Gryffindors are supposed to have badass Patronuses, like wolverines or leopards or rhinoceroses or lions—not sissy little mice.
At first, Santana wasn't sure her Patronus was a mouse. She supposed that maybe it was just a weak, tiny, incorporeal Patronus because, like her Defense Against the Dark Arts professor said, the Patronus Charm is difficult to even work, let alone master. Santana thought that her attempts came out so small because she just hadn't properly figured out the spell yet.
But then Santana spent hours practicing, sneaking off alone to deserted classrooms and waiting until the dormitories cleared out on Saturday afternoons so she could conjure in private—because they have an exam coming up in DADA on Wednesday and Santana will be damned if she can't at least whip up something better than Finn Hudson's weak, fizzling splotches of white when the professor calls her name—and, in practicing, Santana came to the conclusion that she has the spell figured out, all right.
And her Patronus is definitely a mouse.
Rachel Berry would never believe it and neither would Noah Puckerman or even Quinn Fabray, but the truth is that Santana is actually really good at working the Patronus Charm because it's kind of easy for Santana to come up with happy memories. All Santana has to do is think of the time she spends with Brittany and a warm, lifting thrill fills her and wraps her like a blanket, tugging at her heart. It's not quite the same feeling as just happiness because it stays with Santana even in times when she fears or when bad things happen to her; somehow the feeling is stronger and more resilient than just about anything else.
(It must be a very powerful kind of magic, she reckons.)
It helps her cast her Patronus—her Patronus, which is a mouse.
It doesn't make sense to Santana that such a big feeling, one that fills her from her mind to her fingertips and toes and lives in her heart and breath, performing somersaults in her stomach and playing at the corners of her mouth, would only produce such a very small Patronus.
Any way she reasons it, her Patronus shouldn't be a mouse.
A mouse isn't even an animal that Santana likes. Mice are not majestic or powerful or fierce or even pretty. Cats eat mice. Mice live in holes. They scurry around in the dark and skitter at loud noises.
A Gryffindor should not have such a cowardly animal for her Patronus.
The closer it gets to Wednesday, the more Santana worries, wondering if maybe she should just fudge the exam and pretend that she can't work the spell, foregoing the House points she could win by performing the charm to her fullest abilities, as well as any good marks or self-satisfaction she could claim for herself in the process.
The thing is that the other kids in Santana's House already wonder why the Sorting Hat put her in Gryffindor. Santana isn't chummy or outgoing like so many of her Housemates are. Her words come out harshly a lot of the time, so much so that people say that Santana should be a Slytherin because she's just so mean.
The last thing Santana needs is to have the world's most pathetic Patronus prove to everyone that they're right about her—that she isn't good enough and that she doesn't belong in Gryffindor.
The last thing Santana needs to have is the world's most pathetic Patronus prove to everyone what she already fears about herself—namely, that she's a coward.
Santana can stand it when people call her mean or bitchy because, half the time, she thinks they're right.
She knows she has trouble getting along with other kids. She knows she's not agreeable to most people—"prickly," Brittany calls it—and that she has few friends, outside maybe her Quidditch teammates and Brittany, who somehow sees things in Santana that Santana swears only exist when Brittany looks at her.
So when classmates call Santana mean? Santana can handle it.
What Santana can't handle is that she feels so afraid all the time.
Santana can't abide the deep tremble she feels in her ribs whenever someone comes too close to figuring out her secrets—that her father was a Death Eater during the Second War, for one thing, and that her grandmother disowned Santana when Santana got Sorted into Gryffindor, for another—or the way she constantly doubts herself in her classes, through her Quidditch games, and as she lies awake behind the curtains of her four-poster bed at night, thinking of all the little things she's botched throughout her day.
Santana wishes more than anything that she could be brave, like Brittany, who possesses the best qualities of all the Houses and never frets the way Santana does.
(Brittany's Patronus is a unicorn and she casts it beautifully.)
Santana tells Brittany as much on Tuesday, as they sit alongside the Lake, practicing Transfiguration and watching Lord Tubbington stalk a pixie hiding in the marsh grass along the banks.
"I wish I didn't care what people think of me so much," Santana mumbles, eyeing a group of judgmental girls from Brittany's House as they walk across the lawn with their noses turned up, all in a huddle, suddenly feeling nervous without knowing why. "I wish I were like you."
At Santana's admission, Brittany pauses, her wand hanging, mid-wave, in the air, stopped in her attempt to change her quill case into a hummingbird without Lord Tubbington noticing. She looks at Santana, her expression somber, her brow scrunching in a way that most people would mistake for confusion, but which Santana knows as contemplation. She lowers her wand and sets it aside.
"You really think that, San?" Brittany says, her voice small, almost hurt.
Santana feels a pang. She didn't mean to upset Brittany. She scrambles to explain herself. "It's just that…," she falters. "It's just that you never seem to notice it when people talk about you. You're always just you, you know? When kids talk down to you and say you don't belong in Ravenclaw, you just prove them wrong by being brilliant at Charms or by coming up with some clever new spell or kicking their asses in Quidditch. You never let it fuss you. You're so brave, Britt. Sometimes I think that you're the one who's meant to be a Gryffindor, and I'm…" Santana's sentence trails away and she looks to Brittany for help.
She finds Brittany staring at her, eyes deep and just a little bit sad but also filled with something that causes Santana to feel that familiar warm and lifting thrill.
"Santana," Brittany says seriously. "I do notice it when people say mean things about me. It hurts—it sort of feels like getting Stunned, actually. I mean, I try not to let it matter, but sometimes I can't help it. My first week here, one of the second years found me locked out of the Tower because I couldn't solve the password riddle and she told me that maybe it was a sign from Ravenclaw herself that I was too thick to be in her House. I cried all night after she said that, even though I did get the riddle eventually. Sometimes it's really hard to feel like I'm good enough."
The genuine woundedness in Brittany's voice startles Santana and stirs something inside her. Suddenly, Santana wants more than anything to chase that hurt from Brittany and never allow it return. Without thinking about it, Santana reaches out and tangles her hands in Brittany's.
"So how do you do it, then?" Santana asks, smoothing her thumb along Brittany's finger bones. "How do you turn that around and do all that awesome stuff, if you get so down?"
She tilts her head so that she can meet Brittany's eyes. It surprises Santana to see Brittany's mouth lift into the beginning of a smile.
"Easy," Brittany says.
"Easy?" Santana repeats.
"Yes," says Brittany, really smiling now. "I think of you."
"Uh huh. I think of you and how you always tell me how awesome I am and how I'm so smart. I know that you'd never lie to me, so then I puzzle out that if you tell me those things, they must be true, and, once I think of them as true, I think of how they are. Before too long, I can think of lots of reasons why I fit where I do."
Brittany looks at Santana gratefully and gives her hand a squeeze. The sweetness in her eyes melts Santana.
"Really?" Santana says in a small, jittery way. "I help you do all that?"
"Really, really," Brittany agrees firmly. She looks Santana deep in the eyes; for a second, Santana thinks they might kiss, but then Brittany speaks instead. "Santana, I wouldn't lie to you, either: You are the bravest person I know."
For a second, Santana feels something inside of her reach for Brittany's words, wanting to take hold of them, but then Santana falters. She sighs.
"But Britt… I'm so afraid, though. Like, all the time. I'm afraid of screwing up and disappointing people. I'm afraid that I'm… that I'm not good enough."
Her voice catches on the last word and she has to look away. Her eyes trail to find Lord Tubbington padding through the marsh grass, waggling his fat rump in preparation for the pounce.
Santana expects Brittany to tell her that she has nothing to feel afraid of.
Brittany has never quite been anything like what Santana expects, though.
Brittany actually laughs.
"Santana!" she says and Santana looks back at her, shocked to find Brittany so amused at something that seems so serious to Santana. For a second, Santana feels stung that Brittany would make a joke out of her big confession. She starts to recoil, but Brittany stops her, grabbing Santana's wrist. "Santana, no!" Brittany says. "San, come on." She waits until Santana settles, staring her straight in the face. "Listen," Brittany says, gentling her. "Being brave doesn't mean you're never afraid, San. It just means that you keep going, even though you're afraid—even if it's hard. Especially if it's hard, actually. Sometimes the bravest people are the ones who have the most to fear."
Santana feels her breath catch, a little bit because what Brittany says surprises her, a little bit because she can't understand how Brittany becomes just a little bit more perfect every day. The warm, lifting feeling in her swells, filling her whole self.
"Brittany," she says, feeling incredibly sweet.
"You're the bravest person I know," Brittany repeats, like she knows that Santana needs to hear her say it again.
"My Patronus is a mouse," Santana blurts.
"Really?" says Brittany, scrunching up her nose, the cutest thing in the world.
(Santana feels like she swallowed all the hummingbirds she and Brittany have Transfigured this week at once. Her stomach flips over.)
"Yeah," Santana says, shy. "It's… little."
"So?" says Brittany, smiling. "You know that mice are the only animals that will willingly share a dragon's keep, don't you?"
Santana didn't know that, actually. "No. Don't the dragons scare them?"
Brittany shrugs. "Maybe, but if they do, the mice don't let that stop them from hanging out in a warm keep and having a nice house."
Santana feels her mouth turning up into a smile. "That's sort of badass, I guess."
"Totally," Brittany agrees. She smiles at Santana and draws their hands up between them, pressing her lips gently against Santana's knuckles. "Plus," she singsongs, "just think of how cool it would be to actually use your Patronus to chase away a Dementor. Like, imagine the big, scary Dementor flying away from your little mouse."
Santana's brow furrows as she tries to picture exactly that happening. "Do you think a mouse Patronus could even work that well?"
Brittany makes a scoffing noise. "It doesn't matter what your Patronus looks like, San. Your Patronus will be strong as long as the feeling that you use to conjure it is strong itself."
"Okay," Santana says, voice impossibly small.
She says more than she means with that one little word and Brittany seems to know it, too. Brittany wears a cat grin, like she knows a secret. A blush colors Brittany's cheeks and ears. Brittany's gaze flicks between Santana's eyes and Santana's lips.
"You know what else?" Brittany says.
"What?" Santana asks stupidly, suddenly unable to blink or look away.
Brittany actually winks at Santana. "Mice are really cute," she says, leaning forward until her lips meet Santana's. Santana's breath catches as she feels the warm plush of Brittany against her, their noses nudged together, the rounds of their chins fitted up against one another. They kiss and kiss and kiss, nodding into each new touch.
Behind them, Lord Tubbington pounces for the pixie, missing, and lands with a splash in the Lake; they scarcely even notice. The sun beats down on the girls from overhead and Santana feels like the bravest person in the entire world, wonderfully dizzy and careless.
(Brittany Pierce is magic. She's the cleverest witch Santana has ever, ever met.)