Word Count: 6300
Summary: Things are a bit different for veterans of the Battle of Hogwarts when they return to school; more things have changed than the stonework
Warnings: Well, actually, fluffiness.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to JK Rowling
“Hello, Hermione,” came a voice that was not so dreamy as it had once been, “it’s good to see you. I assume that you have decided to come and finish up?”
“Yes, Luna, I want to sit my N.E.W.T.’s of course. I couldn’t bear to leave that unfinished,” Hermione admitted.
“I expect not, and I suppose that this is the place where I say ‘same old Hermione’, and laugh, but we’re neither of us the same, are we?” There was nothing at all dreamy about her voice now.
“No, we’re not,” Hermione agreed, “there is no way that we could be. But we’ll carry on. How is your father?”
“A bit vaguer than he even used to be. He tries to stay busy with plans for starting up The Quibbler again, but his mind wanders. I managed to convince him to have a new house built rather than trying to repair the old one. It’s much smaller, no stairs, and no room for a press. I really don’t think his heart is in it any longer, and I have to say that I’m certainly not interested in being a publisher,” Luna answered. “Are Ron and Harry coming back too?”
“No, Ron is playing for the Chudley Cannons, so at least someone’s dreams have come true. Harry has entered Auror training; the Ministry waived the N.E.W.T. requirements for him. Are there any others of the old gang here?”
“Neville of course, Lavender, Ginny, and Pansy Parkinson, Cho is finishing up at Beauxbatons, and the Patils are attending school in India. Millicent Bulstrode and a lot of the other Slytherins are going to Durmstrang. People are still kind of drifting around, perhaps some more of them will show up later,” Luna told her.
“Well I can’t say that I’ll be thrilled to see Parkinson again, but it will be nice to see Neville. Lavender as well, now that I think about it. I suppose it will be like making friends all over again, in a way,” Hermione replied, “especially with the new house.”
It had been decided that any returning students who had actually fought in the last battle would be in Phoenix house, along with all sixth and seventh years, in the hope that they would be able to support each other. The third floor area that had housed the Philosopher’s Stone had been remodeled to serve as their dorm. Overall, Hermione thought it a good idea, although the thought of being in the same house with Pansy Parkinson was a bit hard to come to terms with. Of course, had she thought about it very much she would have realized that Pansy coming back to Hogwarts at all was evidence of some sort of change.
“You’re just in time for dinner,” Luna informed her, “we’ll be able to see who else arrived today, come on.” Luna led the way to the restored Great Hall, and Hermione looked up to see the banner of her new house.
“Very impressive,” she said as she stared at the banner which showed a flaming Phoenix on a sable field. She also thought that the house colors of black and red were quite appropriate. Only the older students had arrived as of yet, the new members of Phoenix house had been asked to come a week before the other students, and tonight Headmistress McGonagall was going to explain why. The hall looked empty with only the staff and the members of the new house in it. Luna and Hermione went to seats directly across from Neville and Lavender.
“I knew you’d be back,” Neville greeted Hermione, “didn’t I tell you she’d be back, Lavender?”
“Yes you did,” Lavender confirmed, “I admit that I’m a little surprised, though. I sort of thought that you and Ron would…” she trailed off into embarrassed silence.
“No, whatever there was between Ron and I died in the aftermath of the war. We’re friends, but that’s all,” Hermione told her. “So you’ve a clear field if you’re interested.”
“Thank you, but I’ve moved on as well,” Lavender informed her, taking Neville’s hand and holding it to her cheek. Neville didn’t even blush; the war had changed many things.
“That’s wonderful, I’m happy for you both,” Hermione told them sincerely.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to start calling him Nev-Nev or anything silly like that,” the smiling Lavender promised, and that got a bit of a laugh from them all.
“Hello gang,” Ginny greeted them, “looks like a pretty small turnout. I wonder if the new house kept some people away?”
“I expect so,” Luna said, “but I still think it’s a good idea. We really do need to learn to get along together.”
That looked like taking some effort, for apart from Luna sitting with the former Gryffindors the students were all sitting together with their old house mates. Hufflepuff was fairly well represented; Hannah Abbot was there, along with Ernie McMillan and Susan Bones and a few others that Hermione only knew by sight. From Ravenclaw, Marietta Edgecombe, Terry Boot, and Lisa Turpin Hermione recognized where they sat with other former Ravenclaws, and down at the end of the table sat Pansy Parkinson and Blaise Zabini, the only returning former Slytherins to be in the new house.
“She’s got some nerve,” Ginny hissed as she saw Parkinson, “imagine her showing her face here after what she said.”
“The war affected everyone, Ginny,” Neville said reasonably, “we have no way of knowing what sort of pressure she might have been under. You don’t have to be besties with her, but try and keep an open mind. I for one have no desire to dwell on old hatreds. Bad for the digestion.”
That was about the time that Marietta Edgecombe sent Hermione a look of mingled fear and loathing.
“You’re right, Neville,” Hermione announced as she stood up, “I’ll just be a moment.” Hermione walked the short distance to the former Ravenclaws.
“Hi, Hermione,” Terry greeted her. There were mumbled ‘hello’s’ from some of the others. Marietta stared at the table in silence.
“Marietta, please look at me,” Hermione asked, and Marietta raised her face. She was wearing a rather fancy headband that did much to conceal the pimples that had barely faded since Hermione’s curse had bitten her, and her eyes went round when she saw Hermione’s wand pointed at her face. No one had time to speak or react before Hermione had muttered something under her breath and a blast of golden light washed over Marietta’s face. “I hope that this helps us to make a new start, Marietta,” Hermione told her, “here.” Hermione handed her a mirror, and Marietta pulled off the band and looked into it to see perfectly clear and really very lovely skin.
“Thank you. It may take some time for me to forgive what you did to me, Granger, but I’m willing to try. I suppose that moving forward is the best plan, and we’ll do that better together, I think. So then; hello, I’m Marietta Edgecombe, and you are?”
“Hermione Granger,” she replied and extended her hand, which Marietta took in a cool grasp.
“Pleased to meet you,” Marietta replied somewhat formally.
“This is going to be an interesting year I think,” Terry mused as he stared at Marietta.
Hermione looked towards the two former Slytherins, but decided that that was a step for another day, and perhaps one that Parkinson or Zabini should take first. She returned to her seat.
“That was well done, Hermione,” Luna complimented. “She’s really not so awful, you know.”
“We’ll see, but I couldn’t very well leave her in that state when we’re in the same house. That would have made for a very long year.”
Professor McGonagall rose, and the several quiet conversations ceased instantly, as always when McGonagall prepared to speak.
“Welcome to Hogwarts,” she began, and Neville leapt to his feet applauding, followed shortly by Lavender, and soon enough by everyone, even Pansy. McGonagall fell silent, her eyes filling with tears as she waited for the students to finish. At length they did, and she cleared her throat and resumed.
“As you no doubt have observed, things are going to be different this year, apart from the obvious redecorating and restoration, that is. Phoenix house was created from the ashes of old enmities. It’s stated purpose is for its members to assist one another in coming to terms with the horrors you have all been through. I am not so naïve as to imagine that this will be quick and painless. We are none of us naïve any longer, but you are all here because you have chosen to be, and therefore I both expect and assume that you will work towards that end.” She looked at the table, and smiled at the way the students had seated themselves in groups.
“I expect it and assume it, but I am not above taking an active part now and again.” She waved her wand, and the students experienced a moment of vertigo. When their heads cleared they found themselves seated at a table that had precisely enough room for them all, much smaller than it had been. They also found that their places had been shuffled around apparently at random. Hermione was now seated directly across from Pansy Parkinson, and Marietta Edgecombe was on her right. So perhaps not so random after all.
“Your table will accommodate itself to the number of you present, whether that number grows or shrinks from one time to the next. Professor Flitwick and I took a leaf from the Sorting Hat’s book and also put a bit of brains in it, so to speak. Sit where you will, the table will put you where it thinks you should be. I should advise you to take its recommendations to heart.”
There was no muttering, but there were many anxious glances. Pansy met Hermione’s gaze levelly, with a bland expression. Neither of them spoke.
“Another different thing is that you shall choose your own prefects from among yourselves; please do this by breakfast on Tuesday. For those of you who may have forgotten, this is Saturday. I do expect a few more arrivals tonight and tomorrow, so you needn’t make up your minds just yet, although you are free to do so. Your prefects will meet with me regularly to discuss the progress of your house, and will also occasionally attend meetings of the Board of Governors to represent you, so choose carefully. Phoenix house prefects will be more than hall monitors. You are to choose two, and there is no need to choose one of each gender. Pick the two who you decide will do the best job of representing you and helping to promote the house goals.”
“By the way, there will be Quidditch this year, and you may field a team if you wish, but that is not a requirement.” Ginny and Blaise exchanged a look at that. They had more experience playing Quidditch than the rest of their house, and Blaise nodded an affirmative to Ginny’s inquiringly arched eyebrow. Phoenix house took one small step forward.
“As the purpose of your house involves healing wounds of many sorts, Madam Pomfrey has consented to serve as your head of house,” McGonagall informed them. More applause greeted this news, and Madam Pomfrey stood and bowed.
“The bedrooms in your dormitory are all private, small, but comfortable. It was felt that magically assigning roommates would be going a bit too far, but we do intend to avoid anyone being made to feel left out. You will find your new house uniforms in your rooms. That is all that I have to tell you this evening. Enjoy your dinner,” she turned away from the lectern, hesitated, then turned back. “And before you ask, Miss Granger, the elves are indeed still here, and all of them are free, and receive appropriate wages and benefits.” There was some scattered laughter at that, and when McGonagall sat the food appeared as it always had.
“Would you care for some chicken, Granger?” Pansy Parkinson asked.
“Yes, thank you,” she answered as she took the plate and helped herself to a drumstick.
“You’re welcome,” Pansy replied politely, and Hermione shot a quick glance at her, fully expecting to see the usual sneer on her face. Pansy’s face, however, was merely neutral.
I wonder what her game is? Hermione thought.
I’ll bet she wonders what I’m up to, Pansy mused.
Hermione and Pansy did not speak again during the rest of the meal, but Marietta did talk with Hermione a little about various skin creams she had tried, and they wondered together how they might differently affect her skin now that it was de-cursed. They weren’t what you could call friends just yet, but Marietta wasn’t so terrified of Hermione now, and Hermione had begun to realize that Marietta was really not so bad. Fear makes people do strange things, after all.
After the tables had been cleared, Professor McGonagall rose once again and stepped to the lectern. She smiled when the room fell instantly silent. It was a comforting bit of normalcy following months of terror, grief, and toil.
“You’ll find that the castle is largely back to normal, although the stairs seem to have altered their patterns. I daresay we’ll all figure them out in time, or simply learn to deal with them. I suggest that you all spend some time together in your common room before bed getting reacquainted with each other. I expect that none of you are quite the same people that you were last term. I’m glad to see you back at Hogwarts, and I trust that we will have a productive year. Dismissed.”
“Where is the common room? I just left my kit in the entrance hall and came straight here,” Terry Boot spoke up.
“Follow me then,” Neville announced, “I’ve been here a week helping Professor Sprout get the greenhouses ready.”
Phoenix House left the great hall, and the teachers watched them with mingled hope and fear.
“Nice,” commented Ernie McMillan as he flopped down in one of the chairs.
It was indeed nice. The house banner over the large fireplace glimmered in the candlelight, and the furniture was all quite comfortable-looking. One wall had large windows overlooking the grounds, and there were ample tables available for study or any other need.
“Does anyone know who else might be showing up?” Hannah Abbott asked. Nobody knew for sure who might be coming, although Blaise did inform them that no other former Slytherins would be among them. “Since we don’t know who’s coming, why don’t we go ahead and start trying to decide on prefects?”
“We might as well,” Susan Bones agreed.
“It’s obvious who it should be,” Pansy Parkinson spoke up, and every eye turned to her.
“Let’s hear it then, Parkinson,” Ginny responded, “but don’t expect the fact that you used to be a prefect to make us choose you.”
“Me? No, thank you. The winners get the prizes, I know that. Granger and Longbottom are the obvious choices; they’re heroes of the winning side. No offense Weasley, I know you and Lovegood were both brave as anything, but those two were leaders,” Pansy explained.
“I’d rather not, to tell you the truth,” Neville demurred, “I really don’t fancy speaking to the board. I’m no good at that sort of thing.”
“And please forgive me for asking, Parkinson,” Hermione said in a tone that made quite clear that Pansy’s forgiveness was a matter of supreme indifference to her, “but why on earth would you want a ‘Mudblood’ representing you in any sense of the word? For that matter, why are you even here, instead of off at Durmstrang or somewhere?”
Pansy stood and faced them all.
“I’m going to explain this to you now, because I don’t want to spend this year looking over my shoulder, and Merlin knows some of you have reason enough to hex me. I’m not going to apologise for my actions during the war and the time the Carrows were here. I played the cards I was dealt the best that I could, and my regretting some of my actions won’t change the past, but I do regret them. Yes, Granger, I really believed that I was superior to someone like you. I was taught that from birth, and I bought into it. But I’m not stupid, not really, and I have to admit that I’m not all that brave either. I tried being brave once and it didn’t work out very well.”
Pansy pulled off her shirt and turned her back to her fellow Phoenixes. There was a collective gasp at the sight of the thin white scars forming a lattice on her back beneath the straps of her bra.
“My father gave most of that to me when I asked what he was doing taking orders from You-Know-Who; he was only a half-blood after all. The rest of them came whenever I questioned anything I was taught. Except a couple from Draco. He gave me a couple stripes just because he could. Malfoys are superior to Parkinsons, you see. It isn’t only half-bloods and Muggle-borns who are inferior in the pure-blood world.”
She turned to face them without putting her blouse back on, and everyone was relieved that her front was unscarred. A few of her housemates could not help but admire her breasts, but no one felt that she was flaunting them. She was simply being candid, and the bra covered her well enough.
“I don’t want or expect your pity. Many of you got worse. Hell, I gave some of you worse, and me being too scared to keep from doing it doesn’t change that any. I’ll even admit that sometimes I enjoyed some of it. I did what I did, and I’ll own it. As for why I’m here, well, I have to be. Parkinsons weren’t as rich as Malfoys either, and my late and unlamented father pissed away all we had trying to make it look like we were. I wouldn’t be welcome at Durmstrang, and my ‘old friends’ wouldn’t have anything to do with me even if we could afford it, which we can’t.” She paused and pulled her top back on.
“As for the whole pure-blood superiority crap, well, just look at me. Most of you hate me with good reason, and I have to get the best marks I can so that I don’t have to make my living on my back. That doesn’t sound very superior to me. I don’t think I’d do very well in that line of work anyway. I’m not one for faking it anymore, and I’m not much to look at. Don’t think I didn’t come up with the pug analogy on my own, long before I got here.” She fell silent for a moment, but no one interrupted.
“Most of what I was taught about the wizarding world was wrong. The supposed greatest dark wizard of all time was killed by a nearsighted teenager whose mother was a Muggle-born. Believe me; I no longer think I’m the least bit better than any of you. All I want to do this year is keep my pug nose clean and get the best marks that I can because I’m going to have to make my own way in the world just like most of you are. So if any of you think you owe me something from the way I treated you before, please collect it in the next few days so I can be ready when term starts. I won’t fight you, and if one of you happens to kill me, well, that might not be so bad.”
No one spoke, and at last Ginny Weasley came and stood toe-to-toe with Pansy.
“I’m not saying that I buy all that, Parkinson, and I’m not ever going to forget the things you did, and how you wanted to give Harry to Voldemort. I might forgive you in time though, and if you do keep your pug nose clean you have nothing to fear from me. Shit, we’ve all got stuff to get past. We might as well start out at least trying to get along. That’s what Phoenix house is for, after all.” She extended her hand and Pansy took it.
“I have an idea for prefects, since Neville doesn’t want it,” Luna volunteered, and all eyes turned to her. “I think it would be in keeping with the goals of our house if we chose from opposite sides of the past, so I propose Hermione and Pansy. We already know that Pansy isn’t afraid to talk in front of an audience, and I thought she did rather well.” There was much discussion, and Pansy and Hermione stared at one another in silence.
“Let’s vote on this, then,” Ernie declared, “the latecomers will just have to accept what we decide. Those in favor?” Every hand was raised except for Hermione, Pansy, and Marietta. “Those opposed?” No hands were raised, but Marietta stood up.
“I’m not necessarily opposed to either Hermione or Pansy,” Marietta explained, “and I do agree that having them as our prefects befits Phoenix house’s goals. It is simply that my past experiences with both of them make me unwilling to actually vote for either of them. I shall however support them, unless they prove unworthy of our trust. Frankly, I do not expect that to happen, but I wanted to explain my actions.” She resumed her seat.
“Well spoken,” Blaise admitted.
“Right then,” Ernie announced, ‘that’s done. Congratulations, Hermione and Pansy, and best of luck. Does anyone have any Honeydukes?”
“I suppose we’d best talk,” Hermione admitted, and she and Pansy went to a table in the corner. “Can you work with me, Parkinson?” Hermione asked.
“I can. We may not like each other, but I do respect you, and I can’t afford to blow this chance. Prefect will look good on my CV. Besides, that damn table is going to keep sitting us with each other until we sort things out between us, unless I miss my guess.”
“You’re probably right about that,” admitted Hermione with the faintest hint of a smile.
“Right then. Can we agree that the house-elf situation is okay here to start with?” Pansy asked with a smile of her own. It was the first real smile that Hermione had ever seen on her face, and she was a bit surprised to find that it was rather a nice one.
“Did I miss anything?” Romilda Vane asked when she arrived in the common room.
“Go ask the new prefects,” suggested Neville, pointing to the table where Pansy and Hermione were talking together.
“I guess I missed a lot, huh?”
“Including Pansy taking her shirt off,” Lavender informed her. “She has nice titties, doesn’t she Neville?”
“Can’t say as I noticed,” Neville replied.
“Such a clever lad,” Lavender complimented him.
“How are you getting on with Pansy?” Neville asked Hermione as they walked together to Potions.
“Surprisingly well. She’s not as stupid as I used to think; in fact she’s pretty smart. She has some good ideas about setting up support groups for students who lost family and friends in the war, and counseling for those who need more than that. She’s delivering our presentation to the Board of Governors this Saturday,” Hermione told him.
“Well, she certainly knows how to grab an audience, but I hope she doesn’t take off her shirt in front of the board. Some of them are pretty old,” Neville commented.
“She does have a rather impressive bust,” Hermione admitted.
“Sure does, but don’t tell Lavender I said that, okay?”
“Mum’s the word, and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t spread it around that I said that either. People might get the wrong idea,” Hermione requested.
“I’ll keep shut about it, Hermione, but are you sure it would be the wrong idea? I mean, I’ve seen you two together…”
“Neville! We’re just trying to do the best we can for Phoenix house, and it’s best that we get along. But I will admit that working with her is not the pain that I thought it would be,” she confessed.
“Right…” Neville responded, and Hermione punched him on the shoulder when she saw his smirk.
Is he right? Hermione wondered.I actually enjoy working with her, but could it be more than that?
“How can you stand spending so much time with Granger, Pansy?” Blaise asked her. They were sitting together in the courtyard for a moment before lunch, enjoying a rare sunny day.
“Don’t tell me you’re still hung up on that pure-blood crap,” Pansy said in exasperation.
“I still maintain certain standards, yes,” Blaise told her.
“You know Blaise, that’s getting a little old. Especially since you’re not a pure-blood yourself, and neither is your mother,” Pansy said bluntly.
“What are you talking about?” He replied stiffly.
“Your mother got my father to help her with a couple of her ‘man problems’, including your father. He never told anyone, and neither will I. Didn’t your mother ever tell you that your father was a Muggle?”
Blaise’s face flushed.
“You really aren’t going to tell anyone?” He asked in a hoarse whisper.
“It’s no one’s business, and it just doesn’t matter, Blaise. Your mother fell for him because he was beautiful, but he turned out to be an asshole. That doesn’t mean you have to be one too. Here, this is one of the counselors who are going to help out those of us who need it if the Board approves. I’m no expert, Blaise, but it seems to me that you hate your mother and yourself a lot more than you hate Mudbloods and blood traitors. It’s time to let go of that shit and start living.”
Pansy stood and walked away. Blaise made no reply, but after staring at the card for a long moment he put it in his pocket.
“Pansy, your presentation was brilliant,” Hermione complimented her. The presentation had indeed gone very well, and the Board of Governors had been quite impressed. As a result, several counselors would soon be added to the Hogwarts’ staff. “There’s a nice Muggle restaurant near here. How about I treat you to lunch by way of celebration?”
Hermione of course knew that Pansy’s budget would not stretch to cover lunch at the place she had in mind. She had been there with her parents on occasion, and the food was quite good, and while not precisely wealthy, Hermione could easily afford lunch for the two of them. Pansy really had done an excellent job of presenting the ideas they had worked so hard on, and Hermione felt that they deserved a reward.
Pansy hesitated briefly before answering.
“Sure Hermione, just as long as it’s something you want to do. You don’t owe me anything,” Pansy told her.
“I do want to, but I do owe you a few things,” Hermione responded.
“Respect, for one. You’ve really changed; I can tell that you’re not just playing a part. You don’t shy away if we happen to touch, anymore. You don’t look at me with contempt, and you listen to what I say. That’s not an easy thing to do, to change.” Pansy shrugged. “Friendship for another, although I suppose that strictly speaking I don’t “owe” that to you. Still, I should like to be your friend, Pansy,” Hermione said seriously.
“Hell, Hermione,” Pansy said with a grin that made her actually kind of cute, “I thought we already were friends, but that’s a new experience for me, so maybe I got it wrong. But that’s two things. Two is not ‘a few’, what else?”
“Let’s just start with being friends,” Hermione temporized. “Come on, I’m hungry.”
Neither of them thought it odd when Hermione took Pansy’s hand and led the way to the restaurant. They were friends after all.
“What’s good here?” Pansy asked.
“Everything, as the cliché goes, but if you like fish the trout here is exceptionally good. The owner’s daughter catches them herself.”
“That I’ve got to try, then,” Pansy told her, and Hermione ordered the same, along with two glasses of white wine.
“May I ask you a personal question, Hermione?” Pansy asked after their wine had been served.
“Certainly you may ask. I can always decline to answer,” Hermione responded.
“What went wrong between you and Weasley? Everybody kind of assumed that you two would get married and have lots of freckled babies.”
“I think it was everyone else’s assumptions that kept us together as long as we were, frankly. We needed each other back then, but after the war… well, it just wasn’t enough for either of us. It seemed like it should work, but it was kind of empty-feeling.” Hermione shrugged.
“I can understand that. Pretty much nobody knew which end was up back then,” Pansy explained. “Anybody else have your eye now?”
“Not really. I suppose we’ve been so busy with Phoenix that I haven’t had time to look. When you get right down to it, I haven’t wanted to. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.”
Pansy nodded, and took a sip of wine.
“Good wine,” she commented, and Hermione took a sip of her own. “I have to say I haven’t thought about it either, and that surprises me a little. Part of my plan coming back was to try and find someone that maybe wasn’t flat broke and try out what’s left of my feminine wiles on them. That doesn’t seem to be happening, though.”
“Well, you’re not exactly ugly, Pansy, and people are really starting to trust you and look up to you. You and Blaise seem to get on well enough, for example,” Hermione suggested.
“Nothing there for me. He’s hinted, but I think he’s just horny. I shouldn’t have taken off my shirt that night,” Pansy admitted.
“It was certainly effective though, and you’ve got great boo-“ Hermione fell silent and turned scarlet. Pansy stared at her.
“Thanks, so do you,” she said at length.
“How would you know?” Hermione asked, her curiosity overcoming her embarrassment for the moment. Pansy shrugged.
“I saw you in the prefect’s bath. You forgot to spell the door one time, and I was in a hurry. As a matter of fact you’ve got a really nice rear end too. Hell, your whole body is great.” Pansy blushed a bit herself, and took a little larger sip of wine.
“Voluptuous is the term,” Pansy corrected. Mercifully, the main course arrived, and they concentrated on their dinner.
“You were right as usual, Hermione. This is the best fish I’ve ever had,” Pansy told her.
“I’m pleased that you liked it. Dessert? They have a sinful chocolate cake here, and the coffee is quite good as well.”
“Anything you say, Hermione,” Pansy said amiably, and Hermione ordered dessert for them. The coffee arrived virtually instantly.
“So, has working with me been as bad as you feared?” Pansy asked Hermione.
“Not at all. In fact, I’ve never before worked with someone who worked as hard as I do. It always felt like I was dragging them or pushing them before. We’ve really got a lot done in the last month.”
“So you think things are okay between us, then?” Pansy questioned.
“I certainly do.”
“Then why does the table keep putting us across from each other? It moved Marietta away after a week, and people on both sides of us change all the time, but it always puts you and me right across from each other,” Pansy pointed out.
“You’re right…” Hermione realized, and she wondered why, and why she had not really noticed it before. “Perhaps it’s because we work together so much?”
“Maybe. I don’t know, though.” The conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the cake, which proved fully up to Hermione’s promise. Even Honeyduke’s chocolate was no better. “Sinful” was as apt a description as any. Anything that delicious just had to be wrong, somehow.
Pansy sighed as she placed her empty cup back on the saucer.
“Thank you, Hermione. This was the best meal I have ever had, food-wise and company-wise. You never try and make me feel guilty about the old days; you even act like you actually like me. That’s a new feeling for me, and it’s very pleasant,” Pansy said seriously.
“I do actually like you,” Hermione told her, “and believe me, I’m just as surprised as you are.”
The two of them were still laughing at that a bit as they left the restaurant. They soon found a secluded spot and Apparated to Hogsmeade to begin the trek to the castle as the day faded. The setting sun colored the sky as they walked in companionable silence.
And then Pansy spoke up.
“Hermione, will you come back here to Hogsmeade with me this Saturday?”
“Of course. What did you want to work on?”
“Nothing. I just want to take you to Hogsmeade. I want to take you to Madam Puddifoot’s,” Pansy said softly, and her face rivaled the setting sun for color. Hermione stopped in her tracks.
“Are you asking me on a date, Pansy?”
“I guess I am,” Pansy said, seeming a little surprised herself.
“In that case… I’d love to,” Hermione answered, and this time the smile on Pansy’s face made her look very pretty indeed, especially to Hermione.
It felt positively perfect when they joined their hands and resumed their walk.
The week flew by, and Saturday morning found the usual mob of students eagerly awaiting the time they would be turned loose on the neighboring village. Merchants checked their stock one last time in preparation for the invasion, and Madam Rosmerta adjusted her cleavage. Hogwarts students were surprisingly good tippers if there was a fair bit of soft skin on display.
Hermione and Pansy walked hand in hand near the rear of the line, preferring to let the eager younger students lead the way.
“I didn’t see that coming,” Lavender commented to Neville, indicating the linked hands of Hermione and Pansy.
“I did,” admitted Neville. “I don’t say it wasn’t a surprise at first, but it’s obvious they get on well. They’re actually sort of cute together, aren’t they?” Lavender looked at the two girls in front of her, noting how perfectly their strides matched, and how they seemed to lean towards each other, just a bit.
“They really are. The oddest thing is that it doesn’t seem odd,” Lavender told him.
“Some things are meant to be,” Neville assured her with a smile, and he squeezed her hand.
A few heads turned when Hermione and Pansy entered Madam Puddifoot’s together, but soon enough they were simply one more couple out on a date.
“I’ve never actually been here on a date before,” Hermione informed Pansy.
“I’ve never been here before with someone I really wanted to be with,” Pansy replied. “The tea here is pretty good; the cake isn’t a match for that place you took me to though, but at least it’s pretty.”
Madam Puddifoot served them herself, and the cake was indeed pretty, and proved to be quite edible.
“If you were Draco, you’d take me out in the alley now and feel me up,” Pansy commented as they left the shop.
“I would never feel you up in an alley, Pansy,” Hermione promised her. “Have you ever been up in the hills outside of town?”
“No, I always just hung out in town unless Draco felt like going to the Shrieking Shack and picking on the younger kids.”
“Then come with me and I’ll show you where Sirius Black, the insane murderer, hid out,” Hermione said with a twinkle in her eye.
“No wonder they never found him,” Pansy said as she struggled to catch her breath, “nobody in their right mind would climb this hill if they didn’t have to.”
“Where does that leave us, then?” Hermione asked. “It’s just a bit further.”
Sure enough, when they stepped around the large boulder partially blocking the path in front of them, the cave entrance was right there. But Hermione turned Pansy’s attention in the other direction. Below them, the village of Hogsmeade was spread like a diorama, the students barely discernable as they bustled about the streets. In the far distance loomed Hogwarts castle, and the emerald shadow of the forest.
“Beautiful,” Pansy said, “and well worth the climb. Is this why you brought me here?”
“Partly,” Hermione told her, “but mostly I wanted our first kiss to be strictly between us.”
“So you intend to kiss me?”
“I do, unless you have some objection to kissing on the first date,” Hermione replied. “If you do, then I’ll be good and wait until you’re ready.”
“I’m ready,” Pansy responded, “and I’m sure you’ll be good.”
They kissed softly, and melted into each other’s arms, happy to be together and alive.
At breakfast the next morning they were again seated directly across from each other, but this time near the end of the table beside Lavender and Neville.
“Congratulations,” Neville said happily. “This table knows what it’s about, right enough. I finally figured out what it’s up to.”
“Nobody knows Hogwarts like my Neville,” Lavender said proudly.
“About bloody time,” Hooch whispered to McGonagall.
“Cheers,” McGonagall said as she raised her pumpkin juice to the new couple. “Things are looking up. I think this will be a very satisfying year, Rolanda.”
“I’m sure of it,” Madam Hooch responded as she squeezed McGonagall’s leg briefly under the table.
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