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***

Wednesday, May 3, 2000, 1:18 a.m.

The first time Ron Weasley kisses Pansy Parkinson, she tastes like fire.

Ron has never admitted it out loud, or even in his head, but he's imagined how Pansy would taste. Many times.

Passing her in the halls of Hogwarts. Aiming an angry sniff in her direction, outside the Great Hall. Glaring at the back of her head across a Potions classroom. Trying so hard to be quiet in the confines of the shower, when a million siblings or even a few roommates might hear him moaning.

In each situation – in each fantasy – Ron imagined that Pansy would taste cold. That her cruel pink tongue would feel like a slick cube of ice against his own. But there, near the loos of the Leaky Cauldron, in the middle of Hermione's let's-be-sad-about-the-War party, Pansy Parkinson tastes blistering.

Ron guesses it has something to do with all the tumblers of rum they've been downing. Or maybe it's because of the long row of firewhisky shots Pansy lined up for them at the beginning of the night. In some vague part of his brain – which is still working, apparently, while the other parts of him are trying to goddamned drown inside her – Ron thinks that she mostly tastes like whisky.

But there's something else there too. Something along the edge of her tongue, or in the breath that huffs into his mouth, each time she moans.

A tongue of flame, his brain whispers, and he almost laughs. Pansy must feel his near-miss, because her lips shape into a grin. She breaks their kiss long enough to laugh throatily.

"Weasley?"

"Parkinson," he answers. Except that his voice is so raw he basically whispers. At that sound, Pansy makes a feral kind of growl, wraps her fingers around his neck, and yanks his head back toward hers.

After that, Ron tries hard not to think.

He refuses to think about who he's kissing. Or why one of his hands snakes around her waist while the other tangles in her black hair. Or how the front of her stupidly fancy dress presses against his torso and the top of her thigh brushes – holyfuck – against his crotch.

He's just about to drag her into the men's loo and really not think, when the sound of a throat-clear stops him dead.

Ron opens his eyes and sees a disconcerting amount of blue – her eyes, he realizes. Like his own, Pansy's are bright blue. But her irises are ringed in a vibrant indigo that makes him suck in one sharp breath.

Pansy doesn't break their eye-contact. She doesn't even blink. It's confusing and awesome and terrifying all at once, so Ron turns his head to face their intruder instead.

That bloke who's dating Theodore Nott – Erik, is it? – stands beside them, with his eyebrows arched and his mouth pressed into a tight line. As though he's trying, with some difficulty, not to smile.

"Excuse me," Erik says politely.

"Sod off, Erik," Pansy murmurs, and Ron feels the ghost of her breath upon his neck.

Erik clears his throat again. "I'd be happy to do so, Pans. When you move your arse off the lavatory door."

Ron feels Pansy go still in his arms, and he turns back to her. To his utter shock, he sees a bit of pink tinge her cheekbones.

Pansy Parkinson is fucking blushing.

Very, very slowly, Pansy extricates herself from Ron's arms. She takes a small step to the right, away from him and away from the door to the men's loo. Keeping her eyes trained to one side, she wipes furiously at her smeared lipstick, adjusts the ridiculous fur shawl around her shoulders, and finally, lifts her head so high her nose seems pugged again.

"Boys," Pansy says coolly, still not looking at either of them. Then she stalks off toward the bar without a backward glance.

Ron recognizes her behavior for what it is: a dismissal. And for some strange, impossible reason, that actually bothers him.

***

Saturday, May 6, 2000, 9:37 p.m.

Ron keeps sipping his first tumbler of whisky and nodding at Neville, who's prattling on about mandrake or Mordrake or some such thing. Ron isn't actually paying attention. Instead, he's scanning the crowd at the Leaky Cauldron.

In one corner, Harry and Ginny laugh with Luna and that Zabini bloke from Slytherin. At the table across from him, Cho Chang and Padma Patil are whispering over a few glasses of chardonnay. Near the front doors, Cormac McLaggen leans drunkenly against a pretty but very unamused date.

And…that's it. Those are all the people Ron recognizes inside the pub tonight. He sighs in irritation and thunks his tumbler onto the table. Pretending not to be disappointed, Ron excuses himself from Neville's lecture about ferns – ferns, for fuck's sake – and makes his way to the back of the Leaky.

There she is, tapping her foot impatiently outside the closed door of the women's loo.

All Ron can see is her profile. A sleek bob of black hair, a sharp jut of cheekbone, and that odd nose. Judging by the quick dart of her eyes, Pansy sees him, too.

Ron clears his throat. Loudly. But Pansy doesn't turn toward him. She doesn't curse or talk or even acknowledge his presence.

Which apparently means he has only one course of action: to dive at her without thinking.

The second time Ron kisses Pansy, she doesn't kiss him back. In fact, she doesn't even turn her head toward his. Her nonresponse throws him for such a loop that he stumbles backward and lands on his arse, right next to her lethal-looking stilettos.

At that moment – when he is literally at his lowest – the door to the women's loo opens and Parvati Patil exits. Parvati's gaze darts between a stone-faced Pansy and a fiercely blushing Ron, until Parvati moves forward to offer him her hand. As Parvati pulls Ron back onto his feet, Pansy steps around both of them, sniffs imperiously, and closes the loo door firmly behind her.

***

Friday, May 19, 2000, 10:24 p.m.

Ron is just about to exit the loo at the Hogs Head when a small body collides with his own. An eager mouth presses against his and he thinks, just for a second, that he should throw a hex. After all, he's a damned War Hero, isn't he?

But he doesn't draw his wand. Because her taste – that faint whisky-hint of fire and sugar – gives her away.

Ron didn't even see Pansy inside the dingy, one-room tavern earlier, so she must have arrived only a few minutes ago. And for whatever reason, she's decided to stop ignoring him. In favor of snogging him mercilessly, apparently.

He should be angry, and he is. But he's also inexpressibly turned on. Particularly when Pansy shoves him back into the loo, breaks their kiss long enough to cast a Colloportus on the lock, and assaults his mouth again.

Ron only stops kissing her long enough to gasp, "What the hell, Parkinson?"

She sucks on his bottom lip, hard, just before she ducks her head to lave at his neck. "I don't know," she breathes in between kisses. "I just…I can't seem to…I don't know."

Feeling like he'll probably regret it, Ron grabs her by the shoulders and pushes her away from him.

"You apparently knew two weeks ago. When you pretended like I didn't exist."

Pansy, who started scowling the second he grabbed her, snorts. "Oh, you mean that moment you committed the most romantic gesture of all time? Attacking me outside the damned loos before we'd even had the chance to get properly pissed?"

"You just attacked me inside the loos."

"Yeah, well, turnabout is fair play, isn't it?"

Ron opens his mouth to argue and then barks out a surprised laugh instead.

"So it's the 'pissed' part you were mad about?" he asks. "Not the 'loo' part?"

Pansy's scowl fades, and she shrugs. "Pretty much, yeah. I mean, the loos are kind of our thing now, aren't they?"

It's the strangest yet sexiest thing he's ever heard. For some reason, his heart thumps a little harder when she places another, softer kiss against his lips.

***

Saturday, May 27, 2000, 9:07 p.m.

Pansy shows up at his flat unannounced, holding a bottle of gin in one hand and a lemon in the other.

"What do you want?" Ron asks her warily.

They parted awkwardly last week at the Hogs Head, with her slipping out the washroom door after just a few more minutes of snogging.

"To get properly pissed," she answers with a smirk.

His heart thumps unevenly. Which he refuses to acknowledge right now. "Do we have to snog in the loo this time?"

Her smirk transforms into a broad grin. "Actually, I was hoping to shag in a bedroom. But if the loo is more your style…."

Ron makes a sound somewhere between a cough and a laugh. Then he grabs the lapel of her fur coat, pulls her inside the flat, and thanks all the stars above that Dean and Seamus aren't home right now.

***

Friday, June 2, 2000, 8:15 p.m.

Aside from the goodnight kiss, their first date is a goddamned disaster.

Pansy shows up looking cold and hot all at the same time, in some complicated dress made of black lace, brown fur, and...dear Merlin, are those tassels?

Looking at this creature – this strange girl he can't quite fathom – Ron feels utterly lost. Pansy isn't Hermione and she sure as hell isn't a Gryffindor. Instead, she's wild and arrogant and fierce – all the things that make him immediately, uncomfortably hard inside his hand-me-down slacks.

"You're wearing that?" she asks, eyeing his threadbare suit with unmasked disdain. It's hurtful and shitty: everything he's come to expect from Pansy Parkinson. It also does nothing to kill his erection.

"I sure as hell am," he fires back. "And unlike you, I didn't have to skin an animal to do it."

"No, you just had to rob one of your brothers," she snarls.

It's all downhill from there.

Pansy refuses to Floo with him, but she huffs indignantly about his clumsy Side-along Apparition. Next, she balks at his choice of restaurant, which he won't admit out loud was a bad idea. (Although he knows it is, the minute he sees half of their old classmates inside.) And of course she orders the most expensive thing on the menu, even though he only orders the chicken.

"Did you have to get dessert, too?" Ron murmurs, after sitting through an awkwardly silent and increasingly tense meal.

Pansy glares over her last bite of chocolate peppermint mousse. "I'm thinking about getting a lobster to go, since you asked so nicely."

Ron mutters something under his breath, and her perfect eyebrows arch.

"What was that?" she demands.

When he shrugs carelessly, she slams her fork down so hard the sound reverberates throughout the restaurant. It earns them the attention of the few patrons who weren't sneaking peeks at them during dinner.

"What. Did. You. Say. Weasel?"

The childhood nickname rankles Ron, and he glares at her.

"I believe I called you a spoiled, pureblood brat, Parkinson."

"Better than a spiteful, pureblood prat," she hisses.

He's about to tell her what he thinks of the feeble insult, but she stands abruptly and shoves herself away from their table.

"I'm out of here," she announces.

"Good riddance!"

"Fine!" Pansy shouts back. She turns on one sharp heel and stomps off.

Good riddance, Ron repeats in his head.

But however angry he might feel, he isn't blind to the fact that Pansy storms toward the back of the restaurant instead of the front. And he isn't blind to the tears pooling in her eyes, either.

"Fuck," he mutters, and he pushes himself away from the table too.

His heart is hammering in his chest – with anger? arousal? fear? – when he finds her, head lowered and sniffling wetly in a corner beside the washrooms.

Pansy flinches as he wraps his arms around her waist, but she doesn't recoil from his touch. Ron waits a full minute, maybe two, before he jokes, "What is it about us and loos, huh?"

She gives a weak laugh and settles her head against his chest.

"I'm sorry," she says softly. "I was acting like a spoiled brat. I just…I don't really know how to behave anymore. This world is…it's weird."

"I know."

"I mean, my dad's still under house-arrest, my mum won't stop crying, and everything is so fucking confusing." She sniffs. "I don't hate it, you know. The new world order. I just…I just don't get it yet. Don't get how I'm going to fit into it."

"You will."

"And this," she says, gesturing between their bodies. "This is weird too."

"I know," Ron repeats. He uses one finger to tilt her chin up until their eyes meet. "Very weird. Impossibly weird. Stupidly weird. But…good?"

His heart fucking flutters when she blinks once, twice, and then grins at him.

"Weirdly good?" she offers, and he kisses her in assent.

This time, Pansy tastes like Ron always imagined she would: cold and sharp and sweet, just like peppermint.

Just like herself.