Elena’s painting her nails in her room – she can’t do it in the common room because of the fumes, which even magic doesn’t seem to be able to shift – when she hears Mithian’s unmistakable laugh float up the stairs.
Her heart abruptly starts pounding, which is ridiculous. She’s known Mithian since she was a baby first year and Mithian was the much wiser and far cooler second year who showed her around. It’s probably a puberty thing, Elena’s hormones figuring out that Mithian’s actually horrifically attractive, but that doesn’t make it less annoying.
“And how exactly did you get in here?” Elena demands, when Mithian pushes the door open and sits elegantly on the edge of Vivian’s bed.
“I slashed the Fat Lady in two,” she says solemnly, and Elena draws in a breath in exaggerated shock. “Or, well, that was the plan, but then I bumped into Arthur on the way over and that removed the need for the defacing of paintings.”
“Well, good,” Elena says, and doesn’t wonder why just the mention of Arthur makes her feel like she’s been kicked in the gut. Hormones do weird things to you. “What are you doing here, anyway? I thought you were holing up in the library ’til your OWLs were done.”
Mithian’s got four days left. Elena knows this because it’s a best friend’s job to know these things; it’s perfectly normal to enchant your calendar to cross off the days for you, and shoot out celebratory streamers on the last day.
“That was the plan, yes,” Mithian says mildly. “But I’ve been staring at books for so long that I’m starting to get a pre-emptive headache when I so much as open one.” She smiles, hopeful. “Distract me?”
“Of course,” Elena says, before she can think better of it, but Mithian just laughs like she always does. It’s like she finds Elena’s awkwardness and inability to think before she speaks endearing instead of just embarrassing, or something. “Just let me do these last two nails.”
“You could just use a spell,” Mithian says, and Elena shrugs.
“I like doing it myself,” she says. “I’m so clumsy and useless at everything else that it’s nice to have something I’m good at.”
“You are very good,” Mithian agrees, leaning over to admire the nails Elena’s already painted. “But you’re good at lots of things. You shouldn’t call yourself useless.”
Elena is suddenly very glad that Mithian isn’t looking at her face. She can feel it doing something incredibly embarrassing, but she can’t make it stop. Bodies are so awful.
“All done,” she says quickly. “Now how would you like to be distracted? We could go to Hogsmeade? You could finally let me paint your nails!”
“You painted them for my first Quidditch match of second year,” Mithian reminds her. “Blue and silver to match my uniform, remember?”
“That was years ago,” Elena says dismissively. “I was terrible then, they looked awful.”
“They looked beautiful,” Mithian says, and Elena has to look away because her heart’s doing that awful pounding thing again. “I really don’t mind what we do, and after all I am the one imposing on you. What would you like to do?”
“You’re not imposing,” Elena says automatically. She looks down, staring hard at her drying fingernails. “It’s nice to see you. I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too,” Mithian says, after a moment. “How about we just stay here? You can paint my nails while we catch up. It has been a long time.”
“It’s okay, I get that you needed to ditch me to study. Not sure I get you ditching me for Arthur Pendragon of all people, though,” Elena says, then adds hurriedly, “What colour do you want for your nails?”
“What?” Mithian looks very confused, and Elena’s pretty sure it’s not because of nail varnish. She shoves the box at Mithian anyway just in case. “When have I ditched you for Arthur?”
“Last week when he took you to Hogsmeade,” Elena says, all in a rush. “Popular belief is split on whether you two are just going out or if that means you’re engaged now.”
“Popular belief is sorely mistaken,” Mithian informs her. She picking out a shimmery purple bottle and hands it to Elena. “We’re friends and, occasionally, very bitter rivals. We were just blowing off steam after a particularly awful exam.”
“Oh, that’s what I thought,” Elena lies, unable to keep the ridiculous grin off her face. “I just didn’t get to tease you about it at the time, so.”
Mithian rolls her eyes, but she’s smiling too. “If you’re going to do that, you should at least tease me about someone I actually like,” she says, and the smooth line Elena was painting abruptly turns into a smear around Mithian’s nail.
“Sorry,” Elena says, mortified, but Mithian’s already murmuring a spell to clean it up. “My hand slipped, sorry.”
“It’s fine,” Mithian assures her. “You’re doing a really great job.”
“Stop being so nice all the time,” Elena wants to say, but her brain is being kind to her today so what actually makes it out of her mouth is, “So you do like someone, then.”
It’s not much better, honestly. Elena still kind of wants to stab herself in the eye with the nail varnish wand, but at least this isn’t embarrassing, just kind of soul-destroying.
“No,” Mithian says, too quickly. “It was just a hypothetical. You know. If there was someone I liked. You should tease me about them.”
“It’s Leon, isn’t it?” Elena says. “I’m pretty sure he fancied you for a while last year.”
“No, it’s not Leon.”
“Morgana?” Elena guesses. “She’s sort of scary in that typical Slytherin way, but I can definitely see the appeal. I may have had a crush of my own for a while.”
“Elena, please, can we talk about something else?” Mithian sounds kind of desperate, and since Elena isn’t enjoying this topic of conversation very much either, she just nods.
“Sorry,” she says. She twists Mithian’s hand around to get better access to the thumbnail, brushing her finger across Mithian’s knuckles in the process. Mithian’s skin is so, so soft. “I didn’t mean to annoy you.”
“You didn’t,” Mithian says, but she’s still sort of sighing, so Elena’s pretty sure she’s just being nice again. “How have you been? How are your exams going?”
“Not too bad,” Elena hedges. “Thanks for helping me get the Summoning Charm down pat, by the way. Mine was near perfect.”
Mithian beams at her. “I knew you could do it,” she says, “well done.”
Elena smiles back at her. “Things have been all right, otherwise,” she says. “Vivian’s started going out with Elyan, so we’ve been hanging out with him and his friends a lot. Gwaine’s sort of adopted me as his queer partner in crime, which mostly means he goes on about this Slytherin boy, Merlin, all the time since no one else will listen to him any more.”
(And Elena goes on about Mithian right back, but Mithian really doesn’t need to know that.)
“Sounds like you’ve barely had time to miss me,” Mithian teases.
“I really, really have,” Elena says seriously. “I keep thinking of funny things to tell you, and then I turn around and remember you’re not there. It’s getting embarrassing.”
Mithian laughs. “Well, I’m here now,” she says. “Maybe when you’ve finished with my nails, we could go hang out with them. If you like.”
Elena considers it for just a moment. “Nah,” she says. “I like it being just us.”
Mithian’s face softens out into a smile. “Me too.”