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The Trick Is to Keep Breathing

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21 December 2001: Punta Arenas, Tierra del Fuego, Chile

Draco didn't actually mind cold weather.  People often assumed that of him, for some odd reason, but he thought he looked rather good in a sweater.  This, though, this was not just cold weather—this was harsh, wet weather, particularly as it was the longest day of the year.  But then, the southern hemisphere had never made much sense to him.

One would think the festival crowd would like the longest night of the year, given their penchant for living almost nocturnally (yet another way they resembled a pack of vampires), but they were nothing if not perverse, so the appointed location for Yule was at the furthest point south that was still suitable for wizard decadence.  Sacrificed for convenience was the Midnight Sun, which one had to travel to Antarctica to experience, but one could not easily ship large quantities of firewhiskey to Antarctica, and anyway, one could easily see the Midnight Sun in established cities like St Petersburg—no need to go trekking to the ends of the earth.  Patagonia was starkly beautiful, but he wasn't sure it stood up to literary myth.

Not to mention, there were no giants here.

He and Pansy had marked time until the party that evening by browsing through some curio shops and little museums, looking for artifacts of the sort Hermione had mentioned.  Pansy was better at this part of the mission than he was—he was much better at ingratiating them among the Wizards Who Mattered and maintaining their cover.  Now she was taking a pre-party nap and he was reading one of the books Ginny had slipped into his bag, though it just made him think about Ginny, and the upcoming holiday, and the disaster that had been last year's New Year's Eve party. 

It had started out so well—the construction on Malfoy Manor was finally finished and the Patils had decided to winter in India so they weren't having their annual party.  Besides, he needed a distraction after the Euro Cup fiasco, not only from how the case had fallen apart, but also from Ginny's worry over his disappearance.  No matter how many times Sirius and Pansy reassured him that the mere fact that he'd escaped so quickly meant that he'd done nothing to jeopardize the case, he couldn't sleep for going over every second of it, every move he'd made.  Given her mood, Ginny hadn't been overly enthusiastic about the party, but Draco didn't worry, as he was happy to plan the thing himself, meeting with caterers and florists and decorators and even ordering Ginny a dress, something he hadn't done since that year at Hogwarts.  It was fun, in a way; he'd built his castle and now he was bringing his princess to it.

Of course, he could have stopped and thought about the myriad ways that Ginny in no way resembled a story-book princess.  And because he hadn't, Ginny reminded him of all of them in no uncertain terms at about 4am on New Year's Day, once the party had wound down and most of the guests had left or gone to bed.  What made him think, she demanded, that she either wanted to or was capable of replacing Narcissa Black as the mistress of Malfoy Manor?  Was that the way their life together was going to be, that he'd let her play at a career but that ultimately her role was to run that house while he wandered around having adventures and chasing evil and disappearing for weeks at a time?  He'd almost been too stunned to fight back, though once he perceived an insult to his mother the gloves were off, and any and all issues they'd had over the past five years came spilling out, until he began to wonder if they really did belong together after all.  Then Ginny asked for some time to think, grabbed her things, and returned to The Burrow.  He didn't think he'd ever been as unhappy or as alone as when he'd climbed the staircase that night, and sleep, when it finally came, was restless and full of dreams.

And then slowly, miraculously, they'd made their way back.  Draco did his part, throwing himself into his other cases with all due professional dedication.  He wasn't quite as dependent on Ginny as he had been, especially with Pansy around, and Harry—well, he knew now that Harry had been spiraling out of control, but at the time he'd just seemed frustratingly unavailable.  He wasn't sure how much he and Ginny had solved, but somehow the battle had left them on firmer footing—nothing unsaid, no biting of tongues, everything out in the open.  Harsher but better, surely.  He was cautiously optimistic.

Pansy came out of her room into the sitting room, stretching.  "Aren't you going to get ready?" she asked.

"Hmm?" he asked, looking up at the clock.  "Oh, yes."  There was a knock at the door, which Pansy answered to find room service.

"Oh Draco, how civilized, you ordered tea," she said, signing the charge.

"Did I?" he asked, waiting until the waiter had left before opening the envelope that had been tucked under the tea tray.  "Oh bloody hell," he said.

"What is it?" Pansy asked, as she munched on a piece of toast.

He showed her the note.  "How, exactly, are we supposed to smuggle body armor out of the country?"

Pansy smirked.  "Good thing you're a chronic overpacker," she said.

Draco scowled, but that only made Pansy laugh harder.


The wine and cheese were better at a professional opening than at the student shows, Seamus thought, but it was still bland wine and boring cheese, and he wondered how he would be able to get through these evenings, over and over into the future, on nothing but wine and cheese and not-quite-stale biscuits.  Though come to think of it, the idea that he would have to was an excellent one on at least two levels:  that Dean would be a successful enough artist to have gallery openings over and over into the future, and that Seamus would be attending them.  He'd find a way to deal with the wine and cheese.

It was still a group show, but this time Dean wasn't in a guaranteed slot with his fellow classmates, but had managed three pieces in a professional show themed around the portrait.  Dean painted (and drew, and took pictures of) things other than people, of course, but he liked people best, liked finding a way to show their insides through their outsides—often Seamus, and Seamus had long since got used to Dean staring at him with something other than sex on his mind.  One of the pieces in the show was of Seamus, and even though Seamus's own uncle (on the Muggle side) was an artist himself, and so others looking at a picture of him wasn't a new thing, the idea that he might be hanging in some stranger's house was more than a little weird.

Parvati couldn't attend the opening, as she was in South America someplace on a modeling assignment, so Seamus was left completely to his own devices.  He mostly knew how to behave, letting Dean alone as he talked to his fellow artists, press, and the specially invited buyers that circulated around the two rooms of the small gallery.  The wizarding art world wasn't particularly large, so Dean was showing in a SoHo gallery; the difference was, only wizards would be able to see the charms on the paintings, and if a Muggle bought one, Dean was required by law to remove the charm.  It was a tricky thing, because it meant that the charm couldn't be crucial to the painting, and as Dean had moved through art school he'd become less and less interested in the sort of simple charms often found on wizarding photographs and more enamored with a kind of double image, as though two paintings were superimposed on the canvas.

But when they arrived home, Seamus felt unsettled and jumpy.  Yes, the opening had been successful—buyers seemed at least as interested in Dean's pieces as any of the others—but something about the evening at the gallery didn't sit right with him, and it was all he could do when they went for drinks after with some of the art crowd not to sulk in a corner.  Seamus didn't particularly like sulking, and Dean hated it when he sulked in public, but still, it happened.  At least he hadn't drunk anymore after they left the gallery.  Surely semi-sober trying-not-to-sulk was better than open, drunken sulking?

Or not.  "What the hell is wrong with you?" Dean asked as soon as they were inside their flat.  "You haven't said one word since we left the gallery."

He actually had said very few words when they were at the gallery, but that didn't seem like the right answer.  "Does something have to be wrong for me to be silent?" he asked.  "Can't I just not feel like talking?"

Dean cocked his head.  "Do you really want me to answer that?"

Seamus sighed.  "I don't know what it matters whether I spoke or not.  Tonight wasn't about me, anyway."

"Is that was this is about?  Seriously?  Because I don't know how you can support me all this time and then as soon as I'm successful be jealous."

"That's not it," Seamus replied, and walked into the kitchen.

Dean followed.  "Sure about that, mate, that you didn't want to be the center of attention, as usual?"

"I'm not fifteen, Dean," Seamus said, tapping the kettle with his wand.  "And anyway, that was my pretty face up on the wall, wasn't it?"

"Fine," Dean said, seeming to believe him, which was a relief.  "Then what?"

"I dunno," Seamus said, hopping onto the counter, a move that brought him up to eye level with his taller boyfriend.  "Since when did you start calling everyone 'darling'?"

"What?  When did I do that?"

"'That old hack hasn't had a good painting in years, darling,'" Seamus mimicked with a toss of his head.

Dean pulled a face.  "I don't sound like that," he said.

"Well, no, not now, not with me or around normal people—and don't you dare say that—but tonight at the pub, after the opening?  Really, when did you start being so gay?"

"I reckon around the time I was born, same as you, Seamus."

"That's—you know what I mean, Dean."

"Actually, no, I don't," he replied, pouring the hot water into the teapot.  "When you get like this?  I have no idea what you're talking about."

Seamus sighed.  "I mean you were one scarf short of high camp, is what I mean, and that's not like you."

"Oh come on.  This, from a man who went to a Halloween party in drag?"

"Angel and Tom Collins are the most perfect costume for us, ever, and don't change the subject."

"I was a long way from flaming."

"Well, you're always a long way from flaming, only tonight you were a bit closer."

"What I don't understand is why this is a problem," Dean said, handing Seamus a cup.  "So I camped it up a little for the fun of it.  Do we need the drama?"

Seamus cocked his head.  "It isn't drama, Dean."

Dean had been about to drink, but stopped, and looked at Seamus for a bit.  Then his shoulders relaxed.  "Of course not," he said, his tone gentler.  "Look, this week, you have Christmas Eve off, yeah?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Let's hit the clubs the day before," he suggested. 

"I told you it wasn't about the attention."

"I know, not what I meant.  But with all those real queens around …"


"Well, don't just agree to be neighborly."

"I'm not," Seamus quickly replied; then, softer, "I'm not."

"Good," Dean said, kissing him.  "Because tonight, can we just be happy about the show?"

Seamus smiled.  Here was one advantage they'd gained from their three years of living apart: how to cut short and postpone a fight. Their times for chats had been too precious; fighting was for in-person. Even now that they were living together, the ability to temporarily set aside a disagreement, knowing they'd get back to it later, was dead useful, and Seamus was happy to do that now. After all, his sulk had been a bit selfish. "I'm sorry, Dean; of course we can.  I'm so proud of you."

"Thanks."  They kissed again, and Dean leaned his forehead against Seamus's.  "I'm going to take a shower," he said.  "Come with?"

"Yeah, I'll be right behind you."

Dean set his cup down and walked out of the kitchen, shedding clothes as he went.  Seamus drained his own tea and hopped down from the counter.  Dean was right; this night was about Dean's triumph and not Seamus's confusion.  Besides, triumphant Dean meant great sex.  Plenty of time for arguing later.

26 December 2001: Chip Head Island, Maine

Harry stood at his kitchen table, picking clean the turkey carcass they'd dined on the day before.  Christmas had actually been not that bad, particularly for the first one since he'd left rehab at the McCormack Centre.  Just he and Hermione and Sirius and Remus, which wasn't so different from before all the battles started.  Only, so much had happened since that sixth year Christmas it was hard to believe it had only been five years, that he was only twenty-one and already having to rebuild his life.  Tom and Margaret Hughes, the young couple who worked as caretakers and gardeners for the cottage when it was unoccupied, had invited Harry and his guests to their home for a potluck brunch with some of the other neighbors, a very American affair of pancakes and waffles and sausages and streaky bacon and gallons of maple syrup and a basin of scrambled eggs and french toast and smoked salmon and bagels someone had brought up from New York and any number of sliced vegetables and salads and fruits and good lord.  Harry brought some beans he'd baked himself, having noticed the dish was very popular among the locals, though apparently not for breakfast. The potluck was nothing like the Boxing Day Buffet at The Burrow, but it did have almost as much food.

The neighbors made quite a fuss over Sirius, more than they'd ever made over Harry, for which he was grateful.  Apparently there hadn't been any Blacks at the cottage in some time, since Sirius and his cousins and brother had spent a summer when they were children, before Bellatrix started at Hogwarts.  The old folks in particular delighted in comparing Sirius to the little boy they'd last seen, and Remus was amused by the stories.  One youngish neighbor, on her holiday from school at Salem, had slipped Harry the autobiography of an American actress who'd been in rehab at thirteen; Hermione had spotted it and raised her eyebrows but said only, "You know her, Harry; that's the girl from ET."

Now Remus and Hermione were in her office-library, talking about her dissertation and the general state of Ministry relations with other countries, since the war was a good three years behind them.  She had a position waiting for her in International Magical Cooperation whenever she wanted it as far as Remus was concerned, and given that they would need her meager contacts in Africa as it was, Harry was sure she could make a big impact there.  But Hermione didn't seem quite ready to take on a diplomatic career.

Padfoot came in through the dog door; he'd been out for a run around the island.  Harry leaned over to look through the kitchen door into the mudroom and said, "You shake that snow off right there, or you'll answer to Hermione."

The dog cocked his head, but did as he was told, and even wiped his feet on the mat before coming into the kitchen and sitting near Harry, looking up at him with friendly grey eyes.

Harry shook his head.  "No people food for dogs," he said, and returned to the turkey.  The dog stood and walked forlornly back into the mudroom.

"Aww Harry," said Sirius.  "You're no fun."

"Of course I am," Harry said, "but it's clean fun now."

Sirius came back into the kitchen, boots and coat shed, looking a little sheepish.  "I'm sorry—"

"No," Harry replied, holding up a turkey grease-covered hand.  "Have to joke about it, right?  Otherwise it's like one of those melodramas Molly Weasley's always reading."  He paused, then added, "And Fred, actually.  Sobs like a baby over them."

"Really?  Doesn't seem the type."  Sirius grabbed a drumstick and sat down backwards on one of the chairs at the kitchen table.  "Why aren't you doing that with magic?"

"Haven't found a spell that works as well as my hands.  But here, you can dry this," he said, freeing the wishbone and handing it to Sirius.

"What are you making?" Sirius asked.

"One of the neighbors gave me a recipe that seems easy enough: pile salsa and shredded cheese and broken up tortilla chips and the turkey in a dish and bake it.  I've found that most American food contains a melted cheese element."

"You really do all the cooking then?"

"Hermione's a disaster in the kitchen.  We wouldn't eat if I didn't cook."

"So you're a sort of house husband and all-around assistant?"

"No, she cleans and—I mean, no, in what way am I a house husband?  We're not married."


"And God knows she spent seven years helping me."

"True again."

"Well, then what are you implying?" Harry asked.

Sirius smirked.  "I wasn't implying anything," he said.  "Why, what did you think I was implying?"

Harry sighed.  "Nothing," he said, and tossed the picked-clean carcass into a pot, then turned to the sink to wash his hands.  "Nevermind."

Sirius hopped up and looked through the kitchen doorway before closing the door to the rest of the house.  "Harry.  Harry, turn around."

"What?" he said, leaning back against the sink.

"You're still—"

"I don't want to talk about it," he said quickly.

"But how—how is it living here?"

"It isn't about me," Harry replied.  "And they don't recommend getting into a relationship anyway."

"So you've talked to them about that?  That's good, right?"

"Yeah.  Yeah, now that you mention it, yeah, that is good."

Sirius had dried the wishbone, and was now idly flipping it over his fingers.  "So, how is that going?" he asked casually, not looking up.

"Oh, fine," Harry said.  "They say I'm making progress.  I can't feel it, but apparently that's typical.  I've been riding a broomstick a little bit more each day, just in the quad at Salem."

"Oh?  And that is?"

"Good," Harry said.  "Strange.  Bit emotional."  He paused, kicking his slipper-clad foot against the kitchen table leg.  "Funny, I never used to cry.  Now I cry all the damn time."  He shrugged.

"God, Harry," Sirius said, standing up, "I'm so sorry—"

"You have to STOP saying that!" Harry said.  "You have nothing to be sorry for so stop apologizing.  If anyone should be sorry, it's me.  I pushed you away."

Sirius walked to the other side of the table, where Harry was.  "I didn't help you—"

"You couldn't have helped me.  Don't you see?  I had to do it myself."

"You've had to do a lot by yourself.  Too much."

"Yeah, I have," Harry said.  "Maybe that's just how my life has gone, I don't know, but I can change that now.  So, help me with that."

Sirius leaned against the counter, next to Harry, and they stood in silence.  After some time Sirius said, "So, Hermione?"

"Not.  One.  Word."

"Turned out pretty well last time, when I helped," he said, crossing his arms.

Harry rolled his eyes.  "If I need your help, I promise I'll ask for it.  All right?"

"All right," Sirius agreed.

There were voices in the hall, and then Hermione pushed the door open, Remus just behind her.  "I didn't realize you were back, Sirius," she said.  "Are we interrupting?"

"Of course not," Sirius said.  "In fact, I'd say it's time for pie."

"You always think it's time for pie," Remus said.

"Did it ever occur to you, Remus Lupin, that perhaps it is always time for pie?"

"No," he replied, and put the kettle on.

31 December 2001: Cambridge

Padma Patil truly didn't know how her mother did it, year after year after year.  The New Year's Gala at Patil House was almost as big a party as her wedding was going to be, and she was exhausted; throwing it every year was a no-go.  She hoped one of the cousins would pick it up once her mother gave it up, because if not Parvati would corner her into "helping" and that was simply not going to happen.

The ballroom was gorgeous as usual, subtle and tasteful in amber and gold.  One of the twists of the Patil's gala was the requirement for Muggle formal dress, which was uniform enough that even the most Muggle-avoidant of wizards was able to rise to the occasion, and the ballroom was full of black jackets and silk gowns.  Ron was handsome in his tuxedo, and Padma, who was wearing a blue sari, was glad that they'd decided to dress at their own flat instead of at Patil House, even if they did end up crashing in her old room after the party.  They were standing in a hidden corner that Padma had discovered some years ago, a spot perfect for watching almost the entire ballroom while one remained unnoticed behind some decorations.  "Where's your sister?" he asked.

"She likes to make an entrance.  But there's your sister."  She nodded toward the other side of the room, where Ginny, in spaghetti-strapped teal silk, stood sipping a cocktail.  A young man approached her.

"Ooh, she's been cornered."

"I think that's some cousin of Queenie Greengrass who wants to be a writer."

"Good lord, he's giving her his card," Ron said, making a face.  "Isn't he still at school?  Where did he get cards?"

Padma shrugged.  "There were always blokes who had them made up.  Oh look, she's so gracious; he's even smiling as he walks away."

"She was always good at handling people.  Dunno why she gets so nervous about these things."

"What things?"

"Oh you know, these posh sort of gatherings.  She keeps thinking she's a poor relation."  He rolled his eyes.

Padma thought of pointing out Ron's own occasional moments of shame over his background, but decided against it, as it hadn't come up in ages, even with the lavish wedding her parents were insisting on.  Instead she said, "Why Ron, that's very insightful."

"Well," Ron said, smiling a little bashfully, "you have to be observant, to be an Auror.  Anyway, Ginny's just being silly, really.  Look at her!  She's smooth as anything, and the second-prettiest girl in the room."

"Who's the prettiest?"

"Parvati.  You know, being a model and all."

"She's not in the room."

"No?  Well, you'll do in the meantime."

"I'd better.  Well, there's Draco."

"Lord I hope there's not an argument this year."

"Listen to you!  Who would have thought, five years ago, that you'd ever say something in support of your sister being with Draco Malfoy?"

"He's less of a handful when she's around," Ron replied.

Padma shook her head.  "Well, something tells me there won't be one."

"Something like my sister, you mean?  Honestly, you girls and your gossiping."

"No one is worse for gossip than you lads, particularly when Harry Potter is about.  But, yes, it was she."

"Do you girls talk about me, too?  No, don't answer that; I don't want to know."

"Oh Ron, of course we do."

"Is that Parkinson?  Really, doesn't that girl own a dress?  Your sister isn't like that, and she's a lesbian."

Padma answered only with a glance.  "I think that tux is custom made, actually."  She cocked her head.  "They do make an … unexpected threesome.  Not entirely awkward, but odd."

"I think Ginny's trying," Ron said loyally.

"Of course she is," Padma replied.  "But let's go help her."

Ron groaned.  "You mean we have to talk to other people?  Can't I just stay here and talk to you?"

"Do you really want Mother to come looking for us?"

Ron swallowed hard, then squared his shoulders.  "Right, let's go talk to Parkinson."

"I thought so," Padma said.

On their way, Ron grabbed two champagne cocktails from one of the passed trays and handed one to Padma while downing the other in one swallow, exchanging it on the next tray for another full glass.  He looked down at Padma, who was shaking her head.  "What?" he asked.


"They're tiny!"

"I didn't say anything!"  Reaching the others, she held out her arms to Ginny.  "Happy New Year, Ginny!  What a gorgeous dress!"

"Oh, Draco bought it for me as a Christmas present."  She smiled and put a hand on his shoulder.

Padma and Ron exchanged a look—Draco buying Ginny a dress had been at the heart of their fight last year after all—but said nothing.  Even so, Draco noticed.

"Well," Draco said, "Pansy selected it, actually.  She's a very good shopper."

"Er, thanks?" Pansy replied.

"I meant, you have good taste."

"You are very stylish," Padma added.

Pansy smiled, a tiny almost girlish smile that looked out of place with her severe wardrobe and haircut.  "I want everything around me to be as beautiful as possible."

"Speaking of which," Ginny said, and they all followed her glance to the entrance to the ballroom.

Parvati had just arrived, and was making her way down the staircase to the main floor.  She was wearing sari fabric in deep violet, but the fabric had been folded into a different shape, one that emphasized her long, lean body.  It reminded Padma of some of the more fashion-forward evening gowns Parvati had shown her while they were shopping for the bridesmaids' dresses, yet the dress retained the spirit of a sari.

Padma looked at Pansy out of the corner of her eye, and she was sure the effect was not lost on her.  Pansy was clearly struggling to keep her face neutral, but Padma could see the admiration for her sister.  The two of them had been circling each other for ages, and even though Padma was sure that a relationship between the two would be a disaster, it couldn't be worse than the other affairs Parvati had had, and at least they'd have got it out of their system so the rest of them could go on with their lives already.

"Hello darling," Parvati said, kissing Padma on the cheek.  "Am I late?  I lost track of time!"

"Save the innocent act for someone who doesn't know you, Parvati," Padma said.

"That obvious, am I?  Hello, brother," she said, hugging Ron, then greeting Ginny and Draco.  She turned to Pansy.  "Hullo Pansy.  I must say, that tuxedo suits you."

"Thank you," Pansy said, inclining her head slightly.  "Who made that gown for you?  It's stunning."

"Oh, well, thank you," Parvati said, standing a bit taller.  "I made it myself."

"You did?" she asked, surprised.

"Yes, I make most of my clothes, actually," Parvati said.  "Sewing is easy to pack and keeps me occupied when I'm in hotel rooms.  All I need is fabric and a wand."

"So that dress you wore, when we had lunch at Mooncalf?"

"Mine, yes," she replied, nodding.

"May I" Pansy asked, touching the fabric of her gown. 

"Of course," Parvati said.  "I'm a model, I'm used to it."  She made a face of confusion over Pansy's shoulder to Ginny, who just shrugged.  Pansy turned her around, lifting the hem of the garment as she did, and when Parvati was facing her friends again … they were gone.  Her sister and future brother-in-law were nowhere to be seen, but Draco and Ginny were walking toward the veranda.  "Oh."

"What?" Pansy said, looking up.  "Oh.  Well, I guess we were being rather boring."  They stood silently for a moment, awkwardly, and then Pansy said, "Care for a drink?"

"Why not?" Parvati replied, and they walked over to the bar.  "That's quite a nice suit," she said as she slipped up onto one of the bar stools, bringing her head down closer to Pansy's.  "Who makes them for you?"

Pansy turned from where she'd been ordering cocktails from the bartender.  "Oh, various tailors.  Why, are you making suits as well?"

"I've never tried making anything so tailored," Parvati said.  "So much construction in a blazer.  Menswear is so complicated.  Not—I don't mean to say you're wearing menswear."

"Oh, I am," Pansy replied.  "But challenges are important, don't you think?"

Parvati sat back.  "Are you asking me to make you a suit?"

"Don't you think you could?"

"If you're willing to be my experiment, perhaps, but something tells me you're a very exacting client."

"I try to be," Pansy said, sipping from her drink. 

"We'd have to schedule a lot of fittings," Parvati said.

Pansy smiled.  "Why would that be a problem?"

Parvati felt herself flush just a bit, and looked away.  "It would take some time, what with travel and all."

"I'm sure it would be worth it," Pansy said.

"Well, I can work up a sketch—"

"No," Pansy interrupted.  "I leave that up to you."

Parvati turned back to Pansy.  "Are you sure?  What about fabric?"

"I want to see what you can do, when left to your own devices.  You see me often enough to know how I dress.  Maybe I need something new."

Parvati drank, thinking, then put down her glass and held out her hand.  "All right.  I'll do it."

Pansy shook hands.  "Brilliant.  I look forward to what you come up to."

Parvati felt suddenly brave.  "Would you care to dance?"

"Why not?" Pansy asked, and led her out onto the floor.

Even though the Patils had put a heating charm on the balcony, it was mostly deserted.  Perhaps, Draco thought, it was a little too early in the party for couples to seek fresh air and sanctuary.  But then he and Ginny had never been much like other couples.
She leaned against the rail, looking out over the back garden, and the light breeze stirred her red-gold curls.  He let himself stare.
"What?" she asked.
"You're very beautiful," he said.
"Ah," she replied.  "You haven't said that in a while."
He shrugged.  "It isn't a compliment you're fond of."
"And you say it now because?"
"It seemed appropriate."
She smiled and nodded, still not looking at him, and they fell silent again.  Draco fidgeted, and after a bit said, "Ginny, I—"
"Five years ago when I came to this party the first time," Ginny said, as though Draco hadn't spoken, "I was scared to death.  I'd been to two balls, both at school, and that was it.  I'd never been to a house as large as this one, never mind Malfoy Manor."
She silenced him with a look and went on.  "But Ron was here, and Padma and Parvati, and Mrs. Patil put me at ease, and I could just concentrate on you."
"Me?" he asked.
She turned then.  "You mean you don't remember?  Every other person giving their condolences at the loss of your mother—and I think many of them were just trying to find out more lurid details.  You'd smile and nod and say all the appropriate things and when your grip on my hand got too tight we'd come out here and you'd smoke a cigarette and calm down, and then we'd go back in again."
"So much of that year is a blur," Draco said, running a hand through his hair.  "I was all over the place.  Which hasn't really changed much, actually."
Ginny smiled, a little sadly.  "The thing is, I don't really belong in all this.  Oh, I can play at it for an evening, but not for a lifetime.  So I've been thinking about it, about the Manor, and you, and I think I could do it, but only in my own way."

"Of course."
"I'm still Molly's daughter.  I mend clothing rather than discarding it.  I put vegetables in my garden, not just flowers.  I bake pies."
"I love your pies."
"If we do this, people might talk."
"People will talk anyway no matter what we do."
"It won't be much like your childhood."
He shrugged.  "I don't know many men who want to marry their mothers.  And I certainly don't want to become Lucius."
She cocked her head.  "You'll remember that the next time we argue over this?"
"If I don't," he said, "I'm sure you'll remind me."
"Oi!" said a voice from the doorway, and they turned to see Ron walking toward them, a champagne flute in each hand.  "Less than a minute to go."  He handed the glasses to Ginny and Draco, then took his own from Padma, who was just behind him.  "Quite a year," he added.
Draco nodded.  "Next year will be better," he said firmly.
"It already will be," Padma said.  "Harry, and your work, and the wedding ..."
"And we're not starting the year with an argument," Ginny added.
"Here you are," Parvati said, walking over to them with Pansy.  She looked around.  "Why isn't anyone else out here?  Awful crush in there."
"People are sheep," Pansy replied.  The crowd started to countdown.  "See?"
Draco shook his head at her, smiling, and held up his glass.  "Happy New Year, everyone."