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Price of Peace 4 - Uncovering the Truth

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It took at least twenty minutes for Lily to calm down, but as they began to gather again, Hermione realised that they were still two readers short.

Excusing herself, she jogged over to the closed door and knocked, hoping whatever Silencing Charm they had used was one-way. “Sirius? Addie?”

She felt, rather than heard, the Silencing Charm disappear, followed by Sirius’s voice. “Come in.”

Hermione pushed the door open, smiling at the sight that greeted her. Addie’s head was resting on his shoulder, her eyes closed, while Sirius stroked her hair softly.

“We’re about to start the next chapter.” She said quietly. “She asleep?”

“Think so.” Sirius answered, looking worried. “I don’t know why she’s so tired.”

“It’s emotionally draining.” Hermione supplied. “Especially for her. And for you, I should think. She doesn’t know if she’s going to see you again after we get out of here.”

Sirius looked down at her. “I hadn’t even thought of that. Trying not to, I guess.”

Hermione smiled weakly. “Are you going to wake her, or shall I?”

“I’ve got it.” Sirius assured her. “Give us a minute.”

Hermione nodded, and left the room, closing the door behind her.

“Ads,” Sirius whispered, squeezing her shoulder. “Time to wake up, sweetheart.”

Addie shifted and blinked sleepily, lifting her head. “Hmm?”

Sirius smirked at her. “You fell asleep.”

“Sorry.” Addie muttered, running a hand through her hair. “Have they started again?”

“Not yet.” Sirius said. “They’re just about to.”

The others were ready and waiting when the two rejoined them, settling on the long sofa next to Harry and Hermione.

Remus reached for the book and turned to the next chapter.

Chapter Nineteen

The Yule Ball

The boys groaned, but the girls perked up. “This should be interesting.” Lily commented. “I’ve never seen a Ball at Hogwarts.”

“Neither have we.” Jen reminded her.

“Yeah, but you’ve seen the Ministry Balls.” Lily sighed.

“For our sakes, I hope it’s nothing like that.” Addie remarked, wrinkling her nose. “Those things are so boring.”

“The one in seventh was nothing like those.” Sirius assured her.

“On saying that,” Addie smirked, “the company was infinitely better.”

“True.” Sirius conceded.

“Hermione, you look stunning.” Lavender sighed.

As Hermione blushed, Lily smiled. “I’m going to like this chapter. I don’t suppose you have a photograph, do you?”

“No, but I bet we can get one.” Harry grinned, looking towards the ceiling.

Sure enough, with a flash of light, two photographs appeared on the table and he picked them up. “I don’t remember anyone taking that.”

Hermione looked over his shoulder, seeing the two of them dancing in the Great Hall, completely lost in each other. “Neither do I.” She whispered.

“Let’s see?” Fred popped up behind them and grinned. “Yeah, I took that one. You two were just too cute.” He squealed the last word and promptly ducked when they both reached up to smack him.

“Harry?” Lily prompted.

Harry handed her the picture, and she broke into a smile.

“You know,” Jen said thoughtfully, looking over her shoulder, “I know you two are just friends, but you make a good-looking couple.”

Hermione’s blush deepened and she picked up the other picture to change the subject. “This isn’t us.”

Addie took the picture and chuckled. “No, that’s us.”

“What?” Addie asked in shock, holding her hand out.

Addie relinquished the photo willingly, watching both pictures circulate the room, leaning back into Sirius’s arms. “You alright?” She murmured.

Sirius shook his head slowly. “Yeah … Yeah, I’m fine. Just … every time I think I’m past Azkaban, it comes back.”

Addie raised an eyebrow, silently asking what the connection was.

Sirius nodded to the photo. “I’d forgotten how beautiful you looked that night.”

Addie rested her head on his shoulder, and took the photograph that Neville passed her. “I’m going to have to agree with Lavender’s assessment, Hermione.”

Hermione turned even redder, as Remus continued.

Hermione twirled around in front of the mirror, self-consciously. “You think so?”

Her mother had bought her some dress robes on a whim at the beginning of the summer, when they had stopped at Diagon Alley on the way back from King’s Cross, but only after they had passed her father’s inspection.

Jen grimaced.

Thankfully, Lily had taught Hermione a dress-alteration spell …

“You’re welcome.” Lily smiled.

… and she had managed to transfigure the chocolate-brown robes with long sleeves …

The girls made various sounds of disgust.

“Very welcome.” Lily corrected, pulling a face. “You poor, poor thing.”

… (“They match your eyes,” her mother had said.

“I got the feeling she was trying to find a silver lining.” Hermione sighed.

“Not even my sister would wear that colour.” Lily had informed her) into sleeveless periwinkle blue robes with a scalloped neckline.

“Much better.” Mandy approved, looking again at the photograph.

Parvati, upon seeing her robes, had insisted on doing her hair – which involved a good deal of Sleekeazy’s Hair Potion …

“I thought that might be it.” Arabella remarked. “I remember Annie saying that you couldn’t do a thing with her mother’s hair.”

… and Lavender her make-up, and both were now watching Hermione tearfully, looking rather like proud parents at their daughter’s graduation.

Harry chuckled. “I thought I was imagining it.”

Hermione smiled at the thought, and found that she didn’t disagree with Lavender’s assessment. She had never considered herself attractive …

Harry rolled his eyes. “One day …” He sighed. “You’ll get it.”

… although maybe that was because her two best friends were male and she had always been ‘one of the lads’.

Until Harry had sort-of asked her to the Ball, she wasn’t even sure he knew she was a girl.

“Hermione!” Harry protested. “Of course I know you’re a girl!”

“Yeah!” Fred agreed. “It’s not difficult, Mya – you’ve got …”

Two pillows hit him at the same time, knocking him off his chair as Ginny smacked him over the head for good measure.

“A pretty face!” Fred shouted, ducking another cushion. “You’ve got a pretty face. It’s not a boy’s face.”

But tonight, she barely recognised herself.

“Your date’s going to pass out.” Parvati said with a smile.

“I hope not.” Hermione remarked dryly, grabbing her cloak. Not least because he’s not technically a date, she added silently …

“Didn’t you tell people that?” Lily asked curiously.

Hermione shrugged. “Didn’t see the point. They wouldn’t believe me and, in situations like that, denial is as good as admittance, so I just let them think what they wanted.”

… as the other two giggled. “Have a good time, ladies. I’ll see you there.” She slipped the cloak around her and fastened it, before lifting her hood.

“Didn’t want to get stopped every five metres with questions.” Hermione said with a smile. “Everyone was very interested to know who I was going with for some reason.”

The castle was abuzz with excitement and Hermione slipped through the crowd in the Entrance Hall and out into the dark grounds, skirting around the rose garden that had sprung up overnight at the beginning of the Christmas holidays, fairy lights twinkling amidst the bushes that lined the twisting pathways.

“That’s new.” Lily commented.

“They’re showing off.” Sirius smirked.

The Durmstrang ship loomed out of the darkness …

The boys began making creepy noises.

… making her shiver slightly at the sight; it was one of the creepier sights she’d seen, and that included Ron’s table manners.

Harry shuddered. “Let’s not be hasty, Hermione.”

As she reached it, the gang-plank fell with a heavy thud and students began to disembark, many of them paired off.

“Ah, Viktor!” Karkaroff boomed, his voice echoing through the night. “This must be your date for the evening.”

Everyone tensed without realising it.

Nervously, knowing full well how Karkaroff felt about people like her and, more importantly, what he’d once done to people like her …

Sirius growled. “If he even thinks about laying a hand on you …”

Addie took his hand, causing him to calm immediately. “I think Harry would be a bit more on edge if he’d done anything.”

… Hermione removed her hood, letting the light from the ship illuminate her face. She couldn’t help wondering whether the sharp intakes of breath were down to most of the students knowing, by now, that she was Muggle-born, or something else.

“Probably a bit of both.” Draco commented. “You did look lovely that evening.”

Hermione smiled. “Thank you.”

Viktor approached her with a smile, bending to kiss her hand before turning to his headmaster. “This is Hermione Granger, Professor.”

“Charmed, my dear.” Karkaroff said, following his student’s example. “I don’t think I recognise the name Granger.”

Jen sniffed angrily. “Why does that matter?”

Remus squeezed her hand softly.

“You wouldn’t, sir.” Hermione responded politely. “I’m Muggle-born.”

For a second, Karkaroff’s smile faltered, but it was hastily restored …

“Of course.” Sirius sneered. “Wouldn’t want to look bad in front of his favourite student, would he?”

… and he turned back to the students, organising them into a line.

Hermione slipped her cloak off, shivering slightly in the cold air, and folded it up, storing in her bag, which she had managed to charm to hold more than usual.

“Impressive.” Lily commented. “That’s a sixth year charm.”

“It didn’t work as well as I wanted it to.” Hermione sighed. “It had worn off by the next morning.”

Fred rolled his eyes. “Again, Mya, it’s a sixth year charm.”

“You look beautiful.” Viktor told her in a quiet voice.

Hermione glanced up, surprise evident on her face. “Oh … thank you.”

Viktor offered her his arm …

“At least he’s polite.” Addie remarked.

… and they led the way back up to Hogwarts, through the fairy-lit rose garden, and into the Entrance Hall.

No sooner had they arrived in the warmth than they heard Professor McGonagall’s voice, amplified over the crowd. “Champions over here, please!”

“Good.” Jen muttered. “Get away from Karkaroff as soon as possible.”

She and Viktor split from the Durmstrang students and made their way to stand just to the side of the doors into the Great Hall – they were to wait there while everyone else took their seats and then enter in procession.

Cedric looked startled when he recognised her, but greeted her with a smile, which was than could be said for Cho, who was wearing traditional Chinese robes, and was gaping at Hermione in unflattering disbelief.

Lily frowned. “Charming.”

Harry frowned as well, but for a different reason. “Was she? I didn’t notice that.”

Hermione rolled her eyes fondly. “That’s because, Harry, with the exception of me and Ginny, you’re about as good at reading girls as Ron is at using tact.”

“That, and your eyes tend to fall out of your head when she’s around.” Ginny added with a smirk, causing him to blush.

Fleur, who – upon conversation in the library – Hermione had learned to be both an intelligent and a compassionate young woman …

“Ron was a prat a few more times before this.” Hermione explained, seeing the questioning looks. “Fleur came across me crying in the library and sat with me until I calmed down, talking about how idiotic boys could be sometimes.”

“Only sometimes?” Mandy asked sweetly.

… greeted her more freely, seizing her shoulders and kissing her on each cheek in a customary French greeting. “Hermione, tu es magnifique!

“Hermione, you look wonderful.” Hermione put in. “Or rather, ‘Hermione, you are magnificent’, but it doesn’t translate directly and still make sense.”

Venant de toi c’est un compliment. Hermione responded easily …

“Coming from you, that’s a compliment.” Jen translated before Hermione could. “My French is slowly coming back to me.”

… blushing slightly – thanks to her empathy, she knew Fleur to be completely sincere, which was incredibly flattering, given that the Beauxbatons champion looked even more stunning than usual.

She wearing silver-grey dress-robes and standing with Roger Davies, the Ravenclaw Quidditch Captain, who kept staring at her as though he couldn’t believe his luck.

James sniggered. “Wasn’t he the one you mentioned during the Quidditch game?”

Fred nodded with a grin. “That’s the one.”

As much as Hermione liked Fleur, she had a feeling that her Veela heritage had more than a little to do with this – everyone in Hogwarts knew were Davies’ admirations lay normally, and they weren’t with the fairer sex.

“I don’t think Fleur knew that.” Hermione remarked. “I probably should have warned her.”

“What I find strange,” Lily commented, “is how the magical world can be so archaic in some aspects and so revolutionary in others.”

“What do you mean?” Addie asked.

“Well, take the whole ‘betrothal, bride price’ thing,” Lily said, “selling your daughters and so on. The Muggle world – at least in Britain – outlawed that years ago. And yet until recently homosexuality was considered illegal in some places, and it’s still heavily frowned upon, but in the magical world, it’s just accepted.”

Addie looked confused. “How can you make it illegal to fall in love?”

Lily shrugged. “I don’t know, but they managed it.”

“It’s not always accepted.” Sirius told her quietly. “In old pureblood families, it depends whether there’s another son to carry on the family name.”

Hermione smiled sweetly. “How did you know that?”

Sirius glared at her. “Don’t even think about it.”

“They’ll find out anyway.” Hermione sang. “If I know me, it’s in this book.”

Addie looked between them, a bemused look on her face. “What are you talking about?”

Sirius sighed. “It involved Rita Skeeter and Hestia Jones – can we move on?”

Addie smirked. “Alright. I’ll get it out of you later.”

“Close your mouth, Harry.” Ginny said quietly, drawing Hermione’s attention to them.

She and Harry looked very festive – he was wearing bottle-green robes that – as Molly had quite rightly guessed – offset his eyes beautifully, and she was wearing a shade of red that, somehow, didn’t clash with her hair.

“How did you manage that?” Lily asked. “I can never wear red.”

“Oh, there’s this new place in Hogsmeade …” Ginny began.

“Girls!” James interrupted. “Could you talk fashion over dinner? We’ll be here all day otherwise.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “I’ll tell you later.”

Harry was practically gaping at her.

“I had to close his mouth for him.” Ginny said cheerfully.

“Hermione … you look … stunning.” As she blushed, he turned to Viktor with a stern expression. “Don’t hurt her.”
“Do not vorry.” Viktor assured him. “I value my life.”

Before any more could be said, the doors to the Great Hall opened and the other students filed past them, most Hogwarts students doing double-takes when they saw Hermione.

She wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or insulted, especially when Ron walked right past them without even glancing at her.

On the other hand, not even the Slytherins seemed to be able to find an insult for her as they passed.

“Good thing too.” Draco commented. “It meant I didn’t have to come up with something.”

Once everyone inside was seated, McGonagall directed the champions and their dates into pairs and instructed them to follow her.

They entered the Great Hall to loud applause and Hermione couldn’t help smiling. She knew that the attention would annoy her tomorrow, but for the moment, it was quite satisfying watching people eat their words.

“It can be.” Addie agreed with a smile. She had been completely over Amos by the time the Christmas Ball came around, and she wished he had never appeared at that evening, but it felt so good to see the still-present jealousy (the hypocrite) in his eyes when she walked in, wrapped in Sirius’s very possessive arms.

Self-conscious she may still be, but even if she doubted Viktor and Fleur, Harry would never lie to her, and his reaction was enough to make her feel a hundred times better.

The two Lions exchanged a smile.

The Great Hall was always stunning at Christmas, but like with the food and the grounds, Hogwarts had outdone herself and it took her breath away.

The house tables had been replaced with circular ones, leaving a large dance floor in the middle of the room. In one corner of the room, a small stage had been set up for the band – the Weird Sisters …

“The who?” Both Addies asked in unison.

Sirius frowned. “Don’t know. Can’t help you there.”

“They’re a wizard rock band that started in 1989.” Ginny told them. “They’re really good. Right, Hermione?”

Hermione shrugged. “I guess. If you like that sort of music.”

“It’s that or Celestina Warbeck.” Fred said dryly.

Hermione sighed. “I think I’ll stick with Muggle music. Give me the Beatles any day.”

… Hermione seemed to remember someone saying. The walls were covered in silver frost and hundreds of garlands of holly and mistletoe were strewn from the starry ceiling, which had somehow been enchanted to snow softly, although the flakes never actually reached them and the floor was perfectly dry.

Lily sighed. “That sounds gorgeous.”

“Sounds like seventh year.” Addie murmured. “Minus the floating mistletoe.”

“Probably because there were fourth years present.” Sirius commented. “That stuff was persistent.”

Addie rolled her eyes. “Oh, shut up. I don’t remember you complaining.”

Four of the judges – Bagman resplendent in bright robes that rivalled Dumbledore’s – were already seated at the large rounded head table, but Barty Crouch was conspicuous in his absence …

David frowned. “Why wasn’t he there?”

“Ill.” Harry answered. “Percy said he hadn’t been at work much lately.”

“From the way Barty talks about his dad, I’d have thought nothing short of death would stop him going to work.” Alice remarked.

Neville’s face darkened again at the mention of Crouch Jr.  Hermione noticed and nudged him. “They’re going to catch on.” She murmured. “Stop it.”

Only Remus noticed this exchange, and he narrowed his eyes suspiciously.

… and his seat was occupied by Percy Weasley.

“Okay, that’s odd.” Regulus announced. “Crouch is ill, and he sends a junior as his replacement? Was there no one else in the department?”

“Percy had been promoted to his ‘personal assistant’.” Harry explained. “The way he was harping on, you’d have though Crouch named him Supreme Ruler of the Universe.”

“I want to know why you didn’t ask him whether Crouch had stopped calling him ‘Weatherby’ yet.” Ginny said, almost whining. “I couldn’t, because Mum would have found out. Why didn’t you?”

“Didn’t want to cause a scene, Sis.” Harry sighed. “One of the hardest thing I’ve ever done though.”

As the champions reached the table, Percy pulled out the seat beside him and looked pointedly at Harry, who pulled out the next chair for Ginny …

Lily beamed at him. “Good boy, Harry. Most teenage boys wouldn’t think of that.”

… (once she had cleared her throat significantly) …

James smirked. “You were saying?”

“Never mind.” Lily said.

… before sitting himself.

During dinner, Viktor told her about Durmstrang – under the watchful eye of his headmaster – and what it was like, playing professional Quidditch.

“It is very … how vould you say …” Viktor seemed to be searching for the right English word “… annoying to be recognised only for your flying skills and nothing else.”

“What’s wrong with that?” James asked blankly.

“Oh, nothing,” Hermione said, rolling her eyes. “After all, you fly – it’s not like you have a brain, or pull pranks, or are good at Transfiguration.”

James grimaced. “Alright, I see your point.”

“It must be.” Hermione sympathised. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of Ron, sitting with Neville and Susan, Seamus and Lavender, and Dean and Parvati. Parvati had, at Hermione’s request, talked her sister, Padma, into accompanying Ron …

“I knew Ron couldn’t get a girl like that on his own.” Fred muttered.

… but he seemed to be ignoring her, in favour of glaring at Hermione.

“Charming.” Mandy remarked tartly.

Viktor followed her line of sight. “He is not your boyfriend, is he?”

“No.” Hermione narrowed her eyes at Ron, dimly wondering why everyone seemed to think they were together.

Fred and Ginny exchanged a smirk. Most people liked to act as though they thought Ron and Hermione might hook up in the hopes that it would spur Harry into making a move – the betting pool was getting bigger by the month.

First Harry, now Viktor – even Parvati had mentioned it when Hermione had asked her to talk to her sister.

Well, his behaviour at the moment could certainly pass for jealousy, if it weren’t for the fact that Hermione couldn’t detect any in the air – although trying to isolate one emotion from one person was almost impossible in this crowd.

“There wasn’t any.” Hermione confirmed. “I checked later.”

Catching Ron’s eye, she nodded pointedly towards the girl sitting next to him, and he – reluctantly, it seemed – turned to talk to her.

“We’ve been best friends since first year.” She continued, turning back to Viktor. “But he seems to have hit the emotional level of a teaspoon and just stayed there.”

Lily chuckled. “Don’t worry, Hermione – that’s what James and Sirius did for a good two years.”

“Unfortunately, their heads inflated at the same time.” Addie added, grimacing.

Viktor laughed. “Unfortunately, Hermione, many boys do at that age.”
Once everyone had eaten, Dumbledore asked everyone to stand and, with a wave of his wand, the tables moved back against the wall, making the dance space even bigger.

Sirius nodded. “That’s what happened in seventh year.”

The Weird Sisters trooped onstage to wild applause and Hermione resisted the urge to wrinkle her nose – they were all extremely hairy.

“Lovely.” Lily remarked.

“It’s not as bad as you’d think.” Hermione admitted. “All eight are male, despite the name.”

“Well, that makes it slightly better.” Lily conceded.

“I like them.” Harry commented.

“Thank you.” Ginny said primly. “At least someone has some taste.”

Hermione sighed. “Ginny, most of the time, they’re a lot of bad noise.”

“Tonks likes them.” Ginny pointed out.

Sirius rolled his eyes. “Dora also spends most of her time with pink hair, Ginny – it doesn’t make me feel any better.”

“I did say most of the time.” Hermione reminded Ginny. “I quite liked Magic Works.”

So believe that magic works, don’t be afraid of being hurt,” Ginny hummed with a smile.

Don’t let this magic die, the answer’s there, oh just look in her eyes,” Hermione finished.

“That one’s my favourite.” Ginny agreed.

Remus cleared his throat, ending the discussion, and started reading again.

At the judges’ cue, the champions and their dates stood and made their way on to the dance floor as a slow, mournful waltz began playing.

As Viktor spun her round, Hermione noticed that Ginny’s lessons had paid off and that Harry was managing … not amazingly, but then he was only fourteen and had the eyes of the room on him, so given the circumstances, Hermione felt, he was doing quite well.

“Thanks.” Harry muttered, turning red.

Better than Roger Davies, at least, who was still staring at Fleur (as he had been throughout dinner, to the extent that he kept missing his mouth), and needed to be physically steered around the dance floor.

Jen rolled her eyes. “If she’s only a quarter-Veela, her allure would have to be strong enough to take out half the men in the room to elicit that reaction.”

“No, he’s just very susceptible.” Fred sniggered.

Soon other dancers took to the floor as well; she could see Susan wincing frequently as Neville stood on her feet …

Neville blushed. “Why couldn’t this be from Harry’s point of view?”

“It’d still be in there, Nev.” Harry grinned. “I saw it too.”

Neville grumbled something about observant friends and Alice patted his arm with a smile. “If it makes you feel better, dear, Frank stands on my feet at least twice a week, and that’s when we’re not dancing.”

… Dumbledore waltzing with Madam Maxime (his hat barely reaching her chin), and Professors Moody and Sinistra engaged in an awkward two-step.

Jen grimaced. “How’d you dance a two-step with a wooden leg?”

“With difficulty.” Harry smirked.

After several dances, Viktor offered to go and get them something to drink. Hermione agreed, and headed over to where Ron, Ginny and Harry were chatting.

Or rather, as it seemed, where Ginny and Harry were chatting, and Ron was ignoring them.

Lily rolled her eyes.

“Hey,” Hermione greeted, a little breathlessly. “Where’s Padma?”
Ron shrugged.

“She went off with some boy from Beauxbatons.” Ginny answered for him. “Ron wasn’t being a very good date.”

“It took her a long time to forgive me for that.” Hermione muttered.

Hermione couldn’t be bothered to berate him. “It’s hot, isn’t it?” She commented, fanning her face with her hand. It may have been snowing outside, but the crowded hall was warmer than usual. “Viktor’s just gone to get us some drinks.”
“Hasn’t he asked you to call him Vicky yet?” Ron asked waspishly.

“What is his problem?!” Arabella demanded.

Ginny sighed. “As his sister, I should probably defend him, but I don’t have the energy.”

Hermione frowned at him. “What’s the matter with you?”

“If you can’t tell, then I’m not going to tell you.” Ron snapped.

“Oh, really mature.” Mandy muttered, rolling her eyes.

Hermione rolled her eyes, lowering her voice. “I can’t tell what you’re feeling over this many people, Ron, so just what are you …?”
“He’s from Durmstrang!” Ron snarled. “He’s competing against Harry! You’re fraternizing with the enemy!”

Lily snorted. “Really? He didn’t think that maybe since Harry didn’t care, he shouldn’t either?”

“Forget that.” James scowled. “He’s actually got the nerve to question Hermione’s loyalty?”

“Ron, that’s enough!” Harry cut him off sharply. “I know where your train of thought is going and I strongly suggest you don’t pull in at this station. I’ve got no problem that Hermione’s here with him, and I’m the one competing against him. So just drop it.

Lily gave Harry an approving smile.

Besides, isn’t there something else you’d like to comment on?”
“Like what?” Ron asked, looking lost.

Harry sighed. “I’ll do it then.” He turned to Hermione. “You really do look amazing tonight.”

Hermione and Harry both blushed as the girls cooed.

Hermione flushed. “Thank you.”
At that moment, Viktor appeared next to her and handed her a bottle of butterbeer. Before Ron could make any comment, Ginny leapt to her feet and seized his hand. “Come on, big brother! You’re going to dance at least once tonight.”

“Smart move.” Jen approved.

“Thanks for that.” Hermione added to Ginny, who shrugged.

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Why would I want to dance with you?” Ron muttered as Ginny dragged him away.

Her retort was lost as they vanished into the crowd, and Harry grinned. “Thank Merlin for that. Ginevra Weasley saves the day.”

Ginny smacked Harry on the arm multiple times. “Don’t … call … me … that!”

“Ow!” Harry moved out of reach. “Alright, I’m sorry! It won’t happen again!”

“Don’t let her catch you calling her that.” Hermione warned, as Susan dropped into Ginny’s empty seat. “How are your feet, Susan?”

“Killing me.” Susan said with a wide smile.

Neville winced, and Harry clapped him on the back. “Doesn’t sound like she cares, mate.”

“Of course she doesn’t.” Alice agreed. “I’m glad you two are close.”

“Sorry about that.” Hermione grinned. “Didn’t think to teach Neville how to dance. Oh, Viktor, Susan. Susan, Viktor.”

“Pleased to meet you.” Blushing, Susan turned to Harry. “Neville’s just popped to the toilet. Care to dance, since we both seem to be dateless?”

“Was she over her crush by then or just very forward?” Sirius asked with a grin.

“It was her attempt at getting over it.” Neville explained. “She knew nothing would come of it.”

“Why not?” Harry asked with a frown. “I mean, I’ve never really … I don’t … But how would she …?”

Neville chuckled. “If you don’t know, Harry, I’m not going to tell you.”

While Harry puzzled over the cryptic statement, Lily couldn’t help noticing the way Neville’s eyes had darted towards Hermione, and she smiled to herself.

“Why not?” Harry asked lightly, draining his butterbeer. Giving Hermione a smile, he took Susan’s hand and led her out on to the dance floor.

“What did you talk about?” Lily asked curiously.

“A friendly debate about whether Puddlemere United or Holyhead Harpies were the better team.” Harry answered.

As if his departure had opened a door, which it may well have done, Draco Malfoy suddenly appeared, shaking Viktor’s hand and just generally sucking up.

Sirius rolled his eyes. “You’re not doing yourself any favours.”

Draco smirked. “Amazingly, I wasn’t there to talk to Krum. I needed to talk to Hermione and Krum gave me a convenient cover story

Hermione paid no attention to the conversation, watching Ginny attempt to reason with Ron, before giving up and forcefully leading him out of the hall, presumably to yell at him in private.

Ginny nodded. “I did. Didn’t work.”

“I was wondering if I could borrow your date for a dance.”

Jen laughed. “Impressive. Using Slytherin cunning to cover up Gryffindor bravery.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.” Draco muttered with a smile.

Hermione choked on her butterbeer, brought back to the two boys beside her with a sharp jolt of reality.

There was no way Malfoy had just said that.

“Yes, there was.” Harry grinned. “I thought I was seeing things. Susan had to repeat herself three times.”

But Viktor was shrugging. “I haff no problem vith it. Hermione?”
Faintly, Hermione agreed, taking Draco’s offered hand and allowing him to lead her out into the crowd of people.

“You’re wondering why I’m doing this.” He commented, as his hand rested on her waist.

“No, of course not!” Hermione rolled her eyes. “It’s not like you hadn’t spent three years treating me like shit.”

Draco winced. “Sorry …”

Hermione waved him off. “Forget about it.”

“Wondering doesn’t begin to cover it.” Hermione responded carefully. “Won’t Pansy and the others be a little suspicious?” She caught sight of Harry’s face over his head and gave him a reassuring smile.

At least Ron wasn’t in the hall for this.

Ginny shuddered. “We’d never have escaped alive.”

“As far as they’re aware, I’m doing this to impress Krum.” Draco told her. “He’s made it abundantly clear he’s got no problem with you being Muggle-born, if it appears I do …”

“Which implies you don’t.” Harry concluded.

Draco sighed. “Have I said anything derogatory to Hermione or your mother while I’ve been here?”

“No.” Harry conceded. “But you’re also in a room full of people who’d kill you if you did.”

Draco pulled a face. “Alright, fair point. I don’t care. I realised pretty quickly that my father’s views were twisted at best.”

He stopped suddenly, as though he’d divulged too much. “I’ve been getting odd notes.”

“The one on the train wasn’t the only one?” Regulus guessed. “How many?”

Draco thought for a second. “About twenty altogether.”

“Twenty-four.” Hermione corrected.

Hermione smiled slightly. “Have you really?”

“None of them sent by owl,” Draco continued, “all of which seem to end up on my person shortly after you’ve been around.”

Hermione didn’t say anything. He knew it was her – it had only been a matter of time, after all.

“It took me a while.” Draco admitted. “I had to work out where I’d been and who’d been there and cross-reference everyone. You were the only person who was there each time.”

“How did you know?” Draco asked in a low voice. “I’ve never told anyone. Ever. And don’t say they’re not from you, because we both know they are.”

“I have my ways.” Hermione answered slowly. “You, of all people, should know how prudent it is to keep your cards close to your chest.”

“Slytherin.” Regulus murmured.

“What exactly do you know?” Draco asked, as though dreading the answer.

Hermione hesitated. It would be easy – too easy – to just look into his head and find the answer …

Draco stiffened and opened his mouth, but she held up a hand and gestured for Remus to continue.

… but she would never do it.

Hermione smiled at him.

She remembered what Lily had said about natural Legilimency being a gift given only to those who wouldn’t abuse it, and guessed that was what she meant.

Addie nodded. “That’s exactly what it means. If you’d been the sort of person to just look into his head like that, you wouldn’t be able to.”

“I know you dislike your father.” She said softly, just loud enough for him to hear over the music. “I know that you were trying to warn me in the woods at the World Cup, not threaten me. I know that for the last term, at least, you’ve just been going through the motions when you insult us; there’s no real heat behind it. I know you don’t care about blood as much as you pretend to, because you only ever call me a Mudblood when you feel like you have to – and don’t think I can’t see the look in your eyes when you do – and you’ve said nothing about me undermining your father in the Top Box.”

“You’re good.” Draco said, shaking his head.

“How do I know I can trust you?” Draco pressed, looking paler than usual.

“You don’t.” Hermione answered simply, not missing a step as he spun her. “Look, I can’t get into it here. One day, I’ll tell you the full story.

“I wouldn’t have believed it.” Draco said. “Hell, I’m still not sure I believe it.

Hermione chuckled. “I’ve lived through it, and I’m still in shock about some of it.”

But you have my word that this will not spread further than this. Harry and Ron know my suspicions, but that’s all. The question is, how can I help?”
Draco sighed, the first sign of outward emotion she’d seen. “I don’t think you can. At the moment, I just need to finish school and get away from him.”

Narcissa put a hand on her son’s arm and he rested his head on her shoulder.

“Okay.” Hermione wasn’t convinced, but she let it go anyway. “If there’s anything I can do, just owl me.”

“Why do you care?” Draco asked.

“Gryffindor.” Hermione responded as the song came to an end. “Why does it matter?”
Draco smirked at her. “Slytherin.”

David smiled. “I had a conversation like that with Emily once, not long after we first met.”

“Well, I just met a new friend that day.” Draco said hastily. “A potential sister at most.”

David chuckled. “I wasn’t suggesting anything different. I was just observing that interactions between Gryffindors and Slytherins are always very similar.”

As Viktor joined them, Draco released her, squeezing her hand almost imperceptibly as he nodded to Viktor and left them.

“I take, by the expression on your fact, that vas not a common occurrence.” Viktor commented lightly, spinning her into another waltz.

“There’s an understatement.” Fred muttered.

“Quite the opposite actually.” Hermione agreed.

The song passed quietly. Hermione was considering the implications of what had just happened.

She hadn’t expected Draco to accept her knowledge so readily and could only assume it was due to desperation.

“It was.” Draco confirmed quietly.

Her thoughts spun and twirled through her mind, like the dancers surrounding them, and Viktor was courteous enough to let her follow them to try to unpick what they were telling her.

“What were they telling you?” Mandy asked curiously.

“I never really got to the bottom of them.” Hermione admitted. “I got distracted.”

In fact, Hermione was so deep in her thoughts that she didn’t notice the song end, nor Harry’s approach, until he tapped her on the shoulder.

“Mind if I cut in?”

“And this must be where the photo came into it.” Lily smiled.

Viktor glanced down at Hermione, and she nodded with a smile. “Of course not.”
“Oh, and this is Ginny.” Harry added, wincing when his date elbowed him in the ribs.

“Sorry.” Ginny said, looking thoroughly unrepentant.

“Ginny Weasley. Gin, this is Viktor Krum.”

Viktor kissed her hand, as he had Hermione’s earlier that evening. “May I have this dance?”

Ginny smiled, managing to keep a star-struck expression from crossing her face. “Of course.”

Harry held out his hand to Hermione, who took it as another song struck up, one she vaguely recognised this time, although she couldn’t put a title or an artist to it.

“I didn’t recognise it at all.” Ginny frowned.

“Muggle song.” Hermione and Harry said together.

She placed her other hand on his shoulder, as his settled on her waist.

“Isn’t this a Muggle song?” Hermione asked, vaguely recognising it from the summer.

Harry listened for a few seconds. “Yeah, I think so. What did …?”

“I’ll tell you tomorrow,” Hermione said, anticipating the question.

“I still didn’t get the whole story.” Harry commented, without any real irritation.

“I’m not getting into it here.”

Harry nodded, and his hand moved to the small of her back, steering her around another couple.

Dancing with Harry was different to dancing with Draco.

“Oh Merlin …” Hermione groaned, grabbing a cushion and burying her face in it. “Can I hide for this part?”

Fred smirked. “No, Hermione, we all need to sit through it; you can sit through it.”

Maybe it was because they weren’t talking, so she could focus on other things, like the warmth spreading emanating through her from the place where his hand rested.

Hermione squeaked, fought off Fred’s hand, and dashed for the other room.

Lily put a hand on Harry’s to keep him from following. “Let her, dear. I dare say this is quite embarrassing for her. We can keep going.”

But then, she and Viktor hadn’t talked the whole time, and it was different to that as well, although she couldn’t understand why.

Ginny chuckled. “It’s quite ironic really, given the words of the song.”

Remus raised an eyebrow. “Well, it’s got them written here. Do you want me to read them or …?”

Ginny rounded the sofa and read over his shoulder. “No, I can remember the tune.” She took a second to pitch the note in her head, before singing the first verse in a clear voice.

I know we’ve been friends forever,

But now I think I’m feeling something totally new.

And after all this time, I’ve opened up my eyes,

Now I see; you were always with me.

Ginny paused, letting Remus continue.

After all, she and Viktor hadn’t known each other very long; surely it should feel weirder to dance with him than with Harry.

But then … it didn’t feel weird to dance with Harry; she was just very, very aware that she was doing it.

Addie smiled, remembering how she suddenly became aware of all the little touches that passed between her and Sirius after they started dating.

Could it be, you and I never imagined?

Could it be, suddenly I’m falling for you?

Could it be, you were right here beside me and I never knew?

Could it be, that it’s true and it’s you?

Could it be that it’s you?

Ginny smiled to herself as she saw the realisation cross Harry’s face.

His dancing had improved greatly since Ginny had started teaching him by the lake, but there was a definite difference now than when she had watched them earlier in the evening.

“I noticed that.” Ginny remarked. “Looked like they’d been dancing their whole lives.”

“But we’d never danced before.” Harry argued.

“Now where have we seen that before?” Sirius asked.

“James and Lily.” Addie said with a fond smile. “Or, if you ask Lily, you and me.”

Gone were the constant glances down at his feet to make sure they were in the same place, and as soon as she realised that, Hermione realised that she hadn’t been doing it either.

“Ginny,” Remus prompted.

It’s kinda funny you were always near,

But who would ever thought that we would end up here,

And every time I’ve needed you, you’ve been there for me,

Now it’s clear, I’ve been waiting for you.

“Why don’t we ever get songs like this in the magical world?” Arabella sighed. “Wizard Rock or mushy ballads, those are our only options.”

Their feet moved almost instinctively, their movements fluid and practiced, even though this was the first time they had ever danced together.

“Yep, definitely James and Lily.” Sirius sighed.

Addie smirked at him. “Of all the people you want Hermione dating, Harry’s probably the best. And of all the people you want Harry dating …”

“Alright, I get it.” Sirius muttered. “I see your point.”

Could it be you and I never imagined?

Could it be, suddenly I’m falling for you?

Could it be, you were right here beside me and I never knew?

Could it be, that it’s true and it’s you?

Could it be that it’s you?

The music slowed, and so did the two dancers, still saying nothing, letting their eyes do the talking.

Ginny and Viktor appeared in her line of vision, and she flicked her eyes towards them, silently asking about Ron.

Harry rolled his eyes in response, his lips quirking into a smirk.

“Bloody hell, they can read each other well.” Jen muttered.

Sirius rolled his fondly, thinking of how she and Remus read each other, but said nothing.

Cause today is the start of the rest of our lives,

I can see it in your eyes and it’s real and it’s true …

As they turned, Hermione caught sight of James and Lily across the hall, barely moving, wrapped up in each other …

The two in question exchanged a loving smile.

… and she smiled, her gaze sliding back to Harry’s, who looked questioningly at her.

“Your parents.” She mouthed, and he smiled, pulling her slightly closer with the next movement.

And it’s just me and you,

Could it be, that it’s true and it’s you?

Could it be you and I never imagined?

Could it be, suddenly I’m falling for you?

Could it be, you were right here beside me and I never knew?

Could it be, that it’s true and it’s you?

Could it be that it’s you?

The song came to a close …

Ginny smiled and blushed as several people applauded. “Thank you.”

… and Harry and Hermione stopped moving, although didn’t part. For a split-second, something rose between them, and Hermione fought to identify it …

Lily sat up eagerly. She was fairly sure Harry and Hermione weren’t together, but she couldn’t help hoping that maybe something had happened.

… but just as she thought she might know what it was, it was extinguished, as Ginny and Viktor approached them.

Lily sighed, and leaned back into James’s arms.

Without dropping her gaze, Harry lifted her hand to his lips and pressed a kiss to the back of it, before handing her back to Viktor and rejoining Ginny.

“Vhat is going betveen you two?” Viktor asked curiously.

“Good question.” Draco muttered.

Ten minutes ago, Hermione had a simple, basic answer for that.

Now, she just stared after him. “I actually have no idea.”

Remus looked up. “That’s the end of that scene, if someone wants to go and get Hermione.”

Addie shifted, but Harry beat her to it.

Ginny smirked as the door slammed shut. “This should be interesting.”

Draco scowled. “That’s all very well, Weaslette, but it’s also going to completely screw up the pool.”

Fred sighed. “Man’s got a point. Dammit.”

***

In the other room, Harry found Hermione lying on a sofa, staring at the ceiling, still very red-faced.

“Is it over?” She asked, without looking at him.

“That scene is.” Harry answered, hovering next to her. “Could you sit up? I think we need to talk.”

Hermione sat up, hiding her face in her hair. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.” Harry said, sitting next to her. “It’s just that a few things hit me while I was listening to that, and … and I need to talk to you about them.”

“Okay.” Hermione took a deep breath and shook her hair back. “Okay, hit me.”

“Hermione …” Harry sighed. “Hermione, you’re my best friend … and I honestly don’t know what I’d do without you …”

“Harry …”

“But lately,” Harry continued firmly, over her weak protest, “I don’t know … something’s different … something more … I don’t know, something.”

Hermione couldn’t help smiling at Harry’s inability to verbalise the situation – she felt better knowing that he was just as clueless. “What about Cho?”

Harry sighed again. “I don’t know, Hermione. She’s pretty, but … she only ever seems to enter my mind when I can see her. And how she makes me feel ... I don’t know if I have a crush on her or if she intimidates me.”

“Not exactly the best start to a relationship.” Hermione quipped.

“Plus, Cedric …” Harry trailed off. “It doesn’t feel right. And it hasn’t felt right since the beginning of fourth year, when I started seeing them together.”

“But … the Ball …” Hermione frowned. “You were going to ask her.”

“Was I?” Harry asked. “You never asked me who I wanted to ask, remember? I did have someone in mind, and I asked her.”

“But you said you hadn’t even thought about Ginny.” Hermione said blankly.

Harry chuckled. “You know for the brightest witch of your age, you really can be oblivious sometimes. I never said she said yes.”

“But …” Hermione trailed off. “Me? You mean as friends?”

“Yeah, of course.” Harry hesitated. “Thing is, Hermione, I don’t know how I feel. The book said that you picked up an emotion between us that you couldn’t identify, and I honestly can’t help you.”

“There’s no rush.” Hermione said, standing up. “I’m sure I’ll figure it out eventually.”

Harry rose as well, slipping an arm around her shoulders, and she leaned into him instinctively. “Or we could figure it out right now.”

Hermione admitted she could be quite oblivious when it came to matters such as this, but now her eyes were open, she knew what he was implying. If they felt nothing, it struck off one possibility and meant they didn’t spend the rest of their time here feeling awkward.

She nodded slightly. “Is this your …?” She trailed off, blushing slightly. Of course it was; she would have known if it wasn’t.

Harry nodded regardless, smiling slightly. “Yours?”

Hermione nodded a second time, her blush deepening. “Harry? Even if that’s not … what it is … I’m glad it’s you.”

Harry’s smile widened to the grin he had inherited from his father, the one that seemed to make her stomach disappear when it was directed at her. “Me too.”

He touched her face gently, brushing a strand of hair from her face, and then his lips were pressed against hers, his other arm winding around her waist.

Hermione considered herself quite a practical girl, and the popular description of the ‘first kiss’ that always seemed to include fireworks and a heavenly chorus had always made her scoff disbelievingly.

But this was everything she had read about and more.

They pulled away breathlessly, staring at each other in shock.

Silence rose between them – not an awkward silence, but a silence nonetheless.

Hermione broke it first. “I think it’s safe to say that’s what it is.”

***

“What’s taking them?” Draco asked quietly.

“Oh, leave them alone.” Ginny said, rolling her eyes.

At that moment the door opened, and Harry and Hermione walked out, smiling. They settled down between James and Lily, and Addie and Sirius.

“Carry on, Remus.” Hermione said calmly.

“But …” Ginny protested.

Draco put a hand over her mouth. “Carry on.”

Less than an hour later, Viktor and Hermione parted ways in the Entrance Hall, and she made her way up to the Gryffindor common room, letting her hair out of its top-knot as she went.

She fully intended on trying to figure out what, exactly, that feeling had been and – more importantly – whether it had come from Harry or herself, or even both of them …

Here, Remus paused, as everyone turned to look at Harry and Hermione.

Ginny, who had fought Draco off, was the one who spoke. “Well? Which was it?”

“Both of us.” Hermione said with a smile.

“And what was it?” Ginny prompted.

The two exchanged a smile, and Hermione shrugged. “Who knows?”

“Hermione!” Ginny whined.

Hermione smirked. “A lady doesn’t kiss and tell, Ginny.”

“Technically,” Harry commented, “you just did.” He glanced at Remus, who smiled and kept reading, before anyone could ask.

… but her path was interrupted, when she climbed through the portrait hole and came face-to-face with a very angry Ron.

The light-hearted atmosphere tightened again, and Harry automatically put an arm around Hermione’s shoulders.

“What the hell did you think you were doing?”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “What?” She was playing stupid on purpose, of course, but she had no intentions of playing along.

“Good girl.” Addie murmured.

Ron glared at her. “That! Viktor Krum, Hermione! Harry’s opponent! How could you?!”

“I didn’t hear Harry complaining.” Mandy said coldly.

Hermione sighed. “Harry already knew who I was going with.” She said flatly. “He had no problem with it.”

“You’re fraternising with the enemy!” Ron repeated heatedly.

“Do you get the feeling that he’s run out of arguments?” Arabella asked lightly.

Ginny sighed. She wanted to defend her brother, but she knew right now it would do more harm than good.

Hermione laughed humourlessly. “Oh, play a new record, Ron. This one’s scratched.” She pushed past him and started up the stairs to the dormitories.

“He’s going to hurt you!” Ron called after her.

Sirius sighed. “Jen, I’ve never been this bad, right?”

Jen smiled slightly. “Never.”

“Thank Merlin.”

Heaving another sigh, Hermione turned around to face him. “No, he won’t because we’re not dating. He has a girlfriend and he asked me to keep him company so he wouldn’t have to put up with a giggling fan-girl all night.”

“A-ha!” Ron cried triumphantly. “See?! He is using you!”

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake!” Ginny exploded, giving up on trying to defend Ron, if only in her mind. “That’s exactly why Harry asked me and you didn’t have a problem with that! Hermione is like your sister, and I know you care about her, so why are you acting like such a pig-headed …”

She looked like she would continue for a while, and Fred seemed reluctant to interrupt her, so Draco squeezed her arm. “Ginny? I’m sure Hermione’s going to yell at him as well.”

Ginny folded her arms, scowling. “Well, my brother’s a prat.”

“It’s not his fault.” Fred put in. “George and I got an extra dose of awesome.”

“It’s not being used if it’s with my consent!” Hermione yelled, finally snapping, ignoring the other Gryffindors. “Harry did the exact same thing by asking Ginny – you don’t seem to have a problem with that one, did you?!”

“Exactly.” Ginny muttered mutinously.

“Hermione, he’s trying to get information on Harry!” Ron argued. “Why else would he have asked you?!”

“Maybe because she’s a very smart, very pretty girl with a big heart and a sense of humour?” Harry suggested, his arm tightening around her. “Why else?” He turned to Hermione. “Just let me hit him!”

“No, Harry!” Hermione sighed. “Honestly, it’s not that bad …”
“No, I’m with Harry.” Draco scowled. “He insulted you more than I did last year.”
Hermione put a hand on the stair-rail, steadying herself. “Right, because he wouldn’t look twice at me otherwise, would he? Even if that is why he asked me, Harry has always had my full support in this Tournament, unlike some people.”

“Low blow.” James commented, with a smirk. “Well done.”

She couldn’t help the satisfaction she felt when Ron’s ears turned red in embarrassment. “And you can say he’ll hurt me all you like; he’s treated me a damn sight better than you have over the last few months.”

“That’s true.” Jen frowned.
“Damn it, Hermione, you’re not listening to me!” Ron yelled.

“I am listening – you’re just not making any sense!” Hermione yelled back. “If you don’t like it, you know what the solution is, don’t you?”

Sirius and James made a couple of suggestions that had Addie and Lily smacking them over the head.

“Oh yeah?!” Ron asked. “And what’s that?”

“Next time there’s a ball, ask me before someone else does and not as a last resort!” Hermione snapped, turning and fleeing up the stairs.

She ducked into the nearest toilet and barricaded the door, feeling tears begin to cascade down her cheeks.

Harry drew her closer, pressing a kiss to the side of her head.

“Are you two together now?” Ginny asked bluntly. “Because if you are, Fred owes me two galleons.”

Harry looked mildly offended that they had been the subject of a betting pool, but Hermione just shrugged. “For the purposes of this reading, we’ve admitted we have feelings for each other. Given that we’re not going to remember anything that happens in here, it seems pointless making any huge life-changing decisions.”

“Forever practical.” Harry muttered affectionately.

The rational side of her mind told her that Ron was just trying to protect her, but it didn’t make her feel any better.

“It never does.” Ginny sighed.

Lily appeared beside her and leaned against the wall. “I’d hug you, but I can’t.”
Hermione managed a laugh, hiccupping slightly through her tears. “It’s fine.”

“James is yelling at Ron.” Lily told her.

Sirius smirked. “Thanks, mate.”

“But Ron can’t hear him.” Hermione pointed out.

Lily smiled. “I know. But it’s making James feel better.”

James chuckled. “I bet it is.”

“What’s he saying?” Hermione asked curiously.

Lily groaned. “I dread to think.”

Lily chuckled. “I wouldn’t dare repeat it. He’s giving Sirius a run for his money.”

Addie winced. “Then you really don’t want to repeat it.”

“When have you ever heard me yelling like that?” Sirius asked.

“November seventh year.” Addie answered. “After … you-know-what.”

Sirius winced, remembering the day he had received the news that his ‘mum and dad’ had been murdered. She had eventually found him in the Room of Requirement, firing hexes at a duelling dummy and screaming abuse at it at the same time. She had waited patiently for him to finish, before opening her arms and letting him break down in her embrace.

“Hermione?” A knock sounded at the door and she unlocked it to see Ginny standing outside, a concerned expression on her face. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine.” Hermione sniffed as Ginny hugged her. “Ron just really got to me for some reason.”

“Not that I’m excusing what Ron said,” Lily remarked, “but events like that tend to spark an adrenaline rush. That, and the late hour, would explain why your reaction was stronger than you expected.”

Hermione nodded. “That does make sense.”

“Ron’s a prat.” Ginny said flatly.

Fred chuckled. “I think that was the Weasley Family Motto that year.”

“You don’t need me to tell you that.”

Hermione laughed shakily. “No. No I don’t.”

“Harry wants to talk to you.” Ginny whispered. “Ron’s already gone up to the dorm. Harry gave him That Look.”

“What look?” James asked.

“The Look.” Fred answered darkly. “Difficult to describe, but once you’ve seen it, you never forget it.”

Hermione nodded, knowing the look she meant – even Ron had some sense of preservation, and he wouldn’t leave the dorm again tonight if he knew what was good for him.

“Actually, given the strength of this one, I was surprised when Ron surfaced the next morning.” Ginny said, smirking when Harry turned red.

Harry stood immediately when Hermione entered the common room, her face wet and her eyes red. “Hermione, you’ve been crying.”
It was a statement of the obvious, but Hermione tried to reassure him nonetheless.

“It didn’t work.” Ginny told her kindly.

“I kind of guessed that.” Hermione said dryly.

The words stuck in her throat, though, a sob escaped her, and she found herself in Harry’s arms, crying into his dress robes.

Ginny must have signalled something over her head, because he let out an angry hiss and tightened his arms around her. “Ron’s a prat, Mione.”

There were a few half-hearted chuckles.

Hermione smiled into his robes. “That’s what Ginny said.”

“Are you sure you’re not my brother instead of Ron?” Ginny teased.

“Lily, is there something you’re not telling me?” James asked jokingly.

Lily sighed dramatically. “Oh, darling, I hoped I’d never have to tell you this …” she burst out laughing at the look on his face. “I’m kidding, James. Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.”

Harry grinned at her. “With this hair? Doubt it.”

“You could never be mistaken as anything other than a Potter,” Addie said with a fond smile.

He focused on Hermione again. “What’s really bothering you, ‘Mione?”

Hermione dried her eyes and looked up at him. “Not wanting to back you into a corner or anything …”

“Nice knowing you, Potter.” Draco commented.

“Uh oh!” Ginny joked. “Run for it, Harry!”

Hermione swatted her arm, still looking at Harry. “Harry, do you think I’m pretty?”

“Yes.” Several people answered, causing Hermione to blush scarlet.

“Yes.” Harry answered instantly, guiding her to sit on the sofa. “Anyone could tell you that. And you knocked everyone dead tonight.”

“You really did.” Draco agreed.

Ginny nodded in agreement. “I had to close Harry’s mouth for him. He was gawping.”

Sirius chuckled. “Smooth, Harry.”

Addie rolled her eyes. “Like you were any better in seventh year. It took you ten minutes to form a complete sentence.”
Hermione couldn’t help blushing. “You were?”

Harry chuckled. “Hell, yeah. You’ve always been pretty, Mione; tonight was just a wake-up call, that’s all. Not just for me, either. Half the boys in that hall couldn’t keep their eyes off you.”

“I thought Harry was going to hex half of them.” Ginny remarked cheerfully.

Hermione’s blush deepened even further. “Really?”

“Really.” Ginny confirmed. “Ignore Ron.”
“Oh, what’s he done now?” Fred’s voice asked from behind them, laden with annoyance.

“Did he …?” George rounded the sofa and stopped, seeing the tear-streaks on Hermione’s face.

Fred looked distinctly annoyed. “I still wish you’d let us hurt him.”

“Fred …” Hermione sighed.

“No.” Fred interrupted. “If he’d made Ginny cry, we’d have made him regret it – what makes you any different?”

He paused, his jaw hardening, and knelt in front of her, taking her hands. “How many times do you want us to punch him, sis?”

A warm glow filled her and she smiled softly. “Don’t punch him.”

Fred sighed. “Well, alright. But you’d better have a good place to get rid of the body.”

Sirius and James sniggered.
Hermione gave him a stern look, although it lacked heat.

“It is difficult when you’re just as mad.” Addie sympathised, remembering the number of times she had – reluctantly – reined in the Marauders while they were planning revenge on Amos.

“Don’t kill him either. Just let it go.”
The twins exchanged a look over her head, before sighing in unison.

“Alright, we won’t …”

“… do anything …”

“… if you’re sure.”

“I am sure.” Hermione insisted, too tired to work out who had said what.

“I’m surprised you ever manage it.” Draco said.

“He doesn’t even know what he did. Now …” She stood up, stretching. “I’m tired. I’m going to bed.”

“Alright. Goodnight …”

… and sweet dreams.” Fred and George enveloped her in a hug, and disappeared up the stairs to the sixth year dorms.

Ginny followed their example and made her way up the girls’ staircase, carrying her shoes in one hand.

“Smart move.” Lily said, wincing.

“Why do women insist on wearing shoes that hurt them?” Sirius asked blankly.

“Because the comfortable ones look terrible with dress robes.” Addie answered. “Sometimes you just have to make a few sacrifices.”

Hermione didn’t blame her – her own feet were aching – and she slipped her shoes off too, promptly losing a good few inches in height and sighing softly as her bare feet came into contact with soft carpet.

“That’s the best feeling.” Jen sighed.

“That’s better.” She stooped to pick up her shoes and hugged Harry once more. “Night, Harry.”

“Night, Hermione.” Harry caught her arm as she pulled away. “I meant what I said, you know.”

“Of course I did.” Harry whispered to her.

“I know.” Hermione assured him, sliding out of his grip to squeeze his hand. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” With that, she went back up to her dorm, staving off Lavender and Parvati’s questions, at least until the next day.

“Wasn’t easy.” Hermione muttered.

It was good to have family, she thought, even if it wasn’t by blood.

Remus looked up. “That’s the end of the chapter.”

“And what an interesting one it was.” Jen said slightly, smiling at Harry and Hermione. “When are we stopping for dinner?”

“Well, we had lunch just before the first task.” Harry said. “So if we have dinner before the second?”
“Good idea.” Hermione agreed. “You know, there’s no way we’re getting this book finished in one day.”

“No way.” Remus agreed. “Look at the size of it. Who’s reading next?”