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25 April 2009 @ 01:26 am
Fic: After The Rain  
Title: After The Rain
Rating/Warnings: R
Length: 6,036 words
Summary: Hermione doesn't like the way it always rains so much in Spring, but she loves how the world smells afterwards.
A/N: With thanks to florahart, the friend with the Little Miss Sunshine pyjamas, and the amazingly patient kalina_blue.

Written for inell as part of hp_spring_fling and originally posted here.

After The Rain


Hermione knows better than to Apparate without a clear destination in mind, but it has been a long day. Her head is aching as a thousand and one thoughts grapple with each other to be the main focus of her attention, entangling themselves in the process. There's no space for a clear image of where she wants to be. Instead she reaches for a homely feeling, of comfort and familiarity, and isn't exactly surprised when she arrives at somewhere other than Grimmauld Place.

She stumbles – because she's never had great balance, she tells herself, and not because she's in any way disturbed by where she has ended up – and the contents of her shoulder bag spill out onto the grass.

Photographs of dead House Elves who have been disfigured almost beyond recognition flutter to the ground followed by statements from their owners denying any involvement, notes in her handwriting for a presentation explaining the necessity and morality of investigating the crimes, and a memo from the Director of the Subcommittee of Crimes Involving Magical Creatures ordering Hermione not to waste his time.

Hermione bends down to pick them up, squinting in the fading light. Sometimes she thinks that she ought to listen to Ron and apply for a higher position in the Ministry, even though she doesn't have the relevant experience and qualifications yet, if only because the idea of never having to attend a Subcommittee meeting ever again has great appeal.

It starts to drizzle. Small droplets of rain trickle down the back of her neck. She waves one hand in front of her face as she stands up, trying to dispel the cloud of midges sharing the shelter of the small cluster of pine trees with her.

The trees are a rich green in colour and taller than Hermione by at least three feet, which is taller than she remembers them being, but that was the complaint that Dad had always had about having trees in the front garden; that they'd grow, so much so that they'd block the sunlight from reaching the house and the roots would damage the foundations. Mum had said that gardens without trees looked too tame. Dad had wanted a garden that was easy to mow and weed whilst Mum had wanted something like a forest glade straight out of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Hermione had planned to help Mum make that garden really magical once she'd become seventeen, even if she would only have been allowed to make subtle changes so that passing Muggles wouldn't be able to tell, but she'd never gotten around to it and now there was no point.

A car pulls up the driveway and Hermione moves further back into the shadow of the trees, sliding her wand from the arm-holster beneath her sleeve in case she needs to cast a hasty Disillusionment Charm, but the man who gets out of the vehicle doesn't look in her direction.

He takes a few minutes to collect a coat and briefcase from the backseat, and then heads to the front door with his keys in his hand. Hermione follows his progress, finally taking a good look at her old house.

The door opens from the inside as he steps onto the porch and a bushy-haired girl leaps out, throwing her arms around his neck and squealing, "Daddy!" Another girl, grinning so broadly that Hermione can see her braces, aims for his waist. Behind them a woman laughs.

Hermione feels worse watching this scene than she did when she first saw the photographs of the dead House Elves, which she thinks should worry her, but there's no time for that thought when she's also busy wondering if it would hurt less if the house had been unsold, abandoned or destroyed, if her parents remember this house at all even if they no longer remember her, and if the girl with braces goes to the local dental practise where Hermione's parents used to work.

She takes a deep breath and inhales a mouthful of midges.

The front door of the house closes.

Hermione casts a localised Silencing Charm to hide the noise of her imminent departure and this time concentrates hard on her destination before Apparating away.

~888~


Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place has never looked so unlike a home, but then Hermione has never thought of it as one. It has been a place to stay during the school holidays, the Order Headquarters, and a base whilst hunting for Horcruxes. Even now whilst it's Harry's house it's not like her, Ron, and Harry are living here. It's more like camping again, only with more space.

She dumps her satchel in their shared bedroom, where each of them can hear the others breathing in the night.

Ron has left his clothes from yesterday in the narrow space between two of the beds. Hermione tosses them in the wash basket in the corner of the room and picks up Harry's broom, which falls over as she passes, to reduce the risk of anyone tripping up. If anyone does trip up it will be her, so it's self-preservation as much as anything.

It's chilly, which means apparently the boys haven't come back from Auror Training and cast Warming Charms, and Hermione leaves her coat on rather than casting the Charms herself. She feels like sitting in a corner of the library all bundled up, maybe with a small fire.

When she reaches the library though she finds that a fire has already been lit, casting a soft glow over the two boys stood in front of it.

Ron is exploring Harry's mouth. With his tongue. Whilst Harry squeezes Ron's backside. And groans.

Hermione breath hitches and she takes a step back.

The boys break apart at the noise and turn to look at her. Flustered, Hermione snatches a book off the nearest shelf, sending dust floating to the ground, and waves it at them.

"I was just looking for…this," she finishes, since the cover is blank and she has no idea what it's about.

Harry turns to Ron and says, "You did tell her, right?"

"But Hermione doesn't need telling things," says Ron, a look of panic appearing on his face. "She always knows."

"It's okay," says Hermione, deciding that after seeing Ron with his tongue down Harry's throat she does know and doesn't need either of them to say it.

They belong to each other more than before and Hermione, as ever, is left on the outside.

Ron relaxes and slings an arm around Harry's waist casually.

"We went to The Burrow after Training," says Harry, "to tell Mum and Dad." He smiles and grabs hold of Ron's wrist. "They said to call them that. Not that they'll ever replace my real parents, but Fleur calls Mr and Mrs Weasley 'mum and dad' too, because she's with Bill. It's like I'm a proper part of the family."

"But that's not why you're dating a Weasley?" says Hermione, because she feels that some things have to be asked, even if no one likes hearing them.

"No," says Harry, tightening his grip on Ron's wrist. "No, I'm not."

Ron glares at her.

"He doesn't need to date a Weasley for that. They've tried to get him to call them 'mum and dad' before, but he always said 'no'. It's just that now he's with me he can, like Fleur does. Don't make him feel bad about it, Hermione."

She brings the old book closer, like a shield, then hugs it, it's angular edges pressing into her arms and stomach.

"I'm not."

She thinks about the fact that she's never been invited to call Mr and Mrs Weasley anything other than Mr and Mrs Weasley, even when she and Ron were attempting to be a couple.

Since that didn't work out she's happy that Ron and Harry are together, she decides, because Harry has always shared Ron with her and maybe things won't change so much now the three of them are a two and a one.

Then one part of her brain starts cataloguing all the quiet sounds that she's heard when she's woken up in the middle of the night, trying to work out if any of them might have been sex sounds (since boys will be boys and it's not like she never heard either of them wanking when they were sharing a tent). Another part of her brain shouts that now Harry has parents and Ron whilst she's lost both. The remainder is still busy thinking about her old house and dead House Elves.

Hermione wishes that for once in her life she could think about nothing.

Thinking about nothing sounds so peaceful.

"Are you alright?" says Harry. "With us?"

"It’s fine," says Hermione, sounding unconvincing to her own ears. "Really, it's great. I just need to, erm." She brandishes the book in the air. "Research."

Harry leans into Ron, resting his head on Ron's shoulder, and Hermione makes her escape.

"I'm making spaghetti bolognaise. Should be ready at eight," he shouts after her.

She rushes down the stairs, because going fast matches the buzzing in her head and makes her feel better somehow. It doesn't take long for her to run out of stairs, so she leaves the house, shutting the door behind her with one shaking hand, and starts walking down the street, hands wrapped tight around the book she still hasn't put down.

Ten minutes later it starts raining heavily. Still unable to quiet her thoughts, Hermione slips into an alley and Apparates without a clear destination in mind for the second time that night.

~888~


Nobody looks up from their conversations as Hermione walks into Finnigan's Rest, except for Seamus who waves her over to the bar and gestures at the book in her hands.

"Work or pleasure?"

"Not work," says Hermione, getting comfortable on a bar stool and placing the book to one side.

She watches him as her serves her. He has a new earring that looks like one of the coins she Charmed for the DA, or might even be one of those coins, and she guesses that it's Luna's work.

Part of the money that went into setting up Seamus' pub came from his investments in Dean's paintings and Luna's various artworks (although the three of them are such good friends that Hermione thinks Luna would still craft things for Seamus, and Dean would still have helped him paint the bar, without those investments). Neville also contributed, with profits from his plant nursery. Then the two of them along with Rosmerta, Justin Finch-Fletchley, and Terry Boot had joined forces to get several other small businesses started by Hogwarts' graduates off the ground, and to sponsor a few new Quidditch players, such as Malcom Baddock.

Sometimes Hermione thinks her, Ron, and Harry missed out on a lot by not attending Hogwarts for their final year.

Of course, destroying Horcuxes was more important.

Hermione tries to divert her thoughts by inspecting the contents of her coat pockets, emptying the contents out onto the bar. She discovers a mobile phone, which she'd insisted on buying after the time Ron had sent her a message by Patronus when she was in a Muggle library, a spare hair tie, which she uses to tie back her damp hair, a tissue, and three Knuts.

Seamus grins at her as she balances one of the coins on it's side.

"Guess I'm putting this on your tab," he says as he places a glass of white wine next to the hair tie.

Hermione usually has tea or coffee when she visits Finnigan's Rest, if only because she usually brings work with her. Now she remembers the fuzzy feeling that alcohol induces and decides that maybe enough of it will make the inside of her head quiet and calm, so she can just have a few hours of not thinking about murdered House Elves, her parents, Harry and Ron leaving her, or anything at all.

"If I'm going to work up a tab," she says quietly, "I would like not to see the bottom of my glass this evening, please."

Seamus raises his eyebrows, but doesn't comment, just switches her glass for another one from a locked cupboard underneath the bar, pouring her wine into the new glass without spilling a drop.

She's heard of Seamus' special glasses from George, but she's never actually seen one. Apparently they magically refill, with the total amount drunk being tallied on a parchment beneath the bar to be paid for at a later date. George had told her that he'd tried to sneak one of them out, to take it to the workroom in his shop and figure out how they worked, but that there must be more than one spell on them because he hadn't been able to take it out of the pub.

Hermione sips at her wine and counts the number of piercings Seamus has whilst she waits for the alcohol to take effect. Currently he has three studs in the top of his right ear with the new one dangling from the lobe, three matching studs in the other ear, and a small ring in his right eyebrow.

He catches her staring and sticks his tongue out at her. Hermione inspects that for piercings too.

"Did you take out the one in your tongue?"

"Didn't like it, in the end," he says.

"Oh." She slides the Knuts off the bar and puts them back into her pocket, followed by the tissue and the hair tie.

"Yeah. Kept getting bits of food stuck in it. So, anything new at work?"

Her mobile vibrates, allowing her to avoid thinking about dead House Elves in favour of answering the phone.

Only two people know her number and only one of them is comfortable with using a telephone, so, without waiting to hear the person at the other end speak, Hermione says, "Hello Harry."

"Spaghetti bolognaise," he replies.

She glances at the clock behind the bar. The hands are broomsticks and indicate the time is quarter past eight, which is later than she'd thought it was.

"Sorry. Split mine. I'll have something when I get back."

"Long as you do eat."

"I will. Might be back late though," she adds.

"I guessed."

He sounds happy and Hermione hopes that it's not because he's glad she won't be home, leaving him with more time to be alone with Ron, but she feels comforted by the fact that at least he bothered to call her when she didn't show up for tea.

They exchange goodbyes. Hermione hangs up, switches the phone off, and returns it to her pocket.

Seamus is stood watching her from behind the bar, his head tilted to one side curiously.

"It's a mobile phone," she tells him. "Muggles use them to speak to each other, like sticking your head in a Floo."

"I know that." He purses his lips as if he's annoyed, then they relax back into a straight line before twitching upwards into a smile. "Me Dad was a Muggle. There are Muggles in the family. I know about things like mobiles and microwaves."

"Sorry," says Hermione. She's so used to being the Muggleborn surrounded by magic and people who don't know anything about the Muggle world that she tends to assume nobody in the Wizarding world knows anything about the Muggle world; an assumption only reinforced by Mr Weasley's often inane questions.

"During the war all anyone could think or talk about was blood," says Seamus, "and now after the war no one can seem to forget about it. Like it even matters anyway." He shrugs. "Not that it's like you to forget anything as it is."

"If you're going to make a comment about me knowing everything," she says, reaching for her wine, "then don't."

"Why?" He studies her face. "What else have you not known lately?"

"Ron and Harry are together. Together together."

"Is that why you're drinking?" he says.

"And what's new at work is fifteen murdered House Elves that the Director won't let me do anything about. Oh, then there are my parents, who are currently on the other side of the world and have forgotten that I exist. Because I made them forget."

Seamus whistles softly.

"Can't you make them remember?"

"No," she says. "Neither, when I asked them about it, can Minerva, Professor Flitwick, Bill Weasley, or Kingsley. So that's that."

She swallows enough wine that she ought to have drained her glass twice over and doesn't know whether to feel relieved or not when the glass remains half-full. At least Seamus doesn't sound like he's judging her, she thinks, but then the whole point is not to be thinking.

So she carries on drinking.

~888~


She wakes up in an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar room desperately needing the toilet. Thankfully the first door she tries leads to a small bathroom.

Afterwards she washes her face with cold water and trips over her shoes on the way back to the bed, which is when she realises that she's still fully dressed, apart from her coat, with her wand still in it's arm holster.

She tries the other door and finds herself in a large room that is a kitchen, dining room, and living room combined. A streetlight outside the window gives off enough light that she doesn't need a lumos as she looks around, checking for people.

Her coat and the book from Grimmauld Place are on the sofa. The small television in the corner is on standby. Dean, Seamus, Neville, Harry and Ron wave at her from a photograph on the mantelpiece and in another Luna dances in circles, her head thrown back and a huge smile on her face.

Hermione comes to the conclusion that she's in Seamus' flat about his pub.

"Fuckin' pink cats with their fuckin' pink bows," she hears him muttering from behind a half-closed door. It squeaks when she pushes it all the way open and Seamus rolls over.

Clearly he's still asleep, with his face slack, a quilt bunched up around his waist, and one hand flung out across the empty side of his double bed, which Hermione eyes speculatively.

She's sure that there are a lot of things she should be thinking right now, but all she can think of is going back to sleep and she doesn't know how to do that without listening to someone else breathing. So she climbs onto the bed next to Seamus, pulling the quilt up to his shoulders and over herself, and closes her eyes.

"Fuckin' cats," he says again.

She wriggles closer to him until his outstretched hand touches her cheek and he falls silent.

Silent but for the comforting sound of breathing.

~888~


The second time Hermione wakes up Seamus is scrambling eggs.

"Mornin'," he says cheerfully, glancing over at her as she enters the main room.

Hermione drags a hand through her hair, abruptly conscious of what she must look like sweaty and crumpled after a full day at work, a night out drinking, and sleeping in her clothes.

"Eggs, bacon, toast, fresh orange juice, and I think there's some fruit knocking around somewhere, if you're so inclined."

"Thanks."

She tries to make herself more presentable before sliding onto a chair, muttering a freshening charm for her clothes and hoping Seamus doesn't hear her as he clatters around by the hob. She drinks some juice hoping that it'll make her voice sound less hoarse.

Seamus' arm brushes her shoulder as he dishes eggs onto her plate and Hermione blushes as it suddenly hits her that she just spent the night, or part of the night at least, in bed with him. She doesn't feel like she knows Seamus well enough to have done that or to be in such a mess in front of him, even if she has been spending almost as many waking hours in Finnigan's Rest as she has in Grimmauld Place since she started working at the Ministry.

"You're not the first," he says as he sits down opposite her and starts eating. "That I've had stay over after one drink too many," he clarifies when she looks at him questioningly.

Hermione wonders if she's blushing again or if her skin just hasn't cooled down from the first time.

She hates it when people see her being anything other than sensible and mature. Being a young woman tends to make enough adults, especially men, treat her condescendingly without them seeing her acting like an idiot. She's learnt that if she wants people to pay attention to her knowledge that she has to make them take her seriously.

"Although," Seamus continues, "I'm not sure if you'd really want to know who slept in that guest room before you."

Hermione clears her throat.

"As long as you changed the sheets."

"You know, I can't remember if I did?"

He screws up his face in mock-concentration and taps the tines of his fork against his chin thoughtfully. A piece of bacon, that he'd apparently forgotten was stabbed on said fork, goes up his nostril. He jerks his head backwards and rubs at his nose, then glares at the fork.

Hermione, despite her best efforts to remain unmoved by what she suspects is a deliberate attempt to make her feel more at ease, bursts out laughing.

They start comparing stories of mishaps with food, move onto listing favourite dishes, and then chatting about favourite restaurants. Eventually Seamus begins washing the dishes – the Muggle way – while Hermione explains the merits of Thai food. When she tries to help by drying up he flicks soapy water at her, telling her that guests don't help with chores, but Hermione persists. She ends up with a damp t-shirt and bubbles on her face for her troubles, but she's laughing and she doesn't care.

He stands next to her, leaning against the cooker, as he dries his hands on the tea towel.

"When are you opening the pub up?" she asks, wondering if she might be able to chat with him for a while longer, even if she has to do it whilst he's working. Chatting with Seamus is much preferable to going back to Grimmauld Place (and being faced with Harry and Ron wrapped around each other).

"It’s me day off on a Sunday." Seamus looks at her for a moment. Then he says, "You can come with me, if you like."

"Come with you to where?"

He grins.

"To where I go on days off."

Hermione opens her mouth to tell him off for being deliberately obtuse, closes it, and nods. She feels like she's about to take part in an adventure of the fun sort and a thrill of excitement runs through her.

Seamus fetches her coat and steps close.

"Are you alright with Side-Along?"

She nods again, rolling up her coat and hugging it to her chest along with the old book. The warmth from his hand sinks through her shirt as he places an arm around her shoulders and she's acutely aware of the bare skin of his arm touching the nape of her neck.

This time she doesn't feel guilty for Apparating without a destination in mind. It's allowed when being taken Side-Along.

~888~


Their destination, it turns out, is a small cabin in the woods.

"It's very…solitary," she says.

Seamus squeezes her shoulder gently, and then guides her to a log on one side of the clearing before releasing her. They sit down, side by side, and Hermione tips her head back to gaze up at the pattern of daylight streaming between leaves and branches.

"We're in Ireland. Home. I grew up here."

Hermione lowers her bundle of coat and book onto her knee and turns to look at his face.

"Your family lives here?"

"Well, no."

He leans back against the trunk of a tree. Hermione wonders if his natural posture is set to 'slouch' and the thought makes her smile.

"We used to come here for holidays," he says. "Me and me cousins. Me, me Mam, and me brothers."

"But if you didn't live here then it isn't home."

Seamus closes his eyes.

"If you have family in more than one place then you have home in more than one place, don’t you? I mightn't have had family living here, but we were here for a bit, so it's like a bit of home. Like Scotland."

"You have family in Scotland?" she asks, confused.

"You do remember a bloody big castle we used to live in, right?"

Hermione grins, despite his language.

"I'm just. I guess I'm just trying to figure you mean by 'home', because it's been on my mind. Whether home is where you feel comfortable, or where your family are, or a specific place. Why people feel at home."

"Well," says Seamus, putting on an accent that makes him sound like Justin Finch-Fletchley, "it may be that the only thing that matters is what matters to you, and then again it may be that girls just place too much stock in feelings."

Hermione laughs and shoves him off the log.

~888~


Seamus doesn't take her into the cabin until it starts to rain again.

She's curious to see what the cabin looks like inside, but she pauses at the door to watch water dripping off leaves to form spreading puddles on the ground. Everything smells clean and fresh. If green had a smell, Hermione thinks that this would be it. She doesn't like the way it always rains so much in Spring, but she loves how the world smells afterwards.

"Better come in or your book's going to get wet," Seamus teases her and laughs when she hastily obeys.

Hermione inspects the book for damage. The spine is cracked, the cover stained, and the pages yellowing. It doesn't seem to be damp and she really hopes that she hasn't damaged it, although it looks so worn with age and use that she's not sure that she'd be able to tell.

"What’s it about, anyway?" says Seamus and she finally looks up, losing track of the conversation as she takes in her surroundings.

The cabin is filled with photographs.

On the wall directly in front of her are Seamus, Lavender, Parvati and Neville squashed together on a frayed couch in the Gryffindor Common Room. Next to that Dennis leans over the back of a chair talking animatedly and illustrating whatever point he's trying to make by waving his hands in the air.

Ginny, Collin, and Luna in Greenhouse Two. Luna making a daisy chain. Anthony, Terry, Michael, Padma, Susan, and Hannah practising the Patronus Charm. Ernie and Dennis. Cho. A handful of students in Slytherin robes that Hermione doesn't recognise, standing in a row and looking sombre. Dobby. Ginny and Neville arguing about something in the boys' dormitory in Gryffindor Tower. Lavender tossing her hair back to reveal a stubborn expression and a black eye.

"Colin," says Seamus. He clears his throat. "Colin took a lot of pictures, our last year. Went a bit mental if you ask me."

Hermione drops her coat and the book onto a chair and reaches out to touch the edge of one of the large group photographs. The figures in it wave at her and she tries not to think about how many in it didn't survive the war. Including Colin himself.

"Maybe he was making memories."

"Maybe." He slides his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "I used to keep some up on the wall by me bed, with me posters like. But then the Carrows started patrolling the dormitories and I took them down. I like having them up though."

"You like remembering."

"I can't help but remember all the bad things, so I might as well remember the good ones. 'Sides, it's the mistakes you remember that you don't repeat. What about you?"

"It's not memories that are the problem, really." She can feel him studying her, but she doesn't look at him. "I'd like not to have to think all the time."

"Then don't."

Hermione turns away from the photographs, but Seamus has his back to her now. He pulls a bag of carrots out of a cupboard in the kitchen area.

Hermione twists the hem of her shirt in her hands.

"I should leave."

"Why?" Seamus flicks his wand and the carrots start peeling themselves. "I was going to feed you again. Don't most people like other people doing the cooking for them?"

She traces the shape of his back with her eyes.

"Look," he says, scratching one ear above his piercings, "do you want to stay or not? Because I thought we were having fun."

"I like laughing with you," she confesses.

"Then stay." He takes a deep breath and faces her. "I want you to. I'll even change the sheets on the bed."

Hermione wonders when this turned into a discussion about her staying overnight and not just for dinner.

"I can sleep on the couch."

"A gentleman never lets the lady take the couch," says Seamus.

They manage to keep their faces serious whilst holding each others' gaze for almost a full minute before they both succumb to amused smiles.

"Okay, as long as you let me do the dishes this time," says Hermione, coming to stand in front of him, "but I'm not kicking you out of your own bed."

"And I'm not letting you sleep on the couch, so there it is."

"Well. I meant more that there ought to be plenty of room," she says, thinking about laughing, talking, adventures, blushing, an arm around her shoulders, and quiet breathing in the night.

"Look," he says seriously, "I'm not a Saint. I didn't want to say anything, but waking up next to you this morning and not. I mean." He lifts his hand up between them, as if to stroke her hair, then runs his fingers through his own hair instead and sighs. "If you're asking me to share a bed with a woman like you and not try anything then don't ask."

Hermione can feel herself blushing again. She takes another step closer to him, until the toes of her shoes meet the toes of his.

"I'm asking."

He does touch her hair then, twisting a tendril around two fingers and smoothing it back away from her face.

"Have you ever?" he asks, lightly touching her chin with those same two fingers.

"I messed around a little with Ron." She takes hold of his other hand. "But we didn't. No. You?"

She blinks in surprise when he nods, which makes him smirk.

"I had a thing with Lavender in seventh year, but we didn't either."

"Oh."

"Of course," says Seamus, with a sheepish grin, "Lavender only knew what she did from messing around with Ron in sixth year, so."

Hermione presses a kiss against his lips and then replies, matter-of-factly, "So we have, in a roundabout way, both received all of our practical lessons in sex between a man and a woman from Ron Weasley, who has now decided that he is in fact gay."

Seamus laughs as he flings his arms around her and pulls her closer than she imagined two people could get. Then he moves her away from the kitchen area and towards the bed in one corner of the room, arms still around her, as if they were doing a shuffling dance. It's comical and they're both laughing, and laughing even more when their attempts to kiss go awry.

When the back of her knees hit the side of the bed, Hermione pokes him in the ribs to make him back off a little and then slides her wand out of it's holster, to point it over Seamus' shoulder and cancel the spell on the carrots. They drop back down onto the worktop in a series of thumps.

Seamus takes advantage of the pause in their attempts at kissing to unbutton her shirt and tug it off. She returns the favour and stares at the revealed nipple piercing.

"Isn't that uncomfortable?"

"No, and not as awkward as the tongue one," he says, his thumbs caressing her bare upper arms.

She leans forward to give it the same inspection she gives all his piercings and Seamus shivers. On a whim she licks it, possibly because he's just mentioned the word 'tongue'. It feels odd with the small metal bar warm from his body but a different texture to his skin.

Seamus' hands tighten on her arms and when she pushes him back onto the bed he takes her down with him. She straddles his lap and they grin at each other.

"Well," says Hermione, with the confidence of having read about the topic at hand, "how difficult can it be?"

Seamus cups her jaw with one hand and brings her face down to his so he can kiss her. It goes better than their earlier tries, which still leaves room for improvement, but then Hermione enjoys learning.

It turns out that Seamus isn't adverse to it either.

~888~


Hermione is barely past the curtains hiding the portrait of Walburga Black before Harry is looking her over and asking if she's eaten anything at all.

"Because you never remember to eat when you're doing research."

His t-shirt is on back to front but she decides not to point that out.

"Where've you been?" says Ron, emerging from the kitchen and coming to stand next to Harry.

"Finnigan's Rest. Like I usually do after work sometimes."

"I didn't know it had rooms," says Ron.

Harry rolls his eyes and grins.

"It doesn’t, Ron."

"Oh. And Sunday night too? I knew you'd been spending a lot of time at Seamus' bar, but I didn't know. Well." Ron shifts his weight from one foot to the other and back again. "Do me and Harry need to have words with him?"

Hermione, as an independent woman, wants to tell him that's she's quite capable of taking care of herself thank you very much, but it's always been her, Ron, and Harry looking after each other. She's touched by this sign that this isn't going to change.

"No," she says. "Although that doesn't mean I'm not seeing him again, because I am."

"I think we'll need to have at least a few words with him," says Harry. "If only to warn him about your cooking and to tell him to make sure that you eat."

Hermione tucks her book under one arm so she can put her other hand on her hip.

"Seamus cooks."

"And that's what you were doing instead of eating my spaghetti bolognaise the other night, then? Watching Seamus cook?"

Harry looks smug, so Hermione smiles sweetly and tells him, "Your t-shirt is the on the wrong way 'round."

Ron grins, the tips of his ears turning pink, as Harry blushes.

"Seamus'll have to come around here sometime then, and help Harry cook or something. We can have dinner together." He nudges Harry's shoulder with his own. "We can tell him all about the time Harry destroyed a Dark Lord."

Hermione shakes her head and smiles, putting the book down on a side table, and taking off her coat.

"That Director from the Ministry sent an Owl," says Harry, changing the topic. "Something about coming home to his wife screaming about a dead House Elf and reconsidering your proposal."

"Oh! Good." She hangs her coat up on a wall hook. "About the proposal, not the House Elf."

Hermione follows the boys back into the kitchen, where Harry opens the over to take a look at what he's cooking for tonight. The table is already laid, so Ron and Hermione grab the two seats nearest to the oven and Ron starts telling her about their latest stealth assignment in Auror Training, with Harry chipping in with comments every so often. Apparently invisibility cloaks aren't allowed and some of the trainees could do with one.

The window over the sink is wide open. Sunlight streams into the room along with the scent of green things after it has rained.

Hermione smiles.