1145 hours, Sunday, 1 August 2021
"Happy Birthday, Uncle Harry!" Percy's daughter, Lucy, called as she exited the house on her way to the pool.
It was a gorgeous summer's day, perfect for the garden and swim party that was taking place in the back garden and grounds of Snidget's Haven. The flower beds were a riot of colour with the recently-installed lap pool and hot tub the main attraction this particular warm afternoon.
Harry, clad in his swim trunks and a Muggle t-shirt that proclaimed Swimmers do it in the fast lane, stood on the back veranda of his house waiting for the last of his guests to arrive. He'd received plenty of ribbing from the Weasley brothers about the shirt, but he wasn't going to take off his birthday present from Ginny just to make the Weasley men feel better. Besides, the shirt went exceedingly well with the colour of the water.
Two sets of footsteps and the sound of the French doors being held open made Harry turn from his survey of the garden. He felt a grin split his face as Bertram, Jocelyn and Brian Nelson emerged from the house and met him next to the wheelchair ramp leading down into the garden.
"I'm so glad you could come," Harry exclaimed in greeting. He looked down at Brian. "I believe Lily and the others are all down at the pool. Go enjoy yourself, Brian."
Brian smiled. "Thanks, Mr Potter. I'll do that."
Harry watched his young friend as he chose to take the gently sloping ramp instead of the steeper stairs, noting the ease with which Brian manoeuvred his flying chair. A twinge of regret passed through Harry as he recalled the morning just after school let out when Brian had tried unsuccessfully to do the tests which would enable him to begin walking exercises. Unlike Harry, who had been alone with Silvia during his evaluation, Brian had wanted his parents and the Potters with him for support. The disappointment had been acute for all who had been with him, but the young wizard had sighed sadly and accepted his failure with the comment that now that he knew for certain, he could stop wishing for something that would never be.
Harry had not been surprised when Lily had sat down next to Brian and pulled him into a hug. She held him tightly, murmuring into his ear, and Harry could tell his young friend was responding to her words.
He knew Brian and his daughter had formed a very close friendship because Lily's letters home had been almost as full of news about Brian as they had been about homework and Quidditch standings. That she would understand Brian's sorrow and be better able to help him through it than even his parents seemed natural to her father, who couldn't help feeling proud of her. Seeing that Brian was in good hands, the adults and Lily's brothers had moved to another part of the P-T Room to let the two have some privacy while Melissa discussed the next phases in Brian's therapy with his parents.
A happy squeal coming from the direction of the pool pavilion–or "natatorium" as James liked to call the building complex that housed the pool and hot tub, the weight room, the changing facilities and the filtration system–brought Harry out of his reminiscences, causing him to focus on the two friends meeting in the middle of the lawn. Lily, clad in a bright yellow bathing costume, had just thrown her arms around Brian's neck and he was awkwardly returning the hug, patting her back reluctantly. The scene reminded Harry of how Ron had acted at that age when Hermione had thrown herself at him and had didn't know what to do with such an enthusiastic hug.
"Harry, I am so grateful that Brian has Lily as his friend," Jocelyn said, coming to stand next to him. Out on the lawn, Lily and Brian were now side by side heading towards the pool and the gaggle of Hogwarts students sitting at one end. "She understands him so well and treats him so normally. It's really made a difference in how he views going back to Hogwarts in September."
"That's good to know. I heard Lily lamenting to Ginny the other night that she thinks it's unfair that she's in Gryffindor and he's a Ravenclaw," Harry reported.
Bert cleared his throat and said, "I wonder if those two had been talking about that on those mirrors you gave them because Brian asked me whether he could be re-Sorted a couple of days ago. I didn't think that was possible and Brian was none too happy with my answer."
His comment stirred a memory from deep in Harry's past. "I believe Albus Dumbledore once said that he thought the school Sorted its students too soon. Maybe this is such a case."
"You could be right, but I don't want my son to set a precedent of unhappy students trying to get into another House," Bert said. He chuckled, "Our children will just have to work around this little aggravation. It'll do them good. Goodness knows we had plenty in our school days."
Harry couldn't dispute that, so he gestured towards the pool pavilion. "Shall we?" he asked. "You go first," he added, gesturing towards the steps leading down to the garden path. "I'm a little slow." The Nelsons smiled their agreement and preceded him down the steps.
Harry walked slowly to the stairs and stood at the top for a few seconds, preparing his body for the descent. When he was sure he had his balance, he lowered his crutches onto the step below, followed by his right foot, then his left. Again, he swayed a little until he was sure all parts of his body were ready to start the process all over again. Eventually, he made it down the five steps to where the Nelsons were waiting for him and together they walked down the path towards the pavilion and the rest of the guests who were lounging around the pool.
"Hey, Ginny," George called as he stepped out of the fireplace and into the kitchen where Ginny was busy putting the finishing touches on the platters and bowls of food she was preparing for the meal. He snagged a carrot stick off the nearest platter and stood next to the table, chewing noisily. "Did Angelina get here? I was busy closing the shop."
As he reached for another carrot, Ginny walked over and playfully slapped his hand away. "Keep your fingers out of the food," she admonished with a good-natured smile. "Unless… you want to help. And yes, Angelina and the kids came through about forty minutes ago. They're out by the pool."
"What do you need help with?" George asked, surprising his sister by going over to the sink and washing his hands.
"Start the lettuce chopping. You'll have to watch the knives or we'll end up with American slaw instead of a garden salad," Ginny said, smiling. She plunged her hands into the sink and came up with a large handful of tiny red tomatoes.
"Still washing veg by hand?" George said as he waved his wand at two knives, making them move slowly through the four heads of lettuce which sat on the chopping block.
Ginny chuckled. "Uh huh. I hand washed so many tomatoes, carrots and courgettes as a kid the habit stuck." She took out her wand and dried the tomatoes with a quick spell, then dropped them a few at a time into the bowl that George was using to catch the lettuce pieces.
"Angelina still does that, too, sometimes." Her brother was silent for a few seconds and then commented, "You seem to be your old self again, Ginny. I'm really glad."
"So am I, George," Ginny said. "Dr Hale has helped me work through my feelings of guilt and everything I worried unnecessarily about so that I'm much happier than I was seven or eight months ago."
The knives stopped their assault on the lettuce as George walked over and embraced his sister. She wiped her hands on her apron and hugged him back.
"Do you know what Lily said back in April?" she asked looking up into his face.
Shaking his head, George answered, "No idea. What did your daughter say?"
"She said we were a family again, and whatever I'd been doing to find the mother she knew and loved was the right thing to have done, and that she really didn't want to go back to Hogwarts at the end of Easter break," Ginny answered.
"She's a smart girl, your Lily. Just like her mother," George said, giving Ginny one last squeeze.
Ginny batted her brother on the arm as they separated. "You're just trying to make sure I save a piece of treacle tart for you as well as Harry," she laughed.
Grinning, George started the knives chopping again. "You bet!"
"I'm so happy you could come to this party," Rose murmured as she and Scorpius sat down on the side of the hot tub that was obscured from the rest of the pavilion by an enormous potted palm.
"Me, too," Scorpius said. He swung his feet in the warm water, his near leg brushing hers. "When we received the invitation I wasn't sure whether Dad and Mum were going to accept."
Rose laid her head on her friend's shoulder. "Why?"
"It was really a big deal at our house to receive the invitation because we never get invitations to the major parties like the ones the Higgs and the Pucey families throw, and this… this is a major party," Scorpius explained as he swept a hand in an arch, indicating the rest of the party guests. "And heaven forbid that we'd be invited to a non-Slytherin event like those at the Davies' and the Turpin's. It's as if my family is a pariah."
Rose sighed as she felt his body tense up and wiggled a little closer to her friend. He responded by putting his arm around her waist, although he was still sitting ramrod straight. Meaning only to comfort him, she reached up and began rubbing her hand in small circles between his shoulder blades. He jumped at her touch, but when she didn't stop, he leaned into her hand a little.
"I don't understand," she said. "Your parents are so nice."
Scorpius laughed bitterly. "Most people don't say that about my parents, especially my dad. I've heard them say all sorts of horrible things to him when he didn't think I was listening," he said with a hint of sadness in his voice. "It has to do with stuff that happened twenty years ago that nobody can forgive him and my grandfather for."
"You mean it has to do with how our dads wouldn't speak to each other civilly if they were in the same room?"
"Yeah, that," Scorpius muttered. "But let's not talk about it any more. It makes me think about how we never went anywhere when I was little."
Rose lifted her head and peered around the palm, spotting both of Scorpius' parents on the other side of the pool, each talking to a different group of people. "Look over there," she said, pointing. "You're dad's talking to Mr Finch-Fletchley and Mr Pakrasi and they're all smiling. I'd say he looks like he's having a good time."
Scorpius leaned over her and grinned. "And Mum's talking to Mrs McKenna and Miss Midgen," he said, sounding surprised. He sat back and Rose felt him relax enough to slouch a bit. "Thanks for pointing that out, Rose," he said, planting a kiss on the top of her head.
Rose giggled and turned her head so that their noses were nearly touching. "That felt nice," she murmured.
"Want me to do it again?" he asked.
Rose didn't say a thing as they closed the distance between their lips, sharing their first tender, tentative kiss.
On the other side of the potted palm, Ron hastily rolled up the Extendable Ear he'd been using to eavesdrop on his daughter, a satisfied smile on his face. His suspicions had been confirmed and instead of being angry, he was quite pleased that Rose had such a nice young wizard for her boyfriend. He could tell by their tone of voice how much they liked each other.
Thrusting the Ear into his pocket, he took the long way to the other side of the pool to join Draco, Justin and Padma's husband, Vijay. The four stood talking for a while and then Justin and Vijay decided to dive into the pool, leaving Ron and Draco staring somewhat awkwardly at each other.
Finally, Draco cleared his throat and said quietly, "I never thanked you properly for doing all you did to find Scorpius and then follow up afterwards. It… it means a lot."
Feeling a bit awkward, Ron said, "It wasn't only me, Draco. It was my whole Auror team; Brodie, Susan, Garrett, Terry and Mary Beth. We couldn't let Gorman get away with terrorizing your family just because you happened to give us a clue to finding her. No child deserves to be kidnapped like that, and we wanted to reunite your family as soon as possible."
Draco was silent for a moment. Then, he said, "I can't accept that. There's more to what you did and how you did it than you just doing your job, Ron."
"Yeah, you're right," Ron agreed at length. "I couldn't get it out of my head that if it had been Hugo who'd been kidnapped, I'd want my son brought home as soon as possible. I… I think it's called being a father."
Draco grinned at him. "Yeah, that father stuff is pretty powerful magic."
Brian floated on an inflatable raft, gazing through the glass ceiling of the pool pavilion at the wispy clouds painting the sky high in the atmosphere. Lily had gone off to greet some of her roommates, leaving him with James, James' roommate Phil, and Kendra. When it had drifted by, Brian had taken the opportunity to grab the raft and float into the middle of the pool since he didn't want to join James and Phil's discussion of the latest broom models at Quality Quidditch Supplies.
It was nice to relax like this, but what he really wanted to do was race someone, he wanted to swim. Unfortunately, the long, narrow pool was full of party guests enjoying themselves. He looked around only to find that everyone had paired up or was part of a larger group engaging in activities he couldn't participate in. He tried and failed to push the negative feelings away, so he resumed his contemplation of the clouds, since they seemed to calm his depressing thoughts.
A face full of water made him raise his head to look for the culprit and he found Kendra treading water beside him.
"Sorry," she giggled.
Brian wiped the water out of his eyes. "No, you're not. What's up?"
She grabbed a wayward swim noodle—a Muggle pool toy used for floating— and folded the long foam tube around her back before answering him. "All that talk about brooms and Quidditch. It bores me to death sometimes," she said melodramatically as she bobbed up and down.
Brian didn't believe her for a second. "It's not that bad," he said, defending his friends' obsession of the sport.
"You, too?" she whinged.
"No, I can take it or leave it," he said, trying not to let on that not being able to fly still hurt a lot.
"I'm sorry," Kendra apologized. "I wasn't thinking." She paused to watch a beach ball as it sailed towards them. Brian reached up and batted the ball back towards the group that had been playing with it. "So… are you excited about going back to Hogwarts in September?" she asked and Brian was grateful for the change in subject.
"I guess," he told her truthfully.
Frowning, Kendra said, "You don't seem very enthusiastic."
"I really don't know how I feel about it," Brian confessed. "My mum is pushing me to go back and some days I really want to because of all the changes Professor Wolcott has made because he expects me to come back. But on others I think it'd be easier to keep on with my tutor and use the time to train."
He smiled, warming to his topic. "Yes, in swimming. I was using the computers in the library at The Groves about a month ago and discovered something called the Paralympics. It's a big athletic competition for the disabled that is held every four years after the Olympics. Do you know what those are?"
"Muggle athletic competition. Yeah, I've heard of them because my parents sometimes talk about going to see some of the events at the London Olympiad in 2012," Kendra said. "They were in the Wizarding galleries for many of the equestrian events—my mum loves horses. They left me at home with our house-elves, but I've seen some of their photos, so yes, I know what they are."
"Good. Lily had all sorts of questions when I told her I wanted to find a coach and train for the 2024 games," Brian said. The beach ball headed their way a second time and he batted it back again. "Do you think I'm foolish to train for the games if I've never competed before?"
Kendra tilted her head to one side. "You'll never know what you can do or will be allowed to do if you don't try," she said, "even if it means not coming back to Hogwarts."
Torn, Brian responded, "You can say that so easily because you're a Gryffindor, Kendra. Unfortunately, there isn't a book in the Hogwarts library that will tell me what to do."
"Brian, what I said is true. Do you really want to train for those games?" Kendra asked. He nodded. She grinned at him and said, "Then talk to Professor Wolcott about getting to do both, if you find a coach. I'm sure you can work something out. I hope you do, because James tells me you're a fantastic swimmer."
"Thanks," Brian murmured, feeling suddenly shy. "It would be nice to be able to do both."
"Then go for it," Kendra said as James swam up.
"Go for what? Did I miss something?" he asked, looking between his girlfriend and Brian.
"We were talking about what Brian wants to do come September," Kendra answered.
"Right," James said distractedly. "Erm, Mum wanted me to let everyone know that she's just about to put the food on the table. Pass the word. I gotta go help." He rolled his eyes and dove under the water again, swimming swiftly towards the opposite side of the pool.
Kendra watched him go. "Do you need any help getting out?"
Brian shook his head. "No thanks. I do this every day. Go help James and Mrs Potter. I'm going to find Lily."
"All right. See you later, Brian," Kendra said. She wriggled out of the swim noodle and followed James.
Asteria strolled amongst the flower beds, admiring Ginny Potter's rose bushes, which were blooming in their white, yellow, orange, pink and red glory next to the wheelchair ramp on the sunniest side of the house. The beds seemed organized by flower colour meaning because whoever had planted the flowers had grouped them by colour and type, one of the largest plantings being the red and white roses which indicated forms of love. The most interesting part of this garden was the plants being used as ground covers; the most prevalent being rosemary which she remembered meant remembrance. In one bed, she'd even seen a couple of lavender roses and wondered who in the Potter family had fallen in love at first sight.
It was peaceful here in a different sort of way from the gardens at Malfoy Manor, mostly because these plantings seemed to be all Ginny's and not flowers chosen by some long-gone mistress of the house. She wondered what Draco would say if she were to dig up Great-great-grandmother Malfoy's favourite black rose bush—which connoted death—and plant something of her own choosing in its place. It would mean burrowing through layer upon layer of the ancient magic that kept the plantings alive, but in the end it would be worth it, she thought. The garden would be a happier place where she and Draco could enjoy themselves rather than having it be a dark reminder of his family's past. They'd talked once or twice about doing something like that years ago, but never had the money to buy new plants. Now that Draco's business had picked up, maybe they could afford to actually make some of the changes they'd dreamed about… and rose bushes weren't that expensive…
A voice calling her name made her look up. "Oh, hello, Mrs Weasley," Asteria said, greeting Hermione Weasley with shy politeness. "I was just admiring Ginny's roses."
The other witch came to stand next to her in front of a large bush bursting with pink blooms. "Asteria, please, I'm Hermione. Mrs Weasley is my mother-in-law," she said with a friendly smile.
"As Mrs Malfoy is mine," Asteria said with a giggle. She had heard Hermione was a bit aloof, but that description didn't fit the friendly-looking witch standing next to her, and she didn't think Auror Weasley could have married someone with her nose stuck in the air… he just wasn't that type.
"I see you've found the oldest bush in the garden," Hermione commented. "It's the only one Ginny was able to save after they moved in and one of her favourites. It's a Lancaster rose."
"It's gorgeous," Asteria said, leaning forward to smell the fragrant flowers. Then she frowned. "Why couldn't she save more of the rose garden?"
"The house had been vacant for so long everything was falling apart and this garden was no exception. It was so overgrown that the other bushes had been choked to death. This bush had somehow managed to keep the weeds and riotous rosemary groundcover at bay. How it did that we'll never know, but Ginny likes to think that Harry's mother planted it before they went into hiding during the first war."
"That certainly fits into the stories surrounding Harry's family," Asteria commented. "If Lily Evans Potter did plant it, I can see why it's survived."
"You said it was a Lancaster rose," Asteria explained. "Lancaster and York roses represent war and conflict. Maybe it was planted to represent happiness in the midst of war…"
"Why do you say that?"
"Because pink roses represent perfect happiness," Asteria explained. "And Lancaster roses are pink."
"How do you know all this?" Hermione asked, sounding amazed.
Asteria focused on the smaller red and white bushes planted around the larger one. "I've spent a great amount of time in the library at the Manor, Hermione. There are many books from the Victorian era in there that explain the language of flowers and I've poured over them for hours on end trying to discover what each of the plantings in the Manor's garden means. Some of Draco's ancestors were truly spiteful women, planting messages of death and hatred." She shuddered. "My fondest wish is to lift the spells that keep those plantings alive and banish them from the garden."
"Why haven't you dug them up before now?" Hermione asked.
"There are too many enchantments keeping the older plantings alive and… we haven't had the money," Asteria ended quietly. "It's been quite the struggle…" She left it at that.
"And now?" Hermione prompted.
Asteria smiled. "Things are looking up. Draco's business is flourishing and Scorpius is recovering and making new friends. We're happier people," she answered honestly.
Hermione smiled back. "Would one of those friends you mentioned be my daughter?"
"She is," Asteria answered.
"That's good to hear," Hermione said. She paused and then asked, "Would you, Draco and Scorpius like to come to Weasel's Keep next Saturday? I've seen Scorpius and Rose with their heads together a lot today and it might be nice to give them some more time together."
Asteria felt her eyes widen in surprise. No one had ever issued a spontaneous invitation to her family like this one seemed to be. The prospect of such acceptance excited her. "We'd like that very much," she managed to say. "What can I bring?"
"I'll let you know later in the week when I've decided on the menu," Hermione said. "However, bring your brooms. I'm sure our children will end up challenging their fathers to a Quidditch match sometime during the afternoon, which is always fun to watch."
Asteria raised an eyebrow. "You don't fly?"
Hermione laughed. "No, I stay on the ground and cook for the hungry hordes."
"That makes two of us. Draco has never been able to get me on a broom because they terrify me," Asteria said as they began wandering through the garden back towards the pool. "Would you like me to bring some of those flower dictionaries?"
"Yes, I would. Ginny, Harry and the kids will be with us, too. I thing she'll be interested in what all her roses mean." Hermione looked at her watch. "Oh dear, I need to go help her with the food. Would you come with me? More hands will get it set out faster."
Asteria mentally hugged herself, feeling amazingly good as she followed her new friend. She could hardly wait to tell Draco about Hermione's invitation. "Yes, I'll help. Lead the way."
Albus held the kitchen door open and watched as a line of platters and bowls floated outside towards the two long tables that had been set up in a rented marquee to hold the buffet, his mother wielding her wand, bringing up the rear. He'd been standing there for about five minutes while Mrs Malfoy, Aunt Hermione, his mum and Uncle George went back and forth to the tables.
"Thanks, Al," she said. "I can't get James to stand still long enough to get everything outside!"
Albus grinned. "Kendra's here. You'll never get him to stand still if she's around!"
"That's what I thought," his mother said over her shoulder. "Hold the door for Uncle George. He's right behind me."
Before Albus could answer, an enormous cauldron of cold pea and mint soup, two huge salad bowls and large platter of fried chicken, scotch eggs and sausage rolls followed his uncle out the door.
"Anything left in there?" Albus asked.
"Five tarts and a couple of platters of biscuits," answered his uncle, "but those are for afters and won't need to be brought out this round."
Albus let the door bang shut. "I'm going to get in line before James," he said. "He has a bad habit of eating everything on the table!"
"He couldn't eat all of this," Uncle George commented as he deposited his load on the proper tables.
"You wanna make a bet?" Albus challenged.
"No, on second thought, I think I'd lose that bet," Uncle George laughed as Aunt Hermione stepped to the front of the line.
"Hem, hem! Attention everyone!" she called eliciting several groans from the grown-ups along with several boos and a call or two of "Go away, Umbridge!" Aunt Hermione ignored the interruptions and announced, "The pool will be closed for one hour following the meal."
"Says who?" Albus' dad called above the general din of groans and more booing. "This is my party!"
"Says me," Aunt Hermione bristled. "It's for the children's safety."
Uncle Bill called from the back of the line, "Ron, tell your wife to back off," and Uncle George yelled, "She's spoiling the fun," as most of the teenagers protested that closing the pool for a entire hour was unfair.
Uncle Percy finally joined in. "How about a compromise?" he asked. "What if we close the pool for about fifteen minutes, instead?"
By this time, Dad had walked into the marquee and was now standing with Aunt Hermione. They had their heads together and she finally nodded, although she didn't look particularly happy.
"Upon further consideration, the pool will be closed for only ten minutes following the meal," she announced.
Hugo, who was standing in back of Albus, sighed, "Thank goodness she's backing down. I mean, I fly all the time right after I eat and that's more stomach-flipping than swimming is and she knows it."
Albus turned to his cousin. "It wouldn't be a family picnic if your mum didn't try to run the show," he chuckled.
Hugo made a face at him and shook his head, but didn't say anything.
The line moved and the two boys were suddenly confronted with the important question of what to eat first. Albus decided he'd have a little of everything except the soup. He'd never liked his soup cold.
"Hey, Father!" Scorpius called from the deep end of the pool.
His dad looked up. "Yes, Scorpius?"
"James, Albus, Hugo, and Brian want to race their dads across the pool. Will you join us?" he asked.
Father looked up to see Mr Potter, Auror Weasley and Mr Nelson standing a little way away, looking as hopeful as their sons that he'd join the race. Grinning, Father asked, "Is there room in the pool for all seven of us?"
Mr Potter grinned back. "It's bigger than it looks," he said smugly.
"Erm, how much water will be displaced if the charms fail?" Father asked, seeming to catch on to something unusual Scorpius had noticed about the pool.
"More than you ever want to know," Mr Potter answered with a chuckle. "Do you think you can swim fifty yards?"
His father gulped. "I think I'm about to find out," he said as Scorpius called encouragingly, "You can do it, Dad!"
Father flashed Scorpius a grateful smile, peeled off his shirt and joined the other dads beside the pool.
Mr Nelson asked, "Who's racing first? Which stroke?"
"Freestyle," Mr Potter answered, addressing all of the competitors. "Everyone warms up first to clear the pool, then we'll let the boys race. It wouldn't do to let them know what their competition is, eh?"
As Scorpius and his friends protested, Mr Potter turned his back on his guests, dropped his crutches and half jumped-half fell into the water to cheers from the five young wizards. He surfaced and grinned up at the other fathers. "Come on in, the water's fine."
The other fathers exchanged challenging glances and then jumped or dove into the pool. Scorpius had never seen his father swim before, much less dive and he was pleasantly surprised at how graceful his dad was as he entered the water. He turned to say something to Albus and when he looked back, Father was nowhere in sight. Quite suddenly, he surfaced, spouting a stream of water like a fountain, making Scorpius jump and the other boys laugh.
"I never knew you could do that," Scorpius said in admiration. "That's brilliant, Dad."
"Thanks," muttered Father. Scorpius stifled a chuckle as his father's ears turned pink, and he struck out towards the opposite end of the pool, following Auror Weasley and Mr Nelson at a leisurely pace. Scorpius and the other boys joined them.
It seemed as if he swam for ever, but eventually he reached the shallow end of the pool and clambered up the steps with the rest of the dads and his friends.
"All right, boys," Mr Potter said, calling their attention. "This race is for you. Mr Nelson is the only adult allowed in the pool because he's his son's starter. Ordinarily, we'd all dive in like real racing swimmers, but for safety, we're starting here with everyone in the water. All right, get back in, boys… Is everyone ready…? On my count… three… two… one… GO!"
Mr Nelson gave Brian a big push that launched him away from the wall, about the same distance as the other boys achieved pushing with their legs. Scorpius, who was swimming next to him, gave up trying to win the race as Brian took an early lead, his strong arm strokes causing Lily and the other girls watching from their towels to cheer; even Rose was cheering for Brian! As he passed her, though, he thought he caught his girlfriend chanting his name and he redoubled his efforts to at least not be last. In the end, Brian pulled ahead even more, although it was Albus who surged ahead at the last minute to come in second.
As he hauled himself out of the water, Rose stepped up to him and wrapped a towel around his shoulders and kissing him on the cheek.
"You did well," she murmured, giving him a hug.
"Thanks, Rose. Do you know how long the pool is?" Scorpius asked.
His girlfriend looked thoughtful for a moment. "If I remember correctly, Aunt Ginny said it's twenty-five metres long without the extension charms and fifty metres long with them," she said. "Uncle Harry always uses the longer length for his workouts."
"That explains why it seemed we were swimming forever!" Scorpius groaned.
"What's Brian's secret to winning his heat?" Draco asked Bert Nelson as the fathers walked down to the deep end to begin their race.
There was pride in Bert's voice as he explained, "My son swims every day for an hour, sometimes two if he can get the pool time. He and Harry have incredible upper body strength now that they're doing so much with their arms."
"He looks fast enough to compete."
"That's his goal; the 2024 Summer Paralympics."
"You mean to tell me he wants to compete in a Muggle competition?"
"Yes. We've just started our search for a coach. It's hard trying to break into a sport at his age when he has no previous training or times or records to prove his ability," Bert sighed. "Quidditch was the only thing he was ever interested in before his accident and now, since he can't fly, he's turned his sights on excelling at the one sport he can do."
"I hope he makes it," Draco said as they entered the water for their own start.
"I just hope Brian hasn't set an impossible goal for himself…"
They stopped talking as Percy Weasley signalled for all the fathers to take their places in the water for the dads' race. Harry easily bested everyone; like Brian's, his upper body strength was clearly an advantage. Draco struggled along in last place and shrugged off the others' teasing while congratulating Ron on coming in second.
"Considering we don't have a pool," Scorpius said as Draco hauled himself out of the water, "you did remarkably well. I'm proud of you, Father."
Scorpius' praise caught Draco by surprise. "Erm, thank you, son," he managed to sputter, not knowing how to react to the heart-felt sentiment. "I'm proud of you, too."
"Are you ready to race me and the other lads?" Scorpius asked. "You're puffing like the Hogwarts Express on September first!"
Draco laughed at the image. "That I am, son, that I am," he admitted. He looked about at the other fathers and was satisfied to see that Bert Nelson was breathing nearly as hard as he.
After a few minutes, Harry called all of the fathers and sons together. "This race will be a relay race with each participant swimming two lengths of the pool," he announced, eliciting groans from several of the fathers. "The two teams will be fathers against sons, with my brother-in-law Bill evening out the teams. Percy will be our starter. Any questions?"
Brian raised his hand. "Am I allowed a starter?" he asked.
"Work that out with your team. I'll be talking strategy with mine in a moment," Harry said, making the other dads smile and the boys groan.
Percy Weasley walked over. "All right, gentlemen, you have five minutes to plan your races. I will whistle twice: the first will be five short blasts to ask you to line up with the first swimmer at the ready, the second will be one short whistle signalling the start of the race. After that, when a swimmer finishes his two laps, the next swimmer will automatically dive in. Any questions? Good. Begin your strategy sessions, gentlemen."
Five minutes later, Draco found himself standing at the front of the dad's line, wondering whether he was allowed a speed spell to get himself through the second lap. He looked over to see who his opponent was and felt pleased when Scorpius waved at him, a challenging smirk on his face. "I'll beat you, Dad," he called, to which Draco answered, "No, I'll beat you!"
The whistle sounded and they both dove in. To Draco's surprise, the pool looked shorter than it had the last two laps when he surfaced. He didn't have time to contemplate the thought, though, as Scorpius was swimming strongly nearly a body length ahead of him. Draco increased his speed and soon was swimming beside his son. They stayed that way to the end of the pool where they turned and began their return lap.
The second lap was harder to swim than the first, mostly because he was breathing so hard and struggling not to slow down. Suddenly, Draco became aware of a loud, rhythmic chant coming from the side of the pool: "Go, Draco, go, Draco!" He zeroed in on the sound and rhythm of the words, using them to regulate his strokes as they were repeated over and over. He reached the wall and heard a splash behind him as Bill entered the water, but he was breathing so hard that he just clung to the side of the pool, trying to catch his breath.
A hand on his back made him turn his head.
"Are you all right, Dad?" Scorpius asked, an expression of concern on his face.
"Yes, I'm fine," he managed to gasp.
"That's good, because you beat me," Scorpius said, a note of pride in his voice. "Can we build a pool in our garden, Dad?"
Startled, Draco answered, "Let's talk about that tomorrow, son. Right now I just want to get out of this pool." He placed his hands flat on the deck and tried to haul his body out of the water as his son was doing. Unfortunately, his arms felt like they had no bones in them and no matter how he tried, he couldn't lift himself out of the pool.
"Here, let me help," a familiar voice wafted down to him, and he looked up to see Asteria pointing her wand at him. Before he could protest, she waved it and he found himself being levitated out of the water to cheers from the other female party guests. A moment later, his ears positively flaming hot, she deposited him on a bench and draped a towel over his shoulders so he could watch Harry and Brian lunge into the pool for the last leg of the race.
Draco shrugged off the towel. "Thanks, love," he said as he kissed her cheek and went to join the other dads on his team who were cheering for their team mate.
Once again the pool looked longer than it really was, but both swimmers were swimming strongly, Harry even kicking a little. At the opposite end, he did a fancy underwater turn and actually pushed away from the wall with his feet. This gave him a small advantage over Brian who touched the wall with both hands and had to turn his body around using only his arms. However, it seemed that Brian's youth and determination won the race for the sons' team.
A few moments later, as the two teams thanked each other for a good race, Harry looked at Draco and asked, "When are you going to build a pool? You looked really good out there."
Taken aback, Draco answered, "Thanks. Erm… next week?" and before Harry could comment, a loud cheer from Scorpius signalled that his son had heard his answer.
"Having a good time?" Arthur asked her as they strolled about Snidget's Haven's back garden.
Molly squeezed his elbow and giggled like a schoolgirl. "I'm having a very good time, Arthur," she said. "And I think it's because I don't have to worry about anything other than whether my sun block charm is due to be renewed."
"Harry and Ginny have certainly planned a fun afternoon," Arthur observed.
"The new pool and hot tub are a hit with the children," Molly said. "I was amazed by how fast Harry was swimming."
"No, Molly, what's amazing is that he's walking almost everywhere these days," Arthur corrected her.
She considered this, then said, "If you think that's amazing, what about Ron catching the criminals Harry couldn't and rescuing Scorpius Malfoy on top of that?"
Arthur chuckled. "Listen to us bragging to each other about our sons' successes. You can't tell we're proud parents, can you?"
Molly winked at her husband. "No, I don't think you can."
Draco strolled from the drinks table towards a cluster of lounges where he and Asteria had spread their towels, carrying two tall glasses of citrus punch. He had never thought he'd be invited to such a gathering ever again and to find that he and his family were liked and accepted by the Potters, Weasleys and several other prominent Wizarding families was still quite a novel idea to him. It felt… odd… in a way to be out socializing like this after so many years in self-imposed solitude, but he was enjoying himself today and was looking forward to going to Weasel's Keep next weekend.
"Here you are, love," he said, setting Asteria's drink on a table between her lounge and the one next it which was occupied by Susan Finch-Fletchley. The two witches were deep in conversation, but his wife glanced up gratefully at him and reached for the glass before turning her attention back to Susan.
Satisfied that all was well with his wife, Draco sat down on his own lounge and took a long pull on his own drink. He had to admit it, Ginny Potter made a deliciously potent punch and he hoped Asteria would eventually ask their hostess for the recipe.
A squeal of laughter caught his attention and he looked over at the pool just in time to see his son being dunked by Rose Weasley. From her playfully enraged expression, Scorpius had just tipped her off the raft she'd been sitting on and despite Rose's rather rough retaliation, his son seemed to be enjoying the attention he was getting from his girlfriend.
Girlfriend… How could that have happened? Draco marvelled. He knew, though. It didn't take a mastermind to figure out that, after nearly five weeks of daily letters between the two back in January and February, followed by the rest of the winter and all of the spring term at school, his son had begun to fancy Ron Weasley's daughter and she him. He watched the two young people for several minutes, glad that his son had finally come to terms with what had happened to him and that he seemed to be interacting easily with the Potter and Weasley children as well as the other young guests. Draco, on the other hand, wasn't sure he ever would get over the fright and worry he'd experienced during that horrible week. He sighed and turned to his right to re-enter his conversation with Terry, Neville and Vijay.
"There you are!" Lily exclaimed, walking up to where Brian sat gazing at one of the sets of Quidditch goal hoops situated at the near end of Snidget's Haven's pitch. "Your dad panicked fifteen minutes ago and has had me and my brothers combing the garden for you!"
Brian turned to face her, a sheepish look on his face. "I'm sorry, Lily," he said. "I just needed a bit of quiet away from the party. One of the kids said the pitch was this way and I, well, here I am."
Lily moved to stand next to him, looking up at the goal she most often saw from the air. Since the estate was isolated enough from prying Muggle eyes, the hoops were quite a bit higher in the air than the ones at The Burrow, but still not at regulation height; if they had been, Mum was certain someone on the road passing the gates would see them in the distance and wonder what they were.
"It's perfectly all right," she told Brian. "I'll let Dad know you're safe." She pulled a small compact mirror from her sundress pocket—she'd put it on over her swimming costume a while ago in anticipation of what was about to happen—and spoke into it. A moment later, her father's face appeared on the glass looking relieved. He said something and Lily nodded. "Give us five, please. I'll call back."
Her dad nodded and signed out, the mirror suddenly reflecting Lily's face again. She smiled at Brian as she put the mirror back in her pocket. "All taken care of," she announced as she studied her friend. "You seem sad," she commented.
Brian sighed. "I reckon I am," he said. "I came out here to see whether I could stand looking at the Hogwarts Quidditch pitch all year from my dormitory window without getting depressed, and the answer is no."
"Why do you say that?" she asked, already knowing the answer.
Brian patted the side of his flying chair. "It's obvious, isn't it? This thing's top speed is less than ten so I won't get dumped out of it. That's hardly cruising speed on a broom," he said, sounding bitter. "I've spent most of my years at Hogwarts flying at breakneck speeds seventy-feet off the ground while pursuing a big, oddly-shaped ball and now I'm relegated to staying so close to the ground, my toes skim the tops of the grass.
"Let's face it, Lily, this is one more reason for me not to go back to Hogwarts next month. If I spend every morning looking out at the Quidditch pitch, I know I'll go insane from want of the freedom of flying after a Quaffle."
He sounded so sad, Lily almost blurted her secret right then and there, but she held her tongue as she knelt next to her friend and took his hand. "I don't think you'd go insane, at least not from seeing the Quidditch pitch," she chuckled. "Maybe the odour of rancid socks might get to you, if your room is anything like Albus' is in November or December, but not the sight of the pitch."
Brian cracked a small smile. "My socks won't addle anyone's brain, but possibly my roommate Scott's will," he chuckled. He sighed again. "I just want one more time up on a broom, just one more so I can commit to memory what it feels like to swoop down from the sky with the wind tugging at my hair. Then, maybe, I could stay grounded for good."
Lily looked up at Brian and said, "If that's all you want, maybe I can help." And before Brian had a chance to question what she meant, she stood up, put two fingers in her mouth and let loose a loud, shrill whistle that echoed across the pitch.
"What was that for? How can you help?" Brian asked, while jiggling a finger in his near ear. "And when did you learn to whistle like that?"
Lily grinned. "I didn't grow up with two older brothers and a horde of wizards for cousins without learning a thing or two to get their attention," she giggled. Brian just shook his head.
A movement to their right caught their attention and a moment later, James and Albus came streaking out of the sky on their brooms, each towing another broom and another object behind them. They landed in front of Lily and Brian and hopped from their brooms.
"You called, sister, dear?" James enquired, grinning at Brian.
"I did. This bloke here thinks he's never going to fly again. What say we prove him wrong?" she asked, noting the gobsmacked look on her friend's face.
"How?" Brian asked.
"We charmed this pair of brooms to convert your flying chair to a broom chair and then added a flying rig so you can race or play Quidditch," James said.
Brian grinned, looking excited. "Brilliant, you three!"
"Let's do it," Albus said, answering Lily's original question, and he stepped forward and held his extra broom close the Brian's flying chair.
As soon as the handle neared the metal frame, it leaped out of Albus' hand and attached itself to the chair. James had approached Brian's other side with his extra broom and affixed it in place. The moment the two brooms were attached, the chair rose to eye level.
An awed expression settled on Brian's face. "W-will this work?" he sputtered.
"Lean forward and see what happens," Lily giggled.
Brian did and his newly-modified chair flew forward much faster than it usually did. He grabbed the handles protruding past his seat and steered the chair into a lazy upward spiral. "Woo-hoo!" he yelled as the chair gained speed. "How fast can this thing go?" he called down.
Lily reached into her pocket and pulled out her miniaturized broom. Her mother, who was now standing next to her, tapped the tiny broom with her wand and it enlarged instantly. "Thanks, Mum," Lily called as she took off. Directing her attention to Brian, she answered, "That's about top speed from that contraption. You'll have to land to do more modifications if you want to fly full out."
Brian landed between James and Albus who showed him how to detach the brooms from his chair. Then working together, the three boys fit the brooms to the flying rig Lily had helped her brothers construct so that Brian could fly without his chair.
A puzzled look crossed Brian's face when they were done. "How do I get in the chair?" he asked.
James positioned the brooms' tail ends on either side of the flying chair and pulled the seat up close. "Put your feet on the seat and scoot forward," he instructed. When Brian had lifted his feet on the seat, the broom rig magically snugged itself up against the seat of the chair, making it easy for Brian to slide onto it. When he had buckled in and was firmly settled, the brooms rose into the air and hovered above the flying chair, ready for flight.
"This is brilliant!" Brian exclaimed as Lily and her brothers each explained an aspect of how to control his new ride.
A cheer rose from the gathered crowd as Lily, Brian, James, and Albus rose into the air and zipped off down the pitch. On the way back, Lily gestured to the younger guests in the crowd, who leapt onto their own brooms and joined the four in the air. Someone had brought one of the beach balls from the pool area and a slow motion game of Toss the Quaffle ensued that Brian was easily able to participate in.
The group eventually tired of tossing the beach ball and someone went to find a real Quaffle.
"Do you want to try playing with them?" Lily asked Brian as her brothers zoomed away in pursuit of the big red ball.
"Actually, no," Brian replied. "I just want to fly. Will you come with me?"
Lily said, "Of course. Let's circle the perimeter. You lead."
Brian flew off at a moderate speed. She followed closely behind him, watching as her friend deftly manoeuvred his new rig in front of her. Eventually, she pulled level with him and they flew several laps talking easily about everything and nothing.
Finally, Brian suggested they go back to the marquee to get drinks for everyone and Lily agreed.
"There's one more feature we didn't tell you about," she told Brian as they landed next to his flying chair and he backed up to slide back into it.
"What's that?" he asked.
"I call it the Come-Along Charm," she said. "All you have to do is say 'come along' and the brooms will follow behind you to the broom shed or wherever you're going. Dad and Aunt Hermione helped me create the charm and when it was time to add the additional enchantments, they wouldn't let James or Albus cast the spell, since it had been my idea in the first place."
"I'll have to thank them," Brian said. He buckled in, but didn't fly forward.
Lily hopped off her broom and plucked it out of the air, ready to walk beside him. Still, he didn't move.
"Lily, whose idea was it to help me fly again?" he asked suddenly.
She studied the grass at her feet for a moment, before she blurted, "Mine. You've never said anything when I've talked about Quidditch over the mirrors, but your expression has always been sad when we do. The last time you were at Hogwarts, I asked your mum if my brothers and I could make a broom chair for you and she and your dad talked it over with my parents and gave us permission to make it after school ended."
Brian opened his arms and pulled Lily into a hug. "Oh, Lily, thank you!" he whispered into her ear. "You've made me so happy."
"I'm glad," she said, hugging him back and revelling in the feel of his strong arms around her. As they separated, Lily felt his lips brush her cheek. They lingered there for the briefest of seconds, and then they were gone as Brian released her. Her hand flew to her face as her eyes widened and her ears turned hot.
Brian grinned at her reaction. "Come on, Lils, let's go get that bucket of drinks," he said. She nodded and he took her hand as they headed back towards the marquee.
Ginny noticed the pair as she stood at one of the food table replenishing the Scotch egg and sausage roll platter. "Jocelyn," she called softly to Brian's mother who was adding Muggle fizzy drink cans to a barrel of ice water. "Check this out!"
Jocelyn looked where she was pointing her tongs. "Are you all right with this, Ginny?" she asked. "I mean, Brian is three years older than Lily."
"I'm not worried," Ginny replied with a smile. "Lily has a good head on her shoulders and I sense that Brian respects my daughter enough not to try anything. Lily will talk to me if she needs to."
"I'm glad, because having Lily as a friend has made all the difference in the world to Brian," Jocelyn said. "Lily's not an ordinary, giggly girl, and I'm happy she wants to help my son find…" She broke off as if searching for a word.
"His new normal?" Ginny asked knowingly.
"Yes, how did you know?"
"We've been finding our new normal as a family in more ways than I can count these last six months. Let's go see what they're coming back for."
"Wait." Jocelyn stopped her as the pair came closer. "Are Lily's ears sunburned or… Oh, my! I do believe he's…"
"Kissed her!" Ginny said, finishing the sentence in a thrilled whisper. "Brian seems pleased with her reaction."
Jocelyn was also beaming. "So he does," she said just as excitedly. The two mothers looked at each other and couldn't keep their giggles from escaping as Lily and Brian entered the marquee and asked to take some water out to the pitch for the other Quidditch players.
A few minutes later, the two mothers watched as the pair flew back to the Quidditch pitch on their brooms, a feather-light bucket of ice water and some paper cups hanging between them.
The sun was beginning to drop behind the trees shielding the Quidditch pitch as Harry slowly made his way back to his seat on the veranda. He was tired from all the excitement, but he really didn't want the day—or the party—to end… at least not yet. However, the other parents were of the opinion that it was time to leave because jobs and children's activities began early the next morning. He climbed to his feet as James left the house, carrying a list in his hand and muttering to himself about forgetful little kids. Harry smiled, remembering that it hadn't been all that long ago that James had been a forgetful little nipper.
Susan, Justin and their girls were the first to walk up the wheelchair ramp on their way to the Haven's fireplace. Justin was carrying their youngest daughter who was sound asleep on his shoulder.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Harry," Susan whispered.
Justin patted his daughter gently on the back. "We had a great time playing in the pool and watching the kids play Quidditch, Harry." He patted his oldest daughter's head. "Edra is already insisting she's going to fly with the big kids next year."
"I'll be ten next summer," Edra said proudly. "I'll be big enough for a full-size broom then."
Harry smiled. "Shall I have a few extra brooms available for you to choose from?" he asked her.
Edra bounced excitedly. "Yes! Please." She turned to her father. "Did you hear that, Daddy?"
"I did, sweetheart," Justin murmured. He looked back up at Harry. "Thanks so much for inviting us."
"Glad you could come," Harry said, shaking Justin's hand. "See you tomorrow, Susan."
The Finch-Fletchleys were followed by Terry and Martha Boot, Garrett and Aileen Carmichael, Brodie Chambers, and Mary Beth Pendergast and her family. Mary Beth gave Harry a hug.
"Where's Ginny? I haven't seen her in a while and I want to thank her for inviting us," she said.
"She's inside helping sort out what goes home with whom," Harry chuckled. "Somehow, she always knows who brought what and left it where." James raced past carrying several objects. He waved as he disappeared into the house. "And there goes James with Susan's daughter's pool toys! See what I mean?"
Mary Beth patted her young son's head. "Trevor has assured me that he has everything," she said as the boy nodded vigorously. "He wants his allowance and being responsible for his belongings helps him earn it at the end of the week."
"How much do you earn a week?" Harry asked Trevor.
Trevor proudly said, "Two Sickles if I make my bed, feed my Pygmy Puff, pick up my toys, do my lessons without grumbling, and don't stick my brother to the ceiling like I did yesterday."
"Stick your brother—" Harry sputtered.
"Accidental magic during a squabble," Mary Beth explained, trying hard to look disapproving, but not quite managing it because of the smile twitching at the corner of her mouth.
Harry smiled at Trevor as he said, "Most of that goes away once they hit Hogwarts, thank goodness."
"I'm looking forward to that," Joel Pendergast said. "Well, we must be off. It's past the boys' bedtime."
Harry thanked the family for coming and leaned against one of the columns supporting the veranda's roof. Several more families passed him and expressed their thanks as the sun disappeared, painting the sky a reddish-purple above the trees that competed with the torches in the swimming pavilion for his attention. Ripples of laughter and faint splashing floated across the garden where James, Kendra, Albus, Lily, Scorpius, Rose, Brian, Phil, and Hugo were taking one last swim before he closed up the pool and made the teens come inside for the night. He watched them for a few more minutes and then raised his wand to extinguish most of the torches, his signal to the teenagers that it was time to come in.
They surprised him by all getting out and beginning to close up the pavilion, James and Albus checking to make sure the folding doors were secure. As they trooped up the wheelchair ramp, most of them said good night or wished him a happy birthday.
"James, Albus," Harry called to his sons. They stopped before him and he said, "Thank you, that was a big help."
Albus' ears turned red. "Any time, Dad," he said. Then he dashed into the house, followed a second later by James.
Harry chuckled and cast the locking and other security charms he usually placed on the natatorium each night.
Familiar footsteps behind him alerted Harry to Ginny's presence. He turned to face her and she stepped into his embrace, hugging his middle and turning her face up towards his. He obliged her silent request with a tender kiss that enticed a soft moan of pleasure from between her lips.
"Everyone's gone except for the sleep-over lot. They're all in the lounge playing chess and Exploding Snap," Ginny reported when they broke apart. "I put Rose and Kendra's things in Lily's room and the extra bathing stool in the children's bath for Brian just in case he wants to wash off the chlorine. Oh, once we get the boys sorted out, would you put all the sitting room furniture in the empty box in our bedroom wardrobe. I don't want to hunt for the sofa for two days like we did last year."
"Of course, love," Harry said with a chuckle. "But didn't the kids get a laugh out of you yelling, 'Accio tiny sofa'?" Ginny grinned and hugged his middle tighter, not taking her eyes from his. "So, have you had a good day?" he asked.
Ginny leaned against him with a contented-sounding sigh. "I did. Shall we do this again next year?"
"What, the party?" he asked. "It's become a mid-summer tradition. I don't think we have a choice, at least not until Lily's out of school. The kids are counting on it as sure way of getting to see all of their friends en mass half-way through the holiday. We'd be disappointing quite a lot of people if we stopped giving it."
Ginny stepped away, her gaze fixed on the sky over his shoulder. She led him to the porch swing and held it still with her feet while he sat down, before she answered him. "I… I was afraid it would be too much for you," she said hesitantly.
Harry leaned his crutches against the railing and twisted around to face his wife. "I'm doing fine, love," he said, hugging her again. "If I'd needed to rest, I could have Summoned my chair or found a place to sit by the pool. But I didn't need to and I've had a great day and I don't feel any older than I did last year and I love all my presents and seeing the smiles on the faces of our guests and watching you cook for a week and getting to drive the Ferrari at a snail's pace down our drive this morning and then flying on my birthday broom with the kids before everyone came and sticking my finger in your treacle tart batter behind your back and racing our sons in the pool and… oh, yes, your mother makes the best birthday cakes."
By the time he finished this recital, Ginny was laughing so hard she had tears of mirth in her brown eyes. "Oh, Harry, that makes me so glad," she said between chortles. She rested her head on his shoulder. "I have a confession to make," she said after a time.
"What's that?" he asked.
"The party was my test to see whether our family was indeed back to normal and I'm happy to say it most definitely is," she said, and he felt her smile through the sleeve of his shirt.
"I agree," Harry murmured as he listened to the muffled shrieks of laughter coming from the house because someone had singed their eyebrows. He sighed contentedly and put his arm around Ginny. It was good to have his life back.
A/N: It is with a little sadness that I post this last chapter. This last year has been absolutely amazing, not only because I've actually written and posted this story (book) in record time—I usually take two to three years to post a story this long—but because I've met some really amazing people along the way. I'm grateful to my faithful reviewers who have told me time and again that a Thursday instalment is just what they needed to get through the rest of their week and who have not been shy about their reactions to the story. I value everyone's opinion and have considered various requests as they come along because sometimes outside suggestions really do make the story better. For example, hpforever85 mentioned last week that she really wanted to know what James, Albus and Lily thought of their parents' letter. When I read the review, I knew what had been missing from the chapter and immediately wrote the extra scene. Thank you, hpforever85, for the idea that really completed the chapter. I also am grateful to all those who took the time to vote for this story twice in the Silver Trinket Award voting. Winning last March's Best Drama and the 2011 Best New Story awards has meant the world to me. Thank you so much for giving me these honours.
Some of the other amazing people I've encountered are the members of my pre-beta team. I have been blessed throughout the writing of this story to have a wonderful group of five people who have taken the time out of their busy lives to read and comment on each chapter. Miz636, Mutt n Feathers, RebeccaRipple, Rosina Ferguson, and RSS, you all have made such a difference in this story. I know I thank you every week, but please know that without your questions, suggestions, indignation, and helpful hints, this story wouldn't be what it is… a winner in more ways than one. And to Aggiebell, my wonderful beta, thank you for being there faithfully each week to help me put the final polish on every chapter. I look forward to working with you on future stories.
Again, thank you all for reading and commenting on my work. I promise… there will be more stories in this universe.