I do not own anything you recognize relating to Harry Potter—but this is what happens when you read too many interpretations of the Arthuriana, you have to write something similar.
It was a fine castle worthy of Merlin and his successors—but that meant little to one specific man in its halls. There were towering buttresses and lower corridors, grand rooms and hidden nooks, shadowed halls and ornate glass windows.
Yet the splendor meant little as Harry paced the hall erratically, his hands stressing his hair as he cursed under his breath and made sure none of the ladies, or any of the lords he was particularly embittered to, found him in such a state.
He couldn't get her words out of his head.
Maybe she hadn't meant them in that way, or maybe she had but hadn't thought ill of it.
Harry did though; he thought he might even be over thinking it. Hermione would certainly have laughed at that notion—as she had never accused him of thinking at all.
That is to say, she'd accused Ronald of never being up to that heavy task and Harry had just quietly assumed guilt by association.
Well, he'd certainly stand apart from Ronald right now.
"You're the hero."
Harry cursed and spun to a window, bracing himself on the arching stones around it and leaning his overheated head against the cool stained glass. The picture of Galahad ascending into Glory cast warm yellow lights upon his form, but Harry only strained to see beyond the stained glass and its ameliorating lights.
They were preparing for the tournament out there, and Lady Ginevra would be amongst the milling crowd of women watching with anticipation.
The very thought of the beautiful and much sought Ginevra waiting with the rest of the ladies tasted bitter on his tongue.
And it had only been three words.
He sighed and closed his eyes, focusing on the warming glass and the cool stones under his hands.
He was contemplating settling down, courting the very Lady Ginevra Weasley that had hurt him so unknowingly. The prize for the tournament was the smallest of the king's collection, with the promise that at the next joust the king would offer the next larger diamond until he'd awarded his French collection. Everyone was anticipating Harry's participation in the jousts, his crest and shield present for more accolades and sport—and for him to start courting his bride with the diamonds.
Harry was sick of it now, a tight feeling in his throat as if he'd be physically ill at this new emotional tumult. Before, it had been fun and games, now, because of Ginevra, it was about him pandering to everyone's notion that he was the hero, the Boy-Who-Lived.
It was about catering to their belief that he was the winner, the one who would undoubtedly take home the diamonds.
They were waiting for his name.
A mad half formed thought came to him, and with its rush his feet marched him down the halls and to the stables, there he readied and mounted his horse.
The tournament was in two days time, which was time enough for him to work his solution to this problem.
If Ginevra, the lady he'd been so certain would see past his "heroic" deeds, could only see the title, then he needed a way to see how people reacted to the nameless man.
As abrupt as his trip had been, he was parched and hungry by the time he came across a share hold. The people were friendly enough, and called in their master from his work. At his manse Harry spent the rest of that day and the next.
The man had sent his sons off to become knights in the Masters castle and was very eager for his company. In fact, when told of Harry's plight he'd expanded on his half-witted plan until Harry was fitted out in the armor of the son closest his size. The heraldry on the shield clearly indicated he was third born and therefore not prominent, and the make was not ornate and bold like most spent their coin on.
It combined with a full-faced helmet to make Harry himself the very nameless man he'd been searching for.
With warm goodbyes, and a promise of a later visit no matter which way fortune fell at the tournament, Harry made his journey back to Hogwarts and the looming joust.
It was close to the tournament start; crowds were idling and beginning to fill the stands when Harry managed to mark his "name" on the list of contestants. He eyed them from under the brim of his scruffy hat but shuffled along quietly.
He could see everyone he knew from the school and its surrounding lands.
But there were strangers there too—and he certainly wouldn't draw too much attention.
It was with a mischievous grin that he set himself up on the edges of those gathered for the tournament and prepared for his turn.
The armor the older man had managed to give him came over the thin chainmail—and his helmet and simple shield were carried with him until he neared the stables and had to put on the helmet in fear of meeting any of his acquaintances.
But he met no trouble, beyond the trouble a stranger could expect when coming to game on someone else's home turf—still, he was largely ignored in his unassuming guise.
Readying his horse he set himself up for his first joust.
He lost the one after that, and the one after that.
Purposefully losing every joust he was set in he waited for the reactions.
It helped his disguise that he displayed little to no talent—the crowd assumed he was the no-name son of a no-name baron without a wit or penny to his name.
Still, despite this being his plan, he hadn't expected it to hurt.
And it had done so when he'd almost run into his friends, but managed to hide around the tent flap instead.
"He should just go back where he came from—there's no point being here. He has no name and no talent." Ginny's words cut to Harry where he sat, hidden in the shadows of his tent.
He heard Ron's distinct snort followed by, "He doesn't even have full armor. What kind of sporting man is he? It's bloody shameful that's what it is."
Ron had gotten his full armor from his brothers, a mismatched set that had been reworked to fit his frame.
"At least he's trying," Neville managed unsurely—clearly not wanting to stand up fully for the losing jouster.
Some of the ladies laughed at him.
Harry peeked around the corner to see Neville and Hermione standing together, watching the group. The large man stood still kitted out in his armor, shuffling his feet noisily. His bookish friend stood beside him solidly, a book indeed in her hand and almost hidden in the voluminous folds of her skirts—her expression was stony.
They continued a few more jests towards his nameless guise, mocking him soundly while laughing and joking around with each other.
Harry clenched his teeth. The crowds had been saying exactly the same thing—and he had doubted but now he saw that his friends were just like them. They might as well be arrogant strangers.
He retreated to his tent.
He was there a while, brooding in full armor without the energy to remove it. This was his state when he heard Hermione's voice outside his tent, "Sir Knight?"
He panicked and the rush of adrenaline thankfully lowered his voice—it wouldn't do to not respond to a lady. It was the knight's code—not doing so would draw more negative attention to him. "Yes?" he managed gruffly.
He saw her shadow hesitate.
"May I speak with you?"
Harry cursed but quickly grabbed his towel, emerging from the tent and scrubbing at his forehead with the cloth so that she couldn't recognize him with his face plate removed.
"What?" he spoke gruffly again.
She cleared her throat, "I wanted to express my regrets."
Harry felt anger burn in him—"What? Is this another trick of you and yours? Come to mock me for my lacking skills? I can do without your pity or your laughter."
She huffed, "I wanted to apologize."
Harry froze. He continued after a pause when she didn't move to say more. "You want to apologize," he repeated woodenly.
Why would she want to apologize? She hadn't said anything, she hadn't done anything against this nameless man in their midst.
"Oh honestly," she said in her exasperated, no-nonsense tone. Then she smiled shyly and ducked her head slightly, "I did want to apologize. They had no right to shame you like that."
Harry cleared his throat and carefully kept his face averted under the towel.
Still in full armor she couldn't possibly recognize him, except she was close enough to perhaps see the betraying color of his eyes were he not mopping his brow.
At his lack of response her face twitched in slight hurt—then she recovered. "Well," she said briskly, back to the friend he knew instead of the soft woman he'd just seen, "I'd best leave you to your preparations." She nodded respectfully and then quickly ducked out of the shade he'd found refuge in.
He lowered his towel and watched her leave with pained eyes.
As soon as she was out of his company she stiffened and primly set her book in front of her. She carried herself the exact same way she had since he'd known her—defensively.
A hard swallow forced him to rub his throat as he watched her join the other ladies and yet still shield herself from them.
He continued losing his jousts for that day.
The whispers stopped bothering him—even Lady Ginevra and Sir Ronald failed to rouse his ire and hurt. Instead his eyes and ears were for anything regarding Lady Hermione.
He found it humiliating and humbling that he learned more about her in those hours than he had learned in years of friendship. He rather thought he'd been lacking in his duty as her friend, and even more lacking when it came to seeing how much she honored her status as his friend.
After his last losing joust he made to his tent and took off his helmet. Staring at the unremarkable metal he caressed the dents and smoothed the crest—for something unassuming it still performed its task.
Even without his emblazon upon the metal it still protected him.
He swallowed heavily.
Closing his green eyes he toweled off his sweaty brow and set to removing the rest of his armor—it wasn't the full set the Lords possessed and so he didn't need an attendant and this helped in his nameless, poor-man disguise, but it also still performed properly.
He wondered why he'd never realized that he himself was falling into the mindset of the other Lords and Ladies.
As an orphan mistreated by his next of kin he had sworn never to take anything for granted—and then his magic was discovered and he'd been taken to the very school Merlin had built for his four pupils.
Hermione hadn't been orphaned, but the only child of a muggle couple. Still, she'd taken to the teachings of Merlin with a vigor that was only matched by Harry in Defense and Neville in Herbology. It was only in the sporting games that she desisted in enthusiasm.
She preferred to watch the jousting or the lawn games—a book always handy if the playing fancy struck the others.
That he'd been ignoring her made Harry feel like he was succumbing to the ideals of the school. She was nameless and penniless in their world, and many of the other students mocked her or went out of their way to ignore her.
Harry sighed and settled into his cot for the night.
He'd do something about it in the morning.
As he was in his tent the next day, fully kitted up and fingering the hilt of his worn sword, he saw a shadow at his tent entrance. The fully skirted figure hesitated, but then moved away.
Harry emerged quickly to see the swish of Hermione's skirts and her tell-tale hair as she kept her head down and walked quickly to the stands.
His heart hurt to watch her run from him.
He took the reins to his horse from the stable boy and emerged in the sun to walk his mount and warm their muscles.
The court ladies were already gathered in one cluster, brightly colored dresses and scarves shifting slightly with the wind. Harry gasped and cut his eyes back to them.
That was how he could communicate his regret.
He grinned underneath his helmet as he led his horse over to the ladies. They tittered and huddled closer together when he drew close, and he bowed in greeting before looking through their colors.
Hermione usually wore a darker, simpler dress from the shoulders, and her scarf would be the black and white lace that he'd gifted her with one year on her birthing day—she had nothing else fancy enough to fit in with the ladies so she'd be sure to wear it now, if only not to stand out too much.
He found her eyeing him warily from behind an open book, seated close to the outside of the huddle.
He cleared his throat and removed his lance, extending it to her and bowing.
The ladies froze. Hermione looked at the lance tip with wide eyes, her book tilting until it fell from her hands into her lap. At the impact her eyes snapped to his, and he bowed deeper under her gaze.
It was only right he humble himself publicly as his thoughts had humbled him earlier.
He felt an extra weight on the lance and looked up to catch her understanding, and slightly sad eyes, as she carefully braced the lance and tied her scarf on it.
He breathed in deep and stood, carefully tilting his lance until the hooped scarf fell to the handle. He bowed again and then claimed his horse to walk back to the stables.
He ignored the tittering of the other ladies as they teased Hermione and joked about his jousting skills. He had Hermione's favor for this days sport, and he'd be sure to honor her for it.
As he sat prepared for his first joust, he breathed in deeply and slowly, slipping into the meditative trance that always came over him when he gave his all. Today he would not be throwing the matches; he would be doing his utmost to honor Hermione.
He lowered his lance tip as he galloped towards his opponent, another stranger who was ranked lowly in the tournament.
The crowd was silent as he unseated the man and he didn't get up. Harry trotted his horse back to his gate. The hush carried for several minutes as the other man's squire rushed out to aid him.
Then the roaring started. Everyone everywhere was asking questions, shouting to be heard over the other and some even trying to call out to him.
He was the only contestant that had unseated his opponent on the first run.
He watched a few others perform but they were nervous and unfocused.
On his next match there was an uncertain air about the crowds and his opponent—and Harry won again on the first run.
His next match he caught a blow on the first run but remained seated, he defeated his opponent in the second run.
Onwards into his sixth match no one had taken him to the third and last run.
He'd watched as Hermione got progressively livelier, leaning into the railing and putting her book down, smiling at him and standing during the intense moments of his jousting matches.
He grinned over making her so enthusiastic.
It was on his seventh match that his opponent managed to unseat him in the second run—but Harry emerged unscathed and quickly stood while drawing his sword, making sure the stable boy had his horse.
Hermione had her hands over her mouth as she watched with wide eyes.
But then his opponent wheeled around and charged while still seated.
The crowd gasped and Hermione shouted something, but adrenaline had Harry as he watched his dishonorable opponent. When the knight neared and lowered his lance Harry readied and waited until the last possible moment.
With a great cry he jumped and caught the lance under his arm, bearing his weight down on it as he raised his sword and unseated the man with its hilt.
The horse whinnied fearfully and galloped to the stables.
The man shook off his daze only to look up at Harry over sword tip—wand held threateningly aimed in the free hand. The knight gulped and inched his fingers to his lance only to find it splintered and shattered, his sword to unwieldy to draw in such a position.
"Yield," Harry said angrily.
The man ducked his head and did. When Harry drew away his sword and fingered his wand the man quickly scuttled away to his squire.
The roar of the crowd rose in approval—glad that he had bested the dishonored knight though no one could have interfered during the joust.
He closed his eyes and let out a breath as one of the stable boys rushed out. "Sir! Your horse is recovered, we thought he'd been hit but he's strong and active. He'll be fine for the next two matches."
Harry grinned and ruffled the boy's hair, "Thank you."
He then turned to the crowds, particularly the seats where the single ladies sat together, and then he raised his unbroken lance.
Hermione's scarf waved dramatically in the wind, and she blushed and ducked her head. The crowd murmured as he attributed his win to her—for there was no mistaking the simple piece as anything but hers. No other lady would have worn it.
In a way she was the reason for his victory—he had something to prove about the nameless ones now. Harry had planned to simply throw all the matches, but he had something to fight for; Harry had felt like a nameless one before, and Hermione deserved some recognition even though she didn't come from an established clan like the others.
This joust was to prove that they were just as important and skilled.
He bowed to her and fingered the scarf as he brought his lance back down and went to the stables.
His horse was incensed, prancing on the spot and ready to go for the next matches.
Harry won those in the first runs.
Afterwards while cleaning off his horse, he heard some grumbling, but mostly he heard respect.
That was a respect he'd earned—not one for his old family name and riches or the deeds he'd done to defeat the Dark Lord.
Only Ginevra voiced any louder complaint—"If Harry were here that knight wouldn't have stood a chance."
He closed his eyes and leaned his head against his horse's neck, breathing in the dusty smell of hay and oats and leather as he calmed down. So Ginny couldn't accept a nameless knight having any talent, clinging to the idea of Harry, Lord Potter, in the pride they grasped to as purebloods.
His horse whickered at him and then snapped her tail at his legs.
He laughed at her apt timing; any longer and he would have brooded into a mess.
A sigh escaped him as he finished undressing his horse, leaning against her flank as he stared into the darkness of the stables and shuffled his feet in the hay. Rubbing his nose and then mopping his forehead with the back of his hand.
It was time for the charade to end.
Looking around he spotted the ladies, and walking up to them they parted like before a practicing magician. Hermione stood in the back, waiting for him to reach her.
She bit her lip and hugged her book tighter when he stopped in front of her. Licking his lips Harry eyed her from behind his face plate, watching her big brown eyes and counting the few freckles that spread like brown sugar across her nose.
"This is yours," he said quietly, carefully reaching out and displaying the smoothed and folded cloth he had in his hand.
Hermione smiled and blinked quickly, she reached out with her small hands and closed his fingers over the delicate cloth. "Please keep it," she whispered.
"You must accept something," he pressed softly.
She smiled and ducked her head, "No, you've gifted me already."
Harry swallowed—"The prize for the tournament was only the smallest diamond of the king's collection, I'd gift you that but it appears you'll not accept any token of my affection."
Hermione sucked in a sharp breath and looked up at him through her lashes. "The smallest it may be, but also the best crafted and clearest of them all. You're right; I won't accept that either, Sir Knight."
She raised her chin and smiled. "You won for me, I think that's gift enough." Her eyes were shiny and her smile was brilliant, Harry grinned and shook his head.
"My Lady, you are the brightest most beautiful woman here, you deserved no less." He reached up and grasped his helmet. Pulling it off he shook out his hair and gazed happily at the woman in front of him.
Her eyes widened and a hand went to push her hair back (a nervous gesture he'd watched many times before).
A few louder gasps had him turning to discover the king with his entourage had been approaching to hand him his prize and now played audience to his unveiling. Ronald and Ginevra gaped at him, but Neville smiled crookedly.
King Fudge spluttered but shakily held out the velvet bag. Harry quietly took it with a little bow.
Then he turned his attention back to Hermione.
He watched her as he emptied the diamond into his palm, feeling its clean cut edges and seeing its sparkle. He rather thought it was like the sparkle in her eyes as she stared into his green ones.
Harry smiled and offered it to her. "At least accept this so I can begin my courting."
She gasped and smiled more brightly, her hand reaching out to rest over his instead of grasping the diamond. The cold jewel warmed between their hands, and Harry smiled as he gently squeezed her fingers.
"I accept," she said firmly.
Amidst the milling and sputtering crowd, Harry pulled her close and kissed her.
It was the strangest courting anyone had ever seen or heard of, but Harry had played the Strange Knight to find his way and Hermione had always been the strange woman.
It was, pardon, strangely fitting that their relationship be unique to them.