shop she’d frequent.” 

“No, it doesn’t, does it?” Pansy agrees lightly, glancing over her shoulder. Daphne is now examining a display of Nose-Biting Teacups with a serious frown etched between her brows and a sneer on her lips. She picks one up and holds it at arm’s-length, looking at it with complete and utter revulsion, then she drops it back down and turns her disgusted gaze toward another display. “But looks can be deceiving,” Pansy says, turning back to Hermione. “And I can assure you that Daphne is full of tricks.”

Hermione hums thoughtfully, then wraps her coat around herself a bit tighter. “Well, then, I suppose you’re not the only Slytherin who’s full of surprises,” she murmurs. 

“What do you mean?” Pansy asks. 

“I…” Hermione tapers off and is quiet for a moment, appearing to gather her thoughts. Finally, she meets Pansy’s gaze. “I thought you were going to tell Ron. When Daphne came back and asked what we’d been up to. I thought to myself you naive fool. Of all people, why would you tell Pansy Parkinson? But then you didn’t,” she says, staring curiously at Pansy. “Once again, you proved me wrong, and I…” she breaks off and shakes her head. “Thank you. For not saying anything to Ron. I…I appreciate it.” 

Pansy nods. “I wouldn’t have,” she says, but when Hermione raises her eyebrows in disbelief, she quickly amends, “I mean, up until very recently, I would have. But I wouldn’t now. And I won’t.”

“I suppose I’ll have to take your word for it. But I would appreciate your discretion. I didn’t mean to tell you…well, any of the things I told you, really. So it would mean a great deal to me if you didn’t repeat them.”

“I won’t,” Pansy repeats. “I swear upon my honor as a Slytherin,” she adds solemnly, but with a small smile and a mocking hand over her heart.

Hermione raises an eyebrow. “I suppose no one ever told you you’re supposed to swear on something you actually possess,” she says dryly, then she sighs and glances back toward the Three Broomsticks. “Anyway. I should be getting back,” she says. “Ron is…well, I don’t want to keep him waiting.”

“Right, you’ve got…you’ve got your date,” Pansy says awkwardly. “I’ll just…” she lifts up Daphne’s coat, and nods toward Zonko’s. 

Hermione nods, then turns around and starts back toward the Three Broomsticks. 

Pansy should let her go. She should curb the urge to call after her. Honestly, she should leave well enough alone. Daphne is waiting in Zonko’s and it’d be cruel to leave her in there any longer, so really, she should just…

“Granger?” 

Hermione pauses at the sound of her name and glances back over her shoulder at Pansy, giving her a questioning look. 

“I…I know this isn’t my place. But what you said before Weasley came back? About not knowing yourself anymore? And being scared?”

Hermione stiffens and she crosses her arms. “What about it?”

“I just…I wanted to tell you that it’ll be okay.” Pansy winces at how foolish she sounds, and she quickly adds, “I mean, I can’t know what you’re going through, but from my own experience, it…it’ll be okay.”

“Your own experience?” Hermione asks, raising an eyebrow as she turns to face Pansy fully. 

“Yes. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I’ve been having a bit of a crisis of faith lately,” Pansy says dryly, shoving her hands into her pockets. “And as such, it’s made me reevaluate everything I thought I knew about myself. And it hasn’t been pleasant. Actually, it’s been quite…scary,” she says slowly, contemplating exactly how she should phrase the next bit of her speech to both allude to her own changes, and to whatever doubts Hermione might be struggling with. She takes a deep breath and says, “but even though it’s scary and I know it’d be far easier to stop…to just…be the same person I’ve always been and believe in the things I’ve been told my whole life…I know I can’t do that. Because I know that if I do, I’ll be left with questions and doubts and I’ll feel miserable all the time, wondering if I made the right choice or not. So everyday, I make the decision to keep going. To dig into everything that makes me uncomfortable and stare it in the face and say I’m not afraid of you. Because I know that eventually, I won’t be afraid of it. I’ll find my way to the other side and I’ll be a better person for it. Perhaps a happier person, too,” she adds softly, watching as Hermione looks down to study the ground, a pale flush upon her cheeks. “I suppose at the end of the day, I’m a firm believer that worthwhile things are rarely easy. And so even though I hardly recognize my own thoughts anymore…and even though the consequences of my questions are terrifying…I know I can’t stop. Because it’s worth it. And like I said, I can’t know what you’re going through, but whatever it is…even though it’s not easy right now, perhaps it will be worthwhile in the end.”

Pansy’s glad Daphne’s in Zonko’s right now. Had she heard that last statement, she’d give Pansy so much grief about how ridiculous it is that Pansy’s alluding to herself as being worthwhile. 

But Daphne’s not here right now and Hermione is. And she’s staring at Pansy with a look Pansy can’t quite decipher. It’s something scared and overwhelmed and Merlin, Pansy hopes she hasn’t put her foot in her mouth.

Hermione opens her mouth. “I…I…” 

“Hermione?” 

Somehow, Pansy manages to tear her eyes away from Hermione’s anxious gaze to look past her. Her eyes land on Ron, standing a ways behind Hermione, his eyes flicking between the two of them. 

“Is everything alright?” Ron asks, letting his gaze linger warily on Pansy. 

Hermione stares at Pansy for a moment before turning to look at Ron. “Yes, sorry. I just…yes. Everything is fine, I…” she breaks off and frowns. “Why are you out here? You shouldn’t be out here, we’ll lose our table.” 

Ron shakes his head. “Seamus, Dean, and Neville came in. I asked them to watch it while I checked on you.” He tilts his head and studies Hermione carefully. “You’re sure you’re alright? You look a bit…off. Did Parkinson say something?” he asks, lowering his voice a bit.

Pansy rolls her eyes and clenches her fists in her pockets. “I had a question for Granger about our Tuesday patrols. That’s it. I didn’t mean to keep you,” she adds to Hermione.

“No, you…you didn’t, I…” Hermione’s gaze is still perplexed, but after a moment, she shakes her head as if she’s clearing a fog and turns back to Ron. “I’m sorry. I’m afraid I’ve been horrible company so far. Should we start again? No more distractions, I promise.” 

Ron gives her a lopsided grin. “Sounds good to me,” he says, then offers her his arm. As Hermione takes it, Pansy feels envy trickle through her. Because she wants to be the one offering her arm to Hermione. Not Weasley. Her

Hermione glances at Pansy. “I’ll see you later,” she says, then adds quietly, “and for what it’s worth…I think it is worth it.”

Ron frowns at her words, but before he can open his mouth, Pansy asks, “for me, or for you?” She doesn’t care if she sounds a bit too urgent to be casual; she needs to know whether or not Hermione’s going to make the effort to ask herself the scary and hard questions. 

“For you? Certainly. For me…” Hermione glances at the ground, then back up at Pansy. “Maybe. I’m not quite sure yet,” she says quietly, her eyes faraway and troubled. 

“Sorry…what’s worth it?” Ron asks, glancing between them with a confused frown. 

“Just a patrols thing,” Hermione says without taking her eyes off of Pansy. 

Before Ron can ask for any clarification, Hermione turns to him, pats his arm, plasters on a smile, and says “shall we?” She spares one more puzzled glance at Pansy, then turns and begins walking back toward the Three Broomsticks.

Pansy watches them go. The jealousy is still there, but after hearing Hermione’s quiet murmur of maybe, it’s more muted than it was before. Because a maybe means there’s a chance Hermione will sort through her feelings and realize exactly why she’s so uninterested in her date with Weasley. That she’ll stop running from whatever feelings have been ignited in her heart and actually sit with them, as unexpected and scary as they are.

Of course, she could be projecting. Perhaps Hermione isn’t attracted to Ron simply because she isn’t attracted to him. That doesn’t mean she’s decided to question her sexuality, and it’s incredibly naive of Pansy to get her hopes up.  

But as she watches Hermione disappear into the Three Broomsticks, the same stupid little kernel of hope glows brightly in Pansy’s heart. 

She’s dimly aware of a tinkling bell in the background, but she doesn’t turn to investigate the source. It’s only when she feels a chin resting on her shoulder that she realizes it was Daphne, leaving Zonko’s. 

“Well…she certainly doesn’t look like she hates you anymore,” Daphne says, her voice close to Pansy’s ear. 

“No…I don’t think she does,” Pansy murmurs, amazed. 

Daphne hums. “Normally, I’d tell you to name your first born after me as a thank you for my sacrifices, but I guess that’s not applicable in this case, is it?” 

Pansy shrugs Daphne off her shoulder, thrusts her coat at her, and starts walking. After Daphne puts her coat on, she loops her arm through Pansy’s and continues. “I suppose I’ll just have to live with you two naming one of your many, many cats after me.” 

“For your sacrifices?” Pansy asks, repeating the phrase with a scoff. 

“Yes.”

“And what would those be?”

“Pansy. I just spent five minutes of my life in Zonko’s. I had to pretend to be interested in Frog Spawn Soap. Frog Spawn Soap,” Daphne repeats, horror in her voice. “The grotesque salesman talked to me about it for ages. Those are minutes I’ll never get back. I deserve a bloody medal.”

“You know, you didn’t have to leave your coat behind,” Pansy says, nodding absently at a group of Slytherin fifth years passing by. 

“Why is it so hard for you to say, thank you, Daphne. What would I do without you, Daphne? You’re the reason for everything good in my life, Daphne.” 

“Thank you, Daphne. What would I do without you, Daphne? Live a calm, pleasant life without having a bloody anxiety attack every five minutes, Daphne?”

Daphne snorts and bumps against her hip. “Close enough, I suppose. But I do want you to name a cat after me.”

Pansy rolls her eyes, but says, “fine. You have my word. If by some bloody miracle, the stars align and everything goes according to your mad plan, we’ll name a cat after you. Happy?”

“Quite.” Daphne’s quiet for a moment, then suddenly, she turns to scrutinize Pansy’s profile. “Hang on…I’ve seen the squashed face monstrosity Granger calls a cat,” she says suspiciously. 

“Mm. What of it?” Pansy asks, starting on the path back toward the castle. 

“What of it?” Daphne says, outrage in her voice. “Pansy Parkinson, if you name a horribly ugly cat after me, I’ll never forgive you.” 

Pansy chuckles. “Full of demands, aren’t you?”

“Pansy…” Daphne says, a warning in her voice. 

Fine. This isn’t even going to happen, but fine. I’ll only name a cat after you if it’s attractive enough. Happy now, you nutter?”

“Yes. Delighted, actually. And I wouldn’t be so sure it’s not going to happen…I saw the way she looked at you. Like she couldn’t figure you out, but was still intrigued. If my own experience being on the receiving end of that look has taught me anything, I’d say you’ve got a shot.” 

“I don’t know about that,” Pansy says, absently kicking at a rock on the path.

“I do. She’s starting to see you as a person and not just a massive wanker. And for what it’s worth, I’ve never seen someone look so unenthusiastic about a first date. Perhaps it’s because her thoughts are on a certain parchment pal…?”

“No. Maybe. I don’t know,” Pansy mutters.

“It’s all there, Pans. All the pieces are there. We’ve just got to make her see it.”

“I—”

“And you have to not botch it all before it’s even begun,” Daphne adds.

“You know, for someone who wasn’t very enthusiastic over the idea of her best mate having feelings for…for Granger,” Pansy says, dropping her voice, “you certainly seem comfortable with the idea now.” 

Daphne shrugs. “Perhaps I just want you to name a cat after me,” she says easily. “But either way, you should know that once I put my mind to something, I’ll go to great lengths to make it happen. And right now, I’ve put my mind to making sure you’re happy.”

Pansy glances at Daphne and smiles at her fondly. She wants to tell Daphne how grateful she is for her presence in her life, but she has a feeling Daphne will brush it off with a joke. So instead, she just squeezes her arm a bit and says, “great lengths indeed. Down eight Galleons and spent five minutes of your life in Zonko’s, all to have an ugly, squashed face cat named after you.” 

Daphne’s head whips around. “Don’t you dare,” she says. 

Pansy just laughs. Because for the first time since she ended things with Draco, she feels curiously light and cautiously optimistic. She takes a deep breath and exhales slowly.

Perhaps things are about to turn around for her. 

***

Tuesday morning finds Pansy and Daphne in the Great Hall, seated away from the rest of their classmates as they chat over their breakfasts. Daphne’s particularly excited—today is the day her Witch Weekly is to be delivered. 

“There’s supposed to be a delicious exposé on the Weird Sisters. Apparently, Myron’s been shagging Donaghan’s girlfriend for months. Can you imagine? Who would shag Myron? Donaghan’s the only decent looking one in the whole bloody band. Well…I suppose Gideon’s not bad either, if you’re into that whole, 12th-century Scottish warrior look,” Daphne adds with a shrug. “Personally though, I wouldn’t.”

“Right,” Pansy says, absently stirring sugar into her tea.

“Oh, fine, I would. But I’d never shag Orsino. He looks like he’d stand at the foot of the bed and watch you sleep all night,” she says with a small shiver. “Something’s off about him.”

“Something tells me this will never be a problem for you,” Pansy says. She blows lightly on her tea, then takes a sip. 

“You don’t know that,” Daphne says. “I made very meaningful eye contact with Donaghan at the Yule Ball. And besides, that’s not the point. The point is to have fun with a hypothetical.”

Pansy hums lightly. “I’ll have to take your word for it.”

“Oh, come on, live a little,” Daphne says, leaning forward with interest. “Surely you’ve thought about who you’d shag, given the chance?”

“Who would I shag from the all-male Weird Sisters?” Pansy asks, raising an eyebrow. “Do we have to go over how this whole lesbian thing works again?” she asks, lowering her voice just in case anyone is listening.

Daphne waves a dismissive hand. “You know what I mean. There’s no one that’s caught your eye? Someone on the The Holyhead Harpies, perhaps? Ooh, or maybe the lead singer of Spellbound? She’s quite fit.” 

“I—”

Before Pansy can answer, she’s distracted by a roar of pain from the Gryffindor table. She glances over Daphne’s shoulder to find a Nose-Biting Teacup hanging from Dean’s nose, and Seamus doubled over with laughter beside him. 

Pansy rolls her eyes at their idiotic antics, but before she looks back to Daphne, she lets her gaze wander to Hermione. She’s watching the display with a small grimace, but somehow, even when her face is twisted in displeasure, she’s still the most frustratingly beautiful girl Pansy’s ever seen. 

It’s been strange for Pansy to fully admit the extent of her infatuation to herself. Because up until very recently, Hermione’s entire personality had tempered any attraction Pansy had toward her. She could admit to herself that she found Hermione somewhat attractive, in a charming, girl-next-door kind of way, but her repulsive, entitled personality had kept her from going any further with those thoughts. Now however, she’s finally willing to confess that she finds Hermione attractive in every conceivable way. From the faint smattering of freckles dusting her nose, to the glints of gold in her soft brown waves, to her perfect smile, to her equally perfect, completely maddening lips that Pansy still wants to taste, to—

“Well, I suppose that answers that question.”

Pansy pulls her gaze from Hermione to find Daphne watching her with mirth in her eyes. 

“What question?” Pansy asks.

“I asked who you’d shag, given the chance, and you proceeded to stare at Granger for thirty minutes.” 

Pansy’s face flames and she glances around to make sure no one has heard Daphne. When she’s satisfied their conversation is still a private one, she turns her gaze back to Daphne. “It wasn’t thirty minutes,” she says hotly. “And I wasn’t even thinking about your bloody question, I just…got distracted.”

Daphne takes a sip of her tea. “I get distracted like that too, you know,” she says casually. “Usually though, I just snog whoever’s causing the distraction and go about my day.”

Pansy grits her teeth and reaches for a croissant from a basket of pastries. “I’ll keep that in mind,” she says, tearing the croissant in half. 

“Do,” Daphne says. She blows lightly on her tea, then adds, “and if you ever need a pick-up line to expedite the process, you know who to come to.” 

“Not you,” Pansy says with a small snort. 

“Excuse me?” Daphne asks, looking offended. “My pick-up lines are legendary.” 

“Whispering Alohomora to a boy’s crotch is hardly legendary,” Pansy says, spreading jam onto the croissant. 

Daphne’s mouth drops open and she puts down her mug. “How dare you! I’ve never used such a sophomoric line in my life,” she says, sounding genuinely upset at the implication.

“Oh, I assure you, you have,” Pansy says with a smirk as she puts her knife down. “End of year party last year? You smuggled in a bottle of firewhisky and finished most of it yourself?”

“I…” Daphne trails off and studies the table with a faraway gaze. 

“Terence Higgs…?” Pansy prompts, trying to spark the memory. 

At the name, Daphne groans and buries her head in her hands. “Oh, Merlin.” 

“There it is,” Pansy says before taking a bite of her croissant.

Daphne looks up and gazes at Pansy with betrayal. “Why didn’t you stop me?” 

“I did. You called me a miserable old bag and tried to wrestle me to the ground to get back to Higgs. So I cast a Full Body-Bind on you,” she says casually. “You fell asleep before it could wear off,” she adds, before taking another bite of her croissant. 

“Merlin,” Daphne groans again. “There are some memories that are better off forgotten. That was one of them.” 

The sound of hundreds of wings descending upon the Great Hall momentarily distracts Pansy, and she glances up to find the owls delivering the morning post. She spots Nashira and looks back toward Daphne with a grin. “Look on the bright side—perhaps there will be an actual pick-up line or two in your Witch Weekly.”

Daphne scowls at her. “Say what you will, but if my very hazy memory serves, Terrence was more than ready to…release his basilisk, if you will.” 

“No. Absolutely not,” Pansy says with a pointed look. “Never say that again.”

Nashira flutters down and lands on Daphne’s shoulder, delivering her long-awaited Witch Weekly. She waits for Daphne to coo at her fondly and give her a quick scratch before spreading her wings and flying off again. Pansy turns to watch her go, and as she does, her eye is drawn toward another, familiar looking owl, soaring toward the Slytherin table. 

Her stomach drops as it gets closer. 

It’s her family’s owl. 

And tied to its leg is a red envelope. 

She’s been sent a Howler. 

Daphne must notice it too, because she whispers, “oh no.” Pansy turns to face her with wide eyes and Daphne says, “run. He’ll follow you outside and no one will hear it. Go now,” she says, looking anxious. 

But Pansy feels as if she’s been glued in place. She turns back and watches numbly as her owl begins its descent, her mind flickering through all the hundreds of horrible things the Howler could contain. 

Her owl doesn’t bother to land on her shoulder. It simply drops the red envelope in front of her, clicks its beak, and flies away, leaving Pansy to stare at the envelope in fear. And it’s not just her eyes on it—by this point, everyone at the Slytherin table has noticed the Howler, and there’s a palpable sense of anticipation lingering in the air.

“Take it outside, Pansy,” Daphne whispers urgently. “Go now, before it explodes.” 

Pansy shakes her head. “It’s too late,” she murmurs. The envelope is already smoking and Pansy knows that if she tried to run, it’d explode in her hands. There’s nothing to do but open it and hope for the best.

Slowly, she picks up the envelope with a shaky hand. She takes one very deep breath, mentally prepares herself for its contents the best she can, and then, she opens it.

I’VE BEEN INFORMED OF THE DECISIONS YOU’VE BEEN MAKING LATELY, PANSY. I’D HATE FOR YOU TO COME TO REGRET THEM. DO BE CAREFUL, MY DEAR. I SHOULD THINK YOU’D REMEMBER WELL THE COST OF INSUBORDINATION. 

The amplified voice of Pansy’s father fades away, and the Howler bursts into flames, leaving a small pile of ash behind on her breakfast plate. 

Pansy stares at the ash and tries to control herself. The Great Hall is curiously muted around her, almost as if she’s underwater. All she can really hear is her own ragged breathing and her father’s threat, both echoing loudly in her ears. His message had been clear—continue making decisions that harm the family’s name, and she’d face the same end as her aunt.

Cold fear drips down her spine at the thought of her aunt, lying on the floor, twisted and broken, and her father, standing above her body and regarding her like she was no more than a piece of trash littering his pristine dining room. 

Would he do the same to her? Would he turn his wand against her and torture her until—

“Pansy? Pans, look at me.” 

Daphne’s voice cuts through the void, and Pansy manages to look up from the ash coating her unfinished croissant to find Daphne, staring at her with fear. Almost immediately, the sounds of the Great Hall rush back into focus, but somehow, it’s not overwhelming. On the contrary, Pansy’s actually glad for the noise—the sudden cacophony helps her feel a bit more grounded and whisks her away from her dark thoughts. She takes a few deep breaths and manages to force the image of her aunt from her mind for now. There will be time to think about her father’s threat later. To replay the disdainful, silky words over and over again until they’re burned into her mind. But this isn’t the time to fall apart. Not now. Not in front of the entire student population. 

A Parkinson does not show weakness.

She straightens her back and looks at Daphne. “It’s fine. I’m fine, he just—” 

No. No, don’t do that. Don’t make excuses for him, do you hear me?” Daphne asks, fury lacing her words. “He can’t do that. He can’t fucking threaten you in front of the entire school.”

Pansy shakes her head and pushes her soiled plate out of the way. “It wasn’t a threat, it was just a reminder,” she says, trying to both soothe Daphne’s nerves and to somehow make herself believe what she’s saying. “You don’t need to worry. He wouldn’t actually hurt me.”

“Wouldn’t he?” Daphne asks, her eyes hard and angry. 

“No. He wouldn’t,” Pansy says. “Though I wish he’d just sent me a letter, like a normal person,” she adds, brushing ash from her skirt. It’s one thing to deal with the fear and shame in private. But now, everyone knows that Pansy’s done something to earn the wrath of her father, and it’ll be the only thing anyone talks about for days. 

Quickly, she looks around the Great Hall to gauge the reaction to her Howler. Most of the professors seem to be gazing at her with concern, but unsurprisingly, most students just look delighted by the unexpected early morning excitement. And perhaps even more unsurprisingly, the Gryffindor table seems happiest of all. 

All but one. 

Hermione’s troubled gaze is boring into Pansy, and she looks deeply concerned. It makes something in Pansy’s stomach twist, and some mad part of her feels the need to reassure Hermione. To show her that she’s okay, even though in actuality, she’s three seconds away from falling apart. Somehow, she manages a small, pitifully weak smile, but it doesn’t seem to be convincing because Hermione’s brow furrows even more at the sight. But before Pansy can think of another way to reassure Hermione, Daphne asks a question. 

“He said decisions, didn’t he?”

Pansy tears her eyes away from Hermione and looks back at Daphne. “What?” 

“In the Howler. He said he’s heard the decisions you’ve been making. Decisions. Plural. Obviously, he’s heard about your involvement with Baddock and Montague. I’d imagine that was the insubordination bit. But what else was he referring to?” 

Pansy frowns. She hadn’t stopped to think about what her father was referencing, but she lets herself ponder it now. “I…I’m not sure, I…” 

Suddenly, a suspicion flutters into her mind. She looks away from Daphne and lets her gaze fall farther down the Slytherin table, searching for familiar grey eyes. She doesn’t have to look hard, though—they’re already trained on her. 

Draco’s face is red with shame and his eyes are panicked, and Pansy’s suspicions are immediately confirmed. She knows the other decision her father had been referring to. 

“Draco,” she says. 

“What?” Daphne asks. 

“Draco,” Pansy repeats, glancing back to Daphne. “He was referring to the end of our relationship. Draco must have told his parents, who must have told mine,” she says dully. “I suppose good news travels fast.” 

“I’m going to fucking destroy him,” Daphne mutters, glaring down the table at Draco, who has the decency to look down at his plate with shame. “How fucking dare he. He knows what your father is like,” she hisses with fury. “He knows what he’s capable of.” 

Pansy nods and reaches for her tea with a slightly shaky hand. “Yes. But he was bound to find out eventually. And anyway, I already told you, he won’t do anything to me,” she says, glancing into the mug and wrinkling her nose when she notices a fine layer of ash coating the top. 

Daphne scoffs. “Well, perhaps you and Draco have both forgotten what your father is like, but I haven’t,” she says.

“Neither have I,” Pansy says, setting her mug down once more. “But I also know what my mum is like, and she’d never let him hurt me.” 

“Are you sure about that? She seemed perfectly willing to let him hurt her own sister.”

Pansy looks up swiftly, feeling as if she’s been punched in the gut. Before she can retort, Daphne lifts her hands. “I’m not saying that to upset you,” she says quickly. “I’m saying that to make you see how serious this is. Pansy…he could really hurt you. He could…he could…”

“He won’t,” Pansy says fervently. She knows what Daphne was thinking—he could kill her. But she doesn’t want her to voice it because for some mad reason, Pansy knows that if Daphne says it out loud, she’ll lose whatever tenuous grasp she has over her emotions right now and she’ll break. 

Daphne looks at her with shimmering eyes. “You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t believe that.”

“Well, you’ll have to. Because there’s no alternative.”

“Are you mad? Of course there’s an alternative” Daphne asks. She leans forward and whispers, “Pansy…you can turn him in.”

Pansy stiffens and looks away from Daphne, choosing instead to stare at the table. “No,” she says. “I can’t.”

“You can,” Daphne whispers, her tone livid. “You’re the only one who fucking can! You were an eye-witness account to what happened! You could go to the Ministry and talk to an Auror and lock him in Azkaban where he belongs.”

“I can’t. He’s my father,” Pansy says, refusing to meet Daphne’s gaze.

“He is. He’s also a fucking murderer,” Daphne says. 

“I can’t have this conversation with you,” Pansy says, reaching down to grab her bag. But before she can stand up, Daphne leans forward and grabs her wrist.
 
“Pansy. Don’t you think she deserves it?” 

Pansy frowns and looks up to find Daphne’s gaze on her, desperate and pleading. 

“What?” Pansy asks.

“Your aunt,” Daphne says, releasing Pansy’s wrist. “Don’t you think she deserves justice?”

Pansy shakes her head a bit. “I…I don’t…”

Daphne reaches for Pansy’s hand. “After all this time…all the years you’ve spent shouldering this burden by yourself…all the years you’ve spent torturing yourself, wondering what you could have done to save her…Pansy. This is it. This is the only thing you can do to help her now.”

“I…”

“You can finally get justice for her, after all these years. And you can protect yourself at the same time.”

“It’s not that easy,” Pansy finally murmurs, releasing Daphne’s hand.

“I know it’s not. I know he’s your father and I know you’re afraid of him. You’re right to be. But I won’t stand by and let him threaten to do the same thing to you that he did to Beatrice. Not if there’s a chance we can stop him.”

Pansy laughs shakily and looks toward the ceiling, blinking back the tears that are threatening to fall. 

A Parkinson does not show weakness. 

“I know you mean well,” she starts slowly as she tries to regain control of her emotions. “And…perhaps you’re right. About all of it,” she adds, glancing back toward Daphne. “But it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing I can do.”

“Of course there—”

“No, there isn’t. You don’t understand how connected my father is. How many friends in high places he has.”

“You’re underestimating the Department of Magical Law Enforcement,” Daphne says.

“I’m not.”

“You are, and if you’d just— ”

“Do you honestly think I haven’t considered this before?” Pansy asks with frustration. She exhales sharply and pushes her hair back from her face. “Fine. Fine, let’s pretend there’s a chance I can stop him. Let’s pretend I tell an Auror what I saw. Then what?” she asks, raising an eyebrow. “He has contacts throughout the Ministry. He’ll be tipped off to any investigation immediately. And once he’s been tipped off, he’ll prepare for an interrogation. He’d barely even need to prepare,” Pansy adds with bitter smile. “My mum would never go against him. All he’d have to say is I was eight-years old at the time. My daughter had a bad dream, as children do,” Pansy says, imitating her father. “Terribly sorry to waste your time. And that would be that. The entire case would be dismissed.”

“No, that’s not…I mean, your aunt is a missing person,” Daphne says, shaking her head, but before she can continue, Pansy cuts her off. 

“She’s not. She was never reported missing. As far as the Wizarding world knows, she’s still alive and well. And even if I were to report her missing, it still wouldn’t hold water. Because even when she was alive, she was flighty. She’d pick up her life whenever she felt like it and start over somewhere new without telling a soul. She spent the first three years of my life in Greece. She lived in Italy for a year. Spent some time in America, too. All he’d have to say is we hear from her now and again. Fake a letter or two.” Pansy shakes her head. “I can’t bring him down, Daphne. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. So the best thing for me to do is to keep my head down. Besides, if he wanted me dead, he wouldn’t have sent the Howler. He’d have just done it and moved on with his life.”

Daphne stills at Pansy’s words and grows pale. “If he touches a single hair on your head, I’ll fucking kill him,” she says, her voice low and dangerous.

Pansy manages a shaky smile at the threat. “He won’t,” she reiterates. “I just need to be more careful. I promise you, I’ll be fine, so long as I play by the rules.”

“And you’re willing to do that?” Daphne asks, raising an eyebrow. 

Is she? Is she willing to undo all the progress she’s made over the past few weeks to appease her father? Can she revert to being a person she loathes, just to keep herself alive? She’ll have to use cruel language again, simply to fit in and avoid suspicion. She’ll need to rekindle her relationship with Draco. She’ll have to marry him one day. Perhaps have a child or two.

She’ll have to keep Hermione at arm’s length for the rest of their time at Hogwarts.

Something in Pansy’s stomach plummets at the thought, but she grits her teeth and forces herself to ignore the overwhelming despair inundating her body. It doesn’t matter how she feels about any of this. Because if this is what she needs to do to keep herself and the people she loves safe, then she’ll do it. 

Even if it destroys her, she’ll do it. 

“I have to,” Pansy says dully. “It’s either that or…” she trails off, the word die stuck in her throat. She swallows heavily around it, then murmurs, “I have to.” 

“So that’s it, then?” Daphne asks quietly. “You take all these steps toward being a better person, toward actually being happy for once in your life, and you’re just going to…what? Let your father push you right back into Draco’s arms? Let him scare you back into the closet?” 

“I…” Pansy glances past Daphne once more toward Hermione. She’s listening to something Ron is saying with a weak smile on her face, and Pansy feels a pang in her heart for what could have been. “Yes. It’s the only way,” Pansy whispers. “Because if I keep going down this path, I’d end up risking her, too. My father might not kill me, but he’d certainly have no qualms about killing the Muggle-born witch I have feelings for. And I won’t let that happen,” she adds, her tone leaving no room for argument. 

“Pansy…”

“We should go,” Pansy says abruptly, speaking at a normal volume. “Don’t want to be late for Potions.”

“We’re not done—”

“We are,” Pansy says with a warning glance. “We have to be done.”

“Pansy, would you just—” 

“And if we hurry, you can get you that bloody cauldron you love so much.”

“Pansy!” Daphne says, slapping her open palms down on the table in frustration.

“What?” Pansy hisses.

“Stop shutting me out. If we just think about this, we can figure something out.”

“We can’t,” Pansy says, feeling something inside of her break. “We can’t beat him and I will not risk anyone else’s life by trying. This is just how it has to be, but that’s okay! Because I can live with being fucking miserable for the rest of my life if it means everyone I care about gets to live.”

“But it’s…that’s not fair,” Daphne says, looking at Pansy desperately.

“No. It’s not,” Pansy says. “But just…promise me you won’t make this harder than it is, okay? Promise me you’ll respect my decision?”

Daphne absently trails her fingers over the glossy cover of her forgotten Witch Weekly. After what feels like a small eternity, she mumbles, “I promise,” sounding absolutely miserable. 

Pansy exhales shakily at the words and whispers, “thank you.” She glances down at the cover of Daphne’s Witch Weekly, remembering how simple their conversation had been ten minutes ago. Ten minutes ago, when the only thing she had been focused on was the gentle stirrings of butterflies in her stomach that seemed to happen every time she thought about patrolling with Hermione tonight. Now, she just feels tired and numb inside, as if someone has scooped out her insides, leaving her hollow and raw.

As Daphne gathers her things, Pansy lets her eyes fall on Hermione one more time. She’s absently nodding along to something Harry’s saying, but some part of her must feel Pansy’s gaze on her, because she turns away from Harry to meet Pansy’s eyes. They hold each other’s gaze for a moment and in those few, precious seconds, Pansy lets herself imagine a world in which things were simpler. A beautiful, easy world in which she’d have never been poisoned by her father’s beliefs. She’d have treated Hermione well, right from the start. She wouldn’t have been put off by her eagerness or by her know-it-all tendencies; instead, she’d have recognized her boundless intelligence, her sparkling wit, her radiant warmth. They’d have been friends. Perhaps they’d have even been more than friends, one day. And perhaps one day, if the stars managed to align just so, Pansy would have made good on her promise to show her the world. 

Merlin, how she would have loved to show her Paris. 

“Ready?” Daphne murmurs.

Slowly, Pansy drags her eyes away from Hermione’s concerned gaze. She nods to Daphne and picks up her bag, then stands and starts the long walk to Potions. And as she walks, she lets go of all the dreams she had secretly been harboring over the past few weeks, one by one. As each one flies away, she feels her heart crack, just a bit.

When she lets go of Paris, it shatters into pieces.

***

By the time patrols roll around, Pansy’s exhausted. She’s gone through her whole day in a fog with her father’s voice ringing in her ears. She’s ignored all attempts her housemates have made to get her to discuss the Howler and she had even turned her back to Draco when he had found her after Potions and started toward her with an apology lurking in his eyes. She didn’t want to discuss the morning’s events with anyone, especially not with him.

But it wasn’t just her housemates who were trying to get her to open up. 

Hermione had asked about the Howler as well. 

She had tentatively brought it up during Potions, and more than anything, Pansy had wanted to tell her what was going on. She wanted to spill all her sordid secrets, to air out every dusty, moldering skeleton lurking in her closet in the hopes that Hermione would know what to do with the shattered and splintered bones. But she had remembered her promise to keep Hermione safe by keeping her at a distance, so instead, she had simply given her head a quick shake and shut down the hesitant attempt at conversation. Hermione hadn’t pushed—she seemed to realize that Pansy was in a dark space, and she had simply sat beside her in understanding silence. 

But now, they’re thirty minutes into a completely silent patrol and it’s clear Hermione wants to talk. She keeps glancing at Pansy out of the corner of her eye and her body language is restless and twitchy. At first, Pansy thought it might be because she was on edge, remembering what had happened last Tuesday on patrols. But as time went on and the glances became more and more pronounced, she realized that the source of Hermione’s anxiety wasn’t the possibility of another unexpected attack—it was Pansy

If she hadn’t recently sworn to keep Hermione at arm’s length, it would have boosted her spirits. But now, it just makes her feel despondent. 

After what must be her fiftieth worried glance, Pansy sighs. It’s clear that Hermione won’t stand for being ignored all night, so perhaps Pansy can continue to keep her at a distance, minus the cold shoulder. 

Pansy clears her throat a bit and murmurs, “I’m fine, Granger. I’m just…thinking.”

Hermione stops walking and stares at her. “I didn’t say…I mean…what?” she asks, sounding surprised. 

Pansy pauses and studies Hermione. “You’ve been looking at me like I might combust every three seconds since we started this. I just…you don’t need to be…concerned,” she finishes hesitantly. It feels a bit odd to assume that Hermione’s worried over her wellbeing, but to be honest, there’s no other way she can interpret the nervous glances. 

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I just…” Hermione trails off and bites her lip nervously, and by some miracle, Pansy’s eyes don’t stray to the movement. “The Howler,” Hermione finally says with a small wince. “It sounded…I mean…that was a threat, wasn’t it?” 

Pansy anxiously fidgets with her wand. “It was a reminder,” she says carefully. 

“From your father?”

Pansy shrugs. “It’s not important.” 

“If your father is sending you threats in the form of Howlers, I’d say that’s important. I certainly don’t know much about him, but from what I’ve gathered…” she breaks off and gazes at Pansy with concern. “If he’s threatening you, you need to tell someone. You need to tell Dumbledore.”

Pansy shakes her head. “I don’t need to tell anyone. I know what my father expects, and I’m willing to do it.”

“Yes, but—”

“That’s all there is to it.”

“I know, but—”

“That’s all there is to it,” Pansy repeats, raising an eyebrow as if she’s daring Hermione to continue questioning her. 

Hermione huffs and purses her lips in frustration, but doesn’t continue pushing. Instead, she starts walking again, heading past Pansy toward the girl’s bathroom. But just as she’s about to pass Pansy, her eyes grow wide as they fix on something near the ceiling. Before Pansy can turn to see the source of Hermione’s surprise, she hears glass exploding behind her. 

Everything seems to slow down at the sound. It’s clear they’re under attack again, but unlike last time, Pansy might be too late to protect Hermione.

That doesn’t mean she won’t try.

Heart in her throat, Pansy whirls around. With one arm, she pushes Hermione behind her, intent on shielding her from all harm. Then, she flings out her wand and a nonverbal Protego explodes from the tip, shimmering in front of her and illuminating the dark corridor in a misty blue glow. Content that they’re safe for the moment, Pansy looks around wildly for the source of the attack, panic bubbling in her throat when she can’t find the culprit. Glass from a shattered lantern is glittering on the floor, but there’s no one in the hallway who could’ve caused the explosion.  

It’s only when Hermione lays a gentle hand on Pansy’s rigid arm and nods toward the ceiling that Pansy raises her gaze.  

Floating high above them is Peeves, wiggling his bare toes toward them and flashing a shit-eating grin.

Pansy’s grip tightens around her wand. “I’m going to fucking kill him,” she hisses, her heart still thumping wildly in her chest. She glances at Hermione quickly to make sure she’s fine to find hazel eyes already trained on her, regarding her with surprise and something else that she can’t quite place. But before she can think too hard about it, Peeves draws her attention again by blowing a massive raspberry.

“Oooooh! Threatening Peevesy, are you? Naughty, naughty,” he says in his infuriating sing-song voice. “And such a potty mouth, too! Naughty potty, naughty potty, naughty potty,” he says with a high-pitched cackle. 

Hermione sighs from beside Pansy, then pulls out her wand and points it toward the shattered glass on the floor. She murmurs Reparo and the glass shards immediately float up and begin to knit themselves back together. After a few moments, the lantern is completely fixed. Hermione relights the flame inside and with another flick of her wrist, hangs it back on the wall. Then, she turns to Peeves. “Don’t you have better things to do than harass us?” she asks flatly.

“Why, I’m not harassing, not harassing at all,” Peeves says. “Not doing nothing wrong! No danger for Granger, not while Peevesy is around! Lantern exploded on its own, it did,” he says with a broad grin. “BOOM!” he yells suddenly, then devolves into hysterical laughter.

“Let me kill him,” Pansy mutters beside Hermione.

Hermione ignores her and with the patience of a saint says, “I’m afraid I’ll have to call the Headmaster for this, Peeves. And I don’t think he’ll be understanding. Especially not after the attack last week,” she adds casually. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he forced you to leave Hogwarts, what with your propensity for dangerous antics. Better that than risk a student’s safety, don’t you think?”

Peeves frowns and his grin falters uncertainly. There’s only one thing that can scare Peeves off, and that’s threatening to call either Dumbledore or the Bloody Baron. And from the look on Hermione’s face, she’s not making an idle threat. 

“No, no, no need to call anyone, no need at all,” Peeves says. “Was just having a little fun, I was, but now I’m done. Shan’t give you anymore trouble, not me! But before I leave you two all alone in the dark…” His dark eyes glitter with malice and he puffs out his chest. “BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!” he bellows with glee. Then cackling madly, he zips away through the ceiling, presumably off to bother other patrollers. 

“I don’t know why Dumbledore lets him stay,” Pansy mutters, staring at the space previously occupied by Peeves with bitterness. 

“Why did you do that?” 

Pansy glances away from the ceiling and back toward Hermione, whose piercing gaze is trained on her. 

“Do what?” Pansy asks, arching an eyebrow and pocketing her wand, hoping that she won’t need it again tonight. 

“You pushed me behind you. Why?” 

“Oh. I…” Pansy trails off awkwardly. She’s desperately glad for the dim lighting in the hallway, masking her warm cheeks from Hermione’s eagle eyes. “I…I had my wand out already. You didn’t,” she finally says with a shrug, hoping it sounds somewhat convincing. 

Hermione shakes her head. “It was your first instinct to protect me. You didn’t even hesitate,” she says with quiet wonder. “And don’t pretend like that’s the norm for you,” she adds sharply. “You told me yourself, Slytherins err on the side of self-preservation.”

“So what, you thought I’d use you as a shield?” Pansy asks with a small scoff. 

“No. But…” Hermione shakes her head as if she’s trying to make sense of what just happened. Finally, she looks back to Pansy. “You’d protect yourself first. You wouldn’t make sure that I was safe before you cast Protego. Which by the way, how can you manage such a strong non-verbal Protego?” she asks, sounding genuinely impressed. 

Pansy winces uncomfortably. She could tell Hermione the truth: that she had locked herself in an empty classroom in the weeks after they first learned the charm, forcing herself to practice it over and over again non-verbally until she had finally managed to produce a weak version. It would raise more questions, though, because her practicing sessions had been conducted a full two years before non-verbal magic had even been introduced in their standard lesson plans. But growing up in a Wizarding family meant that Pansy knew the basics of non-verbal magic. That, coupled with her desire to never be left to her father’s mercies had been all she needed to master the spell. And now that she’s able to cast a powerful non-verbal Protego, she’s working on casting it wandlessly. Because if there’s one thing Pansy’s certain of, it’s that she’ll never be useless again. She’ll never stand by while her father hurts someone she loves. 

Hermione is still watching her, waiting for an answer. “I…I don’t know,” Pansy finally says, refusing to meet Hermione’s eyes. “I suppose it just comes naturally.” 

“You’re lying,” Hermione says calmly. 

Pansy’s eyes narrow. “Excuse me?”

“You’re lying,” Hermione repeats, unbothered by Pansy’s reaction. “You’re not the only one who’s been practicing non-verbal magic. I know firsthand how difficult it is. So to manage a Protego that powerful…” she shakes her head. “It doesn’t just come naturally,” she says. “You’ve been practicing it, and presumably for quite some time. …Why?” 

“For reasons that are my own,” Pansy says. She turns away from Hermione and starts walking toward the girl’s bathroom to continue her patrols. 

“Would those reasons have anything to do with your father?”

Pansy stops walking and feels every muscle in her body tense. She grits her teeth, turns, and says, “I’m not sure that’s any of your business.”

“You’re right. It’s not my business at all, but…” Hermione hesitates, and Pansy waits patiently. Finally, Hermione seems to deflate a bit. “You gave me good advice at Hogsmeade,” she says. “Advice I’ve been thinking about ever since. And I know we’re not friends, and we never will be, but I’d like to try and return the favor. I can’t force you to talk, and I never would,” she adds seriously, “but…sometimes you need to talk to someone who’s removed from the situation, remember?” she asks, repeating Pansy’s own words from the Three Broomsticks back to her. “And you’ve clearly been out of sorts since it happened. So if this isn't something you can discuss with Greengrass or Malfoy, then…perhaps you could tell me.” 

Merlin, she wants to. She wants to tell Hermione everything. To let her in the same way she had let Robin in, all those weeks ago. But instead, she shakes her head and mutters, “I can’t.”

“Why not?” Hermione says, refusing to back down. 

“I just can’t, Granger,” Pansy says. She’s aware of the pain in her voice, but at this moment, she doesn’t particularly care. She’s hurting, she’s exhausted, and after the debacle with Peeves, her nerves are still on edge.

Hermione must pick up on her anguished tone though, because she takes a step forward. “Because you’re afraid of him?” she asks without a trace of judgment in her eyes. 

“I…” Pansy closes her eyes and exhales sharply. “Yes,” she murmurs. She opens her eyes and looks at Hermione. “I am.”

“And he’s hurt people you love,” Hermione murmurs, a small furrow on her brow. 

Pansy nods weakly. Alarm bells are faintly ringing in her head, telling her she’s doing the exact opposite of what she decided on at breakfast. Instead of keeping Hermione away, she’s desperately hoping she keeps prying into Pansy’s past and unravels the whole sordid story. And if the look on Hermione’s face is any indication, that’s exactly what she intends to do. 

“If he’s dangerous, you need to tell someone. You need to tell Dumbledore,” Hermione says again, more urgently this time. 

“I can’t,” Pansy says.

“Why not? From the sound of it, you’d be doing the world a service.”

At that, Pansy smiles ruefully. “I would be,” she concedes. “But I can’t.” 

“Why?” Hermione asks taking another step forward, her eyes boring into Pansy’s. 

“Because,” Pansy says. “He’s dangerous. More dangerous than you could ever know.”

At this, Hermione scoffs. Instantly, her gaze turns apologetic. “Sorry,” she says quickly. “I’m sure he is, it’s just…I’ve been helping Harry fight Voldemort since I was eleven. I’m quite used to dangerous men by now.”

“I suppose that’s true,” Pansy says, wincing with discomfort at Hermione’s casual use of the name. 

“It is,” Hermione replies evenly. “And honestly, anything you’d tell me about your father would be small potatoes in comparison. I bet I’d hardly even react,” she adds lightly. “Go on. Try me.” 

Pansy stares at Hermione for a moment. “Are you…are you actually trying to taunt me into spilling my tragic backstory?” she asks with amazement. 

Hermione shrugs. “Maybe. Is it working?”

In spite of herself, Pansy snorts. “I don’t think so.” 

“Well, worth a shot,” Hermione says. But even though her tone is light, her eyes are still concerned, and Pansy knows she’s not done trying. “It’s just…I can see this is troubling you and it wouldn’t hurt you to talk about it,” she says carefully. “Perhaps I could help.”

Pansy shakes her head. “I appreciate it the offer. Really, I do, but…” she sighs and slumps back against the wall behind her. “The less you know, the better.”

Hermione arches an eyebrow and gives her a wry look. “I’d suggest you remember who you’re talking to, Parkinson. I’ve never subscribed to that belief and I never will.” 

Pansy manages a small smile. “No. No, I suspect you wouldn’t,” she murmurs, regarding Hermione with far too much fondness lurking in her eyes. Quickly, she shakes her head before Hermione can notice and says, “it just has to be this way. There’s no alternative. My father expects certain things from me, and it’s my responsibility to deliver them.” 

“I understand,” Hermione says. Then she sighs and her shoulders slump a bit. “As I said, I won’t force you to talk. But know it’s a standing offer. If you ever decide to air your frustrations about your father, then…well, what he doesn’t know won’t kill him,” she says. Then, she turns and walks toward the girl’s bathroom to continue patrolling. 

Pansy nods absently and is about to push off the wall to join her when Hermione’s statement actually registers. 

What he doesn’t know won’t kill him.

Pansy’s thought process momentarily stalls and she frowns a bit. She repeats it to herself, almost hesitantly.

What he doesn’t know won’t kill him.

Pansy inhales sharply as she realizes the massive, idiotic flaw in her logic. How could she be so bloody stupid? She doesn’t have to actually revert to the person she once was—she can just pretend, a fact that had conveniently escaped her anxious, addled mind a few hours ago. Because somehow, in the depths of her despair, she had thought the only option to convince her father that she was still the same daughter he had raised was to be that person. But if there’s one thing Pansy knows she can do better than her father, it’s pretend.

She didn’t spend years in the closet for nothing.

She straightens her back against the wall as she considers this new turn of events, and the more she thinks about it, the more hope she feels.

She doesn’t have to date Draco again. She just has to be brave and tell him the truth, the whole truth this time, and hope he’s willing to cover for her until she can escape her parent’s house.

She doesn’t have to revert to horrid language—she can simply talk to her fellow Slytherins about Muggle-borns in the same snide, awful way that she always has, but this time, ditch the offensive slur. 

She doesn’t have to keep Hermione at arm’s length—she can tell her what’s happening. She can let her in on everything while still ensuring she stays safe.

Pansy’s certainly hinted at her troubled past before, but now is the perfect opportunity to fully open up and explain her childhood to Hermione. To tell her every last detail and hope that by the end, she’ll understand why Pansy’s desperately trying to make changes in her life. She’s cautiously optimistic that they’re finally in a decent enough place that Hermione will be open to listening, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt her own cause to practice being more vulnerable. 

And perhaps more than anything, Hermione deserves the whole story. Pansy owes it to her.

She digs her fingernails into her palms and takes a deep breath. 

Now or never. 

She glances back to Hermione, who’s currently peering into the girl’s bathroom. After a moment, she lets the door close and turns back to face Pansy. “All clear in there,” she says, then turns to continue down the hallway. 

“Granger. Wait,” Pansy says, quickly pushing off from the wall. 

Hermione stops and turns to face Pansy, raising an eyebrow. “Change your mind about talking?” she asks dryly. 

“Yes.”

Hermione’s eyes widen a fraction and she shakes her head. “I was just…I was joking, you don’t have to—”

“I don’t. But I want to.” Pansy glances around, then nods to a bench outside of the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. “Can we…?” 

Hermione follows her gaze, then frowns. “We’re meant to be patrolling,” she says, sounding a bit conflicted. 

“And we will. We will, I just…please?” she asks, unable to come up with a good reason. But Hermione must take pity on her, because she sighs, nods, and starts toward the bench. Pansy follows her and sits down cautiously, leaving a healthy amount of space between them. Once they’re both settled, Hermione turns to face Pansy expectantly. 

With a deep breath, Pansy starts talking. 

“The Howler…how much of it did you hear?” 

Hermione gives her a look, as if she’s trying to figure out if she’s joking or not. When Pansy just gazes back at her, Hermione arches an eyebrow. “All of it. Hower’s aren’t exactly known for their subtlety.”

Pansy fiddles nervously with her skirt. “So you heard the bit about remembering the the cost of insubordination?” 

Hermione nods, and Pansy sighs. “He was referring to something. A very specific moment in my life.” 

She stares at the wall across the way for a while as she tries to work up the nerve to speak. Hermione is quiet for a while, but when Pansy remains silent, she murmurs, “you really don’t have to tell me.”

“No, I…I do. I…” Pansy sighs and runs a hand through her hair. “The Parkinson family isn’t the easiest family to be born into,” she starts quietly, sorting through her thoughts. “You have to play by certain rules, and if you don’t…” Pansy breaks off as she thinks about lifeless green eyes. She shakes her head a bit and continues, “there are consequences. And when I was a child, I found out what they were. My…” Pansy hesitates briefly, biting her lower lip. She had been on the cusp of saying my aunt, but she had quickly remembered that she couldn’t tell Hermione the complete truth. After all, Hermione knows that her bard had a rebellious aunt who had died when she was eight. It certainly wouldn’t take a genius to connect the dots. Even Weasley could probably manage it. 

Instead, she decides to skirt as close to the truth as she can. “My grandmother,” she says. “My maternal grandmother. She was different than the rest of the family. Used to tell me that Muggle-borns were just the same as us. No one can help the blood they’re born with, just as you and I can’t help that we were born with green eyes,” Pansy says, quietly quoting her aunt’s long-ago words, whispered to her in the safety of a warm, wonderful library. “She was the farthest thing from a Parkinson as you could get. I think that’s why I loved her so much…she was the one bright, warm spot in what was otherwise a horribly bleak childhood. But her tolerance and acceptance infuriated my father to no end. He said she was making a laughingstock of the Parkinson name. Said he wouldn’t stand for it. He and my mother started to call her a blood-traitor. They eventually banned me from seeing her altogether. I was devastated,” Pansy murmurs. She takes a deep breath as she steels herself for what’s to come. “She had given me this doll,” Pansy finally says with a small smile. “A beautiful doll that she found in Italy. It had green eyes and black hair. She thought it was the loveliest thing she had ever seen…said it reminded her of me,” she adds quietly. “I’d carry that doll with me everywhere. It was my only friend for quite a while, so of course I had it that night when my…my grandmother came over to our house. She hadn’t been there in ages, but my father had invited her and I was so happy,” Pansy whispers, feeling the tell-tale burning of tears in her eyes as the scene unravels in her mind. “I dropped the doll from where I was playing underneath the table and ran to her and she hugged me, and…Merlin, her hugs. No one hugged quite like she did.” Pansy leans her head back against the wall and closes her eyes. “But my father told me that the grown-ups needed to discuss things. He told me to say goodbye to her.” Pansy opens her eyes and looks toward Hermione. “Say goodbye. Not goodnight. Perhaps it should have struck me as odd at the time, but I was so young.”

Hermione is watching her with troubled eyes and Pansy finds herself curiously unable to speak under her gaze. She turns away and tilts her head toward the ceiling. “Anyway. I said goodnight to her and my mum took me upstairs. Tucked me in and closed the door. And it was only after a few minutes that I realized I had left my doll downstairs. I couldn’t sleep without her. I’d have nightmares,” she adds with a rueful smile, thinking of the nightmare to come. “So I snuck out of bed and crept back downstairs. The back door to the dining room was open, so I knew that I could pop in without anyone noticing, get my doll, and run back to bed. And no one did notice me at first,” Pansy says. “I crawled along the floor and snuck underneath the table where I had left her. And I was going to leave immediately, but I heard what my father was saying, and I…I stayed to listen,” Pansy whispers. “He was saying awful things to her. Calling her all sorts of horrid, cruel names. Calling her a blood-traitor, telling her that she had brought shame to the Parkinson name. He said he had been lenient for far too long, and that she’d finally have to face the consequences of her actions. But she was never one to take things lying down, so she was yelling back at him. Goading him, taunting him. She was spirited. She couldn’t have known at the time what was going to happen.” Pansy closes her eyes and exhales slowly, the continues. “The first Crucio came out of nowhere. I almost thought I had misheard…he was so calm. Eerily calm,” Pansy says as the ghost of her father’s voice echoes in her ears. “But when she started screaming, I knew I hadn’t misheard. I’d never heard screams like that before. Bloodcurdling. Like she was being ripped apart at the seams. It went on for so long. I couldn’t breath the whole time. But once she was quiet, I thought that was the end. That it had just been a threat to keep her in line. But then he said I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but you’ve left me no choice. The next Crucio was even worse. As was the one after that, and the one after that, and so on and so forth. And each time it ended, I would desperately hope that that was it. That he’d given up. But he never did,” Pansy whispers, her voice breaking. 

“My god,” Hermione murmurs beside her, quiet and horrified. 

“She tried to get away from him each time. She’d crawl a bit further along the floor, just trying to escape the pain. And eventually, she got far enough that she could see me, frozen and terrified under the table. She wasn’t in her right mind by that point,” Pansy says quietly. “She couldn’t speak. But when she saw me, she stared at me so desperately. I don’t think she even knew who I was anymore, but it didn’t matter. She was begging me to do something, and I just…I couldn’t,” Pansy hissed, clenching her fists. “All I could do was watch.” Pansy blinks away hot tears and says, “that’s why I can cast a non-verbal Protego. So if I ever find myself in that situation again, I’ll be prepared.” 

“Pansy…” Hermione murmurs, but Pansy shakes her head. She’s not done, and if she stops to let Hermione ask questions or offer consolations, she’ll never finish. 

“My mum eventually noticed me. Gathered me up from under the table and took me back to my room. But not before I got a good look at my…my grandmother’s eyes,” Pansy says. “She was barely alive. I’m not even sure if she was alive, to tell you the truth. I think I just wanted to believe that she was. But she was so broken. Her body was broken, her mind was broken, and it was just…” Pansy quickly brushes away a stray tear. “She was the strongest, kindest, best woman  I’d ever known. So to see her like that…” She trails off and takes a shaky breath, forcing the familiar image out of her mind. “After it was all done, my father came to talk to me. I was so sure he was going to kill me that night. I remember waiting for him to turn his wand on me. But he didn’t…he just sat on the side of my bed and told me that what I witnessed was what happened when people went against pure-blood supremacy. That if I believed in the same things she did, I’d face the same consequences.”

God,” Hermione says, exhaling sharply and shaking her head. Horror is etched on her face, her mouth is twisted in revulsion, and Pansy notices that her fingers are gripping the bench so tightly that the tips have turned white. After a few long, silent moments, Hermione finally glances at Pansy. “So the threat in the Howler…” she says, a question in her voice. 

“Was a reminder. A reminder of that night. Of what he can do to me, if I stray from his teachings. If I dishonor the Parkinson name. I’d assume he heard that I was the reason Baddock and Montague were expelled. That I went against two pure-blood students in order to save you. A decision I don’t regret, by the way,” Pansy says firmly, trying to assuage the guilt lurking in Hermione’s eyes. “Not in the slightest. But that decision in and of itself screams blood-traitor. And when he heard I broke things off with Draco…I suppose that was one transgression too many.” 

Hermione shakes her head. “I don’t understand,” she says quietly. “If this is the burden you’ve lived with all of these years…if you know what your father is capable of, then…”

“Why am I trying to change?” Pansy asks, reading the unspoken question in Hermione’s eyes. Hermione nods hesitantly, and Pansy sighs. 

She wants to say you, but she controls the impulse. Instead, she says, “I’ve spent years blocking out the details of that night. Justifying the things my father did in some mad attempt to make it make sense. And it worked. I convinced myself that he was right, that she deserved it, that she was dangerous…but recently, certain…certain things have happened that have forced me to revisit that night,” she says. Her eyes dart quickly toward Hermione, the unknowing sole source of Pansy’s crisis of faith, then flick back toward the floor. “And it’s been difficult, to say the least. But it’s something I should have done ages ago. And in the process, I’ve come to realize a few things.”

Hermione lifts an eyebrow but stays quiet, waiting for Pansy to continue. “I’ve realized that as much as I desperately wanted to believe my father was acting in our best interests, he wasn’t. He never was. He’s been a monster all of my life, but I just wouldn’t let myself see it. Mostly because I was terrified of facing the same fate as my grandmother, but also because I didn’t want to believe that he was capable of such a horrifying, inhumane act without good reason. But he didn’t have good reason, which was the cause for my other realization, and perhaps the one that you’ll be more interested in—I’ve realized that she was right all along. My grandmother, that is. Muggle-born, pure-blood…it…it doesn’t really matter, does it?” Pansy asks, raising her eyes to meet Hermione’s surprised gaze. “She was right—no one can help the blood they’re born with. But somehow, my father managed to convince me that she was the mad one. That her words were poison and that if I believed them, that if I showed even the slightest hint toward being sympathetic toward Muggle-borns, then he’d…well. You know.” She twists a bit so she’s fully facing Hermione and says, “none of this is an excuse. I realize it shouldn’t have taken me this long to get to here, to reach these conclusions. But I suppose…I don’t know. I thought that after seven years, you deserved the full story. To know what motivated me. To know where I come from and why I believed the things I did. So…that’s it. That’s my story.” She slumps sideways against the wall behind her, leaning her weight against her shoulder as she waits for whatever judgment Hermione might have in store for her. 

Hermione takes a deep breath and exhales slowly as she pushes a hand through her hair, clearly trying to digest everything she’s just heard. After a few long moments, she turns to Pansy. “Thank you,” she says, her gaze clear and earnest. “That couldn’t have been easy for you. I can’t even begin to imagine the torment you must go through each day, being forced to live with that memory. The burden you’ve carried for so long,” she adds, her voice laced with pain. “I’m sorry. No child should have to experience such a horrifying trauma, but to see it at the hands of someone you’re supposed to trust,” Hermione says, shaking her head in disbelief. “He can’t get away with that, mind you. And we won’t let him,” she adds, her tone hard. But before Pansy can raise the same objections she did to Daphne, Hermione continues. “But really, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for you, I’m sorry for your grandmother, I…I wish I knew the right things to say to make it easier, but I just…” she trails off and shakes her head again. “I don’t know what to say besides I’m sorry. But that doesn’t do much, does it?”

Pansy smiles a bit and shrugs. “You don’t need to say anything. Honestly, it’s enough that you were willing to listen,” she adds. “I’d imagine it’s not the easiest story to sit through.”

“No, it’s certainly not,” Hermione murmurs. “And I’m not even sure how I feel right now. Part of me is so horrified on your behalf that I can barely stomach it, but a bigger part of me is angry enough to march past your massive moat or whatever ridiculous thing you have guarding your mansion and arrest your father myself, rules be damned,” she says, her eyes flashing dangerously in the dark.

Pansy smirks a bit at the fire in Hermione’s tone, finding herself much more appreciative of it when it’s not directed at her. “Well, much as I understand your reaction, I’d still recommend against it.” She absently crosses her legs and says, “I can assure you, I didn’t tell you the whole tragic tale in the hopes that you’d descend on him like some righteous angel of vengeance. I only told you because…” she shrugs. “I thought you deserved to know. After everything that’s happened between us, I mean.”

Hermione nods. “I won’t lie, it’s certainly helpful for me to understand where you’re coming from. And to be honest with you, I’ve been having a hard time wondering whether or not I should trust this change of yours. And I’ve been having an even harder time trying to figure out if I should forgive you or not. I even asked a friend of mine,” she says, bouncing her leg a bit as a slight flush comes to her cheeks.

“Oh? And what did this friend say?” Pansy asks, all the while feeling fairly confident that she’s the friend in question.

“She told me to never forgive out of obligation. To only forgive if it’s in my best interests.”

Pansy hums thoughtfully, pretending to ponder her own words. “Good advice. Almost sounds like something a Slytherin would say,” she adds, keeping her tone purposefully light.

Hermione’s brow furrows just a bit, as if she’s never really considered that possibility. Then she nods slowly and says, “I suppose it does. But no matter who said it, it is good advice. And I’ve been mulling it over for a while now.”

“And?” Pansy asks. She’s trying to sound casual, but her heart is in her throat as she waits to hear Hermione’s verdict. 

“And…” Hermione sighs and studies the empty space on the bench between their bodies, lost in thought. Slowly, she says, “I think that there is grace, dignity, and humility in changing your mind. In admitting that you were wrong.” She lifts her eyes to Pansy’s and says, “I think you’re genuine in your remorse. I think you’re trying to be a better person. And I think that kind of effort should never be ignored, or scorned, or belittled. It’s never easy to change, and knowing what I know now,” she shakes her head a bit. “Frankly, I’m stunned it’s even happening.” 

“Does that mean…I mean, do you…do you,” Pansy huffs at her inability to form a complete sentence, then says, “what does that mean?”

A small frown creases Hermione’s brow as she considers the question. “It means I don’t feel like punishing you anymore. It means I have sympathy for how you were raised, and an enormous amount of respect for the courage you’re showing in pushing back. It means I trust that you won’t revert to who you were before and be a horrid person to me tomorrow. It means…” she trails off and once again, studies the bench. After a moment, she lifts her eyes back to Pansy’s and says, “it means…yes. I think I can very tentatively consider…forgiving you.” 

Pansy exhales sharply as she feels a weight lift from her shoulders. Because ever since she made the decision to try to show Hermione her real self, she’s been struggling with the knowledge that there was a good chance Hermione would never forgive her. That she’d try her hardest and at the end of the day, she’d still find cold contempt lurking in Hermione’s eyes. But there’s no contempt in her gaze right now. Instead, there’s something cautious there, something genuine, yet still tentative, and Pansy wants to fling out her arms at the sight and laugh hysterically. Relief is coursing powerfully through her system and even though she’s been wrong about this countless times before, there’s some part of her that feels like this might be the start of something genuinely good in her life. 

Desperately, she fights off the grin that’s threatening to take over her face, instead managing to school her features into something more appropriately grateful. “I…I appreciate that, Granger. Thank you,” she says. 

Hermione nods, then says, “for what it’s worth, I really hope my faith isn’t misplaced.”

“It’s not,” Pansy says quickly. “I meant what I said in Potions last week. I am sorry. For everything. For being a twat to you for so many years, for being so cruel when you did nothing to deserve it, for calling you…well, you know,” she says awkwardly, refusing to let the slur pass her lips. “I’m sorry for all of it.” 

“All of it, really?” Hermione asks with an arched brow. “I seem to remember you saying you should be knighted for calling me out on never admitting when I’m wrong.” 

Pansy fidgets uncomfortably for a second, but then Hermione says, “honestly, you were right about that bit. I’m notoriously bad at admitting to being wrong. Even Harry and Ron would probably agree with you.” She shifts a bit on the bench, then says, “and for what it’s worth, you’re not the only one who’s said some particularly nasty things over the years. I’m certainly not…entirely blameless,” she says carefully.

Pansy scoffs. “You are. Because your particularly nasty lines were always comebacks to the skirmishes I initiated.”

“Well…yes, I suppose that’s true.” Hermione studies the floor for a moment, then lifts her head. “Why me?” she asks, tilting her head curiously. “If you don’t mind me asking. Of all the Muggle-borns at this school…why me?”

“It’s going to sound ridiculous,” Pansy says, running a nervous hand through her hair.

“Oh? Try me.”

Pansy swallows heavily, then nods. “I saw you judging me,” she murmurs. “First year. We’d never even had a conversation and you were looking at me like I was two seconds away from changing into Death Eater robes at the breakfast table. It irritated me. That you’d judge me simply because I was wearing green. And I suppose I’ve always been a bit petty, so I decided if you were going to look at me like that, I’d give you a reason to.”

“I…I don’t remember that,” Hermione says with a small frown.

“No, why would you? It was ages ago. And anyway, I’m sure you were right to look at me like that. I was next to Draco at the time and Merlin knows, he had probably done something stupid and worthy of judgment. But like I said, I’m a petty, spiteful fool and I didn’t like you looking at me like that, so I suppose I just wanted to knock you down a peg or two. Especially once I found out how bloody brilliant you were,” Pansy says with a small smile and a wry shake of her head. 

Hermione stares at Pansy with a slightly open mouth, seemingly amazed that she’s just willingly called her brilliant. Pansy takes advantage of her bewildered silence to continue trying to explain herself. “I think…I think it started as something of a game,” she murmurs, bouncing her leg a bit as she casts her mind back to those early days between her and Hermione. “You were so righteous and such a know-it-all that all I wanted to do was make you lose your temper. And after a bit, it became a personal challenge of sorts…to gain the upper hand on the great Hermione Granger. I always wanted to see how far I could push you. But somehow, no matter what horrible things I said to you, it always seemed to backfire. You were always there with some clever retort or withering putdown and I always ended up looking like a fool. At first, I just used it as inspiration to get better. To refine my insults and sharpen my words. But the longer it went on and the older we got…” she trails off and stares at the wall across the way, letting her mind run through some of their worst encounters over the years. She winces a bit and says, “It stopped being a game. I became bitter and angry at looking like a fool in comparison, which of course led me to lash out at you more often in some mad attempt to one-up you. A stupid, vicious cycle. And obviously, I always had my father’s voice in my ear, telling me that you were nothing compared to me and that if I let you have the upper hand, I’d be disgracing the family name.” Pansy shakes her head and sighs. “It was all a bit of a perfect storm of my own making, but I was too stubborn and too stupid to see it.”

She stops talking and looks at Hermione, who’s staring at the wall, lost in thought. After a few long moments, she looks at Pansy with guarded eyes and says, “and now?” 

“And now, I know what an idiotic, pathetic twat I’ve been,” Pansy says, desperately hoping Hermione can hear the honesty in her voice. 

“But why?” Hermione asks. “I can understand how reliving that night with your grandmother would make you reassess certain views, but there’s nothing wrong with just disliking someone. And if you disliked me for my personality, rather than the fact I’m Muggle-born, then that’s one thing. But…” she shakes her head and says, “maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like you don’t even dislike me anymore.” 

“I don’t,” Pansy says, her voice low and dangerously full of emotion. 

Why?” 

It’s a question Pansy’s been waiting for. It’s also one she’s been trying to figure out an easy explanation for, and she’s fairly confident she’s landed on something a little less shocking than I’m kind of falling in love with you, also, I’m your bard. She drops her gaze to her lap and says, “I suppose that revisiting that night…it made me rethink quite a few things in my life. One of them being my relationship with Draco,” she says slowly. “At the end of the day, I knew I couldn’t let him be a part of my future. That I needed to do the right thing for both of us and end it. But it wasn’t an easy decision, and I was having a difficult time. Maybe you remember? It was the day you had completely convinced yourself that I was going to attack you in the middle of Potions,” she says, rolling her eyes fondly at both the memory and Hermione’s petulant glower. “Anyway, that was the first day that I was too tired to fight with you. It was strange—I felt mostly numb, yet at the same time, I was full of so many new thoughts that I didn’t know what to do with. And I think that mix of emotions led me to talk to you like you were a person for the first time, mostly because I was too tired and confused to do anything else. And once class was over, I realized it was kind of…nice,” Pansy says awkwardly. “Not having to waste so much energy being cruel, or trying to put you down. It was nice,” she repeats. “So I did the same thing the next day, and the day after that, and…I don’t know. It was just easier. You were easy to talk to.” She glances toward Hermione and adds, “turns out, you’re not so bad when some obnoxious arse isn’t trying to provoke you at every turn.” She hopes ending her explanation on a lighter note will be seen as a good thing and not something that irritates Hermione.

It seems to work in her favor though, because Hermione gives a small snort. “Thank you, I think,” she says. Then, she leans her head back against the stone wall behind her and studies the ceiling. After a few moments, she says, “I appreciate you telling me all of that.” 

“Like I said, you deserved to know the whole story. Every last bit of why I’ve been such an unrelentingly awful person for seven years. And you also deserve to know how sorry I am. For all of it. And I know that I’ll never be able to make it all up to you but I can try. And I will try.”

“I believe you.”

The words are delivered so simply that Pansy’s certain she misheard them. She shakes her head a bit and says, “what?”

“I believe you,” Hermione repeats, turning her head to look at Pansy. 

“You…do?” Pansy asks, a bit stupidly.

Hermione nods. “I do. It’s like I said—I believe your remorse is genuine, and your explanation for everything makes a certain amount of sense. And even if I haven’t completely forgiven you for years of bullying, I can at least somewhat understand what motivated it.”

Before Pansy can say anything, Hermione says, “plus, you’ve already realized that blood-status doesn’t matter, and you’ve started calling me a Muggle-born. All things considered, you’re making a remarkably good start. Though, actually…” she frowns, and Pansy waits nervously, wondering if she’s abruptly changed her mind about forgiveness for some reason. “You’ve saved me twice now, you know,” Hermione finally says, seemingly from out of nowhere.

“I…what?” Pansy asks, confused. 

“Two times. First from Baddock and Montague, and then tonight with Peeves.”

“Oh…I…yes. I suppose I have,” Pansy says, still completely lost. When Hermione doesn’t say anything, Pansy quirks an eyebrow. “So?”

So I think that anyone who would risk their neck for me not just once but twice should probably call me by my name,” Hermione says, tilting her head and studying Pansy with a challenge glimmering in her eyes. “My actual name.”

“Oh,” Pansy says, feeling completely caught off guard. “I…I suppose I can. But only if that’s what you want,” she adds quickly. 

Hermione gazes at her with amusement. “I genuinely prefer to be called by my given name, yes. I think most people do.” 

“Right. Right, I can…I’ll just…make that change, then, shall I?” Pansy asks. She’s aware she’s babbling like a complete idiot, and it makes her want to bash her head into the wall behind her. It’s only when she sees Hermione’s mouth lift up into a tiny smile that she feels a bit better about her sudden inability to speak English.

“Excellent,” Hermione says. Then the smile fades and she clasps her hands together. “Now that we’ve sorted through all of that…” her gaze turns serious and Pansy feels a bit apprehensive at whatever is coming next. “Your father,” Hermione says.

Oh. That. 

Pansy shifts uncomfortably. “What about him?”

“What about him?” Hermione echoes with incredulity. “Pansy, you can’t let him get away with…with murder,” she says, lowering her voice as if someone might overhear them in this completely empty hallway. “He’s an abhorrent tyrant who thinks he’s above the law, but he’s not. And he needs to be brought to justice. So…do you have a plan?”

“No,” Pansy says, readying herself for the same conversation she’s already had with Daphne. 

“Why not?” Hermione asks swiftly, her back straightening. 

“Because there’s nothing I can do about him,” Pansy says weakly. “I’ve already made up my mind to pretend to be the person he wants me to be. And it’s actually the best option,” she says. “He thinks I’m still under his thumb, and I…I get to live. As does everyone that I care about.” 

Hermione crosses her arms and studies Pansy, unamused. “That’s not the best option, and you know it. The best option is you getting to live the life you want, all while a murderer goes to Azkaban to pay the price for his crimes.”

“It’s not that simple. I’ve already gone through this, and I’ve discussed it with Daphne. No matter what I think of, no matter how many ideas I have, I can always think of a way he’d sneak around them. He’s got friends in the Ministry. He knows how to get around standard interrogation techniques. He’s slippery,” she says with a sigh. “Which is why pretending to adhere to his rules is actually the best option.” 

“There must be something you haven’t thought of yet,” Hermione says pragmatically. She taps her foot restlessly, then looks up quickly with interest glimmering in her eyes. “Have you gone to the library yet?” 

Pansy stares at her, bewildered. “I…have not gone to the library, no. What, do you think I should check out some books and chuck them at his head whenever the mood strikes?” 

“No,” Hermione says with a scoff, then she pauses thoughtfully. “Well…yes, why not? Could be cathartic. But no, that’s not what I meant. The library has records of thousands of Wizengamot trials, dating back to the 1700s. Any crime you can think of, there’s a record of it in the library. And there are plenty of books about Aurors and their interrogation techniques, the most creative ways to trip up dark wizards…everything you could ask for, really. And just last week, I saw a biography written from a dark wizard from Azkaban. It details all his crimes in horrifyingly graphic detail and how he got away with them. I thought it was just disgusting and unnecessarily braggadocios pulp at the time, but it’s actually perfect!” 

“Is it?” Pansy asks, watching with baffled amusement as Hermione’s entire face starts to glow as she discusses the wonders of the library in enraptured bliss. 

Merlin, the way she feels about this ridiculous witch…

“Yes!” Hermione says brightly. “We can put ourselves in your father’s shoes! Figure out how he’d avoid detection and then ensnare him using his own logic! And I’m sure some of those Wizengamot cases will be relevant. It’s just a matter of sorting through them all and finding the right ones.” 

“So, let me just see if I’m following you,” Pansy asks, leaning her head against the wall once more and uncrossing her legs. “You think the best way to defeat a dark wizard…a cold-blooded killer…is to go to the library.” 

Hermione glares at Pansy’s light, amused tone. “Yes,” she says, lifting her chin. “As a matter of fact, I do.” 

“Fine, fine,” Pansy says, lifting her hands in a truce motion. “I’ll humor you. Let’s say I go to the library and find all those books. It would take me absolute ages to get through them. And even if I managed to get through it all before I turn eighty, I’d still have no guarantee that I’d find anything worthwhile. It’d be a massive, bloody nightmare. And frankly, it’d be more trouble than it’s worth when I could just go on pretending that everything is fine.”

“It would be a nightmare, yes,” Hermione agrees easily. “But it’d be worth it.”

“Would it?” Pansy asks. 

“Yes. Actually, a very wise witch recently told me something that might be relevant here. She said that she was, and I quote, a firm believer that worthwhile things rarely come easily,” Hermione says, adopting a lofty, posh tone as she parrots Pansy’s words from Hogsmeade back at her. 

“She sounds like a miserable old bat,” Pansy says flatly.

“Well, she’s that, too,” Hermione says with both a surprised laugh and a broad, genuine smile that lights up Pansy’s entire body like someone’s lit off a Dr. Filibuster’s Firework inside of her. It’s the first time Hermione’s ever actually smiled at her. Not just a slight twitch of the lips or a vaguely amused smirk, but a genuine, beautiful, honest-to-Merlin smile. 

And her laugh! Merlin, her laugh. Pansy decides then and there that her future is settled. She doesn’t need to take her N.E.W.T.s, she doesn’t need to find a job at the Ministry. She’ll simply spend the rest of her life chasing that perfect laugh and searching for that flawless smile. She’ll never want for anything, so long as she can be the recipient of both those magical things for all of her days.  

“But even if she’s a miserable old bat, she was right,” Hermione says, pulling Pansy back into the moment at hand. “Because yes…you could go on pretending. It would be easier. But you’d be miserable. And honestly, wouldn’t you rather be happy? Wouldn’t you rather live authentically?” she asks. As soon as the word escapes her lips, a small shadow passes over her face. Before Pansy can think too much about it, Hermione hurries on. “Plus, you’d be getting justice for your grandmother. And I for one thinks she deserves that. Don’t you?” 

The mention of her “grandmother” brings Pansy back down to earth, and she runs a hand through her hair. “Of course I do. And she does deserve it. More than anything. But I can’t fight against him. People will get hurt. He’s too strong and too clever and too crafty. I just…I can’t do it on my own.” she finally says, sounding weak and defeated.

“Well, obviously not,” Hermione says with a scoff. “I’ve seen you in the library…twice? Maybe three times, if I’m being generous. You don’t know it anywhere near well enough. But luckily for you, I do.” 

Pansy turns to Hermione, stung. “I’ve been in the library loads of times! Just because you’ve always got your nose stuck in a—” she stops suddenly as Hermione’s words register, and she looks at her, completely flummoxed. “Hold on. Are you saying that you’d…you’d help me?” she asks, her eyes widening at her own words. 

“I happen to love a challenge,” Hermione says easily. “And I happen to be a firm believer in justice, even in the face of danger. And I also happen to be a Gryffindor. We tend to be a fairly determined lot, especially when it comes to righting wrongs.”

“Annoyingly so, yes. But…I mean, you’ve barely decided to forgive me and now you want to help me take down my father?” 

“That about sums it up, yes,” Hermione says. 

“Why?” Pansy asks, tapping a restless finger against her thigh as she tries to puzzle out Hermione’s motives. 

“Because I don’t believe in letting evil cowards prosper,” Hermione says simply. “And what’s more, I believe that evil only holds power so long as it continues to go unchecked. If you never stand up to your father, if you spend the rest of your life living in fear of what he might do to you, then he’s won. So don’t. Don’t let him have that power,” she says, her tone even and calm. “Don’t let him win.” 

“I…”

And I think you’re making headway at being a genuinely decent person. I wouldn’t want your father to get in the way of that. We need all the genuinely decent witches we can get nowadays, so if I can help keep you on that track, then I will.”

“I…suppose you’re right,” Pansy says uncertainly.

“I know I’m right,” Hermione replies easily. “After all, I think it was you who called me the brightest witch of our age?” 

Pansy snorts, remembering when she had tossed the phrase at Hermione weeks and weeks ago, intending it as an insult. Now, it just makes her smile. “And so humble, too.” But just as she’s about to agree to Hermione’s help, she remembers her promise from this morning. She can’t risk Hermione actually getting involved in this debacle, because she can’t risk Hermione getting hurt. So she sighs and shakes her head. “As much as I appreciate the offer, I’m afraid I can’t accept your help.” 

“Why?” Hermione asks, tilting her head curiously.

“Because,” she takes a deep breath, then says, “because I wouldn’t want you to get hurt. I already failed to save one person, and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if something happened to you because of me,” she says, honesty seeping through her voice. “And believe me, my father would have no qualms about hurting you if it got back to him that you were involved in any of this.” 

“I can take care of myself,” Hermione says proudly, and Pansy rolls her eyes somewhat fondly at Hermione’s set jaw and tilted chin. 

“I’m sure you can, but it’s not just you. He’d find out where your parents live. Your grandparents. Your aunts, uncles, second cousins, twice removed…it wouldn’t matter to him. He wouldn’t stop until he’s destroyed everything and everyone you care about.”

“Then we’d better make sure he never finds out.” 

Hermione says this as if it’s the simplest thing in the world, and Pansy can’t help but quietly scoff. “And how do you propose we do that? Obliviate every student in the library?”

“No, nothing that drastic,” Hermione says. “We just need to use the library when no one else is around.”

Pansy quirks an eyebrow. “Are you suggesting we break into the library?” she asks, biting her tongue so she doesn’t add how very Robin Hood of you.

“No. Well, not exactly. I…I may have special access to the library?” Hermione says, looking a bit self-conscious as she fiddles with her tie.

“You what?” Pansy asks, raising her eyebrows. As far as she knows, Madam Pince has never allowed a student to stay even a minute past closing. She can’t imagine what Hermione had to offer to be allowed special access. 

Perhaps Pince also demanded a cat be named after her.

“How on earth did you manage that?” Pansy asks. 

“I didn’t. Professor McGonagall did. She talked Madam Pince into letting me use the library after hours three nights a week. She thought it would be a far wiser academic decision for me than trying to use a Time-Turner again.” 

Pansy’s about to absently nod to Hermione’s statement when it actually registers. “I’m…I’m sorry, did you…did you just say you had a Time-Turner?” she asks, her mouth agape. 

“Oh. I…yes?” Hermione says. “I mean, I haven’t had it for a while now,” she adds quickly. “That was when I was thirteen, and—”

Thirteen?” Pansy echoes, her voice high and strangled.

“Well, almost fourteen, actually. I’m older than most students in our year, so it wasn’t that…” She cuts her rambling off with a small shake of her head and winces slightly. “I’m actually not supposed to tell anyone about the whole Time-Turner thing, so could you maybe…forget I mentioned that?”

Pansy nods, a bit dazed. “Thirteen years old and with a bloody Time-Turner,” she says. 

“Pansy…”

“And McGonagall approved it! Merlin, how are any of these people qualified to be professors?” 

Pansy.” 

Hermione says her name a bit desperately and somehow, Pansy manages to snap out of her stupor. She nods once more and says, “right, sorry. I…mum’s the word.” She mimes zipping her lips, for extra effect. 

She can always interrogate Hermione about the Time-Turner later. 

“You were saying something about the library…?” Pansy asks, steering the conversation back into slightly safer waters.

Hermione nods, seeming grateful that Pansy’s agreed to drop the topic for now. “McGonagall thought it would be a good idea to give me extra access, what with my course load and all. I think there’s past precedent for it, but even so, Madam Pince was furious. And she’s still furious. Mind you, it’s been months now, but she still glares at me every time she sees me and whispers about how I’ve been manhandling her books like an ill-bred miscreant. But there’s nothing she can do about it. She’d never dare go against McGonagall.”

“And you’d risk your privileged status for me? What if McGonagall finds out and revokes it?”

Hermione frowns a bit. “It’s a possibility,” she says slowly. “She said she was counting on me not to abuse her trust. But I think even she’d agree that drastic times call for drastic measures. And anyway, we wouldn’t actually be doing anything wrong,” she adds quickly, as if she’s trying to convince herself. “We’d simply be using it for its intended purposes—research and learning.” 

“Even so, I don’t think you should risk it. I wouldn’t want you to lose your access because of me.”

Hermione huffs next to her impatiently. “Do you honestly think I’d rather keep my special access to the library for three nights a week instead of helping you bring a murderer to justice?”

“I…” 

Pansy trails off and frowns, thinking carefully about the question. After a few long moments of contemplation, Hermione exhales sharply in frustration.

Pansy!” 

“I’m thinking about it, give me a minute!” Pansy says, finally breaking into a grin. “It’s a tough question! I know how much you love that library. How am I supposed to know where your priorities lie?”

Hermione rolls her eyes, but there’s a smile lurking around the corners of her mouth. “Well, just this once, I’m putting justice over a few extra hours spent with books.” Her smile fades and she looks seriously at Pansy. “It’s the right thing to do. We won’t let him get away with this. We’ll figure it out.”

Pansy shifts uncomfortably. “I know it is, I just…I don’t want anything to happen to you,” she murmurs. She’s aware that she sounds a bit too invested, but at the moment, she doesn’t particularly care. She just wants to protect Hermione.

“I’ll be fine. We just need to do our job and do it well. That way, he’ll never hurt anyone again.”

Pansy shakes her head weakly. “I…I’m sorry. I do appreciate it, but I really can’t let you do this.” 

Hermione chuckles. “You’re not letting me do anything. I want to. And what’s more, I’m going to, whether you decide to help me or not.”

Pansy looks at her swiftly. “What? You’re…no, you can’t—”

“I can, and I will. I told you, I like a challenge. So I’m going to right this wrong, with or without you.”

“No, I…I didn’t tell you the story so you’d march headfirst into battle! I just wanted you to know where I was coming from, I…” Pansy breaks off and looks at Hermione wildly, imagining all the horrid things her father could put her through. The thoughts make her frigid with terror, and she looks at Hermione with desperate eyes. “Please. Please don’t do this. It’s too dangerous. You could get hurt.”

Hermione scoffs. “It’s not like we’re going to duel him, we’re just going to be doing some research. What’s safer than research?”

“Doing nothing!” Pansy says, feeling deeply flustered. “Doing nothing won’t put you on my father’s radar! Doing nothing won’t get you killed!”

Hermione’s eyes soften just a bit. “Pansy…I’d rather risk getting hurt in the process of doing what’s right than stay safe and do nothing at all. I’m afraid that’s just part of who I am, and that won’t ever change.”

“And as noble as that deeply misguided stance is, I’m afraid I can’t—”

“If you weren’t afraid of me getting hurt, would you want my help?” Hermione asks, cutting Pansy off calmly.

“I…yes, of course I would, but that’s—”

“Pansy. I swear to you, I won’t get hurt. I won’t tell anyone what we’re doing. Not even Harry and Ron. And what’s more, no one will even know we’re doing it. It will never get back to your father. And if we don’t have a solution by the end of the year, then we’ll stop, alright? I promise we will. But until then…I think we should try. For your grandmother’s sake. For your sake. Can we just…can we just try and see what happens?” 

Pansy stares at the ground and thinks about the empty green eyes that have haunted her nightmares for years. But before she can shake herself out of the familiar memory and tell Hermione no for the last time, she lets her thoughts wander to her father’s eyes. They had been cold and devoid of anything resembling humanity. He had looked like a monster that night, because he was a monster. He was a monster who had tried his hardest to wring out whatever compassion and kindness was left in Pansy’s soul. He was a monster who had controlled her past, her present, and her future with an iron fist. He was a monster who she had spent her entire life being completely terrified of.

But he was also a man. And men are not infallible. 

More than anything, Pansy wants to stop being afraid of this man. She wants to be able to think about her future and actually feel optimism instead of dread. She wants to spend all of her days on this earth doing what she wants to do, not what she’s expected to do. And she wants to be able to think about her aunt again with something other than horror, guilt, and remorse.

And all things considered, Hermione’s right—as long as they’re careful, there’s no way this will get back to her father. Because as connected as he is, he won’t have spies in the Hogwarts library after hours. She’s just being massively paranoid in order to protect Hermione, but when she thinks about it logically, she feels a bit foolish. They just need to avoid detection, and they’ll be alright.

And as long as Hermione stays safe, she’s willing to try.

Slowly, she turns to Hermione who’s been watching her process in silence. “Are all Gryffindors this stubborn?” she asks, with the faintest trace of a smile. 

“Only when we know we’re right.” 

Pansy sighs the heaviest sigh she’s ever managed. “Fine. We can try. But we will quit if nothing happens before the end of the year. Or if anyone finds out what we’re up to,” she adds, giving Hermione a stern look.

Hermione nods. “I promise,” she says solemnly. Then, a small smile sneaks onto her face. “But you’re making the right decision. And we’ll figure it out, I swear. No one else is going to get hurt. Besides, men like your father think their success is guaranteed. He’d have no reason to think you’d fight back after a Howler. He’s probably gazing over his moat right now and patting himself on the back for scaring you into submission again. His hubris will be his downfall, just you wait.” 

Before Pansy can reply, Hermione claps her hands together. “Anyway, now that we’re finally on the same page…shall we meet in the library tomorrow around 8:30?”

Pansy still thinks it’s hopeless. She thinks it’s a fool’s errand and that they’re both going to be wasting what little free time they have. But somehow, the thought of spending even more one-on-one time with Hermione cuts through the pessimism and fear and makes her feel light with a wonderful sort of anticipation. And not only that, she’d be spending more time with a Hermione who’s finally starting to talk to her in a way that feels delightfully familiar. Her tone has been wry, warm, and teasing tonight, and it all feels almost Robin-esque, if she’s being honest. So even though she thinks it’s a massive waste of time, she finds herself nodding in agreement.

Hermione smiles at Pansy once more, a brilliant, genuine grin, and more fireworks whizz about and explode inside of her, making her briefly forget about the trepidation and fear lingering in her heart.

It’s only at that moment that Pansy realizes something with startling clarity—she’d agree to anything in the world, no matter how ridiculous or dangerous, if it meant spending time with Hermione Granger.

The thought sinks into her stomach, heavy and true, and Pansy knows immediately that she’s fallen hard. Not for Robin, but for Hermione. She also knows how dangerous that could be, especially if word got round to the wrong people. It should make her immediately walk back her promise to try and trap her father. It should make her want to hold Hermione at arm’s length again and to forget about those mesmerizing hazel eyes once and for all.

But right now, seated beside Hermione in a dimly lit hallway, basking in the intoxicating glow of her flawless smile, she finds it hard to remember why she should do any of those things.

“Grang—Hermione,” Pansy says, catching herself at the last minute and letting herself savor the name and all the tentative trust that comes with it. “Thank you. Really. I don’t deserve your forgiveness, and I certainly don’t deserve your help. But I’m grateful for both. More than you know.”

Hermione’s eyes grow wide at the sound of her name falling from Pansy’s lips, and she nods, seeming a bit shocked. “I…of course And thank you. For telling me everything. And for…for trying.” She leans forward just a bit, and Pansy feels her heart rate increase at her proximity. “We will get him,” she says, her voice low and fierce. “We’ll get justice for your grandmother. I promise you. He won’t hurt anyone again.” 

Pansy nods. “I hope so,” she murmurs. 

It’s just one hope in a long string of them that Pansy seems to be collecting. But as they sit there, holding each other’s gaze in the middle of the dim hallway, she lets exactly two things happen: she lets herself believe in a world where she’s free from her father’s tyranny, and she lets herself believe in a world where Hermione will be something to her. Whether it’s a dear friend or something more, she doesn’t care. All she knows is she wants this mad, brilliant, infuriatingly beautiful, devastatingly clever, lionhearted witch in her life forever. 

And if she also happens to let the dream of Paris sneak back into her heart, well…

So be it. 

Chapter Text

Hermione can’t remember the last time they’ve had a day as perfect as this one. The sun is gently warming her skin, the breeze is caressing her cheeks like a lover, and the Black Lake is sparkling in the sunshine, as if diamonds have been scattered across its smooth, dark surface. By all accounts, it should be the best Saturday any of them have had all year.

It’s not.

“I just…Hufflepuff,” Ron says, looking vaguely ill. “Of all the teams to lose to, Hufflepuff.”

Harry nods weakly and Ginny angrily pulls a clump of grass from the lawn. “We were all there, Ron,” she says as she tosses the clump away from her with frustration. “We don’t need a recap.”

Hermione glances between the three of them with concern. They had all been in high spirits this morning as they cracked jokes about the Hufflepuff Quidditch team over the breakfast table, completely convinced that they were about to pull off the easiest win of the season. Ron had even said he felt as though Hufflepuff should be given some sort of advantage. “Maybe I should sit on the bench for the first half. They might have a shot if there’s no Keeper,” he’d said with a sly grin.

But now, after what Hermione can only describe as a thorough and complete trouncing, the atmosphere is decidedly different. Harry is staring despondently at the lake with his head propped up in his hands, Ginny has a face like thunder, and Ron looks completely shell-shocked.

Hermione hates seeing them like this, so in an effort to make them feel better, she very tentatively says, “it wasn’t that bad.”

Three pairs of eyes turn to glare at her at once and Hermione recoils a bit. “Don’t look at me like that! It wasn’t! You had a few good moments.”

“Name one,” Ron says.

“I…” Hermione trails off as she desperately tries to think of a single saving grace from today’s game. After an embarrassingly long pause, she turns to Ginny and says, “you were quick to duck that Bludger?”

Ginny snorts. “Only after the rest of our Chasers and our Beaters were walloped by the first four.”

“Well, that’s something!” Hermione says, trying to sound enthusiastic. “How many teams can say they’ve finished a game with just one Chaser left? And with no Beaters! Surely that’s a first!”

Ginny pulls out another clump of grass and flings it as hard as she can toward the lake. “We deserve to be expelled for that performance,” she mutters darkly.

“Hufflepuff,” Ron says again, shaking his head in disbelief.

“Every team has an off day,” Hermione says, this time trying to sound soothing instead of enthusiastic. “You’ll beat them next time.”

Harry shakes his head morosely. “We’re not playing them again. And even if we were, it wouldn’t matter. Our chances at winning the Quidditch Cup just imploded.”

“Kind of like half our team,” Ginny grumbles, pulling up another handful of grass and squeezing it in her fist.

Hufflepuff,” Ron groans, louder than before.

Without any warning, the clump of earth flies from Ginny’s hand and whacks Ron in the side of the head. He turns to Ginny with angry eyes. “Oi! What was that for?”

“To get you to say something other than Hufflepuff,” Ginny replies with a matching glare.

“I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t make sense!” Ron says, brushing a few stray blades of grass from his hair. “Gran flies better than their entire team and she’s blind in one eye!” He shakes his head. “It doesn’t make sense,” he repeats, sounding dazed.

“Then we’ll make it make sense. We’ll go over the entire match,” Harry says with a resigned sigh. “We’ll see what went wrong, play by play. Starting with that Hawkshead Attacking Formation.”

Ron and Ginny both sigh, then dutifully lean forward to begin their post-game debrief. But before Harry can say anything, Hermione interrupts.

“You don’t need to go over the entire match right now.”

All three of them look up at Hermione with surprise.

“Uh…we do, actually,” Harry says, glancing uncertainly at Ron, who gives a small shrug. “Reviewing the match is the only way we’ll get better.”

“And there will be plenty of time for that later. But you’re all done wallowing for today. What’s done is done and there’s no use making yourselves miserable over it,” Hermione says calmly. “Besides, I’ve barely seen any of you all week! I don’t want to spend one of my only free days talking about Quidditch,” she finishes, wrinkling her nose with distaste.

Ron shakes his head a bit. “But Huffle—”

“If you finish that sentence, I’m throwing you into the lake,” Ginny says, her voice low and dangerous.

“I don’t care that Hufflepuff beat you,” Hermione says. “Frankly, I wouldn’t care if a particularly talented gaggle of geese beat you. You three can moan about this later, but for now, we’re going to talk about something other than Quidditch. It’s a beautiful day and I won’t have it ruined by a silly sport.”

Ron looks like he still wants to argue, but Harry sighs. “I suppose you’re right,” he says, running a hand absently through his messy hair. “After all, there’s no use going around in circles.”

“Tell that to Ron. He seemed to think that was a solid defensive strategy today,” Ginny mutters, flopping back on the grass and glaring up at the sky.

Ron turns bright red, but before he can answer, Hermione holds up a hand. “No. No more. We’re going to discuss something else, understood?”

“Like what?” Ginny grumbles, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Like…what have you three been up to in the past week?” Hermione asks.

“What have we been up to?” Ron asks, seeming to forget about Ginny’s dig for the moment. “What about you? You’ve practically been living in the library.”

“Yes, but I’ve already told you, I’m preparing for the N.E.W.T.s,” Hermione says smoothly, pleased when her body doesn’t betray her by blushing.

“By staying in the library all night?” Ron asks. “We’ve hardly seen you since Tuesday!”

Hermione repositions herself on the grass as she thinks about how to reply. It’s true, she hasn’t seen much of Harry and Ron over the past week. Instead, she’s been spending almost all of her free time with Pansy. They’ve been meeting in the library after hours to try and find a way to ensnare Pansy’s father, pouring over mountains of books and taking pages and pages of notes. And while Hermione had been concerned at first that they might find it tricky to spend so much one-on-one time together, so far, things between them have been…different.

Extremely different.

Gone are the days when Hermione regarded Pansy with suspicion. Gone are the doubts that clouded her mind about Pansy’s intentions. Gone are the worries, the sidelong glances, the little voice in her head telling her to tread carefully. All of those things feel like relics of some strange, not-so-distant past. Because ever since Pansy cleared the air between them and provided Hermione with the answers she needed to hear, it’s like they’ve started over with a clean slate. Pansy is continuing to make good on her promise to be a better person, Hermione is continuing to make good on showing forgiveness, and as the days pass by, both things seem to come easier and easier. And now, as bizarre as it seems, Hermione finds herself actually enjoying the time she spends with Pansy in the library.

It hadn’t been immediate, of course. The first few days had found Pansy hesitant, almost verging on shy. She had seemed nervous about overstepping her boundaries with Hermione, she would occasionally get flustered when she’d speak, and there were times when Hermione would ask her a question and Pansy would just stare at her for a moment, almost as if she hadn’t heard a word she’d said. But as time went on, Pansy had slowly grown more comfortable with Hermione, and now, she feels like she’s finally seeing Pansy for who she is. And surprisingly enough, she quite likes who she’s found.

Pansy is smart as a whip. She’s disciplined, driven, and resourceful, and Hermione can see why the Sorting Hat was quick to put her in Slytherin. What’s more, they work well together. Hermione never feels like she’s doing the heavy lifting (as she so often does when she’s in the library with Harry and Ron), and they’ve fallen into an easy, comfortable groove. And even though they’re working hard, it’s never quiet or dull between them. Pansy’s smarts lend themselves well to her sense of humor—she’s full of cutting remarks, quick comebacks, and quips that catch Hermione so off-guard that sometimes, her laughter bubbles over involuntarily, filling the library and making Pansy’s eyes shine in the process.

But there’s something else there, something lurking deep under her sharp-edges and carefully crafted bravado. Sometimes she’ll see it in the way Pansy holds the door open for her or hesitantly slips her a pear drop or two to sweeten their late nights spent in the library. Sometimes she’ll hear it in the questions Pansy asks about her family and her life outside of Hogwarts, tentatively whispered across stacks of books, seeped in curiosity and yearning. And sometimes, Hermione catches a glimpse of it when she looks up from a book and finds Pansy’s eyes already trained on her, soft and surprisingly fond. It’s moments like these that make Hermione want to continue to dig, to excavate whatever person is lurking behind the dark lips and guarded eyes and get to know her better. As a matter of fact, she’s so intrigued by Pansy that she’s had to periodically remind herself that they’re not in the library to unravel the mystery of Pansy Parkinson; they’re there to put a criminal behind bars.

Thinking about Pansy’s father still makes Hermione’s blood run cold and her vision cloud over with red. She can scarcely believe that a man like that exists in the world, and more so, that a child was raised under his cruel thumb. The story Pansy had told her that night on patrols has stayed with her, echoing in her head and filling her with both a righteous, burning fury, and a deep sorrow for everything Pansy has had to endure in her life. And while she hasn’t been brave enough to bring it up with Pansy again, she desperately wants to talk to someone about it. Normally, she’d tell Harry and Ron to see if they could provide any guidance, but as much as she’d like to loop the boys in, she had made a promise that she wouldn’t tell anyone what she was up to. Which is why Harry, Ron, and Ginny all believe she’s simply been studying in the quiet of the library, all by herself. Because if there’s one thing Hermione prides herself on, it’s being a woman of her word. And since she had promised Pansy her silence, she would deliver.

She tucks her legs under herself on the grass and glances up at Ron. “I know I’ve been busy,” she says gently. “But you know as well as I do that it’s impossible to study in the common room. And anyway, what’s the use of having special access to the library if I never utilize it?”

“Yeah, but you had patrols Tuesday and Thursday!” Ron says.

“I…did,” Hermione says slowly, confused at Ron’s seemingly unrelated reply.

“And then you studied Wednesday and Friday.”

“Quick, someone owl mum. Ron’s finally mastered the days of the week,” Ginny mutters.

Ron shoots a glare toward Ginny, then looks back to Hermione with a concerned frown. “I’m just worried about you. That’s too many thing for one person. You’ll burn out if you’re not careful.”

“I appreciate your concern, but I’ll be alright,” Hermione says with a small smile. “I can take care of myself, you know.”

“I know that, but I just think that—”

“Oh, leave her alone,” Ginny says crossly. “If she wants to live in the library, then that’s her choice. Maybe you could join her there. Check out a book on how to play Quidditch while you’re at it,” she adds.

Before Ron can open his mouth, Hermione reaches out and flicks Ginny’s leg gently. “No more Quidditch talk, remember?”

Ginny sighs. “You’re right. Sorry.” She sits up and rubs her eyes. “I’ve never been very good at shaking off a loss. Especially not one like that. But I promise, no more. From here on out, I’ll be on my best behavior.” She crosses her legs, leans forward, and stage-whispers, “but if you want to check out a book on Quidditch for beginners and slip it into Ron’s bag, I won't stop you.”

Ron turns bright red as he turns to Ginny. “You know, I didn’t see you scoring any goals for us today!”

“Gee, maybe that’s because I was our entire bloody offense?” Ginny retorts hotly.

“I’m always our entire defense and you don’t hear me complaining, do you?”

Ginny laughs wildly and her eyes flash. “Oh, that’s rich!”

“What’s rich?”

“All I ever hear you do is complain! It’s the only thing you know how to do!”

“That’s not true! Harry, tell her that I don’t complain!”

“Don’t you dare take his side, Harry.”

Harry glances warily between the siblings. “I…I wouldn’t say he always complains…”

“Hah! See?” Ron says, flushed with victory.

“Are you joking?” Ginny explodes. “What about practice, two days ago? He refused to start on time because his arm guards were too tight,” she says, raising her voice in a whiny approximation of Ron’s.

It was a valid complaint!” Ron seethes.

“I—”

Hermione sighs as the three of them immediately launch into another Quidditch-centric debate. Clearly, getting them to talk about anything else is a losing battle right now, so instead, she tunes out their conversation, reaches into her bag, and pulls out her parchment, wincing when she sees a message already waiting for her.

Truth be told, she’s felt a bit guilty over her parchment this week. Her long nights spent with Pansy have forced her to put her parchment pal on the back burner, and anytime she sees her pal’s customary nightly message waiting for her, she feels a trickle of shame over her negligence. And what’s more, she usually only manages a few short messages before exhaustion completely overwhelms her. She feels absolutely awful about it, and though her pal has been incredibly kind about her lack of messages, Hermione still can’t help but worry that deep down, she’s feeling neglected. Which is why she’s decided that this weekend, she’s going to take the time to make sure her parchment pal knows how much she still means to her.

She glances down at today’s silver message.

Robin,

I was sitting outside earlier today and lo and behold, I saw a robin. She was nesting high up in a tree, singing to her heart’s content, and it made me think of you. I’m sure I looked like a complete fool, smiling up at a tree without a care in the world, but I’ve found it’s hard to do anything other than smile when my thoughts turn to you.

I hope that wherever you are today, you’re just as content and carefree as that robin.

Your bard ♥

Hermione smiles at the heart (which is now a staple in their messages) and gently traces it, sighing softly as the now-familiar butterflies flutter into her stomach. But unlike last week, she doesn't immediately push them away or try to rationalize them. She simply lets them float there, filling her with a soft and dreamy sort of lightness. It’s a lightness that still scares her down to her bones, but it’s a lightness she’s very tentatively started to really think about.

And it’s all thanks to Pansy Parkinson.

Of all the people at Hogwarts to give her practical and helpful advice, Pansy would have been close to last on Hermione’s list. But standing there in the cold outside of Zonko’s last Saturday, Pansy had somehow managed to say exactly what Hermione needed to hear. And even after her date with Ron was over, she had found herself thinking about Pansy’s words, replaying them over and over again, like a well-loved VHS tape.

She thinks about them now as she idly trails her finger up and down her parchment.

I know it’d be far easier to stop…but I’m a firm believer that worthwhile things are rarely easy. So even though I hardly recognize my own thoughts and even though the consequences of my questions are terrifying, I know I can’t stop. Because it’s worth it.

She remembers what she had said to Pansy that day, too.

For what it’s worth…I think it is worth it.

What she had meant at the time was she thought Pansy’s journey toward self-discovery was a long overdue and worthwhile pursuit. But Pansy’s swift reply and serious eyes had taken her off guard.

For me, or for you?

Hermione had been put on the spot as she was forced to consider the question as it pertained to her.

Were the feelings she was having and the doubts swirling in her mind actually worth unpacking? Should she stop shoving them into dark and dusty corners of her mind and instead, expose them to the light and really examine them? Should she reconsider everything she thought she knew about herself, even if it scared her to her core? Should she stop hiding like a coward from what was starting to look more and more like the truth? And would accepting the truth actually make her happier in the long run?

Was it worth it?

At the time, she had told Pansy maybe. But as the days stretched on and she continued to be inundated with foreign feelings and sensations, she had continued to make weak excuses and flimsy rationalizations. As much as she wanted to be brave, she was still far too afraid to face facts, so she had let Ron walk her to class and forced herself to accept his hand in hers and his clumsy and over-eager kisses to her cheek with a tight smile. She had told herself that everything was fine and that she just needed some time to settle into their new dynamic. She had tried to convince herself that her feelings for Ron just needed a bit of extra time to develop. And she probably would have continued to tell herself just that and to keep hiding from the truth if it wasn’t for patrols last Tuesday.

In her quest to get Pansy to take on her father, she had told Pansy that while it would be easier to go on pretending that she was the same person she had always been, it wouldn’t be worth it. “You’d be miserable,” she had said, gazing earnestly at Pansy in the dimly lit hallway. “And honestly, wouldn’t you rather be happy? Wouldn’t you rather live authentically?

The moment the word slipped from her lips, she had realized how hypocritically she was acting. Who was she to tell Pansy to be brave, to live authentically, when she couldn’t even sit with a few simple questions? And why was she reminding Pansy that worthwhile things rarely came easily when she herself was so bloody content to take the easy way out? Her own behavior had rattled her in a way that made her both deeply uncomfortable and incredibly ashamed. So that night after patrols, she had decided to finally tap into her Gryffindor courage, stubbornly telling herself that if Pansy Parkinson could do it, so could she.

And she had. She laid in bed and let herself ask all the questions that had been slithering into her mind over the past few weeks. But this time, instead of brushing them off or making feeble excuses, she had made herself answer them as honestly as she could manage, thinking each one through to its logical conclusion. And even when the answers had frightened her or made her flush and squirm with discomfort, she had forced herself to keep going. To keep digging, even if everything in her was screaming at her to stop. And at the end of the whole exhausting process, she had realized a few things.

One—she didn’t have any feelings for Ron, and she never would. And the longer she continued to string him along, the more she was risking their friendship. Because somehow, in yet another surprising twist, Pansy had been right about that, too—she was using Ron without any regard for his feelings. She had just been too blinded by her own fear to notice it. But that night, she realized that she’d have to end things with him, no matter how hard it might be.

Two—she had feelings for her parchment pal. Real, strong feelings that weren’t going away, not even with the knowledge that her pal was a woman. She still checked her parchment for new messages obsessively, she still thought about her dear friend morning, noon, and night, and perhaps most tellingly of all, she still found herself desperately longing to make their secret, shared dream of Paris a reality.

Three—there was no denying that she felt something when it came to women. Something strong and overwhelming and something that she certainly didn’t feel for men. It had been the hardest thing to come to terms with, but she had forced herself to do it. In the dark of the night, she had closed her eyes and imagined what it would be like to be with a woman, refusing to back down even when she felt the first terrifying flush of arousal. She had pushed forward, imagining soft curves and even softer lips. She had imagined tangling her hands in long hair and seeking out hot, exposed skin with her mouth. She had imagined smooth, warm legs wrapped around hers under cool bedsheets. She had imagined until she felt like she was on fire and the ache between her legs had become impossible to ignore. And while she still hadn’t been brave enough to take care of the ache that night, so to speak, she had managed to finally admit to herself the scariest thing of all…

Four—she wasn’t straight. Not even a little bit.

Her feelings for her parchment pal weren’t some curious one-off anomaly. They were real, they were overwhelming, and they had ignited something deep down inside of her. Something she hadn’t even realized existed.

Looking back now of course, she can see the signs. Perhaps she should have realized when she found herself both confused and annoyed by how ridiculously pretty Fleur was in fourth year. Perhaps she should have realized when she hadn’t been able to string a single coherent sentence together under Tonks’ warm, amused gaze. Perhaps she should have realized when the thought of Viktor’s lips anywhere near hers had made her stomach turn, or when Lavender and Parvati’s discussions about boys had made her eyes glaze over.

Perhaps she should have realized. But she hadn’t. She had simply assumed she was a slow bloomer but that finding the right man would change all that. She had never given a single thought to her own sexuality. It had taken the equivalent of a neon sign flashing in front of her face for Hermione to actually start to question things.

And now that she’s finally let herself think through everything, now that she’s finally come to the tentative conclusion that she’s not straight, she’s…she’s…

She’s fucking terrified, to put it bluntly.

But she’s doing a damn good job hiding it.

She’s been putting up an excellent facade and going about her day as if everything is still the same, acting as if she hadn’t just discovered something monumental and life changing. To the outside observer, nothing has changed in the life of Hermione Granger. And to be honest, it’s helped that she’s barely had a moment of free time since Tuesday to really think about things. But in those rare instances when she does find herself alone and left to her own thoughts, they inevitably stray to this newly discovered piece of herself and what it’ll mean for her in the long run.

And those thoughts are perhaps the hardest of all.

She won’t get married. Her silly little dream of wearing a pretty white dress and walking down an aisle will never come true, and as stupid as it is, it breaks her heart.

She won’t ever be a mum. She’s always had a soft-spot for children and had treasured the idea of having her own someday, of teaching them to read and tying tiny shoes and holding tiny hands.

She’ll need to reconsider her career path. She had always assumed she’d find a job at the Ministry after graduation and work her way up the political ladder slowly but surely. But now, that seems like a pipe dream. Because while the Wizarding world and the Muggle world don’t have many similarities, they do tend to line up fairly well when it comes to their views on same-sex relationships. And even if she stays single for her entire life, she’d still be pushing it. She can’t imagine that an unwed woman would make it very far in the court of public opinion.

She might lose her friends and family. Her parents are the kindest, most loving people in the world, but they’re also fairly traditional. And while they had accepted Hermione’s magical abilities (albeit with no shortage of confusion), she’s not sure if they’d be able to accept this. As for Harry and Ron, she’s almost positive they’d understand, but the part of her that remains uncertain is enough to make her want to never voice this particular tidbit about herself to anyone.

It’s all overwhelming in the worst way possible, and when the thoughts become too much for her, she’s tempted to just shove them back into that dusty, unused corner of her mind and let them molder there for the rest of her life. It would certainly be easier to pretend that nothing has changed rather than having to rethink her entire future and everything she’s ever wanted out of life.

But then, she’ll think about her parchment pal and her heart will beat faster and the butterflies will swarm and she’ll realize that what Pansy had said in Hogsmeade was true—it doesn’t matter that it’s scary or that it would be far easier to be the same person. Because if she did that, she’d spend the rest of her life miserably living out a lie. And to be honest, she can’t imagine spending the rest of her life never feeling the way she feels when she thinks about her parchment pal. So even when things get overwhelming, she forces herself to keep those thoughts out in the open in the hopes that one day, they won’t scare her at all. That one day, she won’t even remember what she was so worried about in the first place.

And speaking of her parchment pal…

Hermione hasn’t mentioned this recent development to her dear friend, and she doubts she will before the year is up. Because to be honest, she’s barely wrapped her head around any of it herself. She’s still too afraid of what it all means and the changes she’ll have to make to ensure a safe and relatively happy future. She doesn’t want to add even more confusion to her already overflowing plate by tossing in a potential relationship. Of course, that’s not to say she won’t mention it at some point. Perhaps when they meet in person for the first time, she’ll find a way to awkwardly bring it up. But as of right now, she’s perfectly content to keep this little piece of herself under wraps until she’s fully come to grips with it and figured out how she feels, once and for all.

But that doesn’t mean that she hasn’t been letting the smallest hint of flirtation creep back into her letters.

Perhaps that’s an understatement—she’s essentially let herself revert back to the Robin she was before her parchment pal had revealed her gender.

The change has been gradual at first—it had started in the aftermath of the night Hermione was almost attacked on patrols. Her bard had poured her heart out and let herself express the same sorts of feelings she had conveyed before, clearly shaken by the close call. But this time, instead of insisting they remain on strictly friendly terms, Hermione had leaned into it. And now, they’re more or less back to where they were, and quite frankly, Hermione couldn’t be happier.

She reaches for her quill to reply to her pal’s newest message, but before she starts writing, she glances up to make sure Harry, Ron, and Ginny are all still sufficiently distracted.

“And that’s another thing!” Ginny says, her face bright red. “If you hadn’t been so bloody confident at breakfast this morning, we wouldn’t have gone into the match thinking we were invincible! We were sloppy and careless because you made us all underestimate them!”

I made you underestimate them?” Ron says, looking flabbergasted. “You’re the one who said we should make Neville our Chaser to even the playing field!”

Hermione doesn’t bother to listen to Ginny’s retort. She just shakes her head in irritation and tunes them out once more, then begins to write.

Dear bard,

It must be lovely to be reminded of me so easily. And don’t worry, I don’t say that out of narcissism. I say it out of jealousy. Because truth be told, I’d love to be reminded of you at every turn. But alas, wandering bards aren’t as commonplace as robins during the springtime. Though I suppose all things considered, it doesn’t really matter. My thoughts seem to inevitably turn to you, with or without a reminder.

I’m sorry to report that I’m not quite as content and carefree as the robin you spotted, though. You see, today is one of my only free days and I was so excited to spend it with my friends. Little did I know they’d spend the entire day talking about Quidditch. Perhaps it’s sacrilege to say this, but I’ve never understood the appeal. The whole thing is illogical and incredibly dangerous. The Snitch is worth one-hundred and fifty points which doesn’t make a lick of sense to me, and the very existence of Bludgers in a sport is somehow both absurd and inhumane. But I’d never mention any of that to them. They’d probably use me as target practice for our Beaters if I voiced that particular opinion.

…Perhaps I should have asked if you like Quidditch before I told you one of my deepest, darkest secrets. I hope I haven’t offended you so much that you’ll never speak to me again. If you do like Quidditch, then I suppose you’ll just have to try and convince me. I have a feeling that if anyone could do it, it would be you.

But I’m being just as bad as they are now, so no more. I’ve heard more than enough about Quidditch today, and I won’t let it sully our conversation. Tell me about your day, bard. Anything and everything.

Yours,
Robin ♥

Hermione taps the message with her wand, then looks up to see if Harry, Ron, and Ginny are done discussing Quidditch.

She raises her eyebrows as she takes in the sight before her. It would appear that Harry has enchanted fourteen of Ron’s Wizarding Chess pieces to act as the Hufflepuff and Gryffindor Quidditch teams, and he’s using his wand to manipulate them through the air as he replays the entire match. With a quick flick of his wrist, he makes one of the Hufflepuff pieces slam into a Gryffindor piece, knocking it out of the air. Ron and Ginny both wince as it tumbles to the ground, as if it was a real player.

Hermione rolls her eyes and is about to forcibly remind them that they had promised her no more Quidditch talk when she’s distracted by a single silver line appearing on her parchment.

I suppose now would be a bad time to tell you that I’ve always dreamt of playing for the Holyhead Harpies…

Hermione stares at the message and worries her lower lip. She reaches for her quill hesitantly, preparing to apologize for sticking her foot in her mouth, but before she can pick it up another line appears below the first.

I’m kidding. I couldn’t agree more. Whoever came up with the rules to Quidditch clearly did so whilst under the influence of a firewhisky or two.

Hermione heaves a sigh of relief as she picks up her quill, pleased that no matter what happens between her and her parchment pal, she’ll never have to pretend to like Quidditch in her presence.

She twirls her quill, but before she can lean forward to pen her reply, a chess piece comes careening her way and lands with a heavy thump dangerously close to her leg. She picks it up and shakes her head, then glances up to find Harry, Ron, and Ginny, all staring at her nervously.

“I…sorry,” Harry says, rubbing his neck uncomfortably. “It got away from me. Suppose I was a bit too enthusiastic.”

Hermione scoffs. “That’s what you’re sorry for?” she asks, arching an eyebrow.

“No, I’m…” Harry sighs heavily. “We promised you no more Quidditch talk. I’m sorry. I guess it’s hard for all of us to brush off a loss,” he adds with a small wince.

Hermione tosses the chess piece toward Harry, who smoothly catches it and hands it to Ron. “Well, don’t let me stop you from replaying the same game you just played, rather than spending time with your friend who you haven’t seen all week,” she says airily. “I’ve got plenty of company right here,” she says, nodding toward her parchment.

Ron’s eyes drop down to the parchment and he scowls a bit. “You’re talking to him?” he asks with the faintest hint of jealousy sneaking into his tone.

Hermione eyes the red flush creeping up Ron’s neck and shrugs. “They’re not ignoring me,” she says simply. She hasn’t yet admitted that she knows her parchment pal is a woman, but she’s decided to take the next available opportunity to clue them all in. Until then, she’s been using purposefully vague pronouns.

Harry winces and says, “and neither are we. At least, not anymore. No more Quidditch talk. Agreed?” he asks, glancing at Ron and Ginny, who both nod quickly. With a wave of his wand, Harry gathers all the Wizarding Chess pieces and slots them back into their designated spaces in Ron’s chess set. Then, he tucks his wand away, sits down, and scoots closer toward Hermione. “All done,” he says with a sheepish smile.

Hermione hums. “You’re being rather presumptuous, aren’t you? What if I’d rather talk to my parchment pal?”

“Then you’d be mad,” Ron says seriously, sitting back down. “Because you don’t need him. Not when you’re already sitting with the most interesting people in the entire school.”

Ginny sits and hums in agreement, then says, “oh, and look, Ron’s here, too.” She gives Ron a cheeky grin when he throws her a dark look, then she adds, “but he’s right. With company like this, who needs parchment pals?”

Hermione rolls her eyes fondly, but decides to redirect her focus for the time being. She tucks her parchment away in her bag and says, “fine. But if I hear even the slightest mention of Quidditch…”

Harry shakes his head quickly and zips his lips for good measure, and Hermione smiles. “Well, then. I suppose I can prioritize you lot for the time being,” she says.

Ron glances at Hermione’s bag. “I didn’t even think you were still talking to him,” he says, absently skimming his palm over the grass. He’s trying hard to both look and sound casual, but Hermione can tell by the flush on his cheeks that he’s desperate to dig for more information. “I mean, I haven’t seen you hunched over that thing for ages.”

“I suppose I’ve been a bit more preoccupied as of late, but no, we still talk,” Hermione says. “Every night, actually. Just before bed.”

Ron’s flush darkens and his eyes grow wide. “You talk before bed?” he asks, looking as if Hermione’s just announced some dark, sordid secret. “Every night?”

Hermione nods. “We do. It’s our nightly ritual. We send messages back and forth until one of us falls asleep,” she adds glancing at her bag with a small, secret smile.

When she looks back up at Ron though, she notices that he looks completely stricken by her statement. She shifts uncomfortably under his gaze, feeling guilt trickle through her at the sight.

The thing is, Ron’s jealousy isn’t exactly unwarranted. It would only be unwarranted had she actually managed to break things off with him. But she hasn’t. At least, not yet. It’s not because she wants to lead him on; more than anything, she wants to be honest and give Ron the respect he deserves, no matter how difficult the conversation might be. But she’s been so bloody busy since Tuesday night that she hasn’t been able to find the right moment to have the conversation at all. She’s only seen Ron in group settings, and there’s no way she’s going to let him down with all of their friends watching. So instead, she’s been doing her best to dodge his attempts to initiate physical contact and evade all his efforts to plan their second date. While it’s not an ideal solution, it’ll have to do for now.

“You fall asleep with this bloke? From your bed?” Ron finally manages to sputter, more or less repeating what he’s already asked.

“That’s generally where people fall asleep, yes,” Ginny says.

“Yes, but…every night?” Ron asks.

“I…” Hermione flushes and trails off. “Yes?” she finally says, the reply coming out more like a question than a statement. She shakes her head and huffs impatiently at herself. “Yes,” she says, this time with more force behind it. “I do. Which quite frankly, shouldn’t come as a surprise to you. You know I enjoy their company, and I am allowed to have other…other friends,” Hermione finishes a bit lamely, stumbling over the word friends. It’s become a wholly inadequate word for the way she feels about her parchment pal.

“Of course you are, but you…you don’t even know him!”

“I do,” Hermione says. “Quite well, actually. Which is what tends to happen when you talk to someone every night.”

“But from your bed. That’s…that’s…” Ron repeats, seeming stunned.

Ginny rolls her eyes and tsks in frustration. “That’s what people do when they like someone.”

“I know that! But I just thought that—”

“You talk to Harry from your bed, don’t you?” Ginny asks, cutting Ron off.

“I…” Ron shakes his head, flustered. “Of course I do, but our beds are next to each other. I don’t sit up by candlelight penning letters to him!”

“No, but I’d be honored if you did,” Harry says, throwing a lopsided grin toward Ron.

“That’s not…I mean, that’s…” Ron runs a hand through his hair a bit wildly. “Why?” he finally asks, looking at Hermione.

“Why what?” she asks.

“Why do you send letters to each other every night? What is it about him that’s so bloody intriguing?” Ron asks, unable to hide the jealousy and desperation in his voice. "I thought that I…that we…” he shakes his head again and looks at Hermione. “Why?”

Hermione worries her lip and glances at Ginny, desperately hoping she’ll intervene. But Ginny simply shrugs and says, “sorry, but I’m on Ron’s side this time.”

“You are?” Ron asks with surprise.

“You are?” Harry echoes, staring at Ginny as if he doesn’t recognize her.

Ginny nods, then pauses and says, “well, no. I think he’s being ridiculous and that Hermione can talk to whoever she wants, whenever she wants. You’re acting like the next logical step after sending letters back and forth is a marriage proposal,” Ginny says with a massive eye roll. “And anyway, I don’t know why you’re so upset. She’s already gone on a date with you and she didn’t transfer schools the next day, so she’s clearly interested.” Hermione flushes at the casually delivered statement, but Ginny doesn’t seem to notice, because she says, “Merlin knows why, though, considering how ludicrously you’re acting over the idea of Hermione having another male friend. But putting aside all of that, if I’m being honest…I’ve been dying to know more about this bloke for ages. And getting information out of you is like pulling teeth,” she adds, giving Hermione a stern look. “I barely know anything about him and mind you, that’s not for lack of trying. So if this is the only way we can get you to spill the beans, then I will very, very reluctantly take Ron’s side.”

Hermione looks between the three of them with distress. She can feel her heart rate picking up and her whole body feels warm, as if she’s under a spotlight. “I…perhaps you’d like to go back to discussing that Hawks…head…thingy?” she asks weakly.

“Oh, no. You’re the one who wanted to talk about something other than Quidditch,” Ginny says with a grin. “There’s no getting out of this now.”

Hermione looks to Harry, who simply shrugs. “Sorry, but I’m with them.”

“Harry!” Hermione says, feeling betrayed.

“Sorry!” he says again, this time with a small laugh. “I just…I’d like to know more, too! That’s not a crime, is it? All we really know about this bloke is that he exists and he’s managed to capture your attention in a way that nothing else has before. Not even classwork,” Harry adds, looking impressed.

“Well, then, that’s three for and one against. And I may not be great at maths, but I’m fairly sure that means we’ve won. So no more deflecting what you should have told us ages ago.” Ginny rests her chin on top of her fists and leans forward with interest. “What’s he like?”

Hermione glances between them once more. Ginny’s face is bright with anticipation, Harry looks intrigued, and Ron is still flushed with jealousy. Anxiety bubbles in Hermione’s gut at the looks on their faces, and she digs her fingers into her thigh as she considers what to say. Because somehow, the moment she’s been waiting for has come at last—she can finally tell them that her parchment pal is a woman.

But for some reason, the words seem to be curiously stuck in her throat. It should be the easiest thing in the world to admit, but she’s convinced herself that if she tells them the truth, they’ll all immediately put two and two together and realize the bigger truth. The one that she herself hasn’t even fully come to term with. And if they do realize the bigger truth, there’s no telling how any of them will react.

But as she glances up at Harry, Ron, and Ginny again, something in her seems to settle with resignation. These are her best friends in the entire world. They’re the people she’d give her life for, no questions asked, and they’re the people who love her, faults and all. And if she can’t tell them the smallest piece of the puzzle, if she can’t let them in on her parchment pal’s gender of all things, then how on earth does she ever expect to let them in on the rest? It’s all well and good to be frightened of the bigger picture, but this is just a drop in the bucket. And quite frankly, telling them about this will be good practice. Because if she can get through this, then perhaps one day in the not-so-distant future, she can tell them everything.

And all that aside, she can’t keep her parchment pal’s identity a secret forever. Eventually the experiment will end and they’ll all find out anyway, so it makes sense to do it now. Hermione takes a deep breath as she makes up her mind that even though she’s not ready to trust them with the whole truth just yet, she can at least trust them with part of it.

Steeling herself the best she can, she casually says, “well for one thing…I’ve never said my parchment pal is a man.”

All three of them look completely baffled by Hermione’s words, and if there wasn’t so much apprehension buzzing about her body, Hermione would laugh at their identical reactions. Instead, she glances between them, waiting to see who will be the first to really realize what she’s said.

After a painfully long moment, Ron’s eyes slowly widen and his mouth drops. “You…I mean…what?” he asks, staring at Hermione as if she’s just sprouted an extra head.

Hermione manages a small shrug. “My parchment pal is a woman. I found out a few weeks ago. It was…surprising,” she says carefully. “But it’s…it’s not like it changed anything,” she murmurs, almost as an after thought.

It’s technically true. She had had feelings for her parchment pal before she knew her gender. And now that she knows her gender, she still has feelings for her.

“I’m sorry, I just need to…have I got this right? Your parchment pal…is a woman?” Ron asks, staring at Hermione.

Hermione nods, but before she can say anything else, a slow smile starts to stretch over Ron’s face, lighting up his features and making his eyes sparkle. “A woman!” he says, looking positively delighted. “Well, that’s…I mean that’s…” he laughs and claps his hands down upon his knees with elation. “Blimey! A woman!”

“How’d you find out?” Harry asks, leaning forward with interest.

Hermione can’t exactly say that her parchment pal had come out to her in the middle of professing romantic feelings for her, so instead, she says, “she mentioned something about her monthlies,” hoping Harry doesn’t notice the small flush on her cheeks caused by her lie of omission.

“Her monthlies!” Ron echoes with glee, as if monthlies are his favorite topic in the world.

“That must have been an awkward conversation,” Harry says with a small grimace. “But better to find out now than at the end of the experiment, eh?” he adds lightly.

“Can you imagine?” Ron asks, turning to Harry with shining eyes. “You’d show up expecting some tall, dark, and handsome bloke and then…a woman,” he repeats with pure joy. He turns back to Hermione with the smile still plastered on his face. “Why didn’t you tell us all sooner?”

Hermione flushes. “I—”

“What’s she like?” Ron asks, plowing ahead without waiting for a reply. “Have you figured out who she is? I mean…blimey! To think this whole time, we all thought it was a man! But it’s not!”

She fidgets a bit uncomfortably at Ron’s overwhelming exuberance. “No, but—”

“It’ll be nice to have another female friend, I’d imagine,” Harry says encouragingly, not realizing he’s cut Hermione off. “I mean, I know you’ve got Ginny and Luna, obviously, but seems like this one is something special.” Harry’s eyes widen at his own words. “Not that you’re not, of course,” he amends quickly, turning to Ginny with a panicked and apologetic glance.

Hermione’s eyes flick toward Ginny, expecting her to be giving Harry some kind of wry, exasperated look. But instead, her brown eyes are trained on Hermione, and there’s a small, questioning frown etched between her brows. Before Hermione can puzzle out what the look on Ginny’s face means though, Ron’s voice steals her attention.

“I just can’t believe we never worked it out,” he says, grinning at Harry as if he’s just single-handedly won the House Cup. “The whole time, we were all so bloody sure it was a man! I mean, even you thought so,” Ron adds, gesturing toward Hermione who manages a small, weak nod.

“Was it weird?” Harry asks. “After you found out, I mean? Did she think she was talking to a man, too?”

“Merlin, she must have,” Ron puts in. “I mean, the length of those letters alone! You don’t send letters that long unless you’re interested in someone, right?”

Hermione desperately rubs a hand against her hot cheek as she tries to stay in control of her emotions. She glances at Ginny again to find brown eyes still trained on her. But this time, there’s something different in her gaze. She doesn’t look puzzled anymore. She looks almost like…

“I dunno,” Harry says, interrupting Hermione’s train of thought. “There are some people who are into that kind of thing, you know.”

Every muscle in Hermione’s body tenses at the statement.

“What kind of thing?” Ron asks.

Harry rubs his neck embarrassedly. “You know…blokes with blokes, women with women…that sort of thing?” he asks, wincing with discomfort.

“Oh,” Ron says. There’s a small frown on his face and Hermione finds herself holding her breath as she waits for him to piece it all together. But instead of his eyes clearing and his mouth dropping open in realization, he gives a small shiver. “I suppose so, but that’s…I mean, that’s just nasty, isn’t it?” he asks with revulsion, and Harry nods in absentminded agreement. “Merlin…imagine if she knew and she was just into it. That’d be all sorts of wrong.”

Hermione feels her stomach plummet.

Harry shrugs. “Did she seem into it?” he asks, turning to Hermione with genuine curiosity in his eyes.

Panic rises in her chest at the question and all thoughts of living authentically are pushed from her head as she scrambles to maintain her cover. She quickly shakes her head and says, “no, I…she didn’t seem…I mean, she…she didn’t know,” hoping that even though she’s rambling, she’s still managed to sound convincing.

She must sound believable enough, because Ron nods. “Well, that’s good, at least. But even so, it’s all so weird. Knowing that you were talking to another woman about…well, whatever you were talking about. I mean, had I been flirting over parchment with a bloke, making plans to go to Paris…” he trails off and shakes his head. “I mean, honestly, I think I’d be sick. That’s just…” he grimaces, as if he’s never had to entertain such a horrible thought before in his life. “It’s not right. I think there’s something genuinely wrong with those people. Not that you could have known,” Ron adds quickly, looking at Hermione with what she thinks is supposed to be a reassuring smile.

But the reassurance is completely lost on her. Hermione’s face is still flaming with embarrassment over Ron’s comments, and she’s never felt smaller or more miserable in her life. His palpable disgust feels like it’s clinging to her skin, and if she wasn’t so petrified about saying the wrong thing or reacting in the wrong way, she’s sure she’d be crying.

Her eyes inadvertently flick toward Ginny, but this time, Ginny’s gaze isn’t trained on Hermione. Instead, she’s giving Ron a sidelong glare and her jaw is tightly clenched. But she must feel Hermione’s eyes on her because she quickly tears her gaze away from Ron’s face, and the moment her eyes meet Hermione’s, her expression changes. There’s something in her eyes, some curious mix of confusion, concern, and distress, and Hermione has no idea what to make of it.

All she knows is at this moment, she wants to sink into the ground and never resurface.

“Blimey,” Ron murmurs. “A woman.”

Harry stretches his legs out in the grass and says, “you should have told him sooner, Hermione. Would’ve saved us all from weeks of his massive jealous streak.”

“Oi! I’m not jealous!”

“And I’m the Queen of England,” Harry says lightly. Then, he glances up at Hermione. “So how did she react? I mean, it must have been a strange transition to make, right?”

Hermione swallows around the painful lump in her throat and pushes a hand through her hair, trying desperately not to cry. “I…I—”

“Oi! You three!”

Hermione glances over her shoulder and sags in relief when she sees Gryffindor’s Beater, Jimmy Peakes, heading toward them. Even from a distance, Hermione can tell that he’s sporting a black eye and his lip is swollen where it made direct contact with Hufflepuff’s Bludger. Once he’s close enough to speak without shouting, he says, “I’ve been looking for you lot everywhere. Pomfrey’s given the all-clear for visitors, if you want to drop in on everyone,” he says, coming to a stop before them. “Might help morale if you do. They’re all…” he grimaces, then says, “let’s just say I’ve been to cheerier funerals. Reckon it’d do them a spot of good to have a pep-talk from our fearless captain.”

Harry nods and sits up straighter. “I was going to drop by before dinner. Is everyone…”

“In one piece? Yeah. Well…more or less,” Jimmy says with a small wince. “Ritchie and Rose took the biggest beatings. Broken arm for her and a bashed in nose for him. But they’ll live.”

Harry grimaces, then he turns to look at Hermione with an apology lurking in his eyes. “I know I promised no more Quidditch talk, but…”

“Visiting your teammates isn’t Quidditch talk. It’s just being a good leader,” Hermione says quickly. Quite frankly, she’s not upset by Jimmy’s interruption at all. She’s actually thrilled for the distraction. She wasn’t sure if she’d be able to make it through a whole conversation about her parchment pal without accidentally admitting the truth of her own sexuality in the process, and after Ron’s vehement reaction, that’s the last thing she wants to do right now.

“Yeah, but I know we said we’d spend the day together, and I just…”

Hermione shakes her head firmly. “There’s always tonight. So go on, then,” she says, tapping Harry smartly on the knee. Then she looks at Ron and Ginny and says, “that goes for the lot of you. Go visit your fallen comrades.”

Ron frowns. “I don’t want to leave you alone out here. I can always pop round later,” he says uncertainly.

“You’ll do no such thing. You’re a team, so you’ll go together. And besides, it’s not like you’re going off to war. It’s almost dinnertime. I’ll see you again in an hour.”

Ron sighs. “I suppose you’re right.” He stands up and brushes the grass from his pants, then turns to Ginny. “You coming?”

Hermione looks at Ginny to find brown eyes still trained on her face. “I…yeah,” Ginny says, looking away from Hermione’s gaze quickly. “Yeah, let me just…”

She slips her discarded shoes and socks back on, stands up, and swings her bag onto her shoulder. “Alright,” she says. “Let’s go.”

Jimmy, Harry, Ginny, and Ron all say their goodbyes to Hermione, then start back toward the castle. But after a few steps, Ginny pauses. She turns around and glances down at Hermione, biting her lower lip.

Fear creeps into Hermione’s heart at the conflicted look on Ginny’s face, but she still manages to lightly ask, “forget something?”

“No, I just…I wanted to say that if you want to talk later…about…about anything,” she says slowly, scrutinizing Hermione carefully.

“What’s there to talk about?” Hermione asks, trying to keep her tone upbeat and casual, but even she can hear how miserably she’s failing. Ron’s disgust is still echoing in her ears and she feels dirty and ashamed.

Ginny eyes her closely. “You tell me,” she murmurs.

Hermione sits up straighter and lifts her chin proudly. “I don’t—”

“Or don’t,” Ginny adds quickly. “Whatever you want to do, I just thought that…” she trails off, then thrusts a hand through her windswept red hair. “I just want you to know that you can talk to me. About anything. You do know that, right?” she asks, staring earnestly at Hermione.

“Of course I do,” Hermione says. “But there’s nothing to talk about.”

“Hermione…”

“You should go. They’re all waiting for you,” Hermione says, gesturing toward the castle.

“I know, but…”

“You’ll give Ritchie and Rose my best wishes, won’t you?” Hermione asks.

“Yes, but—”

Before Ginny can continue, Ron yells her name from the castle doors. She glances toward him with irritation and throws up her index finger, then she looks back to Hermione. “I just…I…” she runs a hand through her hair again, then she exhales sharply. “I meant what I said. You can tell me anything. And that’s a standing offer, okay?”

“Thank you. And the same goes for you, obviously,” Hermione says, digging her fingers into her thigh as she struggles to keep her tone calm and even. “But I’m afraid I’m as deadly dull as I’ve always been, so there’s nothing to tell.”

Ginny shakes her head and frowns, but after a long moment, she finally nods, seemingly willing to drop the subject for the time being. “Right. If you’re sure, you don’t want to talk, then I suppose I’ll just…see you at dinner?”

Hermione nods. “See you then,” she says, dropping her gaze to the grass. She can feel her eyes dangerously burning, and the last thing she wants to do is risk crying in front of Ginny.

She hears Ginny’s quiet sigh from above and her murmured goodbye, and once she hears Ginny’s footsteps departing, Hermione glances up and watches as she jogs toward the doors where her teammates are waiting.

It isn’t until they’ve all disappeared into the castle that Hermione lets herself exhale shakily, wincing in frustration as the tears immediately gather in her eyes.

Of course Ron was disgusted. Of course Harry had agreed. Of course. Why had she expected anything different?

Hermione flops down on the grass and even though she’s still valiantly fighting against it, a few hot tears escape and slowly slide down her cheeks. She brushes them away and rubs at her eyes furiously, all the while replaying Ron’s words in her head.

That’s just nasty, isn’t it?

I think I’d be sick.

There’s something genuinely wrong with those people.

She thinks about Harry’s quick nod of agreement and another traitorous tear slides down her cheek, falling into the grass below.

God, how could she be so stupid? She was naive to think either of them would understand. Because this isn’t something that people understand. Not ever. This is something that people will be quick to judge Hermione on for the rest of her life. It’s something that will constantly weigh her down and make people look at her with suspicion and disgust. It’s something that will haunt her at every turn and destroy the rest of her life.

But perhaps more than anything, it’s something that’s not worth telling anyone about.

But the butterflies…

Bugger the butterflies, Hermione thinks bitterly, closing her tired, stinging eyes. If the way she feels right now is the price of living authentically, than she wants no part of it. She can live a lie if it means never having to see those particular looks on Harry and Ron’s faces again. She can go her entire lifetime never really knowing love if it means never being judged. She can convince Ginny that whatever she thinks she knows, she’s wrong. She can keep this piece of herself a secret for the rest of her life. Because what Hermione’s beginning to realize is at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter whether she chooses to live authentically or not.

She’ll be miserable either way.

***

Monday evening finds Hermione in the library, waiting for Pansy. She’s running a bit later than usual and Hermione knows that she should be using this time to pull books from the shelves so they can get started as soon as she arrives. Instead, she’s bent over her parchment, feverishly trying to finish her message before Pansy arrives.

She’s almost at the end of her reply when she hears three sharp raps on the library door, followed by two long ones. She smiles a bit at the sound—it’s Pansy’s secret knock.

Hermione puts down her quill and stands from her chair, quickly crossing to the main doors. When she gets there, she points her wand at the door and murmurs the tricky incantation to open it from the inside. The heavy, ancient locks embedded in the door slowly spin and after a few moments, they unlock with a familiar pop. She grasps one of the iron door handles and with a grunt, pulls the heavy door open, leaving just enough space for Pansy to slip through. Once she’s safely inside, Hermione closes the door again, points her wand, and the locks spin once more. She releases a small sigh, relieved that they’ve once again managed to sneak Pansy into the library without being caught.

Hermione tucks her wand away. “You’re late,” she says, turning to face Pansy, who’s slumped against the door and fighting to control her ragged breathing.

“Sorry,” Pansy gasps. She rubs a hand against her chest and says, “Snape…saw me…had to…double back to…dungeons. Thought…coast was clear.” She shakes her head weakly. “Mrs…Norris.”

“Mrs. Norris?” Hermione echoes, confusion coloring her tone. But before she can ask for any clarification, she stops and peers at Pansy with concern. “Are you alright?” she asks cautiously as Pansy wheezes. “Do you need water?”

Pansy shakes her head. “No…I’m in…spectacular shape…can’t you tell?” she gasps, tilting her head against the door and closing her eyes. “Athletes wish they…could be in this…kind of shape,” she adds, before immediately bending over and devolving into a coughing fit.

Hermione snorts and crosses her arms, surveying Pansy with a raised eyebrow. “I see. And is the coughing part of it?”

Once Pansy’s managed to control herself, she nods. “Abdominal workout,” she says. Her hands are on her knees as she gazes up at Hermione seriously. “It’s all the rage with professional Quidditch players.”

“Is that so?”

“It is.”

“Well, then, if you’re not too tired from showing off your astonishing athleticism, do you think you can make it to the table?”

Pansy smiles and says, “I think I’ll manage.” She weakly pushes herself from the door and starts toward the table, then says, “and you jest, but have you ever tried to outrun a cat? Only someone in peak physical condition could manage it.”

Hermione’s steps falter for a moment at the bizarre information Pansy’s just casually provided. “You were running from Mrs. Norris?”

“Bloody cat saw me sneaking back from the dungeons. She gave chase all the way up the stairs. I had to run up to the fourth floor and hide behind a statue before I could double back down to the third.”

“You were running…from a cat,” Hermione repeats, her lips twitching dangerously.

“Say what you will, but that cat could be the Head of the Auror office. No dark wizard could run from her.” Pansy drops her bag beside the table and pulls out a chair. “Honestly, I think Filch is holding her back from a very lucrative Ministry career.”

Hermione hums. “If that’s true, perhaps we should let her have a go at your father.”

Pansy’s halfway in her seat, but she pauses and looks up at Hermione, stricken. “Merlin…that’s it! Sod the research! We’ll put the cat on the case.”

Hermione shakes her head fondly, then sits back in her own seat. “Well, if Head Auror Mrs. Norris can’t do it, then who can?”

Pansy chuckles as she sinks down into her chair and once she’s made herself comfortable, she glances down at the parchment in front of Hermione. At the sight, her eyes immediately grow wide and she raises her eyebrows. “Is that…is that your parchment?” she asks, sounding surprised.

Hermione trails her finger over it lightly and nods. “I was trying to finish replying before you arrived. But it can wait,” she adds, feeling a little twist of guilt over the fact she’s prioritizing Pansy again.

“I…no, I…” Pansy trails off and looks as if she’s considering something. Then, she stands up abruptly. “I can gather the books we need, if you’d like to finish?”

Hermione glances up from her parchment in surprise. “What? No, it’s…honestly, it can wait.”

Pansy shakes her head. “It looks like you’re almost done there,” she says, gesturing to it. “I mean…Merlin, you’ve written a novel already. It’ll take your pal forever to reply to that…” she adds, almost to herself.

Hermione looks down at her message with a small frown. “I am almost done,” she says hesitantly. “But it really can wait,” she adds, looking back at Pansy. “I don’t mind.”

She shakes her head firmly. “Finish your novel. I’ll get what we need. Just promise me you won’t start in on a sequel before I’ve returned.” With that, she leaves the table and heads toward the shelves, leaving Hermione alone with her parchment.

It only takes Hermione a few more minutes to finish her letter, but this time, when she signs Robin to the final product, she forgoes adding the tiny heart.

After the debacle on Saturday, she’s decided that the heart will simply be a relic of the past. Because the heart represents something she can’t give into, no matter how much she wants to. So even though it hurts, she’s told herself that the best thing to do is to practice keeping her parchment pal at arm’s length. No more flirting, no more dreams of Paris, and certainly no more hearts.

She feels awful about it, of course. More than anything, she wants to add the heart. But if she’s going to make good on her promise to live a calm, normal life, she knows she can’t give into the temptation that the tiny heart represents.

Before she can tuck her parchment away, Pansy comes back into view, levitating a massive stack of books in front of her. Once she’s close enough, she uses her wand to guide them down onto the table, and they land with a gentle thump.

“Right. I think this is everything,” she says, nodding at the mountain of books. “I mean, I hope it’s everything, considering it’s half the bloody library. Though I couldn’t find that book you were reading from on Friday. The history of Wizarding…legal…papers, or whatever it was,” Pansy says, taking her seat across from Hermione.

“Oh!” Hermione says, surprised she had forgotten about the book until this very moment. She quickly reaches for her bag and pulls out a ridiculously thick book, then she plops it down on the table. “Collected Papers on the English Wizarding Legal History, Volume Two. I checked it out last Friday for a bit of light reading over the weekend.”

Pansy stares at the book, then looks back at Hermione with wide eyes. “Light reading?” she echoes, sounding horrified.

“Well, I didn’t read all of it,” Hermione amends quickly. “But some of the essays were fascinating.”

“I see. That’s…I mean, that’s…” Pansy shakes her head, seeming unable to come up with something that sounds even remotely positive about Hermione’s choice in literature. Instead, she asks, “did you learn anything?”

“Oh, loads!” Hermione replies brightly. “Do you know why members of the Wizengamot wear plum robes? I’d assumed it was because of some ridiculous legal thing, but it actually has to do with—”

“Hermione,” Pansy interrupts gently, amusement coloring her tone. “I meant did you learn anything we can use against my father.”

Hermione flushes at Pansy’s reply, partly because she’s embarrassed by her overenthusiastic response, and partly because hearing her name fall from Pansy’s lips is still an unexpected and altogether surreal experience. “No, there was nothing we could use."

“Ah, well. Dare to dream,” Pansy says with a small shrug. Then she glances up at Hermione with a smile and a raised eyebrow. “Well?” she asks, tilting her head curiously.

Hermione frowns, confused. “Well what?”

“Why are their robes plum?”

“Oh,” Hermione says, surprised Pansy had bothered to circle back to what she had been saying. “I…I mean, it’s not that interesting,” she says, tugging self-consciously on one of her loose curls.

“I’ll be the judge of that. Besides, you’ve piqued my curiosity. So go on, then.”

Hermione blinks a few times uncertainly before she slowly says, “it…it originated with Ulick Gamp in 1707.” She’s not used to anyone wanting to hear her fun facts, so she starts cautiously, waiting for the moment where Pansy will inevitably tune her out. But when her green eyes stay focused and attentive, Hermione takes a deep breath and continues. “He was both the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot and the first Minister for Magic.”

Pansy snorts lightly. “Bloody overachiever.”

Hermione nods, feeling bolstered by Pansy’s reaction. “Yes, but he was a bloody overachiever with a very particular wardrobe—he only wore plum colored robes. He’d throw a fit if he had to dress in anything else,” she says, leaning forward. She can feel herself getting excited in the way she always does when she’s sharing some obscure bit of information, and it makes her words come faster and her gestures broader. “There’s a rumor that he once spent an entire month neglecting his duties as the Chief Warlock while he tried to find a way to make plum robes the standard. It’s why most historians agree that his dedication to his wardrobe was the entire reason he abolished the Wizard’s Council, created the Ministry of Magic, and declared himself the first Minister for Magic.”

Pansy stares at her, looking baffled. “The entire Ministry of Magic exists because some nutter wanted to wear plum robes?” she asks slowly. “Merlin…that’s absurd.”

“It is, but it’s the truth.”

Pansy shakes her head, stunned. “No. I mean, it can’t be! No one would be so ludicrously obsessed by a color that they’d create an entire governing body just to enforce it. I mean…”

Before she can say anything else, Pansy cuts herself off abruptly and frowns at the table for a moment. Then, she looks up and sighs wearily. “No, I take that back. That is absolutely something Daphne would do.”

Hermione laughs but before she can reply, Pansy asks, “so was that his first decree, then? The plum robes?”

“Mm. At first, he just insisted the Minister for Magic would wear plum and everyone else in the Wizengamot would wear black. But after a while, Gamp thought the colors clashed, so he demanded the whole Wizengamot wear plum. Have you ever heard the quote “so long as we permit darkness to draw breath, devilry shall endure?” Hermione asks.

Pansy looks a bit surprised by the unexpected question, but she nods. “It’s one of Gamp’s most famous quotes, isn’t it? It’s on his statue at the Ministry. And I think I’ve seen it before on his Chocolate Frog card.”

“You probably have, but do you know its origin?”

“I…think so?” Pansy says uncertainly. “I know he said it in some famous Wizengamot case. It just means that if good people let evil exist unchecked in the world, bad things will never stop, right? Some sort of call for justice to prevail?”

Hermione shakes her head with shining eyes. “I thought the same thing, but no. That’s just what it means now. It’s not the original meaning. Most people think Gamp said it while he was delivering a passionate plea in some ruling or another, but he wasn’t in court at all. He said it while he was talking to his fellow Wizengamot members outside of court. The darkness he’s referring to has nothing to do with wickedness—he’s talking about their robes.”

“What?” Pansy asks, sounding baffled.

“He meant that he couldn’t deliver any verdicts or try any cases if he had to look at their black robes for another second. The quote has nothing to do with evil existing in the world—it was just his way of saying that if the dress code didn’t change, he’d wouldn’t be able to do his job.”

“You’re joking,” Pansy says, staring at Hermione with wide eyes.

“I’m not! He insisted he’d shut down the entire Wizengamot if the dress code didn’t change, so they had to scramble and make plum robes for everyone. It’s been the standard ever since. All this time, I thought it would have some legal precedence, but really, it was just a man with a very particular sense of fashion."

A broad smile slowly steals over Pansy’s face, and she looks at Hermione with sparkling eyes. “Well, that story alone was worth your light reading. Merlin. What a wanker.”

Hermione smiles back and lets herself bask in the very foreign sensation of someone actually being interested in her obscure and arcane factoids. Anytime she attempts to share her knowledge with Harry, Ron, or Ginny, they’ll roll their eyes and mockingly call her Professor Binns. But with Pansy’s warm, interested gaze trained on her and a smile lighting up her face, Hermione finds herself curiously wanting to tell her every fact she’s ever collected. She wants to spill them out, one after the other, just to see if she can make Pansy’s smile even brighter than it already is. Because surprisingly enough, Pansy has a wonderful smile, and Hermione’s starting to realize that she quite likes being on the receiving end of it.

But instead of leaning forward to regale Pansy with more facts from Collected Papers on the English Wizarding Legal History, Volume Two, she reminds herself of the task at hand and forces herself to look away from Pansy’s strangely hypnotic smile and toward the stack of books before her. Before she picks one from the pile, she puts aside the heavy tome on legal history, then picks up her parchment and tucks it away into her bag for safekeeping.

“I take it you finished your novel?” Pansy asks, nodding toward Hermione’s bag.

Hermione nods. “I did. Thank you.”

Pansy hums lightly, then after a brief hesitation, she very tentatively says, “they must really be something.”

“What do you mean?”

Pansy shrugs as she pulls a book toward her. “Oh, I don’t know. Just that I can think of very, very few people I’d ever want to write that much to. I could probably count them on one finger, if I’m being honest,” she adds with a small smile.

“Oh,” Hermione says, glancing at her bag. “I suppose you’re right. Our messages do tend to run a bit long.”

“A bit long?” Pansy says with a surprised laugh. “I hate to break it to you, but I’ve seen enough parchments to know that you just singlehandedly wrote more than all of the people participating in this little experiment, combined.”

Hermione scoffs. “All of the people participating? I sincerely doubt that.” She tilts her head thoughtfully, then says, “perhaps half of the people participating, though.”

“All or half, it’s still a ludicrous amount,” Pansy says, rolling her eyes at Hermione’s correction as she reaches into her bag for a quill.

“I guess it is, but…I don’t know. I suppose we’ve never been at a loss for words. Our letters have just come naturally, right from the start. There’s never been any hesitation or awkwardness. It’s as if…as if we’ve always known each other,” Hermione murmurs, smiling softly at the table. “As if we were just…meant to be.”

It’s only after the words have left her lips that she realizes what she’s just said. Meant to be? Is she even trying to keep her feelings for her parchment pal at bay? Hermione could kick herself for sounding like a lovesick fool, and she clenches her fist in frustration under the table at her blunder.

She looks up, desperately hoping Pansy hasn’t noticed the slip-up, to find green eyes already trained on her. There’s a surprising intensity behind her gaze, but it’s only there for a moment before it quickly fades into something that looks purposefully casual. “Meant to be, hm?” Pansy asks, her tone strangely light. “Merlin…I’m beginning to understand why the big date with Weasley was doomed to fail from the start.”

“It wasn’t doomed to fail,” Hermione says, feeling defensive. “And it didn’t fail. Ron was lovely and we had a nice time together, it just…it wasn’t right. It wasn’t what I wanted,” she adds quietly.

There’s a brief pause in which Hermione thinks that Pansy is going to leave it at that. But then she says, “because you have feelings for your parchment pal?”

“I…what?” Hermione asks, looking up at Pansy with wide eyes.

Pansy shrugs as she idly studies the dark red polish on her fingernails. “I don’t know many people who use the phrase meant to be in a friendly way, do you?”

“I…no, I suppose I don’t,” Hermione says dumbly, the truth slipping easily from her mouth. She’s so surprised by how casually Pansy’s delivered the question that it doesn’t even cross her mind that she should be lying.

Pansy tilts her head and surveys Hermione. “You know, I’ve heard my fair share of improbable romances over the years, but I have to say, falling in love over parchment is a new one. They must be quite the writer,” she adds, cocking a curious eyebrow.

“I never said I was falling in love,” Hermione manages. She’s finally thinking enough to mount a defense against Pansy’s questions, but even she can hear that it’s not a very good one. And if the dismissive hand Pansy waves at her reply is any indication, it’s more than likely a pathetically weak one.

“Falling in love, have feelings for…semantics,” Pansy says.

“It’s not semantics!” Hermione says. “There’s quite a big distinction between falling in love and having feelings for someone!”

“Not really,” Pansy says. “After all, one thing usually leads to the other.”

“It can, but not always,” Hermione says, trying desperately to gather her thoughts so she doesn’t say something she’ll regret.

“Fine, fine,” Pansy says immediately, leaving Hermione no room to think about how to shut down this line of questioning. “So you just have feelings for them.”

“I—”

“And do they have feelings for you?”

Hermione blinks stupidly a few times, feeling completely off-kilter. “Yes, but…” she starts, once again not thinking quickly enough to lie.

“Well, that’s good,” Pansy interrupts, picking up her quill and giving it a quick twirl. “I mean, it makes things easier.”

Hermione scoffs and immediately mutters, “I wouldn’t say that.”

It’s only once the words are out that she realizes she’s once again managed to say too much. She could kick herself for being so stupid three times in one conversation.

Pansy arches a brow with interest. “Oh? Why? Did you find out who you’re talking to?” She pulls a sympathetic face and says, “Is it Crabbe?”

Hermione’s mouth drops open. “It’s…no,” she says, completely horrified by the idea. “You think I’d be stupid enough to fall in love with Crabbe?”

“Aha! Fall in love,” Pansy says, pointing a victorious finger at Hermione, who immediately glares darkly at Pansy’s triumphant smile. “Told you it was semantics,” she adds with an infuriating wink that makes Hermione flush down to her toes.

She’s going to cast Langlock on herself. Anything to stop herself from saying all the colossally stupid things that are currently flying out of her mouth at record speed.

Somehow, she controls the urge to turn her wand on herself. Instead, she thrusts a hand through her hair and huffs impatiently. “It’s not semantics, and it’s certainly not Crabbe!”

“Fine,” Pansy says. “Goyle, then?”

“I—”

“Honestly, that makes sense. I’ve always suspected that there was more to him than meets the eye. And it’s really beautiful that you managed to find the soul of a poet that’s been lurking beneath the monosyllabic grunts and appalling hygiene.”

“Pansy!” Hermione says with a surprised, exasperated laugh that makes Pansy’s eyes shine. “It’s not Goyle, either!”

“Oh? How can you be so sure? You know, most people don’t know this, but Gregory Goyle is actually a person of rare intelligence.” Pansy pauses, then says, “by which I mean it’s rare of him to show any intelligence.”

Hermione laughs again, then says, “you are absolutely impossible” with a surprising amount of affection leaking into her tone.

“I’m not!” Pansy says, lifting a hand to her heart in mock-surprise. “I’m just trying to be supportive of your new relationship! And I really do think you’ll be happy together, provided you only use small words words around him. Anything with more than two syllables tends to send him into a tailspin. He’s still completely mystified by his own first name…”

I’m going to start researching,” Hermione says, choosing to disregard Pansy’s latest quip. She figures that one of them should be actually doing what they’re here to do. “Feel free to join me whenever you’re done with whatever this performance is,” she says, gesturing to Pansy, who’s leaning back in her chair with a thoughtful look on her face.

“Oh, but I suppose Hermione will also be too long for him to wrap his tiny mind around,” Pansy says, ignoring Hermione’s interjection completely. Instead, she looks at Hermione seriously and says, “would you consider changing your name?”

Hermione scoffs as she reaches for a book. “No.”

“A nickname, then?”

Hermione’s nose immediately wrinkles in distaste. “No.”

“Come now, you haven’t even heard your options yet! What if you’d like them?”

“I wouldn’t.”

Pansy tsks, then says, “I have to say, you’re not being very open-minded, Herms.”

It takes a moment for the abbreviated name to register, but once it does, Hermione looks up swiftly and glares at Pansy. “Absolutely not,” she says darkly. “Never say that again.”

“Fine, fine,” Pansy says. Then, she gives a theatrical sigh and shakes her head mournfully. “I have to ask…are you sure you have feelings for your parchment pal? Because honestly, I’m not sure it’s going to work out. Things aren’t looking good for you.”

“Considering it’s not Goyle, I’d say things are looking okay,” Hermione replies, reaching for a blank piece of parchment and her quill.

“You can’t be sure of that,” Pansy says.

“I can, actually,” Hermione says, opening her book.

“Oh? How?”

“Well, for one thing, I’m fairly sure Goyle’s illiterate.”

“Yes, but—”

“And my parchment pal just so happens to be the best writer in the entire school.”

“The…the entire school? You really think so?” Pansy echoes, raising her eyebrows with surprise and sounding genuinely stunned.

Hermione doesn’t bother to wonder why the information has surprised Pansy so deeply. Instead, she nods as she absently skims the table of contents to Investigating Murder: An Auror’s Response to Criminal Homicide, noting the chapters she wants to pay particular attention to.

“Would you say they’re better than Dumbledore? Or McGonagall?” Pansy asks lightly, but with a thread of curiosity running through her words.

Hermione rolls her eyes as she flicks through the pages, finally landing on a chapter about interrogation law. “Maybe. I don’t know. I’ve never read any of their writing,” she says as she begins to skim the introductory paragraph, looking for anything that might help them.

“Merlin…you really think they’re better than a professor?” Pansy asks, sounding dazed.

Hermione shrugs as she jots down a quick note. “I don’t know. She could be,” she says, distractedly. “She’s brilliant.”

She finishes writing the note in silence, and it’s only when she glances up at Pansy, confused by the sudden lack of running commentary, that she realizes what she’s just said.

She’s brilliant.

She.

Panic immediately rises in Hermione’s chest, and she drops her quill as if it’s scalding. “I…I didn’t mean…” she says. Her heart is pounding and her body feels curiously cold, as if someone’s replaced the blood in her veins with ice.

Pansy’s brow furrows a bit at Hermione’s immediate alarm, and she shakes her head quickly. “No, Hermione, it’s—”

“I shouldn’t have said…I mean, I didn’t…” Hermione thrusts a hand wildly through her hair and looks at Pansy with wide, frightened eyes. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…I…I…”

She stands up immediately, adrenaline suddenly coursing through her body. How could she be so bloody stupid? How could she divulge the one thing she’s sworn to keep secret for the rest of her life in less than a week’s time? Surely, she’s just set some sort of record for the fastest anyone’s ever blown their own cover so spectacularly. And the worst part is, it’s all her fault. She shouldn’t have indulged in Pansy’s light teasing; she should have shut down the conversation the very moment it turned to her parchment pal. And when she didn’t, she should have been smart enough to give the discussion her complete and undivided attention. But instead she had tried to multitask, and in the process, she had managed to confide her deepest, darkest secret. And to Pansy, of all people! If Ron and Harry were quick to be judgmental of same-sex relationships, there’s no telling how horrified and revolted Pansy will be. After all, she’s just barely wrapped her mind around Muggle-borns being decent people. There’s no way she’ll find it in her heart to understand this, which is why Hermione knows that she has to get out of the library as fast as she possibly can. She can’t handle whatever scathing remarks might be brewing in Pansy’s mind at this very moment.

With a shaky hand, she grabs her bag and shoves her quill and parchment inside.

“What are you doing?” Pansy asks, sounding mildly alarmed.

“I…I have to go,” Hermione says.

“Why?”

Hermione manages to look up from her bag to find Pansy’s eyes trained on her, wide with concern.

“Why?” Hermione echoes. “I…you heard what I just said, didn’t you?” she asks a bit wildly.

“I did,” Pansy says “But Hermione—”

“Right. Right, of course you did, I just…” Hermione holds completely still for a moment as she thinks through all the repercussions of Pansy finding out this secret. Her heart beats faster and she feels like she might pass out as she thinks of all the horrible things that could happen, but she manages to grip the chair in front of her and force herself to look Pansy in the eyes. “You’ll never have to work with me again,” she says. “And if you want to switch patrols partners, I’ll go to McGonagall for you. I promise I will, but just…” Hermione bites her lower lip, then says, “please don’t tell anybody. Please. I know it doesn’t make sense and I know it’s…” she casts her mind back, trying to remember all the ways Ron had described it. “I know it’s wrong,” she finally says, lowering her eyes to the table with shame. But before she can continue to plead for Pansy’s silence, Pansy interrupts her.

“Hermione. I…I don’t think it’s wrong.”

Hermione looks up swiftly to find Pansy’s eyes on her. There’s no disgust or anger lurking in their green depths, and she stares at her stupidly for a moment. After what feels like a lifetime of holding her gaze, Hermione very uncertainly asks, “you don’t?”

Pansy slowly shakes her head. “No,” she says hesitantly. “I don’t. Not at all, actually.”

“But…” Hermione trails off and stares at her once more, trying to make heads or tails of Pansy’s reaction. More than anything, she seems concerned. Her eyes are deeply troubled, as if she can’t bear to see Hermione in pain, and her brow is creased in distress. “I don’t understand,” Hermione finally says. “I mean, it doesn’t…I don’t…did you hear what I said?” she finally asks a bit desperately.

“I did,” Pansy says. She frowns for a moment and looks as if she’s pondering whether or not she should say anything more. After a moment, she sighs quietly and seems to come to a conclusion. She looks back to Hermione and says, “but to be honest, I’m not sure if you heard what I’ve been saying.”

“What?” Hermione asks, completely confused.

“Last Tuesday, when I told you what my…my grandmother used to say,” Pansy says, faltering over the word grandmother for just a moment. “Do you remember?”

Hermione frowns, but before she can reply, Pansy continues. “No one can help the blood they’re born with, just as you and I can’t help that we were born with green eyes,” she says, smiling a bit at the old, familiar words.

“I…” Hermione shakes her head and folds her arms over her chest, uncomfortably. “I remember. But I don’t—”

“I can’t help my green eyes. Neither of us can help our blood status,” Pansy says. Then, she leans forward in her chair and says, “and no one on this bloody planet can help who they fall in love with. And I told you on Tuesday that I’ve come to the conclusion she was right all along. That we’re all people, in the end. It would be ridiculous of me to go back to cherry-picking what is and isn’t acceptable behavior.”

“Yes, but…” Hermione slowly sits back down in her seat, and after a moment, she rubs a hand over her tired eyes and shakes her head. “This is different.”

“Oh?” Pansy asks, raising an eyebrow. “How so?”

“It just is.”

“Hm. Well, you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t accept that,” Pansy replies.

“It’s not for you to accept or not, it just is,” Hermione says, frustration sneaking into her tone.

“Then prove it.”

Hermione stares at Pansy for a moment, but Pansy simply folds her arms over her chest and waits for Hermione to speak.

“Prove it?” Hermione repeats.

Pansy nods. “Prove to me it’s different. Tell me why having feelings for someone is somehow more unacceptable than any of the other things you can’t change about yourself. If you can prove it, then fine. You’ll win and I’ll go back to hating you. I’ll say cruel and horrid things and I’ll use this against you for the rest of your life. But if you can’t prove it, which I suspect you can’t, then I’m afraid things will have to stay just as they are. So…go on, then,” Pansy says, gesturing to Hermione. “Prove it.”

“I…I…”

“Here, I’ll even help you out,” Pansy says. “Did you choose to have feelings for your parchment pal?”

“No,” Hermione says slowly. “I…I didn’t, it just sort of…happened.”

Pansy hums, then says, “and are you hurting anyone by having feelings for her?”

Hermione furrows her brow, but after a moment, she tentatively shakes her head, and Pansy nods. “So if you didn’t choose to have these feelings and you’re not hurting anyone by having them, then I’m afraid I still fail to see how this is any different from anything else. You didn’t choose your blood status and it doesn’t hurt anyone. Would it be right for me to go back to judging you based on that?”

“No,” Hermione says uncertainly. Because logically, she knows what Pansy’s saying is true, but she can’t shake the feeling that this is somehow different.

“No,” Pansy repeats firmly.

“But this…” Hermione runs a hand through her hair again and shakes her head. “I understand what you’re saying, and I appreciate it. Really, I do. But this isn’t something people just understand.”

“You might be surprised,” Pansy says, almost gently. But Hermione just shakes her head and taps an anxious finger against the table.

“Trust me, I know what I’m talking about.”

“What do you mean?”

“I…I already sort of told someone. And they…” Hermione winces and rubs her face. “They didn’t react well.”

Pansy raises her eyebrows at the quiet confession. “You told someone that you have feelings for your parchment pal?” she asks, seeming genuinely taken aback.

“No, not exactly,” Hermione says. She doesn’t really want to revisit the entire saga, so she says, “but the general topic did come up, and Ron…he…he…”

“He didn’t take it well?” Pansy asks, her voice quiet and her eyes searching.

Hermione shakes her head and swallows heavily around a lump in her throat. “No. He said he thought something was wrong with people like…” she hesitates, curiously unable to say people like me. Instead, she says, “with people like that. He said it made him sick to even think about it,” she adds, feeling the shame sit heavily on her shoulders once more, perching upon her like a vulture.

Pansy’s quiet for a moment, so Hermione sneaks a small glance at her. Her eyes are far away and there’s a small frown between her brows, but after a moment, she sighs and says, “as much as this kills me to admit, I’m afraid I understand his point of view a bit better than I’d like to.”

“You do?” Hermione asks with surprise, suddenly feeling anxious again. Has Pansy changed her mind and decided that there is something wrong with her? She bounces her leg anxiously under the table as she waits to hear what Pansy has to say.

“I mean, my reputation will never recover if you ever tell anyone I’m agreeing with Weasley, but…yes,” Pansy says. “I do understand. Because I was him, up until a few weeks ago. I mean, I spent years believing in pure-blood supremacy, but it’s only because I didn’t know any better. It was what I was taught. And the way Weasley reacted, well…that’s just what he’s been taught, too. People are quick to judge what they don’t understand. But as much as I think Weasley is nothing more than a particularly dense mountain troll parading about in a ginger wig, I do think he’s capable of changing his mind. I mean, if I can do it, anyone can,” Pansy adds wryly.

“I suppose that’s true,” Hermione says slowly. “I just…what if he can’t? What if he never changes his mind? What if he…he hates me?” she asks, her voice breaking a bit.

“I don’t think he could ever hate you,” Pansy says quietly. She frowns a bit as if she’s pondering something, then she exhales sharply and looks up at Hermione. “And if you really want to know the truth, I didn’t always feel this way about…well, matters like this,” she says. “I’m afraid it’s not just my grandmother’s words of wisdom that are influencing my views. I might not even feel this way at all if it wasn’t for someone quite close to me who shares your…your particular dilemma,” Pansy says carefully.

Hermione doesn’t say anything, but she tilts her head in interest, silently telling Pansy to continue.

“When I first became aware of it, I wasn’t exactly as open minded as I’m being with you right now. To be honest, I was horrible. I actually agreed with Weasley,” she adds, then she shakes her head and darkly mutters, “Merlin, agreeing with Weasley twice in one conversation. I hardly recognize myself.”

“Pansy…” Hermione murmurs, trying to get her back on track. She desperately wants to hear where this is going to go.

“Right, sorry,” Pansy says quickly. “That’s a problem for later, I suppose. Can always Obliviate it from my memory on my own time. Anyway, what’s important is I did agree with him. I thought that anyone who could have those kind of preferences must be wrong or…or broken,” she says, looking deeply uncomfortable as she thinks back on her past views. “I thought it was something that should be hidden. And if I’m being honest, it took far longer than I’m willing to admit for me to realize how wrong I was. And I put this person that I cared about through so much unnecessary pain in the process,” she adds quietly. “But what matters is that I did eventually realize that I was wrong. I realized that it doesn’t matter, and that the heart will do whatever it wants to do, bugger what anyone else thinks. And Weasley will realize that, too,” she says, looking earnestly at Hermione. “He just needs a little time.”

Hermione nods slowly. “I hope you’re right,” she says. She’s not exactly convinced, but she’s strangely reassured that Pansy’s managed to go through this exact thing with someone in her life and has come out of it with a healthy, positive outlook. Because Pansy was right—if she’s capable of change, surely Ron and Harry will be, too. And now that she knows Pansy has firsthand experience, she finds herself wanting to ask a question that’s been weighing on her mind.

“May I ask you something?”

“Anything,” Pansy says quickly.

“This person you’re referring to…” Hermione says, twisting her hands together anxiously. “After all was said and done…are they…are they happy?” she asks, finding herself preposterously nervous to hear the answer.

Pansy gives Hermione a soft smile. “They are,” she says. “Really, they are. I mean, I know it’s taken them ages to get there, but I also know they wouldn’t change anything that’s happened. Not for the world.”

“And…is there someone in their life? I mean, are they actually with someone?” Hermione asks, biting her lip anxiously.

Pansy hesitates, then shakes her head slowly. “No, they’re not with someone. At least, not right now. I think there is someone in their life, though, and I think they’re optimistic that things will work out,” she says tentatively, sweeping a finger over the table as she speaks.

“Oh,” Hermione says, feeling curiously relieved that there’s someone else out there like her. Someone who’s gone through the same experience and is now happily living on the other side of it with some sort of romantic prospect in their future. “That’s…that’s good to hear. And I hope it does. Work out, I mean,” she adds.

“As do I,” Pansy murmurs.

Hermione leans back in her chair, feeling a bit dazed by everything that’s just happened. After a moment, she laughs just a bit, then glances up to find Pansy’s curious eyes on her. “Sorry,” she says, “it’s just…two days ago, I swore to myself I’d never tell another living soul about this. I swore I’d take it to my grave. Two days!” She shakes her head in completely bewilderment.

“Merlin. Remind me not to come to you with any of my deepest, darkest secrets,” Pansy says with a smile flickering on her dark lips.

Hermione tentatively returns the smile, then says, “thank you. For…for listening and telling me about your friend. It’s more helpful than you know. This is all so new to me and to be honest, I’m…I’m still terrified by it. But your reaction was,” Hermione shakes her head in wonder, “I didn't expect it. And it was more than I ever could have asked for. So thank you. Thank you for not making me feel like there’s something wrong with me.”

Pansy nods. “Of course.” She bites her lower lip then says, “I know firsthand that you’re quite good at ignoring small-minded people and intolerance, so I’m sure this goes without saying, but just…bugger what anyone else thinks. People will always have opinions, but at the end of the day, it’s your life. Not Weasley’s, not Potter’s, not your parents. Yours. And you deserve to be happy. Even if it’s hard, you deserve it.”

“Worthwhile things rarely come easily,” Hermione murmurs, quoting Pansy.

Pansy nods. “And for what it’s worth, I won’t tell anyone about this. Because while you might be surprisingly shit at keeping secrets, I’m actually quite good at it.”

“Oh?”

“Mm. Nothing gets past me. I’m more secure than Gringotts.”

“The dragons would be sad if they heard you say that,” Hermione says with a smile. “I’d assume they take their duties quite seriously.”

“Merlin, you’re never going to forget that, are you?”

“That there’s a literal dragon guarding your money? No, that’s the kind of thing one doesn’t easily forget.”

“Well, what guards a Muggle bank?” Pansy asks, sounding defensive.

“Nothing, really. A vault tends to be good enough.”

“But what happens if someone breaks into the vault? What then?”

“I suppose the bank would ring the police,” Hermione replies.

“The bank would…ring?” Pansy asks uncertainly, and Hermione rolls her eyes.

“Pure-bloods,” she says as loftily as she can manage, and adds a long-suffering sigh and an eye roll for good measure. But her facade breaks easily when Pansy snorts in surprise, and she grins. “Yes. You ring someone on the telephone. It’s a Muggle method of communication. Like owling, but far faster.”

“Huh. I’m afraid I’ve never heard of it,” Pansy says. Then she shakes her head and says, “but rings and vaults aside, you’d feel safer if there was a dragon guarding your money, wouldn’t you?”

“I’d feel ridiculous if there was a dragon guarding my money.”

“Oh, fine, be like that. But when someone steals all your money, don’t come crying to me, asking to borrow my dragon.”

Hermione snorts. “Why on earth would I ask to borrow your dragon if someone’s already made off with all my money? What would I need it for? Commiseration?”

Pansy opens her mouth, then appears to consider the question. After a moment, she rolls her eyes. “Don’t you ever get tired of being the brightest witch of our age?” she mutters.

“Not when everyone else makes it so easy for me,” Hermione replies, trying to sound as pretentious as she can.

“Ooh, cheeky,” Pansy says with an appreciative grin. She opens her book, then looks back toward Hermione and says, “and for what it’s worth, I was lying.”

“About what?” Hermione asks with a frown.

“The dragon,” Pansy says. “I’d let you borrow it in a heartbeat. Even if just for commiseration,” she adds. “I’d probably let you borrow anything, if I’m being honest.”

“That’s…that’s very kind of you,” Hermione says, surprised.

“Well, you are trying to save my life, so…seems only fair you should get some perks out of it.”

Pansy spares one more smile for Hermione before opening her book and beginning to read.

Hermione absently toys with the cover of her own book, but she doesn’t pick it up. Instead, she takes a moment to survey Pansy.

She can’t believe what’s just transpired between them. More than anything, she had been certain that Pansy would react poorly to the surprising news that Hermione had feelings for her female parchment pal. But in some strange twist of fate, Pansy had once again been the person to reassure Hermione. She had been kind and considerate and everything Hermione could have asked for. And now that she has Pansy’s words buoying her, she feels cautiously optimistic that she can make Ron and Harry understand this. Maybe not anytime soon, but one day. And that alone is enough to make Hermione feel more cheerful than she has in ages.

Gazing at her now from across the table, Hermione feels a glow of warmth in her heart for Pansy. Pansy, who’s doing all that she can to fight against the things she was taught. Pansy, who, despite everything, has managed to surprise Hermione at every turn. Pansy, who’s made her feel safe and accepted and seen.

It’s absolutely bizarre to think back on what her feelings had been toward Pansy not even a few weeks ago. But now, as she studies her in the gentle, soft lighting of the library, she realizes that they could one day maybe be…friends.

The moment the thought pops into her head, Hermione realizes how true it is. They could be friends. And what’s more, she’d like them to be friends. Because she likes Pansy. She’s spent more than enough one-on-one time with her over the past few weeks to find that she actually enjoys the other girl’s presence. She likes her dry tone and her quick humor. She likes the way Pansy will sometimes see her from far away and give her a shy, small wave. She likes her genuine interest and the way she gives Hermione her undivided attention when she’s speaking. She likes her steady, warm green eyes. She likes the way her smile is slow like honey, but how it eventually spreads and lights up her entire face. She even likes the way that smile makes her feel, as if she’s being warmed from the inside out. She likes all of these things, because as unexpected as it is, she likes Pansy.

“Everything alright?” Pansy asks, glancing up at Hermione with a question in her eyes.

Hermione startles a bit and flushes, embarrassed by how long she’s been staring at Pansy. She manages a nod. “Yes. Everything’s fine.”

And for the first time in ages, she actually believes it. She believes that she’s going to be okay, she believes that one day, she’ll make Ron see sense, and she believes that somehow, against all odds, she and Pansy Parkinson might actually be friends.

Pansy nods at her reply and gives her a small smile.

Hermione knows she should pick up her quill and get to work. She knows they’ve already wasted enough time, and she has a stack of books practically as tall as she is to get through. She knows they’re trying to trap a murderer and there’s really no time to waste.

She knows all of this.

But for some reason, she ignores both logic and responsibility for just a bit longer and instead, lets her gaze linger on Pansy as she returns the smile with one of her own.

It’s a perfect, precious moment, full of delicate peace and unspoken trust, and when Pansy finally drops her gaze and turns back to her book, Hermione wonders why she feels disappointed at the loss.

***

It’s late when Hermione finally returns to the Gryffindor common room. She’s exhausted after both unloading her secret to Pansy, and after spending hours chasing dozens of dead ends in the library.

It’s been harder than she anticipated to find anything of use in the piles and piles of books they’ve accumulated, and while she wouldn’t say the library is failing her, per se, she would say she’s beginning to get frustrated.

(Pansy would absolutely say that the library was failing her, with annoying amusement lurking in her eyes.)

She feels like they’re getting closer to a real solution, but every time Hermione comes up with an idea she thinks might work, Pansy is quick to tell her a reason it won’t. Yet while the reasons seem to make Pansy more pessimistic about the whole ordeal, they’ve lit a fire under Hermione. Because the more she learns about this treacherous, evil man, the more driven she is to find his downfall. Unfortunately, though, the best idea she has as of now is pulling a Rita Skeeter and becoming an illegal Animagus, solely to spy on Pansy’s father.

Pansy had rolled her eyes at that and shut it down quickly, saying it was dangerous and foolhardy, but Hermione’s keeping it in her back pocket, just in case.

They had parted ways at the library doors. Pansy had offered to walk Hermione back to the Gryffindor common room as she had done every night, but Hermione had reluctantly declined, telling her it would double her risk of getting caught out of bed after hours. At first, it had been an easy thing to say, but the more time Hermione’s spending with Pansy, the more she finds herself curiously wanting to agree to Pansy’s suggestion and spend the long walk back to Gryffindor Tower chatting with Pansy about anything and everything.

Perhaps she wants to be friends with Pansy a bit more than she’s letting on, even to herself.

And now that she’s back in the common room, all she wants to do is take off her robes, fall into bed, and let her mind rest. She climbs through the portrait, pausing briefly when she hears the Fat Lady humph “you know, nothing good happens in the middle of the night,” from behind her. Hermione winces and whispers sorry over her shoulder, hoping to soothe the Fat Lady’s frayed nerves. Instead, she hears a muttered, “tell that to the bags under my eyes.”

Before Hermione can say anything else, the portrait swings shut behind her with a loud thump that seems to reverberate around the silent common room and makes Hermione jump with surprise.

But the thump didn’t just startle Hermione. At the noise, someone who had been fast asleep on the couch groans, then sits up and sleepily searches for the source of the noise.

“Ron?” Hermione whispers, recognizing his silhouette against the crackling fire.

“Hermione?” Ron replies, his voice thick with sleep. “Was that you?” he asks, rubbing his hands over his face. He lowers his hands to squint at her and says, “are you just getting back?”

Hermione nods as she crosses the common room toward the couch. “Yes. Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you,” she says, gingerly perching on the arm of a chair facing Ron.

“It’s alright, I didn’t mean to fall asleep here. Blimey, what time is it?” he asks, stretching his arms over his head and groaning slightly.

“Ten past twelve,” Hermione replies, flushing slightly as Ron freezes mid-stretch at her reply.

“Ten past twelve?” he echoes, sitting up fully and staring at her. “Twelve as in midnight?”

“I—yes?”

“Have you been in the library this whole time?” Ron asks, sounding stunned.

“I have,” Hermione says, then quickly adds, “but I didn’t mean to stay so late. Time just…got away from me,” she finishes awkwardly.

Ron stares at Hermione for a moment, not bothering to hide his shock. “That’s…that’s…” he runs his hands through his already messy hair, making it stand up at absurd angles. “Hermione, you can’t keep doing this.”

“Doing what?” Hermione asks, looking at Ron’s hair and fighting against the motherly urge to reach out and smooth it back down into place.

“Studying!” Ron says, sounding exasperated.

At that, Hermione tears her eyes away from Ron’s hair and gives a small laugh. “I can’t keep studying?” she asks, keeping her tone purposefully light. She doesn’t want this to become an argument so late at night, especially because she knows that Ron’s heart is in the right place. So instead of pushing back and telling Ron she can do whatever she wants for however long she chooses, she opts for gentle humor instead. “Sorry, but have you met me? Studying is kind of my thing.”

“I know, but just…you need to sleep, too. And unless you’re trying to become the next Minister for Magic overnight, I don’t think there’s anything you need to be studying for to this extent,” Ron says. Then he raises a wry eyebrow and adds, “I mean, are you trying to become the next Minister for Magic overnight? Suppose I shouldn’t put anything past you.”

Hermione shakes her head. “No, I just…I got wrapped up in something tonight,” she says, crossing her legs absently and bouncing a foot in the air. “But if it’s any consolation, I’m going to sleep straight away, so you can stop playing the role of mother hen. Even if your hair does look like a bit like a hen’s comb right now,” she adds, glancing at the top of his head with amusement.

Ron reaches up to his hair self-consciously and smoothes it down. “Better?” he asks, looking to Hermione for approval.

“Much,” Hermione replies. “And now that you’re presentable, maybe the rest of the boys will let you back into your room. I assume that was the reason they made you sleep on the couch?”

“Oh, yeah, because we’re definitely known for our presentability,” Ron says with a snort. He stretches again and says, “I didn’t mean to. I just closed my eyes for a second. Bloody fireplace always puts me to sleep,” he adds as he rolls his neck a few times. “I’ve told Harry to wake me up, but he always says he feels too guilty to do it. Says it’d be like waking up a baby,” Ron says, pitching his voice up just a bit to imitate Harry. He winces, then twists a few times to crack his back. “Merlin, remind me to never fall asleep on this bloody thing again.”

Hermione smiles at him fondly, then stands from the arm of the chair. “I think we’re both long overdue for a real bed,” she says. But before she can wish Ron good night, he looks up at her quickly.

“Wait! Don’t go,” he says. “I mean, not just yet.”

“Weren’t you the one who just told me I need to sleep?” Hermione asks, quirking an amused brow. “Going against your own orders, now?”

“No, I…you do need to sleep,” Ron says, “but I…” he trails off and rubs the back of his neck. “I’ve been trying to get you alone for ages now, you know.”

Hermione slowly lowers herself back down on the arm of the chair. She has an uncomfortable suspicion as to why Ron’s been wanting to get her alone. It’s the same reason that she’s been wanting to get him alone for a while now, too—she knows she needs to do the right thing and let him down. And though this is the first time they’ve been alone in ages, she had reasoned it was too late and they were both too tired to go through a breakup tonight. But with Ron’s eager eyes trained on her, something tells her she won’t be falling into bed anytime soon. Not if she’s going to have to be brave and shut down whatever feelings are currently brewing in Ron’s heart.

“Well, I’m here now,” she says, clasping her hands together tightly so she doesn’t start nervously picking at her skirt. “And you have my undivided attention. What do you want to talk about?”

“Us,” Ron says immediately.

Hermione’s heart sinks at the confirmation, and Ron flushes a bit. He gives her a sheepish smile and says, “to tell you the truth, I’ve been thinking about the idea of an us for a while now. I mean, I haven’t been thinking about it for years or anything. That would be mental.” Ron looks up with alarm. “Not that thinking about you like this years ago would have been mental,” he adds quickly. “I mean, any sensible bloke would have been thinking about this years ago. And not that I’m not sensible, I am! I am, I just…I…” He trails off and grimaces. “This conversation went a lot better in my head,” he mutters. Then, he takes a deep breath and tries again. “I just meant that I’ve been thinking about the possibility of an us ever since Hogsmeade. And I was hoping that you’ve been thinking about it, too? And maybe thinking about what comes next?”

Hermione feels guilt and dread settle heavily in her stomach. “You mean you’d like to go on another date?” she asks tentatively, trying to buy herself some time.

“No,” he says, but before Hermione can let the relief flood in, he immediately tilts his head back and studies the ceiling, looking annoyed at himself. “I mean, yes,” he huffs. “Yes, I want us to go on another date. I want us to go on loads of dates, but that’s not what I’m…” he exhales sharply, then looks at Hermione with renewed confidence and says, “how would you like it if we were official? Boyfriend and girlfriend official, I mean.”

Hermione must involuntarily wince at the question, because Ron immediately backtracks. “If it’s too fast, I understand. We can take this at whatever pace works for you, but I just…I dunno. I figured since we’ve already known each other for so long, we could probably skip the whole getting to know each other bit that other couples go through. I mean, I already know you,” Ron adds with a grin. “And what’s more, I already like you. I…I like you quite a lot,” he finishes, blushing so red that he almost matches his hair.

Hermione’s stomach twists in knots as she lowers her gaze to study the plush rug under the chair. “Ron, I…” she rubs her face uncomfortably, trying to figure out the best way to go about this.

She’s never had to break up with someone before. Things were blissfully easy with Viktor—they had both known that whatever transpired between them would be temporary. When the time had come for him to board the ship back to Durmstrang, they had simply exchanged a long hug and promised to keep in touch, and Hermione had watched him go with no regrets or guilt over how their very brief relationship had ended.

To be honest, her biggest regret had simply been being in the relationship in the first place, which yes, was another blinding sign about her sexuality that she had conveniently ignored.

But even though her relationship with Viktor had lasted far longer than her ill-fated attempt with Ron, she feels a hundred times worse about what she’s about to do. Because unlike Viktor, Ron isn’t on the same page as her. He’s not even in the same book. He’s full of anticipation and jitters and all those lovely, shimmering feelings that accompany the delicate stirrings of new love. And while Hermione is also full of those things, they just happen to be for a very different person.

So even though the last thing she ever wants to do is hurt Ron, she knows she has to. She can’t continue leading him on just because it would be easier. She can’t let him start planning her role in their future together when she has no intention of ever acting it out. She can’t play with his heart just because she’s afraid of what her future may hold.

She has to give both Ron and herself a fair shot at real, genuine happiness.

And that means doing the right thing.

She looks up at Ron and murmurs, “I like you quite a lot, too. More than just about anybody, if I’m being honest.” But when Ron grins broadly, Hermione quickly adds, “which is why I…I need to be honest with you.”

Ron’s grin falters and his eyes grow uncertain. “Honest about…?”

“About us. About…about…”

Hermione can’t quite make herself say honest about me because she’s still not ready to admit the full truth to Ron, so instead she says, “about my feelings for you. I do love you, Ron. You’re one of the best people I know and you deserve every happiness in the world, but…” she worries her lip for a moment, then murmurs, “but I can’t be the one to give that to you.”

Ron blinks at her a few times and Hermione shifts uncomfortably in the thick, unbearable silence that settles between them. After a few long moments, he finally says, “sorry, I don’t…I…” he frowns at her and says, “what do you mean you can’t be the one to give that to me?”

Hermione slowly lowers herself from the chair arm into the chair itself, settling in for a longer conversation. “I mean that my feelings for you aren’t romantic,” she says, forcing the words to come out as steady and as clear as possible. “I love you,” she stresses again, “I do, but just…as a friend.”

“I…but…” Ron shakes his head a bit and runs a hand through his hair, making it stick up again. “I don’t understand. I thought you had a good time at Hogsmeade?” he asks, looking at Hermione with confusion.

“I did,” she says. “I did, because I like spending time with you. But only as a friend,” she says again, wincing a bit when she sees how stricken Ron looks.

He opens his mouth a few times, then eventually shuts it without saying anything and stares past Hermione into the fireplace, lost in thought. After a few moments, he turns back to her. “You let me hold your hand,” he says, sounding lost. “You let me kiss your cheek, I…” he shakes his head and looks at Hermione a bit desperately, waiting for an answer to a question he hasn’t actually asked.

“I shouldn’t have. I shouldn’t have done either of those things,” Hermione says as shame trickles through her body. “I just…I was scared of disappointing you. I was scared of letting you down. I was scared of having this conversation,” she says, folding her arms tightly across herself. “But I couldn’t let you go on thinking that we were on the same page when we weren’t. It wouldn’t be fair to you. I’m sorry,” she adds weakly. “I should have told you sooner.”

“But why? I mean, was it something I did?” Ron asks, sitting forward and staring at Hermione with desperate, pleading eyes.

“No, it…”

“Was it because of what happened at the Three Broomsticks?”

Hermione falters a bit, wondering for a brief, wild moment how he could possibly know about her conversation with Pansy. Did he overhear her telling Pansy that she had feelings for someone else? Someone unexpected?

Cold fear drips into her veins, but before it can overwhelm her, Ron adds, “because I really didn’t want to tend bar that long. I mean, I didn’t want to tend bar at all! But if you felt like I was neglecting you, or, or—”

Hermione shakes her head quickly, relief immediately taking the place of panic. “No. No, not at all. You were wonderful. To me, to Madam Rosmerta…you were a gentleman and you were…you were everything a woman could ask for. Really, you were. It has nothing to do with you. Honestly, it’s me. I just…I don’t see you in that way. I’d like to,” she adds. “You don’t know how much I’d like to, but I just…I can’t.”

“How can you be sure?” Ron asks, looking optimistic at Hermione’s words. He sits up straighter and says, “feelings develop differently between people all the time! My mum said she thought my dad was a complete tosser from first year to third. It wasn’t until they were fourth years that she started to change her mind, and they didn’t start dating until sixth! And now, look at them! They’re the happiest couple I know!” He breaks off, frowns a bit, then says, “or at least, they’re one of the happiest couples I know. Mum does threaten to leave every time dad brings home a new Muggle thing to tinker with. But that aside, they’re perfect for each other. And I think we could be, too, if we gave it some time,” he finishes, looking at Hermione with encouragement.

“No, I…that’s not it,” she says quietly. “I wish it were that simple, but I just…I don’t have feelings for you. Not the kind you want me to have.”

“But we’re good together,” Ron says, looking at her desperately. “We are! And I just think if you gave it a bit more time, you’d see that—”

“Ron,” Hermione says, cutting him off before he can continue his impassioned defense. “I’m sorry. But more time won’t change anything. I know this isn’t what you wanted to hear. And believe me, it’s not what I wanted to have to tell you. I’m sorry. I really am but I promise you, this is for the best.”

Ron shakes his head. “For you, maybe,” he says.

“It’s for the best for both of us,” Hermione says, trying to keep the irritation out of her voice.

“I don’t think it is,” Ron says. “I think you’re not giving us a fair shot. But if you’d just—”

“Do you really want to be with someone who doesn’t have those kind of feelings for you?”Hermione asks, interrupting him. “Honestly, you don’t deserve that. You deserve to be with someone who wants to be with you. And I’m sorry, but that’s not me,” she says, stressing both words.

“But—”

“Let me tell you how this would play out. We’d go on a few more dates. You’d start to fall in love. I wouldn’t. But I’d feel so bad about letting you down or wasting your time that I’d stay with you. We’d stay together after Hogwarts and when you’d eventually propose, I’d probably feel guilty enough to say yes, even though I’d know deep down that we were making a mistake. We’d end up stuck in some awful marriage and we’d never be happy. We’d snap at each other constantly and you’d be miserable and I’d wind up resenting you and eventually, we’d both end up hating each other. Is that what you want? Because if you keep pushing this, then that’s what you’ll get,” Hermione finishes.

Her words are delivered sharply, but she’s so frustrated that she doesn’t particularly care. It’s only when she notices how much Ron’s face has fallen that guilt slithers into her stomach and coils there uncomfortably. She rubs her face as the irritation slowly fades away and says, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound so…so harsh, but I just…” she sighs and murmurs, “you can’t keep pushing this just because you’re disappointed.”

Ron doesn’t reply. Instead, he keeps his gaze trained on the carpet below his feet, and Hermione watches as he taps a restless finger against the arm of the couch. After what feels like a small eternity, he drags his gaze back to Hermione and says, “and you really don’t think things will ever change?”

Hermione glances toward her lap as her mind flicks back to the late night experiment she had run last week. Immediately, her head is filled with images of herself being intimate with a beautiful, nameless woman, and she shakes her head with a small flush. “No. I don’t.”

“And there’s nothing I could do differently?”

“No,” Hermione says softly. “There isn’t. I’m sorry,” she adds, dropping Ron’s gaze and directing her words to the floor.

She hears Ron’s sigh, soft and dejected. “I…I’m sorry, too,” he says, and Hermione winces at the gloom in his tone. “I really thought that we’d…”

She risks a glance at him to find him staring into the fire again, his eyes faraway. “I know,” she murmurs.

When Ron continues to stare into the fireplace, Hermione whispers his name, and his dejected blue eyes flicker back to her. “Sorry,” he says. “I just…” he tousles his hair and tilts his head back against the couch cushion. “This isn’t how I saw this night going.”

Hermione picks at a sparse patch of velvet on the arm of her chair, trying to tell herself that as awful as she feels right now, she’s done the right thing. But even with constant reassurances running through her head, she can’t help the doubt that creeps in, so hesitantly, she says, “are you…are you mad at me?”

“No. Of course not. I…I’m…” Ron’s mouth scrunches as he tries to think of the right word. “I’m disappointed,” he finally says. “I won’t lie, I thought that you and I…” he smiles ruefully and shrugs. “I thought we’d be something. Because I really do like you. But you’re right. It’s not fair of me to push for a relationship if you don’t feel the same way, and you can’t help how you feel. So…thank you, I suppose.”

“For what?”

“For being honest. For not saddling us both with a miserable future. I’m disappointed and my pride might have taken a beating, but I reckon I’d prefer that to one day hating you. I don’t ever want to hate you,” he adds, his eyes soft and serious.

Hermione manages to nod with a lump in her throat, but before she can say anything else, Ron adds, “you know, if you had done this a few days ago, I would’ve assumed you were chucking me aside for your parchment pal.”

“Oh?” Hermione asks, trying to both sound and act casual. Her entire body had stiffened at the remark, though, and for the life of her, she can’t figure out what a normal reply would be. She can’t even figure out what she should be doing with her face.

She settles on raising her eyebrows and trying to look amused, but the smile on her face feels curiously close to a grimace.

“Suppose that’s a bit of good news for my wounded pride, though,” Ron says, seeming to not notice Hermione’s struggle at all. “At the very least, you’re not choosing a scrap of paper over me.”

Hermione manages a weak laugh in reply, but part of it must sound strained, because Ron glances at her curiously. In that moment, she decides humor is the best route, so she shrugs as unaffectedly as she can manage and says, “I mean, would it be a surprise if I were? I practically live in the library. I choose scraps of paper over you and Harry all the time.”

Ron grins and leans back against the couch, not realizing for a moment that she hadn’t denied his suggestion. “Well, can’t argue with that. The amount of time you spend in that bloody library,” he says, shaking his head with wonder. “Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if you announced your engagement by the end of this year.”

“I’m afraid I have no interest in being the third party in any relationship,” Hermione says seriously. When Ron looks confused at her remark, she adds, “after all, the library is already in a very committed relationship with Madam Pince.”

“Blimey, how could I forget? Well, there goes your entire future.”

“It’s fine. I have Crookshanks.”

“Oi! Didn’t you just finish saying that you’re not interested in gingers with odd faces?”

Hermione gasps in mock-offense. “Crookshanks’ face is not odd! He’s gorgeous.”

“Right. And Snape’s half-veela.”

“Now that you mention it, he does carry himself with a certain grace…”

“Nah. That’s just the hemorrhoids.”

Hermione laughs out loud and Ron grins broadly. Once she’s collected herself, she smiles at him fondly, feeling a powerful sense of relief that she’s not in any danger of losing one of her best friends tonight. She opens her mouth to reply, but before she can, a massive yawn escapes Ron. He stretches his arms up over his head and says, “blimey. What time is it now, half past four?”

Hermione checks her watch. “Half past twelve.”

“Half past twelve,” Ron groans, closing his eyes tightly. “I have to be up at six for Quidditch.”

Another reason that sport is ridiculous, Hermione thinks to herself. But for Ron’s sake, she winces sympathetically and says, “then you need to go to bed. Right now.”

“But we’re having a conver…a conver…”

Another yawn escapes Ron and he rubs his eyes. “A conversation,” he finally finishes.

“You really want to keep discussing Snape’s hemorrhoids at twelve-thirty?”

“Oh, always,” Ron says with a wicked grin. “They’re my favorite topic, you know.”

“Then I’ll be sure to bring them up first thing tomorrow at breakfast. But for now, you need to go to sleep.”

Ron grimaces. “Don’t ever mention hemorrhoids and breakfast in the same sentence again,” he says, standing from the couch and stretching a bit.

“I won’t, so long as you go to bed.”

“I’m going, I’m going,” Ron grumbles good-naturedly. He eyes Hermione closely and says, “and you should be going, too. No more studying tonight, right?”

“No more. You have my word.”

Ron nods, satisfied. “Right then. G’night, Hermione,” he says with a smile. “Sleep well.”

“Sweet dreams,” Hermione replies.

Ron turns and starts toward the boy’s dormitory, but before he can climb the stairs, Hermione says, “Ron?”

He turns back and looks at her, raising an eyebrow.

“I…thank you. For understanding, and for being…for being…” she shakes her head. “For being you.”

Ron smiles and nods. “‘Course,” he says quietly.

“I love you, you know.”

“Yeah. I love you too.”

With that, he gives her a small wave and starts up the stairs. Hermione watches until he’s out of sight, then she allows herself to exhale slowly and slump back against the chair, relieved that she doesn’t have that awful confrontation hanging over her head anymore.

Honestly, she hadn’t expected it to go as well as it did. She had thought they’d end up in some ridiculous argument, or Ron would decide he needed time away from her to lick his wounds. But from what she can tell, he’s actually taken it as well as she could have hoped. It’s a weight off of her shoulders, and frankly, after the realizations she’s had recently, she needs this small victory.

She stretches in the chair, wincing at the tension in her lower back from too many late nights spent pouring over books. All she wants to do is climb into bed and let the day melt away, but instead, she reaches for her bag and digs inside for her parchment. She feels a little guilty as she does—she did tell Ron she’d go to bed, but the only thing she had actually promised was no more studying. And this certainly wasn’t studying.

Once the parchment is in her hands, she grins to herself, delighted that there’s an answer to her long message waiting for her. Her novel, Hermione thinks, correcting herself as her mind turns to Pansy ever so briefly. But remarkably, her parchment pal has managed to fill up both sides of the parchment, so she’d say they’re even.

She lets the anticipation build as she traces the letters in Dear Robin. There’s nothing she likes better than finishing her day with a message from her parchment pal. Though truth be told, she’s surprised it’s taken her this long to check. Normally, she checks consistently throughout the day, regardless of whether or not she’s able to reply. But for some reason, she hadn’t thought to sneak a peek at her parchment while she was in the library with Pansy. She had simply forgotten about it for a few hours.

Hermione frowns at the realization. It’s odd—she’s never forgotten to check her parchment when she’s spending time with Harry, Ron, and Ginny. Even though she loves them all, there’s always a part of her keeping a watchful eye on the paper, waiting for her bard to write to her. Yet tonight, it hadn’t even crossed her mind.

After a brief hesitation, Hermione shakes her head and shrugs a bit at herself, chalking it up to her propensity to lose all track of time in the library. And it certainly didn’t help that Pansy was surprisingly good company.

With that mystery solved, Hermione curls up in the chair, puts all other thoughts of the day from her mind, and starts to read the message. A soft, familiar smile flutters to her face as her bard’s voice washes over her, and the warmth from the crackling fireplace suddenly seems inadequate compared to the warm glow that’s emanating from her heart. By the time she gets to the last bit of the already incredibly long message (honestly, Hermione’s a bit worried by how long her bard must have spent on this), she’s once again smiling like a fool.

I can scarcely believe there’s less than a month left in this little experiment. I overheard someone in my common room the other day asking a friend what she was going to write in her reflective essay for McGonagall and it got me thinking…what will I write about, when all is said and done? I decided to brainstorm a bit, and I was hoping you’d proofread what I have so far.

Here it is, for your discerning eye:

Professor McGonagall,

You asked us to write about what we’ve learned from this experiment and how it pertains to our journeys at Hogwarts. But I’m beginning to realize you’ve assigned an impossible task. Because how can I put into words what the person on the other end of my parchment means to me? How can one write about the breathless anticipation that comes along with waiting for her letters? The overwhelming need to hear from her, night and day? The way my heart feels when I see “Yours, Robin” written at the end of each message? The finest poet could spend a lifetime trying to put those rare and exquisite feelings into words, and still, they’d never do them justice.

But I suppose a good place to start would be with fate. Do you believe in fate, Professor McGonagall? Because I didn’t. I always thought it was some silly thing that people blamed for all the wonderful, tragic, life-changing, messy happenstances we suffer through in the course of a lifetime. But now I know how foolish I was. Because if fate doesn’t exist, then how do I explain Robin? How can I possibly accept that of all the people in this school, I was somehow matched by chance with the one person who would take the time to understand my heart? The one person who would so perfectly fill the spaces within me that I never even knew existed? The one person who would teach me about grace, about empathy, about strength?

The one person who never could have known how close I was to drowning before she came along and extended her hand to me. The one person who has saved me more than she could possibly know.

Before Robin, I thought my future was set in stone. I knew what the road ahead looked like, and I knew that I’d have to walk it with as much courage as I could muster. But her presence in my life, her steady, unwavering support and compassion have led me to a new path. And I won’t lie—it’s a path that still frightens me. But somehow, even with all its shadowy uncertainties, I know it’s the right path. Because for the first time in my life, I see a future where I can just be…me. The person I’ve always wanted to be. For the first time, I’m actually looking forward to my future.

(That’s mostly because I’m desperately hoping that Robin will want to be a part of it, but let’s keep that little tidbit between you and me, Professor.)

But I suppose more than anything, I should be taking this essay as an opportunity to thank you. Because without this experiment, I’d have wandered the rest of my days, unfulfilled and lost, content to live half a life. But thanks to you, I know now what it feels like to be whole.

And that’s because of Robin.

With my sincerest gratitude,


Well, I can’t sign my real name to it, can I? But there—the product of my brainstorming. What do you think Robin? Will McGonagall like it?

I certainly hope you did.

Twenty-seven days to go.

Yours,
Bard ♥

Hermione re-reads the imagined essay to McGonagall over and over, feeling fairly sure that her heart is about to launch itself from her chest. It’s by far the most forward her parchment pal has ever been, but she doesn’t mind one bit. On the contrary—she likes it. She likes these messages that leave her cheeks warm, her body buzzing, and her soul yearning for something she can’t quite put her finger on. She likes both the light and easy flirtation and the earnest declarations of something more, something deep and full of promise. She likes letting herself bask in the beautiful, intoxicating feeling of new love bubbling through her system. She likes all of it, and it makes her ache for more.

On her fourth re-read, she zeroes in on the line I know now what it feels like to be whole. She puts down the parchment with a slightly shaky hand, letting the line sink into her and fill her chest with an all-encompassing warmth.

Hermione has read more than her fair share over the years, but somehow, in all her late nights spent with her nose in a book, she’s never resonated with any line more than she does with those ten, simple words. And while she’s still deeply afraid of everything the future holds, she knows that if there’s even the slightest chance her bard can be a part of it, then she wants it. She wants to spend the rest of her life feeling whole.

She leans forward and reaches for a quill, then smooths the parchment upon the table in front of her and starts to write, deciding to be as honest as she can manage without fully admitting her recent realizations to her parchment pal.

Dear bard,

I’m afraid I’m only a few moments away from collapsing from exhaustion, but I couldn’t let myself sleep without telling you two things:

One—your essay was beautiful. I don’t know how you manage to take everything I’m feeling inside and put it so plainly on paper. Perhaps it’s a type of magic I’ve yet to learn, but it’s one you seem to have mastered. I’m deeply jealous…I wish I could somehow spill my heart on this page and let you know the depths of my feelings, but perhaps the second thing I have to tell you will help…

Two—I want to be a part of your future. In any way, shape, and form, for as long as you’ll have me. If I’m being completely honest with you, there are so many things changing in my life right now, but the one thing that hasn’t changed, that will never change, is how much I desperately want you in my life. Now and forevermore.

But until then, I do have to sleep. My eyes are shutting against my will, and if I spend anymore time in front of this fireplace, I think I’ll somehow manage to become one with the chair. But we couldn’t let that happen, could we? Not when I’ve just promised my future to you.

More soon, but for now, I remain yours always,
Robin ♥

Hermione sends the message and smiles softly at the golden heart, right back where it belongs beside her name.

She’s never letting it go again.

***

The next day finds Hermione in the library with a smile still lurking on her face. She’s just come from a surprisingly enjoyable Potions, though in all honesty, she doesn’t know why she’s surprised—in the course of a few weeks, Potions has managed to become a class she actively looks forward to.

And that’s all due to Pansy.

Snape had decided to hold a revision session on the Draught of the Living Death today, much to the despair of everyone in the class. A collective groan had gone around the room the moment he had announced the potion, and Ron and Harry had turned to look at Hermione with concern lurking in their eyes, presumably remembering the last disastrous time she and Pansy had attempted this particular potion. And truth be told, she herself had been nervous that it might dredge up bad memories of their detention, or remind Pansy that she still resented Hermione’s essence of wormwood faux-pas from all those weeks ago.

But Hermione’s worries had proved to be unfounded. Pansy had simply smirked and said, “dibs on the prefect’s bathroom,” before slipping from her stool to gather ingredients. It had taken Hermione a moment to remember their long-ago argument in detention about who would use the bathroom first, but when the memory came to her, she found herself grinning broadly after Pansy’s retreating form.

The rest of the class had been a dream. They were immediately successful in their second attempt at brewing the tricky potion, and even Snape seemed begrudgingly impressed by their quick progress. And while Pansy was still entirely distracting, it was now in a completely different, much more enjoyable way. She kept whispering little off-the-cuff comments to Hermione that would force her to clamp her lips together to keep from laughing out loud. A few surprised snorts still managed to escape her over the course of the hour though, and each time, she was aware of Harry and Ron glancing toward their table with matching frowns, both clearly wondering what had gotten into her.

When it came time for Hermione to add the essence of wormwood to their potion, Pansy had casually emptied her pockets, revealing six extra vials. And when Hermione stared at the vials with confusion, Pansy simply winked and murmured just in case. Hermione had rolled her eyes fondly, but when Pansy turned away to trail a finger down the long list of steps in her Potions book, Hermione had found her gaze lingering.

And now, as she sits in her customary seat in the library by the large, east-facing window, she finds her thoughts turning to Pansy once more. There’s a part of her that’s upset that she and Pansy had wasted seven long years hating each other, because when it comes down to it, they’re surprisingly good together—they work well together, they sharpen each other, they make each other laugh, and as surprising as it is, Hermione has stopped thinking that they could one day be friends. Now, she thinks they could one day be good friends. Very good friends, if she’s being honest.

“Thought I might find you here.”

Hermione glances up, startled out of her thoughts to find Ginny, smiling down at her. She looks a bit nervous as she nods toward the chair across from Hermione with a raised eyebrow. “May I?” she asks, rocking back and forth on her feet in a way that’s so similar to Ron, Hermione can’t help the small smile that comes to her face.

“Of course,” Hermione says, quickly removing her bag from the table and placing it on the floor. “You know you don’t have to ask.”

Ginny scoffs as she lowers herself into the chair. “Please. I’m not Ron. I have manners.”

“Mm. So does that mean you’re closer to Percy, then?” Hermione asks, raising an amused eyebrow.

Ginny grimaces. “The closest person in our family to Percy is mum’s stuck-up, persnickety cat. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the hair, I’d think he was adopted.”

Hermione smiles, but before she can reply, Ginny says, “but speaking of Ron…” She trails off and nervously tugs on the end of her red braid, plaited neatly over her shoulder. Hermione watches the movement with wary eyes—she knows that Ginny’s about to ask about what had happened last night, and her shoulders tense a bit in anticipation. Ron is her brother, after all. And even if he irritates her on an almost daily basis, she still adores him. It would stand to reason she’d take his side in any sort of dispute.

Ginny still hasn’t said anything, so Hermione gently prompts, “what about him?”

“I…I heard what happened. Last night, I mean,” Ginny says. “Between you and Ron.”

Hermione nods. “I was going to tell you,” she says with a small wince. “I was, I just—”

“Don’t worry about that,” Ginny says, waving an uncaring hand. “I know you were, I just…how are you?” she asks, scrutinizing Hermione carefully.

There’s a question lurking in Ginny’s eyes, and Hermione feels her heart skip a beat. She still remembers Ginny’s concern on Saturday after the great parchment pal reveal, and she has a nasty feeling that Ginny’s decided to take this moment to dig deeper.

But before she can let the familiar icy fear grip her heart and come up with a thousand different excuses, she stops and thinks about what Pansy had said last night. About how there was no difference between this and her blood status. They were both things she couldn’t help, and neither were hurting anyone. And if Pansy could find it in her heart to be accepting, surely Ginny could, too. And what’s more, shouldn’t Hermione give Ginny the benefit of the doubt? She’s one of Hermione’s closest friends, and if the way she had gazed at her on Saturday was any indication, Ginny would actually be the best first person to tell.

…Well, second. Pansy had been the accidental first, but all things considered, she had actually been the best first person to tell.

Slowly, the fear ebbs away and Hermione straightens her shoulders, scrapes together her courage, and decides to let the chips fall where they may.

“I’m…I’m alright. A bit sad, I suppose. I had hoped things would be different, and I know Ron’s disappointed but…” she trails off and shrugs. “It just wasn’t meant to be.”

“Can I ask why?” Ginny asks, once again nervously tugging on her braid. “I mean, it’s not like I can blame you,” she adds quickly. “Did you know that Ron still doesn’t wash his own knickers when he’s home? He’s practically middle-aged and mum still does it for him. Had you ended up with him, you’d be his wife and mother, all at the same time. Honestly, you made the right call, but I just…I thought you were a bit more interested in him a few months ago. Unless I’m misremembering?”

“No…no, you’re not misremembering,” Hermione says. “I thought I wanted something more from him. But…” she trails off and shakes her head.

“But something changed?” Ginny asks gently.

Hermione nods. “I suppose it was after Hogsmeade when I knew for sure. I had a lovely time with him, but the whole time, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were just there as friends. And what’s more, I didn’t want to be there as anything more.”

Ginny bites her lip nervously, then says, “you know, when Ron told me this morning, he mentioned something…something interesting.”

“Oh?” Hermione asks, her heart rate immediately picking up at Ginny’s painfully practiced casual tone.

“Mm. He said that had you called things off before Saturday, he’d have assumed it was because of your parchment pal.”

Hermione nods slowly. “Yes, he…he said something similar to me last night,” she says, nervously fidgeting with her skirt. She’s not surprised that Ginny’s taking this opportunity to get answers—she’s always been something of a straight shooter—but it’s still progressing faster than Hermione expected, and she can feel anxiety slithering in her stomach, slick and cold.

“He seemed to think it was ludicrous. But…” Ginny trails off and frowns. “I was watching you on Saturday, you know. And you seemed…upset,” she says carefully.

“I—”

“I know you said everything is fine. And maybe it is! Maybe I’ve got the wrong end of the stick,” Ginny says quickly. “Maybe I’m reading into things that aren’t there, and that’s fine. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time. I was convinced Luna had a thing for Neville for months. So much so that I kept dropping all these hints to Neville about a friend who was interested in him romantically. He ended up thinking it was me and told me he just didn’t see me like that,” she says, dropping her voice to imitate Neville. “Can you imagine? Me and Neville?” She shakes her head, then says, “and anyway, it was all for nothing. Luna wasn’t interested in him at all. She just thought Trevor was a Moon Frog in disguise and wanted to get closer to Neville to inspect him.”

“A…a what?” Hermione asks, baffled by how casually Ginny had just delivered a seemingly nonsensical sentence.

“Moon Frogs. They’re glowing frogs that Luna thinks live on the moon. She thinks they hide in the craters and that they have special healing abilities and…” Ginny shakes her head in disbelief, “and I honestly can’t believe I know as much about them as I do,” she says, sounding vaguely horrified.

“They’re not…real, are they?” Hermione asks tentatively.

“Merlin, no! They’re just your standard Quibbler fare. And honestly, I’ve no idea why Luna thinks Trevor of all toads is secretly from the moon, but to be honest, I’ve no idea why Luna thinks most of the things she thinks. I gave up trying to understand her thought process ages ago.”

Hermione chuckles. “That’s probably for the best. And anyway, Neville’s dead set on Hannah. It wouldn’t have worked out anyway. For Luna or for you,” she adds with a small smirk.

“And I’m still devastated over that,” Ginny says seriously. “Why do you think I’m with Harry now? Had to settle for my second choice.”

“Stands to reason,” Hermione says easily. “Though it is a shame…all Harry has to offer is Hedwig. Neville has a Moon Frog.”

“Well, we can’t all be as lucky as Hannah, I guess.”

“No, I suppose not.”

Ginny smiles for a moment, then her expression turns serious again and she says, “anyway, ridiculous Moon Frog tangent aside, I just…” she frowns and worries her lower lip for a moment, then exhales slowly. “I might be wrong. I’m probably wrong, but on the off chance I’m not, I wanted to reiterate what I said on Saturday. If you want to talk, I’m here. But if you don’t, that’s fine, too,” she adds quickly. “Just tell me to piss off, and I will.”

Hermione looks down at the table and sweeps a finger over the polished surface as she ponders how she wants to reply. The ball is firmly in her court—she can either let Ginny in on all her recent revelations and hope for the best, or she can steer them away from this topic with vague excuses and false reassurances. One would certainly be easier. And she knows that even though Ginny is persistent, she’s true to her word; if Hermione tells her that everything is fine, she’ll let it drop.

But a tiny voice in her head whispers worthwhile things rarely come easily and she finds her thoughts turning toward her parchment pal, a shared dream of Paris, and a small, golden heart that makes her own heart flutter with anticipation.

After last night, she knows without a shadow of a doubt that she wants more from her parchment pal than just friendship. She wants it all—whispered promises, magical kisses in the rain, soft summer evenings and still winter nights. A soft hand in hers as they stumble through whatever the future has in store for them.

A life together, if she’s lucky.

But she also knows that none of these things will be possible if she keeps this part of herself sequestered from the world. And so even though she’s still terrified, she takes a deep breath and comes to a decision.

“Hypothetically…if I told you that you weren’t reading into things…if I said that I was upset on Saturday…how would you feel about that?” Hermione asks, her heart pounding in her chest.

“I would want to know why you were upset,” Ginny says carefully. “I’d want to try to help. Hypothetically speaking, of course,” she adds.

Hermione’s stomach twists a bit, and even though she’s made up her mind to let Ginny in on what’s been going on, she finds herself curiously unable to put it into words. Instead, she looks up at Ginny and asks, “do you have a guess? As to why I was upset, I mean.”

Ginny nods. “I do,” she says slowly. “But I don’t want to overstep my bounds or assume things I shouldn’t be.”

“But if you were to assume. Whatever it is you’re assuming, I mean…how would you feel if it…if it were true?”

Hermione’s question lingers in the air for a moment, and as she waits for Ginny to answer, she can feel her stomach twisting into even tighter knots. Anxiously, she wipes her sweaty palms against her skirt. She’s sure Ginny’s going to say she agrees with Ron. That it’s wrong, it’s strange, it’s disgusting.

Instead, Ginny looks at Hermione with earnest eyes. “If what I’m assuming is true, then I wouldn’t care. I’d just want to know so I could be supportive. In any way you’d want me to be. I mean, hypothetically speaking,” she adds with a small smile.

Hermione’s heart seems to leap into her throat at the reply, but whether it’s from hope or anxiety, she can’t tell. Her leg bounces under the table as she asks, “can I ask what you’re assuming?” in a voice tight with nerves.

Ginny glances around them to make sure they’re completely alone. Once she’s satisfied no one is near their little corner of the library, she leans forward just a bit and murmurs, “I’m assuming that you might be experiencing certain feelings for a certain parchment pal?”

Hermione exhales sharply. She hadn’t even realized she’d been holding her breath, and she quickly inhales through her nose, forcing herself to stay calm.

“Would I be right?” Ginny asks tentatively.

Every part of her wants to say no. Every part of her wants to run away from the table and never look back.

But instead, in a show of bravery that will baffle Hermione when she looks back on it even years later, she manages a small, stiff nod, effectively sealing her fate, whatever it may be.

She looks up to see Ginny’s reaction and when she finds understanding, warm eyes still trained on her, she feels the tiniest bit of tension flutter away from her body. Because at the very least, Ginny doesn’t seem to be having the same reaction as Ron.

“And can I ask if these feelings are only for your parchment pal? Or do you think you might be…?” Ginny trails off and lets the loaded question hang in the air, waiting for Hermione to supply an answer.

“I…yes,” Hermione whispers. “I…I think I might be…that,” she says awkwardly, still unable to say the word.

One thing at a time.

Ginny’s eyes soften, but before she can reply, Hermione hurries on. “Do you agree with Ron?”

“Very, very rarely,” Ginny says uncertainly, “but I’ll need more specifics to be sure.”

Hermione manages a small, weak smile at her reply. “Do you think it’s wrong? Or…disgusting?” she asks, her voice timid.

Immediately, Ginny’s eyes harden. “No,” she says firmly. “Not in the slightest. Not even for a moment.”

“But Ron said—”

“No,” Ginny says, pointing a warning finger at Hermione. “Don’t you dare finish that thought. I know he’s my brother, and I love him, but basing anything in your life off of what Ronald says is a recipe for disaster.”

Hermione shakes her head miserably. “How can I not? I mean, the way he looked…the way Harry looked…”

“Is something that can be changed,” Ginny puts in swiftly. “I love both of them, but they’re both complete idiots. Neither of them know any better. But do you know what their one saving grace is?”

Hermione shakes her head, and Ginny smiles encouragingly at her. “They’re quick to learn,” she says. “And they will. Honestly, they only reacted that way because they’ve never been faced with it before.”

“And you have?” Hermione asks, raising an interested brow.

Ginny nods. “One of my mum’s brothers is gay,” she says, dropping her voice. When she sees Hermione wince at the word, she quickly says, “and it doesn’t make a bit of difference. He’s still my favorite uncle. Nothing’s changed.” She breaks off and frowns thoughtfully. “Well…that’s not entirely true. I suppose I finally know why he’s been bringing his roommate to our family get-togethers for the past fifteen years. But other than that, nothing’s changed. I still love him, and I’m just happy that he’s happy. Isn’t that all anyone can ask for?”

“I suppose it is, I just…sorry, I’m a bit confused,” Hermione says with a frown. “If he’s your uncle, then shouldn’t Ron know?”

Ginny shakes her head. “I only found out before the start of this year, and it was purely accidental. And Mum said he wants to tell everyone on his own terms, so I haven’t said a word to anyone.” Ginny breaks off and frowns. “Suppose I have now, though,” she says. She shoots Hermione a nervous look and says, “if you ever happen to meet my uncle Edward, do me a favor and don’t mention this.”

“I won’t,” Hermione says with a small smile. Then, she nervously pinches the fabric of her skirt between her fingertips and says, “you really don’t think it’s weird?” Normally, she’d cringe at herself for being so desperate for reassurance, but today, she needs it.

“I really, really don’t,” Ginny says earnestly. “Mind you, I think there are a lot of things that are weird in this world—the fact that mum still washes Ron’s knickers comes to mind,” she says with a smirk. “But this? No. I don’t think this is weird at all. And even if I didn’t know about my uncle, I still wouldn’t think it was weird.”

“Yes, but—”

“Hermione,” Ginny says, swiftly cutting off Hermione’s inevitable protest. “I think that you deserve happiness as much as the next person. And I think you deserve all the love in the world. Whether that’s with a man or a woman, I don’t care. All I care about is that you end up with someone who treats you well and that you’re happy.” Ginny reaches across the table and takes Hermione’s hand. She gives it a small squeeze and says, “and for what it’s worth, I think that whoever your parchment pal is, she’s the luckiest witch in the entire world. Because you are absolutely amazing.”

Without any warning, a potent burst of relief rushes through Hermione, filling her to the brim and leaving her completely weak. With a shuddering exhalation, she allows herself to let go of the last bit of fear lingering in her body, and in its place, she lets new emotions flood in. Freedom, hope, joy. Tears prick at the corners of her eyes and she laughs shakily. “Sorry, I didn’t expect to…” she tilts her head up to the ceiling as a tear rolls down her cheek. She releases Ginny’s hand to brush it away. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m crying,” she says, sounding bewildered.

“Relief? I’d imagine it was a difficult thing to sit with.”

Hermione manages a watery laugh. “It was, but to be honest, I’ve barely been sitting with it at all. I feel like most people sit with this for years, but I seem to be trying to set some sort of world record.”

“You didn’t know before?” Ginny asks, raising her eyebrows in surprise.

“No. No, I…” Hermione brushes away another tear and looks back at Ginny. “I should have. But no, I didn’t realize it until my parchment pal.”

“Huh. You know, I’m not surprised that was what did it.”

“Why?” Hermione asks, her brow furrowing in confusion at Ginny’s casual statement.

“I mean, you’ve always taken assignments to the extreme. I suppose you heard inter-house unity was the goal and decided to try for extra credit?” Ginny asks with a smirk.

Hermione snorts in surprise. “As reasonable as that hypothesis is, I’m afraid even I’m not that dedicated to schoolwork.”

“Ah. Well, whatever the reason, can you do me a favor?”

“I…suppose?”

“Don’t tell anyone else it was your parchment pal that did it.”

“Why not?” Hermione asks, her gaze narrowing suspiciously at the mirth shining on Ginny’s face.

“Because someday, I want to be able to tell everyone that one date with Ron was enough for you to swear off men completely.”

Hermione rolls her eyes but still gives Ginny a small, fond smile. “Had I known you’d be inspired to put together an entire comedy routine based on this, I’d have told you ages ago.”

“Sorry, sorry. Couldn’t help myself. But really, I’m glad you told me. And I meant what I said—this doesn’t change anything. I still love you. Always will. And anything you want to talk about, I’m here.”

“Thank you,” Hermione says, her lower lip trembling just a bit at the warmth in Ginny’s gaze. “I love you, too, you know.”

Ginny gives her a smile and nods. Then she tilts her head and quirks an eyebrow. “So out of curiosity, am I the first person you’ve told?”

Hermione’s mind flicks to Pansy as she considers telling Ginny the truth. After a brief hesitation, she decides against it. She’s already exhausted by the conversation they’ve just had, and she doesn’t think she can handle a thorough inquisition on how she’s managed to somehow become friends with Pansy Parkinson of all people. Bizarrely, she has a feeling Ginny will have a worse reaction to that particular tidbit. So instead, she nods, hoping her face doesn’t betray her by blushing.

Ginny grins broadly. “I’m honored.” But something seems to occur to her, because her smile fades and studies Hermione curiously. “Wait…does your parchment pal know? I mean…does she feel the same way?”

This time, Hermione does blush. “I…yes,” she murmurs, keeping her voice low. “She feels the same way. But she doesn’t know that I have feelings for her. She sort of confessed to having feelings for me a while ago, but at the time, I didn’t think I felt the same. So I told her we should just be friends. But she inadvertently opened the floodgates and eventually, it was all I could think about and…well, obviously, I ended up coming to a very different conclusion. But I haven’t told her yet. And I don’t think I will until I meet her face to face.”

“Why?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I suppose I’ve built it up in my head. It seems more…momentous, somehow to do it in person. Do you think that’s silly?”

“No, not at all. A grand declaration like that? I think it’s quite romantic. I just…” Ginny trails off and twists her mouth in contemplation.

“What?” Hermione asks, watching Ginny nervously.

“Nothing, I…” she sighs and tugs on her braid. “I don’t want to sound like Ron, but I just…what if she’s…y’know…not very…attractive?” she says sheepishly.

“Oh. I…I don’t know,” Hermione says honestly. “I suppose I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, but I’d like to think it wouldn’t matter. I mean, I already know everything I need to know about her and unless she’s an actual troll, I can’t imagine her looks would change anything.”

Ginny snorts. “You say that now, but when an actual troll shows up, you’ll change your tune.”

“Maybe. But like I said, there’s no use borrowing trouble.”

“Which I agree with, but it’s something you should think about. Because emotions are all well and good, but physical attraction plays a pretty big part in any relationship.”

“I suppose so, but—”

“Do you have a type?” Ginny asks, leaning forward with interest.

“A what?” Hermione asks, confused.

“A type. Y’know, a type of woman you find attractive?”

“Oh. I…no. I mean, I’ve never really thought about it,” Hermione says awkwardly, absently winding the ends of her hair around her fingers.

“Oh, come on. I know you’ve just figured things out, but surely there’s someone at this school you’ve noticed before?”

Hermione opens her mouth to refute Ginny’s question, but before she can say anything, a startlingly clear image of Pansy pops into her head, completely unbidden.

She freezes in place, completely taken aback. Why on earth had Pansy of all people come to mind?

Surely, it was just a coincidence. Surely, it was because she had just been thinking about Pansy a few moments ago. Surely, she didn’t find Pansy Parkinson attractive.

…Did she?

No. She didn’t. That would be absurd.

…But to be fair, she’d have to be blind to not notice that Pansy is attractive. Not in a way that means that she herself is attracted to her, of course. Just in a way that means most Hogwarts students probably recognize that Pansy is quite pretty.

No. Pretty is the wrong word. She’s striking.

Pansy radiates a kind of alluring glamour that Hermione’s only seen in old-world Muggle film stars—dark lips, perfectly shaped eyebrows, sleek, bobbed hair that never seems to fall out of place. There’s something arresting about her sharp jawline and prominent cheekbones, her full lips, her hypnotic green eyes.

But there’s more to it than that…there’s an aura of regality in the way Pansy carries herself that tends to make her the center of attention in any room she’s in. Every part of her physicality demands to be noticed, yet Pansy herself seems completely unfazed by the attention she receives. Somehow though, her complete indifference toward just about every person at Hogwarts has only served to make her more intriguing. And it’s worked wonders for her—even Hermione can admit that even when she had hated Pansy, her eye had always been drawn toward her.

But she doesn’t hate her anymore. Not by a long shot. And now that she’s befriended Pansy, she’s starting to notice more than she had ever noticed before. Because before, Hermione only knew Pansy as someone who looked perpetually haughty. She had only ever known cruel sneers, arrogantly quirked eyebrows, and cold hatred from green eyes. But now, she knows so much more. She knows that Pansy has a slow, beautiful smile that lights up her entire face like a sunrise. She knows that when Pansy laughs, her nose scrunches up and her eyes shine so brightly, Hermione finds it difficult to look away. She knows that when she’s deep in concentration, Pansy will get the tiniest furrow between her brows as she gently worries her lower lip (which is another thing Hermione finds curiously difficult to look away from).

The realization that she’s spent quite a bit of time both watching Pansy and cataloging all of her features hits Hermione hard, and she stares stupidly at the table, completely bemused by the turn of events.

Could it be that she actually thinks that Pansy is—

“Hermione?”

Hermione startles out of her thoughts and looks up to find Ginny, watching her with vague amusement.

“Shall I take that as a yes, then?”

“What?” Hermione asks. She’s completely forgotten the original question that led her down this particularly strange rabbit hole.

Is there someone here that you fancy?”

Hermione’s eyes widen and she feels a flush stain her cheeks. “No,” she says quickly. “No, there’s…no. No. Absolutely not.”

“Mm, hate to break it to you, but those are not the protestations of an honest woman. You’re hiding something,” Ginny says with a sly grin.

“And I hate to break it to you, but I’m not. You just…you caught me off guard. That’s all.”

“So the massive, all-over flush you’re sporting is just…?”

Hermione lifts a hand to her cheek to find it warm. She drops it quickly and glares at Ginny, who’s still grinning at her. “Don’t make me regret letting you sit here,” Hermione says flatly, crossing her arms.

“Oh, don’t be like that! Besides, remember how good sharing the other thing felt? Maybe this’ll feel just as good!”

“You’re no longer welcome at this table,” Hermione says, extending her leg to push against Ginny’s chair.

Ginny laughs as her chair smoothly slides backward across the polished wood floor, and when she’s fully out of Hermione’s reach, she says, “can I guess?”

No.”

“But—”

“Guess what?”

Hermione and Ginny both whip around to find Harry and Ron, watching them with interest. They’ve somehow managed to appear without either girl noticing, and they’re looking between Hermione and Ginny, waiting to be let in on the conversation.

“Reckon we could help,” Harry says. “We did just come from Divination and if there’s one thing that class is good for, it’s teaching us how to make wild and completely unfounded guesses.”

Hermione turns to Ginny with panic in her eyes, but Ginny is already on the case. “Excellent,” she says, scooting her chair back toward the table. “Then maybe you can help me figure out what Hermione’s Boggart has changed into.”

The panic subsides from Hermione’s gaze and instead, she stares at Ginny with complete bewilderment. But before she can open her mouth to say something stupid that contradicts the lie, Ron snorts. “What, you mean it’s not McGonagall failing her anymore?” he asks as he adjusts his bag on his shoulder.

“No, it’s not,” Ginny says smoothly. “Apparently it changed sometime early last year. You remember when the Boggart was found in Filch’s filing cabinet?”

Harry and Ron both shake their heads, looking confused. For once, it’s warranted—there was no Boggart in Filch’s filing cabinet last year. As far as Hermione knows, there hasn’t been a Boggart in Hogwarts since third year.

“Merlin. Do you two ever listen?” Ginny asks with good-natured exasperation. “Anyway, there was a Boggart found in Filch’s filing cabinet last year, and someone asked McGonagall if she could help take care of it.”

Ginny trails off and raises an amused eyebrow at Hermione. Quickly, Hermione relaxes her expression and manages a shrug. “I’ve never forgiven them for making me lose points on my Defense Against the Dark Arts exam third year. I wanted to prove to McGonagall that I could take care of it.”

Even though it’s a lie, Hermione very briefly finds herself wishing it were true—she would like a second crack at those bloody shape-shifters.

“And did you?” Harry asks with interest.

Hermione quickly nods and Harry shakes his head in wonder. “Huh…you’d think we’d remember that,” he says with a far-off look. “Did you tell us about it?”

“I…no,” Hermione says, nervously tucking her hair behind her ears. “No, I meant to, but—”

“But after it took its new form, she was too embarrassed to say anything,” Ginny puts in helpfully. “But I’m dying to know what could be so embarrassing, you’d keep it from all of us for a year,” she adds, turning to Hermione with a bright smile. “So go on. Tell us.”

Hermione glares darkly at the glee on Ginny’s face, but it only makes Ginny’s smile brighter.

“It can’t be that bad,” Ron says leaning his forearms against an empty chair beside Hermione’s. “I mean, I can’t think of anything more embarrassing than McGonagall failing you.”

Somehow, Hermione manages an unaffected shrug. “I suppose that’s for me to know and you to never find out.”

“Maybe she’s afraid of having to listen to us discuss Quidditch again,” Harry says with a grin.

“No, it’s got to be something gross. Like…like not making it to the toilet in time,” Ron says, looking toward Hermione as if he’s cracked the case.

“Really? You think that’s her worst fear? Not getting to the toilet in time?” Ginny asks dryly.

“I dunno. It could be. I mean, it’s one of mine.”

“Only because you wet the bed until you were eight.”

Oi!” Ron says, looking betrayed and furious, all at once.

“Just telling the truth,” Ginny says sweetly. “Anyway, I was thinking—”

Hermione somehow finds it within herself to roll her eyes as she sits there and watches her friends try and guess her fake-Boggart, but truth be told, she’s never been more relieved for anything to be a lie. Because quite frankly, if it wasn’t for the conversation she and Ginny had just had, she actually would have a new Boggart—watching all her friends and family abandon her. It’s all she’s been panicking over for the past few days, but now, the fear seems muted. Because now, she honestly believes that she can one day make her loved ones understand. And even if the rest of the world never reaches the same understanding, she won’t mind. Just as long as they do.

“That must be it!” Ron says triumphantly. “Fear of having to one day make an acronym that’s not absolute rubbish!” He turns to Hermione with a broad grin and says, “well? Did we get it?”

Hermione gathers her things with dignity and stands up to start the walk to Transfiguration. “If I say yes, will you stop guessing?” she asks primly.

“Probably not, no,” Harry says good-naturedly.

Harry, Ron, and Ginny spend the entire walk from the library to Transfiguration making increasingly ridiculous guesses as to Hermione’s new Boggart form. (Hermione’s favorites include fear of one day genuinely believing in everything Luna believes in, fear of somehow inheriting the position of Divination professor, and fear that people actually thought she looked better as the Polyjuiced version of Millicent’s cat.)

When they finally reach the door to Transfiguration, they’re all in high spirits. Ron and Harry both say goodbye to Ginny and enter the classroom, still making guesses, but Hermione doesn’t move to follow them. Instead, she leans against the doorjamb, crosses her arm, and surveys Ginny with amusement.

“You really had to give me a new Boggart form? You know they’ll never stop guessing.”

Ginny shrugs. “I’d say I’m sorry, but it beats the alternative, doesn’t it?”

“I suppose so,” Hermione says, her thoughts traitorously turning to Pansy for a brief moment. She shakes her head and says, “all that aside…thank you again. For everything. I…I don’t know how I can…”

Ginny shakes her head. “You don’t have to thank me. I told you—you deserve happiness. And we’ll see to it that you get it.”

Hermione pushes herself from the doorway and throws her arms around Ginny. “Thank you,” she murmurs in a thick voice into Ginny’s ear. Ginny’s arms tighten around her and she nods against Hermione’s shoulder.

After a moment, they break apart. Ginny gives Hermione a fond smile, then says, “I’ve got to go. If I’m late for Herbology one more time, Sprout’s going to use me as fertilizer. But don’t think you’re off the hook just yet. They’re not the only ones who are going to keep guessing.”

“Then I’m afraid all three of you will be wasting your time,” Hermione says, shaking her head.

“Oh, we’ll see about that,” Ginny says with a wink. She gives Hermione a wave. “I’ll see you later.”

“Bye,” Hermione says, watching until Ginny disappears from sight.

Hermione takes a deep breath then slowly exhales. There are still things she needs to figure out. There are still scary conversations to be had along with some new and very surprising feelings to contend with. But for the time being, she simply closes her eyes and lets herself revel in the feeling of complete ease in her body, and the idea of one day, living a life that makes her truly, honestly happy.

Because somehow, for the first time, it feels attainable.

***

Friday finds Hermione in the library after hours, writing on her parchment, waiting for Pansy to knock on the door.

Her grip around her quill tightens infinitesimally when she thinks of Pansy and she forces herself to release it, move her hands to her thighs, and exhale slowly.

Inhale. Everything is fine.

Exhale. Everything is normal.

Inhale. Everything is fine.

Exhale. Everything is norm—

There’s a rap on the door—three sharp knocks, two long—and Hermione’s fingers dig into her thighs. She closes her eyes and takes a moment to collect herself before slowly pushing her chair back from the table. But before she stands, she runs a hand through her hair and repeats her mantra.

Everything is fine. Everything is normal.

It’s just…ever since Monday, everything hasn’t felt normal. Because Hermione’s been thinking about Pansy quite a bit.

That’s a lie—she’s been thinking about her constantly. And not exactly in a friendly way.

It’s as if Ginny’s question had opened some sort of unknown dam in Hermione’s mind and now, she finds herself continuously flooded with thoughts of Pansy. Pansy’s eyes, Pansy’s voice, Pansy’s hands, Pansy’s smile. And she can’t catch a break. Not when she has Potions, patrols, and library research sessions with the other witch.

But it’s not that the time they spend together is a problem. Far from it—the more time she spends with Pansy, the more she finds herself desperately wanting to properly befriend her. And to be honest, she thinks Pansy might feel the same way. But Hermione’s reached a point where she’s managed to begrudgingly admit to herself that yes, she does genuinely find Pansy attractive, and that is a problem. Because every interaction they’ve had since Monday has left Hermione red faced and flustered, tripping over her words like a complete fool. And even though she’s spending almost all her free time with Pansy, Hermione still finds herself staring at her in the moments they aren’t together. Unfortunately for her, she hasn’t exactly been subtle about it—Ron and Harry have noticed her gaze turning to the Slytherin table during meals, and they’ve both asked her repeatedly if Pansy had done something to upset her with anger lurking on their faces.

And perhaps worst of all, Hermione has a sneaking suspicion that the boys aren’t the only ones to notice a difference. She’s fairly certain that Pansy’s noticed all of it too, but is just too kind to let on.

All that, coupled with the fact that Hermione ludicrously feels like she’s being unfaithful to her parchment pal for daring to find another person attractive has made for a very complicated few days.

But it’s fine. Everything is normal.

There’s just the smallest chance that Hermione has the tiniest, most inconsequential crush on Pansy.

It’s fine.

She’ll get through this.

She stands, crosses to the library door, unlocks it, and pulls it open. Pansy slips by her and Hermione is immediately inundated with the smell of her perfume, something expensive and intoxicating. As she closes the door, she takes a deep breath to control her nerves, but when she’s hit with notes of soft rose and warm cedar, she exhales sharply and rubs at her nose furiously.

Did she really think the best way to escape the feelings brought on by a scent would be to inhale? God, she’s on par with Crabbe and Goyle.

“Well? Aren’t you going to congratulate me?”

Pansy’s voice weaves through the air and Hermione closes her eyes tightly for just a moment.

Everything is fine. Everything is normal.

She points her wand at the door and waits to make sure it locks, then she turns to face Pansy.

“Congratulate you for what?” Hermione asks, swallowing hard when she notices the smooth, exposed skin provided by Pansy’s loosened tie and open collar.

Don’t look at her chest.

“For finally being on time!” Pansy says, pouting a bit. “It’s the first time I’ve managed it.”

Don’t look at her lips.

“I hardly think being on time is an achievement,” Hermione says, crossing her arms and forcing her eyes to stay on Pansy’s. “It’s more of a common courtesy.”

“Well, I’m hardly common and I’m rarely courteous, so it’s a wonder I achieved it at all,” Pansy says, stressing the word.

Hermione rolls her eyes, but she can’t help the smile that comes to her lips. “Fine. Congratulations on your monumental achievement. I’ll be sure to tell Snape to give you house points for your heroism.”

She starts walking back to their customary table and Pansy falls into step beside her. Hermione digs her nails into her palms at the scent of her perfume, and in an effort to distract herself, she forces herself to continue their conversation in as normal a tone as she can manage. “So Head Auror Mrs. Norris didn’t give you a hard time, I take it?”

Pansy chuckles, a low, throaty, deeply frustrating sound. “No, I finally managed to escape her reign of terror. Merlin knows how, considering I’m fairly sure she’s part bloodhound.”

Hermione manages to laugh in return as she takes her seat. She gestures to the stack of books and says, “then perhaps we should ask her which of these books has the answer we’re looking for.”

They’ve been at it for an entire week now, and they’re still no closer to finding a solution. And while Hermione’s been attempting to stay upbeat for Pansy’s sake, even she’s starting to feel like this is a hopeless task.

Pansy sits down, eyes the stack of books warily, and says, “you know, I’m starting to rethink my stance on your Animagus plan.”

“Don’t. We’ll find something,” Hermione says, but even she can hear that she’s not as confident as she usually sounds.

“Is that part of the Gryffindor stubbornness? Refusing to admit when you’re wrong?”

“We just haven’t found the right book yet,” Hermione says, trying to sound more enthusiastic than she had before. “Something in here will help us out, you’ll see. And what’s more, some of my greatest breakthroughs have been when I’ve been on the verge of giving up, so that’s all the more reason to keep trying.”

“That’s a long way of saying yes,” Pansy mutters, reaching for a quill in her bag.

“It’s a long way of saying I have hope,” Hermione replies as she picks up her parchment and tucks it away in her bag for safe keeping.

“Well, I suppose that makes one of us,” Pansy says, pulling a book toward her and opening it with a sigh. “Though don’t think I’ve forgotten your promise—we’re quitting if nothing happens by the end of the school year. Which means we have twenty-two days left for a miracle to happen.”

“I haven’t forgotten,” Hermione says, frowning a bit at the accurate day count. She crosses her arms and leans back in her chair, deciding to prod Pansy on it a bit. “Is spending time with me really that awful?”

Pansy looks up swiftly. “What?” she asks, concern immediately settling on her face.

“You’re counting the days until the end of the year?”

Color rises to Pansy’s cheeks and she puts down her quill. “No,” she says quickly. “I’m not…I mean…no,” she repeats, seeming flustered.

“So you just happen to know the exact number of days left in the school year off the top of your head?”

“Yes, but I…I mean, that’s not why I’m…” Pansy bites her lip for a moment, lost in thought, and Hermione has to sternly remind herself to not look at her lips. Finally, Pansy says, “I’m not counting down the days because I don’t want to spend time with you. Spending time with you is the only good part of this entire bloody endeavor.” The pink on her cheeks darkens to red, but she doesn’t stop. “I’m counting down the days because I hate pouring over books in this bloody place and never finding the answers we need. Not because I’m in any hurry to get away from you. I’m not. Not at all, actually,” she says, her gaze surprisingly earnest. “I…I…” she breaks off and runs a hand through her hair, then very cautiously says, “I had actually rather hoped that we could continue to spend time together. After this is all done with, I mean. Outside of Hogwarts.” Pansy must notice the way Hermione’s eyes widen with surprise, because she quickly adds, “only if you want to, of course! I didn’t mean to presume, and I know that you’ve got Potter and Weasley and a whole slew of friends, but I… I just thought that you might want me.”

Hermione immediately grows warm at the unwittingly accurate word choice, but Pansy doesn’t seem to notice. Instead, she grimaces and turns an even darker shade of red. “That came out wrong,” she says, tilting her head back and scrunching her eyes closed. “I didn’t mean…I just meant that you might want to…”

“Yes.”

Pansy opens her eyes and looks at Hermione, surprised by the word. “Yes…what?”

“Yes. I’d like to continue seeing you. I’d…I’d like us to be…friends,” Hermione says tentatively, wincing at how ridiculous she sounds and hoping the flush on her own cheeks isn’t enough to arouse suspicion in Pansy. But if she does notice Hermione’s awkwardness, she doesn’t let on. Instead, her mouth opens and she stares at Hermione for a moment.

“You…would?” Pansy finally asks, seemingly completely caught off guard.

“I would. I…I’ve enjoyed spending this time with you, too. More than I thought I would. And I’ve actually been thinking about us being friends for a while now.”

“You have?” Pansy asks, seeming completely incapable of anything other than asking for dumbfounded reassurances.

“Yes. I have.” Hermione absently sweeps her thumb across the armrest of her chair as she thinks about how she’s recently been thinking about them being a good deal more than just friends. But instead of letting her thoughts go there, she instead says, “you know, I was worried at first. About whether or not I had made a mistake in offering to help you. I thought that we’d never manage to get along for such long periods of time, just the two of us.”

“And now?” Pansy asks, sounding curiously breathless.

“And now…” Hermione looks up at Pansy to find intense green eyes trained on her. “I don’t remember why I was worried in the first place,” she says. “I find myself looking forward to these nights with you. And if I’m being honest, I find myself looking forward to patrols and Potions, too. I…” Hermione worries her lower lip and notices as Pansy’s eyes immediately track the motion. She releases it quickly with a flush and says, “I like you, Pansy. Against all odds, and as mad as it seems, I like you. I like spending time with you. And I’d genuinely like us to be friends.”

Pansy stares at Hermione in stunned, frozen silence for such a long time that if it weren’t for her occasional blinks and the rapid rise and fall of her chest (don’t look at her chest), Hermione would be concerned that someone had snuck in and cast a Full Body-Bind on her. After what feels like ages, a very slow smile starts to dawn on Pansy’s face.

“You really mean it?” she asks.

“I really do.”

The smile stretches further and further until Pansy’s entire face is glowing. “Well, then, that’s…that’s…” she runs a hand through her hair again and a laugh bubbles out of her, carefree and joyful. “Sorry, I just…you’re not the only one who’s been thinking about us being…friends,” she says, hesitating ever so briefly over the word, as if she’s not sure if she’s allowed to say it. “I’ve enjoyed these nights, too. And patrols and Potions…all of it. But I didn’t want to let myself think that it might be mutual. I mean, after what I put you through, I just…I think I assumed you were being kind. That you saw me as some sort of charity case.”

Hermione shakes her head firmly. “No, it’s…it’s very mutual,” she says.

Pansy grins again at Hermione’s admission, then says, “well, if it’s mutual, then what do you say to making it official?”

“What do you mean?” Hermione asks with a small, puzzled frown.

“I mean…” Pansy sticks out her hand and looks at Hermione. “Friends?”

Hermione rolls her eyes at the gesture, but she offers her hand in return. She doesn’t even stop to think that it might be a mistake until the moment Pansy’s hand is clasped around hers, soft and warm and firm. It’s the briefest of contact, but it still makes heat prickle up the back of Hermione’s neck, and she’s dimly aware of a gentle fluttering sensation in her stomach.

“Friends,” she murmurs, letting her eyes settle on Pansy. They gaze at each other for a long moment and Hermione finds herself absently wondering if Pansy’s eyes have always been so green. It’s something she had never stopped to notice before, but now, it’s just one of the many things Hermione’s found herself focusing in on over the past few days. Pansy’s kaleidoscopic green eyes remind her of the forest—ever shifting and shrouded in mystery, full of depths that are seldom seen by the casual observer. But there are moments—beautiful, fleeting moments—where Pansy will toss her head back and laugh, and her eyes will come alive. The veil will fall away and Hermione will find herself the sole recipient of something so unexpected and so beautiful that it takes her breath away. And each time, she finds herself curiously unable to look away.

But now, gazing at Pansy, Hermione finds herself reconsidering—perhaps it’s not that she’s unable to look away.

Perhaps it’s that she’s unwilling to.

“Um…Hermione?”

Pansy pulls Hermione from her thoughts with an amused gaze. Hermione frowns, puzzled, watching as Pansy’s eyes purposefully flick down toward her hand. Hermione follows her gaze to find that her hand is somehow still clasped within Pansy’s.

Immediately, she releases it and looks back toward Pansy, who’s now smiling fondly at her. “I’m sorry,” Hermione says, the prickling heat now creeping down her chest. “I didn’t notice…I mean, I was lost in thought, and I just—”

Pansy shakes her head. “It’s fine,” she says. “I just thought you might need it back if we’re going to pull off a miracle tonight.”

Right. The research. The research which is quite literally, the reason they’re here. Not to hold Pansy’s hand and think about her eyes like a besotted twelve-year-old.

Hermione distracts herself from the overwhelming urge to bury her head in her hands by reaching for a book. But before she can start reading, Pansy clears her throat. “Hermione?” she murmurs. “I’m…I’m really glad we had this talk. And even if we don’t end up finding anything, I want you to know that I’ll never think that this was a waste of time. On the contrary—I think this might be some of the best time I’ve ever spent at Hogwarts. And that’s thanks to you.” She frowns down at the table for a moment and Hermione waits a bit breathlessly to see if she’s going to continue. After a brief hesitation, Pansy nods almost imperceptibly, looks up, and says, “you said earlier that you like me? And I…I just want you to know that I like you, too. Quite a bit,” Pansy says. The words are delivered with a surprising amount of tenderness, and there’s something soft and gentle in Pansy’s eyes that makes Hermione’s heart skip a beat. “I like everything about you, if I’m being honest. You’re…you’re really…” Pansy shakes her head and exhales sharply. “You’re bloody remarkable, Hermione. And I’m the luckiest witch at Hogwarts to be able to call you my friend. Know that I’ll never take that for granted.”

Pansy gives her a quick smile, then she pulls a book toward her and flips it open. Hermione watches as she skims the page, finds the sentence she had left off on last time, then picks up her quill.

Pansy’s movements are purposefully casual, but the flush on her cheeks betrays her. Hermione can tell that the heartfelt admission was harder for her than it appeared. Part of Hermione desperately wants to comment on it, but it’s clear that Pansy’s feeling vulnerable and trying to hide behind her book, so for the time being, Hermione lets her.

But as she reaches for her own book, her hand stalls uncertainly. Because now that she’s finally taken her eyes off of Pansy and is focused in on her own body, she’s aware of a very familiar sensation fluttering through her.

Are those…butterflies?

For Pansy?

She lowers her hand slowly and takes a deep, measured breath, trying to figure out what the sensation might mean. Because it’s one thing to have some kind of physical attraction to Pansy, but to have butterflies? Especially considering those butterflies have up until now, been solely reserved for her parchment pal?

If she’s having the same sensation for Pansy that she’s having for her parchment pal, who she knows she has deeper feelings for, could that somehow possibly mean that she could also have…?

No.

Everything is fine.

Everything is normal.

So she’s having butterflies for Pansy. It doesn’t mean anything other than what she already knows—she has a crush. Butterflies are just a natural reaction to that crush, and it doesn’t negate her feelings for her parchment pal in the slightest. And actually, it stands to reason—it’s far simpler to develop feelings for the witch who’s directly in front of her, rather than the one she still has to imagine. Hermione exhales slowly, feeling confident that that’s all it is. It’s just because Pansy and her annoyingly beautiful face are here in person. And once she finally meets her parchment pal, once she can finally put a face to the mysterious stranger, any residual feelings she has for Pansy will fade away.

They have to.

And so for the next two hours, Hermione distracts herself from the butterflies by diving into her book, taking copious notes, and refusing to even entertain the idea that she could have something more than a simple crush on Pansy.

It’s surprisingly difficult though, because they’ve never worked in silence, and Hermione’s not going to start tonight. Not after they had just declared themselves friends. So over the course of two hours, they make the same idle small talk and ridiculous jokes that they have for the past two weeks. Warmth and laughter fill the library, and each time Hermione finds herself smiling softly at Pansy, it becomes harder and harder for her to remember that all she has is a simple, inconsequential crush and nothing more. It’s especially hard when Hermione feels herself wanting to stretch out their conversations, or to say something in a desperate attempt to make Pansy laugh out loud. It happens so often that she ends up digging her fingertips into her thighs each time she wants to give into the urge. She’s sure she’ll have bruises there tomorrow, but if it keeps the butterflies at bay, then it’s worth it.

After what feels like a surprisingly quick two hours, Pansy groans and drops her head onto the table. “I give up. It’s impossible. We’ve read every book in the library and we haven’t found a thing.”

Hermione snorts as she glances at the large stack of books that they’ve yet to read. “Every book might be an exaggeration?”

Pansy lifts her head and says, “almost every book, then.”

“Still an exaggeration. And anyway, you can’t give up. I still have you for twenty-two days, remember?”

“I remember. But think of all the better things we could be doing with those twenty-two days!”

“Like what?”

Pansy blinks a few times, clearly not anticipating the follow-up question. “We could…play…Wizard’s Chess?” she hazards.

Hermione’s nose scrunches with distaste. “Do you like Wizard’s Chess?”

“No,” Pansy says immediately. “I’m shit at it. I’m shit at that, I’m shit at research. I’m shit at everything,” she groans, dropping her head down again.

“You’re quite good at exaggerating, if that’s any consolation,” Hermione says calmly, flipping her parchment over to a clean, blank side.

Pansy rests her cheek against the table and gazes up at Hermione with a pout upon her dark lips, and Hermione can’t help how endearing she finds it. “It’s not,” Pansy says. Then she straightens back up with a sigh and runs a hand through her hair. “But I do think it’s time we face facts. I know we both wanted to find something, but we’re just running in circles. We have to know when to give up.”

“And we will. In twenty-two days.”

“But why wait? I mean, surely you want your nights back?”

“I—”

“And every single idea we’ve had, we’ve managed to find fault with. At this rate, our best ideas are either your mad Animagus plan or brewing Felix Felicis, crossing my fingers, and hoping for the best in a duel.”

“You’re not dueling your father,” Hermione says sharply, refusing to even entertain the suggestion.

“Fine. You can do it, then,” Pansy says glumly, propping her head up with her hands. “Honestly, it might work—I’m not sure a Muggle-born has ever been in our home before. Your presence alone might end up shocking him to death.”

Hermione chuckles and is about to turn the page of her book when Pansy’s statement actually registers. She looks up swiftly and says, “never?”

Pansy glances at her. “Never what?”

“A Muggle-born has never been in your home?”

“I know, I’m as surprised as you are,” Pansy says dryly.

Gears start turning in Hermione’s head and she can feel her heart begin to race in the familiar way it does when she feels as if she’s on the edge of a breakthrough. “But surely he must know something about the Muggle world?” she asks, aware of the eagerness in her tone.

“Apart from thinking it’s beneath him in every way? No, I don’t think he does.” Pansy frowns and sits up again. “Why do you ask?”

“What do you know about a telephone?” Hermione asks.

Pansy frowns at the strange reply but tentatively says, “is that…the Muggle owl thing?”

“And a television?”

“I…I’m afraid I don’t—”

“A microwave? A radio? A toaster?”

Pansy shakes her head, looking completely lost. “Are these all Muggle inventions?”

Excitement crackles over Hermione’s skin as she leans forward and says, “do you know what a wire is?”

Pansy immediately flushes and her eyes drop to the table. “It’s…it’s…” she grimaces and mutters, “it’s part of a bra, isn’t it?” all while refusing to meet Hermione’s eyes.

But Hermione barely registers Pansy’s discomfort. Pure adrenaline is racing through her as she stands up from her chair, and she can feel her heart pounding as she turns from the table and heads toward an area of the library they’ve ignored up until now. Dimly, she hears Pansy call after her, “am I supposed to follow you?” but she doesn’t reply. She’s too focused on her mission.

She heads toward the very back of the library, searching for the often ignored rows of shelves that holds books on all-things Muggle related. Once she finds the right area, she grabs her wand, murmurs Lumos, and starts frantically searching the spines, pulling out any books that catch her eye. She’s skimmed over quite a few when she hears Pansy’s footsteps from behind her.

“Merlin. Has anyone ever been back here?”

Hermione doesn’t even glance toward her. Instead, she continues to pull books, flipping to their indexes and tossing them aside when they don’t serve her purpose.

“Have these books done something to upset you?” Pansy asks, vague amusement coloring her tone.

“No,” Hermione murmurs absently as she kneels down to study the books on the bottom shelf, mouthing the titles to herself as she reads. When the shelf proves to be unhelpful, she straightens up and moves to the next.

She repeats the process twice more until the fourth shelf, when her eyes land on Understanding Muggle Surveillance Technologies: Their Origins and Applications. She yanks the book from the shelf with vigor and a puff of dust comes along with it, but Hermione doesn’t pay it any attention. Instead, she quickly opens the book and flips to the index, running her finger over columns and columns of words. When she finds the term she’s looking for, she inhales sharply, then flips to the page and skims the passage briefly. Only once she’s sure it’s what she’s looking for does she let herself look up at the ceiling with a broad grin.

“We’ve been so stupid,” she says, closing her eyes as the euphoria that can only come from solving a complex problem starts to flow through her body.

“We have?” Pansy asks, sounding completely lost.

Hermione opens her eyes and surveys Pansy, who’s standing before her with a small, confused frown. “We have,” she says. “This whole time, we’ve been wasting our time studying Wizengamot trials, Auror techniques, dark wizards, potions, spells…” Hermione shakes her head with wonder. “We’ve been focusing on things your father knows about. Things he’s spent his whole life working to evade. It’s why you were able to poke holes in every single one of our ideas. But we forgot one thing—crime happens outside of the Wizarding world.”

Pansy frown deepens for just a moment, but then, as if by magic, it disappears completely. “Wait…” she murmurs. “Are you saying that…”

“I’ve been so entrenched in doing things the Wizarding way that I didn’t even think about Muggle techniques,” Hermione says, shaking her head again, but this time in frustration at her own short-comings. “It never even crossed my mind. But that’s a good thing.”

“Is it?” Pansy asks breathlessly.

Hermione nods. “If it didn’t cross my mind, there’s not a chance it’ll cross your father’s mind. I mean, you don’t even know what a microwave is!” she says, gesturing at Pansy with delight. “If you don’t know what a microwave is, there’s no way your father will know what a wire is. Unless he’s been secretly infatuated with Muggle technology for years, but something tells me that’s not the case.”

Pansy’s beginning to look tentatively hopeful, but she still seems confused. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I’m afraid I’m still a few steps behind you, and perhaps this is a stupid question, but…how exactly will a bra be my father’s downfall?”

Hermione laughs and thrusts the book toward Pansy who takes it with a small frown. “Read,” Hermione instructs with a grin, lifting her still-lit wand toward the page to assist Pansy.

She stands there in silence, shifting back and forth with excitement as she waits for Pansy to fully digest the words on the page. After a few moments, Pansy looks up at Hermione with wide eyes. “This is…I mean, how does it…” she trails off and pushes her bangs back. “I don’t understand. This wire…it records everything he says?”

“Everything,” Hermione confirms gleefully, pocketing her wand.

“Without using any magic?”

“None.”

“And he’d have no way of knowing I’m wearing it?”

“Short of searching you, no. He’d never know. He’d never even suspect it. Not when he’s spent a lifetime despising Muggles.” Hermione feels her smile grow impossibly wider as she says, “I knew his hubris would be his downfall. I knew it.”

“And you can get your hands on one of these?” Pansy asks, awe in her voice.

“I’ll have to owl my parents, but I’m sure they’ll be able to help.”

Pansy shakes her head, seemingly overwhelmed. “Hermione, this is…”

“I know.”

“I mean, it’s…it’s…”

“I know.”

Merlin,” Pansy breathes. She closes the book and looks up to find Hermione’s eyes. “You did it,” she whispers, looking completely dumbfounded. “I can’t believe you actually did it. You’re brilliant. I…I…” she trails off and studies the floor for a moment, shaking her head in shock. When she finally lifts her eyes back up, there’s a grin on her face and an exhilarated flush on her cheeks. “We’re going to take him down,” she says.

“We are.”

“I mean, we’re actually going to take him down!” Pansy says with a short, gleeful laugh. Her face is radiating wonder and exuberance and she’s looking at Hermione as if she’s the most amazing person she’s ever seen before. “Merlin, you did it!”

Hermione’s not sure what possesses her to move forward. Maybe it’s the complete joy threatening to overwhelm her system. Maybe it’s the relief that she was right, that good will always prevail in the end. Maybe it’s the enraptured look on Pansy’s face. Maybe it’s some visceral need to share this joy in a physical way with the only other person who’s gone through this experience with her.

She doesn’t know what it is. All she knows is that one moment, she’s standing there, grinning like a fool at Pansy, and the next, she’s flung her arms around the other witch.

There’s a breathless moment where Hermione’s sure that she’s overstepped her bounds. Pansy’s arms stay firmly at her side and her entire body stiffens, and Hermione’s feels fear and shame settle in her chest. Of course Pansy wouldn’t want Hermione hugging her. Not when she knows what she knows.

But just as she’s about to let go and offer a mortified apology, Hermione feels the book drop from Pansy’s hand as she slowly and tentatively brings her arms up to return Hermione’s embrace. She lets herself exhale shakily as Pansy’s arms wind underneath hers and up her back, and once her hands have settled near Hermione’s shoulder blades, she can feel the nervous tension they’ve both been holding onto slowly ease from their bodies. A small sigh escapes Hermione as she tightens her hold and allows herself to pour every bit of joy and relief she’s currently feeling into the embrace. “We did it,” she murmurs into Pansy’s hair, her voice tinged with shock. “We did it,” she repeats, as Pansy tightens her grip.

It’s strange—Hermione’s been hugged before. She’s been hugged loads of times. But in this moment, lost in her own little bubble with Pansy, she feels herself gaining a new respect for the simple act.

She notices the physical sensations first. There’s the warmth, of course—Hermione can feel the heat from Pansy’s body everywhere they touch. It seems to seep into Hermione and warm her from the inside, filling up every available space and making her feel safe and secure. She finds herself wishing there was a way to get closer, to absorb even more of the delicious heat radiating off of Pansy. The faintest warning bell sounds in her mind at the thought, dutifully reminding her that she shouldn’t be entertaining these fledgling feelings she’s harboring toward Pansy. But somehow, at this very moment, she doesn’t care at all. Sod the warning bell; she wants to feel this warm forever.

Then there’s the scent, that absolutely maddening scent that’s been driving Hermione to distraction for the past few days. Once again, she finds herself surrounded by it. But this time, she doesn’t fight it. Instead, she allows herself to breathe it in, going as far as to bury her nose into Pansy’s soft hair and sneak a quick inhale. Perhaps when she lets go, the action will embarrass her, but as of right now, it just makes her crave more. She takes another breath as she moves her right hand up to cradle the back of Pansy’s head. There’s a moment where she thinks she feels Pansy shiver against her, but she’s so busy wondering if Pansy’s perfume will cling to her own clothes after she lets go that she doesn’t think to question it.

Once the physical sensations fade, Hermione’s struck by just how right this hug feels. It’s not like when she hugs Harry or Ron and has to stand awkwardly on her tip-toes, or when Ginny pounds her back like she’s just made a spectacular Quidditch play. It’s not like when Neville releases her after three seconds, terrified of overstaying his welcome, or when Luna starts dreamily brushing her hands through Hermione’s hair to “ward off Wrackspurts.”

It’s not like any hug she’s ever experienced before.

Pansy fits against her body just right, as if she’s been molded to fit there and only there. Her head is resting in the crook of Hermione’s shoulder and she can feel each of Pansy’s warm exhalations against the suddenly over-sensitive skin of her neck. Each puff sets her nerve endings on fire, and just when Hermione thinks she won’t be able to take any more contact, Pansy’s hands curl around the fabric of her jumper and she pulls her impossibly closer. The movement causes Pansy’s fingernails to gently scratch through the fabric, and Hermione feels her breath catch. If she wasn’t being held so firmly by Pansy, she’s sure her legs would give out.

They stay that way for what feels like ages, thoroughly wrapped up in each other, oblivious to the outside world, before Pansy unwinds her arms from Hermione.

Slowly, Hermione opens her eyes to find that Pansy hasn’t stepped back. She’s still tantalizing close, and Hermione could easily reclaim the lost contact that she finds herself already desperately craving. Instead, she takes the opportunity to study Pansy’s face, taking in the details she’s never been close enough to see—a faded scar just under her chin, soft peach fuzz on her cheeks, the faintest hint of a dimple. She’s a masterpiece up close and Hermione wants to trail her finger along every detail, tracing it all until she can reproduce Pansy by heart. Instead, she lets her eyes do the tracing, admiring every last, perfect feature. When she arrives at Pansy’s full, dark lips, she lets her eyes linger and she feels her breathing change. For a wild moment, she wonders what that dark shade would look like smeared across her own mouth. She wonders if it would leave traces all over her body, proof that Pansy had been there and had thoroughly claimed every part of her. Hermione’s never had a particular favorite color to wear, but something tells her that Pansy’s lips could change that. She’d sport that infuriating color all over her body in a heartbeat, given the chance.

Her pulse pounds in her ears as she thinks about Pansy’s lips against her body, and as she lets her gaze slowly lower to Pansy’s rapidly rising chest, she lets herself entertain the idea of what would happen if she laid claim first. What if she closed the minuscule gap between them? What if she were the one to take charge and let herself give into this new, intoxicating need, this strange, overwhelming desire for something more? Heat licks across her skin like wildfire at the thought as she drags her heavy lidded gaze back to Pansy’s.

Pansy is watching Hermione with a look she’s never seen before. It’s a potent swirl of emotions that’s strangely managed to erase any trace of green from her gaze. Instead, her eyes look almost black in the dim light of the library, and something about the sight makes Hermione ache. Her heart races and her hands twitch and all she wants to do is kiss Pansy until she can’t breathe. She wants to press her back into the bookshelves and feverishly trace every inch of skin she can find with her fingertips, her lips, her teeth, her tongue. She wants to hear what kind of desperate noises she can wring out of Pansy with nothing more than her touch.

She wants more.

Hermione feels herself moving forward as if an outside force is controlling her. Her logical brain has switched off, and instead, she finds herself guided by some primitive, wild instinct, pushing her to claim what she wants. It’s overwhelming and fills her with a heady desire, and if there was any part of her that was thinking logically, she might stop to wonder if she’s about to make a mistake. She might wonder if her newfound friendship with Pansy would even be able to survive such a colossal mistake. She might spare a thought for the repercussions; she might remember that for all intents and purposes, Pansy is straight; she might even chastise herself for having these kind of feelings in the sanctuary of the library of all places.

But for once in her life, Hermione’s not thinking. All she wants to do is be reckless. All she wants to do is lose control.

All she wants to do is feel.

The air around them is charged, crackling with an invisible energy that raises goosebumps on Hermione’s skin. They’re close enough now that she can feel the warm ghost of Pansy’s breath against her lips, coming in quick puffs, and something inside of Hermione’s chest roars with approval.

She’s never felt this way before. Not with Viktor, certainly not with Ron, and not even when she’s alone in her bed with just her imagination. Nothing she could imagine could ever compare to this. This perfect, delicious torture. This painfully slow dance along the knife’s edge, hovering between unbearable need and incredible pleasure. In any other situation, it would make Hermione scoff at herself, completely annoyed that she was so incredibly wound up over such a minor interaction. But standing here with Pansy, she feels as if there’s a tightly wound coil of arousal in her stomach, and she know that even one touch will be all it takes to set it off.

Just one touch.

Her skin is tingling with anticipation as she angles her head just so in preparation of what’s to come, and she’s a heartbeat away from giving into the desire and brushing her lips against Pansy’s when she feels the air around her change. The warmth seems to fade away immediately and when Hermione blinks her eyes open stupidly, she finds Pansy, farther away and looking at her with a small, concerned frown on her face.

The change in Hermione’s body is almost instantaneous. Whatever overwhelmingly powerful fog of lust had descended on her brain seems to dissipate in an instant and now, she’s left with fear and anger; fear at what she had almost done, anger at herself for getting so carried away. She can scarcely believe where her thoughts had gone and how powerless she had felt to stop them, and as she stands there, staring at Pansy with horrified eyes, she finds herself desperately wishing for a way to go back in time and take it all back.

“Hermione,” Pansy murmurs, snapping her out of her thoughts. There’s a new mix of emotions in her green eyes—regret, longing, and something else. Something that looks curiously like fear.

Immediately, Hermione’s stomach plummets.

“Hermione,” Pansy says again, rubbing her neck. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t…I mean, I wanted…” she huffs a bit, then she looks at Hermione with open eyes. “I…I’m afraid I haven’t been hones—”

Hermione doesn’t register anything she’s saying. Instead, she gives a somewhat wild laugh and says, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.”

Pansy shakes her head quickly. “No. No, I…you don’t need to apologize, it’s not like I…I mean, I…”

“If you never want to see me again, I understand.”

“What?” Pansy asks, her brow creasing in confusion. “No, I…don’t be mad, of course I—”

“I just got carried away. You know, the heat of the moment, and we’ve worked so hard, and with that hug…I just…” she shakes her head and says, “I was overwhelmed, but it didn’t mean anything. I don’t even know why I did it,” Hermione says, desperately trying to find the right words to say to reassure Pansy. “I didn’t even want to, it just sort of…happened.”

Liar, liar, liar.

But if Pansy’s reaction to her statement is any indication, it would seem she’s struck gold immediately. She frowns and shifts on her feet. “You…you didn’t want to…?” Pansy asks uncertainly.

“No,” Hermione says quickly. “No, not at all. I…no.”

Liar, liar, liar.

A small shadow crosses Pansy’s face, but Hermione pays it no mind as she hurries on. “I really did just get a bit caught up in the moment, but I…I didn’t mean to take you with me,” she says, trying for a light laugh. It comes out sounding a bit strangled, so she continues, “I promise, you have nothing to worry about. I’m not secretly pining after you, or anything.”

Liar, liar, liar.

“You’re not,” Pansy repeats flatly, her face curiously hard to read.

“No. I’m not. I mean, I have feelings for my parchment pal,” Hermione says quickly, desperately glad to finally cling to something grounded in the truth.

Pansy nods seriously, seeming a bit bolstered by Hermione’s latest statement. “Right. And I know that. Which is why I was going to say—”

“And honestly, you’re not my type,” Hermione hurries on, ignoring the now persistent voice calling her a liar that’s echoing in her head.

At that, Pansy stops short and blinks at Hermione. “I’m…I’m not your type?” she repeats, sounding a bit bewildered.

“No. Not at all,” Hermione says. “I mean, you’re…you’re…well, you know,” she says, gesturing weakly toward Pansy’s body.

“I’m what?” Pansy asks with a self-conscious frown.

Beautiful. Stunning. Gorgeous. Breathtaking.

“You're quite…I mean…you’re…you’re pretty,” Hermione finally manages to say, though the word sounds a bit strangled. Pansy raises her eyebrows at the delivery and crosses her arms over her chest, and Hermione quickly says, “you are, it’s just…I don’t want you to think I’ve thought of you in that way. I don’t want to…”

To scare you off.

To lose this.

To lose you.

“…to give you the wrong idea,” she finishes weakly.

“Right,” Pansy says stiffly. “And the wrong idea would be…?”

Hermione anxiously tucks her hair behind her ears and says, “you know…that I’m interested in you,” she says hesitantly. “As anything more than a friend, I mean.”

Pansy stares at her for a long moment, and Hermione drops her gaze to the floor. “So…almost snogging me was…what? Just…getting caught up in the moment?” Pansy asks.

Hermione takes a deep breath at the heat behind Pansy’s words. Clearly, Pansy’s still upset by Hermione’s blunder, but she’s determined to set this right. She exhales slowly and says, “yes.” She lifts her gaze to meet Pansy’s eyes which are now completely closed off, and she feels her stomach twist anxiously.

Don’t blow this.

“It was just the moment, I promise. I don’t know why I did it, but you have nothing to worry about. I’m not interested in you. Not at all,” Hermione says, trying to both look and sound as earnest as she possibly can.

“I see,” Pansy says. A small, strange smile comes to Pansy’s face, mingling with the frown that’s already settled on her brow, and she gazes at the ground for a moment. Hermione holds her breath as she waits to see if Pansy’s about to change her mind completely and decide that Hermione is wrong and broken after all. But instead, Pansy gives a small nod, then looks back at Hermione. “Right, then. Thanks for clearing that up,” she says with a tight smile. “Wouldn’t want me to get the wrong idea, now, would you?” she adds, her tone deceptively light but her eyes still shuttered.

“No. No, I wouldn’t,” Hermione says uncertainly. She’s vaguely sure that the same, small shadow passes Pansy’s face at her confirmation, but it’s gone so quickly, she’s not sure if she’s imagined it or not.

“Well, then. No use dwelling on it, is there? Mistakes happen, so…best to just move on and let the moment go.”

“Yes, but—”

“Hermione, it’s fine. Don’t give it another thought.”

Pansy bends down stiffly and picks up the book on Muggle technology and tucks it under her arm. Hermione watches the process with wide, nervous eyes. After a moment, she murmurs, “are you upset with me?” She’s unable to stand the strange awkwardness that’s settled between them and she desperately needs the reassurance that her ridiculous physical urges haven’t completely ruined their friendship before it’s even begun.

Pansy shakes her head. “No. No, I’m…I’m not upset,” she says. She’s quiet for a few moments, but then, she exhales sharply, squares her shoulders, and turns to Hermione with what seems to be forced amusement lurking in her eyes. “Though I won’t lie, my ego may never recover.”

“Why?” Hermione asks, bewildered.

I’m not interested in you? Not at all?” Pansy asks, raising her voice to mimic Hermione’s as she begins to walk back toward their table. “I mean…Merlin, let a girl down easy, won’t you?” Her tone is light, but something flashes in her eyes and Hermione’s anxiety flares again.

“Sorry,” Hermione says as she falls into step beside her. “I mean…you are pretty,” she adds uncertainly.

“Mm, now I’m convinced,” Pansy says with a snort.

“You are! I just…I didn’t know if I could say that without making this whole thing even weirder.”

Pansy shrugs lightly. “It’s fine. And anyway, it’d be ludicrously narcissistic of me to assume that I’m everyone’s cup of tea. I mean, honestly. I’m not Daphne,” she says, rolling her eyes.

“Yes, but—”

“So do you have a type?” Pansy asks, the words coming out a bit clipped. “I mean, it’s clearly not me. But is there someone you’re hoping your parchment pal will look like?” she asks, dropping the book on the table and leaning against it, surveying Hermione with a raised eyebrow.

You, Hermione thinks immediately.

Instead of vocalizing that particular thought, she sinks back into her chair and shakes her head slowly. “No, I…I hadn’t really thought about it. I’m not sure I even have a type.”

Liar, liar, liar.

“Oh? Well, at least you know what you don’t like,” Pansy says, taking her seat again. “That’s half the battle.”

“I didn’t mean—”

But before Hermione can protest any more, Pansy quickly says, “anyway, that’s enough about that. We don’t need to waste time going around in circles about a mistake when we’ve actually accomplished something massive tonight. Well…you did,” she amends, absently flipping open the book to the section on recording devices once more. “I just stoo