Business hadn't been this slow since she and Lavender had first opened Cup of Fortune, a tea shop which also provided a variety of Divination services, two years ago, and Parvati was not happy about it. Lavender continued to bustle around, humming to herself and straightening the lines of black currant scones and orange pound cake, seemingly oblivious to their dire straights. While Parvati's best friend and business partner was a fantastic baker and great with customers, the woman had absolutely no concept of economics. Parvati, on the other hand, daughter of a business tycoon and a professor of Arithmancy, knew that they were in serious trouble.
Finally, one of her former regulars who hadn't come in for a proper reading in ages but apparently still loved Lavender's famous lavender earl grey shortbread, told her about the new horoscope writer at the Prophet. Parvati practically snatched the newspaper out of a protesting customer's hands, tearing through the pages ferociously in search of her competition.
It was brilliant. Damn it! Obviously it was going to be a horrible week for Capricorn, what with the Sun being parallel to Saturn and all. And any charlatan could say Virgo would experience something stressful. When wasn't Virgo stressed? Who was behind this? Tossing the rumpled newsprint back at the protesting man, Parvati stormed outside and Apparated into the ostentatious lobby of the Daily Prophet building.
Their security and obsession with protecting their Super Secret writers was actually quite impressive, she thought, as she finally managed to nick a copy of the columnist's billing address, name redacted. Getting the information wasn't easy, but Parvati's cause was good and just, and she also happened to have the bull-headed Gryffindor determination to fight until the bitter end. If that good fight required a bit of sneaking around, some underhanded white lies, and a generous application of lip pouting and eyelash batting, well, give her a green hat and call her a Slytherin; she wasn't sorry.
It was that same bull-headedness that landed her on the front step of a modest flat in Battersea. After knocking boldly, she felt her breath catch in her chest, anxiously awaiting the revelation of her stargazing, customer-stealing, clever clogs competitor.
Instead, the door swung open revealing tall, skinny, freckly, bespectacled, sourpuss-faced Percy Weasley. Parvati let out a litany of vulgarity; Percy slowly raised an eyebrow, the snarkiest, most self-important eyebrow she'd ever seen.
"Do you have a flatmate?" she asked, still not sure how her stolen information had taken such a wrong turn. Perhaps he was her nemesis's accountant?
"No. This is my flat." Percy's lips pursed as he eyed her suspiciously.
Parvati felt her face heat up, her earlier confidence fading into embarrassment. She gave him her best smile, which felt a bit wobblier than she might have preferred. "Well, it's really great to see you, Percy," she said brightly, as if she had simply happened run into him at the Leaky Cauldron rather than inexplicably (and perhaps a touch too aggressively) pounding on his door at eight in the evening.
He sighed. "Would you like a cup of tea?"
In an effort to retain a modicum of dignity, Parvati agreed, holding her head high and acting like she'd absolutely intended to stop by to visit her swotty former Head Boy housemate.
They sat in awkward silence for several minutes, Parvati nibbling on a stale biscuit and Percy staring resolutely at his cooling tea. Finally, she couldn't take it anymore.
"I'm looking for the person who's writing those horoscopes for the Prophet," she blurted out, never one for subtlety.
Ginger eyebrows flew up, and the long fingers brushing the thin handle of his teacup trembled slightly. "What?" he squeaked. Clearing his throat, he tried again. "Er, why? I mean, you know you can't blame the author for predicting you'll have a rubbish week or something, right?"
She waved her hand dismissively. "No, no, no. The readings are actually good, which is the annoying part! It's put a huge dent in my business. I own a tea and fortune telling shop. Cup of Fortune—you 've heard of it, yeah? Wait, don't tell me. I don't want to know if you haven't. Anyway, I do the readings, and it's been horribly slow these past few weeks. One of my regulars let it slip that the Prophet's printing honest-to-Merlin horoscopes that are actually astrologically sound and irritatingly clever."
Percy flushed and gave her a look that was a little smug, a bit bashful, and entirely shocking. Parvati narrowed her eyes in disbelief. "You! You? How is that even …"
"I got OWLs in Divination and Arithmancy—O's, as a matter of fact. Is it that shocking that I could come up with some simple horoscopes?" he said dryly.
Parvati frowned, unused to other people actually knowing what they were talking about when it came to Divination. She was used to having to defend her field from eye-rolling naysayers.
"You should come work for me instead," she declared suddenly, internally wincing at her demanding tone.
He smiled slightly. "I'm not looking for a job. I'm the Secretary of Magic for Business, Innovation, and Skills, and the President of the Board of Magical Trade."
"Oh, right! I actually knew that." Parvati blushed slightly but took another biscuit to cover her embarrassment. "It's not a bad job though, working at my shop. The hours are good and the customers are generally quite pleasant. Plus, Lavender makes delicious scones, and you get to nick the not-quite-perfect ones from the kitchen for free. And biscuits. And …"
"Tea?" he asked, a smirk playing along his upper lip in a very distracting fashion.
"Yes, tea, of course. It's free for full-time employees, and part-time workers get a very reasonable discount."
"More's the pity that I'm already gainfully employed then. I only wish I'd known about the free scones before accepting a salaried position." His tone was snarky, but his eyes were laughing, and Parvati couldn't quite help the indignant giggle that snuck up on her.
"Well, if you ever change your mind, here's my card." She handed him business card, delicately drawn star signs surrounding her name and Floo address in silver script. "Thank you for the tea. It was, er, very nice to see you again." She felt a bit embarrassed at how surprised she sounded, but Percy seemed more amused than offended.
Two days later, Parvati emerged from behind the beaded curtain that separated her cosy office from the bustling tea shop. Stretching her stiff neck, she debated whether she should be good and eat the sandwich she'd packed for lunch or take full advantage of the pan full of almond croissants with extra icing. (Lavender had called them "over drizzled," as if that were somehow a bad thing.) She'd just finished a reading for one of her regulars, Mrs Tuttlecrup, who was so old and so hard of hearing that Parvati had to shout and repeat everything at least three times.
"Oh, Parvati!" came the sing-song voice of her business partner. Parvati bristled, knowing all too well that that tone meant that Lavender knew something extremely juicy—quite possibly about her—and that Parvati should proceed with extreme caution.
"A man came in looking for you while you were back with Mrs Tuttlecrup." Lavender's eyes gleamed triumphantly, as if she knew she finally had something to hold over Parvati's head, though for the life of her, Parvati had no idea how this qualified as such.
"A man?" Parvati asked blankly, eyeing the door to the kitchen with the almond croissants. Lavender had obviously expected a better reaction and nearly stomped her foot in a huff.
"Yes, a man! A living, breathing, human man! Spill, damn it! Spill!"
"Did this non-dead man leave a message or a name?" Parvati asked, a warm, heavy rush of something that might have been hope flooding her chest.
Lavender sighed and waved her hand dismissively. "He didn't need to. I was just hoping to get a better reaction, but you've become just as dull as him."
Parvati raised an eyebrow at Lavender's snippy tone, waiting for the name. For some reason, she found herself holding her breath in anticipation, but she knew from past experience to hide her eagerness from her best friend or Lavender would latch on and never, ever let go.
"It was Ron's brother, the bossy, bookish one, Mr Head Boy himself, er … I want to say Prissy? No, Parsnip? Oh, sod it. I can't remember. Skinny, speccy—though reasonably cute if you go for the whole clever and boring thing. Please tell me you know who I'm talking about, because I'm honestly boring myself just describing him."
"Percy," snapped Parvati waspishly, giving Lavender a fierce glare. "And he happens to be clever and witty and better at Divination that you have ever been!"
Lavender gasped and crossed her arms over her ample bosom. Sniffing haughtily, obviously offended, she levelled Parvati with her own ferocious stare. "He actually did leave a message, but I don't think I can remember it anymore over the sound of my best friend insulting me!"
Exasperated, Parvati grumbled under her breath before giving Lavender her brightest fake smile. "I'm so sorry for not listening with rapt attention as you insulted a friend of mine."
Friend was probably a bit of a stretch, but they had had tea together and he seemed nice enough and he dressed very smartly, and she had always had a thing for a man in glasses. Although Parvati usually found Lavender's snide commentary quite entertaining, she found herself feeling strangely protective of Percy Weasley. Not that it made any sense, of course. Brilliant Ministry higher-ups with a keen understanding of the deep meaning of the stars certainly did not require down-on-their-luck shop owners to rush to their defence over a bit of essentially harmless ribbing. Still, it bothered her.
Lavender waved her hand dramatically, trying to toss her long, flowing hair but forgetting that it was pulled back in a tight plait because she was at work where she made and served food. She made a show of adjusting her collar, as if that was what she'd intended all along, and Parvati barely held back a smirk. Honestly, her best friend was such a drama queen, but she certainly did keep life interesting.
"Take it," Lavender snapped, practically throwing a business card at Parvati's face and narrowly missing her eye. "But I'll have you know that I sent the rest of the over-drizzled almond croissants back to the Ministry with your prissy little Percy. So ha!"
Parvati nearly turned purple as she desperately tried to rein in the decidedly not workplace-appropriate response that was threatening to spill out of her. She scowled at Lavender's backside, which was triumphantly sashaying into the kitchen. Her best friend knew that almond croissants were Parvati's favourite. Some things should be sacred!
Settling for a soul-fortifying cup of her favourite Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong blend, Parvati sat at one of the too many empty tables studying the crisp card that Percy had left for her. (All right, so one of the corners was smushed, but that was Lavender's fault, not his.) Pristinely white, it had simple but formal black lettering in the centre.
Was he extending the hand of friendship? Was he actually interested in her business proposition? Was this some overly-starched version of a booty call? She continued spinning the card between her fingers and sipping her tea as she pondered her situation. Breathing in deeply and letting out a determined huff, she gathered her cup and saucer. It was time to show Mr Secretary of Magic/President of the Board of Trade whom he was dealing with. An Aries, a Gryffindor, and a strong, modern, successful woman—she was pretty much the perfect trifecta of boldness, daring, and fiery courage! (If only the nervous swirling in her belly would take notice.)
Straightening her skirt and squaring her shoulders, Parvati strode into Percy's office at the Ministry of Magic. It was not overly large, but she was surprised at how warm and welcoming it appeared, especially considering the Spartan, modern vibe he seemed to favour in his flat.
Placed pointedly in front of the heavy wooden door inscribed with Percy's name and veritable bevy of titles, a large, slightly ostentatious desk took up nearly half the room. Parvati took a tentative step towards it, wondering what the protocol was if no one was present. Before she could worry too much, a dark-haired head popped up from behind the desk. Percy's assistant greeted her with a wide, closed-mouth smile, and Parvati's eyes narrowed when she spied tell-tale crumbs on her purple blouse and caught a faint whiff of almond. Either someone was trying to poison a Ministry official with cyanide (which seemed doubtful considering all the much easier Magical alternatives) or this woman was eating Parvati's over-drizzled almond croissants!
Priorities she chastised herself silently, allowing one tiny mournful moment for the painful loss of her perfect pastries, before pulling herself together and getting on with it.
"I am here to see Percy," she said confidently. At the raised eyebrow she received, Parvati amended, "Er, Mr Weasley, that is."
"Right, well, Mr Weasley is out doing very important Ministerial stuff right now. I'd give you the specifics, but it's classified, yanno, top secret and … oh, all right, mostly I just can't find the bloody calendar in this mess. But it's probably extremely important."
"Right, well, perhaps you could help me then?"
"Me?" The woman looked momentarily surprised but then grinned broadly, toothy and sincere now that she was no longer chewing on delicious, flaky croissant.
"Yes, actually. I had come in here with the intention of speaking to Mr Weasley about a, er, personal matter." Parvati flushed slightly at the woman's mischievous, suddenly very interested expression, but she forced herself to continue in what she hoped was her most brisk, professional tone. "A personal business matter, I mean to say. I … I have a business proposition for Mr Weasley." Parvati thanked the stars that her dark complexion hid the severity of the blush that had just commandeered her face.
"Business, right, gotcha," The woman in front of her clapped her hands together in delight and shot Parvati a mortifying wink that made her want to bury her face in her hands. Percy's assistant, who'd previously seemed quite an unmotivated worker, was now all business. "I'm Magdalena Moneypenny—you can call me Maggie. Now, how can I help, and please include all relevant juicy details."
Parvati tried to ignore Maggie's waggling eyebrows and keep her voice even. "We had briefly discussed a possible partnership of sorts earlier this week. This morning, he stopped by Cup of Fortune—that's my shop—but I wasn't available. He left the card with my business partner, Lavender."
"The baker, I presume?" Maggie interrupted. "Oh, sweet, saucy Merlin, those croissants she sent were heavenly. Mr Weasley tries to avoid sweets, so I gave them a good home, because I'm a helpful and considerate administrative assistant. Also, if it helps, Mr. Weasley called the tea he got from your shop 'perfectly acceptable.'" Maggie said, giving her a meaningful nod. Parvati wrinkled her nose, unsure how she was supposed to respond to such lacklustre praise.
"No, no!" exclaimed Maggie, seeming distraught at Parvati's less-than-impressed reaction. "That's good! Sorry, only I thought you'd know. Mr Weasley is an absolute bear about his tea. When I first started working here, I was super flattered that he insisted on getting his own tea, usually offering to bring me a cuppa whenever he did. I thought it was some sort of meaningful gesture of equality or something. Then I found out that it was mostly just because he was so ridiculously picky. Like he won't even drink tea from the canteen or most of the nearby shops. He's a total snob about it. Only wants Darjeeling brewed strong enough to knock out a garden gnome—but not too bitter—and only the tiniest imaginable drop of milk, but I swear you need an eyedropper to manage it. If you accidentally add two itty-bitty drops, it's irredeemably ruined."
"Well, for many people the ritual of brewing and drinking tea is almost a spiritual experience. Enjoying the perfect cuppa is magical. Not only do I truly believe that, but I built a successful business upon it. Stop by sometime, and we'll find your perfect cup of tea. It will change your life."
"Right, well, I'm not allowed to make him tea anymore, which is fine by me, and I've got a giant box of PG Tips in my cupboard, so I think I'll stick with that for now," Maggie said. "But no wonder he likes you!"
"Well, I don't know about … Listen, I'm trying to get to know him a bit better—for business purposes, of course. What can you tell me about him? Just between us girls. The tea thing is good, but what else?"
"Hmmm," Maggie paused thoughtfully, and Parvati wondered whether or not this information would be worth the complete and total humiliation she was currently feeling. "Well, he's single and despite the rumours to the contrary, he's definitely straight. A leg man, that one— though he'd deny it, of course, Mr Professional Propriety and whatnot. But I've caught him looking a few times. Not at me, of course—my legs aren't anything to write home about. I'm all up here, if you know what I'm saying." She gestured somewhat crudely to her very generous cleavage. "Lucky for me, my boyfriend is definitely a boob man."
"Er, good for you?" Maggie beamed as if Parvati had bestowed a glorious compliment upon her.
"He's very detail oriented and exacting. He remembers everything, I swear, which can be really annoying at times but also quite advantageous. Let's see … what else? As I'm sure you've noticed, he's a fantastic dresser. He's also quite funny, though it took me a while to realise it. He got that subtle, sarcastic sort of humour and makes all these references, which are probably really impressive but I don't understand half of them, honestly."
"Maggie, I'm interested more in how I can best appeal to him professionally. Any pet peeves or preferences I should keep in mind when I speak with him?"
"Well, I don't know if there's much difference really, but let's see. Like I said, he's not much for sweets, but he's got a soft spot for Cinnamon Coins, yanno? Those ghastly, bright red jellies? He calls them 'cinnamoney' and thinks he's endlessly clever. The man loves his stupid puns. He also adores anything in triplicate, and he loves everything being all tidy and proper and boring. And he gets really cross if you don't follow his, in my opinion, overly complex filing system."
Parvati couldn't fault him there. Her own elaborate system at Cup of Fortune drove Lavender to despair, and even her bookworm, Ravenclaw twin sister used to make fun of Parvati's complicated, colour-coded flashcards during school.
"Thank you, Maggie. You've been quite helpful. Enjoy the rest of the almond croissants—they're my personal favourite. And no need to tell Mr Weasley that I stopped by. I'll just try him again soon, all right?"
Maggie adamantly assured her that she was fantastic at keeping secrets but was thankfully interrupted by a formation of paper airplane memoranda flying into the office, circling her head, and doing the occasional loop-de-loop. Parvati took advantage of Maggie's temporary distraction to slip out.
With newfound determination, Parvati set to work on a new and brilliant plan to convince Percy Weasley that he should share his big, beautiful, bitingly funny brain with her. Because it made good business sense. That was all.
She definitely did not care one way or another about his alleged appreciation for legs. If her lean, small-breasted, long-legged figure just so happened to be his ideal body type, well, that happy coincidence certainly hadn't even crossed her mind. She was not getting all hot and bothered over a tall, lean, clever, well-dressed man who just so happened to wear sexy spectacles, have a solid understanding of astrology, and appreciate a well-thought-out organisational system. No, this was purely professional, she assured herself for the fiftieth time; she almost believed it.
She even swallowed her pride and asked her mother for help. Isha Patil was ecstatic to share her expertise in matters of small business mergers, acquisitions, and contract writing. After clawing her way to the top of a male-dominated industry to become CEO of a successful shipping company, she was full of useful information and advice. However, her assistance came with a steep price: a full interrogation about Parvati's love life and whether this business proposal would perhaps bring about another proposal of a more personal variety. There was much winking and innuendo, and Parvati hadn't felt so mortified since the overly detailed lecture about the birds and the bees that she and Padma had been given as twelve year olds.
However, it was worth it when she completed the impressive document, complete with a detailed proposal, pages of clean, concise charts and meticulously plotted graphs, and an offer, complete with contract—in triplicate, of course. It was clear, professional, and showed her business in the shiniest light possible.
She called upon Padma to borrow a smart suit from her twin's enormous closet full of perfectly pressed professional attire, and then asked Lavender to help her with an alteration charm to raise the conservative hemline several inches.
Three days later she confidently strode into Percy Weasley's office for a second time, her modest brown suit and demure hairstyle complemented by scarlet high heels. Maggie gave her an impressed look, taking in the showcased legs and thick file folder, out of which peeked the tell-tale pastel pink and yellow of the triplicate forms her boss so dearly loved.
"I see you came prepared!" Maggie grinned. "I'll just let him know that you're here." Rolling backwards on her wheeled desk chair, Maggie shouted through the closed wooden door. "Mr Weasley! Someone to see you!"
"Why is it so hard to use the bloody intercom?" they heard Percy mutter from inside his office before he responded in a louder, more poised tone. "Who is it, Maggie?"
"Oh, I think you'll want to meet with her, Mr Weasley. She's quite sexy, this one."
"Maggie!" both Percy and Parvati hissed in unison. There was a loud scraping sound, like a desk chair being pushed back, and Percy appeared in the doorway, an exasperated expression and an endearing blush on his face. When he saw Parvati, he immediately schooled his expression and stood up straighter. Adjusting his tie, he greeted her in a slightly choked voice before gesturing for her to come in.
She followed him, took a deep breath, and began her well-rehearsed pitch. Clear, organized, and carefully researched with just a couple subtly sarcastic jokes thrown in, Parvati poured on every ounce of her charisma. When she finished, she handed him a small box of Cinnamon Coins, sat down in the chair across from his desk, and crossed her legs, giving him a patient look that said she had all the time in the world. It went against her nature, but she knew better than to press a Virgo for an immediate response.
"That was an interesting, informative, and very thorough presentation, Par—Ms Patil."
"Parvati," she insisted. "Potential business associates we may be, but we spent four years in the same House at school. I think we can ditch the formalities. Plus, you had me over for tea."
Percy let out a quiet little huff of what Parvati hoped was laughter, but his expression didn't change. "I will definitely think about what you've proposed," he said in a brisk tone, which while not unfriendly definitely shut the door on any further conversation.
Biting back her inclination to push the issue and trying to hide her disappointment that he did not want to discuss it further, Parvati stood, gave him a slightly less confident smile this time, and bade him farewell. As she left, Maggie shot her a sympathetic look, and Parvati's hope that perhaps it had gone better than it had seemed was dashed violently against the polished hardwood floor.
For the rest of the week, she walked around in a strop. She glowered at passersby, was short with her customers, and snapped repeatedly at Lavender, who immediately switched from bitchy teasing to doting, protective mama bear.
Parvati sat at an empty table, sipping a gentle silver needle white tea and picking at an almond croissant. Her best friend might be a self-absorbed, temperamental drama queen much of the time, but during times like this, fearsomely protective Cancer shone through, and Lavender held nothing back when it came to taking care of her loved ones. This was the third time this week she'd "accidentally" spilled extra icing on all of Parvati's favourite treats. When she'd finished her tea, Parvati stood, meaning to take the cup back to the kitchen.
A messily folded newspaper on the next table caught her eye, and she snatched it up, flipping to the appropriate section to see if there was a new horoscope column. Its absence might indicate that Percy was considering her offer. Her heart sank when she found it, all big and flashy and rude. She glared ferociously at the offending newsprint, but her traitorous eyes flicked automatically to Aries, which read:
This is your lucky week, Aries! You know what you want … Now what are you going to do about it? Also, beware of rogue gingers.
She stared at the words in shock. This wasn't a proper horoscope! She skimmed the rest of the column and found the other signs to be right on target. (Except perhaps Scorpio, but that wasn't unexpected. Unpredictable, the lot of them, no matter how careful the reading.) She gnawed on her thumbnail, not sure what to make of it. Was this a sign? Did he know she was an Aries? What exactly did this mean?
"AGH!" Parvati tried to muffle her startled shriek as she looked up to find the man on her mind standing not a foot away from her. "Mercury rising! You scared the life out of me, Percy Weasley!" She swatted at him, not actually making contact, and exhaled a steadying stream of air.
"Parvati Patil, Aries on the cusp of Taurus—the Cusp of Power," said Percy thoughtfully, not quite looking her in the eye. "Courageous, independent, brilliant mind for business, and a natural leader. All the bold energy and impulsiveness of Aries tempered with the practicality, stubbornness, and dependability of Taurus."
He finally caught her gaze and held it for a few heavy seconds. She literally bit her tongue to keep from interrupting. Where was this going? Her forced patience paid off when Percy's mouth quirked up in a self-conscious and adorably awkward-looking half smile.
"How could I say no?" he asked softly, handing Parvati a familiar looking pile of forms. Gasping, she rifled through them frantically to make sure before beaming at him and throwing her arms around him, too delighted to keep herself in check. Percy froze at the impact, standing stiffly with his arms at his side until Parvati extricated herself with a mumbled apology. He straightened the collar of his pinstriped suit, which was elegantly tailored to display his long, lean limbs to perfection. He was blushing fiercely but somehow still managed to look completely collected.
"Now that we've attended to the business situation," he said, "you have successfully achieved all desired aims in regards to me and my perceived helpfulness or association, and, as such, you need not construe contractual benefit or assume obligation whatsoever towards any future requests or invitations submitted by me. I have attached an addendum to your otherwise impressively comprehensive contract clarifying the distinction."
"Percy, I have no idea what you are talking about. Seriously, you're murkier than Venus in retrograde right now."
"I would like to …" Percy swallowed hard and pulled at his previously perfect Windsor knot before finishing in a rush. "I would like to have dinner with you. Rather, I want to ask you to have dinner—with me, that is. But I don't want you to feel obliged in any way to accept if you're only interested in the horoscopes themselves and not in the … er, the fussy, prickly, overly regimented, workaholic, stick-in-the-mud perfectionist who writes them."
Realisation finally dawning, Parvati cocked her head to one side and studied him carefully. Underneath the schooled expression, she could see an oh-so-Virgoan mess of nervous energy along with discomfort, embarrassment, and hope.
"I was warned to watch out for rogue gingers," she said, thrilling at the way his breath caught when she smiled. "But I think I rather like them, especially the clever, prickly ones with glasses, smart suits, and sexy smirks."
The look of amazed disbelief that spread across Percy's face made her heart ache and her tummy twist. "Besides, I'm a workaholic perfectionist too, so I certainly can't hold that against you." She shrugged and gave him another smile, tucking her hair behind her ear and feeling uncharacteristically shy.
"For Merlin's sake! Just kiss him already, girl! You've been a right moody cow all week mooning over that boy with his tight trousers and, I must admit, very nice bum." Lavender's voice rang across the shop and made both of them jump.
"Shut up, Lavender!" Parvati shouted, trying to sound cross but not quite able to fight the giggle that was bubbling up. Percy looked likewise afflicted. Humour danced in his blue eyes, and he bit his lip in a way that caused a sudden surge of heat to swirl its way through her abdomen.
"Here's the thing, Percy. I'm not going to kiss you right now." She felt a funny rush of warmth at the slightly disappointed look that crossed his face before he smoothed his expression back to its usual blank slate. She spoke very softly, relishing the way he leaned in unconsciously to listen. "But I am going to go home, and I'm going to put on a really amazing dress, and you are going to pick me up at seven on the dot. And when you arrive, I'm going to pull you inside, and I'm going to kiss you like you have never been kissed before. And then when you're reeling and spinning and feeling like you are the least fussy, most un-stick-in-the mud-like man under the stars, then we're going to go enjoy that dinner date."
The confident smirk that she gave him intimated that that was only the first of a long, well-thought-out list of steps, and Percy's eyes darkened in appreciation.
"Seven o'clock," he repeated, his even voice barely masking his excitement.
"Oh, and Percy?" she called, when he was almost to the door. He turned back immediately to look at her. "My horoscope says I'm getting lucky. While the writer might have been ever-so-slightly biased, who am I to deny the stars?"
Parvati basked in the giant grin that lit up his beet red face as he ducked out the door.
♣ ONE YEAR LATER ♣
"Lavender! We're almost out of the shortbread!"
"Which ones?" came the muffled voice from behind the swinging kitchen doors.
"All of them!" Parvati called, quickly giving the customer in front of her a glowing smile and the last of the lavender earl grey shortbread. Business was booming, and they'd hired five new workers over the last six months. Parvati was on a break between clients and had just finished hanging a colourfully decorated, chalkboard sign advertising their new "Springtime Special-Teas." (Percy was, of course, responsible for that particular pun.) She was proud of the concoctions that she and Lavender had devised for the budding season and gazed up at the board with satisfaction.
"Stick in the Mud? Really?"
At the sound of her boyfriend's voice, Parvati spun around. "Hi! Yes, I thought you'd like that one. Double strong Darjeeling with a drop of milk and a cinnamon stick. Sound familiar?"
"I don't take my tea with cinnamon sticks in it," he pointed out, before muttering petulantly, "and you said I wasn't a stick in the mud."
"Percy! You're not. It's only a silly variation on your usual with a clever name. Besides, you love cinnamon, and if you actually gave this abomination a shot, I think you'd find it to your liking. I'm rather good at knowing just what you like."
The way Percy's face flushed whenever she teased him never failed to give her a thrill. Handing him the cup of tea that she'd been brewing during his protestation, she watched him take a reluctant sip.
"It's too hot to make any firm judgments, but the first taste isn't as horrifying as I'd expected," he allowed grudgingly. Parvati knew by now to take the compliment that was hiding in there.
"Did you bring the new batch?" she asked, eyeing the roll of parchment in his hand.
"Your usual: twelve horoscopes, each divided into three distinct sections," he said, handing her his latest work.
"Brilliant! Oh, I love this one for Pisces. And yes, yes, absolutely on Gemini, especially the last one. Ha! Oh, you bad boy. Sagittarius is going to hate you, but that's fantastically funny and you're not wrong!" Parvati gushed, marvelling yet again at the creativity and biting, sardonic wit behind Percy's serious, starched exterior.
With a firm wave of her wand and a muttered spell, the words on the parchment flew into the air and copied themselves onto waiting piles of tiny slips of paper. As soon as Lavender got a chance, they would be inserted into delicate fortune cookies and placed out front in the twelve large glass jars, each one marked with a zodiac symbol. One of the biggest draws of Cup of Fortune was now the free fortune cookie with purchase. Three clever, funny, and accurate new "fortunes" for each Sign every week kept the regulars coming and charmed the new customers. The new Free Fortune campaign along with the seasonal specialty drinks, a new quiet work room off the main café for Ministry employees (or anyone else), and a big advertising push had turned the business around.
"Thanks, love," she said softly, coming around from behind the counter and kissing his cheek. "I have a Tarot reading in five minutes and then three different clients for tea leaves after that, but I'll see you for dinner, yeah?"
"I'm making spaghetti Carbonara and asparagus."
"That sounds amazing. My mouth is already watering," she said.
"So is mine! You're making enough for me, too, right?" Lavender shouted from the kitchen. Parvati took one look at Percy's perturbed expression and burst out laughing.
"No, Lavender. As luck would have it, this one is all mine."
Percy's answering blush made her stomach twist in a wonderfully familiar way.
"All mine," she repeated softly.