So away we went. Hurrying down by means of secret passages to save time we raced through the castle towards the Great Hall. After dodging all of the people who were wandering all over the place dressed in their nicest clothes, we got to the Great Hall with time to spare and only a little out of breath. Immediately my eyes raced all over the chamber checking on the decorations. People would begin arriving in about twenty minutes and each and every decoration, from the garlands to the table cloths to the long white runner leading into the hall, just had to be in place.
In our fourth year they'd gone for an ice cavern theme to impress certain foreign visitors we had at the time. This year we went for a white Christmas concept so familiar to our fellow classmates. Snow fell from the ceiling disappearing just above our heads and every thing was white except for the red and gold baubles hanging about, the long green garlands, and festive bunches of holly and mistletoe. The usual huge Christmas trees also sat between each of the windows.
A stage was set up where the head table normally sat. The other long house tables had also been removed and groups of round tables that could seat eight people were put up near the doors. I'd been worried that we wouldn't be able to find anyone to play for us, but it seemed that Dumbledore had a great many strange friends and old students always willing to do him favors. He'd helped convince the Weird Sisters to come back and perform again. I was relieved to see them just finishing up their sound check there. After the usual opening ballroom dances they'd play some of the hits that everyone was listening to on the Wizarding Wireless Network.
After this quick review I glanced about wondering where Harry was when I spotted him standing near a window looking out at the very authentic snow falling outside, pulling at his robes and fidgeting with his tie. I could see he was wearing plain black and white dress robes just like at the last ball. I wasn't sure if I should walk over to him since he looked so deep in thought. The girls saw my hesitation in going over to him and pushed me forward. Harry, hearing the little scuffle that ensued, turned smiling but when he saw me Harry looked like someone had clubbed him over the head.
“Hermione?” he said dumbfounded, as he looked me up and down as if unsure that it was truly me he saw. The girls beamed at seeing the look on his face and then I knew this was at least partly a surprise for him too. They backed away as I took a few shaky steps forward.
“Who did you think it was, Harry?” I asked nervously, “Do I look awful?” I tried to glance back at the girls for reassurance, but they'd slipped out of the room.
I turned back to Harry and grinning again said, “No, Hermione. You're gorgeous.” Then he realized what he'd said and blushed stammering, “ I..I..I..”unable to find the right words he fell silent blushing an even brighter red.
My mind however was already in an uproar. Harry had said I was gorgeous. Yes, he'd said before that I was pretty but he'd never blushed before; as my best friend he could say that and not feel embarrassed. My only thoughts were Why is he blushing now? And why does he seem nervous? It must be because of the ball.
I couldn't think of anything to say so I stayed silent too. Glancing around at the room I saw that everyone had left, so Harry and I were alone in the Great Hall. It was very strange. Moving up beside him and rubbing my arms from the chill that escaped from the window I asked, “So, is everything alright?”
He ran a hand through his always messy hair and replied, “ I guess. I just... this is not at all going how I expected it to.”
Alarmed, I looked around asking, “Did we forget something? Are there decorations out of place?” Seeing nothing amiss I turned back to him and seeing the bewildered look on his face asked, “You and I aren't talking about the same thing, are we?”
“I guess not.” Harry answered slowly, “You were talking about the ball?” he asked and when I nodded he assured me that everything was going according to plan. He fell silent again and sank into a chair nearby. I stood next to him feeling perplexed, not knowing what was happening, and still rubbing my arms from the cold. Being the gentleman that he was Harry noticed my discomfort and wordlessly offered me his jacket.
I pulled it around me as Harry once more ran his hands through his untidy hair and turned towards me saying, “ You know how Gin and Susan and Luna have been all twittery lately? Well Ginny told them something that I told her I really didn't want spread around, but she told them any way and that's got them all fidgety...”
Fighting back laughter and concerned because I'd never seen Harry this self-conscious and uncertain except for fifth year during the ordeal with Cho I thought and told him so adding, “Come on Harry. Out with it.”
Laughing a bit he began again, “The reason they were all jittery was because I sort of...” he trailed off.
“You sort of what, Harry?” I asked prompting him to go on.
“I told Ginny that I fancy you.” He said finally.
My brain sort of turned to mush at that point as I uncomprehendingly asked Harry, “Now, why on Earth would you do that?”
Blushing again he answered, “Well, because I really do fancy you. Didn't I just say that?”
“Yes,” I answered stunned, “But what about the girl Ginny said you wanted to ask to the ball?” I asked staring at him in disbelief, “She said...” there I trailed off as the truth dawned on me and I realized that that girl had to have been me.
“Hermione, I know I told you I wasn't looking for a girlfriend, but I was scared about what would happen to our friendship and all of that's changed.” he took a deep breath and stood before he continued, “So, now I'm asking you. Will you be my girlfriend?”
I just stared at him for a moment trying to keep from pinching myself. I mean this could only happen in a dream, right? But it couldn't be a dream not with the way my heart was thumping over Harry being so close and the trembling in my hands that wasn't only from the draft that floated through the windows. Slowly it dawned on me that it wasn't a dream and as my answer I simply threw my arms around his neck letting his jacket fall to the floor. This alarmed Harry a bit but he just smiled and wrapping his arms around my waist saying, “I'll take that as a yes.”
So of course when he said something as silly and adorable (in my eyes at least) as that, I had to kiss him. It wasn't a very long kiss, just a quick peck on the lips, but it startled him so much that Harry let go of me and looked at me (once again) like he didn't believe it was really me. At this I just laughed and sat in the chair he'd recently abandoned. He laughed too and picked up his jacket. We began hearing footsteps outside the door and then realized that the teachers were all lounging around the stage.
Looking nervous again Harry said, “Looks like it's almost time.” Then he pulled a small black box out of one of his pockets and after contemplating it for a moment offered it to me. A bit dazed from all that had happened so far today I asked, “What's this?”
“Your Christmas present.”Harry replied, “Ginny's seen it and said I should give it to you tonight.”
Opening the little box I had the thought briefly that it looked like a jewelry box like the one my father had given my mother for their anniversary. I gasped seeing the contents of the box. Laying on a bed of soft black velvet looking cloth was a necklace. It was a locket on a dainty silver chain. On the front the words I Love You were engraved in a curly script. Fighting back tears I opened the locket to find on one side a picture of myself and opposite, a picture of Harry. Smiling I looked up at him his face full of concern and said, “I love you too, Harry.”
Harry then flashed me his customary grin and suggested, “Why don't I help you put it on?” I agreed and turning around allowed him to fasten the clasp for me. Then he put his jacket back on and I helped him straighten his tie. Quietly, my heart still beating fast, we moved to the door to start welcoming people into the hall.
A/N: There will be one chapter just to tell you about the ball, what happens afterward, and Ron's reaction, etc.
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