Chapter 1. Nesting

Severus was all in black, only crisp points of white at neck and wrists. No surprise there, Ginny thought, watching him cross the Hogwarts entry hall with his graceful, fluid stride. The surprise, to anyone who hadn't seen him during the three years since he'd been bonded to Harry, was that these were not the voluminous, concealing swathes of his old teaching robes.

The robes he wore now were beautifully cut, showcasing his slender form, and they were discreetly embellished by embroidery circling hem and cuffs and collar with the slightest jet glint of glossiness. The gleam was picked up in the sheen of his silver-streaked black hair, caught at the neck by a platinum clasp she herself had given him for Christmas into a thick, shiny tail falling halfway down his back. The clothes, the hair, and his upright posture lent the beaky nose and deep-set eyes a distinction that turned heads all around the hall.

People appreciate him now. Better yet, he's learning to appreciate himself and come out of the shell he hid inside for so long. Ginny mentally shook herself, smoothing down her russet silk robes. What am I thinking, standing here clucking over him like a broody hen. He's my nestmate, for Merlin's sake.

As though he'd caught the thought, and even the word, he turned his dark eyes on hers and quirked his mouth just the tiniest bit—anyone who didn't know him well would have missed it. He changed course to swoop toward her.

In public, they referred to each other as brother- and sister-in-law: literally true, if not in the traditional sense. It was Harry who'd come up with the warmer term "nestmate."

Late one night at Grimmauld Place, basking before the fire on the floor between their chairs, Harry had tilted his head back to gaze fondly at them and said, "The two of you look like something out of heraldry sitting there. You're our sable eagle, Severus, and Ginny's our gules griffin, rose red."

"And you," Severus had said in a voice like the bass notes of a cello, touching his elegant long fingers to Harry's cheek, "are our golden phoenix, volant, or."

Harry had leaned into the touch, brilliant green eyes alight. "All winged creatures," he'd murmured. "Nestmates."

Severus had scoffed softly and turned away muttering about sentimental Gryffindors, but neither Harry nor Ginny had been fooled. Now even Severus referred to Godric's Hollow as "the Nest" and the children as "the fledglings."

And here they came now, flocking across the hall to where Severus had just joined Ginny, chirping and cheeping around them with their father flapping up behind. Harry's peacock teal robes highlighted his eyes in a face framed by his feathery black mop of hair. Lily was a plump little Ravenclaw bluebird, Al bright as a parrot in Slytherin green.

James though, Jamie was preening like a cardinal in scarlet plumage for the statuesque young woman on his arm, whose own red robes set off her sleek ebony skin and the tight-wound black curls trailing over her shoulders.

"Hey, everyone," he said proudly. "Here she is, the girl you've all been hearing about, the pride of Gryffindor, Teresa Zabini. Tess, these are my parents: my mother, Ginny Weasley; my father, Harry Potter; and my bond-father, Severus Snape. The brats you already know."

Ginny was pleased to see Teresa give her son an admonitory nudge before smoothly greeting each of the adults in turn. She nodded her head politely to Ginny and Harry as they shook hands, but she dropped a small curtsey to Severus. "It's an honour to meet you all," she said in a rich contralto. "Professor Snape, of course, has been an icon in our house for as long as I can remember."

"Odd sort of decoration your house must have," Al teased.

Severus, Harry, and Ginny all turned quelling looks on him, but before they could speak, a new man's voice came from behind Ginny's shoulder. "Quite odd, actually," it said in a lightly sardonic tone. "Holy cards, Quidditch trophies, and a large Snape shrine festooned with drying pasta in lieu of snakes."

They turned to see Teresa's parents approach from the corridor to the dungeon staircase. Madame Zabini—Helena Diallo, Ravenclaw, Ginny reminded herself—shook her head so that the elaborate arrangement of ribbons, beads, and tiny bells woven into her long dreadlocks rattled and tinkled. "Nonsense, Blaise," she said in a voice like her daughter's. "The incense you daily burn before the Professor's image would give the spaghetti a most peculiar flavour. Your mother would never stand for it."

She extended a manicured hand to Severus, who bent over it with a courtly bow and a wry look, which she returned with interest.

"Ginny, Harry," Blaise said, shaking hands with them, "good to see you again. Teresa, cara mia, you're looking lovely today, even if you are telling tales out of school." He extended his thin dark hands to his daughter and they kissed each other on both cheeks.

"Grazie, Papa," she said. "But I think that technically I'm telling tales in school, am I not? For my last few moments as a student, at any rate."

Blaise shook his head at her with an indulgently long-suffering smile and turned his attention to Severus. "Professor Snape," he said with a slight bow. "Thank you for the reference regarding the use of lethifold skin in the Death Cap Draught antidote. I notice, however, that the author does not consider the possible effect of shredding rather than slicing—" The two potions masters drew a little aside and were soon deep in conversation, heads leant toward each other.

He's like a shadow image of Severus, Ginny thought. As tall and thin, with that same disdainful expression, long nose and thin lips, all encased in skin almost as dark as his wife's. Wonder who his father was? Was he one of the ones the mother bumped off?

Her speculation was interrupted by the appearance of the Malfoys in the entrance to the dungeon stairs, all as blond as the Zabinis were dark. Scorpius and Albus flew together and began chattering as though they hadn't seen each other in their common room only minutes ago. Draco and Astoria nodded to Harry and Ginny, then Draco's eyes went to Severus and Blaise with an oddly yearning look.

Impulsively, Ginny said, "Astoria, Draco, we were just going with the Zabinis to fête our two graduates at that posh new restaurant in Hogsmeade. Won't you join us?"

Astoria looked to Draco with a serene air of unconcern while Scorpius visibly restrained himself from begging. Draco met Severus's level gaze for a long moment, then turned to Harry. Some silent communication seemed to pass between them.

Draco drew a breath. "We thank you for your gracious invitation," he said, inclining his head toward Ginny but still looking at Harry. "But I'm afraid we must decline. I judge the time is not quite right."

Ginny brought her hand down hard on Albus's shoulder as he seemed about to argue. On his other side, Scorpius gave Al's fingers a quick squeeze and stepped forward to stand with his parents, face impassive.

Draco's hand rested on the back of his son's neck as he went on, "Astoria and I would be honoured, however, if all of you would join us at Malfoy Manor on Midsummer's Eve."

"St. John's Eve?" Blaise said. "Delightful. Thank you."

Harry silently canvassed Severus and Ginny, then nodded. "Yes," he said in a slightly rusty tone. "That would be—I think we would all—"

"He's trying to say thank you for the invitation," Ginny said, wondering why he'd accepted if the prospect bothered him so much. They came to our Tripartite Bonding, but I suppose giving or taking casual hospitality is different.

Draco took his wife's arm and the two parties separated. As Ginny trailed her family and the Zabinis to the outer doors, she glanced back at the Malfoys. They had paused at the entrance to the Great Hall. Draco visibly braced himself before they plunged into the crowd of students and parents gathering for the Leaving Feast.

The past still haunts him, Ginny realized. I hope it won't be too awkward gathering at Malfoy Manor. She hurried to catch up with her little flock. What difference could one night with the Malfoys make to us? The Zabinis will be there, too, after all. We'll go, we'll have a nosh, faff about a bit, then get back to the Nest. No worries, nothing earthshaking.