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Slytherin Altruism

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Hermione tapped her foot impatiently as the clock on the wall ticked past seven. The restaurant was full of soft chatter, laughter, and music, but all Hermione could hear was the ticking of that infernal second hand. Ron was supposed to be here an hour ago. She’d cast at least thirteen tempus charms and checked her daily planner three times to verify that she’d gotten the date right. She had, of course, but she was starting to wonder if she should just get up and leave.

As the waitress--Maria, according to her name tag--walked up for the sixth time, Hermione sunk deeper into her seat. She wondered if the velvet cushions would swallow her up like Devil’s Snare if she relaxed enough. Too bad relaxation was the furthest thing from her mind. She felt like the White Rabbit. As she tried to keep her gaze on the waitress and not on the clock, she felt her eye twitch.

“Are you sure you don’t want to order anything, hon?” Maria was a sweet woman, but Hermione was starting to loathe her for making her loneliness so obvious.

A blush rose to Hermione’s cheeks as the other diners glanced her way, their expressions dripping with the same unhelpful empathy. This was getting embarrassing.

The waitress gave Hermione a sad smile when she didn’t respond, and Hermione wondered how she’d gotten here. Sure, she loved Ron, she supposed. They’d been dating since they graduated Hogwarts five years ago, so that had to count for something. But lately...Hermione wasn’t sure. It felt like they were drifting apart. Or rather, like they’d already drifted apart and Hermione was only now allowing herself to notice it.

Hermione knew she’d spent too much time at the office lately, but she couldn’t start slacking off now. She was only weeks away from perfecting the new legislation she was hoping to pass. If it went as planned, the law would guarantee civil rights for all magical creatures. She met with foreign dignitaries several times a week to share her research and had frequent luncheons with the minister to discuss her progress. It was thrilling, of course, but it also meant she was rarely home, and her stress levels were through the roof. She wasn’t all to blame though. Ron had his fair share of late nights with the Aurors, so their dates were brief and far less frequent. Even when they could spend time together, something felt off. They didn’t click like they used to, and Hermione felt ill wondering what had caused the shift.

“I’m sure he’ll be here soon,” the waitress said with an attempt at being comforting. Hermione wasn’t comforted.

Suddenly someone slid into the booth across from her. “She,” the woman corrected, setting down her purse in the seat beside her and smoothing her skirt. “Sorry I’m late, babe. You know how it is down at the Prophet.”

Hermione’s mouth fell open as she stared dumbly at one Pansy Parkinson. Pansy sent her a look that said, “just go with it” and took the Gryffindor’s hand in her own. Hermione shut her mouth. Turning to face the waitress, she forced a smile. “Looks like she finally showed up. Can you give us a second to look at the menu?”

The waitress glanced between the two of them in surprise, apparently thrown off to find Hermione’s dinner date was not of the opposite gender. “Right. Yes, of course.” Her notepad slipped out of her grasp. “I-I’ll be back in a minute to take your orders.” Snatching the dropped object, she made herself scarce.

Pansy snickered. Hermione noticed she didn’t let go of her hand.

“What are you doing?” she hissed under her breath. The stares didn’t diminish at the appearance of a supposed date. Instead, they had intensified with Pansy’s arrival. Hermione wished she’d had the nerve to leave when she had the chance.

Pansy feigned confusion. “Was I that late? I said I was sorry. I got here as soon as I could.” Then in an undertone she added, “I’m trying to help you out, alright? It was getting embarrassing.”

Hermione’s face flamed once more. “I don’t need your ‘help’. And anyway, I’m not gay. Don’t you think this will be a bigger story than, ‘Hermione Granger gets stood up by longtime boyfriend’?”

Pansy quirked a brow. “So it’s Weasley, then.” She snorted. “Figures.” Pansy’s eyes sparkled with mischief as she remembered the other part of Hermione’s objection. “Not even a little gay?”

Hermione looked affronted. “What kind of a question is that? How could I be ‘a little’ gay? And why would you ask that?”

“One, it’s a perfectly normal question. Two, you might be bi, or pan, or even straight with a propensity for dabbling. And three,” Pansy paused, smirking, “you’re still holding my hand.”

Hermione let go abruptly, ignoring the way her hand twitched at the loss of contact. “I was not holding your hand. You were the one who--”

Pansy interrupted her with an eye roll. “Relax, Granger. It was a joke. And anyway, I wouldn’t worry about this ending up in the Prophet. I happen to pride myself on my reputation and wouldn’t waste it ruining yours.”

Hermione let out a sigh of relief. Parkinson was the chief editor at the Daily Prophet. Of course she wouldn’t want it getting out that she was on a date with a woman--especially if that woman was Hermione Granger. For some reason, the thought made Hermione’s chest constrict. Brushing aside the feeling, she cleared her throat. “Well, if you’re intent on staying--”

“I am,” Pansy interrupted smoothly.

“--then have you picked out what you want yet?”

Pansy didn’t even glance at the menu. Her eyes were still locked on Hermione’s with electric intensity. “I have. I assume you’ve had ample time?”

Hermione scowled. “Yes, thank you.” Under her breath, she grumbled, “For someone so intent on being altruistic, you sure are smug.”

Pansy laughed. The sound was low and resonant, making Hermione’s breath stop for a heavy second. “I never said anything about altruism. You should know by now that a Slytherin rarely does anything purely out of selflessness.”

Hermione’s brows furrowed. “Then why--”

“Are you ready to order, ladies?”

Hermione cut off her question mid-sentence. Maria had returned, notepad in hand and only marginally recovered. She looked at them the same way Ron looked at spiders--like he hoped they were dead, or at the very least, content to remain stationary.

Pansy’s gazed at Hermione lasciviously as she answered, “It seems what I want isn’t on the menu.”

Hermione choked on her water. “You’ll just have to wait for dessert,” she said as evenly as she could manage. Pansy’s lips twitched. At the waitress’ flabbergasted countenance, Hermione took pity on her and added, “I’ll have the garden salad, please.”

Pansy’s electric stare finally left Hermione and landed on the waitress. “I’ll do the same. And a bottle of your finest wine, if you would.”

The waitress scurried off, and the two women cracked up.

“Did you see the look on her face?” Hermione giggled.

Pansy grinned. “I wasn’t expecting such a great reaction--and I definitely wasn’t expecting you to improvise so well. Phase Three will be even better than I thought.”

Hermione gave her a cautious look. “Phase Three?”

Pansy waved off her concern. “You’ll find out soon enough. Just play along.”

Hermione nodded. For some reason she couldn’t put her finger on, she wanted to see how this played out. In the silence that followed, Hermione took the opportunity to study the woman across from her. While Pansy had matured quite a bit, her aesthetic remained the same. Her short bob curled under, with bangs creeping just below her arching brows. Hermione wondered if the curls bounced when she walked. Pansy’s dark irises caught her eye next--deep enough to drown in. Hermione might have lost herself in them, but Pansy’s red lips twisted into a smirk.

“See something you like?”

Hermione huffed. “Would you stop that? I’m not attracted to you. Although I’m sure you would love that. You’d like another thing to tease me for.”

A shadow crossed Pansy’s face. “Being gay isn’t something to tease someone over.”

Hermione was taken aback by the abrupt shift in Parkinson’s behavior. It felt like the air had been sucked out of the room, and Hermione had trouble taking a breath. “Being Muggleborn isn’t either,” she murmured.

Pansy tensed. It was minuscule enough that only someone watching as closely as Hermione was would be able to tell. “The war’s over, Granger.” She looked remorseful, and Hermione wondered for the first time what the war was like in her eyes. How much of Pansy’s behavior during the war was actually up to her, and how much was her parents’ influence? Or even the other Slytherins? Either way, Hermione didn’t think that excused her wrongdoings. After all, how long could you consider a person their parent’s child before they became responsible for their own actions?

“That doesn’t mean the prejudice has disappeared,” Hermione replied. It was true. As much as Hermione wished Voldemort’s downfall could have brought about a new era of love and equality, that wasn’t the reality. House prejudice was still rampant if Harry’s experience as the Defense Against Dark Arts teacher was any indication. Death Eaters still popped up every now and then, only to be tracked down and imprisoned by Aurors. Non-humans still faced prejudice for their impure blood. It had become taboo to talk negatively about Muggleborns and half-bloods since the war, but magical creatures weren’t so lucky. Even Hermione’s legal battles couldn’t change hearts.

“It has from me,” Pansy murmured. “I was a child back then. I didn’t know how to choose between what my parents taught me and what felt right in my bones.”

Hermione tried not to scowl. She understood the pressures parents put on their children, but “it’s how I was raised” wasn’t an adequate excuse for the things Pansy had done. Rather, it was an admittance that she couldn’t think for herself. And to Hermione, not thinking was almost worse than bigotry.

“I was so lost...” Pansy continued. “Still am. But not on blood purity. I know where I stand on that.” Biting her cheek, she added, “I’m sorry for everything.”

Hermione was surprised at the earnesty in her voice and felt her guard relax. “Apology accepted.” It felt good to let their enmity go--better than she would have guessed. She supposed she hadn’t realized how heavy the weight of resentment was. Of course, she would never really recover from the things that had been said to her as a child, but she could move on. She could let others move on. After all, what was life without second chances?

Pansy took hold of her hand again, and Hermione’s skin tingled at the touch. She looked up to see the waitress pouring them both glasses of wine. “Anything else I can get for you?”

“I’m fine, thank you,” Pansy said politely. “Hermione, darling, did you need anything?”

The sound of her given name on Pansy’s lip made her shiver. Suddenly Pansy’s thumb was tracing circles on the back of her hand, and Hermione couldn’t think straight. Clearly, she amended. I can’t think clearly. The sensation was strong enough to make her lower region pulse. Hermione wondered what was wrong with her. “I-I--” She cursed Pansy for taking her words away.

Pansy looked at her with exaggerated concern. “Wasn’t there something you were going to ask?” As her thumb shifted so that the elliptical touches danced across the Gryffindor’s wrist, Hermione gasped.

“No,” she said quickly, shaking her head. “I don’t need anything.”

The waitress looked confused at Hermione’s bizarre behavior but nodded and departed. Pansy’s hands made their way back to her lap, and Hermione let out a shaky breath.

“Not gay at all?” Pansy said innocently.

Hermione didn’t even respond to the taunt this time. Instead, she leaned forward, resting her chin on one palm while the other hand slipped under the table to find Pansy’s thigh. She smiled innocently as the other girl inhaled sharply. Two could play at this game. She let her hand travel up the Slytherin’s leg, relishing in the smooth skin there. Pansy made direct eye contact, daring her to back down. Hermione, however, wasn’t in Gryffindor for nothing. Tiptoeing her fingers just a bit further, she began making patterns at the base of Pansy’s thigh. If she moved her fingers to the right just a tad she could--

Hermione’s mouth went dry. What was she doing? The waitress wasn’t even here--wouldn’t see them if she was. What purpose did this serve? And why, oh why, didn’t she want to stop?

“A toast,” Pansy said, breaking the trance. Hermione’s hand retreated to its proper place as if she’d been cursed. “To enemies, friends, lovers, and everyone in between.”

Hermione’s hand shook as she lifted her glass. “To getting stood up and getting saved.”

Pansy smiled--a genuine smile--and took a sip. The sight made Hermione’s heart drum against her ribcage. She drew the glass of wine to her lips and gulped down at least half the liquid. She was starting to think she’d need it.

Their salads were brought out soon thereafter, and they both dug in without a word. Before Hermione was entirely ready, Pansy broke the silence. “So does this happen a lot?”

It took Hermione a minute to figure out what she was being asked. Do I usually have school rivals show up at my dinner table and make me question my sexuality? she wanted to ask. Then she mentally slapped herself. Who said anything about questioning my sexuality?!? I’m not attracted to Pansy. I’m just...just...grateful to her. For helping me out. Yes, that’s it. Definitely. Hermione sighed inwardly at the ridiculous attempt at denial.

Focusing on what Pansy was actually asking her, Hermione found she didn’t want to answer that question--didn’t want to think about how many dates Ron had blown off or forgotten about. She understood he was busy, but she was busy too and somehow she managed to make it to them all. “Sometimes,” she responded noncommittally. “He’s always sweet about it when he apologizes though.” She smiled at the memory of the flowers he’d brought her last time to make up for his rotten memory. The smile faded as she remembered his promise to be there for sure this time. How many times would she let him break that promise? How many times would it take before her heart was broken into too many pieces for a bouquet to put back together?

Pansy stabbed a cucumber violently,  like she was fighting the urge to say something, cry, scream. Hermione studied her, tilting her head to the side. “What were you doing here anyway?”

Pansy rolled her eyes, fighting to keep her face impassive. “Same boat as you.”

Hermione’s jaw dropped. “Someone stood you up?”

Pansy raised a brow. “Well, don’t get too excited about it.”

Hermione closed her mouth, shaking her head slightly. “I’m not. It’s just...” A laugh escaped her throat. “Why would anyone stand you up?” Pansy blinked, causing Hermione to giggle even harder. “Merlin, you must know you’re stunning, right?”

The fog slowly cleared from Pansy’s eyes and she smiled. “I did know, but it sounds nice coming from your lips.”

Hermione blushed but her smile didn’t fade. “Seriously though, whoever he is...he doesn’t know what he’s missing. Ron’s an idiot so I expect this out of him, but who in their right mind would skip out on you?”

“His sister,” Pansy said with another eye roll.

Hermione choked on her wine. “Ginny?” She swallowed to give herself a moment to recover. Oh, God. What on earth are we--

Pansy quirked a brow. “Is that a problem?”

Hermione shook her head. “No,” she breathed. “No, it’s not.”

Pansy’s lips twitched. “You’re uncomfortable now that you know I’m gay.”

“I’m not,” Hermione said stubbornly. “I have no problem with gay people.”

Pansy was fully smirking now. “I’m sure of that. But you’re uncomfortable that I’m gay.”

Hermione spluttered. “How would that even make any sense?”

“Because when you thought I was straight, this was just a game we were playing, but if one of us is gay, then suddenly it becomes real.”

Hermione stared. She didn’t want to admit that Pansy had gotten it spot on, but from the look Pansy gave her in return, she was certain it showed on her face. How had Pansy figured it out so quickly? Was this some sort of plot? To trick Hermione into thinking it was a game in order to get her to go on a date with her? Hermione chided herself. Of course not. That was ridiculous. Pansy likely had women lined up around the block. She wouldn’t have any desire to...do things with Hermione. Pansy was way out of her league.

Pansy took a lazy sip of her wine. “If you’re finished panicking...” she drawled.

Hermione’s jaw tightened. “I’m not panicking. Just...thinking.”

Pansy sighed. “This isn’t some sort of crazy plot if that’s what you’re wondering about. I was irritated at being stood up, and lonely because Ginny’s been too busy with Quidditch training to spare any time for me, and I thought you might be feeling the same way.” Her face was impassive--walled off--and Hermione wished more than anything that she could make those eyes light up again. “This doesn’t have to mean anything, and I’ll go if you want me to. But I know what it feels like to get stood up, and I thought we both deserved a nice night.”

Hermione’s inhibitions crumbled around her, and she took Pansy’s hand in her own. “You’re right. Stay.” This doesn’t have to mean anything , Hermione repeated in her head. This doesn’t have to mean anything. The mantra faltered as Pansy’s smile returned. It was even more heartstopping this time. This doesn’t have to mean anything--but what if I want it to?

Suddenly a feral grin replaced that breathtaking smile and Pansy leaned forwards. “Ready for Phase Three?”

Hermione’s heart raced. “What’s Phase Three?”

Dark eyes glinted as they bore into Hermione’s. “Do you trust me?”

Almost unconsciously, Hermione nodded. Slowly, as if waiting for Hermione to go back on her word, Pansy lifted her hand and twisted it into Hermione’s hair, asking for permission with her eyes. Hermione’s eyes flicked down to Pansy’s lips--parted just enough for breath to travel in and out. She imagined what it would be like to press them to her own...Hermione could see the waitress getting closer out of her periphery and whispered, “Yes,” leaning closer in anticipation.

And then Pansy’s lips found hers, hesitant at first, and then with insistence. Hermione couldn’t think straight--couldn’t think at all. The hot, insistent pressure of Pansy’s lips was making her light-headed. Pansy laughed into the kiss, and Hermione opened her eyes to see the waitress standing awkwardly beside them, frozen on the spot and beet red. Smiling against Pansy’s lips, Hermione let her eyes fall shut and gave into the kiss.

She spared a thought for Ron before deciding that he was the one who’d stood her up. His loss. Hermione wondered what it meant that she was grateful he didn’t show up. Pansy was a better kisser by far. Her lips were softer and her tongue more skilled, and the kiss was affecting Hermione far more than even sex had with Ron. How had she not realized what she was missing?

It’s not like you haven’t thought about it before, she thought to herself. In fourth year, she’d had the biggest crush on Fleur, and later, she’d thought about kissing Ginny several times, but she’d never acted on her curiosity before. She was too scared of what it would mean for her relationships with her parents, her friends, her peers. After all, being gay in the wizarding world still wasn’t acceptable for the most part. But could she continue to live in denial now that she’d seen the reality of her attraction? She promptly decided that not thinking was preferable and turned it all off.

When they finally broke away, Pansy was looking at her with something like surprise. “Granger,” she said breathlessly. “I didn’t think you had it in you.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes. “If you’re going to mock me--”

Pansy laughed. “Relax. It was a compliment. That was...wow.”

Hermione blushed. She looked up, expecting to see the waitress there, but Maria was nowhere to be seen. “The waitress must have run off. Did you see her face?”

Pansy’s face fell for a fraction of a second before lighting with a smirk. “I knew Phase Three would be a laugh.” Hermione wondered at the momentary shift in expression. Was she upset that Maria was so homophobic? No, Hermione thought. Earlier she’d thought it was funny. Did she think Hermione was mocking her sexuality by participating in such a prank? That couldn’t be it--the kiss was Pansy’s idea after all. Since neither of those was likely, that only left one option: Pansy wanted the kiss to be more than a game--wanted it to be real the way she claimed Hermione feared . Hermione wanted to tell her that she wanted that too, but Pansy would probably think she was crazy, or mocking her, and that probably wasn’t why Pansy’s face fell anyways so Hermione didn’t say anything.

The person who brought their check was not Maria, which sent Pansy and Hermione into hysterics. Their antics must have sent her running. Pansy paid before Hermione could grab her purse.

“Pansy, you don’t have to--” Hermione started.

Pansy raised her brows. “Don’t go trying to weasel your way out of this. Not everyone gets a night of magic and mystery with Pansy Parkinson for free you know.”

Hermione fought off a grin. “Mmm, I suppose I lucked out.”

“That you did,” Pansy replied. When the waiter brought her credit card back, the two of them stood and made their way out into the crisp night air. They walked to Hermione’s car and paused--both hoping, waiting, forgetting to breathe.

“Thanksfortonight,” Hermione said in a rush. She smiled shyly. “It was really nice.”

Pansy smiled back, but it felt so much like a goodbye that Hermione’s heart began to ache. “My pleasure.”

They both stood there staring at each other for a heavy moment. Hermione bit her lip, coming to a decision. “Pansy?”

“Yes?”

This was it. There was no turning back. She was nearing the point of no return, but she couldn’t keep the words from falling out of her mouth. “Would you like to go on a date with me?” Hermione asked, fidgeting with her keys. “For real, I mean.”

Pansy’s eyes lit up, but she kept her face stoic. “What about Weasley?”

Hermione knew it would be hard to break up with the man she’d been dating for five years, but she also knew they couldn’t keep going like they were. Maybe it was time for something new--and maybe Hermione was a little gay after all if the butterflies in her stomach were any indication. “He can stand someone else up for the next fifty years.” Hermione smiled. “You said it yourself: I deserve better.”

Pansy swallowed, revealing her emotions for the first time. “And am I that?” She cleared her throat. “Better, I mean.”

Hermione knew Pansy was referring to her behavior before and during the war, but she didn’t want to talk about that. She’d forgiven Pansy a hundred times over. Instead, she smiled mysteriously. “We’ll have to see, won’t we? I must say, your track record is looking pretty good. We haven’t even scheduled a date yet, and you’ve already shown up.”

“What can I say?” Pansy said with a smirk. “You’re too stunning to get stood up.”

Hermione bit her lip, stepping closer so she was only a breath away. Her right hand found the back of Pansy’s neck and she gently pressed their lips together once more. Pansy melted into the kiss, but before they could get too far, Hermione withdrew. Her lips were still close enough that when she spoke, they brushed against Pansy’s. “Don’t mess this up then,” Hermione whispered, enjoying the way Pansy shivered at her proximity. “Seven o’clock tomorrow. My place.”

Pansy narrowed her eyes, taking a step back. “You’re setting me up to fail. I don’t even know where you live.”

Hermione feigned innocence. “You’re Pansy Parkinson, the greatest editor the Daily Prophet has ever seen. Surely you can find out something as simple as an address.”

Pansy shoved her lightly. “Alright, Granger.” Her face softened. “Thanks for playing along tonight.”

“Who says I was playing?”

Pansy smirked. “That’s a little gay.”

Hermione’s brows rose. “Well, perhaps you proved me wrong and I’m a little gay after all.”

Pansy feigned shock. “Hermione Granger? Wrong? Who would have thought?”

Hermione narrowed her eyes playfully. “It’s been known to happen. But, I confess, it is a rarity.”

Pansy’s eyes glinted with mischief. “Well, I might just have to prove you wrong more often.”

Hermione opened her mouth to reply, but Pansy Apparated before she could, leaving Hermione shivering in the night air. It seemed fitting that Pansy had disappeared just as suddenly as she’d arrived. A smile made its way onto Hermione’s face, and she spun in a circle out of giddiness. She felt alive--reborn--and incredibly grateful for Ron’s forgetfulness. As Hermione climbed into her car, she decided maybe getting stood up wasn’t the worst thing in the world--especially if Pansy Parkinson was there to save the day. Perhaps it wasn’t truly selflessness that fueled Pansy’s actions, but Hermione wasn’t complaining. She had a feeling Slytherin altruism was something she could get used to.