I know I've written a Yule Ball fic already, but I felt like writing another "what if?". What if Harry had asked Hermione before Viktor had managed to? This is my story of Harry asking Hermione to the ball and their interactions leading up to it. Enjoy.

Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter, or any of the situations, items, persons, or vegetarian seafood platters mentioned in this story. If I did, I would rewrite pretty much everything.


Episode One

Chapter One

I never even went to a school dance, and now I have to open a ball?

Harry tried as hard as he could to convince himself he wasn't a stalker.

It wasn't like he was watching her while she was sleeping or showering (he felt his face heat up at the latter prospect); he was simply waiting for Cho to have a moment alone so he could ask her to the ball without having to endure the mindless giggling of her little cadre of friends. A simple request, really.

Apparently, no one told Cho how simple it was supposed to be.

When she wasn't surrounded by no less than seven girls (honestly, it cannot be easy to move around like that), Cho was always accompanied by a curly-haired redhead whose name he later found out was Marietta Edgecombe. This wouldn't normally be a problem, but from observed conversations (he wasn't a stalker, really), Marietta seemed to be a rather unkind girl, and he was nervous enough without having to worry about a verbal beating.

Leaning against a blank stretch of wall in a fifth floor corridor, Harry watched from under his invisibility cloak as Cho and Marietta strolled amongst the students, apparently on a walk just to stretch their legs. They chatted about various girl things (Harry couldn't make himself interested) as Harry followed at a safe distance. His plan was to wait until Marietta found some reason to be anywhere else and then covertly remove the cloak and stroll up to Cho. It wasn't the most concrete of plans, but Harry was a fourteen-year-old boy in love.

"Terry Boot asked me to the ball yesterday," Marietta was saying as they walked. Cho smiled at her friend, and Harry's heard fluttered; she had such a pretty smile.

"What did you tell him?" she asked as Harry stumbled over a student's book bag, narrowly avoiding detection. Watch your path, he told himself, not Cho.

"Yes, of course," Marietta said with a giggle. "He's not bad looking. Maybe I'll lure him under the mistletoe…."

"I'm sure you wouldn't have to lure him," Cho said, laughing at the devious note in her friend's voice, as though she were plotting some grand scheme. "I don't even think you'd need mistletoe. You could probably go kiss him right now."

Yeah! Harry silently agreed. Go kiss him! Leave!

As Marietta silently pondered the ramifications of jumping one of her fellow housemates out of the blue, Harry heard hurried footsteps behind him. He turned and had to jump out of the way as Cedric Diggory nearly collided with him, apparently in a haste to get somewhere. Harry's heart stopped when he walked up behind Cho.

"Cho?"

The Ravenclaw turned and smiled when she saw him. "Oh, hello, Cedric. How are you?"

"Great," Cedric smiled, shifting slightly, nervously, and Harry wanted to do something, stun him, cast an Imperius curse and tell him to walk away, petrify him, anything. He felt himself frozen in place, watching the proverbial train wreck. "Um, Cho, would you go to the Yule Ball with me?"

Cho's face turned pleasantly pink, and she gasped. "Oh…of course, Cedric! I'd love to go the ball with you."

"Great!" Cedric grinned and leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. Harry found himself deeply wishing he'd decided not to get out of bed this morning. "I guess I'll meet you in the Entrance Hall?"

"Sounds great," Cho said, now turning slightly red. Why couldn't Harry make her blush like that? Why could he not even bring himself to talk to her?

"Thanks, Cho!" Cedric called as he turned and walked away, pumping his fist in triumph. Cho giggled, then turned to Marietta, who had a look of shock on her face. They both broke out into joyful squeals, taking off down the hallway and leaving a still invisible Harry leaning against the wall, staring through his invisible shoes.

Gryffindors were supposed to have the courage, not Hufflepuffs.

……

"What's the matter, Harry?"

Harry only shook his head as flopped down on the couch next to Hermione, who was reading an Herbology book. She marked her spot and closed it, looking at him in concern.

"Is it your scar?"

Harry shook his head again; his scar had been pleasantly pain-free for the past few days. He felt a hand on his jaw, and he was slowly turned to face Hermione's chocolate brown eyes, which were full of worry.

"Harry." The stern inflection on his name crumbled his resolve.

"Cedric asked Cho to the dance."

Hermione dropped her hand and smiled slightly. "Harry, you had me worried that it was something serious."

"This is serious," Harry said. "Here was my chance, and I missed it. Now she's going with Cedric Diggory, pretty-boy extraordinaire. How do I compete with that?"

"Harry you're more handsome than you give yourself credit for," Hermione smiled, patting him on the arm. "Besides, there are plenty of other girls who would love to go with you. What about Ginny?"

"Ron's sister?" Harry asked, then shook his head. "I don't really know her. Besides, I don't want a girl who just wants to go with Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived."

"I'm sorry to say it, but that's almost every girl in school," Hermione laughed. "But if not Ginny, who?"

Harry tried to think of a girl he knew reasonably well, who wouldn't want to go just because he was famous. Ginny was obviously out, as were Parvati and Lavender (only because he didn't really know them all that well). All of the girls on the Quidditch team were taken. That left….

"I don't really know a lot of girls," he finally muttered, turning to see Hermione back to reading her book, giving him time to think. As soon as his eyes rested on her, something struck him. Long hair, a shapely (slightly slender) figure, and a keen understanding of the way girls' minds work…. Wait a second….

"Hermione, you're a girl!" he practically shouted, and she looked up at him, eyes widened in alarm. "Will you go to the ball with me?"

Her face turned pink, and Harry had to marvel at how cute it was. "Oh!" she stammered, caught off guard. "…Well…. I'd love to, Harry. Yes, I'll go to the ball with you," she finally smiled. "But…are you sure you wouldn't want to go with someone…better looking?"

Harry furrowed his brow, confused. "What do you mean?"

"Well, I'm somewhat plain," Hermione gestured at herself. "There are plenty of more attractive girls out there."

Harry shook his head. "They're attractive, yes. But so are you, just as much as any other girl. More so than a lot of them. Why wouldn't you think so?"

Hermione smiled and pulled him into a hug, giving him a kiss on the cheek as she drew away.

"Thank you, Harry. That's sweet," she whispered, going back to her book, though she now tucked her legs under her and leaned against Harry. Harry, for his part, tried to make some headway on his Potions essay, though he couldn't seem to forget the feeling of Hermione's lips on his cheek.

……

The next couple of weeks saw a distinct change in Hermione's actions. She was noticeably more affectionate with Harry, frequently squeezing his hand when he did something worth praising, and taking his arm when they walked between classes. This was especially apparent in the common room, where she would fondly ruffle his hair when he couldn't come up with an answer to a question, and even rest her head on his shoulder while they would read from the same textbook.

It took Harry twice as long as usual to complete his Transfiguration reading assignment.

None of this was lost on Ron, who watched the pair with increasing suspicion, Harry noted. He kept his mouth shut, however, probably not wanting to ruin his newly repaired relationship with his best friend. Harry himself chalked Hermione's behavior up to happiness at having a date to the ball.

"Hey, Harry?" Hermione hedged one night as they sat around the common room fire, their homework finally finished. Hermione was in her position from a few nights ago, leaning against him while she read her book (a new one, he noted).

"Hm?" Harry was reading last month's issue of Quidditch Weekly, which someone had left on a table.

"Do you know how to dance?" she asked, looking up at him. Harry colored, setting his magazine down.

"Well…not really," he admitted, staring at the fire. "The Dursleys never really bothered to teach me."

"And you have to open the ball, no less," Hermione smiled at him. "Would you like me to teach you?"

Harry pondered this. Hermione teach him to dance? Well, it would be nice not to make a fool of himself in front of three schools…and Cho. He might even be able to impress her with his dancing abilities and sweep her away from Cedric.

"Sure," he agreed. Hermione smiled wider, squeezing his hand.

"Great," she said. "Are you free tomorrow night?"

"I'm free pretty much all the time, Hermione," Harry grinned. Hermione giggled.

"Then we'll find a place to practice after dinner, Freedom Boy," she teased, and Harry nudged her playfully with his elbow. She in turn tapped him lightly on the head, taking the opportunity to run her fingers through his hair. He closed his eyes, finding that he rather liked the sensation.

"You have soft hair," she mused, looking thoughtfully at him. Her fingers did another run, and Harry leaned into her touch. She laughed softly. "You're worse than Crookshanks." She moved to the far side of the couch. "Come here, then. Lie down."

"You mean…on your lap?" When she nodded, he felt his face flush. "But…Hermione, I…." He trailed off when she ran her fingers once more through his hair. The feel was absolutely intoxicating.

"You deserve to relax once in a while," she whispered, succeeding in maneuvering him so that he was lying on the couch, his head resting on her lap. She resumed running her fingers through Harry's hair, and he was lost in the feeling of her fingernails gently running over his scalp. He stared up at her face as she peered at the fire, a slight smile playing at her lips. As he studied her, he noticed a slight change.

"Did you do something with your hair?" he asked, reaching up and toying with a lock of her hair. She pinked and nodded.

"Yes," she said. "Parvati recommended a conditioner that can supposedly tame any kind of hair. Does it look good?"

"It looks great," Harry said. Hermione's once bushy hair now hung in loosely down to her shoulders. It was still curly, but not "a bushy mess" as she had called it once. It was a definite improvement. "It suits you."

"Thank you, Harry – " Hermione stopped and looked up as a commotion sounded near the portrait hole. Harry sat up slightly, able to see a familiar head of vivid red hair as it made its way across the common room. Ron flopped into an armchair near the pair, followed closely by Ginny, who surveyed Harry and Hermione curiously, though made no comment, then Dean and Seamus. Several students looked up to see what the fuss was about.

"Ron, what happened?" Hermione asked as Harry scooted to sit next to her in order to avoid any questions from his two dorm mates.

"I…she…" Ron didn't seem capable of speech at the moment. Taking pity, Ginny spoke for him.

"He asked Fleur Delacour to the ball."

Hermione's eyes widened, and Harry had to choke back a laugh.

"Well, what did she say?" he asked instead. Hermione looked at him as though he were mad.

"She said no, of course," she answered, but Ron shook his head. Hermione looked at him, now raising her eyebrows. "Did…she say yes?"

Ron shook his head again. "She just…looked at me. Like I was some sort of…bug. Didn't even say anything."

"Well, you did sort of shout it at her," Ginny observed, and Harry couldn't stop a slight chuckle. Hermione swatted him lightly on the arm.

"You shouted at her?" Harry asked, and Dean and Seamus laughed.

"It was bloody hilarious," Seamus said. He put on a deep voice that sounded remarkably like Ron. "'Will go ball with me!?' You sounded like a troll."

"Oh, be nice to him," Hermione said, though she couldn't stop a slight smile. "Ron doesn't exactly have a way with women."

The two boys stood and left (claiming that they were off to find Fleur and see if she'd reconsidered), and Ginny took the seat next to Ron's. Harry wanted to lie back in Hermione's lap, but he wasn't sure how to approach the issue.

"This is terrible," Ron said. "If I don't get a date soon, all the good ones will be taken."

"Good ones?" Hermione asked.

"Yeah," Ron nodded. "I mean, I'd rather go alone than with…Eloise Midgen, you know?"

Harry inwardly cringed. Weeks spent alone with Hermione had given him a keen ability to spot when Ron was putting his foot in his mouth.

"So you'll take whatever girl you can get, as long as she's good-looking?"

Yep, she was mad. Harry placed a hand on her arm, and she spared him a glance and nod; her wand would stay in her pocket, at least.

"Well, when you say it like that – " Ron cut himself off as he spoke to Hermione, his eyes widening slightly. Harry knew that look; he'd had the same look on his face when he'd asked Hermione to the ball. Sure enough:

"Hermione, why don't you go to the ball with me? You're probably still looking for a date."

Open mouth, insert foot, Harry thought to himself as Hermione stood up angrily. And there goes my lap pillow.

"I don't know why you would think I'm still looking for a date, unless you find me repulsive for some reason," she said furiously. "If that's the case, then I obviously don't live up to your ridiculously high standards. As for your question, no. Harry asked me the day they announced it."

Ron looked at Harry in shock, and Harry shrugged. "And…she said yes ," he added unnecessarily. Hermione turned and stormed from the common room. Harry stood and ran after her, catching her up before she had made it ten feet down the corridor.

"Hermione, wait!" he called, grabbing her arm to stop her from escaping. She stopped but didn't face him. "Hermione – "

"Harry, was I just a last resort?" Hermione asked, and Harry was taken aback for a moment.

"What?" He tugged her around, and she gazed up at him, her face a mixture of fear and anger.

"Did you ask me to the ball as a last resort, because you couldn't find any other dates?" Hermione's eyes were shining now, and Harry couldn't help but notice that they were attracting attention. Several students had stopped to observe what looked like a fight between the two, and some were whispering to each other. Harry distinctly caught the words "lovers' spat".

"Come on," he said, taking her hand and leading her away, down a deserted hallway. He pushed aside a tapestry that revealed a hidden corridor dimly light by torches in brackets, tugging her to near the midpoint. When he felt that they were sufficiently hidden, he turned to Hermione and inwardly groaned; she was crying now. Not knowing what to do, he pulled her into a hug. He'd been told once (by Hermione, ironically enough) that crying girls usually just needed a hug.

"Hermione, you would never be a last resort for me," he said. "I won't lie, I went to Cho first, but I went straight to you when she was unavailable." He took a moment to consider his words. "That sounded bad, didn't it?"

He felt Hermione chuckle weakly against his chest, and she looked up at him, smiling. "No, Harry, I know what you were trying to say. Thank you."

"You're not a last ditch effort, Hermione," Harry said again, running his fingers through a lock of her hair. "And I'll murder anyone who tries to do that to you."

"Even Ron," her smile turned into a grin, and Harry returned it.

"We just need to establish an alibi."

Hermione laughed, hugging him again and giving him a lingering kiss on the cheek. As she drew away, she met his eyes, reaching a hand up to toy with his hair.

"Thank you, Harry," she said softly. "You really helped cheer me up." She laughed. "You're pretty good with crying girls."

"Well, you told me that most crying girls just need a hug," Harry said. "I was happy to oblige."

She laughed and hugged him again, taking his hand and leading them out back toward the corridor. She checked her watch as they walked.

"An hour until curfew," she observed, looking up at Harry. "Do you mind if we just walk around for a little while? I don't feel like facing Ron right now."

"Sure," Harry said, and Hermione laced her fingers with his, dragging him in the opposite direction of the common room. Harry glanced at their entwined hands but said nothing. He had never held hands with a girl before (except for the occasional library trip in primary school, but that hardly counted), but he found that he rather liked it with Hermione. Her hand seemed to fit perfectly in his, and she would occasionally run her thumb over his hand before giving it a squeeze.

As they walked, Hermione moved Harry's hand so that it was right in front of her face, peering at it calculatingly. Harry chuckled at the curious expression on her face.

"It's my hand, Hermione," he said with a grin. "I have two of them, actually, and so do you."

She rolled her eyes. "I know that, you prat. I was just noticing that you have soft hands."

Harry flushed at the observation. "My hands aren't soft," he said, trying not to sound like a petulant child. "They're calloused and…rugged and manly."

Hermione burst out laughing and ran a finger over his palm. "Silky soft," she said, and Harry flushed deeper. "Oh, don't be embarrassed about it. I'd prefer to hold a soft hand than a rough hand."

"Can you…do that again?" Harry asked, not looking at her.

"What? This?" He felt her fingers run over his palm again. She then moved to his hair, twitching a lock of it. "Or this?"

He felt himself lean in automatically, and Hermione gave a soft laugh, taking his hand again. She led him into a nearby classroom and walked over to the teacher's desk at the head of the room. Pulling out her wand, she cast a quick charm to clear of the dust that had accumulated from months of non-use. Hopping up to sit on it, she scooted to the far end, sitting cross-legged. She patted her lap.

"We were interrupted before, weren't we?"

Trying to contain his enthusiasm, Harry walked over, scooting onto the desk and lying so that his head was in her lap. The desk was just long enough that he could stretch his legs, and he lay there, staring up at Hermione's face as she ran her fingers slowly through his hair.

"Harry?" she asked after a few moments, and Harry made a noise to acknowledge his attention. "If you found out Cho was somehow free for the ball, would you go with her right now?"

"But I'm going with you, Hermione," he replied. "It would be rude to just dump you like that."

Hermione smiled at him, leaning down to peck him on the nose. He caught a whiff of her apple-scented hair as she straightened back up. "Thank you, Harry. But if I told you it was okay, would you rather go with her, or would you stay with me?"

Harry had to think about that one. On retrospect, he would probably be constantly worried about making a fool of himself in front of Cho. He definitely wouldn't be able to relax or let his guard down. And, thinking about it, there probably wouldn't be much he would be able to talk about with her, aside from Quidditch (though he could admittedly go on for a while about that topic). He could talk to Hermione and be around her without being nervous for any stretch of time.

"Honestly, I think I'd rather stay with you," he concluded. "You're easier to be around."

Hermione laughed. "So I'm the easy way out, huh?"

Harry poked her in the side, and she jumped slightly, making an adorable squeaking sound. "You know that's not what I mean." She resumed her ministrations on his hair, and he closed his eyes, shifting to allow her a better angle. "Cho's a pretty face, but that's all I know about her. We wouldn't have much of anything to talk about. You're a pretty face and good conversation."

Hermione blushed at the compliment, giving him another kiss on the nose. "You're so sweet."

They sat in silence after that, listening to the distant sounds of students moving about the corridors late at night. Hermione would occasionally move patterns through his hair, alternating levels of pressure. Harry sighed, completely content.

"I like this," he said. "Sitting here with you, no one to bother me with questions about the tournament or newspaper articles." He opened his eyes, smiling up at Hermione. "Can we just stay here all night?"

She laughed, tickling his jaw. "I have to sleep eventually, Harry."

"Oh, all right," Harry said jokingly, acting as though it were a huge sacrifice.

It was a half hour later that they finally decided to return to the common room. Hermione gave him a lingering hug and kiss on the cheek, right on the corner of his mouth, whispering "Goodnight" as she pulled away.

Harry went to bed ten minutes later, his dreams filled with images of dancing with Cho, who somehow turned into Ginny, but she blushed and ran away. As Harry stared confusedly after her, he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder, and there was Hermione in robes of periwinkle blue, smiling at him. They danced, but oddly, she led. When they finished, she looked up and kissed him –

His eyes snapped open, giving him a blurry image of his bed hangings. He reached up and touched a hand to his lips. Though Hermione had not actually kissed him, he could almost feel her lingering presence.

Nothing could be just a little complicated anymore. It was either simple or shit-hitting-the-fan confusing.

……

"So, what's in the bag?"

"A teaching tool," Hermione replied. "I'll show you in a minute."

Harry shrugged. Currently, the pair was making their way through the halls to the unused classroom they had chatted in last night to begin their first dancing lesson. Hermione had a bag slung over her shoulder, and the contents rattled as she walked, though she refused to tell him what it was. Harry walked on her other side, holding her hand. This had become a habit of theirs ever since the previous night; Harry found that he liked holding Hermione's hand, and she did as well (though she occasionally teased him for his "soft hands").

They reached the classroom and cleared the old desks away with a wave of their wands. Stowing her wand in her pocket, Hermione turned to Harry, removing her outer robe as she spoke.

"Okay," she summoned a few candles and suspended them in the air to light the room more efficiently than the moonlight. Stowing her robe on the back of a chair, she turned to Harry. "What do you know about ballroom dancing?"

"Besides how difficult it seems?" Harry asked only half-jokingly as he removed his own robe, and Hermione smiled at him.

"Harry, it's just simple footwork," she said, moving past him and bending to retrieve whatever she had brought with her from her bag. She straightened and showed him –

"A radio?" Harry cocked his head curiously, and Hermione smiled.

"A wizard radio," she said. "I still haven't figured out how to enchant muggle radios to work in Hogwarts, and even if I did, they probably wouldn't get much of a signal with all of the magic in the air. So, I borrowed this radio from Parvati. There's a station called Ballroom Ballads that sounds perfect to practice to."

Harry only chuckled, looking at her in wonderment. "What would I do without you, Hermione?"

She turned red, looking at her shoes. "You'd get by."

"No, I wouldn't," Harry insisted, walking up to her. Leaning in, he gave her a kiss on the forehead. She gasped and looked up at him, her face turning pink. Biting her lip, she turned and retrieved her wand, waving it at the radio. What sounded like cello filled the room with a slow-tempo, quickly joined by a violin melody.

"Okay, put your hand on my waist," Hermione instructed him. Harry froze.

"What?" Hermione laughed softly, giving him a reassuring smile.

"Put your hand on my waist," she repeated, enunciating each word carefully. She took his hand and slowly moved it to the region in question. "And, the other…." She took his other hand and held it slightly away from their bodies, placing her free hand on his shoulder. "Good, now listen to the music, count the beats. One two three, one two three," she led him in the steps, and he jerkily followed, circling around the room.

Hermione was a patient instructor, gently chiding Harry when he messed something up, though not berating him. She didn't even get too mad when he stepped on her foot (which happened more than once). Eventually, they learned to synchronize their foot movements to eliminate the occurrence. After an hour of practice, Harry seemed to have mastered the basic foot movements, but he was far from proficient.

"Well done, Harry," Hermione said smiling at him as they did a turn to a more upbeat song. "You've really gotten the hang of this. We'll come back in a couple of days just to make sure it sticks, though, all right?"

Harry nodded, and they slowed to a stop. Hermione kissed him on the cheek, and they broke apart. She went over to pack up her radio, and Harry immediately missed her closeness. As she zipped up her bag, Harry made his way over to her, hovering nervously as he watched her putting on her robe. He itched to just wrap his arms around her, but indecision left him frozen on the spot. How would she react? She would probably be okay with it. But she had always initiated contact; what if she didn't want it now? She turned and stopped when she saw Harry so close. His thoughts must have shown through on his face, because she peered up at him in concern.

"Harry, are you okay?"

Harry didn't know why, but that was the breaking point. He wrapped his arms around Hermione and pulled her as close as he could, peering down, inches from her face.

"Harry?"

Her lips were just as soft as he'd imagined. Hermione made a small noise of surprise, but she made no effort to push him away. In fact, she wrapped her arms around him and pulled him closer, eagerly responding. Reaching up, she threaded her fingers through his hair and pulled him closer, deepening the kiss. Harry wasn't sure exactly how long it lasted, but he knew they were both gasping for air as they pulled apart.

"Harry," Hermione gasped. "That was…amazing…."

"Likewise," Harry smiled, taking her hand. Hermione blushed and smiled up at him. It was the most adorable sight he'd ever seen.

"So…what now?" Hermione asked. Harry shook his head.

"I don't know," he said. "I don't really know anything about…this," he gestured at the space between them. Hermione smiled and hugged him, kissing him again. He marveled at the softness of her lips, at the sheer rightness that he felt. Hermione, the girl who knew him better than any other, was snogging him senseless in a classroom!

"Well," Hermione said upon pulling away. "Do you want to…go out? As in, you'll be my boyfriend, and I'm your g-girlfriend?" Harry thought he heard a small amount of hopefulness in her voice. His heart hammered as he pondered the question. Hermione, his girlfriend? If someone had brought up the notion a month ago, he'd have called them crazy, insisted she was just a friend. Now, though, "friend" just didn't seem to cover what he had with her.

"I'd like that," he said, and Hermione grinned, throwing her arms around him and kissing him again.


The End? I know, there was no actual Yule Ball, but so many stories seem to end with them kissing at the actual ball. I wanted them to have their moment beforehand. Also, for anyone wondering why Hermione was suddenly a lot more affectionate, she had just been asked to the ball and was currently feeling very appreciative towards her date (Harry), and maybe she has a little crush on him, too. And why was Harry so comfortable with Hermione when he could barely form a sentence around Cho? He's been friends with Hermione for three and half years. While she's a girl, she's a girl he's comfortable with.

Next chapter, we rock it out at the Yule Ball. Yes, "rock it out" is still cool, because I say it is.