A/N: Gosh darn that was a long chapter to write. And I still want to change so much stuff... But let's not dawdle, it's never going to be perfect and I'm never going to publish if I keep forgetting that the better is the enemy of the good... That's what reviews are for! Telling me all the better ways I could've gone about it.
About the lack of British music... don't believe what you'll read here: it wasn't intentional at all. I totally forgot. Well, not totally: I distinctly remember speaking out loud to my computer screen, saying 'well the Beatles would be way too obvious, now, wouldn't they'. That was about the extent of my thoughts on the matter...
To all those who took the time to review, thank you for your support! It was a particularly nice feeling to find the lines I'm most proud of being quoted as favourites.
As always, I hereby disclaim whatever you want me to.
Well... here goes.
Harry set the gramophone on a chair in the middle of the deserted courtyard. He erected a few protective barriers around it to deflect snowflakes, and prevent any accident he could imagine. He admired it for a second. He felt like he had forgotten something. Of course: he took out the shield preventing him to touch it, put Prokofiev on and raised the protections again. He had checked that there was a Waltz on it: Cinderella's Waltz... It played heavily on somewhat jarring harmonies, but he liked it. It gave a sort of anxious vibe to the whole fairy tale idea, which was pretty close to what he was feeling right now. It wouldn't come right away, though: it was part of a half-hour long suite. He still felt like he had forgotten something...
"Oh god! Hermione's going to kill me..."
"Why would I kill you?"
Harry turned back and was met with the sight of a young woman walking towards him in a breathtaking blue gown. Cornflower, Lavender, Periwinkle, white peach, one Alizarin, two chestnuts and some sculpted rosewood on top. This girl couldn't have been Hermione, she was too different. For example, she had shoulders. Well Hermione had to have shoulders too... Huh. Funny how you can know someone for four years and never see their shoulders. Only bushy brown hair falling in fluid bundles of perfect sinusoidal chaos, hiding most of her upper body... This woman had a complicated hairdo instead. Smooth, silky loops flowing gently around her ears into threaded knots and circular braids instead of her usual thin strands tumbling down and radiating everywhere like a dark, sunny cascade. Hm. So these were Hermione's shoulders, then? Well nice to meet you, Hermione's shoulders; I didn't expect you to be naked the first time we'd meet. He had to say something, now; he'd been silent for a long while.
"... Blimey, Hermione; I don't know if you feel like a queen yet, but you sure do look like one." That was technically 'something'. Maybe next time he would find something better.
"Pfft... Sure, sure, very smooth, Harry." she nonchalantly waved his compliment away "If a bit on the cheesy side, maybe. But why shall I murder you today, if I may reiterate?"
"Later, later. You can kill me in about twenty minutes."
"Hmm..." She visibly repressed a shiver "I can't help but notice the venue you've chosen is covered in snow."
"Yes. But I've found a very useful spell – you'll never guess where."
"I don't know, where?" He pointed his wand at her chest. Hello cleavage, nice to meet you too... Oops, let's not stare too much, shall we?
"In a book. Aputcalor."
She rolled her eyes "I'm proud of you." Her skin, clothes and complicated hairdo glowed with a reddish tint two or three times before settling on her usual hue, and letting her upper body relax in the sudden warmth.
"It's a warming charm used by Inuit mages." He suddenly threw a bit of snow in her direction, she squealed in horror and tried to protect herself with her naked arms. The snow felt lukewarm to the touch and slid off her easily without melting. Her clothes weren't even wet.
"Harry!... One doesn't throw snow at a queen! That spell is amazing, though..."
"Isn't it? The book said it doesn't actually warm up, but just 'regulates outgoing heat exchanges with inorganic matter', or something. I've always wanted to have a picnic in the snow, but the cold and wet aspects would make the fulfilment of this particular fantasy quite disappointing, now, wouldn't they..."
"Well thank goodness the second law of thermodynamics is so lax, then. Should've called it the second guideline of thermodynamics, really. Entropy, schmentropy, etc. Have you actually brought a picnic basket?"
"I have. Well... Just tea, really. I figured we've both already eaten." He started to lay a sheet on the ground. White on white. It was hard to discern, especially with their strange new perceptions of temperature. The warm snow crunched comfily under them as they sat. Hermione took care to gather her intricate gown around her and on top of the sheet. Oh, there was an actual cornflower pinned to her bodice. Should the entire bodice be called a 'corsage' then? Or just the flower? And should he stare so much?
"So that's not why I'll kill you, then? Is something wrong with the prank?"
"The prank is fine. Fred and George have it well in hand, everything is ready. No." He sighed. " Since you really want to know..." He timidly plunged his hand in the immaculate cloudy mattress around them. He let his ear wander to Prokofiev for a second. The waltz part was a long way away.
"Between this non-ball with you, the next task I don't know anything about, the prank... I sorta forgot to learn how to dance."
She snickered once. Twice. It escalated until she was fully laughing at him. He catapulted more snow at her.
"Eep! Harry! Don't... do that."
She started laughing again.
"You, don't do that!" He protested; she calmed herself
"Sorry... You have to admit it's pretty funny."
"Well I'm happy you're taking it that way because your feet sure won't find it amusing in few minutes."
"Oh, Harry... We can just tell her we danced if you like."
"Excuse me? Are you seriously proposing that we lie to a teacher?"
She shrugged. Hello again, shoulders.
"I guess being paradoxically ordered to subvert has had a peculiar influence on me." She exhaled an exaggerated sigh "I don't know what to think anymore... God is dead, so to speak."
"Who? Oh, you mean McGonnagod?" Her head tilted back slightly when she laughed, showing her thin, smooth throat. He had never noticed she did that.
Yes, McGonnagod is dead, exactly... Oh, no... That felt very, very wrong to say... I still have a long way on the road to becoming an Überwitch, it seems. Speaking of venturing into the uncharted waters Beyond Good and Evil, the prank should be starting soon, shouldn't it?"
She turned her head to listen for the music coming from the great hall, a few corridors away. Hello, nape of Hermione's neck, nice to meet you also. A woman's bare neck has a particular nakedness to it when her hair is up. It's somehow more naked than shoulders or arms. It may be because of the soft curls almost caressing it as they bounce lightly behind her every move.
He tried to listen for the Ball too.
A sudden, eery hush fell on the Great Hall, and Minerva started her mental stopwatch. The music had been silenced, as had been almost everyone in the Hall. An animated cartoonish drawing of a small hooded figure with an enormous masked face had appeared in the middle of the dance floor. The paper figure started talking in a screeching high, ridiculous voice, which was very audible in the complete silence.
"Hello! It's me! Jasper the friendly Death Eater."
The darkness of the introduction was dispelled somewhat by the ridicule of the caricature. A few teachers sprung into action – Severus first – but the room-wide silencing spell and the confused crowd were impeding them. She cast a silent finite incantatem for good measure, which bounced harmlessly on an invisible surface around the ridiculous figure, who kept talking unimpeded.
"You may remember us from the Quidditch world cup. Right? We showed everyone we were still around? With the dark mark?"
The figure raised a cartoonish, suspiciously phallic wand and a childish drawing of a green skull appeared above it. Instead of a snake coiling around it and protruding from it's mouth, there was a rabbit humping an eye-socket, its hind paw resting uneasily on the skull's lower teeth and threatening to slip awkwardly with every other thrust. Severus tried to run towards the living drawing, but was unceremoniously stopped by what was very clearly the same sort of age line that Albus had put around the cup. Of course the cartoon had to draw attention to that fact:
"Sorry, lad: you're too old to cross that line. Don't worry I'll just be a minute."
This was quickly turning to be one of the most complicated pranks she had ever seen. The again, she only had herself to blame. Bringing together the Twins, the Brightest Witch of her Generation and the offspring of a Marauder...
"This is just a friendly reminder that my friends and I are still taking advantage of this friendly competition to attempt to murder one of your friends! You know that the easiest way to sneak his name in the cup would be to impersonate someone who could, right? So maybe one of my friends is still here dancing with you! But have fun with your friendly ball!"
It folded into a pretty recognisable origami of the Goblet of fire, which bounced up and down firing papers planes at everyone. Minerva caught one of the papers and unfolded it: it read 'You get to fight a mother dragon or lose your magic! Yay!'. Severus had finally dismantled the age line and was trying to catch the offending cup, while Filius cast vanishing charms at as many paper planes as he could. Eventually the cup burned out of existence by itself, and the papers on the ground were vanished.
Spelling it out for the audience, huh? Not very subtle, and a bit dark... That 'a death eater amongst us' idea was pretty far-fetched – especially with a former Auror teaching here –, but it could maybe plant the seeds of wariness in these young minds. They did look pretty anxious all of a sudden. The prank itself had lasted about 40 seconds by Minerva's count, but the awkward silence seemed to last much longer. Maybe the silencing spell was still in effect? That was definitely one of the most magically impressive parts of the whole thing. When the minute was over, Minerva decided to break the silence herself by opening the doors and calling pretty loudly.
There was a slight ruffle as everyone's head turned to look at her, then a small voice echoed from apparently far away in the empty castle.
"Detention every Saturday until the end of the school year!"
A whisper coursed through the Hall and the same voice responded.
She turned to the musicians and nodded. People started dancing timidly again. The Weasley twins were acting as angelic as she had ever seen them. Severus was striding towards her with murder in his eyes.
"They should be expelled! Potter would be a hassle but at least Granger–" She didn't falter, and didn't let her gaze cross his.
"I can't even prove that they're responsible, Severus. Although we both know they're the only ones who hold that particular view... Let's just be happy they didn't challenge me for evidence. After all, it seems impossible to pull off for two fourth years who weren't even at the scene."
"At least let me have the detention. It'll be worse for them if I–"
"Oh don't worry, my detention will be harsher than you can possibly imagine. The Yule Ball has been my project since it was announced, after all."
He eyed her suspiciously and left, his robes billowing after him in rough whipping motions.
It was Filius's turn to approach her. He was more flabbergasted than angry.
"That Granger girl is quite something, huh?" He started disbelievingly.
"I think she's had help for this. And Potter is no joke either... But yes."
"That silencing charm... On a whole room? It shouldn't even be possible..."
"I was wondering about that myself. Maybe they have hidden runes on the walls here. Should we look for them?"
They started to stroll around the Great Hall, examining the walls and floors, discussing the magical components of the prank. Most of the papers holding the runes had self-destroyed. More accurately, they had been purposefully overpowered and had burned up. They were able to reconstruct one or two after recruiting a rather impressed professor Babbling: it was a high pass filter, silencing everything under a certain frequency. So they could have spoken, but in a similarly unnatural high voice as the drawing...
The reversed age line was also an impressive feat. Probably the twins' contribution. They had researched the subject extensively, after all...
Transfiguring a living cartoon would take a lot of time, but making it talk... Maybe it was pre-recorded? Transfigured from a howler?
Overall, the postmortem on the prank concluded that Miss. Granger had certainly had the help of some sixth or seventh year. Either that or she was even more impressive than they had thought. Moreover a lot of what they did couldn't have been done remotely.
"Well, maybe they were here. After all, I'm sure you're aware of Mr. Potter's insufferable heirloom?" Better think that than point at the twins. She would not give them Animagus training.
When Harry and Hermione were done laughing and congratulating each other, they shared a warm cup of tea.
"I said it somewhat stupidly earlier but I meant it: you look amazing. How have you managed that with your hair?"
"Something called Sleekeasy's hair potion. In a rather large quantity, I might add." She sipped a distinguished sip of her tea. "I researched it upon witnessing its unrivalled effectiveness at unraveling my capillary quandaries; I discovered it's apparently been invented by an ancestor of yours, which..."
she pointed to his unruly mop with a teasing smile.
"...makes sense." He flustered a bit. It only encouraged her, unfortunately.
"So..." She started, a smug smirk discreetly invading her expression. "Does this..." She gestured to their surroundings "...mean you fancy me?" She sipped her tea through her feigned haughtiness.
He flustered a bit more at her teasing... then stopped. Who was he kidding? He had kept track of his thoughts so far. Conversing with body parts? Repeatedly? 'soft curls almost caressing her neck as they bounced lightly behind her every move?'
"Right now, I genuinely think I do."
She strangled herself trying not to spit tea all over her immaculate gown. Harry handed her a napkin and tapped her back like she had in that corridor a few weeks before.
"Well that one backfired, didn't it?"
She looked at him with a suspicious gleam of pure hatred in her eye, and spoke in a raspy voice.
"Did you say that just to make me cough?"
"No! That would be unbelievably mean! It was just a happy coincidence." He got up and gave her his hand. "Come on, let's just forget I said anything and I'll try not to crush your feet." The waltz was beginning. She gave him a strange look but eventually took his hand. The music crackled like a fire under the gramophone's needle. She gave him a few instruction to begin with, and he caught on pretty fast. Waltzes are easy that three steps. And again. Still the same, but then turn. There you are: not that hard, is it now? You're alright; but don't look at your feet. And I'm sure you can count in your head...
Eventually, he did almost step on her toe. He didn't put any weight on it, but as he almost lost his balance and had to interrupt the dance, she saw an opportunity to throw snow in his face. So she did: she felt vindictive all of a sudden. Of course, he immediately retaliated; but it didn't take him long to realise that Hermione's outfit was a significant hindrance in this sort of battle.
"Mmh... I think as a gentleman, I should forfeit despite my obvious advantage."
"Obvious advantage?" She whipped out her wand.
The white picnic sheet was flying gently, following the whims of an unseen breeze as it descended from the stars. It spiralled downwards slowly, until it rested on someone's lying form.
Hermione's hand shot up and pulled the offending fabric away from her panting figure. She had managed not to ruin her gown, but her hairdo had suffered heavy casualties. Oh, well. it only had taken her three hours. As she lay comfortably on top of the lukewarm snow in a puddle of periwinkle silk and flowing brown hair, her breathing calmed down until it synchronised with the pseudo-periodic crackles and clicks of the empty gramophone. She sat up and reviewed her surroundings. The courtyard had been thoroughly thrashed. Exploded snowballs decorated the walls and stone columns, the previously immaculate coat of powdery whiteness was now criss-crossed with scars and large gaps, revealing blueish pads of frozen grass. The chair in the center was eerily untouched. Harry was lying motionless where she had left him: face down, half buried in a pile of overturned snow a few feet away from her. She wasn't cold, but the spluttering gramophone made her long for the warm comfiness of the common room fireplace.
Harry stood up with some difficulty, and put the still rotating disc away. She saw him review the other coloured squares before putting them all back in the wooded drawer. He took the large silver plate he had previously used to serve the tea, and put the gramophone on it; it disappeared with a slight plop.
"Where did you find a gramophone?"
He gave her a strange look and didn't answer right away. First he helped her up and brushed the remaining snow from them both. They started walking back to the Griffindor dorms. He hesitated, and eventually opted for humour. It would have worked better if his smile had reached his eyes.
"It's Auntie Minnie's." She shot him a playfully horrified glare. She didn't understand why the following pause felt so uncomfortable until he told her that it had been his mother's gift.
"...It's nice of her to lend it to you..."
"... So, the music..." She let the question hang.
Hermione hesitated a bit, and suddenly decided that she wanted her best friend to be able to speak to her about his mother. "She had good taste. I like Prokofiev." She tried to speak in her usual quick tone and purposeful intonations, as if to say 'this is normal, we've always done this.' He gave her a rather long, incomprehensible look before speaking tentatively.
"I hadn't ever heard of him before... The others are Chopin, Charlie Parker, Django Reinhardt, Pink Floyd and the Turtles." He recited.
"She had really good taste, then... Weird that there's nothing from Britain, isn't it?" She tried her best not to let her awkwardness show.
"I... McGonagall told me she thinks my Mum bought the whole set during a vacation in France."
"Oh. I guess that explains some of her selection..."
She didn't know what to say next... Maybe she should change the subject after all?
Fortunately for her, her plot had already worked and the sluice gates were opening. He started recounting the whole discussion with McGonagall, tentatively at first. The letter... He knew the letter by heart, but pretended he didn't when he summed it up for her. When he hesitated afterwards, she told him about Prof. McGonagall asking her about gramophones in the kitchens, describing her confusion and the nostalgic cloud which had overcome her professor's eyes during Hermione's thorough explanation.
He told her that during that dinner, he had listened to every disc twice and read his mother's letter over and over and over. He described what each song felt like. She was surprised to find that he was quite the poet, when he wanted to describe his actual emotions. Which wasn't nearly often enough. He told her about the terrifying fairy tale in Cinderella – which was why he had chosen it for tonight – about Echoes and the torn veil of a nostalgia for a time he didn't remember, about the furious playfulness of Parker and Reinhardt, about the happy teenage love of the Turtles, and about where the shadow of his mother fit in each of them. Crying to 'happy together' has a particularly bittersweet taste, as everyone and their cat knows. Somewhere along the way, Hermione had expressed her relief that 'Echoes' meant her favourite teacher hadn't been subjected to 'the Wall', which would have probably killed the poor Professor after the second double negative. That made him smile. He imagined that was what his father had intended, but his mother wouldn't have it. He flew over his few other memories. He spoke of her plea to Voldemort and following demise too quickly to let Hermione express her horror, because he just wanted to speak about the voice he imagined when he read the letter. He painted what she had looked like in the mirror three years prior, and the whole seven years of school life he had imagined for her just from what was written in that blue, loopy ink...
He spoke fast and jumped from subject to subject. Her head was spinning when he suddenly stopped his diatribe and caught her in a hug that threatened to squeeze the living daylight out of her. That was usually her job... He had been unusually hugsy this last few months. Not that she complained. Then he thanked her. She wasn't really sure why, she had just been walking in quasi-total silence beside him for a while, listening to what he had to say. She realised they were near the fat lady's corridor.
When they entered the deserted common room, she hugged him quickly and tentatively kissed his cheek before climbing the stairs two by two.
She came back down in her pyjamas after a quick shower. He was waiting on the couch, similarly attired, in front of the fire. She sat beside him. The atmosphere was still a bit heavy, but the pause and change of clothes had relieved some of her tension. She looked at her humid, silky curls reflecting the flickering lights of the fire, a bit frustrated that her unruly mane would certainly be back the next morning. Or maybe as soon as they dried completely... A thought assaulted her.
"So..." She started before she could stop herself, still looking at her hair. "... are these the reason you suddenly fancied me, earlier?" There was a pause as they both let the fire's red lights dance around their eyes.
"Well, I can't deny that being introduced to your neck and shoulders played an instrumental role in my epiphany. But apart from that, no. It does look heavenly, though. 'Gotta get me some o' that potion."
"Do you have some kind of weird 'neck and shoulder' fetish?"
"I don't think so. I guess I just meant that you're beautiful; I think it just took seeing you in a different light for it to properly register in my brain."
She didn't know what to respond to that. He continued hurriedly, obviously trying to keep her from taking this in a fictional wrong way he had suddenly imagined. His anxious tone was kind of cute.
"I mean... we were mostly kids when we met... And I guess we still are a bit... and girls haven't been a concern of mine for very long, so it did take me a while to realise... well... to grasp the scope of your... uh..." He was searching for the appropriate word. She knew words.
"Muliebrity?" She offered, turning to him. He was already facing her, chuckling softly with a hand scratching the back of his head.
"I think I'm just going to trust you on that one. So you're beautiful and you're my best friend which means I already sort of love you anyway..." She didn't usually think of herself as a blushing maiden – at least not as much as he was – but that was a lot to take without reddening at all. And he kept rambling on, as if that wasn't already too much. "I mean that's sort of why I asked you in the first place, right? Not that I didn't imagine... I... or that I did, for that matter... And you're not just my best friend, by the way... Lately you've kind of been the best friend I could ever imagine. What with you sticking with me and saving my hide over and over despite... I'm saying the word 'friend' too much, aren't– "
This was never going to end. Thankfully, he finally shut up when she kissed him.
Her brain turned back on somewhat. Just enough to know what she was doing, not enough to actually have a say about it. She let her closed lips hover just in front of his, and let out slow breaths which would certainly tickle his cheek. She kept her eyes closed and her arms crossed behind his neck. After a few infinite seconds there was a rush around her as his lips finally closed the infinitesimal gap, his hands gliding to the sides of her waist to bring her closer.
She ended up kneeling on top of the couch seat at his side, which put her head higher than his. He kept pulling her closer... When their lips had no choice but to disconnect, she took his head in an embrace against her chest and let whatever was spinning between her temples slow down, painfully aware of her own heartbeat against his ear. She ran a hand through his messy hair and gasped as one of his climbed on her back with a shudder-inducing pressure, making her back arch as it raised her shirt bit by bit. She managed to pull him out of her embrace before this went too far, letting him untwist his body by bringing a leg to rest on the couch's cushion between them. She pushed him back until he was lying against the comfy armrest, and laid her temple on his upper chest, her body half-covering his. She listened to the fire protest their inappropriateness with angry pops and crackles, and time faded out.
Aput: Inuit root for snow, Calor : Latin for heat.