Gift for: emm718
Title: Angels Don't Live Here 1/2
Author's Name: Hidden until the reveal
Warnings: "F" word use four to five times. Blink and you'll miss 'em.
Disclaimer: Do I look British to you?
Beta's name: floorcoaster, the Numba ONE Beta Diva.
Author's Note: Written for the first ever Pansy Parkinson/Harry Potter exchange on LJ as a pinchhit. Because everyone deserves a gift when they sign up for an exchange; I'm just making sure that carries through.
Prompt: Describe your ideal fic (plus rating): Fiction. Pg-R. So the song Heroes by David Bowie. I don't want a songfic. No way. But the idea of that song. Two people pretending just for one day.
Dealbreakers (absolute no-no's): Harry and Pansy should both be single, no unfaithfulness by either. I don't like cheaters. Non-con or BDSM
Summary: They are standing on a corner, in a moment, allowing French-speaking Muggles to pass them by and continue with their lives. He is amazed by the fact that life goes on for these people while it is war-stalled in Britain.
Because there are stories, and then there is Pansy Parkinson, and the blurred line between fact and fiction where Pansy lives.
— — — — — —
When he sees her, she is alone, sitting at a table at the far end of the room. He thinks it is odd. Women do not venture into public unaccompanied in Britain; many have gone missing in these long months of war, claimed as spoils of war for hungry Death Eaters to vent their frustration and their lust.
But this is not Britain, he reminds himself. The people here—these women—do not live in fear of being tarnished and broken as do the people of his home. However, Harry can tell she knows of this fear; she has sequestered herself at the corner table, the side exit to her left and her back to the wall. Though her eyes are focused solely on the book in her lap, she looks up whenever the little bell above the front entrance jingles, announcing the arrival of a new patron. This is how she protects herself, he thinks, how she hides in plain sight. She is afraid here, too.
Pansy's small, unassuming form is blocked from his view when a server brings her another drink, something dark and hot in a shiny white coffee cup. He imagines it is espresso, or cappuccino, or something equally stylish and fresh. She is Pansy Parkinson, and even here, in a small, crowded café in Lyon and away from everything she has ever known, Harry cannot imagine her drinking something as dull as coffee, or even tea. Her beverage is a direct contrast with the lukewarm decaf in his own cup, and Harry picks up his mug and takes a large swallow of the bitter drink. He has no stomach for sugar, cream. Pansy does, and she swirls a dainty spoon in her cup to mix whatever she's added to her drink, speaking cordially with the server in accented French that sounds foreign and jumbled to Harry's ears. He doesn't speak French at all.
The server leaves, taking Pansy's empty cup to the front of the store while the dark-haired woman throws herself back into her book. Pansy picks up her drink, sips once, twice, before placing the delicate cup back on saucer. He can hear the quiet click of the china clanging together from where he sits a few tables over. The sound is loud and unwelcome, and Harry looks down at his own mug, staring at the dregs of his drink as he wonders what to do. He has been watching her for ten minutes, an hour; he doesn't know how long. The bell above the door had signaled her arrival a scant five minutes after he'd taken a seat. He'd known it was her even then, the large shades she was wearing doing nothing to hide the telltale planes of a face he'd memorized long ago. Her features are distinctive, unique—a nose and jaw once too hard in adolescence now softer, maybe even enviable. He'd watched her weave her way through the crowded tables to the one where she currently sits, in disbelief that it is she.
Harry has not seen Pansy Parkinson in two years. He has been busy fighting a war. Even here, six hundred miles away, in France, he is still fighting. He is looking for a weapon—for information—and he knows now that she will give it to him. She is too familiar a being in this foreign land, an unexpected vision from his home—their home. There is no other way that it can be. Remus told him to come here—to the café across from the Hôspital de la Croix-Rousse, at the corner of Rue Hénon—to find the informant.
"A familiar face," he'd told him. "Wait for as long as it takes. That's all you need to know."
Pansy is as expected as a bad rash, but her presence alone is enough to confirm her role. There is no such thing as happenstance or coincidence in this world of war. It is her.
Harry is not prepared for this. He normally does not fight in this way; he is unused to waiting, listening, and clandestine encounters in foreign lands of which he knows nothing. Espionage is as alien to him as France, and he finds it harder to reconcile himself with completing the task he has been given now that he has realized he must speak with Pansy. He has never spoken to Pansy more than to level her with a taunting word, jeering that she looked like a dog. And he'd only said this after she'd sneered and dropped her own insult about his scar or friends or dead mum and dad, following obediently behind Draco Malfoy and the rest of his Slytherin goons. But Hogwarts is a long time ago—two years and many, many dead friends. He'd lost Ron two years ago, when they were seventeen and untrained and Fenrir Greyback had ripped his best friend nearly in two. Hermione had been snatched away from her bed during the summer following sixth year, an early victory for Voldemort and the bigots that followed his prejudiced teachings. He hasn't heard a word about her since.
Pansy has lost friends as well. Most of the Slytherins in their year are dead, save the deserters and Draco Malfoy, whose contributions to both sides of the conflict are dubious and hard to discern. He wonders if her dead friends mean as much to her as his dead friends mean to him, if they are the weight she shoulders as she sips cappuccino and reads novels in French cafes, hunched in a corner and flinching at every jingle of the bell above the door.
Time changes everyone, but war—blood—does as well, and Harry tells himself that she's changed, that she has to have changed. She is here, after all—in this café, with him, just as Remus had said the informant would be. It doesn't make the situation any easier for him, and he finds himself unable to move from his seat. He does not know how to approach Pansy Parkinson; he has never had to. While their encounters in the Hogwarts halls had been rare, the insults she'd spewed at him were akin to Malfoy's in the sheer venom behind them. Unlike in his encounters with Draco Malfoy, however, Harry had found himself flustered and confused; his rejoining insults were muttered with a pounding heart and pink cheeks that he could never explain. He knows now that there is an intensity to this woman that burns whoever comes near. She's carried this flame around since she was a girl, and even now, Harry can remember how he'd balked at facing such heat.
Harry sips at his coffee. He watches the girl. The server comes by, refills his drink. He wants to thank her but he cannot speak French. He butchers a phrase he heard another patron tell her a few minutes earlier. She looks slightly confused, but she nods politely and wanders away.
"Your accent is appalling."
Pansy is there when he lifts his eyes to the left, book in one hand and drink in the other. She looks as if she's been standing there waiting for him to notice her for the past half-hour, and he feels as if he's suddenly on the spot—as if he's taking a test in Transfiguration and hasn't studied at all. He tells himself he is too old for Transfiguration and fearing Slytherins. But Harry has never been good with women, and he knows this interaction will be even worse because it is her.
He wonders how she got there, how he didn't notice, and thinks that if he isn't attentive enough to notice the movement of the person he has spent the past twenty minutes watching, he is surely going to die fighting this war.
Meanwhile, Pansy is smiling and smirking, staring down at him with eyes as blue as he's ever seen and looking wholly amused. "Harry Potter," she says. "Fancy meeting you here."
Harry nods, slowly. There is that heat again; her fire is hot and bright against his face. He feels sweat pool at the corner of his temple. "I could say the same about you."
"I get around," she says coyly, shrugging her boney shoulders. The cup rattles against its saucer from the movement, causing dark liquid to slosh onto the porcelain plate. She frowns at the spill, then looks at him. "May I sit?"
Harry is taken aback by her openness, her friendliness. This is not the Pansy he knows and expects, but if she is risking her life to give him information, there is no reason why she should be rude. After all, if the Light loses the war, she will lose her life. She knows this. She is a Slytherin: self-serving to the end.
She is not pleased with his silence, and annoyance leaks into her features. She levels him with a glare reminiscent of their encounters in school. "If you'd rather I leave…." She trails off.
"No," he tells her, shaking his head and stumbling to make up for his mistake. She cannot leave. She has information that his people—their people—will die without. It is not his job to be here, to participate in this dance of lies and spies. He is a warrior, a soldier. He hasn't the tact necessary for secret meetings and information exchanges. But Snape is dead—ratted out by a captured Mundungus Fletcher and killed on the spot—and there is no one else Remus trusts. Remus has lost too much—Sirius and Tonks and a baby he'll never know—for Harry to let them lose the war, too. "Please," he says, staring straight into her blue orbs. "Sit."
Pansy looks at him, and it's almost as if she's deciding whether he's pathetic enough for her to acquiesce. She holds many things in her hands. Information from the other side is always a matter of life or death for someone, be it members of the Order or the Death Eaters they strike down in a successful raid. Six months ago, Snape gleaned information from their informant that allowed the remaining members of the Weasley clan to be moved to a safe location before Voldemort himself showed up at the Burrow and blasted the home to bits. Though the house was lost, strategically placed Order members managed to strike down Lucius Malfoy during the same ordeal—a victory still celebrated within their ranks.
Harry looks at Pansy. He wonders how it feels to have such power with mere words.
She is rather unassuming, considering the might she possesses from the Death Eater knowledge in her head. Just a woman, Harry thinks, no matter how she seems to stand out in this place. She continues to stare at him as she sits, sliding gracefully into her seat as she places her drink on the table and her book on her lap.
"You look very old, Harry Potter," she says.
He wonders what that means. She is just as old as he is, and he can see the bags beneath her eyes, unmaskable even with the strongest of glamours. He thinks that it is unfair that they are like this, that they have had their youth snatched away just as Hermione had been snatched from her bed that fateful night three summers before. He doesn't say this. He says, "I've seen many things."
She smiles, and Harry feels as if he's just passed a pop quiz. "I don't doubt that you have." She picks up her cup, looking thoughtful. She says, "We're all old." She drinks.
They lapse into silence. Harry doesn't know what he is to do now, how these secret exchanges usually go about. Is he to ask about her health, her day? Make polite small talk before they get serious and talk about Voldemort and Death Eaters, how to end lives and save Aurors? But they were once schoolmates, he remembers, and that must count for something now, after so much time has passed. She was his adversary then, the eager lapdog of Malfoy, the enemy. He finds that Malfoy fits less into that role nowadays, pushed out by the more pressing threat of the Dark Lord.
However, the blond man has followed in his father's footsteps—taken Voldemort's mark and donned a mask in a vow to kill in order to create the Dark Lord's new world order—which makes him a different kind of enemy now. But Draco's role in Voldemort's army is nebulous. He has long since blamed the man for Hermione's disappearance, their not-so-private relationship being the reason the serpentine Lord gave for her disappearance when Harry faced the madman in the months that followed. Though Harry has spent many nights sitting outside the kitchen door in Grimmauld Place, listening to the whispered conversation between Remus and Snape as they discussed the contributions of the young Malfoy to their side of the war. The two men say nothing of him in the official meetings, and The Daily Prophet continues to vilify Draco Malfoy in its issues for every dastardly deed they claim he has done. Harry does not know what to think.
Pansy clears her throat quietly, and he looks up to find her eyes on him, blue and amused. "You look surprised."
He nods slowly. "It's… odd seeing you here," he says honestly. "I didn't expect… well, you."
"You sound like my mother," she says. She crosses her legs, pushes her longish bangs out of her face. "She didn't 'expect' me either." She smiles, leans in conspiratorially and says, "I was supposed to be a boy. Could you imagine?"
Harry grins. He did not expect this from Pansy, either. "No," he says, "I can't."
"I certainly can't either. I mean, really."
The bell above the door jingles, and both of their heads whip in its direction. Two women enter, deeply entrenched in conversation and looking wholly as if they haven't a care in the world.
Pansy looks at him, then down at her purse. It is a large black monstrosity, shiny leather and gold hardware that Harry finds ostentatious but looks completely ordinary on Pansy's arm. She digs into the bag, and Harry can't help but wonder at how much stuff she has in the thing, so much that she cannot find what she seeks. "I'd be a horrible man," she says offhandedly, and Harry doesn't know if she's talking to him or herself.
"Why do you say that?" he asks, watching as she takes a box of fags from her bag and pulls one from the full cardboard carton.
"I don't know," she says, rifling through her bag once again. The unlit cigarette rests between her rosy lips. "I've been scratching boys' eyes out since I've been old enough to walk; I highly doubt that's an acceptable method of combat for a man." Her words are jumbled by the cigarette stuck between her lips. "Merlin's beard, that lighter was right—"
Harry leans forward then, snapping his fingers before her downturned face. The sound captures her attention instantly, and she looks at him, startled, however the smoke wafting from her fag snatches her attention away. She takes it out of her mouth and stares at it for a moment before replacing it betwixt her lips and taking a long drag.
"That… was an eye-opening display," she says, releasing a stream of smoke from her lips. "Thank you."
"Always happy to help," he says.
"Trust me, I know. All of bloody Britain does."
Her words are a little harsh—a little sardonic—and Harry doesn't know what to say.
"I do what I can," Harry tells her quietly. "We all do what we can."
She looks uncomfortable at this statement. She takes the fag from her lips and smashes it in the provided ashtray in the middle of the table. It is a nervous, fidgety move, and he can begin to make out a pattern in her anxious behavior. She continues to smash the cancer stick even after the flame has been extinguished, her white fingers pressing against the dirty ashes in the tray.
The bell jingles once more. Harry watches as she turns to the door again, eyes wide with anxiety he knows so well. It is a man this time, business suit and briefcase with a Muggle cell phone to his ear.
"I should go," she says, standing so quickly her knees bang against the table, causing her drink to spill over the sides of the cup.
Harry watches her, anxiety growing within him. She hasn't told him anything and she is leaving; Remus is going to kill him. "Wait," he says.
"I can't wait," Pansy tells him, dropping the novel into her bag. She hefts the large thing onto her shoulder and looks at him. He is still in his seat. "Well? What are you waiting for? Let's go."
— — — — — —
Pansy likes the Metro. She says she takes it everywhere—even if it's only one stop—because she likes the ride and the people. Or, rather, she likes watching the people. She has pointed out a handful of people and a handful of their flaws in the five minutes since they got on.
It is only two stops so they stand. Pansy doesn't mind; she has a better view of the world from up here anyway.
"Funny what you can tell about a person just by looking," she says, leaning in close to his shoulder as she speaks. He can smell espresso and her perfume, and the combination is so soft and sweet and bitter that he swallows multiple times to remove the taste from his tongue. It remains.
He doesn't know why they are on the Metro; he doesn't know where she is taking him. Remus has told him nothing of how these meetings go about, and since he and Pansy left the café, he has been content to allow her to lead him through the routine. From what he knows, she has been supplying information to the Order for years—perhaps since he's seen her last, at Hogwarts. He wholly believes she knows what she's doing, even though she hasn't done anything yet. They have walked and talked. Awkwardly so on Harry's part, but Harry is always awkward with women, and the fact that Pansy notices—"I never knew," she's said, "that you'd grow up to be such an awkward man"—only makes him wish even more that he'd told Remus 'no'.
They get on at the Metro at Rue Hénon and ride the train to Merlin knows where. Harry waits.
She tells him to look at a man to their left, sitting alone at the back of the car. He is wearing a trench coat and a dusty fedora and is hunched over his knees as he scribbles on a scrap of paper. "He hasn't slept or showered or eaten in days," she tells him.
There is three-day-old stubble on his jaw and a thoroughly down-and-out look to him that can very well confirm Pansy's statement, but Harry doesn't want to agree with her.
He says to her, "Why do you say that?"
"Because he is a jaded author," she exclaims, infectious and fantastic. "He has been writing since he was fifteen, even though his parents discouraged it because they wanted him to spend the extra time helping out in the family business. This is Lyon, so they are into textiles, but he has never had the mind for silk. He wrote his tales in secret until he was old enough for university and told his parents to piss off and pursued his passion in peace." The car pauses a moment. Train traffic, the conductor says over the speaker. They wait.
Pansy continues, "He found journalism through a roommate at school and wrote for papers and magazines while there, because the papers and magazines paid him for his hard news stories. He didn't like it, but he needed the money since his parents wouldn't give him a cent because he has left to write. He was amazing at the reporting business though—because he is an amazing writer—and was asked to write for a big time Paris paper when he graduated—Le Monde. Who would say no?"
Harry does not know what Le Monde is, let alone if he'd say 'no' to whatever they had to offer. However, he finds himself wrapped in Pansy's story, watching this man's life unfold as if he's dunked his head into a penseive and is seeing it for himself.
"But he was unhappy in Paris," she says, almost somber. "In Paris, he cannot spend his free time weaving tales of love and woe because it is Paris, and it is too big and too noisy. He stays for seven years, smoking and sleeping with different women until he can no longer take the blank pages in his journal and on his desk and quits his job at Le Monde because writing means more to him than livelihood. His women leave him, but he doesn't care because he has his stories. Six months pass and he has yet to write a word. His potential—his tales of love and woe—were lost in the long months he spent writing hard news at his hard paper and smoking and sleeping around.
"After a year, he throws his typewriter against the wall. He is convinced that it is the city that keeps his stories at bay, and uses the last of his money to buy a ticket back to Lyon—to the city where he left his tales. He returns to his childhood home, to the family business, but the factory has closed and the windows of his old home have been boarded shut for years. He is frantic, and even though it is three in the morning, he bangs on a neighbor's door to ask what has happened to his family. He is told that his father died shortly after he left for university, and that, with no one to run the business, it soon fell into ruin. His mother died shortly afterwards.
"He is stricken, nauseous from the guilt that he has killed his family and the livelihood that gave him a bed to sleep in and food in his belly as a boy while he pursued a dream that has brought him nothing but despair, and has cast his family into ruin. The neighbor, who remembers him from when he was a boy, asks him if he needs a place to stay, but the man declines, saying he's business to see to before stalking away. He has been on this train ever since, riding the route back and forth as he scribbles on scraps of paper he finds beneath the seats, giving with everything he has to write one of his tales. Because if he does, it will give everything that he's done and all his family has lost meaning. Even if it's just a little."
She is quiet then, her lips set in a sad little line as she contemplates the hunched man. "He is a very sad man."
Harry is quiet, too. He did not expect the melancholy ending to her story. He doesn't feel that he knows her well enough to ask her why she'd tell him this. But the silence stretches on and the train still isn't moving, and he knows he must say something because it is simply his turn.
"Muggles don't use typewriters anymore, Pansy," he tells her, opting for something neutral, true. "They use computers and all sorts of other things to write."
"I know," she says. She looks at him. "But this man isn't really here. What we are seeing is the sadness he left behind after he passed. He's a ghost."
Harry has killed men and stared the single most dangerous wizard in the history of the bloody world straight in the eye on multiple occasions, but he can't help the chill that makes his way up his spine at her words. He looks at the man, taking note of how small and alone he is, how no one truly notices him at all. The man could vanish right now and no one would notice, except Harry, because he's the only one who's looking. The train begins to move once again, sending he and Pansy jolting forward from the sudden movement. He plants his feet squarely on the ground to steady himself, then places his hands on her shoulders to prevent her from falling flat on her bum. She looks at him then, surprised, and he wonders if she thought he would let her fall. He asks her this.
"Yes," she says, "I did."
She's smiling though, and he realizes now that Pansy hasn't been pointing out flaws; she's been telling stories. She's lying. He wonders what this means in terms of her credibility as an Order informant. But he doesn't have much time to think because she takes his arm and pulls him out of the train, and he finds himself thinking more of how bloody pushy she is rather than things that matter.
"Our stop," she tells him, skillfully weaving her way through the people waiting to enter the train. He wants to tell her that she doesn't have to pull him, but realizes that is stupid and makes him sound like a brat. He thinks her opinion of him is bad enough without knowing anything that's true. He wonders if he's always been so concerned about what women think of him, even if they happen to be Pansy Parkinson. He reminds himself again that he has never had any luck with girls.
He is so busy thinking that he does not pay attention to where they are going. When he finally notices that the foot-traffic has begun to thin, he wonders where she is taking him. Perhaps to some secret location—the foreign Order base where she stays while she creeps between Death Eater meetings and gathers information to give to her contact. He finds himself intrigued at the prospect.
"Where are we going?" he asks, looking around at the scant buildings in the area, wondering which would hold this secret base.
But there is no secret base. She says, "The arena."
"The arena. In Roman times, it was an oval-shaped structure that housed almost twenty thousand people to watch events. It had tiers and seats with—"
"I know what it is," he says, annoyed. "Why are we going there?"
She glances at him, puzzled. "Why not?"
Her obtuseness frustrates him. He realizes then that there is no secret location or Order base. There will be no exchange of words in the dark underground room where Pansy makes her life as she collects lifesaving information. Not there. The arena is merely a place—a trip to take. She will tell him nothing there. She will make him wait.
He remembers that he didn't want to accept this mission, that he didn't want to travel so far from home. He remembers Remus' face, his tired, sad eyes saying, "Harry, please" repeatedly until he'd agreed. He had known then that this is not what he does—is not how he fights this war—and he thinks again and again and again that he should have told Remus to shove off and just said 'no.'
He stops walking. "I'm quite sure," he says slowly, cautiously, "that whatever there is that needs to be said between us can be said here."
"Here?" she repeats, unconvinced.
Harry looks around, noting that, while there aren't many people around, the area is still too public for the kind of meeting they are to have. "Maybe not here," he amends. He sighs, running a hand through his messy hair in frustration. The coffee shop is half a mile and an hour away, and he can no longer listen to her idle chatter and made-up stories when they have a job to do and a meeting to have so he can go back home. "Why are you doing this?"
She looks at him, eyes honest and wide. "What am I doing?"
"This," he says, waving his arm around at the few people milling about. They look happy, as if they are having a good time and he cannot take their happiness. "You don't have to do this. You didn't need to bring me here."
"Didn't I?" He doesn't say anything, and she arches a dark brow in question. "I recall you approaching me in the café."
"I didn't approach you—" he denies vehemently.
"You didn't have to." She is calm, assured. It is contagious; he can feel it brushing against his skin like an unexpected breeze. "You need something, don't you?"
He nods slowly. She knows what he needs.
"I don't have much," she says, looking down at the ground as if she can find what he's looking for there. "I'm too selfish to give more than I have, but it's been two years, yeah? Hogwarts doesn't matter anymore. Too many people are dead. There is this moment, and the next, and the rest of the day. We've hours at our expense," she says. "You needn't rush it, Potter. Harry."
His name rolls off her tongue so effortlessly that he can close his eyes and believe she's been saying it for years. It speaks to him in a way no voice ever has, even though he's sure she's never said it before in all her life. It's as if she's been whispering to him in his dreams.
It is a new and scary sensation. She is looking at him, and he fancies that her eyes are almost imploring, wanting him to agree to whatever she's asking.
He doesn't know what she's asking.
He starts, almost, when he feels her dainty hand wrap around his forearm, placing her other hand over it to clasp his arm firmly within her grip. She is looking at him. "Shall we?"
He hears Remus then, the constant voice of reason in his head making an appearance once again with the parting words he'd given Harry before he'd embarked on his trip the day before:
"We all need peace, Harry," he'd said. "Go to Lyon and find some, even if only for the day. You'll come back a different man."
He turns to Pansy and nods. Harry leads the way.
— — — — — —
"Why do you come here?"
Pansy shrugs. "It's quiet."
The Amphithéâtre des Trois Gaules doesn't exactly seem like the place one would come to find 'quiet.' It is an old and decrepit place, more ruins than anything and probably an unsafe place to sit. It is quiet, however it's quite eerie as well, almost as if the past finds itself creeping up on the present here, mixing to a point where one can't tell which truly belongs.
The city officials seem to know this as well, as the amphitheater is fenced from the outside, barbed wire topping the chain link fence to prevent anyone from sneaking in. He'd been perturbed by this fact when he first saw it, thinking that they'd taken the Metro only to look at the place. However, limitations placed upon Muggles were usually no problem for magic folk. Only, Pansy didn't use magic at all to get pass the fence. There's a hole in the barricade if you walk two to three minutes off the main road. They snuck in through there.
Now they sit on one of the lower tiers, away from the sight of the few people viewing the area from the fence at the top of the hill.
"They killed Christians here," she tells him. "Martyrs. Story has it that they threw St. Blandine to the lions here, but the lions wouldn't eat her. They replaced the lions with bulls, but the bulls wouldn't kill her either."
She shrugs. "Maybe God told them not to. The animals, I mean."
"God?" he asks. He didn't know Pansy believed in such things. "Do you believe in God?"
"I believe in something," she says. "Something more than Merlin and Morgana Le Fay. Something not as real."
This confuses him. "If it's not as real, then why believe?"
"Why does most the world?" She pauses. "People just need something, Harry. It's okay for you to go without it, because you have your wand and your conviction that all you're all mighty and powerful."
"I'm not all mighty and powerful," he says quickly.
"Yes, but what about the Muggles?" she rejoins. "They don't have magic wands or anything. All they have is their faith. And you know what the fucked up part is? No matter how much they believe, they'll never have anything that they can hold in their hands. They don't have wands, Harry. They've got to believe in God and pretend that it's enough."
"You have a wand," he states quietly.
"It's not enough," she says.
He notes then that he hasn't seen her use magic all day, and doesn't think she has in a very long time.
"What happened to her?" he asks awkwardly.
"The Roman soldiers," she tells him. "They got fed up with the bloody lions and bulls and killed her themselves." She makes a slicing motion with her hands, and he doesn't know if she means to be comical or grotesque. "Cut her down with their swords."
"Oh," he says dumbly. She makes him feel naked, insecure, and stupid.
"No," she tells him, shaking her head. "You're missing the point. The Roman soldiers had to take matters into their own hands. They had to kill St. Blandine because the animals would not. And it makes no sense, Harry—it makes no sense at all. But that's where God comes from. That's what I believe in."
The cats appear about this time, when he's wondering what her stories mean and if they're true. It is a only a kitten at first, a black ball of fuzz that stares at him curiously from a ruined stone bench a few tiers down, hopping up the steps to perch at Harry's side. He offers the kitten his hand, and the kit licks it enthusiastically. There is movement in his periphery, and he turns to see another cat, and then a dozen. They mill about at the bottom of the theater, mewing and cleaning their fur in quiet contentment. They are all black.
He turns to Pansy, a question in his eyes.
"I know," she says. "It's bizarre. They're here every time I come."
"Do you feed them?" he asks.
She kicks a pebble with the tip of her shoe, and the small stone makes a quiet echo as it falls a few tiers. The cats at the bottom of the amphitheater all look to the spot where it lands. "No," she responds. "I don't interfere."
This surprises him. He doesn't know what to say. They are quiet.
"There is another place I like to go here. It's another Roman ruin, but it's good place to go when I want to watch people. Something between here and the metro."
He scratches the kitten behind its ears. "Really?"
She nods, leaning back against the crumbling stone seat as she looks out at the ruined history before her. "There are two theatres there, and the city actually uses it for concerts and events in the summer."
He doesn't know what to say. He asks, "Where is it?"
Her words mean nothing because he has never been to Lyon and doesn't know what Fourvière is. "Are we going there, too?"
She cocks her head to the side. "Would you like to?" A large, older cat wanders onto her lap, looking up at Pansy with expectant green eyes. She smiles. "It wouldn't be too bad right now, in the spring," she tells him, rubbing the cat beneath the chin and behind its ears, causing it to emit a pleased purr. Harry looks down at the kitten in his own lap, noting that the kit is far more interested in clawing at his wrist then purring like its older companion. "I went there once during the summer, the heavy traveling season, and there were a group of American tourists prancing about and proclaiming that they were kings of Rome. It was appalling."
Harry frowns, his brows furrowed in confusion. He asks, "Aren't you a tourist?"
"I've been here two years, Harry," she says. Her voice is so loud and unexpected that the kitten scurries away from him, ducking into a hole in the stone seating the row below, its furry dark ears the only thing visible from where Harry sits.
"Since Hogwarts then?" he asks.
She stops pampering the cat, digging through her bag once again. The cat mews. "Since Hogwarts."
He is surprised by this as well. He knows that Snape has been to Copenhagen and Bucharest and Rome meeting his informant—Pansy. He doesn't understand why if she's been here all along.
"Why?" he asks.
She pulls a fag from her purse, looking at him as she lights it herself with her reclaimed lighter. She takes a drag and releases it, long and slow. "You ask a lot of questions, Harry."
"I find you have a lot to say."
She peers at him, surprised, and he looks down at the kitten's ears because he's surprised at well. He doesn't want her to know.
"I do. Half of it doesn't mean anything."
"I beg to differ."
She's vaguely annoyed at this, and she says, "Well, good for you. If you think my lies mean anything, good for you."
"Lies?" he repeats.
She rolls her eyes. "You don't understand anything," she clucks.
He counters, "You don't make any sense."
"I suppose I don't." She takes another drag from her cigarette. She flicks it, looks at him blandly. "My life is a steaming heap of shite, Harry."
"I can empathize," he says. His life holds frightening similarities to a pile of shite too.
"That's why I'm in Lyon," she says. "This is my lie."
— — — — — —
"I didn't expect it would be you."
She is focused on the streetlight, the crosswalk, and the car making an illegal right turn twenty-feet from where they stand. By this point, they are good and thoroughly lost, the maze of streets unrecognizable to even her, and she's been here for two years. After they'd left the arena, they'd boarded the metro. After two transfers, they were headed in the right direction, but a conversation about old Professor Flitwick's bad toupee had distracted Pansy, and they'd missed their stop. Instead of getting back on the opposite way, she'd spun around in a circle, her skirt billowing out around her in a wide arc, before pointing to the left—"East," she'd said—and began walking in that direction, pulling him along.
She'd seemed to notice his expression at being manhandled by her and said, "I'm sorry, Harry, I'm sorry. I'm not good at these things. This is only way I know how."
And Harry could empathize with that, too, because he didn't know what he was doing either. He'd let her pull him along.
She'd begun chatting then, light and amiable and amused, and Harry had realized that he quite liked the combination. It was different to be around her when she wasn't sneering or insulting him. It was as if he had never met her at all, as if Hogwarts was a figment of his imagination and he was spending his time with a new person entirely.
But the metro stop is nearly an hour away now. While Harry is no stranger to travelling by foot, as the time has passed, Pansy has spoken less and less. He has felt her anxiety grow as they continued, and it pulses now like a dangerous beast, reaching its sharp claws through its cage in an effort to escape.
She does not know where they are, and the loss of control makes her edgy and anxious. It is steam in a kettle ready to sing. All he can think is that he's seen this in so many people before, and can easily read the signs—her behavior in the café, the cigarettes—knows she's just as clinically restless as Lavender Brown, who once became so paralyzed by her fear that she stopped functioning entirely on a mission. She ran away from the group, hiding in a corner until she could breathe, until it passed. Bellatrix Lestrange struck her down before it could.
Remus says it's more of a Muggle thing, some nervous mind problem that makes people fretful and uneasy, and in the case of Lavender Brown, completely inhibits her from acting. He doesn't think that Pansy's problem is as bad as Lavender Brown's, but he can see that she's on the verge of a full out attack. She makes a notable effort to remain calm.
She looks at him—if only for a moment—with her rapidly shifting eyes.
He talks, to keep her calm. "I didn't," he says.
"You've said that already."
Harry shrugs, then thinks that it is stupid for him to shrug because she is not looking at him, and wouldn't have seen the gesture anyway. "Maybe I'm in shock."
"Maybe," she says. "Is it because I am a ghost?"
Her statement startles him. He imagines that Pansy Parkinson compares herself to many things—gems and precious metals that avaricious beings give so high a value—but never to a ghost. Especially not after the story she told of the man on the train.
"You're a ghost now?" he asks, intrigued.
"You've not seen me in two years, Harry," she reminds him. Her hand grips the crook of his arm, and she pulls him across the street. She is small but fierce, and he can feel the power beneath her little fingers as she drags him down the block. "Given the time that has elapsed since you've last seen me—" She looks up at a street sign on the west corner, then the one on the east. They cross again. He lets her lead. "—I daresay I am nearly a ghost to you."
She's looking around, not frantically but intently, and finally sees something that brings a faint smile to her lips. Nothing looks different to Harry, but she relaxes visibly, her shoulders slumping at the release of tension. Harry relaxes too, glad that she has not freaked out.
"I think we're on equal footing," he tells her. He is smiling. He can't hide it. "It isn't as if you've seen me during that time, either."
"Perhaps I have," she replies loftily, the teasing tone back once again. She stops and flourishes her arm. "The Cimetière de Loyasse, the burial place of the rich and famous of Lyon."
He hadn't been paying very close attention to where they were, but when he follows her gaze, he's stunned to see a large gate flanked by what looks like two sentry houses.
Her smile widens. "I haven't stalked you, Harry. I've spent the last two years drinking coffee and reading smutty French romances in crowded cafes."
"Is that all?" he asks. He's quite sure she's been up to much, much more.
Her eyes widen in mock outrage. "My word, Mr. Potter. You're quite anxious for me to hang my dirty wash in the air, aren't you?"
"Merely trying to clear the air," he says elusively, eyeing the long rows of fantastic graves as they walk on.
The grip on his arm tightens until he looks at her. "Don't you know it's bad form to ask a lady to reveal all her secrets on the first date?"
He stumbles then, blushing. "First what?"
She giggles, a quiet, twittering noise he remembers from school. "I won't tell your girl. News of this little outing might send Girl Weasley into a fury, and we can't have that, can we? She might call off the wedding."
He doesn't appreciate her humor, or the reminder of Ginny, who's currently nursing an infant that isn't his. "Don't worry," he tells her, "there's no 'girl' to rile up."
Her dark brows rise in surprise and she looks repentant, but Harry cannot imagine Pansy Parkinson being apologetic about anything she's said that may have caused him pain, and tells himself that he hasn't seen the expression at all.
Hesitantly, she asks, "Is she dead?"
He shakes his head. "Married."
Her lips form the shape of a perfect, surprised 'o', and Harry thinks that he should be proud of himself, because he has shocked Pansy. "She's jumped ship then?" she says.
Something in him is amused by her wording, her tact. "Soon as she could."
He'd found the redhead shagging the life out of Dean Thomas—her ex, his old roommate—in a cupboard in Grimmauld Place sometime last year. It'd been the middle of July, halfway between the anniversary of Hermione's abduction and his eighteenth birthday. He'd heard the ruckus coming from the closet as he'd wandered into the kitchen for a late night cup of tea to put him to sleep; had known it was Ginny when he heard her moaning 'oh, Dean!' over and over again from outside the tiny space.
He hadn't confronted them. Later, he told himself he'd been in too much shock to do so. A part of him knew it was some sick form of torture, the traitorous voice in the back of his mind railing at him victoriously that this was why he needn't get close to anyone in this world at all. He'd sat in the darkened front room with a bottle of Firewhisky and an aching soul as he listened to them go at it all night long.
"She's happy," he says stoically. This is what Neville tells him when they talk about Ginny.
Neville says, "If nothing else, be happy for that."
Neville is right, but Harry does not care because he hates that Ginny is happy. He does not think that it is fair that she gets to be happy when he has the world and everyone in it resting on his shoulders and no one there to soothe his crying, pained heart. He doesn't think it is fair that she has found happiness fucking a man Harry had once called a friend in his own freaking house. He is miserable. He is a bad person because he wants her to be, too.
"Does that matter?" she asks.
He shrugs again. He doesn't care if she doesn't see it.
She says, "It doesn't matter."
He looks at her. "What really does?"
There is an insignificant pause, during which Harry wants to bash his head into a building wall. Pansy is still looking at him.
"You thought you were going to marry her."
He closes his eyes, almost as if to ward off the pain. "I did."
"You didn't marry her."
"Dean Thomas did."
She snorts. "That's almost an insult."
He laughs then, quick and unexpected. When he looks down at her, she's still staring and he's thankful—sort of—for the effort. "He was probably a better shag," he offers humorlessly.
She is scandalized, incredulous. "Who cares?" she says. "You're Harry bloody Potter!"
He smiles sadly. "Doesn't mean much, really. Not when it comes to this love rubbish."
She huffs. "Who needs love when you've notoriety on your side?"
He has never been more thankful for a Slytherin response in all his life.
— — — — — —