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In Love and War

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It took several weeks for the papers to pass back into Antonin’s hands after the Azkaban breakout. The first week, he was simply in no state to manage any affairs, however rest, good food and fresh air, as well as a cocktail of potions, brought him and the others into shape.

They had been put up at Malfoy Manor, which had been appointed the status of Headquarters until a new location could be found. Recovered documents and resurrected achieves were brought straight into Lucius’ study, conferences were held in the Malfoy formal dinning room, utilizing the fireplace there. Death Eaters, either freed or returning from abroad who did not feel safe yet to go back to their own estates, where put up in the guest rooms. Antonin, as soon as he was allowed by their healers, spent an afternoon along with several of the others putting up an extra security perimeter, although Lucius insisted that the blood wards would be enough.

“You will be thankful for the protection if it comes to it,” Antonin had told his friend grimly, trying to ignore Lucius’ hovering presence behind him. “We will try to find another place for Headquarters and then you can have your privacy back.” Antonin couldn’t help the slip of a teasing smile onto his expression. He knew that if Lucius hated anything about the situation it was the fact that suddenly a couple dozen people had access to his wards.

“It is not you I’m worried about, Tony. You’re welcome to stay for as long as you please,” Lucius answered in his usual dry drawl, so familiar that Antonin felt his heart swell with the realization of how badly he had missed this part of freedom – his friends.

He was amazed at how many of them had actually made it through. Lucius, Augustus Rookwood, Edward Parkinson, Theodore Mulciber… Bella. Antonin had to admit that even Rodolphus’ survival was a pleasant surprise, despite their constant enmity.

There had been losses, too, of course. Heavy, daunting losses that were hard to think about, even harder to actually face. Andre Rosier had not made it through. Igor was being hunted and would be killed by their own for his treachery and Antonin could not decide what hurt more – Igor’s impending death or his betrayal. Bellatrix, who had made it through, was not the woman he had once known. Azkaban had changed her, snapped something within her mind. She was so fragile now, constantly on the verge of madness. Her legendary temper now dissolved into fits of rage and hysterics. What had once been fascination with their Lord and a significant handful of gratitude for what he had once done for her and Antonin was now unconditional adoration which was nearly disturbing in the forms it took.

But even harder than that, perhaps, was knowing he had lost nearly all the boys he had personally trained. Antonin’s Young Guard, his own highly-trained squad, the brightest heirs of that First War, the boys he had worked with for several years had not survived the war. Only four were left: Snape, Avery, Rabastan Lestrange and one of the Tallis twins.

Jack Avery had escaped Azkaban and now had a wife and a son. Fear and loss had left their imprint on the boy. A good deal of his thick, red hair was gone, his eyes were shifty and without their previous youthful spark. Antonin remembered Jack as the loud one, the boy who laughed and shouted at the most inappropriate times. Now, he mostly tried to stay unnoticed. And with Evan gone, whatever had bound Avery to Snape had evaporated as the two rarely spoke.

Snape had always been a boy with an attitude and a sharp tongue. But now there was an air of condescension and hostility to him that made Antonin nervous. Something had always been off about Snape but there had never been time to look into it. Now, Antonin feared, he would have as little time as ever but the matter was no less pressing, especially given just how much faith their Lord was suddenly putting into the man.

The first night that Lucius handed the papers over to Antonin in his study, Dolohov first meant to count his losses and put the past to rest. He opened up the files of the Young Guard and looked through the papers, a peace of parchment for each of the boys. All but four had dates of death written on them, the first two, in Antonin bold hand, the rest were drawn out carefully in Lucius’ neat, ornate cursive.

Bonfante, Anatole July 1979
Black, Regulus December 1979
Mulciber, Ashley November 1981
Rosier, Evan November 1981
Wilkes, Angelus November 1981
Tallis, Alexander December 1981
Crouch, Barty June 1995

“Barty?” Antonin looked up at Lucius who sat in the armchair opposite him. “Only last year? How?”

“He was sentenced to Azkaban, then managed to get out somehow, something about his mother, I’m not certain. He, along with that rat, found our Lord and helped him gain strength. Barty was at Hogwarts impersonating Moody; he was integral to the plan to bring our Lord back to life.”

“What happened?” Antonin felt a sinking sensation in his stomach. Barty had almost made it, had served once again. He should have been rewarded, not dead.

“He overreached, tried to get to Potter himself. Well, he was discovered and taken.”

Antonin frowned, sensing that Lucius was reluctant to tell him everything. “Did he try to escape then or…” Lucius looked away and Antonin felt a sickening prick of dread. “Tell me, Lucius.”

“He got the Kiss. We…we thought it would be kinder to…finish it, so I arranged some things, pulled some strings. Avada Kedavra – no pain.”

Antonin rubbed circles into his temples and sighed. Barty had always been one of the brightest, one of those for whom Battle Magic came easily, naturally. He wasn’t the nicest boy, but there was his idiot father to thank for that. Antonin looked back down at the file in his hands. “No one had the heart to tell Will did they?”

“Dorea Mulciber told him.”

“I heard they wed.”

“Yes, faithful girl, Dorea.” Lucius smiled whimsically. “You would think that after losing both of her brothers – one to death, one to prison – she would not wish to bind herself to a man who was sentenced to life in Azkaban yet that is exactly what she did. She knew, of course, that Alexander was dead but she did not tell William anything until he was free.”

“Perhaps she held out hope that he may one day be free and this way he had more to live for, to hold on for.” Antonin had received news of his mother’s death while serving his sentence and the blow had almost done him in. He could not blame Dorea for withholding the information.

“Perhaps.” They fell silent for some time and Lucius poured them both a glass of brandy. “Our Lord is more determined to wage war than ever before,” Lucius commented, not quite meeting Antonin’s eyes. “We are, of course, expected to follow him. He has grown even more demanding, I am afraid.”

Antonin shrugged and looked into the fire. “Have we a choice, Lucius? Do you not believe in the Cause anymore?”

“That is not what I meant,” Lucius hissed, but there was a lack of the old defiance in his voice. “It’s…harder with a family.”

A heavy silence fell over them. Antonin would not deny that it would be harder this time. Their forces had been greatly diminished, the politics were not in their favor as much as they were last time, their Lord had personal affairs on his mind and his journey to the Other Side had left him…effected. But Antonin saw no other choice nor no other purpose to his life anymore than to fight and to win. If for any reason, then to avenge all the boys and friends he had lost, all the pain that had been caused him and those close to him. “Speaking of family,” Antonin said finally, thinking that perhaps a switch of topic was in order. “Draco is – what? – fifteen now? Sixteen?”

“Nearly sixteen. He will be coming down for the Easter Ball along with some of the others’ children.”

“Will you present him?”

Lucius hesitated for a few moments, as though struggling with himself. “Yes,” he asserted quietly just when Antonin thought Lucius might ignore the question altogether. “I will.”

*~*

Pansy did not like corsets much. They squeezed the air out of her and she felt unnaturally slim and frail in their stranglehold. Nevertheless, she held her breath and steadied herself on one of the bedposts as their house elf tightened the ribbons of the corset. Over it came folds of white and forest green fabric, falling over her shoulders and breasts, sliding over her petticoats and hiding them. Pansy slipped into her small white shoes and looked at herself in the mirror critically. She wore her hair too short to put up – which grieved her parents – so her mother bid her to curl it. Pansy dismissed the elf and picked up her wand. The thick strands of her chocolate hair curled and fell into place, fixed into place by spells and small, nearly-invisible clips. She made up her face and stood to consider herself in the full-length mirror once again. It would have to do.

Pansy thought that it was ironic that her coming out ball should be the Malfoy Easter Ball. Not that she minded greatly but there seemed to be a slight in it somewhere. “Times are tough now, dear,” her father had explained calmly over tea the night before. “There is a storm coming and we would not want to wait until summer, which is what it would certainly take for you to have your own ball. Besides, there may not be time come summer.”

Pansy was not stupid. She understood very well what her father meant. With the return of the Dark Lord there was sure to be a war. Her father had served the Dark Lord in the past war and he would serve the man again. She saw that this troubled her parents but Pansy felt no fear, despite the darkening atmosphere. If anything, she felt a dizzy, giddy sort of excitement at the events unfolding around her and only wished she could be party to them in more ways than wearing a pretty dress to a ball.

Pansy made her way down the large staircase. Most of the candles were out as her parents were most likely ready to leave. She slowed her steps for the sake of not being criticized on entering the sitting room where her parents awaited. “Mama, Father, I am ready.” Pansy folder her hands before her and looked expectantly at her parents.

“Ah, Pansy. You look lovely,” Edward Parkinson said, coming up to his daughter and giving her a kiss on the temple. “Stunning.”

“I look like a doll, Papa,” Pansy protested. “How am I expected to dance when this damned corset it so tight?”

Michelle Parkinson took in a sharp breath. “Language, dear.”

“Come.” Edward waved for his daughter and wife to stand with him. They took the portkey and were soon swirling through space, landing in the hall of Malfoy Manor a few moments later.

Pansy looked around the dimly lit chamber with its engraved statues and tall, muted-glass windows which stretched up to the ceiling. Music carried to them from the ballroom and its cheerful sounds seemed to contrast strangely with the dark emerald marble and the overbearing atmosphere of the hallway. Pansy thought it strange as she had never felt darkness in Malfoy Manor. It was not the brightest house by any means but there was never such a crushing feeling of something intrusive and watchful.

Pansy followed her parents and soon found herself in the Malfoy ballroom. Here, she found, she could breathe easier. Hundreds of candles along the walls and on large, diamond chandeliers lit the expansive chamber and everything seemed to shine, glow and glitter. The music bubbled and swelled, the trills of a quadrille skipping on the air. Pansy found that she was smiling despite herself as they approached Narcissa to say their hellos.

Pansy scanned the room for Draco, searching him out at the table with the wine and among the dancing couples but he was nowhere to be seen. Nor was Lucius Malfoy at his wife’s side. This puzzled Pansy and she wondered if Lucius and Draco had some sort of business to attend to that would hinder them from coming to the ball. The idea made Pansy feel hot and angry on the inside. That her beau would miss her coming out ball felt like a slap in the face.

Narcissa must have guessed Pansy’s thoughts by her slight agitation and hurried to reassure her. “My husband and son are discussing some matter of importance. They shall be here shortly.” Narcissa gave Pansy a somewhat knowing look which made her stomach flip. Could that mean that they were discussing her? Pansy mentally shrugged it off and, excusing herself, went to find her friends.

Pansy found Millicent first who, as usual, was playing the role of the dutiful wallflower. Pansy wondered if Millicent could even fit into a corset but she supposed corsets had to be made for all sizes and the suggestive way in which Millie’s plentiful breasts peeked out of the top of her plum-colored gown gave Pansy the impression that there had to be at least some form of a corset there. Millie liked the elbow-length gloves and she usually wore black ones in hopes that they would make her dimpled elbows and plump wrists look thinner. The gloves matched her ridiculous feathered, black hair comb which she had stuck into her bun and it perched on the top of her head like some sort of limp bird. Millie’s cheeks were bright red – whether from rouge or wine it was hard to tell – and they stuck out as the most noticeable part of her face, which was a pity, really, as Millie had very nice, beetle-black eyes. To her credit, Millicent did seem very capable of bearing children, many of them.

“Hello, Millie. Is Daphne dancing?” Pansy asked, taking a drink and a cake for herself.

“With Theo Nott,” Millicent confirmed. “I think he fancies her.”

Pansy gave a soft but very un-lady like snort into her glass. “Theodore would, wouldn’t he? They’d match each other well, though.” Daphne was the elder Greengrass daughter and the less lovely one; Astoria had eclipsed her long before any of the boys their age were old enough to notice. But Astoria was not out in society yet, therefore she was not here and Daphne could enjoy her last year or so of unlimited male attention before all of it migrated to Astoria.

“I haven’t seen Draco,” Millicent commented and Pansy could swear she heard a note of triumph in the other girl’s voice.

Pansy smiled smugly not taking her eyes off the dancers. “Mrs. Malfoy said he and his father should be down shortly. They are discussing affairs of importance.”

“Oh.” Millicent’s obviously deflated tone was nearly laughable.

“Look, Millie.” Pansy nodded in the direction of Crabbe and Goyle who stood a few feet away, admiring the desserts and obviously trying hard to restrain their appetites. “Perhaps Gregory of Vincent will ask you to dance.”

“I think Vince is sweet, Pansy,” Millicent said defensively. “Don’t be so cruel.”

Pansy made a small face, remembering how she had been obliged to dance with Crabbe once and he had stepped on her toes repeatedly. To Gregory’s credit, he could at least dance without nearly sending his partner to a healer. “Blaise is here?” Pansy asked, her eyes widening slightly when she spotted the dark skinned boy heading in their direction.

“Apparently,” Millicent replied dryly.

“Blaise, I didn’t think you would grace us with your presence,” Pansy drew out as Blasie came up to them.

“Good evening to you too,” Blaise said back, that infuriating condescending look brushing over Pansy and ignoring Millicent altogether. “Why are you so surprised? In fact I should be the one surprised, or was I not invited to your debutante ball?”

Pansy pursed her lips and suddenly wished that she had a fan with which she could swat at Blaise to her heart’s content. “This is my coming out ball,” she said, rolling her shoulders slightly and standing just a tad taller. “I am surprised because I would not say that you are…impressed by current events.”

“Be that as it may, it is no reason to miss a ball. Besides, I have a new dress robe which yearned for an outing worthy of it.”

Pansy sipped wordlessly at her wine, thinking that Blaise Zabini had to be the biggest prick she had ever known.

“A waltz, perhaps?” Blaise offered her his hand and Pansy gaped at him. He seriously could not think that after that near-insult she would dance with him. Still, she found herself curtsying and taking his hand in assent. It would have been terribly rude to decline.

*

By the time Pansy felt persistent eyes watching her, she had danced not just with Blaise but several other boys as well. Some of her curls had begun to loosen slightly and she made a mental note to take a moment in private to fix them.

She looked around to see who was watching her. It was Lucius Malfoy in his expensive, perfectly tailored green and black dress robes. He and Draco looked so much alike that it was rather remarkable and Pansy felt an inappropriate flutter in her stomach from that steady, steely gaze. Behind Lucius, she could see Narcissa leading her parents down a hallway, away from the ballroom and into a more private area of the house. Lucius gestured for Pansy to come over and she crossed the floor to him, trying to walk “like a lady” – as her mother would say – instead of running out of impatience to find out what was happening. “Good evening, Mr. Malfoy,” Pansy said, hoping she did not sound too breathless.

“Come, child,” Lucius said in a low, approving purr. “There is good news.”

Pansy followed Lucius out of the ballroom and down the hall. Her heart began to beat so fast that she found herself catching her breath a little. If this was really what she thought it was then perhaps Draco had finally given his father her name and perhaps there would even be an early engagement. Pansy knew she was getting ahead of herself and it wasn’t that she couldn’t wait to get married and have lots of children but she knew that it was Draco she wanted and this would mean that he truly wanted her too and that what they had was not just a schoolyard tryst.

Lucius opened the door to his study and let Pansy go in first before following and closing the door with a flick of his wand. The room seemed very dim compared to the ballroom and Pansy had to blink several times before her eyes adjusted completely. Draco stood on one side of the room with his mother and Pansy’s parents stood on the other. The fireplace crackled and sparked, giving the room a comfortable, homey glow. Pansy did not think she had ever been inside Lucius’ study before. He had a large oak desk behind which stood a high-backed chair with a serpent engraved on it and comfortable-looking, leather armchairs. The study floor was covered with lush dark green carpets which matched some of the decorative ones hung on the walls. One wall contained a large bookshelf packed with books the smell of which tinged the air just slightly. On one of the shelves which did not have as many books stood an iron vase which looked ancient to Pansy. It was decorated with emeralds and silver letting which spelled out Latin words. The desk was neatly arranged with a candle, a couple of tidy stacks of papers, an ink-well and a wrack of different sized and shaped quills and the Malfoy seal.

Lucius went to join Draco and Narcissa on one side and Pansy went to stand between her parents. She looked up into her father’s face and he nodded at her encouragingly. Apparently, they had already been briefly informed as to what was going on although Pansy thought that she did not need to be told to figure it out but her pounding heart did not allow her to jump to conclusions or meet Draco’s eyes even though he was looking intently at her.

“My son has now given me the name of the girl he wishes to court with the intention of marriage,” Lucius began in a quiet but strong and reverberating voice. Pansy finally found it in herself to look at Draco and he smiled at her. “Draco wishes to court you, Miss Parkinson, as my wife has no doubt informed your parents on the way here. Would you be receptive of such a courtship?”

“Yes,” Pansy said, a little breathlessly. “I would be very receptive, Mr. Malfoy.” She could hardly stop herself from beaming.

“And you would like to be Draco’s bride?”

“Yes.” Did he not just ask her that very thing?

“Edward, you and I have already discussed this matter earlier.” Edward Parkinson nodded to acknowledge that he had given consent to this union. “Typically there would be a courting period,” Lucius continued. “However, in light of recent events and the…not quite definite future, I would propose that we have an engagement as soon as possible. Admittedly, the waiting period before both Draco and Pansy come of age would be nearly a year, I am sure there is no rush.”

“If there is no need to rush, I do not see the purpose of a full engagement,” Michelle Parkinson cut in. “Believe me, Lucius, I want this marriage as much as anyone; all mothers worry for the future of their daughters. However, they are just children still and I am afraid that an engagement would weigh heavily on both.”

Lucius and Narcissa exchanged glances. It seemed to Pansy that Lucius seemed especially anxious to settle the matter. “You must understand it is hard with the…war…” Narcissa seemed to choke on the word. Her pretty face scrunched up for a moment as though in pain, but then the expression was gone. “Draco is our only son.”

Edward nodded thoughtfully. “Perhaps…a betrothal? It would send the correct message but not be quite as…heavy, as my wife would put it, as an engagement. Then, perhaps some time in the summer before they go back to school we can have an official announcement and engagement ball. That will leave us plenty of time for preparation and no one will think their engagement strange. A girl in her sixth year can very well be engaged and even married.”

Pansy did not know of anyone, even in Slytherin, who was married while still at school, although she did know that many Pureblood girls would get married straight out of school and quite a few seventh-year girls were engaged. Pansy did not think she would like to get married while still at school. It would be very strange, but she would love to have a ball.

Lucius seemed to think this over. “Yes, perhaps a betrothal. We can settle everything and then make a public announcement and hold a ball at a more convenient time.” Something about the tone of Lucius’ voice made Pansy think that it was not certain when there might be such a time. “We can figure out the details perhaps tomorrow, Edward?”

“Yes.” Pansy glanced at her father who looked rather satisfied and thoughtful at the same time. She knew that these “details” most likely included her dowry and that was probably what was causing her father’s thoughtful expression.

“Come,” Narcissa said after a few more words had been exchanged. “They should be here soon and we’ve left our guest for long enough.” They filed out of Lucius’ study and Draco took Pansy’s arm once they were in the hall.

“Are you happy?” he asked her.

“I am,” she said back quietly, hoping that she wasn’t blushing too much. “You?”

Draco surveyed her with his cool, grey eyes and a smirk began to dance across his lips. “Did you really think, Parkinson, that I would give my father someone else’s name?”

Pansy rolled her eyes at him. “I can expect anything from you, Malfoy. Yet, I have always been secure in my place in your heart.” She smirked back at him and Draco’s smirk gradually morphed into a smile just as they re-entered the ballroom.

*

Pansy was standing with Draco, Theodore and Daphne when the Dark Lord arrived. A hush fell over the ballroom and the music was silenced. The candles in the large chandeliers flickered and their decorative teardrop-shaped diamonds swayed and clinked slightly against each other. The air seemed to condense and its thickness swallowed up some of the light. Pansy set aside her glass in anticipation.

“It’s him. He’s here! The Lord himself is here.” Whispers carried around the room and Pansy found herself edging forward. Draco disappeared from her side to go and stand with his parents in the middle of the chamber.

The large double doors on one side of the ballroom swung open and in came the Dark Lord, escorted by some of his most privy cabinet members – three men and one woman. Antonin Dolohov, Augustus Rookwood and Bellatrix Lestrange were on one side while Rodolphus Lestrange, Severus Snape and Theodore Mulciber were on the other. The Lord stopped in the center of the chamber and his escort stopped with him. Everyone else bowed respectfully as the chandeliers continued to flicker and click away. The Lord had once been a charming, even handsome, man, but the body he had been reborn into was not so generous. His skin was pale and had a blue-ish hue to it. His nose was retracted and his eyes were narrow and hollow, sparking an unnatural red from time to time. He had no hair and a toothy, unappealing smile which hardly resembled a smile at all. The Lord held his wand in long, slender fingers on which the bones of the joints stuck out and the nails were lengthy like those of a woman. Lord Voldemort emanated power and darkness, a sort of awe-inspiring chill which made Pansy tingle all over in fascination and dread.

“I see, Lucius, that this is quite the grand affair,” the Lord began in a hissing drawl which carried effortlessly across the ballroom. “I am glad to see so many supporters of our Cause. In fact it would seem that faith has remained strong among my followers.” The Lord’s eyes roamed over the chamber and finally landed on Draco. “So this is the Malfoy heir.”

“My Lord,” Lucius said, touching Draco’s shoulder gently. “Might I present my son, Draco. He is my only son and heir and I assure you that he has been raised in all the proper ways and would strive to be an asset to our Cause.”

“An honor, my Lord,” Draco said crisply, drawing himself up. Pansy could see that he was terribly nervous despite all of his bravado. She could not blame him for even she was nervous although it was unlikely that the Dark Lord would pay her any mind.

“I see. Good, that is good. We will need promising young men in time,” the Lord said in a thoughtful, foreboding tone. “I think it is time for the dancing to resume, however, as we are here for festivities, are we not, Lucius?”

“Yes, my Lord.”

Lord Voldemort made a dismissive gesture and retired to the wine with his escort. Edward Parkinson stepped forward in that moment and held his hand up for attention. “Please, if I may make an announcement of great importance in front of my Lord and all those present.” He turned to Pansy and signaled for her to come forward. Pansy walked gingerly to her father’s side and he took her hand, squeezing it tightly. “My daughter, Pansy, has turned sixteen and it is time for her to be out in society. I hope my daughter can forgive the lack of a true ball in her honor but we would dedicate our attention to more pressing matters. Please.” Edward led his daughter around himself in a circle and she curtsied thrice to all present and the Lord himself.

“Do you not have a son, Edward?” the Lord asked suddenly, cutting through the applause that had sounded for Pansy.

“Yes, my Lord. Richard. He is receiving his High Degree in France.”

“Perhaps your son would enjoy a break from his studies. I would see him here next time.”

“Y-yes, my Lord.” Pansy saw her parents exchange worried looks before Lucius was able to cut in.

“We shall dedicate what remains of this night to the lovely Miss Parkinson,” Lucius declared in a forcedly cheerful manner. “Especially since her family and ours would hope to soon become kin.” Instantly, murmurings broke out throughout the crowd just as the music began once more and Pansy knew that everyone had understood the implication – a betrothal had been decided upon.

The floor was cleared and the music played but no couples hurried to fill the void. It would seem that the Lord’s presence was stifling to most. Pansy tried to sneak glances at the Dark Lord without getting caught. He was an incredibly intimidating man – he did not even look much like a man – and Pansy could not imagine having to dance and laugh in front of him.

Pansy saw one of the men in the Lord’s escort detach himself from their group and walk across the empty dance floor. She did not even realize that he was coming toward her until the man was right before her. “Antonin Dolohov,” he said in way of introduction with a curt half-bow.

“Pansy Parkinson,” she replied, wondering what someone about her father’s age and from the Lord’s escort could possibly want with her.

“Would you like to dance, Miss Parkinson?” Antonin offered her his hand and Pansy could not get out more than a mute nod. She took his hand and he led her out in front of everyone and they began to dance. Pansy was certain of her steps but it still felt awful to be the only one dancing and in front of the Lord himself as well. She tried to hide her discomfort but apparently it showed because Dolohov commented quietly, “You’re blushing.”

“I’m rather… Everyone is looking at us,” she said back, trying to smile as though she did not actually care all that much.

“So let them watch. You’re pretty enough.”

Pansy blushed even more but bravely looked up into the older man’s face. He was handsome for his years with shoulder length, wavy, dark brown hair and mist-grey eyes. There was a firmness in his features and although he was rather pale – Pansy figured it had something to do with his long stay in Azkaban – there was a masculine aura around him, some primitive male charisma that shined through his pallor and lit up his face. She suddenly felt very aware of her own breasts, lips, rosy cheeks and neat curls. She felt very feminine and small in the shadow of that masculine aura. It was not a comfortable feeling, one she had never felt before even though, Pansy had to admit, she was enjoying the dance.

By the time they reached their second turn, several other couples had come out to join them and by the end of the dance the floor was full. “It was a pleasure, Miss Parkinson,” Antonin said as he led Pansy back over to the sidelines.

“I’m sure the honor is all mine, Mr. Dolohov. After all, you are one of our Lord’s most trusted as I see,” Pansy said, sounding casual but feeling a fluttery uncertain sensation inside, just under her ribs.

“I lead our Lord’s battle forces,” Antonin said with no pretence or pose to accompany the phrase. It seemed very simple for a man of such high standing. Pansy looked away from him and spotted Draco waiting for her. “Your lady, Mr. Malfoy,” Antonin said, putting Pansy’s hand into Draco’s. He gave her one last nod and left, seeming to forget about her entirely once he reached his friends.

“Did you like that?” Draco asked uncertainly.

“Are you jealous?’ Pansy shot back.

“Of old Dolohov?”

She rolled her eyes. “He’s not that old. But don’t be jealous. I’ll dance with you next.” She laughed and tugged Draco’s hand so he would go and dance the quadrille with her.

*~*

There was no engagement ball for Pansy that summer. In fact there was no Malfoy ball at all nor any of their usual summer galas out in the gardens among the hedges which the elves would decorate with glittering fairylights. In fact, the manor had become gloomy and hushed, many of the curtains drawn. All the Death Eaters that had been staying there after the Azkaban breakout had gone but there was a darker shadow which fell over the Malfoys – the shadow of disfavor.

Pansy did not quite understand all of this but what she did understand was enough. Lucius had been put in charge of an important mission and the mission had failed. Apparently, it should have been an easily executed assignment and the Lord was not as merciful and patient toward failure as he had once been. Lucius, along with most of the others, had been captured by the Aurors and was now serving a term in Azkaban while his solicitors hammered appeal after appeal into the Wizengamot. Bellatrix Lestrange and Antonin Dolohov had been the only two to evade the Aurors.

Pansy heard her father speaking with Rodolphus Lestrange one night and both of them sounded agitated as they spoke in quiet voices behind the closed door of Edward’s study. Fragments of their conversation reached Pansy’s ears as she stood still in the shadows of the hallway, not wanting to eavesdrop but finding it impossible to move on toward the sitting room where she had been initially headed. She could not gather much from these fragments other than that the situation was disturbingly unstable and perilous, not just for the Malfoys but for everyone.

*~*

“My Lord, I must insist that Draco Malfoy is not old enough. He is merely just turned sixteen.”

Antonin stood facing his Lord in the center of the Malfoys large dinning chamber where the Lord insisted on holding meetings, even the smaller ones, even though Antonin and the others had found and secured a different location for Headquarters. The paperwork, the training facilities, the main potions lab – generally everything – had already been relocated there but the Lord refused to hold court anywhere but Malfoy Manor unless under pressing circumstances. “I leave Strategic Headquarters in your capable hands, Antonin,” their Lord had said. “I, however, would like to visit my old, slippery friend Lucius and his home once in a while.” When Antonin had been called here today and found only Snape in the chamber along with him, Antonin had instantly suspected something of importance and of a private nature as well. Seeing Snape at these meetings was still surprising and uncomfortable for Antonin.

“Did you not put boys into battle once they turned sixteen before, Antonin?” The Dark Lord’s eyes glowed a dangerous red but Antonin was not so easily intimidated. He had known their Lord when he still went by the name Riddle to those who knew him personally and to many who did not. Riddle had recruited him back then and Antonin knew his own value well.

“Indeed, my Lord. But those boys were trained in the Academy. They had two or at least one year of constant, intense battle training. Draco has had no training at all.”

“What would you say to this, Severus?”

“I must agree with Dolohov. Draco is a child with no training and average wits about him although, he is not completely without talent, especially in certain areas.”

That’s Mr. Dolohov to you, boy, Antonin thought a little bitterly although he had few rights to the thought. Severus was well into adulthood now and their difference in age was no longer significant as well as their difference in rank it would seem.

“I am not asking him to go into battle, Antonin. You may keep him out of missions all you like. This is an assignment that would require more stealth than Battle Arts.”

“All the harder then it is, my Lord!” Antonin protested. “Certainly, Severus is far more qualified… or we could plan an attack—“

“Lucius Malfoy will learn his lesson!” the Dark Lord snapped in an unnatural hiss which made his voice sound hardly human. “I will hear no more of this! Do you understand?”

“Yes, my Lord,” Antonin acquiesced with a bow of submission. “However, Draco should not be Marked. We never marked a boy before he was of age. Not even the Young Guard.”

Voldemort spun around and pointed his wand at Antonin. “Crucio!” he hissed in annoyance. The curse was not held for more than a split second but the charge that hit Antonin in the chest was enough to make him double over and kneel. “Get up, Dolohov,” Voldemort commanded in the same irritated manner. “Say no more to me of this. It is decided.”

“Yes, my Lord,” Antonin agreed, stifling a cough. I’m sorry, Narcissa, he thought dejectedly. I tried, I did.

*~*

Pansy stood at the window of Draco’s room, her hands gripping the windowsill so tightly that her knuckles were going white from the exertion. The daylight was slowly fading as the sun lowered itself toward the horizon, stretching out the shadows, but it was still too bright to light candles. Despite the fact that she was only wearing a light, yellow summer dress and light silky robes over it she felt hot and her eyes were dry and itchy as though with hayfever. Draco stood behind her, eyes fixated on her shoulders.

“Turn around and look at me, Pansy,” he said, a pleading note slipping into his tone, a sign that he was utterly desperate to end her silence.

“I don’t want to see it,” she said stubbornly, fixing her gaze on one of the Malfoy peacocks roaming around in the gardens below.

“Why not!” Draco demanded in frustration. “Do you despise it? Do you think your family is on the wrong side? Would you rather be – or I be – a blood traitor and consort with Mudbloods?”

“No!” Pansy nearly screamed the word. It came so fast from so deep inside her that she could not control her voice. She turned around and bore her eyes into his arm. “Fine. Show me.”

Draco met her eyes and without looking down rolled up his sleeve to show her the black skull-and-snake tattoo on his arm. It seemed to bulge due to the sharp contrast with Draco’s fair skin and to Pansy it seemed as threatening as the Dark Lord himself. “Merlin…” she breathed in terrified awe. Pansy stepped forward and touched her fingers to Draco’s arm. The Dark Mark felt cold and nearly alive under her fingers, like the scales of a large snake. The image of Nagini sprung into her mind and she yanked her hand away, instantly ashamed of herself when Draco winced.

He rolled the sleeves of his shirt and robes back down and sat heavily on the large four poster bed. There was a dragon carved out on its headboard and Pansy found herself studying the lines of the carving instead of meeting Draco’s eyes. “I must avenge my father,” Draco said in a hollow tone. “I must bring honor back to my family.”

“I understand,” Pansy said because she really did understand. Draco was the only one who could fight in his father’s stead and bring glory to the Malfoy name. “I’m just scared, Draco,” she admitted, sitting down beside him and taking his hand. “You have to do something and you say it’s dangerous but you won’t tell me what you have to do and now you’re Marked so it could be anything. I don’t want to lose you.”

“You’re not going to lose me,” Draco told her. “Either way.” He pulled his hand out of hers sharply and stood with a nervous jerk of his head. “There’s nothing I or anyone else can do about it.”

Pansy was about to plead with him to tell her what it was he had been assigned to do, to tell him how not knowing was killing her more that anything and everything but she was cut short by a house elf popping in and informing Draco that his mother wanted to see him.

“I should go,” Pansy said, getting up. “I’ll walk down with you and say goodbye to your mother before I go.”

*

Downstairs, Narcissa was speaking with someone in the parlor and Draco stopped just outside the half-open double doors, uncertain whether he should enter or wait for his mother to finish her conversation.

“Thank you for doing this, Antonin. I’ve really got no way of protecting him in this. I don’t… I don’t know what to do sometimes. Lucius is away and I don’t know when he will come back…” She broke off as her voice hitched and Pansy saw Draco’s face visibly darken.

“I understand, Narcissa.” Dolohov’s voice carried in a low, penetrating sound and in the dark of the hallway Pansy felt a nervous rush of excitement rise up in her for no reason that she could understand. “You know I will do what I can to prepare Draco for this but there’s only so much I can teach him that will be helpful in this task, I am afraid.”

Footsteps came in their direction and Draco stepped quickly forward into the light of the doorway. “Mother, you wished to speak with me?” He lifted his eyes cautiously to Dolohov and gave the older man a respectful nod. “Mr. Dolohov, good day.”

“Yes, Draco. I wanted to say it is time. Antonin will take you to Headquarters now.”

There were some more words exchanged but Pansy’s entire attention was focused on Dolohov. He wore a darker, simpler robe than the night he danced with her at the Easter Ball. He was less pale but his eyes seemed to sink deeper as though he was not getting enough sleep. She remembered the smell of his toilet water and the warm sensation of his arm around her waist and the way she had been hyperaware of her body. Pansy nearly blushed and tore her eyes away before Antonin would see her looking and meet her eyes.

As it was, Dolohov’s full attention was on Draco. “Come, Mr. Malfoy,” he said in a commanding but not unkind voice, holding out a portkey. Draco said his goodbyes and he and Dolohov disappeared.

“Would you stay for tea, Pansy?” Narcissa asked, clapping for her house elf.

“If you like,” Pansy agreed, making her way toward the sofa closest to the window. She liked sitting there and sometimes she and Draco would curl up on that sofa when his parents were away and tell silly spook stories with the fireplace crackling merrily in the background. “There is another Headquarters?” Pansy asked as Narcissa joined her and the elf poured their tea before disappearing with a small pop. “I thought here…?”

“Our Lord likes to hold conference here,” Narcissa said in a tone that suggested that she was not happy about this but had no intention of discussing those feelings. “However, most things are done at the other Headquarters.”

“If Draco is being taken there, does that mean he will fight? In battle?” Pansy was not certain if she thought such a thing was fascinating or frightening.

“In a way,” Narcissa replied cautiously. “Our Lord would have Draco’s assignment remain secret to all but a few.”

“Yes, of course,” Pansy agreed though she was still burning up with curiosity and worry.

*~*

Dear Mr. Dolohov,

I hope you can forgive me my impertinence of writing to you but I have no one else to turn to in this matter and you seemed very gallant to me when we met at the Malfoys’ ball and you are good friends with my father, Edward Parkinson, so I was hoping that you could pay me some mind and set my mind at ease.

I know that Draco has been given some very important task for the Lord and I know that he has been Marked. I understand that this is a secret mission and perhaps you cannot reveal its details to me – although, not knowing is horrible, you must understand – but I am extremely concerned about Draco. He has become more distant ever since the year started and very jumpy. He is worried about his father and the war but I know this task is weighing on him.

I’ve been told by Draco and his mother that you had helped him with advice and some training before we went back to school so I feel that you care about Draco and the success of his mission or you would not have dedicated your time to helping him. I plead with you, however, to help him as much as possible even now. Draco knows nothing of war even though he pretends to. We are all uninformed and unprepared. I, for one, sometimes feel quite helpless.

Please, tell me what to do? How can I help Draco? I would do nearly anything to help him, to help our Cause and if you could tell me what to do I would be forever grateful.

Sincerely,
Pansy Parkinson

Antonin allowed the letter to flutter down onto his lap and stared ahead at the snowstorm that was brewing outside, white snow painting the world into a colorless blur. Pansy’s letter was the letter of a child, a scared girl who was writing in sentences and phrases she had heard her mother use in the parlor. He could tell where Pansy suddenly became uncertain of her words and her thoughts – there were crossed out bits of text in those parts and her hand was visibly less steady, the parchment crinkled at the edges from the wavering of the quill.

If he closed his eyes, Antonin could see Edward’s young daughter, who had blossomed beautiful, as she had been that night at the Malfoy’s ball. There was fire in her eyes, something longing to break out from under that corset even though on the outside she could seem demure and graceful with her lacey silks and tight curls. What in Merlin’s name was he supposed to say to her?

*~*

Dear Miss Parkinson,

Do not worry about writing to me. There is nothing untoward in that, especially since I know your father well and your fiancé’s – yes, I know – father is one of my closest friends. I wish I could be more of a comfort to you than I am afraid is possible.

Mr. Malfoy’s mission is, in fact, classified, and I cannot reveal its details to you. As far as what you can do to help him, I am really no expert. But do try to make him feel loved and believed in. Do not pry too much, as I am sure he will only be unhappy with you for it. But do not be disinterested. I know this all seems confusing but do as your heart tells you. I am sure it will not lead you wrong.

As for my part, I am, unfortunately, too far away to be much influence on or help to Mr. Malfoy. Your Head of House, Mr. Snape, would be of greater assistance, although I caution you against going to him in all situations that would not be dire. I am afraid your concerns would not be well received with him.

Have faith, Miss Parkinson. The war is upon us, but it will not last forever. You will marry, the war will end and everything will settle back into its place. Believe in us – in your family, your friends and everyone who fights for you and our future. It’s the best help you can offer.

Sincerely,
Antonin Dolohov

In the dark of the girls’ dormitory, with the only light coming from her wand, Pansy folded up the letter and tucked it away into a small wooden box where she kept the more valuable pieces of her correspondences under a locking spell. She put out the light on her wand and the owl that was sat on the windowsill hooted softly.

Daphne stirred and mumbled something in her sleep and Pansy waved in irritation at the owl. “Stupid bird, where do you think I’m going to get food for you in the middle of the night?” she hissed at it.

The owl ruffled its wings and hooted again.

Pansy sighed and felt around in her truck for the bag in which she carried Lulu’s treats. She gave the owl a morsel and sent it on its way, watching as it flew gracefully across the moon, before settling back down into bed.

She wanted to know what Snape had to do with all of this, but overall something about Antonin’s letter had assured her. Perhaps it was the finality with which he stated that the war would eventually end, as though he could see that end looming ahead, quickly approaching. She would re-read that last paragraph several times again that year. She drew something from it, something that no one else could give her. At the least, it was the strength she needed as she watched Draco fall apart more and more the longer the days of that year dragged on.

*~*

“P-professor Snape.” Pansy had not meant to stumble the first word but coming face to face with her Head of House often put her off balance. There was no denying that the man was rather terrifying in the darkness of the dungeons. In the light of day in the Great Hall he was merely intimidating and in the classroom even managed to be well disposed toward his own House as there were always Gryffindors or careless Hufflepuffs to pick on. But here, in the dungeons, where the torches threw a dim light on the stone walls and a light half-breeze sometimes wafted through the halls, coming almost from the cracks it seemed, Professor Snape loomed a dark shadow, ominous and unforgiving. Pansy clutched the hilt of her wand under her robes. She knew she would not stand a chance in a real fight but she was not here to fight and holding onto her wand was comforting, the weight and texture of its hilt familiar in her hand.

“Yes, Miss Parkinson?” Snape drew out in a silky, deceptively soft tone.

Pansy drew herself up, trying to forget that Antonin had warned her about going to Snape and asking questions. He must have told her than Snape knew for a reason, otherwise why tell her at all? So she was here fishing for answers, answers she would probably not get but Pansy was not the sort of girl who would give up before she even tried. “I was hoping I could have a word with you in private, Professor.”

Snape gave her a piercing looking and, instinctively, Pansy looked as far away from his face as she could without actually turning her head or changing her body posture. “Is it not rather late for you to be wandering around, Miss Parkinson?”

“I was not wondering, Professor,” Pansy countered confidently, although confidence was not a feeling she was experiencing much of at the moment. “I was coming to see you.”

There was a moment of silence in which Pansy was starting to fear that she would be turned away. But then Snape gave a swish of his cloak and ushered her in. “Come in quickly then.”

Pansy swept past the professor and gave a curious look around before turning to face Snape once again. She had been in this office once or perhaps twice before but Pansy always found herself astonished by the number of flasks lining the walls with all sorts of ingredients and mummified – or something like that – creatures in them. Snape’s desk was part of a lab table set up and there were only two candles set on either side of the writing space. The rest of the light came from the enchanted blue, green, red and yellow backlights of the various flasks. It was painfully obvious that Snape was a potions professor and an obsessive one at that.

“What did you want, Miss Parkinson?”

“I-I wanted to speak with you abut Draco, Professor,” Pansy said, attempting to settle her nerves and make her voice sound confident and clear.

“What about Mr. Malfoy?” The blank expression on Snape’s face remained infuriatingly unchangeable.

“I’m worried about him, Professor. I know he has some secret task – but I know you know about it and perhaps even what it is – and I wanted to come to you for advice and…and…” She faltered. Snape seemed to be glaring at her as though trying to set her on fire with wandless magic. Of perhaps freeze her. Antonin was certainly right about him not being very receptive.

“Even if I knew something about a task that Mr. Malfoy has why would I reveal its details to you, Miss Parkinson?”

“I don’t want details per se. I just want…I want to help him; I want to offer…I don’t know. Support?”

“What tender sentiments.” Snape’s tone dripped in sarcasm and Pansy could not help the wave of insulted frustration that rose up in her.

“How dare—We’re betrothed—Of course I want to…” Pansy felt herself withering under Snape’s gaze but she was so certain that she was doing everything right that even those heavy, piercing eyes could not get her to back down without a fight. “He’s pushing me away. He is pushing everyone away,” she finally forced out, almost desperately.

“Perhaps it would be better then if you left Mr. Malfoy alone. Personal space can be a great thing, Miss Parkinson.” There was something unpleasant in Snape’s tone, almost as though he meant to be sarcastic without actually sounding it. “As it is, I do know about Mr. Malfoy’s task but I am not at liberty to speak of it. It should be of none of your concern anyway.”

But it is my concern! Pansy thought. She longed to shout it but angering Snape would not get her anything of what she wanted. “Well, if you know of his task…would you not help Draco, Professor?”

“This is none of your business, Miss Parkinson and I strongly suggest that you stop your prying.” An icy edge appeared in Snape’s voice and Pansy took an instinctive step back. She felt emotionally and mentally worn down and the slow hysteric was growing deep inside her, gradually bubbling up to the surface.

“Please, Professor, you may be Draco’s only hope! Mr. Dolohov wouldn’t have mentioned you in his letter if you could not be of help in this case!” Pansy blurted out. She took another step toward the door.

“Mr. Dolohov?” There was genuine surprise in Snape’s voice. It was well masked but Pansy still noticed it, a small upward slip of a note in his tone. He must have assumed all of her information was from Draco himself. So then, Draco and Snape must have spoken before about Draco’s task. That did not mean that Snape was helping him but maybe he was trying.

“Yes. I wrote to him and he wrote back. A very kind letter. He mentioned that you would be of greater help here to Draco than he could be, seeing as how he’s so far away.”

A deep shadow settled over Snape’s face and he seemed to consider something for several moments before saying sharply, “Stop prying, Miss Parkinson, it will not bring any good. If you lead a correspondence with Dolohov don’t tell anyone about it. Or don’t have one at all, that is even better. Now off to the common room with you.”

Pansy, unwilling to meet Snape’s eyes, had no more protests or any more strength to hold a further contest of her will against his patience. “Good night, Professor,” she said briskly and swept from the room, trying to hold her head up as her mother had taught her to always do instead of just scampering away like some frightened Hufflepuff who had just been told off.

She hadn’t exactly expected for her visit to be very productive but she had not expected to be even more worried after she left Snape’s office. Why did he not want her to know anything about Draco’s mission or to help him, or to write to Mr. Dolohov? There was something ominous in the air and it wasn’t just the far off war. It felt like the war was coming closer. Coming here. Coming to swallow her whole.

*~*

“You went to talk to Snape about me?”

“Shhh. Draco, this is the library,” Pansy hissed back at him, slamming shut the large tome she was holding. “I don’t fancy Madam Pince coming to tell us off.”

Draco lowered his voice but pushed her further down the isle until they were in a corner with bookshelves on three sides of them and no one in sight. “You went to see Snape about me,” he repeated. This time it was a statement not a question.

“I’m surprised he told you about it,” Pansy snipped back, feeling irritated. What business was it of his? He wasn’t telling her anything about what he was doing, why he was so edgy lately or anything at all, for that matter.

“Well he did, but that’s not the point. Why did you go? Did you think he would actually tell you anything?”

“I don’t know why I went. I was worried about you. You never talk to me anymore Draco. You disappear all silent and mysterious sometimes during the night and you’re never happy when you come back and you never—“ it sounded silly to say but, well, they were betrothed, she had a right, damn it. “You never have any time to be with me anymore.”

“And you thought going to Snape would fix that?” She couldn’t tell if Draco sounded dumbfounded or angry anymore.

“No. Well, I don’t know what I thought. I’m doing what I can, alright, Draco? You’ve left me in the dark and you know how much I hate that.”

He looked at her hard for a few minutes, then backed away a step as though forcing himself to not do something rash. Like hit me, Pansy thought. “Stop prying, Pansy. Alright? Just stop. You’re not helping me and you’re only causing trouble for everyone involved. I’m sorry if I haven’t been paying you enough attention but I have more important things to worry about than you right now.”

That stung. It stung hard enough for Pansy to open her mouth but not utter a single word. She almost dropped the book she was holding. Really, she wanted to throw the heavy thing at him, but instead she merely turned away from him and slid the large tome onto a shelf, not bothering to put it back where she’d gotten it. Her thoughts were too mixed up for that at the moment. “I understand,” she said flatly. “Are you going home for Christmas.”

“No, I need to stay here. It will be easier to think with everyone gone and away.”

Pansy turned and looked up at him mournfully. “Alright. Good luck. Don’t hurt yourself with all that thinking.” She tried to smirk at him as she used to but the expression didn’t quite form.

Pansy left for Christmas with most of the student body. She spent the holidays waiting for an owl. One finally came on Christmas morning. Attached to it was a quick note reading: Happy Christmas, Pansy. –Draco. She stared at it in disappointment, then gathered her wits and wrote back a simple, short letter, which she hoped did not come off as too cold. As she watched Draco’s owl make its way back to Hogwarts with her letter, she imagined Draco sitting in proud solitude in the middle of the Slytherin common room. He was miles away now – not just physically but also emotionally and Pansy didn’t think she could fix it.

When she retuned to school, things did not change. Sometimes it felt to Pansy like the Dark Mark had done something to Draco because ever since he got it he started drifting further and further away from her.

*~*

Pansy’s eyes were raw from unshed tears. She could feel herself trembling, the tension that had been building up over the last few months releasing itself in a silent hysteric that she could hardly contain. She had watched Draco struggle silently with whatever demons fed on him and felt utterly helpless to do anything to help him. With every day he grew more silent and distant. She tried to comfort him, sometimes with words, sometimes with kisses, but nothing she did seemed to make a significant difference. Draco’s nervousness and despair translated to her and she feared for his sanity as well as her own.

She found him in a dark, deserted hallway where all was silent other than a steady dripping sound from some hidden leak. Draco stood against the wall with his shirt buttons undone and his head thrown back. His eyes were closed and his hands clenched and unclenched in the folds of his waistcoat.

“Draco?” Pansy approached him cautiously like one would approach a wild animal. Lately Draco had been unpredictable and she could never be sure when a misstep could cost her a hex in the chest or face. “Please talk to me.” She could feel the soreness and dryness in her eyes, the raw stinging behind her eyelids. She could almost feel her pupils dilating as her eyes struggled to adjust to the dark.

“I’ve got nothing to tell you,” Draco forced out, his breathing coming in short intakes of air which he let out with force. “I told you, Pansy, this is something I have to do. It’s my mission, my glory, my—“

“I don’t care about the damned glory!” Pansy snapped in frustration. “Ever since school began you’ve grown more and more morose and neurotic. I don’t care about the glory, Draco. I care about your safety and your sanity.”

Draco’s head snapped into a more upright position and he turned to glare at her. In the darkness, it was hard to distinguish his expression but Pansy could feel his eyes burning into her. “All you’ve done is worry. I don’t know who’s more worried you or I? Do you think I can’t handle it?”

“No, that is not what I—“

“Just because the others are so effected by us being out of favor I thought my own bride—“

“Draco!”

“—would have some faith!” His words were spiteful and Pansy knew they came out of anger not at her but at whatever it was he couldn’t get done. That didn’t make them any less hurtful.

“I have faith enough,” Pansy snapped, iciness slipping into her tone. “I just want to help.” The ice melted as quickly as it came and she felt herself ready to cry again. “Please, Draco.” She reached for him but he slapped her hand away,

“Don’t touch me!”

She backed away, confused and hurt. “Why won’t you let me help? Why do you hate me for even worrying?” she asked a little bitterly.

“I don’t hate you, Pansy. But I’ll be fine on my own. I don’t need you or Snape or anyone! Now grow up and stop worrying. This is a war, you know. Bad things happen. Merlin, girls don’t have the stomach for anything.” He shoved past her and disappeared around a sharp corner.

Needles pricked away at Pansy’s eyes making it hard to see and think. She pushed the heels of her hands against her eyes and rubbed, trying to make the tears go away. It wasn’t fair. He had no right to speak to her like that and perhaps if he just stopped pushing everyone away maybe it would be easier.

Pansy wandered through the halls in the general direction of the common room. Her tie felt like it was suffocating her so she loosened it. She thought of all the rumors that were going around, how worried her mother sounded even in her letters, how she could never reach Draco anymore, how her brother was being recalled from his studies in Paris to come and fight. She’d heard rumors of the first battles and though they seemed so far away there was always a reminder of just how close the reality actually was. The reminders usually came with the morning post when one of her housemates would let out a soft gasp and quickly leave the hall after receiving a letter. Then there would be rumors of a death or someone’s relative ending up in St. Mungo’s.

Pansy stopped at a window and looked outside over the Hogwarts grounds. It was nearly curfew and people were returning from their walks and outdoor activities in pairs or groups. The snow no longer fell and the sky seemed darker, no longer lit up by the reflection of the Hogwarts lights. Among the returning students Pansy spotted the “golden trio” of Gryffindor – Potter, Weasley and Granger. They had their heads together and then the Granger girl laughed and the others joined her. Pansy felt a sharp stab of hatred toward all three. She could not even say who she hated more – the Mudblood or Potter. All of this was because of them and people like them and yet they somehow had the audacity to be happy.

Pansy twisted one hand in the folds of her robes and the other found the hilt of her wand. She took several steadying breaths and turned away from the window. She knew she was on the right side of these barricades and she knew that victory was rightfully theirs’ but she also was certain of a very Slytherin truth: few things in life were fair, if any at all.

*~*

Draco’s expression had goodbye written all over it. In the moonlight that fell through the large, ornate windows he looked even more fair than in sunlight. Draco looked like a ghost and a small, superstitious part of Pansy was frightened by the comparison. She drew her robes tighter around herself and looked up at him questioningly. “Why here? If Filch were to find us….It’s almost past curfew.”

“I didn’t want to do this in the common room.” Draco was only wearing his shirt and tie. The crisp, white fabric glowed an ethereal blue. He took a step toward her and touched her cheek with the back of his hand. Pansy leaned into the touch, feeling a long-gone warmth fill her.

‘Do what?” she asked in nearly a whisper, meeting his eyes.

“I want to…I want to tell you that I’m sorry for…everything. I also wanted to say goodbye.”

“Goodbye?” Panic rose up in her and Pansy threw herself forward but Draco caught her wrists and held tight. He pulled her closer and kissed her hard, the way he hadn’t kissed her since… Since September, probably.

“Not forever. I don’t think forever. Just. For now. Remember the thing I have to do?”

Pansy nodded mutely, sill looking up at him with wide eyes. How could she forget?

“I’m almost done.” A note of hysteria slipped into Draco’s voice. “It’s almost over and if everything goes the way it should, all will be well again. I hope.”

“I hope so too,” she breathed, her voice barely audible. “But why goodbye? Where are you going? When will you be back?”

Draco leaned his forehead against hers and smirked. “Shut up for a moment, Parkinson.” He kissed her again, winding his arms around her waist. She held onto him as tightly as she could. When he stopped kissing her, she buried her face into the crook of his neck. They stood like that for a long time, then Draco took a step back and released her. The loss of contact left Pansy feeling cold and alone once again. “I have to go. Go back to the common room, alright?”

“I suppose you can’t tell me where you’re going.”

“No.”

Pansy sighed and nodded. “Alright.” She gave him one last, long look, then turned on her heal and ran until she reached the dungeons.

*~*

“Pansy! Pansy, wake up!”

Pansy forced her eyes open as someone shook her awake. Her eyes met another pair of dark orbs in the gloom. Daphne. Pansy pushed her friend’s hands away and sat up. Hair fell over her forehead and eyes and she swiped at it impatiently. “What?”

“Something’s happening! There’s…I think there’s fighting.” Daphne looked completely shell shocked and her eyes were wide, the pupils dilated even in the dark.

Pansy rubbed at her eyes, trying to get her hazy mind to comprehend the situation. This was one of the few times she wished that their common room was on one of the towers rather than in the dungeons – the lack of a good view outside was stifling. “What do you mean fighting? I can’t hear anything.”

Daphne shook her head and fell onto the end of Pansy’s bed in a heap. Now Pansy could tell that she was breathing hard. “You can’t hear it here but I was out with Theodore, we were—“ Daphne blushed and Pansy couldn’t help smirking “—anyway, we were out and then we hear crackling and booming but very far away. It sounded like curses and spells hitting…things.”

Something in Pansy’s chest constricted painfully. Draco’s words from earlier that night echoed in her head: ”I also wanted to say goodbye.” She reached her hand out and grabbed at her clothes. She found a comfortable house dress but nothing from her uniform. She froze and bit her lip. “Maybe just fireworks or some fourth years having a go at it,” she reasoned. Voices began to float up to them from the common room downstairs.

“We thought so too but then…then Theo looked outside and we saw…above one of the towers…the astronomy tower I think…we saw…”

Millicent and Circe stirred and one of them mumbled something about being quiet.

Pansy reached out and gave Daphne a nice big shake. “What did you see?” Pansy demanded.

“I don’t know, but Theo – he saw it better – he said it was green and looked like the Dark Mark.”

Pansy’s fingers closed around the soft fabric of the house dress. She threw off her nightgown and slipped into the dress without a word, then climbed out of bed and grabbed her wand. “Lumos.” In the light of her wand, Pansy managed to find her robes and shoes. She could feel Daphne watching her in confusion from the bed.

“Where are you going? Pansy?”:

“I have to find Draco.” Pansy nearly ran from the bedroom and tumbled down the stairs. The common room was already full of sixth and seventh year boys. Pansy’s eyes swept the group, searching out Draco’s bright blonde hair. Not seeing him, Pansy made a beeline for Theo. She grabbed his arm and turned him around. Theo had the same wide-eyed expression as Daphne and Pansy had a biting thought that they really were perfect for each other. “Did you see Draco? Do you know where he is?”

Theo shook his head. “I didn’t see him upstairs. Did Daphne tell you—?”

“Yes.” Pansy turned away from him and continued to look around the room. She saw Daphne coming down with Circe and a half-asleep Millicent. The boys around her were talking excitedly. Some wanted to go see what was happening, others thought that staying put would be a better idea, a couple suggested that they needed to tell Professor Snape. “Draco’s not here,” Pansy breathed out more to herself then to her friends who were all looking at her in concern. Unconsciously, Pansy ran a hand through her hair even though she was hardly thinking about her looks. “I need to find him.”

Circe grabbed her hand and held her back. “Where are you going to go? If there’s fighting, it wouldn’t be safe.”

“I don’t care,” Pansy snapped. Even if there was fighting, so be it. She wanted to fight, it was better then sitting around and waiting to be told what was going on and what would happen next. She tore her wrist from Circe’s grip and ran from the common room into the dark of the stone hallway.

Pansy was not the first one to the Great Hall. A large swarm of Hufflepuffs, Gryffindors and Ravenclaws was already present. A couple of haggard prefects were trying to get everyone to go back to their common rooms but no one was listening to them. Pieces of information fell slowly into place for Pansy – there had been a break in, a battle and…

Pansy found herself carried outside by the tidal wave of students. Professors began to crop up among them but they did not seem to care that students were out of bed, aside from perhaps Filch whom Pansy saw skulking along in the shadows at one point.

A crowd was gathering under the Astronomy tower and it took a while for Pansy to push forward. A hush was quickly falling over the group. Pansy pushed her way passed two fourth years and stood on tiptoes to see over a few heads. The sight that greeted her made Pansy freeze and stay still, swallowing up all of her worries in a single wash of disbelief.

Dumbledore lay on the ground with a stony, dead expression and Potter had fallen over his body. She could tell he was crying.

“Is Dumbledore…?” Pansy whispered in disbelief.

“Yes,” the Ravenclaw in from of her answered. Chang, was that her name? “It’s so horrible,” the girl continued with the same tearful voice.

All around, students began to lift wands with glowing tips into the air. New students were still arriving and receiving the news. Pansy waited for an opening before slithering her way out of the crowd and sprinting back to the common room.

*

“Is everyone back?” Antonin stood at the external entrance to the med wing, squinting out into the darkness as the detachment came back.

“Gibbon isn’t back.” Amycus had an arm around his sister even though Alecto looked steady and unharmed.

“Gibbon’s dead,” Jugson informed them morosely, surveying the torn and charred sleeve of his robes.

“I think it’s my fault. My aim is shit, always has been.” Rowle put in with a guilty expression. “There was a group of students; they put up quite a fight.”

“The Order got there fast enough too,” Amycus added glumly. Alecto shrugged his arm off.

“I’m not sure how they all got word so quickly but the main thing is done.”

“Done, yes…” Antonin muttered thoughtfully, still squinting into the dark. “Then where are Severus and Draco?”

“They’ve gone Plan B.” Bella appeared at his shoulder. Her eyes were wild and her curly hair stood on end, some of it coming undone from the ribbon she’d used to put it up before the mission.

“I thought Rowle said it’s done?” Antonin waved for their group to proceed inside. They walked through the medical ward and into one of the conference rooms where the rest of the officers present where waiting anxiously for news. Antonin suddenly felt a sharp prick of regret for not having gone on this raid but rather staying behind to coordinate and keep watch on some of the other outposts in case of post-shock disturbances. So far everything was quit. Given that the Order was already aware, they were apparently not seeking immediate retaliation, or simply did not know how to go about it.

“Draco lost his nerve at the last moment. Snape had to finish the job,” Bellatrix said with a hint of distaste.

Antonin sighed. The Lord was not going to like this. He took her arm and kept her back as everyone else filed into the conference room. “We will wait for Snape before we debrief,” he informed Rowle and told him to pass it on to the rest. When they were alone in the hall, Antonin turned to Bella. “You know our Lord will not be happy.”

“As he rightfully should be. Draco proved himself weak-willed.”

“Draco is a child.” She tried to step away from him but Antonin held onto her arm. “Bella, I would ask you to put in a kind word for Draco before our Lord. He may actually bother to listen to you. He…favors you.” It was unpleasant to say those words and Antonin felt the wave of disrespectful disgust rise up in him. Their Lord had begun to take the sort of liberties with Bella which he would not have allowed himself during the First War and it seemed that she allowed him to do so, not out of fear but out of that maniacal adoration that had developed within her since their stay in Azkaban.

Bella squinted at him and then laughed, high pitched and unnatural. “What makes you think that I have such an influence on our Lord, Antonin? Besides, I think Draco deserves punishment.”

“He is your nephew.”

“All the more reason for him to be strong. Otherwise he’ll end up like his father. He is the last bearer of the blood of the House of Black.”

“Bella. Oh, Merlin. Wake up!” Antonin gave her shoulders a shake and then leaned in and kissed her. He had not done so since her wedding day when she walked down the isle to Rodolphus because everything in the world had, for some inexplicable reason, lined up against them back then. Where was she now, his Bella? The girl he had once loved, the passionate girl full of life and desire? He could hardly glimpse her in the woman that Azkaban had made her, in the “Dark Lord’s Whore” as he knew some of the men called her, far out of ear shot of Antonin or Rodolphus – or Bella herself – but he still knew they called her that.

For a moment she let him kiss her. Then, she shoved him back and drew her wand. “Do that again and I will hex you,” she hissed at him. He simply looked at her, as though daring her to go through with that promise. For a moment, they were locked in a staring match until Bella, finally, slowly, lowered her wand and said in a small, broken voice, “Please, Tony. I can’t.” He reached, grabbing for her arm as his heart somersaulted but she shied away and ran from him into the safety of the crowded conference room.

Antonin stood for several minutes, alone in the dark, allowing his heart rate to settle as he forced himself to forget that look and that voice. She was gone, he knew that, he’d accepted it. Catching a glimpse of the old Bella was a gift but only that. She was gone.

*

News came trickling into the Slytherin common room through the night: a Death Eater break in, Dumbledore dead, struck down by Professor Snape who had fled. If Potter was to be believed, Draco had been on the tower as well and had organized the break in. It would seem that Draco had fled but no one had had word from him and no one knew where he was.

By dawn, Pansy could not longer stand the crowded common room, full of its gossip and speculation. She made her way out into the fresh, cool morning air and trudged through the dew-wet grass up to the lake. The sky had brightened and a long stripe of bright yellow had appeared above the tree line of the Forbidden Forest. Pansy settled under one of the large oak trees that grew by the lake and stared over its dark surface which was
gradually lightening from black to a deep plum as the sun continued to rise.

Draco’s face kept floating up before her eyes and she could so clearly see his pointed chin, well-defined cheek bones and grey eyes, so like the morning mist that covered the Hogwarts grounds, that Pansy felt as though all she needed to do was reach out a hand and she could touch him. But every time the visage faded away into nothing as soon as she moved or blinked. Her hands and legs were cold but she barely felt the nipping chill of the morning. She could not imagine what would happen to Draco now, where he would go, where he was now. She knew that Draco must have been under orders to not reveal anything about his assignment but she still felt slighted in that he had not even trusted her enough to allow her to participate in generic, unrevealing ways. She felt like he had chosen to fight this war without her and that he had no concern for how she felt now, alone and without him, worried about him. Pansy wondered if he would send an owl.

An owl did find her, half an hour before breakfast when Pansy was thinking about returning to the common room to change. It was not Draco’s owl but Antonin’s – she recognized the rather unique pattern on her wings and the slight dent in her beak. Pansy spelled away the strings that bound the letter to the owl’s foot, not trusting her fingers to undo the tight knots, and ripped open the envelope.

Miss Parkinson,

I am sure that you already know what has happened at Hogwarts during the night. If you do not know, you surely will know soon enough. I would have written to you earlier aside from two reasons: Headquarters has been hectic for the past few hours – I have been in meetings all night – and a banal fear that if you were not woken in the night by these events, that my overeager owl might disturb you.

You must be worried about Mr. Malfoy, so I hurry to inform you that he is safe, unharmed and under our protection. Severus Snape is with him as well. Draco will have some difficult times ahead of him – our Lord will not be happy that Draco was no able to bring his mission to completion – but I assure you that his safety is unquestioned and I have confirmed the arrangements for that personally.

Miss Parkinson, I urge you to not attempt to contact Mr. Malfoy for now. This is for his own safety as well as your own. In fact, I suggest that you burn this letter and remain extremely careful in the correspondence you keep at least while you finish your year at school.

Sincerely,
Antonin Dolohov

Pansy let out a long breath as she finished reading the letter. The owl hooted at her and Pansy waved to show that she would not be sending back a letter. The large bird spread its wings and soared into the sky hooting as she went.

Pansy held the letter close to her chest and tilted her head up, looking up at the sky which had brightened completely and welcomed a watery, morning sun onto its canvas. Pansy could not understand what was unsuccessful about Draco’s mission – the Death Eaters breached Hogwarts, Dumbledore was dead, what else could their Lord want? But the important thing was that he was safe and well. As she wondered back up to the castle to change and clean up for breakfast, Pansy thought, warmly, that it was kind of Mr. Dolohov to write to her and reassure her. She doubted that most people would do the same, especially someone so high up in the ranks of the Dark Lord. Pansy thought of writing him a note but did not want to seem careless so she decided to wait and thank Antonin in person once she was back home for summer holiday.

*~*

The summer of 1997 was a warm and mostly sunny, filled with idyllic days, the sort that one often dreams about in the gloomy, lukewarm days of early March. But for all the brightness offered by nature, Pansy felt only a fraction of that warmth and light. The war was feasting away at every bit of happiness it could find, casting it away and into shadows. It was almost harder to not know than to know, impossible to read the newspapers and find out from whispered, overheard conversations that such-and-such battle had taken place with such-and-such a result.

Lucius was back from Azkaban but the Malfoys were greatly out of favor. Draco was still in hiding and even if he was back but restricted to the Manor, Pansy could not see him for the Malfoys were not receiving. The only gatherings that took place at Malfoy Manor were those held by the Lord.

Pansy did not dare write to Draco, afraid that he may still be away and then sending an owl would not be wise. Sometimes she would close her eyes and imagine his lips against hers and the way his arms felt around her. She could not remember the last time he genuinely smiled at her and that thought was so heavy that she shrank away from it.

At the start of July, the Parkinson sitting room was full of warm, yellow sunlight which seeped through the gaps in the light, white curtains which swayed in the soft breeze. Pansy sat on the sofa with a book which she was trying to read. She turned page after page but her thoughts could not concentrate on the words she read. They strayed in various directions and she found it difficult to understand what she was reading.

A soft pop of apparition drew her out of her thoughts. Pansy looked up and instantly dropped her book to the floor with a squeal of delight. “Richard!” Her older brother stood before her in the middle of the room in a travel cloak and his trunk gripped in one hand. Pansy sprang off the couch and flung herself into his arms. Richard reached out and hugged her tightly as Pansy, giggling, buried her face into his shoulder. “Richard, it’s been forever.”

“I’ve missed you, Pans. Where are Mama and Father?”

“Somewhere in the garden, I think. Oh they’ll be so happy to see you! Why do you never come to see us, Richard. You have to tell me all about the latest fashions in Paris. Do you have a lady there? Is that why you never come?” Pansy rambled on and on. She slipped her arm through her brother’s and led him outside, leaving his trunk to sit in the middle of the room where he’d dropped it to hug her. Pansy surveyed her brother and decided that he was as handsome as ever. They looked a lot alike – they shared the same face shape, dark brown hair, though Richard’s was curlier, and large, dark eyes. He was almost a head taller than she but almost just as slim around the waist.

“Not everything at once, Pans. Besides, from what I’ve read in your letters, you have a lot more going on. A betrothal! I still cannot believe it.”

Pansy felt a shiver go down her back. That seemed liked ages ago. “You are behind, Richard. Our news are no longer so happy. We are at war.”

“I know.” He gave her a sad look and Pansy pressed herself closer into Richard’s side.

“Mama, Papa!” Pansy called once her parents came into sight. “Richard is back!” She watched their parents turn around and for a moment, Pansy thought she caught a flash of fear on her mother’s face. But then it was gone, and Michelle Parkinson smiled and embraced her son.

*

That night, feeling too restless to go to bed, Pansy wondered through the halls of the dark and silent house. She made her way down the staircase and found herself stopping outside her father’s study. Richard’s voice caught her attention and she stopped, leaning against the wall of the hallway, a shadow within the surrounding dark.

“I’m not a fighter, Father,” Richard was saying. “Never was. I’m becoming a healer for that very reason. I want to help people, not hurt them. I’ve never even…I wouldn’t know the first thing to do. I really have no desire to get involved in a war.”

“It is not your choice, Richard. You have a duty.” Edward Parkinson sounded marginally frustrated with his son. Pansy knew that their father had always wished Richard, as the heir, would be more willful, more practical more commanding. His humanitarian enthusiasm and frailness was better suited for a second son rather than the heir. She had even once heard one of their aunts say that Richard should have been the daughter and Pansy the son.

“And I have always fulfilled my duties. You summoned me, Father, and I came. But you know I cannot fight. Is your service not enough for the Dark Lord?”

“No, Richard, I am afraid it is not. You are a Pureblood heir. Even Lucius’ son was tasked and Marked. He is younger than you.”

“From what I understand Draco Malfoy has only gotten disfavor for his trouble.”

Edward sighed and Pansy could hear the sound of chair legs scraping against floorboards. She imagined her father walking across the room and putting a hand on her brother’s shoulder. “That is not the point. What would you have me do, Richard? I suppose you can turn down the offer. But it may reflect very poorly on your mother and sister, not to mention me. You could take them and leave the country, but you would have to go into hiding for a time.”

“And leave you here to the mercy of the Dark Lord?”

“What other choice is there?”

There was a long silence. Finally, Richard said resignedly, “I will do what I have to to protect you and Mama and Pansy.”

“Good. You will be summoned to the Lord in the next few days. But first, I have arranged a meeting for you with Antonin Dolohov. He is an old friend of mine and perhaps he can be of help. This is a portkey to Headquarters. You are to go now.”

“This late?”

“It’s the only time available.”

“Yes, Father.” Footsteps. Then the door to the study opened and a miffed Richard appeared in the slither of dim light that it created. Pansy, silent as a shadow, followed her brother to the from hall.

“Richard,” she called softly, slipping from around the cloak wrack so he could see her.

Richard gave a small jump, startled. “Pansy, you scared me. What are you doing?”

“You’re going to Headquarters. I’m coming with you.” As though to make her point clear, she reached for her travel cloak which hung closest to the wall on the wrack.

“How do you know...? Actually, don’t tell me, you’ve always had a habit of eavesdropping. Why do you want to come with me, Pans?”

“You’re going to speak with Mr. Dolohov and I’ve been looking for a chance to thank him.”

Richard looked baffled and a little concerned. “For what?”

Pansy slipped on her cloak over her dress and checked her hair in the mirror before giving it a small touchup with her wand. “It doesn’t matter. Perhaps I could have sent an owl, but I wanted to do it in person. Besides, perhaps I could put in a word for you.” It was true, Pansy felt safer to keep correspondence of her choice at home but she was withholding on sending an owl. For some inexplicable reason she wanted to speak with Antonin in person, to see him. Almost as though to reassure herself that he was real, that there was something good and kind on that side of the civilian-fighter divide, the side to which Draco had been forced to cross. But also, perhaps, to see if she would once again feel that embarrassing but pleasant tingling sensation that looking at him had given her back at Malfoy Manor.

“You won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, will you?” Richard stated more than asked, putting on his own cloak. Pansy shook her head. “Alright.” He took her arm and activated the portkey.

*

Headquarters left a daunting impression on Pansy the first time she was there, although later on she would learn to love the place more than any other, save for home perhaps. She couldn’t be certain but Pansy figured that whatever building was being used had been magically expanded for the place was huge, containing a fully equipped experimental lab with its own testing facilities, at least two training polygons, a strategy room, a situation room, several other chambers the purpose of which Pansy could not determine on sight especially with the doors closed, emergency stock room and a medical wing. At night, the place was nearly silent with only a few watchmen on sight and perhaps an officer or two going over plans. The halls – long and dark – echoed with their footsteps and Pansy could feel the magic there, circulating in the air, between the chambers. Richard looked uncomfortable but Pansy felt a mixture of awe and fear clinging to her, battling out for superiority. When she touched the handle of her wand it seemed to grow warm without her giving it any inclination. Everything about Headquarters spoke of power, of magic. Of war.

They were led by a watchman to one of the smaller chambers. “Mr. Dolohov, Richard and Pansy Parkinson are here to see you.” There were a few more undistinguishable words exchanged before the watchman ushered them in and closed the door behind them. Pansy looked around the room which looked like a study but considerably more cluttered. There were a couple of sofas, a wooden table over which parchment, quills, and file folders were scattered in a sort of orderly chaos, coherent only to the owner of the place. A fire burned in a small fireplace with numerous candles providing the rest of the light. The walls were lined with shelves on which stood books, boxes, various magical artifacts and a few potions vials.

Antonin stood at the window and had his back to them until he heard the door shut. When he turned, Pansy’s first thought was that he looked very at home here. He wore a set of simple black robes and no gloves. His hair was brushed back but some of the strands at his temples had rebelled and were curling slightly onto his forehead, a sign of a long day at work. He looked a lot like how Pansy had seen him the summer before at Malfoy Manor when he had come to take Draco to Headquarters but the atmosphere of the Manor was better suited to someone like Lucius. Pansy thought that this almost cozy, work-infused space suited Antonin better, was closer to his natural environment, if one could say that about a person.

“Mr. Parkinson, it is good that you’re here. Your father was most eager that we speak before your formal presentation to the Lord.” Antonin’s grey-blue eyes shifted to Pansy and she felt the familiar shiver run over her. The strength of that gaze was magnetic. “Miss Parkinson? Good evening.”

Pansy curtsied, surprising even herself. Here, in non-formal circumstances, no one would have demanded it of her. But the acute feeling of girlishness that the gesture gave her was pleasant and somehow fitting. Besides, she was here to be grateful. “Mr. Dolohov. I’m here with my brother because…I wanted to thank you.”

“To thank me?” Antonin put his wand down on the desk before him, then picked it up and slid it through his fingers. It was almost like he was fidgeting with it. “For what?”

“You were very kind to me this past year with your letters. And I know you have been trying to…that you would not allow harm to come to Draco. I just thought to thank you in person.” She felt very foolish all of a sudden. Why couldn’t she have just sent an owl? The air suddenly felt too warm and too constricting. Pansy could feel herself blushing.

“I’m glad I could set your mind at ease.” He gave her a warm look and Pansy’s embarrassment seemed to vanish.

She should not have said anything else, but Pansy was speaking before she could stop herself or chose her words. “My brother is a good and dutiful man, Mr. Dolohov. But he knows nothing of war. He is getting his High Degree in Potions and studying medwizadry. He interns as a healer and wishes to make that his life. I know our Lord has summoned him but killing is really not Richard’s strong suit, I’m afraid.”

“Pansy!” Richard hissed beside her in indignation. From the corner of her eye, Pansy could see his ears turning red.

Antonin, however, was smiling faintly, as though mildly amused. “Killing is no one’s strong suit, Miss Parkinson. Especially since I am certain your brother is a decent person. Healer, you say. We need medics as much as we need fighters.”

“Go home, Pans. It’s late,” Richard said in a voice that broached no argument. Antonin called in a watchman and instructed him to take Pansy to the edge of the security perimeter from where she could apparate home. She went without protest, wishing Antonin and Richard a good night. She would go home and try to go to sleep. Instead she would lie awake for a long time, staring up at the ceiling and recalling the weight of Antonin’s eyes on her and the shivers those eyes sent down her back.

Once Pansy had been ushered out, Antonin turned to Richard. “Your sister is…eager,” he commented lightly. It was easier to not fidget with the girl gone. Pansy emanated so much restless energy that it was difficult to be still in her presence.

“She is sometimes overeager, sir. I would not see harm come to her.” A spark of hardness flashed across Richard’s eyes and Antonin could have laughed. Did he really think that there was a chance of something inappropriate in his correspondence with Pansy?

“No one would dare put a young lady such as your sister in the way of danger,” Antonin reassured him. “As for you, Mr. Parkinson, your services have been requested by the Lord himself.”

“My sister is right. I have no desire to fight,” Richard admitted, trying to not look away. “I cannot say I am proud of it.”

Antonin considered Richard carefully for a moment. Brother and sister looked so much alike that Antonin could clearly make Pansy out in the young man’s features although the expression he wore in that moment would have been far too subdued for Pansy. “Perhaps, you can serve as a healer, as I told your sister. But not until you have proved yourself loyal by going on a mission.”

Richard nodded in understanding. “Yes, sir.”

“Is your wandwork good?” A brisk note appeared in Antonin’s tone as they turned to business. “You can join the training sessions starting tomorrow.”

*~*

Ironically, Pansy wanted to know all the things her brother did not care for. She wanted to know how to build strong protective and invisibility charms for ambushes, she wanted to know battle curses, she wanted to improve her reaction time on draw, she wanted to know how to fly formation and what the difference was between a civilian broom and a fighter’s broom. Richard was bored by all these things and he did not like the idea of going on missions where he would have to do Merlin knows what harm to protect himself and those with him.

For all her curiosity, however, Pansy might have never gotten the courage to plead with Antonin for a place among the fighters had it not been for a disaster and a close call. The disaster was Richard’s first mission. The idea was to get Potter while the Order was in the process of transferring him from one secured location to the next. It failed, although Moody was killed – a fact that was celebrated rather loudly at Headquarters despite the overall failure. The disaster, for Pansy, however, was the state in which Richard came home. He was shaky and pale, his hair a mess and his cloak falling off one shoulder. He went to the sitting room and collapsed there, clapping for the house elf to serve brandy. “I’m not a military person,” Richard mumbled to her when Pansy snuggled up to him on the sofa. “I saw this kid get his ear torn off. I’m not squeamish of blood but I’m utterly useless up there in the air. I could tell Mr. Dolohov was not happy even though I tried. I’m a failure, Pans, I’m sorry.”

She shook her head at him. “You just should have been the daughter,” she told him, then frowned at the sound those words made. “Sorry, I didn’t mean it that way.”

Richard laughed hoarsely. “No, you’re right, I should have been.” Richard drank his brandy, waiting for the alcohol to relax his muscle and relive at least some of the tension and Pansy sat quietly beside him, thinking.

The close call was the scare that the Greengrasses got. Ministry officials showed up in the middle of the night without warrants and demanded to conduct a search. When they were turned away, they came back with Aurors in a couple of hours. As it happened, the Greengrasses had only one son, a boy of eleven, due to go to Hogwarts in the fall. Their father, although certainly involved in the war effort on the side of the Lord, kept all his work at Headquarters and had managed to keep up the appearance of an upstanding citizen since the First War. The Ministry officials went away empty-handed.

It was the way the Ministry had the nerve to bust in practically warrantless. It was the fact that the search was conducted at night – a stress tactic. It was the fact that the Greengrasses had done nothing to warrant suspicion other than being Purebloods. These were the things that infuriated Pansy the most and with every day that passed, she felt a deeper and deeper burning hatred for Potter and his lot.

Not to mention the smaller things. Headlines in the Prophet about proposed bills that would allow dangerous creatures, such as werewolves, to attend Hogwarts along with other students or a mandate for a wizard-Muggle heritage celebration week or something else foolish of the sort. New and harsher additions to the Statutes. Pro-Mudblood propaganda from the Ministry. Faces of acquaintances and her parents’ friends on Wanted posters. Discussions in the Ministry on whether or not there should be a harsh punishment for families which were found to have bought their pre-Hogwarts-aged children wands, a punishment which would target Pureblood families in which it was custom to buy children their first wand once they turned seven, granted that this was done behind the Ministry’s back and semi-legal, but the bureaucrats had always turned a blind eye before for a reason. And always, always, the constant tension that hung over everyone and everything.

*~*

Antonin sat listening as Pansy explained her desires to joint the fighting squads. He leaned back in the tall-backed chair behind his desk with an impenetrable look on his face, twirling a quill absent-mindedly in one hand. She had worn long robes which would make it less painfully obvious that she wore a dress under them and her short hair hung lose, neatly combed straight but without any of the curls that her mother loved so much. After Pansy finished speaking, Antonin looked at her for a long moment, as though measuring her up, trying to deduce something from her expression. His own face did not reveal anything but thoughtfulness.

“You wish to fight in your brother’s stead then?” he asked finally.

Pansy opened her mouth but stopped herself, chose her words and then continued. “If it is possible. Richard lives in a world of his own – fighting isn’t part of that world. But regardless, I would like to fight. If we are at war – and we most certainly are – I would like to be part of it and not just sit on the side and wonder at who will come out on top.”

“Your father won’t allow it.”

“I think he will. Either way, my father is my problem, Mr. Dolohov.” Instantly, Pansy felt herself blushing. “Forgive me, I did not mean to be rude.”

A smirk tugged at the corners of Antonin’s mouth. “No, you are right. Your father is your concern, Miss Parkinson. And yet, I would not like for Edward to challenge me for endangering his daughter.”

“I am of age, Mr. Dolohov. I may do as I please at least in this regard. My father has not explicitly forbade me to be at Headquarters or to train or to fight.” Pansy could feel her heart beating against her ribs. She could hear it in her ears and it felt like blood was being pumped up into her temples at immeasurable speed. Going for a last, desperate move, Pansy decided to play the woman. Somewhat. “At the very least, allow me to train so that I may protect myself. You know about the Greengrass raid. What if something more violent happens to my family? What if…” She froze. Something had changed, had slipped in Antonin’s gaze. He stood suddenly and went to the window, turning his back to her. She could tell that something about her words had made him tense, made him lose some of that impenetrable nerve.

“I suppose…some knowledge of Battle Arts won’t do you any harm, Miss Parkinson. But not now. We have a large mission ahead of us and it is taking up all my time. After. After we have won, we shall see.” He turned back to face her. Something was different about his eyes, they seemed to burn and a turbulent storm was brewing there. It sent a familiar shiver down Pansy’s spine and she could no longer look away or lower her gaze. “Will that suit you?”

“When is this mission?”

“End of the month.”

“I can wait a couple of weeks.” She curtsied. “Good day, Mr. Dolohov.”

*

Once the door shut behind Pansy, Antonin dropped back into his chair and put his face in both hands. He should not have given in to her, should not have agreed to teach her battle magic. Not even because she was a girl – she wouldn’t be the first one – and not because Edward would kill him – Michelle might though, but she’ll get over it – but because he did not quite trust himself. No, he certainly did not have any lewd thoughts about the daughter of one of his friends, that was absurd. But sometimes, when she spoke, when she moved, when she argued, Pansy reminded him so strongly of a young Bella that it was almost painful for him to look at the girl.

Yet, he had given her his word that after they took down the Ministry, he would give her some lessons. Well, no one could blame him for teaching the girl how to summon a Patronus or how to put up multiple shields or how to properly draw her wand. In fact, it was the right thing to do, especially as the girl was far more eager than her poor brother.

Either way, he would worry about that later. For now, there was the Ministry coup to think of.

*~*

Pansy stood looking up into the night sky, her heart pounding away as she watched for incoming brooms or other shadows moving toward Headquarters. The fighters were staging the Ministry coup today and she wished with all her heart that she could have been one of them. There were plenty of people at the Ministry she did not think highly of. She also knew that Antonin would be in the detachment that left the Ministry after it had been secured and would be attempting to find and bring Harry Potter to the Lord.

Most of this she knew from Richard. The rest, from Antonin who had given permission for her to stay at Headquarters and help in the medwing to brew potions and make other preparation for when the fighters came back – they were expecting casualties. Potions were not really Pansy’s thing – she was much better at spellswork – but she was grateful for the chance to stay. She’d watched the squads take off and everything inside her flipped at the show of power that they created: five v-shaped squads, all containing at least ten flyers, they rose silently into the air with only faint swishing noises from their broom tails and robes. Antonin had had his hood thrown back until the very last moment and Pansy watched his face, entranced by the calm confidence there. He spoke his orders without having to shout or use magic, his voice seemed to carry and cut through the air. For the next several hours, as she helped Mulciber and the others brew healing potions, it was that image of Antonin on his broom with his hair tied up and his hood down, focused on the task at hand, that kept running through her mind.

He was attractive, it was hard to deny that and she, after all, was a young woman.

Suddenly, shapes appeared in the sky and at the far edge of the security perimeter. They seemed to all be coming in at once, moving forward in a great black mass. “They’re back!” Pansy shouted and lifted her skirts so she could run forward to greet the returning flyers.

Richard, who was relieved of mission duty by Antonin’s efforts, came running along with Mulciber. “Start counting,” someone said behind her and Pansy felt her head spin as she tried to keep track of all the people coming in.

A few of the young men had cuts and burns and were taken inside to take the needed potions. Most, however, were fine. Pansy was counting, not realizing she was looking for Antonin until someone behind her said his name.

“Antonin and Rowle aren’t back. They followed the Taboo lead but I think they should be back.” Pansy turned and made out Mulciber, Rookwood and Tallis standing in a tight group together in the dark.

“Maybe they ran into some trouble?”

“Against children?” Tallis sounded skeptical.

“You were younger when you started going on missions, William.”

“We were trained. Besides, this is Mr. Dolohov we’re talking about.”

Rookwood snorted. “Yea, and he’s got that oaf Rowle for a partner. He may be more harm then help if you ask me.”

“Let’s not panic, it hasn’t been that long.” Rookwood went inside with Tallis. Mulciber saw Pansy and waved her over, putting a hand on her shoulder.

“I hope you’re not too overwhelmed, Miss Parkinson. Come, we’re needed inside. It is better then I thought it would be.”

Pansy nodded mutely and allowed Mulciber to guide her indoors.

*

Pansy spent the next few hours in a state of anxious waiting. Her hands would suddenly shake sometimes so that she almost dropped the flasks she was holding. Her mind was so far away somewhere in an unspecified destination, wherever Antonin was, that she sometimes picked up a sedative potion instead of a pain relief potion, even though they were visibly different colors, and only noticed her mistake when she double checked herself. She did not want to be worried about Antonin and she did not want to be selfish if she was worried but there was nothing she could do about the pressing, suffocating feeling of panic when she thought that he might not come back. He had promised to teach her things no one else would, he was the only one, aside from Richard, who told her in concrete terms what was gong on at Headquarters and she could not help but want to see him in his element again, to see that strong, steady flame burn in his eyes.

*

The medical ward was almost silent and mostly empty – Pansy was helping clean up – when Antonin and Rowle were brought back. A sudden uproar from the hall leading up to the medward was what alerted her. Pansy, carefully, guided an armful of empty flasks onto the shelf with her wand, then, taking in a deep breath, lifted the skirts of her dress and walked briskly to the front.

“What happened to them?” Richard’s voice.

“I don’t know, we found them when we tried to retrace their steps. It must have been at least an hour before we came. The place was all messed up, looks like there was a struggle.”

Pansy pushed past someone who was blocking her view and froze, one hand going to her mouth. Rowle and Antonin were lying side by side on examination tables. They were pale and completely still. Rowle looked like he was knocked out, Antonin’s eyes, however, were open, staring up at the ceiling. His face looked dead to her and Pansy shuddered.

Richard turned and, seeing her, reading something in her face, grabbed her by the shoulders. “You’re going home, Pansy.”

Pansy crossed her arms and stared defiantly up at her brother. “No way in hell. I’m staying right here.”

“I said you’re going home!”

“Richard, let the girl stay if she likes,” Mulciber drawled calmly behind her back and Pansy felt relieved – she would not have been able to out-argue Richard on her own. “I ran a diagnostic – they’re alright. Tony’s just petrified – Finite Incantatem – and Finn was stupefied; probably hit his head during the fall. He’ll be fine though. Miss Parkinson – lay down, Tony, I’m not done – Miss Parkinson, get me a hydration potion and a tissue repairing one. Finn might need that.”

Pansy nodded and Richard was forced to let go of her. She chanced a glance over her shoulder: Antonin was lying down as told but he was obviously conscious and antsy to get up. She felt a warm wave of relief wash over her as she walked back to the stock shelves, listening to the conversation going on behind her.

“What happened?” Antonin’s voice, confused and a little groggy.

“I should ask you that. Loras and Brutus found you in some Muggle food place.”

“What were we doing there? I just remember…I remember the Ministry and then the wedding raid – I don’t think that ended quite as much in our favor as we wanted – and then…nothing. Just…darkness and not being able to move.”

Mulciber sighed. “Hold still… I’m detecting a partial mind wipe. Whoever did it was good, not perfect but good. They were also kind about it, leaving everything else in tact.”

“Must have been someone from the Order.”

“He would not be alive or here if it had been the Order.”

Pansy took the flasks needed and headed back to the group. She reached them and held the first one out to Mulciber. He took it but mostly ignored her. “They went after Potter and co. It must have been one of them. didn’t Rookwood say that one of them – the girl, I think – was good at spells?”

“Granger,” Pansy blurted out. Antonin looked up at her questioning and she felt herself falter slightly. “Hermione Granger. She’s first in our year. She’s a snobby know-it-all Mudblood but she is good,” she admitted grudgingly.

Mulciber could not help a teasing smirk. “So you had a run in with the kids and they beat you? With a Stupefy and a Petrific—“

“If it were the kids we’d have to have been careful, Theodore. That puts quite a few limitation on the whole thing.” Antonin did not sound amused. He rubbed tiredly at his temples and drank the proffered potion. “Either way, something must have gone wrong.”

There was silence for a long moment. Finally, Brutus Greengrass said quietly. “The Lord won’t be happy, Antonin.” Something about his tone made Pansy turn to look at him. The rest of the group tensed up and she felt like they were all expecting something awful, something even worse than a battle. It made her skin crawl. She looked back at Antonin and noticed the way his shoulders and back had stiffened but there was no actual fear in his face.

“Nothing can be done about that. You’ll brew the potions, Theodore?”

“I can help,” Pansy piped up. She wanted to be involved and she also felt a strong desire to stay here where she could have easy access to Antonin and news about him. If the Lord was going to punish their failure to secure Potter, she wanted to be around to offer comfort afterwards. She told herself that it was out of gratitude for his friendship toward her but, if she were to be honest, it was something else, something inside her that was purely feminine, something she could not describe but that feeling caused the bottom of her stomach to melt away and incited a desire in her to reach out and touch Antonin’s arm. Instead, she simply looked up pleadingly at Mulciber.

The men all shared looks and Mulciber shook his head. “That won’t be needed, they’re special potions and we’ve got people to do them.” He seemed to be brushing her off but Pansy felt it would be rude and childish to argue. Childish was the last thing she wanted to seem in front of Antonin. Besides, all of her energy seemed to be focused on one feeling in that moment, one thought that grew and filled her up to the brim. She had felt it before but never so strongly as now. Somewhere the line had been crossed and now Pansy was certain of one thing: she hated Harry Potter and his posse. Potter – that self important brat who thought he new everything even though he’d grown up a stranger to the wizarding world. Potter, who thought himself so Merlin damn important because he’d gotten lucky once, because people, in their infinite idiocy, flocked around him. Potter who thought himself better than everyone else because he was Dumbledore’s pet, because he was so fond of Mudbloods, and could speak with snakes. Albeit the latter was rather fascinating but that was beside the point. Potter, who was the epitome of everything distasteful in Gryffindor House and its members.

“How did Miss Parkinson do for her first time on duty?” Antonin asked, throwing Pansy a small, conspiring glance.

“Well for her first time,” Mulciber said noncommittally, walking around the examination table Antonin was sitting on to see what he needed to do with Rowle. “He got his mind wiped too,” Mulciber commented but Antonin was no longer paying attention to him. Instead, he was completely focused on Pansy.

“Miss Parkinson, it is late and you should go home. I will owl you the day after tomorrow, most likely, about when you should come in for your training.”

“Yes, of course.” Pansy smiled softly, happy that he remembered and that he thought it important enough to mention at such a moment.

“You’re going to teach my sister Battle Magic?” Richard asked behind her, sounding baffled and a little agitated.

Antonin fixed Richard with a heavy look. “Yes, seeing as how you, Richard, would prefer not to fight.”

Richard made a sound as though to protest but Antonin’s pointed look made him clam up without utterly a word. Pansy gave Antonin a small, thankful smile. “Goodnight, Mr. Dolohov,” she said, the edges of her voice going soft from whatever uninvited feeling was roiling around inside her chest, before apparating.

*~*

Antonin owled Pansy the day after his report to the Lord. It had not been a pleasant evening and Antonin still felt sore even as he penned the note to Pansy. Rowle had gotten most of it though and Mulciber was keeping him down for the day. Antonin had to admit that Pansy’s dedication and enthusiasm were infectious and they pulled at something nostalgic within him. She reminded him of the boys he had taught during the First War, the Pureblood heirs who saw themselves as heroes and felt that they had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Pansy, while perhaps not quite so idealistic, had an incredible amount of faith in the people she thought worthwhile. She believed in Draco and her brother and her parents because she loved them and she believed in the Lord because he promised her that the people closest to her would live in a world where they held their rightful place. She saw herself as she should, as a Pureblood who deserved far more rights in the magical community than the invading Mudbloods with their Muggle ideals. Pansy believed in magic and in the beauty and power of magic.

Sometimes, Antonin wondered if she believed in him.

Pansy portkey-ed into the training polygon with surprising promptness and stood waiting to be acknowledged. Antonin could feel her presence behind him and tried to put himself in the same state of mind he used with his other fighters. She was incredibly distracting, however, just by being and it took him a minute to settle into a completely focused state of mind. “Miss Parkinson, good afternoon.” He turned around to face her just as she curtsied.

Pansy was wearing dark robes which were pinned shut by a silver clip with the Parkinson crest on it. Unlike regular ladies’ robes, which were usually slim and hugged the hips and the breasts, Pansy’s were wider and somewhat shorter than regular robes, allowing for free movement. She had obviously taken care to dress appropriately. “You should take the robes off,” Antonin told her, taking out his wand. “It will be easier that way for now and easier for me to track your movements. Then, show me your wand hold.”

Pansy slipped off her robes and tossed them aside. Under, she wore a loose blouse and trousers which she’d tucked into slim boots. Pansy blushed, fumbling her wand slightly as she took it out. “I thought it would be better like this than a skirt…”

Antonin smirked and nodded approvingly. The amount of practicality in the girl was charming. “You thought correctly. Now, your wand hold.” Antonin walked to Pansy’s side as she held out her wand in a prepared position. She had a firm grip, almost like a boy, but her hand was smaller and thinner and it seemed like she was stretching to make the same position of hand on wand as her brother. “Your hand is too tense. You’re not a man, Miss Parkinson. Your hand won’t fit the same way. You would do better allowing your hand to be flatter on the wand, allow your fingers to fit it more tightly, like a glove.” Antonin reached out and fixed her hold. Her skin was soft under his touch. “Try it now.”

Pansy swished the wand through the air. “It feels steadier,” she commented. “How do I get this hold quickly on the draw though?”

Antonin almost laughed. “It is actually easier to get this hold on the drawn because the wand will slip into your hand naturally; you do not have to reposition your hand into an awkward hold.” He showed her how to drawn quickly, how to stand properly, how to keep balance better while pivoting and how to smoothly transfer from a figure that starts in the center to a figure that starts at the shoulder or with the wand tip pointed down. They practiced on stunning spells and disarming spells. Pansy was focused and all of her energy seemed to go into learning, into understanding. When she finally managed to beat Antonin to the draw, her smile was awed and overjoyed. It was infectious and Antonin found himself smiling as well.

“Practice will give you perfection,” Antonin told her as she left. Pansy’s eyes met his and Antonin felt a spark like a moth charm flit between him and her.

“I will,” she assured him. I hope you will make time for me again soon, Mr. Dolohov.”

*~*

Antonin did make time for her. They were in an action lull for the time being. Most of the attention in that month was on the Ministry and on the new political order. Appointments, agreements, obliging baffled foreign ambassadors, restructuring of some of the departments, dealing with the half of the Ministry who were not allies. It was fortunate that the coup had gone so smoothly and almost quietly. Power shifted hands with such speed that to the ordinary citizen it may almost seem as nothing happened. The priority was to implement changes in the most non-obtrusive way so that those who only cared for politics in terms of their own private lives would not see a need for opposition.

Hogwarts was also a priority, although most High Officers agreed that leaving the school be for the time being wouldn’t be an issue. However, the Lord was insisting that the school was reformed immediately. The Carrows were assigned as teachers to teach DADA. Antonin was no teacher but he had no idea how the bumbling Amycus could teach anything. Alecto was not much better. As a girl she had been harmless if awkward. The Carrows had not been in Azkaban during the interwar period but time had worsened Alecto’s temper and her insecurities. Unmarried, with the family fortune quickly running out, she seemed constantly angry with the world. It was a shame, really, how harsh and unscrupulous she had become. Alecto did not like teaching and Antonin did not think she would be good at it. She had little talent and he had a sneaking suspicion that the students would suffer for Alecto’s own insecurities. Once again, a damned pity. Snape was appointed as Headmaster, a move which Antonin found far more logical than the Carrows’ appointment, but also far more dangerous. He did not trust Severus, always did have a slight uncertainty about the boy, even though he’d been one of those whom Antonin had trained. These days, every time Antonin thought about it, he heard Evan Rosier’s words ring in the back of his head. “I should have known Severus would…I suspected….” The words Evan had gasped, choking on rain, shortly before he died, never quite left Antonin. Whatever it was that Snape did that Evan thought he should have known could not have been good.

Yet, Hogwarts was not Antonin’s prerogative and the Lord listened to none these days. In fact, if he did listen to anyone it was Snape and although Antonin was entrusted with overseeing all of the battle operations, his doubts dealing with anything not strictly related to fighting were typically ignored. It was frustrating at times, but really Antonin was happy that he did not need to deal with the politics and that people like Umbridge were on the responsibility of people like Rodolphus Lestrange. The fact that most of the Organization’s efforts were thrown at the politics and no active underground opposition had formed yet, allowed Antonin more time to plan battle tactics, to run training sessions and, ultimately, to make time for Pansy in his schedule.

He taught her protective charms and jinxes, how to put up an anti-apparition field and how to disassemble one, how to put up elementary blood wards around any enclosed area and how to enclose an area magically. He perfected with her the spells she already knew like the disillusionment charm and a basic healing charm that Richard had taught her.

Once, Pansy had asked him if he could teach her some more serious spells, something that could be used in a duel. Antonin considered teaching her Dementia, a curse that had been one of the first in the arsenal of the Academy boys. But that reminded him of how freely Dementors got around under the new regime. “Do you know how to cast a Patronus, Miss Parkinson?”

Pansy thought about it, then slowly shook her head. “I’ve never tried. I know what you say and what a Patronus is but I’ve never cast it. Why?”

“Patronuses are very useful. Not just for repelling Dementors but also for sending messages. They are many times faster than owls and can be summoned at any time and are not hindered by physical and most magical barriers. However, for the Patronus to transfer a message it must be fully corporal. So, first, close your eyes and think of something happy. Does not matter what it is but it must be a memory – not a fantasy – and it must be as happy of a memory as you have.”

Pansy looked at him for a moment, blinking, then closed her eyes and tried to think of something happy. The Malfoy ball where she had been betrothed was a happy thought, but it made her think of how everything fell apart after. She tried to think of the first time Draco kissed her but thinking of Draco in general seemed to hurt these days, yet it was a dull, nagging pain. Draco was so much a memory that he seemed a fantasy. She dug deeper, going into her childhood. There were many happy memories there but they all seemed so trivial.

Then, she landed on the perfect thing. Her very first wand. Not the wand she bought later for Hogwarts, but the wand she got for her seventh birthday. A child’s wand, generic and light, not nearly as powerful a full-grown wand but it was still a wand and when she practiced enough with it she could cast a Lumos. Pansy could clearly remember the sun shinning through the sitting room windows and her mother’s beaming face as her father put the wand in her hand and it sparked, acknowledging her magic. Richard, at that time a second year at Hogwarts, standing beside their mother in his school uniform with the green-and-silver Slytherin tie had said, “You’re a witch for sure now, Pans, a real witch!” Even thinking of it all these days later made Pansy smile. She had felt so unconquerable in that moment.

“Do you have your memory?” Antonin asked.

Pansy nodded.

“Now, keep it in your thoughts and…” He walked around behind her and took her wrist to guide her hand through the figure.

Expecto Patronum!” Pansy opened her eyes and watched a stream of white light exit her wand. It shimmered for a few moments, enveloping her, then faded.

“That’s alright. Now, do the figure yourself and say it with as much conviction as you can. You don’t have to say it loudly but put the emotion of your memory into it.”

Pansy fought with her disappointment for a moment, then took a deep breath and tried again. It took her nearly an hour but finally an almost-solid looking, shimmering, young least weasel burst out of the tip of her wand. It circled her twice before fading away. “Oh!” Pansy laughed. “I thought it would be an owl, like my familiar.”

Antonin smiled at her. A least weasel, how appropriate. “No, it doesn’t really have anything to do with your familiar. What did you think of, if I may ask?”

Pansy’s smile became slightly embarrassed. “Of my first wand. The one I got when I was seven.” As Antonin just smiled at her, Pansy shifted uncomfortably, feeling suddenly regretful for telling him. “Is that…is that silly?” she asked, a little too sharply.

Antonin shook his head. “No, why would you say that? I’d like to see the child that isn’t delighted by their first wand. But now for the hard part.”

They practiced for another hour. Making a Patronus carry a message was much harder than Pansy thought it might be. Hers could not even stay still for a moment. “Just like you,” Antonin told her, making her blush. By the end of the day, she could at least make it go where she wanted it to go and find Antonin when he stepped out of the room. “It will get better,” Antonin told her. “Patronuses are part of you but they’re also external magic as well. That’s a lot harder to control.”

Pansy slipped on her robes and brushed a strand of dark hair out of her face. She was flushed from the word they’d done and looked utterly lovely. She was like a wild rose, sweet and beautiful but free and prickly when disturbed at the same time. She was so much like a young Bella that Antonin sometimes had to catch his train of thought before it got away form him.

“Could I see your Patronus, Mr. Dolohov?”

Antonin stopped and looked at her oddly. “It’s a wolf,” he told her.

Something sparked deep in her eyes. “But could I see it? Please.”

It couldn’t do any harm. Antonin took out his wand obligingly and for a moment concentrated on the same thing he always did: Bella on the night she said she would marry him. It was fated to never come to pass but if he focused on just that moment, on how her eyes had glowed in the gloom of the Ministry hallway as a waltz carried to them from the ballroom, how her warm hands felt on his shoulders and how she breathed out her consent with reckless fire, then he could recall the way he’d felt then. That had been a feeling like no other in his life and the moment he grasped it the words came on their own. “Expecto Patronum.” The white wolf sprang forward, turned around several times, sat on all fours and waited for a moment, then sensing that it was no needed, vanished.

Pansy was looking wide-eyed at him and the spot where his Patronus had been. Her eyes moved to his face and stayed there. “What did you think of?” she asked quietly.

Antonin hesitated for a moment, then smiled sadly. “Just something from my youth. After you use a memory and the spell together often enough it becomes routine. Good day, Miss Parkinson. I will owl you.”

Pansy left with light, girlish steps and once the door closed behind her, Antonin sank onto a bench by the wall and rubbed both hands over his face. She didn’t need to know about Bella, Antonin did not want her to know. Especially her.

*~*

August waned quickly into its last days and Pansy soon found herself in Diagon Alley buying supplies for the upcoming year. She bought new robes, quills, books and potions supplies. Everyone was talking about how different the DADA textbooks were this year. The Carrows were obviously determined to give their students a deeper understanding of the Dark Arts themselves. Pansy received an owl from Draco, saying that he would see her at school. She’d sighed in relief that he was alright and wrote back. But other than that she did not experience that feeling of uncontained joy that she expected to feel. Her stomach did not flip as it use to and she did not jump around the room in excitement as she sometimes did before when Draco wrote to her after an extended lull in communication. She still cared about him with all her heart, but Pansy could not shake the feeling that something had snapped between them, fallen into the chasm that had been created. Nor did she anticipate going back to school as much as she thought she would. In fact, all of her thoughts were at Headquarters and the most acute feeling that Pansy did feel in those last summer days was the disappointment at not being able to fit in one more training session with Antonin before she left.

*~*

Antonin’s owl came the day before Samhain. Pansy, casting a look over her shoulder at Draco who was engrossed in reading a letter from home, unfolded it and read:

Miss Parkinson.

Tomorrow is Samhain. I know Hogwarts has a special feast prepared for its students and I don’t know if you would be able to get away but if you would like, the Organization is holding a ball of its own. I am not sure if your parents or brother have told you, but I, personally, would be very pleased to see you there.

Antonin Dolohov

Pansy felt a smile creep onto her face. Richard had mentioned the Samhain ball and Pansy had been torn as to whether she wanted to try and go or not. It was not hard to get out of the castle these days to go home, not for the Slytherins. There was hardly even a need to sneak out. Slughorn was easy to convince and, if it came to it, Snape was on their side, and typically did not prevent anyone he knew to be involved with Headquarters from leaving.

“What are you smiling about?” Draco asked, folding up his letter. He looked tired and worried but not nearly as neurotic as he had during their sixth year.

“Nothing. Just a note from home. I’m going to the Samhain ball. Will you go?”

He shook his head. “No, it’s best I stay here.” There was a note of bitterness in Draco’s voice and Pansy felt guilty. The Malfoys were still in disfavor. She did not know why their Lord found Lucius’ misstep so hard to forgive but she did not dare ask. Not even Antonin.

*~*

Pansy wore a black gown, long-sleeved, open-backed, tight at the waist but spreading into a flowing skirt. Her hair was curled and her make up done with some help from Circe who was also going to the ball. The Samhain ball was traditionally a masquerade and Pansy wore a slim black mask with holes just the perfect size to allow her large eyes to pear out at the rest of the world but still slim enough to resemble cat eyes. A pair of small, velvet cat ears perched on top of her head, half-hidden by her curls. Circe was a fox and glowed like fire in her bright orange gown and mask. Pansy wondered what Antonin’s costume would be. She could imagine him as a wolf like his Patronus, in silver-grey robes, sweeping across the festival grounds. Or perhaps a raven, in deep black, blending with the night sky. She still remembered how he had looked that night before the Ministry op. and her heart gave a jolt every time, something tightening in her chest and between her legs.

"You don't think my dress clashes too much with my hair do you?" Circe asked, twirling in front of the mirror. Circe was blonde with the slightest tinge of red when the light was right.

“You look fine," Pansy told her, watching as the other girl tried to determine whether the mass of curls coming out of her fancy bun was orderly enough.

Circe smoothed her dress and turned around to face Pansy. “Alright, fine, I’m ready to go. Do you have the portkey?”

Pansy nodded and picked up the portkey that had come with Antonin’s letter. “Come, we need to walk to the gates. Are the Carrow girls coming?”

Circe shrugged as they walked down to the common room. “I don’t know, I think Flora was talking about it, but they’re not coming with us.”

Eyes followed them as they walked through the common room. Pansy met Draco’s eyes and he traced her curves hungrily. She smiled at him, but her mind was elsewhere. They made it through the halls unchallenged and then to the gate. Circe kept picking up the skirts of her dress, afraid they would get stained by the wet grass. Outside of the gates, Pansy took Circe’s arm and opened the portkey.

They landed in a large field, strewn with colorful autumn leaves and peppered by bonfires around which the women danced with their chosen men. Enchanted pumpkins and candles floated through the air, circling the dancers overhead. On the edges of the festivities, a few older witches and wizards were selling allspice berries, catnip, mountain ash berries, mugwort, mullein, rosemary, and other herbs. The Samhain balls were always more like festivals. Lately, they had begun to go out of style, especially in non-Pureblood families, but the Organization was starved for a party and something traditional was the best way to keep up fighting spirits and remind people what they were fighting for. Circe giggled and twirled around. “Why didn’t Daphne wish to come? This is wonderful!” She grabbed Pansy’s wrist and dragged her toward the fires.

The glowing fires lip up the masked faces of the revelers in dancing shadows and bursts of orange. Pansy linked hands with Circe and a man she did not know well enough to recognize with the mask. They danced around the bonfire, singing an old Gaelic song. Pansy smiled sensing how naturally the footwork came to her. The night was clear and oddly warm for October. Above them, the pumpkins glowed and the stars twinkled merrily. Pansy felt free, almost carefree, light like a feather floating along on the warm breeze from the fire. She kicked up multicolored leaves from the ground as she clipped her heals together and skipped from one side to the other. She laughed and threw her head back, looking up at the sky as the circle of witches and wizards holding hands went around and around the fire. Pansy looked over at Circe for a moment and the two girls burst out laughing like it seemed neither of them had laughed since the war started in earnest.

At some point Pansy felt eyes on the back of her neck and turned to look at who was watching her. For a moment she saw only darkness and her breath caught for a moment in a paranoid fear of something unknown. But then she noticed Antonin watching her and the others as they danced. She beamed happily at him, detaching herself from the dancers. Circe followed her, still laughing. “Pansy, what are you looking at?”

Pansy nodded toward Antonin. “Mr. Dolohov.”

“Oh!” Circe blushed and curtsied. Pansy watched the pretty pink spread over Circe’s cheeks and the way her blonde hair seemed to glow in the firelight. Pansy felt a unpleasant prick of jealousy stab somewhere under her ribs. Circe was very pretty, prettier than Pansy, or so Pansy thought.

Antonin stepped toward them out of the shadows. He was in black robes with the collars and cuffs in dark, velvet ruby colors and by the mask she figured he meant to represent a raven. So she had been at least partially correct in her assumptive fantasies of what sort of costume would suit Antonin best.

“Miss Parkinson, Miss Runcorn, good evening. I am glad you could make it.” Antonin seemed to smirk at them slightly and Pansy felt a pleasant warm feeling spreading over her stomach and a thousand butterflies seemed to take flight within her at the sound of his voice. Circe was chirping something polite beside her but Pansy wanted to believe that Antonin was looking mainly at her and not at the pretty, curvy blonde beside her.

“I guessed, Mr. Dolohov, that you could be either a raven or a wolf. Therefore I believe I was half-right,” she said once Circe had finally stopped prattling.

“And you are…a panther?” There was trace of teasing in Antonin’s tone.

Pansy flushed and felt a small sting of anger at either herself for blushing or him for teasing her, she could not tell. “A cat,” she said, trying to sound unaffected. “But a panther if you like.”

“Dance with me?” Antonin put out his hand and Pansy took it. For a moment she had a flashback of the first time they danced at Malfoy Manor. But that time had been awkward and she had felt completely exposed for everyone to see and discuss. Now, with him holding her hand, she felt somehow at peace with herself and her life. Circe was watching them and making meaningful eyes at Pansy as she and Antonin joined the dancing but Pansy hardly noticed.

They danced with the others in a dizzying circle singing in voices which were certainly too loud to be proper. At one point, Antonin lifted her up by the waist and spun her around. Pansy clung to his shoulders when she first felt herself lift up into the air but then let go and tossed her head. Strands of hair fell into her eyes and she beamed down at him. Antonin was looking at her with burning eyes which would normally make her embarrassed or cautious but Pansy felt that it was alright for Antonin to look at her in such a way. She enjoyed it, she craved it. At some point it must have come to her that this was the way Draco used to look at her but she never made the connection. All Pansy knew was that those eyes and those strong arms around her made everything in her body tingle and melt. She skipped higher, laughed in earnest and sang with her heart out like she had not done for the longest time.

“May the circle be open, but unbroken
May the peace of the Goddess be ever in your heart
Merry meet, and merry part
And merry meet again! “

“Always meet again,” Antonin said softly, setting her down from the last lift of the song. His face was inches away from hers and Pansy could feel his hot breath against her cheeks and lips. The firelight danced over Antonin’s face, outlining the angles of his cheekbones and bringing out the dark reds on his mask.

“Thank you for the dance,” Pansy breathed out. For a moment she found herself paralyzed, stuck to the spot. Then, she bolted, picking up her skirts and running from the fire with her heart racing. She could not believe what was happening to her, the things Antonin was making her feel were inappropriate, were inconceivable, were…undeniably there. She pulled out several coins and paid for a cider at one of the booths, taking in long breaths to steady herself. “This is insane. I am insane,” Pansy whispered to herself feeling like she could cry from shame and happiness and confusion all at once.

*

Pansy looked so much like Bella but it was almost painful. It wasn’t so much a physical resemblance as a character resemblance. It was the passion in Pansy’s dark eyes and her carefree, wild joy manifesting here on Samhain night. It was the way strength and femininity were interwoven within her. Sometimes, Antonin wondered if life had decided to be kind to him, to give him a second chance. Not at love, he would not dare, but at making right his previous wrongs. He had not managed to protect Bella, he had not been able to become her hero. Perhaps Pansy was sent his way so he could protect her. Not stifle her – that would be a crime – but protect her and be something to her. Something. Anything she chose.

But there was also something else in her, an innocence that there never was in Bella. She was idealistic enough but it was a more innocent idealism, something childish and pure and Antonin was sometimes afraid that by not distancing himself from her he would spoil that perfection, mar it somehow. Pansy was half-woman, half-child and she was both Bella and something completely different to him. What frightened him most was that, if he had any less self-control, he would have kissed her then and there after their dance. Yet, who had he seen then? Was it the memory of Bella at their last happy Samhain together so many years ago when she had also come dressed as a black cat or was it Pansy, was it simply her infectious desire for life and his yearning for something as refreshing as her in his life?

“I think I see someone who is unduly bored.” Antonin flinched at the sudden purring at his shoulder. He turned as a long-nailed hand landed on his shoulder.

“I was just thinking.”

Bellatrix regarded him with wide eyes which were far too alive, almost feverish. She wore an emerald gown and her mask was made of snake skin. She smiled a razor-sharp smile at him. “My husband is a bore as usual. Dance with me?” Her hand closed around his wrist tightly. Antonin was certain she was trying to torture him with those batting lashes and the way she stuck her chest out to show that she was still very much a woman. A woman he had once loved. Perhaps he loved her still. Or just the memory of her. Antonin reached out and touched her cheek, then brushed a strand or curls out of her face. Where did you go, Bella? Where are you? Are you still in there somewhere or have we lost you for good? “Come.” He too her hand in one of his, put his arm around her waist and guided her in a dance step to join the dancing.

*

Pansy knew she had no reason to hate Bellatrix Lestrange, or any other woman in her place, for that matter. But she suddenly could not breath as she watched Antonin touching her, leading her in a dance. She felt like he had forgotten her the moment that the other woman had made her appearance in his personal space.

Pansy almost did not notice when Richard appeared at her shoulder. “That girl, your friend, Circe Runcorn, she is incredible! Is she betrothed, Pans? Does she have someone? Pansy?” He followed her gaze and stopped on Antonin and Bellatrix. “Ah, those two. An old love story.”

Pansy’s head whipped around. “They are in love? How do you know?”

“Were in love. Mulciber told me. It was a long time ago, during the First War. They were almost engaged but then everything fell apart and she married Lestrange.”

“Why?” Pansy could not believe that anyone would chose another over Antonin. What more could have Bellatrix wanted?

Richard seemed to hesitate. “Theodore had been drinking the night he told me, I don’t think…”

“I won’t tell anyone,” Pansy promised distractedly as her eyes continued to follow Antonin and his lady partner.

“The Blacks had three daughters and the middle one, Andromeda, was betrothed to Lestrange. But she eloped with a Mudblood before they could make the engagement formal. Narcissa was already engaged to Lucius. So that left Bellatrix to save the family honor by taking the place of her sister.”

“Why didn’t Antonin fight for her?”

“His sister had been killed by a Mudblood Auror. He had been interrogating her or something like that. Dolohov walked in on them and killed the Auror and was sentenced to Azkaban. He was not around when Bellatrix was promised. He only got out because the Lord helped him.”

Pansy felt her entire body tense up. Her mouth drew in a line and she hugged herself, trying to contain the rage that bubbled inside of her and the determination which yearned to spill over into action. “I hate Mudbloods. They always ruin everything.”

*~*

“Have you read all the materials I gave you last time?” Antonin asked, motioning for Pansy to keep her robes on. He had a suspicion that they may not get many more opportunities for these training sessions. Winter was slowly melting into spring and the politics had been mostly settled. Now, they were returning back to their primary concern – the gorilla war being waged against them. This war was still far from over.

“I read them, yes.” Pansy re-fastened the clasp of her robes and used her wand to make her hair stay out of her face. She had found the spell to be useful during her training; otherwise, her hair kept falling into her eyes.

“Good. Then tell me what the difference is between a Protego Horribilis and a Salvio Hexia.”

“The latter is better used to shield off an area, keep it protected from intruding forces. As it needs a locking perimeter the spell is not effective in dueling. The prior, however, acts as a reinforced shield, such as a Protego.”

“Why use Protego at all then?”

Protego Horribilis takes up more energy and the incantation is longer. Often it is better to layer simple shields since they will take longer to degage while taking as much casting time and energy.” Pansy took a deep breath and looked up.

Antonin smiled approvingly, almost fondly, at her. “Good. We will duel today; I think you’re ready. Keep your robes on – you will often find yourself fighting in them so it’s better to get used to the extra weight. Since we’re on robes: why can they be an advantage?”

Pansy couldn’t help but smirk. She was sure he’d meant to catch her unaware with that one. “Your opponent cannot see your wrist or see it as clearly. Therefore, he has a hard time determining which spell you are casting by your figure.”

Antonin almost laughed. She caught on faster than half of the idiot boys they’ve recruited. “Excellent. Now, you may go full out – throw in everything in your arsenal. I will use a “placebo” to represent an Avada. You do the same.”

Pansy nodded. She could feel a chill of excitement running down her back. “Is it wise…I mean, I don’t want…” She was faltering, feeling awkward at the thought that she may cause Antonin some sort of harm. After all, he was far too valuable to the Organization, everything else aside.

“Miss Parkinson,” there was something teasing and infuriatingly patronizing in his tone. “Do you truly think I won’t be able to deflect a few low-grade hexes?”

Pansy frowned, feeling like she should be insulted. Instead, she simply shook her head and took a ready stance.

They began to circle each other, slowly. Pansy kept her eyes on Antonin, on his wand and on his shoulders but she was still no prepared for when he suddenly disapparated. She felt him at her left and turned just in time to block his Confringo. He followed up with a Diffindo and Pansy was forced to apparate out of the way. She came at his back with a Stupefy but he had turned before she even was half way through her figure and easily deflected her spell away, answering with a well placed Expulso.

They apparated around each other several times, Pansy casting an Impedimenta every time her opponent seemed to be coming too close. Remembering to think outside the norm, she cast a Confundo once she was on Antonin’s left. He, not expecting that, did not put up a proper shield and some of the spell still came through. She saw the momentary fogginess in his eyes. She cast an Incarcerous to follow up.

Antonin managed to dodge the spell in time and threw a Reducto at her in retaliation. “Good,” he said between apparitions as they began to move around and play avoidance again. “But stop holding back.”

Pansy slashed her wand through the air and cast a Dementia. Antonin answered her with a Sectumsempra which she had to actually dodge. He finally got her on endurance without even resorting to any high level curses, merely waiting until she was tired out and could no longer turn to meet him when he apparated behind her or to her blind spot quickly enough. A Stupefy hit her hard in the chest and she went flying back. Her vision went black for a moment and then swam in gray shades for a over a minute.

When the dizziness cleared, Pansy found herself lying on the floor with Antonin kneeling beside her and supporting her upper body into a half-sitting position. “Alright?” he asked, a note of concern in his voice. Pansy took a deep breath, coughed and found herself smiling up at him.

“I’m alright. That was amazing.”

He helped her up but still kept his hand on her arm and she did not want to step away from him. He looked at her admiringly and Pansy felt indecently happy and proud of herself. “You were great. Only two things: don’t look to where you’re going to apparate – it’s an easy give away, just think about it. Second, don’t hold back. They don’t deserve it.”

“Alright.” She nodded and smiled up into his warm grey eyes. Antonin smiled back.

*~*

Returning to the common room at school after training was like being pushed head-first into cold water. Somehow, at school things felt colder and more real than in the training room with Antonin. Pansy couldn’t help herself, she couldn’t help thinking about Antonin’s eyes and his broad shoulder and strong arms. She could not stop hearing his low, deep voice inside her head as he explained various combative curses to her. Everything inside her tingled and burned and she wanted release from the tension that was building in the bottom of her stomach.

The moment she slipped into the common room she ran across Draco’s enquiring gaze. His eyes were different from Antonin’s, their grey was somehow colder and less expressive. She did not care, however. Draco rose to greet her and she grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the dormitories.

She kissed him on the stairs, her patience breaking. Pansy clung to him, her fingernails biting into his shoulders even through the cloth of his shirt. Draco groaned into her mouth before moving away and asking, “What are you doing?”

Pansy pulled him in and whispered in a rush against his ear, “I want you.” She wasn’t even sure if it was him she wanted but she needed the release, she needed the frustration to go, to come out. She wanted to burst that damned bubble at the bottom of her abdomen.

A wicked smile spread over Draco’s face and he pulled her into the boys’ empty dormitory and spelled the door shut. He pushed Pansy onto the bed and straddled her hips. “You don’t want to wait until the wedding?”

“Fuck the wedding,” Pansy hissed. “Divestio.” Pansy could no longer hold herself back. She allowed her nails to dig into Draco’s skin, bit at his lip, moaned out as he took her virginity from her. It hurt more than it was nice but she did not care. He pushed into her again and again and she allowed him to do all the damage he cared to do.

Once they were done and she was curled up beside a dozing Draco, Pansy bit into her lip as tears came unbidden to her eyes. She hadn’t been thinking of Draco, of the wedding, or anything. She had simply been releasing everything that had been building up in her, continuing the adrenaline rush of the training session and the rush that Antonin’s smile always gave her.

What do I want? I don’t know what I’m doing. What am I doing?

*~*

Headquarters was silent at the hour of midnight and Pansy’s steps echoed unsettlingly in the empty hall. She felt vulnerable as she approached the strategy room, knowing she would come face to face with Antonin in just a few moments. He was one of the few who ever bothered to stay this late. She no longer blushed so easily around him – not after all that training together – but the overwhelming nervousness was still there sometimes. She had no real reason to even be at Headquarters aside for perhaps looking for Richard yet everyone had grown so accustomed to her being there from time to time that her presents rarely caused anyone to do a second take anymore.

Pansy stopped at the entrance of the strategy room, clutching the cup of tea she held in her hand a little tighter. Antonin didn’t seem to notice her, intent on marking something on the map spread out in front of him. Pansy had noticed long ago that he always seemed to be in his element when he was planning some raid or at the head of a battle. She had been told by Draco, Richard and anyone else to bothered, that Antonin had spent half his life either at war or in Azkaban. Pansy stood watching him, allowing her eyes to shamelessly roam over her commanding officer. In his element the older man was entrancing – the sly glint in his eyes, the firm set of his shoulders, the play of shadow and light on his face—

"Is there something you wanted, Miss Parkinson? I didn’t expect you to be here."

Pansy nearly jumped, the tea cup tittering in her hand. Antonin looked intently at her and in the lone, orange light of the fire his eyes burned her face making her flush. "It's late…I thought…" she held out the cup in her hand sheepishly, "tea."

Antonin waved his wand carelessly, calling the cup to him. "Thank you, Miss Parkinson."

"Pansy," she blurted suddenly for no reason, "My name's Pansy."

Antonin looked up, carefully setting down the quill he was writing with. "Yes, I know."

"So why don't you call me by it?"

Antonin eyed her for a moment, considering something. "I wasn't aware I had a right to."

"You're mocking me!"

He laughed making Pansy shiver, "I'm not mocking you. Would you like me to call you Pansy?"

"Yes." It was barely a whisper and for some reason she felt embarrassed and ashamed of herself.

Antonin held out his hand to her and she was pulled toward him not by magic but by some force that seemed to come from her own chest. She reached him with unsteady, halting steps and peered into his face with challenging eyes and a pounding heart. Pansy had to admit that she was afraid. Afraid that he would laugh at her, at her foolishness, her girlishness. She did not understand why she was always like this around him. She was never this way around Draco. Around her fiancé and all the other boys and men she knew Pansy was calm and collected, able to hold her own even when her heart ached and she wanted to cry. But with Antonin she felt completely inadequate. "Look at this, Pansy." His hand was on her shoulder and he had no difficulty in calling her by name as he attracted her attention to the map spread out on the table. Pansy recognized a map of Hogwarts. Somehow she understood what it meant.

"Why Hogwarts?" It was almost a whisper and Pansy had to fight with herself to not tremble. Antonin was her commanding officer. Her idol. Her inspiration in all the darkness that had suddenly fallen over her life with the onset of the war. She was not supposed to feel so vulnerable around him. Vulnerable and protected at the same time.

Antonin waved his wand and the map re-shaped into a three-dimensional model and began to slowly spin around it’s axis a couple of inches off the table. "Our Lord believes it would be best to finish things off with Potter sooner rather than later." He sighed and let go of her shoulder. Then added in an almost imperceptible murmur, "And that is why we're going to attack one of the best protected fortresses in the wizarding world…" For the first time, Pansy noticed how exhausted he was. Something was wrong about the picture he was seeing and that something was slowly eating away at him and now it was eating away at her as well.

“But Potter is not at Hogwarts,” she murmured, transfixed by the spinning model.

“No, yet our Lord believes he soon will be.”

"It's going to be a bloodbath isn't it?" she spoke the words as though in a trance.

Antonin turned partly away from her, watching the dancing flames in the fireplace. "Would you do me a favor, Miss Pansy?"

"What?"

"Keep this." He slipped something cool into her hand and closed her fingers over it.

Pansy drew her hand back and opened it slowly. She tore her eyes away from spinning castle and looked down. In her hand was a delicate gold locket. Engraved on the lid was an old-fashioned lock. Inside was a matching engraving of a key. She brought her wand in close proximity to the locket and the key engraving sparkled slightly, sensing the wand. “A portkey?” She looked up into Antonin’s face in askance, clicking the locket closed.

He nodded.

“To where?”

Antonin took her hand again and closed her fingers over the locket. He lifted her hand to his lips for a feather-light kiss without giving her an answer. "Goodnight, Miss Parkinson. Pansy."

*~*

April had just turned into May. The night was warm and smelled of flowers and summer. Pansy used to love these nights when she was younger. She, Draco and some of the others would sneak out and go flying and swimming in the lake. But that night, Pansy could not force herself to feel calm or to even stay still. There was something gnawing at her and she could not force the feeling away. She finally sneaked away from the rest of her housemates and portkeyed to Headquarters. The halls of Headquarters were quiet and her footsteps echoed in the silence as she walked. She was reminded vaguely of the night Antonin had given her his portkey and she felt a warm longing for him deep inside her chest. He was such a sure balance in her life, so certain and determined, so sure of himself and the Cause and her. Pansy felt like if she could just see him or hear his voice she could settle and get rid of the useless anxiety eating away at her.

She did this sometimes – went to Headquarters when she became restless. There was a strange sense of security there; safer than at school, where she did not know who was her friend and who her enemy. At school there was Longbottom and his idiot resistance. Longbottom was ought to be ashamed. So much for being a Pureblood.

Voices from the strategy room made her stop. She leaned against the wall in the dark and took in a death breath. This deep into Headquarters there was no need for silencing spells usually. Here everyone was on the same side. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes, listening to the men’s voices as they discussed plans. She felt better here, where she could pick out Antonin’s rich, deep tones as he talked tactics, where she knew most people knew her parents and respected them, respected her. Everything here spoke of war, but at least here Pansy could unfurl, could express her fiery desires and her passions.

“Antonin says we are not ready for this. I hope the brat won’t force our hand soon,” someone was saying glumly.

Another voice, which sounded like Lestrange, responded in a somewhat pretentious tone. “Dolohov is always worried. They fight well on the ground but we have superior broom formation.”

“Not anymore. We lost our best flyers in the First War.”

“If you ask Dolohov, we lost everyone in that war.”

“We lost a lot. Besides, I feel no desire to attack a school full of children.”

“They’ll evacuate the children.” Pansy recognized Mulciber’s soft tones in a heartbeat. “Let’s not forget what we’re fight for here, gentlemen. How many of you lost loved ones in the First War? …Exactly. Almost everyone lost someone. We owe it to them.”

“And some of us have families now!”

“What would know, Roddy? You can’t even get your wife to bear you an heir,” Rookwood sounded mocking. “But then our dear Bella has given herself to our Lord—“ There was the sound of scuffle and voices telling the two men to stop fighting.

“Everyone has a family,” the man whose voice Pansy could not identify was saying. “But do you think that our families would want to live in a world under the brat Potter? Under the Mudbloods and blood traitors? Or what’s worse – Muggles! Would you subject your daughters to that?”

There was uncomfortable murmuring. Pansy, realizing she had not yet heard Antonin’s voice, detached herself from the wall and leaned in closer to the door. She had hoped that he would be here especially if there was a meeting.

“What I don’t understand,” Rookwood said after some time, “is why we must storm Hogwarts if Potter is there? Why not wait until he leaves, search him out or just leave the damn kid be. We’ve got the bloody Ministry. Yes, there is opposition but it won’t go away just because Potter dies. May go away faster but… Is it worth it?”

“Of course it’s not worth it – our Lord has some personal agenda. This is obvious.”

“The Lord has been…unstable. Unwell. Can you not see he is getting weaker? Mulciber, you know, tell them! And the more unwell he is, the more outrageous his desires become.”

“Shut up, you cannot just say those things!”

“We can’t take Hogwarts. Antonin is right – it’s madness—“

A cool tip of wood landed on the back of Pansy’s neck. She froze, realizing she had been caught eavesdropping in the dark. The wand at her neck pressed into her skin and she wondered if she was going to get a chance to explain.

“Hands in the air, slowly,” Antonin’s voice said behind her and Pansy gave an inward sigh of relief but did what he told her to.

“Who are you?”

“P-Pansy Parkinson.”

“Miss Pansy?” There was genuine surprise in his voice for a moment before it went cool again. “What is the last curse I taught you?”

Desino Corcordis. May I turn around?” She felt the wand leave her neck and then Antonin’s hand was on her arm and he turned her around to face him. In the dark, Pansy could not quite make out the expression on his face.

“Miss Pansy, for Merlin’s sake, what are you doing here? In the dark?” He sounded both relieved and frustrated.

Pansy squinted up and tried to make out his features. She felt the warmth radiating off of him and her heart leapt up into her throat. “I felt uneasy. I just…I thought you would be here. I just wanted to…”

“You frightened me for a moment. A dark shadow lingering in the hallway. Are you alright?”

“I am, I think. Anto—Mr. Dolohov, what is going on? Is something wrong with the Lord?”

There was a long pause and she reached out to touch his arm. Antonin put one hand over hers and said in as even a voice as he could. “The Lord will be alright. The sooner we win this war, the better. For all of us.”

“I’m scared sometimes,” she admitted, looking down at the floor in shame. “Sometimes, I wish that…I enjoy the training and…but what if…”

She felt Antonin’s hand against her cheek and looked up. His face was hovering inches away from hers and it would be so easy to simply, here in the dark, simply—

A loud crash from inside the strategy room made them both jump. Suddenly, all the me were talking at once and Pansy only made out “Potter” and “Hogsmeade” and a few other words that didn’t make up any proper sentences. But, obviously, Antonin heard something else because his entire body language changed. He straightened and his grip on her hand tightened. He backed Pansy against the wall and put both hands on her shoulders.

“Miss Pansy, you need to go.”

“What’s happening?” She could feel the flush on her face and her heart beat erratically, thumping against her chest.

“We’ve been planning for a possible siege of Hogwarts. We may need to put that plan into motion tonight.”

“Good. I want to go with you!”

“No, you need to go back to the school and tell your housemates to be ready to leave and the men to be ready to fight if they wish to join their families. Either way, you must go back and evacuate to safety when the time comes. Do you have my locket? …Pansy do you have my portkey locket?” He gave her a small shake to snap her out of her sudden stupor.

“Yes, yes, I have it on me.” Literally. She’d begun to wear it around her neck under her clothes.

“Good. Keep it on you. It goes to a secret safehouse. There are blood wards but the portkey will get you through. Use it when the time comes. Will you do this for me?”

She looked at him for a long time, sensed his desperation and agreed without wanting to do so at all. “I will.”

“Go on. Go.” Antonin stood there looking at her, waiting for her to go, so Pansy had no choice but to apparate back to school, one hand clutching the golden chain of Antonin’s portkey for comfort.

*~*

The Great Hall was packed and silent. Pansy stood with the rest of her housemates as the Dark Lord’s ultimatum rang out in clear, sinister tones. Her heart was racing and her mind was jumbled. This was it, they were going to fight the ultimate battle. She could see Order members beginning to gather and form battle groups. The restless Gryffindors could not wait to throw themselves into battle. The words she had heard earlier that night filled her ears in the ringing silence left by the ultimatum. “We can’t take Hogwarts. Antonin is right – it’s madness.” What if her parents fought? What if Richard fought? They could die; there was a good chance of that. Antonin would fight. What if he…?

“But he’s there! Potter’s there! Someone grab him!” It did not sound like her voice. Pansy could not remember the last time she had heard so much reckless despair in her own voice but she was finding it hard to breathe. In that moment, she did not care how many wands were pointed at her. They wouldn’t do anything to her here and she would take them down one by one once the fighting started.

*~*

“Have they evacuated?” Antonin asked, turning to Mulciber who was setting up the medical tent and was generally in charge of their rear positions.

“Yes, it looks like it. All the Slytherins are here. A lot of them have gone home or wherever their parents sent them. Some have stayed at the back because their families are here.”

“Are we getting any fighters?”

“I’m told Malfoy is trying to do something from inside, he has Crabbe and Goyle with him.”

“Bloody hell,” Antonin muttered. What was Draco going to do? He’d be more use out here.

“Adam’s boy – Theo, right? – is with him. Don’t know if he’s fighting. We’ve got a couple of the girls running potions. We have some sixth years. Runcorn’s boy is here. Gibbons, Jugson…there; they’re over there.” Mucliber nodded toward a group of boys coming toward them through the tress. They looked a little nervous here in the Forbidden Forest, almost as if they were not about to go into battle and could worry about childish things like scary, ugly trees in a dark forest. They were all in school robes and house scarves.

“You lot!” Antonin called to them. “Change your clothes quickly You’ll be in the rear guard but we’ll need everyone so don’t lose your shit and remember what we’ve been teaching you at training.” He turned back to Mulciber. “Carrows are here, Snape is with the Lord. That’s all, I think—No, wait. The girls?”

“Some have gone home, a couple are at the ‘ward, but most are in Hogsmeade at Base Two.”

“Pansy?” Mulciber suddenly looked uncertain. “Pansy?” Antonin demanded more urgently. “Theodore, bloody hell, just tell me.”

“I was told that she went looking for you.”

Antonin suppressed a groan. “Where? Shrieking Shack?”

“There or Base Prime. She knows you well enough to know you’re more likely to be at Command Post than wherever our Lord is holding court.”

Antonin let out a breath he hadn’t been aware he was holding. He could imagine Pansy looking for him, could imagine the reckless thoughts that would get into her head. Augustus appeared at his shoulder.

“Tony, the Lord has given us leave to start.”

Antonin looked over at Rookwood, then back at Mulciber. He needed to see her. One more time. His mother always said that going back was a bad omen but he cared very little for omens. This whole thing was a bad omen, an unwise strategy. If anything, he wanted to see Pansy again. “August, I need to handle something. Make sure everyone is at starting position. We will start shortly – I want to wait until those slow-poke recruits finally change their robes.” Antonin threw a pleading look over his shoulder at Mulciber. “Teddy, for the love of Merlin. If Pansy comes here, take her to the medward. Busy her, but don’t let her go out there.” Not waiting for an answer, Antonin apparated.

*~*

“Pansy!” Antonin’s voice echoed between the rocks of the bombed-flat Leprechaun Tavern. They had used it as Base Prime or Watch One before moving out into the Forbidden Forest. Everyone agreed that keeping the field Headquarters in Hogsmeade once the battle had started and the students evacuated would not be wise. If Pansy was still here, if she had come there, he needed to find her. He needed to see her again one last time.

Some of rocks detached themselves from what remained of the dilapidated building and crashed down, forcing Antonin to climb over them or blast his way through. “Pansy!” A faint shout of a female voice reached his ears and Antonin froze. He changed direction and ducked through an archway created by some large planks which had fallen on the remains of two stone pillars.

“Antonin!” Pansy’s voice came to him as though through water. She sounded desperate and breathless. “Is anyone still here?”

Antonin rounded a corner and stopped in what used to be a doorway. The ceiling of the room had caved and by the light of the moon he could see Pansy just within reach of him. They’d nearly run into each other. The Lumos on Antonin’s wand went out and Pansy followed his lead. She looked up at him with large, dark eyes. Her robes were off and she wore only her school blouse, the top two buttons undone, and skirt. Her House tie was loose, slithering like a small snake over her open collar and breasts. Pansy’s hair looked almost black in the gloom and the short, soft strands whipped behind her in the cool night breeze.

“Thank Merlin I found you. I thought I would never get to see you again,” she breathed, her lips parting slightly.

Reality, memory and fantasy broke over Antonin in a single hot wave. He grabbed her around the waist and pulled her into him, capturing her full lips with his and kissing her like he had never kissed a girl since Bella married Rodolphus. Pansy’s arms wound around his neck and her body was flush against his. Antonin could feel her breasts through her blouse and his cloak. One of her hands went into his hair and stayed there while the other remained wrapped around his neck.

Antonin pulled back and pressed his forehead to hers. Her skin was hot and flushed and he felt himself aroused like he had never before allowed himself to be when he was around her. “Stupid girl, I told you to not come looking for me, to not come out looking for a fight. Why didn’t you stay with the other girls?”

“I had to see you. And I can’t…I can’t just stand by while everyone else fights. Let me come with you.” She looked into his eyes with an expression of desperation mixed with resolve, a paradoxical, beautiful thing.

“No. Pansy, please. I want to know that if…if we prevail...that you will be here waiting for me. What good is it to fight if there’s nothing left when the fighting is done?”

“Come back to me then.” Her eyes burned with a feverish glow and the world seemed to condense into that single moment. “I lo—“

He cut her off with a kiss and she moaned slightly, her hips buckling forward, sending shivers through his body. “Don’t say anything,” he pleaded when they pulled back for air.

“Why not?” Her voice was barely a whisper but he heard it plainly, felt it against his lips. “It’s true.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I do.”

Antonin pulled back from her, feeling a gnawing despair deep within him. It was not fair, any of it. All his life, it seemed, just when he found something it was ripped away. “I have to go. I can’t delay the attack; it’s orders.”

Pansy let him go, reluctantly. Her hand slid over his shoulder and down his arm. Her caught her hand in his and held it for a while, stepping away until both their arms were stretched out. He wanted to say “goodbye” but the word was too heavy and drowned within him before he could force it out. She held his eyes even as he let go but did not say a word.

He remembered her as she was then, glowing in the moonlight: her open blouse, her short hair blowing back behind her, her dark, liquid eyes, the expression of longing on her face. Once the image was firmly engraved within every corner of his mind, Antonin tightened the grip on his wand and apparated.

*~*

Even if Pansy had explicitly promised that she would stay away from the fighting, she didn’t think she could have kept it. She found camp and then the real guard where some of her housemates were. The battle had already started and she could see from their position the burning of destructive curses as they hit the protective barriers of Hogwarts. She could tell there was no assault taking place from the side of the main gates – the territory was too open and visible with little cover – or the lakeside – the cliff which isolated most of the lake from the grounds would make an assault from that side suicidal. They were hard to make out against the dark sky but in the spastic flashes of the exploding curses, Pansy could make out formations of flyers swirling like vultures above the castle and waiting for the shields to be broken. Pansy held her wand in a tight grip, wondering where among this expansive, spread out front Antonin might be.

:”Miss Parkinson!” Pansy turned around to see Mulciber coming toward her at a jog. “I must borrow you.”

Pansy looked at him uncertainly. “I’d rather stay here,” she said uncertainly, not wanting to defy the chain of command but not wanting to leave either.

“Please. We need more hands at the medward. We have an incredibly small medical staff and we expect numerous casualties – everything from a few scratches to very serious things. You’ve worked the medward before, you know how things run. You weren’t at formation training and will only be in the way here.”

Pansy pouted, trying to figure out if he was just trying to get her to not fight because she wasn’t a boy. But Mulciber seemed far too haggard and preoccupied at the moment to bother with such silly things. “I’m not that good with potions.”

“It’s fine; you don’t have to brew.”

Pansy sighed but nodded and took Mucliber’s arm so he could apparate her to the medward.

*

Mulciber had been right about one thing – there were plenty of casualties. Some were patched up within minutes and sent on their way, others would have to stay out of the fighting, and yet others… They were running out of Dittany.

Mulciber, experienced and calm, managed to keep havoc at bay, mainly by not allowing anyone other than casualties and the medical staff into the medical tents. “If we have relatives here it will be all hell,” he told her. There was still little time to think. Anesthetics, tranquilizers, blood replenishers, potions for burns, potions for tissue repairs, Skelegrow, bone mending potions, various wound cleaning and disinfecting potions, soothers, stimulants, specific potions to reverse effects of specific spells. After awhile, all the labels began to swim in front of Pansy’s eyes. She saw some people she knew come through the medward and every time her heart jumped. A couple of times she almost knocked something over.

“Albert! Albert, answer me, what were you hit with?” Pansy turned at the sound of a familiar name. Mulciber was hovering over Circe’s father. She heard her friend’s voice coming shrilly from the entrance to the tent, demanding to be let in and someone telling her she could not go.

“Miss Parkinson, how much Dittany do we have left?” Mulciber was running a diagnostic over an unconscious Runcorn.

“T-ten bottles,” Pansy stammered. She could not look directly at Mulciber and his patient; there was too much blood.

“Not enough. This was a curse, I don’t know if Dittany will work. We’ll have to try other methods. Everyone! Save the Dittany only for serious non-curse wounds. This is level Alpha conservation! Someone get Albert’s daughter out of here.”

From the corner of her eye, she saw Richard wrap Circe up in his arms and haul her outside the tent as she began to cry.

*

Hours dragged on until the Dark Lord offered an hour’s break and a chance for Harry Potter to give himself up. Casualties still trickled in but at the slower rate. Most of those brought back now were dead. These casualties were handled separately, outside the tents, neatly laid out in rows and covered with thin sheets. Pansy wondered through the rows and through the medical tents, praying she wouldn’t see anyone close to her. She longed to know if Antonin was still alright but she convinced herself that if he wasn’t among the dead or the wounded, he must be alright. She also figured that the fall of a top officer would be big enough news to reach their outpost.

“Pansy.” Richard’s hand landed on her shoulder. “We can’t verify it yet but…one of your classmates—“

“Who?” Her hands tightened painfully in the folds of her robes.

“Crabbe. Vincent, was that his name?”

Pansy winced and looked down. “Poor Millie,” she murmured.

*

They got conflicting news that made Pansy want to strangle someone but Mulciber forced everyone to stay on task. Sudden explosions of fireworks announced a cause for celebration.

“He’s dead! Potter’s dead!” Lorcan Moore – who had been their go-between – shouted as he ran into the tents. Excited screams and shouts echoed on all sides. “…Can I be sure?” the tall, gangly young man was answering someone who had doubted him. “It’s just in from field Headquarters. It’s over; it’s almost over!”

Pansy gasped and turned to hug the first woman beside her. It turned out to be Dorea Tallis, Mulciber’s younger sister. “Thank Merlin,” Dorea sighed against Pansy’s shoulder. “Will’s going to come back. They all are.”

Pansy laughed softly, delight spreading over her like a hot wave. They’d won. They were going to win.

*

It didn’t last.

No one knew what happened but half an hour after they got the news, sounds of explosions started again. A wolf Patronus came at a run into the tent. Pansy froze and this time actually dropped the vial she’d been holding as Antonin’s voice rang out in the sudden silence. “It’s not over. Worse than before. All reserves must report.”

In the overwhelming noise of the chaos that followed, Pansy quietly slipped away toward the exit of the tent. Mulciber caught her and held her wrist. “Stay here, Miss Parkinson.”

She glared a him defiantly. “Not this time.”

*

There was no more order to the battle. Even with an untrained eye Pansy could see that once she found herself in the center of the fighting. It took everything she knew, everything Antonin had taught her to not get clipped by a spell. Giants, centaurs, house elves, not to mention people… The world had gone mad and combusted. Pansy found herself wedged in between two fighting groups and she slashed and jabbed her wand, spun around, dodged, jumped, attached and retreated without thinking much about who was in front of her other than if they were on her side or not.

She blasted her way past several fighters, throwing them back. Her eyes skimmed the area in front of her. Open, the far side of the Great Hall with nothing but wall behind the three dueling pairs.

Antonin was among them.

The rest happened far two quickly for Pansy to fully be able to reconstruct the events later on. She avoided a jinx and dodged behind a chunk of crumbled marble. From there she had about three seconds to throw a glance at the duelers at her right. Someone’s curse rebounded and went flying at Antonin and Flitwick. Antonin saw it at the last moment, coming low at a tangent, and jumped. But it was distraction enough for Flitwick to barrel a curse through Antonin’s defenses. It hit him in the chest and he crumpled to the floor.

Time seemed to stop. Pansy was no longer aware of her surroundings. She was screaming something – maybe it was “no” maybe it was something else, maybe not a word at all. She began to run but was pulled back by arms around her waist. She tried to turn but couldn’t.

“Pansy! Stop, stop! You’ll only get yourself killed!” Richard was forced to yell over the noise of battle. He turned her around and shook her roughly. “It’s over, Pans, it’s over!”

“No!”

“Look around!”

She did. There were much fewer of their fighters left then there were when she first got there. Their enemies, however, did not seem to have taken such massive losses. The chamber swayed before her eyes and she felt like she might faint. “Antonin,” she mouthed, looking up at Richard pleadingly. Her brother only shook his head.

Antonin’s locket felt cold in Pansy’s hand as she fished it out from under blouse. She told Richard in a flat, commanding tone to take her arm. Once she felt her brother’s hand tighten over her forearm, Pansy opened the locket and touched the portkey with her wand.

“Portus.”

*~*

EPILOGUE

Six months used to be a long time, but in the aftermath of the war, days and weeks seemed to slip away without any relevance to reality. Pansy was glad the formalities were over. All she wanted to do was get away, out of the country, somewhere where she did not have to remember all the things, all the people, they had lost. That she had lost. Now that Richard and Circe were married – quietly, privately – Pansy had no more reason to stay in Britain.

She stood in the center of the sitting room, empty and silent aside from the ticking of the clock. Her trunk stood beside her, pressing the folds of her dark dress to her legs on one side. She looked up at Draco who had come to see her before she flooed to the portkey station.

“I wish you didn’t have to go,” he said flatly, not meeting her eyes.

“I wish you could come with me.”

“I have to stay for political reasons. But once everything is settled…”

She nodded and looked down. Something had changed between them. Over the course of the war they had somehow managed to grow apart instead of closer. She had thought about that during the week she and Richard had kept a low profile at the safehouse. If they’d changed, perhaps their relationship had too.

Draco reached out and put his arms around her. Pansy hugged him back without thinking about it. They were still engaged and she was still planning to marry him. But at this point, she was going to Germany and he was staying behind. Merlin knows when they’d actually get to the wedding.

“What’s this?” Draco touched the gold chain around her neck which slipped under her cloak and blouse.

Pansy slapped his hand away. “It’s nothing. I should go.” She made the fire and threw in the floo powder. “London Portkey Station.” Her last sight of Draco was him waving goodbye.

Under her blouse, Antonin’s locket-portkey was cool against Pansy’s skin.