"Peter—what did you mean when you said that anybody could have the harmony if they would leave us the counterpoint?"
"Why," said he, shaking his head, "that I like my music polyphonic. If you think I meant something else, you know what I meant."
—Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night
21 December 1996
Padma Patil floated above the floor of the Great Hall, trying to get her snowfall charm to work correctly. Dean Thomas had once again been recruited to coordinate the decorations for the Solstice Ball and Padma, along with Hermione and several others, had volunteered to help out. Their goal for the snowfall was a gentle shower but the current outcome was more like a blizzard. This would be much easier, she reflected, if Dean weren't being such a grumpy sod.
This wasn't the first time that Dean's romantic troubles had affected Padma. When Dean broke up with Kevin, her Quidditch captain had been a complete ogre for a week. Padma suspected that it wasn't his heart that had been wounded, but rather his ego. Kevin, handsome and magnetic but not forthcoming, was accustomed to boyfriends who entertained and amused him. He didn't have the knack, as Seamus did, for drawing Dean out of his shell; all his efforts only pushed the shy boy further away.
Now that she had gotten to know Dean, she could see that the boy had no idea that to boys like Kevin, that shyness read as aloof self-assurance. During the year after he came out, Dean had dated very little; it was the challenge of "getting" Dean that had motivated Kevin in the first place. For Dean, though, these assumptions meant that he almost never got asked out because most boys either assumed he would say no or didn't notice him in the first place.
Padma knew all too well what that was like. In the days leading up to the Yule Ball two years ago, anxiety over not having an escort rapidly became panic. Parvati (ever thoughtful and really a wonderful sister when you got right down to it) had got her a date with Ron Weasley, her crush since first year. That evening had been a disaster but they'd been young then. Besides, Ron was already interested in Hermione.
Padma could easily have put herself in Ron's path during his "lone wolf" days but that wasn't the kind of relationship she wanted with him. She'd been very sure that, given the right circumstances, they would suit. So when the invitation to Harry's birthday party arrived, Padma resolved to make the most of the unexpected opportunity. She consulted with Parvati, Lavender and even Kevin about how to appear alluring yet available without triggering that insipid patter he laid on most girls, and all had agreed that the only way was to appear to not be flirting at all. Ginny had told her later that Ron called it the "Weasley Charm"; that he'd actually named it didn't surprise Padma. Boys really could be idiots. Even clever ones like Kevin or Ron.
"Padma!" Dean shouted, rousing the girl from her thoughts. "Can we </em>please</em> fix this snow while we're still young?"
Or artistic ones like Dean, apparently.
Seamus sat in the Gryffindor common room, trying to read a book but really wondering where his friends had got to. He hadn't seen his roommates, or Ginny or Hermione for that matter, since lunch. Not that he'd expected to see Dean, of course. Both breakfast and lunch had been served in the common rooms that day to give Dean and his team more time to decorate for the Solstice Ball. But neither the other boys nor Ginny were helping with that.
Hearing the portrait door open he looked up to see Ginny, Neville, Ron, Harry and Hermione all coming in together. When they saw him, they immediately stopped their conversation. Seamus' eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"Seamus!" Hermione called out. "Just the man I was looking for."
"Really," Seamus said, raising one eyebrow.
Ginny and Hermione sat down opposite Seamus as the others went up to the boys dorms. "You'll come up to my room to help me get ready, won't you?" she asked.
"Ready for what?"
"The ball, Seamus. Remember? You are still going, aren't you?"
Seamus sighed. "First, yes, I suppose I am. Even going alone will be less humiliating than staying in the common room with the tots."
Hermione snickered, earning herself a dirty look from Seamus.
"Second, the ball isn't for another four hours. Even I won't take that long to get ready." His eyes returned to his book.
Ginny said, "Please! It took Hermione almost six hours to get ready for the Yule Ball."
"True," Hermione said, "but Harry has insisted that I leave my hair curly for tonight, so it shouldn't take nearly as long." She turned back to Seamus. "Come on. By the time we get showers there won't be that much time anyway."
Seamus set down his book with a sigh. "I suppose you're right. I'll go shower and get my things and meet you up there." He stood and went up the stairs to his room.
As she watched Seamus go, Ginny said, "I really hope Draco's plan works."
Hermione nodded. "So do I."
Sometime later, Dean was heading into the showers to wash off the dust, paint and glitter from the decorations when he ran into Seamus, clad only in a towel. "Oh, hello."
Seamus looked up, eyes wide. "So, ah, you've finished already?" he asked.
"Yeah, it didn't take as long as I thought I would," Dean said. Actually, he felt a little ashamed of his behavior earlier, though playing the dictator did make the others work faster. He bit his lip and tried to look anywhere but at Seamus' naked chest. He succeeded only in staring at the other boy's bare feet which, he realized, were really quite sexy in their way.
"Well, ah, I have to go help Hermione get ready, so . . . ."
"Right, so, I'll, er, I'll see you tonight, then."
Seamus ran a hand through his wet hair. "Yeah. I'll see you tonight." He stood for a moment, as if he were going to say something more. Then tucked his head down and walked past Dean back into their dorm room.
Dean walked into the bathroom and threw his clothes to the floor. He adjusted the water to be as forceful as possible, then stepped in backwards to allow the spray to beat against his tired shoulders and upper back. When he'd agreed to do the decorations, he'd wondered how he would be able to work in the Great Hall all day and then keep up with Seamus Finnigan on the dance floor all night. He probably didn't have to worry about that now.
After a good long soak and a good long sulk, Dean went back into the empty dorm room and put on some clean boxers and a jumper. He took a moment to arrange some books, an empty butterbeer bottle and a Gryffindor pennant around the candle atop his bedside table, then began to sketch the assembled still life from his bed, his long legs tucked under one of his blankets. Art had been very good to him of late. Art forced him to stop thinking. At this rate, he would have plenty of works to choose from for Ginny's show, which had been postponed until after Christmas.
He heard footsteps and looked up to see Ron entering the room.
"You're going tonight aren't you, Dean?" Ron asked.
Dean nodded as he sketched. "I suppose I'll make an appearance."
"Why don't you walk down to the entrance hall with me when I meet Padma?"
"I doubt I'm one of her favorite people at the moment, Ron."
"Oh, you mean about today? Don't worry about that. I talked to her just now; she understands," Ron said as he laid out the Lincoln green dress robes he planned to wear that evening.
"Well, that's comforting if humiliating," Dean said. "But yeah, thanks. I'll take you up on that, if you're sure you won't mind."
"Wouldn't have offered if I did," Ron said as he walked past Dean's bed toward the showers.
Seamus helped Hermione pin one last curl in place then stepped back next to Ginny to study the effect. "My work is done," he said.
Hermione turned to look in the mirror and took a deep breath. Her clinging orange dress robes certainly left little to the imagination. The bias-cut fabric moved across her body like liquid, emphasizing her full breasts and hips and even making her not-so-flat stomach look like just another curve. Yet, the neckline was less plunging and the hemline lower than the dresses she'd been wearing to the clubs. They used just enough of Sleekeazy's Hair Potion to make her locks curly rather than frizzy and then pinned them up every which way. The effect was similar to her usual unruly mop, if a bit more deliberate.
This time, the transformation wouldn't be nearly as dramatic as it had been two years before. The girl who looked back at her from the mirror was recognizably Hermione Granger, just a bit more polished. For the first time she realized that Miss Pommery wasn't an identity she put on like a suit of armor, but a part of who she;d been all along.
"You look great, Hermione," Ginny said.
"So do you. Talk about taking advantage of the fact that you don't need to wear a bra!" she teased.
Indeed, Ginny's halter top silver dress skimmed over her longer, leaner figure with only a thin strand of silver cording across the back. Nervous about the skirt slipping too low, she'd performed a quick super-stick charm to prevent any mishaps, even though Madame Malkin had insisted that the construction of her dress robe would make that impossible. Her red-gold wavy hair fell loosely across her back and shoulders, pulled back from her face with two tiny fish-shaped silver clips at her temples. She felt a little naked without her fish pendant but Seamus declared that it killed the neckline of the dress. Besides, it had been moving about so violently all day she'd had to remove it.
"Well, we should go meet the boys," Hermione said.
Ginny held her arm out to Seamus. "Would you escort me down the stairs?" They went down a little ahead of Hermione, passing a somewhat nervous Harry on their way through the common room.
"Ginny!" he said. "Definitely not a little girl anymore."
Ginny curtsied slightly.
"Hermione coming down anytime soon?" he asked, trying to sound casual and failing miserably.
"Good things come to those who wait," Seamus said, amused. Then he and Ginny continued out of the common room.
Harry looked up to see Hermione standing at the top of the stairs, and his eyes widened. "Wow," he whispered. "You look like . . . "
"Miss Pommery?" she asked as she slowly walked down to him.
"No . . . "
"No, not Jackie."
"Like I did for the Yule Ball?"
Hermione carefully descended the last of the stairs, her eyes on her date. He looked as handsome as she'd ever seen him. His black robes had a subtle shimmer, like a moonless starry night, and the black of his hair and robes made his twinkling green eyes stand out all the more. Not for the first time she felt lucky to be with him. Not, of course, because he was a famous hero-type (she could have done without that bit, thanks) but because he had no problem showing that she affected him as much as he did her.
She crossed the remaining distance and placed her hands flat against Harry's chest. His robes were cool and smooth under her hands, and she could feel his heart beating very fast. "Who, then? Who do I look like?" she whispered, looking up into his eyes.
He smiled. "You look like my Hermione," he replied, and kissed her.
As Seamus and Ginny descended the last set of stairs from Gryffindor Tower they saw Draco standing in the entrance hall, his hands behind his back. He was clad in well-tailored, elegantly simple robes of royal blue, his pale hair smoothed back into place. He looked up and broke into a wide grin.
"Well," Draco said, "is this the way you spend my money?"
"No," Ginny replied, slowly turning to show off her gown. "This is the way I spend my other wealthy boyfriend's money. I'm going to use your money to run away to Singapore."
"God forbid you two ever be sentimental," Seamus said, rolling his eyes.
"All right, Finnigan," Draco said, pulling Ginny into his arms. He kissed her on the cheek and said, "You look gorgeous, Ginny."
"Thank you," she replied. "So do you. Very handsome."
"Thank you." He added, "You're like a big shiny present."
"Well, you can unwrap me later," she said, kissing his temple.
"Ooh, is that a promise?"
"Stop!" Seamus interjected. "I'm sorry I said anything!"
Draco and Ginny pulled apart somewhat, chuckling. "Never dare me, Finnigan," Draco said.
"Shall we go inside?" Ginny asked.
Seamus took Ginny's other arm, and the three walked in to the hall together.
Dean walked down with Ron and Neville to meet their non-Gryffindor dates in the entrance hall. Padma and Susan were a study in contrasts. Susan, small and muscular, wore a deep purple robe with a narrow cut, the color playing against her pale skin, dark blue eyes and short golden curls. Padma's Lincoln green robes swept across her tall, slim figure. A gold necklace gleamed against her dusky skin and her long dark hair was piled high atop her head.
"Ron," she said, "we're wearing the same color!"
"Are we?" asked Ron, distracted. He looked down at his own robes. "So we are. Padma, you're gorgeous," he said, and leaned in for a kiss.
"Just noticed that now, did you?" Padma joked. "You're very handsome; I think green suits us both. Even if we do look like a—"
"Chess set?" said Dean, grinning. His remark earned him friendly cuffs from Ron and Padma both.
Once everyone's appearance had been appropriately cooed over, the group went into the Great Hall.
"Dean, this is amazing," said Ron as they walked through the door.
Dean had decided that instead of the usual red, green, blue and yellow, he would use gold, silver, bronze and black to represent the four houses of Hogwarts. All color was gone from the Great Hall, replaced by a metallic glow. Snow drifted slowly from the starry ceiling and drifts of it were piled in the dark corners, clearly fixed with a spell to keep from melting. The sparkle of the snow continued in the gold, silver, bronze and shimmery black tablecloths covering the small round tables that circled the room. The metallic fabric draped the walls and the floor shone with a heavy polish. Floating candles gleamed against the snow, floor and walls, bathing the room in reflected light. The decorations were simple and elegant, but the effect was stunning.
"Thanks," Dean said. "A lot of people helped."
"True, but it was your vision," Padma said. "Look, there's Harry and Hermione by the punch bowl. Come on, let's go get something to eat." She headed across the floor, pulling Ron by the hand.
Dean followed, surprised not to see Seamus with Hermione as well. "Hermione, don't you look beautiful?"
"Not bad, yourself, Dean," she replied.
"Yes, Dean, you look great," Harry said. "Those new dress robes?"
"Well, I keep growing out of them."
When Dean had complemented Angelina Johnson on her deep orange dress robes at the Yule Ball, saying that he'd never seen anything like them in Madame Malkins, Angelina gave him the address of a seamstress in Diagon Alley. She'd newly emigrated from Cameroon and was building a brisk business catering to wizards and witches of African descent. Dean's canary yellow robes were cut to resemble formal African costume, contrasting with his dark skin and playing up his tall, slim figure.
Harry cleared his throat.
"Sorry Harry, did you want me to comment?"
"What, am I invisible?" Harry asked.
"Well, okay. Gosh, Harry, those robes really bring out the green in your eyes. Wanna go out on the balcony and snog?"
Harry huffed in protest but Hermione just rolled her eyes and said, "You asked for it!"
"For that, Thomas, you have to stay here and make sure nobody steals my date. I need to take care of something on the other side of the hall. I'll be right back." Harry kissed Hermione on the cheek and walked away.
"Dance?" asked Dean.
"Yes, I'd love to," she replied.
Harry walked over to where Seamus was sitting with Ginny and Draco, staring out at the dancers. "Don't pout, Seamus; it's unattractive."
Seamus looked up. "I didn't think I was supposed to be attracting anyone tonight. Didn't you say, don't bring a date to the ball?"
"All right, on your feet."
"Are you asking me to dance? We'd start a lot of rumors. Sure you want to do that?"
"Yes, I'm asking you to dance. And there have been rumors about my love life since I was fourteen. I'm used to it by now and so is Hermione." Harry pulled Seamus out of his chair and led him onto the dance floor.
"You must be very secure in your sexuality, Potter, to be dancing with a gay man."
"I am. Anyway, who do you think taught me how to dance?"
"Ah, Sirius Black strikes again."
"Actually, it was Remus. He's a much better dancer."
Seamus heard a familiar voice over the music. "Well, look who you run into on dance floors around here!" Hermione was next to them, dancing with Dean. Seamus gulped. He knew Harry and Hermione well enough to guess what was about to happen.
"Dean, you don't mind if I reclaim my girl, do you?" Harry asked. "I think this handsome young man is an even swap."
Dean was so surprised he stopped dancing and let go of Hermione, who floated around Seamus and into Harry's arms. "Well done," she whispered.
As they danced away, Harry called out, "Watch out for him, Dean—he keeps trying to lead."
"That's our Seamus," Hermione said. "Topping from the bottom."
Dean looked down at Seamus who was looking up at him, unsure how to begin. Suddenly, Draco and Ginny waltzed by. "Hey!" Draco called out. "Are you going to dance or just stand there and get in everyone's way?"
"Draco!" Ginny said, laughing. "Do you have to be obnoxious all the time? Honestly!"
Dean pulled Seamus into his arms and they began to dance, as if in a daze. Seamus could hardly believe it. Here he was, dancing with Dean. These were Dean's arms holding him as they moved across the floor. He was surrounded by that nice Dean smell. As he glanced down at their clasped hands, he saw the faint traces of pencil on Dean's hands. But how did they get here?
"Dean, I am so sorry. I —"
"Not here. Not with everyone around us. Let's go out on the balcony." Dean slowly danced them off the floor and then, holding Seamus' hand, walked outside.
The dance had scarcely begun, so the balcony was deserted. Seamus hopped up onto the thick stone balustrade and sat staring back into the Hall, swinging his legs slightly as the wind stirred his sandy hair.
Dean leaned against the railing next to Seamus and looked out over the lake. "Seamus, I should apologize too."
Seamus looked down at his friend. "No, Dean, I was trying to force something that I was ready for but you weren't."
"No, Seamus, I was wrong for believing all these rumors and not asking you about it."
"But I didn't tell you anything different. What were you supposed to believe?"
Dean paused for a moment. "You did completely change when you were dating Justin. Why? And why were you suddenly confiding in Hermione instead of me?"
"I don't know. I guess it was just—" Seamus stopped, looking away from Dean at the chairs scattered about the balcony. He took a breath and started again. "No one had ever wanted me the way that Justin wanted me. I thought that every time I passed one of his little tests that I was proving how much I cared for him and he was showing it by setting up those tests in the first place. Like he was taking me from being a little nobody and making me somebody."
"You were never a little nobody," Dean said firmly.
"Says you," Seamus replied, looking back at him. "Can you say that when you came out you were exactly the same as before? I'd been a ladies' man. Now I was definitely . . . not. Justin had a blueprint and I just followed it. Or, that's what I thought at the time."
"But why did that leave me out?"
"Justin was jealous of everything I did that wasn't centered around him but he was really irrational about you. I couldn't imagine that we wouldn't be friends so I gave in to him, thinking it was just temporary. Besides, you were off discovering your heritage. I couldn't participate in that."
"Everything else had changed," Dean said defensively. "I thought I should focus on the one thing that never could. We all act as though race doesn't matter." He turned away from Seamus and muttered, "and I had a crush on Lee Jordan."
"I knew it! Nin wouldn't believe me, but I knew it!" Seamus looked at Dean and, seeing his embarrassment, softened his tone. "I'm sorry, that wasn't nice. But Christ Jesus, Dean, that was pretty stupid. Lee Jordan is straight."
"Don't you think I know that?" Dean replied. "I'd thought that being out would make things better, and it did, but not in the way I thought. I didn't suddenly become outgoing or relaxed. I wasn't any more at ease with gay boys than I'd been with straight girls. Sure, there were a few boys here and there but it was rarely more than kissing and it was always awkward as hell. Being with Lee, I didn't have to worry. Nothing would ever happen with him. It was easier."
"Easier than being with me?"
"In that sense, yes." Dean shook his head. "We should have helped each other out but instead we completely abandoned each other, didn't we?"
"So then, what happened between you and Justin? Why's he still so angry? Why does he spread rumors about you?"
Seamus sighed, looking up at the starlit sky over the castle to get his thoughts clear before answering. "He gave me a test I couldn't pass, finally. He asked me to do something I didn't want to do and when he realized that he couldn't bully me into it, he called me a scared little boy and a lot of nastier things. I suddenly realized that he was the scared little boy and I broke up with him. Did that piss him off—first I had the nerve to refuse him and then the balls to break up with him. He didn't like that one little bit. So he made up this cover story, that he broke up with me because I'm a slut, and damn if everyone didn't believe him."
Dean sat looking at Seamus for a long moment. He was staring down at the floor of the balcony, not making eye contact. To Dean he looked small and vulnerable, and he wished he could have protected his friend from this thing that had obviously hurt him greatly. "What did he ask you to do, Seamus?" he asked softly.
Seamus, hearing the tender concern in Dean's voice, looked back at his friend. Maybe, maybe he hadn't completely messed everything up after all. He took a deep breath, plucking up courage from Dean, and began, "It was Valentine's Day and I'd just got that room at the Inn. I took him up there and it was all romantic, with dinner and candles and such. After dinner we'd just started getting into it when he made it very clear that he wanted to take advantage of the bed to do something we hadn't done before. I told him I wasn't ready for that and when he insisted, I stopped everything." Seamus winced at the memory of Justin's face, contorted with anger and contempt. "He said, 'Why the hell did you bring me up here if you didn't want to fuck? Are you trying to make a fool out of me?' That's when I realized that he'd told his friends about it, and I got really angry. The rest I'm sure you can guess."
Dean nodded. Getting "really angry" for Seamus usually left nothing but scorched earth behind.
"Anyway, Nin and Ron broke up around the same time so she and I commiserated. I was definitely off sex for a while but I was stuck with that bloody room and I needed a way to, I don't know, cleanse it I suppose. So I decided to try to help someone else in a way I hadn't been helped myself."
"You went around with the new kids. Yeah, Draco told me about that."
"Draco?" Seamus asked, surprised. "Well, you see why I couldn't really tell anyone who I was seeing or what we were doing. Which was another reason I got closer to Hermione. I knew my stories were safe with her. If I'd wanted the whole school to know, I would have confided in Lavender Brown."
"But I still don't see why you couldn't talk to me. We were best pals. We were inseparable."
"You were off with Lee Jordan. I couldn't just assume that we were best pals again after all that had happened. I thought I'd ruined everything. It wasn't until the end of the year that I could get up the courage to invite you to Ireland."
"Where everything changed."
"There we were, trying to rebuild our friendship when we already weren't friends anymore, were we?" He smiled a little at Dean. "We were something else entirely."
Dean took Seamus' hand. They stood there quietly for a long moment, Seamus looking up at the stars and Dean looking out at the lake. "Are we going to try this?"
Seamus turned toward him. "I think we should. I think it's time I practiced what I preach. Life is short. We have to take chances. I certainly have been anything but brave, running around with all those boys." He looked away, feeling suddenly shy. "You know, I didn't shag any of them. I think that was the real reason I spent all my time with them—they wouldn't ask that of me."
"Well, I'm not going to ask that of you, either. At least, not tonight."
Something in the tone of Dean's voice made Seamus' breath catch in his throat. His face was flushed and his heart was racing. He swallowed, trying to catch his breath as he kept his eyes on the carvings above the balcony's French doors.
"But, you know, there are plenty of other things we could be doing." Dean slid over to stand between the other boy's legs and put his hands on either side of Seamus' face, tipping his head down. Seamus licked his lips and Dean leaned towards him, kissing him softly.
Seamus sat still, just breathing in that Dean smell of spices and soft art pencils and the cologne that always made him think of the sea. This had to be Dean's move. All he could do was respond but it was so hard to hold back. Then he felt Dean's tongue against his lips and smiled as he parted them, letting Dean explore his mouth before reaching up with his own tongue to tease the underside of Dean's. He slid his hands around Dean and pulled him closer.
Finally, they came up for air. "There's no one up in the dorms, is there?" Dean smiled, his eyes twinkling.
"Let's see. Hermione will think it her duty to stay to the bitter end and Harry would never leave her side. Ron came with Padma and you know what a dancing machine she is. And since Neville got his own key to the greenhouse we never see him anymore anyway." Seamus paused, smiling at Dean. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
Harry, Hermione, Draco and Ginny stood nervously around the punch bowl, waiting for Dean and Seamus to come off the balcony. "They're certainly taking long enough," said Ginny.
"Ah, here they come," said Draco. "Cheeks flushed, lips puffy—yes, I'd say there's been snogging on the balcony once again."
Ron and Padma came up behind them. "Snogging? Are they snogging?"
"See for yourself, Ron." Draco tilted his head toward Dean and Seamus, who were walking toward them hand in hand.
"Thanks for all of your help," Seamus said as they walked by. "I think we can take it from here. Oh, and Padma?"
"Be a love and keep ickle Ronniekins out all night, won't you? There's a dear." Seamus kissed Padma on the cheek and followed Dean out of the hall.
"Honestly!" snorted Ron.
As soon as they left the Great Hall, Seamus and Dean broke into a run. They dashed up the endless sets of stairs to Gryffindor Tower, adrenaline fueling their muscles. As they neared the Fat Lady they shouted the password so that by the time they came around the corner, she'd already opened and they leaped through the portrait hole. They sped past the surprised younger students in the common room and up even more stairs into their own dorm room.
Seamus, who'd been running faster to keep up with Dean's longer legs, let his momentum carry him far into the room, nearly running into Neville's bed at the far end. He turned and saw Dean waving his wand at the door. Then Dean looked up, staring for long minutes before licking his lips, and Seamus' stomach dropped into his shoes so quickly he nearly fainted.
"You really do look like a queen tonight, Padma," Ron whispered in her ear as they danced across the floor.
Padma smiled. "Didn't you once say that I was an ugly thing?" she joked.
"There are ugly queens!" Ron replied. She laughed and he felt something flip inside. His heart? His stomach? Something rather lower? He wasn't sure but he thought that it might just be past time for joking.
Padma looked up and could see something serious in Ron's expression. "Ron? What is it? Is something wrong?" she asked.
He shook his head. "No, nothing's wrong at all." He hesitated, unsure. He hadn't said these sort of words to Hermione; he would feel anxious to please her and the words would stick in his throat and she would be angry and then things would just get worse. Nor had he said them to any of those other girls. It never occurred to him.
But Padma didn't judge or criticize or hold him up to some standard he couldn't quite reach. She saw him as more than he was and instead of making him feel like a not-quite, it made him want to be what she saw. In that, he knew what to say.
"I'm lucky to have you, Padma," he said. "You're such an amazing girl. You make me . . . you make me want to be a better man." He looked down, feeling suddenly shy.
"You couldn't be a better man if you tried, Ron Weasley," she replied.
Surprised, he looked into her eyes and saw she was serious. She meant that. But how? "But I'm not—"
"But you are," she said. "You're a rock, Ron. You're solid and dependable and—"
"You make me sound like a Hufflepuff. None of that is very exciting."
"First, there's nothing wrong with Hufflepuffs. Honestly, you Gryffindors think that everything good is attention-getting. There's more than enough excitement coming without creating more." Padma shook her head and sighed. "Why do you insist on competing with people at their game instead of yours?"
"What do you mean?"
"You're a very good Chaser, right?"
"I suppose I am," Ron answered.
"When you first tried out for the team, what position did you go for?"
"Exactly. Why? Why try to be a Beater or a Seeker like your brothers when you're a Chaser? Why compare your weaknesses to their strengths when you have strengths of your own?" She pulled him a little closer. "Besides, you're the sexy one," she whispered in his ear.
Ron grinned slightly. "Can you be a sexy rock?" he asked.
"Let's go out to the balcony, and I'll show you," she replied.
Dean muttered the locking and silencing spell that Lee had taught him then turned to face Seamus.
Now, Seamus usually looked good, especially to Dean. He wasn't classically handsome like Kevin but he dressed well and stayed in pretty good shape. Dean had often stared at him when he didn't think he'd be caught. Though when he was sketching Seamus he rarely thought along those lines.
But now Dean could stand and stare rather openly at Seamus, in his dress robes that draped over his body perfectly and matched the color of his eyes as precisely as Dean had ever done in a painting. He licked his lips. Seamus, who'd had the good manners to blush under his scrutiny, suddenly went pale and gulped rather loudly.
Seamus was scared.
Dean couldn't believe it. Seamus was never scared. Dean had spent the better part of five years keeping Seamus from doing whatever mad plan had popped into his head or saying the first thing that came to his mind the instant he thought of it. Dean was the one who hesitated, who tried to look before everybody leapt but usually ended up leaping anyway.
"Seamus," he said and was surprised at how deep his voice suddenly sounded. "Seamus, it's just me. It's just us."
He walked further into the room, to where Seamus stood near Neville's bed.
"You know me, Shay. You've seen me before. This isn't new. It's just different."
He put his hands on Seamus' shoulders and could feel the boy shaking a little, then letting out a long breath. Seamus looked up and his eyes were wider than Dean had ever seen them.
"Dean," Seamus said, no more than a sigh, really.
He reacted by pulling Seamus toward him, crushing the pale, brown-pink lips to his own. Seamus flung his arms around Dean's neck to keep his balance. As they kissed he moved his hands down Seamus' back to press the full length of their bodies together when he felt the other boy's erection against his thigh.
He lifted his head. "Seamus?"
Seamus fixed his eyes on Dean's neck. "Yeah, er, Dean, if you keep kissing me like that, I'll ruin these robes."
"Okay," Dean said. He stood back and stared at Seamus again.
Seamus put his hands on his hips, suddenly annoyed. "Dean! It was the staring that did it!"
Dean chuckled as he reached down to unclasp the hidden fastenings of Seamus' robe. As he unhooked each clasp he rubbed his left hand against Seamus' soft, hair-covered skin, hoping the other boy's chest would distract him from the oh-so-kissable lips just inches from his own. Then Seamus shrugged and the folds of fabric fell from his shoulders into an aqua pool at his feet.
Dean was all too aware that Seamus hadn't been wearing anything under his dress robes. He also noticed, not for the first time, that however well Seamus dressed, he really looked best with nothing on at all.
Seamus cleared his throat.
Dean shook his head, as if to clear it. "Oh, right."
He quickly unfastened his own robes and it was Seamus' turn to watch as mahogany emerged from canary yellow. Dean had worn simple black boxer briefs under his own robes, and his trim muscles rippled nicely against his slim frame as he turned his shoulders to toss his dress robes on the bed behind him.
When he turned back to face Seamus, he realized what the other boy had been talking about. If he'd looked at his friend the way he was being stared at now, well, no wonder.
Seamus moved closer. "Let me take care of those," he said. He stayed staring Dean in the eyes as he slipped his thumbs inside the waistband of Dean's briefs. With one quick movement, he bent his knees and slid the boxers down Dean's legs. Dean's penis sprang from its cloth prison.
And hit Seamus in the nose.
The surprise of it rocked Seamus off his heels and he sat down hard on the floor, sniffling.
"Shit, are you okay?" Dean asked, stepping out of his briefs and kneeling down next to Seamus.
"Yeah," Seamus replied, still sniffling. "I don't think I've ever gotten precum in my nose, though." He whoofed like a horse, shaking his head.
Dean laughed a little, and tipped Seamus' head up. He reached his tongue out and licked the tip of Seamus' nose then kissed his lips, pulling him close.
"Dean! I can't!" Seamus wailed, pulling away.
Dean remembered a pre-date ritual that Lee Jordan had taught him to avoid just such a situation. "Well, you'll have to take care of that, won't you?" he whispered, a small smile on his lips.
Seamus looked horrified. "What, you mean here? In front of you? By myself?"
"Oh I'll help you," Dean said, sliding away from Seamus.
"From over there?"
Dean smiled wider this time, whispering "I'll inspire you" as he reached a hand down between his own legs.
Draco and Ginny sat at a table off to the side of the floor while she ate her third or perhaps fourth plate of hors d'oeuvres. Her appetite for food and otherwise never ceased to amaze him. He thought it had something to do with that ridiculously large family of hers but he'd learned through experience that it was best not to try to figure Ginny out. Instead, he decided to remind her that there were other things at the Solstice Ball besides a sumptuous food table.
"Ginny, you know, no one can admire your dress robes if you're sitting all the time," he said.
"You mean, no one can admire your sexy girlfriend's sexy back," she replied. "Or rather, your good taste in women."
He grinned. "Well, that too."
"Is that your way of asking me to dance?"
"I think you should ask nicely. I think that all those nice things you said to me at the staircase have gone to my head rather and we shouldn't be sarcastic."
He raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, just for the night," she added hastily. "I wouldn't want to rush into anything."
"Certainly not," he replied. "We have our standards to maintain."
There was a long pause, then Ginny slowly asked, "What did you just say to me?"
Draco was confused at first. Then suddenly he remembered and his eyes widened. He looked down at the table, his hands nervously playing with one of the party favors. "I think we should forget every word I have ever uttered on the Hogwarts Express," he said quietly. "Let's make that a rule right now. I certainly never said anything I'm proud of."
Ginny put her hand over his. When he brought his eyes up to meet hers, she said, "Let's dance."
As they got to their feet, Draco said, "We're okay, aren't we?"
Ginny nodded. "Close enough, anyway."
They danced silently for a bit. Then he said, "I'm glad you came back to me, Ginny."
She shook her head. "I didn't go anywhere. You came back to me, Draco."
She kissed him, and his hand was on her back and her hand was in his hair and they were together and right then that was all that was important.
"Well," Seamus said, "that was surprisingly hot."
"I'm much calmer now."
"I could go all night."
"Dean, do you have anything else to say?"
"We should get off the floor," Dean said, continuing to thread his fingers through the hair on Seamus' chest. He placed a kiss on Seamus' temple, then stood and pulled Seamus to his feet. As they walked over to Seamus' bed (Dean's was closer but covered with their dress robes) he kicked his boxers and the small towel beneath it. He then sat down and slid back on the bed until he was leaning against the headboard. Seamus followed his lover onto the bed and settled in his lap, straddling his legs with his own more thickly muscled ones.
The kisses were less frantic now. Seamus released Dean's lips and arched his back, tipping back his head as Dean moved his tongue slowly down his neck. Dean's hands were holding tight to his sides, the long thumbs rubbing his nipples so slowly, teasing really. Seamus reached down and ran his hands along the other boy's shoulders, loving the feel of muscle and sinew beneath the smooth skin. "Mmmm," he said, opening his eyes and looking down at the top of Dean's head.
Dean by now was moving to replace one of his thumbs with his mouth and Seamus gasped as his pale pink nipple disappeared between the full dark lips. He moved his hands along the shoulders and neck and slid his fingers into Dean's dark curls. After a moment, he tipped Dean's head back and leaned down for another deep kiss, sure that he would never ever be able to get his fill of kissing Dean.
Seamus smiled as he moved out of Dean's arms and slid slowly down his body, kissing neck and shoulders, chest and stomach along the way. As he reached his target, he looked back up at Dean and asked, "Has anyone?"
Dean nodded. "Once."
Seamus shook his head. "Oh, love, this should never make you shrug."
"What about you, Shay?" Dean asked.
Seamus closed his eyes for a moment. "Ah, Justin never did believe that giving was better than receiving. So it wasn't a mainstay."
Dean, not for the first time that evening or indeed that year, thought Cruciatus was probably too good for Justin Finch-Fletchley. Then Seamus tipped his head down and Dean stopped thinking about Hufflepuffs.
Harry and Hermione sat in a quiet corner of the Great Hall, drinking punch and watching the dancers.
"Harry, when would you say was our first date?" Hermione asked. "Was it that first night at the restaurant or was it really the night we realized who we were?"
Harry recalled that Ron had complained that Hermione needed to talk out every single aspect of their relationship. Blah blah blah. Harry wasn't a talker. He'd better put a stop to this as quick as he could. Without being a total bastard, of course.
"Our first date was our first date. Why do you ask?"
"Well, I was just thinking—"
Harry smiled. He loved that Hermione was always thinking, really he did, but sometimes she needed to just stop already. He put a finger to her lips. "Do you know what I think, Hermione?"
She shook her head.
"I think that there are things you think about and things you feel about. Arithmancy, you think about. Getting Sirius cleared, you think about. What we'll do during the war, you think about. But this," he brushed back her hair and kissed her softly on the ear, "you feel about. Thinking gets in the way."
"You can't tell me you don't think about these things. What about that whole speech you gave Sirius and Seamus, at your birthday party? The one that started all of this?" She raised one eyebrow, challenging him.
Damn that Finnigan, Harry thought. Can't he keep his mouth shut? "Seamus told you that?"
Hermione smirked. "Harry, do not underestimate the bond between a fag and his hag. Seamus tells me everything. I tell Seamus everything. Deal with it and stop avoiding my question."
Harry growled. "Have you ever tried to keep information from Sirius Black? It's impossible. He just keeps asking. I caved."
Hermione leaned against Harry, moving her hands to his chest. "Aren't you glad that you did?"
"Miss Granger, are you trying to seduce me in the Great Hall?"
"I don't know," Hermione said, leaning closer still. "I hadn't thought about it."
Harry smiled. Then Hermione kissed him and he stopped thinking for a moment. By the time he had his wits about him, Hermione had moved away and was looking out at the dancers as though nothing had happened.
Neville, who was walking by with Susan and had seen the kiss and Harry's reaction, said, "Well Harry, you'd better hope that You-Know-Who doesn't send a witch to seduce you or we're lost."
"Swallowing," Dean announced as he slid back up Seamus' body, "is a good thing."
Seamus nodded and kissed Dean, swirling his tongue around Dean's mouth. "Swallowing is a very good thing."
They lay entwined on Seamus' bed, finally sated and a bit groggy, lazily kissing but mostly just holding each other close. Dean sighed.
"You're criminally good at that, you know," Dean said. "I wish—"
"You will be," Seamus said flatly. He smiled and kissed Dean again. "I'll make sure you get a lot of practice."
Dean smiled back, nodding slightly. "I think getting under the covers will also be a good thing. It's freezing in here."
They awkwardly pushed the covers down without getting off the bed, slid under them then resumed their position, Dean laying on his back with Seamus in his arms, his face snuggled into Dean's neck. "Can you sleep like this?" Seamus asked.
"Er, well, actually . . . " Dean began.
Seamus tried to push away, to give Dean some more space. But Dean didn't let him go.
"Where are you doing?" Dean asked.
"I was, I mean, you said — "
"Seamus, I was going to say that I usually sleep with a pillow there. Argh, this is embarrassing!" Dean turned his head away as he felt his face flush.
Even by the candlelight, Seamus knew his boyfriend well enough to spot the faint blush. "Dean? You sleep hugging a pillow?"
Seamus reached up and turned Dean's face back toward him. Seeing Seamus' grin, Dean began to smile himself. "Come here, then," he whispered and they kissed again.
Neville, Ron and Harry, exhausted from hours of dancing (and otherwise) dragged themselves up to their dorm room. After a few minutes of fiddling, they got the door unlocked and removed the silencing charm.
There, in Seamus' bed in the center of the room, were their other two roommates, curled around each other under the covers and fast asleep.
"I suppose this is what we have to look forward to," Neville said.
"They might have closed the curtains," Harry said.
"That would have been the polite thing to do," Ron agreed.
"Just be glad they didn't leave anything lying around," Neville said.
"Thanks for that mental image, Neville," Harry said.
"We cleaned up after ourselves and could you please be quiet?" Dean asked sleepily.
"Yeah, we're trying to sleep!" said Seamus.
"You didn't take the charm off the door, did you?" Ron said.
"Or close your curtains," said Neville.
Harry said, "In the morning, we'll have a chat and set up some rules, eh?"
"Fine," said Seamus as he sat up to close the curtains.
As the other three boys walked to the bathroom, Neville said, "I wonder if we can rent out that extra bed."
"Nah," said Ron. "We couldn't get any takers for yours."
"I'm not gone that often," Neville said.
"Yes you are" Harry and Ron said in unison.
"Go to bed," Dean said firmly from behind the curtain.
Ron shook his head. "You'd think he'd be in a better mood now that he's getting some."
"Why?" Harry asked. "You aren't."