What had he done to deserve this? Harry Potter was out of his depth. Had he not lived through enough hardships in his fourth year so far?
It all began, when the Goblet of Fire had spit out a piece of parchment. It was the fourth piece of parchment. There should have only been three! And his name was on it. Even though he had not thrown it into the flames of the Goblet! He was effectively forced against his will to compete in the Triwizard Tournament. Nobody believed him when he told the truth. Thanks to the thrice forsaken goblet he became not only a liar but a leper in the eyes of the whole school including his own house Gryffindor. For weeks not even his best friend Ron Weasley had been willing to wish him a good day.
After miraculously surviving the first task everything seemed to get better. At least the other Gryffindors, including Ron, had chosen to get back on talking terms with him. It was just Harry's luck when Professor McGonagall announced that he had to appear not only at the Yule Ball but also had to open the whole feast with a dance. For which he incidentally needed a partner of female sex.
What else was Harry supposed to do than summon up all of his courage? With bravery only a Gryffindor could muster, he asked Cho Chang to accompany him to the Yule Ball. Needless to say, that he received a negative answer. To make matters worse a whole swarm of girls giggled merrily at his expense.
In the face of rejection, Harry had chosen to retreat. At this point, his unlucky streak did not end. No! Such a thing would only happen to an ordinary wizard. But Harry Potter was special! He had the misfortune to run into the only person nobody did mess with. In the literal sense.
That was why Harry found himself on the floor in a badly sorted heap of human limbs. His face was awkwardly pressed onto the cold hard stone floor of a hallway. Mind you the floor of a completely deserted hallway. Except for the only person the whole school did not dare to cross.
"How can anyone be that clumsy?" Hermione Granger snarled.
Before Harry realized what was happening, the witch rolled both of them around. Suddenly she was on top of him. She twisted his collar and thus made breathing much harder for the young wizard. She used her other arm to threaten him with her wand. The tip was nearly poking him in the eye.
Many things went through Harry's head. In the most unhelpful manner, his inner eye summoned images of a first-year Hermione spooking no less than five Slytherins. And he remembered that other time when the Weasley twins had to stay overnight with Madam Pomfrey not once or twice but three times over the course of a single month, just because they had pulled a prank on the irritable witch. The list went on almost endlessly. After the start of this term, not even seventh-years were safe. Supposedly she had cursed two of them for not handing a grimoire over fast enough.
Still, beside himself, Harry babbled the first thing that came to his mind.
Hermione's eyebrows closed onto each other. "I beg your pardon?"
"I'm sorry," Harry croaked. The stranglehold of the girl was unnaturally firm and just barely allowed him to rasp anything at all.
"No, I want you to repeat what you said before!" The tip of Hermione's wand sparkled threateningly.
Panic flared, Harry tried to remember what he had just said. Had he begged for his life? Any promises made? No! The stress had prompted Harry to splutter those damned words he had been repeating in his head all day over and over again. Harry had a vision of his gravestone. His last words would be carved into it. "Do you want to go to the ball with me?"
Hermione glanced at him. "You wouldn't dare to make fun of me!" Since this was a statement, she chose to add a huge interrogation mark, "Would you?"
Harry gasped, "No! Never!" when he was given the opportunity by a lessened strangle of his throat.
To the great amazement of the boy-who-lived Hermione's expression relaxed abruptly. She left his collar alone and her wand retreated. Then she stood up and wiped non-existent dust from her school robe. Her eyes fixed Harry.
"A little short-termed. But you are lucky, I haven't chosen a partner yet. Actually, I considered to completely skip the ball." The witch tried to explain. Harry held his breath when he was allowed a short peek at Hermione's insecurity. "But since you're a champion, I'm willing to make an exception and tag along."
Unable to even say a word, Harry stared at Hogwarts' fury. He had survived, but at what cost?
"Close your mouth and get up!" Hermione ordered her classmate.
Accompanied by a click of his teeth, Harry obeyed.
A wipe of her wand prompted Harry's scattered belongings to fly back into his satchel. Harry held his breath and stared. They had only started with summoning charms at the beginning of the year. It was beyond Harry's understanding of how the witch from his class could make a multi-targeted and silent version look easy. Hermione could make anybody feel inferior. It had been this way since the very first lesson. She repeated the spell once more for her own satchel.
"You wanted to go that way." Hermione reminded her petrified counterpart before turning around and continuing her own path in the opposite direction.
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