Disclaimer: JK Rowling owns Harry Potter.


"Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them." - Bruce Lee

Chapter 5

Harry was lamenting, what he assumed was, the end of his friendship with Hermione by the Lake. He felt alone, more so than after his name was pulled from the Goblet.

He turned the golden egg in his hand absent-mindedly, his thoughts wandering. He had gone to the library the day after Hermione snapped at him, sitting at the table and hoping to talk to her, hoping to apologize.

She wouldn't look at him in the classes she shared, not even when he would try to get her attention. He saw that she looked awful. Her posture was slackened, she had dark circles under her eyes, they were red and puffy. Guilt was eating him up inside.

He felt like he was the cause of her being hurt, being teased, being slandered by everyone in the school. His whole House is playing him out to be some victim and keep trying to 'reach out', not that he particularly cared. They were all a bunch of wankers in his opinion, except for Neville and the Weasley twins, who said that they had been keeping an eye on Hermione whenever they could and steering their youngest siblings away from her.

Harry snapped in Potion's class when Snape said that they were going to get a 'jump start' and brew Amortentia, even though they wouldn't learn how to brew it until sixth year. He also made a snide comment about some being familiar with the potion, but his eyes were on Hermione as he said it, eliciting snickers from everyone in the class. Hermione had walked right out of the classroom, ignoring the protests and threats of Snape, and Harry could see tears starting to gather in her eyes.

He then got into a screaming match with Snape, which ended with him losing his temper and calling Snape a 'cold-hearted, greasy son of a bitch,' not one of his greatest insults in retrospect. He was sent to Professor McGonagall's office, who assigned him a detention, but disclosed that she agreed with his observation of the Potion's Professor, much to his shock and amusement.

"Harry?"

He thought that it was his imagination messing with him as he heard the voice he had wanted to hear for the last couple of lonely days and closed his eyes. He missed her terribly, and even though the twins and Neville were good enough company, there was something about spending time with Hermione that just felt right. "Harry?"

He heard it again and turned his head in the direction it came from, seeing her standing there. She had her Ravenclaw scarf on to protect her from the cold and her heavy cloak on. Her cheeks were pink from the chill, the tip of her nose also pink and making her look very cute in his opinion. He was stunned that she was talking to him, though, and just looked at her, relishing the sight.

"Hermione," Harry said, surprised that she was talking to him, and that her tone was sad.

"I have to apologize, Harry," she said, surprising him. He just stared at her as she wrung her, now healed, hands in front of her, vaguely reminding him of Dobby. He took a glance at the hands and saw that they weren't scarred. 'Madam Pomfrey is a miracle worker,' he thought. She took a couple of tentative steps closer, keeping an eye on his face as if testing his reaction.

"I've been trying to figure out how to say this, because I didn't think you would want to talk to me." Hermione started, seeing that Harry wasn't saying anything, just staring.

That he wasn't lashing out at her for being a brat was a good start. She hated herself for snapping at him, just because she was in pain and embarrassed. It wasn't fair of her to take her problems out on him. She had been sleeping horribly the last couple of days, not able to focus on her work as her mind kept drifting back to Harry's hurt face. The hurt that she had put there. She was willing to do whatever she could to make him forgive her, and even if he didn't, she planned to still help him with the tournament, any way that she could.

"I had no reason to snap at you, Harry. It just...my hands hurt and I was embarrassed and I took it out on you...and I'm really sorry. Can you...can you forgive me?" Hermione asked, her gaze dropping to the ground.

Harry recognized that her tone was now shameful and that she was truly repentant for what she said. He could understand her situation and there was nothing to forgive, it was all his fault anyway.

"No," he said, causing her head to snap up, her eyes wide. He saw her nod sadly and turn to leave, when he realized that he had said that wrong. He stood up and rushed over to her before she could leave and gently grabbed her shoulders, turning her around. "Hermione, no. No, I don't forgive you, because there's nothing to forgive. You have nothing to apologize for. It's my fault your hands are like that and I'm sorry."

"Harry, please," Hermione was pleading with him and he knew that she needed to say this. He just sighed and nodded his head. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry snapped at you and I'm sorry that I hurt you."

Harry knew that he needed to say it, "I forgive you, Hermione."

He just smiled at a smiling Hermione; assertive, wonderful Hermione who he had missed during their time not talking. He only realized how much he really missed her by talking to her again.

"You know, I'm used to people talking about me. They usually pick the favorite topics: my hair, my teeth, being a 'know-it-all', but I've never had someone talk about my faux-love life. I guess I was just used to the embarrassment accompanying the other topics," Hermione admitted, her tone was like she was telling a joke.

"I'm so sorry about...everything that happened to you," Harry choked out, though wasn't meaning just this situation. To have her so resigned about her bullying sparked something inside of him and seeing his Housemates ganging up on her in the hallway really pissed him off. "I'm so sorry that everything happened to you. It all seems to correlate to me. The troll, I did nothing to stop it; the basilisk hurt you, it was partly my fault; now this...I won't blame you if you want to back out-"

"Get real, Potter!" Hermione snapped at him, though it had a teasing tone to it this time. "It's taken me fifteen bloody years to make one friend, I'm not giving him up for anything!"

Harry smiled at Hermione, who smiled right back. For some reason, 'not giving him up for anything!' sounded really good to Harry. He knew that no matter if he never forgave his House, he would still have Hermione in his corner. They both walked over to the large rock and sat down next to each other, watching the calm Lake in comfortable silence.

"That was embarrassing in Snape's class," Hermione muttered, feeling as though she needed to talk. It had been eating her up inside, the embarrassment, and knew that she could talk to Harry. She felt comfortable enough to talk to him.

"If it makes you feel any better, I called him a 'cold-hearted, greasy son of a bitch," Harry admitted.

"Harry! Oh, you shouldn't have done that!" she said, her tone borderline scolding, before she smiled at him. "No one has ever really stood up for me. Thank you just the same."

"No problem, Hermione."

"Did...did you get into trouble?"

"Just a detention with McGonagall, but I spent it doing homework," Harry said with a smile. "I got an O on that Summoning test in Charms, by the way."

"I must be rubbing off on you," Hermione said smugly, really proud of Harry. It took a couple of seconds though to realize her words, and then she flushed. Harry watched impressed as her face turned a couple of shades of pink, though it was vastly different from the shade of puce his fat uncle used to turn, "I-I mean, well, b-because...I...oh my goodness, b-beca-"

"Relax, Hermione, I know what you meant. You don't need to have a complex," he laughed at her stuttering and stumbling, causing her to smack his arm.

"Prat."

They lapsed into a comfortable silence, just watching the colors of the sky change, the sun setting over the Lake, and the peaceful sound of the water. When they got up, it was to go to dinner, but Hermione gently grabbed his arm to stop him.

"So...we're good?"

"Yeah, we're good," Harry confirmed, a bright smile crossing Hermione's face as she carefully wrapped her arms around Harry. He wrapped his around her, gently tugging her closer, a smile playing on his lips. 'Yep, I could definitely get used to this.'

-oOo-

"Something needs to be done about this!"

Albus Dumbledore jumped slightly as Filius roared, throwing the paper back on his desk. He sure had an impressive volume in his voice in regards to his stature. "She's already been attacked because of this and I've had to assign fifteen detentions already for the foul things students are saying about her, the M-word being included. I've been trying to make sure she doesn't get hexed when she walks down the hallway!"

Dumbledore was a little surprised at the anger, then again, he knew Hermione was undoubtedly his favorite student. He was a little concerned that he was going to respond the goblin way to someone he cared about getting hurt.

It usually involved the loss of limbs and Albus suppressed a shudder at the thought.

"Now, the Lions are ganging up on her in the hallway?! This needs to end, Albus or else Hermione is going to get hurt worse than she already has," Filius said, forgetting for formalities as he used her given name. He had taken the little Eagle under his wing, offering her a safe harbor from bullies as he could sympathize.

He had one foot in each door, both goblin and wizard, but wasn't fully accepted by either. Hermione had one foot in each door as well, muggle and magical, but until there were changes made, she couldn't fully fit in either.

"I also heard that they were brewing Amortentia in Potions. That potion is not supposed to be brewed until their sixth year. Would you care to explain that, Severus?" Minerva fixed the Potions Master with a steely glare.

"I thought that it would be beneficial for them to get a jump start on their lessons," Severus replied in a silky drawl, his arrogance blowing the fuse that was Minerva McGonagall.

"Oh, stap yer haverin', Severus!" Minerva snapped, her Scottish brogue coming through, her tone as quick and sharp as a sword. McGonagall was truly feeling embarrassment and shame well up inside of her. She always took pride in the fact that her House took care of the bull-ied, and weren't the bull-ies.

Now, she wasn't so proud of them.

Filius' face then fell as he remembered her defeated look the last couple of days. "The poor girl has endured enough throughout her years here. What about those buttons Mr. Malfoy has made? The ones about Mr. Potter? Something needs to be done, Albus!"

"I must agree with Filius," Minerva cut into Severus beginning argument, knowing that tone back to her normal sternness, "My Lions are going to be punished for their belligerence and I happen to agree with Mr. Potter's stance against them."

"Sirius Black has contacted me and let me know that he is working on it. I have given my full support to whatever he is doing. Justice for Miss Granger will be met," Albus said, his voice almost shameful. "I'm afraid I've been remiss with her treatment and others of her blood status, too worried about Mr. Potter. I admit that."

"We cannot change the past. What we need to lock down on the treatment today forward," Pomona spoke up, shooting an icy look at Severus, who was known for his treatment towards others not in his House and how he basically encouraged it. "We need to get more proactive in the bullying here. We know it happens, yet we've all turned blind eye, for no reason! We're supposed to offer the children safety. To let them know that they can trust us, they can come to us with problems. We are the authority here, but we've been letting the kids run amok."

"I agree. That word has been said too many times in this school. It needs to be done," Filius said sternly, his tone daring anyone to contradict him and he would show why he was a champion dueler.

"If we start giving out detentions for using that word, then half the school will be in detentions by the end of the week!" Severus argued, Minerva silencing him with a glare.

"If that's what it takes, so be it!" the Head of Gryffindor snapped, the Lioness making an appearance.

"Agreed," Albus said, nodding with his Heads of House and ignoring Severus' scowl. "I will make an announcement tomorrow before breakfast of the punishment given."

-oOo-

Hermione was for a shock the day after her and Harry's reconciliation.

"I have an announcement to make," the Headmaster started, sharing a look with the staff, who were fully on board when told about what will be done. "We, the staff, have all agreed and from this day forward, any student that says that foul word used to describe muggleborn students will find their House a hundred points less and will serve a week's detention cleaning the castle without magi-"

Professor Dumbledore cut himself off at the uproar from the Slytherin table, threats to write home to their parents being made, 'Wait till my father hears about this!' made his way to his ears and he inwardly rolled his eyes. Merlin, that boy was irritating.

He then noticed the cheering from the other three tables and the wide smiles of some of the muggleborn students in their seats, happy that their abuse was finally going to end. Excited chatter was beginning to accompanying some of the applause and cheering. He then spotted Miss Granger and Mr. Potter sitting together at the Ravenclaw table, a wide smile on both of their faces.

Those smiles, to an educator, were like a balm of the soul and it warmed his heart to see them happy. However, he had to end the Slytherin protests and took out his wand.

"Silence!" he roared with the sonorous charm, cutting through their protests like a knife through hot butter. "Thank you. The rule has already been decreed. Any student being caught bullying will rue the same fate. This has gone on long enough, this has to end. It will not be tolerated anymore!"

After the announcement, the Great Hall was full of murmurs regarding the new rule. A regal looking owl flew into the Great Hall, calling everyone's attention to it, murmurs being made as it landed right in front of Hermione.

She cringed, waiting for more howlers or booby-trapped mail, but only saw a couple of important looking letters.

"I think that you should open them, Hermione," Harry said from his spot next to her. She glanced at him and saw him smiling encouragingly. Knowing that he wouldn't lead her wrong, she took the letters and the owl swooped away.

She saw the DMLE crest on the envelope and started panicking that maybe they believed the Prophet and she was in trouble for the 'love and loyalty potions that she was feeding Harry'. With shaking hands, she opened the letter.

Dear Miss Granger,

It is with sincerity that I apologize for the slanderous and obvious false words printed in the Prophet about you. I've had several sources of confirmation that you would never endanger Mr. Potter's life as such. Rita Skeeter has been fired from the Prophet, and the paper is now under a new owner.

Please know that the Department of Magical Law Enforcement is looking into the letter that was sent to you and the perpetrator(s) will be charged to the fullest extent of the law. You can also expect apologies from any others who sent you jinxed mail and howlers.

Amelia Bones
Head of DMLE

Hermione was stunned, reading it twice, before opening the second letter and recognized the Gringotts crest at the top. To her surprise, it was a personal letter from the Director of Gringotts, Ragnok, and it showed that the account set up by her parents before her first year now had increased to an impressive number. Quickly doing the math in her head from galleons to pounds, she widened her eyes as she realized that it was a five digit amount to the left of the decimal as compensation for her injuries.

"Bloody hell," Hermione muttered, her hands shaking. She looked up to Harry, who was smiling knowingly, giving her a clue that he had something to do with this. He perked up when he heard the owls arriving and arriving to deliver the Prophet to everyone. It was a couple of minutes later that the Great Hall erupted with talking. It actually wasn't just the Great Hall, it was also all around the whole country.

Rita Skeeter Sacked!

Prophet Under New Ownership!

Barnabas Cuffe Offers Public Apology to Hermione Granger

Harry Potter Speaks Out Against Potion Accusations

The words printed about Hermione Granger by Rita Skeeter are completely and utterly false. I am not under love potions or loyalty potions. I am friends with Hermione Granger because she is a good person, not because of some chemically induced compulsion.

I am disgusted by the words printed against my friend and the fact that it caused her to have to visit the hospital wing at Hogwarts because of an attack made in the form of a letter full of bubotuber pus. Whoever sent the letter can expect the full wrath of House Potter and Black against them with Amelia Bones leading the investigation.

Attached below is a statement by Healer Pomfrey that shows I am potion free. Please rest assured that no more false words will ever be printed in the Daily Prophet again.

H.J. Potter

She saw that the new owner of the Prophet was none other than Sirius Orion Black. Harry would later explain to Hermione what it actually meant to be under the protection of the Houses of Potter and Black.

"I mean, just...how?"

"Well, after the Prophet got word that the Supreme Mugwump, Albus Dumbledore wasn't too pleased with the false words, and the Houses of Potter and Black were also angry, they became very giving." Harry said, Hermione frowning in confusion.

"The money?"

Harry grinned, "Skeeter's yearly salary, which Sirius bought the Prophet for. He's kept all former writers, except Skeeter, and hired some new trustworthy ones. He and Remus will make sure that every story ran is legitimate."

It was technically blackmail, it was against everything Hermione stood for moral wise, and she didn't give a damn! Justice was finally being served and she was wasn't about the money, it was about her pride and her reputation and her dignity, all of which would be restored, hopefully. The fact that it was also Skeeter finally getting her comeuppance that was the icing on the cake. She had been printing false stories for far too long. Who knows what kind of trouble she could have caused in the future?

The words Harry wrote in the paper touched her as well. Friend, it meant so much for him to openly declare it to the country. No one had ever looked out for her before, and she felt on top of the world.

"Thank you," Hermione whispered and leaned over, placing a kiss on his cheek. Harry had never been kissed before and stiffened, before realizing that it was really nice. He gently touched the spot she had kissed and beamed brighter than the sun, a blush coloring his own cheeks.

Hermione hid her face as she put the documents in her bag, inwardly squealing that she had found the courage to kiss him, on the cheek, but still. She happily went back to eating her breakfast, chatting happily with Harry while the Hall was full of murmurs in regards to the paper.

Just before the start of the day, there was a sudden a series of pops all around the Hall. Everyone who had confronted, made fun of Hermione, or tried to hex her in the hallway found themselves in muggle clown get up, including large red plastic nose, full makeup, polka dot costume, and big shoes.

Even the Weasley twins were affected, which confused Harry at first because they were in on prank, but they would later explain that they took it as their penance for being prats to him earlier. Instead of getting up in a panic like the others, they sat in their seats with accomplished smiles on their painted faces. Neville was avoided because he had apologized to Harry first, but Ron and Ginny, Lavender, Parvati, Dean, and Seamus were all affected.

Hermione saw that most of the Slytherin table was changed - including Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle - some of the Ravenclaws, not many of the Hufflepuffs, and a good portion of the Gryffindors.

Best of all, Snape was also in clown get up, though his pink afro also looked as greasy as his regular hair. All the Professors, including the Headmaster, had hands over their mouths to stifle their laughter while Snape, still managing with a flourish, left the Great Hall. All the clowns started screaming, shrieking, cursing, and trying to run out of the Hall.

Those who weren't affected broke into riotous laughter, falling out of their seats, overcome by their guffaws.

Unfortunately for the clowns, the big shoes hindered their running during their escapes and many tripped, causing a domino effect. Some were trying to step over each other to leave the Hall and their embarrassment, their shoes squeaking as they went. However, the Great Hall doors closed and locked, not letting anybody out.

Hermione glanced next to her to see a slightly smug Harry Potter, looking very proud of himself. He caught Hermione's eye and winked, which made her heart stutter. She had to lower her gaze, lest he saw the embarrassing flush of her cheeks in response to the action.

Sirius and Remus had told Harry, 'The only way to get through a bullies thick skull is a taste of their own medicine.' He was quite satisfied to know that no one would mess with Hermione again.

"Now you know what it feels like to be embarrassed as you have embarrassed others," Professor Dumbledore's voice cut through the laughter, before waving his wand and cancelling the prank, each of the students now back to normal. "Think about this the next time you want to bully someone."

Some faces were startled with realization and were thinking the same thought. Others were still angry, but later they would settle and their minds would wander to how mortified they felt when it happened to them.

'Was that how it felt to others when they did the same to them?'

-oOo-

"I mean, how did you get it in the food?"

Hermione and Harry were in the Room of Requirement before dinner, which resembled a mix of the Ravenclaw common room and library, with some of the Gryffindor common room traits. They were sitting face to face on the plush dark blue couch with gold pillows, a roaring fire warming the room along with mugs of hot chocolate in their hands, courtesy of Dobby.

"Well, I had a little help from Dobby and the House Elves. They love pulling pranks," Harry admitted, remembering how excited Dobby was when he gave him the potion to put in the food. He was up near the ceiling, making sure the intended targets got the portioned food using elf magic, which was extremely convenient.

"That was incredible. No one's ever done something like that for me before," Hermione said, Harry smiling sheepishly with a blush coloring his cheeks.

"You'll also have to thank my godfather and Remus. They were the real masterminds behind the operation. They really like you and were mad when they found out what was happening to you," Harry said, smiling as he remembered the interesting use of vocabulary Sirius was using when he told them about the pus filled letter. Remus was a little more tame, but both were seriously pissed off.

"So, I wanted to suggest something," Hermione said, seeing Harry nod. She placed the mug on the small coffee table and took a book out of her bag, "I picked this up from the library."

"'Basics of Occlumency'," Harry read the cover of the thick tome in her hands, "What's Occlumency?"

"Mind magic. It helps shield your mind from Legillemency - mind reading - attacks."

"Wow. People can do that?"

"Professor Flitwick and I got into a discussion about it last year and he let it slip that Professor Snape is a master Legillimens and Occlumens."

Harry's eyes widened and he felt his body tense. "So what you're saying is that Snape could just be reading my mind without me even knowing?"

"If you held eye contact with him, yes."

"Hermione, how do I do this?" Harry was now desperate, not wanting that greasy git probing around his mind. He felt violated that anyone could be messing with his mind, and was now anxious to learn. Plus side, it was more time to spend with Hermione.

"Well, first you have to read the book and then I'll help you with organizing."

"Organizing?"

"Yes, you have to organize your thoughts. It helps to pick something that's familiar with you, for example, I picked a library where all my memories are in books." Harry smiled at Hermione, who went on to explain. "I was concerned because there were more books than memories, but Professor Flitwick said that was okay because during an attack, the Legillemency user would have to search through each book and would sometimes come up with nothing, giving me time to get my walls up."

"Okay, sounds good," Harry said, reaching out to grab it, but she let it go too quickly and dropped it.

"Here, I'll get that-"

"No, let me-"

Both crouched down at the same time and reached for the book, their hands brushing. They realized how close their faces were to each other and green met brown. Their eyes locked contact and Hermione felt a weird sensation twisting in her gut as she looked at his handsome face up close.

What she didn't know was that Harry was feeling the same way as he stared at Hermione up close. Her brown hair up close was not so bushy, but really curly; her face was free of blemishes and makeup, which was a difference from the girls in his House who looked like they spent hours on it. He inwardly chuckled as Hermione would rather spend those hours reading.

Her eyes locked him in and Harry was met with a startling discovery, 'She's beautiful.'

A couple of months ago, he would have said no way and that someone like Daphne Greengrass was beautiful. No, in his eyes, Hermione was the prettiest-no, the most beautiful witch in the castle. It wasn't just her looks, it was her inner beauty. She helped him when no one else would, she stuck with him, she encouraged him, she supported him. She was caring and compassionate and kind and intelligent. His eyes dropped to her lips and he had the urge to lean in and press his lips to hers.

'What did all of this mean? Do I have a crush on her?' he thought and came up with one answer.

Yes.

His eyes widened at that thought and he jumped back, shocking Hermione out of her own daze. 'Just act like it didn't happen, think about those thoughts later!' Harry thought frantically, knowing that he needed to change the subject, "So, er...do you want to work on your Patronus?"

"Yes, please."

-oOo-

Harry had just returned from another Patronus lesson with Hermione, and she almost had a corporeal patronus. He was curious to what her form would be and was a little jealous how quickly she was getting the Charm. 'I have an excellent teacher,' she had said, making him blush. He placed the Occlumency tome in his trunk and got changed into his pajamas, grabbing the mirror and putting up the silencing charms. He really needed to talk to his godfather.

"Hey, Pup, so how did the prank go?" Sirius asked after his face came through the mirror.

"It went great, but I have to talk to you about something," Harry said really fast, Sirius frowning and nodding for him to continue, "I like Hermione."

Sirius rolled his eyes and scoffed, "Well, that was obvious. Glad you finally caught up."

"Huh?" Harry asked, bewildered.

"Oh, come off it, Harry. You should have seen the look on your face after the first task. Those 'discreet' little glances to Hermione, looking like she was the only thing in the world. You father had the same problem with your mother, but just don't drag your feet until sixth year like he did." Sirius warned, Harry blushing as he realized that it was that obvious.

"So, what should I do?"

"Tell her your feelings," Sirius said immediately, making Harry - the one who was raised for twelve years of his life by the Dursley's - shrink into his shell. He still didn't understand feelings, and was confused to how and what he would tell Hermione.

"I...I don't think I can do that."

"Pup, if you're scared because you think she won't reciprocate, it's obvious she feels the same. Just talk to her," Sirius encouraged, Harry lapsing into a thoughtful silence.

"We had a...a moment today."

Sirius quirked an eyebrow, "A moment?"

"She dropped her book and I bent down to pick it up at the same time she did and we brushed hands and...I just looked at her and thought that she was so beautiful and I...I think I wanted to kiss her, but I don't know..."

Sirius barked a laugh, "It's perfectly natural to want to kiss a pretty girl and it shows that you do have feelings for her. Tell her how you feel, be honest."

Harry nodded but still felt unsure. He tried to change the subject, "Thanks, Sirius. Where's Remus?"

"Over Andi and Ted's with Nymphadora. She's got a crush on the old dog. Looks like I'm the only one not struck by cupid's arrow," Sirius sighed mockingly wistful and Harry just rolled his eyes at his self-proclaimed 'playboy' godfather.

"No, it's just that no girl wants flea filled dog in their house," Harry teased, laughing at the mock-outraged look on Sirius' face.

"Oi!"

-oOo-

Harry took a couple of days to think about what he felt for Hermione, and to try and find what to say to her. What would he say to her? 'Should I ask her out on a date?' Turned out that the opportune moment arrived when Professor McGonagall asked to talk to him after the announcement of the Yule Ball.

"Wait, what?"

"You will be leading the procession in with the other champions then you and your date will have the first dance. Make sure you get a date and know how to dance," the Transfiguration teacher said, watching slightly amused as the boy looked like a fish out of water.

"B-But-"

"Dismissed," Professor McGonagall said sternly with a raised eyebrow that dared him to challenge her. Harry rose from his seat, walked out of the classroom and toward the library where Hermione was. There was only one girl he knew he wanted to ask, and maybe this was Fate giving him a perfect opportunity to ask Hermione out. To test the waters, so to speak. If she said yes, then he would tell her how he felt.

He found her in the library, sitting at her desk, writing something down. His heart was pounding in his chest as he tried to get his brain unscrambled. He was just asking her to the ball, that was it, but his brain wouldn't stop running so he could form a coherent sentence.

Hermione, will you do me the great pleasure of...no, that sounds fake. She'll think that's stupid. Hermione, will you consent to...no.

Hermione had been uneasy in the usually comforting library, with the presence lurking three tables over. Viktor Krum had taken to coming to the library ever since the paper denounced Hermione as a 'potions mistress', and she always felt his eyes on her. Every time she looked up, she would see him look away from her quickly, which confused her. She was glad when she caught sight of Harry walking into the library and sighed in relief, her shoulders un-tensing a bit.

"Hey, Harry," Hermione said without looking up as he slid in his chair, "So, what did Professor McGonagall want?"

He opened his mouth, but no sound came as he was choking on his words, 'Oh no! What are you doing? What are you doing?! You're going to ruin this? Where are your balls, Potter? Just ask her!'

"Hermione, will you go to the Yule Ball with me?" Harry all but shouted in a fast pace, Hermione jumping at the volume of his voice. She glanced up to see him looking at her with wide eyes, his face looking completely nervous and uncertain.

Did he really just ask... Her heart sank to the pit of her stomach as she stammered through her answer, "Oh, er, well...I'm flattered, Harry, really...but I can't. I'm already signed up to go home for Christmas."

Rejection. Harry's face fell as he plopped down in the seat across from her. He hadn't really prepared himself for rejection, and he probably should have. It hurt. Well, it wasn't exactly rejection, jut unfortunate circumstances, and it wasn't her fault.

"Oh," Harry said dejectedly, his heart plummeting into his stomach. "I'm supposed to have a date for this thing."

"I'm really sorry, Harry," Hermione said, placing a hand over Harry's and giving it a squeeze. She held the contact for a while as she also held his gaze.

"Yeah, me too."

She saw a slightly hurt look in his eye and cursed herself. Why did she always have to hurt him? She was inwardly berating herself for signing up to go home. When she saw dress robes on the list, she figured there would be a ball of some sort and didn't even bother. Who would want to ask her? If she knew then what she knew now, she would have bought them. But it was too late.

She would make it up to him. Somehow.


A/N: So, I thought I would also be able to include Christmas in this chapter as well, but it was just too long in my opinion, BUT, that means that the chapter is already finished and should be up by Friday! Oh, don't worry about the Yule Ball. I said there would be a Christmas surprise, didn't I?

How did you like the Heads of Houses and Dumbledore in this?