A/N: Props to my beta reader, PirateQueen, for the rockin' awesome Britpicking and for eliminating the rogue apostrophes that always lurk in my itses.

Most Charming Smile

By Hazelle

Chapter Four: Lavender's Example

Both the plots they cultivated in Hogsmeade blossomed before their eyes over the next weeks. Romilda's humble little idea was spreading like wildfire. She was accosted daily by girls eager to nominate Harry for the Most Charming Smile award. Audrey wrote multiple letters to a few well-placed relatives, including her cousin Ruby. Halimeda began to reproduce informational fliers to give to all their new contacts. Erin, still struggling after her high-profile break up, offered her enthusiasm to the cause (which was good enough for the rest of them, considering).

Audrey's ploy to to boost Erin's self-confidence also seemed to have done its job. She was considerably more cheerful, and only a few days after giving Marcus the boot, bounded up to them grinning with a half-mad gleam in her eyes.

"Marcus just asked me to Professor Slughorn's party!" Erin cried, clapping her hands and leaping up and down.

Romilda wished she knew a good charm for preventing a person from doing very, very stupid things. Though, from the sounds of it, such a charm would not be very effective on Erin O'Brien.

"Marcus asked you to Sluggy's party?" asked Audrey, astounded.

"Please tell me you turned him down," Romilda said, closing her eyes, praying for patience. "You turned him down. Right, Erin?"

Erin made an impatient noise. "No!"

"No like you said no, or no like. . . you said yes?" asked Halimeda.

"I said yes!" Erin said, perturbed. Then a look of comprehension came over her, and she giggled. "Not Marcus Dyakov, if that's what you're thinking! Marcus Belby." She said it as though it were obvious.

Romilda let out a deep breath and rubbed her temples. Audrey covered her eyes with her hands and began to count to ten under her breath. Erin beamed. "Well, I love Marcus Belby. I'm so flattered he asked me, I've always thought he was good looking, and he's so funny," she said, sighing. "I love buying dress robes!"

Romilda made a face. So what if Erin was going to Slughorn's party? It really was not that big of a deal. Slughorn's party was probably going to be very lame, anyway, from what she heard.

When Audrey had arrived at their last Club meeting, she had thrown herself in a desk and made a great show of looking put upon. "Sluggy's throwing a Christmas party," she had said, wrinkling her nose. "I've only just escaped from his office."

"A Christmas party?" Romilda had been instantly jealous. Slughorn seemed to appreciate her potions aptitude, but not enough to invite her into the folds of his Slug Club. "You mean like the Yule Ball?"

"Not really. Just a party for old and new members of the Slug Club," Audrey had explained. "I think if I have to spend another evening with those swotty intellectuals and social climbers, I might implode." She had sighed laboriously. "It's like a cheap wine version of Father's business dinners."

Romilda had agreed at once— better that Audrey not go. But now. . .

"We should go robe shopping together!" Audrey was exclaiming. Romilda looked around, hoping she had heard wrong. "I'm sure there will be a Hogsmeade trip before Christmas, especially since the last one was cut short. If not, I'll just ask Sluggy for permission, he wouldn't dare turn me down."

Romilda lead the way to dinner, growing ever bitter as Erin squealed with delight and Audrey indulged her. Halimeda wandered along at her own pace, unperturbed and smiling. Every so often she would stop and offer a flier to a select girl and then jog to catch up with Romilda again. Nothing ever bothered Halimeda.

When they reached the Great Hall, Romilda waved unenthusiastically at the other three and sat down at Gryffindor table, alone. It was a little early for dinner, but Romilda did not feel much like socializing. Instead, she pulled out Witch Weekly and pretended to read the news section. She couldn't rid herself of the image of Audrey and Erin cuddled up in some bathroom, giggling and doing their hair and nails. Harry Potter would probably be at the party, too.

The death toll for an attack in such-and-such town had reached eight. That was the only thing Romilda could actually remember from her reading, which was rather sad as she had been rereading the same line over and over again without realizing. The news was so boring.

The sound of wood scraping over stone gave Romilda an excuse to abandon the news. A couple of third years had plunked themselves down across from her and were looking expectant. Romilda forced a sugary smile and focused on the alpha girl— a certain Jenna Pokeby— who had been trying to elbow her way into the Witch Weekly campaign all week.

"Hi, Romilda," Jenna said brightly. "Have you heard back anything from Witch Weekly yet?" It seemed like an innocuous question, but Romilda knew better.

She continued to smile and shrugged ambiguously. Something about Jenna had always repelled Romilda. She was a bit like Audrey— she knew how to manipulate her peers—but she was far less subtle than Audrey and far more annoying. "I'll announce it to everyone when I feel like I have something to share," she said tartly, each word lined with passive distaste.

Jenna didn't miss a beat. Romilda thought she saw her eyes flash, though perhaps they were just shining with enthusiasm. "That's great," she chirped, as though Romilda had answered the question. "You're the best, Romilda." Jenna and her friends stood and wandered away down the table to sit elsewhere. Romilda rolled her eyes and returned to her news. She had never liked the third years. They were all incredibly small and dim.

Romilda had only finished reading the first line (annoyingly enough, the same line she had already read several times) when someone else filled the space that Jenna Pokeby and co. had deserted. It was Lavender Brown, accompanied as usual by Parvati Patil. Romilda was astounded by her own good fortune.

"Hi, Romilda," Lavender said breathlessly. She was running her fingers through her hair and glancing anxiously at the doors. Parvati barely seemed to notice Romilda was there, but Parvati was hardly the main attraction.

"Hi," Romilda responded, equally breathless. She looked around to see if anyone noticed that Lavender and Parvati had just sat down next to her.

"Did you see the Quidditch team in here?" Lavender asked, looking up and down the table.

"Quidditch?" Romilda's heart sped up as it always did at the mention of the word Quidditch, which she now associated so closely with Harry Potter that she found herself responding to it as though "Quidditch" was a synonym for his name.

"Yes. I'm looking for— Lavender paused at a sharp elbow jab from Parvati, "—I'm looking for the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Sometimes they eat dinner before they go to practice."

Romilda narrowed her eyes, careful to keep them thoughtful looking instead of wary. This was suspicious behavior, coming from Lavender. Why did she want to find the Quidditch team? Who was she looking for? A sudden fear gripped Romilda— Lavender Brown was after Harry Potter.

"No, they haven't been here," she said steadily, fiercely hoping that they had been. The last thing in the world that she wanted was someone like Lavender Brown catching Harry's eye. She found herself feeling very threatened and used all of a sudden. Lavender was probably going to hang around until the Quidditch team showed up; hopefully they had already come in for an early dinner. She wished that Lavender and Harry would never run into each other again. Ever.

In the ensuing silence, a small amount of food appeared on the table before them. Parvati reached for a serving utensil. Romilda watched Lavender carefully as Lavender strained to keep her eye on the doors.

"Oh well," said Lavender at last. "Let's come back later," she suggested to Parvati. "I'm not that hungry."

Parvati looked up from a mouthful of casserole. "You said you were starving."

"Did I?" Lavender continued to gaze at the door.

"Yes, you said you wanted to eat early because you were starving," Parvati quipped, waving her fork threateningly. "I wasn't hungry before, but now I'm already eating so you better try this casserole."

Seeming to snap back to reality, Lavender pulled the dish towards herself with a note of reluctance. "Right."

Romilda said nothing. She wasn't sure what to say— the only thing she really wanted to talk about was Harry. Lavender and Harry. What had been said, what had been done, and how long had this attraction been growing between them. Or maybe the attraction had always been there. Romilda wanted to know everything. How could she have missed such an obvious, obvious pairing?

"So are you looking forward to the Quidditch game tomorrow, Romilda?" Lavender asked.

Romilda was startled to find that she was still a figure in this conversation. The older girls had seemed to tune her out the second she revealed her lack of information. "Er," she began, then cleared her throat awkwardly. Who was she trying to fool? There was no way she would ever be able to compete with beautiful, popular Lavender Brown. "Yes. Quidditch will be fun."

"Are you a Quidditch fan?"

Why is she even bothering? Romilda wondered, but answered with an overly cheery "Yep" that sounded childish and lame to her own ears.

"Oh, that's right. I remember," said Lavender kindly. "You tried out for the team this year, didn't you?"

"That's right," Romilda said, trying to regain her confidence. She had to stand her ground, regardless of Lavender's relationship with Harry.

Lavender smiled. "Did you ever find that mature, normal boy you were lacking back in October?"

Romilda wanted to retort with "Did YOU find him?" but settled instead for a simple shrug-and-head-shake. Her shock was wearing off, and it was no time for hotheaded and suspiciously resentful comebacks.

"They are out there," Lavender assured her. "You just need to—" She stopped mid-sentence, dropping her fork with a loud clatter. "Is that—?"

Romilda turned toward the door, expecting to see Harry but he was nowhere to be seen. Parvati snickered. "False alarm, Lav," she said, patting Lavender's arm sympathetically. "He's at practice, I doubt he'll be coming to dinner."

Lavender slumped, a guilty, embarrassed smile on her face. "I feel silly," she said, wiggling and tugging at her earrings. "He's kind of cute when he's angry, isn't he."

Romilda winced. He was cute when angry. He got all passionate and protective when challenged— but just because Lavender appreciated it also didn't actually make her any more suited to Harry than anyone else. Parvati made a sound like "tch!" and took another bite of food.

"And he and Hermione are fighting more than usual," Lavender whispered excitedly, loud enough for both Parvati and Romilda to hear. "I wasn't quite sure before, but now I'm positive."

Again, Romilda couldn't help wondering why she was suddenly privy to the gossip and woes of Lavender Brown. It felt like some kind of test— how much could she take before she lost it completely? She could see now that it was Lavender who held all the right cards: she had more opportunities, closer contact, self-observed gossip and probably an equal determination. Lavender was basically rubbing it in. Super.

Not feeling remotely hungry, Romilda suffered through another ten minutes of Lavender and Parvati. Normally, Romilda would've been delighted to just listen to them talk, but she was far too flustered to enjoy herself. It came as a great relief when Audrey appeared behind her.

"See you tomorrow," Romilda said, as nicely as she could manage. Lavender and Parvati paused long enough to flash her identical, generic smiles and continued to talk together.

"Were you sitting with them?" asked Audrey interestedly, peering over Romilda's shoulder as Romilda shuttled her out of the Great Hall. "You didn't have to leave because of me. What were you talking about?"

"Nothing," Romilda said dryly. "She was just looking for Harry Potter. I think they might be dating."

Audrey looked scandalized. "No! I've never seen them together!"

"Maybe you just weren't looking in the right places," said Romilda, exasperatedly. "Lavender seemed very secretive about it."

"Well I just wanted to let you know that Erin and Halimeda flipped coins," Audrey called as Romilda began to climb the stairs. "Erin is going to sit with me and Halimeda is going to sit with you."


Audrey rolled her eyes. "Quidditch?" she reminded. "You know, that game that occasionally pits our houses against each other? Harry Potter plays it. Surely you follow Quidditch."

Romilda pursed her lips. One of the traditions of their friendship was for the two girls whose houses weren't playing to flip a Sickle to see which house they would support. That way, everyone had someone on her side, no one sat alone, and their group didn't begin to rift. Romilda had been known to sit on the Slytherin side of the stadium, and often put up with Audrey's sarcastic cheers and half-hearted banner waving when she sat with Romilda in the Gryffindor section.

"I'm going back to dinner," Audrey continued, turning to leave. "I just wanted to let you know that we already took care of the toss." Or, more likely than not, she just wanted to let Romilda know that Erin had decided she wanted to sit with Audrey so that they could discuss the party.

Romilda stormed back up to Gryffindor Tower, intending to hide in her room until she heard Ginny and Demelza return from their practice. She flipped violently through her magazine pile, searching in vain for a quiz or a questionnaire she hadn't already marked up. She knew there was a Young and Magical somewhere that she hadn't taken a quill to, but unable to find it, Romilda returned to the Witch Weekly news section. Boring and depressing as it was, she needed something to keep her awake until she was sure that Quidditch practice was over and Harry Potter had returned to the common room.

When she awoke, however, it was not to the sound of Ginny and Demelza's feet on the stairs but to the sound of a whole stampede of feet heading down the stairs. Someone had closed the curtains around her bed, but the fuzzy candlelight that normally filtered through them had been replaced by the white glow of morning. Confused and irritated, Romilda unstuck Witch Weekly from her face and sat up.

"Damn it!" she exclaimed. The match was in ten minutes. She had fallen asleep in her robes, she was starving, and she wanted badly to brush her teeth.

Romilda struggled into a new set of robes, one-handedly drawing her long hair up into something she hoped resembled a ponytail. She had intended to do something a little more elaborate and festive— something eye catching, like red and gold ribbons and clips— but there was no time now. In a singular movement, she grabbed her wand, a Gryffindor scarf that she hoped was her own, and a pack of someone else's gum.

In her great panic, Romilda moved quickly enough through the common room that she might have been able to fly out of the portrait hole. Unfortunately, Halimeda was standing just on the other side of the wall, pestering the Fat Lady. With a shriek, Romilda landed right on top of her friend, knocking them both to the floor.

"Let's go!" Halimeda cried, without so much as a greeting, question or complaint. "I can't believe you weren't at breakfast— Audrey said that Lavender Brown told you that Hermione Granger and Harry Potter are fighting, and it's totally true."

Romilda scrambled up from the floor, chasing a small tub of lip balm that was rolling away on its side. "It's true?" she echoed, a warm and excited feeling beginning to spread out from her stomach, which was immediately quashed when she remembered that Harry was dating Lavender now. "I don't think Hermione Granger was an issue," she confessed.

"No, she definitely stormed away from Harry during breakfast," Halimeda argued. Romilda compulsively added a layer of gloss to her lips, mulling this over. It hardly mattered— there wasn't much of a point in Harry-Seeking if Lavender had him in her grips. Not unless she— that is to say, the four of them— resorted to some kind of sabotage.

"I'm not above sabotage," Romilda heard herself say. Halimeda didn't hear however, as she was now leading the race to the Quidditch pitch. Jogging along down the stairs and out across the lawn, Romilda smiled in a dark, musing sort of way, wondering what kind of mischief could possibly lasso Harry Potter, or bring Lavender Brown down.

She was still lost in thought as they climbed the bleachers, avoiding the pointed ends of flags and banners and trying to find a friendly face to sit by. The crowd of students suddenly roared to life, applauding and shouting, as the Slytherin and Gryffindor Quidditch teams flew on to the pitch; they had arrived just in time for the start of the game, but not in time to find decent seats.

Hoping that they might be able to spot Romilda's Gryffindor friends from higher up, Halimeda led the way towards the top of the stands. Romilda realized with an unpleasant jolt that Loony Lovegood was sitting in one of the back rows with that huge lion hat of hers. Just as she made a move to direct Halimeda elsewhere, a hand came out of nowhere and caught the sleeve of her robes.

It was Lavender Brown.

"Romilda!" she exclaimed, then turned away to address Parvati Patil on her other side. "Romilda will be excited and girly with me!"

"I am excited," Parvati objected. "But I want to watch the match!" She whistled loudly and waved a Gryffindor flag energetically, scarcely acknowledging Romilda and Halimeda.

"Here, sit with us," Lavender yelled over the noise as Slytherin took the Quaffle. Halimeda seemed very pleased to be invited to sit with Lavender and Parvati, but Romilda was a little confused (and still suspicious). She didn't complain, however, when Lavender made space for them in her row.

The new commentator, whose voice was not nearly as dreamy as Lee Jordan's, cut over the din, "Oh, and here comes Slytherin's first attempt on the goal, it's Urquhart streaking down the pitch and--"

"GO RON!" Lavender shrieked, her cheeks flushed and excited, clapping her hands loudly.

"—Weasley saves it, well, he's bound to get lucky sometimes, I suppose," the commentator finished, sounding slightly disappointed.

"Stupid Zacharias," Lavender said angrily. "Never date Zacharias Smith," she advised, looking very seriously at Romilda. "Not that you should ever have that problem. He has no taste in anything."

Romilda grinned. A compliment? Was she being buttered up for something? "Are you my new relationship guru?" she asked with an uneasy chuckle.

Lavender laughed, then nearly fell off the bench as Ron Weasley saved another goal. "If you want me to be!" she said, prodding Romilda with her mini Gryffindor banner. "I suppose I just feel for you, that's all. You are stuck with Ritchie Coote in your year."

Startled, Romilda looked to Halimeda, eyebrows raised. Halimeda looked just as perplexed as she felt, which was a good indication that Lavender had actually said what Romilda thought she had said. She was flattered at first, but as usual, the feeling was dampened when she remembered that Harry was taken. She wasn't sure she wanted advice from Lavender, of all people.

Though, arguably, Lavender's advice might be more valuable than anyone else's in the whole school. She had won Harry's heart—potentially, she could teach Romilda to do the same.

A great cheer rose up from the Gryffindor seats, drowning out Lavender's next words. Zacharias's voice echoed annoyingly through the stadium, "Gryffindor takes the Quaffle, it's Ginny Weasley— formerly a Seeker during last year's shaky season, though apparently Potter had no problem offering her a new position—and Weasley scores."

"WHAT?" Romilda shouted to Lavender, cupping her hands around her ears.

"I said, I think the best advice I've ever received was to JUST—GO—FOR—IT," Lavender shouted back amidst more screams of approval. Ginny Weasley had just scored another ten points. Lavender scooted down the bench, a little closer to Romilda. "I wish someone would've just told me to go after the boy when I was in fourth year," she said.

"Ah," Romilda said, finding herself in the unusual position of having no idea how to respond. She watched the rest of the match in near silence, occasionally rearing up with the rest of the crowd in celebration as more points were scored, more goals were blocked, most Bludgers were deterred, and finally, as Harry caught the Snitch. Ginny Weasley acted on behalf of all of Gryffindor by demolishing Zacharias's podium with her broom. It was so glorious that Romilda forgot to be awkward around Lavender.

Lavender was either very kind or very oblivious; if she noticed Romilda's tension, she didn't let on. She didn't seem to suspect foul play, which was fortunate as Romilda had spent the whole match contemplating her next move.

"Now, we party," Lavender said, hopping down from the bench. "See you girls around!" With Parvati behind her, Lavender edged off through the crowd.

"Are you off to celebrate?" Halimeda asked. "That was very strange. We just watched Quidditch with Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil. I think I can count the number of words I said on one finger."

"Don't stress about it," Romilda sighed. "It's probably better to let Lavender do all the talking."

"Maybe she thinks you're a good listener," Halimeda joked.

"Maybe," Romilda said. "I'm going to go to the common room party, but first I'm going to go have fun with Audrey."

Audrey and Erin were passing along the bottom of the benches. Romilda leaped down them, ignoring Professor Vector's insistence that Romilda use the aisles only. Erin waved, but Audrey was typically trying to avoid eye contact, pretending that she hadn't seen Romilda coming.

"That was a fabulous game, Brockman, a fabulous game!" Romilda cried gallantly. "Your house was a most worthy opponent, but alas, the Lion still reigns in the jungle of life, Quidditch, and Harry Potter!"

Audrey's expression was cool. She looked like she wanted to say something sour and scathing, so Romilda prepared herself to fire back. Instead, Audrey shrugged imperceptibly with a tart smile. "That's what you get with Quidditch, I suppose," she said.

Romilda snickered.

"Quidditch is very passé these days," Audrey said dismissively. "It's not what it used to be."

"Yeah, right!" scoffed Romilda. "Like you have anything to compare it to!"

Still refusing to go for the bait, Audrey rolled her eyes. "Well there is Quodpot," she sneered. "But then, you don't subscribe to Cosmic, so you probably have no idea what a real athlete looks like."

"You don't subscribe to Cosmic, either!" Romilda accused, narrowing her eyes. "And no one watches Quodpot!"

"That's because no one around here has any culture anymore!" Audrey accused. She stalked away, Erin hovering apologetically in her shadow, making a painfully awkward face.

"Audrey doesn't read Cosmic," Romilda said. "Her mother would never let her read that trash."

"Right," said Halimeda quickly. "Er. . . Well. . . You have fun celebrating. I'm going to--" And she sidled away without finishing her sentence.

Back at the Gryffindor common room, Seamus Finnegan was fixing the victory banner to the wall and trying to reanimate the lion that Dean Thomas had drawn on it ages ago. A seventh year boy was cool-charming a small army of Butterbeers that must have been carried upstairs by all the house elves in the school, and Stephanie Cauldwell was busy emptying bags of crisps into large bowls.

Harry hadn't arrived yet, so Romilda dashed upstairs to check out the face situation. She twirled her hair furiously around her wand, trying to get it to fan out just a little at the bottom (a handy trick she picked up from Witch Weekly that drew attention away from the chin and mouth). As she pushed her new dangling earrings into her ears and went for another swipe of peach lip gloss, there was a quick knock at the door. Then Lavender Brown walked in, her face flushed and her eyes shining.

"Hello," Romilda stammered.

"Romilda— I'm going for it. Right now," Lavender said, grinning excitedly. "Come down with me? Parvati is stalling."

Fear gripped Romilda's insides. "Going for it?" she gulped.

Lavender nodded wildly, wrapping her long blond hair around her finger anxiously. "Please please please come with me?"

Romilda took a steadying breath, her thoughts racing jealously. There wasn't really any way that she could refuse and remain on good terms with Lavender. You might learn something useful—be patient! she chided herself.

"I've been talking about doing this for months, practically," Lavender said, leading the way down to the common room. "I'm tired of talk."

"I can imagine," Romilda said truthfully.

Lavender giggled. "You shouldn't have to imagine, Romilda. You're darling."


At the bottom of the stairs, Romilda took a quick census. Most of the Quidditch team had returned, but not the Oh-So-Charming Captain Potter—thankfully. Romilda hoped he would never show up. Perhaps he had broken his leg on the way up, and was laying, brave and pained, in the Hospital Wing, awaiting a kind hand to smooth back his hair and spoon Skele-Gro into his mouth and erase all memory of the terrible taste with sweet kisses--!

"How's my hair?" Lavender asked, interrupting a beautiful train of thought that nearly caused Romilda to go weak in the knees. "Okay, here I go. I'll show you exactly how this is done."

Slightly confused, Romilda watched as Lavender squared her shoulders, flicked back her hair, and tugged down the front of her robes ever so slightly so that you could see the quick glitter of her necklace charm. "Learn by example!" she declared breathlessly, and glided confidently across the room to—

"Ron Weasley?" Romilda said out loud, as if hearing it would actually make her believe her eyes.

Though Romilda couldn't hear the words exchanged, Lavender giggled at whatever Ron said and pushed him back gently with her hand spread on his chest. The next thing anyone knew (and half of Gryffindor was watching) Ron had covered her hand with his own, Lavender was gazing coquettishly at him, and they were somehow attached at the lips (or, Romilda thought, attached at the everything).

Ron Weasley, indeed. Romilda shook her head at herself. How silly! All of that fuss over Lavender's crush on Ron Weasley.

"Did you see that?" asked Kate Tarleton, sounding astonished. "Lavender Brown just jumped Ron Weasley in front of everyone!"

"I wish I had that courage," Isotta Ingham said, sipping her Butterbeer and carefully averting her eyes from Ron and Lavender. "Oh my God, it's Harry Potter!"

Romilda whirled. It wasn't that she had forgotten about him, but seeing him again so suddenly without any Lavender worries hanging over her head was exhilarating. It was like seeing him for the first time. She was grateful that he wasn't crippled in the castle somewhere, but it closed the door on her picturesque Hospital Wing daydream. Romilda knew in her heart of hearts that it was time to handle things Lavender-style. "Learn by example!" she'd said.

"Who wants to be Harry Potter's date to the Christmas party?" she said loudly, attracting all the girls within earshot. Romilda felt as if she was channeling all of the energy in the world and able to dip into the deepest wells of bravery in Gryffindor. She was ready to come out of her shell and take her future into her own hands. It was like the other girls weren't even there, but they moved forward as one until they stood right in front of Harry, who looked from face to face perplexedly before centering in on Romilda.

"Hi, Harry!" she said cheerfully and was pleased to find that there was no trace of shyness in her voice. "What are you up to?"

"Er. . ." He looked around at the party, which was now in full swing. "You know. Just celebrating."

All the girls giggled nervously. It wasn't really a joke, but something about the way he said things was just so funny. It was like he thought he was stating the obvious.

"It's a fun party, isn't it?" Romilda replied, keeping her Witch Weekly advice in mind ("Carefully balance your words with your body language: Wizards respond more quickly to the latter, which you can use to emphasize what you are actually saying."). She lightly emphasized the word "party" and did not break eye contact with his lovely green eyes.

"Well, it was a fun match," Harry answered, and Romilda giggled again, slightly annoyed when she heard the rest of her roommates giggling in unison, too.

"It must be so cool, getting to go all sorts of parties," gushed Romilda. "You're practically the only reason we get to have parties in this House! Hey" —The perfect opportunity had inserted itself right into Romilda's monologue— "you're going to Professor Slughorn's Christmas party, aren't you, Harry?" Romilda gave herself an inward pat on the back for being quite a bit more subtle than Audrey could ever hope to be.

"Hiya, Harry!" someone called, before Harry was able to respond to Romilda's hint.

"Hi, Colin," Harry said. Romilda gritted her teeth, for that nearly imperceptible glint of interest had gone out of Harry's voice. Stupid Creeveys. They were possibly too nerdy to look at, and certainly too lame to talk to Harry Potter, but that never seemed to stop them from popping up right in people's lines of sight (especially Harry's).

"That was the coolest catch, Harry!" Creevey rambled pointlessly. "It looked like Harper had it, but then you were right there, and BAM! it was over, just like that!"

Harry smiled in a strained way, and looked around the Creevey brothers uncomfortably. Yes, he was way out of their league, and he knew it, thank Merlin. Romilda mirrored his annoyed smile, and rolled her eyes at the back of the smaller Creevey, who had stepped in front of her like she wasn't even there.

"I'm going to get a Butterbeer," Harry said, and he hurried off.

Romilda had been about to follow him, but the army of girls swallowed her up in a sea of squeals and disbelief. "Where did he go?" Romilda cried, fighting her way out of the tangle and looking around wildly.

Hermione Granger brushed her shoulder, and apologized vaguely without looking back. Romilda watched her exit through the portrait hole, a great sense of victory rising in her chest that reached its peak for just a moment when Romilda turned to find Harry Potter making a beeline for her.

A million happy images flitted through her head. "Harry! I just wanted to tell you—"

"Er, 'scuse me," Harry said quickly, and instead of inviting her to the Christmas party, or kissing her, or asking if she'd like to take a walk around the lake, he walked right around her and followed Hermione out the portrait hole.

Before she was even able to register what had happened, there was another collective "ah!" from the gaggle of girls, who began to chatter at once and offer a maelstrom of unwanted sympathy and advice.

"Not quick enough, Romilda!"

"Maybe next time."

"Poor Romilda!"

"That Hermione is some competition, alright!"

"I guess he's still not over Granger."

"What can you do? Witch Weekly is never wrong about celebrity affairs."

And then her victory deflated and a hard, sinking feeling overtook Romilda.