Disclaimer – J.K. Rowling owns Harry Potter.
A/N – Written for hp_tarot on LiveJournal. Thanks to my beta Thoth for her help.
Part 1 – Chance To Get It Right
Card Interpretation - Often, the Ace of Cups will predict the start of a relationship, one that is full of potential and may eventually lead to true love and happiness. But you must always remember that the Ace can show only potential, not the final result of a situation. If a relationship starts out well, it is up to the two people involved to keep it that way, and improve upon it in any possible manner. The Ace of Cups is not a guarantee of happiness, but a guarantee that you will have the chance to make happiness for yourself if you want to. If you want to develop an existing relationship, the Ace cannot help you.
Padma Patil stood in the doorway of her sister's bedroom, glaring at the back of her twin's head. Unfazed, Parvati continued to take jewelry from her dresser and examine herself in the mirror. As she picked up a pair of emerald earrings and studied her reflection, Parvati smirked before telling her sister, "Don't look at me like that. There's going to be a lot of single wizards there tonight. I don't know about you, but, unlike this year, I plan on finishing next year with at least a boyfriend." Then, exchanging the emerald earrings for a pair of diamond ones, she quickly added, "Besides, you only just finished yourself."
Padma rolled her eyes and tried to hide a grin. Toying with the set of bangles on her arm, she glanced around her sister's room. When they were younger, they were almost mirror images of each other; finishing each other's statements, often dressing identically, and owning most of the same items. They shared this very room, but back then it had a more princess-like theme to it.
After entering Hogwarts, they continued to finish each other's statements and other twin-like behavior but they grew into their own distinct personalities. Parvati was more the daredevil and risk-taker while Padma was more the serious bookworm. After third year, and after begging for two years, their father agreed to give Padma her own room.
With separate rooms, their personalities started to show more. Parvati's room resembled a young woman's closet with shoes, dresses, blouses, jewelry, and other items scattered all over on any available surface. Her own room was much neater and resembled a reading room in a library with shelves jammed full of books with inks, quills, and parchment scattered about her desk and tables.
As Parvati finally settled on the diamond earrings and was slipping on her heels, Padma noticed a deck of cards that had been laid out on a small table. Probably the only flat surface not buried under anything.
Standing next to the table, she noticed they weren't ordinary playing cards or even Chocolate Frog cards. "Parv," she called, using a nickname from when they were young. "What are these?"
"Muggle tarot cards," came the reply.
As Padma picked one up, "You do know these things can't predict the weather, much less your future?"
Parvati snickered and walked up to her twin. "Have some faith. It's not the tool that's useless, but the wielder." When her sister gave her a disbelieving look, "I did pay attention in class, you know."
"Name one?" Padma teased. "Other than Divination and maybe Defense class."
Parvati gave her a sarcastic smile before snatching the card out of her twin's hand. "So which one did you pick?" Turning the card around, Parvati studied it for a moment before a wide grin spread across her lips. "Oohh. The Ace of Cups," she said falling into a fit of giggles. "Maybe you won't grow into an old maid."
"Excuse me, old maid?" Padma asked rhetorically, placing her hands on her hips as she glared at Parvati.
"When was the last time you had a date?" When Padma scowled and didn't answer, Parvati continued, "Thought so." Turning the card so the face was showing to Padma, "The Ace of Cups represents a new romance or the potential of one on the horizon," she told her with a large, Cheshire-like, grin.
"Please, that's a bunch of nonsense."
Parvati waved the card in front of Padma's face. "You can't explain everything; facts and figures will only show you so much. As a witch, you should know that you have to believe in things beyond the norm," she said while laying the card back on to the table face up.
"Magic is one thing," Padma defended. "A bunch of playing cards predicting my love life, I don't think so."
Exiting the room and walking towards the stairway, Parvati gave one last shot. "When it happens, I expect an apology," she told her confidently.
"I'll do you one better. If it happens, I'll owe you an apology and a Galleon," Padma countered as they descended the stairs to where their parents were waiting for them.
As Harry stood in the middle of the Burrow's living room, restlessly pulling at the collar of his dress robes, he asked, "Why am I going to this blasted thing?"
Curled up on the couch, Hermione laughed. "Because, as the savior of the world, and in the interest of playing nice with the Ministry, you have to occasionally go out and be in the spotlight."
"I feel like a damn puppet," Harry grumbled.
"Harry," Hermione said trying to reason with him, like she always did. "This is one of the few nights a year that you have to go to these events. As much as you hate it, you are a public figure and your adoring public would actually like to see you every once in a while." She then added silently, Stop being such a baby. When Harry scowled at her, as if reading her thoughts, she just smiled back at him. "A lot of important people that we have to work with for this new beginning will be at the Ministry's New Year celebration."
"Look," Hermione finally said as she stood up from the couch. "I know how much you hate being paraded around, but we need change if we want to prevent another war. As incompetent as they may be, we can't just topple them over, throw them out in the street, and erect a new government." Walking up to him, she smacked his hand away from his bowtie and straightened it. "We have to work with the system that's in place, and that means, along with everything else we do, you have to go out in to the public eye, bullshit with those pompous windbags, and play nice. It's a slow, painful process, and won't happen over night."
"Still don't like it," Harry grumbled like a little child.
"I know, I know," he replied automatically as he instinctively checked to make sure his wand was in its holster and strapped to his right forearm. I don't know what's worse, the same stupid, boring stories or the cameras documenting my every move.
Sympathizing a little with him, "I know these things are uncomfortable for you and I hate making you go to them. But-" she told him while handing him his jacket.
"We have to give something to the Ministry, so they'll give us something," Harry finished, sounding like it was something he had been told repeatedly. "But, I swear, the first time someone tries to set me up for anything, I'm out of there."
Laughing softly, Hermione smiled at him. "Deal."
Putting the jacket on, Harry took a deep breath as he took his invitation out of his pocket and examined it. It was made from a heavy paper with gold lettering and designs. Trying not to give it a second thought, he wandlessly activated the built-in Portkey, and was whisked away towards the Ministry Yule Ball.
After a lot of spinning, Harry landed awkwardly on his feet and had to take a step or two before he regained his balance. Well, at least I didn't fall flat on my arse again.
Slowly looking around, he found himself at the bottom of a set of decorated stairs going up a small stone cliff. From above, he could hear the loud roar of people but not actually make out what any of them were saying. Mustering his Gryffindor courage in the midst of what he knew he undoubtedly faced up above, Harry slowly but steadily walked up the steps. Even before he stood upon the landing at the top, he was blinded by flashes of light and the loud roar of people seemed to increase dramatically as he reached near the top of the staircase.
Hermione will Crucio you if you run through this line, Harry told himself as he reached the top. Looking down the gauntlet, he could see an old castle brilliantly lit up for the party that was going on inside. To Harry, it was funny in a twisted sort of way, that the place was almost a safe place compared to being out here with the sharks. Finally, putting on his fake smile, a practiced act, he proceeded to walk at a quick pace through the double-sided gauntlet.
As he made his way, simply waving on occasion but never stopping, which would allow himself to be cornered, Harry passed by a tall man who seemed to be holding court with a few reporters. For no other reason, other than gawking a little at the man's height, Harry glanced over at him and the group surrounding him. As he did so, he locked eyes with a young woman dressed in beautiful green dress robes, with a very familiar look. The woman instantly recognized him and her smile grew a little as she gave him a small wave hello.
Parvati, Harry naturally assumed as he returned the wave hello.
Continuing his trek down the line, Harry tried his best not to flinch every time someone flashed a camera in his face or shouted something. While he was getting better at handling the seemingly fanatical press, he still didn't like having to do it.
Finally, after what seemed like a few hours, but was really only a few minutes, Harry had made it to the castle. After showing his invitation to the Aurors on guard at the entrance and entering the building, it wasn't long before someone noticed him and the stares and whispers began. Shortly after that, Harry was greeted with his first pompous windbag and soon a crowd gathered around him. Sighing softly to himself, he plastered the fake smile back on to his face and tried to appear interested in the same jokes and self-flattering stories he had heard numerous times already.
Padma was growing restless as she wandered through the crowd of people in the main ballroom. Most of the people in attendance were middle-aged politicians or businessmen and their dates. The few people who were around her age were, putting it politely, spoiled little snobs.
While Padma continued to wander about the room, she could catch snippets of the various conversations. When a conversation would pique her interest, Padma would pause to eavesdrop while pretending to be interested in something. It's amazing how many backroom deals get made outside chambers, Padma thought to herself as she listened to two Lords barter for each other's support on various propositions. Growing bored after a few minutes, Padma quickly moved on.
As she walked around a group of businessmen hounding a Lord about something or other, she spotted Harry's unruly dark hair. She smiled, remembering seeing him outside and waving hello to him. While not surprised he was invited, it was a surprise that he'd actually showed. Following the war, Harry had been a recluse, rarely out in the spotlight. That's why when he did make an appearance, it seemed like he was hounded from the moment he arrived till the moment he left.
From the looks of it, tonight was no different. He looked to be backed up against a wall by an overweight, balding man and his companion. The man was talking loudly and gesturing widely with his hands as Harry stood there listening politely, his arms folded across his chest, he seemed to be almost bouncing on the balls of his feet as the man continued talking, never letting Harry attempt to get a word in edgewise. The man seemed destined to make the best use of his time, even if it was wasting Harry's.
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of a server walking nearby with a tray of wine glasses. A smirk crossed her lips as she thought of a way to have a little fun and to help Harry out a little. Stopping the server, she took two of the glasses and walked over to Harry.
"Harry," she practically cooed with a soft giggle, "so this where you've been hiding." At hearing her own voice, and the overly-fake seductive tone to it, she almost burst out laughing. It didn't help when Padma saw Harry's surprised and confused look on his face.
The man looked annoyed at the interruption and looking down his nose at her, he asked, "And you are?"
Handing Harry one of the wine glasses, "Parvati Patil." As she spoke, she extended her hand. As the man gently gripped her fingers and brought her hand to his lips, Padma fought down the urge to grimace and throw up.
Stepping close to Harry, she rested her now free hand on Harry's arm. "We went to school together." Turning her attention from the man back to Harry, she slipped her arm around his, looking up at him, and batting her eyelashes for effect. "Now don't you forget you promised me a dance."
For a moment, Harry still looked confused but then his face went neutral before a small smile appeared; realizing what was happening and seeing his opening for an exit. "Of course I haven't."
Looking from Padma to the man, "If you'll excuse me, it isn't polite to keep a lady waiting." As the man started stuttering, trying to recapture his audience, Padma gave his arm a strong tug and the two quickly made their retreat.
When they were far enough away, Padma started honestly giggling. "You can say thank you now," she told him with a sarcastic smile.
"Thank you," Harry mocked. "Though why were you pretending to be Parvati? There's going to be a lot of rumors flying around now. Everything I do is written down."
"She owes me. Can't count the number of times she's been in trouble and used my name," she said while guiding them through the crowd. "Besides, it was fun. Sometimes, it's interesting pretending to," she then paused and curiously looked at Harry. "How did you know?"
Harry grinned a little. "The two of you may look a like, and from a distance, I thought you were her, but you're not completely identical."
"But we're identical twins."
"So?" Harry asked rhetorically. "Maybe it's because I notice different things now, but I do see differences."
Her Ravenclaw curiosity got the better of her. "What do you mean? What sort of differences," It was so rare that anyone outside of her immediate family actually saw the twins as two distinct people, that she was naturally curious about Harry's statement.
As they continued to walk about, exploring the castle's floors and rooms, Harry continued. "Like your movements. When you introduced yourself just now, you brought your arm straight up. While Parvati would've made a more flashy movement." He then imitated the movement he was talking about. "You're more direct and to the point, where Parvati is more flashy and showy."
Padma laughed as she agreed with him, That's defiantly Parvati. "What else?"
"Physically?" Harry asked and she nodded yes. "Now that you're older, your faces are a little different. Your features are sharper, more defined, I guess."
"And how long have you been studying this hypothesis of yours?" Padma teased and grinned when Harry's ears reddened a little.
"Long enough," Harry answered, grinning back at her, trying to save face.
"Your styles. Again, as you got older, you could see more differences. Parvati's style is more… uh…." As Harry stumbled over his words, trying to pick the best way to say it without insulting her or her sister, Padma couldn't help but roll her eyes and laugh a little as Harry could simply shrug.
Saving him once again, "My sister likes to show a little more than she should, while I'm a bit more conservative."
"Yeah," Harry said and nodded, glad that she understood what he was trying to say. "Parvati seems to be more about trends and other goofy stuff, while you… you seem to like what you like."
"You seem to have given us a lot of thought," Padma began, seeing another opportunity to tease him. It was odd, she remembered Parvati always saying how Harry was always shy, guarded, and standoffish, among other things. But, right now, they had been chatting for barely a few minutes or so, and to her at least, he seemed at ease. Maybe that was why she felt so comfortable teasing him and him her.
After wandering a bit as they talked, they eventually settled at one of the small tables set up for guests to eat at in the Castle's massive dinning hall. For the first time, Harry actually didn't mind being forced to go to a Ministry event. It was rare that Harry found someone he was comfortable having a normal conversation with, especially with someone he wasn't close to. There was something about Padma that Harry felt at ease with and was able to overcome his natural defenses.
Harry looked at her with a playful smile, "Somehow I can't see one of the Pretty Patils playing Quidditch." She had caught him off guard when she had told him she had tried out for the Ravenclaw Quidditch team back in third year. Of course, he had to get back at her when she started teasing him about how the Holyhead Harpies, her favorite team, had obliterated the Cannons in their latest match.
Padma glared at him as he chuckled softly at her. "I hate that nickname." Brushing a stray strand of hair out of her eyes, "So, when are you going to go pro?"
Suddenly, grinning like a little child, "As soon as Pompy clears me. I'm so sick of being poked and prodded." After the final battle, Harry had been severely injured and only just recently, almost a year and half later, had fully recovered from all the physical injuries he had sustained.
"Good, 'cause you were definitely a sight on your broom."
"Oh, so who's watching who now?"
They both started snickering. "You wish, Potter," she told him with a sly grin, playfully eyeing him up and down.
As they continued talking, they noticed some waiters gathering a lot of champagne flutes on a long table across the room. "They're really going all out for this end of the millennium stuff," Harry mumbled under his breath.
Padma scoffed and Harry looked at her curiously. "This isn't the end of the millennium," she told him.
"And why's that, Hermione?"
Lightly kicking him in the shin, she sat back in her chair with arms crossed as Harry started laughing again. "Aside from the fact the calendar we use has been messed around with by Muggle and Wizard alike, there's no Year 0. The Romans had no concept for zero, so in actuality, the year 2000 ends the millennium, not start it."
Seeing Harry roll his eyes, Padma retaliated by sticking her tongue out at him. "Is this how you treat Hermione?"
Pretending to thinking about for a moment, Harry scratched his chin. "Yeah," he said with a laugh. "Pretty much."
Padma couldn't help but grin back at him and laugh a little. "How come we never did this back in school?"
"Saving the Wizarding World from itself doesn't give you a lot of free time," Harry said sarcastically after shrugging. Without thinking, Padma reached out and covered his hand with her own, giving it a gentle squeeze. Harry gave her a small smile. "Even with the fact that I barely trust anyone, only a few were even willing to look past the image."
Their moment was interrupted by a loud group stomping in, talking loudly. As they turned to look, Padma leaned in towards Harry and whispered, "That's Lord Grant on the right, in the glasses, and Lord Banner is the balding man in the back. They're senior members of the House of Lords and while both are strict about the old ways, both lost family in the last war. They may be more receptive than they appear."
Harry glanced at Padma, "How do you know this?"
"My parents and grandmother. It's in the interest of business to know these things." When Harry gave her a hard, thoughtful look, Padma shifted in her seat, a little uneasy. "What?"
"Padma, how much do you know? I mean, about how the government really works."
She nodded, understanding his question. "I'm still learning some of the subtleties, but my grandmother has given me a good working knowledge. Why?"
"What are you doing now? Working?"
"I'm working a few days at Flourish and Blotts." Giving him a curious look, she asked, "What are you getting on about?"
"I… I need help," Harry forced himself to say, asking for help was not one of his strong suits. "I need someone who can help me deal with… well, everything. I don't understand, much less have the patience to deal with this political bull. I don't even want to think about Quidditch, the only thing I know is how to play. Hermione keeps talking to me about all this other stuff, and I just don't know."
"Why not ask Hermione to help you?"
Harry shook his head. "She's spent enough of her life helping me. I want her to focus on her, and maybe when Ron pulls his head out of the sand, start a family."
"Harry, I don't know," she said. "There has to be someone better suited for something like this. It involves a lot of trust. We really don't know each other that well."
"I know enough. I think we'd get along pretty good. You've admitted to having a good understanding of these gits at work, and even when you don't know, you have resources available to you. You're also very intelligent, at least if you're grades speak any volumes. Second in our year." When Padma stared at him in a bit of surprise, Harry explained. "It's sort of like analyzing a tactical situation."
"So that's what you've been doing this whole time?" she asked, an edge to her voice.
He shook his head no. "With everything I've had to go through, it just sort of happens. I've become very observant, and I listen more. With you, you've been filling in the blanks. So, I believe, I know what I need to know." He then leaned towards Padma, resting his arm on the back of her chair, meeting her eyes, "But not what I want to know."
"You're definitely nothing like I expected or even remember."
"Is that good or bad?"
Padma folded her arms on the table and leaned forward, "I'll let you know."
As the clocks in the Castle chimed for eleven thirty, Harry and Padma were still talking and joking as if they were the only two in the room. "Admit it," Harry told her as he cracked up.
"I didn't," Padma said back, trying to fight her own laughter.
"Oh, come on. Everyone's fallen asleep, at least once, in Professor Binns' class. It's not like he even notices anyway."
Trying to look outraged, she couldn't keep it in any more when Harry smirked at her. "Fine, I did… Once! Happy now?" When Harry snickered, she shoved him in the shoulder, "Git."
"Padma," a deep accented voice spoke from behind them.
Harry naturally stood up and spun on the voice, and if Padma hadn't grabbed his forearm, he would've drawn his wand on its source. He didn't like being caught unaware, and drawing his wand had become too much of a habit.
Under the man's intense gaze, Padma realized she was still holding his arm and quickly let go. "Dad, Mum." When Harry relaxed, realizing who was standing in front of them, Padma turned her full attention to her parents. Seeing her father practically glaring at Harry, Padma rolled her eyes.
"What is going on here?" Mr. Patil asked in a low voice, continuing his hard gaze at Harry.
"Bharat," Mrs. Patil scolded her husband. "Mr. Potter, please excuse my husband. He's usually not so rude."
Mr. Patil was torn for a moment, here was Harry Potter, the savior of the Wizarding World, but also the boy who looked a bit too cozy with his daughter. Extending his hand to Harry, "Bharat Patil."
Cautiously taking the hand, "Harry Potter." When Mr. Patil's hand closed around his in a firm grip, Harry tried his best to hide his grimace of pain. Merlin, it's like he's trying to crush my hand.
"My father runs his own import-export company in Birmingham. It's become very successful, despite the wars," Padma told Harry, a bit of pride and respect creeping into her voice.
"But it also means I have to come to these blasted events," Mr. Patil mumbled softly, so know one could really hear him.
"You know you have to scratch their back, so they'll scratch yours," Mrs. Patil told him while placing a comforting hand on his.
Padma glanced at Harry and asked, "Now who does that remind me of?" Harry just grunted in response but also gave her a small grin.
"I understand you're quite the businessman yourself," Mr. Patil said to Harry. "A stake in the growing Weasley's enterprise, and have just gotten into the media. Investing a good sum into the Quibbler I believe."
"I'd hardly consider myself a businessman. The Weasleys… I just couldn't keep that money after what happened, and the twins are family. With the Quibbler, I figured the only way there'd be any truth coming out would be to make an alternative to The Prophet. The Lovegoods have done so much for me at their own risk, I figure it was the least I could do."
Mr. Patil was finding himself more torn. Beyond the hero that everyone knew, he was finding there to be a very good man. A bit humble as well. But also, a man who was showing an interest in his daughter. It took a lot for a father to let go of his daughter, and most never really do completely.
Their conversation was cut short as another voice entered the conversation.
"Padma, where have you been all night?" Parvati said as she joined them. Noticing Harry as she did, she grinned at her twin, "Now I see. Hello, Harry, it's good to see you again."
"Hello Parvati, nice to see you too," Harry greeted her cautiously. Even though they had mended bridges after the Yule Ball, Harry always felt on guard when Parvati was around. Something else he noticed a difference in when it came to the twins.
"And where have you been, Parvati?" Mr. Patil asked his other daughter.
Smiling sweetly up at her father, "Oh, here and there."
Turning her attention back to Padma, she quickly took in all the non-verbal signs her twin was giving off. All of the females in the maternal side of their family showed a prowess in the mental arts and the twins had been trained at an early age in Occlumency. While both girls had become proficient in it, it was Parvati who excelled, also allowing her to show promise in Divination. Even without the magic, Parvati knew her twin and vice versa.
Padma knew what her sister was doing, especially when Parvati's grin widened. Self consciously, she took a step away from Harry.
"Told you so," was all Parvati said smugly.
Mr. Patil looked at his daughters suspiciously while Mrs. Patil asked, "Do I even want to know what the two of you are up to?"
Quickly grabbing her small handbag from the table, Padma ripped it open and fumbled a bit as she pulled out a Galleon. Tossing the bag back on to the table, she swiftly moved to her twin and grabbing her hand, pressed the coin firmly in to it. "It's nothing, Mum," Padma said while looking Parvati dead in the eye.
Seeing Harry's confused but curious expression as she stepped back, "Twin thing," Padma explained. Harry just nodded with a shrug.
"You two better go to the ballroom or you're going to miss the fireworks," Padma urged her parents, trying to act innocent. What she really wanted was for her family to leave; for some strange reason, she felt oddly embarrassed with her father interrogating Harry and of course her sister being, well, her sister.
Mr. Patil simply studied his daughter, but Mrs. Patil simply gave a knowing smile before gently tugging on her husband's arm. "Come along dear, let's leave them alone."
Mr. Patil unhappily prepared to follow his wife's lead as he turned to Harry. "I'm sure we'll have a better chance to talk at a different time."
Harry nodded awkwardly. "I look forward to it."
As her parents left, Padma looked at Parvati. With a small jerk of her head, she tried to motion for her sister to follow her parents and leave. Since Harry was too busy worrying about the next time he'd cross paths with their father, he didn't notice.
Padma motioned again and Parvati giggled. "Faith," Parvati whispered to Padma as she passed by her and then started giggling harder when Padma tried to glare at her.
It's just a coincidence that I picked up that stupid card, and me and Harry are just enjoying each other's company. I just gave her the Galleon to shut her up, Padma rationalized to herself, but was pulled from her thoughts by Harry.
"You were mumbling to yourself," Harry told her with a soft chuckle.
"Sorry about my father, he can be a… bit overprotective at times," Padma said, trying to change the subject.
"I kind of noticed," he told her sarcastically. "Do you want to go see the fireworks?"
"Yeah, but it'll be too crowded," she said, a little disappointed.
Harry shook his head no. "Not the ones they magically enchanted the ceiling with or those sparklers they cast, the real thing. If I'm guessing right, we should be able to see the ones over London from one of the balconies."
"Alright," she agreed with a grin. "Lead on."
After spending a few minutes finding a room with a balcony on the correct side of the castle, they stood outside and could just make out the outlines of the London fireworks in the horizon. When Padma shivered slightly, the winter wind whipped through her thin dress, Harry took off his jacket and draped it over her shoulders. "Here," he said softly while wrapping it around her.
As she tugged it close around her, she smiled in thanks.
From below them, inside the castle, they could hear the noise getting louder. As the countdown chant from ten began, the two young adults leaned against the railing. Midnight was created with the loud tolls of Big Ben chiming for miles, large amounts wizard fireworks danced across the magical ballroom ceiling, all meshing with the noise of the guests celebrating.
On the balcony, the two watched multiple colors light up the night sky over the city. "Beautiful," Padma whispered as multiple explosions lit the sky with blue, red, and gold colors.
"Padma," Harry said, trying to get her attention.
Turning slightly so she could see him and still watch the fireworks, "Mmm?"
Leaning in slightly, Harry gently kissed the corner of her mouth. "Happy New Year," he whispered to her hoarsely.
Trying to hide her surprise, she turned away from him for a moment. "A little presumptuous of you, isn't it?" she asked him, though couldn't fight off the small smile on her lips.
"I'm Gryffindor, bold, impulsive," he tried to joke, relieved that she didn't take exception to it. It had come as a spur-of-the-moment thing. He had really enjoyed talking with her tonight, and had hoped he hadn't just brought it all to a screeching halt.
"And hasn't that gotten you into trouble before?" she couldn't help but tease.
Shrugging, relaxing when he realized it had gone over well. "Maybe, but sometimes the risk is worth taking."
Leaning sideways against the railing, Padma studied him. "You know you can be very charming when you want to be."
"I can be," Harry told her, mirroring her position on the railing. "But I much prefer brooding as everyone leaves you alone." He then added quickly sarcastically, "But with you, I'd rather be charming. Just don't expect it to last."
Laughing, "If I didn't know any better, I'd swear you're flirting."
Harry's grin widened, "If I am, I wouldn't even realize it."
As the celebration came to a close and Harry and Padma bid each other good night, the Patils Apparated back to their home. While Parvati and Mr. Patil headed off to their bedroom and office respectively, Mrs. Patil asked Padma to stay a moment before retiring.
"You had a very interesting night," she told her daughter and smiled as she could see a faint blush. "What do you think of the young man now?"
Titling her head as she mulled it over for a moment. "He's nothing like everyone says, but I knew that. But, even what I thought, or expected, some of it's not completely spot-on. When he's at ease, he can be funny... and charming. He also hides his intelligence. He knows and understands a lot more than many give him credit for."
"He also must be something really special to have sparked your interest?" Mrs. Patil laughed softly at the surprised expression on her daughter's features. "When we found you, you were broadcasting very loudly. It wasn't too hard to pick up on your emotions."
She grinned a little self-consciously. "He's definitely something," she admitted. "He offered me a job as his assistant of sorts. I told him I'd think about it."
Padma slowly began to pace. "I don't know. I know I could do it but, is it beneath me to work as an assistant? Make sure he's where he has to be, doing what he has to, not putting his foot in his mouth. Then, if I work for Harry, we couldn't… talk like we did tonight."
Mrs. Patil stood and watched her daughter with a small smile. "No job is beneath a person as long as they are doing their best at it and it provides for their livelihood. As for the job, sounds a lot like what I do for your father."
Her smile widened as she watched her daughter connect the dots. "I believe that Harry needs someone to work with him, not for him. The two of you apparently get along, and he must hold you in some high regard to offer you such an intimate position."
"Maybe," Padma said, still a little torn. So much had happened and she was struggling putting everything in perspective.
"Padma, why not go to bed and sleep on it. But don't think about if you should or not, but what changes you would have to make if you took it or not."
At approximately the same time Padma and her mother were talking, Harry had just returned home, when his floo roared to life.
"'Bout time you got home," came Hermione's voice from the fire.
"Checking up on me?" Harry teased.
"Old habits die hard. So, how was it?"
"Alright," Harry said quickly, but Hermione could tell he was holding something back. Having been close friends for over eight years had its good side, but also its drawbacks in that you rarely could pull something over on the other.
"And?" Hermione prodded.
Harry leaned against the fireplace banister and looked down at Hermione's image in the fire. "I bumped into someone and we spent most of the night talking."
A little hesitantly, he told her, "Padma Patil."
Hermione stayed quiet for a moment as she thought about it. "I'm not surprised. You always did have a taste for intelligent women."
"What are you talking about?"
"Get off it, Harry," she told him, "You've been grinning like an idiot ever since you answered."
"Fine, maybe I'm interested."
"Good. I like Padma. She may be a bit like her sister, but she's still got a good head on her shoulders," Hermione said and then grinned back at him.
"You sound like Mrs. Weasley," Harry teased and laughed when Hermione glared at him.
"Well, if this works out, I won't have to worry about you anymore."
Shaking his head a little, "Hermione, like Mrs. Weasley or you will ever stop worrying about me." Knowing it was true, the two shared a laugh. "I'll let you get back to whatever, and tomorrow you can come over so I can debrief you."
"Really, Harry, you make it sound like it was a military operation?"
"Good night, Hermione."
Sighing, and knowing she wasn't going to get anywhere else, she said, "Goodnight Harry."
As the floo closed, Harry stayed leaning against the banister for a moment, thinking. Over the course of the night, he kept thinking back to the disaster that was the Yule Ball. He knew he treated Parvati badly, but she had also tried to use him. He liked her physically, but when he dug beneath the surface, he wasn't attracted. But now, he was thinking, ignoring his crush Cho then, he wondered what would've happened had Ron gone with Parvati and he with Padma. Maybe it's a chance to get it right.