Past Tense

"What do you mean, it's locked?"

"What do you think I mean, you idiot? The door won't open, they've put a bloody charm on it!"

"Well, we have to serve detention, they probably don't want us to leave…"

"Detention doing what? In case you haven't noticed, Granger, the room is rather empty!"

"There has to be something…"

"Just a desk and some papers. I don't think we're supposed to do lines all night either."

Draco stood a couple feet away from the door, glaring angrily. His expression was mirrored on the faces of the other three occupants of the room. Hermione sighed in frustration and pushed him out of the way.

"Here, let me do it. Have you tried Alohomora?"

"Your powers of observation render me quite speechless, I must say Granger. Have you forgotten that not over five minutes ago our wands were confiscated?"

"Oh. Yeah." Hermione blushed sheepishly.

Ron Weasley's fists curled at his sides. "Don't talk to her like that, Malfoy, you great prat!"

"Come off it, Weasley." Pansy Parkinson had remained silent so far, choosing instead to watch in amusement and annoyance. Now she tossed her blond head with a little 'huff.' "Fighting won't help anything. We'll just get more detentions."

Hermione sat down heavily on the floor, surveying the empty walls with a gloomy air. They all had it coming, she thought reflectively. The war with Voldemort had ended over a month ago and the students at Hogwarts School of Wizardry were trying to complete their school year and heal their wounds in the aftermath. Instead of the sorrow she thought she would feel as their seven year stay at the school came nearer to its end, Hermione found herself anxious and eager to get out into the real world and on with her life. Hogwarts held too many memories, memories that were palpable and all too real when they were continually surrounded with grim reminders of the toll the war had taken on everyone.

However, there were good effects of the war, Hermione supposed. It had succeeded in unifying the school more than it ever had been since its founding. Students from different houses now mingled freely together. The animosity and rivalry that had previously been between the houses had decreased tremendously, now appearing just as a friendly competitive spirit. Some Slytherins had even joined the Order before the final battle, defying their parents and their anticipated roles. The breach between purebloods and other wizards was healing, and old grudges were as well.

Except for these four students. Open-minded as they could be when it came to others, Ron and Hermione continued to hate Draco and Pansy with a violent passion, and the feeling was most assuredly returned. The two Slytherins were among those who had joined with the Order, but even this couldn't endear them to the Gryffindor's hearts. Draco and Pansy had managed to put aside their differences with Harry, even forming tenuous friendships with him, but they were obstinate when it came to Weasley and Granger. Some quality about each of them just didn't rub right with the other.

All their friends tried to persuade them, telling them that it was okay to like Slytherins now, that Gryffindors could actually be their friends. But the four remained stubborn in their hatred. It had escalated this afternoon into a fight in the hallway, landing them all in detention for the evening.

Hermione glanced around the small room at her fellow captives. Like her, Pansy and Ron had taken seats on the floor. Draco remained standing, leaning against the doorpost with a nonchalant air that irritated Hermione immensely.

"Aren't we expected to do something?" She asked, breaking the quiet. Professor Flitwick, on Dumbledore's orders, had led them down here, confiscated their wands, and locked them in without any instruction as what to do.

"Perhaps they're going to starve us. You know, lock us in here for a few days until we learn our lesson, or something like that." Ron's stomach rumbled a little, testimonial to his already present hunger.

"Don't be silly, Ron, they couldn't do that! I'm sure it would be against the rules, inhumane or something like that." Hermione sighed.

"Do you think it has anything to do with the papers on the desk?" The other three turned to look at Pansy and she shrugged. "There might be some reading material at least."

Draco smirked a little. "It's worth a try, Pans. Anything to get out of here quicker. I don't want to spend any more time with these two freaks than I have to." He strolled over to the desk and picked up the short stack of papers, ignoring the angry mutters of Ron and Hermione.

He read the first one, frowning a little. "Oh god. It looks like some horrible team building exercise."

Hermione stood up. "What? Let me see." She reached for the paper, but Draco casually maneuvered it out of her reach.

"Listen to this. 'You will not be allowed out of this room until you have come to terms with one another and developed, if not a friendship, then at least an understanding between the four of you. The following papers are questions to get you started.'" He snorted. "So we have to play little 'get-to-know-you' games, is that it?" Draco dropped the papers on the desk and went back to leaning on the doorpost. "I might prefer Weasley's suggestion of starving."

Hermione picked up the neglected papers. "Well, I for one want to get out of here as soon as possible. I actually have a life I want to get back to."

"A life? You, Granger?" Pansy laughed. "That's a good one."

Ron shot a glare at her. "Shut up, you cow."

She stopped laughing. "Oh, springing to your little girlfriend's defense, is that it?"

The red-head rolled his eyes and ignored her. "I agree with Hermione. We should answer the questions and get the hell out of here."

"Fine, whatever. Just make it quick and painless." Draco finally relented, sitting on the floor. The desk disappeared suddenly, leaving all of them to stare at each other, one person leaning against each wall.

"Alright then, let's see the first one." Hermione moved the instruction sheet onto the floor and turned back to the first question. "'For everyone: say something positive about one of the people in the room. They have to be someone from a different house.'" She rolled her eyes. "Oh honestly, does Dumbledore think we're in kindergarten? I haven't done this kind of thing since I was four."

"What's kintagarden?" Ron asked, puzzled. Hermione smiled.

"A muggle school for kids. It's something everyone has to do." The expression on his face said he didn't quite understand. "Look, I'll explain later. So, who wants to go first?"

There was silence. Then finally, Draco spoke.

"Oh for the love of – I'll just go." He appeared to be deep in thought for a moment before he said off-handedly, to Hermione. "Well, whatever else you are, no one can deny that you've got plenty of brains. There, is that good enough?"

"Fine. Draco, you've got a lot of poise." Hermione said. "And courage, I guess," she added and Draco frowned.

"Courage?"

"Well, yeah." Hermione blushed a little. "I mean, rejecting everything you had ever been taught to believe. That goes for you too, Pansy."

Once again, an uncomfortable silence filled the room. Ron cleared his throat.

"Um…well, Pansy's really determined, I suppose. And ambitious. Doesn't let things get in her way."

The blonde smiled faintly. "Thanks. You're really loyal, from what I can see."

No one seemed to want to look at any of the others for a little while. Then Draco rolled his eyes.

"Can we get on with it? If we don't reach an 'understanding' within the hour I'm going to be pretty ticked off."

"Like I give a crap, Malfoy." Ron turned to Hermione. "But he's right, you should read the next."

"'Say something you envy about a person in the room. Same rules as the other question apply.'"

Ron was the first to speak this time. "Well, I've always envied your money, Malfoy. Not for buying things, I don't really care about a lot of stuff. But just…the security, you know? Not having to worry constantly."

"It's not all it's cracked up to be, honestly." Draco grimaced. "I would give all my gold to have a family like yours, Weasley." When everyone looked at him in surprise he raised his eyebrows defensively. "What? I've always wanted siblings. And you all know my dad," he said bitterly. "Not the most loving bloke."

"This is for all three of you actually," Pansy said softly, causing them all to turn and look at her. "But I've always envied this quality you all have. You all stand out in a crowd, people notice you. You kind of command attention, like you're someone important."

The other three turned to Hermione expectantly, and she blushed a little. "It's not deep or anything, like all of yours, but I've always wanted Pansy's hair." They looked at her, incredulously, and then Ron began to chuckle. Soon, they were all laughing. Hermione grinned. "No, I do! Hers is so pretty and blonde, and I've never been able to do anything with mine." She played with the ends of it absent mindedly as she laughed.

Soon, the mirth died and they all sat a little self-consciously, aware of having shared personal thoughts. Ron cleared his throat again. "What's the next one?"

Hermione looked at the next page and blanched a little. "That's a little unexpected," she said, her voice lowered and trembling a little.

"What is it?" Pansy asked curiously.

"'What's the worst part of someone you love dying?'" The words seemed to ring in the small room as they all stared at the piece of parchment in Hermione's hands.

"Is this some kind of joke?" Draco's voice sounded dangerous, and she quickly shook her head.

"No, look…" She quietly handed the paper to him. He read it mutely, and passed it to Pansy, who in turn gave it to Ron.

The tension in the room was at an almost unbearable level. A question like that touched too close to wounds that had barely healed.

"The loneliness." Pansy sounded quieter and more vulnerable than anyone had ever heard her. She shifted, drawing her knees to her chest. "Feeling…all hollow. Missing someone you know can never come back. Hoping." She laughed a little bitterly. "Hoping is the worst."

"It's the forgetting." Ron stared at his hands. "Forgetting that they're gone, and waiting for them to turn up. Or going to tell them something, something little, like how you did on an exam or a funny thing someone said, and then realizing that they're not there." He was shaking a little. "And when you realize…it's like they die again."

"The past tense," Draco and Hermione chorused together. They glanced at each other, startled. Hermione smiled weakly.

"Not knowing whether to say 'loved' or 'love'."

"The finality of it."

They stared wordlessly at each other. Draco had lost a lot of his color and the haunted look that had barely been banished came back into Hermione's eyes. Finally, she glanced away, and the spell was broken.

"Well, let's do the next one, shall we?" She said in an overly bright tone, swallowing hard against the lump in her throat. Pansy nodded and Ron brushed his hand against his eyes.

"There must be dust in here," he said in a choked voice. For once, Draco didn't dispute him.

"Probably."

With trembling hands Hermione picked up the next parchment, hesitant to see the words on it. She read it and breathed a little sigh of relief. "'Ask someone a question you've always want answered.'"

Draco smirked, his haughty mask sliding back and replacing the haggard look of before. "How can Granger be so ugly?"

Ron rose a little, menacingly, but Hermione put a restraining hand on his shoulder. "Ron…" she said warningly, and he sat back down, glaring daggers at Draco.

"Look, we have to do this! Let's just be civil and get though them, okay?"

The mood of before had been broken, and a feeling of animosity returned to the room. Draco and Ron continued to glare at each other, but Pansy cut in before they could say anything. "Does it have to be someone from a different house?"

Hermione frowned and looked back down at the question. "It doesn't say this time. I guess not."

Pansy smiled bitterly. "Then I've got a question I've always wanted to ask Draco. I don't particularly care to say it in front of those two, but I'll never do it otherwise." She stared at the grey-eyed boy haughtily, but her lower lip trembled slightly, betraying her outward composure. "Why was I never good enough, Draco? Was there someone else?" The words were said in a rush, almost as if they came out of their own accord. Ron and Hermione's eyes widened a little at the question.

Draco blushed for what had to have been the first time. "Not here, Pans, not in front of these two."

"I don't care. You have to answer."

"Who says I do?"

"You don't think there's not some kind of truth spell or something in this room? Dumbledore's too smart to assume we would answer voluntarily otherwise." Pansy tossed her head, shaking what might have been tears from her eyelashes. "Well?" she asked throatily.

Draco sighed, darting a furtive glance towards Ron and Hermione, who were listening attentively. "Yes, I suppose there was," he said reluctantly. "I knew you since I was four days old, and even then I never wanted to be with you." At her hurt look, he hurried to explain. "I always liked you, respected you, but…" he mumbled something incoherently.

"What was that, Malfoy? Didn't catch the last bit." Ron was grinning broadly at Draco's discomfiture.

The shorter boy shot him a death glare and then turned back to Pansy. "alwaysalittleafraidofyou."

"What?" Pansy asked.

Draco gritted his teeth. "I was always a little afraid of you, okay? Are you happy now?"

"Actually, I am." Pansy looked like it. She was smirking with a sort of pleased triumph. "Just glad I know the reason."

Ron was howling with laughter and Hermione was fighting to restrain her own giggles. Draco 'humphed' and turned a little to the wall.

"Ron, stop laughing!" Hermione reproached the redhead. Ron finally gained some semblance of control, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes.

"I know, it's not nice, but I just can't picture Malfoy being scared of Pansy Parkinson! She's so little, after all."

"You've never seen her angry," Draco grumbled sullenly, and Pansy smiled.

"If we could get off the subject of my ability to scare the pants off of Draco, does someone else have a question?"

"Well, yes actually, for the both of you." Ron had stopped laughing and looked a little nervous. "I'm sure you expect this, and you probably get it all the time, but why…"

"Why did we do it?" Draco cut in smoothly. "Why did we switch sides?"

Ron nodded and Hermione found herself waiting expectantly for the answer. Draco looked at Pansy.

"You want to go first?"

"Sure, why not." She chewed on her bottom lip a little, contemplating her answer. "I guess…well, it was the killing. I still think that pure blood should be stressed, I mean, it's still important, and everything but…" the blonde shuddered a little, remembering. "I went home for the summer holidays and I saw my dad torture and kill a muggle. That's when I decided to switch." Pansy looked up at them, and her eyes were full of pain. "The screams were enough to convince me." She laughed slightly, trying to break her reverie. "Well, that's me. Draco?"

"It started with the Dark Mark." He unconsciously rubbed his left forearm. "When it was put on, it felt like a brand. I stared at it and I realized…I'm no longer a free man. I lived my entire life under my father's control, and now I was going to be controlled be someone else." Draco stared at a small patch of the floor. "I wanted a choice, I wanted a say in something, anything. That's why I first did it. But then, when I started questioning my father's control over me, I started questioning every thing else he had taught me too." He smiled vacantly. "I just needed to be free, I suppose." He glanced up at the others. "Any other questions?"

"Yes." Hermione said softly, and they all turned to look at her. Her presence had almost been forgotten, she had been so quiet lately. She stared Draco straight in the eyes. "Why do you hate me?" He flinched, and she continued. "Always, since we met, you've been nasty and horrible to me. I thought it was because I was a Mudblood," she spat the ugly word, "but then you joined the Order and 'reformed' and everything, and you still hated me. You never stopped insulting me." Her brown eyes were full of anger and injustice. "I just want to know why."

Draco stared back at her levelly, not removing his gaze. "I never hated you," he finally said, and Hermione and Ron's brows wrinkled in confusion. "Maybe, for a time, when you would always be the reason that my father would hit me, that I let a mudblood beat me, I wanted to hate you. You stood for all that was wrong and horrible in my world." He shook his head and Hermione waited, holding her breath. When he spoke again, his voice actually quavered, loosing its normal control. "But I couldn't. Merlin knows I tried, how I tried! Because, after all, it would have been easier to…" he swallowed. "Easier to hate you than to…love you." He finished quietly, never relinquishing his gaze.

Ron and Pansy stared dumbly at Draco, openmouthed. Hermione turned white and sat immobile.

"…what?" The word escaped her dry throat in a whisper.

Draco squeezed his eyes tightly shut for a moment, then opened them. His proud, defiant look returned. "I never hated you. I always loved you."

There was a slight 'click' and the door opened. No one moved, scarcely registering their freedom. Finally, Ron shifted slightly in the awkward silence.

"I think I'll go back to the common room." He stood up.

"Me too." Pansy said quickly, and Ron helped her stand automatically, without even thinking about it. They passed the still pair, glancing behind them worriedly and exchanging glances as they passed through the door.

At last, Hermione looked away, the intensity in Draco's grey eyes too much for her. She clambered to her feet hastily and smoothed dust from her robes.

"I – I should probably be getting back too, it's getting late and I've still got some homework that I need to do…" She broke off and looked at Draco, who had slowly risen to his feet.

"I just thought," he said softly. "I never got to ask a question."

"Yeah?" Hermione shook a little.

"I've always wanted to know…" he stood a little closer. "Could we ever – I mean, is there a chance? I know we're supposed to be enemies and all that, but…"

"Were."

"What?" Draco looked puzzled.

Hermione smiled faintly. "I think…I think I'd like the past tense in this case. Were enemies."

Draco stared at her for a time before he smiled, a real smile that Hermione had never seen on his face before.

"I'd like that too."

They both blushed a little, slightly embarrassed, and exited the room together. As they headed their different ways to separate common rooms, Hermione couldn't help but grin. It was very possible that maybe nothing would happen.

But then, maybe something would.