Chapter 3. Hatching

Ginny, Harry, and Severus Apparated to the outskirts of Malfoy Manor on the late afternoon of Midsummer's Eve. In honour of the holiday, they were in fine feather, dressed in linen summer robes in shades of green: Severus's a deep moss, Harry's a leafy emerald, and Ginny's a pale celadon like the first shoots of young ferns poking out of the ground.

They all paused for a moment, looking at the imposing white structure in the distance. After Lucius died in Azkaban, Narcissa had moved to the Dower House and seldom ventured to the main house any more, but Ginny was uneasy as they moved past the wrought iron gates and along the sweeping drive to the front entrance.

Harry hasn't been here since the Snatchers brought him by force and he and Ron were imprisoned while Bellatrix tortured Hermione. And Severus—he was here with Voldemort; what horrors must he be remembering?

The children had arrived by portkey earlier to prepare for the celebration, and the Zabinis were coming by floo, but the three of them had not wanted to floo or portkey. Though he didn't say so, Ginny knew that Harry was reluctant to arrive inside the wards, to find himself inside the house without a transition to acclimate to the idea of returning to an old enemy's lair.

Now she glanced at him. His breath was coming a little fast; Severus briefly reached a hand to the back of his neck and he calmed. "Last time I was here…" Harry murmured.

Severus's low voice answered, "My memories of this place are also grim, and I have many more of them than you. As I have suggested before, perhaps an opportunity to exorcise some demons?"

Harry nodded and firmed his jaw, lengthening his stride. The great entrance doors swung open as they approached, revealing—instead of the expected house elf—Draco and Astoria standing there to greet them, both dressed in white. Their feet were bare.

"You are welcome to this house," Astoria said formally.

"Good health and prosperity to all in it," they responded.

But before they reached the threshold, Draco stepped across it, lifting a silver basin from a stand just inside. "Before you enter, we invite you to share in a cleansing ritual."

Astoria joined him bearing a green bundle bound with silk ribbons in yellow, white and green. "Here's rosemary for remembrance," she said, "and for love and loyalty, together with purifying thyme."

Ginny wasn't sure how to proceed; the Weasleys had never gone in for this sort of formal rite. But Severus calmly turned the wing-wide sleeves of his robes back to his shoulders, so she and Harry copied him. Then, always following Severus, they took the aromatic herb bundle by turns, dipped it into the clear water in the basin, and laved their arms and hands, reciting, "Remembrance, love, loyalty, purity."

Draco set aside the basin and the linen towel they'd all dried with. Then, taking a breath and biting his lip, he took Severus's hands in his as Astoria drew Ginny to one side, indicating that what would follow did not involve the two of them.

Bowing his head, hair glinting in the afternoon sun, Draco lifted Severus's hands and pressed his lips to the knuckles of each in turn. Standing bowed over them, he said in a low but clear voice, "I pray thee absolve me of all my transgressions." He dropped Severus's hands and stood upright to look him in the eye.

"I absolve thee full willing," Severus said, voice thrumming like an organ. Then he in turn took Draco's hands and repeated the exchange in his own right. They kissed on each cheek, then Severus rested his forehead on Draco's for an instant, one long hand on the back of his godson's silver-gilt head.

Draco turned and began the rite again with Harry. By the time Draco lifted Harry's sturdy hands to his lips, Harry was crying, and so was Ginny. She'd never known Astoria in school, and didn't much care for what she knew of her tastes and manners, but in this moment of their husbands' reconciliation, they slipped their arms around each others' waists in an ancient, wordless sisterhood.

When Harry and Draco came to kiss each other's cheeks, Ginny heard Draco whisper, "I am sorry, truly."

"I know," Harry murmured, "I am too," then drew back to offer Draco his hand, which the other man solemnly shook.

Beside Ginny, Astoria drew a long shivering breath, handed Ginny the herb bundle, and bent to lift the basin for the men to rinse in again.

In the silence that followed, they could hear the voices of the young people beyond the formal gardens. "They'll be building the Litha bone-fire," Astoria said, "and harvesting the calendula. Let's go inside to wait for Blaise and Helena. Draco and I need to put on some shoes before we go out again, and I don't know about the rest of you, but I could use a drop of something."

"Talking of which," Severus said, drawing a bottle from his robes. "Mead of my own making, from honey of Ginevra's bees, aged in a cask made by Harry."

Draco took it from him with thanks and they stepped into the house, leaving the formality of the cleansing rite behind. There is something to these old rituals, though, Ginny thought. We've all been changed by what we just did.