Feeling like a Girl
Disclaimer: Harry Potter, and all the characters associated there with, belong to JK Rowling, Scholastic, and probably some other people. Also any similarities to any other work from here are unintentional. I make no profit from this story and I write this just for fun.
I would like to extend a very special thank you to my daughter Amanda, and to my beta "reptilia28", for all the hard work they put into helping me with this story.
AN: NEW… After reading several reviews, I have gone back and tried to fix as much as I could. I still can't believe I missed so much the first time. And I'm sure there is still more (please let me know). Anyway didn't change the story much, mostly just spelling, grammar, and a couple of odds and ends. I did add a little to fill in some more detail. I sincerely hope that some of you, who took the time to review before, will find the time to do so again, and let me know if this is an improvement.
AN: "Feeling like a Girl" is my first attempt at fanfiction, and is actually a small part of a much bigger story I currently working on. This part occurs in the middle somewhere, during fourth year. I decided to pull this chapter out, add just a bit, and post it as a one shot, hoping to get some feedback and maybe improve the rest of the story. Hopefully I caught all things that are non canon that you would know about if you had read the whole story. The rest I'll tell you about.
Neither Harry nor Hermione went to the Burrows during summer break. They also didn't go to the Quidditch World Cup. Ron and Harry are not quite back to their old friendship yet… that should do it.
Feeling like a Girl
As November came to a close, the students of Hogwarts were beginning to get excited about Christmas. Harry, Hermione, and Ron, along with several of their fellow Gryffindors had just been enjoying one of Hogwarts' fine breakfast meals when Professor McGonagall stood from the staff table and walked over to the podium to make an announcement.
"May I have your attention please," she began, gaining everyone's attention. "As I'm sure you all have noticed, the headmaster is still away from the school on Ministry business. Since he won't be returning for a few more days, he has asked me to make an announcement." Knowing what was likely to happen, she paused to brace herself. "It is part of the Tri-Wizard Tournament tradition for the school that is hosting…to hold a Yule Ball." The immediate reaction was nothing short of pandemonium.
As far as Harry could tell, all the girls in the school instantly started chattering excitedly amongst themselves; the boys on the other hand were deathly quiet, and some even had looks of terror on their faces. Harry looked over at Hermione who was talking to Ginny so fast that he was hard pressed to catch every third word. Looking around at the rest of the table, it seemed that only Ron looked as nervous as him. Neville seemed nervous as well, though it was hard to tell with him as he always looked a little nervous. The Weasley twins on the other hand did not seem bothered at all.
"Oi Harry, why the panicked look," Fred asked with a huge smile that told Harry that he already knew, but had to ask anyway.
Harry had good reason to feel the way he did, he and surprises normally did not mix well. And here was yet another in a growing list, and the term was not even close to being over.
"Well for one thing, I've never been to a ball before, I don't even know how to dance," Harry started. "Most likely end up stepping all over my date's feet and making a fool out of myself. Not sure who'd want to go with someone like that?" he finished, now feeling slightly down.
As the twins laughed, Ginny rolled her eyes and said, "You're Harry Potter, the Boy- Who-Lived, not to mention the Boy-Who-Slew-A-Dragon. Who wouldn't go with you?"
"Yeah Harry, and you're a Tri-Wizard champion," Hermione added with a small smile. "I'm sure you will find someone." Her gaze lingered on him for a moment longer than normal before returning to her conversation with Ginny.
"But who?" Harry mumbled as he stared at nothing, confusion and frustration coursing through him.
Neville being the shy boy he was actually had the best advice, and said in a quite, somewhat shaky voice, "I'd ask someone I know and like."
Ron, between two rather large bites of bacon jumped in with, "I'm going to ask someone hot looking." This time it was Hermione who rolled her eyes while Ginny just shook her head in amazement. Ginny loved her brother, but she was not going to allow him to keep embarrassing her like this in the future; she would have to talk to him later. The twins, who had been watching all this with a smile on their faces, could not contain their amusement any longer and burst out laughing.
"Good luck with that little Ronniekins!" Fred managed to choke out between laughs. Ron glared at the infamous pranksters while everyone else laughed at the comment.
Harry glanced back to Hermione who was talking to Ginny again and sighed, "It's always something," not noticing the quick look she gave him, right after he turned away. Maybe she could help him work it out later.
Later that afternoon the trio found themselves back in the Gryffindor common room. Hermione was sitting at a table helping Ron with some class work that should have been done yesterday. Harry was all caught up with his work, so he was left alone with his thoughts in front of the fire.
He had spent most of the morning and all of lunch thinking about the ball and who he might ask. His first thought was Cho Chang, a Ravenclaw fifth-year that had caught his eye. She was quite pretty but he really did not know her very well. How would he approach her, what would he say? That was Harry's problem: All the girls he thought about, he either disliked, did not know, or they were only interested in him because he was the Harry Potter. Maybe I'm going about this all wrong, Harry thought to himself. Who do I know, like and at least looks nice?
As Harry sat staring into the fire from his spot on the couch, an idea finally came to him, a smile slowly creeping up his face. I've known her forever, of course I like her and she is certainly pretty. His mind made up, Harry decided that he would ask her after dinner.
Dinner came and went with Harry barely saying a word. Most of the Gryffindor students were back in the tower; some had already turned in for the night while the rest milled around the common room. Ron and Dean were playing a game of chess while Ginny and Lavender carried on a hushed conversation punctuated by an occasional giggle. Harry sat across from Hermione working on schoolwork, or at least she was working, he was too worked up to get anything meaningful done. Harry knew Hermione was usually the last one to go to bed, she always worked late; all he had to do was wait for everyone else to leave, and then he could talk to her alone. It seemed like forever, but things were finally beginning to quiet down.
"Oi Harry, you're next."
"Sorry Ron, I think I'm going to try and finish this."
Ron looked over and let out a long yawn, "Okay, well I am kind of knackered, guess I'll head up to bed, when are ya coming up?" Things were still a little cool between the two boys and although Ron had apologized, he couldn't help continuing to feel a little angry at Harry sometimes. He didn't know why, but it was there, an irritation of sorts, fuming, waiting, just below the surface.
"Ah, in a bit Ron," Harry said with a hint of nervousness as he looked up; after a quick glance at Hermione added, "I'm almost finished with this and then I wanted to talk to Hermione about something." He mentally crossed his fingers and hoped that Ron would not ask about what. Even though he had known Hermione for over three years now, this was going to be hard enough without his other friend prying.
Ron gave Harry a weird look before shrugging his shoulders and turning to the stairs. "Alright mate, see you later, night Hermione."
"Night Ron," Hermione said while looking at Harry and wondering just what he might want to talk about. A short time later Hermione closed her book and started to put away her things. "So you wanted to talk?" She asked, looking back up at Harry. Harry, who was already nervous, started to fidget and she couldn't help but notice. "Harry, are you alright?"
"Yeah, I ah…" Harry trailed off, taking a deep breath in an attempt to calm himself. He looked around to see if they were alone in the room.
"Harry, is everything okay?" Hermione asked, her concern growing.
Realizing that he couldn't stall any longer, "Ah, yeah, sorry" Harry turned and looked at Hermione. "Has anyone asked you to the ball yet?"
Caught slightly off guard, "No, not yet" she answered with a small blush. Hermione wasn't sure why she felt this way, but hoped the dim light of the room would hide the color in her cheeks.
"Well you know I can't dance, and my hair is always out of control, and…" Harry rambled while looking down.
Hermione cut him off, "Harry".
He looked up to see her smiling and he regained some of his confidence. "Hermione, I was hoping that you might like to go to the Yule Ball with me," he finished uneasily, certain that she would say no. Sure they were friends, but to go the ball with him, he just couldn't think of any reason why she would; certainly someone else would be a far better choice than him. Harry was certain that as sweet and attractive as Hermione was, she'd be a sought-after date to the ball.
Hermione was dying to go to the ball and couldn't wait to be asked by someone, even though she doubted anyone would think to ask the school bookworm. She had briefly though of Harry, but had little hope that he would ask. After all, he was a Hogwarts champion, not that it mattered to her, but he could probable ask anyone and they say yes. It was not as if she fancied him, but she did kind of find him handsome. Plus, we always get along so well together, we'd probably have fun, she thought.
Astounded, but happy, Hermione smiled, "Of course Harry, I'd love to go with you to the ball." Now it was her turn to look down while blushing even more.
Harry looked surprised, "Really, that's great! Hey, maybe I can even learn to dance a little." Both Harry and Hermione laughed at what would turn out to be no small joke, and then sat looking at each other with excited smiles; the moment seemed to last forever, until Professor McGonagall walked in.
"Ah Mister Potter, I'm glad you're still up," she looked both angry and sad at the same time. "I apologize for the late hour, but I've only just now been told myself and felt that you would want to know as soon as possible."
"What's wrong, Professor?" Harry asked, his voice still gleeful from Hermione's acceptance.
She quirked an eyebrow at his enthusiasm for a moment before adopting a serious expression, "I'm afraid I have to pass on a terrible request to you, Mister Potter," McGonagall said. Harry glanced over to Hermione who had a worried look on her face then back to his head of house. "It would seem that during the ball there will be a considerable number of members from both the Ministry, as well as the international press," she explained.
"I don't see how that has anything to do with me, Professor," Harry said, slightly confused.
"Neither do I," McGonagall said, some of her Scottish accent and anger slipping out, "But the Ministry is afraid that the foreign press will not understand your involvement, and they are worried about their image."
"So let me guess, they don't want Harry to attend?" Hermione asked half-jokingly, but stopped laughing when she saw the serious look on her professor's face. "Do they have the right?" she asked in shock. McGonagall was not surprised that her smartest student was able to figure it out so fast.
"No, but I'm afraid the headmaster does," she replied uneasily.
"Unbelievable!" Hermione practically yelled, now clearly upset. "What in the world is he thinking? It's not fair; Harry has more than earned the right to be there."
After a short pause McGonagall sadly continued, "I know, and believe me, I feel the same way as you, but…"
"Professor Dumbledore thinks they may be right," Harry interrupted dully. Professor McGonagall silently nodded in confirmation.
Hermione's face became red with anger. "Harry has done everything they've asked of him, this is just wrong!" she shouted.
"Miss Granger, I must ask that you control your temper," McGonagall snapped before turning to Harry. "I don't believe that the headmaster would force you to stay away, but he will try to talk you out of it, so it is up to you." Harry glanced at Hermione then back to his teacher.
"Well, to be honest I would like to go, especially since I know who I'd be going with," he said as he turned and gave Hermione a small smile before continuing. "But seeing as half the school still thinks I cheated to get in the tournament in the first place, I'm not sure that I want to cause any more controversy." Hermione and McGonagall shared a concerned look as they waited for Harry to continue. "If the headmaster thinks it's best for the school, then I guess I'll do as he requests." Looking back at Hermione, he added, "Even though I can't dance, I'm sure I would have had a great time going with you." He could see the disappointment on her face and it made him at the same time both angry at the injustice and sad for how this was affecting Hermione. Looking down, Harry softly said, "I'm sorry Hermione, I don't know what else to do."
Hermione saw the conflict in his eyes, duty versus desire. Although he hid his feeling well, she knew he wanted to go, but also knew how much he respected Dumbledore. This is just another example of how life seemed to treat Harry Potter, and Hermione was growing tired of it. She moved to stand next to Harry then turned towards McGonagall, her eyes flashing with anger.
"I can't believe this, it's wrong and we all know it, Professor Dumbledore knows it, and…and it's so unfair." Hermione's voice quivered slightly as she went on. "What's Harry supposed to do, just sit around up here while everyone else is having a good time?" Hermione was definitely worked up now as she turned back to Harry and put a hand on his arm. "Don't worry Harry, if you can't go then I'm not going either. I'll stay here with you and we can have our own dance, right here."
Hermione no," Harry said, looking up suddenly, desperation in his voice. "I know you would stay, and I really can't express how much I appreciate it, but you've done so much for me already. This ball is going to be very special, and who knows if there'll be another one before we graduate. And besides, these things are practically made for girls," he added with a smile. Taking both her hands in his, "Hermione, please don't pass it up because of me. I want you to go, I want you to have a good time, and then you can come back here and tell me all about it." Harry stared at Hermione while she was looking down; he didn't have to see the sad look on her face to know exactly how she felt. After a moment Harry asked again, "okay?" Slowly she looked up, her teary eyes finally meeting his. She looked at Harry with concern for a few more seconds then leaned forward and wrapped him in a tight hug. Harry closed his eyes and hugged her back then whispered gently into her ear, "Hermione, please."
Hermione didn't like the idea; she had really been looking forward to going with Harry, but she knew this wasn't easy for him either, so with her head still on his shoulder she reluctantly gave a nod of acceptance.
While looking at the two teenagers with sympathy, McGonagall placed a hand on Hermione's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.
"I'm sorry," she said softly before slowly turning away and leaving.
After a few minutes of silence, Harry pulled back.
"Well, we better get to sleep or we'll be completely worthless tomorrow.
"Yeah we better, before they ask you to stop sleeping as well," Hermione replied bitterly.
Harry took her hand and gave it a little squeeze to show he appreciated her support, and at the same time gave a short laugh and said "come on, let's go."
The next morning down in the Great Hall they meet up with Ron, Ginny, Neville, and the twins.
"What's wrong with you two?" Ron asked, noticing his friends' depressed looks.
"Professor McGonagall had some bad news," Harry replied as he sat down.
"She told Harry that Professor Dumbledore didn't think it would be a good idea for him to go to the ball," Hermione added.
"What? Why not?" Ginny asked a little louder than was necessary.
"He's afraid he might cause the school some kind of controversy or some such rubbish," Hermione huffed.
"Well that's just stupid, what are you going to do Harry?" Neville said with a shake of his head.
As Harry was about answer, Viktor Krum walked over and gave a nod of greeting as he came up to them. Harry nodded back then turned back to Neville.
"What can I do? I'll probably just stay away like he asked."
"Well, now at least you won't have to worry about finding a date," Ron managed to say between bites, not entirely sure if he should have felt bad for Harry or not.
Viktor who had initially came over to talk to Hermione, now turned to Harry, "yous are not going to the ball, but vhy?"
Harry with a touch of sarcasm in his voice gave his one-word answer, "Dumbledore."
The twins shared a look before rushing over to Harry one on each side.
"Don't worry, Harry," Fred started.
"Yeah, we'll take you," George continued.
"It'll be a threesome!" they finished together.
"Ah… gee thanks guys, but no," Harry brushed them off with a nervous laugh. Viktor, not quite sure what to think of the twins, decided to ignore them.
"Harry I'm sorry zat you are not going. As a Tri-Wizard champion you should be there."
Harry who was also trying to ignore the twins looked back up at Viktor, slightly surprised "Thanks," he replied with a nod of appreciation.
Viktor gave his young colleague one final glance and a quick nod before he turned to look at Hermione and in a slightly softer voice asked.
"Her-my-owe-nee," he said, slowly pronouncing the girl's name to get it correct, "I vas vondering if you had a date for ze ball yet?" Ron, who up to that point had been sitting quietly, listening to the conversation about this latest development while he finished his dinner, started laughing.
"It's only the first day, are you mental?" he asked, looking between Hermione and Viktor.
Hermione glared at Ron and said, "As a matter of fact I had a date but he had to cancel."
"Right," Ron said as he continued laughing.
"Shut up, Ron," Ginny and Harry snapped at the redhead in unison.
While Ginny continued to glare at her brother Ron, Hermione looked at Harry, silently thanking him with her eyes. By now Neville, Ginny and the twins had figured out who had asked Hermione to the Yule Ball, though Ron was still clueless.
"Then Her-my-owe-nee, I vas vondering, since you don't have a date now vould you consider going with me?" Viktor asked, also fairly certain to whom Hermione was referring to.
Everyone was now staring at Hermione, who had obviously been put on edge by the question. Hermione looked back at the others and noticed that it seemed Ron could not believe his ears. Harry looked slightly depressed for a moment before he quickly masked his emotions. The rest just seemed to be waiting to see what would happen.
"Well, ah… I'm not sure… I…" Hermione stammered, nervously shifting her glance between Harry and Viktor. Harry saw that she was worried about hurting his feelings. They continued to stare each other for a moment longer until finally Harry gave a small smile and spoke.
"I'm sure Viktor will be a perfect gentleman, Hermione," he said, looking into her eyes and giving an almost imperceptibly minute nod to tell her that it was okay. She smiled back at him, but it didn't quite reach her eyes.
Hermione and Harry both slowly stood up and turned to face Viktor. Hermione would have rather have stayed back in the common room with Harry during the ball, but she also knew that if she forced the issue she would only make Harry feel guilty. So, with a reluctant smile she accepted Viktor's invitation, who gave a quick nod before returning to his own table. Hermione briefly glanced back at Harry; he was not the type to get jealous but that didn't mean he did not wish that he was the one taking her to the dance. She saw it in his eyes, and his shoulders slumped just a little; he tried to cover it up but she could read him like a book. Harry smiled and nodded once more before he turned and left for class. Hermione knew Harry was happy for her; the problem was her own feelings.
The next couple of weeks seemed to fly by, between classes and preparing for end-of-term exams there was hardly any free time left, and if you happened to be going to the Yule Ball, well then you pretty much spent that time getting ready. Harry stayed busy by either studying or reading, anything to keep his mind off what everyone else was thinking about. But no matter how hard he tried, the closer the Yule Ball got, the more he found himself thinking about Hermione and the dance.
Harry was sitting in the common room; he had just put away his Charms book after he had found himself reading the same passage again for the third time.
"Hey Harry," Hermione said as she plopped down next to him on the couch.
Harry looked up and smiled, "Hey yourself."
"You looked pretty deep in thought there, am I interrupting?"
Harry motioned around the empty room with his hand as if to show her something, "Not much to interrupt… no I was just thinking."
Hermione smiled and tilted her head just a bit for effect, her eyes alight with mirth. "Does it hurt, or do you feel well enough to talk about it?"
"Funny girl," Harry said flatly before sporting a genuine smile. "Actually, if you must know I was thinking I might find someone to teach me how to dance."
It was good to see him smiling again, but the look on her face quickly shifted from happy to curious when she considered his words.
"Harry, has something happened, are you going to the dance now?" she asked hopefully.
Harry's bright smile abruptly faded as he shook his head no, "Afraid not," he sighed. "I just… well, I just figured that since everyone is all caught up in the ball and everything, why not?" Harry could still see the questions in her eyes. "Look, there'll probably be another one someday, right? And if not here, then somewhere else and I don't have a clue about dancing."
"So… I guess you've been thinking a lot about the ball then," Hermione said; she suspected that it had been occupying his mind a lot lately and was one of the reasons why he had been so moody lately.
"No, I just…" Harry began, but stopped when Hermione shook her head.
"Harry please, you know you can't…" but she found herself unable to finish when she noticed that he had a look that almost begged her to just drop it. "Fine," she sighed in defeat, "so who were you thinking of asking for help then?"
"Well…" Harry started, looking rather sheepish. "My first thought was you, but then… well, I thought you would feel kind of awkward plus you're already so busy and all." Harry had been looking down and now turned away, so he didn't notice the small smile that crept up her face. "Anyway I thought, maybe Professor McGonagall?"
Hermione still smiling, reached out and touched his arm gently.
"Harry," her voice was soft, "Professor McGonagall is a good start, but I think you'll need a partner." Harry's head snapped back around, catching her off guard causing her to jump slightly. She removed her hand and sat back a little. "I mean, you don't really want to dance with her, do you?" Seeing that she had thought of something that he had not, she felt a little braver and continued. "You know, I've never been to a ball either, so I'm sure I'd be rubbish at dancing if I didn't get a little practice in myself." Now it was Hermione who looked uncomfortable.
Harry sat there staring at her; she had already helped him so much, and he'd bet his broom, she was probably already a good dancer. After a moment of awkward silence, Harry chuckled and said, "Hermione, I doubt that there's anything your rubbish at, but if you really want to, I think you'd be a great partner."
Hermione beamed; realizing he knew that she was only trying to help, and yet he didn't make a big deal about it. The best part was, she would get to spend a little more time with him, learning something besides trying to stay alive in that blasted tournament.
"Great! Talk to Professor McGonagall and let me know where and when, okay?"
"Kay," Harry said as he watched Hermione practically bounce off the couch and make her way up to her dorm room. Well, back to Charms, Harry thought; he certainly wanted to have his work done before asking his professor for help.
The day before the Yule Ball, Viktor, Fleur, and Cedric were called into McGonagall's office.
"Good, you're all here," she said. "The reason you've been summoned here is to discuss protocol for the Yule Ball." Cedric looked around again. "Is there a problem Mr. Diggory?" the Transfiguration teacher asked.
"No ma'am, but where's Harry?"
"Mister Potter will not be attending the ball," McGonagall said simply.
"Ah, of course, 'e knows it iz for zee real champions," Fleur said as if it were obvious.
Cedric rounded on the French witch, annoyed with her attitude. "Harry is a real champion," he snapped. Remembering Harry's sense of fair play and the warning that he had received about the dragon in the first task, Cedric felt he should at least speak up for Harry in his absence. "He fought a dragon just like us, did he not? And as I recall he bested you."
Fleur opened her mouth to argue, but was cut off by McGonagall. "Enough! For reasons that I cannot go into, Mister Potter will not be there, and there will be no further discussion on this matter, is that clear?" After receiving three acknowledgments, she continued her discussion, letting them know both what to expect, and what was expected of them.
Leaving McGonagall's office an hour later, Viktor pulled Cedric aside into a small alcove. "I don't know the reason vhy, but it iz your headmaster who iz keeping your Mister Potter from the ball," he told Cedric, who looked up at the Bulgarian man in surprise.
"Are you sure?"
"I am," Viktor could see the doubt in his opponent's eyes. "I don't know how he became a champion, but he iz, just like us. He should be zhere."
"Right, I don't know how he got into this either," Cedric said, shaking his head in confusion. "But you're right, he should be there." Even with the language barrier, Viktor could hear the determination clearly in his colleague's voice. He was getting his first lesson in what it meant to be a Hufflepuff. Even after only one task, three of the champions were already beginning to form a bond of camaraderie.
After announcing the password to the gargoyle, Cedric was admitted up to the headmaster's office. He already had a plan in mind, having just spent the past half hour going over the situation in his head. If he was honest with himself, he knew he wanted to win the tournament, but he also wanted to win fairly, and that meant everybody got treated the same. Although this was only a dance, maybe next time Harry would be excluded from something more important. Maybe next time they would leave him or one of the others out. No matter what, Harry had worked just as hard in the first task as anyone, so he should be allowed to join in the fun parts as well.
"Enter," came the business like voice of Dumbledore from behind the office door.
Pushing the door open, Cedric approached his headmaster's desk. Dumbledore was still looking down, apparently busy with some paperwork. Cedric stood tall waiting to be acknowledged, but he could not help feeling a little intimidated.
"Ah, Mister Diggory, what a pleasant surprise, Lemon drop?" Dumbledore said while peering over his glasses.
"No thank you, sir."
"Very well then, what can I do for you?" Dumbledore asked, his eyes taking on their trademark twinkle. "I don't believe you've been in my office in quite a while." Cedric didn't know how, but somehow he suspected that the wizened man before him knew exactly what he wanted. It might have been the light or maybe just his imagination, but as he looked Dumbledore in the eye, he was sure the man could see right through him.
"Sir, I've come to ask that you reconsider, and let Mister Potter attend the Yule Ball," the Hufflepuff said, swallowing his nervousness.
Dumbledore raised a single eyebrow in interest. "I see, and what exactly did Mr. Potter tell you?"
"Ah, well you see… I didn't exactly talk to him directly sir…" Cedric said sheepishly. "I found out at the champions' meeting this afternoon." Dumbledore continued to sit and look at him with a slightly amused smile on his face, so he added, "Professor McGonagall told us that he would not be there, later it was Viktor Krum who said it was your decision."
"Ah, I see…yes that is unfortunately true," he confessed. His smile faded and suddenly the headmaster looked older than before. "And I'm afraid that I must stand by that decision."
"Sir, this doesn't have anything to do with the circumstances surrounding his entry into the tournament, because if it does I…"
Dumbledore raised a hand stopping the young man's protest mid-sentence. "No, it does not, Mister Diggory, there are…other…factors involved, and for the record I too believe Mister Potter." This seemed to cool Cedric's temper somewhat, but he was not pacified yet.
"That's good to know sir, but it still doesn't make it right. Harry didn't ask for this, and yet he's done all you've asked him to do, and with virtually no help whatsoever." After taking a deep breath, Cedric stood straight and looked his headmaster in the eye. "It's not fair sir, and knowing that… bothers me. Therefore in good conscience, I don't think I can attend the Yule Ball either. I'm afraid Hogwarts will not have a representative." Cedric knew he was pushing his luck by playing that card, but right now he really wasn't in the mood to care. "Please understand sir, I'm not threatening you I…I'm just not comfortable with the way things are." Sensing defeat, he finished in a quieter tone, "I just felt you should know as soon as possible."
Dumbledore had been angry with himself ever since he had backed down and let the Ministry talk him into keeping Harry away. Now here before him stood a student, standing up for the rights of another. It seemed even he, the "Great Albus Dumbledore", was not too old to learn a lesson; maybe it was time to rectify that decision.
"I trust that he will still be able to find a date at this late hour," he finally said. Cedric was suddenly at a loss for words and it must have shown as Dumbledore continued after a slight chuckle, "That is, if you can convince Harry to go."
"Ah…" Cedric was trying to catch up, trying to figure out how exactly, he had won. "Yes sir, I'm sure on both counts."
"Excellent," Dumbledore said, then peering over his spectacles, added with hint of amusement, "is there anything else, Mister Diggory?"
Two hours later, a frustrated Cedric left Harry to look for help. He had not been able to talk him into going to the ball as Harry was simply not interested anymore.
"Ron, hold up," Cedric call out, causing the younger boy to stop and turn around, a surprised look on his face. "Hi, um you remember me from summer and all, right?" he panted, sticking his hand out to reintroduce himself.
"Yeah, of course, not to mention pretty much everyone knows who you are, being a champion and all," Ron said with a smile, still unsure why Cedric wanted to talk to him.
"Look, I need your help with something."
Ron smile brightened, "really, sure" glad to be associated with the sixth year somehow.
"Your friends with Harry right?"
His smile fell. I should have known, the redhead thought bitterly, it's always about Harry. Letting his frustration get the better of him, Ron answered bitterly, "Not at the moment."
Cedric wasn't sure exactly what that meant, and really didn't have time to worry about Ron's personal issues. "Oh, ah… I see," although he really didn't. "Well is there someone you could recommend? I know a lot of people still aren't talking to him."
Ron shook his head once and with a huff said coolly, "Try Hermione, she's his biggest fan," then turned and walked away without saying another word.
Hermione stepped out of the common room from the portrait after being summoned by a second year, to find Cedric waiting for her. "Hello Mister Diggory, you asked to see me?" she asked politely; unlike Ron, she had a fairly good idea this was about Harry, as there would be no other likely reason for him to want to speak to her.
"Hello Miss Granger, and please, call me Cedric. I'm not that old, am I?"
"No of course not, then it's just, Hermione."
Cedric smiled, "Great, look I'll get right to the point," I need your help with Harry; I've been told you are good friends with him, right?"
Hermione nodded, her face now beginning to show a little concern. "Is this about the tournament?"
Cedric noticed her look, "oh no!" He said quickly holding up his hands to stop her from worrying, "well not exactly anyway, it's about the ball."
"The ball, but Harry not…"
"I know, I know, Harry wasn't supposed to attend…" Cedric interrupted her, only to be interrupted in turn.
"Yeah I, well me and the others didn't like the idea of excluding him, so I kind of talked the headmaster into changing his mind." It was only a small lie. While it was true that it was only him who had gone to Harry's defense, Cedric got the feeling that Viktor felt the same way. Harry had not only faced a dragon like him, but had also told him about it before hand, something he didn't have to do. Spending a few minutes now helping Harry seemed like a small favor in return.
Hermione could not help but notice his slight reluctance to take credit.
"You talked the headmaster into changing his mind," part question, part statement she replied smiling, glad that someone else saw the injustice in the decision.
Cedric smiled back, he could see why Harry liked her. "Anyway, when I told Harry he could go, he wouldn't have any part of it. He all but flat out refused, 'Not interested' he said."
"So you want me to talk him into going," Hermione said accusingly, but with a smirk.
"Well yeah, you're about the only one he'll listen to, besides I already did the hard part for you," Cedric countered with a smirk of his own.
"Fine, I'll talk to him."
As Cedric walked away he knew why Ron had called her "his biggest fan". Ron didn't understand; she wasn't a fan, she was a friend. She acted that way because she cared for him. She was Harry's buffer against those who would wrong him; his protector and helper, and most likely he was hers as well.
It was only a little while later that Hermione sat at her favorite table in the common room trying to work on a Charms essay. She was having a bit of trouble concentrating; her mind kept drifting back to Harry. On the one hand she was glad Harry was finally able to go to the ball, but on the other hand, that meant that he would need a date and for some reason, that bothered her. It wasn't an intellectual thing, more like a feeling. Something sitting in the bottom of her gut, churning, like a sour meal. This made her wonder, when did I start to have these kind of feelings… what do they mean? She was just about to give up on her homework and go look for Harry when she heard the portrait swing open.
As soon as Harry entered the common room he felt her eyes on him. Looking around he spotted her just starting to stand up. Harry knew almost instantly she had something to tell him, he could tell by the way she stood: A slight nervousness in her eyes, her hands held together more tightly than normal. As he approached her, he briefly wondered when he had started to notice things like that.
"Hey, you all right?" He asked, with a small smile.
Hermione relaxed a bit and thought of how typical it was of him to worry about her; he must have seen how uncomfortable she was.
"Hi Harry… ah, I wanted to talk to you, do you have a moment?" Harry raised an eyebrow as if to say, this ought to be good, and don't dodge the question. "I'm fine Harry, really. Please, let's sit," she said.
"Okay, what's up?" he asked, taking the offered seat.
"Well um…" Not quite sure how to start. Hermione knew Harry could be very stubborn and she didn't want to anger him. Even though she had worked out what to say earlier, she now found herself stumbling over her words, and looking everywhere except at him.
Harry smiled, "Hermione…look at me." As she met his eyes he continued, "Whatever is bothering you, you know you can tell me, right?"
Hermione sighed, "Cedric came by."
"Oh, did he now?" Harry said, his smile growing as he now understood the cause of her nervousness.
Hermione was taken aback; she had expected him to get upset for interfering, "you're not mad?"
"Should I be? You're not conspiring against me, are you?" His voice was serious, but his smile and the mirthful twinkle in his eyes gave him away.
"Of course not Harry, don't even joke about that," Hermione said with a scowl. Remembering how Ron had accused her of helping Viktor in the past, and how much it had hurt her.
"I'm sorry Hermione, your right, it was a bad joke. You do know, that I would never think that about you."
"Thanks… Harry, why won't you consider going to the ball now that you can?" she finally asked, causing Harry's smile to dim.
"I don't know," he admitted. "It just feels kind of…forced… I'm sure Dumbledore didn't just change his mind to be nice." Harry took a deep breath then let it out slowly. "It's like I'm a pawn and he's playing me. If I go…It's kind of like saying that it's okay."
Hermione was staring straight at Harry, but it was his turn to avoid eye contact. He sat quietly, still looking down at the table.
"I can see how you would feel that way but don't forget, he didn't want you to go in the first place." Hermione paused to let her last remark sink in. "If you don't go, then he gets what he originally wanted anyway and no one can blame him for you not showing up."
"Yeah, that's a good point, but still I don't know, and it's tomorrow; where am I even going to find a date? There's no way…maybe I should just—"
"Oh no you don't, Mister Potter," Hermione interrupted, "you're not getting out of this that easy." Harry looked up, surprised at her tone. "You won't know until you ask around, but I'm sure that you'll find someone pleasant to go with, even this late," She had him and they both knew it.
"Hermione!" Harry whined.
"Harry, you made me go, now I'm making you go." With her hands on her hips she added, "Got it? Good!" Harry gave a sad, reluctant smile and nodded his head once. "Harry I just want you to have a good time too, please go…for me?"
"Wasn't that my line?" Harry chuckled. "And I thought I was the only one who could pout like that."
"What, this?" Hermione smiled as she pointed to her mock-sad face. "Well, I did learn it from a pro after all."
This time Harry laughed in earnest. "Fine, I'll go if it makes you happy, even if I have to ask Pansy."
"Harry I said someone pleasant," Hermione replied with a laugh of her own.
As they settled down Harry leaned forward and whispered, "There is one condition though."
Hermione noticed the tiny smirk even though Harry tried to act serious. "And what would that be?" She asked cautiously.
Remembering the passion she had shown while sticking up for him, when McGonagall relayed Dumbledore's request, the smirk went away. Harry reached over and took hold of her hands. With a soft smile on his face he said gently, "you have to save me the last dance."
Hermione was touched by his request, and the look of sincerity on his face almost brought her to tears. No one had ever treated her with such tenderness before. She released a nervous breath she didn't even know she was holding. "Oh Harry, of course I will," she said as she gave his hands a soft squeeze. "Even if you hadn't asked, I still would have." Later that night when Hermione was alone and thought back to that scene again, she would realize that it was yet another one of those moments. Harry was slowly becoming more important to her. The realization not only surprised her, but confused her a little as well.
Harry was in a near panic. The Yule Ball was tomorrow and he still had not found a date.
"Can't you go stag Harry?" Ron asked knowing what was wrong. He was feeling a bit smug knowing he had a date, some Hufflepuff whose name he could not remember at the moment.
"No Ron, not as a champion," Harry snapped. "I'm supposed to start the dance; kind of hard to do that by myself." Ron tensed; he knew that Harry could not go solo, but wanted to get a jab in anyway. He was still a little unsure about how Harry had become a champion, whether or not he had indeed cheated. Ron wanted to believe Harry, but he found it hard to do so. After all who wouldn't want to be a champion, he thought. However he didn't really want to alienate him either. Seeing Ron's look, Harry sighed and said, "Sorry Ron, I didn't mean to take it out on you."
"Yeah… well it's okay, so no worries." Ron relaxed and looked back at Harry for a moment, then a thought occurred to him; letting some of his old feelings of friendship return, he jumped up, "Hey mate, I just remembered something." Harry slowly stood telling Ron to go on with his hands. "Padma's date had to cancel last night, something about a family emergency of sorts."
"Really?" Harry asked, hope in his voice.
"Yeah, Ginny told me, don't think she'd make that up."
"No, I don't either… Look, thanks mate, I'd better go find her before some other desperate bloke does."
Ron smirked, "Right, see you later then."
It had taken a bit of talking, but Harry had finally convinced a couple of Ravenclaws that his intentions were sincere. Finally persuaded, they relayed the message to Padma to meet Harry as soon as she was finished with her study group. A short time later, Harry stood as the witch he was waiting for entered the library.
"Padma hi, thanks for meeting with me."
"No problem Harry, what's on your mind?"
"Well I heard about Terry Boot having to cancel, I'm sorry about that." The disappointment on her face was clear after saying that.
"Thanks Harry that's nice of you to say." Padma started to turn away, thinking that was all Harry had wanted to say. That all he wanted to do, was console her.
"Padma wait!" She turned back slightly confused. "Have you heard about me and the ball?" he asked hopefully.
"You mean the 'can't go, can go' thing?" She asked, holding in her laughter.
"Yeah, that thing," Harry said with a nervous laugh. And then he saw it, the moment she realized they both didn't have a date. Harry watched as the look in her eyes changed to hopeful. "So it seems like you already know what I want to ask," he said. "How would you feel about going with me?" Then it occurred to him that he never did ask if she already had a second date. "That is if you don't already have another date!" he quickly amended. "I just thought that we could solve both of our problems." Now it was Harry who looked hopeful.
Padma smiled, "It's a great idea Harry," then looking a little pensive, she added, "I can't believe the way Dumbledore has treated you," not realizing the remorse the headmaster now felt. After a second, Padma looked back up with almost a giddy expression on her face. "I'll go with you Harry, and I'm sure we'll have a wonderful time."
At first Harry was relieved, but slowly he was starting to become concerned and it must have shown on his face. "Harry, is something wrong?" He hadn't realized he'd let his feeling show so blatantly. "Having second thoughts already?"
Harry jerked his head up and saw the look of worry and disappointment on Padma's face.
"Oh, no! It's nothing like that, really! It's just…." Harry sighed and turned to take a step away, pausing to gather his thoughts. A moment later, he turned back. "Well the thing is, before they said I couldn't go, I asked…well I asked someone else to go with me. I was really looking forward to going with her." Harry had started pacing a bit, but now stopped and faced Padma again. "But then…well it all got messed up and now she's going with someone else."
Padma had noticed a slight frown as he said this. "This bothers you, her going with someone else?"
"No, well maybe… I don't know… it's just."
"Harry do you fancy her?"
Harry froze for a second after hearing the blunt question, "What?" panic in his voice. "No, it's not like that." Again Harry could see the emotions play across her face as both of her eyebrows hitched up in a mixture of confusion and amusement. "Look, the truth is I don't really know how I feel, or what to make of the feelings I do have," Harry sighed. "I do know that she's very special, especially to me." Padma wasn't quite sure just who this girl was, but she was sure that Harry liked her, even if he didn't know it himself. Harry saw a small smile forming. "Please don't say anything," he said. "I only told you because I thought you should know before saying yes. I really do want to go with you to the Yule Ball and all, but only as friends." Harry looked down slightly embarrassed. "Nothing romantic, no kissing or anything like that, I don't think it would be right." After a second of studying the ground he continued, "So if you'd rather have a real date with someone else, someone who can give you more…I'd understand, no hard feelings and such."
The smile on Padma's face had grown bigger by the second listening to Harry. The one thing she valued most was honesty, and here was a teenage boy telling her how he didn't want to use her.
"Harry, look at me," She touched his arm to get him to look up. "Harry, I think that's sweet, whoever she is, she's really lucky. Most guys wouldn't have said anything and just taken advantage of the situation." She stepped closer and continued, "And I don't mind, I have a boyfriend. I just want go and have a good time, dance a little, you know?"
He had been pretty sure that she, like most girls would have preferred something more than just dancing. After all isn't that of the whole experience, excitement, glamour, romance. Harry was actually a little surprised, "Yeah?"
"Yeah." Her opinion of Harry Potter was now a fair bit higher; happy that he had been open and truthful with her, and flattered that he had asked her to the ball.
The following night, as could be predicted, several boys stood nervously near the bottom of the girls' dormitory stairs. With the Yule Ball nearly ready to start, their dates were finally starting to make their way down. Padma, even though she belonged to Ravenclaw House was given the option to get ready here in the Gryffindor tower so as to make it easier to connect with her date. She was the second one out after Lavender; reaching the bottom she slowly walked towards Harry. She was dressed in dress robes designed to resemble a traditional sari, her hair was pulled back into a braid; while Harry wore simple black robes fashioned like a tuxedo.
"Padma, you look great," Harry said as he stepped forward and offered his arm to her. With a big smile and a hint of blush she took his arm and slipped hers through.
"Hello Harry, you look pretty great yourself." Then turning to the boy next to him, "Hi Neville, where's Luna?"
After turning a beautiful shade of red, Neville finally managed a response, "She, ah… that is, I… I'm going to meet her there." Neville just wasn't used to pretty girls talking to him; maybe someone would sneak in some firewhiskey, he could sure use some to calm down.
All the couples had agreed earlier that they would wait for everyone to come down and then go together as a group. As more of the students gathered, one could almost feel the excitement. The room seemed to pulse with energy. Magic was in the air.
Hermione was the last to come out. All her life she had always thought of herself as plain looking, especially so during times like this. She just didn't see herself as one of those girls that had natural beauty; everything from her hair to her simple, almost curve less shape said plain, ordinary, and common. The fact that she hardly tried to do anything about it didn't help, she didn't even bother to wear makeup. What's the point, she thought, like it would help, and besides, who has the time? But tonight the other girls were not about to let that happen. Secretly she was glad for the help, tonight she wanted to look good; she wanted to make an impression. Tonight she wanted to feel like a girl, it was her first dance, first date, and maybe even her first kiss. That last thought saddened her a little. Firsts should be with the right person, she thought. Standing at the top of the stairs wearing a beautiful periwinkle-blue gown, Hermione looked down at all the other couples and then Viktor who smiled up at her.
Harry had been quietly talking with Neville when a hush filled the room. Looking up Harry saw the reason: Hermione was at the top of the stairs and all eyes were on her. In an instant Harry was sure blue had just become his favorite color. He could not help but stare; it was a sight that he would never forget, nor would he ever be able to describe in words. He had always thought his best friend was pretty, but tonight that word could never hope to come close to describing how exquisite she looked. Perhaps he thought, even the most enchanting girl that he had ever seen.
Hermione snapped out of her daze and found the one person see was looking for, the one who would unknowingly judge her. Harry was looking right at her and in that moment while their gaze was locked, she knew. His eyes told her everything. It was worth it all: The hours getting ready, the dress, the hair, the makeup. In that one brief moment he spoke volumes without saying a word, and finally, she let herself feel pretty. Relaxing for the first time all day, she smiled, and it lit the room. Slowly she started down the stairs and he smiled back, neither looking away.
After reaching the bottom of the stairs, Viktor took her arm and started towards the portal.
"Her-my-owe-nee you-" he began, but stopped as he noticed her take another quick glance at Harry, who was still watching her. He stopped so that Hermione was standing in front of Harry.
Harry while staring into her eyes said almost in a whisper, "Hermione, you look… so beautiful."
Moved by the sheer honesty in his voice and the look of awe on his face, she couldn't help but blush, and thru misty eyes she managed a choked reply, "Thank you… Harry." She wanted to tell him how good he looked as well, but didn't trust her voice so she left it at that.
Viktor nodded in agreement with a knowing smile and added, "Yes, Harry is right, you do look vonderful, no?" Looking around to see everyone had agreed. "Vell, shall ve make our vay to the ballroom?"
It was fairly easy to see that everyone was having a good time, except for maybe Ron. Neville was dancing like there was no tomorrow, the twins had somehow managed to spike the punch, and even Draco had let his guard down and could be seen smiling and laughing. Ron on the other hand just could not settle down. He had totally refused to dance, which of course made for a very angry date who was now considering going solo. As usual he had waited to the last minute and now here he was with funny-looking robes, not a clue as to how to dance, and to top it off his date was a third year witch that he didn't even know!
Harry and Padma had danced most of the night together, only taking a few breaks to catch their breath. Both of them would later say what a good time they had. Harry had even danced with her sister once and then later asked Ron's date to dance as well, which did not help Ron's mood at all. The night wasn't perfect; Harry did step on a few toes and once forgot to pull her chair out for her, but he was trying, and Padma appreciated the effort.
It was getting late, and the ball would soon be over. Padma could tell Harry was getting restless; it was becoming more and more obvious: The quick glances and stolen looks. "Harry, I've had a wonderful time, and you have been a perfect gentlemen, but now I think it's time you asked Hermione to dance," she said stepping back.
Padma had worn a genuine smile as a confused Harry asked, "How'd you know?"
"Harry it doesn't take a Ravenclaw to see the obvious, you two have been looking at each other all night."
Worried that he may have hurt her feelings, Harry started, "Oh! Oh I'm so sorry-"
"Harry it's alright, really, I had a wonderful time, now go… go." With a warm smile, Padma nodded once before she turned and walked away.
Harry shook his head and chuckled, then headed for the band. After a few words with the lead singer, Harry waited till the current song was almost over, then slowly walked up to Viktor and Hermione. With just a slight hint of nervousness in his voice, he softly asked, "May I please have this next dance?"
Viktor after a quick look at Hermione to ensure that she was agreeable, (even though he was quite sure that she was), gave Harry a short nod and then told Hermione that he would be waiting at their table before he walked off to sit the next dance out.
Both had been anxious about the dance, but were having a good time nonetheless. Now as they stood together, alone on the dance floor they settled down and quickly became themselves. No matter how intense the situation, they always found a calm in each other.
Hermione gave Harry one of her stern looks, "I was wondering if you were ever going to ask me to dance." But the light blush and beautiful smile on her face gave her away.
Harry reached out and took hold of her hands, "I would not have missed this for all the gold in Gringotts." As the music started, Harry gently gathered her in his arms. Any shyness he may have had slowly faded away as Hermione settled into his embrace.
She could not help but notice how much better they fit together than she and the much taller Viktor had. The next thing she noticed was the song, it was one of her favorites; she had played it once while they were practicing and casually mentioned how much she liked it.
"Harry, your dancing is even better than I remember."
"Well, I've had a little practice tonight…" he said sheepishly as they gazed into each other's eyes, "and it could also be because of my partner." They continued to dance, happy to just look at each other without saying another word.
Hermione loved the feel of Harry's arms around her while they swayed to the music. Maybe it was all the years they had known each other, maybe it was just Harry, whatever the reason, she found herself completely at ease for the first time tonight. Content, she leaned in and rested her head on his shoulder and Harry gently tightened his hold on her. There was no comparison; this was by far the very best dance, in fact, the very best part of the whole ball. It had been fun with Viktor, but this was different, it was so much more real, and romantic; it was truly magical. Unknown to her, Harry was thinking much the same thing. He didn't know skin could feel so soft, or that hair could smell so good. Holding a girl in his arms while dancing to a slow song was still very much a new sensation. Somehow the fact that it was Hermione made it all that much better.
It was all too soon that the song ended; they stopped dancing but didn't let go of each other, enjoying the warmth of their closeness. As the music started up again with a new song, Hermione reluctantly pulled back, and looked up into his eyes, where she saw a reflection of her own feelings: Happiness, peace, and something else that she could not describe. She couldn't help it as her eyes began to mist up.
Still holding her close, Harry softly smiled, "Hey you alright?"
"Never better Harry," then equally as soft added, "Thank you."
"Thank you, Hermione."
"Well…" she said after a glance towards her table, "I best get back."
Suddenly there was a heavy sadness in the air, and both could feel it. Certainly Harry was a little sad that his only dance with Hermione was over, and looking at her, Harry believed she felt the same way. There was something else bothering her. Harry looked over at Viktor briefly, was she not having a good time with him. For now all he could do was speculate, maybe later she would tell him what had troubled her. Turning so that he stood beside her, he then wrapped her arm in his and slowly led her back to her table.
"I think that will be my last dance for tonight," he said.
The comment seemed to change the mood and the air lightened. "Oh?" Hermione asked with mirth in her voice. "Was I so bad, you've given up dancing?" she continued, causing Harry to laugh.
"Well…" His voice changed from teasing to quiet and serious as he turned Hermione to face him, "Actually, that was my favorite dance of the night, and I'd kind of like to remember it, so…"
Hermione gave Harry a bright smile, "Yeah… Perfect."
Viktor stood as they approached and pulled a chair out for his date. "Welcome back Her-my-owe-nee," The Bulgarian was still having trouble with her name.
"Well Harry, thank you again… I'll see you in the common room?" She asked.
"Sure, the common room," Harry gave her a quick smile, then turned slightly to Viktor and nodded, "Viktor".
After a brief search, Harry found Padma dancing with several other girls whose dates had already left. As Harry walked up, they stopped and he called to her. Taking Padma's hand and while bowing, he kissed the back of it. "Padma, thank you for such a fine evening," standing and gesturing to the others he added, "But I think it's time for me to turn in, so if you don't mind I'll leave you with these lovely-looking witches." Harry was now more glad than ever, that he had taken dance and etiquette lessons with Professor McGonagall.
Padma was fortunate her complexion hid the color of her face so well, because she was blushing so much she thought her face was on fire. A few seconds later she regained her composure and did a slight curtsy, and with a proper looking smile said, "It was a privilege, Harry."
He turned to the other witches and while smiling gave a slight nod and bid them goodnight. "Ladies."
After Harry had left, an astonished Padma turned back around to her very envious friends with the biggest smile she'd had all night. Even though she would have rather of been with her boyfriend Terry, she had to admit, being with Harry had been fun. When the giggles died down, one of them said, "Merlin, you are so lucky, Padma."
The whole night Ron just sat at his table, eventually becoming a little tipsy from too much punch; he had been watching Neville dance with Luna. Neville had drunk a fair amount of punch himself as well and although he was a pretty good on the dance floor, he had started to get really crazy towards the end. Of course being with Luna, that made it that much more entertaining to watch. Ron could only smile at the pair, he had always considered Luna kind of strange, but tonight she seemed different, there was something more about her. Whatever it was he could not quite put his finger on it. Damn punch, can't think, he mentally grumbled. Neville sure was having a great time, unlike himself. Ron had convinced himself that if he so much as put one foot on the dance floor, he would make a fool of himself, so here he sat, alone and miserable; his date had left him long ago.
"If you're just going to sit here all night, I'll be off," she had said to him, and that was the last he saw of her.
As the last song of the ball came to an end, Luna spotted Ron sitting alone and looking down. Dragging Neville with her, she made her way over to his table.
Ron looked up and muttered, "Hey Luna."
"You know, I'm very disappointed in you."
"And why is that?" Ron asked, somehow managing not to slur his words too much.
"Well, while I came with Neville, and we were having fun, I still had hoped you might have asked me to dance… at least once." The whole time she spoke, she never took her eyes off of him; she had that typical dreamy look on her face that was so very Luna. Then, for a moment Ron saw something else. It was like she knew something only she could understand. Was he supposed to work it out? He wasn't sure, between the late hour and the punch, he was unable to focus. Whatever, he thought.
About then Neville joined in and broke his thoughts. "Besides mate, being out there," he said as he pointed behind himself with his thumb, "has got to be more fun than being here alone, you know?"
Raising his eyebrows, Ron had to admit Neville had a point, and even in his sorry state of mind, he was beginning to regret wasting the night away. I should have asked Luna to dance, he thought regretfully.
Harry not quite ready to turn in yet, stood off to the side of the hall thinking. It had turned out to be a pretty great night, Harry had decided. As usual Hermione knew best. She always does, Harry thought, smiling at how his best friend was there for him yet again. Then with the thought of her, he seemed pulled out towards the patio. There standing in the moonlight alone by the railing was Hermione.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Harry asked softly as he came up behind her.
She had wanted to be alone, but recognizing the voice. She would it know anywhere. In an instant she was glad she wasn't. "Yes, very," she slowly turned around, grateful that the night would hide her red eyes. When Harry moved to stand next to her, she turned back and they stood side by side, looking up at the wondrous night sky. She shifted her weight and leaned into Harry who puts his arm gently around her waist. A moment later she looked down and sighed, then laid her head on his shoulder. She was definitely glad she was not alone now.
Harry had known Hermione for more than three years now, and while he could not read her as well as she could him, he could tell that she was bothered. Moving his arm up he gave her shoulder a little squeeze then turned his head to look at her, "Hermione, what's wrong?" He asked barely above a whisper.
She turned to look at him for a moment before she answered, and saw his concern. This was just so like him, but she felt her problems were so insignificant compared to his. "Oh it's nothing really Harry."
The silence only lasted a second before Harry replied, "You know, you're not very good at hiding your feelings… did Viktor do something?" The last bit coming out a little stronger than the first. "Hermione, you can tell me anything, you know that."
"Viktor…he…well he didn't do anything," Hermione said as she moved away to lean on the railing again. "That's the problem," she whispered so softly Harry almost missed it.
Harry followed her to the railing and stood next to her but keep his hands at his side. He knew she would continue when she was ready, and it only took a moment.
"Viktor left about a half hour ago, said he had a good time, thanked me for going with him. He gave me a little kiss on the cheek and left." She had started out talking softly, but as she went on her voice rose in volume and took on an edge of bitterness. "I just wanted tonight to be special, you know? It was my first ball, my first date…maybe even my first…" she stopped when she realized what she was about to say. "After McGonagall announced the Yule Ball, thing were going great, but then Dumbledore ruined my first date before it even started. Ron yelling I'm a traitor for going with Viktor wasn't exactly something I would have planned for my first ball either."
Harry didn't know what was up with Ron, but he was sure going to have words with him later. But for now his only concern was Hermione, he knew there was more.
"Hermione…" Harry said softly while touching her arm.
Hermione looked away and Harry could practically feel her ache, she was hurting so much. What had happened? Had someone said something to hurt her? They better stay clear of him if they had. Harry moved a little closer; she felt him by her side again but pretended she didn't. He was so patient, finally her shoulders slumped and she glanced up at him, tears slipping down her cheeks. Harry loved her eyes; it was one of his favorite things about her. They always told him how she was feeling, but tonight he hated what he saw: So much pain.
"Harry, I'm not completely clueless, I know what people say about me when I'm not around. And I do have a mirror in my dorm." She could see that he wasn't following, he didn't understand. "I know I'm not much to look at, I'm plain and…. But tonight I really tried. Harry, I'm fifteen, and I've never…" her voice hitched momentarily. "He kissed me on the cheek Harry. Am I really that hideous?"
Harry was furious; how could Viktor have not seen how special and beautiful Hermione was? And judging by the looks she got by pretty much the whole school tonight, it was not just his opinion either. Without another thought Harry pulled her into his arms and held her tight. Hermione had latched on to the front of his robes and buried her head into his chest, silently sobbing. Harry kept one hand around her waist to hold her and brought the other up to cradle her head.
"Hermione you are the most brilliant witch I know, but I'm afraid as far as tonight is concerned, you must be blind, because you were far from being plain, I'm quite certain about that." Harry knew that he had her attention as she tried to reason out his meaning. "You were without a doubt the prettiest girl at the ball, didn't you notice how everyone was looking at you?"
Still holding on, Hermione lifted her head and looked at Harry, "What do you mean?" Now she was the one who didn't understand.
"Hermione when I first saw you at the top of the stairs tonight, you…you took my breath away." He new it was a cliché line, but it was also quite literally true.
She had forgotten that look; slowly her eyes turned back up and locked onto his. Her heart started beating faster while her stomach began doing flips and slowly her expression changed from hurt and confused to hopeful as light returned to her eyes. "Harry do you really mean that?" But she didn't have to ask, she could see the truth for herself just by the way he was looking at her. His face always told her so much, sometime more than his words.
Harry tried to answer, but he was unable to; the words were there but they wouldn't come out. Perhaps it was because she was so close, or maybe it was the little peek of her tongue as she wet her lips. He opened his mouth to try again, but it was no use.
Hermione was standing right in front of him, watching as he struggled. When he opened and closed his mouth, she could not help but stare at his lips.
Before he could think - before he could stop himself, he leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers. She gasped in surprise, but she didn't pull away, and slowly she closed her eyes. She felt wonderful in his arms with her lips against his, warm and soft and so gentle. She was perfect.
When his Gryffindor courage started to fade, Harry began to pull back. To his complete and pleasant surprise Hermione stayed with him, keeping her lips locked onto his. She had let go of his robes and moved her hands up around his neck and was now gently holding him there.
This seemed to bring out the Godric in him, so with only a slight uncertainty Harry parted his lips against hers and touched his tongue to her lips. She whimpered in surprise, but her mouth open and her tongue found his. She tasted of strawberries and tears.
All too soon it seemed, they broke apart, both breathing heavily, eyes once again locked on one another. Harry's hands slipped down to her waist, while Hermione's stayed on his shoulders, her fingers played with the hairs at the nape of his neck.
They stayed like that standing still, and time seemed to stop for them; the world around them ceased to exist. Hermione was looking deep into his eyes. They were bright and clear, full of kindness, honesty…the essence of Harry. Hers shone back with a new-found understanding; he was there for her, he would always be there. They were drunk on each other, still high on the taste of their first kiss.
Neither said a word, there was no need. One always knew when the other needed something, and one always seemed to find a way to give it. Hermione saw the tentative look on his face and flashed him a brilliant smile which erased his uncertainty. There would be plenty of time later to talk, but for now an unspoken agreement was made to not spoil the moment.
It was fairly quiet now that the Yule Ball was long over. Most of the students had returned to their respective common rooms. Knowing that they should do the same, Harry and Hermione together turned and like a well practiced waltz began to slowly walk hand in hand back to their tower.
Hermione may not have had the most perfect "first ball", and the night may not have gone exactly the way she would have liked, but there was no denying that it had absolutely ended brilliantly, thanks to a special boy with raven hair and green eyes.
Having returned to the common room, they let go of each other's hand. Hermione was the first who broke the silence. "Thank you, Harry," she said softly while chewing slightly on her lower lip, a look that was so completely Hermione.
Harry just nodded as his smile grew and just as softly said, "You're welcome." She turned, took a step, and then paused before heading up to the girl's dorm. Then it seemed the decision was made, and she turned back and gave Harry a quick kiss on the cheek. With a shy smile, she turned again and hurried up the stairs.
"Good night, Hermione," he whispered as he watched her go. Then headed up to his own room and into his own bed. Thinking about strawberries, he drifted off to sleep.
The End… for now.
AN: For my views on Harry Potter, and the status of the rest of my story, see my author's page. Thanks for reading and especially to anyone who reviewed!
A special thanks to: DarkHeart81, Howlermonkey77, Zucht, hermioneheart3 for their helpful reviews