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All Things Life Must Be by momotwins
Format: Short story collection
Chapter 1: Half the Clouds are Empty
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A/N: Hi there! I got several reviews asking for more on the Unsinkable series characters before I jump them to the Deathly Hallows era, and it got me thinking. And then writing. And before I knew it, I had ideas, and two finished chapters. So... here it is. A collection of one-shots, showing some chapters from the lives of the OCs of the Unsinkable-verse. It isn't a complete detail of their lives in the intervening years, but you'll get a look at what happens to each of them through this collection. And because I've been heavily into "Flogging Molly" lately, there will be snippets of lyrics from their songs on each chapter.
I hope you enjoy!
Pour me all your sorrows
And I'll drink till you are dry
I'll love you in the mornin'
I'll love ya till you die
-The Likes Of You Again
It was very strange to be out and about in Muggle London by herself. Hattie Habbershaw hadn't much experience with Muggles, and she clutched her pink handbag nervously as she waited across from the Leaky Cauldron. Her new stepbrother couldn't come to her flat by himself, since she lived in Diagon Alley and he was a Muggle, so they met on the Muggle side of the street opposite the Leaky Cauldron. He'd only been inside the wizarding pub twice, and thought it was the most amazing thing he'd ever seen.
Hattie was due to meet him in ten minutes. He'd said they needed to talk about something, and she rather thought it must be about their parents, but she couldn't think what might be going on. She was telling herself for the fourth time that there was nothing to worry about when Jack Newsome turned up.
Her stepbrother gave her a peck on the cheek and a wide grin. “Hello there. Am I late?”
Hattie smiled at him. “No, you're all right.”
She took his arm as they walked down the street. Jack knew coffeehouses and pastry shops all over the city, as she'd discovered in their sightseeing adventures. He also knew the streets of London better than most tour guides, and all the spots that were said to be haunted. When he'd taken her to the Tower, she'd seen a ghost of a woman go past. Jack had been amazed to learn it really was haunted. She hadn't been sure which beheaded lady she'd seen, but it had certainly been a real ghost.
The small cafe they wound up at today wasn't haunted, of course, though Jack probably would have loved it. He quite adored ghosts and hauntings of all varieties. The scent of coffee and tea wafted from the narrow brick building, filling the air outside on the street.
“It's too late for tea, I suppose,” Jack said as they went inside.
“It's never too late for tea,” Hattie said firmly, looking in the rose-painted pastry case. They had éclairs. She loved éclairs. “Are you hungry, Jack?”
He was eyeing the tray of blueberry scones. The girl behind the counter came over to them, and Jack said immediately, “A scone, please, and one of those éclairs, too.”
“And a pot of tea,” Hattie added swiftly.
She felt far more comfortable interacting with Muggles with Jack alongside her. He paid, without hesitation. She was sure it was mostly chivalry, but she was glad, because she'd no idea how Muggle money worked and was sure to make a fool of herself if she tried to pay. She gave him a grateful pat on the arm, and he tucked her arm through his, smiling.
They took their afternoon tea outside, where they had some privacy. It really was past tea-time, so they were quite alone at the little table on the terrace. Hattie was rather glad of this, since she could speak freely to her brother when they weren't surrounded by Muggles. She didn't like the feeling of having to watch her every word, fearing that she would accidentally let something slip.
Hattie stripped off her gloves, setting them neatly next to her teacup, and picked up the teapot, pouring for both of them. Once they'd gone through the familiar ritual of milk and sugar and polite smiles, she settled back with her éclair.
Jack looked rather worried, and she waited for him to say something. He ate half his scone before she decided to just ask.
“Not that I don't adore having tea with you, Jack, but what's going on?”
He looked up, his brows knitted. “Our parents are moving to France,” he blurted out.
“What?” Hattie said, completely stunned. Her mother was leaving, without a word to her only child? “But... They told you this?” She didn't add and not me, but Jack seemed to hear it anyway.
“No, I stopped by last night and overheard them talking in the kitchen. They don't know that I know about it. Hattie, I know there's... something... going on in erm, your world right now, but have things gotten that bad?”
An image of Cecilia Fletcher's grave flashed across Hattie's mind. It had steadily been growing worse for the past year: not a week went by these days without a death reported in The Daily Prophet.
She sighed. “Yes. It's not a good time for magical folk to have non-magical family. It's... dangerous.”
“Then they should go.” It was a statement, but there was still question in Jack's voice. Hattie didn't want to confirm it.
“I don't know, honestly.”
Jack was silent for a moment, staring down at his shoes. Hattie watched him, thinking how dear her new brother had become to her over the past few months, and wondered if she was in danger because she was now related to him. She thought of herself as so unimportant; could it really matter to anyone if she had Muggle family?
Jack looked up and caught her staring. “Are you in danger, Hattie? Because your new family are M-Muggles?” He stumbled a bit over the unfamiliar word.
She let out her breath in a long, slow, exhale, then said evenly, “Yes. Probably.”
Jack looked stricken, and Hattie added, “I won't have my life dictated by fear, Jack. You're my brother now, and that won't change, no matter how bad things get in the wizarding world. Family is family. Muggle or magical.”
Jack smiled, his cheeks reddening a little. “I'm glad to have you for a little sister, Hattie.”
She smiled at him. “Thank you, Jack.”
“What do we do about your mum and my dad, then?” he asked.
Hattie tapped her finger against her lips thoughtfully. “We can't just let them go, without even saying good-bye. I understand my mother thinks France is safer right now for a witch with a Muggle husband, and it probably is, but still, they can't simply leave us here without a word.”
“I'm not going anywhere,” Jack said stubbornly. “I won't go with them.”
“Nor I,” Hattie agreed. “I'm staying in London, at least until October.” Jack knew about her travel plans. She had been looking forward to seeing Italy for a long time, and couldn't wait to go.
“But that's just a holiday,” Jack said, looking a bit alarmed. “You're not going to stay in Italy, are you?”
“No, of course not. It's only a holiday. But I don't know whether I'll come back to the city when I get back.” She was rather touched that he didn't want her to leave England. “We have to tell them that we know,” she added, returning the subject to their parents.
“They think they're protecting us.” Jack picked at the remains of his scone. “Sneaking off in the middle of the night to run to France until this is all over.”
Hattie took a sip of her tea. “We'll go over together, and tell them that we understand their decision. It will all work out, you'll see.”
“I suppose so.”
Hattie was silent for a few moments, stirring her tea absently while Jack watched the people walking down the street past them. She didn't want her mother to leave the country, of course, but if she were honest with herself... She would rather have her mother's safety be assured, and she couldn't pretend that having a Muggle spouse was safe these days in Britain.
She looked over at Jack, who was brushing crumbs from his lap, and sighed as quietly as possible. This probably wasn't safe either, having lunch in Muggle London with her Muggle stepbrother, but she'd be damned if she hid from the world. She didn't want any harm to come to Jack, though, and she promised herself she would stop by his flat and cast some protective enchantments over it.
“Oh dear, here's a familiar fellow. Edwin!” Jack suddenly sat up straighter, waving to someone on the opposite side of the street.
A tall, dark-haired young man loped across the street. He looked to be Jack's age, and Hattie could feel the blush rising in her cheeks. He was very handsome, not really the sort of man who looked much at round girls like her. He took her in at a glance as he approached, and Jack waved him into a chair and made introductions.
“Hattie, this is an old friend of mine, Edwin Smythe. Edwin, my new sister, Hattie Habbershaw.”
“Very pleased to meet you,” Hattie murmured.
Edwin held out a hand and she put her hand in his, expecting him to shake it, but instead he turned it over and laid a quick kiss on her knuckles.
“The pleasure's all mine,” he said. She couldn't stop staring at him, but he was staring right back. His eyes were a dark hazel, almost brown. It should have looked muddy, but his eyes were kind, and the smile he flashed at her was bright and cheerful.
“Edwin and I went to primary school together,” Jack was saying. Hattie listened with half an ear as he talked about Edwin's family living a few houses down from his, but she couldn't seem to concentrate fully. Edwin was still smiling at her.
“So you're Jack's new sister,” Edwin said then, and Hattie had to stop staring and start paying attention.
“Yes. My mum married his dad at Easter.” Her cheeks still felt a little too warm. He was really very handsome. And he seemed very nice. He had a warm smile. She'd never realized how nice a smile could be. Why hadn't Jack mentioned he had such a lovely friend?
“Hattie's a good egg,” Jack said then, and her smile dimmed a little. She had never really liked that description of her character. It was one Reid Akins used to describe her as well, and she thought it minimized her femininity, reducing her to a friend that could never be romantic to anyone. Oh that's just Hattie. She's a good egg. Nothing special about being a good egg. No one fell madly in love with good eggs.
But then Jack added, “Best sister a bloke could have,” and she felt rather guilty for not appreciating his kindly intentions.
She smiled at him and reached over to pat his hand. “Thank you, Jack.”
“I don't doubt it,” Edwin said, and she looked back at him. There was something in his eyes as he smiled at her that put butterflies in her stomach. She'd had a boyfriend or two during her school years, but neither of them had looked at her quite like that. She got the impression Edwin didn't think she was merely 'a good egg', and the thought warmed her.
“So you've been friends since you were children?” she asked, hoping to find out a bit more about Edwin.
“Oh yes,” Edwin said, giving Jack a friendly slug on the arm. “Partners in crime, always running about the neighborhood together, making trouble. Remember that archery set your dad gave you when you turned ten?”
“Bloody awful things,” Jack laughed. “I'm rubbish at archery, apparently, but we did manage to knock a few windows out before Edwin's mum took it away from us.”
“She never let us have any fun. What about that time she confined us, and Andrew Cochran, to the backyard for a week because we trampled all of Mrs. Booth's prize dahlias?”
Jack was chuckling heartily. “I think that was for our own safety, mate. I thought Mrs. Booth was going to kill us all.”
Hattie smiled at them while they reminisced. Jack's mum had died when he was five, she knew, and it sounded as if Edwin's mum had been something of a proxy mother for him during his childhood. She felt quite unaccountably fond of Mrs. Smythe for helping out young Jack. She could just picture him as a little ruffian, with his little pack of friends making trouble with him.
“Ah, but then Edwin abandoned us and went away to boarding school in Scotland when he was eleven, and we've hardly seen hide nor hair of him since then,” Jack said cheerfully. “We thought he might've joined the French Foreign Legion, the devil.”
A sudden thrill of awareness went through Hattie. Boarding school in Scotland, and then he seemed to have disappeared. “I went to boarding school in Scotland as well,” she said, and was aware of Edwin's eyes narrowing slightly.
“Did you, now?” he said softly, and his gaze swept over her.
Feeling a bit reckless, Hattie said, “It was a very unusual school.”
Jack was looking back and forth between them as if he were not certain what was going on.
Edwin cocked an eyebrow. “Not as unusual as my school, I reckon.”
“Oh, I don't know about that. I went there by train every year, you know. Pulled by a scarlet steam engine.” She held her breath for a moment. If she was wrong, she oughtn't to say any more. She'd said as much as she could without revealing too much.
“From an unusual, even fractional platform?” Edwin asked mildly, and Hattie let out a delighted laugh. He was, oh he was! How could Jack have such a friend and she hadn't known? But then, neither had he, so...
It seemed to dawn on Jack then what was going on, and he let out a groan. “Oh dear, you as well?”
Edwin glanced over at his friend in surprise.
“He knows,” Hattie confirmed.
“You're a witch,” Edwin said, looking back at her.
“And you're a wizard.”
“It's not fair,” said Jack. “I want to be magical too.”
Hattie smiled, but she couldn't seem to drag her gaze away from Edwin.
“What house were you in?” she asked eagerly.
“Hufflepuff. And you?”
“You were a Gryffindor?” Edwin asked, grinning. “Brave at heart, are you?”
She shrugged, still smiling at him. “That's what they say about my house.”
“Hattie's quite brave at heart, I think,” Jack said lightly. “What about your house, Edwin, what was it you called it?”
“Hufflepuff,” Hattie filled in for him. “Fair and hard-working.”
“That's Edwin all right,” Jack agreed. “Very strange house names,” he added a moment later, and Edwin turned to his friend.
“Didn't you say you had somewhere to be?”
“What are you talking about?” Jack said blankly.
Hattie glanced at her stepbrother and then back at Edwin, her heart feeling very light. She knew full well Jack had nothing else to do today. He'd told her that morning that he had the entire day free. Edwin wanted to be alone with her. She tried not to let on that she knew what he was up to.
Jack suddenly cottoned on to his friend's plan. “Oh. Oh. Yes, yes I do. I'll just... be off, then. I'll catch up with you later and see Hattie home, shall I?”
“I can see her home,” Edwin said, his voice quiet but firm, and Hattie grinned.
“Oh.” Jack narrowed his eyes at his friend. “Safely.”
“I'm a fully qualified wizard, Jack, I can manage seeing her home,” Edwin said mildly. He smiled then, adding, “I never thought I'd be saying that to you, mate.”
“I still can't quite believe it, even after seeing my sister do that disappearing into thin air act.” Jack shook his head. “Well, have fun, you two. Hattie, I'll meet you later this evening and we can go talk to the parents.”
“All right,” she agreed immediately.
“You just want to be rid of me, don't you,” said Jack with a sly grin.
“See you later, Jack,” Edwin said pointedly.
Hattie just smiled and waved to her stepbrother, who rolled his eyes at them as he walked away.
“That was very well done,” she murmured, sitting back in her chair with her gaze held steadily on Edwin's face.
“I thought so,” he agreed, and she laughed.
Chapter 2: Come To Me Today
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Words more then mean it
When they count for one like you
Love is here any cloud in the sky
Would you be my flushing bride?
-Never Met a Girl Like You Before, Flogging Molly
Having a wedding in one's parents' backyard, in the middle of winter no less, was probably the worst idea ever. Of course, if one had different parents than Petula Cordingley had been saddled with at birth, the entire thing might not be so bad.
Not that she'd had any say in selecting the date. Her mother subscribed to some silly old witches' tale that brides who married on the first day of the New Year, starting the year fresh as a bride, would be lucky in their marriages. And so here it was, New Year's Eve, and Petula was wishing she could have eloped to somewhere tropical. Maybe never come back, either.
She'd sort of been hoping her fiancé would help her out by refusing the date, but he was so agreeable that he'd simply said yes to whatever ridiculous schemes her mother had concocted, and now Petula was stuck, with the whole winter wedding, no aspect of which she'd been allowed to choose. She had not chosen the date. She had not chosen the food. She had not chosen her wedding attendants (Thomas had been allowed to, which she thought was unfair, but this was probably only because Petula did not have any brothers her family could foist onto him). She had not even chosen her dress.
It had been her grandmother's dress. Neither of her sisters had been able to fit in it for their weddings, something Petula took a malicious pleasure in, but the dress was an antique, and it didn't suit her. She didn't want to wear it. She wanted one of the lovely, modern gowns the bridal magazines were always picturing, the models turning gracefully to show off their dresses. She didn't want the lace monstrosity. It required a corset. Honestly, it wasn't fair.
There was at least two feet of snow covering the grounds of her parents' house in Yorkshire. And her mother had chosen royal purple for the attendants' dresses, with pumps dyed to match. Petula had a very bad feeling about this. It probably would have been better to put Margaret and Penelope, her two older sisters and only bridesmaids, in royal purple snow boots.
One of her bratty nieces was part of the wedding party as well – Margaret's daughter – and there had been a very loud row over this, as Penelope also had a daughter. Margaret's had won by default, being of a more appropriate age (five) than Penelope's (two).
Penelope, commonly known as Penny, had decided to blame this on Petula, who didn't particularly want either little girl in her wedding. The two year old had eaten a rose off her bridal bouquet that morning, and honestly, that couldn't possibly be healthy, could it?
Margaret, commonly known as Peggy, had blamed the fact that Penelope had shouted at her on Petula as well. No one had shouted at their mother, who had selected Margaret's daughter in the first place. It was completely unfair, as things generally were when her sisters were involved.
Penny and Peggy were stroppy cows, that was all there was to it.
Her mother thought it was cute for the three of them to have rhyming nicknames. Petula did not think it was cute, and had done her level best at Hogwarts to never let anyone know her mother and sisters referred to her as 'Petty'. She also went out of her way to refer to both of her sisters by their actual names, instead of the inappropriate-for-their-ages Penny and Peggy.
They'd complained about her all day. She was getting married tomorrow, and all she'd heard all day was Petty this and Petty that and why everything was all Petty's fault. And her mother had never admitted that she'd orchestrated the entire event and none of it had been Petty's choice.
They were petty stroppy cows. She wished she could disown the lot of them.
Oh, they had their moments – Penelope had brought her the most beautiful tiara and veil, her grandmother's having been lost over the years, and Margaret had procured a lovely old sapphire necklace that belonged to their other grandmother – the Muggle one they weren't supposed to talk about, much less visit to borrow necklaces from – for Petula to wear. They loved her, she knew, in their own way, and she loved them as well, as best she could, all things considered.
They were her sisters, after all.
She just wished they didn't have to be her bridesmaids as well. She'd promised her friends they could be, but her mother had balked at the idea of six bridesmaids. Even when Petula's friend Siobhan Fitzgibbon had disappeared, and Arthur Weasley admitted she'd left the country for parts unknown, leaving Petula only three friends to be her bridesmaids, her mother still only wanted Petula's sisters to stand for her. She said a small wedding party was elegant.
It wasn't fair.
Petula had hoped Thomas would put up the fight for her, but she supposed it was unfair to ask him to do it. There wasn't a lot of fight in him, honestly. He was very fair-minded, almost too much so sometimes, but he didn't like to argue with anyone, especially Mrs. Cordingley.
So Petula sat at her window after dinner the night before her wedding, watching the snow in case it was going to melt overnight (unlikely), or a freak windstorm would destroy the tents set up in the backyard for the wedding so it had to be rescheduled in the spring, or possibly in Majorca (also unlikely), or maybe even marauding aliens would kidnap the entire wedding barring herself and Thomas, leaving them to elope in peace, possibly to Majorca (extremely unlikely).
A face popped up at her window, and she shrieked – or tried to, anyway, but she'd been in mid-sigh at the time and instead she choked on her indrawn breath, subsiding into a fit of coughing while the window slid open and a dark-haired young man climbed inside.
“Petula! Are you all right? I didn't mean to startle you so, oh dear-” and Thomas Ockham took hold of her, spun her around, and thumped her between her shoulderblades.
Petula drew in a gasping breath and nodded, trying to regain her voice.
“I'm sorry,” Thomas said anxiously as she turned back around.
“I'm all right,” she managed, patting him on the arm. “You gave me a fright. I was just thinking about aliens, and then you popped up out of nowhere-”
“Why on earth were you thinking about aliens?”
She thought about aliens quite a lot, actually. It was all the Muggle horror novels. She really needed to stop reading them. “Nevermind.”
Thomas glanced over at the pile of novels on her bedside table and shook his head at her.
Petula sat down on the edge of her bed. There weren't any chairs in her bedroom, so Thomas sat next to her.
“You seem upset,” Thomas observed, reaching out to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear.
“Yesterday my sisters were fighting with each other, and today they've been all chummy and have been making rude comments about me all day. I hate them.” She pulled a face. “Pair of stroppy cows.”
“They're your sisters. You're obliged to love them. Even when they're cows,” he added.
“Well, they are.”
Thomas refrained from commenting on this. He'd met her sisters many times, and even said once that she ought to just tell the both of them off one of these days. She wasn't sure she could do it. She would have to live with her mother afterward, after all, and she didn't even like to think about that.
“Did you come by just to check on me?” she asked, wondering why he was here.
“I haven't seen you since that damn wedding dinner three days ago. I miss you.”
She melted into him, resting her head on his shoulder. He wasn't a very large young man, and she was rather tall, but she'd always liked the way they fit together. Her head, for example, fit perfectly into the crook of his shoulder.
“Tomorrow is the wedding, and then we'll go on our wedding trip and see Paris, and you won't have to think about any of your family for two weeks,” he said cheerfully.
Petula perked up. “That's true. And when we get back, I won't have to live with my mother any more, either. What a lovely thought. Thank you, Thomas.”
He chuckled, the sound rumbling deep in his chest.
They both fell silent then, freezing in place, at the sound of footsteps in the hall. Thomas made as if to get off the bed, but Petula grabbed his arm and held him in place. A moment later, the footsteps faded, and a door closed softly.
“I better go,” Thomas whispered.
She leaned over to kiss him. “I'll see you tomorrow.”
Thomas caught her face in his hands and gave her a very intense look. “Yes. Tomorrow.”
A little shiver ran down her spine. Tomorrow they would make their vows, pledge themselves to each other for the rest of their lives. Tomorrow evening they'd catch a Portkey to Paris, and she wouldn't have to think of anything but romance for two whole weeks.
“Good night,” Thomas said, kissing her again.
She watched him climb out the window, closing it silently after him, and a few moments later came the muffled crack of him Disapparating from the edge of the yard.
Petula snuggled in under the blankets, thinking that this was the last night she would sleep alone. It sounded quite nice, actually.
Penelope was being a stroppy cow again.
Margaret wasn't being much better, come to that. Petula sat in the middle of her bedroom on a chair, dressed only in her white silk slip and stockings, while Margaret argued with their mother over how Petula's hair should be styled, the two of them waving their wands about as they gestured wildly and talked all over each other. Penelope was attempting to apply makeup to Petula, and kept making remarks the whole time.
“You're not applying enough cream to your face at night, Petty, you're going to be all wrinkled up by the time you're thirty-”
“If you'd ever read Witch Weekly, Mother, you'd know how witches are styling their hair, and it's not with those silly finger waves, you're so dated, isn't she Penny? And can you even imagine how awful little Petty would look if we did that to her hair, it wouldn't suit her at all-”
“You have no sense of enduring style, Peggy! How a daughter of mine can think those teased bouffants are at all appealing to a man, I'll never know. And it's such a miracle we're getting Petty married off in the first place, we can't have her hair like that at the wedding. Penny, just tell her-”
“Peggy, do you see these lines on Petty's face? Just look at her. Mum, look, I think I see a wrinkle in Petty's forehead, and she's only nineteen, can you believe it-”
“Shut up!” Petula shrieked. She batted both of them away, shooting to her feet and giving Penny a hefty shove to get her away. “Shut up, shut up, all of you!”
Her sisters stared at her. Her mum was open-mouthed in shock, and tried to reach for her. Petula batted her mother's hand away.
“Get out! I don't want any of you in here!”
“Who's going to get you ready for the wedding then, hmm?” Peggy said haughtily. “You can't possibly get into that dress by yourself, you know.”
“I don't care, just get out.” She shooed them out the door, wishing she had her wand so she could hex the lot of them. She should have a sign made and put it up in the front lawn. 'Beware of stroppy cows'. Maybe aliens would come and collect them (still unlikely, unfortunately).
She flung herself on the bed, hoping she was wrinkling her slip horribly, and made a few horrible faces that she would never dare make in front of her mother. Normally she wouldn't dare throw her mother and sisters out of her room, either. It had felt good, though.
Of course, now she did have to get ready for the wedding all alone. She couldn't do a worse job than her stupid sisters. She wriggled a bit on the bed, smoothing the slip underneath her. Maybe it wouldn't be good to wrinkle.
There came a timid knock at the door, and then it opened a crack. Gemma Folwell stuck her head in.
“Petula? Are you all right?”
She sat up. “I hate my sisters.”
“And my mum.”
“Yes, I know.”
Gemma sounded very calm. Petula blew out her breath, making her partly-styled hair puff up above her forehead for a moment.
“Gemma, would you mind fetching Molly and Hattie for me?”
Gemma smiled. “Of course.”
It didn't take long for her to return with Molly Weasley and Hattie Habbershaw. Molly and Hattie had been Petula's roommates all seven years at school, and were her closest friends (aside from Dunstan Birtwhistle, Gemma's boyfriend, who was absolutely useless at weddings but otherwise was Petula's best friend).
Molly had eloped over the summer with Arthur Weasley. Petula looked at her reflection in the mirror, the complicated antique dress hanging next to it. It wasn't fair. Weddings should be illegal. Everyone should elope.
“Petula, what's wrong?” Hattie asked as she closed the door softly behind her.
“She hates her sisters,” Gemma said dryly. “And her mum.”
“Well, yes, we know that,” Molly said. “But why aren't you dressed?”
Petula turned to them, her palms held up beseechingly. “Help me.”
So Molly and Hattie did her hair, and Gemma did her makeup, and when they were finished, they shoehorned her into the horrible old dress. Petula greatly appreciated that none of them remarked on how outdated it was.
Hattie had noticed the chewed-off petals of one of the pink roses in her bouquet, and pulled the remains out, rearranging the other flowers a bit to cover the hole.
“There you are,” she said, handing the bouquet over. “You look lovely.”
“I'm sure I don't.” Petula turned to look in the mirror and cocked her head, examining herself critically. The lace dress fit like a glove, with a small bustle of white silk and lace at the back in a style that hadn't been popular in about 80 years. But the uncomfortable corset lifted her up and squeezed her in so that she looked rather nice in the dress after all.
“I suppose it's not so bad,” she allowed, and then turned to her friends. “If I could have had you for my bridesmaids, I would have. You are my bridesmaids, you know. You just don't have to wear those horrible purple dresses.”
Hattie chuckled, and Molly and Gemma were smiling.
“We would have worn the horrible purple dresses,” Molly told her, and it was clear she spoke for all three of them. “But I'm rather glad we don't have to.”
Petula laughed and hugged each of them in turn.
Molly tugged the veil down over Petula's face. The sheer silk organza made everything look slightly hazy and more romantic. Now the dress really didn't look so bad.
Gemma helped hold the skirts so Petula could descend the stairs to the main part of the house.
Her sisters and her mother were waiting. Apparently her mother had been flustered by Petula's unexpected tantrum, and had forgotten to clear a path through the snow for her sisters as they made their way to the wedding tent. They left purple footprints in the snow as the dye on their shoes bled out. Petula grinned and hoped their feet were cold. She peeked through a tent flap, looking over the assembled audience.
Molly and Arthur were sitting next to Hattie and her boyfriend Edwin Smythe toward the front of the room. She could see the Weasleys' red hair, and Hattie's clever little pink hat. Dunstan was one of Thomas's attendants, so Gemma was on her own, and had sat next to Cosmo Graham, on the other side of Arthur Weasley. Petula smiled at the group of them there together, but her mother pulled her away.
“I'm going in now, dear. The music will start as soon as I'm seated. You remember what to do?”
“I'm not stupid, Mum,” Petula said, annoyed. “I can manage it. Where's Dad?”
Mrs. Cordingley pointed at her husband, who was furtively smoking a cigar near one corner of the tent.
The cigar smell clung to her father's robes as he led her down the aisle, and she tripped a bit on the unfamiliar shape of her skirts, walking up the aisle to music she could barely even hear. Her purple-clad sisters stood to one side, Margaret with one hand already free, waiting to take Petula's bouquet. She glanced down and smiled. The hems of their dresses had lost a bit of colour to the snow as well.
Dunstan winked at her when she caught his eye, and then she was standing in front of Thomas, who was smiling at her with soft brown eyes, and she listened with half an ear as her father presented her or whatever his purpose actually was, and then she handed her bouquet to her sister and took Thomas's hands, stepping up in front of the tiny old wizard officiating the wedding ceremony.
She felt calm now, centered, as she smiled at Thomas and he smiled back at her. He would be hers and she would be his very soon, and tonight they'd be in Paris, just the two of them, husband and wife.
The wedding was perfect.
Chapter 3: Not Yet Spoken
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Right or wrong, this is where I belong
I've always belonged
If the truth be known, there's no place left to go
No place I can go
-Man With No Country, Flogging Molly
The wind gusted heavily, blowing cold rain right through Cosmo Graham's bones. The storm seemed to be getting worse, the heavy mist that had been hanging low over London all week now congealing into thunderclouds. The shoppers and residents of Diagon Alley were practically running to get out of the rain.
He ducked inside the doorway to the pub and cast a quick Drying Charm next to the fireplace. He could feel the heat seeping into him, warming his skin. He couldn't wait for spring. It seemed to be coming very slowly this year.
Once he was dry, he went to the bar, heading for a familiar bright ginger shock of hair. Arthur Weasley greeted him with a grin and a friendly handshake, clapping him on the shoulder as Cosmo sat down.
“How've you been, Cosmo?” Arthur asked as Cosmo signalled the bartender for a drink.
He slid onto the seat next to Arthur. “Good, good. Haven't seen you in ages. How are you? How's Molly?”
Arthur blushed at the mention of his wife, and ducked his head a bit. “Excellent. Molly's well, of course. She said to tell you hello.”
Cosmo laughed. “Married two years and still blushing? I thought you were past all that.”
“Nearly two years,” Arthur corrected him, sidestepping the question. “Nearly. What have you been up to, Cosmo?”
He shrugged. “This and that. Mostly going to work and coming home to watch the telly with my sisters. Nothing interesting.”
But of course it was interesting to Arthur, who found all thing about Muggles utterly fascinating. His friend perked up. “Tellyvision? What sort of things do you watch?”
Cosmo brushed aside his television preferences, as it seemed quite immaterial to what he had to tell his friend. “Doctor Who, mostly, and the news. There was a Muggle family killed last night, Arthur. Found dead in their home with no evidence of what killed them. The news is blaming a freak gas leak, but they didn't have gas, so I don't think that's what it was. They lived in Tinworth.”
Arthur hunched down over his drink, and Cosmo leaned in. The pub wasn't terribly busy, but one didn't discuss such things in public these days. Not without speaking very quietly, anyway. Bent low over their drinks, no one was likely to overhear them.
“Tinworth is half a wizarding town. You think it was Death Eaters?”
“The Daily Prophet hasn't said a word, but yeah, I do.”
Arthur shook his head. “They're not reporting as much as they used to. It seems like things go around as rumours more than news reports these days. I heard Orson Witte's gone missing – do you remember him? He was Head Boy a few years ago.”
“Yes, I remember.” Orson had been two years above Cosmo at school, but Cosmo remembered his fellow Gryffindor quite well. He'd been a good young man. He'd joined Magical Law Enforcement after leaving school, and had been rising quickly from what Cosmo had heard. “No one knows what happened to him?”
“Just stopped turning up for work one day,” Arthur said quietly. “Reid said the MLEs had been by Orson's place, and it looked as if he simply disappeared. The tea kettle was filled and everything, as if he might come home at any moment. It's been six weeks. Not a trace of him.”
“That's what I think.” Arthur finished his drink, setting the empty glass on the bar.
“There's talk of a resistance, I've heard. Against You-Know-Who,” Cosmo said in a low voice. “Like there was against Grindelwald, back in the 40s.”
“Yes, I've heard that as well.” Arthur looked down at his glass.
“Thinking of joining up, are you?”
“I...” Arthur paused, rubbing his chin. “I'd like to. But I can't.”
“Molly won't let you,” Cosmo filled in for him. He knew Arthur's wife well enough to know she would put her foot down about this. She wouldn't want to see him putting himself in danger that way.
“It's not that, actually.” Arthur's blush returned suddenly, and he started to smile. “We haven't told anyone yet, but... Molly's pregnant.”
Cosmo grinned. He reached over to give Arthur's shoulder a slap. “Arthur! Congratulations, mate. That's wonderful. When will the baby come?”
“November, Molly says.”
“Well done, that man.”
Arthur chuckled. “Thanks, Cosmo.”
“So you're going to be a father. Wow. That's amazing.”
“It is, isn't it?” Arthur agreed, grinning. “Molly's hoping for a girl, of course, but I told her Weasleys only have boys. It will be a boy.”
“Wow,” Cosmo said again. “So that's why you...”
Arthur's grin started to fade. “Yes. I can't very well run off and start fighting and possibly leave my pregnant wife a widow, can I? I can't stand the thought of it. And I... I want to meet my son.”
Cosmo nodded. He didn't really understand, but he could empathize – if he had a pregnant wife at home, he wouldn't even consider joining any secret societies and fighting Dark wizards. But he didn't have a wife, or a child on the way.
“Well, I've been thinking about it, and I want to join as well.” Cosmo kept his voice low, glancing around the bar. It felt reckless to speak of it so openly, when he didn't know who might be listening, but it was hard to shake the sense that no one gave two wiggles of a wand about him. Who cared if Cosmo Graham wanted to fight Death Eaters? He was nobody. Just some bloke, barely out of school a year.
“What about your family?”
“Yeah, I've been thinking about that, too.” Cosmo fell silent as the bartender swept past and refilled their drinks. When they were alone again, he leaned toward Arthur and said in a low voice, “I'm going to try to get my mum to leave the country with my sisters. I think it would be safer for them.”
“It might be,” Arthur said. “A lot of people have left, until this is all over. Hattie's mum moved to France, you know, with her Muggle husband.”
“My mum's not going to go to France, that's for damn sure.” Her brothers had died in France in World War II, and she'd hated the country ever since. Cosmo thought it was unfair, but it didn't change his mother's views. “I might get her to go to Canada. That's what I'm hoping. It'll be safer for them than staying here. Especially if I do join up with this resistance – having Muggle family will make them a target.”
“Having any family makes them a target.”
Cosmo nodded. He wanted to join up, to fight against the bigotry and tyranny of this You-Know-Who character, but he didn't feel right doing so when it might endanger his family. Once his mother and sisters were away somewhere safe, he'd be free to risk his life in support of other Muggleborns, other Muggle families, and there would be no hostages to fate.
“You did put protective spells up over your home, didn't you?” asked Arthur.
“Yes. I think I did them right.” Cosmo ran a hand through his hair. “I've never done them before, though.”
“I'll stop by and check if you like,” offered Arthur. “I've seen my dad do them any number of times. I've already got our place enchanted with every anti-intruder charm Molly and I could think of. It's got so many spells on it, Molly's mum started calling it the Burrow. She said we were burrowed in like rabbits against a fox or something.” He smiled ruefully.
“The Burrow, eh? Good name. Very cosy. All right, yeah, if you don't mind coming by and making sure it's right. But I still want to send Mum and the girls away soon. Before things get worse.”
“You think things will get worse?”
“Don't you?” Cosmo countered.
Arthur was silent for a moment, looking down at his glass. “Yes,” he admitted finally.
Cosmo downed the last of his drink. “Anyway, my mum isn't going to want to leave. I haven't told her much about what's going on, so she doesn't even know she's in danger.”
“What are you going to do?” Arthur asked.
“I've got to get them away somehow. Whether they want to go or not.”
2 months later
Cosmo sat at the table in his mother's kitchen, adding sugar to his tea while she sorted through the post. He noticed the air mail stamp on one envelope, and as she ripped into it, he transferred his gaze to the vase of yellow roses in the centre of the table, trying to act normal. He knew where that envelope had come from, and hoped its arrival meant that his plan had worked.
“Would you look at this?” Mrs. Graham waved the long letter at her son. “I've been offered a position at a university in Canada. Isn't that funny. I didn't even apply for one.” She gave him a beady look as she planted her elbows on the table, dropping the letter in front of her. “Is there something you'd like to tell me, Cosmo?”
He picked up the letter and scanned it, breathing a sigh of relief. She'd gotten the job. It was a good job, and one she'd be very good at. He'd applied on her behalf, hoping this would solve the problem of getting her out of England without magic. But from the look on his mother's face, she was having none of it.
“Oh, Mum,” he said, sighing. “You should take the job. It'll be good for you.”
“I'm not going anywhere. This is our home. I don't want to live in Nova Scotia. Who the devil wants to live in Nova Scotia when they could be here?”
“You've never lived in Nova Scotia. You don't know what it's like,” he pointed out. “Maybe you'll love it there.”
His mother regarded him as if he were insane. “What on earth are you talking about? Why would I want to leave? I don't even want to leave London, much less England. Why should I go to Canada?”
“It's a good job-”
“I have a good job already, right here. Cosmo. Why are you doing this? Does it have to do with wizards?”
He couldn't tell her. He hadn't told her a thing. It hadn't seemed like it would do any good for her to know – if a wizard were going to kill her, there really wasn't anything she could do to stop it, and he didn't want her to live in fear. At first he'd been afraid she would stop him going back to school if she knew what was going on, but now... He was afraid he'd stop her from living her life properly if she knew.
“Mum, just... Just take the job. It will be good for you.”
She tapped her fingernails against the table, rapping three times. “You said that already. What aren't you telling me, Cosmo? What's going on?”
“Nothing, Mum, I only think it would be a good opportunity.”
She regarded him suspiciously. He was either going to have to tell her everything, and hope he didn't have to resort to the back-up plan, or he was going to have to go straight to the back-up plan.
He rubbed his forehead with one hand, looking back down at the letter.
His mother loved London, and she was stubborn as a goat. She would never leave on her own, he could see that now, even if he were to tell her about the rising power of Dark wizards. She didn't understand, might never understand. She certainly wasn't going to let him run off to fight, with what had happened to her brothers in France. His plans of luring her away with a job in Canada had been futile from the start. It was always going to come to this... to the back-up plan.
He'd learned the spell from Reid Akins. It wasn't exactly something one learned at Hogwarts, but Reid worked as an Obliviator now on the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad, and he'd taught Cosmo the charm without question. There'd been such a look on his face when Cosmo had told him why he needed to learn it, and then he'd only said quietly, “Yes, all right.”
Cosmo set the letter down on the table and turned it so it was right side up to his mother, and then he drew his wand.
His mother frowned at him and opened her mouth to say something, and Cosmo put everything he had into the charm. “Obliviate!”
… Go to Canada... Forget you ever loved London... Forget you ever knew about magic... Keep the girls safe... Don't worry about your son, he can take care of himself... Be happy... I love you, Mum...
He stowed his wand in his sleeve while she was still blinking dazedly. A few moments later, her eyes slid back into focus and she looked down at the letter.
“It... It's a wonderful opportunity, isn't it?” she said, and her voice wasn't quite normal. She sounded a little foggy, like his old grandfather had at the end of his life, when he'd started forgetting things more and more often.
“The girls will like living there,” Cosmo said firmly.
“Yes, I suppose they will,” his mum agreed. “And it will be good to get out of the city, won't it?”
“Yes.” God, he was going to miss her. All those film festivals, and brilliant discussions of books, the arguments over themes and imagery. No one could argue like his mum. No one could lecture like his mum. He'd miss his four little sisters too, annoying though they often were.
He wished he didn't have to do this, but he couldn't leave them to chance. Maybe he'd live through the war and join them in Canada.
“Will you come along? I know you're a grown man now. Out on your own.” She smiled suddenly, and reached out to caress the side of his face. “My darling boy. I'm so proud of you, you know.”
He had to take a breath to steady his voice. “I'm staying here, Mum. There are things I need to do.”
“Of course, dear. Well, this is very exciting news. I'm going to go tell your sisters.”
She went off, bellowing for the girls as she went upstairs. Cosmo put his head in his hands and swallowed hard. He had done it. She was going. They would be safe now.
He felt like crying.
Chapter 4: Times Past Glories
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Toast to tears of times past glories
This ageless clock chime stalls
Where to kiss the lips of that love forgotten
To fly where no others have soared
-The Kilburn High Road, Flogging Molly
The house had finally been sold. It had taken three years, three long years, but now it had finally sold. It was, frankly, amazing that anyone had bought it. The site of a very famous triple murder could not possibly be a desirable property.
But it had sold eventually, all the same. Reid Akins had only found out today, when a witch from Magical Law had chatted him up in an elevator in the Ministry of Magic and let it slip, not knowing his connection to the house, only wanting to share the good news, her afternoon's legal transaction. The papers were signed, and it was all set.
It was no longer her home. It belonged to someone else now.
He'd kept his head, smiled kindly at the young witch, and then fled to his tiny office.
He hadn't been back, not since that dreadful night. He hadn't thought to ever go back. He didn't know which of their relatives had inherited the home, but of course none of them would want to keep it. Not after what had happened there. But even knowing they would try to get it off their hands, it had never occurred to him that the house might actually sell.
But it had, and now the house was passing into new hands. New lives to impress upon the site where she'd grown up, where she'd lived and loved and finally died.
One more piece of her was leaving this earth.
He went home, and he waited until dark, staring at old photographs, lost in his memories, and then he left his flat.
It was eerily quiet. The house was dark and silent, and there was a neglected air about the place that made him feel very melancholy. He'd been here many times, back then, and always there had been a presence to the house. Even in the middle of the night, when all the lights were out, the house had seemed loved. A home. Now it was empty, the roof rather in need of attention, and one of the window panes was cracked on an upstairs window. No one knew or cared that Reid was wandering in the back gardens.
The roses had grown wild, freed from the pruning shears of her mum and she herself. No one had tended them since their deaths, it was clear. There were no flowers on any of the bushes; the summer was too far gone for that. Only the dead, dried remains of a few petals clung to their thorny branches.
He'd now been longer without her than he had been with her, and he thought he was getting better. He still thought of her every day, but some days it was only once, and it wasn't so bad. Other days the loss still felt so fresh that it didn't seem as if it could have really been three years. Seeing the forgotten, decaying remains of her home brought the passage of time sharply to his mind. Three years since her life had been stolen away. Three years without her.
When he finally found the right spot, the exact spot where he'd last seen her alive, he stopped and stared at the rosebush climbing the delicate wooden arbour, its white paint now cracked and starting to peel.
They were her favourite, she'd said.
They were growing wild on the arbour, the vines now twirling and twisting chaotically in every direction. Beautiful and untamed, the way she had been. He could still hear her voice in his head sometimes, scolding him, could still see her smile when he closed his eyes. She'd been so beautiful, so radiant and glorious. No one could ever match her. How could they?
He stared at her roses. Her favourite, she'd said. He couldn't leave them for someone who didn't know, didn't care, to prune them back, tame them, or worse – to rip them out of the ground and throw them away.
Never. He could not let that happen.
So he went to the garden shed, and he got a shovel.
It did not take as long as he'd thought. He'd never dug up roses before, and it was quite a large plant, but he'd expected it to be more deeply rooted, like a tree. Once he had it up, he disentangled it as best he could from the arbour. Some of the branches refused to go, and since he could not take the arbour as well, he cut the roses off it, leaving pieces of thorny branches attached to the wooden lattice. The heart of the rosebush came free, though, and he laid it gently on the ground.
They were her favourite, she'd said. She should have her roses.
The headstone seemed to glow in the moonlight. He stood back, leaning against the shovel's handle as he examined his handiwork. The roses were planted behind her headstone, and though he could see they needed some care, he had such a feeling of rightness, looking at them. She had loved those roses. They would bloom for her now, every year.
He let the shovel fall to the earth, and sat down cross-legged at the foot of her grave.
“Hello there.” He had gotten into the habit of talking to her grave when he came to visit. Only when no one could hear. He knew it was mad, but sometimes he thought she knew he was there. Even if she didn't know, well... Sometimes he just needed to talk to her.
“I hope you like your roses, dear. I saved them for you. I know I haven't been by for a few weeks. No doubt you'd have something to say about that. Probably thinking I'm getting into trouble without you, eh? Hattie won't let me have too much fun. She's a good egg, though. She takes care of me, and Edwin doesn't even mind when I monopolize her time. You'd like him, I know. He's a good man.
“I saw Arthur at the Ministry the other day. Their baby is crawling, he said. He's so happy to be a father. It's strange to think he and Molly are parents, and Petula as well, and Hattie's married – even Dunstan is finally getting married – and here I am, just the same as ever.” He sat and stared at the headstone for a while, his eyes tracing her name, carved in the cold stone.
If only it said beloved wife instead of beloved daughter, so he could know that he still belonged to her, even when she was gone. Mad, he knew. She'd owned him, heart and soul, since he was sixteen. Maybe before, even. But she'd been so young, too young to be anyone's wife, he realized that now. Still, he wished for it.
His final words to her that night came out in a whisper, and he thought he could hear the wind sighing with him. “I miss you, Cecilia.”
It occurred to him the next morning that the roses certainly would need care, more care than last night's hurried, furtive replanting. He didn't know a thing about gardening. She would have known what to do. But she was gone.
So he went to Hattie. Henrietta Habbershaw-Smythe loved plants. She had quite the garden herself, at the large home in Bedfordshire where she and her husband Edwin lived. And Hattie would help him. He was as sure of this fact as he was that the sun would rise.
Edwin answered the door, and he cocked his head at Reid as he let him in. “All right there, Reid?”
“I need to borrow Hattie.”
Edwin nodded, not a bit surprised. “She's in the kitchen.”
Hattie agreed immediately to come with him. All he ever had to say was that he needed her, and she was there for him. He didn't do it often these days, tried to give her her privacy with her husband, but Edwin seemed to understand when Reid did need her, to be his conscience, his strength, his sanity. Reid didn't know how Edwin possibly could understand Hattie's relationship with him, but there Edwin was, waving them out the door, his eyes clear and kind and sympathetic.
“He's a good man, that husband of yours,” Reid told Hattie as they walked to the front gate, past the anti-Apparition wards.
Her cheeks turned a bit pink, but she smiled. “He is, isn't he?”
She took his arm, and he turned over his shoulder, bringing her along to the border of the graveyard where the Fletchers were buried. Hattie didn't seem at all surprised, though he hadn't explained to her where they were going.
They walked in silence through the cemetery. When they finally drew to a stop, Hattie let out a tiny gasp.
“I don't know anything about roses,” he explained as she stared at the transplanted rosebush. “But they were her favourite, and the house has been sold now. I didn't want to leave them there. Who knows what might have become of them?”
“You dug them up from her parents' house?” Hattie said in a strange voice.
“They were her favourite,” he said again.
“Reid, it's-” She seemed unable to find the right words. Her face was stricken as she looked from the rosebush to him. She looked as if she might cry.
He did not know what was wrong with her. They were Cecilia's roses. They should be with Cecilia. It all seemed very straightforward to him.
“Oh, Reid,” Hattie finally sighed, her voice soft. She drew in her breath then, and straightened her shoulders. “Let me trim it back a bit. It will grow just how you want it, all over her headstone.” Her voice caught a little on that word, but it strengthened as she went on, “But you can't leave them in this state. Her mother kept those roses pristine. She wouldn't want to see her mother's roses like this.”
“Yes, of course.” It made so much sense when Hattie said it. Things usually did. He watched her mould the vines, trimming and shaping them, casting some sort of charm on the roots, and they did look better when she was done. Hattie had a way with plants.
He stood with his arms folded across his chest, looking at the vines curling over the marble. Hattie stepped back to stand by his side, and she tucked her hand into the crook of his arm.
“There,” she said, regarding the roses with a pleased smile. “They're going to be lovely.”
“Will you help me with the roses?” he asked, looking down at her. “I've never tried to grow them before.”
“Of course I will.”
He looked at the vines, and tried to picture them with their flowers. He could almost recall the exact colour. It made him suddenly nervous. What if he never saw the colour of her favourite roses again? It would be another little piece of her that died if the flowers didn't bloom.
“They're going to bloom, aren't they?” he asked, returning his gaze to Hattie's face, a note of panic in his voice. “They have to bloom for her. Every year.”
“They will, I promise.” Hattie's voice was soothing, and she gave his arm a squeeze. “I'll make sure of it. I'm good with roses.”
And that was that. Reid relaxed. Hattie would know what to do. She had saved him, had kept him going. He'd never had a sister, but he thought this must be what it was like. For all that she'd done for him since Cecilia's death, Reid would have gladly laid down his life for Hattie. He wasn't sure he'd have survived the last three years without her. He wasn't sure how he'd survived without Cecilia, come to that. It had to be because Hattie had told him he must.
“I miss you,” he whispered, staring at Cecilia's roses, and Hattie, who always knew when to pretend she hadn't heard something, pretended not to hear him.
Chapter 5: More Than Just A Memory
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If I ever leave this world alive
The madness that you feel will soon subside
So in a word don't shed a tear
I'll be here when it all gets weird
-If I Ever Leave This World Alive, Flogging Molly
It had been a wild living, these last years. She sometimes wondered how it had been so long. Five years since she'd left England. Five years of day-to-day, busking for money for a hostel bed for the night, for food, and then Apparating to the limits of her reach the next morning, to somewhere new. She'd gone all the way to South Africa that way, then on to Bali, bouncing around in a different pub every night, or taken in by a few hospitable tribes in the less civilized regions. She'd seen the world, sometimes running across magic, letting it find her as it may, never seeking it out.
Today's Apparition had brought her to Geneva, to a seedy pub on the edge of town, filled with smoke and music. Siobhan Fitzgibbon made her way first to the small loo in the back of the pub. It was rather more clean than she'd expected, which was always a nice surprise in a pub. She set her rucksack down next to the sink and rummaged through it for some makeup. The beat-up rose-printed rucksack was the only thing she carried along on her travels, and it was irreplaceable to her. It literally held everything she owned, since it had been magically expanded to hold quite a lot more than a bag that size had any right to hold, and she was never more than a few feet from it.
It had been Cecilia's travel bag.
She finally found the small bag containing her makeup, applied some eyeliner and mascara so her eyes looked a little more seductive, and set back out into the pub, the rucksack slung over her shoulder. She'd barely gotten enough money that day for the night's sleep, so she had to get her drinks another way tonight. That wasn't a problem. She sidled up to the bar and smiled at the man next to her, letting her lip curve invitingly, and a few minutes later there was a drink in her hand and she'd left him behind.
The remnants of her sunburn were stinging her shoulders under the straps of her bra. She'd been in Crete for almost a week, and come back up into Europe through Italy. Switzerland had seemed a good place to stop while she decided which direction to head next. Maybe she'd hear of something interesting happening nearby. She was always on the hunt for strange places to go or bizarre festivals to attend. She'd been to the huge La Tomatina food fight in Spain, a vertical marathon in Thailand, camel wrestling in Turkey, and a strange day in Luxembourg where people painted on cows.
But the first two men she chatted up weren't interested in those kinds of things and knew nothing about anything fun nearby. The third man had a very different idea of fun, and she had to Confund him when no one was looking just to get away. Creepy bastard.
She started to make her way back to the bar for another drink, listening to snatches of conversation as she passed people, hoping for a good lead on something to do. Some of them spoke French, which she did not, some spoke Italian, which she could get by in if they didn't speak too fast, and some spoke English, which came as rather a relief.
“-another damn dragon, like when that Ironbelly got loose in the village, and you remember what a nightmare that was-”
That brought her to a stop, and she looked around for the voice she'd just heard. A pair of men were sitting at a booth behind her, hunched down a bit as if having a furtive conversation. Not furtive enough.
Siobhan slid into the seat next to one of them and smiled brightly.
“Er, hello,” said one of them. He had blonde hair and appeared to be about ten years older than she was. He gave her a strange glance, apparently startled at being interrupted.
His companion, who had dark hair and a rather handsome face, gave her a frankly assessing look and then smiled. “Hello.” He was the one she'd heard talking before. His accent was British, West Country maybe. She wasn't so good at picking out English accents as she used to be.
“Hi,” she said, and then asked without preamble, “Are you talking about dragons?”
They both seemed to freeze.
“Oh yes,” said the dark-haired man, but his eyes were suddenly quite different, though he was still smiling. “We're quite interested in mythology.”
“I see.” She didn't believe him for a moment. There was no Muggle mythology about Ukrainian Ironbellies. She leaned in conspiratorially, and they leaned in as well, without seeming to realize what they were doing. “Only I studied Care of Magical Creatures at school, and they said Ironbellies hunt over the Black Sea, nowhere around here. Has their range expanded since then, or are you on holiday from that area?”
They stared at her. She smiled.
“Are you a witch?” the blonde man demanded.
“Obviously she is,” the dark-haired one retorted immediately, rolling his eyes at his friend before turning back to Siobhan. “Are you a dragon keeper, then?”
“No, I'm...” Fleeing from my old life. She couldn't say that, of course. “Well, I'm not really anything. I've been travelling. Seeing the world.”
“Irish, are you?” The blonde man was examining her closely. “Went to Hogwarts?”
“Yes. I left in '68. Then I left England right afterward and started wandering.” She didn't elaborate, and they didn't ask. Most people did, and she talked about the running of the bulls and the Great Pyramids of Giza until they bought her a drink. She supposed dragon keepers were different from most people. She downed the last of her drink. “I'm Siobhan, by the way. Siobhan Fitzgibbon.”
“Oh, sorry,” said the brunette, colouring slightly. “Dunno where my manners are sometimes. I'm Kevin Stewart, this is Firmin Arceneau.”
“You studied Care of Magical Creatures at Hogwarts, eh?” Arceneau said, giving her a speculative look. “Interested in dragons?”
Who wouldn't be? Dragons were fascinating. So much raw destructive power. She had loved dragons since she'd first found out they were real. “Yes, I am,” she said firmly. There wasn't much she believed firmly these days, but she was definite about that. “I have a N.E.W.T. in Care of Magical Creatures. I did Charms, Potions, and Transfiguration, too.”
“Bloody hell,” said Stewart.
Arceneau leaned forward again, looking eager. “Look, we work at a dragon sanctuary in the Carpathians, and we're always shorthanded. There are never enough dresori, dragon keepers, we're always looking for more. There's five of us right now, so there are enough people to teach you, and you can study the dragons. You're welcome to come back with us if you want a job.”
Siobhan blinked, feeling quite uncertain. A proper job? More importantly – a wizarding job? She had not actively sought wizard society since she'd left England. The Muggle world was what she'd grown up in, and still felt more familiar to her than the wizarding world. When Cecilia had died, she'd felt broken off from that world, with nowhere to belong. She didn't know how to be a witch without Cecilia to guide her. But perhaps... Perhaps it was time to grow up and find her own way. To stop running.
She wasn't a Muggle. She never would be.
It was time to be a witch again.
“The Carpathians? Isn't that in the Eastern bloc?” Maybe she'd been living as a Muggle too long. Did wizards even know about the Iron Curtain? Her wanderings had taken her many places, but never inside a Soviet country.
Arceneau and Stewart exchanged a glance, and then Stewart turned back to Siobhan and asked, “You can Apparate, right?”
“Well then, nothing to worry about,” Stewart said in what seemed an excessively jolly voice. “It is Soviet, yes, but that doesn't really bother the sanctuary, you know? That's for the Muggles to worry about.” His eyes met hers, and she thought he was a very good liar. Too bad for him she knew a liar when she saw one, even when they were very good at it.
“What sort of dragons do you have?” she asked, trying to decide if this was an adventure she wanted. It was starting to sound appealing, she had to admit. Sneaking past Soviet lines with only her wand by her side, chasing dragons...
“Ironbellies mostly,” Arceneau said immediately. They both looked relieved to be off the topic of Soviet countries. “Plenty of Longhorns and Horntails as well, of course, and a few Northern dragons that come down over the mountains. There's a Chinese Fireball, no one knows how she got there, but she's quite old now and can't leave, poor old girl. Can't even fly these days.”
“So what do you say?” Stewart asked. “Interested?”
She grinned. “Yeah. Sounds fun.”
She couldn't see the damn thing anymore, but she could hear it, its tail whipping across the tops of the trees. It was undoubtedly enjoying itself, but it was causing a ridiculous amount of extra devastation on top of what adolescent Ironbellies normally did. This particular one, a two year old male, had eaten half a flock of goats yesterday (to the bewilderment of the Muggles who owned them) and burned down a house.
Normally, the dragons roamed fairly free. Normally, they didn't do quite this much difficult-to-explain damage to Muggles. There weren't enough dragon keepers to handle it: they couldn't spend all day modifying memories of everyone who'd seen the young Ironbelly rampaging. It was time for the young male to do some time in the pens, until it matured past this stage – or was released higher into the mountains.
Kevin Stewart was a few dozen yards to her left, sitting his broom with the natural grace of an athlete, and old Bertók Földi shot up out of the trees to her right, scowling at her as he fell into line. His lips moved; she couldn't hear him at this distance over the wind. Idiot.
She spared Kevin a glance. He was rolling his eyes at Mad Bertók.
Siobhan signalled to each of them the path they should take, and the three dragon handlers shot off into the sky, and suddenly the dragon was in view, flying upward as well.
The dragon was twisting and rolling through the sky, blowing bursts of flame at passing birds and snapping joyfully at the wind, obviously having the time of its life. Siobhan aimed a hex at it, but it somersaulted suddenly and the Stunner missed. It did, however, get the young Ironbelly's attention. It wheeled around and started flying straight at them.
Siobhan let out a string of profanity and shot upward. The dragon was flapping along behind her, breathing in and out like a bellows to stoke its fires, and she felt the rush of magic come up from behind as a pair of Stunners missed the dragon and nearly hit her.
“Sorry!” she heard faintly from below. Kevin. Mad Bertók never apologized.
“Hit it again!” she yelled back as she turned in mid-air, trying to get around behind the dragon again for a good hex.
Kevin threw another Stunner at it, but a second bolt of red light went straight past the dragon as Mad Bertók's spell missed. Again. Stupid old man, he should have retired by now, Siobhan thought angrily. His reaction times weren't what they once were, and he shouldn't even be doing this today, but the sanctuary was short-handed as ever.
Kevin's Stunner hadn't penetrated the Ironbelly's thick hide, however, and it had now turned its attention to Mad Bertók. He turned his broom in midair, and instead of running upward, making the dragon work to chase him into the thinner air of high altitude, he simply shot out over the treetops, flying low over the forest. Siobhan could hear him swearing in Hungarian as he flew.
“Aw, dammit,” Kevin said, suddenly beside her.
“He shouldn't even be out here, he's no good at this,” she grumbled.
“Come on. We'll catch them up.” Kevin swerved aside as he sped away.
She managed to catch up with the dragon before it had regained enough flame to blacken Mad Bertók into a crisp. It was breathing heavily, though, which was always a bad sign from a dragon who'd just let out a large flame. Ironbellies didn't take long to recharge.
“Bertók, you idiot!” Siobhan bellowed. “Get back behind it!”
Mad Bertók listened, for once, but as he dodged out of the dragon's path to loop around behind it, a cloud of leathery black shapes erupted from the trees in front of him. The dragon veered off course to snap at the herd of fleeing thestrals, and Mad Bertók swore loudly as he swerved to avoid slamming into a large thestral and instead flew straight into the top of a tree.
There was no question if he had seen the thestral. Anyone who couldn't see them upon arrival at a dragon sanctuary soon would. Death was a constant companion to dragon keepers. Whether or not Mad Bertók was injured by his crash would have to wait. They couldn't lose the dragon.
Siobhan sped up, trying to catch the dragon as it flew after the thestrals, heading away from the mountains, closer to Muggle civilization. Spooking the wild herds into a panic wasn't helping keep the dragon's presence under wraps. Cursing under her breath, she drew her wand.
“Kevin, where are you?” she yelled, and then as she turned her head she saw him zooming toward her, his wand in his hand.
“On three!” he shouted, and they both aimed their wands at the Ironbelly.
The spell collided with the Ironbelly, with a second barrage right behind it. The young dragon wavered for a moment in the air, and then brought itself around to face them with a sharp deceleration.
Siobhan aimed her broom upward. “Move, move, move!”
Kevin followed her just in time, escaping the sudden burst of white-hot flames that shot toward the airspace they'd just vacated. She looked down; the Ironbelly was starting to fall now, its eyes closed, and Kevin dropped back toward it, just in time to catch it with a levitation spell before it crashed into the earth and did itself an injury.
Mad Bertók was limping toward them, swearing in Hungarian again, his broom slung over his shoulder. The end had splintered and broken where he'd run into the tree, but he didn't seem to be much injured.
He tried to give the downed dragon a kick, and Siobhan shot a spell at him as she landed her own broom. He stumbled back a few steps, glaring at her.
“Wretched English witch,” he snapped.
“I'm Irish, you idiot,” she retorted, then turned to Kevin. “How's the dragon?”
Kevin was examining the beast as it snored in a magically-induced peaceful slumber. “It seems fine. A bit scratched up, but nothing much. Got off light, didn't he?”
“In the old days, we'd have just put him down,” Mad Bertók rasped. “There was none of this preserving when a dragon went on a rampage. We put some well-aimed spells right between the eyes, and that was the end of the problem.”
“Yes, and that helped the dragon population so bloody much,” Siobhan said irritably. Mad Bertók had been on the Carpathian reserve for at least fifty years, and though he was still as spry as a man half his age, he was at least twice as ill-tempered. He didn't even like dragons, although she'd heard he had at one point.
“It helped the human population, and that was the important bit.”
Kevin stood up and dusted his hands off. “It's just because the beastie is so young. He doesn't know his own strength. He's like a puppy chewing on your furniture.”
“You're no better than a Cossack,” Mad Bertók told him. “May God curse your infernal soul, and your bowels rot in your belly.”
Siobhan rolled her eyes.
“We'll get him home. You go have Irina take a look at that leg before you get gangrene. You managed not to get killed by the dragon or thestrals today, but God forbid we lose you to a tree,” Kevin said piously.
Mad Bertók sneered at them and then turned on the spot, disappearing with a loud crack.
“Cheerful,” Kevin remarked.
“He always is. How do you plan to get this bloody thing back to the reserve?” Siobhan asked, nodding at the sleeping Ironbelly.
“I thought you were in charge.”
“I never make plans, you know that.”
“True. Well, I reckon we'll just have to float him along and hope we don't run across anyone. Wand at the ready, might need a Memory Charm at any moment.”
Kevin lifted the dragon, and Siobhan repaired the area it had landed so that the damage to the forest at least didn't appear to be caused by a supposedly mythological creature, and they set off with Siobhan in the lead, scouting ahead, and the dragon bobbing along through the air between them.
They walked along in silence for some time, and then Siobhan asked over her shoulder, “How much longer d'you reckon Mad Bertók will stick it out before he retires?”
“Dragon keepers never retire,” Kevin said immediately. “The flame takes us all in the end.”
“Now who's cheerful?”
“It could be cheerful. You've never done it.”
“True. I think I'll avoid it a little while longer, though. He's still out, isn't he?” She turned to look at the dragon, and they both drew to a halt.
Kevin came around to the front. “Looks it. Should be another hour at least, we did get him on the double, remember?”
“They always make me a bit nervous when I'm the one in front, even when they seem to be aslee...” Her voice trailed off, and she cocked her head to one side. “Do you hear that?”
Kevin looked around. “Patrol. Disillusionment Charm?”
“Well, there's no time for much else, I suppose.” She reached up to cast the charm on herself.
They had just managed to get the dragon Disillusioned when the sound of tracks crunching over the rocky earth just past the treeline grew suddenly louder, and a T-62 tank came into view with a small cadre of soldiers walked four abreast behind it.
They didn't see as much troupe movements these days as there had been when she'd first come to the Carpathians. Siobhan had not kept up with Muggle politics much in the past years, keeping her focus almost exclusively on dragons, so she wasn't sure where they were headed – somewhere north, if they held their course. Their uniforms were Red Army, and the tank was painted with a large hammer and sickle on the hull.
She stood there as they marched past, holding herself as still as possible, trying to keep one eye on the unconscious dragon and one eye on the Muggle soldiers. Her nerves were twanging a bit with the effort of staying motionless, but she couldn't help thinking this was sort of fun – hiding in plain sight with only a rather simple spell keeping fifty armed soldiers from seeing an unconscious dragon and two wizards.
“Fancy getting a drink later?” murmured Kevin, who also thought things like this were fun, under cover of the noise of the tank.
“We could go to Odessa,” she suggested in a low voice.
“The pub near the train station?”
She nodded. They'd been there many times. Odessa was far enough that it felt like getting away of an evening, but not out of safe Apparition range.
After the soldiers had gone, they continued on. The forest grew thicker as they went higher up into the mountains, and the air felt sharper in her lungs. They hadn't bothered removing the Disillusionment charm, in case they ran across more soldiers, and Siobhan was enjoying the feeling of being part of the Carpathians, blended into the trees. There was much more to tramp through up here, underbrush and fallen limbs, but she'd done it so many times that the sound of her footprints blended in with the other normal forest sounds.
This time it was Kevin who heard them, and he grabbed her arm just as she was sliding past an oak nearly as big around as the young dragon. This time something was different. Kevin held her close to the tree, his body pressed up against hers, and then she saw them.
These weren't Muggles.
They wore long robes of a style only wizards wore, black and old-fashioned, and they were cutting across the forest at an angle to the path Siobhan had been taking back to the reserve. They were headed deeper into the mountains.
There were only two of them, but there was a heavy air of menace to them as they walked past, so that they seemed far more dangerous even than those fifty armed soldiers.
Siobhan glanced at Kevin, who met her gaze with a worried expression and held a finger to his lips.
She could only hear snatches of their conversation as they approached. They were speaking in muted voices, and the trees did not bounce sound very well.
“...would have been much faster... far too much magic for Apparition up there...”
“Barbaric place,” she heard the one following say quite clearly. They spoke like Englishmen, and well-educated ones at that.
“Barbaric creatures,” his companion replied. They were getting very close to her and Kevin now, and she hoped the charms were holding on the damned dragon, keeping it asleep and disguised.
“This errand may mean our deaths,” the first man said dourly. “This is madness.”
“Does it matter? You know the price of failure, and this errand, as you call it, is of great importance to our master...”
They were passing beyond where the two dragon keepers were hidden, and the forest swallowed up the rest of their conversation. Siobhan glanced back at Kevin uneasily.
There was something off about that pair. What sort of wizards came to a place like this and avoided the dragon reserve? Surely they knew how dangerous it was here, to just wander about the mountains like that... It gave her a bad feeling.
Kevin was leaning over her, inches away. “They're headed toward the High Tatras,” he breathed, planting his hands against the tree trunk on either side of her.
“What the hell are they doing?” she whispered. “There's nothing up there but ragged cliffs and giants.”
“I don't know.” His face was troubled. “Should we follow them?”
She stared blankly at his face for a moment, thinking hard, then shook her head. “We can't leave the dragon, after all we did to catch it. We'll go find them again after we get the dragon back to the reserve.”
Kevin smiled suddenly. “Maybe Mad Bertók can go.”
She hadn't realized how close he was. She could feel the entire length of his body pressing her into the tree. Kevin's smile faded a bit, as if he'd also realized their positions, but he didn't step away.
“The dragon,” she reminded him.
“Still sleeping like a baby.” Kevin leaned in a bit further. His breath had a sour tinge to it from the kvas he was forever drinking.
“What do you think you're doing?” she said archly.
“Having some fun,” he said, and kissed her.
She pushed him away after a moment. “The dragon, Kev. The spells won't last forever.”
He took a step back, and she slid out from under his arms.
“I thought you liked my kind of fun,” he remarked in a voice that managed to be good-natured with a hint of whinging.
“Only when I'm bored.”
The reserve always seemed to burst from the trees when approached by ground. They'd come around to the back, where the dragon pens and paddocks were kept, and the treeline came right up to the back of the largest pen.
Firmin was waiting, and once they'd wrestled the Ironbelly into one of the smaller pens, they told him about the wizards in the forest. The Frenchman agreed to go after them, and Siobhan headed inside the main building of the reserve with Kevin on her heels.
The halls of the reserve, once so new and fascinating, had grown familiar to her, so that she hardly looked around as she traced her usual path inside, past the infirmary, past the kitchens, past the half-empty dormitories.
Though the buildings of the reserve had become a part of her everyday life, they still weren't home, really. The reserve was just a place she lived. She liked it well enough, but it didn't feel like home. Maybe nowhere ever would. She wasn't sure she even knew what 'home' felt like any more. She must have known once, as a girl, but it had faded from her mind with the years.
Maybe it had always been as meaningless a word as it was now.
They washed up side by side in the ancient and not-well-equipped bathroom. She could see Kevin watching her in the mirror as he dried his hands. Siobhan stared at her reflection as she unpinned her hair, and then turned around and leaned her hip against the sink, meeting Kevin's gaze.
“Are you bored now?” he asked.
She thought about the strange English wizards out in the forest, the giants, and the Dark wizards still waging war in England, and a flash of pale, dead face under glossy dark hair, and she wished for dragonfire to wash it all from her mind.
“Yeah,” she said. “I'm bored.”
A/N: This is very long, I know. Hopefully you got to the end of it and weren't bored. Something about Siobhan's perspective apparently makes me verbose.
Chapter 6: All Of Your Joy
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Wash me down in all of your joy
But don't drag me through this again
I've heard all your sad songs I can hear
It's another day older in these exiled years
-These Exiled Years, Flogging Molly
November 1, 1981
She was crying in the bathroom again. It happened every month.
Dunstan Birtwhistle stood outside the door, listening to the muffled sobs of his wife of nearly ten years. She wanted a baby. More than anything, Gemma wanted a baby, but it seemed to be the one thing they couldn't do together. They'd been to nearly every Healer in Great Britain, and had been told the same thing over and over. Separately, neither one was terribly fertile. Together, they were completely barren.
They had tried to adopt, though Gemma hadn't been as enthusiastic about not carrying the baby herself. In the past three years, they'd had two birth mothers change their minds at the last moment – the second one just after she'd given birth. Gemma had been absolutely heart-broken. The nursery had been ready, and she'd told all their friends they were finally about to be parents. She hadn't been able to face telling everyone there would be no baby after all, and it had fallen to Dunstan. The sympathy had become overwhelming even to him, so much so that he almost hit someone at work who expressed condolences. After that, they couldn't cope with going through the adoption process again, couldn't face the prospect of another wrenching failure, and Gemma had thrown herself into trying to conceive with renewed desperation.
None of his friends had this problem. Molly and Arthur Weasley were up to seven, which Dunstan privately thought was absolutely insane. Petula Ockham had popped out three, one after the other, right after getting married, and then declared herself finished. Hattie Habbershaw-Smythe was pregnant with her third. All of Dunstan's brothers had at least two. Everyone had children, it seemed, except them.
At first, Dunstan hadn't minded. He hadn't really cared one way or the other if they had children for the first few years. He'd only wanted them for her. Gemma had wanted them so badly, and for so long. After a few years, he'd started to realize his pain at their inability to conceive wasn't just feeling Gemma's despair, but his own as well. He wanted to see her fully happy, yes, but he wanted a child for them as well. When the second birth mother had sent the adoption coordinator out to tell them she was going to keep her baby after all... Dunstan had not known he could feel that much pain.
Only one, and we'll never ask for anything again, he'd addressed the sky a few times, hoping some benevolent god might smile on them and give them the baby Gemma so desperately wanted.
But every month it was the same. No baby. When she started her cycle, she sat on the floor with a towel pressed to her face and cried, and Dunstan had no idea what to do to help, so he stood outside the door and waited for her, his eyes burning with unshed tears.
When she finally emerged, he held her close, whispering comforting nonsense that neither of them really listened to. Tears still clung to her lashes when she looked up at him.
“I'm sorry, Dunstan.”
“I'm sorry too.” He leaned down to kiss her, wishing there was something else to say.
But there wasn't, not to his wife, anyway, and so he fled that afternoon to his best friend's house, seeking a refuge or asylum, he wasn't sure which, but he needed to talk to someone.
Petula Ockham lived down the road from them, her house larger and more chaotic than Dunstan and Gemma's small cottage on the outskirts of Upper Flagley. Petula's eldest son and Dunstan's godson, Richard, was at Hogwarts now, and Dunstan found he missed the boy more than he'd expected. Richard was as close as Dunstan might ever get to having a son.
The youngest Ockham child, Charlotte, opened the door when he knocked.
“Uncle Dunstan!” She flung herself at him, arms around his waist. “Did you hear? Are you so happy? My dad's got a whole box of Dr. Filibuster's fireworks to celebrate-”
“What's going on?” he asked, reluctant to intrude on their happiness with his problems.
“Harry Potter!” Charlotte chirped. “Didn't you hear? MUM!” she added in a bellow while Dunstan was wondering who the devil Harry Potter was. “Uncle Dunstan's here!”
The middle Ockham child came rushing out ahead of his mother, and shoved his sister aside roughly to yell at Dunstan, “Uncle Dunstan! Did you hear? Can you believe it? He's finally gone!”
“What?” Dunstan asked, unconsciously touching his ear. Jeffrey might one day learn to control his volume, but today was apparently not that day.
Petula Ockham, Dunstan's best friend since his Hogwarts days, leaned over her children to hug him. “I'm so glad you came by! Isn't it wonderful? Why isn't Gemma with you?”
“What the hell's going on, Petula?” he asked irritably.
She gaped at him for a second, then shook her head in amazement that he didn't know. “Dunstan, he's gone! You-Know-Who, he's been defeated, finally.”
Dunstan was speechless. He felt his mouth drop open, but no sound came out.
It had been over a decade of terror, death, and destruction at the hands of the most feared dark wizard of all time. And now he was gone, just like that?
“You heard of the Potters, didn't you?” Petula said, beginning one of her rambling explanations. “They worked with Molly's brothers, you remember Gideon and Fabian, they were Molly's younger brothers, twins, and Aurors, both of them. So sad.” She clucked a moment over the deaths of their friend Molly Weasley's brothers, and then went on, “Well, the Potters had a little boy named Harry, you know, and last night, You-Know-Who tried to kill him-”
“A little boy?” Dunstan repeated, aghast that anyone could kill a child. “How old was he?”
“He's only a baby, really, poor little dear. The Potters were both killed, God rest them, but little Harry – he survived! A Killing Curse, and he lived! And You-Know-Who is gone! Defeated by a baby, can you believe it?”
“How?” Dunstan managed, unable to believe Petula's story.
“No one knows,” came a deeper voice, and Thomas Ockham appeared behind his wife. “He just up and died, and the baby lived. It's incredible, but there you have it.” Thomas cocked his head at Dunstan. “Where's your wife? Hadn't you heard about Harry Potter?”
“No, we hadn't heard a thing. She's, erm, having female troubles...” He didn't want to say more in front of the children, but Petula and Thomas seemed to understand instantly.
Thomas's smile dimmed, but he said jovially to Charlotte and Jeffrey, “Come on, kids, let's go let off a few fireworks in celebration, eh? We'll let your mum and uncle have a wee chat, shall we?”
Dunstan smiled gratefully at his friend as Thomas herded the children into the backyard, and Petula gave Dunstan a sympathetic pat and led him into the kitchen.
“I'm so sorry, Dunstan,” she said with a sigh as they sat down at the small table.
“She was still crying a bit when I left,” he said dully, then felt compelled to add, “Sorry to interrupt your celebrations.”
“You should be celebrating too. The entire wizarding world is celebrating today, I expect.”
“Not the Potters,” Dunstan said.
Petula nodded. “Yes, you're right. Poor little boy is orphaned now. Molly says there's an aunt they're sending him to live with.”
“At least he's got family, that's good.”
Petula made tea, and they both sat in silence during the first cup, listening to the muffled sounds from the backyard that marked the Ockhams' celebration of the end of the war: small explosions and shrieking children.
“I should let you go to your family,” Dunstan said reluctantly.
“Don't be ridiculous, I'd much rather sit here in the quiet,” Petula told him. “Do you think I want to watch fireworks going off? Or watch Thomas hand them over to Jeffrey to light? It's amazing no one has lost a finger. That boy hasn't the sense he was born with.”
He smiled ruefully. “Jeffrey's just boisterous.”
“That's easy for you to say, you don't have to live with him. Molly and Arthur were over last week, and Jeffrey hit one of the twins with a Quidditch bat. They're only three!”
Dunstan, who had met the Weasleys' little twins, raised an eyebrow at her. “Hmm. What was the boy doing to Jeffrey?”
She gave him a severe look. “They're only babies. He didn't mean to break Jeffrey's favourite toy, I'm sure.”
“Well, Jeffrey's young too...”
“You always take his part,” Petula complained, but then she smiled. “You're no better than Thomas and Arthur. Arthur said 'boys will be boys', and Thomas just laughed.”
“Well, it's true. Boys will be boys.” His smile fell a little, thinking of Gemma at home crying, and that they would never have boys of their own to hit other children with Quidditch bats. He wanted to have to apologize to his friends because of something his son had done, how mad was that?
Petula saw the change in his face, and she let out a long sigh. “It isn't fair, is it? You'd be a lovely father, Dunstan, and Gemma...”
“I know. She'd be perfect as a mum. It isn't fair,” he agreed. “I never even realized I wanted to be a father until I was told I never would be.”
“I'm so sorry.”
“Thanks, Petty,” he said, summoning a grin, trying to make the best of things.
She pulled a face. “I hate being called that, you know.”
“Yeah, I know.” He stirred the last bit of tea in the bottom of his cup, wishing his problems could be swept away as easily as the dregs of rosehip tea. “What should I do?” he asked finally.
Petula leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “Go home to your wife. Hug her, tell her you love her, and then tell her about Harry Potter. It might take her mind off things for a while. Come back over and celebrate with us if she's up to it.”
“All right. Yeah. No more You-Know-Who, I'm not even sure I can wrap my mind around that. It's been so long...” The war had been going on so long, it seemed; he could hardly even imagine a world in which there was no Dark Lord bent on murdering anyone without pure blood. Now he thought about that more, he couldn't wait to tell his wife what had happened.
“I know.” Petula stood and gathered up the teacups.
Dunstan reached out and grabbed her hand as she was lifting his cup, and she returned the squeeze he gave her, then shooed him out the door.
Gemma was lying in bed on top of the covers with a book when he arrived home again. He crawled over next to her, scooting close enough to lay a kiss on her shoulder.
“Have you listened to the wireless today?” he asked, and she gave him a strange look. He knew very well she holed up for days, not speaking to anyone, pretending the world did not exist, when she began her cycle.
“What are you talking about?” she asked suspiciously.
“You won't believe what's happened,” he said, and told her what Petula had told him about the Potters and You-Know-Who.
Gemma's face was lax with astonishment. She looked just as speechless as he'd been, and he leaned forward to kiss her.
“No more You-Know-Who. No more war. It's a whole new world now, isn't it?”
“I suppose it is,” she said in wonder. “I hardly know what to think. It's really all over?”
“It really is.”
She turned to him, wrapping her arms around him, and he kissed her again. They held each other, celebrating in their own way, and Dunstan couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so easy and free while with his wife. No more war, she'd said, and there was something different in her this time, something he couldn't quite name. Change never sat well with him, it took him time to get used to things, but he thought he could get used to this new world.
“Maybe we should stop,” she whispered sometime later as he lay in her arms. She was stroking his hair, staring at the ceiling.
Dunstan looked up at her. She didn't look angry or depressed. There was only a sad sort of resignation on her face.
“We've been trying for ten years,” he said cautiously.
“Yes. And I'm tired. My body is tired, and my mind is tired, and I know you're tired too. I think we should stop trying and just let what happens will.”
He didn't think he could imagine a world in which they were not actively trying to become parents. But then, he wouldn't have been able to imagine a world with no He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and yet there they were. “What will we do?” he asked, feeling rather stupid.
Gemma shrugged. “We'll just enjoy each other instead of worrying about what will come of it. We can take a second honeymoon. Celebrate the end of the war, properly.”
Dunstan rubbed a hand over his face. “Are you sure that's what you want to do?”
“Yes. It is.” She smiled up at him, and there was too much honesty in her sadness. He kissed her so he didn't have to see it, hoping he wasn't failing her again.
A few weeks later
Things had been very easy, and far more relaxed than Dunstan could remember them being, since they'd decided to stop their desperate attempts to get pregnant. Gemma still looked wistful quite often, but she was less sad than before. Giving themselves permission to consider not becoming parents had taken the pressure off, and though he still thought wistfully of it on a daily basis, it seemed to be growing easier to accept.
He was not a father. He would like as not never be one, either. And maybe that was okay after all.
They sat in the parlour one afternoon, peacefully reading, when Dunstan heard the front door open and the sound of his best friend's voice calling their names.
“Dunstan? Gemma? Are you here?”
There was a strange yipping sound accompanying her words, and Dunstan exchanged a look with his wife, and they both leaped up from the sofa. She beat him to the door.
Petula was in the foyer, and Gemma let out a squeal of delight when she saw what Petula had brought. Dunstan groaned inwardly.
“They're Yorkies,” Petula was saying. “Aren't they adorable? Oh, hello Dunstan, there you are. One of Charlotte's friends gave them to us, their dog had some lady trouble at obedience school, can you imagine? Thankfully, the culprit was the same breed, but still, what a nightmare. Well, they didn't know what to do with the litter, of course, and Charlotte told them we'd help them – I suppose she thought I'd let her keep one, I don't know what goes through that girl's head sometimes – but of course Jeffrey is allergic to dogs, and I thought of you immediately-”
Dunstan tuned Petula out, staring at his wife with the two puppies on her lap. They were jumping all over her, licking every bit of skin they could reach, and she was laughing. She was laughing, and smiling like he hadn't seen her smile in years, and damn it all, she looked so carefree and happy. From bloody puppies.
“We'll keep them,” he told Petula.
“Oh good, I'm so glad. They haven't been named yet, so you can call them whatever you like. I'm fairly certain they're not housebroken either – Charlotte had no idea, and I didn't get a chance to Floo her friend's family; Jeffrey was wheezing something awful because of course he was holding one, honestly, he hasn't any sense at all. Anyway, I had to get the little things straight out of the house.”
“It doesn't matter,” Gemma said, still smiling as she cuddled the puppies. “We'll train them. They're perfect, Petula, they're such darlings!”
“They are sweet, aren't they?” Petula agreed, bending down to pet one of them. “It's really a shame Jeffrey has allergies. Are you sure you don't mind?”
“I love them,” said Gemma firmly. One of the puppies was chewing on her robes.
“Excellent,” Petula said brightly. “I've got to run, Lord only knows what those children of mine are up to while I'm out. Enjoy the puppies. Come over for dinner tomorrow.”
And with that, she bustled out again, leaving only the sound of yipping puppies in her wake.
Dunstan looked down at his wife, who was cuddling the puppies as they licked her face and nibbled on her fingers. She set them down, smiling contentedly, and the two little dogs turned their attention to Dunstan's shoes. He watched them try to chew on his toes with a smile. They were rather cute, he had to admit. He looked up again and found his wife smiling at him.
“Oh, Dunstan,” she sighed. “Do you think we can get more puppies?”
“You can have all the puppies you like. We can breed the damn things if it makes you happy,” he said gruffly, and she stood and flung her arms around him, just as one of the puppies turned in a circle and widdled on the carpet.