The low beating of the tom-toms,
The slow beating of the tom-toms,
Low . . . slow
Slow . . . low —
Stirs your blood.
—Langston Hughes, "Danse Africaine"
3 July 1995
Hermione Granger was not accustomed to events not unfolding as she expected, at least on some level. As a little girl she expected that unusual things would happen to her, and therefore wasn't entirely surprised by the Hogwarts letter and subsequent visit from little Professor Flitwick. Nor was she surprised to have been sorted into Gryffindor House; she searched for information that allowed her to do things, not just for thinking's sake. She wasn't as shocked as perhaps she should have been to hear the truth about Sirius and Remus and Peter, because the original story never quite added up for her, though she did have to allow for some sentiment that Harry's godfather not be a "bad'un" might have influenced her there. And she certainly wasn't surprised that Harry and Ron proved quite hopeless when it came to the Yule Ball and was glad that she'd kept herself and Ginny well out of their idiocy. Not that she entirely approved of dating one boy to affect another, but sometimes points had to be made. And anyway, after a while she'd liked Viktor for his own sake and not just the effect he had on Ron.
But this summer was not going as she might have expected. Her much anticipated week in Bulgaria hadn't been as smooth as she'd thought it would be. Stranger still, she didn't much want to go to the Burrow. She wouldn't have minded seeing Ginny; indeed, Ginny was the only one who knew that she and Viktor had broken up. But she didn't have the strength of mind to deal with Ron and his moods. He'd been bad enough about Viktor before; hearing him crowing over what actually happened would be unbearable. As for Harry, well, just being with Harry required all of one's energy and attention, or at least as much as could be spared, because he needed so much and had so few resources. Right now Hermione needed her energy for herself.
Which is why, when her parents went on from Bulgaria to Bosnia, Hermione decided to spent the rest of the summer in London with her older cousin Deirdre instead of heading to the Burrow. Her magical life had got complicated; it would be a relief, a recharge, to be back in Muggle society. It wasn't as though she'd be able to perform magic over the summer anyway.
But she was very surprised, one day when she was browsing in a Muggle bookshop, to see a reminder of her other life in the person of Seamus Finnigan. She wasn't precisely friends with Seamus, though he seemed a perfectly nice, normal boy. He was going with Lavender, and was friendly with Parvati; Ron and Harry seemed to like him well enough, and he was kind to Neville, which Hermione saw as a mark of character.
For a moment she thought of hiding, maintaining the solitary summer she'd chosen for herself. But as she hesitated the decision was made for her.
"Seamus Finnigan! What are you doing in London?"
"Hiding out with my uncle," Seamus said, then cocked his head. "I thought you'd be in Bulgaria visiting that boyfriend of yours."
"I … was. Though he's not my boyfriend—I mean, if he was, he isn't now."
"I see," Seamus said but thankfully he let it drop. "Soon to leave for the Burrow, then, I expect?"
"No, no, actually," she said. "I'm spending the summer here, with relatives. And you?"
"The same. Things in Ireland are, well, complicated." He looked at his watch. "Say, do you have time? There's a café nearby."
Hermione almost said no, but remembered that Deirdre had warned her not to spend the summer brooding. "Sure, why not?" she replied.
The cozy café Seamus led her to had large windows overlooking a nearby park. Once they had sat down with their drinks he asked, "So what brings you to London?"
"My parents are volunteering with Doctors Without Borders in Bosnia this summer, so I'm staying with my cousin." She smiled wistfully. "Ironic, isn't it? With You-Know-Who back they're safer in the Balkans than in England."
Seamus fidgeted with his straw wrapper. "Strange days," he replied.
They were quiet for a moment. "And you? You said you were hiding out?"
He nodded. "From my extended family. They're none too pleased with me right now."
Seamus stared at Hermione for a long moment, trying to make up his mind. Then he said, "Because I came out."
"You came out?" Hermione asked.
"Of the closet?"
Seamus looked down at his cup and nodded again.
"Wow," Hermione said, looking out the window. Some of her parents' close friends were gay, so the idea of homosexuality wasn't new to her. But she had never known anyone her own age who was gay.
She looked back over at Seamus and he seemed a bit deflated in comparison to the laughing boy she knew from school. Hermione smiled, hoping to reassure him, and Seamus smiled back. "How did your parents take it?" she asked quietly.
"That's the oddest thing. They said they already knew. How they knew and I didn't I'm not sure, but they were great, really great. And Uncle Mark is my father's brother, and he's gay, so Da really wasn't that shocked about it." Seamus chuckled. "Of course, for Gran this is just another nail in the coffin, so I was packed off to London until Da can calm her down. I'm glad she isn't a witch; she certainly cursed me enough." Seamus sighed, taking another sip of tea.
"Have you told Lavender?" she asked.
He nodded. "When I got to England, we met so I could tell her in person. As you can imagine, I'm at the top of the Brown-Patil shit list these days. But it isn't like we were really all that serious." Seamus smiled ruefully.
"And what does Dean think about this?"
"He doesn't know yet. He's staying with his grandparents, won't be back until the end of August. I'll tell him then. Doesn't seem like something you should put in an owl. 'Dear Dean, How are you? I'm gay. See you soon.'" He shrugged.
Hermione chuckled. "That's probably best."
Another silence, but this time more comfortable, the two of them staring out the window at the little park. "So what are you doing with your summer?" Seamus asked.
"Well, we do have some schoolwork, and there's some other reading I wanted to do, and since I lost time going to Bulgaria—"
"Don't tell me you really planned to do nothing but work," Seamus said.
Hermione bit her lip—to be honest that was her plan, because at least it kept her mind off things. But with Seamus here, smiling at her expectantly, the prospect suddenly seemed a little dull. "I was," she admitted. "I don't really know many people here in London."
"Neither do I," Seamus said. "Look, I wouldn't mind getting that schoolwork done before the last week of August," he said, grinning, "but surely there are other things to be done in this city. Films at least, and museums."
Hermione sat back a bit. "Museums? You want to go to museums?"
Seamus shrugged. "Uncle Mark is an artist; so is Dean. I like looking at paintings and such."
"Such unexpected depth!" Hermione said, but she was smiling. "Fine. Let's work in the morning, and we can go where you suggest in the afternoon."
"Great! Say, day after tomorrow?" he asked.
They exchanged numbers and said their goodbyes not long after that. Seamus walked back to his uncle's flat feeling better than he had in weeks. He'd actually told someone and it hadn't entirely sucked. Hopefully Gran and Lav would be the worse of it and it would all be uphill from here. Or was that downhill?
And now he had someone to keep him from being lazy about the summer assignment—a double-edged sword to be sure, but he'd been thinking lately about getting a little more serious about his schoolwork. Not Hermione-serious but perhaps a respectable Ravenclaw level. The number of O.W.L.s he'd have to pass to be able to take the classes needed for Healer training was daunting but that was the goal. Besides, who said that Healers couldn't also have a good time on occasion?
He'd put Hermione off a day because Uncle Mark was taking Seamus out to a club this very evening and it wouldn't do to see Hermione after a long night out. Mark was of the opinion that it was preferable for Seamus to go with him so Mark could steer him clear of any pitfalls rather than have Seamus sneak out to the club and stumble into trouble. Seamus, of course, wasn't about to argue with that.
19 July 1995
And so it was for the next two weeks. They met every other day or so, working in the mornings before heading out in the afternoon. A cinema not far from Mark's flat showed double features of old movies at the matinee and Seamus was curious about the sleek, well-dressed men in the black-and-white posters on Mark's walls. He found himself drawn to Cary Grant; he could identify with the wish to cover up one's feelings with a joke, though he doubted that he was even half as suave as Cary.
One of these days found them in the National Gallery, standing in front of a Rembrandt self-portrait, when Seamus said, "So, Bulgaria?"
"Yes?" Hermione answered.
"Are you going to talk about what happened?" he asked.
Her eyes widened. "Well, I—"
"It's okay," Seamus said quickly. "You don't have to. But there's no one else here, in London I mean, and you did listen to me blather on about coming out."
"You didn't blather on," she replied.
Hermione looked around. "Not here," she said.
Outside they got bottles of water and sat on some steps. "Well?" Seamus asked.
"The food was good," she said.
They were silent a moment. "And?" Seamus prompted.
"His parents are so nice. They got along well with mine."
Seamus tapped his fingers on his knee. "What about the kissing? Was the kissing good?"
"Didn't you go there for the kissing?"
"I just wanted to see him."
Seamus raised one eyebrow.
Hermione tried to stare him down, glare him down really, but he wasn't having it. She sighed. "How should I know if the kissing was good? He's the only boy I've ever kissed."
Seamus smirked. "Did you like it?"
"Yes," she replied, matter-of-fact.
"Then it was good. Please continue."
"So what I hadn't expected," she said, "is that Viktor is very, very famous in Bulgaria. Everyone stared, and my picture was in the paper—"
"That should have been familiar," Seamus said.
Hermione scowled. "Yes, but it still isn't pleasant. And anyway it was very awkward; we just couldn't seem to keep a conversation going! I kept thinking, what on earth had we been talking about all year?"
Seamus grinned. "Maybe you weren't doing a lot of talking?"
"There's no need to be vulgar," Hermione replied.
"I'm serious! Or maybe you were doing all the talking, and he was actually listening, unlike some other people we could mention."
Hermione cocked her head.
"Just because you lot don't pay attention to the rest of us," Seamus said, "doesn't mean that we don't notice what's going on with you lot."
Hermione sat back. "You're a gossip!"
He smiled a little. "What do you think Lavender and I talked about? Come to think of it, that probably should have been a clue right there."
"Anyway," Hermione continued, "we broke up. I'm not looking forward to telling Ron so I'm not going to the Burrow until at least August, if at all."
"He'll find out sometime," Seamus said.
"Does it have to be from me?" she asked.
"You could put it in the Quibbler," Seamus suggested. "Doesn't Ginny know that strange Ravenclaw?"
"Ron doesn't read the Quibbler except for the sport."
"You could ask Ginny to tell him."
"No," Hermione said. "She had to tell him I had an escort for the Yule Ball. I can't ask her to do that again."
Seamus nodded. "You could ask Harry to tell him. He must owe you a favor or twelve by now."
Hermione started to say, "I couldn't," but then thought, well, why not? "It's an idea," she said aloud.
"There," he said, "I can be useful, you know. Anyway, I say, don't date a boy who can't pronounce your name. What is that he called you, 'Herm-own-ninny'?"
"Something like that."
"Did he shorten it to 'Ninny'?"
"I'm not a ninny!"
"True," Seamus said, "but see, I prefer names of one syllable. Dean, Shay, Lav, Ron, Nev."
"Par?" Hermione asked.
"P," he replied. "And well, Harry is Harry—doesn't take long to say."
"Neither does Hermione."
Seamus ignored her. "Ninny's wrong, I agree. But Nin, Nin is good. Sounds sort of like Nan, and Nan's a name."
"No one calls me by a nickname," Hermione said.
Seamus cocked his head. "Because you wouldn't let them or because they didn't try?" he asked.
"I … well, I suppose the latter," she admitted.
"Good, then Nin it is. Oh, and tomorrow there's another Cary Grant film at the cinema. I know we don't usually meet two days in a row but it's Cary Grant. The Philadelphia Story."
"Has anyone ever told you that you're awfully bossy?" she asked.
"Yes," he said, nodding. "Dean says it at least once a week. Has anyone ever told you?"
"Well, yes, of course," Hermione said.
"All right then. So, would you like to come see the film, Nin?"
It was certainly a change, someone else making plans and being in charge, and she found that she rather liked it. "I'd love to," she replied.
"Well, I can see why you'd like that movie," Hermione said as they walked out of the theater.
"Because Cary Grant manipulated all the other characters!"
"He didn't manipulate them!" Seamus replied. "He simply guided them to their true path."
Hermione rolled her eyes at that.
"I think you're irritated because the movie was a little too close for comfort."
"Close to what?"
"You, of course."
"Me? In what way?"
"Tracy is smart, and quick …"
"True," Hermione agreed.
"… and doesn't have a much tolerance for weakness."
"I'm not like that," Hermione said.
Seamus hesitated. "Well, you are sort of, er, morally rigid."
Hermione sputtered. "Feeling that some things are right and some things are wrong isn't being rigid!"
Seamus looked at Hermione and raised his eyebrows. She crossed her arms and scowled; Seamus thought that if they'd been standing still she would have been tapping her foot. "You know, when I saw you a few weeks ago I wasn't going to tell you. About coming out, I mean. I didn't think you would take this so easily."
Hermione turned to him. "Being gay isn't a weakness."
"Some people think it is," he said with a shrug.
She sighed. "Well, if I am rigid, and I am not saying I am, it doesn't follow that I would have a problem with your being gay. It's the other way around—I have a problem with people who have a problem with it."
"You are a good person to have on one's side," Seamus said, "and a bad person to not."
Hermione looked quizzical. "I'll take that as a compliment?"
"It was meant as one." Seeing that they'd arrived at Mark's block of flats Seamus said, "Would you like to come up? I know we have cold drinks and we might even have snacks."
Hermione smiled. "Thanks, I will."
Mark Finnigan was working from home on one of the commercial illustrations that paid the bills when his own paintings weren't selling. Three evening gowns were hanging near his drafting table. "Wow," Seamus said, looking at a diaphanous blue gown. "These are beautiful."
Mark nodded. "New designer, decided to make herself look a little different by having old-fashioned illustrations in her catalogue, to match the retro gowns."
Seamus and Hermione settled on the couch with their lemonades and Mark asked, "What movie was it you saw?"
"The Philadelphia Story," Seamus replied.
"Ah, yes, that's a good one," he said. "Miss Pommery 1926."
"Where's 'Pommery'?" Hermione asked.
"It's not a where, it's a what," Mark replied. "It's a brand of champagne."
"That makes much more sense," Hermione said.
"Maybe that's what you need, Nin," Seamus said. "Some champagne to relax you a little."
"So I can go up to the roof and wail like a banshee, like in the movie?" Hermione asked.
"Don't mention banshees, even in jest," Seamus said quickly.
"Besides," Mark said, "we don't have roof access. Never mind that relying on drink like that isn't a good plan."
"Well," Seamus said, thinking, "maybe you should come out to the club with me."
"Dropping me already, I see," Mark said.
Seamus grinned. "Your friends are nice and all, but they are a bit old."
"That's gratitude," Mark replied. "But I think I've taught you enough to stay out of trouble."
"Yeah," Seamus said. "I don't want to—I mean, I'm not, I don't think I'm ready for that, you know."
Hermione cocked her head. "Was that English?" she asked.
"I don't think so," Mark replied.
"I meant I don't want to hook up," Seamus said, indignant.
Mark nodded. "Good thing," he said.
"I don't know, Seamus," Hermione said. "I'm not the best dancer. I'll embarrass you."
"Nin, I saw you at the Yule Ball. You'll be fine, believe me. And it's not like anyone there would be checking you out anyway."
"Well, I can't go like this," she said, indicating her jeans and t-shirt.
Seamus shrugged. "Tomorrow we can look at what you have and then if we have to we'll go shopping."
"If you 'have' to?" Mark said. "Don't let him fool you, Hermione; he just wants to shop with someone else's money."
Seamus came by Deirdre's flat at about 11am and within fifteen minutes had the entire contents of Hermione's suitcase spread out on the bed and chair.
"You were right," Seamus said. "There's nothing here. Not much for little dresses, are you?"
Hermione shrugged. "I wear a skirt all day at school," she said. "It's a relief to wear trousers."
"Hmm," Seamus said, looking around the room.
"There are these two dresses I bought to go out in Bulgaria," she said, indicating two print dresses in shades of blue.
Seamus shook his head. "They're still too formal. Your Yule Ball dress was pretty, too, but you wouldn't wear it to a club."
"All right," she said. "But my parents said to only use their card for essentials."
"And this isn't an essential?" Seamus asked, arms crossed.
At the shop Seamus quickly rifled through the racks, tossing dresses Hermione's way. "Shopping is very zen, you know."
"Everything is zen since you read that book about archery," Hermione replied.
Seamus looked up, stern. "You must focus. Let go of all distractions. The right dress will find you."
Hermione breathed out, closed her eyes, and thrust her hand into a nearby rack. "Like that?" she said, a bit mockingly, pulling out an orange dress.
Seamus was looking at the hanger in her hand. "Yes, like that exactly," he said, taking it from her and holding it up to her neck. "You should wear more orange. It suits you." He handed it to her. "Now, off to the fitting room, young lady."
She started with the orange dress she'd found and came out to show Seamus. It was sleeveless with a fitted waist and a scoop neck that revealed her collarbones and a hint of cleavage.
"Wow," he said. "See, you look great." He stood behind her in the mirror.
"I don't know," she said. "It's very bright. And short!"
"It's only a few inches shorter than your uniform," Seamus replied. "Just above the knee is very flattering."
Hermione looked up at his reflection. "You did this with Lavender, didn't you?"
He nodded. "Another clue, I suppose," he said, just a little sadly.
She smiled at him. "Well, I reckon it won't hurt to stand out a little," she said.
He grinned back. "That's the way!"
By the time they were finished four "right" dresses had found Hermione, similarly shaped and in a variety of eye-catching but flattering colors, plus a pair of soft brown knee-high boots.
"Which I will not be wearing tonight," Hermione said. "Boots need breaking in."
Seamus shrugged. "Maybe by the end of the summer?" he asked. "Anyway, I saw some flats in your trunk. Baby steps."
When Seamus came to pick up Hermione that evening Deirdre's only comment was, "No drugs. Your parents would kill me." After a quick Tube ride and a bit of walking they arrived at a seemingly non-descript doorway with a line of people standing outside.
Hermione turned to him and asked, "What is this?"
"This, my dear Nin, is Heaven. Best DJ's, cutest boys. Mark's favorite club."
"But there's no sign," she said.
"Mark says the best clubs don't have them," he replied, and guided her into the line.
Once inside the club they stood atop a staircase that looked out over the dance floor. The club was packed from the dance floor back to the bar with countless men (and a few women) swaying to the incredibly loud music. Colored lights flashed down on the dancers through clouds of dry gas that floated through the air. Hermione's senses were overwhelmed. She had never seen so many half clothed men in one place at one time. Suddenly she didn't feel nearly so naked in her short, sleeveless dress. She turned to Seamus who was looking like the cat that swallowed the canary.
"Fantastic, isn't it?" he shouted.
"I don't know if I can dance like that," she said, pointing to the gyrating couples on the floor.
"Just picture yourself in your bedroom, dancing to your stereo. Pretend you're one of those people on Top of the Pops or something." Seamus leaned closer. "No one will be looking."
Hermione let Seamus lead her to the middle of the dance floor. She stood there for a moment, transfixed by the crowd, the lights, and the music. And she saw that truly no one was looking at her. Not even Seamus, really. So she began to dance.
Once she got into it, she found that dancing was anything but tiring. It was exhilarating! She could do this for hours. Her mind, which ran on at least two if not three tracks at all times, shut down as her body took over. Instead of thinking she sensed—the bass resonating in her chest, the beads of sweat trickling down her back, the acrid smell of the dry gas, the bright coolness of the grapefruit juice Seamus brought to her and of course the sight of all of these half naked men, even though none of them were looking at her. Especially since none of them were looking at her.
"See!" cried Seamus. "I knew you had it in you, Miss Pommery! And we didn't even need the champagne!"
Every once in a while Seamus would lean over and point out a boy that he fancied, or one that he thought was checking him out. Sometimes men would come by and dance with them and they would part slightly, becoming three. But eventually Seamus would signal disinterest, and the others would move on. When the two needed a break they wandered about the club, peeking at boys making out in dark corners or finding a seat at a bar in the back where they could rest their feet. Hermione had assumed that, for once, the women's bathroom would be fairly empty but Seamus warned her that it would be full of boys. This was eye opening but perhaps not as shocking as, say, figuring out that your professor was a werewolf.
And when they left the first thing Hermione said was, "So when can we come back?"
Seamus grinned. "I think I've created a monster!"
17 August 1995
Hermione decided not to visit the Burrow that summer. She'd taken Seamus's advice and sent her news about Viktor in a letter to Harry and while she was sorry to miss his birthday she was willing to let the boys fend for themselves. They probably had some bonding to do after their ridiculous fight during the school year and she suspected it would be easier without her around distracting Ron. She wasn't sure how Ron would react to her dressing up and going out dancing in gay clubs with Seamus either, given how he'd behaved the night of the Yule Ball. Instead, she sent an owl to Ginny and invited her to London for a week at the end of August. Hermione was surprised, but excited, when Ginny accepted.
The summer assignments were finished so now she and Seamus were free to do as they pleased. She was surprised at how hardworking he'd become and was pleased that someone was grateful for her good influence. She couldn't say the same for Harry or Ron on that front. Much as she adored them, and looked forward to seeing them as usual in Diagon Alley just before school started, a little distance was probably good for all of them. It was eerie the extent to which nothing had happened over the summer and she couldn't help waiting for the other shoe to drop.
In spite of that, or perhaps because of it, she and Seamus went out dancing one or two nights a week. Hermione was nothing if not a quick study and she was picking up on the dance moves from the people around her. They were becoming regulars, getting to know the bartenders and the other people in the club, not to mention which DJs and songs they preferred. She discovered a new person emerging, that Miss Pommery 1926 that Seamus had talked about, and found that she liked her. After all, who said that one couldn't read by day and dance by night?
Seamus, meanwhile, was mostly relieved that his summer had gone so well after such a rocky start. He was still anxious about telling Dean because he probably mattered more than anyone else in Seamus's life. Best friends were like that. But Hermione's reaction gave him a bit of hope and anyway Dean had never really said those casually homophobic things that so many boys said. Dean had come home at the start of the week but Seamus wanted to tell him in person so they'd made plans to see each other on Saturday. At least the whole thing would be over soon, one way or the other.
And being serious about work was easier with Hermione around. She wasn't quite as humorless as he'd once thought, or perhaps he wasn't as high-spirited, and he wondered how much of that had been a distraction so no one would see what he was hiding. But he wasn't so daft as not to realize that living with Uncle Mark and palling around with Hermione wasn't the same as being at Hogwarts. There was Dean, and then the rest of Gryffindor House—what would Fred and George say?—and the school, and Seamus knew full well who the gossips were and how fast the news would spread. There were some blokes, and a few girls, who were out at school, and their treatment generally depended on what their position at school had been previously. If they'd been low-status it was another way to pick on them. If they'd been popular it was glossed over. Luckily Dumbledore had a very firm tolerance policy—awfully open-minded of the old man, if you thought about it—so nothing truly horrible could happen. But it could still be uncomfortable, and it would still be different, no matter what.
With Dean and Ginny arriving at the weekend it was likely their last night to go to Heaven and Seamus wanted to make the most of it. Hermione had finally broken in those boots; she looked fantastic and Seamus said so. They went a little earlier than usual and sat in the back watching the club fill up. Then they danced for as long as they could, losing themselves in the music.
Finally they moved off the dance floor to the bar to get some drinks and Hermione said to Seamus, "Hey, we haven't seen him here before, have we? He looks about our age."
Seamus turned to look. A tall, slim black teen was standing nearby with his back to them, talking with some other young-looking blokes. He had broad shoulders and was wearing baggy jeans and white t-shirt.
Seamus shook his head. "I would have remembered him! He's gorgeous!"
By then, the man's friends had noticed the three staring at him and were motioning that he should turn around. When he did Seamus' eyes flew open.
Dean Thomas nearly dropped his drink. "Seamus?"
Hermione muttered, "Well, this should be interesting."