Hermione took a deep breath as she stepped into Flourish and Blotts, soaking in the comforting smell of new books.
This was her second favourite place on earth, beaten out only by the Hogwarts library. There were more books in stock than she could ever read, though she’d have loved to get the chance to do so.
A small smile graced her lips as she wandered through the shelves. There wasn’t anything in particular she was looking for except the next book that might sweep her off her feet.
She’d come in the middle of a Wednesday on purpose. There were few enough customers that she could almost pretend that she was alone with the books. That was the way she preferred to do her book shopping.
Tugging a large green volume from a shelf, she inspected its table of contents to see how deeply it delved into its subject. It looked promising. She didn’t know much about vanishing on a theoretical level, only what they’d been required to learn in Transfiguration at Hogwarts, and it seemed like an interesting subject.
Hermione tucked the book under her arm and continued down the aisle a few steps before Padma Patil appeared from nowhere around the edge of the shelf.
“Hermione Granger,” she said with a large smile. “I knew it was only a matter of time before I saw you here.”
At first, Hermione could only blink at the other woman. Padma was wearing the typical Flourish and Blotts employee robes, though Hermione was sure that she hadn’t been working here any of the other countless times Hermione had visited the shop.
“Padma,” she said in a shaky voice, “do you work here now?”
Padma laughed, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear. Hermione noticed that she’d added several more piercings in her ear since they’d last seen each other. They complemented her face, making it even more striking than it was naturally.
“Actually, I bought the place,” Padma admitted with a humble shrug of her shoulders. “Pennybottom was looking to retire, and I gave him the best offer.”
Hermione raised an eyebrow. Changes in ownership always led to changes, and she liked the bookshop perfectly fine how it was. Suddenly, Padma was a threat.
“That sounds like difficult work,” Hermione said slowly. “This is the busiest bookshop in wizarding Britain. I’m sure it’s challenging to run.”
Padma laughed, but there was a spark of fire in her eyes that hinted Hermione’s words had triggered something in her.
“There’s a lot of work to do,” she admitted, “but it’s nothing I can’t handle. I’ve been working at a different bookshop up in Edinburgh since leaving Hogwarts. This may be the busiest bookstore in Britain, but that one comes in second place. And I was managing it before I left.”
Hermione clenched her jaw. She was impressed and more than a little surprised. Padma had been uncertain about what she wanted to do after Hogwarts when they were speaking, but working in a bookshop wasn’t what Hermione would have imagined for her.
“Do you mean Tavenshift’s?” she asked, familiar with the name if not the shop itself.
When Padma nodded, Hermione bit her lip.
Tavenshift’s was famous. There was a vocal group who preferred it over Flourish and Blotts. Hermione had never visited herself, as Flourish and Blotts had always had anything she needed.
She’d never known Padma liked to read at school, but then, she supposed, she’d never known much about the former Ravenclaw. It was a shocking realization. When she thought back on their time together at school, all she could remember was stolen moments behind tapestries, Padma’s breath hitting her lips seconds before they touched...
She jerked herself out of her thoughts, her cheeks warm. None of that was important anymore, and it did her no good to dwell on those times. What was far more important was that they’d apparently done a lot less talking than Hermione had assumed at the time.
Swallowing, she shifted her weight to her other foot and was reminded of the book still clutched in her arm.
“I’d like to buy this,” she said, waving the book in the air.
Padma’s smile grew amused. Hermione tried to ignore it just as she did the butterflies in her stomach as she followed Padma to the till.
Hermione couldn’t look her in the eyes as she completed the transaction. Once she had paid, Padma handed her the book back slowly, her hand lingering even once Hermione had gripped it.
“I hope you’ll come back soon.”
Hermione cleared her throat.
“Of course,” she said. “I always shop here.”
Padma gave her another smile before she left.
The second she was out the door, Hermione pressed the back of her hand against her cheek, cursing at how warm it felt. She shoved her new book into her enchanted pouch, not sure if she’d ever be able to read it.
Hermione needed books like a fish needed water, and no other bookshop in the UK had the selection that Flourish and Blotts did, not even Tavenshift’s. Shopping there was unavoidable, yet Hermione couldn’t bring herself to go back. She would try to convince herself that she was worrying about nothing, but the second she thought about walking in and facing Padma again, her stomach twisted into knots and her palms started sweating.
The Gryffindor in her disappeared when Padma was involved. That had been true since the day their...whatever it was that they had been had fallen apart.
So instead, she filled out mail order form after mail order form. Each time she did so, she felt a wave of fear as she imagined Padma opening it and discovering that it was yet another one from her. There was little denying the fact that she was doing it to avoid making a trip to Diagon Alley. Padma was a Ravenclaw; she wouldn’t miss it.
Sure enough, Hermione had only been at the routine for a month before an extra note was slipped into her shipment of books.
As fun as this is, you know you’re welcome at the store, right? One would think that Hermione Granger of all people would relish being able to browse through the shelves instead of flipping through some catalogue.
I won’t bite. I promise
Despite no one else being there to witness her shame, Hermione’s cheeks burned as she crumpled up the note, unable to stomach reading it more than once.
She tugged out a scrap of parchment and scrolled her answer before she could double think her words.
Sorry. I’m not avoiding you. That would be ridiculous. Things have just been really busy at work recently. You know how it is. I’ll stop by Diagon Alley soon.
She stared at the note for ages, wondering if it was a good idea to send it. Should she say “sincerely” when Padma hadn’t used any kind of complimentary close? Would it be better to ignore Padma’s note entirely? Pretend like she’d never received it?
Taking a deep breath, she shoved what she had written into an envelope.
It wasn’t a big deal. Padma hadn’t affected her; she would mail what she’d scrawled down and stop worrying about it. If she obsessed over it for too long, she was sure Padma would be able to tell the second she read the note. This was better. It wasn’t too thought through.
She sent the letter off with Flourish and Blotts’ own delivery owl, watching it go and sure that it was carrying her flaming red cheeks to Padma along with her letter.
Hermione took a deep breath before pushing the door open. She breathed the smell of the bookshop in, trying to calm herself down. It didn’t work.
There were a couple of customers milling about, but Hermione didn’t see Padma. She headed for the law section of the store to find the book she needed. While she’d known that seeing Padma was possible, she reminded herself that it wasn’t the reason she’d come. She was merely there for a book; that was all. If she saw Padma or not, it was of no consequence.
She turned down an aisle to find Padma in front of her, a large stack of books tottering in her arms. Hermione gasped at the unexpected sight, startling Padma just enough that the books began to sway. Padma struggled to keep them tumbling to the ground.
Hermione didn’t let Padma finish before she stepped forward and grabbed half the stack.
“Of course,” she said too late for it to actually fit the situation.
With the books in her arms, she stared at Padma, who was smiling at her in surprise. Hermione cleared her throat.
“What should I do with these?”
The question startled Padma from her daze.
“Oh! They can go on this cart.”
She set her own stack down on the cart that Hermione hadn’t noticed at the end of the aisle. Hermione followed suit, trying to ignore how close Padma was standing. Instead, she let her eyes trail over the shelves. She travelled away from Padma as she read the book spines, looking for the one she’d come for.
“You know,” Hermione remarked, feeling a bit braver now that her gaze was on the books, “you could have levitated them with magic. Wouldn’t that have been easier?”
When Padma didn’t answer, Hermione turned to look at her. She was still standing by the cart, looking at Hermione with a bemused expression.
“Magic doesn’t solve everything,” she said with a smirk.
Hermione frowned. It didn’t make sense in context. Magic easily could have solved the particular problem Padma had been having. Before she could say say as much though, Padma laughed.
“I left my wand in the back,” she admitted with a small shrug.
Hermione laughed too.
Turning her attention to the books they’d been carrying, her interest was piqued.
“These look different than the others in the shop,” Hermione said.
She picked one of them up, turning it over in her hand. It felt like the Muggle books she’d grown up with, the ones mass printed with machines. It didn’t possess the same spark that magically printed books did. Despite the spells that churned out hundreds in quick succession, just like a Muggle machine, each one always felt a little unique in a way that Muggle books didn’t.
The computer on the title was even more out of place in Diagon Alley.
“It’s a Muggle book,” Padma said before Hermione could ask.
She picked up a different one, showing Hermione the space-themed cover.
“To be more precise,” she continued, “they’re currently popular Muggle books that I think witches and wizards might be interested in reading if they know they exist. Computers, space exploration. Both are incredibly huge developments in the Muggle world, and we should be learning about them too. Perhaps, if that information is available here, more of our world will be willing to explore them.”
She had grown shy sharing her idea, keeping her body turned slightly away. Hermione could only stare back, her mouth hanging open.
“That’s what I called for in my last article for the Prophet,” Hermione said quietly. “I said that more wizards should be exposed to Muggle ideas, especially science.”
Padma nodded, a small smile on her lips.
“You said that the more ideas our society was exposed to, the richer it would be. A few days after reading it, I visited a Muggle bookshop. This idea wormed its way into my head not longer after, and I decided to give it a go.”
Hermione didn’t know how to respond. Of course she wrote her articles in the hopes that they would inspire at least one person, but she’d never expected them to have this kind of an effect.
“Well,” Hermione said, “I don’t know about anyone else, but I think it’s a brilliant idea.”
Padma beamed at her, and Hermione’s heart skipped a beat. To stave off the feelings threatening to overwhelm her, she looked again at the book in her hand. Despite what she’d written, she understood how computers worked only on the most surface level.
“Can I buy this?” she asked, holding up the copy. “I think it would be useful.”
Padma bit her lip before answering.
“Of course. Let me ring it up for you.”
Their fingers brushed as Padma took the book from her, and Hermione took a shaky breath before following her to the front.
For several months, Hermione came to the shop as often as she once had, though each trip left her with nerves that didn’t quite dissipate until long after she’d left.
It became routine. She would go and pretend she wasn’t keeping an eye out for Padma when she entered. She would undoubtedly run into Padma and strike up a conversation that almost always revolved around books, though they branched into other topics more and more often over time.
When Hermione entered the shop on one such trip, she was shocked to find an advertisement for a device that looked very much like the Muggle e-readers her parents had been going on about during her last visit with them. Her dad had bought one that he was completely taken with, but Hermione had been horrified at the idea of reading on one as opposed to a good reliable book.
She stared at the display set up in the center of the shop. This device wasn’t the sleek silver ones of the Muggles. Instead, it appeared to be made out of wood, and the place where the screen would be on a Muggle e-reader had the look of parchment. The buttons weren’t buttons, just carvings in the wood.
“What do you think?”
Hermione’s head shot around to find Padma watching her.
“What is it?” was the only thing she could think to ask.
Padma laughed self-consciously. Stepping forward, she removed the device from the glass case it had been in. She waved it in front of Hermione as if everything about it could be explained by a closer look.
“An e-reader,” she said. “Of sorts. We’re calling it a never-ending scroll for marketing.”
Hermione’s nose wrinkled in distaste. She hadn’t been a fan of the Muggle version, but a wizarding one was even harder to swallow.
When she saw the slightly disheartened look on Padma’s face though, she did what she could to school her features into a more neutral curiosity.
“How does it work?” she asked, taking a step forward and trying to ignore the way her stomach fluttered at her new proximity to Padma.
“It’s a little hard to explain,” Padma admitted. “I got the idea from Muggle e-readers obviously. I figured that it would be handy. Imagine only having to carry one of these around Hogwarts instead of all of your school books. I figured there had to be a way to recreate such a thing with magic, but it turns out I was partially wrong.”
Hermione raised an eyebrow.
“Wrong? But you’ve created one.”
Padma gave her a sheepish smile.
“It’s not entirely magic. There’s Muggle technology in here.” She tapped the wooden case that enclosed the nuts and bolts. “The problem is that magic isn’t particularly good at storing large quantities of information. There were limits, and they were much lower than that of Muggle technology, so I decided to combine the two.”
Hermione was filled with a new appreciation for what she was looking at. The idea of reading on one still wasn’t as appealing as sitting down with a paper book, but she was amazed at what it was capable of doing.
“You learned enough about Muggle technology to recreate it?”
“Not quite. I only understand the most basic things about how it works, but I had help. Remember Dennis Creevey from Hogwarts? He was in your house. It turns out that he became quite the expert on Muggle tech after leaving school. He’s my partner in this.”
Hermione hummed in appreciation. She’d heard little about Dennis since the war, and her heart stung at the reminder of what had happened to his brother. She was proud to learn that he’d gone on to do something as impressive as this.
Taking the device from Padma, she turned it over in her hands. She felt the weight that hinted it wasn’t just a block of wood, but there was something else about the machine that a different sense could detect.
“This isn’t just Muggle technology,” she said slowly, sure she was right. “You’ve used magic too.”
Padma’s smile widened.
“That was our greatest accomplishment, figuring out how to make the two work together. Dennis may be a whiz at electronics, but I developed most of the enchantments used. The magic recognizes the information stored on the device and makes the text of the book appear here.”
She motioned at the parchment stretched across the front of the device.
“I realize that we could have just marketed a device that was entirely Muggle technology,” she continued, “but I thought this would help people trust it a bit more. It’s going to be difficult to get people to take it seriously, especially purebloods. I’m not blind to the risk we’re taking in trying to market this thing, but Dennis and I both believe in its potential.”
Hermione did too despite how sceptical she had been upon first laying eyes on it.
“It’s brilliant,” she enthused as she handed the e-reader back to Padma. “I can’t imagine how you came up with such an idea.”
Padma blushed, the colour beautiful against her cheeks.
“The idea partially came from you actually,” she said softly. “These have to communicate with a central system when people purchase new books through the device. I wasn’t sure if that would be possible with magic, but then I remembered the Galleons you enchanted to help us communicate in the DA. That’s when I realized that we might be able to do it.”
Hermione swallowed to fight against the emotion welling up in her throat.
“Have you sold any yet?” she asked.
Padma placed the display version carefully back in its case as she answered.
“Only a couple, and all of them have been to Muggleborns who already knew about the Muggle versions. But it’s a start.”
“I’ll take one,” Hermione replied quickly.
Padma turned to her with a smirk.
“Do I really want to do that? Give you another way to buy books without coming in here to see me?”
Hermione bit her lip.
“I haven’t made a mail order purchase in months.”
Padma nodded, laughing softly.
I’d noticed,” she said.
She reached out and grabbed one of the boxes stacked next to the display. She handed it to Hermione, letting their fingers touch for longer than was necessary.
Hermione was overcome with a sudden rush of nerve.
“Would you be willing to go on a date with me?”
Padma blinked at her several times, needing time to absorb the abrupt question, but once she had, a large smile overtook her face.
“Yes,” she said. “I’d like that.”
Hermione couldn’t stop smiling the entire time Padma was ringing up her purchase.