For the first time in his life, Seamus Finnegan was free to do anything he chose, and he hadn’t the faintest idea what he wanted to do next. His best friend, Dean Thomas, had already decided to spend an eighth year at Hogwarts to make up for the one he’d spent on the hop. Should Seamus repeat his seventh year, or just get on with his N.E.W.T.s? And once he took them, should he accept one of the jobs he knew were waiting for him in Ireland, or should he try for a career with the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures?
And then there were Serena’s cousins, who thought it a dead cert he’d be joining them in Los Angeles. He couldn’t imagine moving there, any more than he could imagine actually living in that weird glass box of a house Serena’s American-born father built on Manhattan Beach. Having a Muggle dad hadn’t prepared Seamus for that.
Seamus wasn’t even sure what he wanted to do with the rest of his day. He could be forgiven that, he reckoned, considered all of its ups and downs.
At dawn he’d been ecstatic, celebrating the death of You-Know-Who. A few hours later he was excited to learn that he could return to Hogwarts for a proper N.E.W.T. year.
Then he’d received the crushing news that Serena had been killed, but before he could even believe she was really gone, she’d appeared in the Great Hall, very much alive. At first he’d thought that someone had scrambled her brains; not long after he’d thought that McGonagall was going to have her arrested, or at least banned from Hogwarts.
And to top it off, Serena’s family had summoned them both for an ear-bending about their futures, with none of the plans including an eighth year at Hogwarts. And wasn’t that unfair, Seamus thought, because Serena’d never wanted to attend Hogwarts in the first place.
So here were his options for the afternoon:
His mam and dad were waiting for him to return to Naas.
His friend Dean was about to break the news to his Muggle family about what had really happened the past year, and wanted Seamus there for moral support.
Neville had asked if he’d help rebuild the greenhouses.
McGonagall wanted to see him and Neville about something that he was sure had to do with Serena and he was sure he didn’t want to discuss.
Serena’s cousins wanted him to visit the campus of the University of Magic, California, Los Angeles.
And here’s what Seamus wanted to do: sleep. Which he shouldn’t be faulted for, he thought, all in all.
Asmo had Sifted him back from Cali, which was decent of him, because that was a fair stretch to Apparate, and Seamus didn’t have the hang of Sifting. So now here he was in the Gryffindor common room, hoping that his old bed was in any kind of useable condition.
Seamus heard footsteps in the stairwell. Harry emerged, wearing a rucksack, followed by Ron, who looked morose.
“Hey, Seamus,” said Harry.
“Hey, Harry, Ron,” said Seamus.
“What’re you doing back here?” asked Harry, “I thought you’d left.”
Seamus ran his hand over his hair and yawned. “And returned. I haven’t really slept in days. Thought I’d catch a kip. You okay, Ron?”
Ron mumbled something and headed straight out the portrait-hole.
“Sorry, Seamus,” said Harry over his shoulder as he hurried after Ron. “Things to do.”
Seamus climbed the steep, winding stairs to the dormitories, hoping fervently that he’d be left in peace for a few hours.
Seamus woke in his four-poster at sunset feeling very rested, only to leap up in terror when he realized that someone was sitting on his bed!
He aimed his wand before even looking at the intruder; then he heard familiar laughter. He lowered his wand and realized that his hands were shaking.
“Merlin, Serena!” he shouted, thoroughly annoyed. “You scared the piss out of me!”
Serena laughed some more. She was looking particularly beautiful, which was a sign that she was wanting to do something particularly outrageous.
She’d done something to her hair that made it perfectly straight and iridescently shiny. She also wore an outfit that was utterly inappropriate for any part of the wizarding world. From her neck hung colorfully-sequined fabric in the shape of a butterfly, which covered her in a V-shape from her collarbone to the top of her shimmering, skin-tight, black hip-hugging trousers. Save for two thin strings that probably did nothing to keep the whole contraption up, her back and sides were entirely bare.
The outfit didn’t necessarily mean she was kitted out for anything special, however. Serena’s California cousins hung around the house in clothes that Muggles wear clubbing. The fact that Seamus knew what clothes Muggles wear clubbing showed that he’d been spending entirely too much time with the Serpentias. Voldemort’s brief reign had interrupted that, and it was probably better it didn’t resume. UMCLA was a bad idea.
On the other hand, he did feel relieved to see Serena. For the five minutes that he’d thought she’d died, his life felt sickeningly empty. He hadn’t realized until that moment just how intertwined their lives had become. And it had nothing to do with sex, or romance, or any such thing. He’d never thought of Serena in that way. He knew that his Muggle friends in Ireland would give their left nut to be sitting on a bed with a girl who looked like she’d stepped out of an advert. But wasn’t that the funny thing about being surrounded by such people for an extended period of time: you got used to it. It became normal. Now Seamus was happiest when Serena just wanted throw on some jeans and hang out with his family. She was a lot friendlier then. Which she wasn’t going to be tonight, he predicted. Seamus knew that Serena was ready to blow off some steam, and just expected him to go along with whatever she had in mind. Odd that he didn’t feel more put-out.
“What?” demanded Serena.
“You’re looking at me funny.”
Seamus leaned back on his headboard with a sigh. “What are you doing here?”
“Nice to see you, too.”
“I didn’t mean it that way. You know I want you to come back to Naas. Mam owled me; she’s done up the guest room for you. But I thought your father wanted you to stay in Cali.”
“Maman overruled him. She wanted to see if the mobs had raided Cherrystone.”
Seamus knew this was a house near Serena’s in Wiltshire. “And had they?”
“If they tried, they didn’t get in.” She gave a snort and a nasty smile. “They were elsewhere, though. You should’ve seen what they did to Grey Gables.”
“Which one is that?”
“The Malfoy’s. Trashed.”
Serena looked gleeful, in a disturbingly vengeful way.
“Can’t say I’m fussed,” said Seamus.
Serena scowled. “They burnt down Dormingroof, though. That was wrong. They weren’t even Death Eaters.”
“Which one was that?”
“The Parkinsons. Don’t you know anything? Why don’t you know anything?”
“Amazingly enough, I’m not up on my fancy English houses. Why do you care, anyway? You hate Pansy Parkinson.”
“I don’t hate her house.”
“Maybe you can go back and Accio some valuables out of the rubble.”
A look of wonderment came over Serena’s face, followed by an expression of naked greed as she hissed, “I could do that!”
“Stars above!” Seamus was shouting for the second time in as many minutes. “I was joking!” Now he was feeling put-out.
He got up and pulled a fresh shirt from his wardrobe, which had been miraculously untouched during his absence. He pointed a finger a Serena.
“There is something seriously wrong with you!”
Serena didn’t reply; she just grinned and kicked her legs back and forth against the bed.
“I’m not kidding! You are not looting your neighborhood!”
Seamus absently grabbed a peppermint from a box on his night table and tossed it to her. She ate it while Seamus buttoned his shirt. When he finished, she said,
“So. What have you been doing?”
“Since this morning? Sleeping. Showering. Perhaps you’ve noticed I’m no longer covered in blood.”
Serena said abruptly, “I’m bored. Let’s go somewhere.”
She rolled her eyes. “No, dork. Later, when stuff opens.”
“I don’t care. I’ve been stuck in this horrid castle for months.”
Suddenly she looked enthusiastic. “Ibiza!”
Seamus wasn’t sure he’d heard right. “Come again?”
“It’s perfect! Maman wants to check for damage at our holiday home in Antibes tomorrow morning. We could meet her there for breakfast and then crash on the deck.”
Another sign that he’d spent too much time with the Serpentias before the war was that he knew what “crash” meant. Also, he knew Serena wanted to spend the entire night clubbing on a Spanish island, and then sleep the day away at a villa in France. Also, he knew that her American and French friends were still at school and couldn’t join them, so she’d be calling her cousins, who were older. And most importantly, he knew it would be a good five hours before the clubs got going, so he had plenty of time to divert her. Because Seamus really hated that whole scene. It was the opposite of everything he enjoyed in life. The more he thought about it, the more strongly he resolved that Dean, Neville, Hogwarts, the whole state of California and the entire country of Spain could do without him, and he was heading home.
“It’s too early for Ibiza,” said Seamus casually. “Let’s stop by the house first. I want to see my folks.”
Serena made a face. “I don’t.”
“You do, indeed! You love it when Dad makes a fuss over you. And there’s two new babies; a pair of fillies.”
He had her. She loved baby animals.
She pretended to consider. “Maaaaabye….”
Then she dramatically flopped on Seamus’ bed, head on his extra blanket, feet on his pillow. With a sly grin, she asked, “Got any chocolate?”
Got her again! He opened the drawer in his night table pulled out a box of dark chocolate truffles.
“I have these for Mam, but I’m not opening them ‘till we get home.”
Serena snarled, which of course no longer had any effect on Seamus. He said, “I’ll be in the jax. Wait for me.”
This was, as it turned out, a little too much to expect.
Seamus was drying his hands when golden sparks came shooting up through the washroom floor.
At first, he was confused. While the D.A. was hiding in the Room of Requirement, golden sparks meant that someone was in distress. But why would anyone send them now? Then he remembered who was supposed to be waiting for him.
“Wands alit!” he shouted, rushing back to his dorm.
Sure enough, Serena was gone. His nightstand drawer was open, and so was the box of truffles.
Stars! Seamus grabbed his wand and raced downstairs.
As he burst into the common room, Seamus saw the source of the sparks, and thank Merlin it was a false alarm.
Serena, Dean, and Parvati were before the fireplace. Serena, who was pointing her wand at Parvati, had a very satisfied look on her face. Parvati, however, was distressed. She was wearing a ruffled, strapless yellow mini-dress and a matching pair of heels, and while the outfit was quite flattering, it obviously made her very uncomfortable. She had her arms crossed over her chest and she looked liked she wanted to run away, if only she could figure out how to move in those shoes.
“You look fantastic!” Dean was saying. He noticed Seamus and said, “Tell her she looks great!”
Seamus thought quickly. How could he put Parvati out of her misery without fighting Serena? He had it!
“It’s not finished,” he said. “She needs one of those goat-chin-hair things.”
“You’re right!” said Serena.
Parvati stared at Seamus in horror, but she needn’t have worried; a moment later Serena settled a sumptuously soft yellow pashmina throw around Parvati’s shoulders.
Parvati wrapped the pashmina around herself gratefully. She said haltingly, “This dress… it’s… it’s very beautiful, Serena, but… perhaps not quite the right thing for dinner in Hogsmeade with my parents.”
Serena looked annoyed, but resigned.
She waved her hand in a particular fashion, which Seamus recognized as the way she reversed spells. Instantly Parvati was wearing a gold-embroidered sari of bright pink, orange and blue, which was undoubtedly her original dress. The yellow pashmina was still draped over her shoulders.
She appeared much relieved, and said, “I really should be going….”
“Wait!” commanded Serena.
Parvati looked apprehensive, but Serena merely created a second pashmina, this time in bright pink, and wrapped it around Parvati, who was now delighted.
“Thank you!” she exclaimed. “They’re perfect! I promise to take good care of them!”
“You’d better!” called Serena after her as Parvati hurried out the portrait-hole.
“Do me next!” Dean exclaimed. “One of those smart suits, like you see on Sloane Street!”
Serena lifted her chin and stared him down in a most critical way.
“And do you promise to do something fun in it?”
“Yeah!” said Dean. “This weekend I’m taking Luna to see Muggle London!”
“All right then….”
With some graceful movements of Serena’s wand, resulting in shimmering waves of golden light and colorful sparks, Dean’s work shirt and jeans were transformed into a very fashionable and flattering suit.
“Brilliant!” exclaimed Dean, looking down at himself in delight. “Thanks, Serena!”
“And now you….” said Serena, turning to Seamus.
“Oi!” he said, raising his wand to block her spell. “We’re leaving for Naas, remember? You might want to change.”
He knew she wouldn’t, of course.
“Seamus,” said Dean, “any chance you could help me talk to my folks?”
“Aw, Dean, you don’t need me….”
Soon Seamus was so busy conversing with Dean while simultaneously watching Serena use her wand to draw clothing designs in the air, that he didn’t notice the portrait-hole open and two people enter. He was startled to be called by name.
“Oh, good, Mr. Finnegan, I’ve been wanting to talk to…. Merciful heavens! How did she…? What is she….? Explain yourself, Miss Serpentia!”
Professor McGonagall was so shocked she looked a little unsteady on her feet. Dean rushed to take her arm, which was fortunate, because Neville, who had accompanied her, stood transfixed, mouth open, staring a Serena. Seamus wondered what surprised him more: Serena’s presence in the Gryffindor common room, or her attire.
Again, Seamus had to think fast, and he decided that any kind of conversation would just make things worse. Serena had to leave, quickly, and by ordinary means. But how to get her past McGonagall without a word? He had it: Two birds with one stone!
He gripped his wand tightly. Serena was going to kill him.
“Sorry, Professor!” he said loudly as he swiftly wound his way around the furniture. “Serena was just telling us she’s agreed to open the Slytherin common room.”
While he was talking, Seamus silently transfigured all the tassels on the Gryffindor couch cushions into pygmy puffs, which quickly chewed through their tethers and scattered. Before Serena could even open her mouth to protest, she was distracted by a herd of adorable little puff-ball creatures that climbed up her legs.
The others were also occupied with the stampeding pygmy puffs as Seamus firmly gripped Serena’s arm and pulled her toward the portrait hole. She was too fascinated by the peeping puffs, which now covered her like a fuzzy bathrobe, to ask where they were going.
They were halfway out when McGonagall said, “Wait! Mr. Finnegan!”
“Sorry ‘bout this, Professor!” Seamus shouted, as if Serena’s visit to Gryffindor tower were McGonagall’s reason to call for him. “Won’t happen again! Heading off to Slytherin now!”
Serena finally realized what was happening and said, “What? No we’re not!” but the portrait of the Fat Lady had already swung shut, and her words were lost to McGonagall.
“I know we’re not! And keep your voice down!” said Seamus fiercely, as he continued to pull her along.
“Then where are we going?”
“We’re leaving Hogwarts!”
Serena tried to pull her arm away. “Well, then, slow down and I’ll Sift us out!”
“Not a chance! Who knows where you’ll take us?”
“We’re going to Naas!”
“Really?” Seamus stopped.
“Nope!” Serena gleefully pulled her arm away.
Seamus aimed his wand, but Serena waved her hand and it went flying, along with most of the puffs. Stars! He’d forgotten she didn’t need a wand for that.
“Accio that back!” he demanded.
Serena just held a few pygmy puffs to her cheek and struck a pose. Seamus could feel the blood rushing to his face.
“In Merlin’s name, Serena!” he growled, trying not to shout. “Aren’t I just trying to protect you!”
And just like that, everything changed. It was as if someone had cast a Petrificus Totalus spell on the entire castle. Seamus had assumed that he and Serena were alone in the corridor; it wasn’t until all the paintings, all the ghosts, all the mice, all the pygmy puffs were stilled that he appreciated how seldom anyone at Hogwarts was truly alone.
At first he thought that Serena was frozen, too, but she was merely standing quietly, very quietly, with an odd expression on her face.
No, not an odd expression, he realized, just unthinkable for Serena. It was the sort of look he might expect from Parvati or Lavender after he’d done them a favor and they were about to jump up and down and hug him. Only Serena never jumped for joy, and she certainly didn’t fling herself into people’s arms. Seamus had experienced many weird things while hanging around Serena. The frozen castle didn’t even crack the top ten, but a hugging Serena would definitely be the freak flag at the top of the hill.
However, Serena didn’t jump, or hug, or even move. She just asked, “Really?”
Seamus closed his eyes and let out a long breath.
He heard something woosh by his head. When he opened his eyes, Serena was offering him his wand. There was a smile on her face — an openly greedy one. Seamus wasn’t sure whether or not to be relieved. He took his wand.
“Bel said you would become my Preasul. I didn’t believe him. This changes everything.”
“What? You’re mad! It doesn’t mean any such thing! All I meant was…”
And then a terrible thought struck Seamus: The castle, the way it froze the moment he’d said….
Serena gripped his arm and he felt himself dissolving.
No, this was wrong, it was all horribly wrong! This wasn’t what he’d wanted at all.