It's Hermione's first day at her first job and she doesn't want to make a fuss but-
"Why is Pansy Parkinson working here?"
-she's never been good at holding her tongue.
"Because she had an excellent interview," Parkinson answers for herself.
Hermione's boss frowns severely. "I don't care about anything that came before today," she says. "Get along or get out."
Hermione corners her boss at the end of the day and tries to explain, but-
"No, Miss Granger, I don't want to hear it. If Miss Parkinson says anything offensive to you or anyone else then I will deal with it, but I don't care what happened at school."
Hermione gets along. She gets used to Parkinson three cubicles over, and though they work in the same sphere they don't have the same job, so all in all she has more important things to worry about. She stays late and works hard, and her boss starts smiling at her and giving her more responsibilities.
The office throws a little surprise party for her first promotion, her friends and some cake and a few of George's canary creams hidden in there to make people laugh.
She finds herself, flushed and smiling, handing cake to Parkinson.
"Congratulations," Parkinson says, and it sounds sincere. "You earned it."
Hermione is too surprised to say anything, and Parkinson laughs.
"Wow. I made Granger speechless. Someone call the press."
Around them people laugh and Parkinson slinks away into the crowd. Only when Ginny nudges her arm does Hermione realise she's staring.
There's a case where their jobs overlap. An abusive situation involving a child and a house-elf. Normally Hermione would be supervised with such a serious case, but because Parkinson is involved too, she's given a chance. She almost wishes she hadn't been.
"It's sick," she whispers, closing her eyes to the pictures.
"Yeah," Parkinson says. "One of the worst I've seen. I need a drink. Want to come get a drink with me once we're done here?"
"Using alcohol to deal with negative situations can lead to a dependence on it," Hermione says, because what else is she supposed to say to that?
You could say yes, suggests a voice in her head that sounds suspiciously like Ginny.
"Alright. Want to get dinner when we're done here?"
Pansy sounds nonchalant, but she won't meet Hermione's gaze.
"Why social work?" asks Hermione three hours later, over a dimly lit dinner at the Leaky Cauldron.
Parkinson looks at her with inscrutable dark eyes. "I always liked kids. And. I wanted to do something good."
Hermione looks at her plate. She takes a deep breath. "I'm sorry for how I reacted when I saw you that first day-"
"Don't be. I didn't blame you. I can't take it back, but I'm sorry for how I treated you at school."
"So. Now that we've got that out of the way, do you think you can start calling me Pansy?"
Hermione smiles. "I think I can manage that."
The case ends. The dinners don't.
"But it's Pansy Parkison. Pansy Parkinson," Ron whines. He's actually stopped eating to say this and Hermione's quite impressed.
"I know her name, Ron. She's not the same."
"She tried to hand Harry over to You-Know-Who!"
"When she was seventeen."
Ron looks to Harry, gesturing wildly like can you believe this. Harry looks thoughtful, dragging his fork through his peas.
"The Malfoys changed. Snape did." He swallows. "My dad did."
They sit quietly for a minute, the only sound the scrape of Harry's fork against his plate.
"I trust Hermione's judgement," Harry says.
Ron looks for a second like he's going to argue, then he sighs gustily.
"Fine," he says, waving his knife at Hermione and shovelling potato into his mouth with his fork. "But if she ever calls you a Mudblood again then I'll hex her so badly her own mother won't recognise her."
Pansy gets her hair cut, a bob that falls to her chin and accentuates her sharp jaw. Hermione can't stop staring, so much so that Pansy finally asks her what's wrong.
"Nothing," says Hermione quickly, blushing deeply.
She gets another promotion and there's another party. This time she seeks Pansy out, and finds her talking to Luna Lovegood in a corner. She looks like she needs rescuing.
"Luna, I think Ginny's looking for you," she says. Luna smiles knowingly and drifts off.
"Was she messing with me?" Pansy says when she's gone, leaning against the wall like she needs the support.
"Possibly," Hermione admits. "Here, I brought cake."
Pansy takes it and they stand together, quietly watching the others dance and talk and occasionally turn into canaries (it's a tradition by now). Hermione turns to say something about this to Pansy, but the words die in her throat when she catches the way Pansy is staring at her. Pansy doesn't look away.
"My last party was the first time I thought you might actually be alright," Hermione says finally.
"I know," Pansy says with a faint smile.
"You don't know."
"Yes, I do. I'm not Ron, I can actually understand basic human emotion."
"Don't say that about Ron," Hermione snaps, though she's almost accepted it's a lost cause. Ron and Pansy have met a few times now, and it never ends well.
Tonight though, Pansy just says, "Alright. I did know though."
"Did you do it on purpose?"
"That time?" Pansy considers for a moment. "No. I just wanted cake."
Hermione glares at her and she laughs.
"That time?" Hermione presses, determined now to. To what? She feels off-kilter and annoyed at Pansy's ease while she's got Hermione so worked up.
"I asked you to dinner, didn't I?" Pansy sounds nonchalant, but she won't meet Hermione's gaze. Hermione smiles.