Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all related concepts are owned by someone who isn't me. I will never seek or accept money for the circulation of this work.

Author's Note: the previous chapter has been edited slightly for flow and consistency. Since it's been awhile, you might want to re-read it anyway.

The Spiral Path

Chapter 04: Housekeeping


Summer Guests

28th July, 1995 (still)

Just beneath (or rather behind) the cliffs of Dover is the Ministry-controlled International Portkey Transfer Station. It was established in 1790, at a time when signaling across the Channel was necessary to coordinate the evacuation of the magical from the insanity of the French Revolution. As most magicals kept themselves clean as a habit, many were mistaken for nobility by the grimy, blood-thirsty mobs who yearned to feed the symbols of their discontent to Madame Guillotine.

The actual site is a magically-excavated cavern the size of an aircraft hangar. The floor is tiled in criss-crossing patterns of runes that enable the Station attendants to properly target departures and arrivals, which are displayed on a massive piece of slate along one wall. The schedule is updated by animated rods of chalk the size of bludger bats. They occasionally end up in brief bashing contests with each other and with the massive felt brushes that sweep the chalkdust from the board.

Hermione shivered. She was standing in the area marked for 'Receiving' in one of the Arrival locations in this large cave and noted that her peasant top and skirt weren't much proof against the chill below ground. Up above, the day had been beastly hot and the contrast gave her chills. Hermione had just managed to cast a Warming charm when her Hogwarts dorm-mate, Lavender Brown, entered the Arrival area through a door and let out a squeal that echoed throughout the cavern. The bubbly girl skipped towards her, gushing, "Oh, Hermione! What a lovely glow you've gotten!"

Hermione smiled back and gave Lavender a polite wave. "It's what I prefer to do most summers- tan and reflect."

Lavender rushed up and gave her a quick hug, which Hermione accepted stiffly. Lavender didn't seem to take much notice. "I'd say any decent girl should do that for the summer- I certainly try to." She posed for a moment to display her own tanning progress, looking like an oddly-arranged mannequin. She was wearing white shorts and a flowery babydoll top that made her already large chest even more prominent. "Well, maybe not the reflecting," she clarified. "Oh! I just wanted to say thanks for taking Padma off my hands this year."

"Off your hands?"

"Certainly! I mean, she's a dear and all, but I know she hates tagging along when Parvati and I go out to have fun, and Mum won't just let her read like she wants. I suppose that's what you'll be up to then- reading?"

Hermione smiled and nodded.

"And what about... ehm... how is Holly?"

"Holly is fine."

"Baby keeping her busy, then?"

Hermione gave her schoolmate a suspicious look. "Yes."

"I can hardly imagine her sitting idle, much less with a baby on the teat! I mean, honestly, would you see her as the mothering type?"

Hermione smirked and replied, "It's a more fitting role for her than you'd think."

She was thankfully saved from having to explain further when the Patil twins dropped into the square in front of them with their trunks, accompanied by a loud 'WHUMP-WHAP!'

Within seconds, Parvati had found her feet and was hugging Lavender, both screeching in joy at their reunion.

Hermione just smiled at Padma and offered her a hand up. She gestured towards the trunk tied shut with blue and bronze ribbon; "Shall I shrink that for you?"

"It would be a favour most appreciated, Hermione. Customs would not allow it until our arrival."

She swirled a short wand of black walnut, shrinking the luggage to the size of a candy bar.

Parvati and Lavender noticed the silent spellwork and goggled at her. Padma picked up the shrunken trunk and put it in a pocket of her robes. She then stepped forward to engage Hermione in a hug. The two other girls were again startled when Hermione Disapparated from the spot, taking Padma with her.

~o~


They arrived in front of an iron gate one might find at the entrance of a country manor, though Padma grew confused as all she saw beyond it was an empty field. Hermione handed her a type-written note, which she read. Padma then smiled in delight as a three-story stone manse covered in ivy seemed to emerge from the ground itself, the land nearby sprouting thickets of trees and a low stone wall to define its border around a dozen hilly acres.

Hermione led her through the gate. She then stepped back and gestured with a flourish. "Welcome to Potter Manor, or as we oft refer to it, the Kiln." The setting sun's fire reflected in the many windows, making the house's name seem even more appropriate.

Hermione moved to lead her up to the house, but Padma grabbed her hand and pulled her back into a hug. She whispered in Hermione's ear, "You have no idea just how happy I am to be here with you, and not at the Brown's."

Hermione whispered back, "I may have a notion."

Padma leaned out of their hug and then kissed Hermione full on the lips. After a startled pause, Hermione kissed her back.

When they ended their kiss a minute later, it was in reaction to a young man exclaiming from astride his broom, "Sauve-moi! Is there a gell in this country that is NOT lesbienne, hah?!"

Hermione scowled and gestured to the attractive black-haired teen. "Padma Patil, may I introduce Edouard Bara, son of Sirius Black. He and his sister Grace are staying with us while their mother Marguerite... settles things with Sirius."

Padma gave the young wizard a cold look and then offered him a handshake. "I am pleased to meet you," she said.

He reached down to give a single shake, finally dismounting. "Tell me in truth- am I going to meet any girls here that actually like men?"

Padma clasped her hands behind her back and offered, "I like men. Hermione likes men. Even Holly has been known to appreciate a man, if he is worthy. Should you meet such a man, please let us know."

"Well, there's Ron who's my new flying companion and... HEY!"

Hermione giggled and interceded, "Okay, Edouard. We shall try to keep any signs of affection from annoying you."

"Oh, don't mistake me; please kiss together, often. I'm just feeling like I'll be friends with my hand forever if I stay around here."

Padma scowled. "What a tragedy."

Hermione said, "Edouard, you and Grace will be going to Hogwarts in September, where you'll be rooming with others in your House. Perhaps now is the time for you and your hand to bond, while you still have the privacy."

Edouard gave Hermione an unkind gesture and then jumped back onto his broom, whisking off into the sky above the manor.

"He is coming to Hogwarts? The tragedy deepens," Padma grumped.

Hermione poked her in the side and then grasped her hand to lead her up the gravel drive.

As the witches strolled towards the house, Hermione explained, "Apparently, Sirius and Marguerite were only infrequent lovers, and when she bore him a daughter, she didn't tell him about it. Or rather, she was going to, but couldn't find him for a year. When they finally reconnected, Sirius seduced her again before she could bring up the topic and he was thrown into Azkaban soon after."

"So when you say 'settle things', you are referring to his lack of financial support during his incarceration?"

"Not exactly. Marguerite is a muggle. She was quite beside herself to end up with two magical children and no idea how to handle them. Thankfully, Grace is well-named, but Edouard is very... thirteen."

Padma considered and then said, "I imagine I would be quite upset, under those circumstances."

"Yes, well, anyone would be, but Ms. Bara is a very passionate woman-"

As they approached the entrance, one of the doors burst open to allow Sirius to stumble out, followed by a shiny metal candelabrum and several other fast-flung objects.

From within, a shrill voice sang out, "GET BACK HERE, PAFFOOT! YOU DON' GET TO AVOID ZIS!"

Sirius whirled around and gave Hermione a pleading look.

She shrugged and said, "Edouard's flying about. I don't think you'll find shelter out here."

"Oh, bloody brilliant," Sirius groused. "Remind me to hex Remus at the next meeting. He's the one that jinxed me from Apparating. Oh, and hello, Miss Patil. You look lovely as ever." The man then shifted form into a large black dog and raced off towards the low wall at the west edge of the property.

Padma shook her head. "Strange- though he seems familiar and the resemblance to his wanted poster is obvious, I do not think we have actually met before."

"He was at the Tournament, posing as Mr. Paddington Pink from LOM Enterprises."

"Ah. He did kiss my hand, before the Third Task. Did the Bara's also arrive today?"

Hermione smirked. "No, they've been here for almost two weeks. Marguerite is just that upset."

~o~


Hermione brought Padma to her guest room and then unshrunk her trunk onto the stand at the foot of the bed. Padma gave the Victorian decor an appreciative look and smiled at Hermione. "A bed, a desk, a friend, and a view. It is like heaven."

"Wait until you see the libraries."

Padma smiled. "Plural?"

"The Potter family archive is open by invitation only, but worth just about any vow Holly might ask of you. I've already assured her that you would agree, so your invitation is on the side table, there. Just sign it and the instructions on how to enter will appear."

Padma snatched up the quill and signed the cardstock note. "Yes, about Holly..."

"Yes?"

Padma turned and stepped towards Hermione. "Since taking the Mark at the end of term, I had felt a longing to be in your company. The feeling abated when I left the country, but the moment we arrived in Dover, I wanted to be with you. I want your company, Hermione, and not Holly's."

"That is curious. You took the Mark from Natalia. If anything, I would've expected your desire for her to increase."

Padma stepped close enough to easily caress Hermione's bare arms, which she did. "That was my expectation as well, which made spending time surrounded by my family in Bangalore a good choice for the convalescence. I... I am NOT in love with you, my dear friend Hermione. I would like to... be with you, however. I believe this is worthy of deep and exhaustive... research."

Hermione blushed from the sultry look Padma was giving her and felt shivers from the soft hands that were gliding across her skin. She stuttered, "Uhh, w-well I'm sure we can be discreet. I mean, no one will be surprised if we spend a good amount of time together, as there are few around that think at our speed."

Padma leaned forward to whisper in Hermione's ear, "Who else is allowed in the private library?"

She shivered before replying, "You and I and Holly of course. Sirius, Professor Lupin, the house elves... and Natalia, though she normally only goes there to retrieve Holly for meals."

"I would like to go there with you," Padma emphasized. She leaned back to lock eyes with her friend, adding a rather insistent, "...now."

"Ehmm... isn't it the middle of the night by your clock?" Hermione quavered.

"I find myself quite energetic, despite the time differential."

Hermione gave Padma a weak smile, but then she scowled in thought.

"What is it?" Padma asked.

"I can tell that Holly's still in the library, but there's something wrong. I'll have to give you a rain cheque."

Padma let her hands slide off Hermione's arms as the witch moved towards the door. "I thought you said that there were house elves. Are you her caretaker as well?"

Hermione rounded on Padma. "She's scared, Padma. Can you think of anything inconsequential that might frighten her?"

"No. I apologise. I will settle in and await... your pleasure."

Hermione gave her a smile for the tease and grasped her hand with affection before leaving.

~o~


Holly sat in the study, staring at the single lit candle in the room. Chrys was asleep in her arms, her little baby lips still partly engaged with Holly's right breast. She held the child in a calm and secure embrace, but her mind was roiling.

Hermione opened the study door, startling her. Hearing her gasp, the taller witch whispered, "It's me. Just me."

They shared a look in the near darkness. Holly handed the baby up to Hermione so that she could put her into a nearby bassinet. She then clambered up to standing, straightening her cotton tank as she stood. Chrys got a kiss on the head, and Holly took an extra moment to whisper a prayer, then followed Hermione out of the small study/nursery. They walked along the second-floor shelves of the private library and out a hidden panel. The narrow passage let out through a dormer onto a Widow's Walk that crowned the west-facing roof of the manor.

Once outside, Hermione turned to confront her. "You were hiding and you were afraid. What happened?"

"I did something very stupid, very risky and mostly unproductive."

Hermione teased, "You'll have to be more specific-"

"I lured Riddle into town and blew him up, earlier this afternoon."

Her friend stood stunned for a moment before saying, "Oh."

They stood next to each other for a minute, breathing in the night air.

"This was while I was out running errands."

"Yah."

"I take it he's still-"

"Alive and kicking. He's sending me love letters via twinned journals, again. Says, 'Thanks for the fish.'"

"What fish?"

"I sent back his wand sheathed in a fish, along with an explanation of my actions, in hopes that it would restore a detente. I think it worked, but I'm thinking of buying and securing another safehouse, in case I'm wrong."

Hermione set her jaw. "Holly, if you want to die, I'm sure we could find a simpler and less painful way for you to do it."

"I wasn't at risk," Holly protested. "I had possessed a transfigured hedgehog and her kit to act as proxies for me and Chrys. He wasn't talking directly to me at all."

She'd earned Hermione's glare. "So... you corrupted a natural creature, took over its mind and then used this puppet to test the patience of the Dark Lord voted most likely to know more about dark magic than anyone, including you?"

"Yah. Took some work to do it, too. I'm short on Unicorn blood again."

Hermione threw her hands up and declared, "That's it. I quit."

"What?"

"You're a menace! I need my friend! I need my leader! I need the hero- not some fouled-up half-survivor on a vengeance kick. Barring that, I need you out of the way."

Holly gave her a scowl. "I know why I'm upset, but what's your-?"

"You said you wouldn't act alone anymore! You must've spent weeks working on this and didn't tell anyone. You are breaking the rules that you set, and I can only assume it's because you want someone to punish you! If you want to get out of the conflict, just say so."

Hermione's words cut too close to the truth, and the anger echoed some of her own. She warbled, "I want out!"

"Fine! Take your baby and your sex-crazed, pregnant fiancee and move away! Go to someplace warm and act like something resembling a family."

"Hermione, you know it's not that simple-"

"It's EXACTLY that simple. The easiest lie to tell is the truth- just give up. Run away. If you can't stand the notion of fleeing the field, make it seem intentional. In fact... if you were to get married, a honeymoon would be an obvious consequence."

Holly didn't expect that. "You want me to marry Natalia?"

Hermione nodded, but her face betrayed a certain acceptance of defeat in doing so.

Holly's hand sought out her friend's and grasped it. "Hermione, what about you?"

"I'm not tired of the fight. I'm just getting into it, and I haven't anywhere near the pain and suffering to work through that you're carrying. If you stay around here, you'll get yourself and several other people killed, and you know how much that will upset me, particularly if I'm one of the victims. I love you, so... get the hell away from me until you're sorted. It makes me crazy when you act vulnerable."

Holly gave her a look of disbelief. "I'm not acting-"

"I know!" she raged.

"What're we going to do until I leave? Avoid each other?"

"Housecleaning, first. You, my dear, are a very messy hero."

Holly shrugged in contrition. "Let me help start the clean up, at least."

"I'd be insulted if you didn't."

Holly looked up at her face and recognised it as a threat more than a tease. She nodded and looked down at her toes that were poking past the iron railing. She grasped Hermione's hand again. "What's first?"

Hermione said nothing, waiting for Holly to turn and face her. When she did, Hermione's expression made clear that she would not appreciate humour on the coming topic.

"Confessions. You need to trust some people, or we won't get much of anything done."

Albus cleared his throat and said, "I couldn't agree more."

The two witches spun to face the tall wizard, both drawing wands in the process.

He raised his hands in surrender. "I come in peace and wish only to speak with Miss Evans. Can I bother you for some tea, though?"

Hermione relaxed and re-sheathed her wand. She turned to Holly and said, "I'll tell Clinker," and then receded back into the house.

Dumbledore conjured a pair of rattan chairs with short legs in the back, so that they would rest evenly against the roof's incline. They sat down, though Holly slid her chair forward so she could prop up her bare feet on the iron railing. That put Albus sitting behind and to her side- she really didn't want to have to look at him. Clinker appeared moments later with tea service on a floating tray and disappeared again with a 'clink' of his bottle-bottom glasses.

Holly took a few breaths in silence. Once she had her emotions in check, she asked, "You have something to say, sir?"

"Professor Snape is also here tonight. He has revealed to me the details of a very interesting meeting with Voldemort he attended just a few hours ago, one that we intend to share with the Order."

"Was Riddle human by the end of this meeting?"

"He was, though as I understand it there are two innocent victims who aren't alive because of it. So it was your doing, then?"

"I caught him in a trap. It's not my fault that he killed people to get a new body. How's that work anyway? He didn't need to kill anyone in the graveyard."

"That secret is not one Professor Snape is in a position to reveal. So, Miss Evans; are you or are you not involved in our conflict? Your recent activity seems very provocative, but if my ears don't deceive me, you are planning to leave for a time."

"I guess that depends on what Snape tells us about Riddle's intentions."

"What Professor Snape has told me is that Tom has higher priorities than further antagonising you. At Professor Snape's recommendation, you are to be left alone."

"Just like that?"

"There was some mention of a punishment that Severus is meant to devise- a prank of some sort. Perhaps something to let you believe that he considers you of little consequence. What can you tell me of your confrontation?"

Holly thought for a moment before looking over her shoulder to scowl at Dumbledore. "I could tell you a hundred things, but I doubt you'd answer my related questions with any depth."

"Still the underlying mistrust, Miss Evans? Tell me- do you believe that I work for the betterment of our culture and humanity as a whole?"

After a moment's thought, she responded, "Yes."

"Then perhaps it would be better if you would let me do that. Your memory might reveal much more about our opponent than you could convey. It would be a gesture of trust, not unlike what Miss Granger was encouraging you to exhibit when I arrived."

"Fine," Holly grumbled. She turned in her chair, and then pulled a memory from her temple using only a glowing fingertip, dropping the luminous strand into her tea saucer.

Dumbledore pulled out an odd device that looked like an oversized silver cigarette lighter. With a click, a flap opened and the memory was sucked into the device. "Thank you."

"That's a nifty toy."

"Of my own design," he replied with a small smile of pride. Seeing Holly's sour expression, he slumped in his chair. "Have I offended you, again? Please- tell me how. I haven't been humbled for weeks."

"Sir, I'd love to trade insults with you, but I'm feeling particularly stupid, weak-willed and emotional at the moment. I'm terribly jealous of your skills at enchantment and artifice, and I'm mortified at how close I let Riddle get to winning, today. You have your concession. Leave me alone."

Albus stood and bowed. "I wish you a pleasant evening then, Miss Evans. Thank you again for your hospitality." He disapparated before Holly could see whether he was sincere or not.

~o~


The next night, Holly stood in front of the fireplace in the main library. Assembled in various chairs and sofas were most of the immediate Weasley family; the exceptions being Percy who now lived in London and Charlie who had returned to Romania. Hermione and Padma were also there, though they were concentrating on a shared scroll lying across the chess table in the back of the room.

To her right, Natalia was sitting on an end table, giving her a look of support and encouragement. Holly stepped forward in front of the mantelpiece and cleared her throat, prompting the various conversations to end.

"I imagine you're wondering why I wanted to talk to you all, tonight."

Ron said, "I'm just glad you waited until after supper, Hols."

She smiled at him and said, "I was thinking of you when I scheduled it that way, Ron. Now that I have your attention... I'm a little daunted. I need to confess a few things, because my enemies already know most of it, and I don't feel that you, my friends, should know less than them."

Molly Weasley interrupted, "Holly, if this is about the details of your... of the end of the Tournament, I'd rather-"

"No, Molly. It's not that, though I'm sure aspects of that will need to be explained at some point. Besides, I think Hermione gave you the less-gory highlights already, right?"

All but Mr. Weasley nodded solemnly. Mrs. Weasley gripped her husband's hand to let him know he would be told later.

"So. Here's the thing. I'm Harry Potter." She then concentrated and in a flash, Harry was standing in her place wearing simple grey robes.

They sat in silence, looking expectantly at Harry. He gave them a doubtful look.

"Doesn't this surprise you, even a little?"

The twins looked at each other and smirked. Fred then replied, "Not really, Hols... ehh, Harry. George and I, we've known about this since the champion selection. Ginny asked us for confirmation after the Yule Ball and Ron caught up after the Prophet started their smear campaign before the Second Task."

Ron nodded and said, "Made standing up for you the only right thing for me. Also made it easier to... y'know, talk about... things."

"Oh." Harry stepped back and reverted to being Holly. "Well, when did you find out, Bill?"

"When Professor Dumbledore brought me in for the Third Task, I watched you for the day. By the time you made the switch in front of the crowd, I was pretty sure."

"Molly?"

"First time they said in the Prophet that you were Harry's older sister, I knew things weren't cricket. When you stayed with us after losing Hedwig, I was sure. By the by, when you asked to go to the Lammas Fete at the Malfoys, well, I nearly had a stroke over what it would mean if they had found out!"

Arthur added, "If it's any consolation, Holly, I wasn't aware of it until I had noticed Harry's conspicuous absence from your home here these past weeks."

"Oh." Holly paced for a second. "Well, is there anything you don't know or wanted to ask?"

Molly sat forward and said, "Yes, Holly. We have been pleased to be your guests and I wouldn't normally pry into someone's life when they've been so very generous-"

"What's the question?" she snapped.

"Exactly... who is your daughter's father?"

Holly stepped back in shock. "For all that I've been doing and everything, this is-?"

Ginny interrupted, "Holly, it's killing us and Hermione won't say. Please, whose is it?"

"Neville's."

A great cry and throwing out of hands erupted from all the Weasley's present. Subsequently, they all started fishing in their pockets and tossing money to Ginny, who was exhibiting some excellent Seeker skills in catching every coin in her drawstring purse.

Holly added over the cacophony, "You all know I'm in love with Natalia here, right?"

Mr. Weasley coughed a laugh and said, "A blind man could see how much you're in love, even if they hadn't heard the evidence of it as we have-"

"ARTHUR!"

"It's hardly a secret, Molly. Young people... I should say, young adults have sex." He gave a faux glare at Holly and Natalia, adding, "Some more than most..."

Holly stared at them in disbelief. "Guys?! Honestly! Whose did you think it was, then?"

Ginny listed off, "Well, George said Ilya, Fred claimed it was Draco's-"

Holly roared, "He's gay!"

Fred protested, "On account of your escape from the hearing, Hols! Figured you had access while in Slytherin, plus all the dancing last year and... umm... well, clearly, I had the wrong idea."

She gave him a strong nod. "Yeah!"

Ginny continued, "Anyway, Ron bet on Seamus, Mum thought it might be Ron's, Dad said a muggle boy and Bill had his money on Cedric. Most of us actually thought Bill was going to win."

Ron added, "Yeah, I only said Seamus 'cause all the decent bets were taken, and it obviously wasn't Lee or Dean. By the way, Mum, thanks for the faith."

Molly sniffed and said, "It wouldn't be the worst result, though not a good one."

Holly goggled at them for bit.

Natalia snorted at Holly's disbelief and then asked, "Did Charlie bet? What'd he put in?"

Ginny shook her pouch to hear the coins clink together, and then replied, "He was dead certain it was Harry's, but then he doesn't know about Harry's secret identity. Charlie's right scared of you, nowadays."

Holly asked, "And Percy?"

Ginny blushed. "H-he wouldn't bet, but said he'd barely be surprised if it was his, given how hard it is to tell who anybody really is anymore. Your trial has really shaken his faith in the Ministry."

Holly gave Natalia a look. The metamorph's expression grew quite eager.

~[]~


Turncoats and Mercenaries

It was two days later that Holly sidelined Professor Snape as he was leaving an Order meeting. They adjourned to the drawing room near the entrance hall.

"What do you want, Miss Black?"

"That's Evans. I'd like to talk about that memory of Tom's revival that you shared with the Order."

"Spying on your guests? How... mature of you."

"I don't go to the meetings so that I'm not tempted to taunt Albus. As host, I'm entitled to watch."

"I have other places I would rather be. Why should I waste my time with this?"

"Maybe you have questions about how Riddle ended up in that circumstance."

"Perhaps," Snape drawled. After some consideration, he replied, "I might agree to such an exchange. Answer me this; would you have truly murdered your own daughter, if your gambit to end the Dark Lord's possession had failed?"

Holly paled. "Albus must have already shared with you the memory I gave him. I... I was preparing to do that. Whether I could have followed through... remains uncertain."

The dark man stared at her without expression, but Holly felt the weight of it. She made certain not to wilt.

He whispered, "What would you like to ask?"

"He seems more human this time, compared to the ritual in the graveyard."

"I am a much more accomplished alchemist than Mr. Pettigrew, I assure you."

Holly scowled. "That's not it- it's the source material, isn't it? That 'blood of the enemy' wasn't mine, so he came out less... monstrous."

"Really?" he challenged. "That is a disturbing thought. Is that all you wished to ask?"

"Albus said that two people died because of this- why? Even in your memory, no one looks to be dead until Riddle gets his jollies... until after you'd left."

"Not all of his rituals are known to us. He asked for and was provided with two, whose lives were cut short due to your meddling. I can tell you nothing more about it."

"Oh," Holly grumped. "He seemed less violent than I would have expected, given that I had killed him that day."

"Yes. Almost as if he were expecting to be killed by you, wouldn't you say?"

Holly's mind raced. He couldn't have known... but he probably would have guessed that it was a trap. Why deliberately trigger it?

Newt interrupted the thought with, 'Snape is still sitting there, Mum.'

Oh, right. Thanks. Holly redirected her focus to the professor. "Should I be worried about my punishment?"

"Yes."

"And it isn't just you saying 'I'm going to punish you so bad...' and hoping my own paranoia will do the job for you?"

"No. You will know it was no mere threat. We all must play our roles. Enjoy the... anticipation."

"Severus-"

He lurched forward and spat out, "YOU are not permitted to address me that way!"

Holly took a moment to glare back at the man. "If I could remember being Lily, would you treat me any differently?"

He scowled and said, "No, of course not. You would be the same infuriatingly sentimental waste of talent that allowed herself to be killed for the sake of the spawn of James Potter."

"Yes, but James is dead, by your arrangement. You've beaten him at that."

"Yes. He is dead, isn't he? And how does that make you feel?"

"Alive. Less than forgiving. You'll pardon me for asking a stupid question, but I feel I should also fulfill the obligations of my role."

"Speak up, then."

Holly sat back and made an exaggerated effort of acting affronted. "Just whose side are you on, anyway?!"

Snape stared at her for a moment, and then answered, "Yours, of course."

Holly squinted back in irritation. "Mmm- no. Not mine. My powers can't protect you from splinters, much less the rival players on the board."

"Yet, here I am, sharing key strategic information with you. Why else would I do that?"

"You want to get into this?"

"Please," he encouraged. "Do try to impress me with your acumen. Renew my faith in your talent, as it wavers so precipitously at this moment."

"You're here because you think it's funny. Leading along the biggest players around, using only the slim threads of information that you provide them gives you great giggles, and I can see why. For sure, you've been bored waiting a dozen years for play to resume, at least until I showed up. That's why you abuse the students. You've been frustrated with the lack of risk in your life and so now provoking and humiliating the weak is a dirty habit you can't quite seem to break."

He smiled, as much as he ever did. "One should enjoy their job or seek other employment. You think I'm cruel to students because I need to feed the hole of some emotional pain? No. They need to learn properly, and I delight in delivering their... tutelage. I've been trying to startle them awake! Very few have even an inkling of the powers available to them. Each of them has the opportunity to shape the world to their liking, if they would simply pay attention and use their brains for more than regurgitating gossip. Admit it; you agree with me."

Holly thought for a pause, and then replied, "I agree that you enjoy being cruel. I haven't decided on a philosophy in education, yet. You might say, I'm in the midst of a long-term study."

"Yeeesss," he sneered. "Sidelined for the sake of a mewling infant. Seeing you in full hermitage is not reassuring. I am surprised, in particular, that you haven't at least sought out those who did you such injury in that graveyard."

A shiver ran down her spine. She gave him a cool look. "Revenge is expensive. I'm conserving my resources."

"Oh, not vengeance; punishment for betrayal. Surely you wouldn't let anyone who had abetted your torture, one whom you might otherwise call 'ally', to simply be forgiven without so much as explaining themselves and asking for that clemency?"

Holly gave him a doubtful look. "Aside from Crouch Jr. and Albus, I pretty much hold myself responsible for being there."

"I thought so. Lucius indicated that your threat, given in between testimonies at your hearing, didn't mention him."

She winced in annoyance. "Who 'him'?"

"Why, only the most trusted of your male confidants..." Snape paused to enunciate his taunt; "Mis-ter... For-tes-cue... ."

Holly slumped in her chair. Snape rose from his, giving Holly a perfunctory smirk.

He moved to leave and whispered as he strode past her, "Now who do you trust?"

~o~


It was Saturday morning. Jodi walked along Diagon Alley, though the various businesses hadn't opened their doors yet. She spent a moment looking into shop windows and giving a friendly smile to the few travelers that passed her going the other way, eventually arriving at Florean Fortescue's Iced Delights. Like for the other shops, she took a brief look into the windows, but in this case she applied a spell to the lock with her fingertips and stepped inside.

The bell rang at her entry, and Jodi cringed in frustration at not having thought to silence it. From behind the glass cases, she heard the proprietor call out a teasing admonition.

"Some children just can't wait, can they? Only a young person would insist that I serve them an hour earlier than my door is normally open." Florean finally stood up from his unseen task and got a look at Jodi. He muttered, "Oh, bloody Hell."

"Is that really the proper greeting for a loyal former employee?"

Mr. Fortescue recovered from his momentary panic and smiled. "Of course not. Welcome back, Jodi! Would you like a taste of your favorite snack? I just finished making some Praline Parfait..."

By that point, Jodi had reached the counter. She spat out a quiet response from behind her smile; "No poisons today, Florean. Strange Chocolate or nothing, I always say."

"It... is good to see you hale and hearty, my friend-"

"No! You don't get to call me friend! You were THERE!"

"Yes, I was," he sighed. "I'm surprised it's taken this long for you to realise it. Has motherhood robbed you of all that well-earned distrust?"

"Perhaps you'll recall that there were over two dozen of you... fuckers, and I was bereft of glasses. I did what I could to sift each of them to keep track, but that didn't do me any good for the rear entry set. Besides, heavily scrutinizing the circumstances of my utter humiliation by the Dark Lord is NOT how I'd choose to spend my Saturdays!"

"No, instead you're here, meeting with an enemy's bound minion who could easily confess your closest secrets, if he so chose. Please tell me you at least came armed?"

Jodi actually blushed. "I couldn't... I can't trust my wands."

Florean groaned.

She added, "Don't think that I can't do you harm! I've done quite well for myself without a focus. Just ask the Notts. Ask Riddle for that matter."

"He doesn't prefer to share his embarrassing encounters with us."

"Really? Then what does he share? Howabout you tell me about your last meeting with the man."

"No, I don't think I will. Besides, he and I really haven't chatted much since his return."

"That's what's got me really worried. He's read my journal at least up to the Lammas Fete. Any further and he'd know about you and I and the World Cup. Even without that, he'd know of our conversations out on the patio, there. How have you escaped being interrogated?"

"He doesn't suspect me of anything more than my usual antics. After all, I had demonstrated my eager participation at the meeting; I used you as a urinal."

"You're the one that pissed on me?!"

"Yes, I pissed on you!" he growled. "Would you rather I had spread your legs wide and plundered your abused anatomy with the others? Believe me; the notion did occupy my thoughts for two seconds before I made my decision." He gave her a cruel leer and added, "I don't suppose you're willing to accept an implied voucher?"

"Fuck you!"

"That was the notion."

Jodi yelled, "Eat me!" though she soon started to giggle at the obvious rejoinder she had set up.

"Also part of the proposition!" Florean replied, a genuine smile breaking through their confrontation.

Jodi slumped forward onto the table in laughter and Florean was overcome with a low staccato cackle. Their shared moment passed and Jodi sighed.

She said, "I knew it all along. You're a first-order pervert. Now, really. How is it that Riddle hasn't killed you for helping me?"

He looked away with a guilty expression, and then replied, "I readily shared some of your more obvious secrets, including the memory of some intimacies between us from last year's World Cup."

Jodi sat back and scoffed. "How does that work? We didn't... you didn't... did you?"

Florean dragged a meaningfully appreciative stare over her body for just a little too long for simple teasing. He then reassured her, "I created a scenario of taking your pleasure and erasing your memories afterward. That is the memory that he saw; to be more specific, he saw me with you as you were when you first arrived; not as the inestimable Jodi J. Burton." He finished the confession with a gesture toward his guest's current appearance.

She shook her head in doubt. "To get a believable memory, you'd either have to have a brilliantly vivid imagination or enact the scenario with an accomplice. Did you give some courtesan some Holly-Polyjuice?"

"I believe your unique situation interferes with that formula. I was assisted by your metamorphic amour."

Jodi's expression fell; she shifted in discomfort. "W-when was this?"

"While she was on assignment away from you, around the time of the second task of the Tournament." Florean rolled his eyes dramatically to emphasize his sarcasm. "February is always so slow for my business. I had to find something to stimulate me or I might have died of boredom."

"Right. During the Tournament, you were bored. You must have had some... leverage to get that out of her."

"Please. She's a metamorph. One could merely suggest a perverse fancy and they would enact it if asked nicely enough."

He was lying. She knew it; he knew that she knew it; and she left it alone.

Jodi instead offered, "So, you heard through the grapevine (probably from me, now that I think on it) that Riddle was getting close to a comeback, realised that he and I would be at odds, and you covered for aiding me by creating a vivid memory of indulging your lust for me, 'just in case'. Along the way, you had to blackmail my lover into helping you around that little logistical problem of us never having had sex together. Soon afterwards, I was poisoned, so you had to dredge up a cure to make sure the trickery was worth the effort. Also, saving me might prove useful later on, like for giving me a reason to let you live long enough to provide this explanation today."

"That is a fair interpretation. One might alternately theorise that I knew the Dark Lord would return all along, and that I have been corrupting you from the moment we met, because I knew it would please my master that you and Dumbledore were at odds."

"Disturbingly, that one is more believable. Yet still- you fed me info on the Dark Mark; not just the public knowledge horror stories, but design-related specifics. You also enabled a number of my schemes at school, including a very almost-illegal dose of Felix Felicis for my dragon battles. Given all the time we've spent together, you might easily have collected some of my blood, particularly as you know that it's not a vampire's average vintage. You saved my life from the goblins' poison blade. Don't tell me- you did it all for the nookie?"

Mr. Fortescue took an extra moment to allow the phrasing to dance in his head. "That's catchy. Are you sure it's not that simple?"

Jodi stared back as he indulged in another shameless leer. "Never mind. Keep your secrets, just so long as you're keeping mine."

"Yes, about that- I had nothing to do with the Dark Lord meeting you in Godric's Hollow. There is no reason to believe he knows anything about that. I did not betray you."

"No; I set that up. He has as much reason to believe we fought at some other house in town, rather than the Nautilus."

Florean leaned across the table to whisper, "Even amongst the trusted, we only know so much about his recent encounter with you. I know that you killed his new body again, as it prompted several abductions to serve for the re-embodiment ritual." He followed with a dainty golf-clap, "I must commend."

"Thank you. I set up the trap to see whether I was under surveillance and test how he'd react to an attractive lure. What I don't understand is this; his spirit followed me back to the Nautilus and possessed Chrys. My mind was already back in my body long enough to see the smoke clear, so I don't see it likely that he tracked me. Any ideas?"

"You were experimenting with wholesale possession? You are stupidly brave- the Dark Lord is highly accomplished in the Mind Arts- a natural beyond even the talents of Dumbledore. How he found you through a Fidelius... well, I'm afraid the only person alive who can answer that question is the man himself. Now that you acknowledge that I have not compromised your trust in me, I must ask- who amongst your fellowship is aware of my role in the protection of your home?"

"Winky, Dobby, Sirius, Natalia, and Hermione. Minerva might suspect, based upon your handwriting. That's it."

"Hol- ...ehmm Jodi..."

"Let's save the rest of the confessions for when our secrets don't mean anything anymore. Aside from mail-order ice cream, I want nothing more to do with you, and won't darken your door again as an obvious act of rejection. And Florean... if I fight Death Eaters, I won't be checking to see if you're my target. I won't expect you to show me any conspicuous mercy, either."

"How astute. I take it you aren't truly retired from the battlefield."

"I'm in retreat, while I shift strategies. It looks almost the same."

"Excellent. I hope to meet you anew, once our current roles have played out their usefulness. It gives me hope to think I may know your affection again, someday, for the first time." He pushed his chair back and they both rose from the table, returning to the counter. Florean took a moment to fill a quart container with ice cream and enspelled it not to melt.

He shifted to a more 'professional' tone. "Now, Miss Burton; would you like your job back for the rest of summer? It's been a brisk business this year!"

"No, thank you. I just wanted you to know that I might use you as a reference on my CV."

"I shall describe you as personable, respectful, hard-working and quite flirtatious. Also, I'd verify that you're not a virgin."

"Jerk."

"Not at all! I'd be assuring your employment. As described, you would be all that one could want from an attractive low-class half-blood, aside from you not being extremely gullible."

"Really. How far up in the Ministry could that get me?"

"Oh, at least to Undersecretary. Any appointment above that would require a public statement of support from your sponsor, and that'd be too good for someone like you."

"Halfblood or witch?"

"Witch, but not as you might assume- your youth and good looks would negate the value of anything you said. It's unfortunate- I'd pay a year's earnings to see you take a seat in the Wizengamot. The sheer chaos that any debate with you might induce would be worth the price of admission, twice over."

Jodi grinned in agreement. She turned to leave but stopped. After a moment she stepped up to the counter once more. "Florean..."

"Yes, Miss Burton?"

Jodi retrieved a trio of photographs from a robe pocket and handed them to the confectioner; two were of Chrysalis (one as an infant in Holly's arms and one of her wearing a plate-worth of cold noodles) and one of Holly, Hermione and Natalia sharing a laugh while eating breakfast in the solarium.

"For you. To remind you of those you are protecting. I really like my home and my family. I'd like to keep them."

He looked down at each of the mobile pictures, a new smile playing across his face as he stared at them in turn. When he looked up at Jodi, she was sure she could see a tear or two forming.

He grumbled, "You play dirty billiards, my friend. It warms the heart." He looked them over for one more moment and then tucked them safely into his robes. "Thank you very much."

She whispered back, "Thanks for saving my life."

He replied, "Thank you for not taking mine."

Once more Jodi turned to head for the door, but changed direction and walked around the counter to face Florean directly. She retrieved the barrette from her hair and reverted to appearing as Holly, frown and all.

He looked down at her with kind eyes.

Her swift kick into his groin caused them to cross. He expelled a pained breath and sank to the floor.

Holly stepped forward and leaned down to whisper in his ear. "If you're not my ally, there's no way I'd leave here without injuring you. Arm or leg?"

With a strained gasp, Florean said, "Leg."

Holly stomped down on his left knee, causing an immediate crunching sound followed by a manly scream from the victim. By the time Florean could open his eyes through the pain, it was Jodi who was exiting his shop through the back door.

~[]~


Negotiating for Territory

How hard is it to just get married to the one you love? Holly loves Natalia. She also loves Hermione and Neville. It's that last one that creates the problem. He'd already 'planted a flag', as it were. So, because Holly wanted to marry Natalia, she had to sort out that little problem about him having precedence, as father of her first (human) child. At least, that was what Hermione told her, Natalia agreed with and she admitted was true, fair and correct. That was why she was standing in the Longbottom's foyer.

Holly was debating the merits of her surprise visit, versus arranging for a meeting by sending a letter first, as she waited. When Neville shuffled into the room with his head bowed, Holly figured that she had made the wrong choice.

Neville walked up to stand in front of her. Despite being over a foot taller, the way he hung his head made it difficult for Holly to see his face. When he finally looked up enough to stare down at her, she could see that he appeared to be... ill.

He whispered, "Miss Evans, I hear that you are holding my child in your custody."

Holly scowled. "Yes, that's one way of putting it."

"What are your... uhhh... intentions?"

"My intentions? Nev-"

"Please, Miss Evans. If you... if you don't intend to... if... you won't-"

"'Miss EVANS'? Neville, I apologise for bringing you in late on this development in my life, but-"

"YOUR life?!"

Holly stepped back at the force of his sudden rage.

He continued, "You... you had my baby... OUR baby... and you think this is about your life? How? How do you have the gall to-?"

Neville's purpling face and swinging arms demonstrated his frustration. Holly simply stood and waited while he finished his apoplectic dance. He ended by stomping out of the room, leaving her standing there.

After a minute, she mumbled, "Well this complicates matters."

Neville bellowed from down the hallway, "You're bloody well right, it's complicated!"

He rushed back in, once more waving his arms about and struggling to form a sentence. "You! With the... sarcasm and... oh, I should've known... and how did this all happen over THREE MONTHS?"

"Two months," Holly replied. "We had sex at the beginning of March. Chrysalis was born on the first of May."

Neville stopped in his tracks and turned to look at Holly, perplexed.

She explained, "I hadn't planned on seducing you to get a baby and in fact I would've preferred not to. But once I knew I was pregnant with your daughter, there was no way I couldn't bring it to term. The problem was... the Tournament. I was heading for a confrontation and I couldn't guarantee that I was going to live through it, much less protect a half-formed baby, so I accelerated the process. Ergo... you're a father. Surprise."

"Yeah, I got that! What I don't get, what I don't accept, what I can hardly believe, is that you weren't the one to tell me. I heard about it through the BLOODY NEWSPAPER! And then! Then I asked everyone I could reach if they had heard who the father was, and the only one who would tell me anything was EFFING PROFESSOR SNAPE!"

Holly's guilty look faded into a steely focus. "Snape came here. He told you."

"He didn't just tell me, Holly. He proved it with family records from the Gryffindor common room library. I suppose I should thank you for giving her a name that honors my mother."

"That was the idea. What else did Snape say to you?"

"Would you shut up about Snape? This is about US!"

"No, it was about us, but now it's about politics and warfare. Neville; my lord Longbottom, I ask humbly and with all possible guilt for my heinous choices of which you are only partially aware, please forgive me. Allow me to bring you to our child. We can discuss what's really going on here, and you can choose what we're going to do about it."

"Umm... what? Why do we need to go somewhere else? Why can't you just bring her here?"

"Because I'm protecting our daughter from our enemies, in a location much more secure than this. Please, come with me."

"Holly..."

"Yes?"

"Wherever we're going, will you vow not to hurt me and let me leave with my daughter, if I say so?"

"No." Holly replied. She raised a glowing finger and said, "I vow to guarantee your safety and the safety of our child whenever your visit, to the best of my ability. For that reason alone, I won't let you take her from there. That's as much as I'll promise."

"Fine. I accept your vow."

Holly's finger flashed and she extended the hand to lead Neville back to the fireplace. "Let's go see our baby."

~o~


They travelled by Floo together. It was a tight fit, and Neville tried his best not to let on how much he was enjoying the close embrace, despite his anger at Holly.

After tumbling out into the entrance hall of Potter Manor, Holly led them into the drawing room. There, they found Hermione holding up a toddler in little coveralls and a pink undershirt. Both were making quiet happy noises as the baby bounced.

Holly stood and watched as Neville walked up and sat next to Hermione on the couch, his unblinking gaze set upon the shock of strawberry hair and the rosy-cheeked smile of his daughter. Hermione grinned at him as he shifted closer to her.

She gave him a side look and said, "She's happy to see you. Look Chryssy! Your daddy's here!"

"Dahh-dahh-dahh-dahh-daeeee!"

He stared agog. "She's so big!"

Holly teased, "Already, with the negative self-image talk?"

Neville gave her an impatient frown and then turned to Hermione. "I... uhhh... can I hold her?"

Hermione deflected his open arms for a moment to instruct him on the proper form and cautions, but Chrys climbed onto his lap with a fearless curiosity before Hermione was finished, and honked Neville's nose to reclaim his attention.

Neville spent the next hour ignoring anything aside from the actions of the youngest girl in the room.

~o~


Holly sat at the tea-room counter, gazing back through the opening into the drawing room. "She's like a trump card in bridge."

Hermione moved around behind her, gathering up tea service onto a tray. "He loves her. You can see it."

"Doesn't mean he'll forgive me."

"Doesn't mean he should, Holly. Why did you let this lie so long?"

Holly seethed and glared at her friend. "I. Was. Busy!"

Hermione answered, "Don't get testy with me! You could have handled this long before the Third Task, much less waiting weeks after the public announcement that you were a mother. The whole world beyond this house wonders whose baby this is, but still-"

Neville entered the small pantry/kitchen, his face once more locked in concentration on his anger. "Yeah, Holly. Tell us. Why didn't you tell me about this?"

Hermione nodded to them and tried to scoot out of the way, but Neville grabbed her arm. "No. Please stay. That elf Winky's watching the baby and I can't... she's... "

Hermione nodded in understanding and retook her seat on the stool across from Holly. "I'll stay, Neville."

Holly and Neville locked gazes once more. After a pause, Neville prodded, "So? Why did you do this to me?"

"Point of order, my cavalier- you did this to me. Or more accurately, we did this together. Why I chose to keep you out of it has to do with my life and the tragedy that follows in my wake. I was trying to protect you."

"Protect me from what?"

"Your limitations! You weren't... and aren't... ready to be a parent. You just turned fifteen! You also don't realise how much trouble you've already had in trying to be a part of my life."

Hermione interjected, "Maybe you should correct that."

Neville said, "What?"

Holly countered, "Hermione, no. That's-"

And Hermione rounded, "Exactly what Neville deserves! He deserves all the truth and all that comes with it."

"I agree with Hermione," Neville added.

Holly turned to him and said, "That's because you don't know what she's suggesting. Hermione's not doing you any favours, here."

"Maybe, but I trust her judgment more than yours."

Holly scoffed. "Makes three of us. Okay. Neville, have a sit in that comfy chair over there. I'm going to unlock some memories."

Neville followed Holly's pointing hand back into the drawing room. Holly stopped at the door and turned to face Hermione as she trailed along.

"You think you're needed for this?"

"Neville said he wanted me there. Or were you hoping to divert his attention with a conveniently necessary ritual au naturale?"

Holly gave her one moment of guilt-ridden anger and then said, "Fine. Do me a decent and grab a chamberpot. The last time Neville got the undiluted truth, it made for a powerful emetic."

~o~


Twenty minutes later, Neville looked up from weeping.

"You're... Harry. And we... had sex together."

"Really good sex," Holly insisted, "but it really wasn't Harry. You and I were decidedly heterosexual from start to finish, including the outcome."

Hermione cackled, "Ooh. Bad pun."

"Stuff it, Granger."

Hermione shot up straight and admonished, "As a charter member of the 'Holly Evans collateral damage support group', I'd like to remind you that I'm not very much a Granger, these days. I am Hermione. Like Madonna or Cher, that's all I need."

"You forgot Liberace and Prince. You certainly have the voice to follow in their footsteps."

"The one's dead and the other has un-named himself. My list was well-chosen."

Neville grumped, "Would you two stop being cute! I'm having a bit of a hard time, here!"

Holly gave him an almost-genuine look of sympathy. "What can we do for you, Nev?"

"Tell me why you're telling me now," he replied.

"What?"

"You didn't know Snape had met with me. Why did you decide to tell me the truth now?"

Holly looked at her shoes for a moment before replying, "Well, I sorta have a fiancée."

Neville growled, "No... bloody... effing... way. No. I won't allow it."

"Excuse me?"

"I don't care if he's Merlin resurrected. You can't have my baby and marry some other bloke. I've already been humiliated enough!"

Holly smirked. "Well, you're in luck, because my betrothed is a witch."

This caught the young man short. "I... I... You don't do anything normal, do you?"

Both witches replied, "Point of pride, that."

He gestured between Holly and Hermione. "So... you two-"

Hermione shook her head as Holly responded, "No, Hermione is my best friend and a great love of my life, but I wish to give my heart to another. Her name is Natalia. She'll be home in a few hours, and I'll introduce you."

"Why her? Why not Hermione? Why not me?" Neville's hurt look joined with Hermione, who also faced her with a demanding need for an answer.

Holly stepped back and thought. After a moment's composition she said, "I love you both. I would love to spend my life with you and a few others for whom my affection is equally boundless. But Natalia is... delight, distilled into witchy form. What's more, I can trust her to take care of herself, whereas I will always be trying to protect you two from the world's horrors. Including me."

Neville turned to see Hermione's sad stare at Holly. A tear escaped her blinking, and Neville touched her arm in reassurance.

Hermione turned at the touch and nodded. "She's not wrong, Neville. I've never seen two people more inexplicably fitting to one another."

"How did you meet her?" Neville asked.

Holly replied, "She's a metamorphmagus. Professor McGonagall introduced us so that she could help me understand being both genders."

"And that's what makes it perfect. I understand." Neville then groused, "You won't mind if I hate her like she's spawned from Hell itself?"

"Hah! Good luck with that. I'll bet within an hour of meeting her that you'll be smiling, horny and ready to sign the marriage cert as a witness."

Neville countered, "Really? Want to make a bet of it?"

"Sure," Holly answered. "If I'm wrong, I'll sign over Chrys to you. If I'm right, we have your blessing and I'll keep Chrys safe here."

"You'd risk our baby's future on a bet?!"

"You act like I could lose this wager. The whole deal is dependent on your judgment call, and I still think I'll win."

"I am seriously outclassed here, aren't I?"

"Yup."

Neville turned to the other witch. "What do you think, Hermione? Will Holly's friend win me over despite my hating her and everything she represents?"

Hermione blushed deeply and then nodded, mumbling, "H-half an hour, at most."

~o~


It went like this;

Natalia arrived, saw that Neville was there and smiled. She strode up, ignored his offered hand and gave him a very warm and receptive kiss, with her arms drawing him against her and one hand threading through his hair. When she was done, she leaned back, looked into his eyes and said, "So, Neville-the-quite-long; will you be joining my harem now, or would you like to finish school first?"

Neville recovered from his epic snogging with a hysterical laugh that Natalia echoed so that he wouldn't feel embarrassed. She continued to hold him against her body, though.

After a few minutes he regained a measure of composure and nodded. "I... uhhh... I th-think I should finish school, don't you?"

With a dramatic sigh, she see-sawed her head and smiled again. "I would be honored to be a part of your family, and you a part of mine. Whatever you're up for, Mr. Nev." She emphasized her meaning with a clutch to his bottom and then stepped back to give him his space.

"A-and you're an Auror?"

"Soon to be certified a Hit-wizard as well," Natalia added proudly.

Holly stepped up and kissed Natalia on the cheek, saying, "Oh! Congrats, love. Knew you could do it. Eight months early, isn't it?"

"Amelia pressed it through so that my Ministry access wouldn't end if Fudge's retributive termination actually held up. Should take the bite out of the effort, so he'll drop the matter. It's not like taking your testimony was against the rules, even if he found it inconvenient, eh?"

Neville looked at Holly, Hermione, Chrys sitting in Winky's arms and back to Natalia and at Holly once more. He finally figured out what had been bothering him since he got there. Holly was smiling.

"I concede."

~[]~


Mi Familia Loca

Holly opened the door to her bedroom to find Sirius was the cause of the quiet but insistent knocking.

"Hide me," he pleaded.

Holly stepped back to let her panicked father into the room. Closing the door, she wondered, "Have you pranked someone, or is this about your new secretary?"

Sirius nudged her aside and leaned his ear against the door. "Yeah- thanks for that. After all I've done for you, and you put Marguerite in a position to tell me what to do for three dozen hours a week!"

"Actually, that was Hermione's doing. I'm still trying to figure out why women named 'Marge' have a fascination with dogs. If it's not working for you, why not fire her?"

Sirius replied, "I'd be putting my life in my hands just to consider it. Besides, she's really quite goooooo-" The man lost coherence when he finally noticed how Holly and Natalia were dressed- both were wearing sleeveless sundresses and light sandals. The contrast with their normal rough-and-tumble clothes was so stark that Sirius simply stood speechless, watching their preparations. By this point Holly stood facing Natalia, where they were fiddling with each other's garb. He eventually sputtered out, "-duh."

Holly gave him a doubtful smirk and then turned to realign Nat's bra-strap to stay beneath the straps of her yellow with white polka-dots frock. "'Talia, perhaps you should explain for Padfoot's sake; why are we in dresses?"

Natalia replied, "It's to throw them off-guard. If you looked your typical hard-arse self, they'd be less-inclined to be accepting. Besides- you look hot!" For emphasis, she grasped both of Holly's breasts through the fabric and squeezed them upward. When she let go, they settled into a more provocative arrangement of cleavage. Holly and Sirius let out identical grunts of appreciation for the results and Natalia's technique.

Sirius found himself stuck on a thought; 'That apple-green halter dress which gathers so tightly at the waist would be very suitable for Holly or Marguerite, if either of them were.. y'know... domesticated. It's like she stepped out of Women's Country Home and Garden, circa 1977.'

Holly mused, "I s'pose hot may be helpful, and I am lacking in my usual disturbing scars to explain. Might as well enjoy it while it lasts. So, how do you want to run this?"

Natalia spread her hands over the pleats of her dress again, checking that she wasn't exposing too much leg. She twisted her feet around in her off-white crocheted sandals, trying to find a comfortable stance. "You're asking me?"

"They're your parents, Natalia."

"Ahhh... we, uhhh... we show up and... I'll introduce you. Then we see how much they've been paying attention."

"So no plan at all, then. Why is it so hard for you to deal with your parents?"

"You know me- I don't typically yearn for order or discipline."

"Yeah, so?"

"Well, whenever I'm with them... they make me do all the chaos-control, and then criticise me for making them behave. I hate it."

"So you're hoping I'll just swoop in and bully them into shape, is that it?"

"That'll be perfect! Thanks for this, Hols!"

"Hey now! I didn't-"

Natalia quickly grabbed Holly around the waist and Disapparated them.

Sirius snapped out of his reverie with their disappearance, finally finding his tongue. He said to the empty room, "Call me if you... need... help."

From beyond the door, a shrill voice rang out, "Siri? You in zere? You haff to sign anozzer seece contracts an' we haff a Portkey from Dover at dawn for ze meetin' in Costa Rica. Siri? Open zis door, foolish mutt. Jus' becuz you inna bedroom don' mean I don' mean ze bizness!"

He mumbled, "God save me from short feisty vixens."

"God is for muggles like me; He hass abandoned your sort. Come out an' face me, Padfut."

~o~


The two witches appeared in the midst of a pathway through some hedgerows of unkempt evergreens. Natalia grabbed Holly by the hand and dragged her along the path until they came to a weathered cottage with a large attached greenhouse and a screened porch cluttered to the rafters with piled up garden materials.

She turned to face Holly at the screen door. After an emotional look, she wrapped her lover in a hug and a kiss, giving her an enthusiastic smile. "I know this'll be great. Just be yerself, Hols. I've got your back."

"My back? Coward."

"But ya love me, right?"

"(Sigh.) Yes." Holly smiled with the admission.

Natalia kissed her again and then led them through the narrow path between the wreckage and into the kitchen. Three large steel pots atop the gas stove were bubbling with foul-smelling mixtures. Natalia called out, "Hello, the house!"

From an adjoining room, they heard a raspy voice call back, "Shush, you! Wait 'til the adverts."

Natalia mumbled, "That'd be mum, of course." She then took an evaluative sniff and decided to turn off the heat to the simmering concoctions.

Holly gave the doorway a disbelieving stare. "Seriously? A daughter of Black got ousted so that she could become a telly-addicted housewife?"

Natalia quickly defended with, "She runs the family business."

"Which would be...?"

Her response came slower this time. "A... uhhh... plant nursery for natural remedies. Yup. Gardenwares by Tonks."

A paunchy older man wandered in from the other door to the kitchen. He was still in his jammies and a threadbare terrycloth housecoat, though the outfit was thoroughly smudged with soil and tangled in bits of flora. He took no notice of the two girls, walking over to the icebox to retrieve a bottle of milk. He drank it down, upending the quart container to collect the last dregs, some of which escaped past his scruffy goatee to trail down his neck. He let out a satisfied exhale and burped loudly enough to annoy the woman in the next room.

"Teddy! Enough of that!"

"Sorry, Twitchy," he replied, and then squinted while slowly lurching forward, trying to focus his eyes on the two witches standing there. Natalia was covering her flushed face with both hands, while Holly gave the old gent a winning smile. Mr. Tonks sniffed once and then whispered, "You really there, then?"

Holly nodded and replied, "We're both really here, now. My name's Holly." She waved and then gestured behind her, saying, "I was wondering if you'd feel put out if I married this lovely woman-"

"A wedding? How wonderful!" Ted noticed that he was still holding the empty quart bottle and turned to place it back in the ice box.

Natalia goggled and dropped her hands to glare at her father. "It is?"

"For certain! I haven't officiated since eighty-seven. I'd be proud to marry you two together." He took a look at each of the witches in turn. "Wait. Is that legal now?"

Holly suppressed a giggle and answered, "We're not too bothered with that, Mr. Tonks. This is a declaration of love."

"Ah! Brilliant." He grinned wide, almost from ear to ear. After shuffling through a partial turn, he bellowed out towards the den, "You here that, Andi? I'm going to do a wedding again!"

Mrs. Tonks walked into the kitchen while concentrating on lighting a long cigarette. Holly noted that the wavy dark hair and angular features that gave Sirius a regal air made Andromeda seem just threatening, if still attractive. She gave her husband a look and said, "Not looking like that, you're not. I have some pride, and so should you."

Ted scoffed loudly at his wife. "Of course I... what sort of officiant would I be to wed two lovers in me working jammies? Honestly, woman. You call yourself 'well-bred'? The wedding isn't now, it's... when is it, dears?"

Holly replied, "End of August."

Mrs. Tonks finally took full notice of the two witches standing in her kitchen. The taller one had a very familiar look, though she had moved to stand behind the short one to hide her face partially. Her arms wrapped around to clasp together over her companion's belly. It was her hair shifting from peach to a hopefully more stealthy deep blue that gave her away. "Nymphadora? Who's your friend, and who's she marrying?"

Natalia let out a whimper. "Umm, well this is Hols, and she's marrying... me."

Ted reclaimed his glasses from a pocket and put them on. "Oh, Dora! How wonderful of you to stop by. Did you hear- I'm going to officiate a wedding!"

Andromeda kept squinting at the shorter witch in her daughter's arms. She began to mumble, "Hols. Hols. Holiday, Holly Day. Holy MOTHER OF MERLIN, WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?!"

Holly squinted and scowled, and then replied, "I am Holly Evans, adopted into the House of Black by your cousin Sirius. I have fallen in love with your daughter and intend to marry her in less than a month, with or without your blessing. Just so you're fully apprised, I have also gotten her pregnant. You're to be grandparents. It's... nifty to meet you." She then curtsied.

Both of the elder Tonks stood stunned for a moment. Andromeda then turned to her husband. "Well, Theodore. Your only daughter, the law-enforcing do-gooder, is betrothed to a madcap murderess. What do you say to that, hmmm?!"

"I told you adding the Nundu dung would make that Bolivian stuff just spectacular. I haven't had this good a buzz in years."

Holly turned in Natalia's arms with a sly look. "Natural herbal remedies?"

"Absolutely natural. Just not legal." She frowned with embarrassment.

~[]~


Hols and Nat invite you

to their hastily-arranged but otherwise heartfelt wedding

on Sunday, 27th August, 1995 at 1:00 PM

at the Kiln.

(If you don't know where the Kiln is, this isn't your invitation, is it?)

Ceremony to be performed by the Right Awesome Ted 'Theodore' Tonks,

by the arbor in the garden; reception to follow in the dining room.

Refreshments and raucous entertainment will be provided.

Guest rooms are available for those who overindulge.

Please don't taunt the ensorcelled musicians.

~[]~


Holly looked over the card and asked, "Why does the writing line up so that it looks like a honey pot?"

Natalia replied, "Why not? I like honey... and honeypots."


Omake-

[Following Snape's visit and Jodi's stop in Diagon to confront Florean]

Holly returned from visiting Florean and Apparated into a combat zone, complete with wailing, fire and bloodshed.

Molly was on the front step, holding Fred's head in her lap, a towel pressed tightly to his bleeding temple. Smoke was billowing out of the front doors, tar-black and heavy. Others like Hermione, Remus, Sirius and the younger Weasleys were running into and out of the smoke, their heads protected by Bubblehead charms, levitating out unconscious house elves and the Bara's onto the lawn.

"Um, Molly?"

"Not to worry, my dear. Winky has assured me that your daughter is safe, though she wouldn't tell me exactly where that safe place might be."

"Fred going to be alright?"

"Yes, he'll be fine. If I kept all the blood that had run out of my children due to their periodic catastrophes, I'd have enough for an eighth and probably ninth child by now. It's his own fault for trying to assist in this madness!"

"And that madness would be..."

Molly looked back over her shoulder into the haze. She muttered, "I believe the maestro of this mayhem is emerging now."

From within the smoky darkness, there finally stumbled one bewildered witch with soot covering her clothes, not to mention half of her face. Her bright purple hair was singed short on one side. She was carrying what seemed to be the source of the smoke - a lump of black something the size of a quaffle, set on a twisted metal tray held in her mitten-covered hands.

Natalia coughed out some smoke and saw Holly- she gave her an earnest grin.

"I baked you a cake!"

Holly smiled and strolled up to Natalia. She took the baking pan from her and placed it carefully on the steps next to Molly, who gave it and then the pair standing above her a wary look before disapparating with her injured son.

Holly said, "I love it. Would you marry me?"

Natalia guffawed while smudging soot across her forehead. "Are you teasing me? You already asked before."

"Yeah, but I was vulnerable and pathetic at that moment- you couldn't have said 'no' just as a matter of decency. I was hoping to find an appropriately memorable moment to pop the question, when you could say 'no' without regret."

"This'll work- I say YES!" Natalia jumped into a hug, wrapping her arms around Holly's head, legs around her hips. Inertia carried them off the steps to crash down onto the lawn, where Holly groaned at the impact. She rearranged their tangle until she could snog Natalia deeply.

Hermione stalked up to the two and tapped her foot impatiently.

Noticing her, Holly chose to continue the kissing until Hermione threw her hands up and walked away.

Holly then leaned back and asked, "So, why did you bake me a cake?"

"You seemed upset."

"I was. And... why did it burn?"

"Obviously, someone musta mis-labeled something."

"Then you'll forgive me if I don't sample this batch."

Natalia looked into her good eye with an expression of absolute affection. She nodded and said, "Uh huh."

~o~


(And because I can't let a good Babylon 5 reference slip away...)

By the end of the next day, the smoke and damage had been magicked away as if it had never happened.

Hermione sat down next to Holly on the couch in the Kiln's 'Music Room'; the open-spaced library that also housed a self-playing harpsichord, a magical Victrola and numerous decorative flourishes in a music-related theme. Even the stained-glass windows arching above held translucent paintings of the nine Muses.

Her friend was leaning forward, studying a strangely modified chess board with six sides and similarly hexagonal positions. At three of the corners stood tall carved-horn chess pieces in white, red and black; one each in the semblance of Albus, Holly and Riddle, the last in his most recent, attractive form. Holly's notes had several revisions of rules towards a playable game using this layout.

Hermione gestured towards another piece in the center of the board; a frosted glass figurine shaped like their Potions Professor. "Can we trust him?"

"Who, Snape? Not exactly. He is grey. He stands between the candle," Holly highlighted Albus' piece with a white glow, and then her own in red. "...and the flame. Between the darkness," a smoky aura surrounded Tom's piece, "... and the light."

"Well, whose side is he on, then?"

"His own, of course."

"And Mr. Fortescue?"

"They're both grey. I suspect that they occupy the same small playing field and that one of them will supplant the other rather than share the space. I hate being in the middle of a lover's quarrel."

"You don't really think that they-?"

"No, it's just a way to see smart opponents in a silly light to gain perspective. Like with a Boggart- you take away the feelings they want you to feel, and replace it with a stronger or easier emotion to hold onto."

"Reeeeally? Exactly what sort of feelings do Mr. Fortescue and Professor Snape induce in you?"

"Hermione?"

"Yes?"

"Shut up and read something."

"I love you, too."

Holly protested, "Now, she tells me!"

~[]~