A/N: For some reason updates have been coming quicker to me on this story then they have been on Heirs (though I am working on one right now.) Not that I'm going to complain, mind you. One does not ignore the muse when she had taken up residence in your minds eye.

In this chapter we'll have Rita's article and the ramifications of that. The beginnings of the Yule Ball and a few more changes to canon. And Ron discovers that words, once said, have a consequence. Molly will also rear her impudent nose into the fray.

Again, I remind you, super!Ginny doesn't exist in my world.

/ - / - / - /

Harry awoke the next day and was happy to be released from the care of Madame Pomfrey. He had to remember that he had only been nearly impaled by a dragon just a few days earlier, a fact that the lingering soreness in his ribs reminded him of if he moved too fast or twisted the wrong way. He half suspected that Madame Pomfrey intentionally left some degree of soreness there, so as to try and deter future visits to her hospital wing.

Not that it ever worked with Harry of course…but nonetheless…

Harry strolled out of the hospital wing, intent on surprising Hermione in the Great Hall for breakfast. He frowned internally, but still smiled nonetheless when he was intercepted by his girlfriend en route. Hermione rushed up to him and hugged him, making certain to reign in on the usual bone crushing intensity of her embraces in light of his injuries. Harry returned the embrace, and before long the two of them had swung into a side passage and were kissing each other several times over. After a minute or so of a heated exchange, the both of them stood in each other's company, breathing heavily.

"If that's my welcome back present," Harry quipped, "I'll have to get hurt more often." Hermione tried to look affronted at the suggestion, but the smile on her face ruined the illusion.

"You'll do no such thing Harry James Potter," she replied. Harry smiled back and kissed her again. Hermione broke away. "As much as I'd like to continue this," she said, blushing slightly, "We'd better get to breakfast and class." Harry nodded his head and the two of them walked towards the Great Hall, hands intertwined.

The moment they entered the Great Hall, Harry noticed two things immediately. There were no Potter stinks buttons anywhere that he could see, and the collective female populace of the school was glaring straight at Hermione. Harry arched an eyebrow and squeezed Hermione's hand as the two of them walked to their usual spot at the Gryffindor table. Both of them noticed Ron stand up from the table and walk out of the Great Hall, throwing his copy of the Daily Prophet onto the table. Harry and Hermione both sat down across from Ginny, who looked at them apprehensively.

"You might want to read that Harry," she said quietly, afraid to assume anything at the moment. Harry took the paper and turned to the front page, seeing a picture of himself and Hermione emerging from the Gryffindor common room. His eyes went wide at the headline and story.

CHAMPIONS ENSNARED! Vying for more than golden egg!

By Rita Skeeter

It is bad enough that the Boy-Who-Lived, after everything he has been through in his young life, has become a suspect entrant in the dangerous Triwizard Tournament. But now, sad is it may be to report, it appears that young Mr. Potter may be experiencing the tragedy of young heartbreak.

Recently Harry has been seen in the romantic company of one Hermione Granger, a 4th year muggleborn witch at Hogwarts. It is well documented that Miss Granger and Mr. Potter have been friends for some time, but now it appears that this money-grubbing charlatan has decided on more than friendship.

This reporter has learned that she has been using love potions, including possibly the forbidden "Amors Mortis" to ensnare Mr. Potter's heart. What's worse is that she has also been seen in the company of one Viktor Krum, the Durmstrang champion.

"She's always been a real flirt," says Hogwarts student Pansy Parkinson. "She just wants to ride on people's coattails to overcome her own shortcomings. It's sickening and demeaning when you think about it."

Amidst all of these are also allegations of grade tampering and preferential treatment due to Miss Granger's friendship with Mr. Potter. This reporter tried to obtain an interview with Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, but was rudely turned away.

I hope, as do we all at the Daily Prophet, that the Boy-Who-Lived can escape this scarlet woman's trap.

Harry felt rage boiling up inside of his gut as he read the article. Hermione gasped behind his shoulder, and Harry quickly pulled her next to him and draped his arm over her shoulders. Harry shot a look at Professor Dumbledore who was sitting there. Dumbledore nodded his head towards Harry, who quickly led Hermione out of the Great Hall, any lingering anger being quelled for the moment.

They reconstituted themselves in the Room of Requirement, there usual setting for simply talking away from prying ears in the Gryffindor common room. "You know that paper is a load of rubbish…" Harry said calmly as he held Hermione in his arms. "I know that paper is rubbish…"

"It's not just that," Hermione explained as she controlled her tears. "It's everyone. Not just the paper…but those people that believe it. And more than that…it's Ron. I just want to…"

"I know," Harry replied in a cold voice. He shook his head and tried to keep his temper in check. "Look, I know of a way we can deal with the Prophet."

"How," Hermione sniffed in a questioning tone.

"It's time I used my bloody fame for something good for a change. I'm going straight to Dumbledore and telling him to owl the Prophet, forcing a retraction, or I'll ask him to seek a solicitor on our behalf. If threats don't work, then I'll sue the Prophet for everything their worth and then we'll see how long Miss Skeeter has a job."

Hermione smiled sadly before grabbing Harry's hand. "Harry, you shouldn't take revenge out on someone because of me. I admit something needs to be done…but we shouldn't make a scene out of it…"

"Yes we should 'Mione," Harry argued back. "We shouldn't just let them trounce all over us." He paused for a moment before adding, "And don't think you're not worth the trouble. You thought I was worth the trouble…so let me help you now."

Hermione smiled again and hugged him deeply, still taking care to watch his ribs. "What about Ron?" she asked quietly.

"Maybe he'll come around," Harry shrugged. "He doesn't really concern me anyway. After what he said…he's burned more than a few bridges…"

/ - / - / - /

Harry was never more glad that his schedule virtually mirrored Hermione's. Any would be detractors, hecklers or other n'er do wells were quickly subverted by a glare from Harry. Hermione felt slightly vulnerable from Harry playing the protective boyfriend, but that didn't mean she wasn't going to enjoy it for a while.

They each sat at the Gryffindor table eating lunch and reading from their respective books, Harry brushing up on something from arithmancy while Hermione was working on transfiguration. Harry heard an incoming hoot coming from above and turned to see a rather familiar bird zooming in for a landing. He quickly cleared away the food and books surrounding Hermione and he before Errol crash landed onto the table in front of them. The ancient bird dropped its letter and quickly departed, causing Harry to raise an eyebrow at the behavior. Normally Errol would hang around for some food or something.

"What did Errol deliver to you?" Ginny asked, lifting her head over to see. Hermione's eyes went wide as she laid sight on a Howler that was addressed to her. Ginny paled, while Harry simply looked on stunned. Hermione brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes and stared at the flaming letter.

"You'd better open it," Ginny urged, as the rest of the Gryffindors around them, the ones that weren't openly ignoring Hermione at the moment. Hermione nodded and slowly opened the letter, which quickly took on a life of its own and began screaming at Hermione.


The howler never got a chance to finish. It let out a bloodcurdling scream and was quickly consumed by a large burst of flame as Harry pointed his wand at it and destroyed it wordlessly. Hermione stared at Harry as if he'd grown a second head, and everyone quickly took a step back away from him when they saw the glint in his emerald eyes.

"Someone's not getting a Christmas card this year," Harry remarked off-handedly, though the scowl was readily apparent on his face. He quickly pocketed his wand and looked with concern towards Hermione, but quickly arched an eyebrow when he saw the puzzled look on her face. "What?"

"Harry," Hermione whispered, "How did you do that? Not only did you destroy a howler…but you did it wordlessly."

"I did?" Harry asked, clearly not aware of anything he might have done differently. "I could have sworn I said Incendio. Maybe you just didn't hear me above the racket?"

Hermione shook her head. "No, you didn't Harry." She bit her bottom lip, as she often did while trying to solve a rather confusing puzzle. "What were you thinking when you did that."

Harry shrugged his shoulders. "I just wanted that Howler to stop. So I thought of the spell that would work and performed it." He smiled at her, careful not to speak in a patronizing tone, "I honestly just think you didn't hear me. What with all that noise."

Hermione nodded her head. That had to be it, she told herself. She shook her head clear and tried to put Molly's howler to rest. Harry meanwhile turned towards Ginny. She seemed to anticipate his question. "I'll set her straight," she said, smiling.

/ - / - / - /

Harry had to admit, it had worked far better than he had anticipated in relation to the Daily Prophet. No sooner had he spoken with Dumbledore than the next day's edition had featured a complete retraction and a notice that Ms. Skeeter had been placed on indefinite leave from the Prophet. He couldn't help but walk around Hogwarts with a smug grin on his face.

Admittedly, he didn't know exactly what brought about this change in his character. He should be scared out of his mind, what with the tournament and the lurking threat of Voldemort still looming over his head. Yet, despite everything, he couldn't help but feel as if the weight of the world was but a distant memory. As he walked away from Dumbledore's office towards the Gryffindor common room, he felt a slight spring in his step. People he passed in the hallways were cordial to him, maybe even downright friendly. Even a few of the Slytherins were at least wise enough to keep their distance.

He spoke the password to the Fat Lady and strolled into the common room, smiling broadly when he saw Hermione reading a book in the corner. He ignored Ron, who was engaged in a rather one-sided game of wizard's chess with Dean, and walked over towards his girlfriend, sitting down on the ottoman in front of her after placing a soft kiss on the top of her head.

"How were the lessons?" Hermione asked, setting down her book. She moved to the side of the chair as much as she could and Harry squeezed in next to her, enjoying the feel of her against his chest.

"Same as usual," he said quietly, trying not to incur Ron's jealousy at the given time. "I think I am starting to get the hang of it though."

"You'll have it down in no time," she replied, before adding, "Do you think you're skilled enough to give me some lessons. I've done some reading on occulumency, but the books aren't really detailed enough to become self-taught."

"I can teach you some things," Harry replied, "But I need to learn legilimency first before I can give you proper instruction." He gave a smirk and looked at Hermione playfully. "You sure you want me poking around in your head?"

Hermione smiled and swatted Harry on the shoulder. "I think I can manage," she replied. The two of them were content to share each other's company at that particular moment in time. They sat there in each other's arms for several minutes, the only sounds being the shattering of Dean's pieces against Ron's systematic chess onslaught. When Dean had finally lost, Ron glanced around to see if anyone else was in the room at the moment. Dean nodded his head and headed upstairs to the dorm, while Ron silently put the chess board away. He slowly walked towards Harry & Hermione his head hung low.

"Guys," he whispered in a hoarse voice. Harry and Hermione both turned towards him, their angered glares masked by looks of disinterest. Ron glanced up at them, his blue eyes staring at them intently. "I just wanted to apologize for everything I've said these last few days and stuff. I mean, I guess I was just jealous of the whole tournament thing."

Harry sighed and looked straight at Ron. "Do you honestly think things can go back to the way they were after everything you said Ron?"

"Look I said I was sorry," Ron replied quickly, his temper flaring up again. "What more do you want from me?"

Hermione shook her head. "If you ask that question then you don't know," she replied sadly. "You said a lot of hurtful things Ron, and once you say something it's out there. It can't be taken back."

"Bollocks," Ron shot back. "You're just being insufferable, just like you always are!" He turned towards Harry, "Come on mate. I was the first friend you ever had, you said so yourself! She's just clouding your mind." He turned back to Harry. "Hard to believe I ever thought I fancied someone who's mental like you."

"You're the one who's mental," Hermione childishly replied, her own anger getting the best of her, "If you thought I'd ever fancy you!" Harry stood up, breaking away from Hermione and moved close to Ron, his eyes glaring daggers straight through him.

"If you want to piss away a friendship because of bitterness and jealousy," he said darkly, "That's your business and what you're going to have to deal with. I won't speak for Hermione, but as for me, stay away." Hermione nodded her head in approval, and both of them started away.

Ron just stood there, seemingly speechless. His fists clenched and his anger boiled over. He ran after Harry from behind and tackled him to the ground. "You could have had anyone!" he shouted as he pounded his fist into the back of Harry's head. "Why did you have to have her!" Hermione was caught off guard momentarily, before she struggled to try and pull Ron off of Harry. Three other Gryffindors, who happened to wander in, joined in the effort of trying to pull off the assaulting Weasley.

After years of fending off Dudley, Harry merely covered up and protected his head, trying to kick the larger boy off of his frame. He found it difficult to breathe, and speculated that his ribs might have been reinjured by Ron's initial tackle. His eyes went wide however, when he saw one of Ron turn around in anger and push Hermione off of his back, causing the witch to stumble backwards and smack her head on an end table. The other Gryffindors merely stood back in shock. Harry's own rage boiled over almost instantaneously, and with little more than a gesture, Ron was tossed back off the ground and clear across the common room, slamming against the wall and collapsing in a heap on the floor. He ignored the shots of pain from his ribs and ran over to Hermione, who was clearing the cobwebs loose and holding her head in pain.

"I'm fine Harry," she said softly as soon as Harry down on one knee cradling her. "Are you alright?" Harry nodded, but winced in pain a moment later. Hermione noticed this and she quickly picked Harry up and helped him to the hospital wing. The rest of the Gryffindors finally made their way downstairs and took stock of the situation. After an explanation from Seamus, one of the other students who had tried to pull Ron off, a few of the younger students helped Ron to his feet and simply shoved him out the portrait hole, leaving him to fend for himself.

/ - / - / - /

Harry wasn't at all surprised to find himself in Professor McGonagall's office the next day, recounting the events that had led to the fight in the common room. He noticed the darkened look on her face when he finished recounting his side of the story. There were a few moments of silence before Harry added, "I'm sorry if I hurt Ron Professor. But I wasn't going to let him hurt Hermione anymore." Professor McGonagall's face lightened and she offered him a bit of a smile.

"I understand your position Mr. Potter, and rest assured that you will not be punished for your actions last night. Your story matches the one that Miss Granger and Mr. Finnegan gave me almost exactly, and there's no doubt to me that Mr. Weasley is the one who instigated this whole affair. He well be serving the rest of the term in detention, and will be lucky if he is not expelled."

There were a few moments of silence before Harry asked, "How is he?"

"He had a bump on the head, but he'll recover soon enough." Professor McGonagall adjusted a few papers on her desk before she changed subjects entirely. "I also want to tell you, now that I have the opportunity, that I am most pleased with the improvements in your academic performance Mr. Potter, not only in my class but in every other class. Even Professor Snape has said you have shown marked improvement." Harry's eyebrow arched at this, but he held his tongue. "And may I also say, though this is strictly between the two of us," she added with a slight smile, "That should you and Miss Granger continue on your current path, that you will certainly be the frontrunners for consideration as Gryffindor's prefects next year." Harry smiled at the recognition.

"There is one other matter," McGonagall added before Harry left. "During the Triwizard Tournament, it is tradition for the host school to throw a Yule Ball on Christmas night." Suddenly Harry's throat went very dry.

"A b-ball?" he stammered out.

Professor McGonagall nodded her head, somewhat amused at the young man before her reduced to an incoherent person at the notion of a formal dance. "And as a champion," she continued, "You and your date are expected to participate in the opening dance."

Harry went even paler. He swallowed deeply, not helping the fact that his voice cracked at the notion. "D-dance?"

"I trust that there are those who can help you, if you know where to look." McGonagall said slyly. "I would ask that you not tell anyone tell tomorrow night, except a date if you believe she can keep a secret. I don't want the whole castle in a frenzy overnight." Harry nodded his head, still trying to get his mind around the concept of having to dance in front of everyone, something he had no bloody clue how to do. McGonagall dismissed him, and Harry almost immediately made a beeline towards Hermione.

Somehow he knew she was reading a book outside in the cold autumn day. There were still a few patches of snow from a freak storm that had happened a week earlier, but for today it was merely a bitter wind that blew through the Hogwarts ground, assaulting the last lingering leaves that clung to their branches in a desperate attempt to fight the coming winter. He made his way towards the bench where she was seated, and smiled as much as he could when she scooted over to make room for him.

"McGonagall says I won't be punished for last night," he began, trying to hide his frayed nerves. Hermione nodded her head and placed a marker in her book.

"Of course you won't," Hermione replied with a sad smile on her face. "Ron's a bloody git Harry, you did nothing wrong."

"She said as much," Harry replied in return. He became interested in the ground at his feet suddenly. "She also mentioned something that she'll be announcing tomorrow. There's going to be a Yule Ball Christmas night." He heard the gasp come from Hermione, and looked up to see a far away expression in her eyes.

"I had wondered if they were going to do that. I know it's a tradition, but I didn't know if they'd revive it for this year or not." She turned and looked at Harry, seeing the worry in his eyes.

"Yeah," he said hesitantly. "And since I'm a bloody champion…I have to participate in the ceremonial opening dance." Hermione nodded her head, sensing where this was going. "I have no clue how to dance Hermione. It's not exactly anything that the Dursley's would have taught me…and I doubt that learning to dodge Dudley's fists counts as a dance." Hermione hid her scowl at the mention of his relatives.

"I'll teach you what I know Harry," she offered. "I don't know much myself, but surely there's a book in the library that can help." Harry licked his lips, not 100 certain he'd like the answer to his next question.

"Would you go to the Ball with me," he asked. Hermione was at first taken aback by the question, having automatically assumed that she would go to the Ball with him given their current relationship. When she saw the fear in his eyes, she quickly smiled at him.

"Of course I will Harry," she replied, "Why do you even need to ask?"

Harry looked back down at the ground. "I didn't want to assume. I also didn't know if you wanted to go to the Ball with someone who's likely to make himself look like a fool."

Hermione sighed and turned his head to look at her straight in the eyes. "There's no one else I'd go with, Harry," she answered back, before kissing him gently on the lips. Harry returned the kiss with a bit more ferocity, his tongue daring to trace along the edge of her bottom lip, as if begging for entrance. Hermione relented, and for the next few moments, Hermione proceeded to erase all doubts out of Harry's mind.

A/N: Rita will be back…of that I assure you. You can't keep a sneaky bug like that down, at least not without squashing her, anyway.

There will be some events (including a hinted one you read about three or four chapters ago) that will fill in between now and the Ball. Ron will also find even more consequences for his actions….as all of Hogwarts unites against him.

I also haven't forgotten about S.P.E.W., I'm just not sure how to write it into the story at this point. It may wait till after the Ball or even until after 4th year.