Tarot Card Prompt: the Tower. According to Wiki: "The Tower is struck by lightning when reality does not conform to expectation." Ta-da.
Summary: Harry stopped hating Draco Malfoy on Bring Your Kids to Work Day.
Betas: confusedkayt, cindala, obfuscate3 and jehnt - who hereafter have my eternal gratitude.
A/N: Team Epilogue won! That's fucking hilarious, idek. Everyone is so dead set against the epilogue. I didn't like it myself, but I couldn't ignore it either, so. Here is my definitive take on post-epilogue Harry/Draco. Mazel tov to painless_j, parlophone, fourth_rose, geoviki, gossymer - and everyone else I don't know about but who also guessed correctly - for picking this out as mine. I'm impressed. And slightly in awe.
Original post here.
Harry stopped hating Draco Malfoy on Bring Your Kids to Work Day.
Harry and Malfoy had only been sharing the same workplace for a year when the specially coded memo – a lilac bird with a blood-red trim – wound its way to Harry’s cubicle, borne on the breath of a thousand sighs.
Up till then, Harry had no contact with the Department of Accounts and Boring Paperwork. He didn’t even realise the Head of ABP was Draco Malfoy. He knew him only by his nickname, which was – handily enough – also ABP. It stood for A Bit Pissed, which is what happened to the Head of ABP when his fellow Ministry workers didn’t get the ‘Quills and Misc Stationary’ requisition forms in on time.
Harry had no idea what Misc Stationary was. As Ginny regularly bought him quills for birthdays and Christmas, he never had any occasion to find out. He also remained blissfully unaware of the festering hatred that existed in all Ministry strata for Bring Your Kids to Work Day.
Harry opened the memo with all the fervour of the deeply bored, noting that the special trim stained his hands. After reading it over and ruminating for a while – it did no good to rush things; there were only so many times you could count your teeth with your tongue, or spellcheck a single report – he fire-called Ginny.
Kneeling down on the floor to reach a fire was vastly detrimental to the sanctity of the spine (Harry should know), but laying his cheek against a desk wasn’t much better. Still, a new-fangled Face Floo was not something to be sneezed at – although Harry did, regularly.
There was no dallying on the switch-furnace, but the call blazed for a long time before anyone answered. Harry felt his face heating unpleasantly.
He was just about to abandon the attempt when a young, female voice – apparently attempting to be an old, male and possibly sub-human voice – said thoughtfully: “Hellooooo?”
“Lily? What have I told you about answering the Floo?” scolded Harry. Without waiting for an answer, he said, “Put Mummy on the fire.”
There was a burst of static as Lily crawled out of the fireplace, kicking up ashes as she went, and bellowed for ‘GINNY!’
Harry glanced around the kitchen as he waited for his wife to arrive. Washing was piled high on the unscrubbed table, wrinkling as it dried. On the edge of his fire-vision, he could see the sink, filled to the brim with scummy soap-suds. A teetering stack of dishes, sticky with food, looked every minute more ready to bungee-jump from the drainer into the water.
A patter of feet interrupted Harry’s inspection. Ginny hove into sight. Her ratty dressing-gown and dirty slippers were an odd contrast to the dark slash of lipstick across her full mouth, the diamante pins shining through her curls. Although Harry couldn’t help but smile at his beautiful, slapdash wife, he felt an answering surge of irritation at the fact that she still wasn’t dressed at half-past twelve in the afternoon.
“What do you want?” was her gasped-out greeting. “Make it quick, eh, I’ve got to get Lily to day school.”
“Oh, right.” Confronted by this demand, Harry suddenly fumbled for words. Ginny crouched in front of the fire, resting on one hand to balance herself. Even her straining white knuckles seemed to convey her impatience. “It’s just about this memo I got. Bring Your Kids to Work Day.”
“Well, I was thinking of bringing Albus Severus and Lily.”
“Sounds like a great idea,” said Ginny briskly. “Do you want to tell them or shall I?”
“I will, after work. Ask them, I mean, not tell them. They don’t have to go –”
“Oh, please. They’ll jump at the chance. Even if they don’t, I’ll make them. Stick a wand up their bums or something.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I want them to have a fun day. That’s the whole point.”
“Really? Well, I’m sure you’re right, love. I was only having a laugh.”
“Ha,” said Harry obediently. Ginny lifted her body into a runner’s crouch.
“Was there anything else? Because I really am dead late.”
“No, no,” said Harry. “That’s all.”
“See you at dinner. Chicken casserole all right?” And she was gone before Harry could reply, leaving his ears ringing with Lily’s last primal scream of ‘GINNY’.
Harry didn’t like chicken. He didn’t hate it, either, but he could have done without eating it for two weeks in a row. Of course, it was the only thing Lily would eat right now – and Ginny’s forte was fowl – and according to her chicken was the easiest thing to cook. Harry wouldn’t know. He only ever made breakfast on Saturdays.
With a sigh he refused to acknowledge, he turned back to his report. A fourth fact-checking never did anyone any harm.
Harry always found Friday evenings exhausting. The kids were hyper as hell: running around like miniature tornadoes, screaming on an endless loop. The only time Harry had run as a child was away from Dudley, but he knew that was abnormal. Still, the flashing circuits Albus Severus and Lily made of the house in celebration of the weekend weren’t exactly normal either. At least James wasn’t currently around to enable them, being in semi-permanent residence at Fred Weasley Junior’s house.
When Harry stepped out of the fire, he almost tripped over his daughter. This didn’t daunt her in the slightest; she merely weaved around a tumbled chair and careened into the garden. Her whoops were truly spine-chilling.
The kitchen was in much the same state as Harry had last seen it, perhaps a tad messier. A new batch of Lily’s paint-daubs held pride of place on the refrigerator, held on by another magnet made by the slightly more skilled Albus Severus.
Harry could admit to himself – though he did so rarely, of late – that he’d expected more out of having his own family. He thought that enough love, enough wanting on his part would make up for anything.
The love wasn’t lacking, but the anything certainly was.
He pictured his children in Hogwarts easily enough: sleeping in the circular rooms of Gryffindor Tower, eating treacle tart in the Great Hall, being as amazed by what magic could do as he had been at eleven.
Now, it was difficult to imagine his children doing anything so peaceful as sleep, or consuming anything so normal as treacle tart. For three years James would eat nothing that wasn’t green. As he refused all vegetables point blank, Ginny had to resort to liberally sprinkling everything she cooked with food colouring. Albus Severus had become a vegetarian at five. Lily, with such sterling examples to live up to, went through a new fad every week. And as for their being amazed by magic – well, it was all Harry could do to keep his wand in his pocket when they were around. By seven they’d all known more hexes than Harry had learned during his entire stay at Hogwarts, and used most of them on each other.
In his ignorance about wizarding customs, Harry had imagined that the children of all magical families were home-schooled. He’d fostered a charming little image: coming home after a day’s work to find Ginny and the children grouped around the fire. Their little faces shining as he dropped his briefcase (which he’d decided would probably hold his lunch) and said, ‘I’m home!’ Their eagerness to show him what they’d learned that day.
Granted, this image had faded pretty smartly as soon as his children actually had faces. For a very long time, it had been courting danger to let Lily or James anywhere near an unattended fire. Harry sometimes thought Albus Severus became his favourite child simply because he’d shown no tendency to develop pyromania.
Harry righted the over-turned chair and flicked a spell at the laundry. It became airborne and started jerkily folding itself. His next target was the stagnant water in the sink, which with a wave of his wand turned bright and sparkling. Into this the dishes leapt with a will.
Making a note to check on his spells later – the annoying thing about household magic was that it needed constant supervision – Harry went in search of his wife. He found her relaxing in the sitting room, glued to a Wizarding Network programme about emperor penguins. Her hair was still swept up in spangles, but the lipstick had long since faded.
“Hi.” Harry dropped a perfunctory kiss on the top of her head, which she acknowledged with a wave of her wine glass. Drops sloshed on to the carpet. Harry Vanished them.
“This is so sweet,” said Ginny. “Look at the little chicks! Aren’t they darling?”
They looked like regurgitated furballs. “Hmm.”
“Do you want a drink, love? There’s wine in the fridge.”
“I don’t like red,” Harry reminded her.
“Is there any? I drank the last can yesterday.”
“Oh, and I forgot to buy more today.” Friday was grocery day: an apparently exhausting task, if Ginny’s reaction to it was anything to go by.
“Damn it, why not? You know I go through a six-pack a week.”
Ginny shrugged. “It wasn’t on the list. I told you to write stuff on the list. I forget otherwise.”
“I haven’t got time to write down every damn thing on the list! I’m too busy.”
“And now you have no beer.” Ginny took a sip of wine, spilling more on the sofa cushions. Harry was too irritated to Vanish it.
They sat in tense silence for a while. At least, it felt tense to Harry. Ginny, with her emperor penguins and her wine, gave every evidence of being perfectly at her ease.
Albus Severus came haring into the room. “Mum-mum-mum, can I have a chocolate bar?”
“Sure,” said Ginny.
“You’ll spoil your dinner,” snapped Harry.
“Lily already took one.” Albus Severus stuck out his lower lip. Despite being the elder by two years, Albus Severus sometimes seemed a lot younger than his streetwise little sister. “Besides, we had dinner, didn’t we, Mum? Mum?”
“That’s what I meant to tell you.” Ginny dragged her eyes away from the television screen. “I got the kids some takeaway after school. I left a few things in the microwave for you.”
“I thought you were making a casserole?”
“It burnt.” Ginny flipped her hand at Albus Severus, which he took as tacit consent to go apprehend his desire. “Besides, Lily’s now decided she wants nothing but Chinese food. You know Diagon has only one bloody Chinese takeaway? In this day and age? We had to go to Camden in the end.”
“Should we be indulging them in these silly whims?” demanded Harry. “They need to learn to eat proper food. Fruit and vegetables. Porridge, for God’s sake.”
Ginny favoured him with a long, cool look. “I cooked porridge once. Most of it ended up back in my face. If you want them to eat proper food, you make it and feed it to them and stop them from whining down the fire to my mother that you’re starving them. Knock yourself out, in fact.”
“I’m going to eat,” said Harry. He tried to slam the door, but Ginny didn’t even leave him that satisfaction. She’d already Muffled the doorframe to stop the kids’ noise interrupting her programme.
Harry inspected the cold, stodgy noodles in the microwave. They didn’t look appetising now, and Harry harboured grave doubts that they ever had. He unhooked the menu for One Flick Away Pizzas from the hooks where cooking utensils were supposed to hang. In fact, those few that had survived the ravages of the endless cold war between the Potter children were kept under lock and key by Ginny. The hooks now held a startling array of takeaway menus and heating-up instructions.
As Harry knelt by the Floo, his knees creaking under the strain, he reflected that was one good thing about magic. Wizarding takeaways delivered to outlandish places like Godric’s Hollow, service guaranteed. And the food was even warm when it arrived.
Harry took an early night and spent most of it tossing and turning, too hot and frustrated to sleep. All the same, he was out before Ginny came to bed. As a consequence, it wasn’t until he was making breakfast that he got a chance to tell his children about Bring Your Kids to Work Day.
Saturday morning breakfasts were a family tradition. The Potter children, along with all their Weasley cousins, descended upon the Burrow for the whole day to give their respective parents a break. Harry always made breakfast for his kids before they left.
Afterwards, he took up a tray to Ginny to eat in bed. They usually shared, and usually ended up naked with smears of butter on themselves and on the sheets. Albus Severus and Lily had both been products of Saturday morning breakfasts in bed. In fact, Harry had been rather hopeful that a few more brothers and sisters for James would result from it. It had been a while since he’d hoped that: five, maybe six years.
Harry was up first. He liked to make breakfasts by hand, mainly because that was how he’d learned to do it at the Dursleys’.
He groaned when he realised he’d forgotten to cancel the housework spells before he went to bed. The plates in the sink were slender as paper, the cutlery polished into smooth cylinders. It was a good while before he found the laundry, which had folded up so small that three loads were now the size of a postage stamp.
He managed to unshrink the clothes, which were more wrinkled than ever, but the dishes were a write-off. He wondered why the hell Ginny hadn’t over-ridden the spells. She’d probably gone straight from the sitting room to bed, even though she knew she had this squalor to deal with.
Then he spotted the wineglass with lipstick on the rim, planted dead centre on the table. She’d seen the spells and left them to run!
“What the hell?” Harry muttered. It was now the strongest oath he uttered, both he and Ginny having got tired of Lily’s ‘but you do it’s a long time ago.
Harry stacked up the plates, which put together were about the thickness of a pencil, and regarded them sadly. He’d have to go out and buy more, and Ginny would certainly be too annoyed by it to countenance any seduction over her cornflakes and warm milk.
He Summoned some old paper plates from one of the kid’s birthday parties and set to work with what knives and forks remained in the drawer. There were yet bowls and saucepans a-plenty, and Harry was soon distracted from his plight by the soothing mechanisms of cracking eggs, mixing pancake batter and frying rashers.
With unerring timing, Albus Severus and Lily thundered down the stairs just as the food was ready to go on the table.
Albus Severus looked askance at the paper plates. “Are these the ones from James’ tenth birthday?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” said Harry. “Why? Does it matter?”
Albus Severus looked at him as if he had three heads. “Of course it does! You bought the non-recyclable kind. I’m not eating off them.”
“You can eat off them or off the floor,” said Harry. “There’s no proper plates left.”
“Where’d they go?”
“Away,” said Harry. “Now, d’you want pancakes or rashers?”
“What do you think?” Albus Severus grimaced at the frying pan. “Urg, dead animals. Disgusting.”
Lily grabbed a rasher from the pan and popped it into her mouth. “Mmm, tasty dead animal,” she said, smacking her lips.
“You are a blight on humanity,” Albus Severus informed her.
“Lily, sit down at the table and wait like a good girl. Albus Severus, get some glasses and orange juice.”
“I don’t want orange juice,” announced Lily. She crawled under the table to get to her preferred chair – but at least she obeyed. “Orange juice isn’t from China.”
Lily shook her head so her coppery curls whipped her face. “I want green tea.”
“I don’t think we have any green tea.”
“Then I shall sit here,” said Lily, folding her arms, “and STARVE.”
“Can I watch?” asked Albus Severus.
“I’ll make you some tea and add green dye to it, will that do?” asked Harry. Lily put her head on one side, considering.
“All right,” she assented at last.
Harry congratulated himself for a whole five seconds, until he realised he’d fallen for the exact same trick as Ginny. It was petty to take revenge on an eight year-old, but he put food colouring in the boiling water all the same. Without the tea.
“I have something to tell you,” he said, forgetting at the last minute that he’d intended to frame it as a question. “It’s Bring Your Kids to Work Day on Monday, and I’d like you two to come.”
“You want us to pose as your children?” asked Lily.
“You are my children!”
“Oh, yeah.” Lily chewed her hair for a minute. “Okay then, Harry. I’ll come.”
“Call me Dad.”
“But your name is Harry.”
“I know my name is Harry. You call me Dad.”
“All right, Harry.”
Harry bit his lip, wishing he didn’t have such a strong desire to clout his daughter around the ear. “What do you think?” he asked Albus Severus.
“The Ministry, you mean? That sounds like fun. Will there be food?”
“There’s a canteen, yes. You can have whatever you like.”
“Is there a vegetarian option?”
“Yes,” sighed Harry, “there’s a vegetarian option.” Instituted by Under-Secretary to the Minister Hermione Granger, but that was another story.
“Hey, Dad, does this mean we get a day off day school?”
“It sure does.”
“You’d better write us a note, then. Mrs Chugworthy needs a note signed by a parent if you’re sick or absent for another reason.”
“I know,” said Harry, who hadn’t. “I’ll Owl her today.”
“Thanks, Dad,” said Albus Severus, sounding relieved. Harry got back to finishing breakfast, feeling as tired as if he hadn’t slept at all.
Albus Severus ate like a ravenous beast, then sat staring fixedly at Harry and Lily as they made their way together through six rashers and two rounds of toast. Every so often Lily would say, ‘Hey, Bussy,’ to make Albus Severus look at her – then eat a rasher with her fingers, emitting exaggerated moans of ecstasy. Harry’s reprimands were not of one whit’s use in preventing her.
Harry hated Albus Severus’ nickname. Lily had invented it as a toddler, unable to pronounce the tongue-twisting list of syllables in his given name. ‘Bussy’ caught on, and spread like a venereal disease among both immediate and extended family.
At this point, Harry was the only person not to call his son Bussy. After a three-hour fight with Ginny about it, one that left both her and Albus Severus in tears, Harry kept quiet on the matter. He still called Albus Severus his proper name whenever he could, in fading hopes of combating the awful popularity of his nickname.
The Floo roared open before they were finished. Hugo Weasley’s face, freckled as an egg, popped through the flames. The Granger-Weasleys always arrived at the Burrow first – more because of Hermione’s impeccable timekeeping than the sort of reasons that once had Harry hustling his children through the fire.
“Bussy!” roared Hugo, catching sight of his cousin. “You coming through yet? Grampa’s going to let us drive the flying car.”
“He is not,” said Harry.
“Hello, Mr Potter,” said Hugo cheerfully. “Hey Lils. Gramma wants to know if Aunt Ginny’s finished with her soufflé dish yet.”
“I have no idea,” said Harry.
“He has no idea!” yelled Hugo backwards. “Well, Gramma says to tell you to tell her to return it as soon as possible, because she’s hosting a Daughters of the Great War lunch next Friday. Oh, and she expects Aunt Ginny to be there ‘cause she’s missed the last three.”
“Really?” Harry was surprised. The DGW gatherings used to be the highlight of Ginny’s social calendar. He caught sight of his children, shifting impatiently in their chairs. “Go on then,” he told them.
Lily dived straight for the fire, getting Hugo in a headlock as she went. Albus Severus managed a ‘Bye, Dad’ before he followed her.
Harry sat in the quiet kitchen, nostalgic for the days when Albus Severus would cling to his neck and plead with him to stay at home. Back then, Harry had always been conscious of Ginny waiting for him upstairs. He’d insisted it was for Albus Severus’ own good that he went and spent time with the rest of his family. Now, Harry wasn’t sure why that was.
Harry scraped off the plates and dumped them in the sink, too wary to dare another housekeeping spell. He’d leave that in Ginny’s far more capable hands. She was most likely furious about the attempts he’d already made at ‘helping.’
He made a bacon butty for her and put it on a red paper plate that said ‘TEN TODAY, HOORAY HOORAY.’ That was the sort of thing James went in for. His favourite colour was red, and had been ever since he’d decided he was going to be in Gryffindor, apparently in the womb.
Ginny was up and the bed made. Harry quelled a rush of disappointment. His one time-slot was already closed to customers.
“Breakfast?” offered Harry.
Ginny cast a glance at the plate. “That’s all right, I’m good.”
Harry shrugged and began to eat it himself.
For a Saturday, Ginny was dressed up: a moss-green dress teamed with dark stockings and high heels. She was staring at a number of other dresses and skirts that were thrown across the bed.
“Going somewhere?” asked Harry.
“Yes,” said Ginny. “Neville’s inaugural dinner. It’s tonight, remember?” She took in Harry’s blank face. “No, of course you didn’t. Good thing I got your dress robes dry-cleaned.”
“Oh, no.” Harry loved Neville, but he hated frocky soirees.
“Oh, yes.” Ginny smoothed down the dress. “What do you think? Does my tummy look flat in this dress?”
“Um.” Harry tilted his head sideways. “There’s a little bulge across the middle. Maybe you need some of those wonder-pants Hermione always goes on about.”
“Gee, thanks,” said Ginny, frostily. “The correct answer was in fact ‘you look gorgeous, darling.’”
“You do look gorgeous,” said Harry, “darling. But that wasn’t the question you asked.”
“Sometimes, Harry Potter, you are impossible.” But she was smiling, so Harry smiled back – hopefully, as she pulled off the dress and stood in her knickers and bra. Black lace, Harry noted, hopes rising.
But when he reached out to grab one of those lovely, soft breasts, Ginny slapped his hand away. “Don’t. It’s my, you know. Time of the month.”
“Oh.” Harry scratched his head, disappointed. “Can’t we, anyway...”
“I have to figure out what to wear tonight,” said Ginny, “or, rather, what still fits. And then I have to have a bath, wash my hair, shave my legs, and go out and buy a gift for Neville, because I presume you forgot that, too.” One look at Harry’s guilty face confirmed it. “Then I have to settle the kids in with Victoire, who’s agreed to babysit for an extortionate sum, and rustle up some food for her and Teddy, who will undoubtedly come along to help her ‘study.’ So if you’re asking can I fit you into my busy schedule, then the answer is no.”
“Give us a kiss, at least,” said Harry. Ginny took his chin in her hand and swivelled his face to meet her lips. They tasted of lipstick, plasticy.
“Now, you told me again last night how rushed off your feet you are, so – shoo.” Ginny was smiling again as she waved him out, but her face was deadly serious.
Harry lingered on the stairs of his own house, wondering what to do. He went around opening the windows in his children’s bedrooms, which were all musty and littered with dirty clothing. He sat down in the sitting room for a while and watched a programme on lions – the Wizarding Network seemed to be obsessed with nature.
He supposed he could call Hermione – who was undoubtedly working overtime – or Ron, who was probably out training Junior Quidditch teams. He’d asked Harry to come once, years ago, but the place had been mobbed with autograph hunters, one of whom knocked a kid off their broom. It was still too early to contemplate driving over to the Muggle Homebase to pick up more plates.
Harry thought back to the days when Saturdays seemed too short. Now, every minute felt like an hour.
It was times like these he wished he had a shed.
Harry tugged at his collar for the forty-third time. He’d swear on Dumbledore’s grave that the dry cleaners had mixed itching powder into their laundry detergent.
For the twenty-second time, Ginny caught him doing it, and gave him a look that promised fearful retribution when she next got him alone. With an effort Harry removed his hand and bent his ear to the witch beside him.
“- always knew he was destined for great things,” she simpered, and Harry realised he was talking to Neville’s wife.
It was hard to reconcile Neville – round-faced, solemn, deeply-loved Professor Longbottom, Herbology teacher – with marriage and all its trappings. In fact, till Neville got wed, Harry hadn’t realised Hogwarts teachers could.
Neville had met the now-Mrs Longbottom at a graduation party. In the years of burgeoning prosperity after the second and final defeat of Voldemort, such things had become commonplace among those who could afford it. Harry was given to understand that up till the early twentieth century, these parties were a traditional way of launching into society witches and wizards of good breeding and marriageable prospects. In one respect, at least, this party had come up trumps.
Miss Drusilla Snodmore was a first-generation witch, as Muggleborns were coming to be known. She had a face like a genial pumpkin and the general appearance of an over-turned ice-cream cone. In fact, most descriptions of her came readily-packaged with food analogies. Drusilla Longbottom was one of nature’s gastronomes. She’d been single all her life, until she met Neville, and owned a lot of cats.
“Really?” said Harry. It was one of his stock replies, like ‘Yes’ and ‘Mmm’ and ‘I see what you mean.’ A lot of people were spouting phrases like ‘destined for greatness’ regarding Neville, even though he’d achieved greatness a long time ago.
“Yes.” Drusilla looked at her husband with an expression that would melt polar ice-caps. “He’s worked so hard for that school. He’d pour his last drop of blood into it if he could. They couldn’t have picked a better replacement for Minerva.”
“No,” said Harry.
He’d kind of assumed Neville had fallen into possession of the Headmastership of Hogwarts, much like Harry had fallen into whatever job he wanted at the time. He’d never really thought about Neville being qualified.
“Are you eating that?” asked Drusilla, referring to a truffle-type hors d’oeuvre Harry had been fondling for over ten minutes. “You should, you know. The caterers are absolutely superb. I hired them myself.”
“Mmm,” said Harry. “Yes.” He popped the truffle into his mouth. It tasted of feet. As Harry was well used to attending parties where the food tasted of feet, he didn’t so much as wince. “Delicious.”
Thus satisfied, Drusilla bustled off in search of her next victim. Harry watched her leave, wondering why he disliked her so. She was obviously harmless, not to mention very much in love with Neville – and the feeling was mutual. Harry caught the soppy grin on Neville’s face as Drusilla stopped to load him up with appetisers.
Ginny materialised at Harry’s shoulder and hissed in his ear. “Will you stop fussing with your collar – you look like you’re being lead to a guillotine. Violet, hello!”
“Hello, Violet,” said Harry. Violet looked at him strangely.
“Why did you say hello to her? You don’t know her,” whispered Ginny.
“Ah.” Another Daughter of the Great War.
“Here.” Ginny slapped her wineglass into Harry’s hand. “Go fill that for me, and for God’s sake pretend you’re having a good time.”
Harry plastered a grin on his face. He would have liked nothing more than to take Neville, Ron, Dean and Seamus down to the local in Godric’s Hollow to celebrate Neville’s promotion. Alas, that wasn’t the kind of life they lead nowadays. Seamus worked in promotion with Firewhiskey Inc., travelling the globe to endorse the multiple products either made or sponsored by the company. His wife and family lived in Frankfurt, where the company headquarters were located. Dean was the manager of Quality Quidditch Supplies and was currently fighting his way through a second divorce. A simple drink with the four of them would have taken months to arrange.
Harry found Ron at the drinks table, deep in conversation with a group of people he appeared to know well. Of course, Ron had worked in the Auror Department for a decade more than Harry, not to mention that he was hugely involved in a lot of activities for pre-Hogwarts kids. It made sense that he’d have a circle of acquaintance far larger than Harry’s own.
Harry raised his glass at Ron – an invitation to join him. Ron raised his full glass in return – invitation declined.
Harry lingered a while at the drinks table, pretending to be interested in the choices the barman was offering him. White wine, red wine, gin, tonic, vodka, Firewhiskey, Butterbeer, minerals; with ice or without; with lemon or without; with an umbrella or without; the possibilities were endless. Harry thought about fetching Ginny a Butterbeer, tonic and red wine cocktail, with ice, lemon and three umbrellas, but he decided he’d already tested her temper too far tonight.
As he glanced around the room in search of her, his eyes lit on several people he knew. Hermione, red-faced and arguing with other Ministry workers, frizzes of hair working loose from her French twist. George, his flailing arm movements suggesting he was demonstrating some of the more desirable side-effects of his new range of sweets. Fleur, still pale and lovely in her mourning for Bill, who’d been crushed to death in an Egyptian landslide. A number of ex-schoolmates of all descriptions, portly from years of good living, with their partners never far from their sides.
Harry was almost overwhelmed with the tedium of it all. How often had he stood beside a drinks table like this one, counting the minutes until he had to return to one of these groups and make inane conversation? Each of them straining to break away from the heart-core: their schooldays, and none of them willing enough to do it.
Hermione was no longer the girl who’d steal from a teacher’s stores to make an illegal potion. Ron was a leader in his own right. And Neville? Neville, the boy who’d hopped up five flights of stairs in a body-bind? He was joining the ranks of heroes like Dumbledore and Snape. One day his portrait would hang with theirs, to be remembered forever. Who the hell were these people?
Ginny was in a group by a potted plant, its lush leaves over-hanging her titian curls as if by design. She was laced into a torturous black dress. It left her tummy flat, at the expense of preventing her breathing if she tried to do anything more strenuous than smile. As a result she wasn’t, much. Harry couldn’t remember where she’d got the frock. Once he could have named every item in her wardrobe, especially the bits in the lingerie drawer.
She was laughing at something a plump wizard was saying, holding her hand to her throat. Harry wondered at what expense she pretended to be so relaxed. In a minute she’d look up and see him dawdling, and her face would close in again. Harry didn’t want that, but he couldn’t bring himself to move.
He turned around, facing the surprised barman once more.
“Double Firewhiskey, on the rocks,” said Harry, handing back Ginny’s drink. “And make it snappy.”
Hermione worked a seven-day week. She never quite understood that everyone else didn’t.
As Harry yawned and scratched his buttocks, he harboured sincere thoughts about investing in a Face-Floo for home. From the cant of Hermione’s head, she was talking through one. She was probably already at the Ministry, even though it was seven am on a Sunday.
“What was that?” said Harry. He’d been momentarily distracted from the flow of Hermione’s babble about this new edict and that new legislation. Every conversation they had revolved around such things.
Harry was pretty sure Hermione had a diary that read ‘Sunday, seven am, schedule time to catch up with Harry.’ And, because Harry was half-dead at such an hour, she filled up the slot with work-talk. Now that Harry worked at the Ministry too, it apparently became that much more relevant.
Harry wouldn’t know. It was still as foreign to him as it was when he worked in Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, flew with the Montrose Magpies, designed custom brooms, wrote a (very) short-lived column in the Quibbler, and trained as a safety inspector in a Muggle technology school, all the in the name of ‘finding’ himself.
“Hugo says Bussy and Lil are going to Bring Your Kids to Work Day,” said Hermione.
“Yeah,” said Harry. “Aren’t Hugo and Rose?”
Hermione snorted, making green sparks fly up her nose. “Of course not! We did it for a few years, till the kids got old enough to put their feet down about it. It’s bedlam, absolute bedlam.”
“I should think they’d enjoy that.”
“Not all kids are as wild as yours. Mind you keep Lil away from the main Floos. The last time she was round ours she blocked the chimney – it was a week before I could find the counter-spell.”
“Whose wand did she steal this time?”
“Ron’s – his own fault. If I’ve told him to hide it when she’s around once, I’ve told him a hundred times. Does he listen? No.”
Probably out of self-defence, Harry thought. It really was too early for this.
“Well, I’ve only got a few months left before Albus Severus starts Hogwarts, and then there’s only Lily,” he pointed out. “I want to enjoy my kids while they still are kids.”
“Really?” said Hermione, as if he’d declared his fondness for bobsledding in the nude. “Personally I can’t wait until Hugo and Rose are old enough to hold a rational conversation. Granted, Ron gets a bit teary-eyed when he thinks of Rose going away, but that,” she heaved a sigh, “is not for ages yet.”
“I suppose I’ll see you at work tomorrow, then,” said Harry.
“Oh, hardly. I’ll bury myself alive in my office to escape those squealing brats.” Business as usual, then. “Feel free to send me a memo from Hell.”
“Right,” said Harry smilelessly, and cut the connection.
The kitchen was cold and charmless as he got to his feet, using the mantle for leverage, and pulled his tartan dressing gown shut. The last remains of a pizza lay abandoned on a baking tray. Harry pulled off a bit of the crust and popped it in his mouth. It had the texture and taste of a leather shoe. He was still chewing when Ginny wandered into the kitchen, hair on end.
Harry nodded, tongue working over the mixture of tomato paste and rubber.
“How is she?”
“Good,” said Harry. “Talkative. Hugo’s not going to Bring Your Kids to Work Day. Nor Rose.”
“There’s a surprise,” said Ginny. “She can barely stand to have them around when she has to, let alone on a voluntary basis.”
“Ginny, I love you,” said Harry.
Ginny turned from where she was heating milk in a pan. Harry thought she shouldn’t have looked so surprised. “Well, I love you too.”
“C’mere,” said Harry. He abandoned the pizza and held out his arms. After a moment’s hesitation, Ginny stepped into them. Harry inhaled the scent of her hair: shampoo and cigarette smoke, from last night, most likely.
“Mmm,” said Ginny, as Harry began to kiss his way down from the crown of her head to her lips. “The kids’ll be up soon.”
“Let ‘em.” Harry nuzzled into Ginny’s neck, feeling her throat move as she giggled.
“What if they catch us?”
Harry hoisted her on to the worktop. “Didn’t you say just last week that it’s time for Albus Severus to have the Talk?”
“Talk, yes,” gasped Ginny, as Harry freed her from her dressing gown and World Cup ’98 nightshirt. “I didn’t plan on adding – oh! – visual references.”
“A picture’s worth a thousand words,” muttered Harry. He didn’t think Ginny heard, and he didn’t much care either way: busy, too busy sliding into the best place in the world, while Ginny moaned and sighed and rocked against him.
It took six minutes, according to the microwave clock. The milk hadn’t even boiled. At seven minutes, Ginny was clearing her throat and re-tying the cord of her dressing gown.
“That was nice,” she said. She pecked him on the cheek and disappeared into the pantry in search of cornflakes.
“Thanks,” said Harry, dryly. Nice?
What had happened to ‘you make me feel so good I want to die from the pleasure’? Or even ‘fucking fantastic’? Nice?
Still, at least he’d had sex. That made it, oh, twice so far this year. If he got another round in by June, he’d be beating Ron three to nothing.