Chapter 6: Angst Rears Its Ugly Head

"I saw you talking to her again."

The past three weeks had probably been the best of Pansy's life, loath as she was to admit that her happiness was due to a boy, a child. But nevertheless, she had been happy. Except about the ever-increasing conversations she witnessed between Malcolm and Astrid ("Honestly, Pansy, it's Astoria. You practically spent all of last summer at our house, you should know my little sister's name," Daphne said, sighing, but Pansy just waved a hand. It didn't matter what the girl's name was, just that she was there, interfering with Pansy's boy-derived happiness.)

Because it wasn't just conversations they were having. The girl was constantly touching Malcolm's arm or reaching out to hug him, laughing at his jokes and sending him shy, coy looks from beneath her lashes. It was sickening, but worse was the way Malcolm reacted, laughing and telling her it was nothing, honestly, that Astoria was a sweet girl but they were just friends. And when Pansy asked, "Does she know that?" with her voice embarrassingly shrill, Malcolm only shrugged and said, "Pansy, does it matter?"

And so Pansy tried to shrug and pretend it didn't, because that was what Malcolm wanted. And it was what she wanted too. Pansy didn't want to be jealous, didn't want to nag at Malcolm like the desperate, insecure girls who wrote into Teen Witch Weekly, asking the agony aunt to read the signs and tell them if their boyfriends were messing around on them.

Pansy knew that Malcolm wouldn't do that to her. She could tell by the way he closed his eyes halfway when she stroked his cheek with one finger, and the way they looked almost dazed when he opened them again. She could tell by the way he held her tight but oh-so-careful, dipping her back over the railings in abandoned stairwells until she smacked his shoulder and told him to lift her back up right now Malcolm Baddock or god help her she was going to curse his manly bits off. She could tell by the way he grinned wickedly and said then that wouldn't be very much fun for her now, would it?

Oh, well, maybe that last part didn't ensure his undying love for her, but she was fairly sure about it nonetheless. And besides, when they spent almost every night together (Daphne had given up asking Pansy where she was sneaking off to, but Pansy was fairly sure Daph knew anyway), when would Malcolm have time to be sneaking around with some other girl?

So Pansy didn't want to be acting like some jealous, insecure twit, but the fact remained that she was a jealous, insecure twit. And so after three weeks of biting her tongue, she found herself disentangling said tongue from Malcolm's mouth one evening and snapping out, "Would it be so hard just not to talk to her at all?"

They had snuck out of the castle entirely that night, holding hands while tiptoeing across the Entrance Hall and sliding out the door to run giggling through the damp grass toward the greenhouses. Now their breath made white ghosts in the air, but Pansy could feel the heat of the greenhouse at her back. She stepped away from it and from him and crossed her arms.

"What?" Malcolm looked confused. "Not talk to who?"

"You're too smart to play dumb," she said, but when he continued to look at him, she added, "Astoria. You know, the girl who is in love with you." She enunciated the last four words very carefully, as if each were a separate brick she was laying down between them.

Malcolm sighed and ran a hand up through his hair before meeting her gaze. "I suppose it's not any use telling you that I love you and that she means nothing to me?"

Pansy felt the brief flare of warmth blossom in the middle of her chest, the way it always did when he told her he loved her, which was practically a daily occurrence now, but held firm. "No."

Malcolm looked at her exasperatedly, then his eyes fixed over her shoulder at the foggy pane of glass. After a moment, he took a deep breath and looked at her again, his mouth set.

"Maybe this is a good thing," he said. "I've been meaning to talk to you for a while, but I wasn't quite sure how to bring it up."

Hiss voice was more serious than she had ever heard it before and she felt her stomach begin to twist.

"What?" she asked, and was dismayed at how breathless she sounded, all the air gone out of her.

"This has been great Pansy," he began, and suddenly it was like every nightmare come to life, with crashing realizations and bitter disappointment. "I mean, obviously I never dreamed that something, someone this great would happen to me." Pansy felt slightly better for a moment, hearing that, but then felt sick again as soon as Malcolm continued. " But…" He paused, twisting his hands together.

"But you've discovered that you actually like boys?" Pansy asked, trying to keep a teasing smile on her face while inside her intestines roiled.

He turned to look at her. "You'd like that, would you? No, it's just, Pansy, I want a girlfriend, not a secret love affair."

"Oh." Pansy thought of all the sighs when she said, "See you tonight," and the sad looks when she didn't do more than give him a tight nod in the Great Hall and suddenly it all made a lot more sense. She had never even considered the fact that Malcolm could be more than just a secret, or at least she had firmly squashed such ideas before they ever really rose in her consciousness. Because he couldn't be. He was just a fourth year, after all, and they would all look at her like she was crazy or like she was sick and Pansy didn't even know, what if it was illegal? What, she wondered with an ominous swoop of her stomach, would her mother say?

But she didn't have much time to think, because apparently Malcolm wasn't done.

"And Pansy, if we could just be open about this," he gestured to the two of them. "Astoria wouldn't talk to me anymore! I'm sure of it. Or at least, not the way she does now. I mean, you're scary!" She raised her eyebrows, fighting to keep her bottom lip from trembling and he fumbled, reaching out for her hand. "Not to me! But if you didn't know you." He waves his hands, as if to disperse this last topic. "And anyway, why can't we just date like normal people? I don't see what you're so afraid of! I love you and I know you love me too."

His eyes got very dark as he said this, and his grip on her hand tightened. It was probably bravodo on his part, saying it, but Pansy thought it might be true. She looked away, so he wouldn't someone read this in her face and think he'd won.

Suddenly, it was all too much, his hand on her hand and the cool of the night making her shiver. Through her mind flashed the faces of everyone she cared about, Daph looking worried and Draco sneering and her mother saying she'd known they shouldn't have sent her to Hogwarts, they had such odd ideas there about what was proper.

"Just go out with me, Pans," Malcolm whispered and the way he said her name was what broke her, what made her feel as though her insides were crumbling and her legs couldn't hold her up any longer.

She took a step away from him, breaking the contact, and the night air was unbearably cold where his hand had just been. "I can't do that," she said, hearing the tears in her voice and so she forced herself to make it go strong and only heard it come out cold and slightly robotic. "Maybe I can't do this anymore at all."

Malcolm looked lost, as lost as Pansy felt, and so she turned away before she could cry in earnest and ran back across the now drenched grass, managing to make it back to her bed before she collapsed, sobbing and shaking so hard she was afraid she'd never stop.