Sweet sweet pain comes with the sun
Lie down and soak it up
Burn off layers of insulators
Nose to the cold
I'm bleeding pretty colors all over myself
A heart that hurts is a heart that works
—Juliana Hatfield, "Universal Heartbeat"
7 December 1996
Dean Thomas sat in the art studio, staring out the window at the snowstorm swirling around the castle. The stark white sky looked the way he felt inside: blank, cold, empty. He'd come down to the studio in the early morning to work, to try to get his mind off the disastrous events of last Saturday night. Staying in bed was no good. He couldn't sleep, hadn't slept much since that night, so he would lie awake listening to the familiar sound of Seamus' breathing in the next bed. He could tell that Seamus wasn't sleeping much, either.
Ironically, the punch had told him in a way that words never could how much his friend actually did care for him. Seamus had often said when they were teasing Harry about being a big hero, that he was "a lover, not a fighter." He'd seen Seamus explode, screaming and yelling and carrying on, and the boy could definitely hold his own in a scuffle, but he'd never seen him throw the first punch. He had to have really hurt Seamus to have caused that reaction.
Now he wanted nothing more than to take it all back, every hurtful thing he'd said that night. Even if it was impossible to have Seamus as his own, he wanted—no, he needed his best friend back. Justin had never been able to take Seamus away from Dean for all that he tried while they were dating. Now, Justin's rumor-mongering had driven them further apart then they ever had been. After that initial brief apology on Saturday night, they'd each retreated into their own self-protective shells. Not that they weren't speaking to each other, but the easy camaraderie was gone, replaced by a deep sadness.
He stared at the canvas before him. All that came to mind were abstract patterns of black lines but that seemed far too symbolic, not to mention clichéd. He reached for a straight edge and began to draw light pencil lines in a grid. Perhaps the logical regularity of a Mondrian copy would soothe his mind. After a moment, he picked up his wand and switched on the studio's small wizard radio. Leading up to winter exams, the tiny Hogwarts wireless station would play blocks of music by the same artist. Apparently, they were in the midst of a Rolling Stones block as "Satisfaction" came blaring out of the radio. Dean smiled grimly. Mick and Keith were perfect for his bitter mood.
Three hours passed this way, Dean painting perfect black lines and filling some of the rectangles with primary colors while Mick painted everything black, called for sympathy and waited for a friend. The final Stones song of the block, "Gimme Shelter," came on as Dean was washing his brushes. The words took on a greater significance than they ever had before: "War, children, is just a shot away." He sighed. There wasn't time to mess about.
Hearing a soft knock, he turned to the partially closed door. "Come in," he shouted, expecting one of the other students with whom he shared the studio. He certainly didn't expect to see a certain sandy-haired, aqua-eyed, hot-tempered Irishman.
"I figured when you weren't at lunch that you must have shut yourself up in here," Seamus said brusquely, walking into the room without looking at Dean. "I brought you some food. You always forget to eat when you're working." He put the plate down on a cleared countertop and stared at the floor.
Dean put the brushes upside down into a cup to dry, then wiped his hands and turned to Seamus. "Thanks," he said softly. He tried to think of a way to get Seamus to stay though he hadn't worked out what he could say, to show his friend that he understood now, that he'd been wrong that night.
Suddenly Seamus looked up at Dean and blurted, "Can I still pose for you?"
Dean bit his lip, his heart broken that Seamus would even think that he wouldn't want that. "Always," he answered firmly. "Do you have time now?"
Seamus nodded. Dean looked around the room for a moment, then cleared off the window seat and set up an easel and canvas in front of it. As Seamus settled himself on the cushion, Dean waved his wand at his drying brushes (he preferred hand cleaning to magical but time was of the essence) and prepared his palette. He'd painted Seamus so many times the colors nearly blended themselves: the dark green-blue eyes, the dusty yellow hair, the honey skin, the brownish pink lips. He sat down at the easel and looked over at his friend.
Seamus had always been an excellent model, seemingly by instinct. Dean rarely posed him, as he seemed just to settle into some interesting position. Besides, it was nearly impossible for him to hold a pose he hadn't chosen. The trick of painting him was to capture the sense of perpetual motion; Dean thought magical painting had been invented for people like Seamus. But today he was still, almost eerily so. He sat sideways in the window seat, looking out at the snow that was still falling from the sky, the color in his face washed out by the flat glow of the storm.
Dean had never been as instinctive a painter as he was a draftsman. He usually painted from a sketch but today he decided to throw caution to the wind. What he saw before him was a melancholy that made Seamus look both older and younger than his sixteen years. True, much of that had been caused by Dean himself but he was in a masochistic mood, determined to document this passage in their friendship as if it could serve as a cautionary tale.
The Hogwarts radio station had moved on from the Rolling Stones to Stevie Wonder. If Led Zeppelin had been the soundtrack of Hermione's Muggle childhood, Stevie Wonder had been the soundtrack of Dean's. Despite the tension in the air between him and Seamus, the music calmed him and reminded him of his life before the letter that changed everything. He'd been painting for about forty-five minutes when a song came on that made him smile.
Out of the corner of his eye, Seamus could see Dean's expression. "What is it?" he asked, curious.
Dean sighed. "This is my parents' song, the one that played at their wedding," he explained.
Seamus cocked his head and listened to the words:
Do know that what I say is true
That I'll be loving you always
Until the the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky
Until the ocean covers every mountain high
Until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea
Until we dream of life and life becomes a dream
"I like it," Seamus said as he turned and looked at Dean. Suddenly Dean knew that everything would work out, that they would find a way back to each other, even though he wasn't sure how that would happen. He smiled a little and Seamus smiled a little back, and he thought that maybe Seamus knew it, too. Then Seamus looked back out the window and Dean continued painting. Outside, the snowstorm had ended.
10 December 1996
Hermione sat in the library in the late afternoon, ostensibly working on her Arithmancy project. Instead, she was allowing herself a rare moment of girlish fancy, her scratch parchment covered not with figures but with practice signatures like "Professor Hermione Granger-Potter." She was lost in vague daydreams of bridesmaids' dresses (what to do with Seamus?) when she heard a voice in her ear.
"Quite an interesting doodle there, Granger," whispered Draco Malfoy as he sat down next to her at the table.
Hermione felt her face flush. Of all the people to catch her being silly, why did it have to be him? She quickly folded the scratch parchment and tried to show annoyance rather than embarrassment. "What do you want, Malfoy?" she snapped.
"That attitude will not make you Head Girl, Granger," Draco replied, amused. "Since you ask, due to recent events I find myself in need of six weeks of good Arithmancy lecture notes. Vector suggested I come to you." Draco tried to say this as casually as possible, though the entire situation was damned humiliating. He was just relieved that Dumbledore had decided that since he'd pulled himself together and was making an effort, they would allow him to make up all class work and exams from the first six weeks of school and retain his prefect status. True, most of the Slytherins would take no discipline from him; it was more the principle of the thing.
Hermione put her elbow on the table and leaned her head in her hand, looking at Draco. Harry had made peace with him back in August. According to Ginny, he was back in the good graces of some of his housemates. Even Ron had stopped fighting with him. But Hermione hadn't interacted with him one-on-one and hadn't yet made up her own mind about him. "Why should I do this, precisely, other than that Professor Vector would like me to?" she demanded, one eyebrow raised.
"Going to make this as difficult as possible, aren't you?" Draco shook his head in mock disappointment. "Exacting your revenge, Granger? I didn't think you were so petty as to kick a man when he's down."
"Why not? You were," Hermione pointed out calmly.
"Wasn't it you that always wanted to keep Ron from fighting with me?" Draco asked, irritated.
Hermione began to get truly angry. "Yes. Because you weren't worth the fight or the detention that would surely follow." She sat up and put her hands flat on the table, facing out into the library and paused for a moment to calm down. "Because while I would have loved to have seen him punch you in the nose, a deviated septum would have done nothing to change your racist way of thinking," she pronounced, flatly.
Draco looked at Hermione, sincere. "I've had some time to think about that—"
"So you've changed your mind?" she interrupted. "Excuse my skepticism."
Draco crossed his arms. This wasn't going well at all. "Granger, you're much more distrusting than your friends are."
Hermione turned to Draco, eyes flashing, but she kept her voice low and even. "Well, it wasn't their parentage you've been insulting for the last five years, was it?"
Draco didn't answer.
She sighed. "Look, I'll give you the notes, and I'll not fight with you for the sake of Ginny and of the general peace. But you'll have to give me more than this to go on if you want me to think you've turned over some new leaf and become a kind, tolerant man."
Draco shook his head. "Tolerance may be easy for you but it's bloody difficult for me."
"It's bloody difficult for everyone! Ignorant clannishness, that's what's easy, Malfoy."
Draco sighed in frustration. "Could you give me a chance? I'm trying to sort out sixteen years of indoctrination. Forgive me if I'm not immediately the paragon of virtue you're looking for."
"Who needs virtue when you have charm?" asked Seamus. He was standing in front of their table, and as Hermione looked up he smiled at her. "Sorry, didn't mean to interrupt."
"No problem," replied Hermione. "What brings you to the library, Seamus?"
Seamus held up a large tome on magical orthopaedics. "Getting ready for my mediwizard duties at next week's Gryffindor Quidditch match." He glanced at Draco. "I wanted to make sure you didn't need rescuing, though I should have known better."
Hermione smiled. "I can take care of myself but thanks," she replied. Still, she was glad for an excuse to leave. "I'll walk with you back up to the common room, if you like. It's almost time for dinner, anyway." She began to pack her things.
Draco leaned over to her and whispered, "If I were you, I'd destroy that incriminating bit of parchment."
Hermione looked at Draco, surprised at his thoughtfulness. Then she pulled the scrap out of her Arithmancy text, pointed her wand and muttered, "Incendio," reducing it to ash in less than a second and attracting little attention. "Thanks," she said, sincerely. She handed him a roll of parchment. "Just get them back to me within the week, okay?"
Draco nodded, and slid the roll into his own book bag. He cleared his throat. "Granger, about what you were saying."
"What I was saying," Hermione replied patiently as she rose from the table and pulled her bag over her shoulders, "is that you might want to start thinking for yourself."
"That sounds familiar," Seamus said.
"Lovely," Draco said, scowling. "Lectures on morals from Gryffindors."
Seamus shrugged. "It's what we do best."
At dinner that evening Hermione said very little, lost in her thoughts. She wondered if she should have been nicer to Draco, even if he didn't deserve it. Then she felt Harry squeeze her hand.
"Why so quiet?" he asked, concerned.
She hesitated, then asked, "Harry, what did Draco say to you that night at the Burrow to make you trust him?"
Harry considered this. "Well, I don't know that I entirely trusted him then. But I understand what it's like to be left with nothing. I suppose, in spite of everything, I felt for him. He didn't deserve to be left alone like that. The most he'd ever been was obnoxious and insulting, really."
"Very insulting," said Hermione.
"Very insulting," agreed Harry, "particularly to you, yes. But Hermione, he never did anything truly unforgivable, did he?"
Hermione thought for a moment, then shook her head. "No, I suppose not."
"Anyway, it wasn't what he was saying, it was what he was doing." Harry paused. "Do you really want to hear this? It isn't very nice."
"Draco was obviously at sea. I wanted to make sure that when he came to shore, it was on our side," Harry said as nonchalantly as possible.
Hermione was surprised. "So you held out a line to him, just so you wouldn't have to face him later?"
"Wouldn't you rather he was on our side than theirs? He'd already rejected them. I just tried to seal the deal. There's no room for neutrality, these days." He sighed. "Why the sudden interest in Draco, anyway?"
"He came to see me in the library today, to borrow some Arithmancy notes, and I'm afraid I wasn't very kind to him."
"Well, he has changed his attitudes and his behavior. Maybe not as much as you'd like him to, but he's getting there. I know you have very high standards but sometimes you have to give people an A for effort or they stop trying."
Hermione looked at her boyfriend for a moment, surprised. Then she remembered that he was Quidditch captain and probably knew something about motivation. "Do you ever have a problem with my high standards, Harry?" she asked, suddenly a bit uncertain.
"No, I like them," he replied, smiling. "Besides, whenever you have challenged me, I believe I have risen to the occasion." He leaned toward her with a leer.
She rolled her eyes. "Down, boy. That you can turn every conversation to sex or Quidditch—"
"—is one of the many reasons you like me," Harry finished. "If you wanted someone who was studious, you'd be with Terry Boot."
Hermione shook her head, laughing in spite of herself. "Well, I suppose I wouldn't want that."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "Does this mean we can knock off revising tonight?" he asked hopefully.
"No," Hermione answered. "But I'll give you an A for effort."
14 December 1996
As they'd planned some weeks prior, Seamus, Hermione, Ginny, Lavender, Parvati, Padma and Susan trooped over to Madame Malkin's to procure dress robes in time for any necessary alterations before the Winter Solstice Ball. Each of the girls had narrowed their choices to a few styles and planned to use Seamus as a sounding post for their final decisions. The excursion had begun with just Hermione and Seamus. Then Lavender had asked her ex for his opinion, so he and Hermione decided to include her and Parvati. Then Draco had insisted on buying a new gown for Ginny, so she was in as well. Susan had been invited one night when she'd been eating dinner with the Gryffindors; Hermione asked Padma as a goodwill gesture to Ron's new girlfriend. With what had happened between Seamus and Dean, Hermione was glad the small gathering had become a crowd; it would provide even more of a distraction for Seamus. So, they gathered in the large private dressing room that they'd reserved for two hours that afternoon.
Seamus sat in a chair in the middle of the room, near the mirrors, and each girl disappeared into one of the surrounding small fitting rooms with her selected gowns. In a few moments, they each emerged with their first choices and stood staring into the mirrors.
Hermione's choice was long, black and shapeless with a white inlay at its high collar. "Good lord, Nin," Seamus said, "you look like a nun. Take it off!"
"Yes," Lavender said, a trifle bitchily, "don't you think it's time you dropped that virginal act?" She swung about before the mirror, checking the plunging back of her bias-cut gown of sea foam green.
Parvati stood next to her in a short pink gown with long bell sleeves. "Anyone who's worn those tiny dresses in your closet in public should stop pretending they know nothing about sex," she stated.
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "I will have you know that I am as pure as the day I was born!" she insisted, hands on her hips.
"Really?" Ginny said as she emerged from her dressing room in a royal blue gown that unfortunately clung in all the wrong places. "I'm not."
A roar rose up in the dressing room, as Susan and Padma rushed out of their dressing rooms. "Shut up!" Padma cried. "You bagged the dragon?"
Ginny smiled mysteriously, then began to giggle. "Well, not exactly. I mean, things haven't gone that far."
"Well, thank you for that!" Seamus declared, vaguely horrified. "I haven't even had sex in that room!"
"Really, Seamus," Susan said airily, "what do you think people are going to do up there when you lend them the key?" She spun before the mirror, looking at her dark green gown.
All eyes turned to the small blonde girl. "Neville?" Parvati asked.
Susan shrugged. "Please, that boy is hornier than any of his toads." At their shocked looks, she continued, "What did you think we were doing out in the greenhouse?"
"Wow," said Padma. "That's a surprise." She spun around, making her long fuchsia gown flare out.
"Well, I feel like a nun now," said Hermione. "I didn't have sex in that room, either."
"Seriously?" Lavender asked.
Hermione shrugged. "I wasn't going to give it up to a boy when I didn't know who he was!"
Seamus held up his hands. "Interesting as these revelations are, we don't have all day in this room. Line up please." Seamus looked at them for a moment, then said, "Nin, it has to go. Lav, you're getting some back cleavage there which is not a good look. Parvati, unless you think it's 1966 you should throw it back. Gin, it isn't working but you look like you know that. Susan, that's nice but I think you have something better. Padma, you might clash with Ron's hair so you should move on. Okay, next outfit, please."
As the girls filed back into their dressing rooms, Parvati said, "Come on Hermione, you knew that was Harry all along, didn't you?"
"Wait, did everyone know it was Harry and Hermione?" Seamus asked, annoyed. That Ron and Dean had figured it out was bad enough but Parvati?
"Shay, you aren't nearly as sneaky as you like to think you are," Parvati replied.
Lavender's head popped up over the door of her dressing room. "There's a reason you're not in Slytherin. Every emotion you have is written all over your face."
Seamus scowled. "Hermione, please tell me you were fooled!" he wailed.
"Well, to be honest, I thought it was him but I wasn't sure," she said, shedding the black and white gown for a more form fitting orange one. "Or, I suppose I should admit, I hoped it was him."
Ginny stepped out in her next choice, a luminescent pearl gray with a low halter top and no back to speak of. "Well, I should admit that I never thought about Draco before he kissed me," she said as she looked at her reflection. "Now, I think about little else."
Parvati and Padma stepped out of their dressing rooms simultaneously, saw that they were wearing identical and unflattering royal blue dresses, and walked back into their dressing rooms needing neither Seamus nor the mirror to reject the gown.
Lavender stood next to Ginny in a sleeveless gown of chocolate brown with a boat neckline and gold cording at the waist and along the a-line skirt. "That's hardly true, Gin. You have that whole artist's salon thing you're planning."
Susan came up behind them in a deep red gown that did little for her figure. "Ginny, how's that going? Kevin Whitby sounds very excited about it."
"Well," Ginny admitted, "I'd hoped to have the opening before the ball but I'm afraid it will have to wait until the new year. We'll have our party when everyone gets back from the Christmas holiday."
Hermione came out of her dressing room in the clinging orange gown and moaned, "Seamus, it makes me look dumpy." She frowned, looking at her backside in the mirror.
Seamus walked toward Hermione, shaking his head. "It makes you look curvy, which you are. Boys like curves." He patted his stomach, sadly. "But boys who like boys like hard bodies, which I do not have."
Lavender put her hands on her hips. "Seamus! Your body is plenty hard enough!"
Padma, who'd donned her third choice, a long-sleeved gown of hunter green with a full skirt and princess neckline, added, "Really Seamus, you shouldn't obsess over one figure flaw."
"Easy for you to say," objected Seamus. "You're dating six foot of muscle."
"Well," said Susan, smirking as she walked back into her dressing room, "six foot and eight inches."
The other girls giggled as Padma's eyes flew open. "What?" she exclaimed.
Parvati came out of her dressing room in deep crimson trimmed in black. "Padma, you mean you haven't found out for yourself yet? What have you two been doing all these months?" she asked, confused.
"Playing chess," Padma replied, defensively.
Parvati looked shocked. "I thought that was just a code word."
Padma rolled her eyes, then turned to Hermione. "Well?" she asked.
Hermione held her hands out illustratively.
"Damn," Padma said. "Wait, how do you all know this?" she asked.
Parvati giggled. "All of Gryffindor House knows, I imagine. You know those open showers."
"It's our bloody sixth roommate," Seamus confirmed.
"It isn't the size of the boat, ladies; it's the motion of the ocean. Believe me," Susan said as she approached the mirror. She'd changed into a slim robe of royal purple that perfectly suited her small muscular frame.
Then Ginny, who really would rather not be discussing the size of her brother's penis, changed the subject. "Okay, Finnigan, I think we've got our gowns set, don't we?"
Seamus looked at the assembled company and nodded. "Well done, ladies. You all look amazing."
"And you, Seamus? What will you be wearing?" Hermione asked.
Seamus hesitated. "Actually, I'm not sure I'm going," he replied in a small voice.
Hermione walked over to Seamus and gave him a hug. "You're going. Show us your dress robes; I know you've already picked them out."
Seamus nodded and walked to the other side of the store. By the time he'd returned to the dressing room, the girls had changed back into their everyday clothes and had given their choices to the shop girl. He entered and they all turned to the door.
"Wow Seamus, now I insist you go," said Hermione.
Seamus' dress robes were of a deep blue-green that almost perfectly matched his eyes. The top was slightly fitted to accent his muscular upper body then cut into his narrow waist, making his shoulders look even broader. The robes then flared out ever so slightly to skim past his stomach and cling to his behind just enough but not too much before falling straight down to the tops of his shoes.
"Do you think he'll like it?" Seamus said uncertainly, before dropping his shoulders. "Oh, what does it matter." He turned to walk out of the room but before he could leave, the girls had gathered around their friend.
"Don't worry, Cinderfella," said Ginny, hugging Seamus close. "We'll get you to the ball."