Chapter 5

The Yule Ball: Part II

A/N: I'm so sorry about the… er… seven-month gap between updates. I doubt any of you were waiting with bated breath for the next chapter, as you all know exactly how it's going to end, but I hope that I've made this story worth reading. This is the last chapter. The story's finally completed. I'd like to thank everyone for reading this story and following it from start to finish. You don't know how much I appreciate every review I get, and even though I imagine that many of you read my stories and don't review, that's okay. I hope you enjoy it anyway. This has been so much fun to write.

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Ginny wondered if she was having hearing problems. "Sorry?"

Michael smiled at her, an adorably lopsided grin. "Would you like to dance?"

Thoughts raced through Ginny's mind. Neville… Harry… dancing… Michael… did he really just ask me to dance? Her cheeks were uncomfortably warm. Michael was still kneeling, smiling at her and waiting for an answer.

"Pumpkin juice," Neville announced as he stopped beside Ginny to hand her a goblet. He glanced half-curiously, half-warily at Michael.

"Thanks, Neville." Ginny took the goblet and swallowed an enormous mouthful of iced pumpkin juice. In a split second, she had made up her mind. "Neville, would you mind if I dance with Michael for a bit?"

Neville glanced from Ginny to Michael, the tiniest hint of a frown creasing his forehead. "Sure. I mean, I don't mind."

"Thank you."

Michael, beaming, took Ginny's hand and led her onto the dance floor. Soft, lilting music echoed throughout the hall. Carefully, she wound her fingers around his neck. Then, feeling suddenly like the movement was too intimate for someone she didn't even know, she unwound her fingers and awkwardly placed her hands on his shoulders.

"I—I haven't told you my name yet, have I?" she said haltingly. "I'm Ginny. Ginny Weasley."

"I know."

"Oh." Ginny cleared her throat and tried to think of something else to say.

Silence suffocated her. She usually wasn't this bad at conversing. She could almost always find something interesting or clever to say, and a nice, long conversation would follow… except when she attempted to talk to Harry, but that was beside the point.

"You look… really pretty," Michael said suddenly.

Ginny started and blushed. "Oh. Thank you. Do you really think so?"

"Yeah, I do. I guess I wouldn't say so if I don't think so."

"Good point."

The music faded, and a new and very quick song struck up. Michael grinned at Ginny, removing his hands from her waist and grabbing her hand.

"Do you like to dance?" he said.

"Yes," Ginny said honestly, "but I'm not very good at it."

Brushing her comment aside, he pulled her close and dipped her dramatically. Ginny felt the blood rush to her head and laughed as he pulled her back up. He smiled at her and began a complicated sort of dance that complemented the rhythm of the music, and Ginny, not knowing the steps, tried to improvise. Michael raised his arm over her head and twirled her, and as the music went on, Ginny found with some surprise that she was having fun.

The last notes of the music blared, and the two walked off the dance floor, hand in hand. Ginny was panting slightly, and her hair fell into her face incessantly no matter how many times she tried to brush it back. Laughing, Michael tucked the unruly strand of hair behind her ears and she felt herself blush. It was a good thing, really, that her cheeks were already pink from dancing.

"You're a good dancer," she told him.

"You are too." They reached a table, and Michael pulled the chair out for her.

"Liar," she said lightly as she sat. "You're just saying that."

"No, I'm not."

"Fine. I can only be a good dancer when you're leading."

"Fair enough."

"So," Ginny said, feeling a lot more at ease now that they actually seemed to be having a proper conversation. "I assume you're a Ravenclaw."

"I am," Michael affirmed. "Do I look like one?"

Ginny pondered this question for a moment as she looked at him. "Sort of. But you don't act like one. I used to think that all Ravenclaws were studious and boring."

Michael's eyes twinkled. "Do you think I'm studious and boring?"

Ginny smiled. "I wouldn't know yet, but from the way you can dance, I don't think so." She scooted in her chair and leaned forward. "And you're a… fourth year."

"Fifth," Michael corrected.

"Oh! Sorry." She watched his face to see if he was offended, and since he didn't look particularly so, she continued. "Maybe, then, if you want, you can help in Potions. If you want. I'm failing that class."

"Everyone's failing that class except for the Slytherins. I don't think I'd do much good if I were to help you."

She laughed. "That's true. Snape is just so… oh, I don't know, evil. Do you think that greasy git ever washes his hair?"

Michael laughed as well. "You know, I've been wondering about that for a while, too. Last week, I heard that…"

They spent the next fifteen minutes happily bashing Snape and exchanging cruel but amusing anecdotes concerning him. Ginny nearly cried with laughter when Michael did a particularly accurate imitation of Snape pacing around the room, peering into every student's cauldron.

The first notes of another slow song hung in the air. Michael turned to Ginny, smiling. "Would you like to dance?"

She beamed and let him take her hand and lead her onto the dance floor. As they danced, her eyes wandered toward all of her fellow students, some who looked to be having the time of their lives, and others who seemed bored beyond belief. Her eyes fell on Neville, who was sitting alone, looking at her, his expression unreadable. She immediately felt guilty for deserting him and resolved to dance with him again at the expense of her toes.

Michael obviously caught sight of Neville as well. "Aren't you glad I rescued you?" he said teasingly. "What was a pretty girl like you doing with the likes of him, anyway?"

She immediately removed her hands from his shoulders and glared at him, anger surging through her veins. "'The likes of him' happens to be my friend! I can't believe you'd be so quick to judge him—you don't even know him!" Furious, she turned and walked toward Neville as fast as she possibly could.

"Wait—Ginny!" Michael followed her hurriedly, pushing students aside to catch up. "I didn't mean it that way! It was supposed to be a compliment!"

"A compliment? That's a great way to compliment a girl, by insulting her friends while you're at it!" She walked faster, but Michael had already caught up to her. He placed his hand on her shoulder to restrain her, but she slapped it away angrily. "Go away, Michael."

He looked at her and finally seemed to realize that the way her eyes were flashing meant that she was going to hex him without further ado. Without another word, he turned around and walked away.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Ginny made her way toward Neville and plopped unceremoniously into the chair next to him. "Hey," she said apologetically.

Neville looked toward the crowd on the dance floor. "What happened to your friend?"

"My friend happened to be a complete jerk. I don't think I'd be talking to him again any time soon." She sighed and smiled tiredly at Neville. "So how have you been doing?"

"Oh, all right, I guess." He gestured toward a goblet near his elbow. "Pumpkin juice?"

"Yes, please." She took the goblet and sipped the juice slowly, savoring it.

The rest of the evening passed pleasantly enough. Ginny and Neville talked, and she found him to be every bit as nice as she always thought he was. They found Harry and Ron and conversed for a few minutes with the two, and Ginny was quite pleased when she managed not to embarrass herself. They danced once, and it was much better than before; Neville only trod on her feet nine times. When midnight approached, they stood up and began to walk back to the Common Room together.

"Thank you, Ginny, for coming with me," Neville said as they walked. "I had a good time."

"I did, too," Ginny said honestly. "And thank you, Neville, for asking me. It was really nice talking to you. You're a very special person." She smiled warmly at him. He blushed and mumbled something incomprehensible.

They reached the portrait hole. Neville said the password, "fairy lights," and they were just about to go in when Ginny heard heavy footsteps behind them and turned around. Michael was running toward her, face flushed, hair disheveled.

Neville looked uncertainly at Ginny. Ginny gave an exasperated sigh. "You can go, Neville. I'll just deal with him for a few minutes. I'll be there in a minute."

"Are you sure you're going to be okay?"

"Yes." She smiled. "I can take care of myself."

"I know." Neville climbed into the portrait hole, and it sealed once more.

"Ginny," Michael said breathlessly when he finally reached her. "Look, about what I said—I'm really, really sorry."

Ginny gazed at him coolly. "No one insults my friends and gets away with it. Sorry just isn't going to cut it."

"I know. I'm sorry. I mean, I am sorry, but—" He raked his hand through his hair, looking incredibly flustered. "Can you just hear me out?"

Ginny crossed her arms and continued to look at him. "Fine."

He took a deep breath. "Look, Ginny. I'm just—I'm just sorry, okay? I don't know what came over me that time. I really didn't mean to say that, and I certainly didn't mean for it to come out sounding like that. I truly didn't intend to insult your friend."

Ginny maintained her unsympathetic stare, but she could feel herself softening. "My friend's name is Neville, and he's one of the nicest people I know," she said, as coldly as possible.

"Okay," he said. "I'll remember that. But Ginny, seriously—do you think you can forgive me? Please? I know I've been an idiot, but please. Can't you give me another chance?"

Ginny hesitated.

"Look," Michael said, almost desperately. "Maybe we can start over. Pretend we haven't met. Tomorrow, at breakfast, I'll come over to you and introduce myself, and maybe you can forget what I've done wrong and try to get to know me again."

Her self-resolve collapsed. He looked so pitiful, standing there, and he truly looked like he was sorry. "Oh, all right, then."

Michael broke into a smile. "Thank you."

They stood looking at each other for an awkward moment.

"I've got to go," Michael said at last. "Good night, Ginny."

"Good night, Michael." She watched him as he disappeared down the long corridor. When he was completely out of sight, she climbed through the portrait hole and went up to her own dormitory.

She lay for a long time on her bed, eyes wide open, gazing at the ceiling, thinking and reflecting.

It had been an eventful evening, and everything that led up to it was equally important. She smiled when she thought of the beginning of her friendship with Hermione, and her strengthened friendship with Neville, both of which she was sure were going to last a long, long time. She even managed a small laugh when she thought about her failed attempts at asking Harry to the ball.

In the end, it didn't matter that she didn't go with Harry. In fact, it was better that she didn't. If she had gone with Harry, she would not have gotten the chance to find out what a wonderful person Neville was, and she probably would not have met Michael. She smiled when she thought about Michael, about his charming ways and his sincere apology.

It had been a journey, she realized. A journey of disillusionment, of self-discovery, and of maturation. It wasn't all easy, but it was all worth it.

As she drifted off toward sleep, she saw Harry's face in her mind. His lambent green eyes sparkled at her, and his mouth curved upward into a beautiful, heartbreaking smile. For the first time, she didn't order himself to clear these ridiculous images from her mind. She was content to lie there, her eyes closed, imagining and dreaming, that someday, maybe… maybe they could…

She fell asleep before she finished that thought.


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