A/N : This story was inspired by JKR’s recent revelations about Dean Thomas on her website. That part of the plot does not belong to me. Neither does Dean or any of the other Harry Potter characters.
The Hogwarts Express was slowing down as it approached King’s Cross. Dean Thomas stared out the window at the encroaching buildings, their stark forms darkening quickly in the growing winter twilight. His family would be waiting just beyond the barrier when he arrived, but he wasn’t looking forward to spending his Christmas holiday with them as much as he normally would. The usual presents, the huge turkey dinner, his brother and sister’s laughs and questions about his school all held their appeal, but part of him wished he’d remained behind at Hogwarts this year. Ginny had stayed behind with her brother, as she did almost every year, and he wouldn’t have minded the extra time with her.
He thought of the long hours they might have passed in the common room in front of the fire. He wanted to try and capture the way the firelight reflected off her hair in a drawing. He wanted to walk with her in the sharp air, their footsteps breaking through the newly fallen snow, leaving new paths.
If he closed his eyes he could picture himself reaching surreptitiously for a handful of snow and throwing it at her when she wasn’t looking. Her shriek of surprise would echo across the grounds, and she would have pelted him in revenge until they were both breathless and she looked the same as she did just after a gruelling Quidditch practice, her cheeks ruddy from the cold and her breath coming in short, white puffs, while her brown eyes sparked at him.
Maybe Dean would have been able to summon a bit more enthusiasm for the holiday if he’d been able to bring her home with him. He wouldn’t have minded the teasing. He could imagine his younger siblings with their incessant "Dean’s got a girlfriend" and "Ugh, do you actually kiss each other? Do you like it?" Of course, Ginny would have taken it in stride. She could dish out teasing as well as could take it. In her family, she’d never had a choice in the matter.
He hadn’t asked her to come home with him, though. Part of him had been afraid she’d say no, and tell him they hadn’t been going out long enough for that. It was true that they’d only been together officially since the Halloween Hogsmeade visit, and that bringing a girlfriend home to stay for a school holiday meant things were serious.
Dean was serious about Ginny, though. He’d been attracted to pretty girls in the past – he still thought the Patil sisters were downright hot – but none of them was Ginny. He could hardly explain the feeling to himself. It was an exuberance that bubbled up in him whenever he thought about her, making him feel as if he was taller. Under its influence he walked with his shoulders thrown back, his head held high and smiling. It put him in a good mood even on days when his time table included double potions.
One thing scared him, and that was the idea that Ginny might not feel the same way. If he’d given her a chance to say no, he’d have had his reply. Sometimes it was best not knowing.
On top of that, he was fairly sure that she wouldn’t have been allowed to stay at his house if she’d wanted to. Her hair made her far too recognisable, and her family’s connections to Harry Potter made all the Weasleys targets. Dean knew she was safer at school.
Dean, on the other hand, was far less remarkable. He didn’t consider himself to be in any more danger from Voldemort’s henchmen than any other Muggle-born. While he knew the circumstances of his birth did make him a target, he was practical enough to think that if any Death Eaters did single him out, it would be due to sheer bad luck. He refused to live in fear of them. That’s what they wanted. He also had enough confidence in his own magical ability to able to fight his way out of a dangerous situation. His Defence Against the Dark Arts marks weren’t as high as Hermione Granger’s, he couldn’t out-duel Harry Potter, but he wasn’t any slouch, either. He’d practised duelling against Ron Weasley at the last DA meeting and done well, he thought. Ron, after all, had faced the real thing already.
The train pulled into the station, and Dean joined the throngs of students pushing trolleys through the barrier into the Muggle world. He spotted his mother easily enough in the crowd. He’d always thought of her as distinctive-looking with her high cheekbones and close-cropped hair. She was taller than her husband by maybe an inch. Dean had inherited her height, and he felt as if he towered over the rest of the family. His step-father was simply average, and Dean’s siblings took after their father.
As he embraced his parents and exchanged greetings with his brother and sister, an unsettled feeling twitched in the pit of his stomach. His step-father told Dean he’d got tickets for the West Ham United match against Sunderland just after Boxing Day, but the words barely registered. They were overshadowed by the odd feeling that had taken root within Dean a week or so ago and begun niggling at him. Mostly, he’d ignored it, but that was becoming more and more difficult. If he remembered correctly, it had started the day of the last Hogsmeade visit at the end of term…
"Where do you want to go first?"
Dean and Ginny were holding hands as they walked along among the other chattering students down the snowy drive. Dean shrugged and replied to Ginny’s question.
"Doesn’t matter. Is there anywhere you need to go?"
Ginny flashed him a smile and raised her eyebrows. "You’re not going to try and convince me that you’ve got your Christmas shopping done already, are you? Because I’m not buying it."
Dean saw immediately where this was headed. "Oh no, you don’t… You’re not going to turn this into a fishing expedition to find out what your present is. You can wait for Christmas morning like everyone else."
"That’s only because you haven’t bought me anything yet, and you don’t know what to get."
Dean put a hand over his heart. "Your lack of confidence wounds me. If you’re not going to be nice, you’re not going to get any pressies at all."
"Ha! I knew it. You don’t have anything for me."
"All right, all right. You’ve got me over a barrel. I’m just going to have to confess. I’m going all out on you this year. First I’ve got you two entire pounds of Honeyduke’s finest…"
He paused for effect, and Ginny couldn’t resist prodding him to continue. "Finest what?"
"Cockroach clusters, of course."
Ginny pretended to be miffed, and pulled her hand away from his. She started walking faster, pulling ahead of him.
"Wait," he protested. "Don’t you want to hear about the exclusive tickets to the Shrieking Shack? Or the year’s supply of Dungbombs?"
Ginny turned around so that she was facing him, continuing to walk backwards. "At least I know what to get you now," she said, grinning.
"A portable swamp for you to soak your head in. My brothers will give me a discount."
She whirled and took off like a shot through the crowd of students before Dean had time to react. He scooped up a handful of snow and tore off after her, but he couldn’t get a clear shot. His legs may have been longer, but her petite stature allowed her to dodge in and out of the other students quite effectively. It was one of the talents that made her such an able Chaser for Gryffindor. Once they were on the outskirts of the village, she slowed down enough to let him catch up.
"Actually, I do need your advice about something," he said, taking her hand again. The warmth of his hand had melted the snowball, making his fingers cold and uncomfortable. He smiled as she flinched under his cold, damp grasp.
"What, you really do want to know what to get me?"
"That’s taken care of. Honestly. And I’m not telling. But I do need a girl’s advice on what to get for my sister."
"How old is she? What sort of things does she like?"
"She’s ten, and I don’t know what a ten-year-old girl likes. That’s why I’m asking. It’s not like I’m around her as much since I’ve gone away to school. The last thing I can really remember her being into is Barbie, and somehow I don’t think that’s going to cut it anymore."
Ginny laughed. "No, I don’t think so, but I can’t tell you if she’ll like the same things I did when I was that age."
"There must be something."
"I suppose jewellery is safe. What’s her name? Gladrags had some nice necklaces with girls’ names on them."
"They won’t have hers, I don’t think. Even for the wizarding world it’s unusual. It’s Dulcinea."
Ginny raised her eyebrows at him. "Yeah, I know. I guess my mum likes Don Quixote or something."
"Well, it doesn’t matter. I bet they can charm a necklace so it says whatever you want it to. Why don’t we go have a look?"
There was a lull in the conversation, and then Ginny mused, "Will your sister be coming to Hogwarts next year?"
"No, everyone else in my family is a Muggle. I’m the only wizard."
Ginny made no further comment, but Dean’s own words echoed through his mind, settling in and taking hold.
This strange feeling was another reason Dean hadn’t been looking forward to coming home for the holiday. He knew that at some point it was going to be impossible to control. The time would come when the feeling would take over and push him into asking questions his mother didn’t want to answer.
It took a few days for Dean to make up his mind and talk to his mum. Dean’s real father was never anything they’d ever discussed. Dean knew he existed, of course, but his existence was more like a fact to be memorised and stored away than anything to mull over. Besides, he’d never felt the need to. If Dean sifted back through his mind to his earliest memories, he could vaguely remember a time when his step-father hadn’t been there, when it had been just him and his mother.
He didn’t possess a single mental image of his real father. He didn’t really need one. Most of Dean’s childhood had included Gary Thomas and Dean’s siblings, who had come along in due course. Beyond the scraped knees and family rows that surfaced from time to time, Dean couldn’t ever remember being truly unhappy. There had never been any call for him to wonder if his life might have been anything other than what it currently was.
The subject of his real father was one his mother preferred to avoid. Dean had always been able to sense that, even as a child when the adults made passing reference to him, and so he’d never even asked questions for curiosity’s sake. He’d never really had any desire to do so until now.
His chance came one morning when he rolled out of bed late to find his mother alone in the kitchen nursing a steaming mug of tea and glancing through the morning paper. Muffled shouts filtering in from the outside told him his father was out building a snow fort in the back garden with the younger family members – London had experienced a rare heavy snowfall, and the white drifts beckoned temptingly. Dean almost wished he was young enough to join them. He probably still could get away with it, but today he felt far older than sixteen.
He helped himself to a bowl of cereal and sat down at the table. Instead of eating, though, he swirled the corn flakes around with his spoon while watching his mother turn the pages of the newspaper. After a few minutes of silence, she spoke without looking up.
"Are you going to eat that or let it turn into paste?"
Dean dutifully took a bite. The corn flakes formed a sodden lump in his mouth that he struggled to swallow.
"Is there anything the matter?" his mother asked, folding the paper and setting it aside.
"Uh, not the matter, really," Dean replied.
"Something’s on your mind. You’ve been quiet ever since you got back from school. It’s not girl problems, is it?"
"No," Dean said quickly. He hadn’t really told his parents about Ginny yet, and he preferred to keep that information to himself for now. "I was wondering about my dad, actually. My real one."
"Your real father is outside," she said fiercely.
"You know what I mean, Mum. My other dad. Not my step-dad."
Looking out the window beyond Dean to where the rest of the family was enjoying themselves outside, his mother folded her hands around her mug as if to warm them. "I knew the day would come," she said heavily after a pause. Her Trinidadian accent was starting to come out as it often did when she was stressed. "This isn’t going to be easy or pretty, but you’re old enough to know the truth. Your father was probably the biggest mistake I ever made."
Dean didn’t say anything. He’d been expecting something along these lines, given how tight-lipped his mother had always been on the subject.
"Can I ask what’s brought this on?"
Dean shrugged, unsure if he could adequately explain or even wanted to try. "I dunno. It’s weird. I’m the only one like me in the family, and I just wondered…"
"If your father was magical? I’ve wondered the same thing over the past few years. Ever since we found out about you. But if he was, he never told me. There was a lot he never told me."
Dean could hear the bitterness in his mother’s tone, but he forced himself to go on. "What was his name?"
"Sheldon Damon, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a more handsome man." She sighed, oblivious to Dean’s discomfort. He never thought of his mother as a woman who looked at men and found them attractive. "Looks like his are a dangerous thing. They were dangerous to me. I couldn’t see past them for the longest time."
Another pause, and then she pinned him with her stare. "Before I say any more, I want you to understand one thing. Your father may have been a mistake, and you may have come along sooner than you might have, Dean, but I don’t regret having you. It wasn’t easy in the beginning, but when I see how you’re turning out, well… Any mother would be proud of you."
Dean looked away, embarrassed. "I know boys your age don’t like to hear things like that from their mothers, but it’s important that you know before I tell you any more about your father."
"All right," he mumbled. He was still studying the remains of his cereal bowl. The corn flakes were now bloated and floating listlessly in the milk.
"I was seventeen, almost finished with school and full of myself when I first laid eyes on Sheldon Damon. I thought I was old enough to handle anything. Most of all I thought I was old enough to handle him. I wasn’t."
She looked off into the distance once again, but it was almost as if she was looking inwards at the same time. "We were both so young. I thought I was in love with him at the time, but it was probably something a bit baser than that. Lust, really."
Dean cringed inwardly, and he wondered just how badly he wanted to hear this story, but his mother went on. "I went after him, and he took me out on a few dates. I didn’t think anything about sleeping with him. I was old enough. I knew what I was doing. I told myself it was all right because I loved him, and I was willing to give him whatever he wanted. Then one day I just never went back home, exactly."
She paused again before continuing. "He had a flat. It wasn’t anything much, but it was a place of his own, and I reckoned it was time for me to get out of the house. Your grandmother didn’t exactly approve of what I was doing. I didn’t tell her anything, of course, but she knew, and she kept on telling me I was headed for trouble. But I didn’t listen. What seventeen-year-old wants to listen to her mother, when she’s going out with the hottest bloke around? Of course, when I stopped coming home altogether, it didn’t help matters between Mum and me, but I didn’t care. I was on my own, I was in love, what could go wrong?"
She paused again, but Dean made no comment. He knew part of what was about to go wrong, but he wanted to hear the rest. "I got a job at Tesco’s. It didn’t pay much, but it was a job. I don’t even know what Sheldon did. He came and went at the strangest times. Some days he’d be home in the morning and wouldn’t go out until after supper. Sometimes he didn’t come home at all."
That surprised Dean. "But didn’t you know what he did before you moved in?"
His mother smiled sadly. "I didn’t pay attention to those things. I didn’t really care as long as I had Sheldon to take me out. I was in love, you see. Nothing else mattered. I never did find out where he got his money from. He always seemed to have it though. He had money for rent, he had money to take me out… Before I moved in with him it was easy to ignore the question of where it was all coming from, but once I was living at his flat, I couldn’t any more. I asked him if he was doing something illegal, and he swore he wasn’t, but he wouldn’t tell me what it was, either. And when he would leave for a day or two, I was sure he was running around on me."
"Why didn’t you just leave then?"
"I was mad for him. Literally. And I was sure it would work out, but it didn’t get better. The longer I stayed with him the more I realised I didn’t really know anything about him. He never told me about his life or his family. I didn’t even know where he’d gone to school. I could overlook all that in the beginning, but once I got curious and started asking, the less he’d tell me.
"In the end," she went on, "I did come to the decision that I’d be better off without him. It was hard, but I knew I had to move out. But by then I found out I was expecting you, so I decided to give it one last go, and I confronted him. I told him we were going to have a baby, and that he needed to take his part of the responsibility and get a proper job, and he had to stop disappearing on me."
"What did he have to say to that?" Dean asked, even though he thought he could guess the answer by now.
"We had a huge row. He said I didn’t understand. I could never understand what was happening in his life. But what was there for me to understand? He could never tell me anything! I didn’t know what he was talking about then, but when the letter came from Hogwarts for you, it began to make sense. I didn’t know about the whole wizarding world at the time, because he wouldn’t tell me about it. Even today I can only say I suspect he was a wizard because you’re magical, Dean. He never told me himself."
From his mother’s tone, Dean could tell this was the sticking point. His father had never thought she deserved to know the truth, and he couldn’t understand why that was. His mother was worthy, and she would have been able to handle it. She’d shown that much.
"We yelled back and forth about it," his mother went on, "but he kept trying to put me off. He kept saying we could talk about it later, but I wanted it out then. I was at the breaking point, and either he didn’t see it or he didn’t care. He told me he had to be somewhere. He always had to be somewhere else. Somewhere important. Everything else was more important than I was. It didn’t matter that I was pregnant with his child. Everything mattered to him but that. So I told him he was making a choice. If he walked out that door, I wouldn’t be there when he got back."
"So is that when you left?" Dean asked.
"No. He walked out, but I was overwrought and sat down on the sofa and I broke down crying. He’d showed me for the last time what was more important to him, and it wasn’t me or you. It was… whatever. And as much as I understood that by then, it still hurt. I cried so hard I feel asleep where I was on the sofa.
"When I woke up again, it was dark. He still wasn’t back yet, but I reckoned I’d wait until morning. As much as I knew it was over, I still held onto the hope that he’d come back and tell me everything. But he never did, so I faced facts, packed up my things and moved back home."
"And you never heard from him again?" Dean prompted.
"Never. Not in seventeen years. A few weeks later, his landlady came into Tesco’s and asked if anyone was going to pick up the post. He hadn’t even been back to the flat since that night. I went and cleaned out the letterbox, and I went up to the flat. It was just as I’d left it. I don’t know if he ever came back. It was as if he disappeared without a trace.
"After a while, the landlady tried to get in touch with me again. No one was paying the rent, and she wanted the place cleaned out so some new tenants could move in. I told her to throw everything into the bin. I didn’t need any more reminders of him in my life."
"No," Dean commented bitterly. "I guess you already had me."
"What did I tell you before I started in on all this, Dean Thomas? Don’t ever think that! I may regret Sheldon, but I’ve never regretted you!"
Dean didn’t know what to say for a long time. He could understand why his mother had never told him all this before. He couldn’t believe that his father – the man who had fathered him anyway – was so uncaring that he couldn’t even have bothered to get in touch with his mother in all this time. Wasn’t he even concerned about the child he’d fathered?
"I’m glad you left him," Dean said. "My father was a right bastard."
"No, because Sheldon was never your father! Your real father is that man out there!" His mother was stabbing her finger towards the back window. "He’s the one who helped me raise you. If you’ve turned out to be the fine young man that you are, no one should get the credit but him!"
"You’re right, Mum. I’m sorry."
There wasn’t any more to be said, for at that moment, the back door burst open, and the thudding of snow being stomped off of wet boots echoed through the house. The rest of the family was coming in from the cold, red-cheeked and laughing. Dean suddenly felt full of a new emotion: admiration for a man who had been willing to take on another’s responsibility.
To Be Continued…
A/N: Thank you to Marian for the beta and for the help when I was stuck.