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.
"Love, we're in a public place."
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."
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."
"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.