Lavender swirls the dregs around in the bottom of her tea cup, then tips it upside down on the saucer. She's been sitting here long enough that she's had two cups already, but even though she only owled Seamus less than five hours ago she knows that he's definitely coming. It's just that he believes that time-keeping is optional.
She's tracing the outline of the handle with one finger when Seamus walks in. She frowns because he's late, and he frowns because he thinks that drinking tea in a pub is ridiculous.
He pauses at the bar to place an order with Tom, which involves sticking two fingers up accompanied by a charming grin that says, 'I'm ordering two drinks, mate, not swearing at you,' and then strolls over to the table where Lavender is sitting, still wearing the same cocksure grin.
"You're late," she tells him, and then, because she knows that he doesn't care about that, adds something she thinks he will be interested in: "Charlie left me."
"So?" Seamus sits down, dismissing her woes with an airy wave of one hand. He has a new piercing since the last time Lavender saw him – a stud at the top of one ear to join the three small hoops going up the side of his other ear and the ones in each lobe. "That the biggest news you've got for me?"
"Well," says Lavender, "if you don’t want to hear about it, how about we have a nice little chat about the new Rebuilding Correlation Code instead? Or the current Pound to Galleon exchange rate?"
Seamus rudely snatches her cup, turns it the right way up, and waves it underneath her nose.
"What do these say we're going to chat about?"
She tries to ignore him, but her eyes are drawn to the patterns fashioned by tealeaves.
Lavender has always seen patterns. Patterns are everywhere: in raindrops sliding down a window pane, birds in flight, cigarette ash on the pavement, and weeds on the lawn. One of the things she loves most about being a witch is that now she's learnt to see meanings in them.
"The tealeaves don't know that, but they do know that there's going to be a big change in my life very soon and I'm going to like it. Be ecstatic about it, even."
"Sounds alright to me," says Seamus, plonking the cup back down on the table.
A frowning barmaid with her hair tied up in a scruffy bun hurries over to remove the crockery before Seamus can smash it. He smiles at her and she looks happier when she walks away, only to return a few minutes later with two fresh cups of tea and a plate of biscuits.
The second time she leaves it's with Seamus' mobile phone number.
If she'd been a Muggle, Seamus would have given her his Floo Address.
Lavender isn't sure why he does that, but then she's never been particularly interested in looking back to figure out the 'why' of things. She likes looking forward, to the future and the next good thing in it. It bothers her that having been dumped by Charlie Weasley is preying on her mind, but then she's never been able to shake heartache off easily.
"So. Charlie." Seamus leans forward in his chair, elbows on the table and his cup cradled in both hands, studying her face. "You know what I think? I think he found out."
"About your piece on the side."
Lavender sips at her tea. She chooses a sugar cube from a bowl on the table, removes the paper wrapping, and drops it into her cup.
"It isn't like that," she says, fiddling with the small square of paper. "We're friends."
Seamus snorts, which is a sound that even he can't make attractive. "I don’t think you two have ever been just friends. Honestly, did you really think you could cheat on a Weasley and get away with it? Come on, there are too many of them for that. It's like they have spies everywhere."
"You think someone in his family thought I was seeing someone else? And told him?"
"You tell me." Seamus wriggles his eyebrows suggestively. "Anyone have an opportunity to find out?"
Lavender shifts uncomfortably in her chair before she catches herself doing it and stops herself.
"Possibly." She crosses her legs to prevent herself fidgeting and drinks some of her tea. Her teeth feel gritty. The sugar cube hasn't dissolved properly, and there are no spoons or stirrers in sight.
"This I have to hear!"
Seamus loves stories. She wonders if it's the Irish in him.
"Come on," he pleads. "Confession is good for the soul."
And Lavender tells him, because a love of stories is the biggest thing that they have in common. One of the reasons she never became disenchanted with Professor Trelawney's Divination class was that even when they weren't learning something real at least she got to study a master of storytelling at work.
Or a master of gossip, but both Lavender and Seamus prefer 'story.'
"I suppose there was the time a few weeks ago when Molly came over to Romania for a visit and I hadn't done the dishes."
"Dishes that you'd not done on account of being upstairs shagging?"
Lavender rolls her eyes. "Dishes I hadn't done on account of me hating to do dishes, as well you know. Anyway, she saw."
"My tea leaves! Focus, please."
"And the tea leaves spelled out 'Lavender is shagging someone who is not your second born son'?"
"Not in so many words, no."
Seamus gives her a pitying look. "You really think she could read your leaves? Or could be bothered to?"
"She had an odd look on her face."
"Probably wondering why you hadn't cleaned up yet, or why you've never heard of teabags." This reminds him to takes a gulp from the tea in front of him, pulling a face when it burns his tongue. His eyes wander over to the barmaid. "Is that the most scandalous story you have for me?"
"No," she says, tilting her chin up. Lavender Brown, she reminds herself, can wrestle Seamus' attention from anyone when she has the mind to, and she's trying to tell the ignorant sod a story here. "You remember me telling you that Charlie was off doing barrier repairs on the Reserve last week, so I came to stay in London? A couple of us went to the Ministry and finally took our Apparition tests. It was a good feeling, doing something normal. We were in a party mood, practically dancing out of there with our licenses, and I'd missed her."
"Tell me you couldn't wait to get out of the Ministry before shagging," says Seamus, the corners of his mouth curving upwards as his eyes flick back to her.
"You're determined to get a story about someone having sex in the Ministry one day, aren't you?" She shakes her head a little, grinning. "I had my hand in a bit of an inappropriate place when Mr Weasley joined us in the lift."
"Maybe he just thought you were brushing dust off or something."
"Off her trouser zip?"
"Okay, maybe not." He smirks, rotating the cup in his hands. "I bet you backed off straight away."
"Then he probably never noticed."
Lavender snatches another sugar cube and tosses it at Seamus. It rebounds off his nose and lands somewhere on the floor.
He replies by sticking his tongue out at her. He has a new piercing there too, that looks like a small Celtic knot, and Lavender forces herself to ignore all the teasing comments about knots and tongues that spring to mind, fearing the direction that would take this conversation in.
"Well, that night we went out dancing," she continues. "We were favouring Muggle clubs − and it's because no one there talks about The War rather than because we were hiding, before you say anything."
"Wasn't going to."
"We should have remembered that Muggleborn students have been known to go to Muggle clubs, and in this case dragging her Weasley boyfriend with her."
"Hermione and Ron?"
Seamus blinks and Lavender knows that she's surprised him. He's always tried to hide it, especially during the war, but the rapid blink and slight widening of the eyes gives him away. Some people only listen to the words coming out of his mouth, but Seamus is a storyteller. He chooses his words. The truth lies in his face.
"Hermione and Ron have wild nights out at Muggle clubs? You're taking the piss, right?"
"I kid you not. Hermione and Ron snogging on the dance floor, oblivious to everything, and the two of us danced right into them."
"Yeah, but 'oblivious' is the word there, isn't it?" Seamus raises his eyebrows. "Haven't you been caught properly?"
Lavender rises to the challenge.
"How about Fleur and Bill catching me with my tongue down a throat that wasn't Charlie's at their summer party?" she asks. "There we are, sober enough to look for a convenient bush to hide behind but drunk enough for a bit of fun, and Miss Veela and her husband have the same idea about the same bush. Why they couldn't just share a kiss in front of everyone else, being married and at their own house, I have no idea."
"Maybe they're private people," he suggests with a shrug.
"I repeat: veela. And−"
"Woah, there's an 'and'? It's like one of those bloody board games me cousin loves. Who's next? Percy in the library?"
She smirks. "Bookshop, actually."
Seamus bursts out laughing, attracting the attention of the barmaid, who looks annoyed to see him enjoying himself so much with another woman.
"We were on a perfectly legitimate shopping trip, I'll have you know, taking a look at the new Divination publications. I just…I had to touch her. It's not like a lot of people spend time amongst shelves of Divination texts," she says, feeling a touch defensive. "I didn't know anyone else was there."
Lavender tucks her chin down and stares into her tea. Seamus tugs on her hair gently until she lifts her head again. He fires his most dangerous grin at her, mouthing focus, please! She bats his hand away and he holds both of his up in surrender, then shoves them in the pockets of his jeans and leans back in his chair.
Lavender doesn't need telling twice. She's always preferred to be the person causing embarrassment rather than suffering from it. Not that it's ever been easy to embarrass Seamus, even though turning the tables is always worth a try, so she aims for another kind of reaction.
"I had her backed up against a set of shelves. She had one of her legs between mine. My mouth was on her neck, she was sucking my earlobe, and yes, we were well on our way to shagging."
She pauses, drinks some tea, and purses her lips so that she doesn't laugh at Seamus' eager expression as he waits for her to continue.
"Obviously, we didn't."
"Because Percy walked in on you?"
"Actually, he'd been there all the time, standing on the other side of the shelves. I made a rather loud noise and then I heard a rather polite male cough – it's unmistakable that cough of his, isn't it?"
Seamus, who has had more than one run-in with Prefect Percy and Head Boy Percy, nods in agreement.
"If it were possible to die of embarrassment I think he would have done it right there."
"And you wouldn't have joined him?"
"Please," says Lavender with a smile, "I was far too turned on to give a damn about embarrassment."
"Went somewhere else to finish things off did you?"
"A side alley. Smelt like kneazles and sour milk, but it had a wall and it had her."
"And...?" Seamus lets his voice trail off suggestively.
"And I finally got that zip undone."
"And?" He leans forward, impatient to hear as many sordid details as she will be willing to give out.
"And George Weasley shouts, 'Get a room!' Then that friend of his with the dreadlocks shouts, 'No objections from me! Carry on ladies!'"
Seamus laughs again, but she doesn't bother checking the barmaid's reaction this time. Seamus doesn't give in to amusement as much as he used to and Lavender is too busy congratulating herself on getting two such open reactions from him in one day.
"Oh, it gets better. One of them asked me if she was better than Ron, the other one said she couldn't be worse, and then they started arguing about how woeful Hermione Granger's sex life must be. Talk about off-putting!"
"And?" he prompts.
"And what? Not dirty enough for you?"
"Tell me you collected the whole set." His mouth slowly stretches into a satisfied grin, like a cat arching its back in feline pleasure. "Ginny."
Lavender lets her eyes rove around the pub, taking in the decoration and giving herself time to think. The 1702 Harpies Quidditch Team waves at her from a signed photograph in a dusty frame, Harry Potter flattens his fringe down nervously in an Undesirable Number One poster with the 'Undesirable' crossed out, and in a rather more lurid poster the Weird Sisters mouth the words to a song that might be 'Gnome Problem.'
Ginny attends all the same parties and gatherings as Lavender. She is, after all, close to Lavender's age and another member of Dumbledore's Army, besides also being the sister of the man Lavender is, or rather was, officially dating. Yet Lavender can't remember a time she could have been cheating on Charlie in front of her.
She wonders if this means that she has been hiding, from the one Weasley who might realise that anything Lavender gets up to with someone other than Charlie could be more than a couple of friends messing around; that could tell themselves they'd seen something other than Lavender cheating on the man she'd told them that she loved.
"The first time I had sex Ginny was in the same room."
Seamus blinks and stills, his cup lifted off the table but not yet having reached his mouth.
"It was after that Forbidden Forest detention she had, when we made her stay in the Seventh Year girls' dormitory, because the Sixth Year girls' one was empty then and we told her we weren't going to let her sleep on her own. Remember?"
Seamus nods, which doesn't surprise her. Almost everything that happened in their last year at Hogwarts, even the tiniest details, seem to be permanently etched in the memories of everyone who was there. (If they'd actually learnt anything in lessons that year then they would have all passed their exams with flying colours. If there had been any exams.)
"I had the curtains around my bed open," she says, "so I could keep checking on Ginny. An hour or so after lights out Parvati came and crawled into bed with me."
Lavender's eyes flicker around the room, making sure that no one is listening in.
"We'd done that plenty of times before, so it wasn't strange or anything. Sometimes with just the two of us there, and remembering why it was just the two of us, it was nice to fall asleep being held by someone else. Knowing that the other person really was there.
I remember her feet were cold against my leg as they slid down to join mine and we whispered for a while, about things that weren't important. I turned my head to see her face and our lips brushed."
Lavender watches as the fingers of her right hand reach out of their own violation to touch the handle of her cup. It's still warm. Warm and smooth like skin, but nowhere near as soft.
"I'd kissed her before, but only for a dare. It was in the dark and this time we weren't giggling, and suddenly I didn't care that her feet were cold because the rest of her was so warm. She was so close and I wanted her to be closer. I wanted to swallow her warm breath and keep it to myself, to have it there always, her breathing inside of me. Never leaving.
I didn't really know what I was doing. I mean, how to do it. I touched her, my fingers on her skin in all the places that it's possible to touch, but she was the one who showed me. That something could feel so good. There hadn't been much of feeling good that year and she… Well…"
Lavender moves both hands under the table and runs her palms over her thighs, smoothing out the wrinkles in her skirt, then adds, "Parvati Patil has very talented fingers."
Seamus, apparently only just realising that he's still holding his teacup halfway to his mouth, puts the cup down, pushes it away from himself, and folds his arms on the table top.
"I did wonder if the pair of you actually got it on back in school. Sometimes I'd think yes, then that you were just a couple of giggling girls."
"We were that too."
"Yes." Lavender clears her throat and finishes her tea. "So. Yes. Ginny knows about me and Parvati, because we weren't exactly quiet about it and she's not stupid, but she thinks that finished long before I started up with Charlie."
"Yes! I didn't set out to hurt anyone, Seamus."
"How did it end?" he says softly.
"She went to stay with family in India after Padma died. Long distance relationships. And I didn't know what to say around her, not then."
"I meant with Charlie."
Lavender lifts one shoulder slightly.
"I came home from work yesterday and he was standing by the fire. Tearing some parchment up, throwing it in, and watching it burn. He looked so worn down. Defeated. I thought a dragon had died at first. 'We had fun, yeah?' he said, turning to look at me, and I just knew we were finished. The look on his face." Lavender pauses, letting her eyes drift away from Seamus and back towards the Weird Sisters' poster. "I can’t believe I put that look on his face."
"You're hurting, aren't you?" says Seamus.
"My boyfriend broke up with me. Of course it hurts."
"But you were seeing someone else. Or wanted to."
Lavender glares at him. "Look, just to make this clear, I like Charlie a lot. We had some great times together and he's wonderful, really, he is. I like him."
"But do you love him?" Seamus slides his folded arms across the table towards her and rests his chin on them, his eyes watching her face carefully. "I remember what you were like with Ron, which was pretty mental. Were you more in love with Ron than Charlie?"
"It's always perfect when you’re young, or at least you think it's perfect," says Lavender. "Charlie's wonderful. We got on fine, even living together and doing things like stealing each other's toothbrushes, and the sex was great."
"But it wasn't perfect?"
She shrugs and Seamus nods to himself, like he's figured out some great secret.
"I don't know why you're so concerned about people being perfect for each other," Lavender says, feeling the urge to lash out at him. She waves a hand in the direction of the barmaid. "It's not like you're looking for perfection, just a quick shag. And even then you don't make it easy for them."
"Maybe I don’t make it easy for them because they're not perfect, but I'm not dumb enough to turn down a shag." He rubs his ear, just below the latest piercing, between his finger and thumb. "What did you do? After he told you it was over?"
"I took my things and I left. Hired a room upstairs in the pub last night. I didn't want to have to explain to anyone what I was doing back in England again so soon."
Seamus smiles. "But, naturally, I'm different."
"I owled Parvati before you," Lavender says, not wanting him to get above himself. "First thing this morning."
"Going to stay with her now, are you?"
Seamus leers, which is his idea of lightening the tone of a conversation, and Lavender whacks him on the arm with the flat of her palm. The barmaid glares at her from the other side of the room.
"Seriously," he says. "Maybe you're meant to be with Parvati. If you were staying with Charlie 'cause you didn't want to hurt him by leaving? Think you would have hurt him eventually anyway. I mean, a bloke finally finds out that the woman he loves hasn't ever loved him? When they've been together for, what? Years? Did you think that wouldn't hurt?"
Lavender bites her lip, needing the pain and needing to prevent herself from arguing when she knows that Seamus is right.
"And did you think it wasn't hurting you, love? Just making do?"
He reaches a hand out towards her, silver rings glinting on more than one of his fingers, then thinks better of it and pulls back.
Lavender gazes into the bottom of her teacup absently. The pattern is the same as it was in her first cup of the afternoon. Apparently ecstasy is still somewhere in the future.
She wishes it would hurry up.
"Here," says Seamus, sliding his empty teacup across the table. "Do me."
"Someone's going to find out a secret about you," she tells him in a quiet voice. "Probably because you can't keep your mouth shut. But they're going to forgive you for it."
"Ah." Seamus retrieves his cup and passes it from one hand to the other and back again. "Well."
Lavender straightens as, over his shoulder, she sees Parvati entering the pub.
"I may have written to Charlie telling him that you were cheating on him," Seamus says, all in one breath.
She closes her eyes.
"I did tell him not to take it to heart, only a blind toad could tell you weren't all that into him. You always act crazy when you love someone, like messing around with them in front of the family of the bloke that you're meant to be with, just for instance! I don’t think you get it, how different you look and sound when you're talking about everyone else, even Charlie, and then when you're talking about Parvati."
"Talking about me when I'm not here?" says the woman in question.
Lavender feels long, soft hair tickling the bare skin above the neckline of her cardigan as Parvati kisses her on the cheek. Slender arms wrap themselves around her shoulders from behind and a chin comes to rest gently on top of her head. She smells of the perfume Lavender bought her for Christmas.
"If the tealeaves are anything to go by you're going to be forgiven for whatever it is," says Parvati, apparently looking at the cup in Lavender's hands, "but I'm afraid they don't say that you're going to be forgiven today. What've you done this time, Seamus?"
Lavender hears the wooden legs of his chair scraping across the floor as he gets up, but she keeps her eyes closed, as if depriving herself of one of her senses will allow her brain to devote more effort into sorting out the conflicting emotions gathering like a storm in her head. Charlie, Seamus, and Parvati: at this point she hates and loves all three of them all at once and it hurts.
"I told Charlie she was cheating on him with you," says Seamus. "Not that it should have been news to him if the rest of the Weasley clan had told him what they'd seen you two getting up to."
"Oh, please. We gave in to really being together for the first time in years for one day. I would have come along earlier if I'd thought you'd give Lavender a hard time over this."
"Hey, one day if you say so, but you were showing off in front of everyone but Charlie-boy himself."
Lavender finally opens her eyes so she can glare at him and one of Parvati's hands moves down to hold on to Lavender's tightly. "I wouldn't have. In front of Charlie? No."
"The rest of the Weasleys however…" Seamus stops, knowing that going any further would be going too far. He tilts his head to one side and scratches the back of his neck. "Okay, so maybe I didn't know it would hurt you this much, leaving Charlie behind, but yeah, I sure knew it would hurt him. I still think it would hurt him more the longer you left it before you left him, and I still think it's right that you leave him, because making do isn't good enough. Never is."
"Which you'd know?" she says, narrowing her eyes. Despite herself, she starts to feel some small sympathy for the person who has thrown her life into uncertainty, but not enough to absolve him.
"Yeah." He slips his hands back into his pockets. "Which I'd know. So," he says, nodding at Parvati, "you two enjoy lunch together or something, and let me know when the tealeaves say I'm forgiven. I'll see myself out."
Lavender watches him leave, hands still in his pockets. He doesn't look back.
"Are you alright?" Parvati asks.
"Yes. No." She sighs. "Not yet. The tealeaves say I will be, though."
"Oh, well, if the tealeaves say so."
Lavender gently squeezes the hand holding hers and Parvati squeezes back. It's not the ecstasy that she's been promised, but it is exactly what she needs right now. If anything is perfect, then this is. Everything else can wait.