Disclaimer: I solemnly swear that I am up to no good – er, I mean, we own nothing. Yeah . . .P)vs(M
Fifteen years later – 20 June 2013
Blaise leaned back, stretching her arms over her head and watching chaos spread out in front of her. The noise would have been enough to wake the neighbors for miles around, have there been any neighbors for miles around. There weren't, however, and thus the vast expanse of family felt at liberty to shriek, laugh, and holler to their hearts' content. She preferred to just sit and watch everyone else look completely foolish.
"Ever the dignified Slytherin, aren't we?" The cool voice was both amused and condescending.
"No, just you," she returned, without looking away from the madness that was the front lawn.
"Enough to wake the neighbors."
"Red's Park doesn't have any, Draco."
"Oh, aren't we all particular this evening?" he groused.
"No, just you."
"Knock it off, Blaise."
"You started it."
"Arguably the most mature conversation I've had all day," he muttered, stalking away.
Blaise smiled to herself as she watched his retreat, vaguely smug at the idea of being able to out-Draco Draco even after all these years.
"And what are you smiling about?" a new voice demanded from just behind her.
"Men," Blaise said with a smile, leaning back in her chair.
Her companion followed her gaze. "You can't be smiling about Draco. I rarely smile about Draco!"
"Well, you do have to live with him," Blaise pointed out.
"That's true," her friend said thoughtfully. "You'd think I'd have learnt to cope by now."
Blaise sniggered loudly enough to be heard by the man in question, who took one look at his wife and Blaise, and fled across the lawn to complain to one of his brothers-in-law (Bill, probably, as they got on frighteningly well).
"What's he moping about for?" Blaise wanted to know.
"He hates family gatherings," the redhead said knowingly.
Blaise opened her mouth in surprise.
"Oh, he loves the kids," Ginny assured her. "They're the only reason he still hosts these reunions with such little fuss. But, you know, he's used to fancy dress affairs and," she smiled, "well, Weasleys just don't hold with that sort of rubbish."
"He didn't like fancy dress affairs when we were kids," Blaise said, shaking her head after him. "Why would he want them now?"
"At least my brothers seem to be enjoying themselves," she pointed out.
Blaise followed her gaze and watched as Charlie and Fred went galloping by with small nieces perched on their backs who were yelling, "Go, griffy, go!"
"Hippogriffs have become an extension of this family," Blaise murmured, with a faint smile. Only this family . . .
"Well, Sirius kind of brought one into the fold, didn't he?" Ginny returned, nodding toward an oak where Buckbeak, Sirius' only life-long companion, was burrowing for Merlin knew what in the lawn.
"Draco will have a fit if he sees the hole that creature is digging," Ginny muttered. "I've told Sirius to give him something to chew on, but Sirius said that he was forbidden by Draco to bring ferrets, which are what Buckbeat normally eats, so what could he be expected to do?"
"Sirius and Draco aren't fond of each other," Blaise pointed out. "I imagine they're both being difficult."
"Still, I think I'll go move Buckbeak before he destroys half the lawn or eats one of the children," Ginny said, getting to her feet with a sigh and hurrying away. Blaise watched her go, chuckling when Ginny passed her husband, who was attempting to convince one of his older nephews not to have any more punch, "because then Uncle Draco will be blamed for making you sick, and then Uncle Draco will be murdered by your mummy, and you don't want Uncle Draco to die, do you?"
Blaise's eyes moved on, taking in the scene. Though the family gathering was an annual affair, it felt special and different every time it occurred. Everyone was a year older, or in the case of the babies, hadn't been there the year before. Blaise was always relieved that their numbers increased, rather than decreased. The war had ended years ago, but for those who had fought in it, each new year of peace was fresh source of wonder and delight.
Blaise Zabini, delighted. It was a pathetic example of what happened when one went wretchedly soft.
"Blaise Zabini – smiling?" a quiet, saucy voice said from behind her. "And what has Blaise Zabini got to be smiling about?"
"I wasn't smiling," Blaise countered, straightening her face and turning. "How are you feeling, you smarmy git?"
"Well enough. Bit tired."
"Have a seat." She vacated her chair.
"I'm fine, Blaise."
He sat, looking grouchy.
"None of that," Blaise said sharply. "I'm looking after you, since you don't seem capable of doing it yourself."
"Shut up." Blaise took her drink off the side table next to the chair and handed it to him. "Drink. You've had too much sun."
He obeyed and she took a seat at his feet, leaning back against the chair and resting her head on his knee. He reached out long fingers to stroke her close-cropped, dark hair. They sat in companionable silence for a bit, until Harry's hand stilled, and his soft breath suggested that he was dozing. She turned her head to kiss the thin hand that now rested on his leg, then turned to give him the thorough once-over he would never have allowed in wakefulness. His head was tipped back against the chair, his lips slightly parted. She could barely hear his breathing, though his chest rose and fell, and she compulsively leaned close to listen for the familiar sound.
"Blaise, stop it," he ordered softly, his eyes still closed.
She didn't jump. Instead, she leaned in and rested her cheek against his chest. "Stop what?"
He didn't respond, but he groped for one of her hands, twining their fingers. He slid his other arm around her, and held her against him as he drifted back to sleep. Blaise clung to him tenaciously.
She blinked, swallowed hard, and pulled away. Turning round, she forced a smile. "Yes, love?"
Large, green eyes blinked owlishly from behind wire-rim spectacles.
"Is Daddy okay?"
"Yes, love, he's fine," she responded immediately, getting to her feet. "He's just tired. Come with me and we can play in the swing."
"I would, but Hayden won't let me!" The little girl looked up Blaise with such an indignant expression that Blaise felt a genuine smile at her lips and the tension within her eased a bit.
"Perhaps we can negotiate with him," she suggested.
"Nego – nesoshigate – what's that?"
"That means try to agree that if we give him ten more minutes then he lets us play," Blaise told her.
"Oh." A pause and a thoughtful frown. "Do you think it'll work?"
"He's your cousin," she responded. "What do you think?"
"I think he's a prat."
"Well, he is!"
"Where did you learn that word, young lady?" Blaise demanded, planting her hands on her hips.
"Uncle Draco," the little girl said frankly.
Oh, dear, Blaise thought darkly, glaring at the blonde across the lawn. Uncle Draco's in for a bit of a duffing up this evening.
Harry cracked an eye open to watch Blaise and Tristan drift away across the crowded lawn toward everyone's favorite rope swing, which Ron had built for little Hayden's fifth birthday earlier that year. Ginny had ranted and raved about how dangerous it was, but Draco had been utterly delighted with it and often took his son up, as it was big enough for three adults to fit comfortably across the seat. In order to get a really good swing, one was required to climb up a set of steps that had been built around a particularly wide maple. The stairs spiraled once around the tree, ending in a platform that was perhaps twenty feet off the ground. Ron had had the presence of mind to put a guardrail around the edge, leaving a small opening front just wide enough to fit the wide bench of the swing.
Harry smiled as Blaise and Tristan arrived in the clearing at the edge of the vast woodland, through which the swing moved back and forth, and Blaise called up to Hayden. Harry's blonde nephew immediately jumped off the swing (a feat of acrobatics that caught his mother's attention in an instant), and Blaise and Tristan disappeared around the tree.
Harry closed his eyes, still smiling with sheer contentment and allowing himself to relax into a desperately needed doze. He let the chaotic noise around him lull him into a sense of safety that still felt wholly new and wonderful to him. Again, he reflected that for the first time in his life, he felt secure and totally at ease. No aunts or uncles or burly cousins to dodge, no dark lords to fight, no smarmy professors skulking around. Just family and friends.
"Potter! Oy, Potter, you lazy object!"
"Draco, stop that, he's sleeping," Ginny's voice snapped from somewhere across the lawn.
"In the middle of the afternoon! It's pathetic," Draco said, his voice coming nearer to Harry's chair. "Potter, I know you're not really asleep!"
Harry kept his eyes tightly closed, trying not to smile at the blonde's annoyed tone.
"Well, if he wasn't asleep before . . ." came Ron's voice, sarcastically. Harry did smile at the protective tone in his best friend's voice.
"'S all right, Ron," he mumbled, cracking an eye. "What do you want, Malfoy?"
"Oh, nothing," Draco said, swaggering to a halt before him. "I just think it's right unfair that you get to lie around all day, whilst I am beaten about the head for so much as taking a chair for thirty seconds."
"I'd gladly trade you places, any day, and you know it," Harry said lightly, rolling his tense shoulders.
"Yes, well . . ." Draco took a seat on the step below him. "Don't suppose," he ventured, after a few moment's silence, "you'd be up for a couple of rounds after supper tonight."
Harry grunted impatiently. "Sure. Just get Blaise off my back for two seconds and I'm there."
"Don't you start in on Blaise because she cares about you!" a new voice said severely from behind Harry's chair.
"Buuusted," Draco drawled in murmur.
"Sorry," Harry mumbled contritely.
"Too right you are," Hermione said, striding briskly onto the porch and handing him a glass of water that was rather green. "Ginny says to drink this – it's got your Restorative Potion in – and then you'll be all right to do a couple of laps with Draco tonight."
Harry bit his lip, trying not to feel the harsh, bitter tug of resentment in his stomach. There had been a time when he was the best Quidditch player at Hogwarts, a time when he might have been able to play professional Quidditch, like Blaise had. And now . . .
"Couple of laps, indeed," Draco snorted, watching Hermione as she went to join Ginny and Mr. Weasley in conversation under the tree that Buckbeat had, until recently, been uprooting. "Reckon we could do one on one, Potter – Snitch only."
Harry tried to smile. It felt more like a grimace.
"Yeah," he said. "Yeah, that sounds all right."
"Good," Draco said briskly. "Now drink that potion and then come have something good."
"Good, like hundred-year-old good?" Harry asked, hopefully.
"Good, like there are few people in the world who've ever had this kind of good," Draco said imperiously, critically examining a fingernail with an expression probably calculated to make Harry laugh.
He smiled, and downed the diluted potion in several gulps.
His smile widened around a grimace at the bitterness of the concoction he had just swallowed. Dad. It was a good word, he thought, as a little boy came skidding to a halt beside him.
"Ced," he said, ruffling his dark hair. "Where're your sister and your mum?"
"They're still swinging," Cedric said indifferently. He stood there, hesitantly bouncing from foot to foot. Finally, he burst out, "Will you go riding with me and Den?"
"Now?" Harry asked in surprise.
"No, after dinner with everyone," Cedric said, bouncing with anticipation on the balls of his feet. He paused, watching Harry uncertainly. "Only you were resting and Mum said not to bother you about it . . ."
"Of course I will," Harry said firmly, feeling both frustrated and helpless. Even with the restorative draft, he wasn't feeling very strong.
"He just needs a good, stiff drink, is all," Draco said, offering Harry a hand up. "Come on, Potter, to the cellar we go."
"Why do you call him 'Potter?'" Cedric wanted to know, trotting along beside his tall uncle as they entered the house.
"It's tradition, Ced," Draco told him. He planted his hand on his nephew's shoulder and said in a ridiculously grandiose tone, "Your father and I carry on a long tradition of rivalry, my dear Cedric. Rivalry that transcends time, familial ties, and the very blood," Draco paused, pressing his free hand to his chest, "that runs through our veins!"
Cedric looked blank. "What?"
"What the tremendous prat is trying to say," Harry said, nudging his friend, "is that Potters and Malfoys have always been enemies – during our time at Hogwarts, during your granddad's time, and a long, long time before that."
"But you're friends now," Cedric said, scratching his head. "I don't get it."
"Neither do we," Draco muttered, shaking his head. "And now, nephew, I suggest that you turn tail and make for the outdoors, because where your father and I are going is a highly dangerous place."
"Oh, boy!" Cedric said eagerly.
Harry chuckled. "Sorry, kid. You're a bit young."
"I'm five!" Cedric said, his smile slipping into a disappointed frown.
"When you're ten, I promise," Harry said. "Now go on, before your aunt or mum see us."
"And just where do you think you're slipping off to?"
"Or dear old Uncle Ron," Draco mumbled under his breath.
"Don't you mutter at me, Malfoy," Ron said sharply. "Are you trying to get Harry drunk?"
"Please, Ronald, think of the children!" Draco said, in an uncanny impersonation of Hermione, covering Cedric's ears. Harry bit down hard on his lip to keep from laughing outright at the look of indignation on Ron's face.
"Shut up, you great bastard!" he retorted. Harry was glad that Draco was still covering Cedric's ears. "Are you going off to get sloshed?"
"Possibly," Harry jumped in, before Draco could start again.
"And I wasn't invited?" Ron demanded, looking hurt.
"Oh, is that all?" Draco said, letting go of Cedric, who had been squirming for freedom. "Thought you were off to tell the women folk I was abducting Harry. Sure, Weasel, come on down!"
"Don't start, Ferret," Ron muttered, following Harry's slow progress down the stairs.
Ginny shook her head as Cedric reappeared by the now-empty chair, without either of his uncles or his father and took off across the yard to join Hayden, who was trying out his new training broom not far from the swing clearing.
"They're bloody well going to get sloshed," she said to no one in particular.
"Sloshed?" one of her other nephews asked, tilting his extremely red head on one side.
"Never you mind, Ian," Ginny said firmly. She turned to look at him. "Why is it you're standing around with the grownups? Why don't you go try Hayden's new broom?"
"Dunno," he said, looking mildly puzzled.
Ginny took a good look at him, suddenly suspicious. "Dorian, are you feeling well?"
"Actually, I feel a bit peculiar," the five-year-old admitted, blinking up at her.
"Merlin, he said 'peculiar'," Ginny said blankly to herself. She knelt down beside him and felt his face. "How do you feel, darling?"
"A bit wobbly," Dorian said conversationally. Well, he didn't sound drunk, but neither did his father until he was nearly blind with alcohol.
"What have you been drinking?" Ginny demanded gently.
"Well, I had some of that yummy punch over there," he said, waving vaguely at the large, silver tureen filled with amber liquid. "And then Uncle Draco saw me and told me to run along and not tell you I'd had it." Dorian frowned, looking first at the punch and then at his aunt. "Oops."
"Your uncle is going to be very sorry indeed when I see him next," Ginny murmured, more to herself than to her nephew. "Now come along," she said more loudly, steering him to Harry's vacated porch chair and sitting him firmly down. "You stay right here while I mix a quick little potion, all right, lovey?"
"That sounds reasonable," Dorian said, after a moment's heavy thought.
"Good lord," Ginny muttered, hurrying away into the house.
"Ian! Ian, what're you doing?"
Cedric came hurrying toward him, looking – well, Dorian supposed he looked confused. Dorian didn't see why. He also didn't see why his cousin was weaving about in that bizarre way. Why couldn't he walk properly?
"Oh, good joke, there you are!" Hayden said, bobbing beside them with his racing broom clutched protectively. "Come on, we're going to have a go in the big field."
"Aunt Gin said to stay right here, because she is unsure about my physical and mental condition," Dorian told them, wrinkling his brow.
"The what and the who?" Hayden said. "Ian, are you all right?"
"I think not," Dorian said slowly, hiccupping so abruptly that he jumped in surprise. His stomach had just done a most unpleasant flip-flop.
"Ced, there you are!" Tristan staggered up between Cedric and Hayden. "What're you all doing, then? Can I join?"
"Why do you have to do everything with us?" Hayden said darkly, glaring at Tristan. "Don't you have real friends?"
"Don't be mean!" Tristan said shrilly. Dorian wished to say, "Don't be loud!" but couldn't seem to form the words properly with his mouth.
"It was mean to kick me off the swuuu –" Hayden retorted. Dorian was fairly sure that he had misheard, because swuuu wasn't a proper word.
The next thing he knew, he was being force fed the most wretchedly disgusting liquid he had ever tasted. He gagged for a moment, but then heard his mother's voice, "Drink it, sweetheart. Go on, I promise it will make you feel much better."
Lulled by her coaxing tone, he swallowed, and opened eyes he hadn't realized were closed.
"What was that?" he demanded of his mother, who was crouching before him with Hayden, Tristan, and Cedric crowded around behind her.
"You had a spot too much punch," Hermione told him gently. "Do you feel all right?"
"Er – yeah. Yeah, I'm fine," Dorian said, standing quickly up and embarrassed that everyone was staring at him. He did feel fine. He could remember feeling confused, dizzy, and kind of sick moments ago, but all of it was gone now. "Can I have a go on your new broom, Den?"
"You can go first, if you want," the blonde offered generously, handing it to him.
"Darling, I'm not sure," began Hermione uncertainly.
"I'm fine, Mum!" Dorian said, leading the others off the porch before she could decide to stop him.
"Why are we running?" panted Tristan. She sounded annoyed, but she was keeping better pace with him than either Cedric or Hayden.
"I don't want Mum to change her mind and make me sit in that chair for the rest of the night," Dorian huffed, leading the way toward the large pasture behind the barn mansion.
"Good thinking," Tristan nodded. She followed Dorian into the thick, short grass of the field and came to a halt beside him. "I can't wait to watch Uncle Draco and Dad and Mum flying tonight."
"And my dad," Dorian said helpfully.
"And Uncle Ron," she agreed, smiling.
"I wish they'd let us play," Hayden said grouchily, drawing to a stop beside Tristan.
"We're too little," Tristan said, rolling her eyes at him.
"You look like a troll when you do that," he told her.
"I do not! I don't look like a troll, do I, Ced?" Tristan cried, taking a swipe at Hayden's shoulder with her fist and missing.
"I don't think so," her twin answered. "Because that would mean that I look like a troll, too, because everyone says we look the same."
"'Specially since all Tristy's hair was cut off," Hayden said, smirking at her from a safe distance.
Tristan glared at him, daring him to take a step closer. He didn't.
"Be quiet, Den," Cedric said quietly. "Tristy's my twin and I say she's pretty. Don't you think so, Ian?"
"Yes," Dorian said, without thinking.
"Dorian and Tristy sitting in a tree," chanted the irascible Hayden. "K-I-S-S –" he broke off as Dorian and Tristan dove at him. He swiped his broom back from Dorian and managed to mount before either of them could get to him. He shot off across the field, hooting with laughter.
"Why do you like him, why?" Tristan demanded, rounding on her twin and Dorian.
"Dunno," Cedric said, watching the blonde show off. Hayden was quite a good flyer already, although everyone knew that Tristan was better. Her dad was Harry Potter, after all . . .
"Den, come down and let me have a go," Dorian called up to him. "I promise I won't pummel you."
"What about Tristy?" the blonde called back, flying over their heads. The broom was only designed to fly ten feet off the ground.
"Oooh, someone's afraid of a girl," Cedric taunted, jumping up and down with excitement. He loved flying, although he wasn't as good as Tristan.
"I'm not!" Hayden cried indignantly, immediately diving for the ground. He hopped off and handed the broom to Dorian, who took off at once, whooping with glee as he shot toward the far end of the pasture.
"Ced, do you know where Daddy is?" Tristy asked, turning her back on Hayden. She didn't like him at all and only put up with him because her twin and Dorian, her best friends, liked him so much. And also, she and Hayden were god brother and sister, because Aunty Gin was Tristy's godmum.
"Uncle Draco and Uncle Ron and him went to the cellar to get a stiff drink, whatever that means," Cedric told her, his eyes still on the broom. "They said they were getting 'sloshed'."
"Dad has lots of old stuff in the cellar," Hayden commented distractedly. He glanced nervously up at Dorian. Tristan was sure that Hayden thought Dorian would break the broom if he stopped looking, even for a minute.
"Old stuff?" Cedric repeated.
"I don't know," Hayden said impatiently. "Maybe they went to go look at Dad's old school books or something."
"Why would they do that?" Cedric said, at the same time that Tristy squealed, "Oooh, schoolbooks! I wonder if they'll give them to us."
"Don't be stupid," Hayden said, looking away from Dorian long enough to sneer. "They're really old books. We'll have to get new ones."
"Aunty Gin let me poke round in the attic once," Tristy said to Cedric, still ignoring Hayden. "I found loads of really interesting stuff. Old books – they didn't have pictures, so they weren't that interesting. And a rusty old cauldron. And a trunk full of old robes and things." Her eyes brightened. "Ced, we could go play Adventure up there."
"We could," Cedric said, taking his eyes off Dorian and looking interested. "And we could go on a quest."
"A quest?" Hayden said, his own eyes on Cedric. "What sort of quest?"
"We have to find . . ." Tristy trailed off, forgetting to ignore him. Then she grinned. "Our sacred quest is to find the dessert!"
"What? That's dumb. The dessert's in the kitchen!" Hayden said, looking disappointed.
"It isn't!" Tristy said indignantly. "I was in there when we first came and Aunty Gin said she was hiding the dessert because Uncle Draco and Uncle Ron always get at it early."
"And I bet Dad would be our Advisor," Cedric said eagerly. "Or Uncle George!"
Adventure was a game their dad had made up for them on a cold, dismal day last winter, when they couldn't play outside and he wasn't feeling well. There was something hidden somewhere in the house that they'd never seen, he said, and they had to find it. They didn't know what it was, but Dad said that was the best part, finding it in the end. So he told them to put on some of his large work robes, arm themselves with their wands (trick wands from Uncles Fred and George), and made sure they had plenty of provisions (treats he found for them in the kitchen). Then they had to find the treasure, but beware of the curses and hexes of dangerous dark wizards (Dad would set up loads of jinxes all over the place and if they hit one, they had to stop and find him; he was the Advisor). The first time they had played, they had found a large chocolate cake Mum had been hiding for tea. They decided that because Dad said it was okay, they could eat it.
"But what about the hexes and jinxes and stuff?" asked Tristan doubtfully.
"There are adults everywhere!" Cedric said. "And Buckbeak. Plenty of monsters and curses and so on. It would be a curse to be caught doing this by Aunt Gin or Aunt Mione, wouldn't it?"
"Caught doing what?" asked Dorian, landing gracelessly beside Hayden and stumbling into him.
Blaise felt rightfully suspicious when she noticed the twins and two of her nephews tearing toward the mansion and trying to look stealthy.
"I don't even want to know," Ginny murmured from her side. "So long as it's not alcohol-related, I can cope."
"That's all well and good, but supposing they stumble upon Harry or Draco while they're inside," Blaise said grimly.
"And Ron," Hermione said from behind Blaise. "Can't find him anywhere!"
"They think they're so clever each year – like we don't notice," Ginny muttered. "And yet, every year, they wind up drunk in the basement, and someone has to administer Sobering Elixirs."
"But no one makes them as well as you," Blaise said sweetly.
"Sod off. You're just too lazy," Ginny retorted. "Anyway, I planned ahead this year and made up the draught this morning."
"Thank goodness!" Hermione said, absently rubbing her belly. "Perhaps we should find them sooner rather than later. Ron may run off if he gets drunk enough." She grimaced, probably remembering the interesting episode during last year's gathering.
"Are you feeling alright, Mione?" Ginny asked, watching her friend.
"Yes, yes, I'm fine," Hermione said, unconsciously mimicking her eldest son.
"Are you?" Ginny said, watching her friend carefully. "Only you've been rubbing your stomach all day."
"Oh, I've just been a bit queasy," Hermione shrugged, watching her two-year-old daughter being hefted into the air by Sirius. The old softy enjoyed being grandpa to every Weasley, Potter, and Malfoy (albeit Malfoys only because they were Ginny's as well) born into the next generation.
"How long has this been going on?" Ginny asked shrewdly.
"Honestly, Gin, don't drill the poor girl," Blaise remonstrated.
"Force of habit," Ginny said dismissively, drawing her wand. "Just a muscle relaxant, Mione. Tell me if that stomach ache isn't gone by dessert and I'll have another look at you."
"Yes, Doctor." Hermione smiled ironically at her friend.
"Hey, what happened last time you had stomach pains?" Ginny said pointedly.
Hermione's eyes widened. "Oh please, Merlin, not again!"
Blaise snorted with laughter. "Have fun, Granger. It's delightful not to be able to one-up you something, even if it is children."
Hermione scowled at her and then stalked away, muttering about Elisa being shaken to death by Sirius.
"Speaking of people who don't take care of themselves unless you strap them to a table," Ginny murmured. "How's Harry doing?"
There was a long pause. Blaise bit her lip, amusement at Hermione's expense vanishing. She knew it was best to keep Ginny informed, as she was Harry's Healer, but it was always hard for Blaise to admit to anyone, herself included, that something was wrong with him.
"He was especially tired today," she said at last. "I had hoped he would sleep until supper, but then Draco and Weasley got hold of him." She paused. "I hope they take it easy. They – well, and Harry – forget that Harry's not – well."
"I don't think they forget that Harry's not well," Ginny said gently. "I think they just don't want to see it. Ron and Draco both love Harry in their own, bizarre ways, and – none of us want this, Blaise," she finished, swallowing.
Blaise said nothing. She and Ginny had been friends long enough to understand each other and Ginny knew not to pity Blaise. Some days, Blaise didn't think she could bear to go home, and would turn up at Red's Park for an early tea and wind up sitting in the parlor with Ginny for countless, wordless minutes. Ginny never gave her those horrible pitying looks that she often got from Hermione. Ginny would rub her back, offer her a shoulder if she needed it, and force Blaise to tell her how Harry was doing, and if he was due for another checkup soon.
Sometimes, Blaise went to Pansy or Millie. They weren't pitying, either, though their solutions tended toward "girls' night out" ("night" being the middle of the afternoon – Blaise did have two children who needed her in the evenings), which was definitely less productive.
Blaise never told Harry where she had been when she came in a bit later than usual, and she was never late enough for him to worry. Usually she would turn up right around suppertime, and if Harry could at all manage, he would fix something with the twins, who, for some reason, were always eager to help in the kitchen. Blaise also never let Harry see how upset she was or that she might have allowed Pansy and Millicent to get her terribly drunk (what a wonderful creation, the Sobering Elixir). She knew he would be upset and take the blame for her unhappiness.
The trouble was that Blaise wasn't unhappy – she was unsettled. She had been with Harry – first as his girlfriend, then simply his friend, then his wife – during the planning and execution of the events that had so weakened him. The unsettled feeling within her was, she knew, due in large part to tremendous guilt. It had been her idea. Yes, it probably saved countless lives and ended forever You-Know-Who's reign of terror, but it had also cost Harry a terrible price – his life.
She remembered the prophecy Dumbledore had revealed to Harry, which Harry had then told her:
Neither can live while the other survives.
Blaise winced. Those words hurt – oh, how they hurt.
"Blaise?" Ginny said softly. Blaise jumped as she felt Ginny's hand against her shoulder, warmed by its time there. How long had Ginny been calling her name?
"What?" Blaise said shortly, blinking and dragging her gaze around the yard, looking for something – anything – for it to fix upon that wasn't the redhead.
"Sorry," Ginny said. "You just – you winced."
"I – I was thinking about the dreams, is all," Blaise lied flatly, watching determinedly as her twins, followed by Ian and Hayden, disappeared around the side of the barn mansion with a distinct lack of the stealth they were obviously striving for.
"Potent, bizarre, and about once a year? Yep, I know 'em," Ginny said with a wry smile. Blaise doubted her friend believed that the dreams were what had been on her mind, but it was nice of Ginny to pretend.
"I mean, the last one was in mid April, but every so often it pops into my head," Blaise said, resolutely continuing with this topic of conversation.
"Remembering them?" Ginny said with a frown. "Do you often?"
"Oh, yeah," Blaise said. She smirked. "Maybe I'm special."
"Maybe," Ginny said, her tone blatantly skeptical. Her frown deepened. "I know I don't remember mine, except that you and Harry and Draco are always there. I probably wouldn't remember, but –"
"Every year, same time," Blaise finished. "It's really lucky you started a dream journal or we'd never have known we were all having this problem."
"Well, Mum said she thought it would help me deal with nightmares I still get about the war," Ginny said. "I knew Harry was doing it, because Mum said she recommended it to him, too, and Ron mentioned him having it when he came round the Burrow once. He got into it, thinking it was some journal and said he wished he hadn't."
Blaise nodded, her mind drifting back to Harry of its own accord. She fought it, but no. "Harry has always had horrific nightmares."
"I think we all did, after the war," Ginny murmured. She glanced at Blaise, cleared her throat, and said, "Anyway, you're the only one who really remembers the dreams. Even Draco and I can't seem to remember long enough to write them down. I mean, Draco told me once that he only just gets the four of us."
Blaise shook her head. "Not much more, actually. I get flashes of things. Red's Park, sometimes. Hogwarts. Snape in the headmaster's office. Teenagers who look like us, but . . . you know, different."
"Like the kids when they're older?" Ginny offered.
"Maybe," Blaise said. "I know I get older versions of the three of you. Not much older – maybe ten or a dozen years. But I'm never there."
"Maybe it's like one of those dreams where you're watching, bird's eye," Ginny suggested.
"I don't think so," Blaise said. "I don't think I'm there. At least, not the older version of me. The younger certainly pops up enough."
Ginny was thoughtful for a moment.
"I don't remember much," she said slowly, "but – you know, Blaise. It's creepy."
Blaise did know. Whether they remembered the dreams or not, the impression of each dream was always there. They all knew they were having the dreams, and every dream felt like a missing day, rather than a figment the subconscious.
"We talk about this all the time," Blaise said quietly. "And we could have the answers, if we wanted them."
"You know that even if we could get into the Department of Mysteries, the four of us aren't allowed to see – well, whatever Dumbledore took from us in his office that night." Ginny's eyes were troubled.
Blaise could relate. That fateful night during their seventh year, Harry had been expelled. Granted, his expulsion had been to some purpose – Harry remained convinced that Dumbledore had always intended to send him off to Order HQ early, in order to train. Ginny and Blaise didn't buy that, and Blaise doubted if Harry really did, either. He was just fishing for an explanation for their expulsion, since none of them could remember why it had happened; any more than they could remember how or why they were suddenly so fond of each other; any more than they could understand the sudden, heated relationship that seemed to have sprung up between Blaise and Harry literally over night; any more than they could explain Harry and Draco's sudden truce.
The night after their strange meeting in Dumbledore's office, he had called them back and done something to their memories. No, perhaps that was not strictly true. He had taken Pensieve impressions from all four of them in the presence of two Unspeakables from the Department of Mysteries.
"You will remember this night," he had said. "But memories of what has brought you to this moment will begin to fade over time. They must never, however, be forgotten. To that end, they shall remained locked away in the Department of Mysteries, so that the knowledge of what you have done shall never be lost. You four, however, will never be allowed to see them, under any circumstances. The consequences of your knowledge are unknowable to anyone, but would probably be too terrible to imagine."
And so, they would never know. Draco had toyed with the idea of becoming an Unspeakable, just to see if he could get access to the Pensieve. But he had never pursued this beyond occasional scheming phases when he was tired or wound up on Turkish coffee.
Whatever had happened between them would remain hidden forever, only revealed during dreams that they had only recently discovered they were all having. All four of them felt the realness of the dreams, but only Blaise retained any sort of impression. She had a feeling that she wasn't supposed to know. So rare was it for her not feel any sort of curiosity at a puzzle that she was convinced that it was not intended she ever discover the secret behind the dreams, the Pensieve records, or war's end between Potter and Malfoy.
The feeling of discordance between the reality of the dreams, and yet a feeling of foreignness, suggested to Blaise and Draco, who had spent one solid afternoon over tea in pure conjecture, that even if they were dreaming about some experience the four of them had had together, it couldn't exist in their timeline now. Draco had described the feeling as displacement.
"I feel like whatever I'm dreaming might be real, if it fit into the timeline," he had told Blaise pensively. "But for some reason, it doesn't."
"I've heard theories about the timeline being like a massive tree," Blaise had remembered aloud. "The trunk is the present, but it only goes so high until it splits into uncountable branches. Each branch is a possible future, but in the end, only the thickest, strongest branch will become part of the trunk as it grows, or the present. Every choice ever made contributes to the strength of the believability of a certain branch, and yet every choice creates a new, tiny, possibility branch somewhere in the tree."
"Nice theory, anyway," Draco had snorted.
Blaise was convinced after their conversation that they had been messing with time somehow. She wasn't sure how, but she was sure that that was why they weren't to know what they had done; such knowledge could alter the natural progression of events by influencing their decisions with prior knowledge.
"I'm giving myself a headache," Blaise muttered aloud.
Ginny chuckled. "Let it go. We'll never know, and what does it matter, really?"
"That's awfully un-Gryffindor of you," Blaise quipped.
"Curiosity killed the cat," Ginny pointed out as she watched Draco's cat, El Diablo, tear across the lawn in pursuit of something small and furry. She winced as El Diablo pounced. "I hope that's not Derek's rat. He'll be so upset."
"Shall we find the drunks?" Blaise suggested, glad to let their conversation go for now.
Ginny's eyes narrowed. "I'll fetch the Sobering Elixir and meet you by the cellar stairs."
"Bring Granger with you," Blaise called after her. "I'd love to see Weasley get hit about the ears."
Ginny snorted at her friend as she stalked away across the lawn and made for her lab, where she kept her healing potion supplies. It was in a side passage off of the front hall. Ginny unlocked the numerous wards guarding it with her wand and, checking to make sure that none of her nieces, nephews, or pets were about, slipped through the door and closed it quickly behind her. It was the work of a moment to find the Sobering Elixir and she exited and went to meet Blaise and Hermione.
The task of administering the elixir and scolding all round was always rather satisfying, Ginny thought, as Draco followed her sulkily up the steps of the cellar.
"Honestly, Ginevra, we do this every year," he grumbled.
"And every year, I have to find you, sober you up, and knock you about a bit for being a dreadful host!" Ginny said sharply. "And are you aware that I had to give a dose of Sobering Elixir to your nephew?"
"Really? Which one?" Ron asked eagerly, then winced when Hermione punched him sharply in the arm.
"Your son, actually," the brunette told him pointedly.
"What? Malfoy, you wretched ferret!"
"Oh, help!" Draco took off, Ron hot on his heals. "Potter, save me," Draco's voice echoed down the long hall.
"Why does he assume I'm the one to ask for help?" Harry said, shaking his head. "After all that time he spent giving me hell for being 'the hero' in school. And now, suddenly, it's, 'Ooh, Harry, protector of life, save me from your best friend!'"
Ginny grinned, watching Blaise slide an arm around him and lean into him. She was offering him support if he needed it, Ginny knew, without forcing him to accept it.
He did look pretty tired. She made a note to give him some more Restorative Potion before the Quidditch match that evening.
The scene that met them when they gained the front porch again was one of, if possible, increased chaos. One moment, Draco was dodging in and out of relatives, Ron hot on his tail, and the next moment the blonde came to an abrupt halt, causing Ron to collide with him and both to go down in a tangle.
From somewhere within the mess of limbs came a keening cry of, "My lawn! Look at it! Oh, it's like a gaping maw! Black, I'm doing to kill you!"
"Not if Ron kills you first," Sirius called back cheerfully, keeping well back from the infuriated blonde.
"Don't get our hopes up," Fred said ruefully.
"Ron – Ron, get off him," Ginny said with a sigh that hid a small smile, going to remove her brother from her husband. "Draco, settle down. It's not that bad."
"Not that bad?" Draco stormed, glaring at Sirius around Ginny's shoulder. "Ginevra – he was probably nearing the earth's core when someone finally moved him."
"Don't exaggerate," Ginny said, smoothing her hand over his wrinkled shirt and settling his hair while the rest of the family, seeing that disaster had been disappointingly averted for the time being, returned to their previous employments around the lawn.
"I don't exaggerate," Draco muttered indignantly, though he did nothing to remove her hands from where they had settled on his shirt. His eyes softened almost imperceptibly as they settled on her face with that steady, intense, almost unreadable expression that had unnerved her in former days when it was proper to torment the one you loved.
Ginny kept a smile to herself. Not that those days were gone, by any stretch.
"You wouldn't be smirking at me, would you, darling?" Draco said shrewdly, his hands on her waist giving her a small shake.
"Never, upon my honor," Ginny said, her crooked smile impossible to conceal.
"That's too bad," he murmured, leaning forward and resting his forehead against hers. "I was looking forward to wiping it off your face."
"How?" Ginny whispered, sidling closer and tightening her arms.
"By wiping the pitch with you this evening, of course," he said against her lips before pulling away and swaggering off across the lawn.
Tease! Ginny thought indignantly, watching him go with no little frustration.
Draco, strutting his high and mighty Malfoy way across the lawn, smiled and cracked his knuckles in satisfaction. Though he would have been loathed to admit it to anyone, he delighted in one-upping his wife whenever possible.
Draco pursed his lips and considered ignoring his brother-in-law. He also considered that he enjoyed living and turned to face one of the many redheaded nuisances crowding up his immaculate lawn.
"Weasley," he said stiffly.
"You can't call me 'Weasley'," Charlie said, grinning wolfishly at him. "How many of us are there here? You're bound to confuse someone."
"Entertainment value," Draco said shortly.
"You really want the attention of twenty Weasleys at once? Are you sure that's safe for you?" Charlie countered, folding his thick arms across his chest. Though not a favorite of Draco's in any way, Charlie was preternaturally good-natured and Draco feared him least (apart from Bill) of all Ginny's brothers.
"You can't hurt me, or your sister hurts you," he said smugly. "What is it you want?"
Charlie's grin broadened.
"I reckon it's Quidditch time," the redhead said.
Draco glanced at his pocket watch.
"You're probably right," he agreed. He threw a glance around the yard, then snorted. "Should probably go find my son and Potter's impossible children. Gah!"
He stalked away to the tuneful laugh of Charlie, the preternaturally good-natured, and tried to think where he would go if he were his son or Potter's son or Ron Weasley's son.
"Dessert," he muttered, stomping up the porch steps.
"I thought dessert came after Quidditch, Malfoy."
Draco glanced down in surprising and noted that he had stomped right passed Potter, who was sitting on the bottom step with his head tipped back and eyes just cracked open to stare across the lawn.
"No, no," Draco said impatiently. "I was just telling Weasl – Charlie – that I have to go dig up the twins and Hayden and Ian before we start –"
"Quidditch match!" Charlie's voice boomed across the lawn.
The Weasleys, Potters, Blacks (plural, if one counted Buckbeak), and Malfoys didn't need telling twice. There was a general stampede as everyone rushed for either the field or their broom and tried not to trample each other in their haste.
"Barbarians," Draco said in disgust.
"Enthusiasts," Harry argued quietly. He didn't move to join the mass exodus, but sat watching from his step with a dark, brooding look that had formerly annoyed Draco. Now, it made him simultaneously irritable and sad. Once upon a time, Harry Potter would have been leading that stampede.
"Well? Aren't you going?" he said impatiently.
"Be along in a minute," Harry told him, closing his eyes and heaving a sigh. He cracked one a moment later and glanced at Draco. "Hey, you go out and get teams and the like and I'll go hunt down the hellions. I reckon they're into the dessert or something."
Draco stared at him for a moment, trying to gauge suggestion.
"You are playing tonight." Harry had never not played. Sure, replacements were often brought on about halfway through, but Harry always played.
"I'll be there for the victory lap," he said, his crooked smile rather bitter. "Honestly, Malfoy . . ." He paused, shaking his head with a somewhat deadened look. "A few years ago, I'd've hated for you to be the one to see me this way."
"What way?" Draco demanded, stubbornly refusing to understand his friend – he didn't want to. "Stop blathering and get out to the field, Potter."
"Can't," Harry said, not looking angry as Draco might have expected but quiet and distant. "You know I can't anymore. It's – it's all getting a bit much for me." He sighed again before getting ponderously to his feet. "Go on, you're the host. I'll dig up the twins and Den and Ian." He gave Draco's shoulder a shove as he passed. "Lighten up, Malfoy."
"Bite me, Potter."
"That's better." With a furtive grin, Harry disappeared into the barn-mansion, leaving Draco staring dully after him.
Slowly, he turned his head to meet the over-bright eyes of his wife. She bit her lip, a tear dribbling down her freckled cheek and dropping off the end of her chin. Without a word, she stepped into his arms, shaking slightly and gripping the fabric of his shirt in tight fists.
"How's he doing, Gin?" Draco asked unwillingly.
She shook her head against his shoulder, sending red hair fluttering against his cheek. She didn't speak for a moment. Then she pulled back enough to look up into his face.
"Not well," she said simply, her voice husky. She shook her head again and quickly brushed the tears from her cheeks. "But tonight isn't the night for such thoughts."
"He can't play anymore," Draco muttered, more to himself than to her. "Playing was his favorite thing in the world."
"He's got a couple of laps in him tonight," Ginny insisted. "And you know he's always loved to watch Charlie fly."
"It's unfair," Draco grumbled, refusing to look her in the eye and choosing instead to glare mutinously at the white porch step where Harry had been sitting moments before.
"Of course it is," Ginny said. She took his chin in her hand and tugged until his eyes met hers. He tried to hide the storm of unacknowledged emotion in them, but doubted he would be terribly successful under Ginny's scrutiny. "It's unfair to Blaise and the twins. It's unfair to his best friends, to his godfather, to you and I. But, Draco . . ." She winced, more tears pooling in her eyes. "He hates pity, Draco. He needs to believe – he needs us to believe – that he's still got time and strength. I think . . ." She paused again, swallowing hard. "I think he's trying to be ready when – when the time comes. For his sake, we need to be ready, too."
Draco bit his lip hard, squeezing his eyes shut and pressing his forehead to Ginny's. Until he had met Harry – really met him for the first time on the Hogwarts Express – he had never known a strong emotion. At that time and all throughout their days at Hogwarts, it had been a steady, boiling anger. Strangely enough, he had never hated Harry. Loathed, perhaps, and resent him, but never hated. But the emotions he had always felt toward Harry had been deeper than he had ever felt toward anyone else.
It therefore followed that when that boiling fury had slowly transformed itself into unwilling, but powerful respect, and the respect had reinvented itself and become genuine friendship it had been just as powerful, just as deep. As with the rivalry relationship he had had with Harry, their friendship was something that both worked to cultivate, to nurture, and to understand. Draco still wasn't sure he understood it, but he knew he would be hard-pressed to live without it.
For some reason, his wife seemed to know all this without being told. But then, she probably understood friendship far better than Draco. During that moment, while they held each other on the porch, Ginny didn't speak. She didn't try to console him or offer empty words of comfort. Instead, as she had long ago on another occasion that he couldn't quite remember, she was simply there with him, allowing him to say, do, or feel whatever he liked without intrusion.
She simply let him know she was there.
A long moment later, Draco took a breath and pulled back a bit.
"All right?" Ginny said. Her eyes were a bit red, but her tears had dried.
"All right," he agreed, leaning forward to capture her lips in a brief kiss. "Potter went to find the runts. Told me to go 'play host'." He snorted. "He knows I hate it. He does it to torment me."
"I'm sure," Ginny said. "Come on, you brilliant host you, let's go sort out teams."
They trooped back down the steps and went around behind the barn-mansion, where the great open field that always served as a pitch on these occasions was surrounded by family and friends, all talking and laughing and waiting eagerly for their favorite part of the annual family gatherings.
"'Bout time, Malfoy, we were going to do teams without you," Ron called over the noise.
"Just can't bear to be separated from me for a minute, can you, Weasley?" Draco sneered, striding forward to take charge. He knew it made Ron upset that he had to accept the direction of a Malfoy for an evening, but Hermione and his sister kept him in line on these occasions and the redhead had learned to yield to the inevitable.
"Have you seen Harry, Draco?" Hermione asked anxiously. Her use of his first name always annoyed Draco, who would gladly have continued to call her Granger till the end of their days, but Hermione insisted that as in-laws (however unwilling) it was ridiculous to be on a last-name basis.
"I'm here, and I have a present for you, Mrs. Weasley," came Harry's voice, just audible over the noise.
"I wish you wouldn't call me that," Hermione said quietly as he drew level. "I'll never be 'Mrs. Weasley'." She nodded toward Molly Weasley, who was holding a baby, a toddler, and someone's Weasley sweater.
"Sure you will," Harry said amiably. "I mean, how many children do you have now? You'll have caught up with 'the real' Mrs. Weasley in no time."
Hermione nudged his shoulder. "Shut up, Harry." She was quiet for a moment, then turned to eye him critically. "How are you feeling?"
Harry smiled slightly, looking around at his friends and family. He was about to answer when he felt a tug on his sleeve.
Tristy stared up at him with wide, very familiar green eyes.
"Pick me up," was the surprising order.
Harry chuckled as he bent to lift her into his arms.
"Tris, stop bothering Daddy," Blaise said, appearing suddenly beside Harry. "How's he to fly while he's holding you?"
"He's the great Harry Potter," Draco reminded her from Hermione's other side, huffing slightly and hefting his son into a more comfortable position on his shoulders. "He could probably fly carrying me and still beat the other Seeker to the Snitch."
"Although why anyone would want to carry you," Ginny put in, pulling Hayden off his shoulders to a protesting exclamation of, "Mum! Geroff!"
Harry glanced around at his wife, then at Ginny and Draco who stood opposite, then at Ron who was loudly calling after Draco to "get your arse over here!" (for which expression he was hit in the face by a Weasley sweater formerly held by his mother), then at his godfather who was somehow carrying three of Harry's nieces, then to the rest of the family, who looked anything but peaceful and anything but unhappy.
He smiled at Hermione.
"I'm feeling great."P)vs(M