"I can't believe you just said that to me!"
"Frankly, I didn't think you were listening to anything but the sound of your own voice!"
"Do you know what your problem is?"
"No, but I'm sure you'll tell me."
Sirius winced, and looked to where Remus sat at the other end of the couch. Remus sighed and shook his head sadly. The summer had been nothing but arguments and make-up sex for their godson and his girlfriend, both at very high volume. Silencing charms had been suggested several times, in subtle and not so subtle ways, but the heat of passion, be it sexual or contrary, seemed to overwhelm the couple. To be fair, it wasn't a series of arguments but one long, intermittent battle. There had been cease fires and detentes, all broken, but Sirius and Remus still hoped for a lasting peace.
"With power comes responsibility. How can you just walk away now?"
"Pardon me if after sacrificing my entire adolescence to saving the fucking world I want to have some fun!"
"Fun, yes, but you're wasting your talent!"
"I don't think Oliver Wood would agree with that assessment. I think helping him rebuild the Quidditch league is the best thing I could be doing right now."
"So eradicating the last of the Death Eaters isn't good enough?"
"There are other people for that," Harry said vaguely. "How many times do I have to tell you that I'm tired of fighting?"
"Well, bloody good for Ron, then! You aren't exactly jumping up to be an Auror. How is your running off to study in Greece helping to rebuild the wizarding world in England?"
Hermione sighed. "It's different for me. I can only help with my mind, not my hands."
"Then I'll be helping with my broom."
"You should be helping with your wand!"
There was a long tense silence. Then Harry spoke: "Why aren't you listening to me?"
"Why are you turning your back on your duty?"
"Since when is it negligent to decide not to be an Auror?"
"When it comes to you, I'd say it is. Honestly, sometimes I don't even know you anymore."
"Maybe you never did."
Hermione gasped. "That isn't a very nice thing to say."
"No, it isn't."
"When did you become such an irresponsible arsehole?" Hermione shouted.
"I suppose around the time you became such a controlling bitch!"
Hermione's response to that, apparently, was a loud slap.
Seconds later she was running down the stairs from the Harry's bedroom. She raced through the living room, her head down, not giving Sirius or Remus so much as a glance before grabbing a handful of Floo powder from its pot on the mantle, shouting "Two-fifteen Diagon Alley, flat seven" and disappearing in the flames.
Sirius sat up, pulling his legs out of Remus' lap, and turned to the staircase. Harry stomped loudly down the stairs, and reached for the keys near the door.
"Not the bike," Sirius said firmly. "Not when you're in this state."
Harry scowled. "FINE. I'll take the Firebolt." He opened the door to the entryway where the brooms were kept. "Don't wait on dinner for me," he said as the door slammed shut behind him.
Sirius turned to Remus and said, "Well. Same argument, but I don't think that was quite the same ending, was it?"
"Unfortunately not," he replied.
Seamus Finnigan sat astride his boyfriend's legs, having successfully distracted him, yet again, from making any progress on his current project. He wondered vaguely if his weight was uncomfortable, given that they sat on a hard backed wooden chair, but Dean didn't seem to mind.
Dean had taken the rather small flat because it was quiet, facing into the mews street, and because above the bedroom it had a tiny unfinished attic storage space, complete with a large gable window, that made for an ideal studio. Seamus thought it looked like a set from La Bohème but thought it wise to keep that to himself. Dean had already set up the small room with all of his art supplies, including his easel and the chair upon which they sat.
"Why must you go to Greece, again?" Dean asked between kisses.
Seamus sat up slightly, trading his own brogue for the burr of the Scottish St Mungo's Chief of Staff. "War was your apprenticeship, young Finnigan. I'm sending you to Asclepius to absorb the latest healing techniques and bring them back to us. About time these English learned a thing or two." He grinned, then in his own voice said, "Of course, I'm only going for the men."
"Of course," Dean replied, shifting slightly in the seat before pulling Seamus even closer.
Seamus was just noticing the results of his efforts when he heard the familiar whoosh-thump of someone arriving via Floo. He turned to the trap door.
"You did set the wards last night, right?" Dean asked.
"Yes. Must be someone we know." Reluctantly he stood up and, wand out just in case, walked down the ladder into the bedroom, Dean close behind. He pushed open the door to the sitting room slowly.
There on the hearth sat Hermione, staring up at him, dazed.
Seamus immediately put his wand back in his pocket and and knelt by her side, wrapping one arm around her shoulders. "What's wrong?"
Hermione turned to him and shook her head. "It's — it's over." Her eyes flew open, as if she were surprised she'd said it out loud, and she suddenly burst into tears. She lunged at Seamus, burying her head in his shoulder.
Seamus was shocked. He glanced up at Dean, who was at the kitchenette starting water for tea and searching for biscuits, as if he'd read Seamus' mind. So he sat and held Hermione, making soothing noises while she cried. After a few minutes, when she seemed somewhat calmer, Seamus whispered, "Nin, let's move to the couch. Look, Dean made you some tea."
"Tea?" she asked wearily. She lifted her head and looked at Seamus, then nodded. They stood up just long enough to move to the nearby couch, where Hermione sat between Dean and Seamus, gladly taking the tea and tissues Dean offered.
"Now, I'm sure you didn't mean that," Seamus said. "You're just angry. You both are."
Hermione sipped her tea as she leaned back against the cushions. "No, it's done," she said with a sigh. "We said things today that …"
"We've all said things," Dean said.
Hermione shook her head. "Not like this. All we've done is argue. It isn't much fun anymore. But I just can't let it go, and neither can he, so here we are." She set her cup down on the old trunk Dean was using as a table. "But oh, I thought—" She buried her face in her hands as more tears came.
Seamus rubbed her back. "Of course you did."
Hermione cried a bit longer, then raised her head and dried her face with a new tissue. "I'm so tired," she said. "We've been either shouting or shagging, and no sleep either way." She blew her nose. "I suppose now that we've—well, now I just feel like I'm crumbling." She looked at Seamus. "I think I just need to lie down for a bit."
"The couch is best, actually," Dean said. "More comfortable than the bed." He pulled the handmade afghan from the back of the couch and stood up.
Seamus stood as well, and Hermione lay down, her head on one of the throw pillows. Dean placed the afghan atop her.
"Would you like anything? More tea? Some music?" Seamus asked.
She closed her eyes and tried to smile. "Music would be lovely."
While Dean put Debussey on the stereo, Seamus gave Hermione a kiss on the cheek, pushing her hair back out of her face. "Anything else you need?"
"No," she replied. "Just some sleep. But thank you, Seamus."
"Of course. Any time." Seamus stood and followed Dean into the bedroom, shutting the door to give her some privacy.
"Seamus?" Dean asked.
Seamus turned to look at him, barely visible in the shadows of the dark bedroom. "Dean?"
"Not us," he said, shaking his head.
"Oh no, not us," Seamus replied, walking over to him and holding him tight. "Never us."
"Ginny, I'm concerned you aren't packing enough jumpers."
"Mum, I'm going to Madras, not Moscow."
The small bedroom at the top of the stairs was strewn with belongings that all had to somehow fit into Ginny Weasley's old school trunk. Ginny had thought this would be as simple as packing for another year of school, but her mother had unexpectedly made it into a huge production. Honestly, it wasn't as if she had ever visited Ginny at school, so what did it matter if she was going to India rather than Scotland?
"Well, you should be returning to Hogwarts."
"There is no Hogwarts to return to. The castle barely stands."
"Besides," she continued, "all I'll see are all the people who are never coming back. I need a fresh start. Draco won't be in England anyway, so I may as well go abroad."
"Well, I still don't see why you can't go to Beauxbatons, like some of your other classmates."
"Because the girls who are going there are the worst snobs! I have no desire to be stuck in France with them."
"Fleur went there and you can hardly call her a snob, Ginny."
Ginny was about to reply when she noticed a flash outside her bedroom window. She whirled to face it, pulling her wand from her pocket instinctively.
"What—Harry!" she shouted in relief. "You can't fly up on people's windows like that!"
"Sorry," said Harry, from his perch atop his broomstick just outside the window. He sighed. "Ron around?"
"No, dear," Molly answered. "He and Padma are in London having dinner with Percy and Oliver."
"Oh," Harry replied.
"Harry, is everything all right?" Ginny asked.
Harry cleared his throat. "I reckon you'll know soon enough anyway. Hermione and I, I think, I think we've broken up."
"Oh Harry, I'm so sorry!" Ginny replied. "Is there anything I can—"
"Do you know where Draco is?" Harry interrupted.
"He's out at the Manor, cleaning up." She paused. "I'm sure he could use some help with that, or at least some company."
Harry squinted up at the afternoon sun. "I'm not sure I'd be good company, but, thanks Ginny." He spun away from the window and flew off into the distance.
Molly shook her head. "Why does he still fly everywhere? He has his license."
Ginny shrugged. "Got used to it, I suppose. Anyway, let's take a break. I really should send a note to Hermione. I hope she's all right."
Parvati looked around the tiny bedsit flat, with its two windows on the back garden, and sighed. It wasn't fair. She and Lavender were supposed to be looking at flats together. It had been months ago, but it still didn't seem quite real. She still thought of things she wanted to say …
"Pardon me, miss?"
Parvati turned to the landlord. "I'm sorry, yes?"
"Will you be wanting the flat?"
She put Lavender firmly out of her head and looked around the room again. It wasn't as though she was likely to be in it much, anyhow, and as a hotel room/storage closet, it would do nicely. "Yes, I will, thank you. However, I want a fresh coat of paint on these walls and this floor needs to be refinished." She gave him her sexiest smile. "Surely this can be completed in a week's time, at no additional cost?"
"Well," the landlord replied vaguely. "I, er, I don't see why not."
"Brilliant!" she said, smiling even more broadly. "Shall we sign the papers, then?"
The landlord looked dazed for a moment, then regained his composure. "Certainly, miss. Right this way." He swept his arm toward the door and she walked out of the door down the stairs to the office.
A bit later, Parvati was walking out of the front door, lease and keys in hand, when she heard her name being called. Turning, she saw Dean walking down the small lane off Diagon Alley. "Hello!" she called, waving.
"Did ya take the flat?" Dean asked.
"Yes! I'm your new neighbor. Thanks so much for letting me know about it."
"Pure selfishness on my part! Of course I want my best friend living close by." As he reached her, he gave her a hug and asked, "So how are you doing?"
She shrugged. "The same, I suppose. Good to have looking for a flat behind me. And you? What are you working on?"
"Well, I haven't been getting much work done, actually."
He nodded. "He doesn't have much to distract him, being all packed and ready to go and all, so instead he distracts me."
Parvati giggled. "Well, you only have a week left, and after that you can work all you want. You probably will, knowing you."
"That's what I reckon. Also, we have an unexpected guest at the moment." He dropped his voice slightly. "Harry and Hermione have broken up, it seems."
Parvati leaned back. "Really? Oh, that's too bad; I feel sorry for both of them! Hermione must be beside herself."
"It isn't a happy thing, no," Dean replied. "Say, would you like to come by for dinner? It would even the number and I could use the support. Besides, Hermione doesn't seem ready to talk quite yet. I think she could use some distracting."
"I could distract her," Parvati replied, "but I hope you don't mean in the way Seamus distracts you!" She flashed her own small but genuine smile.
Dean laughed. "Please, say you'll come? In about an hour's time?"
"Of course. Gives me a chance to run by the agency, anyway."
"Any out-of-town assignments coming up?"
"No! I thought modeling would take me to all sorts of exotic locales, but all I've seen is the inside of a photographer's studio in Slough!" The pair had reached the end of the lane, and after a quick hug, went their separate ways along Diagon Alley.
Malfoy Manor was, Draco realized, nearly unsalvageable. The entire point of his father's life had been to produce an heir (check plus) and hand him the estate intact (check minus). The building that lay in ruins around him had been built by Cassius Malfoy around 1750 or so but it had taken his father only a year to ensure its destruction. And all because he had been distracted by some completely mad blood purist—whose actual lineage was as mixed as Granger's or Finnigan's, thank you very much—into running off and killing all sorts of people. Lucius's truly unforgivable sin, Draco felt, was to hitch his wagon to the wrong star. Anyone who thought Salazar Slytherin would actually have approved, that chamber business notwithstanding, was an idiot.
Which included him at the time, too, but please. He had been twelve.
Nevertheless, here he was in the library, in a shirt, shorts and trainers, beginning to work through the house one room at a time. The structure was so precarious that he didn't dare cast a cooling charm; there were enough charms around the place as it was. And as his father hadn't exactly been around to give him the usual tour of the Manor on his seventeenth birthday, he wasn't sure what, or where, they all were. Finite Incantatem was wearing thin, but hopefully at some point he would unearth the dynamic floor plans of the Manor, which would tell him what he needed to know.
For now, though, he was just trying to unearth the desk from a pile of books and bits of collapsed bookcase. He was absolutely right to have told Ginny not to come; every time he looked around at what had been his favorite room in the Manor, his anger with his father flared anew.
Working hard since dawn, he had managed to clean off and box up nearly all the books, setting some of the particularly rare or unusual ones aside for another look and possible handing over to Remus Lupin for the Ministry. The sun was just setting now, and he was thinking about whether to clean up and head to the Burrow for dinner or just keep working when he heard the distinctive crack of Apparition. Secure in the wards he had put around the Manor, he glanced up.
"Oh, hello Potter. Why the broom?" He paused. "You look a fright. Sit down." He indicated one of the club chairs that was free of books, then walked over to the side cabinet and poured two glasses of scotch from the stash which had miraculously survived the destruction. Handing one to Harry, he leaned against the desk. "Another argument with Granger, I take it," he said, taking a sip from his glass.
"Not another one. The last one." Harry tipped his head back and downed a large swallow of scotch, then coughed as it burned his throat.
Draco shook his head. "Don't gulp; it's the good stuff. What happened to make you think that?"
"Oh, she called me an arsehole and I called her a bitch and then she slapped me and ran out."
"Well," Draco said, and took another sip. "Know where she went?"
Harry shrugged. "Not the Burrow."
"Care where she went?"
"She's a big girl. She'll be fine." Harry took a sip this time. "It's odd, you know? At first it was just the same argument we've been having all summer, and then suddenly, part way through, I realized it would be the last time we were going to have this argument. Probably the last time we would argue about anything."
"Why don't you just tell her what we're doing?"
"You think she would be satisfied with that?" Harry asked, shaking his head. "No. She wants me in the thick of things, not in the background."
"That's ridiculous. Besides, it wouldn't even work."
"Doesn't matter." Harry took another sip. "The point is, I don't want to be in the thick of things. I've had my fill. That's what she wouldn't understand. This project is neither here nor there."
Draco swirled his scotch absently, thinking. Then he said, "Well, I'm glad you're playing Quidditch even if she isn't. Wood needs as many star players as he can get his hands on if he's going to make a go of rebuilding the league. And since I can't play, I suppose you're the next best thing."
"I'll take that as a compliment."
"Oh, it was meant as one. Of the highest order."
Harry rolled his eyes but said nothing. The brief silence was broken by the sudden appearance of a large, tawny owl swooping down onto the mostly-cleared off desk next to Draco. He took the proffered note and offered the bird a drop of scotch in lieu of a treat, and the owl went on its way. As he read, he broke into a wide grin.
"What is it?" Harry asked.
"It's from Pansy. She's in!" He handed the parchment to Harry and began to pace, too excited to sit still.
Harry quickly scanned the note, then stood as well. "I don't know how you did it, Draco, but well done." He held out his scotch to Draco, who returned the toast. "I suppose you'll have to start getting rather chummy with her in public places."
"Yes," Draco said, setting his glass down on the desk. "I think I'll invite her to that party Weasley's having in a couple of weeks."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "Oh, that isn't going to go over well at all."
"If you mean Ginny, I've—"
"No, no, I know you have. I meant the others. Particularly Ron."
Draco shrugged. "There'll be plenty of other Slytherins there. Padma saw to that."
"But those other Slytherins didn't flee the country during the war."
"No, they didn't. Which is why they won't do, and she will."
"I'm not arguing that. I'm just pointing out a difficulty. Forewarned is forearmed."
"Consider me forewarned then."
They were silent for a moment, then Harry said, "Got anything to eat here? Didn't get lunch."
"No, not here. You don't look up to the Burrow."
"God, no. No drowning of sorrows at the Burrow."
"Sounds about right."
Draco nodded. "You should send a note to Sirius, you know. Tell him where you are. He's worse than Molly when he starts fretting." He went to the desk and pulled out two pieces of parchment and two quills, handing one of each to Harry.
"Who are you writing to?" Harry asked.
"Oh, no one important," Draco said vaguely. He took the notes into the hall, where his owl sat atop a bit of crumbled statue. He gave the owl his notes and sent him on his way, then turned to look at Harry, who was standing in the doorway of the library. "Potter, leave the broom."
"Right," Harry said, looking down at his hand. "Forgot I had it." He set it aside, then both men Apparated into the village.
"Seems odd to be having coffee with the sun just setting," Padma Patil said.
"Children change your timetable," Percy replied, tousling the brown hair of the small boy who sat next to him.
"I say an early dinner is nice, out of doors," Ron said.
"And then you have the entire evening free," Oliver said, jostling the red-haired toddler on his knee. "Eh, Annie?" he said, tickling the child, and she giggled.
The four adults and two children sat in the late afternoon sun at a Diagon Alley sidewalk cafe, the remnants of a dinner with toddlers littering the table. Sheets of parchment were covered with crayon drawings and biscuit crumbs. A small half-eaten plate of pasta sat next to a pile of tiny pieces of chicken. Annie's cup of milk lay sideways on the table, a charm keeping it from spilling.
"Ah, but your free evenings are mainly spent playing peacemaker for your best friends," Padma pointed out, to a scowl from Ron.
"Surely Hermione isn't still giving Harry a hard time about throwing in with me, is she?" Oliver asked.
Ron nodded. "I'm afraid so. She's got it in her head he should be an Auror."
"Well, sometimes I wish that you weren't," Padma said, "but I'd never try to convince you otherwise."
"And I appreciate that," Ron said, kissing her hand.
At that moment, the small boy started to stand up in his chair.
"Gilbert, sit down," Percy said.
"I'm tired of sitting!" Gilbert protested.
"Well, we've all finished dinner anyway," Oliver said. "Where is that waiter with the check?"
"No, no," Ron said. "Allow me."
"Ron, really," Oliver said.
"No, now, you lot run along and Padma and I will finish our coffee. My treat this time."
Oliver raised an eyebrow, and looked at Percy, who shrugged. "All right, but next dinner will be at our house."
"You're on," Ron replied.
Sometime after Percy's small family left, the waiter approached the table. "I believe these are for you, sir," he said, handing two owl posts to Ron.
"Thank you," he said, taking them from the waiter and opening the first one. He read aloud, "'Ron, I'm safe and sound with Seamus, so you needn't worry about me. I hope that Harry is with you. I'll talk to you soon, Hermione.' What is she on about, do you think?" he asked Padma as he took up the other note. "'Weasley, Get yourself to The Swan and the Hare straight away if you know what's good for you. I cannot handle a heartbroken Potter alone, Malfoy.'" He blinked. "That was unexpected."
"Heartbroken?" Padma asked. "You don't think—"
"Damnit," Ron spat, pounding the table with his hand.
"Better now than after she'd left," Padma pointed out.
"Yes," he replied. "But hell!"
"You should go," she said, patting his arm.
"You'll be all right?"
"I have some songs to work on, anyway." She kissed his cheek. "Go!"
"Don't wait up," Ron said, and with a loud crack he was gone.
Ron walked into the pub and saw Harry and Draco sitting in a booth, a few empty plates and glasses on the table in front of them. "What took you so long?" Draco demanded.
Ron scowled, but did not respond to the comment. "Harry, mate, how're you doing?"
"I'm glad you're here, Ron," Harry slurred. "You're a real pal. I came to see you but they said you were in town."
"I was but I'm here now," he replied, sliding in on the other side of Harry. "Anything I can do?"
"Now that I've had my dinner," Harry said, "I would like to get very drunk."
"I think you're more than half way there now," Draco said.
"Well, I want to go all the way!" Harry shouted. "And bring both of you with me!"
"Very well, then," Draco said, signaling for the waiter.
Some hours later, three very young, very drunk young wizards could be seen staggering up the road to the crumbling Malfoy Manor.
two weeks later
Padma Patil was pulling platters down from the high shelf when she heard a knock at the door. "Vati? It isn't like you to be early," she said as she opened the door.
"Wrong sister!" Ginny Weasley replied.
"Oh! Well, come in!" Padma said, stepping aside.
"I brought you a pie," Ginny said, handing Padma a covered dish.
"Thank you," Padma said. "I didn't realize you could cook."
Ginny set her bag down and followed Padma into the kitchen. "You have met my mother, haven't you? Anyway, I thought you could do with one thing you wouldn't have to make."
"Me?" Padma asked, setting the pie down on the counter. "I haven't cooked anything for tonight. Ron has gone to pick it up from the little place down the street. I'm not making samosas for a crowd from scratch."
"Oh, well, no, I suppose not," Ginny said, a little embarrassed. She had been to New Year's at Patil House, after all, and should have realized that Padma wouldn't be making the party food herself. She looked up and saw Padma pulling the cloth from the top.
"Oh, it looks lovely." She sniffed at the pie. "And cherry, Ron's favorite. How thoughtful! You know, I don't think I'll put this out at the party."
"If you don't mind, Ginny, I'll keep this in the pantry for Ron. He'll be so pleased, and he's had a difficult few weeks, what with Harry and Hermione and starting training and your boyfriend's surprise guest and all."
"No, I don't mind at all!" Ginny said, smiling, though she actually felt like an idiot. She decided to follow the change in subject. "I'm just glad Draco said something to Ron; he wasn't going to, but I insisted. After all, it's your party."
Padma shook her head. "Oh, Draco tried to get around that. He came to me, and I told him that I'm not in the habit of giving other people's bad news to Ron, no matter how hot headed he can be."
"I'm his girlfriend, not his handler."
They heard a deep voice bellow, "Hello!" and the sound of the front door of the flat clicking open.
"Well, speak of the devil," Padma said.
Ginny turned to the front room just in time to duck a large metal pan as it sailed into the kitchen.
"Ron!" Padma called out. "Mind where you're sending those!" The women walked out of the kitchen to see three more pans close behind.
"Well that's why I said, 'Hello'!" Ron replied as he walked into the flat. "Oh, hey Gin."
Padma crossed her arms and leaned back against the wall. "Did you get everything? Did you have any problems?"
"None at all. Of course, I had some help." He stepped to the side and four more pans sailed neatly into the room, followed by Parvati.
"Hello, sister," Padma said.
"I ran into Ron on his way to the restaurant and thought I would come along," Parvati said.
"What did you get us extra?" Padma asked.
"An entire tray of ras malai, of course," Parvati said, smiling.
Padma shook her head. "You have those poor men wrapped around your finger already?"
Parvati laughed. "No, not quite. Hello, Ginny. Did you get roped into helping?"
"No," Ginny replied. "But Draco is escorting someone else to the party tonight, so I thought I may as well come early."
"Someone else?" Parvati asked.
"And let me tell you," Ron said, "I do not appreciate Malfoy thinking he can haul any old person into my house in front of my friends and—"
"Ron, we've discussed this," Padma warned.
"That doesn't mean I have to like it," Ron replied.
"Like what?" Parvati asked.
"Anyway," Padma said, ignoring her sister, "it's our house, not your house."
Ron sighed. "I'm sorry. Of course, it's our house. And before you say anything, I'll be on my best behavior at the party."
"I wasn't going to say anything, Ron. You're an adult. Although, now you mention, Ginny brought you a present. It's in the kitchen."
"A present? Why didn't you tell me?" Ron asked, walking into the kitchen.
Padma nodded her head at Ginny, who followed her brother out of the room.
Parvati turned to her sister. "Padma, what's going on?"
"Yes, well," Padma began. "There's something you need to know."
"An old friend of yours will be at the party tonight."
Hermione stood at the door, hesitating. It had seemed a good idea at the time to come to the party on her own. A show of personal strength. But now, standing on the threshold, hearing the music and the voices from inside the flat, she felt her courage leaving her. This is ridiculous, she thought. You'll have to see him eventually. It may as well be among friends. She squared her shoulders and knocked on the door.
"Hermione!" Ron said. "Come in, come in." He pulled her close with one arm and kissed her on the temple, then dropped his voice. "He's in the back, with Parvati."
Hermione nodded. "Thanks." She handed him the plant she'd been carrying. "This is from my parents, as a housewarming."
Ron took the plant gingerly. "Does it bloom or anything, or just stay green?"
"It stays green, but even my father can't kill it."
"Well, that's a welcome present indeed then." He put the plant under a side table that was crowded with bottles of wine. "Can I get you a drink?"
"Lemonade would be lovely, thank you." As Ron moved away, Hermione surveyed the room. There were beads of sweat starting to trickle down her neck, but whether this was from nerves or the heat in the room she wasn't sure. She looked for someone she really wanted to talk to in the pile of people crowded into the sitting room and kitchen, but while she saw many a familiar face, none of them seemed friendly. They were all shouting happily over the very loud music, but she barely felt like talking. Then she felt something cold against her hand and started.
"Here you go, don't spill it already!" Ron was saying. "Look, there's Ginny near the window," he continued, turning her shoulders and pushing her just enough to get her walking through the crowd to where Ginny stood talking with Susan Bones and Ernie MacMillan.
Ginny saw her coming and extended a hand to pull her closer.
"What a crowd!" Hermione said.
"Well, between Ron and Padma, they know almost everyone," Ginny said.
Hermione nodded and turned to the others. "So nice to see you both. I was hoping I would find you here—Seamus had heard you're leaving England?"
"My uncle has a company in Brisbane," Ernie said. "Import/export of magical plants and potions ingredients mostly. We'll be starting in quality control but there is room for advancement, what with new locations likely opening across the Pacific now that England has opened up again—"
"What Ernie means to say," Susan interrupted, "is that we are leaving this grey, sodden little island of bad memories and running off to sun and sand and leaving our past behind. And speaking of forgetting, my glass is empty, Ernie; would you get me another while I go off to the loo?"
"Susan, surely you don't—"
"Ernie, darling, get me another drink!"
"Of course, of course," he said, and scurried away. Susan looked up at the other two girls with a brittle smile, then wandered off toward the hallway.
Hermione shook her head. "I can't decide if it's ugly, or pathetic, or just sad."
"All three, I'd imagine," said Parvati as she joined them. "First time seeing the Fun Couple?" she asked Hermione.
She nodded. "I'd heard they were keeping company, and it seemed natural, but I didn't know Susan was so …"
"Bitter?" Parvati finished. "She's become quite the angry little badger. I think the fury got her through the rest of the war and now she can't let it go. Ernie, well, he never could run his own life."
"They certainly traded one for the other, didn't they?" Hermione said.
"Somewhat," Ginny agreed, "but Neville always had more of a backbone than Ernie does. He at least stood up to Susan when she was being ridiculous. It was odd, I kept wishing at his funeral that he was there, because Susan was so out of hand and it really wasn't helping anyone, least of all his grandmother. But of course, he was there, sort of, only, he wasn't. Which was the entire point, when you think about it."
"Well, Lavender had much more finesse," Parvati said. "You would be doing something for her before you'd even realized she'd asked you to. She played Ernie like a fine piano. Susan is a drunken hack compared to her." She sighed. "I'm sorry; that was uncharitable of me."
"I think Susan's bitterness rubbed off on all of us," Hermione said. "Or we all have it, too, or something." She looked over at Parvati and realized how very bizarre it was for them to be together without Lavender, and thanked whatever power it was, again, that both Harry and Ron had been spared.
"Ladies, another?" asked Ginny, and at their nods, took both glasses back into the kitchen.
They were silent for a moment, then Hermione said, "Parvati, thank you again so much for helping Seamus and me get my things from Remus's house."
"Please, it was the least I could do, when you did so much after—well, anyway, I'll never forget it. I would ask you how you're doing, only I hate it when people ask me. But the room at the pub is all right, yeah?"
"Yes, it really is. So good to not feel that I'm intruding on anyone, and I have my own little bit of space before I leave next week. Speaking of leaving, when is your first assignment?"
"There hasn't been much going on, it's true, but I am finally leaving in ten days for Egypt."
"Really? How exciting!"
"Well, if it isn't our two favorite ladies," said Seamus as he and Dean approached them. "And how are we enjoying the party?"
"I don't know how you two are enjoying it, but Hermione just had a run in with the Fun Couple," Parvati said, rolling her eyes.
"Oh dear," Seamus replied. Leaning in, he whispered, "Is she very drunk?"
"Seamus!" Dean said.
"Oh, you wanted to know, as well!" Seamus replied.
Dean shook his head.
Ginny came back with drinks, and no sooner had she and Dean handed the other girls their glasses when a hush came over the crowd. They all turned to look.
There, in the doorway, stood Draco and his old friend Pansy Parkinson.
Parvati silently thanked her sister for warning her so that she could keep her cool, at least externally. Her childhood enemy had changed a great deal in the year and a half she'd been away from England. Her face was still as hard, her jaw as strong and square, but it seemed to suit her somehow, as if she'd grown into it rather than trying to live up to it. Her hair was cut quite short, showing off remarkably small, delicate ears. She wore a crisp white shirt and deep green trousers, both of impeccable tailoring, with a multicolored scarf tied at her waist like a sash. Parvati could clearly see the swell of Pansy's breasts narrow to a smallish waist before her hips widened again. She wondered if the stomach concealed under all that fabric was flat and firm, or if she had a little bit of tummy, as girls with breasts so often did ...
"Parvati?" Dean whispered. "You might want to be less obvious about checking her out."
"What?" Parvati hissed. "I am not checking out Pansy Parkinson!"
Ron and Padma were playing the good host and hostess, greeting their guests, and the crowd was shifting their attention elsewhere when suddenly, Susan Bones pushed several people aside, walked directly up to Pansy and with one shove had her up against the door, her hand around Parkinson's neck.
Ernie had followed through the crowd, but could not get to her. "Susan, no!"
"Listen to me, you fucking coward cunt," Susan shouted. "How dare you? How dare you come here now when you didn't have the guts to stay and fight? How dare you even be alive and show your face in this place with these people?"
Ron by then had reached them, and pulled Susan gently away by her shoulders. "All right now, Susan, you've made your point."
The small woman was no match for Ron, but she tried her best to shake him off. "You disgust me!" she shouted, as Pansy rubbed her neck and moved away from the door.
"Can someone get her things for me please?" Ron called out.
"Did you come here to shame us? Prove you're better than us? I'm as pureblooded as you ever were, you fucking bitch!"
"Come on, Ernie, let's take her home now, shall we?" Ron said, handing him her bag.
"Why are you still alive? Why didn't you die?"
"Susan, that's enough of that," Ron said, gently guiding her out the door. "We'll take you home now and you won't have to see her any more." Ernie walked out as well, and the door closed behind them, though they could still hear Susan shouting obscenities in the hall.
"Interesting friends you've acquired, Draco," Parkinson said.
"Pansy, I am so sorry," Padma said, rushing forward.
"Why?" Parvati muttered. "She always did like to make an entrance."
Dean smothered a chuckle.
The spectacle over, the crowd slowly turned and resumed their conversations, which had mainly consisted of what Draco was doing bringing Pansy Parkinson to the party and wasn't he with Ginny and what exactly did this mean? Hermione could see some of them turning to look at Ginny, but she stood there with what Dean called the Ginny Weasley Wall up; even Hermione couldn't read her expression. She felt hot, so she gulped down some of her drink and was annoyed to find that Ginny had given her not a lemonade but a Tom Collins. She couldn't breathe, suddenly. She put her drink down and made her way into the back, into the bedroom.
She opened the door slowly, relieved to find that it was dark and she could be alone for a moment. But as soon as she had shut the door behind her she heard a familiar voice say, "I don't think that went at all as Malfoy had planned, do you?"
She gasped. "Harry!"
"Don't turn the light on. I don't think we need it." He paused and she could see him, now, a shadow at the window with the faint moonlight coming in. "Poor Susan."
She took a deep breath. "Yes, she was quite drunk, poor thing. She's so angry; I'm sure the move is the best thing she could do right now."
"Do you? I'm sure they'd be grateful to hear that."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing. I'm sorry, that was—nothing. Look, we can't … I'm sorry. I'm sorry for those things that I said."
"Oh!" Hermione paused for a moment, surprised. "I'm sorry, too. Really, I am."
Harry nodded. "It shouldn't have ended this way."
"No," Hermione agreed, and then realized what he'd said. This way?
"Do you think the move is the best thing for you now, too? I imagine you want to be well away from me."
"I'm looking forward to starting over. I would like to be friends with you, someday, Harry, and I don't think we could be, if we were both here."
"No, I expect not," Harry said. "But, Hermione?"
"May I come to see you off next week?"
Hermione made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a cry. "Of course, please, I—I can't imagine your not being there. Our current situation notwithstanding. Please come."
"'Our current situation'. You sound like a diplomat already."
"I meant that as a compliment, actually."
"Oh." They were silent, and Hermione tried to remember all those conversations that she'd had in her mind with Harry over the last two weeks, and suddenly realized that they didn't mean much of anything at all. There really was nothing more to say. Next week they would say goodbye, and that would be the end of it. Not like with Ron, where he was angry for a while but then got over it and they were friends again. No, this was the end of it. She took a deep breath, and could smell Padma's perfume and the heat from outside and the stuffiness of the little bedroom. "Well, I suppose I should go back out there."
Harry nodded. "I'll wait, so people don't talk." He turned and looked back out the window.
"Thanks. I'll, I'll see you next week then."
She opened the door and walked out, blinded by the light of the hall. She rubbed her eyes, and was surprised to find them quite dry.