Here's the next chapter of the third installment of my Magically Arranged Marriage series. The POV and [...] between Ron and Padma. The plot thickens!

{this is how it works, it feels a little worse than when-}

.regina spektor.

"All set, everyone," I called out to the moving tableau of men and women before me. "Eight o'clock, that's a wrap. Photographers, product in the ante-room in ten minutes. Meeting's tomorrow morning at ten o'clock!"

The scurrying began.

As the only magazine of our kind, one that combined the fashion of the new-age witch and the up-and-coming modern Muggle woman, we rarely had competitors in terms of content and ingenuity. We had managed to steal an entire corner of the market that no one else had known had existed, but I didn't expect that to continue on. As we were geared towards fashion for younger witches, it was just a matter of time before another entrepreneurial witch or wizard realized that they might want to cater to the older set of women...or encroach on our corner.

As such, we needed to be ahead of the step ahead of everyone.

It was time for me to serve as fashion stylist, once again, and this first meet-and-greet with bridal coutoure designers Marjorie Butters and Kenneth Fall was my gambit.

When Becca made her way over with a thoughtful look in her eye, I crossed my arms and asked the question I'd been dying to ask.

"Becca," I whispered without looking at her, "what did you see?"

"Nothing I needed to yell about," the redhead whispered back. She paused to thank a photographer who walked by. "The models and photographers behaved beautifully, although might be because Shinji is breathing down everyone's neck in the strongest way. Butters seemed pleased with the level of professionalism, Fall is a little harder to read."

Yes, well, Marjorie Butters was a twenty-going-on-twelve year old woman whose whimsical designs and cheerful personality made her easy to please. Add the fact that she was new to the fashion world and from a tiny farming town somewhere in Ohio, America - well, this was probably the biggest adventure of her life so far. Thank Merlin Becca was like a hawk-eyed appraiser when it came to searching for new talent in her homeland.

Kenneth Fall was an entirely different basket of eggs. The young man was a seasoned genius when it came to muted colors and refined elegance but he was a hard one to crack. All his ebullience and charm didn't clue you in to whether he liked you, one way or the other. I was sure he'd bow politely to his worst enemy on his grouchiest day...

It didn't help that Britain suffered a dearth of models. Everyone who'd shown up today was the best of the best of what our nation had to offer. If they weren't satisfied...

We're done for.

I pursed my lips and whispered back to Becca.

"Am I going to have to take a shot at him?"

Usually, Becca was the mood-maker for these things. I was usually a little too stressed with general event overseeing to ease our designers into feeling comfortable.

"God, yes."

I relished a challenge.

"Five o'clock," she said urgently. "Good luck."

The art of artifice is one we've down to the letter. With a naturalness that indicated no pre-thought, Becca turned away from slowly to make her way over to a group of male models who were getting dressed. In the same motion, I turned to meet Kenneth Fall.

He extended those elegant hands of his to take my own, then dropped a charming kiss on both knuckles. I smiled warmly, well aware of the fact that the future of our magazine was firmly in my hands.

"A long day, on the heels of your arrival," I said with an easy smile. "How are you faring so far?"

"Are you asking me whether I'm tired?"

"Do I presume too much?" I returned.

He smiled fully before we both faced the milling crowd before us.

"Exhausted, sweetheart," he said with a pained look. "But that's as it should be, anyway. Nothing like blood, sweat, and tears to make sure the right models are picked."

"Narrowing your numbers down or upping them?"

"Narrowing," he said thoughtfully. "I know England is only just beginning to open up an avenue for fashion so it's no surprise that all of your country's male and female models number less than twenty. Doubt anyone knows they can be a model, as an aspiration."

Oh, Merlin, this was the end. Perhaps, I should have listened to Shinji when he suggested we bring in models from other countries? Or maybe I hadn't looked hard enough for new modeling talent? Damn it-

"Still," he said with a thoughtful look in his eye, "some of the models were...interesting, if untutored."

I breathed an internal sigh of relief but kept a politely blank face.

"We're waiting on the professional headshots," I said noncommittally, "as this is a first for a majority of the models. Then the test-shots."

We turned in unison to greet Ms. Butters.

"Marjorie," said Kenneth, after kissing her cheek fondly, "what do you think?"

She grinned, bouncing in place.

"Decided on two - one male, one female. Waiting to see shots for all the others!"

Thank God.

Kenneth looked amused.


"Dominique Hollington, Shaleine Woodley."

Now, Kenneth looked positively proprietary.

"I'm looking at Shaleine as well."

"And on that note," I interrupted with a smile, "let's adjourn to the ante-room. Drinks, anyone?"

Kenneth wasn't going anywhere, of that I was suddenly sure.


It took a minute for my eyes to adjust to the dark once I actually Apparated to the alley. It had been eight long weeks since I'd been here. The shop next door had obviously invested money in making sure its surroundings looked good and I could hardly blame them for it. I'd never seen the place this clean - the cobblestones shouldn't have had any right to be this clean when it wasn't in use all that often. For a moment, it felt different enough that I imagined I'd come here for a different purpose. A different person.

A different reason.

I blinked and everything shifted, then shifted back.

My heart raced ahead of me, clattering along while my mind seemed to be stuck on slow. It was almost like it was enough for my brain to process where I was, before it even contemplated the rest of the whys and the hows. Everything was a contradiction - the dark clean, the heavy heart, the lightness I felt. If this is what it felt to have a reckoning, then the onslaught of it was enough to dull the senses.

Does everyone feel this way? Everyone like me?

My brain attempted to analyze something else.

The flickering lamp posts at either end of the short alleyway lent little enough light, and I leaned back and closed my eyes. Since it was clean, it smelled different. Just air now - not mildew, not heaviness. Was it a sign that things had changed? I opened my eyes and saw that the blocks that I usually counted as I waited were a different color now in this light.

I trailed my fingers-

-one, two, four, eight-

-and the familiarity of the ritual washed over me and I was suddenly calm, even though I had no right to be calm.

No right to be calm.


I whirled around before I could stop myself.

It was time for this to end.


I looked at Luna.

"Are you sure that's not creepy?"

Luna shook her head.

"Really," I said dubiously. "Me just-" I waved my hand around, "-showing up to the place where she works without her having told me the address."

Luna's spacy eyes focused on my face before she gave me a reprimanding look.

"Unless you're showing up to insult her with another short note or make a scene, I promise you that she will think it's a good thing."

I winced.

Was no one going to let that go?

"But I dunno," I began doubtfully.

"It's only-" she glanced outside the window to the gray sky overhead, "ten o'clock tops. You have all day to figure out what you're going to do with her. It's an excellent plan, trust me."

Honestly, I was trying to trust her but given my track-record with Padma Patil, I wasn't sure if the ingenuity wasn't going to end up being my downfall.

"So," I said slowly, "I up...and..."

"And talk to her, ask her on a date, ask her about her day, ask her about what she's interested in, ask her anything, Ron."

Easier said than done.

"I'll bring something," I said decisively. "A gift or present or something."

I didn't need Luna to look at me in a vaguely approving manner to know it was the right thing to do. But she did, anyway.

"And you're sure she's working today?"

Luna nodded.

"Padma works everyday, if I've heard correctly. She's as dedicated to Mode as I am to The Quibbler and I'm rather certain she spends most of her free time there."

I nodded - good to know.

"Thanks, Lune," I said with a smile. "Tell Gin I'm gone when she comes down."

Whatever top secret girl-meeting they were having was going to get me banned from the Burrow sooner rather than later, anyway. Luna waved me off and into the fireplace I went, thinking as only a man faced with the importance of making a good second impression on the witch who was apparently supposed to be his.

Merlin's Balls, I couldn't fuck this up!

As soon as I exited into our bachelor's apartment, I changed into my athletic clothes then made a beeline for Harry's suite and plunged through the door.


He stuck his head out, hair even messier than normal. I sighed.

"What the bloody hell am I supposed to get Padma for our first date?"

Harry's eyebrows rose.

"That's a serious question, mate," I prodded.

"Where? When? How?"

"Well," I said sheepishly, "not really a first date but sort of a date of sorts? Or...well, I mean...a surprise one?"

Harry waved me into the room.

"What I mean to say is that Luna gave me Padma's work address and suggested I try to catch her sometime in the afternoon."

"Catch her to do...what?"

And that, my friends, was the difference between ladies and gents.

"She said I should maybe take her out to a nearby cafe, if she wasn't busy or anything, or maybe bring her something to eat."

Harry looked impressed.

"What are you going to do?"

I stared at him.

He stared back.

"No idea."

Maybe, I thought slowly, I can get away with food. But she's so...trim...what does she like to eat?

She had been too disgusted with me at the Yule Ball to sample anything, or at least not that I really remembered. I could be wrong though (Merlin knows I sometimes was) but I had no idea.

"Fleur and Bill back yet?"

"This afternoon," I answered absently.

"She'll bring food so take that with you," Harry said firmly.

I stared at him.


I clapped him on the back and stood.

"Now that that's done with, I'm off for a run."

Harry laughed and waved me out. I have no idea when I'd started going for runs. It must have started immediately after the War, I think. Someone once asked me why I ran...I didn't have an answer for them. It's not necessarily that I was thinking about it. It just felt like it was something I...I dunno...something I had to do.

I guess when I really thought about it, the answer is actually quite depressing.

I'd been running for so long that I was used to it, in the non-literal sense. So once the War was over, I kept on...


"I'll be back in a bit."

If I wanted to be non-brooding about it, I'd actually grown to like running. I didn't do it to be healthy, really, I did it because I needed to feel like I was quick enough to get away if something ever happened again. For a lot of people, running felt mindless. For me, it was more like a necessary and therapeutic outlet.

There were a bunch of running paths (Muggle mostly, don't think wizards knew anything about running) and today was warm enough that the Thames wouldn't be too hard. All I needed was a good hour to get all this...anxiety...out...

All I needed was an hour.


Who knew there would be so many women here?

And while I was a bit of a ladies' man, I couldn't help looking at all the serious-looking females in here who ranged anywhere from vaguely happy to downright angry. I didn't know how to make this work, and I couldn't figure out if Padma was going to have changed her mind overnight, and Merlin knew I was already in overhead. I tugged on my jacket and tried not to think about eating-


I would like to think I didn't whirl around fast enough to suffer whiplash.


Merlin, she was so gotdamned pretty. I literally had to take a moment to try and overcome the shock before I could continue. Her hair was in this rather complicated braiding pattern that looked nice and her eyes were soft.

"Thanks...for coming, I mean."

She smiled.

I blinked.

"Err," I sprang out of my seat, pulled out hers. "No idea what to get you so I didn't order anything."


"I beg your pardon?" I asked curiously.

"I like cinammon," she said simply. "All custards - in fact, custard is my favorite thing to eat when I feel upset or sad. And I like raisins. I don't like pies though."

"You don't like pies?" I asked, dumbfounded, as I towered over her. "How can you...there's nothing to dislike about pies!"

"I just don't think fruit and dairy should be together, as a rule."

I laughed and sat.

"You'll never know how much you're missing. Honestly...strawberry cheesecake?"

She made a face and shook her head.

"Apple and plum crumble and custard?"

This time, when she smiled, I was distracted once again by how pretty she is. I let myself sink into her dark brown eyes but figured that I could guess her answer well enough. And since I wasn't one for self-control or a filter-

"Padma, you have the prettiest smile I've ever seen."

She stopped, looked surprised, and then suppressed what looked like an honest-to-goodness shy smile.

"Thank you, Ronald." Her eyes slid away from mine for a minute but then she looked back slyly. "Flattery will get you back on good footing."

I didn't bother convincing her otherwise.

"What do you like to do?"

She shrugged, looked over the menu even as she smiled.

"My family, my friends, my job." She shrugged again. "Takes up all my time."

"Tell me 'bout your job," I said as I leaned back and stretched.

"Muggle idea," she said with a smile. "France was the first to take it and make it theirs, you know. We followed along and then so did the Yanks. Now, it's everywhere. Fashion just made sense. Parvati has always been a fashion nut. I think we got interested really early - then as soon as I met Rebecca-"


"Winters. Rebecca Winters," she said. She reached into her purse and slid a photo out, careful to shield it from any Muggle eyes. Padma and Parvati with arms around a lively looking blonde.

"She's pretty," I said.

"She is," Padma agreed as she put the photograph away. "And ambitious. That's how we got the idea for it. She's four years older than us but I knew that the War would make a more...mature...set of individuals."

The unspoken name between us.


"But," she pushed on, "she took the idea to her family, and her family decided to back two untried twins from Britain. And now, here I am."

"Did you think this was where you'd be after the War?"

She shook her head. I knew how that felt.

"Are you..." I searched for the right word but came up short, "...happy?"

Took her a minute to answer that one.

"I think so."


She looked at me.

"Are you?"

"I am."

She looked at me for a bit then waived the Muggle waitress over.


"It went well, I guess," I said around a crumpet. "Asked questions, talked about her job, what have you."

"What did you talk about?" Gin asked impatiently. "I'm trying to gauge how likely she is to try for your life again."

I glared at her and pulled the plate of crumpets to me.

"It went fine," I repeated. "She's forgiven me, for now."

"Oh, has she now," Gin said dryly.

"Why are you here anyway? Don't you have somewhere to be, Gin?"

"Sorry I care about you and wanted to see if you had made it back alive," she sniffed. "Besides, I have a bit of a present for all of you."

I rolled my eyes and stood, just as Dean wandered into the kitchen.

"Are you two bickering?" We shook our heads at the same time. Dean looked highly suspicious for a few moments before he made his way over to the pantry. "Because I'm not making pancakes in a warzone."

"Pancakes? For dinner?" I asked. "Ginny, leave."

She made a disbelieving noise.

"You'd throw me over for pancakes?"

"No, Gin," I said patiently. "I'd throw you over for Dean's dinner-time pancakes. Now, go find Harry so the man can cook in peace."

Rolling her eyes, she finally obliged.

"Heard you come back last night," Dean said over his shoulder. Although I'd never understand how the bloke became so damned good in the kitchen, I'd made up my mind to start to...well, that is to say...okay, damn it, I wanted to learn so that when he moved out I didn't die of hunger. Although there was a really decent place around the corner that we all liked to eat out at and-


I looked up.

"You not going to share?"

What the hell was he talking about?

"Padma. Patil."

"Oh, yeah, was all right," I said shrugging. "It was a really good idea. Just talked some more."

"No more brilliant rows?" Dean tossed over his shoulder.

I rolled my eyes and stood to peer around him at what he was doing.

"When's Luna coming back?"

"Probably never," Dean said glumly. "Although we are supposed to go out get used to whatever this is."

Poor bloke. But he and Luna would make the best of it, no doubt about that. He was probably closer to her than he was to the rest of the guys, on some levels. And even though Gin swore she could see romance in the air (what, did romance have an aura?), I dunno if they had any option but to at least try to make it work.

As did the rest of us,

"Cheer up, mate," I said, clapping him on the back. "Just let her take it over. You two are best mates - you'll be fine."

"Best mates," he said with a grunt as he washed blueberries. "Which is the problem."

"But she won't be sending you a Howler," I said patiently, "because you actually like each other and respect each other."

"Padma doesn't respect you?"

I paused.

"No idea - that's neither here nor there, I guess," I said slowly. "But the point is you already know what she's like, how her mind works. It can't get worse than awkward because you know each other and are close."

Dean made a non-commital noise, dropped the blueberries in a bowl, reached for a skillet, then gave me an odd look.

"Ron, what the hell are you doing?"

I tried really hard to look like I didn't know what he was talking about.

"What is who doing?"

"Why are you always watching me in the kitchen now?" he asked. "Are you trying to learn how-"

I frowned and cut him off.

"Thought you might want some company but I guess you don't-"

"That's not it and you know it, mate," Dean said with a smile. "Have it your way then."

I did.

And when I woke up the next morning, a discreet looking roll of parchment full of handwritten recipes were left on my bathroom counter.