DISCLAIMER: Harry Potter and all who inhabit his world are the property of JK Rowling.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story takes place post Deathly Hallows, but I've ignored the epilogue for my own nefarious purposes. Thank you as always to my beautiful sauciloo, my beta and the love of my life.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

A Lean and Hungry Look
By Kerisempai


Chapter I

Hermione looked down at her glass of firewhiskey, wishing that she could fit her entire head into the vessel so as to drown out the annoying, if well intentioned words of her best friend. Unfortunately there were things even magic couldn't accomplish.

The brunette stretched slightly in her chair as he continued to drone on. Their table was just to the side of the massive fireplace, and its warmth willed her to feel relaxed and content. The Leaky Cauldron had seemed slightly shady and just this side of sleazy in her youth, but in the years since Hannah Abbott had taken over as landlady, the pub had transformed into a warm and cozy haven. Not to say that the lighting wasn't still dim. Darkened corners still offered anonymity, but the candles and sconces seemed to glimmer and wave in a decidedly friendlier way. Hermione let out a small snort. As if candles could emit emotion. She was apparently maudlin tonight.

"Hermione, are you even listening to me?"

The question drew her out of her ruminations and pulled her gaze away from the flames. The green eyes searching her face when she returned her attention were concerned and a bit annoyed. "Sorry, Harry. No, I wasn't listening. Have you moved on from the many reasons why I should have pity on Ronald, and give him another chance to break my heart?" At Harry's frown, she smirked. "I thought not."

"Hermione, he knows it was the biggest mistake of his life. It's been six months and he's still in misery."

"If he's so miserable, why is it that I keep hearing about his out-and-abouts with Gabrielle Delacour?" Hermione took a sip of her whiskey. "Honestly Harry, I think you're the only one who's still miserable over the whole affair."

"She's his sister-in-law! He's only been keeping her company and showing her around London."

"Did you really just float that lame excuse out loud?" Ginny tossed from over Harry's shoulder as she rejoined the table. She gave his arm a squeeze before taking the seat next to him. "As if a Delacour ever needed a relative to act as escort or tour guide." Ginny rolled her eyes. She'd eventually warmed to Fleur, and even fully accepted her, but her change of heart didn't diminish her intimate knowledge of what the Delacour women were capable of. "Is he still trying to convince you to take Ron back?"

"Indeed he is." Hermione gave Ginny a wide smile. Despite the youngest Weasley's engagement to Harry and blood ties to Ron, she was one hundred percent on Hermione's side.

"Harry I thought we talked about this?" Ginny patted her fiancé on the thigh. "Leave the poor girl alone already."

"I just wanted…" Harry trailed off, running a frustrated hand through his already mussed hair. "I thought we'd all be family."

Silence reigned at their table for several moments. Hermione swallowed several times and refused to look at either Harry or Ginny. Didn't he understand that she'd wanted that too? That Ron's infidelity hadn't just ruined her relationship; it had changed the very fabric of what her life would become. Ron had broken her heart. It wasn't something he could take back, and it wasn't something that she could just ignore, going blithely back to the way things were before. It was probably true that she'd already forgiven him, but Ron's cheating had changed her, caused her to pause, and made her realize that she'd simply taken the path laid before her without question or critique. It was a path she no longer wanted to follow blindly.

"What makes you think that we aren't family already?" Hermione said finally.

"I know… it's just…" Harry began.

"Apparently you don't know," said Hermione. "If you think that I don't worry about you constantly, that I wouldn't do anything to ensure your happiness. If you think that I don't see Ginny as my sister." Her voice steadied, taking on the know-it-all tone that Hermione was famous for. "If you believe for one moment that I don't love you and every single Weasley, even Ron, stupid prat though he may be, as if I was born into their family, then you, Harry James Potter, do not know a single damn thing."

Hermione leaned back in her chair and picked up her glass.

"Well said," Ginny chimed in, lifting her own glass and clinking it.

Harry's eyes shone brightly, and after a moment he let out a large sigh. "Consider me well and truly educated then." He leaned over and kissed Hermione's cheek.

Hermione smiled. Perhaps she had finally gotten through to him.

The sound of glass breaking, which drew the attention of most of the pub patrons, brought grins to the faces of the three Gryffindors.

"Neville's here," chorused Harry and Hermione, while Ginny just shook her head and chuckled. Sure enough, Neville Longbottom was leaning over the bar, blushing furiously. He'd obviously been trying to give Hannah a kiss hello when he'd accidentally knocked over a tray of drinks. Fortunately, the blonde didn't seem to mind too much, judging by the kiss she planted on Neville's chagrined face.

"You reckon Hannah's started factoring Neville into her supply orders yet?" Harry wondered out loud.

"If she has, it must be love," answered Ginny with a smile. All of them were absolutely delighted by Neville's relationship with Hannah. The Hufflepuff had purchased the Leaky Cauldron with the money her mother had left her, and in the post-war, Wizarding world, it had been one of the first clear signs that life was getting back to normal. Harry and Neville had both taken rooms at the pub almost immediately after its reopening, and although Harry and Ginny were now residing back at number 12 Grimuld Place, they all considered it a home.

Hermione herself had moved in several months ago, after packing her beaded purse and fleeing the Burrow. For the time being it was the perfect arrangement. She was close to work, surrounded by those she knew and trusted, and Hannah and Neville were always around in those few times that she found herself lonely.

The three watched as Neville made his way over to them without incident. Though it was touch and go for a moment as his cloak came rather too close to the candles on another table.

"'Lo," Neville said cheerfully, taking the remaining chair. There was almost no trace of the chubby boy Harry and Hermione had met on the train to Hogwarts so many years ago. Neville had grown tall, topping all of them but Ron, and his dark hair always seemed in need of a trim, lending him a somewhat dangerous and brooding look; until he tripped over something, or broke out into his typical good natured grin. Neville was irrevocably clumsy, but somehow it worked for him.

It was only a moment after the newest arrival was seated that plates of food started arriving at their table. Neville caught Harry up on a particular case that he'd been working, while Ginny asked about the new House Elf legislation that Hermione was overseeing.

All too soon Ginny was stifling a yawn, and Harry was gathering their things together.

"Dawn practices all this week," the redhead managed through another yawn. "Finally catching up with me."

Hermione rose and hugged and kissed each of them in turn. "The match is at two this Saturday?" she confirmed with Ginny, as Neville and Harry walked toward the bar, their heads bent together in hushed conversation. A moment later, they clasped hands and said goodbye.

The table had been cleared and fresh drinks were waiting for them when Neville and Hermione resumed their seats. Neville leaned back in his chair, sketching a wink at his girlfriend behind the bar. "Fancy a game?" he asked.

It was hardly late, and although Hermione had work waiting for her upstairs, she wasn't quite ready to abandon the cozy fire or Neville's company. "Why not."

The Wizard pulled his wand from his breast pocket, gave it a slight wave, and conjured a chessboard. It was not the animated Wizard version of chess, but a plain ordinary muggle chess set made of wood. Hermione had given it to Neville several Christmases ago knowing that he shared her distaste for the violence of Wizarding Chess. They usually managed a game or so each week.

"Got an owl from Luna today." Neville stated an hour later. Hermione had put him in check two moves ago, and he knew it was but a matter of time before she trounced him.

A fond smile made its way across Hermione's features. "Is she still in Brazil?"

"Guatemala." Neville moved his king once again, running from a pursuing bishop. "Apparently she's found some new species in the rainforests there."

"Truly? That's brilliant!"

"It is. Supposed to be home in time for the holidays. She mentioned passing on some of her findings to you."

The brunette raised her eyebrow at that. She'd asked Luna to keep an eye out for any problematic situations involving magical creatures while she was abroad. If Luna had things to tell her, then she'd found something.

"I doubt it's terribly serious. Otherwise she'd have owled you, eh?"

Hermione nodded. Neville was right. No sense in borrowing trouble before its time.

"Think she's found her Crumple-Horned Snorkack yet?" Neville asked with a smirk.

"Don't even joke about that!" Hermione shuddered. "Do you have any idea the amount of told-you-so's we'd be forced to endure?"

Neville chuckled. "I certainly do." His eye danced merrily at the thought of Hermione being forced to endure a bit of I told you so by Luna.

Hermione narrowed her eyes. "Just for that…" and in a move that stunned Neville, the brunette picked up her rook and moved it across the board. "Check mate."

"But…" Neville spluttered. He hadn't even realized he'd been doubly checked. His attention had been on the bishop. "You've been toying with me for the last quarter hour then?"

"Not toying. I was giving you the opportunity to get out of it." Hermione patted his hand. Neville was getting better the longer they played. In several of their recent games she'd been forced to scramble to stay ahead of him. "Next time, try to take out the bishop first."

Neville nodded, replaying the game in his head.

"I should head up. I've two more briefs to finish before morning, and they aren't going to write themselves." She gathered up her cloak and finished off the last of the firewhiskey. Neville stood when she did, giving her a quick hug.

"Night then, Hermione. Thanks for the game."


Later that evening, tucked up in her favorite sweater and flannel pants, Hermione was putting the finishing touches on the last of her briefs when she heard Hannah's voice from the room next door. She couldn't make out her friend's words through the thick wall, but assumed the blonde was settling a guest. Until now the room had been vacant, but apparently no longer. Hermione largely ignored the sounds of inhabitation; the scrape and thud of a heavy trunk, doors opening and closing. It wasn't until much later, after the candles had all been extinguished and she was moments from sleep, that something Hermione heard gave her pause.

Coming from the next room was the unmistakable sound of someone weeping.


Chapter II

Pansy stood at the window, looking out at the gray day, wondering, as she did every morning now, if this would be her last. There were times, when she truly took stock of what her life had become, that she welcomed the idea of no longer having to face another day. She was a blood traitor; if not to the Ministry, then to her house, and certainly to her family.

It hadn't started out that way. She'd been willing to stand side by side with her Slytherin peers, supporting the Dark Lord. In fact she'd found her final year at Hogwarts much easier than the previous six. She couldn't pinpoint when things began to go downhill; whether it was the slow disappearance of Draco's interest, although at the time that had seemed more a relief than anything, or the increasing pressure that her parents applied after the Christmas holidays to, "surround herself with the right people." Those people had been her usual friends for the most part, but they had also included the Carrows.

Pansy shivered slightly, as if the mere thought of Alecto and Amycus Carrow might bring them within striking distance, despite the fact that the siblings were locked safely away in the newly reconstructed Azkaban. It wasn't too terribly long ago that Pansy had been certain she'd be joining them there.

She turned away from the window, crossing to the bed and pulling on the shawl that rested on its edge. She was always cold now, always felt one step away from a chill. Nearly all of the Death Eaters, at least those who had survived the Battle of Hogwarts, now resided in Azkaban, along with numerous others who'd supported and acted in the Dark Lord's name. A harsh, self-deprecating laugh crossed Pansy's lips. Of all those locked in the cells of the Wizard prison? She'd helped put roughly half of them there.

She hadn't done it out of some altruistic sense of remorse or regret. She'd done it for survival. Her parents had already fled, surmising their own deeds would at least guarantee them a charge of treason. With them went most of the Parkinson fortune. When the Ministry had begun rounding up war criminals and supporters scant days after the final battle, Pansy knew it was only a matter of time before they came for her. So she had acted first, marching into the Ministry of Magic with her head held high and offering her testimony and inside information in return for amnesty. The newly named Minister had taken her up on it immediately.

It hadn't been nearly as difficult as she'd imagined. Most of the three years following the end of the war had been spent in the dungeon-like Courtroom Ten, testifying against her former allies. In the two years since, she'd only been called upon twice and, as such, her life had been relatively peaceful. Until recent events unfolded.

The first incident had taken her by surprise. She'd been reading in the parlor before dinner, and in the growing dusk she'd reached out with her wand and lit the candle on the small end table beside her. Pansy still wasn't sure what made her immediately extinguish the flame a moment later, whether it had been the odd spark before it caught or the way it wavered in the still air, but her instincts had saved her own life. It had been a poisonous candle, she'd discovered later. She'd stupidly convinced herself that it had been an unfortunate incident, nothing personal, just some lingering remnant of her father's past associations. She'd been very wrong.

Pansy had been unable to disregard the jet of green light that had missed her by inches less than a week later. She was familiar enough with what the Killing Curse looked like to pull out her own wand and apparate directly to the visitor's entrance of the Ministry. Both Kingsley Shackelbolt and John Dawlish, the head of the Aurors, had wanted to immediately remove her to protective custody, but she'd rebuffed their offer. A third attempt upon her exit from the ministry, and a fourth shortly after, changed her mind.

She'd returned to the Ministry, thinking they'd hide her in some hidden department or house in the middle of nowhere. Instead she found herself in the most visible Wizarding establishment in Britain. The irony of hiding in plain sight wasn't lost on her. Her room at the Leaky Cauldron was actually nicer than she'd expected. She heard of the changes to the pub over the years, but she hadn't seen it with her own eyes before. This was the closest she'd been to Diagon Ally since her last trip to buy school supplies.

She had to admit that it made sense. She was literally surrounded by witches and wizards, most of them oblivious to her situation, but a large group of them not. Most of the Ministry Aurors spent a good deal of time at the Leaky Cauldron, and no less than three actually lived there. Add to that the general nosiness and do-gooder tendencies of the former Order members, and Pansy was safe as houses. Supposedly.

It wasn't that Pansy didn't have confidence in their abilities; she'd seen them in action. Longbottom and Potter alone could deal with anything that might come her way. No, it was their willingness to step in that worried her. She'd essentially served her purpose in three long years of testimony. There didn't seem to be much point in saving her now. She must be missing something. What was in it for them?

Pansy understood motives. Her life had been a case study of discerning motives and applying pressure or influence appropriately. Success, popularity, esteem were dependent upon knowing one's value to others, and their value to you, and ensuring that you never gave more than you got. She'd been valuable to the ministry once, helping them to crush what remained of Voldemort's followers; but now? It made Pansy wonder if they had something else in mind for her. And that thought made her decidedly nervous. She had nothing left to give to the Ministry, no secrets or strategic information, nothing of value except her estate, and that was the one thing she would never part with willingly.

Her face twisted into a sneer. She couldn't believe how melancholy she was being. The Ministry had used her for the last five years. She'd used them back, and she would continue to do so. Who cared what their motives were if they were dumb enough to protect her?

A knock at the door pulled Pansy from her introspection. A thrill of fear threatened to overwhelm her for a moment, and she froze, wand gripped tightly in her hand.

Another knock sounded, followed by a low voice, "Um, it's Neville Longbottom. Can I speak to you please?"

Pansy let out the breath that she'd been holding and concentrated on unclenching her muscles. When she did finally open the door her face was composed and cold. The only hint that the dark haired woman was anything other than bored was the slight trembling of her hands.

She watched the tall Auror standing in the doorway, politely waiting to be invited in. Pansy did so by stepping aside and inclining her head toward the small sofa and chair. She couldn't help but shake her head at the man. When she thought back to her first impressions of Longbottom, she was gobsmacked by the transformation. Who would have ever thought that a pudgy crybaby had the capacity to become one of the best dark wizard hunters? Knowing that he was down the hall made Pansy feel infinitely safer, not that she had any intention of sharing that particular piece of information.

She did, however, feel a bit of duty to be slightly nicer to Longbottom than the rest of them. "Have a seat," she directed, smirking when he waited for her to do so first.

"So, are you settling in all right?" Neville asked. "I know it's not as grand as you're used to, but…"

"It's fine." Pansy said dismissively.

Neville nodded, and moved on. "I just wanted to update you on the measures we're taking for your protection." He took Pansy's raised eyebrow as a sign to continue. "We've come up with a rotation to make sure that there is an Auror within shouting distance of you at all times. You're aware that both Williamson and myself live here at the Leaky Cauldron, so between the two of us we have the nights covered. During the day Savage, Ron, Harry, or Dawlish will be here with you. If you need to leave, run an errand in Diagon Ally for example, one of us will accompany you."

"I can leave?" Pansy's voice was half-hopeful, half-frightened.

"Of course," Neville confirmed. "You're not a prisoner Pansy."

She snorted. "I'm certain that if some of your lot had their way I would be." The comment was said under her breath, but in the small quiet room it was easily discernible.

Neville released a sigh. "I understand why you would think that, but you're wrong. My lot? We have a tendency to value personal freedom. Yours included. We all know what you've done, how you've helped…"

"Stop." Pansy held up her hand, once again interrupting. "I'm not a good person, let's not pretend otherwise."

"I'm not saying that anyone wants to start a fan club in your name, but we, the Aurors and the Minister, know exactly what you've done for us." He straightened in his chair and met Pansy's eyes squarely. "I know what you did for Hannah. I know that you're the reason she can sleep at night, and that cancels out every single harsh word and snide comment that came before."

Pansy had no quick comeback to that. She could only look away, unable to look upon the earnest conviction in Neville's eyes.

"So," Neville continued as if the interruption hadn't happened. "We've also reinforced the usual protection charms around the pub, as well as added new ones to this room. Savage is assigned to you today. He's downstairs. Unless you are in danger, or want to speak to him, he'll appear to be simply minding his own business."

"Thank you." Her voice was quiet and rough. It occurred to Pansy that in the two days since she'd sought refuge at the Ministry she'd failed to utter those two simple words.

"You're welcome." Neville stood. "I should be heading in to the office."

Pansy watched him cross to the door and close it quietly behind himself. A muffled thud echoed out in the hallway and a moment later a red faced Longbottom reopened the door and pulled the edge of his cloak free.

Pansy couldn't help herself, she giggled. It was refreshing to know that no matter how wildly some things had evolved in the past few years, others had stayed completely the same.


Chapter III

The sound of voices flowed about and around Pansy, settling like so much white noise, as she sketched by the warm glow of candlelight. It was early yet, just past the dinner hour, and although she had finished her meal some time ago, Pansy was loath to climb back upstairs to her empty room. Here at least, she could pretend that all was well, that she was just on holiday or something similar.

Her shadow, Bandage or Sandbag or whatever his name was sat several tables over, and had as promised, done nothing to approach her corner table or communicate with her in any way. His nose was alternately pressed into a book or a pint she'd noticed, as if he hadn't a care in the world. Pansy rolled her eyes and went back to ignoring him.

In all honesty, no one had bothered her. A young man had come and taken her dinner order and brought it out shortly thereafter, but not a single other person had spoken to or so much as looked at her funny. She'd been expecting, well… something. Several Hufflepuffs she remembered from Hogwarts had shuffled through on their way to Diagon Ally, passing right by her without a look or word. Had she changed in appearance that much? Did no one recognize her, or did they just not care? True, she'd been absent from the Wizarding world for quite some time, but having people pass by her like she was a normal person was disconcerting.

The sheer egotism of her thoughts made Pansy's fingers still and brought forth a half formed laugh. She shook her head. I really do think a lot of myself. Pansy went back to her notations, not fully relaxed, but no longer looking around for people staring daggers in her direction. When she looked up next, taking a moment to stretch back in her chair, she noticed that the pub was starting to fill up.

The table where her erstwhile protector had been sitting was now occupied by several older witches playing bridge, and Pansy felt a moment of panic stab through her chest. Someone cleared their throat, and she whipped her head around to see a man leaning against the stone wall next to her, partially concealed in shadow.

"Savage went home a while ago. Longbottom and Williamson are already on duty," John Dawlish, the head of the Auror Department said in a low voice. "I'm just having a look around for myself."

"Should I be honored or afraid?" Pansy said with a sneer, heart still beating far too quickly.

Dawlish gave an amused grunt. "Your verbal barbs are a bit rusty Ms. Parkinson. That one didn't even leave a mark. Out of practice?"

Pansy glared at him a moment more, before turning back to the journal in front of her. "Did it ever occur to you that I simply might not find you worth the effort?"

Dawlish pushed off from the wall, coming out of the shadows and taking a seat next to Pansy. "Now that, my dear would truly wound me."

"You are an exceedingly odd man. And still single. I can't help but wonder how no woman has managed to snap you up. Or are the sheep at home still enough for you?"

A full grin split the grey haired man's harsh face. "Better." He leaned back in the chair. "We did a full sweep over the house and grounds. Nothing. No lingering magic, no hidden spells, no trace of anyone lurking about."

Pansy's dark eyes met his. "You didn't disturb…"

Dawlish interrupted her. "Of course not." His voice softened. "It's quite admirable what you're doing."

"Not another word, or by Merlin I'll…"

He waved her words away. "You'll what? I didn't disturb them in any way, and I was the only one who went inside." He met her angry gaze. "You secret is safe with me, you know. I would think that I had proven that much to you over the years."

Pansy narrowed her eyes just to show him that she didn't appreciate his humor, but gave him an abrupt nod. She did recognize the truth when it was spoken, and as much as she hated to admit it, even to herself, she did trust him.

"Anyway, I thought you would want to know. I also left word with several of the house elves to contact me directly at the first hint of trouble." He pushed back and rose from his seat, twitching his charcoal colored cloak straight. "Always a pleasure."

Pansy watched him stroll across the pub. The man really was infuriating.

The noise level in the Leaky Cauldron was growing steadily with the additional patrons, making Pansy realize that she'd stayed downstairs far longer than she'd intended. All of the tables were now occupied, and many people were standing around the bar and in the aisle ways. She found herself not a little bit unnerved by the crush of witches and wizards. Wouldn't it be relatively easy for a hit-wizard to walk right in, curse her, and then disappear into the crowd? Her head pounded suddenly, anxiety making her vision tunnel.

Pansy stood and looked around, desperately searching for Dawlish or Longbottom, only to find that fear had rendered everyone faceless. Spurred by panic, she stumbled away from the table, her only thought to get to the stairs, to safety.

She pushed her way through a group of wizards, the sturdy wooden staircase was just ahead, but in her hurry Pansy caught the edge of her foot on a chair and pitched forward, causing her to collide rather hard into the body in front of her.

The collision stunned Pansy enough to arrest her flight momentarily. The woman, for it had been a witch Pansy had nearly knocked to the ground, turned and gripped Pansy's forearms, steadying both of them.

"Are you all right?" a familiar voice asked.

"I'm terribly sor…" Pansy looked up, into the woman's face and the apology died on her lips. The hair was no longer quite as bushy, the full cheeks and know-it-all smirk had slimmed and smoothed out, but standing before her, face filled with concern, was Hermione Granger.

Pansy yanked her arms out of the other woman's grip with lightening speed, all panic driven from her mind by the sight of her former adversary. "I'm quite fine Granger," she bit off.

Realization dawned in the brown eyes. "Pansy? What on earth are you doing here?"

Of course it would be Granger. The one person who cared to question her presence here. "I don't believe that is any of your concern." Pansy's voice was ice. "I could ask you the same question. Trolling for a new man Granger, now that Weasley's moved on to greener and more verdant pastures?" She raked her gaze down Hermione's body, her eyes communicating her understanding of how men would find it lacking.

Pansy took a small measure of satisfaction in the way Granger seemed to shrink a bit, before pursing her lips and opening her mouth in response.

"Why you petty, vindictive…"

"Ladies. Good evening. Pansy I believe you dropped this a moment ago." Neville positioned himself between the two women, effectively cutting off Hermione's words. He thrust the small black journal into Pansy's hand. "You know I've always been curious about fashion. Did you know Pansy's a designer Hermione? Hannah loved the robes you did last year. She thought the ones with the iridescent peacock lining particularly dashing." Neville placed Pansy's free hand through his arm and led her toward the stairs, away from an agitated and now confused Hermione.

Pansy allowed him to usher her up the stairs, but pulled her hand from him once they reached the landing. "You take your protection rather seriously, Longbottom. Granger may hate me, but a few meek insults from her would hardly do me in."

Neville gave Pansy a cold look, but kept walking.

"What?" Pansy asked defensively. "The day Granger can't take a comment from me is the day I wake up a Gryffindor."

"Did it ever occur to you that making a scene is not your best course of action?" Neville hissed. "These aren't exactly exciting times, and a confrontation between you and Hermione would be grist for the gossip mill." He shook his head. "And whereas thinly veiled insults are a sporting event for you, anything she might have said to you would have kept her up half the night."

Pansy stopped walking. "You can't honestly expect me to believe that Granger would lose sleep over insulting my character!"

Neville paused and faced her. "You really don't know any of us." It wasn't an accusation. "Sometimes I forget that." He resumed walking.

Pansy followed him the rest of the way down the hall in silence.

Hermione's eyes tracked the odd coupling of Neville and Pansy Parkinson as they made their way up the staircase. What in the hell had just happened?

Dozens of possible scenarios flitted through Hermione's mind, none of them making the least bit of sense. It had almost seemed as if Neville had been trying to save the Slytherin, and that was the most ridiculous thing of all. Pansy had never in her life needed saving from anyone.

The thought of following them upstairs briefly occurred to her, but she quickly waved it away. God, they had gone upstairs. Together. Hermione's head turned, locating Hannah in seconds. There was no possible way that Neville and Pansy…She couldn't even finish the thought, so horrid was the mere contemplation. The blonde owner gave her a smile and waved her over.

Hermione slid into a seat at the bar.

"I know that look," Hannah said with a wink. "I can practically see the wheels turning in that head of yours." The woman put a hand on her hip and raised an eyebrow.

"Do you know who I just ran into… literally?" Hermione tried to keep her voice down, but failed. The shock was wearing off, and anger was settling firmly in its place. How dare she bulldoze into her then insult her like that. Hermione felt like she could still feel Pansy's cold black eyes roving over her body, marking each inadequacy.

Hannah straightened and leaned close to the other woman. "I can guess based on your reaction."

"But she just went upstairs with Neville!" Hermione all but shrieked.

Hannah laughed. "You don't really think that Neville would ever be interested in Pansy? Hermione. Come on."

Hermione frowned. Hannah didn't seem upset at all, and she'd obviously known about the other woman's presence. "Is she staying here?"

Hannah nodded and reached out to pat Hermione's arm. "Let it go. She's not here to cause trouble, and I don't expect you to cause her any either." The blond went back to her customers, leaving Hermione thunderstruck once again.

First Neville, now Hannah. Both of them were acting like Pansy was some kind of delicate flower, and Hermione was an ogre out to trample her. What the hell?

As much as Hermione wanted to follow Hannah's advice, to just let it go, she couldn't. It wasn't in her nature. When something puzzled her she pursued it, she investigated, she researched until she figured it out. That's what she'd always done, and it had served her very well. So although Hermione wanted to spend her time thinking about anything other than Pansy Parkinson, she found that the dark woman was firmly ensconced in her consciousness.

The sound and feel of an explosion had Hermione on her feet, wand in hand before her eyes were fully open. It took her normally quick brain several seconds to realize that she was in her room at the Leaky Cauldron and not in a tent on the run from Death Eaters, and that that particular noise had no business in this place. She hadn't dreamed it. The smell of charred wood was thick in the air.

Not wasting another moment, Hermione crossed the room and yanked open the door. A quick glance down the hall confirmed that the room adjacent to hers was the source. The wooden door lay smoldering against the opposite wall blocking part of the corridor. Hermione took off at a run, skirting the wreckage to enter the room, wand at the ready.

A woman knelt upon the floor, and at the sight of Hermione, raised her wand in defense. Her dark eyes were wild and frightened, and she swayed for a moment as if she might pass out, but the wand pointed at Hermione's chest was steady. Both of them stared, not moving.

A pale feather floated down and landed on the dark haired woman's cheek. She blinked, and a spark of recognition shot through both women. For the second time that night when faced with her former enemy, Hermione had not known her at first. She watched Pansy's wand hand fall to her side.

"Granger," Pansy breathed, and in a shallow exhale of breath crumpled to the floor.

Hermione was already moving toward her. She assessed the other woman's injuries with an efficiency that would have put Madam Pomfrey to shame. No broken bones, a few bruises and bumps, and a possible concussion, she determined. Moving dark hair aside Hermione felt a thready pulse on the woman's neck.

Thundering footsteps sounded in the hall, and Hermione immediately raised her wand and positioned herself between the unconscious Pansy and the doorway. Neville hurdled the fallen door and burst into the room wand drawn.

Blue eyes blazed with barely repressed violence as the Auror scanned the room. He was a living weapon, ready for battle -- and attired in flowered pajama pants.

Williamson and Hannah entered a moment later, and Hermione felt safe enough to lower her wand. She turned back to Pansy, brushing a bit of owl feather from her face. Hannah knelt next to her, clucking her tongue at the injured woman.

"What a mess," Williamson muttered.

Hermione left Pansy to Hannah and rose. It was only then that she noticed the feathers. They were everywhere; on the bed hangings, the wall, the floor, and on the doorframe a gooey dark substance dripped to the hardwood below. She gagged a little bit, putting together the feathers and the goo and concluded it was an exploding owl.

Neville and Williamson seemed to have come to the same conclusion, based on the way Williamson was toeing a particularly large pile of feathers with a disgusted look on his face.

"Hermione, what happened?" Neville asked. "Did you see anyone?"

"No. The explosion woke me up. When I got here it was already like this." She waved her hand at the general disorder in the room. "Granted she was conscious when I arrived. Barely."

Neville's eyes widened for a moment. "You didn't…"

Hermione pursed her lips and raised an eyebrow at him. "Stun her? Yeah, right before I smacked her silly and pulled her hair." She smacked him hard on the arm.

"Right, sorry."

Hermione heaved a sigh. "Did you check for any more surprises?"

"All clear," grunted Williamson. "Dawlish is going to want to know about this."

Neville gave a sharp nod. "Go. I'll stay with them."

Hermione walked toward the rear of the room, assessing the damage. Luckily it seemed that the majority of the mess was confined to the front. Still, she pulled her wand back out and began tidying up. Once the bed was straightened and cleaned off, Hermione motioned to Hannah. She continued her work as Hannah levitated Pansy from the floor to bed. Hermione's mind was racing, putting together the pieces before her. Almost unconsciously she found herself adding several defensive spells in with her cleaning, strengthening the protections already set on the room. By the time she reached the sitting area, Neville had mended the door and cleared the gore and feathers away.

She looked over her shoulder at the dark haired woman on the bed before meeting her friend's eyes coolly. "Why is someone trying to kill Pansy?"

Somewhere men were arguing. Their voices were faint, far away, but still the sound caused Pansy's head to ache. She brought a hand up to her face, somewhat surprised by how long her body took to complete the simple action. A gentle touch landed on her forehead.


She struggled to open her eyes. It took several tries, and even when she knew they were open, there was still an edge of black to her vision. Pansy forced her eyes to focus. Two figures stood at the foot of her bed. One she recognized easily. Dawlish. There was no mistaking his blocky frame. Currently it was towering over the taller man facing him as he leaned forward aggressively, shouting quietly.

The man being shouted at took her longer to identify. Perhaps because Pansy simply couldn't imagine anyone being angry enough with him to do so, but there stood Neville Longbottom bearing the brunt of the head Auror's temper.

The words between them were fiercely soft spoken, and straining to hear them only made more pain shoot through Pansy's already splitting head. She allowed the sound of their conversation to flow over her without trying to decipher meaning. The hand on her head ceased its stroking, and she was reminded that someone was sitting next to her.

Turing her head slowly, Pansy caught sight of Hannah Abbott.

"Welcome back," the blond whispered with a small smile.

Pansy blinked again, trying to remember what had happened, what could have led to all these people gathered around her.

"She's coming around."

Pansy heard the words from across the room. Both Dawlish and Longbottom quieted, and Hannah turned to the doorway. She knew that voice, but it was different, wrong. And then events came suddenly streaming back. Dark eyes closed, putting together her last conscious memory with the speaker. The voice was different yes, but not wrong. Pansy had simply never heard anything in Granger's voice other than disdain before.

"It was the owl," Pansy managed to croak, annoyed that her voice sounded so weak.

"As helpful as that insight might have been a while ago, we'd already divined that." Dawlish dripped sarcasm. "A better answer might be how that owl got into this room."

Pansy opened her eyes once again, not surprised to see Dawlish occupying the seat Hannah had sat in a moment ago. "The window. It came to the window and I let it in." It sounded stupid even to herself in retrospect.

"It came to the window and you let it in." Dawlish repeated. "Of course you did. I mean after all it isn't as if someone was trying to kill you. Receiving your post should be your top concern." The frustration in his voice was evident, but under that Pansy would have sworn she heard a trace of fear. That, more than anything that had happened, made her feel the need to explain her actions.

"It was one of my owls. I though it was a message from home."

Dawlish was silent for a long moment. Pansy watched a great many emotions flicker across his face before his large hand reached out and touched her own fleetingly. "Do not be such an idiot again." He heaved a large sigh and got to his feet. "Your post comes through the Ministry now. No exceptions."

Pansy watched as he strode to the door, Longbottom in his wake. Only then did she finally see Granger standing off to the side of the bed. She tried to glare at the other woman, but knew she failed miserably. Her eyes were so heavy she just wanted to sleep again. Her last thoughts as she drifted off were of the fierce-eyed Gryffindor.


Chapter IV

When sleep finally came for Hermione it was restless and interrupted. Her body refused to relax, continually waiting for danger, for a second explosion. Exhaustion would overtake her, only to have panic snap her upright and awake a moment later. Her mind supplied her with an unending list of horrible thoughts and visions. The most disturbing aspect was the sight of a broken and unconscious Pansy. The longer she tried to rest, the worse the dark haired woman seemed to be injured. As if Hermione's own thoughts were inflicting more and more damage upon her. Why this bothered her so much, Hermione couldn't guess. Eventually, she simply gave up and prepared for work.

She arrived at the Ministry long before the Atrium fireplaces were ablaze with floo powder. Her thoughts were jumbled and frustrated. She still had no answers to the events from last night. Neville had quite literally been saved by the arrival of John Dawlish. And as much as Hermione had wanted to press the issue, she refrained. At this point all she could do was bury herself in work, and hope that eventually she'd stop thinking about everything.

By the time that lunch rolled around Hermione felt clearer, more in control, if still so very tired. Hermione pushed back from her desk. She had an Auror to interrogate, and she had been patient long enough.

The lift was crowded, but Hermione managed to squeeze on as she rode down to the second level. She was constantly amazed by the seeming disorder and general chaos that was the office of Aurors. Things were tacked onto every available surface. Bits of parchment, wanted posters, advertisements, calendars from twenty years ago, family pictures; cubical walls and desks were littered with them. Hermione had often wondered what the redoubtable Molly Weasley would do if she was ever allowed a bit of time alone in such a place.

Most of the Aurors seemed to be gone or hunkered down at their desks with a bit of lunch. She stalked through the maze of half-walls to the cubical practically bursting with green leafy plants and vegetation. Ensconced in this mini jungle sat Neville, quill in one hand partially eaten sandwich in the other.

"If I didn't know better, I'd say you were hiding," Hermione drawled, gratified to see the tall Auror dribbled ink across his parchment and hunched his shoulders slightly. "That would be ridiculous, though. Wouldn't it?"

Neville blotted at the ink with no luck. He gave up quickly, and turned to face the brunette. "I'm not hiding."

Hermione merely raised an eyebrow at him.

"I may be hiding a little." He held up a hand, "But not for the reason you think."

"What the hell is going on?" Hermione wasn't in the mood to tread lightly on her friend's emotional state. "Is Pansy testifying again?"

"Not so loud." Neville looked around quickly.

"Do not shush me," she said defiantly, but in a much quieter voice. "Tell me what's going on."

"I can't tell you much. Yes, someone is trying to kill her. No, she's not testifying. Hence we have no earthly clue as to why."

"Other than the fact that she's an unbelievable bitch." Hermione said half under her breath, but not quietly enough, as Neville gave her a disappointed look. "Oh, don't even start."

Neville smoothed his features. "I didn't say a word."

Hermione heaved a frustrated sigh. She immediately felt guilty for her words, but refused to take them back. The image of Pansy lying unconscious on the floor, never far from her mind as of late, flitted once again through her thoughts. "So, she's under protection?"

Neville closed his eyes and nodded. "Such as it is."

Realization struck Hermione. "You think you failed? Oh for Merlin's sake Neville. She let the damn thing in the window!"

"But I should have been there! It's my job to stop…"

"You didn't fail Neville," she interrupted. "She's still alive." Her hand found his arm and squeezed it gently. "You, Williamson, I'm assuming Harry, since you two were whispering oh so subtly the other night, are all on protection. Dawlish is overseeing. Am I leaving anyone out?"

"A few, including Ron."

Hermione fought not to roll her eyes. Ron was well suited to the blast your way in situations, but covert had never really been his forte. "Who's investigating? Do you have no idea who's behind this, what their motive is?"

"Not a one." Neville winced at their lack of progress. "The first few attacks were all on her own lands. We thought having her at the Leaky would put an end to it, but apparently not."

"It was a smart move, but at the same time it opens her up to more risk." Hermione's mind was already sorting through the problem areas, and making a mental notation to research possible persons who might have access to Pansy's family home. The owl, she remembered Pansy saying, had been one of the woman's own. "Do you at least have a list of possible suspects? Children and spouses of former Death Eaters? People looking for revenge."

Neville shook his head and fought not to grin. He recognized the look in Hermione's eyes. She was invested. He knew he should tell her right now to stop, that she had no business getting involved, but frankly he wanted to keep Pansy safe, and Hermione would help. Besides, no power in the world, be it Wizarding or Muggle, could tell Hermione not to do something once she'd put her mind to it. However, he couldn't stop himself from pointing out the inconceivability of her wanting to help her former nemesis.

"Why do you care? I mean other than the fact the room next door to you almost blew up last night, you don't need to get involved."

Hermione narrowed her eyes and glared. "So I should just let her be blown to pieces and go on my merry way without a second thought? Yeah, that's what Dumbledore spent so many years trying to teach us."

She huffed out of her seat and headed back through the maze. Neville turned to watch her, grin still in place. "So I'll see you later tonight?" He called after her.

Hermione turned at the lift and gave him a measured glare. "I'm helping you. Having Pansy in my debt is just an added benefit."


Chapter V

Pansy handed the stack of parchment to Ron Weasley with a frown. She'd never been fond of the tall red head, and the years since Hogwarts had done nothing to lessen her contempt for him. In fact, if entirely honest with herself, she despised him even more now, although she couldn't say quite why.

It might have been the way he seemed to strut. The arrogance in his body and face as he stood outside her door, looking as though he was hoping for someone to attack just so he could display his incredible dueling ability. Or perhaps it was the obvious hatred pouring off of him whenever he was forced to talk to or simply be in her presence. She began to wonder if someone did actually try to murder her on his watch if he wouldn't intentionally pause, allowing time enough for a hasty Avada Kedavra before he stepped in.

It was almost funny. She was expected to trust in these people, to know that they would protect her at great risk to themselves, even when they didn't like or trust her. Dawlish had earned her trust. As had Longbottom, as much as it pained her to admit it. Potter would protect her, she had no doubt, but it would be because of his own honor, because it was his job. The others, she had less confidence in. And then there was Granger.

Stupid bloody goody-two-shoes Granger. Why the bushy haired beast of a woman held such a prominent spot in her thoughts as of late was both a mystery and a frustration. Pansy was an accomplished liar, but she tried not to lie to herself all that often. Granger had been so true to Gryffindor form, with her heroics. It was as annoying as it was… hot.

Because therein lay the problem. Granger was no longer buck-toothed and bushy haired, though it was more than that. She'd always been an insufferable know-it-all, and Pansy seriously doubted that that had changed, but in the heat of the moment, before Granger had even known what she might face, she'd stormed in ready to do battle, entirely confident in her ability and Pansy had responded to that. Viscerally.

"What exactly do you want me to do with these?"

The scathing voice penetrated Pansy's ruminations. Weasley was standing with her letters in his hand, looking as if they might spontaneously combust. Idiot.

"As much as I'd love to give you all sorts of helpful suggestions," she drawled in an oversweet voice, "they're letters. Dawlish directed that all my post is to go through the Ministry."

"I'm not your bloody postman."

"Actually, until someone either kills me or you dimwitted fools actually catch them, you are." Pansy turned and headed back into her rooms, slamming the door in Weasley's indignant face.

"Stupid prat!" she hissed after the door was closed. Sadly it didn't make her feel any better.

Several hours later Pansy started at the sound of a knock on her door. She'd been absorbed in her notebooks once again, the only thing that seemed to make the time pass.

"Who is it?" she questioned at the door.

"It's Hannah. I have some lunch for you."

Pansy pulled the door open with a frown. "I didn't…"

"Yes, I know," the blonde said with a stern look. "You also didn't eat any dinner last night or breakfast this morning." She set the tray down on the table, and turned to face Pansy. "That will not continue."

If Pansy hadn't been so shocked she might have laughed at the stern look on Hannah's face. Instead all she could do was open and close her mouth several times.

Hannah retraced her steps and closed the door. "Don't make me force feed you."

That threat seemed to snap Pansy out of her paralysis. She smirked and raised a dark eyebrow. "I'd love to see you try."

Hannah raised her own in challenge, causing Pansy to beat a somewhat hasty retreat to the table and the veritable feast laid out upon it.

"That's what I thought," Hannah muttered to herself, taking the chair opposite Pansy.

"You don't have to stay," Pansy said quietly. "I'll eat." She really wanted to resent Hannah's gesture, but found herself almost choked up by the kindness of it. She hated feeling that weak. It implied all sorts of failings in herself that she'd thought long dead and safely buried. She couldn't just brush Hannah off though. The woman had nothing to gain, no reason whatsoever to be nice to her, to take an interest in Pansy's well being, and yet she was constantly doing just that.

"Maybe I thought you might need the company." Hannah plucked a grape off the tray and popped it in her mouth. "It's been almost a week since you left this room. And as much as I know you adore Ron out there," she smiled at Pansy's snort, "a little friendly conversation won't kill you."

Pansy laughed. "Well I certainly hope you'll be doing all the talking then. I don't think I've engaged in friendly conversation in quite some time, if ever."

"Somehow I doubt that." There was a twinkle in Hannah's blue eyes. "So, shall it be the weather, the state of Wizarding affairs, or gossip?"

Pansy took another bite and looked toward the ceiling, pretending to consider the topics for a moment. "Well, it has been raining steadily for the past three days, and last I checked other than someone trying to blow a hole in this fine establishment the Wizarding world was relatively quiet."

"Gossip it is then. Let's see." Hannah leaned back in her chair, another few grapes disappearing quickly. "Millicent Bulstrode finally turned up. Seems she joined some kind of Muggle cult. She's a None? I'm not sure I've got the term right. Apparently it's a group of women who all live together and swear off sex and good food. I don't particularly see the appeal, but Millicent was always an odd duck in my opinion."

Pansy made a sound of agreement. "The swearing off sex idea shouldn't be too much of a problem, I'm not sure she's actually had a shag in her life, but the good food surprises me."

Hannah chuckled. "I doubt Ron's told you, but Fleur's expecting again."

"We don't exactly chat."

"Now why doesn't that surprise me? He's not been a joy to be around since Hermione broke off their engagement."

Pansy leaned forward without realizing it. "Granger broke things off? I just assumed that…"

"She'd been dumped? Merlin no. Hermione found out that he'd been sleeping with one of the junior reporters at Daily Prophet. It had been going on for months, and to make it even worse, the girl had been in turn using him for information. Bad situation all around."

"Granger's better off," Pansy said before she could stop herself.

Hannah raised an eyebrow, but agreed. "I think so as well. Unfortunately Ron realizes it too. He's been making a bit of a pest of himself trying to woo her back. Needless to say, it hasn't been at all successful. Granted he's also been seeing Fleur's little sister Gabrielle on the side, so I'm not certain if he really wants Hermione back or if his mother is simply pressuring him. Honestly I think Molly would trade Ron for Hermione if she was able."

"Is she seeing anyone?" Pansy couldn't believe she'd just asked that question. She immediately felt her cheeks heat and a slight nausea overtake her. Where was a would be assassin when you needed one?

Hannah looked at Pansy sharply for several moments before finally answering. "No one since Ron. She hasn't even seemed interested in my opinion. Most nights she either works or has dinner with Neville or Harry and Ginny." Her blue eyes didn't leave Pansy's. "And what about you? Any romantic prospects?"

"No. Of course not," Pansy answered quickly. "I'm actually feeling a bit tired though Hannah."

The blonde was obviously not taken in by Pansy's pitiful attempt to end the conversation, but she didn't protest the abrupt dismissal.

"I will see you downstairs for dinner." The threat of or else was clear in her voice, as Hannah gathered the tray up and walked to the door.

Several hours later Pansy made her way downstairs, her sour-faced, red haired shadow unfortunately in tow. He was no longer even pretending a cold politeness, and hadn't deigned to speak to her. Pansy released a small sigh of relief when the pub proved fairly empty. She again chose a table in an out of the way corner.

Hannah caught her eye from behind the bar, and Pansy couldn't help the self-depreciating smirk that lit her face at the blonde's triumphant smile. She hoped Hannah and Neville were planning on having children -- she seemed to have the mother hen persona down quite well.

Her dinner arrived moments later, almost as if had been waiting for Pansy instead of the other way around. It probably had been, Pansy surmised. Honestly, she hadn't been babied this much, well ever. She looked toward the bar yet again, wanting to send a questioning glance at the patroness, only to find her eyes caught by a lone figure entering.

For a moment Pansy was transported back a decade. It could have been any ordinary day at Hogwarts as Hermione Granger struggled under the weight of an overloaded book bag. The brunette tossed her cloak carelessly over a chair several tables away from Pansy, and immediately started pulling books, parchment, and quill out of her bag. She distractedly gave an order to the young man who'd approached, already leafing through one of the open tomes.

Ten years ago Pansy would have said something snide to her fellow Slytherins about some people needing to get a life and moved on to far more important topics. Now, the first thing that came to Pansy's mind was admiration. Although that thought was not one that she would have admitted readily, or even under torture.

Pansy also noted how tired Granger looked. There were dark smudges under her eyes, and her shoulders were slumped and filled with tension. Still, under that the woman was put together. Pansy's professional eye took in the nicely tailored skirt in a soft heather grey paired with a pale pink blouse. The color suited Granger as much as Pansy would have predicted it would not have. It added a nice touch of femininity, and complimented Granger's pale complexion.

Pansy swallowed audibly and tore her gaze away. What in Merlin's name was she doing? It was one thing to admit that she'd found Granger slightly attractive in a heated moment. It was quite another to sit in the middle of the pub ogling her. Pansy covertly looked around, making sure that no one had witnessed her momentary lapse, and met the furious gaze of her erstwhile protector.

Pansy had never seen confusion, disbelief, and rage melded together on one face before. Weasley's eyes were solely focused on her, and Pansy fought the urge to look away. She'd be damned if she let him of all people stare her down. Instead she felt her own spine straighten and a devious idea formulate in her head.

Without taking time to ascertain if this was an overly bright course of action, she pushed back from the table and crossed the small distance to where Granger sat. Weasley had been stupid enough to lose the brunette, maybe it was time he felt the full significance of his poor life choices.

It took Granger several seconds to realize that someone was standing over her. The look on her face when she finally realized exactly who was standing there was utterly priceless.

"P-Pansy," Hermione stuttered in surprise.

Pansy let her amusement at the brunette's reaction show. "Relax Granger. I just wanted to say hello."


"Yes, a typical greeting exchanged by acquaintances upon chance meetings." Pansy's eyes twinkled. In their many verbal sparring matches it wasn't often that she'd caught the other woman flat footed. It was a feeling Pansy enjoyed immensely. Plus, the open mouthed confusion Granger was displaying made her look adorable.

"Um, well. Hello." Hermione regained her aplomb slightly. "I… um, how are you feeling?"

"Quite recovered." She should have known that Granger would bring that up. Pansy felt a bit of awkwardness creep up on her. "I should…" The words stuck a little in her throat. She swallowed past them. "Thank you. For what you did."

If possible, Granger's eyes got even wider. "Of course, it was noth…"

"It wasn't nothing," Pansy interrupted. "It was rash and incredibly stupid," she took a breath, "and I appreciate it. I'll try not to make it necessary in the future."

"Um, well yes. You're welcome."

Pansy couldn't help but notice the slight blush on Granger's cheeks. She smiled. An actually genuine smile. "I'll let you get back to work." Pansy reached out and laid her hand over Granger's. She let her thumb run over the delicate tendons there before pulling away. "Goodnight."

The stunned look on Granger's face stayed with her until sleep claimed her that night.


Chapter VI

The end of the world was near. That was the only possible explanation for what had just occurred. Hermione sat blinking stupidly, vaguely aware that her gaze followed Pansy until she was up the stairs and out of sight. The quill in her hand had left large smudges on her notes, and she wondered if that had happened at the onset of her bizarre conversation with Pansy, or if it had been a casualty of the even more bizarre fact that Pansy Parkinson had just voluntarily touched her. She raised the hand that the other woman had just, well caressed. Her mind simply couldn't wrap around it.

"What the bloody hell was that!"

The harsh voice startled Hermione. She flinched, and focused on the spot that Pansy had been standing moments before, now occupied by a very angry Ron.

"I have no idea," Hermione heard herself answering with complete honesty.

"I can't believe you let her touch you like that. Stay away from her. She's not right. She's dangerous." Ron's flushed face pushed forward, almost nose to nose with Hermione.

It was the aggressiveness that snapped her out of the Pansy induced stupor.

"How dare you march over here and try to order me about!" Hermione poked the man in the chest with her finger, forcing him to back up. "You've never had that right, and although I indulged it for quite some time, you lost the privilege of me taking your wishes into account." She didn't raise her voice. She didn't need to. Coldness had always been much more effective than yelling with Ron. "Now I suggest you take your pathetically nosey arse back where you came from, and don't trouble yourself over my affairs."

"Your affairs?" Ron's voice sounded choked, but at least it was several decibels lower. "You have no idea. She was… she was looking at you!"

Hermione rolled her eyes.

"In a sexual way!" Ron whispered heatedly.

"Oh for God's sake Ron. She was not."

"You didn't see her. She was. She was checking you out." His anger had given way to desperation.

"I'm not even going to dignify this with any further comments. Go away Ronald. I have work to do." Hermione turned back to the books spread before her. This time Ron finally listened, although not happily, judging from how he stomped loudly away from her table.

Inside Hermione was seething. The nerve of him! There was no possible way that Pansy was interested in her in that way, but even if she was it was absolutely none of Ron's business. Pansy couldn't be, despite her odd behavior, attracted. Not with their history, and most especially not with Pansy's history. Hermione knew this, and yet, she allowed herself a moment to ponder what it might be like if Ron was correct.

Hermione wasn't blind. Pansy was a beautiful woman, with her dark hair and pale skin. Hermione had never thought about it before, mostly because Pansy usually had such a horrid look on her face, as if she had swallowed something particularly foul. She should smile more, Hermione thought, remembering the slight flush and the twinkle in Pansy dark eyes. How odd, in all the years Hermione had known the other woman, she'd never seen her smile before.

She wanted to see Pansy smile again.

Enough! Hermione's more logical side put a halt to this line of thinking. Pansy was nothing to her, and Hermione had a brief to finish.

A large wooden crate was waiting for her when Hermione finally retired to her rooms for the evening. A piece of parchment sat atop it, and she immediately recognized Neville's small handwriting.


All that you requested is inside. I had to tell Dawlish. He's not happy, but resigned.


Hermione lifted the lid and pulled out a sheaf of parchment. Copies of the transcripts of every trial that Pansy had testified at were neatly ordered chronologically. Hermione set them aside and moved on to the rest of the contents. Lists of Death Eaters, their families, and known associates went into another pile. Finally she pulled the last stack of papers from the crate. This was bound together with a green ribbon. How appropriate, she thought realizing that this was the Ministry's dossier of Pansy Parkinson.

Not quite ready to face the contents, Hermione laid it aside and began her preparations for bed. Face scrubbed and teeth brushed, she felt no more ready. Her hesitancy made no sense. She'd already witnessed the worst thing Pansy was capable of; trying to turn Harry over to Voldemort. At least she hoped that was the worst thing the other woman was capable of.

Hermione gave a great sigh, and reached for the bound parchment.

The first few pages were ordinary enough, listing Pansy's date of birth, town of origin, and parents' names. Reading further, Hermione was somewhat surprised to learn that while Pansy's parents had been quite wealthy, they owed their fortune to her father Geoffrey's grandfather, a muggle who'd opened a textile mill in a small town in Suffolk. He'd specialized in silk production, and had been incredibly successful based on the size of the estate he'd built later in his life. The family had resided in Sudbury since then, despite the three following generations all displaying magical abilities.

The Parkinsons still maintained a financial stake in the production, but hadn't been involved in its operation in decades. The smaller minded side of Hermione took some pleasure in the fact that Pansy's wealth came not only from a muggle ancestor, but a tradesman at that.

Hermione flipped on to more recent events. Pansy's parents had indeed supported Voldemort, both in his initial rise to power and his return. They hadn't been Death Eaters, but they'd supplied financial means and information when possible. Unsurprisingly, Pansy had been aware of this. It didn't appear that she had been involved, but she'd known. The only notations by the Ministry had been Pansy's association with "questionable" persons, i.e. Draco Malfoy and other sons and daughters of known Death Eaters.

Hermione was somewhat taken aback when she read of Geoffrey and Ann Parkinson's disappearance following the final battle. Although not a parent herself, Hermione could not imagine abandoning one's child to save oneself.

The Minister himself, Kingsley Shacklebolt had written the original report detailing Pansy's appearance at the Ministry and her offer to testify in exchange for immunity. Hermione felt a bit of embarrassment at the Ministry's shameless exploitation of Pansy. They'd had no case against Pansy. She'd done nothing wrong besides congregate with the wrong type of people. The Ministry would have had no case against her, and the case they might have had against her parents was littered with speculation and circumstantial evidence. Pansy's only request, other than no time at Azkaban, had been to keep her ancestral home and her family interest in the mill.

Hermione couldn't help but shake her head. There were several notations from Dawlish about Pansy's helpfulness and her presence in the courtroom. Hermione flipped ahead several pages, stopping when she reached the current year.

Again Dawlish's notes filled the page. He detailed the first few attacks on Pansy, and included his recommendation that she be placed in protective custody. The annoyance at her refusal was plain on the page. The reports ended with the most recent attack at the Leaky.

Hermione went back to one of the sections she'd skipped over. A recent summary of Pansy's whereabouts and interests caught her attention. Pansy did reside in her parent's former home. She kept several house elves, but, and Hermione was both surprised and pleased to note, had freed them several years ago. No other persons of interest where listed as residents.

Financial data caught Hermione's eye, and her brow furrowed when the numbers refused to add up. Pansy made quite a good living with her small design business, especially when she had her own factory in which to produce the material needed, but several things made absolutely no sense to her. The expenditures for the household were significantly large. Much larger than what was appropriate for a large family, let alone a single woman. The other column that stood out was the amount Pansy paid in taxes. Her property taxes seemed on par, but her income tax both for her business and personal income was extremely low. Was Pansy committing tax fraud? It wasn't unheard of, especially when witches and wizards had business dealings with muggles, but it just seemed far too trivial for Pansy. Hermione delved deeper into the figures, and was disappointed to find nothing more detailed.

"I'd need a copy of her muggle tax return," she murmured to herself. Hermione had no idea if that was even possible. Well, it was of course possible, but she wasn't sure if she wanted to take the time and effort involved with apparating into Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs building in London.

The final thing that Hermione found curious was a notation near the bottom of the financial information. A long alphanumeric followed by Pansy's name. Not many people would recognize it, but Hermione had been forced to study all aspects of Wizarding law before being appointed to her current position. Including patent law. Pansy held a patent for something, and Hermione couldn't fathom what.

She rubbed her eyes and glanced at the small clock on her desk. It was already the wee hours of the morning. Deciding she'd done enough for the night, Hermione set the parchment aside and crawled into bed. She closed her eyes, knowing that she'd probably obsess over her unanswered questions even in sleep, and when she did dream, it was of Pansy's smile.


Chapter VII

There were times over the next several weeks when Hermione wished she still had possession of a time turner. She rose at dawn and sought her bed long after midnight. When she wasn't completing assignments for her actual job she was buried in research. It wouldn't have been quite so bad if Hermione had been willing to sacrifice her evenings in the Leaky Cauldron's dinning room, but she'd been downstairs every night.

The list of rationalizations for her newly adopted, late-night behavior numbered many. Work. Work was not a duty she could shirk or opt out of, even if she had been the kind of person to coast, which she was not. Her Pansy research, or PR as she referred to in her head, was also something she was willing to give less than one hundred percent to. Which left her social time. Her friends helped keep her sane. Spending time with them, sharing meals allowed her a much needed break in the tension of her day. And if these evenings also brought with them a promise of seeing Pansy, well, all the better. Not that she took a personal pleasure in studying the other woman, of course not, but she was conducting research on the other woman. Research required observation.

And research sometimes required interviews. That rationalization had led to Hermione's first visit to Pansy's table. Like the last time, the pub had been relatively empty. Pansy had been sitting alone off in a corner. Instead of walking to one of the numerous unoccupied tables, Hermione had paused. She hadn't taken the time to think of all the reasons why joining Pansy was a bad idea, she'd just walked over and sat. She imagined that the look that had flitted across Pansy's face was very similar to the one that had adorned her own face.

"Hello," Hermione had said with a mischievous smile.

"Um… hello."

Hermione had given her dinner order to the young man who appeared at her elbow a moment later.

Pansy had raised an eyebrow, and commented in an almost bored tone, "Well make yourself comfortable Granger."

"Why thank you Pansy. I do believe I will." The silence had stretched for several seconds until both women broke into laughter. Not all that much conversation had occurred that evening, but the quiet hadn't been uncomfortable. When Neville had wandered up to them an hour or so later, Pansy had excused herself and bid them good night.

From that night on, Hermione had made it a point to join Pansy several times a week. By some mutual silent agreement they didn't speak of Hogwarts or their past animosity, staying on safe topics such as Pansy's latest designs or Hermione's work. And when their casual conversations faltered, neither rushed to fill the quiet.

The only thing that troubled Hermione about their interactions was Pansy's consistent flight whenever one of her friends joined them. Not that she was ever rude. Pansy would very politely make some excuse and head upstairs. Hermione just didn't understand it, especially when the person was Neville or Hannah. She knew the brunette actually liked Hannah, and even though Pansy had never said it out loud, she was fond of Neville. She could understand Ron, not that he'd ever tried to sit with them, or even Harry and Ginny to a point, but still it made no sense to Hermione.

Tonight had been one of their no conversation nights. Pansy was poured over her journal, and Hermione was reading up on legal precedents in preparation for a new piece of legislation. In reality, she'd been studying Pansy covertly.

Pansy's hands fascinated Hermione. They were long and slender, delicate even. The charcoal stick she used flew over the page without seeming to even touch it, as if her designs were transported to paper by magic. Every so often, Pansy would pull back from the paper and swipe at an errant strand of hair, leaving a dark smudge along her cheek. It was adorable and distracting.

"You look exhausted."

The non sequitur made Hermione look up fully. Pansy was still sketching, not looking at Hermione.

"I'm fine." Hermione waved the comment away.

Pansy pursed her lips, but made no further comment. Hermione abandoned her book, leaning back in her chair, watching Pansy. Had she detected concern in Pansy's voice? At this point Hermione was beginning to consider herself the greatest living expert on Pansy Parkinson, and what she knew could barely fill a thimble. Still, she was getting better at reading the other woman. Like now, Pansy's hands had slowed and it appeared that she was focused on the journal, but the sudden tension in her arms and shoulders told Hermione that the woman was aware of her scrutiny.

And sure enough, a moment later Pansy's hand stilled and she looked up. "What are you staring at Granger?"

Instead of answering, Hermione leaned forward and cupped Pansy's cheek. Gently she ran her thumb over the streak of charcoal, smoothing over the soft skin there until the dark spot was just a memory.

Only Pansy's eyes moved, going wide for just a second, while the rest of her body froze.

"You had some charcoal just there." Hermione's voice was soft as she finally pulled her hand away.

Pansy blinked several times then nodded.

Hermione felt a blush rising to her cheeks. She was the first to look away, pulling the abandoned book back into her lap and pretending to read. She'd just stroked Pansy's cheek. Her fingers still tingled where she'd touched her. What the hell was she doing? For the first time the oppressive silence seemed to overwhelm their table, and it was no surprise when less than fifteen minutes later, Pansy gathered up her things and rose.

"Good night Granger," her tone was slightly gruff, but when Hermione looked up Pansy's eyes glittered with something she couldn't identify. "Get some sleep. You look like hell."

Hermione opened her mouth in outrage, but Pansy had already walked away. Hermione seethed for the briefest of minutes before something occurred to her. She'd disconcerted Pansy. Oh, the other woman was very good at acting cold and aloof, but when she over did like that she was compensating. Not quite sure why the idea made her so happy, Hermione grinned as she returned to her briefs.

Two inner office memos landed on Hermione's desk with a whoosh of air. She picked one of them up distractedly, continuing to make notes with the other hand. She glanced at the parchment only to drop her quill and give it her full attention a second later. It was an official denial of her request for copies of Pansy's muggle tax returns. She'd half expected a denial, that was not what surprised her. No, what had Hermione's mind working was who had denied her request. It wasn't from the Office of Muggle Relations, or even from Dawlish; the memo had come from Paddington Smythe, Healer-in-Charge, Spell Damage Ward, St. Mugo's Hospital for Magical Maladies.

Hermione double and triple checked the seal and signature. She couldn't fathom why the denial would have come from St. Mungo's. She'd submitted the request to Muggle Relations. While Hermione was still trying to puzzle that out, she opened the second memo. It was a response from her friend Muriel at the International Magical Trading Standards Body. Muriel specifically worked in the Magical Patents office. Hermione had asked her to look up the patent number she'd found in Pansy's dossier.

A light brown eyebrow crept upward on Hermione's forehead. She'd known that Pansy was intelligent and clever, but what she read added a whole new dimension to the woman. Pansy had essentially worked a miracle, something the Wizarding world hadn't seen in centuries. Something that Hermione wasn't totally sure it had seen since, at least not that she was aware of. Pansy had somehow figured out how to weave magic into cloth.

The only other instance of this that Hermione knew of was Harry's invisibility cloak. In all the research Hermione had done both during the war and after on the Peverell brothers she'd found no explanation, outside the legend, of how the cloak had been constructed. Pansy had taken the basic idea and adapted it to protection. She'd essentially harnessed a Shield Charm into a piece of clothing.

Hermione's intellectual esteem for Pansy soared, but it was laced with confusion. Pansy had a goldmine on her hands, and she'd done nothing to cash in on it. It seemed so very un-Slytherin, but as Hermione was discovering Pansy rarely acted in the way Hermione expected.

As interesting as Pansy's patent was, it didn't reveal anything that would bring Hermione closer to discovering who was behind the assassination attempts. She looked once more at the memo from St. Mugo's and heaved a sigh. She needed answers, and so far her research had only lead to more questions. It was time she went to the one person who might be willing to give them to her.

Hermione exited the lift and negotiated her way through the cubical maze. There was only one real office in Auror Headquarters, and unsurprisingly even at this late hour light filtered out from its doorway. She knocked on the outside of the doorway and waited for John Dawlish to acknowledge her presence.

"Ms. Granger, what can I do for you this evening?" he asked without looking up.

"You could answer some questions for me," Hermione stated, taking his greeting as permission to enter and sit.

Dawlish finally looked up. "I believe that Mr. Longbottom has already supplied you with whatever materials you might require. Against my better judgment I might add. Or did you possibly have a question relating to some matter other than Ms. Parkinson?"

Hermione glared at him.

"I thought not."

"You could tell me why St. Mugo's is involved with Pansy's estate. Or why she's not paying nearly enough taxes on her family's textile mill. Or why she holds the patent on one of the most amazing advances in magical technology only to let it lavish unused." Hermione stood and leaned over the Head Auror's desk. "I'm trying to help her."

"You think I don't know that!" Dawlish returned hotly. "If I thought for a moment you had any ulterior motives you wouldn't have received the information you have, despite your relationship with Longbottom." He ran a hand through his grey hair. "What you must understand Ms. Granger is that I am not at liberty to discuss certain topics of which your questions relate."

Hermione sat back in her chair with a disappointed thump. She was quick enough to read between the lines. Either Dawlish was handicapped by state secrets or he had sworn confidentiality to Pansy, or both.

Dawlish huffed at Hermione's slouching figure. "The patent isn't unused."

Hermione sat up straighter.

"It hasn't been publicized, but quantities of it have been produced and implemented throughout Britain. All have been donated by an unknown benefactor." Dawlish emphasized the word unknown.

"That's unbelievable," Hermione spluttered. "She'd be the richest woman in the country if she sold it."

"As I have told her countless times," Dawlish drawled. "But I did convince her to claim the donations on her taxes, which is one of the reasons they seem exceedingly low."

Hermione nodded. That at least made sense. Another thought struck her. "She was wearing some of the material when she was attacked at the Leaky Cauldron."

"Yes, it's what saved her."

"You should convince her to supply the Aurors," Hermione said half-jokingly.

Dawlish reached behind his chair and pulled out a charcoal colored cloak. He tossed it at her. Hermione immediately recognized it as the type of cloak all the Aurors wore. She'd seen Neville and Harry's often enough. She ran the material through her hands. It felt like any normal cloak. "No one has any idea, my Aurors included, so I'd appreciate it if you kept this to yourself."

"Of course." Hermione was stunned. Pansy had outfitted the entire Auror department, had saved countless lives, and no one had the slightest inkling.

"Let the rest of it go Ms. Granger. It has nothing to do with what you're looking for, and there are some things that Ms. Parkinson would rather die for than have revealed." He leaned forward and took the cloak back from her. "The same things I would kill to protect."

In that moment Hermione understood why Dawlish scared so many people. She believed him. He would kill to protect Pansy's secrets. Unfortunately, Hermione wasn't as convinced that he was correct in his assumption that St. Mugo's and the Parkinson estate were not related to why someone was trying to kill Pansy. Everything seemed to point to the small town of Sudbury. For now, for Dawlish, she would at least pretend to let the subject rest.


Chapter VIII

Pansy had never been one for romantic gestures. No matter how sincere or well crafted they always seemed trite and forced. Perhaps it was the simple fact that she had never received such a gesture, or felt the need to do so for another, but whatever the reason, she found that she just couldn't stomach them.

As such, she was appalled to feel her own heart speed up and a smile tug at her lips as Neville Longbottom dropped to one knee and oh so earnestly ask Hannah Abbott to marry him. He'd obviously made some preparations, as all of their friends stood around witnessing Hannah's tearful and joyous acceptance. The pub patrons burst into applause, and although Pansy did not join in, she couldn't keep the full-blown smile from her face.

Without really meaning to Pansy's eyes searched the small crowd of well wishers, stopping at the warm brown ones meeting her gaze. Hermione was beaming through tears, and Pansy didn't think she'd ever been more beautiful. They shared a long look, and Pansy couldn't help but wish that for just a moment the other woman was standing next to her and not across a roomful of people.

Hermione was swept up in a hug from Neville, breaking their eye contact. Pansy looked down at the table. It was ridiculous how much she had come to appreciate the other woman's presence. Ridiculous considering that up until two months ago she would have rather swallowed rusty nails than spend a minute in Granger's company.

Now, it felt as if Pansy noticed everything about her. The way she furrowed her brow when she was puzzling out some bit of legal precedent, how she would run the end of her quill along her cheek when she was thinking, the sparkle in her eyes when she found something particularly amusing; all these things made up the picture of a woman she'd never thought enough of to get to know until recently. Pansy wondered what other quirks made up Hermione Granger, and if she'd get a chance to discover them.

She knew she should put an immediate halt to this line of thinking. Being attracted to Granger was one thing. Pansy had always been quite good at dismantling her conquests, at seeing them as little more than objects, there to fulfill a purpose. Enjoying the small things that made them unique, made them people, wasn't something she'd ever experienced, and it was unsettling.

She looked up almost unwillingly. Neville had Hannah on his lap and was obviously telling a humorous story, as most of those surrounding them were in stitches. She scanned the crowd and frowned, not seeing Granger among the laughing faces.

A glass of champagne was set on the table before her, and Pansy's head whipped around in surprise. A beaming Hermione stood next to her as if conjured by thought.

"Cheers," Hermione said, holding her own glass of the bubbly liquid up.

That same traitorous smile came once again to Pansy's lips, and she grudgingly lifted the glass to clink against the other woman's. "Cheers."

They both took a healthy drink, and looked to the happy couple.

"Tell them I said congratulations," Pansy murmured, not wanting to keep Granger from her friends.

"Tell them yourself," Hermione answered smartly, reaching down and clasping Pansy's hand, hauling her to her feet.

Pansy felt rather divorced from her own body as Granger proceeded to lead her across the room, not releasing her hand for a moment. And suddenly she was in the thick of Aurors and Order members, of Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors, and Hannah was jumping off of Neville's lap to throw her arms around her in a hug.

The motion did liberate her hand from Hermione's grip, something she should have been grateful for but missed immediately. Neville shook her hand as she mumbled through congratulatory phrases.

She stepped away from the center of the group, feeling unsettled. Granger, of course had been pulled into a conversation in the thirty seconds she had been speaking to Neville, and Pansy found herself alone on the periphery.

"What are you playing at?" The voice was harsh and slurred.

Pansy turned and met the disgusted eyes of Ron Weasley. She looked away, ignoring him.

"You may have them fooled, but people don't change." He stepped closer. "Once a snake, always a snake."

"Obviously that must be true. After all you're still as smart as the average ten year old."

He loomed over her. "Stay away from her. Stay away from all of us!" He brushed past her, knocking her slightly into the wall.

Pansy curled her hands into fists, seething. The bastard was right. She didn't belong with these people. She'd let herself get soft. She'd trusted, been lulled into living a life that wasn't hers.

Without giving it another thought, Pansy turned and headed from the room. She refused to acknowledge the regret that wrapped around her chest. Safe in her rooms she allowed a brief moment of anger at herself, at Weasley, and at Hermione for causing the whole damn situation, as she flung one of the decorative across the room.

"Stupid," she cursed herself.

A loud knock sounded on the door.

Merlin's beard! Pansy thought, striding to the door and flinging it open, ready to give Weasley another piece of her mind. Only it wasn't Ron standing before her. It was Hermione.

"Um, Hello," the brunette said haltingly, obviously surprised by the violence in which the door had opened. "I don't know what Ron said to you, but he's a right bastard, and he's in the minority."

Pansy closed her eyes and ran a tired hand over her face.

"Are you all right Pansy?"

She could hear the concern in Granger's voice, and it just made her more angry with herself. "I'm fine," she bit off.

"You should come back down." Hermione reached out and took Pansy's hand.

"No!" Pansy wrenched her hand away.

Hermione's brow furrowed, and she stepped all the way into the room, closing the door behind her. "What's wrong? I know you could care less what Ron Weasley thinks of you."

"Nothing's wrong. Go back to your party." Couldn't the woman see that she didn't fit? That she had no business down there!

"Why are you acting like this?" Hermione asked, taking a step closer.

"This is who I am Granger! I'm not a nice person! I am not some bloody pet project, some tragic figure you need to save!"

"What? I don't think you're a pet…"

"Oh yes you do. Let's see if we can rehabilitate the Slytherin, make her fit for polite society." Pansy was yelling now.

"Bollocks!" Hermione yelled back. "You are a good person, when you're not being completely mental! Whether you want to admit it or not."

"I am not mental!" Pansy stepped into Hermione's personal space. "And I am not a good person!"

Before she could think better of it Pansy reached out and pulled Granger to her, capturing her lips in a kiss that might well have been good, but was in no way nice.


Chapter IX

Hermione had been talking to Harry when she noticed that his attention focused on something behind her. His green eyes narrowed, and she turned to see what had caught his attention. Her lips tightened as she watched Ron push past Pansy, knocking her off balance. She immediately started for the other woman, but the crush of people slowed her progress. She darted into a gap, only to come face to face with Ron. He gave her a lopsided grin, as if he hadn't just accosted the woman he was supposed to be protecting.

Her hand snapped up and slapped his smug face before she even realized her own intention. "You're a prick."

"What the hell Hermione!" Ron rubbed his red cheek. "What was that for?"

Before she could answer, a warm hand landed on her shoulder.

"I think you know exactly what that was for," Harry said from just behind her. "Let's step outside and have a bit of fresh air, eh?" His words were friendly enough, but the tone of his voice was decidedly chilly.

Hermione could only stare as Harry grabbed the taller Auror by the elbow and forcibly led him toward the door. She noticed that their loud boisterous gathering had gotten much quieter. Her eyes searched for Pansy, and realized the other woman must have fled. This time when Hermione crossed the room, bodies parted before her.

The walk to Pansy's room seemed to take longer than usual, Hermione's imagination projecting all kinds of scenarios of Ron hurting her feelings. It wasn't until the door was practically ripped from its hinges that Hermione realized that she should have known anger would be Pansy's natural response.

Pansy was obviously upset, but trying to play it off as nothing. She'd tried to charm her out of her mood, tried pointing out that Ron was an idiot, all of which the other woman had mostly ignored. It wasn't until Hermione had touched Pansy that the other woman had focused her anger at her. And as much as Hermione wanted to remain calm, she felt her patience slipping. She'd forgotten how easily Pansy could get her blood boiling.

"Bollocks!" Hermione was furious. All the sleepless nights she spent trying to figure out who was trying to hurt Pansy, all the quiet dinners, the shared smiles. How dare the woman accuse her of manipulation. "You are a good person, when you're not being completely mental! Whether you want to admit it or not."

"I am not mental!"

Pansy closed the distance between them, and Hermione felt her body heat with more than just anger. The many times that she and Pansy had snarked at each other over the years had not prepared her for full out anger. Pansy's eyes were nearly black in the dim light of her room, and where they'd been cold and formal when she'd entered, now they were molten. Her face was flushed and in her agitation her shawl had fallen to the floor, revealing a hint of cleavage framed by her silver blouse. Hermione wanted to grab her and shake her.

"And I am not a good person!"

The words barely registered with Hermione, she was far too busy staring at Pansy's lips as they grew closer and closer, until finally she felt them press against her own.

Pansy barely gave Hermione a chance to respond, so angry was her kiss. Hermione's mind had just wrapped around the fact that Pansy was kissing her at all, before Pansy's tongue was gaining entry and sliding against Hermione's own. The moan that rumbled through Hermione's entire body seemed to convince Pansy that for the moment at least Hermione was a willing participant, and the woman retracted the death grip she had on Hermione's shoulders slightly.

Hermione took the opportunity to wind her arms around Pansy's neck, sliding her fingers into Pansy's silky black hair. Pansy gentled the kiss, but Hermione wouldn't allow it. She surged forward, capturing the other woman's tongue and sucking on it, and it was Pansy's turn to moan. Her hands ran down Hermione's arms, along her waist and up her back, clutching at her and bringing their bodies into full contact.

Their kisses blended one into the next, until finally, panting, Hermione forced her lips from Pansy's in order to draw more than a whisper of air into her lungs.

"Good girls don't kiss like that," Pansy rasped against Hermione's ear. Her lips and teeth trailed a path along Hermione jaw and neck.

"Shut up Pansy," she gasped, tugging the other woman even closer by the grip she still had on her hair. Wherever Pansy touched her Hermione felt on fire. This was probably a bad idea, but Hermione had no intention of stopping. If Pansy was trying to prove something, if she was just using her for sex, then so be it.

"So bossy," Pansy said, and although she couldn't see her face, Hermione knew she was smirking. "I meant it as a compliment."

Hermione pushed Pansy back, separating their bodies. She took in the dilated eyes, the heaving chest, and the kiss-swollen lips of the woman before her. "I know exactly how you meant it," Hermione responded. She put her hand against Pansy's collarbone and walked forward slowly, forcing the dark haired woman to back up. When they reached the side of the four-poster bed, Hermione gave a little shove, smiling as Pansy sprawled backward onto the bed's surface. "And it's been quite some time since I was a good girl."

Hermione's hands grabbed the hem of her cashmere sweater and yanked it over her head. The shock on Pansy's face was something Hermione would remember for a long time. It should have been uncomfortable, standing in just her bra and slacks as Pansy's black eyes took in every inch of her body, but it wasn't. If anything it made Hermione feel even more reckless, more aroused.

Pansy lay across the bed braced up on her elbows, and Hermione couldn't stop her fingers from reaching out and undoing one of the buttons of Pansy's blouse. When the woman made no move to stop her, she undid another and another until the grey silk parted completely. Hermione ran just the tips of her fingers down Pansy's neck and along the tops of her breasts.

She was mesmerized by the silken texture of Pansy's skin. "God you're gorgeous."

Her words seemed to break Pansy out of her passive state. Pansy took the hand running along her chest and tugged Hermione down on top of her. Their lips met again with all of the passion of before.

Hermione felt Pansy's hands running over her body, tugging at the clothes that remained. Her own fingers were doing an admirable job of divesting Pansy's garments as well. She felt cool air on her legs and realized that Pansy must have somehow removed her pants. Hermione gave up trying to release the hooks of Pansy's bra and settled for sliding her hand underneath a lacey cup. Pansy's gasp and the rock hard nipple pressing into her palm nearly took Hermione's breath away.

Before she'd regained it fully, Hermione found herself flipped onto her back. Pansy crouched over her, flinging away the last of her clothing, before reaching out and capturing Hermione's hands above her head. Hermione fought the restraint, wanting to touch Pansy.

"Shhhh," Pansy whispered into her ear, before kissing her way down Hermione's neck and upper chest.

Hermione's back bowed as Pansy licked the stiff peak of Hermione's nipple. She writhed as Pansy alternated attention between each of her breasts. And though her mind had stopped processing anything other than the sensations emanating from wherever Pansy touched her, Hermione was cognizant enough to recognize the moans and mewls of pleasure as issuing from her own lips.

Pansy moved up to kiss her again, punctuating the move by sliding her thigh up against Hermione's center. "Merlin, Granger. You're so wet."

Hermione's hips rose up, seeking more contact with Pansy, who obliged her with a steady pressure. It felt heavenly, but at the same time Hermione wanted more. Much more.

"Pansy. God, please." Hermione knew she was begging and couldn't have cared less.

Pansy ran her hand down to play in wet curls. "Please? I don't recall ever hearing that particular word cross your lips before," Pansy teased in between kisses. "I might need to take a moment to etch this memory in my mind."

Hermione grabbed Pansy's face in both her hands, forcing the woman to meet her eyes. "Fuck me, or I swear to…"

Whatever Hermione was going to say next trailed off into a guttural moan as Pansy slid two fingers inside her.

"Bossy," Pansy accused again, but there was no sting in her words. There was wonder and a little bit of awe, and even a shade of amusement, but absolutely no criticism. Hermione rolled her hips to take in more of Pansy, and the brunette chuckled. "And greedy."

Hermione was too close. The rhythm Pansy set had her crawling out of her skin. And every time Hermione managed to open her eyes, Pansy was right there meeting them, taking her that much closer to the edge.

They moved in concert, Hermione taking everything Pansy was willing to give. It felt like they had been moving together for mere seconds or forever. And still the building of a tremendous pressure thrummed within Hermione. When she thought she couldn't possibly take it for another moment, Pansy's hand, one of those beautiful strong graceful hands that Hermione had studied for so long, pressed firmly against the taunt bundle of nerves and orgasm came crashing down upon her.

A pounding woke Pansy. Not enough to make her move, but she did crack an eye open slightly. It was dark still, but the light of dawn was threatening from behind the window curtains. She wrapped her arms tighter around Hermione, quickly lulled back into slumber by the steady heartbeat beneath her ear.

The sound came again, much louder, and while both women stirred, Hermione murmured sleepily and went back to softly snoring. Pansy spared a small smile for her bedmate before giving an aggravated sigh and throwing the blankets aside. Whoever was on the other side of door had better have a brilliant reason for disturbing her. She looked over to the brunette still nestled in the bed while she pulled a robe on. And they'd best be on their way quickly, her mind added as she pulled the bed hangings closed, shielding Granger from any prying eyes.

A final pounding came before Pansy could reach the door, and she jumped back in surprise, as it swung open with a bang. Ron Weasley strode in, and for a moment Pansy was certain the man knew exactly what had occurred in this room some hours ago. His eyes weren't quite as cold or furious as they'd been the night before, but they weren't friendly either. So distracted by Ron's appearance was she, that she didn't notice Harry had entered as well until he spoke.

"We're sorry to burst in Pansy, but there's been an incident downstairs, and we needed to make sure that you were all right."

"What kind of incident?" Pansy pulled her robe tighter around herself, feeling a shudder of apprehension travel through her body.

"There was an attack downstairs. The wards we set alerted us before they could get to the staircase." Harry's posture was still alert though, communicating to Pansy that he wasn't convinced that the threat had completely passed.

"They were here for me?"

"We believe so. We disarmed one of them, but they disapparated before we could take either of them into custody."

"Got one of their wands though," Ron spoke up.

A rustling of blankets came from behind the bed curtains, followed by a sleepy voiced, "Pansy?"

"All's well for now then?" Pansy said forcefully, ushering the slightly gaping Aurors toward the door. Both men were a bit slower than she'd like, their heads craning behind them despite the firm grip she had on both their arms.

"What's going on?" There was no mistaking Granger's voice this time, and Pansy cursed silently as Harry and Ron stopped and whirled back to face the bed not two steps from the still open door.

Pansy turned as well, just in time to see Granger, dressed only in a sheet and hair thoroughly mussed, step out from around the bed. Hermione, for her part, froze at seeing who else occupied the room, and a crimson blush spread from her forehead south.

Unsure what the men's reactions would be, Pansy strode back toward the bed, placing herself between them and Granger. Although in all honesty she paid little attention to Harry, it was Weasley she was worried about.

Ron's head was tilted to the side, a look of disbelief on his face. Pansy watched as he paled under his freckles and sank to the floor in a heap.

Pansy turned to Harry. "Did he just…"

"Faint dead away? Yep. Doesn't react well to shock," Harry answered, eyes still wide, but slightly amused. "Um, Hermione, you might want to uh find some clothes. I know that the others were going to…"

But before Harry could even get the words out three more men were bursting through the still open door. Unfortunately Neville had been in the lead, and between the sight of Pansy in her robe and Hermione in her sheet he missed the crumpled form of Ron lying in the doorway. He tripped and pitched forward, landing with a loud thump at Pansy's feet.

Both Pansy and Hermione rushed forward to help him, but he immediately clenched his eyes closed and began backing up and apologizing. Pansy looked over at Hermione, seeing that her sheet had slipped just enough to give all five men, well six if she counted the unconscious Weasley, quite a good look at some of her assets. Without even thinking about it, she used her own body to block as much of Hermione as she could.

"Do you think you gentlemen could give us just a moment?" she said through her teeth. Savage and Williamson at least had the grace to pull their eyes away and blush, and Neville still hadn't opened his eyes for fear he might see another bit of Hermione that he wasn't supposed to, but Dawlish stood in the doorway smirk on his face, trying not to laugh outright.

Harry tapped Neville on the arm, getting the other Auror to open his eyes enough to help drag Ron from the room.

"When the two of you ladies are ready, we'll be downstairs," Dawlish said with a grunt as he made his way back to the hallway. "Try not to get distracted." The door closed and both women could hear him chuckling from the other side.

Pansy put her face in her hands. That certainly could have gone better. She didn't even want to turn and look at Granger, positive that the woman was freaking out. The arms sliding around her waist, pulling her into a solid warm body took her by surprise. She didn't turn, but laid her own arms over Hermione's and squeezed back.

They stayed that way for several minutes, until Hermione gently turned Pansy in her arms and kissed her slowly and thoroughly. "Get dressed," she said, "They're waiting."


Chapter X

All six Aurors were sitting or standing around the bar when Hermione and Pansy came down the staircase. Hannah, looking a bit tired was pouring tea into mugs and passing them around. Ron, conscious once more was engaged in a hushed conversation with Harry. Hermione decided that for the moment she would keep her distance from hot-tempered red head.

Dawlish beckoned them over, and the quiet conversation ceased. "So it seems that there are at least two persons involved in the attacks on you Ms. Parkinson." Dawlish began without preamble. "We managed to disarm one of them before they escaped via side-along apparition. In their haste, they did leave this behind." He reached into his cloak and pulled a wand out and placed it on the bar.

Hermione felt Pansy stiffen beside her, and automatically twined her fingers with the other woman's now cold ones. She turned to look at Pansy, relieved slightly when she saw anger and resignation, and not the fear she expected.

"Unfortunately we have no way of identifying them."

"That's not true," Hermione said at once. "Olivander!" She looked toward Harry. "He knows every wand he ever made and who he sold it to."

"Is he even still alive?" Savage asked.

"Yes. He's living in Wales," Harry answered. "And he owes us a favor."

Dawlish gave them all a long look. "Potter, you and Ms. Granger go see our friend Olivander. Even if he didn't make the wand, he might be able to tell us something useful. The rest of us will stay here. I don't like this latest attack. They're getting desperate, and desperate people have nothing to lose."

Hermione gave Pansy's hand a squeeze before releasing it. She longed to say something to Pansy, but wasn't sure if the other woman would welcome anything she had to say in so public a setting. She settled for, "I'll be back straight away."

Pansy nodded distractedly, and Hermione took the unknown wand from Dawlish.

She turned and looked at Harry. "Ready?"

"Let's go."

They both pulled their wands and disapparated with a small pop.

The small house that Olivander had been living in for the last five years looked the same as they remembered. Both had been to visit him several times since the war. Although extremely odd, Mr. Olivander had always been kind to them and very appreciative for their role in his rescue from the Malfoy dungeons.

Harry raised his fist to knock on the door, only to find it open before he had a chance.

"Mr. Potter, Ms. Granger. What a pleasure to see you both." Olivander was more stooped and frail looking, but his eyes were still sharp.

"Hello Mr. Olivander," Hermione reached forward and clasped the old man's knarled hand. "I'm afraid we have a favor to ask of you."

"Well then, come in, come in."

They followed him into the sitting room, taking seats in the chairs opposite Olivander's. Hermione pulled the wand from her pocket and placed it on the coffee table.

"Maple with dragon heartstrings, 10 inches, unbending."

"Thank God," Hermione said in relief.

"Can you tell us whose wand this is?" Harry asked quickly.

Mr. Olivander's eyes never left the wand. "I remember every wand I've ever sold. Even now." He reached out and picked it up, flipping it dexterously to offer it handle first to Harry. "Parkinson. Geoffrey Parkinson."

Hermione was on her feet in an instant. She looked to Harry, who was still seated, mouth hanging open.

"We have to go," he said in a rush, taking the wand back from Olivander. "Thank you, you've been a great help."

They rushed from the house, barely waiting to clear the doorway before disapparating.

The Leaky Cauldron was much busier when they returned. Many of the tables were occupied by witches and wizards eating a late breakfast. Several of the Aurors lingered as well, but Hermione paid them no heed, quickly searching for Pansy amongst those gathered. Not seeing her, she turned and raced up the stairs. Wiliamson and Neville both stood sentry outside Pansy's door.

She ignored them both, and knocked loudly on the portal. Nothing stirred, and Hermione pounded again. "Pansy! It's Hermione, let me in."

The lack of response had Neville and Williamson exchanging a worried expression. Neville stepped up to the door and knocked, but Hermione had no patience for that. She tried the knob, and finding it locked pulled her wand. "Alohomora."

The door swung open on an empty room. Pansy's things were still there, scattered about as she'd left them early this morning. Hermione looked at the bed, noticing the rumpled sheets with a sinking feeling.

"Oy," Williamson said from across the room. "Bloody window's open."

And in the next instant Hermione knew. Pansy had been calm until the moment Dawlish had showed them the wand. She'd known, she'd recognized the wand, known it was her father's, had probably seen it dozens of times.

There had been two people who'd broken the wards this morning. "Neville, the people who escaped this morning, was it a man and a woman?"

"Yes, why? What's going on Hermione?"

"It's her parents," Hermione whispered. "Pansy's parents are the ones trying to kill her."


"She's gone after them. She's gone to Sudbury."

The three of them practically flew down the staircase, only coming to a halt as they reached Dawlish and Harry.

"Pansy's gone after them!" she shouted at Dawlish.

"That's absurd," Dawlish argued.

"She has. She knew that wand was her father's. She's not going to risk all of us, if she thinks she can take them by surprise. I think she went home."

Dawlish paled. "The estate. Even if she wasn't sure her parents were there, she'd go to the estate to protect…" he trailed off.

"Protect who?" Hermione clenched her fists in Dawlish's cloak. Another piece of the puzzle clicked into place. The memo from St. Mugo's. It hadn't been from some administrator, it had been from the Healer-in-Charge of the Spell Damage ward. The same ward where Neville's parents were, where Lockhart was. Pansy was using her home as some sort of convalescence facility. Knowing the things she knew about Pansy it fit.

She released Dawlish. "She's in Sudbury, I'd stake my life on it."

They'd assembled quickly. Dawlish issuing curt orders and assignments. He hadn't even tried to dissuade Hermione from accompanying them, knowing she'd follow on her own if he did.

The seven of them, Dawlish, Harry, Ron, Neville, Savage, Williamson, and Hermione apparated on the edge of the Parkinson property.

"We don't know how many of them there are, but we're assuming it's only two. Take precautions for your own safety, but remember there are plenty of innocents roaming these halls," Dawlish told them all seriously. "Savage, you and Williamson take the south entrance. Potter and Weasley the kitchen. Longbottom, I want you and Ms. Granger with me. We'll take the north."

They broke apart towards their assigned entrances, but before Hermione had taken more than a few steps Dawlish caught her arm. "You do exactly as I tell you. Is that clear?"

She didn't want to take the time to argue with him, so she nodded. The three of them made their way to the north entrance in silence. Neville was first through the door, and though Hermione expected an alarm of some kind to be thrown at any moment, no shouts sounded and no one appeared.

They were in a foyer of some kind. A narrow staircase led to the second floor and a long hall stretched before them. Together they crept forward, Neville in the lead with Dawlish guarding their backs. The first room they passed was empty, and they moved on to the next. They'd reached the third such room when a shriek echoed throughout the house.

Hermione froze, knowing instinctively that it had been Pansy. Her hand tightened on her wand, but she did not run past Neville toward the sound. Neville did increase his pace however. It still felt unbearably slow to Hermione especially when another scream sounded, closer this time.

They reached a heavy oak door. Hermione heard raised voices from the other side. A man's, filled with fury and loathing.

"You are a disgrace! How dare you defile this house with those filthy muggles!" Pansy screamed again. "You are the reason your mother and I had to go into hiding. Your selfishness."

Neville motioned for Hermione to stand aside. The quiet snick of the lock seemed terribly loud in the momentary quiet. Neville took a step back and then pointed his wand once again at the door. "Confringo!"

The door exploded in a shower of splinters. Neville and Dawlish ran through the doorway, and Hermione followed a second later.

Chaos reigned. Pansy's father lay on the floor clutching one arm, but still firing spells. Neville was dueling Pansy's mother, and holding his own. Hermione's gaze fell to the dark haired figure lying in front of the enormous fireplace. Her feet couldn't move fast enough. Pansy's eyes were closed and her breathing was shallow. Hermione had seen the effects of the Cruciatus Curse enough to recognize what had happened.

She stroked the pale cheek, and Pansy's eyelids fluttered. "Open your eyes Pansy. Please." Pansy's forehead creased, frowning. "Wake up."

Black eyes finally opened and met Hermione's soft brown ones. "Hermione," Pansy rasped.

"Hermione! Watch out!" Neville shouted.

A stream of green light flashed from Ann Parkinson's wand. Hermione had no time to react, to draw her own wand in defense. Time slowed.

Hermione watched Neville stun Pansy's mother a split second after the woman had fired. Saw the woman collapse to the floor. She felt a feeling of elation that Neville had at least stopped her from hurting anyone else. Her chest tightened, prepared for the burst of power that would collide with her at any moment. Only it never came.

From the corner of her eye she saw a figure rise, just enough to be in the path of the curse. Watched as the green light struck then bounced off, shattering the windows. Hermione saw John Dawlish fall to the floor a moment after saving her life.

In the end it took two days to sort everything out. Pansy had been transported to St. Mugo's. As had Dawlish, Ron joking immediately that Harry could no longer say he was the only wizard to have survived the killing curse anymore. That Dawlish had been wearing his cloak was the only reason the man was still living, and as it was he'd be quite some time in recovering.

Apparently, he could do the bulk of his recovery at Pansy's. Her ancestral home, it turned out, had been converted into a convalescence home shortly after the war. The estate was a sanctuary for muggles irreparably cursed by Voldemort's Death Eaters. Williamson and Savage had discovered the current occupants, along with Healer Smythe and half a dozen fierce guardians - Pansy's loyal house elves, in the attic about twenty minutes after the Parkinsons were subdued. There were nearly twenty-five of the poor souls, huddled together, scared and not quite sure what to make of all the strangers running about.

Neville had immediately taken charge of getting them settled again, keeping most of the Aurors and Ministry officials far away.

Geoffrey and Ann Parkinson had been taken to Azkaban directly, Kingsley Shacklebolt making sure they were on the fast track for a speedy trial. Their accomplice, the house elf Brutus, had been with the family for two generations, and upon being freed by Pansy had turned spy for her parents. He escaped during the initial confusion, but Harry had been informed a day later by one of the other house elves that Brutus had been both located and dealt with. What that meant exactly, Harry hadn't been told. It had explained a great deal to many of them that Brutus had been involved. How else could Pansy's parents have know so much and have had access to Parkinson owls and Pansy's locations.

All in all, it seemed things were on their way to getting back to normal. Unfortunately, life going back to the way it was before Pansy came into her life was the very last thing that Hermione Granger wanted.


Chapter XI

Pansy pushed the wheeled chair further into the garden of her estate. She found a nice spot near the roses, slightly in shade with a stone bench and a medium sized hedge to give them a bit of privacy. She turned the chair and set the brakes, settling down on the bench and giving her companion a winsome smile.

She received an eye roll in return.

"Is there a reason you felt so compelled to force me outdoors? Unless this is all part of a bigger plan to facilitate my escape? If that's the case, I'll be off. Though I was looking forward to my evening sponge bath from Healer Brandt."

Pansy snorted despite herself, reaching out to tuck the blanket more securely around Dawlish's legs. "Healer Brandt, eh? And here I thought Healer McGuffin had caught your fancy."

A slight flush reddened Dawlish's stoic features, and Pansy chuckled and wagged her eyebrows at him. Mercedes McGuffin was around Dawlish's age, sweet natured, and rather attractive. Pansy had seen them speaking several times, and although she'd never overheard anything less than professional, there was a look about them.

"Alas, I have no escape plan in store for you. I just thought you could do with a bit of fresh air."

The older man made a sour face, but didn't complain. They sat in silence for several minutes, both content to sit companionably and dwell among their own thoughts. Pansy had been by his side everyday for the three weeks he'd been injured. Three weeks since he'd almost died, since a few yards of cloth had forced the killing curse to rebound from him. It hadn't left him totally unscathed, of course. He still hadn't regained the ability to walk yet, but the healers were certain he would eventually. They just weren't sure when.

"So why don't you tell me why you're continuing to waste so much time sitting here with me instead of living your life?"

Pansy looked over at him with a frown. "Perhaps I enjoy your company. Maybe I've decided to give Healer McGuffin a run for her money."

Dawlish laughed, a wheezy, half-choked sound. "As charming as I find your company, I can't help but wonder if it's guilt or some other useless emotion." He took her hand. "You realize that the curse wouldn't have touched you. I didn't save your life, you saved mine."

Pansy looked away, feeling tears gather in her eyes. She gritted her teeth against the weakness, but couldn't keep the emotion out of her voice when she answered almost unwillingly. "And you saved hers."

Out of Pansy's line of sight, Dawlish's face split into a self-congratulatory grin. "Ah, yes. How is the lovely Ms. Granger?"

Pansy shrugged. "How should I know? It isn't as if we're friends." The truth was, Pansy thought of Hermione constantly. She hadn't seen her since the confrontation in her father's study. When Hermione had owled her the next day, Pansy hadn't answered, too busy sorting out the mess at her estate. At least that was what she'd told herself at the time. Hermione hadn't owled again, and Pansy tried to tell herself that it was for the best.

"I was under the impression that you were rather more than that."

"Just because I fuck someone doesn't make us friends," Pansy said scathingly, uttering a rare vulgarity in the hopes that Dawlish would drop the subject.

"You don't expect me to swallow that load of codswallop, do you?" Dawlish tugged on her hand, forcing Pansy to meet his eyes again. "I'm not nearly as stupid as I look, and you aren't even close to being as heartless as you try to appear. You have feelings for her, and you're throwing away a perfectly good chance at happiness."

"You're wrong."

"I'm not, and I'll tell you why. I watched someone who had no reason to, exhaust herself trying to figure out who was after you and how to stop it. She came into my office and demanded to know what was going on in Sudbury, did you know that?" Pansy shook her head. "You say I saved her life. And why did I need to do that? Because she placed herself between you and a killing curse. Those are not the actions of someone out for a quick fuck and nothing more."

Pansy shook off the shock at Dawlish's language. "It doesn't matter. It would never work."

"It seemed to be working just fine."

"It wouldn't have lasted!" Pansy hissed. "I don't know how to be in a relationship! I poison everything. My parents tried to kill me! What does that say about my capacity for intimacy?" She pulled her hand from his grip, standing to pace around the small space.

"Are you quite through? Because I don't have the stomach to listen to that tripe. Your parents were sociopathic power mongers who used you and everyone else they came into contact with to get ahead. They weren't worth the scant three seconds the world grieved their death." Dawlish's voice was severe, and Pansy felt the tears she'd been holding back roll down her cheeks. "Stop letting your past dictate your future! You're stronger and better than that. That woman loves you, no matter how unworthy you seem to think you are." He paused, gentling his voice. "Do you love her Pansy?"

"Of course I love her!" Pansy yelled. "Who wouldn't love her, she's bloody perfect! But what do I possibly have to offer her? A house full of crazy muggles, and a tainted name?"

"Maybe that's all she wants," Hermione said, stepping away from the hedge. "Well that and mind blowing sex, but I'm assuming that you'd be cooperative in that respect."

Pansy spun and gaped at the woman standing a few feet away. "G...granger. What are you doing here?"

"I got tired of waiting for you to stop hiding," Hermione said, closing the distance between them, and reaching up to cup Pansy's cheek. "I miss you."

Pansy leaned in to the touch, closing her eyes and feeling peaceful for the first time in weeks.

"Stop running Pansy. I love you, and I'll just catch you anyway."

A smile broke out on Pansy's face. "Pretty sure of yourself, aren't you Granger."

Hermione smiled back. "Well I am the brightest witch of my age. Just ask anyone." She tugged Pansy closer. "Would you kiss me already?"

"Bossy," Pansy whispered, pulling the insufferable know-it-all into a kiss.

Dawlish caught the soft adjective, but managed to keep the smirk off his face. He'd always suspected that Granger was a top.



Hermione was on her hands and knees rooting through a drawer in the massive wardrobe. "Pansy!" she yelled, "Have you seen my stockings? I swear I put them in here last week."

"Merlin Granger. Don't get your knickers in a twist. They're right here." Pansy entered their bedroom, stockings in hand. "Especially when they are such nice knickers." Her voice dropped to a low tone seeing the current state of dress, or rather undress her lover was in.

Hermione turned and stood, placing a hand on a silk covered hip. "What, this old thing?" She gestured to the obviously new ivory bustier and matching panties, tugging on one of her garters just to toy with Pansy.

"Minx," Pansy breathed, crossing the room and taking Hermione into her arms faster than either of them expected. She drew their lips together fiercely and pressed the other woman up against the wardrobe.

"We're going to be late," Hermione breathed, trailing her lips down Pansy's neck and into the cleavage the brunette's robe revealed.

"It's Longbottom. We have at least an extra half-hour of minor catastrophe built in." Pansy gave a small yelp as Hermione tweaked one of her nipples.

"He's our friend," she chastised while pulling the silver robe from Pansy's shoulders. Hermione leaned back to take in the beauty before her. "God you're amazing."

Pansy smirked and stepped out of Hermione's arms. She walked backwards until she was at the edge of their bed. Naked, she sat on the edge and beckoned Hermione over with one finger. "Care to find out how amazing?"

"Oh, I'm fairly certain I know exactly how amazing you are," Hermione said, sauntering over to her lover. She crawled up Pansy's body, leaving a trail of kisses and goose bumps in her wake. "But I've always been a proponent of in-depth study," she growled against soft lips.

Hermione and Pansy watched as two of their closest friends pledged their lives to one another. Hannah was beautiful in a gown that Pansy had designed, and Neville was more handsome than either of them could ever recall.

Pansy reached out and took Hermione's hand in her own as the happy couple sealed their commitment with a kiss. Hermione looked over at her partner and smiled, utterly happy.

Long after the celebration had ended they lay together in their bed in a house full of damaged muggles, house elves, healers, and one rather crotchety ex-auror. And it was more than either of them could have wanted or desired.

The End

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