A different Yule

The song was reaching its end and Hermione was reaching her limit. For the last ten minutes, Viktor was constantly stepping on her feet. He didn't even seem aware of this. Well, those boots he was wearing didn't help making him more sensitive, while her… She couldn't honestly call them shoes, really. What she was wearing was more like glorified sandals with heals, although they looked very nice, before he started stepping on them, that is.

"I don't feel so well. Maybe I should sit down," she said.

Viktor looked alarmed. "You're not ill, are you?"

He put his hand on her forehead for a moment. "No fever. Vhat is it?"

She had to think fast. "I probably ate something that didn't agree with me. It all seemed so interesting, you know." Her tone turned hesitant. "Besides, I'm approaching that time of the month…" She didn't like lying, and using that feminine excuse was kind of… cheap, but her feet couldn't tolerate another dance with Viktor.

"Da, I understand. My mother also suffers each month. Vhy don't you sit down and I'll bring you something to drink?"

She knew he was a gentleman, despite his faults.

He tried to change his hold on her for walking towards the side tables, where those not dancing could sit. She stumbled and almost fell. Those damn heels and her poor feet, she cursed silently. Viktor was quick to hold her upright.

"Maybe I escort you to your dorms?" he suggested.

"Thank you, Viktor, but no. I think I'll just sit with my friends and rest. They can escort me back to the dorms, or even to the hospital wing, if I feel too bad." She wanted to get rid of him as fast as she could, but she didn't want to hurt or offend him. He really tried and it was kind of sweet. She couldn't blame him for being clumsy and dull. Those boots were not appropriate for dancing such dances, especially not with her wearing those delicate shoes that gave no protection at all. And he had really tried to be nice to her, to keep her interest with stories about his Quidditch experience. Some other girls might have been fascinated, but Hermione only found interest in the game if Harry was playing. Viktor also thought that talking about the fashion in the different countries he had visited would interest her. He couldn't know that she was just as uninterested in that.

She could barely walk, but he supported her and helped her to where Ron and Harry were sitting. She sighed with relief when she could finally let her feet rest, ignoring Ron's venomous expression and Harry's questioning one. Viktor made sure she sat comfortably and then asked, "Vhat do you vant to drink?"

She had to keep the pretense. "Just plain water, please. I fear anything else would make it worse."

He bowed slightly, as if accepting a command. "Da! I'll bring you vater."

Despite her two male friends looking at her with some questions in their eyes, Hermione just closed her eyes for a moment and tried to put some order in her thoughts. For a second she even wondered why she accepted to be Viktor's date for the ball.

Well, that was simple, really. With Harry as oblivious as always, she thought that dating someone else for that event could make him more attentive to the fact that she was a girl, a young woman, not just his pal who happened to sleep in another dorm. Besides, she couldn't wait for the last moment to get a date, and since none of the boys in her year seemed interested, she had to look elsewhere. When Viktor showed interest, it was very flattering. When he talked to her and told her that his girlfriend couldn't join him and he only needed her as strictly a date for the ball, he seemed even more attractive, since it promised no long-term obligations. She couldn't believe he'd turn such a clumsy dancer and such dull company.

In retrospect, it was a mistake to accept his invitation. She should have taken the initiative and asked Harry. He would have never refused her, she was sure. Besides, with her unavailable, he asked Parvati, and that was… worrying. She didn't think she was any competition for the exotic beauty when it came to looks. She could probably beat her at any academic challenge, though. And to make it worse, Ron came with Padma, her twin, who was not only beautiful but also very smart. That simply wasn't fair!

She had no time to think any more. Viktor returned with a glass of water and a pitcher, which he put on the table. "Drink this. It vill help you feel better," he said, giving her the glass.

She really felt thirsty. She drank it and smiled thankfully at Viktor. He didn't seem to notice. It looked like his mind was elsewhere. "Do you vant me to stay vith you?" he finally asked.

She tried to hide her relief at no longer dancing with him, no longer having his boots step all over her feet. "It's nice of you to offer, but I feel safe now, with my closest friends. You can go and enjoy yourself for the rest of the evening."

He looked at her, as if trying to make sure that she meant it, and then turned and scanned the Great Hall, where people were dancing, chatting and enjoying themselves. "No. I did all vhat I vas expected to do this evening. I can go back to my dorm."

Viktor turned back to her. "Goodnight, Her-mi-o-nee. Stay safe and feel vell." He didn't expect a reply. He just waved at all those nearby, said "Goodnight," again and left at a quick pace.

Hermione took a few more sips of water and put the glass down. She could no longer ignore her friends. Harry looked really worried of her and Ron… well, he was Ron.

"He's a much worse dancer than you," she told Harry, making a hesitant smile appear on his lips. "I should have reinforced my shoes the way I did for Parvati. Where is she, actually?"

Harry looked around and pointed to the dance floor, where she could see Parvati dancing with one of the Beauxbatons boys. "She got tired of waiting for me to dance, after that first one, and I tried to make Ron see reason. He couldn't accept that you 'fraternized with the enemy,' as he called it."

She shook her head in disgust. "You should have left him alone and danced with your date. It's impolite to let her go that way, you know."

Harry shrugged. "I didn't think it would take so long to change his mind. Besides, she didn't really enjoy dancing with me either. She's better off dancing with that boy."

Hermione grimaced when she tried to move her feet. Harry noticed. "Would you like me to massage your feet? I'm no expert at that, but I heard some girls say that they could use one after a dance."

Hermione smiled. It was so like Harry to care for her well being. "I'd appreciate it," she said, enjoying the smile that appeared on his face.

Harry sat on the floor in front of her and took off her heels. He then took one foot in his hand and caressed a few times before starting to exert some pressure at selected points. It hurt a bit, at first, but it soon turned very relaxing. Harry repeated the treatment on the second foot. She felt that if he did it for a bit longer she would turn so relaxed that she would fall asleep on the spot.

"That should be enough," she said after a bit. Now that she had his undivided attention, she wasn't going to let it slip.

Harry smiled at her and put her shoes back on. "How do you feel now?" he asked.

She wiggled her feet a bit. "My feet no longer hurt and I feel more relaxed than I thought possible when not falling asleep. I feel kind of invigorated, really." She then smiled mischievously. "I think I'm ready to try dancing again, after I reinforce my shoes, that is."

Harry laughed shortly. "Then, milady, will you do me the honor of dancing with me?"

Her smile widened. "Of course, milord, and the honor is mine."

It was nothing like dancing with Viktor. Harry was much more attentive of where his feet went and tried his best to be a good partner. She enjoyed dancing in his arms and enjoyed talking to him during the dance. It all felt so natural and so much fun that she barely noticed the time.

Their dance was interrupted twice.

The first time, it was Daphne Greengrass. Harry looked completely surprised when she asked to have a dance with him, but Hermione knew the cause and felt quite worried.

She and Daphne were taking Ancient Runes together and had developed a kind of hesitant friendship. Daphne seemed very interested in hearing about Harry and Hermione eventually asked, "Why are you so interested in Potter? He's the Gryffindor 'golden boy' while you're…"

"Slytherin's Ice Queen – do you think I didn't hear about that?" Daphne stopped her. "Well, since Harry is my betrothed, isn't it normal for me to show some interest in him?"

"Your… betrothed? Isn't it like a fiancé? Does he know? Hermione felt completely confused.

Daphne sighed. "My parents and his were quite friendly. Since I was born only three weeks after him, our parents thought we could become a nice couple. His parents only wanted us to get to know each other and become friends, and that could hopefully lead to more serious relationship later in life. My parents were more conservative. They wanted it to be a betrothal, although they made it very easy to break, with only token penalties. It was more for the show, really, since they have many friends and family who are very conservative."

"Then, you don't really have to marry him," Hermione said, hoping she was right.

"As long as the contract holds, I have to, although I may decide to walk out of it, and so may he, but I found no reason to do it until now, although I can't say I know him well enough. Being sorted to rival houses is not conductive to that, and some of my house mates could become really nasty if they knew."

Hermione hoped it would stay that way until they finished Hogwarts. By then, so she hoped, Harry would be hers alone and the contract would mean nothing.

Even with no betrothal, Daphne was one of the most beautiful girls at school. Hermione felt out of her league in comparison, and Daphne was also quite smart. Still, Daphne only kept Harry for one dance. Both seemed relieved when it was over.

"You can keep him," Daphne whispered to her before going away. "He needs to learn quite a bit before I can consider him again."

Harry was also not delighted at all. "She may be beautiful, but she'd too cold and too critical of everything. I could barely tolerate her to the end of the dance."

Hermione didn't comment. She knew that Daphne could be warm and funny at times, but if she chose not to show that aspect to Harry, it was still Daphne's choice, not hers.

Hermione's relief after returning to Harry's arms lasted only a few dances, though. They were then interrupted again.

This time, it was Fleur Delacour, the French champion, who wanted to dance with the youngest one and apologize for her initial comments of "leetle boy". Hermione felt a bit apprehensive at seeing this perfectly attractive young woman take her Harry. She had no illusions about how attractive she was and that French idol could easily snatch any of the boys or men.

She was glad that Harry returned to her as soon as that song ended. He just opened his arms and she stepped in and they resumed dancing as if never interrupted. "She's quite nice when she lets her shields down," Harry told her. "I also sensed that she's lonely. You could become friends, I think."

"Why? Do you want to keep her near?" she half teased, not quite sure of herself.

He shrugged. "She's nice to look at, I admit, but why should I want her when I have you as my best friend?"

Damn! He was still seeing her just as a friend, or was he? He said he didn't want Fleur. Did that mean that he wanted her, the less attractive brunette? Why was this so confusing?!

"Am I just your best friend?" she asked, trying not to sound desperate.

Harry stood still for a moment, scratching his head with one hand, messing even farther his adorable mess of hair. "I'm not sure. I know you're my best and closest friend, but I think that word is not close enough to the way we are. Do you feel the same?"

Now, this seemed to finally go in the right direction. "I also feel much closer than just a friend. I feel like I need us to stay close for the rest of our lives."

He looked surprised. "You too?" He quickly controlled himself. "Does it mean that you want us to get married?"

She wasn't sure if he was glad about it or dreaded the idea. Maybe both. Young teen boys were not expected to see marriage as something desirable, as far as she knew.

"I don't know. Certainly not in the near future, you know. We're still too young for that." She thought she saw some relief in his face. "But if you like, we could date." Would he take the bait?

"Aren't we already?" What did he mean by that? Harry continued talking, not letting her dwell on that. "I mean, I feel like we're getting closer since the first year, since that Troll incident. We've not dated officially, but weren't we courting each other since? You make sure that I'm doing well in my studies and care for me in many more ways, and I try to protect you and help you in any way I can. Isn't that a kind of dating too?"

It was too much to absorb all at once. She moved slightly, to indicate that she wanted to continue dancing. Harry understood immediately. She could always count on him to understand her even without talking. Didn't that mean something? Then why was it all so confusing?

It took her some time to process all that he said and all that she knew he thought but didn't say. She wondered vaguely at the back of her mind how she knew it, but that was of no immediate importance. The important thing was that Harry wanted to date her. Well, he was dating her already, in a way. She wasn't sure how to proceed. She could answer his question, though.

"It looks like we've been really dating in some ways. Don't you like to make it official?" It might not go well with Ron, but after the way he'd been since Halloween, she no longer considered him a good friend. Barely a friend at all.

She lifted her eyes just in time to see Harry smile at her. "Then, Miss Granger, would you like to officially date me from now on?"

"I'd like it very much, Mr. Potter. Don't you think we should celebrate this with a kiss?"

She didn't wait for a reply. She lifted her face to his and felt his lips touch hers. They didn't feel like making a scene in public, so they kept it simple and short, barely more than a quick brushing of their lips, but Hermione knew. She now had Harry as her boyfriend and possibly, if all went well, as her life mate.