1 August 2001: Casco Bay, Maine
Hermione thought seagulls were not especially attractive birds. She had heard their call described as beautiful and lonely but she thought they sounded vulgar and aggressive. In flight they soared and dipped like noble birds of prey, but up close they were ugly, with enormous curved bills and white-grey feathers the color of bird droppings.
It was a gorgeous day out on the water, a cloudless blue sky above them and just enough of a breeze to cool their skin from the hot sun. Not, she suspected, that it ever was all that warm out on these islands, even in August. The ferry, helmed by a small sturdy witch "of a certain age" named Yvette, skimmed over the waves, maneuvering easily around the lobster trawlers and pleasure boats that took no notice of them. Even though she was casually dressed in a cap, jacket, t-shirt and jeans, Yvette reminded Hermione of that very tweedy sort of woman one found in the Scottish countryside. But then, she hadn't seen any American witches or wizards in robes yet, even though she'd been mostly in official surroundings since leaving England.
She turned to look at Harry, who sat on the bench at the stern of the small ferry, legs under him, one hand resting on the seat of his motorbike. He wasn't watching the birds flying, wasn't even looking up, but instead stared into the cold dark blue water. He'd said few words since they'd left England that morning, but Hermione supposed that with all the talking he'd been forced to do at the McCormack Centre over the past eight weeks, he'd earned his silence. She wondered if she should feel more uneasy than she did, more anxious about the year ahead. But she had a job to do here, and as much faith in Harry as she'd ever had, their current situation notwithstanding.
"Should be comin' up now," said Yvette, who had such a thick accent that Hermione couldn't always make out what she was saying, except that her r's had been moved from the right places and inserted into the wrong ones. No one at the Portkey office in Salem or the small ferry house in Portland talked like Yvette, which gave Hermione hope that she wouldn't spend this year on the island asking everyone to repeat themselves—or worse, pick up their accent herself.
"You can see the island through the mist theah," she continued, pointing off the starboard side. "Larkspur Cottage is 'round the othah side."
Hermione followed Yvette's gaze. Past the mist, no doubt magical in origin on such a clear summer day, was a rocky shore lined with pine trees and scrub brush. A small wooden dock jutted out into the water and a few buildings could be seen scattered amidst the trees.
"So," Harry said, "that's Chip Head Island, then."
"I hope they're settling in okay," Ginny said as she hulled the last of a quart of late strawberries..
Draco, who was placing a vase of daisies on the dining table, replied, "They're adults. I'm sure they're fine."
Ginny's small flat was still a bit stuffy, but they'd flung open the windows to bring in what air was available on this still evening. The table was set simply with a crisp white cotton tablecloth and inexpensive but pretty flatware, with mismatched tumblers for water and wine. Ginny still felt a little self-conscious whenever she hosted Padma, mostly that the odds-and-ends she'd scavenged from the Burrow and scattered around the flat didn't denote "witty casual style" but rather "can't afford things that match." Padma wasn't a snob but she was very proper and Ginny worried about the impression she made no matter how many times Draco reassured her. After all, he was her boyfriend, so he had to at least humor her.
"I just feel guilty that Hermione is the one who has to go with him," Ginny went on.
"She was the most appropriate person to go. And she wanted to."
"Yes but I'm the one who started the whole mess."
"Ginny," Draco said firmly, "Harry started it, not you. You did the right thing by telling everyone."
"No, you're right." She stopped and sighed. "It's just, this job has become much closer to gossip-mongering than I'm comfortable with."
"Or maybe now it's close to home?" Draco asked.
"Probably," Ginny conceded. "But when I was just a staff writer, I could just pay attention to what I was writing, the arts and entertainment pieces. Now that I'm an assistant editor I have to work with all of it, including the bits I'd rather not know about."
"Couldn't you go back to writing?" Draco asked. "They adore you there; I'm sure they'd at least listen to your suggestions. And you know you could write whatever you wanted to. I still say you should make those letters you sent me when you were at school in India into a book."
"Well, with the naughty bits taken out, perhaps,"she said, grinning.
"But those were the best parts!"
She stuck out her tongue at him. "I'll think about it," she said. "Maybe a change is in order." She put the bowl of strawberries in the cooling cabinet. "Well, that's dinner done."
"And not a moment too soon," Draco said at the knock on the door.
"Remember your promise."
"Oh, I'll behave."
"You'd better, or I'll break your arm." Ginny walked to the entryway of her flat and opened the door. "Welcome!"
"I hope we're not early," Padma said, handing Ginny a package.
"Not a bit," Ginny replied. "Ooh, what lovely bread, thank you."
"At least you'll eat it," Ron said as he walked into the flat.
"Ron, you know Parvati has to watch her figure," Padma replied. She turned to hug Draco.
"Well, I'm just glad you're not a model," Ron said. He extended his hand to Draco. "Malfoy."
"Weasley," Draco acknowledged, shaking it. The four stood silent for a moment, then Draco cleared his throat. "I'll get the wine going, shall I?"
"Thanks, darling," Ginny said. "It's so hot tonight, I thought we'd just have something simple—gazpacho with shrimp, and your bread, and strawberries and cream."
"That sounds lovely," Padma replied. "Doesn't it, Ron?"
"What? Yes, well you know I like simple," he said.
Draco came out of the kitchen with four flutes in one hand and a bottle in the other. He handed out the glasses, then worked the cork out of the bottle with a soft pop and poured them each a glass of champagne. "Here's to the happy couple," he said, holding up his glass. "Congratulations on your engagement."
"Cheers," Ginny added as they clinked glasses. "And thank you for asking me to be a bridesmaid, Padma."
"Of course," Padma said. "After all, we're going to be sisters now. With Parvati traveling so much I'll need your help with the wedding planning."
"Oh!" Ginny said, feeling her nerves again. "I, er—"
"After all, the New Year's party at Malfoy Manor turned out so splendid," she continued.
"Actually, Draco did most of that," Ginny said. "I just showed up and put a dress on."
Padma looked around. "And your flat—you put things together in such an interesting way, and I don't want this to be just another society wedding, no matter what Mother says."
"I don't see how it can be," Ron said, "with that many Weasleys there."
Draco cocked his head and raised an eyebrow at Ginny.
"Of course, I'd be happy to help in any way I can," Ginny said. "Please, sit." She walked into the kitchen, Draco hot on her heels.
Draco grabbed a knife to slice bread, muttering low, between his teeth, "Don't pull Padma into this fixation of yours. It's one thing with me—"
She glared at him. "Don't worry about it," she whispered back, then turned to take the tray laden with bowls of soup to the table.
Draco followed shortly after, with thick slices of crusty wheat bread for each of them and a small plate of sliced avocado.
Ron took a spoonful, then said, "Uh-oh."
"What is it, Ron?" Ginny asked, looking at bit alarmed.
"I hate to say it," Ron replied, setting down his spoon and putting his hand on Ginny's shoulder, "but I think you forgot to cook the soup!"
They all stared at him for a moment, Ginny just on the edge of losing it entirely, and then Ron winked.
"Oh, Ron!" Ginny said, but she smiled a little, in spite of herself, and Draco even relaxed. She never thought she'd be grateful for her brother's corny sense of humor, but maybe that would help her get through the night.
Parvati could hear the raised voices all the way down the hallway. She knocked on the door of the flat, a bit apprehensive about what she'd got herself into.
Seamus flung the door open. "Thank God you're here," he said, ushering her inside. "Promise me you won't take his side every time? Dean, where are the menus?"
Dean walked out of the kitchen, handing some parchment to Seamus. "Nice welcome for our guest, Seamus. Parvati, thanks so much for coming over. We really appreciate it."
"I'm just glad I'm in town and can help," she replied. "And of course I'll be entirely neutral."
"I'm welcoming her by feeding her, Dean. How does falafel sound, Parvati?"
"Just fish and veg for me until October. Can't be puffy on the runway for fashion week."
"That's a reason not to hate you for being beautiful. Here, a salad place," Seamus said, handing her a menu.
"Thanks. I see you've mostly finished unpacking."
"Yeah," Dean said. "Seamus's boxes arrived from Greece a week ago, and we found places for everything."
"Then what is the problem?" Parvati asked.
"That," Dean said, and gestured to several frames stacked up against the wall of the sitting room. A pile of smaller frames, for snapshots, lay on the coffee table.
Parvati shook her head. "Only you two, after being in separate countries for three years, would have no trouble agreeing to move in together, no trouble finding a new flat, no trouble painting or unpacking or furniture arranging, and then have a three-day argument over hanging a mirror."
"It isn't just a mirror," Seamus said. "It's the art, our family photos, everything. The Artist thinks he knows what's best."
"Of course I do, Shay," Dean replied. "I've only, I don't know, studied the subject!"
"Stop!" Parvati shouted. "No more arguing until I've been fed. For the next twenty-one minutes, you're to say only happy things about this move." She gave the menu to Dean.
"Twenty-one minutes?" Seamus asked.
"Think of it as a time out," she replied.
Seamus shook his head. "I knew Dean had got you watching Muggle television but nanny shows?"
"They make order out of chaos," Parvati said. "It appeals. So, good things, come on now."
"I've got one," Dean said, circling his choice on the menu and handing it to Seamus. "He's become quite a good cook. We haven't ordered takeaway since we unpacked all the kitchen things."
"Hermione has whatever the black thumb equivalent is in the kitchen." Seamus explained. "She ate a lot of salads and pita bread if I wasn't around."
"And you, Seamus?" Parvati asked. "Something positive?"
"The sex." He looked at Dean. "What?"
"That's all you have to say?"
"No, it's just the biggest change. I had the talks and the art and the hearing about your life when I was in Greece. I didn't have the sex and the lying about in bed and the going to a museum with you just to watch you look at things. There, that's two things besides sex. Happy?"
"You watch me look at things?" Dean asked.
"Call in the order, Dean," Seamus said. He turned back to Parvati. "And what are you smirking about?"
"It's good to have you back, Seamus," she said, shaking her head. "That's all.
He grinned back. "Thanks. 'S good to be back. And, er, thanks for taking care of him, yeah? While I was gone?"
"He probably took care of me more than I did him," she replied.
"I expect not," Seamus said. "But, how are things? I mean, dating-wise."
"Er, well, I have met a few people. I don't know, I travel a lot, and I don't really like going out to those bars, especially on my own, and the women there, they just aren't what I'm looking for, I don't think."
"What about through work, then?" Seamus asked.
"No," Dean said firmly, as he closed his phone. "No more coworkers. No more insane models, no more married photographers, no more obnoxious designers, no more snooty editors. No."
"And that sums up my dating life for the last three years," Parvati said.
"Surely they're not all bad," Seamus said.
"They are if I'm attracted to them," Parvati said. "Or if they're attracted to me. If you're inappropriate, I'm interested. Right, well, why don't you start by showing me what needs to be hung. Have you at least agreed on what goes in which room?"
Dean opened his mouth but Seamus put up his hand. "That will just get us going again. Let's start with the family photos."
"All right," Parvati said, pushing up her sleeves. It was going to be a long night.
Unlike most homes named "cottage" by wealthy families, Larkspur Cottage was not large, though it was bigger than the bungalow Hermione had shared with Seamus for the past three years. At the back, on the road side, a small garage held several bicycles and other assorted odds and ends, though it was not difficult to make room for Harry's motorbike. The back door led into a mud room, with the kitchen beyond. On the kitchen table was a note:
Hermione and Harry,
Welcome to Larkspur Cottage. We're so pleased to have winter people again. Your trunks have been placed upstairs in the two front bedrooms. We've left the boxes of books in the office downstairs. We've also put in some staples in the pantry and ice box. Tom will be by later today to make sure you've settled in.
Tom and Margaret Hughes
"Who are these people?" Harry asked.
If Hermione had doubted whether Harry really needed looking after, she didn't now, as he clearly hadn't listened to a word Sirius had told them about the family cottage. "They're the caretakers," she replied.
"Are they Squibs? You know, like Filch?"
"No. Margaret has written a few books on North American herbology and Tom designs houses."
A dark hall led past a small bathroom toward a cozy sitting room lined with bookshelves. Two armchairs flanked the fireplace and a side cabinet held a wireless that looked to be at least 50 years old. The small front office was on the other side of the stairs; its long desk with three chairs reminded Hermione of a library. Two bookcases and a cabinet of quills and parchment stood against the one wall, while a large south-facing window dominated the other. Looking out Hermione could see the kitchen garden and other flowers and plants clinging to the rocky soil, including a rather large pine tree. At the front of the cottage, the dining table sat on a screened-in porch that overlooked the ocean. The upper floor contained four bedrooms and a large bathroom.
"Well," Hermione said as they stood in the upstairs hall, "if you want to get cleaned up and settled in, I'll look in the kitchen and see what I can put together for lunch."
"Reverse that," Harry said. "I've had your cooking. I reckon that's something I can take care of, while we're living here."
"I've become a better cook in the last three years!"
Harry gave her a look. "So have I. Come on, I know you're dying to unpack your books." He turned and walked down the stairs.
Hermione watched him go, thinking that his teasing her was probably a good sign.
Later that afternoon, as promised, Tom Hughes stopped by to check in on them. He was much younger than Hermione had expected, no more than 30, and with his brown wavy hair and hazel eyes he looked more like a film star than an architect. Harry and Hermione stood talking with him by their back door.
"You came here on a bicycle?" Harry asked.
"We live just down the road," Tom replied, "and this island isn't very large in any case, so we don't run the Floo network except in winter. It's bike, or take a broomstick."
"Neither of us are big on broomsticks," Harry said abruptly, avoiding Hermione's eyes.
Hermione smiled to cover any awkwardness and asked, "How do you talk to people?"
"Oh, right, you Brits are still firechatting, aren't you?" Tom chuckled. "We're more modern over on this side of the pond. We use the phone."
"The phone," Harry said, and his eyes blinked several times, as though he'd not quite been paying attention. "Sorry, Tom. I've been, er, ill recently. Came here to get back to full strength. Travel must have taken more out of me than I expected."
Hermione said, "The mediwizards didn't say anything about exhaustion."
"But the mediwizards don't know everything, do they?" Harry replied sharply. At Hermione's look, he closed his eyes and sighed. "Sorry, I didn't mean to snap."
"You didn't," she said.
Harry turned to Tom. "I think I'd better go in and lie down. But if you're free tomorrow morning, I'd very much like to see the village."
"Sure, of course," Tom said, shaking Harry's hand. "Take care of yourself, now."
"Will do," Harry said, walking back into the cottage.
"I'm sorry," Hermione said, once Harry was well inside and out of earshot. "He's been—"
"In rehab, I know," Tom finished. "It may be an isolated island, but we still get the papers."
"Oh," Hermione said. "We weren't sure how much coverage it got over here."
"Not as much as in England, I'm sure. I'd guess most witches and wizards have heard about it. No one will bother him here; it's not our way. But if you ever need any help, Maggie and I are just down the lane."
"Thanks, Tom," Hermione said, shaking his hand. "I really appreciate that."
"Boys, these are the last two," Parvati said, shouting over the argument. "Can't we just get this done?"
"We could if he would stop being impossible," Dean said.
"Me, impossible? Sure. Look at yourself!" Seamus shouted.
"Maybe we should just flip a coin," Parvati replied.
"Flip a coin?" the boys shouted back in unison.
"I still think the orange looks better here, above the chair, than in the hallway," Dean said.
"But this green one isn't as welcoming," Seamus insisted.
"The orange can be just as welcoming in the—Parvati?" Dean moved over to the fainting girl, catching her and helping her to sit on the nearby chair. "Parvati?"
"Oh," Parvati mumbled, pushing herself up with her hands.
"No, darling, don't try to stand up," Seamus said. "Dean, get her a glass of water, would you? Parvati, how much did you eat today?"
"Plenty," she replied. "It wasn't that. I felt like all my energy left me all at once."
"That's what happens when you don't eat; you don't have any energy," Seamus said as Dean handed her the glass of water.
She waved her hand. "No, not my regular energy, my magical energy," she said, then sipped the water.
"What?" Seamus asked.
"Your magical energy?" Dean asked. "Parvati, you have to talk to Trelawney."
Parvati nodded. "You're right. Why didn't I think of that?"
"Sometimes you don't see it and someone else has to tell you," Dean said.
"What are you two talking about?" Seamus asked.
"See what happens when you drop Divination to be a mediwizard?" Dean asked.
"It's a sign that a prophecy is coming," Parvati said.
"Like the one about Harry? Really?" Seamus asked.
"No, they're not all that important," Parvati explained. "The thing is, sometimes they come in two halves to two different people, and Trelawney always thought I'd get a second half. Which usually happens when someone unearths the first half and then starts making it happen."
"So now?" Dean asked.
"So now we wait and see," Parvati said.
By the time they'd finished the strawberries, and nearly finished a bottle of rosé, Ginny was in a much better mood than she had been when Ron and Padma arrived, and Ron liked to think that at least some of that had to do with him. He'd certainly applied himself, keeping up a string of the kind of silly jokes their father often told, which always got Ginny giggling. Draco didn't look as amused, but he didn't say anything, which Ron figured was one of the reasons he and Ginny managed to stay together.
Ron was in far too good a mood to let Draco under his skin anyway. Every time he looked at Padma he felt so proud he thought his chest would burst—proud that she'd chosen him, that she was happy to wear the simple diamond ring that had once belonged to his great-grandmother, that they'd got past their recent troubles. But now Harry was through rehab and off in America. Ron had been taking care of Harry one way or another for the past three years; now it was Hermione's turn.
Then there was a knock at the door.
"Who could that be?" Ginny asked, as she got up from the table and went to the entryway. Pansy Parkinson's unmistakeable voice drifted down the hall.
"I'm sorry, Ginny, I know it's late, but I had to see Draco," she said, walking into the room. "Oh, you have company. Well, Weasley, that's all right then. Wait, Patil—"
"Don't worry about her. What is it?" Draco asked.
She pulled an envelope out of her pocket. "The first one in over ten months."
"Are you sure it's from him?" Ron asked, getting up from the table.
"Are you sure it's a him?" Pansy responded.
Ron scowled. "What does it say?"
Draco opened it and read aloud: "'Are you still with me? The great work begins.' Nice and cryptic, that."
"It's a line from a Muggle American play," Ginny said. "An angel presents herself to the lead character, telling him he's to be a prophet, and then says, 'The great work begins.'"
"That's portentious," Padma said.
"More like pretentious, if you ask me," Ron said.
"Not particularly original, though," Pansy said.
Draco shrugged. "And that Euro Cup stunt was original?"
"Put you out of commission for a while," Ginny said.
"I was just collateral damage," Draco muttered.
Ginny scowled. "Draco—"
"All right you two, not now," Ron said, holding up his hand, because that was an old fight that didn't lead anywhere good, and Ron was not interested in having all of his hard work getting Ginny into a good mood going to waste. Turning to Pansy, he asked, "Have you answered him yet?"
"No, I wanted to talk to you first. Should we go to Sirius?" Pansy asked.
"I'd say, answer now and tell him you are still with him," Draco said. "We shouldn't delay that any further. We can find Sirius in the morning and talk about next steps." He folded the letter. "Er, that is, if you agree, Weasley."
Ron nodded. "We should probably let Harry and Hermione know as well."
"Oh, Ron," Padma said. "Harry is supposed to be in recovery."
"I think it will be a good distraction for him," Ron said. "Keep him from brooding."
Padma opened her mouth, then closed it again, but Ron knew precisely what she wanted to say.
"The mediwizards said he should continue to do things that were unrelated," Ron insisted.
"I didn't say anything," Padma replied, though of course she had, just not with words.
"See, you two are as bad as we are," Ginny scolded, and she was right. Ron put his hand on Padma's back, and after a moment he could feel her relaxing into him.
Pansy raised her eyebrows. "Glad I'm single," she said.
"What happened to that girl at the museum?" Ginny asked. "She seemed pretty enough for you, anyway."
"A little too fond of spending my money," Pansy replied.
"Beauty ain't cheap," Ron said, thinking of Parvati. Padma glared at him, and Ron couldn't think why. "What?"
"Gossip later," Draco said firmly. "Pansy, go ahead and answer, and we'll see what happens next."
She pulled parchment out of her bag and sat down at the table.
"Wine?" Ginny asked.
"That would be lovely," Pansy replied.
"Have you had your dinner?" Ginny called from the kitchenette.
Pansy looked up and smiled. "Yes, thank you, Ginny," she answered.
"Since when are you two so chummy?" Ron asked.
"Given the situation, it's the mature thing to do. You're familiar with the concept?" Pansy asked.
Ron ignored the remark. "Dunno that the mission requires you—"
"Not that situation, Weasley," Pansy said, her eyes on her letter. "The one where she's dating my best and oldest friend."
"Oh, right," Ron said, and sat back down next to Padma, who took his other hand in hers.
Ginny placed a glass in front of Pansy, then perched on Draco's lap. "We'll, I'm glad they're friendly," Draco said. "I have a feeling Pansy and I are going to get rather cozy in the near future."