"So, how was it?" Ron asked the next morning at breakfast, visibly struggling to maintain an air of indifference.
"Brilliant!" Harry blurted, an enormous grin erupting on his face despite his best efforts. A sudden pain in his leg got his attention, and he noticed Hermione was giving him one of her more angry glares.
"About what you'd expect," Harry amended belatedly. "There was a half-vampire – dunno how that works – but it was a lot less interesting that you would have expected."
"Mmm," Ron grunted sullenly, turning back to his eggs.
"Oh really… you didn't miss anything. McLaggen was an absolutely dreadful date – I'm regretting it all the more now, and Harry didn't even stay – he left early."
Harry shrugged, utterly too pleased with himself and (by the end of it, at least) the night's events. Ron was grinning as well – pleased that Cormac had proven himself a wanker and that Harry seemed in high spirits.
"Ah, he's a decent bloke once you get to know him – a little loud is all. I think we've misjudged him."
Ron's look of smug delight melted into confusion and then a look of horror.
"McLaggen. He's a… well, he's a lot of things, and none of them that I'd like to be," Ron snarked, catching himself as a group of seventh-year prefects passed by. He turned to Hermione half for support, half in accusation. "What happened with McLaggen? Tell Harry he's barmy."
Hermione huffed, sending Harry another poisonous look. "I don't know what happened with McLaggen. Like I said, Harry left early, with Romilda."
Ron looked between the two. Hermione was huffy and once more staring daggers into Harry, while Harry seemed caught between embarrassment and grinning like an idiot. Finally, Ron broke out into a smile of his own.
"Well done, Mate!"
Harry and Hermione stared, not sure what to make of this unexpected development.
"Are you out of your skull!" Hermione shrieked, fighting to keep her voice down – by now the Great Hall was beginning to fill with students who had stayed behind on break. "Romilda Vane, I told you she only cares about you because you're the boy-who-lived, and on top of that was talking about love potions."
As neither Harry nor Ron responded – both continued to stare blankly at her (Harry still wearing that damnable grin) she tried a different tact.
"You took advantage of her. You know how she felt about you, and why, and you took advantage of it. You're all the same, you men." She made the word vulgar.
Harry's mind stumbled, unsure where exactly to begin its grand rebuttal. Ron, it seemed was slightly quicker.
"Bloody hell, Hermione! It's not a big deal or anything, it's just snogging."
Perhaps 'quicker' was the wrong word, Harry mused.
"Brilliant, isn't it?" he said, turning to Harry. "You should have really gotten started sooner, but you caught up eventually," he said with a wink. Hermione looked fit to burst – whether over Ron's indirect reference to Lavender or of his utter lack of comprehension of the full situation, Harry wasn't sure. Come to that, what exactly did Hermione know? He shuddered at the thought. She hadn't come right out and said he'd done… what he bloody well had done – so that was a good sign, but she did seem particularly pissed off.
Just how fast does gossip spread around this place? he thought with a sense of impending dread.
He shook his head, clearing it of such treasonous thoughts. He wasn't going to give a damn one way or another. A twitch in his pants confirmed that the rest of him was in full agreement.
"Oh, lay off, Hermione," Ron added for good measure as Hermione looked fit to spit rivets. "Yeah, she's a bit… nutters, where Harry's concerned, but give a bloke a break, eh? No harm in a one-off go, is there?"
A chorus of giggling jolted Harry away from Ron's earnest if inept attempts at defending him. Turning around, he noticed a gaggle of girls, all surrounding an extremely self-satisfied Romilda Vane. For a moment, his blood ran cold – surely she wouldn't… after all, he knew she was clearly enamored with him, there's no reason to believe that she would say anything about his performance… or if that was too much to ask for, surely she wouldn't have said anything damaging. And, he thought self-righteously, he had given her a bloody good show, when it was all said and done.
And perhaps he was right. Romilda gave him a little wave, and the rest of the girls were looking at him with starry-eyed wonder. He nodded in return, trying to imagine how Cormac would handle the situation. Handle it – that seemed to be his new motto for everything; so much had changed in the last few hours… Right, need to thank Cormac, and have a proper talk with him. Maybe make him reserve keeper… wouldn't change anything and he'd probably like having an official role on the team. Perhaps Ron wouldn't mind if Cormac played one game… Harry frowned, that wasn't likely, but it was something to think about.
"Harry… you still there?" Ron's voice came back to the fore.
"Huh… yeah – just thinking," Harry replied sheepishly.
Ron nodded, as if considering a matter of great gravitas. "You gotta be careful though mate. Don't let any one girl tie you down – be your own man, keep your options open, yeah?"
"Oh really, Ronald?" Hermione interrupted. "And how does Lav-Lav feel about this?"
The inevitable shitstorm was put on hold indefinitely when a thump to the back sent Harry forward, forcing him to grip the table to keep from falling into his food. His attacker identified himself a moment later.
"Harry Fucking Potter, my man! Looks like I wasn't wrong about you after all! A real hero!" Cormac clearly had no worries over who heard him. He sat down next to Harry, picking a piece of bacon off the serving plate as he did so. "No worries Weasley, not here to steal Granger away," he ignored Hermione's huff and Ron's mutinous glare. "Just came to congratulate Harry. How's it feel, getting yourself a prime slab of Azkabait?"
"Azka…" Harry was at a loss – as were his friends, by the looks of it. Where does he come up with these words?
"Well anyway," he paused, chewing the last of the bacon. "Just wanted to check on you – can go either way, really, that first time. Guess you and me are just something else," he gave Harry another thump on the back for good measure. "Bet you're a fuckin' Ironman – you better not be charming the broomstick, dude – that's no way to fly." Cormac's tone indicated he was joking, though that didn't fail to mortify Harry anyway.
"Gotta go - Stimpson's waiting… in a bit of a mood with me, you know how it is. Women."
Harry nodded, adding further fuel to the fire when he instinctively reached out and high-fived Cormac, which ended in a very confused series of hand gestures that Harry didn't quite follow.
"That's how we do it!" Cormac declared. As he turned to leave, Harry stopped him.
"Hey, Cormac – I need to talk to you sometime, err… privately. About some stuff."
Cormac nodded, as if he'd been expecting this. "No problem dude – can do. Pickup game going on tonight at the pitch; why don't you join us and we'll talk after?"
Oblivious to the now shell-shocked duo next to him, Harry nodded. "See you then."
With that, Cormac turned and walked – strutted – to the other end of Gryffindor table, where an extremely frazzled Jessica Stimpson was doing an incredibly poor job of ignoring him.
"Guy's a genius," Harry mumbled softly.
A pained growl brought him back to reality.
"He is," Harry insisted, more forcefully. "You just have to give him a chance."
Ron didn't seem inclined to compromise. "You're playing quidditch, with him. He's the enemy."
Harry snorted. "Yeah… right. Anyway, it's just a friendly. I'm sure you could come too if you like." He paused, thinking about the possible ramifications. "Next week, perhaps," he amended awkwardly.
The three fell into an uncomfortable silence. On the one hand, he supposed he was in part to blame for it this once, and felt he really should do something about it.
On the other, he felt like a million galleons, and damned if he would give it up for anything. It still felt surreal, like how he couldn't have realized before last night how much he was missing out on. He grinned – again. One thing was certain – come hell or high water, he was damned if he was going to be missing out on it any more.
He smiled – he had a lot to learn, but by Merlin he was going to learn it. With half-hearted excuses, he got up, walking out of the Great Hall.
And not a moment too soon. No sooner had he left than Ginny came in, furious, a contrite and confused Dean following in tow.
A minute later, Romilda also stood up, a mischievous smirk on her face – though it was tempered by a dreamy, far-away look that still smoldered in her eyes. Hands brushing down her skirt once, she turned in the direction that Harry had left, bouncing slightly in a not-quite-run as she moved to catch up… pausing only to smile sweetly at Ginny, who seemed to be locked in a staring contest with the fried potatoes…
"Harry! Harry, wait up!"
Harry stopped, turning around as Romilda flounced towards him, his blood warmed at the sight… was it only eight or so hours ago that they'd been together, lying spent in the facsimile of Romilda's room? His arms were open, and she jumped at him, embracing him in a tight hug, breasts pushing into his chest as she cooed into his ear.
"Are you glad to see me?" she asked, voice teasing.
"Yeah," he replied, voice confident and brutally honest. "Glad you're happy, too."
She giggled, "That's so sweet of you to say. You're ever so thoughtful." She beamed at him. Harry beamed back. He was thoughtful.
"So um… what do you want?" He winced – clearly he still needed some work, though Romilda didn't seem to mind.
"I wanted to ask you something," she said, voice coy, and a quart of blood went rushing southwards. "I really enjoyed last night –"
"Me too." Harry interrupted with profound agreement. Romilda giggled again, no longer pressed up tightly against him but still dangerously close."
"But… I wouldn't want you to think I'm like that with just anyone," she said, suddenly much more serious, a pout crossing her face. "If we're going to do this, I think we should be official. Don't you agree?"
"You… you want to be my girlfriend?" The words sounded corny, cliché… foreign, in a way. And in truth, as much as he'd enjoyed last night, he hadn't put a single thought into what this would mean… an actual relationship. On top of which, her… obsession with him was more disturbing than flattering – though that hadn't been the case last night. Belatedly, he realized now was not the time to be hesitant, as Romilda was staring at him with those wide doe-eyes, a flicker of impatience – and, he was a little shocked to see, genuine hurt - marring her otherwise confident gaze.
"Sorry," Harry mumbled, flushing slightly. Don't blow her off, Potter. Let her blow you. "Yeah… caught me by surprise is all. But yes!" He finished as enthusiastically as he could (which, in his defense, was truthfully pretty good). "You're my girlfriend." He was pleased it came out more a statement than a question.
"Mmm, Harry Potter, my boyfriend. Has a nice ring to it," she replied, grinning cheekily, though she also sounded more than a little relieved. Shameful as it was to admit it, it lit a spark in his ego.
Harry didn't care if it had a ring or a rice pudding – what he did care about was Romilda had slipped her hand into his, and was leading him up a very familiar path…
"I thought this time, maybe I could see your room," she said impishly.
A vision, almost a prophesy, played out before his eyes. The Room of Requirement as a mingy cupboard, or a prison-cell of a bedroom, littered with broken toys and ratty books. How would she react – run away in horror? Or sit him down, coax the sorry story of his past out of him, telling him it would be alright, that the worst was over – that together they would make a bright new future?
It was hard to imagine which was more appalling.
I'm Harry Fucking Potter, he thought fiercely. I've got a girlfriend, and I'm going to have sex… again! And I'm not doing it in a replica of Privet Drive. He growled, earning him a look of shock and… awe? – from Romilda. He sped up. Now it was he leading the way, Romilda forced to play catch up, not that she seemed to mind.
A big bed. A massive bed – like Grimmauld. Harry nodded to himself, it was a start. His bed at Grimmauld, and the general layout would do – he could touch it up a bit. No reason my room would be anywhere near as fancy as hers, anyway. Yeah, this could work.
Would. It would work. He'd be damned if the Dursley's were going to haunt him, especially now. He was going to make a nice enough room, and then he was going to make Romilda see stars. Till the room could turn into Filch's office and she wouldn't give a damn.
Harry smiled, feeling a wave of confidence that he'd never felt before. It – and everything else – would work just fine.
Because he was Harry Fuckin' Potter.