the_water_clock: abstract painting (Untitled (Seagram Mural) 1959)
[personal profile] the_water_clock
Author: Clio
Title: The Trick Is to Keep Breathing, Chapter 3: Michaelmas
Pairing: Draco/Ginny, Seamus/Dean, Ron/Padma, Pansy/Parvati, Harry/Hermione
Category: Mystery/romance
Rating: R
Summary: Three years on, the second war still casts a long shadow. When facing challenges like a compulsive addiction, a baffling mystery, a life changing event, an impending career shift, or simply moving in with your boyfriend, maybe the best strategy is to lean on your friends, put one foot in front of the other, and let the saving-the-world bit take care of itself.
In this chapter: we fondly remember.
Warning: Deals with issues of addiction recovery. (skip) Minor character death of primary adversary.
Length: 5600 words
Notes: Sequel to Eight Ways from Sunday (LJ | DW | AO3) and the interstitial Entr'Acte (LJ | DW | AO3). Title and all cut-tag text from the Garbage song of the same name.
Thank you to [personal profile] ali_wildgoose for reading a rather different earlier draft and telling me I should just write what I want to write, and then helping me put it together, and also to [livejournal.com profile] slytherincesss for her enormous help and encouragement.
This story would not exist without Ely's ideas, input, support and encouragement. I wish I'd finished it sooner, but I hope she's someplace where she can read this anyway. Knowing her, she probably is.

1: The End | 2: Lammas




3: Michaelmas

29 September 2001: Calcutta, India

"Is that the daily owl post?" Pansy asked, watching Draco scribbling out a letter.

Draco smirked.  "You know it is.  What of it?"

"Nothing …"

Draco and Pansy had been in Calcutta for three days, staying at the house of a Black cousin who had briefly followed some Maharishi or another in the sixties but was now teaching yoga in Pasadena, California.  They'd wandered through any number of the Durga Puji parties, but really they were just marking time, which had been trying Draco's patience.  That morning they finally had a note telling them to be at an outdoor bar in the inner atrium of one of the fashionable hotels.  They'd been sitting at their table for nearly an hour, and the sun was making Draco peckish.

He stopped writing.  "I know you don't think much of her—"

"This is what I think about Ginevra Weasley:  As long as she makes you happy, I'm all for her.  If that stops, I will kick her arse."

"All right," he replied, smiling a little at her uncustomary display of protectiveness. 

"That said, disappearing for almost a week does tend to make one's girlfriend anxious."

Draco scowled.  "Don't remind me," he muttered.

"Hey," Pansy said, putting a hand on his.  "What happened at the Euro Cup wasn't your fault."

"Right, that's why Sirius brought in Weasley to supervise us."

"Now, I'm no fan of Weasley, but he doesn't outrank you.  It was just an acknowledgment that this is a larger case than they originally thought."

"We were doing just fine until then."

"So were they," Pansy said, raising one eyebrow.  "And anyway, it was my slip-up—if I hadn't been seen, he wouldn't have been brought in."

"Fine," Draco said grouchily, but his thumb rubbed against the back of her hand.  "Anyway, what would you know about anxious girlfriends?  When's the last time you saw a girl more than twice?"

Pansy made a face, then looked up.  "Smile for the camera, darling."

"You've spotted him?" Draco whispered.

She picked up her camera and he obliged, holding up his cocktail as if in a toast, but her lens was focused on the man in the background, a not particularly well disguised Terry Boot, who was approaching the far end of the bar of the outdoor cafe.

"Do you think he has it on him?" Draco asked through his teeth.

"I hope he's not that stupid."

A few minutes later, a waiter approached their table carrying a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket.  "For you, miss, from the gentleman at the bar."

Draco turned to look, then back at Pansy.  "Do you know that man, darling?" he asked.

"I don't think so, but then, one meets so many people.  It must say in the note."  Pansy made a show of opening the envelope, though only a quick eye could catch her palming the key inside.  "'Thank you again for the lovely party at your villa in Majorca.  Best wishes, Stephen.'  Draco, do you have a villa in Majorca?"

"I've never even been to Majorca," he replied, reaching for the envelope.  "Oh, there you are—this is addressed to someone named 'Debo.'"

"Oh!  Well," she said to the waiter, "this isn't ours.  I'm sorry."

"The gentleman has left, miss," the waiter replied, "and he already paid."

"Then we may as well keep it," Pansy decided.  She looked back toward the bar, and her smile faltered, just for a second.

"What is it?" Draco asked softly.

"I think your future sister-in-law is at the bar," she whispered back.

"My what?"  Draco turned his head to the bar, then back to Pansy.  "Right, at best she's my possible future brother-in-law's future sister-in-law."

"Your marriage odds are down to possible?"

"I'm sorry, were you at the same New Year's Eve party I was?"

"Well, she's seen us," Pansy said, waving.

Draco beckoned, signaling the waiter for another glass and clearing a chair.

"Fancy seeing you here," Parvati Patil said as she sat down.  "What are you celebrating?"

"A mysterious benefactor who thought he was sending a bottle in thanks to a Majorcan hostess named Debo," Draco replied.

"Oh, Pansy, I don't think you're as common looking as that," Parvati said, smiling.

"Why thank you," Pansy said.  "And what brings you to Calcutta?  Couldn't get booked at Milan Fashion Week?"

"I was offered a very lucrative commission, actually.  Georg is doing a book of female deities around the world and asked me to be Lakshmi."

"Georg?" Draco asked.

"He's a top fashion photographer," Pansy answered, not taking her eyes off Parvati.  "Why this week?  Why not two weeks from now, after Paris?"

Parvati shrugged.  "I don't know, but it's a good thing we took the photos this week.  We had permission to use some of the jewelry artifacts, and the cuff was stolen from the temple the next day."

"Oh really?"  Pansy asked, looking at Draco as he poured glasses of champagne for her and Parvati.  "What a coincidence."

"Did you wear it?" Draco asked as he handed her a glass.

"Thank you.  As a matter of fact, I did.  Beautiful, gold studded thickly with pearls."  She took a sip of champagne.  "Funny, I could have sworn it was a magical object, though the woman said there were no legends connected to it other than Lakshmi."

"What made you think it was magical?" Draco asked

"Oh, you know, you can feel it.  When you touch it, it hums against your skin."

"You can tell just by touching?" Pansy asked.  "How very elemental of you."

"I like to think of it as hidden depth, thanks," Parvati said.  "And why have you blessed Calcutta with your presence, exactly?"

"Festivals, parties," Draco answered.  "Usual life of the society set."

"But when you visit places trouble follows," Parvati said, her eyes narrowed.

"Me?" Draco said.  "You exaggerate my importance.  Just sightseeing, I assure you."

"Hmm.  Well, if that's the case, my cousin is having a dinner for me tonight, if you'd like to come.  Give you some of that 'authentic local color'," she said, using her fingers to mark the scare quotes.

"I don't—" Pansy started.

"Thank you," Draco interrupted.  "We'd love to come."

Pansy glanced from Draco to Parvati.  "Yes of course," she said.  "I'd like nothing better."




Chip Head Island, Maine

Hermione lay in her bed in the afternoon watching the fall breeze stirring the curtains at her window. At lunch she'd asked Harry to take himself to that day's therapy appointment because she had a sick headache and needed a lie-down. But that wasn't strictly true; she'd been restless and distracted because she just couldn't think of anything other than sex. She'd already masturbated that morning before she got up, thinking about Richard, which probably wasn't the healthiest thing she could have done given how that ended. She even conjured up her other ex, Theodor, briefly, but there had been so little that was sexy about him that she was rarely turned on even when he was present, never mind now. But then, as Ginny said once, "Can't you have a normal boyfriend?"

Apparently not. She rolled over and tried to think about film stars, musicians, quidditch players, all to no avail. To her dismay, her mind kept drifting back to the last seriously good sex she'd had, about a year ago. That it had been with another ex wasn't the problem; it had been with the ex she was currently sharing a house with, who had issues with a capital 'I' and had almost certainly been not-dealing with them when they'd had this wonderful sex. She'd had amazing sex with him when he was, let's face it, a junkie, and she hadn't even realized it, and here she was, wet over the memory of it.

Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. Maybe in remembering it the memory would lose its power.

It was late August 2000, and the European Quidditch Cup Championship was in Greece. Many of her fellow students had cannily sublet their flats and bungalows to Quidditch fans, and the school was housing teams and officials in the small amount of on-campus housing. She and Seamus had a houseful that week, as England had made it to the final match, and there were mattresses on the sitting room floor for Ginny and Draco, Ron and Padma, with Dean in with Seamus and Parvati bunking in Hermione's room. Harry came by whenever he had some free hours, which wasn't often of course, given his pre-match training and press schedule; the reporters loved the story of the boy hero who'd led his team to their first international final in almost forty years. Hermione, for her part, couldn't help but remember the house party Remus and Sirius had thrown for Harry's sixteenth birthday, four years before. One night Parvati had said that she had never felt the presence of Neville and Lavender more strongly than she had that week, and Hermione had to agree.

She was sitting on the porch of the little bungalow in the early afternoon, staring out at the sea, when she heard footsteps on the path from the front door.

"Oh, Harry," she said. "I thought you were tied up all day."

He shrugged. "I managed to get away, at least until after dinner. Where are the others?"

"Seamus took them into town. You know, sightseeing, shopping, dinner, that sort of thing."

Harry nodded. "And you didn't go. Too much togetherness? Have you become a hermit academic?"

"No, I just wasn't feeling quite as energetic and you know Seamus."

"Yeah. The other day when I was here I thought he'd shake apart he was so hyper."

"Well, that's because Dean is here, you know." She looked down. "Why do you have your broom with you?"

"Oh," he said, looking down at it as though he'd forgot it was in his hand. "I just prefer to fly when I can."

"Right. Well, can I get you something to drink? I think there's still some juice—"

"Water is fine," Harry said. He followed her into the house, setting his broom down in the corner of the living room. "So, er, you said the other night that you were applying for something?"

"A research fellowship," Hermione said over her shoulder as she stood at the sink filling a pitcher with water. "Salem offers one-year fellowships for historians and they have some archives I'll need to go through for my thesis anyway." She slipped some lemon slices into the water and grabbed two tumblers. "Let's go back outside."

They settled back out onto the porch, a small table between them holding the water and Hermione's abandoned book. "Another year abroad?" Harry asked.

Hermione shrugged. "I've been gone for a while now. Another year wouldn't be the end of the world."

"You'd been thinking about staying in Greece for a while longer, weren't you?"

"Oh, right, well, that plan changed."

"Changed because you broke up with that mystery boyfriend?"

Hermione laughed nervously. "More like he threw me over in June to spend this summer in Spain wooing next year's model."

Harry started to nod, then cocked his head. "Wait a minute. Was he your professor?"

"I don't want to talk about it. It was humiliating enough at the time."

"All right," he replied. He took a drink of water. "So you've spent the summer in the library licking your wounds."

Hermione looked up sharply.

"Who knows you better than I do?" Harry asked. "Well, maybe Seamus. But who else?"

Hermione stood up to lean against the porch railing and look out at the sea. "It's disappointing that I'm so predictable." She dropped her head down, leaning it against her forearms.

"Nah," Harry said, standing next to her. "We all cling to what's familiar."

"Like your broom."

"Now, that's professional," he said quickly. "But the game, sure."

Hermione turned slightly. "What else have you been doing, other than single-handedly bringing England to the Euro Cup final?"

"Oh, you know. Usual man about town business."

"No one special?"

"No one as special as you."

Hermione raised one eyebrow. "Does that line really work for you?"

"Er, no," Harry said, and they laughed.

"That gives me some respect for those women you're dating."

"Well, I can't say the same for the men you've dated. Pretty stupid to let you get away."

"You did."

"As I recall that was a mutual decision," Harry said. "But yeah. I was stupid, too."

"Well. Thanks?" she replied.

"Hermione," Harry said, and raised one hand up to cup her cheek. His fingertips were slightly smudged with black, as though stained with ink.

"Don't do this because you feel sorry for the dumped girl," Hermione whispered.

"You'll be fine. If anything, I feel sorry for myself," he said, stepping closer and rubbing his thumb across her cheekbone. "I just want to feel something real." He leaned in and kissed her.

Hermione sighed into his mouth. It was familiar, heady, not as wrong as she thought it should be, hotter than she remembered. Somehow she was not only kissing him back but had hopped up into his arms, her legs wrapped around his waist and her arms around his neck, and he carried her back into her bedroom. The sex was incredible, the way it looked in movies, better than it had been when they were together, and Hermione wondered if they really had some kind of amazing sexual connection, or if he was just better than the men she'd been with since him, or if, prosaically, they'd both picked up some techniques in the intervening two years.

After, they ate a dinner in bed of bread, cheese, yogurt, fruit and tomatoes scrounged from the cooling cabinet, and it was comfortable in a way it hadn't been since their breakup. They filled in the details of stories sketched out by mutual friends, confessed a few sins, fooled around a bit more. Finally it got close to Harry's curfew, and Hermione thought it was probably best that he left before the others returned.

"I'm really glad I came by," Harry said. "And that the others were gone."

"Me too," Hermione replied, walking him back out onto the porch. "I think we needed this."

"I'll come find you all after the match."

"I know. We'll see you. Good luck." She gave him a last kiss.

Harry got on his broom and just before he kicked off, he looked at her over his shoulder and seemed about to say something, but then just smiled and waved, and was on his way.

If you'd asked her before that day, Hermione would have told you that she and Harry had had their closure, that they were friends now, like with Ron. But standing on that beach in Greece she realized that this, really, was goodbye. She thought of Calypso, who had Ulysses for a while but let him go, and that seemed about right. Perhaps now he would settle down, and she would find a boyfriend that wasn't her academic advisor or otherwise unsuitable.

The tears came then, in a way that they hadn't since the day of that last fight, and she wondered if she'd been hanging on to Harry in the back of her mind, hadn't been as over him as she thought she had. She went back into the house to erase any clues that he'd been there from Seamus's sharp eyes; she'd tell him eventually, but not while they had a houseful, not while Harry was still in the country.

She just hoped she could stop crying before anyone saw her.




Salem, Massachusetts

"So after I saw her in Greece," Harry said, "I decided that I really wanted to quit, that I couldn't have Hermione back if I was still doing, well, what I was doing—"

"You need to say the words, Harry," Erika said patiently.

Harry sighed. It was moments like this that he really hated therapy. He picked up the bottle of glue that sat on the end table. "If I was still flying. If I was still flying. If I was still flying, I didn't deserve her." He squirted lines of glue onto his right hand.

"Deserve her?"

"I couldn't be with her if I couldn't control my behavior," Harry said. "She's not, I mean, Hermione, she's great, but she can be rather unforgiving of weakness. She thinks everyone should be always achieving, doing their best. She expects that of herself and the people around her. Or at least, me. Anyway, that was why I tried to quit."

"And you couldn't."

Harry picked at the drying strips of glue. "No. I couldn't, not even for Hermione. And if I couldn't for her, then I couldn't at all. So I stopped trying."

"You didn't have another reason to quit?" Erika asked.

"I didn't really want to," Harry said. "Nothing bad had happened yet. The airplane, the thing at the restaurant, all that was later, when I didn't care anymore. I got sloppy."

"Why didn't you care anymore?"

Harry looked up. "I said, because of Hermione. Because I couldn't quit for her."

"What did you do to try to quit?"

"You mean, did I ask for help? No, I didn't ask for help."

Erika just nodded.

"I know, I know, I'm not good at asking for help."

"And now?"

"Now all I am is dependent on people."

"Is asking for help and being dependent the same thing?"

Harry sighed. He looked around the small room, at the desk in the corner, the painting on the wall of a walkway to the sea, the dark blue carpet on the floor, the window looking out on Salem's waterfront. "No, it's not," he whispered. "It's not," he repeated, louder this time.

"Would you ask Hermione for help now, if you needed it?"

"I have asked her for help in the past, you know."

"Have you? Personal help, not help doing …" Erika flailed her hands about.

Harry smiled, mimicking her movement. "Saving the world from evil?" He put his hands back in his lap. "I, well, maybe I did? About Cho or something? Well, no, actually, I think she volunteered that. Um."

Erika glanced at the small clock on the side table. "Our session is almost over anyway. Something to think about for next time."

Harry rose and accepted a warm hug from Erika. Her small stature and wild curly hair had initially reminded him of Hermione, as did her intelligence and formidability, but her manner was warm and accepting, even when she was pushing him to dig deeper. (Also, Erika didn't have Hermione's tits, which in Harry's estimation was a very important part of Hermione being Hermione.) He had this place to go five times a week where he didn't have to worry about doing the wrong thing or letting anyone down or just plain failing, and only two months in he found he looked forward to it more often than not. He'd once thought that he didn't know what he would do without the weight of the world on his shoulders. But now that he'd been forced, by events, by friends, by loved ones, to only think about himself and get himself together, he thought he might be able to work it out.

After taking the Portkey from Salem to Portland, Harry got on his bike—flying charm removed to avoid temptation—and rode back to the ferry. He stopped off at a market to pick up some late wild blueberries for Hermione. She'd been in a mood all morning, the look in her eyes almost feral, the way she'd look at him just before she pounced, back when they were dating. It was that, that reminded him of that day in Greece, that day he realized that he wasn't over her, maybe would never be over her, but would keep returning to her like Ulysses to Penelope or something. Which meant he really needed to get his shit together. He couldn't expect her to wait around forever. He wasn't even sure she was waiting around for him now.

Well, maybe some blueberries and cream would cheer her up.




London

Padma and Ron had been engaged for all of two months and already planning the wedding had become contentious.  It had taken the combined persuasive skills of Ron, Ginny and Arthur to get Molly Weasley, who was still upset that Percy and Oliver had failed to have a "proper" wedding, to concede the planning to Padma and her mother.  But Padma had insisted on Ginny's active participation, even if it was Padma's family paying the bills.  Ginny had never been involved in anything so elaborate, and it gave her new respect for how well Draco had taken care of the details of the New Year's party he'd thrown at Malfoy Manor.  They were in an exclusive kitchenware and china shop on Diagon Alley to start Padma's registry list, and Padma wanted help narrowing down the choices into a manageable shortlist for Ron.

"So when is Draco returning?" Padma asked, running her hand along the stem of a champagne flute.

"Sometime tomorrow," Ginny said.  "He said they'd run into Parvati."

"Yes, isn't that strange?  And Parvati only just started traveling all the time.  I'm sure she was pleased to see Parkinson."

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, they were great rivals at school," Padma replied.  "Before Hogwarts, that is—at Miss Bridgerton's.  And once it got around, you know, about Parvati being a lesbian, Parkinson was quite nasty about it."

"Ironic," Ginny said.

"Yes, but that's so often the way.  I can't decide about these colored stems."

"They're very in right now."

"So that's a no," Padma said, putting the glass down.  "I want timeless, especially since we won't be able to afford anything like this ever again.  Not on an Auror's or a musician's salary."

"What about those?" Ginny asked, indicating a display of leaded crystal with simple lines that were just a little rounder than the other glasses.

"Oh," Padma said.  "These are just the thing. You have such good taste, Ginny.  Red, white, champagne, water—I wonder if they have cordials?  Though I suppose those don't have to match."

"Not necessarily, I believe," Ginny said. 

"Anyway, that's three for Ron to look at, so let's move on to the china.  Oh dear," Padma said, "I didn't know this was available."  She held up a dinner plate commemorating the war, with dates around the outside and Harry's face at the center.  "Look, there's Ron on the bread-and-butter plate."

"And Hermione on the soup bowl.  How much are these?  We should have them for Christmas."  The charger had the Hogwarts Express running around its rim, and the vegetable server featured a portrait of the entire Weasley clan.  "Ugh," Ginny said, "my hair looks terrible."

"How cute, Sirius and Remus salt-and-pepper shakers.  Is this supposed to be Draco, or Seamus?" Padma asked, looking at a coffee cup.

"This one is Dean, and there's Neville, so I think it's Boys of Gryffindor.  Yes, this other one is Draco, see?"

"At least none of them have Harry on his broom."

"No, that would have been in poor taste," Ginny agreed.  "But you have to show these to Ron."

"The battle scene on the platter is a nice touch," Padma said.

"It looks more like one of those tapestries of Hastings or the Goblin Wars."  She shook her head.  "When I was a child we had commemorative plates of the founders.  If only I'd known."

"You had plates of the founders?" Padma asked.

"Well, they were on the wall," Ginny said quickly, fidgeting a bit.  "We didn't eat off them."

"Of course," Padma said, smiling, as they moved further into the china section.

Ginny was annoyed with herself; she was quite sure she hadn't seen any commemorative plates hanging on the walls of Patil House.  "I don't think Ron is going to want to eat off a color," she said.

"No.  I thought Art Deco style china had gone out?"

"Apparently not," Ginny said, looking at the several rows of platinum-edged plates.  "So did you end up going to that audition?"

Padma made a face.  "They wanted singer-dancers for a girl group, you know, like that audition you and Parvati came to with me a few months back, the one you wrote the article about.  Loved me when they saw my face, less when they saw me dance, and they weren't interested in my songs at all."

"Frustrating," Ginny said.

"But I have another coffeehouse show this week in Hogsmeade.  So all is not lost.  Oooh, sauce spoons!"

Ginny had been to nice restaurants, but she didn't realize there were spoons just for sauce.  One look at the flat bowl and off center notch, though, and she could see the appeal.  She wondered, vaguely, if there were been sauce spoons in the Black silver and thought yes, there probably were.  "Should you marry a man for sauce spoons?" she asked.

"Well, not just sauce spoons," Padma said.  "Relish forks and fish knives, too."




Dean checked his watch again.  To be fair, Seamus tried to keep him from these St. Mungo's mixers, but this one specifically included spouses, and Seamus had asked nicely, so Dean came out.  The mediwizards gathered not at the Leaky Cauldron, but at Mooncalf, a newish upscale bar/restaurant that Dean had been to only a few times since it opened, the young artist crowd being both too impoverished and too enamored with gritty authenticity to frequent any bar with such pricey martinis. 

It wasn't even that Seamus was talking shop—that was to be expected at a professional function—nor that Dean was keeping himself busy talking to the other partners.  It was more that whole bizarre way that people regarded him when they found out he was an artist.  At Hogwarts he was simply "good with a quill" and even after he came out no one made much fuss over him as being different because he was an artist, though this might have been because they were distracted by war and Harry and all of that.   And since Hogwarts he'd been immersed in the overlapping circles of art, fashion, music and media.  But the spouses of Seamus's fellow mediwizards seemed to think he couldn't be a regular bloke who listened to the Quidditch on WWN.  Instead they kept asking him about his latest project, and he wasn't sure if they were really interested, couldn't find anything else to make conversation about, or might be thinking about offering him a commission.  He felt even more horribly self-conscious than he usually did in a crowd, and thanked his luck that they would have to leave early to meet Ron. 

And it was odd to see Seamus so calm.  Sure, they'd both grown up, and Seamus had been serious about his schoolwork once he decided on mediwizardry, but he always had an affect of vague flakiness, even when he was studying in Greece.  Now Dean saw Seamus across the room looking very quiet and still, even when all the others were listening to him.  If Dean hadn't seen him these past three years, he wouldn't have known him.  Oh, he still had that hyperawareness of Dean, just as Dean did whenever Seamus was in the room, but he just didn't look like the same old Shay.  It had been happening a lot since Shay had come back home, and while Dean hadn't been so naive as to think that they'd be able to just move in together with no problems, he didn't think he'd ever look at Seamus and not be sure who he was.

Seamus looked up then, and Dean pointed at his watch.  Seamus nodded and downed his drink, and they both said their goodbyes and walked out quickly.  No Apparition for them; they were headed into Muggle London, so Seamus hailed them a cab.

"So was it terrible?  Am I going to owe you when we get home tonight?"  Seamus asked, winking. 

Dean smiled; if Seamus was offering sex in exchange for something, perhaps he hadn't changed that much.  "It wasn't terrible, and you'll only owe me to go to the preview and the opening of the group show."

"Like I'd miss that!" Seamus said.  "Besides, you're always shy at those things."

"I've got better!" Dean protested.  "I've had to.  But it will be easier to have you there."

"I'm always glad to be of service."

"That's not what I meant.  I also just want you there, you know, for you."

"Of course you do," Seamus said, holding his hand. "I know."

They arrived just a few minutes late; Ron had already found a booth near the back of the large pub and Seamus and Dean slid onto the bench opposite him.  Since they'd left school, the former roommates had a understanding: drinks on Thursday nights in a Muggle pub.  Low profile, no press, no fans, just friends sitting around a table. 

"Odd," Ron said, "but we've almost never been four at this table.  Now you're back and Harry's gone."

"Heard from him recently?" Seamus asked.

"Yeah, got something the other day," Ron replied.  "He's doing well, or seems to be.  I reckon you've heard from Hermione, anyway."

Seamus nodded.  "But she doesn't say much about Harry, actually.  Mostly talks about her research, her writing.  Probably doesn't know what to say.  I mean, about Harry."

"Yeah," Ron said. "She didn't say much about it to me, either." He took a drink.

Dean and Seamus exchanged glances, and then Dean said, "But how are you doing, Ron?"

He shrugged.  "All right I guess.  They have these meetings Padma likes me to go to, you know, 'friends of the addicted' and whatnot.  It's all right, nice to know one isn't alone. But all the same, it's sort of, 'if I'd known then what I know now,' you know?"  He paused, taking another drink.  "I dunno, not sure what good it does, except making Padma happy."  He shrugged.

Seamus nodded, then smoothly changed the subject.  "How is the wedding planning coming?"

"I'm trying to stay well out of it," he replied.  "Padma knows all my friends and Mum all the relatives, so that's the guest list.  Don't care much for things like tablecloths and engraved invitations and such—and anyway, Padma has good taste and I trust her.  Music is important, but she knows more about that anyway."

"So what are you doing?" Dean asked.

"Food.  And she's letting me choose the china and things off a short list.  But she knows the only thing I'm really interested in is the food."

Seamus whistled.  "Sounds like you made out then."

"Not hardly.  Just because I don't care about the details doesn't mean that I don't hear about every time her mother disagrees with her, or every time the florist or the dressmaker or the hall doesn't have what she wants, or how her father is adding all sorts of extended family to the guest list and she doesn't even know who they are.  Tears, mate.  Lots and lots of tears."

Dean made a face.  "Ugh.  Seamus, if we get married …"

"Yeah, small wedding.  Tiny," Seamus said.  "Relatives and close friends."

"I'd recommend it," Ron said.  "Of course, with just relatives and close friends we'd have 150 people anyway, but like this, it's going to be a damn circus, and we're the elephants or something."

"Well, maybe you're the elephant," Seamus said, "and Padma is riding on top of you."

The corner of Ron's mouth turned up, just slightly.  "She is going to be wearing something spangly."

"We could be the trapeze artists," Dean said. 

"I'd quite like to fly through the air and have you catch me," Seamus replied.

"The girls could be those acrobats," Dean went on.

"Ginny could hang from a rope by her teeth," Seamus suggested.

Ron snickered.  "She always did have a strong mouth."

"Remus and Sirius, the dog and his trainer," Dean said.

"We've all seen Sirius jump through hoops for him," Seamus said.

"But who's the ringmaster?" Dean asked.

"I can't believe you're even asking that," Seamus said.

Dean scowled, not quite getting it, and Seamus and Ron both said, "Hermione!"

"Oh!  Of course, sorry," Dean replied.

"But where are the clowns?" Seamus asked, singing the line a little.

"Oh, I know that one," Ron said, taking a drink of his pint for effect.

"C'mon mate," Dean said.  "Out with it."

Ron grinned.  "With this hair?  My family, all however many of 'em, crammed into one of those tiny Muggle cars."  He laughed.  "Can't you see 'em spilling out onto the Patil's garden path?  Poor Percy, tumbling out end over end?"

Dean, chuckling, looked at Seamus and winked.  He didn't think he'd heard Ron really laugh out loud since Harry left, and he hadn't realized how much he'd missed the sound. Seamus winked back, laughing, and maybe they hadn't changed so much after all.




4: Hallowmas
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