“A proposal?!” had been the first thing to gush out of June’s mouth when Priscilla flourished her hand.
That had soon been followed by a happy squeal at an unintelligible octave that was soon joined by the chatter of the other females in the room.
The ring on Priscilla’s hand, to Albus’s eye, seemed unseemly huge. The diamond was as big as an egg, for god’s sake. As soon as he’d seen it, he felt a lump in his throat and amidst the buzz, he’d quietly slipped out of the room.
Bloody rings. Bloody Corner giving her such a big ring. Out of the corner of his eyes, he watched June flutter around her friends. Nikita Patil was opening a new bottle of champagne and they were all laughing over some joke that was out of his earshot.
“Well, I know how you feel,” came a smooth voice and he jumped, nearly spilling his glass of wine.
It was June’s friend – the future convict, Jordan.
“Do you?” he asked, not meeting Desmond’s eyes. “Interesting. I’m not sure how I feel myself.”
“I feel like walloping Corner when he’s got his back turned,” said Desmond. “Did you see that effing ring? It’s the size of a birdhouse. I don’t want Ni – er - ” He reddened. “I mean. I don’t want people getting any sort of expectations from me. If the ring already looks like that, I don’t want any part of the wedding. I expect it’ll cost the earth and more.”
“Did you expect Fawcett to get married on the cheap, then?” asked Albus, grinning. “Anything not involving a giant castle of some sort’s not her style.”
It was strange, Albus reflected, as Desmond laughed. He’d never been particularly fond of June’s friends when they’d started off. Desmond Jordan had blown up far too many things that Albus’d had to clean up in their schooldays for them to get along swimmingly. Nicholas, like Priscilla, was simply too ostentatious. Fawcett was a screaming banshee. His cousin Lucy and Trista St. Clair were manageable enough, but Henry Bates’s collection of animals and that one bloke Albus never could remember were all he’d been able to take.
Still, seven years of birthday parties and Christmases had softened him. If only a little.
“Albus, Desmond,” said Lucy, hovering up from behind Desmond. “Come in to the kitchen. Nicholas’s ordered a cake and he insists we go eat.”
“Is it huge?” asked Albus.
“Enormous,” said Lucy, rolling her eyes. “Especially considering it’s just a few friends. I don’t know why they’ve got to everything so grandly. When Justin and I announced our engagement, it was dinner at the Leaky. And last month, when Victoria and Baron announced their engagement, it was just drinks at the Three Broomsticks.”
They walked past the sitting room, passing two large ice sculptures of angels playing the harp.
“If only,” muttered Desmond. “I’m just surprised they haven’t made a golden statue of the baby, stuck it into the earth and proclaimed it our future emperor.”
“Hush,” said Lucy, tsking. They entered the kitchen, where a long mahogany table set with candles welcomed them. A large chandelier glimmered over, adorned by vases of white roses everywhere. Lucy giggled at the aghast expression on Desmond’s face before she stepped beside him to sit by her husband.
“You responsible for this?” said Desmond, pulling a chair.
Beside him, Nicholas looked up. “Don’t look at me. I didn’t even see the point of this. I thought we’d just write to you all, but Priscilla insisted.”
“And now there’s cake?” asked Desmond. “We just finished eating that dinner. I’m still recovering.”
“And it’s all bloody expensive too,” said Nicholas. “I’d have a conniption if I didn’t know her father’s paying for all this. He’s overjoyed. Says his Flooing in tomorrow. I’m horrified.”
Across the table, Albus looked away boredly from the animated conversation about baby names that the girls were partaking in. “You’re going to be meeting him as your future father-in-law for the first time, then.”
Nicholas went a pale shade of green. “Bloody hell. I didn’t think about that. He’s probably going to strangle me for knocking her up, even if he’s happy about the baby. He thinks I’m too middle class, whatever that means. All her family does, I reckon.”
“You’ll live,” said Desmond. There was a squeaking noise and three house-elves entered, levitating a huge chocolate cake between them. As they set it on the table carefully, Desmond stared up at its four layers. “Me on the other hand…”
As the slices were passed around, Desmond lunged for the biggest slice he could see. As he chomped away, there was a whooshing sound from the fireplace and someone clambered out, coughing from the Floo gas.
Priscilla stood up, wand aloft. “Who is that?”
“Me,” came a familiar voice.
“Oh Duncan!” gushed Lucy, scrambling out of her chair. She came back into the kitchen moments later, pulling a tired looking sandy-haired man behind her.
“Sorry for being so late,” said Duncan tiredly. “Long day at the office.”
“Has the new job been settling in well?” asked Nicholas, as Duncan took a seat between June and Trista.
“Well enough,” said Duncan. “I’m busy a lot.”
Seven years ago, Duncan Podmore had settled in for what he’d thought would be a long career in professional Quidditch. But one tumultuous tumble from mid-air a year ago had shattered his ankle and ended all that. Though the bones had grown back, he’d put aside his Keepers robes and announced the end of his Quidditch ambitions. Now, he’d found a decent job in the Department of Magical Games and Equipment.
“It’s still strange seeing you around without Quidditch robes on,” said Trista, a little sadly. She was still wearing the bright green and navy blue Kenmare robes she’d gotten off work in.
“Don’t feel bad for me, I did it to save my own ankle. You lot heard the Healers. If I’d gone on like that, I probably wouldn’t be able to walk right now,” said Duncan. “Besides, I think I like the Ministry job more these days. There’s loads of pretty girls around instead of sweaty men. And I get decent hours instead of nine hour practice days. No more waking up at dawn either. And the pay’s higher, so it’s a good change.”
Trista smiled tightly and turned back to June, looking melancholy.
“Oh, don’t look sad,” June pressed. “How’d you think he’d feel if he knew you felt sorry for him? Besides, you heard him. I think he really is happier in the Ministry. Duncan was never like you. He wasn’t as ambitious and I’m not sure he really wanted to play Quidditch forever. Dreams can change.”
“Still,” said Trista.
She peered off as June sighed.
It was after the cake that Albus found himself wandering off again, the same thoughts once again cluttering his mind.
Behind him, Lucy was fussing over the phone. “Oh Justin, please tell me she’s all right.”
There was a pause.
“Well, I should be over in half an hour. Make sure you give her a bath before I get home, will you? Not too hot. All right. I love you. Good-bye.”
She hung up the phone and turned to find Albus considering her.
“Anything the matter?” she asked.
“No,” he said. “Are you happy, Lucy?”
“What an odd question,” she said, bewildered. “Do I seem unhappy?”
“No, I’m just – I’m just asking. Are you happy married and with a kid and everything?”
“Of course I am. I love having Ophelia, you know that. And I love being married.”
“It doesn’t get boring?”
“Why would it?” asked Lucy. “It’s been a wonderful two years. And having Ophelia is this lovely bond that Justin and I will always share. It’s so exciting to watch her grow up. She’s already rolling around a bit. It’s like she can’t wait to start crawling.”
She beamed at him. It wasn’t very surprising to Albus that she was a happy wife and mother. He’d known for ages that Lucy would be a good mother.
“Still,” he asked, “how’d you know you wanted to marry Belby?”
“Well, he proposed to me and considering how happy I was, I suppose I knew I had to say yes.” Smiling, she amended, “I knew I wanted to marry Justin because I could see our whole lives together. He had values that I thought were important. And we had lots of things in common. He was kind to me and my family and my friends. We both agreed on the important things. We both wanted to be working full time, but we both wanted a big house with a big family. And I really cared for him. Truly. So I knew. I think it was simply common sense.”
Looking thoughtful once more, Albus said, “I see.”
“Why’re you asking me?” said Lucy, a suspicious look falling into her face.
“No reason,” he said hastily. “Well, I’d better go keep an eye on – er – Jordan. Make sure he doesn’t set the house on fire.”
He wandered off sheepishly, with Lucy giggling.
When June and Albus Floo’ed back home an hour later, they toppled into their living room.
Brushing herself off, June said, “So, Lucy told me something interesting.”
Albus turned bright red. “What? What? What’d she tell you?”
Looking drawn aback, she said, “I didn’t think you’d be so interested. She thinks Desmond and Nikita Patil might be dating. He told everyone he just brought her as a friend, but she’s convinced there’s something else going on.”
He exhaled a breath of relief. “Yeah? Why does she say that?”
“She went to the wine cellar to get champagne two hours ago and found them snogging their heads off. Apparently, most of their clothes had gone mysteriously missing. She was mortified, of course.” June began peeling off her coat. “Well, we’re all very happy for them. It’s good to see Desmond settling down with someone instead of just picking up girls from the Leaky. Still, I didn’t think I’d see the day.”
“Yeah,” he said, falling into the sofa and considering her.
“And Trista’s still on about feeling so sorry for Duncan even though I know perfectly well he’s doing splendidly at the Ministry. He’s finally asked out that one girl he’s fancied for so long. Her name’s Francine Kirke. We’ll be having them over for dinner next week.”
“Right,” he said again, not listening.
“I’m so happy for him,” she said. “He was so down around this time last year being stuck in St. Mungo’s like that. Remember? The poor thing could barely walk and look at him now. He’s told me he’s more relieved than anything to be done with Quidditch. The pressure was too much, I think. Not that Trista sees it that way…”
“And Nicholas says that Priscilla’s going to be having a – ” She turned around and broke off abruptly at Albus’s distant expression. “Albus? What’s wrong?”
He blinked and jumped a little. “What?”
“Are you all right? You looked a thousand miles away.”
“Just…thinking,” he said.
“About what?” She took a seat on the ground beside his feet and smiled up at him.
He grinned, bending down to kiss her on the cheek. “It’s been a good seven years.”
“It has,” she agreed, leaning up to kiss him again.
“I’m glad how everything’s turned out. Even if your loony friends insist on spending half their lives in this house.”
“I’m so happy to see you getting along with them.”
“Wasn’t exactly by choice.” He nudged her.
“Still. So is that all you were thinking of?”
“I was wondering what the next seven years’ll be like too.”
“Really different, I think,” she said.
“Why ‘really different’?”
“The last seven years’ve been eons away from the seven years at Hogwarts. In just these seven years, Lucy and Henry’re both married. Nicholas and Priscilla are engaged. Duncan’s even switched careers. Trista’s now Captain of the Kestrels. Desmond’s planning to open his own business in a few months. And we’re – ” She broke off. “ – we’re living together. Who would’ve imagined?”
She smiled at him.
“Right,” he said again, still unsatisfied. “Who would’ve imagined?”
“Well, it’s nearly midnight,” she said, rising up. “I’ve got to get to work tomorrow at seven ,so I should be heading to bed. Victoire’s got all these orders ready for me to ship and you know how she’s like if anyone comes in late.” She gave him a kiss on the forehead. “Go to sleep soon too. Goodnight.”
“Good night,” he called after her. He waited until he heard her footsteps diminish entirely, before scrambling back up to the fireplace. Dipping his hand into the pot of Floo powder, he clambered into the fireplace, recited an address and whirred back away into the night.
When he climbed back out, there was a yell of, “Albus?”
His mother was staring at him, shock plastered all over her face. She was in her night dress now, looking as though she’d accidentally fallen asleep on the sofa reading. “What on earth are you doing here?” Before he could answer, she sat up frantically. “Is something the matter? Is everything all right? Is James – “
“Keep your hair on, everything’s fine,” he said. “Where’s Dad?”
“I – I’ve got no idea. I fell asleep reading,” she said, pushing her red hair away from her face. “Did you come all the way just to see your father? At this time of night?”
“I had to talk to him about some stuff,” said Albus vaguely. He looked at his mother and bent down to kiss her cheek. “Listen, it’s nothing to be worried about. Why don’t you go to bed?”
She stood up, shivering slightly. “Good idea. I’ll be off then. And I expect your father’s still in his study. Old habits and all. Good night.”
He waited until she went upstairs to navigate the corridor to his father’s study. A shaft of light peeked out underneath the closed door. He knocked once.
There was a reply of, “Ginny, go to bed already!”
“It’s me,” he called.
There was a shuffle and the door opened. His father’s creased face and salt and pepper hair peeked out. “Albus? Why are you here?”
“Just to ask you some stuff. Can I come in?”
His father held the door open. “Of course.”
His father waited until he had shut the door behind him and seated himself in his usual chair across the desk before beginning. “So. I hope it’s nothing bad.”
“No, nothing bad,” said Albus. “It might even be something good if I can figure it out.”
“Sounds interesting,” said Mr. Potter, folding his arms together and peering at Albus.
“I – uh – I was wondering – er – how exactly did - ” Albus went red once more as he stammered for words.
Mr. Potter sighed. “Look Al, it’s already midnight.”
“I was wondering when you knew to propose to Mum.”
Mr. Potter’s face suddenly lit up. Albus groaned, waiting for the “aha!” he thought was sure to come. Instead, his father smiled in his quiet way. “Oh, I’d been considering it for a while. We’d been together through quite a lot. An entire war, a whole decade of knowing each other. And I’d known for the entirety of my life that I wanted a family.”
Albus dipped his head quietly. His father hadn’t really had a family growing up – not a proper one, anyway. The Dursleys didn’t really count and neither did the Weasleys or all his friends, however much he loved them. They didn’t substitute for the mother and father he missed.
“So there were a lot of things that had told me for years that I should marry her,” he said, winking. “But I loved her. And that was what convinced me. I loved her very much. I think in many ways, she has made me a better person. And all that matters too. Whether you love someone, whether you see yourself loving them for a long time.”
“Right,” said Albus faintly.
“And there were so many wonderful things I got by marrying your mother. I got her. I got so many extra family members.” Mr. Potter frowned a little, thinking of all the brother-in-laws and sister-in-laws he know had, the many little nieces and nephews that had scarpered over his house for decades. “So many. Enough to not give me a minute of peace. And for the first time, I got my own family. Not somebody else’s that I belonged to, not friends that felt like family. Real family. James, Lily and you. It’s been a wonderful thirty years.”
“Children though,” Albus stammered. “I’m not sure if I’m ready for any of those.”
“There’s no use being nervous,” said Mr. Potter. “That’s far enough away as it is. And at the least, when it happens, you’ve got plenty of people around you who’ve been through it before. And lots of free babysitters.”
There was a pause as Albus stared at his hands.
“So you want to marry June, eh?” said his father. “Well, you already know I approve.”
Albus jumped. “Er – yes. Yeah, I think I do want to marry her. I love her. Living with her has gone really well. And she gets along with everyone in our family.”
“Even with Lily,” said Mr. Potter. “That’s when you know you’ve got to keep her. Take it one step at a time, Al. Worry about the kids later. There’s no need to scare yourself about that now.”
“Okay,” said Albus. “Thanks, Dad.”
His father stood up and walked to the door. “Now for the real challenge. We tell your mother. I expect she’ll die from happiness. We’ve got the word this carefully.”
He wrenched open the door.
From the other side, Mrs. Potter and Lily, both in night clothes, fell on the floor. Mrs. Potter was still grasping the doorknob, struggling to stand up. Lily had collapsed on her mother.
“Mum!” she trilled, pushing at her mother. “You’re on my feet!”
“Ginny, Lily,” began Mr. Potter disapprovingly.
“Stuff it, Harry,” said Mrs. Potter, rising up and clasping her hands together. She gave Albus a radiant beam and walked towards him dreamily. “Oh, Albus, Albus, Albus. My dear, sweet boy.”
“Er,” Albus began.
The same dreamy look in her eye, she began hugging him and attacking him with kisses. “My dear boy! Sweetheart! You’re getting married! I’m so happy for you! I’m so – oh, June will be thrilled – she’s such a darling, she’s already like a daughter to me and now she really will be! You must let me plan your wedding, we’ll get it all fixed up when the time’s come. And make sure to ring Roxanne and Dom and Lucy and Molly – they’ll all make splendid bridesmaids along with Lily, of course -”
“Let the boy breathe, Ginny,” said Mr. Potter.
Mrs. Potter released her vice-like hold of Albus’s head. Albus stepped back, the room spinning. “Mum, I haven’t even proposed to her yet. What if she says no?”
“What a ridiculous thing to say,” said Mrs. Potter. “I knew something was up when you marched in so late at night. I just knew!”
“No, you didn’t,” said Lily. “You thought he’d been sacked from his job.”
“Is that why she yanked you out of bed?” asked Mr. Potter. “To come down and help her eavesdrop to see if he’d been fired?”
“No,” said Ginny irritably. She wheeled around to look at Albus. “Now, if only your brother would follow your example and settle down instead of prancing around with every Parkinson in town.”
“Your mother’s still bitter,” said Mr. Potter. “James’s twenty-six, Ginny. Let him live his life.”
“Still, a Parkinson, Dad?” said Lily. “We’ve got to have some standards. I’m dating Lysander, but still.”
Albus shook his head, still reeling. “I think I’ll go back home.”
“Are you asking her tonight?” asked Mrs. Potter eagerly.
“No, Mum. And don’t ring anyone asking them to a bridesmaid and don’t tell anyone. I’m not sure when I’m going to do it, so don’t ruin the surprise.”
“Surprise?” said Mrs. Potter. “Seven years with her and you think she’ll be surprised? I wasn’t the least bit surprised when you proposed, Harry.”
“I know,” said Mr. Potter dryly. “I don’t know if that was my fault or Ron’s. Your Uncle Ron’d been dropping hints for months that I’d be proposing soon, if you can believe it. Went and ruined the surprise.”
“We can believe it,” said Albus and Lily in unison.
“Oh, it wasn’t just Ron’s awful hints. It was you suddenly being nervous and hiding things. I just knew it’d have to be soon. By the time you asked me, all I had to say was, ‘But what took you so long?’”
Mr. and Mrs. Potter smiled at each other.
Lily looked at her brother. “So you’re really set on marrying Bernard, then?”
“Got anything against it?” he asked, ruffling her hair fondly.
“No, I don’t think so,” said Lily, shrugging. “I’ve gotten used to her after all these years. Even Rose was wondering just the other day when you two’d finally do it.”
“Rose?” said Albus. “If even Rose’s wondering, then I’d better get home and start planning just how I’m going to do it.”
Author's Note: Hello, my lovely readers! I am here once again to apologize for not updating for nearly two months....life has unfortunately turned really, truly horrible and even though I had this pre-written, I simply just forgot to update. Anyway, I promise to have the next 3 chapters up and will definitely be updating regularly.
3 more chapters to go! Next up is Trista's, wrapping up the last of the chapters on the minor characters, followed up by another June/Albus chapter and finally, an epilogue. The June/Al chapter will once again remain very Albus-y as I feel like we had lots of June in BIR and not enough Al. :)
I hope you all had a lovely Christmas! Your thoughts on this chapter would be much appreciated!
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