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A Tale of Two Princes by academica
Chapter 6: Year Five
Author’s Note: This chapter is dedicated to the memory of Liza. I have faith that you are now enjoying a peaceful, painless existence with all of our lost loved ones beyond the veil. To those who remain among the living, please, please don’t drink and drive. –academica
You’d think I’d be used to wearing expensive gowns by now, Paige thought, staring at herself in the elaborate silver mirror before her. Her midnight blue dress, which fell to the floor, was fitted to her slim form by a ribbon-wrapped corset in the back. The pendant at her collarbone, gifted to her by Draco prior to the World Cup final last summer, felt simultaneously extravagant and comfortingly familiar. To complete the look, she had added a few touches from her own collection, a plain silver pair of stiletto heels to give her a bit of height and a dark blue headband that allowed only a select few tendrils to hang freely on either side of her face. All in all, she was a picture of elegance, a girl attempting to capture the poise and confidence of a grown woman. She looked no better or worse than she had at any of the balls she’d attended over the years.
But tonight was special.
She hadn’t even known about the debutante ball until June, when Narcissa had invited her over under the guise of teatime and instead stolen away with her to the most expensive dress shops in Diagon Alley. As she had learned, the ball was an essential event for any respectable upper class Slytherin girl. (At this point, Paige had carefully restrained herself from pointing out that there wasn’t much “upper class” about her, aside from her posh choice of boyfriend.) The ladies were formally presented to society at the event, which took place before the start of their fifth year of schooling, and they were escorted for the evening by equally prominent Slytherin males. Paige had an easy time of it, Narcissa explained, because her escort had already been selected.
“You look lovely.”
Ah, yes, there’s that escort now.
She turned with a smile to see Draco leaning up against the door frame and taking her in. “Yes, quite.” He confirmed for himself, offering her his hand. “Are you ready?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be, I suppose.” Paige murmured nervously, accepting it.
They headed out to the main staircase of Malfoy Manor, where most of the other couples were already gathered, slipping discreetly into their place in line. Just beyond the oak double doors, a crowd of admirers waited to glimpse this year’s crop of eligible bachelorettes. Among them stood proud parents and giggling friends, but the true purpose of the ball was not lost on the attendees: most of the guests were young, male Slytherins hoping to secure a future bride.
One by one, the ladies were announced and led onto the dance floor by their escorts. Paige watched Daphne glide into the center of the room, Theo walking proudly beside her. After a few more girls had made the transition from girlhood to womanhood, it was Pansy’s turn. Her slim-fitting red gown was enchanting, and Blaise had done well in matching his tie to the fabric.
Paige was still staring at the others when she heard her name.
“Paige Victoria Snape, escorted by Draco Lucius Malfoy.”
She looked at him hesitantly, and he offered her a smile and gently led her down the stairs. She was too nervous to notice, but Narcissa looked upon her approvingly as she passed, though her dark-haired older sister, standing to her left, did not appear to share her sentiments. Her father watched quietly from the back of the room, and Draco noticed his father whisper something to the Potions Master, earning the tiniest of smiles in return.
When the list was completed, the debutantes and their escorts engaged in a waltz in the center of the dance floor. Paige had no trouble with this portion of the evening; she and Draco had learned to dance together all those years ago at their first Malfoy holiday extravaganza, and by now the familiar steps were a natural progression that they worked together to execute flawlessly.
After they danced together for several songs, the pair took a break to go get something to drink. As Draco reached for the champagne, Paige drifted over to Blaise and Theo, who had already loosened their ties and unbuttoned their silk vests.
“Paige, you look nice.” Blaise said approvingly. “Happy coming out party.”
“Thank you.” She tried not to roll her eyes, accepting a glass from Draco and taking a small sip. “This whole thing is just so… bizarre.”
“Tell me about it.” Theo downed the rest of his glass. “It’s old-fashioned, you know? I don’t know why the girls get so hung up about it.” He glanced over at the other side of the room, where Daphne and Pansy appeared to be admiring one another’s shoes.
“It’s not old-fashioned.” Draco sipped his champagne. “It’s quite useful, I think. This way, you know what you’re getting.”
Paige looked at him. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Well, they’d never let a Mudblood into one of these, obviously.” Draco said.
“Exactly.” Blaise agreed. “These are the classiest, most beautiful girls in Slytherin. Any of them would be entirely appropriate for any of us to be seen with.” He glanced at Paige. “Even you.” He smirked, earning him a definite eye roll this time.
“I suppose it does you more good than us, then.” Paige retorted smartly.
“Nonsense. It’s a perfect occasion for you girls to get dressed up and gossip about one another. Isn’t that your favorite activity?” Blaise replied.
“Oh, please.” Paige said, drinking the last little bit of her champagne.
“Come on, love, let’s not be seen in the company of these plebians.” Draco smirked, gesturing to Blaise’s undone tie as he gently pulled his date back onto the dance floor.
He kissed her cheek as the band struck up another number. “You’re a fantastic dancer, Paige.”
“I suppose, for a commoner.” Paige smirked, laughing as he spun her around.
Then again, maybe she wasn’t so out of place after all.
After the thrill and glamour of the ball had come and gone, Paige found herself with a month to go before the start of term. She would ordinarily have spent it at Draco’s or at home, working on extra Potions training, but this year she was given the opportunity to pass her days at Grimmauld Place, the headquarters of Dumbledore’s resistance movement, the Order of the Phoenix. While her father worked on top-secret tasks, Paige amused herself by giggling over Witch Weekly centerfolds with Hermione. This hobby also gave her a chance to get to know Ginny Weasley, who she found to be quiet but kind and incredibly perceptive. Toward the end of August, Harry was finally released from his aunt and uncle’s house and came to join them.
On this particular evening, the entire order was out meeting with Dumbledore and some of his associates, save for Tonks, who had been left behind with Fred and George to watch the underage witches and wizards at play. Ordinarily, the babysitter and babysittees might resent one another’s presence, but Tonks hardly acted her age, and the first thing she did once the adults had left was fish out an old bottle of Firewhisky from the bowels of the house and present it to Harry.
“Come on, then.” She chirped. “Might as well have some fun before you have to hit the books.”
The group decided it would be best to consume the alcohol little by little with a round of “I Never.” The bottle was passed around and around as confessions were made about kissing, cheating on assignments, and childish pranks.
“I was never chosen to be a prefect.” Tonks said when it was her turn.
Ron drank hesitantly, having gingerly broken the news to Harry that morning, and Hermione also took the tiniest of sips. When she lowered the bottle, Paige reached for it.
“What, you?” George cut in.
“Yeah.” Paige took a swig. “Is it so shocking?”
“Well, just seems a bit unfair, your dad being a professor and all.” He smirked.
“It’s hard to find upstanding students in Slytherin.” Paige shrugged.
“That’s right.” Harry agreed. “But who’s the other one? Don’t say—”
Paige looked at him guiltily.
“You’re kidding.” Harry shook his head. “I have never beaten Draco Malfoy’s arse.”
Hermione grabbed for the bottle a bit too excitedly.
When the adults finally returned home, they cracked open the front door to hear a rousing chorus of “Seven Drunken Nights” coming from upstairs, Tonks’s voice the loudest of all. Sirius shook his head, smirking as he walked past Molly Weasley, who was frozen, mouth open wide.
That was the last time Tonks was ever elected to babysit.
Though Paige still spent a few weekends at headquarters once school had started, for the most part, it was back to business as usual. It turned out that the debutante ball was not the only rite of passage awaiting her as she began her fifth year. She now sat in her usual chair in front of her father’s desk, though paperwork, not potions, filled up the desktop between them.
“So, you know why you’re here.” Professor Snape began casually, sifting through her file, as if he didn’t already know everything that was in it.
“Yes.” Paige replied. All of the fifth-years had arranged appointments with their Heads of House to determine the career path they planned to embark upon after graduation. The purpose of the meeting was to determine what O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s would be necessary to attain such a course and whether or not the ideal occupation was feasible given the student’s current record.
“Well, I’m assuming you’ve thought about it.” He continued, meeting her eyes.
“Not much to think about, really.” Paige shrugged. “My mind hasn’t changed. I still want to become a Potions Master, like you.”
He paused, papers in hand. “You’re serious?”
“Yes. Is it so hard to believe anyone would want to do what you do?” She teased lightly.
“It’s not that.” He leaned back slightly in his chair. “Paige, you have so many talents. You know full well that just about any avenue is open to you, and given your curiosity and proficiency for my subject over the years, I’m not surprised that my career is the one that makes sense to you.”
“Then what?” She crossed her legs, looking at him curiously.
“Well….” He paused, unsure of how to put what he wanted to say. “You and Mr. Malfoy have been an item for two years now.” He finally added, speaking rather flatly. “Even if you were to go your separate ways, it has not been lost on me how many of the other gentlemen in Slytherin find you attractive.”
Paige blinked. “I don’t really understand your point.”
“Whether you ultimately choose to spend your life with Draco or another man of similar status, your time will likely be spent at home.”
“A housewife?” Paige almost laughed. “Dad, do you really see me as a housewife?”
“Well, of course not.” He looked back down at his notes. “It would be a terrible waste, in my opinion.”
“Well, good, because I don’t plan on it.” She said firmly.
“You realize that men like this don’t typically entertain the idea of their wives working outside the home.” He stated.
“Draco doesn’t tell me what to do. He and I both know that.” Paige replied. “Besides, even if he doesn’t turn out to be the one…” She paused, not wanting to consider it. “I will never settle for a man who doesn’t believe in giving me my freedom.” She finally concluded.
He looked at her for a moment, wondering if she had any inkling of the privileged position she found herself in. She had the admiration of upper class members of society and was yet far enough removed from them that she could very well pursue any ambition she pleased.
“Potions Master, then.” He cleared his throat. “Well, you’re on the right track. Besides the obvious, you will need to accomplish N.E.W.T. status in Transfiguration, Herbology, Charms, and Defense Against the Dark Arts.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem.” Paige said, though she had her doubts about the final subject, considering who was teaching it for the current school year.
“Excellent.” He said, reassembling her file and tucking it away. “After graduation, you will also need to secure an apprenticeship. I’m certain that Jiggers wouldn’t object to taking you on.”
“All right.” Paige nodded, though she personally preferred to work under the other Apothecary owner, the aging Mr. Slug. “Can’t you just teach me, though? You’ve done it for so long.”
“Paige, regardless of what you think, I’m not the most talented Potions Master out there.” He said, though he offered her a small smile. “I can certainly supplement you with my personal knowledge, however, if you wish.”
“Can’t hurt.” Paige returned the smile, standing up. “Have a good day, Dad.”
“Hardly, I’ve got first years in my next class.” He muttered, but when he looked up, she was already gone.
Paige had always been an ideal daughter, ensuring that her appearance was impeccable, her demeanor appropriate and her homework completed at all times. However, when she saw the flyers posted in Hogsmeade, the ones advertising lessons in practical Defense Against the Dark Arts, she seized the chance to embrace her rebellious side. After all, Umbridge’s classes had been worse than she could have imagined. The students were not permitted to even have their wands out, let alone use them, and the text looked as if it hadn’t been updated since the 1950s or so.
Thus she now found herself standing warily in the back of the Room of Requirement, attempting to appear inconspicuous behind the crowd of students from the other three houses. Before them, Harry was explaining that they were going to start out with simple stunning spells, which they would practice in pairs. As the crowd gently broke up little by little, Paige attempted to make eye contact with several of the students around her, hoping one might volunteer to be her partner. These efforts were made in vain, however; all of them gave her rather suspicious looks.
“Do you have a partner?” Hermione said from behind her.
“No.” Paige turned. “You want to work with me?”
“Sure.” Hermione smiled, choosing a spot a few feet away. “Ready?”
“Yeah.” Paige raised her wand, focusing her attention on the other girl.
“Stupefy!” Hermione cried, and a blue jet of light emitted from her wand.
“Rennervate!” Paige countered, and a small burst of white light repelled the attack. She stepped back into position for the next spell, smiling despite herself. Clearly all of those lessons with her father had been paying off, although they were well past stunning spells at this point. She had to admit, however, that it was much easier to defend herself against a fellow student than a full-fledged wizard, even if the student in question was Gryffindor genius Hermione Granger.
Hermione stared at Paige for a second, impressed at her speed. “Again?” She said finally.
“Sure.” Paige readied her wand. Hermione attempted to stun her once more, and she successfully blocked the spell a second time. Hermione tried three more times, to no avail.
“You want to try?” She asked, a bit out of breath.
“Okay.” Paige stuck her wand out, locking her feet into the appropriate stance. “Stupefy!” She cast the spell perfectly, and the light soared out of her wand and directly at her opponent. Hermione tried to cast the countercharm, but she wasn’t quite fast enough, and a moment later she found herself flat on her back.
“You all right?” Paige laughed softly, coming over and offering her a hand.
“Fine.” Hermione brushed herself off. Across the room, Harry watched them closely.
At the end of the lesson, Harry wished everyone well and the room began to empty. Paige went to the corner where she’d stashed her bag, planning to go back to the common room and prepare for a Muggle Studies exam she had coming up. When she stood up, however, Harry was blocking her retreat.
“Where did you learn to do all that?” He asked.
“What do you mean?” She replied, as if it was nothing. “Everyone knows those.”
“Yeah, but you’re easily the best.” He grinned. “I mean it. You’re a fantastic duelist.”
“Thank you.” Paige blushed slightly.
“Think you could take me on next time?” He asked. “I mean, I figure it’d be a good demonstration for the others. And if you can take Hermione down that easily…”
Paige nodded. “Yeah, I suppose I could consider it.”
“Good.” Harry moved out of her way. “I’m glad you showed up. We can use talent like yours. Besides, you’ve got lots of friends, and we can use all the support we can get.”
“I’m glad I came.” She agreed. “I think this is really good, what you’re doing, you know.”
He nodded, coming to stand in front of her.
“I just want you to know – I believe you, Harry.” She said slowly, meeting his eyes. “You know, about all of this business with… him coming back. Fudge is out of his mind.”
Harry looked at her. “Thanks. That—that means a lot.” He said softly. “After last year, I didn’t know if you and I were still playing for the same team, if you know what I mean.” He added, lowering his voice because of the few students still lingering around them. “Malfoy—”
“—will be waiting for me.” Paige said gently, freeing herself from his gaze. “Bye, Harry.” She slipped past him, her bag close enough to brush his hand as she escaped from the room at last.
Paige continued to attend meetings of Dumbledore’s Army as the year progressed, though she made sure never to leave too few other students between her and Harry at the conclusion of each session. Under Harry’s guidance, the group learned a plethora of possible defenses, and Paige was able to use her advanced dueling training to assist others who appeared to be struggling. In doing so, she had a number of good opportunities to get to know some of the other students and earn their respect. After all, in Dumbledore’s Army, most factors, including house selection, were irrelevant; in the end, it all came down to how committed one was to the cause.
Like everyone else, it was very important that Paige covered her tracks when she left each meeting. She personally preferred to cut a trapdoor in the floor of the room with a simple Severing Charm and sneak around the corner back to the common room. As always, at the conclusion of this meeting, she had created her trapdoor and dropped lightly into the dungeons below, using a Repairing Charm to erase the hole from which she had just come.
It was almost pitch dark, like it always was in the innermost depths of the castle, except for the sparse torchlight that dotted the walls on either side of the corridor. Paige was no stranger to the dungeons, however, and she hadn’t had to feel her way along for quite some time. She strode freely but cautiously down the center of the hallway, making the familiar turns that would ultimately lead her to the common room. Suddenly, another figure turned the corner, almost bumping into her in the process.
“Watch where you’re going!” He grumbled, and Paige was about to tell him off when the torchlight illuminated both their faces at once. It was Draco.
“Hey.” She said softly. “I didn’t think we had duty tonight.”
“Paige.” He said, pleased. “No, we don’t. I’m working under different terms, actually.”
She looked at him, confused. No matter, though – he was clearly eager to explain.
“It’s Umbridge. She’s offering extra credit for high quality students who are willing to help her keep the rest of them in line. You know, like the Mudbloods and their precious Potter.” He said proudly. “She’s calling us the Inquisitorial Squad. We’ve got badges.” He showed her his, gleaming brightly on his chest right next to his prefect’s badge.
“That’s great.” Paige nodded, trying not to roll her eyes. Umbridge’s many attempts to keep order at Hogwarts grew more annoying by the day. Dumbledore had always been very kind and welcoming to the students, including Paige, whom he frequently greeted with a warm smile. Umbridge, however, barely noticed her at all, unless she had an errand for Professor Snape to run and needed Paige to notify him. Why should she help the old bat stifle the efforts of her friends?
“I’m sure she’d love for you to join us.” He said, leaning against the wall.
“Draco, it’s not like I need any extra credit.”
“Neither do I.” He said, sounding a bit offended. “It’s not just that, though. Potter and his friends have been ruling this place for far too long, and Dumbledore just let it happen. Umbridge is just trying to make sure that no one gets a big head without deserving to do it.”
Paige sighed. “I’m just too busy with my classes and the work I do with Dad.”
“As if he wouldn’t be proud to see you doing it.” Draco scoffed. “You know how he feels about Potter.”
“Is that all this is about for you?” Paige asked. “Seriously, this is the best method you could come up with for torturing him this year?”
“Hardly. I just think the ministry has a point, is all.”
“Listen, I’ve got to go. I’ve got an exam to study for.”
Draco didn’t bother asking about which class, thankfully. “Will you at least consider it?”
Paige sighed again.
“Please?” He moved a bit closer to her and kissed her cheek. “Crabbe and Goyle make all right company, I suppose, but Pansy’s there, and I always feel like she’s trying to outdo me.”
Paige smirked. “What am I, a shield?”
“No, you just… you’d give me an advantage, that’s all.” He returned the smirk.
“Fine. I’ll give it some thought.” She brushed past him gently. “’Night, Draco.”
Fortunately, Draco did not hassle Paige any further about joining Umbridge’s band of thugs. This was largely due to the fact that the fifth years’ O.W.L. exams were on the horizon, the first of which had been conducted under Umbridge’s careful watch just two days ago. It had been splendidly interrupted by the departure of the Weasley Twins the first time it was held, which was just under a week ago, and the students had been forced to re-take it with the Great Hall under lock and key and in the presence of a very thorough security team of house elves. Paige was convinced that her second try was inferior to her first, however, and was working very hard to make sure the remainder of her exams reflected her very best efforts.
A smorgasbord of potions ingredients and empty vials was spread before her on the floor of the common room, where she sat with her back resting up against one of the couches, a simmering cauldron to her left. She had already worked through all of this year’s assignments and was now reviewing a few of the recipes her father had taught her in his spare time. After all, considering her career choice, she wouldn’t be surprised if he threw a few extra questions into her exam.
She heard the door close behind her, but she tried to concentrate on her work and ignore whoever had just entered the room. After all, her father always said that focus was the key to quality potion making. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a female student brush past the sitting area and over to the girls’ staircase. Another set of footsteps came behind her, but they paused a few feet from the cauldron.
“Practice makes perfect?”
Paige finally looked up as Draco sat across from her in a leather chair.
“That is the goal.” She smiled, dropping a caterpillar into the bubbling brew.
He watched her quietly, a smile playing at his lips. He found most of the things she did beautiful, but she seemed to have a special talent for making potions work look elegant. Small slivers of her dark hair gently tumbled in front of her intense green eyes as she stared into the cauldron, carefully bending her slender wrist over the mixture and letting each ingredient fall from her delicate white fingers as its time approached. He let himself be mystified by her for a few moments more, and then he finally spoke again. “You going to be at it for much longer?”
“No, I’m almost done.” She looked at him inquisitively. “Why, do you need something?”
“I was thinking it might be nice for me to take you out to dinner.” He replied.
“Dinner would be nice.” She nodded, uncorking a small bottle of papaya juice and letting the liquid slip out and into the cauldron. “There.” Her smile, along with the satisfying green hue of the finished solution, lit up her features for a moment and then faded away. She glanced back up at Draco. “Let me get cleaned up and I’ll be ready to go.”
Thirty minutes later, her cauldron had been scrubbed clean and put away with the ingredients, and Paige was leaving the common room in a dark green dress that tied around her neck with silk ribbon. She and Draco went through the Great Hall, arousing the attention of a few students already enjoying an evening meal there, and exited the castle, heading out to Diagon Alley.
Draco, who had chosen a black suit and matching shirt, led her to a rather posh restaurant close to the entrance of Knockturn Alley. As they entered, several of the couples around them looked up, and Paige thought she recognized one of the men as a member of the Weird Sisters. Despite the attention, however, the two managed to enjoy a fairly intimate steak and seafood dinner. As they finished off dessert, a large piece of carrot cake and twin glasses of blush wine, Draco asked Paige what she wanted to do with the rest of their evening.
“It’s nearly ten o’clock already.” Paige observed. “Shouldn’t we be getting back to Hogwarts?”
“If that’s what you want.” He offered reluctantly.
As they neared the castle doors, Paige gently took his arm, leading him in the direction of the Black Lake. They reached the edge, and Paige promptly unzipped her dress and pulled it down, stepping out of it and folding it up carefully as she slipped off her shoes.
“What are you doing?” Draco asked.
“I thought it was a nice night for a swim.” Paige, now in a light gray lace bra and underwear set, dove swiftly into the lake and quickly resurfaced, her hair slick with water. She grinned at Draco. “Come on, a little algae won’t kill you.”
He smirked, peeling off his shoes and stripping down to his black boxers. “Only for you.” He dove in after all, grabbing for her feet, which made her giggle.
Paige floated on her back, kicking her feet lightly. “This is lovely.”
Draco looked at her from his place in the water. “It’s nice, I suppose. The water’s warm, anyway.”
“I come out here a lot, actually.” She remarked, swimming over closer to him. “Not to get in, usually, but to lay out by the water. It’s sort of peaceful, the way it’s isolated from the rest of the buildings on school grounds.”
It sounded a bit boring to Draco. “What do you do out here?”
“Very funny.” She ran a hand through her hair. “I read a lot, actually.”
“Hmm.” He considered this. All of the other girls he had been interested in at Hogwarts, Pansy being their very prototype, were flamboyant, talkative, and haughty. He had never known anyone like Paige, who seemed just as content to be left alone for a quiet evening with her studies as she would be surrounded by aristocrats and admirers at a glamorous party. She was complex, to say the least.
“You know, there is a giant squid who lives here.” Paige remarked matter-of-factly.
“Well, then I don’t want to be the one left behind as breakfast.” Draco replied, and he scrambled out of the water, laughing all the way. Paige grinned, following at his heels.
A few minutes later, they stood overlooking the lake from the Astronomy Tower, half-soaked in their fancy clothes with inexpensive bottles of ale in their hands, which Draco had carefully nicked from the kitchens on the way up. Paige shivered slightly, and he draped his jacket over her exposed shoulders.
“This has been the best first date of my life.” He said quietly. “Thank you.”
She smiled, taking his hand. “What are you talking about? You asked me out, remember?”
He squeezed her hand, holding up his drink. “Second date tomorrow night?”
She laughed, glancing up at the sky. Pretty soon it would be tomorrow. “I’ll toast to that.” She replied, gently bumping her bottle against his.
He moved to kiss her, but suddenly an owl landed on the tower railing, a note in its beak. Frowning, Draco unrolled it. “Stupid bird, couldn’t it wait till—” He stopped.
“What?” Paige looked at him, and then down at the piece of parchment. She recognized Narcissa’s elegant script immediately.
Your father has been arrested. I’ll be at Hogwarts to pick you up first thing in the morning. I have asked Severus to arrange with Dumbledore for you to mail your exam answers in late.
I love you.
For the sake of privacy, Draco left before breakfast the next morning. Paige woke up early to walk him out to the train station, where his mother was waiting to take him off school grounds so they could Apparate home. Narcissa was a shadow of her usual flawlessness – the lines of drowned mascara still showed behind her thick layer of foundation, her hair had been put up into a lazy bun, and the wrinkled condition of her dress betrayed the fact that she hadn’t changed clothes since yesterday. Draco gave Paige a kiss on the cheek and walked to stand by his mother’s side without a word. Narcissa offered the girl a sad smile and asked her to thank Professor Snape for his help in delaying Draco’s exam deadlines before clasping Paige’s hands briefly in farewell and leaving with her son.
Paige stayed behind for only a moment, just until they had disappeared. Then she retreated into the castle and headed for the Great Hall. She had a Charms exam immediately after breakfast.
She barely touched her food, devoting her sapped energy to cramming for the test instead. Instead of sleeping, she had stayed awake at Draco’s side all night, though he had barely said two words to her. She imagined she didn’t look much better than Narcissa at present.
At ten, she filed into the Charms classroom with the other students, and Professor Flitwick gave her a look of concern as he handed her the test. Despite her lack of confidence, she seemed to be able to answer the majority of the questions without much difficulty, and she performed admirably in the practical portion of the exam. Still, she couldn’t help but look over at Draco’s empty seat every few minutes, slightly taken aback by just how much she missed him.
She had an hour before lunch, and after that came the Transfiguration test. To ease her worry about Draco and his family, she decided to take a brief walk around the grounds. She packed her Transfiguration book in her bag with a blanket, just in case she found a good place to study along the way, and headed out among the throngs of carefree students milling about the grounds.
All around her, Paige saw boys and girls laughing, though the ones subject to career-deciding exams seemed a degree less joyous than the younger students. It was as if she was living in a bubble that kept her separate from all of them. Just hours ago, she might have been just like them, enjoying the sunshine with Draco and planning out their next nighttime adventure while procrastinating about cracking the books. Now, though, everything seemed irreversibly different.
About halfway through her stroll, Paige saw a vacant spot under a large tree that provided plenty of shade on this unusually warm afternoon. She was headed for it when she noticed someone else leaning against the tree, staring off at the lake. As she got closer, she realized it was Harry.
The two of them just looked at one another for a moment. They hadn’t talked much since their awkward encounter in the Room of Requirement midway through the year, but Paige had overheard Hermione consoling him about his godfather’s death just before the start of the Charms exam. She seemed to keep running into people who were in the throes of devastation.
Finally, she dropped her bag and ran to him, putting her arms around his neck gently.
“I’m sorry about Sirius.” She whispered, closing her eyes and squeezing him to her. He felt different than Draco – colder, like he wasn’t made entirely of human flesh. It was like there was something in him that prevented him from letting anybody in all the way. She recognized the feeling after a moment.
It was the same way her father felt to her sometimes, when she embraced him after he had just come in from being gone for a long time, when his mind was clearly somewhere else.
At last, Harry returned her motion. He didn’t say anything.
There was nothing to say.