Title:Will You Walk Into My Parlor?

Pairing: Mycroft Holmes/Pleione Potter


Part I: Said the Spider to the Fly

Pleione Potter stood beneath the shade of the expansive tree, listening to the leaves rustle together as she observed him. He was exactly as she had seen him in her crystal ball that morning: tall—very much so—slightly heavier around the middle, with dark, wavy hair, aristocratic features, and a black umbrella that swung with every step he took.

Unlike the majority of the Muggle population, she could tell that this man served a purpose, and that if he were lost the world would be a worse place for it. Not many people received such a high recommendation from her intuition, magical and Muggle alike.

"You're a spider," she whispered; the wind whipped her words away. "You weave a tangled web, catching people in your grasp. Vibrations of information resonate toward you, offering you untold power. And you don't abuse it." Pleione grasped the lock of ebony hair that had slipped free of her twist. Frowning, she lifted it back up and pinned it in place. "What a terrifyingly unique man you are, Mycroft Holmes."

As if he had heard her, his head canted toward her. Of course, he had likely only felt her intense gaze; a man in his position would be trained to notice when he was under observation. His cheeks moved the barest bit, but she had the feeling that was the equivalent of an amused smile on his face.

Pleione was well aware that she made a particularly odd picture for the average Muggle. She was blending in, but only slightly at that. Her mother, Alrisha Chara Potter—formerly of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black (and, oh, had it been a scandal when the firstborn child of Orion Black wasn't a male heir, as had been the case for generations)—insisted on some pureblood decorum among Muggles, but not all. Especially seeing as her mother wasn't entirely fond of it herself. However, she never tired of hearing the tale about how her mother finally came to love her name; Pleione's father—James Charlus Potter—had announced during breakfast in the great hall of Hogwarts that he would love to be tied down by "Dear Ropes" for the rest of his existence, if Magic would so allow.

Her mother had admitted to Pleione that the declaration had shocked her. James Potter was, at the time, her "scandalously close" male friend. It was all quite improper, of course. But neither her mother or father had cared. She had even heard that her mother insisted on being called 'Sirius' in her younger years at Hogwarts, hating how everyone treated her like a pureblood princess: fragile and delicate.

However, Pleione took obeying and honoring her parents very seriously. Which was why she was attired in a manner that amused so many of the Muggles. Her jeans were black and fitted, almost long enough to drag on the ground, but not quite. Her shirt was old-fashioned and deep scarlet, with billowing sleeves. Golden slippers, lace gloves, and a lace parasol completed the ensemble. As always, her hair was up in public—something that her mother was eternally insistent about. It was, perhaps, the only piece of protocol her mother hadn't flaunted in her lifetime.

"I'll not come into your parlor, Mr. Spider. I'll not be tangled in your web," she vowed to herself as she started toward him. The green grass flattened beneath her feet, and then sprung right back into place. Each step felt like a thousand miles, and yet passed much too quickly. There was a sense of something in the air that rattled her nerves. Pleione couldn't separate what it was, though, so she put it from her mind entirely.

"May I help you?" Mycroft asked when she stopped before him, blocking his forward progress. Not that he had been moving, because he hadn't. He had patiently waited for her to come to him, as if it was something that happened all the time—routine, as it were. Knowing his position in the Muggle world, it was a fair assumption.

Men and women hurried past them, parting around them as if they were some great, immovable thing. Glances brushed over them, only to rapidly withdraw.

"No."

Mycroft leaned all of his weight on his left leg, and balanced using his umbrella. His cheeks twitched again as he perused her lace parasol. His umbrella might hold a sword, but her parasol was a poisoned sword in its sheath. Plus, she had her wand on her at all times. There was no doubt that he was a dangerous man, but only a brainless imbecile would ever think the most beloved daughter of Lord and Lady Potter was weak. No magic was deemed improper for her protection, which was how they had unlocked her Divination abilities at age nine—much too young, though she would never tell them of the suffering and nightmares it had caused.

Pleione hated feeling like she was a helpless fly, someone caught in his web, sending him information. However, Mycroft Holmes needed to live for reasons she didn't yet understand. Just this once, she would tolerate the sense of inferiority and forfeiting control to someone she didn't know or trust.

"Three and two-thirds people are going to attempt to assassinate you today," Pleione stated, voice pitched so that those walking by wouldn't hear a word she said.

A dark eyebrow shot upward, and Mycroft's face showed more amusement than before. He didn't need to vocalize the question for her to understand he desired clarification. "Oh?"

"A man in your employ has three personalities. One is a pacifist. One is an agent of yours. The last is a traitor to the country," she stated.

Mycroft shifted maybe one inch, but Pleione had to fight the urge to back away from him. His presence was suddenly so much more than before. There was a lethality roiling under his skin now—a spark of power that made her think of the Reductor Curse: explosive violence. She bit the inside of her lip and held her position; she would not retreat. Not from a Muggle. Not from anyone. She was Pleione Potter, not a coward!

"Is that right?" His voice was dark and deep, each word sliding off his tongue like a Cutting Curse. She had the sudden impression that he would have been a powerful Dark wizard if he had been gifted with Magic.

Pleione nodded once. "Indeed."

His eyes—a shade of blue she couldn't find the name for, which annoyed her to no end—narrowed. "And how, exactly, did you happen to come across such information, Miss . . . ?"

Ignoring the blatant request for her name, Pleione said, "It's accurate." She lifted her chin, and mentally cursed the fact that he was so much taller than her. He was at least six foot, perhaps more. Probably more, actually. She had never minded her short stature until now. The wizards who were taller than her never intimidated her—weak-willed creatures that they were. She loathed that a Muggle managed to make her feel so delicate, when wizarding nobility failed.

It wasn't that she hated Muggles, because she didn't, obviously, seeing as she was attending one of their universities for Maths. A complete grasp of Arithmancy helped control her Divination powers, and she had ended up loving Maths as a result. A love built out of necessity. Weren't they the best kind? Yet, she was nineteen now, and no male had ever made her feel so small before, as if she should be protected. It was . . . she didn't know what it was, but she didn't think she liked it.

"And I'm just to take your word for it?" Mycroft's tone was mocking, reminding her entirely too much of Draco Malfoy—the git still hadn't stopped insisting that she would be the next Lady Malfoy, and she had turned down every request and offer he had made since she was fourteen years old.

"I've not given my word," Pleione replied. She had only given her word three times in her life, and had diligently contemplated each instance. Because of the magic of her bloodline, as a Potter, once given, her word could not be broken. Her father had ensured from a young age that she fully understood how precious and potentially dangerous that could be in life. She heeded his counsel.

"But you're not lying." He stated it as a fact, as if he could tell she was speaking truthfully. Again, it wouldn't surprise her given his position.

"Lying is for plebeians, those too weak to handle the truth. I'm not frightened by honesty, Mr. Holmes. Are you?" she queried. She twirled the parasol in her hand and watched the patches of sunlight and shadow that shone down through it.

"Not at all." He pronounced the consonants with a crisp bite, as if her question had offended him. "I'm afraid, Miss, that you have me at a disadvantage. You know my name, and yet . . ." He trailed off, as if admitting ignorance of anything was intolerable in the extreme.

"Yes, I do. Don't I?" Pleione smirked and rested her parasol against her shoulder. She had the upper hand for the moment. She knew it wouldn't last long, for he would surely hack into the university archives and get her records the moment he left campus—assuming, of course, that someone wasn't listening in and doing that at this precise moment.

"Do you know the name of the two-thirds of an assassin, Miss?" Mycroft asked. He covered a large yawn with the hand not holding the umbrella, as if she and her warning were utterly droll or boring.

Pleione itched to draw her sword and start a fight with him. Above almost all else, she hated being patronized! "Of course I do, Mr. Holmes." He stared at her pointedly, but all she added was, "But where's the fun in telling you? I've heard that you're a proper genius—brilliant, even." Mycroft preened. "And I find that those adjectives are applied much too liberally in today's time." He stopped all movement, as if he were a statue in the manor gardens.

"I beg your pardon?" Without moving, he loomed over her—his presence becoming vast, and having countless layers.

She held her ground and said, "You're pardoned." It was curt, rude, and not truly deserved. She regretted her lack of manners as soon as she said it. But she would not, could not, apologize; she would not indebt herself to such a man. "You have spies most everywhere, Mr. Holmes. Information nigh brings itself to you. I'm sure you'll get it all figured out before he attacks."

Mycroft's eyes were shadowed, which was unsettling, but tolerable. She had no need to figure him out. After this once, out of duty to the world, she had no intention of ever speaking with him again. She would not get tangled in his web.

"You're sure, are you?" he asked.

"Quite." Pleione smiled; it was fake, a society smile for the many galas she was required to attend. "Have a good day, Mr. Holmes." She turned to leave, already pushing the encounter from her thoughts. She had done as the crystal ball had directed, and now their tenuous connection, if it could even be termed such, was gone. She had cut the silken thread herself.

"Suppose he succeeds," Mycroft said; his tone was unreadable, which irritated her.

Pleione looked back over her shoulder. "Then you're clearly not the man I thought you to be. And I'll know that my conscience is clean. You have every right in the world to heed or ignore my warning, Mr. Holmes. The consequences of your decision belong to you."

"Thank you, Miss, for this fascinating discussion. I'm sure we'll meet again," said Mycroft, before picking up his umbrella and walking away as if he hadn't a care in the world.

She felt his absence. Why was his presence so vast, so involved, so mesmerizing? She shook her head slightly and banished the thought. He was nothing more than someone the world needed, not an object of interest. He was to be forgotten.

Pleione sighed. She wasn't in the Muggle world to play games or fool around; she was here to guarantee her sanity and survival. She didn't have time for intrigue, power plays, or Mycroft Holmes. So, resolutely, she said, "We won't meet again."

Then Pleione Potter melted into the moving crowd of students, headed for her next lecture.

Part II: To Ask Me is in Vain

The chair next to Pleione's scraped across the floor as it was pulled backward. A young man, who was dressed snappily, flounced into the chair dramatically and swatted a tangle of black curls out of his eyes. "How much?" he asked.

She blinked in surprise. "Excuse me?"

The young man sighed, as if she were an idiot who was wasting his time. "How much is he paying you?"

Well, that made less than no sense. Why did this man think someone was paying her? And why would someone be paying her, anyway? The only reasons that came to mind were exceedingly offensive. Pleione hoped it was all a misunderstanding; he wouldn't be quite so childishly adorable with a broken nose. "I don't know who you mean."

He snorted and rolled his eyes, and then sighed heavily. "I'm not an imbecile, Potter. I saw you talking with him out on the lawn yesterday."

Pleione tilted her head to the side and let her mind wander back. The only person she could remember speaking with on the lawn yesterday was Mycroft Holmes. But why would this young man think Mycroft was paying her? Unless . . . oh no. Did he think she was one of Mycroft's minions? That would be insupportable! "Are you referring to Mr. Holmes?" she queried.

"No, to the King of England!" he snapped. "Of course I'm talking about Mycroft! Don't be stupid, Potter. Looks aren't going to get you anywhere with me."

Instead of being offended, Pleione laughed. It surprised the young man, because his eyes widened and he stared at her as if she had done something he had never seen before. "Now that's the tone of a younger sibling if I've ever heard one," she said, between bouts of laughter. "I didn't realize Mr. Holmes had a younger brother."

Cold, gray eyes—the opposite of her warm, gray ones—fell to slits. He scanned her face with pinched lips, and then relaxed all at once. "So he's not paying you to spy on me."

Pleione wrinkled her nose. "No. And if he offered, I'd tell him where he could stuff his money—perhaps impolitely, at that. I hate when family members spy on each other." There was a long story about that, involving rumors of her and Marcus Flint, a friend, and threats, and too much drama for her to ever want to go through anything similar or wish the experience on anyone else.

The young man ducked his head, dark curls hiding his eyes, and then smiled very shyly at her. It only lasted for a moment, because then he brashly thrust his hand at her. "Sherlock. Sherlock Holmes."

While she wasn't fond of touching strangers, and disliked how casually Muggles touched each other, Sherlock reminded her too much of one of her younger brothers for her to ever deny such a hopeful look. "Pleione," she replied as she offered her hand. She wasn't sure why she felt prompted to give him use of her first name, but she followed it.

To her surprise, Sherlock lifted it and pressed a kiss to the back of her hand, on top of her white lace gloves. "My lady."

"How did you know?" she breathed, before realizing that he was likely teasing her, because of the parasol and gloves and slippers.

Sherlock opened his mouth, as if about to spew forth a pile of information—facts—ways that she had betrayed herself and her heritage. Instead, he closed his mouth, and smiled that shy smile again. "Just a guess."

Without thinking about it, Pleione reached up and ruffled his curls, as she would with her younger brothers. "No, I don't think so. You're a genius, aren't you? No one has ever guessed before; they just think I'm somewhat mental." It was hard, sometimes, being out here in the Muggle world. She missed the little courtesies, like people calling her "my lady". Her title always reminded her of home and family. It was nice to fade into the background, instead of being the center of attention, but it wasn't pleasant to feel dismissed entirely. "Thank you," she breathed.

Scoffing, Sherlock glanced away, cheeks pink. "It was nothing. Anyone with even a hint of intelligence should have been able to figure it out."

Pleione smiled. Mycroft's brother was almost painfully shy, and clearly needed positive reinforcement in regards to his genius deductions. She couldn't even imagine children being kind to him, or adults, for that matter. People were either afraid or covetous of what was different; she had learned that first hand at Hogwarts, when others had learned of her Divination powers. The battle for her hand had been cruel and started early, all because the purebloods wanted her powers in their family. She had felt like a commodity, a priceless item for sale. It still made her sick. Others stayed away from her, as if—like the fraud Trelawney—she would suddenly start prophesying all of their deaths.

"When someone says 'thank you', the correct response is 'you're welcome'," said Pleione, her words gentle.

Sherlock stared at her, as if no one had ever told him that before. "You're welcome?"

Instead of commenting on the questioning tone, she nodded and smiled at him. "You're not a student," she said. He was obviously intelligent—likely a proper genius, as she had taunted his brother—and would have graduated by now. Age had little to do with intelligence; she wouldn't make the same assumptions as the other people he met.

The bashful grin flitted across his face before he thrust his chin forward and said, "No, of course not. I graduated many years ago." Sherlock waved his hand, as if it had been so far in the past that he couldn't be bothered to remember exactly when it was.

"What degrees did you receive?" she asked, smiling to herself when he preened at the assumed pluralization. Why couldn't Mycroft Holmes have been like this? No, that wasn't fair; everyone evolved as an individual due to personal experiences in life. It wasn't right to compare family members like that. Morgana, how often had people done that to her brothers? Too many.

"I received my—" Sherlock ceased talking and frowned over her shoulder at the sound of heels clicking across the floor.

Pleione peered over her shoulder to see a woman walking toward her and Sherlock, passing down the aisle of the library without looking at the books on either side of her. The woman wore a non-descript suit that fit well; Pleione knew it was a designer label, even though it wouldn't seem so to most people. The woman's hair was brown, and fell to her shoulders in a bob. She was pretty, but not unusually so—the type of woman who looked respectable, wouldn't garner attention, and wasn't memorable.

It seemed Mycroft Holmes had been serious when he said he intended to see her again.

The woman stopped next to their table, in the east side of the library, where no one else sat at this time of day. "Miss Potter, come with me." Her voice was monotone, and she didn't remove her eyes from her mobile phone when she spoke.

How rude! Pleione turned back around and pretended the woman wasn't there. She couldn't stand it when people were so disrespectful; it was common manners to look at the person you were speaking with.

"You were saying, Sherlock?" Pleione propped her chin on her hand and smiled enigmatically at him. Being a member of wizarding nobility had taught her the art of blatantly ignoring pests, hangers-on, and the mannerless. She didn't care if it made her seem like a snob. No one told her what to do—except her parents, and, even then, it depended on the situation.

Sherlock smirked at the woman and then said, "I received my—"

"I'm afraid I'll have to insist, Miss Potter," said the woman.

Glaring, Sherlock said, "Anthea, stop interrupting me. Even someone shallow enough to accept employment from my brother should be able to recognize that Pleione and I are having a conversation. Tell my brother to leave her alone."

Anthea cocked an eyebrow and actually glanced up from her mobile. She pursed her lips and then typed something into her phone, fingers flying over the keys with a rapid series of clicks.

"Your degrees, Sherlock?" Pleione prompted, as if they hadn't just been rudely interrupted once again. Anthea, huh? Clearly a pseudonym. It didn't fit her at all.

Who did Mycroft Holmes think he was? From what she understood, he ran the British government. However, that didn't give him the right to send a minion to fetch her like some unruly Crup. It wasn't even an invitation; it was a passive kidnapping attempt!

"I've earned my—"

Anthea's phone rang, loud and shrill in the library, as if uncaring of disturbing anyone who might have been studying. She pressed a button, held it next to her ear, and said nothing. She nodded once. "Yes." Then, lips pursed, she glared down at Pleione, as if she were an uncooperative child. "Yes." Then her gaze skipped over to Sherlock; she smiled, and then frowned disapprovingly. "Yes." Anthea nodded once more. "As you wish." She offered the phone to Pleione.

Pointedly ignoring it, Pleione pushed her chair back, gathered her books, slid them in her satchel, and slung it over her shoulder. "Sherlock, are you fond of gelato? There's a little Italian place not too far from here that makes divine gelato."

Sherlock clambered to his feet like a pegasi foal, all long limbs that defy grace for the moment. "I don't eat much." Pleione gave him a measuring look. "But gelato would be acceptable, I suppose, and would get us away from our present company. So, yes, in conclusion, I will join you for gelato, Pleione." At her pointed look, he ducked his head for just a second and muttered, "Thank you."

Grinning, Pleione said, "You're welcome." Then she hooked her arm around his and turned to leave. Only, Anthea was blocking the aisle, and it didn't look like she planned to move any time soon.

"It's for you," said Anthea, still holding the phone out to Pleione.

"That's nice," Pleione replied. She took a step to the side, but Anthea moved to block her. Pleione had to bite the inside of her lip to keep from spitting a curse at the woman; she hated feeling trapped. More than that, though, she hated people thinking they had the right to demand things of her.

Anthea smiled kindly, as if Pleione were a scared child and said, once again, "It's for you."

Sherlock grabbed the phone out of Anthea's hand. "Mycroft, call off your mutt. Pleione and I are going out for gelato. No, I'm not telling you where. No, you may not join us. No—Mycroft!"

The more upset Sherlock got, the more annoyed Pleione became. It was obvious that he loved his older brother, but Mycroft wasn't winning any points by smothering him to death. She didn't know what Mycroft was saying, but the instant that Sherlock flinched slightly, she grabbed the mobile out of his hand.

"Ah, Miss Potter, I presume?" Mycroft said. She didn't answer him. "I'm sure you'll be glad to know that I'm still alive, and I survived three and two-thirds assassination attempts yesterday."

"Thrilled," she drawled, with as much bite as she could put in one word. Her response made Sherlock laugh and Anthea stare at her with surprise.

"How did you know about Mr. Andrews?" queried Mycroft, all business.

Pleione stretched out her fingers and examined her nails. Hmm, it was almost time for a new manicure.

"Miss Potter?"

"Sherlock, do you think they would look better in pink or red?" Pleione asked, assured that Sherlock would have a detailed explanation of why neither was appropriate and she should choose—insert whatever color he liked best.

Mycroft sighed, as if she were being tedious, which, to be fair, she was. "Pleione?"

Pleione's fingers tightened on the mobile as she sucked in a harsh breath. How dare he use her given name without permission? What an intimate presumption to make! "You take far too many liberties, Mr. Holmes. I believe I'm quite done with you," she said. Her voice was so frigid that she wouldn't have been shocked to see clouds in the air as Anthea and Sherlock exhaled.

Sherlock stared at her, stunned, as if he had never heard anyone speak to his brother that way before.

Silence dragged out on the phone, and then Mycroft said, "My apologies." There wasn't an ounce of sincere regret in his voice. "I'd like to offer you a job in—"

Oh, that man had too much daring for his own good! Pleione squeezed her eyes shut, reminded herself that hexing Muggles was illegal, and took a deep breath. She said, "No." Then she ended the call and set the phone on the table behind her.

Anthea gaped at her for several seconds. Then she inclined her head and moved to the side, allowing Pleione and Sherlock room to pass.

Pleione couldn't get the flabbergasted look on Anthea's face out of her mind. Had no one ever told the man "no" before? Well, if that was true, she was quite pleased to be the first. Someone needed to remind Mr. Holmes that people had freedom of choice.

Hers wasn't going to smack into a cobweb, never to be used again.

Part III: I'm Sure You Must be Weary, Dear

Pleione awoke with a groan and clutched at her throbbing head. She held as still as possible, and then opened her eyes to see an extravagant room she didn't recognize. The drapes on the bed were tapestries of star constellations, which amused her. Her mother would be envious of them. However, the fact that she hadn't seen them before was cause for worry. Where was she?

She closed her eyes and thought backward. What had she been doing before she ended up wherever she was?

There was a coffee shop, right? Yes, she had been at a coffee shop alone, because Sherlock had been gone the past five days at a Forensics Symposium in Scotland. A black car had pulled up outside the coffee shop, surely containing Anthea with another passive kidnapping attempt. What came next, though?

Pleione covered her eyes with her left hand and shifted. The pain raised a notch. Ah, her Divination powers, then. She could vaguely recall glancing down into her empty teacup. The tealeaves had seemed especially bright, and then . . . nothing. "Fool!" she whispered. How had she allowed Mr. Holmes to become such a distraction that she would accidentally attempt to read her own future? That path led only to pain, which she had found out the hard way. Magic wouldn't let her see her own future.

That, in itself, was scary. Magic had always been fond of her, answering whenever she asked for guidance as a child. But after her Divination powers had been activated, she had been left alone. She sometimes wondered if she was being punished for what her parents had done—awakening her powers early. After all, she was one of the Chosen, and had never been gifted. . . .

"Silly girl," she whispered as tears welled in her eyes and spilled over. It was a hurt that she kept deeply buried. She had watched as all of her closest friends paired off and bonded. Yet she had never felt the slightest inclination toward any male in a romantic manner. "Crying solves nothing." She wiped her arm across her eyes, and then realized the material was silk, and not what she had been wearing earlier.

Pleione's heart stuttered in her chest. And despite the rushing pain it caused her head, she sat up. The bedcovers tumbled to her lap, revealing a modest nightgown; it was white with embroidered orchids on it. "What in the world?"

"I wasn't sure if your name was after the nymph, the flower, or the star."

She yanked the covers back over her chest and huddled against the headboard, before turning to face the direction the voice had come from. Mycroft Holmes was leaning against the doorframe, umbrella conspicuously absent. His face was blank, not giving her a single clue as to how long he had been there, what he was thinking, or how she had come to be in this bed, and attired thusly.

"The star," she conceded.

"Interesting." He raised an eyebrow, non-verbally asking her to elaborate.

Pleione bit her lip and hoped that if she offered a little more information, he would answer her unspoken questions. "It's a tradition in my mother's family."

"Ah. Family."

Mycroft shifted, and she worried that he would come in the room. While it wasn't her bedchamber, it was a bedchamber, and she was in a nightgown on the bed. She flinched, and loathed that she did so. He stilled, a calculative stare on his face. She didn't care what he deduced, as long as he didn't enter the room. She tried to console herself with the knowledge that her hair was still up, but since that only reminded her of the throbbing pain in her skull, it didn't help much.

"I came to join you for tea. You fainted shortly after I arrived at the shop. I barely managed to catch you in time to keep you from hitting your head on the floor," he said.

Pleione buried her face in her knees. So, it hadn't been Anthea after all. Mycroft had decided to come in person, for once. And she had fainted! She had no doubt that he would easily be able to support her weight. However, the thought of being held in his arms made her blush profusely. No one had ever carried her before, excluding her father and brothers. To be held that closely to a male's chest . . . She shivered. "You have my gratitude," she said formally, face still hidden in her knees. Would his arms be warm? Would she have heard his heart beating? Would—? Stop this nonsense, Pleione, she ordered herself. Just because you haven't been gifted doesn't mean you won't be. Besides, he's an annoying jerk.

"You're welcome," he said, cheeks twitching, as if he had heard what she had said to Sherlock just over a week and a half ago. Knowing him, he might have. "Do you have a habit of fainting? A medical condition of some sort? I wasn't able to find any files on the subject," Mycroft said.

Instead of feeling like he had invaded her privacy, she felt protected—sort of. He had bothered to look up Muggle medical records, which she didn't have, because she had fainted? Now that was interesting. She wanted to pass it off as him protecting a 'future investment', as he likely thought of her, but was unable to do so for some reason she couldn't pin down. "No, you wouldn't." No one in the Muggle world knew of her condition. "It was my fault," she said. Really, accidentally reading her own tealeaves! She knew to pay better attention than that!

"It was your fault you fainted? How so? Anthea informs me that you've been eating well. So it can't be a problem with your blood sugar."

Pleione stared at him, stunned by the statement he had just made. Was Anthea truly watching her that closely? To even make sure that she ate enough? I guess with Sherlock, it's a legitimate concern . . . but with her? Why? She suddenly flashed back to being in the parlor of Potter Manor with her mother. Her father had come and leaned against the doorframe, a frown on his handsome face as he reprimanded her mother for not eating properly after an illness. Her father's favorite house-elf, Lagnok, had tattled on her mother. Her mother had been miffed at first, and then smiled sappily at her father, thanking him for his love and care.

The room was certainly elegant enough to belong to a pureblood manor. She hadn't realized the Holmeses were so wealthy. And the nightgown was especially fine. If Mycroft were wearing wizarding fashion, she could almost imagine . . . no. Nonsense.

"Get your head out of the clouds, Pleione. That's absurd," she whispered. She shook her head, despite the pain she knew it would cause, and sighed when the world seemed to settle itself around her again. "My blood sugar is fine," she said in response to his question. "It's unrelated, and there's nothing anyone can do to help," she added when it looked like he would interrupt. He frowned, as if her assertion brought him great displeasure. Again, it reminded her of her father when something was wrong with her mother.

"Your clothes have been laundered and are in the bathroom," said Mycroft, pointing to another door inside the room.

Pleione glanced over at it, and then back to him, not moving from her spot on the bed. She still didn't know how she had gotten in the nightgown. But if it hadn't been him—the thought alone turned her face bright red—she wasn't going to allow him to see her so intimately attired.

"I can assure you that your modesty is intact, Miss Potter. Anthea took care of all the necessities after I brought you to my home to rest," he said, face solemn.

She couldn't get a reading on him. Not quite. However, even though Muggles were different, she couldn't imagine him bringing her here if he were simply interested in her agreeing to work for him. Not to his personal home. That was something different, something she would expect of a pureblood who was courting an obstinate witch. . . . No! It couldn't be, could it?

Pleione reached for her wand, a comforting gesture she allowed herself, only to realize that it was gone. Swallowing, she groped around herself on the bed, hands coming up empty. Was it gone? Had it been lost? Had some Muggle picked it up? Pleione fought to keep from hyperventilating as the many terrifying probabilities flitted through her mind. "Where?" she demanded, turning her full attention on Mycroft, as if willing him to understand her one word question and give the only answer she required.

Face as blank as ever, Mycroft reached into his suit jacket. He twisted his wrist and revealed her holly wand, safe and sound, from his inside left pocket—right over his heart. "It's safe, I assure you. Not even a scratch."

His long, elegant fingers were curled around the handle of her wand, as if she had just surrendered it and herself to him. She couldn't even give more than a passing thought to the fact that he not only knew what she was searching for, but that he had ensured its protection. The sight of her wand in his hand caused her heart to pound in her chest. She had never found anyone to offer it to, and here he was, holding it blithely in his hand, as if she gave it to him every day.

Before her eyes, he slid it back into his jacket pocket, right over his heart. Magic sheathed in love. There was no way he knew what that meant, right?

Mycroft took a step backward, grasping the doorknob as he did so. "Rest a while longer, Miss Potter. Then go ahead and take a bath. I'll be in the parlor when you're done." Then he inclined his head to her, nodded, and closed the door.

As his footsteps faded, Pleione choked back hysterical laughter and tears. "Will you walk into my parlor, said the spider to the fly?" She buried her face in her hands and collapsed back against the pillows. "For my wand, yes. Perhaps for that alone—yes," she whispered.

Then, overcome by the pain in her head and all that had happened, she slept.

Part IV: Close Heart and Ear and Eye

Pleione lay her hands flat on the marble counter in the bathroom, gazing sightlessly into the mirror. She had just finished her bath and re-donned the clothes that she had put on that morning, assuming it was the same day, of course. She didn't think she had slept that long.

The image of Mycroft's fingers curled around her wand, sliding it into the pocket over his heart replayed in her head. He was a Muggle. There was no chance that he knew what that meant. None at all. Right? Even if he was the British government, he couldn't know. Only the Prime Minister knew about the wizarding world; it was part of their agreement.

Still . . .

"What would it feel like to be his?" she whispered longingly. "What would it feel like to be anyone's?" She hung her head, hating that she had let her mind drift there yet again. But it didn't change the fact that the thoughts were once again floating in her head, aside dreams and hopes for the future.

Wizards had offered for her hand since she was fourteen, and she had never been interested in any of them. They wanted her for her power, to strengthen their bloodlines, or because they lusted after her. Some had offered because their parents ordered them to court her. A few had been her friends, and good men. None of them were genuinely in love with her. After seeing what her parents had always had, she would never be able to settle for less.

As time went on, doubts surfaced inside her. What if the fault lay with her? What if she was somehow defective, and that's why none of them brought her heart to life? What if she was damaged, and that's why Magic hadn't gifted her to anyone, despite her being Chosen? What if she was too far removed from reality? What if her Divination powers altered her too much? What if . . . ? Whatif . . . ? What if . . . ?

She remembered being younger, twelve or thirteen, and playing with her brothers. She remembered racing them on broomsticks—Firebolts, of course, only the best for Potters—and winning. She recalled wanting to stand next to her husband on the ground, and smile up indulgently at her children flying, before grabbing a broom to join them, as her parents always did.

Pleione wanted a large family, uncaring if she lost her figure somewhat. Hard work and exercise would bring it back, if that ever happened. She wanted sons to roughhouse with, and daughters to teach fencing to. She had even picked out names, each with a special meaning to her heart. Yet time passed, and there were no children, because there wasn't a suitor who meant anything to her. And she had sworn never to give herself to anyone she didn't love.

Hannah and Neville already had a child. Zach and Rose were now officially engaged. Cormac and Padma had a daughter on the way. And Pleione's own brother, Henry Eridanus, had just become betrothed to Astoria Greengrass. And hadn't her mother mentioned something in her last letter about Romilda Vane snagging Urquhart?

"What did I do wrong, Mother?" she asked Magic, tears streaming down her face. "Why are you punishing me?"

Like always these days, Magic didn't answer her.

Sniffling, Pleione removed a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped her face dry. She looked tired, no, exhausted, much too pale, and weak. It looked like a breeze would be able to knock her over.

"Grow up, Pleione," she snapped. "Not everyone gets a happily ever after."

She straightened her spine and marched out of the room, fully intending to leave in search of the blasted parlor. However, when she yanked open the door that Mycroft had closed when he left, she stepped forward only to gasp and come to a complete stop. It was a bedroom—a masculine bedroom. And she would wager her entire balance at Gringotts that is was his bedchamber. The furniture was heavy and, to her astonishment, antique.

Pleione stumbled backward a step and leaned against the doorframe . . . the doorframe that connected his bedchamber to the one she had been sleeping in! Pleione slid down the wall, cheeks heating as the realization started to actually sink into her brain. This was the lady of the house's rooms. And the bed hangings were of star constellations.

His earlier comment repeated in her head. "I wasn't sure if your name was after the nymph, the flower, or the star."

He had decorated the lady of the house's chambers with her in mind? She wanted to reject the thought as preposterous, but it wasn't. All of this evidence was before her eyes, and she wasn't foolish enough to discount it.

With shaking legs, Pleione stood up and wandered around the room, examining it more closely. She could now see the orchids engraved in the bed-frame, the vines twisting up and around them. There was a painting of a seaside, stormy and wretched, a beautiful nymph with black hair balancing herself on the cliff's edge; the nymph's eyes were as hoary as the sea. The table near the largest window held a vase of blossoming orchids, each petal perfect and undamaged.

"It's as if he designed it all with me in mind," she mumbled, fingers tracing the soft petals of the orchids. "But why?"

Why would he do that? He was always so solemn around her, serious and taciturn. This didn't make any sense! If she didn't know any better, she would assume he was creating a safe haven for his well-loved wife. This was all reminiscent of a pureblood lady's chambers. She felt safe, at home, and that was dangerous.

Her heartbeat raised, and she pressed a hand to her chest. "He's a Muggle, Pleione. You can't forget that." What good would it do to develop affection for someone who would never return it? He couldn't possibly love her. There was no chance, was there? He didn't know anything about her!

But then, he showed his love for his brother by being controlling and overbearing. Sherlock complained about it all constantly. How Mycroft was much too protective and possessive, as if he had been born into the wrong era.

What if Mycroft had changed his mind? What if he didn't want her to work for him anymore? What if he kept trying to get her attention, because he didn't want to be ignored by the girl he liked? Hadn't she compared his and Anthea's actions to her father's and Lagnok's just a few hours earlier? What if his desire to join her for tea was just that—a date?

"Is he trying to court me?"

"Would it work?"

Pleione gasped and spun around, her hand clutched even more tightly to her chest; her heart galloped. Mycroft stood perfectly straight in yet another doorway. She could see a hallway stretching out behind him, paintings and antiques on pedestals lining it. His features were smooth, as if he wasn't at all worried about her answer, whatever it may be. However, his eyes told a different story. They burned.

She licked her lips, voice failing her. Would it work? Would it work? It was almost as if he was asking her, Am I wasting my time? If so, please let me know now, and I'll leave you alone forever.

How could she possibly answer that?

Mycroft Holmes was a true gentleman, and not a weakling. He didn't let others run roughshod over him. He knew his own mind, made his own decisions, and wasn't easily swayed by other's arguments. He was active in politics, as well as several other arenas. He took care of his brother, even when Sherlock did his best to fight against the restraints that were for his own good. He was financially stable, and not a gambler. Sherlock had told her once that he had never seen his brother with a woman—so he wasn't a rake.

In any other instance, she would ask a potential suitor his intentions, in place of her parents. However, given the room that she was standing in, and his word that he hadn't compromised her modesty, she felt that would insulting in the extreme. His intentions were honorable, and completely serious by the looks of things.

Would it work?

Pleione closed her eyes and leaned against the table. He had an attractive mind, even when he was being aggravating. He was honorable and believed in justice. He had so many qualities that she had always sought in her future spouse, and she had unconsciously discounted them all for one reason: he was a Muggle.

She wanted to cry, throw her head back and weep until her eyes swelled shut, because she finally understood why he drove her mental.

She fancied him. She fancied his broad shoulders and fine features. She fancied his annoying persistence and dedication. She fancied his distinct eyes and elegant hands. She fancied his protective hovering and underhanded caring. She fancied that he was a man of his word. She, Pleione Potter, fancied Mycroft Holmes.

And he was a Muggle!

If she let him court her, if she fell even deeper for him, if she lost her heart completely, and all of her common sense with it . . . then it would lead to pain. She had enough magic that she felt perfectly capable of defending herself, so the lack of returned magic in a bonding wouldn't faze her. However, his lifespan would be so much shorter than her own. He was already thirty years old. He would have forty, maybe fifty left? While she would live until she was at least one hundred and thirty, most likely. Could she really handle seventy or eighty years of loneliness after her husband died? He would be her bonded lord.

When he died, she would only be middle-aged for a witch. There would be decades of life ahead of her. Would their children have a lifespan somewhere in the middle, a mix of Muggle and magical? Would she live so long that she would watch her husband and all of her children die?

Pleione knew she couldn't bear that kind of pain; she wasn't that strong. She just wasn't. And not even the company of her family would make up for losing her husband and children. No amount of nieces and nephews, siblings, or godchildren could do that.

The tears made her voice thick as she answered him. "Yes, it would work." Her voice quavered. "But I can't let it."

Without moving, Mycroft seemed to collapse in on himself; the sight made her heart hurt. "May I ask why?" There was a hint of defeat in his voice, and it cut her to the quick. He was too good, too proud, to sound so broken, even if it was just for an instant.

Pleione wiped at her wet eyes and admitted the truth. "Because I couldn't bear to live such a long time without the man who won my heart."

Then, unable to tolerate the suddenly open expression of pain on his face, she clamped her eyes shut. The minute he began speaking, she placed her hands over her ears; she couldn't bear the temptation. She couldn't think on this a moment more! So Pleione stuffed all the swelling feelings back in her heart, deep where she wouldn't have to see or feel them, or hear her heartbeat clamoring for her attention.

Desperate to escape the pain, she spun on her heel and Disapparated, entirely uncaring of the law. He wouldn't tell anyone of her magic; she knew that. He was too noble to do so. He was . . . no!

In her hurry to leave, Pleione left her wand behind.

Part V: To Prove the Warm Affection

Nine days. It had been nine days since she had last been in her room at his manor. Nine days since she had come to understand his feelings. Nine days in which her own had grown, as she was able to look back at events from his perspective. She didn't have a single doubt in her mind now.

Mycroft Holmes was in love with her.

Pleione had thought that time away would make things better. She would get her head back on straight and sort everything out. She did not fancy a Muggle. That was ridiculous! What good would ever come from it? She had thought that space from him and the outside world would help, but it didn't. Each day that she spent locked up in her flat was worse than the day before.

On the seventh day, she finally admitted the truth to herself. She loved Mycroft Holmes—which was entirely absurd! That didn't make it untrue, though.

Footsteps came pounding up the stairs outside her flat, and Pleione sighed. So, Sherlock was back from Scotland, was he? Was it already Thursday? She had missed their gelato outing. He was going to be worried; she was never late. Until now. Sherlock's familiar knock soon rang out against her door, but she couldn't bring herself to move. If Morgana was being merciful, he would leave. He knocked again. She didn't move from the sofa.

When silence fell, she breathed a sigh of relief; it was much too soon. Only moments later, the door to her flat swung open. Sherlock was on his knees, putting little tools back in a leather kit of some kind. He shoved it in a pocket of his dramatic coat and stood, shutting the door behind him as he entered.

"It's common courtesy to answer the door when someone knocks," he said petulantly, eyes narrowed at her as he strode across the room and flounced into a soft chair without arms.

"So it is," she agreed. She was in casual clothes, having not expected company, feet and ankles bare. With any other guest, she likely would have minded, but it was just Sherlock. She knew he didn't even have the inkling of a design on her person. She spared a brief thought for what type of woman would capture his heart: someone small, but fierce, who didn't take rubbish. And blonde, surely. He seemed to like blondes, though she knew he would deny it. He was, after all, 'married to the work'.

"You're avoiding me," Sherlock said.

Pleione shook her head. "Not at all." Well, not intentionally.

"Ah, then you're avoiding Mycroft," Sherlock deduced, lips spreading in a grin.

She flinched and ducked her head. "Not that it's any of your business, Sherlock, but yes, I am."

"How is it not my business?" Sherlock asked incredulously. "My only friend managed to break my brother while I was gone." She winced and clapped her hands over her ears, but it didn't block out the sound of his voice. "And my brother managed to break my only friend. I leave for two weeks and everyone around me falls apart; it's quite pathetic." His tone of voice was scathing, but she heard the underlying worry and concern. For him to admit to either was new for him.

"He's in love with you. You know that, right?" Sherlock asked pointedly.

"Yes, Sherlock, I know," she gritted out. Did he have to bring that up? Well, of course he did! He's Sherlock! She should have expected it; he could never leave well enough alone.

"Completely gone on you. Honestly, it's quite sickening. He keeps standing in the doorway to that room he made for you, as if wondering when you're coming home."

"You knew about that?" she squeaked, surprised he would admit to such a thing. The picture his words brought to mind wasn't pleasant.

"Pfft, of course! Who do you think advised him on your favorite colors and styles of furniture? Of course, this was after I yelled at him for trying to steal away my only friend." Sherlock huffed and blushed, hiding behind his curls again. "After I made sure he had only the best of intentions, I decided he would be allowed to court you. If you marry him, then you'll be my sister. I've always wanted a sister," he admitted. "Besides, we both have black hair and gray eyes. It will be amusing to have the brainless idiots of the world assume that we are twins!"

Pleione couldn't help but chuckle at that. He reminded her so much of the legend of the Marauders—her parents had been pranksters extraordinaire! Her brothers had adopted the name and mantle when they went to Hogwarts, too.

"Do you love him?" Sherlock asked, blatantly direct.

She bit her lip and cursed the situation. "Sherlock, it doesn't matter if—"

"Come now, Pleione, it's a yes or no question. I know you're smart enough to answer those," Sherlock said, delivering another of his backhanded compliments.

Pleione dug her metaphorical heels in and said, "It doesn't matter if—"

"It matters to him," Sherlock interjected.

"What?" she mumbled, thoughts racing.

"It matters to him. It matters a great deal to him, Pleione," Sherlock said. He leaned forward in the chair, intent on her to an unnerving degree. "My brother is a pompous, interfering, pain in the bum. He's nosy, and bossy, and thinks he's cleverer than the rest of the world. But he's still my brother. And this, you, matter to me. But mostly, Pleione, you matter to him. I've never seen him like this before. So, I'm asking you to answer a simple yes or no question. Do you love him?"

Pleione's lips quavered as she considered confessing the truth aloud. What difference would it make? None. Keeping it to herself wouldn't serve any purpose. She wasn't thick enough to assume that Sherlock hadn't already figured out the truth. He just wanted her to say it. To admit it.

"Yes."

That one word ripped open the gates of her heart, and all the emotions she had somewhat successfully smothered came shooting back to the surface. Tears pricked her eyes, but didn't fall.

"Brilliant!" Sherlock jumped out of the chair and clapped his hands while spinning in a circle, his coat flaring dramatically behind him. "I'll have a twin sister. Oh, and Mycroft will stop being so pathetically heartbroken. That's good too."

"Sherlock, it doesn't change anything," Pleione said. She couldn't let it change anything. Her concerns were just as valid now as they had been nine days ago. There was so much to lose—more than she could take a chance on.

Sherlock scoffed. "Don't be pedestrian, Pleione. It changes everything. Now that you've admitted it, you won't be able to stop thinking about it. Soon enough you'll go see my brother and put him out of his misery. Thank you for that, by the way. He's been increasingly aggravating since I came home."

Pleione blinked dazedly at him.

Huffing, Sherlock said, "You're supposed to say 'you're welcome' when someone says 'thank you'." He grinned teasingly.

"You're welcome," she parroted, mind all a jumble. What exactly was going on?

"To facilitate you realizing that yes, you will allow him to court and marry you, I've been sent with an overly expensive gift that I'm supposed to give you after you've confessed your love for him. Since you've recently done that, this is for you." Sherlock reached into his coat and pulled out a small gift box that was elaborately wrapped. He dropped it on her lap and then hurried for the door. "I'm sure you'll need to do feminine stuff now to make yourself presentable for my brother, and he threatened to—well, you don't need to know that—if I told you what was in the box, so I'm going to leave now." Sherlock opened the door, spun back to face her, said, "We're going to have a 'pretend to be twins' gelato date on Sunday at 4:00 p.m. See you then!" and then was gone.

Pleione peered down at the box in her lap, afraid to open it. What had Mycroft Holmes sent her? 'Overly expensive' brought to mind a first Marriage Date gift. Is that what this was, or its equivalent, at least? What would he have chosen for her? Jewelry? A hairpin?

She wanted to know what was in the box, what he had thought she would most appreciate, but she was afraid to do so. The past ten minutes were swirling through her head. Sherlock had cut right through her defenses and laid her bare to herself. It was a sobering thought. However, the rascal was correct. Now that she had spoken the truth of her feelings, she wouldn't recant.

"Perhaps I should ask Mum if there's a long forgotten Cunning and Most Ancient House of Holmes," she whispered.

Pleione took a deep breath, steadied her hands, and then unwound the ribbon from the box. It was a shining ivory that glittered in the light of the afternoon sun. It slackened in her hand, and then slid off the box and landed in her lap, pooling across her thighs. She balled her right hand into a fist, and then relaxed her fingers and lifted the lid off the box.

"How did you know?" she inquired, voice loud in the quiet room. "How could you possibly have known?"

He couldn't really have known, of course. Mycroft Holmes wasn't the Prime Minister; so he couldn't have such intimate knowledge of the Potter family traditions. However, despite her believing that with a surety, it didn't change the fact that he had given her the traditional first Marriage Date gift of the Potter family.

Nestled in the small box, on a white satin pillow, was an ornate hair comb. It was aged—the silver bright in some places and dull in others. The teeth of the comb were sharp enough that she could use it as a weapon if necessary—so it was practical, as well as pretty. It depicted a fierce lion with a full mane: king of all that surrounded it. Its eyes were gray diamonds.

Pleione traced the stunning comb with her fingers and conceded defeat. Despite her best efforts, just like the fly that was easily flattered, she had been caught in the spider's web.

Mycroft Holmes had won.

Part VI: But She Ne'er Came Out Again!

Pleione stood before the mirror in her bedchamber, perusing her reflection. The bruise cream had cleared up the circles under her eyes, and the pallor of her skin was normal for her. Her lashes were thick without the use of enhancement products, and her lips were a natural pale pink. She wore a white dress that hugged her waist and fell just past her knees in gauzy layers. Her ankles and feet were unadorned, except for silver anklets with bells that tinkled whenever she moved. The parasol and gloves that matched lay in her closet, untouched.

Mind resolved, Pleione withdrew the pins from her hair until it tumbled down, stopping at the back of her knees. The ends curled against her skin, tickling it. She combed through her hair with the gift he had sent. It fit in her palm well, and didn't tug at her hair; it slid right through the strands. She combed it until it shone, and then she placed it in her hair behind her left ear—aligned with her left hand: the bonding hand.

"You can do this," she whispered. "Sherlock said that he's in love with you." Without that complete assurance, she wasn't sure if she would have the courage to go through with this. Perhaps that was why Sherlock said it in the first place. He had the uncanny ability of being able to get inside people's heads, and hers was no different, despite her training in the Mental Arts.

Pleione focused on the place she had been standing when she left the bedchamber Mycroft had designed especially for her. Then, determined to not be a coward, she Disapparated.

Landing lightly on her feet, Pleione reached out and stroked the orchid petals. They were different orchids, freshly replaced today, she would guess. It was almost as if she hadn't fled nine days ago, heart and head waging war against each other. Almost.

A shadow loomed over her, and she knew that it was him. He had been waiting for her here, in this room, which was littered with physical representations of her name. The thought soothed her fear. She saw his shaking hand reach out toward her in the window, but it fell back to his side before it met her skin. His eyes were riveted on her hair, and then homed in on the comb he had sent with Sherlock.

"I see you received my gift," he whispered, voice raspy.

"I did," Pleione agreed. She wasn't sure what to say, what to do. Was there proper etiquette for something like that? She had never been in love before, and he was reserved. She wasn't sure what came next.

"Do you accept it?" asked Mycroft. His voice was monotone, but she could hear the threads of tiredness and hope. He hadn't given up yet. Sherlock was right; he was broken. However, he hadn't forfeited.

"I do," she whispered, feeling as if those two words held more power than they should. But seeing as their sanity seemed to rest on them, she thought the words deserved the extra emphasis.

Mycroft's hands rose in the air and hovered over her shoulders, as if he were afraid she would disappear the moment he tried to touch her and make sure she was real. She hadn't meant to do this to him. She hadn't meant to bring such a proud, honorable man so low. He was almost painfully tentative, completely unlike himself, and she couldn't stand it.

Pleione took a step backward, pushing her shoulders into his hands. "I'm not going to vanish."

"I don't know that for sure. You have in the past," Mycroft replied, voice carefully blank.

She couldn't discredit that statement, because it was true. She had acted quite abominably, just disappearing on him like that. He had offered her a courtship and she had fled; it wouldn't have left a good impression. But she hadn't thought it would shake him so thoroughly. Not the spider—not Mycroft Holmes.

"I left something behind. It's very precious to me," Pleione said. She bit her lip when he pulled his hands away from her. The contact hadn't lasted very long, but it had felt reassuring. She missed it already.

"Oh, of course." Mycroft reached into the inner left pocket of his jacket and withdrew her wand. The window reflected his anguished face, but he smoothed it out a few seconds later. "I should have asked Anthea to return it immediately. Please forgive me." There was genuine regret in his voice—just enough for her to know he was telling the truth.

Pleione turned around and palmed her wand, rejoicing at the feel of her magic dancing through the wood. The familiar magical connection brought a smile of delight to her face. "Thank you," she said.

He took a miniscule step backward, as if the gratitude had injured him. "You're welcome," he said.

"But I wasn't talking about my wand," she clarified, heart and magic bursting with joy. She set her beloved wand down on the table, next to the vase of fresh orchids.

"Oh?" There was an underlying threat in that one word, as if toying with him would be the most asinine decision she ever made, if such were her plans. His presence swelled again, deeper and darker this time—bringing to mind stories of Dark Lords.

"Alas, alas! How very soon this silly little Fly, hearing his wily, flattering words, came softly flitting by . . ." Pleione quoted the poem that always reminded her of him. He truly was the Spider and, despite her best efforts to resist, had managed to trap her in his den.

Mycroft cupped her shoulders with strong, immovable hands. "What did you leave behind, Pleione?" He breathed her name like an intimate caress. She shivered in his hold.

"Up jumped the cunning Spider, and fiercely held her fast." She gasped in surprise when he crushed her against his chest. His arms locked so tightly around her that she knew she would never be able to escape unless he released her. Her ear was flattened against his chest and she heard the thudding of his heart. It sounded like a million drums at once. She rubbed her cheek against his chest and inhaled the scent of mint.

"But she ne'er came out again!" Mycroft said, voice edged with demands. Or perhaps they were commands?

Pleione grinned as his hands twined through her hair, as if he would use the silken strands and weave her into his web. She had left behind her heart, and he had protected it and would continue to do so. Just as she would protect his, so that he was never broken again.

She would make this work; she would find a way. Even if she had to steal the Philosopher's Stone from the Flamels, Pleione would discover a way to keep Mycroft with her for as long as she lived.

"All will be well, beloved," Magic whispered in her mind.

Pleione closed her eyes and let years of insecurity fall away. She wasn't unloved or forgotten. Mother had just offered her something special: her own choice.

Lovingly, Pleione reached up and stroked Mycroft's cheek. "But she ne'er came out again," she repeated.