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An Inspection Most Thorough

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"What is this?"

Something was abruptly shoved in Pansy's face, and the cloying scent of tuberose filled her nostrils. Scowling, she swatted the hand away.

"It's perfume, idiot," she hissed, plucking the atomizer from Weasley's freckled hand. "My mother's."

Why Ianthe Parkinson had not taken the perfume with her to the continent, Pansy had no clue. But she recognized it because the same scent had always trailed her mother everywhere, and because the atomizer had been her favourite as a child- the glass and its tassel were both pink, and it seemed the height of everything grown and feminine to her younger, more naive self.

Why Weasley was here, rifling through all of their belongings and proudly displaying his general ignorance, Pansy had a firmer grip upon. There'd been a slight resurgence in dark activities lately,  some imbeciles unwilling to admit they'd well and truly lost, and the world had shifted for good- and once again the homes of Voldemort's former associates, though nominally pardoned, were being ransacked, just as they had been after the war. Ianthe had declared it was simply too much to bear, and had demanded Pansy's father escort her to France. Pansy had been left to deal with the aurors. Somehow, Weasley was an auror, so here he was.

"You're not going to find anything you didn't find on the first go," she pointed out acidly, crossing the room and setting the atomizer down on her mother's vanity. "Which, I might add, was nothing more than my great uncle Herbert's pocket watch, and we'd no idea he'd enchanted it to release a veritaserum cloud when it was opened. We just thought it was a particularly ugly family heirloom."

Weasley paused in pawing through her mother's wardrobe and turned to look at her, blinking. "No one said you had to stand there and watch me work."

Pansy snorted. "Hah. As if I'd trust you going through our valuables without supervision. Aside from the fact that you're notoriously fumble fingered, I can't have you confiscating all the toiletries just because you're unfamiliar with items intended to make one smell pleasant." She leaned against the vanity, folding her arms over her chest and staring at him. "This is nothing more than discrimination, you know. My family's given the DMLE no reason to suspect us."

Now it was Weasley's turn to scowl. "You sound like Hermione," he muttered.

"Well. Then I shall refrain from expressing that sentiment again."

Pansy pursed her lips. She didn't like being compared to Granger, though the cow hadn't gotten top marks for nothing, she supposed. Pansy couldn't help feeling this latest round of inspections was terribly unfair. When the Department of Magical Law Enforcement had turned up on their doorstep yet again, she'd owled Draco, seeking some legal means of barring them from her home, but he'd told her it would be worse for her if she didn't comply. Her family had already submitted to inspection once before, though, and had done everything they could to prove their renewed loyalty to the Ministry. Singling them out this way was discrimination, and nothing would convince Pansy otherwise.

"Anyway, it's not just you. It's anyone who's been pardoned for Dark activity in the past."

"As if that makes it better? A pardon is a pardon, not a licence to mistreat us any time something goes amiss."

Weasley shrugged. "It'll go faster if you just cooperate."

"I am cooperating," Pansy said, annoyed.

"Are you?" Weasley's expression was pointed.

"Fine. I'll leave you to it." She pushed away from the vanity, stalking to the doorway. "I'll be in the library if you come across a suspicious bar of soap."

Two hours later, Weasley poked his head into the library.

"I'm done for the day," he announced.

"Oh, goody," Pansy said, not looking up from the book she was reading.

"That was the last of the bedrooms," Weasley said.

"Wonderful."

Weasley let out a long-suffering sigh. "I'll be back round tomorrow."

"At nine in the morning. I know."

"Alright, well. I'll let myself out."

"You do that." Pansy turned the page, not looking up until she heard Weasley clomping away toward the entrance to the manor.

Once she was certain he'd gone, she sent the book back to its place on the shelf, and hurried up to her mother's suite. Despite her most thorough looking-over, however, Pansy couldn't find anything out of place. Weasley had certainly been careful to leave things exactly as he'd found them. Pansy supposed he'd learned his lesson when she'd given him a taste of the sharp side of her tongue after he'd rearranged all the shoes in her closet and ruined her organizational system. She hadn't expected him to be capable of this level of meticulousness, given his generally disheveled appearance, and she wondered if he'd even inspected anything at all after she'd left, or merely plonked himself down on her mother's bed for a nap. She did check to see if there was any evidence that he'd done just that, but the bedclothes were unrumpled and just as smooth as the house elf had left them before accompanying her parents abroad.

Having reluctantly assured herself that Weasley had committed no ills upon her mother's bedchamber, Pansy went back downstairs for her solitary supper and a night spent with a terrible romance novel and a roaring fire.

Weasley was unfortunately back promptly at nine the next morning, just as he'd said he would be. He announced his intention to go through the library, which had Pansy scowling, since it was normally the best place to avoid him. Feeling contrary, which was admittedly a typical state for her, she refused to leave, picking up the prior night's bodice-ripper and settling herself firmly in her favorite chair.

She did her level best to ignore him, attempting to stay engrossed in the travails of the novel's heroine in her quest for true love, or at least a decent shag. But the way Weasley pulled book after book from the towering shelves, exhibiting just as little care for the old volumes as one would expect from someone whose favourite literature was Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle, was so incredibly irritating. Pansy flicked to the next page sharply, her eyes drawn again to Weasley as he struggled with a particularly aged and heavy volume of The Magical History of the British Isles. Narrowing her eyes, she cleared her throat delicately and looked at Weasley pointedly.

"Do be careful," she said dryly.

Weasley snapped his head round to peer at her, looking like perhaps he'd forgotten she was still in the room. Then the corner of his mouth lifted. "Aw, Parkinson, worried I might get hurt?"

"Of course not." Pansy rolled her eyes. "I'm worried you might damage a valuable and irreplaceable book that is one of the most prized items in my family's collection. Merlin knows you can't afford to make amends if you do."

Weasley shrugged, setting the book down on a nearby end table. "Wouldn't be me paying for it, it'd be the Ministry." He ran the tip of his wand over book's leather cover. "Anyway, chin up, Parkinson. I should only be here a few more days."

"A few more days?" Pansy groaned. "How can you be so incompetently slow?"

"Well, maybe if your house wasn't so excessive in size, I'd've been done a lot faster, yeah? This place is ridiculous; I could fit my family in here ten times over. Seems like a waste for three people and a house elf, and now you're the only one still staying here. You toffs will never make any damn sense to me."

There was an edge of anger to Weasley's voice that surprised Pansy. It also piqued her interest, much more so than the heaving bosoms and manly displays in her novel. She set her book aside, leaning forward in her chair, her elbows on her knees and her chin atop her steepled fingers.

"It's called an ancestral home, Weasley. I'm sure you're unfamiliar with the concept, but there it is." She arched a sculpted brow. "You know," she drawled conversationally, "I'm surprised the DMLE has you on such tedious duty, a big war hero like yourself. Surely this task should have been doled out to some lowly minion whilst you got a much a more plum assignment?"

Weasley's face was baleful. Internally, Pansy was delighted. Outwardly, she remained cool. She batted her eyelashes and stared at Weasley.

"You know Harry up and quit," he said scornfully. "You pretend not to give a toss but I know you pay attention, and it was all over the papers. Said he wasn't happy doing the same thing he'd been doing since he was eleven, which I guess was fair enough, and split. Off to find his bliss. I suspect he's carrying on with Hermione, too, though neither one of them has told me yet. I'm not stupid."

"That's debateable," Pansy said, amused at the sudden torrent of information Weasley was gifting her.

He made an annoyed face. "Yeah, yeah. Anyway. Harry's not around for them to punish, obviously, and they probably wouldn't have, anyway, because he's Harry Potter, but I am, so. I'm on shite duty. I reckon they assigned me your house just to twist the knife a little bit, honestly."

As the barb it was intended to be, that last bit wasn't so bad. Pansy had to give him points, although it wasn't nearly Draco or Theodore or Blaise's level of snark.

"Mmmm, yes, I'm unpleasant. Did you really expect I'd be a treat to be around when the Ministry sends people barging into my home on no legitimate basis? Do you really think anyone you're subjecting to this treatment is getting on swimmingly with the people rifling through their belongings and essentially slandering their good name just by being there? You think they're all welcoming and offering tea and crumpets to aurors invading their houses and treating them like second class citizens, and I'm the only one being a bitch about it? You're even stupider than I thought, if you really believe that."

Weasley threw up his hands. "Look, I don't want to be here any more than you want me here, okay? I told them this was stupid when they first proposed doing it. Nobody listens to me when Harry's not around to back me up. I'm sorry. But it can't be helped. So let's just get through it, alright?"

He didn't wait for an answer, turning back to the volume of Magical History and resuming whatever spellwork he was running over it. Pansy looked around at the sheer number of books in the library, realising that if he ran this routine over every book there, he'd be in her house for another month, at least. Maybe she could convince him he wanted to get it over with quickly, and it would behoove him to be a little less thorough. Wasn't Weasley known for being sloppy?

Besides, it was boring when he attempted to ignore her, now that she'd gotten a glimpse of his infamous temper.

"So, Potter and Granger, hmm? That doesn't bother you?"

Weasley's hand froze mid-motion. "Jesus Christ, Parkinson."

He slapped the wand down and turned to face her. "Yes, it bothers me." He folded his arms across his chest. "And no, it doesn't." He favoured her with such a piercing glance that Pansy wondered if maybe he wasn't a very good auror, after all. "She's my ex. She's my ex for a reason. She's still my best friend, and so is he. Complicated, yeah? But I want them to be happy." He paused. "Malfoy's getting married. That doesn't bother you?"

Pansy's mouth tightened. She'd gotten her invitation to Draco's wedding to Astoria Greengrass just the other day. She was certain Weasley had seen it, but even if he hadn't, the announcement had run in the Daily Prophet. Prominently. And like Weasley, she was both happy for him and wounded to her very core.

"Only insomuch as I should be getting fitted for stunning new dress robes for the occasion, but instead I'm babysitting you."

Weasley cocked his head to the side, looking at her like she was a puzzle he was trying to solve. "You never put a toe out of line, do you?" he asked. "Never do anything unexpected."

Pansy stiffened, going very, very still. "No, I don't," she said, in biting tones. "There's a certain duty and decorum that goes along with being someone in my position, something you could never understand. I acted spontaneously once in my life, and I have paid for it every day since. So I shan't do it again, not when self-righteous pricks like you are so unforgiving that any hint of bad juju in this world sets you to ransacking my home."

Weasley blinked at her, clearly not sure how to respond to that, certainly knowing that she was referring to her ill-advised attempt to save her friends during the battle of Hogwarts. He looked exceptionally stupid, a fact which viciously pleased her at that moment. She stood, tossing her book into her chair with a thump.

"You know, I think I will go shop for dress robes after all. I'll gladly suffer Madam Malkin's gossipy chatter if it spares me a few hours of your company." Pansy started to swan out of the room, then paused to sniff in Weasley's direction. "Do try not to destroy anything worth more than all of your possessions put together while I'm gone."

Which might have been unfair, since Weasley hadn't ruined anything yet, and had shown at least some degree of care since that first dressing down, but Pansy wasn't terribly interested in being fair at that moment. She was interested in escaping, which was exactly what she did.

When Pansy returned home a few hours later, she hadn't found anything suitable for Draco's wedding- stunning enough to draw attention and maybe a smidgen of regret, but not so scandalous that people would talk behind her back- but she'd been soothed by the loveliest cup of tea at the coffee house that had sprung up where Fortescue's had once stood, and she was in much better mood. That mood was endangered in short order when she found the stack of mail on the table in the foyer, and the invite hidden within.

Another charity ball? With Astoria Greengrass at the helm? How many more could she throw, and all while she was planning a wedding? It was intolerable. Pansy's mood was instantly soured, knowing she'd have to attend, or risk the censure of her peers. She was simply exhausted by attending these things, always single, always tutted over by her friends, who were pairing off in rapid succession. Was it Pansy's fault that the pool of eligible purebloods had become more of a bird-bath? Was it Pansy's fault if she wanted something more than an advantageous marriage? Was it Pansy's fault if she wanted something more, period? No, it was not. But she'd find herself in the thick of it again, in- she checked the invite- a week's time, a smile pasted on her face, chequebook in hand.

Maybe it wasn't too late to join her parents in France.

A rustling from the library drew her attention, and Pansy stalked to the doorway. She paused there, watching Weasley send a book back to the shelves and summon another. An idea came to her all at once, a terrible, awful, wonderful idea. Technically speaking, he was a pureblood… and maybe, just maybe, the invites, or at least the prying, would stop if she followed through with what she was thinking.

"Oh, Weasley," she trilled, fixing him with a determined gaze as she walked into the library. "What was that you were saying about me never doing anything unexpected?"

~.*.~

Pansy was, in hindsight, surprised that Weasley had agreed to go to the Greengrasses latest charity ball with her, especially after their earlier exchange had turned nasty. Perhaps he'd been feeling the itch to do something shocking, as well. She'd regretted asking him almost instantly, but could hardly say she'd just been kidding when he'd accepted. She'd regretted it again when they'd walked in, and every eye had been on her, and not just because her dress was the latest from Italy. Champagne helped, and oddly, so did the fact that Weasley had not left her side, presenting an impenetrable fortress between her and the worst of the moneyed pureblood gossip-hounds.

Weasley did not look terrible. His dress robes were not bespoke, but they were well-made and tailored to his tall form. He'd cut a nice enough figure in his auror uniform, but Pansy had uncharitably assumed that was the uniform doing him great favours. But he looked just as nice in his dress robes, and she had to grudgingly admit it, even if only to herself. He'd actually combed his hair, too.

Unfortunately, Weasley could only serve as a deterrent for social interaction for so long. Eventually, Daphne Greengrass braved his presence to ask if she could borrow Pansy for just the tiniest of moments. They left him by the punchbowl, awkward and lonesome, and Daphne used a tight grip on Pansy's arm to steer her to a quiet spot by the grand staircase.

"Pansy Parkinson, have you lost your mind?" Daphne hissed, as soon as they were sufficiently alone.

Pansy blinked up at Daphne. It had always irked her that Daphne and her sister were taller than she was. The blond glory piled on top of Daphne's head gave her another few inches. Pansy did not like feeling so tiny compared to her friend, even with her high heels on, and she stood very straight to minimize the feeling. She flicked one of her own dark curls over her shoulder, refusing to wilt under Daphne's glare.

"Of course I haven't. My invite did include a plus one," she pointed out.

"But Weasley?" Daphne looked horrified. Perhaps Pansy's plan had not been terrible after all.

"He is a pureblood. Not that it's de rigueur to mention that sort of thing these days." Pansy remained nonchalant, as if she regularly hung about with the dregs of society on a lark.

Daphne pursed her mouth. "He's a blood traitor. And he's never set foot in a society function. It's strange, Pansy." Daphne's expression shifted to one of concern. "Is everything alright? I know your family's been under investigation again. Is he here…" Her voice dropped several notches, going whispery. "...Officially?"

"No!" Pansy swatted Daphne, annoyed by her prissy attitude, even if she was normally just as prissy. "I wanted to bring a date and he's very, ah, tall and… capable." She shifted, her hands on her hips. "I… like him."

She was very pleased with herself for being able to choke that out convincingly.

Daphne raised her perfect eyebrows. "You do?"

"I do." Pansy said firmly, nettled. "He's very, you know. Athletic. And… he has strong hands." Pansy began to feel more confident. "He's energetic. If you know what I mean."

Daphne narrowed her eyes. "Mmhmm. Alright, then. If you're here with him by choice, prove it. Otherwise, I'll have Marcus come to your rescue."

The last thing Pansy wanted was Daphne's barely articulate boyfriend coming anywhere near her. He always wore too much cologne. "Prove it how?"

"Romantically, of course. Just give him a kiss or something so I know you're not here with him against your will. If you don't, we'll save you from him."

Oh, good heavens, Daphne was always very dramatic, but this took the cake. Honestly, a rescue mission. From what? Ginger hair? Daphne was obviously testing her.

"You're being silly, Daphne," Pansy protested, but Daphne did not seem to be inclined to change her position. Finally Pansy sighed. "Fine. But you know how I dislike public displays."

"Just so we know you're alright," Daphne said, innocent as could be. As Pansy shook her head and made her way back to the ballroom, however, she caught the smirk that twitched her friend's lips.

Pansy walked back to Weasley as gracefully as she could given how totally irritated she was.

"Everything okay?" he asked, once she rejoined him, another flute of champagne finding its way into her hand. Unlike Daphne, Weasley's concern was authentic.

"Everything is fine," Pansy said, mentally cursing her friend. "She was just wanted to compliment me on my dress."

Willingness aside, Pansy struggled to figure out the logistics of how she would manage a snog with Weasley. He towered over her- she'd have to pull him downward to even reach his mouth. Nevermind that immediately after he'd probably hex her clear across the ballroom and ask her what in ten hells she was doing. Which would defeat the purpose of kissing him in the first place. Perhaps she could just ask him? How would she even make such a request, though, without looking totally foolish?

At the front of the room, someone tapped their champagne glass, causing it to chime and get everyone's attention. Draco stepped forward, and Pansy's heart sank into her stomach. He was going to toast his lovely fiancée, of course he was. Everyone raised their glass, except Weasley, who looked down at her with a knowing expression that wasn't really pity, just understanding, which was maybe worse. She looked away, which drew her eyes back to Draco, who was beaming down at Astoria. She looked back at Weasley. He hadn't taken his eyes off of her.

Something came over her then, something that made her throw caution to the wind. Here you go, Daphne, she thought, and she stretched up on her tiptoes as far as she could go, winding her arms around Weasley's neck, pulling him down toward her. It must have dawned on him what she was about, because he moved the last couple of inches on his own, sweeping her closer and letting her press her mouth to his.

Pansy had intended to make it fast, a quick touch of her lips to his and then done, but over Weasley's shoulder she saw Daphne with her mouth forming a round 'o', and she saw Draco falter for a moment in his blathering before regaining his smooth patter, and instead she tightened her arms around Weasley, fitting her mouth more firmly against his, letting her lips part.

He was a really good kisser, as it turned out.

Pansy broke away first, confused and bemused at her traitorous response to him, however irrational that was, since she'd initiated the damned thing. Her champagne flute was still in her hand, and she downed it in one go before summoning another.

"Parkinson?" Weasley's tone was wisely careful.

"Just… let's dance. You can dance, can't you?" she asked, her voice sharper than he deserved.

He could dance, by some miracle. It was nothing spectacular, but he managed to avoid treading on her feet, and he skillfully kept her out of Daphne's reach. He also kept his mouth shut for two whole songs before aggravating her.

"So was it a dare or a wager?" Weasley asked her, as the second song quieted before transitioning to a third.

Pansy peered up at him. He truly was more clever than she gave him credit for. His eyes were also very blue. She hadn't noticed before now.

'Neither," she said, exhaling through her nose in irritation. Then, unable to help herself, she smiled at him. "Daphne wanted me to prove you weren't accompanying me because I was under some sort of house arrest or something. She was 'worried' about me."

Weasley chuckled, shaking his head, clearly baffled by the antics of devious Slytherins. "Bet she's more worried now."

Then the sod actually kissed her again, and even worse, Pansy didn't stop him.

~.*.~

Pansy shagged Weasley that night.

She wished she could say she didn't, or that she hadn't wanted to, or at the very least that it had been highly unsatisfactory and that she would never repeat it. But she did, and she had, and it wasn't. She could blame the champagne, or she could blame the unexpected rapport they'd shared, or she could blame Daphne for pushing her to snog him in the first place. But it really boiled down to the fact that Pansy had rather enjoyed kissing him, and she'd been curious whether or not he was surprisingly skilled at other things.

After that second kiss, they'd left the party, portkeying back to Parkinson manor. Pansy had accomplished what she'd set out to accomplish, and if he was going to keep kissing her, Pansy had supposed it would be better to let Weasley do it away from the prying eyes of her friends.

It had been a long time since Pansy had been intimate with a man, but she didn't continue kissing Weasley because she was desperate. Pansy could still have her pick among her peers, even if she'd made a habit of being single. No, it was just that he really was a very good kisser, his mouth simply seeming to fit hers, his lips and tongue doing all the right things, and it ignited something within her that she didn't care to examine in the heat of the moment. What she wanted to do was drag him up to her bedroom, and he didn't seem to have any objections.

He was just as good at shagging as he was at kissing. Pansy made a mental note to congratulate Granger the next time she ran into the bushy haired witch- she'd taught Weasley well. And then she stopped thinking about Granger because Weasley made all coherent thoughts fly from her head for a good long while.

In fact, the only thought that came to her head, as she crumpled into a satiated heap against Weasley's side afterward was, I needed this.

~.*.~

The next morning, Weasley did something extraordinary.

He got dressed, went downstairs, fixed himself a mug of coffee, and resumed inspecting her father's office- the room he'd begun after finally finishing in the library.

Pansy tied a robe around herself and followed him, standing in the office doorway with her mouth agape. "Are you quite serious?"

Weasley turned to look at her, seemingly confused. "Parkinson, last night was amazing. But I still have to do my job."

"First thing?" Pansy felt all the tension that had ebbed away under his touch come rushing back into her. "You can't give it a rest for a day?"

He shook his head. "No, I want to get it done quickly so-"

Quickly? He was eager to be quit of Parkinson manor, she supposed.

"So you can be rid of me?" Pansy cut him off, clutching her robe more tightly around her body. "So you don't have to stick around much longer now that it's awkward?"

"Pansy, no! I only meant-"

She interrupted him again. "It's fine. Get your work done. I have things to do, too."

Pansy turned on her heel, stalking up the stairs before he could say anything else. She showered, got dressed, and left without saying anything else herself. She kept herself busy outside of the house until she knew he'd be gone for the day. And she repeated this process daily, steadfastly ignoring Ronald Weasley, letting him in every morning, leaving before he could speak, and returning after he'd left. It seemed easier that way, for both of them.

She didn't know what she'd been thinking. That they could resume the antagonistic tolerance they'd had before going to the ball? No, that ship had sailed. And she certainly couldn't develop some sort of friendship or romance with him. That was patently ridiculous. And no one liked to be forced into proximity with a one off once the bloom had faded from the rose and clearer heads were prevailing. Perhaps some tiny part of her had wanted to shag him again, because he'd done such a fine job of it, but evidently he wasn't interested. So fine. Avoiding him, letting him get his duty over with so they could go their separate ways, seemed to be for the best.

Men. They were impossible. The worst. Pansy supposed she ought to be relieved she'd escaped an entanglement, especially with Weasley, of all people.

After about a week of avoidance, Pansy returned home once again well after Weasley's usual knock off time, her arms laden with shopping. She'd finally found a dress to wear to Draco's wedding, and she'd purchased shoes and jewelry to match that day. She'd also been by Flourish and Blotts, wanting some things in the library that hadn't had Weasley's wand all over them. To her dismay, however, Weasley was sitting at the bottom of the stairs, and he stood up when she walked in.

Pansy sent her parcels up to her room and stared at him, her face stony.

"I thought you'd have gone home by now."

Weasley sighed, looking exasperated. "I wanted to let you know I'd finished the inspection. I'm giving the Ministry the all clear. I'll sign off on your house being free of dark magic, and I'll recommend they don't keep you on the search list in the future." He paused, his expression difficult to read. If he expected gratitude, he wasn't going to get it from Pansy. Her family's home should never have been on any search list in the first place. "So I guess I'm out of your hair."

"Good," she said tersely. She folded her arms over her chest expectantly, waiting for him to leave.

"But before I go, I need to say something to you."

Pansy snorted- of course he did- but gestured for him to get it over with.

"I didn't want to get the inspection done quickly so I could get rid of you, or however you put it. I just didn't think it was right for me to be inspecting the house of someone I had… that I was involved with. And I also thought it wouldn't take long for people at the Ministry to find out about us, because plenty of your so-called friends saw us snogging at that party and I know they like to wag their tongues. I didn't want to be accused of being inappropriate, and I didn't want them to come hassle you more because they'd assume that I was going easy on you because I fancied you." He took a deep breath. "That's all I meant. But you assumed the worst, and I guess I'm glad you did, because it disabused me of any ideas about me and you really quick before I could get my feelings hurt or anything. So thanks for that, I guess. But I hope you'll be happy soon, Pansy. It kills me seeing you alone, your arsehole parents leaving you to deal with anything difficult, your arsehole friends trying to make you feel shitty about yourself all the time. I… I just hope you'll be happy. That's what I wanted to say."

Pansy was, for once, shocked into silence. Weasley gave her another inscrutable look, kissed her on the forehead, and quickly walked out of the manor.

"Ron, wait, I…" Pansy finally found her voice, but it was too late. Weasley apparated away as soon as he was clear of the wards.

~.*.~

Pansy sat, stunned, for the better part of the evening, cycling through emotional responses to what Weasley had said to her. Anger, at the way he'd spoken to her, the way he'd spoken about her family and her friends. Shame, at the way she'd leapt to conclusions and at the way she'd treated him. Confusion, because no one had ever spoken to her that way and she wasn't sure what to make of it. And underneath it all, something else bloomed inside her, something warm and wonderful and terrifying, because the sum total of what he'd seemed to be trying to tell her was that he cared about her. That he wanted to protect her. That he fancied her.

Oh, god- she was going to have to go to him, wasn't she? Pansy finally got to her feet, resolved, and then realized to her horror that she didn't even have the slightest idea where to find him. She didn't know where he lived. She didn't know where he went when he left her house. She only knew where he worked.

So she sat back down. It would have to wait until tomorrow.

~.*.~

The next morning, Pansy flooed to the Ministry first thing and marched herself in the DMLE headquarters. The woman at the front desk was easily twice Pansy's size, but stammered and looked intimidated under Pansy's fierce gaze as she explained that Auror Weasley wasn't in. The woman probably wasn't supposed to tell Pansy where he was, but Pansy could be quite imposing for all that she was short and slight, and she was at her most imperious when she wanted something and wasn't brooking any obstacles. The woman told Pansy that Auror Weasley had been sent on another inspection.

"You're certain it's the Nott estate?"

"Yes, miss. I'm certain."

Pansy spared a moment to think that Theodore was not going to like this, not one bit, and then quickly left the Ministry, apparating to the home of her long-time friend.

Theodore's favourite elf answered the door, telling Pansy that his master was occupied at the moment and not receiving guests. Pansy told the elf to alert Theodore to her arrival, even so. Theodore's elf was used to Pansy, and with a long-suffering sigh, did as he was bid. Theodore himself came to greet Pansy in his entry.

"Pansy, I do love when you pop in, but the timing is terrible."

"Yes, I know," she said impatiently. "Weasley is here, he's inspecting your house, and it's awful and you loathe it. But I need to speak to him, and you ought to let me, because it will give you a chance to send whatever it is you're hoping he won't find over to Draco."

Theodore gave Pansy an assessing look. After a moment, he said, "Very well, then. He's in the parlor."

Theodore hurried off, no doubt to send his owl with an urgent parcel to Malfoy manor. He did give her a questioning glance, but he spared her inquiries about Weasley, for now- though Pansy knew she'd have to answer to him eventually.

Pansy knew Theodore's house as well as her own, and she made her way to the parlor. Weasley was in there, running his wand over an ancient vase with deep concentration. Pansy admired him for a moment, appreciating how serious his face was when he was working, the way his eyes narrowed, obscuring the deep blue of his irises, and the way the shock of reddish-orange hair fell across his forehead when he tipped his head to inspect the inside of the vase. She admired his broad shoulders, his ridiculous height, his long nose, his tight bum, and his clever, talented mouth.

He was fine, and, she suspected, he was hers.

"Ron," she said, softly, so she wouldn't startle him into dropping the delicate vase.

His eyes widened when he saw her standing there, and he carefully set the vase back on its pedestal before he narrowed the distance between them.

"Pansy," he said, his voice and body language wary. "What are you doing here?"

"The receptionist at the DMLE said you'd be here. I wouldn't have bothered you at work, but I didn't know where else to bother you."

Still wary, he asked, "What did you want to bother me about?"

Clearly he wanted to make this difficult for her. Pansy put her hands on her hips, and said, "I thought about what you said to me yesterday, quite a lot. And I…" She faltered under his intense eye contact, that seeking, too observant auror gaze. She took a deep breath, and drew up her posture. "My best friend is getting married next month, and I wanted to ask you to accompany me. You left before I could ask you last night."

Pansy had no idea why that had come out of her mouth. It wasn't what she'd intended to say. But Weasley seemed to understand, because his eyes started to crinkle at the corners, and his mouth twitched in the direction of a grin.

"Is this your very strange, very Pansy way of saying you're sorry?"

"Maybe," she admitted. "Would you accept it, if it was?"

"Maybe," he said. "Yeah, I probably would."

"So?" Pansy raised her eyebrows.

"So what?" Weasley looked confused, but it didn't annoy her as much as it used to.

"So will you go to Draco's wedding with me?" Really, did she have to spell everything out?

Weasley definitely grinned then, and reached for Pansy, pulling her close. "Yeah. I will."

Their kiss only broke because Theodore cleared his throat rather loudly. Pansy turned to look at her friend, her cheeks red, but she kept her arms around Ron.

"Is this a normal part of inspection?" Theodore asked drolly, his eyes going from Pansy to Ron and then back to Pansy.

"No," Pansy said smartly. "Now go away."

She fit her mouth to Ron's again before checking to see if Theodore complied. She really hoped he did, because she didn't think she could stop kissing Ron if her life depended on it. Finally she had to, and was pleased to find Theodore had indeed absented himself.

"I suppose I'd better let you work," she said reluctantly.

"I'll see you after," Ron promised.

"That's good, because, Ron?" His name still felt strange in her mouth. "You said you hoped I'd be happy… and I think you might make me very happy."

She kissed him one more time, for good measure.

He really was a damned good kisser.