A/N: Thank you to pawsrule for diligently reviewing every chapter! I was disappointed to only one comment on the last chapter; I hope you'll have more to say about this one!
Disclaimer: I own nothing and am eternally grateful to J.K. Rowling for creating the Harry Potter universe.
Chapter 4: Harry
Harry couldn't recall the last time he was so bored. History of Magic class, perhaps. Admittedly, he'd never had any particular skill at schmoozing. He hadn't realized that giving the dedication address meant sitting with the Minister and other honored guests rather than his friends. His speaking at the dedication had been an excellent bargaining chip in the negotiation to include Snape's name, as well as Sirius', on the memorial. In the aftermath of the war, Harry had dedicated himself to clearing both wizards' names. Despite Sirius being officially exonerated of the murders he'd been accused of committing, many still thought he's been in league with Voldemort. Restoring Snape's reputation was more difficult. Only Dumbledore or Snape, himself, could possibly corroborate Harry's story. Although Kingsley trusted Harry, Harry'd had to show Kingsley the memories before he agreed to take up Harry's fight to include Snape's name on the memorial.
Harry wished that he'd thought to invite Hermione as his 'date' tonight, so she'd have been seated with him, rather than the Weasleys. Harry felt hot with jealousy as he saw her talking with the seeker from the Chudley Cannons - a taller, better muscled man than himself. When he saw Ron leave his table to get a drink from the bar, Harry did the same.
"Hey," Ron said when he saw Harry approach, "Whatcha want to drink?"
"I'll have a butter beer."
Drinks in hand, Ron asked, "'ermione write that speech?"
"She helped...a lot. I wanted to give her credit at the end, but she wouldn't hear it."
"She is pretty bloody stubborn. What's she playing at with that dress she's wearing, anyway?"
"What do you mean?" Harry asked somewhat defensively.
"You know what I bloody mean! She never dressed like that when we were dating! Her dress is..."
"Longer than Romilda's," Harry countered.
Ron smiled, "Her arse looks great in that dress."
"Yeah, well, I have to get back to my table," Harry mumbled, bidding Ron a hasty goodbye.
On his way back to his table, he looked over his shoulder at Hermione's dress that has Ron so incensed. While doing so, he literally bumped into Neville.
"Harry! Great speech!"
"Thanks, Neville. How's work? Semester's almost over, I suppose."
"Yes, two weeks left. Luna and I are going to spend a week in Ireland after the semester ends."
Neville was finishing his first year as Herbology teacher at Hogwarts. He and Luna had been dating for nearly a year.
"Oh, that sounds great. Any special occassion?'
Neville smiled broadly, "Actually, it's our anniversary."
He looked around him then whispered, "I'm going to ask Luna to marry me."
Astonished, Harry forgot to speak for a moment, "That - that's great, Neville. You seem very happy together."
"We are, and, you know, after everything, it feels like we shouldn't wait. You never know what the future will bring."
As Neville continued to discuss the elaborate proposal he'd planned at the Cliffs of Moher, Harry wondered how it was that people he'd grown up with were getting engaged when he couldn't even tell the woman he was in love with that he had feelings beyond friendship for her. As if Hermione had heard his thoughts, she sidled up beside him.
"Neville, it's great to see you!"
"You too, Hermione. You look...fantastic."
"Thank you," Hermione replied, shyly, "You look very nice as well."
Neville proceeded to let Hermione in on his plans to propose to Luna. She vowed to keep his secret, and he continued to divulge more details, including that he'd be giving Luna his grandmother's engagement ring.
"I was a bit worried that Gram might not like Luna, since she's a bit...eccentric, but she adores her. Gram was so excited when I told her I wanted to asked Luna to marry me. Well, I better get back to her. Great seeing both of you!"
As he walked away, Hermione turned to Harry, "That's wonderful. They seem so happy. Next year, we might attending their wedding."
By way of response, Harry blurted out, "Do you want to dance?"
"I think that they are just serving dessert," replied a confused Hermione, "but after that, I'd be happy to dance with you, Harry."
Harry smiled, "Right, well, I guess I should get back to my table."
Harry walked back to his table muttering 'idiot' to himself. As it happened, Hermione's dance card was rather full that evening. She had a partner for each slow dance - some more reluctant pairings than others. Harry only danced with Luna and Hanna Abbott. He spent the rest of the time chatting with the Weasleys or old school friends. Twice, when Harry found himself at the bar, men he didn't know, who appeared a few years older than himself, asked if Hermione was seeing anyone. Harry wondered how long the answer would remain 'no'. As he pondered this, Hermione was reluctantly escorted to dance floor by Benedict. Harry's heart sank when he saw. The evening was nearly over. Harry ordered a shot of firewhiskey from the bartender and quickly downed the entire shot. The burning sensation in his throat was as much as the first time he'd tasted it. When Harry glanced back at the dance floor, Benedict's hands had traveled further south on Hermione's body, nearly touching her ass. Emboldened by the fire whiskey, Harry marched onto the dance floor. He tapped Benedict pointedly on the shoulder.
"Err, may I cut in?" he asked.
Before Benedict could object, Hermione was informing him that she would prefer to dance with Harry and to have a nice evening. Benedict walked away scowling, as Harry placed his hands on Hermione's waist.
"Oh, thank Merlin I didn't have to dance an entire dance with him! If I had to tell him one more time to keep his hands on my waist, I was going to hex him!"
Harry smiled before the two of them simultaneously burst into laughter.
"That certainly would've showed him," Harry said with a smile.
"He was nearly as insufferable as Cormac McLaggen. Evidently, Harry, you were one of the only modest Quidditch players."
Harry was pleased to have earned this distinction. He was even more pleased that Hermione seemed to have no interest in sharing another dance, let alone an evening, with any of the gentlemen she'd danced with that night. The song came to an end, but Hermione showed no inclination for leaving the dance floor. As the next slow song began, Harry pulled her a little closer.
"Those shoes must be difficult to walk in," Harry said, glancing down at Hermione's three inch heels.
"Yes, though, I've put a balancing charm on them."
"You have a solution for everything," Harry replied with a smile.
Hermione smiled in return, "My feet do hurt quite a bit though."
They danced in silence for a moment before Harry whispered to Hermione, "Want to get out of here?"
"But the evening isn't over, surely people would be considered if you disappeared."
Harry smiled, "No one is nearly as concerned about my whereabouts as they used to be."
Hermione conceded the point, "Still, you should at least inform the Minister."
Harry agreed to tell Kingsley, while Hermione told the Weasleys she was feeling tired and leaving a bit early. Harry wondered what Ron would think when he saw them leave together, but, fortunately, Ron was too busy with Romilda to notice. Harry lead Hermione to a secluded corner of the grounds. With the Hermione used the 'engorgio' charm to change a pebble into a rock large enough for both of them to sit on.
"Do you ever wonder how we ever survived without magic?" Harry pondered aloud.
"It certainly makes many things easier," Hermione agreed.
"What did you think when you first received your letter from Hogwarts nine years ago?"
Hermione considered the question for a moment, "Well, I was surprised, but not...shocked. I suppose I always knew I was different somehow. "
Harry nodded, wondering what havoc a younger Hermione might have wrecked before knowing how to control her powers.
"Didn't set a snake loose on your cousin, did you?"
Hermione chuckled, "No, well, it's kind of an embarrassing story."
Harry raised his eyebrows in response.
"In third year - before coming to Hogwarts - I had a crush on this boy - Billy Dresher. He was quite popular, and I was, well, not. One of the popular girls tricked me into telling her about my crush. Later, I saw her talking to Billy and some of the other girls in our year. They were saying... some very unkind things about my hair and overbite. The next days, the girls and Billy woke up with their faces covered in spots. We were only ten, and no one had them yet. They didn't clear up for nearly a month. Then, nearly everyone avoided me for the rest of the year. When I got my invitation to Hogwarts, my Mum and Dad were looking into other schools for me. So, it was quite serendipitous."
Harry nodded, "Well, if those girls and Billy could see you now, you'd show them."
"You mean, because it was really me who caused the spots?" asked a confused Hermione.
"Yes, but no, I meant - because of how you look."
"How I look?" asked a perplexed Hermione.
Harry took a deep breath and uttered, "You're beautiful. Tonight the other wizards couldn't take their eyes off you. Two blokes I don't even know asked me if you had a boyfriend. And it's not just other wizards, I shouldn't have said you looked 'lovely'. That's something you say to your aunt or mum. I should've said that you look beautiful. You were the most beautiful woman in the room tonight...every night, really."
Harry feared meeting Hermione's eyes, not knowing what emotion they might betray. She appeared to be deep in thought, considering Harry's confession.
"Harry, I - well - thank you," said a scarlet faced Hermione.
Harry waited for Hermione to say something else - anything else. Instead, he chose to fill the silence.
"I lied," Harry said softly.
"About me being beautiful?"
"No!" Harry nearly shouted, "the blokes who asked me about you, I told them you had a boyfriend, and it was quite serious."
"Why, Harry?" Hermione asked scooting a bit closer to him and taking his hand in hers.
The feel of his hand in hers gave Harry the courage to continue.
"I couldn't bear the thought of losing you to someone else."