Notes: This story was inspired by a lovely manipulation done by Ginger001.
"Your hair's coming down, Granger."
Startled half out of her wits, Hermione (who'd just stalked off from Ron's insults) jerked around to stare.
It was Cedric Diggory. And he knew her name? Somehow, she hadn't expected him to know her name. But what kind of comment was that? Not exactly complimentary, and she might have thought he was making fun of her -- except he wasn't. The expression on his face was full of amusement, but not the cruel kind.
He was, she realized, making a joke. Diggory made jokes? But it wasn't as if she really had any idea what kind of person he was. All she knew about Cedric Diggory (aside from the fact he was ungodly tall and handsome) was that half the school wanted to go out with him, another quarter wanted to BE him -- and the remaining quarter hated his guts -- just because. Perfect boys always inspired jealousy.
Yet there was something there, some humor in the eyes, some light, that suggested the ivory image might be rather far from the boy himself.
"You're an impertinent git," she replied, but in the same tone, and grinning.
"Why, thank you." And he performed a ridiculous little bow.
She broke up laughing.
"Where's Cho?" she asked him when he'd straightened.
Still smiling, he thumbed over his shoulder. "Toilet. I think. I really have no idea. Some of her friends dragged her off and they were all giggling madly about something. I couldn't make out most of what they said. Tell me, is there some contract that girls have to sign before birth, 'I will only go to powder my nose in company'?"
She giggled again, unable to help it. "No, there's not. They've probably gone to gossip."
"Ah. I feared it might be something like that." He had his hands in his pockets. "So where's Krum?"
"He went to fetch us something to drink."
Turning a little, he nodded back out towards the dance floor -- and Harry and Ron sitting on the edge of it. "I heard what Weasley said a moment ago."
And her good humor fled. "He's so stupid."
Cedric appeared thoughtful. "You know -- did you ever consider that maybe he's jealous because he wanted to ask you, but Krum beat him to the punch?"
"Ask me?" Was Cedric trying to cheer her up? "Actually, he did ask me. It started out something like, 'Hermione, you're a girl,'" she repeated sarcastically. "And went downhill from there. Part of his invitation included 'For a girl to go to the ball alone is just sad.'"
Cedric stared a moment. "He tried to ask you out like that?" Then it was his turn to break up laughing. "Somebody needs lessons."
She shrugged, still angry despite his amusement. "I think it was more an act of desperation."
He sobered. "Maybe not." She just stared at him, and he looked down, then went on. "Sometimes boys aren't sure how to ask out the girl they really like, you know. So they say stupid things. If you act like it doesn't really matter, it won't be such a blow if she turns you down."
And Hermione had honestly never thought of it that way. She wondered if that's how he'd felt, asking out Cho? But it seemed hard to believe that Cedric Diggory would be nervous about asking out anyone.
He was looking off now towards the table with drinks. "I think your date was waylaid."
She twisted to look. Viktor -- carrying their drinks -- had been pulled aside by Karkaroff, who was whispering to him urgently. Hermione wondered what that was about. Viktor shot her an almost desperate look, but Karkaroff was pulling him away behind an ice sculpture. Viktor shrugged at her apologetically, and followed Karkaroff.
"Might be a bit before you get that punch," Cedric remarked. His face was thoughtful and Hermione wondered what he was considering.
"I suppose," she said, hands behind her back. But she had no desire to go back and talk to Harry or Ron. Cedric was looking around, as if checking to see where Cho might be. His own hands were still in his pockets and he had a lock of hair falling over his forehead, which bore a sheen from sweat. He'd been dancing hard earlier, and had ditched the robe, but now he had it back on. He looked . . . very handsome. But then, he always did.
Abruptly, he turned back to her. "I think we've both been stood up -- at least for the moment. Care to dance, Granger?"
It was said lightly and he'd cocked his elbow out in her direction. All off the cuff. Nothing serious.
She was reminded of what he'd just said about boys not always knowing how to frame a question right. And while she had no illusions that Cedric was particularly shy about asking her she thought he might be feeling about as silly as she was, standing around waiting for an absentee date.
So she tilted her head, and replied, "You sure you want to be seen dancing with a girl whose hair is falling down?"
"Absolutely. If you don't mind dancing with a fellow whose tie won't stay straight."
And she smiled -- because it was true. His bowtie was lopsided. Feeling impetuous, she reached up to straighten it. "That's better," she said, with a nod. He just grinned back.
Slipping her hand into the crook of his elbow, she let him lead her to the floor, then turn her to face him. His hand on her waist was light and his palm was warm. Just before he stepped off, he bent in to say, "Actually, I was teasing about the hair. You look very lovely tonight, Hermione."
"And you look very handsome, Cedric."
So they danced.
It was, she thought later, the most fun she'd had all that night, because neither was expecting anything of the other. So they could laugh -- even when he stepped on her feet. Maybe especially when he stepped on her feet.
Later, at his funeral, she remembered his teasing, and his warm hands, and his lopsided tie. And his advice about boys not always knowing how to ask out the girl they liked. Cedric Diggory was worth remembering not because he'd been perfect -- but because he'd been kind.