It all started at a Ministry dinner that Padma didn’t even want to attend.
“You’ll have fun,” Morag said, heartlessly. She was already dressed.
Unlike her roommate, however, Padma didn’t like networking or wining and dining. “It’s just politics and pressing flesh,” she said, grumpily pushing the hangers in her wardrobe around. “If I wanted to rub elbows with a bunch of celebrities, I would’ve chosen a different career.”
“It’s just one dinner. Smile and eat their food and make polite conversation.”
“I hate polite conversation,” Padma muttered. She wasn’t bad at it – she could small talk with the best if she had to – but it sucked. Her job valued intelligence and skill and plain-speaking, not gladhanding and insincere smiles and flattery. Whenever she had to go to one of these Ministry functions, all she could think of was Gilderoy Lockhart from second year Hogwarts.
Morag laughed. “Then be the grim mysterious Unspeakable and refuse to talk to anyone. It works for you. Makes you look hot.”
“I don’t know why I like you,” Padma said, though she had to smile.
At the dinner, Morag was seated at a completely different table, which Padma supposed was intended to encourage the forming of new connections. Her own table had a film star (his teeth were too straight and white), a journalist (Padma didn’t trust journalists; Rita Skeeter was a bad formative experience), a politician (didn’t she have a supremely iffy stance on the status of giants?), and a businessman (with an oozy charm that made Padma want to take a shower). There was a sixth chair, on Padma’s right, but whoever was supposed to be in it didn’t show up. (Padma was supremely jealous.)
She focused on her food, tuning out the Ministry dinner speaker. If it was important, Morag could tell her later, but it sounded like the same old meaningless tripe. She’d done her bit – she’d shown up and played nice. She didn’t actually have to listen.
“Sorry I’m late,” someone whispered, and dropped into the chair next to Padma.
As the waiter brought the woman’s food, Padma stared at her.
It had been fifteen years since the Battle of Hogwarts, fifteen years since Padma last fought in Dumbledore’s Army, fifteen long and productive years. She hadn’t seen the woman next to her since then – well, seen to talk to. Of course she’d seen Ginny Weasley. Who hadn’t? She was the face of the Holyhead Harpies, an international Quidditch legend, the smiling spokesperson for countless luxury brands. The year she won her first Quidditch World Cup, there was an unfortunate trend in which all the teenagers were trying to dye their hair to match Ginny’s (often with ridiculous results). She was a rock star.
“Hi,” Padma said, inadequately.
Ginny’s smile was just as fantastic as it was in the adverts, open and warm. “Hi,” she said, including the table in the greeting.
For the rest of the dinner speech, Padma couldn’t concentrate on the speaker or her dinner. She was hyperaware of Ginny next to her, the long line of her left leg and the elusive hint of her perfume, something almost masculine. Her appetite had fled entirely.
The thing was, Ginny Weasley wasn’t only one of the biggest celebrities in the wizarding world. She was also the girl who was Padma’s first crush, fifteen years and a lifetime ago. They might run in different circles now, but Padma still remembered the fierce young witch who fought side-by-side with her. She was beautiful then, and she was beautiful now, and Padma was going to have to make small talk with her in just a few minutes.
Of course Ginny turned out to be awesome at small talk.
The girl Padma remembered had no time for social pleasantries, preferring to jinx first and ask questions later, but then that had been a different era. She supposed she’d never been at a dinner party with Ginny before; maybe this was how she’d always been.
“And what was filming in Argentina like?” Ginny asked the actor.
He told them a story about falling off the side of a cliff, and the makeup artist being the only one paying attention enough to see his danger and cast Arresto Momentum. “It was a small cliff,” he admitted, flashing his pearly whites. “But it was still a cliff! Always check the health & safety records of film directors before you sign a contract.”
Padma was currently wishing the entire table would fall off a cliff, except for her and Ginny. But that was unkind. She made an effort. “Perhaps they were thinking of the publicity – ‘film star falls off cliff’ would be an excellent headline.”
“Not punchy enough,” the reporter said, immediately. “Film Idol Meets Gory End, perhaps.”
The actor looked distinctly alarmed. This possibility had obviously never occurred to him.
“Maybe they hoped you would fall in love with the makeup artist who saved your life,” the politician said, entering into the spirit of things.
The actor looked even more alarmed. “She was seventy.”
Badass old lady, Padma thought.
Ginny, perhaps thinking they should change the topic before they all get sued for slander of the production company, said, “So, Padma, tell us – what does an Unspeakable actually do?”
Crap. Oh crap. The whole table was suddenly looking at her, which made Padma uncomfortable, but far more importantly, Ginny was looking straight at her.
Padma was thirty-three years old, highly respected in her field, and entirely self-possessed. But just then, with those huge brown eyes trained on her, she couldn’t think of anything to say.
After an agonizing moment of silence, she fell back on the standard answer. “Well,” she said, trying her best enigmatic smile, “if I told you, I’d have to kill you.”
The businessman shuddered, and the journalist said, “Dark!” in an approving tone.
Ginny just grinned, her eyes sparkling.
“I suppose,” Padma said, “that the non-classified parts of my job are similar to any of yours. More mundane, even. Sometimes the most exciting part of my day is trying to figure out who used the last of the caffeinated coffee without putting it on the list. An office full of uncaffeinated Unspeakables isn’t a pleasant place.”
“Or a safe one?” the actor asked, attempting a teasing tone but just ending up on ‘nervous’.
“Hermione tells me that you have a softball league,” Ginny said, refilling her wine glass.
Ah, the softball league. “Hermione thought that those of us in the office who don’t feel comfortable on broomsticks might enjoy a different team bonding experience.”
From the laughter in Ginny’s eyes, Padma could tell that she’d successfully decoded the bland corporate-speak into ‘Hermione is bloody terrified of broomsticks’. (Padma loved Hermione, but everyone had faults.)
“You haven’t given up Quidditch, though?” the journalist asked, sounding like she had her news feelers up.
Padma, sensing a Hermione Granger Forces Unspeakables to Give Up Quidditch for Muggle Game headline, quickly backtracked. “Oh, of course not. We have a Quidditch league too. In fact, our annual tournament is next month.”
The actor perked up. “What’s the stakes?”
“Glory and bragging rights,” Padma said, smiling. “Though Harry always wins, so it’s not really a fair fight.”
Oops. She shouldn’t have said that.
“Harry Potter plays?” the journalist said, her eyes wide. “But he’s not an Unspeakable.”
This was so going to be in the Daily Prophet. Padma suppressed a sigh. “No, he’s not. But we let people’s significant others play, so he gets in because of Hannah.”
Ginny swirled her wine in her glass. “Someone should take him down.”
“I’d like that,” Padma said, “but I’m only a decent player myself.” She was a little more than dececnt, especially by the standards of the Unspeakable Quidditch League, which wasn’t on a professional level (except for Harry, who still had the reflexes), but ‘modest’ was a good look on anyone. “Ginny, if you want to matchmake one of your teammates to one of my teammates, let me know.”
“I will,” Ginny said, with a little smile playing around her lips.
Damn, but that smile was attractive.
After the dinner was over, Ginny pulled her aside in the coatroom.
“It’s been too long,” she said, winding a long green scarf around her neck. “We should catch up. How about grabbing a coffee this week?”
“I’d like that,” Padma said, semi-coherently.
Ginny grinned at her, and then she was gone, slipping effortlessly through the encroaching crowd like they were Bludgers on a collision course with her. Padma wasn’t entirely sure how she did it.
And that’s how Padma ended up with a coffee date with Ginny Weasley.
(Morag took full credit for making sure Padma didn’t beg off the dinner with a faux cold. Padma deeply regretted ever telling Morag about her Ukrainian Ironbelly-sized crush. “It’s just a coffee!” she protested. “Just two friends catching up!”
“Uh-huh,” Morag said, and winked.)
They arranged to meet at a Muggle coffee shop (“cuts down on the autograph seekers,” Ginny said apologetically in her owl). Padma arrived five minutes early and ordered a quad grande non-fat latte, because in her job she had to know a lot of specialized jargon, and Muggle coffee lingo had come in handy several times. Her drink came marked as “Padme”, but, well, close enough.
Ginny arrived a few minutes late, with apologies. If it was possible, she looked even better in casual Muggle clothing than she had in fancy dress at the dinner. Padma swallowed past the sudden lump in her throat, and scalded her esophagus with too-hot coffee.
“So,” Ginny said, after she’d ordered and sat down. (Her cup said “Jenny”.) “I do want to catch up – it’s been too long! – but I also want to put Operation Take Harry Down into practice.”
Padma arched an eyebrow.
“C’mon,” Ginny said, grinning. “He wins every year? That isn’t fair. It’s about time somebody shook things up a bit.”
“What were you thinking?” Padma asked. Always a safe question.
Ginny leaned back in her chair. It made her jumper shift, and Padma heroically kept her eyes on Ginny’s face. She wasn’t a teenager. Get over yourself, Patil. “I was thinking,” she said, her eyes sparkling, “that you and I should suddenly hook up and fall in love.”
“…Excuse me?” Padma said, faintly.
“You said the tournament is next month. If we become a couple now, that gives me plenty of time to practice with your team. Harry’s going down.”
“It’s just a work league,” Padma said. “It’s not on your level – or Harry’s. Are you sure you want to waste your time on us?” When you could be vacationing on a Caribbean island or shooting a new advert or doing whatever it is that international celebrities do in your off time?, she thought.
Ginny grinned again. “I love Harry to death, of course, but you know how siblings are. They can’t help annoying you. Harry’s been resting on his Hogwarts Quidditch laurels for forever, and whenever he plays in a family pickup game he’s not really trying. I want a fair fight and bragging rights.”
“Says the international Quidditch star.”
“Don’t judge me,” Ginny said, laughing. “What do you say?”
Padma’s coffee cup was burning her hands, but she hardly noticed. “You want us to pretend to be dating so that you can beat Harry in our work league tournament,” she clarified, just to be sure.
Ginny batted her eyelashes, which should have looked ridiculous, and it did, but it also made Padma’s heart thump. This was such a bad idea. “Yep. What do you say?”
Padma pretended to consider. “Can I have tickets to Harpies games?”
“Darlin’,” Ginny said, with a cheesy drawl, “if you’re my girlfriend you can have anythin’ your heart desires.”
This was such a bad idea.
“Okay,” Padma said.
Morag entered into the spirit of the caper with enthusiasm. (They had to tell her, because it would have been impossible to pull the wool over her eyes. If she and Ginny had been actually dating, Padma would have been shagging her on every surface available, and making herself a real roommate nuisance. In the absence of such, erm, activity, Morag would have never bought it. Better to give her the truth.)
“I’ll vouch for you, don’t worry,” she said, bringing Ginny a mug of tea. “I’ll complain about my sleep being interrupted and how you’ve basically moved in already, you’re moving so fast.”
“Uh,” Padma said. “Maybe not in that much detail?”
If her mother found out that she was dating Ginny Weasley from the Daily Prophet, complete with lurid details about their active sex life, she’d have a heart attack, and then be hurt by the fact that Padma hadn’t confided in her. Padma would like to avoid that if at all possible.
She wasn’t sure they’d be able to keep it out of the papers, though. They’d kept Harry’s participation a secret, and he was certainly a celebrity, but he was a young father with a boringly normal life. Would still sell papers if he did anything noteworthy, of course, but nothing on the level of Ginny’s day-in, day-out news coverage. Perhaps Padma should owl her mother, just in case, she thought; but did she tell her the truth or the lie?
“Just tell people that it’s very new but we seem very happy,” Ginny said, and picked up Padma’s hand to press an old-fashioned kiss to her fingers.
Morag snorted into her tea.
“So, uh,” Padma said, eloquently, at their first team meeting. Ginny was already out on the pitch, to give Padma space to explain without Ginny’s looming presence. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
Oliver’s face was immediately worried. “You’re playing, right? We need you, Patil.”
“I’m playing,” Padma said, smiling at him. He could get pretty intense about Quidditch, even just in a work league. “But you see, I just started dating someone who would like to play, if we have space for her.”
“What position?” Imogen asked. “She can have my spot. My bones still ache from my dustup in Norwich.”
“She’ll play anything,” Padma said. “But Seeker and Chaser are her best positions.”
“Anything?” Oliver asked, sceptically.
‘Anything’ players had a bad reputation. Most decent Quidditch players specialized, although of course in a pinch anyone could try their hand at anything.
“She’s really good,” Padma said, smiling.
“Well, we need someone really good,” Rufus said, hauling himself up with an effort. He was still an excellent Beater, but his hips weren’t quite the same anymore. “If we’re to have any chance at Potter.”
Oliver swung the locker room door open, and they headed out on the field together.
“Unless Padma’s girlfriend is a professional Quidditch player,” Imogen was telling Rufus, “our best hope is to try for second. That’s just common sense.”
When Oliver stopped dead, Padma nearly ran into him. She detoured around him and went to Ginny, leaning up to kiss her cheek.
“Hey, babe,” Ginny said, her eyes laughing. “Hello, Unspeakables!” she said to the team, saluting. “Have a spot for me?”
“How did you pull Ginny Weasley?” Oliver asked, before shaking his head. “Never mind, you can tell me later. Yes, we have a spot for you. If that’s all right, Imogen?”
“I already said it was,” Imogen said. “And like I’d ever claim to be better than Ginny Weasley!” She laughed, a deep belly laugh. “Wait until Harry sees who’s on our team.”
Ginny’s arm was warm and strong around Padma’s waist.
If their fake relationship had been only at team practices, Padma thought she could have managed it. Sure, it was a bit overwhelming at first – largely from the speed and unexpectedness of it – but it’s not like she and Ginny hadn’t been friends, back in the DA days, or that Padma was incapable of being friends with someone she was (deeply) attracted to. She wasn’t a great actress, but nobody seemed to notice that she was too shy to kiss Ginny on the lips, or that she blushed every time Ginny flirted with her. (Which happened a lot, because Ginny apparently loved flirting with her.)
But Ginny didn’t only come to team practices. She dropped by the flat a couple evenings a week with a bottle of wine and a Muggle film, or with a new board game in which dragons attempted to destroy the world and you had to work together to stop them, or with the newly released Weird Sisters comeback album.
It was … different than Padma had been expecting, sitting on the sofa together with the fire crackling in the hearth. Ginny was funny, and sweet (although with a wicked edge), and thoughtful. Padma’s crush was showing no signs of fading anytime soon.
“You should make a move already,” Morag said, one night after Ginny went home. (Padma wasn’t actually sure where Ginny lived. Probably somewhere exclusive and expensive, with a doorman to ward off paparazzi. Certainly not Mile End, with its hordes of students. Though they weren’t that bad, except when they partied. And they never noticed anything odd.)
Padma sighed, and finished the wine in her glass. “I’m not in her league.”
“Well, technically, you are,” Morag said, laughing at her own joke.
Padma made a very rude gesture that she learned from Headmistress McGonagall (after Padma graduated, of course). “But really, Morag. I’m just an ordinary person, and she’s - Ginny Weasley.”
“You’re an Unspeakable, which is totally not a normal person,” Morag said, “and from where I’m sitting it looks awfully like Ginny Bloody Weasley has a crush on you.”
“You tried to set up Imogen and Seamus,” Padma pointed out. “Your track record isn’t stellar.”
“Well,” Morag said, with injured dignity, “I stand by what I said. You should make a move.”
Padma tried to imagine it. What would it be like to actually kiss Ginny? To actually… no, down that way just lay madness. Ginny wasn’t interested! She was a friend, and Padma was very glad they’d reconnected after all these years. Hopefully they could stay friends after the championship, even though they’d ‘break up’. Now that they’d reconnected, Padma didn’t want to fall out of touch again.
But all Ginny wanted was to show up Harry and earn Weasley bragging rights. That was all.
Surely that was all.
On the day of the tournament, Padma ran into Harry during warmups.
“So,” he said, nodding towards Ginny, who was standing in as an extra Chaser during drills (and giving Oliver a hard time), “it’s true. You’ve pulled a fast one on me.”
He didn’t look mad, only amused. Padma smiled at him. “Scared?”
“Of Ginny?” Harry laughed. Then he grinned. “Yeah, kinda. I’m not bad, but Ginny’s Ginny.”
“She’s determined to take you down,” Padma informed him.
“I’ll bet,” Harry said. “She knows I’ll never let her live it down if I catch the Snitch. Plus she’ll want to impress her new girlfriend.”
Padma blushed. “She doesn’t have to impress me.”
“She’ll still want to,” Harry said, smiling. “Hermione was telling me that she’s crazy about you.”
That was news to Padma. “Hermione said that?”
The Unspeakables didn’t have a traditionally organized power structure – an outsider might have considered them a mess, if they’d been able to understand the scope of their work – but Hermione was, if not exactly Padma’s boss, one of the most influential and accomplished Unspeakables. Padma admired her work, and had often consulted her on knottier details of complicated missions. While they weren’t exactly friends - they had always run in different circles in Hogwarts (even before the Golden Trio had set off to destroy Horcruxes, leaving Dumbledore’s Army behind to fight a different fight), and since the War their paths hadn’t crossed socially – Padma liked to think that they had a mutual respect for each other.
She had never thought that Ginny might be discussing her with Hermione. But she probably should have. While the two hadn’t seemed incredibly close during Hogwarts, they were family now; perhaps Ginny had adopted Hermione as the sister she’d never had. If Ginny had been actually dating Padma, and not just pretending to, she might have very well talked about her new relationship with her sister-in-law. It was a normal thing to do.
That didn’t mean Padma wasn’t standing in front of the Saviour of the Wizarding World (now a mild-mannered man with sleep-circles under his eyes from getting up in the night with his new baby), hearing that her fake girlfriend had been telling people how much she liked her.
“Well,” she said, still blushing, “I’m a little crazy about her too.”
Harry smiled and put a hand on her shoulder. “You should come with Ginny to Sunday dinner sometime. I promise we don’t bite. Not even Molly.”
This was getting too much for Padma. She nodded, a little shell-shocked. Luckily her ‘relationship’ with Ginny would soon be over, and she’d never have to beard the Weasley clan as a suitor for the heart of their youngest.
(Or was it really ‘luckily’? Her traitorous heart wasn’t quite sure.)
Placed on opposite sides of the draws (Margaret, the league organizer, had only needed one look at the team rosters to seed them first and second), Harry and Ginny’s teams wouldn’t meet until the finals, if they both got that far. (Which, barring some random twist of fate or a forbidden use of Felix Felicis by an opposing team, they would.)
They won their first match handily, when Ginny caught the Snitch a half-hour in. Padma scored a few goals, so she felt accomplished as they picnic-lunched in the stands while watching Harry’s team destroy a hapless opponent. Adele, the rival Seeker, tried to distract Harry in every way she could, but it didn’t work; he still spotted the Snitch first, and when Harry Potter was in full flight after a Snitch, few people could catch him.
Their second match was late in the afternoon, as the changing shadows increased the difficulty level. Padma was nearly taken out by a Bludger ten minutes in, but a neat piece of flying saved her. Oliver allowed a few more goals than he might have in his prime, but he was still a good Keeper and they backed him up stoutly. They were playing recreational-league rules – games were called after an hour even if the Snitch wasn’t caught – so it was vital to establish a lead, just in case your Seeker didn’t manage to find it in time. This match was a battle right down to the end, and Padma was racing towards the goal with what she hoped was the go-ahead point when Ginny swooped heart-stoppingly close in front of her and snatched the Snitch out of the sky.
“Come out to the pub with us, Weasley,” Oliver said in the locker room after, with laudatory casualness. “We’ll toast to victory.”
“Can’t,” Ginny said, with a shrug.
Of course she’d have commitments. Probably something glamorous.
“I promised Padma we’d get pizza and watch Muggle television,” she said, looping her arm through Padma’s.
There’d been no such promise, but Padma liked the idea. She leaned her head against Ginny’s strong shoulder, feeling the smile play across her lips. “Sorry, guys,” she said, intertwining her fingers with Ginny’s. “She’s all mine.”
Perhaps it was Padma’s unaccomustomed daring, or perhaps Ginny was just feeling playful, but Ginny pressed a kiss to the top of her hair. Padma felt the hot blood rushing to her cheeks.
“Well, have fun,” Oliver said, the smirk on his face hinting that he didn’t quite believe that pizza and Muggle TV was all they had in mind. They were supposed to be newly dating, after all.
“Go away,” Ginny said, laughing.
The pizza was delicious. The Muggle television show was confusing – that wasn’t at all how time travel worked, and Padma should know, after that mixup in Sheffield the previous year that gave her migraines for weeks – but Ginny made Padma take the last piece of pizza, and she stuck her feet under Padma’s thighs to keep her toes warm, and they weren’t quite cuddling, but it was pretty close.
If Padma hadn’t been so shy (in romance; she wasn’t shy at all in the workplace or in the field), and if Ginny hadn’t been so thoroughly out of her league (Padma knew she wasn’t a bad catch herself, but she wasn’t an international superstar), she might conceivably, possibly, have worked up enough courage to make a move.
But Padma was shy, and Ginny was beautiful beyond belief, and so Padma sat on the sofa and watched the credulity-straining time travel, her heart thumping in her chest.
(Morag, absent on a job in Aberystwyth, would later bemoan Padma’s reticence in the strongest of terms. But Morag could shut it.)
The second weekend of the tournament dawned wet and blustery. Padma groaned and hid her head under the covers, then grimly got up and started dressing for the weather. Her allweather kit (charmed to withstand anything the skies could throw at her), her lucky pendant (given to her by her mother before her OWLs), and the boots Morag called Serious Business.
“Don’t get too muddy,” Morag told her, looking up from her book.
(Morag, a Quidditch heathen, preferred relaxing at home to “freezing her arse off in those bloody uncomfortable stands”.)
“I’ll try,” Padma said.
She did get very muddy, especially when an ill-advised feint during their second match spun her out of control, dumping her off her broomstick and down onto the pitch. Luckily half the danger of the move had been its nearness to the ground, so it wasn’t a long fall. Still, her unwise decision to put out her hands to break her fall meant that she snapped her wrist and required attention from the mediwizards. Imogen subbed in for her, and Padma watched the rest of the match from the ground.
Ginny caught the Snitch forty-five minutes in, doing a somersault that took Padma’s breath away, and there it was, they were in next week’s final. Padma would have clapped, but, well, broken wrist. She settled for cheering instead.
As soon as the result was made official, Ginny was by her side. “Are you all right?” she asked, examining Padma’s wrist with a critical eye.
“Nothing a couple days won’t mend,” Padma said, smiling. “I’ll be back in time for the final. If the team still wants me after that embarrassing spill.”
“Don’t be daft,” Oliver said. “Just don’t do that particular move again.”
Padma saluted him, assuming a mock-solemn expression.
Paying attention to Oliver, she didn’t see the kiss coming.
For all the many times Padma had imagined Ginny kissing her, she had never imagined it happening on a Quidditch pitch, with Padma sitting in the mud and Ginny squatting down beside her. The rain was beating down on them, and Padma’s wrist throbbed. Ginny’s lips on hers were firm and wet from the rain, and her hand on Padma’s face was gentle.
It was perfect.
After one startled moment, Padma kissed back, letting her eyes fall shut. Ginny was kissing her, really kissing her – and if this was never going to happen again, she intended to remember every moment of it.
Ginny insisted on taking her home. Padma, a bit woozy, didn’t protest.
They took Muggle transport, because Ginny was a worrywart and didn’t want to risk Apparating while Padma’s wrist was still healing. The Central Line was crowded – Saturday night, everyone going out – but Ginny shouldered everyone aside and made a sour-faced businessman surrender his seat for “my girlfriend with a broken wrist, she can’t stand because it’ll jostle”.
Padma sat between a sleeping old lady and a pregnant tourist, and watched Ginny. Even among oblivious Muggles, she shone like a star. How anyone could stand next to Ginny Weasley and not realise that she was something special, Padma really didn’t know.
“You’re looking at me like you’ve never seen me before,” Ginny said, smiling at her.
Three people glared at them. Padma had taken the Tube enough times for work that she knew talking was against the etiquette. But today she didn’t give a damn.
“Maybe I haven’t,” she said, cryptically, and leaned her head back against the wall of the carriage.
They walked home from the station in the rain. No magic around Muggles, of course, so they were both drenched by the time they stumbled inside the flat, laughing and shaking themselves like dogs.
Morag took one look at them and began ostentatiously gathering up her things. “I have a date,” she said, though she winked at Padma when Ginny’s back was turned. “I’ll be back later.”
“It’s not like that,” Padma said in a fierce undertone, when Ginny went to the kitchen to make tea. “She’s just worried about me because I broke my wrist.”
“Uh-huh,” Morag said.
“I hate you,” Padma said, though she didn’t really.
In the end, it happened all of a sudden.
Ginny insisted on cooking dinner, even though she was the guest, because she said she didn’t trust anybody with a broken wrist to use a knife safely. Padma sat at the kitchen table and watched her chop onions and carrots quickly and efficiently.
“You don’t want to use a spell for that?” she asked.
Ginny shook her head, dumping her veg into the pan with a satisfying sizzle. “I like doing it myself. There’s something comforting about cooking. One of my teammates has a private chef, but I enjoy it.” She stirred, then started inspecting Padma’s spice rack. “It’s soothing. My mum thinks I’m daft for doing it all by hand, but it’s fun.”
Padma could understand that. “My mother won’t use cooking spells for some recipes either. She says not even the best spell can replicate the magic of a good cook.”
“I like her already,” Ginny said, with a smile. “You’ll have to introduce us.”
Padma imagined her mother and Ginny together. They’d get along, she thought; but it was a pipe-dream, and abruptly she couldn’t stand it any more. This warm cosy intimacy taunted her with its unreality – she wanted it for real. How could she enjoy it when she knew it would be taken away so soon?
“Ginny,” she said, her voice sobering, although she didn’t know what she’d say.
Hearing her tone, Ginny put the knife down and turned to face her.
“I don’t,” Padma said, then tried again. “Since we’re not for real, let’s not pretend we are.”
Ginny shrugged. “Even if I’m just your friend, I’d like to meet your mother. You’ve met mine.”
“That’s not the same,” Padma said.
She’d take Ginny home in a heartbeat, if this was real.
“Besides,” Ginny said, her face carefully still, “who says it can’t be for real?”
Padma’s ears started abruptly pounding. She stared at Ginny.
There was a blush mounting on Ginny’s neck, but she forged on nonetheless. “This isn’t how I meant to ask you, but – look, I really like you. I know you only said yes to all of this because I begged, and you might not even think of me that way at all, but – if you do, well.” She cleared her throat. “I really like you.”
It wasn’t the clearest proposition Padma had ever received. “You’re – interested in me?” she said, hearing the disbelief in her own voice.
“You’re a hot, sweet, terrifying competent Unspeakable,” Ginny said. “You share my deplorable taste in Muggle television, even though you talk too much during it, and you don’t care about getting wet walking in the rain, and you laugh at my jokes. Plus I’ve had a crush on you since we were in Hogwarts,” she added, as an afterthought.
“Me too,” Padma said, surprised, without thinking, then watched Ginny’s smile slowly spread into the widest of grins.
“Well then,” Ginny said, and abandoned her frying pan.
Padma stood up for the kiss, slipping her good hand around the back of Ginny’s neck. Ginny kissed like she played Quidditch, intense and full of energy, and Padma let herself be swept up, giddy as a schoolgirl.
“So, officially-my-girlfriend,” Ginny said, when they broke apart at last, “I think I’ve burned dinner. Can I take you out somewhere?”
Padma thought about it, but… “How about,” she said, mischievous, “we delay dinner until later, and adjourn to my bedroom?” She had a month of frustrated dreams to fulfill, after all.
“That is also an excellent idea,” Ginny said, and kissed her again.
Padma laughed into the kiss, and pulled her closer.
It was a close match, on a chilly but sunny day. The Weasleys were all there, their loyalty divided but no less vociferous. Padma’s parents came; she’d gone to dinner a few days before, to break the news to them. (“Good,” her mother had said, patting Padma’s hair. “If she makes you happy, we are happy.”)
Harry and Ginny were jostling for position far above them, as Padma wheeled around, Bludger in hand. Behind her, Oliver protected the goal; all around her, the spectators cheered with an energy that felt like it could equal a professional match.
Padma grinned, feeling the breeze caress her face.
Whatever the outcome of this match, she’d already won.