When I was a child,
I spake as a child,
I understood as a child,
I thought as a child:
but when I became a man,
I put away childish things.
—I Corinthians 13:11 (KJV)
16 September 1996
It was only the third week of school but Draco Malfoy was already counting the days until the end of the year.
At first, on the Hogwarts Express, the other students knew of his mother's death but not of his rejection of you-know-who. Once all the events of that night at Malfoy Manor had become generally known, however, Draco was persona non grata in the Slytherin dungeons. Crabbe and Goyle would have nothing to do with him. Not that he really cared for them but he'd known them all his life and Draco disliked change. Even Pansy Parkinson, who only the year before had been making a spectacle of herself for his benefit on a regular basis, shunned him. The other Slytherins, whether or not they had ties to the Death Eaters, ostracized the boy who had once been a leader of the house and the assumed Quidditch captain. After all, they were Slytherins and could see that there was no advantage in siding with a pariah.
So for all his posing on the train, his house was against him. The rest of the school had no reason to believe his lies about Ginny, given his previous pattern of behavior. He'd alienated the one person that he never wanted to hurt while gaining no advantage whatsoever. Well, so much for that. He was sure Ginny would never forgive him for what he said but he took some solace in the knowledge that her own reputation had not been harmed by his selfishness.
So he dedicated himself to doing exactly as he pleased, vaguely defined as whatever would have angered his father the most. He cut class and stopped doing his assignments. When he did show up to class, he was either sulkily silent or mouthed off to the professors. Even Severus Snape did not escape Draco's general disdain. He'd seen Snape at Malfoy Manor and figured he knew something Dumbledore didn't, so he used it to his advantage. Advanced Potions was the one class he wasn't currently failing.
He hoped that reports of his exploits were reaching his father's ears. He had detention nearly every day which he didn't really mind as it kept him out of the dungeons and away from his fellow Slytherins. Of course, the points he was losing for his house were making him even more unpopular, if that was possible. But then, it was Lucius who courted the House Cup, not Draco, and the boy's upside down logic celebrated every lost point.
Quidditch gave him no solace. He couldn't see how he could be on the team now, much less be captain, when almost no one in the house acknowledged his existence. He spent all of his time not in detention flying around the Hogwarts grounds trying to clear his head, to figure out which of the things his father told him had been the truth and which were lies. The progress was slow.
He rarely slept now. Behind the privacy of curtains and a silencing charm, he sat up late at night obsessively drilling himself in every hex Mrs. Weasley or his father had taught him. The irony of Lucius suffering by one of the curses he'd taught his own son filled Draco with a cold sort of pleasure.
On his bedside table sat two photos. One was of his mother watching him unwrap a present, the Christmas before he started Hogwarts. The other was the picture of Ginny and him with their fish which Mrs. Weasley had given him just before he left the Burrow. Every night as sleep evaded him he stared at the photos and wondered if either Ginny or his mother could have helped him to separate the truth from the web of lies his father had spun.
Seamus Finnigan walked from Divining class to Gryffindor Tower with an enraged Harry Potter.
"As if it isn't bad enough that she predicts my death in every class," Harry sputtered, "now she's moved on to my love life!" Professor Trelawney's latest vision was of Harry being blind to his true soul mate which hit a little too close to home for Harry's comfort.
"Can I make a suggestion?" Seamus asked slyly.
"Why not?" Harry scowled. "I'm certainly not doing well on my own."
"I think you need to stop worrying about being The Boy Who Lived long enough to be a regular person with someone," Seamus declared.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Very perceptive, Finnigan. But how do you suppose I go about doing that? Not to be egotistical but where can I find a witch that doesn't know who I am?" Harry sighed, frustrated.
"Freeze tag" said Seamus. The Fat Lady swung open and the boys stepped into the common room. "Come up to the room. I have an idea but I don't want it getting around."
Once in the sixth year boy's dorm, Harry sat on his bed. Seamus paced in front of him and began to explain the appearance charm, in an offhand tone that belied he and Sirius' complex scheme. "It's not the same as polyjuice; it's a charm rather than a potion. You don't look like a particular person, you just modify your own appearance. Your body shape doesn't change, unless you really want it to, but that's pretty tricky."
Harry looked up, interested. "I could change my eyes and my hair?"
Seamus nodded. "You can get rid of the scar and the glasses, too, if you want to. I'd recommend it, actually. Sexy as they are, they're a bit of a giveaway." He smiled, then turned serious. "But the point isn't to look cool. It's to be someone else for a while."
"Got it. No trying to look like a film star." Harry thought for a moment, then asked, "So what's the catch?" One thing he'd learned in five years at Hogwarts was, there was always a catch.
"It's only good for six hours or until the wizard that did the charm takes it off. And you can't do it to yourself; someone else has to do it to you."
"Who told you about this?" Harry narrowed his eyes suspiciously.
Seamus grinned. "Your very own godfather. He was reminiscing about his Marauders days."
"Why am I not surprised?" he said. "But how do I ask out a girl if I don't look like anyone she knows?"
"Leave the girl up to me. I know someone you definitely should see, someone you would never think of." He winked.
"Who is she?" Harry asked, curious.
Seamus shook his head. "You'll have to trust me. She'll be under an appearance charm as well." At Harry's scowl he said, "It isn't fair if you know who she is but she doesn't know who you are. Surely you can see that."
"And just why should I trust you?" Harry demanded.
Seamus chuckled. "Well, as you pointed out, you haven't exactly been successful so far."
Harry mulled it over. It would certainly make things easier not to have that stupid image to live up to. To not have to be charming or heroic or inscrutable or anything other than just Harry. He looked up at Seamus. "I'll do it," he said resolutely.
Seamus let out a breath. "Great. How's this weekend? Hogsmeade, dinner?"
"Just tell me where to be and what to do." Harry stood to go back down to the common room. "Thanks, Seamus," he said.
"Oh, nothing to it, Harry," Seamus replied, grinning.
Ron lingered behind for a few moments in Divination. He'd been focusing his patented Weasley charm on Hannah Abbott for a week, and had decided to move in for the kill after class. Sure enough, she hesitated as her friends left and Ron offered to walk her back to her dorm. By the time they neared Hufflepuff, he'd secured a dinner date in Hogsmeade that weekend and a quick kiss in the hall. No muss, no fuss. Just the way it should be.
He was whistling as he walked back to Gryffindor Tower when he heard a voice in the hall.
"Hello Ron Weasley." Padma Patil was walking down the stairs from Gryffindor. "Don't you look pleased with yourself."
Ron nearly tripped over his robe. "Um, Padma. Hello. What are you doing here?" he stuttered.
"I was trying to find my sister but she doesn't seem to be around," she said smoothly. "Guess I'll be heading back to Ravenclaw."
"Don't do that!" Ron shouted, though he wasn't sure why.
"Shall I stand here in the hall, then?" Padma smiled, her arms crossed.
Ron thought she looked rather like a queen. Queens! "No. Let's have a game of chess." Ron climbed until he was on the same step as Padma.
Padma raised one eyebrow. "Looking for a rematch?" Padma had beaten Ron soundly when they played at Chez Chien that summer.
Ron grinned. "I can't let you ruin my reputation, now can I? Wait here, will you?" Ron went up the stairs through the common room and up to his dorm. Once there he threw down his books, grabbing his own chess set and Harry's before returning to Padma.
"So? Great Hall then?" Padma asked, rising from where she'd sat down on the step.
Ron shook his head. "There's a study nook near McGonagall's class room with a table and two chairs. It's a quiet spot this time of day." He held out his arm to her gallantly. "Shall we?" he asked.
"Let's," Padma replied with a smile, taking his arm and walking down the stairs.
As they made their way to the classrooms, Ron tried to figure out why Padma had suddenly reappeared in his life; he certainly hadn't seen much of her since the Triwizard Tournament. But it wasn't as if they were dating. They were just playing chess.
Hermione looked up from her arithmancy books to see Seamus standing before her. "Seamus Finnigan? In the library? To what do I owe this great honor?" she muttered sarcastically.
Seamus sat down at the table. "You need a break. You've been in here all afternoon. It's a nice day, we should advantage of it."
"Well," Hermione started.
"Nin, ever since you and Ron broke up you've had your head buried in books even more than usual. I'd hoped it would change over the summer but it's just got worse." He stood and held out his hand. "Come on, put away your things and we'll go for a walk." He smiled, indicating the door with a nod of his head.
Hermione glanced around the library. As it was the beginning of term, there was hardly anyone around. Why was she here? She sat back in her chair, threw down her quill and looked up at Seamus. "You're right, of course," she muttered, resigned. "I hate it when you're right." She stood and packed up her books and parchment, leaving them behind the desk with Madam Pince.
Outside it smelled fresh and sweet compared to the stale air of the castle and the bright sun was certainly more cheerful than the lamps in the library. Seamus and Hermione headed out to the lake and sat on the grass in the sun. Hermione leaned forward and rubbed her temples. "The trouble with stopping," she lamented to Seamus, "is that you realize how fast you've been running."
"You've got to stop driving yourself so hard. I'm worried about you." Seamus rubbed Hermione's back with his right hand. "When are you going to have some fun? You worked all summer."
Hermione put her head in her hands. "There's a war coming," she mumbled.
"All the more reason to have fun. Look at what's been going on around here since the Triwizard Tournament. People are shagging like rabbits." He moved his hand up to Hermione's neck and rubbed it gently. "I'm just wondering what happened to my Nin, the one who spent last summer dancing like a mad woman."
She turned to look at him, annoyed. "She came back to reality. I can't, Seamus! I have to do everything I can to get ready so I can help Harry."
"Fretting and working yourself to the bone will not help Harry, who would never begrudge you a bit of pleasure." Seamus leaned toward Hermione's ear and whispered, "He certainly hasn't stopped dating, has he?"
Hermione put her head back in her hands, then sat up. "All right Finnigan, what do you want me to do? It isn't like there are wizards lining up to ask me out," she pointed out.
"What you need to do is forget yourself and all of these burdens you're carrying around and loosen up for a few hours." Seamus's eyes widened for a moment. "I have an idea. You could try an appearance charm."
"What would that do for me? Are you saying I'm not attractive enough? Is that my problem?" Hermione asked, defensively.
"Hey! Of course not! You're beautiful! But if you keep hiding in the library, I'll be the only one who knows." Seamus took Hermione's hand in his. "If you don't look like yourself, then you don't have to act the way you think people expect you to act. You can put the war and Harry and everything else up on a shelf somewhere, and just have a nice time." He smiled.
Hermione sighed and leaned over against Seamus, who put his arms around her. She sank into his arms. "What will I need to do?" she whispered.
Seamus grinned, hugging Hermione a little closer. "Leave everything to me. I'll set up the date and do the spell for you. I know the perfect bloke." He looked down at Hermione. "Someone who really deserves you. He just hasn't seen you the way I have."
Hermione looked up at Seamus and smiled. "Okay. I'm in your hands," she capitulated. Then she pointed at Seamus and said, sternly, "If you screw this up, I will turn you into a hedgehog and give you to McGonagall and you will spend the rest of your life getting turned into a pin cushion by clueless first years."
"I have been warned." Seamus laughed and stroked Hermione's hair.
Dean Thomas did not to return to Gryffindor after Divination. Harry was fuming, Ron was putting the moves on some Hufflepuff, Neville had disappeared with Susan and Seamus had that scheming look. He thought it wise to clear out and head for the studio.
The small art studio sat adjacent to the library and was presided over by Professor Flitwick, as most magical art worked through charms. Along one end was a dark room to develop magical and Muggle film. Dean's corner contained charmed and standard supplies: oil paints, pastels, colored pencils. He put his books down on the workbench and began to pack his art box with watercolors, thinking he would make another study of the lake for a future painting. As he was about to leave, he saw Professor Dumbledore walking into the studio.
"Hello, Mr. Thomas. Continuing your lake series, I imagine?" The Headmaster peered through the small window in the studio. "Excellent day for it. The afternoon light is becoming more autumnal by the day."
Dean nodded. While Flitwick was in charge of the studio, Dean had quickly discovered that Dumbledore had the eye of an accomplished art historian. Dean was in the middle of a three-year independent study with Dumbledore, to prepare a portfolio for his post-Hogwarts career. "Yes sir, I thought I would do some watercolors of the trees on the near end with the lake in the distance."
Dumbledore nodded, continuing to look out the window. "There are two figures down near the lake that would make an fine counterbalance to the trees. Mr. Finnigan and Miss Granger, I believe." Dumbledore turned from the window and gave Dean one of "those looks." Harry and Dean had had many a conversation about how Albus Dumbledore could make you feel that he'd looked into your mind and read what he found there. Dean had no doubt that Dumbledore knew how Dean felt about Seamus. Then again, so would anyone who'd seen Dean's sketches of him.
Dean looked out the window, partly to hide his discomfort. "Thank you for pointing that out, sir. If you'll excuse me." Dean grabbed the paint box, small easel and three-legged chair and walked out of the studio.
"Good luck, Mr. Thomas," Dumbledore called after him. Dean had a feeling that he was referring to more than just the painting.
Once outside, however, the task of setting up his tools and deciding on a place to paint from allowed him to forget the personal parts of his latest encounter with his advisor. Dumbledore was correct, as usual. The two figures huddled in conversation made the composition of trees and lake triangular, adding balance and tension to the sketch. He worked quickly, as the sun was already beginning to set.
He'd just finished when he heard a voice behind him. "Mind if I watch?"
He glanced out over the lake but Seamus and Hermione still sat talking. He looked up over his shoulder to see Kevin Entwhistle. The sixth-year Ravenclaw was tall, handsome and broad-shouldered, with blond hair and blue eyes.
"No, not at all. I'm done with the sketch." Dean was nonplussed. He couldn't recall having exchanged more than a dozen words with Kevin in five years and he was not used to people paying him very much attention. He supposed he should say something else. He cleared his throat, then said, "So, what brings you out to the grounds today?" Not the best opener.
"Well," Kevin began. As he looked off to the lake, Dean desperately tried to remember if anyone had said anything about Kevin's sexuality. He was certainly attractive.
"I suppose it was you that brought me out here." Kevin smiled and a mouth full of even teeth gleamed in the afternoon sunlight, nearly blinding Dean. "I, uh, I noticed you last year. I'm a chaser for Ravenclaw and you were training with Lee Jordan to do the commentary for the games."
Dean was floored. No one had ever thought about him for months at a time. Well, except Seamus whom he was not thinking about. Certainly not while Kevin was here. "Well, I don't know what to say. I'm very flattered." Dean could feel his face flush.
"Are you going to Hogsmeade this weekend?" Kevin asked. "I mean, with anyone?"
"I hadn't made any plans yet, no" Dean answered.
"Well, would you like to go with me? We can do the usual or whatever you would like." There was that dazzling smile again.
Dean thought this getting asked out by cute boys thing was very nice indeed. "I'd like that," he answered, with a smile of his own. Blushing again, he looked away from Kevin toward the lake to see that Seamus and Hermione were gone. "Well, I suppose I should go inside and get ready for dinner."
"Here come your housemates," said Kevin, nodding toward Hermione and Seamus who were walking toward them. "I'll talk to you later then?"
Dean stood and shook Kevin's hand. It seemed an oddly formal thing to do but he couldn't think of anything else. "Definitely." Dean gave Kevin the most dazzling smile he had, though he doubted that his shone as brightly.
Kevin smiled as he turned to go inside. Dean began to collect his things, as Seamus and Hermione reached him.
"More lake pictures, Dean?" Seamus asked. When Dean nodded, Seamus said, "Can we see?"
Dean showed them the watercolor sketch. He said nothing; he rarely could when people were looking at his work, especially people he cared about.
Hermione pointed to the figures at the lower right. "Is that us, Dean?"
Dean nodded again. He looked at Seamus. "Well?"
"Were you planning to do this in oil?" Seamus looked up at his friend.
Dean considered. "I'm not sure yet. This came out rather better than a sketch; I may leave it."
"I agree. I think it's fine, as is." Seamus smiled. "Hey, was that Kevin Entwhistle you were talking to?" he asked.
"Yes," Dean said, calmly. "He asked me to dinner in Hogsmeade." Dean looked up from his paint box and thought he saw a flash of something in Seamus's eyes. Jealousy? Disappointment? But it was quickly gone. Dean chalked it up to wishful thinking.
Seamus smiled, though it didn't quite reach his eyes. "Well, that's quite a catch."
Dean folded his easel and chair and put them in his satchel with the paint box. "Yes, he's rather popular, I believe."
"No, I meant you." Seamus looked at Dean somberly. "I meant that you're quite a catch for him."
Dean looked at Seamus for a long moment. Then he cleared his throat. "Well, I suppose it's nearly time for dinner, isn't it? Shall we go in?"
Hermione was silent. She looked from Dean to Seamus as they stopped by the art studio and the library to retrieve their books, then headed up to Gryffindor Tower, making idle chitchat all the while. She wondered if her two friends would ever actually get it together at the same time long enough to make things work. She certainly hoped so, if not for their sakes than at least for hers. She didn't think she could take it much longer.