The Muggle Prime Minister had long since adapted to the sudden surprise visits from the magical world. At first he'd been too stunned to react when Cornelius Fudge had appeared in his office and explained that, by the way, magic was real. He'd nearly had a heart attack when the frog-like man in the dirty oil painting in the corner of his office first gave a little cough and began to speak to him. He'd felt like spending an evening locked in his office drinking when Scrimgeour appeared to introduce himself and explained that the wort of the tragedies plaguing his administration were magically-wrought.
Kingsley Shacklebolt had originally been posted as his secretary. He hadn't even known the man was a wizard when he first started, that was another bomb Scrimgeour had dropped. But Shacklebolt had suddenly vanished after a year of so as his guard, only to return one morning after missing several shifts and announce the war was over and he himself had been made Interim Minister of Magic. Finally, the Prime Minister had thought, a counterpart who actually seemed to have some sense and wasn't an absolute menace to deal with. Between Fudge's jumpiness and brevity and Scrimgeour's seeming apathy towards his situation, Kingsley was a breath of fresh air.
That didn't men he liked seeing him pop up as much as he did, though to his credit, Kingsley usually only delivered good news and often in the form of a letter that simply appeared on the edge of his desk and engulfed itself in flames the moment he'd read it all.
This occasion, however, was one he was surprised by. Shacklebolt said he was going to be bringing by one of the Potter twins – again, a point in Kingsley's favor, that he'd stopped in one day and actually explained some of the details of just what the bloody hell had been going on the past three years – who wanted a word. The brother Kingsley seemed fond of, spoke the boy's praises for dealing with so much at such a young age. He was curiously close-lipped and curt about the sister though, and, of course, that was the one he was dropping by with.
The portrait in the corner coughed and opened its mouth to speak, but the Prime Minister was so used to this by now that he just waved a hand and requested, "Tell them to come on. I've locked the door and cleared my schedule for the next half hour."
The frog-faced man scowled irritably, but a moment later the fireplace burst in green flames and two figures appeared, spinning in tight circles. Kingsley unfolded himself from the hearth first, straightening up and adjusting one of the odd, flat-topped hats he seemed fond of. He fluffed his robes and sent a torrent of ash to the ground, hastily vanishing it away.
"Minister," the Prime Minister greeted his counterpart, who replied with a tilt of his head and a slow drawl of,
"Oh good, you're both well acquainted. Any chance you'd be willing to simply leave me here to discuss matters with the Prime Minister?"
The second figure was much smaller than Kingsley. She was tall but thin in a pinched sort of way, like she hadn't gotten enough to eat as a child. In contrast of Kingsley's wizardishness, she seemed comfortable in Muggle clothes. She wore long black robes over high-waisted slacks and a button-front shirt. Her shoes, however, were boots that seemed to be made of scales. He'd guess alligator, but it was probably some sort of Wizarding Whotsit from Swaziland or something of the like. He did wonder what sort of creature produced the poisonously green scales that made up her vest, though, and decided that he didn't want to know.
Kingsley favored the woman with a firm look. "That's not happening, Potter."
She rolled vividly green eyes and tossed her head, auburn ponytail bouncing behind her. "Fine, fine, but you should have more important things to do than babysit the Muggle Minister these days. If you don't, I weep for Wizarding Britain."
She stepped properly from the flames and the Prime Minister resisted the urge to yelp in surprise. He managed to suppress the sound, but instead managed to open his mouth and insert his foot quite thoroughly, demanding, "What happened to your face?"
The woman's smile became tight, painted on, as she looked him over from head to toe. The Prime Minister shifted uncomfortably, feeling somehow like she was judging him and finding him wanting.
"The Dark wizard who murdered my parents when I was a baby had this odd obsession with carving up my face?" She laughed lightly, dangerously. "Can you imagine? What a funny habit!"
"Minister," Kingsley interjected. "This is Miss Lorena Potter. She has come to speak to you about a project she's been working on in the aftermath of the war."
"A project," the Minister repeated slowly. "How is this project going to affect the Muggle world, then?"
"Ideally, minimally and to your benefit," Miss Potter replied, sweeping forwards. Her robes swirled impressively around her as she approached his desk and sat down in one of the chairs. She crossed her legs and leaned back, gesturing with a flick of her wrist for him to sit down across from her. "Come, I'll explain."
The Minister was unpleasantly reminded of the night Cornelius Fudge had told him to sit down in his own office, then offered him his own whiskey. Many wizards, it seemed, tended to feel completely at ease ordering him around.
Nevertheless, for the sake of ease he took the place she indicated. Miss Potter reached into the pocket of her robes and pulled out a thick sheaf of papers about the size of her palm. She flicked her wrist and the papers enlarged to their full size. The Minister stared, still not quite used to casual displays of magic. He took the papers offered to him.
"Riddle House," he read from the top of the paper. He scanned the first few lines and glanced up at her, raising an eyebrow. "You're starting an orphanage?"
"One specifically for magical children who've nowhere else to go," she added. "You see, in some cases, magical children are born to Muggle parents. Say those Muggle parents die or one is out of the picture for whatever reason, and cannot take care of the child. The options as of right now are to send the child to an orphanage or put them with Muggle relatives. Muggle relatives, who are not informed as to exactly what kind of child they're going to be raising and so are absolutely beside themselves when their little niece starts turning her doll's hair purple or their nephew is burning ants in the backyard with his finger instead of a magnifying glass."
"You're proposing taking children away from their families!" the Minister exclaimed, unable to believe what he was hearing. He looked at Kingsley for an answer, but the man merely shrugged and explained,
"Right now, parents are not informed of what their child is until they receive their Hogwarts letter at eleven."
"Leaving potentially eleven years of parents or guardians trying to figure out just what the hell their child is, potentially getting more and more frustrated. Potentially becoming afraid of the child. Potentially becoming abusive." Something dark crossed her face and the Minister was suddenly very certain that the latter concern in particular was something she'd experienced personally. "Potentially destroying that child's opinion of Muggles forever."
The Minister's eyes widened as he cottoned on to what she was getting at. He looked to Kingsley again, who had been the one to let him know about the root causes of the war in the wizarding world. He knew that there was apparently some who thought that Muggles were second-class citizens compared to witches and wizards, and some who thought coming from a long line of wizards made one better than having Muggle parents. Overall it sounded like a particularly nasty situation and what the Potter girl was apparently trying to avoid was another of their 'Dark Lords' taking over where the last one with the funny name he still wasn't sure he could pronounce correctly left off.
"I see," the Minister said slowly. "And what do you want from me?"
"Station witches and wizards in your Child Services department," she replied simply. "Let us take custody of children who display magical talents and pull them from orphanages or foster situation. Additionally, if a child is being removed from a home for their own protection, let us take them instead of placing them in the system if there are reports of… strangeness," she said delicately.
"And how would you even know if a child is magical?" the Minister asked. "Surely you're not… You can't monitor the whole country?" He narrowed his eyes. For all he knew, that was exactly what they did.
"Hogwarts has a list of students that is updated as a new magical child is born within its purview. The UK and Northern Ireland. It's old magic, very powerful. By allowing us to station a few people in your departments, they would be able to keep an eye out for certain names of incoming students. See if there are incoming reports about them."
"And how am I supposed to explain a… what, trio? Quartet? A group coming in a reviewing all the cases that come through? You're talking about literally thousands and thousands of children."
Miss Potter looked at him in amusement. "We're magical. We can do things more efficiently than Muggles. Come right down to it, I expect as technology develops they'll be able to simply search for the pertinent names in a database of cases. As for explaining them… well, I'll leave that to you. Say they're part of internal review, say they're compiling statistics, say they're doing research on child development in nontraditional situation. The explanations you could use are myriad."
The Minister had to admit as he flipped through the papers in front of him, it as damn impressive work. The girl's name was all over the work and it seemed to be largely her own project, yet it still seemed professionally done. There were notes about contacts for funding, names he'd never heard of and knew had to be magical based on how insanely odd they sounded. Lucius Malfoy, what a name, along with Minerva McGonagall and Horace Slughorn. Who had names like that anymore?
And really, it would only be to the benefit of the normal people to get magical children out of the system and someplace where they could be taken care of by people who understood them and weren't afraid of them. People were scared of what they didn't understand – the Prime Minister had experienced this firsthand dealing with the wizards – and with children involved who couldn't control themselves he could see how that could go very bad very quickly.
"Alright," the Minister agreed, and pushed the papers back towards her. "You may place people in our government."
"Minister, are you sure?" Kingsley asked warningly. "While Miss Potter's project is… admirable, he is…"
"The man said it was alright, Kingsley," Miss Potter cut him off, and her smile was poisonous as she narrowed her eyes at him. Kingsley narrowed his eyes right back and countered.
"Forgive me if I find it odd that you've decided to go into philanthropy."
The Minister watched all this is disbelief. From what Kingsley had said, this girl and her brother were instrumental in ending the war they'd had going on, and she seemed a pretty put together thing for barely being an adult. But Kingsley was treated her like… like a criminal. It was odd. Sure, the girl was definitely off-putting, but he'd yet to meet a magical person who wasn't at first. Most of them, it seemed, just didn't get how to talk to Muggles. This girl did, she'd mentioned computers and seemed to know how they worked, which actually sort of endeared her to him.
Miss Potter's next smile was more of a bearing of teeth. She leaned over the desk as if she were sharing a secret with him, but her eyes remained fixed on Kingsley. "You'll have to forgive him," she apologized. "He's yet to forgive me for getting away with murder when I was sixteen."
Kingsley looked furious at the mention of it, and the Prime Minister laughed awkwardly, assuming it was an expression. "Right. Murder. Hah."
"She means it literally," Kingsley deadpanned, and the Prime Minister's eyes widened, looking at the girl in front of him in disbelief. She smiled sweetly and spread her palms innocently.
"Sometimes the ends justify the means, even if the means aren't exactly what one might like them to be." She scooped up the papers and rose. "We'll be with you again shortly about who we're going to be sending over. I'll be communicating with you directly now that we've officially met, so please look out for my owl."
"Your-" the Prime Minister felt much like he had the first night Fudge had popped out of his fireplace with a congratulatory grin on his face. "What?"
"I'll be in touch," she replied, and turned on the spot, vanishing with a loud crack.
"What…" The Prime Minister looked at Kingsley helplessly.
The man was scowling at the place where the Potter girl had vanished. "Unfortunately, she's well aware of the fact that if I'd arrested her for the poisoning or the murder all those years ago, we'd likely be worse off than we are now."
Poisoning… or murder? Separate instances?
"What?" the Prime Minster squeaked, and Kingsley shook his head, sighing tiredly as he stood as well.
"Yes, it's a shame. I hear she's always been a piece of work, but you'd think of all the crimes she's committed we'd be able to make one charge stick. Well, it was good to see you again, Minister," Kingsley said, and bowed his head politely. "I'll be in touch."
He, too, was gone with a pop.
"What-!" the Prime Minister demanded of his empty office.
Grimmauld Place had become a home sometime in the past few years. The Order had started the conversion purging what Dark creatures had up residence, along with normal magical pests. Kreacher's lack of effort during the years meant that there was massive amounts of not only basic cleaning but real structural decay to repair. Water spots fixed where pipes had leaked, floors unwarped and polished.
Then there were the things I stepped in and did. Wallpaper and paint colors were changed to suit my tastes a bit more. The stately theme of the home was kept, dark colors and silver fixtures, but the rooms became more cozy than intimidating under my directions. The rooms were actually lived-in, not just… used, as they had been while the Order was there.
Perhaps the biggest proof of that now stood before me. The kitchen, which had been stretched to capacity for Order meetings, was now beyond itself as family and friends gathered for a meal together. The formal dining room was finally opened up, silver and china polished and cleaned, windows opened and the room properly aired out. I was magically expanded to make room for everyone and Professor McGonagall had been nice enough to loan me Dobby, Tippy, and Hilly for the evening when I requested them to help prepare the meal for the evening.
Grimmauld Place was packed to capacity. The top floors, where the bedrooms were, had been mostly locked down, wards placed on the doors to keep anybody from creeping off, but people didn't seem interested in them aside from the washrooms. There was too much to do on the lower floors, too much to see and too many people to talk to.
I had been surprised and delighted to find a large selection of antique Christmas ornaments in one of the boxes in the attic, the last of the rooms that had remained to be purged of any unwelcome guests, both magical and mundane. Draco, Harry, and Ron had helped me with that one as we ventured upstairs to sort through everything and blast to smithereens the last of the invaders that had escaped Mrs. Weasley's original war.
Those ornaments were now cleaned up and scattered across one of the multiple trees filling Grimmauld Place. There was one in the dining room, one in the sitting room, and a small one in the library. They were lit with spells, more ornaments conjured to fill out the empty spots. Draco and I had a wonderful afternoon darting about the house like children, firing garland into the air in tasteful drapes, creating bundles of mistletoe in doorways, and charming the ceiling to produce a harmless dry snow that vanished just above head level.
I was dressed in a green cocktail dress with a flared skirt, black belt, and low black heels, my hair pulled back into a low bun at the base of my skull. For the occasion, the top of my bun was decorated with holly leaves. I moved through the hallways, clicking heels inaudible over the buzz of conversation.
Daphne and Nott were sitting in the library with Blaise, laughing at something Ginny had said. She seemed a bit bemused by her situation, but she was gamely chatting with the Slytherins and even seemed to be enjoying herself. As I watched, Harry appeared and offered her a glass of mulled wine. Ginny took it, grabbed Harry's hand, and pulled him down for a quick thankful kiss before guiding him to sit next to her. Blaise rolled his eyes and said something mocking. Harry snorted and shook his head while Ginny and Daphne laughed.
The parlor held another touching scene. Narcissa Malfoy sat with her sister, Andromeda, on a loveseat. Lucius stood in the corner, making somewhat forced conversation with Remus, but at least they were both talking. Their eyes, though, remained fixed on the sisters. Narcissa was holding Teddy like he was the most fragile of china and cooing at him fondly while Andromeda wigged her fingers and made silvery sparks appear and dance in front of hi eyes. Teddy laughed and waved his little hands, trying to catch them. I saw Lucius's mouth quirk up faintly in amusement.
"You've been spotted."
I blinked in surprise as Andromeda looked up at me and beckoned me in. I stepped in curiously and Narcissa twitched back the edge of the tiny knitted hat Teddy was wearing, curtesy of Molly. His hair had gone my shade of dark auburn and I smiled faintly. Teddy was better than most babies about letting us know what he wanted.
"It seems he's missing his godmother," Narcissa noted, voice shaking with suppressed laughter. I smiled and bent over Teddy, flicking my wrist and making more sparks dance. Teddy laughed again and waved his hands through the magic. He stretched out his chubby little arms towards me.
"I've been playing hostess," I defended myself. "This is my party, after all."
"I don't think he cares," Andromeda informed me. "Go on, show off your godson a little."
"Oh, if you insist," I said, and didn't even try to pretend to be put-out as I reached for him and carefully lifted him from Narcissa's arms. I held him tenderly in one arm, bowing my head to kiss his little forehead. Teddy gurgled and swatted at the small pearl drops in my ear. He half-missed and tugged a bit of my hair out from behind my ear, letting it fall in front of my face. He waved his arms, seeming pleased with his work.
"Mmm, yes, I suppose I haven't seen you nearly enough tonight. Come on, Teddy, lets go see your father."
I straightened and approached Remus, going up on my toes and kissing his cheek, turning carefully so as not to squish Teddy between us. Remus replied with a smile and a hand squeezing my shoulder. His other hand came up to ruffle Teddy's down hair. He blinked, and his eyes were the same whiskey color as Remus'.
"Well, he's certainly your son," Mr. Malfoy drawled, and Remus chuckled a bit, smiling with fondness tinged in sadness.
"Not just mine," he said as Teddy's eyes returned to the color he seemed to favor, a less vivid brown.
I exchanged a few pleasantries with the men before moving on, Teddy in my arms, to continue playing hostess. He squirmed a bit in my arms and I adjusted my grip on him as I stepped into the kitchen, where a few people had filtered in. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were sitting there with Percy, Bill, and Fleur. To Percy's left was Quinlan, with Maeve leaning against his shoulder and a glass of hot chocolate in her hand. Quinlan and Percy had apparently met at the Ministry and become friends in the months after the war as both tried to help Kingsley rebuild and flush the last of the blood fanatics and Voldemort supporters from the departments.
"Ooh, ooh, look who it is," Mrs. Weasley cooed, hopping to her feet at once and rushing to my side. Before anything else Molly was a wife and mother and she was happiest, I'd found, with a child around to tend to. Teddy Lupin, being without a mother, was one of the ones targeted by her frequently when she needed to do some mothering.
"There's our handsome man," she whispered to Teddy, twitching and tugging at his little hat until it sat perfectly atop his head. He reached for her hand and caught her finger, squeezing. Mrs. Weasley laughed delightedly. "Oh, bless him!"
"If he changes his hair color to match, people would think he's a Weasley as much as you dote on him, mum," Bill chuckled, and Molly shot him a pointed look.
"If you'd give me some grandchildren, I'd have more Weasleys to dote on!" she replied huffily. "And besides, he's adorable."
"Very sweet," Fleur agreed, sipping from her glass of white wine as Bill flushed a bit. "And do not worry, Molly, Bill and I 'ave discussed children. Soon," she promised, and Mrs. Weasley beamed, clasping her hands under her chin.
"Trying real hard on that one, are you Weasley?" Maeve teased, and Bill blushed harder as Fleur nodded, completely unabashed.
"What about you?" Fleur asked. "Do you want a large family?"
Maeve raised an eyebrow and the smirk on her face was absolutely wicked as she replied, "Why do you think I'm not having wine tonight?"
Fleur's mouth dropped open as an irrepressible grin spread across Quinlan's face, his arm wrapping around Maeve's waist. She laughed as Mrs. Weasley shrieked in delight. Percy leapt to his feet.
"A toast!" he cried, and the color in his cheek made me confident that Percy had already decided to let his hair down this evening. "Good for you, mate, congratulations."
Mrs. Weasley drew her wand and flicked it. Maeve's hot chocolate refilled and glasses of mulled wine drifted from the pot on the stove to everyone's hands. I took the one that floated up to me, lifting it aloft as Percy cried,
"To Maeve and Quinlan Stenet and their growing family!"
I approached the table, setting my glass down and passing Teddy to my other arm so that I could hug Maeve tightly. She returned the embrace whole-heartedly, squeezing me tightly round the middle. I grinned at Quinlan over the top of her head. He looked excited beyond before and was staring at Maeve with such affection it melted my heart.
"Do you have any idea if it's a boy or a girl yet?" I asked Maeve interestedly, pulling back. I'd always thought it was fanciful daydreaming, saying that pregnant women glowed, but Maeve did seemed to be giving off a light sort of energy, even more than she normally did.
"We talked about going to St. Mungo's to have the spell cast," Maeve admitted, one hand coming to unconsciously lay over her stomach, "but in the end we decided we want it to be a surprise. We're trying to come up with a list of names now, narrowing it down to our top three for each gender. We'll decide later on, if somebody can take this seriously," Maeve gave Quinlan a stern look.
"What's wrong with the name Brom?" he demanded. "My grandfather was named Brom!"
"I don't care what your grandfather was named," Maeve. "If I can't keep Gwendolyn n the list for girls, you can' keep Brom on the list for boys."
"It's so… fussy…"
"Your name is Quinlan for Merlin's sake!"
I heard the front door open as Maeve and Quinlan launched into a discussion about names, Arthur trying to moderate, and quickly made my escape from the kitchen, baby in one hand, glass of wine in the other.
Teddy was an absolute delight. I hadn't imagined that I could care for anyone as much as I did for him. Perhaps it was the fact that he was a baby – everything was a potential threat to him. I was used to protecting people, I'd been doing it for years, and I was comfortable with it. I bowed my head and kissed his forehead as he gurgled happily.
And now Maeve was pregnant. Daphne would follow shortly, I suspected, she'd confessed to me once that she wanted children and Nott had also once admitted than he'd have liked to have a sibling growing up, someone to spend time with when his father was busy, which was always. I didn't doubt that they'd want to start a family soon. Bill and Fleur were trying to have children, apparently.
I was struck with the realization that it could happen for me too. Draco and I had a physical relationship, because of course we did, we'd been sleeping in the same bed on nights he stayed over and something was bound to give eventually. We were always careful, though. Neither of us wanted children right now. We didn't have our heads back on straight or anything close to it and it wasn't fair to bring a child into that. I had plans, too, plans for my own company, for research, things a child would get in the way of in the starting stages.
But I remembered the image I'd had when Draco and I were lying curled together on pillows on the floor of the Room of Requirement. He'd asked me about the future and I'd seen a metaphorical white picket fence, complete with a cat on my lap. The cat would perhaps be replaced with a pair of snakes, but there had been a child. It hadn't just been a cardboard cutout, something that fell under the heading of 'family.'
As much as the idea terrified me, I wanted to be a mother. My understanding was that many parents feared that they weren't going to be suited to raising an infant, that they were afraid of somehow messing the kid up. My personality was nothing to write home about and the state my head was in lately… I didn't know how much of that would fade with time and what of it was with me permanently. Could a person like me really be expected to do a decent job raising a child?
Yet at the same time I remembered the instant feeling of maternal protectiveness when I'd seen Tom in that first dream. The feeling of Teddy shifting fitfully in my arms was one I cherished now, it provided me comfort and I wanted nothing more than to have a child of my own to sit with and hold and rock to sleep at night and teach how to brew a proper burn salve and show how to transform into an Animagus and just…
At this rate, Amity might actually beat me to motherhood. And wasn't that a disturbing thought, her and Professor Snape reproducing?
"Siyo," I greeted her with a smile.
"She's holding Teddy," Snape warned her as she started to lunge for me with her arms spread. Amity tempered herself, reaching out cautiously and trailing her fingers over the line of blankets before adjusting, hugging me slightly to the side. I smiled as I hugged her back, holding my wine carefully so that it didn't drip onto her dress.
Amity looked lovely. Her face was bare of makeup aside from a little mascara and some light gloss, but she wore a snow white dress in a similar style to mine that set off her skin tone nicely and black flats. Her hair was swept up in an elegant twist and I noticed that she was wearing a silver pendant decorated with Tsalagi letters. She often wore it these days, though it always slipped my mind to ask where she'd gotten it.
"Hello, sir," I greeted Snape, nodding in lieu of a hug given how full my hands were. "I'm glad you could make it."
"Oh, it wasn't like the sourpuss had a busy schedule for the holidays." Amity waved my concerns away dismissively. "He was just wanting to be a Scrooge."
"As opposed to the woman who insisted upon resembling a snow bank this evening because 'it's festive,'" Snape replied snarkily, shrugging out of his frock coat. He hung it in the closet by the door and turned. His fingers skimmed across Amity's shoulder, mostly bared by the boat neck of her dress, and she obligingly shrugged off her white wrap.
"There's nothing wrong with wanting to dress up a bit for the holidays!" I rebuked him.
"See," Amity huffed as Snape hung up her wrap for her. "I told you! Wouldn't have killed you to add a little festive color to your normal funeral wear."
"Green is even a Christmas color," I agreed with her, grinning mockingly as Snape rolled his eyes at her. "Besides, you shouldn't tell a girl she doesn't look nice when she's dressed up for something."
"I informed her she looked lovely, I simply made one passing comment about how I didn't understand why people feel the need to dress up for holidays…" he huffed.
"Bollocks," Amity repeated, and looked pleased with herself for the Britishism. "You didn't say I looked lovely, you said I looked beautiful."
"Did you know?" I asked Snape slyly.
"I presume there is mulled wine in the kitchen?" he asked bluntly, and I blinked, a bit surprised.
"Because I intend to get this one incoherent enough that she cannot mock me anymore," Snape replied firmly, taking Amity by the arm and guiding her towards the kitchen.
"Good luck!" I called after him, fully confident that even if that was actually his plan Amity could be falling down drunk and still manage to push his buttons expertly.
"Ooh, should I worry about you taking advantage of me in a compromised state?" amity tittered, pressing a hand to her chest melodramatically.
"Mad Muggle…" Snape huffed, but it was, as it always was these days, said with a hint of affection.
"Remus and Lucius are in the library!" I called after them, and Amity waved in acknowledgement as she was pulled into the kitchen.
I pushed on into the dining room, where the table was spread with all sorts of finger foods that the house elves had worked hard on. Along one wall was a bar where drinks and glasses abounded, automatically pouring and serving themselves it one walked up, tapped the wood twice with a knuckle, and asked for that they wanted.
Here I found the last of our party. Fred and George with Ron and Hermione, the four of them leaning against the wall near the bar. With them were some of the DA crew, invited after Harry got a hold of my guest list. Neville, Luna, the Patils, Hannah Abbott. Standing with them, a glass of firewhiskey in his hand, was Draco, the only Slytherin who'd dared make an incursion into the almost wholly Gryffindorness of the room. I'd hoped for a little more intermingling, but I suppose the fact that the Basilisks and the DA were under one roof and no one had been jinxed yet was a kind of victory.
Draco's eyes landed on me and he excused himself from the conversation, crossing the room. One arm looped around my waist. He bent awkwardly around the hand holding my glass to place a quick kiss on my lips before moving his mouth to my ear.
"You look beautiful tonight, phoenix."
"You already told me that," I reminded him. "You were sitting on the bed watching as I got ready."
Draco shrugged carelessly. "You're still beautiful."
I smirked and used a bit of wandless magic to make up for my occupied hands, gripping his tie with a spell and using it to pull him down for a slightly longer kiss.
"You look quite handsome yourself this evening," I whispered against his lips, tugging gently at his green tie, both house-appropriate and festive. Perhaps that was why Gryffindors and Slytherins always threw the best holiday parties – long-term exposure to Yule colors made us subconsciously more festive.
Teddy shifted in my arms and his hair turned platinum blonde, a dramatic jump from my shade of red. I chuckled and looked up at Draco knowingly. He was wearing the same expression he always did when Teddy requested him – terrified mixed with eager. He was still adapting to the idea that this was his cousin and, like me, had little experience with babies. He was still learning how to handle them.
Moving carefully, I shifted Teddy into Draco's arms. Experience had taught us all that the baby's requests for a specific person were not to be avoided if we wanted peace and quiet over the next few hours. At times we made him settle, but on evenings like tonight, when spare arms were plentiful and the mood was high, he was rarely put down.
Draco took Teddy carefully, downing the last of his firewhiskey quickly and setting the glass down so that he could hold on with both arms. I jokingly shook mine and rolled my shoulder.
"How long have you been holding him?" Draco asked curiously, not taking his eyes off the boy.
"Not long," I admitted. "But he's getting bigger."
"Uh huh." Draco smiled somewhat dreamily as Teddy gurgled his pleasure and waved his hands in Draco's face.
The sound of running feet made the dining room fall quiet as we all looked around. I stiffened and I noticed that in this room of battle-hardened veterans I wasn't the only one whose hand jumped to where my wand was concealed.
It turned out to be Blaise. He slammed to a stop, arms braced on either side of the doorframe, panting slightly eyes wide.
"It's Quinlan and Maeve," he wheeze. "They've… they're…"
"What is it?"
Everybody clustered around him worriedly as he struggled to regain his breath. Blaise lifted his head and with a melodramatically stricken look, breathed, "They're reproducing…"
"Oh my word!"
The Patil twins, Neville, and Hannah all hustled off to the kitchen, shouts of congratulation preceding them. As they went out, Harry and Ginny came in, his arm wrapped around her waist fondly.
"Nicely done, Zabini, give everyone a heart attack," Harry rebuked, and Blaise straightened up, grinning and not at all out of breath.
"Come on, think about it, Potter," he teased. "Maeve having a kid? Society as we know it will crumble within a year!"
"Have you left Nott and Daphne alone up in the library?" I demanded of my brother, and he shook his head.
"No, they went into the kitchen to give their congratulations as well. Why?" he asked in amusement, and I huffed.
"Because they've been like stuck to each other like leeches since they got engaged and I don't want my library defiled. It's my favorite room in the house."
"Good Merlin, Rena, I knew you liked a good story before bed and all that, but you're being a bit ridiculous," George said, coming up behind me and draping his arms over my shoulders.
"Dunno how to tell you this, but they don't have eyes. Also, they're inanimate objects," Fred stage whispered, and I huffed.
"Oh, hush you two. Hermione gets what I mean, don't you?"
"Of course!" Hermione agreed. "Imagine sitting in the Gryffindor Common Room and knowing someone got frisky in your favorite armchair!" She shuddered. George leaned over and whispered to Fred,
"Did Mione just use the phrase 'get frisky?'"
"She did indeed," Fred grinned, and winked at her. "Been doing a bit of that yourself with our ickle Ronnikins."
Hermione's face burned red. "That is none of your business!" she shrieked as Ron aimed a swat at his brothers. He missed, and Ginny obligingly smacked both twins across the back. A ripple of laughter ran around the room.
"You two, leave her be," I scolded the twins. "Hermione's an adult, she can do what she likes."
"Just not in your library." Fred winked at Hermione again and she blushed even deeper.
"You two are in fine form tonight," Draco noted, and I gestured to the wine glass held loosely in George's hand a foot from my face, where his hand dangled over my shoulder.
"I think they've been in the mulled wine a bit more deeply than the rest of us," I teased, and George made a sound of offense in my ear.
"What? The nerve!"
"The audacity!" Fred agreed.
"-need to catch up!"
George pressed his glass to my mouth and I obligingly sipped as he tilted the glass before nudging his arm away. I examined the thin line of lipstick left behind on the edge of his cup and looked up at George with a smirk.
"I don't know that it's really your color, Georgie. Doesn't quite match your hair." And with that I planted a loud, wet kiss on his cheek, purposefully pressing my lips firmly against his skin and leaving behind a red lip print. George grinned as he finally pulled back and stopped leaning on me.
Fred pouted. "We're not identical!"
"Think that ship has sailed, mate," George reminded him drily, pointing at the hole on the side of his head where his ear used to be.
Somehow we drifted into two groups. Ron, Hermione, Harry, Ginny, and I headed for the bar while Draco stayed and talked to the twins near the door, shortly joined by Daphne and Nott. It had been my great surprise that Fred and George had been, hands-down, the most accepting of Draco aside from Ginny. I think it was the fact that Draco told them he'd really loved their fireworks display during Umbridge's tenure the first time they properly spoke, and then they were off.
"So, 'Mione, how's school going?" I asked her curiously, and she shrugged.
"About how you'd expect. The first years are a bit more off-balance than we were when we came in, I think, but that's to be expected. There's… more ghosts," Hermione admitted somewhat somberly. "But classes are progressing normally."
"And you're top of your class, I expect?" I asked wryly, and Hermione nodded.
"You might have been, had you come back," she countered, and I shrugged.
"Oh, I would have been." I bobbed my eyebrows at her teasingly. "But I also wouldn't be one of the youngest small business owners in wizarding Britain."
L.P. Apothecary was taking off swimmingly. Between the two of them, Horace Slughorn and Cutler Barnes had put me in touch with anybody I could possibly need to talk to. Advertisements in the Prophet for my Potions Pouches (Everything you need in one place for the busy housewitch) were generating quite a bit of buzz for the launch in the new year. Thus far my customers were mostly limited to St. Mungo's – who had been informed that my 'relief work' was officially over and if they wanted my potions they'd be paying for them from here on out – and the dragon sanctuaries, who couldn't get enough of my Sine Fraxinus.
Added to the funds from that, at the beginning of this month the reparations I'd been seeking from the Ministry had finally come through. The funds had been deposited directly into my Gringotts account, as requested, and I was informed with a terse note from Kingsley himself about the details and the exact sum I had been awarded. This letter was closed with a Happy Christmas that sounded forced even reading it in my head. I had plans to start looking into a space in Diagon Alley soon, opening a storefront and hiring on employees to meet the demands of brewing and work the counter.
Harry rolled his eyes. "I'd hoped Malfoy might have wandered off once she stopped paying a much attention to him and more to her projects , but no such luck."
Ginny snorted. "Really don't think the ferret's going anywhere, Harry."
"Besides, Narcissa likes her enough that Draco might get in trouble with her if they split up," Hermione chuckled, and Ron looked at her askance.
"Since when is Malfoy's mum bloody Narcissa?"
"Since she was born, Ron," Hermione replied shortly. "It is her name."
"I think it's throwing my dear brother for a loop that a Muggleborn is calling her that," Ginny added. "And Ron, she asked us to call her that when we went to lunch the other day."
"You went to lunch with Narcissa Malfoy?" Harry demanded, and Ginny looked at him sideways.
"I told you we were having a girls' lunch."
"I thought that meant you, Rena, and Hermione!" Harry exclaimed, and I chuckled, shaking my head.
"No. Daphne and Maeve were there, and so was Narcissa and Andromeda. It was a lovely meal, thought I don't think Tom was pleased we took up half the tables in the Leaky Cauldron," I mused.
"Besides I don't see Rena letting him get away even if he wanted to," Ginny added, eyeing Malfoy speculatively. He was still talking with the twins, Blaise, Nott, and Daphne, but he was bouncing Teddy lightly, holding him close, almost protectively. He laughed, a real laugh, at something George said, and he looked so young and so happy. "I get it," she announced, and drew scandalized looks from her brother and mine.
"Yes, I may not have liked him at first but I can see the appeal," Hermione agreed, and Ginny nodded enthusiastically.
"Really, we should have seen this coming a mile off," Ginny commented. "Malfoy's good-looking and he's got that whole elegant noble thing going for him, which, let's face it, Rena wouldn't do well with someone who didn't have themselves together."
"And he's clever, that's also important. He, Rena, and I were always top three in our year," Hermione continued.
"Plus, the ferret can angst just as hard as she can," Ginny added. "And he's decent on the Quidditch pitch, which is always a plus."
"What the bloody hell is happening?" Ron whispered to Harry fearfully.
"And of course, there's something attractive, from a biological standpoint, about a man holding a baby," Hermione continued clinically.
Ginny, Hermione, and I all turned to look at Draco, who was still holding Teddy and rocking slightly. He looked down at the baby and smiled faintly, nodding an agreement with whatever Blaise said. Hermione was right. I understood it was some sort of instinctive drive to pick a mate that was good with children, but it didn't make me feel any less hot under the collar. Draco looked up and met my gaze, eyes softening for a moment, before he turned back to the conversation. One of the girls, Ginny or Hermione, I couldn't tell which, sighed dreamily.
"How is a bloke holding a baby hot?" Ron demanded, and we three turned to stare at him incredulously. Ginny gave Harry a firm look that had him paling and I smirked. My brother would be having a large family whether he liked it or not. It was just good luck that Harry wanted several kids. Ron… he just looked scared by the prospect of children.
"What?" he continued defensively. "I mean, sure, it's great that Malfoy's willing to hold the kid and all, but why does it matter? Mothers are the ones who do most of the kid stuff, right?"
The look on Hermione's face was almost… resigned. "No, Ron, not always."
It had been a foregone conclusion for years that the two of them would end up together. However, staring at them now, I didn't see how it could possibly work. Ron had grown up over the course of the war, but he still, in many ways, had the emotional range of a teaspoon. And Hermione, for all she touted the wonders of brainpower, was still a fairly emotional person – flocks of divebombing birds and punching Draco in the face stood as evidence. She was also career-minded and driven. It didn't see how that would mesh with someone like Ron who wanted, basically, his mother as a wife. He would go off and bring home the bacon, get all the glamor of being an Auror, and Hermione would be expected to have dinner on the table and the kids bathed an in bed by eight. One of them was going to have some serious adapting to do, and I didn't know if either of them could stand to bend that much.
"So how's the reconstruction going on the Quidditch pitch?" Harry asked quickly, seeing Hermione's face fall. He, at least, could be credited with more emotional awareness than his best mate. Ron immediately latched onto the topic and was distracted while Hermione added comments about things she'd heard from McGonagall, whom she'd apparently become close with.
"And Quidditch game should be back in place next year!" Ron announced enthusiastically as I subtly reached over and squeezed Hermione's hand supportively.
So here's the thing... I don't support Romione. In the end it just feels forced to me and I'm not a fan. Ron, to me, has consistently been a dick with spots of niceness to Hermione throughout the series instead of the other way around. So we'll see how that plays out.
In other news, this chapter will be a two-parter with the next part updated next week. This chapter got so long I cut some part of it out for next chapter, but it's still very connected, so I kept writing on that second part to try and make some magic happen - no such luck but I was left with about 11,000 words combined which is way too much for one chapter but not enough for two since I average 6,000-8,000 words per.