A/N: Here it is, the sequel to "Yule Ball Panic." If you haven't read that, I recommend you do so — this will make a lot more sense. Thanks to all those who have reviewed, followed, and favorited this story. And a special thanks to Mainsail and Bonnie for beta reading this story and thus making it better than it was originally. If you have questions about what's going on, feel free to add them to a review — I'll try to answer. And don't be shy about reviewing just because the story is done. I like to see what people think various chapters and scenes.

MadameNyx gave permission to use her original artwork as the cover art. What you see here is a cropped version. You can view the complete and original art on her DeviantArt page. You can get the link for her page on my profile

Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter, JKR does. If I did own Harry Potter, would I be posting stories here? Then again, that is an interesting thought. What if JKR really were an author here, posting stories. You know, just to f*** with us? And if she were, she wouldn't tell us. She'd put up a disclaimer. Like this one. But I'm not her. Honest!

Recommendation: Story recommendation for this chapter is "Heart and Soul" by Sillimaure. Like my story, Sillimaure's develops the plot and relationships slowly and carefully. It also does a good job at revealing both the positive and negative aspects of Dumbledore's and Snape's characters. It's a long fic, but well worth reading.

Chapter 01 - I Kissed a Witch

Thursday, December 10, 1994, Early Afternoon.

Hermione Granger was at a total loss for words — a condition she was completely unfamiliar with. Well, she had been completely unfamiliar with it, but it had happened to her several times now over the past hour or so. It was hardly surprising that it all occurred in connection to her first and best friend, Jasmine Potter. If there was one thing Jasmine was good at, it was getting Hermione into unique and difficult situations.

Jasmine wasn't any better at the moment, staring back at her with a small smile on her face and a growing brightness in her eyes. Hermione was certain that the look on her friend's face was being reflected back on her own. Despite having always avoided serious thoughts about romance or dating, she had just received her first kiss. What's more, that first kiss was from a girl!

After having revealed that she fancied Hermione, Jasmine had suggested kissing to see whether the feelings could be returned. It was loads better than my idea of going as a couple to the Yule Ball as a test of whether I could see girls as potential romantic partners, Hermione realized. Jasmine was right: a kiss is not only much smaller than a date, it's much more significant. That wasn't a casual kiss, however short it may have been. It isn't something I can ignore or walk away from.

Since she had long suppressed romantic feelings, Hermione had never truly focused her thoughts on boys, so she considered that it might indeed be possible that she could experience attraction to girls... or at least to Jasmine. Contrary to all preconceptions, she actually liked the kiss. In fact, she liked it enough that she decided that going to the Yule Ball as Jasmine's date might be more interesting than she originally imagined.

Assuming Jasmine asked her properly, of course.

At this point, it dawned on Hermione that being at a loss for words wasn't so bad because maybe words weren't appropriate to this situation. First, she thought, I should confirm my new findings by repeating the experiment. Just to be certain that the first time wasn't a fluke. For science!

Unlike with their first kiss, the girls moved into their second kiss with much less hesitation. Also unlike last time, Hermione was quick to return the kiss, making it far more mutual and thus more enjoyable for both. Too caught up in the unfamiliar sensations, neither noticed a slight, glowing light that briefly appeared to radiate out from the centers of both of their chests — blue from Hermione and green from Jasmine.

For each of the girls, the glowing light grew to the point of encompassing a small portion of their chests before the two witches separated and the glow disappeared. Had someone been there and looked closely, they might have been able to see small, wispy tendrils starting to stretch out from each glowing ball of light towards the other.

This time, Jasmine wasn't at a loss for words. "Brilliant!"

Hermione's smile grew at the breathy declaration and she quickly agreed. "Brilliant is right, and I'm pretty sure that it'll get better with practice."

This caused Jasmine's eyes to light up as she grinned. "Practice? I like the sound of that..."

"Honestly, Jas," Hermione said as she rolled her eyes, "we have other things we need to deal with right now. Kissing isn't the most important thing on our list."

"It's not?" the redhead asked with a pout as she leaned in again slightly. "Are you sure?"

Staring back into her friend's green eyes, Hermione didn't feel so sure anymore. Her heart started to race, her stomach did a funny little flip, and she couldn't concentrate on solving the problem they faced. She was... distracted. She didn't normally like distractions from her work, but she feared this new distraction from Jasmine was going to plague her. Against her better judgment (which for some reason had hung out a sign reading "Gone for the Holidays"), Hermione also started leaning in again and closed her eyes...

Bang! Bang!

Both girls pulled apart so fast, they might as well have apparated to opposite sides of the room. Hearts racing, they looked around trying to figure out where the sudden noise had come from.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

"It's the door," Hermione said with a huff. "Someone wants in but of course can't get past my spells." Jasmine worked to straighten out her hair while Hermione rushed over to the door where she undid her spells and opened it. Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil, two of their roommates for the past three years, stood outside.

"What the hell, Hermione? Why'd you lock us out of our room? We've been trying to get in for ten minutes!"

"Sorry, Lavender... uh, I was talking with Jasmine about the tournament and... didn't want to be disturbed."

Neither girl seemed mollified by that answer as they pushed their way past Hermione and into the dorm where Parvati took up the thread of complaint. "That's no excuse, there are lots of places to talk alone. This is our dorm as much as it is yours. We were about to go get McGonagall."

"That's my fault," Jasmine said. "I had an idea about how to handle the screeching egg and didn't want to risk it disturbing people elsewhere — we're not sure what sort of sound it's making. Since there was no one here, Hermione decided to silence and seal the door to protect others from the sound. We spent longer on it than we intended. Sorry about that." Jasmine was staring at the floor in an attempt to hide her blushing at having been nearly caught.

Mentioning the golden egg which Jasmine had acquired in the first task had the desired effect. Lavender and Parvati didn't like being locked out of their room, but they already had one experience hearing that egg screech and didn't want seconds. "Well, that was nice of you... I guess. But next time leave a note or something outside the door, OK?" Lavender didn't ask if they were successful and neither did Parvati. Nor did they appear to care. Both girls had shunned first Jasmine for allegedly cheating to get into the tournament, and then Hermione for sticking by her friend.

Jasmine and Hermione were certain that the two gossip queens had also spread malicious rumors about Jasmine during the month before she faced the dragon. Then, like so many other students after the first task, they had tried to pretend that everything was fine and to go back to how things were before Halloween, as if no one had done anything wrong. They seemed to expect Jasmine and Hermione to instantly forgive everyone and let bygones be bygones, regardless of what they had done or whether they showed the slightest bit of remorse.

Instead of going along with that plan, Jasmine and Hermione had been cold in their responses to people. They had made a point of being polite and civil, but they had refused to show any warmth and used as few words as possible. It would be hard enough for them to forgive those who apologized, but few enough did even that. The fact that neither of them, but especially Hermione, had been popular with lots of friends meant that the only thing which changed was that the two Gryffindors had basically given up on trying to fit in.

Hermione argued that the lack of apologies was because wizards and witches didn't like to admit to being wrong and so ignored evidence of error or wrongdoing. Jasmine disagreed and argued instead that wizards and witches tended to ignore anything that contradicted their preferences or assumptions — including but not limited to their own personal mistakes.

Hermione thought Jasmine was being too cynical; Jasmine thought Hermione was being too naive.

"You're right, you're absolutely right. We'll be more considerate in the future. C'mon Jas." Hermione rushed over to her friend and, grabbing her arm in one hand while with the other scooping up their book bags, rushed back to the door and out of the dorm. If Lavender and Parvati noticed that this was the friendliest the other two had been since Halloween, despite the fact that this was an argument, neither made any mention of it.

"Where are we going, Hermione, and do we really need to get there so fast?" Jasmine was certain that her arm was going to be wrenched out of its socket any second. She was happy to get out of the dorm and avoid any further discussion with Lavender and Parvati, but she wished they could have left with a bit more dignity.

"Sorry, Jas. I just... you know I'm not a good liar, and I didn't think I'd be able to keep the story going if we stayed there any longer. Besides, if we're going to talk to Professor McGonagall, we should do it tonight after dinner — but we can't do that unless we try to schedule a meeting with her first. I thought we'd send her an owl with a message. That way she'd get it in private and no one would wonder why we're scheduling a meeting. The fewer people who know anything about what's going on, the better."

Hermione then stopped so quickly that Jasmine ran right into her, almost sending both sprawling on the floor. Spinning around, the brunette witch looked intently at her friend and said, "Wait, you said before that you have doubts about Professor McGonagall. Why? What doubts? What brought that on? She's our Head of House, Deputy Headmistress, and our professor. How could you not trust her? Is there something else mmmpph!" Hermione's rant was suddenly cut off by a quick but intense kiss from Jasmine.

Instead of continuing to rant, the bushy-haired witch simply gaped at her friend. "That's a much better way of getting you to stop than trying to talk over you... good thing no one else is in the hall right now, though." Jasmine looked around and, seeing an empty classroom close by, pulled her still-dazed friend in behind her. Without saying a word, Hermione applied the same silencing and privacy spells to the classroom door that she had earlier applied to their dorm door. Turning around, she glared at her friend, stamped her foot in frustration, and simply said, "Ugh! Honestly!" She then sat down at the closest desk, crossed her arms, and waited expectantly for Jasmine to talk.

Sighing, Jasmine said, "I'm sorry for cutting off what must have seemed like a perfectly good rant, but once you get going it's hard to get a word in edgewise. You've gotten better about that sort of thing, no doubt, but sometimes..." Jasmine suddenly looked a bit sheepish. "Well, to be perfectly honest, once the idea occurred to me I couldn't resist." Hermione's eyes narrowed a little, but the slight upturn at the corners of her mouth told Jasmine she wasn't really mad at the kiss. She was annoyed about currently being denied information.

"OK, first you have to understand that there's no one, single, massive incident that has caused me to feel suspicious about Professor McGonagall. It's a lot of things that have built up over the years, but they seem to have increased this year. Or maybe the latest incidents have simply been the straw the broke the camel's back? I don't know. I've had an awful lot on my mind and haven't had a chance to organize it all."

Jasmine stopped for a minute to gather her thoughts, then continued. "I guess I'll start at the beginning. Do you remember the incident with Hagrid's dragon? Of course you do. I won't go into how many points she took from us — I say it was ridiculously excessive and caused a lot of needless harassment from our Gryffindor "family," but points can be subjective. Instead, consider the detention she gave us. We were sent into the Forbidden Forest — you know, that place that Dumbledore warns us about at the beginning of every school year? Supposed to be, oh, I dunno, forbidden?" Jasmine didn't notice Hermione's frown at the sarcasm and kept going.

"We weren't gathering potion ingredients, we were hunting a creature so dark, so fast, and so strong that it could take down and kill unicorns. Unicorns! Who sends firsties to hunt down a unicorn killer? We were chaperoned by Hagrid — a strong guy, but what little magic he can do, he can't do it well; and even then, it's illegal for him. On top of that, we split up, leaving me alone with Draco Malfoy, the incredible bouncing ferret, and Fang, the cowardly dog! I would have been lucky to survive that night no matter what we encountered, be it Voldemort or something else, and it was McGonagall who put us in harm's way!" Hermione started biting her bottom lip, considering the implications of what Jasmine was telling her. Being given sound reasons to distrust her favorite professor was not sitting well with her.

"At the end of first year we tried to warn McGonagall that someone was about to steal the Philosopher's Stone, but she refused to believe us. Granted, three firsties aren't the most credible witnesses, but given how important the stone was, I think she had an obligation to at least check — it's not like a quick stop in the third floor corridor would have required a lot of time or taken her away from some more important crisis. Had she checked, it would have saved us a lot of trouble."

Hermione frowned as she pondered this, and Jasmine was happy to see that her argument wasn't being rejected outright.

"In second year, you remember how nearly everyone in the castle treated me: some were terrified of me, some hated me, and some were both. You were the only one who was fully on my side. Even Ron gave me some suspicious glances. He wanted to support me, but he couldn't help having doubts — probably a sign of how deeply ingrained certain wizarding prejudices are, even with a family like the Weasleys. Well, why didn't McGonagall say or do anything about it? She certainly knew about it. Sure, Dumbledore should have said and done something too: as headmaster, what happens in Hogwarts is ultimately his responsibility. But McGonagall is both Deputy Headmistress and our Head of House, making her more personally responsible for my well being than the headmaster is. At the very least, she should have had a meeting with our house to address the rumors. If I'd had the support of all Gryffindor, it might have been easier to endure the hostility of the rest of the school. Some 'family,' huh?"

None of this was new to either girl, but reciting it aloud was clearly making Jasmine angry. By the end, she was practically growling. "But she didn't. I needed her, but she never said anything. She never even came to me privately to express her concern or ask how I was doing. Certainly showed no interest in my home life..." She had to take a few deep breaths to get her anger under control before continuing.

Hermione wanted to point out that Jasmine could have gone to their head of house herself, but realized that that probably wasn't how Jasmine's mind worked. Growing up, did she learn to trust adults? Probably not. I learned to trust and rely on adults, but since adults never helped her, she wouldn't have learned to ask them for help. I guess it's a small miracle that she's learned to rely on the couple of friends she's made. Come to think of it, it's amazing that she trusted me enough to admit her feelings earlier... Jasmine never likes to talk about her feelings. Any feelings. And then to simply kiss me in the middle of the corridor! That's so unlike her.

This gave Hermione pause as she considered how Jasmine would interpret current events in the light of past experiences. I see recent failings as aberrations, but Jasmine sees failings as confirming what she learned through ten years at the Dursleys. I see exceptions; Jasmine insists there's a pattern. Maybe she's right?

Finally having collected herself, Jasmine continued, "Third year wasn't too bad. There were no awful experiences where McGonagall failed me; at the same time, though, she didn't do anything for me either. Like in previous years, she never asked how I was doing or if I needed anything. I have to admit, though, that that's not something I realized at the time. It's only something that I've come to recognize in hindsight. I never got a lot of help or support from teachers in muggle schools, so having the same experience here wasn't something I gave much thought to." Hermione was surprised to hear this level of insight from her friend. Maybe she's matured a lot more than I realized...

"This year has been the worst yet, even worse than second year. Not a single member of the staff has stood up for me or defended me against accusations of cheating. None of them has defended either of us against the rampant harassment and bullying. As before, Dumbledore certainly should have, but McGonagall as our Head of House has had a more immediate and personal obligation to do so. She hasn't called any house meetings. She hasn't initiated any private conversations."

"Then, earlier today, when she dumped on me the news that I must have a date to start off the ball, she refused to listen to any of my objections! Instead, she insisted that "tradition" was more than enough justification to force me into this and then had the gall to tell me to learn how to dance so I don't make the school or our house look bad! Yeah, as if we hadn't already been made to look bad by the fact that my name was illegally entered and then by the way I've been treated by everyone! She places greater importance and value on me dancing well than on you and me not being attacked or bullied!"

Thank Merlin for the strength of my silencing spells, Hermione thought as Jasmine's rant descended into shouting. Not thinking further about everything she had heard, Hermione focused on what was immediately important: Jasmine's deteriorating mood. Hermione had asked for this explanation and so felt partially responsible for the anger it produced. Jumping up out of her chair, she rushed over to her friend and pulled her into a tight hug.

Jasmine relaxed for several minutes into Hermione's embrace, breathing in deeply while her face was covered by Hermione's hair; the bushy hair tickled her nose, but as always, it was the most relaxing and comforting place she knew of. Hermione had become infamous among those closest to her for her tight, rib-cracking hugs — "Hermihugs," as Jasmine termed them once before being chased out of the common room by a series of stinging hexes from the bushy-haired witch's wand.

This time, though, Jasmine felt that there was a different quality to the hug. It was tight, no doubt about it, but she could feel an undercurrent of affection and other, undefined emotions that she didn't normally detect during her usual gasps for breath.

"I'm sorry," Hermione started apologizing, "I can't believe that I never put all of that together. You're right that when it's all laid out like that, rather than looked at in isolation, it's pretty damning." Hermione wasn't sure how to continue, because she didn't have a backup for her idea of going to Professor McGonagall.

"I have to tell you, though, that Professor McGonagall has always been receptive to me when I've gone to her for help or advice. I've always looked up to her and tried to emulate her. And it doesn't look like she has ever actively worked against you, at least not that we've ever seen. She's not like Professor Snape." Jasmine couldn't deny this, but the idea that McGonagall had provided more help to other students reignited some of her anger.

"There's no denying that Professor McGonagall has failed you badly, but I don't think it's due to malice. If it's not due to malice, then perhaps it's a mistake or a misunderstanding — and in that case, it can be rectified. Maybe she can explain or apologize and do better. That would put her on the road to being trustworthy, yes? And if she can be trusted, she'd be the best member of staff for us to deal with, right?"

Jasmine had to think about that for a couple of minutes and finally concluded that Hermione was right. Whatever McGonagall's problems with her were, she didn't hate the Girl Who Lived as Snape so obviously did. And if she could be trusted, then it would be better to have their Head of House to rely upon than anyone else. If only that had truly been the case since the beginning of her time at Hogwarts!

"I suppose..." Jasmine said slowly.

Hermione reached out and grabbed her hand. "Don't forget that I'll be there, too. No matter what happens, we'll be able to handle it together. Right?"

This made Jasmine smile. "Right. But that means that we will have a lot more to do in this meeting, as if it weren't already important. Will we have enough time?"

Biting her lip in thought for a moment, she replied, "Yes, I think so — it's Thursday, and in the past I've usually found her grading essays and doing other paperwork on Thursday evenings, especially this term." After looking at her watch, she added, "We have enough time to write a message and send it out before lunch ends, then we have to get through a double lesson of DADA. It won't be until dinner, I think, that we'll learn if she'll meet with us."

Rolling her eyes, Jasmine was once again dragged along by Hermione as the manic witch quickly undid her spells from the classroom door and rushed back out into the hall to continue their mad journey up to the castle's owlery. Once there and after greeting Hedwig, Hermione helped Jasmine write out a letter to Professor McGonagall which the familiar was instructed to deliver only to the professor and only when she was alone. Hand-in-hand, both witches then hurried back down the stairs to catch the end of lunch.

Sitting in her office after lunch, Minerva McGonagall was surprised to see Jasmine Potter's snowy owl come flying in through her open window. Mail normally came during meal times, but even so, it was practically unheard of for a student to send owl mail to a professor while both were in the castle at the same time. This unusual delivery portended an unusual message, piquing her curiosity.

After handing the owl a treat, McGonagall opened the parchment and frowned at the message. Miss Potter has an important personal issue that she needs to discuss with me as her Head of House and needs to do it as soon as possible, preferably this very evening after dinner? Her first reaction was to assume that this had to do with the discussion she had with her Gryffindor witch a couple of hours earlier — the girl was rather put out at having to attend the ball with a date, and McGonagall had been taken a bit aback at how strongly she complained. She wasn't used to hearing such a disrespectful attitude and tone from any of her lions.

She reconsidered, though, when she reread the message and noted that the girl specifically referenced a need to speak to her "Head of House." After reflecting on the contents, she realized that it probably related to something personal, and since it was the first time she had come to her Head of House with such a matter, it was likely important as well.

Looking at her schedule for the day, she noted that she only had her usual Thursday evening paperwork ahead of her, so she should be able to accommodate her student, even if it turned out to be a lengthy meeting. Nodding to herself and deciding to send the girl a positive response at dinner, she returned to revising her lesson plan for her afternoon Transfiguration classes.

Thursday, December 10, 1994, Evening.

Having dropped off their books back in their dorms, Jasmine and Hermione walked side-by-side towards the Great Hall for dinner. If they noticed that they walked a bit closer together and brushed up against each other a bit more often, neither said anything. Then again, both were preoccupied with their own thoughts about everything that had already happened today and how much more they had to contend with before the day ended.

The two young witches had very similar yet also very different thoughts. Both were surprised at how much had happened. Both were a bit intimidated at how much their relationship was changing. Both were also hopeful about how their relationship might proceed while still being fearful at how that relationship might be perceived.

The differences were probably more significant than the similarities. Hermione was mostly confused. She was confused about why Jasmine would fancy her of all people — hearing Jasmine recite all her good qualities didn't cause her to suddenly believe it. She was also confused about her own sexuality: she might not have previously given romance any serious thought, but if asked, she'd have answered that she was straight. Was that solely because of society's expectations and norms? And she was confused about the actions of Professor McGonagall over the past three years. She had always looked up to and respected their Head of House, but now she wasn't so sure. Even if it were all a horrible misunderstanding, the woman had failed significantly, and Hermione wouldn't be able to respect her nearly as much for a while.

Jasmine, in contrast, was feeling unexpectedly confident — more confident than she had ever been before, in fact. She always felt a bit better when she knew Hermione was by her side, but this change in their relationship seemed to bring the other witch closer to her, and that boosted her confidence by quite a bit. Jasmine was feeling more optimistic about the tournament, about her future, and about her life in general. For a girl who grew up living in a cupboard, denied not only sufficient food but also even the tiniest amount of love and affection, this represented a massive shift in attitude. On top of it all, Jasmine also thought she felt a bit more powerful magically. During their double DADA lesson, the spells they practiced came easier to her and hit her partner with a bit greater force.

Thus distracted, they walked into the Great Hall without noticing that quite a few more people were paying closer attention to them than usual — including Draco Malfoy.

A/N: Just to get this out of the way, because I expect to have questions and even perhaps complaints in reviews: yes, that was a "soul bond" being started. I know that the concept is overused and even badly used, but I hope I can reassure skeptical readers that I'll be using the concept in a way that is a bit different from most.

First, the bond is gradual rather than instant. It takes a while to get established and develops in stages as their relationship develops. It is, in fact, based on their relationship rather than the other way around. So, second, it "improves upon" rather than "creates ex nihilo." It encourages and strengthens a relationship, it doesn't create love out of nothing. It doesn't make them magically married by chapter 3. It doesn't mean that a couple won't argue and won't have to put in work to make a relationship successful, but it can make the work a little easier. Finally, it's part of a continuum of magical bonds, so it's not some weird "deus ex machina" device. There are similar bonds that are even more common. And, like all magic, it has both benefits and potential costs. If you don't treat it right, it can turn around and bite you.

Why am I using the concept? First, I find it interesting. Second, this is a story about magical people in a magical community learning magic. Inserting magic here as well makes sense to me. Third, it will play an important role in the overall plot beyond the romance. The exact mechanism won't be explained until near the end, but you will see its effects before long.

The simplest reason is that it is, indeed, a shortcut. A completely realistic story would require showing years of their lives. Jasmine has to overcome some years of repressed sexuality, not to mention more than a decade of abuse and neglect. Hermione is facing difficult questions about her sexuality — what's genuinely "her" and what is a product of social expectations? Is she gay? Bi? Is she simply attracted to Jasmine? Is she perhaps leaping at the first person making an offer? Yeah, it would take a long time for the two of them to deal with all of that baggage and I would probably never finish. A "soul bond" lets me cut through some of it in order to make the characters' lives a bit easier.

If I do a good job as a writer, then I'll use this plot device just enough, but not too much (relationship-wise). I'll cut out the boring therapy sessions, the long evenings crying over tubs of ice cream, and similar bits that are part of reality, but not often part of interesting stories. What should be left are the more interesting bits — ups and downs that happen in real relationships, but with reduced angst and trauma for the sake of efficiency and short attention spans. If I do a good job as a writer, then it shouldn't detract from the plot and relationship developments. Do let me know if I succeed or fail.