Chapter Nineteen: Er, 18 really, if you want get all technical with me.....

Sirius sat behind his promotional desk, leaning back with his feet on the desk after telling off the umpteenth reporter to sneak into his office that day. Work had been more hectic than ever, and this was one of the rarities of the past two weeks. But if even *one* more reporter came to hear the heroic tale of Lucius' death, he was going to tear out his hair!

The door opened and Sirius groaned, taking down his feet and grabbing his wand. No way was he going to let this go on! No way in-

"Easy there," said Iris, laughing. As she walked in, her lustrous hair bounced against her shoulders, streaming down to touch the small curve at the base of her back. Sirius sat back with another, happier groan, allowing the woman to ease into his lap. "You're getting a raise, you know," she said, tweaking his nose good naturally, "Being some sort of hero really does pay off. And Fudge was laid off this morning."

Sirius grinned from ear to ear, giving her a sloppy kiss on the nose before laughing out loud, "I know! I think it's absolutely grand that Arthur's taking that old quack's place. He deserved it."

ÒNo doubt about it, love. But, 'absolutely grand?' What's gotten into you, Sirius. Did the Dark Lord get defeated or something?" Her smile faded, sarcastic humor somewhat doused by the darkness that had crept into her fiancee's eyes. She rested her forehead against Sirius' and sighed, "That's the rules of war, Sirius. No matter what the outcome, it's never quite a happy ending."

"But he was the greatest wizard to ever live, Iris. The world won't be the same without him."

"I know, Sirius, but there was no other way. He had known this for years. Dumbledore wouldn't like it if you moped about him all the time."

"No, he wouldn't, would he? He would tell me to stop being a prude and focus on the beautiful woman in my life."

Iris giggled as Sirius nibbled at her neck. "He always was a wise man - with good taste, too!"

~*~

"Is that MUD!?! As my brothers, you should know that we try and keep an orderly and *clean* work space here at the Ministry of Magic!"

"Oh, bugger off, Percy. We have some stuff to deliver from Mum since your work week has been just *so* stress filled."

Percy puffed up like a bull frog. Never before had he resembled Mrs. Weasley so much. "Well, I *never*!"

Bill gave Charlie a weary grin before walking off, leaving Percy sputtering and puffing behind them.

~*~

"It's kind of weird, you know?"

"I can't even imagine, Harry." Hermione yawned, feeling Harry's forehead in a motherly way. He batted at her hand, grinning and rolling away from her. She cried out to him as he disappeared over the edge of the slope and want tumbling down the hill, roaring with laughter. Rolling her eyes, Hermione dove after him with a yell and landed on top of him in a heap. They helped each other sit up and Harry looked at her with an expression that made Hermione struggle very hard not to cry.

"I'm free, Hermione," he said wistfully, eyes going to the distant horizon, his tone awed, "I'm free now."

"I *do* know that, Harry," she said, "As much as I know that you haven't yet finished your Summer homework!" At the despised word, Harry bolted, running up the hill. She started after him, bursting out laughing as he tripped and went sprawling into a prickly bush. As she watched him disentangle himself from the branches, whining and plucking thorns from his arms, she whispered, "And no one deserves that freedom more."

~*~

"So..... here we find ourselves again, Severus."

"It most certainly seems so."

"This time I remembered to bring my own utensils. Perhaps I will have a chance to use them."

"I see not why you insist on selecting such a place to dine. They shall take notice of your eating..... requirements."

"It doesn't bother me if it doesn't bother you, Severus."

The sallow man gave soft, bitter laugh. "Don't let your emotions get tainted by my own, Lupin. I still do not like you any better than I did when-"

"When you kissed me?"

Snape fell silent, suddenly very interested in the table cloth, a plain white square draping over the plain little wood table. Across from him, the Werwolf smirked, tawny eyes flashing with amusement.

"I do agree with you though, Severus."

He looked up, black eyes distrusting, "Mmm?"

"You *don't* like me."

"What is your point, Lupin? You are giving me a headache."

Lupin grinned like a happy toddler and leaned forward, motioning for Snape to do the same. Snape rolled his eyes and did so, stopping when their noses almost touched. He didn't trust the sparkling gleam in Lupin's bright eyes one bit. His long fingered hand gripped the edge of the table. What could Lupin be up to?

"You *love* me," said the Werewolf coyly, catching Snape's lips in a chaste kiss before leaning back and stretching like a cat, watching his companion's reaction with one lazy eye.

The potions master shook off his surprise and glared hotly at the haughty Werewolf. "A bit cocky, aren't we?"

"That's what happens when I get someone as stubborn as you to admit something that *I've* known for years."

"I haven't admitted anything," snapped Severus, leaning back stiffly, his cheeks flushed. Lupin looked ready to giggle like a little girl.

"Sometimes," the Werewolf whispered, playing with his cloth napkin, "When you would stay with me, I would pretend to be out of it. But in reality, I knew *exactly* what would happen." When Snape pursed his lips, starting to rise from his chair, Lupin practically threw himself forward and caught the other man's sleeve. "And I've always wanted to tell you," he breathed, a wisp of light hair falling into his brilliant eyes, "You were the only one I had, Severus. The only one who cared enough to *stay*. You can't possibly know what you mean to me. Now please, one more time Severus, for me. Please stay."

Lupin's heart leapt with joy as Snape gave a resigned sigh and sat back down slowly, rubbing his temples. He shot Lupin an annoyed look and said irritably, "You're lucky I have no taste for silver. Otherwise, I doubt I could stand your presence."

"Whatever you say, Severus," sang Lupin happily, brushing back his hair as the rare cooked steak was set in front of him by the waiter. Snape picked up his fork and picked at his salad, watching with amusement as Lupin very uncharacteristically *tore* into the meat.

"You animal," he teased lightly.

~*~

Ron peaked around the door in the hospital, delicate white flowers clutched much too tightly in his arms. The single bed in the dim lit room was hidden by thick pea green curtains and the redhead let out a sigh. The nurse had had to forcibly throw him out of the hospital twice, nearly giving him a leg locking curse when she had yelled that visiting hours were over. Luckily, he had managed to sneak back inside past security with the help of Harry's Invisibility Cloak.

The occupant of the bed was fast asleep. Ron set the flowers in a white vase sitting on the bedside table, shuffling the other flowers aside to allow room for the new bouquet. Looking back at the serene face, he jumped slightly to see the foggy gray eyes wide and studying him with a smirk. Ron smiled, relaxing, and wordlessly slipped between the sheets, settling comfortably next to the blonde.

"Good morning." Draco brushed Ron's lips with a thumb and smiled when the other boy ducked his head and yawned.

"Are you feeling better?" asked Ron, rubbing his eyes. He had woken up two hours early to come and see Draco before they left for school the next day.

Draco drew back the covers and shrugged as Ron peeked out at him with big brown eyes from beneath the thin white blanket. "So-so," he sighed, "I'll be able to go to school just fine. But one of the medi-witches told me that I'd be sporting this lovely scar for the rest of my life."

Ron traced a finger along the jagged line where the poisoned blade of Lucius Malfoy had sliced the fine alabaster skin. He shuddered, remembering the glassy look in Draco's eyes before he had slipped out of consciousness. The blanket rustled softly as Draco took Ron's hand and gently kissed the pale palm.

"You don't have long?"

"No," admitted Ron heavily, dropping his eyes, "I'm not supposed to leave the pub. But..... I had to see you before tomorrow."

"Sap, you saw me yesterday. I'm no better, and no worse."

Roin blushed prettily in the dim light. "Yes, but-"

"Shush." Draco placed a finger over Ron's lips, quieting him. Then the blonde snuggled down under the covers, tucking himself nicely under Ron's chin. "Will you just hold me," he whispered softly. Warmth flooded his body as the long arms encircled him gently and Ron kissed him feather light on the top of his head.

"Always," Ron whispered back.

~*Compleo*~

A/N: I know, kind of corny and quick. But I tell you, this was written through tears, people! Tears!! *sob* This story is dedicated to all who took the time to read it. Thanks, dearies! I hope you enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed writing the blasted thing. ;^D So then, my friends....... Au revior.

~*Villain*~