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Chapter 1 : A chance encounter
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“Bloody conferences,” Ron grumbled into his Firewhisky. “Why does she have to go to so many?”
“She’s acting Head of Department,” Harry said patiently, having to shout to be heard above the din of the front bar. “It’s part of her job. You know that.”
“But she’s always away,” Ron sulked. “And I miss having her around. It’s not the same, you know?”
Harry nodded sympathetically. Ron was like this a lot when Hermione had to travel, though with her role at the Ministry it was certainly part of her job description. There wasn’t much he could really do for his friend except offer a sympathetic ear and top up his drink when necessary.
“You’re lucky your mum’s got the kids tonight,” was what he said. “One less thing to think about.”
Ron cracked a smile. “Now there’s a point,” he conceded. “With Hugo teething it’d be a nightmare on my own. At least this way Mum’ll cop the worst of it.”
“What time are you due back?” Harry asked.
Ron looked at his watch. “Half an hour ago, I think,” he said. “No, wait, I misread it. Damn scratches on this thing. Hour and a half from now.”
Harry nodded. “I might have to leave you before then, Gin’s expecting me home a bit earlier than that,” he said apologetically. “But I’ll make sure you’re well lubricated, okay?”
Ron grinned. “You’re a top friend, have I ever told you that?”
Harry smiled too. “Once or twice.”
“Well would you look at that,” Ron said suddenly, changing the subject. “Could she make it any more obvious that she’s on the prowl?” His eyes were fixed on a woman at the bar, wearing a dress so skimpy it resembled a wide belt more than anything else. Five-inch stilettos and lace stockings completed the look, which was so over-the-top that Ron’s eyes couldn’t be drawn from her. “Decent body, but,” he went on distractedly. “I mean, she can afford to show it off.”
Harry, too, was watching the spectacle of the woman flaunting herself at all males within a five-metre vicinity. “Hang on,” he said quickly as he got a good look at her face in the orange lamplight, “isn’t that … isn’t that Pansy Parkinson?”
Ron’s mouth dropped open and he forced his eyes from the woman to stare at Harry. “You think?”
“I do think,” Harry said firmly. “Take another look at her.”
Ron, quite frankly, didn’t mind being told to stare at this woman, even if it WAS Pansy Parkinson. If it was, after all, she’d undergone quite a makeover since school. Or maybe she’d just grown into herself. Either way, it wasn’t a bad view.
The woman turned her face towards them and Ron gasped. The pug nose, the slightly upturned mouth – it certainly was Pansy. It was astonishing, though, that someone they had hated so much at school, someone who had been so plain and so ridiculous in her infatuation with Malfoy, could have turned out looking like this. She oozed confidence and sexuality.
“You gotta admit, she turned out alright,” Ron muttered.
Harry was nodding. “Who’d have thought it?” he said redundantly. “Slutty, yes, but worth looking at.”
“She was always slutty, though,” Ron pointed out. “At least, that was the impression I got from her. Throwing herself under Malfoy at every opportunity.”
Harry pondered this. “Never really considered it,” he admitted. “But thinking about it, you’re probably right. She never was the demure type, was she?”
Pansy had spotted them by now and, very likely influenced by the drinks that several of the men at the bar had been buying her, was coming towards them, a seductive smile on her face. “Well, if it isn’t my old school chums,” she drawled, her voice low and husky. Ron and Harry exchanged a look – “chums” was certainly not a word they would have used for their relationship with Pansy Parkinson at school. However, it seemed that she was playing a role and they were expected to play along.
“Pansy Parkinson.” Harry had decided to go along with whatever game she was playing. After all, it wasn’t like they had anything to lose here. Neither of them would be taking the bait so if she wanted to pretend they’d been friendly, he could go with that.
“The famous Harry Potter and Ron Weasley,” she smirked, still in the same husky voice. Of course, thought Harry, that was it. The defeat of Voldemort had happened so many years ago now that he never really thought about it, but his fame, and that of Ron and Hermione, was still very much on the public radar. Pansy, too, was clearly having trouble with the absence of the third member of their trio. “But where’s dear Hermione?” she asked, looking around. “I don’t see her here.”
“In Paris,” Ron blurted out, unable to take his eyes from Pansy’s. “Ministry conference.”
“Of course,” Pansy breathed. “She is very busy these days, isn’t she? But why are you two here in this old pub? Surely you have galas to attend and museums to open?”
She was playing with them now, that was obvious, but they were both drunk enough not to care. It was a bit of banter, that was all, and it wasn’t bad banter – or at least it wasn’t so bad that they were cringing at every word, which did happen occasionally.
Actually, Pansy was surprisingly good company, even though both Ron and Harry made it clear that, as happily married men, they weren’t about to succumb to her charms, no matter how much she flashed her (rather impressive) cleavage at them. Half an hour later they were chatting away happily, swapping stories of school and their different versions of them, laughing at misinterpretations and different impressions. Both Ron and Harry were quite surprised by how much they were enjoying themselves, and it was with regret that Harry finally looked at his watch and announced he had to leave.
“Sorry, you two,” he said with real feeling. “But Gin’s going to kill me if I’m late home again – and even if Voldemort couldn’t pull that off, I reckon she could.”
“Hear hear,” Ron said with equal earnestness. “Hermione’s the same. Good thing she’s in France.”
“Well it’s been lovely catching up, famous boy,” Pansy said, a seductive smile on her face. “Maybe we can do it again sometime.”
“Maybe we can,” Harry said, surprising himself by actually meaning it. “Well, I’m off. Later, you lot.”
Pansy watched him leave then turned to Ron. “Looks like it’s just you and me, famous boy.” She was calling them both that, using their notoriety as an ironic term of endearment. “Up for another drink?”
Ron looked at his empty glass. “Why not,” he said with a grin, fishing in his pockets for some spare Galleons. She put her hand over his.
“My shout,” she smiled, her red lips and dark hair contrasting with her pale skin. “You wait here, I’ll be right back.”
Ron was just conscious enough to realise that this was probably an unusual thing for her, being the one to pay for the drinks. Merlin only knew there were a dozen men in that pub who would have loved to have been buying them for her, but she’d been concentrating on him and Harry. What purpose she had, he had no idea, but he couldn’t deny he was taking a lot of pleasure in her company, and it was with eager eyes that he watched her sashay her way through the crowds from the bar to his table.
“To old friends,” she said, raising her glass and giving him his. “Or new ones that you’ve just known forever.”
“To old friends,” Ron repeated, enjoying this immensely. She had a little bit of lipstick on her front tooth that he was finding remarkably endearing, and he had to admit that the way she tried to surreptitiously push herself back into that excuse for a top she was wearing was kind of cute and had certainly got his attention. Maybe, he thought to himself, this Pansy Parkinson wasn’t so bad after all.
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