Just the Facts, Ma'am

Let's not start at the beginning. It's such a stupid place to start. End of fifth year, that's far more interesting than the beginning.

When Sirius died, I thought Harry had died. That's when I reckoned it was a lost cause. I didn't think anything I could ever say would ever make a difference again. That's when I chose Dean Thomas. Dean laughed—he had a cute laugh, and the effort he put into things was adorable. He drew. He wasn't the quickest broom in the shed, but the way he thought was steady and sure. It didn't occur to him to have problems with his self esteem, but still he had no idea how attractive he was. So I asked him out, blushing a little, and he was so surprised he said yes without really thinking about it.

The date we went on was charming, and I enjoyed shocking him with my audacity. We wrote a bit over the summer—I could hardly believe some of the things I said, I was such a little whore—it was delightful. I laughed for hours, imagining the look on his face as he read my letters, until at last he snapped and the owl came back with my last message, and scrawled on the bottom in a shaky hand were the words, "Meet me on the train."

So I did. And we fooled around a bit, and then a bit more when we got to school. I was a terrible tease, and I got wildly inventive as I coaxed him slowly down the path of sin. But then Ron walked in on us in the hallway that evening after practice, and I didn't know why, but I felt the worst mixture of embarrassment and shame. Up till that minute I'd felt like I was running the show, and people talked about me and Dean like we were something to talk about. And everything I did was clever and saucy, and I felt like a queen—a real queen, who runs a kingdom and doesn't need to play dumb or feign weakness in order for men to find her attractive.

But Ron said "Oi!" and it was like suddenly my kingdom was nothing but a ring of teenage busybodies—a bunch of silly, clueless kids, and all it took was a half-wit with no perspective to lord it over them. Here I'd been thinking that I was brilliant and Ron was just an idiot—hanging out too much with Hermione tended to make him act stupider than he actually was—but now there was no Hermione in sight, and he wasn't falling for any of my charms.

So I did the only thing that occurred to me: I lied my face off. I just turned it around without bothering to even care who was in the wrong, I didn't really think about it. That's the alarming part—that I didn't even try to shove his insecurities in his face, that I just did it naturally. It's just one of the nastier side effects of living by the laws of River Psychology: what do you do when the river's rushing against you? Turn yourself around and pretend like you wanted to go that way anyhow. It's just logic. What do you do when you feel vulnerable and pathetic and wrong? Be heartless and domineering and right.

It hardly registered with me that Harry was there. Hermione didn't believe me when I told her that, but it's true. It was so far from being about Harry—it was about Ron, it was Ron who had put me in that awful dangerous emotional territory, and the fact that Harry was there might have made the feeling smart just a little more, but all in all it was a family affair.

Not that I never thought about Harry. I did—I couldn't help it. It was a gummy situation, that autumn. Not yet sticky, just a bit gummy. As I said, when Sirius died I gave up on Harry. Sirius had been rooting for me—he told me so, and the fact that he meant so much to Harry meant so much to me. When he died it was like a powerful councilor in the chambers of Harry's heart had been lost, and I was left with no one to champion my cause. Funny, I imagine that's probably how Harry felt as well, but in a much sadder, stronger way.

I didn't think I could relate to that strength—the distracting voracity of his grief. I thought he was going to wallow indefinitely, and I definitely knew I couldn't live with that. I can't relate to wallow-ers. A little time to deal with a loss is of course necessary, but when you injure your own thoughts and impede your own recovery just so you can stay in the lazy comfort of the emotional infirmary, you deserve every tear you shed.

But Harry didn't wallow. Shit—that boy bounced back so fast it was sexy. Granted, he did look a bit emaciated and pale when he first arrived, but his curiosity and determination to do something pervaded his every step, and the way it felt to be in his presence was better than I could have ever imagined.

I still didn't fancy him. Hermione wouldn't believe me when I told her that one, either, but it's true. I was discovering my sexuality, and I felt a just a small amount of satisfaction in the fact that in one area at least, I was more experienced than either Harry, Ron, or Hermione.

Harry didn't even seem that interested in the dirty deed, and so it wasn't such a struggle to keep things platonic. And I was quite relieved about that, as it was really not a very convenient time for me to go falling in love or lust with my brother's best friend. I was already invested in Dean, so to speak, and I felt I had gone too far, and grown too attached to the control and security of that relationship to want to jeopardize it for a boy who could actually break my heart.

And yet still... Harry was a good friend, but deep down inside there was never really a moment when his friendship was enough to satisfy me. All in all, his reemergence into the picture of my love life was the emotional equivalent of taking out a second mortgage, and as the months wore by I felt exceedingly strapped for cash.

I remember very clearly the day when I decided that pursuing Harry looked like more fun than security was worth. Dean and I had been hanging around in the boys dorm during break, and the sight of Harry's bed with its curtains open gave me wicked ideas of the Fred-and-George kind. Dean left for Transfiguration, and I pretended to leave for Herbology, but really I skived off and went back up to Gryffindor Tower. I snuck into his dorm with every intention of leaving Itching Powder in his sheets, but I never made it that far. It smelled like him. I kicked off my shoes and climbed in, and for perhaps the first time in my life having sex with Harry seemed like a definite possibility. And not one of those someday-maybe possibilities, either, but a really calm and tangible feeling that if he walked in here right now I might just jump him.

I wanted to take a nap like that, all wrapped up in his smell, but knew that I would be fifty kinds of dead if I was found there. So I did the only logical thing: I stole his sheets and pillow, and traded them with my own. Then I took a bit of Fever Fudge, called for one of the House Elves, and told her to tell Professor Sprout that I was ill. Then I took a nice, long nap and had lots of really excellent dreams. And the best part, I realized while I was pulling my sheets over Harry's mattress, was that when Harry went up to bed that night he'd be haunted by my smell—and I do have it on good authority that my smell is sexy enough to haunt—without knowing for certain that it was me, and having no way of proving, or even suspecting what I had done.

I practically let go of Dean at that point. I released him from my spell (don't look at me like that, I mean figuratively): I stopped flirting with him, I stopped making plans to do things together, and I expected him to break up with me by Valentine's Day at the latest. I had started the relationship, driven it, and now that I was no longer assuming any responsibility for it I expected it to peter out into nothing. But it didn't. He hung on, and I realized to my horror that he now had enough confidence to attempt to seduce me. I'd created a monster.

And I just couldn't dump him—not now, not after everything I'd done. Hermione says it's cowardice not to dump someone when you no longer feel that way about them, but I don't think that's really fair. I cared about Dean, is all. I didn't ever want to hurt him—not Dean, not cool, honest, earthy, unaware-of-himself Dean. From the start, I just wanted to ask him out—let him know that he was really attractive, and maybe learn a little more about chemistry. It was supposed to be one of those mad hot affairs that will forever be recalled upon with fondness by both people, not this. Not this sad, gradual disillusionment, not this pain, or these persistent white lies. And there was never supposed to be any clinging. That was one thing I was sure I hadn't seen coming. When had Dean become the clingy type?

In the end, I dumped him. And none too gracefully either, I might add. Regrettable, but then there was Harry. Didn't even have time to mourn Dean once he was gone, not with Harry around. Shit, what a sexy beast!

In many ways he was the opposite of Dean—he was all the initiative and none of the clinging. As much fun as it was running the show with Dean, it was nice to sit back knowing that Harry wanted me badly enough to come and rescue me from the library for a snog. There was a very specific place, it seemed, that I held in his life, and that was comfortable. It wasn't a very big place, certainly, but haven't I always said that I was most at home in little crannies where no one else could possibly fit?

Actually, the real beauty of those beautiful weeks was in knowing the greatness I was, however my small my place. Every time he kissed me, he made it seem like it was the most important thing he would ever do in his school career; the whole time we were going out, his permanent expression was this look like he was thinking naughty thoughts, or like maybe he was going to smile. Not a smirk, or a sly half-smile, but a dumb, teasing glimmer in his eye like a dog who was ready to play.

And when he smiled he looked ridiculous. He'd never looked ridiculous like that before. His face had always seemed perfectly well-proportioned, but now when he grinned it was clear that his mouth just wasn't big enough to pull it off, and it made my whole body hum with adoration and satisfaction. It actually got in the way—that stupid grin. You just can't snog a boy satisfactorily when he's beaming like that: there's not enough lip left over and too much enamel is exposed. I used to bite his lip and tell him to stop it, but he said he didn't know how—he said it was like he was eating powdered lemonade. I never knew what the hell he meant by that, and the only way to cure it was to stick my hand down his pants and distract him from that angle.

But then Dumbledore died. Yeah. All smiles wiped completely clean. Now it was a struggle just to stop him looking so sad. Now we were rounding the bases not for fun, but in a desperate race to find some peace of mind. And still it was good. It was good to know that I could be with him in the pits of despair as well as the dizzying heights of ecstasy. We fell asleep one afternoon in the sun, half-naked in our swimming suits on a blanket by the lake. We woke up with horrible sunburns—the blood-red culprit was starting to set in the west and our skin radiated in misery. I started to get up, but Harry peeped an eye open and pulled me back down on top of him. He was right. It was hot and it stung on the surface, but the inner ache in my chest felt so much better when it was pressed against his own; and we just laid there a while, reeling together, as comfortable as sunken ships.