A/N: This story was written for NaiyaKokoro for the 2014 Otter and Ferret Gift Exchange. Her prompt was: Hermione's cat gets lost and somehow ends up with Draco, who takes a liking to it and doesn't want to give it back.
And I somehow came up with this...
"I don't see why we have to come all the way out here for sneezewort," complained Pansy, trailing a full foot behind Hermione as they made their way through the Forbidden Forest in search of their final potion ingredient. "Why can't we just use what's in the potions cupboard and be done with this stupid assignment already?"
"Because fresh sneezewort it better," Hermione insisted, not slowing down. "It makes the potion stronger."
"Please," Pansy scoffed. "We're brewing a Befuddlement Draught, and Weasley is our test subject. We could use plain old pumpkin juice and still get the same results."
Hermione stopped and turned around to scowl at her catty potions partner. Pansy was getting on her last nerve. She'd been putting up with the Slytherin's snide comments for the past twenty minutes but enough was enough. "You shut up about him. Ron is not stupid. He's actually quite smart and–"
"Aww. Do you have a crush on Weasel?" Pansy simpered obnoxiously. "If it wasn't so disgusting, it would be downright adorable."
"Ron is my friend," said Hermione defensively, deeply regretting that she had ever opened her mouth. Perhaps she had had a little infatuation with Ron a long time ago. But that was so fourth year. And fifth. And, well, maybe part of sixth if she was being really honest. But she had grown up a lot since then, and she was now almost certain that Ron was not her type. Not that she knew what her type was exactly, but she was hopeful that whoever he was, he did not chew with his mouth open.
"Oh, your friend," Pansy mocked. "That's pretty sad if you can't even get Weasel for a boyfriend."
It was pretty sad fourth year. And fifth year. And part of sixth year. But this year she was an independent woman. She was Head Girl. She had other things to worry about. Like what the good-for-nothing Head Boy was up to.
"Who said I'm looking for a boyfriend?" replied Hermione, haughtily. "I'm perfectly happy–"
"Don't give me that crap about not needing some boy to make you happy," Pansy interrupted. "That's rubbish, and you know it. Every girl wants a boyfriend."
"Maybe needy, pathetic girls like you," Hermione retorted. "But I don't have time for that kind of nonsense right now. I have more important things to think about. Like N.E.W.T.s."
Pansy rolled her eyes. "I'm sure that's what all the ugly girls say. You know, the ones who can't get a boyfriend. I bet you've never even had a boy interested in you before."
"I went to the Yule Ball with Viktor Krum, didn't I?" Viktor had been quite interested in her brain and various other body parts. That had been the year she had "blossomed" as her mother liked to call it. Of course, nothing ever came of it because Ron had mucked it all up being Ron. She hadn't even gotten her first kiss, and she had it on good authority (well, she had heard it from Lavender who had heard it from Parvarti who had heard it from Padma who had heard it from Terry who had heard it from Justin) that Viktor was most definitely going to put out that night. She had even bought lip gloss for the occasion.
Pansy did not look impressed. "Viktor Krum hardly counts. He was a bit dim. Took one too many Bludgers to the head, I suspect."
Hermione scowled. "You're one to talk. It's not like anyone's interested in you. As far as I know, we don't have any psychopaths at the school this year."
"Oh, ha, ha," said Pansy, not at all amused. "It just so happens that I have a boyfriend."
"Who?" Hermione asked, raising her eyebrow. She couldn't imagine anyone wanting to date Pansy. She was a complete cow. Maybe it was that Blaise Zabini. He seemed to be more interested in quantity than quality. For someone as into numbers as he was, it was a wonder he didn't take Arithmancy.
"I am dating Draco Malfoy," Pansy replied pompously.
"Does he know?" asked Hermione snidely.
"Of course he knows!" Pansy snapped.
"If he's really your boyfriend," said Hermione skeptically, "then why does he always have that pained expression on his face when you're hanging on him like a cheap cloak?"
"He doesn't like public displays of affection is all," Pansy sniffed. "Believe me. When we're alone he's all over me."
"I do not need to know about that," said Hermione, making a face. The thought of Malfoy and Pansy together made her slightly ill.
"Jealous?" sneered Pansy.
"No," said Hermione quickly. "Why would I be jealous of you and a ferret?"
"I've seen the way you look at him," said Pansy, trying to stir up trouble.
"I only look at him with disdain or disgust," Hermione insisted.
"Which is apparently all of the time," replied Pansy with a bit of a smirk.
"Well, because... because he's an ass all of the time," Hermione sputtered.
"Oh, my Merlin," Pansy gasped. "It's not Weasel you have a crush on; it's Draco."
"I do not have a crush on Draco, I mean Malfoy, I mean that... that ferret!" Ugh. She had not meant that to come out sounding so flustered. She had intended it to be more forceful and decisive. After all, she did not like Draco Malfoy. He was mean and arrogant and not at all attractive. He was particularly not attractive. Sure, he had changed somewhat since his family had changed sides during the war, and Voldemort had been defeated. He no longer spouted that pureblood nonsense, and he had developed this sort of weird post-war charm that some girls seemed to respond to. Not her, of course. She still found him annoying. And he was a horrible Head Boy. Very combative. And did not follow orders well at all, which irritated her more than Ron's chewing with his mouth open, even if it was less disgusting.
Pansy started laughing. "Wait until I tell Draco. He is going to die when he finds out you like him. Or at the very least, get really, really sick."
Hermione felt sick. She couldn't stand the thought of the two of them laughing at her. "I don't like him, and you'd better not tell him I do, or I'll... I'll..."
"You'll what? Curse me?" Pansy asked, smirking at her. "I doubt it. You're too much of a goody-two-shoes. One of the many things Draco can't stand about you. How could you ever think you stood a chance with Draco? You're such an annoying know-it-all, and your hair is too frizzy and your clothes are too frumpy and–"
"I don't care what you or your stupid boyfriend think of me," huffed Hermione, the anger starting to bubble up inside of her. "Draco Malfoy is an ass. He is a bully and a snob and a... a jerk! And I'm glad that slime ball doesn't like my hair. His hair has too much crap in it. All of those potions have probably affected his brain. Maybe that's why he's not top of the class. Or maybe it's just because he's stupid. Which makes sense since he's apparently dating you. You are the stupidest, cattiest girl in the whole school! In fact, you're so catty, you may as well be a..." Hermione trailed off and looked around. "Pansy?"
"Meow!" screeched a sleek black cat with bright green eyes, the exact same color as Pansy's.
Hermione's eyes widened in realization. "Oh, dear. Did I do that?"
"Wow. This is really embarrassing," said Hermione as much to herself as to the cat. "I haven't had a case of accidental magic since I was like six. This really isn't like me. I usually have more control. You just made me so mad. You were being so catty, thus the reason you are now a cat, I suppose."
"Oh, right," said Hermione, snapping out of her state of shock at having just turned Pansy into a cat. "I suppose you want me to turn you back now. A Finite should do it."
Hermione pointed her wand and cast the spell. Pansy glared up at her when nothing happened.
"Hmmm," said Hermione, looking a little perplexed. "That should have done it." She tried a few more spells. Still nothing. "Well, at least I didn't turn you into a toad," she joked feebly.
Not seeming to find the situation very funny, Pansy began wailing loudly.
"Shhh! Someone might hear you," said Hermione, starting to panic. "I can't have anyone knowing that I accidentally turned you into a cat. I'll never live this down. It could affect my entire future. We'll just have to hide you until I can figure out a way to turn you back."
Pansy wailed even louder.
"Bad kitty," Hermione scolded. "Do you want me to change you back or not?"
She didn't understand why Pansy had to be so difficult. All she was trying to do was help. "That's enough of that. Now, be quiet and get in my bag, so I can sneak you up to my room."
Growling, Pansy cautiously started backing away from Hermione.
Hermione let out an exasperated sigh and then looked at Pansy with what Ron and Harry had come to know as the lecture face. "I really don't appreciate your attitude. This isn't fun for me either, you know. I wasn't looking for another cat to take care of. Crookshanks is going to have a right fit when I bring you home. And instead of studying for N.E.W.T.s like I should and tending to my Head Girl duties, I'm going to have to spend all of my extra time researching a spell to turn you back. Because I'm self-sacrificing like that. Believe me, I find you much more tolerable as a cat. And it's not like you didn't have this coming because you totally did. But turning you back is the right thing to do. And I always do the right thing no matter how distasteful or inconvenient it will be for me. Because I am a good person. Not that you would know anything about that because you are a horrible person. Well, maybe not at the moment. Right now you're a cat. But when I turn you back, you'll go back to being your normal, horrible self. Which reminds me, I'm probably going to have to Obliviate you too. And that's a really complicated spell. All kinds of things could go wrong. That's a lot of stress to be under. I really have my work cut out for me. And you get to take a cat nap."
Hermione paused for a minute to catch her breath and, looking around, saw that Pansy was nowhere to be found. "Um, Pansy?" said Hermione, turning around in a circle, trying to catch a glimpse of her furry foe.
Crap. Her lecture must have frightened Pansy off. She wasn't used to dealing with these flighty Slytherins. Gryffindors usually just tuned her out or fell asleep. Now what was she supposed to do? Looking around a little helplessly, she said, "Here, kitty, kitty?"
Hermione had no idea where Pansy had run off to. They had gone pretty far into the forest, and she had a feeling that Pansy hadn't spent quite as much time in here as she had. She hoped Pansy hadn't gotten herself lost. Or even worse, found. If anyone figured out what had happened, the whole school would know about her horrible secret. She could not let that happen. Hermione started heading back towards school, looking behind trees and under bushes as she went. She hoped Pansy hadn't gotten herself eaten by a giant spider or run over by a wild Ford Anglia. She didn't need that on her conscience.
After about fifteen minutes of searching, Hermione was about to give up any hope of finding Pansy before she blurted out her big secret when she noticed a rustling in a nearby bush. Not wanting to scare Pansy off, she quietly tiptoed over to the bush and then without any warning pounced. "Gotcha!"
"Oof! What the hell are you doing, Granger?" growled a very uncatlike voice.
Hermione awkwardly climbed off of Draco Malfoy and smoothed down her skirt. "I could ask you the same question, Malfoy," she said coolly, hoping she didn't look as embarrassed as she felt. She couldn't believe she had just jumped the Head Boy in the bushes. This day just kept getting more and more humiliating.
"You're the one who attacked me," Draco protested, trying to extract himself from the bush. He didn't get out of it quite as gracefully as she would have expected, but he did somehow managed to keep his hair intact.
"I thought you were my cat," said Hermione defensively, cringing at how stupid that sounded.
"Is that how you treat animals?" asked Draco, standing up and brushing himself off. "Was all that S.P.E.W. stuff just for house-elves?"
"Well, yes. Thus the name, Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare."
"You and your exclusive, elitist club make me sick," declared Draco.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Whatever. You don't even like animals. Remember Buckbeak?"
"I like animals who don't try to kill me."
"Do such animals exist, or are they something you read about in the Quibbler?" Hermione quipped.
Draco smiled patronizingly at her. "Many animals find me charming and irresistible, particularly those of the two-legged, short-skirted variety."
"You forgot small-brained," Hermione grumbled.
"It's so cute how you pretend like you don't like me."
"I'm not pretending. I don't like you," said Hermione snootily.
"That's funny because a little birdie told me you did. Or should I say... a kitty?"
Hermione's eyes widened and then almost immediately narrowed. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Do you really expect me to believe you thought I was your cat? I think you've just been waiting for a chance to get your hands on me. So, tell me," he said, leaning in towards her. "Did you enjoy touching my Quidditch-toned body?"
Hermione's mouth dropped open. "Are you trying to insinuate that I... that I planned that?"
"Yep," said Draco with a cocky grin.
"Am I? You are always trying to get me alone. Why else would you call all of those 'Head' meetings?"
"Because that's what Heads do. It's our job. And unlike you, I am responsible and take my Head duties seriously," Hermione huffed.
"I take my duties seriously. I take off points all of the time."
"Off Gryffindors," Hermione grumbled.
"Because Gryffindors are the stupid rule breakers," declared Draco.
"Slytherins break rules too," Hermione insisted.
Draco smirked. "Ahh, but they're not stupid."
Hermione scowled. She hated it when he outwitted her.
"No clever retort? What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?" Draco drawled.
Hermione cringed with every cat innuendo. It was almost as if he knew. "Have you been spying on me?"
"Why would I want to spy on you? Were you doing something you shouldn't?" he asked, raising his eyebrows up and down.
"No," said Hermione quickly. "Were you doing something you shouldn't?"
"Then why were you hiding in a bush?" Hermione persisted.
"I wasn't hiding. I was getting sneezewort for my potion."
"Do you really expect me to believe that you came all the way out here alone just to pick sneezewort? The last time I saw you in the Forbidden Forest you were screaming like a baby."
"The last time you saw me in the Forbidden Forest I was a baby. That was first year. In case you haven't noticed, I've grown up a lot since then. And after having Voldemort for a house guest, all of the creatures in here seem downright friendly in comparison."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean..."
"I know. And at least something good came out of it. I'm a lot braver than I used to be. Not that I've gone all Gryffindor or anything," he said, letting out a shudder.
"I have noticed," said Hermione quietly. "That you've grown up, I mean."
"Oh?" said Draco, his lips quirking in a smile.
Hermione's cheeks turned pink. "Not that I've been staring or anything. It's just that it's seventh year now, and I can count. I'm very good with numbers, you know."
"Yes, I know." Draco smiled. "I am in Arithmancy with you."
She hated how he always made her so flustered. Desperately wanting to change the subject, she said, "So, you were picking sneezewort, huh?"
"Well, fresh sneezewort is better," said Draco. "It makes the potion stronger. Although I don't know why I'm bothering. Longbottom is my test subject. I could probably use plain old pumpkin juice and get the same result."
"You were spying on me," she accused.
"Get over yourself. For someone with a bush on their head, you sure are vain."
"For your information, I don't care what you think of my hair. So what if it's a little bushy? At least it's not plastered to my head like a helmet."
"Ouch. Why do you have to be so mean? I'm very sensitive about my hair," said Draco, smoothing it back with his hand.
"You started it. You said I have a bush on my head."
"Because you do." He reached out and grabbed a handful of leaves from her hair.
"Oh. Well, your hair is, um... shiny."
Draco rolled his eyes. "Were you even trying? You know, I only slick it down like that because I have a cowlick. If I didn't, it would stand up as bad as Potter's."
"Oh," said Hermione, not knowing what else to say.
"I don't know why I just told you that. I've never told anyone. Not even Pansy. Speaking of Pansy, where is she?" asked Draco, looking around.
"I don't know. Why would I know that? We're not friends. Not that we're enemies," Hermione quickly amended. "More like indifferent acquaintances who do not keep track of each other's whereabouts. So, there's really no reason that you should think I would know where she is because I don't... know where she is."
Draco gave her a funny look. "She told me you were dragging her into the forest today."
"Oh. Well, uh..." stammered Hermione.
"What did you do? Kill her?" Draco joked.
"What? No!" Hermione exclaimed. "She, um, wasn't feeling like herself, so she left."
"Where did she go?"
"How would I know? Are you accusing me of something?"
"You were the last one to see her. I just thought–"
"How do you know I was the last one to see her? You can't prove that."
"Why are you acting so paranoid?" asked Draco, giving her a funny look.
"Why are you asking so many questions?" she countered.
"I was just curious where Pansy was," said Draco exasperatedly.
"And I told you I don't know. It's not my problem if you can't keep track of your girlfriend. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a cat to look for. A real cat. Not one I just made up as an excuse to feel up your Quidditch-toned body. I don't even like Quidditch. And I would never jump another girl's boyfriend on purpose, no matter how awful she is. And your girlfriend is awful. It was an accident. A horrible, humiliating accident. I have to go."
"Pansy isn't–" Before Draco could finish his sentence, he was interrupted by a black cat jumping into his arms. "Um, Granger? I think I found your cat."
"Pan... dora!" exclaimed Hermione, catching herself just in time. "Where have you been, you naughty kitty. I have been looking all over for you."
"I told you I had a cat," said Hermione smugly.
"She doesn't seem very happy to see you," observed Draco.
"Of course she is," said Hermione, reaching out to grab Pansy, only to receive a sharp scratch on her hand.
"Are you sure this is your cat?" asked Draco, scratching under Pansy's chin.
"Yes, I'm sure," Hermione huffed. "Pandora is just very temperamental. She doesn't like anyone."
"She seems to like me," said Draco as Pansy nuzzled against him and started to purr.
Hermione scowled. "Well, there's no accounting for taste."
"Aren't you a pretty kitty? Yes, you are. Yes, you are!" said Draco in a baby voice, rubbing noses with Pansy.
Pansy ate up the attention he was lavishing on her. She rolled around wantonly in Draco's arms, letting him rub her belly and scratch behind her ears.
Hermione looked on in disgust. "Really? Do you have no self respect?"
"We really don't have time for this," said Hermione exasperatedly. "We need to be going. Hand her over, please."
Draco tried to give her to Hermione, but Pansy clung to his cloak and wouldn't let go. "She doesn't want to go to you."
"I don't care what she wants. She's a cat. She doesn't get to decide. Give her to me."
"No," said Draco stubbornly.
"You can't say no. She's my cat."
"I don't know how to explain it, but I feel some sort of connection to Pandora."
"I bet you do," grumbled Hermione.
"I'll give you fifty Galleons for her," Draco offered.
"No. She's not for sale," Hermione replied firmly.
"You don't even like her," Draco pointed out.
"I... I like her."
"You don't show it. She was lost and scared, and you haven't had one kind word for her. You haven't even petted her. She's obviously craving attention."
Feeling a little bad, Hermione reached her hand out in a gesture of peace only to receive another scratch. She could have sworn she saw Pansy smirk. Scowling, Hermione said, "Perhaps if she was nicer, I would be nicer."
"She's plenty nice to me."
To prove his point, Pansy nuzzled affectionately against his neck and purred loudly.
"Whatever. I have to go. Come on, Pandora." Hermione grabbed the wailing, flailing cat out of Draco's arms and tried to wrestle her into submission. After about a dozen scratches, Hermione finally dropped the crazed feline. Pansy jumped back into Draco's arms and immediately started purring again.
"Why don't we let Pandora decide who should keep her?" suggested Draco.
"Meow!" said Pansy in agreement.
Hermione was about to protest but then smiled and said, "Fine. Pandora, who do you want to keep you? Malfoy, who I'm sure will make a fine cat owner, and treat you like the fine cat he believes you to be? Or me, the smartest witch of my age, the only person who knows the real you and can give you what you really need? It's your choice."
Pansy scowled but then wiggled out of Draco's grasp and sullenly walked over to Hermione.
"I guess the best person won," Hermione couldn't help gloating.
Draco laughed. "It's not the best person who wins. It's the person willing to fight the dirtiest. See you around, Pandora. Granger," said Draco, bowing mockingly.
Perking up, Pansy started strutting back towards the castle with a very disgruntled Hermione trailing a full foot behind her.
"Ugh. He is so irritating," Hermione grumbled as they made the trek back to the castle. "I have no idea why you would think I like him."
"He thinks he's so clever and witty and handsome."
"Him and that perfect hair of his. I just want to put my hands in it and muss it up. I bet he doesn't even have a cowlick. He was just trying to make himself seem even more charming."
"And that smirk of his. It makes me want to scream. But you know what irritates me the most about him?"
"That he always thinks he has me beat. But you know what, Pans? Can I call you, Pans?"
"I don't know what game he's playing, but whatever it is, I'm going to win. He may be clever, but I'm cleverer. He may be witty, but I'm... well, I can be witty if I want to, and cleverness is more important anyway. And he may be handsome, but I'm... Okay, he's nicer looking than me. But it's what's on the inside that counts. And my insides are nicer. A lot nicer. Now, get in my bag. We're almost back to school."
Healing her scratches along the way, Hermione walked swiftly back to Gryffindor tower without incident thanks to a few of her favorite spells, namely Petrificus Totalus, Winguardium Leviosa, the ever handy Undetectable Extension Charm and a Silencio for just in case.
"Canary Cream," Hermione whispered to the Fat Lady so that Pansy wouldn't hear. She had forgotten to cast a Muffliato.
Climbing through the portrait hole, Hermione was surprised to see only Ron. "Where is everyone?" she asked, looking around the empty common room.
Looking up from his Quidditch magazine, Ron replied, "Seamus bet Dean that he could eat more Cockroach Clusters than him, so everyone went out to the Quidditch Pitch to see who would throw up first."
"Sounds like fun," said Hermione sarcastically. "Why didn't you go?"
Ron made a face. "It hits a little too close to home with the whole slug-puking incident if you know what I mean."
Hermione made a face. "Yeah, that's kind of hard to forget. Well, I'm just going to go up to my room. I have something I need to take care of. I'll see you later, okay?"
"Yes?" Hermione said, reluctantly turning around.
"Why is your bag moving?"
Hermione looked down to see her bag, poking out at odd angles. Pansy was really putting up a fight in there. "It's not moving," Hermione replied, trying to sound convincing.
"Yes, it is," Ron persisted. "What are you hiding in there?"
"Hermione, you are a horrible liar," said Ron. "Just let the cat out of the bag already."
Looking guilty, Hermione opened her bag and out jumped Pansy. Her fur was rather rumpled, and she had a slightly crazed look in her eyes.
Ron looked at the cat in surprise. "Huh. I was not expecting that. So, who's your new friend? Finally trade in that ugly orange monster of yours for a real cat?"
Hermione glared. "This is Pandora. She is not my friend. And how dare you talk about Crookshanks like that. I would never get rid of him. He's a dear."
"He's a menace. He tried to kill poor Scabbers."
"Are you still mad about that? Your poor Scabbers was a murderer. Have you forgotten that he was responsible for Harry's parents' deaths and for bringing back Voldemort? We should have been so lucky if Crookshanks had eaten him for breakfast."
"Scabbers was a good pet," said Ron defensively. "He just wasn't very good at being a human being is all. So, what's Pandora's story and don't start lecturing me on Greek mythology."
"You know about Greek mythology?" said Hermione in surprise.
"I'm not a complete moron, you know. She's the chick with the box."
"It was a jar actually. A pithos. It's a common mistake. The original text was mistranslated in the sixteenth century by–"
Ron rolled his eyes. "You really can't help yourself, can you?"
"No," Hermione muttered.
"I meant where did you get Pandora?"
"Oh. I found her. In the Forbidden Forest."
"You're getting as bad as Hagrid. At least she doesn't have three heads. She certainly is a pretty kitty," said Ron, bending down and holding out his hand.
"What are you doing?" asked Hermione nervously.
"I'm letting her get used to my scent, so she knows I'm friendly."
"I'm pretty sure she doesn't want to smell you, Ron."
"Sure she does. She... Ouch!" yelped Ron, pulling back his bloody hand.
"Pandora!" Hermione scolded. "Shame on you. He's just trying to be your friend, and I happen to know that you could use a friend about now."
"It's okay," said Ron. "She's just scared. She didn't mean it."
"Yeah, she did. She's mean and spiteful and just plain horrible."
"No, she's not. She's special. I can tell."
"You have the worst taste in pets," said Hermione, rolling her eyes. "Now what are you doing?"
"I'm getting down to her level," said Ron, lowering himself on the floor.
"Great idea," said Hermione sarcastically. "Now she can scratch your eyes out."
"Hey there, girl," said Ron in a soothing voice, inching his way toward Pansy, who had backed up away from him.
"I'm not going to hurt you. I want to be your friend," said Ron, holding out his hand again.
Pansy took another swipe but this time didn't draw blood.
"That's a girl. You're not scared of me. You're a Gryffindor now."
"Meow!" screeched Pansy, arching her back.
Ron chuckled. "You're a feisty one. I like that. You really are the most beautiful cat I've ever seen. With your sleek black fur and those haughty green eyes of yours. You know, you kind of remind me of someone."
Pansy jumped up on the sofa and looked down her nose at him.
Ron's eyes went wide as it finally dawned on him. "Pansy?" he said incredulously.
Ron stood up and turned on Hermione. "You turned Pansy Parkinson into a cat!"
"Shhh!" said Hermione, still fearful that someone could be about and overhear. "It was an accident. I'm going to turn her back."
"Well, turn her back already."
Hermione looked sheepish. "The thing is, I can't," she admitted.
"Then you have to take her to Madame Pomfrey."
"No! If I do that, everyone will know I did accidental magic."
"Who cares? You can't just leave her a cat."
"I'm going to fix her. I just have to find the right spell. I need to go to the library. You have to let me try," Hermione pleaded.
"Okay," said Ron reluctantly.
"Thank you!" said Hermione, giving him a hug. "Keep her entertained." She rushed out the portrait hole before Ron changed his mind.
Left all alone, Pansy and Ron stared at each other unblinking. After awhile, Ron's eyes wandered to Hermione's knitting basket, and Pansy's eyes narrowed to slits. Ron's lips quirked into a smile as he slowly slid his hand to the basket and pulled out a white fluffy ball of yarn. Pansy's tail twitched, but she didn't move from her spot. His eyes on her, Ron unwound the yarn and then proceeded to dangle the end temptingly in front of her. An annoyed look on her face, Pansy tried her best to ignore it, but as it tapped, tapped, tapped on her nose, she could no longer resist the urge to bat at it.
Hermione was sitting at her favorite table in the Library, devouring a large stack of books on accidental magic when Draco slid into the seat next to her.
Not bothering to look up, Hermione said, "What do you want? As you can see I'm rather busy right now."
Draco picked up one of the books and read the title. "You're Becoming a Witch: A Young Witch's Guide to Your Changing Body."
"Give me that," snapped Hermione, snatching the book out of his hand.
"I guess your Muggle parents never gave you the talk, huh? I can educate you if you'd like," offered Draco, raising his eyebrows up and down.
"No, thank you," said Hermione primly. "This is for a research project. I'm only looking for credible sources."
"I'm a sex god. How much more credible can you get? Some people might even say I'm incredible."
"Some people might be exaggerating," retorted Hermione.
"Well, I guess you'll never know for sure... unless you decide to take a chance," said Draco in a slightly more serious tone than their usual banter.
Not knowing how to respond, Hermione just stared at him in silence. A really awkward silence. That seemed to go on forever.
"So, how's Pandora?" Draco finally asked.
"Just as horrible as ever," Hermione replied, glad to be talking about something even if it was his horrible girlfriend. "I left her with Ron. Hopefully, he's still in one piece when I get back."
"Who cares about Weasel?" Draco sneered. "I can't believe you left my cat with your idiot boyfriend."
"She's not your cat. And Ron's not my boyfriend. Or an idiot. He happens to be really good with mentally unstable pets. They'll be fine."
"He is too an idiot. And illiterate too. He's probably never even heard of Pandora's namesake."
"And you have?" asked Hermione, raising her eyebrow.
"Of course. Greek mythology is my passion."
"Muggle literature is your passion?" Hermione questioned.
"Well, maybe not my passion," Draco admitted. "But at least I've heard of it."
"Ron's heard of it too. He called Pandora the chick with the box."
"A box," Draco scoffed. "More proof Weasel is an idiot just like that idiot Erasmus who screwed up the Latin in the first place. Everyone with any brains in their head knows that Pandora was the chick with the pithos."
Hermione couldn't help smiling at the word "pithos."
"I was thinking," began Draco tentatively, "that perhaps we could take care of Pandora together."
"Together? You can't be serious."
"I know you think I'm not responsible, but I'll do whatever it takes to show I've changed. We can even have meetings and stuff with lots of lists and charts. What do you think?"
"I... I think you must like her an awful lot," said Hermione, starting to feel very guilty about what she had done to Pansy.
"I do," said Draco quietly, looking deeply into her eyes.
Hermione couldn't take it anymore. "I have to go."
"Will you at least think about it?" asked Draco hopefully.
"Yeah, sure," said Hermione, quickly gathering up her books and turning to leave.
"Oh, and by the way," said Draco before she had successfully made her escape, "Pansy still hasn't been seen. I'm beginning to think you really did kill her."
When Hermione came back through the portrait hole with her books in tow, she walked in on Ron and Pansy in full chase mode. Ron was running around the room with a long piece of yarn, trailing behind him and Pansy was tearing after him, trying to get a hold of the yarn. Ron had just jumped over their favorite sofa by the fire place, and Pansy was digging her claws in and about to launch herself off the back of said sofa when Hermione cleared her throat.
"Have you both forgotten that Pansy isn't actually a cat?"
They both looked back at her guiltily. Pansy sullenly sat down on the sofa, and Ron tried to discreetly hide the yarn in his pocket. Unfortunately, it just kept unrolling from the ball. Ron finally got fed up and bent over and picked up the yarn ball, shoving the whole lumpy mess in his pocket.
Hermione closed her eyes for a moment and then gave her head a little shake as if trying to remove the image from her memory. "Okay, that was really awkward, but I think I found a spell that can get things back to normal, and we can forget all of this happened. And I do mean all of this," she said, letting out a shudder.
Pansy and Ron looked at her expectantly. Hermione set down all of her books, save one, and flipped through the pages. "It's kind of embarrassing, but I found this book in the puberty section. It should do the trick." Hermione circled her wand in a complicated pattern and then swished and flicked it at Pansy as she said the spell. Nothing happened.
"Smartest witch of our age, my ass."
"You can talk!" Hermione exclaimed.
"Great," said Pansy sarcastically. "I'm a talking cat. A lot of good that does me."
"It's kind of cool," said Ron. "I've never met a talking cat."
Pansy glared at him.
"Don't you know what this means?" said Hermione excitedly. When they both stared at her blankly, she said, "It means, I found the right spell."
"Then why am I still a cat?" asked Pansy.
"I don't know," said Hermione, her face falling a little.
"Maybe you didn't cast the spell correctly," said Pansy.
"Of course I did," huffed Hermione, offended.
"Maybe you didn't say the 'o' long enough," quipped Ron.
Hermione glared. "Maybe it's something Pansy is doing wrong. Maybe Pansy doesn't want to change back."
"You think I like being a cat?" hissed Pansy.
"I think you like the attention," Hermione spat back.
"That's it," said Pansy. "I'm going to Dumbledore. I bet he can change me back."
"Wait!" cried Hermione. "I'm sorry. Please don't go. If you do, everyone will know."
"So? What do I care?" asked Pansy.
"I'm not only thinking of me," said Hermione. "I'm thinking of you, too. Do you know how many pussy jokes I had to endure after I accidentally turned myself into a cat? A lot. And that was second year. The boys have gotten way more immature since then. Ask Ron."
Ron shrugged ambivalently but then couldn't help sniggering as though he had just thought of something particularly funny.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "See?"
"I don't know," said Pansy hesitantly.
"Please don't tell anyone, Pansy. I'll do anything," Hermione pleaded.
Pansy's tail twitched excitedly. "Anything?"
"Yes," answered Hermione glumly yet determinedly. "If anyone found out about this, it would ruin my reputation. It could affect my career prospects. I hate to say it, but my entire future rests in your hands, er, paws."
"Fine," said Pansy. "I won't tell anyone your secret. The prospect of anything is too hard to resist."
"So, what exactly does anything entail?" asked Hermione warily.
"Well, I hardly know yet," replied Pansy haughtily. "This requires some serious thought."
"Why do I have the feeling I just sold my soul to the devil?" muttered Hermione bitterly.
Pansy laughed. "Oh, it's much worse than that. You just sold your soul to a Slytherin."
Hermione ran down the corridor toward the Great Hall, tugging at her too short skirt along the way. She didn't know how girls wore these things without showing their knickers. She had somehow convinced Pansy to give her the password to the Slytherin dorms, so she could get a uniform and get a strand of hair out of her hairbrush for the Polyjuice Potion. She wasn't taking a chance of turning herself into a cat again. Luckily, ever since second year, she had kept a supply of Polyjuice on hand for emergencies. And boy was this an emergency. She couldn't have Malfoy thinking she killed Pansy Parkinson. She was pretty sure he was joking, but it was better to be safe than sorry. Accidental magic was bad, but murder could really affect her job prospects.
She had to hurry. She wanted to get to the Great Hall before dinner was over. She figured it was best to pretend to be Pansy in a more neutral setting. She wasn't that great of an actress, and if she was found out, she preferred that it not be in the Slytherin dorms. That's why she chose this time. Unfortunately, she took a little long getting dressed due to a lapse in her Gryffindor bravery over a pair of black satin knickers that Pansy had insisted she put on. After several agonizing minutes, she couldn't bring herself to do it on and opted to keep her white cotton knickers instead. What Pansy didn't know wouldn't hurt her. But now she was late.
She burst into the Great Hall and automatically headed for the Gryffindor table. When she noticed her friends scowling at her approach, she remembered that she was supposed to be Pansy Parkinson and slunk back to the Slytherin table.
"Slumming with the Gryffindors?" asked Draco.
"No, I was, um, looking for Hermione, I mean Granger. I wanted to see if she finished our project yet."
"You're lucky you got Granger for a potions partner. I got that moron who always blows himself up. I had to threaten him not to come anywhere near the cauldron. Are you going to sit down?" asked Draco, looking expectantly at her.
"Oh, yes," said Hermione, trying to figure out a way to sit down on the bench without showing her knickers. She started to lift her leg but quickly changed her mind. Then she tried squatting but she was facing backward, so she stood up again. Finally, Draco just pulled her down in a heap next to him, causing her to flash her knickers to the whole table.
"What's with the virginal knickers, Pans?" asked Crabbe. "Feeling sentimental?"
"Shut it, Crabbe," barked Draco.
"Thanks... Drakey Poo," said Hermione awkwardly, trying hard not to gag. Another one of Pansy's stipulations.
"You hungry?" Draco asked. "Crabbe and Goyle ate most of it, but we could get the house-elves to whip you up some more."
"I'm good," said Hermione, scraping a spoonful of mashed potatoes from the bowl. "I wouldn't want to bother the house-elves. They're probably already busy cleaning up."
"You're worried about bothering the house-elves?" Draco laughed. "I think you've been hanging around Granger too much."
"Well, she has some good points," said Hermione defensively. "Why should house-elves be treated any differently than wizards?"
"Because they are different?"
"Wrong. And why should they always have to serve us?"
"Because they like it?"
"Wrong again," Hermione practically sang, going into automatic debate mode. "They only think they like it because wizards have instilled it in them."
Draco flipped open her robe.
"What are you doing?" Hermione gasped.
"Looking for your S.P.E.W. button." Draco laughed.
"Laugh all you want, but I'm thinking of joining," Hermione said haughtily.
"Well, enjoy your spoonful of mashed potatoes," said Draco, pulling out a roll of parchment. "I have Arithmancy to finish up."
Hermione nibbled at her dinner while she discreetly watched Draco out of the corner of her eye. Of course, it was hard to be completely discreet when Arithmancy was involved. "You've got that one wrong," she said, pointing at an answer on his homework.
"The answer should be twelve," she said, unable to stop herself. "You must have used the wrong chart."
Looking at her as though she had just grown twelve heads, Draco asked, "Since when do you know anything about Arithmancy?"
"Oh, well, I... uh, must have picked it up somewhere," stammered Hermione, realizing her mistake.
"You just picked up Arithmancy somewhere? You, who have no head for numbers, just picked it up?"
"Well, it wasn't as though it was a very difficult problem," said Hermione, trying to justify it.
"Who are you?" asked Draco suspiciously.
"What do you mean?" asked Hermione nervously.
"You're not acting like yourself. You're acting like–"
In a moment of sheer desperation, Hermione kissed him. She had never kissed a boy before, and had no idea what she was doing, but Draco didn't seem to mind because he kissed her back quite enthusiastically and extremely knowledgeably.
"You kissed him!" Pansy hissed.
"You told me he was your boyfriend!"
"Do you have to believe everything I say!"
"Now, he wants to go to Madam Puddifoot's with me. What am I going to do?" Hermione moaned.
"You have to go."
"I have been in love with Draco Malfoy since I was ten years old. This is the first time he has ever shown any interest in me. You are not going to blow this."
"It was me he showed interest in," Hermione pointed out. "Not you."
"Yes, but he doesn't know that, does he?"
"No," said Hermione adamantly. "I am not going on a date with Draco Malfoy."
"You owe me. You said you would do anything," Pansy reminded her.
"You have got to be joking," said Hermione incredulously. "You seriously want me to get in a relationship with the boy you've been in love with since you were ten years old?"
"You are completely crazy."
"More like brilliant. I'm not going to stay a cat forever. This accidental magic is going to wear off eventually. And when it does, I expect to turn back into a witch with a boyfriend."
"I don't think this is a good idea," said Hermione hesitantly.
"What could go wrong?"
Once again, Hermione found herself coming out of the Slytherin dorm in a skirt too short. Pansy and Ron were waiting for her.
"Wow," Ron whistled. "You look hot."
"Don't you mean, I look hot," said Pansy, still in her cat form. "It is my body, isn't it?"
Ron turned red in the face. "I, er..."
"Don't you own any clothes that don't show your knickers," grumbled Hermione, wearing the longest dress she could find among Pansy's things, and even so, it barely reached her thighs.
"What do you think, Weasel? Is it too short?"
"No, er... It's good," said Ron, unable to take his eyes off of her. But then shaking his head, he said, "I mean, it's bad. This whole thing is a bad idea."
"What do you mean?" asked Pansy.
"You're opening the box," Ron accused.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"I think he means jar," clarified Hermione.
"Box, jar, whatever," huffed Ron. "You're opening it, and who knows what is going to be unleashed."
"Ron, can I have a word?" asked Hermione.
"Yeah, sure," said Ron, not looking her in the eye.
Hermione dragged him over to an alcove. "Would you look at me and stop staring at Pansy's breasts!" she snapped.
"Fine," grumbled Ron.
"I'm going to get straight to the point. You have a crush on a cat."
"She's not really a cat," said Ron defensively.
"No, she's not. She's a completely horrible person."
"You don't know her like I do."
"Playing with a ball of yarn does not make you an expert."
"It doesn't not make me an expert either."
Hermione sighed. "Just be careful. I don't want you to get your heart broken."
Ron smiled. "I could say the same to you."
"Stick out your breasts!" Pansy hissed. "Jeez, you act as though you've never talked to a boy before."
"I've talked to plenty of boys," Hermione snapped.
Draco gave her a funny look. "You feeling alright, Pans?"
"Yeah, I'm great," said Hermione, forcing herself to smile. She stuck out her breasts for good measure.
It seemed to work. Draco smiled at her and opened the door to the little tea shop. It was just as bad as Harry had described. Wall to wall chintz and a room full of amorous couples draped across tiny tea tables, sipping tea and eating each others faces. Hermione had never felt more uncomfortable in her life. She was definitely in over her head.
"No cats," said Madam Puddifoot, greeting them at the door and picking up a protesting Pansy and chucking her out to the street. "Table for two?"
Draco nodded, and they followed Madam Puddifoot to a table near the window. Outside, Pansy pressed her nose to the window and watched them through the glass. It was kind of sad. And creepy. Hermione had to force herself not to close the shade. She didn't need to anger Pansy anymore than she already had. Opening her menu, she buried her face in it, and tried her best to ignore Pansy and the snogging couples around them.
"You don't need to bother with that," said Draco, plucking the menu from her hand. "I know just what to order."
He waved over Madam Puddifoot and asked for the house special blend and an assortment of sandwiches. The hostess quickly bustled off to the kitchen, leaving them alone. Never having been on a date before, Hermione wasn't sure what to do. She fussed about with her napkin, rearranged her silverware and studied the dessert menu, which featured a delicious-looking chocolate torte. Yum! Not knowing what else to do, she drank the entire contents from her water glass and then excused herself to use the ladies' room. When she got back to the table after taking way longer than she needed to, she was relieved to see a steaming pot of tea waiting on the table. She needed something to take her mind off the fact that she was on a date with Draco Malfoy.
With an amused look on his face, Draco poured her a cup of tea. "This is the special house blend. It's my very favorite. It has seven secret herbs. I wonder if you can guess what they are?"
"Oh, I'm quite good at guessing games," said Hermione enthusiastically, happy to be on familiar ground. She often played this game with her grandmother. Over the years, she had become quite the tea connoisseur. She took a discerning sip, letting the hot liquid roll over her tongue.
"Raspberry, red clover, elder flowers, chamomile, rose petals... and something I can't quite place my finger on."
"Do you give up?" asked Draco with a smile.
"No, I'm sure I can..." Hermione was distracted from finishing her sentence, when out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a strand of dark hair suddenly spring up into a coil. She quickly pulled on the wild curl to straighten it, but another curl sprang up in its place. And then another and another. Soon, without a doubt, Hermione knew exactly what the final secret herb was. It was the one herb that acted as an antidote to Polyjuice. "Nettle."
"Very clever, Granger." Draco smirked. "Just not as clever as me, I suppose."
"So, what have you done to Pansy? Did you slip her a sleeping draught in a cupcake and lock her in a broom cupboard?"
"No," said Hermione, sounding offended as though such a plan would never occur to her.
"Well..." prompted Draco.
"I turned her into a cat," Hermione finally admitted.
Draco looked out the window at the shiny, black cat with her nose pressed up against the glass. "Pandora?"
Hermione nodded and Draco let out a huge guffaw.
"It's not funny. She's really quite put out."
"I bet she is," said Draco, still sounding amused.
"It was an accident," Hermione admitted, "but now I can't turn her back. I've tried numerous spells but they haven't worked. The only spell that did anything, gave her her voice back, and to tell you the truth, I kind of wish that one hadn't worked at all."
"Why didn't you just take her to Madame Pomfrey?"
"I was too embarrassed," said Hermione sheepishly. "Accidental magic is for kids."
"It's not really that big of deal," said Draco, shrugging. "I grew up with Pansy. I know how she is. If you hang around her long enough, accidental magic is inevitable."
"But I'm supposed to be the brightest witch of my age," Hermione moaned. "I'm not supposed to do something stupid like losing control of my magic. I was so embarrassed and worried that it would ruin my future chance for a career in the Ministry that I was willing to do anything to hide it."
"You mean like going on a date with me?"
Hermione nodded. "I'm sorry."
"That's too bad," said Draco. "I was really looking forward to this date with you."
"You mean Pansy," Hermione said bitterly.
"No, I mean you. Did you really think I believed you were Pansy when you were talking about Arithmancy and House-elf rights?"
"You kissed me," murmured Hermione as though the enormity of that suddenly dawned on her.
Draco smirked. "Actually, you kissed me."
"But you liked it."
Draco smiled. "I did. And I wouldn't have if it was really Pansy. She's like a sister to me."
"I'm pretty sure Pansy doesn't feel that way," said Hermione, pursing her lips.
"Yeah," agreed Draco, "she somehow got it in her head that we'd make the perfect couple, and she's too stubborn to give up on the idea, even though it's obvious we don't have that kind of connection."
"So, you knew it was me all the time?"
"Well, as soon as you started talking about house-elves without regard to fetching you something."
"Weren't you worried about what happened to Pansy?"
"I was curious, sure, but not worried. I hate to say it, because it's kind of a bad word where I come from, but you're a bit of a goody-two-shoes."
"I am not," huffed Hermione. "I've done loads of bad things."
Draco arched his eyebrow. "Let me guess. They were all for a good cause."
"Well, yes. Except this time. This time the cause was me."
"A Slytherin would argue that's the best cause."
Hermione took a deep breath. "But I'm not a Slytherin. I'm a Gryffindor. And I'm going to do what I should have done in the first place. I'm going to take Pansy to see Madame Pomfrey."
"So, are you going to do that now or after dessert? Because I hear the chocolate torte is fabulous here." He looked at her hopefully.
Hermione smiled. "I suppose I could do it after dessert. It won't kill Pansy to stay a cat for a few more hours."
"And if it does, at least she has eight more lives left," Draco joked.
Ron looked through the window with Pansy, and they both silently watched Draco and Hermione continue to enjoy their date together. After a while, Ron said, "Look at the horror you have unleashed on the world. I told you not to open the box. "
"Don't you mean jar?" asked Pansy dryly.
"Cheer up. You still have hope," Ron joked.
"My hopes and dreams are a little crushed at the moment thanks to Granger. I've had all of my hopes set on Draco all this time. Now what am I supposed to do?"
"Why does everything have to revolve around Malfoy?" said Ron a little jealously.
"I don't know. It just does."
"You don't need him. You're a smart, independent woman."
"I'm a cat."
"An independent cat. And a damn smart one, too. Besides, you're still you on the inside."
Pansy looked up at him. "You know what? I don't think I am the same. In fact, I think I'm more human now than I've ever been. Thank you for being my friend." She nuzzled her face against Ron's cheek, and he gave her a hug in return. And that is the moment Pansy turned back into a girl. A very naked girl.
Embarrassed, Ron gave her his cloak and awkwardly joked, "I guess playing with yarn is out of the question now."
Pansy looking very much like the cat that ate the canary, although sans fur now, rubbed her hand seductively up and down the sleeve of his knitted Weasley jumper and purred, "I wouldn't say that. There's always hope."
"Ugh! Is that Pansy snogging Weasel out there?"
"I do believe it is. Looks like I don't have to take her to Madame Pomfrey after all," said Hermione, smiling.
"Maybe you should take me. I feel sick after seeing that," Draco groaned.
"Don't you want Pansy to be happy?"
"Yeah, but does it have to be with him? We can't both be with Gryffindors. It makes the whole house look bad."
At Hermione's glare, he said, "I mean, yay! House Unity!"
"I thought so," said Hermione, leaning in to kiss him.
"So, how come it took you so long to make to make a move?" asked Draco. "I've been oozing charm all year."
"I guess I was just being stubborn. I didn't realize how I felt until Pandora came along–"
"And opened her pithos?"
"Yeah, something like that." Hermione smiled.
Draco raised his tea cup. "Here's to Pandora and her pithos."
Hermione clinked her cup to his. "And to everything it unleashes."