Disclaimer: I don't own these characters, nor do I make monies off them. I just take them out the shoebox every now and then to play.
On the morning of Pansy's spring wedding, her mother lit a cig and told her that happiness in life wasn't learned, it was bought and paid for. And happiness in marriage was entirely dependent upon ignoring her new husband's actions. "It does not matter if Marcus strays." She exhaled an opaque stream of smoke and tapped the ashes into her daughter's unfinished orange juice. "Only that he comes back."
Today is their sixth wedding anniversary, and she's home early, drinking alone and with more determination when the moans and giggles trickle from upstairs. The wine warms her, numbs the pain in her stomach and melts the tension in her shoulders. It makes her fingers tingle and her thoughts honest and transparent. Her manicured fingers skim along the polished wood of the table she's sitting on. After years of remodelling to keep with the latest designing trends, she's grown to hate this room. From the ornate windows to the gaudy wallpaper, the small windows to the decorative furniture, the rare paintings and grandiose sculptures, the decorative fireplace and the unnecessary chandelier. She hates it all, but mostly, Pansy hates that this room is a metaphor for her life as Mrs. Marcus Flint.
Picturesque, but ultimately, a sham.
To the world, Pansy has everything: a successful husband, wealth, and status in the highest echelon of pureblood society. And yet, behind closed doors, she's sitting in front of the fireplace, drinking straight from a century-old bottle of wine, and listening to her husband fuck another woman in the bedroom that stopped being theirs a long time ago.
She laughs bitterly, choking on all the things that she could say, but what is the point? Pansy laughs again, heartily, forcing a mirthless giggle out of her throat, and she realises that some things are better left unsaid. It hurts less, or so she chooses to believe.
It wasn't always a sham. It wasn't love either, but they said that would come later. There had been heat and passion and maybe even a little affection during the first year, an intoxicating combination that kept her sated during the first set of affairs. His dalliances began around their second anniversary when they found out Marcus was sterile, which was a great disappointment to both their parents. The pressure from her family to terminate the marriage contract made living with him virtually impossible, but Pansy stayed.
Marcus blamed her for his shortcoming because it was easier than accepting that no one was at fault. Pansy knew better than to blame herself, but somehow she ended up as the failure in the entire mess. From there, the relationship deteriorated rapidly. His temper grew hotter, and pretty soon he started telling her that she wasn't good enough for anything, except spending money and looking pretty while doing it.
Pansy takes a few swigs and wonders when she started believing him.
When honesty becomes painful, she corks the bottle and leaves it on the hearth, walking briskly through two rooms before she finds herself at the foyer. Marcus is lounging at the bottom of the grand staircase, waiting, it seems, for her. Pansy schools her features into the best approximation of 'cool and haughty' she can manage and concentrates very hard on not letting the façade slip.
"So." She watches him fiddle with the belt of his robe. "Did this one need one or two hands to count her age?"
Marcus doesn't answer, only moves fluidly. Two steps and he's in her personal space, but she refuses to back down, tilting her eyes up defiantly to meet his. "What does it matter? You won't leave. You like all this—" He gestures around them. "—too much to give me up."
She can leave and be better for it. She can move, leave her friends and family, her entire life, just to be happy.
The thought is sudden and unexpected, such a blazing shock to her system, that she knows it's tangible and nothing is stopping her. Only fear. Pansy is too drunk, too raw and achingly lonely to ignore what she really wants out of life any longer. She wants something real and honest, faithful and true. She wants...she just wants. And it's overwhelming. It's just never manifested in this particular order of words before, but Pansy has known it for a long time. Thoughts like these don't come all of a sudden.
I deserve something more, something better.
"I'm leaving." The words are like a flood; they come gushing out because there's no other choice. The relief she feels is immediate and absolute—for a moment, Pansy feels dizzy with it. Rejuvenated. Like parts of Pansy Parkinson are waking from a long slumber. "You can have your whores, I'm done with being your trophy and I'm done with you."
The smug smirk vanishes, replaced by something angry and decidedly icier. "You aren't leaving. You don't have anywhere to go."
"I'll find my way." Pansy's thoughts trip over each other in her mind. Maybe a few of her friends will help; they're always telling her she's better than him… She has enough in her trust to rent a decent flat for a few months… It won't be luxurious or anything close to what she's accustomed to, but it would be better than staying here. Better yet, she could leave London altogether… Nothing is really keeping her here. She'll need a job until she figures out what she wants to do, which isn't terrifying… Pansy Flint may have been discouraged from pursuing a career, but Pansy Parkinson is no slouch.
"No one of even moderate birth will ever marry you if you leave me. You'll be ruined and so will your family." With that, Marcus folds his arms, looking smug, like he's won the exchange with his threats and she'll just continue being the good wife that turns a blind eye to her husband's activities. Right.
"You think I care about any of that? Or them? I'd rather be alone for the rest of my life than spend one more day with you." She walks up the stairs and down the hall to the master bedroom.
Pansy hasn't slept in the room in years, but for appearance's sake, all her clothes are in the closet. The bed is made, everything put together and organised just how she likes it, but the air smells faintly like sex and lavender and it kicks her need to leave into high gear. Fighting the urge to gag, she focuses on packing her belongings into a charmed bag. Not everything, just Muggle clothes, some of her robes and shoes. He can do what he wants with the rest. Pansy takes her favourite painting from the hall, some of her books from the library, and the brass cauldron from her private study. After she finishes, Pansy picks it up, and with one final look around her decorated study, she heaves a relieved sigh that feels like it came from somewhere around her knees.
And she walks away.
Pansy remembers painting her first picture and how happy she was back then. She wants it back. Not so much to recapture her youth, gods no, but recapture that love for life she once had. Pansy wants to feel like she's accomplished something, been part of something great and not wasted her time. She'll regret staying, she knows, and that's a feeling she doesn't want to familiarise herself with. She has to grab this epiphany and go with it, to hell with the consequences and the logical knowledge that she's giving up everything without even knowing if it'll be worth it in the end.
Marcus is still in the foyer when she comes down the stairs, ready for her and a possible fight. She plans to ignore him; it's the only solution short of hexing him and that won't do. Her foot is just off the final step when she hears, "You're not leaving."
Acting against her better judgement, but unable to suppress her exasperation, she approaches him. He's standing between her and the front door. "And who's going to stop me? Certainly not you. Remember that I don't even need a wand to take you apart."
He sighs, anger fading into a weary expression as he crosses his arms over his chest. "What do you want? More spending money? A special holiday to Necker Island for the month? Jewellery? Gifts? A spa weekend in Belgium? How about a special dinner party? You can invite anyone you want. Just tell me what you want, what will make you stay, and I'll make it happen."
She sneers, disgusted with him and herself because she's led him to believe that these are the things that make her happy. Pansy is a lot of things, but she isn't materialistic. She has a collector's mentality towards jewellery and loves shoes, but the extravagant vacations and spa weekends ... that just isn't who she is.
"I want to be happy." It's the most honest thing Pansy has said in six years of marriage.
Marcus' forehead scrunches in annoyance. "And how do I do that?" She knows he's heading back to being angry and mentally adjusts. His temper is cyclic, circling from angry to tired to annoyed then back to angry. She wants to be gone before the cycle completes itself.
Pansy shakes her head. "You can't."
"What kind of answer is that?" he demands in a tone that more than matches his expression.
"You know," she points out calmly, "you're putting up quite a fight for someone who's wanted me gone for years."
"Because it's not all about you, Pansy. A divorce now is bad for me. Do you have any idea what they'll say?"
Selfish until the end, which isn't surprising, only predictable. She rolls her eyes. "You probably should have thought about that before shagging every slag from here to Africa." She shrugs with a nonchalance she's perfected over the years.
"Oh, stop playing the victim. And stop acting like you actually care about me."
"Touché." Pansy starts to slide past him to leave because they're at an impasse and she's done talking. It's pointless verbiage that only wastes time and energy. Her dismissal is enough to set him off. Marcus grabs her arm and uses her own momentum to swing her around. Stumbling, she wrenches her arm from his in a none-too-gentle move that hurts her more than it hurts him. Marcus raises his hand to her in a swift motion that's quicker than her hand-to-wand reflex. She doesn't cower, knows better than to show him that his little intimidation tactic has worked. It hasn't, and Pansy just tsks. "Put your hand down, Marcus, and get out of my way."
He's furious now, itching to explode, and barely holding it back. His face is red and a vein stands out in his neck, but his hand goes back to his side, fist balled. "I can contest it. I can make your life a living hell until you're begging to come back."
"Go ahead." Pansy waves her hand lazily. "Do your worst, and I will do mine." She steps back from him and toward the door, but stops abruptly to finger her chin thoughtfully. "However, I do wonder what people will say when they find out that you can't father children." She knows she's hit him right where it hurts when his jaw clenches and his other fist curls at his side. Perfect. "Or if they find out that your magic is so weak you don't even bother carrying a wand any more." His eyes darken and his entire body tenses. "I have the means to make this divorce very public and very ugly for you, but I'm not sure you want any of that getting out."
Ultimately, vanity wins out. Marcus unclenches his fist and storms up the stairs. "You'll be back," he snarls. "You can't make it without me."
Her shoulders shake with humourless laughter. "Watch me."
Autumn in Cardiff starts with an unexpected torrential rainstorm that soaks the already saturated city. The Portkey drops Harry behind the National museum during the worst of it, and the rain serves as a harsh reminder that he's left his umbrella at home. It's a short walk to Magpie Inn, so he zips his thin jacket and starts walking. Unlike Londoners, who retreat into pubs and duck into shops, Cardiffians treat the rain as a minor inconvenience and go about their business, unfazed and armed with umbrellas. The walk is a little longer as Harry weaves around slower pedestrians, the rain hitting him like a handful of dried beans, heavy drops stinging his exposed skin.
He arrives, soaked to the skin and shivering slightly. Magpie Inn is a three-story affair whose exterior is a glaring lime green eyesore with small windows. Unsurprisingly, there are Muggles looking in the window of what appears to them as a bookstore. When one of them suggests that they go to the clothing store across the street and the others agree enthusiastically, he knows the Distraction Charm is working. Harry smiles to himself, still amazed sometimes at the magical world. When he crosses the threshold of the Inn, the Automatic-Drying Charm dries his clothes and hair, but not his glasses. He ends up wiping them with the tail of his t-shirt before venturing to the welcome area.
Despite the exterior, the interior is nice, quaint and inviting, with a common eating area, large bar, welcome area, and kitchen on the first floor, with rooms for rent on the upper floors. It's not as trendy as the Hebridean hotel in the centre of Proxim Alley, but far more authentic and homey.
After sending an elderly couple on their way, the witch behind the front desk greets him with a warm, "Welcome back to Cardiff, Mr Potter. Your luggage arrived half an hour ago and is upstairs in room 430."
"Thank you…." He glances at her nametag. "Petra."
"You're welcome. Are you here for the fair or the opening of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes in Proxim Alley?" She snaps her fingers and a winged key zooms over to them.
"Both, actually." Thunder rumbles so loudly that the panes in the window rattle. "Hopefully."
"It's expected to clear by tonight and will end up being a lovely weekend."
"That's good to hear." Harry opens his hand and the key flies into it. "Have a great day, Petra."
"You too, Mr Potter."
The Inn is busier than he's ever seen it, packed with tourists and locals alike. Harry can easily tell them apart. He spends a significant amount of time in wizarding Cardiff for work, so for the locals, the novelty of his presence has long since worn off. Tourists gape openly and whisper and approach him for autographs.
Harry's twenty-six now and more self-aware. He understands his own hype, recognises it for what it is, but the attention still makes him uncomfortable. The smaller children have innocent questions; the older kids want him to tell stories of fighting Voldemort. Harry has turned down book deals left and right over the years, and sics Hermione on anyone who dares to publish a biography of his life. It's not because he doesn't want to tell the world what happened in his own words, but because he can't talk fully about what happened; some of the losses are too raw and some of the memories are still too fresh.
He rides the elevator with an elderly couple toting a tow-headed tot, probably their grandson. The boy looks too young for Hogwarts, and he stares with open wonderment. Harry isn't surprised when the boy asks, "Can I ask you a question, Mister Harry?"
The grandparents scold him and apologise profusely, but Harry is feeling generous. He squats so he's eye-level with the boy. "Sure, but can I ask one first?"
The boy nods.
"What's your name?"
He's speechless for several moments, but stammers out a word. "C-Charlie."
"That's the name of a very good friend of mine."
Blue eyes widen almost comically. "That's so cool!" He rubs his hands on his trousers as if dusting off dirt. "Is it okay if I ask my question now?"
Harry smiles. "Yes."
The elevator dings, doors creak open, but no one moves until Charlie asks his question. "Did Voldemort…" he whispers, looking around because there's still a stigma and paranoia attached to the name that only time can cure. "Did he really not have a nose?"
Harry tries to hide his snorting laugh behind a cough. He's successful, he realises, when curiosity explodes across Charlie's features. Leaning conspiratorially close, he answers, "He didn't have lips, either."
Gasping, Charlie is soon clutching his grandfather's leg, eyes still wide.
Harry bids them all a good day and exits the elevator, guffawing and shaking his head. His room at the inn is large and recently remodelled with a pleasing country décor. Harry spots his bags against the far wall and settles on the plush bed, kicks off his shoes with the intention of resting for a moment, but his eyes close and that's that.
When he wakes, his stomach is growling and his mouth tastes vile. Harry has no idea what time it is, other than clearly being time to shower and find something to eat before he starves. He wanders down to the common area to order something. It's dinner time, just after six o'clock, and there are even more people at the Inn. A passing barmaid tells him that it's going to be an hour wait, which is too long. It drives him out the back door, to the entrance of Proxim Alley. He taps his wand against the correct bricks and the wall unfolds in front of him.
The rain has stopped and the clouds have cleared. It's nice out, crisp enough for him to need a jacket, but not cold. It's crowded like Diagon Alley the final week of August. Harry has to carefully manoeuvre his way between the mass of scurrying witches and wizards. He knows where he's going and passes a broom shop, an apothecary, two wizarding clothing stores, a wand shop, quill shop, and about a dozen vendors before he's standing in front of it. The Glen is a small restaurant on the corner of Quarter Street. It's not a slum nor is it posh, but their patrons are loyal and they have the best breakfast food in wizarding Cardiff. The chef is some sort of culinary genius, or so Ron was convinced when he tasted their French toast. Harry has never eaten dinner here, but he's willing and hungry enough to try.
It's busy, but not terribly so; only two groups waiting to be seated before him. Luckily, there's a large party leaving, chattering happily and looking sated, so it's not long before Harry's being seated by a gawky hostess who hands him a menu and tells him, "Senna will be your waitress; she'll be here shortly to take your order. Remember that each table has a Muffliato Charm to ensure your privacy. Enjoy your meal, Mr Potter."
Harry scours the menu. Everything sounds appealing: Crab Pâté Pasta and Grilled Salmon Trout; Ham and Haddie Pie and Scallops Wrapped in Parma Ham with Stuffing. And it goes on. He's narrowed it down to the Boneless roast quail and the Parma ham and spinach crepes when someone starts speaking to him with an accent so posh, so familiar and yet, not, that it makes him blank on everything after: "I'm Senna–"
"Ah…." Harry jerks his head up so he can put a face to that voice and ends up more confused. His first instinct is that he recognises her, but he doesn't. Senna is like every other pretty face he's seen in Cardiff, but there's something boring about her attractiveness, something so common about it that seems to be forged.
It's such a bizarre thought that he wonders if it's at all plausible. Harry has good instincts, especially about people. It's what made him a good Auror. He latches to ideas and can't let go until he finds the truth. The sensible side of him, which sounds an awful lot like Hermione, whispers that he's not on a case and he isn't even an Auror any more. Not to mention, stalking is still illegal. Harry snorts. It's not stalking, it's observing. He realises that he just might have snorted aloud when Senna's lips purse and her brow threatens to conquer her hairline.
"I was just—"
"Thinking?" The corner of her lip twitches, like she wants to smirk but doesn't. Senna rests against the opposite booth at his table, arms folded casually. She isn't tall, but her uniform—dark blue knee-length robes and a white apron—makes her legs look endless.
"Yes," Harry answers a bit gruffly, then clears his throat. "I think I'll have a water."
She nods. "Anything else?"
"No." Another large party walks by, and Senna's eyes follow them briefly. "Busy night, I see."
"It's looking that way." She excuses herself, promising to return with his water soon, and approaches another table, all smiles and charm. Harry watches her for a reason he can't justify for too long and ends up studying the menu a little longer, settling on the Boneless roast quail.
Senna serves his drink last, which he doesn't mind because it's an excuse to draw her into conversation about the menu, feigning interest in her opinion on the various dishes. She talks about food much like Hermione talks about her pregnancy. She's excited, but doesn't want to seem too exuberant. Senna's body language is open, warm and charming. Harry doesn't realise he's not scrutinising her every word until he's ordering something completely different and pairing it with a glass of wine he didn't intend to have. He thinks he can continue the conversation after he orders, just one more question, something personal, but as soon as her quill finishes scribbling, the lights go out, the door locks, and she's off to the next table.
He's puzzled yet determined. The urge to pry in this random witch's life is blindingly absurd, but he's a dog after a bone. And a raging hypocrite. Harry is intensely private, abhors nosy people and the media, shunning them as if they are diseased. And yet, he finishes his water like he's just run three kilometres at top speed and waits for Senna to notice.
It doesn't take long.
She refills his glass with a wave of her wand and asks if he needs anything.
"No, thank you." She starts to leave and his mouth gets away from him. "Your accent. It's not local."
Something akin to panic skitters across her face. "No, it isn't." Her voice is so calm it makes Harry think he's imagined it all.
"What brought you to Cardiff?"
Senna gives a noncommittal shrug, lips pressing into a thin line. She isn't going to answer, he knows this. What little Harry knows about her tells him she's not one for sharing information, especially about herself. A co-worker saves her by asking for her help with a large party in a different section. "Duty calls."
And she's gone again.
The head chef personally delivers his meal in a dramatic fashion that draws more attention than Harry likes. He ignores the stares of his fellow diners, focusing instead on the chef who is telling him how much of an honour it is to have him dine at The Glen.
When the unexpected pomp and circumstance concludes, Harry is looking forward to regaining his privacy, but the chef appears to be waiting for him to try the food. It's awkward more than creepy, but he tastes everything under the watchful gaze of the wizard who prepared it. He listens to the tale of how each dish was made, including the list of various seasonings and how they bring out the little nuances of the dish, and somehow manages to keep a straight face. The pride on the chef's face when Harry compliments everything reminds him of Teddy whenever he hands Harry a picture that he's drawn.
After declaring his meal to be 'on the house,' the chef shakes Harry's hand once more before returning to the kitchen.
It takes a few more minutes before Harry stops feeling like he's being watched and really starts to enjoy his food. He's no wine connoisseur, is unsure if the wine is bringing out the flavours of the meat or if the meat is just that good, but Harry can say that he's eating one of the best meals he's ever had.
He's halfway finished when Senna returns. "How is your meal?"
"Excellent," he replies, then he chuckles. "Except for the part where the chef watched me eat and gave me the history of each spice he used."
She laughs, a real one; head back and mouth open. Harry just stares, unblinking and jaw slackened as everything slots into place.
The rapt movement of her hands tell him that she's talking, probably recalling another time when the chef lost his wits, but all he hears is white noise. His brain is gone, shut down as a form of self-preservation. It doesn't matter. It's too late. He knows that laugh. Remembers it. Recognises it. The sound isn't as scorched across his memories like some things from Hogwarts, but he's heard it in enough situations and scenarios over the years that he recognizes it without too much trouble. Questions buzz around in his head like angry bees, but only one forms completely.
Which isn't a question at all.
His brain restarts with a swift kick. "What the actual–"
A well-timed Silencing Charm renders him mute. Probably for the best.
"We are not about to have this conversation here," Senna—or rather, Pansy bleeding Parkinson—says, her voice low and far too controlled for what the situation calls. "Finish your food and meet me behind the restaurant in fifteen." She refills his goblet and leaves the Charm intact.
Harry barely tastes the rest of his meal, but dutifully leaves two Galleons on the table. Eyes follow him out, but he doesn't care. He wanders around Proxim Alley for twelve minutes in a complete daze. The cool air helps unfog his senses, but the overpriced cauldron cake he silently buys from a vendor help more. He doesn't know much about Pansy, only that she's the wife of the most popular player of the Falmouth Falcons and their generation's potential Narcissa Malfoy: queen of pureblood high society. So the fact that she's waitressing in Cardiff boggles his mind.
By the time he arrives at their meeting spot and rests his back against the brick wall of the restaurant, his brain is fully-functioning and the Silencing Charm has worn off. When the back door creaks open and Pansy-as-Senna emerges, he stands straight. She folds her arms.
The silence ends just as it becomes strained and unbearable.
"Drop the glamour," he requests.
Pansy complies with a nod and reverts to her true visage, everything shifting and changing except her eyes. She looks almost exactly how he remembers, only older and slightly less pug-like. She tucks her wand into her apron, and digs around further, retrieving a cig and lighter. Pansy doesn't ask before she lights it; the façade of politeness and social niceties vanish with her glamour. The chill mingles with her first exhale, thick and white, so pure in a disgusting way. "So." She wraps her free arm around her own waist and props her arm on it. "How did you figure it out?"
"I know glamours, even the high-quality ones." And the laugh, but he keeps that to himself like a dirty secret.
It's not the answer she expects, judging from the flash of surprise that hardens into a glare. "What do I have to do to keep you quiet?"
His brain works double-time to process all this. She doesn't want to be found? Well, that make no sense, clashing hard against everything he knows about her. Pansy is a narcissist to the highest degree and doesn't have a kind word to say about anything or anyone. She lives for the attention, wants the drama, wants people to react to her, no matter positive or negative. The fact that Harry hasn't heard about her absconding doesn't mean anything except that he hasn't been paying attention. She's playing at something and he wants to know what. So he fixes his eyes on her and treats her as he would a suspect. "Why don't you explain why you're here and working under a glamour, and we'll go from there."
Pansy tenses, eyes narrowing like a snake, but she doesn't lash out with the venom he expects. Her voice shows a control that's impressive. "I fail to see why you care, Potter, or why you think I'll confide in you simply because you ask. Why I'm here…." She gestures around them, ash threatening to fall from her fag. "It doesn't concern you."
It's unlike Harry to back down so easily, especially when every last shred of sense is telling him to stage a tactical retreat. He's never been smart about walking away, so he deliberately steps into the outer edges of her personal space. Pansy brings the cig to her lips once more, but instead of turning her head, she casually blows smoke into his face with a smirk. It's close, but miraculously, he doesn't choke and gag and stumble back. Hiding his irritation, Harry steps even closer. He can't help but feel like he's won a silent battle when her smug look vanishes completely, and he blows the ash off her cigarette in a warped sense of celebration.
She turns so he can only see her profile in the low light of the alley, her voice oddly soft when she says, "Go home, Potter." There's tension in it, clearly audible despite the volume, and he's almost sorry.
Almost, but not enough to walk away.
"No." Harry steps back, feeling strange about being so close to her. "The unregistered use of a glamour is a Class Four magical felony and I can easily take you in."
"Exactly how do you know it's not registered?"
He just looks at her, eyebrow slightly raised in classic sceptic fashion.
Pansy smiles like she knows exactly what he's thinking, a twist of her mouth and a silent chuckle that shakes her from the chest outward. "Fair enough, but unfortunately, I don't see any Aurors from the Cardiff division around here."
"I can easily arrange that."
"Oh, I'm sure you can." Pansy carefully crushes her unfinished cig on the brick wall, making sure it's completely out before depositing it back into her apron. "So." She looks at him like she's trying to figure him out, a finger pressed against her chin. "What do you want in exchange for your silence?"
"Bribery?" Harry folds his arms. "Not entirely surprising."
"No." She shrugs. "But it's usually successful."
"How many people have figured you out?"
"You're the first. Glamours are ... something of a speciality of mine."
"How about Memory Charms?" Because he knows how this goes. Two people alone in an alley spell trouble for one of them. Person A often drags Person B into a useless conversation and A makes sure that B doesn't remember it in the morning. Harry's wand is just inside his jacket, hers is in her apron, and he wonders who has the quicker draw.
"Don't worry, Potter, your memories are safe." She checks her watch, a plain thing that's perfectly adequate if you're content with just seeing the time. It serves to further contradict everything he thinks he knows about Pansy. "As much as I'd just love to continue this riveting conversation, my break is over." She starts toward the door, retrieving her wand with one hand and tossing a haphazard wave over her shoulder with the other.
Harry's hand is on her shoulder before she can pull open the door, words tumbling out. "We aren't done here. I still have questions and you―"
Pansy shrugs his hand off a little rougher than called for and faces him, irritation radiating from her body in waves. "You may be the saviour of wizarding kind, but this is Cardiff and I don't answer to you. Do whatever you want, Potter, call in the Aurors to arrest me, I don't care any more. Just leave me alone." She resets the glamour with a terse flick of her wand and leaves him alone and completely bewildered.
Pansy spends the rest of autumn and half the winter in a state of suspended animation, waiting for Aurors to show up and destroy her new life in Cardiff. But Halloween and Christmas pass without incident, and she allows herself to relax. Just a bit. When the first month of the new year passes in a similar fashion, Pansy considers the threat of being outed and arrested over.
She gets on with her life, spending her days studying magical art conservation at the University, her evenings waitressing, and her weekends working as a guide at the wizarding museum. It isn't the ideal life; it's not what she'd dreamed and hoped for when she left Marcus. It's stressful and almost chaotic and, at times, she has weak moments when she thinks about cutting her losses and going back.
But those moments don't last.
This life, no matter how hard, is hers. It's real. And she'll take this freedom over a life of miserable ease as Mrs. Flint any day. This thought carries her into The Glen fifteen minutes early after an atrocious day, which only gets worse when she spies Harry Potter talking to the blushing hostess.
"Absolutely fantastic," she mutters.
It's been one of those days where nothing has gone as planned, and the culmination of events make Pansy think she shouldn't have bothered getting out of bed.
She barely survived a two-hour lecture on the differences between Muggle and magical preventative conservation and another hour-long one on magical ivory conversation. Pansy thought her day was looking up when she was the only first year student selected to sit in on a team working on a two thousand year-old portrait, but the session was cancelled abruptly and seemingly for no reason. It started raining the moment she stepped out of the building, she didn't have time for lunch, the bill from her divorce solicitor arrived along with a letter from Marcus that included several newspaper clippings speculating about the details of her impending divorce and everyone's negative opinions about it, and now she has to deal with Potter.
It's a little too much, even for Pansy, and she feels herself cracking like quartz in the heat.
So she smokes.
Pansy is a crisis smoker, only giving in when she's so far over the edge that she can't come back on her own. Smoking is the line that reels her back in. She has maybe two fags a year and swears each will be her last...until the next time. The fact that this is her second smoke in four months isn't something Pansy wants to focus on. Instead, she focuses on the nicotine and the drags calm her down, clearing her head long enough for her to figure out just what she's going to do about this Potter situation.
Unfortunately, killing him isn't an option. Many have tried with limited success.
There's a possibility, she thinks as she relieves the nameless waitress from morning shift, that he isn't there for her. Perhaps he's there for the food. Or he's been invited by the chef, who was on a Potter-high for weeks after his last appearance. She repeats these excuses until she spies him sitting in her section, looking extremely pleased with himself. Pansy groans under her breath, leaves a family of five with a smile and a promise to return quickly with their drinks, and approaches Potter's table.
"Can I start you off with a drink?"
Potter peers up from his menu. "What happened to the pleasant attitude from last time ... Senna, is it?"
Okay. So he's playing that game. Pansy keeps her face perfectly amiable, but her words are anything but. "It is, and you know what." She sits across from him, as she does for any patron sitting alone before the dinner rush. A smile forces its way across her face, but her words are like ice. "I thought I made myself perfectly clear last time, Potter."
"You did." He returns to his menu. "I'd like pumpkin juice."
"Anything else?" she practically growls.
Potter lays his menu on the table and folds his hands together, leaning slightly forward. "An actual conversation with you. Perhaps over tea."
She wonders why, but doesn't ask. "I'll pass."
"If this is about me threatening to arrest you, it's almost the end of February now, I'm not―"
"It isn't," Pansy clarifies bluntly. "I knew the threat was empty that night." It's a half-truth, but he doesn't need to know that.
"So the refusal to for tea is..."
"Just that. A refusal. I know you aren't used to them, but I want to be left alone. Would you like me to say it in Welsh?"
A look of irritation passes over his face. "I'm trying to apologise. I don't know the full story and―"
"You're right, you don't, so leave it at that." She slips out of the chair and leaves, feeling his eyes follow her. Pansy deliberately ignores him, getting wrapped up in working table after table and delivering orders to the kitchen. She asks Gabrielle to deliver his pumpkin juice, and receives a puzzled look because she has to be nutters if she doesn't want to spend every possible second at the table of The Great Harry Potter, right?
What a joke.
Pansy tends to another table before the witch can question her and spies her eagerly flirting with Potter a few minutes later. A little too eagerly, judging from the girl's crazed smile. It's so pathetic Pansy feels compelled to interrupt before Gabrielle strains something in her neck from flipping her hair so hard.
The last thing they need is to be short a waitress.
"Hey." Pansy taps her on the shoulder and she jumps a bit. "One of your tables needs you."
"Oh! I just got caught up–"
"Delivering pumpkin juice?" Pansy drawls.
She blushes a shade of crimson Pansy hasn't seen on anyone without the last name of Weasley before tittering off to her tables.
"Well," Potter starts, "she was ... excited."
"To say the least. They all fancy the idea that you're their hero. You'll fall in love with them and carry them off into the sunset where they'll never have to waitress again. Or some rubbish, I'm not sure. I'm positive I'm the only person in this restaurant that isn't delusional … or blinded by your…" She waves her hand haphazardly. "…supposed charm. I suppose you're used to that."
"I am, but that doesn't mean I'm comfortable with the attention."
Pansy pulls out her quill and pad. "Do you know what you want?"
"You know," he says with a frown, "you aren't making this easy for me."
"I'm trying to be nice."
She cocks a brow, utterly confused. "What ever for?"
"Because I've been convinced by Hermione that it's the right thing to do."
"Draco's little act of rebellion–"
"Told me that you walked out on your marriage and explained that no one leaves a wizarding marriage because they want attention."
His confidence builds on her silence. "She also told me that if someone leaves a wizarding marriage, they don't leave with much. Maybe some money―if they have a trust no one can freeze. They don't get the support of their family, friends tend to vanish, and they're burned off the family tree. It just made me realise that I wasn't being fair to you. I don't know the specifics, but I'm sure none of this has been easy. Perhaps you live under a glamour to―"
"I don't live under a glamour," she clarifies coolly. "I just waitress under one to keep a much-desired low profile." Which isn't the entire truth, but close enough. Pansy doesn't think about the rest of what he says because she doesn't want her face to betray anything to him. Hearing it come from someone else feels like he's opened her mind's diary and read her latest entry. It doesn't feel good. It makes her feel raw and exposed.
"Draco knows a little something about being burned, doesn't he?" Pansy sneers because it's easy to lash out; almost natural.
"He left his life for love, you left for..."
She isn't in the mood for this. Pansy tips her head to the side, cold smile slashing across her mouth as she pockets her order pad. "Gabrielle will be your waitress from now on."
And she leaves.
The rest of Pansy's shift passes in an exhausting blur that doesn't end until lock-up. The dinner rush today is particularly bad, probably due to the visit from the famous Harry Potter, but she leaves with twenty-four Galleons in tips. Her bad day ends up being a decent night, but she's too restless to go home so she drops the glamour and ventures around Proxim Alley. All the shops are closed and the vendors gone, except a small pub that's lit pleasantly against the dim streetlamps.
The pub itself isn't bad. It's kind of crowded with a few drunks and teenagers fresh out of school, so no one pays much attention to her. She's able to order food, steal two Ogden's from a rambunctious group of lads too drunk to notice, and find a spot at the end of the bar that's practically deserted. She considers this a success.
She can't help but frown when the person who sits on the stool next to her is none other than Harry Potter. Pansy's a little too tired for this, to be honest, and picks up a shot. It burns on the way down, but she doesn't mind. It's good enough to make her consider ordering her own. "We've digressed into stalking, hmm?"
"I like to call it persistence."
"You're like a fly that won't die no matter how many times you swat it."
"Survival instincts are my speciality."
"As well as being a pain in my arse."
"Multi-talented," he smiles, eyes crinkling at the corners.
Pansy glares, but there's not much heat in it. She slides the other firewhisky over, thinking he'll lecture her about the dangers of drinking, like the saint he is, but when he takes the shot like a professional, Pansy is unable to hide her look of surprise. He orders doubles on the rocks for the both of them, and stew for himself because it's been hours since he's eaten. Pansy doesn't thank him, but she does indulge Potter when he wants to clink their glasses together. They drink in silence until curiosity gets the best of her.
"What exactly do you want?"
"A few more drinks and company, that's all."
"I'm sure you can find that anywhere else."
Harry shrugs. "I'm sure I can, too, but I'm comfortable right here and you're comfortable, too. Let's just...co-exist for a while. Think we can manage that?"
Pansy sips her drink. "Perhaps. As long as you don't―"
"No questions about why you're in Cardiff, I got it."
Her food arrives after he excuses himself to find the loo and she tucks in a little eagerly because she can feel the effects of those Ogden's. The Proxim bells tolls eleven times, noting the start of a new hour. More patrons are pouring in now, taking over the tables and the rest of the bar, and she has to fend off a few advances and drink offers from a few wizards in Potter's absence.
They're harmless but a little annoying, and she's almost relieved when she spies him coming out of the loo, wiping his hands on his trousers. As he makes his way back to the bar, a table of four witches their age stop him with inviting smiles and conversation. The blonde goes as far as to snake her arm around his waist in a move that clearly makes him uncomfortable, but Potter subtly slips out of her grip and makes gestures in her direction. They peer over at Pansy, the handsy one glares, and they all stare after him when he leaves.
"They wanted me to join them," Potter says when he sits down.
"You could've." She shrugs nonchalantly. "The blonde one would've taken you home."
He makes a face that's a mixture of distaste and unease. "Not my thing."
"A random shag?" Pansy looks at him with pure disbelief. "Everyone fancies a random shag."
"Not me." Potter calmly sips his firewhisky. "I don't do casual. I've done it before and discovered it's not me. I'm the loyal, faithful type."
She doesn't believe him, doesn't believe there is a wizard alive who is. Marcus loved having flings so much he didn't bother stopping them after they were married. "So you never cheated on the Weasley witch? Not even once while you were together?"
"No. Also, her name is Ginny." He swivels his stool so he's facing her directly, one elbow propped on the bar. "I had plenty of opportunities, was tempted to a few times, but I just couldn't in the end."
"Because you loved her," Pansy concludes dryly.
"It wasn't just that. Yes, I did love her, but that came later. When I'm in a relationship with someone, I make a commitment to be with that person and only her. I trust her, and I make sure I earn her trust as well. I don't cheat. What's the point of being in a relationship if you aren't going to be honest and faithful? I'm not saying I'm perfect, I've messed up more times than I can count in other areas, but I do my best."
Pansy drains the rest of her drink, food forgotten because she's feeling a little sore from his words. She can't help but feel a little jealous of Ginny Weasley, not because she dated Potter, but because she got to have the one thing Pansy always wanted. She got to just be with someone without pretence or fear, without being self-conscious or worrying where he was or who he was with, without having her fears confirmed over and over again. Must have been nice. She wondered if she could ever have that, if she could have had it with Marcus. Perhaps she was just as much to blame as him. She never said anything about his straying, and her silence let him believe that he could do and be with anyone he wanted and that she would just turn a blind eye and sweep it all under the rug. That was the pureblood way, after all.
That mentality doesn't work for her any more. She'll never accept anything less than she deserves in a relationship. And she deserves the best.
"Do you want another after this?" Potter asks, ready to gesture to a barmaid. Pansy knows he's trying to maintain the conversation because she's been quiet for far too long.
She shakes her head. "I do have to get home in one piece, you know."
"Roath. Not too far." Pansy shrugs. "I'll probably take the Knight bus."
Potter doesn't snort, but it's a near thing. She cocks a brow at him, still trying to shake off the wistful feelings his words stirred up.
He clears his throat. "Sorry, I just never thought I'd hear you–"
It's easy to be irritated with him, but the buzz she has going stops her. "One does what one must."
The barmaid delivers Potter's stew. He takes a few bites, and when he reaches for the salt shaker, he asks, "So do you just waitress?"
"No. I'm a magical art conservation student at the wizarding college at Cardiff. First year. I waitress to save for next year's tuition, and I work weekends at the wizarding museum near Cardiff. Hopefully I'll get promoted to full-time." And she swears because the firewhisky and her own thoughts have loosened her tongue. That will be the most she reveals. Potter's face blanks out like a messy table being wiped down, and a new expression settles. It's one she can't quite read, and it unsettles her, just for a moment.
"That's ... surprisingly normal," he finally says, pushing his stew away. "Not what I expected."
"I'm a lot of things, Potter, but I'm no pureblood princess."
"So I see."
Pansy scans the room before her eyes land back on him. "Still saving the world one dark wizard and witch at a time?"
"Actually, no. Not an Auror. I quit last year. I train new Auror and Law Enforcement Squad recruits."
"Basically wherever the Ministry sends me. I generally try to stay no more than a few hours from home."
"How terribly boring of you. What happened to your sense of adventure, Potter?"
He chuckles. It's low, almost husky, and warm in a way that makes her tense. "I think I've had enough adventure for one lifetime, don't you think?"
Eat. That's what she needs to do. Finish eating and ignore the funny, fluttering thing his chuckle does to her stomach. She's tipsy, after all, but in control of herself enough to know that anything she feels right now isn't real. Potter's a bit of a lightweight or he doesn't drink often, she can tell from his glazed eyes and the lack of calculation in them. He's almost ... attractive. Pansy balks at the thought, but then he rubs the back of his neck and she can admit that, yes, he really is attractive. In a boyish, nerdy, fresh-out-of-the-jungle sort of way. His fashion sense is woeful, his glasses are ridiculous, and his hair looks like something that grows behind her flat, wild and only tameable with herbicide.
On that note, it's time to leave. Potter sits up straighter when she fishes two Galleons from her purse.
"Obviously," she drawls. "I'm sure you can join those witches for a few more if you're inclined."
"I'm not." Potter makes a face and checks his watch, a simple gold thing that he seems to treasure based on the fond sweep of his thumb over the scratched face. "Besides, it's getting late."
They leave together after he adds four more Galleons on top of hers. Far too much, but he doesn't seem to care. Potter's almost legendary for being too generous with his money. She isn't sure if that makes him a good person or a damn fool.
It's colder outside, the air is crisp and the night is calm. The stars are out tonight over Cardiff after a few days of cloudy gloom. It's nice, but a sporadic wind could make it better. Perfect. But Pansy takes what she can get and slips into her grey pea coat, buttoning it all the way.
"I'm leaving for London in the morning," Potter says once he zips his brown coat up to his throat.
"But I'll be back." He puts on a tan winter hat that's seen better days. It's crooked, making him look more ridiculous than usual. Pansy notices immediately, but doesn't point it out because she's in dire need of entertainment at the moment. Unfortunately, it doesn't last. Potter partially fixes his hat with a tug on the flap covering his ear. The tug is so hard it knocks his glasses out of alignment in such a way that she can't ignore it, even if she tries. "Maybe―" The rest of his words die in his throat when Pansy moves closer to him, thoughtlessly straightening his glasses with both hands, the palms of her hands touching his surprisingly warm cheeks. His expression is nearly blank. "Thanks."
"Don't thank me yet." She frowns and adjusts the flaps over his ears, not thinking as she rests her hands over them. "There. You're still hopeless, Potter, but at least you'll be able to see your way back to the Inn."
The way they're standing now is oddly intimate, Pansy realises distractedly. The firewhisky makes her mind take it one step further: it doesn't feel wrong touching him like that. "Sorry," she mumbles, bringing her hands back to her sides. "What were you saying?"
"Maybe we could…" He brings one hand to his shoulder and squeezes it through his coat. "I don't know, do something?"
Pansy's brow rises suspiciously, embarrassment forgotten. "What do you really want, Potter?" Because it's almost been pleasant tonight and he hasn't brought up anything about why she's in Cardiff. "This is starting to feel like a game, and I'm tired of them. Don't–"
"I don't understand you, and that's the truth. Maybe that makes me want to stick around and figure you out, but I'm only human. Regardless, we've proven we can have a conversation without arguing, and I'd like to do it again. Perhaps in a different setting and a different time of day." He shoves his hands into his pockets, shrugging. "You don't look very convinced."
"Because I'm not."
"Hermione seems to think you're worth knowing better, and she's the best judge of character I know. It wouldn't hurt if we became friends. Or something close to it, perhaps."
She doesn't have friends and doesn't want them, but she doesn't explain this to him. It's too personal.
For Pansy, her refusal to let anyone new in isn't about keeping her distance. It's a factor, but not the reason. The truth is that friendships are overrated and seasonal. Pansy has always had plenty of friends, but none that live in reality. When she went to them for advice and confidence after leaving Marcus, they all told her to go back, that it wasn't too late and he'd take her back if she begged, that she'd never be anything without him and she'd spend the rest of her life alone.
It makes her sick.
In the end, she found herself staying in Draco and Granger's spare room, wearing Granger's pyjamas because she forgot her own in her rush to pack and redefining everything she knew about the meaning of friendship. She left the next week with a burgeoning respect for Granger and an understanding that what she had in Draco was all the friendship she needed.
But Potter isn't a friend. He isn't anything to her. He's come around twice, once a complete coincidence, and annoys her and makes her think and smoke. He's the last person Pansy wants around, and it's starting to look impossible to make him bugger off. But he's human, after all, and his soliloquy about fidelity aside, he's just a man. One day, he'll get bored and vanish. She just has to wait until then.
It sounds like a solid enough plan so Pansy pulls on her gloves and shrugs, "Fair enough." She walks away before he can say anything else, but hears his whispered goodnight before she turns down Quarter Street.
Pansy blames her blush on the firewhisky and the chill of the night.
The only thing more perplexing than a chuckling Malfoy is a smiling one. Actually, Harry thinks as he shifts uncomfortably under Malfoy's gaze, it's downright disconcerting. Hermione prattles on about Harry's impending trip while making tea—and likely snacking on something—and Harry is literally trying to make her reappear with the power of his mind. It isn't working fast enough. "Two minutes," she calls from the kitchen and continues talking.
Malfoy's grin widens.
Harry gets uncomfortable, visibly self-conscious. He twiddles his thumbs, gnaws at a fingernail, and wipes clammy sweat onto his jeans. Harry fishes a peppermint from his pocket, then puts it back, disinterested. All the while, Malfoy sits comfortably in the Chesterfield, looking like he should be in an underground lair stroking a cat and twiddling his moustache. If he had one.
"What?" Harry finally huffs.
"Oh, nothing." The problem is that Malfoy smiles like he knows something important, like he has foresight into the future.
"Then stop with the grinning, it's bloody weird."
Malfoy's face returns to his default look of perfect calculating ease. "Granger tells me you're returning to Cardiff at the end of the week. She's miffed that you're leaving two weeks after returning, but blames her irritation on hormones, but you didn't hear that from me." He opens the book on his lap—a parenting book. Harry's still getting used to the idea of them having a child even though it's been months since they announced her pregnancy.
"It's just a training seminar. I'll be back in a week."
Closing the book again, Malfoy sets it down on the coffee table. "It's just that this particular seminar only lasts for two days so, and if one cared—which I don't—they would wonder just why you were staying an extra five days."
"How do you know that?"
"A little birdie told me, but that's beside the point. I already know why you're staying, I'm just waiting for you to tell me."
Normally, he would play up the fact that Malfoy still thinks he's a special brand of idiot and feign ignorance, but Harry's body language gives him away and he knows it. Harry isn't even sure why he's going back, only that he is. When he volunteered to head the seminar, it was like an out-of-body experience. One minute he's listening to the head of Magical Law Enforcement drone on in their weekly meetings, the next there's a mention of this Cardiff seminar, and he hears himself saying, "I'll head it." He'd felt weird for the rest of the meeting and drank enough water to float a small ship in an effort to quell the rising nausea. It's just a training seminar, Harry said aloud in his office later, repeating it over and over like a mantra. It made him feel better about leaving. Until now.
"I should go check on Her―"
"You like her."
"Don't play stupid, Potter. I know when you're faking, but if you insist on bringing names into this, fine. Pansy. I know you are, at the very least, interested in her."
"I can barely stand her, actually."
Okay, so maybe the bouncing ferret is right. He canstand Pansy. There's something interesting about her, different even, that he can't ignore. It's almost bizarre watching her waitress, even if it is as Senna-the-glamour. There is such a raging contrast between the two personas that it's almost distracting. Senna is charming, freer with her emotions, relaxed and calm, and it's all natural. Pansy is constantly on the defensive, standoffish and aggravating. Nothing unexpected, except for the fact that everything about her is now separated, protected, and walled off. Harry isn't used to a Pansy that doesn't flaunt everything and her power over everyone; a Pansy who constantly contradicts everything he's ever known about her, which isn't too much.
Growing up with Vernon Dursley made him judgemental, taught him that people didn't change; they just took momentary steps outside their true characters. Experience and war taught him otherwise, but he's forgotten that lately. Without realising it, he'd become guilty of putting Pansy into a box and stacking her in the 'will never change' section of his mind next to his uncle.
But he sees her changes.
Not the obvious ones that initially piqued his curiosity, but the subtle ones. Pansy talked more, even if it was accidental. The coldness he remembered from school was still there, but it felt more like a defence mechanism than anything. And the look on her face after she straightened his glasses was ... unrecognisable and confusing.
The entire night had been just that.
He was already in the pub when Pansy arrived, and it hadn't been his intention to join her, but he'd done just that. Perhaps he'd felt a bit guilty for pushing her the last time, Harry wasn't sure, but he'd figured he owed her a drink regardless. One turned into doubles. They'd been talking and eating, and it was decent enough that when she'd started to leave, all he could think was how he'd wanted to do that again and soon.
It didn't help that the thought hasn't diminished over the weeks, but rather intensified.
When Harry looks over, Malfoy hasn't moved an inch, but he looks far more interested than he had a minute ago. He groans. "What now, Malfoy?"
"Nothing." He shrugs his narrow shoulders. "How does Pansy seem, by the way?"
"You can always see for yourself."
"Now why would I do a thing like that when I can just ask you?" Malfoy doesn't let him answer. "Besides, that's not how we work."
Harry makes a face. "What does that even mean?"
"If I were to, say, show up in Cardiff, she would Hex me on sight because my presence would mean—in her mind, anyway—that I don't trust that she's fine on her own, that I think she needs help from me. And we both know she doesn't. Owling works just fine, thank you." He crosses his legs at the knee. "So, again, how does she seem? It's very hard to tell these things from owls, you know."
"Fine," Harry blurts. "She seems ... comfortable there."
"Good," Malfoy says. "Originally, when you told Granger that you found Pansy in Cardiff, I was going to deter you from bothering her because she doesn't need that. However, in light of recent events―"
"Recent events..." Harry repeats slowly.
"The fact that you fancy her." Malfoy pauses at the constipated look on Harry's face and rolls his eyes. "Like her, fancy her, are intrigued by her, however you need me to phrase it to appease your obvious denial, Potter."
What? Denial? "Wait." Harry waves his hand once, trying to figure out just where the pointy ponce is coming from with all this. "I―"
"Yes, you do, and you won't realise it until it's too late." At the look on Harry's face, Malfoy rolls his eyes. "I'm only telling you this to minimise the meltdown you'll have when the time comes, so you don't show up here at three in the morning threatening to martyr yourself for wizarding kind or something heroically idiotic and completely unnecessary that will stress out my pregnant wife and make me lose more sleep than I already have―"
He blinks once. Then again. Lose sleep? "Martyr myself..."
"Look." Malfoy snaps his fingers repeatedly to get his attention, but Harry has only heard about half of this information dump. "Pansy is next to impossible, to say the least, but one day you think you know exactly how you feel about her and the next you don't. When this happens—and judging from the way you're looking right now, it will—just go with it. There's a high chance you two will kill each other, but at least you'll never get bored. Also, if you hurt her, they'll never find your body."
At the same time, they both realise that it's awfully quiet in the kitchen. Malfoy gets up quickly. "I'll go check on her. She probably saw something delectable and is mentally listing all the pros and cons for eating it." There's a fondness in his voice that is impossible to miss, but he's gone before Harry can call him on it.
Malfoy isn't gone long, but by the time he and Hermione come out of the kitchen hand-in-hand, Harry's decided to file this conversation into the 'strange advice that makes me uncomfortable and I refuse to dwell on' part of his brain. Impending fatherhood has turned Malfoy into a nutter, Harry concludes when Hermione sits next to him and Malfoy returns to the kitchen. She blames her wet eyes on hormones, but she grins when her husband returns with the tea platter and fresh fruit for her. When Harry asks for a strawberry, the glare he receives effectively makes him mumble a 'never mind'. Malfoy snorts loudly.
The rest of tea time goes by in a haze of conversation and laughs, and soon he's begging off to go pack for his trip. Malfoy gives him a parting look before kissing Hermione and leaving to change for his pick-up Quidditch game with his work friends. He thinks he's finally done talking about everything that makes him uncomfortable, but as soon as her husband is gone, Hermione turns on him. "I wouldn't entirely be opposed."
"To you and Pansy." She absently rubs the bulge of her stomach. "It's not completely mad, but it won't be easy."
At one point in his life, Harry liked his relationships like he liked his tea—strong and uncomplicated with just a bit of honey. Ginny was that for him at a time when he really needed it and he clung to the routine they fell into. For years, they grew up and together and it was fine—until it wasn't anymore.
It was typical the way it happened. One day, they arrived early at Hermione's flat and overheard her and Malfoy arguing heatedly about his family's blatant disapproval of their relationship. Ginny shook her head and said, "Glad that isn't us." And it was like waking from a dream and not knowing where you were. The truth left him disoriented.
Even now, Hermione and Malfoy fight more than anyone he knows, but he can just look at them and tell they are completely devoted to each other. Malfoy is an absolute wanker and private with his feelings, but there are moments when Harry sees just how deeply he feels for Hermione and he wants that more than he wants anything. He wants the good days and bad moments, the misunderstandings and compromises; he wants something deeper that's worth every fight and every moment of making up.
It wasn't like that with Ginny. She was great, exactly what he needed after the war. Being with her was comfortable, helped him learn how to be a man, but it had run its course. He wanted more. And the thought consumed him. It was only natural what followed.
Harry changed, they devolved, and soon they were strangers living under the same roof. He dragged his heels on the proposal everyone expected, Ginny confronted him, the truth was painful, and they just stopped. She didn't leave because she hoped they would eventually fix what was broken, and he didn't tell her that she couldn't. They didn't fight about it, but didn't speak much either, and Harry couldn't bring himself to care. They played the role of the happy couple until an Italian Quidditch team made her a lucrative offer to end her days as a back-up Beater. She told Harry she would stay if he asked, but he told her to go, and that was that.
They officially broke up, Ginny left, rumours swirled, and Harry tried to feel something other than complete and utter relief, but he wouldn't let himself because he knew they did the right thing.
He looks over at Hermione, who is regarding him with her 'I'm being serious' face. "Hmm?"
"Just…" She frowns. "I don't care who it is, all I want is for you to be happy. When you came back from Cardiff last time, I thought I saw … I don't know. It was just a moment. When you were telling me about seeing her at the pub. You looked like you were remembering something ... pleasant."
He thinks about that night, even when he doesn't want to. He remembers the heady feeling from the firewhisky, the chill and dimness of the streetlamps, and the warmth of her fingers that brushed across his skin. It still confuses him—a lot of things do about Pansy—but he also remembers wanting to blurt out, "Warm hands, you have," in the Yoda voice he spent an entire summer secretly perfecting with the action figure Dudley discarded after one use.
And for the first time, Harry considers the possibility that he's probably screwed.
Senna's final shift at The Glen is uneventful, minus the surprise farewell party and gifts in the kitchen after closing. She's moving to Scotland to manage a new restaurant and promises to write to update them all on how she's doing.
Pansy is almost sad to see her go.
She wears Senna like a real face, and her fake personality Pansy cherishes and cultivates like a real identity, but it's time to let her go. Pansy no longer needs the security blanket the glamour provides. She's signed the divorce papers and she's back to being just Pansy Parkinson, and she's ready to move on. The museum hires her on as a full-time guide with a salary and will pay for her education so long as she works for their conservation team for six years after she finishes. It's better than she expects and it feels good to be wanted for a change.
Her first week is a blur of morning classes, getting used to her new responsibilities as a full-time guide, meeting the other staff, and rebalancing her finances. Pansy has that Friday off and spends the morning indulging herself with getting some new clothes for work and buying a mattress and sofa with the money she saved for next year's classes. She's in a fuzzy daze by the end of the shopping trip, wondering if this trip will come back to financially haunt her in the coming weeks. Pansy doesn't let herself dwell for too long. She's hungry and finds herself standing in front of The Glen as a patron and not a waitress.
"You're not Senna today."
Pansy exhales before turning to face Potter. It isn't a surprise that he's in town—Draco makes sure she knows in his latest letter—but she wonders if Potter has some sort of Pansy-radar attached to her. "Senna doesn't work here any more." She puts her hands on her hips. "And, pray tell, how did you find me this time? May I remind you that stalking is still illegal."
"Can't stalk a friend … or whatever we are." Potter clears his throat. "Besides, I'm here for lunch."
It's unseasonably warm and windy today in Cardiff, and he's wearing a light jacket and trousers, fists shoved in the pockets. His hair is a windblown mess, but he's smiling and moving to let a rushing wizard pass. Potter rolls his eyes after the man and steps toward her, just enough for them to talk without everyone around them being privy to their conversation. His glasses are crooked, but this time she refrains from fixing them. Only just.
"So they hired you on full-time then?"
"You remember that?"
He just gives a single-shoulder shrug that seems oddly bashful. "It hasn't been that long."
"No, it hasn't." She awkwardly looks down the street, not knowing what else to say.
"So lunch. You're here for it?"
Pansy eyes him. "Obviously."
"Do you want company? I mean, you're here, I'm here, we know each other. It would make sense if we ate together." He rubs the back of his neck in a way that reminds her instantly of an anxious Draco, but banishes the thought.
"Lead the way."
Lunch is a quiet affair with good food and a hovering waitress. Pansy orders cawl, Potter gets oven potatoes, and people are blatant with their stares this time. Their server, Crystin, ignores her, which isn't particularly surprising, and flirts outrageously with Potter—also not surprising. She doesn't leave them alone for more than a couple minutes at a time until the lunch crowd starts to swells.
Conversation attempts are awkward and stall out quickly, but Potter is persistent, and soon he's recounting some of the mishaps from his training seminar. She tries to remain neutral, thinks she'll succeed, too, but when he tells her a rousing story involving a wandless trainee, two boggart dragons, and a beater bat, she can't help the smile that creeps on her face or the laugh that follows. He follows it with another story that ends with the evacuation of a building that nearly makes her choke on pumpkin juice.
When he prods her for stories from work, she dabs the corner of her mouth. "The museum isn't nearly as interesting, I'm afraid." Outside of a few leers and general creepiness, her job is pretty uneventful. Stupid questions, withstanding.
"So what do you like about it?"
Pansy just looks at him over the cup she's holding. "Twenty questions, eh?"
"No, we're just two people making conversation."
She doesn't believe him for a second, so she tells him the textbook answer: "Museums possess a spirit of inquiry and possibility; they preserve the history of wizards, how far we've come, give snippets about where we're going as a society; highlighting the brighter and even the darker points of our history."
Potter spoons his stew. "How many times do you say that in a day?"
"At least ten, on a slow day."
He reaches for a roll in the basket between them. "And the real answer..."
"Is none of your business." His chuckle tugs on something in her belly, makes her want to sink into the sound and―what the hell is in this pumpkin juice? She tenses, but soon is fighting off a particularly harsh blush. And losing, if the curious look on Potter's face is indicative of anything. Just great. "I'm a bit warm," she replies when he asks if she's okay. His disbelief is very obvious so she has to tell him something before he pries. "I like the smell and feel of museums."
It's a success. Potter looks more confused than ever. "What?"
She sips her juice, wishing it was something stronger. It's hard to explain something so intimate, but it's better than explaining the blush or even thinking about it. "It's more the feel than the smell, actually." It's calming, she explains, especially early in the morning, and she likes to walk the halls of each exhibit. Her words start to get away from her. She doesn't want it to happen, but it's hard to stop talking about something that's such a huge part of her life, her dream and passion. Pansy knows the story behind each artefact, painting, and sculpture in the museum. She knows their history, where they came from, how many times they were stolen, their worth and just how much it will increase when the conservation team corrects all the wear and tear. She enjoys the work involved in actually preserving a piece, finds it fascinating. "It's not my ultimate goal, just to preserve works, but it's something I genuinely enjoy."
"What is your ultimate goal?" There's a fascinated lilt to his voice that makes her realise that he's hanging on her every word. Potter is leaning forward with his elbows on the table, food and drink ignored.
Pansy feels ... warm, inexplicably pleased that he's actually listening with some interest, and deeply disturbed by her own thoughts. She decides to ignore everything, to remain as calm as possible, and get through this meal as quickly as possible.
"I want to be a curator." She checks her watch, a litany of excuses on the tip of her tongue. "I should probably go."
He flags down their waitress to ask for their bill, only to find out their meals are on the house. "Where are you headed?" Potter asks as they shrug into their jackets.
Pansy picks up her purse and watches him put six Galleons on the table―a massive tip that will have the witch giddy for the rest of the day, she's sure of it. Pansy isn't inclined to tip her; no need to add to her joy. Besides, Crystin isn't that good of a server. Potter is looking at her expectantly and she remembers his question. "Cardiff Bay." She starts for the door and isn't surprised when he falls into step with her. "Let me guess. You want to come."
"Nothing better to do."
"You could always do the tourist thing."
Harry shrugs and slides ahead of her to open the door. "I've already done that a few times." The wind has calmed, the sun is out, and its feels warm enough for them to abandon their jackets, which they do as they stroll down Proxim Alley. "You can show me around as a local."
"I love how you assume I have time for you."
"Well, what are your plans for the day?"
"Visiting the bay, laundry, groceries, all of which I planned on doing alone."
"I didn't mean to intrude."
Her hands go to her hips. "Now I don't believe that for a moment, Potter. I'd rather you be honest with me than to tell me what you think I want to hear."
"I'll remember that." He shifts from one foot to the other. "So can I tag along?"
Pansy sighs. "As long as you don't irritate me. And you can keep up."
She keeps her distance, walking out of step with him, until they get further down the street. It's more crowded on this end of Proxim Alley, and they're forced to walk close together, shoulders bumping and brushing, so as to not get separated in the crowd. When it looks like she's going to get stuck behind a group of elderly witches admiring a vendor's collection of jewellery, Potter reaches for her, presses his hand into the small of her back and excuses them both. It's startling, not because it surprises Pansy, but because it's not exactly unpleasant. His hand feels like it belongs there, touch confident, and while the women fall over themselves to talk to The Great Potter, she makes sure she's out of reach.
Pansy knows she's running out of excuses to explain her physical reactions to him, and it's nothing short of distressing. Without her numerous justifications, the only thing left is actual attraction, and that just isn't right. She looks at him, frowning. Pansy has to remind herself that he's temporary, that no matter how her body reacts, his intentions are uncertain. Pansy knows it isn't smart; she has to maintain her distance. She hardens herself in this one idea and exhales. Potter is smiling widely at the women and her eyes fall victim to the expression on his face. His nose scrunches when he laughs, and his eyes flick over to her briefly before he excuses himself.
"Sorry about that."
"Can't disappoint your adoring fans," she clips dryly and starts for the public Floo. She catches the puzzled look on his face, but ignores the way her head buzzes when he takes arm just before she clearly states where they are headed.
They make it to the Floo station in Cardiff Bay without incident, and soon they are blending in with the Muggles. There's an art exhibit in the Norwegian Church that looks interesting, but they're too early and end up watching the tail end of a lovely quartet performance. Potter doesn't hide his disinterest, but doesn't leave her side as she explores the exhibit from start to end. The work is trippy with its bright colours, but is far too trendy and weird for her tastes. She's staring at a particularly atrocious piece when Potter stands beside her.
"Hideous, isn't it?" she looks at him.
"It's very … colourful." Potter cocks his head to the side. "Like a unicorn vomited on the canvas and declared it art."
Pansy forgets herself and laughs heartily, covering her mouth to drown out the sound. She goes on to the next work, Potter declares that it looks like a walrus fighting a giant carrot, Pansy cackles, and a routine begins that gets them through the rest of the exhibit. When they stumble out, her face aches from laughter, he's grinning, and it feels good. She decides that she's had enough art for one day and suggests they wander around until they find something that piques their interest.
The wind picks up just after they start exploring. Pansy pulls on her jacket and buttons it to her throat. Potter does the same, but leaves his open. Silence falls between them, and in theory, she's supposed to use the time to clear her mind, but his presence makes it difficult. They peek into a few shops, have hot chocolate in nice café, get caught up watching Muggles do tricks on skateboards, and listen to an older man tell a story to a group of children and their parents. Pansy buys candles to create an ambiance in her sitting room and Potter buys sweets for them to share. It's nice and it leaves her feeling oddly relaxed. So much that she forgets about the boundaries between them and just goes with it.
"So tell me something about yourself that I can't find out in Witch Weekly." They're exploring Roath Park, having abandoned the bay area for some place quieter to walk around. Pansy likes this park, even in winter when everything is dead. The snow is finally gone, melting completely in the past few days, and the entire city seems to be relishing in the freedom. It's not spring yet, but it's coming. She can feel it in the air.
He fingers his chin as he finishes chewing on the last piece of caramel square. "I love American football."
Pansy doesn't hide her confusion. "What is that?"
"It's like rugby with padding. There's a lot of strategy involved and different plays and formations. I go to the games in London every year."
"And what is … rugby?"
"Like Quidditch without magic, hoops, or protective gear."
"Sounds … interesting." And that isn't a complete lie.
"It is," he tosses the paper from the caramel squares into the rubbish bin. "Maybe we can go together next year, if you'd like. I could use some company. Ron doesn't share my love for it and I always go alone."
Pansy doesn't reply because she doesn't know what to say. He's planning ahead, a year or so in advance, and she wonders if she can really call Potter 'temporary' when he appears to be setting up shop in her life. She searches his face for a reason to doubt him and sees something so genuine it hurts a little, but in a good way that is hard to ignore.
"How often do you walk around like this?"
His fingers brush against hers accidentally and they both stop, exchanging apologetic glances. They're by the lake and Pansy breaks off to look at it. It's gorgeous, a deep blue that contrasts with the white lighthouse. She pushes her hands deep into the pockets of her jacket, clenching and unclenching her fist. "Maybe once a month, when it's nice. It's gorgeous here in the spring."
"Is that your favourite time of year?"
Pansy balks. "Not at all."
There's allergies and the fickle weather and crazy birds, but she doesn't tell him any of those reasons because she catches sight of him from the corner of her eye. His face is so open and honest, and for some inexplicable reason, she wants to be able to do that with someone. Just be herself without any fear of ramification. "I married Marcus in the spring," Pansy answers, not trusting her voice. "And it's hard not to resent the season."
"Did you love him?"
Their shoulders touch and she looks at him, a bit surprised to find him so close, but not alarmed or disgusted. She turns her head back to the lake. It's easier to talk that way. "Purebloods don't marry for love, only money and power and having magical children. I'm an only child, so my mother practically auctioned me off to the highest bidder. I never wanted to marry Marcus, I knew how much of a brute he was, but all she saw was the Galleons in the contract. She never once thought about my happiness. Some say that that's the pureblood way, but it's not. Parents at least consider their daughter's feelings before contracting a marriage, but not my mother ... and she has the nerve to wonder why our relationship deteriorated as badly as it did."
"Have you talked to her since you left?"
"We haven't spoken in years. I imagine she'll come around when the money from my dowry and the settlement dries out, but that won't be for a while. If ever." Pansy shrugs. "She has her own men and means for acquiring money."
"Do you think you'll ever marry again?"
It's something she hasn't thought about until right then, and it's so easy to reply. "I won't be a business transaction again, if that tells you anything. If I marry again, I'll do it for all the right reasons and to the right person." She pulls off the wrought iron, ambling a few steps before looking over her shoulder. Potter's turned fully around, leaning back on the fence, arms stretched over the top. He looks pensive, even more so when their eyes meet. "Are you coming?"
And they continue on.
"You aren't entirely loathsome to be around," she tells him several minutes later.
Unfortunately, it's true. He makes her laugh in a way that feels oddly refreshing because she hasn't done it in so long, and even though she hates when he drops in, his presence occupies so much of her mental space that she doesn't have a moment to think about her divorce or anything else that troubles her. Potter's surprisingly normal, despite moments of arrogance and a judgemental streak. He shies away from attention, but seems comfortable with himself to the point where he doesn't care what anyone thinks of him. Pansy isn't afraid to admit that she'd like to get to know him better, that she thinks about him sometimes when he's not around. Because he'll never know. And she will never tell him.
The smile that appears borders on ridiculous. "Not completely loathsome? I'll take that."
Pansy rolls her eyes, nudging him with her elbow. "I can easily take it back, you narcissist." She looks away when his smile softens into something warmer and closer. It's hard to look at, like a solar eclipse. Lovely, but damaging. They walk in silence, politely nodding at all the people they pass. It starts to get colder as the heat of the day passes so Pansy stuffs her hands into her pockets and Potter zips his jacket.
"So why here? Why Cardiff?"
She brushes her hair from her eyes. "It was literally the first city I stopped in after I left London," Pansy isn't sure why she's telling him all this, but it's coming out before she can suck it back in. "It's such a cliché, but I had very little when I left—you know this. I came here to figure out what I wanted out of life, took a boat tour to clear my head, and decided to stay. The rest fell together quickly thereafter."
"The waitressing, too?"
"It isn't such a stretch when you think about it. I'm a hard worker, I've been hosting dinner parties for years, and I mastered the art of people-pleasing very early in life."
"I didn't think about it like that. It's just not something I expected you to do."
"Truthfully, I loved it."
"So why wear a glamour?"
Pansy doubts he'll understand her answer, how Senna allowed her to keep a low profile and start over in peace without worrying about someone showing up to talk her into going back to Marcus. Because at that point, when things were at their toughest, she'd been weak enough to consider and discouraged enough to give in.
"It's getting dark out here," he says all of a sudden.
"I know. I like it. We should go over to Roald Dahl Plass. By the time we get there, it should be dark."
"Oh? You actually want to go somewhere else with me? Colour me shocked."
She rolls her eyes. "Don't be such a drama queen, Potter."
Without thinking, she grabs his hand, fishes her wand out her jacket, and Apparates them both to a private spot behind the Millennium Centre. Pansy tries to ignore her mistake, to let go or maybe grab his wrist once they land, but he carefully twines their hands together as if conducting an experiment. He doesn't let go, not even when they're walking, and she knows this is the moment she's supposed to pull away. But all she can do is stare straight ahead, back rigid and face warm despite the growing chill. He's talking to her now, probably asking questions or babbling about something other than the fact that they're holding hands, but Pansy is distracted by the feel of their hands entwined and the casual way he's leaning against her. It's intimate, makes her feel far more than she'd ever felt with Marcus, and it sparks a slew of conflicting emotions that she just pushes down.
"Which way are we going?" Potter repeats.
She points with her free hand. "This way." He doesn't let go, doesn't seem to consider it, and definitely doesn't meet her curious stare. Instead, Potter's eyes are focused straight ahead as they walk toward Roald Dahl Plass. She wonders just what the hell is going on in his head; why he's holding her hand like they mean more to each other than they actually do. The pillars are illuminated when they arrive, and there are more than a few people milling around. She lets go of his hand. "Here we are."
Potter looks awestruck. "It's great, really. I've never seen it at night."
They explore the area silently, his hands brush against hers with more purpose, and she finds herself looking at him and wondering why.
"Why what?" he inquires suddenly. They're standing in front of a pillar that's lit up red and she isn't sure how they got there.
"I didn't mean to ask that aloud."
"What were you―"
"My hand, Potter, you're holding it like―" Pansy exhales her frustration and the words she can't say, running a hand through her hair. "You don't have to do that. You don't have to pretend like I … matter to you. I answered your questions, satisfied your curiosity, so don't play with my emotions, don't pretend to care."
His face changes. "Wait―"
"You want to know about me, but you don't want to know me. You don't want to know that I've cried once in ten years and that sometimes I do get lonely here. You don't want to know that the only reason I pretend to hate Granger is because I envy that she fought for happiness in a way I never did. You don't want to know that I like being around water, the way Cardiff lights up after dark, cleaning without magic, and the smell of fresh rosemary. You―"
He swallows the rest of her words with his lips, soft and tentative, warm as they slide over hers again and again, waiting for her to respond. There's a brief thought, something akin to, 'What the hell—' before her brain overloads and quits and all she can do is feel.
Potter kisses like he's exploring uncharted territory, one hand goes to her cheek and the other wraps around her waist as he presses a little harder, murmuring her name. This stupid thing has been bubbling inside her for weeks, intensifying with every casual touch and odd feeling no matter how hard she's fought it off. But when the want that's been buzzing in her head hits, she crumbles like a house of cards under its weight.
Potter makes a noise when she finally responds, something low that makes her light-headed and responsive. She has always been the type to magic her name on everything and hang signs that say, "Respect My Privacy!" What belongs to her―well, it bloody well belongs to her. It had never been like this with Marcus. The need to stamp her claim on him had never been there and she's always known why. Pansy doesn't care about him, never did, not even for a moment. Their match was for their families; he isn't hers. It's what made it so easy to watch him with all those women, and even easier for her to finally walk away. She slips her hands under Potter's jacket, possessively digs her nails into the skin of his lower back, and she knows she's in trouble now. He makes a grumbling noise she feels in her toes and pulls her closer, kissing her harder. It's not rough, just deep, and she's dizzy from the one word that's chanting over in her head.
And Pansy realises, far too late for any normal, cognizant human being, that over the past few months, while Potter has invaded her life, she has grown rather fond of him. He matters. So much. Too much. And she pushes him away with a sharp, "Harry, no."
Potter looks confused, like his brain hurts and he doesn't know where he is. "What?" His hair is a rumpled mess, lips red and slightly swollen, eyes blown wide and dark. "What just happened?" He runs his hands through his hair. "We were―"
"I have to go."
And she runs.
Harry doesn't talk about it because he doesn't know what to say. He can't tell anyone that he spent five minutes staring after her in confusion and another two hours trying to find his way back to the Inn; can't tell them that he doesn't try to fight or run after her. The truth is he just lets it happen, not because he wants to, but because he doesn't want to make a mistake. Call it a tactical retreat, if you will, but he packs up and goes home the same night. Harry avoids Hermione, but ends up telling his Ron everything over a few pints the next evening, and before they part ways, Ron asks the million Galleon question: "What are you going to do now?"
That kiss took him apart, leaving him unsteady and vulnerable, but determined in a way that can't be put into words. Determined to keep his distance, that is. He doesn't want to be the only one trying or the only one who wants it; he doesn't want to force anything. Not that he can force things with Pansy, of all people, but he just wants to know he's not alone in whatever the hell this is. He's seen what happens when one person cares more than the other. It's an exercise in frustration that he witnessed Hermione and Ron go through years ago when they were together, and one he refuses to go through no matter how much he wants her.
And he does—in the best and worst possible way that's new and exciting. She matters. Pansy isn't his ideal, she doesn't have the qualities he thought he wanted in a partner. She's cool, distant, and reticent; it's hard to tell what's on her mind. It's frustrating, and so is she, to the point where he wonders if she's worth it. But when he thinks about every single interaction they've had since he heard her laugh as Senna, he knows the answer.
Because he's seen who she is without the hard exterior and heavy restrictions she puts on herself; he's had an entire afternoon with her. He likes that Pansy, knows it's going to be work and he's going to need more patience than he has, but he wants to draw her out. She's wary like a cat, and rightfully so, but Harry wants the opportunity to know her better. The chance to show her that she can really and truly trust completely in someone—that he can be trusted. With her heart.
So he waits.
One week passes, and he's not discouraged. Then another passes with nothing. Hermione presses him for information, Malfoy gets cryptic, and Ron gives him looks. Three weeks pass and he's had enough of London. He takes an assignment to teach a month-long furthering education course for Aurors in Glasgow and leaves immediately.
It's hard work. Some of the older Aurors are reluctant to use newer wizarding technology, and the younger ones live in a Post-Voldermort fairyland where they question why they have to continue learning, but his frustration with them keeps his mind off everything.
After a particularly tiring second week, Harry takes the weekend and visits Hogsmeade. It's grown a lot since his visit two years ago, more shops and inns, but winter has extended its stay this year and he's not in the mood to explore. So he starts with places he knows. He visits Aberforth at the Hog's Head but doesn't stay long. He has lunch with Neville at The Three Broomsticks and listens to his friend talk about his Herbology students with great pride. After, he ventures into Scrivenshaft's to order new quills and stationary for Hermione. He's just finished writing Hermione's address when he hears the bell chime indicating the arrival of a new customer.
Both Harry and the shopkeeper look, it's an automatic response, but only he recognises the scowling witch in the purple knitted hat and heavy winter coat who's dusting snow off her shoulders like it's personally offended her.
"Pansy?" he breathes her name like a question. "What are you doing here?"
She looks up, face slightly softer when she says, "I was just in the area." Pansy pauses. "Okay, that's clearly a lie." She runs a hand through her hair. "I have a few days off and didn't want to wait around in Cardiff for you to come back. Draco told me that you'd gone to Hogsmeade for the weekend and here I am, after walking into every shop on this street. You do a good job of keeping a low profile because no one I talked to knew that you were even in Hogsmeade."
Address forgotten, he turns fully, but doesn't move. Harry's prepared for this moment, knows what he's going to say and how he's going to say it, but the only thing that comes to mind is, "But it's snowing."
Pansy pulls her hat off in a quick haphazard motion. "Obviously." She fixes her mussed hair with a few well-placed runs of her fingers. The shopkeeper excuses himself with mumbled words and goes into the backroom with Pansy's eyes following him the entire way. When they're alone, the silence is almost deafening. It doesn't help that Harry's never seen her so jumpy; she's twisting her hat in her hands and looking everywhere except at him.
"You do know that stalking is illegal in Scotland, too."
She smiles crookedly. "Someone told me that you can't stalk a friend."
Harry deflates at that word. "Is that what we are?"
The smile vanishes and his breath quickens when she backs away. "Right. I―"
Harry's legs start working and his hand is on her shoulder before she can let in the cold air. She tenses, and he hears her exhale sharply like she's been holding her breath. "Stop," is all he can say because his mouth is suddenly so dry his tongue feels numb and there's a lump in his throat that refuses to go away no matter how hard or often he swallows. "Tea?" he croaks out.
Madam Puddifoot's isn't the sort of place he wants to go with Pansy so they trek in the snow down to Matherly's, which is far more casual, if a little eccentric. It isn't crowded, just a few elderly couples sitting near the door and a group of older teens talking about the failures of the Ministry in the back. No one pays Harry and Pansy any mind when they come in and shed their winter gear. The owner, Marion, sits on the counter humming along to the music filtering from the wireless.
"What kind of tea do you want?" Harry asks once they sit and have a few minutes to scan the menu.
"I'll stick to peppermint. Seems like the lesser of thirty evils."
He orders two and they're delivered by a barefoot Marion, who explains all the nutritional benefits of peppermint tea before floating off to the group in the back. The tea is good; he takes a few sips before noticing that Pansy is just idly stirring hers. It's now or never, Harry thinks and clears his throat. "We should probably―"
"I want to be happy," she tells him bluntly and holds up her hand when he tries to interject. "No. Let me finish."
"I want happiness," Pansy rephrases, stirring her tea with renewed effort. She brings the cup to her lips, but changes her mind. "I've been denied it far too long, I left my entire life to find it, and I've worked hard to get to the point I am now. The problem is you. Or rather, the fact that you matter to me a little more than I'd like to admit." She looks more uncomfortable with each word she speaks. "I would have been more than happy to keep this all to myself, but my divorce was finalised two weeks ago and I couldn't stop wondering if that entire day at Cardiff Bay was..."
"It was real. All of it." And he wants to say more, but doesn't.
"But you're always nosing around in my life, asking questions―"
"You fascinate me." She doesn't look convinced or even the slightest bit moved. In fact, she seems to find his words distasteful so Harry backtracks. "I know what that must sound like, but it's true. I'll be honest. At first, I was curious, but the more I learned, the more I realised…." He runs his hand through his hair because nothing is coming out right or as planned and it's frustrating. Finally, he just lays it all on the metaphorical table. "I'm not going to sit here and fluff you up with what I think you want to hear. The bottom line is: I'm mad about you. I ... I'm not sure when it happened, I didn't fully realise it until I talked to Hermione, but I am." He rubs the back of his neck. "I was holding your hand that day because I was trying to make a gesture, to say that I'm interested in you and I'd like it if you gave me a chance."
She stares at him. "A chance for what?"
Harry fidgets with everything on the table. "Get to know one another better, maybe, figure out what else we have in common outside the fact that we matter to each other."
"Yes." When Pansy hesitates, he rests his hand on hers, confidence rising when she doesn't pull away. "Look, I know there'll be a few bumps, we have a lot to work out, but I think we can make each other happy and I'd like to try."
Pansy looks at him with an intensity that makes her look more vulnerable than he's ever seen her. "I didn't think this would happen so soon after my divorce, to be honest." She tucks her black hair behind her ears and dips her finger into her tea. "I'd like to try, really, but I don't know how to ... do that. Dating? I've never … everything was already arranged with Marcus."
Harry makes an effort to keep his face very neutral because his heart is racing and his brain is no longer connected. He's afraid of being overwhelmed and doing something stupid like leaning over the small table and snogging her blind. Again. "I'm not an expert on dating, either. I haven't been on a proper one in years, but we can start somewhere and build on that."
Pansy's smile is soft and puts him at ease. "Can that 'somewhere' be some place with food because I'm absolutely famished after that train ride and Granger's idea of snack food tastes like sawdust."
He grins, not too surprised that Hermione also had a hand in Pansy showing up in Hogsmeade and thankful all the same. "Some place with food, you say? I think we can make that happen."
When they're both buttoned, gloved, and covered up to venture out into the cold, Pansy pulls his hat down over his ears and straightens his crooked scarf with a fond roll of her eyes. "You're still hopeless, Potter, but at least you won't freeze to death." And she kisses him; one gloved hand entwines with his own as the other comes to his neck. She's pressed up against him and so warm Harry closes his eyes and draws her closer, surrendering to whatever lies ahead for them. Hermione sometimes tells him that the best kind of happiness is the unexpected.
And right now, Harry agrees.
So. It's been a while, yes? I am alive, just RL keeps me busy. Dunno if anyone will read and like this, I wrote this for the pphpficexchange to basically give myself the swift kick I needed to start writing again. My first plan is to finish any open projects I have and then I'll post something new that I've been working on for a while. Anyway, I'd like to thank my beta, floorcoaster, for reminding me why betas as gods and goddesses because the first draft was all over the place. Second, I'd like to thank my cheerleaders, you guys know who you are. Third, I'd like to thank furyme for the prompt that made my lightbulb go off for the first time in months. And fourth, I'd like to thank everyone who's reading this right now, anyone who's sent me reviews over the last year (haven't had a chance to answer them, but just know that your reviews are still being read and appreciated). You guys rock and hopefully I'll have a shiny update to Falling is like This, soon, if anyone still cares. :)