“This is a piss poor idea, Ron,” Harry said doubtfully, as they stood contemplating The Burrow in the distance.
They had apparated just beyond the wards the Weasleys decided to leave up long after the war ended, and seconds after landing on a heather-covered hilltop Ron started loping down towards his parents’ home. When he realized Harry still stood at the top, shoulders hunched and his hands jammed in his pockets, he reluctantly turned back.
“You know they know we’re here, mate,” Ron told him. “Any minute now my Dad’s going to come out the back door to see what exactly it is we’re doing.”
Harry broke his eyes away from the house below to stare in roughly the direction where London lay.
“We could still apparate away. Go to Grimmauld Place instead,” Harry proposed; he remained facing away, not allowing Ron to read him.
“We talked about this and I thought we agreed. I want a home cooked meal after being out in the field for the past four months. If you want to go to Grimmauld and eat a tin of beans, then bloody well do it.” With that, Ron determinedly strode away.
Harry sighed, feeling resigned, and followed the redhead.
The men felt the wards wash over them as they passed through, accepting their presence. Harry didn’t miss the barely discernable hesitation in Ron’s step. So, his friend was worried about his welcome after all. Yet, the wards were still set to allow Harry in, so that meant something.
Arthur Weasley opened the back door at the same time Ron opened the rear gate. Harry couldn’t help a nostalgic ghost of a grin from flitting across his face as he watched a dozen gnomes scurry away to the bushes.
“Ron, Harry,” Arthur greeted the men as he walked towards them, meeting them halfway across the yard. He held out his hand to shake theirs, with a smile on his face that did not make it to his eyes.
Out of the corner of his eye Harry watched Ron shift a fraction. Harry’s eyes darted towards the house and he noted a curtain flutter back into place.
“We weren’t expecting you,” the elder man was speaking again, either ignorant of the unease he was creating, or attempting to gloss over it. “But there is always plenty of food; I just won’t have leftovers to take to work tomorrow. Molly is whipping up a treacle tart for pudding as we speak.”
Arthur turned back towards the house, adding over his shoulder as a seemingly afterthought, “Ginny’s here too.”
Harry knew he would see Ginny again eventually. They managed to go eight months without crossing paths. He would never admit to avoiding her, but the few weeks when he wasn’t gone on assignment, he had spent his evenings and weekends reading in the Black family library.
Ron was constantly off again, on again with Lavender (currently off). Could constant unpredictability be defined as predictable? Either way, Harry learned not to count on seeing Ron around their shared townhouse. Hermione stopped in occasionally to accuse him of isolating himself, and each time he attempted to distract her with some fresh archaic bit of info he gleaned from an ancient text. She pretended not to notice his verbal diversions and allowed him to show off his growing knowledge.
“You’ve become quite the catch,” Hermione told him with a contemplative look on one of those nights.
“What?” He couldn’t help the way it spluttered out as his eyes widened.
“No, it’s true. And not because you’re the Man Who Lived.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “You’ve been single long enough to make yourself mysterious,” she began, ticking off each item on her fingers as she added to the list. “You’ve a wicked sense of humor. You’re financially stable. You have become surprisingly well-read. And I have to admit that you are fit,” she concluded as her eyes flit down his body.
He raised an eyebrow at her. “Does Theo need to be worried?”
“Gross!” she gagged, shuddering at the thought. “Not that you actually asked, but things are going very well with Theo, thank you.”
“Cheers.” He saluted her, picking up the crystal glass of Firewhisky sitting on the end table beside his chair.
She returned the salutation silently with her amber liquid-filled glass.
“So,” she began, “I was thinking…”
“Sod off,” he cut her off.
“But I know someone,” she tried again.
“No.” He cut her off again.
“Theo thought we could-”
“I need the bollocks to see Ginny first - get some closure,” he interrupted her with an air of finality.
Harry’s bollocks seemed to be pulled up fairly tight at the moment, as he walked through the Burrow’s back door, but maybe he could walk back out with the closure he had mentioned to Hermione weeks ago.
Molly Weasley turned from the sink to eye the two visitors. Ron stepped towards her with a grin, holding out his arms. “Mum!” He sounded happy as he pulled her into a hug.
Molly stood holding a dish towel in one hand and a whisk in the other. She didn’t bother putting the items down to return the embrace, but instead stood stiffly, tolerating the hug. Her eyes bore into Harry’s over Ron’s shoulder.
When Ron stepped back, Molly’s eyes darted to her son’s face and she attempted a smile. It reminded Harry more of a grimace.
“It smells delicious in here. Is it a roast? I’ve been dreaming about your cooking for weeks.” Ron paused to take a deep breath full of the heady scents. “And Dad said you decided to add on a treacle tart. Harry’s favorite!”
Molly suddenly snapped out of whatever it was and turned back to the dark-haired wizard with a strange smile Harry had never seen before.
“I made it just for you, Harry,” she told him.
Arthur cleared his throat, “Do you two need to wash up before dinner?”
Harry said he would use the upstairs loo, while Ron went to the one just down the hall.
“Psst,” whispered a voice before he could shut the bathroom door.
He turned to focus on where it came from – Ginny’s room. He paused, waiting to see if there would be more, or if maybe he had imagined it.
Her door stood open a crack and he felt himself inexplicably drawn towards the darkness beyond. The bathroom was forgotten as he moved in the direction of Ginny’s room.
“Gin?” he called out softly, subconsciously matching the timbre of voice she had used to catch his attention.
“Get over here, Harry,” she answered, pulling the door open wider without revealing herself. She still spoke quietly and didn’t bother with a Lumos to create a more welcoming situation.
Harry faced down Dark Wizards nearly every day, the same job he had been doing for years, but Ginny was something else. He should be classified as insane after this encounter.
Yet here he stood, hand on her doorknob, ready to push the door wide open.
“No! Stop!” her voice called out sharply. He did, and nearly reacted by jumping back while simultaneously pulling his wand. Instead, he merely let his hand drop from her doorknob.
He stood there, waiting for her next move.
“You can’t come in. There’s a spell on my room. Mum or Dad, or maybe both, get an alert if anyone besides me enters or exits my room. You shouldn’t have come here, Harry.”
“I know, I told Ron the same thing, yet, I just thought that we - you and I - could talk, get some closure. I wanted to make sure you were okay. I know you may not believe this, but I’ve been worried.” He was rambling.
“Look Harry,” came her muffled voice through the door. “I’m fine, really, I am. It isn’t me you have to worry about. You should leave.”
“You aren’t fine if your parents are monitoring your room.”
Ginny finally pulled the door open and stepped out into the light. She looked good. Really good. Fit and tan. Her hair was cut short, almost like a boy. Harry already knew this; he’d seen her picture in the Quidditch pages. But after what she had just said, he’d been expecting her appearance to be altered, and he was caught off guard. She gave him a wry smile.
“I’m not a prisoner or whatever it is your imagination was cooking up, Harry,” she said. “I just may have done a few wild things after our break. Things my parents would never approve of. Nothing to worry about.”
Harry remained skeptical.
“I meant what I said, Harry,” she continued quietly. “Go downstairs and make an excuse to leave. Don’t eat dinner with us. Don’t eat or drink anything here. I know Mum blames you for my actions and choices over the past year. I’m not sure what Dad believes. Either way, he’s never been good at standing up to her.”
Harry scoffed. Did Ginny really believe her Mum would poison him?
It started seeming a possibility when Ron chucked the treacle tart out the kitchen window into the backyard amidst an epic row full of shouted accusations between Ginny and Molly.
It moved into the realm of reality when Harry decided to take a stroll in the garden, leaving the family to work out their issues, and found a gnome lying dead in the grass, the remnants of the tart next to him. Before he could get to the poor creature, a raven swooped in. Not wanting to lose the evidence, Harry pulled his wand from its holster and shot a curse at the bird. He gathered up the gnome and raven.
When he returned inside, Ron sat staring down at a piece of parchment, taking Ginny’s statement while their parents lay on the floor bound by an Incarcerous and rendered mute with a Silencio .
“I sent a Patronus to Robards, asking him to send out another team to take over for us” Ron said in a detached manner, neither looking up at Harry nor over his parents. “We shouldn’t be heading up an investigation where we are also the victims.”
Harry nodded, not really thinking about the fact that Ron may not see it. Ron kept up with scribbling on the parchment on front of him - no acknowledgement of his factual statement was required of Harry. Harry watched Ron’s hand skate back and forth as he wrote, his grip upon the quill white-knuckled. The silence around them would have been deafening without the scratching of the quill and the rustle of the parchment as pages were flipped.
When Robards himself stepped through the floo with Dean Thomas in tow, Harry breathed a sigh of relief.
“Bloody hell. How can Robards send us right back out after that shite?” Ron paced Harry’s bedroom at Grimmauld as the dark-haired wizard emptied his travelling case and refilled it with clean clothes and fresh toiletries. Ron’s room was down the hall and his newly packed case sat in it waiting to be grabbed.
Upon assessing the situation at The Burrow, their superior officer told them to go home for two hours, do whatever they needed to do in order to be ready for a new field mission lasting an indeterminate amount of time, and then report back into the Ministry.
“Those were my fucking parents, Harry. My parents!” Ron yelled, raking a hand through his hair.
Harry didn’t know what to say; the response which came out of his mouth was, “Ginny saved my life.”
“My Mum’s always been a little, well, volatile…” Ron’s voice trailed off as both of his hands now found their way into his hair; fingers gripping and massaging his scalp roughly. “But Dad, he always reined her in. Well, except for when it came to the Muggle stuff. Then it was her job to be the voice of reason. What the hell happened to them, Harry?”
“I don’t know mate. What did Ginny tell you?”
“Not much. Dad sometimes came to her matches, but she didn’t think Mum left the house anymore. In retrospect, she guessed Mum hadn’t in a couple of years. It started before you broke things off with my sister, but it got exponentially worse after. Ginny thinks it may have something to do with Mum feeling a lack of control. I don’t know.” Ron finally stopped pacing and looked at Harry with bloodshot eyes.
“Right. I’m all packed,” Harry said, flicking his wand to shut the case and send it to sit outside the bedroom door. “Think we could get away with throwing back a shot or two of Scotch before we go in?”
“Breath freshening charm should do the trick,” Ron answered, leading the way down to the study.
Thirty minutes later they stood in their office, reviewing their new assignment.
Twenty minutes after the briefing, they held on tight to a portkey, and strangely enough, a sack containing the raven Harry had killed earlier. The Ministry didn’t need it for evidence in addition to the tart sample they’d gathered along with the gnome corpse; they told him to dispose of the bird.
“You can’t make this shite up,” Ron said, his eyes sweeping the room to take in the twelve dead witches scattered around it, “because no one would ever believe you.”
The assignment given to them just one hour prior involved investigating a coven gone rogue. Unfortunately, the portkey to Liverpool dumped them right into a ritual. Ministry wankers , Harry thought.
The two Aurors’ few moments of disorientation from the magical transportation, coupled with the unexpected gathering (they’d been told the warehouse would be empty), were enough to allow the witches to overpower them.
Unbelievably, the dead raven was what saved them.
After incapacitating Harry and Ron, the women searched them and found the dead bird. They decided to incorporate it into their ceremony, sharing the meat amongst themselves to take in the raven’s spirit. Next would have been the killing of the two men. Luckily, they didn’t make it to that step.
The bird must have absorbed enough poison from eating a bit of the gnome before Harry stopped it for its meat to in turn be poisonous.
When the witches began to simultaneously choke and then keel over, Harry was sure he was dreaming. The spells holding him and Ron in place broke when the casters died.
“It’s your turn to send a Patronus to Robards,” Ron told Harry with a sigh, as he sat down in chair off to the side. He leaned his head back to stare at the ceiling, adding in a weary tone, “And after this fiasco, if he tries to send us out again tonight, I swear to you, I am taking George up on his offer to work in the joke shop, so help me Merlin.”
Hermione showed up at the townhouse early the next morning. Far too early for either Harry or Ron’s liking. They had been graciously given an unexpected day off. Maybe the unexpected boon was due to Harry’s slow gesture of wiping his glasses, then putting them back on every so carefully, only to give his boss a cold stare. More likely, it resulted from Ron’s coughing of the words “Human Resource Department” into his hand.
The proceeding day’s events should have been a complete secret, yet Hermione Flooing in with a bag of French pastries that more than likely came from actual France (it really became difficult for Harry to consider Theo a tosser when the prat made things like this possible for his girlfriend, and by extension her two best friends) belied that.
Harry heard her moving around, making coffee, as he shuffled down the steps into the kitchen. He plodded into the room, stretching and yawning.
“It’s been awhile since I last saw your hair in quite that state,” she said, arching a brow, as he settled into a chair at the table, pulling the bag of treats towards himself.
“What have we talked about? It is far too weird to call anyone “black” in this house. Don’t make me do it,” he told her, glancing up meaningfully at her hair.
He attempted to use one hand to smooth down his hair somewhat while the other held an éclair.
She just rolled her eyes.
“Come out this weekend. I am not taking no for an answer,” she told him sternly.
He surprised her by not arguing at all. “Okay. When and where?”
“A play in Muggle London and then afters at Theo’s,” she said quickly, before he could change his mind.
“Yeah, that sounds fine. How fancy is the theatre?” he was distractedly licking his fingers, and so missed the gleam in her eye.
“Wear a suit.”
“Ugh, I am regretting saying yes already,” he whinged.
“Too bad, so sad,” she sing-songed back at him.
“As long as it isn’t any of that avant-garde shite. That stuff is utter bollocks.” He gave her a stern look.
“For fuck’s sake Harry, can you please stop bringing that up every time? It’s getting old.”
“Reminding you of the multiple steaming piles of dragon dung on the stage, set out to make the play about dragon orphans more “realistic” never gets old,” Harry smirked.
“It really never does,” Ron agreed as he joined them.
He quickly pulled both a croissant and a mille-feuille out of the bag. He took a bite of the croissant and set both pastries down on a plate, then moved over to the coffee to pour himself a cup, before plopping down next to Hermione.
“We’ll be regaling your grandkids with that story someday, mark my words,” Ron spoke around a bite of food.
“I’m sure,” Hermione shook her head with an air of self-martyrdom.
“Cheers,” Ron saluted both of his friends, raising his coffee mug at each of them in turn.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Hermione finally asked after taking a sip from her own cup, addressing the elephant in the room.
“Guess it would be better to hear it from us than from The Daily Prophet ,” Harry sighed in resignation.
Saturday night Harry showed up at the address Hermione supplied for the theatre. It looked respectable enough, he thought as he paid the cabbie. He moved towards the East side of the marquee, where he’d been instructed to meet Hermione and Theo.
And apparently, Pansy Parkinson.
Harry wouldn’t describe himself as livid, but he didn’t enjoy or appreciate an ambush. This reeked of a set-up, and he was kicking himself for not seeing it coming. Maybe he didn’t deserve the promotion at work he had been angling towards if this was any indication of his observation and deductive reasoning skills.
Was it a bright side that Pansy didn’t look surprised to see him? Did she know this was a double-date? Did she know he specifically would be the wizard here? Did she want him here? Did she always look this smoking hot? Wait, what?
Harry shook his head as he came up to stand beside Theo. Hermione was giving him her pleading eyes, silently willing him to just accept her scheming. He would have loved to give her a piece of his mind at this moment, but with maturity came the patience to wait for a time where he could maximize the return on anything he said or did. A packed sidewalk in Muggle London wasn’t the place.
“Potter.” Theo broke into the stare-off.
“Nott,” Harry said, putting his hand out to shake.
The two wizards secretly quite liked each other, but kept up the aloof appearance for the sake of their reputations. Or something like that, Harry wasn’t certain. There was always the possibility it was nothing more than some sort of twisted Slytherin game to Theo.
“You remember Pansy Parkinson?” Theo began the polite introduction.
“I am sure he hasn’t forgotten the witch who famously screeched to turn him in to Lord Voldemort in front of approximately half of Wizarding Great Britain, have you Potter?” she challenged him, crossing her arms over her chest, accentuating her generous cleavage, while shifting her weight to one curvy, silk-clad hip. She pursed her red lips at him, waiting to see what he would say.
“No, I suppose I haven’t,” he laughed. Genuinely laughed at her brashness. Her lips quirked into a small smirk in return. Damn this woman was sexy.
Bloody hell, it was going to be a long night.
Harry would have to admit to Ron later on that he was just the tiniest bit jealous of Theo’s ease in upper society. Well, in any society really. It made Harry inadvertently feel inferior. Theo directly ordered a bottle of champagne for them from a server passing by once they were inside, thinking nothing of the fact that people were in queue for the bar while he assumed they deserved to bypass the wait. Of course, it worked. The bottle appeared shortly and the server walked off with a hefty tip.
By the time they moved to the box Theo had lined up for them, two bottles of champagne were emptied. Harry’s Gryffindor bravery came out in full force when he blurted out the question he couldn’t keep off his mind ever since he spotted Pansy standing next to Hermione.
“Why are you here Parkinson? Really?”
The combination of the alcohol and a sense of building sexual tension were nearly killing Harry. He couldn’t stop his thoughts from wandering in very naughty directions. He wanted to make sure he wasn’t alone in his attraction.
“My father is trying to auction me off to the highest bidder,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “I need to make it look like I am willing to get married to someone of his choosing, even though he keeps bringing home questionable candidates. ‘Escaped an Azkaban sentence by knowing which hands to grease’ isn’t on the list of qualities I am looking for in a husband. Nor is ‘hasn’t inbred in the past four generations’. I finally cut a deal with him. I want someone intelligent, someone cunning, which my father interprets as supremely Slytherin. I told him if he found a wizard who could present me with an unsolvable riddle, I would accept his proposal. I also lined up Theo as an appropriate chaperone.”
Halfway through her speech, Harry’s mouth dropped open a bit.
“Don’t get your pants twisted, Potter. My father doesn’t know I am here with you in particular tonight.”
Now Harry was thoroughly confused. Did she consider this a date? Or was it a convenient escape from other social obligations she felt no desire to be a part of?
He stole glances during the entirety of the production at the witch who was quickly beguiling him, letting her catch him once or twice. He swore he noticed a small blush when their eyes met for a moment before she looked back to the stage.
Afters at Theo’s flat consisted of generous glasses of red wine, assorted finger foods, and petit fours. When Pansy wandered out onto the balcony that offered a view of the Thames, Harry followed her. When he kissed her, with a cool breeze ruffling her sleek shoulder-length hair, she tasted of chocolate and Zinfandel. When he pressed her against the wall next to the door they had exited from, he happily swallowed the moan she let out. When Theo came outside with suspiciously poor timing, Harry had nearly cursed him.
The spell of her allure effectively broken by having an audience, Harry made his excuses and Floo’d home shortly thereafter.
“You’re driving me spare, mate,” Ron finally broke down with an exasperated growl.
It was Thursday. Five days since the night out to the theatre. Ron knew the entire story. He’d heard it ad nauseam, starting the moment Harry arrived back at Grimmauld Place. He had still been up, Lavender having left not long before. He told Harry he was fairly certain the witch only stopped by for a pity shag, having read about his situation in the paper. He didn’t think it meant they were on again.
Harry justified talking about Pansy nonstop by telling himself it would take Ron’s mind off of the pending trial of his parents. Which was definitely a topic his best friend did not want to discuss. Percy, to the shock of most, was acting as legal representation for Molly and Arthur. He brought in a Mind Healer to attest to the state of Molly’s mental health. No matter the outcome of the trial, Molly would not be returning to The Burrow. It was either Azkaban or the Janus Thickey Ward for her at this point. The Ministry charged Arthur as an accessory to attempted murder. It would come down to what he knew and when he knew it, and why he didn’t do more to stop his wife.
Ron, Harry, and Ginny would be called upon to testify. None of them were looking forward to it.
“If you don’t send her an owl after we get home from work today, I’m doing it for you,” Ron said as they sat at their desks, writing up paperwork from an arrest earlier in the afternoon in Hogsmeade. “I can’t believe I just said that about Pansy Parkinson. Merlin’s ballsack.”
Ron threw down his quill and stood up, roughly pushing his chair back in doing so. It scraped the floor and nearly toppled over.
“Ok, I’ll owl her. You know what? I can finish up for both of us here. Why don’t you head home now and I’ll see you there in a bit?” Harry offered.
Ron flashed him a look of gratitude.
Pansy’s response to Harry’s invitation for tea on Saturday stipulated that it would include Theo and Hermione. Harry was relieved she said yes, but worried he may be getting in over his head. He had no precedent for chaperoned dates, unless you counted Saturday night, which he didn’t because he hadn’t realized what was going on at the time. And he certainly had no frame of reference for pureblood courting rituals. If that was even where this was going.
“I don’t understand.” Harry sat at lunch with Hermione on Friday, trying to talk through his concerns with her. “How many times did you catch Malfoy and Parkinson in a broom cupboard while on rounds at Hogwarts? You never mentioned Theo being in there watching them snog.”
Hermione shuddered at the mental image conjured up by what Harry was describing.
“First of all, let’s be perfectly clear. I actually caught them at a bit more than snogging. Second of all, no, there wasn’t ever any third party present.”
Harry frowned at Hermione. “Did you really need to go there?”
“You’re the one who brought it up,” she retorted.
“Ok, so tell me why she needs someone to watch her sip tea in public now that she is an adult with a bit more self-control.”
“It’s all about intent, Harry,” Hermione patiently explained. “Once she declares her intent to accept a suitor, there becomes something to protect. Do you see?”
He did. Sort of. Okay, not really. But he nodded at Hermione anyway.
Hermione carried on, knowing he was lying. “Before she was seventeen, she wasn’t eligible for marriage. Nothing she did was legally binding. Even if she and Malfoy acted like they were courting, it couldn’t be enforced. After she turned seventeen and became an adult, her parents no longer spoke for her. When she never publicly declared an intent to get married, she remained a free agent. Now that she has declared, her father, as head of household, steps into a role that could be described as a broker. He is responsible for making sure she comes to her husband as advertised. I know I am making it sound like she is an object. That isn’t really the point. And no one is assuming she is a virgin. It is more about fidelity going forward than something retroactive.”
“If, and I mean a big if, things progressed between her and I, would we always have a chaperone?” Harry followed up.
“No. Once she accepts a proposal, her father’s job is done. It becomes much more egalitarian upon engagement. The couple is now only responsible to each other, as they will continue to be once married,” Hermione said. “I’ve read about it all of course, but the rules are different for wizards, so my experience dating a pureblood isn’t equivalent. Also, there is the fact that Theo is no longer beholden to either parent. As the only surviving member of his family, he is his own agent.”
Saturday went well and Harry asked Pansy out again.
“You’ll need to request an introduction to my father before that can happen,” she told him as they strolled down the street, enjoying the afternoon sun. “Send him a formal letter on Monday morning, asking to set up a time.”
Theo and Hermione had wandered a ways ahead at that point, so Harry took advantage and grabbed Pansy’s hand to pull her down onto an empty bench. He cast a wandless notice-me-not charm and leaned forward, gently brushing his lips against hers. Her hands came up and cupped his face. Her lips were so soft. He had overlooked that last week in the wine-induced heat of the moment. Now, he wanted to take his time to savor their texture. His tongue darted out to trace them. When her lips parted and the tip of her tongue met his, a shock went through his body.
He slid closer to her and wrapped an arm around her waist, rubbing slow circles on her back, while his other arm draped across the back of the bench. Her hands moved up into his hair, gently tugging on it. He knew he didn’t want to take this much further in public even with the charm in place.
He languidly kissed her, tongues darting in and out of each other’s mouths, little sighs escaping with their breaths.
“Harry.” A tap on his shoulder accompanied the second utterance of his name. He blushed when he found Hermione standing directly over him.
Damn her for being able to break through his charm. She and Ron were the only ones in the world who could track him like that. Bill had helped them perform a ritual at Shell Cottage before breaking into Gringotts. The trio didn’t want to take any chances on ever being completely separated again after all that had happened over the previous months. Harry’s invisibility cloak could still hide them, but as long as the person wasn’t completely covered by it, he or she was trackable by the other two.
Harry reluctantly pulled away from Pansy.
“If my father doesn’t reply immediately, we can still go out accompanied by chaperones. Just as long as he doesn’t send a letter of rejection.”
Harry’s heart skipped a beat. She undoubtedly wanted to continue whatever this was.
Percy used the precedent of Gilderoy Lockhart to win a small victory, in that his mother would be remanded to St. Mungo’s rather than prison. The Wizengamot didn’t declare Arthur guilty, but neither did they declare him innocent. They issued a sentence that contained so much legal jargon, even Percy appeared confused as they read it aloud in the courtroom. What it boiled down to was that Arthur no longer worked at the Ministry. He was on probation for the next two years, being monitored for what spells he cast and who he associated with. He would not be allowed to visit Molly. Finally, he would need to do community service.
The entire Weasley family was in disarray and neither Hermione nor Harry were quite sure how to help Ron. Hermione managed to assist him in one area of his life quite by accident. Lavender showed up unannounced one night, looking to solidify her position as an on-again girlfriend, perhaps. She stepped out of the Floo only to find a shirtless Ron draped across Hermione’s lap on the sofa, fast asleep. A smirk from Hermione and a well place caress down Ron’s waist to his hip was all it took for Lavender to get riled up. Ron waking up to an ex who was jealous for no discernable reason finally ended it for good.
Of course, the cuddling had been completely innocent up until the deliberate touch in a fairly safe area, but no one ever went back and filled Lavender in.
Now it was Ron whom Hermione accused of isolating himself, rather than Harry. She tried to get him to at least go to dinner at Bill and Fleur’s house. He refused. He said seeing his family made it worse. He still went to work with Harry and did his job well, but he became like a shell when he wasn’t working.
The one time Harry saw a spark was when an answer came to Harry’s owl to Gerald Parkinson. It had taken two weeks. He and Pansy had managed five more chaperoned dates in that time.
Hermione was tallying up the favors. Five dates during which she and Theo gave up time to themselves. Six times that one or both of them turned a blind eye to certain liberties. Twice on one date.
The first in this series of dates took place in Rome, because, you know, Theo. Harry and Pansy sat on the edge of a fountain, foreheads intimately leaned against each other, whispering in spite of the Muffliato cast around them. Their words felt too private for normal speaking volume as Pansy kept her eyes downcast throughout her halting, but sincere, apology, and Harry assured her he forgave her. Pansy finally looked up into Harry’s eyes.
“Don’t assume I’ve gone soft because of this, Potter,” she told him sternly.
On their next date, which took place over a home-cooked dinner in Hermione’s flat, Harry discovered Pansy’s excellent taste in lingerie. She preferred lace in jewels tones.
Her breasts fit in his hands so perfectly and her nipples were a beautiful rose color. He would have happily sucked on them for hours, if Theo hadn’t been banging on the other side of the bathroom door the entire time.
Their third date was nearly identical, the only difference being the location.
On the fourth date, they went to a movie and when Harry started to make little grunts while sitting one row behind Hermione because Pansy was rubbing him through his trousers in the darkened theatre, Hermione had dared to turn around and look him straight in the eye until they quit. That rated up there as the worst cock block of his life.
On their most recent date they chose to go on a picnic lunch to a nature preserve, where Harry’s nimble fingers managed to bring Pansy off as he rubbed over her clit through her soaked knickers while he pressed her against a tree to snog. He had contemplated pushing the fabric aside, but he knew it was only a matter of time before their activities were halted, and it seemed too much work. As she came, his mind filled with visions of ripping those knickers off, while she yanked his zipper down so he could take her fully against the rough bark behind her back. When Theo came round the tree only to see his friend’s flushed face accompanied by her still panting breaths, he at least allowed Harry the dignity of staying behind alone a few extra minutes to compose himself.
“What does the bastard have to say after ignoring you for two weeks?” Ron demanded while Harry scanned the parchment.
“He’s invited me to dinner on Friday,” Harry replied. “Parkinson Manor at 7:30.”
“Better get Hermione and Theo over here to prepare you.”
And that was it; Ron went back to reading his Quidditch magazine. Harry watched Ron stare at the same page for fifteen minutes. Ron wasn’t that slow of a reader.
George showed up on Friday night about the same time Harry was getting ready to leave, and dragged his brother out for drinks.
“Have fun!” Harry called after them. He fervently wished they would.
“You wish to court Pansy,” was the second thing to come out of Gerald Parkinson’s mouth, the first having been an introduction. Harry could certainly see where Pansy got her bluntness from. Pansy was not in the room; she and her mother would be joining them shortly, Harry was told.
“Yes sir.” Harry wished he had been offered a drink. It would have been comforting to be able to hold onto something. He was working hard not fidget.
“Well, let’s hear it then,” Mr. Parkinson barked, staring at Harry expectantly.
“Um, hear what, sir?” Harry asked nervously. Had he needed to prepare a speech? Did he need to list his financial assets to qualify? Nothing he’d gone over with Theo had prepared him for this.
“Your riddle. I was led to believe you were reasonably intelligent. Did Pansy lie to me?”
“No sir. I just wasn’t expecting this. Shouldn’t Pansy be here? She is the one who has to solve it.” Oh fuck. Harry didn’t have a riddle. In fact, he’d kind of forgotten about it. What was the point? The riddle requirement had been set by Pansy so she could reject suitors, and she didn’t want to reject him.
Oh , Harry thought, she may not want to reject me, but perhaps her father does.
“I would like to hear it first,” Mr. Parkinson said.
“Sir, with all due respect, I will have to decline. I will be happy to say it in front of Pansy, you, and Mrs. Parkinson.”
“Buttons!” Mr. Parkinson called out and a house elf materialized. “It appears it is dinner time now.”
The elf bowed and Mr. Parkinson turned on his heel, striding towards the door out to the hall. Harry followed. The women were just walking into the dining room from a door that opened up onto a patio when the men came in.
“Alright, we’re all here. Ask my daughter your riddle.”
Pansy turned to stare at Harry, hope showing in her face. Her mother gave him a gentle smile of encouragement. No one had bothered to introduce him to the older witch. Harry figured that would happen if he passed the test, otherwise there would be no point.
He’d had all of five minutes to think on this and nothing had come to mind. He quickly filed through his experiences over the past few weeks, thinking back to the fateful day at The Burrow. He felt the nudge of inspiration and opened his mouth.
"What slew none, and yet slew twelve?" he asked.
Hermione and Theo’s grandchildren did indeed hear the story of the play whose stage production called for piles of genuine fresh dragon shite.
Harry and Pansy’s grandchildren heard the two argue many a time over Harry’s riddle.
“It didn’t really count,” Pansy would say.
“What is a riddle besides an ambiguous question that you need to think a little longer on to answer?” Harry often asked.
“You have to have a common frame of reference! You can’t just toss out something containing vital information to which only you would be privy.”
“Ron was there for it all, he knew about it,” Harry argued.
“One other person who isn’t even present at the time the riddle is asked does not count.”
“Hermione knew the whole story. Anyone who read our ministry reports could have pieced it together. There was a story in The Daily Prophet with enough truth behind it.”
“Harry, no one believes anything they read in the paper beyond the Quidditch scores, and even those are suspect,” she would say, her exasperation with him beginning to show through.
And then he’d laugh. Every time, his laugh would get her to smile back at him. Because in the end, they’d both won. He had come up with a riddle no one could guess, and she’d gotten to marry the man she chose for herself.
“Thank Circe for the raven who ate the poisoned gnome, and then in turn led to the inadvertent death of twelve witches,” Pansy would often tell her grandchildren.