Chapter 1 : Ignorance is Not Bliss
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If he would have gone with anyone else, Ron Weasley was quite certain he would have been nervous as hell about his attire. Looking in the full-length mirror on the back of the Gryffindor fourth year boy’s bathroom, Ron regarded the lacey cuffs of his dress robes with amusement. He looked quite ridiculous, but it didn’t matter. He had been friends with his date for three years now. Ron knew she wasn’t prone to judging people based on their looks.
Or was she? To be honest, Ron didn’t really know. She had never seemed to be shallow. But maybe that was because Hermione Granger had never really seemed too interested in anyone as a date before? What if she did judge people, but Ron had just never witnessed it yet? His stomach did a nervous back flip; he really did not fancy going on his first date in something that looked like a dress and smelled like an old shoe.
Not, of course, that he considered this a date. He was just going to attend the Yule Ball with his best friend who happened to be a girl. It was a way to ensure that he and Hermione didn’t look like a pair of lone losers. They could support each other tonight rather than be alone. It had seemed to be an excellent idea when Ron thought to ask her. He never considered that he would actually worry that Hermione wouldn’t like the way he looked.
The door to the bathroom suddenly sprang open and Ron had to jump back to avoid it colliding with his face. Harry Potter, his best friend in the world, muttered an apology for nearly injuring his best friend, and shuffled out of the toilet wearing straight-cut, fashionable looking dress robes. Ron couldn’t help but look them up and down, contempt written all over his features.
“It’s not fair,” he muttered. Harry looked at him, seemingly ashamed, small pink patches rising up on his cheeks.
“Sorry, mate,” he said. What little color that arose at the embarrassment of having outdone Ron again disappeared rather fast. In fact, Ron noticed, Harry became rather pale very quickly.
“Yeah, I suppose so…first date jitters, I guess,” Harry explained. Ron nodded, feeling his own face drain in worry.
“I know what you mean,” he said, nodding.
“I wish I would have thought to ask Hermione,” Harry suddenly blurted out. For some reason, Ron’s stomach tied itself into a rather tight knot at this. “I barely know Parvati Patil. If I could have gone with Hermione I would have at least had someone I could really chat with. But you got to her first…”
“Yeah, that’s right, I did,” Ron snapped, annoyed. He didn’t know why, but Harry’s brooding on the fact that he wasn’t the one taking Hermione out tonight brought back those feelings of jealousy that Ron had felt before the First Task toward his friend. Undoubtedly, if Harry had asked before Ron, Hermione would have gone with him instead. Where would that have left Ron? Alone and miserable.
Ron’s reaction seemed to scare and confuse Harry. He turned his green eyes onto his friend and stared at him, perplexed. Ron could feel his ears get hot with the accusation behind Harry’s gaze. He knew, of course, what his friend was thinking, and it was positively ridiculous. He could never feel that way about Hermione…not in a million years…At least, that’s what he thought. Butterflies fluttered in his abdomen and he looked back in the mirror in apprehension. Maybe he was wrong? Maybe he did like Hermione a little? Well, it was no wonder. They spent every minute of their lives together at school. When you spent so much time with someone of the opposite sex, you were bound to feel something for them, right?
He didn’t want to think about this. Not now, considering that he was about to go on a date with the girl in question. Instead, he switched his focus to his ugly dress robes. Something had to be done with them. Ron didn’t want to embarrass Hermione with his apparel.
“So, do you reckon we can mend my robes to look better?” he asked Harry, his voice coming out far more concerned than he wanted it to.
“Yeah, we can think of something. I don’t think Hermione will mind, though. She likes you for you.” Ron’s insides squirmed at this notion. Did Harry really think that? But that was ridiculous, wasn’t it? He and Hermione rowed all the time. There was always something to fight about. Surely she didn’t like the rows? Undoubtedly, she thought he was as big of a git as she often told him.
Still, a strange sort of hopeful balloon inflated itself inside of Ron’s chest. Maybe tonight would be a more-than-friends experience between them? What if she told him she liked him tonight? What would he say? He would probably utter something stupid, like asking her if she could help him with his Potions essay that was due when term resumed. Ron knew what he would want to say, though. I like you too.
“Ron? Are you alright?” Harry was suddenly standing by his side, shaking his shoulder roughly. Ron snapped back from his momentary daydream and regarded Harry blearily.
“Sorry,” Ron mumbled, feeling only slightly embarrassed.
Harry grinned at Ron’s discomposure. “It’s alright…happens to the best of us. I said we could probably use Diffindo to cut off the lace. I reckon it would make you look less…nineteenth century.”
“Yeah, right,” Ron said whilst shaking off his daydream and thinking, Pull yourself together, man!
Harry began to cut off the ruffs and lace for Ron, while he stood still, praying that Harry’s Severing Charm would do the trick. When all was said in done, Ron appraised himself in the mirror with a lopsided smile. “Not bad, mate. You think Hermione will like it?”
A cheeky grin leapt to Harry’s visage, and Ron instantly felt like smacking it off. His excitement over the Yule Ball would have been much easier to handle without Harry being so mocking about Ron’s situation. Thankfully, Harry’s verbal reply wasn’t as mischievous as his body language. “I think she’ll love it.”
* * *
Hermione walked through the corridors of the castle clutching Ginny Weasley’s arm for support. Tonight would be the night when everything would change, she just knew it. Tonight, she and Ron were going to be going to a ball together; one that was, no doubt, going to be incredibly romantic. Tonight was a chance to prove to herself once and for all that her crush on Ronald Weasley wasn’t just a silly inclination. He was going to admit he liked her back.
It wasn’t very hard to pinpoint the moment when she had felt the first inkling of affection for Ron. It had been strange to her at the time, completely foreign, in fact. All he had done was use the correct swish and flick movement of the Levitation Charm and pronounce the words, “Wingardium Leviosa” right. Oh, and he had saved her from being crushed by the club of a troll, but that wasn’t what really stuck with her. What left an impression was that Ron had listened to her. He had remembered her advice from class, even if he had been a jerk about it afterward (and the cause of her being in the bathroom to begin with).
Of course, back then she hadn’t recognized her crush for what it was. She had assumed that the swooping sensations she got whenever she saw him was a side effect of the admiration she had for him for saving her life. It wasn’t until the end of second year, when she had awoken from her petrified state in the Hospital Wing and wanted to see him first before she saw anyone else that she realized that maybe Ron was more than a friend to her. This notion was solidified in both her heart and her mind last year, when she experienced perhaps the worst three months of her life when Ron stopped speaking to her. She had missed him so badly that every day was like experiencing a slow and very painful torture.
But it was not good to dwell on that, Hermione knew. It would have been terrible of her to turn up at the ball filled with the lingering anger and frustration she still had over their spat from third year. No, that was all in the past. Hermione needed to focus on the here and now. Unconsciously, she reached her hand up to tuck an unusually straight strand of hair that had been left out of her up-do behind her ear.
“Don’t mess with it!” Ginny snapped, slapping Hermione’s hand down. “You look perfect with it as it is.”
“Are you sure?” Hermione asked, stopping to look down at herself. She had never once dressed like this in her life. Rather than wearing her school uniform (practically the only thing she dared to wear when she was at Hogwarts, apart from her pajamas), Hermione was dressed in her brand new periwinkle dress robes that her parents had gotten her in Diagon Alley this summer. They were rather more form fitting than what Hermione was used to wearing, and it was only tonight that she finally realized that she was starting to get womanly curves. The fact that she had them made her nervous. What would Ron think? Would he even notice them? Probably not; Ron had only just realized that she was a girl.
Her hair and make-up were another story altogether. Used to having the bushiest and most untamable hair in the world, Hermione had positively gaped in amazement when she had seen the finished product. Ginny had somehow managed (with the help of a bottle of Sleek-Easy Potion) to straighten Hermione’s tendrils into easy to manage, long, glowing strands. Then, with what seemed very little effort on Ginny’s part, she had pulled up the hair into a loose do that made Hermione look sophisticated, yet fun. After quickly applying some concealer, blush, and a little mascara, Hermione had been practically unable to even recognize herself. She hated to admit it (because it seemed so vain to think), but she could actually see herself as being called “beautiful” by people tonight. Though, really, there was only one person she wanted to hear that from.
“Of course I’m sure, Hermione,” Ginny replied, rolling her eyes. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have done it as I did.”
“Right…What do you think he’ll think?” There was no need to elaborate, of course. Not only did Ginny know who Hermione’s date was, but she had also known about the feelings Hermione had harbored since the middle of the previous year.
“I think he’ll be mesmerized,” Ginny said.
“I don’t know about that. Fleur’s going to be there tonight.” Hermione couldn’t keep the annoyed tone from her voice. She was so sick of the way Ron positively gaped at the half-Veela every time she swept past him.
“Look, Hermione, I know my brother. He may be attracted to Fleur because of her looks, but he likes you for everything you are. Your looks, your intelligence, your sense of humor…Ron really does think you have the whole package.”
“Has he said that?” Hermione couldn’t help but feel vaguely hopeful. Knowing that Ron actually liked her would make tonight easier.
“Well…no. But I can tell he’s thinking it, just by the way he looks at you.” Ginny tried to offer Hermione a reassuring smile, but this statement wasn’t helping her.
“I just hope he’s not a git tonight,” Hermione said, moving again down the corridor. “After all, I did pass up a chance to go to this thing with Viktor Krum so that I could go with Ron.”
“You what?!” Ginny seemed outraged.
“Well, yeah…” Hermione could feel her cheeks flushing pink at the memory of Viktor’s offer. “He approached me in the library the day before Ron asked me. He said he’d been trying to get up the nerve to ask me for a long time, but only just discovered it. Part of me wanted to say yes-”
“Obviously!” her friend interrupted. “He’s Viktor bloody Krum! You’re mad to go with Ron instead! Why did you say no?”
“I…I guess I’ve just had such a huge crush on Ron that I was still hoping…deep down…that he’d notice me and ask me to the ball. So, I lied to Viktor. I said I had a date…I was thinking that if Ron didn’t ask, I could go with Neville. But he did ask the next day, so…”
“…So I’m going with Neville now,” Ginny sighed disappointedly. Hermione frowned; it really was sad that Ginny couldn’t go with the person she wanted to, but poor Neville had such an extreme crush on Ginny that he was bound to find himself dissatisfied with this evening. “But no matter!” Ginny exclaimed, trying to shake off her sadness. “Tonight isn’t about me. It’s about you! What are you going to say when you see him?”
Hermione felt a wave of anticipation hit her. Oh, Merlin. She thought. What am I going to say? She really hadn’t given it much thought. Hermione spent every day with Ron, so it really hadn’t seemed like something she should be concerning herself with. Now that Ginny was questioning her, though, she had no idea what to do or say. “I suppose I’ll just go with it, won’t I? Ron and I have been friends for three years now. It should be pretty easy, right?” Her voice came out nervous and weak.
“Oh, I don’t know about that. I mean, you may be friends, but you’ve never really looked at each other as dates before. It’s a completely new experience.”
Damn it, Ginny! She thought, rather aggressively. Leave it to her best friend to over think a matter of romance. After all, the girl had been terrified of even speaking to Harry for years now. Now Hermione could finally see just why the girl had been so cripplingly shy around The Boy Who Lived. Did she always anticipate stuff like this?
“What do I say, then?” Hermione said desperately as they neared the marble staircase that led to the Entrance Hall.
“I don’t know!” Ginny screeched, sounding scandalized. “He’s my brother! How am I supposed to know how to be romantic around him?”
“Ginny!” Hermione felt like she was going to be ill. Why had she gotten herself into this mess? Now she was going to act like a total moron around Ron for the whole night, because she’d worry that he wasn’t having a fun time. She’d say all the wrong things to him, she just knew it. Perhaps it would have been easier to have just said yes to Viktor Krum?
But as she made it to the top of the staircase, all thoughts of nervousness fled her mind. She was looking down at the Entrance Hall, which was surprisingly empty considering that most of the upper years had stayed at Hogwarts for this event. Despite the lack of people in the room, there was one person who was there and who instantly caught Hermione’s eye. Standing at the foot of the staircase with Neville Longbottom and Professor McGonnagal (who seemed to be lecturing him), was Ron Weasley, git-extraordinaire, and the man of her dreams. Professor McGonnagal pointed up toward her and Ginny, and both Neville and Ron turned to look at their dates.
Hermione felt her face burn with excitement as she saw the look on Ron’s face. His eyes were sparkling; his lips stretched into his awkward, lopsided grin, but most importantly, his ears turned red. Hermione knew what this meant; Ron was just as thrilled about tonight as she was, though slightly nervous. Hermione mentally returned the sentiment.
* * *
My God, she’s an angel! Ron Weasley thought as he watched Hermione Granger descend the marble staircase. He was completely ignorant of his sister’s presence, Neville’s gasp as he looked at Ginny, and the fact that Professor McGonnagal was still begging him to rush Hermione down the stairs so that they could introduce the champions and allow the feast to begin. He wasn’t even aware that his ears had turned bright red with excitement and anticipation. No…all of Ron’s senses were directed solely at Hermione as she gracefully floated down, step by step.
When she was finally next to him, Ron found he was speechless. All he could do was smile widely down at her and hope that this wasn’t all a dream. He could have stood there and stared at her for the rest of the night and been perfectly content, but alas, the fates (or, more accurately, Professor McGonnagal) would not allow for that.
“Mr. Weasley!” she barked in frustration. Ron jumped at the command, and found his eyes shift over to his Transfiguration professor. “Are you deaf? Please escort Miss Granger into the Great Hall, or we shall be forced to eat without you!”
“Erm…yeah…right, Professor,” Ron managed to mumble, his voice squeaking slightly on the first syllable. Holding out his right arm, he felt Hermione place her left hand daintily upon it. He lead her to the Great Hall behind Neville and Ginny, who were several paces ahead of them.
“I’m sorry I was so late,” Hermione said rather quietly. Was it just Ron’s imagination, or did she seem nervous too? Stealing a glance in her direction, Ron saw that her cheeks were tinged pink and that she kept wringing her free hand around (a characteristic that one only saw from Hermione when she was either in a dangerous situation or excited about an upcoming exam). Ron didn’t know why, but he found both traits perfectly adorable.
“It’s…it’s alright,” he managed to squeak out again. Gulping, Ron tried to make his voice sound manlier, as he continued. “I got dressed too fast and then got nervous, so I decided to come downstairs with Neville. I hope you got the message?”
Hermione smiled. “Well, yes, I did. Otherwise, I’d probably still be upstairs looking for you.” Ron could feel his ears turn an even darker shade of red. Well, yes, of course, she had heard that he was downstairs! He had expressly told Colin and Dennis Creevey not to leave their spots by the fire until they told Hermione where he was. Being such huge fans of The Boy Who Lived, they had both been unable to resist the temptation of being directly involved in Harry’s circle of friends.
“Sorry,” Ron said, as they finally crossed the threshold of the Hall doors. “I’m nervous, you know?”
“Oh, Ron, don’t be. It’s only me!” Hermione said in a kindly manner.
“Exactly,” Ron muttered in a voice that he hoped Hermione couldn’t hear. She didn’t seem to notice, as she suddenly gasped and stared around them. Ron, taking in his surroundings, felt his jaw drop. They were standing in the Great Hall, but it didn’t look like it at all. Instead, it was a snowy, fairy-like wonderland. There walls and floors looked like they were made of ice. Snow fell from the enchanted ceiling, but none of it landed; it simply dissolved. There were more Christmas trees within the room than there usually was, with about twenty of them standing at intervals along the walls. Finally, instead of the four long house tables, there were small round ones placed throughout the room with enough space to allow six or seven people at each. Every table was covered in frosty, snowy white table cloths that glistened in the rather brightly lit room.
“Erm…where shall we sit?” Ron asked, still amazed at the transformation the room had undergone since lunch.
“How about we follow Neville and Ginny?” Hermione suggested. Ron nodded, and they set their feet in the direction of their friend and his sister, who appeared to be heading toward the table occupied by Ernie Macmillan and Hannah Abbot. Feeling a little annoyed about the way that Neville was placing his hand in the small of Ginny’s back, Ron quickened his pace, afraid that the other two chairs would find occupants before they got there.
Fortunately for them, no one sat down. “Mind if we sit here too?” Ron asked politely. Ernie (who had always labored under the delusion that Harry, Ron, and Hermione were three of his best friends) positively beamed with delight and acquiesced by giving Ron a hearty handshake. Hermione giggled.
More than anything, Ron wanted to just be with Hermione, but unfortunately, there were many hoops to jump through tonight. Mere seconds after they took their seats, Professor Dumbledore stood up and introduced the champions. This meant that they had to stand again, pushing their chairs back louder than anyone else in the room, and both sighing. Ron used the opportunity to pretend to watch the champions’ journey from the back of the hall to the front (where there was a large table for all of them), but actually look at the way Hermione’s straightened hair swayed as she clapped her hands. How had she accomplished it? He liked her curly hair, of course, but the straight hair made her look so…sexy.
After the entrance of the champions (during which Harry looked thoroughly miserable, though Ron only barely noticed), they were forced to spend time with the people at their table more and eat. It was a weird thing for Ron to feel like rejecting food, but he would rather look, and talk, and laugh with Hermione instead. Food satisfied him, yes, but definitely not as much as being near her. As he sat there, filling up on steak and a baked potato, he couldn’t help thinking, Please make this end soon. I want to be alone with her. I want to tell her how I feel; that I’m glad that she agreed to go to the ball with me and that I would like her to be more than just my date. I want us to be together. How could I ever deny liking her? I’m such an idiot!
“Poor Harry…he looks miserable,” Hermione said quietly to Ron. The excited rush of thoughts interrupted, Ron suddenly felt his confidence at having decided to ask her out deflate. Was she really sitting here on a date with him thinking about Harry?
Trying not to show her how annoyed he was, Ron looked up at his best friend. Yes, it was safe to admit that Harry looked thoroughly downcast. He was pushing his carrots around on his plate with his fork, staring down dejectedly. Every now and then, he would throw a hateful glance toward Cedric Diggory, who was contentedly holding Cho Chang’s hand as they both ate at the table. Harry’s date, Ron noticed, looked just as annoyed. Parvati wasn’t eating at all, but instead sitting with her arms crossed, her jaw set as though she were grinding her teeth. Harry paid no attention to her.
Forgetting his annoyance, Ron couldn’t help but say, “Do you think she did something to annoy him?”
“Oh, Ron, isn’t it obvious?” Hermione said in the usual tone she adopted when she thought Ron was being stupid. “He’s upset about Cedric and Cho, which is upsetting Parvati in turn! I mean, I don’t think Parvati particularly likes Harry, but she at least wants him to pay attention to her. They are technically on a date. I think I’ll have a talk to him after we’re done eating.”
“Hermione don’t bother!” Ron said, rolling his eyes. The magic of his first glance at her of the evening was ebbing away, and they were suddenly back to being bickering friends (though Ron still had to admit that he could feel the butterflies still fluttering in his abdomen at the excitement of having discovered that he truly liked Hermione). “If he’s so hung up over Cho, he’s not going to be able to happily spare time for Parvati. I mean, I’d be the same way if the girl I liked went with another person.”
Ron didn’t know why, but Hermione made a weird, contemplative face. She sat for minute, staring off in the distance, a vague sort of smile spreading rather slowly across her lips (oh, God, they looked so soft! Why had he never noticed how yielding they appeared?). She opened her mouth, as though about to say something…something that had to be important. Ron just knew it.
“You don’t think they’re going to make us dance, do you?” Neville suddenly interrupted loudly. Hermione’s dark eyes turned from Ron’s face to Neville’s. Ron slowly turned too toward his friend, feeling for the first time in his life like he’d like nothing more than to hit the guy. Why did he have to ruin everything? Hermione was going to say something to him and it could have very well been about what Ron meant to her, but now it was ruined.
“Well, of course, Neville,” Hermione said in as kind of a tone as she could muster. “It is called the Yule Ball, after all.” Neville looked like he was going to get sick.
“Oh…it’s just…I’ve never danced before,” he tried to explain.
“Don’t worry,” Ginny said reassuringly. “You have me as a partner and I’ll make sure it’s fun.” She offered Neville a glowing smile, and Neville returned it brightly.
“Thanks, Gin,” he replied. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
It was precisely this moment when Ron realized that maybe Neville felt more for Ginny than Ron had thought. A small bubble of anger began to grow inside of him, as he watched Neville grin gratefully at his sister. Who did he think he was?! How dare he flirt with Ginny! She was Ron’s little sister, someone whom Ron had always vowed to protect. He wasn’t going to let Neville use her; he surely would only want Ginny for physical reasons. Sure, the guy looked all sheepish and terrified on the outside, but Ron knew that on the inside he was nefarious and twisted.
Stupid slimy prat! Ron thought aggressively. He wanted to shout at the two of them, to tell Neville that he would never ever be allowed to talk to his sister again, but Hermione interrupted his thoughts.
“Do you want some pie?” she asked, dishing out bits of a pecan pie that had just magically appeared on the table.
“No thanks,” he mumbled in a dangerous voice. Hermione gave him a concerned look, and for a moment appeared to be on the verge of retreating. Unable to bear the idea of her absence, Ron reached out and touched her hand that was now resting on the table. She turned her eyes to his, staring into his very soul, shocked at the sudden contact.
“Stay with me, Hermione,” Ron begged in a completely different tone. His voice sounded civil, kind, and full of all the suppressed feelings for her that he had been holding in all night. “Please.”
* * *
They were still holding hands. Hermione could hardly believe it, yet somehow, during the course of dessert, the pair of them had maintained their connection. It was the only thing that, truthfully, kept Hermione by his side in this moment. Otherwise, she would have loved to tell him he was acting like a complete jerk. Every few minutes or so, he would throw Neville a threatening glance, which made poor Neville squirm with fear. Yes, Hermione could tell what Ron was thinking and feeling, but she honestly felt it was completely stupid.
How on earth could anyone perceive Neville Longbottom to be a threat? Especially when Ginny was clearly hung up on Harry. Just like Ron, her eyes kept straying in dangerous directions. She would be laughing happily with the rest of them, and then she would look up to the table of champions and see Harry furtively stealing glances at Cho. Poor Neville…he just couldn’t catch a break tonight.
When the music started, Ginny and Neville were amongst one of the first couples out on the dance floor. Hermione had thought that, perhaps, things would get better as soon as they were gone, but Ron was still sullen, and kept scanning the floor with his eyes.
“What a complete arse,” Ron commented as he watched Neville awkwardly touch Ginny’s waist.
“Oh, come on, Ron. Give Neville a break,” Hermione said wearily.
“And why should I?!” Ron spat out. “It’s clear he wants to take advantage of my sister!”
“Are you kidding me?!” Hermione argued, ripping her hand from his grasp so she could cross her arms reproachfully.
“What?! Look at him!! He just wants to get in her knickers.”
“Ron…this is Neville we’re talking about it. Neville Longbottom. Probably one of the last people to ever try to get into your sisters knickers.”
“How can you say that?! Look at him! I just know he’s thinking about it.” Hermione looked up at Neville in time to see him accidentally step on Ginny’s foot, apologize, and then step on the other one. Mortified, he backed up to give her space, but tripped over his own foot and landed on his butt.
“Oh yeah…clearly he wants to shag your sister,” Hermione’s voice dripped in sarcasm, and Ron gave her an annoyed look. “Come on! He’s one of the most sweet and awkward guys in the world, Ron! Even if he wanted to, he’d be too afraid to even ask. And besides, Ginny can take care of herself. She’s not even interested in Neville.”
“What?” Ron asked, looking perplexed. “If she’s not interested in him, why did she come with him?” It was weird how fast Ron’s tone had changed. He had seemingly gone from hating Neville to sounding like he felt sorry for him. Hermione heaved a very heavy sigh.
“Because Ginny wanted to go to the ball and didn’t want to hurt Neville’s feelings. She likes Harry. You should know that, Ron. He’s always been her everything.” Ron nodded and looked down at his hands. Hermione half-expected him to continue finding reasons to abuse Neville, but when he looked up at her, he didn’t have the angry look in his eye anymore. In fact, Hermione noticed with a blush, he was looking at her the way he had when he was watching her come down the stairs.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I can’t help but feel protective. She’s my sister. I’d feel the same way if someone was looking at you like Neville looks at her.”
Oh. Hermione felt a terrible sinking feeling in her stomach. Ron wouldn’t want her to be with another guy, but only because he saw her like he saw Ginny…like a sister. She had to fight the urge to jump out of her chair and move elsewhere. After all, she had promised Ron she would come to the ball with him tonight, and as his date, she was obligated to stay by his side. Still, the pain of realizing she was like a sister to Ron was excruciating.
“Do you want to dance?” he said, offering his hand out to her. Hermione had to blink a few times to clear the tears that had been building up, but as soon as that was done, she gave him a watery smile and agreed. “Are you alright?” he asked. His face blanched, as though he had just witnessed something terrifying.
“I’m…fine,” Hermione answered.
“Are you sure? Your stomach isn’t upset is it? I mean, I thought maybe eating those oysters would do you in-”
Hermione cut him off with a laugh. “I’m fine, Ron. Let’s dance.”
They joined the dance floor in the middle of a fast-paced, original song by the Weird Sisters. As they danced, Ron sang along (rather poorly) to “Can You Dance Like a Hippogriff”, which provided enough amusement for Hermione for her to temporarily forget her newfound heart ache. Yet after the fast song came a slow song (a ballad about a werewolf who falls in love with a vampire called, “You Brighten My Moonlight”), and as Ron took Hermione’s waist and she wrapped her arms around his neck, she was reminded painfully of what she actually meant to Ron.
As they slowly revolved on the spot, Ron looked down into her eyes, but she couldn’t look up into his. Instead, she looked around them, at all the happily dancing couples who reciprocated their feelings for one another. Cho Chang and Cedric Diggory’s faces were inches apart from one another. Viktor Krum, Hermione saw, was dancing closely with Fleur Delacour, his hands touching her rather intimately. Their dates looked on unhappily, but Hermione couldn’t help but envy them. At least they had gone into the ball having only known their dates for a limited period of time. She had known Ron for three years. And while he had definitely become a person that she regarded above all others (a person she loved, even), she was just a friend to him. A sister.
“What are you looking at?” Ron suddenly asked. Hermione nearly jumped at the sound of his words, but she offered him a comfortable smile so that he didn’t suspect her of not paying attention to him.
“Oh, I was just watching Viktor and Fleur.” Ron turned in the direction that she was looking and smiled.
“Wow…Krum and Delacour. I would have never guessed.” Hermione almost felt like saying, “Neither would I,” but then she saw the look. Ron had that dreamy, love struck look he always wore when he was near Fleur. Unfortunately, it completely pushed her over the edge.
“You know, Viktor asked me to the ball,” she said passive aggressively. “I was still considering, but then you asked.” Of course, the last part wasn’t true, but she couldn’t help but say it. Ron turned and looked at her, completely shocked.
“Krum asked you? Really?” he asked.
“Why didn’t you go with him?” Ron looked completely disbelieving. It almost seemed to Hermione that he would have rather she gone with him than Ron.
“I honestly don’t know,” she lied. It was hard to tell what sort of emotion went through Ron at the moment. He looked confused, annoyed, and sad, though Hermione wasn’t sure if he really did feel that way, or it was just her hoping he did.
Then, out of nowhere, he let go of her and stepped back. “Well, if you want to bloody dance with Viktor Krum, be my guest. I’m not stopping you.”
All of a sudden, Hermione realized that she had made a complete mistake. Though Ron had acted stupid about Ginny and Neville, about Fleur, and about so many other things, he really couldn’t help how he felt about her. Hermione had just been mad because he had hurt her, but now she knew that it had been unknowing. Ron didn’t realize how much he meant to her. Maybe if he did, then he would change his mind?
She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Instead, a tear fell down her cheek. She expected Ron to run forward, to comfort her, but he didn’t. Instead, he glared at her maliciously.
“Go on!” he said. People around them turned and stared, as though appalled that anyone would break the magic of the ballad that filled the hall. Hermione couldn’t move from her spot. She wasn’t embarrassed at having been yelled at. She was just hurt, and this time it was her own fault.
“Fine…” he finally muttered. “If you’re too stubborn to leave, then I will. Thanks for the lovely evening, Hermione.” The last part was so bitterly sarcastic, that Hermione broke down into soul-shattering sobs. She watched him walk away through a haze of tears.
“Vot is wrong, Hermoninny?” a voice said behind her. Hermione turned and saw, as expected, Viktor Krum near her, his eyes shining with emotion that Hermione recognized. In Viktor’s eyes rested the same emotions that Hermione had felt for Ron ever since first year.
“Nothing,” she lied, still sobbing pathetically. “Just…leave me alone. I don’t want to talk to you.” Then, storming from the dance floor, Hermione ran toward the doors and out onto the decorated grounds.
* * *
He didn’t know what to do with himself. First, he started to walk out onto the grounds, but he decided that if Hermione had wanted to find him, it would probably be the first place she would look. Should he go back into the Great Hall? Perhaps he’d be able to blend in and she wouldn’t be able to find him. But no, Ron didn’t want that. It was torture enough to imagine her currently on the dance floor with Viktor Krum, the date she wished she had. He couldn’t imagine actually subjecting himself to the torture of watching it. Making a hasty decision, Ron began to vault up the marble staircase, his plan being to set his feet straight toward Gryffindor Tower, where he would collapse into his bed and be able to feel miserable alone. Halfway up, however, he heard the last voice he wanted to hear.
“Hermoninny! Vhere are you going?!” Ron stopped dead in his tracks. He didn’t turn to see what was happening behind him. He could just imagine it; Hermione had probably chased after him with Viktor in tow in order to show him that she would rather be on a date with the world famous Quidditch player than him. In his mind’s eye, she was just about to begin to climb up the marble staircase; in fact, he swore that he could even smell her flowery perfume that he had become so accustomed to during the course of the evening. Well, he would not give her the satisfaction of just making him feel worse.
He resolutely set to sprinting up the steps, and was just reaching the top when he heard a commanding and quite intimidating Bulgarian voice shout, “YOU!!!” In his panic, Ron tripped over his own left foot and banged his knee hard on the marble floor. Swearing loudly, Ron spun as quickly as he could to face his rival.
“What do you want?!” he spat out viciously.
“Vhy did you make Hermoninny cry?” Viktor asked threateningly. He was climbing the stairs slowly, his eyes narrowed, and his shoulders back. It was strange…Ron had only ever seen Krum with his slumped, duck footed stride. Viewing him like this, approaching him with a raging sort of confidence, really unnerved Ron. He couldn’t help but take a couple of steps back.
“It’s none of your business, is it?” His words sounded much braver than he felt.
“It is my bisness…Hermoninny is a beautiful and vonderful girl. She does not deserve to have a useless guy breaking her heart.”
“I didn’t break her heart!” Ron shouted. Part of him wanted to tell Viktor that she had actually broken his, but he didn’t really fancy the type of reaction Krum would have if Ron said that.
“Oh yeah? Zen vhy is she crying?” He was now on the top step, standing slightly shorter than Ron, but still achieving that intimidating posture.
“I don’t know! Why don’t you ask her?!” This was all beginning to get on Ron’s nerves. Why was Krum bothering him like this? He had won. Hermione had basically said it herself. She didn’t know why she had chosen to come with Ron when she could have been here tonight with Viktor Krum.
“Becos she does not vant to speak vith me. She told me. Vhat did you do to her?” Krum was surprisingly calm, yet there was an aggression in his voice that clearly said, “If you ever hurt her again, I will kill you.”
“I didn’t do anything to her,” Ron said more calmly. He tried to stride away, but Krum quickly moved in front of him to block his path. “What?! I told you! I didn’t hurt Hermione…she…she hurt me.” He hadn’t expected to tell Viktor Krum anything about what had just happened between him and Hermione, but something had told him that if he chose not to comply, he would end up with a few broken limbs. So, he had said it.
Krum looked perplexed, as though he didn’t quite understand the words that Ron had spoke. Maybe he was trying to translate them? Ron knew that English couldn’t be Krum’s first language. What if he was still trying to work it all out? Perhaps Ron should have spoken a little slower…
“I do not understand…if she hurt you, vhy is she ze one who looks heartbroken?”
Ron wanted to say that Hermione tended to cry over stupid things, or that she was probably just upset for hurting her friend’s feelings. The truth was, though, Ron found hope in Viktor’s question. Did she indeed look heartbroken? What if she was? Surely that was a good sign for Ron! Well, not quite. If he had hurt her that bad, it probably wouldn’t be easy to get on her good side again. Feeling confused himself, Ron turned to look at the marble staircase, then back at Krum.
“Well…I don’t…I don’t know…” he frowned. Then, feeling suspicious, Ron couldn’t help but say, “Why do you ask?”
“Becos I haff been vatching Hermoninny all year in ze library and I like to see her happy. I do not vant her to cry. It hurt vhen I asked her to go to ze ball vith me and she said she already had a partner, but she has been so happy all night that I vos happy too for her. I vill not let you ruin zat for her.”
Ron couldn’t help but gape at Viktor as he spoke. Firstly, the fact that he had been watching Hermione all year in the library came off as creepy to Ron. What was he doing, stalking her? Granted, Ron had always been tempted to stare at Hermione while she was studying – the way she furrowed her eyebrows and bit her lip while writing and reading were very adorable – but that was different. Ron had known her for three years now…he was allowed. Viktor was some random guy who had only had one known conversation with her. Had he even tried talking to her before asking her to the ball, or did all he do was stare at her? Ron felt disgusted.
Secondly, how dare Viktor accuse Ron of not caring for Hermione’s well-being?! The way Krum made it sound, Ron was nothing but a guy who was out to use and break Hermione. But Ron knew better. He cared for her probably more than anyone could ever care for her (and certainly more than Viktor Krum could). Yes, Ron wanted her to be happy too. The thing was, though, she had made it seem that he could not satisfy her, and that had hurt. So, yes, he had stomped off and maybe hurt Hermione’s feelings, but at least he had a good excuse.
The final thing that captured Ron’s attention was by far the most important. Viktor had said that Hermione had told him when he asked that she had already had a partner. Did this mean that she hadn’t really wanted to go with Viktor Krum? Did it mean that she didn’t really regret saying no to him? And what about the part about her already having a date? Had she lied to Ron about still considering going with Viktor when she had shouted at him? Had Viktor asked her before or after Ron? Would it even matter? Well, yes…if he asked her before, then Hermione had lied to Viktor and had chosen to say yes to Ron instead. If he asked after, then it might have been possible that she was regretting her choice after all, which would mean that all hope was lost for Ron.
Trying to keep the sudden surge of excitement that coursed through him out of his voice, Ron eagerly asked, “When did you ask her to the ball?” It was weird, but that angry inflection that had stained his tone only a few moments before was gone, replaced by a curious and kind one.
Viktor looked taken aback by both Ron’s response and the question itself. “A veek ago, I guess…vhy?” A week…Ron had asked less than a week ago. She had lied to Viktor. For reasons unknown, Ron instantly felt better. In fact, he felt like doing a jig with Viktor Krum, kissing him, and then gliding down the banister to the Entrance Hall. Hermione didn’t really want to be here with Viktor…she had been lying to Ron. Why, Ron wasn’t sure, but knowing that she had been made him feel oddly happy.
“Oh my God…she…she might actually want to be here with me!” Ron shouted with a maniacal laugh. Krum looked terrified by Ron’s outburst, but it was nothing to the face he adopted as Ron suddenly rushed and hugged him.
“Let go off me!” he said, offended.
“Sorry, mate,” Ron beamed. “It’s just…she just lied to me…I don’t know why. Maybe to make me jealous or something? I dunno, girls are weird and-” he cut himself off, staring at Viktor as a newfound realization swept over him. Slowly, Krum began to back away, clearly scared that whatever this crazed kid before him had was contagious. The gears in Ron’s head were working, however. Hermione had pointed out Viktor and Fleur, and he’d looked…he hadn’t been aware of doing anything wrong, but when he turned back to Hermione she had seemed mad. Now, he thought he could see why.
“Fleur!!” he shouted. Viktor Krum jumped about a foot in the air at the sound of the word and turned around as though looking for the French beauty. “I was looking at her! I must have done it again! That’s why she got so mad at me!” Krum nodded in agreement, though Ron was pretty certain he didn’t know what he was nodding to. “Thanks, mate!” Ron excitedly said to the petrified Bulgarian. Without warning, he shoved passed the internationally acclaimed Quidditch player toward the marble staircase.
He took the steps two at a time, his knees buckling as he hit the floor to the Entrance Hall. His mind barely registered the pain in his knee as he kept running forward, toward the main door. He was almost there, when Ginny stepped out of nowhere to block his path.
“Ron! What did you do to her?! I swear to God if you hurt her I’ll hex the life out of you!” Ron knew she was referring to the Bat-Bogey hex, a spell that Ginny positively excelled in, and one that no one wanted to be on the receiving end of.
He didn’t care, though. Forgetting his earlier annoyance with her and Neville, Ron shoved his sister rather roughly aside, shouted, “Sorry, Gin, no time to talk!” and sprinted out into the night, in search of his date.
* * *
At first, Hermione didn’t know what to do with herself. She was rather shocked at how warm it felt outside (They must have put some Temperature Charms up around the area, she had thought dismally), but didn’t give it more thought than she had to. Her tears were clogging up her vision so much that she couldn’t even register how the Hogwarts landscape had been Transfigured into a beautiful fairyland. Instead, all she could do was walk aimlessly, until she felt a hand gently grasp her own. For one, shining moment, she thought that perhaps Ron had come to his senses, but instead was disappointed to see the dark haired and bespectacled Harry attempting to pull her over to a nearby bench.
“Oh, Harry,” she said while sniffling and trying to wipe her eyes. “What are you doing out here? What happened to Parvati?”
“She’s dancing with a fifth year Hufflepuff,” Harry shrugged, clearly not caring that his date had run away from him just like Hermione’s had. “Come on, Hermione, let’s sit down.”
“I don’t want to,” Hermione mumbled. Quite frankly, she felt that if she stayed still for too long, she’d fall apart. Still, Harry kept tugging her gently, and she felt she had no choice but to contradict herself in acquiescing to his request.
“I think it will help,” Harry said gently. He guided her into a sitting position and squatted down in front of her. “Now…tell me what happened.”
Hermione burst into tears. Covering her face so that she didn’t have to see the horrified expression that Harry undoubtedly was wearing (he didn’t deal so well with emotional situations), she tried to tell him everything. “Oh, H-Harry!! I’m such an idiot! I shouldn’t have done it! I feel like the world’s stupidest person!”
“Erm…done…done what, Hermione?” Harry asked, trying to sound kind and gentle. Hermione briefly wondered if he felt anything like a brother of sorts right now; she certainly felt like a hurt sister running to her sibling for support.
“I…I tried to hurt Ron’s feelings because he was looking at Fleur! So, I told him that I…I w-would rather b-be here with Viktor Krum!” Her body shook as she remembered how stung he had looked by her words. Of all the outcomes she had pictured for this night, having Ron storming away from her in rage certainly wasn’t one of them.
Harry was quiet for a moment, then said, “Viktor Krum? Really?”
“Well, I thought it was plausible!” she now looked up at him with the same sort of fiery rage she had felt when she had been angry with Ron earlier. “He did ask me.”
“You’re lying!” Harry exclaimed, a disbelieving smile forming on his lips.
“I’m not…but I did lie to him. I told him I already had a date, because I wanted…because I w-wanted Ron to ask me!” She began to cry harder at the pain of remembering her lie to Viktor. Hermione had been so sure that night that she wouldn’t be asked to the ball at all by Ron, but had so desperately wanted it to happen that saying no to Viktor had been easy. Tonight had been her chance to prove to Ron that she liked him, but then she had gone and blown it by saying that she’d rather be at the ball with his favorite Quidditch player.
“So, you really like Ron, don’t you?” Harry asked in a rather quiet voice. Hermione nodded, unable to express into words just how much she did like Ron. “I thought so.”
“P-Please don’t t-tell him. I’m already s-so embarrassed,” Hermione sniffled again, wishing she had a handkerchief with her.
“I promise I won’t,” Harry said, while pulling out a tissue and handing it to his friend. “Though I think you should know that he likes you back.” Hermione couldn’t help but laugh ruefully. Ron didn’t like her…he had as much as told her so tonight. “It’s true!” Harry insisted.
“No it’s not. He basically said tonight that he looks at me like a sister,” Hermione sighed.
“I don’t believe that.” There was so much conviction in Harry’s voice that Hermione couldn’t help but look up into his bright green eyes hopefully. “You should have seen him tonight, Hermione. When he was getting ready for the ball, that is. He was so nervous that his robes would embarrass you and that you wouldn’t have a good time. I kept saying that it was only you and that you’d spent a lot of time together in the past, but it didn’t seem to help much. He was a nervous wreck.”
Hermione knew that Harry wanted to help her, to make her feel better about everything, but what he was saying really didn’t make much of a difference. So what if Ron had been nervous? It wasn’t because of her, it couldn’t have been. Harry was right, he was just going to be going on a date with Hermione, which would have been enough to make Ron relax. No, what Ron had been really nervous about tonight was looking like a poor prat in his ancient robes. He hadn’t cared what Hermione thought; that was made clear with how he had run out on her.
But still, she felt she deserved to be deserted. Hermione didn’t even feel like she deserved to have Harry by her side now, comforting her. All she wanted to do was be alone so she could cry until she got up the courage to go up to Gryffindor Tower, where she would collapse in bed and hopefully sleep for a very long time.
“You also didn’t see the way he was looking at you, either,” Harry suddenly said, clearly seeing that his previous words hadn’t worked on her. Hermione looked up again as silent tears fell from her eyes. “He likes you, Hermione. I’ve never seen him look at a girl before like he was looking at you tonight. Not even Fleur Delacour.”
She was just about to smile, just about to admit that yes, maybe he was right. Maybe he had at least seen her differently than he had ever seen her before. Perhaps that was why he had said that thing about her being like a sister (had he even used those words? Hermione couldn’t remember). Maybe it had been Ron’s way of protecting himself from falling for her. Inclined to think that this wasn’t true and that she didn’t want to get her hopes up, Hermione searched for a reason to write off Harry’s comment as false.
But there was no need to. The sound of frantic footfalls reached both of their ears, and as they both turned to see who was approaching, Hermione felt a jolt of panic, excitement, annoyance, and fear hit her stomach. Ronald Weasley was sprinting toward them, his expression an odd mixture of mania and anticipation. As he stopped, his eyes swiveled from Harry to Hermione, and then back to Harry.
“Her…Hermio…ne…” he panted. Harry looked distinctly smug and amused, but Hermione was just bewildered. Ron was clutching at a stitch in his side. “Ow…shouldn’t…have…run…”
“I’m going to go take a walk,” Harry said rather loudly. He placed a comforting hand on Hermione’s shoulder, got up, walked over to Ron and said, “Don’t be a git.” Then he was gone, turning left and disappearing behind a hedge.
“Hermione…” Ron was still panting. She didn’t know why, but even though she had been yearning for him to come back ever since he left, she still felt cross with him. Standing up, she bestowed a glare unto him, hoping it was enough to make him feel the full amount of pain he deserved to feel for taking off. “Hermione, I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry?! Really?!” Hermione spat at him.
“Yes! I thought…I felt like…I thought you’d rather be there with Krum and it hurt so I left! I didn’t know!”
“You didn’t know what? That you’re an insensitive jerk?”
“No! I didn’t know-”
“You didn’t know that I didn’t want to be left alone in the middle of a dance floor with a bunch of happy couples?!”
“You didn’t know-”
“NO!! No! I didn’t know you liked me back! Bloody hell, Hermione!!”
Hermione gaped at him, completely in shock. Had he really just said that? He didn’t know that she had liked him back, which implied that he had liked her as well. But how had he figured out that she liked him to begin with? Looking into his face, he seemed shocked by his own words. He had that terrified look he would wear before a particularly horrendous exam, as though he was about to get sick.
“I mean…erm…I just…I thought…” Hermione knew he’d never be able to find the right words. She knew that he had spoken without thinking. Still, with Ron, it seemed that the things he said when he wasn’t giving it the most thought were often the things that were most truthful.
She didn’t know what convinced her to do it. One moment she was standing there, watching his ears turn that same shade of red that they had become when she had been approaching him on the marble staircase, and the next she was striding toward him purposefully.
“Erm…I…Hermione…didn’t…know…” his words became more and more incoherent the closer she got to him. And then, miraculously, Hermione was standing closer than she had ever dreamed; so close that she was intentionally pressing herself against him and that she could feel his breath (which was coming out surprisingly steady for how discomposed he seemed) on her neck. She stared up into his deep blue eyes daringly and he looked back into hers. Then, neither of them finding the words to describe what they were feeling, they both leaned in (Hermione pressing up on her tiptoes).
Their lips met, and Hermione felt an explosion of excitement surge throughout her entire body. It started in her chest, her heart pumping wildly, then moved outward evenly; up to her throat, down into her stomach, into her lips, and all the way to the tips of her toes. It wasn’t a perfect kiss by any means. Neither of them had experience with this, and they were both rather clumsy. Their teeth bumped once or twice, and when they opened their mouths to deepen the kiss, someone couldn’t stop drooling (or maybe it was both of them?). Still, it was the best experience of Hermione’s life. Gone was the pain of his leaving her, gone was the disappointment of finding out that he looked at her like a sister (though it was certainly clear now that that wasn’t true), and gone was the bitter jealousy toward Fleur. At the moment, nothing mattered but her and Ron as they stood, locked in a kiss that seemed to both last an eternity and a brief moment.
Unfortunately, it did end. They didn’t pull back far from each other, but stood toe to toe, staring into each other’s eyes, both at utter peace.
“How did you know?” Hermione finally asked.
“Viktor Krum told me he asked you before I did and that you said you had a date,” he shrugged. “When I saw you crying here, I just knew. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Hermione replied. “I’m glad it happened this way. It wouldn’t be us if we didn’t row over it.” Ron let out a hearty laugh and kissed Hermione on the head. Relief like she had never known took over her. Everything was alright. No, everything was more than alright. Ron was holding her, kissing her. He liked her. No feeling in the world would ever compare to this.
* * *
Ron lay in bed that night unable to sleep. He and Hermione had gone back into the Yule Ball after having finally resolved their fight and spent the rest of the evening alternating between dancing and snogging. Neither of them cared to be too discreet about it, either, which was what really surprised Ron. He had always imagined that Hermione would be the sort of girl to not publicly display her affection, but it seemed that her excitement over how the night had turned out completely destroyed her inhibitions. For his part, Ron was glad.
After they decided to go up to the Common Room, they had spent a little more time snogging by the fire until Harry had interrupted, followed by an irate Parvati who had been snapping at him for staring at Cho Chang all night. Apparently the fact that she went off with a Hufflepuff meant nothing to her. Harry had been eager to find an excuse to get away from her, so Ron and Hermione had ended the evening discussing Harry’s experience with the ball (which had actually been rather fascinating, as Harry had overheard Hagrid telling Madame Maxime that he was half-giant and had heard a weird conversation with Snape and Karkaroff). They made sure to kiss each other goodnight, of course, but the high they had gotten from their first kiss had abated somewhat, and it had only been a peck.
Still, as Ron lay in the darkness, he couldn’t help but smile. Hermione liked him. She hadn’t quite said it, of course, but she had kissed him. That definitely counted for something. No, thought Ron, It means everything. From this moment on, everything was going to be different. He and Hermione would be blissful together, he just knew it in his heart. For some reason, though he knew that it was way too early in his life to be feeling this way, Ron felt that he and Hermione were destined for one another. He felt lucky that he had already figured this out. Who knew how long it would have taken them if he hadn’t have taken her to the Yule Ball? Would they have ever figured it out?
Maybe…maybe not. Grinning stupidly, Ron turned over and closed his eyes. Everything was perfect as it was.