I. Hollyhock for Ambition
Romilda sat primly on top of her trunk outside of the Muggle entrance to King’s Cross station. It hadn’t been too difficult to slip through the barrier once her father and older sister had left her to her own devices half an hour earlier. She’d heard one of the Muggle-born students talking about the barrier during her second year, so all she had to do was slip out of it when no one was looking and find the entrance to the station.
A pretty smile and a flip of her dark hair at a young man had been all it had taken. Sometimes she wondered at the actual intelligence of Muggles, but she let that thought slip through her mind.
She glanced at her watch. It was now a quarter to eleven. Any time now.
Smoothing down her black slacks and wispy black peasant top (black was all the rage among purebloods this season; she thought it suited her with her black hair and dark eyes), she tried not to become impatient. She had thought of bringing along a copy of the Daily Prophet, but she thought that would be too conspicuous, and Harry might notice.
She’d watched him over the past three years from afar. Romilda knew what he was like. He was brave, shy, loyal to only a handful of people, had an open expression, and looked just like any pureblood Potter might. His Muggle-born mother had barely touched his features and, if what she got Professor Flitwick to admit was true, she was extraordinarily powerful for any witch, let alone a Muggle-born.
Romilda wasn’t prejudiced, of course not. Muggle-borns could be as talented as any witch or wizard. It just didn’t happen very often. She had a friend whose father was a Muggle-born, and Romilda thought of herself as very democratic for not cutting the girl when she first found out.
She knew that Harry was as democratic as it could get when it came to blood purity, and a part of her secretly admired that about him. The wizarding world, she thought, was too polar in its attitudes. On one side were the old families. They weren’t necessarily all purebloods. Some married half-bloods or Muggle-borns, but their children were still raised in the old wizarding traditions. They were exclusive to a fault and prided their way of life that they resented any interference. You-Know-Who came from this mind-set, as did Romilda’s own family. Then there were the Muggle-raised, who came into the wizarding world and expected it to change to meet their standards. Harry, she thought, was caught somewhere in the middle, although she doubted even his friends really knew that.
Carefully she took out a compact mirror and glanced at her reflection. Her eyebrows were perfectly lined and she had only a hint of mascara on her lashes. Harry had only dated Chang in Ravenclaw, and that was just for a few weeks, so she really didn’t know his type, but she suspected he fancied pure and unpainted faces. He liked honesty in others, even in the way they looked.
She frowned. Her chin was too prominent for her liking, but it would have to do. At least it gave her face character and, while making her only pretty instead of beautiful in her mind, made her face difficult to forget.
Hearing the rumble of engines, she saw several cars pull up with the small shield for the Ministry of Magic on the door. She smiled. Of course, she thought. The Chosen One would have a government escort.
Standing up quickly, she slid the compact into her pocket and quickly brushed her hair over her shoulders. It was a riotous mass of curls that she inherited from her father, and was rather difficult to tame, but she liked them.
She smiled to herself.
Footsteps sounded behind her and she glanced over her shoulder only to see the Weasleys—at least, she assumed they were the Weasleys—bustling Harry forward with his two best friends and the Weaslette. Harry stood apart from the others, his trolley loaded with his trunk and beautiful white owl, and he seemed to edge away from them a bit.
“Harry,” Granger hissed at him. “Come on.”
He didn’t pay attention.
Lifting her own trunk, Romilda fell into step just in front of him and smiled back at Harry when his trolley almost ran into her.
“S-Sorry,” he apologized quietly, and their eyes met briefly. Her breath caught in a gasp and he smiled at her.
“No problem,” she whispered back before looking startled at an Auror who came up beside Harry. She took a deep breath, calming herself. “You have a lovely owl.”
He glanced up at her, surprised. “Thank you. Her name’s Hedwig.”
“Hedwig,” she mused. “I like that.” She turned away, reminding herself that everyone would now become his adoring fan, and that she had to be both cool and approachable. She had to set herself apart from the others somehow, especially as they had never spoken a word before to each other before today.
“Right,” Mrs. Weasley said from the front. “I think Harry should go first.” She was now standing in front of the barrier, and her eyes narrowed at Romilda suspiciously. “Who are you then?”
“What?” she squeaked, blushing to the roots of her hair. Blushing did absolutely nothing for her.
“Romilda Vane,” Ginny supplied, glancing over at where Harry was now standing beside Romilda, the Auror on his other side. “She’s in Gryffindor.”
“Oh, that’s all right then,” Mrs. Weasley said quickly before ushering Harry through. A few moments later, Romilda followed although the matron was trying to allow her own brood to go through first.
She glanced around her and saw Harry patiently waiting, a smile on his face as soon as he saw her.
“Hi,” he greeted again, and Romilda couldn’t help the bright smile that blossomed on her lips.
Harry stared at her for a few moments and she tried not to blush, but then Granger and Ginny came through the barrier just behind her. She sighed.
Harry’s mouth drew out into a thin line.
A mischievous glint shone out of her dark eyes. “Jailbreak?” she murmured so only he could hear her, and, startled, he nodded quickly. Taking his caged owl in her free hand, she smiled at him before rushing to the back of the train, knowing that Harry was right behind her. She really hoped he had a featherlight charm on his trunk, otherwise he’d be in pain.
Then again, it might help his Quidditch toned arms a bit more.
She jumped into a train car and quickly made sure Hedwig wasn’t ruffled. “It’s all right, girl,” she said quietly before placing her trunk and the owl cage in one of the many luggage racks. She never understood why people actually dragged them into compartments. There were so many anti-theft spells on the train that no one could touch or open bags that didn’t belong to them, not that most Muggle-borns would know this, she realized.
Turning she saw Harry come up behind her and place his battered trunk on top of hers. His messy hair fell into his eyes and impulsively she brushed it away, smiling. “Oh, sorry,” she murmured before peaking behind him, glad to see that no one had followed. “A success then?”
Harry nodded and kept on looking at her strangely.
She bit her lip, but met his gaze head on.
He swallowed nervously. “So, your name’s Romilda, was it?”
She nodded once. “Yes. Romilda Vane, of the House of Clearwater.” She dropped into a half-curtsey as was tradition, and was glad to see Harry smiling at her.
“You’re in Gryffindor?” His green eyes shone pleasantly at her and shyly he took her hand to lead her down the train, grabbing a wall-less compartment and pulling into a seat next to her. He didn’t seem to notice that everyone was staring at him and a group of girls were giggling. His eyes, instead, remained only on her.
She blushed in pleasure. “Yes. I am. The hat, though, couldn’t decide.” Romilda tilted her head to the side so her curls would fall over her shoulder, catching the light through the train window. She noticed that Harry was staring at the movement.
Sometimes, she really thought the hat should have put her in Slytherin. She knew what she wanted, studied it, and then went out and grasped it with both hands, and never looked back. Romilda tried to hide a smirk. She really did pity Ginny Weasley at times. She had the childhood dream, the infatuation, so many opportunities, and after all these years the furthest she’d gotten was dating Michael Corner and, if rumors were to be believed, Harry’s dorm mate, Dean Thomas.
Romilda, after half an hour, had Harry staring at her hair and trying not to look at her glossy lips.
“I haven’t seen you before,” Harry admitted with a blush and Romilda’s heart skipped a beat.
She shrugged. “Well, I am a fourth year,” she admitted. “I doubt you know many of them. I don’t know anyone two years below me at school.” She glanced away, hoping it looked shy and not coy. Romilda didn’t think Harry would appreciate deliberate coyness.
A thought niggled at the back of her mind. She was being deliberately coy herself.
His fingers tightened around hers and she looked back at him. “I know you now,” he admitted, and for the first time, Romilda thought that she really could fall completely for Harry Potter. “Which house?”
She shifted and tried to pull away her hand, embarrassed at what he might say, but he squeezed her fingers reassuringly. Romilda glanced at him and saw him staring pensively back at her, his green eyes shining behind the glasses.
“You’re a pureblood,” he said to himself and she didn’t deny it. He glanced down at her clothes before centering at the necklace around her neck. It was an exquisite yet simple piece that her older brother had given her when she entered Hogwarts. A thin platinum chain pierced through a black pearl that had a diamond embedded in it, woven together with magic and protection spells. He reached out to touch it and he nodded once. “You weren’t waiting near the Muggle platform on an accident, were you?”
It wasn’t so much of a question.
He nodded once before drawing his hand away, his other fingers still entwined with hers on the seat. “Slytherin.”
Her free hand sought her necklace and she loosely played with it. It was a bit of a habit that she couldn’t break, and she thought others might find it endearing, so she let it pass. It also brought attention to her neck, which was rather slender, and by extension, her falling mass of curls. His eyes followed her movement obediently, and she smiled softly to herself, glad of it. “The Sorting Hat thought me slightly more Gryffindor,” she explained, tilting her head to the side and smiled winningly at him.
He smiled back at her and she let out a breath in relief. “Strange. It said the exact opposite of me. We had a battle of wills, but I won out.”
“If only Weaslette knew,” she murmured, using the name she’d heard Astoria use over the summers. She wondered where she had picked it up from, perhaps from her older Slytherin sister Daphne.
Harry shrugged before leaning back, his fingers still unbelievably entwined with hers. She wondered at the action, but didn’t want to draw attention to it. She knew Harry was shy as well as self-conscious, and everything was perfect the way it was. “She might,” he conceded.
A whistle sounded in the distance and the train began to move. Romilda glanced out the window and saw her older brother standing on the platform, a wistful expression in his eyes, before leaning forward and waving. She felt Harry turn his face against her hair and she glanced over at him before turning back to catch a last fleeting look at her brother, whose hand was raised. “Roland, my brother,” she explained as she sat back and quickly brushed her hair out of her face. “He’s an Unspeakable, but got the morning off it seems.”
Their eyes locked and for the first time, Romilda saw a sliver of Slytherin intelligence in his eyes. It was quiet ambition, hidden almost completely, and the sheen of greatness-already-realized.
“Should I be flattered then at your plan, or wary?”
Romilda drew back slightly. “I would prefer flattered,” she admitted.
“Is it because I am ‘The Chosen One’?” he inquired and she smiled slowly.
“Only partially,” she admitted. “An added bonus as well as a bit of a hindrance.”
He tilted his head and continued to look at her appraisingly, and she allowed her own eyes to roam over his form. He was wearing torn Muggle jeans and a t-shirt under some sort of sports team jacket. Manchester, she thought it said. She’d have to ask a Muggle-born what Manchester was supposed to be aside from a city. Not that she regularly spoke to Muggle-borns. “I’m going to have to find out on my own, aren’t I?”
She fought to suppress the shiver that wanted to run through her and instead nodded once. “May I ask you something?”
He leaned back comfortably and brought up their entwined fingers to inspect them more closely, touching the small family signet ring on her index finger. She noticed his fingers were bare and wondered where the Potter one was. Surely he had the right to wear it, unless he was waiting until he was of age.
Then again, he wasn’t only the Boy-Who-Lived and The Chosen One, but ‘Just Harry,’ a boy who was brought up among Muggles. He very well might not know. She made a mental note that if this progressed well she would quietly begin to educate him on such matters.
“Sure,” he murmured quietly. He was now tracing the lines of her knuckles in fascination.
“Ronald Weasley and Granger. Weaslette for that matter—Ginny,” she amended when she saw his green eyes flash to her. “You were avoiding them?”
He hesitated a moment before dropping their hands to the seat between them, but he didn’t let go. Glancing out the window, he turned to her again and studied her face calmly, and Romilda tried to make her expression as open as possible. Her emotions were usually closed up except when she was with Roland, which was rarely. When she was a child he was locked up with tutors, and then once he graduated he rarely made it out of the deep underground chambers of the Ministry of Magic. Harry, though, Harry was the prize. If she could gain his acceptance, his love, it wouldn’t matter that her own father only saw her as an afterthought, an unwanted child that he didn’t even throw money at but then soon forgot about in favor of his first wife’s children—his de facto heir and his eldest daughter, Rosa.
“My godfather died,” he said at last, and Romilda turned her gaze to him sharply. “He was murdered at the Battle of the Department of Mysteries.”
She glanced back over what he was wearing and, for the first time, noticed that his t-shirt was black and his coat a deep blue and rather heavy, despite the warmth outside. Throwing her mind back to every scrap of information she knew about Muggle customs, she gasped. “You’re still in mourning,” she said in realization.
He nodded and she squeezed his hand, looking at him sadly.
“I’m so sorry.” She leaned forward and watched him watching her until she brushed his fringe away from his eyes and cupped his cheek softly. “We cannot presume to know the ways of the old magic,” she murmured soothingly. He leaned his cheek into her touch. “But I do know that he is at peace, Harry.”
He glanced down and nodded once and, sensing his mood, she leaned back again and let her hand drop to the table in front of them.
“And they were—insensitive, I assume,” she continued, not wanting to force him to speak, but still wanting the truth.
Harry glanced away and fiddled with his glasses.
“Candles aren’t allowed in the dormitories,” she said quietly, “but I’ll write to my brother and I’ll have him light a candle every night for him.”
“A candle?” Harry questioned in wonder, and she smiled at him sadly, their eyes meeting in the glass reflection.
“A pureblood tradition. Candles lit for the dead are to help guide them to the other side, or call them home, whatever their desire.”
He nodded, his eyes never leaving the reflection of hers. “Christians do something similar. It’s a continual prayer to God for the dead.”
“I don’t understand Christianity,” she admitted, trying to turn the subject to something more light-hearted to get Harry’s mind off of it, “though I suppose Granger would know all about it—oh, and you, of course.”
“I don’t think Granger’s ever been to Church.” He was still looking at her reflection, and she found it strangely intimate. They were both stripped bare, just shades of color against the scenery moving past them.
“Oh well, then.” She shrugged. “There’s one in the village I grew up in—for the Muggles, of course. I’ve been in it a few times.” She gently placed her hand on his shoulder, squeezing it lightly, and saw him contentedly look back at her.
She opened her mouth to say something more, but a reflection to the side caught her eye and she narrowed her gaze. Tilting her head, she tried to make out the shapes, but couldn’t quite. “Don’t move,” she murmured before slipping her hand into her trouser pocket and removing her compact.
Harry looked at her in confusion through the glass, but she only smirked at him before carefully opening it and adjusting the angle so that she could see the group of people behind her. She and Harry were in a secluded corner and although the seats were open to the greater compartment, no one really had noticed them since they came in.
She breathed in delight and quickly snapped her compact shut. “I just won a manicure,” she whispered happily, and Harry smiled, perhaps because of the lightening of the mood.
“Pansy wouldn’t tell me if she were still dating Malfoy after—everything—and one of my friends bet a manicure that they weren’t, but they are,” she quickly explained, tilting her head to the side where Pansy Parkinson was sitting with Malfoy’s head in her lap. “I think that’s fair evidence, don’t you?” she said excitedly.
He glanced over her shoulder and a smile tugged at the side of his lips. “Yes.”
“Serve as my second witness?” She widened her eyes at him and bit her lower lip before smiling at him seductively.
He smiled at her performance before nodding. “Manicures, I’m told, are important. They went to the Yule Ball together.” He frowned slightly. “Lovely night, that.”
“You went with Patil,” she stated and he glanced at her, surprised.
“How long have you—?”
“Since I was sorted into Gryffindor.”
He gaped openly at her and she smiled up at him. “Three years,” he murmured and she started playing with her necklace absently. “Three long years.”
“It was supposed to be four,” she conceded. “Unfortunately, the Prophet had to start printing the theory that you are ‘The Chosen One,’ so I had to speed up my time table a bit.”
Looking at her closely once again, he brought his hand up to brush the back of her neck and closely watched her reaction. When she didn’t pull back but instead gazed steadily at him, he began to pull his hand through her long curls. He gazed at her unblinkingly as she closed her eyes briefly before opening them once again. “You would have been a fifth year, I a seventh,” he murmured. “O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s.”
“My ‘in,’” she confessed, intrigued that he was unraveling her plot and didn’t seem in the least bit put off by it.
“Study partners? Tutoring?”
She chose not to answer.
“Close quarters then—in the library—Gryffindor tower.” His hand ran methodically through her hair again and again. His eyes flashed down to her pensive face. “Romance.”
Romilda tilted her head slightly, which gave him better access to her hair.
“You’re enjoying this,” he accused good-naturedly.
“I’ve always loved having my hair brushed,” she deflected.
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it, Romilda.”
She smirked. “Perhaps.”
He continued to run his hand through her hair. “More than just a romance, then.” He looked at her intensely and she didn’t flinch under his gaze. Quickly he took away his hand, and pulling out his wand cast a privacy spell around them, before resting his hand against at the back of her neck, his thumb now stroking her cheek.
She knew he was reading every one of her reactions, and she found it invigorating. In all the years she spent watching Harry, she’d never suspected he had this side to him—a cunning intelligence and a mind that could work out mysteries before him. Briefly she wondered how much his godfather’s death had affected him, if this new aspect of his personality was strengthened through a necessity after his loss.
“If you played your cards right,” he began again.
“—which I would,” she interrupted with an angelic smile.
“Which you might,” he conceded, and she let it pass, “you would be my girlfriend when I left Hogwarts, the girl left behind.”
She arched her eyebrows at him and drew slightly closer to him. “And, Mr. Potter?”
His thumb skimmed over the line of her nose before brushing against her lips. She noticed that it was calloused, probably from playing Quidditch all these years. Romilda rather liked the feel of it against her skin.
“You’re a pureblood,” he murmured bringing their faces closer together, still watching her reactions though she happily noticed that his eyes flicked down to her lips. “When’s your birthday?”
He nodded once, their noses nearly brushing against each other, and she couldn’t repress the shiver that ran down her spine.
“Sixteen, then, when I left, and you would be old enough to know what you wanted, almost old enough to marry.” His eyes widened slightly, but he didn’t draw back. “And purebloods tend to marry young, often just out of Hogwarts, so I might wait for you.”
She held his gaze firmly and then nodded.
Harry couldn’t hide the glimmer of shock in his eyes. “Why?”
Biting her lip nervously, she began to draw away, but he held firmly to the back of her neck and she didn’t resist. “That might be better for another conversation—later. Much later.”
They were still unbelievably close to each other and Romilda could feel the tension between them. The strong lines of his face highlighted his handsome features that she’d admired secretly since the year before, his eyes shining brightly and without artifice, simply curiosity.
“So what do you think?”
A small smile spread out on his lips, causing her breath to catch in her throat yet again. “That you’re intelligent and you should have been sorted into Slytherin—and that I can’t seem to mind.”
“You like honesty,” she noted and he nodded again.
“What about being the ‘Chosen One’ changed your plan?” He pulled away from her but drew her closer with their linked hands until her back was pressed against his chest. It was almost more intimate than before, and she found herself smiling. Her eyes skimmed those around their hidden nook and she saw that Pansy was raking her hand through Malfoy’s hair. She was never quite sure what her childhood friend saw in him.
“Well, as you are aware, Mr. Potter, this increases your social currency. Every girl is now drawn to you, giggling and staring, and I don’t think Ginny Weasley, given this increase of attention, is going to wait much longer like I was hoping she would.”
He coughed and she looked up at him. “Ginny?”
She crossed her legs on the seat in front of her and glanced down at the heels she was wearing. She rather liked them. They highlighted her legs and showed off her pretty small feet. “Yes, Ginny. Word has it that Granger told her to fain indifference toward you and date other boys before making a move on you just about the time I came to Hogwarts. So, there’s been Corner and now Dean Thomas, if rumor’s correct, which it usually is.” She smiled up at him, her large dark eyes wide with truth. “This, though, will change everything. She’ll act this year—so I had to as well, though I planned on being older,” she added petulantly.
It didn’t help that Ginny Weasley was so beautiful with long red hair and brown eyes. Romilda had also done her research over the years. She knew Lily Potter had red hair and that Harry’s father had been attracted to it. She just hoped that considering his crush on Chang, he instead fancied dark hair and dark eyes.
Harry sighed. “Hermione,” he muttered to himself and Romilda glanced back up at him.
“Girls gossip. There’s no such thing as a secret conversation about boys, especially in Gryffindor. Someone always hears.”
“Right.” He swallowed nervously, but he didn’t release his hold on her. “She knows I don’t like Ginny—like that,” he quickly amended and Romilda laughed happily, slipping out her wand and taking down the privacy ward. It was too soon to have rumors circulating about private conversations and secrets. Their romance would be out in the open although private. Neither of them had anything to be ashamed of.
“Harry, something you’ll need to learn about girls. When a friend of ours tells us she likes a boy, it doesn’t matter what he thinks. All that matters is what she does, unless, well, you fancy the boy, too. Then it gets messy.”
His hand started stroking through her hair again and she sighed contentedly. The happiness, however, was not to last.
“There you are,” an irate sounding Hermione Granger said as she looked at them, surprise on her face. “Harry, what are you doing?”
Romilda glanced up and let her eyes scan the rest of the occupied carriage and noted that everyone was now looking at their secluded corner, including Pansy. Romilda arched an eyebrow in a silent question and noted that Malfoy had noticed it.
She sighed. The privacy was nice while it lasted.
“Your hand is in her hair,” Granger elaborated.
Romilda felt Harry begin to casually stroke her hair again, clearly over the shock of having his friends appear.
“It’s soothing,” he responded after a moment before silently urging Romilda to lean back against him as she had sat up at the intrusion. “Do you mind?”
Granger, though, sat opposite them and Romilda sent a pleading look at Pansy. She did not want to be without friends when Granger and Weasley were involved. At all.
Pansy, of course, ignored her. Romilda glared at her before returning her attention to the feel of Harry’s hand in her hair.
Harry chuckled. “Is that something else I need to learn about girls?” he asked her and she smirked up at him.
“Yes. Every woman for herself apparently.” She brought her hand up to her face and inspected her nails closely. Hopefully Pansy would notice and realize that Romilda wouldn’t give her friend a manicure for a very long time.
II. Aloe for Grief
Romilda hated the Hogwarts uniform. It was too unoriginal and did absolutely nothing for her legs. She had to wear socks up to her knees which made her look younger than she was, and her chest was far too ample to ever look good in a white button up shirt and cardigan. Boys were supposed to wear them or androgynous girls, and Romilda was neither.
Unfortunately, Rosa, who had to be a sixth year Gryffindor, was tall and slender and she had virtually no chest at all. She was all feminine daintiness and long black curls that were silkier than Romilda’s could ever hope to be. She didn’t really think Harry had ever really noticed her before, fortunately, but that didn’t mean that he wouldn’t notice her in the future.
She was one of the potential obstacles in the plan.
Rosa was the perfect pureblood daughter. She secured the line in case something should happen to Roland. She was beautiful, intelligent, a wallflower, and would never use the brain she was given unless her family told her to do so. She was the type of witch any man would want to marry, and so she could be used to secure an important alliance. There was no need for a second daughter when Rosa was so perfect and Romilda was, well, not.
Harry wasn’t a pureblood, but she knew that Rosa would overlook that if she ever set her sights on Harry, or rather if their father ever did. By playing her cards so soon, she was potentially leaving enough time for Rosa to sweep in and do something of her own.
She sighed. Hopefully, her sister would prove to not have any cunning—she hadn’t shown a sign of it as long as Romilda could remember. She also was dating the previous year’s Head Boy who now worked at the Ministry. Roger something. The one who went with Delacour to the Yule Ball.
Romilda made her way back to the carriage and was happy to see that Granger and Weasley had finally gone. She looked wistfully at the seat where Harry had sat with her, but he had received an invitation to have lunch with a new professor. She’d been a little too pleased when Granger hadn’t received a similar invitation.
When she returned she noticed that Zabini was also missing and quickly slid across from Pansy and Malfoy. She raised an eyebrow at her friend in question.
Malfoy looked at her confused.
Pansy just looked at her in interest, causing Romilda to smile brightly.
“Harry thinks,” she confessed, annunciating her words, “that I should have been sorted into Slytherin.”
Pansy leaned forward, her hands stilling in Malfoy’s hair, looking completely startled. “What? Why?” she sputtered before controlling herself. “Not why. I know why. The hat was insane not to, but how, Romilda?”
Romilda pursed her lips, not wanting to confess too much. Pansy, for her many faults, was a close friend, but she didn’t trust Malfoy and, more importantly, wouldn’t betray Harry’s trust. It was astonishing that he had confided in her at all, though she thought it might be his heightened Slytherin characteristics recognizing a kindred—and honest—spirit. If she gamboled everything correctly she might be the next Mrs. Potter in a few years, and she didn’t want anything coming back to haunt her.
“He may have intuited my entire plan with very little information.”
Pansy blinked several times and Malfoy casually returned to a sitting position, observing her openly. “How?” she gasped.
“He determined I was a pureblood and therefore would have no reason to actually be outside of King’s Cross when he arrived. You should have seen the look on the Weaslette’s face. You would have enjoyed it,” she laughed, casting a quick glance at Malfoy before returning her gaze to her friend.
“How did he make the jump then from that to—well—“ Pansy hesitated, looking imploringly at Romilda, who smiled in return.
“It was amazing. Truly. I don’t think anything can get past him, though he seemed surprised that the Weaslette has been faking being over him.”
“Blind spot.” Pansy shrugged. “It’s only to be expected as she’s his friend’s little sister. He was probably just so relieved when she stopped sending him singing dwarf valentines.”
Pansy and Romilda broke into furious giggles, Malfoy looking on. Romilda hadn’t been at Hogwarts when the infamous event had occurred, but Pansy had seen it and showed it to her in a pensieve that summer. It was one of their favorite past times over the summer.
“He didn’t mind, though?” Pansy gasped as she recovered herself.
Romilda shrugged and began inspecting her nails. “He appreciated my honesty on the matter.”
Malfoy spoke then. “What is this plan, then?”
Both Romilda and Pansy looked at him, aghast that a wizard would ask such a question. “Draco, darling,” Pansy said, leaning against him. “It’s best not to ask.”
“Sisterhood and all that,” Romilda supplied before looking sharply at Pansy. “And where was sisterhood when Granger descended?”
Pansy shrugged elegantly. “I didn’t want to ruin anything by showing that a Slytherin would come to your rescue. You know how the Golden Trio is. I also didn’t know that Harry divined your purposes and was still running his hands through your hair. How long did that take, Romilda? Half an hour?”
She smirked. “Forty-five minutes at most.”
“Slytherin,” Pansy teased.
“Ravenclaw,” Romilda shot back before they dissolved into giggles again.
“How he’s still talking to you let alone being considerably affectionate is beyond me,” Pansy confided. “I’d watch your back where Weaslette is concerned.”
“Speaking of which,” Romilda said, getting up from her seat, “I should go find where this lunch is so that I can make sure she’s not waiting outside the compartment.”
Ginny Weasley was not outside the compartment, nor did she come near it, Romilda was happy to note. Romilda had grabbed a copy of Witch Weekly from her trunk and had perched herself near the end of the carriage, which would give her a good view of anyone going in or out and sat down to wait.
Some of her friends had come by and asked her what she was doing, but she had only smiled secretly to them and said they’d find out soon enough.
If Harry progressed as quickly as he’d been going, then she’d expect some sort of major public display very soon. She only hoped that he’d officially ask her to be his girlfriend first.
She shifted uncomfortably before quickly turning the page. Romilda didn’t want Harry to think she was easy. She wasn’t a prude, per se, at least she didn’t think she was, but she wanted this to last. This had to be for real—for both of them. She wanted him to fall in love with her and, no matter how cunning and vain she was, she didn’t think she could marry someone without feeling exactly the same way.
As the hours passed, the sky darkened and she became worried. She’d read through her magazine three times, and the latest interview was Celestina Warbeck couldn’t hold anyone’s attention the second time through.
A door slid open at the end of the carriage, and she lifted her head up expectantly, seeing Zabini exiting, closely followed by a wizard she didn’t know. Twirling a curl absently around her finger, she watched as they approached and she quickly stood when Zabini hesitated.
She’d never really spoken more than a few words to him before, and that was only when she was with Pansy or Daphne.
He looked over her appraisingly. “You’re up to something,” he murmured and Romilda smiled brightly at him.
“A lady never reveals her secrets,” she replied before her eyes caught further movement down the carriage, and she saw Longbottom come out with Harry and—the Weaslette.
She huffed quietly, but Zabini heard her. “She is beautiful, is she not?” he taunted, but she just glanced up to him.
“Move slightly to the right and watch,” she commanded, before rolling the magazine up so no one could read its title or see much of it.
Harry quickly made his way down the carriage and as soon as he saw her, a warm smile split across his face.
“How was your rather extended lunch?” she asked brightly reaching out to him. She was pleased when he entwined their fingers and completely ignored Ginny Weasley.
“Long,” he admitted. “I hope Hermione and Ron didn’t give you any trouble when I left.”
She shrugged. “I went to change into my robes and when I returned, they were gone.” She paused, glancing sideways to see Zabini’s reaction. He was impassive as usual, but the corner of his jaw was tight. “Have you managed to divine anything else this afternoon?”
He laughed outright. “Your brother is a piece of the puzzle, though I’m not sure how exactly.”
Startled she looked up at him, only to find him drawing her closer to him in reassurance. “Yes,” she admitted. “Roland is a small piece, but he is my favorite sibling. A confidante. It often happens between siblings, right, Weasley?” she asked sweetly, looking over Harry’s shoulder.
Ginny blushed scarlet, which Romilda was happy to note clashed horribly with her hair.
“You have six brothers, I believe, after all. Or was it five?” She shrugged and looked back at Harry, not waiting for an answer. Her point had been made. “You should change into your robes soon, Harry. Sorting feast and all that.”
Harry opened his mouth to answer, but Ginny cut him off. “How do you know Vane then, Harry?” She crossed her arms over her chest. “I don’t think you’ve ever mentioned her before.”
That would have been a low blow if Romilda hadn’t just met Harry earlier that day. She had tried, though, at least. Romilda would give her that.
Harry pulled her closer until his arms were wrapped around her and his head resting on her shoulder. “I met her on the platform, Ginny.” He brushed Romilda’s long hair away from her face and over her opposite shoulder. “So I couldn’t have talked about her.”
Romilda smiled sweetly at her, and noticed with satisfaction the Weaslette’s jaw clenching. This memory might have to go into the pensieve over Christmas. She was certain Astoria would enjoy it as well as Pansy. Daphne might even join in.
“You just met her?” Ginny gasped, surprised.
Harry nodded solemnly.
“Yes, Vane, how?” Zabini inquired, his eyebrows arching elegantly. “My mother would surely wish to know.”
Romilda caught the silent message and she blanched before forcing herself to smile. “I’m certain your mother would never need anyone’s assistance in any pursuit she might wish to take,” she replied smoothly, trying desperately not to grimace. “She is both wise and beautiful, I am told.”
She felt Harry’s arms tighten around her and the gesture comforted her.
“Perhaps the most beautiful witch in England, unlike some,” Zabini casually remarked.
“Her seven dear departed husbands should know. Tell me, does she still light candles for them on the anniversaries of their many deaths?”
Zabini’s jaw clenched, but he tilted his head in a quiet message of respect. “I would not know as I am at Hogwarts. Tell me, how many candles do you plan on lighting for your husbands?”
Romilda could feel Harry tense behind her but she smoothly pushed back against him, showing her affection. “None,” she snapped out. “I would think that one husband is quite enough, and what good would he be if he were dead? Money cannot buy happiness; but, then again, perhaps your lady mother and I are of different philosophies.” She paused. “I’m certain Malfoy is missing your conversation.”
He smirked at her before looking over her shoulder at Harry. She rather suspected their eyes had met. “Any message?”
She smiled. “Tell Pansy ‘Ravenclaw.’”
Harry started slightly in surprise and, without a nod to Zabini, Romilda turned in his arms. “She’s a Ravenclaw—or should have been,” she explained. “More of a Slytherin perhaps, but it is there.”
“Is that so?” he murmured, their eyes locking as his hands rested at the small of her back.
She giggled lightly and tilted her head to the left, allowing her long hair to cascade down her shoulder and catch the candlelight. Harry’s eyes obediently followed the movement before once again resting on her face.
The sound of someone clearing their throat drew their attention away from each other.
Romilda pouted when she saw Ginny standing there, looking intensely between Harry and Romilda. In retaliation, Romilda slipped her hands up Harry’s neck and began playing quietly with the end of his hair. The Weaslette’s eyes widened when Harry didn’t make any protest to the familiarity.
“How’s Thomas?” Romilda asked sweetly. She turned back to Harry, fluttering her eyes just a bit, not enough for anyone to actively notice, but still drew attention to her large dark eyes. “It’s Dean Thomas, right?”
“Er—“ he stumbled, but she began to speak again to allow him to gather his thoughts.
“Thomas. Tall. Muggle-born, right? Sixth year if I’m not mistaken, but none of my friends have ever actively fancied him so I don’t really know.” She shrugged, wondering if Ginny got the understated dig at his blood status. Muggle-borns were well and good, but only in certain situations. A respectable pureblood would never actually date one, especially when trying to win the famous Harry Potter. Sometimes she thought Ginny Weasley had no sense at how to go about these things at all. Then again, with Granger as her closest female friend, it wasn’t too surprising, she supposed. “Demelza said you and Thomas were an item,” she said to the Weaslette. “Eloise seemed to think so as well.”
Ginny swallowed. “Yes, Dean Thomas. He’s my—boyfriend.”
Romilda smiled prettily at her, waiting for the answer to her original question. When she didn’t say anything else, she sighed, and turned back to Harry, who was still looking avidly at her. “You should probably change into your robes,” she reminded him as she smoothed down the collar to his jacket. “Do you need—“ She paused, thinking through Muggle traditions. For the first time she really wished she had taken Muggle Studies, although she thought the class was ridiculous in general. It was more important in her mind to offer Wizarding Studies to Muggle-borns. It might solve many problems. “Do you need black fabric? For mourning? I think I might have some velvet from an old dress that I don’t wear, and I wouldn’t mind—“
She stilled when Harry laid a finger on her lips. He was smiling down at her, his face soft.
“Thank you,” he murmured before drawing her closely into a tight embrace. She could feel his hands running through her curls and she sighed into his shoulder, her hands clutching the fabric of his coat. The solid lines of his body pressed so closely against her and she felt almost dizzy from the close contact. Breathing in deeply, she took in his subtle yet intoxicating scent of fresh earth and soap. She didn’t even bother to glance at Ginny Weasley. Nothing mattered but the feel of him in her arms.
He held her for several long moments before pulling away softly. His eyes were full of wonder as he looked down at her again, and she smiled quietly back up at him. Brushing his fringe away from his eyes, she murmured, “You go get dressed and I’ll see what can be done.”
“Where should I find you?”
She tilted her head slightly in thought. “Pansy. I feel that I should vex her as much as possible for her not rescuing me—and torment Zabini with my presence.”
“What of your friends?”
“They are lovely, of course,” she conceded as she led him toward the compartment with their trunks, “but they’ll probably stare at you and giggle until you quite dislike the sound. Then there will be talk of slipping you a love potion, or some such nonsense.”
He squeezed her hand lightly as they came up to their trunks, and she greeted Hedwig kindly before pulling out the old dress.
Harry stared at it. “Romilda—are you certain—?” he breathed, looking at the expensive fabric.
She shrugged. “I grew out of it last year and it cannot be spelled any more than it already has been.” She ran her fingers over the beautiful lace of the bodice that was now far too tight on her form. It would look beautiful on Rosa, she knew, with her small chest and lithe form, but she couldn’t bear to part with it. This gift, though, was worthy of the dress that had once been her favorite. She did not understand Muggle traditions, nor did she particularly care for them as they had little place in the Wizarding World, but if Harry wished to show his godfather deference in this way, then she would do everything in her power to aid him.
She glanced at his arm before smiling wickedly. “I think your arm is the same thickness as Malfoy’s,” she chorused happily. “Pansy will not know what hit her.”
Harry shook his head fondly and, with a final brush of his fingers against her cheek, made his way to change into his robes.
Romilda stared after him until he was out of sight. Turning, she quickly made her way back into the carriage where she had first sat, and noted that all three of her prey were sitting where they had been earlier that morning, though they had all changed into their Slytherin robes.
Sitting primly next to Zabini, she laid the dress out on the table in front of her. Malfoy’s head was once again resting in Pansy’s lap but she noticed that he eyed the magnificent dress with interest.
“Romilda,” Pansy said, incredulously, “what are you doing?”
“I need Malfoy’s arm,” was her only reply before taking out her wand and gently cutting the lace from the bottom of the dress.
Pansy gasped in outrage. “What are you doing? That dress is stunning on you!”
Romilda eyed her critically. “Surely you’ve noticed I have grown. The dress no longer fits, and will be out of fashion by next spring at the latest. Tell me, Pansy, do you know any Muggle-borns well?”
Pansy scoffed at her. “Hardly.”
She sighed. “I thought not. Neither do I.” She continued to cut along the seam before rolling the lace away from the velvet. The hem would be perfect, all she would have to do is cut the appropriate width and then hem the other side. She just didn’t know what the appropriate width was. “Who knew one would be needed?” she muttered darkly to herself.
Deciding quickly, she set her spells working and within a few moments she had the required band of velvet. Folding up the dress and banishing it back to her trunk, she nodded toward Malfoy. “Your arm.”
He sighed melodramatically before offering his right one to her, and she quickly tied it and then trimmed it accordingly.
“Why would anyone wear such a horrid thing?” he groused as Romilda untied it.
“It’s a Muggle custom,” she explained. “When one goes into mourning, one wears black—and as Harry must wear his uniform, he must go into a lesser form of mourning, or some such.”
Zabini was watching her critically, but she did not glance at him. She knew that his mind was trying to work out her motives and her potential plan, but he would find little—unlike Harry. She only wondered how long it would take him to fully unravel them.
Pansy looked at her steadily. “You’re a year early,” she murmured. “So much could go wrong.”
Romilda stilled momentarily before glancing up. “Imagine though if I had not—think of what could happen then.”
Malfoy started at the rawness of her voice, but Romilda continued onward. “She’s in close quarters with him, his best friend’s little sister. She’s always there. She plays Quidditch, and she looks so much like the mother he lost. Even Zabini admits that she is beautiful, and I’ve never heard of him finding anyone so—and she could give him the one thing he has always wanted—a family. His best friend’s family. What does it matter if it’s only a passing fancy on his part? When given the slightest sliver of hope, she will not let him go for all of her idiocy and lack of any true plan. And she’ll always be there because of Ron Weasley. If he changed his mind, he’d have to think of his best friend—and of Granger.”
“She has a boyfriend,” Pansy pointed out.
“As if he matters to her. As soon as she notices Harry might be ready, she’ll break it off and then make her move—I just made mine first.”
“Are girls always like this?” Malfoy mused to Zabini, who shrugged his shoulders.
“My sister is,” he commented and Romilda glanced at him. She didn’t know he had a sister. Was she at Hogwarts? Did she even have the same surname?
“I suppose she would know about Muggle customs,” Pansy said softly, leaning back, and Romilda’s eyes flashed dangerously.
“How would she know about Muggle customs? Because she’s dating Thomas? I doubt they actually speak.”
Pansy laughed happily. “You’re wicked.”
“Not as much as you are.”
Zabini was the next to speak. “Weasley is dating the Muggle-born?” he sneered and both Pansy and Romilda looked at him questioningly. “She has even less taste than I thought.”
“It’s a daring move,” Romilda commented lightly. “She’s placing herself right under Weasley and Harry’s noses. I wonder if she actually planned it that way or if Thomas fell into her lap.”
“Her first beau was a pureblood, wasn’t he?” Pansy asked and Romilda shrugged.
“A lesser family.”
“Are you certain that’s not strategic?” Pansy nodded in her direction and Malfoy’s eyebrows rose, but Romilda didn’t pay attention to him.
Instead, she leaned forward, and breathed out in horror, “Strategic? How is Longbottom, Corner, and then Thomas strategic?”
Pansy was gazing avidly over her shoulder and Romilda flicked her hair in annoyance.
“Pansy, focus, please. I don’t care whatever scandal’s going on behind me, just focus before Harry comes back.” Movement caught the corner of her eye, but she kept her eyes trained on Pansy.
“Well,” she began hesitantly before regaining her confidence, which utterly baffled Romilda, “Longbottom is a good friend of Potter’s and from one of the ancient houses, but it’s nothing serious. It whets his appetite. Then Corner is a Ravenclaw who Potter doesn’t know, so she can learn and start rumors about herself without flaunting it in his face. He’s also a lesser pureblood so he’s closer to Potter’s status of half-blood heir to a noble family. Next, she chooses to flaunt herself closer to Potter—his year mate, but she doesn’t want to overwhelm him, so she chooses a Muggle-born. He has no family, no wealth, no position, so he can’t be seen as threatening—and,” she swallowed briefly in nervousness for some reason before continuing, “he’s similar to Potter in that he grew up with only Muggle influences. It’s pure genius, like a master chess match. She’s showing Potter she’s attracted to everything that he is and that no one but him can bring together all the pieces. A pureblood heir, someone of lesser birth than an old family, someone with a Muggle upbringing. Part of me thinks Granger must be behind it. I wonder if she knows strategy.”
“Ron does,” a new voice behind Romilda added and she stiffened when she recognized it. “He’s taught both of us.”
Romilda paled as she glanced over her shoulder to see Harry smiling down at her. She breathed out in relief. At least he wasn’t angry with her.
“Harry,” she greeted and stood up swiftly, ignoring the pointed look Zabini was giving her. “Thanks, Pans,” she called out as Harry led her away to their previous corner. Fortunately no one had claimed it. She wondered briefly if Pansy had cast a repelling charm on it.
She sat down, blushing, before holding out the mourning band. “All done,” she stated before tying it securely around Harry’s right arm, careful not to make it too tight and yet secure. “I didn’t know the width, so I had to guess,” she stated, not meeting his bright eyes that were looking avidly down at her. “I suppose I should have taken Muggle Studies.” She made a small bow on top, which blended into the black velvet beneath it.
“What do you take, then? For your electives.”
“Ancient Runes and Arithmancy. I wanted to take Care of Magical Creatures, as well, but I had heard that . . .” She trailed off, not finishing her sentence and Harry nodded in understanding.
“Hagrid has a rather different approach at teaching.”
“Exactly,” she agreed. “I’m also fond of numbers, and do not like to get these dreadful stockings dirty.” She raised one foot to the seat between them to show the socks and shoes of her uniform, before grimacing slightly. “I will never understand the uniform,” she griped.
He looked at her questioningly and she sighed.
“It looks good on some witches, but on others it does not. They’re made for schoolgirls or those who are tall and willowy—like Rosa or even Weasley.”
A rough hand came up to her cheek and stroked it until she looked up at Harry. “I hadn’t noticed Ginny or—Rosa?”
She laughed. “My sister. She’s in your year and a Gryffindor.”
Harry started at the realization. “Vane. Of course Vane’s your sister.”
Romilda bit her lip, but didn’t look away.
“I think I have Divination with her,” he said absently, almost to himself. “And you don’t need to worry or strategize, Romilda, about Ginny,” he murmured. “I’m already caught.” And hesitantly, just as the train arrived in Hogsmeade, he kissed her.