Oh! Darling

Do you dream to touch me?
And smile down deep inside
Or could you just kill me?
It's hard to make up your mind, sometimes

—Chris Robinson and Rich Robinson, "Thorn In My Pride"

30 November 1996

"Nin, please, your attention? Thank you. Which jumper—the black or the red?"

"Seamus, aren't you supposed to be my fashion guru? Since when does anyone ask for clothing advice from me?"

Seamus, Hermione and Harry sat in her room, into which Seamus had brought nearly his entire wardrobe.

"Since I'm headed on what may be the most important date in my life!" Seamus shouted. "Come on, black or red?"

"Seamus, don't be so melodramatic. Why couldn't you have dressed in our dorm, instead of bringing all this stuff up here?" asked Harry.

"Honestly, even I can answer that," said Hermione. "You can't dress for a date in the same room as your date. That isn't even remotely romantic."

"Ah, good point," he said, finally understanding. Harry's experience of homosexuality hadn't yet encompassed romance as Sirius and Remus were rarely romantic, at least around him. Seamus' relationship with Justin could scarcely have been called a romance, even at the beginning. "Well, if romance is what you want, I'd go for the black."

Hermione nodded in agreement. "The turtleneck makes you look very chic, with your hair and those slim trousers."

"Brilliant. I think I have some boots around here someplace." As Seamus began to search under the piles of clothing, there was a knock at the door.

"Yes?" Hermione said from the bed.

The door opened and Ginny popped her head in. "I thought I might find you here," she said to Seamus.

Seamus looked up, a pair of black leather boots with a cuban heel in his hands. "Are you sure you want this?" he asked, pulling the Hogsmeade Inn key from his pocket.

Ginny nodded, clapping her hands like a small child.

Seamus shook his head. "Don't be overeager, Ginny; it's unattractive." He tossed her the key.

"Thank you, kind sir." Looking at Harry and Hermione, she said, "Do not breathe a word of this to Ron." Then she walked back out of the room.

"Out by six o'clock!" Seamus called after Ginny as she shut the door. When he finished putting on his boots he turned to look at himself in the mirror. "Not bad. Well, who knew Our Hero had fashion sense?"

"I don't," said Harry. "Not innately, anyway. Everything I know, I learned from Sirius."

Seamus looked up at Harry. "Mmm, that godfather of yours is dead sexy. Well, anyone with a flying motorcycle is by definition sexy. Remus Lupin is a lucky man."

Harry smiled. "They're both lucky. Come on, we need to go."

"I'll hang back for a second, if you don't mind," Seamus said, still checking himself out in the mirror.

Hermione pulled Harry from where they were sitting on the bed, whispering, "He likes to make an entrance. Can't resist that walking down the staircase to his waiting date bit." Aloud, she said, "See you later, Seamus," and Harry and Hermione walked down to the common room.

Dean stood from the couch as he heard the footsteps. "Oh, I thought Seamus was with you two."

"He'll be right along," Hermione said. When Seamus had told her that Dean had asked him to Hogsmeade, she told Seamus to be cautious since the exact nature of the outing hadn't been specified. Then she saw that Dean had dressed up a bit, too, in a blue turtleneck and camel-colored jacket. The look on his face when Seamus finally appeared on the stairs was unmistakable. Satisfied, she led Harry through the portrait hole to give the two some privacy.

Dean couldn't find his voice until Seamus had descended the staircase and was standing before him. "Seamus, you look grand."

Seamus beamed. "So do you. You look . . . cool."

"Thanks, but where did you pick up that word?" Dean asked.

"From you."

"I'm a good influence, then."

"Very. Shall we?"


Ron Weasley sat alone in the small nook where he and Padma had been playing chess for the last three months. After their exchange at the Quidditch match, Ron decided to give Padma plenty of space—all the space in the world. He figured she knew where he was and she could come find him. But he hadn't thought it would take her a week. He ran his finger along the grooves in the table, remembering how she would do the same when she was concentrating on her next move, and sighed.

"I hoped I would find you here," said a soft, familiar voice.

Ron looked up. "Padma?" He stared for a moment. "Please, sit down, if you like," he said.

Padma slid into the other seat and smiled slightly at Ron. Then she looked down at her hands and said, "About last Saturday. I'm really sorry; I was obnoxious."

Ron leaned forward. "I wouldn't say that, exactly. We all need space sometimes."

Padma took his hands in hers. "Well, I need to be more gracious in asking for it. I was a brat and I apologize." She looked down at the table for a moment, then back up at Ron. "I'm afraid I'm rather a perfectionist. Doesn't go very well with team sport. Dad thought being on a team would force it out of me but it hasn't quite yet. I shouldn't have taken out my frustration on you. You've never done that to me." She looked away again, ashamed of her behavior.

"No? Seems to me that I spend the better part of October growling at you about my sister." He paused. "Just . . . don't push me away, all right?"

"All right," she replied, smiling. "So, will you accompany me to Hogsmeade?"

Ron looked around the nook. "I have a better idea."

Padma looked at him, one eyebrow raised. "Are you going to let me in on it?" she asked.

Ron grinned.

Ginny and Draco walked into Room 204, where Ginny immediately flung her cloak on the bed and sat down on the window seat. "What a crowd!" she said, looking out over the sea of people in the streets.

Draco took off his cloak and robe and hung them on the pegs near the door. He picked her cloak off the bed and hung it up as well, then stood with his hands on Ginny's shoulders and looked out the window. "Christmas decorations are up."

Ginny reached up her hand to hold one of his and tipped back her head to look at him.

He looked down, smiling slightly. "You're cute upside down," he whispered, kissing her. He moved to sit down next to her on the window seat, pulling her legs over his. Draco stared at her as he often did when she wasn't looking. She was leaning against the window, eyes closed, her hair aglow in the pale winter sun. He thought about the upcoming holiday and where he and Ginny might spend it, then wondered why, when contemplating a holiday without his family, Ginny should loom so large in his thoughts.

He gasped at he realized all at once that he was falling for Ginny and had been for some time. He'd been telling himself all along that it was just lust. Although their relationship was certainly very sensual, that was a lie. With Quidditch and catching up in his classes, not to mention getting his House back (part of it anyway), Draco was busy enough now that he had to make time to spend with her. Somehow, Ginny was his girl though he'd never done anything to claim her, as his father had taught; she'd just given herself to him. He wanted her, but that wasn't all of it; he needed her, but not as much as before. He was beginning to love her. He smiled to himself at the thought of it.

Ginny turned to him, opening her eyes. "What are you grinning about?"

He leaned forward and kissed her softly. "Have I told you that you have great boobs?"

At that, Ginny started to laugh.

"There!" he proclaimed. "Instead of saying 'how vulgar' or 'that's hardly romantic' you laugh! Amazing girl!" He pulled her toward him and they began to kiss in earnest, their hands threaded through each other's hair to pull their heads closer together, if possible.

Then Draco muttered, "Bed."

"Mmm?" she said.

He pulled back slightly. "Why are we sitting here, when there's a bed?"

Ginny swung her legs around and stood up. Smiling at him, she removed her robes before sitting down on the bed. "I intend to make you forget that you ever kissed anyone else in this room."

Draco climbed onto the bed. "Really?" he asked, raising his eyebrows. "And how do you plan on doing that?

She turned and pounced on top of him, legs straddling his, and kissed him, pushing his torso down onto the bed. After a moment, she said, "You know, I've never seen you naked."

Draco scowled in confusion. "Never?" he asked.

She shook her head. "Not all at once. Bits and pieces." She sat up and slowly pulled her jumper off, then leaned forward again to unbutton his shirt.

As she did, he lowered his hands to cup her bottom and push her hips into his. "Ginny, how far are we going with this?"

"No further than we have. We just have more time, and more privacy." She wriggled her hips slightly. "So responsive, Mr. Malfoy."

He tried to laugh but found he couldn't, quite, so he merely smiled. "Miss Weasley, you have no idea."

Hogsmeade was packed with students. Dean and Seamus wandered through the streets, stopping here and there to window shop, compiling their Christmas lists. Seamus was also looking for a present for a young aunt of his who'd just taken a new job.

"What sort of thing would she like?" Dean asked.

"Something feminine," Seamus replied. "Eccentric but feminine."

Eventually they found just the thing: a pretty bracelet that glowed red and gold (she'd been a Gryffindor in her day). Seamus had it gift wrapped and they headed to the post office to send it to Ireland. While Seamus spoke to the postmistress, Dean wandered off to look at some of the owls. Seamus finished writing the note, handed it over, and looked up to find Dean had stepped outside and was talking to someone who looked familiar to Seamus, even from behind. As Dean looked up at Seamus walking outside, the other person turned around.

Justin Finch-Fletchley.

Seamus fought to control his emotions. He inclined his head slightly in greeting. "Justin," he said in his coldest tone.

"Seamus," Justin replied. Then, seeing Dean look at Seamus, he crowed gleefully, "Oh, so you two are here together? Isn't that precious? Consolation date for you, Finnigan?"

"That isn't how I would characterize it." Seamus walked over to Dean, who squeezed Seamus' hand in support, then rubbed his thumb against the back. Seamus tried to conceal his surprise at the gesture.

Justin put his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. "I wouldn't get too chummy with that Irishman if I were you, Thomas. He's preowned and goes through boys faster than boxer shorts."

"I can take care of myself, thanks," replied Dean.

"Well, I'll leave you to it, then. Room 204, isn't it? Standing reservation?" Justin chuckled to himself before turning and walking down the street.

"Right, what was that all about?" Dean had turned to Seamus.

"I'll tell you later. I'd rather not discuss it in the middle of the street. Come on, let's get some butterbeer." Seamus pulled Dean in the direction of the Three Broomsticks.

Ron lay on a small purple couch, Padma in his arms, stomach full and heart content.

The two had converted their nook from a chess space to a cozy hideaway. The chairs had been transfigured into the couch and the game table into a small coffee table that fit perfectly between the couch and the edge of the nook. Some old bed curtains that Padma had found in a closet in her dorm had been colored purple and hung across the opening of the nook, hiding its occupants from the casual passerby. A small candelabra hung above the couch, as it had hung above the table and chairs before, and lent the small space a warm glow.

The remnants of a picnic procured by Ron from the kitchens lay spread on the table. Padma held up the small dish of fruit. "How on earth do they get fresh cherries in November?" She shook her head, then grabbed one by the stem and fed it to Ron. She rolled over so that she was facing him, her hands on his chest. "Do you know what I like about you?"

Ron raised his eyebrows and shook his head, his mouth still full of cherry.

"You never tell me how beautiful I am. You never mention it at all."

Ron discarded the cherry pit on the table. "Oh, that's because I don't find you attractive in the slightest," he said, straight-faced but with a twinkle in his eye. "You're rather an ugly thing, aren't you?"

Padma laughed and Ron smiled in satisfaction. He could often get the somewhat serious girl to smile but laughter was more rare. "Do you know what I like about you?" he asked.

"What?" Padma asked, sliding up so that her face was just above Ron's.

He looked at Padma intently. "You never mention my best friend."

Padma drew back slightly, surprised. "Best friend? You have a best friend?" she asked.

Ron smiled. "Dark hair, glasses. Dating Hermione Granger."

"Oh, him! Well, I never pay attention to boys shorter than six foot. Not worth my time, really." She looked at Ron. "Do you know what I just realized?"

"No, what?"

"You still haven't kissed me, Ron Weasley." She raised her eyebrows.

"I can remedy that," Ron replied, his voice suddenly hoarse.

Then, nearly two years after their first date and four months after their first game of chess, Ron Weasley finally kissed Padma Patil and immediately wondered what in the world had taken him so long.

Padma sat up slightly, her eyes dancing, and opened her mouth to speak. Before she'd uttered one word, Ron put his finger to her lips and threatened, "If you say 'checkmate' I will never kiss you again."

She laughed.

Seamus and Dean were lucky enough to get a corner booth and were silently working through pumpkin pasties and butterbeer when Seamus muttered, "Um, thanks."

"For what?" Dean asked.

"For taking my hand back there. That was good of you." Seamus looked up at Dean.

Dean faced out into the room. "I was just trying to keep you calm. You think, after over five years, that I don't know the warning signs of an explosion?"

Seamus smiled outwardly but inside, he groaned; there had been nothing in it at all. "So Dean, how goes the play-by-play? You sounded great last week."

With that, the conversation roamed through very non-personal topics: Quidditch, classes, dueling practice and the war that was always in the back of everyone's minds. As they chatted, Seamus couldn't help thinking how close Dean was sitting, how much he liked Dean's short curly hair and warm brown eyes, and how calm he always felt when he was around Dean. Not the affected ennui but a real, soul-deep equanimity. He didn't think he ever could have kept his head during his encounter with Justin if Dean hadn't been literally holding his hand through it. Even if it hadn't meant anything. Just like the fact that Dean's leg was pressed up against Seamus' and Dean's arm lay along the back of the booth just behind Seamus' shoulders didn't mean anything. Nope, Dean just wanted to be friends.

Eventually, they spied Harry, Hermione, Ginny and Draco coming into the door and beckoned them over.

Hermione slid in next to Seamus, whispering, "How's it going?"

"I have no idea," Seamus whispered back. "He's the king of the mixed signal."

Aloud, Hermione said, "We really only have time for one more round, then we have to get back."

"Our Prefect Speaketh" Harry teased.

"Well, how would it look if two Prefects were late back to school?"

"Hey!" Draco said. "Leave me out of this!"

As they got their drinks, Ginny said, "Let's drink to Slytherin Quidditch! Come on, just this once. Draco had an excellent game last week."

Harry groaned. "If anyone asks, I will deny I ever said this. To Slytherin Quidditch!"

Later, as they walked back to the castle, Dean said to Seamus, "Okay, out with it, Finnigan. What's with you and Justin? You broke up almost a year ago."

Seamus sighed. "Justin's just a really bad seed, you know? We had a thing. It didn't end well. I know you can take care of yourself but learn from my mistake—stay away from that bloke."

Dean paused. "If I'm staying away from him, where am I going to?"

Now, Seamus knew a line when he heard one. But he'd been waiting for Dean for so long, he wavered, unsure, thinking he could just have imagined the whole thing. Then he remembered Sirius telling him not to hesitate.

"Here" he said, reaching his hand up to the back of Dean's neck and kissing him. Dean's full lips felt so right, so perfectly right, that Seamus actually thought he heard music. As he tried to deepen the kiss, to part Dean's lips with his tongue, Dean pulled away.

"Oh, Seamus, I don't know about this," he said, looking away sadly.

Seamus let the frustration that had been building all day get the better of him. "Dean, what do you want? You've been sending me mixed signals all night. Are you in or are you out?"

"Maybe you should ask yourself that, Seamus." Dean, usually slow to anger, pointed his finger at Seamus yelling, "How serious are you? Has it occurred to you, Seamus, that you have a bit of a reputation? Has it occurred to you, Seamus, that I care about you more than that, that I don't like to see the way you run around? Has it occurred to you, Seamus, that I would rather not be just another notch on your infamous broomstick? Or should I say, a notch on the bedpost in room 204 at the Hogsmeade Inn?"

Harry, Hermione, Draco and Ginny, who'd been walking just ahead of them, stopped and turned when they heard the shouting, just in time to see Seamus punch Dean square across the jaw, then rush past them toward the castle.

Hermione caught up to Seamus as he entered the front doors of the school. He was holding his left hand and his eyes were beginning to water. Hermione embraced him and moved him up the stairs to Gryffindor Tower. Above them, she saw Ron, who was just going up to the Tower after saying goodnight to Padma.

Ron turned when he heard their footsteps behind him. "Hermione, had a fantastic date tonight—whoa, what happened to you, Seamus?"

Hermione looked up at Ron and shook her head. "I'm sure Dean looks worse. Ron, could you run down to the kitchens and get two bags of ice?"

Ron nodded and walked past them back down the stairs.

Hermione managed to get Seamus up to her room before he started to lose it entirely. "I can't believe that Dean of all people would believe these rumors!"

"Here, let me look at your hand. When's the last time you actually punched someone, Seamus?"

"Not for a while. I guess I'm a bit out of practice. I was pretty emotional."

"Yes, you were."

"I mean, he all but begged me to kiss him, standing there and saying, 'Where will I go?' Then he backs off from the whole thing. What does he want?"

Hermione stroked Seamus' shoulder, trying to calm him down. "Maybe he wants you to be patient. I can understand your frustration but did you honestly think that the minute that you were ready for him he would be ready for you?"

As Harry led Dean through the portrait hole, he saw Ron in the common room, two ice bags in his hands. "Hermione was right," said Ron, "you look awful."

Harry glared at his friend. "Thank you Ron, what a helpful thing to say." They walked up the stairs with Dean to their dorm room.

Once in the room, Harry sat Dean down on this bed and took one of the bags of ice from Ron. "Put this ice against your jaw."

"Seamus did this to you?" Ron asked. "What did you say to him?"

"I believe the line was, 'I don't want to be another notch on your broomstick, or the bedpost at the Hogsmeade Inn,'" Harry said.

Through his sore jaw and the ice compress, Dean mumbled, "Room 204."

"Dean, you don't actually believe those rumors, do you?" Ron asked. "Even I don't believe them. Sure, Seamus sees a lot of boys but then, I used to see a lot of girls. I didn't, you know, fool around with all of them. A lot of anyone's reputation is just spiteful gossip. I wonder who has it in so for Seamus."

A voice from the door said, "Finch-Flechtley, who's an utter bastard by the way."

"Malfoy?" Ron crossed his arms, annoyed. "How did you get up here?"

"Oh, like Ginny hasn't let me in before. Dean, she thought you might need to hear what I have to say. Weasley, no homophobic comments."

"I reckon I can hold my tongue, Malfoy, if you keep it short," Ron retorted.

"What do you have to say to me, Draco?" asked Dean, exhaustion showing in his voice.

Draco sat in a chair opposite Dean's bed. "A month ago, I was running around, acting like a little shit—"

"As opposed to four years ago, when you were running around, acting like a little shit?" Ron interrupted.

"Oi!" Draco shouted.

"What? That wasn't homophobic."

"You two are like children sometimes!" Harry stood up. "I trust you to control yourself," he said, pointing at Ron, "and you, Draco, not to provoke Ron and to get out of here without anyone seeing you." With that, Harry walked out of the room.

Draco turned back to Dean. "Anyway, I'd decided after the untimely death of my mother to get back at my father in every possible way. One of those ways was to hook up with Seamus. So I approached him and he said to meet him at the Inn."

"Room 204? I really don't think I need to hear this." Dean moved to get off the bed.

Draco held out his hand. "Wait, hear me out, please. When I got there, Seamus took one look at me and said that my actions were still about what others thought, especially my father. He's the one that told me that I should go for what I wanted. What I wanted was Ginny."

Ron scowled. "Nice way to talk about my sister!"

Dean turned to Ron, irritated. "Ron, everything isn't about you. Draco, go on."

Draco glared at Ron but held his tongue. "All I'm trying to say is, Seamus isn't up there in that room shagging like a maniac. Some of the boys that approach him are still questioning their sexuality or aren't ready to come out yet, for whatever reason. So Seamus has found a way for them to be able to talk about it without other people knowing. Since he's mysterious about who he sees, rumors fill the vacuum."

"What about Justin?" asked Dean.

"For once, I think Weasley's right." Ron blinked at Draco, who shrugged. "Finch-Fletchley is a arsehole. Those that he can't get some advantage from, he either runs over or ignores altogether. I think he spreads those rumors about Seamus out of spite. I don't know what they broke up about but Seamus must have somehow gotten the edge over him, so he's exacting his revenge."

Ron raised his hand. "Um, can I ask a question now?"

"What is it, Ron?" Dean said impatiently.

Ron asked Draco, "Does Ginny know about your, er, adventures?"

Draco smiled and shook his head. "Of course she knows. You can't fool Ginny. I thought you would have figured that out by now, Weasley. You've known her longer than I have. Dean, I do have to go but you know, I'm around." Draco stood and walked toward the door.

During Draco's speech, Dean had been staring at the floor near Seamus' bed where the Zimbabwe Zebras t-shirt lay, discarded. He looked up at Draco. "Thanks. Clearly, I've been a complete prat."

"No, Thomas, you just jumped to conclusions. We all do at one time or another." Draco walked out of the room.

Dean turned to Ron. "Well, what do I do now?"

"Apologize. If there's one thing I have learned from going out with all these girls, it's to apologize early and often. Gets you out of a lot more jams than you think it will. Of course, your apology has to be sincere or it just makes things a lot worse."

"That's comforting." Dean sighed, slouching against his pillows.

Harry ran up to Hermione's room with the other bag of ice and knocked softly at her door. She opened it a crack. "Oh, Harry, thanks, I wondered where Ron had got to."

"I intercepted him and got the other bag to Dean." he whispered.

"Who's with him, besides Ron?"

"Well, when I left, Draco was talking to him."

"I think I know what story he's telling Dean." Hermione's eyes flew open. "Wait, Draco's in your dorm room? With Ron?"

"Well, if anyone can keep them from killing each other, it's Dean."

Seamus called out from inside the room, "Harry, that you? You might as well come in."

Harry walked over to the bed and Hermione closed the door behind him. "Here's some ice for that hand. How are you?"

Seamus shook his head. "Merely heartbroken, thanks. No big deal. I finally figure out how to get the boy and he would rather believe rumors than his own supposed best friend."

Harry sat on the bed. "Seamus, if that's what he believes, don't you think it's because that's what you meant for him to believe? If you want him to know the truth, you need to tell him the truth. He hasn't exactly been your confidant these last couple of years."

Seamus sighed and lay his head back on the bed. "I've been an idiot. What do I do now? I've just made a mess of everything."

"I know one thing we need to do," Harry said. "We need to get back to our dorm and you need to swallow your pride and heal Dean's jaw."

Seamus nodded. He stood, receiving another hug from Hermione before following Harry back to their own room.

Neville had since returned, and he and Ron were sitting near Dean's bed, quietly talking. They looked up when they heard their other two roommates enter. As Seamus made eye contact with Dean, Harry beckoned to Neville and Ron and all three quickly left the room.

Seamus walked slowly over to Dean, trying to forget what had happened earlier and think like the healer he wanted to be. "I know this is awkward but you're going to have to let me take a look at it," he said to Dean as professionally as he could. He sat down next to him on the bed and pulled out his wand.

"I'm really sorry about all this," Dean said, his voice sad and muffled.

"So am I," Seamus replied.
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