If Harry saw another article in the Daily Prophet from Rita Skeeter talking about his new lack-of a sex life, he was going to scream. The lack of sex wasn't even what mattered, it was the fact that Ginny no longer wanted to be with him.
He wallowed in his own self-pity for weeks in various pubs across Britain; it was easy to escape when you could just apparate anywhere in the country. He understood Ginny's reasoning; she needed time to herself. He was all she had really ever known in a mature relationship. She loved him, but that wasn't enough. Sometimes people had to find their own way, and Harry respected that. Especially after everything they had lost in the years past.
So as he took another shot of Firewhiskey in the Hog's Head, he eavesdropped on other people's conversations to ignore his own internal dialogue. There was a girl sitting across the bar. She never looked in his direction, and Harry did not mind that at all. It was new for him. She kept downing shots and raising her hand for more. Aberforth gave her more with no objections. Harry watched as Zacharias Smith and another wizard he was unfamiliar with approached the girl as they waked into the pub. Her bleach blonde ponytail whipped around as she turned to look at them directly.
"So where's your lover boy?" Zacharias taunted, "I figured he would be here."
"Not now, Smith," the blonde replied, "I would prefer to drink without hearing your voice."
"And why is that?" The wizard Harry didn't know ask, "Because he finally dumped your ass for some new fine ass?"
The blonde stood up from her seat to defend herself, but she didn't draw her wand. Harry was not sure what came over him, or why he suddenly felt the need to defend this stranger, but he made his way over to them. Without looking the girl in the eye, he kissed her cheek and wrapped his arm around her waist. He half expected her to push him off, but she didn't. It was probably because of what he said next.
"Hey babe," Harry said casually, "Sorry it took me so long. I got you another shot."
He offered his full shot glass to the girl, and she tentatively took it. She still avoided Harry's eyes, but Harry watched as her red lips touched the rim of the glass.
Zacharias Smith started laughing. That's all Harry could focus on. He felt his eyes turn into slits. Harry had never liked Smith, and this was just adding to his reasons not to. He knew what it felt like to be taunted like this poor girl and-
But his thought process was interrupted once Smith finally decided to speak.
"Harry Potter is dating Pansy Parkinson? I cannot believe this shit!"
Harry was about to pull away from the blonde in surprise to look at her, but she kept him pinned to her side.
She turned her head to finally look him in the eye, and he recognized her now instantly. He would remember those blue green eyes anywhere. They were the same eyes that stared him down in the Great Hall for years. They were the ones that tried to turn him over to Voldemort with no remorse. Chills ran up Harry's spine. She had just dyed her hair. He could not believe this.
Harry wanted to take it back and protest, but Pansy spoke before he could.
"There's a thing called forgiveness, Smith," Pansy replied smoothly, "Maybe you should try it out sometime."
Harry watched as the stranger rolled his eyes and Smith huffed.
"Whatever," Zacharias retorted, "But I cannot wait to see the articles Rita Skeeter comes up with about this. They have been following your sex life for weeks, Potter."
Harry knew he should have replied, but he didn't know what to say. So he kept quiet, and he just glared at Zacharias quietly.
Pansy moved her hand down his arm and grabbed his hand. Harry had the urge to push her away, but he needed to keep up their ruse. He may have hated Pansy Parkinson, but he himself did not want to look like an idiot in front of Zacharias Smith of all people.
"Let's go, hun," Pansy said, "We don't need to deal with these assholes."
Harry nodded in fake agreement, and he followed her out of the pub. He could hear Zacharias laughing as they walked away, and he could feel Aberforth Dumbledore's eyes trailing after them.
Once they made it outside, Harry dropped Pansy's hand and backed away from her.
"Oh, what is it, Potter? You don't want to date me now?" Pansy asked. She had a devilish grin spread across her face as she went into her bag and grabbed a Muggle cigarette to light it up.
As she took a puff, Harry glared at her. He hadn't stopped glaring ever since he saw Zacharias Smith.
"I-I thought you were someone else," Harry told her, "I definitely wouldn't have done that if I knew it was you-"
Pansy rolled her eyes and started walking down Hogsmeade. It was after midnight and the streets were dead. Harry decided to follow her.
"Saint Potter," Pansy drawled before she took another puff of her cigarette, "Who would have thought you were my savior? Just so you know, I could have defended myself. People have been mocking me about Malfoy for weeks. Just because he cheated on me with that whore Astoria Greengrass. I'm a strong and independent woman, and I definitely don't need the Chosen One acting all high and mighty in my honor."
"Then why did you keep up the ruse?" Harry challenged her, "You could have said I was full of shit and got a good laugh with Smith and his lackey."
Pansy stopped in the middle of the street and turned to look at him. She was about his height, Harry realized, and smoke was billowing in the air between them. She dropped her cigarette to the ground and put it out with her boot.
"Because I think we can help each other."
Harry perked up his brow and didn't say anything, he let her continue.
"I see the shit Skeeter has been writing in the Daily Prophet about your break-up with Weasley. I get what it is like to have someone over-analyze your lack-of sex life. For once, I finally understand what is bad about being in the spotlight. So why don't we fool them all? Let's keep up this ruse, give Skeeter a run for her money, and come back later with an article of our own saying we fooled them all. It can be a wonderful story about how a Slytherin and Gryffindor become partners in crime to take down evil. Wouldn't that be beautiful?"
Harry could hear the sarcasm dripping from her voice.
"As appealing as that sounds, I will have to pass," Harry told her, "Working in close proximity with you is enough to make me sick."
"You kissed my cheek just fine," Pansy commented, "And I saw the way your pupils dilated when you looked into my eyes, Potter. I'm not stupid."
Harry felt himself blush.
"I-I am not attracted to you," Harry replied defensively, "And I don't like to lie to people."
Pansy ignored the last part of his statement, "I never said it meant you were attracted to me. There are many reasons pupils dilate. I was more hinting at the fact that you could even look me in the eye. You haven't for years, not since you-"
She stopped talking, and Harry knew why. She was thinking of the same thing; the night he took down Voldemort. Harry swallowed.
"If I take you up on this offer," Harry explained, "I don't want it to last for long. Two weeks, tops."
"It needs to be at least a month to make it convincing," Pansy argued, "You are definitely not the type for flings, and the public knows that."
"Why would you-"
"Ginny Weasley is obviously the only person you have slept with."
"That's not-" Harry tried to stammer, but Pansy gave him a deadpan stare.
"Draco might have been my one true love, but we had many break-ups. I have definitely slept with my fair share of men and women."
Harry was intrigued by her women comment, but he let it slide.
"So what do you say, Potter?" She asked him one last time, "Are you in?"
Harry knew he was crazy to do this, but if it meant getting Rita Skeeter off his back, how could he resist? He had nothing else better to do anyway.
Harry was woken up the next morning by someone banging on his door. They did not stop after one knock either, they kept doing it until he yelled that he was getting up. It was the worst way Harry could have started his day.
As Harry rolled out of bed, he mumbled to himself angrily as he stubbed his toe on the way to his door. When he opened it, Pansy Parkinson was standing there.
Her newly dyed blonde hair was up in a bun, and she was wearing a black low-cut summer dress. Harry tried to look anywhere but her chest. She didn't ask politely to come in, she just pushed past him and Harry rolled his eyes. He quickly looked outside his front door to see if anyone had seen them, but it looked like no one had. He shut the door and turned around to see Pansy sitting on his couch.
"Good morning to you, too," Harry greeted her sarcastically, "This couldn't wait until the afternoon?"
"It's noon, Potter," Pansy told him, "I tried sending you multiple owls. When you didn't respond, I took matters into my own hands."
Harry looked over at the window sill above his kitchen sink. There were multiple letters piled there waiting for his reply. They all displayed an elegant scrawl. She hadn't been lying.
"What do you want? Can't I at least get a day to think our whole agenda over?" He asked her.
She pulled the Prophet out of her bag and held it out to him. He grabbed it from her and opened it to the front page.
It was a picture of Pansy and Harry holding hands as they walked out of the Hog's Head with the caption, "The Boy Who Lived with the Girl Who Wanted Him Dead?"
Harry rolled his eyes and handed it back to her, "They could have come up with a more creative title at least-"
"That's what I said."
Harry snorted and Pansy laughed. After they finished, it was awkward to realize they had agreed on something for the first time in their lives and even had a similar sense of humor. Harry tried to ignore it.
"So what now?" Harry asked her, "I'm not necessarily the strategic type that takes advantage of situations-"
"That's obvious. Granger was always the brains behind everything."
Harry scowled, "I also contributed-"
"-with brute force."
Harry didn't reply to that, he just stared her down. The intensity of her look made him uncomfortable, but she didn't look away. She was clearly studying him, and Harry hated being a case study. He had been one his whole life.
"I figured we could plan out our public appearances," Pansy finally started, "Let's go out tonight. I made us a reservation."
"Already?" He asked her, "How did you already-"
"Some people get up before noon, Potter. Grown adults, that is."
Harry glared at her again, but she ignored him.
"Just be ready at six tonight. I'll meet you here. Dress nice. I'll give you more of the plan later as I think of it. You clearly aren't someone to brainstorm with."
Harry was about to protest, but she stood up and apparated out of his living room on the spot.
What had he gotten himself into?
It was 5:55 pm and Harry was a nervous wreck. He wasn't sure why he was nervous. This wasn't a real date. He convinced himself it was because it was going to be all over the news again in the morning. But Harry was used to being on the front page, it was nothing new.
Harry put on his suit jacket as he heard the light knock on his door. He took a deep breath as he went to open it.
Pansy Parkinson was in front of him wearing a tight red velvet dress. She was wearing the same lipstick from the night before, and her blonde hair was down in long waves. Harry had never seen her with long hair before. She had always had it cut short during their days at Hogwarts. He must of have been staring at her for too long, because she pushed past him into his flat and said, "Close your mouth, Potter. You're drooling."
Shaken up, he touched his fingers to his lips to see if she was being serious. Of course she hadn't been.
As he turned around, she was staring at him again.
"You clean up well," she commented, "I'm surprised."
"You do too," Harry blurted, "I mean- for a bitch."
Pansy snorted, "How original of you."
He felt his neck heat up and awkwardly crossed his arms, "So are we going to go now or not?"
"Yes," she told him, "But you're clearly a mess and horrible at this kind of thing, so just follow my lead, alright? I have no idea how you saved my ass last night on the fly at the bar-"
"So you admit I saved your ass?"
She rolled her eyes as she linked her arm through his, "I'm not admitting anything, Potter."
As she led him out of his flat to apparate to the restaurant, Harry grinned.
Once they made it to the restaurant, Harry could hear their whispers. It was apparent that the whole wizarding world now knew about his relationship with Pansy Parkinson. He grinned to himself as he imagined their shock when they came out with the truth.
Pansy laced her fingers through his as they approached the hostess.
"Reservation for Parkinson," Pansy told the girl. The girl looked at Harry like she was starstruck, so Pansy snapped in her face.
"Yes, I know my boyfriend is beautiful and has the most distracting eyes in the world," Pansy commented, "But we'd like our table."
The girl glared at Pansy as she grabbed their menus. Then she smiled at Harry and said, "Right this way."
Pansy chose a table in the back that was still visible to everyone else in the restaurant. They would just be unable to hear their conversation. She was smart. It would leave people wondering. Harry thanked the hostess as they sat down, and he watched as Pansy crossed her legs.
"You'd think you have never seen a girl before, Potter," Pansy teased as she looked down at her menu, "You can't keep your eyes off me."
Stumbling on his words, Harry replied, "I-I'm just playing my part well."
He watched Pansy's lips turn into a grin as she continued to look down at the menu, but she didn't say anything.
After the waiter came and took their order, Pansy whispered to Harry, "Take my hand."
"What?" He asked her.
She rolled her eye and did it herself. She grabbed his hand so it was on top of the table for everyone to see.
"Now talk to me about something, anything," she directed him, "But use hushed tones, it needs to look sensual."
Pansy leaned forward in her seat so their heads were closer together. Harry gulped as he got a closer look into her eyes.
"Why did you dye your hair?" He decided to ask.
"Why do you think?" She asked him, "So people might not recognize me when I go out. The Draco scandal was just-"
Pansy nodded, "But I'm over it now. It has been a few weeks."
"I get it," Harry told her, "When Ginny just up and left-"
"Why did she leave?"
Harry wasn't sure why he was telling Pansy Parkinson these things, but he realized he needed to talk about it, so he continued, "She needed to experience more of the world. All she had ever known from a serious relationship was me. I mean, she dated other guys before but-"
"I was that girl to Draco a few years ago," Pansy admitted, "That's what I think made him cheat on me with Greengrass."
"Astoria always seemed decent-"
"She's a slut."
Harry didn't say anything more, but looked down at their interlocked hands. Her nails were painted red like her dress and lips. He wasn't sure what else to say, so he just took a sip of his wine. He felt Pansy's eyes on him.
"What is it?" He asked her, "Why are you always staring?"
"I'm trying to figure you out," she told him, "You perplex me."
"I thought I always had you figured out in school, but now-"
She hesitated, but she was about to respond as the waiter came up with their food. She let go of Harry's hand, and suddenly, he missed her touch. But he tried to bury that thought down, too.
Their dinner date went as planned, and they walked down Diagon Alley hand in hand as the sun went down. They didn't say anything for awhile, but they heard the whispers of other wizards around them. Their plan was going to work, Harry could see that now.
Once they turned the corner and were alone, Harry finally decided to ask Pansy, "Did you really mean what you said to the hostess? That I'm beautiful and have the most distracting eyes in the world?"
He was teasing her, and he hoped she caught that in his tone. He watched her roll her eyes, but she didn't look at him.
"There is always some truth to lies," she responded vaguely, "I had to keep our ruse up."
Harry wasn't one hundred percent sure what she meant, but he just nodded. They walked in silence again until they reached his flat. When they reached his front door, she turned her body so she was facing him. She was so tall that they were eye-level again, and all Harry could think about was how her eyes made him think of the sea by Bill and Fleur's home. How had he not noticed all these things about her before?
"Goodnight Potter," she told him, "I'll see you tomorrow. Or I can give you the day off?"
He realized she was asking him if he wanted to see her again so soon. He realized he did. He smiled at her but looked down at the ground. He wasn't ready for that kind of vulnerability just yet. "Yeah," he replied, "I'll see you tomorrow."
He glanced back up and watched as she hesitated, but she slowly leaned forward and kissed his cheek, just like he had done to her the night before. Her cheeks were rosy once she pulled away from him, and when she stepped back to apparate home, he swore he saw a faint smile spread across her face.
Maybe this ruse wouldn't be so hard to keep up after-all. Maybe Pansy was right about what she said to Smith the night before; he should try forgiveness out sometime, especially when it involved Pansy Parkinson.