A/N FINALLY!!!!! It's done! I know its almost four months late. Oh, all right, almost five months.Well, fine! It's more than five and a half months late! But here it is. I got a bit sidetracked and it didn't finish quite as I'd planned. Again, I realize that some of the characters here seemed OOC (Draco, specifically) but if you read Desperado (under the name DDX) it's the same Draco and he is in character for that story. (looks around absently, realizes that all of her H/P fics are now finished, and she must FINALLY write the original fic or hubby will strangle her. shakes head sadly and tells D/G phantoms to get out of her head, because she can't play right now.)

A/N 2: I really, really hated this chapter, but wanted to finish the story so I could work on other stuff. I learned my lesson. I'd rather wait than post something so full of holes and bad dialog again. Anyway, I couldn't get into the feeling of the story again, but I did dust it off and brush it up a bit. I think it is now a LITTLE bit better. Most of the revisions are near the end of the chapter.

Nine

Harry was trying to think of what he would say to Cho when he finally saw her in the library in a few minutes. She would be upset at him, that was certain. She would also be with that git Ian McDonnough, and Harry didn't like the obvious comparisons between himself and the handsome, tall, muscular Ravenclaw beater. But Ginny seemed to think he still had a chance to make up with Cho; that she somehow preferred him to McDonnough. He didn't care how small the chance was; he would take it. Again, though, trying to figure out what to say to her daunted him.

"Sorry, Cho, I just--," Harry started, but stopped. He just-what? He tried again. "I didn't mean--." He shook his head. He couldn't think of what to say to her. He'd just have to wing it. Glancing at his watch, Harry saw that Cho and Ian would only have been studying for a few minutes. Maybe he could catch her before they got too far into the tutoring session. He was almost at the library when he saw a small group of students in the hallway ahead of him. Too late he realized they were all Ravenclaw males, with Ian McDonnough right in the middle. The boys noticed Harry almost at the same time he noticed them. Harry felt a chill down his spine as he saw the way they lined themselves across the corridor at his approach. Clearly, though, Ian was the ringleader. The large, burly Beater stepped forward cockily, rudely looking Harry up and down.

"Well, mates, look what we have here!" he sneered. "Harry effing Potter. Wonder where he thinks he's going? Maybe he thinks he's going to the library so he can drool over my girlfriend some more."

Harry felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. This looked like it was going to get ugly. The looks on the faces of the other Ravenclaws said that they didn't think much of fellows who tried to steal someone else's girl. Obviously that was what Ian had told them. Harry knew it wasn't true, but he would be hard put to get them to believe it.

"Well, Potter?" McDonnough taunted, stepping forward to give Harry a shove. "We don't like blokes who try to muscle in on another fellow's girl, do we mates?"

Harry stumbled back, but caught himself before he fell on his arse. That would just make him look more a fool. The other boys laughed nastily and crowded toward him. He stood his ground, though. He had been on edge for weeks now, trying to know how to act with Cho, trying to believe that she really did like him, and not just the image of 'Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived'. He almost felt that he'd like a row right now, just to relieve the tension.

"You're a big man, McDonnough," he sneered, trying to get just the perfect amount of distain and arrogance into the expression. He pictured Malfoy doing the same thing, and tried to get that look. "You're very brave with practically your entire Quidditch team to back you up."

He must have done well because McDonnough gave a bellow of rage and launched himself at Harry. Harry sidestepped the larger boy easily, turning and landing a foot in McDonnough's backside for good measure. McDonnough flailed and would have landed on his face if the corridor's wall hadn't stopped his fall. Instead, he slammed into the wall and stood, dazed for a second.

Harry turned back to the other Ravenclaws, eying them warily.

"I don't expect you lot to believe me," he said quickly. "But Cho wants to go to the dance with me, not him."

He jerked his head toward the other boy who was still trying to catch his breath.

"Or, at least, she did," he amended, remembering that he wasn't in her good graces right now.

"Well, what are you waiting for!?" McDonnough demanded, making Harry turn to look at him. The Ravenclaw boy still looked dazed, but his meaning was obvious. Why weren't his mates beating the crap out of Harry.

"Very brave," Harry snapped. "Six on one. What's wrong, Ian? Can't handle me yourself?"

Harry turned to look back the other boys creeping up on him. They stopped when he pulled his wand out. Harry had gotten quite a reputation for his wand use after the Tri-wizard tournament, and they all knew he was quite skilled in hexes. Glaring at Harry and mumbling among themselves, they were just standing there when one of them looked over Harry's shoulder and grinned. Harry frowned at the boy, and then spun around. He was too late. McDonnough had thrown himself at Harry again, but this time, Harry had no time to dodge. McDonnough hit Harry like a ton of bricks and both boys went down in a flailing, furious heap. Harry struck out, landing a few good blows, but McDonnough outweighed him by several pounds, besides having the advantage of being on top. He hauled an arm back and held it there for a minute.

"Who said she wanted to go with you, you bloody git?" he demanded with a loud growl. "Once I'm through with you, you'll be lucky to get Moaning bloody Myrtle to go with you!"

He grinned as he let his fist fly. It would have been a brutal blow if it had landed, but before it could someone threw a robe over McDonnough's head and yanked him off of Harry. He bellowed and fought the confining garment, finally dragging it off and looking for his assailant. His mouth dropped open when he saw Malfoy, and the Weasley girl staring at him like he was a disgusting new bug. Malfoy was missing his robe, so McDonnough zoned in on him as his attacker. He was lumbering to his feet, ready to launch himself at Malfoy when a soft, angry voice stopped him.

"I said I wanted to go to the dance with Harry, that's who said it!" Cho snapped. McDonnough spun around, seeing that Cho had come out of the library, apparently wondering what was taking him so long. She was giving him a hard look that took in her teammates, as well. They backed away as she rounded on them.

"Six against one! And an ambush, too! I can't believe MY team behaved like a bunch of-of-Slytherins!" She turned to Malfoy, her cheeks red. He merely smiled and bowed.

Harry was just pulling himself off the ground, feeling humiliated that he'd been made to look like such a pouf in front of Cho. Gods, he hadn't even been able to defend himself! He needed his former enemy and a girl to get him out of trouble. His body ached from being slammed to the floor and from McDonnough's blows, but Harry barely felt the pain. He was too busy mentally flogging himself. He heard McDonnough talking and forced himself to concentrate.

"-broke my effing nose!" McDonnough was spluttering, as though that explained everything and made it all right again. "Bloody Potter broke my effing nose!"

Harry stared. Sure enough, McDonnough's formerly straight, almost aristocratic nose was now squashed, swollen and bleeding. Right, then, Harry thought. At least he'd got one good punch in.

"What is going on, here?!" a misty, distraught voice demanded suddenly.

Several students whirled around and stared as Professor Trelawney seemed to float toward them, her gauzy robes and scarves swishing and swirling around her body. Her gaze slid over most of the students, mentally dismissing them. Then her large, bespectacled eyes focused on Harry.

"Mr. Potter! I'm shocked to see you brawling in the hallways. Your head of house will hear of this, Mr. Potter. I don't think you'll have to worry about the dance, as you won't be going!"

"WHAT?" Harry cried. "But Professor--,"

"Harry didn't st--,"

Cho and Harry both began to protest, but the professor held up a hand. "I saw what I saw. And I heard my nephew say plainly that Potter broke his nose! Come along, Mr. Potter. I'm sure Professor McGonagall will be interested in what happened!"

"I certainly am, Professor," a stern voice said.

Now it was Professor Trelawney's turn to whirl around and stare. The Head of Gryffindor House was standing perfectly still; stiff and stern looking, at the end of the corridor. It was obvious from the disapproving expression on her face that she had witnessed most of what had transpired. She moved forward, advancing on Professor Trelawney like an avenging angel.

"Imagine!" she said angrily, robes flying around her. "In all my years here! A member of the staff using her position in such a manner! And for what? So her clod of a nephew can have a date for a DANCE?"

Sparks seemed to shoot from Professor McGonagall's eyes. The Divination teacher backed away until she was against the wall.

"Now, Minerva," she said unsteadily. "Let's talk about this somewhere else. We shouldn't be seen to disagree in front of students. It's unseemly."

Professor McGonagall stopped in front of her and gave the collected students a scathing look. Most of them were standing about, mouths agape in amazement. Ian was still trying to staunch the flow of blood from his nose, and Malfoy had retrieved his robe, but otherwise no one else had moved.

"Professor, I can explain," Harry said quickly, wondering just how much trouble he was going to get into for fighting in the halls.

"Save your explanations, Mr. Potter. I don't condone fighting in the halls, but when six boys force one into a fight, I hope I know where to place the blame! And, YOU," she turned her angry look back to Professor Trelawney. She looked like she could spit fire, but took a deep breath, instead, and continued in a more controlled voice.

"You're correct. The library hallway is no place for this conversation. However, I believe the Headmaster will have something to say to you and your despicable nephew. Come along, Mr. McDonnough. Your aunt and I will show you to the Headmaster's office."

Professor McGonagall swept back up the hallway, Ian and Professor Trelawney following in her wake like errant children.

Harry watched them move away and shook his head. Professor McGonagall HAD believed him, after all. Otherwise she would never have been on hand for that little scene. She must have been watching out for him. He'd known her these six years, and she still surprised him. Now that the excitement was over, though, Harry could feel the pain and stiffness settling in everywhere McDonnough had struck him, which was practically everywhere. He twisted his stiff neck and suddenly felt the looks of the other students. As his eyes met that of the Ravenclaw boys, they seemed to shrink against the wall. He turned cautiously and looked at Cho. Her cheeks were flushed and she still looked like she'd like to scratch someone's eyes out.

"Cho, I'm sor--," he began, but she cut him off.

"Serves Ian right, you know," Cho snapped. "I told him a dozen times I wouldn't go out with him. But he wouldn't leave me be. Well, he can fail Divination for all I care."

She stepped toward Harry and gently touched his face. Harry felt his pulse race. He barely noticed the other Ravenclaws muttering apologies to him before slinking (they were actually SLINKING!) back toward Ravenclaw. He scarcely saw Malfoy wrap an arm around Ginny's shoulders and lead her down the corridor. He could only see the tiny, lovely girl in front of him. She was looking at him unhappily and Harry couldn't help himself. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close to him, holding her tightly against him.

"Cho, I'm such an idiot--," he began, but her sob stopped him.

"What!?" he demanded, concerned. "Cho, what is it!?"

"Oh, Harry," she wailed. "I'm so sorry!"

"YOU'RE sorry? For what?" Harry pulled her away from him so he could look at her face. "What did YOU do?"

Tears streamed down her face as she stammered her answer.

"The f-f-fight! It's m-my fault! I knew Ian w-wanted to take me, but I thought he'd t-take no for an answer! You could have b-been hurt!"

He had been, he thought. His whole body ached! But he wasn't going to tell her that!

"Cho, it's not your fault Ian's a prat!" Harry said firmly. "I just wish I would have defended myself better." The last was said almost to himself.

Cho sniffed and wiped at her eyes. "Goodness," she said quietly. "I didn't realize you were so bloodthirsty."

"Huh?"

Harry's puzzled expression brought a small, watery smile to her face.

"Well, his cheek is swollen, his face is all scratched up and you, er, broke his effing nose, he said. He was even limping and holding his ribs when he left. Don't you think that was enough?"

Harry had to smile, too. She thought he'd done all that? His self-esteem dragged itself out of the gutter and brushed itself off. He realized that McDonnough must have hurt himself when he'd run into the wall. Harry wasn't about to enlighten her, though. He focused on her face again, cupping her wet cheeks in his hands.

"Look, Cho, there's something I have to tell you," Harry began, searching her face.

"What is it?" she asked quietly.

Harry suddenly couldn't think of a thing to say. He did, however, know precisely what to do.

"Just this," he murmured as he brought his lips to hers.

As Harry was waiting outside the Great Hall for Cho, he talked quietly to Ron, Hermione and Ginny. Ron and Hermione were lovey-dovey again and Harry was relieved. Ginny looked very pretty as she waited for Malfoy, and Harry was, frankly, nervous as hell. The kiss he'd shared with Cho had been breathtaking. Her cheeks had been flushed and her eyes had glowed when he'd walked her back toward Ravenclaw. And he'd nearly kicked himself when he'd discovered how easy it had been to kiss her. He'd finally given her the heart-shaped box of chocolates he'd bought in Hogsmeade, and she'd seemed very pleased. He had even snuck a kiss or two before walking her to her classes yesterday. But he was still nervous. He knew she really liked him, but it was still so new that his stomach fluttered at the thought of dancing with her and talking with her, knowing he'd be kissing her again, later. Ron's voice interrupted his thoughts.

"So tell me again about the fight? And that git?" he asked, causing Hermione to click her tongue.

"Honestly, Ron, he treats Ginny well, he doesn't bother you, and he helped Harry. How long are you going to keep up this stupid feud?"

Ron looked at Hermione, surprised. "Honest to God, Hermione. I was talking about Ian, not Malfoy!"

Ginny giggled and Hermione blushed. Since he had stopped McDonnough from pounding Harry to a pulp during the ambush, Malfoy had risen another notch or two in Ron's opinion.

Harry was tired of relating the story. It wasn't all that interesting; especially since the only damage he could actually take credit for was the 'effing' broken nose. He didn't have to. Cho and Malfoy were both approaching. Malfoy stepped to Ginny's side, murmuring softly into her ear. He looked at the other Gryffindors and nodded a greeting.

Harry and Hermione smiled and nodded back, but Ron surprised everyone by saying, "Malfoy," pleasantly, and even going as far as to offer a smile. Malfoy raised his eyebrows, but was very wisely silent. Harry turned to Cho.

"You look beautiful," he breathed as he took her hand.

Her eyes sparkled as she returned the compliment.

"You look great, too!"

Harry could have stood there forever, just staring at her, but the others made impatient noises and he grinned, embarrassed.

"Shall we?" Ron said, theatrically motioning toward the door to the Great Hall.

The other couples moved toward the sounds of laughter and music coming from the dance, but Harry pulled Cho back.

"What is it, Harry?" she asked, a slightly puzzled look on her face.

"Just this," he murmured, pulling her hand to his lips.

Making sure she was watching carefully, he brushed his lips across the back of her hand, then, slowly, deliberately, he turned her hand over. Her eyes widened slightly and her breath caught in her throat as he met her eyes.

"Happy Valentine's Day, Cho," he said hoarsely.

Then, quickly, softly, excitingly, he flicked her palm ever so lightly with his tongue.

Taking her hand in his, he led a now dazed Cho into the Valentine's dance.