The Harry Potter universe and all the characters in it belong to J. K. Rowling. I get nothing out of this except enjoyment.
Goblet of Fire was probably my favorite Harry Potter book. Harry overcame seemingly insurmountable odds through hard work and some help, particularly from Hermione, but most of his success was from his skill and ability rather than pure luck. However, there were parts of the book that made me grit my teeth and yell at Harry for being so stupid, or insensitive, or naïve, etc. A prime example of this is the Yule Ball fiasco, continuing through the Second Task.
The Yule Ball part of the story has been rewritten many times, including to some extent by myself in Chapter 12 of Notebooks and Letters, but I believe that I've been able to come up with another take on it. In this version Harry approaches these tasks with a bit more common sense and intelligence, and less laziness and tendency to put things off. He'll also be more appreciative of how much Hermione does for him.
Some small sections of Goblet of Fire will be quoted (in bold font), but for the most part I'll skip over or summarize things that happen in the book that aren't being changed.
Chapter 1 – The Yule Ball
(GOF Ch 22 & 23)
Ron and Hermione had gotten into it yet again, this time over Ron's criteria for asking a girl to be his date to the Yule Ball.
"Oh I see," Hermione said, bristling. "So basically, you're going to take the best-looking girl who'll have you, even if she's completely horrible?"
"Er – yeah, that sounds about right," said Ron.
"I'm going to bed," Hermione snapped, and she swept off toward the girls' staircase without another word.
Harry found Hermione alone in the common room the next morning. He had been thinking about what she'd said the previous evening, and wanted to ask her more about it.
"Oh, Harry," she sighed when he brought up the issue, "it just frustrates me that you boys only consider how good-looking a girl is when you think about who you want to ask. There are other things to consider too, after all."
"Like what?" he asked. Hermione narrowed her eyes at him, but then relaxed, deciding that he honestly wanted to know her opinion.
"Other things about her," she explained. "How well you think you'd hit it off with her. Is she nice? Do you have things in common? Would you enjoy talking with her?" She paused and Harry nodded thoughtfully. "Think about how dreadful it would be if you went with a pretty girl who was so full of herself that she treated everyone around her like dirt."
"Sort of like a female version of Malfoy, then?" Harry joked. He was aware that some girls thought the slimy Slytherin was good-looking, although he couldn't imagine why any of them would want to actually date such a horrid person.
"Exactly," Hermione acknowledged as she wrinkled her face up in disgust. "Although you could have used a less odious example." She smiled at the smirk he gave her and continued. "And this ball isn't the same as a real date. It's an event where people need dance partners. You could just go with a friend. I expect that lots of students will do that."
Harry pondered this information, and how it might affect his decision. Considering the difficulty he was having asking Cho, this might be an easier alternative. As long as the girl he asked wouldn't read anything into it. Suddenly the answer was obvious.
"Will you go with me, then?" he blurted out.
Hermione's head jerked back, as she was clearly caught by surprise. "What? I mean … er … I thought you wanted to ask Cho?" she stammered.
Now it was Harry's turn to be surprised. He hadn't thought anyone knew about his crush on the pretty Chinese Ravenclaw. But then, this was Hermione, who knew him better than anyone else. "I did," he confessed. "But I don't think I have the nerve. She's always surrounded by her friends and I'm worried I'll be embarrassed. Especially if she turns me down. And like you just said, I'd be a lot more comfortable with you. I get nervous just thinking about talking with her." He looked up at Hermione and grinned. "Besides, you've helped me out with everything else in this tournament, so I figure why not this too?"
Hermione was as flustered as he'd ever seen her, turning a bright shade of red. "Well, I … I …" she began, avoiding his eyes by looking down at her lap. "The thing is, I already have a date."
"Really?" Harry asked in surprise. "Who?"
"I … I'd rather not say," she replied hesitantly.
"Why not?" he persisted. This was so unlike his normally confident friend.
She shrugged. "It's a bit embarrassing. I'm afraid people will talk, and tease me about him, so I was planning on not telling anyone until the ball."
"Hermione, you can trust me," Harry vowed. "I promise I won't tell anyone, or make fun of you." He couldn't for the life of him figure out who she would be acting this way about. It wasn't like she was going out with Malfoy.
"I know you won't, and I can trust you. Honestly, I'm more worried about Ron's reaction," she admitted. "All right, I'll tell you. I'm going with Viktor Krum."
Harry sat back, dumbfounded. "Huh? I didn't think you even knew him. How did you …?" He stopped and frowned. "Wait a minute, what about everything you just said about going with someone you know, who you have something in common with?"
"I'm sorry," Hermione apologized, twisting her hands anxiously. "I didn't know you were going to ask me or I would have turned him down."
"No, no that's okay," Harry assured her. "I didn't mean it like that. I just … how? I mean, Viktor Krum?"
Hermione relaxed and calmed down somewhat, and proceeded to tell him how Krum had been spending a lot of time in the library, had noticed that she did too, and had eventually introduced himself. She confided that she suspected that the thing he had liked most about her was that she didn't act like his fan girls. Harry could readily identify with that, and told her that it was something he liked about her as well. But rather than reassuring her, this made her feel guilty again and once more she apologized to him.
"Look, I'll go tell Viktor I've changed my mind if you want me to," she offered
"No, you didn't do anything wrong," Harry insisted. "You told him you would go with him; don't back out now. I don't want you to break your word just for me." Hermione relaxed again, and they sat together in silence for a while before she noticed Harry's nervousness begin to return, and realized that he was once more stressing about his own predicament.
"Okay, but I'll be glad to help you find a date if I can," she volunteered.
"Well, who do you think I should ask?" he queried, taking her up on her offer. "I suppose after you I know Lavender and Parvati the best. I suppose I could ask Parvati."
"What about Ginny?" she suggested.
"Ron's sister? I never thought about her," Harry responded with a shrug. He paused, scratching his head while he considered her suggestion. "I suppose I could; I at least know her a little." He thought for a moment about what he knew about the youngest Weasley and then frowned. "Wouldn't it be a bit awkward though? She can hardly talk when she's around me. You know, with the way she …" He trailed off, not wanting to have to mention the embarrassing crush the young girl had had on him.
"She's gotten better," Hermione claimed. "You probably haven't noticed, but she's been acting pretty normal around you this year. But I'm sure she'd still really like to go with you."
"I don't know, I wouldn't want to give her the idea I was interested in her," he pointed out. "I'd feel like I was leading her on."
"What if I talk to her, and explain the situation?" Hermione offered.
Harry shrugged. "I guess. If you think that's best."
"You'd still have to ask her though," she reminded him. "But I'll set it up."
True to her word, Hermione arranged for Harry and Ginny to meet in an empty classroom the next afternoon. Harry stumbled a bit over his invitation, and Ginny blushed bright red but managed to keep her voice from squeaking as she accepted happily. Hermione, who had stayed right outside the room, rejoined them with a big smile.
Harry's relief was short-lived though, because she then asked him if he knew how to dance. Both girls laughed in amusement as he panicked yet again, but Hermione quickly suggested that the three of them get together to practice in advance, adding that it would be somewhat like their practice sessions before the first task. Harry groused that as far as he was concerned this whole ball thing was a task in and of itself. This generated more amused laughter, but he accepted her offer gratefully.
Ginny had provided a radio (which she referred to as a wireless) and showed them how to tune it to a station that played classical music. Hermione informed them that the opening dance was likely to be a waltz, and demonstrated the basic box step. Then she arranged Harry and Ginny facing each other and instructed them on hand positions.
Harry immediately found himself uncomfortable with the idea of putting his hand on Ginny's waist. Fortunately Hermione picked up on this right away.
"Would you rather start with me?" she suggested. Harry nodded gratefully and moved over to her, neither of them noticing the hurt look on Ginny's face. But faced with the same prospect with his best friend, Harry discovered he was every bit as nervous about putting his hand on her waist. Fortunately, he managed to hide it and focused on moving his feet in the proper sequence.
"I never thought it would be so hard to count to three!" he exclaimed after several minutes of stumbling, during which he'd lost track of the number of times he'd stepped on Hermione's feet.
"That's why you practice," Hermione replied patiently, as she motioned Ginny to take her place while she sat down to rub her sore feet. "Just like the Summoning charm. You didn't get that one the first ten or twenty tries either."
This time, Harry was too busy concentrating on his steps to notice where his hands were, and by the time he did he was able to control his uneasiness. During the next hour the two girls continued to take turns with him and he gradually became comfortable dancing with both of them. By the time they were finished the girls were very pleased with his progress (Ginny doubly so, since it was the first close contact she'd ever had with him).
At the end of the evening Hermione gave Harry a quick hug, and repeated the gesture with Ginny. "Harry, you did great tonight," she congratulated him. "Both of you did. I'm proud of the way you're handling this so maturely. I'm certain that the two of you will be just fine now with the opening dance. And remember, I'll be out on the dance floor right next to you." Ginny smiled happily at the reassurance, but Harry nodded uncertainly so Hermione added, "And I promise I'll dance with you at the ball too."
"I'm sorry, Neville, but I'm already going with someone else." To Hermione's surprise Neville had approached her the following day and asked her if he could escort her to the ball. She had originally expected that Ron would probably end up going with her as a last resort, but now she'd had three other offers already. "I really appreciate your asking me though."
"Oh, so you're going with Harry, then?" Neville surmised.
"No, it's … it's someone else. Why did you think I was going with Harry?" Hermione wondered.
Neville shrugged. "It seemed pretty obvious, as close as the two of you are."
That response threw Hermione a bit off balance, so she quickly replied, "No, Harry's going with Ginny Weasley."
Neville's face fell. "Oh. I was planning to ask her if you already had a date. Guess I'll have to think about it some more."
This exchange did not go unnoticed by some of the other Gryffindors. Dean and Seamus decided that if Hermione already had a date, and Neville was actively pursuing one, they had better get moving. By the end of the day they had tracked down Lavender and Parvati and arranged a double date, Lavender with Seamus and Dean with Parvati. It also didn't take long for word to reach Ron about Harry and Ginny's arrangement.
"Harry?" Ron asked in a tone of betrayal once he tracked his friend down, interrupting a quiet discussion between Harry, Hermione, and Ginny about whether they should schedule another dancing practice. "Are you really taking Ginny to the ball?"
Somehow in his relief at having a partner it hadn't occurred to Harry to worry about Ron's reaction to his going with his sister. "Erm, yeah … Is that all right?"
Ron noticed his nervousness and was about to give him a hard time before he caught sight of Ginny. His sister was glaring at him with a clear warning that if he said another word he would regret it immensely. "Ah … sure, no problem. It's just that I … I guess I'm on my own now."
Ginny, grateful that Ron hadn't made a scene, took pity on her brother. "I could set you up with one of my friends if you'd like," she offered.
"Sure, as long as it's not Loony Lovegood," Ron agreed eagerly. This, unfortunately, was the wrong thing to say.
"It's Luna, not Loony," Ginny snapped at him angrily. "And she's a very nice girl." She stalked off quickly to another part of the common room, and Ron was once more on his own.
Seeing that Hermione was glaring at him as well, Ron swallowed hard and muttered, "Right, then," and quickly made his way out the portrait hole.
At that point Dean and Seamus took the opportunity to approach Harry and tease him about dating a girl with three older brothers in residence in the tower. Harry paled at the implication and stammered that they were just going as friends and Hermione quickly backed him up. Neither of them noticed the disappointed look on Ginny's face on the other side of the room.
Entering the common room the Friday before the ball Harry was surprised to see Ron sitting ashen-faced in a distant corner, being comforted by Ginny.
"What's up?" he asked, joining them.
Ginny quickly explained, while mostly succeeding in stifling a giggle, that Ron had just asked Fleur to the ball, right in the middle of the Entrance Hall, while she was talking to Cedric Diggory and a group of Ravenclaw boys.
"You what!" Harry exclaimed in disbelief.
Ron simply buried his head in his hands and moaned something about not being able to resist.
"Well, she is part veela," Harry informed him, trying to make his best mate feel better. "It wasn't your fault. She was probably turning on the old charm for those other guys and you just happened to get a blast of it.
Ron shot him a look of appreciation before turning glum again. "But I'm still the only one left who doesn't have a date – well, except Neville of course. Did you hear that he asked Hermione the other day?"
"Actually, I did know that," Harry responded carefully.
"Yeah, she turned him down, though," Ron laughed. "Told him she was already going with someone. Ha! As if! She probably just didn't want to go with Neville."
Before either Ginny or Harry could correct Ron's faulty assumption, Hermione herself climbed through the portrait hole and came over to join them.
"There you are. Why aren't you lot down at dinner yet?" she inquired.
"Ron's moping because he's just been turned down by a girl he asked to the ball," Ginny announced, now back to being annoyed with her brother.
"Thanks a bunch, Ginny," Ron grumbled.
"All the good-looking ones taken, Ron?" said Hermione loftily. Harry winced. Ron's earlier declaration was about to come back to haunt him.
"Eloise Midgen starting to look pretty good now, is she?" Hermione continued with her taunt. "Well, I'm sure you'll find someone somewhere who'll have you."
Ron's head jerked up, as though the way she had emphasized her statement had opened his eyes, and he was staring at Hermione in a whole new light. Harry immediately realized what was coming, and wondered if Hermione had intended exactly that.
"Hermione, Neville's right – you are a girl," Ron blurted out.
"Oh, well spotted," she responded in a voice dripping with sarcasm.
"Well – you can come with me then!" Ron continued, oblivious to her mounting ire.
"No, I can't!" snapped Hermione. "I'm already going with someone else."
"No, you're not!" Ron shot back. "You just said that to get rid of Neville!" Harry winced and backed away slightly, as this statement, which managed to cast aspersions on both Neville and Hermione at the same time, was certain to make her even more furious.
"Oh did I?" Hermione hissed, her eyes flashing dangerously. "Just because it's taken you three years to notice, Ron, it doesn't mean no one else has spotted I'm a girl!"
Ron stared at her. Then, making matters even worse, it that was possible, he grinned. "Okay, okay, we know you're a girl," he said. "That do? Will you come now?"
Harry was afraid that Hermione would start hexing him soon, but fortunately she managed to control herself. "I've already told you!" she said very angrily. "I'm going with someone else!" And she stormed off toward the girls' dormitories.
"She's lying," Ron insisted, watching her go.
Harry was saved from having to reveal his knowledge of Hermione's situation when Ginny spoke up. "No, she's not!" she hissed at him, shooting him a glare before following after Hermione.
Ron turned to Harry. "What do you think?"
Harry stared at him in disgust. "I believe her. Why would she lie about something like that?"
Ron shrugged uncomfortably. "I dunno, maybe because she's embarrassed not to have anyone to go with."
"Ron, you've known her for three years," Harry pointed out heatedly. "Does that sound like something she'd do?" Before Ron could answer, he continued. "Especially since the ball's in a week and everyone will know if she does or doesn't?"
"I guess not," Ron admitted. "But who's she going with then?"
By now Harry had his answer ready. "If she doesn't want to tell us, that's her business." When Ron stared at him in disbelief Harry added, "I'm going down to dinner," and turned away, leaving his friend standing there speechless.
The common room looked strange, full of people wearing different colors instead of the usual mass of black. Seamus and Dean met up with Lavender and Parvati; Lavender was wearing dark blue robes that looked good with her blonde hair while Parvati looked striking in robes of shocking pink. But when Harry saw Ginny he was temporarily speechless.
Gone was any trace of the shy little girl who'd squealed and run from the room the first time he'd met her. She was dressed in light green robes that clung to her petite figure, revealing slight curves that Harry had never noticed before. The color also nicely set off her pale skin and long red hair, which was done up in formal style. Most of it was wound on the top of her head in braids intertwined with ribbons, the rest falling in soft curls down the back.
"Wow, Ginny, you look amazing!" he gasped as she approached him, taking his arm with a beaming smile, and blushing fiercely at his compliment. She practically floated out of the room and down the corridors, as the evening promised to exceed every dream she'd ever had about her first date with Harry Potter.
"Where's Hermione?" Harry wondered, interrupting her reverie as they followed the other Gryffindors down to the Great Hall. Neville was escorting one of Ginny's friends, while Ron was with a dark haired second year Harry didn't know whose name was Romilda something or other, who seemed rather precocious for her age.
"She left earlier to meet Viktor at the Entrance Hall," Ginny whispered to him, so as not to spoil her friend's surprise.
If Harry had been speechless at the sight of Ginny, when he finally spotted Hermione he was positively stunned. Her hair was no longer bushy but sleek and shiny, twisted up into an elegant knot at the back of her head similar to Ginny's hairdo. But the most shocking sight was her gown, made of a floaty periwinkle-blue material, with a tightly fitted, thin strapped V-neck top that flowed into a long floor length skirt. Harry swallowed hard as he couldn't take his eyes off her for a brief instant. He'd never seen so much bare skin on his best friend!
There was also something different in the way she carried herself – more confident and lady-like – and her smile, while somewhat nervous, was simply dazzling. Fortunately, Harry managed to find his voice by the time he and Ginny reached the doors where she and Krum were waiting.
"Hi Harry, hi Ginny!" she greeted them excitedly, her secret now out of the bag. All three students were well aware of the shocked looks Hermione was getting from the Hogwarts students who passed by them on their way into the Great Hall, including Ron who was not at all pleased with this revelation. Harry noticed Hermione stiffen and stand up even straighter in seeming defiance of his attitude, but was surprised to see Ron glare in his direction as well. He briefly wondered if Ron was having second thoughts about him escorting Ginny, but quickly turned his attention to McGonagall, who was giving them instructions on how to line up.
Harry had learned in advance that Cedric was taking Cho Chang and that Fleur was being escorted by Roger Davies. This information had been relayed to him by Hermione, who'd heard it from Parvati, who'd heard it from her sister Padma, who was in Ravenclaw along with Cho and Roger. He was at once relieved and upset with this knowledge. Relieved that he'd decided to ask Ginny rather than be embarrassed by Cho turning him down, but upset that the girl of his dreams was going with his rival Hogwarts champion, and he would have to see them together all evening.
The procession of the champions, as well as their seating positions in the Great Hall, had evidently been the subject of delicate negotiations. The result was that Harry and Cedric, representing the host school, would enter first, followed by Viktor and Fleur. After moving them back and forth, McGonagall decided that since Harry and Ginny were much shorter than Cedric and Cho, it worked better for them to be first in line. (While it was never stated aloud, Fleur was placed last because as soon as she entered the hall she would immediately draw everyone's attention away from the other champions.) Harry became uncomfortably aware that Ginny was the only one present who was shorter than himself – Cho and Hermione were about his height, and the heels they were wearing actually made them a bit taller, while Cedric towered over him.
Harry stole glances at Cho and Fleur while they were busy arranging themselves. Cho was wearing white dress robes in a similar style as Hermione's, and looked incredible in them, although to his surprise, not too different than Hermione did. Fleur was positively stunning in robes of silver-grey satin, with a strapless top that was even more revealing than Hermione's or Cho's. Harry had to force himself to look away from the beautiful part Veela, and gave Ginny a small smile of apology as he returned his attention to her. She shot him a grateful smile of her own at his restraint, which was considerably better than most of the other boys in the area.
The champions and their escorts entered the Great Hall one couple at a time, to resounding applause. The top table was set in the center of the room, elevated on a platform for greater visibility. There were eight spaces reserved in the center of the table, four on either side. Beyond these places were the headmasters and judges, with the British representatives at one end and the visitors at the other. Harry was surprised to see Percy Weasley standing up there next to Ludo Bagman where Barty Crouch should have been, and when they reached the table he gestured to Harry to sit next to him.
Harry stiffened slightly and fought off a grimace. Beside him, Ginny picked up on this immediately and stepped forward, taking the chair next to her brother and shooting him a sweet smile. For his part, Harry gave her arm a quick squeeze in appreciation. Cedric took his place next to Dumbledore, which put Cho directly across from Harry. When Krum and Hermione came in next, they took seats on Harry's side of the table, and he was quite happy when Hermione ended up next to him with Viktor between her and Karkaroff. Fleur and Roger Davies filled in the final two spots, with Roger next to Cho and Fleur next to Madame Maxime.
Harry found himself musing that he couldn't possibly have selected a better set of female dining companions. He was across from the girl he'd been crushing on for a year, and a few seats down from the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen. And on either side of him were two good friends who, in addition to being quite pretty in their own right, would give him someone safe to talk with. If it had been Cho and Fleur and two girls he didn't know, he was certain he would have been embarrassingly tongue-tied.
As the dinner conversation played out, Harry was pleasantly surprised to see that Ginny more than held her own. When Percy pompously announced that he'd been promoted to be Crouch's personal assistant, and would be representing him for the remainder of the competition, Ginny impishly inquired if Crouch might have actually intended to promote Weatherby. Throughout the meal her clever wit easily kept her brother in his place.
On his right, Hermione's eyes sparkled with keen interest as she listened to Krum and Fleur talk about how customs differed at their schools, and offered insightful observations of her own. Harry also found that he needed to restrain himself from glancing down too obviously at her low cut top, on the occasions that he turned his attention to the conversation on her side of the table. (He also had this difficulty with Cho and Fleur, but they were seated across the table instead of right next to him. And while he would have expected to have this problem with the other two girls, it was a bit unnerving to find himself ogling his best friend's bits.)
Before he realized it, an hour had passed and it was time to begin the dancing. They all stood up and watched as the tables vanished and the raised platform under the top table morphed into a dance floor, while a popular wizarding band, the Weird Sisters, appeared at one end of the hall. As the four couples took their places on floor, Harry suddenly came to a realization that had been lurking in the back of his mind. Ginny was a very pretty girl, but the other three – including Hermione – were beautiful young women.
Fleur, of course, was in a class by herself, but Hermione definitely had no need to take a back seat to Cho, an eye-opening observation that was being made at that very moment by a large portion of the assembled students. While the Chinese girl had an exotic beauty where Hermione had a more girl-next-door look, they otherwise cut similar figures in their ball gowns. Furthermore, the two year age difference between this pair of fifteen year old witches and the thirteen year old Ginny was quite evident, and clearly revealed with their choices of attire. Ginny looked cute in her dress robes, but they were styled for her still developing figure, particularly with her higher neckline.
Harry mentally filed these observations away in order to focus on the task at hand – making it through the opening dance without stumbling or stepping on Ginny's toes. As he looked down into her sparkling eyes she gave his hand a squeeze of encouragement. He took a deep breath as the music started, and began the three step pattern they'd practiced.
To his relief, the lessons paid off, and he eventually regained the level of comfort with Ginny that he'd attained in the deserted classroom, despite being on display now before the students of three different schools of magic. He even managed a smile for her by the end of the dance, which she returned with delight. As the band completed the opening number and struck up another, they found themselves surrounded by the additional couples that took the floor, and Harry finally relaxed and allowed himself to look around for the first time.
He first caught Hermione's eye, and she smiled and mouthed the words 'Good work!' to him, and he grinned in return, thankful that she'd once more anticipated what he needed and bailed him out of a tight spot. Ginny then directed his attention to a number of other interesting and unusual dance pairings, and the two of them enjoyed the second dance quite a bit more.
The next song was considerably faster paced, which they hadn't practiced for, and Harry suggested they take a break. Ginny reluctantly agreed, and they made their way over to where Ron was sitting with his date, who brightened up as Harry approached.
"How's it going?" Harry asked as they walked up. Ron made no response except to frown at the space between them, causing Harry to realize that he was holding Ginny's hand. He quickly released it, which in turn generated a glare by Ginny directed at her brother. He ignored it, and turned his attention back to the dance floor, where Hermione and Krum were engaged in an up tempo dance that involved a lot of dips and twirls, and scowled.
Harry shrugged and opened a bottle of butterbeer and handed it to Ginny, then opened another for himself. He was aware that the young dark-eyed Gryffindor accompanying Ron was eyeing him up speculatively, but he was also aware that Ginny had moved to block any advance she might have been planning to make on him. After the efficient way she had shielded him from Percy earlier, he had complete confidence that she would be successful here as well. He quietly reached over and gave her arm a squeeze, and she turned and shot him a knowing smile.
When the song ended, Hermione looked around the hall for a moment before spotting where Harry, Ginny, and Ron were sitting. After exchanging a few words with Krum she came over and sat down next to Harry. She was a bit pink in the face from the last dance.
"Hi," Harry and Ginny greeted her. Ron, however remained silent and sullen.
"Hi," she responded cheerily. "It's hot, isn't it? Viktor's just gone to get some drinks."
This finally triggered an explosion from Ron. His anger had been simmering all evening, just waiting to erupt, and it did now, spectacularly. By turns sarcastic and vicious, he berated Hermione for her 'betrayal' by coming to the ball with the Durmstrang champion, ending with an accusation that she was first, passing along information on Harry, and second, aiding Krum in figuring out the clue in the golden egg.
By now, both Gryffindors were on their feet and snarling at each other, with Hermione growing more emotional with each denial, and people were starting to stare at them. Her hands were clenched into fists at her sides, but before she could make another heated rebuttal Harry stepped in between them. The tearful look Hermione had just shot him, pleading with him to believe that she would never betray him that way, had moved him to intervene.
"That's crazy Ron, and you know it!" he snapped. "Hermione would never do that! She's my … biggest supporter! She's been a great help to me." He had been about to say 'best friend' but stopped himself just in time, knowing how Ron would react to that.
"Yeah, that was before she started cozying up to Krum though," Ron persisted, not backing down an inch. "So maybe she should just go back to her precious Vicky and leave us alone."
Before Harry could stop her, Hermione whirled and stormed off across the dance floor. Harry was about to pursue her when Ginny grabbed his arm. "I'll go," she told him quietly. He paused a moment, then nodded, and she hurried after the older girl. He then turned back to confront his erstwhile best friend.
"Ron, I don't know what your problem is, but you need to get over it," he demanded hotly. "I haven't got a problem with Hermione coming with Krum, so don't drag me into it." Ron said nothing, but dropped heavily into his chair and crossed his arms, staring sullenly out at the dance floor.
Harry sighed and ran his hand through his hair in frustration, then noticed Ron's date gazing at him, her dark eyes wide with admiration. When she saw that she had his attention, she smiled seductively and cocked her head toward the dancers in invitation. Harry merely rolled his eyes and turned away, spotting Krum approaching with two drinks. He quickly moved off to intercept him before he got close enough to set Ron off again.
"Vare is Herm-own-ninny?" the Bulgarian asked with a frown. In response, Harry merely motioned in the direction where the two girls had disappeared.
Finally, they spotted Hermione and Ginny coming out of the restroom, and Harry noticed that his best friend's eyes were red. Hurrying to her side he took her arm and asked softly, "Are you okay?" She nodded and managed a small smile, but before he could say anything else Krum caught up.
"Herm-own-ninny?" He offered her the drink in his hand and she accepted it while Ginny located four empty chairs. Harry wanted to comfort her more, but she was Krum's date after all, and he was with Ginny, so they made do with small talk for a few minutes. Then he had an idea.
"Hermione, you promised me a dance, you know," he reminded her. Hermione's eyes lit up and she turned to Krum.
"I did," she informed him quickly. "You don't mind, do you?" The scowl Krum directed at Harry made it clear that he very much did mind, but he politely refrained from voicing his objection.
The song the band was playing had a simple beat, so that Harry didn't need to focus on his footwork, and as soon as they stepped onto the floor he took the opportunity to set things straight. He didn't want her whole night to be ruined by a few bone-headed comments from Ron.
"You know I don't agree with anything that Ron said, right?" he asked. Hermione gave him a grateful smile and nodded. "I really don't have a problem with you coming with Krum." He paused for a beat, then added, "Only that I wish I'd asked you before he did."
She rolled her eyes and shook her head, but her smile remained. "I do," he insisted. "I didn't get a chance to tell you before, but you look amazing tonight! You nearly took my breath away."
Hermione's cheeks turned pink and she dropped her eyes demurely. Seeing how well his attempt to cheer her up was going, Harry continued. "Really, when I first got here, if I didn't know you were going with Viktor, I'd have wondered who the pretty girl standing next to him was."
She beamed at him. "You really think I'm pretty?" she asked with some surprise.
"Absolutely," he confirmed. The two of them locked eyes briefly, then Hermione looked away as her blush deepened. Without either of them realizing it the song ended and another began, and they continued dancing.
"Are you enjoying the ball?" Hermione inquired.
"A lot better than I thought I would," he admitted. "Ginny's a lot of fun." She smiled and gave him a knowing look, as if to remind him that it was her idea for him to ask the young redhead. "But you know, I'd still rather be with you," he added with a grin.
Hermione sighed dramatically, realizing he wasn't going to give in on this one, and changed tactics. "So, are you going to give Ginny a goodnight kiss?" she asked with a sly grin.
Harry's head shot back in consternation. "I hadn't thought about it," he managed to choke out.
"Well, you should," she told him. "Think about what you're going to do, I mean," she laughed as she saw a look of panic come over his face. "I can assure you that it's something that's on all the girls' minds."
Harry stalled by turning the tables. "What about you? Do you think Krum's going to kiss you?" He found that the thought made him uneasy.
"Personally, I don't think it's appropriate for a first date with someone you don't know very well," she stated confidently. "And I'm not worried about it, because Viktor's a real gentleman and has always treated me very respectfully."
"I wouldn't blame him if he tried," Harry teased. "With the way you look tonight I can see how he'd be tempted." Hermione's eyes went wide, causing him to worry that he'd offended her. "You really do look incredible, you know," he added hastily.
Before she could respond Krum interrupted them to reclaim his date. Harry thought he detected a look of regret in Hermione's eyes as he guided her away, and discovered that he felt similarly. But nothing was to be gained by standing there with a lost look on his face, so he decided he'd better find Ginny. Spotting her standing at the edge of the dance floor looking around for him, he quickly made his way over to her.
Harry spent the rest of the evening with Ginny, dancing a few times, but mostly strolling around the hall, stopping often to chat with his classmates. He found that he enjoyed her company, and his fears that he would have a miserable time at this event proved groundless. Certainly he was doing better than Ron, who sulked the entire time and glared at the dance floor frequently. At some point his date must have given up on him (perhaps when she discovered that being escorted by Ron wasn't going to get her a dance with Harry) and left him for better prospects elsewhere. Harry tried to draw him into a conversation once, but after a few short responses Ginny pulled him away.
It occurred to him that Ginny was largely responsible for the ball being bearable for him. Had he been with another girl he might have been like Ron, ignoring his date and glaring at Cho and Cedric, but Ginny didn't give him time to dwell on them. The animated little redhead was not someone he could easily ignore. It was hard to be grumpy when Ginny was so happy. More than once she excitedly revealed to him that it was the best night of her life.
There were also some interesting encounters out on the grounds. One involved an ominous overheard conversation between Snape and Karkaroff; the other resulted in the revelation that Hagrid and Maxime were half-giants, although the Beauxbatons headmistress denied it vigorously.
The four hours passed much more quickly than he had expected them to, and before Harry knew it midnight arrived. The students began to drift out of the Great Hall, the visitors heading to the Entrance Hall to return to their lodgings, the Hogwarts students making their way back to their common rooms. As he and Ginny began to ascend the staircase he heard someone calling his name, and turned to see Cedric beckoning to him.
Harry had to fight back his jealousy with the Hufflepuff champion, and studiously avoided looking at Cho, who hung back to enable the two boys to converse privately. Ginny gave him a nod to indicate she'd wait for him at the top of the stairs and he walked over to see what Cedric wanted.
A few minutes later he rejoined her, shaking his head at Cedric's cryptic advice, not certain of his competitor's motives or how exactly this information was supposed to help him. For now, though, he recalled Hermione's earlier advice and pondered how he should conclude his evening with Ginny.
As they approached the common room he determined from the nervous smiles Ginny was shooting his way that she was indeed hoping for a kiss. She obviously hadn't given up her crush on him, and he now realized that she probably never would. While Ginny was nice, and he'd enjoyed spending time with her, he didn't feel he was ready for anything serious with her. But given the image she had built up of them in her mind, she would take any indication of affection from him as a sign that he did want to start a relationship with her. It wouldn't surprise him if she was already dreaming about their wedding.
With that in mind, he decided that a little letdown now was better than a later heartbreak. Outside the Gryffindor common room he stopped and turned toward her. As her eyes went wide and she held her breath in anticipation he quickly mumbled that he'd had a great time and thanked her for going to the ball with him. Then he leaned down and kissed her on the forehead.
From the slump of her shoulders he could tell that she was disappointed, but she managed to hide it for the most part. She smiled back at him and thanked him for asking her. After a brief awkward moment, they turned to the portrait of the Fat Lady.
Dating Ginny wasn't completely out of the question, Harry mused, but he worried about what would happen if it didn't work out. How would he be able to break up with her without hurting a lot of people close to him? If he'd dated Cho, that wouldn't be a problem. They could go their own ways without any consequences. And after all, Ginny was only thirteen, and he was fourteen. There might be potential for something down the road, but he couldn't possibly make that commitment now. Perhaps things would be different if this were happening two or three years in the future.
They climbed into the common room to find Ron and Hermione having a blazing row. Harry stopped to listen for a few seconds, and it quickly became clear that Ron hadn't given up on his accusations about Hermione's date with Krum. Before Harry could intervene Ginny interrupted them.
"Look Ron, if you don't like it you should have asked her yourself in the first place instead of waiting until the last minute!" she shouted. Harry was suddenly reminded of the way Mrs. Weasley lit into her sons. Ron, already in a bad mood, wasn't willing to take any more scolding though, particularly from his sister.
"Why would I want to go to a ball with an annoying know-it-all?" he shouted back at her. Hermione reacted as though she'd been slapped, and this prompted Harry to action.
"Ron, that was out of line," he hissed as he stepped forward to confront his roommate. "Now apologize."
Unfortunately, Ron was already too far gone to stop now, and he turned his ire on Harry. "Oh sure, take her side!" he yelled. "What's gotten into you lately? You always used to back me up in stuff like this." Not expecting this counterattack, Harry was momentarily silent. Ron was right. He had usually taken Ron's side in the past. And now that he thought about it, it wasn't something he was particularly proud of, given how loyally Hermione had supported him.
But Ron wasn't done yet, and at Harry's hesitation continued to shoot off his mouth. At that point things turned ugly. "Where do you come off lecturing me?" he demanded hotly of Harry. "You have everything, fame, money, the tournament … and now you have two girls who'll drop their knickers for you! Why not try for more?" He gestured toward some of the Gryffindor girls who were standing there watching the fireworks. "You can probably get as many as you want!" Harry stepped back in shock at this outrageous claim.
Ginny, now furious with her brother, stepped into the opening and slapped him on the face. Harry instinctively moved toward Hermione, who had brought her hands up to her face in horror at Ron's declaration, in a subconscious attempt to shield her from the fray as Ginny and Ron continued shouting at each other. In the blink of an eye the screaming, red-faced siblings had their wands out.
At this point some of the older students stepped in and pulled them apart. Two boys dragged Ron up to the boys dorm' while a group of girls escorted Ginny up the girls' staircase, even as she shouted one final insult in her brother's direction. Suddenly it was quiet in the common room. Harry turned to find a sea of curious faces, but a stern look from him set them to hurriedly dispersing.
Once they were alone, Harry pulled Hermione into a hug. "Are you going to be all right?" he asked tenderly. She nodded against his shoulder. After a minute he pulled back and looked her in the eye.
"I would," he stated quietly.
"What?" she responded uncertainly.
"I'd want to go to a ball with an annoying know-it-all," he asserted with a smile. This prompted a return smile from Hermione and she thanked him for sticking up for her while drying her tears. Harry guided her over to their favorite sofa in front of the fire and sat down.
Once she'd calmed down, Hermione explained that Ron had evidently been set off by Viktor gallantly kissing her hand while bidding her goodnight. Harry commiserated with her, then asked again if she was okay. She smiled at him for his concern and declared that except for the last part, the night had been a wonderful experience. She listened attentively when he related to her his solution to the question of how to say goodnight to Ginny, and managed to keep her thoughts to herself about how displeased the young redhead would be with that outcome.
Enjoying the chance to have some private time with her, Harry took the opportunity to tell her about his conversation with Cedric, and his curious advice to take a bath with the egg. Hermione frowned thoughtfully for a moment, then her eyes brightened.
"He's telling you to open the egg underwater!" she announced triumphantly. "There must be something unique about the clue in that environment. Perhaps it sounds different."
"That might be it," he agreed, deciding not to share his suspicion that Cedric was merely trying to make him look foolish. Hermione was not likely to be sympathetic to his jealousy about Cho.
"So he said you should use the prefects' bath?" she continued enthusiastically. "That's a good idea, as it will ensure our privacy. I'll come and listen to it with you."
"Hermione!" Harry sputtered, aghast at the suggestion. "You can't do that! It's a bath! We'd both be naked!" He couldn't help glancing down at her chest, where the V-neck top of her gown continued to offer tantalizing evidence of what lay beneath.
Hermione blushed furiously when she realized what he'd thought she'd implied, and it was several seconds before she managed to respond. "I didn't mean that!" she nearly shrieked. "Just because it's a bath doesn't mean we have to take all our clothes off! We would wear swimsuits, of course!"
Harry regained enough control of his runaway imagination to consider that alternative. "I don't even have a swimsuit," he pointed out. "Do you? I mean, here, at Hogwarts?"
Hermione admitted that in her efforts to be prepared for any eventuality, she had in fact packed swimwear in her trunk, although she'd never used it. After pondering this possibility for a while, Harry eventually decided that he would still do it by himself. He determined that he would still be uncomfortable with her in that situation.
Although he didn't share this with Hermione, Harry had become a victim of a common mental process – something occurs to you that you'd never thought of before, and suddenly you can't stop thinking about it. In this case, he'd never really paid much attention to Hermione's figure, but now that he'd seen her in this dress that showed off a bit of cleavage on her, he couldn't get it out of his mind. Oh, he'd been aware that she'd been developing over the past two years, but now it was abundantly clear that his female best friend had very nice looking breasts. His brain insisted on conjuring up an image of her in a bikini top.
To her credit, Hermione recognized how uncomfortable the idea was making him, and so didn't press the issue, turning instead to speculating on what might be revealed by the proposed immersion of the recalcitrant egg.
When they finally called it a night and went up to their dorms, Harry found that Ron was still awake. "Where've you been?" the tall redhead demanded somewhat belligerently.
"Calming Hermione down," Harry snapped, not in the mood for any more of Ron's attitude.
Fortunately, Ron picked up on this, and backed off. "I really made a mess of things," he admitted as Harry finished putting on his pajamas. "You know I didn't really mean what I said, right?"
Harry gave him a sharp look as he climbed into his bed and pulled up the covers. "Hermione's the one you need to apologize to," he stated in a tone that left no room for argument. In response, Ron grunted some sort of acknowledgment and they both fell silent.
While Ron quickly fell asleep, Harry remained awake, pondering the events of the past four hours. He had made some very confusing discoveries about girls that night. Ginny, far from being shy and withdrawn, was bright, witty, attractive, and fun to be with. Hermione, while he already knew that he admired her intelligence, bravery, and loyalty, and enjoyed her company, he now found physically desirable as well. Cho, on the other hand, made his pulse race, but hadn't been very interesting to talk with. Fleur? Well, no surprises there. She was way out of his league. Overall though, he had a lot to think about.
A/N 1 It's difficult to imagine exactly what dress robes for women would look like in the wizarding world. We have little clue from Book 4, only colors for Hermione and Fleur, but during the wedding in Book 7 Ginny must have been showing some cleavage, considering Aunt Muriel's comment about her gown being too low cut. Based on this, and the dress Emma Watson wore in the movie, I decided to use a style often found on prom dresses featuring bare shoulders with spaghetti strap tops for Hermione and Cho and a strapless top for Fleur.
A/N 2 I feel that this is a realistic portrayal of how Harry and Ginny would have fared if they'd gone to the Yule Ball together. Harry really was not thinking of Ginny at all in Book 4. And Ginny might have been willing to agree that they were going 'as friends', but given the fact that she 'never gave up on him' as she states in Book 6, I don't think she'd be able to restrain herself from at least hoping more would come of their date.