A/N: Not sure if this will turn into the first chapter of a longer story or not; for now, read as a stand alone.
The Best Dance
Ginny was sitting at a small table on the side of the Great Hall, rubbing her feet. Neville had said nervously he wasn't sure he was up to any more dancing and offered to get them some more drinks, and Ginny had encouraged him. She felt a little guilty at how relieved she was that he hadn't come back yet.
It wasn't that she didn't like Neville. She could sympathize with his nerves, having suffered plenty from the same problem in the past few years. But she could tell he liked her more than she liked him, and that made her feel awkward and embarrassed. Plus, she could only have her feet stepped on so many times.
Glancing around the Great Hall, she found she could only put a name to about a third of the students, since they were almost all older than her. She noticed Cedric Diggory and Cho Chang were off dancing in a corner, apparently oblivious to everything around them, and wondered wryly how Harry would feel if he saw them. It was obvious he had a crush on Cho. Knowing that bothered Ginny, but not as much as it would have once. She still liked Harry, a lot, but she was becoming aware how many other likeable people there were in the world.
As Ginny switched to rubbing her other foot, she saw someone in blue robes walk by and called out. "Hermione!"
When Hermione turned to her, Ginny could tell before she even spoke that something was wrong. Hermione always got a worry line in her forehead when she was upset, something Ginny thought was endearing in a fifteen year old. "Oh. Ginny." Hermione came over and sat down. She was making an effort to make her voice sound normal, but her arms were wrapped tightly around herself. "How's you're night going? Where's Neville?"
"I'm not sure where he is anymore, actually. Taking forever to get drinks. What about you, are you okay? Where's Viktor? Hasn't he been any good?"
"Oh, no, Viktor's been excellent company." Ginny could tell from Hermione's firm tone that she meant what she said. "Professor Karkaroff pulled him aside for a moment, that's all. I'm having a wonderful time with Viktor."
Out of the corner of her eye, Ginny noticed the Patil twins standing amongst a crowd of Beauxbatons boys. They were both looking at Hermione with hard, judging expressions.
Ginny felt herself stiffening with anger. So, Hermione was beautiful and at the ball with a famous man who was treating her well, and some people felt the need to play ugly stepsisters to her Cinderella? "You're not letting them bother you, are you?" Ginny blurted out, sending a hard look of her own at the Patils. It wasn't like Hermione to be unnerved by peer pressure.
"Who?" Hermione seemed bewildered as she looked around. "Oh. No."
Ginny raised an eyebrow. "It's Ron," Hermione burst out. "I should have expected him to be a troll about it when he finally found out who I was going with, but he actually accused me..." Hermione didn't finish her sentence, and even though Ginny desperately wanted to know what Ron had accused her of, the expression of anger on Hermione's face made her afraid to ask. "And he's been extremely rude to Viktor, as well as to me."
"I ought to have told you before now," Ginny said solemnly. "Mum and Dad swapped him with a piglet shortly after he was born."
Hermione gave a short laugh, but she wasn't done. "And it's not just Ron. It's Harry. I mean, he's not as rude as Ron, but what he does is almost worse. Ron will do something awful, and Harry gets this uncomfortable look on his face, like he's trying to tell me sorry with his eyes, but he doesn't actually say anything! He just goes along with it. How will he ever stand up to-" Hermione faltered suddenly. "I mean... if he can't stand up to his best friend, how will he..."
"Stand up when it counts," Ginny finished quietly for her. Because, after all, it was Harry they were talking about, and nothing was ever simple when it came to him. Voldemort was probably plotting to kill him right this moment, and Hermione's anger with Harry for letting her down was tinged with fear that he might, someday, do the same thing when it mattered more. Ginny suddenly felt petty for imagining it was the Patils that had upset Hermione.
"Exactly." Hermione looked relieved. "You understand. So I get even madder at Harry than I do at Ron. It's one thing to do something wrong and not know it's wrong, but to just stand and watch while he knows Ron's being awful and not say anything... And then it's Ron he goes off with, Ron he spends time with even though I can tell he disagrees with him..."
Ginny rather felt they might have strayed off the topic of tonight's quarrel and onto other grievances, but she stayed quiet. Hermione had every right to vent about the situation. Ginny had always known Ron was callous when it suited him, but she had never seen Harry cast in such an unflattering light before.
"I'm sorry," Hermione said suddenly. "I'm ruining your night."
"Nah. It hasn't been that great. I mean, it hasn't been bad, but it hasn't been amazing," Ginny said fairly. "You've been having a great night with Viktor though, and my stinky brother ruined it. I'm very sorry. My parents were only good at making girls, but they didn't figure it out fast enough."
Hermione laughed. "Well, at least they got one right." Ginny felt herself blush and cursed the redhead genes.
Up on the stage, the Weird Sisters announced the last song of the night. Ginny glanced around, hoping Viktor Karkaroff would come into view and sweep Hermione off for one last dance, but he was nowhere in sight. No sign of Neville, either. The Weird Sisters began playing a slow song. Hermione fidgeted slightly with her hands. "Well, maybe I should-"
"Dance with me?" Ginny interrupted.
Hermione smiled. "Yes. Maybe I should do that."
They were the only same-sex couple on the floor, but Ginny didn't feel particularly self-conscious about it. Hermione was much taller than her, so Ginny put her arms around Hermione's shoulders and Hermione put hers around Ginny's waist. Their dress robes clashed pretty badly; Ginny wondered if that was a odd thing to notice, or if it was odder still to think that if Hogwarts had another ball she'd be sure to find out beforehand what Hermione was wearing so they could dance together without looking like a potion gone wrong. Not that she was particularly hoping for another ball.
"I'm sorry," Hermione said suddenly. "I don't know how to lead."
"Don't look at me," Ginny laughed. "I've got six older brothers my mum tried to teach to dance with me stuck partnering, I sure never got to try it backwards. Just sway." And she thought, You're always apologizing for the wrong things. Ruining my evening, when you haven't; not knowing how to lead, when this is the best dance I've had all night. Why are you always doing that?
Ginny found she wanted to say something to dispel the lingering discomfort of their earlier conversation, but she couldn't think of anything. The boys would shape up or they wouldn't. Hermione knew she was in the right, she didn't need Ginny to tell her that. She just needed someone to be in her corner, the way Harry drifted, apologetically, perhaps unfairly, into Ron's.
So she didn't speak, and neither did Hermione, and Ginny started to feel slightly awkward. She couldn't figure out if she ought to be making eye contact with Hermione or not. She didn't feel like looking around the room, either, especially now that she was nervous and the mildly curious looks they were getting were making her moreso. On impulse Ginny closed her eyes and put her head on Hermione's shoulder, moving her arm slightly to make room.
She felt Hermione's arms tighten slightly in response. The feeling of awkwardness fled. It was really a lot like a prolonged hug, with some rocking and swaying thrown in. It was nothing like dancing with Neville, which had been a lot of fumbling with steps and somehow felt like half the point was for other people to see them. This was just pleasant and safe and warm. Ginny had never really competed with her brothers for friends before, but she suddenly felt a surge of jealousy that Ron had found Hermione first.
The song ended, and everyone clapped and cheered. Hermione's hands didn't leave Ginny's waist for several seconds after all the other kids had started clapping. "Best dance," Ginny told her emphatically, grinning. Then, seeing Hermione's expression change to something Ginny couldn't quite name, but it definitely wasn't positive, Ginny quickly added, "You didn't step on my feet once."
Whatever that strange expression had meant, Hermione recovered quickly, with a smile and a laugh that were only slightly forced. "We'd better find our dates," Ginny added.
"Yes," Hermione said quickly, "Neville's over at that table. I'll see you tomorrow, then."
"Bye." Ginny watched Hermione go for a moment, wanting to see where she went. She was pleased to see Hermione head toward the staff table, no doubt looking for Professor Karkaroff and Viktor, rather than toward the corner where Ginny had last seen Ron and Harry. Ginny turned to the table Hermione had pointed out, sparing a moment to feel grateful that Neville didn't seem at all put out that she had danced the last dance with someone else. Good old Neville.
But as she sat down to Neville's placid smile, and accepted the drink he handed her, she couldn't help the little jolt that ran through her when she finally identified what had been on Hermione's face when Ginny said their dance together had been the best dance of the night.
It had been fear.