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It's hard to be the only living person at an After Life convention

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Aesthetic

 

Pansy looked around approvingly as she shook the snow off her boots. This will do very nicely, she thought. She unwrapped her enormous Burberry scarf and wrapped herself instead in the croissant-scented air of the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel. She couldn’t help but feel some amusement at what North Americans considered historic. The hotel was really only pretending to be old by her standards. The heels of her shearling-lined boots clicked lightly on the polished floors as she wandered under high stuccoed ceilings punctuated by skylights, the barest edges of snow piled up against the frames of light above her. The big wrought-iron chandeliers were to her liking, both reminiscent of real castles and giving the hotel some of the lodge-y feel she craved whenever she was in the North American west; this feeling was otherwise diminished by the stacked stone walls and columns, she thought a little ruefully. Although a grand staircase that seemed to lead to a veritable warren of passages caught her eye, it was time to free herself from her luggage. As she stepped up to the Gold Member check-in desk, she did a double take. There was an additional line of (most unexpected) guests checking in on the far side of the lobby, barely visible under the bright, warm lights. The ghosts queued in an orderly fashion, chatting merrily with each other, one by one engaging with the spectral clerk running her own invisible station. The clerk was a ghost bride, veil tossed back over her shoulder and out of her way as she efficiently welcomed her deceased clientele. Pansy grinned. It was always nice to know she’d have magical companionship if she sought it, even if the companionship in this case could pass through walls.

.....

It was almost too cold to stand outside on the back terrace, but Pansy was determined to soak in every moment of the mountain view before the cold soaked in to her. The high crags were bright with snow and she marveled at the striking contrast created by the trees fanning up the peaks like so many emerald feathers. To her eye from this distance they looked tiny, but she knew that if she stood among them she would feel like the lone inhabitant of the planet. Light strains of Christmas music met her ears as someone opened and closed the door onto the balcony, and she had a small pang of feeling a bit alone on the planet anyway. She looked over the half-frozen river at the ring of mountains surrounding her, the turrets of the hotel, the cheerful arched windows filled with Christmas baubles, and sighed. This would be very romantic if she had someone to share it with. With a snort, she turned on her heel and marched back inside. What sentimental toff. The altitude must be doing something to her brain.

She found a cozy, tucked-away corner with a somewhat astonishing mountain view, ordered two fingers of smoky Lagavulin, and opened her case folder. The next morning she would have her first meeting with a formidable witch she suspected was likely to prove a difficult client, and she didn’t want to be caught having not done her homework. The artifact she was after this time was a set of journals that had belonged to one of the first wizards to settle this part of Canada. Convincing the descendants of old pure-blood families to part with their magically relevant possessions was a specialty of hers; the challenge lay in making a compelling case for why they should be shared, studied, or preserved in archives and museums rather than purchased for their full value. Although she had been known to dip into her own considerable coffers to secure items of particular importance, her budget from the ministry Department of Art and Artifacts was meagre at best. Artifact retrieval went most smoothly when the possessor didn’t know the true value of what they had. For families where the magic had died out or the descendants weren’t knowledgeable about their history, this was typically quite easy, as the artifacts rarely had any value in the Muggle world. This sometimes felt a little dodgy but she also believed strongly that wizarding history was for everyone. She often thought if she had had better access to archives and museums and (let’s be honest) a better History of Magic professor, she might not have been as susceptible to the pureblood dogma she grew up with.

But these journals were quite famous and contained a number of unusual, original, and jealously guarded spells. Magical blood still ran strong in the family, and the Ministry suspected that many of these original spells were still in active use. Even without the allure of original spells, the journals would have been of interest to her department, since they chronicled a significant part of and rare glimpse into pioneering wizarding history. There was no question that the witch who held the journals now knew exactly the value of what she had. If Pansy was going to have any chance of bringing the journals back for study without bankrupting her department or herself, she was going to have to be absolutely charming, deeply knowledgeable, witty, and adaptable. Fortunately, she thought, I am all of those things.

As she took a sip of her whisky and spread out her neatly tabbed and color-coded notes, she felt the hair raise on the back of her neck. Goosebumps skittered across her arms and her head snapped up. Someone was watching her. She touched her wand where it was tucked into the top of her boot and expanded her magical awareness with the same spell she usually used to search for artifacts in her vicinity. Her senses were quickly swamped by the aura from the walls and from the ghosts that she could see as occasional transparent shadows in the sprawling, low slung pub area around where she sat. A nearby sense of magic did make her look curiously at the silverware on her table; there was something funny about the spoon. Ugh. It was impossible to detect anything properly in wizarding hotels. Regardless, she didn’t sense anything malicious. Maybe she had just attracted someone’s attention because she was the only living witch in the vicinity. She put it out of her mind and reapplied herself to her work.

.....

“You’re in luck, brother mine,” said George as he stuck his transparent head disturbingly through the side of Fred’s half-constructed booth. “Fate has intervened on your behalf.”

“Let me guess. We've already sold out of product and the convention hasn't even started yet?" asked Fred as he levitated a flashbulb-rimmed sign above his head, where it affixed itself to the top of his booth. “No! They want to give us the secret recipe for Spirit Spirits!"

“Wildly off base,” said George. “You’re not the only living wizard here. Well, you are, the other one’s a witch.”

Fred frowned. “This is a popular wizarding hotel, even if it’s a bit remote, not that surprising, Georgie. It’s no matter, we’re here for business.”

“It is a matter, because she’s a looker. At least, I think she is from what I could tell before she felt me watching her and I had to make myself scarce. Since when did a little business stop us from having fun? The title of my keynote talk is literally ‘Happy Haunting: how to have fun in the afterlife.’”

“I’m having plenty of fun, George, I’m with my brother, making more galleons than I know what to do with, in a country that specializes in maple syrup. I think there’s even a herd of elk outside right now.”

“Excuses, excuses,” said George, slinging a ghostly arm around his twin’s shoulders and making him wince. “Set up the booth tomorrow. Live a little.”

“Ha, ha,” said Fred, sarcastically.

“Well you may not have a date, but I do,” said George. “There is the ghost of a pretty French poet here who thinks I am most amusing.”

“Can she even understand what you say?” protested Fred.

“Why does she need to be able to understand what I say?” said George with a devilish grin.

.....

Fred knew his hang-ups about dating were in his own head. George wanted him to have someone living for him to share his life with. But Fred couldn’t help but feel like living too... obviously ...wouldn’t somehow be hurtful to George. He supposed it all came back to knowing that he was the one who should be dead. He knew it wasn’t his fault that the spell had hit where it had, but his acute awareness that only a few inches separated the twins from having their outcomes reversed meant that he was split between feeling like every second with his ghostly twin was a gift, like every second of his own life was a gift, like he should be seizing the day, and like he shouldn’t be rubbing his own good fortune in George’s face. They had a good life (and afterlife) going; inventing, entertaining, spending time with family and friends. Why throw a witch in the mix? Not to mention that he would somehow have to find a witch who fit in that mix. She’d have to be pretty open-minded. Hard to believe that who he would be looking for even existed. Fred sighed. George didn’t need to pop up out of nowhere for Fred to know exactly what he’d say. “Sounds like a lot of excuses and not a lot of action, mate.” It was just like George to go out and get a date of his own and leave Fred without a leg to stand on.

As Fred’s feet carried him, half full of trepidation and half full of optimism, into the cozy, den-like pub area, he told himself he didn’t really have a choice. After George had made finishing the assembly of their booth impossible by using his ghostly energy to interfere with all of Fred’s spellwork, he couldn’t continue working. He ignored the small voice that pointed out there were other restaurants in the hotel, other activities to do, and that if he just skived off and went to bed it wasn’t like George would even know since he was otherwise occupied. And yet… a full week at an After Life convention was going to be a little lonely if he were the only one there who breathed.

The bar was filled only sparsely, and largely by couples. As he wandered through the alcoves he was beginning to wonder if she was there anymore, when he wandered into a side room with a roaring fire and a view of the mountains, just visible in the near dusk. Sticking out from a table by the window, he saw a pair of long shapely legs ending in a tidy pair of heeled lined boots that somehow just danced the line between practical and frivolous. One of the boots had a wand handle sticking out of it. He grinned in spite of himself and approached, eager to see who was on the other side of those legs. When he spotted her, his breath caught. Her dark hair fell partially across her face as she intently read the materials in front of her, head bent, pen scribbling steadily in her hand. Or…? He focused more consciously on the scene in front of him and the illusion designed for muggle eyes melted away to reveal pages covered in runes and a pen that was merrily writing away without any assistance while her hands were busy adding sticky flags to her notes. But beyond all this there was something about her. He was instantly drawn to her, instantly felt as if there was something familiar about her, like he had known her his whole life. Is this what love at first sight felt like? Is this what it felt like to find your soul mate?

Hearing his approach, her head lifted in surprise and his heart sank. The reason he felt like he had known her his whole life was because he had.

It seemed to take Pansy Parkinson several moments to fully parse what was happening. She stared at him out of large chocolate-colored eyes, lips parted in a silent “O” of surprise. Some subconscious part of him noticed that both her eyes and her lips were very nice indeed, and it was perhaps this subconscious part that drove the rise of his old, habitual, now often-dormant recklessness within him. Applying his creativity to tormenting an old enemy probably wasn’t what George had meant by “live a little”, but a change in situation called for a change in approach. His stride barely slowed as he quickly took stock of the situation. The sheets of runes. The empty chair across from her. The chunky emerald green sweater -- honestly could she be more cliché? -- that paired becomingly with her dark brown, almost black hair. The half empty glass on the table that smelled of smoke even from three feet away. This last made his nose wrinkle in distaste and solidified his plan.

Sliding into the empty chair and crossing his denim-clad legs comfortably under the table he leaned back nonchalantly, eyed her glass, pulled a face like he was smelling a skunk, and opened the volley.

“I’m looking for a peat bog, have you seen one?”

.....

Pansy ignored the insult to her smoky whisky. “I haven’t seen a bog since you left one behind in a Hogwarts corridor,” she quipped, smiling in spite of herself.

There was a lot to smile about when it came to Fred Weasley, she thought, taking in the broad-shouldered man across from her. He was stocky and strong, forever a Beater’s build, and his thick-knit turtleneck sweater hinted at some pleasingly defined muscles underneath. His shock of red hair was messy, like he had pulled his sweater on over his head and forgotten to fix it, and his eyes, flanked by tiny laugh lines, twinkled with mirth. The spatter of freckles across his nose gave him a boyish look even though he had to be in his late 20s now. All of these thoughts rushed through Pansy’s head in the span of one thudding heartbeat, and when Fred laughed at her quip, a warm, deep, open sound, she felt like her heart failed entirely. Growing up had been good for Fred Weasley. Then she remembered that, regardless of his playful comment or the fact that he was sitting across from her seemingly at ease, he almost certainly hated her. Her heart stuttered to a start again and she felt bitterness course through her veins.

“As much as I’d love to take a trip down memory lane of all the happy times we shared, as you can see, I’m quite busy,” she said. Her tone held neither heat nor malice, but the acid in it was enough to make a lemon pucker. Fred was unphased.

“What a coincidence, I am also quite busy, as you see,” he said. He produced a small bag from his back pocket and emptied it onto the table. Little shards of black metal scattered over the polished wooden surface, and over Pansy’s papers.

“Do you mind?” she said, scowling and brushing at the prickly fragments dubiously.

“Clearly I do not,” he said lightly. “Now if you’d kindly stop distracting me with your inane questions, this decoy detonator isn’t going to mend itself.”

As he pulled out his wand and set to work with seemingly ferocious levels of focus, Pansy stared. What was even happening right now? Fred Weasley of all people showing up out of nowhere seemingly for the express purpose of dumping his random crap all over her work?

“What is even happening right now?” she said a little desperately.

“We,” said Fred, “two exceedingly busy individuals who have no shared history to sit like a decrepit elephant between us, are working in companionable silence.”

He continued to tinker with the decoy detonator, which let out a short bang , whistled briefly, and then ejected a little pile of ash and a squirt of oil onto Pansy’s papers. Pulling her wand out of her book to vanish the small pile, she saw that the oil splotch was now obscuring the appraisal value of the journals on the estimate she’d gotten back in England.

Charming and adaptable, she thought. I am charming and adaptable. She gave Fred a sour smile and signaled to a passing waiter. He would only see piles of boring legal documents on their table, thanks to her strong illusion that would conceal not only her own work but the increasingly bizarre experiments happening across the table from her.

“I’m enjoying this Lagavulin so much,” she said with a winning smile. “But I’m wondering, do you have anything even peatier? Or maybe even one of those drinks that comes in one of those charming cloches filled with smoke?”

“Absolutely, miss,” said the waiter enthusiastically. “I’d like to draw your attention to the Smoked 1938, with a Louis XIII cognac and apple wood smoke. It’s very special, really gives you that campfire feeling, but a richness of flavor too. It doesn’t usually come in a cloche but for the price I’m sure we could arrange it.”

“Oh yes look at that, $195,” said Pansy with a merry laugh. “Well what can I say, you have sold me on it. And,” she added, looking deviously at Fred, “you wanted something special too, didn’t you?”

Fred looked up, startled.

“Yes, wasn’t it the….” she quickly consulted the small menu on her table. “Ah yes, you wanted to sample a top Canadian wine, this one here,” she pointed with her finger to a hideously expensive bottle of red.

“Lovely choice, sir,” the waiter said deferentially to Fred. “And are you guests with us? Is there a room I can charge these to?”

“The name on the room is Weasley,” she said quickly. “I simply don’t remember the room number, do you, darling?” She smiled at Fred in a way she hoped showed all of her teeth. Inside she felt a brief flash of worry remembering how many jibes her younger self had taken at the Weasleys’ financial situation and that he would think she was doing the same right now, although everyone knew he was now a successful businessman. It hadn’t occurred to her. Ugh, she had been an awful teenager. Fortunately he looked placidly amused.

When her absurd drink arrived, she opened the cloche and used her hand to gently waft all of the smoke at Fred. He coughed slightly and saluted her with a glass of his unwanted wine. The broken decoy detonator caught on fire.

.....

The next evening, it was Pansy who sought Fred out. She had no reasonable explanation for doing so, other than being flushed with the success of her day and wanting to share it with someone. Usually she would have floo-called Draco but not with an ocean between them. Besides, it was the middle of the night for him. So it was she found herself wandering through the lobby and alcoves looking for the telltale glint of red hair, despite not knowing if he was even still staying at the hotel. But he was. In fact, he was camped out at the exact table she had occupied the night before. It didn’t mean he was trying to make it easy for her to find him, she reminded herself. It has the best view in the whole place.

“Well!” she said, dropping her bag on a chair with a thud and beginning the laborious process of removing her many layers of winter clothes. “Despite your best efforts to incinerate the paperwork I needed, today went very well indeed. I sometimes can’t believe how good I am at my job. I’ll have this acquisition in the bag by the end of the week, I can taste it.”

“I think I hear the screech of a bog banshee,” Fred remarked placidly. “So unusual to hear in this part of Canada, and inside no less. I should write to Wizarding Geographic.”

“Oh, make room,” said Pansy impatiently. Fred hastily gathered his bag and papers off a chair as she deposited an armful of damp woolens into the vacated space.

“There is no one else for me to talk to here because apparently ghosts are exceedingly busy so you are going to buy me a glass of wine and listen to me tell you about my day. Neither of us has to like it,” she said. She rubbed her hands together briskly from the cold and plopped down in the chair across from him.

“None of that bottle from yesterday left, then?” said Fred, starting to gather his pamphlets and order forms remaining on the table into a stack with some annoyance. Apparently he was done working for the evening.

Pansy looked at him expectantly. Her cheeks were flushed pink from the cold and her eyes were bright with triumph and pride. Today she was wearing a dark red silk blouse tucked into a wool tweed skirt. The blouse was slightly rumpled from being shoved into a coat and where her hair had been twisted into a low bun, tendrils were escaping as if overcome by her excitement. Fred felt it wash over him almost like a balm. Everything about her was so present .

He grinned and handed her the menu. Her fingers brushed his as she took it and he squawked at the cold.

“Merlin, your fingers are freezing! Were you out there making snowballs with your bare hands?” Unthinkingly, he reached across the table and blanketed her freezing hands with his large, warm ones. The sudden intimacy was shocking but he noticed she didn’t pull away. Why should it matter? his brain said. You don’t even like her . He was grateful when she slowly prized her hands out from under his with a wry smile.

“Such a Gryffindor,” she said. “I can take care of myself, thank you.” He felt the rush of a warming charm and she closed her eyes momentarily with a sigh of contentment. The sound sent a jolt of something through him and he found his body arguing with his brain a bit. Some parts of him clearly liked her.

“Alright I get it, you can take care of yourself, you’re amazing at your job, and it sounds like you would like to tell me about you .”

“I thought you’d never ask,” she said, and launched into a highly detailed account of her day, punctuated with much gesturing. In the beginning, Fred asked questions in the same over-the-top manner she was speaking in as a way of making fun of her, but it only seemed to encourage her. His first gushy “no way, how did you get out of that one?” was delivered with wide eyes and hands clasped under his chin with mock anticipation, and after an initial withering glare, something calculating and amused had entered her eyes as she said rapturously, “oh let me tell you, you’ll never believe it” and began another tale of great daring in which she was inevitably the heroine. The pride she took in her work as a “retrieval specialist” wasn’t the pride of ego but of finding something she was good at, and Fred found he respected it. The conversation moved from her current mission in Banff to some of her more exciting and complex retrieval adventures, and then into wizarding history and some of the more unusual spells they had both come across, and then the research Fred and George had done to develop their new line of ghost-oriented products. At the mention of George, Pansy’s face had creased in remorse and as she opened her mouth to say something, Fred cut in. 

“Hey. None of that. We were kids. It was complicated, too complicated for us.” 

The Parkinson family situation had become common knowledge after the final Battle. Ultimately, she was just another child caught up in the family expectations and prejudices of an old pureblood line -- and then in family regrets and tragedy as her parents became captives and, ultimately, casualties. Fred didn’t wonder for a moment why she liked a job that kept her busy and on the road. Pansy looked relieved and grateful at Fred’s expression of understanding and quickly changed the topic, encouraging Fred to share more about his favorite inventions and oohing exaggeratedly at the scar on his wrist from a product test gone wrong. This kicked off a round of (potentially heavily embellished) tales about bizarre accidents on the job. Fred contributed the occasional anecdote of his own, but was mostly captivated by her stories, relaxing a little in the feeling of letting someone else be the biggest personality at the table.

At some point, they ordered dinner, sharing small plates with fingers and forks. Fred had a crazy urge to offer her a bite of something with his fork (or, even more alluring, with his fingers) but tamped it down. They finished a bottle of wine and ordered another. The candle on their table burned low and was replaced discreetly by their attentive waiter. Pansy declared that she didn’t want dessert but then stole most of Fred’s tiramisu with mock sneakiness. One of the buttons on her blouse came undone from her vigorous storytelling. She got some mascarpone on the corner of her mouth and then her tongue darted out ever so briefly to scoop it in. She was more distracting by the second and then for her to be smart and funny and have parts of the girl he remembered from school and yet be someone wholly different and…she was laughing at something he had said (what had he said?!), head thrown back and hand reaching across the table to cuff him on the shoulder. His eyes were fixed on that long expanse of neck as she laughed and he suddenly found himself imagining peppering it with kisses, moving downwards as she…

“Well if it isn’t the traitor I call a twin,” said George.

Pansy jumped in surprise at the sudden appearance of a translucent head in the middle of their table but to her credit simply took a languid sip of wine as she said, “George, how unexpected. You’re looking…asymmetrical.”

“Princess Parkinson,” said George. “You noticed my ear! I really appreciate that. These days I feel like people just look right through me.”

Pansy laughed merrily and Fred was a goner.

.....

“You’re a goner, mate,” said George later. “Do I need to fetch some smelling salts to revive you? Perhaps a nice dead fish from the After Life buffet? A nice cold…” he wrapped his arms around Fred’s head, “shower?”

“Agh, gerroff,” said Fred, batting ineffectually at his incorporeal brother. “You know that feels horrible.”

“You know what is horrible,” said George, “Pansy Parkinson.”

“I knoooooow.” Fred’s voice was muffled as he put his face in his hands, slouching where he sat on the end of his bed. “But the thing is, George, she’s actually not.”

“I noticed,” said George speculatively. “She was very cheeky offering me that bite of tiramisu but I cannot pretend that we didn’t just spend a very enjoyable evening. And that was just the part I was there for.”

“The rest of it was enjoyable too,” said Fred, voice still muffled. He sat up and sighed. “Honestly, last night was enjoyable too.”

George’s eyebrows rose comically. “Fred, it sounds like you left something out.”

“What? No, nothing like that. We didn’t speak to each other and I caught her papers on fire but somehow I liked it. And I guess she did too because she came blowing in tonight with the energy of a thousand suns and before I knew it I was doing stupid stuff like trying to warm up her hands and letting her steal my dessert.”

“Well I’ll say two things for you, Fred,” said George. “You were always going to fall for someone unconventional, and you were always going to fall hard when you finally did.”

“I notice that one of those things is not ‘you fall for a Parkinson over my dead body’,” said Fred, and then winced. George laughed good-naturedly.

“Well that would be a bit hard for me to enforce at this point,” he said reasonably, “but no. She’s hilarious. That story about how she ‘convinced’ that fusty miser of a wizard to part with that illuminated manuscript in Amsterdam? She can call herself whatever she wants but the woman is a straight-up con artist. I think I already love her.”

Fred gave his brother an appreciative pat on the shoulder even though the sensation made him wince, and then sighed.

“I don’t know, though, George. She was right nasty to Ron and Harry in school and even worse to Hermione. I know she was exonerated for trying to sell Harry out once the ministry found out that What’s-His-Nose had done to her family, but....”

“Mom and Dad said the Slytherins were a dysfunctional crowd in school even in their day,” George said. “They’ve all just known each other too long. Until the end of school I don’t think there was a day in Pansy’s life that she didn’t spend surrounded by the same people. Makes for weird drama. Besides, I don’t know about Ron and Harry but she and Hermione at least get along well enough for her to work with Pansy on contracts. She mentioned it when she was working one of ours. If she can let the past be past...”

“Well. It’s not like Pansy tested experimental products on kids or anything,” said Fred with a lopsided grin.

“I think you’d like to show her some of our experimental products, ” said George, nudging his elbow through Fred's ribs.

“How many times have I told you the sex toy line isn’t going to work out?” Fred was indignant. “Our primary markets are students and the Ministry!”

“Fred you have such a dirty mind,” said George innocently. “I meant our After Life products, of course! I invited her to stop by the booth. But if you want to show her, I can bring that vibrating...” 

His words cut off into uproarious laughter as Fred threw a pillow through his midsection.

.....

Pansy apparated with a pop and cautiously peeked through the crack in the door. The apparition point at the hotel was tucked around the corner from a little upstairs wine bar, down a short hallway simply labeled “archive” lined with closed, locked (to muggles) sliding wooden doors. Behind one of these doors, in a closet shared with extra housekeeping and waitstaff uniforms, stood Pansy. It was a bit tricky as an apparition point because even if she cast a disillusionment charm to conceal her exit, she still had to open the door without a muggle noticing. But it was the best option for getting quickly to and from her current client’s estate, which was otherwise far off the beaten path for any of the muggle shuttles or taxis and not connected to the North American floo network. Well , she thought as she cast a muggle sensing charm and waited to exit, at least it’s not an outside apparition point . She sighed as she remembered she had apparated during the wine bar’s limited open hours and transfigured a coat hanger into a small stool to perch on. At least she had a moment to reflect on her slightly off-putting day before going to see Fred. Her heart gave a little squeeze. Maybe he’d have some ideas for her, Gryffindors love a problem to solve. After today she probably could use some Gryffindor “throw things at the wall and see what sticks”-style ideas. Her brain started to explore some unhelpful tangents in which perusing paperwork late at night led to Fred laying her down on top of said paperwork and… she shifted a little self-consciously on her stool.

Her negotiations with the journal-possessing witch she had come to think of as “The Heiress” had largely been going well until today. The elderly woman had warmed to Pansy’s well-researched examples of how bringing similar works into the wizarding public domain for historical and spell-related research had tangibly benefited wizarding society, and her ideas and proposals for how she envisioned The Heiress’ journals being used for special projects. Money was not the motivator here; The Heiress had plenty from her independent distillery and no descendants to leave it to. Far from needing to tap her personal coffers for this acquisition, Pansy had actually convinced The Heiress to make a sizable donation to the wizarding archives at the Ashmolean in Oxford. But today they had hit a snag, as The Heiress had sighed heavily and said she just wasn’t sure that Pansy’s department was the right fit to carry on her “full legacy.” She was comfortable with Pansy leaving with the historical journals, but for the original spells, at which she had given Pansy only the briefest glance, she was asking for a new contract that would involve a licensing agreement with a distributor. This meant two things: first, that Pansy had been right to think there was something magical going on with the distillery business; and second, that she had to talk to Hermione as soon as they could find a time. She needed her clever friend’s legal acumen.

She blinked and realized that it had been awhile since she had felt a vibration from her muggle sensing charm. Stealthily, she exited the apparition closet and walked past an ornate ballroom to some stone back stairs that would lead her to the most remote conference rooms of the hotel. One advantage of her meeting stalling out early was that she would be able to take George up on his invitation to visit their booth at the conference. Visit their booth . She snorted. The twin’s meddling was unmistakable but she didn’t mind. George’s obvious matchmaking gambit meant that he was not opposed to a scenario that involved her and Fred being something other than enemies. At least she hoped it was a matchmaking gambit. She also wouldn’t put it past him to be doing everything for his own amusement at this point...after all, that was pretty much the theme of their business.

Apparently the other theme of their business was to be as noticeable as possible. The “Live Your Best Afterlife” booth was like a set from a high drama play. Theatrical curtains draped a booth decorated with elegant, gilt-framed black-and-white portraits of people being scared witless by ghostly figures. Every once in awhile one of the figures would emit a small audible shriek. Fred and George were seated in tufted leather armchairs like they were taking their ease in an old library, and...was that a stained glass Tiffany lamp on the table? Pansy’s dour mood evaporated and she walked up to the handsome twins with a big grin on her face, although her heart twinged a little at the side-by-side reminder that Fred now looked so much older than his eternally teenage brother. 

“Pansy!” George exclaimed in apparent rapture. “As I live and breathe!”

“Shh!” said Pansy. “You’ll wake the dead.”

Fred sighed melodramatically. “I thought spending more time with the living would mean a decrease in death-related puns, but apparently I just get a double serving now.”

Pansy perched on the edge of the table and crossed her legs so her skirt rode up her thighs a little. “Sounds to me like you’re a lucky man,” she said with a winning smile, and was gratified to see that Fred looked a little dumbstruck. Somehow it just made him look even more adorable. Her fingers practically itched to run themselves through his tousled copper hair.

“So if you made it here to visit us, does that mean your deal is all signed and sealed?” asked Fred. 

Pansy deflated a little. “Roadblock. Maybe tonight I can tap you boys for new ideas. Or better yet, speaking of taps, maybe I should check out your competitors.” She eyed the booth next to theirs, advertising Spirit Spirits, with interest. 

“Well that isn’t for you, not being a spirit and all,” said George.

“But you came to the right place,” said Fred quickly. “We specialize in unusual solutions no one has thought of to unorthodox problems no one has heard of.”

“Like distillery Heiresses wanting new licensing contracts to part with proprietary spells even though they have no estate to leave them to?” Pansy complained, absentmindedly picking up a small Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes box labeled Visible Visitations

“Well, recently it’s been more helping ghosts find fulfilling contracts for enjoyable hauntings and giving them effective haunting tools,” said George airily, “but I’m sure we can apply similar concepts here.” 

Pansy laughed. “No, let’s talk about enjoyable and effective hauntings. I’ve had enough legalese for one day.”

Fred gave a mock grimace. “Well I hate to break it to you but half of our business model is legalese too.” 

Pansy leaned towards him with a very serious look on her face. “Frederick.” She was close enough to him now that could see the blonde mixed in with the copper in his eyelashes and light stubble, the green in his eyes so full of mischief… Salazar, he was attractive .

“Not my full name,” he said, a little huskily.

“It is your name for gravely serious moments,” she replied. “Frederick. Do other Gryffindors know that underneath this façade of fun and whimsy,” she gestured at the dramatic booth, “lurks a passion for contract law?” 

Fred assumed an expression of exaggerated worry and she thrilled at how quickly he joined in whatever jest she started. Had she finally met her match? “Pansirella,” he said, resting a hand on her knee and looking into her eyes. “If you speak of this to anyone it will be the end of us.”

Pansy suppressed the rush of the contact in favor of the rush of the game. Not to be outdone, she reached out to where his hand rested on her leg and ran her fingertips lightly across it, brushing across his fingers and up his wrist. She saw a look ignite in his eyes that she had not seen before on his usually laughing face and something inside her purred in response.

“What will you give me not to speak of it?” she said quietly, with all the suggestion she could muster.

Fred’s fingers tightened slightly on her knee and his look began to kindle into a smolder. 

“Alllllright, I don’t want to be that ghost,” said George, “but you’ve really lost situational awareness here.” And he put a freezing arm around each of them. They jumped at the jarring sensation, breaking eye contact with each other and confronting the reality of a large crowd of exceptionally curious looking ghosts who had clearly just come out of a conference session. Fred pulled his hand back abruptly and Pansy cleared her throat, blushing scarlet. 

“A round of applause for my lovely assistants!” George cried jubilantly. The ghosts clapped dutifully, and completely silently. It was exceedingly bizarre to witness. “And you’ll see them again tonight when they lead our Haunted Holiday Hide-and-Seek!” 

“Wait, what?” said Pansy.

.....

“Are they drunk?” Pansy whispered into the air to Fred’s left. The ghost they had just found inside a wall with the new Ghost Geiger had emerged, tittering, blew a sloppy kiss in the general direction of their disillusioned forms, and slurred “that tickled” before weaving down the corridor.

“Oh yes, absolutely hammered,” he said. “I think Spirit Spirits must be completely sold out.”

“Wait, so George wasn’t kidding earlier? Are you telling me someone has figured out how to get ghosts drunk?

“Brilliant, right? That’s why this convention is in Banff every year,” said Fred. “There is a local distillery that has figured out a way to make alcohol that works for ghosts. But they keep the secrets under lock and key. No one knows how they do it, or even who or where they are. They don’t export outside the region, so the party comes to them. I was hoping we’d have time to partake in the mortal equivalent,” he said a little forlornly. The timing of the afternoon had been bloody terrible. That moment of undeniable chemistry and then all those blasted ghosts. They had done a booming business at the booth for the rest of the day while Pansy had wandered off to tend to her own affairs. If you expect me to galavant around this hotel all night, she had said, I have to get my other ducks in a row. Although he and George had put a lot of work into organizing this nighttime event, he was very much wishing he could abandon the task and do something else all night with a certain intoxicating witch.

They continued their trek down the quiet hallway, Ghost Geigers whirring faintly as they waited to detect the disruptive magical signature of the undead.

“I have to ask,” said Pansy’s voice a little tentatively as they wandered into a dark wood bar area overlooking a high-ceilinged rotunda, “Why Christmas? Don’t you want to be with your family? I mean I know why I’m away at Christmas, but…” she trailed off and Fred felt the sadness in her voice. He reached out for her instinctively in the air but his hand caught at nothing. Her disillusionment charm was impressively strong.

“Well Christmas is complicated for ghosts. It’s fine still for George, and we had an early celebration with the family, but the reality is that ghosts last much longer than their families. Sometimes they spend holidays with the future generations, but for ghosts that feel blue this time of year it’s nice for them to have something fun to do. The company of each other. I really don’t think there’s anyone in this room, do you?” They had moved down the stairs and were now meandering through tables and squashy chairs under the glow of dimly lit chandeliers and a few wall-mounted animal heads that were a bit creepy at night.

“That makes sense,” Pansy said, tone speculative. “And I don’t think so, but are there any materials we haven’t checked yet?”

Fred chuckled. He appreciated how all-in she was on this completely random product testing activity. So far their Ghost Geigers had been able to detect drunken spirits hiding out in plaster walls, hardwood floors, armchairs, metal-barred doors, and a window. It would make a wonderful new addition to their line of muggle engagement items, which helped ghosts interact with muggles in various haunted locations and helped muggles offer “authentic” haunted experiences -- castles, inns, catacombs etc. Their muggle clientele thought they were a special effects shop, and Gringotts had a new currency exchange division. This was a good product, and they had tested it enough. A wry smile played across his face as he saw the room ahead of him. A games room — just where they belonged.

“We’ve been pretty thorough, and honestly I think they’re really too drunk to play at this point,” he said.

He heard her laugh drifting ahead of him. I think I could listen to that laugh every day, he found himself thinking.

“Just to be sure,” she said, “I think we should carefully inspect this pool table we’ve conveniently found.” He saw a pool cue float into the air. There she was. He had just needed a way to find her. He walked over and ran his fingers down the cue until he found her hand.

“I’m going to do a very careful inspection,” he said, putting intent into his voice since he knew she could not see his face. He thought about suggesting they drop the disillusionment charms but there was something thrilling and erotic and strange about hearing her small gasp as he ran his hand up her arm, and something about being unseen that made him feel like this moment they had been dancing around for days could perhaps finally be theirs.

He reached her shoulder and began to slide his hand down her back to her waist, while his other hand drifted forwards to pluck the cue from her hand and rest it on the table. He cupped her neck, fingers weaving among the ends of her hair. “Fred,” she breathed, the word sweet and aching. “I…”

He stepped closer, backing her into the pool table and pressing his body lightly against hers. He felt her breasts brush his chest and longed to snake his hands towards them. But only if it’s what she wanted. There were only a few days standing between a long history of dislike and whatever this was becoming.

Leaning his head forwards, his forehead found hers and he rested against her tenderly, stroking his thumb along her neck and caressing her waist. He felt himself beginning to grow hard and adjusted his position so he wouldn’t press into her too obviously. Although he could hear her panting lightly, he didn’t want to scare her off.

“I know our history is complicated,” Fred said softly. “But I would like to complicate things as much as possible by kissing you.” 

She laughed a little shakily, and he heard the smile behind it, and then her lips crashed onto his, warm and soft, and it was bliss. He deepened the kiss, cradling her face in his hand, exploring her beautiful mouth, seeking entry gently with his tongue and then tangling with hers. He plundered her mouth and groaned with need as she nipped and sucked on his bottom lip. Any remaining restraint he had broke, and he slid his hands down her body to cup her ass, lifting her and depositing her on the edge of the pool table. Moving his lips to plant kisses along her jawbone and down her neck, he ran his hands up her thighs, moving her knees apart with his hands and pushing her skirt up slowly. At this suggestion, she slid forward and he felt her legs wrap around his waist, pulling his body and his now straining erection against her. 

Godric, ” he moaned, resting his face on her shoulder and running his teeth along her neck. She made a needy, filthy sound that almost undid him that second. “You’re going to be the death of me.”

“I hope not,” said a new voice from somewhere behind Pansy. “We have enough ghosts around here.” Fred moaned now for a different reason, in defeat and frustration, as he heard the chime go off in the air around them signaling the end of the Haunted Hide-and-Seek.

“You have to be kidding me,” said Pansy.

“Nope,” said the ghost sitting on the pool table. “Incidentally, seems like your ghost detector thingie doesn’t penetrate pool tables. I've been hanging out in it this whole time.”

Apparently nothing is penetrating on pool tables tonight, Fred grumbled to himself as ghosts filtered into the room and he quickly stepped away from Pansy and tried to put himself to rights before removing the disillusionment charm. He knew he would have at least half an hour of questions and comments, but after that maybe…

“Pansy?” he said into the air. No reply. She had gone.

Blast.

.....

Pansy was hot and bothered. Fred had taken charge and she had liked every second of that very much. She was so aroused she was surprised she could walk straight. And then he had fallen back to work like a switch was flipped the second duty had poked its head in the room. Was he ashamed to be caught with her? Why couldn’t he step back and let George take the lead when other diversions presented themselves? Could he be business and pleasure? A small voice asked if just pleasure would be enough when she actually liked him so very much, but the fire raging in her body made it easy to save that question for later. She knew he wanted her. She had felt how much he wanted her. And oh how much there had been of that much. Flinging herself down on her bed in frustration, she found herself picturing him flinging her down instead, imagining wrapping her lips around that wickedly hard cock she had felt straining against her, and…

Well. Gryffindors weren’t the only ones who could take charge. 

.....

When Fred walked back into his room he thought he was hallucinating. There she sat on the desk, dark green satin negligée just grazing the tops of her thighs, black lace trim edging the swell of her breasts. Her hair was slightly tousled and with her rosy, just-bitten looking lips and bright eyes she looked like she had just been shagged. The thought of shagging her drove him towards her slowly like a man in a trance. 

“I thought we’d pick up where we left off,” she said in a low voice, uncrossing her legs and spreading her knees apart slightly as he approached. Godric, was this happening? She smiled at him and he could see the uncertainty behind it. He would make sure she had nothing to feel uncertain about.

Reaching her, he ran his hands up her thighs, her waist, her breasts. He squeezed gently, marveling at the weight, the softness, tantalizing under the smooth fabric of her negligée. His fingers skimmed along the lace, and then along the buds of her nipples, teasing, imagining tasting. She groaned, looking at him wide-eyed, eyes blown dark with lust.

“You gorgeous little snake,” he whispered, “how did you even get in here?”

Her look became coy as she ran her hands down his chest, past his belt, and palmed his erection. He pressed into her hand and she stroked him through the fabric.

“Oh darling,” she said, “there are no little snakes in this room.”

He chuckled as he wrapped his large hand experimentally around her wrist. 

“You jest, but be careful,” and he looked warningly into her eyes. “When you are not half naked in front of me, I may be a joker and a gentleman. In this situation I will be neither.” He gave her wrist a light squeeze and thrilled at the hungry little gasp that escaped her lips. He had been right to think she craved giving up control. 

“What happens if I’m not careful,” she whispered as she pulled experimentally against his grip. 

“You’ll lose,” he said, practically growling at the thought. His erection bucked in her hand.

“Doesn’t sound like it,” she purred, and reached for his belt.

.....

Any worry she might have had that her showing up in his room would read as her calling the shots evaporated as he gently removed her hands from his belt and replaced them with his own, slowly joining her in her state of undress. He pulled off his thermal Henley shirt in one fluid flex, muscles bunching across his broad chest as he threw it to the side. As he undid his belt and stepped out of his jeans, she sat back in appreciation of the view she had been craving. He was gorgeous. His biceps corded as he moved, and defined abs dusted with copper hair tapered to a hint of hip bones before an interruption by tented black boxer briefs. And then those legs, Salazar. If his torso wasn’t glorious enough, his legs would be the end of her. Strong, big, muscled thighs, meant for riding a broom and now for riding her. And under those boxers… as he advanced on her again she thought she was about to find out.

He brought her legs around his waist as he approached her on the desk, and then his lips were on hers, those warm, soft, insistent lips. She moaned against him and felt his tongue slide into her mouth, tangling, playing with hers as she ran her hands up the muscles of his back and wove her hands through his hair. When she pulled slightly Fred chuckled against her mouth.

“Oh Pansy,” he breathed. “You are in trouble.”

And in a swift bunch of biceps and back muscles he lifted her from the desk, turned, and dumped her onto the bed. He straddled her lightly in order to pull her negligée slowly up her body, baring her to his appreciative gaze. The admiration she saw there made her flush with pride before his onslaught drove every thought from her mind. He was everywhere, lips and tongue and teeth and exploring hands, wrapping her in pleasure and sensation, and then he was moving lower, and… She gasped and arched as he kissed her sensitive bud through her black lacy knickers, and then her knickers were gone, vanished by a wordless spell, and replaced by Fred’s fingers pumping slowly into her as he opened her legs. He paused, looking up at her and she ground against him, pursuing greater friction.

“I’m going to make you beg for me,” he said, voice husky, a mix of command and seeking consent.

“I already want to beg for you.” Pansy’s whisper became a wanton groan as he began to explore her with his mouth, driving her to the brink and making her whimper his name. He was entering her with his tongue, with two fingers, with three fingers, his lips and tongue teasing her bud until she was fisting her hands in his hair and practically sobbing with desire.

“Please,” she keened. “I need you inside me.” 

Fred kissed his way up her body, stopping to cup her pert breasts and nip at a rosy nipple. She felt two spells in quick succession: the warmth of a contraceptive charm and the rush of a vanishing spell as Fred’s boxer briefs evaporated. The sight of his full erection made the breath leave her body in an “Oh!” of intimidation and excitement. He was so big. Long and thick and proud. She wondered how much of him she would be able to fit in her mouth. Later she’d take the reins and find out. 

He leaned over her, strong arms propped on either side of her head as he lowered his hips, cock sliding against her and pressing against her clit. She moved against him, showing him with her rhythm that she hadn’t changed her mind. He reached down to position himself against her entrance and began to rock into her slowly, one inch at a time, as she pulsed around him, acclimating to the size of the intrusion. He filled her so completely she could hardly think around it and when he was fully sheathed she put a hand on his hip, pausing him.

“I…”I just need a moment,” she said breathlessly. He stayed still but peppered her with tender kisses. She canted her hips and moved against him experimentally, feeling little shocks of pleasure as he hit deep within her.

“You feel so good around me,” he murmured as he began to slowly pump in and out. “Mmm fuck,” he said as she started to speed his movement with her hips. He reached one hand down to her side and then the other, capturing her hands and pinning them above her head and causing her blood to race with excitement and just the barest thrill of fear. She tried to wiggle her hands out of his grip and then moaned with delicious helplessness as his fingers tightened. He looked into her face and though there was a hint of mischief in the back of his eyes he looked absolutely predatory.

“Yes?” he breathed.

“Yes,” she purred.

He dragged her hands above her head, holding her against the mattress as he began to fuck her in earnest, long, deep strokes, pumping into her very core and making her spark with pleasure to her fingertips and toes. She wrapped her legs around him, hooking her feet together behind his hips and changing their angle so each stroke hammered against that glorious spot inside her. He increased his pace at the sound of her whimpers of pleasure, pounding her hard into the bed, now holding her wrists in one hand as the other trailed down to squeeze her breast and then find her clit.

“I want you to make you scream,” he said, his face a story of visceral need, and he moaned as he fucked her harder, faster, impossibly huge inside her. She arched her back, eyes fluttering closed at the stimulation. His thrusts were becoming more erratic and she dug her nails into his back as he drove her over the edge, screaming and shuddering. Her orgasm flooded through her body, a blinding warmth of rapture pulsing through her and around him, and she felt his cock swell inside her with the grunts of his own long release.

.....

Pansy woke several hours later to the feeling of a proud erection against her flank. She was blissfully wrapped in warm, naked man and allowed herself a moment for some wonder at her situation. Against all likelihood, when it had been the last thing on her mind, she found herself being shagged within an inch of her life by a funny, clever, kind, gorgeous man who made her absolutely scream in the best possible way. Oh she was sure that he would make her scream in other ways, too -- their personalities were big enough that she already knew their first fight would be epic. Their first fight , she thought. That implied that they would get to that point, and the point to have more than one. She shifted in Fred’s arms to look at his sleeping face, peaceful in the half light of early morning. Would she like to wake up looking at that face? She thought she would. Her heart squeezed at the scariness and impossibility of it all, but also with certainty. Well. She should show him some appreciation, then. Her attention came back to that proud erection. 

She slid down the bed, tucked her hair behind her ears, and whispered her lips against his cock, clean and velvety with the aid of their post-coital cleaning spells. She ran her tongue up the considerable length and then took the tip experimentally between her lips, sucking lightly and beginning to work her way down the length. She gagged slightly before she could reach the end and squeezed the base with her hand as she fucked him with her mouth, taking him as deep as she could with each bob of her head. His breathing had changed from the slow rhythm of sleep into something heavier awhile ago and now he whispered her name as his hips bucked slightly. She groaned at the knowledge of his pleasure and pulled off momentarily, licking pre-cum off his tip and looking up at him with big, needy eyes. His hands rested on her head and tangled in her hair and she looked up at him as she swallowed as much of his length as she could manage, making him swear as he watched himself disappear between her lips. She pulled off him with a “pop” and straddled him, grinding against his length. 

“That’s a hell of a way to wake a man up, Pansy,” he gasped, as his hands roamed up to squeeze her breasts above him.

“You’re right, Fred,” she said, and her tone turned filthy. “It was very bad of me. So bad I think maybe you should do something about it.”

Climbing off of him and reaching for the nightstand, she found her wand, the hotel pen, and her negligée, which with some quick spellwork and combination became a long riding crop wrapped in green satin. She leaned back on the bed and ran the riding crop up her body as he watched, slack-jawed. The tip skimmed over her nipples and down her flank, highlighting everywhere she wanted his eyes to follow. And then she turned over, elbows on the bed, and raised her bum into the air appealingly. She knew he would be able to see how wet she was for him. She wanted him to see. Looking back over her shoulder with a pout on her lips, she offered Fred the satiny toy. The bed shifted as Fred moved to take it, and then his hands were roaming her body, caressing, massaging, conquering. He squeezed her ass, fingers dipping into soft places that made her whimper with need. As the head of his cock pushed against her entrance, she felt the whisper of satin against her flank.

“I want you to ride me, Fred,” she said huskily.

“What is our safe word going to be?” he asked, pushing into her ever so slightly as she panted. She tried to drive him into her more deeply but she felt a hand on her ass stop her progress.

“Oh no, Princess, we’re going to do this right,” he said, all Gryffindor valor despite their aggressive lovemaking earlier in the night. She conceded to herself that involving toys probably took things into safe word territory, but she still couldn’t resist...

She turned to look over her shoulder again, her expression a mixture of challenge and smugness. “Zonko’s,” she said, naming the joke shop competitor in a tone as deadpan as she could manage over her raging need.

Fred stared. “You’re really asking for this, aren’t you,” he said, testing the riding crop against his hand. Pansy mewled a little at the sound and wiggled her ass expectantly.

“Why yes, Fred. Yes I am.”

.....

The first thing Pansy smelled when she came out of the shower was bacon. She threw her hair up in a towel, wrapped herself in a fluffy bathrobe, and stuck her head out into the room.

“Is there bacon?” she said eagerly.

“Still haven’t had enough meat?” came Fred’s teasing voice.

“Never,” she said, waltzing out and straight into his hard chest. He caught her in his arms and then he was kissing her and reaching for the tie of her robe. She laughed and dodged out of reach, running to the bed and nearly making it to the room service cart before he caught her and pinned her down. She giggled and tried to push him off but he simply crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow from where he basically sat on top of her.

“Bacon?” she said plaintively, all puppy dog eyes. He grinned, leaned down and kissed her, and then hopped off to gesture expansively at the room service.

“For you, Pansy, I got everything. Call me crazy, but something about you just said ‘room service’ to me.” She grinned. He was right about that. He also wasn’t kidding about ‘everything.’ She saw pancakes and eggs and bacon and fruit and pastries and some sort of smoothie and coffee and she let out a squeak of happiness that made him laugh.

“I got a head start and can officially recommend the pancakes,” he said. As she pulled the plate towards her and poured a cup of coffee, he settled himself behind her, arms around her, cradling her against his chest while she happily munched and chatted. She had been worried that it would be hard to talk to each other after the night before, but he was as funny and over the top as ever -- just with his arms wrapped around her like she was the most precious thing on earth. She snuggled against him.

“Is there work to be done today or can we do more of the type of work we did last night?”

“Nothing for me until the afternoon,” he said. “All the ghosts are too hungover.”

She turned in his arms and looked at him incredulously. “You mean Spirit Spirits comes with a spiritual hangover? That’s just cruel.”

He laughed. “I know, right? George and I actually have some ideas for how to get rid of it, if only we could figure out how to get our hands on the bloody recipe.”

Pansy paused with her fork halfway to her mouth as everything suddenly clicked into place in her head. The Heiress. The distillery. The reason the After Life convention was always in Banff. A licensing arrangement.

“FRED!” she half gasped. “Oh, I can’t believe I didn’t see it before! Merlin! Quick, get dressed!”

“What? What are we doing?” he said with some alarm as she flew from the bed and began hurriedly transfiguring her bathrobe into a fuzzy sweater and a wooly skirt.

“I’ll tell you on the way to the apparition point,” she said distractedly. “Do you have some shoes I could transfigure into boots?”

“Er, to the left of the wardrobe,” he said, beginning to search for his jeans. “But not the boots, I need those myself, since it sounds like we’re going outside?”

“Yes!” she said, looking over at him, face blazing in triumph. “We are about to solve two very unusual problems in an unorthodox way.” She couldn’t help but grin.

.....

They walked back from their meeting to the hotel instead of apparating, taking the hour outside in the snow and crisp winter air to agree that after a stop in London, Fred should probably come with Pansy to her next acquisition case in Switzerland to see what interesting spells and lore it might turn up for the shop -- and to see if that famous Swiss chocolate tasted as good when consumed off each other’s bodies. They took a bottle of champagne and another of Spirit Spirits with them to the booth to find George and tell him the good news. As they walked up to the display of velvet drapes and clubby armchairs, George pretended to shield his eyes.

“Whoah, cool it down, too much glow for this hungover ghost,” he said forlornly.

“You’re going to want to hear this news,” said Fred. “But it was Pansy’s brilliant idea so I’ll let her tell the story.”

Pansy beamed and reached for a file folder tucked under her arm, presenting it to George with a flourish.

“THIS,” she said, “is Weasley Wizard Wheezes’ exclusive licensing and distribution agreement for Spirit Spirits.”

George stared at them. “What? How…? What?”

Fred chuckled and began pouring celebratory drinks for all of them.

“Do you remember my Heiress?” said Pansy. “With the journals, the proprietary spells, and the…. distillery ?” 

“Wait, do you mean to say all this time it was her?”

“I do!” Pansy crowed. “And the last piece of my puzzle was that she would only part with the proprietary spells to the right person. Or people. Like, someone who is already a purveyor of goods to the spirit community.” She gestured expansively to Fred and George. “I can’t believe I didn’t put it together sooner.” 

“Pansy…” George croaked. “You’re bloody brilliant.”

This time Fred was the one to beam. “Isn’t she though,” he said somewhat proudly.

As they toasted, George looked at Pansy with a small frown on his face.

“Ah,” he said. “So it was just business then. When you asked me to let you in to Fred’s room last night, I thought… well.” He cleared his throat awkwardly.

Fred wrapped an arm around Pansy’s waist, and then slid his hand lower to cup her ass as obviously as possible. Pansy responded by nibbling on Fred’s ear.

“All business, old chap,” said Fred, sliding his hand lower and making Pansy jump.

“No that’s not the saying,” she said. “It’s something like, all pleasure, no business, isn’t it?”

“No, my darling, it’s all play and no work makes Fred a happy man, or…”

Pansy frowned exaggeratedly. “That doesn’t sound right either. All things in moderation, was it?”

“You’re going to need to give me some time before you talk about moderation,” Fred growled, pulling Pansy to him.

“HEY!” George said, snapping his fingers silently and ineffectually at them. They looked away from each other to see a line of ghosts at the booth staring at them. “Situational awareness!”

THE END