Title: Yule Ball Drama

Summary: Who knew Harry asking Hermione to the Yule Ball in Fourth Year would cause so much drama? Especially amongst those whom they thought were their truest friends!

Rating: M

Warnings: Betrayals, Emancipation, Manipulative!GreaterGood!Dumbledore, Ancient and Noble Houses, Lords and Ladies, Politics. Eventual Smut, Character Bashing: Dumbledore; Weasleys – Ron, Ginny, Molly; Snape, Viktor Krum and others.

Ships: Harry/Hermione; other ships (not with Harry or Hermione) to be added.

Disclaimer: J.K Rowling owns the characters and the world of Harry Potter. I do not. I just like to play in her sandbox. No copyright infringement intended.

Author's Note: Unlike most of my other Harmony stories, this one will simply be a Harry/Hermione pairing story. There will be no surprise Betrothal Contracts or Harems in the future of this story. It is simply a Harry/Hermione story, with my usual amount of bashing towards Dumbledore, certain Weasleys and others. I don't know if there will be smut in this story before it ends, but it is possible. Rest assured, if there is, there will be warnings at the start of Chapters, to mark such content.

While this is not a Super!Harry or Super!Hermione story, Harry does wise up in this story. He becomes more confident with Hermione as a girlfriend. He does become smarter – especially when he decides not to appease Ron by holding himself back in his studies. He'll also no longer be the malleable, self-sacrificing boy, because he now has a girlfriend and something to really fight for and live for. So he will become more powerful in this story, but again, he won't be Super!Harry. There is a possibility Harry may even become more… politically savvy if politics comes up. But there will be good explanations for that. My Great Alliance that shows up in political stories might even play a part.

Also, unlike a couple of my past stories (example: Ilvermorny Champion), there won't be any surprise, controversial decisions made in the Wizengamot that throws wrenches in the plot. This is not that type of story, no matter how political it could get.

My final note is that from the very beginning of this story, Harry and Hermione are not kind in their opinion of Ron at all. Let's just say his recent betrayal, and his behavior even after his "apology" after the First Task has truly opened their eyes. Ron bashing runs rampant very early on in this story, and will soon be joined by bashing of other certain characters.

Chapter 1
His Best Friend

(Thursday, December 10th, 1994)

Harry Potter grinned down at the guinea pig that had, until a few minutes ago, been a guinea fowl. That had been today's lesson in Transfiguration. Turn a guinea fowl into a guinea pig. And he had done it. Flawlessly. Well, perhaps not flawlessly, but it was certainly better than other attempts from students in the class. He glanced to his right, where Ron Weasley's guinea pig looked horrendous. It still had the beak of the fowl, and it looked particularly ugly.

To his left, Hermione Granger's guinea pig was the only other attempt in the class that looked just as good as his. He wasn't surprised at that, however. Hermione was a perfectionist, and she tried to be the best at everything she did. She looked especially proud at her own attempt. Then he caught her glance turning to his attempt.

"Harry, that's fantastic!" Hermione appraised, "You did very well! Harry?"

"Hmm? What?" Harry asked, "Oh, sorry, Hermione. What did you say?"

"You were staring at me," Hermione said, looking confused.

"Sorry," Harry said, "The way you were staring at your guinea pig. It was…"

"It was what?" Hermione asked.

Harry shrugged. He didn't have a response. He couldn't put it into words. Well, he could, but it wasn't anything he could tell her. She had looked at the guinea pig the way he wished she would look at her. He suddenly pictured that expression of hers in a whole different way. It was a vision in front of his eyes. Not an entirely unwelcome vision either. She wasn't looking at a guinea pig, she was looking at a baby in her arms. One she had just given birth to. Her baby. Their baby.

Harry blinked, and the vision went away. Where had that come from?

"Mr. Potter!" a voice said, breaking Harry from his thoughts.

For one wild moment, Harry wondered why Hermione had referred to him as that. Then he realized Hermione hadn't called his name. It was Professor McGonagall. She was standing in front of him.

"Yes, Professor?" he asked, after clearing his throat.

"That is the second time I called your name, Mr. Potter," McGonagall said.

"Sorry, Professor," Harry said, "I… was distracted."

"Given how your guinea pig changed back into a guinea fowl," McGonagall said, "It must have been quite the distraction for you to lose focus enough for that to happen."

Harry hoped he wasn't blushing. His cheeks felt a little hot. Yes, it was certainly quite the distraction, his strange vision.

"Perhaps you could attempt the transfiguration again, Mr. Potter?" McGonagall said, "So I know how to grade you."

"Yes, Professor," Harry said.

He pointed his wand at the fowl, then cast the spell again. To his immense relief, the guinea pig appeared to be much the same as it had been. The only difference was that it made a noise of frustration due to the fact that it was once again a guinea pig instead of guinea fowl. Harry didn't blame it, though. The poor creature probably didn't very much like being transfigured into something completely different than what it was.

"Very good, Mr. Potter," McGonagall said; she made a mark on the sheet she was holding. "I do hope you're no longer distracted. In a few minutes, I'll have an announcement to make to the class. One you'll be most interested in, I assure you."

"Yes, Professor – I mean, no Professor," Harry said, "No more distractions."

"Very good, Mr. Potter," McGonagall said

The Transfiguration Professor moved in front of Ron. "Why does your guinea pig have a beak, Mr. Weasley."

"Dunno," Ron muttered. "Maybe it is meant to?"

If eye-rolling made a sound, the action from Hermione might have masked the sound of disbelief coming from the Transfiguration Professor.

"I very much doubt it, Mr. Weasley," McGonagall said, "Homework, Mr. Weasley Eighteen inches on how to turn a guinea fowl into a guinea pig, what the guinea pig is supposed to look like, and what it takes to successfully complete the transfiguration. Due the start of next class next Tuesday."

"But," Ron muttered, "You didn't give homework to Harry or Hermione."

"I didn't need to, Mr. Weasley," McGonagall said, "Their transfigurations were the best in class today. Neither Mr. Potter nor Miss Granger need homework to improve their guinea fowl to guinea pig transfigurations. If it makes you feel any better, most of your fellow students in the class will be getting the same homework as you."

Ron grumbled as McGonagall moved on.

"Figures," Ron muttered, "Instead of accepting that maybe my guinea pig was supposed to look like this, she ignores that and gives me homework!"

"Don't be ridiculous, Ronald," Hermione said, "If it was supposed to look like that, Professor McGonagall would have said so!"

"Oh, so you're suddenly a guinea pig expert now?" Ron demanded.

Harry suddenly felt the urge to scream at Ron. Hermione had done a great job with her transfiguration, and Ron was dismissing it out of anger or jealousy or… something. Harry wanted to tell his friend off for his insult to Hermione. She had done a wonderful job today, and she didn't need Ron to downplay her accomplishment, just because he didn't do his work well enough. If he was honest with himself, it wasn't the first time over the past couple of weeks this had occurred either.

Ever since Ron's half-hearted apology after the First Task – Harry still found himself wondering why he had accepted Ron's apology so easily – Ron had ignored a lot of what Hermione had to say. In fact, he still seemed as angry as he had been before the First Task – but his target was now Hermione instead of Harry. Harry still wasn't sure what that was all about. If Ron and Hermione had argued about whatever was bothering him, Harry hadn't heard about it. Hermione hadn't said anything about it.

However, Ron's behavior today reminded him of a similar scene long ago in Charms, during the Levitation lesson. That lesson had ended up with Ron insulting Hermione, and her ending up in a bathroom all day, only to encounter a troll that Harry – and Ron – had to save her from. Sure, it had kickstarted the friendship with Hermione, but it was one of Ron's worst moments since Harry had met him. Three years later and he was still badmouthing her talents in class because of jealousy or whatever!

His reverie was interrupted when Hermione tapped him on the shoulder. He looked at her, and she nodded toward McGonagall's desk. Harry turned and found McGonagall moving to stand in front of her desk.

"May I have your attention, please?" McGonagall asked, with the same raised voice she used during lectures.

The students who had been talking to their neighbors, all turned their attention to the Transfiguration Professor.

"The Yule Ball is approaching," McGonagall said, "a traditional part of the Triwizard Tournament and an opportunity for us to socialize with our foreign guests. Now, the ball will be open only to fourth years and above - although you may invite a younger student if you wish -"

Lavender Brown let out a shrill giggle. Parvati Patil nudged her hard in the ribs, her face working furiously as she too fought not to giggle. They both looked around at Harry, who ignored them, as did Professor McGonagall. Really, the immaturity of the girls, to interrupt the Professor when she was talking! Why were they laughing anyway?

"Dress robes will be worn," Professor McGonagall continued, "and the ball will start at eight o'clock on Christmas Day, finishing at midnight in the Great Hall. Now then -" McGonagall stared deliberately around the class. "The Yule Ball is of course a chance for us all to – er - let our hair down," she said, in a disapproving voice.

Lavender giggled harder than ever, with her hand pressed hard against her mouth to stifle the sound. Harry could see what was funny this time: Professor McGonagall, with her hair in a tight bun, looked as though she had never let her hair down in any sense.

"But that does NOT mean," McGonagall went on, "that we will be relaxing the standards of behavior we expect from Hogwarts students. I will be most seriously displeased if a Hogwarts student embarrasses the school in any way."

The bell rang at that precise moment.

"Keep your guinea pigs – or the half-attempts some of you have produced – on your desks," McGonagall said, as students began to scatter toward the door, "I'll take care of them. Potter! A word, if you will."

Harry had yet to make a move toward the door. He simply remained in his seat. Ron was halfway to the door, and had stopped to look back at Harry. Hermione was still standing at her desk, beside him.

"Go on," Harry said to his two friends, "I'll catch up with you two."

Ron shrugged, turned around and left. Hermione looked like she wanted to say something. But she decided against it at the last moment, grabbed her bag and followed Ron out of the room. The rest of the class had already made their way out.

"Yes, Professor?" Harry asked.

"Potter," McGonagall said, "As champions of the Triwizard Tournament, they and their partners are expected to open up the Yule Ball."

"Partners?" Harry asked.

"Dance partners, Mr. Potter," McGonagall said.

"Dance partners?!" Harry echoed, "I… I don't dance, Professor."

"Oh, yes, you do," McGonagall said, "And you will."

"I'm… Professor, I'm not good at dancing," Harry insisted.

McGonagall sighed. She stared at him for a moment, then huffed. "I will teach you."

"You want me to dance with you?" Harry asked.

"How else am I supposed to teach you?" McGonagall replied, with another huff, "But, I suppose if you do not wish to dance with me, Potter, then I expect you find a date to the Ball as soon as possible. Otherwise for the next two Saturdays – from seven to nine in the evening – you'll have no choice but to dance with me. No complaints, Potter. I will not have you besmirching Gryffindor because you make a fool of yourself. You represent Gryffindor as much as you do Hogwarts for the Tournament, Potter. Find yourself a date, and tell her she's invited to practice dancing with you over the next two Saturdays. Because it will either be her, or me, who you'll be dancing with during the lessons."

Harry moped. That was a depressing thought. Finding a date would be hard enough! He couldn't dance, and he was going to have to basically admit to his date he couldn't dance – by telling them he and his date were expected at dancing lessons with Professor McGonagall! Who would want to be his date to a Ball if he couldn't dance?!

There were bigger problems than dancing lessons, however. Right now, he hadn't a clue who he wanted to ask to the Ball. Maybe Cho Chang? No, she was dating Cedric Diggory, his fellow Tournament Champion. Who was he going to ask?

"Do you understand me, Potter?" McGonagall asked.

"Yes, Professor," Harry said, trying not to show how scared he was.

"Excellent," McGonagall said, "You're excused. Oh, and Potter? Twenty points to you, Miss Granger and Gryffindor. Excellent work today on your transfigurations. I was not lying to your friend, Mr. Weasley. You and Miss Granger were the only two today who successfully transfigured their fowls into pigs with perfect attempts."

"Th-thank you, Professor!" Harry said.

"You may go," McGonagall said.

Harry stood, picked up his bag, and walked out of the classroom. He was so lost in thought about who he should ask to the Ball, he almost didn't see Hermione leaning against the wall outside the classroom. Ron was suspiciously absent.

"Hermione?" Harry asked, "Why are you here? Where's Ron?"

"I was waiting for you," Hermione said.

"Oh," Harry said; for some reason, that made him very happy, "Ron didn't want to wait?"

"No," Hermione huffed, "I asked him to wait for you. He said you would find us when you were finished. I told him you wouldn't be very long. He dismissed that. Then he told me to go with him, because he wanted help on his Transfiguration homework."

"He didn't say that exactly, did he?" Harry asked, giving her a knowing look.

Hermione scoffed. "No. You know how he is. He didn't ask me to help him. It was… almost an order."

"Like he expected you to do it for him," Harry said, "What's new? He does that a lot. I… I'm sorry to say I do too."

"No, you don't Harry," Hermione said, "When you ask me to help you, you merely want me to look over your completed work to check if anything was off. If anything is off, you correct any mistakes, or add things that are necessary. Ron's work isn't even completed when he wants me to look over it. It is always half-done, if that. Then he asks me what else he should put down, and when I give him suggestions, he basically writes everything I say, and nothing else. That isn't me checking it over for him."

"He's trying to disguise it as you making suggestions," Harry said, "When in fact, you're basically doing it for him. Which he knows you must disapprove of, so he tries to get around that little tidbit."

"Yes," Hermione said, "It has always been that way. I don't even want to know what he had to do during most of November when he wasn't talking to us. Did he try to fob off his work to someone like Neville, or Seamus?"

Harry shrugged. He hadn't really paid attention to what Ron had done during that time.

"I wanted to yell at him earlier, you know," Harry admitted.

"What?" Hermione asked.

"When he asked you if you were suddenly an expert on guinea pigs," Harry said. "Not only did I wanted to yell at him, I wanted to hit him. You did great today in class, and he basically acted as if you did worse than he did! He might be nicer to me ever since that half-hearted apology after the First Task, but towards you -"

"You realized it was a half-hearted apology too?" Hermione asked.

"Not until a few days later," Harry said, "To be honest, I was tired after the First Task. All I wanted to do was wind down, maybe get something to eat and relax. I was on the back end of an adrenaline rush. So when he chose that moment to apologize to me, which, mind you, was a very poor apology…"

"You didn't want to deal with any drama," Hermione said, "So you accepted his apology. Huh. I… I wonder if he did that on purpose."

"What?" Harry asked.

"Perhaps he knew you were tired after the First Task," Hermione said. "Maybe he figured you'd still be angry at him, but too tired to do so straight after the task. So he chose that time to make his half-hearted apology when you would be too exhausted to fight him over it."

"He didn't really make an apology, did he?" Harry asked. "He… he just said 'I think somebody's trying to do you in!' He admitted he was a git, but that was the most he did. He didn't say sorry for all the insults, and calling me a cheat or whatever."

"But you still accepted his apology," Hermione said.

"I'm… not sure I did, Hermione," Harry said, "I still feel angry at him. And not just because of what he did. He's still a right foul git, you know. Only… it isn't focused on me anymore. Just you. It is like nothing has changed. You two fought and argued long before the Goblet of Fire spat out my name. And most of the time, you have to admit he was the one to start those fights. And ever since the First Task… its happened again. The separation he had from us those few weeks didn't change a thing between the two of you. Don't get me wrong, I blame you for none of that.

"Like I said, I wanted to yell at him in there for disrespecting you after you tried to help him. Because it is what he's always done. I mean, damn it, it is just like that Levitation lesson on Halloween in first year!"

"It isn't that bad, Harry," Hermione mumbled.

"It is!" Harry insisted, "Just because you're not running off to bathrooms anymore, doesn't mean it isn't as bad. He might not be telling you that you don't have any friends, but be honest with me. His attitude today, over four years later – doesn't it remind you of that Halloween in Charms?"

"I… yes, Harry," Hermione said. "It does remind me. His attitude actually constantly reminds me of that, to be honest. I just never said anything to you, because he's your friend. In fact, he was your first real friend, and I know what meant to you."

"He's been a pretty piss-poor friend lately," Harry said, "He hasn't learned at all from that Halloween. He's barely grown up at all since that day, especially when it comes to how he treats you. And I've just started to wake up to that fact over the past couple of weeks. And I don't like it, Hermione. I don't like how he treats you. And I'm sorry for never speaking up about it before now."

Hermione's eyes were suspiciously wet. "You really mean that, Harry?"

"Yes, I do," Harry said. "You've always been there for me. Even last year, with the whole Firebolt thing. You tried to help me, and I… I was just as big of a git as Ron. But after the Goblet of Fire spat my name out, you were the only one there for me. You helped me. I wouldn't have gotten through the First Task if it wasn't for you. I don't feel as if I've thanked you enough for that, or for always being there for me. I do feel like a right foul git for that. So, thank you, Hermione."

Hermione shocked Harry by dropping her knapsack and pouncing on him in a hug.

"Th-thank you, Harry," Hermione said, "That is the… best thing you've ever said to me. Maybe the best thing anyone has ever said to me."

"Uh… you're welcome?" Harry said.

Harry was shocked he could articulate words. Hermione's body was pressed against his in a way Harry had never experienced before. Sure she had hugged him, several times since they became friends. But this one was different. For the sole reason, that Harry could – to his embarrassment – feel Hermione's breasts against his body. Until now, he had never thought of Hermione with breasts. He knew she was a girl, and a fifteen year old girl at that, so of course she had those… parts. But he'd never really paid attention to something like that when it came to her. He noticed it on girls like Cho Chang, and Susan Bones – the latter girl was so curvy, it would be hard not to notice!

But Hermione? No, not until now. And he didn't know why. Was it because he had seen her so often over the past three and a half years, that he was oblivious to her ever-changing body? Was it the school robes that were hiding her beauty?

Because Harry couldn't deny it anymore. His best friend Hermione Granger was a beautiful girl. She no longer had the buck-teeth – wait, when did that happen?! Where did they go? Her hair was uncontrollable but that was part of what made Hermione her! She could keep it untamed and uncontrollable, and he would still think she was pretty.

Hermione was quite oblivious to Harry's musings. She was also – thankfully – oblivious to the tightness in Harry's pants. And if she knew her breasts had been pressed against him, she didn't show she was aware of it.

Hermione finally released him, and cleared her throat. Her face was so red from blushing, Harry was afraid she might faint from the blood rushing to her face.

It was only then that Harry realized they had been standing outside the Transfiguration classroom all this time. Thank Merlin they had a free period before lunch, or they'd be extremely late to their next class! He was about to ask Hermione if she wanted to head back to Gryffindor Tower before lunch, when Hermione found her voice again.

"So," Hermione said, clearing her throat again, "what did Professor McGonagall have to say?"

"What?" Harry asked; it took a moment for Harry to realize what she asked. "Oh! Er… she said… she told me Champions would be expected to open the Yule Ball first. Champions and their… um… dates?"

"Well, that is expected, of course," Hermione said, "I read about it. The Yule Ball is a tradition with every Triwizard Tournament. The three Champions – or in this case four – and their dates are all announced to the rest of the guests at the Ball in a grand showing, to start off the Ball."

"She did not tell me that," Harry muttered. "No… she told me we were expected to be the first ones… to dance."

"Well, yes, Harry, that should be obvious," Hermione said, "It is a Ball. There is dancing at Balls."

"I… I kind of told her – um," Harry found himself mumbling now.

"You told her what?" Hermione prodded him to continue.

"I told her… I can't dance," Harry muttered, fully expecting her to take the mickey out of him.

"Oh," Hermione said, "Well… that doesn't surprise me."

"Really?" Harry asked, surprised; that was a completely unexpected response.

"From what you've told me about your relatives," Hermione said, "They don't seem like the type of people who would teach you how to dance. Or even consider taking you to any social events where you might have danced with anybody."

Harry smiled. He knew she shouldn't have been surprised. Hermione had known him better than anybody, of course. Even though he hadn't discussed too much about his home life with her, she was still logical enough to deduce clues about that very topic.

"Definitely not," Harry said, "Anyway, I told her I can't dance. And she told me… she basically told me she was going to teach me."

"Oh, really?!" Hermione said, beaming; why was she beaming? "You mean, lessons?"

Oh. She was beaming, because he was talking about a lesson. Something he could learn. Of course she'd like that.

"Um… yeah," Harry said, "Over the next couple of Saturday evenings – seven to nine in the evening, in fact."

"Can you invite anybody?" Hermione asked.

Harry cleared his throat. "I'm – um – supposed to invite my date. Probably so I can practice with her, so we can prepare for the Ball. A good idea, I suppose."

"So you're only expected to bring your date," Hermione said; she looked rather disappointed.

Harry suddenly wanted to invite her to go with him along with his date. Maybe she'd help him so he wouldn't make a fool of himself. She certainly helped him during the First Task. But why would she want to help him and another girl dance?

Then he realized… why did he need another girl? Why did he need to waste time searching classroom, corridor, Common Room and Great Hall for a date to the Ball, when the perfect candidate for that position was standing in front of him? Hermione seemed to want to go to the lessons, after all. Why shouldn't he grant her that opportunity in the best way?

"Hermione?" Harry asked; he wondered if all the other Gryffindors suddenly suffered from a complete lack of courage in that moment, because he felt as if he was sapping up all the courage in the castle to ask the question that was on his mind. "Will you go to the Yule Ball with me… as my date?"

He was suddenly nervous. "I mean… you don't have to. You'd have to suffer through dancing lessons over the next couple of weeks, and maybe end up in the Hospital Wing with broken toes. And if you don't want to go as a 'date', precisely, maybe… we could go as friends?"

He was buggering this up, and he knew it. But he couldn't help it, because he was now doubting himself when it came to Hermione. Why would she want to go with him as friends, when she could have an opportunity to go with somebody else – perhaps someone she fancied – as a date?

Hermione didn't say 'yes'. But she didn't say 'no' either. In fact she didn't say anything. She simply stared at him for a long moment. He was about to take back his offer, when Hermione picked up her bag, grabbed his arm and dragged him down the hall, and into an unused classroom that was located several feet from the Transfiguration Classroom. She dropped her bag, set his on the floor, then pushed him up against the wall.

Before he could say anything, like ask her what she was doing, her hands were cupping his cheeks and her lips were on his. Harry stood frozen for a long moment that seemed to last forever, before his brain kicked itself back into motion and he found himself kissing Hermione back. He could not believe it. Hermione Granger, his best friend, his beautiful friend, was kissing him. And he was kissing her! Why was she kissing him of all people? He couldn't understand that. Why him?

The doubting, nervous, pessimistic side of his mind then shut down, and allowed the rest to focus on simply kissing Hermione. Because it was glorious, and it was perfect, and it was his first kiss, and he wasn't going to let anything ruin it.

After what seemed like an eternity, but was somewhere between thirty seconds and a minute, Hermione backed away. The two friends found breathing difficult, and they panted, trying to bring oxygen back into their lungs.

"In case that wasn't plain enough for you, Harry," Hermione said, "My answer is yes. I would love to be your date to the Ball."

"You… you… I…" Harry stammered; that pessimistic part of his mind had rebooted itself, "You kissed me."

"I did," Hermione said, chuckling. "You kissed me back, by the way."

Then she, out of nowhere, abruptly started crying.

"Hermione?!" Harry asked, concerned, "What's wrong?"

"Don't mind me," Hermione sniffled, brushing her hands on her face, and wiping the tears away, "I'm just… really happy you asked me actually. Really relieved too. Same goes for that kiss. That could have turned out completely ugly."

Harry didn't know what to say. "Why are you relieved?"

Well it was a better question than 'Why did you kiss me?'

"When I first realized there was going to be a Ball of some kind this year," Hermione said, "Which was around the time I received my booklist this summer, because it said we were required to bring formal wear. I started fantasizing about the whole thing. I started wondering who I wanted to dance with at the Ball. I figured… okay, I wasn't certain you were going to ask me to the Ball. In fact, I believed you wouldn't even consider asking me.

"At the very most, I was hoping you might dance with me for a dance or two, even if you were going to the Ball with somebody else. I actually didn't think you would ask me. I figured I'd be going with somebody else – don't ask me who, because I don't know. In my fantasy, my date had no face. You and Ron were the only faces, because I figured I'd dance with both of you since you were my friends – I mean, when you weren't dancing with your date anyway."

Hermione sighed. "Let's just say you asking me to the Ball is something I didn't expect."

"Why?" Harry asked.

"Because I knew you fancied Cho Chang," Hermione said, "So I figured you would ask her. If not Cho Chang, then maybe someone like Katie Bell, because she's on the Quidditch team with you. When I thought of her, I thought – okay, Fred and George will pick two of three girls, and the last one might go with Harry!"

"They'd probably fob her off to their friend, Lee, Hermione," Harry said, with a snort.

"That… is a good point," Hermione said. "Anyway, my point is… there are several other girls you could have asked instead of me. "And, well, because of who you are, whoever you asked would probably have said yes."

"Okay, first off, how many of those girls know Harry Potter?" Harry asked, "And how many girls know me as the Boy-Who-Lived?"

Hermione sighed. "The scales are tipped extremely on the side of the Boy-Who-Lived."

"Exactly," Harry said, "the only girl who was on my mind to ask was Cho Chang, that was until I realized she's dating Cedric Diggory. To be honest, if I asked her… I'm not sure I would have had a very good time at the Ball. I barely know her. I liked her because she is pretty."

"A lot of boys like girls because they're pretty, Harry," Hermione said, "I know I'm not…"

"Stop!" Harry said, immediately, before she could say anything else. "Don't say that, Hermione. I think you're beautiful. Gorgeous even."

"Harry," Hermione mumbled.

"I'm sure you'll be the star of the Yule Ball," Harry said. "But that isn't the only reason I asked you. Hermione, you're one of those girls who sees me as 'just Harry'. Frankly you may be one of the very few who does. Most who grew up listening to those false legends of the Boy-Who-Lived certainly don't just see the real me. I'm not sure they want to know the real me. However, there's a big difference between those girls and you.

"Nobody else in this castle has been there for me the way you have. Ron's betrayal last month demoted him to just friend. You're my best friend, Hermione. You've never betrayed me. If anything, I betrayed you during the whole Firebolt thing. You were perfectly right to be suspicious about the broom, even if it turned out to be just fine. It was an anonymous gift, not to mention such a grand gift. And at the time, we thought there was a mass murderer after me. You weren't in the wrong, Hermione. I was. Ron was worse, because he was all pent up over a possession that was mine, and he seemed to think it was his broom.

"I'm getting way off topic here. Hermione, you're the reason I survived the First Task. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you. Frankly, I'm astounded it took me this long to realize exactly what you mean to me."

Hermione sniffled, and a teary-eyed smile formed across her face.

She cleared her throat. "Harry, I've been keeping a secret from you for… well, quite a while. To be honest, if you hadn't asked me to the Ball, I would probably never be able to say this. I… I think I started fancying you after you saved me from the troll. I definitely fancied you the night you protected the Stone from Quirrel. I… I started to fall in love with you, the night we saved Sirius. That… that ride on Buckbeak together. I never felt anything like it. It was so scary up there. You know how I am about heights. But… when I wrapped my arms around you, I forgot all about my fears. It was because of you, Harry. You made me feel safe and secure."

"Hermione, I can't believe I'm about to say this," Harry said, "I don't want you to just be my date to the Yule Ball, Hermione. Will you… maybe… be my girlfriend?"

Hermione beamed. "I want nothing more than to be your girlfriend, Harry. My answer is yes."

Harry had the biggest, goofiest grin on his face. Hermione was his girlfriend! He was Hermione Granger's boyfriend! Hermione giggled at his expression, then kissed him again. Before he could lose himself in her lips again, she backed away.

"However," she said.

"Uh-oh," Harry muttered, "That's almost as bad as 'but'."

Hermione smiled. "I wonder if we should keep it a secret for now."

"You're not having second thoughts, are you?" Harry asked, concerned; he tried to save face. "Am I that bad of a kisser?"

Hermione giggled again. "You're a perfectly good kisser, Harry. I'm not having second thoughts. However… if we announce it, we're not going to get any privacy."

That was a fair point. The problem was… did he want to keep it private? After all, if nobody knew Hermione had a date to the ball, he was sure someone would try to ask her to the Ball!

"I'll make you a deal," Harry said, "We can keep the fact that we're… boyfriend and girlfriend… a couple… to ourselves, for as long as possible. I would value the privacy that would give us as well. However… I will not… in fact, I refuse to keep the fact that you're my date to the Yule Ball a secret. In fact, I'm going to ask you again at lunch. There'll be enough witnesses that the gossip will get around the castle by dinnertime. Otherwise, boys are going to try to ask you to the Yule Ball."

Hermione smiled. "I… yes, that is a good point. In fact, I should have thought of that. Also, don't put yourself down, Harry James. If girls didn't think you had a date, there would probably be girls coming up to you – most of whom have probably never said a word to you before - hoping you'd take them."

"That will probably happen anyway," Harry said, with a snort, "I said it earlier, didn't I? I'm the Boy-Who-Lived, and one of the Champions. They're going to ask me even though I already have a date. Because they think they would be a better date than you are. They would be completely wrong, however. Hermione, no matter how many girls insist they should be my date instead of you, you are the perfect girl for me. The only girl for me. I will tell that to any girl who dares ask me."

It was Hermione's time to smile goofily, which complimented the fact that she no longer had buck teeth.

"Okay, how about this?" she asked, "Until the Yule Ball, we keep the kissing and… snogging… private. Also, no holding hands in public. No public displays of affection until the Yule Ball. If you want, we can have our big public kiss at the Yule Ball. To everyone else, we're simply each other's date to the Yule Ball. Don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled to be your girlfriend. I just want a little privacy between you and I, so we can enjoy ourselves as a couple for a little while, before I'm thrown into the spotlight as the girlfriend of the Boy-Who-Lived!"

Harry smiled at her jest. He knew she didn't see herself as the girlfriend of the Boy-Who-Lived. She was 'just Harry's' girlfriend. She was simply saying what everyone else was going to be thinking of.

"I can see Rita Skeeter jumping in joy at the headlining article right now," Harry deadpanned, deciding a jest would let her understand he knew she was jesting too, "I completely agree with that, Hermione. I would love to try to keep our relationship private, between just the two of us, for as long as possible. Even if that means we have a big 'first kiss' at the Ball."

"Thank you, Harry," Hermione said.

"So, no public kissing and snogging," Harry said, "What is public and what is private?"

"The Gryffindor Common Room is too public," Hermione said. "Um… unused classrooms like this? And… oh, Merlin… I suppose I'll lower my standards to broom closet snogs for the sake of privacy."

Harry snickered. "You definitely don't strike me as someone who would drag me into a broom closet."

Hermione blushed. "I'm sure I could get used to it, for privacy's sake. Um… well, I suppose if we can find a private patch on the Hogwarts grounds if the weather doesn't get too bad, that might also be an option. That will be limited, of course. Before too long, the grounds will likely be covered in feet of snow, as per usual during Scottish winters."

"The covered bridge?" Harry suggested.

"Please, Harry," Hermione said, with a snort, "It's the third most popular snogging spot in the castle."

"How would you know that?" Harry asked.

Hermione blushed. "I've caught my fair share of couples there. Frankly, I consider myself lucky they were doing nothing more than snogging, what with teenage hormones running rampant and all. Relax, Harry. I promise you, aside from a six-year old boy who kissed me on the playground when I was little, you're my very first kiss."

"Six-year old boy?" Harry asked; suddenly wondering why he was so jealous of a little boy – who might now be Hermione's age.

"I think it was a dare from his older brother," Hermione said, still blushing. "He ran off to an older boy, looking so embarrassed after it happened.

"Who was this little boy?" Harry asked, "Is he your age? Did he live in your neighborhood? Does he still live there?"

"Oh, Harry," Hermione said, "You're adorable when you're jealous. I promise you, Harry. It didn't count. He lived nowhere near me. It was on a playground in a park outside my parents' clinic, which is several miles from my home, by the way. I've never seen him again. I wouldn't even recognize him if I did. Why are we talking about this, Harry?"

"Because you remember it enough to compare it to your first kiss!" Harry exclaimed. "Can you even call our first kiss your first kiss?!"

Hermione pecked him on the lips, and looked into his green eyes. "Harry, listen to me, you silly, jealous idiot. I consider you my first kiss. Didn't I say that? It was the perfect first kiss. Maybe, if you stop being a jealous idiot, you just might be the only one to ever kiss me."

"Aside from a six year old boy," Harry grumbled; he winced when she backhanded him across his chest. "Ow! I'm joking. I very much hope I'm the only person to kiss you. I certainly want you to be the only one to kiss me. Fan-girls who don't know the word 'no', notwithstanding. Ow!"

She had backhanded him again.

"I'll hex any girl who dares try to kiss you, Harry Potter!" Hermione growled. "Only I get that honor!"

Harry merely smiled. "Yes, ma'am. What are the first and second most popular snogging spots? The Astronomy Tower, I assume?"

"Yes," Hermione said, "And the library."

"The… library?" Harry asked, "Madame Pince's domain is the second most popular snogging spot in the castle?"

"I know, right?" Hermione said, grinning. "But there are a lot of hidden corners and crannies in the library. They're not meant for snogging though. They're meant for private places to read without interruption."

"Sounds tailor-made for some good snogging spots, actually," Harry said, grinning. "Is that on your list of private locations?"

Hermione playfully glared at him. "Maybe if I feel naughty, and you're a good boy."

"Naughty? Really?" Harry asked, grinning when she blushed. "Does me asking you to the Ball and to be my girlfriend count as me being a good boy?"

"No," Hermione said, "But we can go and find that private patch on the Grounds I mentioned earlier."

"Really?" Harry asked, grinning.

"It is a free period right now," Hermione said, "And we still have an hour until lunch. I have nothing better to do. I certainly don't want to find Ron right now. Especially if he is still going to try to ask me to do his Transfiguration homework."

"I'm going to talk to him about his behavior towards you, Hermione," Harry said.

"You don't need to do that," Hermione said.

"Yes, I do," Harry said. "He's soon going to discover you're my date to the Ball. I'm quite sure we're about to experience a new fit of jealousy and anger from him, probably before the end of the day. A confrontation will come. You're my girlfriend. I know you can take care of yourself, but I have a right to defend you now, more than ever. The inevitable confrontation would be the best time to do it."

Hermione sighed. "Okay, Harry. But be careful. Make sure it is a public confrontation, in the Common Room at the very least. Definitely not your dormitory! And please do your best not to end up in the Hospital Wing, or in detention. Today has become such a wonderful day. I don't want you to ruin it."

"It is a great day for me too, Hermione," Harry said, "I'll do my best not to ruin it. However, if anyone's going to ruin it for us…"

"It will be Ronald," Hermione scowled. "Yes, I can see your point. He does tend to have a remarkable talent with that particular skill, doesn't he?"

"He's better at it than he is at chess," Harry joked, "Which is saying something. He rivals Malfoy when it comes to that talent actually."

Hermione chuckled. "Alright, boyfriend. Let's go and find that private patch."

"Lead the way, girlfriend," Harry said. "You do realize we've been in the same area of the Transfiguration classroom since we left class several minutes ago?"

"We did kind of get lost in conversation, Harry," Hermione said, "At least there was an unused classroom here, so we didn't end up kissing in the middle of a corridor!"

"There is that silver lining," Harry muttered.

Hermione giggled, as she picked up her bag. Wondering where this giggly side of his girlfriend had been hiding over the last few years, Harry picked up his bag as well, and they left the room. Only to find Professor McGonagall walking down the corridor, in their direction, from her classroom. Harry winced when she raised an eyebrow at the two of them.

"And just what were you two doing in an unused classroom?" McGonagall demanded.

"Harry asked me to the Yule Ball, Professor McGonagall," Hermione said, smiling, "He wanted to make sure we had privacy to do so, so he dragged me into the classroom."

"Oh, I dragged you, did I?" Harry asked.

Hermione elbowed Harry, then looked mighty embarrassed at doing such a thing in front of her favorite Professor. Wait… was that a hint of a smile on the Head of Gryffindor House?

"And what was your answer, Miss Granger?" McGonagall asked.

"I said 'yes', Professor," Hermione said, with a bright smile.

"Well, Mr. Potter," McGonagall said, "If you were so good at doing everything I've requested of you over the years, like you did with getting yourself a date so quickly, you might be the top student in your year in my class, instead of Miss Granger here."

"Um… yes, Professor," Harry said, hoping the blush on his cheeks wasn't so prominent.

"Well done, Mr. Potter," McGonagall said, "I'm very happy for the both of you. Have you told her about the dancing lessons?"

"He has," Hermione said, "And we will both be happy to attend, ma'am."

"Then I'll expect you both in my classroom Saturday at seven in the evening," McGonagall said. "Do not be late, even if you have to attend an early dinner so you can be here on time."

"We will be on time, Professor," Hermione promised; Harry simply nodded.

"Good," McGonagall said.

"Professor?" Hermione asked, "Er… could you keep this quiet until lunch at the earliest? Harry's going to publicly ask me then in front of witnesses at lunch, so we won't be swamped with requests to the Ball over the next two weeks."

"I wasn't aware you thought me a gossip, Miss Granger," McGonagall said, raising an eyebrow.

Hermione looked horrified. "You aren't, ma'am. I should not have implied. My apologies."

"Apology accepted, Miss Granger," McGonagall said, "I'll make sure I am in attendance at lunch. I wouldn't want to miss an event like this. Good luck, Mr. Potter. By the way, Mr. Potter, Miss Granger. Next time, perhaps you might think about having such a long and meaningful discussion somewhere better than outside my classroom?"

Harry and Hermione blushed and stammered.

"Yes, ma'am," Hermione said, "We did, admittedly, lose track of time."

"Understandable, Miss Granger," McGonagall said, "I was not eavesdropping on you, I assure you. I was simply aware you were there, because I have certain wards outside my classroom, in order to prevent mischief from certain… trouble-makers who may want to… prank such a location."

Harry grinned. He knew she was talking about Fred and George Weasley.

With a knowing smirk, McGonagall walked by them. "Twenty points for your classwork today, Mr. Potter, Miss Granger."

"You already gave us points, Professor," Harry said.

"Did I?" McGonagall asked. "See you at lunch."

McGonagall walked off down the corridor, and Harry stared at her, trying to figure out what those points were for.

"Did she just give us points for becoming a couple, Hermione?" Harry asked.

"Impossible, Harry," Hermione said, "She doesn't know we're a couple."

Harry nodded. That was a good point.

"She probably gave you twenty points for finding a dance partner for your lessons so quickly however," Hermione said, with a smirk.

Translation: McGonagall very much approved of Harry's choice of date.

Harry could only stare after Hermione as she started off down the corridor. Then he hurried after her. He suddenly discovered there was a certain… appeal… to letting her lead him wherever they traveled. He was so distracted by such an appeal, he nearly missed the first step on the Grand Staircase.

Stop staring at your girlfriend's… assets, Harry, or you're going to fall down the stairs!

And so begins my newest story. Even though the story's title implies this is simply a Yule Ball story, it will probably last at least through the end of fourth year, if not longer.

Next Chapter: Harry publicly asks Hermione to the Ball during lunch. The aftermath and an interesting Defense Class. I almost included the inevitable confrontation between Harry and Ron to be in the second chapter, but it will be at the start of the third chapter. It is hinted at in the second chapter, however.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Before anyone complains to me about posting a new story while I have other works-in-progress, and several incomplete stories. Let me tell you this. I am going to be working on updating Free Use Experience soon, and hope to get a good number of chapters published for that story in the coming weeks and months. As for the other stories, yes, believe me, I know you want me to continue them. I want to continue them. But my muse is entirely unresponsive when it comes to those stories at the moment. I am honestly sorry about that. I hope this prevents anyone asking me in reviews for this story, to update OTHER stories, which is – to be frank - entirely inappropriate.