Disclaimer: I don't own HP or any of these characters. That belongs to JKR, Scholastic Books, Warner Brothers, etc. This is just something to pass the time while waiting for the next book.
Chapter One : Beginnings
"What is the point," asked Hermione Granger, "of bothering to get an education at Hogwarts when you have to enter the marriage market anyway?"
"I thought that you had said you preferred learning how to be a witch than the lessons you would have taken if you had stayed at your parents' house," replied Ginny Weasley.
"I was trying to forget about that. That letter did not come soon enough, I tell you. I had already been subjected to one too many embroidery lessons. I can mix a potion, turn a teapot into a turtle, but I cannot use needle and thread."
"That is good to hear. I was beginning to think you were too perfect!" With that, the two friends' laughter filled the sunny room.
One would be hard pressed to find two witches that could be more different and yet sorted into the same House at Hogwarts than the two currently packing their trunks. Ginny Weasley came from a long line of pureblooded wizards and witches, but her family was dreadfully poor. She had the delicate pale skin of a natural redhead, with a pert nose and large brown eyes. Hermione Granger, on the other hand, was a Muggle-born whose family had money to spare, albeit it was made in trade. Her hair was a rich shade of chocolate, which matched her deep honey-brown eyes. Hermione's parents had not been very pleased with her occupation after Hogwarts, as she had none. It was not for lack of trying on her part, but the only proper jobs to be had for witches were in teaching, and teaching positions rarely opened up. Hermione had been hoping that one of her professors at Hogwarts would retire, or perhaps she could get a recommendation to teach at a foreign institute, such as Beauxbatons. After she had spent over a year unsuccessfully looking for employment, her parents insisted that she follow the standard of the day and find herself a husband.
Entering the marriage market in Muggle London had not been too pleasant a thought for young Miss Granger. Fortunately, she had been able to find an alternative. Ginny Weasley, who had left Hogwarts last year, would have normally been unable to have a season of her own given the state of her family's finances, in spite of the fact that her family was well connected due to Mr. Weasley's job at the Ministry of Magic and the fact they were purebloods. Hermione would be unable to have a season in Wizarding London because of her lack of connections as a Muggle-born witch. It had been a logical compromise. If she had her way about it, Hermione would never have went through the trouble of having a season at all. However, if she had to do so, she could at least help a friend while remaining in the Wizarding world at the same time. Therefore, it had been decided that Miss Granger and Miss Weasley would both have a season, combining their finances and connections.
Hermione was also hoping she would not spend too much time in the city as she did not agree with the goal that her parents had set for her. "I wish I did not have to go through all this trouble," she complained. "It is taking so much time and yet will reap so little reward."
Ginny sighed and turned towards the window. "I am sorry. You would not have to be going through all this trouble if it were not for me."
Hermione paused in her rantings, feeling guilty. "You have no reason to be sorry. I would have to go through this in any case, and I am so grateful to you and your mother that I do not have to have a season in Muggle London. It is bad enough that I am expected to find a husband, but I do not know what I would do if he were a Muggle. I would never be able to do magic again!"
"You do not know that. Surely you are exaggerating the case."
"Not by much. Have you ever read the marriage vows, Ginny? Every other sentence, the woman has to repeat another duty or obligation for her to obey. I suspect that the woman gets all of the trouble and the man all of the benefit in a marriage. If my future husband was a Muggle, I know I would not be able to use magic ever again."
"Not if you kept it from him, and there has been many a witch who has done just that. Still I am thankful that you and your parents have agreed to this arrangement. I would not have wanted to wait around for my brothers to bring an appropriate match home."
"Especially considering your brothers' tastes."
"That is certain. So you see, if I have saved you from an unpleasant marriage, you have done the same for me. We both have reasons to be thankful for this compromise our families have reached."
"It is not that I have problems with spending a season with you or your mother." Hermione walked over to sit on the edge of the bed. "Rather I have problems with the concept of marriage as a whole. To subsume yourself in the identity of a completely different person, one who you may not have known for very long. The very idea scares me."
Shaking her head, Ginny replied, "You will have a whole season in London to find someone you like and begin to know that person better."
"How well can you know a person if you only meet at musicals and balls? There are rules to be followed."
"Now that sounds like the Hermione Granger that I know," Ginny said enthusiastically. "Always showing the greatest respect for rules, unlike the Hermione Granger of the last few minutes."
"That is different. Rules about how many times you can dance with a gentleman at a ball are one thing. However, rules that tell you how to run your life are completely different."
"Do they not do the same thing? Either way they limit your choices."
"It is a difference in scope." Hermione stood up and walked over to her trunk to begin packing again. "It does not matter in the end. We are going to London no matter how much you or I complain. The best we can do is make sure that we are well prepared for it."
"Definitely. Wizarding London will never know what hit it." Following Hermione's lead, Ginny resumed packing her robes as well.
"I doubt that. Tell me, what is our first engagement?"
Ginny raised her eyebrows in mock-alarm. "You are planning your first engagement? For someone who was so set against marriage a few minutes before . . . I have to wonder how you—"
"Ginny!" Hermione shot her a warning look.
"Very well, I will behave myself. Our first official ball will be next week, at the Browns."
"I am sure that it will be excruciatingly dull," Hermione said flatly. "Given my experience with that family."
"Hermione!" Ginny exclaimed in the exact same tone her friend had used earlier. "That is hardly—"
"Polite?" Hermione finished for her with a grin.
Ginny sighed. "And you know it and do not care."
"But it is the truth."
"Yes, but we do not always tell the truth. How many polite lies have you told yourself in the past?"
"Far too many." No longer feeling like packing for a trick she did not particularly want to take, Hermione instead retreated further into the room and settled herself into a chair. She lazily considered picking up the piece of abandoned embroidery on the table beside it, but decided against that. "Sometimes it seems that my entire life has been consumed with all the polite lies I have had to tell in the last couple of years. It is getting very tiring."
"I know, Hermione." Ginny sat down in the chair beside her. "It is hard to keep smiling and to continue to be polite when what you really want to do is punch the smiling bastard in the face."
"I am not even going to ask who are you speaking about," Hermione said wryly. "I do wonder, however, what your brothers would think about that statement."
"Well, I am sure that you will keep wondering as it would be very ill of you to babble that to my brothers." Ginny rolled her eyes. "Who are well-intentioned, but who have a frightening tendency to not think things through."
"Does that not describe the male gender in particular?" Hermione asked. "It is very unfair that we have to get married as soon as we leave Hogwarts—"
"Hardly that soon, considering that you have managed to put off your season until now."
"While our male counterparts are allowed, nay encouraged, to go traveling off in Europe," Hermione finished over Ginny's comment. "Hence, we are set with the task of trying to attract the attention of some gentleman who is over a decade older than ourselves rather than anyone who we happened to go to school with."
"There have been couples who have attended Hogwarts at the same time before," Ginny reminded her.
"I hardly consider it attending Hogwarts at the same time if the gentleman was in his seventh year while the lady was in her first," Hermione remarked.
"That is more than most people have," Ginny replied.
"True, true," Hermione agreed. "So tell me. Is there anything else that we have to do before the season starts?"
"No, there is nothing else we need to do." Ginny smiled winsomely, which tipped Hermione off as to what she was going to say next. "But one can never have too many gowns for a season in London, I have heard."
"You cannot tell me that you do not adore that lovely pink gown that your mother made for you with her own hands."
Ginny winced. "I love Mum, truly I do, but she has no sense of color coordination. There are some colors that should not ever been seen with red hair."
"And pink is one of them," Hermione said emphatically. "Fortunately, your mother was willing to listen to the modiste when it came to your other gowns."
"I find that it was really too little, too late," Ginny said.
"I do not think so. At least there are no orange gowns in your wardrobe." Both girls shuddered. "I do not think that there is anyone who could have made that color look good."
"I quite agree. But alas for me, I have too many pink gowns to begin with!"
"They are all very beautiful."
"Again, I draw attention to the color of my hair," Ginny remonstrated.
"Well, there is only one thing you can do," Hermione said.
"And that is?"
"Find a wizard whose hair color matches with pink," she replied wickedly. "So you can pass on those gowns to your daughters."
"Oh you!" Ginny exclaimed, tossing a pillow at Hermione.
"This calls for revenge," Hermione said, and the girls soon forgot about packing as pillows flew across the room.
As far as Hermione could tell, there was only one advantage in having her season in Wizarding London as opposed to ordinary London.
That was the fact that balls in Wizarding London were much less likely to start a blazing inferno.
Aside from that, a season in one was much the same as a season in the other. People still cared about one's background, even in the Wizarding world. If Hermione had spent her season in Muggle London, she would have been snubbed for having her fortune grounded in trade. Because she was spending her season in Wizarding London, she was being snubbed for being Muggle-born.
Ginny was not faring much better, if at all. Her problem was the lack of a dowry. Hermione thought her friend was one of the loveliest girls to grace the ballrooms of London. Certainly, Ginny looked better in white than Hermione, who often found herself dressing in colors instead after their first ball. However, the lack of a dowry combined with her father's known infatuation with Muggle artifacts scared most potential suitors away from Ginny. Those that did not care about those two items then had to deal with Bill and Charles, Ginny's older brothers, who often escorted the girls to evening events.
The balls were the worst of all. Hermione did not mind the other activities so much. She adored the musicals – well, that is to say, she adored the ones worthy of the name. Listening to them made her wish that she had spent more time at the pianoforte as a child, at least until she remembered how awful she had been at it. Her parents would wince and stay in the room, but Crookshanks would leave as soon as she started to walk over to the instrument. The plays were almost as good. Hermione had loved reading Shakespeare's works when she was younger, and she enjoyed getting to see them performed on stage. If Hermione had her way, they would spend every night enjoying the culture London had to offer rather than whittling their time away at balls. Unfortunately, as she was all too often reminded by the Weasleys, the whole point of a season was to get married. So it was she was spending yet another night decorating the wall of an already extravagantly decorated ballroom.
Hermione sighed softly to herself. No, she did not want to get married. No, she did not want to have to pledge her undying obedience to a wizard she hardly knew. Yet although she did not want to catch the attention of any wizard here, she also did not want to spend night after night watching other girls dance.
She sighed again, this time loud enough to attract the attention of her companion.
"Please don't tell me that you are counting the minutes until we can leave," Ginny whispered.
"You know me too well. I am literally dying of boredom, standing here against the wall all evening."
"I know that you would rather be sitting at home, reading a good book. Anyone who knows you the slighest bit knows that."
"I am getting too predictable. What would you say if I should do something unexpected such as . . . "
"I really cannot think of anything unpredictable that I would like to do." Hermione smiled. "I was going to ask what would you do if I just marched out of here, but I thought the better of it."
"No, that would not be like you because you never forget your manners, Hermione."
"It is not as if that does me much good. You are just as mannerly as I am—and what is more you sigh not half as often as I."
"That is because if I did sigh as much as you, you would soon be forced to take drastic action. I do not want to consider what would happen to me then," Ginny replied, with a teasing smile.
"Oh, it would not be anything too awful, I suppose," said Hermione.
"I am not entirely positive about that."
"In any case, there is not much point to us remaining here, much longer, you must admit to that. I hate to say it, but we have little to attract potential suitors to us." Hermione regretted those words as soon as she said them for the effect they had on her companion. "Oh, I don't mean to say that—"
"It makes no sense to me," Ginny said softly. "I understand why I wouldn't be . . . but you, you're rich—"
"I am not that rich, better to say that I am well-off," Hermione corrected.
"And you have already done so much in your life . . . helping the Order of the Phoenix defeat You-Know-Who and everything . . . I would think people would forget about your origins," Ginny finished.
"I could say the same about you considering who your brother is and moreover, who his best friend is," Hermione quickly responded. "Not to mention the fact that you are truly one of the most beautiful witches here."
Ginny only sighed at the compliment. "I don't suppose you have heard the latest rumor circling the town."
"Which one?" Hermione asked wryly. "I thought that London, both Muggle and Wizarding versions, would wither away and die if there were ever anything less than half a dozen slices of juicy gossip to pass around."
"Can you be any more cynical?" Ginny asked rhetorically.
"Do you really wish to know?"
"No, not really. But what you said reminded me . . . "
"Reminded you of what, Ginny?" Hermione asked. "Don't tease me by starting to say something like that and then stopping. Besides, we have at least another hour before we can politely leave so we might as well gossip the time away."
"We certainly will not dance the time away."
Again, Hermione was stricken with guilt. Ginny was normally a bright and optimistic girl, but she had managed to ruin that for her this evening with one careless remark. She would have to watch what she said more carefully on future occasions.
"Well?" Hermione prodded. "You were going to say . . .?"
"Oh yes. They say that Harry Potter is back in London!"
Hermione raised her eyebrow at her younger companion. She didn't know how Ginny could have been taken in by that one as it had been circulating the Wizarding World ever since Harry Potter had left for the Continent. "I seem to recall having heard that one before," she simply said.
"Yes, yes, I know. But this time, it was reported in the Daily Prophet," Ginny told her.
"Ah. A step up from a scandalsheet then. Not a large step, but still a step," Hermione mused aloud. "What does your brother think of all this?"
"Ron?" Ginny grimaced. "No one has heard from him in weeks. Mother finally wrote to the twins, asking if they had seen him, and well . . . we have yet to hear back from them either."
"I am sure that he will regret not replying once your mother gets a hold of him."
"I am sure that he will regret not replying once I get a hold of him," Ginny sniffed. "And I thought I was his favorite sister!"
"You are, by virtue of being his only sister," Hermione pointed out.
"There! You see. And yet he treats me like this," Ginny said, pouting.
Hermione smiled. It seemed as though her friend's good mood had returned. She wouldn't do anything to disrupt it again, for she knew Ginny had enough problems of her own. Suddenly, a commotion at the door caught her eye.
"I wonder what that is all about," she said quietly to her companion.
"Maybe Harry Potter really is here," Ginny replied insouciantly.
"I doubt that—" Hermione began when she was interrupted by an announcement that Harry Potter, Earl of Gryffindor, had arrived.
"Oh, I guess . . ." Hermione stammered.
"You were wrong," Ginny finished. "Oh! If only Ron were here to see this!"
"Hush you," she said.
Harry Potter had been famous almost since he was born, for his defeat of You-Know-Who when he was merely a babe. He was then lost to the Wizarding world, and Godric's Hollow, the ancestral seat of his family, had been abandoned by all but its house elfs. It had been to the amazement of everyone – well, everyone except old Professor Dumbledore – when he had arrived at Hogwarts at age eleven. It had come to light that he had been living with Muggle relatives, though no one knew why as any family would have been glad to have fostered him. His arrival back in the Wizarding world came none too soon, as he had only defeated You-Know-Who and had not killed him.
Those next seven years were hectic, and Hermione should know as she had been in the same year as he in Gryffindor. Hence, Hermione did know him, especially as her best friend was Ginny, whose brother Ron was his best friend. However, that was not to say that she knew him well. While it was true that she had been Head Girl and he had been Head Boy in their seventh year, they had never spent much time alone. The rules at Hogwarts tended to be quite strict when it came to the co-mingling of witches and wizards. Hence, though Hermione had spoken with him often during her time at Hogwarts, she never had the occasion to spend any meaningful amount of time alone with him. He had defeated You-Know-Who only a few days before the end of his last term at Hogwarts. Once that had ended, he promptly left for the Continent, which only increased the aura of mystery that surrounded him.
"What do you suppose he is here for?" Ginny asked excitedly.
"Considering the way he is craning his neck and looking around, I would imagine he is searching for someone." Hermione shrugged her shoulders. "Probably Miss Chang."
"Oh, I doubt that," Ginny said. "Ron said that he was through with her, and he couldn't blame him."
"Well, someone else then," Hermione said evenly. "Why does it matter so much to you? Do you—"
"No, no," Ginny said, waving her hands. "Not at all. I am well over that. It is merely the only thing exciting that had happened to us all evening."
Hermione sighed. That was true. She hated this. She hated watching wizards come in and looking for witches other than she. It reminded her of how fruitless this exercise was. There was truly no point in staying here any longer . . . except that she had to, otherwise it would reflect badly on the Weasleys. She couldn't do that to them. "Come on," Hermione said. "Let's head over to the refreshments. My throat is quite parched now."
"I cannot imagine why," Ginny said. "I have been talking more than you."
"You have the incredible ability to talk and talk and talk without ever faltering."
"Thank you," Ginny said sarcastically.
"Oh, I am not teasing you, but rather admiring. I wish I could do the same. It would make visits back home so much easier." Upon reaching the refreshments, Hermione summoned up all her will to refrain from sighing the hundredth time that evening. "Bitter lemonade or cold tea. Lovely. You would think that they would be able to improve on that in the Wizarding world."
"That's because hosts expect you to cast your own heating charms, rather than expend their own precious magic," said a voice from behind her. Whirling around, Hermione found that Lord Potter was standing directly behind them.
"Milord," she said, promptly dropping a curtsey. When Ginny did not do the same, she discreetly elbowed her friend. "I do not suppose you have news of Miss Weasley's brother?" she asked.
"Ron?" His brow furrowed. "The last I saw him, he was making his way through France, determined to drink each province dry."
Ginny groaned and buried her face in her hands.
"Oh, that will reassure your mother, though," Hermione said, patting her friend on the back consolingly. "At least he is not in any sort of danger."
"Not immediately," Lord Potter agreed with a grin. "Though if he continues at the same pace, he will wind up having to move on to beers, instead of wines." Smiling, he turned to Hermione. "May I have the honor of this dance?" he asked politely.
If she had been any less drilled in the rules of society, her jaw would have dropped, and she would have stood there mutely for several minutes out of shock. However, Hermione knew what was expected in such situations, so she merely nodded and took his hand.
As he led her to the dance floor, Hermione could here him muttering a spell under his breath. She recognized the charm as one to ensure the privacy of a conversation. She swallowed back a protest. While it was certainly not customary to use such a charm during a dance, she supposed the he needed to use them to ensure his privacy. Hermione knew that without it, every word of their conversation, no matter how banal, would wind up in the Daily Prophet tomorrow.
Hermione remained silent as the music began. As she had complained to Ginny, too often she found herself in situations where she did not know what to say. It was not because she was shy; certainly, she had no qualms about giving perfect strangers advice. Rather, it was that she had never truly mastered the art of small talk. They danced in complete silence, and Hermione was surprised when he did not relinquish her afterwards and instead held on to her hand, waiting for the music to start again.
"I must admit I was surprised when I heard that you were to be having a season in London," he finally said, breaking the silence a minute into their second set. "That did not much sound like you."
She inclined her head in a nod. "That is true. Unfortunately, professors at Hogwarts do not retire as quickly as I would like them too."
His laughter then filled the air. "I imagine any Gryffindor would agree with you there, Miss Granger," he said. "But then, I would have preferred anyone but Snape as a professor."
Hermione's lips twitched as she repressed a grin. "I have no doubt of that," she said. "If I may ask, why ever did you decide to come back to England in the first place?"
"I have a few arrangements to take care of here," he replied secretively.
"And that is all you will divulge?" she asked.
"For now," he replied.
"Ah. 'Tis such a pity. I would have been in demand everywhere if I knew the reason why you came."
"Forgive me," he said with a smile. "So how are you enjoying your season?" he inquired.
"I find it to be much as I expected," she answered truthfully. "I was must say, however, that I was not aware that my agreeing to a season was announced anywhere."
"I would not know, as I never bothered with reading the Prophet while abroad," Lord Potter told her. "But Ron heard that his sister was to have a season, by reason of your families combining their resources, and let me tell you, he complained mightily about it."
"He does not trust his older brothers to watch out for her?" Hermione asked with a small smile.
"He does not."
"If that is the case, then why does he not come home?" she pondered aloud.
"I think that is because he fears what Mrs. Weasley would do to him, especially if she ever found out about his activities on the Continent," he replied.
Hermione laughed softly. That much was very true. "I would imagine that she would not ever let him out of the Burrow again," she said.
"You do? I had thought that he would never be allowed to leave his room again." At that, they both broke out into laughter. A comfortable silence fell upon them after that, one that her partner did not feel inclined to break.
Hermione was puzzled again when he stayed by her side after their second dance had ended. It was not proper etiquette for a lady to dance more than twice with any gentleman she was not married or engaged to. At the same time, given the discrepancies in their social standings, she could not very well refuse to dance again unless she had good reason.
That third dance was very uncomfortable. It was not because her partner was clumsy enough to tread on her feet. If anything, the opposite was true. What made Hermione uncomfortable was the way he continued to stare at her, even though nothing was being said. She felt like asking if there was something wrong with her face, but desisted, thinking that it was far more likely that he was lost in thought about something else. Finally, the dance ended, much to her relief.
Once again, he did not relinquish her hand. This time, though, Hermione had the perfect excuse.
"I am afraid I do not know how to waltz," she said, as she gently tugged her hand away from his and started to walk off to the sides.
"You do not?" he asked, following.
"No, I do not." She turned to him, a brilliant smile on her face. "And you are far too kind, sir, to subject me to public mockery of my inadequate dancing."
"I . .. yes, I suppose so," he muttered. "If that is the case, shall we head towards the refreshments? I must apologize for being so rude as not to offer sooner, given that you were there when I first found you."
"No apology is needed," she said. "I was not too enamored with any of the beverages." As they walked across the room, Hermione could feel everyone staring at her. If she had thought it was bad having her partner look constantly at her during their dance, this was a hundred times worse. Securing a cup of tea, she looked about furtively. "There are too many people here," she said, mostly to herself. "I must get some fresh air."
"Then let me escort you to the balcony," Lord Potter offered.
Again, she could not refuse. "Thank you sir," she accepted politely.
"Please don't mention it," he replied. "And I do believe I have told you to call me 'Harry.' During the first Prefects' meeting we headed, if I am not mistaken."
"Yes, you did, sir," she agreed. Her partner merely sighed as they walked out on to the balcony.
Breaking from her escort, she rushed over to the rail and took in great breaths of air. She hadn't realized how stuffy the room had been until she had left. Placing her tea on the railing, she peered out at the city below.
"It is so beautiful," she remarked.
"It is," said her partner, standing right beside her. She jumped, startled that he had managed to get so close to her without noticing. "Are you all right?" he asked solicitously.
"I am fine. I was merely . . . startled," she replied. "I did not hear you move."
"I've learned to tread quietly over the years," he noted.
"I see," she said, turning back around to face the city again. Hermione did not know why, but she was flushing, despite chill of the night surrounding her.
"I . .. I suppose . . ." her partner stammered from behind her.
"Is there something?" she asked, turning around once again to face him. "Are you feeling ill?" Boldly, she reached out one gloved hand to lay on his cheek. Even through the silk she could feel that he was warm, warmer than her. She pulled back her hand, but he quickly clasped it between his, as if it were a charm to grant him courage.
"Will you give me the honor of your hand in marriage?" he asked.
Once again, she would have stood there mutely if not for all the manners and rules of polite society drilled into her. Once again, she thoughtlessly answered, as she knew she should answer.
"Yes," she said.
Author's note: This seems to be a good place to stop. I hope you enjoyed reading this. I'd muchly appreciate it if you could leave a review to let me know what you think. Thanks. ^_^