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It starts in a dingy Muggle bar in Brixton. He sits alone at the edge of the bar, sulking in the shadows like he’s got a past that’s dark or a future laden with too many expectations ― or maybe both. His shoulders slump forward as his fingers wrap around his shot glass and his eyes are glazed over, like he’s there , but his mind is elsewhere. Like he’s hiding and hoping that whatever’s chasing him will just pass over. He doesn’t notice the girl with the long black hair and the too knowing frown slipping into the stool beside his own until she’s pressing the bare skin of her thigh against the loose-fitting, scratchy denim of his jeans.

He looks up into a pair of stormy, dark eyes. Familiar eyes.

“Hiding, are we?” she asks, though she already seems to know the answer as she orders two shots ― one for each of them.

“What do you want, Parkinson?” he drawls, like he’s used to people nudging their way into his life unwanted ― like he’s tired of it. But for the first time in a long time, he finds that she doesn’t seem as if she wants something from him. Pansy Parkinson doesn’t want a statement, an interview, a hot new scoop ― she just takes a shot and passes him one of his own.

Nothing,” she answers honestly, almond-shaped eyes not quite soft, but full of understanding. Like she knows, because he’s seen her name in the papers too, smeared in each and every outlet  ― unrelentingly so. “Same as you.”

Harry takes his shot and relishes in the burning sensation as the liquid slips down his throat, making him feel something other than being tired and harassed and expected to do something great and wonderful like shit a pot of gold because he’s the savior of the goddamn wizarding world.

“Come here often?” he inquires after a brief silence between the two of them, a moment of nothingness that’s just. Just. He’s searching her face for answers to all the questions that he has running through his head.

“First time,” Pansy admits, voice traveling a little higher with faux enthusiasm, giving him the once over before she takes to looking around the bar, taking in her environment, checking over each exit, taking note of their locations. Habit . She looks back at him. “They always find me. Can’t stay in one place for too long, you know?”

“I know.” For some reason he just feels ― comfortable. And it’s irritating because of all the people in the universe, the only person who seems to understand what he wants and what he needs and what he’s going through is the person who tried to have him handed over the Voldemort. “I just ― I’m tired, Parkinson.” And he is. The bags under his eyes are darker and his eyes no longer carry the hint of boyish charm that he’d always carried in them. He smelled of dirty Muggle bars and too much alcohol. “I don’t want to be told what to do anymore ― what job I should do now, where I should live, who I should be with.”  

“I know,” she echoes. Harry notes that she sounds almost ― sad . Like it’s hitting her just as hard as it’s hitting him and it’s overwhelming because they’re feeling, understanding, connecting. He sees the same sadness, the same weariness , that he has in his own eyes, etched in his own face. Somehow, in a dingy Muggle bar with Pansy Parkinson, he feels ― he feels okay.  

There’s a silence between them that isn’t awkward ― she doesn’t expect him to spill his darkest secrets, to tell her about why he left Ginny just after proposing to her, or why he moved into a flat and didn’t tell a soul. She just sits there, ordering drink after drink with that same look in her eye ― the one that says gods, don’t let them find me tonight . For a while, the two of them just sit beside one another, downing more than their fair share of liquor, and just being , because this isn’t quite, in their eyes, living . And he just - he doesn’t know where the thought really comes from and he doesn’t exactly have a plan, but the words come tumbling out of his mouth before he can even stop them.

“We should go out,” he says nonchalantly, rolling the dirty shot glass between his fingers. 

“You’re drunk, Potter,” Pansy scoffs, raising her glass to her glossy, pink lips. “Maybe it’s time for you to go home.”

“No, I mean it.” His eyes meet hers and for the first time since she set eyes on him that night, he looks like he’s there instead of flying to some imaginary happy place in his mind. He spins in his barstool to face her, fingers grazing her knees as he says, “I know you’re tired, Parkinson. I know you would love to get away from it all but I don’t think we can.” Part of him thinks that she’s going to push him away because it’s weird and he hates her and she hates him, but now he’s staring into her eyes as if to say, you’re my last hope. He boldly reaches to brush her hair behind her ears in a bold, cliché way before he leans in close like he’s telling her a dirty little secret, “Wouldn’t you rather cause a bit of trouble than to keep living like this ? Hiding in Muggle bars?”

It’s strangely ― almost ― intimate.

― -

Pictures of them are splattered across the front pages of Witch Weekly ( Exclusive! Harry Potter CHEATS on Harpie’s Captain with...Pansy Parkinson! ) and The Daily Prophet ( Harry Potter In Love with Ex-Death Eater? ) and people get can’t seem to get the phrase, Harry Potter snogging Pansy Parkinson, off their lips.

But the thing is, they’ve never actually snogged. Most of the time he sits at her kitchen table and does paperwork , of all things, while she lays on the couch reading some romantic Muggle books because some people actually follow them to their homes just to see if they’re actually together; other times she’s trying to cook in his ridiculously small kitchen while he watches television ― and they definitely don’t snog.

On Friday nights, he doesn’t take her to Paris for expensively exclusive dinners or to some raved about restaurant in Rome ― he takes her to the pub or any other little, intimate places in Diagon Alley where anyone can see them if they really wanted to. They talk and laugh and maybe sometimes her eyes light up and her cheeks turn pink from something that he’s said and his eyes tend to linger for a little too long as they make their way down Diagon Alley because for the first time in a long time he feels like he’s in control of his life again.

Almost.

Sometimes he has to pause, take a breath, and remind himself that he hates her. No, he loathes her. Because she tried to hand him over to Voldemort.

Then he remembers that people change. He changed. And he ― he doesn’t quite realize that he’s staring at her glossy pink lips as he pretends to listen to what she’s saying. He can’t tear his eyes away as he watches her tongue gliding over her perfect lips before he sees the pearly whites of her teeth as she bites her lip and he realizes he definitely doesn’t hate Pansy Parkinson.

In fact, he may, possibly, want her.

“You’re staring,” Pansy observes softly, tucking her hair behind her ears because that’s just what she does when she’s nervous.

“Am I?” he whispers as he closes the distance between their lips.

Harry doesn’t quite know what he’s doing and he most definitely doesn’t have a plan ― all he knows is that her lips are soft and welcoming and he never, ever wants this to end. Her hands tangle themselves in his hair and his press against her hips, slowly slipping further and further down until ―

They hear a camera flash almost directly in their faces and Harry jumps back, slightly angry that someone ruined their moment. He’s even more angry that Pansy lets her hair fall, hiding her face as she takes off into the night ― what’s worse is that she doesn’t look back even once and he feels ―

Lost.

― -

The picture of the two of them snogging in Diagon Alley apparently sold for 1,000 galleons.

They don’t really talk about the kiss except for ―

“It was a nice move, noticing that Smith was there and all,” Pansy says nonchalantly two days later as she flips through Witch Weekly, laying down on his sofa.

“Um, yeah,” he nods quickly, grabbing a carton of milk out of the fridge. “Yeah, sorry I didn’t ― uh, I wasn’t sure if it was ― if it was okay.”

“More than okay,” she whispers, hoping he doesn’t hear as she flips to anywhere but the gossip section of her magazine.

They try to forget about it. They try to pretend that it didn’t mean anything , because that would just be foolish. Completely foolish. But then it happens again. And again. And again. And again.

What happens next isn’t part of their little arrangement, yet they find themselves in his bedroom, on his bed, and they don’t have time to take each others clothes off because they’re each worried that the other will come to their senses and put an end to this ― his hands pushing the hemline of her shirt above the curves of her breasts and using his lips to do things other than kissing as a mixture of squeaky bed springs and the sounds of skin slapping against skin at a feverish, desperate pace fill Harry’s bedroom. She claws at his back and throws her head back as she tries to choke back her vocalization of pleasure. His breath is shaky at best as his lips press against her skin and his mind is screaming that this is so wrong, but he’s already been pushed over the edge and he feels like they’re drowning ― together.

“Pansy I’m―I’m―” but he can’t even breathe, let alone form a coherent sentence and she’s just ― she’s hot and it’s ― she’s small and he just can’t.

“Come in me,” she whispers, because it’s the first time that he’s ever called her Pansy, and her words brush against his ear like the ghost of a kiss and he just ― loses himself.

― -

They don’t talk about it, of course. He spends the next week letting his eyes linger on his lips, thinking about how perfect they felt against his, among other things. He tries to avoid thinking about her before bed, at work, or in the shower. Especially in the shower. Sometimes, he has to remember to breathe when he thinks about her. Most of the time, he pretends he doesn’t feel something tugging at his heartstrings at the mere mention of her name ― which people seem to do often around him. And he thinks ― he thinks that it’s time to put an end to this because it’s getting slightly ridiculous how difficult it is to not think about her.

Because she’s bad for him.

Pansy Parkinson is the girl with a bad reputation and he saved the entire wizarding world. She was the villain and he was the hero. They weren’t compatible because heroes always get the girl ― the perfect one, the one who’s always been there, the one he proposed to and promptly left ― and villains don’t get anything.

So when they’re sitting in a tea shop in Diagon Alley, he’s trying not to think about her crimson lips or the ample curve of her cleavage in her low-cut top because it’s distracting. It isn’t like he’s breaking up with her because gods, they aren’t even together. They’re fake dating. Fake. Dating.

They sit down at their usual booth and there’s a small, awkward smile on her face because since that night, nothing’s really been the same between them. He notices that she’s not quite sitting as tall and proud, but her cheeks are pink because it’s finally fall and the leaves are even beginning to change color and he’s ― stalling.

“I think I might get back with Ginny,” Harry says suddenly, eyes staring intensely at the mug in his hands as if it was the most interesting thing in the world. He’s hoping that she doesn’t hear the thud, thud of his heart beating against his ribcage because gods, he actually cares about what she’s thinking and he doesn’t quite know why he let this go on for seven whole months .

The silence is, quite frankly, painful.

“That’s,” Pansy pauses, her voice slightly higher than normal as if she’s searching for the right word and doesn’t really mean it, and she sets her cup down on the table a little harsher than she might have intended. “Nice. Good. It’ll be good for you.”

“Yeah, she’s ― nice,” he blurts out, unsure of what to say. “I mean we, you, me ― we really had them fooled, y’know? It was ― it was cool. Nice .” He doesn’t want to look up and he closes his eyes because he just doesn’t want to see her because he knows he’ll care too much and he’ll want ― he’ll want her and he shouldn’t because that’s just not how it was supposed to be. He rests his forehead in his hand and rubs his temple, reminding himself to take a deep breath so he can face her. Thank her. Tell her he appreciates her, but that she’s ― she’s the villain, and of course they’re wrong for each other.

When he finally finds the courage to open his eyes, she’s just ― gone . And for some reason, he’s trying to push down the overwhelming feeling of a heaviness in his heart and pretends that the other feeling is anything but the sense of regret.

― -

Harry and Ginny don’t last long, of course.

When they finally make it to the bedroom, he whimpers softly, Pansy.

― -

Hey, you busy? Harry writes in early October.

His owl returns with the note, unopened.

He keeps trying anyway.

― -

It’s December when he finally sees her, standing in front of a shop in Diagon Alley. Despite the large crowd gathered to do their holiday shopping, Pansy stands out from the rest of the crowd. She’s wearing a black, fur-lined cloak, rubbing her hands together for warmth, and she’s smiling with a smile that reaches her small, brown eyes and he just ― he stops . Harry doesn’t realize that he’s been holding his breath until she looks up at him and the smile on her face just drops.

She turns to Draco, whom Harry hadn’t even noticed until that moment, who turns to look at Harry with a frown before he takes Pansy’s arm and they disappear into the holiday crowd.

He doesn’t miss the giant, shimmering diamond on her finger.

― -

She isn’t home when he arrives. In fact, she hasn’t seemed to have been home the last couple of times that he came by. She doesn’t answer her owls either ― no matter how many he sends, they always come back unopened.

And he feels ―

Empty .

― -

Even Ron and Hermione can tell that there’s something wrong with Harry, and they haven’t on speaking terms for months . They show up at his flat together under the guise of picking up some things that Ginny left behind when they broke up and convince him to go to a holiday party that Blaise Zabini was throwing since Hermione was now in a relationship with Theodore Nott and secured a date for Ron with Daphne Greengrass, who was looking for a date for her younger sister, Astoria.

It was a strange idea in every sense of the word. He didn’t even remember agreeing to go, but he couldn’t quite quench the desire to just see Pansy again.

The night mostly consisted of people pretending to be nice and so many backhanded compliments Harry couldn’t even keep count. Harry thought that it would have been a large, extravagant event like Hermione told him it would be, but it was very small and almost too intimate for his liking, consisting of mostly the Slytherins he’d known all his life and a select few other potentially influential people and businessmen.

“You can stop pretending that you’re not looking for Park ― for Pansy,” Hermione whispers to him as she grabs a tall flute of something bubbly with Theodore in tow.

“I can’t say I approve of anyone trying to steal my friend’s fiancé away,” Theodore says solemnly, giving Harry a look that said something along the lines of I love Hermione otherwise you wouldn’t be here. Hermione told Harry earlier that Theodore wasn’t particularly fond of drama and tended to stay out of everything that could possibly get him caught up in just about anything between the strange circle of friends that was the old Slytherin gang. “Especially since they’ve basically been planning their wedding since birth.”

“But what if she doesn’t love him?” Harry asks.

“And you suppose that she loves you?” Theodore drawls, placing a hand on Hermione’s lower back.

Theo,” Hermione says, turning to her boyfriend.

“What if she does?” Harry challenges, taking a step forward somewhat defiantly.

“Why did you leave her then?” Theodore looks over at Hermione, eyes flickering over over features before turning back to Harry. “If you love someone, wouldn’t you want them to know, no matter the odds? It’s almost a little too late, don’t you think?”

― -

Draco and Pansy arrived late to the party. She wore a pink dress that hugged her body like it was made for her while pearls hung around her neck. Harry had to excuse himself from Astoria and made use of Blaise’s study, pacing across the oriental rug. He wasn’t quite prepared to see her just yet. The moment he saw her, he forgot everything that he wanted to say to her.

When he thinks that he’s finally composed himself, Harry steps out into the corridor and crashes into her, and it’s like time just ― stops. For a moment, neither of them move and he tries to remember everything he just went over in Blaise’s study. He had a whole speech prepared to try to win her back and he just ―

“Please don’t ―” Harry swallows, hard . “Don’t marry him.”

Why? ” she scoffs, crossing her arms as she stands tall.

“Because,” he breathes, fingernails digging into the palms of his hands, trying to push out the words that he’d been trying so hard to hold back since the night they kissed in Diagon Alley. “Because I love you, Pansy.”

Pansy’s eyes narrow into slits.

So? ” Her voice is strained and she looks so angry and Harry can’t help but think that even then, she was more perfect than any girl he’d ever been with. He fucked up and she was engaged to someone else and he wasn’t quite sure what he was even trying to do ― he just knew he at least had to tell her. But she’s slapping his arm with her little silver clutch and looks like she wants to do much, much worse. “Why would I leave Draco for someone who wanted to break off ― whatever that shitshow was for his ex fiancé? Someone who acted like I was nice fuck , like I didn’t matter after that? Someone who expects me to just come waltzing back into his life because he tells me that he ― that he loves me?”

There are tears running down her cheeks and she’s trying to dab them away with the back of her hands and he just ― he just wants to hold her. “Pansy,” he says, taking a step closer to her. “Do you even love him?”

“Don’t, Potter,” Pansy chokes out.

Pansy ,” Harry pushes, fingers brushing against hers as he holds her hands in his. He stares into those deep, brown eyes and he just hopes that she sees that he truly, truly loves her. “It wasn’t ― I was ― I was scared. It sounds like a dumb cliché, but you came into my life and you gave me hope when I was so sure I was just trapped in a corner with no way out. You made me feel , Pansy. And I was scared of loving you. Because everyone thinks that I’m some hero and you’re just a villain and I let myself think that we would never work.”

Harry places a gentle kiss on her forehead and he just ― looks at her because she’s beautiful and she’s fragile and she’s perfect . “You’re the absolute worst,” she whispers as she closes the distance between the two of them. Pansy slowly brings her lips to his and it’s soft and he swears that they barely even touch but he feels the rest of the world slipping away until only the two of them exist and she whispers against his lips, “I love you too.”

― -

Needless to say, Harry and Pansy start actually dating.