There was another letter from his mother sitting on his bed, curtains closed around it so no one else would see. Seamus knew that if he did not answer this one the next could be a howler, revealing to everyone in earshot where his mother's allegiances lay. She had nothing to lose anymore; Seamus could lose everything.
Rather than stare, he grabbed his coat and walked the outer edge of the Quidditch pitch, but it was too quiet to be a distraction anymore. Half the school gone -- dead or off to join Lord Voldemort's forces or simply pulled out by their families -- and the pitch was a ghost.
The edge of the Forbidden Forest was better, a place he feared less and less as the years went by, as he learned to distinguish between true dangers and those that just existed in the heads of firsties. If he was going to be alone, then at least he would be alone in a place that didn't hold so many memories of when everything had been simpler, before his family had taken sides.
Seamus would have to answer the letter, but he didn't know what to say. Yes, mother, I will join you? No, mother, I will not? There were mixed consequences to both; there was no good and righteous choice. There didn't seem to be a way out.
A noise startled him but he just as quickly dismissed it. Things moving about in the underbrush were not unexpected here. He already had his wand clutched in one hand, more from years of experience in Hagrid's classes than the vigilance that was now being taught. He knew what lived in the forest.
Then something brushed his ankle and he hexed before he looked. "Petrificus totalus," he hissed as he yanked himself away and whirled around. He didn't actually expect to see a body, half-buried in the dead leaves, frozen in place. "Expelliarmus," he said, sending the other's wand skittering away, then, "Finite incantatum. Who are you and what are you doing here?"
The body lifted its head, shook the leaves off, pushed up to its knees. "Finnigan," it said. "It took you long enough."
"Malfoy?" Nobody had seen Draco Malfoy since the leaving feast after sixth year; he was one of many students who simply hadn't returned after the summer. Seamus kept his wand trained on him. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm here for you, obviously."
"I'm not going."
All that brooding about what he was going to do, and when it came down to it he'd known all along. Not even for his family would he join them. Not even with the slim chance he could work from the inside. He wouldn't do it.
Draco didn't even look mildly surprised. "I know your mother's contacted you," he said, slowly and unthreateningly getting to his feet. "I know she's told you the plan. I know what she expects."
"Yes, I'm sure you all laugh about it at your little meetings," said Seamus. "I am not my mother. And I am not going."
"You are not your mother," agreed Draco. "And I am not my father. If she's told you the plan, then you know you can't stay. You know how they plan to use you."
"I won't let them."
"You won't have a choice."
"Are you threatening me?" said Seamus. "You might have noticed, I'm the one with the wand."
"Oh, for Merlin's sake, Finnigan," scoffed Draco. "It's not a threat when I'm just stating fact. If you stay at the school they will use you, and you will not be able to stop them."
"And if I join them, they will use me. You're not telling me anything I don't already know."
Draco brushed the leaves off his clothes, his eyes darting this way and that, taking in everything around them. "There is another choice," he said finally.
"I don't," said Seamus, flicking his wand at him, "consider running away to be a choice."
"Not running away," said Draco. "Running to." He pushed up the sleeves of his robes to show his bare forearms; every student had been trained to recognise the Dark Mark.
"Detegero," said Seamus shakily, flicking his wand again, but no mark revealed itself.
"There are some of us," Draco went on, as though Seamus's interruption had been an expected one, "who obviously did not join."
"Do you really think we could have returned to Hogwarts?" he sneered, anticipating Seamus's reaction. "Think about it. Me, Nott, McDougal... we'd have been used the same way you will be, if you stay. And there's hardly a person here who would trust us regardless, knowing who our parents are."
"So--" He expected Draco to cut him off again. He didn't. "So you all, what, are in hiding?"
"Hiding," snorted Draco. "It's true, I'd fake my own death if my father wouldn't know the truth, but no. Nott is hiding. McDougal is keeping a record of the war, both sides, because nobody else will. The rest of us, few as we are, are fighting."
"Fighting," Seamus echoed him. "So you're on our side."
"I'm on my side," snapped Draco, "and I don't get to have a life again until this bloody war is over. Dumbledore may be a muggle-lover but Voldemort is a madman. I know which one is more likely to spare my life."
"I don't want to go," said Seamus. "I don't want to leave."
"You know what will happen if you stay," Draco reminded him. "You're a Gryffindor, damn you, make the hard choice!"
Seamus looked back over his shoulder. All he could see were trees, but beyond them he knew sat Hogwarts castle, and the life he'd known for the past seven years. If he went back, Harry Potter's life was in danger. If he did not, the life in danger would probably be his own. But just as well as he knew he would not be joining his mother, he knew what he had to do.
Let the howler come; he would not be there to hear it. Putting his wand away, he nodded for Draco to retrieve his own, then followed him deeper into the woods.