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Eight Ways from Sunday

Chapter Text

The low beating of the tom-toms,
The slow beating of the tom-toms,
Low . . . slow
Slow . . . low —
Stirs your blood.
Dance!
—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.

"Hermione?"

"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."

"Why not?"

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.

Seamus nodded.

"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.

"Still."

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?"

"Seamus!"

"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.

"Why?"

"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?"

Dean Thomas nearly dropped his drink. "Seamus?"

Hermione muttered, "Well, this should be interesting."

Chapter Text

But there was another truth she was now fully aware of. Something had created within her a state of perpetual defense against the very possibilities of experience, an urge for flight which took her away from the scenes of pleasure and expansion. She had stood many times on the very edge, and then had run away. She herself was to blame for what she had lost, ignored.
—Anais Nin, Delta of Venus

25 July 1996

Hermione Granger sat on the kitchen porch at Chez Chien with a cup of tea in hand, contemplating the meaning of life and her place in it.

It was only last summer that she had been "Miss Pommery 1926", working by day and dancing by night. She had broken up with an international Quidditch star and was about to start dating one of her closest friends. But once back at Hogwarts and faced with the reality of the coming war, Hermione had forsaken her party girl persona for the familiar if confining role of responsible-friend-of-the-hero.

Voldemort had been eerily inactive that year; Sirius suspected he was biding his time. So, energies had been concentrated on the ultimately successful effort to clear Sirius' name. Those who hadn't already learned of Remus' lycanthropy read of it in the daily coverage of the long trial, as well as the decision of the Marauders to become Animagi. While Sirius was found innocent of betraying the Potters, he was convicted of being an illegal Animagus and was sentenced to time served. Hermione smiled at the memory of the celebration that followed; it was as if fifteen years of tension had been released in a single night.

It was apparent to everyone that had worked on Sirius' behalf that he and Remus Lupin were more than friends; in fact, the wizarding press had played up the romance in its coverage of Sirius' acquittal. Of course Harry had known for some time. Now he could leave Privet Drive behind and live with Sirius and Remus in the country house they shared. Chez Chien was a run-down farmhouse of faded green that stood on a small rise well away from the road. The hill at the rear of the house gently sloped down to a stand of cultivated trees and then to the fields beyond. The grade at the front of the house was steeper, dipping sharply to a simple fence separating Chez Chien from the lane and the forest opposite the house. A small gray shed near the front gate sheltered Sirius' motorcycle. Hermione loved the house; it was just the sort of sanctuary that Sirius, Remus and Harry needed. All three had been homeless for such a long time.

As she watched the sun burn the early morning fog from the distant fields, she wondered what Sirius and Remus would have them working on today. After the events of the Triwizard tournament, wizarding parents across Britain had begun pressuring the Ministry of Magic to allow them to train their own children in self-defense. By the time Sirius' trial had ended the Ministry was so discredited that Fudge, looking for an easy political victory, decided to bow to the pressure and overturn the ban on out-of-school wand use by minors. Mr. Weasley was being pushed to the breaking point trying to change the Ministry from within. Hermione's parents, being Muggles, were unable to train their daughter. So, eager to repay the hospitality he had always enjoyed at the Burrow, Harry had invited Ron, Ginny and Hermione to Chez Chien for summer break.

The four teens had spent the weeks since school ended honing their dueling skills under the careful guidance of Remus and Sirius. No one was surprised at the depth of Harry's natural talent, and Ron proved a very quick study. It was the first time Hermione could recall being good at something that wasn't in a book, and the physicality of it reminded her, oddly, of dancing. But the one most changed by the three weeks of training was Ginny. She was blossoming under Remus' guidance and her skills gave her more self-confidence.

Hermione was roused from her reverie by Sirius, who sat down next to her on the porch. "Knut for your thoughts?" he asked gently.

Hermione smiled. "They aren't worth that much," she replied, glad of the distraction.

Sirius regarded Hermione for a moment. She spent far too much time in quiet contemplation for his comfort. "You've been working hard all month. What do you think Harry would say to a birthday party?"

Hermione saw a mischievous glint in Sirius' eyes, which signaled danger to her. She answered cautiously. "Well, he's never had one. But you know he doesn't like to be the center of attention."

"Even though he always is," replied Sirius.

"Because he always is," corrected Hermione.

Sirius nodded. "Anyway, that's not true. He had a birthday party. I was there." He paused for a moment, looking out over the fields, then said, "How about a house party?"

Hermione shrugged. "You'll have to ask Harry."

"Ask me what?" Harry said as he and Ron joined them on the porch. Since moving into Chez Chien, Harry had been more relaxed than Hermione had ever remembered him being. He slouched into his usual position on the porch swing, one foot along the bench and one foot on the floor.

Sirius pointed at Harry. "Remus and I are throwing you a birthday party."

Harry sat up, scowling. "How can we do that? Wouldn't it attract attention, gathering a bunch of people here?"

Sirius shrugged. "Putting up wards would be good practice for you, but I don't think there will be a problem." He put his cup down and looked at Harry, intently. "Regardless Harry, you can't stop living because of danger. If your parents had done that you wouldn't be here talking to me now. Remember that."

Harry nodded to Sirius. "Okay, then, who to invite? Neville, Seamus, Dean, who else?"

Ron spoke up from where he sat on the porch steps. "Harry! You can't have a party without girls!"

Harry squinted. He seemed completely out of his depth. "Hermione and Ginny will be here." He looked at Hermione for help.

She rolled her eyes. "Why don't you invite Lavender and Parvati, and make it a Gryffindor party?"

"Ask Parvati to bring Padma," Ron said. At Harry and Hermione's surprised looks he said, "What? It will make our numbers even, is all."


Ginny sat on the kitchen counter swinging her legs and talking to Remus Lupin. Ginny had always been fond of the soft-spoken professor and had been heartbroken when he was forced to leave Hogwarts. Since she had arrived at Chez Chien three weeks prior, she found herself talking more to Remus (as he insisted they call him) than even to Hermione. Not that she and Hermione were that close, mind you. They should have been—they were always together, and they were confidants. But something didn't quite click. Ginny had been hopeful a year before when Hermione invited her out dancing with Seamus and Dean at the end of the summer. That Miss Pommery or whatever Seamus called her was someone Ginny really could be friends with. Once they had arrived back at Hogwarts, though, that girl was no where to be found.

Then there was that stupid crush on Harry. Seamus had said once that he was "so close and yet so far." That sounded about right to Ginny. He was right there but he may as well have been on the next planet for all that they actually spoke to each other.

Remus, on the other hand, was easy to talk to. He wasn't as skittish or intimidating as Sirius (and having spent her childhood being told bogeyman stories about him, she had to admit she was still a little scared of him). He really listened to what she had to say, which almost never happened at the Burrow. It didn't happen with Harry or Hermione much, either. The mornings in the kitchen had become her favorite part of the day.

"Sirius wants to throw Harry a birthday party," Remus said, apropos of nothing.

Ginny scowled. Parties meant people. Lots of people. Big groups always made Ginny nervous and when she was nervous she spoke even less. How could she impress Harry if there was a big gang of girls around? Still, she should be a good sport. "I'm sure that would be very nice for Harry," she said.

Remus nodded. "He probably hasn't had one since, well, the first one."

Ginny smiled. She didn't like to bring up the sad subject of Harry's parents but she couldn't get enough of "Harry as a baby" stories. "What was that party like?" she asked, sure that she would invoke a happy memory, at least.

Remus stared out the window for a moment. Then he chuckled, almost in spite of himself. "Lily made a tiny cake just for Harry. I remember Peter was annoyed that she didn't make cake for the grown-ups. But she said it was Harry's special day so only he should have any cake. We were at the cottage in Godric's Hollow and it was so hot that day I thought the cake would melt. Harry was fussy all day and refused to go down for his nap so we had a very cranky toddler on our hands by evening. But once the cake came out he lit up. Sirius had gotten one of those silly joke candles that you can't blow out and James was so mad at him. Sirius thought it would frustrate Harry but he thought it was a game and kept laughing when the candle came back." Remus paused, taking a sip of tea and smiling at the memory. "Hard to believe that was fifteen years ago."

"What was?" asked Harry, as he came in from the porch.

"I was just telling Ginny about your first birthday party," Remus replied.

Harry bit his tongue. He really wished Remus and Sirius wouldn't tell these tales, especially with Ginny around. "Well, looks like we're having another one next week."

Remus smiled. "Good. This time, I'll make sure there's cake enough for everyone."

Ginny blushed and giggled, one hand over her mouth. Harry looked away, a little embarrassed.


Owls were sent out and replies returned, all accepting the invitation. At noon on 31 July young witches and wizards began to arrive at Chez Chien via Floo. Neville was the fist to roll out of the fireplace. Seamus and Dean arrived together from Ireland; Dean would be staying with Seamus until the beginning of school. Lavender, Parvati and Padma came in a giggling lump and had to be untangled by Harry and Ron.

"I bet they did that on purpose," Ginny grumbled to Hermione.

The teens greeted their hosts, then Harry took them on a grand tour of the house (omitting the small room in the cellar that Remus retired to once a month). Downstairs was a living room, study, master bedroom, a small bathroom and a kitchen with porch that opened into the back. Upstairs was Harry's room (which he was sharing with Ron), a third bedroom currently occupied by Hermione and Ginny, and another bathroom. Each of the upstairs bedrooms had been magically enlarged to hold five beds and the group was sitting in Harry's room when Remus joined them from downstairs.

"Is 'Chez Chien' Sirius' idea of a joke?" asked Lavender.

"No, Sirius' idea of a joke is 'The Dog House.' 'Chez Chien' is my idea of a compromise." He smiled. "Right. Boys in this room, girls in the other."

"But that's hardly fair. Two of the boys are gay," Parvati pointed out. "What's to stop them from fooling around?"

Seamus turned to Dean and raised his right hand. "I swear to you on my honor as a wizard that I will not try to jump you while we're staying at Chez Chien."

"That's too bad," Dean replied, his eyes twinkling. "I was looking forward to it."

Seamus looked at Dean for a long moment but he couldn't tell if Dean was joking or not.

Once settled, the teens were packed off to the fields beyond the house with picnic baskets, broomsticks and a Quidditch set. After lunch Harry organized a rough match with Dean, Padma, Ron, Hermione and Lavender against Seamus, Parvati, Ginny, Neville and himself. Since he had to promise Parvati no Bludgers to get her to play, Harry also decided not to get out the Snitch. The surprise of the game was Padma, who proved very handy with a Quaffle.

"I hate to say this, because I'd have to play against you," Ron said, "but you really should go out for your house team. Where did you learn to play like that?"

"My father," she replied. "It's rather like chess, isn't it? You look at the whole field, find the order in the chaos, and make your move." She wiped the sweat from her forehead with her towel.

Ron's thoughts drifted for a moment, as he observed how Padma's skin gleamed in the yellow-orange afternoon light. He shook it off. "But why don't you play for Ravenclaw?"

"I dunno, I guess I wanted to concentrate on music." Padma put the towel down and opened her eyes to look at Ron. "But we made a great team, didn't we?" She smiled widely, then turned to her sister.

As Ron stood watching her, Seamus walked by and hit him on the shoulder. "Don't gape Ron, it's unattractive."

Baskets and Quidditch gear repacked, they headed back to the house to shower and change before dinner. As there were only two showers, the boys went out to the porch to wait for their turn. They found Remus sitting in a chair with Sirius at his feet, his back against Remus' legs, looking out at the fields. "Who won the game?" Remus asked. "It was difficult to tell from here."

Harry groaned as he flopped into the porch swing. "We lost to Ron's team! Why can't you people let me win on my birthday!"

Dean would have none of it. "Losing is good. Keeps you humble." He chuckled, pointing at Harry. "No seekers was your idea. If you're not going to play to your strength, you can't blame us."

Harry growled and took a long slug of butterbeer before moving his leg to allow Ron to sit next to him on the swing. Seamus sat in the large wicker chair near the swing.

"So, Seamus," Sirius began, nonchalantly.

"Sirius," Remus warned. At their first meeting, during the trial, Sirius and Seamus had begun a flirtation that had not yet run its course. While Remus thought it was harmless, it was still vaguely inappropriate even if Sirius often had the maturity level of a teenager, so he didn't encourage it. But when Sirius grinned up at him innocently, Remus said, "Oh, go ahead, I suppose I can't stop you."

"What do you want to ask me, Sirius?" Seamus leaned back in his chair, spreading his arms and stretching his legs. "My life is an open book, though not that interesting yet."

"Interesting is overrated," Sirius replied sadly. He looked out at the fields for a moment. Coming back to himself, he asked Seamus, "You dated Lavender, then apparently ran screaming in the opposite direction?"

"I wouldn't say that. I thought I'd try for the girliest girl I could find, to see if I could make it work. Obviously, I couldn't." Seamus nervously picked at the label on his bottle of butterbeer. This hadn't been his brightest shining moment, but there was no getting around it. "We were never that serious, and we're friendly now. Anyway, she got a lot of mileage out of being the scorned woman. Guys saying, 'I'll show you what a real man is like,' that sort of thing. Positive all around."

"And now? Hermione says you're doing a great deal of dating."

Seamus sighed. "My reputation is exaggerated. I had a boyfriend and he broke my little heart. So I decided to stay single for a while. The usual story. Why do you ask?"

"Just wondering if the entangled love lives of Gryffindor adolescents had changed at all since we were there. Doesn't sound like it." Sirius chuckled, turning to the boys on the other side of the porch. "And what about you, Dean?"

Seamus looked up at Dean, who was sitting directly across from him. When Seamus had started seeing Justin Finch-Fletchley, Dean and Seamus had drifted apart somewhat. Hermione had been his real confidant during fifth year, their bond with each other growing closer as their romantic relationships foundered. But Seamus was hoping that he could rectify things with Dean this summer. Once a best friend always a best friend, right?

Dean smiled mysteriously. "I date a bit."

"No one special?" Sirius asked.

"Well—" Dean began.

Remus nudged Sirius' back with his knee. "You're so nosy! Don't press the boy. Maybe he doesn't want anyone to know."

"Why don't you ask Neville?" Harry suggested. "He's the only attached one here."

"Yes, the rest of us are flops," said Ron. "But Neville has his girl eating out of the palm of his hand."

"Neville?" Remus was surprised, though he didn't know why he should have been—Frank Longbottom was considered quite the catch in his day. "Well, who's the lucky girl?"

Neville was blushing furiously. "Susan Bones. But it's me that's lucky, not the other way round." He smiled self-consciously and played with the leather bracelet Susan had given him at the end of the year.

Remus nodded. "Hufflepuff. Nice girl. Rather good at Herbology, if I remember correctly."

"Their eyes met over the mandrakes," teased Ron. "Young love in the greenhouse."

The boys laughed, but a voice from the doorway objected. "I think it's sweet," said Ginny.

"So do I," agreed Sirius. He looked up at Ginny. "Are all you girls finally out of the showers, then?"

Ginny scowled, though having spent a month at Chez Chien she knew Sirius was just teasing. "I don't think girls actually take longer. But yes, the showers are free."

"I'm next," called Ron as he pushed past Ginny into the house.

"What's gotten into him?" asked Ginny, sitting next to Harry on the swing.

"I don't know," Harry replied, "but I'm heading for the shower before we start discussing my love life. Or lack thereof." Harry stood and left the porch.

"Gee, was it something I said?" Ginny asked.

Ron ran upstairs into the boys room and grabbed his gear before heading to the upstairs bathroom. As he came around the corner, he literally walked into Padma. In a towel.

"Hello, Ron Weasley." Ron thought she was very calm, considering the situation. She even seemed amused.

"Oh, er, sorry. Ginny said you were done." Ron gulped and willed himself not to blush.

"I am. It's all yours." She smiled warmly. "That is, if you'll let me past you so I can grab my robe."

"Oh! Right, sorry." Ron turned and Padma walked past him toward the girl's room. "Um, see you later."

"Of course, at dinner," Padma called over her shoulder as she opened the door to the bedroom.

Ron went into the bathroom, shut the door and looked into the mirror. "Well, that was smooth" said his reflection.

"Shut up!" Ron growled.


Dinner was a raucous affair. Unbeknownst to Harry, Sirius had asked each guest to prepare a toast to the birthday boy in lieu of a present. Lavender and Parvati managed not to giggle as they did their toast jointly as a mock-divination, their sense of humor about Professor Trelawney having improved as their girlish hero-worship waned. Seamus recited a rather bawdy poem full of Quidditch double entendres, with illustrations courtesy of Dean. Padma, who had brought her guitar along, sang a popular Weird Sisters tune to which she had written lyrics about all the girls Harry had dated the previous year. Ginny had written a poem from Hedwig's point of view. Neville made an poignant speech about growing up without parents that moved everyone to applause and to tears (even Ron, though he wouldn't admit it).

Hermione was inspired by one of the Muggle movies that she and Seamus had watched the previous summer to write a story about how the world would be different if Harry had never been born. But she stayed away from anything having to do with The Boy Who Lived. Instead, she spoke of Gryffindor winning the Quidditch Cup during their third year; of Harry and Ron befriending her when no one else did; of Dobby gaining his freedom; of saving Buckbeak's life.

But Ron's toast was the shortest of all: "To my brother."

After dinner, the party began in earnest. Seamus turned on some music and hauled a mildly protesting Hermione out onto the back garden for a dance (though she flatly refused to demonstrate all of the skills she had picked up the previous summer). Soon, nearly everyone was dancing or drifting back and forth to the kitchen for more food or drinks. They even managed to get Sirius and Remus onto the "floor" by playing some old disco music that Seamus had borrowed from his mother.

"Don't they look grand," sighed Seamus.

Lavender looked at the couple. "I must admit, they really do." She turned to Seamus. "We never looked like that, did we?"

Seamus shook his head. "It wasn't that we didn't look like that. It was that we didn't feel like that." He held out his hand. "Have a dance?"

Lavender let Seamus lead her out where the others were dancing, as a slow song started. She remembered how they had danced for hours at the Yule Ball and couldn't help but sigh as she lay her head on Seamus's shoulder.

Seamus looked down at Lavender and murmured, "Things can't be that bad. You're the belle of Hogwarts! Every guy in every house is trying to date you."

"I suppose," Lavender said glumly.

"Don't tell me I broke your heart, Lav. We both know better than that."

"No! I just hate this stupid war." Lavender pulled her head up and looked at Seamus. "Everyone's so bloody serious now. People look at me like I'm an idiot half the time, when all I really want is to be sixteen. You were never serious but you always took me seriously. I miss that."

Seamus kissed Lavender on the forehead. "Date a Hufflepuff. They never take anything very seriously, I've found."

"He didn't deserve you, Seamus." Lavender smiled. "Well, I guess I'll go rescue Neville. I think Parvati's scaring him."

"We're good though, right?" Seamus asked.

Lavender squeezed Seamus's hand before letting it go. "You bet."

As Lavender walked to Parvati, she passed Ron and Padma who were deep in conversation about the parallels between life and wizard chess.

"Ron, do you really think all of life can be reduced to a chess game?" Padma said, exasperated. "War of course, and Quidditch I can see, but romance?"

"Well, that's how it should be. You know—you capture the Queen, she stays captured and you can move on to the rest of the game." Ron thought for a moment. "Only, that's not how it worked with Hermione."

Padma laughed. "I would imagine not. No girl wants to be treated as a game piece."

Ron hadn't thought of that. "Well anyway, she always wanted me to be something I wasn't."

"Like what?" Padma asked.

"Like responsible and serious."

Padma looked confused. "Aren't you? You seem like it to me. I mean, you're a lot of other things but you're neither reckless nor frivolous, I don't think."

Ron beamed. "Hey, your bottle's empty. Would you like another drink?"

"Thanks, but I'd better see to my sister. She's standing by herself and that's usually dangerous." Padma stood up to go, then said, "You know Ron, if romance is like wizard chess then the girl is not your Queen."

Ron stood as well. "No? Who is she, then?"

"She's your opponent." Padma smiled, then turned and walked away.

As Ron watched her leave, Harry came up behind him letting out a low whistle. "If she's your opponent, then you're in over your head, my friend," he grinned.

Ron turned to Harry, one eyebrow raised. "Since what you know about girls would fit into a thimble, I don't think I'll be taking any advice from you any time soon."

Harry held up his hands. "Touchy! Let's go inside and get a refill."

In the kitchen, they found Sirius and Remus sitting at the table arguing with Seamus over Muggle music.

"I think they're a great band," Seamus was saying.

Sirius pointed his finger at Seamus. "That's only because you haven't listened to the Beatles. If you had, you could hear what horrid knockoffs of them these idiots really are!"

"Who are the Beatles?" Ron asked, tossing a butterbeer to Harry and taking one for himself.

Sirius rolled his eyes. "Never mind. Enough about music. What were you two arguing about when you came in?"

"Girls and our lack of success with them," said Harry, hopping up on the counter.

"Harry has dated most of Ravenclaw and is currently working his way through Hufflepuff, with no end in sight," Seamus confirmed.

Sirius furrowed his brow, wondering why he hadn't had this conversation with his godson before. "You're not the run around type, Harry. What gives?"

Harry took a sip of butterbeer to stall for time, though he had learned the hard way that once Sirius started asking questions he would not stop until he had all the answers. Harry's strategy was to answer as quickly and thoroughly as he could, and then try to get Sirius onto another topic, though that didn't always work. "Well," he began, "I guess I'm looking for someone special. Like what you two have. I mean, you fight but you don't fight dirty. You're very supportive of each other and you take on each other's problems like a team. You have some things in common but not everything, so you do things together and you do things apart but mostly you just hang out. And, well, frankly, you have a ton of sex. I would like to have a lot of sex." Looking up, he saw everyone staring at him and said, "Come on! Who doesn't want to have a lot of sex?"

Sirius grinned but Remus had turned a shade of bright pink. He cleared his throat but his voice was still a little shaky as he asked, "What kind of girl do you want to have all this sex with?"

Harry became very serious. "She should be attractive of course, but I dated some really pretty girls this year and I'm still looking. She should be fun, because things tend to get pretty serious and I want someone around that I can just forget about everything with. She should be smart. Maybe not a Ravenclaw but very intelligent. I don't want someone who's interested in me just because I'm some hero or something because I'm not, anyway. She should be calm, because I can jump to conclusions and it's good to have someone else holding me back. And caring, someone who can pick me up when I'm discouraged. But she shouldn't just kowtow to me. I want someone who can stand up for herself." He paused.

Sirius said, "Harry, that sounds like some vision of perfection. So you date these girls and when they don't live up to this ideal, you just scratch them off your list?"

"That's the routine so far," Ron put in.

Harry shook his head. "I'm not looking for the perfect girl; just the one that's perfect for me. Probably I'm just looking for someone like my mum. That's normal, right?"

"Perfectly normal," Remus said, nodding slowly. He shot a confused glance at Sirius, who shrugged.

Ginny walked in from the outside. "So this is where you disappeared to. You'd better come out here. Parvati's trying to get Dean to do the lambada, whatever that is."

Harry slipped down from the countertop, and followed Ron and Ginny out of the kitchen.

Once Harry was gone, Remus said to Sirius, "That didn't sound like Lily to me. How did he get that impression from any of our stories?"

Sirius shook his head. "I have no idea. I'm just as confused as you are."

"That girl wasn't his mum?" Seamus asked.

Remus explained, "Lily Evans Potter was never calm. She was supportive but in a sarcastic, swift kick to the arse kind of way. Which was good for James, because he could be a little complacent."

Sirius added, "In other words, Lily was a challenge. Smart, funny, beautiful, but a handful. When they started dating, James looked like he'd been run over by a truck." He smiled at the memory. "So if this girl isn't Lily, I suppose he just made her up?"

Seamus shook his head. "No, she exists. I know who that girl is."

Remus looked at Seamus. "Who?"

Seamus's sense of the dramatic called for a long pause. "Harry Potter's dream girl is Hermione Granger." He grinned at Sirius and Remus.

Sirius said, "Well, I guess we'll have to do something about that, won't we?" He winked at Seamus.

"No, we won't, Sirius," Remus warned.

Sirius took Remus' hand and cleared his throat. "I seem to remember a certain messy-haired boy giving yours truly a kick in the arse to ask out a certain werewolf." Remus looked unconvinced. "Come on Moony! It's our chance to pay them back, however indirectly. What do you say?"

Remus sighed. "Oh, go ahead. But no potions. I mean it!"

Neville walked in to the kitchen. "You missed a great lambada. Come outside, everyone's asking for you." He grabbed two butterbeers and headed back out to the yard.

Sirius, Seamus and Remus rose to follow Neville back outside. As they walked out, Sirius took Seamus aside and whispered, "I have an idea. We'll talk later." He winked.

Seamus winked back and thought to himself that if he were Remus Lupin, he would probably be having a lot of sex too.

Meanwhile, Neville had reached Ginny with a butterbeer refill. "Here you go. Hey, what are you looking at?" He followed Ginny's line of vision. Harry and Hermione, who had been dancing, were walking away from the house toward a swing under a large oak tree.

"Oh, nothing." She sighed and turned to Neville. "Neville, what made you decide to ask Susan out? I mean, what did she do to get your attention?"

Neville shyly smiled and looked down at the grass. "She didn't do anything. She just was there being herself, so I noticed her and she noticed me, and it just sort of happened. Why?"

"Did you ever read David Copperfield?" Ginny asked.

Neville nodded. "What about it?"

She explained, "I always thought love would be like that. There would be someone that you'd known since you were a child, who might go away for a while but if you wait long enough, eventually they come back to you. You know, like Agnes. Is there anything more romantic than when Agnes says to David, 'I have loved you all my life'?" She sighed, carried away by the romantic vision.

Neville shrugged. "I don't know, Ginny. Things usually happen in ways you don't expect. I certainly don't think you should wait around for someone to notice you. You're pretty noticeable, already. At least, I think so."

Ginny smiled at Neville's attempt to cheer her up. "You're really sweet, you know?" She gave Neville a hug.

"So sweet he makes my teeth ache," said Seamus, who was walking toward them with Dean.

"Nice, Finnigan!" Ginny yelled, annoyed that the mood had been broken.

Neville laughed. "Seamus, you're jealous."

Seamus held his hands up. "Well Neville, you caught me. But you might want to placate Parvati. She banished Dean and me from the dance floor and is sending up a general call for straight men."

Neville blanched. "What about Ron?"

Seamus snickered. "Ron's apparently not enough man for all three of them. At least, according to Parvati."

Neville looked scared but he stuck out his chin and walked back over to where the girls were standing.

As he left, Seamus said, "He's a far braver man than I'll ever be."

Ginny said, "You'll get no argument here." She looked back out onto the grounds where Harry and Hermione were talking. They were laughing, and then Harry reached over to Hermione and pushed a piece of hair out of her face. It was a small gesture, one she had seen him make hundreds of times. But there was something about that moment that was different.

Or maybe it wasn't the moment that was different but Ginny herself. She suddenly felt like she had been kicked in the stomach.

Seamus was talking to Dean when he looked at Ginny and grabbed her arm. "Hey, are you all right? You've gone green."

Ginny took a deep breath. "I'll be fine. I think I'll just go inside."

Dean said, "Do you want us to come with you?"

"NO!" Ginny shook her head. "Um, no. Sorry, no. I'll be fine. I just need to sit down. Probably too much butterbeer." She walked up to the house.

Dean looked down at Seamus. "Any idea what that was all about?"

Seamus looked out on the lawn, to where Harry and Hermione were talking. He nodded in their direction. "That."

Dean glanced over at the pair. "They aren't doing anything they don't do all the time. She's seen them together before."

"Sometimes when you see the same thing it looks different. Even if you seen it millions of times." Seamus looked up at his friend. "You're an artist. You know what I mean."

"Yeah," Dean replied, his eyes meeting Seamus's, "I know exactly what you mean."

Ginny walked past Lavender and Parvati dancing with Neville, past Ron and Padma talking, past Sirius and Remus sitting on the porch steps and into the kitchen. Remus exchanged a glance with Sirius before rising to sit next to Ginny at the kitchen table. Since coming to Chez Chien, Ginny had felt a little out of place, and had found herself more often than not talking to Remus rather than her best friend, her brother, or her crush, even though they were her age.

"You don't look good," he said, gently taking Ginny's hand. "Did something happen?"

Ginny had her head in her other hand. "Nothing happened. Everything happened."

"Is this about Harry?" Remus asked gently.

Ginny looked up. "Am I that transparent? Does everyone know?" She sat back in her chair and stared up at the ceiling. "This would be really funny if it weren't so pathetic."

"Ginny! Don't say that!" scolded Remus.

"Why not? Girl is seized by hero-worship at a young age. Hero becomes best friends with girl's older brother. Girl spends next five years following hero around, sending hero valentines, hoping that hero will notice her. Hero notices everyone but girl. In fact, hero notices girl's best friend. Sounds pretty pathetic to me."

Remus sighed, clasping Ginny's hand between his two hands. "Do you think that just because Sirius and I met at school that he was my first crush? Everyone goes through this."

"I thought that if I kept waiting, if I grew up fast enough, if I did the right things, he would see." Ginny lay her head down on the table and began to cry, softly.

Remus slid closer, reaching one hand out to stroke Ginny's hair. "Maybe Harry's not the one for you, Ginny. He may always see you as a little girl. The man who sees who you are, that will be the right man."

Ginny rolled her head to the side, looking at Remus. "But how will I know?" she sniffled.

"Keep your heart open and he will find you. Or you will find him." Remus smiled slightly. "Come on, let's wash your face. Can't have red eyes at a party!" Remus stood up from the table, pulling Ginny up and hugging her close.

As they walked to the bathroom, Remus' arm on her shoulder, Ginny asked, "Remus, is it okay if I go home tomorrow when the others leave? I don't think I want to stay here and watch them."

Remus nodded. "I'm sure we can find some excuse. But for now, I want you to go back out to the party. There will be plenty of time to brood later. Okay?"

Ginny smiled bravely. "Okay."

Harry and Hermione at that moment were under an oak tree, talking about their best friend.

"What's up with Ron and Padma?" Hermione asked from her perch in the tree swing. "I mean, I know he took her to the Yule Ball but that was over a year ago and I don't think he treated her very well."

Harry winced. The least said about that evening, the better. "I don't know. Maybe she's a challenge. She definitely isn't just giving into that whole 'Weasley charm' thing he pulls." He laughed a little, though he secretly wished that he could be half as smooth when a girl was around as Ron was.

Hermione had to respect a girl that didn't fall for such obvious artifice. "Well, good luck to them," she said, and meant it.

Harry leaned back against the tree trunk. "Hey, can I ask you something?"

"Go ahead."

"Why did you date Ron in the first place?" Harry paused. "From what I could see, you just made each other miserable."

"I don't suppose you've read Pride and Prejudice?" she asked.

Harry shook his head.

"Well, the two main characters start out hating each other. All they do is bicker through the whole book. But they end up in love at the end. Because they aren't really bickering, you see. They're sort of sparring. You know, witty banter." She looked at Harry, wondering if she was making any sense at all. "It's really very sexy. I'm not doing it justice."

"I'm with you," Harry said.

"I guess I thought that's what Ron and I were doing. That was my romantic ideal." She sighed. "But Ron is not Fitzwilliam Darcy, and I am not Lizzie Bennet, much as I wish I were. Our banter wasn't witty, or sexy. It was just endless bickering that wore us both out. So it didn't work." She smiled ruefully. "No more ideals for me."

Harry wasn't sure he understood all of what she said, having not read the book. But he did know something about romantic ideals. "But why would you wish you were someone else, Hermione?"

Hermione couldn't think of a good answer to that, which was just as well as Dean was coming toward them.

"You guys should come back to the house. Parvati wants to play spin the bottle." Dean rolled his eyes.

"Good grief" Hermione moaned. "Does Sirius know about this?"

Dean laughed. "Whose idea do you think it was?"

The three ran up to the house, where they saw Sirius and Seamus deep in conversation on the porch. As Harry approached them, they stopped talking.

Sirius looked up. "Come up for the game, Harry?"

Harry nodded. "Figures it would be your idea." He crossed his arms.

Sirius held up his hands. "I am not taking the blame for this one. Parvati had much more dangerous games in mind. Under the circumstances, spin the bottle was preferable."

Harry shook his head and went inside with Hermione.

Dean hesitated, looking at Seamus. "Are you coming in?"

Seamus smiled up at Dean. "In seconds, I promise."

Dean nodded, then went inside.

Seamus turned to Sirius. "Are you sure this appearance charm will work? They won't be able to tell?"

"If James could fool Lily, then I'm sure Harry and Hermione won't be able to tell." He lowered his voice, murmuring conspiratorially, "I'll sneak you a book of Remus's, and you can work out the charm from there."

Seamus felt a bit dizzy, though whether from the butterbeer or from Sirius Black whispering in his ear he could not tell. He focussed on nodding in agreement and hoped he didn't look as empty-headed as he felt.

"Take some advice from an old man?" Sirius asked.

"I would if there was one around," replied Seamus, slyly.

Sirius laughed. "That was well done, if obvious."

"I like to keep in practice," Seamus said, grinning.

"Mmm. Well, don't pay so much attention to the bright and shiny things that you don't notice what's in the background. Anchors are more important than you think."

Seamus furrowed his brow. "Sirius, if you want me to understand you, you're going to have to stop speaking in metaphors."

"Okay then." Sirius thought for a moment. "You know that person in your life that's always there—the one that grounds you, the one that makes everything else make sense?"

Seamus nodded.

"He's not going to wait around forever."

Seamus looked down at his hands. The noises of the party in the living room suddenly seemed very far away. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before speaking again.

"But if I were to give in to him—"

"Oh, so that's the problem, is it?" Sirius interrupted. "You're looking at it upside down. Do you need control that much?"

"I gave in once. I lost myself completely." Seamus grasped his bottle tightly, reliving the memory. "I can't do that again."

Sirius shook his head. "Seamus, the right person will give yourself back to you. You won't be lost; you'll be found."

Remus walked out onto the porch from the kitchen, sitting on the step above Sirius. He reached a hand down to Sirius, who turned his head and gave Remus a broad smile. Seamus closed his eyes and remembered the way Dean had looked at him a little while ago, just after Ginny went inside.

Suddenly Parvati's voice rang out from the living room. "Finnigan! Get your tight little Irish arse in here!"

Seamus opened his eyes. "Well, I've been summoned." He rose to go inside.

"Will you think about what I said?" Sirius asked.

Seamus nodded, then went in to join the game.

Remus turned sideways, stretching his legs along the step. Sirius leaned his head back into Remus' lap. They sat there for a long moment, looking up at the stars, Remus running his hand through Sirius' hair. "What were you talking about with Seamus? Other than your matchmaking scheme, that is?" Remus asked.

Sirius looked up at Remus. "Giving up control."

Remus snorted. "And what would you know about that, exactly?"

"Everything. I gave in to you, didn't I?" Sirius sat up and turned to face the other man.

Remus was not convinced. "Did you? I must have missed that part."

"Well," said Sirius, moving closer, "I suppose I'll have to do it again, so you'll remember."

"How about now?" Remus whispered. He leaned forward, putting his hand on the back of Sirius' head and pulled him forward into a kiss.

Chapter Text

Come on and save me
From the ranks
Of the freaks
Who suspect
They could never love anyone
—Aimee Mann, "Save Me"

2 August 1996

It was an unusually stormy night for early August. Ginny Weasley sat wrapped in an afghan, clutching a cup of tea in both hands. Her Arithmancy summer project lay untouched in her lap as she stared out the living room window of the Burrow. The longest hand on the grandfather clock, that of her father, had been wavering between "work" and "mortal peril" all evening. Molly Weasley knew what mission her husband was on but refused to tell her daughter. So Ginny decided to sit up with her mother, who was passing the time by knitting yet another jumper. Ginny could tell it wasn't going very well. She hoped it wasn't for her.

The hands corresponding to her oldest three brothers all pointed to "home," though none were at the Burrow. Bill and Charlie were still living abroad and Percy had recently moved in with his boyfriend Oliver Wood. Fred and George's hands pointed to "school"; they were in training, having postponed their dreams of joke shops until after the war.

Ron's hand pointed to "visiting." He was staying on at Chez Chien for another month, continuing dueling practice with Harry and Hermione under Sirius and Remus's tutelage. Ginny did not like to leave her mother alone, with her father working so hard. Molly Weasley was an excellent dueler in her own right, so she had continued to train Ginny upon her return to the Burrow two days ago.

But if Ginny were honest with herself (something she avoided like the plague) the real reason she had left Chez Chien earlier than the others was the growing closeness of Harry and Hermione. So the day after Harry's birthday, Ginny had made her excuses, packed her bags and prepared to depart for the Burrow hoping that no one but Seamus and Remus knew the real reason for her leaving.

"The man for you is out there," she remembered Remus saying. "Keep your heart open and he will find you. Or you will find him"

Some comfort. What was taking him so long?

At that moment, her father's arrow moved again from "work" to "mortal peril". Ginny jumped to her feet, her forgotten Arithmancy sliding to the floor. But by the time Mrs. Weasley looked up at the clock, the hand was moving to "traveling." Ginny closed her eyes and sunk back onto the couch in relief.

Seconds later, the back door burst open, rain blowing in from the storm outside. The familiar tall figure of Arthur Weasley came through the door, broomstick in hand. He was not alone. His hands were on the shoulders of a smaller person, wrapped up against the weather in an oversized Macintosh.

Mrs. Weasley walked up to her husband, who whispered a few words in her ear, words that made her eyes widen. She leaned over toward the boy in the jacket. "Come now dear, let's get you out of those wet clothes. You've had a long night and it's time for some rest." Hands reached up and pushed the hood of the Macintosh from the unknown head. Ginny gasped.

It was Draco Malfoy.




The Burrow
3 August 1996

Dear Ron,

A most terrible thing has happened. Your father, among others, was called to Malfoy Manor last night. There was an incident and in the chaos Narcissa Malfoy was killed. Draco Malfoy is staying here, until school starts.

I know that you haven't gotten on with Draco in the past but I am asking you to put that aside. He is not as lucky as we are, Ron. He has no family to support him anymore.

I trust you are not giving your hosts any trouble, dear. We will see you in a few weeks.

Love,

Mum


The next morning Draco didn't come down for breakfast, so Mrs. Weasley sent Ginny up with a tray. Mr. Weasley had told Ginny the previous night that Mrs. Malfoy had been killed by the Death Eaters, and then asked her to be nice to Draco while he was staying at The Burrow. Ginny, for her part, wasn't surprised that there had been Death Eaters at Malfoy Manor. She merely wondered why Draco wasn't with them.

Draco had been set up in Percy's old room. Ginny wondered idly how long Percy and Oliver would have together before the war started, then reminded herself to remain positive.

Being the only girl in her family, Ginny had a habit of helpfulness, particularly when it came to her mother. However, she was not pleased with this task nor yet at the prospect of spending a month mending her broken heart with Draco Malfoy lurking around the Burrow. Ginny knocked at the door. "It's Ginny. I've brought you some breakfast." No response. "Draco? I'm not amused. Open up." Still no sound. Ginny shifted the tray to one hand and tried the door. It was unlocked. "I'm coming in now." She slowly pushed the door open, hoping he wasn't naked or something. Ginny definitely thought she'd need a bit more food in her stomach before seeing that.

Draco was in bed, laying on his back and staring up at the ceiling. His face had no expression, and he looked like a small child under Ron's old Chudley Cannons bedspread. Ginny felt a lump rise in her throat. Draco had always been pretty rotten but that didn't mean he deserved to lose his mother. No one deserved that. She suddenly felt a little guilty for her angry thoughts.

Ginny set the tray on the bed and pulled up a chair. "I have toast, and eggs, and sausages, and tea and pumpkin juice. And if I were you, I'd eat something. If I go back downstairs with a full tray, my mother will be up here next." She turned to the tray, picking up the utensils, and began cutting up one of the sausages.

Draco turned to look at Ginny, scowling. "I can feed myself." He sat up in bed and took a sip of pumpkin juice. "Are you going to sit there and watch me eat?"

"Well, I was going to bring the tray back down. No house elves around here."

Draco apparently decided he'd rather Ginny watch him eat than bring the tray down himself, as he began to dunk his toast soldiers into one of the soft-boiled eggs. "Rather nursery, isn't it?"

"I think Mum means it to be comforting." Ginny fell silent and watched as Draco slowly, as though forcing himself, worked his way through one of the eggs and a few pieces of toast.

"Do you think that will be enough to satisfy her? I don't think ..." Draco turned his head away from Ginny.

Ginny stood and took the tray off the bed and began to walk to the door, when Draco called, "Hey?"

"Yes?"

"Tell your mum, thanks."

"Sure." Ginny paused. "I'm really sorry."

Draco had sunk back down under the covers, his head turned to the wall. Ginny sighed and quietly shut the door behind her.




Chez Chien
4 August 1996

Gin,

Just writing to make sure you are okay. You left so abruptly and you seemed upset. I hope there is nothing that you don't think you can tell me.

I'm sure having Draco around is making things even more difficult. Don't let him get under your skin. I think he enjoys making other people unhappy. Still, I suppose he's pretty unhappy himself right now (though I can't picture him having feelings about anything) and deserves our sympathy.

Write soon. It seems strange to be the only girl in a house full of men.

Hermione


Draco didn't come downstairs the rest of that day, or the next. Ginny brought him a tray at each meal and sat next to him as he ate, though he rarely managed much more than tea and some bread. They never spoke but Ginny hoped that her presence could somehow make Draco feel a bit better. Once, when Ginny and Mrs. Weasley were in the yard practicing disarming, Ginny thought she saw Draco in the window, watching. But when she looked again, no one was there.

Finally on Wednesday morning, Draco appeared at the breakfast table wearing some old clothes of Ron's that Mrs. Weasley had left for him in Percy's room. He said nothing and looked no one in the eye, staring down at his sausages. But he was eating. After breakfast, Draco went into the living room and grabbed one of the many Quidditch books from the crowded shelf.

After she and Ginny had cleaned up the breakfast things, Mrs. Weasley went into the living room. "Draco, it's such a nice morning. Why don't you and Ginny go outside for a ramble? I think it would do you good to get out of the house."

"We have some brooms, if you'd rather," Ginny said. "Though I am not the best flyer."

Draco shrugged. He set his book down and rose from the couch. Walking toward Mrs. Weasley, he said, "Do you have a stream or something? My moth—um, I used to fish, sometimes, in the river at our place." He looked down at his shoes.

Mrs. Weasley considered this. "We have a river. And there are some fishing things somewhere in Fred and George's room."

"Would you like to fly there, or walk?" Ginny asked.

"Fly."


Draco and Ginny stood in the middle of the stream, having magically waterproofed their trousers. Their broomsticks and the picnic lunch Mrs. Weasley had packed for them sat in the tall grass on the shore. Ginny was surprised that Draco knew how to do anything as pedestrian as fishing.

Draco rolled his eyes. "Malfoy Manor is in the countryside. What do you think we do out there? I've been hunting and fishing since I was five. Angling is the sport of kings. Really, Weasley, catch up."

Once cast, the hooks would sense what fish were available in the water and create the appropriate flies. However, there was no magical shortcut for casting the line. Draco looked on appalled as Ginny tried to cast her line out into the water.

"Didn't those numerous brothers of yours teach you anything useful, Weasley? Like this." Draco flicked his wrist and the hook arced over their heads, landing softly in the water. Ginny tried to copy Draco but she only succeeded in getting the hook stuck in her ponytail, where it began to grow a rather large blue ribbon.

"Ouch!" Draco moved to help her but she flinched away from him. "No, I can get it out myself," she insisted, embarrassed by her clumsiness.

"Weasley, it's behind you. Let me do it." Draco handed his pole to Ginny and freed the hook from her hair. He straightened the line, cast it for her and took his own pole back.

"Thanks," said Ginny. Draco nodded and they stood fishing. Ginny wondered if she should say something but thought better of it. Oddly the silence didn't feel awkward, though she would hardly have called Draco a friend.

A long while like this in the sun, a light breeze stirring their hair and making the heat bearable. Ginny had quite forgotten about the fish when she suddenly felt a tug on her line. "Draco, what do I do?"

"Just reel it in. No, slower than that." Draco let go of his pole and it hung in the air where he left it as he moved behind Ginny. He put his arms around her, his hands over her hands. "Like this." Ginny could feel the fish tugging at the other end of the line and she could see Draco's arms flexing on either side of her as he fought the fish, slowly reeling it in.

His chin was resting on her shoulder, his cheek brushing against hers. All at once, the fish emerged from the water, shiny and black, and the abrupt lack of tension in the line sent Ginny backwards into Draco. But Ginny was small, and Draco stronger and more solid than he appeared. They stayed upright as the fish swung toward them at the end of the line, into Ginny's outstretched hand.

"Yay!" Ginny turned to Draco. "My first fish!"

"Well, if it's your first fish then it's your dinner. But you'll have to clean it."

Ginny grimaced. She didn't like the sound of that. "Well, thanks for the help. I would have fallen in, probably."

"I wouldn't let you fall." Draco looked at Ginny for a long moment, then walked over to where he had left his fishing pole.

Ginny blinked; her head felt thick and jumbled and she couldn't quite think clearly.

"Are you going to take that fish off the hook or just let it flop around in the air?" Draco sighed irritably before once again letting go of his fishing pole. He took the fish from her, taking it off the hook and putting it in the small net they had put into the water. He recast the line, then handed her the pole and took his back.

Throughout, Ginny stood motionless staring at Draco. She felt as though she had never seen him before, never noticed the way the sun made his hair glow, the way his nose twitched as he concentrated, the way …

"You won't catch any more fish looking at me, Weasley." Draco didn't look at her but the corners of his mouth turned up ever so slightly. Ginny quickly turned her head back to the water and the pair fell silent again.

Sometime later, having caught four more fish, Draco and Ginny left the stream for the grass and their picnic lunch of sandwiches and pumpkin juice. Ginny reached into the basket to find that Mrs. Weasley had also packed them each a piece of shortbread, wrapped in waxed paper. She handed one to Draco.

Draco unwrapped the shortbread, then his hand fell to his lap. He looked out at the stream. "My mother loved shortbread. She had it every day. Father found it too sweet; he never touched it. But she loved it."

Ginny sat very still, silently willing Draco to continue. The words came haltingly, unwillingly. It was as if he didn't want to talk but couldn't help himself; as though he thought he would explode from not speaking.

"She taught me how to fish and how to hunt ducks and pheasants. She was patient enough to wait for the animals to come to her. Father preferred deer; he was more of a stalker.

"She wouldn't let him send me to Durmstrang. Thought it was too far away. It was the only time I remember her winning a fight with him. I guess she didn't win the other night, did she?"

Draco turned to look at Ginny, and the spell was broken, as though he had forgotten she was even there, or perhaps who she was. She could see a door closing someplace behind his eyes. "Well, I think it's got too hot for fishing. We should head back."

"Okay." Ginny picked up the picnic things while Draco went back to the stream to grab the net full of fish and the poles.

"Ginny? Do you think—" Draco paused, looking down at his feet.

"Yes?"

"Do you think your mother would train me, as well? I don't want to rely on someone else rescuing me next time."

"I don't see why not."

When they returned to the house, Mrs. Weasley made the kind of fuss over their fish that only a mother would and insisted on taking a picture of the two of them outdoors with their catch and gear. Draco and Ginny put their arms around each other's shoulders in order to fit into the frame better, as they held up their strings of fish.

Coming back inside, they were surprised to find Mr. Weasley in the living room waiting for them. A trunk sat near the couch.

"Draco, they've quit Malfoy Manor. We packed up what we found left in your room. I didn't think you would want to go back there."

"I have my wand. That's all I need." Draco looked down at his trunk, his eyes cold. "I don't want anything that he gave me."




Kilcolman Castle, Co. Cork
10 August 1996

Nin,

Well, I've done it now. I thought that I would have a fun-filled month with my best friend but thanks to a certain DOG we both know, I'm finding it impossible to ignore my feelings for Dean. I'll need your help when we get back to school. I either need to get him or forget him, and I don't see how I can do either one.

I sent Ginny an owl but I haven't heard back from her yet. Hmm, stuck in a house with your ex, his best friend and the godparents? Well, at least you can talk to Remus. I'd be flirting with Sirius but that's just me.

Write soon. You can always vent to me.

Seamus


After that day, life settled into a comfortable rhythm. Draco and Ginny would head out after breakfast for a long walk and each day Draco talked a little bit more about his mother, though never about the events of that night. After lunch they practiced with Mrs. Weasley. Draco knew a lot of hexes and was a very good dueler, something which didn't seem to surprise Mrs. Weasley. Ginny thought he may have been better even than Harry, in skill if not in natural ability. However, Mrs. Weasley had been through one war already and there were plenty of things she could teach the boy. In the early evening while Mrs. Weasley fixed a late dinner, Draco and Ginny did chores around the house. Draco had been initially resistant; he had grown up with house elves after all, and thought housework and yard work were beneath him. Then Mrs. Weasley firmly explained that everyone at the Burrow had chores, in a tone of voice even Draco Malfoy dared not argue with.

Some days later Ginny and Draco were de-gnoming the yard yet again when Ginny slipped on a patch of mud and fell into the water that had pooled in a low spot. Draco turned to look and then he started to laugh. Ginny was wary but this wasn't the sneering chuckle of old. Ginny grinned.

"Think that's funny, Malfoy?" Ginny grabbed some of the mud and threw it at Draco.

"Hey!" Draco yelled as the mud patty hit him in the ear. "How did you learn to aim like that?"

"I have six older brothers. I'd be dead by now if I couldn't fight back. Help me up?" She held one hand up to Draco who (foolishly) took it, only to end up pulled down into the mud next to Ginny.

"Why, you ..." Draco growled. He rolled Ginny over, further into the muddy patch and the mud fight began in earnest. Draco was stronger but Ginny was faster and soon they were both covered with mud from head to toe. At last, Draco managed to pin Ginny down in the mud. His hands were holding her arms down, his knees at her sides, his lower legs pinned against her thighs. She stopped laughing for a moment, trying to catch her breath and push him off of her, when she looked up at him.

Draco had stopped laughing and was looking down at her, with that same expression he'd had at the pond that day. He looked like he was about to say something, then he leaned down toward Ginny and kissed her.

Now, Ginny had been kissed before. She had "practiced" a few times with Colin Creevey and Neville Longbottom had kissed her goodnight after the Yule Ball. She had even French kissed Seamus Finnigan once at a party but he kissed everyone and had since come out so she didn't think that really counted.

But she had never been kissed like this. She wasn't even sure it qualified as a kiss, since more than her lips were involved. It felt like her whole body was diving into something wet and warm and soft. His hands released her arms to cradle her face. She opened her mouth further and felt his tongue slowly licking at the inside of her mouth. She slid her hands up his back until they reached his head, entwining her fingers in his hair and pulling him closer to her.

Finally he pulled away from her, coming up for air, and looked out at the trees before looking back down at Ginny. From where she sat, he looked like a golden boy, silhouetted against the sky, his hair glowing in the light. At last he spoke and she couldn't believe she had ever been attracted to anyone else.

"We should go inside, before your mother finds us like this." Draco stood and pulled Ginny up to her feet.

Inside, Mrs. Weasley scolded them for making such a mess and sent them to their bedrooms to get cleaned up before dinner. Once they were upstairs though, she smiled to herself. She didn't know what Ginny was doing but her daughter had pulled Draco out of his initial shock and gotten him talking. Perhaps, despite everything, he would be all right.

Chapter Text

And right there
For a minute
I knew you so well
—Tori Amos, "In the Springtime of His Voodoo"

The Burrow
15 August 1996

Dear Seamus,

Thanks for writing. I suppose I did leave suddenly but I just couldn't stay any longer. Harry will never see me as anything other than the little sister he'll never have and that just has to be enough. I couldn't even stand to be in the same room with Hermione any more. So I ran home to mum.

But it's totally different now. I'll fill you in on the train but something has happened—something that makes me think that you were right, that everything happens for a reason. Sorry to be a tease but I can't put it in an owl. Just don't worry about me.

Sorry things are strange with Dean. I think you should be able to work it out with him. I have a lot of faith in you.

Ginny


The walks in the woods became snogging sessions. Ginny frantically hoped that her mother wouldn't notice how she looked at Draco or how he looked at her. They were careful not to sit together on the couch or touch during meals. Even making eye contact with Draco sent shivers up Ginny's spine. Never had she felt so purely sensual. She was addicted to his touch, his kiss, even his glance. Only during the drills with her mother did Ginny have any kind of focus. She spent the rest of her day in a fog, inebriated from the kissing.

Ron, Harry and Hermione arrived at The Burrow from Chez Chien a week before school started. There were some initial flare ups between the other boys and Draco but Mrs. Weasley had put a stop to it, and Harry and Ron found that their old adversary wasn't terribly interested in fighting back. So they moved from open animosity into a hostile but silent truce.

Mrs. Weasley, anxious that Draco's slow recovery from his initial depression continue unhindered, sent Ginny and Draco on errands in the morning so they could continue their walks. Ginny thought that if her mother knew what was really going on between them she would have put a stop to it; then again, Ginny was the only one aside from Mrs. Weasley that Draco ever spoke to. She hoped that her pugnacious brother and his best friend were too preoccupied with mastering hexes to notice how she behaved around Draco.

However, as they went to bed that first night Hermione asked Ginny, "What is going on between you and Draco?"

Ginny tried to talk her way out of it. She busied herself turning down her bed. "Nothing is going on. He's been down and I was the only one around for him to talk to."

"Don't give me that, Ginny," Hermione scolded. "I can see how you two are."

Ginny smiled a little—she couldn't help it, and what was the harm, really, in confiding to her only girlfriend? "All right, we've been doing a bit more than talking. How could you tell?"

"You behave totally differently when he's around," Hermione said. "You barely talk to me or Ron or Harry anymore."

Ginny spun around to face Hermione. "Why should I be talking to Harry? When has Harry ever said more than five words in a row to me?"

"Harry cares about you, Ginny," Hermione replied. "Do you think Draco really cares about you? Or is he just using you?"

It was all Ginny could do to keep from shouting. She ran her hands through her hair in frustration. "To Harry, I am just another Weasley. Draco is the only one who sees me as I am." She moved toward the other girl, scowling, her voice an angry whisper. "You don't know anything, Hermione! You don't know how things have been around here! You don't know what he says to me, what he tells me—"

"When you're alone?" Hermione interrupted. "Why not when you are with other people? Why does it have to be a secret? If he cares about you so much, why doesn't he show it openly? What reason does he have to hide?"

Ginny glared at Hermione. "Do you think you are the only one to have boys falling at your feet? First Viktor, then Ron and now—" she nearly said Harry but thought better of it. "Do you think that no one would want me?" she continued indignantly. "Because Draco does want me! Not Ron's little sister, the fan and general hanger-on, but me, Ginevra Weasley." She stood with her hands on her hips, daring Hermione to contradict her.

Hermione looked down at the floor and sighed. "I really hope I'm wrong," she said quietly. "But I don't think a leopard can change its spots this quickly."

Ginny had never known Hermione to back down before. She sat on her bed quietly for a moment, then replied sadly, "I need someone on my side on this one. I hoped it would be you. I can see now that it won't be. But Draco didn't change his spots, any more than I did." Ginny pulled her knees up under her chin and tried to calm down. "Look, it's late and it's been a long day. Let's just get some sleep."

Hermione nodded. As she reached for her wand to put out the light, she said, "Ginny, you know I'm always on your side no matter what, right?" She smiled anxiously at her friend.

"Sure," Ginny whispered. She didn't look at Hermione. "Good night."

Ginny lay in bed staring out her bedroom window. She was sure she knew what she was doing, and that Hermione was wrong. But she gazed at the moon for hours before she fell asleep.




Cambridge
26 August 1996

Hello Ron Weasley,

Thank you for your letter. It was unexpected but welcome. Things here are subdued but starting to get back to normal. Mother was a friend of Narcissa Malfoy's since school, so she's been very upset. Apparently there won't be a funeral or a memorial of any kind, since no one has heard from Lucius Malfoy. Or Draco, for that matter. I heard he's in a safe house someplace. Do you know anything about that? I hope he's okay.

I am taking your advice and going out for Quidditch this year. The fresh air will be good for me and I'll do anything to get away from the endless debates in the Ravenclaw common room. War will come or it won't and I can't see there's much we can do about it until it comes.

Speaking of war, I'm looking forward to another chess match.

Take care,

Padma


The next night, at dinner, the conversation had turned to the relative merits of suspending professional Quidditch for the duration of the war when Draco, who had remained silent at meals since Ron, Harry and Hermione's return, suddenly spoke.

"I was wrong." His eyes were fixed on the table.

Ron stopped talking in mid-sentence and all eyes turned to Draco. After a short silence, Mrs. Weasley gently asked, "Wrong about what, dear?"

Gray eyes met brown and Ginny nodded slightly, encouraging him to continue just as she had done that day at the river and every day since then. He lifted his head and looked at her, then at Harry.

Draco's voice was barely above a whisper. "I was wrong when I said you picked the wrong side, that day on the train after the Tournament. I find that I've been mislead."

Harry couldn't think of a response to that but it didn't matter, as Draco continued talking.

His voice was getting gradually louder with each sentence . "It was all a lie. Everything he said to me was a lie. Everything he did was a lie. Everything he is, is a lie. My entire life is a lie." Even though he was shouting now, his voice was without emotion, his face expressionless and he had not moved. "It. Was. All. A. Lie."

Suddenly, he sprang from his chair and walked from the dining room out onto the porch. Ginny started to go after him but Harry was quicker.

Draco stood looking out at the stars. Hearing steps behind him, he glanced down to see who was there then looked back up at the night sky. "Well Potter, come to welcome me to the orphanage?"

Harry leaned against the wall, his hands in his pockets. But Draco's apology seemed to come from another boy entirely. "You're not an orphan. You still have a father."

Draco shook his head. "No, I don't," he whispered.

"No, you don't," Harry agreed. "But you knew your mother, which is more than I can say."

"True." Draco turned and pointed at Harry angrily. "But do you have the moment yours was killed burned into your memory?"

"Yes, actually. I should have been too young to remember but I do now, thanks to those bloody Dementors." Harry sighed.

Draco looked confused for a moment then said, "Is that why you were so afraid of them?" Harry nodded. "Humph. If we had known that, we wouldn't have pulled that trick on you." He looked at Harry and smiled slightly. "Actually yes, we would have. But that's Slytherin for you; it's all about winning."

Draco's shoulders sagged a bit as he sighed. Harry said nothing but kept his eyes on the other boy. He wished he could think of something to say. He had never seen Draco Malfoy at a loss for words.

After a moment, Draco said, "So, what happens now? We all follow you on a Children's Crusade? A merry little war?"

Harry walked further out onto the porch next to where Draco stood and put his hands on the railing. "I don't know what happens," he admitted, sadly. "Back to Hogwarts I suppose, in the short term anyway."

"How can you not know, hero-boy?" Draco drawled, annoyed.

Harry tried not to smile at the return of Malfoy's familiar sarcasm. "I don't think anyone knows. I don't think even Dumbledore knows."

Draco chuckled. "That old fraud? He wouldn't know a Death Eater from a chocolate frog." He looked over at Harry, who was scowling. "Oh, that's right. Another lie." Draco rolled his eyes and sighed in frustration. "Great, now I don't even know what's true anymore."

"Maybe you should figure out the truth for yourself, instead of just going by what your father told you," Harry said bluntly.

Draco smiled cynically. "Ah, but that would require work and introspection on my part. I've had enough introspection this summer. It doesn't suit me." Draco shook his head. "How did you get so sage anyway, Potter?"

"Saving the world once a year gives you some perspective," Harry replied sarcastically. He turned to Draco and raised one eyebrow. To his surprise, Draco snickered.

"I expect so." He paused, then said, "It would appear that getting rid of good old you-know-who is your job but save little Lucius for me, will you?" Draco was smirking, but his eyes were cold as steel.

"Malfoy, this isn't about vengeance," Harry scolded calmly.

Draco raised his eyebrows. "You don't really believe that, do you?" he asked.

Harry stared at Draco for a moment. "No, I don't," he admitted, resigned to his loss of innocence. "I should but I don't. Not anymore."

Draco grinned triumphantly. "See, Potter? We are more similar than you like to admit to yourself. You're no paragon of virtue, and I'm not such a bad fellow, really—"

"Once you get to know him," Ginny finished. She barely gave a glance at Harry before settling her eyes on Draco.

The boys turned to look at her, standing in the doorway. Harry thought she seemed much different than she had at his birthday, less than a month ago. There was something about the way she held herself that was less girlish, more adult, more knowing. He looked back at Draco and then he realized what was going on. Harry hoped Ginny knew what she was doing because if this evening was any indication, Draco had no idea what he was doing from one moment to the next.

"Hey," Draco said, his voice barely above a whisper. He smiled slightly, staring into Ginny's eyes.

"Not making any trouble out here, I hope," joked Ginny, though her voice was a little shaky with emotion.

"No trouble at all," said Harry lightly. He turned to Draco and held out his hand. "I believe we've come to an understanding," he said, matter-of-fact.

Draco looked at Harry, surprised. "I believe we have." As he dropped Harry's hand, Draco turned back to look at Ginny as though he were a drowning man and she his line to shore.

"Well," Harry said brusquely, suddenly feeling superfluous, "I leave you in the capable hands of Miss Ginevra Weasley." He winced at the possible interpretations of his comment but let it lie. "Good night."

"Good night" they said to Harry in unison, their eyes not leaving each other as Harry walked back into the house. After a few minutes, Draco reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of Marlboros and a match.

Ginny looked at them, surprised, and asked, "When did you start smoking?" She walked onto the porch and stood next to Draco.

"They were in that trunk. I went through it last night." Draco grimaced, then lit up.

"Is that why you've been on edge all day?" Draco nodded. "Why didn't you tell me about it this morning?" Ginny asked, wondering whether he had started keeping secrets.

"I wasn't sure how I felt about it." Draco exhaled thoughtfully. "Anyway, there isn't much in there of any interest. A few things from my room. My broom. Some old school books. Quills. Clothes." He shrugged, affecting unconcern but not entirely succeeding. "I hadn't unpacked much since I got back from school. There was too much going on."

Ginny held her breath. Draco had never spoken about this part of the story. "What was going on?" she asked.

Draco took a long drag, looking out at the trees beyond the porch. When he spoke it was in a falsely cheerful, detached, almost brittle voice. "Let's just say Daddy wanted his Bright Boy to join the Firm and Mummy didn't agree. They fought about it every night but the Bright Boy always did everything his Daddy told him to—every single thing, and couldn't understand why his Mummy and Daddy were fighting. One night, Daddy had his business associates to the house for dinner and one thing led to another, as often happens. Suddenly the Bright Boy realizes that he hasn't been so bright and he doesn't want to join the Firm after all—especially once he met the CEO. So Mummy says to the CEO, 'My Bright Boy will not be signing up at this time, thanks all the same but do have some more spice cake.' Now, the CEO doesn't like that, not one little bit. So he tells Daddy that unfortunately Mummy will have to be let go. Then some corporate raiders from a rival firm drop by, and they take the Bright Boy and they try to take Mummy but Daddy is far too clever for that. He always does what the CEO tells him to do, no matter what. And here we are." He turned to look at Ginny, his face expressionless.

"Draco, I—" Ginny began.

"No," Draco said firmly, "let's not talk about it. Not ever again." Draco put out his cigarette, and looked up at the stars. Ginny reached out and touched his shoulder then slid down his arm, taking his hand in her own. She gave it a squeeze and felt him squeezing it back, first tentatively but then more firmly, as though he were holding on to her for dear life. She strengthened her grip in response. They stood there in silence, holding on to each other and looking at the stars.

After a bit, Draco looked back at Ginny and said, "But one useful thing I did get were the combinations to the vaults, to mine and my mother's."

"You have your own vault?" Ginny was surprised.

Draco nodded. "Trust fund. I always had my mother's combination, in case anything happened to her. So I suppose I can open it now. Unless Lucius has already cleaned us out. Wouldn't put it past him." He smiled at Ginny and touched her nose with his finger. "Which means you get a present when we go to Diagon Alley."

Ginny shook her head. "Draco, I don't want a present."

"Well, you're getting one whether you like it or not," Draco replied. "Though I'd rather that you like it." He smiled again, this time more broadly.

Ginny remembered that Draco was used to getting his way. Ginny had learned that it was best to save fighting for when you felt very strongly, so she gave in. "Okay but nothing expensive or I won't accept it. Come on, let's go back inside."




Chez Chien
27th August 1996

Dear Ginevra,

I am glad to hear that you're doing better. I understand why you may not want to ask your mother so I'll give you what advice I can.

Draco is a very lucky young man to have you to confide in. I'm relieved that he's talking to someone. But I want you to take care of yourself, as well. I know that you want to be there for Draco but you cannot help him if you lose yourself in the process.

You're developing very strong feelings for him now; don't let them push you into an emotional intimacy that he may not be able to sustain. Draco always struck me as a young man very removed from his inner life. He's been through a great deal and I wouldn't be surprised if his behavior is sometimes erratic. Having a relationship with someone who's struggling with their emotions is a very delicate thing, as I know only too well. There will be some rough patches. If you think he's worth it, you'll just have to hang on.

I'm only an owl away. Good luck.

Remus Lupin


The trip to Dragon Alley was a few days later. Mr. Weasley left early in the morning with Draco to Gringott's, where Draco had long meetings with the Goblins and with his family's lawyers to establish himself as the legal heir to his mother and as an emancipated minor, with Mr. Weasley named as his sponsor. Draco was surprised that he didn't face more resistance from Lucius's lawyers; then again, there were eight people at the Ministry that had watched him murder his wife. Draco tried to offer some recompense for putting him up over the summer (not to mention essentially saving his life) but Mr. Weasley would hear none of it.

After lunch, Draco and Ginny managed to sneak away from the others and he led her to a small jeweler's shop. The proprietor seemed to know Draco and after expressing his sympathies, went into the back of the shop to get Draco's "special order." He came back with a small box in his hand, which Draco handed to Ginny.

Inside was a silver chain with a small, shiny black pendant shaped like the fish they had caught that summer. Ginny looked up at Draco, surprised. She let him take the box from her hands and fasten the chain around her neck. Then, he took out his wand and whispered, "vivare pescum." The fish began to jump and flip at the end of the chain, much as Ginny's first fish had flopped about in her hands.

"Now, you'll know when I am thinking about you." Draco smiled shyly. "I just wanted to give you something, to thank you for everything." He paused and looked out the window of the shop for a moment, scowling. "It's all blood money anyway."

Ginny reached up and gently turned Draco to face her, smiling tenderly. "It's beautiful, Draco. But you don't have to cleanse yourself for me. You don't have to make up for anything. You just have to be." She pulled him toward her, kissing him gently on the lips. "Come on, let's go get some ice cream."

They made their way to Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor, where Ginny treated Draco. Cones in hand, they snuck around a corner to a small alley, licking the rapidly melting ice cream off each others hands before Draco slowly pushed Ginny against the wall with his kisses, the cones falling to the ground unmissed.


That night at dinner, Ron was unusually subdued. He scowled at his food, barely speaking to anyone. Ginny couldn't imagine what was wrong with him. She looked at Hermione but her friend just shrugged. Ginny knew that Hermione wouldn't have told him about her and Draco. And while Harry probably figured out how things stood that night on the porch, she didn't think Harry would tell him, either—Harry rarely told Ron what he didn't want to know. She decided not to think about it and concentrate on her packing. If he was annoyed, she'd find out about it soon enough.

Once the Hogwarts Express departed from platform 9 3/4 however, Ginny's problems began. First, Draco saw some of his Slytherin friends, and told Ginny it would probably be better if he sat with Blaise, Pansy and the others rather than Ron, Hermione and Harry. Ginny wanted to say that he would be sitting with her as well but she remembered what Remus had written and didn't want to push him. So she went to the compartment where her brother sat.

However, if she had hoped for a warm welcome she was in for a surprise. Ron was sitting with his arms crossed, glaring at her as she shut the door of the compartment behind her. "What do you think you've been playing at?" he snapped.

"What are you on about?" Ginny asked, dreading the confrontation she knew was inevitable.

"I saw you. I saw Malfoy pushing you up against a wall in Diagon Alley." Ron made a face, as though the memory itself were disgusting. "I bet half of Hogwarts saw you. What were you thinking? What have you been doing all summer? Do you think that Draco Malfoy has changed, just because his mother—"

"You leave him alone," Ginny said, quietly but firmly. She could feel the fish pendant (unseen under her clothing) flopping against her skin. Draco was thinking about her even now, though she wasn't there with him. There was no use reasoning with Ron when he was like this. She turned and walked out of the cabin. She needed some air.

When she got to the end of the carriage she saw Seamus Finnigan leaning out one of the windows smoking a cigarette. He turned to her and held a finger to his lips, motioning her to be quiet. When he saw how upset she was, he guided her to the outside platform.

"Hey, what's wrong?" he asked gently.

She shrugged. "Oh, it's the usual Ron thing. I like a boy, he doesn't like it. You know how that goes."

"Bet we all know who that boy is. It's all over the train. Draco is what you were hinting to me about in that owl post, isn't he?" He grinned at Ginny.

Ginny put her head in her hands, blushing. "How embarrassing!" She chuckled a little in spite of herself. It was a good piece of gossip.

Seamus laughed. "If you don't want everyone to know about your love life, don't snog in the middle of Dragon Alley. Have you learned nothing from my bad example?"

Ginny chuckled. "Well, it's out in the open now. No more sneaking around, at least. I suppose I should feel better for it—" Ginny broke off at the sound of loud voices and laughter coming toward them.

"Yes, she's a little spitfire. Which of you wouldn't have done what I did? But it was just a summer fling. She's a Weasley and I have standards to maintain, as a gentleman." Draco entered the breezeway laughing with the other boys at his joke but he stopped short when he saw Ginny had heard every word.

Ginny looked at Draco in disbelief. Could this be boy she had known this summer? Brave Gryffindor, she thought. I must not lose myself. She walked up to Draco, gave him her coldest glare and slapped him across the face. He stood shocked and speechless as she turned and walked into the next carriage.

Seamus snorted disgustedly in the corner. "Gentleman my arse." Draco, who had now gone pale except for the redness from Ginny's slap, flinched at the remark. Seamus threw his cigarette at Draco's feet and followed Ginny back into the train.

Ginny had broken into a run as soon as the door to the breezeway shut behind her but Seamus caught up with her easily and pulled her into an empty compartment. "Oh gods, she was right. She was right and I hate her! I hate her so much!" Ginny cried onto Seamus's shoulder.

"That's no good," Seamus said, trying to console her. "Who do you hate?"

Ginny pulled her head up to look at Seamus. "Hermione!" she wailed. "She's always right and she gets every boy she wants and it's not fair!" Her head dropped back onto Seamus' chest as more tears came.

"Now, that isn't true," Seamus scolded mildly. "You know that isn't true. There have been boys that she liked, that didn't like her."

"She wants Harry and she didn't want me to have Draco," Ginny blubbered angrily. "Now she has her way and I'm alone again."

Seamus stroked her hair and let her cry it out.

When she had run our of tears, she sat up with her back against the side of the seat and faced Seamus. She reached up to rip the necklace from her neck but she couldn't bring herself do it. The necklace was the only memento she had, her sole relic of the Draco she had known. "No, you're right. It isn't her. It's me. Ginny Weasley, setting the land speed record from wanton slut to sex-free zone in under twenty seconds." She sighed bitterly.

"Ginny!" Seamus was damned if he was going to let Ginny take the blame for this. He took her hands into his and said, softly, "Sometimes these summer things don't work out. People behave differently when they are out of their own environment. Hell, people are behaving differently because there's a war coming. You were kind to him at a time when he needed it but you don't always get paid back kindness for kindness. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Draco Malfoy has always been the worst kind of little shit and he doesn't deserve you."

"I want to believe that, Seamus. But I think that's just what friends say to other friends who've been dumped." Ginny squeezed Seamus's hand in thanks. She then turned to look out the window, trying to forget the events of the summer. The flopping of the fish pendant against her skin made that nearly impossible.

Chapter Text

When I was a child,
I spake as a child,
I understood as a child,
I thought as a child:
but when I became a man,
I put away childish things.
—I Corinthians 13:11 (KJV)

16 September 1996

It was only the third week of school but Draco Malfoy was already counting the days until the end of the year.

At first, on the Hogwarts Express, the other students knew of his mother's death but not of his rejection of you-know-who. Once all the events of that night at Malfoy Manor had become generally known, however, Draco was persona non grata in the Slytherin dungeons. Crabbe and Goyle would have nothing to do with him. Not that he really cared for them but he'd known them all his life and Draco disliked change. Even Pansy Parkinson, who only the year before had been making a spectacle of herself for his benefit on a regular basis, shunned him. The other Slytherins, whether or not they had ties to the Death Eaters, ostracized the boy who had once been a leader of the house and the assumed Quidditch captain. After all, they were Slytherins and could see that there was no advantage in siding with a pariah.

So for all his posing on the train, his house was against him. The rest of the school had no reason to believe his lies about Ginny, given his previous pattern of behavior. He'd alienated the one person that he never wanted to hurt while gaining no advantage whatsoever. Well, so much for that. He was sure Ginny would never forgive him for what he said but he took some solace in the knowledge that her own reputation had not been harmed by his selfishness.

So he dedicated himself to doing exactly as he pleased, vaguely defined as whatever would have angered his father the most. He cut class and stopped doing his assignments. When he did show up to class, he was either sulkily silent or mouthed off to the professors. Even Severus Snape did not escape Draco's general disdain. He'd seen Snape at Malfoy Manor and figured he knew something Dumbledore didn't, so he used it to his advantage. Advanced Potions was the one class he wasn't currently failing.

He hoped that reports of his exploits were reaching his father's ears. He had detention nearly every day which he didn't really mind as it kept him out of the dungeons and away from his fellow Slytherins. Of course, the points he was losing for his house were making him even more unpopular, if that was possible. But then, it was Lucius who courted the House Cup, not Draco, and the boy's upside down logic celebrated every lost point.

Quidditch gave him no solace. He couldn't see how he could be on the team now, much less be captain, when almost no one in the house acknowledged his existence. He spent all of his time not in detention flying around the Hogwarts grounds trying to clear his head, to figure out which of the things his father told him had been the truth and which were lies. The progress was slow.

He rarely slept now. Behind the privacy of curtains and a silencing charm, he sat up late at night obsessively drilling himself in every hex Mrs. Weasley or his father had taught him. The irony of Lucius suffering by one of the curses he'd taught his own son filled Draco with a cold sort of pleasure.

On his bedside table sat two photos. One was of his mother watching him unwrap a present, the Christmas before he started Hogwarts. The other was the picture of Ginny and him with their fish which Mrs. Weasley had given him just before he left the Burrow. Every night as sleep evaded him he stared at the photos and wondered if either Ginny or his mother could have helped him to separate the truth from the web of lies his father had spun.


Seamus Finnigan walked from Divining class to Gryffindor Tower with an enraged Harry Potter.

"As if it isn't bad enough that she predicts my death in every class," Harry sputtered, "now she's moved on to my love life!" Professor Trelawney's latest vision was of Harry being blind to his true soul mate which hit a little too close to home for Harry's comfort.

"Can I make a suggestion?" Seamus asked slyly.

"Why not?" Harry scowled. "I'm certainly not doing well on my own."

"I think you need to stop worrying about being The Boy Who Lived long enough to be a regular person with someone," Seamus declared.

Harry rolled his eyes. "Very perceptive, Finnigan. But how do you suppose I go about doing that? Not to be egotistical but where can I find a witch that doesn't know who I am?" Harry sighed, frustrated.

"Freeze tag" said Seamus. The Fat Lady swung open and the boys stepped into the common room. "Come up to the room. I have an idea but I don't want it getting around."

Once in the sixth year boy's dorm, Harry sat on his bed. Seamus paced in front of him and began to explain the appearance charm, in an offhand tone that belied he and Sirius' complex scheme. "It's not the same as polyjuice; it's a charm rather than a potion. You don't look like a particular person, you just modify your own appearance. Your body shape doesn't change, unless you really want it to, but that's pretty tricky."

Harry looked up, interested. "I could change my eyes and my hair?"

Seamus nodded. "You can get rid of the scar and the glasses, too, if you want to. I'd recommend it, actually. Sexy as they are, they're a bit of a giveaway." He smiled, then turned serious. "But the point isn't to look cool. It's to be someone else for a while."

"Got it. No trying to look like a film star." Harry thought for a moment, then asked, "So what's the catch?" One thing he'd learned in five years at Hogwarts was, there was always a catch.

"It's only good for six hours or until the wizard that did the charm takes it off. And you can't do it to yourself; someone else has to do it to you."

"Who told you about this?" Harry narrowed his eyes suspiciously.

Seamus grinned. "Your very own godfather. He was reminiscing about his Marauders days."

"Why am I not surprised?" he said. "But how do I ask out a girl if I don't look like anyone she knows?"

"Leave the girl up to me. I know someone you definitely should see, someone you would never think of." He winked.

"Who is she?" Harry asked, curious.

Seamus shook his head. "You'll have to trust me. She'll be under an appearance charm as well." At Harry's scowl he said, "It isn't fair if you know who she is but she doesn't know who you are. Surely you can see that."

"And just why should I trust you?" Harry demanded.

Seamus chuckled. "Well, as you pointed out, you haven't exactly been successful so far."

Harry mulled it over. It would certainly make things easier not to have that stupid image to live up to. To not have to be charming or heroic or inscrutable or anything other than just Harry. He looked up at Seamus. "I'll do it," he said resolutely.

Seamus let out a breath. "Great. How's this weekend? Hogsmeade, dinner?"

"Just tell me where to be and what to do." Harry stood to go back down to the common room. "Thanks, Seamus," he said.

"Oh, nothing to it, Harry," Seamus replied, grinning.


Ron lingered behind for a few moments in Divination. He'd been focusing his patented Weasley charm on Hannah Abbott for a week, and had decided to move in for the kill after class. Sure enough, she hesitated as her friends left and Ron offered to walk her back to her dorm. By the time they neared Hufflepuff, he'd secured a dinner date in Hogsmeade that weekend and a quick kiss in the hall. No muss, no fuss. Just the way it should be.

He was whistling as he walked back to Gryffindor Tower when he heard a voice in the hall.

"Hello Ron Weasley." Padma Patil was walking down the stairs from Gryffindor. "Don't you look pleased with yourself."

Ron nearly tripped over his robe. "Um, Padma. Hello. What are you doing here?" he stuttered.

"I was trying to find my sister but she doesn't seem to be around," she said smoothly. "Guess I'll be heading back to Ravenclaw."

"Don't do that!" Ron shouted, though he wasn't sure why.

"Shall I stand here in the hall, then?" Padma smiled, her arms crossed.

Ron thought she looked rather like a queen. Queens! "No. Let's have a game of chess." Ron climbed until he was on the same step as Padma.

Padma raised one eyebrow. "Looking for a rematch?" Padma had beaten Ron soundly when they played at Chez Chien that summer.

Ron grinned. "I can't let you ruin my reputation, now can I? Wait here, will you?" Ron went up the stairs through the common room and up to his dorm. Once there he threw down his books, grabbing his own chess set and Harry's before returning to Padma.

"So? Great Hall then?" Padma asked, rising from where she'd sat down on the step.

Ron shook his head. "There's a study nook near McGonagall's class room with a table and two chairs. It's a quiet spot this time of day." He held out his arm to her gallantly. "Shall we?" he asked.

"Let's," Padma replied with a smile, taking his arm and walking down the stairs.

As they made their way to the classrooms, Ron tried to figure out why Padma had suddenly reappeared in his life; he certainly hadn't seen much of her since the Triwizard Tournament. But it wasn't as if they were dating. They were just playing chess.


Hermione looked up from her arithmancy books to see Seamus standing before her. "Seamus Finnigan? In the library? To what do I owe this great honor?" she muttered sarcastically.

Seamus sat down at the table. "You need a break. You've been in here all afternoon. It's a nice day, we should advantage of it."

"Well," Hermione started.

"Nin, ever since you and Ron broke up you've had your head buried in books even more than usual. I'd hoped it would change over the summer but it's just got worse." He stood and held out his hand. "Come on, put away your things and we'll go for a walk." He smiled, indicating the door with a nod of his head.

Hermione glanced around the library. As it was the beginning of term, there was hardly anyone around. Why was she here? She sat back in her chair, threw down her quill and looked up at Seamus. "You're right, of course," she muttered, resigned. "I hate it when you're right." She stood and packed up her books and parchment, leaving them behind the desk with Madam Pince.

Outside it smelled fresh and sweet compared to the stale air of the castle and the bright sun was certainly more cheerful than the lamps in the library. Seamus and Hermione headed out to the lake and sat on the grass in the sun. Hermione leaned forward and rubbed her temples. "The trouble with stopping," she lamented to Seamus, "is that you realize how fast you've been running."

"You've got to stop driving yourself so hard. I'm worried about you." Seamus rubbed Hermione's back with his right hand. "When are you going to have some fun? You worked all summer."

Hermione put her head in her hands. "There's a war coming," she mumbled.

"All the more reason to have fun. Look at what's been going on around here since the Triwizard Tournament. People are shagging like rabbits." He moved his hand up to Hermione's neck and rubbed it gently. "I'm just wondering what happened to my Nin, the one who spent last summer dancing like a mad woman."

She turned to look at him, annoyed. "She came back to reality. I can't, Seamus! I have to do everything I can to get ready so I can help Harry."

"Fretting and working yourself to the bone will not help Harry, who would never begrudge you a bit of pleasure." Seamus leaned toward Hermione's ear and whispered, "He certainly hasn't stopped dating, has he?"

Hermione put her head back in her hands, then sat up. "All right Finnigan, what do you want me to do? It isn't like there are wizards lining up to ask me out," she pointed out.

"What you need to do is forget yourself and all of these burdens you're carrying around and loosen up for a few hours." Seamus's eyes widened for a moment. "I have an idea. You could try an appearance charm."

"What would that do for me? Are you saying I'm not attractive enough? Is that my problem?" Hermione asked, defensively.

"Hey! Of course not! You're beautiful! But if you keep hiding in the library, I'll be the only one who knows." Seamus took Hermione's hand in his. "If you don't look like yourself, then you don't have to act the way you think people expect you to act. You can put the war and Harry and everything else up on a shelf somewhere, and just have a nice time." He smiled.

Hermione sighed and leaned over against Seamus, who put his arms around her. She sank into his arms. "What will I need to do?" she whispered.

Seamus grinned, hugging Hermione a little closer. "Leave everything to me. I'll set up the date and do the spell for you. I know the perfect bloke." He looked down at Hermione. "Someone who really deserves you. He just hasn't seen you the way I have."

Hermione looked up at Seamus and smiled. "Okay. I'm in your hands," she capitulated. Then she pointed at Seamus and said, sternly, "If you screw this up, I will turn you into a hedgehog and give you to McGonagall and you will spend the rest of your life getting turned into a pin cushion by clueless first years."

"I have been warned." Seamus laughed and stroked Hermione's hair.


Dean Thomas did not to return to Gryffindor after Divination. Harry was fuming, Ron was putting the moves on some Hufflepuff, Neville had disappeared with Susan and Seamus had that scheming look. He thought it wise to clear out and head for the studio.

The small art studio sat adjacent to the library and was presided over by Professor Flitwick, as most magical art worked through charms. Along one end was a dark room to develop magical and Muggle film. Dean's corner contained charmed and standard supplies: oil paints, pastels, colored pencils. He put his books down on the workbench and began to pack his art box with watercolors, thinking he would make another study of the lake for a future painting. As he was about to leave, he saw Professor Dumbledore walking into the studio.

"Hello, Mr. Thomas. Continuing your lake series, I imagine?" The Headmaster peered through the small window in the studio. "Excellent day for it. The afternoon light is becoming more autumnal by the day."

Dean nodded. While Flitwick was in charge of the studio, Dean had quickly discovered that Dumbledore had the eye of an accomplished art historian. Dean was in the middle of a three-year independent study with Dumbledore, to prepare a portfolio for his post-Hogwarts career. "Yes sir, I thought I would do some watercolors of the trees on the near end with the lake in the distance."

Dumbledore nodded, continuing to look out the window. "There are two figures down near the lake that would make an fine counterbalance to the trees. Mr. Finnigan and Miss Granger, I believe." Dumbledore turned from the window and gave Dean one of "those looks." Harry and Dean had had many a conversation about how Albus Dumbledore could make you feel that he'd looked into your mind and read what he found there. Dean had no doubt that Dumbledore knew how Dean felt about Seamus. Then again, so would anyone who'd seen Dean's sketches of him.

Dean looked out the window, partly to hide his discomfort. "Thank you for pointing that out, sir. If you'll excuse me." Dean grabbed the paint box, small easel and three-legged chair and walked out of the studio.

"Good luck, Mr. Thomas," Dumbledore called after him. Dean had a feeling that he was referring to more than just the painting.

Once outside, however, the task of setting up his tools and deciding on a place to paint from allowed him to forget the personal parts of his latest encounter with his advisor. Dumbledore was correct, as usual. The two figures huddled in conversation made the composition of trees and lake triangular, adding balance and tension to the sketch. He worked quickly, as the sun was already beginning to set.

He'd just finished when he heard a voice behind him. "Mind if I watch?"

He glanced out over the lake but Seamus and Hermione still sat talking. He looked up over his shoulder to see Kevin Entwhistle. The sixth-year Ravenclaw was tall, handsome and broad-shouldered, with blond hair and blue eyes.

"No, not at all. I'm done with the sketch." Dean was nonplussed. He couldn't recall having exchanged more than a dozen words with Kevin in five years and he was not used to people paying him very much attention. He supposed he should say something else. He cleared his throat, then said, "So, what brings you out to the grounds today?" Not the best opener.

"Well," Kevin began. As he looked off to the lake, Dean desperately tried to remember if anyone had said anything about Kevin's sexuality. He was certainly attractive.

"I suppose it was you that brought me out here." Kevin smiled and a mouth full of even teeth gleamed in the afternoon sunlight, nearly blinding Dean. "I, uh, I noticed you last year. I'm a chaser for Ravenclaw and you were training with Lee Jordan to do the commentary for the games."

Dean was floored. No one had ever thought about him for months at a time. Well, except Seamus whom he was not thinking about. Certainly not while Kevin was here. "Well, I don't know what to say. I'm very flattered." Dean could feel his face flush.

"Are you going to Hogsmeade this weekend?" Kevin asked. "I mean, with anyone?"

"I hadn't made any plans yet, no" Dean answered.

"Well, would you like to go with me? We can do the usual or whatever you would like." There was that dazzling smile again.

Dean thought this getting asked out by cute boys thing was very nice indeed. "I'd like that," he answered, with a smile of his own. Blushing again, he looked away from Kevin toward the lake to see that Seamus and Hermione were gone. "Well, I suppose I should go inside and get ready for dinner."

"Here come your housemates," said Kevin, nodding toward Hermione and Seamus who were walking toward them. "I'll talk to you later then?"

Dean stood and shook Kevin's hand. It seemed an oddly formal thing to do but he couldn't think of anything else. "Definitely." Dean gave Kevin the most dazzling smile he had, though he doubted that his shone as brightly.

Kevin smiled as he turned to go inside. Dean began to collect his things, as Seamus and Hermione reached him.

"More lake pictures, Dean?" Seamus asked. When Dean nodded, Seamus said, "Can we see?"

Dean showed them the watercolor sketch. He said nothing; he rarely could when people were looking at his work, especially people he cared about.

Hermione pointed to the figures at the lower right. "Is that us, Dean?"

Dean nodded again. He looked at Seamus. "Well?"

"Were you planning to do this in oil?" Seamus looked up at his friend.

Dean considered. "I'm not sure yet. This came out rather better than a sketch; I may leave it."

"I agree. I think it's fine, as is." Seamus smiled. "Hey, was that Kevin Entwhistle you were talking to?" he asked.

"Yes," Dean said, calmly. "He asked me to dinner in Hogsmeade." Dean looked up from his paint box and thought he saw a flash of something in Seamus's eyes. Jealousy? Disappointment? But it was quickly gone. Dean chalked it up to wishful thinking.

Seamus smiled, though it didn't quite reach his eyes. "Well, that's quite a catch."

Dean folded his easel and chair and put them in his satchel with the paint box. "Yes, he's rather popular, I believe."

"No, I meant you." Seamus looked at Dean somberly. "I meant that you're quite a catch for him."

Dean looked at Seamus for a long moment. Then he cleared his throat. "Well, I suppose it's nearly time for dinner, isn't it? Shall we go in?"

Hermione was silent. She looked from Dean to Seamus as they stopped by the art studio and the library to retrieve their books, then headed up to Gryffindor Tower, making idle chitchat all the while. She wondered if her two friends would ever actually get it together at the same time long enough to make things work. She certainly hoped so, if not for their sakes than at least for hers. She didn't think she could take it much longer.

Chapter Text

Who gave you permission to rearrange me?
Certainly not me
Who told you that it was all right to love me?
Certainly, certainly not me
I was not looking for no love affair
—Erykah Badu, "Certainly"

28 September 1996

On the occasion of his sixteenth birthday the previous February, Seamus Finnigan had received a small but not insignificant sum of money from his paternal grandmother. Gran had relented on her previous hard stance on Seamus's homosexuality, seeing as her grandson had not turned into an absolute degenerate. Instead he had brought home a "very nice young man" who'd charmed Gran over the Christmas holiday.

Seamus, looking for a bit of privacy, decided to use some of the money to secure a standing Saturday afternoon reservation at the Hogsmeade Inn. Having a room violated no Hogwarts rules; Hermione had made sure of that. Hogsmeade wasn't much of a vacation spot, so the Inn did most of its business during the week. On the weekend many rooms went empty until the late evening, when they housed wizards too inebriated to Apparate or even Floo home safely. Once Seamus had related these sound business reasons to the proprietress, room 204 was his.

Seamus offered Neville and Susan the use of room 204 in exchange for their assistance with the logistics of the appearance charm. The plot that he and Sirius had worked up had one major snag: Harry and Hermione were in the same house. To keep this a secret as long as possible, Seamus would perform the appearance charm on Hermione not in the dorm but in the prefect's bathroom. As Susan was also a prefect, there would be no clues for Harry. Neville, meanwhile, would use the invisibility cloak to sneak the charmed Harry in and out of the dorm. The arrangement had the added benefit of ensuring that the pair wouldn't return to the common room at the same time and become suspicious. Neville and Susan had initially refused room 204, willing to help for nothing beyond a matchmaker's satisfaction. When Seamus pointed out that it was a sight more comfortable than Greenhouse #2, they acquiesced.

One week after his initial conversations with Harry and Hermione, he sent Hermione over to the prefect's bathroom, and had Neville sequester Harry in their own dorm room. Luckily, both Dean and Ron had dates and had cleared out quickly.

"Right, Harry, have you decided how you'd like to look or shall I do it for you?" Seamus asked.

Harry held up his hands. "No thanks, I will end up looking like some teen television actor in your hands."

Seamus scowled. "Stop laughing Neville, that isn't remotely funny. You know I go for the ruggedly manly."

"While that is a comfort," Harry replied, rolling his eyes, "I would like brown hair and blue eyes please. Make me look sort of like Remus." Harry stood bare chested in the black pants and shoes Seamus had dictated.

Seamus fixed in his mind the image of Remus, then said "Mutaro facies. Okay, what do you think?"

Harry looked in the mirror. His round, dark-rimmed glasses were now small gold rectangles framing dark blue eyes. His hair was slightly longer and honey brown, and actually laid down on top of his head. His bone structure was much the same, though his nose was slightly wider and his eyes smaller. His scar was gone. He turned to the others.

"Well done. I wouldn't have recognized myself." The timbre of his voice had also deepened slightly.

Seamus sighed in relief. "Great. The dark blue shirt would be best, I think." Harry nodded. "Stay here for another twenty minutes, then Neville will bring you down to the entrance hall."

Seamus hurried over to the prefect's bathroom where Susan and Hermione were waiting. They had already discussed her look ad nauseum; she was wearing a long violet dress and tan shoes. "What took you so long?" she asked nervously.

"You know men, they can never make up their minds. Ready?"

Hermione nodded. Seamus performed the charm, then turned Hermione to face the mirror.

Her hair was still curly, but it now framed her face in a flurry of blonde ringlets rather than its usual brown frizz. Her forehead was a little higher, her lips fuller, but she kept her own high cheekbones. Other than her hair color, the biggest change was her eyes, which she had changed to deep violet just for fun. This was exactly the way she had always pictured Miss Pommery. She smiled at the mirror.

"I can still see a little of me in there but I don't think anyone else will." Hermione's voice had also deepened, like Harry's. She turned to look at Seamus. "What do you think?"

"I think you were beautiful before and you are beautiful now, and we need to go meet your date." Seamus led Susan and Hermione out of the prefect's bathroom to the entrance hall, where Neville and Harry were waiting. Neville had Harry turned to the side, where he could not see Hermione and vice versa.

"Okay, here are the ground rules. One, try not to divulge personal details. That would defeat the purpose of the exercise. The only information I will give you is, you are both in the same year and you do know each other so don't be surprised if you feel familiar." Seamus grinned to himself; that bit was brilliant. "Two, try to avoid other students in Hogsmeade. They won't recognize you anyway and we don't want to confuse others and have this experiment getting around the school. I've arranged for you to have dinner at a sweet little out of the way place where no one should disturb you." He nodded to Neville and said, in the manner of a game show host, "All right, let's do the reveal."

Neville brought Harry out from the shadows to face Hermione. They looked at each other for a long moment but Seamus was fairly sure there was no recognition. He smiled at their reaction. "Right. Jack, meet Jackie. Have fun and don't do anything I wouldn't do."

As Jack took Jackie's arm to go, he said, "And what would that be, exactly?"

Jackie snickered as they walked away.

Once they were out of hearing distance, Neville exclaimed, "Well done, Seamus! They'll never figure it out!"

"Not if I can help it," replied Seamus. "Well, I have places to go and people to see. I'll catch you two later." He pulled the Inn key from his pocket. "Here is a token of my appreciation; remember you need to be out by six o'clock. Be sure to tip the maid."

Neville took the key, blushing furiously. "Thanks, Seamus but you know you didn't need to do this."

Seamus grinned. "Oh, I know. Just have a nice time, kids. There is positive karma in that room and I want to keep it that way." He winked and walked out of the school toward Hogsmeade.


Draco didn't go to Hogsmeade that Saturday; he had detention. He arrived in one of the greenhouses at the appointed hour to be greeted by Professor Sprout and his fellow detainee, Justin Finch-Fletchley. He wasn't surprised; he had always got a funny vibe from Justin.

Sprout had Draco and Justin digging furrows outside one of the greenhouses for the setting of various bulbs. Draco for one was glad the detention was outdoors; it meant he could smoke all he liked, as long as he didn't let the fags get into the furrows. He and Justin worked through the early afternoon in silence. When they were halfway through their work, Sprout came out to inspect and told them to take a break. They sat on the ground with their backs against the greenhouse, smoking and taking long gulps of pumpkin juice.

"You know what you need? You need a shag," said Justin, apropos of nothing.

Draco looked at Justin out of the corner of his eye. "What makes you say that?" he drawled through clenched teeth.

Justin replied calmly, "It's no secret that you're a drowning man. Detention every day, failing your classes, ostracized by your house. You need a fix."

"And you know all of this how?" Draco was suspicious as ever.

"There are few secrets at this school. I make it my business to know what goes on here. If you pay attention, you can know a great deal." Justin smiled a bit at his own cleverness.

"Are you offering yourself? Because I'm afraid —"

"No, no!" Justin shook his head, laughing. "Not me. You want to talk to Seamus Finnigan. He's the one shagging half the school."

Draco had heard those rumors, though he had yet to meet anyone who had actually been the object of Finnigan's affections. Except the man sitting before him. "Didn't you two go out last year?"

Justin scowled, his eyes turning dark. Draco didn't think he'd ever seen an expression quite that angry—except once. Draco's thoughts drifted for a moment to the summer and that night. When he had roused himself from his reverie, Justin looked as amiable as usual.

"Lost you for a moment there." Justin's voice was smooth as silk. "We dated for a while. But he had a roving eye and I broke it off. Now he has a roving everything else." Justin chuckled. "You should take advantage of it. Particularly as that red-haired Gryffindor tramp of yours threw you over."

Before he realized it, Draco had his hand around Justin's throat and had pushed his head back against the greenhouse wall. "Don't you say anything about her in my presence." he growled menacingly, ashes from the cigarette in his mouth falling on Justin's shirt. "Don't you even say her name." Justin nodded, wide-eyed. Draco let go of Justin, putting his cigarette out in his cup before springing to his feet.

Draco said nothing further to Justin and concentrated on finishing his detention. But all the while, the smell of the earth reminded him of days spent de-gnoming the gardens at the Burrow. The memories of that time made him sick to his stomach. As soon as Professor Sprout gave her consent, he headed back into the mostly empty dungeons and the solitude of his bed.

In Gryffindor Tower, a young woman with red hair who had also not gone to Hogsmeade peered out of the fifth-year girls dorm window to see a boy with white-blond hair racing across the grounds from the greenhouses. She put her hand to her throat, feeling the pendant moving against her skin.


On the way to Hogsmeade, Jack and Jackie talked generally about school. They'd quickly agreed up front not to discuss the war but they discovered plenty of other topics to keep them occupied. By the time they arrived at the restaurant, they were discussing the finer points of modern Muggle music. Not that that signified anything, Jackie reminded herself. Not all wizards were completely ignorant of muggle culture, especially music.

While they ordered, Jack sat looking at Jackie. He knew that he couldn't go by her appearance, but he admired her confidence, the way she held herself. He could tell that she was intelligent, but since she didn't assault him with a storehouse of arcana, he assumed that she wasn't a Ravenclaw. As they talked about Hagrid's latest magical creatures, Jack saw that Jackie genuinely enjoyed the class. With most of the girls he had dated, he usually found himself defending his professor friend.

Their conversation moved from music, to a long debate on the root causes of the Goblin wars, to professional Quidditch about which Jackie knew more than Jack had expected. Jackie was glad to finally be able to impress someone with the knowledge she had gleaned from her two Quidditch-mad ex-boyfriends. Without the label of "smart girl" she found she could relax and not have to prove that she was always correct, letting the conversation flow where it might. She even found herself flirting a little. Too soon the time had come to get back to Hogwarts before curfew. They walked back to school slowly, holding hands along the way.

As they approached the Hogwarts entryway, Jack pulled Jackie aside. "I don't think I've ever had four hours go by so quickly," he confessed, smiling. "I had a great time."

Jackie struggled to keep her cool. "I had a great time, too. It was a lot of fun."

"Can I see you again?" Jack asked.

"Of course." Jackie moved closer and Jack responded by putting his left hand around her waist. She put her palms flat against his chest, then slid them up to his face feeling the stubble against her hands. The slight breeze stirred his hair until it was standing on end and she had a flash of something familiar but it was gone as soon as it came.

Jack slid his right hand along Jackie's cheek, his hand moving into her blonde curls. Her eyes closed, her mouth opened slightly and she leaned her head into Jack's hand.

Then: "Can I kiss you?"

Jackie opened her eyes to look at Jack. "Aren't we kissing already?"

Jack answered by capturing her lower lip in his mouth and Jackie realized that they had not, in fact been kissing because this was much more. She leaned her body into his embrace and they used their hands to pull their heads even closer. Jack's tongue was just beginning to search out Jackie's when they heard a voice from the doorway.

"Get a room!" Seamus shouted.

Jack and Jackie broke apart and turned to look at Seamus.

"Or at least a cold shower. Something! Come in, or you'll miss curfew." Seamus grabbed their hands and pulled them into the school, where Neville and Susan were waiting for them.

"So," he continued, "I suppose a second date is in order?"

Jack and Jackie nodded slowly, glancing at each other, still dazed from their kiss.

"Okay then. I'll contact you separately to let you know where you're going on the date." He grinned at the pair. "You may want to speak now, if only to say good night."

Jackie shook her head slightly, trying to clear the mist. "Good night, Seamus. Good night, Jack." She followed Susan to the prefect's bathroom, looking over her shoulder at Jack until she turned around the corner out of sight.

Jack started to say something but Seamus put a finger to his lips. "Wait until we're up in the Tower. And we'll need to get you in using this." He handed the invisibility cloak to Jack.

Once upstairs, Seamus saw that Dean and Ron were still in the common room so he, Neville and Jack went quickly up the stairs to their dorm room where Seamus removed the appearance charm. Jack was Harry again. He cleared his throat, and when he spoke, he had his own voice back.

"Seamus, I don't know how to thank you—"

"All details later, Harry. I have a woman to change back into herself." Seamus started to walk out of the dorm, then turned at the door. "Don't forget to change your clothes!"

Moments later, Neville and Harry (now wearing jeans and an old flannel shirt) walked back into the common room to where Ron and Dean sat playing chess.

"Harry, where have you been?" asked Ron. "Didn't see you in town, were you there?"

Harry cleared his throat. He hated lying to Ron. "Yes, I was in town. But you were on a date, weren't you? We must have missed each other. Anyway, I only just got back."

Ron looked at his watch. "Must have been some date! Who is she?"

"Oh, no one you know." Harry smiled vaguely. "But what about your date with Hannah? How'd it go?"

The boys were deep in their conversation about Ron and Dean's days in Hogsmeade when Seamus and Hermione came into the common room.

"Well, what are you up to, Finnigan?" Dean asked. "You went running out of here just now."

"I had some things to take care of," Seamus said smoothly.

Dean scowled but said nothing.

Seamus redirected the conversation. "So, Thomas, how was your date with Kevin Entwhistle?" he asked casually.

"It was grand," Dean said flatly. Actually it had been annoying, full of awkward silences. Dean was so accustomed to Seamus's endless chatter that he talked very little. Dating Kevin was like dating himself which to Dean seemed wholly beside the point. Still, there was no reason not to see him again. Better than being alone, eating his heart out while Seamus was doing who-knows-what with who-knows-who in that damn room at the Inn. Which he was not going to ask about. "Hermione, how was your date?"

Harry looked up. "You had a date, Hermione? You didn't tell me."

"What Potter, you think I can't get a date?" Hermione crossed her arms, tapping her fingers against her upper arm.

Harry scowled. "That isn't what I meant and you know it."

Ron held up his hand. "Hey, the only person in this common room allowed to bicker with Hermione is me." He looked up at the girl. "You haven't asked me about my date."

"I'll bite," said Seamus, thankful that the topic had shifted. "How was Padma?"

"Oh, I wasn't with Padma. I was with Hannah Abbott. Why would I be with Padma?"

Neville giggled. "Gee Ron, I dunno. Maybe because you talk about her all the time, or because you turn pink every time she's around."

"I never!" Ron protested.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Ron, you're pink now and you're only talking about her." As everyone laughed she said, "I am going to bed. I will see you gentlemen in the morning."

It wasn't until Hermione had gone upstairs to the girls dorms that Harry realized he never did find out who her date was with. He was a little worried about that. Then he remembered something Jackie had said that evening and stopped thinking about Hermione.


Once upstairs, Hermione knocked at the door to the fifth year girls' room. "Ginny? You in there? It's me."

She heard someone get up off a bed and come to the door. "Hey," whispered Ginny glumly. She was in her pajamas, and looked like she had been sleeping, or at least lying down, for much of the day.

"Can I come in?" Hermione asked timidly.

Ginny shrugged. "Sure, suit yourself. I'm not much company, though." Ginny walked back into her room.

Hermione sat in one of the chairs near Ginny's bed, feeling rather awkward. "What were you up to today? It doesn't look like you went in to town."

Ginny shook her head, and her voice was low and sad. "No. I was in the library for a while but decided I'd rather study up here since everyone else was in town. I just didn't feel up to it. Since Seamus didn't have a date, he went into town for me and bought candy and food and we sat up here and talked." She sighed. "Finished that transformation project, though. Look." She showed Hermione a pair of silver earrings that she had made from two small starfish.

"Wow, those are great." Hermione looked at the earrings for a moment then remembered, "But didn't you say that project is due in a week?"

"Some comment coming from you!" Ginny grabbed the earrings back. "You're not the only one that wants to be ahead in all their classes. I'm not doing anything else, I might as well put my energy into this."

"I didn't mean anything by that." Hermione sighed. "I'm sorry. Ginny, why are you pushing me away? I miss my friend." She looked down at the bed.

"Do you mean that?" Ginny asked hopefully.

"Of course I mean that!" Hermione said fervently, looking up at Ginny. "You're my only real girlfriend. You're having a tough time and I want to help."

Ginny narrowed her eyes. "Even if it's about Draco?"

Hermione bit her lip. "Ginny, I'm really sorry about those things I said. I didn't realize you cared for him so much. It was such a short time, that you were with him." Hermione reached over and took Ginny's hand. "Please, Ginny. I'm here for you, no matter what."

"No, I'm sorry. He was always so insulting to you. I should have been more sensitive to that." Ginny closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose. "I'm so tired."

They sat for a moment, holding hands. Then Ginny said, "I suppose I should tell you why I left Chez Chien this summer."

"If you want to, Ginny," Hermione whispered.

Ginny thought for a moment. It was probably best not to tell Hermione the whole story; that was too complicated. "I was upset because I realized that Harry was never going to think of me as anything other than a sister. So I had to go."

Hermione asked, "But why then? Did something happen at the party? Something between you two?"

"No, nothing at all happened between Harry and me." She smiled ruefully. "But then, nothing ever did happen between Harry and me did it? That was the problem."

"Then what was it? Why then and so suddenly?" Hermione thought. "Did you see him with one of the other girls?"

"No! No, that wasn't it," she said quickly. She was lying, but if Hermione didn't see what was going on between her and Harry, Ginny didn't think it was her place to point it out. "No, I can't explain it. I was just looking at him and I knew, and I didn't want to stay and tough it out. Some Gryffindor I am. I went running home to Mum."

Hermione shook her head. "Sometimes you have to. I just wish you could have told me then."

"Well, you're so close to Harry and I didn't want to be reminded of him at all. I wanted to get away from everything, just be at the Burrow with Mum." Ginny smiled in spite of herself. "But that isn't how things turned out."

Hermione squeezed Ginny's hand. "You still care for him? In spite of what he said?"

"Yes, yes I do. Oh, how can I explain it?" Ginny closed her eyes, then opened them and looked at Hermione. "I just can't give up on him that easily. He hurt me but that doesn't cancel out everything that happened this summer. It can't."

"Everything that happened? A few kisses in the woods?" Hermione asked, eyebrows raised.

Ginny flushed. "Well, a little more than that." She chuckled nervously and looked out the window. "Draco is very, um, passionate."

Hermione bit her lip, then said, "I hope it was more than sex, Ginny."

Ginny turned back to her friend. "Passionate generally," she corrected with a slight smile.

Hermione sighed. It was so like Ginny to be swept away by the emotions of the moment. "You know he's in a bad way. You can't save him," she pointed out gently.

"I know that he's skipping his classes and falling behind. I know that he's been ostracized by his entire house. I know that he said he's giving up Quidditch. And yes, I know that I can't save him; I'm not that naive." Ginny smiled a little. "I also know that he still thinks about me." She reached into her pajamas and showed Hermione the pendant that Draco had given her in Diagon Alley.

Hermione leaned over to get a closer look. "It's a fish and it's flopping around." She looked up at Ginny. "Did he give this to you?"

Ginny nodded. "It's charmed; it moves whenever he's thinking about me, which is all the time. Especially after classes, when he must be back in Slytherin."

Hermione sat back and thought for a moment. "Well, far be it for me to judge what others are doing." Ginny's eyes went wide at this statement. "I know, I know. Shocking to hear me say that. Just don't tell your brother." They both chuckled. "It sounds like you need to stop waiting for him to do something and do it yourself."

Ginny nodded. "That's what Seamus and Remus both said."

"Remus?" Hermione was surprised. "You've been talking to Remus about this?"

"After what happened on the train, I knew I was in over my head with Draco. I didn't want to go to Mum; hopefully, she still doesn't know what went on at the Burrow this summer." Ginny winced at the prospect of Molly Weasley discovering that her daughter had spent the better part of August snogging in the woods with Draco Malfoy. "Remus was so understanding when I decided to leave Chez Chien. I sent him owl posts over the summer, so he already knew about Draco. I thought he might be a sympathetic ear."

Hermione nodded. "So what did he say?"

"Remus said I should swallow my pride and try to talk to Draco, try to help him help himself. I was just writing him a note, so we could meet someplace. I don't want to approach him in front of the Slytherins; I think that would just make things worse." Ginny looked down at the bed.

"Well, what have you written? Maybe I can help."

"Really?" Ginny was surprised but pleased. "You'd do that?"

"You're my friend, remember? I want you to be happy." Hermione smiled.

Ginny reached under the pile of books on her bed and slid out some parchment. "Here's what I have so far."


The next morning, Seamus walked outside to have a before-breakfast cigarette. Dean had certainly been in a grouchy mood last night. Perhaps his date hadn't gone as well as he had said. For once, he hadn't asked Seamus what he had been up to. The one time, Seamus thought, when telling him wouldn't have been breaking someone else's confidence. All he had done the previous day (with the exception of the appearance charm) was to raid the Hogsmeade candy stores for himself and Ginny before returning to Gryffindor Tower for a long chat with her about Dean and Draco.

He had nearly finished his cigarette when he saw Draco leaning against the wall, smoking. Well, speak of the devil, he thought, smiling to himself.

Draco looked up. "What are you smirking at, Finnigan?"

"Nothing, Malfoy. Nothing at all." Seamus hadn't spoken to Draco since that day on the train and didn't have anything to say to him now. At least, not anything nice, particularly as he had spent the better part of the day before with a very broken hearted Ginny. He moved to walk on.

"Wait." Draco looked at Seamus with an odd expression.

Seamus was intrigued. Could he be nervous? Surely not Draco Malfoy. Seamus put on his best I-don't-have-time-for-this attitude. "What is it, then?"

"I was wondering what you are doing next Hogsmeade weekend," Draco mumbled.

It was all Seamus could to not to show his surprise. "Well, since it's not for another few weeks, I hadn't really given it much thought."

"Do you think we might meet? I mean, at the Inn, the way you do?" Draco stopped for a moment and took a breath. "You know, confidentially."

Now Seamus was downright confused. Unless Ginny was off her rocker, Draco was not gay; Seamus certainly didn't get that vibe from him. He didn't think he wanted to share a bisexual Draco with Ginny. They were close but not that close. Still, he'd rather that Draco came to him than to someone else. "If you like. Do you think you can stay out of detention long enough to go?"

"I can take care of myself, Finnigan." Draco put out his cigarette.

Seamus snorted. "Really, Malfoy? Could've fooled me." As Draco scowled, Seamus held up a hand. "Look, if you want to go, I'll contact you later with the time."

Draco nodded. He hesitated, then walked into the school.

Seamus stood and watched as Draco went inside. He couldn't begin to imagine what Draco Malfoy would want with him.

Chapter Text

Most candy making is an art—and most candy recipes require a considerable degree of patience, time, attention, and practice to get right. Being well prepared is absolutely vital. Timing is crucial …
—Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker, The Joy of Cooking

 

14 October 1996

Seamus Finnigan took only three things seriously: his friends, his hair and his healer training. The last of these brought him to Highly Advanced Potions seminar three times a week. Although he had no love for Professor Snape, he was determined to soak up as much knowledge and technique as possible from the man. With war coming, a friend's life could be in his hands, and he was damned if personal dislikes would derail his learning. His determination over the last year, if not his talent, had won him the grudging respect of his professor.

But lately he'd found it more difficult to maintain his focus. His rather confusing feelings for his friend Dean were not the problem. Thinking about Dean made him feel calmer, even more focused because Dean was so calm and focused himself. No, the distraction came from one of the other students in the small class, a student who had started sitting next to him every day. Seamus had been wondering what Draco Malfoy really wanted since Draco had asked him out two weeks earlier, and with the Ginny complication, he thought discretion the better part of valor and kept his own counsel.

This was difficult, since Draco made it a point to sit just a little too close to Seamus. Far enough not to attract attention but close enough for lots of accidental brushing of thighs and upper arms, usually followed by a sly smirk. This irritated Seamus no end. He was used to having the upper hand, to controlling any interaction whether he was the pursuer or the pursued. He decided to do what he figured Dean would do—wait Draco out and keep his own reactions to a minimum. Draco wasn't so attractive that Seamus was in danger of losing control and not nearly as sexy as he thought himself.

On this particular Monday afternoon however, Draco was not playing any of his usual little games but was absorbed in the tricky pain relief potion Snape had assigned. Seamus wondered at this, then recalled Harry mentioning a Quidditch captains meeting that afternoon in Hooch's office. Draco must have been concentrating on his work so he could get out of class in time for that meeting. He was relieved; Ginny would certainly take that as a positive development.

Draco had only decided to accept the captaincy the night before, during the usual horrible conference with Snape. The head of Slytherin house had been directed by Dumbledore to keep Draco from total self-destruction. His presence at Malfoy Manor the night of Narcissa's death was an unfortunate complication that made Snape's weekly conferences with Draco even more of a sarcastic battle of wills than they would have been otherwise. Of course, it had been Snape that had tipped Arthur Weasley off to the gathering in the first place, probably saving Draco's life, but Snape couldn't tell him that. Nor could he openly encourage the boy's rejection of the Dark, even though he clearly needed some support against the animosity of his house mates. Snape wasn't sure he was doing any good at all in these meetings but he had been prepared to do whatever he must to keep Draco as the Quidditch Captain. As a practical matter, Draco was the only player in Slytherin skilled enough to rebuild the team after so many key players had left Hogwarts but more importantly, Snape suspected only Quidditch could bring Draco back from the brink.

Snape stirred from his thoughts to see Seamus and Draco standing before him. "Well? What is it?" he asked grouchily.

"We've each finished the first part of the potion. Where should we store them until next class?" asked Seamus.

"Leave them where they are; I will store them myself. You are dismissed." Snape turned away from them and back to his book.

Once they'd walked out of the Potions classroom, Seamus pulled Draco into a side corridor. "Still interested?" he asked Draco, half hoping that he wasn't.

"Damn Finnigan, you're demanding. I concentrate on my potion instead of flirting with you for one class and you're ready to drop me?"

Seamus rolled his eyes. He was finding all the cutsieness a little irritating. "Fine. Five o'clock, this Saturday, room 204. Got it?"

Draco smiled lasciviously. "Looking forward to it." He turned and headed for Madame Hooch's office.

Seamus turned out of the corridor and went down to the art studio, where he met Dean. "Am I late?"

Dean looked up from where he was grabbing a sketch pad. "No, right on time. Leave your stuff here. We're going out to the lake."

Dean had been sketching Seamus since they were eleven. At first Seamus had found it nearly impossible to sit still for as long as Dean asked him to but eventually he began to look forward to posing for Dean. It became their own private ritual. Even last year when they weren't doing much else together, they had done this. Justin hadn't liked that Seamus wouldn't let him come along nor that Dean wouldn't show him the sketches, but then Justin hadn't liked anything about Seamus that he couldn't control. Seamus had ceded a lot of things, even nearly his friendship with Dean, but on that point he would not be moved.

Once they reached the lake, Seamus and Dean walked into the tall grass at one end. Seamus sat down, leaning back on his hands with his legs outstretched. Dean positioned Seamus so that the afternoon sun fell over his left shoulder and across his chest, then sat down to the side about two feet away.

"Is it too cold to take your shirt off?" Dean asked.

Seamus shook his head. "I can take it." He unclasped his robe and took off his tie and shirt.

They sat silently for a long while, Seamus watching Dean sketch and seeing Madame Hooch and the four Quidditch captains in the distance, flying around inspecting the pitch. He breathed in the wet autumn smells of mud and fallen leaves and smoke from the fires in the castle. A slight breeze ruffled his hair but the sun was warm enough to keep him from shivering. He had a sense that all was right with the world and sighed deeply because of it.

"Is my bare chest turning you on, Dean?" he teased.

"Mmm-hmm. You always turn me on, Seamus," Dean said in that frustratingly mild way of his.

Seamus responded by sticking his tongue out at Dean, making the other boy chuckle. "So, how's Kevin?" he asked, having resolved to be a good friend.

"He's fine," replied Dean. He'd heard of taking things slow but this was ridiculous. He wouldn't have even been sure they were still dating but that Kevin had said something about Hogsmeade the last time they spoke. Sure, Dean had had dinner at the Ravenclaw table some four or five times since their first date but Kevin never really acted like he was with Dean. Seamus was more attentive. Hell, Harry was more attentive. Dean had a feeling that once Quidditch season started in earnest, he wouldn't be seeing much of the Ravenclaw captain. Well, maybe he'd get a quick how-do-you-do with Kevin before he got too bored. He was awfully cute which was doing wonders for Dean's ego. Though annoyingly, none of this kept him from thinking about Seamus.

"Going to Hogsmeade with him next week?" Seamus asked.

"Mmm-hmm," Dean replied calmly. "And you? Another mystery date?"

"Yeah," Seamus replied quietly.

"You don't sound very excited about it," Dean said.

Seamus shrugged. "I'm pretty sure nothing's going to come of it."

"Really? If he's so resistant to your charms, why are you going out with him?" Dean asked, a slight edge to his voice.

"He asked me out but he's really interested in someone else," Seamus admitted.

"So what are you going to do about it?"

"Hopefully, get him to admit it and do something about it, and get out of my hair. That's the plan, anyway," Seamus explained.

Dean stopped sketching for a moment. "Seamus, do you think that you can say a few magic words and people will do what you tell them to do? You're not that powerful a wizard," he said.

Seamus rolled his eyes. "No, I don't think that. I don't tell people what to do, anyway."

"Oh, you don't?" Dean raised his eyebrows.

"No, I don't. I show people what they want to do, already," Seamus replied.

"Oh, so you're not Seamus The All-Powerful, you're Seamus The All-Knowing," Dean said.

"Look, can we drop this?" Seamus barked.

"Consider it dropped," Dean muttered. "We're done here, anyway." Dean closed his sketchbook and rose to leave.

Seamus stood and put his shirt and robe back on, tucking his tie into his pocket. Looking up he saw Dean heading back to the castle. Seamus thought about what Dean had said and realized suddenly that he couldn't expect him to be able to see inside his head the way he used to; the time with Justin had ended that. Maybe they could get it back though, even if they were just friends. He caught up with Dean and reached out for his shoulder. "Hey?"

Dean stopped but didn't turn around. "Yes?"

"I don't want to fight with you," Seamus said sadly.

"We're not fighting. I'm not angry with you." Dean turned to face his friend and said, firmly, "I know that the Justin thing threw you. But running everyone else's life is not going to make you feel more in control of your own. You've got to trust someone at some point."

"I—"

"No, you were right. Let's drop it. It's time for dinner anyway." As they walked back to the castle he said, "Hey, you'd better button that shirt or all the boys will be running after you."

Seamus grinned. "I knew you were turned on! You just do this sketching to get me out of my clothes, don't you?"

Dean chuckled. "Yes Seamus, it's all part of my master plan."


Having come in a bit late to dinner, Dean and Seamus had sat with Harry who'd come in late himself from the Quidditch captains' meeting. They lingered at their table chatting until the house elves, in their way, made it clear that the Great Hall was closed. By the time they arrived in the Gryffindor Common room, it was packed with studying students.

Dean went directly upstairs to change, while Harry and Seamus walked over to the table where Hermione and Ginny sat huddled over a parchment.

"Hey, what's going on?" Seamus asked.

Ginny looked at Hermione, then at the boys. "I'm still trying to write this note to Draco." It felt odd, admitting that to Harry. She hadn't talked to him about her feelings for Draco though she knew he'd figured it out that night at the Burrow. "It keeps coming out wrong. I think I've gone through about five feet of parchment in the last week."

Harry nodded. "Draco's playing Quidditch after all. He was at the captain's meeting today."

Ginny smiled. "Thanks Harry, that's good to know."

Seamus asked, "So, what have you decided to say to him?"

"I'm asking him to meet me in Hogsmeade next weekend. I figure it will be easier to talk in a public place, someplace neutral."

Seamus thought quickly. "Have him meet you a little late. Say, six o'clock."

Ginny looked confused. "Why?"

"Um, it will give him more time to think about it. And maybe you'll get dinner out of him."

Ginny nodded. "Okay, that's fine." She wrote for a moment.

Harry leaned over the table and asked, "Ginny, are you sure this is what you want?"

Ginny looked Harry directly in the eyes and nodded. "I've never been as sure of anything else."

"If he hurts you again, I'll kick his arse," Harry declared.

Ginny laughed. "You'll probably have to stand in line behind six or seven large red-haired men."

"Speaking of which," Harry said, "you'll have to talk to Ron about this sometime, if you're going ahead with it."

"Well," said Seamus a bit overly loud. "Speak of the devil."

Ron walked into the common room, his chess men in a box under his arm. Seeing that all his roommates had afternoon plans, he'd invited Padma to an early dinner at the Gryffindor table followed by another game of chess.

Ginny quickly hid her note to Draco under the other parchment on the table. "Who won?" she asked.

Ron rolled his eyes. "Padma. I think she's charmed our nook. I registered a protest with the judge but it was overturned," he joked.

Ginny gathered up her courage. Ron was usually in a fairly docile mood after an encounter with Padma; now was as good a time as any. "Ron, can we go someplace and talk?"

Ron looked confused. "I suppose so. Why?"

"Oh, I'll tell you when we get there." Ginny slipped the note to Hermione for safe keeping, then led Ron out of the common room.

Hermione watched them leave. "That conversation is not going to be pretty."

"No," Harry agreed. "Well, I'm off to take a shower."

"Please do," Hermione said.

"Hey!" Harry protested. "There are plenty of witches who like my manly scent."

"Well, I am not one of them." She remembered how nice Jack had smelled. Jack was not some big sweaty jock. Though he was nicely toned …

"Earth to Hermione?" Harry teased. "Where did you go?"

Hermione scowled. "If you must know, I was thinking about the very clean young man who took me out in Hogsmeade and how much I am looking forward to seeing him again."

"You never did tell me who that was," Harry said, curious.

"No one you know," Seamus said quickly, sitting in the now vacant chair next to Hermione. "Now run along to the showers, sports hero."

Harry held up his hands. "I'm going, I'm going. I'll see you later."

Once Harry was out of earshot, Hermione leaned over to Seamus and whispered, "Speaking of Jack, what do you have planned for us next?"

Seamus smiled devilishly. "I think he should meet Miss Pommery 1926, don't you?"

Hermione stared at him, a bit stunned. "Seamus, I don't know if that's such a good idea."

"Nin, what are we trying to do here?" Seamus reminded her.

"Yes, but—"

"But, nothing." Seamus put his hand on Hermione's arm to reassure her. "Don't worry. You won't let yourself get completely out of control and Jack's a very honorable guy. It will be perfectly safe."

Hermione thought for a moment. "Why do I trust you?" she asked.

"Because I am trustworthy." Seamus grinned, then said seriously, "Because you know this is for your own good. On that first date, Jack met the intelligent, witty Jackie. He should also meet the sexy, fun-loving Jackie."

"I don't even know the sexy, fun-loving Jackie." Hermione sighed and looked at the floor.

Seamus rolled his eyes. "I do! I met her in London about a year ago." He bent his head to meet Hermione's lowered eyes. "Hey? You can't keep denying that she's a part of who you are."

"Acting like that in a club full of gay men and acting like that on a date are two different things, Seamus." Hermione looked back up at him. "Anyway, I don't think I can pull it off."

Seamus winked. "If you're wearing that orange dress you can pull it off."

She smiled, in spite of herself.

"Come on, Nin. You need to stop being afraid of this."

Hermione let out a long sigh. "Right as usual Finnigan, which is annoying. I'm the one who's supposed to be right all the time. You're the one who's charming and funny."

"So we switch places for a little while." Seamus paused. "Anyway, maybe being right will get me further with Dean. Charming and funny sure hasn't worked."


Ron and Ginny slipped into the empty Arithmancy classroom. Its several chalkboards were still covered with the multicolored diagrams of one of the more advanced classes. Ron walked down one of the aisles, then turned back to his sister. "So?" Ron asked.

Ginny hopped up on one of the desks, her legs dangling. She paused a moment to gather her courage and said, "We need to talk. About Draco."

Ron put his chess set down and leaned back against a desk, his arms folded. "I thought that was over. I hoped that was just a mistake on your part."

"It wasn't a mistake at all, Ron." Ginny sighed. "And it may not be over."

Ron tried but failed to keep his temper. "I just can't understand what you see in him! After what his father has done to Dad! After what he's done or tried to do, to all of us! Look at what happened to Hagrid and Buckbeak, not to mention the constant insults to Hermione! And what he said about Cedric Diggory!"

"Ron, keep your voice down," Ginny said. "He apologized for what he said, you were there."

"And you believed him? Come on Gin, he's a con artist," Ron replied.

Ginny sighed. The conversation was not going as she'd hoped. "This isn't about Draco Malfoy, anyway. It's about you and me."

"How?" Ron asked.

"I'm not a little girl anymore," Ginny replied. "You have to trust me to live my own life and make my own decisions."

"It's Malfoy I don't trust, not you." Ron scowled and walked away from Ginny, further into the classroom, his arms still crossed. He sighed, then said softly, "I don't want you to get hurt."

Ginny found herself smiling slightly, in spite of her anger. "That's the thing, Ron," Ginny replied, calmer now. "You have to let me get hurt."

"What about Colin?" Ron asked. "Or Harry? He's better for you than Malfoy. Anybody is."

"Harry doesn't want me," Ginny said. "Five years is enough time out of my life wasted chasing after someone. For all that Mum and everyone else have thrown me at him, he doesn't want me."

"How can you be so sure?" Ron challenged.

Ginny smiled and said in a quiet voice, "Because I know now what it feels like to have someone want you." She looked up at Ron. "You don't have to like him. You don't have to forgive him for the things he's done. You don't even have to get along with him, though that would make my life a lot easier. But you've got to trust me."

Ron sighed. "Ginny, you're my little sister. You're my responsibility."

Ginny shook her head. "No I'm not. You're barely a year older than me. You're my brother, not my father."

"But Mum—"

"Molly is still trying to run Bill's life and he's almost thirty. Why do you think he and Charlie live abroad? She'll never quit." Ginny paused. "I am responsible for myself. No one else is. How can I grow up if you people won't let me make my own decisions?"

"This thing with Malfoy is the wrong choice, Ginny. He's already hurt you once."

"It's my choice to make." Ginny walked toward her brother and took his hand. "I can take care of myself. If you're right, then you get to say, 'I told you so.'"

Ron sighed. "Can I scowl menacingly in the corner?" he asked.

Ginny laughed. "If it will make you feel better."

"I can't stop you?" he asked.

Ginny shook her head, then said firmly, "You can't stop me. You will only hurt our relationship. Never make me choose. I won't do it."

Ron raised his eyebrows at Ginny's resolve. "What if Malfoy makes you choose?"

"No double standards. He gets the same speech." Ginny looked up at her brother. "Come on, let's go back up to the Tower."

"I need to think about this, Ginny. I don't like it." Ron said as he followed her out of the classroom.

Ginny nodded. "I know. Think about it. But whatever you do won't affect what I do. I'll do what I want."

Ron looked at Ginny, surprised. "When did you get so determined?"

Ginny smiled. "I've always been like this. I'm a Weasley too, you know."


The next morning, Draco was eating his usual solitary breakfast when an owl swooped overhead, dropping a note next to his plate. He hoped it wasn't a communication from Lucius, but it didn't look like his handwriting.

Draco,

I know you're thinking of me and I wanted you to know that I am thinking of you, too. Can we meet? This Saturday in Hogsmeade? I will be at the Three Broomsticks at six o'clock. Please be there.

Ginny

PS—I heard you're playing Quidditch, after all. I'm very glad of that.

Draco wondered, as he put the note in his pocket, if that silly necklace had actually been a good idea. But he'd work out what to do about Ginny later.

Chapter Text

Dancing days are here again
As the summer evenings grow
I got my flower
I got my power
I got my woman who knows
—Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, "Dancing Days"

19 October 1996

Harry stood in the dorm room with Neville, waiting for Seamus to come back from wherever he'd gone. Today was his second date with Jackie and he was a little nervous. Seamus had arranged for them to go dancing at a local hang out but Harry wasn't sure that was such a good idea. He was no dancer.

Seamus ran in, a bit breathless. "Why aren't you dressed?" he asked.

"I don't know what to wear to this thing. You'd have changed what I chose anyway," Harry said, his nerves putting an edge on his voice.

"Come now, let's not be uncooperative." Seamus looked quickly through Harry's things before pulling out a rather faded knit shirt and holding it up to Harry. It was a little snug, unlike Harry's other clothes. "Put this on and take off your boxers."

Harry stared at Seamus. "Um, why?"

"You can't wear boxers under tight jeans! Sheesh!" Seamus pulled a pair of black button fly jeans from his own closet. He'd bought them tight but had filled out enough that they were now too small for him. "You can have these."

Harry slid the jeans on. They were snug but not tight enough for Seamus. He pulled out his wand and began to alter their fit slightly.

"Seamus!" Neville warned. "Tight is one thing but …"

Seamus laughed and loosened the jeans a bit. As Harry reached for shoes, Seamus said, "Boots please, not trainers." Harry rolled his eyes but did as he was told. Once he was dressed, Seamus performed the appearance spell and the three boys went down to the entryway to meet Susan and Jackie.

Jack couldn't see what clothes Jackie was wearing under her cloak but he could see Jackie's appreciative look at his outfit. He grinned and held out his hand. "Ready to go?"

"Ready as I'll ever be," replied Jackie. She winked at Seamus as she and Jack walked toward Hogsmeade.

Seamus looked at his watch. He had about 30 minutes before meeting Draco but he liked to be early; it gave him more control of the situation. He thanked Neville and Susan for their help, then headed off to Hogsmeade.


Ginny, meanwhile, was walking through the common room, only slightly nervous about her meeting with Draco. She'd felt much less upset since she'd sent the owl; she was confident this was the right thing to do. Still, in the back of her mind she wondered if he would even show up.

Hearing her name, Ginny turned to see her brother walking down the stairs from the boy's dorms.

"So, you're meeting Draco today," Ron said.

Ginny smiled weakly. "I hope so."

"Do you want some company while you wait?"

Her eyes widened. "Do you mean that?"

"Well, I have nothing better to do," Ron replied with a shrug.

Ginny smiled to herself. It was so like Ron to make such an offer then disguise it as convenience. "No Padma?" she teased.

"She had other plans. Which I found out about before I asked her, thank goodness." Ron walked down the stairs. "I'm doing this for you. I haven't changed my mind about him."

Ginny nodded. She knew Ron wasn't nearly as intractable as people thought but she was very glad he'd come around, even a little. "I accept that."

"I still think you're making a big mistake, Gin," Ron said.

"I know," Ginny replied, taking Ron's arm.

"Well, as long as we understand each other." Ron smiled, then added, "Anyway, I love you more than I hate him. I won't let him take you away from me."

"Neither will I, Ron," Ginny promised as they passed through the portrait hole.


Jack and Jackie walked into the club Seamus had directed them to. It was dark and a bit dingy, and smelled rather strongly of beer and cigarette smoke. A sign near the door announced that the band performing that evening was The Takers, a classic rock cover band. (Jackie had been amused when the bands her parents had listened to when she was a kid had become the "cool" music among wizarding teenagers.) It was warm inside as there was quite a crowd, and Jack and Jackie put their cloaks up on pegs in the back of the room. As Jackie took her cloak off, Jack couldn't help but grin.

Jackie was wearing a bright orange dress that came to her mid thigh, an expanse of leg framed between the hem and the top of her knee-high boots. The top was low-cut with straps just wide enough to conceal her bra.

Jack leaned over to Jackie and asked, "Where do you keep your wand?"

Jackie grinned. "In my boot," she answered. "Where's yours?"

"Can't you tell?" Jack winked.

Jack cut through the crowd, leading the way to the bar. The band was too loud for them to talk over comfortably so they stood at the bar, leaning against each other and watching the wizards and witches crowding the dance floor. Jackie guzzled her pumpkin juice, trying to remember grapefruit juice and flashing lights to conjure up the party girl within her. Then, she heard a familiar guitar riff.

"Zeppelin!" she shouted.

"Who?" Jack asked.

"Led Zeppelin!" she yelled back, leaning close to Jack's ear. "My father used to play this all the time when I was a kid. I would dance to it in the house when I was like, four." She reached down and grabbed Jack's hand. "Come on! Let's go!"

Jack put down his glass and followed Jackie out onto the dance floor. His uncle hated rock, so Jack didn't have the independent knowledge of classic rock that Jackie had; he only knew what was played on WWN. He vaguely remembered this song from the radio and figured it was a popular one, as the floor was even more crowded than it had been a few minutes ago. He leaned over to Jackie and shouted, "What's this song?"

"Whole Lotta Love!" she shouted back. She closed her eyes, raised her arms above her head and as the drums kicked in, she undulated with the beat of the song.

Jack stood for a moment, surprised. He'd never seen a girl dance like this right in front of him. He looked around at the other dancers and started to move like some of the other men he saw, which turned out to not be that difficult. But as soon as he'd got the hang of it, the drums and bass dropped out of the song until all that was left was the guitar and a ching-ching-ching on the cymbals.

The dancers all slowed down and Jackie opened her eyes to see Jack standing before her. She walked toward him, wrapping her hands around his neck, and began to move slowly against him. He put his hands on her hips and vaguely remembered Parvati teaching he and Hermione how to lambada at his birthday party. This sort of dancing he could handle. He pulled Jackie even closer until his hands were wrapped around her waist and they swayed to the rhythm together.

Then the drums kicked back in and Jackie jumped out of his arms to dance alone again for a few moments before the band stopped again and the singer was on his own: "Way down inside!"

Jackie and several others screamed back at him, "Woo!" Then somehow Jack and Jackie were at the center of the stage, in front of the singer.

"Woman! You need love!" The drums kicked back in again and the driving rhythm of the bass and the guitar, and the singer pointed to Jackie and sang, "Shake for me, girl!"

She proceeded to do so, turning from the singer to Jack as she did so. All too soon the song was over and everyone was clapping and shouting for the band. Jackie, out of breath, pushed her hair back from her forehead, and smiled at Jack.

Jack impulsively reached out and pulled Jackie into his arms and kissed her. He wanted to say something complementary but all he could think was, "Who is this girl?"

If Sirius or Remus had been there, they would have recognized his expression as another Potter being run over by a truck.


Seamus sat in the window seat, smoking a cigarette and thinking, when he was roused from his reverie by an impatient knocking at the hotel room door. He rose to let Draco in.

"Well. I wasn't sure you'd show up," Seamus admitted.

"I always do what I say I'm going to do," replied Draco.

There was an awkward pause. Seamus looked at the floor, then out the window, then back at Draco. Seamus had basked in the gaze of other men before, but this felt different. He supposed that was because he wasn't sure what Draco wanted. He put out his cigarette in the ashtray.

Draco leaned back against the door, crossing his ankles. "So, what usually happens up here?"

"What do you want to happen?" Seamus asked.

Draco crossed the room in three steps and put his hands on Seamus' shoulders. He paused for only a second before planting a very solid kiss. Seamus was so surprised it took him a moment to react, but he began to relax into the kiss, almost in spite of himself. It took a moment before Seamus could gather enough wits about him to push Draco off. The other boy, off balance, fell backwards onto the bed.

"Hey!" Draco yelled. "What was that for? Isn't that what you do up here?"

Seamus wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Not necessarily, no. Usually there's a bit of talking first."

Draco leaned back and stared up at the ceiling. "Talking about what?"

"Boys. Coming out. That sort of stuff." Seamus pulled a chair over next to the bed and sat with his feet on the bed, rocking the chair onto its back legs.

"Coming out?" Draco snorted. "I thought this was Seamus' House of Shagging."

Seamus sighed at the familiar rumor. "I've never shagged anyone up here, actually," he admitted.

"Then you're even dumber than you look, Finnigan," Draco said.

"That isn't why people come up here," Seamus replied.

Draco smirked. "Really? That isn't what Justin said."

The mention of his ex-boyfriend set Seamus' teeth on edge. He pulled his feet from the bed, his chair tipping forward with a thump. "Justin is full of shit," he said, his temper flaring more than he meant it to. "He doesn't know a damn thing and he always thinks the worst of every situation. Usually because that's what he would do."

Draco nodded, as Seamus calmed down, then asked, "So why do people come up here?"

Seamus shrugged. "To talk in private, I suppose. They know that I'll understand and I won't tell anyone they were here." He smiled slightly, thinking of his own experience. "Not everyone at Hogwarts was lucky enough to come out at the same time as their best friend."

Draco shook his head. "You expect me to believe you're that selfless? Sure you are."

"I don't give a shit what you believe," Seamus replied. "I'm just trying to figure out why you're here. If it's to piss off Lucius by fucking a half-breed wizard, you've come to the wrong place."

Draco flinched. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Seamus rolled his eyes. "Being gay isn't about making your parents angry. Frankly, I should be insulted. Coming out is about getting to a place where what people think is less important than being who you are. When's the last time you made a decision without worrying about what other people would think, Malfoy?" he asked.

Draco sat up on the edge of the bed. "Since I got back to school, Finnigan. Since my mother was killed."

Seamus shook his head. "You haven't been doing what you want. You've just been doing the opposite of what think your father wants." He began to count on his fingers as he recited the list: "Skipping class, acting out, coming here, almost quitting Quidditch. In fact, staying on the team is probably the first independent decision you've made."

"Fuck you."

Seamus chuckled. "That was eloquent. I expect more from you, Malfoy." Seamus rose from the chair and sat on the window seat, pulling out another cigarette. "Smoke?"

Draco rose and accepted a cigarette and a light from Seamus, then sat at the foot of the bed.

Seamus looked at Draco. "We both know one thing you never stopped wanting, all appearances to the contrary. I bet there's an owl post burning a hole in your pocket right now."

Draco looked up, surprised. "How did you—oh. I bet you helped write it."

Seamus smiled in reply. "You know, you can get what you want and still piss off Daddy. She's a Weasley, after all."

Draco dragged on his cigarette. After a minute, he said, "What time is it, then?"

Seamus looked at his watch, then said sternly, "You have fifteen minutes. You were late coming here. I do not suggest you be late going there. I also suggest you tell her you were here. Because if you don't, then I will."

Draco stared out the window for a while, thinking. Then he looked at Seamus. "So, healer, is it?"

"Looks like," Seamus said.

"Ever thought about doing mental stuff?"

Seamus shook his head, smiling. "Dean says I would become insufferable."

Draco cocked his head. "Why aren't you with Dean, anyway?"

"Honestly? When you figure it out, tell me because I don't fucking know."

The two boys sat quietly smoking, then Seamus said, "Well, we should go."

Draco stood. He felt as though he was being led off to the gallows or to nirvana but he wasn't sure which. Either way, everything was changing, really fast.


Jack and Jackie danced on, Jackie telling Jack what songs they were listening to and Jack gradually getting comfortable enough to nearly keep up with Jackie's dancing. Jackie found dancing with straight men rather different than dancing with gay ones. Gay men might appreciate how you look as an aesthetic statement but straight men made you feel sexy. Jackie remembered how people had stared at her at the Yule Ball two years ago but this was different. Then, they'd just been shocked to discover she was a girl. Now, they were giving her energy and she was feeding off it and dancing even harder. She didn't think she'd want to do this alone but she trusted Seamus and Seamus trusted Jack, so she felt fairly safe. Besides, she had her wand.

At last the band stopped for a break. Jackie looked at Jack and thought of the boys in the corners at the clubs. She took his hand, whispering in his ear, "Let's sit down."

He nodded and led her through the dispersing crowd to a booth at the back of the room. They were both sweaty from the dancing, and Jackie remembered that conversation she'd had with Harry about manly smells. Maybe there was something to that, she thought, as she slid very close to Jack in the booth. They sat for a moment, catching their breath. Then Jackie turned to Jack and pulled him into a kiss.

Jack leaned into the kiss, turning to wrap his arms around her waist. Being who he was, Jack had never had a woman tackle him like this but he rather liked not having to take the initiative. Their bodies moved closer and closer until somehow Jackie was almost on top of him. He used his foot to push the table out slightly, then slid his hands over her hips to pull her more fully into his lap.

Jackie put her hands on either side of his head to kiss him even more deeply. She was Miss Pommery now, and Jack wasn't going to forget it, even when he found out who she really was.

As if he could read her mind, Jack pulled back slightly and whispered, "I need to know who you are."

Jackie nodded. "Not tonight. Next time. I have an idea." She leaned down for another kiss, and they sat snogging in the booth until Jackie heard the band starting up again.

She disentangled herself from Jack and said, "Come on, let's dance."

Reluctantly, Jack stood and led Jackie back to the dance floor.


Ginny, sitting at a booth at the Three Broomsticks with her brother, checked her watch. "Right, you need to go now, Ron."

"Why?"

"He'll never come over if you're sitting here glaring at him. We need to talk by ourselves." She kissed him on the cheek. "Thanks for waiting with me. Now be a good boy and go sit at the bar."

Reluctantly, Ron got up from the table and walked over to an empty stool. No sooner had he sat down than Draco walked in, followed by Seamus. The look on Ginny's face when she saw Draco made Ron queasy but he resisted the urge to make a scene, if only for his sister's sake.

Seamus sat down at the bar next to Ron. "Steady as she goes, Ron."

Ron turned to Seamus and growled.

Draco meanwhile was making a beeline to Ginny's table. He sat down next to her and said, "You wanted to see me?"

Ginny's stomach fluttered, but willed herself to remain calm. "You've been running around like an idiot," she said bluntly.

Draco avoided eye contact. "I've had a bad couple of months," he said, shrugging.

"You deserved them, for being such a bastard," she said.

Draco turned, surprised that Ginny was being so direct. "Did you ask me here to insult me?"

"No," Ginny replied, clutching at the seat with her hands to keep her voice level. "I asked you here because I wanted to know if the boy I met this summer is still in there somewhere."

Draco shrugged again. "What do you think?" he asked.

Ginny reached into her robes and took out her pendant. "I think he is."

Draco stared at the pendant. "Why do you still have that?"

"Did you really think you could get rid of me so easily?" Ginny asked softly, shaking her head.

Draco blinked twice, staring at Ginny. He looked from her eyes to the fish, merrily flipping at the end of its chain. "I'm sorry," he said at last, looking down at the table. "I reckon I wasn't thinking at all."

Ginny took his hand. "You're going to have to start thinking for yourself now."

Draco nodded, his eyes focused on their clasped hands.

"Do not disrespect me ever again."

Draco looked up at Ginny, seeing the same steely determination she'd had that summer. "No," said Draco quietly.

"Are you quite finished behaving like a complete prat?" Ginny asked, gently.

"Yes," said Draco. He felt like a scolded puppy.

She smiled. "Good. Are we going to have dinner?"

Draco's heart lightened. If Ginny was thinking about food, things were back to normal. "Yes, of course, if you want to."

She raised one eyebrow. "And when are you going to kiss me?"

Draco leaned over and kissed Ginny. When he sat back, he saw her looking at him, smiling calmly. It was as though all the confidence he used to have had been transferred to her. Or had that been confidence? He looked up to the bar, and saw Seamus physically restraining Ginny's brother. He'd forgotten about that part. Driving Ron to distraction was definitely going to be a nice fringe benefit.

At last he spoke. "I'm tired."

Ginny was looking across the room at the menu on the chalkboard. "You should be," she said casually. "You've been doing a lot of unnecessary fencing. Let it go."

"But they—"

She turned to look at him. "Fuck them" she said, matter-of-fact. "Do what you want."

Draco had never heard Ginny curse before, about anything. His surprise must have shown on his face, because she spoke again.

"What do you want, Draco Malfoy?" she asked, seriously.

Draco's reply was automatic. "I want to kill my father."

"I'm sorry, he isn't here just now," she said. "Anything else?"

Something in Ginny's tone made Draco feel that he was back on his feet again. "I want to get out of here and snog you senseless," he said, playfully.

"Very well, but can we eat first?" asked Ginny, signaling to the waitress.

Draco chuckled. "Practical girl."

Ginny shrugged. "Romance is for kids. And I can't kiss properly on an empty stomach. I'd just try to eat you."

"That can be arranged." Draco grinned and raised his eyebrows.

Ginny rolled her eyes. "Get your mind out of the gutter please, Malfoy."


Jack and Jackie left the club after a while, hungry after all that dancing. They stopped by a street stand to grab pumpkin and meat pasties to eat as they walked back to Hogwarts. They ran through the chilly fall night, stopping occasionally to kiss the crumbs off each other's mouths. When they got to the entrance, they were laughing and breathless, and ran up to Seamus shouting, "We have a plan!"

Seamus stood in the door, his arms crossed. "Oh?" he asked.

Jackie replied, "We want to be revealed. Next date."

Seamus frowned. "At the beginning?"

Jack shook his head. "No, at the end. We want to wait out the charm."

"In private," Jackie added firmly.

Seamus raised his eyebrows. "So, you want the room?" he asked.

Jack and Jackie nodded.

"You can't go back, you know," Seamus said.

Jack and Jackie looked at each other, then nodded again.

Seamus turned to look at Neville and Susan, who were standing just behind him. They shrugged. Neville whispered, "Isn't this what you wanted, Seamus?"

Seamus looked back at the couple and said, resigned, "Very well. Jack, go with Neville. I'll go to Jackie first."

Jack gave Jackie a last, lingering kiss then followed Neville inside and up to Gryffindor Tower. As the others walked to the prefect's bathroom, Seamus said, "Right, what happened tonight?"

Jackie started to laugh. "I did you proud, Seamus. Miss Pommery 1926 came out in all her glory!"

"Are you sure you want him to know who you are?" Seamus asked. Jack and Jackie were progressing much faster than he and Sirius had planned which Seamus didn't like one bit. It certainly wasn't like Hermione to throw caution to the wind like this.

Jackie gave the password that opened the bathroom door and looked in, then pulled the others behind her. She turned to Seamus. "Hey, this was your idea. Now, change me back so I can have a bath and get my other clothes on."

Seamus complied, hoping that he hadn't made a horrible mistake.


Sometime later, Harry was sitting on a couch before the fire, thinking, when he heard someone come into the common room. He looked up to see Hermione wandering in through the portrait hole. She was smiling a little to herself, and she had a small bag under her arm.

"Good day in Hogsmeade?" he asked.

"The best," she answered, stepping over his outstretched legs to sit next to him on the couch.

Harry felt a twinge of jealousy before remembering how spectacular his own date had been. "So, who's this bloke you're seeing?" he asked slyly.

Hermione shook her head. "Third date's the charm," she said. "If things go well next time, I'll tell you all about it."

"It's a deal," he agreed, shaking her hand.

Harry and Hermione slid closer to each other on the couch, losing themselves in daydreams as they stared at the fire.

Chapter Text

The better work men do is always done under stress and at great personal cost.
—William Carlos Williams, "Spring and All"

31 October 1996

Harry Potter was dreaming. He and Jackie were flying above the trees on Sirius' motorcycle. She felt perfect nestled behind him, her arms around his waist. The wind whipped through their hair and the sun shone down upon them. He was about to land in a grassy clearing when several Death Eaters came flying out of the trees on broomsticks. They attacked the motorcycle, stalling the engine. When the bike began to shudder in the air, Jackie lost her grip and fell off the side. Harry turned and tried to grab her but he couldn't reach her. As he watched her falling to the ground, out of the corner of his eye he could see one of the Death Eaters coming toward him—

Harry sat up in bed, trying to catch his breath. He felt his forehead but his scar didn't hurt. Just another garden variety nightmare, although he'd never had one of those dreams about any girl other than Hermione. Usually his girl-fantasy dreams, whether about Cho or one of the girls he'd dated last year, were separate from his getting-attacked nightmares but he didn't have enough brain cells firing to figure out why this dream was different.

Harry rolled over and peered out of the curtains at the faintly glowing magical clock on the wall. It was almost five a.m., late enough to just stay awake. He lit his bedside candle; it was a good two and a half hours until daylight. Then he reached next to his bed for something to read.

His hand came back up with the previous day's Daily Prophet and the new Witch's Weekly that his fellow Gryffindors had been teasing him with the night before. The cover photo was an unflattering candid of Harry taken near the start of the year in Hogsmeade someplace. (One advantage to being Jack that Harry hadn't thought about was that there were no cameras to avoid.) A large green headline proclaimed him Britain's most eligible wizard which he found revolting, as he was barely three months past the age of consent. Inside was an article full of lies and half-truths about his birthday party which was somewhat understandable as no one who'd attended would have said anything to the press. Lavender Brown might be a bit of a gossip but she never talked about Harry.

Harry moved on to the Daily Prophet. He skimmed the Quidditch results, noting with pleasure that Oliver Wood had been a success in his opening game as first-string keeper. He turned to the front page and saw more statements from Cornelius Fudge that recent disappearances had nothing to do with rumors of the return of "You-Know-Who." Harry rolled his eyes. He recognized some of the disappeared as the Death Eaters that he'd seen eighteen months ago during Voldemort's macabre ceremony. Thus far, according to Mr. Weasley, no Muggles or Muggle-born wizards had gone missing, only suspected followers of Voldemort, and for that Harry was thankful. He had a lot of friends to worry about, like Dean and Seamus. And Hermione.

He wondered about this new fellow that Hermione had been seeing. She hadn't been interested in anyone since she and Ron broke things off which Harry found odd. Hermione was a great girl. She should have someone special.

And why wasn't Ron as interested in the new boyfriend as he was? Weren't they both her best friends? Well, maybe Ron was distracted by Ginny and Draco. Ginny had always struck Harry as being fairly headstrong; he thought Ron was fighting a losing battle there. Or perhaps Ron was paying more attention to Padma these days. Harry had a new girl of his own—a truly wonderful girl, the girl of his dreams—but that didn't him from wondering about Hermione.

Clearly, reading the Daily Prophet was not going to dispel the anxiety brought by his nightmare. He flung it back on the floor in disgust. He sat in bed for a moment, feeling a bit sorry for himself to be honest. Then he reached for parchment, quills and ink. He owed Oliver a congratulatory letter on being moved up from reserve. Hermione had hinted that a housewarming present for Oliver and Percy would be appropriate but Harry didn't know the first thing about what to get them. Well, maybe Jackie could help him pick something out in Hogsmeade this weekend. She'd know who he was soon enough, anyway.

As he dated the top of his letter, he realized that it was Halloween. In the blur of classes and Quidditch practices he'd completely forgotten about it. He set aside his letter to Oliver and decided to write a quick note to Jackie. Since their second date, they'd been passing little notes via Seamus almost daily. Harry kept every one Jackie sent filed away in a box at the bottom of his trunk. As with the rest of his notes, he disguised himself by trading his usual scarlet ink for blue and printing in block letters:

Jackie,

Happy Halloween. I am sorry that we will not be able to sit together at the feast tonight but I hope you will have a nice time. I can't wait until Hogsmeade!

Jack

PS: Did I tell you that you are quite a dancer?

Satisfied, he folded the note to give to Seamus later, and turned to his letter to Oliver. One of the songs from that evening of dancing came back to him, and he sat writing and humming to himself, the gloom of his nightmare dispelled by the memory of a girl not named Jackie.


Ron and Padma sat in their usual nook, playing chess. Just finding time to play was difficult, between Quidditch practices and classes, not to mention Padma's music. As it was Halloween, however, there was no practice for anyone, so they met up after lunch.

"Ron, what's distracting you?" Padma asked, concerned. "That's the second bad move you've made in a row."

Ron looked down at the board to see one of his knights scowling back up at him. "Sorry," he mumbled, moving another piece in its place.

"You're lucky I'm not a Slytherin or I'd take advantage of you." Padma reached over and placed her hand on top of Ron's. "Well?"

Ron looked up at Padma. Something in her eyes made him think she'd be understanding. "My sister and that arse she's running around with," he muttered. He turned his hand and laced his fingers with hers.

"Hmm. I always felt rather sorry for Draco, actually," Padma admitted.

Ron raised one eyebrow. "Really?"

"Narcissa kept that house like a museum," Padma said. She sat back from the table but kept hold of Ron's hand. "My family has plenty of old, nice things but Mum puts them in glass cabinets so we don't have to worry about breaking them. At Parvati and my fifth birthday party, there were kids running around all over the place, but Draco just stood in the corner by himself, watching. It wasn't until we started the broomstick races that he really interacted with anyone." She shrugged, then continued, "A couple of months later, we went to his house for his party and there was no playing at all. You couldn't touch anything. Malfoy Manor is a cold, cold place." She shook her head. "Narcissa was kind, but distant. It's too bad he doesn't have a sibling. I can't imagine being alone in a house like that."

Ron didn't want to be compassionate about Malfoy, even for a second. "But Harry grew up in a house where no one cared about him and he's never been an obnoxious creep," he pointed out.

"I didn't say I like Draco. I said I feel sorry for him. There's a difference," Padma said gently. "I suppose I'd feel sorry for anyone growing up alone. I can't imagine it. I'm sure you can't, either." She winked at Ron.

Ron shook his head, smiling. "Though I wished for it, sometimes."

Padma laughed. "Me too, especially when Parvati was being idiotic. She's a smart girl but you'd never know it." She held Ron's hand a little tighter.

Ron looked down at their hands and then at Padma. "So, what do you think I should do about Malfoy?" he asked earnestly.

"Nothing," she replied flatly.

"Nothing?"

Padma sat up in her chair. "Ron, it's none of your business," she reproached. "Ginny's what, fifteen? She's old enough to make her own decisions. It's not like she's eloped."

Ron gasped. "Don't put ideas like that in her head!"

"Do you trust Ginny?" Padma asked quietly.

Ron grumbled, "What does that have to do with it?"

Padma leaned further toward Ron, her voice still calm. "A lot. Do you trust her?"

Ron slumped in his chair. "I suppose," he admitted.

"Then that should be the end of it. I know you don't like it but it doesn't really matter what you like or don't like." Padma shrugged.

"That's what Ginny said." Ron frowned. "You don't think I'm being stubborn?"

Padma smiled. "Not exactly. A trifle overprotective but stubborn may be overstating things."

Ron looked at Padma. He realized suddenly that she'd never raised her voice but she'd gotten her point across. He decided to take a chance. "What are you doing next weekend?"

"Nothing." She looked up at Ron and grinned. "Are you asking me out, Ron Weasley?"

"I am," Ron replied, nervously.

Padma's smile grew broader. "Well, it's about time. I'd love to go."

Ron smiled, relieved. "Hey, let's forget about the chess and go for a walk by the lake."

"I'd like that." Padma gave Ron's hand a quick squeeze before letting go. She started putting her chessmen away, ignoring their protests over the interrupted game. When she finished, she looked up at Ron who was staring at her.

"Ron? Aren't you going to put your chessmen away?" she asked.

Ron shook his head slightly, as though she'd startled him. "Oh! Right. Sorry." He opened his own box and took his pieces from the board.

Padma leaned back in her chair, her hands behind her head. Ron may not have noticed it but she'd definitely won that match.


"Are they spinning fast enough, Dean?" Hermione asked.

Dean looked up from where he was standing in the middle of the Great Hall to the small pumpkins twirling overhead. Professor Dumbledore had given Dean responsibility for decorating the hall for the Halloween feast and he in turn had asked Hermione to help him with the charms. He'd kept the usual large pumpkins in the corners of the hall and was adding old-fashioned candlelit jack-o'-lanterns to the lights above the tables.

"A little too fast, I think," he replied. "They should be revolving, not spinning like tops."

Hermione nodded, adjusting their speed. She paused for a moment, then asked her question as casually as she could manage. "So, what's going on with you and Kevin? Are you going to Hogsmeade with him again?"

"Looks like," Dean answered absent-mindedly as he adjusted the boughs of gourds and cobwebs that adorned the head table.

"Is it getting serious?" she asked, curious. She'd moved on to regulating the course of the bats that flew around the ceiling, making sure they didn't run into the floating candles and jack-o'-lanterns.

Dean shook his head and said, firmly, "No, and it isn't going to. I've decided to break it off when I see him again."

Hermione was surprised. "Really? Why?" she asked, looking at Dean. As she did, she lost control of a few of the bats. They suddenly swooped down, just missing her head.

Dean ducked out of the way of the flying animals. "We don't have anything in common. He doesn't pay much attention to me. You'd think I was eye candy on his arm instead of the other way around."

Hermione waved her wand, casting a charm that pulled the errant bats back in line. "I dunno, Dean. I always found you attractive. I know a certain Irishman would agree with me."

"Really? Well, that's as may be," Dean answered. He studied the centerpieces on the tables for a moment, deciding a change of subject was in order. "What about your mystery man?" he asked.

"He sent me another note today, that he was sorry he wouldn't be able to sit with me at the feast tonight." Hermione grinned. "Which reminds me, I think Ginny's going to try to put Draco at the Gryffindor table."

Dean winced. "Talk about bravery. What does Ron think about that?"

"I don't think he knows yet. Heads up," she called, as she lifted the last of the candles from the floor behind Dean into the air above the tables. "What should I do next?" she asked.

Dean stood in the doorway, inspecting their handiwork. "I think we're finished. Thanks for your help with this."

"No problem." Hermione pushed her hair back from her forehead and looked at her watch. "Wow, it's almost time for dinner. I need to run back to the Tower."

As the two students reached the top of the stairs, they could hear loud voices coming from the common room. The Fat Lady shook her head, fanning herself with her handkerchief. "They're battling again, I'm afraid," she said.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Red rover," she said and the portrait hole opened.

Draco was standing next to Ginny, his arms crossed. "I was invited," he said. "Not that it's any of your business, Weasley."

Ron shouted back, "I don't care who invited you! It's bad enough that you're here more than in your own common room these days. I'm not eating my Halloween Feast with a obnoxious prat like you!"

"Can't you two knock it off for one night? It's Halloween!" Harry moaned in frustration.

Ever since Draco and Ginny had gotten back together, Harry had been attempting to keep Ginny's boyfriend and her brother from killing each other in the middle of the Gryffindor common room. After three weeks, the stress of the constant conflict was wearing him down. That, coupled with the lack of sleep due to his nightmare that morning, brought a desperate edge to his voice.

Ginny, for her part, stood rigid with anger and frustration, her fists clenched. No matter how many times she'd asked them to cool it, the fighting had continued and she was at her wit's end. Seamus stood behind her, rubbing her shoulders and trying to soothe her nerves.

Hermione was walking over to Ginny to give her a hug when she heard a loud voice behind her.

"Enough!" roared Dean.

The common room fell silent and everyone turned toward Dean. His eyes were narrowed and flashing, and he was pointing his finger at Ron and Draco.

"What, are you five years old?" he said. "Clearly, making Ginny upset every time you two go at it won't make you stop. But don't you think Harry has better things to do with his time and energy than being your referee? He's got some serious shit to deal with and you two sure as hell aren't helping him, you're distracting him. If You-Know-Who could see this, he'd be rubbing his little hands together." Dean paused, then said sarcastically, "In case you haven't noticed, there's a war coming. Guess what? You ended up on the same side. So you two can go out to the Quidditch pitch at dawn with pistols or swords or numchucks or fucking rubber chickens for all I care, or you can shake hands and behave like gentlemen." Dean crossed his arms and glowered.

Ron looked from Dean to Harry to Ginny. Seeing no one rushing to his defense, he sighed, lowered his shoulders and turned to Draco, his hand outstretched.

Draco, who'd been staring at the floor during Dean's lecture, looked up and saw Ron's proffered hand and reached out his own to shake it.

"This doesn't mean we're friends, Malfoy," Ron muttered.

The corners of Draco's mouth turned up slightly. "I would hope not, Weasley."

Ginny let out a long-held breath. She walked past Ron and Draco to Dean and stood up on her toes to give him a kiss on the cheek. "My hero!" she said, beaming.

Dean smiled shyly. "I do what I can." To the others, he said, "Okay folks, show's over. Time for the Feast." He took Ginny's arm and led her out of the common room.

Seamus watched them go, then turned to Hermione. "I'm going to marry that man," he said dreamily.

"Of course you are, dear," Hermione chuckled. "But perhaps you should eat dinner first."


Draco had called a Quidditch practice for early the morning after the feast. He'd rebuilt the team almost from scratch, breaking with Slytherin tradition by choosing witches for two of the three chasers and the keeper position. Only their desire to win, and their grudging respect for Draco as a player, kept his teammates in line during practice. Otherwise he was just as much of an outcast as ever, particularly as he'd sat with the Gryffindors during the Halloween feast. However, Slytherin would be playing Ravenclaw in the first game of the season, which was less than a month away. The young team needed the practice.

Draco emerged from the broom shed, faced with six scowling Slytherins he somehow had to get to work as a team while he floated about with Cho Chang. How Flint had accomplished it he had no idea but he was dammed if a little thing like the Dark Lord (never mind Harry Potter) was going to keep the Quidditch cup from his grasp. He took out the Bludgers and the Quaffle, then took to the air. When he looked behind him, he saw that the team had not followed. He circled back to where they stood and hovered above them.

"If this were for my benefit," he said, calmly, "I would have gotten out the Snitch. But I'm not the one who needs the practice. Care to join me?"

Sullenly, the others grabbed brooms, bats and balls and followed their captain onto the pitch. Once there, Draco began to put them through their paces, drilling the chasers on reverse passes while the beaters, slightly above, batted the Bludgers back and forth. More than once, Draco ducked out of the way of an errant Bludger but chalked it up to the beater's inattention. After this warm up, the team ran through several plays and formations that Draco had drawn up for the season.

Draco weaved around the other players as they flew, shouting out commands and new plays, needing to be satisfied that they could execute them without his supervision. He knew he was not experienced enough as captain to keep one eye on the team and one on the Snitch. It seemed that more than his share of Bludgers were coming his way but he tried not to ascribe any significance to that fact.

Suddenly, he saw out of the corner of his eye one of the Bludgers heading straight for his head, and only a quick and perfect sloth grip roll kept him from the infirmary. He rolled upright, his eyes flashing. With a wave of his wand he removed the charm from the practice balls, so they hovered around him. The other players stopped, staring at their captain.

Draco floated above them for a moment, trying to keep his temper under control. He ignored the impulse to throw his broom down and flee the pitch. He reckoned he'd been doing enough running of late.

"While I'm aware that the first aim of any good beater is to take out the seeker," he said evenly, "it does the team no good if you can't tell your own seeker from the opposing one."

"Are you our seeker?" asked Crabbe sarcastically. "Lately you've been looking more like Potter's reserve." The rest of the team laughed at this—all except Darcy Hamilton, a fourth year and the new keeper.

Draco smirked. "Well Crabbe, we do have a reserve for you. If you'd rather not play, I can replace you easily, in time for next month's game. Just say the word."

The laughter stopped.

"I am the captain, chosen by our house master." Draco paused to let this sink in, as the rumor in Slytherin House was that Severus Snape had been a Death Eater himself. He then continued to berate the team. "I will not allow the petty pranks of infantile beaters to interfere with this practice. If you're not interested in winning the cup for Slytherin then go, by all means."

No one moved.

"I thought so. It would do you well to remember that while you're on this team, you will follow my instructions. Is that clear enough for you, Crabbe?" he asked dryly.

"Yes," Crabbe muttered, grudgingly.

Draco nodded. "Very well. The reserve team will be joining us soon; we'll run through formations until we start the scrimmage." He released the balls into the air and the practice began again.

As Draco flew to a lofty observation post, he could feel the eyes of Hamilton upon him. He turned to look at her and she kept his gaze for a long moment. It was the first time in months that he could remember a housemate looking upon him with anything other than disdain. Then he was distracted by Zabini dropping the Quaffle and Hamilton returned to the double eight loop drill he'd set for her.

Chapter Text

If I had met you on some journey
where would we be now . . .
would you have taken me upstairs
and turned the lamplight low?
would I have shown my secret self
and disappeared like the snow?
—Suzanne Vega, "Some Journey"

9 November 1996

Jack walked down from Gryffindor Tower with Seamus and Neville. He was excited to finally find out who Jackie really was, but he was also concerned that once she knew who he was, everything would change.

Jackie came from the hall to the prefect's bathroom shortly thereafter. Jack thought she looked as beautiful in her jumper and jeans as she had in her orange dress. She walked right up to him and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. Seamus was making one of his usual speeches but neither were paying much attention. Finally he handed over the key to the room and they were on their way.

They proceeded to Hogsmeade in silence. Once they reached the streets of the village, Jack found his voice.

"Well, I don't know about you," he admitted, "but I'm nervous as anything."

Jackie smiled. "Me too. We should try to think about something else. Do you have anything you need to get while we're in town?"

"Well, I do have a friend I need to get a flatwarming gift for. He just moved in with his boyfriend but I have no idea what I should get them." He looked at her cautiously. If she had a problem with homosexuality, best find it out now, rather than when he brought her home to meet Sirius and Remus.

Jackie raised one eyebrow. "Are you talking about Oliver Wood and Percy Weasley?"

"How did you know about them?" Jack asked, surprised. "They weren't together at school."

Jackie covered quickly. "I overheard someone talking about them in the Great Hall the other night. I'm happy for them."

Jack sighed in relief, thinking quickly himself. "I used to play Quidditch against Oliver. Nice fellow."

Jackie thought for a minute. "Let's go into Dervish and Banges. I'm sure we'll find something in there."

An hour later, they emerged with a Jackie-approved magically heating and refilling kettle. They went to the post office, where he sent it to Oliver and Percy along with the letter of congratulations while Jackie busied herself browsing postcards. Errands done, they raided Honeyduke's and Zonko's and browsed through a few other stores before heading over to the Hogsmeade Inn.

Once inside the room, they removed cloaks and robes and sat on the edge of the bed, looking out the window at the setting sun. "Three hours to go," he said, trying to conceal how nervous he still felt.

"Exploding snap?" Jackie suggested, holding up the cards she'd just purchased.

Jack nodded, and they slid back on the bed to play. After a few minutes, Jackie said, "Jack, I just want you to know that I'm not usually as wild as I was a few weeks ago."

"Oh, I didn't think you would be, not all the time. You weren't on our first date," Jack replied mildly.

Jackie bit her lip. "Er, well, I'm not usually that forward, if you know what I mean."

Jack chuckled. "I wasn't expecting to have sex with you in this room, if that's what you're worried about. Don't misunderstand; I was hoping. I just wasn't expecting."

Jackie relaxed. "Would you settle for snogging?"

"Can I raise you to heavy petting?"

"Only if you ask nicely."

Jack brushed the cards off the bed with a sweep of his arm. He crawled toward Jackie and took hold of her shoulders, pulling her toward him and kissing her firmly. "Nice enough?" he asked.

"Keep asking," Jackie whispered, removing his glasses and putting them on the side table.

Jack eased Jackie down onto the bed and lay on top of her, raising himself up from her body with outstretched hands. They began to kiss slowly, each kiss deeper than the last until their tongues were entwined. Jack broke away and began a trail of kisses along Jackie's jaw to her ear. He sucked her earlobe into his mouth and bit it gently, eliciting a soft moan from Jackie. She had one hand on the back of his head, running her fingers through his hair and the other hand was on his back, slowly untucking his shirt. He released her ear, grinning to himself and moved his mouth down to her neck.

Her jumper was in his way; it had to go. He sat up on his knees and gazed down at her. Her hair lay in a fan across the pillow and her lips were kiss-swollen. She looked up at him through narrowed eyes, almost predatorily. "Why did you stop?" she whispered, her voice hoarse.

He reached down to the bottom of her jumper and began to slide it up her body, kissing the pale skin as it was revealed to him. She lifted her body up and he slid the jumper over her head and tossed it on the bed. He moved to kiss her again but she put her hands against his chest and demanded, "Shirt off now." He grinned and quickly pulled his partially untucked shirt off without losing eye contact with Jackie.

She smiled lustily and ran her hands along his shoulders then moved them down to his chest, feeling the soft hair and the firm muscles under her fingers. Her thumbs brushed against his nipples and she heard him moan softly. Encouraged, she raised one finger up to his mouth and he dutifully sucked it in, circling her fingertip with his tongue before allowing her to pull it out again. She ran her wet finger around one nipple, while pulling slightly on the other one, feeling them hardening under her touch. She then reached around to his back and pulled him towards her for a kiss.

The sun had set and the room was growing darker. Jack and Jackie were little more than silhouettes to each other now but neither moved to turn a light on.

Jack slid down Jackie's body slightly, cupping her breasts in his hands and placing a long wet kiss in her cleavage. He could feel her hands tracing patterns across his shoulders and neck. He squeezed her breasts slightly then moved his mouth over one of them, kissing the nipple through the satiny fabric. She arched up into his touch, gasping. Then she whispered, "Take it off, Jack."

It was so dark in the room now, he couldn't read her expression. Jack pushed himself up by the heels of his hands but hesitated for a moment. Hadn't she just said—

Jackie sat up on her elbows. "Why did you stop?" she whispered.

"You said earlier that you didn't want to do this," he replied.

Jackie found herself smiling. A sixteen-year-old gentleman? Who would have thought? "Don't worry. I'll tell you when to stop." She smiled at him. "I can take it off myself, if you like," she offered.

"I think I can handle it," he said, kneeling up to free his hands.

As he reached behind her, she put her hands on the back of his neck to pull his face closer and looked him in the eyes. "Are you sure you can handle it, Jack?"

He looked back at her in the dim twilight. He couldn't see the color of her eyes, but he could read what they said to him. This was no game.

"Yes, I'm sure," he answered, sealing it with a kiss.


Ron and Padma sat at a table at the Three Broomsticks, chatting happily, when Ron looked up to see Seamus approaching them.

"Can I borrow Ron for a minute?" Seamus asked nervously. "I promise to bring him back directly."

Padma nodded. "You two stay here. I think I see my Quidditch Captain across the way." She rose to leave and Seamus turned to watch her walking toward where Dean and Kevin were sitting.

"What could you possibly have to say to me that you couldn't say in front of Padma?" asked Ron testily.

Seamus sat down, rubbing the tops of his thighs with his hands. "Well, you know how Harry's been going out with this new girl but he won't say who she is?"

Ron nodded. "Yeah, he told me about that."

"And you know how Hermione has this new mystery man?" Seamus began to fidget with the salt shaker.

"Yeah. What about it?" Ron asked, a bit impatiently. He looked over to where Padma sat.

"Well, they've been dating each other. Only they didn't know it until tonight because I gave them each an appearance charm." Seamus paused, continuing to play with the salt shaker. "I just wanted you to know before they came in here together." He looked up, hoping Ron wasn't too annoyed at the secrecy.

"Yeah, Dean and I already figured that out." Ron looked over at Seamus. "Was that all you had to tell me?"

Seamus was astonished. "Um, yeah, that was all."

Ron smiled. "Well, I certainly appreciate your letting me know; that was quite thoughtful of you. Do you think you could send my date back over here for me?"

"Sure, Ron." As Seamus got up, he had a sense that Ron was laughing at him. He walked over to the nearby table where Padma was sitting with Kevin and Dean, feeling a little humiliated. This wasn't the best feeling to have when facing your own true love and his boyfriend.

Padma looked up. "All set? Well then, I'll go back to my bloke. See you guys later." She rose and walked back over to where she had been sitting with Ron, while Seamus remained standing in front of Dean and Kevin.

"So, where's your date, Seamus?" Kevin inquired, a bit nastily.

Seamus ignored Kevin's tone, for Dean's sake. "No date today," he answered, still preoccupied with how Ron and Dean had figured out his scheme. "Unless you count Sirius and Remus; they're supposed to be here soon."

"Why are they in town?" Dean asked, concerned. He knew that Sirius and Remus were helping Dumbledore.

Seamus shook his head very slightly. "They're here to see Harry. Ron says you already figured out why."

"All that cloak and dagger stuff you've been running around doing. Did you really think you could keep a secret from me?" Dean smiled at Seamus, shaking his head, then glanced at Kevin. Immediately he stopped smiling and stared at the table. There was an awkward silence.

Seamus looked from Dean to Kevin, and felt a wave of hostility from the other boy. He narrowed his eyes in response.

Then he turned to look out the window. The sun had just set, and the streetlamps shone brighter in the twilight. He saw his escape. "Oh, there's Ginny and Draco. I've been looking for them. Well, see you two later, then." As Seamus walked out the door, he wondered what he was thinking, getting into some territorial pissing contest. If he lost Dean to Kevin, it would be no one's fault but his own.


Ginny and Draco walked hand in hand along the street in Hogsmeade, each in a contemplative mood. At first, Draco had been coming around to the Gryffindor common room fairly frequently, not only to see Ginny but also to escape his fellow Slytherins. Antagonizing Ron had been a fun side project but Dean was right; it bothered Ginny too much to be really pleasurable. Frankly, he was wholly unused to caring about the effect his actions had on anyone around him. The few girls he'd dallied with had fallen at his feet and catered to his every whim. To say that his relationship with Ginny was different was an understatement. He felt like a juggler, trying to balance his own imperious, solitary nature with the rush he got every time he made Ginny smile.

Now Quidditch season had started in earnest, and he had a team to rebuild and a cup to win. He still felt a loyalty to Slytherin House, even if its current residents had nothing but loathing for him. His evenings were spent charting Quidditch plays rather than practicing hexes and his rage toward his father had begun to recede as more positive activities filled his days. Not just academics and Quidditch, but also scouring Hogwarts for those vacant classrooms and hidden nooks made for snogging. After the contentious post-Halloween practice, he thought it wise to stop behaving like an honorary Gryffindor. He was just as much a Slytherin as any of them and he refused to let their attitude alienate him. Besides, they were really just kids, romanticizing evil. They had no idea what the Death Eaters were actually up to. He hadn't understood himself, until they came knocking on his door.

He felt Ginny squeeze his hand. "What are you thinking about? Quidditch again?" she asked, curious.

Draco shrugged, trying to sound casual. "Nah. Mostly what you look like naked."

"Hmm, well, as long as it's me."

"Actually, you and Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown. Sort of a Witches of Gryffindor thing."

Ginny was about to make a smart remark when she heard Seamus calling her name. She turned to see him walking up to where she and Draco stood, near the Three Broomsticks.

"Hey, glad I found you. Can I talk to you for a second?" Seamus asked. "There's something I need to tell you."

Draco looked at Seamus in something of a panic. He hadn't quite gotten around to telling Ginny about their afternoon at the Hogsmeade Inn but he'd thought Seamus would give him a little more time to do it than three weeks. At his questioning glance, Seamus shook his head almost imperceptibly and Draco relaxed.

Ginny narrowed her eyes. "What have you been up to, Seamus?" she asked.

Seamus sighed. "Well, you know Hermione's mystery date?"

Ginny nodded.

"It's Harry. Sirius and I decided to use an appearance charm to try to get them together." Seamus scanned Ginny's face. "I should have told you before but, well, you had other things on your mind at the time." He glanced at Draco.

"Do you think it will stick?" Ginny asked calmly.

"Looks like," Seamus replied. "Unless they get freaked out but somehow I don't think that will happen."

Ginny held Draco's hand a little tighter, and brought her other hand up to rub her fish pendant. "Well, it doesn't really affect me, does it? Thanks for telling me."

Seamus nodded, relieved. "Sure."

Draco frowned as he looked at Ginny but her face remained blank. Beyond her, he saw two men walking toward them, holding hands. They looked familiar, but he didn't recognize them as Sirius Black and Remus Lupin until they were almost upon him.

"Seamus!" Sirius sang out. "Have we missed the unveiling?"

Seamus looked at his watch. "We have about fifteen minutes until the charm wears off."

Remus walked over to Ginny and enveloped the girl in a hug. He whispered in her ear, "How are you doing?"

"Fine, thanks," she replied. As she pulled back, she remembered her manners. "You remember Draco."

"Of course." Remus reached to shake Draco's hand, then said sincerely, "I was sorry to hear about your mother. I knew her at school. She was a kind woman."

Draco thought saying "that must have been before my father got his claws into her" might sound a bit churlish, so he settled for, "Thank you, Professor Lupin."

Remus shook his head. "Not professor anymore." Quickly dispelling any awkwardness, he pulled Sirius closer and said politely, "I don't believe you've met my friend Sirius Black. Sirius, this is Lucius and Narcissa's boy."

"Yes," Sirius nodded, shaking Draco's hand. "I'd know that hair anyplace."

"Technically, I'm not Lucius's boy anymore. Emancipated minor and all that. Not to mention the obvious," Draco replied drily.

Draco's determined expression reminded Sirius of another fatherless boy of his acquaintance. "The choice comes to everyone, sooner or later."

Then Seamus spoke up. "I hate to interrupt but we should probably head over to the Inn."

Sirius put an arm around Seamus' shoulders. "Did he tell you about our splendid plan? Brilliant, that's what it is."

Remus rolled his eyes at Sirius, then said, "We should really get going. We'll see you later, I hope?"

Ginny nodded. "We'll be around." She took Draco's hand and they moved down the street.

After a moment, Draco cleared his throat. "Gin?"

"Mmm?"

"Why was Seamus concerned over your reaction to this Harry and Hermione thing?" he asked tentatively.

Ginny sighed, annoyed with the topic. "Really Draco, all of Hogwarts knows that I had a crush on Harry at one time."

"Well, to be honest," he said awkwardly, "I wasn't paying that much attention. You were just another one of Potter's annoying sycophants to me then." Draco smiled slightly. He stopped in front of the alley next to Zonko's and turned Ginny to face him. "How long ago was 'at one time'?"

Ginny narrowed her eyes. "Why do you ask?"

"Just trying to get the timing straight."

Ginny looked at Draco silently for a moment. "If you're asking me if I am with you because I can't be with Harry, the answer is no."

"So if he came around now—"

"If he came around now I would say thanks but no thanks." She took Draco's other hand and pulled him closer, speaking to him with tender reassurance. "I'm not a Snitch, Draco. He can't just come swooping in and grab me out of your hands." She leaned toward Draco and kissed him. "And what's the cause of this unprecedented lack of confidence, anyway?" she asked warmly.

Draco winced. He had sounded jealous. "I got used to the sex, is all," he replied lightly.

"We haven't had sex yet, idiot."

Draco felt steadier on his feet; Ginny's smile always had that effect on him. "You won't be able to resist me for long," he teased.

"I'm doing pretty well so far," she replied

Gently, Draco steered Ginny so that her back was against the wall. "Don't be so sure of that." He gave her the sort of kiss that was meant to chase any lingering thoughts of Harry from her mind—or thoughts of anything else, for that matter.

Ginny caught her breath, then said, "Do you smell chips?"

"Hungry again?"

She nodded. "Also, I think we should get out of the habit of snogging in alleyways. It isn't the classiest image, you know."


After Seamus left, Kevin asked, "Can I get you another drink?"

Dean turned back to Kevin. "No, I'm fine but I think we need to talk."

Kevin sighed, pushing away his empty glass. "I think I know what you're going to say. You don't have to say it."

"I'm sorry. It isn't you, it's me." Dean winced at the cliché.

Kevin turned to Dean. "You bet it isn't me. You're in love with that best friend of yours."

Dean sat, blinking his eyes in surprise. "I—"

"You know what his reputation is, don't you?"

"Those are just rumors."

Kevin pressed on. "No smoke without fire, Dean. Has he ever told you who he dates?"

"I don't ask," Dean said slowly.

"I may be speaking out of turn here but I don't think he deserves you. I wouldn't like to see you get hurt." Kevin rose to leave but Dean grabbed his arm and pulled him back into the chair.

"You listen to me." Dean's voice was low and calm but it growled with anger. "Seamus Finnigan is a good man. Do not talk about him like that."

Kevin twisted from Dean's grasp, shaking his head. "Since you won't listen to reason, I guess you just need to get him out of your system. When he's through with you, well, you know where to find me." He got up and walked away from the table and out the door.

Dean slouched down in his chair. Was it so apparent to others how he felt about his best friend? Then why didn't Seamus seem to know? He'd been all but unrecognizable while he was dating Justin: skittish, meek, willing to do almost anything to keep the other boy happy. Dean wanted to believe that after this past summer in Ireland he had his old friend back but people change. He couldn't reconcile the rumors with the Seamus he knew but then he couldn't reconcile the Seamus that had dated Justin with the Seamus he knew, either. Dean closed his eyes as his thoughts chased each other round and round like a tiger spinning itself into butter.


Seamus, meanwhile, sat on a bench outside the Hogsmeade Inn with Sirius and Remus.

"And where's Dean?" Sirius asked.

"At the Three Broomsticks with his new boyfriend. You were right Sirius, he wasn't going to wait forever." Seamus slumped against the back of the bench.

"I can't imagine this boy holds a candle to you, Seamus."

Seamus leaned his head back over the bench, looking up at the darkening sky. "Are you kidding? Kevin Entwhistle is the Ravenclaw Quidditch captain, which means he's clever and has an incredible body. He's even kind. To top it all off, he's completely beautiful."

Sirius looked at Remus, who nodded. "I'm afraid he's rather reminiscent of a Nordic god."

"Hey!" Sirius objected. "You mean to say that you were scoping out the students while you were here?"

Remus rolled his eyes. "I'm not blind. Would you rather I'd carried on with Severus?"

Sirius shuddered.

"I don't mean to interrupt," Seamus said, annoyed, "but weren't we talking about me?"

"Sorry," Sirius said, putting his hand on Seamus' shoulder. "Got it bad, have you?"

"Thanks to you, yes I do. I thought I could just ignore it but that doesn't seem to work. It doesn't help that half of Hogwarts thinks I'm the original slut boy, including Kevin."

"Why?" asked Remus, confused.

"No one breaks up with Justin Finch-Fletchley and gets away with it. So he told everyone he knew that I was sleeping around. I figure defending myself would just give credence to the rumors, so I don't bother." Seamus sighed, sounding defeated. "I never thought Dean would believe them. I mean, he knows me better than that." He leaned his head back and wailed, "This is awful!"

Sirius nodded sympathetically. "You'll just have to wait it out. He'll give you another chance, I'm sure of it. Just make sure you don't hesitate, this time."

"Well, how did you do it? You two were friends first, right?"

Sirius winced. "I am not one to be emulated."

"No?"

"No," said Remus dryly. "Nearly making the object of your affection into a killer because you were in a jealous snit is one way to get his attention but I wouldn't recommend it."


The sun had set but the candles in room 204 had not been lit; the current inhabitants had abandoned exploding snap for games of another kind which generally did not require light. Suddenly she pulled away from him.

"What is it? Is something wrong?" he asked.

"Your hair. We've changed back. I recognize your voice." Her mind raced, trying to process what was happening. She pulled his hand up to her head. "You know this hair. You don't need to turn on the light to know who I am."

Harry raised his hand to Hermione's head and his eyes flew open. "Wow," he said, as if in a daze. "No, I know who you are. Although, now that I think about it, I always did know."

"So did I," Hermione admitted, glad for the cover of darkness. "I think we've gone past the 'should we stay friends' discussion, don't you?"

Harry nodded. "A bit late for that." He turned to the bedside table and put on his glasses, which had also changed back to normal. Then he lit the candle next to the bed.

In the light, Hermione suddenly remembered she was wearing only her jeans and they were undone. Feeling shy and exposed, she pulled her legs up to her chest, covering her breasts with her hands.

Harry turned from where he sat bare-chested on the bed and watched as Hermione curled herself up into a ball. "Put your hands down, Hermione," he said gently.

She looked at him for a moment, afraid to reveal herself, fearing she'd already revealed too much. Then he smiled at her and she put her hands down.

He reached over and pushed a strand of hair back from her face. "Why didn't you ever let me see how beautiful you are, Hermione?" he asked sadly. "Why did you have to hide behind someone else's face?"

"Couldn't I ask you the same thing?" she said defensively.

"My situation is different. You know that." He kissed her softly. "Why haven't I ever seen that side of you before?"

Hermione leaned back against the headboard of the bed and reached for Harry's hand. "Seamus calls her Miss Pommery 1926."

Harry, who'd slid over to sit to her, scowled. "Seamus has seen you like this?"

"That summer after fourth year, when Seamus and I were faffing about in London." She looked at Harry, smiling. "I was quite the party girl, if you can believe that."

"Believe it? I saw it in action. But why—"

"This place. The war. Ron. Miss Pommery wasn't the girl he wanted to go out with." Hermione sighed.

Harry snorted. "Ron would be terrified of Miss Pommery. Bloody hell, I was a little scared of her, myself. What does the war or Hogwarts have to do with it?"

Hermione suddenly felt as though everything she'd shrugged off over the last few weeks as Jackie had landed squarely on her shoulders. How can I possibly be Jackie if Jack is Harry? she thought frantically. "There's so much to get ready for, so much to do. I have to be focused, I have to be strong for—"

"For me?" Harry asked quietly.

Hermione nodded. She didn't trust herself to speak. She drew her knees up under her chin and buried her head in her hands.

Harry wrapped his arms around Hermione, pulling her head down onto his shoulder. He whispered gently in her ear, "Hey. You don't have to be anything for anybody. I don't want you driving yourself insane, cramming yourself into a box. That isn't going to help me or anyone else. Especially you."

Hermione sniffled. "But Ron—"

"Hermione, you're just as guilty of trying to get Ron to be something he wasn't as he was about you. I think you sell him short, sometimes." He looked down at her. "These are just excuses, you know, me and Ron and the war. You have to stop hiding."

Hermione sat up and wiped her eyes, nodding. Harry was right. If she couldn't be all of herself around him, then what good was any of it? She took a deep breath. "Okay. No hiding," she agreed. "You know, Seamus said that too."

Harry's eyes flew open. "Seamus! I bet he's waiting around for us to emerge so he can gloat. That little bastard." He turned to Hermione and smiled. "So, are we going to do this?"

Hermione cocked her head. "Kiss me again."

Harry, deciding he had nothing to lose, gave her the most scorching kiss in his arsenal.

"Well," breathed Hermione, "I guess we'd better do this, hadn't we? I mean, it would be a shame not to, wouldn't it?"

Harry nodded. "As long as you promise to trot Miss Pommery out at regular intervals." He gave Hermione another kiss, then released her and sat up to pull his shirt back on. "Who's her escort, by the way?"

Hermione, who was also dressing, stopped and thought for a moment. "As I recall, she rejects George Kittredge, who isn't right for her at all, and Mike Connor, who could be good for her but is better for someone else, in favor of C.K. Dexter Haven." She pulled her jumper on over her head and slipped on her shoes.

"I guess that makes me Dexter, doesn't it?" Harry winked. "Well, Miss Pommery, shall we face the music?"

"After you, Dexter." They donned their cloaks, grabbed their packages, and left the room.

As they walked out to the street, they could see Seamus sitting on a park bench opposite the Inn, as Harry had predicted. But he wasn't alone. "I should have known you were behind this!" shouted Harry.

Sirius laughed. "Well, you don't seem too unhappy about it."

"You're lucky," Harry teased.

"No, I'm perceptive," Sirius replied, exceedingly pleased with himself. "Come on, I'll buy the drinks and you can thank me." He and Remus led the way to the Three Broomsticks.


When they entered, Harry and Hermione went to look for a table while Sirius and Remus went to the bar for the drinks. Seamus scanned the room and saw Dean, sitting alone. He walked over to the table.

"All right?" Seamus asked, concerned.

Dean looked up. "Sure, I'm fine."

Seamus looked around the room. "Where's Kevin?"

Dean shrugged. "He left. I ended it. It wasn't what I wanted."

Seamus closed his eyes in thanks. Trying to sound sincere, he said, "I'm sorry it didn't work out, Dean."

"Really?" Dean replied with a mirthless chuckle. "I'm not."

"You look sad. Come join us."

"No, I think I'll head back to school. I'm not much fun tonight."

Seamus put his hand on Dean's shoulder. "Come on. You can mope later. We'll have a big pity party for our pathetic single selves back in the room."

Dean looked up to see Seamus smiling down at him. "Okay, I will. Thanks." He smiled back.

Sirius and Remus watched the encounter from where they sat with Harry and Hermione. "Where's Dean's new boyfriend?" Sirius asked, confused.

"Oh, they broke up," Hermione said dismissively. "Good thing, too. This whole Seamus and Dean thing is driving me to distraction. I wish they'd get on with it."

Remus laughed. "Says the girl who needed an appearance charm to—"

"Okay! So I'm a hypocrite!" She shook her head as the others laughed.

"What's the joke?" Seamus asked as he and Dean pulled some chairs up to the table.

"Me. But never mind me, look over there." Hermione nodded to where Ron and Padma were sitting . . . with Ginny and Draco. Granted, Draco and Ron were sitting as far apart as possible and they didn't look overjoyed but at least they weren't screaming at each other.

Remus nodded. "Good for her." At Sirius' questioning look, he said, "What? You think you're the only matchmaker around?"

Sirius leaned back a little, staring at Remus. "You're just full of surprises, aren't you?"

Remus smiled slightly. "I aim to please."

Chapter Text

All veils and misty
Streets of blue
Almond looks
That chill divine
Some silken moment
Goes on forever
And we're leaving broken hearts behind
Mystify
Mystify me

—Andrew Ferriss and Michael Hutchence, "Mystify"

22 November 1996

Ronald Weasley sat in History of Magic class, daydreaming. This was not unusual; Binns was dead boring, mumbling on and on about wizard convict settlements in Australia. There was no real reason to listen when Lavender Brown was so generous with her surprisingly excellent notes. So, as this was a class the Gryffindors shared with the Ravenclaws, Ron generally spent it alternately staring at, and trying not to stare at, Padma Patil.

After the implosion of his relationship with Hermione, Ron had led the life of a carefree, single bloke. Harry had been on a quest for the perfect girl. Ron went with a new witch every week because he never wanted to get that emotionally involved again.

Never mind that with war coming having someone who meant so much to you just seemed like more to lose. Ron had grown up in a house full of boys; girls were another species entirely. (Ginny wasn't really a girl but his sister, which was a different thing altogether.) One of the reasons he'd gone out with Hermione in the first place was that he thought he understood her. She was the most rational of the trio, so it seemed reasonable.

He'd had no idea how wrong he was until he was well into it. Even the fight after the Yule Ball fourth year didn't prepare him for the way Hermione changed once they started dating. She told him often and in no uncertain terms that she did not want to just add sex to their friendship like an extra sundae topping at Fortescue's. She wanted a boyfriend but no matter what Ron did he could not figure out how to please her. He thought she was irrational, she thought he was insensitive and the whole thing spiraled out of control. Of course it came to a head on Valentine's Day when the romantic evening he'd planned failed to please the "Goddess Athena." They were lucky they still had a friendship to save after that fight.

Casual dating was a lot cleaner. No expectations allowed. Keep everything light. Turn on the charm, have a nice evening, followed by a good night kiss (or something more, depending on the girl). Then thank you very much and out the door. Ron was so good-natured about the whole thing that he'd managed to avoid being labeled a Lothario. When girls dated Harry, they were hoping he would choose them as Miss Right, but all of Hogwarts knew Ron was only looking for Miss Right Now.

Then Padma snuck in when he wasn't looking. Had he known what would happen when he suggested that Harry include her on his birthday invitation, he might not have done it. At the time, he'd just wanted to make sure that there were girls around that were neither his sister nor his ex-girlfriend. Padma, though, was different from any girl he had ever met. He had tried the usual game on her at the party but she would have none of it. She wanted to talk to him, rather than just sitting back and letting his combination of flattery and flirtation wash over her.

It was damned peculiar, Padma's interest in him. Ron was pretty sure he wasn't all that interesting. That's why on most dates, he kept the chat about the girl—a little tip he had picked up from Charlie. Talk about himself and girls generally tried to steer the conversation toward Harry. Harry was like a brother to him but that didn't mean Ron wanted to take him along on a date.

Padma got him talking (and thinking) about serious things. She remembered what he said. She didn't tell him what to do; instead, she helped him figure out what he wanted to do. She cared, then he started caring and where had that gotten him? What if this was yet another disaster? Honestly, they hadn't even kissed yet and here he was, staring at her like a lovesick puppy.

At that moment, Padma looked up at Ron and smiled. Ron smiled back, his mind made up. He was definitely asking Padma to the Winter Solstice Ball. After all, he was a Gryffindor. There was nothing to be scared of.

Right.


23 November 1996

Dean sat on his bed, curtains drawn, going over some last notes. This would be his first game alone after taking over for Lee Jordan and he was nervous. Why he had pursued an activity that required him to talk, when he liked to think of himself as the strong silent type?

A sandy-haired head appeared at the seam of his curtains. "Don't be nervous, Dean. You'll be great!" Seamus reassured him with a grin.

Dean sighed. "And why won't you be there, again?"

"Dean! Surely you can see that I can more fully appreciate your play-by-play skills if I am not actually watching the game!" He slipped in through the curtains and sat down next to his friend on the bed. "Besides, I'm having a picnic with Hermione. Haven't seen much of her since she got an old man."

"Whose fault is that, then?"

"Good with the bad Dean, good with the bad. You should probably get going, shouldn't you? Don't you need to set up?"

"No, we set up yesterday, while you were—where were you, anyway?"

"Singing. Padma is working on some vocal arrangements and wanted to try them out."

Dean nodded. He remembered that at Harry's birthday party, Padma had discovered how well her contralto blended with Seamus' tenor and had recruited him as an occasional singing partner. "Ever the muse, aren't you, Shay?"

"O! To be immortalized in oils and harmonies!" Seamus proclaimed, throwing his hands out dramatically.

Dean chuckled, shaking his head. "Come on, then, let's go."

They donned their robes and headed down to the common room, where Seamus stayed to wait for Hermione while Dean walked out to the pitch with Harry, Ron and Ginny. Dean and Ron, being taller, began to stride ahead so Harry dropped back to walk with Ginny.

"Well," Harry began, "I feel like I haven't talked to you in a long while. How are things with Mr. Malfoy?"

Ginny smiled. "Things are as good as can be expected, thanks. You?"

"As good as can be expected doesn't sound all that good," Harry replied.

"Well, let's see," Ginny replied, matter-of-fact, as she counted off the months on her fingers. "August at the Burrow was bliss but looking back, I don't think he was all there at the time. Then, six weeks of hell. Then, some very intense weeks where I think he was trying to make up for everything he could have been doing the previous six weeks. Not just with me but with his classes and everything else."

"And now? Not so intense?"

"It's still not smooth sailing. Let's just say that now I understand what Percy means when he complains about being a Quidditch widow."

Harry winced and put his hand on Ginny's shoulder. "Do me a favor and don't tell Hermione about that term, will you?"

"Oh, she already knows it."

"Well, then I'm dead before I've even started, aren't I?" Harry looked at Ginny and they began to laugh.

Ginny waved a hand dismissively. "I'm trying to be positive about it. Now that I have all this free time, I'm talking to Dumbledore about starting an art salon."

"A what?"

"Last spring in Muggle Studies I read about these salons that wealthy women would have in their homes at the turn of the last century. It was a place for writers and artists of all kinds to get together and see each other's work and talk about art. Everyone doing anything artistic is so on their own here, like Dean or me or Padma. I thought we could support each other."

"You do artistic things?" he asked.

She nodded. "I've always been writing. I mean, if I can't get a short story out of what happened this summer and fall, I'm no writer. It's ambitious but I was thinking of having a party just before the Solstice ball where we can display art and some students can read poems. Maybe I can even talk Padma into performing."

"That sounds like a lot of coordinating."

"Quidditch widow, remember? Anyway, after I made the suggestion I found some people who wanted to help. Like Kevin Whitby, and Orla Quirke, who wants to work at a museum someday anyway. Besides, it takes my mind off other things."

"Such as Draco?"

Ginny nodded. "It's tough to watch him and know that you can't do much to help, that he has to work his way out of this himself. Quidditch helps; he's been a lot steadier since the season started."

"No, he's been a lot steadier since you two got back together. You may think you don't help but I think he depends on you for a lot." He paused for a moment, then asked, "Are you okay?"

"We're not doing this by ourselves. He has someone helping him and I have Remus."

"I would have suggested that, if you didn't. Remus has personal experience with this sort of thing. Unfortunately."

"I'm lucky to have him. So are you. What do you call him—your step-godfather? Your godfather-in-law?"

Harry shrugged. "I just call him Remus. It's easier."

Meanwhile, Ron and Dean had arrived at the grandstand so they stood waiting for Harry and Ginny, who had fallen well behind them. "So, Dean," Ron cautiously began.

"So, Ron?" asked Dean curiously. Anything to keep his mind off his nerves.

Ron looked out over the pitch for a moment, then said casually, "I guess Entwhistle has been giving the Ravenclaw team a tough time of it the last couple of weeks according to Padma."

"Really?"

"I had no idea you were such a heartbreaker, Dean."

"I broke his heart? It didn't seem to me that he was ever there."

"Look, this is in no way my business and you should feel free to tell me to sod off when I've finished."

"If you could take it from me a month ago," Dean said firmly, remembering his Halloween lecture to Ron and Draco, "I can take it now."

Ron turned to look at Dean. "This thing with you and Seamus." Dean opened his mouth but Ron held up one hand. "No, let me finish. If you two want to continue dancing around each other, that's your right. But surely you can see that involving other people is unfair. Did you ever give Kevin a chance, truly? Or was he just a distraction?"

Dean's eyes widened. "Ouch, Ron."

"Just ask him out already. Hermione and I didn't work out but I don't regret it one bit. We always would have wondered." Ron put a hand on Dean's upper arm. "It's worth it."

Dean nodded. He was glad Ginny and Harry had arrived; he wasn't sure what to say or even what to think. For the first time that day, he was actually looking forward to announcing the match and thinking about something other than the future Dr. Finnigan.

"Ron, are you sitting with the Ravenclaws?" Ginny asked her brother.

"No, why would I?"

"Oh! That reminds me," Dean said, roused from his thoughts. "I forgot to give you two something." He reached into his pocket and pulled out two small Gryffindor banners.

Ron furrowed his brow, confused. "Dean, I already have one of these."

Dean gave the other to Ginny, shaking his head. "Hold it in your hand."

"Right," Ron said, complying.

"Now, think about Padma."

Ron did, and the banner turned from scarlet and gold to the blue and bronze colors of Ravenclaw house. "Brilliant!" shouted Ron. He looked over at Ginny and sure enough, her banner was now green and silver. "Thanks, Dean!"

Dean nodded and headed over to the announcer's seats. "Nothing to it. See you after the game."

Ron turned to his sister to shake her hand. "Well, may the best, er, boyfriend or girlfriend win," he said.

"Ron, that's very sporting of you. Thank you," Ginny said, as she sat down between him and Harry.

Harry studied Ginny as Dean began to make some announcements prior to the game's start. Noticing, she turned to him and said, "Not such a little girl anymore, am I, Harry?"

Harry smiled. "No. Not such a little girl."


"It's really too bad for Pansy that she's a Slytherin. Green is not her color. Makes her look like a salamander."

Hermione giggled. "Seamus, that is an unnecessarily obnoxious comment."

"Nin, it is never obnoxious to tell the truth. Especially about Slytherins."

Seamus and Hermione sat on a blanket under a tree, watching the sun set beyond the Quidditch pitch. The remnants of a picnic of butterbeer, pasties and apples lay around them. From their spot, they could see Slytherins and Ravenclaws battling each other in the distance. From the sound of Dean's play-by-play, Ravenclaw had a comfortable but not insurmountable lead.

Seamus had recently and very self-consciously declared that participating in the "sport culture" was vulgar. Of course as part of his healer training he would be on call for all the Gryffindor games, but far be it for Seamus to acknowledge conflicting logic in any of his philosophical pronouncements. Hermione, for her part, wished he'd drop it. In the eighteen months since he had come out he had been trying out personalities like new robes but this one was easily the silliest.

"So who is the lucky boy for Hogsmeade next week?" asked Hermione.

Seamus sighed mournfully. "Honestly Nin, I think I need to take some time off. I've become the bloody gay Welcome Wagon. Every bi-curious boy at Hogwarts has been beating a path to my door."

"More like a path to room 204 at the Hogsmeade Inn."

Seamus replied by throwing his apple core at Hermione's head.

"Watch the hair, Seamus." She pulled the apple core from where it had stuck in her curls and chucked it back at its laughing owner. "Besides, it isn't like you've tried to avoid them."

"Well, better that their first time is with me and not that Hufflepuff bastard."

"Seamus!" Hermione rolled her eyes, then started the lecture. "I certainly don't hate Ron or want to keep him from getting together with Padma. Just because you two didn't work out doesn't mean you have to save the entire gay population of Hogwarts from your ex-boyfriend. "

This roused him from his ennui. "Justin Finch-Fletchley is evil. He's more of a snob than Draco ever was and has no concern for other people's feelings. I know what people say about me but to him, these blokes really are just conquests. Or worse, he takes advantage of their vulnerability to get something they have that he wants." He crossed his arms and scowled. "Draco owes me for getting him away from that one."

Her eyes widened. "Wait, you went out with Draco? Why didn't you tell me?"

Seamus waved his hand dismissively. "Oh, Draco was never serious. That was during his 'Sod off Lucius Malfoy' phase and I guess he figured running around with some half-Muggle wizard would give the old man a stroke. I just told Draco he wasn't gay ..."

"... I bet that's the only time you've ever said that to anyone ..."

"... and pointed him in the direction of the fetching young lass he actually pined for," he finished, ignoring her comment. "Luckily, as she's a Weasley, she could get Draco off and piss Daddy off at the same time."

"I guess that was your good deed for that month as King of the Matchmakers, wasn't it?"

"What can I say? Two loving couples in one year, brought together by my hard work. Now I need to start saving my romantic karma for me."

Then they heard Dean shouting, "Malfoy has gone into a sudden dive with Chang close behind him! And . . . Malfoy! Malfoy has captured the Snitch! Slytherin over Ravenclaw, 210-140!"

"The boys will be coming to get us soon." Hermione slurped the last of her butterbeer and put the empty bottle in the basket. "Dean did very well, didn't he? Didn't sound nervous at all."

Seamus nodded, grinning from ear to ear. "Dean is good at everything he does, I've found."

"Speaking of whom, how goes Operation Dean?"

"Well, he hasn't even noticed my t-shirt! I suppose he was too nervous this morning but still!"

She glanced at the Zimbabwe Zebras t-shirt he wore under his robes. "Well, I don't really know why you wore that. I've never known Dean to be all that Afro-centric. If you want him to think you are serious about him, maybe you should give it a little more thought."

"Thank you Hermione, Queen of the Know-It-Alls."

"Hey, don't take your lack of success out on me."

"I don't know what it is about Dean that puts me completely off my stride. I'm a pro at this! I know him almost as well as I know myself. Why can't I figure out how to seduce him?"

"Maybe because you actually care for him?"

He grimaced. "You really know how to hurt a bloke, Nin."


Ron walked down from the Gryffindor stands to the pitch itself in search of Padma. He caught up with her as she walked toward the changing rooms and grabbed her arm. "Hey, great game! Hard luck, though."

Padma turned toward Ron, a blank expression on her face. "Yes, hard luck."

Ron pulled closer to her. "Padma, you played exceptionally well for your first game! I'm sure Kevin will have nothing to criticize."

"Well, I do. We should have won that game. We certainly can't blame that all on Cho."

Ron had never heard this tone from Padma before. He wasn't sure what to say to it, so he moved his other hand to hold hers. But she pulled away, twisting her arm from his grasp.

"Look, I need some space, okay?" Padma's shoulders sagged. "I need to take a shower anyway."

Ron stepped back, surprised and a little hurt, though he tried to hide it. "Sure, of course. Dinner?"

Padma shook her head. "I don't think so. Maybe after dinner. We'll see." She began to walk away.

"Right, then. See you," Ron said, with all the false cheer he could muster. He stood in the crowd and watched as Padma walked toward the showers, then walked toward the booth. Perhaps he could still catch up with Harry and Dean.


Ginny found Draco standing near the entrance to the changing rooms, as his housemates congratulated the other members of the team. His wistful expression as he watched the other members of his house turned to a bright smile once he caught sight of Ginny.

"All hail the conquering hero!" Ginny yelled, jumping into Draco's arms.

He swung her around and kissed her firmly before setting her down. A month ago, he would not have behaved so openly in front of his housemates but at this moment he didn't care. It was his team, his catch, his victory to savor and all he wanted do was hold Ginny close and laugh like an idiot. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone approach.

"Congratulations, Mr. Malfoy," Professor Snape said with an odd smile, reaching for Draco's hand.

"Thank you sir," Draco replied, somewhat surprised. Since he'd agreed to rejoin the team and had generally become a functioning member of Slytherin House once again, his weekly conferences with Professor Snape had been much less tense. He'd actually begun to look forward to them. It made no sense that a confirmed Death Eater like Snape was helping him to work out which of his father's teachings to reject and which to believe; then again, the universe had generally stopped making sense for Draco the night his mother died. He was pretty sure that Dumbledore was behind the conferences but Draco was grateful for the help, however begrudgingly it was given. He certainly hadn't done well for himself on his own.

As Snape walked away, Ginny turned to Draco. "Dinner?" she asked.

Draco nodded. "Wait for me in the Gryffindor stands, will you?"

Ginny smiled. "Don't trust your housemates? I can take care of myself, Mr. Malfoy. Hadn't you noticed?"

"Believe me, I've noticed." Draco pulled Ginny toward him for a quick kiss, then said, "Tonight, we eat at the Slytherin table."

Ginny looked at him, surprised. He'd never invited her to eat with his housemates. At lunchtime they generally grabbed some portable food and ate in an empty classroom. For dinner they either sat with the Gryffindors, though that was less and less frequent these days, or ate separately, particularly if Draco had Quidditch practice. "Are you sure?"

Draco gave her a resolute stare. "Are you brave enough, Gryffindor?"

Ginny returned the look. "Just try me, Slytherin."

Ginny and Draco didn't notice that Darcy Hamilton, the Slytherin Keeper, was standing just behind them and had heard every word. Nor did they see her scheming expression as she quickly walked away to find some of her housemates.


Seamus and Hermione were still talking when Harry, Ron and Dean reached the tree.

"You ladies finished gossiping?" Harry grinned down at them. "Time for dinner."

Seamus pretended to be annoyed by Harry's familiar joke. "I'll have you know, sir, that I am all man."

"So I've heard, so I've heard. Hand up, Hermione?" Harry reached down and grabbed Hermione's hand, pulling her up from the blanket and into his arms for a kiss.

"Ron, give me a hand up?" Seamus gave Ron his cheekiest grin and raised his eyebrows.

"Not like that, I won't."

Dean, who knew the reason for Ron's sour mood, intervened. "Seamus, must you flirt with the straight boys? It only makes them irritable. Here." He extended his hand and pulled Seamus to his feet. "Why, exactly, are you wearing that ridiculous t-shirt? Who follows African Quidditch?"

Seamus didn't answer, deliberately avoiding Hermione's "told-you-so" smirk as he folded up their blanket and put it in the basket. "Seamus, let me help you put those things away," said Hermione, reaching for the empty bottles.

"Nah Nin, it gives Ron the opportunity to check out my arse without the others noticing." Seamus straightened, turned and winked at Ron, whose ears had gone pink.

"I never!" Ron shouted.

Hermione failed to stifle a chuckle. "Now Ron, you know he only does this to provoke you."

"Yes," said Seamus. "You know what people say about boys who loudly and often proclaim their heterosexuality!"

Ron stood with his arms crossed, scowling. "I fail to see the humor in this, Finnigan."

Seamus closed the basket and began to walk back to the castle. "We know, Ron. That's why we think it's so funny."

As the friends walked up to dinner, Dean said to Seamus, "Hey, let Ron be for the night, eh? He's having Padma problems."

Seamus winced. "Shit, I'm sorry. I mean, it was just the usual—"

"Seamus, it's fine. You know now, right?" Dean smiled at his friend. Then, as casually as he could he asked, "So, who are you accompanying to Hogsmeade next week?"

"No one," said Seamus with a shrug.

"Seamus Finnigan, dateless? I'm shocked."

Seamus rolled his eyes. "Yes, well, my reputation seems to be exaggerated. You?"

"Ah, I'll be single as well." Dean paused for a moment, took a deep breath and then said, "We should ... we should go together. With your healer training and my taking over for Lee Jordan, I haven't seen much of you this autumn."

Seamus' heart leapt. Dean just asked me to Hogsmeade! Play it cool, Finnigan. Aloud, he said, "That sounds like a great idea. We can do a little early Christmas shopping or something."

Dean shook his head. "Always you and the shopping, Seamus."

"It's a talent."


As Ginny and Draco walked into the Great Hall, he held her hand just a bit tighter, straightened his shoulders and looked at her, questioning.

Ginny returned Draco's squeeze and nodded her head. She was ready.

They sat side by side near the end of the table. It was nearly empty, most of the Slytherins having returned to their House after the Quidditch match. Draco was sure there was some sort of celebration going on in the common room but he was wholly uninterested in attending. They'd just begun to eat when he noticed someone standing in front of them.

"May I join you?" asked Darcy Hamilton.

Draco was speechless. He heard Ginny saying, "Please do," and introducing herself but it all sounded as if it were happening far away. He shook his head slightly, hoping to remove that feeling of cotton wadding in his ears.

Darcy said, "Congratulations on a good game, captain."

Draco nodded. "Thank you, Hamilton. You had a good game, yourself."

The girl shrugged. "Could have been better."

Draco looked toward the door. More Slytherins were beginning to enter the Great Hall. He looked at Hamilton but she didn't seem to be surprised. Instead, she looked up and nodded at her fellow house members. That's odd, he thought.

The students walked in and began sitting down. Instead of staying as far away from Draco as possible, as they had all year, they sat near him, though not a word was said. He recognized many of them as those Slytherins who had stood and toasted Harry Potter that day after the Triwizard Tournament—those same Slytherins whom he and his friends had "dealt with" at the first opportunity, who'd been cowed by the growing fascination with Dark Magic in Slytherin House.

Now they were gathering all around him, these housemates he hadn't spoken to in months, hadn't stood up for when they did something unpopular, had instead made it his business to intimidate. He turned to Ginny and then to Darcy. "What is all this, Hamilton?" he asked. By that time, slightly less than a third of the Slytherin students had sat at the table.

Darcy smiled slightly. "We just wanted to remind you, captain, that not all of Slytherin House is in thrall to the Dark."

Draco looked from Hamilton to the others seated at the table, then turned to Ginny, stunned. Well, part of the house is certainly better than none at all, he thought.

From the head table, Professor Snape watched the goings-on with careful detachment. Unlike the year before, those students that chose to shun the Dark had a figure to rally around. Of course, in his position he could not encourage them openly. Then again, he had been (and still was) a Slytherin. He would find a way.

Chapter Text

Do you dream to touch me?
And smile down deep inside
Or could you just kill me?
It's hard to make up your mind, sometimes

—Chris Robinson and Rich Robinson, "Thorn In My Pride"

 

30 November 1996

"Nin, please, your attention? Thank you. Which jumper—the black or the red?"

"Seamus, aren't you supposed to be my fashion guru? Since when does anyone ask for clothing advice from me?"

Seamus, Hermione and Harry sat in her room, into which Seamus had brought nearly his entire wardrobe.

"Since I'm headed on what may be the most important date in my life!" Seamus shouted. "Come on, black or red?"

"Seamus, don't be so melodramatic. Why couldn't you have dressed in our dorm, instead of bringing all this stuff up here?" asked Harry.

"Honestly, even I can answer that," said Hermione. "You can't dress for a date in the same room as your date. That isn't even remotely romantic."

"Ah, good point," he said, finally understanding. Harry's experience of homosexuality hadn't yet encompassed romance as Sirius and Remus were rarely romantic, at least around him. Seamus' relationship with Justin could scarcely have been called a romance, even at the beginning. "Well, if romance is what you want, I'd go for the black."

Hermione nodded in agreement. "The turtleneck makes you look very chic, with your hair and those slim trousers."

"Brilliant. I think I have some boots around here someplace." As Seamus began to search under the piles of clothing, there was a knock at the door.

"Yes?" Hermione said from the bed.

The door opened and Ginny popped her head in. "I thought I might find you here," she said to Seamus.

Seamus looked up, a pair of black leather boots with a cuban heel in his hands. "Are you sure you want this?" he asked, pulling the Hogsmeade Inn key from his pocket.

Ginny nodded, clapping her hands like a small child.

Seamus shook his head. "Don't be overeager, Ginny; it's unattractive." He tossed her the key.

"Thank you, kind sir." Looking at Harry and Hermione, she said, "Do not breathe a word of this to Ron." Then she walked back out of the room.

"Out by six o'clock!" Seamus called after Ginny as she shut the door. When he finished putting on his boots he turned to look at himself in the mirror. "Not bad. Well, who knew Our Hero had fashion sense?"

"I don't," said Harry. "Not innately, anyway. Everything I know, I learned from Sirius."

Seamus looked up at Harry. "Mmm, that godfather of yours is dead sexy. Well, anyone with a flying motorcycle is by definition sexy. Remus Lupin is a lucky man."

Harry smiled. "They're both lucky. Come on, we need to go."

"I'll hang back for a second, if you don't mind," Seamus said, still checking himself out in the mirror.

Hermione pulled Harry from where they were sitting on the bed, whispering, "He likes to make an entrance. Can't resist that walking down the staircase to his waiting date bit." Aloud, she said, "See you later, Seamus," and Harry and Hermione walked down to the common room.

Dean stood from the couch as he heard the footsteps. "Oh, I thought Seamus was with you two."

"He'll be right along," Hermione said. When Seamus had told her that Dean had asked him to Hogsmeade, she told Seamus to be cautious since the exact nature of the outing hadn't been specified. Then she saw that Dean had dressed up a bit, too, in a blue turtleneck and camel-colored jacket. The look on his face when Seamus finally appeared on the stairs was unmistakable. Satisfied, she led Harry through the portrait hole to give the two some privacy.

Dean couldn't find his voice until Seamus had descended the staircase and was standing before him. "Seamus, you look grand."

Seamus beamed. "So do you. You look . . . cool."

"Thanks, but where did you pick up that word?" Dean asked.

"From you."

"I'm a good influence, then."

"Very. Shall we?"

"Let's."


Ron Weasley sat alone in the small nook where he and Padma had been playing chess for the last three months. After their exchange at the Quidditch match, Ron decided to give Padma plenty of space—all the space in the world. He figured she knew where he was and she could come find him. But he hadn't thought it would take her a week. He ran his finger along the grooves in the table, remembering how she would do the same when she was concentrating on her next move, and sighed.

"I hoped I would find you here," said a soft, familiar voice.

Ron looked up. "Padma?" He stared for a moment. "Please, sit down, if you like," he said.

Padma slid into the other seat and smiled slightly at Ron. Then she looked down at her hands and said, "About last Saturday. I'm really sorry; I was obnoxious."

Ron leaned forward. "I wouldn't say that, exactly. We all need space sometimes."

Padma took his hands in hers. "Well, I need to be more gracious in asking for it. I was a brat and I apologize." She looked down at the table for a moment, then back up at Ron. "I'm afraid I'm rather a perfectionist. Doesn't go very well with team sport. Dad thought being on a team would force it out of me but it hasn't quite yet. I shouldn't have taken out my frustration on you. You've never done that to me." She looked away again, ashamed of her behavior.

"No? Seems to me that I spend the better part of October growling at you about my sister." He paused. "Just . . . don't push me away, all right?"

"All right," she replied, smiling. "So, will you accompany me to Hogsmeade?"

Ron looked around the nook. "I have a better idea."

Padma looked at him, one eyebrow raised. "Are you going to let me in on it?" she asked.

Ron grinned.


Ginny and Draco walked into Room 204, where Ginny immediately flung her cloak on the bed and sat down on the window seat. "What a crowd!" she said, looking out over the sea of people in the streets.

Draco took off his cloak and robe and hung them on the pegs near the door. He picked her cloak off the bed and hung it up as well, then stood with his hands on Ginny's shoulders and looked out the window. "Christmas decorations are up."

Ginny reached up her hand to hold one of his and tipped back her head to look at him.

He looked down, smiling slightly. "You're cute upside down," he whispered, kissing her. He moved to sit down next to her on the window seat, pulling her legs over his. Draco stared at her as he often did when she wasn't looking. She was leaning against the window, eyes closed, her hair aglow in the pale winter sun. He thought about the upcoming holiday and where he and Ginny might spend it, then wondered why, when contemplating a holiday without his family, Ginny should loom so large in his thoughts.

He gasped at he realized all at once that he was falling for Ginny and had been for some time. He'd been telling himself all along that it was just lust. Although their relationship was certainly very sensual, that was a lie. With Quidditch and catching up in his classes, not to mention getting his House back (part of it anyway), Draco was busy enough now that he had to make time to spend with her. Somehow, Ginny was his girl though he'd never done anything to claim her, as his father had taught; she'd just given herself to him. He wanted her, but that wasn't all of it; he needed her, but not as much as before. He was beginning to love her. He smiled to himself at the thought of it.

Ginny turned to him, opening her eyes. "What are you grinning about?"

He leaned forward and kissed her softly. "Have I told you that you have great boobs?"

At that, Ginny started to laugh.

"There!" he proclaimed. "Instead of saying 'how vulgar' or 'that's hardly romantic' you laugh! Amazing girl!" He pulled her toward him and they began to kiss in earnest, their hands threaded through each other's hair to pull their heads closer together, if possible.

Then Draco muttered, "Bed."

"Mmm?" she said.

He pulled back slightly. "Why are we sitting here, when there's a bed?"

Ginny swung her legs around and stood up. Smiling at him, she removed her robes before sitting down on the bed. "I intend to make you forget that you ever kissed anyone else in this room."

Draco climbed onto the bed. "Really?" he asked, raising his eyebrows. "And how do you plan on doing that?

She turned and pounced on top of him, legs straddling his, and kissed him, pushing his torso down onto the bed. After a moment, she said, "You know, I've never seen you naked."

Draco scowled in confusion. "Never?" he asked.

She shook her head. "Not all at once. Bits and pieces." She sat up and slowly pulled her jumper off, then leaned forward again to unbutton his shirt.

As she did, he lowered his hands to cup her bottom and push her hips into his. "Ginny, how far are we going with this?"

"No further than we have. We just have more time, and more privacy." She wriggled her hips slightly. "So responsive, Mr. Malfoy."

He tried to laugh but found he couldn't, quite, so he merely smiled. "Miss Weasley, you have no idea."


Hogsmeade was packed with students. Dean and Seamus wandered through the streets, stopping here and there to window shop, compiling their Christmas lists. Seamus was also looking for a present for a young aunt of his who'd just taken a new job.

"What sort of thing would she like?" Dean asked.

"Something feminine," Seamus replied. "Eccentric but feminine."

Eventually they found just the thing: a pretty bracelet that glowed red and gold (she'd been a Gryffindor in her day). Seamus had it gift wrapped and they headed to the post office to send it to Ireland. While Seamus spoke to the postmistress, Dean wandered off to look at some of the owls. Seamus finished writing the note, handed it over, and looked up to find Dean had stepped outside and was talking to someone who looked familiar to Seamus, even from behind. As Dean looked up at Seamus walking outside, the other person turned around.

Justin Finch-Fletchley.

Seamus fought to control his emotions. He inclined his head slightly in greeting. "Justin," he said in his coldest tone.

"Seamus," Justin replied. Then, seeing Dean look at Seamus, he crowed gleefully, "Oh, so you two are here together? Isn't that precious? Consolation date for you, Finnigan?"

"That isn't how I would characterize it." Seamus walked over to Dean, who squeezed Seamus' hand in support, then rubbed his thumb against the back. Seamus tried to conceal his surprise at the gesture.

Justin put his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. "I wouldn't get too chummy with that Irishman if I were you, Thomas. He's preowned and goes through boys faster than boxer shorts."

"I can take care of myself, thanks," replied Dean.

"Well, I'll leave you to it, then. Room 204, isn't it? Standing reservation?" Justin chuckled to himself before turning and walking down the street.

"Right, what was that all about?" Dean had turned to Seamus.

"I'll tell you later. I'd rather not discuss it in the middle of the street. Come on, let's get some butterbeer." Seamus pulled Dean in the direction of the Three Broomsticks.


Ron lay on a small purple couch, Padma in his arms, stomach full and heart content.

The two had converted their nook from a chess space to a cozy hideaway. The chairs had been transfigured into the couch and the game table into a small coffee table that fit perfectly between the couch and the edge of the nook. Some old bed curtains that Padma had found in a closet in her dorm had been colored purple and hung across the opening of the nook, hiding its occupants from the casual passerby. A small candelabra hung above the couch, as it had hung above the table and chairs before, and lent the small space a warm glow.

The remnants of a picnic procured by Ron from the kitchens lay spread on the table. Padma held up the small dish of fruit. "How on earth do they get fresh cherries in November?" She shook her head, then grabbed one by the stem and fed it to Ron. She rolled over so that she was facing him, her hands on his chest. "Do you know what I like about you?"

Ron raised his eyebrows and shook his head, his mouth still full of cherry.

"You never tell me how beautiful I am. You never mention it at all."

Ron discarded the cherry pit on the table. "Oh, that's because I don't find you attractive in the slightest," he said, straight-faced but with a twinkle in his eye. "You're rather an ugly thing, aren't you?"

Padma laughed and Ron smiled in satisfaction. He could often get the somewhat serious girl to smile but laughter was more rare. "Do you know what I like about you?" he asked.

"What?" Padma asked, sliding up so that her face was just above Ron's.

He looked at Padma intently. "You never mention my best friend."

Padma drew back slightly, surprised. "Best friend? You have a best friend?" she asked.

Ron smiled. "Dark hair, glasses. Dating Hermione Granger."

"Oh, him! Well, I never pay attention to boys shorter than six foot. Not worth my time, really." She looked at Ron. "Do you know what I just realized?"

"No, what?"

"You still haven't kissed me, Ron Weasley." She raised her eyebrows.

"I can remedy that," Ron replied, his voice suddenly hoarse.

Then, nearly two years after their first date and four months after their first game of chess, Ron Weasley finally kissed Padma Patil and immediately wondered what in the world had taken him so long.

Padma sat up slightly, her eyes dancing, and opened her mouth to speak. Before she'd uttered one word, Ron put his finger to her lips and threatened, "If you say 'checkmate' I will never kiss you again."

She laughed.


Seamus and Dean were lucky enough to get a corner booth and were silently working through pumpkin pasties and butterbeer when Seamus muttered, "Um, thanks."

"For what?" Dean asked.

"For taking my hand back there. That was good of you." Seamus looked up at Dean.

Dean faced out into the room. "I was just trying to keep you calm. You think, after over five years, that I don't know the warning signs of an explosion?"

Seamus smiled outwardly but inside, he groaned; there had been nothing in it at all. "So Dean, how goes the play-by-play? You sounded great last week."

With that, the conversation roamed through very non-personal topics: Quidditch, classes, dueling practice and the war that was always in the back of everyone's minds. As they chatted, Seamus couldn't help thinking how close Dean was sitting, how much he liked Dean's short curly hair and warm brown eyes, and how calm he always felt when he was around Dean. Not the affected ennui but a real, soul-deep equanimity. He didn't think he ever could have kept his head during his encounter with Justin if Dean hadn't been literally holding his hand through it. Even if it hadn't meant anything. Just like the fact that Dean's leg was pressed up against Seamus' and Dean's arm lay along the back of the booth just behind Seamus' shoulders didn't mean anything. Nope, Dean just wanted to be friends.

Eventually, they spied Harry, Hermione, Ginny and Draco coming into the door and beckoned them over.

Hermione slid in next to Seamus, whispering, "How's it going?"

"I have no idea," Seamus whispered back. "He's the king of the mixed signal."

Aloud, Hermione said, "We really only have time for one more round, then we have to get back."

"Our Prefect Speaketh" Harry teased.

"Well, how would it look if two Prefects were late back to school?"

"Hey!" Draco said. "Leave me out of this!"

As they got their drinks, Ginny said, "Let's drink to Slytherin Quidditch! Come on, just this once. Draco had an excellent game last week."

Harry groaned. "If anyone asks, I will deny I ever said this. To Slytherin Quidditch!"


Later, as they walked back to the castle, Dean said to Seamus, "Okay, out with it, Finnigan. What's with you and Justin? You broke up almost a year ago."

Seamus sighed. "Justin's just a really bad seed, you know? We had a thing. It didn't end well. I know you can take care of yourself but learn from my mistake—stay away from that bloke."

Dean paused. "If I'm staying away from him, where am I going to?"

Now, Seamus knew a line when he heard one. But he'd been waiting for Dean for so long, he wavered, unsure, thinking he could just have imagined the whole thing. Then he remembered Sirius telling him not to hesitate.

"Here" he said, reaching his hand up to the back of Dean's neck and kissing him. Dean's full lips felt so right, so perfectly right, that Seamus actually thought he heard music. As he tried to deepen the kiss, to part Dean's lips with his tongue, Dean pulled away.

"Oh, Seamus, I don't know about this," he said, looking away sadly.

Seamus let the frustration that had been building all day get the better of him. "Dean, what do you want? You've been sending me mixed signals all night. Are you in or are you out?"

"Maybe you should ask yourself that, Seamus." Dean, usually slow to anger, pointed his finger at Seamus yelling, "How serious are you? Has it occurred to you, Seamus, that you have a bit of a reputation? Has it occurred to you, Seamus, that I care about you more than that, that I don't like to see the way you run around? Has it occurred to you, Seamus, that I would rather not be just another notch on your infamous broomstick? Or should I say, a notch on the bedpost in room 204 at the Hogsmeade Inn?"

Harry, Hermione, Draco and Ginny, who'd been walking just ahead of them, stopped and turned when they heard the shouting, just in time to see Seamus punch Dean square across the jaw, then rush past them toward the castle.


Hermione caught up to Seamus as he entered the front doors of the school. He was holding his left hand and his eyes were beginning to water. Hermione embraced him and moved him up the stairs to Gryffindor Tower. Above them, she saw Ron, who was just going up to the Tower after saying goodnight to Padma.

Ron turned when he heard their footsteps behind him. "Hermione, had a fantastic date tonight—whoa, what happened to you, Seamus?"

Hermione looked up at Ron and shook her head. "I'm sure Dean looks worse. Ron, could you run down to the kitchens and get two bags of ice?"

Ron nodded and walked past them back down the stairs.

Hermione managed to get Seamus up to her room before he started to lose it entirely. "I can't believe that Dean of all people would believe these rumors!"

"Here, let me look at your hand. When's the last time you actually punched someone, Seamus?"

"Not for a while. I guess I'm a bit out of practice. I was pretty emotional."

"Yes, you were."

"I mean, he all but begged me to kiss him, standing there and saying, 'Where will I go?' Then he backs off from the whole thing. What does he want?"

Hermione stroked Seamus' shoulder, trying to calm him down. "Maybe he wants you to be patient. I can understand your frustration but did you honestly think that the minute that you were ready for him he would be ready for you?"


As Harry led Dean through the portrait hole, he saw Ron in the common room, two ice bags in his hands. "Hermione was right," said Ron, "you look awful."

Harry glared at his friend. "Thank you Ron, what a helpful thing to say." They walked up the stairs with Dean to their dorm room.

Once in the room, Harry sat Dean down on this bed and took one of the bags of ice from Ron. "Put this ice against your jaw."

"Seamus did this to you?" Ron asked. "What did you say to him?"

"I believe the line was, 'I don't want to be another notch on your broomstick, or the bedpost at the Hogsmeade Inn,'" Harry said.

Through his sore jaw and the ice compress, Dean mumbled, "Room 204."

"Dean, you don't actually believe those rumors, do you?" Ron asked. "Even I don't believe them. Sure, Seamus sees a lot of boys but then, I used to see a lot of girls. I didn't, you know, fool around with all of them. A lot of anyone's reputation is just spiteful gossip. I wonder who has it in so for Seamus."

A voice from the door said, "Finch-Flechtley, who's an utter bastard by the way."

"Malfoy?" Ron crossed his arms, annoyed. "How did you get up here?"

"Oh, like Ginny hasn't let me in before. Dean, she thought you might need to hear what I have to say. Weasley, no homophobic comments."

"I reckon I can hold my tongue, Malfoy, if you keep it short," Ron retorted.

"What do you have to say to me, Draco?" asked Dean, exhaustion showing in his voice.

Draco sat in a chair opposite Dean's bed. "A month ago, I was running around, acting like a little shit—"

"As opposed to four years ago, when you were running around, acting like a little shit?" Ron interrupted.

"Oi!" Draco shouted.

"What? That wasn't homophobic."

"You two are like children sometimes!" Harry stood up. "I trust you to control yourself," he said, pointing at Ron, "and you, Draco, not to provoke Ron and to get out of here without anyone seeing you." With that, Harry walked out of the room.

Draco turned back to Dean. "Anyway, I'd decided after the untimely death of my mother to get back at my father in every possible way. One of those ways was to hook up with Seamus. So I approached him and he said to meet him at the Inn."

"Room 204? I really don't think I need to hear this." Dean moved to get off the bed.

Draco held out his hand. "Wait, hear me out, please. When I got there, Seamus took one look at me and said that my actions were still about what others thought, especially my father. He's the one that told me that I should go for what I wanted. What I wanted was Ginny."

Ron scowled. "Nice way to talk about my sister!"

Dean turned to Ron, irritated. "Ron, everything isn't about you. Draco, go on."

Draco glared at Ron but held his tongue. "All I'm trying to say is, Seamus isn't up there in that room shagging like a maniac. Some of the boys that approach him are still questioning their sexuality or aren't ready to come out yet, for whatever reason. So Seamus has found a way for them to be able to talk about it without other people knowing. Since he's mysterious about who he sees, rumors fill the vacuum."

"What about Justin?" asked Dean.

"For once, I think Weasley's right." Ron blinked at Draco, who shrugged. "Finch-Fletchley is a arsehole. Those that he can't get some advantage from, he either runs over or ignores altogether. I think he spreads those rumors about Seamus out of spite. I don't know what they broke up about but Seamus must have somehow gotten the edge over him, so he's exacting his revenge."

Ron raised his hand. "Um, can I ask a question now?"

"What is it, Ron?" Dean said impatiently.

Ron asked Draco, "Does Ginny know about your, er, adventures?"

Draco smiled and shook his head. "Of course she knows. You can't fool Ginny. I thought you would have figured that out by now, Weasley. You've known her longer than I have. Dean, I do have to go but you know, I'm around." Draco stood and walked toward the door.

During Draco's speech, Dean had been staring at the floor near Seamus' bed where the Zimbabwe Zebras t-shirt lay, discarded. He looked up at Draco. "Thanks. Clearly, I've been a complete prat."

"No, Thomas, you just jumped to conclusions. We all do at one time or another." Draco walked out of the room.

Dean turned to Ron. "Well, what do I do now?"

"Apologize. If there's one thing I have learned from going out with all these girls, it's to apologize early and often. Gets you out of a lot more jams than you think it will. Of course, your apology has to be sincere or it just makes things a lot worse."

"That's comforting." Dean sighed, slouching against his pillows.


Harry ran up to Hermione's room with the other bag of ice and knocked softly at her door. She opened it a crack. "Oh, Harry, thanks, I wondered where Ron had got to."

"I intercepted him and got the other bag to Dean." he whispered.

"Who's with him, besides Ron?"

"Well, when I left, Draco was talking to him."

"I think I know what story he's telling Dean." Hermione's eyes flew open. "Wait, Draco's in your dorm room? With Ron?"

"Well, if anyone can keep them from killing each other, it's Dean."

Seamus called out from inside the room, "Harry, that you? You might as well come in."

Harry walked over to the bed and Hermione closed the door behind him. "Here's some ice for that hand. How are you?"

Seamus shook his head. "Merely heartbroken, thanks. No big deal. I finally figure out how to get the boy and he would rather believe rumors than his own supposed best friend."

Harry sat on the bed. "Seamus, if that's what he believes, don't you think it's because that's what you meant for him to believe? If you want him to know the truth, you need to tell him the truth. He hasn't exactly been your confidant these last couple of years."

Seamus sighed and lay his head back on the bed. "I've been an idiot. What do I do now? I've just made a mess of everything."

"I know one thing we need to do," Harry said. "We need to get back to our dorm and you need to swallow your pride and heal Dean's jaw."

Seamus nodded. He stood, receiving another hug from Hermione before following Harry back to their own room.

Neville had since returned, and he and Ron were sitting near Dean's bed, quietly talking. They looked up when they heard their other two roommates enter. As Seamus made eye contact with Dean, Harry beckoned to Neville and Ron and all three quickly left the room.

Seamus walked slowly over to Dean, trying to forget what had happened earlier and think like the healer he wanted to be. "I know this is awkward but you're going to have to let me take a look at it," he said to Dean as professionally as he could. He sat down next to him on the bed and pulled out his wand.

"I'm really sorry about all this," Dean said, his voice sad and muffled.

"So am I," Seamus replied.

Chapter Text

Sweet sweet pain comes with the sun
Lie down and soak it up
Burn off layers of insulators
Exposed
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
Always
Until the ocean covers every mountain high
Always
Until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea
Always
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."

Hermione nodded.

"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."

Chapter Text

"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.

"Ahem."

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 . . . "

"Jackie?"

"No, not Jackie."

"Like I did for the Yule Ball?"

"No."

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?"

Seamus nodded.

"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?"

"Yes, Seamus?"

"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?"

"Beater. Why?"

"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?"

"Perhaps."

"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."

"Mmm."

"I'm much calmer now."

"Mmm."

"I could go all night."

"Mmm."

"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."

"And?"

Dean shrugged.

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."

Hermione snickered.


"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?"

Dean nodded.

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."

Chapter Text

In the morning, the whole world had a strange new smell. It was the smell of the aftermath, a green smell, a smell of shredded leaves and oozing resin, of crushed wood and splashed sap, a tart smell, which bore some relation to the smell of bitten apples. It was the smell of death and destruction and it smelled fresh and lively and hopeful.
—A.S. Byatt, Possession

4 January 1997

Harry, Ron and Hermione sat at the Three Broomsticks drinking butterbeer and discussing the first Christmas in some years that they hadn't spent together at Hogwarts.

"You're just lucky," Hermione was saying, "that my father knows how to cook!"

"And how," Harry agreed. "Sirius and Remus may be able to decorate a tree, and they make a great breakfast, but Christmas dinner is well beyond their skills."

"Dad made dinner for the rest of our week at Chez Chien. I think he liked cooking for a houseful of people."

"Well, Mum fed you at the Boxing Day Buffet, at least," said Ron.

"That was such fun! How was Padma at meeting the family?" Hermione asked.

"She certainly won over Mum and Dad," Ron said. "Even Bill and Charlie's teasing didn't faze her."

"Well, from that smile on your face, I'd say it went well," Harry said.

Ron nodded, grinning. "What I want to hear about is the Triumph!"

Harry broke into a wide smile. "Ron, this motorbike is brilliant—"

"Well, it will be until you break your neck on it," Hermione said.

"You're one to talk!" Harry pointed out. "Your own mum had one and her neck looks pretty intact to me."

Ron's eyes widened. "Seriously, Hermione? Your mum had a motorbike?"

"Yes well, when Sirius heard that, the two of them started talking motorbikes and didn't stop until we left." Hermione rolled her eyes, then turned to Harry. "I say you will break your neck because you're never careful, Harry, not because it's a motorbike."

"Once I've mastered it, I'll take you out and you'll see how careful I can be," Harry said firmly.

"All right," Hermione said, "but I'll believe it when I see it."

Harry smiled at his girlfriend, thinking that he couldn't wait until he was proficient enough to take her riding as he'd dreamed of months ago. He hoped he could talk her into wearing something very Miss Pommery for the occasion—perhaps some tight jeans and a Led Zeppelin t-shirt, like the girls in the bike mags? Maybe if he got Seamus on his side . . .

"Harry? Hello? You with us, mate?" asked Ron.

"Oh sorry, what?" Harry asked.

"I said, there are Draco and Ginny, let's invite them over," repeated Ron.

Harry nodded but couldn't help trading secret smiles with Hermione. Ron would never have said anything of the sort just two months ago. Ginny had hoped that Draco would make a good impression on her siblings over Christmas; from the looks of things he had.

"Looks like you survived the Burrow at Christmas," Harry said as Draco and Ginny slid into the booth next to him.

"Apparently," Draco replied. "There were some close calls, though."

"I resent that," Ron said. "No one's ever been injured at the Burrow over Christmas."

"Not permanently, anyway," Ginny muttered.

Ron glared at his sister but said nothing.

"I'm sure it was a lot to take in," Hermione said. "I know I was overwhelmed the first time I visited."

Draco nodded. "It was three days before I could tell her brothers apart, and Fred and George weren't even there. Then there were tons of other people floating in and out, never mind the crowd at the Boxing Day Buffet."

"That was mostly just other people from the village, the Fawcetts and the Lovegoods," Ginny put in. "You know Nan Lovegood, she's in your house."

"Well, I know her but she never really spoke to me until recently. For obvious reasons." Draco paused. "Then we went to the Patils for the New Year."

"That was a very different sort of party," Ginny said. "Formal, and all the men in Muggle dinner jackets!"

Ron scowled. "Horrible things, those Muggle suits. Couldn't breathe for anything." He shuddered.

"It's some affectation of Padma's grandmother's," Draco said. "Easy enough to transfigure robes into Muggle clothing anyway, if you know what you're doing. We do it to keep the old woman happy. She's a bit eccentric but she knows everyone." He took a sip of his beer. "My father's friends didn't have the nerve to appear but it was nice to see that my mother hasn't been forgotten."

Ginny slid her hand over Draco's and he turned his over and squeezed it tight. "People came up to us all evening to pay their respects. I wish I could have known her." She was silent for a moment, holding Draco's hand, then she looked up toward the door. "Oh, there's Dean," she said, waving him over to the table.

Dean sat down next to Ginny, a butterbeer in his hand. "Seen Seamus? We're supposed to meet here but I expect he's late as usual," he said genially.

"Late for what?" Ginny asked. "Classes and activities don't start until Monday. What can he be late for?"

Dean smiled a little, then said, "We're returning the key to the Inn today."

Ron's eyebrows show up. "Using it first, I hope," he said.

Dean rolled his eyes. "Yes Ron, we'll be giving the room a proper send off before giving the key back, thanks."

"How was your holiday, Dean?" Draco asked.

Dean shrugged. "Christmas was the usual, dozens of cousins crammed into my gran's house. Owl posts from Ireland, that was nice. Then Seamus and I met up in London for New Years at his uncle's flat."

"Oh," Hermione said, "Mark had a party?"

"Well," Dean answered, "he did but not at his flat." Dean cleared his throat nervously. "He, er, he left that for us."

"Well, Dean Thomas, you sly dog," Draco said, amused.

"Draco!" Ginny said. "I'm sure it was very romantic."

"Where is Padma, anyway?" Dean asked.

"Rehearsing," Ron answered. "She went into a panic after the New Year when she realized the Salon was coming up. She doesn't feel prepared enough." He shrugged. "I told her she sounds terrific; so did Parvati. She won't listen to us."

"Are you talking about Padma? She won't listen to me, either," said Seamus, who'd come in as Ron was speaking and was now standing in front of their table, shrugging off his cloak. He gave Dean a quick kiss, then said, "I just heard the songs and they sound great but she's unconvinced. She wants to see you," he said to Ron. "She's pretty nervous; I certainly couldn't calm her down."

Ron nodded. "Well, I suppose I'll go see what I can do." He swallowed the rest of his butterbeer, then rose from the table. "See you all later," he said as he grabbed his cloak and left the pub.

Seamus looked around the table. "Can I get anyone a refill while I'm up?" he asked.

Hermione and Harry nodded, and Seamus turned to walk over to the bar.

Hermione looked around the table at Dean, Draco and Ginny, then chuckled a little to herself.

"What's amusing you?" Harry asked.

"Well," Hermione said, "I just realized that you and I are the only people at this table that haven't kissed Seamus."

Harry looked at Hermione for a second, stunned, then began to turn quite red. "Well, actually—"

"Don't tell me," said Hermione. "You? In that room?"

"No, no, nothing like that," Harry said quickly. "We were studying—this was the beginning of fifth year and Seamus was helping me with Potions—and we started talking about his coming out and my lack of a girlfriend and he asked did I ever think I was gay and I said I'd thought about it, sure, who hasn't and he asked had I ever kissed a bloke and I said no have you and he said a few and I said oh and you know how he is, he raised his eyebrows and before I knew it we were kissing and it wasn't bad but you know it was Seamus so it wasn't like my worlds collided or anything and I wasn't grossed out but I know I'm definitely not gay," Harry said, all in one breath. He looked down at the table, then up at his girlfriend.

Hermione looked at Harry, then began to smile, shaking her head. "That little slut," she said affectionately.

"Hey!" Dean said, though he was smiling. "That's my boyfriend you're talking about!"

"Who's talking about me?" asked Seamus as he reached the table, carefully setting down three pints of butterbeer.

Hermione, determined, stood up and took Seamus by the shoulders. He opened his mouth to say something and she pounced, planting a very solid kiss on a very surprised Irishman. Satisfied, she released him and sat back down next to Harry.

Seamus, a bit dazed, sat down next to his own boyfriend. Turning to him, he asked, "Do I even want to know what that was all about?"

Dean smiled. "I'll tell you later. Drink your beer."


11 January 1997

Ginny had found sleep difficult the night before the Salon opening, even though she was more than prepared. She used her nervous energy to work on a few unfinished stories that had been floating around in her folio, though she managed to get in a nap before sunrise. After a quick breakfast, she headed down to the studio.

Working with some of the other student volunteers, she moved the supplies and works-in-progress from the studio into the closets and out of harm's way. They then transfigured a few easels into short walls, forming a small gallery space. On the other side of the studio they cleared an area for the two poets and Padma to perform. In front of this, they planned to scatter some small chairs and benches.

Leaving the organization of the space in Kevin Whitby's capable hands, Ginny headed off to the kitchens to make sure the hors d'oeuvres she'd arranged for with the house elves were appropriate. She'd had to give them copies of some Muggle cooking magazines to illustrate what she wanted but when she saw the trays of crudités, cheese, fruit and biscuits, she was satisfied.

Coming back upstairs, she found Seamus and Orla Quirke watching Dean hanging his art on one of the transfigured walls. "Are you only going to show pictures of the lake, Dean?" Orla was asking.

Dean looked at the paintings surrounding him. "Well, the others aren't finished. Most of them are just sketches."

As the others discussed his work, Ginny walked over to the wall, staring at one of the lake pictures that had caught her eye. It was a view of the lake rarely seen, the marshy end where the rushes grew, and the grasses were ablaze with early summer sun. Suddenly she was standing in the middle of the river in the August heat, Draco's arms around her as they fought together against the fish at the other end of the line . . .

"Ginny? What do you think?" Orla was asking.

"Hmm? I'm sorry, could you repeat that?"

"I think Dean should put this in the show," she said, holding up a portrait of Seamus sitting in the window seat of the art studio, during a snowstorm.

Dean winced. "It's a very personal painting."

Ginny regarded the painting, then said, "Orla's right, Dean. It's very good." She looked up at her artist friend. "You know, if you're going to do this for real, some of it's going to be personal. You'll have to work out how to handle that."

Dean stood looking at the painting. He'd always been a very private sort of fellow; showing everyone at school such a painful chapter in his love life wasn't something he was eager to do. But Orla and Ginny were right—the painting was too good to leave out. He turned to Seamus. "How do you feel about it?" he asked.

Seamus smiled at his boyfriend. "Every time I pose for you, I assume it will be for public consumption. My uncle is an artist, too. I know the score. And remember, I asked you to paint me that day."

Dean nodded, then took a deep breath. "Put it in the show," he said.


By dinnertime, the performers had rehearsed in the space and the visual artists had installed their work on the temporary partitions. Realizing there was nothing more that could be done, a nervous Ginny ran into the Great Hall for a quick dinner with Draco, who did his best to calm her down and reassure her that the evening would go well. As she left the hall to make the finishing touches before the opening, she ran into her brother in the corridor.

"Ron," Ginny said, "have you seen Padma? She rehearsed earlier but she didn't seem happy and I haven't seen her since."

Ron shook his head. "Not happy, you say?" he asked.

"Dissatisfied. I thought the sound was fine and her songs were really beautiful but she would have none of it and when I turned around, she was gone."

Ron sighed. "When does she need to be on?"

"She should be ready to play in about an hour. We're using her to close the show, after the poetry reading. I need to get these writers in line—I swear, it's like herding cats—so I don't really have time to try to find her."

Ron laid his hand on his sister's shoulder. "Don't worry, Ginny. I know where she's got to. I'll get her back here in plenty of time."

Ginny threw her arms around her brother. "Thank you!" She released him, then ran off to deal with her next emergency.

Ron navigated corridors and staircases until he reached the familiar nook with its purple curtains. Carefully, he parted the drapes.

Padma was sitting cross-legged atop the chess table, her guitar lying across one of the chairs. Her head was buried in her hands and she didn't look up when she heard Ron open the drapes.

"Padma?" Ron asked gently.

"Go away," Padma said, her voice muffled by her hands.

Ron stepped in through the curtains and walked around the chair and table to stand behind her. He wrapped his arms around her waist and put his chin on her shoulder. "I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what's wrong," he said.

"I can't do this. I'm not ready. The songs aren't ready."

Ron spoke in the slow, soothing tones that only his girlfriend inspired. "The songs are as ready as they will ever be. They're certainly good enough for the Salon."

Padma shook her head. "You're just saying that."

"No, I'm not. If they weren't, of course I would tell you rather than have you be embarrassed in front of the school!" He dipped his head down to kiss her shoulder. "Seamus likes them, too. He said so. And he does know about music, so you can't discount his opinion."

"I wasn't discounting your opinion, Ron."

"Padma, you told Ginny you would play. She's counting on you." He paused. "Aren't you trying not to be such a perfectionist?" he asked.

Padma sat quietly for a minute, then finally lifted her head up. "Do you really think they're okay?" she asked.

He nodded. "Can I bring you back to the studio now?"

"Can I have a kiss first, please?"

Ron smiled, lifting his head from her shoulder and turning to give her a deep, tender kiss. "Feel better?" he asked.

"Not really," she admitted. "I suppose I'll have to get used to that." She smiled a bit, then grabbed her guitar and hopped off the table. Ron parted the curtains and took her other hand as they headed back to the studio.


Ginny stood at the head of the room and made sure everyone was present before she opened the doors. Colin, Dean and the other artists were standing near their work, the poets and Padma were ready to go on and the food had arrived from the kitchens just moments before. Ginny took a deep breath and opened the doors.

She was completely unprepared for what she saw: About a hundred students were standing outside the small studio. Panicking, she shut the door.

"Oh no, Orla!" she wailed. "How are we going to fit all those people in here?"

Orla and Kevin looked at each other then back at Ginny, shocked.

"Damn those flyers," Ginny said.

Then there was a pounding on the door. "Ginny? Ginny, let me in," said Draco through the door.

Ginny went back to the door and opened it just enough to let her boyfriend in, then shut it quickly on the crowd.

"What's going on, Ginny?" Draco asked.

"I never thought so many people would come," Ginny confessed. "I thought, fifty maybe sixty at the most."

Draco looked around the small room, then saw a door. "What's back there?" he asked.

"That's the door to the music studio," Padma replied.

"Is it as big as this room?" Draco asked.

Padma nodded. "But it's full of equipment."

Suddenly Ginny kissed Draco, then said, "That's it! Orla, open the door and announce that we're running a bit late and pass them some of the food. And get my brother in here."

Orla nodded, picking up a tray of crudités and walking toward the door.

"Dean, you, Kevin and Colin be ready to pull those walls into the music room," Ginny continued.

"Ginny, what are you up to?" Draco asked.

By then, Ron had come into the art studio. "Ginny, you wanted me?"

"Come on, Ron," she said, grabbing her brother's hand. "We have to clean the garage."

Draco followed the siblings into the music room, completely confused.

Meanwhile, out in the corridor, students milled about eating carrot sticks and chatting. Fifteen minutes after Orla had come out the first time, the doors opened and everyone went inside.

Seamus had been in the studio earlier that day, and was surprised to see that the visual art had been moved. He walked through the door into the music studio and found Dean standing near some of the paintings.

"Where's all the music equipment?" Seamus asked.

"Well, the piano and the drums are still in the corner," Dean said, "but the rest . . . " He pointed toward the ceiling.

Seamus looked up and saw, floating above them, nearly fifty musical instruments of all kinds. "Christ Jesus, Dean, what if they fall on someone's head?"

"They won't," said Ron. "That charm works for twenty-four hours. Bill and Charlie found it in some book and used it to clean the garage or their room or whatever Mum asked them to do. Bless her heart, the woman never does look up." He grinned. "Of course they passed it down to the rest of us."

"Of course," Seamus said, shaking his head. Then they heard Ginny calling for everyone's attention, so they went back into the art studio.

"I want to thank everyone for coming to our opening," Ginny said, "for being so patient during our delay and for making this Salon such a success from the start. Please feel free to circulate after the performances to see the art displayed in the music room. I would like to draw particular attention to a work that was recently installed on our ceiling by Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy. Do you have a name for it?"

Draco turned to Ron, then said, "Cleaning the Weasley Garage."

"It's a conceptual piece," Ron added.


After the performances, Seamus and Dean wandered back to the other room, where Dean's paintings were on display. "Padma sounded great," Seamus remarked. "I hope she knows that."

Dean nodded. "Well, the audience certainly enjoyed it so maybe she does."

They stood in front of the panel of Dean's work. Most of the art displayed was from the series of paintings and sketches of the lake but in the center was the portrait of Seamus on the day of the snowstorm. He felt sad again, seeing what he'd been feeling that day so perfectly captured on the canvas.

No sooner had he reacted than Dean came up behind him, wrapping his arms around Seamus' waist. He leaned back into his boyfriend's chest with a contented sigh, reassured by Dean's presence, by Dean's ability to know just when he needed that reassurance. He looked down at Dean's hands and remembered an empty Notting Hill flat, two bottles of champagne, finger foods, very good chocolate, and the whipped cream that never did make it onto a dessert . . .

"Seamus?" Dean asked.

"Mmm?"

"Love, we're in a public place."

"Mmm?"

Dean leaned in closer to Seamus' ear and whispered, "If you don't stop rubbing your arse against my crotch, we will have a problem."

Seamus immediately stepped forward, then turned to face Dean. "I'm sorry! I didn't know I was doing that."

Dean nodded. "Yes, I'm sure."

"No, really!"

At that moment, Harry and Hermione came by, saving Seamus from further groveling.

"Dean, this is amazing," said Harry. "I know Hermione's seen some of it but I haven't had the chance. When did you do this one?" he asked, gesturing toward one of the lake pictures with a piece of gouda.

As their boyfriends talked about the paintings, Hermione and Seamus walked over to a nearby corner, out of the way of passersby.

"Well, you two seem to be doing well," said Hermione.

Seamus nodded. "So do you. Good Christmas, then?"

"Very. Sirius asked after you, by the way. In between gloating about how right he'd been about Harry and me."

Seamus smiled. "You can tell him his advice was spot on."

"Oh?"

"He said to give in."

Hermione looked at Seamus for a moment, perplexed. She couldn't imagine just giving in to anyone, really. A match of equals, an even balance of forces was what she wanted and what she had. Of course there was give and take but she had no intention of relinquishing control completely and Harry never asked her to nor she him. "Give in?"

"He was right. I was found."

Hermione was still confused but then Harry and Dean came over to them, bringing drinks and hugs. As the Salon began to empty, they were joined by Ron and Padma, and Parvati. Then Lavender came by with Neville and Susan. When the room was quite deserted Ginny and Draco wandered over with the rest of the food and wine and the group moved to a small circle of chairs. They sat talking and joking, surrounded by art and friends, and for once the war seemed very far away indeed.