VII. & VIII.

VII. Rosemary for Remembrance

Whether or not Zabini knew that he didn’t have a chance with Romilda, he still watched her closely whenever they were in the Great Hall, sometimes causing a displeased shiver to run down Romilda’s spine.

One afternoon when she was sitting and gossiping with Astoria Greengrass in a corner of the library, he even came up to her and asked her to Hogsmeade, in a decidedly sneaky way, making her eyes widen in surprise.

“Pardon?” she gasped at him, but he simply stared back.

“I need to purchase candles for my step-fathers and I thought you might be of a similar mind.”

Any half thought she ever had of pursuing Zabini if she should fail with Harry instantly died.  She refused to date anyone who could speak of death so casually, even potentially his own.

“I’m quite happy in the world of the living, thank you,” she snapped back before turning back to Astoria whose eyes were wide.  Fortunately, she hadn’t asked for specifics, having probably heard about the entire situation from her sister Daphne who was close friends with Pansy.

She’d of course sent a long letter to Roland about the entire situation and was surprised when only a few days later, she received a response, telling her to meet him at Hogsmeade that upcoming Saturday.  Romilda already had a date with Harry planned, on her insistence he agreed to take her to Madam Puddifoot’s as long as he was allowed to turn around and walk out the door if there were any cupids inside.  It turned out he had a rather nasty date with Chang there the year before. 

“Harry,” she whispered, not wanting to disturb him as he finished up a Transfiguration essay.  He looked up at her, his green eyes smiling at her.  “Is it all right if before we go to Madam Puddifoot’s, we meet my brother at the Three Broomsticks?”

“Roland, right?” he asked and she nodded.

He squeezed her hand and, after a lingering glance between them, he turned back to his essay. 

Romilda really wasn’t looking forward to taking NEWT-level courses.

The morning of the Hogsmeade trip was crisp and Romilda eagerly pulled Harry into the small wizarding village, delighting at the jealous glares she was getting from everyone when Harry wrapped his arm tightly around her waist and led her about as they looked in shop windows and bought sweets for study session sugar rushes.

Fingers entwined like the day they met, Romilda led Harry through the Three Broomsticks and found a table with a view of the door in order to wait for Roland.

“So.  Roland, Rosa, and Romilda.  Does your dad like ‘Ro’ names?” Harry teased and Romilda lightly shoved against his arm.

“It would appear so,” she laughed before calming slightly.  “It’s a tradition in the Vane family.  Similar beginnings of names, that is.  One of my ancestors preferred old Germanic names, so the custom came about to separate ourselves from Muggle-borns and the more pretentious half-bloods.”

He nodded.  “There seems to be a bit of a split between English and Latin names among purebloods.”

“There is, but each family has its own traditions.”

Harry hummed in the back of his throat.  “Butterbeer?” he inquired and Romilda laughed happily at the non sequitor.

“Yes.  Chilled.”

She glanced about and pointedly ignored the looks Zabini was sending her way.  She wanted to attract Harry Potter, and she did, but she’d accidentally attracted the only son of a woman who was known for murdering her seven husbands and getting away with it. 

It was slightly terrifying.

At least she didn’t have a fortune large enough to tempt someone of Madam Zabini’s class. 

A hand landed on her shoulder and she jumped, finding herself in a warm embrace.  Tearing herself away, she looked up in shock to see Roland’s face smiling back at her.  “Roland!” she exclaimed happily, hugging him again and just breathing in his familiar scent.

The two quickly sat down and Romilda smiled happily up at him.  His auburn hair had been cut so that it curled around his ears, his bright blue eyes looking out of his aquiline face.  She searched it for familiar features, finding a bit of Rosa in the shape of the nose or the curve of the lips, though she knew she would never find anything of herself.

“Harry’s just gone to get me a drink,” she explained, tossing her hair over one shoulder so it was out of her face.  She was wearing black again, she was a self-respecting pureblood after all unlike some Weasleys she might mention, but she had become slightly more daring and was wearing gold nail varnish.  She didn’t care if the Weaslette was going to be wearing gold in front of Harry at her older brother’s wedding.  She was going to make certain that Harry had seen her enough in the color so that Ginny Weasley just couldn’t compare.  “So, what’s the occasion?”

“Three things, really,” Roland said softly.  He took out a large bag and gave it to her.  “I know your father doesn’t give you an allowance although he’s always given Rosa one, so here you are.”

Harry came up then and sat down, but Romilda didn’t glance at him.

“Roland, I can’t.  This is your earnings.  Your paycheck.”

“Don’t say ‘no.’  I have more than enough money, and I know that Father thinks that he can give Rosa hundreds of Galleons a term and just send you with nothing but the clothes I put on your back.  It’s not right.  Take it.”

“Uncle Atlas—“

“—better be also giving you an allowance as this is only about a third of what you’re entitled to.”  He took a deep breath.  “Ro, you are dear to me, so dear.  Just because your father would like to pretend he never married your mother and you don’t exist, doesn’t mean the rest of us will just sit by and watch it happen.  I like reading your letters about the latest imported soap or seeing you in the dresses and robes you buy when out with your friends.  It’s your birthright and I can afford it.”

“Roland,” she breathed, but her brother placed a hand firmly over her lips.

“You deserve to be loved, even if just a little.  I don’t care if I’m the only one who does, but, Ro, you’re wanted and you’re loved, and you’re every bit a Vane as Rosa is.”

Romilda glanced away and was glad when Harry pressed a chilled Butterbeer in her hand.  She smiled at him before turning back to her brother.  “Roland, my boyfriend Harry,” she introduced and then took a large drink from her glass.  “My stepbrother, Roland Figg of the House of Vane.”

Harry looked startled, but quickly recovered himself.  “Would you like a drink?  I’m not certain if Rosmerta would give me anything stronger than a Butterbeer, but she might.”

Roland blinked at him a few times before coming to himself.  “You’re Harry Potter,” he said in a half-whisper.

“Yes.”

He turned to Romilda. “I thought you were taking the mickey when you said you were dating Harry Potter.  That you were trying to make me jealous.”

Romilda’s eyes widened.  “Roland,” she murmured.  “I would never do anything simply ‘to make you jealous.’  Why would I ever lie about something like that?”

Roland turned away.  “I’m sorry.  Of course you wouldn’t, it just—Harry Potter.”  He looked at Harry.  “You ruined my department, by the way.  Smashed everything.”

Harry’s eyes widened.  “The Hall of Prophecies?”

Roland nodded once and laughed at Romilda’s confused expression.  “Don’t worry, Ro.”

She blushed at his pet name for her.

Roland signaled to Rosmerta who managed to bustle over at his warm smile.  “What can I get for you now, dearie?  It’s been an age.”

“That it has,” Roland responded.  “Two more chilled Butterbeers and a firewhiskey for me.”

Romilda looked at him as Madam Rosmerta walked away.  “What are the other two reasons, then?  I know you live at the Ministry, all Unspeakables do, so there must have been another reason than giving me my allowance.”

He glanced down at his hands, clearly wanting to do something with them.  Taking a deep breath, he began, “I’ve been speaking to your father, Ro, and I’m sorry, but you can’t come home for Christmas break.”

Harry looked at him, shocked, before slipping his hand around Romilda’s waist in comfort.

“Why?” she inquired in a small voice that was so different from her usual over-confidence.

“Father—he—“ Roland glanced around for inspiration.  “It’s the Davies Family, Romilda.”

“What about them?” Harry asked harshly.

Romilda touched his hand gently.  “No, Harry, it’s alright,” she murmured.  Her eyes flashed up to her brother.  “You didn’t really try to get him to change his mind.”  Her voice was filled with resignation and she looked away again, not wanting to see her brother.

“No, Ro.  I didn’t.”

Rosmerta came back with their drinks and placed them silently on the table, sensing the tense atmosphere.  Roland took a large drink of Firewhiskey and set it down on the table, half-empty.

“I think I’m going to need another, Rosmerta.”

She nodded and quickly left again.

“The Davies family,” he began to explain, “is thinking of aligning themselves with the house of Vane.  An engagement should occur over Christmas, and Father doesn’t want anyone in the way.”

“And of course I’m in the way.  I’m not her full sister, so I don’t matter,” Romilda said scathingly.  “Are you going?”

Roland shifted nervously and Romilda scoffed.

“Of course, I should have known.  You’re his beloved wife’s son, his de facto heir.”

“You could go visit your mother’s brother—“

“He’s in Greece,” she replied harshly.  “No.  It’s fine.  Hogwarts is lovely come Christmas.  Thank you for my allowance.  It was, as always, generous of you.”  She felt a burning at the back of her throat, and quickly made to rise, Harry right beside her. 

“Ro, don’t leave like this,” Roland pressed, but Romilda ignored him.  Grabbing at her arm, he pulled her closer and rested his forehead against hers.  “Ro,” he pleaded, burying his hands in her hair.  “Ro, darling.”

She jerked away.  “Roland, don’t.  Stop.  We had this conversation over the summer.”

“Of course.  I’m sorry.”  He looked over at Harry briefly who was glaring stonily back.  “I’m your brother in name.”

“In actuality,” she rebutted, and he nodded.

“As you will.  So beautiful,” he murmured.  He kissed her cheek briefly before drawing away again. 

Romilda shivered, and backed into Harry’s warm arms.  “I’ll see you when I see you, Roland.”

He nodded briefly and turned to his seat, picking up a small basket Romilda hadn’t really noticed before.  “You’re a woman, or nearly one,” he commented, the meaning only making sense to Romilda.  “Happy Christmas.”

Hesitantly, she took it and gasped when she opened it.  A beautiful Siamese cat was resting in the basket, a short collar and leash attaching it to the edge so it didn’t escape.

“She’s beautiful,” Romilda sighed and pet the top of the cat’s head.  Her bright blue eyes were staring up at her.  “What’s her name?”

“Sieglinde,” Roland answered and Romilda glared at him.  “Wishful thinking only, Ro.  Wishful thinking.”

Romilda nodded hesitantly.  “Sieglinde then.”

“A squib member of the Figg family bred her.  She usually breeds kneazles, but I asked her last Christmas, and here she is.—All grown up,” Roland muttered to himself, causing Harry to glance at him suspiciously. 

Harry turned back to the grown cat and looked at it dubiously.  Romilda laughed lightly at his expression before kissing his cheek.  “I understand Granger’s cat is a menace.”

“Yes, an intelligent menace at that.”

Romilda noticed that he didn’t try to pet Sieglinde.  Not yet, anyway.  She smiled at her boyfriend’s slight wariness of cats.  Briefly she wondered if there was a story behind it.

“Goodbye, brother,” she finally said, holding out her hand to him.  “Maybe I’ll see you next Christmas?”

“Perhaps,” he responded, taking her hand and holding it a little too long.  As soon as he released it, Romilda took it back and began cooing over her new cat again. 

Harry eyed Roland and saw how his gaze rested a little too much on Romilda. 

“Come on, Harry,” Romilda said with forced cheerfulness, and pulled him away from her brother.  “Do you think Sieglinde will be allowed at Madam Puddifoot’s?”

“I have no idea,” he answered truthfully as he held her close to him while they walked.  “I didn’t know you liked cats.”

“I’ve always wanted one instead of an owl,” she replied happily, though Harry saw the look of confusion pass over her face.  “Isn’t she beautiful?”

“She’s a cat,” Harry responded matter-of-factly.  “And one of Mrs. Figg’s cats.  She used to show me pictures of them when she babysat me.”

“You know this Figg woman?”

He nodded.  “She lives down the road from my relatives.”

Romilda hummed in the back of her throat.  “Well, Sieglinde’s certainly prettier than that squashed-face fiend Granger keeps.  Louise absolutely hates the creature and, once we figured out it was part kneazle—“

“Kneazle?” Harry said in surprise.

“Yes, kneazle—we set up a ward around our dormitory so kneazles couldn’t get in.  Fortunately, none of us had a kneazle and Sieglinde clearly isn’t one, so she’ll be fine.”

They walked down a little side street and Romilda was happy to see that Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop did not look as frilly as it had on Harry’s previous visit.  She had always wanted to go there on a date, and she’d had to coax Harry into agreeing.  Of course, she could only see through the windows, and not very clearly.  There still might be magical confetti lurking behind the door, but by then they would already be inside and Harry was too much of a gentleman to leave once they had gotten a table.

A little bell chimed as they walked through the front door and Romilda glanced around, before turning back to Harry.  “See.  No cupids,” she teased.

Madam Puddifoot herself led them to a small tea table that was cramped among several others, and Romilda noticed that the quiet chatter had stopped as soon as the other patrons—mainly Hogwarts students—caught sight of them. 

She glanced around, fully enjoying the attention, and sat down at the table offered to them. 

Romilda flipped her hair back, allowing her almond and blossom-scented shampoo to wash around her, and smiled when Harry’s eyes tracked the movement.  She had never in her wildest dreams thought that getting Harry to fancy her and want her would be so easy.  That she now wanted him, even when he was sweaty from Quidditch, just made the victory so much sweeter—and she promised herself that she would never let Harry go.  More importantly, perhaps, she would take everyone down who even thought of getting in their way.

Madam Puddifoot brought over a pot of tea and Romilda set about it pouring into cups, showcasing her small wrists with every turn of her hand.  She may have grown up without any female influences, but she was a pureblood and she knew how to pour tea the proper way. 

“This is nice,” she commented and then laughed outright when she saw the look on Harry’s face.  “It’s not that bad.  It’s tea.”

“There are people snogging,” he whispered back at her, glancing around.  “And people are staring at us.”

“People always stare at us—you, to be specific.”  She handed him a plate with shortbread on it.  Fortunately, he took one.  “And couples usually snog.”

Romilda didn’t see the calculating look on his face, and glanced around, noticing a few well-known couples.  Pansy and Malfoy, though, were notably absent.  She’d have to look into that more closely later on.

A chime sounded and she looked up instinctively to see Rosa and Roger Davies enter.

“Ah, the future brother-in-law,” she whispered to Harry.  She placed her forearm on the table and leaned closer to Harry, letting a curtain of hair fall around her so she could surreptitiously look at the couple.

Harry glanced over at Rosa and Roger briefly, but instead seemed more interested in her than anyone else.  Reaching out and taking her hand, he intertwined their fingers and rubbed his thumb against her knuckles.  “They don’t matter,” he whispered, causing Romilda to glance at him in shock.

“Pardon?”

“They,” he tilted his head toward her sister’s table, “don’t matter.”

“She—She’s my sister.”

“Of course she is, but it doesn’t matter what they think or what they do.  They—Romilda, I know what it’s like.”  His voice was calm, serious, and resonated understanding.

“How can you—?” she questioned, a slight frown on her lips.

When Rosa began laughing at something Davies said, she didn’t even glance over.

Getting up slightly, Harry dragged his chair over so that he was sitting next to Romilda, Sieglinde’s basket pushed slightly to the side much to the cat’s displeasure.  He looked into her large brown eyes and pressed his forehead gently against hers.  “My mother was Muggle-born, as you know.  She had an older sister, Petunia, who always hated magic.  She thinks that wizards are freaks and unnatural.”

Romilda nodded and bit her lip.

“When my parents died, I was left on Aunt Petunia’s doorstep.  She never wanted me.  I spent my childhood in a cupboard, being their servant.  I never got any presents, any new clothes.  My cousin Dudley was given all the food and presents he wanted and had two bedrooms, and his favorite game was Harry Hunting.  Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon won’t even say my name.  They call me ‘boy’ or ‘freak.’  So, trust me, Romilda, when I say that I know and understand, and believe me—they don’t matter.”

Romilda looked up at him, shocked.  “I don’t know what to say,” she murmured.

Harry simply reached out and brushed away her curls.  “You don’t have to say anything, Romilda.  Only know that I’m here and I understand.  No one’s loved or wanted me except my godfather—and now he’s gone.  Your sister and her almost fiancé don’t matter, nor does your brother.”  A shiver ran through him, causing Romilda to tense.  “Milly,” he said softly.  “I have to know.  Has he touched you?”

She jerked away from him and looked anywhere but at his green eyes.

“It doesn’t matter.  I don’t care, just, I need to know whether or not I need to go after him with an Unforgivable.”

“Harry?” she asked, wide eyed.  “You wouldn’t—“

“I would.”  He nodded seriously.  “Has he ever touched you?”

Romilda shook her head.  “No.  He’s my brother.  Whatever he wanted—he didn’t—and as he said, I’m all grown up now.”

Harry’s eyes narrowed but after a tense moment, he nodded.  He looked down at his tea and quickly took a sip. 

Rosa laughed happily again and Romilda rolled her eyes.  “That sound always grates on my nerves,” she confessed, and Harry smiled at her.

“Your laugh doesn’t.”

“I should hope not,” she teased.  Tilting her head to the side, she gazed searchingly at him.  “I think I’ve tortured you enough,” she ventured before standing up.  She leaned down to grab Sieglinde’s basket and, together, they left the small teashop.  Romilda instantly noticed that Granger and Ginny Weasley were across the street, looking far too engrossed at an old display of potion ingredients. 

Her lips thinned into a hard line.  She’d never seen anyone so obviously trying to look like they were just spying.

Romilda would have wondered where the other Weasley was, but she knew that he couldn’t abide the presence of Granger anymore.  The two had had a rather public row in the Gryffindor common room after the second tryouts for Keeper.  It had been a more spectacular than Thomas breaking up with the Weaslette.  Both had been rigid and hurled insults at each other, and Romilda could just feel the sexual tension rolling off of both of them.  Granger, though, had lost her chance with him.  He could now barely stand to look at her and called her “Granger” whenever he had to speak to her.

This had sent her on a bout of tears that all the under-years couldn’t stop gossiping about.  Ursula had walked in on her in a deserted classroom and Astoria swore that she had been sniffling the one lunch she spent at the Ravenclaw table with Luna Lovegood.

Weasley had also narrowly lost the slot, and now wasn’t speaking to Harry because of it.  She thought it was a little unfair of him, but as she didn’t much care for the Weasleys, she didn’t mind the freedom she now had from his ginger-haired presence.  It was possibly only a matter of time before they made up again.  If Harry could forgive him for thinking he put his name in the Goblet of Fire, which he swore he didn’t, then he might certainly forgive this.

It was only Quidditch after all.

 McLaggen, however, had been overjoyed, though he had begun to maliciously and underhandedly prank Granger whenever someone else might be framed for it. 

Romilda didn’t blame him, of course.  It was natural.  Granger deserved everything she got after her display.  If she wasn’t cunning enough not to get caught, then she deserved to be.

Ginny Weasley, however, had remained a fast friend to Granger and had even invited her to hang out with her own small posse of girls.  Romilda had often seen the two whispering when Granger wasn’t engrossed in her class work, and didn’t quite like the glances they would send her way.

She knew they didn’t approve, though why Granger was disapproving so obviously was a matter for thought.  She knew from Harry that Granger had supported his brief relationship with Cho Chang and had even offered him advice on it, even though she had been secretly advising Ginny Weasley as well.  It could have perhaps been just the argument and the space between them that had altered her behavior, of course.  Granger, however, held no power or influence over Harry at the moment, so Romilda rather doubted Granger’s purpose.  She was only alienating herself from Harry even more.

Romilda glanced across the street and noticed Zabini with a group of his Slytherin friends nearby.  Shifting her gaze back at the Weaslette, a thought entered her mind that was too good to leave untested.  “Harry?” she said, leaning into his touch.  “Could you give me a moment?  I just had a—thought that I think Pansy would be interested in.”

She held out Sieglinde’s basket and smirked up at him.

A light flashed through his green eyes.  “Feeling ambitious, Romilda?”

“A little,” she admitted.  “It does wonders for one’s mood, don’t you agree?”

He took the basket from her, but said nothing. Nothing needed to be said, after all.  She rather wondered if Harry understood her almost completely after these few short weeks.

With a kiss to his slightly parted lips, she turned and waltzed over to the group of Slytherins, aware that both Granger and Ginny Weasley were eyeing her suspiciously.

“Pansy, darling,” she greeted, intent that her smokescreen be perfect.  “I had a thought, but it might be too delicate for your ears.  Could you perhaps not listen for the next minute or so?”

“Romilda, what are you planning?” she asked, a delighted grin playing on her lips.  It rather helped her visage which was a bit pug-faced, Romilda thought.  She perhaps should try to smile more often.

Malfoy, who was standing beside her, looked on in curiosity. 

“That would be telling, but I need you to look like we’re having a conversation.”

“If it’s too delicate for my ears, how is it not too delicate for your tongue?”

“I never claimed it wasn’t, Pansy.”

She eyed Romilda for a moment before lifting her wand and whispering a spell.  “Can’t hear you,” she murmured and Romilda nodded.

“Zabini,” she said, looking at him from the corner of her eyes.  “To you blood traitors are at about the same level as Muggle-borns, am I correct?”

He looked at her, no hint of any emotion on his serene face, and tilted his head slightly in recognition. 

“I had heard from Pansy that you found the Weaslette rather—attractive.  She is beautiful, I agree, and as a pureblood, you certainly need experience before your wedding night, do you not?”

Malfoy’s eyes gleamed viciously at the suggestion, and she winked at him.

“She is ever so alone since Thomas broke up with her.  Such a pity he couldn’t see past the fact that she’s been obsessed with Harry since before she began to teethe.”

“Are you suggesting what I think you’re suggesting?” Malfoy asked, and Pansy began to whisper something to herself, perhaps to make it look like she was responding.

“I’m not suggesting anything.  Merely inquiring about Zabini’s views on blood politics and remarking on a blood traitor’s love life.  It is a natural progression, of course.”

Romilda’s eyes flashed dangerously at him, and Malfoy smirked. 

“But of course.”

Zabini was now looking off toward Granger and the Weaslette, making Romilda smile to herself. 

She tapped Pansy on the shoulder and with a quick goodbye, walked back over to Harry who was looking at her in curiosity.

“Do I want to know?” he inquired.

“Probably not.”  Reaching over, she stroked Sieglinde’s head, causing her new pet to purr contentedly.  “Come, I think we should introduce Hogwarts to Sieglinde, Harry.”

VIII. Yellow Rose for Jealousy

“She’s beautiful,” a voice commented and Romilda looked up to see McLaggen staring down at her and Sieglinde, who was sitting on her lap.

“Thank you,” she commented, nodding to an empty seat next to her.  Harry was off in lessons and she was curious as to why McLaggen would begin a conversation with her.  “How is Quidditch?”

He laughed, a crooked smile on his face.  “Great.  I—Well, I wanted to thank you for what you did.”  He grinned roguishly at her and she laughed.

“You’re welcome,” she commented, running a hand over Sieglinde, “but I did it for Harry, not for you.”

“Yes, you said at Slughorn’s little supper party.  He likes fair play and honesty.  Pity Granger had to lose her Prefect badge.”  He looked at her meaningfully.

“Yes.  What a pity.” A moment later she began giggling.  “I’m sorry though if it ruined your—plans for Granger.”

He arched an eyebrow at her.

“Come, McLaggen.  My brother is a pureblood.  Perhaps I’m not supposed to know the intimate customs of pureblood males, but when a wronged Muggle-born makes a fuss in public, I could hardly have remained ignorant.  I can’t remember her name, though.  Avril Something-or-other.”

He tried to stifle his laughter in a cough.

“As I’ve heard Muggle-borns say, plenty of other fish in the sea.”

They shared a meaningful look, but Romilda soon went back to petting her cat. 

“I don’t think she would have suited your purposes, however,” she commented casually a moment later.  “Granger is too reserved.  She’d probably try to hex you if you tried anything with her and, well, if she were still friends with Harry, it could create problems on the team.  Well, never mind Harry.  It would create problems with Ginny Weasley.  Best to stay away from her altogether.”

“Hmm,” he leaned back.  “I figured she was a bit of a loner.”

“Not much of a team player, no,” Romilda agreed.  “Then again, neither are you, but you better begin if you want to keep your place.”  Her eyes flashed with her hidden message and, after a pause, McLaggen nodded seriously.

“Right.  Thank you, Vane.  Right decent of you.”

“Make sure you don’t let any goals past during the Ravenclaw game,” she teased.  “I have a bet with Astoria Greengrass on it and would rather not have to part with my favorite perfume.”

He looked at her, shocked.  “You don’t wear perfume.”

Romilda laughed.  “No, but she doesn’t know that, does she?”

“You’re a devious one, aren’t you?”

She smiled at him, but didn’t say anything else.

McLaggen waited a few moments, watching her as she continued her attentions to her cat.  “You are a political creature, I think.”

She glanced up at his assessment, a small smile playing on her lips.

“Perhaps.  I enjoy the game, the power play.”

He leaned forward.  “Are you going back home for Christmas?  Cornwall, am I correct?”

“Yes, you are correct.”  She paused.  “I’ll be staying at Hogwarts, though.”

“A pity.”  He sighed.  “I’m to have lunch with my Uncle Tiberius and Minister Scrimgeour.  My little cousin Dacre’s eleventh birthday is this December and we’re having a little get together.  Informal, of course, and you’d be welcome to bring Potter.”

Her eyes gleamed in the firelight.

“Should I have an invitation sent to both of you in case your plans should change?”

Romilda tilted her head in agreement.  “I look forward to it.”  Now she only had to find a way to leave Hogwarts for an afternoon or go with one of her friends home for the holidays.  Perhaps Astoria would have her.  She’d send a quick owl that night if she couldn’t find Astoria at dinner.  Daphne wouldn’t mind at all and, though she barely knew the Greengrasses, her family name was important enough that they wouldn’t bat an eye at Romilda inviting herself over for the holidays.

She smirked.  She hadn’t expected such courtesy from anyone so soon.

“And yourself, McLaggen?”

“Cormac, please,” he put in and she gifted him with a small smile.

“Then surely you must call me Romilda.”  Sieglinde purred in her lap.  “Do you favor politics once you graduate at the end of the year?”

He shrugged.  “I am undecided.  Perhaps professional Quidditch, but if not I might angle for a seat on the Wizengamot.”

“Ambitious,” she murmured.

“It’s either that or a life of leisure.  I wouldn’t mind long months of nothing but hunting, but one must keep active, mustn’t one?  The future wife might appreciate it.”

“Anyone in mind?” she asked, leaning forward and interested for any new piece of gossip.  Then again, McLaggen—Cormac—was more of a political ally at this stage of her life, so it wouldn’t do to spread his secrets.  Knowledge, though, was power, even if unshared with others.

“Not as such.  I’ve only had my eye on Granger recently, but she was good for nothing more than—a short diversion before graduation.”

Romilda looked around the common room and spotted Granger sitting in a corner, alone, as she usually did.  She frowned.  She wondered briefly what course Harry might have that Granger didn’t.  Granger was notorious for her know-it-all ways as well as her less than flattering hair.  Perhaps she had confused Harry’s schedule and he was in detention or coming up with Quidditch strategies somewhere—or a class had recently ended, which was entirely possible.

“Surely there are other attractive diversions, Cormac,” she commented lightly.

The portrait hole opened and Harry walked in with Thomas and Finnegan with him.  Class must have just gotten out then.

Thomas, of course, was still sulking over Ginny Weasley, which worried Romilda a bit.  She’d managed to get Finnegan alone to ask if there was anything she could do to help, she was after all partially responsible for what happened, but he gave her an grin that spoke of his Irish charm and said there was nothing.  “Jus’ look as pretty as you do, love, and keep Harry happy.”

She hadn’t heard of any progress Zabini was making and thought little of it until one day she was walking with Harry and surprisingly Ron Weasley—occasionally he would follow Harry as if he had forgotten he was angry about losing the place of Gryffindor Keeper—when they walked behind a tapestry and saw Ginny Weasley snogging Zabini.

Romilda looked at them clinically and noticed that Zabini appeared to have excellent technique, though Ginny might have been slightly lacking.  Not that that really mattered.  What was important was for Zabini to gain sufficient experience before marrying his future pureblood wife, not a blood traitor’s honing of her pleasures that she would give out so freely.

Romilda would never think of snogging anyone unless there was some sort of unofficial agreement between them.  It just wasn’t done.

Clearly no one had informed the Weaslette or she just didn’t listen—or she possibly thought that by acting like a common Muggle she could attract Harry who was unfortunately raised by Muggles.

Apparently she hadn’t gotten the owl memo that Harry was taken, or she was just that desperate.  Either way, it worked out for both her and Zabini.

Coughing into her hand delicately, she smiled when Zabini and the Weaslette turned to them. 

“Not to interrupt your studies, Zabini, but you have an audience,” she said casually, tilting her head toward a stunned Harry and an angry Ron Weasley.  “I doubt Weasley’s brother wants to necessarily witness such actions.  My sensitive eyes, also, should not be exposed to such goings on.”

Zabini smirked at her and disentangled himself from the Weaslette and bowed his head toward her.  “Forgive me, Miss Vane.  I did not intentionally mean to insult your feminine sensibilities.”

Romilda sketched a brief courtesy in response.  “Not at all, Zabani.”

Harry was staring at her, utterly confused. 

“You—he—“ Ron breathed out.  “He’s a Slytherin!”

Romilda snorted under her breath. Of all the aspects of the situation to get angry about, Zabini’s house was the least of his worries.  She had thought he would be more angered by the fact that Ginny’s hair was in disarray, her lips swollen from kisses, and her shirt was wantonly unbuttoned to allow a hand easy access.

A debauched Ginny Weasley, she decided, was a less attractive one.

Glancing at Zabini’s stoic expression and his lack of wandering eyes, she could only assume that he agreed with her assessment.

“You can’t go snogging Slytherins,” Ron Weasley continued angrily.

“You are such a hypocrite, Ron,” the Weaslette was now shouting back and she rolled her eyes.

Harry, she noted, was still staring at her in confusion, his eyes fortunately not migrating to the female Weasley’s tousled visage.  Blushes and red hair really did clash, and Gryffindor red just made it look so much worse.

“As a pureblood maiden, I am not to be subjected to such sights,” Romilda explained to him quietly.

“You’ve seen your sister—“ he began.

“Yes, but that is different.”  She glanced back at Zabini before walking past.  “Carry on,” she murmured to him.

He threw her a smirk, the only sign that he was enjoying the rather undignified situation.

It only took a moment for Weasley to start yelling at his sister again.  Harry hurried up to her and wrapped an arm possessively around her waist.  “Am I supposed to understand?”

She turned toward him and kissed his lips lightly.  “It’s a pureblood tradition, Harry—it’s.  I’m not supposed to know of it as a witch, but I might have overheard something.  It’s unacknowledged.”  She shrugged and then continued to walk, wanting to get as far away as Ginny Weasley claimed that Granger had snogged Krum her fourth year and that Harry had snogged Chang and was now snogging her.  “As if,” she muttered, tossing her hair irritably. 

Zabini, she was happy to realize, wasn’t helping the Weaslette defend herself.  She couldn’t bear it if the little Weasel caught his attention and became the next Lady Zabini.  She didn’t really care who he married once he left Hogwarts—for all it mattered it could be the little Muggle-born Eloise Midgen who still couldn’t control her acne—Romilda just didn’t want Ginny Weasley to get her paws on any sizable wealth.

“Could—could you tell me?” Harry asked softly.  “Or tell me who to ask?”

She folded her hands and looked ahead.  “Cormac McLaggen,” she admitted.  “Just mention I told you to ask him and what we saw, and he’ll explain—possibly not in the most delicate way, but you’ll understand.  Just—“ She turned in his arms and laced her arms around his neck.  “It’s not understood outside of pureblood society,” she admitted.  “It’s to protect us—pureblood women.  It’s so we’re not hurt on our wedding nights, though I wouldn’t expect such a thing from you.  I know you could never—“  Breaking off, she rested her head against his chest.  “I wouldn’t want you to, you’re mine, but it’s for protection.  If you don’t want to mention names, say that Weasley is a ‘blood traitor’ otherwise Cormac McLaggen will be confused.  It’s usually practiced with Muggle-borns.”

Pulling away from him, she rushed down the corridor and through the portrait hole, not looking back although she heard him behind her.  Romilda didn’t like feeling so out of control.  She didn’t want Harry to learn of the tradition, didn’t want to risk him, he was too precious and dear to her, but if he were to marry her one day, then he would have to know about pureblood culture.  Their children would be purebloods as all of their grandparents would have been wizards, and she intended to raise her children properly in society—so their father would have to learn all of the intricacies of pureblood customs, even if he did not practice them himself.

Seeing McLaggen in a corner with some of his friends, she raised her hand in greeting before turning toward her dormitory and rushing up the stairs.

Ron Weasley not only had the falling out with Granger now but with his sister as well.  That night they had another violent yelling match, which Romilda watched in awe—unbelieving that it had actually gotten that far.

“Why him?” Ron demanded, his form visibly shaking.  “He’s so—he’s friends with Malfoy.”

Ginny rolled her eyes.  “Hardly.  Acquaintances, perhaps, but not friends.”

“How can you possibly?  His mother has had more husbands then there are Weasleys!”

“Who are you to say who I should or should not date?”

“He’s a Slytherin!”

“He’s just a boyfriend!  He doesn’t mean anything,” Ginny protested.

Romilda wasn’t quite certain how but it ended with the siblings hurling jinxes at each other, and Brown was hovering near the edge of the impromptu battlefield until Ron had been completely knocked out with a nicely placed body bind curse. 

Brown hadn’t been able to pull herself away from Weasley since then and, somehow, they had even started snogging in the common room.

The Weaslette called her brother a hypocrite, he ignored her, and she would slink off somewhere to most likely snog Zabini.

Romilda watched it all with a detached amusement, unbelieving that it had actually gone that far.  She wondered what might have happened if she hadn’t entered Harry’s life and started her various schemes.

Not that it mattered.  This was far more entertaining.

Of course Granger, when she first saw Brown snogging Ron Weasley, had gone off in a huff and Eloise mentioned to Ivy who then whispered to Romilda that she had been crying in a deserted classroom, conjuring small birds from her wand in her anger.  Romilda had never heard of such a spell, but after briefly asking Harry, he confirmed that they had recently learned it in Charms. 

“Why?” he asked, and she shrugged.

“Nothing.  Just the gossip mill.”

“Should I know?”

“Perhaps not.”

Walking along the fourth corridor one day, Romilda herself came across Granger in a deserted classroom and wasn’t quite certain what to do. 

“What are you doing here?” Granger demanded.  “Haven’t you done enough?”  Although her uniform was precise and neat, her hair fell in wild tangles around her face and her brown eyes looked hollow in her pale face.  She had really let herself go, Romilda thought, and wondered if she could ever have so little self respect for her appearance to go to such lengths to look so plain.

Granger had never been a beauty, but Romilda couldn’t quite claim that title for herself either.  She knew Granger could be pretty if she wanted.  She and a few other girls in her year had hidden in various places around the castle the night of the Yule Ball and had taken magical photographs.  An entire album had been compiled, the first four pages were devoted entirely to the four champions.  Granger, naturally, had been in all the pictures with Krum, with her periwinkle blue robes and straightened hair.

Chang had also been rather pretty when she was in photographs with Diggory.  They made a lovely pair, though when Romilda had heard the rumor her second year that Harry had asked her—she thought that Chang had been a fool to refuse even if she was already going with Diggory.

Then, of course, there had been the page entirely devoted to Harry, which the rest of the fourth year had given to her when it became apparent that she was Harry’s first serious girlfriend.  He’d gone with Patil, although she was only in two of the photographs, and the rest were of him sitting and just watching the dancers.

For years Romilda had wondered who exactly he was looking at as it was clear from some of the pictures that Chang and Diggory were somewhere other than where his eyes were gazing, but she supposed she would never quite know the answer.  Harry might not even remember anymore, as it was two years in the past.

Now, with Granger before her, she could barely see a shadow of the pretty girl who had attended that event that she had dreamed she would go to.

“Well?” Granger snapped, brushing away the wisps of hair from her around her face.

“I’m meeting Astoria Greengrass here,” Romilda explained primly.  “I didn’t know that was a crime.”

“Go somewhere else then!”

Granger’s hands were trembling by her side, her fingers ink stained and her nails soiled with what looked like dirt from Herbology.  She was clasping her wand rather tightly and Romilda briefly thought that if she held it any tighter, it would surely snap no matter what protective charms were on it.

The thought brought a sliver of a smile on her face.

“Sorry, can’t.  Astoria specifically designated this classroom, and as there isn’t an actual lesson being taught here . . .”  She allowed her voice to trail off suggestively.

Granger’s eyes raked over her, and Romilda was pleased that she had worn her curls in a complicated knot.  It was far more trouble than it was worth, true, but she liked to surprise Harry and Louise had been begging her to let her try out a few new styles from La Sorceresse on her lush curls.  Louise insisted that her hair was any girl’s dream come true.

She and Granger couldn’t look more different unless Granger were blonde.  Granger’s face was devoid of powder and lined, her lips bitten and chapped, her eyes frenzied, while Romilda was the epitome of pureblood poise, a smatter of purple shadow on her eyes, her eyebrows lined and then highlighted with an ice pencil, and her lips tinted with almond lip gloss.  Sometimes Romilda wondered how Granger could possibly call herself a witch.

“How could you do it?  In a matter of weeks you took away from me what I’d had for years,” Granger whispered despairingly, her eyes flashing with indignation.

Romilda sighed and elegantly sat on top of a desk, allowing her sheer black stockings under her Hogwarts regulated socks to be on display.  They made her sophisticated and Harry adored running his hands over her knees when she had a layer of patterned black tights on them.  It was also getting rather drafty in the old castle.

“I did nothing, Granger, you did it yourself—or are you saying I shouldn’t have reported to the proper authority when a student used a spell against Hogwarts Regulations?”  She arched a perfect eyebrow.  She knew it was a low blow, but she didn’t really care.  “Besides, you still have Ginny Weasley as a friend, do you not, unless you’ve done something to lose her respect as well?”

Granger gasped and, gripping her wand, cast a stunner at Romilda, who dodged the jinx. 

“Really? You can’t hear the truth so you try and hex me?” she said indignantly as she grabbed her wand and cast a Tickling Charm, just wanting Granger to stop.

A quick wand movement later and a desk near Romilda’s head exploded, pieces of wood flying at her.

“Petrificus Totalus!” a new voice called and Romilda heard a thump. 

Coming out from behind her desk she saw Granger in a full body bind on the classroom floor, her eyes darting about, and Astoria standing in the doorway, her wand out and pointed at Granger.

“All right, Romilda?”

She nodded her head, still feeling shaken.  “She cast the Reductus Hex at me,” she squeaked.

Astoria sighed.  “You’re bleeding,” she murmured, coming up to Romilda and touching the side of her face, which Romilda felt was wet.  “Come on, Madam Pomfrey will sort this out.”

“What about—“

“Granger?” She shrugged.  “Someone will find her, and serves her right for hexing you like that.  Whatever did you do?”

Romilda laughed breathlessly and leaned on her friend.  “Just told her a few truths.”

Madam Promfrey promptly healed her and Romilda swore Astoria to secrecy on the subject, not wanting it to get blown out of proportion as gossip always did.

Two days after that she knew that Harry had spoken with McLaggen as he came up to where she was sitting in the common room, and pulled her into a tight embrace.  Running his hands through her hair, he kissed her temple softly, and she sighed into his embrace.  “I wouldn’t do that to you,” he murmured, causing her heart to sing.

“I hope he wasn’t too—insensitive,” she whispered, pulling back slightly to look into his bright green eyes.

“Hardly.  He was strangely decent about it.  It was funny to see McLaggen blush when he was using himself and Hermione as an example.” His face clouded over slightly.  “Do you think she knows?”

Romilda shrugged.  “Probably not.  I’m not supposed to know, but I do.  I would probably be told by a female relative a year into my marriage or after my eldest son was born so that I could know how to prepare him.”

Harry sat down in an armchair and pulled her down into his lap.  “As if you would wait that long,” he teased, kissing the tip of her nose.

She smirked down at him.  “Hardly.  If there’s any information to be had, I always do my best to find it.”  She ran her hands up his arms, pausing at his mourning band, before continuing up to his shoulders.  “Your mother was beautiful, wasn’t she?”

“Yes.  I think so.”

Romilda nodded in approval.  “She must have been quite a witch.”

Harry arched an eyebrow at her. 

“For your father to marry her—she would have had to remain untouched.  We all do—pureblood witches, that is.  Your father would have been raised with that mentality and expected it.  There’s a ritual before an engagement can be officially sanctioned by the family that—checks all that.”  She shivered.  “I’ve heard it’s terribly uncomfortable.”

“What about half-blood witches?” Harry inquired, clearly interested.

Romilda shrugged.  “If they wish to marry a pureblood with no reservations, then yes.  Otherwise it doesn’t matter.  Or I assume so.”

“You learn something new every day.”

“That you do.”  She paused and smiled when Sieglinde jumped up between them.  “Has Cormac told you about the invitation that should be arriving?”

“Invitation?”

“His Uncle Tiberius is throwing a small luncheon for Cormac’s cousin.  He’s almost eleven and coming to Hogwarts next year.”

Harry nodded sagely.  “Of course.”

“It’s a private affair.  Family—friends, including Minister Scrimgeour—select members of the Slug Club—“

Harry squeezed her waist gently, causing her to stop and look down at him, her dark black curls cascading around her face. 

“Which ‘select members,’ Milly?”

Huffing, she let the pet name pass.  Harry had taken a distinct liking to it and there was nothing she could do to change his mind.  She hoped that by ignoring it, he would eventually lose interest and call her Romilda at all times.

“Myself—and you as my escort, of course.”

“Of course.  Any particular reason?”  His eyes flashed up at her and she bent down to kiss his lips softly.

She flicked her hair to the side, letting it wash over his cheek.  “Does there need to be a reason?”

“With you, Romilda, there always is one.  You never do something without a reason—and you and McLaggen hardly know each other.”

“We both are members of the Slug Club,” she reminded him, “and he’s a member of your Quidditch team.”

“Hmm,” he breathed, bringing her face closer so he could trail kisses down the side of her jaw.  “And?”

“Do you wish to know all of my secrets?” she breathed out, holding in a gasp.

His hands stretched up until they were pressed against her back.  “I want to know everything there is to know about you, Milly.”

She squirmed under his touch, allowing him to bring her closer and opened her lips to the gentle tongue that flicked out at them.  The kiss was tentative, exploratory, almost shy, but it sent shivers down her spine and made her feel as if only his warm hands were keeping her from passing out.

“Are you sure you’d like what you’d see?”

Breaking away, he looked up into her brown eyes.  “I’d see Romilda Vane—a woman who knows what she wants and gets it, who will employ any stratagem without regret once her course was decided, a girl who’s loyal and true and can’t bear to hurt those she cares about, even though I think she would prefer no one would guess that about her.”

Romilda bit her lip, trembling under his demanding gaze.

“A girl I’ve fallen in love with,” he whispered, “and I don’t think I could ever stop loving you.”

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