IX. & X.

IX. Daffodil for Unrequited Love

Romilda sighed when she opened yet another letter from Roland.  Scanning it, she mostly ignored the first two pages.  She’d read it all before.

Sieglinde jumped into her lap, wanting attention, and Romilda scratched her ears happily. 

“Wishful thinking indeed, Sieglinde,” she sighed as she kissed the cat’s head. 

She’d started calling her brother’s letters “love notes,” as there really was no other term for them.  It really was a horrible situation, one she doubted they would ever fully find their way out of.

Romilda wasn’t quite certain when it had begun.  Her father barely looked at her, and her Uncle Atlas spent most of his time out of the country.  He would send her trinkets and a bag of galleons every few months, telling her to buy pretty dresses befitting of any Clearwater witch.  Rosa never cared whether she lived or died.  She’d completely forgotten her third year that Romilda was to come to Hogwarts and when Romilda was sorted into Gryffindor, she had looked at her and airily said, “Oh, it’s you.”

Roland, though—Roland had been her everything.  A brother in name only, he contested he had taken an instant liking to the quiet baby his stepfather had.  His quick marriage to his second wife had been in order to gain an heir of his own blood, although he contended that any child of his first wife was a child of his own heart.

Such, though, was not true for a child of his own blood that his beloved had not conceived.

Romilda’s first happy memories were of playing with Roland on the Cornish shores, wind whipping about them as he taught her how to fly a broom or look for fairy circles.  He was the only friend she had until she was eight and was brought along to as an afterthought, primarily because of Roland’s fussing, to pureblood functions where she met Pansy and Astoria. 

She had worshipped him.  Romilda told him every secret, shared every joy.  When she had a nightmare, she would still sneak into his room at night even when she was a second year and should have been too grown up. 

When she had first decided that she wanted to marry Harry Potter at the tender age of eleven, it was Roland she whispered her secret to when they were on the Cornish rocks, ostensibly looking for pixies.  With childlike wonder she had explained that if she couldn’t marry her darling Roland, she would have to marry someone as great and awe-worthy as everyone supposed Harry Potter to be, and that perhaps, just perhaps, if she earned Harry Potter’s love, her father might notice her and love her, as well.

Now, all these years later, she wondered if those innocent words had sown the seeds of an affection her brother now harbored for her.  When she had come home after her second year, thirteen years of age, she had noticed that Roland looked at her differently.  His eyes would linger on her curls and he would often brush her hair before she went to bed, murmuring that he had never seen anything quite so beautiful.  When she cried in his arms, he was reluctant to let her go and whenever she mentioned a wizard at Hogwarts, he would become short-tempered and try to ascertain whether she had any feelings for them. 

She hadn’t understood it then.

That Christmas during her third year when she came home, she walked in on her father and brother having a vicious argument, a parchment in Roland’s hands that he waved about the room.  “Ro’s not fourteen yet!” he exclaimed unhappily, tearing the parchment apart.  “If you want to marry off one of your daughters, give the Malfoys Rosa.  Ro is not expendable and this will be signed over my dead body.”

For months she had found it difficult to look Pansy in the eye, knowing that Draco Malfoy was her boyfriend no matter what political alliance the Malfoys had wanted to make with the Vanes.  Of course, the contract fell through.  Her father couldn’t bear for Roland, who looked so much like his beloved first wife, to be unhappy and he would never allow Rosa to enter a marriage without love.

By the end of her third year, she began to fully understand.  Roland never called her his sister and begged her not to call him “brother.”  He would take her on long walks and brush her curls from her face, kissing the top of her head, and telling her how beautiful she was to him.  He would speak of the future, and would allude to how close she would be in his life.

Romilda began to feel uneasy, but didn’t say anything until the morning Roland had kissed her lips softly.  Frightened, she had pushed away from him, tears falling down her face, asking him what had happened, what was wrong.  He had held her as she wept for her first kiss, murmuring that he was in love with her and could only hope that one day she would come to care for him as well.

She had begged him, pleaded with him to give her back her beloved brother and, sighing, he had agreed, though he whispered he would never give up hope and would never stop loving her. 

Roland now sent her letters full of promises of his continued love before writing of his life outside of the Ministry and asking her about her own.

Now she couldn’t go home, couldn’t be around him.  They both knew that anyone would be able to see his emotions, and Roland had explained that he couldn’t bear if her father were to find out and blame her for it.  She had to stay away from Roland, and her father could not bear to be without him, so she was exiled from her own family for the foreseeable future.  Father had also convinced himself that the Davies wouldn’t want to be distracted by a second daughter. 

It was Rosa’s time after all, Romilda thought bitterly to herself.

Sieglinde butted her hand when she stopped petting her, pulling Romilda out of her thoughts.  She glanced at the clock and sighed.  It was time for the Quidditch match against Slytherin. 

“I can’t believe Draco’s not playing,” Astoria commented when they were in the stands half an hour later, waiting for the game to begin.

“What do you mean?” Romilda gaped at her.

She shrugged.  “Only that Draco has his reserve seeker playing for him.  It’s—strange.”

Romilda bit her lip and glanced across the pitch to the Slytherin supporters, trying to make out Pansy’s face.

“I—Romilda,” Astoria began before casting a quick privacy spell around them.  “You have to promise not to tell anyone.”

“Tell anyone what?”

Astoria looked at her warily.  “Draco—he—I don’t know how it happened.  Is he still dating Parkinson?”

“As far as I know.  She hasn’t said anything.”

Astoria nodded, glancing down at her hands, and didn’t look up with the Gryffindor and Slytherin teams came out onto the pitch.

Harry flew by and Romilda waved at him, jingling her hair which she’d threaded red and gold bells throughout as a sign of support for the team.  Of course, it was nothing compared to the Lion head she had spotted Lovegood wearing, but she did, after all, have some sense of decorum unlike other diehard fans.

Romilda turned to her.  “Why?”

“I—I just—I don’t know.  I went down to Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom just to get away from everything,” she began.  “I got this letter from Mother and Father about a possible—marriage contract.”

She gasped.  “With the Malfoys?”

Astoria looked at her wide-eyed.

“Last Christmas they proposed one with the House of Vane, and Roland wasn’t very pleased.  He refused to let father sign it if it was for me,” she admitted.  “I’m not wealthy in my own right, but I am Uncle Atlas’s heir and he’s claimed he never wants his own children.”

“You’re the Clearwater heir?”

Romilda shrugged.  “Well, Cousin Penelope is a half-blood and Uncle Atlas wouldn’t hear of leaving the family fortune to her, even if she is his brother’s daughter.”

“I guess I’m second choice then,” she said sadly as she turned her eyes back to the game. 

McLaggen was doing an excellent job keeping any of the Slytherin Chasers from scoring, and actually wasn’t doing anything to disrupt the game as a whole. 

“What happened in Myrtle’s toilet?”

Astoria hesitated before continuing.  “He was—there.  I don’t know why.  And—Romilda, I know I shouldn’t have, but he just started talking to me, trying to get to know me, a little.  Daphne is friends with Pansy and neither would ever forgive me—“

“The Malfoys didn’t want the contract for Daphne?”

Romilda felt Astoria shake her head. 

“No.  As you know, she’s close friends with Pansy and it appears Mr. Malfoy apparently wanted to align his house with a more powerful family than the Parkinsons—before everything.  Despite Mr. Malfoy’s loyalties, Mother and Father are ecstatic about the situation, and I suppose that I’m far enough removed from the situation and—well—and according to Father’s letter Draco specifically asked for me.”

Romilda arched an eyebrow, glancing at her friend from the corner of her eye.  She was pretty, might be beautiful one day, with waves of strawberry blonde hair, a smart little button nose, and expressive blue eyes that any wizard might lose himself in.  She was small for her age, but also willowy, giving the impression of a beautiful pixie or girl-child.  Astoria looked nothing like Pansy, who was taller, had a larger bone structure, a pug-face, and long dark hair.  The exact opposite, one might say.

“What did Malfoy say?” she whispered before gasping with the rest of the crowd when a Bludger was sent at Demelza Robbins.

“He—well, he asked me if I’d received an owl from my parents recently, and of course I said that I had.  He—Draco—“  She rested her head in her hands and sighed deeply.

Leaning over, Romilda wrapped an arm around her shoulders, letting her know that she was present and cared.

“Oh, that didn’t look good,” Romilda commented lightly when a Bludger made its way for the Slytherin Keeper.  It missed, but the Keeper’s defensive move allowed for Thomas to score.

Astoria glanced up and winced at the score.  Romilda supposed it was because Malfoy would be far from pleased, especially as Harry was almost guaranteed to catch the Snitch.

She turned away.  This, her friend, was more important.  Romilda could still hear the commentary—and if Harry ever found out, she knew he would forgive her.  He’d understand.

“Go on,” she urged, and Astoria smiled weakly at her.  “Nothing you can say will bother me.”

“He said he’d been watching me for years, watching me grow up.  He thinks I deserve more than the son of a convicted Death Eater—“ Romilda had to fight not to roll her eyes.  Trust Malfoy to make the distinction between a Death Eater and a convicted follower of the Dark Lord “—and that everything is difficult now because of the Department of Mysteries, but he wanted to properly court me.  He thinks I deserve to be courted.”

Romilda nodded.  “So he wants you.”

Astoria blushed.

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” she assured.  “I doubt Malfoy even noticed I was alive before I started dating Harry.  We never spoke to each other.  If I had to hazard a guess, his father probably chose my family and when that fell through and then with his father’s imprisonment, Draco Malfoy was probably permitted more choice in the matter.  He probably could have convinced his mother to drop the idea of a marriage contract altogether since his family has been featured less than well in the press over the last few months, but he took the opportunity and he chose you.  It’s not perhaps the way I would go about it, but it’s certainly romantic.”  She squeezed Astoria’s hand conspiratorially and forced all thoughts of Pansy from her mind.  “If he didn’t want you or the marriage, he wouldn’t have asked for you or wouldn’t want to court you.”

The crowd went up around them and Romilda glanced at the pitch, seeing that Harry was holding the Golden Snitch triumphantly in his hands.  She smiled at him and, jumping up, waved.

“I don’t think your beau will be pleased,” she commented to Astoria, who was now on her feet as well.

“No, I don’t think he will.”

They shared a conspiratorial smile.  “I’ll try and get information from Pansy and—if worse comes to worst—I’ll track down Malfoy and make certain that everything’s ended between them, Astoria.  You deserve that.  Do you fancy him?”

Astoria blushed, giving Romilda all the answer she needed.

“Who would have thought,” Romilda laughed happily as Harry did a victory lap.  “The future Mrs. Malfoy and Mrs. Potter good friends.  What will our husbands do with us?”

Astoria giggled.  “We’ll have tea parties every summer and our eldest children will be the best of friends—unlike their fathers.”

Romilda hadn’t been able to find Pansy alone for another few days.  Directly after the match, she had gone to the Gryffindor changing rooms and admired Harry’s figure as he took off his sweaty Jersey.  Peake, Cootes, and Thomas—who had replaced Bell—were off already in the showers and with a simple hand gesture to Cormac he had remained silent.

“Do you like my bells?” she whispered in his ear, causing him to jump slightly before he turned to her, smiling.

She moved her head from side to side so they would ring quietly.

“Very Gryffindor,” he smirked at her before kissing her tenderly.

A few hours later, she supposed Cormac must have slipped out of the changing room at some point.

Pansy, it seemed, was rather difficult to track down.  Romilda would occasionally spot her in between classes, but otherwise she seemed to be holed up somewhere.  She was never in the library or the hospital wing (Romilda really didn’t like it there; she’d gone with the rest of her friends to see if they could catch a glimpse of Katie Bell after she’d been cursed, but she had already been transferred to St. Mungo’s), and appeared to disappear just whenever Romilda caught a glimpse of her.

“I need to talk to her,” Romilda said meaningfully to Daphne in the middle of November.  “You know it’s important.”

“I can’t get in the middle of it,” Daphne sighed.  “Pansy’s my closest friend.”

“And Astoria’s your sister.”  The rest could be left unsaid.

Romilda was on the brink of telling Harry to try and gain some outside insight when she managed to catch up to Pansy outside of NEWT-level charms.  Their eyes met and Pansy diligently looked elsewhere.

“Pansy,” Romilda murmured, taking hold of her arm, but Pansy just shook her off.

“Not now.”

“You can’t keep running—“

“The Hell I can,” she responded, a fierce look in her eyes, that made Romilda back up a step.  “I just—I don’t want to hear it.”  She rushed down the hall and, with one lingering and apologetic look to Harry, Romilda hurried after her.  Pansy ducked into a side room, Romilda slipping in after her.

“Pansy, you don’t even know what I’m going to say,” she reasoned.

Pansy scoffed.  “Don’t I?  Let me guess—it’s about your precious Potter and your precious plan.  Am I right?”

Romilda was completely stunned.  “What?  No!”

She rolled her eyes.  “No use pretending.  Well, I don’t want to hear it.  I don’t care what sort of progress you’ve made, the kisses you’ve exchanged, how he looks at you.  It means absolutely nothing.”

Romilda stood there, aghast, and watched as Pansy turned away, wiping at her eyes.

Breathing in deeply, Pansy hesitated.  “Look, I’m happy for you, but just not now.”

“Of course, Pansy,” Romilda said softly.  “I just came to make sure you’re alright.”

Pansy whirled around, her body tensing.  “What do you know?”

Romilda shrugged, trying for nonchalance.  “What am I supposed to know?”

“Don’t play that game with me,” Pansy shot back.  “I taught it to you.”

“You did no such thing,” Romilda countered, pushing her hair angrily away from her face.  “Stop running and stop hiding from me!  I’ve done nothing to you.”

Pansy sighed, eyeing her friend, before sitting down in one of the chairs.  “It was all a lie,” she whispered distractedly, her hands clasped together to hide her trembling.  “All these years.  I was so certain.”

Quietly Romilda sat down and stared bleakly at Pansy, just allowing her to speak.

“I had it all planned out since I was a first year, maybe even before that,” Pansy admitted.  “We were both in Slytherin and it would be perfect.  When he asked me to the Yule Ball I thought all I had to do was hold on to him, keep him interested, and one day I could be Mrs. Malfoy.”  She sniffed.  “Now, all for nothing.”

“He broke up with you,” Romilda whispered into the quiet.

Pansy flinched.  “He won’t even tell me why.”

Biting her lip, Romilda looked down at her hands.  She couldn’t say anything.  Astoria didn’t deserve that and she purposefully had done nothing—she had done nothing but agree to allow Draco to court her once a marriage contract had been signed.  She wouldn’t betray that trust, never in a hundred years.

She tilted her head to the side, allowing her rich curls to partially hide her face from Pansy as she thought.  Lucius Malfoy had at least been seeking to arrange a marriage contract for Draco Malfoy for a year, if not longer, and he hadn’t informed his girlfriend once.  She had thought it strange that Malfoy would remain with Pansy if he wanted Astoria, and it was becoming more and more clear that it had been a relationship of convenience.

Romilda had seen Pansy fawn over him since she arrived at Hogwarts.  It really had been disgusting, truly, but she hadn’t said anything to her friend.  It wasn’t her place.  This was Pansy’s game and she should be allowed to play it however she wanted and now, clearly, she had lost spectacularly without even understanding how the game had ended.

She sighed.  Romilda couldn’t explain it, not to Pansy—not without revealing too much.

“And now—now,” Pansy spat, “he’s developed this odd habit of watching the Ravenclaw table at meals.  The Ravenclaws!”

“How—odd,” Romilda hedged, taking in her friend’s appearance critically, trying to view her as someone else might.

She was rather hard-faced, with deep green eyes and long dark hair.  There was nothing especially beautiful about her, Romilda realized, no redeeming features that could detract from the hard lines of her pug face.  Astoria, in contrast, was everything Pansy was not.  She was delicate, feminine, with flowing strawberry blonde waves and bright blue eyes that looked innocently at those around her.  Where Pansy had the natural inclination toward wit, she chose not to outshine Malfoy and the men around her, preferring to play a delicate wallflower although she clearly wasn’t one.  She couldn’t stand alone or apart from others unless she was insulting them.  Too many times Romilda had heard her insult another girl’s beauty just because she wasn’t naturally pretty herself, and then only countered her flaws by fawning over her prey until they had used her and then discarded her again. 

Astoria was artless and yet possessed a natural creative intelligence that Romilda had never seen matched with anyone.  Where people like Granger spouted facts from books, Astoria would quietly draw conclusions and not speak until she had a new theory or idea that would astound those around her.  She was easily first in their year, and yet felt no need to exhibit her heightened intelligence to degrade those around her.  More importantly, she appeared to see Malfoy for who he was and not for his name—something that Romilda imagined Malfoy valued almost as much as Harry.

“What’s so interesting about them anyway?  There isn’t a single pretty Ravenclaw among them,” Pansy continued, Romilda quietly listening. “Well, except Chang, except she’s with Corner.”

“That says enough in and of itself,” Romilda commented.  “He was Ginny Weasley’s first boyfriend, which says enough.”

Pansy nodded her head in agreement.  “What is Blaise up to then?”

Romilda arched a brow.  “You haven’t figured it out?”

She glared at Romilda.

“She’s a blood traitor—no better than a Muggle-born.”  She looked and Pansy suggestively, waiting for her to put together the clues.

“Oh.  Oh!” Pansy’s eyes widened.  “Are you certain?”

“Of course I am.  I did, after all, suggest it to him.”  At the astonished look Pansy sent her, Romilda continued.  “Ginny Weasley is dangerous.  She’s not like any other witch who has designs on ‘The Chosen One.’  She’s intimately known him through her brothers since before she came to Hogwarts.  He spends part of his summer with them somewhere, and a few of his Christmases.  She’s beautiful, she’s brave—she looks so much like his mother.  I need to negate any and all influence she may have on him in the future.”

“And this—?”

“She’s so busy proving that Harry means nothing to her even with the argument we had at the beginning of the year, that she’s become blind to how a pureblood, even a blood traitor, should behave.  She snogs boys with no promise from them when she never intends to marry them.    She has no shame and she will lose sight of everything her mother might have taught her, and Zabini is handsome, wealthy, and when he speaks he can make a convincing and seductive argument.”  She shrugged.  “What happens will happen—but I won’t be sorry if Zabini fully convinces her.”

“No self-respecting wizard would have her after that,” Pansy whispered quietly.

“—except a Muggle-born.  They have the strangest moral codes despite that religion of theirs.  The one where their god was crucified.”

“I never took Muggle Studies,” Pansy replied nonchalantly.  “I don’t really know or care.”

“True,” Romilda responded.  “I hope Harry wasn’t raised in it—whatever it was—and won’t want to raise the children in it as well.”

Pansy’s face fell.  “You’re a fourth year, like I was,” she murmured, and Romilda snapped her vision to her.

“What did you say?”

“You’re a fourth year with so much promise, and you’ve managed to snag the man of your dreams—or ambition.  Enjoy him while you can.”

“How can you—?” Romilda began, but Pansy clearly wasn’t listening. 

“They lie, you know,” she admitted.  “Boys—wizards.  All of it was a spectacular, wonderful, two-year lie.  Then again, Potter’s a sixth year so you might make it, but I doubt it.  What do you have that I don’t?”

Pansy turned her face to her friend, a cold emotion shining from her green eyes. 

“Enjoy it while you can.”

Romilda took a deep breath and glanced away, mentally reminding her what Pansy was going through.  She wondered how Malfoy had broken with Pansy to make her seem so lifeless, so hurtful, so numb.  Romilda could see so little of her childhood friend, and prayed that once she had healed and moved on, Pansy would once again be the friend she had remembered—no longer fawning over Malfoy or some other wizard, but the fun and cunning girl who had whispered secrets to her during pureblood tea parties.

“Soon it will all be over.  Something will change, something you can’t perceive, and then without explanation it will be over.  Completely over.  He won’t even look at you anymore.  He never did, of course.  I chased after him, but he would as good as ignore me when he didn’t want something in return, and of course I gave it.  I gave him everything, Romilda.  Everything.”

Romilda gasped and stared in shock at her friend, tears forming in her eyes.

“Why, Pansy?” she whispered brokenly, the implications settling on her shoulders heavily.  “Why?”

Pansy laughed.  “Why?—I thought he loved me.  I truly thought he loved me, or soon would.”

X. Thorn-Apple for Disguise

Pansy’s words haunted Romilda and she could not get them from her mind.  The same sentence kept on repeating itself in her mind.  I truly thought he loved me.  It was haunting, reminding her of everything that could go wrong.  

A soft voice in the back of her mind wondered if Malfoy had said he was in love with Pansy, just as Harry had proclaimed that he loved her.

She kept on telling herself that nothing was wrong, nothing had changed, but still whenever she was in the Great Hall, all Romilda could see was Pansy sitting with Daphne Greengrass, staring at Malfoy who clearly didn’t care.

Romilda didn’t understand how Pansy could have possibly slept with Malfoy.  It made no sense, no self-respecting witch would agree to such a thing, and Malfoy really should not have done it.  It was one thing to seduce Muggle-borns or even the occasional half-blood, but a pureblood from an outstanding family never should have been touched.  She knew that there was a small piece of the story that she was missing, whatever it was, and that Pansy would never fully tell her.

One day she thought she might learn from Astoria if Malfoy was completely truthful with his young bride, but she doubted Astoria would confide such personal information to anyone outside of the family.

Still, the thought haunted her, and it was always in the back of her mind whenever she gossiped with her friends or whenever Harry held her close in the Gryffindor common room.

Malfoy was never indiscreet when it concerned his betrothed.  She knew from Astoria that he would meet her three times a week near the library and just sit and watch her study or listen as she told him of her thoughts and dreams.

“He’s a gentleman,” Astoria admitted, blushing quietly.  “He never does anything, just lets me speak to him—he said he liked the sound of my voice.”

“It’s been weeks,” Romilda murmured in wonder and Astoria shook her head, her hair falling loosely down her shoulders.

“I know.  He hasn’t even tried to kiss me.”

“Has the contract been signed?” Romilda asked, glancing at her friend.

“Yes.  Father wrote to me last week to say that everything is in order.  He even sent a copy of the contract.  Draco—I mean, Malfoy—was so generous in it.  There are clauses stating that I can be released from the betrothal under certain circumstances although there aren’t such provisions for him.  If we’re ever separated I’ll even receive my full dowry in return as well as a lifelong home at one of the smaller Malfoy estates.”

Romilda blinked.  “That is generous.”

“I know.  When I asked him if he didn’t want anything like that for himself, he said it wasn’t needed.  That this, for him, was forever.”

If Romilda hadn’t known from Pansy what had happened, she would have immediately thought that clearly Malfoy was in love with Astoria.  Still, her heart plagued her.

Zabini was equally discreet with Ginny Weasley, Romilda was both upset and pleased to discover over the rest of November.  She never heard any whispers of them snogging, but from the satisfied smirk on Zabini’s face and the long glances she would send him across the Great Hall, Romilda realized it was only a matter of time before her plans came to fruition.

Still, Romilda felt she couldn’t be easy.

By mid-December she felt that she was walking on hot dragon eggs.  Harry had noticed that something was bothering her, but she always brushed him off, proclaiming that it was nothing.

“I love you,” he murmured one evening against her lips as he kissed her good night.  “Know that I love you.”

She tried to smile confidently at him, but failed.  She wished she could believe him, truly she did, but now doubt breathed within her, tormenting her.

Still, she refused to let it get to her.  When she couldn’t sleep, she would take a small dash of Dreamless Sleep Potion that she had stored up in order to get the prescribed eight hours.  Every morning she would wake up, nearly refreshed, and wash herself with almond and peach blossom soap, marveling in how smooth it made her naturally soft skin.  Romilda would sit at her mirror and carefully brush out her hair, allowing it to dry naturally and spraying it with almond extract, and then lightly powder her face, occasionally using a hint of blush or eye shadow.  Never too much, of course. 

Sometimes, when Romilda caught a glance of her reflection in the mirror, she thought that perhaps she could see a natural prettiness glowing through her skin, but Romilda always found it fleeting.  A blink of her eye and she remained the same Romilda Vane she always was.

One morning, she sat in front of the mirror and tried to see herself as Harry saw her.  She took in her own large brown eyes, the curve of her lashes, the slope of her cheekbones and the soft line of her pale neck.  Her chin was too dominant, too strong, and yet the character it gave her proved that if Harry really were in love with her and remained so, she could be hailed an atypical beauty as Mrs. Harry James Potter.  Accolades would be written to her, her photograph would be in every paper, and her voice always listened to.

The public craved new fashions in what was considered beautiful, and only when a graceful and charming woman married a powerful man were the fashions changed.  It had happened countless times in the wizarding world.  A typically beautiful woman, even as the wife of the richest wizard in Europe, would still be one among the thousands of beautiful witches.  It took something different—something slightly imperfect and yet just as striking—to change the way wizards viewed the entire female gender. 

In her new frame of mind, the responsibility frightened her, but she never admitted it to herself.

Harry thought she was pretty, and that was all that mattered—for now.  Everything else would come later.

“I wonder if they work,” she heard Ginny Weasley mention to Granger one night in the common room just before a Slug Club supper.  “Knowing the twins, they do.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Granger countered.  “Of course they wouldn’t sell real love potions.”

Ginny Weasley shrugged.  “It’s always an option.”

Granger glanced at her suspiciously.  “For who?  Zabini or Harry?”

She laughed.  “Why would I need to use it on Zabini?  I have him eating out of the palm of my hand.  You know purebloods can’t touch a witch before they get married, right?” She smiled.  “An old tradition, of course, to protect us or some such nonsense, but how are we supposed to learn?”

Granger blinked at her several times and Romilda paused, no longer caring about the essay she was looking over.

“What do you mean by that?”

“Only that I actually managed to seduce a pureblood wizard.  It’s absolutely unheard of, Hermione, and I actually managed it.”

Romilda smirked.  She couldn’t believe the Weaslette was that naïve.

“What about Harry?”

“What about him?  He’ll tire of Vane eventually as he did with Cho—he has to.  By then he will have made up with Ron and everything will go back to the way it should be—and out of all the pureblood and half-blood witches in England, I’ll be the only one who’ll know how to please him.”

“And the love potion?”

Weasley shivered almost imperceptibly, but Romilda caught the movement.  “I’ll give it to him soon.  I heard some fourth years thinking of slipping Harry one, and they sounded serious.  I can’t—I can’t let that happen to him, not with someone who doesn’t mean it.  They say that one love potion can’t overpower another, so it should be safe.  It will be fine.”

Ginny,” Granger warned, but her friend shrugged her off.

“There’s nothing to be done.  This is how it is.  We deserve each other, Hermione.  You know that.”

“He doesn’t deserve having his will taken away from him,” Granger whispered angrily.

“No, perhaps not, but I’m saving him from something worse.  Don’t tell me you wouldn’t do the same for Ron.  How can you bear it, watching him with Lavender Brown of all people?”

“It’s his choice.”

“If you say so.  I need to get ready for tonight.  Do you think Harry will be there?”

Granger shrugged.  “No idea.  I’m not invited, of course.”

Harry still managed to have detention with Snape for something, so Romilda hurried up to her dormitory to prepare for an evening without him.  Going through her trunk, she found a dusty pink dress covered in black lace that would make Harry’s eyes widen when he saw her off just before his detention.  It was absolutely perfect.

Briefly, her eyes wandered to the small vial of love potion she had purchased at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes before term.  The light cascaded off the glass, heightening the pearlescent quality of the potion it contained.  All she would have to do was drop a clipping of her hair, and Harry would never be taken away from her.

She hastily pushed aside the thought, not wanting to dwell on it too long.

A small part of her mind whispered to her that it would never work.  Harry would never truly love her freely.  No one ever had.  The only love she had ever possessed had become twisted and ruined.  She had destroyed it somehow.  Her gentle sisterly caresses had tainted the love of her brother whom she adored and now they rarely saw each other, each one knowing how the other felt—Roland fearing that he would hurt his sister and Romilda terrified that her brother would do something that she could never quite forgive.

It’s all you deserve, her treacherous mind whispered as she pulled the dusty rose dress over her head, the pleated skirt flaring out over her thighs.  You only deserve something that wrong, something that will hurt you every time he kisses you.

Sieglinde pawed at her black heels and Romilda had to look away.  Her beautiful Siamese cat was a reminder of how she corrupted everything she touched.

Her mother dead only a few hours after her birth, her father’s disappointment that she was not a son and not caring enough for her to name her, her beloved stepbrother’s love transforming into something she could barely recognize, her uncle who was always so far away only sending her money and giving her a name when he learnt two years after her birth that she was known only as “child” or “the littlest Ro,” her sister never wanting to bother with such a tiny thing and resenting her for the woman who briefly took her mother’s place.

Sometimes in the dead of night she wished she could forget what Roland was to her.  They looked nothing alike, shared no common ancestry.  It would be so easy, she knew, if only she could forget.  Roland had always been her protector, her confidant, the person her entire world revolved around.  He was gentle, kind, sweet, and would do nothing to rush her or harm her.  That summer, after he had first kissed her, she had cried herself almost to sleep in his strong arms, and she thought, just briefly, that she could learn to love him the way he desired.  Roland would never leave her, would always remain true.  He proved that time and time again, yet Romilda couldn’t bear to lose what little regard her father showed her, knew that he would hate her for the love his beloved wife’s son gave her.  She would be blamed, it was her fault, always hers, she knew this—and, on top of all that, she couldn’t get Harry out of her head even though he had never looked at her before and might never look at her. 

He hadn’t known her name and still she would have dreams of him, of his kindness, his loving heart, the small glimmer of his eye when someone turned away from him, begging them to want him and not the Boy-Who-Lived just a little bit.

Romilda hadn’t known how or why, but she knew, she just knew, that he was as unwanted as she was, and might be able to love her just as much as he needed to be loved.

“You’re so beautiful,” Harry whispered in her ear as he walked her to Slughorn’s supper.  His arm was wrapped around her waist and he had buried his face in the curve of her neck, “and you always smell of almond.”

“Don’t you like it?” she whispered back at him, arching her neck to the side as sensations rushed through her. 

“It’s heavenly.”

When Ginny Weasley walked by, her eyes raking over Harry, Romilda had decided.  She couldn’t lose Harry, this strange boy who had stolen her heart so completely.  She would do everything in her power to keep him, including give him a love potion, although her heart slowly broke at the thought of it.

Harry, of course, noticed something was wrong.  Romilda spent days just thinking about how to give Harry the love potion, whether or not she should tell him.  She knew he preferred honesty, that this was wrong, but almost every night she awoke with nightmares of Harry no longer loving her, of wanting someone else, of Ginny bloody Weasley the tart with an engagement ring on her callused hand. 

The situation with Pansy didn’t help her desperation either.  Sometimes she would sit with her friend in the library and just watch her wasting away, doing her homework clumsily because she no longer cared what happened.

“I think he has a girlfriend,” Pansy confided to her a few days before Slughorn’s Christmas party.  “I just know he does.”

“How?” Romilda questioned.

Pansy shrugged.  “He’s less pale than he has been for the last few months.  He still looks like he’s coming down with Dragon Pox but a weight seems to have been lifted off his chest.”

Romilda hadn’t actually noticed.  “Didn’t his grandfather die of Dragon Pox?”

“I think so.  His grandmother lives in France, of course.”

“Of course.”

Romilda went back to her Ancient Runes flash cards. 

“You think I shouldn’t have done it, don’t you?”

Romilda’s eyes flashed up to her friend, who was staring defiantly back at her. 

“That I shouldn’t have slept with Draco.”

“I—“ Romilda began, but she didn’t really know what to say.

“Don’t blame him,” Pansy continued after a moment.  “It was stupid really.  Mother heard that Lucius Malfoy had drawn up a marriage contract for Draco and some pureblood bint last year, and I—well—I became desperate.  I thought if I could give him everything he wanted, then maybe he’d try harder to break the contract.”

“Did you talk about it—the contract I mean?”

“He wouldn’t.”  Pansy sighed.  “In the end it didn’t really matter, did it?  I managed to seduce him, which took quite a bit of effort strangely enough, and still this happens.  I was stupid and had to resort to a love potion in the end.  Of course, Blaise had to notice something was wrong and took him to Professor Snape.  That’s why I lost one hundred points from Slytherin last year.”

Romilda blinked at her, the facts trying to sort themselves out in her mind.  “You tried to seduce Malfoy and he was a—a gentleman?”

Pansy didn’t answer.  She didn’t have to.

It just broke her heart a little more.

The day before the Christmas party, Romilda stood in one of the girls’ toilets, and stared at herself in the mirror.  She took in her glowing skin, her cascade of curls, her hard chin, and almond-kissed lips.  She had almost talked herself out of slipping Harry the love potion when a group of Gryffindor girls started gossiping on the other side of the room.

“Do you think it will work?” one whispered conspiratorially.  “He’s going out with Vane, after all.”

“Of course it will, and we have just as much as a chance with him as she does,” another voice said.  “Look, all we have to do is sneak him a love potion from Weasleys’.  It should be easy.”

Romilda set her jaw in defiance. 

The Gillyweed water was easy to procure and with trembling hands, she slipped the prepared love potion in it.  Gently stirring, she watched the potion disappear almost as if the glass remained untouched, but she knew that wasn’t the case.  It was decided, Harry would be saved, and she would love him forever as he deserved to be loved.

A few hours later she sat in the common room, waiting for him, and when he finally arrived she reached toward him and kissed him passionately, not caring who was watching.

“Hey,” he grinned at her, pulling her even closer, and she smiled.  “How was your day?”

She shrugged.  “Dreadful.  I heard some girls talking in the loo.”

“And?” he prompted.

Romilda kissed him again.  “Nothing much.  Just waiting for you.”

He pulled her down into her vacated seat, and she sighed as she relaxed against him, enjoying the last time he would hold her freely with his will. 

“What’s this?” he asked, glancing at the spiked glass and Romilda tried to smile.

She shrugged.  “Just some Gilly Weed water,” she replied, and she knew she didn’t sound as nonchalant as she should have.  “Would you like some?”

Romilda held the glass out to him and waited while he took a drink of it.

He made a face, causing Romilda to laugh despite herself.

“What is it?” she giggled, leaning up against him and trying to forget that now Harry would change, how he wouldn’t quite be the boy she fell in love with, not anymore.

“I don’t think I like Gillyweed water—it tastes—salty almost.”  He set the glass back down, and then went back to holding Romilda quietly, stroking her hair as he always did.  “I think I should go find some homework,” he eventually sighed and Romilda glanced at him, confused, wondering why he was acting so normally. 

She looked suspiciously at the glass and could see that clearly Harry took a large drink from it.  It was strange—odd.

A few moments later Ron Weasley came up and tried to smile at Harry.

“All right there, mate?” he asked and Harry just shrugged.  “I’m dead tired by detention with Flich,” Weasley carried on conversationally, but his voice was clearly strained and his eyes shifted about nervously.  “I’m right parched.  Are you drinking this?”

“No,” Harry responded absently, his hand still in Romilda’s hair, and before she could say anything, Weasley had grabbed the glass and taken a large drink of it.

Romilda stared at him in horror as he put the glass down.

Weasley looked about a bit then, his eyes catching on her stunned face, and he smiled brilliantly.  “Romilda—Romilda Vane.”  He sat down in the armchair next to theirs and stared at her, the loopy grin never leaving his decidedly unhandsome features.  “You’re so beautiful.”  He reached out to stroke her face, but she quickly pulled away.

Harry glanced at Weasley with a questioning look on his face.  “You all right, Ron?”

“Perfect,” he replied breathlessly before his bright blue eyes took in the fact that Harry’s hand was in Romilda’s black curls.  “Oi!  Take your hands off her!”

“Wh-What?” Harry spluttered, clearly not understanding.

Romilda put her head in her hands and groaned.

“I said, take your bloody hands off her!  Can’t you see she hates it?”  He waved wildly at Romilda, who was peaking out from behind her fingers despite herself.  It was too horrible not to watch.  Life was just too cruel.

Harry glanced at Romilda before looking back up at Weasley.

“Romilda likes it when I stroke her hair,” he informed Weasley.

“She can’t possibly, and how can you do this to me?  We’re best mates!  I just—can’t stop thinking about her, Harry, and your hands are all over her.”

What?” Harry bellowed, drawing the rest of the common room’s attention over to them.  “What do you mean you can’t stop thinking about my girlfriend?”

“Your girlfriend?  Your girlfriend?” Weasley spluttered.  “What could she possibly want with someone like you.  You can’t give her what she needs.”  He grasped Romilda’s hand tightly in his and stared adoringly into her eyes.  “I love you, Romilda,” he proclaimed and she blinked at him, stunned.

“Just wait one minute,” Harry said angrily, pulling out his wand.  One arm came defensively around her waist, pulling Romilda even closer to him.  “Since when?  What about Lavender?”

“Lavender?  What about Lavender?  I just—I can’t stop thinking about Romilda.  Look how beautiful she is.”  He reached out as if to stroke Romilda’s hair, but she pulled away from him completely.  Weasley, unfortunately, didn’t seem to notice.  “Your hair is so beautiful—so sleek and black and perfect.”

“Right.  Thank you,” she mumbled before trying to slip out of Harry’s embrace.  “I think we need to get to Slughorn.”

Harry looked at her suspiciously and she sent him an apologetic look.  His eyes flashed green and slowly, he turned to the glass of Gillyweed water and sniffed it.  “Treacle tart, a broomstick, and almond,” he whispered before setting it down again.

Romilda heard a gasp and turned to see Granger staring avidly at the scene, Lavender slightly behind her and silent tears falling down her face.


Romilda closed her eyes painfully before turning back to Harry and Weasley.  “Slughorn,” she insisted, and Harry nodded, not saying a word to her.

“Romilda,” Weasley began again, throwing himself so that he was now down in front of her on one knee.  “Let me not compare you to a summer day—“

Her mind reeled.  This was too much.  Not only was Weasley butchering a poem she thought she might have read somewhere before, but even a small dosage of his adoration absolutely sickened her.  It was wrong, perverse—she couldn’t bear it.  It was a mockery of every feeling for Harry that she held secretly in her heart, of every emotion she prayed with all her being he truly felt for her. 

Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?” Granger muttered importantly under her breath.  “He can’t even get Shakespeare right.”

Romilda closed her eyes.  This really wasn’t the time for Granger to be her know-it-all self and lord her memorization skills over everyone.

“Rough winds,” Weasley tried to quote, his voice slightly cracking, “are shaking the first blossoms of May and Summer’s lease is much too short a date.”

Ronald Weasly, Romilda instantly decided, should never pursue a career as a troubadour or a poet.  It was far too painful.

“Come on, Ron,” Harry said lightly.  “Off to Slughorn’s office.”

“Slughorn?  Why?” he bleated, looking pathetically over at Romilda with eyes that reminded her of a pug dog, a very unattractive pug-dog—or a male version of Pansy.  She really couldn’t decide, not that it mattered, considering.

“Well,” Harry began, clearly lost for words.

“To get ready for the Christmas party, of course,” Romilda quickly supplied, trying to look kindly at him but utterly failing.  “I’m going, you know, and it wouldn’t do for you to be late and—keep me waiting.”

He smiled dreamily at her.  “You’ll wear one of those pretty dresses you waltz about in?”  His eyes were slightly unfocused, almost as if he were imagining the dress at the moment.  Romilda hoped that was what it was and that he wasn’t picturing her without the dress on.  That would be too disturbing for words.

“Yes, of course I will.  You wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise now would you?  Go on ahead and I’ll see you there.”

Her stomach clenched when Harry looked back at her, shadows playing hauntingly in his usually bright eyes. 

“Go on,” she urged, just before Harry disappeared with a swaying Weasley out the portrait hole.

Glancing around her, she saw the accusing faces of her peers, but she said nothing.  Turning to the half-empty glass, she quickly banished its contents with a flick of her wand and, with head held, high, walked toward the dormitory.  She knew that she had just lost Harry forever, but she refused to lose her dignity as well.

A small voice in her mind wondered briefly why Harry hadn’t been affected.

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