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The Trick Is to Keep Breathing

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27 June 2002: London

Ginny and Draco didn't go to Grimmauld Place that often, despite it belonging as much to his family as to Harry's, and despite Sirius and Remus very explicitly saying he should feel free to use it as his city home, since they usually stayed up at Remus's house in the countryside.

"Bad memories," Remus had said.

But Ginny had a flat, and Malfoy Manor wasn't that far away, so they only came to the occasional family gathering masterminded by Draco's Aunt Andromeda. And looking around at the house unadorned by Aunt An's homey, but thorough, decorating methods, Ginny could see what Remus had meant. Malfoy Manor had had its faults; it was cold and mostly for show, but to Draco it was full of things his mother loved, and therefore full of love itself. But Grimmauld Place was airless and oppressive—not the absence of love, but the active denial of it. She shuddered, and clung more tightly to Draco's hand.

Ginny was startled out of her thoughts by Harry popping out of the dining room.

"Ah, you're here," he said.

"You know," Draco said, "we really should clear out this house. You and me and Tonks."

"Me?" Harry asked.

Draco shrugged. "You know you're as connected to this place as any of us."

"Well," Harry said, pausing. "Sure, let's do that, sometime before school starts."

"So you accepted the position at Hogwarts," Ginny said, as they followed Harry into the dining room. She looked at the table, which was expanded and had many extra chairs around it. "How many are you expecting?"

"Oh, everyone," Harry said vaguely. "Mind your head."

Ginny turned and ducked just as several trays of food floated into the room.

Sirius walked in after them and reached for a sandwich.

Remus was just behind him. "Stop that!" he said. "A carrot stick if you must."

"People will be here shortly—"

"And they should see pretty platters, not something half-eaten by the dog."

"You spend too much time with Andromeda."

"I merely want to be a good host." The doorbell rang then, and Remus continued, "Would you?"

"Of course," Sirius said, palming a tea sandwich as he walked out.

And so they were reassembled, this time in very unofficial surroundings at the suggestion of Sirius, who felt the meeting would be seen as little more than a gathering of friends, particularly as nearly all of them were connected to Ron's upcoming wedding. Sirius stood at the head of the table, and Ginny could finally see the man that commanded so much loyalty and respect from Draco—the strategist who could usually see a few moves further than anyone else.

"Right," he said, standing in front of an erasable parchboard, a wide-nibbed Quick Quotes Quill hanging at the ready. "Parvati received the prophecy two nights ago. What have we learned about our secret adversary since then?"

Harry spoke up. "Hermione and I have matched the objects with the original prophecy, and we think the holidays are a red herring."

"The wizarding society parties occur in those cities on those holidays because of tradition," Hermione said. "Each of the cities is an ancient center of magic for that region, and the holiday is a prominent one for that particular tradition. How much you think the even distribution of them around the globe is planned rather than a coincidence depends on your belief in a unifying force—though the Sydney party, at least, was imposed and isn't particularly significant to the local tradition."

Ginny had to smile at hearing another of Hermione's soliloquies, stuffed full of information that badly needed sorting. Harry was smiling at her, and sure, as her researcher he understood—or he was in love with her, one of the two.

At least among Ron's strengths was a willingness to admit that he had no idea what someone else was talking about. "Which means what, exactly?" he asked.

"Which means that the secret adversary didn't have to get these magical objects on these holidays, other than the parties providing a good cover for the operatives," Hermione answered. "But since the original prophecy was discovered on Lammas—"

"Which we know because?" Sirius asked.

"Because Parvati felt it," Harry replied.

"So we're still on Hermione's theory?" Draco asked. "That the original prophecy was about world peace or something?"

"You can't actually use all the objects at the same time," Harry said. "Each one requires an entirely different way of doing magic."

"That doesn't surprise me," Pansy said.

"Why not?" Sirius asked.

"Well, they don't look as though they go together," she replied.

"They're not fashion accessories," Hermione said.

"No," Pansy replied, "but in the years I've been working with Remus on various kinds of international artifacts, I've found that ones that are meant to work together do actually share the same aesthetic. Perhaps it's because they're from the same region, and so the artisans had access to a limited set of raw materials. But these artifacts were made for wizards and witches in positions of power so to a certain extent yes, they should look as though they belong together if they're to work together. But these don't really go."

Hermione conceded. "That makes a great deal of sense, actually," she said.

"Thank you," said Pansy.

"But six different people could use them at once, surely," Padma said.

"With the proper training, I suppose," Hermione said.

Pansy shook her head "All of the witches and wizards involved have been Hogwarts-trained and none have spent significant time overseas. They were in and out, just for the operation."

"And if someone was offering training here," Ron said, 'we'd have at least heard rumors about it by now."

"Let's go back to the holidays," Sirius said. "Our secret adversary has moved on each of the solar holidays." The Quick Quotes Quill wrote each holiday and the object secured; next to Lammas it wrote, "prophecy." Sirius continued, "And according to the prophecy Odin's Draupnir was the final object."

"In my dream," Parvati said, "or my vision, I suppose I should say, I only saw the six objects we have, nothing new. And there was no sense that anything was missing."

Ginny turned to Pansy, who sat stony-faced, even for her, and also decidedly not looking at Parvati. She hadn't sat next to Parvati at the table, either; instead she was beside Draco. Pansy hadn't mentioned any sort of trouble with Parvati, at least not that Ginny had heard or Draco had hinted, but there seemed to be some. Ginny felt a bit disappointed for Pansy, who seemed to really care for Parvati. It was damn shitty timing as well, but she didn't think she'd mention that, what with having had a fight with her own boyfriend at his own party not so long ago.

Sirius was talking. "Now, if we go along with Hermione's theory that the holidays aren't significant, but merely coincidental, the fact remains that our secret adversary has made a move on each day, leaving only Midsummer." He poked at the parchboard.

Seamus cocked his head. "You just said the holidays weren't significant."

Draco, who up until then had been a bit slumped in his seat, suddenly pushed forward in his chair, a glimmer of hope in his eyes. "But the secret adversary doesn't know that," he said. "If they've thought the other days were important, then it only makes sense to try to unite the objects at Midsummer."

"And that gives us the when," Sirius said, which the Quick Quotes Quill dutifully wrote on the board in large letters. "And the why, I reckon, but the where is more difficult."

"Why, where is the Midsummer party?" Hermione asked.

"There isn't one," Pansy said. "It's spent at home. Or at one's summer home. Much as Lammas is a local village harvest feast, Midsummer is a home-and-family day."

Dean looked up from where he was sketching on a bit of parchment. "Parvati's prophecy talks about family," he said. "Mother and daughter, father and son."

Ginny asked, "If one is the secret adversary, is that the parent, or the child?"

"My hunch is parent," Sirius said. "Given the age of the people recruited into this scheme, it looks more like a parent reaching out to a child than the reverse."

"Then the child is one of us?" Seamus asked.

"Not quite," Harry said. "Only three people have been present at each transfer—Draco, Pansy and Parvati."

"I'd broaden that a little," Ron said, "to those of us involved each time. The team, I mean."

"Well, my father is dead," Sirius said, "and I doubt he'd be looking for me in any case. Same for Remus and Harry and Draco. Hermione's mum's a Muggle, of course. That leaves us with Pansy, Parvati, and Ron."

Out of the corner of her eye, Ginny could see Pansy stiffening slightly. Draco did too, and put his hand on hers. From across the table Parvati looked on with a kind of loving concern that made Ginny suspect that whatever Pansy was upset about, she hadn't told Parvati about it.

Then Draco said, "I find it hard to believe that Arthur Weasley is behind such a complicated and indirect scheme. He's a straight-forward fellow. Plus he's had plenty of opportunities during the war and since to acquire a great deal of legitimate power, and he's refused them all."

Ginny smiled at him; she could see what he was trying to do, and it was sweet, really, but unnecessary. "Then it will be easy to clear him," she said, flatly.

"Right, tactics," Sirius said, his Quick Quotes Quill writing three headers on the parchboard: Patil House, Cambridge; The Burrow, Ottery-St. Catchpole; and Parkinson Place, Wiltshire. "Cozy family holiday makes for a good cover," he continued, and the quill duly assigned Ron, Ginny, Pansy, Parvati and Padma to their respective family homes.

"Mrs. Patil promised me a lesson in sari wrapping," Hermione said.

"And I'll go with Pansy," Draco said.

"Seamus, you'll stay with Remus and me," Sirius said. "If something happens we'll need you to be able to get there quickly to give assistance."

"Right, got it," Seamus replied.

"So, Dean," Harry said, "your choice."

"Er, no offense," Dean said, "but I already know the Weasleys."

"None taken," Pansy said. "It'll be fun to see what my parents make of Harry Potter."

"I'd love to be a fly on that wall," Ginny said. She kind of liked the bitchier side of her boyfriend that Pansy brought out, and with Harry thrown into the mix, it was bound to be an interesting afternoon to say the least.

"So, we're to just have a nice day with our parents?" Padma asked.

Sirius nodded. "Don't say anything; let them approach you."

"And if they do?" Parvati asked.

"You'll have one of these," Sirius said, taking a small object out of his pocket and tossing it to Parvati.

She flipped the small grey stone in her hand. "A Portkey?" she asked.

"Something like the reverse," Ron said. "A Locator. After it's been charmed, all you need do is run your finger across that smooth bit, three times, and we'll all come to you. Easier and more reliable than a Patronus, and much better for undercover situations."

"Exit strategy?" Harry asked. "That is, if nothing happens?"

"We'll give it until after dinner, I think," Sirius said. "Then make moves to leave—talk about meeting friends. That might push them to act."

"Malfoy Manor has a lovely view of the sunset over the valley," Draco suggested.

"Good, good," Sirius said. "What say, seven o'clock? If we all arrive there, then we can discuss what to do next. But I have a sense that we won't have to." He turned and looked at the parchboard. "No, this is a very good plan, indeed. Now, eat up those sandwiches, or Remus will be upset, and we can't have that."

21 July 2002

And after all that, nothing happened.

Well, not nothing. Draco used the intervening three-and-a-half weeks to look in on some other cases, prepare and then testify at a Wizengamot prosecution of an illegal Quidditch betting operation that he'd helped Ron with. He took some refresher courses on dueling and hand-to-hand, and read a few books on solar-based magic that one of the researchers at the Ministry recommended. He tried to be as prepared as possible for anything that might happen.

On the day, Ginny was off to The Burrow to help with more wedding preparations, as the ceremony was less than two weeks away, and promised she'd return bearing a gooseberry pie, which had become a particular favorite of Draco's. She was oddly calm about the entire operation, focused and a bit ruthless in that particularly Gryffindor way that Draco always found a bit unnerving. She was sure it wasn't Arthur, and if it turned out to be, then it must be dealt with. He hadn't been so clear-eyed about his own father, but then, he'd only been sixteen and mourning his mother. When Lucius died a year later, he found himself grieving the man he'd thought his father was, rather than the man he revealed himself to be.

The Parkinsons were happy to take in two orphaned boys for the day, which they spent sitting out in the garden grazing on platters of cold hors d'oeuvres and drinking a punch of Paul Parkinson's own creation. With both the war and Quidditch tactfully avoided as topics, the conversation turned to travel. Paul and Pippa had just returned from two weeks in South America and were eager to compare notes with Draco and Pansy, who'd been to Chile and Mexico, as well as ask Harry for as much information about the States as he was able to provide.

They also asked after Ginny, whom they'd met some years back at one of the Patil New Year's parties, and invited Draco to bring her over for dinner. Draco hadn't really thought about how he didn't have parents to bring Ginny home to. That she couldn't meet Narcissa, he thought of often, but that he himself was missing out on that particular ritual hadn't crossed his mind, and he promised to bring her to Parkinson Place sometime soon. Paul then started to tease Pansy about not ever bringing home her own girlfriends, either. Draco tried to warn him off that topic, as he'd noticed that Pansy had been mum about Parvati for some weeks now, and hadn't spoken to her at that meeting at Grimmauld Place.

"I do like one girl," Pansy admitted, "but I'm not sure she feels the same."

"Well," Paul said, with all due fatherly pride, "no lady is too good for my Pansy." But thankfully he let the subject drop there.

They also talked gardening, of course, as it was that interest that had bonded Pippa's friendship with Narcissa. Pansy had seen to the Parkinson garden while her parents were away, and that got them talking about the gardens at Malfoy Manor. Draco's grief for his mother, usually a dull ache at the back of his mind, flashed up hot and sharp, but it felt good to know that six years on he still missed her, and always would. Pippa sent him home with a bouquet of soft pink gladiolus, a secret favorite of his mother's, who thought them too showy for the formal gardens at the Manor. But Draco remembered seeing them sometimes on Narcissa's dressing table, and realized they must have been a gift from Pippa.

They arrived at Malfoy Manor and Draco could see that the others had already arrived and were sitting out on the stone terrace. Pansy took the flowers from him, heading into the pantry to find a vase, and Ginny came in to greet him.

"I'm so sorry, Draco," she said

It wasn't until that moment that he realized that Sirius's plan hadn't worked; that nothing had happened. He was relieved to know that it was neither Pippa Parkinson nor Arthur Weasley nor Nandana Patil, but he couldn't help feeling disappointed that they'd been wrong, and the secret adversary had slipped out of his hands again. He sighed, his shoulders slumping.

"Let's make some cocktails," she said. "We'll watch the sunset, and figure out the next move tomorrow."

Draco nodded, not much wanting to say anything, and led the way to the study, where they kept the liquor cabinet. He wasn't thinking of much of anything, just running on auto pilot, but he stopped short inside the door when he realized a man who looked very much like his own dead father was sitting behind the desk.

"Careful, Draco," Ginny said, stepping around him. "I nearly ran into you."

"Son," said the Lucius-like thing, "I can't tell you how terribly disappointed I am to see that you're still keeping company with this Weasley girl."

"Father?" Draco said, though it was barely a whisper. "I thought you were dead."

"Hoped is the word you're looking for, I believe," Lucius replied, smiling slightly. He turned and opened the curtains behind him, revealing the bay window and its view of the setting sun.

On the desk before him were all the objects they had gone around the world for—the two rings, the crown, the bracelet, the breastplate and the shield. Draco felt that little hum of magical energy which meant these weren't the replicas that Pansy had placed in the vault at Gringotts; they were the real artifacts. He realized that all these years he'd been chasing his own father, and he drew on all his training to keep himself calm.

"I wouldn't put it that way," he said in a soothing voice. He'd need to stall for time, just enough for someone to come looking for them. "How did you survive the collapse at Miss Bridgerton's?"

"Oh I left that battle rather early," Lucius said with a wave of the hand. "I could see where it was heading. I hadn't anticipated that anyone would think I'd died, but when they did, I used it to my advantage."

Draco thought of all the people who'd died in that battle, on both sides, and anger washed over him. "How very brave of you," he said.

"You meant to say how clever, of course," Lucius replied. He shook his head. "Shame about Lord Voldemort, but such is the way of the world."

"And who's buried in your grave?" Draco asked.

"You know I really couldn't say. I'm sure once the fire swept through the building anyone left wasn't much more than a pile of bones, and broken ones at that. Someone unmissed, apparently."

Lucius's lack of concern chilled Draco. He was relieved to hear footsteps coming down the hall, because he was fairly sure he couldn't continue to handle his father on his own without becoming emotional. In a moment the others came through the door, Harry and Sirius in the lead.

"Oh look, the gang's all here," Lucius said.

Harry glanced down at the desk. "He's got the real ones," he said.

"Of course I do. Really, cousin, you were always too clever for your own good," Lucius said, looking at Sirius. "As if any good forger of magical artifacts doesn't have a price."

"You had my man make the switch," Remus said.

"Much easier that way," Lucius replied. "Oh do put that wand down, Black; it won't work in any case."

"He's right," Hermione said, sliding hers back into her sleeve. "Interference."

"Points to Granger," Lucius said, inclining his head like a teacher.

"But I used the Locator to summon you," Ginny said.

"We didn't get it," Sirius replied. "We came when we saw Lucius through the window."

"If our wands don't work in the presence of these objects," Draco asked, "then how exactly do you expect to get them all to work together?"

Lucius chuckled. "You aren't the only ones adept at research," he replied. "There are a few ancient spells—very simple, to be sure—that are all but the same in all of these traditions. Cradle of civilization sort of thing, I expect, Mesopotamia and all that."

"Actually," Hermione said, "there were much older wizarding civilizations in Africa—"

"Can't you keep her quiet, Potter?" Lucius asked, and Draco heard the warning tone in his voice, that tone that Draco had been afraid of when he was a child.

"I wouldn't even try," Harry replied.

Ginny crossed her arms. "So why are you here?" she asked.

"I could ask the same of you," Lucius replied. "After all I've done this year, to remind my son what an eminently suitable match Miss Parkinson is, how can you still be here?"

"Are you saying," Draco said, walking closer to the desk, "that you sent us around the world on some scavenger hunt of evil because you were matchmaking?"

"Two birds, one stone," Lucius said. "The Dark Lord always did admire my efficiency."

Draco placed his hands on the desk and leaned on them, his head down. "Of all the—she's in love with someone else, you know."

"Are you really?" he asked, turning to Pansy.

Pansy looked over at Parvati. "I am," she replied, "for all the good it's done me."

Lucius followed her glance. "Ah, the mannequin," he said, and looked Parvati up and down. "You always did like pretty things, Pansy. And while I certainly can't disagree with your taste, I think that sort of thing is best kept private, don't you?"

"Not any more," Pansy said.

"And no reason to give her up," Lucius said, ignoring Pansy even as he was looking at her. "I don't really care if Pansy keeps her lady friend, or if Draco has the Weasley girl as his bit on the side; I simply don't want him to marry her."

"Our sisters are no one's bits on the side," Ron said.

"Your loyalty is charming," Lucius said, "but I really don't see that it's any business of yours."

Ginny said, "And I don't see that it's any business of yours."

"Oh but it is," Lucius replied. "It is very much my business, my duty if you will, to see that my only child is suitably wed."

"It was also your duty to pass the estate to me, intact," Draco pointed out, "and you did a very poor job at that."

"Yes, I am sorry about that," Lucius said. "I was distracted. But you've done a very good job putting it back together. Your mother would have been so proud."

Something in his mind flashed white-hot, and he leaned forward on the desk. "You don't get to talk about her," he said through gritted teeth. "You gave up that right when you killed her."

Silence fell across the room as they stared each other down across the desk topped with artifacts. Lucius's glare, much as his sharp tongue, had kept Draco in check for sixteen years, and might have done even longer had circumstances been different. But now he looked at Lucius and saw little to admire other than the man's instinct for self-preservation. The ridiculous Dark Mark at the Euro Cup, the search for magical short cuts to power, were both cheap copies of something that hadn't been that compelling to begin with. He still had an inch or two on his son, but Lucius suddenly seemed smaller and older, like an athlete past his prime trying to hold on to old glory. Moments ago Draco had felt ashamed of his father for what he had done, but now he felt strangely embarrassed that Lucius hadn't come up with a more original plan.

After a long minute Draco heard Harry, stage-whispering in the back of the study.

"So, why aren't we just taking the things away from him?" he asked.

"Dunno," Ron replied. "More of us than there are of him."

Draco broke eye contact with Lucius then, pushing up off the desk and turning to the others. "And that would be the real reason he's here at the Manor. Not to comment on my marriage prospects, or to celebrate the family holiday, but because he knows that if the objects are here I'm the only one who can take any of them away from him."

"A protective charm," Hermione said.

"Yes, while others use blood charms to protect their children," Draco said, glancing at Harry, "we Malfoys have traditionally used them to protect our things. You could walk in here and kill me in cold blood, but put a silver fork in your pocket without my permission and see how far you get."

Draco smiled a little, thinking of how differently his mother had felt, how she'd literally died to keep him from joining the cause. His eyes met Ginny's and he remembered that night as if it was yesterday, and how Arthur had whisked him away and brought him to the Burrow, to Ginny. She must have been thinking of it, too, as she pulled her old fish pendant out from under her clothes. Of course it wasn't moving; the old charm was wearing off and besides, with all these powerful objects so close at hand it couldn't work anyway. But the sight of it made Draco stand up a bit straighter; he was made of stronger stuff, these days. They all were.

"Yes, as entertaining as it has been to hear all about your exciting love lives," Lucius said, "I do have to get started to make the sunset. But that isn't the only reason I'm here."

"No?" Draco asked, turning back toward him.

Lucius held out his hand. "I would like you to join me, son."

Suddenly all the thoughts and feelings that had flooded Draco since Parkinson Place fell away, all the grief for his mother and shame of his father, the lingering fear from his boyhood and the present worry that Lucius might actually pull off this ridiculous scheme, and he saw the situation with perfect clarity. "No," he said without hesitation. "You killed my mother, and you don't get to come back from that with a 'sorry, but I love what you've done with the place.' And the last time you asked me to join you was to follow an egomaniacal psychopath, which Mother didn't think was a good idea, and she turned out to be absolutely correct in that judgment. Besides, I'm fairly sure that your overly complicated scheme isn't going to work. At best, nothing will happen at all, and you'll simply be arrested for murder and assorted war crimes. At worst, you'll manage to destroy the artifacts and we'll all have to answer to all these countries whose heritage you've stolen. So, no, I will not be joining you under any circumstances."

Lucius shook his head; he never was the type to ask twice. "You've let emotion lead you to the wrong decision," he said, "but I can't save you from yourself."

"And I can't save you from yourself," Draco replied, "but I wish I could." He stood closer to Ginny and took her hand, and Ginny squeezed back. He willed himself not to cry—this was the showdown he'd always wanted with his father, after all, when he'd asked Harry to "leave Lucius to me" all those years ago, and he certainly wasn't going to cry in front of the man. But he felt hopeless and impotent in the face of Lucius's desire for power, and realized this must have been how his mother felt, the night she died.

Lucius wasn't looking at Draco any more, anyway; he'd turned to open the French doors behind the desk. A light breeze came in and stirred his hair as he donned the various artifacts: the two rings, the cuff, the breastplate and the crown. He grasped the shield and stepped out onto the terrace.

The sun beyond him was low in the sky, the bottom touching the horizon. He titled his head down slightly, looking into the sun, and then, so softly that Draco could scarcely hear him, said, "Nox."

The low hum of magical energy suddenly crested into a large wave, and Draco could feel the blood rushing in her ears. Lucius's body shook with it, and for a moment Draco wondered if they'd been terribly, terribly mistaken and he had actually succeeded. But as soon as it came, it was gone, and Lucius collapsed to the ground.

He'd landed on his back, and his hand was still gripping tight around the handle of the shield. His face was misshapen, somehow lopsided, and his eyes stared up at them, vacant.

Seamus ran from the back of the room, leaping over the desk. Some of the others warned him but he paid them no mind, sitting down on the veranda next to Lucius's still form and pulling out his tiny mediwizard wand. "Can someone help me take these things off him?" he asked, loosening the cravat at Lucius's throat.

Ginny knelt down, slipping off the crown and then the rings and cuff. "They've burned him," she said, and Draco saw angry black marks on Lucius's fingers and wrist.

"I'm not surprised," Seamus replied.

Draco helped her unbuckle the breastplate, but Lucius's grip on the shield was so strong he had to bend each finger to release it. Lucius's skin was cold and clammy, and Draco had to grit his teeth to do what needed doing.

Seamus turned to Sirius. "We need to get him to St. Mungo's straight away," he said.

Remus took the objects from Ginny. "Here, all of you, scatter these around the house," he said. "That should disperse them enough that we can Apparate him out of here."

"What happened?" Draco asked.

"I can't be entirely sure," Seamus replied, "but I think he's had what Muggles call a stroke. That wave of magical energy overloaded his nervous system."

"And what could that mean?" Draco asked.

"A lot of things," Seamus said. "Paralysis, brain damage. He might not be a wizard anymore."

"My god," Draco said, sitting back against the desk in his shock. "Not a wizard?"

When the others returned to the study, Sirius stood up. "Right, let's see. Lumos," he said, and the lights came on in the study. "Better have Harry help you," he continued. "If anyone can cut through whatever interference is left, it's him."

Harry nodded and knelt next to Lucius. "Where are we headed?" he asked.

Seamus put one hand under Lucius's shoulders and the other under one knee. "Just the main lobby," he replied. "Others can take it from there."

Harry held on to Lucius as well. "One, two, three …" he said, and they were gone.

Ginny sat down next to Draco, their backs against the edge of the desk, and looked out over the garden down into the valley.

"Not a wizard," Draco said. "I can't even imagine."

Ginny took his hand as the sun sank down below the horizon. Draco wasn't really thinking or feeling anymore, and he wondered if he'd been overloaded, too.

Five hours later and they still didn't know much more, save that Seamus's diagnosis had been correct. Sirius had come back at some point to report that the magical objects themselves were none the worse for wear, which was a great relief to Pansy as they didn't need some international incident on top of everything else. Seamus was working on Lucius now, and while they had the comfort of knowing there was no one better, now they could only wait.

Draco had tried to send them home, but none of them would even think of leaving their friend. They sat in a little group of couches, dozing on and off, as Hermione read to them from an old battered copy of the Tales of Beadle the Bard that she'd found on one of the tables. It was soothing, somehow, hearing those old tales again, even in Hermione's middle-class schoolgirl voice.

She finished reading "The Fountain of Fair Fortune" and then said, "I think I need a little break. Shall we make more tea? Perhaps there's food somewhere?"

Ginny turned to Draco. "Would you like a snack?"

"Er," Draco said, blinking. "Chocolate frogs, if there's any left," he said.

She nodded, kissing him on the forehead, and walked away. Only Pansy was still seated, right next to him on the couch.

"I can't believe it was him we were after, that whole time," Draco said. "Ron always said I took this case too personally but I suppose now I'm glad I did."

He put his hand on her knee and she covered it with her own, but said nothing; sometimes Draco just needed to talk, without interruption.

"And now there's going to be a trial, and I'll have to testify, and all that publicity. That's sure to be dreadful. Promise you'll stick around? Ginny shouldn't have to deal with me all by herself."

"Of course," Pansy said, smiling a little. "But I'm sure you won't be so much to deal with."

"You say that now," Draco said.

"Can I do anything?" she asked.

Draco cocked his head. "Distract me?"

"Sure," she replied, turning in her seat to face him more fully.

"What happened between you and Parvati?"

Pansy rolled her eyes. "Really? That's what you want to discuss?"

"Come on, Pansy. You told Father you loved her, in front of everyone."

She shrugged. "It's true."

"But you haven't said one word to her tonight, or at Grimmauld Place at the planning meeting a few weeks ago."

"Well, I realized she's in love with someone else."

Draco cocked his head. "Really?" he asked. "And how did you come to this conclusion?"

"She was dreaming about her. Calling out her name in her sleep. That sort of thing."

"Interesting. Because what I saw was Parvati mooning over you whenever she thought you weren't looking."

"Have you ever been awoken by the sound of the girl you're in bed with shouting out some other girl's name?" Pansy asked. "Perhaps you haven't. It's a singular experience. However I don't recommend it."

"Is that why you won't speak to me?" asked a voice behind her.

Pansy closed her eyes and hung her head for a moment, as she'd recognize that voice anywhere. She looked at Draco, and he merely raised his eyebrows, because of course he'd seen her walking toward them. Pansy sighed, and turned to face Parvati, who was standing behind the couch with Dean.

"If you mean, your dreaming about Lavender and calling out to her not to leave you, then yes," Pansy said.

"Lavender's dead—"

"I know that."

"And she brought me the prophecy," Parvati finished. "It often happens that way; they're beyond time, and so can see all of it."

Pansy blinked; she felt suddenly deflated, and a bit foolish. "Oh," she said. "I see. But then, why weren't you talking to me?"

"I thought you were put off by the whole trance business," she said. "I know we're witches but it's still a bit weird when your girlfriend can see the future sometimes."

"Professor Snape doesn't think it's weird," Pansy said. "Or rather, he might, but he doesn't let that keep him out of Sybill Trelawney's bed."

"I suppose not," Parvati said, smiling a little. "Good thing you're a Slytherin, then."

"Good thing," Pansy said, smiling back.

"Well, what I think," Draco said, "is that everything was moving along smoothly, and you didn't know what to do, so you had to find fault."

"My thoughts exactly," Dean said.

"We really shouldn't let them out without supervision," Draco said.

"All right," Pansy said, and smacked him lightly in the upper arm.

"Why don't you two kiss and make up," Draco said, "and give us a little eye candy to make up for all that silly angst?"

Pansy made a face at Draco before she knelt up on the couch. "I'm sorry," she said.

"Me too," Parvati said, and kissed her.

"There," Pansy said, "that distraction enough for you?"

"Yeah," Draco said, smiling a little. "It was. Now, where's that Hermione?"

The others drifted back, settling back down on the couches with snacks and beverages, and Hermione was part way through "The Warlock's Hairy Heart" when Pansy saw Seamus approaching them. He was taking off an outer robe spattered with potions, but anyone could see from his expression the news he was about to deliver.

"Draco," he said, "I'm so, so sorry. The damage was just too extensive."

Draco stood up and took a deep breath. "I'm sure he didn't help you," Draco said. "Being a Squib wouldn't have been much of a life, for him."

"I suppose not," Seamus said, "but still, I'm very sorry."

"I know you did all you could," Draco said, walking over and embracing him. "Thank you."

Ginny was near him, rubbing his back. "Well, it's almost sunrise," she said. "What say we get breakfast?"

Draco turned to look at Sirius. "Do you think we could all go out to the Tonks's farm?" he asked.

Sirius smiled. "I think that's a lovely idea," he said, "as I'm sure Andromeda would like nothing better than to bustle about making eggs for a crowd."

"Good," Draco said. "I think, right about now, I need all the family and friends I can get."