If I Fell
All veils and misty
Streets of blue
That chill divine
Some silken moment
Goes on forever
And we're leaving broken hearts behind
—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.
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."
"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."
"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 which, 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.
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