By the time Marietta Edgecombe returned from St Mungo's, she was in a right mood. She'd always envisaged work at the Department of Mysteries as exciting and even dangerous, but she hadn't expected to spend her day covered in parrot poo while her fingers bled from bites inflicted by the same nasty little parrot.
The taste of the healing potion still bitter in her mouth, she was glad to see that someone had refreshed the (allegedly) Infinite Teapot in the tea room. She'd bring her own teapot, but the Department of Mysteries had regulations preventing staff bringing their own tea or snacks – even in the relatively safe Prophecy Interpretation Office – in case of magical contamination. Marietta poured herself a nice cuppa and sat down on one of the squashy old chairs to catch her breath. A whole afternoon of paperwork loomed, thanks to the illegally enspelled Pete the Prophesying Parrot of Penzance. At least the capture protocols for such creatures had been revised since the Muggle World Cup octopus scandal back in 2010. Marietta had only just joined the Department then, and she still remembered the smell of singed tentacles.
Someone else was pouring a cup from the Infinite Teapot, and Marietta turned around to see it was Lavender Brown. Marietta had taken ages to become friends with her – to be completely honest, she'd been worried that Lavender, who wore her facial scars with pride, would be angry at Marietta for having her scars removed. As it turned out, Lavender thought that spelling "SNEAK" across someone's face in boils was ridiculous and cruel, and considered her own battle scars to be an entirely different thing.
"Hi, Lavender! How's Parvati?"
Lavender looked surprised but not displeased to see someone else in the tearoom, and came over to sit opposite Marietta, nursing her tea. "Parvati's good. Actually, she's been great since the morning sickness ended."
"And how long to go now?"
Lavender fiddled with the handle of her mug. "Twelve weeks. Parvati finished work this week, and she and Padma are setting things up at home for the baby."
"I though Padma was working for the Ministry in Singapore?"
"She's back to help Parvati." Lavender wasn't meeting Marietta's eyes at all. Someone who didn't know Lavender might think it was habit of hers to avoid discomfiting people with her missing eye and clawed face. It wasn't, though: the same spells that had eventually cleared up Marietta's boil-cursed face would work on werewolf claw marks. Lavender didn't have to look that way if she didn't want to.
Leaning forward, Marietta put a hand on Lavender's arm. "Listen, I've got a ton of paperwork to do this afternoon, but do you want to come out for a drink after work? I understand if you want to get home to Parvati, of course…"
Lavender's whole face brightened. "No, no, it will be fine. I'll Floo her to let her know I'll be late. I'd love to come. As long as we don't go to that wretched teashop where I used to work."
Making her apologies and heading back to her desk, Marietta wondered just what she'd got herself into. She remembered Lavender as a giggly teenager always surrounded by loyal friends, and, from working with her, Marietta thought she had kept much of that openness and dedication to her loved ones. It seemed unlike her to be avoiding Parvati; still, the War had changed everyone, and Marietta knew that the visible and immediate scars weren't always the worst.
Parvati crouched in the Ministry mail room, sorting through the huge box of records by hand and neatly replacing each as she went. The nitrile gloves were something that she'd learned from her work in the Surveillance Office of Magical Law Enforcement: wizard criminals strongly preferred these particular kind of Muggle-made gloves because detection spells wouldn't show what the wearer had touched. A spell would have summoned the specific piece of parchment she wanted in moments but it would leave traces she couldn't erase, and she wasn't entirely sure that she was doing was right.
Whoever had filed these forms needed their wand recalibrated. Parvati wasn't sure what alphabet they were sorted by, but it wasn't any of the alphabets she knew. Eventually she found what she wanted: a request for surveillance on Brown, Lavender. The request had been made by Auror Daveth Robins based on information collected from several sources, including her landlady and a co-worker at Laurel Leaf Divination Teahouse. It seemed that Lavender was requesting the day off after each full moon, and the landlady had reported that she locked the door and never came out on a full moon night. The Auror had scribbled notes about Lavender's old injuries from the Battle of Hogwarts at the bottom – non-transformed werewolf claw and bite injuries inflicted by Fenrir Greyback, known to have caused minor symptoms but no transformation in at least three other wizards. Robins' recommendation was for close surveillance until she could be arrested and placed under observation in St Mungo's at the next full moon, just to make sure. Tomorrow this file would go to Parvati's supervisor and the surveillance would begin.
Werewolf monitoring by the Surveillance Office was meant to be an improvement on the old system, and Parvati supposed it was, really. Hermione Granger and her headlong charge through the echelons of Magical Law Enforcement had made some serious changes, even if her epic speeches about equality made Parvati had wanted to dig out her old S.P.E.W. badge. A monthly dose of Wolfsbane potion was made available to all werewolves free, on the grounds that lycanthropy was a medical condition like any other, and reinforced chambers were built in every werewolf's home. Even the old dungeons under St Mungo's had been refurbished into individual padded cells to avoid harm to the occupants. Of course, all Hermione's changes didn't make werewolves socially acceptable. The Daily Prophet had run a series of "humanising" werewolf profiles last year, which Parvati had read with much sympathy, remembering poor Professor Lupin, but at the end their reader poll was still strongly against accepting a werewolf into the family or even employing one. Wizarding gossip being what it was, if Lavender was placed into a surveillance cell on the full moon Parvati was fairly sure that it would put an end to her job prospects, let alone her chances of marrying someone. Parvati remembered Lavender's tender, romantic heart and how easily it was given away and how easily it was broken. If she could save Lavender from that stigma, she would.
Removing the file, Parvati placed everything back where it should be, then made her way back to her desk to complete the reports that had been her excuse for staying late. She was quickly done and Flooing to the Leaky Cauldron. She didn't want to go home first and have to explain the whole thing to Padma, mostly because Padma would talk her out of it for some perfectly rational reason that would leave Parvati feeling a bit stupid. No, Parvati knew that she wasn't doing the rational thing, but she knew she was doing the right thing.
Lavender's flat was easy enough to find, just a few streets away from Diagon Alley. There were a lot of wizards living in the area, and tiny breaches of the Statute of Secrecy kept tugging at Parvati's attention – out-of-season roses at a window, runes on a door knocker, a two-tailed cat sitting on the front steps out of the rain – but she ignored them and pressed on. A quick Alohomora let her into the building, and she slogged up the stairs to Lavender's door. She knocked, and waited.
The door was flung open and Lavender appeared, wearing bright pink pyjamas and a fuzzy dressing gown. Her face was as scarred as the last time Parvati had seen it, her grin still lop-sided, and she was missing the eye-patch she always wore in public. Parvati had shared a dormitory with her for that last year at Hogwarts, though, and none of this was a shock to her.
"Parvati! What are you doing here?" Despite the surprise, Lavender looked delighted to see her.
"I need to talk to you. Get dressed. It's important, and I don't want your landlady listening in."
Lavender immediately obeyed – that year they'd spent in the resistance at Hogwarts had taught them that much – and closed the door. Parvati felt a scrying spell wash over her, checking her identity and her free will, then Lavender re-emerged, fully dressed, eye-patch in place and with her wand in hand, her hair styled and make-up perfect.
"Okay. Since you're really Parvati, where are we going? And what's wrong?"
Parvati had planned to go over to the park and talk, or Apparate somewhere really distant, but she paused for a moment, looking at Lavender. She had obviously taken Parvati's warning seriously – wand ready, alert for danger – but she hadn't dressed for a battle, or to go into hiding. She had chosen a sparkly shirt with swimming goldfish on it, a miniskirt, hot pink leggings and gold, strappy heels. Her make-up was pretty, but didn't even attempt to hide the raised scars that pulled one side of her face out of line. Lavender was ready to face trouble, but entirely on her own terms.
Parvati cleared her throat. "You, um, would you like to come out for a drink? Fionnuala Fortescue's serves these really nice cocktails after dark."
Lavender took Parvati's arm. "I'd love to! I was worried you'd come to recruit me for something serious!"
"This is serious!"
Sitting under the umbrella, fizzy drinks to hand, rain forming a private curtain around them, Parvati warned Lavender about the surveillance. "I stole the request form, so it won't happen this month, but the Aurors still have the original reports and they'll just ask again."
Lavender only laughed, tossing back her hair. "Wow, that would have been rotten. Might get a new job, anyway – I bet it was that Acantha Stubbs who reported on me. She's been after my shifts. Any openings at the Ministry?" She grinned and took a sip of her bright green drink. "And no, I haven't started turning furry at the full moon. Remember how I used to get really drowsy and muddle-headed around that time, like for three or four days after the full moon? Well, Madame Pomfrey worked out that if I take a sleeping draught on the actual night, I'm fine afterward. I'll send the Aurors over to old Pomfrey and she'll sort them out, no problems." She put her hand over Parvati's. "But thank you. I don't want to lose my job."
"You're welcome." Parvati smiled.
"And thank you for not asking whether it was true or not."
Parvati looked into Lavender's face, her hand still under Lavender's, and told the absolute truth. "It wouldn't matter to me."
Lavender dropped flat on her back on Parvati's bed, her mouth looking sore, red and grazed from her most recent marathon kissing session with Ron Weasley in the common room. It was a dramatic pose, but it didn't pass Parvati's notice that Lavender had carefully missed the rune chart that Parvati had spread out across the mattress. This little touch of care in the middle of Lavender's great passionate abandon only made Parvati crankier.
"I still don't know what you see in that Weasley boy. He might be better looking than he was in Fourth Year, but he's still just as…" She searched for the word. "Gormless. He's utterly gormless."
Lavender giggled, and rolled over so she could see Parvati's face. "Didn't we promise not to be mean to each other's boyfriends, when we got them?"
"In First Year! Anyway, I'm not being mean to him, I'm being mean about him. Totally different." She combed Lavender's messy hair back into place with her fingers.
Lavender tilted her head so that Parvati could do her work. "True, true. I had a few words to say about Harry Potter when you went to the Yule Ball with him."
"He wasn't my boyfriend. More like Potter, Destroyer of Shoes. And Padma went with Ron, and that was even worse."
"He's not that bad now, really. I don't know, didn't you ever want someone who was so close to you that it was like you were one person? Like I know what he's thinking."
"Not like that! Well, not just that!" Lavender flushed. "Yeah, okay. I like his body, and how we can sort of go away with each other and it's like no-one else even exists. Don't tell him I said that."
"You know I'm not even talking to him. And it sounds suffocating to me. Padma and I used to be wrapped up in each other, when it was just us at home and we weren't allowed to play with the Muggle kids and our cousins are all in India. It wasn't good. It couldn't last."
Lavender sat up at that, her back straight, and looked Parvati square in the face. "I didn't say it was going to last, Parvati. I'm not stupid." She turned quickly – not quickly enough that Parvati missed the tremble of her chin – and withdrew to her own bed, behind the curtains.
Parvati let her hands fall to rest on her Divination homework, a blonde hair still curled around her index finger. She still had one more casting to do for tomorrow's class, so she shook the runes in her hand and let them fall.
Jealousy, she read, yet again, in the simple accusation of the sigils. Since they were now in the N.E.W.T. class and had to study rune positions as well as meanings, she sighed and consulted the extremely complex chart laid out on her bed. Eihwaz, Berkano, Laguz…in those positions, not jealousy, but protectiveness.
Parvati uncurled the hair from her finger and stared across at the closed curtains of Lavender's bed. A moment's hesitation, and she climbed swiftly from her bed to Lavender's, slipping between the curtains to put her arms around her sobbing friend.
"Even when it ends, I'll still be here. I'm your friend. I always will be."
Lavender didn't stop crying, but she did stop trying to smother her tears in the pillow, and let Parvati hold her, the red curtains heavy around them.
"Hi, Lavender!" Hermione waved to Lavender across the hall where they both queued for the Ministry Floos. Lavender waved back, and Hermione hurried over to speak to her. They'd got along much better as adults than they ever had sharing a dormitory.
"Did you approve Parvati's leave?" Lavender's grin was as broad as ever, even if it was lop-sided now. "I still can't believe they actually put you in charge of half the Department."
"It's a dream come true! No, I sent the papers over to Parvati's desk today, so she should have them by now. Me being bossy, and the two of you together again – it's just like old times. I hope you're going to call your daughter Godrica, or something wonderfully Gryffindor like that."
Lavender stared at her. "How did you know if she's a girl?"
Now that Hermione looked closer, Lavender looked rather harried behind her smile, like she hadn't slept properly in a week. "Well, you're both women, and you used magic rather than, um, finding a male contributor."
"So? Oliver Wood and his husband used spellwork instead of asking a woman to help, and they had one of each. I mean, it's not an identical spell, but it's for the same purpose."
Hermione tugged at her hair nervously as she realised she'd yet again got herself into a discussion of genetics with a wizard. "It's science. Women have two X chromosomes and men have –"
Lavender laughed. "Oh, Muggle stuff! Trust you to think of that. Are you still sending your poor daughter to a Muggle school? I hope you don't want us to do that."
"That's your own decision," Hermione huffed, "But I do think more people should consider it. Rose is learning all kinds of things she wouldn't learn from a private tutor. A broad education is very important!"
"She'll be going to Hogwarts, though, I hope."
"Yes, if she's a witch. It's strange to think that her name might be down on the scroll, though. She's just a little girl – it feels too much like pre-destination."
"You always hated Divination!" Lavender's laugh was definitely strained this time.
Hermione frowned and went for the direct approach. "You loved it. What's wrong?"
Tugging them away from the queue of Ministry workers, Lavender pulled Hermione in close. "It's a prophecy."
"About your baby?" Hermione was shocked. "Like there was about Harry?"
"Not exactly – more about Parvati. The prophecy came in yesterday, and I can't get it out of my head."
Hermione put an arm around Lavender. "Lavender? You work in the Prophecy Office. You know they're all subject to interpretation and context."
"But this was from the Norwich Oracle, and she sent it directly to me. You know how reliable she is. It said 'two are two and not a one comes between them.' Now, who does that sound like to you?" Lavender didn't move away from Hermione's arm.
"Do you mean Parvati and Padma? They're not even that close, really! I mean, they were in that year back at Hogwarts after the Battle…"
"Padma is back from Singapore and it's like – it's like she and Parvati are having a baby, not Parvati and me. She's everywhere. And Parvati is happy to see her. And I can't come between them."
Hermione waved a hand. "Oh, Lavender. You're making the prophecy tie in with things that are already on your mind. Talk to Parvati and I'm sure you can clear it all up."
"Easy for you to say! You don't even believe in prophecies!"
"I believe they influence our behaviour – Harry would never have been able to kill Voldemort if Voldemort hadn't acted on the prophecy in the first place."
Lavender pulled away and stormed over to a distant queue, calling back, "So they do come true!"
Shaking her head, Hermione rejoined her queue. Sometimes she thought she'd never get this world sorted out. But Ron and Rose and Hugo waited at home, and she needed to get it right for them.
The Houses had been temporarily disbanded, the Gryffindor and Ravenclaw Towers were still in ruins, and the Seventh Year girls had commandeered a dorm in the Slytherin dungeons. It was still strange for Padma to wake up to the slow drip of water rather than the rush of the wind, but after the initial jolt of confusion, it was relaxing to be here, Parvati muttering in her sleep beside her. Last year had been a nightmare: Parvati and her Gryffindor friends had led the resistance against the Death Eaters running Hogwarts, and Padma constantly waited for the news that her sister had been tortured and killed. Padma herself, like most of the half-blood and pure-blood Ravenclaws, had kept attending lessons, feeding information back to Neville and the others at every opportunity. Even so, the already small class had slowly diminished as families fled the country, and students were taken away for interrogation and never returned.
Padma had spent that year with her head high, refusing to be cowed by ignorant thugs like the Carrows, assisting Professor Flitwick in keeping classes running and the younger students as safe as possible. She didn't let anyone – not even their parents – see the terror that filled her veins, every heartbeat telling her Parvati was dead. It wasn't until the Battle of Hogwarts, fighting side by side with her sister, that she finally felt alive again: boulders fell, infernos blazed, Killing Curses flew, but Padma and Parvati together were untouchable. When Voldemort finally fell, Parvati threw her arms around Padma and promised never to leave her again.
All summer, they'd fallen into their old twin-language together and Padma had only started to shake it off when they got back to Hogwarts in September, to repeat their useless final year. Parvati still whispered to her in the night, though, called to her when she was in another room, used baby names and clung tight. Padma tried to explain to her that it was Parvati who'd been in danger, not Padma, that it was Parvati who'd run into danger, that it was Parvati who was the one who'd left.
Padma rolled onto her back, retrieving some of the covers from where Parvati had stolen them, and tried to untangle her thoughts. Defence Against the Dark Arts, she thought: the Dark Arts rely on intimidation and division, and a clear head can go a long way towards dispelling their power. It was Professor Lupin who'd said that, and he was dead. Padma bit her lip to stop it trembling: his teaching lived on and it honoured his memory to learn from it.
If Parvati had been able to throw herself into danger last year, why was she clinging to Padma now? If Padma had missed Parvati so much, why didn't she welcome it still? Padma sighed. Put like that, she knew the answer. Parvati, the Gryffindor, was fine as long as there was actual danger or excitement: it was the quiet and the waiting that unnerved her. Padma, the Ravenclaw, was happy to wait and be quiet, to assess what she had done and plan what she needed to do: it was the ongoing and unpredictable danger that unsettled her the way that the calm after the danger had passed unsettled Parvati now.
She nudged Parvati awake. "Hey."
"I was thinking, a lot of the little kids are really scared about another battle happening."
Parvati yawned. "I know. They're scared about the what-ifs but I can't tell them they're being silly. They're not."
"Exactly! You should re-start Dumbledore's Army. Give them some training."
Parvati stared into the distance, thinking. "There's no House divisions right now. It's the perfect time. I remember how good it felt, knowing what to do, not sitting around waiting for the axe to fall."
Trying not to shudder at the image, Padma lay back down. "You're not suited to waiting."
"I promised not to wake you at four in the morning to open our birthday presents early. Ever again!"
Padma laughed and closed her eyes. Her heartbeat was slow and steady and her sleep was easy.
Lavender didn't know what to make of Parvati's unexpected Floo call, her face sparkling in the office's fireplace flames.
"Lav! Come home early if they'll let you!"
Lavender had leapt to her feet, ready to Apparate at once. "What's wrong?"
Parvati's image grinned. "Good news, not bad!" She vanished before Lavender could ask more, leaving Lavender with no good excuse to go home at once.
Lavender had been staying longer and longer at work, knowing that Padma was there looking after Parvati at all hours of the day and night. Every time she'd tried to say something about the prophecy or hint that Padma's constant presence might not be welcome she'd felt like the world's worst wife: she couldn't demand that Parvati stay home by herself, and Lavender's leave didn't start until the baby was actually born. It wasn't that they'd starve without the money from Lavender's job, but the Ministry was still notoriously nasty to anyone who deviated from their expectations and Lavender knew they'd already pushed the envelope by taking the month they'd needed for the conception spell to work. It didn't seem entirely fair to her, but she didn't dare tell Hermione about it or they'd all have compulsory parents' leave and she'd have to be at home with Parvati and Padma.
"Two are two and not a one comes between them," rang through her head as she organised a proxy to attend this afternoon's meeting in her place; the prophecy slid around the rhythm of people's feet on the marble of the atrium; and travelled home with her unimpeded by Apparation.
Parvati tried to get up to welcome Lavender home, but she was far too slow to get out of her chair, impeded by her enormous belly. Instead Lavender hurried over to kiss her, but stopped halfway, feeling something very different about the house.
Parvati shuffled her feet uncomfortably. "We, um, had a big fight. She's gone back to Mum's place."
"That's not good news!" To be honest, Lavender rather thought it was, though she would never say that to her wife.
Parvati hauled herself up, as her Self-Raising Chair had unfortunately turned out to be a bit of a dud, and both of them had agreed that now was not the time for Padma to experiment with the charms and potentially end up throwing Parvati across the room. "No, that's not the good news, Lav, don't be silly."
"What is it, then?"
Parvati grabbed Lavender's hands and put them on her belly. Lavender could feel their daughter kicking just at the edge of her palm, so she tried to move her hand a little, but Parvati held her by the wrists. Confused, Lavender waited. All the divination and charms they had tried had immediately and strongly indicated a girl, just as Hermione had said: she hardly thought that Parvati was about to announce that they were having a boy instead, but she couldn't think of anything else.
"We went to see the midwife and she thinks it'll be sooner than ten weeks, which is good – no that's not the news!"
"Just tell me!" The prophecy rattled in Lavender's head again, poking at her calm as the baby kicked randomly at her hand.
"We're having twins! Two little girls!"
Lavender sat down on Parvati's footrest in shock, then she started to laugh, giggling at first then full-blown gales of amusement.
Parvati perched gingerly on the edge of the couch. "Lav? Are you all right? We're going to have to get more of everything, but I'm sure our parents will help out, and so will Padma when she calms down."
Lavender wiped the tears from her eye and hugged Parvati's legs. "Oh, sweetie, I've been such an idiot. I'm so sorry. There was this prophecy, and I thought it was about you and Padma. The Norwich Oracle sent it."
"Oh, she's a lovely woman! She was probably just trying to warn us about the twins! I'm sorry, I thought you were okay with me spending all that time with Padma since they're making you do all that extra work before you take leave. And you know that I hate waiting – I want this baby, I mean, babies, right now! Padma calms me down when there's nothing to do." She reached down and stroked Lavender's hair.
"What did you fight about? I thought she'd be happy to have twins, just like you and her."
It was Parvati's turn to laugh. "Oh, no, she told me it was awful that I was having twins and I'd raise them to depend on each other too much, just like I needed to cling to her all the time. So I told her that I hadn't asked for her to come back from Singapore and she could get lost! Cling to that!"
Lavender leaned against Parvati's legs, the top of her head touching her belly, finally relaxed. "These are going to be the best kids. They've got the best mums, and I know we're never going to do anything this stupid ever again."
"Definitely not! We're totally reformed ridiculously noble Gryffindors."
Lavender smiled up, even though there was no way Parvati would see her over her belly. "So, what do you think about Godrica as a name?"
Parvati's shriek of horror echoed around the house chased by Lavender's laughter, doubts fleeing before them.