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The Trick Is to Keep Breathing

Chapter Text

2 February 2002: Sydney, Australia

Pansy stood in the bathroom regarding her naked body in the mirror and thanked those responsible for sunscreen charms.  She adored the sun, loved the beach, but it wasn't part of her personal style to be tan—she'd have to rethink her entire makeup palette.  Besides, she didn't actually tan but freckled and that she could not have.  As a girl she'd been a frequent user of Frecks-B-Gone, which worked very well though it left a distinctly lemony smell which she then covered with lemon verbena perfume, claiming she liked the old fashioned scent.  Judicious use of sunblock charms made the potion unnecessary now, but she still favored citrus-based colognes.  Draco didn't believe in returning from beach holidays looking like a bronze statue any more than Pansy did, and their very English paleness had stood out on a beach full of suntanned, blond Aussies.

Before their beach afternoon, they had toured the art galleries in Sydney.  Hermione had had a hunch that the object might be hidden among the aboriginal art so popular of late, and their invitation to an opening at a gallery that evening confirmed it.  The transfer was almost certain to happen then, followed by the usual speedy exit back to London.  But at the moment her mind wasn't on the case.
Pansy and Draco had had an unexpected run in with Parvati Patil on the beach that afternoon.  Well, not exactly unexpected.  Parvati had been turning up so consistently wherever Pansy and Draco went on their missions that if she didn't know better Pansy would worry that Parvati was keeping an eye on them.  But she did know better—Parvati had turned Pansy in, after all, during that Euro Cup mess.  Still, as soon as Parvati had appeared on the beach she realized that she'd been half looking for the woman since they'd arrived in Sydney.

Pansy had seen Parvati in a bikini before, of course, but real life and the air brushed perfection of a magazine were two very different things.  Her skin glowed in the warm sunlight and the pigment was slightly uneven—lighter on her stomach and darkest just between her upper thighs.  A few scars stood out here and there on her arms and Pansy wondered if they were childhood incidents or something more recent.  She'd worn a simple two-piece suit in terra cotta—skimpy, to be sure, but a suit she could swim in.  Pansy had suddenly felt self-conscious in her own simple black two-piece, though there was no reason to be.  The nerves had made her irritable and she'd been bitchier than was strictly necessary, but for all that Parvati had only seemed amused.

Pansy scowled into the mirror.  She'd always set high standards for the people around her, and she was unapologetic about this.  They should be beautiful, or interesting, or amusing; preferably all three.  Intelligence and accomplishment were also benefits, so long as one didn't make a fetish of them.  Working hard was one thing, but to talk of nothing but one's work, quite another.  She herself was not beautiful, but showed every sign of growing into dignified handsomeness come middle age.  Besides, she was stylish, which made up for a great deal.

Parvati, though, had become all of this and more at some point when Pansy hadn't been paying attention.  She'd been quite an emotional little thing as a girl, heart right out on her sleeve, which made Pansy want to knock her about just on principle.  And such a do-gooder, which clearly hadn't changed.  Gryffindors were so very tedious.  Yet when Pansy was particularly catty Parvati just smiled, and she seemed to be thriving in the notoriously shallow and bitchy fashion world.

Pansy spritzed herself with perfume and began to dress.  She was fairly sure that she'd never thought about a girl as often or for as long as she did Parvati.  Girls were fairly interchangeable in Pansy's experience; she grew bored with most people after so much concentrated contact, and sex only made it worse.  Not that she'd really been sleeping with women, or anyone else, for all that long.  But all the people she knew in her parents' generation had found their spouse by the age of sixteen, and her own school chums were following suit.  It was the wizarding way.

Pansy checked the mirror a last time—linen trousers, cotton dress shirt, both in soft cream, a red silk necktie as a belt to give some color, simple brown leather sandals.  She walked into the sitting room, where Draco was sitting in a chair reading a book.

"Done primping?" he asked.

"Primping?  What is this, 1930?"

There was a soft knock at the door, and Pansy answered.  A pretty blonde in a bell hop uniform stood in the hall, holding a small silver charger with an envelope.  "Ms. Parkinson?" she asked.

"I am she."

The girl moved the plate closer and Pansy took the note, then reached into her pocket to tip the girl.  She gave her the tiniest of leers as she thanked her, and the girl blushed prettily and stammered out her own thanks before walking away. 

"I don't know how you do that," Draco said as she closed the door.  He was standing now, and had apparently watched the encounter. 

"Do what?" Pansy asked, opening the envelope.

"Attract every lesbian in the general vicinity."

She shrugged, glancing at the note.  "At least we're on the right track.  'We suggest you bid on item fourteen.'"  She handed the note to Draco.
"Well, you were right about that shield we saw yesterday," he said.  "Very clever, switching the real thing for the copy up for auction.  It'll probably be a few weeks before anyone notices."
Pansy nodded.  "Plenty of time for Lupin and I to smooth things over."  She reached for her bag.
"I just want to note, regarding Ms. Patil," Draco said, opening the door for her, "that I never made you watch me flirt with Ginny."
She turned and glared.  "What, on the beach?  That wasn't flirting."
"If that's the way you want it."
"Come on," Pansy said, rolling her eyes at him.  "Time to earn our keep."

14 February 2002: Chip Head Island, Maine

Now that he was finally no longer in school or training, Seamus appreciated his holidays that much more. He hadn't realized how much he'd missed Hermione until he saw her face at the Portkey area in Salem. Harry too, but while Harry was a strange absence from London, Seamus hadn't shared a house with him these past three years. Not that Dean wasn't an excellent housemate, but lately he'd missed Hermione even more because of Dean and the strange way they'd been settling—or not—into this living together thing.

He'd been giving it a lot of thought on this holiday, the first one he and Dean had had together that wasn't merely traveling to see one another. Harry and Hermione weren't on holiday, of course, so while they slaved away in libraries, Seamus and Dean had gone down to New York for two days to tour museums and shop, and were even able to watch Parvati walk the runway in one of the smaller New York fashion shows. The four of them were all going back down at the weekend to a club that Dean knew about. One thing Seamus could say for being a wizard, your day trip travel radius was much further.

The morning was full of presents, including flowers for Hermione and chocolate for Harry. In the afternoon they'd gone into Portland to skate on a pond in the middle of town. February was very much still winter here, snowy and cold, but even though the ocean was so dark it was almost purple the little island reminded Seamus of Greece, and he reckoned that seaside places were more alike than different, really.

Harry and Dean were in the kitchen making dinner, Hermione and Seamus having been exiled supposedly due to their lack of ability (Hermione) or occasional bossiness (both) but Seamus suspected it was just to let he and Hermione have a nice long chat. So they sat before the fire, talking over mulled wine and warm spiced nuts.

"All right, Finnigan," Hermione said. "Spill."

"What?" Seamus asked.

Hermione cocked her head and waited.

"Fine," Seamus replied. "So it's great, of course. Fantastic. Loads of sex, that's brilliant, and being in London with everyone else and going out. We both work a lot, but I think we've found a good balance. It's great."


Seamus fidgeted and turned in his chair, pulling his leg off the arm and facing the fire, rather than Hermione. "I can't work it out, quite. It's not that he's really different than he was—more confident, maybe. But still, you know, shy and reticent most of the time—"

"So this is with other people, not you alone?"

"Yes, yes, he—well, around his art school friends, he's a bit bitchy."

"Seamus, Dean's always been a bit bitchy."

"Well, not in public!"

Hermione smiled her little smile of understanding, and Seamus fidgeted more, feeling suddenly self-conscious, transparent to her but still opaque to himself. "What?" he asked.

"When we were in Greece, and your friends from training would come over, you'd all sit out on the porch and talk about this potion or that technique. You were so serious—"

"You'd seen me like that before," Seamus objected.

"Yes, but only around me, or Dean, or the like. Get you boys together, even after the war, and you were your usual raucous self."

"And your point?" he asked, nervously pulling at the fringe trimming his chair.

"My point is, perhaps Dean also found a few more people to be himself around."

Seamus shook his head. "Dean is always himself. That's the brilliant thing about him."

Hermione shrugged. "I could be wrong."

Seamus looked up at her, raising an eyebrow. "Miss Granger, surely you're not admitting a flaw in your powers of perception."

"Shut it!" Hermione replied, smacking him in the shoulder.

"Ow!" he said, rubbing where she'd hit him, though he couldn't help snickering.

"All right, new topic."

"Work, that's safe enough. How's the paper going?"

"Actually quite well," she replied. "Back in the fall, I thought it wasn't going to work, and I talked it out with Harry one day and he helped me flip the entire thing on its end, and now all the pieces are coming together quite nicely. My advisor has been pleased with the chapter drafts, and the research is nearly done, so it's mostly just writing from here forward."

"Harry is actually helping? Because when we were in school …"

"I know, I'm surprised too. But he's really—I don't know, he's taking it so seriously. I think he's really trying to get it together."

"Oh? How is it, really?"

Hermione took a swallow of wine. "I know it hasn't been a year yet, but he's so different than he was in June, even than he was at the Euro Cup. There are good days and bad days, of course. Sometimes he's very angry, and he'll go for a run or mess about in the shed or the kitchen. Or he'll get morose and sit staring at the sea. And then there are those days he seems like himself, but I dunno, lighter, somehow? Anyway, there are more good days and fewer bad ones all the time. So."

"So that's good."

Hermione nodded. "It is."

Seamus cocked his head. "So why don't you sound very sure of that?"

"I don't know what you mean," she said primly.


She sighed. "It's just—when he was more ill, it was easier to, well, stay aware that he's ill, you know."

"No, I don't know."

Hermione looked at the closed kitchen door, then leaned in closer. "The last thing he needs right now is an entanglement."

He snickered. "You sound like Jane Austen."

"Seamus, I'm serious."

"So am I! He's a grown man; he knows what he wants. And may I point out, your thinking you knew better than him what he should be doing is half of what broke you two up in the first place."

"You may not."

"I'm just saying—if he's done quite enough self-sacrifice for the sake of, well, the world, I'd say you've done quite enough for his sake."

Hermione was quiet, staring into the fire. "Do you think he still—"

"Oh, Harry never stopped being in love with you," Seamus said. "Everyone knows that."

The kitchen door opened then. "Dinner's ready," Dean announced.

"Great!" Seamus replied, scrambling out of his chair without giving Hermione another look. He helped Dean carry out the food—platters with a small lamb roast, asparagus and new potatoes with herbs.

Harry came along behind them with a tray of soup bowls. He was wearing an old Quidditch training t-shirt, red and white for England, and he'd put back some of the muscle tone he'd lost while at the McCormick Centre. He flashed Hermione a nervous grin.

"Do you like it, Hermione?" he asked, indicating the prettily set table.

She smiled. "Yes," she said. "Very much. Happy Valentine's Day."


It was more than six weeks after Parvati's offer to make Pansy a suit before their schedules could accommodate any proper measurements being taken. Parvati had already picked out fabrics and poured through piles of patterns and look books before finally poking through an archive of fashion magazines at the British Library. There always had been something about Pansy that didn't seem quite twenty-first century, and she found her inspiration in the menswear looks of the 1930s.

There was never supposed to be time for anything during any fashion week, but Parvati had always found that leaving the parties before everyone got too awfully drunk and going home to bed left one ample time for oneself in the morning, and the others rarely remembered that one had actually left. So she'd asked Pansy to come round the flat in the late afternoon, on a day when she'd only had a morning show.

Pansy was an old hand at being measured, as would be expected of a girl of her social standing. Odd that her fleeing the country during the war hadn't diminished that standing, but then, she hadn't fought on the opposite side, either, so that was something. What, Parvati wasn't sure. She focused on being a professional, reminding herself that she'd already seen Pansy in a bikini. Measuring her in her bra and panties shouldn't have been more distracting, but then again she was touching her a bit more, and the inseam measurement for the trousers made her glad she didn't have a pale English complexion, because she was sure she was blushing.

"I've bought the fabric, if you want to see it," she said, as she rolled up her measuring tape.

Pansy, who was dressing, paused for just a moment before saying, "No, I'd rather be surprised."

Parvati nodded. She wasn't sure what to do now, but Pansy was here, and Parvati was sick of pushing her feelings for the girl to the side, even if Pansy was probably some kind of neo-Death Eater who would take advantage of Harry's absence from the country to begin a new reign of terror.

Okay, Parvati didn't actually think that, but it was a possibility.

More importantly, Seamus and Dean were still in America, and Parvati was lonely; the series of fashion weeks in February—New York, London, Milan, Paris—was grueling and she was only halfway through the marathon. She deserved a treat.

"So I don't know if you had plans," she said, "but I was going to get some curry takeaway and watch the fashion shows on the Muggle telly."

"No Valentine? No parties?" Pansy asked.

"Skipping one night of parties isn't going to ruin my reputation, I'm sure," Parvati said. "Might make it seem that I have a very glamorous life in London, thank you very much, and have better things to do than go to another fashion mag gala where men I'm not interested in buy me drinks and the other girls are snorting cocaine in the ladies' loo."

"Parvati! There are drugs at those parties?" she asked, and they both laughed.

"So?" Parvati asked. "I know, it's a very attractive offer."

"Actually," Pansy said, "I don't mind if I do."

Dean helped clear the table, but Harry and Hermione insisted on doing the washing up, so he decided to find where Seamus had wandered off to after dinner. Dean poked around the first floor, then looked out the window and saw him sitting outside. He couldn't think of why Seamus might have the sulks, but he didn't want their hosts to have to deal with it, so he grabbed his coat and headed outside.

"Chilly," Dean said, sitting down on the stone bench next to him.

Seamus nodded, still staring out at the sea, his hair blowing in the stiff breeze. "I'm sorry," he said suddenly.

"Okay," Dean replied. "For what?"

"I dunno, for thinking you'd never change, I guess." Seamus turned to him then. "That was our thing, right? I'm a hundred different people and you're always yourself?"

"We've all changed, Shay. You know, after the whole running for your life bit, sometimes you think you might want to live that life a little differently."

Seamus winced. "I shouldn't have left," he said, looking away.

"Hey," Dean said, putting a hand on Seamus's shoulder. He waited for Seamus to turn back to him, then continued, "You didn't leave me. And a lot of people left England. Hermione. Ginny finished school in India. Even I left, really, going to a Muggle art school. Never mind all the people who are just gone."

Seamus nodded and they were silent for a bit, watching the ocean crash against the rocks and thinking of Neville, Lavender and the others.

"I wonder how Ernie and Susan are doing in Australia," Seamus said.

"They're Hufflepuffs," Dean said. "Hufflepuffs endure. It's us Gryffindors who flame out."

"Harry seems better though," Seamus said.

Dean nodded. "Toward the end, I dunno, it was like it wasn't him at all. I'm glad you weren't there to see that."

"I'm glad Hermione wasn't."

"Yeah." Dean turned to look through the picture window, and saw Harry and Hermione sitting on the couch talking. "He looks a lot better, Harry does."

"Did he say anything to you tonight, while you were making dinner?"

"About what?"

Seamus bumped Dean's shoulder. "You know."

Dean scowled. "If you and Sirius are planning anything—"

"No, no," Seamus said. "They're on their own. Though I don't think they'll need any help, actually."

"No," Dean said, smiling a little. "So, we're all right, yeah?"

"Yeah," Seamus said. "I dunno what I was bitching about, come to think. It's all the good parts of a new boyfriend and the steady one!"

"Whatever you say, Seamus," Dean said, rolling his eyes.

Seamus sniffled. "And now we should go inside. I know how seeing me in the cold gets you all excited."

Dean couldn't help but smile a little to see Seamus back to himself. "You're a menace."

"Yeah," Seamus said, "but I'm your menace."

"Lucky me," Dean replied.

Parvati had known, somewhat, that Pansy had changed a great deal since they had been at school together. Not just the sexuality, but she was a little softer. An odd conclusion, but Pansy had been tough as nails at school. Of course, it was entirely possible that it was Parvati that had become harder, through a war that Pansy didn't participate in. Maybe they were meeting in the middle somewhere. Parvati had been out with Pansy—well, not with her, but in her company—but never had she heard her laugh so much or seen her so relaxed as she had been tonight. Come to think of it, every time she'd run into Pansy in those foreign locales she'd seemed a little nervous, as though she were waiting for something to happen. But now she was just sitting on the sofa eating out of a foil tray and commenting bitchily on the Hamish Morrow show from earlier that day.

"Things I do not want: to be wrapped up like a mummy in turquoise and chartreuse knits." she said.

"Oh?" Parvati asked. "You wouldn't wear that fluffy purple turtleneck that covers your ears?"

"My ears are quite a good feature," Pansy proclaimed. "Wouldn't do to cover them up. I don't have as much to work with as you."

Parvati didn't know what to say to that; Pansy wasn't pretty, to be truthful, but she was compelling, and after four years as a model Parvati wasn't sure being beautiful was actually all that positive an experience. She cleared her throat. "They are nice ears," she said. "I can see why you keep your hair short."

Pansy smiled, pleased. "Thank you," she said. "Ah, Roland Mouret is starting."

Parvati looked at the show without paying full attention; she'd already seen it, in a way. She found herself holding her breath.

"These are very pretty, actually," Pansy said. "Nice trousers."

"Yes," Parvati replied.

"And—oh, there you are," she said, and sounded only a little surprised.

And there Parvati was, in a purple minidress, stockings and shoes.

"You have quite a good walk, Patil," Pansy said.

"Thanks," Parvati said, pleased that Pansy complimented her on one of the few things she actually had some control over.

"It's a good color for you," she continued.

"I was planning on making myself a spring dress in that color, actually," she said. "Next project."

Pansy turned and looked at her. "I look forward to seeing you in it." Parvati noticed that her eyes were very dark, and that she was closer than she had been before.

"There's, um, there's kofti in the kitchen," Parvati said, softly.

"That's nice," Pansy said. "I like milky sweets."

"Me too," Parvati said, only she wasn't sure, suddenly, what they were actually talking about. But it didn't matter, because they were kissing.

Finally, after all that, they were kissing—no, make that snogging—on her couch, and Pansy was pushing her back onto the cushions and crawling on top of her. Lying down, their difference in height didn't seem like much and while Pansy's hands were clutching her head, fingers buried in Parvati's hair and palms caressing her cheeks, Parvati's hands had wandered down to rest on Pansy's lower back. Her breasts were soft against Parvati, like a wonderful secret thing hidden from view but still there to be felt and caressed and perhaps even kissed.

They were still fully clothed—Pansy was wearing wool trousers and a lightweight jumper, Parvati a long full dress with slits up to mid-thigh. Parvati's skirt bunched where it couldn't simply fall open, pushed aside by Pansy's legs and arms. Their legs were jumbled, such that each had a knee between her thighs, and everything was a blur, though how could a blur be slow, really? But it was, a languorous slide, Pansy pressing down and Parvati back up, Parvati's hands on Pansy's behind now that she was feeling a bit braver.

They were moaning, too, little oh's and yes's and the occasional grunt, hissing as air was sucked in between gritted teeth. It was absurd because she shouldn't be doing this with Pansy, for any number of reasons, but then it wasn't the first time she'd been in that position, either, and she was beginning to think that sex was always some kind of bad idea, and therefore, that was no reason not to do it.

They were close now, and Parvati could hear the catches in Pansy's breathing, feel her movements get faster and more erratic. Parvati slowed down just a step, wanting to focus on Pansy, hear her letting go. One thing about fucking super-composed girls like Pansy was that they tended to fall apart completely when they came, and Parvati loved that she could do that to someone, loved the feminine little sound they made. Pansy's voice was low-pitched and so was her last groan, an "ah" that resonated deep in her chest and radiated out to Parvati's. Parvati was still for a moment, savoring that sound.

But Pansy wasn't as sentimental. She slid her hand between Parvati's legs, under the skirt, and rubbed her fingers against the wet fabric she found there, her dark eyes staring into Parvati's. Parvati felt exposed and a little unsettled, but she was cresting, anyway, her orgasm washing over her as Pansy watched.

They kissed again, softly, and Parvati said, "I don't know whether to say that was unexpected, or inevitable."

Pansy smiled. "Both, I think," and kissed her again. "I probably should—"

"Sure, sure," Parvati said quickly, before she could finish the sentence. This part of the dance, she knew as well.

Pansy got up and smoothed her clothing and hair back into place, then slipped back into her boots and coat. "I look forward to seeing the suit," she said. Parvati was standing by then, to walk her to the door. "Thank you for dinner. It was nice."

"It was," Parvati said, and she wasn't sure, suddenly, if they were going to shake hands, but then Pansy turned back, and leaned against Parvati, pulling her in for another quick kiss.

Pansy pulled back, biting her lip. "See you soon, I'm sure," she said, and out the door she went.

Parvati closed the door behind her, and then slid down it and sat on the floor, leaning against it. She couldn't quite tell where she stood with Pansy, or even where she wanted to stand; if this was the start of something, or just clearing it out of the way. Well, in the meantime, there was still kofti in the kitchen.

19 February 2002

Draco really was a doll for coming to so many family gatherings at The Burrow. Ginny knew it was a bit overwhelming for him, surrounded by so much of her extended family, and really only expected him to come along on major holidays or events for her own immediate family. But here he was, even though it was her great aunt's birthday and Ginny herself barely knew her. A tent had been put up in the garden, complete with heating charm, to contain a four-generation celebration that was definitely too large for the house. Small bodies topped with flaming locks ran this way and that, adding to the general chaos that Weasleys created no matter their age.

As soon as they arrived Ginny got Draco some beer and a meat pie and settled him near Oliver and his children, figuring they could at least talk Quidditch while Ginny dutifully made the rounds. Oliver was only personally in charge of one of their twins boys at the moment, as the other was with Percy and their older two had joined the pack of cousins, so hopefully Draco wouldn't be too uncomfortable; he wasn't at ease with children the way Ginny was. There had been various small children in and out of her house all her life.

Ron was at the snack table when Ginny finally reached it, which meant Padma wasn't far away, and sure enough there she was with Draco near the edge of the crowd. Ginny rarely came to these extended family gatherings unless Ron was coming as well, because Padma and Draco made it a lot easier for each other.

Ron was loading up his plate with little pre-dinner bites, making Ginny feel a little less self-conscious about doing so as well, and when he saw her he nodded to their partners. "Well, they've found each other," he said. "Commiserating, no doubt."

"Is it really so painful?" she asked him.

"You have to admit," he said, "it's very loud."

"Funny," Ginny replied, "I never used to notice."

They made their way back to Draco and Padma, who were apparently talking about the other Weasley spouses and their children. Draco was saying to Padma, "Tell me you're not going to have children immediately after you get married."

She smiled. "I don't think so, no," she said, "but there isn't this line, you know, between the people who have children and the people who don't."

"That's what you say," Draco replied.

Annie Weasley, who was about five and was the only one of Percy and Oliver's four adopted children to have the Weasley ginger hair, ran up to them. "Hello, Aunt Padma," she said.

"Hello, Annie," Padma said, smiling. "I have a present for you."

"My song?" Annie's eyes widened. "It's done?" she asked.

"Yes, it's all finished," Padma replied.

Annie wriggled, grinning, and clapped her hands. "Will you sing it now?"

"Why don't you go ask your grandmother when would be a good time for music?" Padma said.

Annie nodded and ran back to the crowd. "Her song?" Draco asked.

"I said I'd write her a song for a birthday present, and she got to choose what it was about," Padma replied. "I did the same for her older brother. I've worked up about ten children's songs now, actually."

"And they're wonderful," Ginny said. "She played them for me the other day. I'm so glad you pursued this, Padma. Muggle children have loads of music and all we have are the same old songs our parents sang."

"How was writing for children?" Draco asked.

Padma shrugged. "For me, quite easy," she said. "Lots of puns and wordplay, not as much messy introspection. I dunno, I got tired of singing about my life and the lives of people around me. I found that I had a lot more to say about triangles than about my love life."

"Just as well," Ron said. "I got a bit paranoid for a while there, thinking all our fights would be sung about in a coffeehouse someplace!"

Padma laughed. "And what about you, Ginny?" she asked. "Speaking of pursuing things, have you decided?"

"Yes," she said. "I'm going to propose a travel section to Witch's Weekly. Now that we've mostly recovered from the war, I think people are ready to get out and see things again."

"And there's almost no wizarding travel books," Padma said. "It's all word of mouth."

"Yeah," Ginny said.  "I just have to put together a pitch. You know, some spec pieces, talk about how it would fit into the magazine."

"Sounds like a lot of work," Ron said.  "But it's good to have a new challenge."

"I know!  I'm excited, and now—well, soon Draco won't be the only one doing the traveling.  I've been so few places—really just India, and France and Spain but everyone goes there."

"I look forward to tagging along," Draco said. "More fringe benefits traveling with you than with Pansy."

Molly felt that some music would be just the thing to calm the children down a bit before dinner. Soon enough the ten or so cousins and second cousins of various ages were sitting on the grass in front of Padma, their parents standing at the back. Draco and Ginny and Ron stood off to the side. Ginny had seen Padma performing several times in various coffeehouses and little clubs around England, but she'd never seen her as relaxed as she was now. Most of the people at the gathering were strangers to her, and yet she was grinning and bouncing as she played her songs about playing with unicorns and getting the flu from the Floo. By the time she ended with "A Portkey Can Be Anything!" the kids were singing along with the chorus.

Oliver was the first to approach Padma when she was finished, hobbled slightly by a two-and-a-half year old toddler wrapped around his leg. Oliver had one hand at the boy's back, letting him ride along as his father walked.

Draco had apparently made friends with him earlier, as he immediately stooped down until he was at eye level with the solemn little boy.

"Hullo again," he said, lowering his voice, and the boy smiled back at him.

"That was fantastic, Padma!" Oliver said. "Annie is beside herself."

"Thank you!" Padma said. "She did give me a big hug for it."

"I was wondering, do you think you might be able to record it for her?" he asked.

Padma cocked her head. "I could. It's the same sort of charm as a Howler, after all, just refined. Funny, I've been making demo tapes for Muggles for so long I didn't even think about it. But of course, I'll send it to you within the week."

Oliver grinned. "Thanks so much!" he said, and went back over to help Percy wrangle their children to the buffet table.

"You know, Padma," Draco said, "you looked a great deal more comfortable just now than I've ever seen you."

"Oh, well," she said. "Kids are easy, I think."

Draco nodded. "And just like Ginny, you have an untapped market just waiting for your abilities, and I venture to guess that between all your future in-laws and their friends you'll reach most of the children in England. The wizards, that is."

"Well!" Ron said. "Something to think about, eh Padma? In the meantime, dinner!"

As they walked over to the buffet, Ginny said to Draco, "Looks like you made friends with my little nephew."

Draco shrugged. "I was just surprised to see a child without ginger hair," he said.

"Right," Ron said. "That must have been it."

"Or the general family atmosphere," he added. "What, you think I scowl at babies?"

Padma smiled at him. "Not lately," she said.