Inside, the wedding festivities continued. Parvati and Dean were dancing the night away, looking as blissfully in love as anyone Seamus had ever seen. He thought they might even have Harry and Ginny beat for revoltingly adorable, and that was saying something. As it was their wedding, Seamus could even allow that the adorability wasn't all that revolting, for once. Not that he ever thought they were I really /I revolting…just a little bit, in a very good-natured sort of fashion. Nonetheless, the crowd was beginning to get to him. Seamus spent too much time working solo in his shop (Specialty Brooms, Galway) to be comfortable in the sea of people. With a quick request that Ginny cover his exit, the Best Man made a break for the courtyard.

Once through the French doors, Seamus lit a cigarette and began to admire Parvati's work on the decorations. She'd set faerie lights all around, giving the bricked area a charmingly festive feel. Totally appropriate to the occasion of two of his best friends getting married, Seamus thought as he took a comforting drag of smoke.

"Those things will kill you, you know."

Seamus turned abruptly at the sound of the voice in the shadow of the Japanese maple that grew in the courtyard's center. He recognized it immediately, of course--even if he hadn't spent half his life living in the same building as Hermione Granger, the two-year-long crush he had on her would have led him to know her voice well. She told him the same thing every time he lit a cigarette in her presence.

"I know," he answered with a smile, the same as he always did. Sometimes Seamus thought about telling her that he'd gladly drop the habit cold, for her…but he wasn't that drunk. Just a touch tipsy on champagne punch that he'd taken the liberty of spiking with some unpronounceable Russian liquor. Dean, he knew, would appreciate the gesture. "So what brings you out here?" he asked, wandering toward Hermione and her tree.

Bridesmaid Number One shrugged, giving him almost half a smile. Maybe more like three eighths of a smile. "I was just getting a little claustrophobic, I suppose," she said. "There's just so much going on in there, so many people…I needed a little air."

"I empathize completely," Seamus chuckled, taking a seat beside her on the little wall that surrounded the tree. "Was goin' a little mad meself."

She looked pretty tonight, he thought, trying to remain detached. Parvati had gone for simple and pretty and elegant in everything at the wedding, and the bridesmaids' dresses were no exception. The girls were all in rose pink, a color that suited Hermione nicely, and the tea-length skirt showed her slim ankles and calves to considerable advantage. Luckily he'd gotten enough of a look earlier that he could avoid outright ogling now.

"Ron would've enjoyed it," Hermione said quietly, a slight fond smile on her face. Six years after Ron's death in the last battle, Hermione was able to remember him without feeling overwhelmed by sadness anymore. She still missed him, but it wasn't the wrenching ache it had once been. She could see now that if he had lived, they probably still wouldn't be "together"…but they would have still been friends. That was what she missed, more than anything. There was no way to describe the pain that losing someone as close as that brought.

Seamus could understand that. He'd lost his parents and two youngest siblings in the Battle of Galway only a few months before the Death Eaters killed Ron. Ron himself had been a loss to him, too; after Dean, Ron had been Seamus's closest friend. That was part of why he'd never pursued Hermione, no matter how attractive he found her. It would be in strict violation of The Code, which clearly (if not written-ly) stated that a man did not take girls off friends, even if said friends were six years gone.

"He would've," Seamus agreed quietly, nodding and taking another drag. He smiled a bit, too. Memories of Ron were fond now, not so much painful. "The fella loved a party. He'd've appreciated that I spiked the punch, for instance."

"Seamus!" Hermione admonished, but she ruined the effect by laughing. "Parvati's going to have your head, you know."

"Nah," Seamus scoffed, waving dismissively. "She's known me o'er a decade now and hasn't killed me yet. It'd take more'n this to put 'er o'er the edge."

Another quiet laugh from Hermione, and then silence. It was comfortable silence, though. One of the things Seamus had come to appreciate from Hermione was that she didn't feel compelled to blather every time there was a lull in conversation. For a moment, they just sat there, enjoying the night air and the faerie lights. Seamus put out his cigarette, but contrary to his original plan, he didn't go right back inside. He stayed seated beside Hermione, unable to let go of one of the rare moments when he got her to himself.

"It's lovely out here," she said softly, watching a blue faerie drift lazily by. Seamus watched her watch it, taking in the way her skin was warmed by the little lights. He wanted to kiss her, wanted to so badly that he thought he must've had more to drink than he realized, because he was starting to seriously contemplate doing it. He couldn't speak, just nodded silently instead.

Not hearing a response, she turned to look at him, and she caught him staring. He looked away quickly, but too late; Hermione had seen. He'd been looking at her so intently, and now she knew. She looked at him, and she saw in his always expressive face the feelings that had been there for a long time. At first she couldn't believe it, couldn't imagine that Seamus Finnigan could possibly have feelings like I that /I for her. He'd always treated her like a friend, a sister, someone to talk books with and that was it. Never before had she seen him looking at her like he wanted to eat her for dessert--that had to be new. Hermione blinked, her analytical mind going to work at processing the new data.

Seamus Finnigan fancied her in some fashion or another, that was obvious. Did she fancy him back? She'd certainly thought him fit as long as she'd known him, and of course he was a smart one, a little artsy and temperamental but she'd never really cared for boring people, and when he looked at her like he had a moment ago…that was really something. It started up a warm feeling inside her that she hadn't felt in a long time.

So yes, maybe she did fancy him back. Hermione was staring at him, looking at the side of his face in the moonlight. He was a handsome bloke, with those dark green eyes and shaggy blondish hair and swimmer's build. That didn't even touch on how he looked when he smiled, giving her one of those crooked grins, or how he'd looked a moment ago.

He turned to look at her again while she was still analyzing, but Hermione didn't look away. She might never be able to say why, but she ignored the voice in her head that warned her against allowing herself to be hurt again. She didn't think about Ron, or War, or loss…Hermione just lifted her eyes to his, quietly meeting his gaze with a silent invitation. Seamus felt his breath catch in his throat, and tried to figure out if he was really seeing what he thought he was. Her eyes seemed to be fluttering shut, though, so he must be. For the first time in his life, Seamus said to hell with The Code.

When he finally kissed her, it was perfect. It was exactly what he'd always been looking for and didn't even realize it. Their lips met softly, then passionately, melting together in shared desire. She didn't seem to mind the taste of smoke on his breath, but Seamus resolved then and there that if Hermione would just keep kissing him like that on a regular basis, the cigarettes would go straight into the bin.

The shop smelled like books, and that was the best part. The Book Trader was full of dust, and it was too dark, but that just made it even better. Going there was like being on a treasure hunt, combing through shelves and boxes for hidden treasures among the trash. Hermione had brought him here for the first time a week before, and Seamus was already in love with it.

"Oh, man… check this one out!" Seamus called across the aisle. Hermione came scampering quickly around the corner to see what Seamus had turned up in the bookshop's Two Knut bin. Her lips parted in an impressed O.

"The Young Witch's Etiquette Primer, 1818 edition!" Hermione read aloud. "This I have got to see!" She took the book from Seamus, flipping to a random page in the middle. Seamus read over her shoulder, already laughing at the first sentence.

He put on his best posh English accent (which was always an imitation of Justin Finch-Fletchley) to read it aloud. "…Talk for a moment or two about the "gaiety of the season" or "the lack of balls," or anything that shows polite interest." He looked down at Hermione, appearing thoughtful and wishing he had a monocle for the occasion. "Miss Granger, don't you think the season's been especially gay this year?"

Hermione put on her own prim-and-proper act, looking haughtily upward. "Indeed it has, Mister Finnigan…despite the lack of balls."

"Lack of balls!" Seamus fought to hold back a laugh and managed to look direly offended instead. "Miss Granger, I cannot believe you just accused me of such villainy!"

Hermione snorted. "Somehow I don't think that's what Lady Miriam Mistlethwaite means," she snickered.

Seamus was already off into dramatic territory. "Nonsense!" he stuffily announced, pointing one finger into the air. "Now I must challenge you to a duel!"

Hermione rolled her eyes and snickered, flipping back to the table of contents. "Sorry, there isn't a section on dueling," she told him. "It seems that it's not a pastime approved for the polite young witch of 1818."

"Damn," Seamus sighed, his own accent returning. "What a disappointment."

Hermione stood on her toes and gave him a light kiss. "Cheer up," she said with a little smile.

"Hm…" Seamus said thoughtfully. She'd never kissed him in public before, so he thought he'd try for another. "I bet I would if you'd kiss me again."

She turned a little pink, but apparently wasn't too embarrassed. Another kiss was followed by another, until a passing patron cleared his throat rather loudly. They pulled apart quickly, having the grace to look sheepish about it. Hermione was blushing again, and Seamus's grin was returning.

"Ow! Fuck!" Seamus had slipped with the cutting charm he was using on the broom handle, putting a nice gash in the heel of his hand. Hermione looked up from her book, her eyes going wide to see him bleeding.

"Seamus, what did you do?"

"Got distracted an' fucked up," he grumbled through gritted teeth, ending the blade charm and using a basic healing charm on the cut. His hands had several of those little cuts and nicks, small scars from when he got distracted while working on his latest project for the shop and did a half-arsed healing job on it.

Hermione frowned at him. "You ought to've cleaned that first," she chided gently. "It's likely to scar now."

"Yah, I know," Seamus admitted, flicking the blade charm back into being. "But I'm impatient. An' besides, chicks dig scars, right?" he teased.

"We certainly do not!" she laughed, rolling her eyes. "Especially not scars that are easily avoided by using a modicum of sense."

Seamus snorted, going back to the careful decorative carving on the broom's handle. Hermione watched, finding the intensity with which he focused on the work fascinating. She couldn't imagine what had distracted him from something he was so determinedly working on, but that was because she underestimated her own appeal.

Intensity was his defining characteristic, she thought; the Irishman went into everything he did wholeheartedly. He'd been the same way in his bedroom the night before, getting caught up in the rush of kisses and touches until he forgot to be careful with her. Surprisingly, Hermione had immediately found that she enjoyed the loss of control, so much that hers rather went out the window, too. She'd never let go like that before; it should probably have started to worry her sooner than it did.

Hermione was on stirring duty, keeping her eyes on the recipe to determine what came next. Cooking was an exact science, and it required careful measurement and following of directions. Why, therefore, she decided to enter into it with Seamus Finnigan she could not possibly imagine. He was sneaking in over her shoulder with a sprinkling of something else that was not cookbook-approved.

"Seamus!" she protested. "It doesn't call for oregano!"

"Yah, but it'll be good," he told her, tossing a tablespoon into the mixture of cheese, peppers, onions, and spices that Hermione was stirring.

"But…"

"Trust me," Seamus said, and he kissed her cheek. Hermione sighed exasperatedly, but she found a smile coming to her face anyway. As maddening as it was, he was right--his food always did turn out well, even when he threw the recipe to the proverbial dogs. She kept stirring, watching him out of the corner of her eye. He was humming, like he always did in the kitchen, with a pleased smile on his face. Then he started coming toward her again, with another handful of something.

"Needs more garlic!" he announced.

"It does not!" Hermione covered the bowl protectively. "It has plenty of garlic! A whole two cloves of fresh garlic!"

Seamus as grinning at her as he advanced slowly, sauntering like a cat on the prowl. "C'mon, darlin'…" he cajoled. "Just one more clove."

"No!" She put her back to the bowl, her arms out on the counter, intending to block his attack on her portabella stuffing. "Back away from the bowl, Seamus!"

He sighed mournfully and strove to look innocent. "Fine, fine…Can I at least get a kiss, then?" he asked hopefully.

"As long as your breath's not all garlicky," Hermione replied with a smirk.

"I am minty fresh!" Seamus assured her, already lowering his head toward her. One of these days, he thought, he was going to have to get a stepstool for the kitchen. Going from six feet to five foot five for a kiss could be quite a strain on one's neck. Especially when one was secretly dropping in another chopped clove of garlic while maintaining said kiss.

Hermione was smirking at him again when the kiss slowly broke. "I know you put that garlic in there," she informed him.

"I know you know," he replied with a grin.

"It's not nice, using kisses as a ploy to get your way," came the mock-serious reply.

"I dunno," Seamus said thoughtfully, leaning down again. "I thought it was pretty nice…"

No matter what time they started, Seamus and Hermione never seemed to manage to eat dinner on time.

Hermione got up very quietly, trying not to wake him. They'd fallen asleep in a sweaty, sated heap, which she hadn't meant to do. She'd already stayed over with him Sunday night, and Monday, and Thursday…that would make tonight one too many this week. She would have loved to stay, but she couldn't. That would break the rules she'd given herself to keep from getting too attached. Getting too attached was dangerous.

Seamus stirred, though. He'd been a light sleeper since the war. The nightmares seldom came anymore, but any movement usually pulled him out of his slumber. He rolled over to see Hermione pulling her shirt over her head. "What're you headin' out for?" he asked with a sleepy frown.

"I've got some work I forgot about," she lied, coming back over to kiss his forehead. "I've got to finish it before tomorrow morning, or it'll be trouble."

His brow furrowed--forgetting work wasn't like Hermione. "All right…owl me later?" he requested through a yawn.

"I will," she promised. Another kiss, and she was gone.

Later, when he was more awake, Seamus would question it. He couldn't understand why sometimes she was perfectly content to stay with him or let him stay at her place and then other times made excuses for why they couldn't. He couldn't understand why she always introduced him as "a friend" instead of "my boyfriend", either. As happy as she made him, sometimes she confused the hell out of him, too.

They didn't say a word about labels for their relationship. They didn't really talk about the relationship, so much as just lived it. Hermione preferred it that way, because it meant she could ignore the fact that she was feeling a little more for him with every passing day.

She didn't want to feel that way again. Those sorts of feelings were trouble. They made you care too much for somebody, and then when they were gone it was like you'd lost a part of yourself. She couldn't face the prospect of that emptiness again. It was just too much. She'd been in love once, or at least something like it, and it had taken a long time before she could even really smile again. To open the door to that kind of pain again would obviously not be practical, and Hermione was nothing if not practical.

She thought she was, anyway. However, despite how foolish she knew it to be, Hermione continued to spend time with Seamus Finnigan. She couldn't seem to stop herself, even when she knew the way she started thinking about him at random moments of the day spelled trouble.

She loved all the fun they had. (Loved him? Hermione couldn't even bring herself to think it.) She loved it all much more than she should, and that was what scared her. As long as they kept acting like it was all lightweight, though, Hermione could fool herself. But then he said It.

They were curled up on the sofa again, at her flat this time. She'd just read out loud a particularly amusing bit from A Cultural History of the English Language. They'd laughed, he'd smiled, and then kissed her lightly. And then…

"I love you," he whispered. She froze in his arms, her eyes flying open at the sound of words she simultaneously longed for and dreaded. He felt her tense, and in the long silence he heard her rejection. Shortly he felt it, as she extricated herself from him and shifted away. She stood up, trying to put at least some physical distance between them, if she couldn't manage the emotional kind.

"Seamus, I can't," she began softly, already feeling the tears in her eyes.

"Can't what?" Seamus asked desperately, his whole soul aching. He was so frustrated by her little efforts to push them apart, and now it was all boiling over. He stood to follow her, unwilling to let her run so easily. "Make me understand it, Hermione, 'cause I sure as fuck don't. Why d'you do this shite? "

"Because I have to!" she snapped back, equally frustrated. She crossed her arms in an effort to hold onto her composure.

"That doesn' make any goddamn sense!"

"Yes it does!" Hermione shouted. "I…"

But she couldn't tell him. If she told him, then he'd argue with her. He'd try to fix it. He'd tell her she was being silly, that of course he'd never go anywhere, and she knew promises like that were useless. If Seamus knew how she really felt about him, he'd never let her go without a fight.

So she lied. "I just don't feel that way about you," Hermione said calmly, the traces of her former upset all buried.

"Horseshite," he flatly replied. "It's bollocks an' you know it."

"I don't!" she insisted. "I like you, the sex is fantastic, but...I'm sorry. I don't love you."

Seamus came toward her again, boxing her in between himself and the wall. He was looking softly at her, one of his hands going to rest at her waist. "Kiss me, Hermione," he murmured. His fingers pushed slowly into her hair and his thumb brushed her cheek, and those green eyes were fixed firmly on her lips. "Kiss me, an' then look me in the eyes an' tell me you don't feel anything. Do that, an' I swear I'll walk away an' never look back."

She hesitated, but then she stood on her toes, adding the few inches she needed to get her mouth to his. They met gently at first, but as usual that didn't last long. Her tongue just barely touched his lips before he was responding with passion and she was matching it. Her arms wound around his neck while his hand gripped her arse, and soon he had her up against the wall, gasping for breath.

She placed her hands on his shoulders, feeling them shake just slightly as she stared up into his eyes. Hermione tried to take it all in, to remember what he looked like when he was desperate for her, because he'd surely hate her before long. "I don't feel anything for you," she whispered, the lie obvious even to her own ears. But she had to make him believe it. "It's just lust. Sex. Nothing more."

"You honestly mean that?" Seamus asked softly. Every emotion he had was written clearly across his face, and it was killing Hermione to see the pain she'd just caused.

Nonetheless, she pushed on through. She had to. "I mean it," Hermione replied, as firmly as she could manage. She took her hands from his shoulders, though it burned her to do it, and forced her eyes away from his, focusing on the floor instead. "I'm sorry, but…I mean it. It was wrong of me, but…it was just about sex and loneliness, not love. I'm sorry for leading you on. If I'd realized how you felt, I would've ended it sooner."

For a long moment, he just stared. Seamus couldn't believe she'd actually done it. He'd been so sure that if he just forced her hand, she wouldn't be able to do it. He'd underestimated her resolve, it seemed. What was more, she'd cut him to the quick. Seamus felt physically ill at the sound of those words, at being relegated to the role of a convenience.

He couldn't believe it, though. The past six months couldn't have all been faked. Hermione wasn't that good of an actress, and she never would have bothered even if she were. She wasn't the kind to pretend feelings she didn't have…except, it seemed, when she wanted to run like a damned coward.

"Fine." His expression was impassive as he stepped back from her. Hermione could see hurt and anger both boiling under the surface, and the color had all gone out of his face, but he was behaving as coolly as she'd ever seen him. Somehow it was worse than when his temper brought him to yelling. "If that's how you want it, fine. Make us both fuckin' miserable, if you're too scared to reach for what you know you want."

"Seamus, I…"

His voice was down to a whisper now. "I'll wait, Hermione, but I'm not gonna wait forever." He paused as if he might say something more, then took another step back. "You know where to find me."

Seamus disapparated with a snap, a sharp contrast to the usual bare whisper of noise he made. It was something he prided himself on, being good at apparation. Hermione knew it was one more piece of evidence in the case for how much she'd hurt him. As she realized it, she felt her heart give a little thump, and the tears began to fall, quickly escalating into intense sobs. She cried for a full hour, lying on the sofa awash in pain and self-pity. While part of her might have known that it was for the best, that this would hurt less than if the end came later, a larger part wanted to know just what the hell she was thinking.

There was only one thing to do, Seamus knew: get rip-roaring drunk. He bought a pack of cigarettes, too, the Winstons he hadn't touched in the six months since he'd been with Hermione. If she didn't want him, then fine. He had old habits that would be pleased to see him again.

Dean and Parvati met him at the pub, listened to him curse and complain, and let him have as much straight fire whiskey as he could stand. He railed about the foolishness of women in general (present company excepted, of course) and of Hermione in particular, smashed a shot glass following a bitter toast "to love", and complained about the injustice of a world that would allow this to happen. He put his fist through the plaster wall of the pub (which the barman was kind enough to add to his tab) and finally ended with his head resting on the bar, quietly and miserably singing "Ansacht na n'Ansacht".

Dean and Parvati made sure that he made it home in one piece. It had taken quite the argument to convince Seamus that he was in no condition to apparate, but eventually he caved. He was out cold by the time they got home anyway.

Monday morning, he awoke on Dean and Vati's sofa with his mouth feeling like an ashtray and his head pounding like it hadn't since The Piña Colada Incident. At least he could smell coffee brewing, though, and Parvati took her coffee the same way he did: strong and black. (She stopped making the joke about coffee and men after she heard Dean and Seamus simultaneously shout "I like my coffee COVERED IN BEEEEEES!" for the five hundredth time.)

Seamus dragged himself upright and winced at the rush to his head. After a moment's sitting, though, he rubbing his eyes and trudging into the kitchen. He dropped into a chair at the table, looking like a scruffy zombie.

"Feeling any better?" Parvati asked, for once looking more concerned than irritated with his hangover. Seamus took a deep breath as he analyzed the situation.

"Not a damn bit," he admitted with a quiet sigh. "She's still gone, an' now I've got a headache to top it all off."

Parvati nodded, pouring them each a cup of coffee. (Dean, always a late riser, was still buried under his quilt upstairs). "If it helps, I think she's being a complete idiot," Parvati offered as she handed him a cup.

"Not really, but I'm glad to have your vote of confidence," Seamus replied wryly. "Now I just need a way to convince I her /I that she's being a complete idiot."

"She'll figure it out," Parvati said confidently. She sipped her coffee and sat down at the kitchen counter. "Hermione's a smart girl, after all."

"Sure an' I hope you're right," he said, his voice so obviously sad. "Otherwise I dunno what the hell'm gonna do."

"Well, if she doesn't figure it out on her own, I'll personally go to her flat and beat some sense into her," Parvati announced. "Because for one thing, she's my friend and she'd have to be an utter fool to let you get away. And for another, you're my honorary brother, and nobody makes my family that miserable with impunity!"

That got the little bit of a laugh she'd been looking for. "Thanks, Vati," Seamus replied with just a touch of a smile. "You're a gem."

"I try," she said with a simple shrug.

Seamus stayed for breakfast, and then hauled himself home to wallow a little more. One night of drinking hadn't made him feel much better, but a few days of smoking, neglecting to shave, and listening to loud and depressing music might make a little headway. He arranged for Ciaran to cover the shifts in which he was usually in the shop and instructed him to owl only in the case of an emergency, and then spent the next few days in the house.

Seamus remained in his kitchen with his dad's old record player, listening to old rock n roll. With his parents many years gone and unable to support him through this sort of heartbreak, he had to find another way to feel like they were listening to his troubles. That meant turning on his Muggle father's Fleetwood Mac albums, and baking bread like his mam's. Besides, kneading bread was good for frustration.

He probably would have continued that way for a full week, if Parvati hadn't placed a strategic owl to his younger sisters. As soon as Aoife and Laoghaire got the news, they were straight on their way to Seamus's house. Knowing their brother well, they came straight to the kitchen.

Laoghaire, (the elder, with their father's dark hair) gave him a look that bordered between sympathetic and disgusted. "Jaysus Mary an' Joseph, Shay…you look a wreck."

"Laoghaire!" Aoife elbowed her older sister sharply. Aoife was the mild-mannered Ravenclaw, sandy blonde like their mother, and the only one of the surviving Finnigan children who'd ever mastered the art of tact. Laoghaire was more in Seamus's fashion, hopelessly blunt. She took the admonishment, though, and tried to temper her response.

"Sorry. Er…"

"We heard about what happened with Hermione," Aoife explained, cutting off whatever idiotic thing might be about to pour out of Laoghaire's mouth next. "And we were worried about you, because we know how much you love her, so we wanted to check on you."

"An' give you a kick in the arse if you were just sittin' around mopin' an' listenin' to depressin' musi--oof!"

"Well, as you can see, I'm doin' just fine," Seamus replied dryly. His sisters were twenty-two and twenty now; he didn't have to protect them in the same way he had when they'd first lost their parents. Now, if he was a wreck, he could go ahead and tell them.

With no more preamble, Laoghaire walked up and hugged him tightly. Aoife followed right after; the Finnigans had always been a huggy bunch. It was the first thing so far that had I actually /I made Seamus feel any better.

"I'm so sorry, Shay," Aoife said softly.

He responded glumly, resting his chin on top of his sister's head. "Eh, it's all right, girly" Seamus said, quietly attempting optimism. "I bounce."

"You shouldn't have to, though," Laoghaire huffed. "She's bein' completely stupid, and I hope she falls in a ditch." While Laoghaire had a temper, she tried to avoid wishing serious harm on anybody she didn't think was genuinely evil. She'd also been known to hope pigeons pooped on certain people. Aoife still elbowed her, though.

"D'you think she'll change 'er mind?" Aoife asked hopefully.

Seamus shrugged. "I hope so. It's been three days, though, an' she hasn't come by or called or owled or any o' that. So I dunno, I reckon."

"Well, we hope so, too," Laoghaire declared loyally. "She was good for you, when she wasn' bein' stupid." Aoife nodded her agreement. The girls had approved of Hermione, unlike all the other girls Seamus had ever dated.

"We'll see," Seamus replied, his tone guarded. He took out a cigarette to light as his expression formed with resolve. "But this time, she's gonna have to come to me. I'm done chasin' after 'er all the damned time."

"That's prob'ly for the best," Aoife thought aloud. She looked pensive, considering all the possibilities. "Give her some time to stew a bit, let 'er realize how much she misses you, an' I bet she'll be back."

"But don't," Laoghaire said firmly, "sit here an' wallow in self-pity 'til she does."

This was really why Parvati had owled and filled them in on the whole thing. She'd known that Laoghaire and Aoife were no-nonsense young women. If anyone could pull Seamus out of his slump, it'd be those two.

Aoife picked up from there, with a more sympathetic tone. "You really can't, Shay. It's bad for you. An' while seein' you this kind o' unkempt mess might make 'er feel sorry for you," she said, wrinkling her nose at his messy hair, old flannel shirt, and scruffy face, "Nobody goes madly in love for a fella she feels sorry for."

Seamus chuckled ruefully and lit his cigarette. "You girls are so kind," he said, that little sarcastic edge in his voice again.

"We're just tryin' to do what's best for you," Aoife said, a little less forthright than she'd been a moment before. "You've done that often enough for us, after all. It's about time we returned the favor."

"So!" Laoghaire said with bright good cheer, "Because we love you, an' we're reasonably fond o' Hermione, we're here to get you off your arse--"

"--an' into the shower!"

"--an' back to work so you can put your mind on something besides how lousy you feel," Laoghaire concluded.

Seamus inhaled smoke and exhaled slowly, thinking. The girls had a point. Reveling in heartbreak only helped for but just so long. Past a certain point, it just became self-destructive. "Prob'ly not a bad idea," he admitted reluctantly.

Aoife smiled, patting her older brother's shoulder. "It's a brilliant idea," she said with confidence.

"Besides, she'll be back 'fore too long," Laoghaire chimed in. "'cause she'd have to be a total madwoman not to!"

Seamus gave the girls a crooked smile as he took another drag. "You're just sayin' that 'cause you love me, so you can't imagine anybody else wouldn'."

"So?" Laoghaire sniffed. "It's still true."

"She's right!" Aoife agreed readily.

Bad as things might be at the moment, Seamus decided he couldn't really call himself unlucky. Even if Hermione really didn't love him, he still had people who did. "You're the best li'l sisters on earth. I've told you that, right?"

Aoife grinned. "Yes, but not nearly often enough."

"Now put that horrible thing out an' get in the shower," Laoghaire ordered. "You stink."

For the first day, Hermione cried off and on throughout the day. She owled Ginny to tell her, but she didn't answer the return owl. She didn't answer the door when Ginny came by, either, nor did she respond to Ginny's warning through the door that she would be back later.

On the second, she called in sick at work and sat on the sofa, watching horrible television and letting her mind rot.

On the third she came in to work, and nobody questioned that she'd been ill the day before. For one thing, everyone knew Hermione Granger would never fake sick. For another, the girl looked awful: dark circles under her eyes that she didn't cover well, her color wasn't very good, and she wore a perpetually sad expression except when she was making a conscious effort to hide it. After work she spent a little while at Ginny and Harry's talking about anything but Seamus before claiming that she really had to go home and do some work.

On the fourth day, she sat down to a dinner that Seamus would have told her did not qualify as dinner at all. As something of a chef, he had this idea that meals should contain actual nutritional value and probably a vegetable. A bag of crisps and a stack of intern evaluations to complete would certainly not qualify. He would have lectured her about it and made her eat some real food. An owl from Parvati came, and it made her think of the wedding, and Hermione began to cry again.

Thursday came, and Janelle told her about a new band she ought to hear. They were good, acoustic rock, and she wanted to tell Seamus about them…but that wasn't her life anymore. She'd ended that, and it didn't feel nearly as good as it was supposed to. It felt awful, in fact, absolutely fucking awful, and the fact that she even thought that kind of language was his fault, too. She almost cried more, but instead she crawled into bed with Crookshanks and slept straight through 'til morning.

Friday, Ginny Weasley had had enough.

Hermione was wrecking herself, and Ginny was not going to stand by and let it happen. The two of them had pulled each other through after Ron died, and now it looked like Hermione needed to be pulled through again. She might also need a bit of a kick in the arse, and Ginny was willing to deliver that if necessary, too.

As soon as she was done with work for the day, she apparated to Hermione's flat and hammered on the door. "Hermione Jane Granger, you come to the door this instant!" she shouted in a remarkable imitation of her mother.

Hermione heard her and sighed, slowly standing up from the sofa. She'd changed out of her work clothes, into jeans and a tee-shirt, and she looked as weary as a human being possibly could. She knew Ginny was going to demand that she do something about herself, and she supposed Ginny would be right. This state of affairs couldn't continue, after all. Hermione opened the door slowly, looking a touch shamefaced as she looked at the redhead on her steps.

"Merlin, it's worse than I thought," Ginny complained, sweeping through past Hermione. "What on earth is wrong with you, Hermione?"

"I don't know!" she cried desperately. As soon as the words were out of her mouth, the tears began to fall, and she found herself wrapped in a tight hug. Hermione cried onto Ginny's shoulder, still trying to talk through her sniffles. "I miss him so much, and I hurt him so badly, and I didn't think it would be this bad, but it is, and now I…"

"Shh…" Ginny stroked her hair soothingly. "Take a breath and calm down. Then you can tell me what the hell you mean, all right?"

Hermione hiccupped, nodded, sniffled, and finally drew in one long, ragged breath. She tried for another, and the oxygen came a little more easily. Ginny led her over to the sofa to sit, then took the cushion beside her. "Now," Ginny said calmly, "If you care so much for him, why did you break up with him in the first place?"

Hermione's voice came out small and broken. "That's why."

"What?" Ginny asked, clearly confused.

Hermione bit her lip and tried to explain. "I cared too much," she said softly, "and it was only going to get worse. So I was trying to stop it before I could, so then I wouldn't have to feel that way again. I can't lose anybody else like that, Ginny."

"Oh, Hermione," she sighed sympathetically, putting her arm around the other girl. "I think it's a bit late to stop yourself loving him."

"I know," Hermione replied glumly.

"And I think you're probably making yourself feel as awful now as you would if--"

"I know," she sighed, cutting Ginny off. "I know. It's just…Merlin, Ginny, you remember what it was like with Ron."

"I do," Ginny said softly. "Losing Ron hurt more than anything else ever has. But I wouldn't trade a single day of the time I had with him, not for anything in all the world. Would you?"

There was a long pause, and at last the whispered answer. "No."

"I wouldn't give up a single day I've had with Harry, either," Ginny continued gently. "If anything ever happened to him, I'd be heartbroken. I don't even like to think about the kind of wreck I'd be. But I still wouldn't want to not love him, because that would be a waste of whatever time we do have."

Again, silence. Hermione broke it with a loud sniffle. "It's just so terrifying," she complained. "The idea of risking that much again…but I suppose you're right. I waited too late to start worrying about that."

"He loves you, Hermione, and you love him. That's worth the risk."

Sunday and Monday were Seamus's regular days off from the shop. Mondays were his day to himself, to read or swim or fly or anything else he needed to do to relax. This "weekend", though, he'd hardly even left for lunch. Since drinking himself into a coma wasn't really a viable option, he'd try to work himself into one instead. He'd finished a custom order single-handedly in a week, an unprecedented speed for a hand-built and charmed broom. Focus had become his drug of choice in the effort to drive Hermione Granger out of his mind. That was why he didn't even look up when the door chimed.

"We're closed," he announced from the workbench behind the counter, still steadily carving a handle.

"I know."

Then Seamus looked up, and quickly. He cut himself with the blade charm as he startled, causing Hermione to gasp and himself to curse. She came hustling toward him as he ended the charm and used the same simple healing spell he always did to close the wound without bothering to disinfect.

"That's going to scar," she said softly, biting her lip as she looked at him. In a flash, she thought of all the times before she'd gotten on him about doing a crummy job healing himself. She didn't lecture now, though; she was too busy looking intently into his eyes, trying desperately to find the words for what needed to be said.

"I know," Seamus said, feeling his lost hope begin to rise again. He reminded himself that this could very well just be about the shirt she'd left at his house and that he ought not to get too excited.

"I…" Hermione stopped, and she bit her lip again. Two full days of thinking and rehearsing, only to find that when she looked at him none of the practiced words would come. She took one of those deep breaths Ginny had advised, and tried to stay calm. "I miss you, Seamus. I want to…to be together again."

Seamus had set his wand on the workbench, and now he looked steadily at her with his arms crossed. Part of him wanted to run straight to her, hold her tight and never let go. That part wanted to kiss her senseless and make sure she never, ever walked out on him again, ever.

The wary side took hold first. It eyed the situation with cool detachment, noting that she could very well panic again and put him through the same shite all over. It knew that his heart probably couldn't take all that. It was the part of him holding the passionate Gryffindor back, speaking quietly and not moving. It had to be sure.

"I'd rather like that, meself," he replied quietly. "But I don' think I could take another heartbreak like this one."

Seamus might be cleaned up now, but Hermione could see in his eyes that she'd done a number on him. Every emotion the man had was written clear across his face, just as much as when he was a brash thirteen year old. Hermione knew him too well to fail to recognize the pain there now. Maybe she should just walk away, before she had the chance to cause him any more.

"Seamus, I…" Pursing her lips tightly, she fought a brief inner struggle, and in the end, selfishness won out. Her eyes had begun to fill with tears before she'd even started her next sentence, and her throat nearly closed on it. "I'm so sorry, Shay. I was just so, so scared. The idea of letting myself get hurt like that again, if you ever…I just panicked."

He raked his fingers into his hair, a habit that always surfaced when he was feeling nervous or awkward. He'd looked at the floor for a moment, then out the window, but now Seamus was looking right at her, apparently searching out some sort of answers in her face. He had to understand some of it--hadn't he been through it himself? Not in exactly the same way, perhaps, but he'd lost family and friends. He knew how deep that hurt could strike, how much of a person it could injure or even destroy.

It was because he knew how strong those feelings could be that he asked her, softly, "So what's different now?"

"I've faced it," she replied, her voice finally gaining some confidence. Hermione took up her courage and looked right back at him. Until now, she'd been floundering, hunting for the words, but now she'd found something she could say with authority. "I took a good long look at it all, and I realized that as much as losing Ron hurt, I still wouldn't give up any of the time we had together. And that made me realize that I didn't want to give up whatever chance I had with you, either. Because you were right, Shay. I didn't mean a word of any of those awful things I said." A few tears were rolling down her face now, thinking of the last time they'd spoken. Hermione sniffled before she could continue; there was just so much emotion swirling around at once. Only one thing remained to say, and if it didn't convince him nothing was going to. "I love you."

Seamus felt his resolve break at the final words. He could see she meant it. She'd thought about it all, and she was willing to take the chance on him; Seamus figured that meant he'd have to take the chance on her as well. It was possible that everything could go horribly wrong, but it was just as possible that he'd walk out the door and get hit by a bus. All that even-keeled logic went out the window, subsumed in a heart led by emotion, and Seamus closed the distance between them with just a few short steps. Hermione was already coming to meet him, gingerly reaching her hand out. He took it, and without another word leaned down to kiss her soundly. Hermione returned the kiss with gusto, winding her arms around his neck and standing on her toes to reach him more easily.

"God but I've missed you," he whispered against her lips.

"Missed you too," she gasped back as he picked her up and sat her on the countertop. Only an instant later he was kissing her again, as desperately as if he still wasn't sure this was real and she was really back.

"I love you," Seamus said softly.

This time, when he said it, she smiled. Hermione could feel her heart pounding in her chest, and her ears felt a little like they were in a windtunnel…but it was in a good way. And this time, she could say it back. "I love you, too," she replied, tracing her fingertips along the line of his jaw. It was easier that time than it had been before, and Hermione suspected it would keep getting easier. "And I'm not going anywhere--at least not by choice."

"Good," Seamus teased a little shakily. "'Cause damned if I'll let you go again without one hell of a fight."