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A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

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To: katmarajade
From: Your Secret Santa.


Title: A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing
Author:cryptaknight
Pairing: Zacharias Smith/Lavender Brown
Summary: Lavender always did love a good makeover! But Smith? She feared it might be impossible. Can she make him presentable before the Quidditch League Christmas party? Will he win her over despite his surly sneers? Who is really the beast in need of taming?
Rating: NC-17
Length: ~12350
Warnings: None, unless shopping with ill-tempered Hufflepuffs frightens you! (It does me, a bit.)
Author's notes: Happy holidays, katmarajade! I was thrilled to write for you. I hope you don't mind that I took some liberties with your pairings; the bunny bit and I knew it had to be Zach and Lavender. Thank you to the mods for running this fest every year- it's a staple of my holidays and it just wouldn't be Christmas without it! Thank you also to K for cheerleading and beta-ing and helping me brainstorm when the story was being stubborn (much like our lovely pair).

 

"It's impossible," Lavender said, poking her head around the corner as if to confirm the truth of her statement.

 

The object of her surveillance had in his hands a sandwich which could only be termed enormous, so large and overstuffed that Lavender was certain he wouldn't be able to fit it in his mouth. By some miracle, in defiance of the laws of the natural world, he did. He tore off a ravenous bite, and swallowed without even seeming to chew. A dollop of mustard remained on his chin.

 

Lavender pulled back into the office, traumatized. "Parvati!"

 

Her wail was met with a shrug. It wasn't even an apologetic shrug. "My father isn't offering you so much money because it will be easy."

 

Lavender huffed, and fell back into the chair across from Parvati's desk. "Why can't you do it?"

 

"I'm the team owner's daughter. It would look suspect. Like favoritism." Parvati arched one of her elegant, perfectly shaped brows. "Besides, I don't need a hundred thousand galleons."

 

And Lavender did. She sighed. She needed the galleons badly. Her vault at Gringotts was mostly filled with cobwebs and dreams.

 

"He's also offering another hundred thousand upon completion." Parvati's smile was sly.

 

"Completion?" Lavender perked up, the gears in her head turning. "What constitutes completion?"

 

"The League Christmas party will do nicely, I think." Parvati reached into one of her desk drawers, pulling out a paper planner. "If he turns up, conducts himself appropriately- and that means good manners, no brawling, no telling reporters to 'get fucked', you know, that sort of thing- and he looks presentable, and stays the entire time. That'll give you…" Parvati ran a teal varnished nail down the pages of the calendar. "... about two months."

 

Lavender got up again, once more poking her head around the corner. Zacharias Smith still sat at the table in the team headquarters atrium, blithely enjoying his lunch, unaware that the two women were plotting for his future. He seemed to have acquired a second sandwich.

 

Turning back to Parvati, Lavender asked, "Do you think it's even possible?"

 

"If I know you? With two hundred thou at stake? You'll make it possible." Parvati was already holding out a cheque, the first half of the payment inked in.

 

Lavender pulled a face, but took the cheque, folding it daintily and tucking it into a safe pocket in her handbag.

 

"When shall I get started?" she asked with a sigh.

 

Parvati grinned. "No time like the present." She stood and came from behind her desk, joining Lavender in the doorway. "You could offer him a napkin."

 

Lavender managed a glare at her best friend before they both fell to laughing, leaning on one another so they wouldn't fall down.

 

Once she had her composure back, Lavender made her way over to where Smith was sitting, after giving herself a quick once-over in the mirror Parvati kept in her office. She'd decided she looked as professional as possible, given her figure. There were some things even a tailored jacket didn't do much to hide. She slid into the chair across from Smith, templed her fingers, smiled brightly, and waited for him to notice that she was there.

 

He seemed to be really into his sandwich. Lavender made a slight humming sound. Smith still didn't even look up. She gave a delicate cough. Still no response. Finally, she said, keeping her voice bright to cover her total annoyance, "What sort of sandwich have you got there? It must be incredibly delicious."

 

Smith looked up. His eyes were a gray-green-blue blend that reminded Lavender of the ocean. She could work with that.

 

"It's alright," he said, the words escaping around a bite of roast beef that he swallowed down in an atrociously large gulp. "I was just hoping that if I acted like I didn't know you were there, you'd go away without talking to me. No such luck."

 

Lavender sucked in a breath through her teeth, gritting them together as she forced her smile to stay on her face. "Mmm. Well. I shall add social interactions to the very long list of things we have to work on."

 

"I'm sorry?" Smith set his sandwich aside, fixing a glare on her. "We? Will be working on what?"

 

"On you, mate." She tapped his shoulder lightly with her fist, not quite a punch. His eyes followed her hand, as if it were a particularly unpleasant insect that had landed on him. "I've been hired to get you up to snuff. If you want the captain position, that is. Mr. Patil would like you to have it, but you're a publicity nightmare, alas. We've got a lot of work to do."

 

"Such as?" His voice was dangerous, clipped and growling at the same time.

 

Lavender carried on as if it were a sincere question and not an invitation to get one of his infamous Get fucked or Go bugger yourself soundbites.

 

"Your hair, to start," she said, giving him a long, assessing look. He reached up to where his dark blonde hair was clubbed back in a messy knot at the nape of his neck, then caught himself and lowered his hand, his glare deepening. "The table manners, of course. Interview skills, that's a must. And the social charm, as I mentioned. I'm sure more will come to mind."

 

"What," he said, wadding up the brown butcher paper his food had been wrapped into a crumpled ball, "makes you think I'll go along with any of this?"

 

"You've busted arse, pardon my French, for seven years with this team. You have a chance at captain. Parvati, and by extension, Mr. Patil, assure me that your ascension is contingent on a complete image overhaul. If you want that C on your uniform, you'll go along."

 

She stood, reaching out again, this time to pat the same shoulder she'd tapped earlier. "Don't fret, Smith. If you cooperate, I'll go easy on you."

 

She smoothed her skirt down and adjusted her jacket. The motion drew his eyes. He remained blessedly silent. The steam roller approach seemed to be effective.

 

"Meet me at the Leaky tomorrow after your practice. We'll get started," she said cheerfully, and left before he had a chance to protest.

~~~~~~~~~~.~~~~~~~~~~.~~~~~~~~~~

"No. No. Absolutely not."

 

Smith folded his arms over his chest, looking for all the world like he was one moment away from stamping his foot like a tantruming toddler. Lavender had been somewhat surprised that he'd actually shown up at the Leaky Cauldron directly after team practice, and freshly showered at that. She supposed it was asking too much to expect that he actually be cooperative.

 

"I did tell you we'd start with your hair," she pointed out calmly. Calmness in the face of her cousin Bridget's tantrums had always been effective. Of course, Bridget had actually been a toddler at the time. Smith was 26, no matter what he acted like.

 

"I'm not cutting it." His mouth had a stubborn set to it, and his eyes were stormy.

 

Well, Lavender could be stubborn, too. She crossed her arms over her breasts, immediately regretting it because she never quite knew what to do with her arms when she did that- did she cross them over the front, which looked silly since her chest was so ample? Or underneath, where it was just physically uncomfortable even though it looked better? She uncrossed them and settled her hands on her hips, instead.

 

"I didn't think you were so attached to it. I thought it had grown into..." She gestured at his head. "...that… out of pure laziness."
The twitch in his jaw told her she was right, and he was just being difficult for the sheer sake of it.

 

"I'm not cutting it," he repeated.

 

Lavender sighed. She didn't want to stand outside of Eloise Midgen's salon arguing with him all afternoon. She had thought that perhaps he would like seeing one of his fellow former Hufflepuffs, but that didn't seem to sway him. Maybe he'd not had any friends in his House. He'd not had many outside of it that she could recall, so it seemed like a plausible explanation. Lavender couldn't be sure. She hadn't paid much attention to him in school, other than when he was being a jackass at Dumbledore's Army meetings or when he was being a marvel on the Quidditch pitch.

 

"You're holding everything up," she said finally. "We can go clothes shopping first, but you're leaving here with a hair cut."

 

"I'm not."

 

Smith was nearly as infuriating when shopping for clothing. Of course he was. He closeted himself in the dressing room- and this after he plonked himself down in a chair inside Madam Malkins and stubbornly let Lavender do all the selecting while he read a broom catalog, bestirring himself only when Lavender thrust a pile of clothing at him with orders to try it on- and refused to come out and show Lavender even a single outfit, growling from the fitting room that each was too small, too baggy, too colorful, too something.

 

When Smith finally emerged, he was once again in the athletic sort of gear he'd worn into the small room, his face more disgruntled than ever.

 

"What a waste of time," he declared, folding his arms intractably across his chest, glaring down at Lavender and Madame Malkin, who'd come over to see how they were getting on.

 

Lavender admired the way Madame Malkin kept calm. As hard as it was to imagine, the shopkeep must have seen worse customers than Zacharias Smith. "Nothing off-the-rack for you then, dearie," the older witch said, stroking her chin thoughtfully as she ran her gaze over the length and breadth of Smith's body. "Perhaps something bespoke?"

 

Lavender opened her mouth to object- bespoke clothing was costly- then snapped it shut decisively. Smith had deep pockets, as did the Falcons organization. They could weather the cost. If he was going to be a pain in the arse, this was the price to be paid. She met Madame Malkin's questioning look with a sharp nod, and the older witch summoned her measuring tape.

 

Madame Malkin directed a skeptical Smith to a platform surrounded by mirrors. To Lavender's relief, he complied without argument. Her relief was short-lived, however.

 

"Now dearie, take off your shirt, if you would," Madame Malkin said, indicating the hooded sweater Smith had on.

 

"No."

 

The clothier looked up, her mouth tightening just a little. Lavender fought an impulse to throttle Smith.

 

"It'll be difficult to get accurate measurements," Madame Malkin said, her voice giving no sign of the momentary irritation Lavender had glimpsed on her face. Lavender's admiration for the witch increased.

 

"No." Smith's voice was flat, his face unreadable. Lavender sighed.

 

"Very well." Madame Malkin's mouth tightened again, but she merely told Smith what position to stand in, her measuring tape moving about in a flurry while she made notations on a piece of parchment. At the end of the process, she took down the billing information Lavender provided her, and assured her the robes would be sent to Smith's flat in a week's time.

 

"Wonderful." Lavender smiled broadly, willing the other witch to forgive her for bringing in such a difficult and charmless client. "He'll need them for the St. Mungo's benefit next weekend."

 

"What?" Smith sputtered. "No. I don't go to those things."

 

"You do now," Lavender said. "Why did you think we were getting new dress robes? Because it's been such a fun experience?"

 

Smith grumbled, his frown deepening, something Lavender wouldn't have thought possible. For the first time that day, she felt like perhaps she had the upper hand. She decided to press her luck.

 

After thanking Madame Malkin, Lavender turned to Smith. "Ready for that hair cut?"

 

"No."

 

Taking a note from the seamstress, Lavender kept her annoyance off her face. "Alright. Shoes?"

~~~~~~~~~~.~~~~~~~~~~.~~~~~~~~~~

"I'm hungry."

 

It caught Lavender off-guard. It was the first time Smith had initiated conversation, even if it was to make a demand. Mostly he communicated with grunts, monosyllables, and incomplete sentences, aside from his favorite No. She paused in her brisk walk, considering. Despite the difficulties at the robes-maker's, they'd managed to purchase shoes, a necktie, and grooming products, and two sets of robes would be on their way to Smith by the end of the week. Lavender supposed she deserved a bit of a reward for managing all of that in a single day. Her stomach gave a little rumble as she considered the idea of food, and that decided the matter.

 

Rare! was a fancy restaurant that had cropped up during the rebuilding of Diagon Alley after the war. It stood where Fortescue's once had. Lavender had been there a couple of times on dates, and she nearly drooled just remembering the meals she'd had there. She was quite certain the restaurant made the best steaks in Great Britain. And they were on the Falcons' sickle, after all. Smith wasn't really dressed for the occasion, but Lavender suspected the dress code might be relaxed for an all-star Chaser. Sure enough, although the maitre d' made a moue of distaste at the sight of them, he whisked them inside to a table in the corner of the dining room where they wouldn't be on display to the other, more refined guests.

 

Smith ordered the biggest cut of meat on the menu, extra-rare. Since he'd set the tone, Lavender shook off her typical self-consciousness and ordered a steak that was not quite so big, but just as rare. After the Battle of Hogwarts, she'd awakened in hospital, mostly healed but for the claw marks near her throat, and an ability to consume large quantities of barely-cooked meat. Usually she restrained herself when in the company of someone she didn't know well. Smith, however, didn't seem likely to judge her, based on his own order. In fact, all he did was twitch an eyebrow, then hand the menus back to the waiter who'd taken their order.

 

Smith didn't break eye contact with her even after the waiter left. Now that they were not doing anything in particular, it felt awkward to be in his company with nothing to occupy the time. He was staring at her like he'd finally noticed her for the first time even though they'd spent the entire day together. Lavender fought the urge to fidget in her seat. She started talking instead, always her default when she didn't know what else to do.

 

"Well. I suppose we can consider this part of our day's work, hmmm? Table manners?"

 

Smith's scowl returned, which was, if not pleasant, at least familiar. "You think I don't know which fork to use when and how to hold my knife?"

 

It was on the tip of Lavender's tongue to say that if he did, no one had ever seen any evidence of such, but before the words could fall out she caught herself. There was no point in needlessly antagonizing him.

 

"Do you, then?"

 

Smith straightened in his seat, and said in a posh tone of voice she wouldn't have believed him capable of, "Salad fork, dinner fork, charger, dinner plate, napkin, bread plate, knife, tea spoon, soup spoon." He sat back, looking incredibly bored. "This isn't even a full formal place setting. It's missing a fish fork and knife and several glasses, among other things." He glanced up and to the left. "Waiter's here with my pint. Thank Merlin."

 

His voice had gone back to the gruff Cornwall accent she was more used to. Lavender managed to keep her mouth from hanging open, but only just. Smith's lips curled into a smirk.

 

"You don't know as much about me as you think."

 

The waiter deposited Smith's ale and Lavender's glass of red on the table. Lavender was grateful for the moment it gave her to compose herself.

 

"If I don't, it's because you keep it well hidden." She picked up her wine, taking a sip.

 

"It's nobody's business." Smith picked up his pint and did the same.

 

"I hardly think it's some great private revelation to let people know you're able to eat with a utensil."

 

Smith shrugged. "Maybe I just don't care." He paused, tearing off a hunk of bread the waiter had also placed on their table and slathering it generously with butter. "Usually I'm too hungry to bother."

 

There was something careful about the way he said it, something Lavender couldn't quite put her finger on.

 

"Quidditch really works up an appetite, I imagine." His face shuttered again, though Lavender had no idea why.

 

"Something like that," he said, taking a huge bite of the bread. It was the last thing he said until the steaks arrived.

 

At that point, Lavender didn't care if he spent the remainder of the meal ignoring her, because the glorious cut of meat sitting in front of her was worth enduring his surly company. There were potatoes and vegetables on the plate as well, but the thick piece of prime rib was the star of the show. She might have closed her eyes and sighed as she put the first bite of it into her mouth. Bliss.

 

She opened her eyes after swallowing, expecting Smith to be sneering at her. Instead he looked just as enraptured with his steak as she felt. Lavender wondered if it might be safe to re-engage him in conversation now that he seemed happy.

 

"So," she said, carving another bite of meat away and spearing it on her fork. "We got a good bit accomplished today. Was it so very terrible?"

 

Smith snorted, but waited until he swallowed his own bite of food before he supplied an answer. "Nah, I just didn't trust you to pick out my clothes. Given what you're wearing and all."

 

The corner of his mouth curled into a smile, but it was lost on Lavender, who was looking down at her outfit. It was a perfectly appropriate bright pink A-line dress with a hemline that hit just above the knee, paired with a cerulean blue blazer. So the colors were a little bright, but the overall look was practically professional! If there was one thing Lavender was confident about, it was clothes. She had a knack for pairing unlikely pieces together, and clearly Parvati recognized her talent, because she'd hired her for this thankless job. She made an indignant sound, then looked up to realize that Smith was teasing her.

 

"Yes, well, have no fear. I don't think you're quite ready for pink yet. That's advanced fashion, and you are definitely a beginner." She offered Smith a self-satisfied smirk, and tucked back into her dinner.

 

Several bites later, Smith had nearly devoured his steak. To her chagrin, Lavender wasn't far behind him. She forced herself to pause and sip her wine. She glanced over at Smith only to discover that he was staring at her once again.

 

"What?" she said, wondering if she'd gotten something stuck in her teeth or dribbled on her chin or something.

 

"I noticed you don't cover your…" Smith gestured to his own throat, and Lavender fought the urge to mirror his action. It was true; her scars were partially obscured by her blazer, but the tapering lines that ran up her throat toward her chin were exposed.

 

"No, I don't." Her voice was terse. It seemed an awfully rude thing to say. "Are you implying that I should hide what happened to me?"

 

"No." Smith looked surprised. "I like it. It's… brave."

 

Lavender relaxed slightly. "It would be a pain in the arse to hide them all the time," she said frankly. "A girl can only wear so many scarves, and the cosmetic charms have to be constantly reapplied. Besides, everyone knows they're there, even if I did cover them up. Half the school saw me after the attack."

 

Smith looked thoughtful and somewhat abashed. Lavender could make neither heads nor tails of it. She didn't take him for the compassionate sort.

 

"If you could hide them- if no one knew what had happened, I guess- would you, then?"

 

It was an odd question, but the combination of red wine and good food was lulling Lavender into a zen sort of mood. Lavender gave the question due thought, taking advantage of the pause in the conversation to take three more bites of her prime rib.

 

"Maybe," she said finally, stirring her fork lazily through her mashed potatoes. "But probably not. Secrets have a way of coming out, and I wouldn't want to have worry all the time about being found out. It's not easy going about as I do, you know, the job market is terrible. So is the dating market. I get to tell the story on my terms, though. That's worth something."

 

Smith nodded his head slowly, appearing to mull over what she'd said. "That's why you're Gryffindor, I reckon."

 

"You wouldn't?" Lavender was surprised by that. Smith had such an aggressive, no-fucks-given sort of personality.

 

"I'd have a lot to lose." Smith seemed somber, but he took another enormous bite from his dinner all the same.

 

"I suppose you would," Lavender said, after a beat. "But right now, you're going to lose out on afters." She jutted her chin in the direction of their waiter, who was bearing down on them. Though they'd both dined in record time, the restaurant staff seemed eager to have them out as quickly as possible. "Shall I ask for a dessert menu?"

 

Smith grinned, broad and toothy. "Yeah, you should."

~~~~~~~~~~.~~~~~~~~~~.~~~~~~~~~~

Lavender was in a terrible mood.

 

She'd thought, after their peaceful dinner, that Smith was coming around. That maybe, just maybe, he was even on board. But no. Just two days later, he'd shown his worst self at a press conference. And now Lavender had to make a firecall to him, because he was ignoring her owl, and she hated making firecalls. Looking through the green flames made her eyes burn and she always imagined her mouth tasted all sooty when she was done. Also, appearing as just a head was just not a good look for anybody. Lavender reckoned it made her cheeks look rather chipmunk-y. She'd rather have simply paid him a visit, but the wards on Smith's floo were set to head only- no full body access. Lavender surmised he'd not even have call access, had it not been required by Falcons management. Which was she was sitting there with her head stuck in Parvati's fireplace, in a not-so-quiet rage.

 

"Smith!" she yelled, knowing he could hear her. She could see his feet and calves. "Oi, Smith!"

 

He crouched down. His face said he was in an equally terrible mood. Well, good, Lavender thought. No reason she should be in a terrible mood alone.

 

"I'm not sorry," he said, before Lavender could launch into a tirade.

 

"You ought to be!" Lavender glared at him. "Was it really necessary to say…" She glanced down at the owl she'd gotten from the Quidditch Quarterly reporter, wanting to be certain she quoted him exactly. "'Mind your own sodding business, you moldy bucket of goat piss' to Mr Thackery?"

 

"Obviously it was, or I wouldn't have said it."

 

Lavender wanted to scream and stomp her foot. "And there was no more pleasant way you could have said it? How could you, Smith?! We practiced this!" And they had, for four hours the previous afternoon. "You're supposed to be representing the Falcons! Mr Patil is furious!"

 

Mr Patil was furious with both of them, to be fair. He was furious with Smith for the vulgarity and rudeness, and he was furious with Lavender for failing to impress upon him how important it was that he behave properly. No amount of protest would convince Mr Patil that she had tried, but his star Chaser was impossible. He'd kept mentioning how much he was paying her for a service that was not being rendered. Lavender knew she was lucky to still be on the payroll at this point.

 

Smith grumbled. "That reporter was prying into my love life." He made air quotes around the words love life. "Someone saw us at that restaurant the other night; he was trying to make something out of it."

 

Lavender threw up her hands, exasperated. "So what? Just say, 'no comment.' It's not that hard."

 

Smith didn't say anything for a good long while. Lavender maintained her glaring. Smith rubbed a large hand over his face, then said grudgingly, "I didn't reckon you'd appreciate being linked with me."

 

Lavender blew out a deep breath, sending cinders dancing out of the fireplace. "This was some misguided attempt at chivalry?"

 

"I guess." Smith fisted his hands on his hips, obstinate.

 

Lavender didn't know if she should feel touched or supremely irritated. She settled somewhere in the middle. "You're going to have to work extra hard at being charming on Saturday."

 

Smith grumbled again.

 

"And I'll be over Friday evening to make sure everything is alright with your robes." She paused, feeling like she was being too nice. "And go get a haircut." She started to pull her head from the fireplace.

 

Smith grinned suddenly, and she could hear his voice faintly as he disappeared from view. "No."

 

Lavender rocked back on her haunches, aggravated. "Arrrrrrggggghhhhh."

 

Parvati appeared in front of Lavender, helping her to her feet before summoning a tissue to wipe some soot from the tip of her nose.

 

"I can't do it, Parvati," Lavender said. "He's impossible. It's one step forward, two steps back, and he seems to get off on thwarting my efforts."

 

"It can't be that terrible, if the press is making a couple of the two of you." Parvati's smile was impish as she sent the tissue toward the rubbish bin. "You must have been getting on well at that dinner."

 

Lavender harrumphed loudly. "Not especially. The press will make a couple out of two people sharing a train car if they make eye contact. They're ridiculous."

 

"Two attractive people," Parvati said, still teasing.

 

"Bah. His hair is horrendous." Lavender tried to remain grumpy, but Parvati was very, very good at cajoling her out of her bad moods. "But I suppose my stunning looks make up the difference."

 

Parvati laughed, and nudged Lavender toward a settee near the center of the room. Several sets of dress robes floated in front of it. They'd been deciding what to wear to the benefit when Mr Patil had called Lavender on the carpet.

 

"What color is Smith wearing?" Parvati asked as they settled against the velvet cushions.

 

"Gray or navy," Lavender said. "I can wear just about anything without clashing."

 

She summoned a peach colored ensemble forward, looking over the shimmering material before deciding it was too bland.

 

"I know it's a bit on the nose," Parvati said, "but I do adore you in purple." She flicked her wand, and another dress moved to the forefront, this one a pastel purple. It had delicate beading, and a daringly low-cut neckline that was offset by a full length skirt.

 

"Hmmm, a possibility." Lavender might be good at putting together outfits, but Parvati was good at just knowing what was right. It gave her an idea. "Say, Parvati, would you do a reading? Just to, you know, reassure me a bit?"

 

"About Smith?" Parvati's eyebrows arched upward. "He's hard to See sometimes."

 

"About the outcome of all of this. I'd do it myself but…" But she'd lost the knack for divination after Greyback's assault. Another side-effect, another disappointment, though Lavender hadn't complained. She knew the consequences could have been far worse. Far, far worse.

 

Parvati patted her hand. "Of course I will. I can't promise it'll be useful. I'll try."

 

Parvati flicked her wand again, more forcefully this time. The garments zoomed away, presumably back to her wardrobe, and with another swish of the wand, Parvati's deck of tarot cards flew into the room. Parvati caught the deck neatly in her hand.

 

"You've tried to do a reading about Smith before?" Lavender watched Parvati unwrap the scarf she kept tied around her deck, curious about her friend's answer.

 

"Mmmhmm." Parvati picked up the deck and began shuffling. "My dad asked me to."

 

She held the deck out for Lavender to cut. Lavender complied, observing, "He must have been desperate."

 

"Quite." Parvati closed her eyes, and Lavender knew better than to distract her with more questions. She waited patiently while Parvati focused her energy and laid the spread of cards across the coffee table.

 

"Just think about your question," Parvati murmured. She was in the zone.

 

Lavender thought her question as hard as she could, willing the cards to provide her an answer even if Smith was as ornery about being read as he was about everything else.

 

Parvati flipped over the first card.

~~~~~~~~~~.~~~~~~~~~~.~~~~~~~~~~

"Honestly, Smith, what is taking you so long?" Lavender called down the hall from the sitting room in Smith's flat, her foot already tapping.

 

Madame Malkin had delivered two sets of dress robes, identical but for the color. There was no reason they should take the amount of time Smith was taking to try them on to make certain they fit. The benefit was tomorrow, and if something was wrong, Lavender needed to know now so changes could be made in time. Smith lollygagging or admiring himself in the mirror or whatever was not helping matters.

 

"Hang on a tic!" he shouted back, and Lavender stamped her foot in frustration.

 

"No!" Oh, that felt good. No wonder Smith liked saying it so much.

 

"They can't possibly be this much trouble," she muttered to herself, and she took off decisively down the hall.

 

The flat was exactly what she'd expected, the front room full of mismatched furniture, the hallway filled with sport memorabilia, and the only personal photos were one of the Hufflepuffs from their year at school, and one Lavender presumed was of a young Smith with his parents and a dog. The smell of the sea wafting in through the windows was nice, but Lavender didn't have time to appreciate it.

 

The hallway was not terribly long, and Lavender reached the closed door at the end of it quickly. Without knocking, she pushed the door open. Privacy was now off the table.

 

Smith whirled away from her at the sudden intrusion, but not before she saw that in fifteen minutes all he'd managed to put on were the trousers. He was bare from the waist up. And even from behind, it was quite a view- the broad, tanned expanse of muscles that tapered into his waist. From what Lavender could see from the back view, as well, the trousers fit very nicely. Maybe a little too nicely for comfort. She swallowed rapidly, searching for her composure.

 

"Ah, you were… taking a long time, and I just wanted to see… um, what the problem was…" Her voice trailed off. Smith still had his back to her, which was just weird. It wasn't like he'd been starkers.

 

"I already tried the blue ones. I was switching to the gray." His voice was gruff, and muffled, since it was pointed towards the wall.

 

"You were supposed to come show me," Lavender said pointedly, her shock at seeing Smith's very nice back wearing off.

 

"They were fine." He still faced away.

 

This was ridiculous. Lavender wasn't going to be scandalized by the sight of a man's bare chest. She marched over to him, taking advantage of their height difference to slip under his arm, and planted herself in front of him.

 

"Why are you so bloody difficult?" she said, glaring upwards.

 

Smith stared down at her, his face stony. Then he suddenly pressed his mouth into a thin line, took a step back, and relaxed his rigid posture. He rolled his shoulders back, and pushed his hair over his shoulders, and stood there expectantly with his hands on his hips, as if waiting for some sort of reaction. It took Lavender a moment to give it to him. His physique was… well, it was fantastic. Like how she always pictured Vikings in the romances she sometimes read. He was tall and wide-shouldered, and his front was just as tan and muscular as his back. Maybe moreso, she thought, considering the definition in his abdomen. And then she saw his scars.

 

Four parallel lines, raked clearly through his stomach, starting just under his navel and curving up toward his ribcage. A ridged mark that could only have been caused by viciously sharp teeth marked him just below the rounded part of his shoulder on the opposite side. Lavender knew there was only one way to get scars like that, scars that St. Mungo's couldn't heal. Her hand fluttered up toward her neck, her fingers grazing the similar scars there, though hers were smaller in scale.

 

Unthinkingly, she moved toward Smith, her fingers spreading wide as they made contact with his flesh, gliding into the grooves etched into his skin. A hand far larger than hers had made these marks. She shuddered slightly, then looked up into Smith's face. He looked down at her with a serious expression, his face so cautious that her heart broke a little for him. Lavender knew how these marks made someone feel. She knew what they meant for the person who had them. Their conversation at Rare! was now thrown into sharp relief, as was Smith's prodigious appetite and his refusal to appear shirtless at Malkin's. His entire persona made a lot more sense now. He nodded slowly in answer to the question she couldn't quite bring herself to ask.

 

"Greyback," he said, almost a whisper.

 

Lavender's hand was still on his stomach, and it seemed very natural to slide it upward, to cup the back of his neck and to run her thumb along his jaw. It seemed natural to bring her other hand up to rest against his chest to feel the thumping of his heart. There were two of them now, two in the world who knew what this was like, and while Lavender supposed she could resent him for hiding all this time, she didn't want to. She wanted someone who would understand, even if he was the surliest, most aggravating person she knew. It was like the world as she knew it had changed in the most imperceptible but wonderful of ways. She wasn't alone after all. And oh, he was so very close to her now, his bare skin almost fiery under her fingertips. He would run hot. She did, too. She realized he was holding very still, letting her control the moment, and she was grateful, because it was a lot to suddenly take in. His breath had sped up. Lavender's thumb moved to brush over his lower lip. It was surprisingly soft. He pressed a gentle kiss to the pad of her thumb, and Lavender's own mouth opened into an 'o'.

 

She wanted to stay in this moment, staring into his eyes that looked like the sea, feeling him under her hands, feeling his heartbeat and his quickened breath, feeling the connection she hadn't known she'd been missing. But Lavender also knew that a moment couldn't last forever.

 

She kissed him, and the moment broke. She fit her mouth to his, and as if he'd only been waiting for permission, Smith took her mouth in a searing kiss that revealed the hunger he'd been keeping at bay in that still and magical moment. Lavender hadn't known a kiss could feel this way, like she wanted to both devour him alive and savor every moment simultaneously. Smith's hand tugged at her hair, and his teeth caught at her lower lip before his mouth dipped lower, his mouth trailing down her throat. Lavender let out a soft moan.

 

This was crazy. She didn't want it to stop. She pushed him away, but only so she could pull her blouse over her head and send it flying before laying her hands on him again, pulling him closer and fitting her mouth to his once more. He took the cue, one hand sliding up her bare back to unfasten her bra with a neat flick of his fingers. Smith slid the straps down her shoulders, and she let go of him only for the moment it took to remove the damned thing entirely. Then they were pressed together, bare chest to bare chest.

 

His hands cupped her arse, lifting her, moving her toward his bed. Lavender gladly helped, wrapping her legs around him and tightening her grip on his shoulders, and let him bear her downward when they hit edge of the mattress. Smith began to shuck off the dress trousers, and Lavender had enough presence of mind to breathlessly say, "Mind the robes!"

 

He took the trousers off more carefully, which Lavender regretted because he had to pull away and stand up to do it, but which she also enjoyed because it gave her a moment to really look at him. If he was attractive shirtless, he was divine completely bare, all taught golden skin stretched over a truly fit form. Smith spared a moment to send the trousers away to neatly hang themselves on their hanger, and then he returned to her, pulling her skirt off as he stretched himself out above her.

 

Smith's mouth was all over her. He ran his tongue over the scars on her neck, then over her breasts, before moving down her stomach and then lower. She gasped aloud when his tongue touched her most intimately, suckling and flicking and circling until she cried out, begging him take her, please, she wanted him inside of her so badly. And then he was; he filled her, thick and hard, and then he moved his hips and Lavender felt like she was going to burst into a million pieces, and she cried out again as an orgasm rocketed through her.

 

He let her calm a moment, then rolled so she was astride him. She looked down at him. His face was so handsome when it wasn't frowning, she thought, and she didn't mind his long hair when it was fanned out against the pillow like that. She leaned down, kissing him again. His tongue slid into her mouth and set her on fire again, and her hips began moving of their own accord.

 

After, she curled against his side, her hand meandering over his torso. "That was…" she paused, still short of breath, and not sure she had adequate words to describe what had just happened between them. "That was something else."

 

"Yeah," he murmured, pressing a kiss just below her ear. "Yeah, it was."

 

"Do you think it's because we're, you know. Alike?" Lavender pondered. Certainly she'd never experienced such instant intensity with any other partner.

 

Smith seemed to turn that over in his mind. "Maybe. You do smell fantastic."

 

He nuzzled her with the tip of his nose, furthering the point.

 

Lavender gave him a playful shove. "You're ridiculous." She settled back down, returning to her lazy exploration of him. "Which robes do you think you'll wear?"

 

"Oh, the grey ones, I think. If I have to."

 

"You're not getting out of going just because of all this." Lavender let her hand trail very low, being quite clear about what all this referred to.

 

"Fine." Smith grumbled, but there was no heat behind it. "But I'm not cutting my hair."

~~~~~~~~~~.~~~~~~~~~~.~~~~~~~~~~

Smith- no, Zach, Lavender reminded herself- Zach had not cut his hair for the St. Mungo's benefit, but he did cut a dashing figure in his bespoke robes, which were perfectly tailored for his tall, broad frame. In some form of compromise, his hair was tied neatly and severely back. Lavender would have died rather than admit to him that she sort of missed the errant pieces that always hung in his face. She thought they looked rather nice together, he in grey and she in the pale purple dress robes on loan from Parvati, charmed to fit her curves rather than Parvati's lithe figure. She caught Zach peering into her cleavage at one point, and though she directed his eyes upward, she'd smiled a little all the same.

 

It was odd, how she felt right at home with him, how being with him felt very matter of course, when a few days before she'd have scoffed at the thought.

 

They also made it through the night without major mishap. Zach would likely never be chatty, but he didn't tell anyone off and he didn't complain in anyone's hearing but hers. Baby steps, but Lavender was pleased. A night of phenomenal shagging had not blinded her to the fact that she still had a job to do. The League Christmas party was still a ways off, and anything could happen. She figured she mustn't let Zach think she'd gone soft just because he made her toes curl with pleasure and she couldn't wait to strip him back out of those dashing dress robes.

 

Evidently she was not the only person who thought so. Near the end of the evening, Parvati cornered Lavender in the washroom.

 

"You seem to be working miracles," Parvati said, as she checked her lipstick in the mirror.

 

"Hmmm?" Lavender said, absorbed in her own reflection, fixing a curl that had gone astray.

 

"You, with Smith. Just the other night you were despairing." Parvati tucked her lipstick back into a little beaded handbag and turned to face Lavender, narrowing her big brown eyes to look at Lavender critically. After a moment, her eyes widened, and she gave a knowing gasp. "You're sleeping with him, aren't you?"

 

That got Lavender's attention. "What? No!" Parvati's gaze was unwavering. "Alright, fine. Yes. But just once. So far." She swiveled towards Parvati. "And don't Read me. It's not nice. I'm your best friend."

 

"My best friend who is shagging my father's Quidditch star whom she is supposed to be whipping into shape and who didn't tell me so!" Parvati was good at pretending to be indignant, but Lavender knew better. The only part of any of that which likely bothered Parvati was that Lavender hadn't rung her immediately with the juicy details. Sure enough, her best mate's pragmatism revealed itself in short order. "Whatever works, I suppose. Good sex will make a man do things he thought he wouldn't."

 

"Parvati!"

 

"What? You know it's true." Parvati gave an elegant shrug, and turned to check her face over one more time. "Just don't let it trip you up. He still needs to be presentable and well behaved at the League holiday party."

 

"He will be," Lavender said. She wasn't about to admit her earlier misgivings to Parvati now.

 

"I hope so." Parvati turned away from the mirror again, and reached out to pat Lavender's hand. "And I didn't need to Read you, you know. You're practically glowing. Is it that good?"

 

Lavender flushed, then offered Parvati a sly smile. "It really is."

 

Lavender left the loo to go find Zach. She thought they'd done rather enough for one evening, and the talk with Parvati had only made her more eager to get him home. She took him side-along to her flat, which was in London unlike his, which was much further south. Lavender also didn't to risk a splinching because she was distracted by his nearness, and apparating to her own flat didn't require much concentration, she'd done it so many times.

 

They landed square in her sitting room, which Lavender had the foresight to tidy up before leaving for the benefit. She wasted no time in twining her arms about Zach's neck and fitting her mouth to his. When she finally came up for air, she found him grinning down at her. It was an honest-to-god smile, so wide it crinkled the corners of his eyes. It was a rarity, and Lavender was so happy to see it. Zach had a lovely smile.

 

"What was that for?" he asked, his hands inching down her back toward her bum.

 

"Because you did wonderfully tonight," she answered pertly. "Of course, you could have been a bit more friendly- we'll have to work on initiating conversations before the Ministry do next weekend, but that shouldn't be too difficult. Overall, though, I'm very happy with this evening."

 

Zach had gone rather still, and Lavender was quite sorry to notice that his smile had disappeared.

 

"Did I say something wrong? I'm not trying to be overly critical; it's only that Mr Patil-"

 

"Rewind a bit," Zach interrupted. "What do you mean by 'the Ministry do next weekend'?"

 

"I mean the Ministry party they have every year, when they light the big tree in the atrium and throw a bone to the Jewish witches and wizards and light the menorahs as well, which they never did until Tony Goldstein started working in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office and pointed out that they weren't being inclusive, which is I think is rather good of him, honestly-"

 

She found herself stopped again, this time by Zach's finger laid across her lips, effectively shushing her. Lavender supposed she had been babbling a bit. His swift change of mood had made her nervous.

 

"Next weekend, though?" The look he gave her suggested that she'd said the most preposterous thing he'd ever heard.

 

"What's wrong with next weekend? Too soon?" Lavender felt thoroughly confused.

 

In a tone that Lavender had previously thought was reserved for toddlers and imbeciles, Zach said very slowly, "Next weekend is the full moon, Lavender."

 

She relaxed, releasing a relieved laugh. "Oh, that." She reached up, brushing a bit of lint from his breast pocket. "That's no big deal. So we'll be a little tetchier. I'll make sure we eat some really enormous steaks before we go."

 

Zach grabbed her hand, forcing it to be still, and looked down at her with his eyebrows knit together, frowning more deeply than she'd imagined possible.

 

"Tetchier?" He laughed as well, though his sounded much more hollow than hers had. "No, not tetchier. Try hairier. Toothier. Howling at the moon-ier. I dunno what you're doing, but I'll be spending next Saturday evening chained up in my grandfather's crypt."

 

Lavender didn't want to understand him anymore. With a sinking feeling deep in her stomach, she wanted this conversation to never have happened.

 

"Are you saying you…" She felt a little faint, and her voice was barely above a whisper. "Are you saying you change? Into a wolf?"

 

He dropped her hand and took a step back. "It's sort of part and parcel with the whole being a werewolf thing." A look of horror crossed his face. "Are you saying you don't?"

 

The blood rushed back to her head. Her cheeks felt hot. She thought she might start crying but she hoped desperately that she wouldn't. "No! Of course I don't! Would I be planning for us to attend a party if I had a tendency to turn into a ravening beast when the moon was full?"

 

Zach's face became unreadable. Oh, blast it, she'd hurt him. This was shocking news, and it was even more shocking that he'd assumed she knew, and that he'd thought she knew because he'd thought she was a werewolf, too. It was bad enough what legacy Greyback had left her with his bite- the cravings, the mood swings, the constantly feeling warm, the heightened sense of smell. She understood now why Zach had gone to great lengths to hide that he'd been attacked. It wasn't just the rumor mill he was hiding from. If the world knew that Greyback had turned him, he'd lose everything. His Quidditch career would be over. Lavender had suffered enough just for being assaulted by a werewolf, just for the guilt by association. She couldn't imagine actually shifting once a month, to lose all sense of herself and to live as an animal. The very idea revolted her. And from the way Zach stepped back from her again, she knew that revulsion had shown on her face.

 

"I thought you'd simply lost track of the calendar." His voice was tightly controlled. Lavender stepped toward him, meaning to try to smooth things over, but he stepped back again, his calves bumping against her sofa.

 

"Zach, you never told me," she said. "I didn't know. I thought you were like me, and you didn't do anything to correct that impression!"

 

Lavender was beginning to feel angry. He'd misled her, and now he was getting self-righteous. How should she have known?

 

"And how was I supposed to know that you had that impression? I thought you were like me. You didn't tell me you didn't turn! You walk around with your scars on display! I thought you were being brave, letting the world know what you were! How?" His voice was getting louder. "How did you get clawed up by him and not turn? Why am I the only one like this?"

 

Lavender shrugged helplessly, and couldn't help wondering why she was being blamed for not turning into a werewolf. "It wasn't as though I had any choice in the matter! I'd rather have not been 'clawed up' in the first place!"

 

"Yeah, me too!" Zach roared. He seemed to realize he'd lost his temper, because he paused and took a deep, rattling breath. He looked wildly around the room, and Lavender realized he was looking for a way out. "I just feel really fucking stupid right now."

 

He started to draw his wand.

 

"Zach, wait! Let's talk, okay? We can figure this out."

 

Lavender was still upset, but she didn't want him to go. His revelation was disturbing, but it didn't change how good it had felt being with him, and deep down she knew he hadn't deliberately lied to her. They'd gotten their signals crossed, and good, but it couldn't be insurmountable.

 

Zach shook his head, looking far too weary for his twenty-six years. Lavender could see just how very disappointed he was.

 

"Zach?"

 

"I need to go." He gave his wand a swish, disapparating from the room.

~~~~~~~~~~.~~~~~~~~~~.~~~~~~~~~~

Lavender had never chased a man so hard. Then again, she'd never had two hundred thousand Galleons on the line before.

 

Zach had completely shut her out. He still went to Quidditch practice, but the practices were closed and he arrived and left via the team changing room. Lavender tried going to his flat, but he didn't seem to be staying there. Her owls came back unopened, her floo access had been cut off. To be fair, Lavender suspected he'd cut everyone off from floo access, not just her, but it still stung. She wondered if he thought she would out him. He had to know her better than that, didn't he? But they'd really only known each other a few weeks. The intensity of their physical connection had just made the relationship feel more meaningful than that. And as Lavender desperately tried to find a way to get through to him, she began to realize she didn't know him very well at all.

 

She didn't know what he did for fun, besides Quidditch. She didn't know who his friends were, if he had any. She didn't even know which pub he frequented. Their entire time spent together had focused on the changes she'd been trying to help him make. She knew what size shoe he wore and how he ordered his steak, but she didn't know anything that would help her make Zacharias Smith talk to her before she had to confess to Mr Patil that the entire endeavor had gone arse over teakettle.

 

Worst of all, Lavender couldn't even confide in Parvati. Aside from not wanting to put Parvati in a position of choosing between her best friend and her father, there was no way Lavender could tell Parvati the truth- and Lavender had never been able to lie to her convincingly. She always ended up spilling her guts. And she couldn't do that, because she couldn't betray Zach that way, even if he was being a huge pain in her arse.

 

All Lavender had to go on was Zach's offhand comment that he'd be spending Saturday night chained up in his grandfather's crypt. She turned her efforts to finding out who his grandfather was, and where his grandfather's crypt was. She called in a favor with Hermione Granger, who worked at the Ministry and owed her one for doing her hair and make-up for Neville Longbottom's wedding to Hannah Abbot. Hermione dug up Smith's family information, and Lavender promised to have coffee with her and tell her why (as soon as she had time to come up with a plausible reason that was not the truth). Smith's paternal grandfather was a Muggle who'd worked in an office, died shortly after Zach was born, and was buried in a family plot in Wittersham. He didn't seem a likely candidate to have a family crypt. Zach's maternal grandfather seemed the more probably suspect- he was a pureblood wizard, family chock-full of history that stretched back before the Ministry started keeping track of such things. He was called Locryn Teague, was still alive, and had property on Bodmin Moor, just outside of St Breward. Lavender sent in regrets for the tree-and-menorah lighting at the Ministry for both Zach and herself, and planned on spending Saturday night in Cornwall, hunting a werewolf.

 

Teague's property turned out to be enormous, once Lavender was able to locate it. The land was of course warded with anti-Muggle spells similar to Hogwarts, and was layered with Confundus spells to keep unwelcome visitors away. She supposed she should be glad it wasn't unplottable. By the time Lavender managed to actually find the house- which was stately enough that it gave Malfoy manor a run for its money- darkness was falling. The full moon was rising in the sky. She decided to bypass the house and head straight for the family cemetery, fighting off immense trepidation.

 

She arrived among the old headstones and statues at a run, only to see Zach's tall form making its way into a large open crypt. She tried to catch him, yelling out his name, but his golden head disappeared inside before she could get there. Lavender stood outside the crypt, indecisive.

 

Now was probably not the best time for a heart-to-heart. Zach's change was imminent; his shift could begin at any moment. He was also likely to be in a rotten mood, in addition to being in a hurry. It was probably better to wait until sunrise. Lavender also realized that if she left the Teague lands, she'd probably never find her way back again without help. She didn't want to chance it. It looked like she'd be camping out for the night. With a sigh, she cast a cushioning charm on the ground near the entrance of the crypt, and cast a warming charm in a bubble around herself. It was going to be a long night.

 

It was also a terrifying night. Lavender first heard the muffled sounds coming from the crypt about thirty minutes later, when the moon hung fully in the sky. She could hear bones cracking, and Zach's groans of pain. It went on for what felt like an unbearably long time, and it culminated in a long, mournful howl that sent Lavender's blood running cold. She heard that howl several times in the night, as well as the frantic clanking as Zach must have been fighting against the chains that confined him, and the scratching of claws on stone as he scrabbled in vain to escape.

 

Lavender felt awful for Zach. He went through this monthly, and had for a long time. She saw now how happy he must have been to believe that someone else knew what it was like, and how devastating it must have been to learn that he'd misunderstood her. She hoped that when the night was over, she could explain to him that even though she might not shift at the full moon, she was there for him- and that he needed to be there for himself at the League holiday party. Well, and for her, too. She might care about him but she still wanted the other half of her pay. She hadn't completely lost her mind, even if she was contemplating a relationship with a werewolf.

 

She tried to sleep a little, but to no avail. The sounds coming from the crypt made her too tense. She tried to read an old issue of Witch Weekly she had in her handbag, but she couldn't focus on the articles. She tried reciting everything she remembered from History of Magic class, but that only took a few minutes. Finally she gave up, and spent the remainder of the night trying to think about anything other than what was going on down in the crypt.

 

The sun rose, eventually, splashing the sky with streaks of pink and orange.

 

"Excuse me, missy."

 

Lavender nearly jumped out of her skin.

 

A house elf stood next to her, wearing a flowered pillowcase and holding a canvas bag. "Lolly is sorry she frightened you, missy! Lolly thought missy might want to take this to Master Zacharias." The elf held the bag out to Lavender. "Since missy has been sitting here all night long."

 

"I'm Lavender," she said, taking the bag. "What's in here?"

 

"Oh, this is Master Zacharias' wand and some clothes and the key for his manacles," the elf explained. "Lolly is not supposed to talk about this with strangers, but Lolly thinks Missy Lavender already knows. "

 

Lavender nodded slowly, tired and feeling entirely surreal. "I do, Lolly. Were you down there last night?"

 

"Oh, yes! Only until Master Zacharias is locked up tight and I does all the spells, too. Then Lolly apparates out, back to the big house." The elf pointed over her shoulder at the manor looming in the background. "But I don't apparate back in, no. No telling what's happening down there in the night. Lolly likes to make sure it's safe and sound before going inside!"

 

"I certainly don't blame you," Lavender said, getting to her feet, her knees feeling creaky and her back protesting from spending the whole night seated. "I'll take this down to Zach, Lolly. Thank you."

 

"It was nice meeting you, Missy Lavender. Lolly is glad Master Zacharias has a nice friend."

 

The elf snapped her long spindly fingers and vanished.

 

Lavender gave a final stretch, then warily made her way into the Teague family crypt. It was every bit as unpleasant as one would assume a crypt would be, dark and dank and smelling of wet stone and what Lavender imagined was ancient bones. She steeled herself to continue down the stairs, casting a soft Lumos spell as it got progressively darker.

 

"Quit pussy-footing, Lolly. I'm cold and I'm hungry." Zach's voice was hoarse, as if his human vocal cords were paying the price for all the howling and growling the wolf had done during the night hours.

 

"Um. Not Lolly, I'm afraid."

 

Lavender found Zach in a small room just beyond the foot of stairs. His large frame was huddled up against a wall; he was naked, and his long hair hung in his face. He looked up as she walked in, clutching the canvas bag to her chest, his face registering surprise. There were dark circles under his eyes, and he looked utterly exhausted.

 

"Lavender?"

 

"Oh, Zach."

 

She hurried over, kneeling on the floor next to him. She fished the key out of the bag, and after whispering the words to undo the restraining spells, physically unlocked the padlocks that kept his body chained. The chains fell away, and Zach gingerly uncurled himself from his balled up position. Lavender gave him the bag, and with his teeth gritted so he wouldn't groan, Zach took out a pair of sweatpants and carefully pulled them on. Lavender couldn't stand watching him struggle, and though he protested, she helped him into the henley shirt that was also in the bag and handed him his wand, which he slid into the pocket of his sweatpants.

 

"Do you want a pain spell?" Lavender asked quietly.

 

"That'd be swell."

 

Lavender wasn't sure how to read his mood, but chalked it up the fact that he was sore and tired and likely starving. She cast the spell, and she could see his face lose some of its pinched look.

 

"Thanks," he said, grudgingly. He folded his arms over his chest and looked at her. "So what're you doing here?"

 

Lavender gently pulled his arms away from his chest, and put her hands there instead. "I'll be here every month, if you want me to." She kept her gaze steady, her eyes not moving from his. "I may not go through the full moon in exactly the same way you do, but I'm here for you. You are not alone."

 

He said nothing for a long time, and Lavender was sure he was about to reject her. But then his arms wrapped around her.

 

"Thanks," he said again. This time his voice was soft. He looked at her like she was a revelation, and Lavender fought the urge to blush. She was so not good at the mushy stuff.

 

"Zach, I-"

 

The moment was ruined when his stomach gave a loud rumble.

 

"You're starving." Lavender's stomach rumbled, too. "And so am I."

 

"Lolly should have breakfast ready. Are you up to taking me side-along? I don't apparate so well after a full moon."

 

Lavender slipped her arms around his shoulders, stretching up to lightly kiss his mouth. "I'm up for anything."

 

Zach arched an eyebrow. "Breakfast first. Then maybe a hot bath and a nap. And then we'll see what you're up for."

 

It all sounded just fine to Lavender.

 

They landed in the manor's expansive kitchen, where a large table was indeed heaped with breakfast- enough for a ravenous werewolf, with maybe a little extra for a slightly less ravenous, slightly irregular human with werewolf tendencies. Lavender's mouth fell open. She might have been salivating a bit. Zach immediately dug in, and for once Lavender didn't chide him about his manners. In fact, she joined him with gusto.

 

Once she'd eaten enough to satisfy the clamoring in her stomach, Lavender decided she was fortified enough to broach a sensitive subject.

 

"So, I took the liberty of charting the moon for the next month or so."

 

"Oh yeah?" Zach said, around a mouthful of ham.

 

"And the next full moon is the weekend before the League Christmas party. So I'm afraid that although this was a pretty good excuse for missing the Ministry function, you've no means of begging off that one. Sorry," she said, grinning in a way that made it clear she was not sorry at all. "Really, the lengths you'll go to in order to avoid a party are truly impressive."

 

Zach growled lightly, pulling Lavender toward him. She released a peal of laughter, finding it hard to believe how worried and anxious she'd been just a few hours before.

 

"You really sure you're alright with all of this?" His brow knit, showing his worry. Lavender resisted the urge to reach up and smooth it out like a wrinkle in a bedsheet.

 

"I am. Zach, I've spent the last nine years feeling so isolated. I have friends- I have Parvati, and Hermione, and Neville- but none of them know what it feels like to go through an attack that leaves you fundamentally changed. I don't shift every month like you do, no. But I shifted forever the day that I got these." She touched her scars. "And life was hard. No one quite trusted that I safe to employ, people would whisper about me when I walked into a room. My friends were sympathetic, but I don't think they really understood. I don't think they understood what it was to change." She searched his eyes, and saw empathy in their stormy depths. "I know you do. So while we may not be exactly alike, I feel the same way I did when I saw your marks- there's two of us now." She took a deep breath, and plunged ahead. "When you were being so difficult about, well, everything, I asked Parvati to do a tarot reading for me. She said you were hard to Read, and I know why now, but she did see one thing. She saw change. I thought, after we shagged, that it was the change in our relationship. But now I think it was something else. I think it was that change is the thing we have in common. It's what binds us. So yeah, Zach, I'm alright. I'm more than alright. I'm ready."

 

It was a lot, but Lavender had been unable to keep the words from tumbling out of her mouth. Zach looked at her very seriously. He reached out to snag piece of bacon, which he popped into his mouth in one bite. He swallowed. He looked at her some more.

 

Exasperated, Lavender put her hands on her hips. "Well?"

 

Slowly, Zach smiled again- that wonderful open smile she'd gotten a glimpse of before everything had gone sideways between them. "Well." He reached for her hands, pulling them from her hips and urging her close once more. "I think you talk too much. But I still want you around. On the full moon and on the nights in between, too."

 

"Hmmphh," Lavender sniffed, but she let him lean in and press a kiss to her neck. "Now, about that hot bath?"

 

Zach laughed, then scooped her up and carried her upstairs.

~~~~~~~~~~.~~~~~~~~~~.~~~~~~~~~~

"You're sure it looks nice?" Zach's voice was doubtful.

 

Lavender, on the other hand, was simply trying to overcome being stunned. After weeks of No, Zach had finally said yes. She'd taken shameless advantage of post-coital bliss, once they were on the waning side of the full moon, but she'd still been shocked when, two days before the League Christmas party, Zach agreed to a haircut. Not shocked enough that she didn't hold him to his promise, of course.

 

She'd marched him to Eloise Midgen's salon as soon as they'd been up and dressed the next morning, before Zach could change his mind or put up too much of a fuss. Lavender had almost regretted her cajoling, when Eloise- who had been thrilled to see Zach, which might have surprised Lavender a month ago, but not any longer- unbound his hair and let it loose around his shoulders. Lavender had never gotten accustomed to seeing it like that, no matter how many times she spent the night and saw it out of its customary knot. It wasn't fair that men could grow a head of hair like that while she relied on dye potions and styling spells to get hers to look halfway decent. But his golden mane had been shorn all the same, the strands falling to the floor for the elves to sweep away.

 

He'd ended up with the sort of cut that was easily maintained, and looked effortlessly careless. Eloise had clipped him close around the sides and the back, but left him with a little length at the top, which fell rakishly to one side. Lavender had anticipated a total unwillingness to use any sort of hair product on Zach's part.

 

"I think it looks better than nice. I think you look incredibly handsome."

 

Lavender managed to stop short of fanning herself. Zach was ordinarily very sexy to her, now that she knew what lurked behind his rough exterior. But the haircut was putting her over the top.

 

Zach still looked doubtful. He reached up to run his fingers through the newly shorter strands of hair that fell across his forehead.

 

"I feel like a wolf in sheep's clothing."

 

It struck her that he'd been wearing something of a hair shirt all these years, letting his outside reflect the turmoil he felt inside, and his guilt for the self he kept hidden from the world. She felt a pang in her heart for him, and Lavender gave his arm a squeeze, stretching on her tiptoes so she could whisper in his ear. "Luckily you have me here to help keep that wolf at bay."

 

"I don't think I'll ever be an actual sheep," Zach grumbled.

 

"Goodness, I hope not." Lavender shook her head at the thought. "But you might be a Quidditch captain. We might have pulled it off."

 

"Just the League party to get through, yeah?" Zach looked relieved.

 

"Yes, although that doesn't mean you can completely revert to the way you were before I got my hands on you, once you get that C pinned on your uniform. You have to continue to represent the Falmouth Falcons in a manner befitting such a prestigious team with such a noble history."

 

They finished that last sentence in unison, quoting Parvati's father word for word.

 

Zach sighed. "Maybe we can slow down the social whirlwind a little?"

 

"A little." Lavender held up her thumb and pointer finger, a hair's breadth apart, demonstratively.

 

Zach scrunched up his face, looked in the mirror again, and shrugged. "Fine. As long as you're with me."

 

Lavender kissed his cheek. "I told you, I'm not going anywhere." She paused. "Except to lunch at Rare!"

 

Zach perked up. "I am one hundred percent on board with that."

~~~~~~~~~~.~~~~~~~~~~.~~~~~~~~~~

Cameras flashed, nearly blinding Lavender, as she and Zach walked into the British Quidditch League headquarters, which had been transformed for the night into a space worthy of a gala. She didn't blame the reporters for wanting to catch Zach on film. He looked every inch the captain of the Falmouth Falcons- which he would be, if things went well tonight.

 

Zach was wearing yet another set of bespoke robes from Madame Malkin, this time in formal black tie. He'd allowed her to style his freshly-cut hair (though he'd warned her not to get used to it). Lavender was, for the first time, wearing robes that had not been borrowed from Parvati. Feeling confident, she'd invested some of her funds from the Patils' initial payment into a custom-made dress of her own. It was red satin, in keeping with the spirit of the holiday, and it hugged her generous curves perfectly. She definitely felt like she and Zach made an attractive pair, if she did say so herself.

 

Although she hoped the social columns would say so, too, come tomorrow morning.

 

Zach's comportment was impeccable throughout the night. Lavender could not be prouder of him. He smiled. He answered questions from the press in a friendly fashion. He made small talk with the right people- representatives from the League, other players, the head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports. And he danced with her, when he could get away from all that, moving with an athlete's natural grace and with skill that did not surprise her at all, now that she knew more about his family. Beyond feeling relieved that she'd done her job "to completion", Lavender was so pleased for Zach, who seemed more comfortable in his own skin than she'd seen him since the outset of this endeavor.

 

At the end of the night, he leaned against her on the dainty loveseat they'd managed to lay claim to. "That," he said, "was exhausting."

 

"But worth it," Lavender murmured, moving her eyes purposefully so he'd follow their direction.

 

Parvati and her father were bearing down on them. Zach leapt to his feet, and though she was tired, too, Lavender stood as well, lacing her hand with his, giving him a squeeze to show her support.

 

"Mr Smith, Miss Brown," Mr Patil said, smiling magnanimously at them.

 

Behind his back, Parvati gave Lavender an exaggerated thumbs up. Lavender squeezed Zach's hand again.

 

"Mr Smith, you did the Falmouth Falcons incredibly proud tonight. I am very pleased."

 

Zach inclined his head graciously. "Thank you, sir."

 

"Would you come by my office next Monday? I would like to discuss your future with the team."

 

"Absolutely. Yes. Thank you."

 

"Thank Miss Brown." Mr Patil shot Lavender a knowing look. Lavender had made his acquaintance when she was eleven, after all, and he knew her nearly as well as her own father. "I believe she has put in a tremendous effort."

 

"If Zach hadn't been willing, none of my bossiness would have mattered," she pointed out. "He's a good man, Mr Patil. You won't regret any decisions you make about him for the team."

 

This time it was Zach squeezing Lavender's hand.

 

"Yes, well." Mr Patil looked back and forth between the two of them. "I think you may be right, Lavender. Happy Christmas."

 

With a nod, Mr Patil turned to go. Parvati leaned in for a quick hug and cheek kiss, and promised to ring her tomorrow.

 

Once they were gone, Lavender whirled to face Zach, making a noise of delight. "Congratulations, Zach! This must be a wonderful Christmas present!"

 

"It is, yeah. But my best Christmas present this year is you, Lavender." He pulled her in, bending to kiss her mouth with the same hunger as always, a hunger that never seemed to fade no matter how many times they kissed. "I love you, Lavender Brown. You're demanding, and pushy, and you made me cut my hair. And you're kind, and you're sexy as hell, and you're the other half of me."

 

Lavender was, for once, at a loss for words. Zach seemed to understand. He usually did.

 

He stole her words. "There's two of us, now."

 

Finally she managed to speak. "I love you, too, Zacharias Smith."

 

A flashbulb popped, and Lavender felt a growl begin to rumble in Zach's chest. She laughed, reaching up to lay her hand on his cheek, keeping his attention focused on her. "Don't you mind them."

 

She kissed him, firmly and soundly and without a care for the press snapping photos of them together. Somehow, she didn't think the Falcons would mind this type of publicity.

~.~Fin~.~