But there was another truth she was now fully aware of. Something had created within her a state of perpetual defense against the very possibilities of experience, an urge for flight which took her away from the scenes of pleasure and expansion. She had stood many times on the very edge, and then had run away. She herself was to blame for what she had lost, ignored.
—Anais Nin, Delta of Venus
25 July 1996
Hermione Granger sat on the kitchen porch at Chez Chien with a cup of tea in hand, contemplating the meaning of life and her place in it.
It was only last summer that she had been "Miss Pommery 1926", working by day and dancing by night. She had broken up with an international Quidditch star and was about to start dating one of her closest friends. But once back at Hogwarts and faced with the reality of the coming war, Hermione had forsaken her party girl persona for the familiar if confining role of responsible-friend-of-the-hero.
Voldemort had been eerily inactive that year; Sirius suspected he was biding his time. So, energies had been concentrated on the ultimately successful effort to clear Sirius' name. Those who hadn't already learned of Remus' lycanthropy read of it in the daily coverage of the long trial, as well as the decision of the Marauders to become Animagi. While Sirius was found innocent of betraying the Potters, he was convicted of being an illegal Animagus and was sentenced to time served. Hermione smiled at the memory of the celebration that followed; it was as if fifteen years of tension had been released in a single night.
It was apparent to everyone that had worked on Sirius' behalf that he and Remus Lupin were more than friends; in fact, the wizarding press had played up the romance in its coverage of Sirius' acquittal. Of course Harry had known for some time. Now he could leave Privet Drive behind and live with Sirius and Remus in the country house they shared. Chez Chien was a run-down farmhouse of faded green that stood on a small rise well away from the road. The hill at the rear of the house gently sloped down to a stand of cultivated trees and then to the fields beyond. The grade at the front of the house was steeper, dipping sharply to a simple fence separating Chez Chien from the lane and the forest opposite the house. A small gray shed near the front gate sheltered Sirius' motorcycle. Hermione loved the house; it was just the sort of sanctuary that Sirius, Remus and Harry needed. All three had been homeless for such a long time.
As she watched the sun burn the early morning fog from the distant fields, she wondered what Sirius and Remus would have them working on today. After the events of the Triwizard tournament, wizarding parents across Britain had begun pressuring the Ministry of Magic to allow them to train their own children in self-defense. By the time Sirius' trial had ended the Ministry was so discredited that Fudge, looking for an easy political victory, decided to bow to the pressure and overturn the ban on out-of-school wand use by minors. Mr. Weasley was being pushed to the breaking point trying to change the Ministry from within. Hermione's parents, being Muggles, were unable to train their daughter. So, eager to repay the hospitality he had always enjoyed at the Burrow, Harry had invited Ron, Ginny and Hermione to Chez Chien for summer break.
The four teens had spent the weeks since school ended honing their dueling skills under the careful guidance of Remus and Sirius. No one was surprised at the depth of Harry's natural talent, and Ron proved a very quick study. It was the first time Hermione could recall being good at something that wasn't in a book, and the physicality of it reminded her, oddly, of dancing. But the one most changed by the three weeks of training was Ginny. She was blossoming under Remus' guidance and her skills gave her more self-confidence.
Hermione was roused from her reverie by Sirius, who sat down next to her on the porch. "Knut for your thoughts?" he asked gently.
Hermione smiled. "They aren't worth that much," she replied, glad of the distraction.
Sirius regarded Hermione for a moment. She spent far too much time in quiet contemplation for his comfort. "You've been working hard all month. What do you think Harry would say to a birthday party?"
Hermione saw a mischievous glint in Sirius' eyes, which signaled danger to her. She answered cautiously. "Well, he's never had one. But you know he doesn't like to be the center of attention."
"Even though he always is," replied Sirius.
"Because he always is," corrected Hermione.
Sirius nodded. "Anyway, that's not true. He had a birthday party. I was there." He paused for a moment, looking out over the fields, then said, "How about a house party?"
Hermione shrugged. "You'll have to ask Harry."
"Ask me what?" Harry said as he and Ron joined them on the porch. Since moving into Chez Chien, Harry had been more relaxed than Hermione had ever remembered him being. He slouched into his usual position on the porch swing, one foot along the bench and one foot on the floor.
Sirius pointed at Harry. "Remus and I are throwing you a birthday party."
Harry sat up, scowling. "How can we do that? Wouldn't it attract attention, gathering a bunch of people here?"
Sirius shrugged. "Putting up wards would be good practice for you, but I don't think there will be a problem." He put his cup down and looked at Harry, intently. "Regardless Harry, you can't stop living because of danger. If your parents had done that you wouldn't be here talking to me now. Remember that."
Harry nodded to Sirius. "Okay, then, who to invite? Neville, Seamus, Dean, who else?"
Ron spoke up from where he sat on the porch steps. "Harry! You can't have a party without girls!"
Harry squinted. He seemed completely out of his depth. "Hermione and Ginny will be here." He looked at Hermione for help.
She rolled her eyes. "Why don't you invite Lavender and Parvati, and make it a Gryffindor party?"
"Ask Parvati to bring Padma," Ron said. At Harry and Hermione's surprised looks he said, "What? It will make our numbers even, is all."
Ginny sat on the kitchen counter swinging her legs and talking to Remus Lupin. Ginny had always been fond of the soft-spoken professor and had been heartbroken when he was forced to leave Hogwarts. Since she had arrived at Chez Chien three weeks prior, she found herself talking more to Remus (as he insisted they call him) than even to Hermione. Not that she and Hermione were that close, mind you. They should have been—they were always together, and they were confidants. But something didn't quite click. Ginny had been hopeful a year before when Hermione invited her out dancing with Seamus and Dean at the end of the summer. That Miss Pommery or whatever Seamus called her was someone Ginny really could be friends with. Once they had arrived back at Hogwarts, though, that girl was no where to be found.
Then there was that stupid crush on Harry. Seamus had said once that he was "so close and yet so far." That sounded about right to Ginny. He was right there but he may as well have been on the next planet for all that they actually spoke to each other.
Remus, on the other hand, was easy to talk to. He wasn't as skittish or intimidating as Sirius (and having spent her childhood being told bogeyman stories about him, she had to admit she was still a little scared of him). He really listened to what she had to say, which almost never happened at the Burrow. It didn't happen with Harry or Hermione much, either. The mornings in the kitchen had become her favorite part of the day.
"Sirius wants to throw Harry a birthday party," Remus said, apropos of nothing.
Ginny scowled. Parties meant people. Lots of people. Big groups always made Ginny nervous and when she was nervous she spoke even less. How could she impress Harry if there was a big gang of girls around? Still, she should be a good sport. "I'm sure that would be very nice for Harry," she said.
Remus nodded. "He probably hasn't had one since, well, the first one."
Ginny smiled. She didn't like to bring up the sad subject of Harry's parents but she couldn't get enough of "Harry as a baby" stories. "What was that party like?" she asked, sure that she would invoke a happy memory, at least.
Remus stared out the window for a moment. Then he chuckled, almost in spite of himself. "Lily made a tiny cake just for Harry. I remember Peter was annoyed that she didn't make cake for the grown-ups. But she said it was Harry's special day so only he should have any cake. We were at the cottage in Godric's Hollow and it was so hot that day I thought the cake would melt. Harry was fussy all day and refused to go down for his nap so we had a very cranky toddler on our hands by evening. But once the cake came out he lit up. Sirius had gotten one of those silly joke candles that you can't blow out and James was so mad at him. Sirius thought it would frustrate Harry but he thought it was a game and kept laughing when the candle came back." Remus paused, taking a sip of tea and smiling at the memory. "Hard to believe that was fifteen years ago."
"What was?" asked Harry, as he came in from the porch.
"I was just telling Ginny about your first birthday party," Remus replied.
Harry bit his tongue. He really wished Remus and Sirius wouldn't tell these tales, especially with Ginny around. "Well, looks like we're having another one next week."
Remus smiled. "Good. This time, I'll make sure there's cake enough for everyone."
Ginny blushed and giggled, one hand over her mouth. Harry looked away, a little embarrassed.
Owls were sent out and replies returned, all accepting the invitation. At noon on 31 July young witches and wizards began to arrive at Chez Chien via Floo. Neville was the fist to roll out of the fireplace. Seamus and Dean arrived together from Ireland; Dean would be staying with Seamus until the beginning of school. Lavender, Parvati and Padma came in a giggling lump and had to be untangled by Harry and Ron.
"I bet they did that on purpose," Ginny grumbled to Hermione.
The teens greeted their hosts, then Harry took them on a grand tour of the house (omitting the small room in the cellar that Remus retired to once a month). Downstairs was a living room, study, master bedroom, a small bathroom and a kitchen with porch that opened into the back. Upstairs was Harry's room (which he was sharing with Ron), a third bedroom currently occupied by Hermione and Ginny, and another bathroom. Each of the upstairs bedrooms had been magically enlarged to hold five beds and the group was sitting in Harry's room when Remus joined them from downstairs.
"Is 'Chez Chien' Sirius' idea of a joke?" asked Lavender.
"No, Sirius' idea of a joke is 'The Dog House.' 'Chez Chien' is my idea of a compromise." He smiled. "Right. Boys in this room, girls in the other."
"But that's hardly fair. Two of the boys are gay," Parvati pointed out. "What's to stop them from fooling around?"
Seamus turned to Dean and raised his right hand. "I swear to you on my honor as a wizard that I will not try to jump you while we're staying at Chez Chien."
"That's too bad," Dean replied, his eyes twinkling. "I was looking forward to it."
Seamus looked at Dean for a long moment but he couldn't tell if Dean was joking or not.
Once settled, the teens were packed off to the fields beyond the house with picnic baskets, broomsticks and a Quidditch set. After lunch Harry organized a rough match with Dean, Padma, Ron, Hermione and Lavender against Seamus, Parvati, Ginny, Neville and himself. Since he had to promise Parvati no Bludgers to get her to play, Harry also decided not to get out the Snitch. The surprise of the game was Padma, who proved very handy with a Quaffle.
"I hate to say this, because I'd have to play against you," Ron said, "but you really should go out for your house team. Where did you learn to play like that?"
"My father," she replied. "It's rather like chess, isn't it? You look at the whole field, find the order in the chaos, and make your move." She wiped the sweat from her forehead with her towel.
Ron's thoughts drifted for a moment, as he observed how Padma's skin gleamed in the yellow-orange afternoon light. He shook it off. "But why don't you play for Ravenclaw?"
"I dunno, I guess I wanted to concentrate on music." Padma put the towel down and opened her eyes to look at Ron. "But we made a great team, didn't we?" She smiled widely, then turned to her sister.
As Ron stood watching her, Seamus walked by and hit him on the shoulder. "Don't gape Ron, it's unattractive."
Baskets and Quidditch gear repacked, they headed back to the house to shower and change before dinner. As there were only two showers, the boys went out to the porch to wait for their turn. They found Remus sitting in a chair with Sirius at his feet, his back against Remus' legs, looking out at the fields. "Who won the game?" Remus asked. "It was difficult to tell from here."
Harry groaned as he flopped into the porch swing. "We lost to Ron's team! Why can't you people let me win on my birthday!"
Dean would have none of it. "Losing is good. Keeps you humble." He chuckled, pointing at Harry. "No seekers was your idea. If you're not going to play to your strength, you can't blame us."
Harry growled and took a long slug of butterbeer before moving his leg to allow Ron to sit next to him on the swing. Seamus sat in the large wicker chair near the swing.
"So, Seamus," Sirius began, nonchalantly.
"Sirius," Remus warned. At their first meeting, during the trial, Sirius and Seamus had begun a flirtation that had not yet run its course. While Remus thought it was harmless, it was still vaguely inappropriate even if Sirius often had the maturity level of a teenager, so he didn't encourage it. But when Sirius grinned up at him innocently, Remus said, "Oh, go ahead, I suppose I can't stop you."
"What do you want to ask me, Sirius?" Seamus leaned back in his chair, spreading his arms and stretching his legs. "My life is an open book, though not that interesting yet."
"Interesting is overrated," Sirius replied sadly. He looked out at the fields for a moment. Coming back to himself, he asked Seamus, "You dated Lavender, then apparently ran screaming in the opposite direction?"
"I wouldn't say that. I thought I'd try for the girliest girl I could find, to see if I could make it work. Obviously, I couldn't." Seamus nervously picked at the label on his bottle of butterbeer. This hadn't been his brightest shining moment, but there was no getting around it. "We were never that serious, and we're friendly now. Anyway, she got a lot of mileage out of being the scorned woman. Guys saying, 'I'll show you what a real man is like,' that sort of thing. Positive all around."
"And now? Hermione says you're doing a great deal of dating."
Seamus sighed. "My reputation is exaggerated. I had a boyfriend and he broke my little heart. So I decided to stay single for a while. The usual story. Why do you ask?"
"Just wondering if the entangled love lives of Gryffindor adolescents had changed at all since we were there. Doesn't sound like it." Sirius chuckled, turning to the boys on the other side of the porch. "And what about you, Dean?"
Seamus looked up at Dean, who was sitting directly across from him. When Seamus had started seeing Justin Finch-Fletchley, Dean and Seamus had drifted apart somewhat. Hermione had been his real confidant during fifth year, their bond with each other growing closer as their romantic relationships foundered. But Seamus was hoping that he could rectify things with Dean this summer. Once a best friend always a best friend, right?
Dean smiled mysteriously. "I date a bit."
"No one special?" Sirius asked.
"Well—" Dean began.
Remus nudged Sirius' back with his knee. "You're so nosy! Don't press the boy. Maybe he doesn't want anyone to know."
"Why don't you ask Neville?" Harry suggested. "He's the only attached one here."
"Yes, the rest of us are flops," said Ron. "But Neville has his girl eating out of the palm of his hand."
"Neville?" Remus was surprised, though he didn't know why he should have been—Frank Longbottom was considered quite the catch in his day. "Well, who's the lucky girl?"
Neville was blushing furiously. "Susan Bones. But it's me that's lucky, not the other way round." He smiled self-consciously and played with the leather bracelet Susan had given him at the end of the year.
Remus nodded. "Hufflepuff. Nice girl. Rather good at Herbology, if I remember correctly."
"Their eyes met over the mandrakes," teased Ron. "Young love in the greenhouse."
The boys laughed, but a voice from the doorway objected. "I think it's sweet," said Ginny.
"So do I," agreed Sirius. He looked up at Ginny. "Are all you girls finally out of the showers, then?"
Ginny scowled, though having spent a month at Chez Chien she knew Sirius was just teasing. "I don't think girls actually take longer. But yes, the showers are free."
"I'm next," called Ron as he pushed past Ginny into the house.
"What's gotten into him?" asked Ginny, sitting next to Harry on the swing.
"I don't know," Harry replied, "but I'm heading for the shower before we start discussing my love life. Or lack thereof." Harry stood and left the porch.
"Gee, was it something I said?" Ginny asked.
Ron ran upstairs into the boys room and grabbed his gear before heading to the upstairs bathroom. As he came around the corner, he literally walked into Padma. In a towel.
"Hello, Ron Weasley." Ron thought she was very calm, considering the situation. She even seemed amused.
"Oh, er, sorry. Ginny said you were done." Ron gulped and willed himself not to blush.
"I am. It's all yours." She smiled warmly. "That is, if you'll let me past you so I can grab my robe."
"Oh! Right, sorry." Ron turned and Padma walked past him toward the girl's room. "Um, see you later."
"Of course, at dinner," Padma called over her shoulder as she opened the door to the bedroom.
Ron went into the bathroom, shut the door and looked into the mirror. "Well, that was smooth" said his reflection.
"Shut up!" Ron growled.
Dinner was a raucous affair. Unbeknownst to Harry, Sirius had asked each guest to prepare a toast to the birthday boy in lieu of a present. Lavender and Parvati managed not to giggle as they did their toast jointly as a mock-divination, their sense of humor about Professor Trelawney having improved as their girlish hero-worship waned. Seamus recited a rather bawdy poem full of Quidditch double entendres, with illustrations courtesy of Dean. Padma, who had brought her guitar along, sang a popular Weird Sisters tune to which she had written lyrics about all the girls Harry had dated the previous year. Ginny had written a poem from Hedwig's point of view. Neville made an poignant speech about growing up without parents that moved everyone to applause and to tears (even Ron, though he wouldn't admit it).
Hermione was inspired by one of the Muggle movies that she and Seamus had watched the previous summer to write a story about how the world would be different if Harry had never been born. But she stayed away from anything having to do with The Boy Who Lived. Instead, she spoke of Gryffindor winning the Quidditch Cup during their third year; of Harry and Ron befriending her when no one else did; of Dobby gaining his freedom; of saving Buckbeak's life.
But Ron's toast was the shortest of all: "To my brother."
After dinner, the party began in earnest. Seamus turned on some music and hauled a mildly protesting Hermione out onto the back garden for a dance (though she flatly refused to demonstrate all of the skills she had picked up the previous summer). Soon, nearly everyone was dancing or drifting back and forth to the kitchen for more food or drinks. They even managed to get Sirius and Remus onto the "floor" by playing some old disco music that Seamus had borrowed from his mother.
"Don't they look grand," sighed Seamus.
Lavender looked at the couple. "I must admit, they really do." She turned to Seamus. "We never looked like that, did we?"
Seamus shook his head. "It wasn't that we didn't look like that. It was that we didn't feel like that." He held out his hand. "Have a dance?"
Lavender let Seamus lead her out where the others were dancing, as a slow song started. She remembered how they had danced for hours at the Yule Ball and couldn't help but sigh as she lay her head on Seamus's shoulder.
Seamus looked down at Lavender and murmured, "Things can't be that bad. You're the belle of Hogwarts! Every guy in every house is trying to date you."
"I suppose," Lavender said glumly.
"Don't tell me I broke your heart, Lav. We both know better than that."
"No! I just hate this stupid war." Lavender pulled her head up and looked at Seamus. "Everyone's so bloody serious now. People look at me like I'm an idiot half the time, when all I really want is to be sixteen. You were never serious but you always took me seriously. I miss that."
Seamus kissed Lavender on the forehead. "Date a Hufflepuff. They never take anything very seriously, I've found."
"He didn't deserve you, Seamus." Lavender smiled. "Well, I guess I'll go rescue Neville. I think Parvati's scaring him."
"We're good though, right?" Seamus asked.
Lavender squeezed Seamus's hand before letting it go. "You bet."
As Lavender walked to Parvati, she passed Ron and Padma who were deep in conversation about the parallels between life and wizard chess.
"Ron, do you really think all of life can be reduced to a chess game?" Padma said, exasperated. "War of course, and Quidditch I can see, but romance?"
"Well, that's how it should be. You know—you capture the Queen, she stays captured and you can move on to the rest of the game." Ron thought for a moment. "Only, that's not how it worked with Hermione."
Padma laughed. "I would imagine not. No girl wants to be treated as a game piece."
Ron hadn't thought of that. "Well anyway, she always wanted me to be something I wasn't."
"Like what?" Padma asked.
"Like responsible and serious."
Padma looked confused. "Aren't you? You seem like it to me. I mean, you're a lot of other things but you're neither reckless nor frivolous, I don't think."
Ron beamed. "Hey, your bottle's empty. Would you like another drink?"
"Thanks, but I'd better see to my sister. She's standing by herself and that's usually dangerous." Padma stood up to go, then said, "You know Ron, if romance is like wizard chess then the girl is not your Queen."
Ron stood as well. "No? Who is she, then?"
"She's your opponent." Padma smiled, then turned and walked away.
As Ron watched her leave, Harry came up behind him letting out a low whistle. "If she's your opponent, then you're in over your head, my friend," he grinned.
Ron turned to Harry, one eyebrow raised. "Since what you know about girls would fit into a thimble, I don't think I'll be taking any advice from you any time soon."
Harry held up his hands. "Touchy! Let's go inside and get a refill."
In the kitchen, they found Sirius and Remus sitting at the table arguing with Seamus over Muggle music.
"I think they're a great band," Seamus was saying.
Sirius pointed his finger at Seamus. "That's only because you haven't listened to the Beatles. If you had, you could hear what horrid knockoffs of them these idiots really are!"
"Who are the Beatles?" Ron asked, tossing a butterbeer to Harry and taking one for himself.
Sirius rolled his eyes. "Never mind. Enough about music. What were you two arguing about when you came in?"
"Girls and our lack of success with them," said Harry, hopping up on the counter.
"Harry has dated most of Ravenclaw and is currently working his way through Hufflepuff, with no end in sight," Seamus confirmed.
Sirius furrowed his brow, wondering why he hadn't had this conversation with his godson before. "You're not the run around type, Harry. What gives?"
Harry took a sip of butterbeer to stall for time, though he had learned the hard way that once Sirius started asking questions he would not stop until he had all the answers. Harry's strategy was to answer as quickly and thoroughly as he could, and then try to get Sirius onto another topic, though that didn't always work. "Well," he began, "I guess I'm looking for someone special. Like what you two have. I mean, you fight but you don't fight dirty. You're very supportive of each other and you take on each other's problems like a team. You have some things in common but not everything, so you do things together and you do things apart but mostly you just hang out. And, well, frankly, you have a ton of sex. I would like to have a lot of sex." Looking up, he saw everyone staring at him and said, "Come on! Who doesn't want to have a lot of sex?"
Sirius grinned but Remus had turned a shade of bright pink. He cleared his throat but his voice was still a little shaky as he asked, "What kind of girl do you want to have all this sex with?"
Harry became very serious. "She should be attractive of course, but I dated some really pretty girls this year and I'm still looking. She should be fun, because things tend to get pretty serious and I want someone around that I can just forget about everything with. She should be smart. Maybe not a Ravenclaw but very intelligent. I don't want someone who's interested in me just because I'm some hero or something because I'm not, anyway. She should be calm, because I can jump to conclusions and it's good to have someone else holding me back. And caring, someone who can pick me up when I'm discouraged. But she shouldn't just kowtow to me. I want someone who can stand up for herself." He paused.
Sirius said, "Harry, that sounds like some vision of perfection. So you date these girls and when they don't live up to this ideal, you just scratch them off your list?"
"That's the routine so far," Ron put in.
Harry shook his head. "I'm not looking for the perfect girl; just the one that's perfect for me. Probably I'm just looking for someone like my mum. That's normal, right?"
"Perfectly normal," Remus said, nodding slowly. He shot a confused glance at Sirius, who shrugged.
Ginny walked in from the outside. "So this is where you disappeared to. You'd better come out here. Parvati's trying to get Dean to do the lambada, whatever that is."
Harry slipped down from the countertop, and followed Ron and Ginny out of the kitchen.
Once Harry was gone, Remus said to Sirius, "That didn't sound like Lily to me. How did he get that impression from any of our stories?"
Sirius shook his head. "I have no idea. I'm just as confused as you are."
"That girl wasn't his mum?" Seamus asked.
Remus explained, "Lily Evans Potter was never calm. She was supportive but in a sarcastic, swift kick to the arse kind of way. Which was good for James, because he could be a little complacent."
Sirius added, "In other words, Lily was a challenge. Smart, funny, beautiful, but a handful. When they started dating, James looked like he'd been run over by a truck." He smiled at the memory. "So if this girl isn't Lily, I suppose he just made her up?"
Seamus shook his head. "No, she exists. I know who that girl is."
Remus looked at Seamus. "Who?"
Seamus's sense of the dramatic called for a long pause. "Harry Potter's dream girl is Hermione Granger." He grinned at Sirius and Remus.
Sirius said, "Well, I guess we'll have to do something about that, won't we?" He winked at Seamus.
"No, we won't, Sirius," Remus warned.
Sirius took Remus' hand and cleared his throat. "I seem to remember a certain messy-haired boy giving yours truly a kick in the arse to ask out a certain werewolf." Remus looked unconvinced. "Come on Moony! It's our chance to pay them back, however indirectly. What do you say?"
Remus sighed. "Oh, go ahead. But no potions. I mean it!"
Neville walked in to the kitchen. "You missed a great lambada. Come outside, everyone's asking for you." He grabbed two butterbeers and headed back out to the yard.
Sirius, Seamus and Remus rose to follow Neville back outside. As they walked out, Sirius took Seamus aside and whispered, "I have an idea. We'll talk later." He winked.
Seamus winked back and thought to himself that if he were Remus Lupin, he would probably be having a lot of sex too.
Meanwhile, Neville had reached Ginny with a butterbeer refill. "Here you go. Hey, what are you looking at?" He followed Ginny's line of vision. Harry and Hermione, who had been dancing, were walking away from the house toward a swing under a large oak tree.
"Oh, nothing." She sighed and turned to Neville. "Neville, what made you decide to ask Susan out? I mean, what did she do to get your attention?"
Neville shyly smiled and looked down at the grass. "She didn't do anything. She just was there being herself, so I noticed her and she noticed me, and it just sort of happened. Why?"
"Did you ever read David Copperfield?" Ginny asked.
Neville nodded. "What about it?"
She explained, "I always thought love would be like that. There would be someone that you'd known since you were a child, who might go away for a while but if you wait long enough, eventually they come back to you. You know, like Agnes. Is there anything more romantic than when Agnes says to David, 'I have loved you all my life'?" She sighed, carried away by the romantic vision.
Neville shrugged. "I don't know, Ginny. Things usually happen in ways you don't expect. I certainly don't think you should wait around for someone to notice you. You're pretty noticeable, already. At least, I think so."
Ginny smiled at Neville's attempt to cheer her up. "You're really sweet, you know?" She gave Neville a hug.
"So sweet he makes my teeth ache," said Seamus, who was walking toward them with Dean.
"Nice, Finnigan!" Ginny yelled, annoyed that the mood had been broken.
Neville laughed. "Seamus, you're jealous."
Seamus held his hands up. "Well Neville, you caught me. But you might want to placate Parvati. She banished Dean and me from the dance floor and is sending up a general call for straight men."
Neville blanched. "What about Ron?"
Seamus snickered. "Ron's apparently not enough man for all three of them. At least, according to Parvati."
Neville looked scared but he stuck out his chin and walked back over to where the girls were standing.
As he left, Seamus said, "He's a far braver man than I'll ever be."
Ginny said, "You'll get no argument here." She looked back out onto the grounds where Harry and Hermione were talking. They were laughing, and then Harry reached over to Hermione and pushed a piece of hair out of her face. It was a small gesture, one she had seen him make hundreds of times. But there was something about that moment that was different.
Or maybe it wasn't the moment that was different but Ginny herself. She suddenly felt like she had been kicked in the stomach.
Seamus was talking to Dean when he looked at Ginny and grabbed her arm. "Hey, are you all right? You've gone green."
Ginny took a deep breath. "I'll be fine. I think I'll just go inside."
Dean said, "Do you want us to come with you?"
"NO!" Ginny shook her head. "Um, no. Sorry, no. I'll be fine. I just need to sit down. Probably too much butterbeer." She walked up to the house.
Dean looked down at Seamus. "Any idea what that was all about?"
Seamus looked out on the lawn, to where Harry and Hermione were talking. He nodded in their direction. "That."
Dean glanced over at the pair. "They aren't doing anything they don't do all the time. She's seen them together before."
"Sometimes when you see the same thing it looks different. Even if you seen it millions of times." Seamus looked up at his friend. "You're an artist. You know what I mean."
"Yeah," Dean replied, his eyes meeting Seamus's, "I know exactly what you mean."
Ginny walked past Lavender and Parvati dancing with Neville, past Ron and Padma talking, past Sirius and Remus sitting on the porch steps and into the kitchen. Remus exchanged a glance with Sirius before rising to sit next to Ginny at the kitchen table. Since coming to Chez Chien, Ginny had felt a little out of place, and had found herself more often than not talking to Remus rather than her best friend, her brother, or her crush, even though they were her age.
"You don't look good," he said, gently taking Ginny's hand. "Did something happen?"
Ginny had her head in her other hand. "Nothing happened. Everything happened."
"Is this about Harry?" Remus asked gently.
Ginny looked up. "Am I that transparent? Does everyone know?" She sat back in her chair and stared up at the ceiling. "This would be really funny if it weren't so pathetic."
"Ginny! Don't say that!" scolded Remus.
"Why not? Girl is seized by hero-worship at a young age. Hero becomes best friends with girl's older brother. Girl spends next five years following hero around, sending hero valentines, hoping that hero will notice her. Hero notices everyone but girl. In fact, hero notices girl's best friend. Sounds pretty pathetic to me."
Remus sighed, clasping Ginny's hand between his two hands. "Do you think that just because Sirius and I met at school that he was my first crush? Everyone goes through this."
"I thought that if I kept waiting, if I grew up fast enough, if I did the right things, he would see." Ginny lay her head down on the table and began to cry, softly.
Remus slid closer, reaching one hand out to stroke Ginny's hair. "Maybe Harry's not the one for you, Ginny. He may always see you as a little girl. The man who sees who you are, that will be the right man."
Ginny rolled her head to the side, looking at Remus. "But how will I know?" she sniffled.
"Keep your heart open and he will find you. Or you will find him." Remus smiled slightly. "Come on, let's wash your face. Can't have red eyes at a party!" Remus stood up from the table, pulling Ginny up and hugging her close.
As they walked to the bathroom, Remus' arm on her shoulder, Ginny asked, "Remus, is it okay if I go home tomorrow when the others leave? I don't think I want to stay here and watch them."
Remus nodded. "I'm sure we can find some excuse. But for now, I want you to go back out to the party. There will be plenty of time to brood later. Okay?"
Ginny smiled bravely. "Okay."
Harry and Hermione at that moment were under an oak tree, talking about their best friend.
"What's up with Ron and Padma?" Hermione asked from her perch in the tree swing. "I mean, I know he took her to the Yule Ball but that was over a year ago and I don't think he treated her very well."
Harry winced. The least said about that evening, the better. "I don't know. Maybe she's a challenge. She definitely isn't just giving into that whole 'Weasley charm' thing he pulls." He laughed a little, though he secretly wished that he could be half as smooth when a girl was around as Ron was.
Hermione had to respect a girl that didn't fall for such obvious artifice. "Well, good luck to them," she said, and meant it.
Harry leaned back against the tree trunk. "Hey, can I ask you something?"
"Why did you date Ron in the first place?" Harry paused. "From what I could see, you just made each other miserable."
"I don't suppose you've read Pride and Prejudice?" she asked.
Harry shook his head.
"Well, the two main characters start out hating each other. All they do is bicker through the whole book. But they end up in love at the end. Because they aren't really bickering, you see. They're sort of sparring. You know, witty banter." She looked at Harry, wondering if she was making any sense at all. "It's really very sexy. I'm not doing it justice."
"I'm with you," Harry said.
"I guess I thought that's what Ron and I were doing. That was my romantic ideal." She sighed. "But Ron is not Fitzwilliam Darcy, and I am not Lizzie Bennet, much as I wish I were. Our banter wasn't witty, or sexy. It was just endless bickering that wore us both out. So it didn't work." She smiled ruefully. "No more ideals for me."
Harry wasn't sure he understood all of what she said, having not read the book. But he did know something about romantic ideals. "But why would you wish you were someone else, Hermione?"
Hermione couldn't think of a good answer to that, which was just as well as Dean was coming toward them.
"You guys should come back to the house. Parvati wants to play spin the bottle." Dean rolled his eyes.
"Good grief" Hermione moaned. "Does Sirius know about this?"
Dean laughed. "Whose idea do you think it was?"
The three ran up to the house, where they saw Sirius and Seamus deep in conversation on the porch. As Harry approached them, they stopped talking.
Sirius looked up. "Come up for the game, Harry?"
Harry nodded. "Figures it would be your idea." He crossed his arms.
Sirius held up his hands. "I am not taking the blame for this one. Parvati had much more dangerous games in mind. Under the circumstances, spin the bottle was preferable."
Harry shook his head and went inside with Hermione.
Dean hesitated, looking at Seamus. "Are you coming in?"
Seamus smiled up at Dean. "In seconds, I promise."
Dean nodded, then went inside.
Seamus turned to Sirius. "Are you sure this appearance charm will work? They won't be able to tell?"
"If James could fool Lily, then I'm sure Harry and Hermione won't be able to tell." He lowered his voice, murmuring conspiratorially, "I'll sneak you a book of Remus's, and you can work out the charm from there."
Seamus felt a bit dizzy, though whether from the butterbeer or from Sirius Black whispering in his ear he could not tell. He focussed on nodding in agreement and hoped he didn't look as empty-headed as he felt.
"Take some advice from an old man?" Sirius asked.
"I would if there was one around," replied Seamus, slyly.
Sirius laughed. "That was well done, if obvious."
"I like to keep in practice," Seamus said, grinning.
"Mmm. Well, don't pay so much attention to the bright and shiny things that you don't notice what's in the background. Anchors are more important than you think."
Seamus furrowed his brow. "Sirius, if you want me to understand you, you're going to have to stop speaking in metaphors."
"Okay then." Sirius thought for a moment. "You know that person in your life that's always there—the one that grounds you, the one that makes everything else make sense?"
"He's not going to wait around forever."
Seamus looked down at his hands. The noises of the party in the living room suddenly seemed very far away. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before speaking again.
"But if I were to give in to him—"
"Oh, so that's the problem, is it?" Sirius interrupted. "You're looking at it upside down. Do you need control that much?"
"I gave in once. I lost myself completely." Seamus grasped his bottle tightly, reliving the memory. "I can't do that again."
Sirius shook his head. "Seamus, the right person will give yourself back to you. You won't be lost; you'll be found."
Remus walked out onto the porch from the kitchen, sitting on the step above Sirius. He reached a hand down to Sirius, who turned his head and gave Remus a broad smile. Seamus closed his eyes and remembered the way Dean had looked at him a little while ago, just after Ginny went inside.
Suddenly Parvati's voice rang out from the living room. "Finnigan! Get your tight little Irish arse in here!"
Seamus opened his eyes. "Well, I've been summoned." He rose to go inside.
"Will you think about what I said?" Sirius asked.
Seamus nodded, then went in to join the game.
Remus turned sideways, stretching his legs along the step. Sirius leaned his head back into Remus' lap. They sat there for a long moment, looking up at the stars, Remus running his hand through Sirius' hair. "What were you talking about with Seamus? Other than your matchmaking scheme, that is?" Remus asked.
Sirius looked up at Remus. "Giving up control."
Remus snorted. "And what would you know about that, exactly?"
"Everything. I gave in to you, didn't I?" Sirius sat up and turned to face the other man.
Remus was not convinced. "Did you? I must have missed that part."
"Well," said Sirius, moving closer, "I suppose I'll have to do it again, so you'll remember."
"How about now?" Remus whispered. He leaned forward, putting his hand on the back of Sirius' head and pulled him forward into a kiss.