"Sit down, Pansy," Gruoch Parkinson said calmly, as she poured herself and her husband a cup of tea.
"What's going on?" Pansy asked quietly. She couldn't remember the last time she had been formally invited into the parlour of their ancestral home.
"Please, sweetheart," Malcom Parkinson said. "Sit down."
Pansy sat down nervously, and looked from her mother to her father.
"We need you to be honest with us, Pansy," Gruoch said slowly. "I promise that we are not going to use anything you say against you, but we really need to know how you feel."
"Okay," the teenaged witch replied, suddenly feeling nervous.
"How do you feel about Draco? We know that you went to the Ball with him in the fourth year."
"Honestly?" Pansy asked, looking at both her parents intently, alternating between each one.
"Yes," Malcom agreed. "Complete honesty, please."
"I hate him. I hate him, I hate him, I hate him." The unexpected opportunity to get her true feelings of her chest was too much for her. "I hate having to be nice to him; I hate having to talk to him. He's an arrogant, selfish, ignorant, baboon. I hate him. I cringe whenever he comes near me. Did you see any pictures of what I wore to the Ball with him? It was the most ridiculous pink fluffy thing I could find. I was so relieved that he spent the evening drooling over Daph."
Her parents looked at each other and smiled slightly. "So why have you spent all your time with him?"
Pansy rolled her eyes at the obvious question. "Lucius is a Death Eater, we're purebloods. It's not as if I have a choice in the matter, is it."
"Well. I'm afraid that's the problem." Her father sighed heavily. "I had a rather large falling out with Lucius today. He went crying to Voldemort, and now we're on Voldemort's list."
Pansy paled dramatically, going white. "Why?"
"Lucius doesn't think that we should have business dealing with Muggles."
"But they make us so much money," Pansy replied instinctively.
"Bugger," Pansy swore under her breath. "So how long do we have?"
"Giving up?" Gruoch asked with a tinge of acid in her voice.
Pansy straightened her back. "Absolutely not." She paused for a second. "Does this mean I can tell Draco to shove his head up his arse?"
"I guess," Malcom said dryly. "It's not as if it can do any harm."
"I'm scared though," Pansy half whispered, suddenly looking down.
Malcom nodded. "As are we, my dear. I'm not too worried about Voldemort at the moment. He won't attack us now; he has too much to lose. If he did, he'd have all the other pureblood families turn against him. He will use his power to try and undermine us, and eventually he will succeed. The problem we have is you. We're thinking of pulling you out of Hogwarts. Draco will have been informed of our..." He coughed slightly. "...Fall from grace and could make your life hell."
Pansy shook her head. "I don't want to do that; it can't be worse than it has been. At least I don't have to put up with him drooling over me as some sort of last resort when Daph's not in the room."
Gruoch frowned softly. "Why is Draco always fawning over Daphne - you are much better looking."
Pansy smiled slightly. "Dad?"
Malcom coughed slightly. "That would be my fault. I taught Pansy some glamour spells before she went to Hogwarts. I told her that people should like her for who she is, not what she looks like."
"You mean that you've been under a spell for five years at school?"
Pansy smiled happily, nodding at the same time. "It's worked perfectly. Draco has only paid attention to me, as I've been a simpering hanger-on. I know that I have friends who like me for my personality, not my looks, and it's been a really Slytherin thing to do - trick everyone in the house, including Snape, for my entire time there. The problem I had is that the spell didn't work for photographs, so I had to be careful not to be caught. I've nearly been found out many times, but I pulled it off.
"It wasn't much. I just made my nose a little bigger, hair a little duller and shorter, added a few spots, and made myself look smaller. Draco didn't even notice, even from the first day he was drooling at other people. He's not the most observant."
Gruoch laughed. "I'm proud of you. But what are you going to do when you get back to school?"
Pansy sighed softly. "Keep my head down, my spells up, and try and survive. It's the Slytherin way."
Gruoch looked at Malcom. "Are you sure you don't want to stay home. We should be safe from Voldemort for a bit, and we do have safe havens abroad that we can run to."
Pansy took a deep breath. "Have you ever thought of going to the other side?"
"What do you mean?"
"We're not a traditional pureblood family. We've always used Muggles when we've needed to. Sure, purebloods are the best, but we know that half-bloods have their uses. As do all the other creatures we deal with. Our family goals have always been to rule from shadows."
"True," Malcom admitted calmly.
"So why don't we help defeat the Dark Lord?"
"Call him Voldemort, dear," Gruoch said smoothly. "We don't give anyone that honorific if we don't have to."
"I had thought of that," Malcom replied thoughtfully. "Unfortunately, I've had a series of run-ins with Dumbledore. He objects to me using Muggles as well. It's not in his vision for the Wizarding World."
Pansy rolled her eyes. "So we can't approach him."
"Or anyone else," Gruoch added, sipping on her tea. "People fear us, because we have a reputation for being dark."
Pansy snorted eloquently. "Only because it means we get what we want. We've always been grey."
"Ladies don't snort," Gruoch chastised her only daughter gently.
"Sorry Mum. So we're stuck; on the one hand we have Voldemort. On the other, we have everyone else and neither one of them trusts us. I guess that leaves us with only one option."
Gruoch and Malcom exchanged a glance. "You mean buy our way out of the country?"
Pansy laughed. "No. We need to approach someone who's on the light side. Someone who's got an open mind. And is the only person in the school not afraid of Draco."
Her parents exchanged another long glance.
"He is from a pureblood family," Malcom commented softly. "But he is very close to the Weasleys, and they are Muggle lovers."
Pansy waved her hands airily. "Oh please daddy. You don't dislike Muggles. They make you far too much money."
Her father didn't disagree.
"You'd deal with anyone if there is money involved. And let's face it, if Voldemort loses, the Malfoys would be vulnerable to a take over."
Malcom smiled. "We've brought up a little genius, Gruoch. It would be a wonderful revenge on the Malfoy family. It would serve them right for dragging us into this mess in the first place."
Pansy nodded. "Revenge for him treating me like dirt, just because I've not been pretty enough for him to drool over." She sighed softly. "But there is a problem. I've not exactly been friendly with Harry in the past. I helped Draco get him into a lot of trouble at school last year."
"So he has a grudge against you."
Pansy shook her head. "Maybe, but maybe not. Harry's nice, if you know what I mean. He's friends with a house-elf." She smiled slightly, "Remember Dobby?"
"Yeah, Harry had him freed. Draco ranted for several days over losing that elf. Anyway, Harry's a Gryffindor. A do-gooder. If I ask him for help, honestly, I think he'll help us." She paused for a few seconds. "I'd have to be honest. He's already getting really good at reading people.
"And he is cute.
"The other problem is Weasley, and probably Granger, too. They're both very protective of Harry. Weasley because he's insecure, and doesn't want anyone getting between them, and Granger because she thinks she is smarter than him and knows best."
"Book smart, yeah. Would I want her in my corner if Vol... Voldemort came knocking? Hell no. I'd rather have someone who can think on her feet."
"Saying Voldemort gets easier with practice," Gruoch commented, pouring herself another cup of tea.
"So if you could approach him before school, when he doesn't have his friends around, you may be able to convince him to help you?"
"Yes." Pansy smiled slightly. "But everyone knows that he is the most protected wizard on the planet." She sighed. "He's probably in a big castle somewhere, looked after by Dobby."
"Or in Little Whinging," Malcom countered.
"What!?" Pansy and Gruoch asked together.
"He might live in Little Whinging," Malcom repeated dutifully.
"You know where Harry Potter lives?" Gruoch demanded.
"Yes. I was planning on using the knowledge if Voldemort ever comes for us directly. But, I'm prepared to gamble on you getting Potter to accept us. And if it works, we could gain a lot of money, power, and influence."
His wife and daughter nodded. They both knew that the safe and steady might be good in the long run, but the occasional gamble could really pay off if you had the courage to risk everything.
"How did you find out where he is, isn't it supposed to be a secret?"
"Pure luck. I was doing an inspection of one of our Muggle plants and overheard a rather obnoxious Muggle boasting about his son. One of the others mentioned a second son, and he explained that he was at some strange boys' school. I wouldn't have paid anymore attention, but the name Harry Potter came up.
"I did some research, and it turns out that this fat Muggle's wife is Lily Potter's sister."
Gruoch leaned across and kissed her husband lightly.
"That's why I married you, my dear."
"And I thought it was because I promised to make you the wealthiest woman on the planet."
"That was a bonus," Gruoch smiled. "Your sneaky nature was by far my most favourite aspect of your personality."
"Okay," Pansy interrupted, before this conversation got out of hand. "So you can get me to see him, and I'll do the rest."
She paused for a second. "You know, if Harry does defeat Voldemort, he'd be in a perfect position to do what ever he wants. Being the wife of either the Minister of Magic, the Headmaster of Hogwarts, or the best Quidditch player in the world, would be a good thing."
Malcom laughed. "You have to get him to help us first."
"You've said yourself, Daddy - you have to plan ahead. I think that Harry needs help. He needs to learn to take control of his own destiny, to learn how to push himself to succeed, push himself to win, and I think he really needs a loyal girlfriend who'll have the courage to stand up to him and will not be scared to fight with him.
"I can offer him that."
"Aren't you risking just exchanging Draco for Potter?" Gruoch asked quietly.
Pansy shook her head. "Not at all. To start with, Harry's not a disgusting toad with a five year old's intellect. And let's face it, sooner or later Daddy's going to be thinking about marrying me into one of the other pureblood families - like the Malfoys. This way I'll actually get a chance at someone I'd choose."
"I've been thinking about that," Malcom said, a slight smile on his face. "Your mother has been most eloquent in pointing out some of the holes in my plans for you. Not least that I actually want you to be happy. So you don't have to do this just to avoid my machinations."
Pansy felt her eyes go wide with shock. She had been groomed to accept that she wouldn't have a choice when it came to choosing a husband. It had been her main secret reason for hiding her looks. She knew that if Draco had known what she really looked like, he would have been pestering his Dad to get them married as soon as possible, and she would have ended up a useless alcoholic like Narcissa Malfoy.
As it was, her disguised looks and annoying habit of pretending to fawn over Malfoy had meant that the young man had tried to stay away. It had been stupidly easy to manipulate him. He probably thought that reverse psychology was a sexual position.
Still, that didn't change that marrying Harry would have a lot of benefits. He was definitely the loyal type, and gentle, so she wouldn't have to worry about being abused, or having the public embarrassment of her husband cheating on her. He was rich, so he wasn't a gold digger; he was cute - that was a given - and he had a lot of inner strength. If she could get him to fall in love with her, and her him, it would be a partnership that could take her to all the places her ambition wanted her to go.
She looked up at her parents and said simply. "I want to do this. You've always taught me that a Parkinson pulls victory out of the jaws of defeat, and always has a plan. We're facing losing everything, because of a stuck-up prick and his group of sycophants. If I can help us turn this around and end up with a wonderful man for a husband, and Malfoy Manor, then I'll have lived up to my family name."
"Yes, Mr Sampson," Vernon Dursley simpered. "What can I do for you?"
"Your performance as Sales Director has been noted by our parent company, and as such, you are in line for a possible promotion."
"Yes, sir," Vernon said, a look of pride appearing on his face.
"The owner of the company would like to meet you. He feels that it would be of great benefit if he saw you in your home environment. Mr Parkinson is a firm believer in family."
"Of course," Vernon nodded eagerly. "My family means everything to me."
"If you are free on Wednesday, he will come to your house for dinner and to have a chat about the position."
"That would be wonderful." Vernon paused for a second, and then blurted, "Do you know what position he has in mind?"
Mr Sampson peered over his glasses. "Mr Parkinson has not informed me of his plans. However, it would be natural to assume a pay rise that would correspond to your new responsibilities."
Vernon nodded eagerly again, having reached his gamut of physical responses.
"Mr Parkinson will be bringing his daughter with him, as well as his wife."
"Petunia!" Vernon shouted, as he exploded into the house. "Dudley! Get down here."
"Why, what ever is the matter?" Petunia asked, walking out of the kitchen, after hanging up the phone.
"Wonderful news! The owner of GP International, our parent company, is coming here on Wednesday for dinner. He's bringing his wife and daughter. If it goes well, I will be promoted to the parent company!"
"Oh, Vernon," Petunia whispered breathlessly, and then leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. "That's wonderful news."
The loud clomping of feet announced the arrival of their elephantine son. "Yo, wassup?" Dudley demanded, his arms folded in front of him.
"Duddikins, what have we said about talking like that at home?"
Dudley rolled his pig-like eyes. "Don't," he mimicked.
"Exactly. Now, listen carefully son. I have a chance of a huge promotion. My ultimate boss will be visiting on Wednesday with his wife and daughter. You have to be on your best behaviour and in your smartest clothes."
"I'll bet she's a right heifer," Dudley sniffed. "What's in it for me?"
"A car on your seventeenth birthday," Vernon promised.
"Really?" Dudley said, his eyes going wide.
"If I get the promotion, it will mean moving to a new bigger house!"
"I'll charm the socks off the fat cow," Dudley vowed.
"How come the spells that are supposed to protect Harry aren't affecting us?" she asked, as they approached the house in Privet drive.
"There are two main spells. Both based on blood protection. One is to stop people from finding him; the other is to keep out people who mean him harm." He sniffed despairingly. "It's a pretty poor setup. All it would need is Voldemort to find out he's here, and half the magic has already failed. I'm sure he could entice Potter out by killing a few Muggles."
"Doesn't it strike you as strange that the person supposed to save the world is living here?"
"It's security through obscurity, honey. It's a stupid idea that never works. It's this sort of thinking that is why we've never been on Albus' side. It's sloppy, short-sighted behaviour. No attention to detail. They'd never be able to make a living if you took away their wands."
"At least Harry has relatives that care for him," Pansy sighed.
"You seem awfully fond of him," her mother pointed out, as her father expertly parked the Bentley at the edge of the curb.
Pansy smiled slightly, "Maybe I've had a slight crush on him," she admitted. "He looks great when he plays Quidditch, and he's willing to stick to his principles, regardless of the cost. And besides, I saw the photos of the battle at the Ministry. He can look after himself, and he taught his friends to fight as well. It's hard not to have a small crush on him."
"Just be careful."
They stepped out of the car, all three of them pretending not to notice the twitching of the curtains.
Dudley Dursley, dressed in his finest trousers and shirt, stole a quick glance out of the lace curtains in the living room, and gasped.
"Duddikins?" Petunia asked, suddenly worried.
"She's beautiful," Dudley stammered, moving away from the curtains, his thoughts of describing her as a heifer completely forgotten. "She's an angel!"
He collapsed on the edge of the sofa, his mind full of the image he had just seen. The girl could only have been his age and was quite tall. She had the most beautiful hair he had ever seen: long, straight and a light chestnut colour that hung down to her mid-back. She was wearing a black dress that revealed flawless shoulders and emphasised a slim waist, before flaring out to perfect hips. The dress covered her down to her knees, before stopping, revealing lightly sun-tanned calves that ended in low black heels. He couldn't wait to see what she looked like up close.
Petunia and Vernon shared an amused glance. "You'd be perfect for her," Vernon said loudly.
All three of them jumped as the doorbell rang once. Vernon glared at his wife and only son. "Remember, best behaviour."
He walked to the hall and opened the door.
Pansy followed her father into the narrow hallway of the house. She looked around curiously, keeping her thoughts about the atrocious wallpaper to herself.
Vernon, a rather fat Muggle who appeared to be Harry's uncle, invited them into a dining room that he was overtly proud of.
It wouldn't have been used by the staff in their mansion. They had a kennel bigger than the room.
Inside was a tall thin woman, who was introduced as Petunia. Pansy was vaguely amused by the fact that Lily Potter had obviously got the looks in the family. This woman had a pinched look to her, as if she had a mean side.
Next to her was what she presumed was a large teenage male, and not, as she had first thought, a trained rhinoceros. The blubber-filled Muggle was smiling at her in a way that was disturbingly familiar - it was exactly the same way that Draco had stared at Daphne. She sighed, suddenly realising that Harry's family wasn't going to live up to her expectations.
"I thought you had two children," Malcom said after the introductions had been made, and after Pansy had found out that the whale was called Dudley.
"Oh I'm afraid that our nephew is grounded at the moment. Terrible child. We took him when his parents were killed in a car crash. He's been nothing but trouble. He goes to St. Brutus' Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys."
"Ahh," Malcom said politely, before changing the subject smoothly.
Pansy sat at the table, her mind running on autopilot. She was trying to work out what the hell was going on. What the hell was St Brutus'?
Petunia quickly served them all dinner, bringing out roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, with plenty of gravy.
"Ahh, splendid," Malcom announced cheerfully. "I'm lucky I brought just the wine for the occasion." He pulled a bottle of red wine out of nowhere - a fact that was completely missed by their hosts - and quickly poured all six people at the table a glass.
She watched as Dudley looked shocked for a second that he was given alcohol, and then saw him try and hide it and appear sophisticated. She felt a brief surge of Magic as her father finished serving the Dursleys and poured their own. She smiled to herself; dad had obviously made sure there was no alcohol in their drinks, while increasing the alcohol in the Dursleys'. It was a very good way of finding out exactly what people were really thinking.
The dinner passed relative quickly, with the adults dominating the conversations. The roast beef would have been used to feed their pet dogs at home - as punishment for them being bad. Vernon had been eating it, while showing a quite disgusting habit of chomping loudly with his food, as if he couldn't breathe through his nose. Her appetite had been completely destroyed when she had seen that Dudley was plainly following in his father's footsteps.
After a passable apple pie, and several glasses of wine, Petunia and Vernon Dursley were obviously slightly drunk and were regaling them with tales of Dudley's perfection.
The ball of fat himself was listening in with an enraptured expression on his face, obviously enjoying being the centre of attention. She kept a suitable impressed expression on her face, wondering how the hell Harry had turned out as he had, when being brought up with these disgusting examples of Muggle-kind.
"Dudley, why don't you show me your room?" she asked, knowing that the Dursleys would talk a lot more if the "kids" were out of the way.
Dudley nodded and shot to his feet.
The dinner conversation was boring the hell out of him, but it was worth it just to be near the angel who was sitting opposite him.
Every now and again she would smile at him, and he would feel his heart rate increase a little more.
Now that he could see her up close, he was convinced that she was the most beautiful girl in the world. Her face was dominated by deep grey eyes, framed by long eyelashes. Her small nose led the way down to the most amazing lips he'd ever seen.
Dinner passed in a flash, and his mother's fabulous apple pie was a perfect ending to the meal. He had several glasses of the wine that Mr Parkinson kept dolling out to him, hoping to impress Pansy with his drinking ability. He'd been excited when she had been introduced. His father had married a woman with a flower name, and he now hoped to as well.
"Dudley," he watched the lips move, entranced. "Why don't you show me your room?"
He shot to his feet as soon as he could, barely managing to avoid upsetting the table. He gestured for her to precede him, wanting to see if he could get a glimpse up her dress as they went up the stairs.
Pansy smiled at him gently and absently put an arm around him, lightly touching his shoulder. Before he knew it, he was preceding her up the stairs and couldn't stop without being obvious.
He led her into his bedroom, relieved that his mother had cleaned for him today, just in case.
Pansy sat down daintily on the edge of his large bed.
He moved to sit next to her only to find that, as he sat down she had moved over to examine one of his bookcases. He realised instantly that it was just coincidence - her movement had been too natural for it to have been otherwise.
She pulled a book out a random. "Macbeth? You like Shakespeare?"
"Yeah," Dudley said, vaguely remembering doing a small project on it.
"My favourite part is act two, scene two." She closed the book, and closed her eyes, as if in thought. "What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!"
Dudley gasped softly at her; with her eyes closed he could run his eyes over her body with impunity, and he had done so. "Yeah," he said. "That's the best part of Macbeth, by far."
Pansy smiled warmly at him. "So, what's your cousin like?"
Dudley shrugged. "Stupid weakling really. We used to beat him up all the time," he boasted. He felt a little lightheaded, probably from the wine, but he could see that she was impressed. "He's a freak," he confided.
Pansy sighed as Dudley gestured for her to climb the steep stairs first. With a practised ease that came from dealing with Draco for so many years, she lightly placed an arm around the large boy and guided him in front of her. She made a mental note to scour her skin where it had touched him later.
His bedroom was filled with all sorts of Muggle gadgets, and had absolutely no style at all. The walls were painted in a solid blue, which gave the whole room a slightly creepy feel.
Carefully, she perched herself on the edge of the bed, and then stood gracefully as he tried to sit next to her. She walked over to the only bookcase in the room, absently noting the dust on the shelf. She pulled out a copy of Macbeth, and turned to face Dudley. "Macbeth? You like Shakespeare?"
He nodded eagerly, grunting something incomprehensible. "My favourite part is act two, scene two," she told him, then closed her eyes and recited her favourite part of Hamlet to him.
She could actually feel his eyes crawling over her body, and thought that Harry had better appreciate what she was going through to talk to him.
After Dudley had proven his ignorance, she took the opportunity to ask about Harry to see what he thought about his cousin.
Dudley shrugged. "Stupid weakling really. We used to beat him up all the time," he boasted. "He's a freak."
Hiding her growing horror, she knelt on the floor in front of him and leaned back a little, fully aware of where the toad's eyes would go. "Tell me more," she whispered.
Dudley smiled, his eyes firmly staring down her top, and started to talk.
She listened, unmoving, as Dudley told her about him living in the cupboard, the beatings he would give him, and how he deliberately ruined any friends he might have. He reeled of a litany of bruises, kicks, and punches that he had given the boy, and boasted about how badly his father and mother had as well, glorifying in how Harry had been forced to cook and clean for them.
It was when he proudly stated about it being a day before they had taken Harry to hospital for a broken arm that she finally moved.
The movement was fast and simple. Her right hand drew back, then launched forward with all her weight behind it, snapping at the last minute to ensure that she caught him perfectly.
The fat git keeled over backwards, unconscious before he hit the mattress.
With fire in her eyes, she stormed out of his room and headed towards the dimly lit far end. There was a door there with several locks on it. She realised she needed her wand, and marched downstairs, quite prepared to just grab her wand and hex the hell out of the Dursleys.
She walked into the living room and paused. Her parents were sitting on the couch, in a deep conversation with each other, while the two Dursleys were frozen in place.
"We couldn't take talking to them anymore, so they're under the Imperious," Malcom explained cheerfully. "How's Dudley."
She held out her hand, showing the slight bruising across her knuckles. "Unconscious, the hard way."
"I take it you got him to talk?"
"Yeah," Pansy spat, disgustedly. "He boasted about beating the hell out of Harry. Harry's locked in a room; I need my wand to open the locks."
Her mother reached into her purse and pulled out her daughter's wand. "Take your time," she smiled at Pansy.
"Thanks mum," she ran back up stairs.
"Alohomora," she chanted, pointing at the door.
The four locks opened with a click.
Taking a deep breath, Pansy pushed open the door and walked into the small room.
For a second, she had to blink to make sure that she wasn't dreaming - that this hovel was in the same house as the rest of the rooms she had been in. It was cold, freezing in fact. In the corner, Harry's owl rested, looking like she needed some food urgently. The bare floor was coated in dust, and she cautiously took a few steps forward to the hunched up form she could see in the far corner.
"No, no, no, Sirius, no, I'm sorry," she heard him whisper, as he tossed and turned in his bed.
"Harry," she said softly. "Wake up, Harry." She reached out and touched him.
Harry's eyes sprung open, wildly, not focusing properly without his glasses.
"Shh," she whispered softly. "It's alright, I promise."
Harry looked at her, shaking slightly in the cold, fear visible in his face.
Pansy reached out, and lightly touched his forehead, wincing slightly as she felt the fever. "We're going to take you out of here," she whispered.
"No!" Harry mumbled, feverishly. "Can't leave, hurt people."
"We won't hurt you, Harry, I promise."
Harry shook his head violently, his whole body moving with him. "No, I'll hurt you, get you killed. Always happens. Sirius, parents, all dead."
"You won't Harry. I promise you."
"Voldemort wants you, I know. We're safe from him."
"You can say his name," Harry said, shock in his voice. "I'm the only one."
"No, not anymore Harry," Pansy whispered softly. "Let me take you away from here. I promise you'll be safe."
"No more Dursleys?" the hope in his voice tore through her.
"You'll never have to see them again."
"Promise?" he asked again.
Harry reached up, his hand shaking with effort. "Angel," he whispered, as he touched her cheek softly.
Pansy took his hand and softly kissed it. "Your angel," she agreed. "Sleep, I'll take care of you."
Harry nodded and fell back asleep instantly.
Pansy waited a few seconds, and then crept out of the room, before running down the stairs.
"What is it?" Gruoch asked.
"He's feverish, it looks like he hasn't had a decent meal since school, and he thinks I'm his angel."
Malcom smiled faintly. "Aren't you?"
Pansy took a deep breath. "That depends on you. We need to get him the hell out of here, and I promised that I would take care of him. He can't fight Voldemort in this state, and quite frankly, when I next see Dumbledore I'm going to find out just exactly why keeping Harry in these appalling conditions is so necessary." She took a deep breath. "Do you know what he was worried about?"
Both her parents shook their heads mutely, deciding it was wise not to draw her ire onto them.
"Hurting us - because everyone who tries to help him gets hurt. He has way too much guilt, and he seems to blame himself for Black's death."
"The one Bella put through the Veil?"
"Yeah. So," her lips curved slightly. "Can I keep him?"
Malcom and Gruoch exchanged a quick look, and then nodded. "He'd be better protected at our place than the amateur shields on this place. Besides, we owe it to James and Lily."
"Can I have some help then?"
"You go, honey," Malcom said to his wife. "I want a word with our gracious hosts."
The two Parkinsons went back upstairs, the elder not jogging up the stairs like her daughter.
Gruoch sniffed dismissively. "Albus has kept Potter in this condition? With these people? And people call us evil. Even our dungeons are nicer than this."
Pansy nodded. "And we feed our prisoners. Look at him."
"Pick him up, dear. I'll get his stuff." She pulled out her wand, and cast a revealing spell on the room.
Pansy walked over to the bed again and carefully wrapped Harry up in his thin blanket, pocketing his glasses. She took a step back, and pointed her wand at him, casting a levitation spell.
Gruoch walked over to the cage, and released the snowy white Owl. "Go to Parkinson Manor," she commanded the bird.
Hedwig hooted once, and then flew out through the doorway and down the stairs.
"This will help," her mother said quietly, offering her Harry's invisibility cloak.
"I knew he had one of these," Pansy announced. "It's the only way he could have got away with some of the things he's done. And yeah, it will be easier. We can just walk out with him hidden, and no one will know anything."
Gruoch smiled. "Proof that he wasn't safe here anyway."
They walked downstairs together, the invisible, well-wrapped Harry and his trunk floating after them.
"What have you done to them, Dad?" Pansy asked, as she looked at the two Muggles.
"They're going to have an overwhelming urge to confess their mistreatment of Harry to the police tomorrow morning, which when combined with Harry's unexplainable absence will cause them no end of trouble. And tomorrow afternoon, Mr Dursley is going to be fired with extreme prejudice. The only job he will be able to get will be stacking shelves in a supermarket."
"Can you release them? I want a word before we go."
"Of course, dear."
Petunia and Vernon suddenly looked around, then saw the wands in their visitors' hands, and screamed.
"Silencio," Pansy hissed, her wand trained on both of them. When she had their attention, she released the silencing charm.
"I came here tonight to see a friend of mine. A man I know to be brave, honourable, and honest. I thought that I'd be able to see how he lives, see the people who turned him into the upstanding person that he is, and ask him the biggest favour of my life.
"Instead I find a family of freaks, of the most disgusting Muggles that I have ever come into contact with. With an imbecilic son who thinks that he can impress me by staring down my dress and boasting about bullying another person. You'll find the fat whale unconscious on his bed; he'll wake up with a broken jaw from where I hit him.
"How Harry has become what he has when dealing with you, I will never know. It says much more about him than I had ever known."
Her eyes were flashing with barely repressed fury. "You could have had everything: more money than you could have dreamed of - as we rewarded you for the care and well-being of Harry - respect and status for being with the social Elite, and your dream job. Instead, we leave you with nothing, worse than nothing.
"We're taking Harry with us; he'll be safe with us."
"But the blood protection?" Petunia blurted.
Pansy's lips curled cruelly. "Without him, you'll be defenceless. Pity."
The two adults paled dramatically.
"Now look here," Vernon demanded.
"Be quiet you ignorant Muggle," Pansy sneered. "You've made your bed, have the dignity to lie in it."
She took a deep breath and looked around. "And your sense of fashion is appalling. We wouldn't decorate our servant quarters like this."
She turned on her heel and marched out, Harry still floating behind her, completely invisible.
"I'll be talking to you tomorrow, Dursley," Malcom announced cheerfully. "Don't forget what I said."
They walked out together, following their daughter and the invisibly floating Boy Who Lived.
The drive out back to the Parkinson family manor was silent. Harry was lying across the back seat, his head in Pansy's lap, shivering even under the blanket and his invisibility cloak.
Pansy was lightly stroking his hair, while she tried to deal with her anger. It was on the tip of her tongue to order her family to turn around so she could burn the house to the ground. Maybe leave the Dursleys fate up to chance... if they got out, they survived.
"What do you think is wrong with him?" she eventually asked, trying to focus her mind on something other than revenge.
"Malnutrition, wizarding flu, and probably depression. A couple of potions will take care of the first two; the last might be more difficult."
Pansy nodded. "Not a problem. I'm starting to wonder what else is wrong with him. How the hell is he supposed to be able to fight in this condition? What the hell has Dumbledore been playing at?"
"I don't know," Malcom sighed. "And people call us evil."
"Ok," Pansy said. "Here's what I'm planning. We get Harry well physically, as soon as possible, and then I'll help him deal with death. He needs a Slytherin's perspective on how to handle it. Then we find out where he is when it comes to actual fighting. I know that he's the best at magical duelling in the school, but that's not really saying much. Dad, we'll need to hire some of the best to teach him how to fight properly, so he won't have to just rely on magic. I'll help him get physically fit; he's wasn't too unfit at school, from duelling and Quidditch, but that's probably gone."
"Why are you doing this, Pansy," Gruoch asked gently, twisting in her seat to look at her daughter.
She looked pensive for a few moments, staring out the window. Slowly, she turned and faced her mother. "Because he could be the future I want," she replied simply.
"There is only six weeks before school starts," Malcom mused idly, his strong hands steering the powerful Mercedes through the streets with a competent ease. "Which isn't long, especially to teach you both to fight properly. You'll both have to use the Time Turner."
"Good idea, dad," Pansy smiled, relaxing a bit. She didn't really know why she was doing this for Harry. Seeing him lying in the squalid filth, feverish, had touched her in places she thought she had blocked off, and when his only concern had been about her, she realised once and for all what made up Harry Potter. That he was as nice as he seemed - that it wasn't an act to hide some strange madness.
He was the only wizard in the world like that; he was unique. And if anyone was suitable to coax him into being the best he could be, she was the best candidate.
As they passed under a motorway bridge, the car shimmered and shifted. The large BMW Seven series that replaced the Mercedes was a different colour, but was as large inside.
"I'll put him in the room next to mine," Pansy said, levitating Harry out of the car. "Then I'll go to bed myself. See you for breakfast?"
Malcom nodded. "I'll go into work a little late, and we'll see what we can arrange for his training."
"We'll have to take him shopping as well, and burn that excuse for clothing he has at the moment."
One of their house-elves opened the door, took a look at the boy they were levitating in, and popped out of sight.
"That was strange," Gruoch muttered, suddenly reaching for her wand. Next to her, her husband was doing the same thing.
Before they could get any further there was another pop, and a new house-elf appeared. This one was wearing more clothing than a normal House-elf, and had a very stern expression on his face. "What are you doing with Harry Potter sir," he demanded.
Before her parents could react, Pansy took several steps forward. "Dobby, right?"
Dobby nodded, not showing any fear as she walked nearer.
"We've just been to see Harry at the Dursleys. We found him like this. We're going to look after him." She deliberately used small sentences, not sure how this House-elf would react, so she wanted to make it very clear what was going on.
"Professor Dumbledore sir say Harry Potter sir safe at Dursleys," Dobby protested, frowning at her.
Pansy moved, pulling back the blanket, showing Harry's fevered face, and the visible gauntness. "He might have been safe from Voldemort, but he wasn't safe from them or himself."
Dobby gasped in horror, as his big wide eyes suddenly hardened.
"Don't!" Pansy shouted, suddenly realising what he was about to do.
"Dumbledore wrong, Harry Potter sir hurt. Dobby make filthy Muggles pay. Turn them into pigs!"
Pansy shook her head slowly. "You don't need to do that, Dobby," she said gently. "Tomorrow, they are going to be confessing their mistreatment to Muggle law enforcers. The big Dursley is going to lose his job, and won't be able to get another. By the time Dad has finished with him, he'll only be suitable for the most dangerous and degrading jobs."
"Dobby is free elf now; Dobby can avenge Harry Potter sir's abuse. Harry Potter sir always good to Dobby, even when Dobby was bad."
Pansy dropped to one knee in front of Dobby, and reached out to slowly touch his shoulder. "Would Harry want you to avenge him?"
Reluctantly, Dobby shook his head. "Harry Potter is a great and kind wizard."
Pansy nodded. "Instead, why don't you stay here with us for the summer, and you can help me look after Harry."
Dobby's eyes went wider than normal. "Mistress serious?"
Pansy nodded solemnly. "You are welcome to stay with us. If you'd like, you can take him to the room next to mine, while I go and get some potions to make him better. His trunk is in the back of the car."
Dobby bowed deeply to Pansy, before turning and walking off, Harry floating behind him.
Pansy turned to her parents and dropped the kind expression. "Study?"
Her parents nodded and followed her into the comfortable book-lined room. Pansy curled up on one chair, while her parents sat opposite her. "So," she started. "Today we learnt that a, Harry inspires some incredibly loyalty in creatures that most wizards look down on. And b, perhaps more worryingly, house-elves aren't quite as loyal to us as we had presumed."
Her father nodded. "This is very interesting. That first elf had obviously been ordered, probably by Dobby, to get him if she saw Harry. We can presume that every house-elf was under those orders, as there was no way he could have known beforehand that Harry would come here first. We also seem to have underestimated just how magical they are. Dobby took control of that Levitation without a wand, and without any visible effort."
"So," Gruoch said calmly. "How can we profit from this situation?"
"I'm not sure that we can at the moment. Insufficient knowledge. However, Pansy, you were absolutely right to invite Dobby to stay. He's obviously the principle in this matter. I'm glad to see you following your instincts."
Pansy blushed under her father's praise.
"First, we get another house-elf, and obviously an intelligent one. Harry gets someone he is familiar with, in case he's worried about staying here. And you both get a bodyguard. An entirely satisfactory scenario and the chance that we might be able to profit from this as well..." he trailed off, looking into the distance.
He smiled slowly, and looked down at them. "How many house-elves work for Death Eaters?"
"You never notice them," he continued. "They could be a great spy network. Harry should be able to persuade Dobby to find out anything and everything. It's a pity Voldemort thinks they are useless, otherwise it would be perfect."
Pansy smiled broadly. "So, for the first time in history, we're looking at the ancient Houses of Parkinson and Potter working together. The honourable and the brave, working with the intelligent and the ambitious."
Gruoch smiled as well. "I believe that we have chosen the correct side. Pansy, what ever Harry needs, we'll get for him. Don't worry about money. This is an investment that is definitely worth it. Now, why don't you go get Harry some potions from the storage cabinet?"
"Yes, mum," Pansy said, as she walked out the door.
Pansy took the two potions up to the room to find Harry already under the covers, looking cleaner than he had before. Dobby was no where to be seen, so she walked over to the bed and stared down at the boy she hardly knew yet needed more than anyone else in the world. Without his glasses, he looked innocent, the sort of innocence that was made of strength. The sort that kept itself intact, even when dragged through the gutter.
She sat down softly, and gently touched his face.
His eyes flickered open. "Angel?" he asked softly.
"I'm here Harry. I've got a couple of potions for you to take."
He nodded slowly, as if the effort was almost beyond him. "Don't want to sleep," he whispered. "Don't want to see them die again."
"Shh," Pansy whispered, uncorking the first potion. "I promise you that I won't let the nightmares come tonight."
He grabbed her hand, as he peered at her, his eyes trying to focus on her. "Thank you," he whispered.
"You're more than welcome, Harry. Now drink this, it will bring your fever down."
He tried weakly to sit up but couldn't quite make it, so she sat next to him and lifted him into a sitting position. He rested against her, groaning softly.
"Shhh," she whispered, putting the bottle to his lips, watching as he drained it.
"Euch," he whispered. "That has to be good for me; nothing that tastes that bad can actually do me harm."
Pansy laughed softly. "Now this one, it tastes a little better."
"What is it?"
"Nutrient potion. Should fill your body back up with what it needs."
"'Kay," Harry nodded tiredly, "Nicer," he commented as he drained the second vial.
Pansy nodded, and slowly helped him lie back down.
"Why are you helping me?" Harry asked, the first potion having an obvious effect on him.
"Because I need your help. When you're wake up, we'll talk properly."
Harry reached out and felt for her hand. Very slowly, he lifted it to his lips and gently kissed her. "I owe you my life," he whispered simply. "What ever help I can give is yours."
His eyes drifted shut, and a second later he was asleep.
Pansy looked at her fingers, surprised to find them still tingling. A wry smile appeared on her face as she realised that, for all her confident words earlier, she had no idea if Harry could ever have any romantic feelings for her. It was the one flaw in her plan.
She shifted slightly, sliding off the bed, and walked over to the door connecting his room to hers. She walked into her room briefly and grabbed a pair of pyjamas, before returning into Harry's room, so she could continue to keep an eye on him.
Carelessly, she reached behind and undid the zip holding her dress up, letting it pool by her feet, her mind suddenly wondering what it would be like to do this with those emerald eyes staring at her, staring at her with want and need.
She shivered slightly and pulled on the pyjamas. She placed her earrings on the desk, and walked back over to the bed.
Harry was already in the throes of another nightmare. It made her wonder when the last time he had actually had a decent night's sleep was. Resolving to take it out on Dumbledore the next time she saw him, she climbed into the bed and pulled him into a hug, resolving not to get any sleep herself.
He calmed down as soon as she touched him, and it wasn't long before she fell asleep herself, even though she firmly told herself not to.
"Albus, we have an emergency," the panicked voice of Arabella Figg cried into the floo.
"What's happened?" Albus asked, from his desk at Hogwarts. Opposite him were Severus Snape and Minerva McGonagall.
"There are three police cars outside the Dursleys," Arabella said, obviously upset. "I can't find out what they are doing, but I heard them talk about disgusting child abuse and a missing boy. And it's not Dudley. He was taken to hospital earlier with a broken jaw."
Albus frowned. "Did anything happen last night?"
"The Dursleys had some Muggle guests. They were in a black Mercedes. They left at around ten, and that was it. The wards are still intact."
"So Potter ran away?" Snape sneered. "What, his breakfast not cooked for exactly five minutes, forty-five seconds?"
Dumbledore fixed his potions professor with a reproachful look. "I'm afraid not, Severus. If Harry steps foot out of the house at night voluntarily, the wards tell me. And with his Firebolt at Hogwarts, he couldn't have flown."
McGonagall frowned. "So he's still in the house?"
"I would presume so. He may be hiding under his invisibility cloak, if he doesn't know what the police are there for. I shall send Tonks and Remus to investigate immediately, Arabella."
It was less than half an hour later when Tonks approached the house, dressed in full Muggle clothing.
"I'm Tracy Jones, from Social Services," she introduced herself, holding up a wallet to appear like identification.
"About time you got here," the policeman snorted. "I was getting close to taking them out back and letting them resist arrest."
Tonks raised her eyebrows and walked into the house quickly. Her hair was a light brown and was wrapped up in a bun on her head.
"I'm from Social Services, Tracy Jones," she introduced herself.
"They're in there," a female officer spat. "If they give you any trouble, just say the word." The fact that she was fingering her baton at the time had Tonks worried.
Tonks pulled out her wand as she closed the kitchen door, and sealed it quickly. She turned to the Dursleys, and snarled, "Where the hell is Harry?"
"Oh," Vernon said. "You're one of them, are you?"
Petunia looked up, a blank incurious expression on her face, that told Tonks more than anything else that she was under some sort of compulsion spell. "A wizard, yes," Tonks replied.
"So, you'll be wanting to know why we've not been near that damn boy for the last week?"
"He had one of you strange diseases," Petunia explained cheerfully. "We didn't want to catch the damn thing, or for him to infect our poor Duddikins, so we locked him up until one of you lot came to check on him."
"Why didn't you let someone know?"
"How could we?" Vernon asked. "Those other ones threatened us to make sure we looked after the ungrateful brat better than we had in the past, and we did. We allowed him to have his trunk, his unnatural belongings, and his stupid pet. They didn't tell us how to contact them. What more were we supposed to do?"
"Care for him," Tonks growled. "And what do you mean better than you have in the past?"
After thirty extremely unpleasant minutes, she asked a simply question: "Why?"
"Why not," Vernon shrugged. "He was there, we didn't want him. Why should we have wasted good money and effort looking after him? We had our own son to take care of properly."
Tonks walked stiffly out the room, every step a testament to her willpower, her wand hidden again. She was pretty sure that what ever spell they were under made sure that they would not be able to talk about magic to anyone who wasn't a wizard. Each step took her further from the temptation, from the sure knowledge that she now hated someone enough to cast the Cruciatus curse.
"Nice piece of work, aren't they," One of the officers said. "Think we'll be able to get a sentence for them?"
"If I have anything to do with it," Tonks snarled, "They'll spend the rest of their lives rotting in jail." She took a deep breath. "I should see where they kept him."
"Upstairs, last room on the right. It's not pretty. I wouldn't keep my dogs in that sort of state."
Tonks jogged upstairs and entered the room, closing the door behind her.
"Harry?" she asked, morphing into the same shape he had last seen her in. "It's me, Tonks."
She realised that the room felt empty. She pulled her wand, and quickly cast another few spells, verifying that the room was indeed empty.
With a deep sigh, she turned back into Tracy and walked out the door and out the house, promising to send them her report as soon as possible.
"Well?" Remus asked, as he moved next to her.
Tonks was now shaking in fury. "We need to get to Hogwarts. I'm not telling this story twice."
Together, they Apparated to Hogsmeade and jogged up to Hogwarts Castle, quickly moving straight to the Headmasters study.
Tonks walked straight over to the corner, and poured herself a Firewhiskey, using the distraction to rein in her desire to curse the Headmaster on sight.
"Exactly what were you hoping to accomplish putting Harry with those disgusting Muggles?" she demanded, fixing Dumbledore with a steely stare.
"That he would grow up with family, without the pressures of being the Boy Who Lived," Dumbledore replied calmly.
"Did you check on him while he was there?"
"I had Arabella outside, keeping an eye on him."
"That's not what I asked," Tonks hissed. She threw off Remus' arm as he tried to restrain her. "Did you check up on Harry while he was with them?"
"No," Dumbledore confessed. "Why?"
"His egg not boiled enough in the morning?" Snape sneered.
Tonks moved, faster than she ever had before, and picked up the tall Professor by his throat, and slammed him in the wall. Holding him up with one hand, she pointed her wand straight at his face with her other hand. "I found out today that I do have enough hate to cast the Cruciatus," she snarled. "And if I ever hear you say anything bad to or about Harry, I will make it my personal goal to make the rest of your life a living hell." Her now black eyes peered deep into Snape's, before she dropped him.
She turned back to Dumbledore. "How was leaving him in a place where they starved him for weeks on end, helpful? How was letting him grow up in a place where he was forced to sleep in a cupboard protecting him? How was making him live with people who didn't even take him to the hospital when he had a broken arm good for him?"
Dumbledore's eyes slowly lost their twinkle. "Explain, please."
Tonks slumped down into a chair and grabbed Remus' hand. In a dead voice, she repeated what the Dursleys had told her about Harry growing up.
When she had finished, she continued, "It sounds like Harry had the Wizarding flu. They didn't know how to deal with it, so they locked him up in his room so he wouldn't infect them. Why didn't we give them a means of contacting us?"
"Arabella was there to keep an eye out for that sort of thing," Dumbledore explained softly.
"And how was she supposed to know what was going on inside the house?"
"So where is Harry now?" Remus interrupted, tension visible on his face.
"I don't know," Tonks sighed. "Everything was gone from his room, even Hedwig."
"But how?" Remus asked. "I thought the wards were supposed to protect him from wizards, and only wizards could have pulled this off."
"I don't know," Albus admitted. "But we'll start a search immediately."
"I'll see what Voldemort knows," Snape said.
"I'll call the rest of the Order." Dumbledore sighed, and moved to his fireplace.
"I'm not looking forward to telling Molly."
Pansy woke up suddenly to find a pair of green eyes staring intently at her.
"Where are my glasses," Harry asked evenly.
Pansy reached behind her and picked them up from the bedside table. She hadn't meant to fall asleep, and now had no clue how to even try and explain to Harry just why she had spent the night with him.
A clock on the wall told her that it was late in the morning, and that she had slept in a lot longer than she had in a very long time.
Harry pulled his glasses on and twisted slightly to look at her directly.
Pansy felt herself blushing.
"So I wasn't dreaming," Harry murmured. "An angel really did rescue me last night."
"You're not scared?" she asked, suddenly realising that he wasn't.
"In my experience," he said dryly. "Voldemort isn't in the habit of rescuing me, giving me potions to help me get better, looking after me, and leaving me with a beautiful nurse."
Pansy felt herself blushing for the second time in as many minutes.
"I would like to know who you are, and why you have helped me," Harry finished.
"You don't recognise me?" she asked, suddenly smiling.
Harry started to shake his head, and then paused. He tilted his head and stared at her hard, his eyes skimming over her face.
He slowly started to laugh, collapsing against the bed. "I don't suppose you know the temperature in hell at the moment, do you?"
"I'm just wondering if the devil's ice skates got to him in time."
"Are you feeling alright? You're sounding delirious."
Harry shifted to face her again. "Parkinson," he said bluntly, his voice losing some of its open friendliness.
"I prefer Pansy," she whispered. "Look, would it help if I apologised for being on Umbridge's squad? And for being a bitch to you for the past five years?"
She felt him stare at her, and shifted slightly, but didn't avoid his gaze. She felt vulnerable, and it was a feeling she did not like.
"I think it would," Harry replied.
Pansy squared her shoulders. "I'm sorry," she said simply. "I believe I made the best decisions for my own safety."
She could still feel his eyes on her. Eventually, he reached out a hand. "Hi, I'm Harry Potter," he introduced himself.
"Pansy Parkinson," she smiled, taking his hand and shaking it. "How did you recognise me?"
"Well, first off, this room is palatial. So you're obviously rich. That narrowed it down. You look my age, so that narrowed it down further. You obviously seem to trust me, because you spent the night with me, so that would mean that you're in my year. You called me Harry, so we've talked before, and that puts you in my classes.
"So that narrowed it down to three. You, Hannah, and Daphne. And you don't look like Hannah, Daphne, or yourself."
"So how did you know?"
Harry smiled slightly. "I always felt there was something fake about you: something not quite right. I suddenly realised that you must have been hiding under a spell."
Pansy clapped her hands together. "Ten house points to Gryffindor."
Harry opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by the pop of an incoming house-elf.
"Harry Potter sir is awake," Dobby cried, and launched himself at Harry, hugging him tightly.
"Hi Dobby," Harry said, lightly patting the elf's back.
"Dumbledore lied to Dobby; Dumbledore said that Harry Potter sir safe with disgusting Muggles. Dobby is sorry for not checking."
Harry caught Dobby before he could move. "No hurting yourself. It is not your fault," he said firmly.
Dobby nodded and moved back to the floor. "Mistress Park'son is a good witch, Harry Potter sir," he said firmly. "Mistress Park'son rescue Harry Potter sir. House-elves here very happy, very well taken care of."
"Dobby will bring breakfast for two in few minutes," he said, as he disappeared with another pop.
Pansy watched as Harry touched his glasses and turned to face her once more. "Pansy," he said slowly, his voice back to being warm and caring. "Nice name."
She smiled back at him.
"How about you let me go to the bathroom, then we can talk over breakfast."
"You're willing to wait a few minutes for your questions?"
He smiled. "Mistress Park'son is a good witch," he said with a grin. "I trust Dobby's opinion of people."
She nodded and pointed to the door opposite hers. "I'll leave a robe on the bed and get dressed myself."
Harry slid out of bed, not seeming to notice that he was only wearing a pair of shorts. He shot her a sudden grin, "Pity."
Pansy blushed, and watched as he walked into the bathroom. "That was definite flirting," she muttered to herself. "But why am I blushing? What am I, twelve again?"
Pansy walked back into the bedroom and handed Harry another bottle of potion. "It's more nutrient stuff," she explained.
"Thanks," Harry replied, draining it quickly.
"So," he said, after starting in on the largest breakfast Pansy had ever seen. It was obvious to her that Dobby was planning on making sure that Harry was never lacking in food again. "Exactly why was a well known Slytherin, an associate of Draco Malfoy's, in Little Whinging rescuing me?"
"Associate?" she asked, with an amused look.
"It was the politest word I could come up with."
"I hate Draco," she said slowly. "I've hated him for years. But until recently, I thought I had no choice, so I was following a path of passive-aggression, by following him around like a lost puppy."
"And disguising how you look," Harry added, moving on to some eggs.
Pansy nodded. "Dad taught me some glamour spells, and I took it from there. I wanted to make friends for who I am, not what I look like. And I wanted Draco to drool over someone else."
"Daphne," Harry nodded.
"How did you know that?"
"I'm not blind," he shrugged.
"No, you're not," Pansy mused. "Anyway, it seems that Dad had a small falling out with Lucius Malfoy on Monday, and Lucius went crying to Voldemort, and now we're on Voldemort's shit list."
Harry raised his eyebrows at the casual swearing. "So your parents aren't Death Eaters?"
"I've heard that your family is evil," Harry said, his tone even and curious. There was no hint of prejudice that she could detect.
"A popular opinion," Pansy agreed. "I wouldn't say we were evil, but then, following that narrow definition, I wouldn't say we were good. We've always trodden our own path; it's our family way.
"We are the only pureblood family with extensive interests in the Muggle world. They make a lot of money for us. That's how we found you. Dad owns the drill company your uncle works for, and overheard him talking about you."
Harry winced. "I'm sure it was flattering," he said sarcastically.
"Indeed," Pansy agreed. "The problem we have is that Voldemort thinks that we are good, and Dumbledore thinks that we are evil."
Pansy sighed. "Dumbledore doesn't think that anyone should have dealings with Muggles like we do. What he doesn't see is that we actually make a lot of peoples lives better. Sure, we make a lot of money, but we also employ nearly fifteen thousand people. If we just pulled out, it would devastate a lot of people.
"Everyone seems to see the world in black and white at the moment. Or maybe Them and Us. We see the world in the many shades of grey that it is. We can be ruthless, but we're also very honest. We don't see a need to lie to people.
"We came to see you because we need your help. You're the only person who can protect me from Draco at school, and the only person who can help defeat Voldemort. We had no idea that we'd find you like we did. We couldn't leave you like that, regardless.
"What has happened to the Dursleys?" Harry spat the name like a foul epithet.
Pansy smiled thinly, "Dad made a few alterations to them. At the moment, they're squealing to anyone who will listen about how they treated you, and that they can't explain where you are now.
"This afternoon, Dad's going to be firing Dursley and taking back his company car."
Harry laughed. "And Dudley?"
Pansy held out her hand, showing the bruising across her knuckles. "I broke his jaw."
"I should probably be upset about this," he confessed. "But I'm not." He sighed softly. "I thought I was going to die. The first night I was home, I had a nightmare and woke Vernon up. He locked me up and said I wasn't going to get any food till I stopped waking him up.
"I couldn't help it." His eyes were shadowed, and he put the knife and fork down. "I lived on the food I had in my trunk that Mrs Weasley gave me before the end of the year."
Pansy nodded slowly, deciding not to bring up Black's death yet.
"Why didn't you tell anyone?"
"Dumbledore said that I had to live there, because of the blood protection. I was hoping I'd be able to escape in a few weeks to the Weasleys."
"Harry," Pansy said gently. "We found you, and we got you out of there. The blood protection was useless. If Voldemort had found you, he would have been able to get to you easily enough. Dad said that Dumbledore was practising security through obscurity. That was one of the reasons he doesn't like Dumbledore - because he's often careless with details."
"I'm one of those details," Harry said bitterly.
"I thought you were quite good friends with him?"
Harry shook his head. "Not anymore. I kinda destroyed his office the last time we were in it, when I found out he'd been keeping me in the dark about a lot of things."
Harry stared at her; she could feel his eyes burning into her again.
"Can I trust you?" he asked, his voice sounding strangely hypnotic.
"Yes," she said simply. She opened herself up to him, knowing that it was the only way to get him to believe her.
"According to the first true prophecy of Sybil Trelawney, I am the only person who can kill Voldemort. And that one of us must die, so that the other can live."
"What the hell is that man playing at?" Pansy demanded.
"What special training have you had, Harry?"
"Well, none really. I got some from Remus Lupin in my third year, but that's it."
"Does he want you to fail?"
Harry looked a little confused. "What do you mean?"
"Harry, at the moment, I could kill you pretty easily. Mum or Dad could very easily. You're weak, malnourished, and scrawny as hell; you've got a few muscles left over from Quidditch, but the lack of food has eliminated everything else. You've not slept properly since you've left school, and you're probably clinically depressed."
Harry didn't disagree with her statements, despite the fact that he winced with each one. "That was blunt," he mumbled. "You said last night that you had something to ask me?"
Pansy nodded. "We're stuck in the middle, Harry, and we need your help. More so now that we know that you're the one who is going to kill him. We're proposing a deal. We'll help you get back to full health, help you train, and teach you new things. In return, you accept us, and help keep us alive.
She smiled at him, "And maybe help us make a profit out of this as well."
Harry looked amused. "Profit?"
"If you win, Malfoy loses, and we can take over his business. I want to change Malfoy Manor into a Muggle Hotel."
Pansy leaned forwards a little, noticing that Harry's eyes didn't drop down to her chest. "So, I thought you'd be a lot more Gryffindor about this, not accepting it so calmly."
"Being a Gryffindor has lost me everything," he whispered, looking out the window. "My parents, Cedric, Sirius, and nearly my own life. I've done everything they have asked from me, and they go home to their families, and I end up starving in that room."
He turned to face her. "I know I'm being selfish but just once, I want to feel safe, I want to feel warm when I wake up. I want to have a full stomach. I want to be able to talk to people about magic and life. I want to be able to say Voldemort without everyone flinching."
"That's not being selfish," Pansy whispered softly. "That's being human.
"Accept the deal, Harry. You'll have all of that, I promise."
His eyes were on her again. Delving inside her, examining her.
"I accept," he whispered. "You've offered me honesty, and that's something I've not had much experience with."
"I'm afraid it's something you'll have to get used to," a new voice entered the conversation, surprising them both.
"Harry, this is my Mum, Gruoch."
Harry got to his feet, a little painfully, and walked over to her, offering his hand.
She took it, and smiled as he bent and lightly kissed the back of her hand.
"No bloodstains," he noted with a slight smile.
"Very good, Harry," she said, with a slighly surprised look on her face. "You don't mind if I call you Harry?"
"Not at all."
"Not many wizards realise where my name comes from."
"MacBeth," Harry nodded. "My cousin left a copy in my room last year, along with a load of Cliff Notes."
"Sit back down before you fall over," Gruoch said calmly. "And don't disappoint Dobby by not eating his breakfast."
"Yes, Ma'am," Harry said, sitting down.
"Here," Pansy said, pulling her wand out and casting a warming charm on the food.
"You can do spells?"
"Of course I can."
"I meant out of Hogwarts. What about the Improper Use of Magic Office?"
"Oh," Pansy said, suddenly feeling foolish for thinking that he was being sexist. "Dad took the monitoring spell of ages ago."
"We believe that children should be able to practice magic with their parents' supervision," Gruoch said, pulling up a chair to join them. "If you'd like, we could remove the spell on yours as well?"
"Please," Harry nodded.
"Here," she pulled out her wand and took his. A quick spell later, and his wand was monitoring spell free.
"Thanks, can I test it out?"
Harry reached out, across the table, and grabbed Pansy's hand.
She looked at him curiously, as he smiled at her. He cast a spell, and she could feel a slow warmth glide across her skin.
"No one should be injured by that git," he smiled.
Pansy raised her hand and looked at her knuckles. The bruising was completely gone.
"Thank you," she said.
"Harry," Gruoch moved back into the conversation. "For the next few days, I want you resting, eating, taking the potion, and not doing much else. You're no good to anyone half dead."
"And I want you to talk to Pansy about death."
Pansy was watching Harry closely, and could actually see as the shutters slide down across his eyes, and his face lost all expression.
"You need help dealing with death. You are not coping at the moment. Pansy can and will help you."
Harry was completely still for a moment, before he turned and looked at Pansy. "Is this the sort of honesty you were talking about?"
Harry smiled slightly. "Okay."
"And I suggest you have a shower as well, you look awful."
A few hours later, a clean and warm Harry Potter relaxed against the bed. He wasn't sleepy but didn't feel like standing up either. It made such a difference to him, just to be clean and have the pleasant feeling of a full stomach.
Dobby had cleared away the plates and nodded at the amount that Harry had eaten. Obviously the house-elf was going to be taking personal care of him from now on. He kinda liked it.
Pansy was with her mother, shopping, leaving him alone.
It had been surreal for him to wake up, in the dark, and find himself next to a beautiful girl. A girl who was fast asleep.
His memories of the night before had slowly come back, and he'd realised quite quickly that she had saved him. That he was no longer at the Dursleys, and even if he had to go back later, he'd still have this time.
When he'd found out who she was, it hadn't mattered that much. He was so fed up of being lied to and misled. Everyone had claimed to be good, but they didn't seem to care for him at all. Well, he knew the Weasleys did but apart from that, the good side just seemed to use him.
The only problem he could see in his future was that sooner or later, Ron and Hermione were going to get together, and that was going to leave him alone. Not that they would mean to, but that it would be natural.
He'd looked a lot at Ginny. Ron's disapproval didn't mean anything to him, but she had made her own choice, had given up on him, and had moved on, and after dating Michael was now dating Dean.
Pansy, who now had a normal voice and was extremely good looking, was interesting. She was intelligent, smart, and could say Voldemort without flinching.
Her mother was a lot of fun as well. Not as emotional or as dramatic as Mrs Weasley, but in her own way just as caring. She told him straight what she thought, and left it up to him to make a decision about taking the advice or leaving it.
It was curiously liberating, as he realised he was being treated like an adult, and that he would have to act like one. One of the problems he'd had the previous year was that he was being treated like a child, and he had been reacting childishly. Everything that was happening was inspiring him to grow up a little more.
The offer, of them helping him to fight, was strangely honest and attractive. They made no bones that they wanted to profit from it, but at the same time, were willing to help him with what ever he needed to ensure his success.
Dumbledore, the Order, and everyone else had never actually asked him to fight - they had always presumed that he would. That he would be there to do it for them, and when he needed them, they had been nowhere to be found.
The fact that they were so upfront about the profit aspect was fine with him. It meant that he knew exactly where he stood.
The way they seemed to deal with problems attracted him as well. It was direct: See a problem, make a plan to fix it, follow the plan. Brutally simple, but highly effective at the same time. They'd had a problem with Voldemort. The solution? Work with him to get it fixed.
And then there was Dobby. He had no idea how, or why, the house-elf was in the Manor, but he quite definitely was and had given his seal of approval. They looked after their House-elves - Dobby had said that they were happy - and that Pansy was a good witch. He'd noticed that Dobby had dropped any form of honorific when naming Dumbledore, as if he had lost respect in Dobby's eyes.
And finally his thoughts returned to Pansy. A girl who, when she had impinged on his consciousness at school he'd dismissed as a shallow self-centred sycophant. He had to admire her acting skills, and not just the glamour spells, but hiding herself in plain sight. He was willing to bet that if she'd gone to school as she looked now, Draco would have filled the Great Hall with his drool.
And she was also a girl he now knew to be able to pack a punch - Dudley had taken boxing lessons, so he knew it wasn't the first time that Dudley had been hit. She was a girl who was totally at home with magic due to having used it all her life. A girl who was direct, and didn't play stupid games like Lavender and Parvati.
A girl who was beautiful.
His eyes slowly closed, and he relaxed into sleep.
It wasn't long before the nightmares started once more.
"Do you think this would look good, mum?" Pansy asked, holding up a set of robes.
"Yes, dark green should be a good colour for him."
"Well," Pansy added, piling the robes on top of the other clothes. "It will look good when we get him built back up. I could see his ribs earlier."
"Oh," Gruoch asked, a thin smile playing on her lips. "And just when did you see our guest topless?"
Pansy blushed, lost for words for once.
"It's okay," her mother continued with a genuine smile. "I know you spent the night with him."
"It wasn't like that," Pansy protested. "I was just helping him through his nightmares."
"I know. Your father and I have always tried to treat you as an adult. Your behaviour is up to you, darling. Just please be careful."
"Harry's not Draco, mum. He makes me feel safe and secure. Even when I'm comforting him." She sighed audibly. "The problem is, that maybe he doesn't feel anything for me."
"It's a little early for that, honey. It's not as if you've been in his social circle or anything. If I were you, I'd try a few judicious questions to see if he has anyone in mind, before moving in yourself. That way, at least you know who your competition is."
"Thanks mum." Pansy impulsively hugged her mother. "Now, we just need to get him some boxers."
Gruoch merely raised her eyebrows teasingly, causing Pansy to blush once more.
Back at the Manor, Pansy left the clothing in the car for one of the house-elves to unload, and she walked straight up to Harry's room.
She sighed softly as she found him in the throes of another nightmare.
"Wake up," she crooned softly, resting her hand on his shoulder.
With a gasp, Harry awoke and instantly reached for his glasses. It was a gesture that concerned her slightly. How was her fighter supposed to be able to win, if Voldemort could defeat him by damaging his glasses? She resolved to have a word with her father about it as soon as possible.
"Thanks," he said, before his lips curled into a half smile. "Angel."
"We need to have that talk now," she told him gently. "If you can't sleep at night, nothing we do is going to help."
Harry nodded slowly, his whole demeanour screaming reluctance.
Pansy walked around the room, closing the curtains and bathing the room into darkness. She walked over to the table, and lit several candles with her wand, moving them to the bedside tables. After kicking off her shoes, she sat cross-legged on the bed and placed her elbows on her knees.
She smiled slightly. "It's easier to talk in the dark," she replied, keeping her voice soft. "All the harsh realities are hidden and glossed over. It's just us, and the flickering of the candles."
"I don't think I can do this," Harry whispered, leaning back. "I don't know if I can talk about myself."
"You can Harry. And you're talking to someone different. I'm not going to judge you, I'm not going to tell you you're right or wrong, I'm not even going to tell you your being silly. All you have to do is trust me."
Harry's teeth gleamed slightly in a sudden grin. "Oh, is that all?"
Pansy laughed gently.
"What do you see when you close your eyes?"
Harry sat back against the bed and was still. The silence stretched, but Pansy just waited silently, knowing that he would either talk, or not, and that nothing else she could say would be able to persuade him otherwise.
"I see green eyes, brown eyes, blue eyes, and grey eyes first. They stare at me."
"What are they doing?"
"Looking at me. Judging me. Accusing me," he whispered.
"What happens next?"
"They show me, once more, how they died. I hear the screams of my father, telling my mother to get me out of there, then the horrifying thud as his body hits the floor. I hear my mother casting her last spell, and then dying. I see Cedric as Voldemort says 'Kill the Spare,' and I see Sirius as he falls through the Veil. I see the horror on their faces."
He took a deep breath. "Then they tell me it's my fault. They tell me that I killed them. That if it wasn't for me, they would be alive."
The soft candlelight showed the shimmering tracks his tears made down his cheek, as he gave into the security of the darkness.
"What do you know about your parents?"
"That my dad was a jerk, and that he and Mum loved each other."
"Your dad was a jerk?"
"I saw him, in Snape's Pensieve." Harry clarified.
"What is a Pensieve?" Pansy asked softly.
"It's a place to store memories."
"Did Snape like your dad?"
"No, they were bitter enemies."
"So why do you trust his memories of him?"
Harry's eyes blinked open. "What?"
"What do you think of Snape, himself?"
"That he's an absolute git, and that he hates me because of my father."
"So why do you trust his memories of James Potter?" Pansy asked again.
Harry looked at her, unable to answer her question.
"Do you want to know what I know of James Potter?"
He nodded, urgently.
"James Potter was the only child of Joyce and Roland Potter. He grew up in the Potter Manor, and, as all Pure Blood children, was introduced to the others. He met Lucius Malfoy at that time and didn't like him. He also met my father.
"At Hogwarts, along with Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew, he was a trouble maker. He was arrogant and could be slightly cruel." She could see Harry nodding along.
"But away from his pranks, he was probably the nicest boy in Hogwarts. He would help anyone with anything. He even gave up his pocket money to allow a young Ravenclaw to take out a pretty Slytherin on a date. The Slytherin was another Pure Blood that James knew and, while he didn't really approve, he helped the Ravenclaw out. The Ravenclaw took the Slytherin to the nicest places in Hogsmeade and for the first time, the Slytherin admitted that she liked the Ravenclaw.
"Two years later, in a scandal that rocked society, the Ravenclaw married the Slytherin, in a small ceremony, attended by James and Lily Potter.
"People were horrified that a Pure Blood princess, and sole heir to the family fortune, would marry a destitute Ravenclaw.
"James Potter didn't care. He stood by them, because he liked the Ravenclaw, and had come to like the Slytherin. The Ravenclaw turned out to be a brilliant, if slightly ruthless, businessman and people soon forgot that he was poor. A year later, the Slytherin became pregnant, and she had a daughter. Breaking with family tradition, they named her in honour of Lily Potter, choosing the name of another flower. Pansy."
Harry's eyes were wide as he stared at her. "Your parents knew my parents?"
Pansy nodded, smiling slightly. "Do you have any idea how many times I have heard that story growing up? — Many, many, times. My parents and yours disagreed about many things, but they remained friends to the end."
"So my dad wasn't a total git?"
"No," Pansy smiled. "He wasn't perfect as a teenager, but he grew into someone that my parents talk of with reverence. And my parents don't normally talk about anyone like that."
"According to Dad, when you were born, James was a complete mess. He hadn't slept in over a day, but the first thing he did was floo my parents with the news. They'd never seen him so happy. Of course, they couldn't do anything; they were getting ready to have me at the time.
"Because of the war, my parents took me to France for the first year, but they talked to your parents regularly. James was the prototypical proud father. All he could talk about was you, and how proud he and Lily were."
"You did not kill your parents, Harry. Voldemort did."
"But Mum sacrificed herself for me," Harry said, his voice dropping as they returned to their original subject."
"No, she didn't."
"What!?" Harry demanded, sitting up.
"Your mother was dead." Pansy said bluntly. "Voldemort and a troop of Death Eaters were in the house, intent on killing all of you. Your mother could have danced the Tango, but she would still have died.
"What she did, was give you a gift. And like all gifts, it's okay for you to be grateful, but the only thing you owe her is to grow into the sort of person that she, and James, would want you to be."
Harry was deathly still, his entire being focused directly on her.
"She may have died for you, but she didn't die because of you, Harry. She died because of Voldemort."
Harry nodded slowly, leaning back against the pillows.
Pansy smiled softly. "And from what I can see, you're doing a pretty good job of growing into someone they would be very proud of."
"Do you think so?" Harry asked.
Pansy felt her heart melt at the longing in his voice. "Absolutely!"
There was a brief, comfortable silence.
"What happened with Diggory?" Pansy asked, getting the conversation back on track. She had the feeling that she had only managed to get Harry to open up because he was still emotionally distraught over everything that had happened recently, and she didn't want to miss the chance to really get through to him.
In a monotone voice, Harry explained about the three tasks, and how they had taken the cup together, taking them to the graveyard. She felt a small pang of guilt, when she remembered wearing the 'Potter Stinks' badge, but suppressed it quickly.
"Why are you feeling guilty over that?" she asked, as he finished.
"If it hadn't been for me, he would still be alive."
"Tell me something," Pansy asked, her voice light. "Do you go searching for extra guilt?"
"No." His answer was curt.
Pansy sighed softly. "Harry. Think of a room - in that room are two doors ahead of you. Through the right, a lion is sleeping. Through the left is a room full of the best food. Which door do you take?"
"The left," Harry replied, as if it was a stupid question.
"There was no lion in the right room," Pansy said softly. "I lied, because I wanted you to go to the left."
She could feel his eyes on her now.
"I don't understand."
"You made a decision based on the best information you had at the time. As far as you knew, you were being generous. But someone else had been manipulating you. Someone else had guided you to that point. Then that someone else killed Cedric. Not you. Voldemort killed Cedric.
"You brought his body back despite having a broken leg. You survived."
"Through luck, not intelligence," Harry interrupted.
"Better to be alive and lucky than dead and clever," Pansy replied. "Are you seeing a pattern here? You did not kill Cedric, Voldemort did. If you had done anything else, you would not have been the sort of person your parents wanted you to become.
"When you think about Cedric, you have to remind yourself that he didn't die because of you, but because of Voldemort." She knew she was repeating herself, but wanted to drive the point home.
Harry nodded slowly. "But I definitely got Sirius killed," he said. "If I'd just thought to use the mirrors, I'd've not gone to the Ministry in the first place, or if I'd tried harder with Snape and the Occlumency lessons."
"One mistake Harry. You made one mistake. That does not mean you killed him."
"If I hadn't made it, it wouldn't have happened."
Pansy shook her head violently, feeling her hair float around her. "No. You might have done something different, but you were trying to do the right thing. How much support did you get last year from the Professors? I know that Umbridge made your life hell - although I could have kissed you for hitting Malfoy - what was Dumbledore like?"
"He avoided me," Harry whispered.
Pansy snorted. "Somehow I'm not surprised. Listen carefully, Harry. Yes, you made a mistake. You have to learn from that, but it doesn't mean you killed him."
"Yes, it does," Harry argued.
"You cannot let one mistake drown you in guilt," Pansy felt herself getting emotional, as unwanted memories came flooding back. "You were doing what you thought was right at the time."
"I should have done better."
"You are not perfect. No one is. You had a lot on your shoulders, and you reacted instinctively. It says a lot about you that you didn't care for yourself, but for them."
"I got my friends hurt as well."
"They are your friends; each of them was capable of making their own decision. They chose to stand by you. That was up to them. They knew the risks, as did Sirius when he came to help you."
"Damn it, Harry," Pansy felt herself shouting. "It's not your bloody fault. Stop being so pigheaded about it. Everyone makes mistakes in their life. No one is bloody perfect."
"What do you know about it?" Harry snapped.
Pansy closed her eyes, feeling tears run down her cheek, as her mental blocks failed, and her own nightmares came tumbling back.
"I was eleven," she whispered through the tears. "I was flying with my cousin; he was thirteen. We were showing off, having fun. I bet him that he couldn't fly through the apple orchard.
"He laughed, and said of course he could. He flew down, fast, laughing. I cheered him on." She took a deep breath. "He misjudged it halfway through, and flew into a tree at top speed. I can still see him as he bounced off. I screamed. And screamed, and screamed. I knew he was dead. My favourite cousin was dead. And I knew it was my fault. If I hadn't bet him, he wouldn't have done it, and he would still be alive."
She felt him move on the bed, and then clumsily hold her, patting her back awkwardly.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I tend to forget that other people have feelings as well."
Pansy sniffed softly. "You're not perfect Harry, no one is. I blamed myself for a very long time, playing 'what if'. Yes, I shouldn't have bet him, but he didn't have to fly into the orchard either. If the wind had been blowing a different way, maybe he would have missed the tree.
"Dad forced me to talk to him - a lot like I am doing with you. One of the things he said stuck with me:
Are mere delusion-
Death is Death.'"
"What does that mean?" Harry asked softly, she could feel his breath brushing against her.
"Death happens to everyone Harry. Sooner or later, everyone dies. No matter how much we try and pretty it up, it's a constant. Sirius died, maybe he shouldn't have, but it wasn't your fault. Voldemort killed him. As Voldemort killed Cedric."
"Yes, I know that he didn't kill Cedric or Sirius himself - that's not really the point. He is the one responsible; he is the one that has caused all of this. Harry, you can't let it beat you, because you are the only person who can avenge Sirius. The only person who can avenge Cedric. The only person who can avenge your parents.
Harry took a deep breath. "I tried to cast the Cruciatus on Bellatrix," he confessed, almost inaudibly.
"Only tried?" she sounded a little disappointed.
Harry pulled back a little to look at her in the dim candlelight. "That doesn't upset you?"
"The bitch had just pushed your godfather through the Veil. She deserved it," Pansy had her tears under control now.
Harry smiled tentatively. "You're quite amazing," he whispered.
"I'm just me, Harry." She smiled slightly.
"Like I said," Harry whispered, resting back down on the bed. "I think I need a nap."
Pansy nodded and unfolded her legs, lying down next to him.
"Accept that they are gone Harry. Accept that it wasn't your fault. Accept that you are going to avenge them."
"I will," Harry whispered, his eyes closing slowly.
As he fell asleep, he saw the eyes staring at him, as they always did. "I'm sorry," he whispered to them. "But it wasn't me. Voldemort killed you, and I will kill Voldemort."
The eyes seemed to nod, then vanished, one by one, leaving him alone to sleep, nightmare free.