Chapter 8. Birds of a Feather

James and Teresa spent Saturday morning alternately talking and snogging, so far as Ginny could tell. In the afternoon all of them except for Severus joined in a pickup Quidditch game during which Tessa demonstrated the Seeker's skills that had won Gryffindor both the Quidditch Cup and the House Cup three years running.

"You could play for England," Ginny said as they hung their brooms in the back vestibule. "I've not seen anyone as fast as you since Harry."

"Thank you," Tessa said. "I do enjoy it. But I don't plan to go professional the way you did, Ms. Weasley."

"Call me Ginny, dear."

"Ginny, then. D'you mind my asking, wasn't it hard for you, being away so much in the first years of your marriage?"

"It was, and it meant putting off having children for a few years, as well. But I loved my time with the Harpies; I don't think I'd choose otherwise, had I to do it over."

As they talked, they'd moved into the kitchen, where Severus was layering veal cutlets with artichoke hearts and mushrooms in a baking dish.

"You layabouts wash up, I could use some assistance here," he said severely. "Some of us have more profitable ways to spend our time than chasing after useless objects and cavorting like children."

Ginny elbowed the small of his back as she passed on the way to the sink behind Teresa. "Don't be a crosspatch," she said.

Harry had come in, flushed from exertion and sun, sparkling with laughter and energy. "Let's not have any of that 'I'm-the-evil-bat-of-the-dungeons' act from you, Sev. I saw you watching us through the window, grinning like the Cheshire Cat."

He hooked an arm around Severus's neck from behind and leaned up to kiss his cheek, then joined Ginny and Tessa at the kitchen sink, playfully jostling his wife's hip to make room for himself.

"We were talking of Teresa's plans," Ginny told him.

"Aside from marrying James," Teresa said firmly.

"It's decided, then?" Ginny asked her.

"So far as we're concerned, it is. Whatever obstacles remain, whether from my parents or the Church, we're determined to deal with them."

James, Al, and Lily piled into the kitchen from the downstairs washroom. Albus went to one side of Severus and reached for a mushroom. Severus slapped his hand away, not seeing Lily on his other side as she palmed four of them and surreptitiously passed them to her brothers and Tess.

"How are you planning to deal with them?" Harry asked as James joined him, Ginny, and Tessa at the kitchen table. Severus plonked aubergines and courgettes on the table along with four knives. They started slicing while Severus turned back to the worktop to pour sherry and cream over the meat and put it in the oven, then went to the cooker to begin the rice.

"So far, we've been comparing notes on what we actually believe and what we think is important: what life's about, I suppose," James said. "We're pretty well together on that. The question is how great a part formal religion is going to play in our lives, and the lives of our children some day."

Tessa put in, "I realised, trying to explain my faith to Jamie, that I don't actually have a firm grasp on some of the theology myself, so my first task is to talk to Father Michael and start educating myself on my own religion."

"For my part," James said, "I want to learn more about all of them, and do a little exploring. I don't know that I'm so much interested in theology as I am in practice. Why are there all these ceremonies, and why are they so different, when our ethics are basically the same?"

Ginny said, "The Muggles in Ottery St. Mary, the Muggle village next to ours, have a ceremony where they run through the streets with flaming barrels of tar on their backs. I'm sure it has a meaning, but I'm not sure it's really worth it. And where does magic fit into all of this?"

Teresa nodded at her. "My mother's Fulani people in Guinea understand magic as springing from the spirits that reside in everything in nature. Even the Muslim majority, who hold to one God as we do, acknowledge the existence of unaccountable powers and mystic phenomena. But there are dark practices, as well. The mutilation of young girls, for example, which neither Islam nor the bush religion require, but has been an almost universal custom for generations. Only the Catholic Church's forbidding of it saved Mother. It's the reason her father brought her to England; her own grandmother wanted to do it to her."

Ginny pressed her knees together and shuddered, while Lily paled and stopped nibbling her mushroom. The males in the room looked queasy. As well they might, Ginny thought.

Severus joined them at the table and began sorting through a bowl of gooseberries. "Here we touch on what your priest was speaking of," he observed. "The way any religious system may be corrupted by error and misusage."

Al shifted impatiently, putting down his knife. "Excuse me, but this conversation seems like a load of—" He gulped at the look in Harry's eye and started again. "I'm trying to say, what difference does all this make, I mean in real everyday life? Dad, when you were fighting Voldemort, or looking for Horcruxes, or even before that when you lived with those dreadful people, did you ever pray?"

Harry waved his wand to send the sliced vegetables to the sauté pan, looking thoughtful. "I'm not sure, oddly enough," he said. "Not formally, certainly, but I did often have a feeling that there was something greater than myself operating, and that I could draw strength from it. I thought of it in terms of my dead mum and dad; they were the ones I called on at need."

"I prayed," Severus said unexpectedly in a low voice, eyes on his hands. "When the Dark Lord had me screaming on the floor, or when I was forced to be a party to dreadful deeds, and when I lay dying in the Shrieking Shack, the words I learned in childhood came back to me. I prayed that Harry might live, and that my soul should not be damned."

Albus, closest to Severus, pressed a hand over his, and there was a long silence. Eventually Severus cleared his throat and looked up. "If I have found salvation," he said, "it is in the love of this family." He rose and left the room.

Lily moved as though to go after him, but Harry shook his head at her. "Let Father recover himself, sweetheart. He'll come back when he's ready." He took a deep breath and turned to Tessa and Jamie. "So beyond the religious question, what is the plan?"

"While I'm studying for the Bar and doing my pupilage under Aunt Hermione," James said, "Tessa will be training as an interpreter for the International Confederation of Wizards. Would it be all right for us to live at Grimmauld Place for a while?"

"For as long as you like," Harry said. "And we'll add a wing to this house for you, as well. I suppose you'll want your own place eventually—"

"Possibly," Teresa said. "But I rather like the old way, where several generations live in the same place, if that's all right with you. I think it's better for the children. My papa was raised by his grandmother, you know; whatever Granny got up to, Nonna Zabini was always there for him."

That's why his Catholicism is so important to him, Ginny realised. It came from the part of his life that was his only constant, growing up.

"That system is workable only when extended families are stable and congenial," Severus said, coming back into the room. "My own was neither, and any attempt to force us together would have been disastrous."

"In my case, the older generation were all dead, and the ones who were left hated… well, me. I suppose they liked each other right enough," Harry said.

"Whilst my family are both settled and loving," Ginny said. "But as the youngest I felt a bit smothered by them. I suppose what's needed is also a willingness to allow each member to fly on their own as well as providing a safe nest to come back to."

"Then we should be fine," Jamie said, beaming at them all.

A/N Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the U.S.; if you're not American, I hope you have much to feel thankful for in any case. As a holiday gift to me, review, please? Next week: the final chapter of this arc. Thank you to all of you for reading.