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Better Days Than These by Pixileanin
Chapter 1 : I'm perfect and I know it... but I'm not snobbish at all, because that would be wrong and not at all perfect.
 
Rating: 15+Chapter Reviews: 36


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A/N: In case you missed the note in the story summary, this won first place in Cassius Alcinder's "Mary Sue Challenge".  I have to give a big thank you to my beta team: WriteYourHeartOut, Inkfire, CambAngst and ladybirdflying!
 






Downtrodden students kept their heads low and filed into the Great Hall for breakfast. Albus Dumbledore was dead and Lord Voldemort’s minions had begun their reign of terror at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but hope still shone in the eyes of one lovely young lady as she stood before her classmates and gazed around the room. The world was full of happy, fluffy goodness, even in the darkest of days, and she was going to prove it.

Ever since she was a little girl, she’d looked forward to the challenges this year would bring and, aside from a few unexpected changes, it was just as she’d always dreamed it would be. As she sat down at the Slytherin table and tucked in to a glorious breakfast of blueberry scones and caviar-encrusted bacon, the words of her first-year introductory essay flitted through her mind:

My name is Paloma Papillon Pe’onia Parkinson. I know that’s pretty hard for people to pronounce, so you can call me Peony for short. These are going to be the best years ever, I just know it. But I might not need all seven, since I’ll be studying really hard.

As she bit into a scone, she felt a twinge of indulgence. That essay had been written ages ago, but it still flitted through her mind at the start of every school year. But even on the third Thursday of October, the tingle of excitement simply hadn’t worn off. Peony’s favorite house elf, Squiggles, popped in at her side and placed a hand-embroidered napkin across her perfectly creased skirt pleats.

Her sixth-year Prefect pin was polished to a brilliant shine and her hair hung in long blonde ringlets to her shoulders, tamed with a jeweled hair clip. Under her pristine school robe and tastefully modest uniform, the weight of her mother’s locket pressed against her alabaster breast, alongside the Time-Turner, a borrowed gift from the Headmaster himself. As the school rules stated, proper attire was the key to good behavior. She needed only look as far as her sister Pansy to see the truth in that. Although in her sister’s defense, Pansy was allergic to silk, the poor dear.

A flurry of heavily laden owls filled the air above them, and a large bird with an impressive wing span and an even more impressive amount of flight control swooped down to land delicately between the scones and bacon. Her messenger eagle, Ultimus Prime, set down a huge bag of sweets that the rest of the Slytherin table gleefully snatched up.

“It’s like Christmas every day!” exclaimed Astoria, who beamed at Peony with adoration.

Everyone loved Ultimus and his gifts. Everyone loved Peony too, except for her sister. Well, actually Pansy Parkinson was a practiced pain in her nonexistent pimple and technically only her half-sister. And that was alright because the Slytherin rules stated very specifically that everyone in their house must maintain (and exploit, whenever possible) unresolved family issues. It was the one rule that her sister Pansy embraced with every fiber of her being.

My stepmother (of questionable heritage) held me back a year so my sister could enter Hogwarts first. But I am proud to be here now, and doubly proud to be in the House of Salazar Slytherin, the greatest man ever to live.

Peony’s morning had already been eventful, having double-ironed her socks and written off a quick letter to her long-distance beau, Roderick (“I miss you sooo much!! *hearts and air-kisses included* Please write back soon”). She tucked the precious letter between Ultimus’ impressive talons and cooed at him in delight as he presented her with a large crate containing her prized finch collection. She thanked the eagle with a nice piece of fish and made kissy noises to each of her brightly colored finches. The little birds peeped a merry accompaniment to the long parade of somber instructors making their way to the Head Table, eyes forward and arms stiffly at their sides under the watchful eye of the Headmaster. Peony loved following the rules, and there were more rules than ever now that Severus Snape was in charge.

“Hello, Professor Carrow!” called Peony, waving enthusiastically from her seat as the professor and her brother passed by. They were new to the faculty this year, and Peony wanted to make a good impression.

“Psst! Miss Peony!” whispered Squiggles. “I don’t think you should be talking with them.”

Peony frowned. “Why not?” she asked. “They are professors, and professors would never do anything to hurt me.” She had been to two Prefect meetings so far, and though the Carrows sneered a lot, Headmaster Snape had never taken kindly to nonsense. She told Squiggles all of that.

“No, Miss Peony, they are very, very bad!”

Peony patted Squiggles on the head. “If you follow the rules, everything will be fine.” The terrified look on Squiggles’ face made her add, “Perhaps I can put in a word with the Headmaster for you.”

Squiggles opened her mouth to reply, but then the Headmaster cleared his throat to begin the morning “motivational announcements”. The little elf bowed her head and popped away. Peony wondered what that was all about, but before she could dwell on it too much, the announcements were over and she was swept away with the crowd to her classes.


***
 


Later that afternoon, Peony looked both ways and twice behind her. She backed into an empty alcove and pulled out a long chain from under her uniform. (“Safety first when using unauthorized magical devices,” Headmaster Snape had told her.) Because she was brilliant and extremely driven, the Time Turner allowed her to relive each day and attend both sixth and seventh year classes, so she could graduate early and be reunited with her beloved Roderick.

It was true that she and Roderick had had a beautiful summer romance. But he had graduated last year, so she would have to be strong on her own. He’d wait for her, she knew for certain. And when he finally had the time, she knew he’d answer all of the letters she’d been sending to him.

Peony spun the little hourglass and counted the rotations carefully. To an ordinary girl, juggling two years of academics, along with her Prefect duties and countless extracurricular activities, was near impossible, but her loyal friend Squiggles kept her quills sharp and cleaned her ink blotter twice an hour. She even helped Peony relax every evening with tea cakes and peach marmalade.

Just the thought of tea cakes made her tingle with contentment. It was like being wrapped up in a hand-knitted chenille blanket… like eating sugar quills with Roderick… Peony halted her thoughts right there. There would be plenty of time for daydreaming after her assignments were finished.

After classes and homework (and a short meeting with the Headmaster about Squiggles’ concerns), Peony surrounded herself with little containers of the shiniest beads she’d ever seen. She couldn’t wait to make lovely patterns with them on her pre-cut, pre-knotted perfectly-measured lengths of string. Astoria and her older sister, Daphne, plopped down on the settee to help.

One of the best things about being in Slytherin is living in the dungeons. The Common Room is incredibly cold, but I’m getting accustomed to it. And all the green and silver is so pretty. It sets off my eyes.

“Oh, Peony,” Daphne exclaimed, “that emerald-green finch on your shoulder goes so well with the upholstery!” Peony nodded in appreciation. She’d been told that emerald green was one of her best colors. She handed a small box of jeweled beads to Astoria while the girl chatted away about a boy named Colin who had caught her attention.

“He’s so incredibly handsome, and smart!” Astoria beamed, while attaching the beads to each other in long loops. Peony tried to smile politely as Astoria went on, but she couldn’t help thinking of Roderick and how much she missed him. It must have shown on her face, because Astoria let out a small gasp.

“I’m so sorry Peony. I forgot that your boyfriend isn’t here this year.” She dug around in her bag. “Maybe a sugar quill will cheer you up?”

“No thank you, Astoria. I could never have a sugar quill without Roderick.” She chased away a pang of sadness and fastened the end of her own string of shiny beads. “Besides,” she told Astoria as she reached for another string, “Squiggles is bringing me tea cakes soon. They always make me feel better.”

“Tea cakes!” Pansy spat at her from behind. “Who needs tea cakes when everything I have is right here?” she taunted, draping her arms shamelessly all over Draco Malfoy, having dragged him over from the boys’ lounge to the settee for the effect of possessing something that her sister didn’t.

“Leave her alone, Pansy,” Astoria cut in. “You’re being mean.”

“Why yes, I am.” Pansy smiled cunningly. “Miss Perfect Prefect isn’t as perfect as you think! I bet you don’t know the real reason behind the color of Peony’s finches, do you?”

Peony straightened in her chair and Astoria gasped. “Her finches are beautiful, just like her!”

Pansy cackled and Peony glared at her. “You wouldn’t dare!”

“Oh, I would,” Pansy taunted gleefully. Draco yawned with boredom at her side, probably expecting another weak attack on Peony’s impeccable character. “It’s because of her underwear!” Pansy announced triumphantly and the entire Common Room gasped.

“Yes, yes!” Pansy went on, now drawing a crowd. “You see, this green finch doesn’t only set off her eyes and the upholstery. She matches her finches to her ridiculous underwear, all lace and ribbon and frilly nonsense!”

Astoria couldn’t help herself. “What does it look like?” Peony cringed a little. She’d always been so discreet in the dormitory.

“Well,” Pansy continued at Peony’s reddening face, “The bottom half is a strappy emerald green, made of the finest silk, with jeweled trim and tiny little bows that tie it all together.” Draco leaned in, suddenly more awake than before.

“And the top wraps her up in a lacy corset. With tassels!” she said triumphantly. Peony’s bird ruffled its feathers in protest as the crowd whispered around them, probably wondering if it was proper to back up a girl who was intimately familiar with her sister’s underthings. Even Draco shifted his feet uncomfortably and extracted himself from Pansy.

“Where are you going, Draco?” Pansy whined, his absence taking away from her moment of glory.

“I have to go, err…” his eyes were a little glazed over, like he might be catching something. “Quidditch practice tonight.” He backed up to the boys’ hallway. “Gotta polish my broomstick.” Then he turned and hurried through the door without another glance.

With whispers still swirling around the room, Peony stood up and faced her sister.

Pansy smirked. “You’ve got nothing on me, half-sister!”

“Your mother is a hag!” Peony announced to the gasping crowd. She usually didn’t throw around unproven rumors, but in her sister’s case, she didn’t care. “And you still believe that Gilderoy Lockhart’s books are autobiographical.” That one was entirely accurate.

At that, the Common Room erupted into laughter and a defeated Pansy opened her mouth to retort, but no one could hear her over the jeers. When someone threw a day old biscuit at her head, she gave up and stormed out into the hall.

Peony recalled the final words of her first-year essay and smiled. She was well on her way to being Slytherin of the year!

…and that is why I will make the perfect Slytherin. You’ll see. When I’m old enough, I’ll be a Prefect, I’ll save the world, and I’ll marry the man of my dreams. We will all be such very good friends, I just know it!


***
 

In the cool, quiet of the night, Prefect Peony made her rounds through the deserted halls of the school, a little periwinkle blue finch trilling along on her shoulder. Most of the students were put off by the chilled air that seeped into their bones at night from the Dementors patrolling the grounds, sometimes coming far too close to the dormitories and waking the first years with their haunting non-faces peeking through the windows. A scream pierced the stillness and Peony stumbled a little. Oops, she thought. Better report that loose cobblestone.

She was still troubled by Pansy’s rude announcement in the Slytherin Common Room earlier that evening. The girl constantly tried to make trouble for Peony. She’d even convinced everyone in Slytherin (with the exception of Astoria and Daphne) that Peony’s community service project wasn’t worth their time or effort.

Peony couldn’t understand why. Everyone else had gladly helped out. The Hufflepuffs had donated single servings of double-chocolate brownies and the Gryffindors had given her a box of warm, fuzzy stockings. With the Ravenclaw’s motivational haikus and the glittery key-chains she and her friends had made, they were going to deliver the best Azkaban prisoner care packages ever, no matter what!

“It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks,” she said aloud. Her favorite underwear set, though it was a bit unconventional, gave her a lovely silhouette under her robe, enhanced her posture and made her feel beautiful on the inside, where it counted the most. Perhaps the tassels might have been a little tacky, but a girl like her couldn’t be judged on her attraction to bling.

A rumbling from her stomach reminded her that Squiggles hadn’t come with the tea cakes. Friends checked up on friends, she thought to herself. Making a detour from Prefect rounds, Peony turned the corner away from the Main Hall and stopped short in front of a dimly-lit painting. She put her finger to her lips and considered the bowl of fruit in the picture. Either it had changed since the time she’d hand delivered Squiggles’ birthday present last year, or the Dementors had managed to suck the color out of the paintings as well. Her hand moved to the yellowing pear. That had to be the right one. She brushed her fingers gently over the fruit, giving it the slightest touch. Then she said the magic words, barely above a whisper:

“Gootchie gootchie goo!”

The pear shimmered and the painting swung away from the wall, revealing an unlit corridor. Peony raised her wand and whispered “Lumos”. Stepping lightly down the corridor, she finally reached the hidden kitchen.

“Squiggles?” Peony called out.

“There be no Squiggles here,” said a small voice below her. Peony looked down to see Winky the house elf. Her little pointed ears drooped down below her chin, and her wide eyes blinked up at her with such sadness that it took Peony’s breath away. Sitting by the fireplace was a case of empty Butterbeer bottles. Winky’s eyes stared vacantly into the distance.

“Oh no,” she said. “What’s happened to Squiggles?”

The little elf shook her head sadly. “She is gone.”

“What?” Peony exclaimed in alarm.

How could this be? Squiggles had been the sweetest, most helpful elf ever! A lump formed in the pit of her stomach. “Did she get into trouble?”

“Worse than trouble.” The little elf began to tremble, her voice barely as tall as Peony’s knees. Tiny hands clutched at Peony’s robe and a little bony finger shook as it pointed to a clear puddle in the far corner of the room, over by the pantry.

“An accident? Did she slip and fall?” Peony tried to figure out why all the elves had left the puddle of water on the floor in the first place.

“Much, much worse.” The little elf sobbed into Peony’s robe, and as she stood, her inner Prefect screaming at the blatant safety violation of the puddle, yellow magical lines appeared, shimmering above the floor, in the shape of a fallen elf. A half-eaten tea cake lay on the floor nearby, little red droplets of jam running off the plate and onto the floor. Peony realized with horror that Squiggles must have been right about trouble at Hogwarts. She shook her head, trying to clear it, but the sight stayed in front of her.

“D-dead?” Peony choked out. The finch on her shoulder made a strangled peep and hid its tiny head in her platinum curls.

Winky was openly sobbing. The elf took a deep breath and let out a wail.

“She’s been murdered!”








  A/N:  Hi again!  If you made it this far and are still breathing, then congratulations!  Obviously, this is fanfiction and I do not own Harry Potter.  I also do not own any rights to any material I may or may not have alluded to in this story.  If you recognized any blatant (or not so blatant) references to popular culture, click the box below and let me know what you found.  We can make a list together!  

 

 

 


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