Title: Cinders and Stilettos

Author: Katie

Author E-mail: AmethystJackson@hotmail.com

Category: Drama, Romance

Keywords: Cinderella, Harry, Hermione, and Patil Twins

Rating: PG-13 (Adult language)

Spoilers: For all four books and Disney's "Cinderella"

Summary: A retelling of Disney's "Cinderella" using Harry Potter characters.

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. Disney takes the credits for the plot line, and as far as I know, Aileen created the Winter Ball.

Author's Note: This fic was written for the Fourth Witch Weekly Challenge: Retell any Disney movie using Harry Potter characters. Mine is based on the classic story of Cinderella. This also features the return of HGYOA's infamous Claire Granger.

*****

Cinders and Slippers

By Katie Adams

Hermione stretched out on her hard mattress as her alarm clock went off, creating an annoying noise that filled her ears. Groggily, she reached out and hit the snooze button before she snuggled under her covers as Crookshanks let out a disgruntled meow at the movement. The blankets and the cat at her feet almost shut out the coldness of her basement bedroom.

She couldn't stay in bed forever. In fact, she couldn't stay in bed at all. Her mother – a strict, half-sane woman with an exterior colder than Hermione's concrete floor – would be barging into the room any moment now, demanding that she do this or that for her or her new stepsisters, the Patil twins.

Hermione was still hurting over the recent change. It had been only a month prior to the wedding that her father had died in a mysterious 'freak accident.' Hermione hadn't been fooled; she was convinced that her mother had something to do with it. She was a greedy, selfish woman who had only married her father for his money. It made sense.

Claire Granger had met Polonius Patil just days after her father's death when she took Hermione to Diagon Alley to get another year's worth of school supplies. Only weeks later they were married, and Hermione was forced to live full-time with two girls she had despised since her first day at Hogwarts.

Less than a year after they were married, Polonius drowned in a bay near their house. The Patil girls were quite distraught. Hermione kept a careful eye on her mother, however. She seemed altogether unaffected by his death. She knew that he too had become a victim of her mother's greed.

As soon as he was out of the picture (for he had been nice to her and had kept her mother from being too cruel), her mother had moved her to the basement and turned her into the family servant.

"Come on, Crookshanks," Hermione whispered. "Time for another lousy day." She had to fight back tears as she got up and her bare feet hit the frozen floor. The summer holidays were always terrible now, and this year had been the worst. She only made it through each day by daydreaming of going back to school. If only she could see Harry and Ron again, and practice magic, and have house-elves to do the cleaning. Of course, she still didn't like the way the elves were treated, but at least they liked to clean.

She desperately missed Harry and Ron. She hated being surrounded by a couple of gossiping, image-obsessed girls who demanded to be waited on hand-and-foot. They always reeked of disgusting French perfumes; she missed the clean, simple boy smell that Harry and Ron carried. She missed people who didn't care who was dating whom, or whose father did what. Parvati and Padma were so terribly annoying; all she wanted in the world were her two dearest friends who understood that appearances didn't matter, even if they didn't understand that Quidditch was a waste of time.

She sat back down on her bed, tears finally pouring from her eyes. All summer she had forced herself never to cry once she was out of bed. Tears were for her pillow; she wouldn't allow them anywhere else, where someone might see.

But Harry, dear Harry. He was so hopelessly loyal and always knew exactly what to say to her; he was so kind and caring. And Ron. She missed his hopeless ability to never say the right thing and the way he always said what everyone else was thinking; she even missed being called a know-it-all once a week.

Crookshanks hopped into her lap, nudging his head against her stomach. She stroked the cat idly, comforted by the animal's presence. Hermione could always count on Crookshanks to come to her whenever she was upset.

Her desolation was abruptly interrupted by loud hammering on her door. "Get up, you worthless child! You've got to do the laundry today! And don't even try to use magic on them! Speaking of magic," Claire paused to open the door. "You won't be going back to that ridiculous school. I need you to stay here and help me."

Hermione's jaw dropped just as her mother left the room. Not going back to Hogwarts. How would she live a whole year like this?

It was a pity she didn't have an owl. Then she could write to McGonagall and ask for help. And if she couldn't do anything, she could write to Harry or Ron to help he out.

Maybe Harry would send Hedwig, or Ron would send Pig when they realized she wasn't at Hogwarts. And then someone would be sent to get her out.

But could they take her out of her home when her mother forbid her to go? She was still seventeen until September, still a minor. If her mother wanted to keep her home, could they stop her?

Stop fretting. There's work to be done, and sitting around daydreaming won't change that. Someone will find you; you just have to be patient.

With a melancholy sigh, she pushed Crookshanks off, stood up, dressed, and left her room where a day of hard Muggle work awaited her.

*****

"Harry! I've missed you so much!"

"There's no time to talk, Hermione. Come on, I'm going to get you out now."

"Harry," she whispered.

"What is it?" he asked, concerned.

"I wished for you. I wished for you every day and every night."

"Hermione! Hurry up with the tea!" yelled Parvati's voice, shattering her fantasy. Setting her broom back against the wall, she looked at the kettle on the stove. The tea wasn't ready; how could she hurry if the tea wasn't ready?

Angrily, she stormed into the sitting room where Parvati and Padma were studying for Charms.

"I can't very well hurry up," she snapped. "The tea is not ready, and therefore I can not hurry with it. If you have a problem with that, you can kiss Merlin's ass."

Parvati gaped at her. "Well," she huffed. "There's no need to get an attitude!"

Rolling her eyes in exasperation, she stomped back into the kitchen. The tea still wasn't ready. Somberly, she grabbed the broom again and resumed her sweep of the rather large kitchen.

*****

"Did you hear? Claire isn't letting Hermione go back to Hogwarts this year. Finally, I'll be able to get something accomplished with Harry. The girl has pretty much forbidden me to speak to him! Ha, I'll show her when I come home with Harry on my arm."

Hermione bit back tears and moved silently away from the crack in Parvati's bedroom door where she had been listening. She would have to find some way to warn Harry. She had spent more time and energy on keeping other Gryffindor girls away from Harry. It wasn't out of jealousy (or so she told herself); she was trying to protect Harry from girls like that. If he had to end up with someone, she hoped it would at least be a Ravenclaw or a Hufflepuff even. Someone who never gossiped, someone who wouldn't plot and scheme over him, someone with brains, someone trustworthy. It wasn't jealousy, she told herself, but her mind didn't convince her heart. There was something there that she refused to see.

Slowly and sadly she sank back onto her knees and began to mop the floor again, letting her hair hang in front of her face to hide her tears.

*****

"Hermione! Get in here and pack my things! Just because you've got to stay home doesn't mean nobody else is going to school tomorrow!"

Hermione pulled her head out of the fireplace she had been cleaning, brushing soot off her pants and tucking her hair behind her ears. The full force of the fact that she wasn't going to Hogwarts this year suddenly hit hard. She wouldn't see Harry and Ron again. She wouldn't graduate. She wouldn't see another Quidditch match. She would never cast another charm.

Still kneeling on the floor, she let the tears flow freely at last. It wasn't fair; it wasn't fair at all. The tears rolled through the ash that stained her face and dropped to the floor in dark, murky circlets.

Soon the sobs started to shake her body, attacking her already sore muscles. At the moment she wanted to scream, and she wanted to throw a fit, and then she just wanted to die. She wanted to die so she wouldn't have to feel the pain anymore.

And yet her mind insisted that she stay cheerful. Her mother would finally get what she deserved, and she would be able to complete her magical education. Harry and Ron would find her. They would hug her and tell her it would be all right now.

That was what she wanted more than anything right now. She wanted Harry to come and take her in his arms. He would hold her tightly against him and tell her he would never let her be in pain again. She would put her arms around him as well and let her head fall on his shoulder, and everything would be perfect at last.

Automatically, she pushed thoughts of Harry and his arms out of her head. She wasn't willing to accept the fact that she had feelings for Harry. It just didn't seem right or normal to have thoughts like that about her best friend.

Sadly, she got up off the floor, brushing away the tears, leaving a streak of soot on her face. She went upstairs and into Parvati's room, hoping there was no evidence of her pain.

"Well, look at you, Cinders. Soot all over." She laughed sadistically. "What a sight you are. Honestly, don't you care that you look like a chimney sweep?"

"At least I don't look like I belong on the corner in stilettos," Hermione snapped, wondering if Parvati would even catch the insinuation.

"Right, well, get to packing my things. And make sure I have my tea when I wake up."

Scowling, Hermione started packing, making sure to hide Parvati's makeup.

*****

Hermione sighed, stroking Crookshanks. It had been two months since Parvati and Padma had gone to Hogwarts. She didn't understand it. Why hadn't Harry or Ron written to ask where she was? Why hadn't McGonagall sent a letter to ask why she wasn't at school this year? Something wasn't right.

She fought back tears. Did Harry and Ron even care? Had they even bothered? Of course they had, she convinced herself. They cared about her, she knew they did. They would have written. But where had the letters gone? Letters just didn't get lost when it came to Owl Post.

It had to have been her mother. Her mother stole her letters and kept them from her so that she wouldn't be able to get anyone to help her. So that she wouldn't be able to write to Harry.

She became suddenly furious. How dare that woman take what belonged to her and rip away every right that she had as a human being. How dare she imprison her like some animal, some slave.

Well, she wasn't going to sit back and take it. Rage building rapidly, she swung her feet out from under the covers, effectively scaring Crookshanks, and planted her feet on the icy floor. She would go find her letters. Her mother ought to be asleep by now.

Hermione put on her shabby, too-small slippers and robe and crept out of her basement bedroom, heading silently up the stairs. Her slippers were charmed to make no noise; she had performed the charm for all the times they ended up sneaking out at night at Hogwarts. She blocked out the memories and tiptoed into her mother's study.

If her mother hid her letters anywhere, it would be in her desk. Claire Granger's desk was like her sacred place. Of course, her mother might have burned the letters, and then this whole thing would be pointless.

Hermione was shuffling around through the top drawer when a paper on the desktop caught her eye. It was a letter from Parvati. Hermione couldn't keep her curiosity in check. She was dying to know what was going on at Hogwarts. Taking a furtive glance around the room, she picked up the letter and started to read. She skimmed through a paragraph on how unsatisfactory the Hogwarts house-elves were, nearly gagged while reading all about Parvati's 'achievements' with Harry, and finally got to a paragraph that piqued her interest:

Oh, Claire, it's so exciting! They're throwing a Winter Ball this year. A bunch of girls and I all agree that they should have done it ever since they threw the Yule Ball in our fourth year. It promises to be wonderful, though, and I have a feeling Harry will ask me to go with him. It's on the 23rd of December, so could you please send money by then? I'm going to need new dress robes, and I'm sure Padma will, too.

Hermione dropped the letter, sinking into her mother's desk chair. What she wouldn't give to go to the Ball. Despite her hatred of all things frivolous, she loved to dance. It was probably the only thing close to art that she appreciated. And if she could attend the Winter Ball, she could see Harry again. She could tell him what had happened to her, and then he could help her out of her horrid situation.

Hermione sighed. Who was she kidding? She could never get to the Ball. She didn't have a broom, couldn't Apparate, couldn't make a Portkey – and even if she knew how, she couldn't do it, since she was an underage witch. Her only dress robes were far too small and faded, and the Patil twins would most certainly notice if she showed up at Hogwarts. Everyone would. They would tell her mother, and then…she would die. Part of her wondered if her mother really might be crazy enough to kill her. Hermione might have laughed at the irony. Most teenagers joked about their parents killing them; it seemed to be a real issue with Hermione.

Desolately, she resumed her search for her letters, but found nothing. Her mother must have burned them after all.

Hurting more than ever, Hermione hurried back to bed so that her pillow might once again absorb the tears.

*****

Hermione sighed. It was December 23rd. Despite all attempts to forget, all Hermione could focus on was the Winter Ball that would occur at Hogwarts tonight. Hermione wondered whom Harry was going with. If it were Parvati, she would have to wring both of their necks. Hopefully Harry had more sense than that.

She was quickly losing all hope of getting to the Ball, and a dull ache settled in her chest where it had been.

The sun went down, and it was then that Hermione began to feel despair. There was no way she could ever get to that Ball, and yet it was all she could think about. What she wouldn't give to go…

Hermione was listlessly scrubbing the dining room floor that evening, fantasizing once more about how it could be. She could imagine being there, in the enormous Great Hall. Christmas trees would surround the room, and the ceiling would be clear and starry like the sky. A dance floor would have been cleared, and she would be on it with Harry. It would be a slow, romantic song, and Harry's arms would be around her, holding her close.

Hermione sighed, fresh tears mixing with the soapy water on the floor. Hermione wondered how she still had any tears left to cry with.

"Dear me, Hermione, why are you crying?"

Hermione froze and looked around behind her, only to find her favorite aunt, Stefani, standing there. Hermione wasn't sure why she was drawn to the woman. She was rather odd, though beautiful, and had a tendency to show more skin than Hermione would recommend. She was kind, though she always told you exactly what she was thinking.

"Aunt Stefani," she said, smiling slightly. "When did you get here?"

"Oh, I Apparated just a minute ago," she said, brushing back a lock of dark brown hair.

"Oh, well, then – what did you say?" Hermione interrupted herself suddenly, her aunt's words sinking in. "But you're a Muggle…"

"No, that's what I let everyone think. Your grandparents were very religious, you know. They wouldn't let me go to Hogwarts when I got the letter. Said it was wrong, Satanic. I didn't believe them. I managed to educate myself at home, thanks to Dumbledore. I'm a capable witch now, but of course, I couldn't let anyone in the family know. But then you came along, with that magical blood in you." Stefani grinned. "You should be at Hogwarts. When that wretched sister of mine let it slip today that she was holding you hostage as some servant – oh, I knew I would get you out of here somehow."

Hermione gaped. Part of her wasn't surprised that her favorite relative had turned out to be a fellow witch. But it was a lot to take in at once.

"You still haven't told me why you were crying, Hermione."

"There is supposed to be a Winter Ball at Hogwarts tonight. I wanted to go so badly…I wanted to see Harry."

Stefani smirked. "Just Harry? I seem to recall you having another wizard friend."

"It's horrible," Hermione responded. "I think I've fallen in love with Harry."

"Why is that horrible?"

"I – well, because…because Harry could never love me back."

"And why not, love? Is there any reason he shouldn't fall in love with you?"

"No. He just won't."

"Don't say that, dear. If it's possible for you to fall for him, it's equally possible for him to love you back."

Hermione couldn't hold back a smile. Stefani had a way of cheering her up in the bleakest of situations.

"Now. It seems to me that we need to get you dressed up and sent off to that Ball."

"You could get me there?" Hermione said eagerly, hope flaring within her once more.

"Yes, of course. Now, about a dress…" Stefani paused, as if lost in thought. "Something red. Not too showy, of course. You are a young girl, it wouldn't suit you. Perhaps a clip or two to hold back those lovely curls. And shoes, the high-heeled variety. Oh, you will be stunning. And you'll dance with Harry, and have a positively marvelous time."

"Oh, but…I can't. If Parvati or Padma sees me there…"

"I see the problem. Well, we'll just adjust your appearance a bit."

Stefani produced a wand, but from where, Hermione had no idea. The tight black dress her aunt was wearing couldn't possible have any pockets, and the sleeves were shredded, making it impossible to hide anything up them. Hermione gave up questioning it and let her aunt get to work.

"All right," Stefani said ten minutes later. "You can have a look now."

Stefani conjured a large, full-length mirror. Hermione took one look and gasped. The change was drastic. Stefani had dressed her in very form-fitting, crimson robes. Her eyes had been lined with dark makeup. Her hair had been darkened several shades. Her skin had a definite tan; she had been terribly pale beforehand. The biggest change was her face. Her eyes had gone from brown to blue, and the shape of her face had been adjusted. Not even Harry would recognize her. Hermione looked down. The shoes were certainly interesting. They were red with very thin and tall heels like stilts. They felt remarkably comfortable, however, and were held on by a single red strap that looked like velvet.

"This is…brilliant. How did you do it?"

"I'll tell you later," Stefani promised, beaming at her. "You've got a Ball to attend. Here, I've got you a Portkey. You ought to land right outside Hogwarts. But there's a catch. All of the enchantments end at midnight."

Hermione bit her lip, cloaking her disappointment. "Well, it had to end sometime. Thank you, Aunt Stefani. This really is wonderful."

"Thank me later," Stefani said, handing her a small box. "The Portkey is inside. It won't bring you back here until 12:05, so you might have to hide for awhile."

Hermione nodded, taking the box and opening it carefully. Inside was a ring with a single ruby shining on top.

"Might as well wear it," Stefani said.

Hermione grinned, nodded, and slipped on the ring, feeling the floor disappear from beneath her feet as she did so. Moments later, she was standing in the snow before the steps that led into Hogwarts.

Hardly able to contain her excitement, she hurried in, relieved to find that the Entrance Hall was empty. The doors to the Great Hall were open. As she imagined, it looked magnificent. Mostly everyone was dancing already.

She walked into the Great Hall, unnoticed by most of the dancing couples. The ones that did see her paid no attention.

She stopped in her tracks when she spotted Harry. He was sitting alone at a small, round table, holding a bottle of butterbeer. With relief, she noticed that Parvati and Padma were both out on the dance floor with other boys.

Purposefully, she walked toward Harry, intent on talking to him, completely forgetting to come up with an alibi. On her way, however, she was stopped by none other than Draco Malfoy, who was smiling in a charming manner. Hermione had to admit that he didn't look so ugly without a sneer on his face.

"Hello," he said politely. "I don't believe we've met."

Hermione smiling, relishing the possibilities. "Oh, there's no need for you to introduce yourself, Draco Malfoy. Isn't it funny," she said, smiling, "how all Muggle-borns don't have frizzy hair?"

She stalked away from him, but not before enjoying the stricken look on his face. Moments later, she found herself standing by Harry's table. He didn't seem to notice her.

"Don't have a date?" she asked, pulling out the chair next to his and sitting down without an invitation.

Harry looked up at her, startled. "No," he said, blinking.

"Me neither," she replied. "But that's me. It seems strange that the famous Harry Potter would go dateless to a Ball."

Harry smiled ruefully. "Well, the famous Harry Potter isn't as suave as most would expect."

Hermione laughed. "Not even suave enough to ask a girl to dance?"

"No, not even good enough for that," Harry replied.

"Then I suppose a girl would have to come to you," said Hermione, enjoying the banter. "Would you like to dance?"

Harry blinked again, taking her in for the first time. "I'd love to," he replied. Harry stood and held out a hand for her. She took it gratefully, feeling a little tingle all down her arm as she did so.

He led her out to the dance floor and they danced for what must have been hours. Harry wasn't as bad of a dancer as most people thought. At least he wasn't Neville. Hermione savored every moment, a thrill shooting down her spine every time Harry touched her.

"You wouldn't by any chance have a name, would you?" Harry asked eventually.

She met his eyes, almost losing herself in them. "I do. But I'd rather not tell you what it is."

Harry scowled. "Why not?"

"Because. You know me. But I'm not supposed to be here. So I won't tell you who I am, and then I'll be No One, and then I can't be in trouble for being here. Because I'm No One for tonight."

Harry frowned still. "Why aren't you supposed to be here?"

Hermione smiled, looking away. "My mother forbid me to come."

Harry sighed. "If you say so."

"You don't believe me?" Hermione asked.

"I believe you. But…if you told me your name, I wouldn't tell."

"You're better off not knowing who I am, Harry."

Harry half-smiled, looking over her face. "You remind me of someone."

"Oh really?"

"Yes."

"Who?"

"A friend of mine. Hermione Granger."

Hermione hid the sudden flutter in her stomach. "Do I, now?" She looked around quickly, hoping she was a convincing actress. "Where is she tonight?"

"She never showed up at Hogwarts this year," Harry said. "Nobody seems to know why. I've tried to write her, but she never responds."

"Well, that's certainly strange," Hermione said, "I hope she's all right."

"Me too," Harry sighed. "But…let's talk about something else. What, er, house are you in?"

"Ravenclaw," Hermione fibbed, deciding that would be the most convincing answer. Out of all of the houses, Ravenclaw was the one that Gryffindor had the least contact with.

"Funny. I've never seen you around here before. What year are you in?"

"Sixth," Hermione lied. She might as well have been, she reminded herself, considering the fact that she had missed half of her seventh year and would probably miss the rest.

"That explains it," Harry said.

They danced on for awhile, talking occasionally about sixth year classes, Ravenclaw house, and of all things, Quidditch. After an hour or so, Harry stopped dancing and looked at her. Hermione didn't quite understand the look in his eyes as he did so.

"Do you want to go outside for awhile?" he asked. "I'm beginning to feel a little claustrophobic."

Hermione agreed, though she knew that Harry had no problem with claustrophobia, having lived in a cupboard for ten years.

"I still wish I knew your name," Harry said as they walked through the snow. Luckily, it wasn't very deep, and her shoes seemed to be charmed to stay warm and dry as well as comfortable. She felt the chill elsewhere, however, and walked close to Harry.

"I wish I could tell you my name," Hermione replied, refusing to meet his gaze. She didn't like pretending. It felt wrong to fool Harry. She ignored her scruples, however, happy to be near Harry for a little while.

"Why not? Will it really do you any harm?"

Hermione pressed her lips together. Right now, it might even help if he knew who she was. But she couldn't face him, couldn't let him know how she had tricked him. He would be angry with her for not telling him in the first place.

"Yes. It will do me harm. I'm sorry."

"Could you come up with a nickname, maybe? Something I could call you? I'd like to have a name to go with your face."

"Elizabeth," Hermione said, "It's my middle name."

Harry smiled. "That's odd. It's Hermione's middle name as well."

Hermione returned his smile, glad that he remembered.

"Are you cold?" he asked a minute later. "Do you want to go get a cloak?"

"I'm fine," Hermione lied as they walked toward the frozen lake.

"Are you sure?"

"I don't want to waste my time going all the way back," Hermione said. They were silent at they reached the lake. Hermione stared at it for a few moments, though she was acutely aware of Harry standing next to her.

"The lake is beautiful this time of year," Hermione whispered, feeling awkward breaking the silence.

"Yes. It is," Harry agreed, though he looked at her as he said it. Hermione felt herself blush.

"Do you have the time?" she asked suddenly, knowing Harry always wore a watch. She had bought him a new one for his fifteenth birthday, his original having been broken at some point during the Triwizard Tournament.

Harry flicked his wrist gracefully, and his sleeve fell back, revealing his watch. It was still in marvelous shape, Hermione noted.

"Quarter to midnight," he answered. "I didn't realize it had gotten so late."

Hermione crossed her arms over her chest, fighting tears. In fifteen minutes, it would all end.

"Are you all right?" he asked, his eyes full of concern. It was almost unbearable.

"I-I'm fine," Hermione said, praying her voice wouldn't betray her. "But I should be going in soon."

"Er, Elizabeth…" Harry started to say, staring at his shoes. "I'd like to see you again – if that would be all right with your mother, that is?"

Hermione took a deep breath, trying her hardest to come up with a reasonable response. "My mother probably wouldn't be happy about it," she said. "But I suppose I could go on being No One and make an exception for you."

Perhaps it wasn't a lie. Maybe she could talk Stefani into helping her become 'Elizabeth' again.

"Well, just in case, do you think it would be all right if I…if I…"

"If you what?" Hermione asked, wondering why Harry was suddenly shy.

"If I kissed you?"

Hermione blushed, then smiled. "You are a gentleman, aren't you? Most boys don't think to ask. But yes, that would be all right."

Harry smiled slightly and moved closer to her. Hermione's breath caught in her throat. Her first kiss. Hermione had always imagined Harry knowing it was her if he ever kissed her. She didn't mind enough to stop him, however.

He was a sloppy kisser, but to Hermione, that only made him cuter. It was a sweet sensation anyway, having Harry hold her close and touch her lips with his. When she shivered, it wasn't from the cold.

As soon as it was over, however, Hermione felt her face start to change. With horror, she stumbled back abruptly, terrified that he might recognize her. How humiliating that would be now! On the verge of tears, she ran towards Hogwarts's main gates. She was vaguely aware of Harry sprinting after her, yelling, "Wait! Where are you going?" She ignored him and ran on, struggling with her shoes as she tried to run through the snow.

"Hermione?" she heard Harry say, quietly, though she still heard. "Hermione, is that you?"

"No," she yelled back. "No, I'm not Hermione."

She stumbled on and eventually tripped. Her left shoe fell off. Hermione fought to keep balance, eventually pulling off the other shoe, and ran barefoot through the snow. Luckily, she had her Portkey on her finger, and soon she was being pulled away.

She landed on the floor where she had been scrubbing earlier, wearing rags and flimsy shoes. She was sure she was as much of a mess as she had been before Stefani had arrived. But she still held one of the scarlet stilettos in her hand, and the ruby ring was still on her finger.

*****

Hermione stalked all over the house, cleaning like mad. Parvati and Padma were coming home today, and they were each bringing a guest. Therefore, the house had to be perfect, according to Claire. Hermione sighed. She certainly wasn't looking forward to it. Who knew whom Parvati and Padma would bring home for Hermione to be embarrassed in front of. And yet, even with the idea of a terrible Christmas, Hermione's mind continually traveled back to the previous night when she had danced with Harry. And he had kissed her.

But to Harry, she was Elizabeth, a sixth year Ravenclaw.

Hermione heard the doorbell and felt panic rise within her.

"Hermione!" Claire called. "Get the door, you insolent, impolite little rat."

"Wonderful," Hermione grumbled sarcastically, "she's in a good mood today."

Hermione pulled the door open, finding only Parvati standing there.

"Hermione, I want you to stay out of sight this weekend. I've got a very important guest, and I won't have him seeing you."

"Oh, I'll gladly stay away from you, Parvati," Hermione snapped. "Especially since you and your 'guest' will be carrying in your own bags now."

"Don't snap at me," Parvati said, glaring at her. "Or I'll tell Claire."

"Mmm, run to Mum and tell her I've been a bad girl. You sure are classy."

"Just get out of my way."

"Fine by me," Hermione said, and she hurried off to her basement room.

*****

It wasn't until the next day that she realized who Parvati's guest was, and she decided it was a brilliant Christmas present.

She managed to catch him alone in his guest bedroom when Parvati and Padma were gushing over the 'lovely new robes' they had received for Christmas. Hermione decided then that they really were the most conceited girls in existence.

"Harry," she whispered, stealing his attention from his book. Harry's eyes flew upward and grew wide as he comprehended what he was seeing.

"Hermione?" he breathed. "What are you doing here?"

"I ought to ask you the same thing," she replied, shutting the door as she entered the room.

"I came with Parvati because she said – well, it's a long story. Anyway, I asked you first."

"Well," Hermione said, sitting across from him on his bed, "In a nutshell, my mother is an insane gold-digger."

"Er…"

"Didn't you know? My mother married Parvati and Padma's father after my dad died. When he 'drowned,' I became the house servant. My mother wouldn't let me go back to Hogwarts this year."

"Wow…well, at least you're all right. Ron and I were starting to think the worst…but…wow."

"You've got to help me out of here," Hermione pleaded. "And you've got to tell me all the homework assignments I've missed."

Harry chuckled. "You want to get out of here so you can do homework?"

"I'm sure you'll agree that it's better than manual labor."

"Well…you've got a point."

"But you'll help me?"

"Of course," Harry said, staring at her as if she were insane. "Like I could just leave you here now."

"So, why are you here?"

"Er…well…it really is a long story. You see, they had a Winter Ball at Hogwarts two days ago, and I met this girl there. She wouldn't tell me her real name, and I have a feeling she lied about her house and age. I've never seen a sixth year that looked like she did."

Hermione's heart was beating furiously. What if he saw it in her face that it really had been her all along?

"Parvati told me she knew the girl, that she lived nearby. So I agreed to come here with Parvati over vacation. I think…I think I'm in love with the girl."

Hermione gaped at him, lost for words.

"I know it sounds insane. I mean, I was only with her for a few hours, but…"

"It doesn't sound insane. But Harry…there's something you should know."

"What is it? Do you know anything about her?"

"Well, yes –"

Hermione was interrupted as the door burst open and Claire Granger stormed in.

"Hermione – what are you doing, bothering our guest?"

"Oh, she's certainly not a bother," Harry started to say, but Claire cut him off.

"You have to clean the kitchen," Claire said, "and start dinner."

Hermione looked apologetically at Harry and left the room. She knew her mother was dangerous and didn't want to take any unnecessary risks.

She had been cooking and cleaning for at least a half an hour when Harry showed up.

"I would have come sooner," he said, "But Parvati had to have her new robes admired." Harry rolled his eyes. "Do you want some help?"

"No," Hermione said, "I've got everything under control."

"In that case, what were you about to tell me?"

"Well, Parvati does know your Mystery Woman, though she doesn't realize it. Harry – it – oh, this is hard. Please don't be angry. It was me. I was the girl."

Harry stared, saying nothing.

"Harry, you – you have to believe me. You knew it was me, you knew it –"

"Hermione! Didn't I tell you to stay out of sight?"

Hermione spun around as Parvati's voice filled the room.

"Don't listen to her, Harry," Parvati said. "She doesn't know anything. She couldn't possibly have been at Hogwarts that night."

"Harry, please, you've got to believe me!" she cried, desperation creeping into her mind.

Parvati smirked. "Claire won't be happy about this. Bothering our guest, after all."

Hermione's eyes widened. "No, no, you can't –"

"Claire!" Parvati screamed. "Claire, Hermione's bothering Harry again!"

Claire Granger was in the kitchen within seconds, her expression furious. Before anyone could say a word, Claire had Hermione's arms locked behind her back and was dragging her off.

Hermione cried out for Harry, but Claire was dragging her down to the basement, and a minute later she was locked in her room.

"Stay away from the Potter boy," Claire hissed. "I won't have you ruining Parvati or Padma's chances of marrying Harry."

Hermione listened to Claire's retreating footsteps, completely numb. Harry would get her out, her mind insisted, though her heart remained unsure.

Eyes burning with the tears that she so desperately fought, Hermione collapsed to the floor, feeling as though a piece of herself had been stolen. She didn't have much time to ponder her misery before the door opened. Hermione looked up, expecting and hoping to see Harry standing there. Instead, it was her Aunt Stefani, Crookshanks stalking in behind her.

"Oh dear," Stefani commented. "This isn't good. Get up; let's not waste our time crying. Harry's got your missing shoe, and Parvati is trying to shove it on, insisting that she was the gorgeous stranger at the Ball."

"How'd you find me?" Hermione asked, getting to her feet.

"I was coming her on a chance visit. When Crookshanks threw a fit when I Apparated in, I knew you were having troubles, of course. Crookshanks led me down here. I say, that cat must be part Kneazle. Come now, though, and bring your other shoe," Stefani said.

Hermione went to her trunk, retrieving the shoe from the corner in which she had hidden it, and hurried after Stefani, who had already left the room.

Hermione nearly screamed when they reached the living room. Parvati was holding out her foot with the missing stiletto on it (which was obviously too small for Parvati's feet), saying, "See, Harry? Perfect fit. I'm telling you, I was that girl."

"Puh-leeze," Stefani interrupted. "It's obviously too small for you, dear. It was made to be a perfect fit for Hermione."

Hermione smiled at her aunt, grateful that she was doing the talking for her.

"Who're you?" Parvati snapped.

"Hermione's aunt," Stefani answered. "And I also happen to be a qualified witch. I made Hermione up, changed her appearance a bit, and sent her off to the Ball."

"And I happen to have the other shoe to prove it," Hermione declared, holding up the shoe as if it were a long-sought-after treasure.

"You must have stolen that out of my room," Parvati lied quickly, smiling triumphantly. Hermione glanced over at Harry. He was staring back and forth between the two of them, obviously not knowing whom to believe.

"She did not, you little liar," Stefani said. "Give me the shoe, and I'll prove it."

Parvati hesitated, but eventually tugged off the tight shoe and handed it over. Hermione took it from her, looking to her aunt for further instructions.

"Well, what are you waiting for? Put them on!"

Hermione nodded and slipped off the flat-soled clogs she had been stuck with for months and carefully put on the stilettos, standing tall (but perhaps the heels only gave the appearance). Automatically, Hermione felt her face and clothes changing, her hair swinging back to be held by a clip. She looked toward Harry, waiting. He had jumped out of his chair, but hadn't moved any closer to her, simply staring.

"Harry," she whispered. "Do you believe me now?"

Harry blinked. "Yes. Yes, I do," and he stepped toward her, his arms going around her and his lips coming down to meet her. Later, she would consider the kiss to be a symbol of her freedom, her ticket out of Hell.

When Harry pulled away, she looked like her normal self. She was back to rags. But she didn't care, because she had found a pair of comfortable stilettos, and she had Harry.

*****

THE END

And they lived happily ever after. :-D