An owl came at breakfast the next morning with a letter for her. She read the letter and then held it out for Harry to read. His mouth full of scrambled eggs, he took it wordlessly and scanned it while he chewed and swallowed.
Dad and I are being sent unexpectedly to Hogsmeade next week. The headmaster has graciously asked us to stay at the school. I know you crave a change of scene during the holidays, but perhaps you can make do with visitors instead?
"You’re staying," he breathed, looking at her, struggling between blazing joy and the knowledge that she wanted to get out of the castle. "I’m sorry, love--"
"No, this is good news! I didn’t want to leave." She smiled her radiant smile at him. "And they’ll be here in the castle!"
"Great, chaperones," he said with a groan, and she laughed, as he intended.
The remaining time before the Winter Ball rushed past, and it seemed to Harry only a few moments between getting up from the breakfast table on Friday morning and steaming his dress robes in preparation for the ball at seven thirty that night. Because the Ball was during the term, it was open to all students, even first through third years. Harry wondered how the student body would be managed, since it was a social event, but as soon as he and Graínne descended the marble stairs followed closely by Ron and Hermione, it became evident that there were plenty of adults to supervise. What looked like the entire board of governors of the school and their spouses were there, as well as several members of the Ministry, and a number of parents.
However, Harry did not devote much attention to this. Graínne was wearing the epitome of American formalwear, a tailored satin sheath dress that ended mid-thigh, and a flowing silk California-style robe with long sleeves. The dress was navy blue, her tights exactly the same shade, and her robe was midnight with a gentle snowfall. Her hair was loose, only the front fringe drawn back in a clip, but the curls had been tamed into gentle waves. She wore high heels like she wore them everyday. The necklace he’d given her for her birthday was at her throat. Harry had never seen such grace and beauty, and neither had many other boys in the room, who stopped to stare.
All the Gryffindor girls sparkled that night, it seemed to Cho Chang. She watched Harry dance and laugh with Graínne, with Hermione (resplendent in royal blue), with Ginny (shell pink), Lavender (in lavender, of course), Parvati (hot pink)-- all of them looking their best. She saw that he never danced with any girl outside his house, that he never let Graínne go for more than one song, and that when he did happen to look at her, Cho, it was accidental, and he was polite and friendly, but neither interested or embarrassed. Roger Davies was rather put out with her, but decided in the long run he’d rather have a distracted Cho in his arms than no Cho at all.
Malfoy made several attempts to disrupt their evening. First he tried to spill punch on them, but Graínne repelled it with her open hand right into the middle of his dove-gray dress robes, soaking him thoroughly. He tried insulting Harry, who merely said, "Geez, I wish you would get some new material, Malfoy, that joke is nearly as old as your mother." He tried to cut in on Dean while he was dancing with Graínne, but she trod so heavily on his foot with her high heel that he never got to open his mouth, and Pansy Parkinson had to take him to the hospital wing to see if his toe was broken.
"Let’s get some fresh air," Graínne whispered to Harry under the roar of a vastly popular heavy metal song.
Immediately he guided her out through the entry into a garden created for the evening of benches, hedges, roses, fountains, flowery bowers, and spring-like temperature. They took a bench that was out of the way of the main traffic, under a blooming weeping cherry tree that drooped its branches over them to create a bit of privacy.
"Are you enjoying yourself?" he asked, wondering how he, plain, myopic Harry Potter, had managed to win the most beautiful girl in the school.
"Well, it’s a dance, and if you weren’t here, I’d probably go to bed. As it is, I’m enjoying myself immensely. And you?"
"I’ve never liked even the idea of a dance, but I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing."
She raised an eyebrow.
"Well, okay, one or two things. Have I mentioned that you look even more beautiful than usual?"
"Several times. Harry honey, are you going to waste this quiet, private moment in conversation?"
"I don’t think you’ll let me do that. But I didn’t want you to think that kissing you is the only thing I like about being alone with you." He put an arm around her.
"Be at peace, I don’t think that at all."
"I’m wondering, too, how such a gorgeous lady could find me remotely interesting--"
"Harry honey, stop talking before I kiss your teeth."
There was no telling how long they might have gone on necking, because they were interrupted before they showed any signs of slowing down by the sound of a raid in the bower next door. "Weasley, Thomas, get back inside at once!" snarled Snape.
Instantly, Graínne led the way through the maze of potted plants behind and around their bench, and out into the path behind them, Harry leaping after her. Then, quite decorously, they walked hand in hand to the intersecting path, where Snape came striding up.
"If you two have quite finished swapping saliva, return indoors at once."
"Oh good, we haven’t finished," said Graínne brightly, turning to put her arms around Harry, who was choking back a laugh.
"I think Professor Snape really meant that we’re to go, finished or not," he said swiftly.
"Oh," said Graínne, sounding disappointed.
"I can still give detentions, Cameron," warned Snape.
"Yes sir," she smiled. "You know, Professor, even though I had Ms. Keller-Glass for Potions at Thunder Hall, I never fully appreciated the subtlety of the art as a whole until I started studying with you. Good evening, sir." She gave him a smile so dazzling that the bitter fury left his face and was replaced by astonishment, and he was speechless as they hurried back inside.
"That was close," Harry laughed, pulling her into his arms in the middle of the dance floor.
"I’m very annoyed at the interruption," she answered softly in his ear, her hands moving caressingly on his shoulders. "I was having such a good time."
Harry felt goose bumps all over. "Me too," he answered. "Poor Ginny and Dean," he added, shying away from those goose bumps.
"They must be mortified. It’s very much Snape’s gig, though, isn’t it-- beating the bushes and preventing anything that might bring joy and pleasure to someone else. Of course, it might have been worse." She seemed suddenly to lose track of the rhythm of the music.
"It could have been my dad. Look." She pointed toward the doorway.
At first he couldn’t see anyone who might have been her father. Then he spotted a tall man who was so like her brother David that Harry thought at first it was David. In the low light, it was hard to see the silver in his dark hair. However, there beside him was Mrs. Cameron, in traditional dress robes of golden velvet.
"They’re early," Graínne said, and she didn’t sound too pleased.
"Are we going to ignore them, or go say hello?"
She sighed, and turned back to him with a smile. "We’re going to be very good, and say hello." Somehow she telegraphed a sense of frustration to him, as if their evening was over. He smiled back at her reassuringly, took her hand, and led her through the crowd.
They were standing by the door speaking to Dumbledore, who seemed to disappear just before Harry and Graínne reached them. They were looking around with interest, waving at Ministry members they recognized, but clearly searching. Graínne pulled herself even with Harry, and they arrived almost at the doorway when the elder Camerons spotted them.
Rory swept Graínne up in a delighted hug, and Morag gave Harry a much more restrained one.
"What a squash! Isn’t the music a bit loud?" Morag shouted at Graínne.
"Mother," she groaned. "Dad, this is Harry Potter. Harry, my father, Rory Cameron."
"Pleased to meet you, sir," said Harry, shaking the hand Rory held out.
"Likewise, young man. Are you dating my daughter?"
"Dad!" Graínne hissed, appalled.
"Yes sir," said Harry, looking him in the eye. "Since October, sir." He shielded his mental room carefully, fully aware that the Camerons were all Legilimenses.
"And you didn’t ask?"
"Yes sir, I did ask. She said yes."
Morag burst out laughing. "Enough, Rory! Harry, will you dance with me?"
"Yes ma’am, I’d be delighted." He offered his arm, and guided her out into the crowd.
Graínne laid her hand in her father’s and followed him out. "Dad, I’m telling you, don’t you dare give him a hard time!"
"Child, it is my right to examine any young man interested in my only daughter. And it is generally true that a prize too easily won is not valued fully."
"Dad, Harry has lost everyone he’s ever loved except Ron and Hermione, his peers. If you scare him off, I’ll never come home."
"Well, never is a long time," she admitted, "but I won’t want to. I love him, Dad."
"What do you know about love?" he demanded, scoffing.
"Enough to know this is real. It’s not a silly crush, it’s not gushy feelings that wear out after a while, and it isn’t a hormonal response to the best-looking male around, because he’s not. What he is, though, is selfless. He’s set against Voldemort from birth, and is willing to die to get rid of him--"
"I know his story, perhaps better than you do," Rory interrupted.
"But I know him better than you do."
He frowned at her. "I don’t want you to get hurt, lass."
"Then kill me now, Dad, because life is full of hurt."
The frown became a scowl. "It’s not a joking matter, Graínne Kennis--"
"I’m not joking. Harry’s not going to hurt me. He’s scared witless to love anyone, to show care even for his friends, and I had to almost die for him to admit that he loves me. My whole life, you and Mother have taught me how to make choices. Harry is my choice."
"Be that as it may, it is still my right to examine him."
"Do so at your own peril." She walked away from him, through the wide doors into the entrance hall, her head up, back stiff.
Morag appeared at his elbow. "She told you off?"
"Threatened me," he said, nodding.
"She’s reaching that age. Most parents have the shocks of puberty spread out over six or eight years. Lucky Camerons, we get them in two. Well, she’s not sleeping with him."
"How do you know?" He was horrified at the suggestion. It had never occurred to him.
"Don’t scowl and raise your voice like that to me," she said firmly. "And how can you ask me that question? He’s not hiding anything more intimate than French-kissing her ten minutes ago."
He continued to frown.
"Stars and garters, Rory! Isn’t that Snively?"
"Who? Oh look, Morag, it’s that kid Severus Snape."
"Severus. I thought it was Snively."
"No, sweet, I think that’s a cartoon. I suppose we should say hello, although only as alumni, not as Order members. He’s top secret. If I’m not mistaken, that kid next to him is a Darker brat, Malfoy’s kid. Put on your game face, dear. Well well well, isn’t your name Snape? I thought it looked familiar in Graínne’s letters, didn’t you, Morag?"
"Aye, Rory, but I couldn’t remember where I knew it from. You were a few years behind us in school, weren’t you? And a different House as well, if I recall." Morag held out her hand to him.
Snape took it and bowed over it. "Yes, Madam Cameron, you are gracious to remember. Mr. Cameron," he added, shaking Rory’s hand.
"Of course we knew of your fame as a Master of your discipline, but I'm afraid we didn't connect it to our own school days. I’m so glad Graínne has such a good Potions teacher, Professor," said Rory warmly. "You are renowned for turning out researchers, from what I hear."
"Only ten or so," said Snape modestly. "Your daughter has potential to be a skilled Potioner. I rather think she lacks that ambition, though."
"Don’t they all?" Rory agreed. "Young people today, eh Professor? Don’t let us keep you from the party, now! Morag, may I have this dance?"
Graínne was pacing the entrance hall stormily. Harry leaned against the wall, watching her, his hands in his pockets.
"Of all the nerve!" she said again.
"He’s just watching out for you," Harry said soothingly. "Don’t let it ruin your evening."
"Ha! As if he could!"
"Yeah, you look like you’re having fun," he answered sarcastically.
She stopped in her tracks. "Wha-- you are such a dog," she laughed suddenly. She went to him and hugged him. "I love you, Harry," she murmured in his ear.
"I love you too, Graínne."
"I guess we ought to go back into the dance, huh."
"If you want to."
"Doesn’t matter to me. I guess, though, we can’t disappear to the gardens again, since Snape is probably heading back out. And there’s my mother, looking for us."
"She’s really nice, your mum." He guided her back into the Great Hall at an angle, so that they avoided Morag.
"Was she nice to you?"
"Very." He took her in his arms for a waltz. Most of the students went to sit this one out, but the adults came out to the dance floor immediately. Harry could waltz quite well, now. Better than any of the other boys who had dared. Even Snape was dancing, leading Professor Ferguson masterfully. Dumbledore was dancing with Morag, and Rory was dancing with Madam Bones.
"She’s a cousin of Dad’s, Professor Ferguson," Graínne confided. "And my mom is a McGonagall, so she’s related to Auntie Minerva."
"I didn’t know that."
"Dumbledore wants it kept quiet. People always assume you get good grades if your relatives are the teachers. What did Hermione decide about going home tomorrow?"
"Don’t know. I was going to ask you."
"Are they even here? I haven’t seen them for an hour."
"Maybe they’re taking advantage of the lack of adult supervision."
"Which makes us great big gits, right?"
"Think of it as a noble sacrifice, so that our fellow students can fornicate in peace." He grinned at her laughter. "You’re really much safer here. I am mightily tempted to take you somewhere secret and--"
"Stop, I have no moral fiber with which to resist you."
He smiled. "You have plenty. Can we talk, love?"
"Sure. It’s just talk you want, right?"
"For the moment, yeah."
The common room was deserted. She seemed surprised, but sat down agreeably where he put her, in the most comfortable chair by the fire. She kicked off her shoes automatically. Harry pulled another chair around to face her, and settled himself to rub her feet.
"I thought this would be private enough for talking, but not so private that we’d get into trouble," he began. "That’s just the thing, though. For the first time I’m interested in the next step."
She nodded. "You mean what comes after holding hands and kissing."
"Right. And I’ve got to tell you, in case Voldemort becomes aware of these feelings I have for you and tries to mess it up, that I’m absolutely not going to sleep with you unless we get married. That is my right mind, in case you ever face me in some other mood." He kept his eyes on the feet he was massaging, very much afraid he had just ended their relationship. "I suppose you’ll send me away now."
"How could I? It would kill me. Harry, beloved, look at me, darling."
Slowly he raised his eyes. Smiling, she waved a finger and created a give-and-take of images and feelings. He felt ashamed of his fears, astonished at the purity of the love he had for her, and she for him. He understood that she shared his conviction about sex, and that she believed each could be strong when the other was weak. He was unaware of the passage of time, but finally he heard, as if from a great distance, Hermione’s voice.
"Graínne, your parents are outside. Graínne?"
She was blinking rapidly, putting her bare feet on the floor. She dropped a kiss on Harry’s cheek as she rose and went out.
"Were you practicing Occlumency?" Hermione asked, sitting down next to Ron.
"Er, no, Legilimency. I think."
Her eyebrows flew up. "Wow."
"Wow what?" asked Ron.
"Well, Occlumency is N.E.W.T. level in difficulty, even though it’s not often taught. And Legilimency isn’t even required by Auror training. It’s more difficult."
Harry looked around, but she was already gone. "Should I go out--"
"Don’t think so, mate," said Ron. "They didn’t ask for you. Say, her dad is ferocious-looking."
"He is," Harry agreed. "Especially when you’re dating his only daughter."
"Wow, I never thought of that! Is your dad going to shred me when we meet again?" he asked Hermione, looking a little afraid.
"What? Oh, no," said Hermione, laughing at the thought. "He likes you, I think. Even if he doesn’t, he’s very polite and conventional, he’d never raise a fuss unless you beat me or something."
Ron frowned, perplexed by such a foreign thought. It had never crossed his mind to hit a girl. He had never even struck Ginny, and she could be a right little pain.
"Did you enjoy the dance?" Harry asked, looking from one to the other. "We never saw you, after the first half hour."
"Well, we were making up," said Hermione, blushing.
"What’s that? Making out?" demanded Graínne, perching on the arm of Harry’s chair.
"No," laughed Hermione.
"Right," said Ron at the same time.
"The advantage of fighting so often is getting to make up," Harry said to Graínne, his heart beating faster at her nearness.
"The only advantage," said Hermione.
"It’s a pretty good one," said Ron seriously. "You’d probably never let me kiss you at all if we didn’t make up--"
"That’s completely untrue, Ron!" she answered hotly.
"Here we go again," muttered Harry.
Graínne lobbed a handful of red and gold confetti at them. Harry wondered where she got it. "He said probably, H. If you want to change his misconception, prove him wrong."
Hermione harrumphed. "Well, not with everyone watching," she muttered.
"Allow us to give you some privacy, then." Harry stood up and took Graínne by the hand to the other side of the room, where they slipped behind the window drapes. It was cold and rather dusty, but no one could see them. "I should have brought down my dad’s cloak, then we could have a private goodnight," he said quietly, putting his hands on her waist.
"Another time," she answered, sliding her hands up his arms to his shoulders. "We’ve just had a very intimate moment, and too much privacy could lead to the very situation we’ve agreed to avoid."
"Your parents all right?"
"Yeah, they were just saying good night. I’m sorry about my dad--"
"Forget it, love. I’m glad he protects you."
"I had a wonderful time tonight."
He grinned. "Me too. The best time I’ve ever had. I hate to say good night."