Alice leaned her head back against Frank's shoulder and looked up into the layered leaves of a large Plane tree. Years before she'd stood at the base of this same tree looking up at the blue sky through its bare winter branches, and she'd accepted that Frank would never be interested in her. She'd resolved then to smother all feelings she had for him. She'd thought the future looked clear, but it wasn't. It was dark and obscure.
Alice turned and kissed Frank firmly on the mouth. "I love you," she said fiercely.
"What brought that on?" he asked softly.
"Do I need a reason?" she replied.
They were at the park to celebrate their first shared day off in a month. A few of their old Hogwarts friends had come to meet them and it felt like spring by the lake again. Benjy Fenwick sat in the sun teaching Marcus Tremlett and Titus Toke a Muggle guitar riff, while Emma tossed a Fanged Frisbee with Edgar and Dorcas. Emma's daughter Dorie toddled between Emma and Edgar grabbing their legs and almost tripping them as they played.
Edgar snatched up his daughter and joined Frank and Alice under the tree. Dorrie sat on her father's lap and stared at Alice with a look of unnerving seriousness.
Benjy put his guitar aside and turned to Dorie. He picked up his wand and shot sparks with it, to her great delight. She jumped off of her father's lap and ran, chasing the bright, little, pretty things. When her hand almost touched one, the sparks turned to daisies. She squealed and grabbed a flower crushing the petals with her chubby little fingers.
"How many times have they played that solo?" Edgar asked gesturing toward Toke and Tremlett.
"Thirteen," Frank said. "I've been counting."
Alice reached back and cuffed him gently with the heal of her hand. "You're supposed to pretend you're enjoying every minute of it."
Toke and Tremlett loved Muggle music and were always pestering Muggleborns like Benjy for the newest songs and singers. The war might have started. The Dark Mark might be appearing nightly. The ministry might have accelerated Auror training. But Tremlett and Toke still followed their favorite Muggle musicians, collecting songs and learning the music, as devoted as they were in the days that they'd lit up the sky in the Great Hall with the words "Slowhand" and "Clapton is God."
"The war hasn't changed them at all; has it?" Edgar asked.
"Edgar the war's changed everything," Frank said. "We all know it."
"I'm not sure they do. They're still --"
"I heard that," Toke called out.
Toke and Tremlett stopped playing and rested their guitars in their laps.
"Wizard music is crap, unlike the Muggle music we play and everyone sees that." Toke spoke slowly as if he was working his way though a Arithmancy problem. "They see that Muggles have something to offer, may be a lot to offer and that Muggleborns bring something valuable to wizards. In the end the Death Eaters bigots look stupid." He paused. "What could hurt them more than making them look like idiots?"
"I don't know," Edgar said. "Have you tried actually fighting them?"
"Edgar, no one --" Frank started to say.
Tremlett interrupted. "For us its the same thing," he said.
Edgar made no sense to Alice. She became an Auror so civilians like Toke and Tremlett could sit on the grass and play their music.
"Don't fool your self," Tremlett said. "No matter how much you fight them. Those people will never hate you as much as they hate us. They can't stomach us saying Muggles do anything better than wizards."
(Years later at Benjy's funeral Alice would remember Tremlett's words and think how right he was. He and Toke were the first of their friends to die at the hands of Death Eaters.)
Edgar started to speak and then stopped himself. Dorie waddled over to her father clutching a handful of crushed and tattered daisies. She'd been collecting them while they were talking. Benjy smiled at the baby. He grabbed his guitar and started to play "All Along the Watch Tower," Edgar's favorite song. "There must be some kind of way out of here, said the joker to the thief," Benjy sang as Tremlett and Toke accompanied him. Dorcas and Emma stopped their game and sat down to listen. Edgar got up and walked to his wife, stooping over to hold Dorie's clean hand while she held her mashed offering out to her mother.
Frank's arm tightened around Alice's waist, his hand splayed across her belly. "Marry me," Frank whispered into Alice's ear. "I want us to be together."
She stared straight ahead motionless while his breath brushed her ear and the side of her cheek. A warm glow collected at the base of her neck and radiated down her back. She hardly breathed.
"We're at war. We'll be sent out on missions." Frank spoke quickly, nervously. "I checked; they won't let married couples serve together. We'd always be assigned separately if we're married -- not dating, not living together, only married." He added speaking even more rapidly. "I can't fight beside you. It scares me too much. I know you can take care of yourself. It's me. I swear I'll get killed checking to see if you're all right."
He ran the palm of his free hand along her upper arm as he spoke. "I love you, I want to live with you, have you with me always."
"When?" she whispered.
"What?" he asked, sounding confused.
"When do you want to get married?" she repeated.
"Right away. I take it that's a yes?"
"Of course. You knew it would be."
He kissed the back of her neck. "I wouldn't ask if I wasn't sure. I only marry women who I know love me."
Alice reached her arm behind her and slipped her hand into his hair. She leaned her head back against his shoulder. She could hear the voices of her friends as they sang.
"Without the war, would you still want to marry me now?" she asked.
"Of course I would," Frank said. "You know that."
Alice smiled as she stroked his hair and looked up into the green light of the Plane tree.