A/N: "What if Harry asked Hermione to the Yule Ball?" This is another one of my "What if..." stories that I'd put on hold for a long time but now together. I saw a fic with this premise before that was sappy romantic pile of puke by someone who obviously can't work the F7 key on their computer, but this will be a little bit darker and (this is your warning because I've gotten shit for this before) there isn't a happy ending here.

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"Ron, I'm going to the Ball with Hermione."

With the benefit of hindsight there had been no fewer than twenty better times to tell Ron than this, a mere few minutes before he was expected to meet his date for the Yule Ball. In fact, if Ron didn't hurry up there was a very good chance Harry would have met his date before he even had time to tell him.

Right after he had done it ought to have been the best time. Krum had come over to talk to Hermione about something and Ron was fetching some book in the back. It would have been perfect. He would have made a scene, Madame Pince would have kicked him out and rather than being upset about Harry taking Hermione to the Ball he would have been mad at Pince.

Then there was when Ron was laughing about Neville asking Hermione to go. All he would have had to do was confirm Hermione's story about having a date for the Ball then and there. When Ron then suggested he and Ginny go together Harry had even opened his mouth to tell Ron the truth, but Ginny had cut him off by saying she was going with Neville.

She had then shot Harry a rather firm glare. Harry remembered she often would get quite annoyed with her brothers, but to see her annoyed with him was a bit unsettling.

Since then there had been any number of times where Ron had been laughing about Hermione having no one to go with that Harry could have just slipped in that he was her date. Hermione seemed to be getting quite annoyed with Harry as well, as she took Ron constantly asking her who she was going with to be a sign that Harry had not gotten around to telling him yet.

Even now he should go upstairs and tell Ron rather than waiting in the Common Room for him. Ron had seemed very annoyed about his dress robes and had been trying to charm them into looking slightly more respectable (a futile gesture, in Harry's opinion).

"I feel better knowing you don't have a date as well," Ron had said.

Oh, this was going to be just awful.

People were starting to leave the Common Room and make their way down to the Great Hall. Harry waved at a few of his classmates, including Parvati Patil and Dean Thomas. When Neville came down the stairs, Harry asked him if Ron was coming.

"He was experimenting with changing the colour of his robes to purple," Neville said. "It actually looked worse. He'll give up in a minute and come down."

It wasn't long before Neville's date, Ginny, arrived. Harry personally thought that the pink dress did not suit her at all, but it was probably more than her parents could afford so he stopped himself from saying anything. She may have guessed his thoughts because as she and Neville left she was giving him a very intense glare.

Harry was sitting wondering just how on Earth he was going to break the news to Ron when a girl in a beautiful periwinkle blue came over to where he was sitting. Harry rolled his eyes. It was ten minutes before the Ball and now some girl was going to try and ask him to be her date, as had been happening far too often over the last few days.

She didn't say anything though. Harry turned around to demand what her problem was when suddenly he felt his jaw go slack...

"Her – Hermione?" he gasped.

She looked almost unrecognisable. She'd finally managed to do something with her hair and it was no longer the bushy mess it had been before. Now it looked longer, sleeker and, well, beautiful. Harry suddenly noticed that he had been staring at her for a least a minute and suddenly jumped up.

"Er, you look, um, nice," he choked out. Hermione responded by rolling her eyes.

"Honestly, Harry," she said, but it was half-hearted. She definitely looked a lot more pleased. "Shall we?"

"Er, yeah, I just have to do one thing and I'll meet you down there," Harry said, shepherding her towards the Portrait Hole. Hermione's mood suddenly changed.

"You didn't tell him yet?" she snapped at him.

"I'm still working out the details," Harry replied. Hermione huffed and left, muttering something under her breath about how she should have gone with Krum instead. Harry had been quite pleased when he'd found out that he'd beaten Krum to the punch, even if only by mere minutes. He didn't fancy the idea of his friend going to the Ball with a pervy older student.

Ron was at the foot of the stairs to the Boys' Dormitories almost at the same instant that the Portrait Hole closed behind Hermione.

"Was that Hermione I heard? Was she with her date?" Ron asked.

"Er... no, not exactly," Harry replied. "Listen, there's something I want to tell you about that."

"Don't worry, I won't freak out when I find out who her date is," Ron said. "Assuming she even has a date. Ha!" He slung an arm around Harry's shoulder. "At least we have each other. You'll have McGonagall or something to open the dance with and then you and me can hang out all night."

Harry knew that he would not get another shot at this, but somehow he couldn't bring himself to tell Ron as they made their way down to the Entrance Hall.

When they were there people were already filing into the Hall. McGonagall caught sight of Harry and rushed over to them.

"Mr Potter, you are late!" she called to him. "Get over to the door with your date this instant! Mr Weasley, would you please enter the Hall before all the seats are taken."

"Good luck, mate," Ron said. "I'll walk into the Hall with you if you're embarrassed."

"I'll be fine," Harry told him. Ron shrugged and walked into the Hall, straight past a rather confused looking Hermione. Harry walked over to the other Champions and their dates. Roger Davies was standing beside Fleur and looking like he couldn't believe his luck. Krum was with a girl Harry didn't recognise, but Harry was more interested in Cho and Cedric. He stood beside Hermione and linked his arm with her own the same way that Cedric had with Cho.

"He took it well, then?" Hermione asked. Harry had been staring at Cho and took a moment to realise what she was talking about. He tried desperately not to look guilty.

"Yeah," he said.

"You didn't tell him, did you?" That girl was too smart for her own good.

"Not as such, no."

Hermione huffed again and pulled her arm from Harry's to cross it with the other in front of her chest. The Champions and their dates all looked quizzically at them.

"Right, on you go, Champions," McGonagall said. "You first, Mr Diggory and Miss Chang."

McGonagall ushered the couples forward one at a time, eventually calling on Harry and Hermione last. Hermione reluctantly allowed Harry to link arms with her again, muttering Krum's name again. Harry felt a bit put out but lead Hermione into the Hall. Once inside he scanned the crowd for any sign of Ron. He eventually spotted him sitting next to Neville and Ginny.

By the looks of things, neither Weasley was particularly pleased with him. When he reached the Champions table though, Percy Weasley gave him an enthusiastic thumbs up and gestured to the seat beside him. Harry made his way over to the seat and was about to sit down when he noticed Cedric holding Cho's seat out for her to sit down.

He quickly shot to his feet and pulled Hermione's chair out for her. She shook her head but she gave a faint smile. Feeling slightly better about the night ahead Harry took his seat beside Percy.

Dumbledore stood up to show everyone how to summon food by saying, "Pork chops." Unsure what to really pick, Harry went for the same thing, and around the Hall various people called out their desired orders. Harry glanced at Hermione, worried that maybe she might be annoyed that this would mean more work for the House Elves, but she appeared to be ignoring it and was talking to Percy.

"Mr Crouch is ill, I'm afraid," Percy said. "He asked me to take his place. He's under a lot of strain at the moment, and I'm afraid even great men such as he have their limits."

Harry listened with half an ear as they talked a lot about Percy's work, but really he was more interested in watching Cho, who was giggling at a story Cedric was telling her. He snapped out of his haze when Percy suddenly addressed him.

"I have to say, Harry, I approve very much of your choice of date," Percy said. Harry suddenly felt quite annoyed at Percy. What business of it was his anyway?

"Yeah, well, she's one of my best friends and I thought I'd ask her before someone else did," Harry said. He still hadn't told Hermione that he'd actually asked Cho first and just panicked, but he didn't see any reason to mention it to her.

"Of course, of course," Percy nodded. "She's a very special young lady. She'll go far in life."

Harry had no doubt Hermione was smart enough to be successful in later life, and certainly didn't need telling. But he couldn't understand what Percy was hinting it.

"My little sister though," Percy went on. "I have nothing against Neville Longbottom, per se, but I just think he's a little bit... slow."

Harry knew Neville was thicker than a bucket of paint, but was very annoyed that Percy seemed to think he had any right to say so. Before Harry could snap at him, though, Hermione placed a calming hand on his arm.

"Who's that Viktor is with?" she asked. "I don't recognise her."

"Hmm, Holmes I believe," Percy replied. "Can't for the life of me remember her first name, but she's a Hufflepuff. One of Diggory's old crowd. I imagine he must have set Krum up. From what I hear he's a bit quiet, actually."

Hermione nodded in agreement but didn't say anything more. Before Harry knew what was happening Dumbledore stood up to announce the first dance. Harry suddenly felt himself began to sweat. He had been dreading telling Ron about his date so much that he had forgotten the Champions were supposed to open Ball with the first dance.

"Hermione, I don't know how to dance," Harry hissed to her.

"Oh, Harry, it's easy," Hermione assured him, taking his hand. "You just let yourself move in time with the music."

Hermione lead him to the middle of the dance floor. She took both of his hands in her own, holding onto one and placing the other (to Harry's horror) on her waist. He visibly gulped as the music started up.

Hermione gently lead him in a series of awkward motions. Harry tried desperately not to think of all the eyes staring at him, but Ron had made his way to the front of the crowd gathering around the floor and was cutting a pretty intense stare at him.

Eventually though other people started to make their way out onto the dance floor, lead by Dumbledore with Madame Maxime.

When enough people were on the floor Harry tried to break off from Hermione.

"Oh, Harry, we've got to dance," she pleaded.

"Hermione, I don't dance," Harry replied.

"Nonsense," she snapped at him. "Dancing is fun, Harry, when you get into it. If I'd known you'd be like this I would have come with Krum."

That got Harry exactly where she wanted, and he agreed to stay and try some dancing. Once they had broken out of that awkward waltz and the faster songs started to pick up Harry found himself getting more and more into it, and his motions seemed to be getting more and more excessive, but Hermione seemed to be a lot more pleased so Harry felt he couldn't have been as bad a dancer as he felt.

Several times he found himself dancing with someone else as well. While Fred dragged Hermione around the floor for a frantic lap which nearly involved decapitating someone Harry danced an awkward slow waltz with Angelina Johnson who just looked glad to have a bit of a break from Fred's insanely fast dancing. Harry later enjoyed a brief dance with George and understood why Angelina had been worn out by dancing with one of the twins. He even had a brief dance with Ginny, who tried to drag him off the floor saying she wanted some peace and quiet and that her feet were killing her from dancing with Neville, but Harry was having far too much fun and insisted on staying until Hermione hobbled over from where Neville had put her through similar treatment. His most surprising partner of the night had been Professor McGonagall, who was actually a quite good dancer.

Eventually though he and Hermione were back together, when suddenly the tone of the music changed to one much slower. Harry looked around and noticed, to his horror, all the couples seemed to have pulled much closer to each other and were now looking very cosy. He had been about to suggest that maybe this song was not one for them when he felt Hermione's arms pulling around his neck.

He froze for a moment, looking at her as if seeing her for the first time. Okay, maybe this wasn't so bad. He'd just put his arms around her waist and they'd slowly wander in circles. No big deal. They were friends. This would be cool.

Hermione rested her head against his chest while they slowly spun around. Harry pressed his nose into her hair and took a sniff. Whatever shampoo she'd used tonight to get her hair like that made it smell incredible. For a while they just slowly spun in circles like everyone else.

Hermione slowly raised her head to look at him.

"I'm really glad I came with you, Harry," she said.

"I'm glad I came with you, too," Harry replied. "This has been fun. Thank you."

Hermione lifted her head a little bit more, and Harry felt his breathing suddenly become that much harder. Their lips were so close now. All it would take would be one fractional movement...

She closed her eyes and leant forward. For the briefest of moments their lips gently touched. It seemed to shock Harry at first. She pulled away just enough for their lips to part but her eyes remained firmly closed and now she was talking very deep breaths.

Harry closed the gap between them again, and this time the kiss lasted a lot longer. He lifted a hand from her waist to run it through her hair and pull her closer to him...

Then suddenly Hermione was ripped from his arms, and when he opened his eyes Ron was standing between them, looking utterly furious.

"What the hell are you doing?" Ron demanded.

"Well, what does it look like we're doing?" Hermione snapped back.

"Well, you're acting like some sort of... scarlet woman!" Ron replied. Hermione looked totally gobsmacked.

"Scarlet woman?" she demanded. She drew her hand back and slapped Ron across the face. She stormed out. Ron started to chase after her, and Harry followed in his wake.

"Where are you going?" Ron shouted after her when they got into the Great Hall. Luckily it was quite deserted. Most people were in the Hall dancing, and only a few people had come out to see the result of their argument.

"I'm leaving," Hermione shouted. "You're ruined everything. EVERYTHING!"

"How could you not have told me about you two?" Ron asked. "How long have you been seeing each other behind my back?" Hermione suddenly stopped and turned around to stare him down. Harry noticed tear stained streaks down her face.

"For your information, Ronald, there was no us two before tonight," Hermione said. She did not shout, but the anger in her voice was evident. "Harry just asked me to the dance as friends, and tonight we had a lot of fun and, well, I wanted to kiss him." She flushed a little bit before moving on. "If you wanted to go with me to the Ball so badly then perhaps next time you should ask me first yourself, rather than as a last resort."

With that she turned and stormed up the staircase and out of sight, leaving Ron opening and closing his mouth like a fish.

"Ron," Harry tried to say to him, but Ron suddenly snapped around and Harry felt a blow to his face that sent him sprawling to the ground.

"Don't speak to me, you bastard!" Ron roared at him. "How could you do this to me?"

Before Harry could work out what had just happened he heard Ron's angry footsteps storming off towards the grounds. He heard muttering all around him which didn't help him try and regain his senses, but a strong pair of hands helped to pull him to his feet.

"Harry?" It was Cedric Diggory, probably the last person Harry wanted to see. Shouldn't he have been off with Cho? "Are you okay? What happened?"

"Just a bit of a friendly scuffle," Harry lied. "What do you want?" His tone made it sound like he was accusing Cedric of something, but he didn't care.

"Have you solved your egg yet?" he asked.

"What?" Harry asked. "No." He didn't even feel like lying. Why on Earth was this idiot asking him about his egg when his best friend had just punched him in the face?

"Just have a bath, okay?"

"What?"

"Have a bath with the egg and, you know, splash some water on it. You can just the Prefects' bathroom; it's usually pretty quiet at night. It's on the fifth floor, the fourth door to the left of that statue of Boris the Bewildered. The password is Pine Fresh. Got to go here. Want to say goodnight."

Judging by the grin on his face he was away to do a lot more than say goodnight, but Harry let him go. He couldn't care less about Cedric Diggory or the Golden Egg right now. The only thing he could think about was finding Hermione and making sure she was alright. Ron could wait. He'd be fine again in the morning once he'd cooled down.