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Of Gardenia and Roses

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The atmosphere in the Gryffindor common room is calm on this first Saturday of February. Many students have gone to play in the snow or to take part in one of the school’s various clubs. Most of the more studious ones are in the library, but a few brave students are taking advantage of the rather unusual silence to work on the couches or at the tables by the fire. Jasmine Potter is sitting at the farthest table with Ginny Weasley, one of the few people in their house who still talks to her. The adventures in Jasmine’s second year (Ginny’s first) have allowed them to forge a strong bond, and Ginny considers her an honorary big sister. Jasmine pushes one of the rebellious locks of her long black hair behind her ear while focusing on the Ancient Runes homework she is working on. Next to her, Ginny is writing the conclusion of an essay for Professor Flitwick. The third chair next to them is normally occupied by Jasmine’s best friend, Hermione Granger, but she is currently out with Viktor Krum, the Durmstrang school champion for the Triwizard Tournament. Jasmine could have gone to see Fleur Delacour, the Beauxbatons school champion, but they both agreed to devote their Saturday to their schoolwork, so as not to fall too far behind because of their participation in the Tournament. Jasmine is only in her fourth year, which is not really at stake, but Fleur is in her seventh and is about to pass her N.E.W.T.s (A.S.P.I.C. in France), which will have a great impact on her future career.

As Ginny sighs with relief, rolling up the scroll, the entrance to the common room opens and Hermione appears, looking a little nervous to Jasmine, who is beginning to worry. If Viktor has given her the slightest trouble… Hermione spots them quickly and walks towards her, having difficulty looking directly at Jasmine, which does not reassure her. Though she is expecting Hermione to sit in her chair, she is surprised to see her waddle around a little, standing next to the table. Finally, Hermione speaks:

“Jasmine? I… I need to ask you something. Just you, sorry Ginny,” she adds with an apologetic glance at the youngest Weasley.

Ginny doesn’t protest, she’s used to it. And she loves Hermione just as much as she does Jasmine. The two older girls have taken her under their wings since her arrival, and helped her greatly through the aftermath of her torments two years ago. She stands up and tells them that she’ll find them later. Hermione then sits down and casts the Discretion Charm that Sirius taught them. She opens her mouth several times, her cheeks a little red, but no words come out. Finally, Jasmine takes pity on her and starts the discussion:

“Hey! How was the date with Viktor? I thought you were coming back later. Was there a problem?”
“Yeah. No. No, not really. Maybe?”

Hermione sighs deeply, seemingly exasperated by her own attitude. Jasmine says nothing. At times like these, it is best to let her friend organize her thoughts so that she can express them better. Hermione always manages to pull herself together in the end. She sees her close her eyes, looking concentrated, and starts counting in her head. When she reaches eight (which represents a rather intense level of agitation), the other young woman opens her eyes and starts talking again:

“Viktor asked me to spend Valentine’s Day with him in ten days.”

Oh. Somewhere in Jasmine’s belly, something seems to be twisting, but she doesn’t let it show. She’s become quite good at it.

“And you’re worried that you don’t have a dress to wear?” she teases her gently.
Arh. Arh. Arh. It’s not that. It’s just… I don’t want to go. I don’t want to… be his Valentine. I don’t want to… be his… get romantically involved with him. I don’t know, I just want us to keep going as we are right now. I like to chat with him, to learn parts of his culture and Bulgarian wizarding society, and he is really interested in what I tell him. But I’m not interested in something else. H’s a friend. He’s too old for me…”
“Hey, Fleur and I did well despite our age difference.”
“Fleur is like you, she was born very late, almost at the end of the school year.”
“And you were born in the beginning. There’s probably less of an age gap between you and Viktor than between me and Fleur. But it’s not my relationship with Fleur we’re talking about, is it?”
“I don’t want him to imagine things. I told him I was flattered, but not interested. But he seems to have taken it in the sense that he had to woo me in order to raise my interest.”
“And you don’t want to be wooed by Viktor Krum.”

This is not a question. Hermione simply nods. Jasmine then speaks again:

“Does what you want to ask me have anything to do with this?”

The red in Hermione’s cheeks intensifies. She nods again.

“I think,” Hermione begins, seemingly choosing his words carefully, “that if I spend Valentine’s Day with someone else, maybe he’ll understand that I’m interested in someone else.”
“You’re interested in someone else?” Jasmine interrupts.

It is already hard enough to manage her jealousy towards the Bulgarian, if she has to worry about someone else on top of that, she’ll crack before the end of the Tournament.

“That’s not the point!” Hermione exclaims. “I just want him to stop courting me. It’s embarrassing and I don’t want to alienate him by pushing him away too suddenly.”
“OK, OK. So, how can I help you? Do you want me to help you find another boy to ask to pretend to be your boyfriend?”
“Actually… I was thinking... I was hoping that... See... Ah, it’s complicated.”
“Is it Ron?”

Jasmine really hopes she’s wrong. The emotional roller coaster with their friend is really starting to take its toll on her. First when he accused her of cheating to get into the Tournament, then when he apologized to her after the First Task and then rejected her again when she came out of the closet by showing up on the arm of Fleur Delacour at the Yule Ball, not to mention his almost insulting request to be her date for the aforementioned Ball when he dared to ask both Hermione and Jasmine to go with him (even though she received even more despicable requests than Ron’s, in retrospect; Justin was unable to sit down properly for three days). Right now, the last thing she wants is to have anything to do with him.

“No, it’s not Ron. Why do you imagine that?” answers Hermione, shocked. “I haven’t spoken to him since he insulted you and me at the Ball, I haven't spoken to him either.”
“I’m so glad. It’s still too early for me to forgive him.”
“Because you’re going to forgive him for that? He treated you as if you were less than human, as if you were a degenerate.”
“That’s Ron. He’s going to think about it eventually, realize he was wrong and come to apologize.”
“I don’t know. Usually, he realizes his mistake because others do before him. But the vast majority of the school, apart from the teachers and a few exceptions, pushed you aside. Speaking for myself, even if he comes back with his tail between his legs, I won’t forgive him for what he did to you. He’s not a bad guy, but we don’t have the time to deal with his behaviour on top of all the other tasks ahead of us.”

The fire in Hermione’s eyes and her way of always looking at them as a duo, even in the face of the Tournament, tends to make Jasmine melt inside. She feels her cheeks burning and lowers her head, while a tender smile appears on her lips.

“Thank you, Hermione. You’re always there for me. I hope that one day I can return the favour.”
“Speaking of which...”
“I’m listening, ask me what you want,” Jasmine says, raising her head.

Hermione takes a deep breath:

“I would like you to... spendValentine’sDaywithme!” she says quickly.
“Pardon?”

She must have misunderstood. Did Hermione really just ask to spend the most romantic evening of the year together? She remains stunned for a moment, with her mouth open, staring at her friend without saying a word. Hermione is red, and her gaze is fleeting. Jasmine finally finds her voice again.

“So, let me get this straight... you want ME to pretend to be your girlfriend for Valentine’s Day?”
“Er... Yes?”

Jasmine takes a few breaths, not knowing if she should be flattered, happy, angry, or depressed. She shakes her head, trying to revive her nerve cells, which seem to have suffered a total blackout.

“OK. Why me?”
“You’re my best friend, and I trust you.”
“That’s not a good reason. You know I’m... I’m... I’m gay,” she says, stumbling a little over the word.
“That’s why I’m asking you,” Hermione replies as if it were obvious.
“If you show up with me, even for just one night, you’re going to end up with the same label stuck to your skin. And believe me, you don’t want to go through that.”
“It won’t change much for me from where I am now. I don’t have many friends at school, apart from you, Ginny, and my work group in Arithmancy with Padma and Daphne. And it’s been even worse since the beginning of the Tournament; the other students are shutting me out because of my association with you.”
“I’m sorry and...”
“It’s not your fault,” her friend interrupts her. “People are stupid. And I can live with that.”
“It’s going to follow you for years, maybe, even if you have a relationship with a man later on.”
“I’m not interested in people who stop at my sexual orientation to define me.”
“It may impact your career after Hogwarts.”
“If I do well enough in school, potential recruiters won’t mind.”

Jasmine sighs. Hermione is sometimes very idealistic and optimistic. And yet, for more than three years, she has regularly demonstrated the relative inanity of the logical sense of the British wizarding society. Her thoughts are cut off by the other witch.

“Do you really not want to be seen with me? Is it because of Fleur?”
“No! It’s not that.”

By Morgana and Merlin, Jasmine dreams every day of “being seen” with Hermione.

“Fleur and I broke up three weeks ago...”
“Yes, I know. And again, I’m sorry, Jasmine,” she says, grabbing and squeezing her hand.
“No, it’s OK. I’m fine. We’re better this way. We wouldn’t have been able to build anything after the Tournament anyway, given her age and the fact that she’s French and her career choice, and it was better to stop before it got too serious.”
“It’s... OK. Just, if you want, you can tell me about it, OK?”

Hermione hasn’t let go of her hand and Jasmine isn’t doing anything to get it back. Her skin is soft, with small calluses on the tips of her index and middle fingers from holding her pen tightly. The passion with which Hermione approaches every part of her life is probably one of the biggest reasons Jasmine is attracted to her. She often feeds off this passion and sometimes wonders if she would really have the strength to move forward without it.

“I know Hermione. Thank you, again.”
“Does this mean you will say yes to my request?”
“Hermione, I... I want to help you, but I’m afraid you don’t realize the effects it will have. Fleur is an adult with an established career plan and I have a special status as a Girl-Who-Lived anyway, but you have a lot to lose. What if your parents find out?”
“My parents won’t be a problem, even if they find out. I’ll tell them anyway. It’s not something I can keep from them. And I guarantee they won’t take it the wrong way.”
“If you say so...”
“Please Jasmine,” Hermione begs. “This is really the most logical solution to avoid Viktor’s advances while maintaining a certain friendship with him. He has never been discourteous or rude to me, and I would really like that to continue. And since you’re no longer with Fleur, there won’t be a problem.”

Jasmine sighs again, and thinks for a moment. On the one hand, there is the prospect of a romantic evening with the woman she has loved for almost a year, if not longer. A woman she trusts, a woman she can talk to with an open heart. But on the other hand, the thought of this evening being fake hurts her heart. And she knows that the backlash will be painful.
If she decides to go for it, can she really just “play a game”? She thinks about it for a moment and makes her decision.

“OK. I agree to help you...”
“Thank you Jasmine!” Hermione cuts her off, and stops when her friend raises her free hand.
“I accept on one condition: we do it my way, with my rules. I want to make a public proposal to you. It will also be more effective in reinforcing the illusion with Viktor. And I want a real dinner, which I will organize, not a pretext to isolate ourselves and do our homework or something. A dinner that you will be able to talk about without lying, without having to exaggerate.”

Hermione takes time before answering. Jasmine can sense that she was taken a little off guard by the seriousness she showed. Eventually, her face becomes determined, but a relieved smile appears.

“All right, I accept your conditions. And you’re right, they will make it more credible. And I would add that a relaxing evening will probably do us good, especially a few days before the Second Task. I know that we’ve prepared everything, that the Gillyweed is ordered and that you’re continuing your swimming sessions.”
“I’m glad you see it that way.”

Jasmine squeezes Hermione’s hand, and they smile. The rest of the discussion moves on to lighter topics, such as the Ancient Runes homework. Jasmine asks Hermione to meet her in the common room the next morning around ten o’clock. She leaves Hermione one hour before dinner time, telling her that she has to organize the proposal for tomorrow. Hermione is a little perplexed, but does not ask any questions. As she turns around to leave the common room, she sees that Hermione is looking at her with a pensive and somewhat calculating look on her face. They wave at each other before she passes Charlotte’s (more commonly known as The Fat Lady) portrait and walks towards the greenhouses.

The next morning, Jasmine gets up early. She knows that on Sundays, Hermione gives herself an extra hour’s rest and that she has cast a Silencing Charm to stay undisturbed. Jasmine hurries to shower and leaves the tower before her friend wakes up. She leaves her a white flower with a parchment on which is written, “Meet me at ten o’clock in the common room. The Hoped-For Valentine.” She puts the whole thing in full view on Hermione’s bedside table, hoping that Lavender or Parvati will see it. If not, it doesn’t matter, what is planned will suffice.

A few minutes before ten o’clock, after completing her preparations, she paces around in an empty classroom not far from Charlotte’s portrait, reciting her text in a low voice and trying to control her stress. When she feels ready, she takes a deep breath and calls the spirits of Morgana, Merlin and Godric Gryffindor to her aid. She leaves the classroom and goes to the common room. When the portrait opens, the hubbub subsides for a moment, then picks up again more vigorously when they notice that she has a bouquet of white flowers in her hand. She spots Hermione, sitting at their usual table, a little tense but hiding it behind the large book in front of her. Ginny is sitting not far from her and casts a curious glance at Jasmine. She walks across the room directly towards them, trying to keep the flush of her cheeks under control. When she arrives, Ginny starts to greet her but Jasmine interrupts her with a gentle wave of her hand. She catches her breath in front of a slightly anxious Hermione, and speaks in a voice that she hopes is as clear as possible:

“Hermione Jean Granger, we have been friends for three and a half years now. I have never known a more loyal, passionate and courageous person than you. You have remained by my side despite all the obstacles that have been thrown at us. For a long time now, I have been able to appreciate your intelligence and determination. And it is because you are the most precious person for me that I ask you the following: Hermione, will you please be my Valentine? You would make me the happiest of witches.”

She gently hands her the bouquet, without letting go of her gaze. Hermione’s face is red, but she has a small tender smile and her eyes shine. They keep staring into each other’s eyes when Hermione’s hand reaches out and takes the bouquet from Jasmine’s. At that moment, her friend finally answers her:

“Jasmine Lily Potter, you are my best friend and the person I trust the most, the one who knows me better than anyone else. I am honoured by your request, and I accept with the greatest pleasure to be your Valentine.”

Hermione gets up and, being careful not to damage the flowers, takes Jasmine in her arms and wraps her in one of her signature hugs. Jasmine, who is a little smaller than Hermione, puts her head on her shoulder as usual and they hug each other tightly, as if to erase any space between them. Hermione whispers to her tenderly:

“Thank you, Jasmine, it was superb. You were perfect.”

She relaxes in her friend’s arms, the stress gradually fades away. But even in their bubble, they hear the whispers around them rustle non-stop. But it doesn’t matter. They are used to it. Jasmine opens her eyes and sees that Ginny is red-cheeked but smiling at them without restraint. When their eyes meet, the young redhead gives a thumbs up. The two young women separate, but Hermione’s free hand grabs Jasmine’s and, when they sit down, they don’t let go for a while.

“Jasmine,” Hermione finally asks her, “what are these flowers anyway?”
“These are gardenias.”

All day long, they keep their smiles on their lips. Even when Hermione returns from a meeting with Viktor, she still smiles. She says that Viktor found out before she told him about Jasmine’s proposal, and that he was a bit reserved. However, he didn’t comment, just as he hadn’t when Fleur and Jasmine came out. When Jasmine, on the other hand, announces the event to Fleur, there is a shadow of sadness on her face, but her congratulations seem sincere, and she smiles softly at the young Gryffindor, wishing her good luck. Jasmine then asks her if she would help her organize the evening, and the French witch accepts without hesitating. When she gets back to her dormitory, Jasmine prepares a letter for Sirius to ask for his help too; she already has an idea of what she wants for the evening of February 14. She gives the letter to Dobby, who will put it in the daily basket of food that they send to Jasmine’s godfather through the Shrieking Shack. In this way, Jasmine and Hermione have given him a tent to be better set up, as well as various necessary products or potions, and a few books. When Jasmine finally goes to bed that Sunday, she starts to hope. She knows that she may suffer, but she can’t help herself. This will be the night she will make her declaration. She is convinced that even if Hermione doesn’t feel the same way, they will still be friends. They’ve been through too much for it to end just with this.

During the days that follow, Jasmine maintains a regular correspondence with her godfather. She also leaves two evenings to return just before curfew, and conspires with Dobby and Winky. Hermione lets her do it, but gently admonishes her when she spends too much time on that event to the detriment of her schoolwork, and especially of her preparation for the Tournament. Jasmine assures her that she is up to date with her homework and lessons (at the cost of a few early mornings) and that she continues to swim regularly in the lake (thanks to Warming Charms). The Gillyweed arrived three days after Hermione asked Jasmine to invite her for Valentine’s Day, and she was able to try it out, which proved to be a success. Most of the other Hogwarts students often look at them scornfully, but no one really dares to say anything to them. Since the Ball and the revelation from the Beauxbatons and Gryffindor champions, Professor Dumbledore has surprisingly put in place a strict discipline on harassment, particularly about people’s sexual orientation. He reminded them during the announcement before the meal that no law in European wizarding societies prohibits relations between people of the same gender, this being guaranteed by the fact that Magic itself does not prevent these people from bonding in rituals similar to that of marriage practised by Ministries. Jasmine almost asked why it had taken so long to finally control harassment in the school, but preferred to keep quiet. Even if it’s late, it’s a significant gain. But this calm is relative, and it will probably not last beyond the end of the year.

The two young women spend the weekend before Valentine’s Day in Hogsmeade with Fleur and Ginny. Viktor was invited but declined, to prepare for the tournament. The four spend a long time walking outside the village and fleeing from the looks and comments that are more virulent outside the castle. They also spend some time in the bookshop. Having warned her friends, Jasmine withdraws for a moment with the invisibility cloak to go and talk to her godfather. The daily meals, the potions and the comfortable tent have done him good, and they put the finishing touches on the plan for the evening in three days’ time.

The day of February 14 finally arrives. Jasmine finishes her classes at four o’clock with Ancient Runes, and is free one hour before Hermione, who continues with Arithmancy. She takes the opportunity to quickly change her clothes and puts a new gardenia with a scroll, this time on Hermione’s bed. The latter has established protections there which limit the access to herself and Jasmine. The other occupants of the dormitory will be able to see the flower and the parchment, but will not be able to read it. The parchment tells Hermione that the expected outfit is semi-formal, and that Jasmine will pick her up at about half past nine in the empty room next to Charlotte’s portrait. Contrary to what she had planned, Jasmine finds herself in the room before the appointed time, thanks to the precious help of Dobby and Winky. When Hermione arrives, Jasmine is again taken aback by her friend’s beauty. Her hair isn’t straightened like it was at the Ball, but it has beautiful waves, held in place by a ponytail that lets out a few strands. Her make-up is very light, a little on the eyes and a barely visible gloss on the lips. She is wearing an emerald t-shirt with a slightly loose button-down collar and dark blue jeans. The outfit is completed by boots, and a thin silver necklace circles her neck. It’s not as glamorous as the Ball outfit, but Jasmine is amazed by Hermione’s natural elegance. For her part, she has opted for loose hair with a few clips to hold it back, a navy blue slim-fitted shirt that highlights her chest (larger than her friend’s, which sometimes makes Hermione grumble, wondering what the point of being almost a year older is) and a black skirt that ends below her knees. She too has black boots, but no necklace. A bronze bracelet that was given to her by Ginny last Christmas is clicking on her wrist.

“You’re beautiful,” she tells Hermione.

The latter blushes from the compliment.

“You too,” she replies. “But I don’t know this shirt.”
“It belongs to Fleur. I borrowed it from her after a Shrinking Spell.”
“It really suits you. You should borrow clothes from her more often.”
“Hey! Say it if you’re ashamed of my wardrobe.”

The two young women know that this is not a real reproach. Due to her situation with the Dursleys, Jasmine’s wardrobe has always consisted of second- and third-hand clothes, picked up at the lowest prices in thrift stores. This skirt is probably the most wearable garment she owns. At first, she was ashamed of her situation, but between Hermione’s reassurances and the realization that Ron and Ginny’s situation was not much better, she has finally managed to joke about it.

“Let’s go?” she suggests, taking the Cloak out of her bag.
“Whenever you want.”

They take refuge under the Cloak, with the ease of habit. Jasmine leads them to the castle doors and casts a Warming Charm on them both. As they walk in the snow, she erases their tracks with another spell so that Mr Filch will not spot them. When they begin to approach the Whomping Willow, Hermione whispers to her:

“The Shrieking Shack? It’s a good idea, we’ll be quiet.”
“I figured you’d figure it out quickly. I spent both evenings setting it up, with Sirius’s help. We won’t be cold, I promise you, and we won’t be disturbed.”
“I’m curious to see what you’ve done.”
“Ah ah, nothing very exceptional, I’m afraid.”
“Stop underestimating yourself.”

Their discussion lasts until they reach the dangerous tree. Jasmine neutralizes it by levitating a branch to the node of the roots. They go down into the underground and remain pressed against each other under the Cloak, when they could now come out. Jasmine says nothing, and enjoys the moment. As they approach the Shrieking Shack, they begin to hear music. As Jasmine enters the main room, she sees that Sirius has finished working on the final details. A wireless radio set is placed on a small piece of furniture in a corner of the room. The temperature is mild as they cancel the Warming Charm and remove the Cloak. The furnishings have completely changed. A table for two people sits on the right side of the room, while a loveseat occupies its other part. The walls and curtains have been coloured red and wall sconces radiate a warm light. Several baskets are stacked against the wall next to the table. Hermione looks appreciatively at the room and turns to Jasmine.

“It’s a very successful atmosphere. I knew you would have good ideas.”
“It was Sirius who transfigured the furniture. I took care of the walls and curtains, and above all I made several combinations of runes for the warmth, sound and light insulation of the room. From the outside, no one can see that there is light, and no one can hear what is going on in the room. The crystals that feed the runes should last at least twenty-four hours. Sirius came to activate them around six o’clock so that the temperature would have time to rise.”
“Impressive. Will you show me the combinations you used?”
“I’ll give you my notes tomorrow.”
“And these baskets?”
“Our food and drinks for tonight.”
“Our drinks?”
“Fleur helped me with that.”
“Let me guess: wine or champagne?” Hermione said a little reproachfully.
“Both, actually...” Jasmine hesitates, lowering her eyes a little.
“Jasmine! We’re minors! We’re not allowed to drink alcohol!”
“That law only works in the Muggle world. There is no age restriction for alcohol in the British wizarding society. But don’t worry, there are soft drinks too, I promise you. And there is only enough alcohol for one glass of wine and one glass of champagne for each of us.”

Hermione doesn’t answer, but her face softens. She leans over to Jasmine a little and kisses her cheek to let her know that she is not mad at her.

“Sit on the couch,” Jasmine tells her, “I’m going to set the table, it’ll take five minutes.”
“Can I help you?”
“Not tonight. You’re my guest,” she teases slightly.
“I feel guilty,” Hermione replies while sitting down. “It’s my fault you had to prepare all this.”
“Believe me, I don’t regret it.”

Jasmine is afraid she has said too much at this point, but her friend doesn’t notice. She has decided to confess her feelings to her tonight, but she doesn’t want it to be rushed. She quickly puts down the plates, cutlery and various glasses the way Fleur explained to her. She checks the order one last time and opens the first basket to take out a closed carafe containing a colour-changing liquid. She grabs two wide glasses and serves the mixture evenly. Hermione watches her suspiciously.

“More alcohol, Jasmine?”
“No, it’s a non-alcoholic cocktail, I promise. Winky helped me make it. It’s basically fruit juice and lemonade. I borrowed the recipe from a Muggle book recommended by Sirius. I don’t know if it will go well with the rest of the meal, but I really wanted to try this recipe. I added some visual effects with a spell, and that’s it.”
“OK, I’ll try it.”

Jasmine holds out her glass to her, and they toast while sitting on the sofa.

“To our dinner together,” the brunette says in a singsong voice.
“To us, quite simply,” the other Gryffindor adds.

They take their first sips. The cocktail is a little sweeter and thicker than Jasmine expected, but it is very good and smooth. By the look on Hermione’s face, she also likes it. For a few minutes, they just drink. Jasmine then decides to present the menu in advance, to manage any changes that may come up.

“The meal will be simple, there will be an appetizer, a main course and a dessert. Once again, I’ve been unashamedly taking advantage of Fleur’s advice as a way of varying the dishes at Hogwarts. There is an alternative to each dish, more classic, if you don’t like it, so don’t hesitate to tell me. The baskets are under Stasis Spells, so the food won’t go to waste and Sirius will eat it. Does that sound good?”
“You’ve really thought of everything, I’m really impressed. I don’t deserve for you to have spent so much time on this evening.”
“You deserve everything I can offer you and more, Hermione.”

The red of the young woman’s cheeks is deeper than that of the walls, and she turns her eyes away from Jasmine’s gaze. Jasmine resumes her presentation:

“As a starter, there is a velvety asparagus soup with scallops. Then a fillet of cod and a sorrel sauce, with a duo of rice and French beans. Fleur recommended a white wine to accompany these two dishes, but there is also sparkling water or lemon-flavoured water.”

“OK, that’s fine for now. I’ve never eaten scallops, but I know my mum orders some from time to time at the restaurant we go to for her birthday.”
“I don’t know either, but Fleur assured me it was very good.”
“We’re Gryffindors, we’re adventurous,” Hermione says.
“Ah, it’s better to take it that way indeed.”
“And for dessert?”
“A slice of tarte Tatin and raspberry mousse. At that moment, there will be a glass of champagne if you want it. Otherwise, a bubbly apple juice. But I don’t know what a tarte Tatin is.”
“It’s an apple pie, basically, but it’s baked upside down.”
“It looks appetizing.”
“I for one like it very much.”

They silently finish their glasses, a little embarrassed. Usually, conversation flows between them, but this particular atmosphere disturbs them. Jasmine stands up a little awkwardly and holds out her hand to Hermione.

“Shall we sit down to dinner?”

Hermione answers nothing and smiles shyly as she takes her hand. Jasmine pulls the chair out for her in a slightly exaggerated gesture that makes Hermione chuckle, and then she sits down in front of her after grabbing the first basket from the pile. She takes out two plates with a green soup in which several large scallops are floating. She mumbles a quick Finite to stop the Stasis Spell. She then takes out some bottles, including a small bottle of wine that is smaller than those Hermione is used to.

“There is only the equivalent of one glass per person in it. But as you can see, there are also other choices if you want.”

Hermione seems to be weighing her options. Jasmine secretly hopes that Hermione will choose to take wine. She thinks that they might both be braver to talk about sensitive subjects if they have a little alcohol in their system. At least, that’s what Sirius told her. Finally, Hermione sighs.

“My parents already make me drink some at family meals. But don’t be surprised if I sputter a bit afterwards, okay?”
“I won’t. I’ll probably be worse than you anyway. I’ve never drunk anything stronger than a Butterbeer.”
“I almost want to see that, actually.”
“Meanie.”

They both giggle slightly. Jasmine takes a few minutes to open the bottle, and thanks her godfather for teaching her. She serves the two glasses and lifts hers towards her friend, who raises a questioning eyebrow.

“We’ve already made a toast.”
“It’s just to mark the occasion. I’ve seen too many times adults toasting with wine to not want to do it.”
“If it makes you happy.”

The two glasses knock against each other with a slight tinkling. When Jasmine tastes hers, she is surprised by the light, fruity taste, she was expecting something stronger. Only at the end of the first sip does she feel the unusual little sting of alcohol on her tongue. She thought that with a little practice, she could easily get a taste for it. She sees Hermione’s curious look.

“Not bad. Really. I’m not going to force myself to finish my drink.”
“It’s true, it’s good, Fleur chose well.”
“It goes with being French, doesn’t it?” Jasmine jokes.
“And here we go with the clichés. Does she eat frog legs too?”
“No, she told me she didn’t like those. On the other hand, I didn’t ask her about snails...”

Laughing, they cut into the dish. Unlike the wine, Jasmine realizes that this won’t be a food she will eat often. The scallops are good and melting, but the asparagus velouté disgusts her a little. Fortunately, the plate is not too full. Hermione finishes before her and puts down her spoon before starting a new discussion.

“I’m impressed by everything you do with runes. Even though I know what they can do, I always think of a charm or transfiguration first to get a result rather than a runic sequence. But for you, it comes almost naturally.”
“I’ve worked on it a lot. And honestly, I find it fascinating. It’s less instantaneous than charms or transfiguration, but it’s more durable, and you can more easily give them parameters, like a start or end time, or adjust the intensity.”
“You have the same grades as me in class, you push me to always do better.”
“You’re a liar. You always try to give the best of yourself, you are always passionate and determined in everything you do. You’re the one who pulls me forward in most subjects, you know.”
“But not in Runes...”

Jasmine remains silent for a moment, finishing her soup. She suspects that Hermione has noticed her special interest in Ancient Runes, even though she doesn’t show the same enthusiasm as she does in Defence Against the Dark Arts. It’s more of a rather desperate determination. Hermione speaks again, more softly.

“Jasmine, we’ve told each other this at least a hundred times, maybe this year alone. But I’m telling you again: I’m here if you feel like talking. I know we can’t tell each other everything, but I sense that something is bothering you and your interest in runes is hiding something serious.”

Jasmine sighs as she puts down her cutlery. She takes another sip of wine, perhaps to give herself courage. The sting of the alcohol is partly absorbed by the taste of the soup. She thinks for a moment; she wants to tell Hermione about it, but is afraid of her reaction afterwards. Being pitied is never a feeling she enjoys.

“It’s... difficult to talk about. Even to you. Maybe especially to you. Because I know it’s going to eat you up if you can’t help me.”
“Oh, Jasmine. You know it’s going to eat me up too, not knowing, and worrying without understanding. I care about you too much not to worry about you.”
“I know you do. And I care about you too Hermione, I understand all too well how you feel.”
“Tell me, please.”

She searches for the right words, takes a deep breath.

“It has to do with the Dursleys,” she says with the grin of disgust that always accompanies the name. “After I came back from my first year, I noticed that Dudley was giving me weird looks. It made me very uncomfortable. Luckily, being confined to my room most of the time, it was only sporadic. But I started to get scared. He was already starting to talk about the women around him in foul language when his mother wasn’t around. He was laughing about it with my uncle. I told myself that the coming summers could be dangerous for me.”

Hermione looks horrified and put her hand to her mouth, probably to prevent herself from interrupting Jasmine.

“During the first term of second year, when you started talking about runes as an option for the following year, I saw the potential in that aspect of magic. I started to leaf through some books, but with the troubles with the Chamber of Secrets, I never had time to delve deeper. And when you were petrified, I mostly spent my evenings in the Hospital Wing with you. I know Madam Pomfrey knew I was there, under the Cloak, but she never said anything. And then I went back to Privet Drive...”

There are tears in Hermione’s eyes and Jasmine can see that she is literally biting her fingers. It’s a habit she has developed to prevent herself from cutting off her speeches during important moments.

“My fears were partly justified. Dudley never ‘touched’ me, but his attitude got worse. His looks were clearly perverse, and... and... and...”

His own eyes begin to moisten. Even though she knows that physically nothing happened, the humiliation is still there.

“One day he came into the bathroom while I was taking a shower. I have a limited amount of time to wash and get ready, and I’m not allowed to lock the door. Aunt Petunia was on the ground floor, so there was nothing she could do, or she would have scolded him severely. Even to me, there are things she wouldn’t allow. But I had to get out of the shower and get dressed in front of him. I did everything I could to conceal myself... I often managed to shift my bathroom schedule, but this happened four times before I ran away after I had inflated Aunt Marge. I was... humiliated... degraded. His look was... disgusting. I felt even dirtier than before the shower. And I was scared. I had nightmares that Voldemort didn’t play a role in, but they were some of the worst I’ve ever had.”

Tears flow unrestrainedly down the two young women’s cheeks. Hermione has stopped biting her hand and is breathing heavily, looking at her friend with a mixture of compassion and horror. Jasmine finishes her explanation, interspersed with a few sobs.

“All of third year I studied runes... I needed a way to... protect myself... without using a spell. I found and adapted sequences that provided a safe space to be ignored when the user is in it that I engraved... and I ordered crystals that I loaded with as much Magic as I could, to last all summer. I also determined runic phrases to paint on my body, which would be fed by my own magic... That’s why I advanced so much in this course. I had placed and activated certain sequences directly in my trunk and the Dursleys ignored it. Once in my room I set everything up, and arranged for an engraving to be placed in the bathroom when necessary. The summer went almost well, Dudley didn’t bother me, except for a few glances at times when the painted runes began to fade. And then I went to the Weasley’s for the Quidditch World Cup. There, now you know why I’m so interested in Ancient Runes...”

The two young women recover during the end of the story, which was easier than the previous part. That doesn’t stop Hermione from suddenly getting up and going around the table to draw Jasmine into one of her signature hugs, trying to break her ribs. But the young brunette just melts into the embrace, her head on her friend’s shoulder. They don’t say anything, and for a few minutes they just stand there. Their tears have dried, but neither of them wants to move away. Finally, Jasmine sighs and slightly pushes Hermione away. Their faces almost touch, but she doesn’t feel like kissing her, not right now. They stare into each other’s eyes and transmit a multitude of emotions without talking: gratitude, sympathy, comfort. Hermione finally steps back without letting go of Jasmine’s hands.

“That’s horrible. It’s criminal. They should go to jail. They are pigs, and even worse than that. Without honour and dignity, they are not even human. What they are doing to you is... unthinkable, ignominious. Oh Jasmine. I feel so sorry for you, that you had to go through this. I don’t care what Professor Dumbledore says, you’ll never go back there, I promise!”

The flames burning in Hermione’s eyes are all it takes for Jasmine to recover from her emotions. She smiles softly.

“Thank you, Hermione. You are the only one who knows the whole story now. I briefly discussed the problem with Sirius and he made me the same promise. We’re looking for solutions. Of course, he can’t take me with him, but we’re thinking, for example, of finding a place where we could put up several safeties and protections, and where Dobby could take care of me. But we’re afraid that the Ministry’s and Dumbledore’s tracking systems are too effective for us. We discovered that there are several tracking and tracing spells on me. And maybe even others that we don’t know about.”
“Fidelius Charm?”
“Very complex. Sirius is studying it, but mastering it by this summer seems impossible. Maybe I’ll go and ask Professor Flitwick a few questions, but I don’t want it to get back to the headmaster.”
“I want to help you.”
“You’re already helping me with the Tournament, Hermione. And you’ve got your own studies to manage. You have as many classes as possible without the use of a Time Turner, let me remind you. Only Daphne, Padma, Susan and Hannah are as busy as you are in our year. And they don’t have a best friend with problems to deal with. Believe me, you’re already doing a lot, Hermione. Without you, I would have ended up in a dragon’s stomach. Or a basilisk’s.”
“I know, Jasmine, I know. But I’d really like... I’d like to do more. To protect you from the whole world.”
“The feeling’s mutual, Hermione.”

They are both smiling. Jasmine decides to dissipate the emotionally charged moment. There will probably be more in the evening. Neither young woman has had an easy life. And difficult subjects are regularly discussed.

“Shall we continue?”
“All right, then.”

Hermione sits down while Jasmine puts the dirty plates in the first basket and retrieves new ones from the second.

“No wine this time.”
“That’s good.”
“And here comes the cod!”
“Oh, I love cod! It’s a real change from the school kitchen! This is a great dinner, Jasmine. Thank you for everything you did.”
“I’ll do anything for you, Hermione.”

Jasmine bites her lip as she says this. It’s probably too much, too fast. But Hermione still doesn’t seem to react. She sighs slightly. That can be a good sign as well as a bad one. Either Hermione has already understood the purpose of this evening, or she feels that this kind of statement is in the continuity of their friendship, which would not be wrong. The young Seeker serves the plates and fills the glasses with sparkling water.

“Enjoy!”
“You too.”

They attack the dish with gusto. But suddenly she sees Hermione looking at her watch with a slight grimace.

“Don’t worry. Dobby and Winky are helping us hide our absence. The bed curtains are drawn and enchanted, and they hid a mannequin under the covers. It won’t withstand a thorough investigation, but I don’t see why anyone would go that far.”

Hermione seems to be relaxing a little, and smiles slightly at Jasmine. She is thinking about how to tackle another sensitive, if less personal, subject that concerns them both. She’s afraid it might spoil the evening, but this issue has been on hold for over a year now, and she wants to discuss it before going any further. She knows that in the worst case, Hermione won’t take it badly once some time has passed. Finally, she decides to take the plunge.

“Hermione?”
“Jasmine?” her friend answers with a smile.
“There’s a subject I’d like to discuss with you, and which may not be pleasant, about both of us?”
“Is it serious?” worries Hermione.
“No, not really. But it’s a subject that we haven’t talked about, even though it’s been around since last year.”
“I’m not reassured. But if it’s important to you, I consider it important too.”
“Thank you, Hermione.”

She lets a silence pass, to find her words.

“It’s about the Firebolt, and what happened the day I received it.”
“Oh.”
“We never talked about it again. I think it was the only time we didn’t take the time to talk about something that concerned us both.”
“I... It’s an episode that’s not pleasant to remember.”
“I know you meant well, Hermione. I promise you that I completely understand the reasons why you went to see Professor McGonagall. You were worried about me, and all you wanted to do was make sure that I didn’t get into another situation leading to mortal peril. And believe me, I really appreciate you being so caring. You are the best friend I could have, and the best person in the world that I know.”
“I suppose there is a counterpart to this praise, however pleasant it may be?” Hermione, who is both blushing and frowning, asks.
“Yes. I never told you, but I had planned to go and talk to Professor McGonagall about it after breakfast. I just didn’t want to go in my pyjamas and I was going to ask her for a meeting when I left the table. I had listened to your arguments and Ron’s, and at no point did I feel that I leaned in his favour in your discussion. I just let you talk, argue... even shout. Then you stormed out and I thought you had gone down to the Great Hall for breakfast. When I saw that you had barely started when I came down, I thought you had waited for me, and I was happy, because I thought I could please you by showing you that I agreed with you by going to see the Professor afterwards. But when she herself came to see me in the middle of the meal, and I understood that you had gone behind my back...”
“I’m so sorry Jasmine. I was so scared that you would listen to Ron, and neglect your safety. I just wanted to...”

Jasmine stops her with a small hand gesture.

“I know, Hermione, I know that. But that day I wasn’t angry about the confiscation of the broom. I was angry because you didn’t trust me. Because you considered me irresponsible. That hurt me. I forgave you probably two minutes later. But I just couldn’t get over this feeling of betrayal so quickly.”
“We didn’t talk for a week... Outside of the holidays, that was the longest time we didn’t talk to each other. I felt like I had gone back to what things were like before Hogwarts, when I was alone with the other children. Or reliving every day the moment Ron made me cry in our first year. And then there was that one particularly awful evening when Ron had been pestering me all night with Scabbers’s problems and Crookshanks’s attitude. I snapped and took refuge in my bed and you came right away. We still hadn’t exchanged a word for days and yet you came to give me a hug. I don’t think I’ve often cried as much as I did that night. But they were also tears of joy. You had come back, you had come back to me,” Hermione ended with a tender smile.
“And the next day we returned to our usual behaviour. However, we never mentioned that period afterwards.”
“I know. I’ve always felt guilty, and remembering that period tends to undermine my mood.”
“I don’t want to depress you, Hermione. I just want you to know that I can be trustworthy, and that I know how to be responsible. I’m certainly more of a hothead than you are, but I want you to know that you’re rubbing off on me more than you think.”

The plates were finished during the discussion. Jasmine picks them up and grabs the last basket. In front of Hermione, she places a plate containing the piece of pie and a large bowl with a pink mousse topped with a couple of mint leaves. Then she grabs the bottle of champagne and two champagne flutes, which she places behind the plates. Just like the wine, the champagne bottle is a small one.

“Want some? If not, there is alcohol-free sparkling apple juice. Fleur made me taste it once, and it’s very good.”

Hermione sighs. She hesitates. And finally, she grabs her flute and hands it to Jasmine.

“I love champagne, and I haven’t had any since last year. My parents gave me a taste of it at Christmas, but as we didn’t go home this year, I didn’t get a chance to try it again...”
“I don’t want you to force yourself. If you don’t want it, I won’t take any myself. I know a mutt who will be happy to drink it.”
“No, really, I’ll take some. I just hope that I won’t have too much of a headache tomorrow morning.”
“I’ve brewed some hangover potions from a recipe Sirius gave me. They’re in my trunk in the dormitory, I’ll give you one in the morning, okay? It’s a good thing that we start with History of Magic so we can wake up slowly.”
“Jasmine! I’ve already told you a thousand times that you should pay more attention in History.”
“But Professor Binns is unbearably boring. I’d rather spend the two hours of class reading my history book than listening to him. I’d learn a lot more that way.”
“But that won’t be enough to get an Outstanding on the exam, the book doesn’t contain all the explanations.”
“I know this will shock you, but the History of Magic exam is the only one for which I am not aiming for an Outstanding. An Acceptable will suffice for me.”
“But... Your studies are important! You can’t sacrifice classes like that!”
“I have a lot of things to deal with in my life and, unlike you, I can’t manage to combine them all. Between the Tournament, Sirius, classes, Quidditch and the fact that I can’t work efficiently during the summer, I’ll never be able to keep up with you, Hermione. I promise to work on History of Magic at least a minimum. I don’t want to get lower than an Acceptable on my O.W.L.s; that’s also why I didn’t take Arithmancy. I knew I wouldn’t have time to do everything. And if it makes you feel any better, I aim for Outstanding in all other courses, including Potions. I might even get good grades in Defence, Runes and Charms.”
“I guess I can settle for that explanation and your promise. But I understand what you’re telling me, even if it goes against my own principles. At least, unlike others, you don’t sleep in History class. Except once.”
“It’s Oliver’s fault, he’d let us out of practice at an impossible hour the day before!”
“I know, Jasmine, I know...”

Jasmine finally decides to open the bottle of champagne. She has some difficulty with the set of wires holding the cork in place, which makes Hermione smile. Once the cork is clear, she grabs a cloth napkin and starts pulling on it. It’s even harder than she imagined. She remembers Fleur’s advice and tries to turn it while pulling, and it gradually dislodges. When she feels it’s about to jump, she pulls the bottle to the side and, with a loud POP!, the cork flies away. She watches it bounce against the wall and get lost in a corner, and forgets another tip from Fleur: serve the champagne immediately. The foam starts to come out of the bottle and run down her fingers.

“Ah! Oops! Oh, shit...”
“Jasmine! Language!”
“Sorry, sorry.”

She uses the napkin to keep the liquid from dripping on the floor or table. She fills both glasses in stages because of the foam, and thinks that the champagne had better be good, seeing all the hassle it caused her. She smiles, embarrassed by Hermione’s amused gaze.

“Not glorious for a first try?”
“To tell you the truth, I’ve never opened a bottle of champagne either. My mother always does it. My father hasn’t been allowed to since he let a cork fly straight to the living room chandelier and broke the light bulb.”
“Well, that reassures me a little. Shall we taste it?”

The two young women put their glasses to their mouths. Jasmine finds the drink a little more bitter than the wine served with the starter, but the mouthfeel and the bubbles are pleasant. She sets her glass down after the first sip and attacks the raspberry mousse. She is enthusiastic about the taste, and the touch of mint adds a real lightness to the dessert. She then tries the pie, which really contrasts, but is no less delicious. When she takes another sip of champagne afterwards, she has the impression that the taste of the drink has changed a little, that it feels less bitter. She really likes this dessert. She hopes the same goes for Hermione, but she doesn’t seem to be complaining either. They eat in silence, and finish their plates faster than their glasses.

“Did you like it?”
“It was delicious. It was the best night I’ve had in a long time. And I thank you for insisting that we have a real evening, not an excuse to work. I would have hated to miss it.”
“Hey hey, thank you so much,” Jasmine says, embarrassed. “You can thank Sirius and Fleur, they helped me a lot.”

Hermione seems to hesitate to say something. She opens her mouth twice and immediately closes it again.

“Jasmine... Listen, I...”
“Ah! I forgot something!”

She knows she interrupted her friend, but she has something important to do. She grabs a small bag next to the sofa and hands it to Hermione.

“Happy Valentine’s Day Hermione. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend it with anyone else.”
“Oh. I... But... But I don’t have anything for you.”
“I’m the one who invited you, it’s for me to give you something. Please open it.”

Hermione takes a small box tied with a white ribbon out of the bag. She unties the ribbon and opens the box with slightly shaky hands. Her eyes widen when she sees the contents. She puts the box down and takes out a silver bracelet with several small charms hanging from it. Jasmine looks on while her friend studies them, she knows which symbols are present. There is a book, because it’s the first object that Jasmine associates with Hermione. There is a Firebolt, to symbolize Jasmine, but also her invaluable help for the First Task. There is a hippogriff for their flight together in their third year. There is a double symbol, with a cat that looks like Crookshanks and an owl that looks like Hedwig. There is a Time Turner, and the jeweller’s precision has gone so far as to make it move despite its small size. And finally, one last symbol that could make those who don’t know their story smile, a toilet seat, for the moment when their friendship was definitively forged. However, Jasmine kept one last symbol, preciously stored in a small box in her trunk: a heart with the symbol of her scar. Perhaps one day...

Hermione’s eyes sparkle with tears when she sees the gift. It’s obvious to the young brunette that her friend gets all the symbols. Suddenly, Hermione reaches out her arm a little awkwardly, barely missing the almost empty flutes.

“Please put it on me.”

Jasmine does it without hesitation. Her fingers graze the skin of Hermione’s wrist to push her sleeve back. Perhaps it’s the alcohol that gives her the audacity to let them rest there a second longer than necessary. Her cheeks begin to flush. Still touching Hermione’s skin a little, she hooks the bracelet around her thin arm, and slowly removes her hands.

“Jasmine, it’s beautiful,” Hermione whispers.
“Not as beautiful as you.”

OK, she may have overdone it a little with the alcohol. Again, her friend doesn’t pick up on the last comment. They both have red cheeks, while one admires the gift on her wrist and the other admires the owner of the bracelet. Finally, Hermione seems to come to her senses.

“Thank you, Jasmine. I never want to take it off.”
“Thank you. For being there for me.”

The moment is full of emotions. Jasmine feels it’s still too early. She doesn’t feel ready to admit her feelings yet, even though she’s probably already left too many clues for her friend, who’s far too smart for her own good. She brings the mood down to a simpler level:

“I’m sorry I interrupted you earlier. What did you want to say?”
“Oh... Er... It’s... It’s probably not important.”
“Hermione?”
“Ah, it’s not easy, and I’m afraid I might offend or hurt you.”

Will Hermione confess to her that she has understood the purpose of this evening and try to explain to her gently that it will never work? Her heart starts beating harder and she forces herself to control her breathing so that she doesn’t pant in front of the other Gryffindor, while Hermione searches for her words. Please, not now, not just after giving her the gift.

“Jasmine, there’s another subject we haven’t discussed in addition to the Firebolt, even though it’s much more recent.”
“I... I’m listening.”
“Would you... agree to... talk about your relationship with Fleur, please?”
“Oh... Oh! That’s... Whew.”

She’s relieved. Maybe it’s just stepping back to jump better, but she likes the idea of having a little longer to hope.

“It’s true that we’ve never taken the time to talk about that. I suppose I can talk to you about it, yes... But there is nothing exceptional about it.”

“Please. It’s an important milestone in your life, and I don’t know about it.”
“OK. Where to start... We were together for almost four weeks, starting with the Yule Ball. I was the one who decided to... break up, that’s the term I think.”
“Why did you decide to break up? What happened?”
“I promise I’ll answer these questions, but not right away. Later tonight.”
“Okay, I’ll wait. Tell me about Fleur, please. I know almost nothing about Veela and there aren’t many books on the topic in the library. And Fleur doesn’t fit at all with the reputation they have with people like Mrs Weasley. Who is the Veela ancestor in Fleur’s family?”
“In a certain sense, we can say it’s her grandmother, but the truth is more complex.”
“I’m all ears.”
“First of all, you have to understand that there is no ‘genetic’ reality to being a Veela. It’s more of a blessing, or a curse, like vampires or werewolves. The difference is that one cannot become a Veela. You either are or you are not. Fleur is a Veela. Or, more precisely, she is a Veela Spirit.”
“What about her grandmother?”
“She is a Pure Veela.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Pure Veela are the women we saw at the Quidditch World Cup. We could say that they are Veela in body and spirit. They can transform into an avian form, throw fireballs and live a long life, it is not uncommon for them to reach the age of two hundred years. On the other hand, they cannot actively use magic like witches. From that point of view, they have more or less the same capacities as a Squib: potions, herbology, magical creatures, arithmancy, etc., but nothing that has to be achieved by a projection of magic like charms or transfiguration. They can use runes but cannot charge crystals, and perform rituals as long as there is no manipulation of magic.”
“That’s fascinating... I wonder why this isn’t more documented.”
“Countries like France and Italy have much more documentation about Veela. Austria too. The United Kingdom has always had a problem with accepting... different people.”
“Yes, I can understand that... And Veela Spirits?”
“Veela Spirits are globally witches like you and me. They generally have great skill in manipulating magic and are very good at charms. This is a natural skill linked to their great sensitivity to Magic itself. They also have a certain affinity with fire-related magic. Fleur is also very gifted in potions and arithmancy, but also gets excellent grades in all other subjects. She is almost as intelligent as you are,” she tells Hermione jokingly.
“At least I am reassured by your love choices,” Hermione replies just as lightly.
“Ah ah, thank you for your blessing. Going back to Veela Spirits, they cannot take on an avian form and have a life expectancy similar to that of witches. A Veela has a greater chance of giving birth to a Veela Spirit than a Pure Veela. And almost no chance of giving birth to a boy. Boys born of a Veela have no special power, and do not pass on the Veela blessing to their descendants. The main thing that Pure Veela and Veela Spirits have in common is their great beauty and their Allure.”

Hermione is in “learner” mode. She’s literally drinking Jasmine’s words, and Jasmine knows that she will write them down somewhere as soon as she has time.
Suddenly, Hermione’s cheeks begin to turn red and she looks away.

“You’re talking about their Allure. I wonder... if Fleur has been too... naughty with you?”

Jasmine is perplexed for two seconds, then understands what her friend is asking. She feels her cheeks warm again as she considers the implications of the question. She decides that they will be more comfortable on the couch for the rest of the evening. And that will give her time to think about her answer. She gets up and invites Hermione to do the same. They settle down on the sofa, each slightly slanted so that they are partly turned towards the other, and by force of habit, Jasmine reaches out her hands, which Hermione grasps. They have got into the habit of standing like this for serious discussions, because the contact calms them both.

“Tell me Hermione, why do peacocks and lyrebirds have such spectacular tails?”
“Er... I don’t understand.”
“Please, think about it.”
“All right, all right... The main role of these adornments is to attract females during the breeding season.”
“There you have the beginning of the answer. Veela are no more ‘naughty’ than witches. Their beauty serves to attract males, and their allure  to select those with the greatest mental will. Contrary to what many people believe, Veela are not really interested in the outward beauty of their companions. In any case, their children will always be beautiful, both girls and boys. A man with a strong mental will is much more likely to seduce a Veela than a Gilderoy Lockhart, for example... And Veela are fiercely monogamous, and will never share their companion, even occasionally. As for their reputation as ‘sensual’ beings, according to Fleur, this is no truer than for witches.”
“Okay, I get it. On the other hand, you talk all the time about their companions, about men...”
“Because... Veela are almost all heterosexual. The number of Veela who prefer women is close to zero. And the attitude of the other Veela towards them is even more cruel than the wizarding society can be. One of the very few known homosexual Veela was the poetess Sappho. The other Veela of her clan forced her to wear a bracelet that disguised her as a little woman with a homely face, and she could only remove it in her house, and if no man was present. They even went so far as to spread rumours about alleged passions towards men she never really had.”
“That’s... horrible! Absolutely terrifying! What about Fleur?”
“Fleur’s an adult, she’s protected by her status as Tournament Champion and she already has a career plan that will keep her away from her clan. The worst thing she can suffer is to be officially banished from it. This is what will probably happen. She just hopes that they will allow her to continue to communicate with her little sister, Gabrielle, whom she adores. Although it is likely that once she reaches puberty, she’ll reject her sister out of instinct.”

Hermione is shocked by what she has heard. An anger similar to that which drives her crusade for the well-being of house-elves radiates in her eyes.

“Poor Fleur. And here I thought she was haughty when she arrived, I feel sorry for her now. You said she has a career plan that will keep her safe, what is it?”
“As soon as she gets out of school, she’s going to start an apprenticeship in Alchemy with the Flamels. They have agreed to take her in from July, and have already started talking to her family to collect her things.”
“The Flamels? But aren’t they... dead, according to Professor Dumbledore?”
“No, they’re not dead yet. Drinking the Elixir of Life stops you from getting old. Now that they have none left, they started to age normally again. According to Fleur, they barely look like they’re in their fifties. According to wizard longevity, they still have a few decades ahead of them.”
“Learning from them... I’m a bit jealous. I’ve never been able to look into what Alchemy really was.”
“Ah ah, I had bet with Fleur that you’d be interested as soon as I told you about all this.”
“You know me well. And that means you’re going to be able to tell me a little about it tonight.”

Jasmine likes that. They know and understand each other. They know what the other is going to do or think. Those moments when she really feels like a half that the other one completes. She just wants to hold on to Hermione, to drown in her and never let go. It’s almost physically painful.

“According to what Fleur told me, Alchemy is the study of Magic, in the more conceptual sense of the term, whether for understanding or design purposes. It is the branch of Magic most practised by the Unspeakables of the Ministry. It requires an open mind, a willingness to touch all subjects, but also a great deal of mental rigour. It is probably the most fascinating subject I have ever heard about in the world of magic.”
“Are you considering it as a career too? I could totally understand it, from what you’re telling me.”
“I don’t know... I need to find out more about it. But with the Tournament, I don’t have time. And then a high O.W.L. level in Arithmancy is required to integrate an apprenticeship in Alchemy. I’ll have to take the remedial course during my sixth and seventh years.”
“And you think there will be a need for Defence Against the Dark Arts? It would be a shame to drop the subject you are most passionate about.”

“Alchemy can also be used to understand or break the curses and spells created and used by followers of the Dark Arts. A good level of Defence Against the Dark Arts can be a real asset. For example, there are a few alchemists among the Gringotts Curse-Breakers. There are several ways of looking at alchemy. It can be very theoretical or very practical, it can be a way of creating spells, researching the effect of combinations between spells and rituals, using ley lines of Magic such as those that run through Hogwarts or Stonehenge.”

“You can do whatever you want?”
“Most often, alchemists are at the service of a public or private company, because research has to be financed.”
“Research can then be influenced by the wishes of those who finance it.”
“You’ve got it.”
“It’s the same in the Muggle university research environment.”
“Are you interested in what I’ve told you?”

Hermione frowns slightly and seems to think for a moment. Jasmine knows that her friend has considered many paths over the years.

“I don’t know. I would really like to take my place in the wizarding world. I wish I could make a difference, even on a small scale. With what I learned about house-elves, I learned more about the fate of magical creatures in general, and I was shocked. Did you know that the UK has one of the most restrictive and backwards policies on this issue?”
“Why am I not surprised?”
“It’s horrible, and desperate. I’m really considering looking for a position in the Ministry to try to change all that.”
“You’re wonderful, Hermione.”

The young witch blushes at the compliment.

“Why do you say that?”
“You have an exceptional mind, you’re a witch of multiple talents, you could contribute great things in the field of Magic, but you prefer to think of the well-being of others first. Your selflessness makes you a wonderful person.”
“You know that I’m also considering an apprenticeship in charms or transfiguration,” Hermione admits, bowing her head to hide.
“That doesn’t make you any less wonderful. I just hope that this evening with me won’t prejudice you in your search for a job.”
“I’ll get the highest grades and the best ratings possible, it’ll shut them up and they’ll be fighting for me.”

Jasmine does not doubt Hermione’s skills. She has, over the past three years, equalled or beaten all the academic records of the last half century, most of which were held by Lily Evans. Ever since Fleur told her about Alchemy, Jasmine cannot help but imagine herself working as a duo with Hermione. But she doesn’t want to influence her friend and decides to let her make her own choices. She just hopes that the other Gryffindor will not suffer too much from the bigotry of the British wizarding society. She gently touches the skin of the hands she is holding in hers and smiles at the young woman.

“But,” Hermione continues, “I would really like to learn more about Alchemy.”
“Do you want me to ask Fleur? You could talk about it together. And with me too, it’s a subject that really interests me.”
“I’d love to. That’s a very good idea.”

A new silence, during which the two young women concentrate on their hands and fingers playing a little together. The evening isn’t over, they know that, and Jasmine wonders if it’s not time to start. But while she is looking for the right way to approach the subject, Hermione starts talking again.

“Jasmine? Can you tell me about you and Fleur? Romantically speaking? Please?”
“Oh... I... It’s not very interesting.”
“I don’t know anything about your history. You’ve told me a lot about her, but not about... the two of you.”
“I... I understand. I’m sorry I left you out.”
“No, that’s OK. And I know there are some things you want to keep secret. But I’m... terribly curious. And... a little... jealous, I think, because I used to be basically the only person for you, with Ginny, and Ron before this year. And... by Merlin... I sound like a spoiled little girl. This is awful. Forget I said anything. I’m sorry.”

Jasmine does not hesitate. She puts her hand on her friend’s cheek to gently force her to look her in the eyes.

“There’s nothing to worry about, Hermione,” she says in a tone that she tries to make as accommodating as possible. “I assure you that I have nothing against talking to you about it. Really, I promise. It’s true that I’ve kept you out of the loop, but I think I needed to take stock of myself first. Even now I’m still a little confused. But I think you’re right, and I’m willing to answer your questions. Where do you want to start?”

Inwardly, Jasmine thought that this might be a good way to bring up the subject of her feelings for Hermione. But in any case, talking to your best friend is a very good idea anyway. She trusts Hermione.

“From the beginning. Tell me about the proposal for the Ball? Did you really ask her?”
“Yes, it was me who asked her. But... Fleur wasn’t my first choice.”
“Oh?”
“Yes. As soon as Professor McGonagall mentioned the Ball, I knew who I was going to ask. I spent the rest of the day and the morning getting ready. I even wrote a speech that I learned by heart, I transformed flowers from the school’s greenhouses into a bouquet of another flower that means ‘secret love’, and a whole list of arguments to convince her. I really wanted to go with her, and take the opportunity to talk to her about my feelings. But when I went to check on her under the Cloak to make sure it was the right time, I arrived at exactly the moment when another student asked her to go to the Ball, and she said yes.”
“Oh Jasmine, that must have been awful.”

Hermione squeezes her hands tightly and Jasmine shakes her head.

“I’m fine. It’s my fault too, I should have been faster. I knew I wouldn’t be the only one interested in her. But I was pretty... bummed out at the time. I went down to the lake to cool off. I hadn’t even noticed that I was still under the invisibility Cloak. I walked for a while, and in a secluded spot I saw Fleur reading in a space she had cleared and under a Warming Charm. She was... peaceful. She didn’t have the somewhat haughty air she’d been wearing since she came to Hogwarts. And just like that, she looked approachable and... human. And of course, she was still beautiful. At that moment, a very Gryffindor-like thought crossed my mind: ‘Why not?’ I walked away quietly, out of her sight, and took off the cloak. I cast a Warming Charm on myself too, and I transformed the flowers into white roses.”
“Why white roses?” Hermione interrupts.
“They’re flowers that symbolize sincerity and purity of feeling, even if not in love. I certainly couldn’t declare my ‘secret love’ to her, because it wasn’t her.”
“That’s good thinking. You’ve done your homework.”
“I wanted my declaration to be perfect. I’d spent an hour studying the language of flowers the day before.”
“And how did it go?”
“This time I approached her in plain sight, so as not to surprise her. However, I didn’t make any detours, I tried to walk calmly by going directly towards her. I think she was a little surprised, and perhaps annoyed, that someone was discovering her hiding place. When she recognized me, she looked very surprised. I stepped forward and asked her directly: ‘Hello Fleur, would you be my date for the Ball?’ I might as well tell you that she really seemed shocked at that moment.”

Jasmine laughed a little, and Hermione did the same right after her.

“She got a bit angry and started talking in French, probably not saying very nice things. I tried not to let myself be taken apart, and just waited. She quickly calmed down, and asked me in the coldest voice in the world if it was a bet or a prank, and that if it was, she was going to make me suffer painfully and for a long time. I know now that Veela Spirits can’t throw fireballs, but at that moment I was convinced that I was going to end up in ashes. I gathered all my courage and told her in the calmest voice possible that it was neither a bet nor a joke, and that my request was as serious as could be. She looked me in the eyes for I don’t know how long. I was concentrating so hard on not dropping her gaze that I didn’t really notice that she had stood up. She had her wand in her hand but didn’t threaten me with it. I stepped forward and handed her the roses. She took them automatically, I think she was particularly unsettled.”
“I’m not surprised. It must have come as a shock to her. Especially if she was aware of her own sexual orientation, the fact that she was hiding it but a woman came up to her and asked her to be her date for the ball must have shocked her deeply.”

“You can say that again. But when she finally understood that I was serious, she asked me if she understood what it meant for me, and for her. I honestly replied that I probably couldn’t predict all the complications, but that at the point where I was in front of the wizarding world, they could all go and get hanged if they didn’t like it. Either way, nothing I did was good enough for them. She puffed once and then burst out laughing. I think it was the first time I’ve seen her loosen up so much. She wiped her eyes and held the flowers a little close to her. She took a few deep breaths to pull herself together. Then she told me she needed to think about it and that she’d give me her answer the next day. I didn’t insist and just said ‘OK,’ ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye,’ and I left, still trying to stay calm. I think it was only once I was in front of the castle entrance that I started to panic... It was probably one of the craziest things I’ve ever done, after jumping on the back of a troll and facing a dragon with a broom.”
“You’re... impressive. But I guess you probably didn’t think about all the possible consequences and especially her reactions before you jumped in.”
“I figured, if I’m going to fail at my original plan, I might as well fail with panache.”
“Gryffindors always charge ahead.”

The two young women smile at each other. Jasmine knows that behind her great thoughts and calls to logic, Hermione also hides a warrior’s heart. And that it’s no good getting in her way when she has a goal in mind.

“I’m guessing her answer was yes, since you were together for the ball.”

“She later confessed to me that she spent three hours replaying the scene to find the slightest flaw and reason not to trust me. Yeah, she came to see me the next day after lunch. You had gone back to the library to research the Egg before Ancient Runes class. She told me that she accepted, and she also confessed that she was impressed. I was so pleased that, on impulse, I invited her to spend Saturday morning with me at Hogsmeade, so that we could talk and get to know each other. I showed her around the village and when we passed a flower shop, she told me about the matching corsages. I didn’t know about this practice and I found it nice. We reserved two small bouquets of white roses for the Ball. They were delivered by owl on the morning of the Ball.”
“I thought it was a great idea. Oh, and the look on Professor McGonagall’s face when you came in with me on your arm. I don’t know what went through her mind, but it must have been epic.”
“I must say, I had the prettiest witch in the castle on my arm.”

Hermione goes from a slight redness due to alcohol to a red rivalling Gryffindor’s colours in a few seconds. Complimenting Hermione on her appearance for the Ball always has the same effect, even two months later. But Jasmine doesn’t need to force herself. She found Hermione beautiful, like a butterfly that has finally emerged from its chrysalis. And even though she had long since realized that her friend is a beautiful young woman, the revelation made to the whole castle that day remains one of the most beautiful moments in her life as a witch. She felt an intense vicarious feeling of vengeance as she watched all those who had denigrated her friend stand speechless before her.

“But the professor was even more taken aback when she saw me take you to Viktor Krum. Then she started to admonish me that we would be late if my date and Fleur’s didn’t show up, and that it was out of the question for me to go to the Ball without a partner...”
“You didn’t even look at her while she was talking; you could have been a little more respectful.”
“I’m sorry, I was concentrating so I wouldn’t make a fool of myself in front of Fleur and everyone in the audience. Half the castle was still there watching us, trying to guess who was going to accompany me to this damn farce.”
“I know. I know. I’m sorry. You know that I tend to be a bit of a stickler for respect. But I have to admit I almost burst out laughing when I saw the professor’s face when you bowed to Fleur and handed her the corsage. And when she reached out her arm for you to put it on, I thought the professor was going to choke, because she seemed to have forgotten to breathe. But I myself wasn’t doing much better. You had refused to tell me who was going to accompany you, and the shock was almost as great as when your name came out of the Goblet of Fire.”
“I think the whole castle was in shock. Fleur and I laughed about it for days afterwards. For a few seconds there wasn’t a sound, even the ghosts had stopped. But let’s give credit to Professor McGonagall, she recovered very quickly before announcing us for the opening of the evening. Even though I think that if looks could kill, I would have ended up dead...”
“We didn’t interact much during the ball...”
“I’m sorry. The evening was a bit heavy for her and me. We knew we were going to be the target of looks and comments, but even knowing this in advance didn’t make it any more enjoyable; and after a few dances, we decided to isolate ourselves. I went with her to the gardens and we walked around for about half an hour, I think. Once we had left the stifling atmosphere of the Great Hall, we felt much better. We could still hear the music in the distance, and even danced in the snow. It was a lot of fun. Fleur had cast a spell to keep us warm, and I added another to waterproof our shoes and dresses. We went even further away from the castle, as Hagrid and Madame Maxime came to flirt not far from us. We arrived in a quiet place, far from the lights and music. She wordlessly conjured a little ball of fire floating in front of us, I found it fascinating...”

She stops there, blushing a little bit in advance of what will follow. Hermione seems passionate about the story and the pause makes her frown.

“What next?”
“We... we kissed.”

Hermione lets out a little squeak while squeezing Jasmine’s hands tightly.

“Oh, your first kiss! That’s so adorable.”
“It was literally our first kiss for each of us. She put her hand on my cheek and asked me, ‘may I?’ and I just nodded, I couldn’t speak. She leaned towards me and put her lips against mine. We stayed like that for a few seconds before one of us started to move her lips a little. It was... nice, weird and... revealing. I now knew I was completely... lesbian.”

OK, two glasses of alcohol are probably her limit, she’s never dared to utter the word before, even when talking to Fleur. She feels her cheeks flush and hardly dares to look up at Hermione. She doesn’t seem particularly shocked, but pensive.

“I asked her what it felt like to kiss a ‘little girl’ and she laughed. She said she had to do it again to be sure. And then I was the one who initiated the third kiss... I lost count after that, but we quickly became more confident.”
“I can understand that. She had never really kissed anyone before?”
“No, I was her first.”
“I think most people would be surprised. But considering what you’ve already explained to me about Veela, I can actually quite understand it. Go on, sorry.”
“The rest is quite simple. As you know, in public we tried to keep a low profile and not make any gestures of affection other than friendly. We mostly took advantage of her private room in the carriage, and sometimes one of the unused classrooms in the castle. But with the preparation for the Tournament, the lessons and the constant glances of the other students, we didn’t have many moments just for the two of us. And I wanted to continue to spend time with you and Ginny.”
“That’s nice. I’m sorry you didn’t get to enjoy it though.”
“Don’t worry. We still had our moments. We talked a lot. And we learned a lot about ourselves. I feel more confident and I know I won’t lie later. I am... gay. But I am also a lot of other things. And so is Fleur. And we will prove it to the world.”

She sees all of Hermione’s admiration and support in her eyes, and it warms her heart. How could she go on without her? She can’t lose her.

“Jasmine, I have one last question about your relationship with Fleur.”
“Go ahead.”
“It’s a bit awkward... how far have you two gotten... physically?”
“Oh, er... how can I put it...”
“You don’t have to answer, sorry.”
“No, that’s OK. We haven’t done anything below the belt. But... we... I...”
“Yes?”
“I... Igaveheranorgasm,” she says very quickly.

Hermione’s eyes widen.

“Excuse me? Can you repeat please, I misunderstood?”
“I, uh...”

Jasmine takes a deep breath.

“I gave her an orgasm.”
“But... But... you just said you didn’t do anything... there!”
“And I promise you, I didn’t touch her... there! It’s just... Oh, Morgana, it’s hard to tell. Promise me you won’t tell anyone, not even Fleur or Ginny!”
“I promise.”
“Um... It was a few days before the... break-up. We were on the little sofa in her room. I was straddling her lap to make up for the height difference when we kissed and we... we had unbuttoned our shirts. Our hands were a bit... wandering. And I started kissing her along the neck and there was a place where her reactions showed me that she was... receptive. And I started to press there, while my hands were on her... chest. She stopped caressing me and started to breathe harder and harder, and I continued to kiss her there, and to touch her... her breasts... directly. After a while she reached out with a scream and hugged me tightly and breathed heavily. It was... weird, exciting, sweet.”

At that moment, remembering what had happened, Jasmine is a little short of breath and her cheeks are warm. When she dares to meet Hermione’s gaze, she is a little shocked. Her pupils are more dilated than usual, and she can see she’s biting her lip violently. Her story seems to have had some effect. She lets a moment pass to calm down before continuing.

“We stayed for a moment just like that, and then we laughed softly. I think she started it. Then we spent the rest of the time talking about it. I think she was even more shocked than I was at her reaction. That’s what I like most about Fleur. She takes the time to talk, she likes to understand and exchange. She and I moved at our own pace and we had more or less the same starting baggage, which was nothing. It’s really satisfying. I would really like you to get to know her as you know Viktor, I’m sure you would be just as enthusiastic about what she has to share. She really reminds me of you in some ways.”

Jasmine kicks herself mentally. You’ll have to do better than that to stay subtle. She has just confessed to her friend that her ex and she are similar. If with that Hermione doesn’t understand... The latter remains pensive, then squeezes her hands around Jasmine’s.

“Why... Why did you break up with Fleur? From everything you tell me, I can’t see any reason why your relationship shouldn’t work. You two seem to be so good together...”

Jasmine remains silent for a while. She can no longer go back, she can no longer try to buy time. The evening will soon be over and they are getting tired from eating, drinking, and because it’s late. It’s now or never. But she can’t talk yet. Words don’t come easily. She is starting to get frustrated with her own attitude. As she begins to frown, she feels a brief pressure on her hands and raises her head. Hermione is still there and looking at her with deep tenderness and absolute confidence. At that moment, Jasmine knows that even if her declaration is not reciprocated, even if Hermione breaks her heart, they will always be friends. She takes a deep breath and starts talking.

“You’re right, Fleur and I were... good. And even great. But I couldn’t go on like that... I had... I felt like I was cheating on her.”

“Cheating on her?

“I was... I’m in love with another woman, and... until this situation is... resolved, one way or the other, I can’t try to be happy with someone else without an ulterior motive.”
“That’s very noble of you. Did Fleur understand that?”
“Yes, I think so. She told me to follow my heart and... that she’d be there for me if I needed her, if... my feelings weren’t reciprocated. I know I can be happy with Fleur, despite the obstacles ahead. But I also know that I can be even happier with... with her.”
“Is this the young woman you wanted to invite to the Ball?” Hermione asks softly, so low that Jasmine can hardly hear her.

She nods.

“What do gardenias mean, Jasmine?” her friend asks, always in the same gentle tone.

She fixes her gaze on Hermione’s eyes, she can’t waver. This is the moment.

“Gardenias mean ‘secret love’.”

They stare at each other for a long time. Hermione hasn’t even flinched, Jasmine definitely understands that her friend has been seeing through her for a good part of the evening, if not even before. The fact that she’s not running away is a good sign, isn’t it? Hermione turns her head away for a few seconds, taking long breaths, then looks at her again.

“It wouldn’t have worked, Jasmine.”
“It... what?” she said in a trembling voice, trying not to give in to despair.
“Asking me to the Ball. I would have said no, I would have hurt you.”

Jasmine struggles against the tears, she starts to shake. Hermione’s words pierce her like needles. She makes a gesture to remove her hands, but they are held firmly. She thinks of running away, getting lost in the Forbidden Forest. Or going back to the Beauxbatons carriage and crying, drunk, in Fleur’s warm, soft arms. Oh, how it hurts, even more than she could imagine. Hermione continues in a slightly trembling voice.

“Jasmine, please listen to me. Please trust me.”

She sniffs a little and forces herself to raise her head. She can do that, for Hermione. Hermione would never hurt her on purpose. She is the person in whom she has absolute trust. If one day she can no longer trust her friend, she might as well give up everything.

“You would have come to me at a time when I was unprepared. I wasn’t aware of your... your... your preferences. I wouldn’t have understood, and you know how I can panic in situations beyond my control. I would have discovered at that moment that my best friend, the one I thought I knew everything about, and whose every move I also thought I could guess, was hiding a secret that was a huge part of her life from me. I would have wondered how I hadn’t seen it. I would have thought you were more distant than I thought. And I probably would have reacted very badly. I would have criticized you, I might have yelled at you, I might have felt betrayed. When I saw you with Fleur at the Ball, I felt betrayed too, but it was easier for me, because I wasn’t directly involved. At that moment, you didn’t expect anything from me, at least not the way I thought you did. Oh Jasmine, I would have made you suffer so much, our friendship would probably never have been the same afterwards.”

Hermione takes a short break to breathe after her speech. Jasmine has calmed down. Of course, Hermione’s right. And she blames herself for not having considered all this. She knows that Hermione hates being caught out of the blue. But she had wanted so much to go to the Ball with her, for them to go further together, that she had only thought of herself. Jasmine is so angry with herself.

“It would have taken me a long time to understand everything and I would have walked away... and that would have hurt me too. There might never have been any Hermione and Jasmine again. No more Lily Jean, as Ginny puts it so well.”

Jasmine snaps. She rushes into Hermione’s arms and starts to cry. She weeps over what she sees as rejection, she weeps over her stupidity, over the reckless risk she has put on the dearest and most precious relationship she can have in this world that can be so cruel to her, she weeps for her heart that cracks a little more with each breath. And she stays there, in the comfort of the arms she knows so well, in that smell that mixes mint shampoo and parchment, and reassures her. Hermione doesn’t say anything more, and just caresses her hair gently while waiting for the sobs to subside. There comes a moment when Jasmine’s breathing is calmer, when she no longer cries. Her sniffles aren’t very elegant, but she doesn’t move, her head resting on Hermione’s shoulder, the shoulder she knows so well. Hermione’s soothing hand continues to move back and forth over her hair. Eventually, she reluctantly stands up. Hermione grabs a napkin from the table and tenderly wipes her face. Jasmine closes her eyes and allows her to do so. Hermione hands her another napkin to blow her nose, and she does. To hell with glamour at that moment.

“Hey Jasmine, are you OK? I still have a few things to tell you, but if you want it can wait until tomorrow.”
“No, no, that’s OK. I’m sorry...”
“Don’t be. You’ve got a lot on your shoulders, and emotionally, it’s very difficult for you to deal with, I understand that.”
“Thank you, Hermione. You’re an angel.”
“And you’re a hero.”

They’ve long ago stopped protesting the compliments they pay each other. Even if they don’t accept them, they have agreed that it pleases the other to say them, so they agree to disagree.

“It’s a good thing I took Lavender’s advice on water-resistant make-up.”

They both laugh a little, lightening the atmosphere a bit.

“Jasmine, on the evening of the Ball, while the party was going on, I told myself that I was going to let a few days go by and that we could talk about it, with a clear head. But between the Egg, Viktor, Fleur, we never had the time or the peace and quiet for that. You’ve been frank with me all evening, and I’m going to be frank with you. I was jealous. I know there’s Viktor, but I don’t have with him what you have with Fleur. Even now, even though you’ve broken up, you continue to see each other, and there’s a real warmth between you. At one point, I was afraid that she would replace me in part. It was... stupid, irrational, illogical. But I couldn’t help it.”

Hermione frowned during her speech, and she stops abruptly. She takes a few breaths to control herself.

“Did I ever tell you how my parents met?” her friend asks.

“No,” Jasmine replies, lost by the change of topic. “I guess it’s in medical school maybe?”

“No, not really. My mother is two years older than my father, they didn’t really meet there. They met through my aunts. Aunt Anne is my dad’s little sister and Aunt Emily is my mum’s little sister. I also have an uncle, Richard, my dad’s little brother, who is a year older than my Aunt Emily, but we’re not talking about him. Aunt Anne and Aunt Emily are the same age, two days apart. Anne studied physics and is an university lecturer; Emily is a mathematician and works for the UK Space Agency. They started university in a joint first semester, before specialization. They sat next to each other on the first day. And ten days later... they were kissing. Six months later, they invited their siblings to a coming-out lunch, and that’s when my mother and father met. They are still a couple today. They love telling me this story. Of course, it’s longer and more complicated than that, but what’s important is that I want you to understand that I’m not... a stranger to homosexuality.”

Jasmine opens her eyes wide. Hermione doesn’t often talk to her about her family, mainly because she doesn’t want to hurt the young orphan girl forced to live with relatives who hate her. She is stunned by this revelation. A dazzling thought crosses her mind; she would like to meet her friend’s aunts, to see women who have managed to live their love and their careers. It’s invigorating and reassuring at the same time.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about my aunts over the last couple of months. And about what you were living with Fleur. As you said, you were very discreet, but the affection between you two couldn’t be hidden. And I began to imagine you together, holding hands, talking to each other, kissing, you... I thought about loving a woman, what it meant. And above all I asked myself the question: can I love another woman myself? For a while, I’ve turned this question over in my head...”

Jasmine has difficulty breathing. Hermione’s words choke her a little, because they can mean so much. Feelings of hope mingle with fear. Hermione changes the topic again.

“What did you expect from this evening, Jasmine? Why did you take so much time and energy to organize it?”

Now.

“I wanted to woo you.”

That’s said.

“You are the woman I love. For almost a year. Since I saw you crying and taking refuge in your bed, and I came to console you and we put the damn broom story behind us. But actually, probably even longer. Since I had this emptiness inside me while you were petrified by the Basilisk. Since I left you behind that wall of flames to face Voldemort and Professor Quirrell. Since I jumped on the back of that troll for that young girl who, without my asking, without her asking for anything in return, repaired my glasses in the Hogwarts Express, in one of the first acts of kindness that I have ever been offered and that I can remember. You are an exceptional woman, Hermione. You are strong, courageous, and above all you are my moral compass. You are the reason why I still want to be a witch, and when I’m in the dark, when I get scared and lost, I think of you and what you would do.”

Tears begin to glow in the other woman’s eyes.

“But most of all, I want to be there for you too. I want to make you happy, I want to help you, support you, push you, pull you. I want to be with you in your projects, I want to hold your hand just because I can. I want to cover you with kisses that will make you blush and smile. I want to still be with you in ten, twenty or thirty years, and even more, sitting on a couch by a fireplace, leaning against one another, you lost in a book, and me lost watching you. Because even in so long, I will still find you beautiful and fascinating. I will make mistakes, and maybe you will too. We will fight, and we will have to overcome an infinite number of trials, and even more because we are two women. But I want you to know that if you come with me on this journey, I will never let you go.”

She stops there, a little out of breath; she let herself be carried away by her passion. But she feels proud. She said everything she had in her heart to the woman she loves. And she feels much better now, relieved. Hermione has a few tears flowing, and her hands are shaking. But her lips show a smile that doesn’t waver. She opens her mouth:

“Okay.”
“Okay?”
“Okay. I... want it all. I... want you. My feelings aren’t as clear as yours, but I know I can’t do it without you. I know I’m very capable of falling in love with you, if I haven’t already started to. I know that seeing you with Fleur wasn’t pleasant, that I wanted to be the one to make you smile like that. I was confused, I probably still am a bit confused, and I’m going to ask you to be patient with me. I... just like you with Fleur, this is my first love. But I want to learn... I want to learn with you. I want to learn for you. Through you.”

Jasmine’s body is close to combustion. She feels the joy that runs through her and wraps itself around her like a flame. She is convinced that at this moment she could warm the whole castle. Her heart threatens to run away from her chest, and she cannot even formulate words. Finally, she manages to ask a question, a slightly chopped whisper:

“Can I... can I kiss you?”

Hermione takes a sudden breath, but doesn’t back down. A whisper.

“Yes.”

They are tentative. Hermione’s lips are different from Fleur’s. Thinner, firmer. Less inquisitive, for the moment at least. The kiss tastes of salt, and apples and raspberries. They don’t go any further than that, it only lasts a few seconds. But they are breathless. Jasmine puts her forehead on Hermione’s.

“I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I could say it a thousand times.”
“Show it to me one more time, please.”

The second kiss is barely stronger. They are still discovering each other, hesitant, light. It doesn’t last longer than the first, but when Jasmine moves back a little, Hermione moves forward again and initiates the third kiss. They end up separating after this one, and start laughing slightly.

“Hermione, I know it’s a horribly cliché situation, but... Would you be my girlfriend?”
“Of course I would, Jasmine.”
“Cool. Totally cool. I feel like I’m somewhere between the stars and the sky. Oh, by Merlin. I can’t believe it. It’s... it’s amazing. I mean, it feels so...”

She’s cut off by Hermione’s fingers on her mouth.

“You’re adorable. And I feel... cool too.”

She kisses the fingertips before grabbing the hand to move it to her cheek.

“Now what?”
“Now we’re going to put all this away, and we’re going to go back to the castle. We have class tomorrow. And the curfew’s passed a while ago.”
“Hermione?”
“Yes?”
“I know it’s weird that I’m the one asking this, especially after my speech earlier, but... do you accept to keep our relationship discreet, like I did with Fleur? Honestly, I think it will be easier. They can’t criticize us openly if there’s no public evidence. We can be close, they can completely suspect us, especially after I asked you out for Valentine’s Day, but... it’s going to be very difficult already, so I think we could keep it all to ourselves for a while. And to our friends. I think we can tell Ginny. And Fleur. And what do you think of Viktor?”
“I agree. For Ginny and Fleur. And to keep a low profile. At least until we are experienced enough to be able to protect ourselves, against physical, magical or psychological attacks. On the other hand, I’m not sure about Viktor. He never made a single comment about you and Fleur, not even when he found out that I had agreed to be your Valentine. But I don’t know if he will really be a support. I rather think he’s... not concerned. Viktor is a terribly determined person, and he’s not interested in anything that doesn’t concern his goals.”
“Okay. You know him much better than I do. Shall we tidy up?”

One last kiss, light and barely grazed, and it’s with flushed cheeks still that the young women start to put away accessories and cutlery in the baskets. Sirius will take care of cancelling the various metamorphoses and will collect the radio, a Christmas present from Jasmine. Jasmine removes the different sets of runes, and soon the temperature begins to drop. She finishes with the sconces and plunges them into the dark, and Hermione lights her wand with a whispered “Lumos.” They throw a Warming Charm and wrap themselves in the invisibility Cloak. Jasmine is even more aware of Hermione’s body than before, and she feels a slight difference in their positions. They are a little closer together, and she feels Hermione inviting her to press herself a little closer to her. Hermione’s arm grabs her waist, hesitantly, and she immediately grabs the hand to prevent her from withdrawing. They leave the baskets in the tunnel under the Whomping Willow, where the house-elves can come and get them, and they return to the castle after a fabulous evening. The routine and the comments will come back tomorrow, but Jasmine knows that from now on she will have little moments of happiness that she will steal with Hermione. And it doesn’t matter what will be at the bottom of the lake, or what the Third Task will be, or what Voldemort’s shadow is forecasting. Jasmine has Hermione, and faithful friends, and the future ahead of her. And no matter what the obstacles, they will overcome them.

Later, Jasmine will save Ginny and Fleur’s younger sister from the bottom of the lake, while Hermione will be retrieved by Viktor. But her girlfriend will throw herself at her neck when she comes out of the water, just before Fleur does the same. When she attends Voldemort’s Resurrection, it’s the thought of Hermione that will give her the strength to fight her way back. The two of them will travel in the tent to search for the Horcruxes, together with Fleur and Ginny, while Neville, Ron and Luna will lead a heroic resistance at Hogwarts. The Battle of Hogwarts will bring its share of grief, but the four young women will be reunited at the end. Sirius will help Tonks raise Remus’s child. Fleur will return to finish her final year of apprenticeship with the Flamels. Ginny will start a part-time career as an Auror, while playing as a Seeker for the Holyhead Harpies reserve team, and will balance her two careers for years. Hermione will eventually opt for Alchemy and complete her apprenticeship with the Unspeakables. Jasmine will apprentice as a Gringotts alchemist. Fleur will initially work for the French branch of the Goblin Bank, and will soon join them in England. Jasmine will then continue as a full-time alchemist for Gringotts too and Hermione will prefer to work independently, carrying out her own research while accepting applications from various organizations (and will refuse to join the Unspeakables group several times a year for years).

The British wizarding society will have great difficulty in accepting the two young women’s relationship, and years later they will still be singled out by a significant part of the population, even after their union during an Imbolc celebration ten years after the Battle of Hogwarts, presided over by the young priestess Gabrielle Delacour, who will never have rejected her sister and her friends, against the desires of her Veela clan. However, under their influence, with Sirius’s help, and following their great achievements both against Voldemort and as alchemists, some anti-discrimination laws will begin to emerge and morals will gradually change. But it will remain a very slow change.

 

Bonus:

The day after Ginny’s seventeenth birthday (and the crazy evening in honour of it), Fleur is woken up with a slight hangover by someone knocking on the door of her room in the small cottage rented by Hermione and Jasmine. Trying to gather her thoughts, she opens the door behind which the young woman whose party is responsible for her migraine is waiting. The latter, unfairly awake-looking, hands her a bouquet of white lilies and says to her in French with an adorable accent:

Bonjour Fleur Isabelle Delacour, j’ai décidé de te faire la cour. Es-tu disponible pour un dîner ce soir ?
(Good morning Fleur Isabelle Delacour, I have decided to court you. Are you available for dinner tonight?)

FIN