the_water_clock: abstract painting (Untitled (Seagram Mural) 1959)
[personal profile] the_water_clock
Author: Clio
Title: The Trick Is to Keep Breathing, Chapter 10: The Beginning
Pairing: Seamus/Dean, Ron/Padma, Pansy/Parvati, Harry/Hermione, Draco/Ginny
Category: Mystery/romance
Rating: R
Summary: Three years on, the second war still casts a long shadow. When facing challenges like a compulsive addiction, a baffling mystery, a life changing event, an impending career shift, or simply moving in with your boyfriend, maybe the best strategy is to lean on your friends, put one foot in front of the other, and let the saving-the-world bit take care of itself.
In this chapter: Onward
Warning: Deals with issues of addiction recovery. (skip) Minor character death of primary adversary.
Length: 6300 words
Notes: Sequel to Eight Ways from Sunday (LJ | DW | AO3) and the interstitial Entr'Acte (LJ | DW | AO3). Title and all cut-tag text from the Garbage song of the same name.
Thank you to [personal profile] ali_wildgoose for reading a rather different earlier draft and telling me I should just write what I want to write, and then helping me put it together, and also to [profile] slytherincesss for her enormous help and encouragement.
This story would not exist without Ely's ideas, input, support and encouragement. I wish I'd finished it sooner, but I hope she's someplace where she can read this anyway. Knowing her, she probably is.

1: The End | 2: Lammas | 3: Michaelmas | 4: Hallowmas | 5: Yule | 6: Candlemas | 7: Lady Day | 8: May Day | 9: Midsummer




10: The Beginning

1 August 2002: Memorial to the War Dead, England

When the decision to build one large memorial for all of those killed in the battle at Miss Bridgerton's Academy for Wee Witches was announced, it was of course controversial. But Harry, always a reluctant public speaker, had given several speeches at rallies and on the WWN in favor of the plan as part of the reconciliation deemed necessary after two wars in twenty years, a reconciliation that hadn't occurred after the first war. And so it went through, and by the time the burial ground was dedicated, most of the wizarding population of Great Britain were in favor of it.

Parvati herself had been reluctant at first, and she realized now how much anger she'd been holding on to from that time. Entirely justified anger, to be sure, but holding on to it hadn't made her life any better. But coming here with Pansy to lay flowers at Lavender's and Millicent's graves, it felt entirely appropriate that they should lay just a few rows apart. Lavender had always been envious that Parvati had gone to school here; it was the utmost in glamour to her, when really all it had ever been was a school for little girls to learn their ABC's plus some rudimentary history and nature studies. Like most things in the upper echelons of wizarding society it was less about the content and more about the connections. Boys' schools came and went, but Miss Bridgerton's had stood for generations.

The large brick schoolhouse, which like so many things in the wizarding world hadn't been updated since the Victorian era, had sat on a small rise looking over grass-covered hills. Now there was a plaque to tell what it had been before it became a Death Eater stronghold, raided to provide cover for Harry's own final battle. Trees had been planted, one for each soul lost in the battle, and individual grave stones were laid out around the building site itself, which had grown over with grass and wildflowers. In this "New Era" (as the Ministry called it), a school had been started for the sons and daughters of witches and wizards of all backgrounds, even those whose names weren't down for Hogwarts. Parvati rather liked that all of her friends' children would be going to the same school.

Though they'd come early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day, the light breeze that stirred her hair still felt refreshing. Parvati stood as Pansy walked up behind her.

"Remember when I pushed Padma off the see-saw and you socked me?" Pansy said.

Parvati chuckled. "I got into so much trouble for that," she said.

"We got punished together," Pansy replied.

"Did we really?"

"Inside at recess," she said. "Cleaning something, I think. Perhaps putting all the toys away?"

"I was insufferable," Parvati said, shaking her head.

Pansy shrugged. "You were looking after your sister," she said. "Mother just told me it was ill-advised to push anyone in front of their family."

"A good lesson learned, then," Parvati said, and took Pansy's hand in hers.

Pansy looked out over the field and saw another couple standing near one of the gravestones. "We're not alone any more."

"Oh?" Parvati asked, turning to see.

"Know who that is?" Pansy asked.

"Susan and Ernie," she said, turning back to Pansy. "They're at Neville's grave, probably coming here next. Do you want to—"

"No, it's fine," Pansy replied, because really, who would make a scene at a memorial site? Particularly one that Pansy had just as much right to be at as anyone else.

Susan and Ernie hesitated, as anyone might in a cemetary, before walking over to where Pansy and Parvati stood, next to Lavender's gravestone.

"Hello," Parvati said.

"That was a beautiful plant you left for Neville," Susan said.

"Quite a little garden over there, actually," Ernie added.

"No one wanted to leave a plant to just die," Parvati said. "We traded off maintaining it, though I think Dean and Ginny took on most of the work."

"Well, it's lovely," Susan said.

An awkward silence fell after that, one that Pansy didn't think it was her place to break, so she squeezed Parvati's hand.

The other girl startled, just slightly, then said, "Ron's so pleased you could come to the wedding, all the way from Brisbane."

"Happy to be invited," Ernie said.

"And how is Australia treating you?" Parvati asked.

"Very well, thank you," Ernie replied. "So much opportunity, the business is growing very quickly. We've been working very hard, but I think soon we'll be able to slow down, have a family." He patted Susan on the shoulder.

"And I've stopped drinking," Susan blurted out.

Pansy blinked, surprised, and felt all eyes on her. "Then I'm glad for you, if that's what you wanted to do."

"What I needed to do," Susan replied. "The stories about Harry made me realize that I needed to change. Hasn't been long, only a few months now."

"You should tell Harry, when you see him," Parvati said. "He'd be happy to know."

"I'll do that." Susan paused, then looked at Pansy. "I wanted to say how sorry I am for what happened at Ron's party."

"It was years ago," Pansy said. "And it was perhaps … thoughtless on my part, to just turn up like that."

"Still," Susan said, "please accept my apology."

"Of course," Pansy said, and held out her hand, which Susan shook.

"Thank you," she said.

"Well, we'll leave you to it," Pansy said.

"By the way," Parvati said, "there's to be a bonfire after the rehearsal dinner tomorrow evening, up on the hill at Ottery-St. Catchpole. You should come."

"Oh, I'm sure it's just family," Ernie said.

"And friends," Parvati replied. "You're our friends."

Susan smiled. "Then we'd be glad to come."

Pansy and Parvati nodded and walked away down the hill. Pansy felt peaceful, somehow cleansed by visiting Millicent at the same time Parvati was visiting Lavender. Not that their grief was exactly the same, but Parvati understood.

"Breakfast?" Parvati asked.

"Yes, please," Pansy said, and let Parvati lead the way.




Hermione didn't have many things to move up to Hogwarts—or actually, one of the little teacher's cottages on the grounds, as they wouldn't be living in the castle proper—as she'd been in furnished accommodations since she left England. Many books, of course, but not much else. Harry, on the other hand, had a great many things in his penthouse flat, all of which had been packed up and stored in the attic at Chez Chien, Remus's house in the country. Harry was looking forward to living with a few more of his things once again, though he didn't have a particularly clear memory of what had been in the flat, given his state of mind when he was living in it. The contents of the boxes might be just as much of a surprise to him as they would be to Hermione. He just hoped they didn't contain anything too awfully embarrassing. He was pretty sure that Ron or Draco would have the presence of mind to stash anything … salacious someplace else.

So when they arrived at Chez Chien, Harry walked right in, but Hermione hesitated in the door.

Harry turned around, confused. "Something wrong?" he asked.

Hermione fidgeted with the hem of her shirt. "I just … I haven't been back since … since I left."

"Right," Harry said, a little annoyed with himself for not remembering that of course the last time she'd been at the house was when she came to get her things after their big fight, the big fight that broke them up the first time, when they said some things that had taken them almost four years to get past. He put their empty bags down and closed the door, then with one hand at the small of her back led her to the porch swing. They were silent for a bit, swinging and staring out at the fields behind the house.

"Remember that birthday party you had here?" Hermione asked.

"Yeah," Harry replied. Sirius had thrown him a sixteenth birthday house party, to which he'd invited his roommates and Hermione's, plus Ginny and Padma. "It was the first time I'd had a party like that, with so many friends."

"But not the last time, at least according to the Quibbler," Hermione said, smirking.

Harry smiled back. "They did get quite large for a while there, but I still never had one with so many friends."

"I see," Hermione replied.

"Do you?" he asked. "I need you to. I did that, the partying and the different girls, and actually it was kind of lonely. So when I say that I'm done with that, and I know what I want, I mean it."

"I believe you," she replied, not quite looking him in the eye.

"Good, because having my twenty-first while in treatment at McCormick definitely cured me of wanting to have a big party for a good long while. So thanks for dinner last night, again."

She smiled. "You cooked dinner for me on my last birthday. I just thought between Lucius and the wedding it might be overlooked."

"Perhaps not the worst thing," he said, shrugging. "Ignored for a bit, then made too much of for a bit. This one was a good balance, I thought."

"I'm glad."

"Also thanks for not actually cooking."

"Hey!" she said and punched him in the arm, though not very hard.

Harry laughed, and thought about how nice it was, to be able to tease her again. They fell into silence once more, this time a bit more comfortable.

"Harry?" she said, softly.

"Yes," he replied, hearing her tone and instantly sobering up.

She turned in the seat, looking him straight on. "We can't have another fight like that one."

"No. But I don't think we will."

"How can you be sure?"

"I can't. But we have things now we didn't have then."

"Such as?"

"Help, for starters. I'll still be seeing someone, probably that woman Marc Samuelson recommended."

Hermione nodded. "You seemed to like her."

"I did like her. And there's a meeting in Hogsmeade every other week, and I'll have a sponsor. So it won't be just you and Ron and Sirius, like it was before."

"True," said Hermione, though she didn't feel quite sure.

"I bet there's a meeting for you up at Hogsmeade, too," Harry said. "You know, if you wanted to keep going like you did in Salem."

"There is," Hermione said. "I already looked into it."

Harry grinned and shook his head. "Of course you did."

"And I'd imagine if they have groups like that, we can find someone to show us how to fight properly."

"Defense Against the Dark Moods?" Harry quipped.

"Ugh, you are far too young for puns like that," Hermione said.

"Apparently not," Harry said. "But yeah, I'm in."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. And I know we've said this, but ... I liked being your assistant."

Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Really?"

"Look, we both know where I'm ending up eventually," Harry said, meaning of course Headmaster, and it was the first time he'd even referred to it in her hearing. "And we also both know that you're going to take that position that Remus has for you in International Magical Cooperation."

Hermione crossed her arms, but didn't contradict him. She very likely was; she just didn't feel quite ready for it yet.

"So," he continued, "I reckon I could do worse things than be a diplomatic spouse. Maybe learn a few things that will help me with that big job later."

"Might be nice for Hogwarts to have more of an international approach," Hermione said.

"That's what I was thinking," Harry said, nodding.

And suddenly, Hermione could see what Harry had been saying all along about his own future. She'd learned to trust him with his own life, during their year in Maine, concluding that Harry simply wasn't the planner that she was. But now she saw that it wasn't that, but that his life would be more like a ramble, gathering up experiences and expertise before settling in at Hogwarts. And for that, he was content to follow her.

She also knew that when the time came, she'd be able to follow him back to Hogwarts, and find something meaningful to do there. Perhaps by then she'd be ready to write that new edition of Hogwarts: A History.

"I really do think we'll be all right, Hermione," Harry continued. "We make a good team."

"We do," she said, with more conviction than she'd felt in a long time.

"Okay?"

"Yes," she said, smiling a little. "Let's go through your things. What do you have in the attic?"

"Ron packed up the entire flat and sent it here, when we went to Maine, so basically everything."

"Well," Hermione said, walking into the house, "we're not taking any of that furniture. What on earth possessed you to buy off-white suede sofas and a zebra rug?"

"I promise that I will not be under the influence when making decorating decisions in the future," Harry said.




Seamus had the day off and had declared his intention to putter around in the kitchen, so Dean spent the morning working up more sketches for Harry's portrait from the pictures he'd taken of the front entrance of Hogwarts. Seamus came in at lunchtime with a sandwich and a fresh eye, and immediately seized on one of the tighter shots, declaring that no, Dean didn't need to try to get any of the crest above the door into the painting.

"Everyone will recognize those steps," Seamus said. "You needn't hit us over the head with it."

In mid-afternoon an owl rapped at the window, a flat package in his talons. Dean gave him some bread crusts and sent him on his way, then took the package into the kitchen.

Seamus had created a good amount of chaos. A long list on a bit of parchment was affixed to the front of one of the cabinet doors, and at least a dozen small bags full of what Dean hoped were spices were scattered across the countertop. The mortar and pestle—Dean's, as Seamus's was in his office at St. Mungo's—looked well-used. Seamus was stirring some sort of pasty substance in a pot, to which he added a large quantity of broth.

"What's all this?" Dean asked.

"I'm trying that mole sauce Parvati was talking about when she came back from Mexico," Seamus replied, pointing at a jar on the counter. "It's complicated but I'm reasonably good at potions so I thought I'd give it a go."

"If you can get it in the shop, why make it?"

Seamus scowled. "It wouldn't be the same! I just have this here for a sense of what it should taste like. But you've come to distract me at a good time as this needs to simmer for a while. So who sent that package?"

"Pansy," he replied, setting the package on the counter and tearing off the paper. "Well, look at that."

Inside was a framed black and white photograph of Dean and Parvati, taken at a gallery show. Their heads were close together, as if they were conspiring. As the picture cycled they moved in, then pulled back, laughing.

"That's lovely," Seamus said.

"It is," Dean said. "I don't think I have many pictures of the two of us. No recent ones, at least."

"What does the card say?" Seamus asked.

Dean pulled it out of the wrapping paper:

Dean

I saw you two from across the room at Georg's opening and couldn't resist borrowing a friend's camera. It came out rather well, considering I'm an amateur, and I thought you'd like a copy. Thank you for your hospitality this summer, and hope to see you soon

Pansy


"How sweet of her," Seamus said. "Huh, never thought I'd use the word 'sweet' to refer to Pansy Parkinson. We should find a place to hang that."

"Wait," Dean said. "Let me get something." He left the photo on the counter and went into his studio. There, he found the envelope of photographs he'd taken during their trip to the States in February, including one that he had kept back from Seamus, and walked back into the kitchen.

"Another picture?" Seamus asked.

"I was going to enlarge this and surprise you with it for Christmas," Dean said. "Well, both of you. Harry must have taken it with my camera; I found it in the pictures when I was developing them." He handed the snap to Seamus.

"Oh wow," Seamus said, looking at the picture of himself and Hermione sitting in front of the fire in that cottage in Maine, chatting and clearly unaware of the camera. He remembered that day—luckily not Valentine's Day, when they'd been talking about Harry, but a bit earlier on in the week when they'd stayed up late, as they so often had in their little bungalow in Greece.

"So I reckon I'll just do that now, get a similar frame, and we can hang them up together." Dean leaned in over Seamus's shoulder. "I could even make this one black and white, actually. It would look quite nice."

"We could put them on that blank wall in the spare room," Seamus said, "as they're both so friendly and welcoming."

"I like that idea," Dean said. He put the snap into the corner of the frame, then wrapped the package back up. "And how is your sauce coming?"

"You can try it," Seamus said, "though it has to cook a bit longer and then sit overnight." He handed Dean a spoon. "And it's quite spicy, but I know you like that."

The mole was thin from the broth that had recently been added, but dark and rich like burnt umber. "Oh wow," he said. "How many ingredients are in this?"

"About twenty-five."

"Yeah, because it doesn't taste like any one thing," Dean replied. "You may have conquered it."

"I hope so," Seamus replied, putting the spice bags away, "because I intend to ask your gran for her jerk recipe eventually."

Dean raised an eyebrow. "And you really think she'll share that with you?" he asked. "It took my auntie three years of marriage before she got it."

"I'm patient," Seamus said. "We might need to butter her up with great-grandchildren but that's all right."

Dean set down his spoon and cleared his throat. "Great-grandchildren?" he asked.

Seamus hopped up on the cleared counter and turned to Dean. "Of course. We've talked about this."

"Yes, but I didn't realize you wanted them in time for her to see them," he replied.

"She's only seventy-seven!"

"She's also a Muggle."

"Oh," Seamus said, squinting his eyes and cocking his head. "You have a point. Then perhaps not; after all, I'll need to start preparing to take over Adams's practice."

"You still want to be a children's mediwizard?" Dean asked. "After that week of innoculations and six-year-old sniffles?"

"I know I was tired and irritable after that—"

"You were actually kind of a bitch," Dean said.

"—but then Lucius Malfoy—"

"Don't quit trauma because you lost him," Dean said. "As Draco told you, he didn't help."

"I'm burning out, Dean. After shadowing Adams I was tired, yes, and I had a hell of a headache, but I felt like I'd done some good. With trauma, I know we do good, I see it, but I can't feel it anymore." He sighed, and looked down at his hands. "I'd just like to not only see patients and their families on the worst days. I'd like to see them on perfectly ordinary days."

Dean stepped into the V of Seamus's legs, and put his hands on Seamus's hips. "You know I support whatever you want to do, Shay," he said.

Seamus suddenly felt nervous, which he hadn't around Dean in a long while. "So the kids will wait?"

"I don't see any harm in giving it a few years," Dean said, "before we inflict more of your DNA on the world."

"Nice," Seamus replied, but he was grinning. "I love you too."

"Of course you do," Dean said.




Of course Ginny had been in houses where people had died before; relatives had passed at The Burrow, in her very own bedroom. That's just how ancestral homes worked. Narcissa Malfoy had been killed in the dining room of the Manor, so really all this time Ginny had been in a house where there had been a violent death, rather recently, one that had traumatized Draco yet he had rebuilt the house and lived in it for some years now.

And here they were, only a week after Lucius's death, drinking cocktails on the terrace and watching the sunset, as they'd originally planned that day. Draco had been a little quieter than usual, and there had been some official business to deal with: removing Lucius's name from the rolls of those who'd died at Miss Bridgerton's, attempting to track down who was buried in his grave, burying him in the Malfoy family plot in the village because Draco couldn't think of a reason not to. Ginny was a bit distracted with wedding preparations for her brother, but really it had all been remarkably clean. Draco said he'd grieved for his father twice already, once when he'd killed Narcissa and once when he'd been presumed dead, and he was damned if he was going to do it a third time. But Ginny couldn't help but worry.

Then Draco sat up and said, "What do you think would have happened, if I'd told him I'd go with him? Not meant it, but said it?"

Ginny blinked, less because she was surprised by the question than because she'd been thinking about it herself. "But you never would have," she replied. "It wasn't a choice for you."

"But what if I had?"

"No," Ginny said. "And remember, the other half of Parvati's prophecy was about light. He always would have interpreted the original prophecy as being about power. You always would have rejected him, because of your mother. And he always would have said, 'Nox.'"

"If he'd said 'Lumos'?"

"It wouldn't have worked," Ginny replied, "but perhaps the artifacts wouldn't have killed him, or tried to take away his own magic."

Draco turned to her. "I suppose you're right," he said.

"I know I am," she said, reaching out and taking his hand. "So please, try not to brood over this?"

"Don't have time to, anyway," Draco said. "Got trials to prepare for."

The Lucius Six, the Daily Prophet was calling them, not using Malfoy out of deference to Draco since it was his case. Conspiracy charges relating to smuggling was the worst he could really do to them, since it didn't seem they'd known what the outcome of Lucius's scheme would be, but there were also complicated extradition procedures and given the value of the stolen artifacts, all of which had been safely sent back, the countries in question were preparing theft charges, and Draco and Pansy would need to testify in those trials as well.

Well, Ginny needed more excuses to travel. After all, she had an entire special travel section of Witch Weekly to fill.

"And you'll be splendid at those trials, of course," Ginny said.

Draco smiled and kissed the back of her hand, clasped in his own.

The sun was just at the horizon, shining red-gold light onto the terrace, and bathing their skin with a warm glow. Ginny's hair was more fiery than usual, and in her simple cotton sundress and sandals, a cocktail in her hand, to Draco she couldn't have looked more at home, more right, more exactly what was needed.

"I think we should get married," Draco said.

"What?" Ginny asked.

He dropped her hand and stood up, needing to pace a bit. "I've been thinking about it for a while, actually," he said. "Once there was an end in sight I figured I'd propose when the case was over. And after seeing Lucius die I thought, life is short and what are we waiting for, really?"

Ginny had pulled her legs up in the chair, curling in on herself as she often did when she wasn't sure what to make of things. But she said nothing, so Draco continued.

"We could have a small ceremony, so your father can afford it as I know he'll want to pay for it. Certainly I won't have much family there. But we'll have our friends. And I'd like to do it at The Burrow."

"Why there?" she asked, sounding surprised.

"I think Molly would be pleased. And you're the bride; it should be at your home." He looked out over the grounds and added, "Besides, we fell in love there, didn't we?"

"We did at that," Ginny said. "And the ring?"

Draco turned to her. "Like I'd buy you a ring, on my own, without your input?"

Ginny giggled at that. "You really want to do this?" she asked.

"Yes," he replied. "Not right now of course; perhaps Christmas, or next spring. But why not?"

"I have to admit," she said, "this isn't how I thought this conversation would go."

"When have we ever done anything conventionally?" Draco asked.

Ginny stood up and walked over to him, then took his hand. "Draco Malfoy, will you marry me?"

"I don't know," he said. "Will you bake pies, and keep a vegetable garden, and maintain your writing career?"

"Of course," she said, and he could see she was fighting a smile.

"Then I'd be honored," he replied, and pulled her into a kiss.

"Can we wait?" she asked. "To tell people, I mean?"

"Why?" Draco asked.

"Well, I don't want to intrude on Ron and Padma's day," she said.

Draco nodded. "That's fair," he replied.

"We can tell everyone when they return from their honeymoon. That way we can take our time finding a ring." She smiled. "Besides, I always wanted to be secretly engaged. It always sounded romantic, in books. "

"I can make it plenty romantic for you in person, too," Draco said.

"Please do," she said, and kissed him again.




Even though she knew it was more than a little self-centered, Padma couldn't help thinking that Lucius's timing was ill-advised. Less than a fortnight before the wedding and they'd all had to stand there and be insulted by a man she'd never much cared for, whose moral center wasn't askew so much as apparently non-existent, and then give evidence to the Aurors. Ron had been working straight out, making sure as much was done before their honeymoon as possible.

Not that she'd been idle herself, though frankly writing songs felt like a welcome break from worrying about the final wedding details. This was the last large affair she was ever planning--Parvati could have New Year's Eve, and with good luck Ron will have inherited his father's tendency and they'd have nothing but sons.

She returned from one of those welcome musical breaks to find little plates scattered across the kitchen table, and Ron with half his body in the cooling cabinet. "Darling, what are you doing?"

Ron stood up quickly, and just missed hitting his head on the cabinet door. "Don't want to come home from the Seychelles to a lot of spoiled food, do we?"

"Good thinking," Padma agreed, setting her bag and guitar down in the entryway.

"So how did your meeting go?" he asked.

"They liked what I've written so far, and they want more," she said.

"That's brilliant," Ron said, grinning as he sat down at the table with her.

"But that isn't even the most exciting part," she said. "They have ties with a Muggle label and want me to rework some of the lyrics. They think they can actually sell it in the Muggle marketplace!"

Ron set his fork down. "Really? My wife, selling music to Muggles?"

"I know! Can you imagine?" She piled some tomato pickle atop the two slices of ham in her sandwich. "I'll have to do some research, get out my old Muggle Studies texts."

"Or just talk to Dean or Harry or Hermione," Ron said. "They were all Muggles as children. And Dean and Hermione still go back and forth. Plus I bet you wouldn't have to change as much as you think. Muggles see magical things all the time; they just think they're made up."

"That's true," Padma said, thinking. "Dean said when he puts magical references in his paintings Muggles just think they're mystical in some way. New Age, I think he called it?"

"Muggles are always deciding that things they don't understand don't exist," Ron said, shaking his head. "That's why they're an Obliviator's best friend, really."

"Baudelaire said 'the greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist'," Padma replied.

Ron raised an eyebrow. "Muggle?" he asked.

"No, actually; he went to Beauxbatons in the 1830s."

"He's right, anyway," Ron said, standing up and going to the small wine rack.

"Ron, do we need that?" Padma asked. "We're going to be doing so much celebrating over the next few days."

"Yes," Ron said, pulling out the beaujolais Ginny had given them at some point, "but we're going to be surrounded by people. It's our last night alone before all hell breaks loose. Let me be a little sentimental?"

Padma smiled. "Okay."

"And anyhow, we should drink to your success," he said, opening the bottle. He pulled two tumblers from the cupboard and put them on the table.

"And yours," Padma said, "with the case and all."

"Well," Ron said, pouring them each some wine. "Actually, since we're alone, I just wanted to say thank you."

"For what?" she asked.

"For not making me choose between you and Harry, even at the worst of it."

"Oh, Ron, I—"

Ron held up a hand. "And for making me go to those meetings. Now that Harry's back I can be a better friend to him than I was."

"I thought you hated those meetings," Padma said, smirking.

He sighed and rolled his eyes. "They were difficult at first," he said, "but then I understood what was meant and I have to say, those people knew what they were about."

"Good," she said. "You have seemed more yourself."

"Were you worried?" he asked.

"Not after Africa," she said.

He grinned. "You know, you're as bad as Mum, with the protecting."

"And what's wrong with that?" she asked, sounding unrepentant.

"Nothing I can think of," Ron replied.

"Good," she said. "Oh, and I picked up our swimsuits for the trip today."

"God, you didn't get me anything tiny, did you?" he asked, vaguely horrified.

"Ron, you're an Auror; you've barely an inch of fat on you. You can't blame me for wanting to show you off."

"I also have skin the color of milk where it isn't covered in freckles!"

"Sunscreen charm."

"That will keep me glowing pale and pasty next to you on the beach; won't that look nice!"

"I like your skin," she said. "But no, it isn't tiny."

"Thank you," Ron said. They were silent for a bit, eating, and then he asked, "Nervous?"

Padma cocked her head. "No, actually. I have been, and I'm sure I will be on the day, or even tomorrow, but right now, not at all." She sighed. "I just feel that all's right with the world, you know?"

He smiled; he didn't think he'd seen her quite so relaxed since the planning had started. "I know precisely what you mean," he replied.




Ron maintained that sense of contentment straight through the rehearsal and the dinner afterwards at The Burrow. There had been toasts and a good deal of family teasing on both sides, and Ron felt full of love and good cheer. So what better thing to do, he thought, than to have a bit of continuing celebration after the rehearsal dinner with a bonfire on top of the hill above The Burrow?

There'd been quite a crowd around earlier, and Ron was reminded of that first party he and Padma had at their flat, nearly four years ago now, not long after the war ended. Even Ernie and Susan were there, which Ron was pleased to see. He was nowhere near as sensitive to these sorts of things as his sister-in-law to-be, but he was fairly sure that Neville and Lavender were there too, somehow. He'd certainly been thinking about them both of late.

Now it was after midnight, and the group around the bonfire was down to the same ten of them that together had put an end to the secret adversary case. While Ron loved throwing parties that crowded their flat with people, he knew he also tended to be cliqueish, so that it was just a few of them now, staring into the glowing embers of the fire, was fine by him. By rights it should have been firewhiskey time, but none of them were much up to it. Tomorrow would be a long enough day as it was.

"So," Parvati said, breaking the companionable silence that had fallen over the group, "who's next to go?"

Ron looked up and pointed to his sister, then realized that everyone else was, too.

"Really?" Draco said. "That's what you all think?"

"C'mon," said Seamus. "You know you're practically engaged."

Ginny looked at Draco, a little smile on her face, and said, "We are engaged, actually."

"I thought you wanted to keep it a secret!" Draco said.

"I do!" she replied. "Just, maybe not from any of them?" She turned to Ron. "Don't tell Mum or Dad, all right? I want tomorrow to be your day."

"Actually your dad already knows," Draco said. "I pulled him aside tonight, when everyone else was at the bonfire, to ask his permission."

"Permission?" Ginny said. "We need his permission?"

"No," Draco said, "but it's a nice tradition, and also, when he brought me to The Burrow to stay I'm sure he didn't think I'd end up fucking his only daughter so it seemed polite to thank him again for taking me in and assure him that I intended to make an honest woman out of you."

"Well, when you put it that way," Ginny said. "And he'll keep it from Mum?"

"He promised not to say anything until Ron and Padma were off on their honeymoon," Draco said. "He thought it might perk her up after the inevitable let down."

"Did you do that, Ron?" Pansy said. "Ask Mr. Patil, I mean?"

"Of course I did," Ron said, "and did he give me a going over! What were my long-term career plans, how do I plan to support a family and provide a dowry for my daughters—"

"A dowry, really?" Hermione asked. "In this day and age?"

"I have one," Padma said, shrugging. "We're saving it to help pay for school for the children."

"Father takes these sorts of rituals very seriously," Parvati said. "That's why I don't plan on getting married."

"Don't let Mother hear you say that," Padma replied. "She's starting to like Pansy."

"Would you do that, Harry?" Seamus asked, an impish little grin on his face. "If the time came?"

"Are you trying to get me into trouble, Finnigan?" Harry asked back. "When we've only just started again?"

"Just wondering," Seamus replied, but of course he was trying to start trouble, and Dean was rolling his eyes and shaking his head. Ron sat back to see what Harry would say—Ron knew he'd thought about it; he'd said, after the whole Euro Cup business, that if he didn't end up marrying Hermione he probably wouldn't marry anyone.

"Answer the question, Harry," Hermione said.

"All right," Harry said, sitting forward in his chair but keeping his hand on Hermione's knee. "Knowing your mum, I would go to both of them, but thinking about it now, and knowing you, I reckon we'd both go to them, which seems less like an asking-permission thing than an announcement thing. Though again, knowing your parents, they'd likely take it very seriously and ask us serious questions about whether we were ready and all that, so perhaps it's asking permission after all." He smiled slightly. "Satisfactory?"

"Entirely, yes," Hermione said.

"So what about you, Seamus?" Harry asked.

"I would talk to Dean's gran, of course," he said, "because nothing happens in that family that she doesn't know about. And you should go to Da."

"Not your mum?" Dean asked.

"You'd think," Seamus said, "but she already approves of you. But Brian didn't talk to Da before he and Fiona got married and now he'll never hear the end of it, even though that was five years ago and they'd been living together for ages before that. Sign of respect and all that."

"Point taken," Dean said. "Wow, so does this mean that in fifteen years' time we'll all be old married couples taking our kids to the Hogwarts Express?"

A chorus of moans came out of the group. "Can't I just get married first?" Ron asked.

"Sorry, sorry" Dean said, throwing up his hands in surrender.

Seamus smiled and took Dean's hand. "Dean just likes to plan ahead, is all," he said.

"Ron, it's getting late," Padma said.

"All right," Ron said, "one last toast. Come on, everyone, on your feet, raise your glasses." He'd been thinking of closing the evening with a remembrance toast for Neville and Lavender, but, catching Pansy's eye, he amended that slightly:

"To absent friends."
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