Pansy Parkinson went to the Dream Machine first. It was a new invention, patented six months after the Final Battle. She let them test it on her because they offered to clear her record if she did. She didn't have much to make up for, after all, and four days of new-age psychological rehabilitation sounded a lot easier than months of community service. In Hermione's opinion, "rehabilitation" was just about the nicest way to say "magically-induced guilt" that she'd ever heard.
When the treatment was complete, Pansy agreed to appear at a press conference, and the newspapers printed the following transcript: I want to say this to Harry Potter and everyone else, but mostly Potter. I did something horrible. It was at the end of the War, in the Final Battle. I don't know what I was thinking, it was all too much, but I, [inaudible]. I said [inaudible]. I said we should give him up to them, let him die to save ourselves. I'm sorry, Harry Potter. I apologise. Please stop now. I mean it. I'm begging you for mercy. Please, please, please, I'm begging you.
That wasn't all she said, but that's when it stopped making sense. The rest was just a lengthy whine of garbled apologies and incomprehensible rants. Hermione attended the conference, and she left the room in the middle of Pansy's attempt at a speech to dry-heave in the hallway. She thought she was going to be sick, but there wasn't enough food in her stomach.
She found out later that Harry went to the stage and tried to embrace Pansy - to make her stop, he said - but she wouldn't accept it. She threw herself at his feet instead, rubbing her hair into his boots.
The Ministry's response was easy to predict: Our therapy works.
Gregory Goyle did not volunteer for the Dream Machine; he was sentenced by the Wizengamot with no other options.
He did not complete his treatment. He did not request a press conference. The newspapers covered his suicide. Hermione attended his funeral.
The solution, according to Ministry officials, was one simple alteration. Goyle should have been kept in custody for the duration of the therapy; it must be finished to avoid quote adverse side effects end quote.
Theodore Nott was not released in the evenings. He was housed in a modified interrogation room during the four-day treatment, which the papers were careful to note was different from prison. People wanted hard justice for the adult Death Eaters, but their children were a different matter. Most people didn't want to see kids in Azkaban, even without Dementors.
Hermione saw Theodore Nott after his treatment, and she decided she'd rather go to prison than get anywhere near the Dream Machine. He was worse than Pansy, because he'd done worse things than Pansy.
Draco Malfoy dug in his heels when they came for him. At the Ministry, Hermione was on his side for the first time. She presented a report to her superiors in the Dept. of Magical Law Enforcement: the Dream Machine is torture. Theodore Nott, by the way, was at St. Mungo's under observation.
You might as well kill them, she argued. You might as well just sentence them to death, since that's what you're doing anyway if you don't stop.
The Ministry responded: they've renounced their ideology. That was the objective; therefore, the treatment is a success. Mr. Nott is being seen to by the best Mediwizards available. Draco's sentence proceeded as planned.
No one would've understood why she was so worried about ex-Death Eaters and their supporters, so she didn't tell them. It wasn't about Draco. It was about her own guilt and the childish wish that a War could end with someone actually winning.
It was about her choking on bile after Pansy's speech. It was about her turned-down face at Goyle's funeral because her cheeks were already wet by the time she thought she could ever cry for the likes of him. It was the tightness in her throat when the newspaper described the moment Theo Nott's mother found him, bleeding on his bathroom floor with "I'm sorry" spelled over and over on the mirror.
The real irony was that the Dream Machine also tortured the Order members, most notably Harry Potter. As more and more Voldemort sympathisers completed their treatment, he was getting so many apology owls every day that he couldn't even read them all. He couldn't read one without shutting down, actually, and Ginny took over storing them. She figured he'd want to look at them someday, but not for a while.
She wrote a response, too. It was the same every time with a different name added, and it included the following sentence: This is a journey that we must take together, and to forgive others we must first learn to forgive ourselves.
She signed them "Harry Potter," and she thought it would be enough, but it wasn't. They kept writing, more desperate each time, until they were on the Floo and at the door begging to speak to Harry in person. Their nightmares hadn't stopped, even weeks after the treatment, and they weren't allowed near their wands or potentially dangerous objects now that the risk of suicide was fully understood. They lived in padded cells where their bedrooms used to be and they couldn't close their eyes in the dark without seeing and seeing and they were sorry. Please. Forgive them.
Hermione was getting letters, too. She corresponded with Pansy for weeks, but her approach was different from Ginny's. Instead of talking about forgiveness, she spoke in the present tense. Pansy sent her nothing but lengthy and rambling apologies at first, but Hermione responded as though to a pen pal. She talked about how much she liked the warm weather. She discussed current events. She ended each letter with questions. She didn't know what else to do, but she had to write something, and she was surprised when it worked.
After the fifth letter, Pansy followed her lead. She wrote that she didn't have time to do much except try and make up for her past. Hermione asked what she used to do before the Dream Machine, and slowly she began to write about other things.
It was a strange day when Hermione realised that she talked to Pansy as much as her friends, and even stranger when she found that she actually liked this humble and gentle and self-aware adult who was so different from the wicked child she used to know. She invited Pansy to lunch in town, and they went and talked, both acting like they lived in a world where wars could be won and people could change. Pansy got her wand back soon after, and she was allowed to cut her food with sharp knives, and she did not end her life.
There weren't enough hours in the day for Ginny to make pen pals out of Harry's whole mixed bag of beggars. There were too many of them: anyone who was too young to try as an adult but had shown allegiance to the anti-Muggle cause was subjected to the treatment. She took Hermione's advice and spoke to the most frequent ones like friends, and the method was consistently effective. Draco Malfoy was one of them.
Hermione was thinking about the "journey of forgiveness" that Ginny wrote about in her form letter. As cliché and meaningless as it sounded, it was kind of true. There was so much more than "I'm sorry" and "it's all right."
After Draco had corresponded with "Harry" long enough to stop whining, he started writing Hermione. She was next on his list, he said, next after Potter for people he'd wronged the most - and after Dumbledore and Snape, of course, but too late for that. It was like the early letters from Pansy, except Draco's apologies had greater validity, and his language was more poetic.
He had a way with words, even when he got so strangled and lost in guilt that he forgot about punctuation. She saved them all, reading over again the passages she liked the best. Here are two:
Its hard to write when my hands get this way its like they stretch my arms get striped as the skin tears red and white like your dress in my dreams and Ill sew myself shut as soon as you let me
I feel sorry for the maggots that have to eat me but no I guess they dont have to I guess they could spit me out and ill write to them too when the time comes at the hour of my death maybe now maybe later maybe now
She encouraged him for a while until he started alluding to suicide. She couldn't decide if she'd let it go on because she really did need this from him or because his letters were so tragic and beautiful. The former seemed more likely because she relented after she felt he'd suffered enough.
She was happy to save the first normal sentence he wrote: I still like flying.
The Dream Machine was put in storage. It had served its purpose and outlived its usefulness. Over the course of three and a half months, nineteen people saw inside it. Six months later, most of them were still trapped in their minds. Pansy was the only success story so far, and they were sending her out to give interviews about how the Dream Machine had saved her life. It didn't, though; she just got lucky enough to seize an opportunity to help herself.
The Ministry expressed regret about the "unforeseen consequences," but it wasn't because of the overflowing St. Mungo's psych ward so much as the unyielding fury of Ginny Weasley. How could you do this to your heroes? she was asking. To all of us. Her whole family was buried in letters, and the box they'd set aside for Teddy Lupin had to be magically expanded every week. No one could agree about whether he should ever be allowed to read them.
Hermione thought he should because secretly she'd changed her mind. She still knew it was torture, but maybe that wasn't so bad compared to a war. She called Pansy a friend now, something she never thought she'd do, and she had the letters from Draco that hadn't stopped coming. She liked them more with each one she read. More by more she liked him, like opening a window on the first day of spring when it was still cold outside.
My father's boots are at the foot of the stairs. He can't wear them in prison, and I'm sure as Hell not going to, and it's not like I can chuck them in the bin. They're worth more than most people make in a year. What am I supposed to do with them?
They're dragon-hide, and I see them every day, and I keep thinking about the dragons they killed to make them. I never thought about that before, and I couldn't find anybody to apologise to about it. I didn't murder those dragons, but someone did on my father's behalf, and I can never set it right. Forgiveness doesn't even exist, when you think about it. The only person you can really forgive is yourself, and you can't do it by staying up all night clawing at your skin and pouring buckets of ink drawing lines on a page. I would know.
He'd have made you into boots if he could. I'm the one who thought of that, though. What's wrong with me?
Harry was ready to read some of his letters. He asked Ron and Hermione and Ginny to sit with him while he did, and no one said a word. Ron turned away when Harry cried, and Ginny rubbed his shoulder, and Hermione just sat and stared. She knew she must have looked the same way when she read the letters from Draco and Pansy and everyone else who had ever called her a Mudblood.
Harry finished the first box and resealed it. He was finished for the night; he asked if any of them wanted a drink. They went to the pub, and it was easier to laugh than it used to be. Hermione could smile without telling herself to and say her first thoughts out loud without filtering the sad ones.
She had some thoughts that she didn't want to say, but they weren't existential or pathetic. They were about Draco Malfoy.
His words are sweet and filling, and they make me feel whole. I searched for a picture of him the other day and found one in an old newspaper. He looks different to me now. I want to hear him say his words out loud.
That's what she wanted to say.
Hermione's pen pals were a full-time job, especially since she'd offered to help Ron with his, since he wasn't as good at it as she was. He had trouble not getting angry. He had trouble reading Fred's name.
Inside herself, though, she thought it might be good for him. Every day she had him write one letter without telling him who it was for until the end. Once it was done, she let him send it out all by himself.
Maybe - she thought it so deeply that she could barely even finish. Maybe a utopian society is one where everyone has been inside the Dream Machine, as long as they don't all kill themselves first.
She'd still fight tooth and nail if anyone tried to do it to her. She knew Ron of all people wouldn't be able to stand it, but both of them had done their share of wrong. They had said mean things and stolen and lied, and sometimes they blamed it on other people. She tried to imagine who she'd write to if she did the treatment, and some of them were the same people writing to her. Draco Malfoy came to mind, for one.
I bought a new book yesterday - Sunshine Yellow. It's by the same author who wrote Faerie Wine. I think you'd enjoy it. I can lend it to you after I'm finished if you'd like - it's about a man who brews Forgetfulness Potions and takes them every morning as soon as he remembers his wife is dead. It's not a very happy book, obviously, but I've never been as interested in those. They never seem as meaningful or important.
I'm glad to hear your mother's doing better. Have you had any luck finding people to play Quidditch with? I'd offer to help, but I'm hopeless on a broom. You saw me back in first year, and I can assure you I haven't improved at all.
Pansy was talking about organising a gala next month, and it doesn't sound like it'll be a bad time. It might be awkward getting everyone together in one room, but people seem to be in higher spirits these days. I'll probably just end up going with Ron as usual, except he's about as good at dancing as I am at flying. Do you think you'll go?
Hermione and Ginny were having tea. They were talking about Pansy's party, smiling at each other because they hadn't had an excuse to look pretty in a long time. Ginny was usually in her Harpies uniform, padded up and covered in mud, while Hermione consistently dressed like a librarian. She'd always done that, but now she had an excuse: with all her letter-writing, she hadn't had time to put in her full effort at the Ministry. It made her realise that she didn't like her job very much, so she quit and found a new one. Luna ran an independent book store in Diagon Alley, and she was happy to hire Hermione as her first employee.
She never talked to any of her friends about Draco, even though they were writing each other every day, but it finally felt like the right time. She brought it up casually: Have you still been writing to Draco as Harry?
Ginny hadn't. She'd stopped a long time ago, after they'd reached a shaky truce, and she didn't feel comfortable impersonating her boyfriend for anything more than that. Harry had read the whole exchange, though, and he thanked her for doing what he'd never been able to. He was glad, she said, to finally be at peace with Draco.
Well, I have. I've been writing to him, I mean. A lot, actually.
Ginny wanted to know if it was like Pansy.
Yes, sort of, except Pansy and I don't owl each other as much now that we go out together in person. I haven't seen Draco since before the Dream Machine.
So, was Hermione friends with him now?
Yes. I'd say we're friends. He's told me a lot of things about himself.
Ginny didn't look upset or surprised, and Hermione tried to figure out what she was thinking. It hadn't been weird to tell them about Pansy, because that was back when everything was so weird that it didn't seem out of place. The world was upside-down, and so of course, Hermione was hanging out with Pansy - why not? She made it weird with Draco by waiting so long to talk about it. It was too fragile at the start to say out loud. When Ginny responded, it took her by surprise - she wanted to know why it was such a big deal, when Hermione was writing to so many people.
I have no idea.
Harry and Ron were both answering all of their own letters. There were nowhere near as many as before, and people weren't so angry or desperate anymore. There was still sadness, but even that was less, and the psych ward was almost empty. Goyle was the only suicide to date, although some part of her knew that one was too many. Everything was better, all thanks to the Dream Machine, all good feelings coming from torture. It was sick, she thought. They were all very sick, but they had been so sick in the beginning that maybe it didn't matter.
Pansy helped her choose a new dress. The gala was in one week, and Pansy was planning to bring Draco as her date. Hermione already knew that, since Draco had told her, and they both made it clear that their arrangement was similar to hers and Ron's. Aside from Harry and Ginny, it was uncanny how few of the veterans bothered with dating.
It made her uncomfortable to think about what it would feel like to see him in person after all this time. She wondered if he'd look the same up close, and if he'd think she did.
Do something for me, all right? I don't know if you kept them, but destroy all those letters I wrote early on. I wish I'd never sent them. I didn't even know what I was saying.
I finished your book, and I've attached it to this owl. You were right, but I don't think it's as good as Faerie Wine. What did you think about his daughter? I thought she was a complete bitch, personally. She could've at least owled every once in a while.
I heard a funny joke today - why was the farmer so good at his job?
Because he's outstanding in his field. It's not funny at all actually, now that I think about it, but I laughed. Maybe because it's so stupid. Anyway, I guess I'll see you this weekend.
Pansy's garden had a good view of the sky. The only light was from the windows, and it was warm and sticky.
As she left, she saw Pansy turning her eyes down and holding her wine glass close to her chest, talking to Ron. Draco saw that, too, and he followed her outside.
He didn't say anything about how she looked, even though she knew it was different. Neither of them knew what to say at all.
Grasping at straws, she brought up Sunshine Yellow, and they talked about that for a while. Then Draco made a comment about how awkward this whole thing was, and she agreed, but still she was glad to be here. He told her he wasn't so sure. The novelty had worn off, he said, when it came to this kind of party.
She admonished him for his privilege, but he didn't apologise, and it was a nice change. The novelty had worn off for Hermione when it came to apologies, warranted or not. He asked her if she'd danced with Ron. She said she gave it a go, and it was just how she thought it would be.
He bragged that he was good at it, but he didn't ask her for a dance. Maybe he was sick of that, too. She tried not to read into it, either way.
Hermione liked her new job quite a bit. She got a discount on books, most of the customers loved reading as much as she did, and talking to Luna was its own kind of excitement. Luna brought out some of her apology letters one day to share them with Hermione, since they'd meant a lot to her. She thought they were very special, and she didn't feel comfortable showing them to anybody else. Hermione asked to see Draco's, and there was only one: it was concise and factual, and there was no poetry to it at all. She was relieved, but Luna wanted to know why she only cared about Draco's - she was friends with Pansy, too.
Hermione changed the subject: what do you think of the Dream Machine, anyway?
Luna darted her eyes around and offered to reveal a secret, if Hermione promised not to tell. She explained that the Dream Machine was actually her father's invention. This was not its intended purpose; it was meant to be used in small doses for voluntary and honest self-reflection. When someone was forced to use it and kept there for four days in a row, it didn't work properly. It led to depression and obsession.
But don't you think things are better now?
Luna thought it over, and after a moment she agreed. She said maybe it was worth it in the end, and then she asked how Draco was doing.
It seemed like an odd question, but Hermione answered it anyway: He's better, too.
Draco played Quidditch with Ginny; the Dream Machine had wrought nothing short of a miracle.
Now that Hermione was able to talk about her friend, she'd told Ginny that he was looking for someone to play with, and Ginny said she was thinking of starting some pick-up games now that the regular season was over. Harry didn't want to play, but Ron did. With Theo Nott, it was two-on-two.
Hermione watched them. Everyone played dirty, and Ron and Ginny won just barely. Afterward, they drank butterbeer and yelled at each other for over an hour. Draco thought Ron had been cheating, and Hermione knew that he had. No one apologised.
Later, she asked Ron if he was still upset, and he wasn't. He said it felt good to be angry about something that didn't matter, while still knowing that it was meaningless. He said he'd had a good time and he'd do it again.
Your friends are vicious, and I know you saw Weasley the Older pull that stunt with the Quaffle. He had both arms out of bounds. Unacceptable.
Speaking of which, did you read about that bill Shacklebolt's trying to pass with the Veelas? Public health hazard, my arse. But I bet you're for it.
See if your dirty rotten cheating friends are free this Saturday. I'll not let this stand without settling the score.
Pansy liked to entertain. She thought her gala had been a great success, due to the complete lack of injuries and war-related conversation, and she was eager to keep it going. She invited everyone for a garden party, and Hermione wore a red and white striped dress. She knew Draco had never actually seen her wear it, and she wondered if it looked anything like the one in his dream.
He didn't mention it, but she knew he was looking at her. On the other hand, maybe he didn't remember writing those words or having those nightmares. Maybe he wasn't staring at all, and it was all in her head.
When she talked to him, it was about Shacklebolt's bill. You've misjudged me, she said. I agree with you. I don't think there's any reason to ban Veelas at sporting events.
He was surprised, she could tell, but he told her they were bound to agree on something.
They agreed on many things, actually, but she didn't bother pointing it out to him. She wondered if he ever thought about blood purity anymore, but she wasn't ready to ask. It didn't hurt much when they were kids, but she had a feeling it might hurt now.
George finally opened his first letter, nearly a year after he'd received it. Then no one saw him for three days. He had to read them all.
According to Ron, he looked for Ginny first after he left his room. He held her for a long time with his eyes closed, and then he told a joke. Ron didn't remember what it was exactly, only that it was funny.
She couldn't deny it within herself anymore: it didn't matter whether the Dream Machine was torture or not, and Pansy was right about it all along. It saved them all.
Ron wasn't available to play Quidditch on Saturday, so they had to reschedule for the following week. He had plans with Pansy.
Don't put words in my mouth. You're being ridiculous, frankly. The lighting in Knockturn Alley is not welcoming or sufficient, and that is final - I doubt you could find anyone else who thinks it's friendly, and I think you're arguing just for the sake of it.
Onto other matters, I appreciate your concern, but I can handle rude customers on my own. I'm not going to name names, and no hexing needs to occur. Luna's banned him from the shop anyway, and we hardly ever get people like that. You should come by sometime. We have a great selection.
I guess it's a little odd about Ron and Pansy, but I saw it coming after her first party. They seem to enjoy talking to each other, even if they disagree about certain things, and I think that's all that really matters.
I'll see you on Saturday, but I have to warn you - Ron and Ginny have no intention of ending their winning streak.
Ron sometimes forgot that not everybody was as dense as he was. He gathered everyone together - Harry and Ginny and Hermione - and told them he had an announcement to make. Wincing, he stuttered and evaded until he was able to successfully tell them that was dating Pansy.
They blinked at him. Hermione spoke first: Yes, Ron. We noticed.
Harry pointed out that they'd been seeing each other for three weeks, and it hadn't exactly been a secret. They were fine with it, or they would've said so sooner. Ron was relieved; he'd gotten himself all worried for nothing. Hermione was relieved, too, because new beginnings were possible in a world where Ron could take Pansy out for dinner. Anything was possible after the Dream Machine.
Harry and Ginny got engaged, and the only question anybody had was what took so long? Hermione was pretty sure they'd already talked about the names of their future children, for crying out loud.
Pansy was going to host their engagement party, but Hermione didn't have a built-in date anymore. Maybe it was for the best.
She was getting restless working at the book store; she'd started doing her own writing on her days off, short stories mainly. It wasn't hard to find inspiration. All she had to do was dig out one of Draco's early letters and read it over again, and then she'd write a story about that.
You couldn't tell by the final product unless you'd seen the original letter and you were looking very closely. Even if she let him read her stories someday, she wasn't planning to tell them where she got her ideas.
She showed them to Luna after she had a few done, and Luna said they were good. She offered some useful suggestions, and Hermione wrote more, and she was getting better all the time.
I don't have a date, either. We might as well just go together.
The Veela bill didn't pass. She wasn't surprised: the Wizengamot still had a male majority, and the whole thing seemed a little silly to her. Sure, every few years a man injured himself trying to get closer to the Veelas, but they were just performers. Most people understood that. They knew it wasn't real.
Luna got one of Hermione's stories published in The Quibbler. It had maggots and a red and white dress, and the narrator almost died in the end. She didn't, though. She saved herself.
Harry stopped by to congratulate her. He also wondered if she and Draco would be going to his engagement party together.
How did you know? she asked.
He said: Well, remember what you told Ron about Pansy?
If they didn't start obeying the rules, somebody was going to die.
Pick-up Quidditch was no laughing matter, she'd learned, and she kept going over all the healing spells she knew in her mind as she watched her friends play. She'd even started acting as a referee - when somebody tried a direct attack, she'd throw out a shielding spell from the stands. The funny thing was that they always yelled at her when she did that instead of at the person who was trying to knock them off their broom.
Maybe I'll just let you fall, then, she said. See how that suits you.
Draco shook his head and said: If we want to fall, you can't stop us.
He continued: But don't act like you wouldn't try anyway.
Draco and Theo won that day, making the overall tally 5-4. Ginny and Ron were still winning.
There was a wager in place now, too, and it kept growing. When Ginny had to go back to playing with the Harpies, whoever was in the lead would receive a three-course meal from the new French restaurant in Diagon Alley, courtesy of the losers.
When nobody else was listening, Hermione asked Draco what she got in exchange for all the hard work she put into keeping them from killing each other. He said he'd buy her dinner, too, but the Weasleys weren't invited.
He added that Theo was busy that day, even though no date had yet been mentioned. She said it would suffice.
Congratulations. I didn't think you were the type to work for your money, but that sounds like a good fit. Be careful, though - it sounds like you'll be mixing some pretty volatile potions. How'd you get hired, anyway?
I didn't know you read The Quibbler, either. I'll take your suggestions into account, but I'm not going to change the ending. The whole point of the story is that she doesn't die.
Regarding Friday evening: of course, I'll be on time. Who do you think you're talking to? And my dress is yellow, but I don't think anybody's going to care whether your tie matches. This is Harry and Ginny's engagement party, not the Yule Ball. I guess it is at Pansy's house, though, so she'd probably notice.
Ron and Pansy were on the rocks. Hermione sat in the Leaky Cauldron and listened to Ron go on about it for half an hour, and none of it mattered. Most of it barely even made sense.
Are you sure that's why you're upset? she asked. Those don't sound like the kind of things you usually care about.
He looked at her sideways and got defensive. Of course, that was why he was upset. Weren't they legitimate concerns?
Some of them, I guess. Most of them, not really.
They talked about it for a while longer, just until Hermione was able to tell Ron his real problem: fear of commitment. Classic Ron. The heart of the matter was that his relationship was actually going too well for his taste, and he hadn't expected it to, least of all with Pansy.
Are you going to stop seeing her? she asked.
Ron was surprised by the question, and he told her he wasn't. He'd just needed to complain about it, and he figured she'd understand that. After all, she did it all the time.
Hermione tried not to be offended, since it was true.
The engagement party was uncomfortably glitzy by Hermione's standards, but Ginny didn't seem to mind. Pansy had even lent her some diamonds for the occasion, and they looked strange on her.
Ginny might as well have been wearing too many jewels, considering how poorly everything else in the room went together. All the Weasleys and Harry's friends were present at the Parkinson estate, alongside Pansy's friends. Most of Ginny's family hadn't seen the others since before the apology letters, and Hermione knew how awkward that felt from the recipients' perspective. She could only imagine how uncomfortable it must have been for the senders.
Draco admonished her for choosing yellow without consulting him first. She told him she'd never forced him to try and match, and he said they'd look stupid together if he didn't. In Hermione's opinion, they looked kind of stupid together regardless. It was going to take some getting used to for everyone involved.
They danced after the meal, and then they went to the garden to get some air. They got their bearings, gulping their wine and looking at the stars and saying little meaningless things, until they felt ready to kiss. He pushed her back against the stone wall, but the ivy made it softer, and it felt like forgiveness in a utopian society. It felt like open windows in the summer while you turn the last page of a sad but important book.
Afterward he asked her if she'd ever destroyed those letters. She told him the truth.
No, and I'm not going to. I'm sorry. It was the first time she'd ever apologised to him.
He said: I thought so. But you should know by now that I never want to hear that word again.