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Love Hurts

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Love Hurts

 

A casual remark started everything, late one night on the common room couch. I was doing my homework, writing a potions essay for Slughorn on a parchment where the upper right corner was frayed. It's funny how sometimes you remember the tiniest details.

"I sometimes think about kissing you, Dean," Seamus said. He was looking at me, his feet in my lap, busy not writing his essay.

I blinked and coughed, convinced myself that I'd been imagining things, not bothering to lift my eyes.

"Not all the time, of course," he continued. "Just... sometimes, since you broke up with Ginny. Curious, I reckon." I still hear the words echoing in my head, though at that time I didn't know what to say.

He asked me if I sometimes wondered how it would be, kissing a boy, and he kept nudging my thigh with his toe.

I rolled my eyes and denied it, told him he was crazy. But I was lying through my teeth.

It wouldn't have been Seamus if he'd let it rest.

The next time it came up was only a few days later. We were out after curfew, at the lake, sitting there and talking. It was warm and quiet, everyone else had already left. We were both lying on our backs and looking up into the sky. It was dark and cloudy, we couldn't see any stars. Neither of us was concerned about getting in trouble for being out late. I didn't think they'd catch us, and Seamus was hardly ever concerned about anything.

"Still not thinking about it?" he asked me.

I said I didn't and realised too late, that by answering the question and thus admitting that I knew exactly what he was asking, I was basically contradicting myself. I'd just admitted that I indeed had thought about it. And that was only half of the truth. I'd been thinking about it constantly.

"Ruddy liar," he called me. "What's so bad about it?"

I stammered some words but wasn't making any sense, so I took a deep breath and tried again. "I'm just not into that," I told him. I remember how I was afraid to use a word that would classify that, even when I denied it. I'd already had a girlfriend and I'd liked kissing her.

Seamus only snorted. "Because you're not into that, I can do what I'm about to do, without it making any difference. Good to know."

Then he kissed me.

I was stunned, my mind boggled and I didn't have enough time to comprehend what was happening. By the time I'd made the decision to kiss back, he'd already stopped pressing his lips to mine. I hadn't felt a single thing because I'd been too busy being in shock.

He looked at me before he laid back down. "I thought it was better."

I already knew back then that I was going to regret what I did next, although I didn't know how much it would change my life. But at that moment, I didn't care and leaned over.

It gave me some satisfaction that he looked startled. I lowered my head and let our lips touch. I'd only ever kissed girls - imagining snogging Seamus in every possible way didn't count - so I went with what I knew Ginny liked. I applied just a bit of pressure and moved my lips teasingly, like catching his between mine, but not actually doing it. But he's Seamus and impatience is his middle name, so before I was ready to go farther, he opened his mouth and nudged me with his tongue until I opened mine as well.

I gripped his shoulder - the feel of the soft fabric of his cotton shirt against my palm another one of those details I remember. He wrapped his arms around me. His tongue was in my mouth and there were just enough teeth involved. My lips were tingling and felt sore from the stubble he'd been growing for three days and was ridiculously proud of.

I was breathing heavily when we broke the kiss and sort of understood what all the fuss was about. Kissing Ginny had been good. This was bloody brilliant.

He looked up at me, his expression dazed. "Yeah," he said. "That's what I was imagining."

* * *

 

We were so innocent back then, during those last weeks of our sixth year at Hogwarts. It doesn't matter how things have turned out; those first days, weeks and months, the excitement, the fluttering in my stomach, the sweet teenage love, always makes me smile. It's something unique, something you can't repeat. But I can still feel the ghost of that excitement and it reminds me of the happy boy I was and that somewhere along the way disappeared.

"You're a pain in the arse," Seamus told me three days after that first kiss. We were practising transfiguration in an empty classroom. He'd dragged me there after class and I should have known that he hadn't homework on his mind. I probably did know, but I'd never been good at saying 'no' to Seamus. Everything would have turned out differently if I had been.

"I'm a pain in the arse," I repeated. He looked at me expectantly and I humoured him. "Why?"

"You're avoiding me because we snogged."

"I wouldn't be here if I were avoiding you."

"You wouldn't be here if I hadn't asked you in front of Neville who is already suspicious because we've hardly talked in the last days. And you wouldn't be here if it wasn't for transfiguration which you are pants at. And, Merlin, Dean, did you really think I wanted to do homework?" He said the last word as if it was something dirty. Like snogging his male best friend.

I admitted that I'd needed time to think, but he just laughed and asked me if I was done with it. He was impossible and infuriating. (And sort of adorable.)

"Look, Seamus. The thing is, I'm not gay." There, I'd said it.

He snogged me.

Seamus didn't give me a chance to question my sexuality. Whenever he thought I was thinking too much, he pulled me into an alcove, behind a tapestry, into an empty classroom or into a closet and snogged me. The method proved to be effective. After a few days I admitted to myself that I wasn't as straight as I'd thought I was, and after a few weeks I accepted that the world wouldn't stop spinning because of it.

* * *

 

We spent the summer after sixth year together. Both of us were of age in the wizarding world and we decided to go camping. It was without a doubt the best time of my life. One day I'll be fifty, sixty or ninety years old and I'll remember those three weeks with a smile and the same gut-wrenching sadness that I feel now.

The weather was beautiful. It was hot and dry and we had a little tent close to a river not far away from a little town in Cornwall.

We didn't talk about the war, about Dumbledore's death, about the fact that we both knew very well that things were falling apart in our world. Instead we were boys on an adventure. We swam in the river, hiked through the woods and cooked over an open fire. Once every few days we went into the small town to buy food and other things we needed.

There were no people around our camp and for the first time, we could be ourselves - two people who liked each other and felt the constant need to touch and kiss. And we did. We kissed against trees, snogged, rubbed against each other in the water and had the freedom to roll around in the grass naked in the middle of the day.

The nights were long and hot. We were used to pulling each other off in broom-closets or storerooms in between classes with our clothes pushed out of the way only far enough to reach the important body parts. But now, we had time, and there was no danger of being discovered. We always lit our wands when it got dark. I used my hands and mouth to get to know every part of Seamus's body, and he did the same to me.

One night we were lying next to each other. My body was still tingling and I was still lost in that lazy warmth and floating feeling of the afterglow. He was running his hand from my throat to my groin, playing with my sated bits and stroking up my chest again. I loved those long moments afterwards, when urgency was gone, but intimacy was greater.

"Do you sometimes think about telling them?" I asked him, saying out loud what I'd been considering for some time.

"Tell whom what?" He was tracing circles around my nipples.

I shrugged. "Our families and friends about us." I was looking at him in the faint light of the wands, but I couldn't read the expression on his face.

"Why?"

I didn't have an answer, didn't know why it was bothering me sometimes. But every now and then, I felt like an actor playing the role of someone I wasn't.

"It would change everything," he said.

I knew that. My family didn't have the faintest idea that there was more between Seamus and me than what I'd told them and I had no idea how they'd react. Our friends didn't know either. We had never touched more than best mates would in public, and no one had ever caught us snogging. Keeping secrets was easy when your dorm-mates were busy saving the world.

"Do you think they'd hate us?" I asked him. It was still far from the norm, what we did, and the wizarding world wasn't any less prejudiced than the Muggle world I'd grown up in, maybe even more so.

"Would it matter?"

I pondered the question. "It would, to me."

Seamus made the decision for both of us. "Then let's keep it a secret for now."

* * *

 

I packed my bag as soon as I'd read in the Prophet about the Muggle-born Registration. They claimed I was a thief, that I had stolen magic. I would have laughed about that theory if it hadn't been the new bitter reality of my life. I couldn't prove that any of my ancestors had magical blood. It meant that they'd throw me into Azkaban, take my wand away and let me rot between Dementors. That wasn't what I'd signed up for when I'd boarded the train six years earlier, awed and amazed by the new world I'd been discovering. And it wasn't what my parents had signed up for when they'd let me go.

When Seamus's owl arrived, I had already made my decision. I wasn't about to let them take my wand and my freedom - not without a fight.

He asked me to come to our campsite, the one we'd left only a week earlier. I waited until afternoon. No one was at home when I left the house and closed the door behind me. I only took the bare necessities with me, and I still didn't know where I was going. So far the plan only consisted of not being there when they came looking for me. I've never been a religious person, but I prayed to God that they'd leave my family in peace.

Much later I found out that they had come a week later. First they threatened my family and then used Veritaserum. My parents never really forgave that I went without saying goodbye and without telling them where and why I was going.

I Apparated to our campsite. Seamus was already there and waited for me. He was agitated and angry, muttering curses and insults. He hugged me fiercely when I arrived, already making plans. His face fell as I stopped him mid-speech and told him that I wouldn't take him with me.

We argued bitterly, both yelling words that hurt and left wounds. I wanted him to come with me, of course I did. But I knew full well, that if he ran away with me, they'd come for him, too. He'd be ostracised, just like me.

I've never been a dreamer, I'm more the pragmatic type, and I didn't expect to make it out of the war alive. Being a Muggle-born and a Gryffindor wasn't a healthy combination. I was scared shitless, but I'd come to terms with my chances. I'd have never forgiven myself, though, if Seamus had been hurt or even died because of me. Maybe I would have decided differently if I'd known that Hogwarts wasn't as save as it once had been.

"I'd rather go to Azkaban than take you with me," I told him. "If you follow me, I'll walk through the front entrance of the Ministry first thing tomorrow morning."

"You're a Muggle-born," he spat, and I still feel the impact of those words. "You won't survive two weeks on your own with them on your tracks."

"So that's what you're saying? Because your mum's got magical blood, you're so much better? Remind me, where have I heard that one before?"

"Fuck you, Dean. Stop twisting my words! I've grown up with magic; there's a difference."

The fight continued, and it got worse with every passing minute. We'd never fought like this before, and when there was nothing left to say, we just looked at each other. I think we both knew that we'd never be able to take back some of those things.

It was raining when we said goodbye. He hadn't changed my mind and, for once, I was stubborn enough to go through with it.

"Take care," I said and offered my hand. I had a backpack over my shoulder filled with some food, a change of clothes, some money and a small Muggle tent I'd stolen from my older brother.

Seamus took my hand with a firm grip. He squeezed and I didn't want him to feel that my hand was trembling. My whole body was shaking, actually.

"Don't get yourself killed," he said.

I nodded and swallowed around the lump in my throat. "I'll do my best." I didn't want to let his hand go, but I did. Just as I didn't want to turn around and walk away. But I did that, too, willing my feet to move. One step at a time.

Before I disappeared behind a corner, I looked back at him over my shoulder. He was still standing there on the same spot, his hands in his pockets and rain pouring down on him. His hair was clinging to his face and despite the warmth, I saw him tremble as well.

I tried to remember the last kiss we shared, but I couldn't. I wanted to go back to him so badly when I realised that there might not ever be another chance.

But I swallowed down the sob I wouldn't allow to escape, gritted my teeth and walked away. Gryffindor, I reminded myself.

* * *

 

I learned quickly that there was a big difference between a holiday camping trip with your best mate and being on the run. I tried to stay away from towns. There had been rumours that there were traps, groups of people waiting and looking for those who were hiding. I'd heard that they had pictures and lists of names, that they could trace magical signatures, that there were rewards for those who reported someone. I didn't know what was true and what was the product of the widespread panic, but I didn't want to take any chances and avoided people as much as possible.

Food was a problem. Sometimes I went to village markets, but people would look at the stranger that was young enough to be a student and dirty enough to be a vagrant. I was always the outsider, and anyone could spot that I didn't belong. It was too dangerous. Also, I barely had any money left. Sometimes I stole. I'm not proud of it, but there were farms, and it was easy. What was I supposed to do? There weren't many options.

I never knew if they were able to track me when I used my wand, so I tried to use it only in emergencies.

The worst thing was the loneliness. Simple concepts were suddenly hard to accept. For example, the nights were utterly dark and long, the wind made noises when it moved the branches and leaves of trees, I was vulnerable when I undressed to wash in a river, and there was the constant fear that sometimes left me shaking and always feeling like a coward. Others would have fought; I ran.

It had only been a few weeks, and there already had been many times when I'd had enough, when everything was too much, and I wanted to go back to my mum and dad and wait for the men with the lists to come and get me. It wasn't life; it was shit.

In moments when it was really bad, I forced myself to remember that I wasn't the only one in this situation. There were a lot of people out there. Each of them hurt, and if we all had given up, they'd have won. I wasn't alone, not really. I touched the fake Galleon in my pocket and remembered Dumbledore's Army. I was still a part of them, regardless. They wouldn't have forgotten me; Lavender, Parvati, Harry, Ron, Neville, Hermione, Ernie, Susan, Hannah, Terry, Anthony and all the others. Their faces were there with me in the dark and I repeated their names like a mantra until I could sleep. And then, I dreamed of Seamus.

So, I made it through the days and the nights, one at a time.

"Who are you?" The voice was demanding, but not unkind. I turned around slowly and saw a wand pointed at me. For a moment I was frozen in shock, but after taking in the shabby clothes, backpack, the circles under the man's eyes and the all-in-all haunted look, I relaxed slightly.

"Dean Thomas. Muggle-born on the run."

The man lowered the wand and shook his head. "You're still a kid, boy. You should be at Hogwarts."

"Yes," I answered dryly. "That's a great idea. Why didn't I think of that?"

The blond man chuckled. I shivered as I saw the warm coat he wore in comparison to my own clothes that were too thin for the falling temperatures. "Teenage sarcasm. You forget how delightful it is when your own kids grow up." I snorted and shook the outstretched hand of the man who introduced himself as Ted Tonks.

We had fish for dinner. Ted had perfected Accioing them directly out of the water. He tried to teach me, but it was harder than it looked. For the first time in weeks, it tasted like a real meal. Not because of the food, but because there was someone to share it with. It made me feel better. And that's how I'll always remember Ted, as someone who made every day a bit brighter and more bearable.

When Ted packed his bag the next morning, I asked him if I could come with him. He said he wouldn't have let me go off alone. I nearly cried.

The days, and especially the nights, were easier with him. We talked a lot and he told me many things about his wife, his daughter, and to my surprise, Professor Lupin. He knew Harry and the Weasleys. Ted was very good company and a person who cared. I soon considered him a friend and a surrogate father not long after that.

A few weeks later, we met Dirk and the goblins. We were a strange group, the five of us, but it worked. And even though the goblins never went so low as to admit they needed us, they, too, were glad for the company.

* * *

 

I didn't watch Ted, Dirk and Gornuk die. I hate myself for it. It's been years, and I'm still no closer to forgiving myself than right after I left them alone with the Snatchers and ran. There was nothing I could have done. They were too many and they were ruthless, but I should have been there, I should have stayed. Harry, Ron, Neville or Seamus, any true Gryffindor would have stayed.

I wasn't alone after it happened; Griphook was still with me. He didn't talk much, but he was company. And he was damn good at fishing as well, so we stayed close to rivers, always on the move. The nights were bad. Sometimes I didn't sleep at all, just stayed awake, sitting in the tent, staring into the darkness, listening and panicking at every noise I heard. I felt like a coward for being afraid all the time, but I was still a teenager, like Ted had always said, almost a kid.

Seamus had once told me that I'd have to trust myself, because I couldn't expect anyone else to do it if I didn't believe in me. It was simple logic, and whenever I'd felt particularly unsure about myself in the past, I'd remembered those words. But I couldn't, not anymore. I'd failed Ted, who'd taken up the part of a father for me, had cared for me, and it was only a question of time until I'd fail myself, Griphook or someone else.

I was a self-pitying, miserable git. And at night, I still held the Galleon tight in my fist.

When the Snatchers finally caught us, I thought that was the end. In a sense, I was relieved. There would be no running anymore. I almost laughed when I realised that it was the infamous Fenrir Greyback who'd caught us - fear does strange things to a person - at least we'd go out with a bang.

They didn't seem to like my face. I doubt that the treatment I got - it mainly consisted of punching it - made it any better. They bound us and beat us until we were barely conscious. I didn't see my life flashing in front of my closed eyes in reverse order as the movies had taught me when I'd been still young. But, I saw a lot of missed opportunities.

I'd never draw that portrait of my sister, Emma, the one I had promised her for her wedding. My mum would never know how I died. I'd never tell Jesse, my brother, that I was gay. I'd never climb a mountain or travel to China by train. I'd never have a job. I'd never tell Seamus how much he meant to me. And I'd never get that kiss in the rain.

I think I lost it for a while. The next thing I remember is Harry's voice. So I wasn't the only one who was going to be either dead or in Azkaban soon. Harry's life was important, though. I was dispensable; Harry wasn't.

It turned out that he had an ace up his sleeve - or a house-elf. They brought us to Malfoy Manor and with the help of a miracle or two, we made it to Shell Cottage and Ron's older brother, Bill. I hadn't known that he was married to Fleur, one of the Triwizard contestants. She's a great woman, Fleur, full of warmth, caring and gorgeous. They let us stay. And after all that time in the woods, it felt like my own little cloud in heaven.

Luna became one of my best friends during that time. She was a lovely girl, and I love the woman she's become. She knows about Seamus and me; she guessed it. But we never talk about it - not then, and not now.

* * *

 

We were sitting outside in the garden of Aunt Muriel's too small house when the Galleon in my pocket heated up and I felt it through the pocket of my jeans. We were mid-conversation, everyone talking at once, discussing Quidditch. There was Fred, George, Luna and me. We all fell silent at the same time. Just like me, they all had their Galleons.

George recovered first. "Dean, tell Mum and Dad to alert the Order! Luna, send an owl to Bill and Charlie." He was already standing and I couldn't help wondering whether they'd already had a plan, or if George was just acting on instinct. "If you want to be there for the fun, Apparate to the Hog's Head and find Aberforth." I wasn't surprised that the twins knew more than I did. During the time we'd been at the Weasley hideout, they'd been gone for hours, sometimes days at a time and it wasn't a secret that they were a part of Potterwatch.

I stood as well and I remember Luna squeezing my hand in silent reassurance. She was already tugging me towards the house when I asked, "What are you two going to do?"

They both grinned in unison and Fred said, "Rally the troops and the equipment, of course." Twelve hours later he was dead.

My own equipment was sparse. My wand was gone and, in retrospect, it was stupid to enter the battle without it. But at that time I couldn't care less. Not because I desperately wanted to fight, it was because I knew we'd go to Hogwarts and I'd see Seamus again. When we finally arrived at the Hog's Head, I was almost running through the tunnel; I couldn't get there fast enough.

He is whole. The line was repeating itself in my head as Seamus was wrapped around me, his arms hugging and tugging, his lips against the skin of my neck. I could feel him. He was real.

He still was after the battle. It was a different kind of hug then. More desperate than before. There was blood on his cheek and grime on his battered face. My clothes were torn, my left leg hurt and I could barely move my right shoulder. Seamus didn't mention that I flinched at every step when we walked back to Gryffindor Tower, just as I didn't mention the tears running down his cheeks.

It didn't feel like victory, but at least it was over. I'd seen too many people die that night and there were too many friends I'd never see again. It was already afternoon when we fell into bed. I know that the battle ended early in the morning, but I still don't know what we did in those hours. I don't think I want to know.

When we woke up we were clinging to each other, still dressed in our dirty clothes, still sweaty. But I had him back and I kissed him almost desperately. If someone had chosen that moment to come in - Harry, Hermione and Ron who'd been here earlier were gone - I wouldn't have cared. I had him back.

* * *

 

He told me about Lavender a week after the Battle of Hogwarts.

I understood.

I knew him better than to think he could function without physical contact under stress for several months. He was a tactile person, always had been. He needed the comfort and the security of other people. Since we were eleven, he'd got it from me. First it had been innocent and pure friendship, then something more.

It hadn't been cheating, I told myself and even though during those long nights in the forest I'd imagined him being equally alone and thinking of me, I would have never expected it. It wouldn't have been fair. It was going to be all right, I thought, especially after Seamus ended it. They were still friends, nothing more. Lavender was injured, that's why he was visiting her often at St. Mungo's. I pretended not to be jealous when he went there.

None of us had to go back to Hogwarts. The new Minister and his cronies had come up with an alternative. Those who hadn't taken their N.E.W.T.s or hadn't been at Hogwarts at all could take part in a work and study program. It meant that they gave us a job at the Ministry, we could live on our own and we had the afternoons off to study. It was a good arrangement, even if it was a lot to learn on our own.

The best thing about the program was that I could move in with Seamus. The flat we found was small with a tiny kitchen and bathroom, a small living room and two bedrooms.

Our friends and families still didn't know about us. Seamus said that he wanted two bedrooms because we didn't know if it would work and because it would be good to have additional space. And he didn't want to tell anyone yet. It was all right; it didn't bother me much. I'd never cared for public displays of affection, and no one even blinked when Seamus had an arm around my shoulders or my waist in a pub. He'd always done that. We were a real couple at home, when we were alone. It was enough for me, and keeping it a secret made it something special, something that was just ours. He swore that he wasn't ashamed, and that he didn't intend to walk out on me anytime soon.

I believed him.

It was a good time, a busy time. The days flew by, we worked and studied - I did at least. We spent as much time together as possible. We went to Quidditch games, to the pub, I showed him the Muggle world. We even went camping again together, partly to relive that beautiful summer after sixth year, partly to replace my experiences in the woods with happier memories. Together, we got through bad days, fought our demons and held each other up.

Eventually we both got our N.E.W.T.s and while Seamus stayed at the Ministry, I quit and started working as a freelance journalist, sometimes for the Prophet, sometimes for the Quibbler, sometimes doing research for books. It was one hell of a risk, but I thought it was worth it. And Seamus told me that no matter what would happen, he'd be there and I could rely on him to keep me out of the mud.

I trusted him.

* * *

 

I caught him in bed with Lavender after one year, three months, two weeks and six days of living together.

A business trip had been cancelled and instead of taking a Portkey to Greece, I returned to our flat in the evening, hungry and in need of a shower.

Before I reached the kitchen, though, I heard Seamus moan in our bedroom and grinned. It sounded like he was enjoying himself. Food could wait, I decided and quietly opened the door to join him, already hard beneath my robes and itching to get my hands on him.

Merlin, I was so stupid. I really thought he was thinking of me because he missed me.

There were candles on the nightstand. That was odd. We'd never lit any candles before, certainly not for a wank. I hadn't even known that we owned candles. Well, obviously we did.

Or maybe Lavender had brought them. She was currently straddling Seamus with her back to the door. Both of them were naked, Seamus had her hips in a tight grip and I could see the muscles in his thighs working as he pushed up into her. Absentmindedly, I asked myself why I hadn't heard her moan, because she certainly did. The rest of my brain tried to come up with an explanation for what I was seeing without believing the obvious.

But there was just no way around it. They were fucking. In the bed Seamus and I shared every night. I wondered why they didn't use the one in the other room, the one we'd never made love in. But then I remembered that Lavender thought that bed was mine.

I wanted to say something, but when I opened my mouth, I couldn't speak. And what would I've said?

I closed the door as silently as I'd opened it and turned around, feeling cold.

There was Firewhisky in the kitchen. A glass wasn't necessary, I just grabbed the bottle and sat down on the couch, still listening to the sounds coming from the bedroom. Seamus was noisy in bed. I've always loved that about him. Now the little breathy sounds that usually got me hard within seconds, the whispers that made me shiver and the moans I thought no one but me could get out of him, made me sick.

I drank.

And then I cried for the first time in years. I hadn't cried when we'd said goodbye before I went into hiding, when I'd been alone in the woods, when they'd murdered Ted, when the Snatchers had beaten me, when I'd seen friends of mine die. But that night, alone on the sofa, staring at the closed door and hearing what was going on behind it, I couldn't hold back the tears.

As pathetic as it sounds, I think I lost a part of me that night.

He must have found me on the couch, drunk as a skunk and passed out. I was still on the couch when I woke up, but covered with a warm, fluffy blanket. My head was pounding and I was feeling nauseous. The alcohol hadn't erased the memories of the previous night, and when they came back, all at once, it felt like a huge rock was falling down on me, burying me in the ground, crushing my bones and tearing me apart. Dramatic but accurate.

I opened my eyes slowly and noticed two things. There was a vial of hangover potion on the coffee table in front of me, and Seamus curled up in the armchair only a few feet away. I took the potion, but didn't know what to do about Seamus. He was fast asleep, I could tell by the way he was breathing. I assumed that Lavender was gone, but considering that only a day earlier I had assumed that Seamus was the best thing that had ever happened to me, I didn't exactly trust my judgement.

The potion cleared my head slowly but steadily and I contemplated just Apparating out and never coming back. But where would I go without taking anything with me? And packing a bag would mean waking Seamus, which would mean facing him. I thought about it too long. By the time I decided to get up, Seamus was awake and looking at me. When our eyes met, he started to talk.

He told me that it had been a mistake, that it wasn't serious, that he hadn't promised her anything.

I nodded and waited for him to tell me that he loved me. Just once.

He told me that he hadn't wanted to hurt me, that he would end it.

I nodded and waited for him to finally agree to tell our families and friends about us.

He told me that he didn't want me to leave, that it would never happen again and that he would make it up to me.

I nodded and got up. I couldn't deal with this. I went into the bedroom that still reeked of candles and perfume, threw random things into a bag and left. He sounded hurt and lost when he called my name as I walked out the door. It didn't stop me.

* * *

 

I'm still amazed how easy it was to leave everything behind. When I knew he was at work, I went back to Seamus's flat - the place had stopped being mine when Seamus had invited Lavender into his bed. I took only my clothes and personal things with me. Everything else I left behind. I didn't want any of it, not anymore.

I went to Jesse with my bag full of clothes. My brother let me in and didn't ask any stupid questions. Since I'd gone to Hogwarts, we'd been growing apart. We weren't the best of friends, didn't even know each other very well, but he helped me without hesitation. I stayed with him for four weeks. I can't remember feeling anything at all in those weeks. I was numb. As if someone had pulled away the ground beneath my feet and I was floating in midair, surrounded by a vacuum. I couldn't reach other people; we just coexisted. It was all right.

A month after moving out of Seamus's flat, I went to Paris. Someone's cousin had a friend whose cousin (or something like that) was living in Paris. Sebastian was his name, nice bloke. He'd been looking for a flatmate and knew someone who was looking for a barman. I hadn't hesitated when I'd heard of it, even though I'd never worked behind a bar.

Living with Sebastian could have been worse. He tried to make me go out, introduced me to his friends and showed me the city. He wasn't a wizard and I got used to living like a Muggle. It was easier than I'd thought, leaving my wand in the bag under my bed and forgetting the world I'd left behind. I've never been in the wizarding part of the town, and until this day I don't even know where it's located.

My days were always the same. I slept late, hardly ever got out of bed before noon. Then I showered, ate something, went outside. In the afternoon I came back, changed and went into the bar where I worked. My shift usually didn't end before three or four in the morning, after which I went back to the flat and fell into bed. On my free days, I usually painted. Dark pictures with darker themes, oil on canvas, broad brushes, angry lines. I sold a few of them, even though I was far from getting rich. It was enough for paying the rent, buying food and what else I needed. I'd completely given up on writing, something I'd always enjoyed. But the words didn't come and I didn't go looking for them.

I knew quite a few people. Working in a bar does that to you, but I hardly had any real friends. And I didn't date. There were a few casual things, people I took home for a night. But there was never anything serious. After two years in Paris, I almost felt as empty as when I'd arrived. But I had learned to live with it, so I reckoned it had been a success.

I hadn't planned on staying for a definite amount of time, and I hadn't planned on going back home. But one morning I woke up, knowing it was time to return to London. It was time to go back being a wizard. I whispered the word 'magic' and it almost sounded alien to me. But in the end, it was what I was. After all that time, it seemed to call me. It took another couple of months until I left.

The sun was shining when I arrived in London. I stepped into my other life, the one I'd abandoned. I hadn't lost the sense of wonder that I'd always felt when walking down Diagon Alley. I felt small compared to all the possibilities that lay ahead in that impossible world. It felt like coming home and I was full of hope that day, determined to give myself a second chance.

The first days were good days. I saw a sign that Tom needed someone at the Leaky Cauldron to help him. After two years, I knew everything about taps and took the chance. He liked me and didn't ask many questions. A room at the Leaky came with manning the bar, so I had a job, a place to live, and something to do before the first day was over.

I went to bed with a smile on my face.

* * *

 

Bill Weasley was the first one to spot me. Ron and Harry came for a pint on the same day. The news spread fast. Before the week was over I'd talked to Neville, Padma, Hermione, Ernie, Anthony, Terry, George, Luna and a few others. I'd visited my family and was slowly getting used to being back. I hadn't seen Seamus, but I was sure that he knew I was back.

I hadn't seen him since that horrible night and the morning after. When I thought of him, I still saw him thrusting up into Lavender, her name on his lips as he had sex with her in our bed. Almost two years in Paris and almost three weeks back in Diagon Alley should have prepared me to face him again. As the door opened on a Thursday evening and he came inside, walked to the bar and sat down on a barstool opposite me, I knew that I wasn't prepared at all. Everything was still there, the hurt, the betrayal, the longing and that funny little flip my stomach had been doing since sixth year whenever he was around. God, I had missed him.

"So it's true," he said. "You're back."

I nodded and drew a Guinness for him.

The conversation was awkward at first, but he didn't budge. He just sat there and asked questions, talked about his own life, about living with Lavender, about his job. I watched his lips move, remembered how the freckles across the bridge of his nose tasted and let the warm sound of his voice make me wistful. He asked about Paris, and I told him about my job, the people I called friends, that I wasn't writing anymore.

Before he went home, he wrapped his fingers around my wrist and looked at me. "I'm sorry, Dean, I really am," he said.

He came back the next week. And the week after that. I started to dread Thursday evenings. It was like not having eaten for a month and sitting in front of a thick, juicy steak, the kind that makes your mouth water just from looking at it. You know that it belongs to someone else, so you mustn't taste it, but there's no one to stop you. And you're just so hungry.

It was the fifth Thursday, I think, maybe the sixth. He was there longer than usual and when I called the last round, he ordered another Guinness and drank it slowly. The last of my regulars left the pub, and Seamus was still sitting there, following the rim of his glass with his finger in endless circles. I knew what was going to happen as surely as I knew that I wasn't going to stop it.

I took his empty glass and wiped the bar. Out of the corners of my eyes I saw him get up from the stool and walk around the counter. I sensed him coming closer and I felt his hands on my waist, warm and familiar. We stood like this for long moments, the heat of Seamus's body against my back, his hands separated from my skin only through the thinnest layer of fabric. I still held the rag in one hand and had gripped the bar with the other. If I close my eyes now, I can still feel it, every touch, every tense muscle, I can smell the pub and Seamus, can hear the screaming in my head, 'Yes, please' and 'No, don't do that again.' As if I had a choice.

"Please, Shay," I begged, but to this day I'm not sure if I wanted him to go or if I wanted him to stay.

I turned around slowly, felt his hands slide on my skin, one across the back of my waist, one across the front. Before I knew it, I had my hands on his arms and they were moving upwards over his shoulders, his collarbones, up his neck until I cradled his face, my fingers in his hair, the palms of my hands on his cheeks, my thumbs resting against his temples. I felt his pulse beating rapidly.

I knew this was the second most stupid idea of my life. I knew it as surely as I knew my own name. And yet, I lowered my head and kissed him. It was chaste and short, our lips were only touching for a second. Seamus's were dry against mine, chapped but soft, his scent surrounded me. It was enough to destroy every wall I had erected, everything I had built in those last years. It was gone in an instant. And all that was left was me and Seamus, standing there, looking into each other's eyes.

"Come upstairs with me," I heard myself say. Seamus nodded. He slipped his hands from my sides all the way around me and pulled me closer. Our lips touched again. This time it wasn't short and it wasn't over in a second.

Morning came too early and with it the reality of what we'd done. He asked me if we could meet at the weekend. Lavender would be out of town. We were still wrapped around each other and I had still believed that everything could be right again, somehow. But that was the moment when I finally woke up. Not literally, metaphorically I mean. I could never have him, not like I wanted him. This was all I was ever going to get.

I laughed. It was funny in a hysterical, desperate way.

* * *

 

The joke's been on me. Probably on all of us. Since that Thursday evening, when everything started again at the Leaky, nothing has changed. Seamus comes to me. Sometimes more often, sometimes less. Sometimes he comes three days in a row, sometimes I don't see him for weeks. It's not all about sex, it never has been. Sometimes we only talk, or sit side by side without speaking.

But our friendship is gone. And maybe that's the saddest part of all. My best mate, the one I told everything, the one I loved more than my own brother, the one I watched growing up and shared everything with, the one I'd have given up my life for, he's gone. I don't think I'll ever see him again.

Lavender knows. I can see it in her eyes, see the same things reflected in them that I see when I look into the mirror. I try to avoid meeting her. But the wizarding world is too small to never cross each other's paths. We have too many friends in common, and I don't want to lose even more to her. Don't get me wrong, I don't blame her. She hadn't known what she got herself into. She's a lovely woman. She just loves the wrong man. I wonder if she thinks the same about me.

Sometimes I feel like I'm still hiding in those woods, all alone, like life stopped around me, while it goes on for others. It would have been better for everyone if I'd died that night with Ted. I'd still have had that perfect summer where we were camping, still experienced the love that shaped my life, but there would have been no pain. Seamus would have married Lavender, maybe already be a dad, and he wouldn't need to come back to me.

Sometimes I even wish I'd never fallen in love with him.

And sometimes I wonder how the weather is in Madrid. Because as long as I'm here, he'll keep coming back to me. He can't help it.

Neither can I.

No matter how much it hurts.