As the Halloween Ball drew near, Hermione couldn’t help but wish it were over and done with. It was the only topic of conversation anywhere outside of class – and even in some classes. She hated social functions with a passion; they seemed like thinly disguised popularity contests. Only Valentine’s Day, with its emphasis on romance, was worse.
Discussions in the Gryffindor Common Room had turned into a not-so-subtle game of who could get the most invitations. Currently Parvati was the front runner, with 42. By Hermione’s count, that was every seventh-year male in the school, plus a few more. And Lavender Brown, who till this year had held her own in such contests, was trailing with a mere 13 – and was most upset about it.
Hermione didn’t worry about it. She wasn’t planning to go.
“You want me to what?” Severus almost roared. “Cancel my research project for the night? At this stage? Just to dance attendance on a crowd of rutting teenagers? Albus, get someone else – get anyone else.”
“Now Severus, you need to get away from your dungeons once in a while,” Albus’ eyes crinkled happily. “Lemon drop?”
“No. Thank you.” Severus shoved away the offered tin. “We are close to a major breakthrough, I believe. Do you want to undo everything we’ve done so far?”
“I don’t believe one night off will harm your research and experimentation that much. One dance with the partner of your choice, and two hours chaperoning to make sure no one attempts to emulate the Weasley brothers.”
“Merlin forbid! Fortunately, I believe I have quashed all such adventurous spirits.”
“Excellent. I’ll see you at the dance tomorrow night then.” He bowed Severus out before the younger wizard could voice an objection.
The Potions Master stared at the closed door for a moment before sweeping down the stairs. “How does he do it? How does he talk me into these things?”
On the evening of October 31st, students and staff made their various ways to the Great Hall which had been transformed for the occasion by carefully placed Charms. The tables had been shoved against the walls, and were covered with food and drink. The raised platform where the staff table normally sat had become a performers’ stage for the Weird Sisters.
Hermione opened a book, propped her feet up on the table in the Gryffindor Common Room, and ignored the chaos swirling around her. Dean was pulling at his dress robes, bemoaning the fact that he had grown two inches in the last year. Colin Creevey was everywhere, his camera constantly snapping. Neville came dashing down the stairs, bumped into Dean and burbled an apology before running down the passage to the Fat Lady.
“Where’s he off to?” Dennis asked no one in particular.
“He’s taking a Hufflepuff to the dance,” Dean replied, giving up on his robes and glaring at the inch of ankle they revealed. “Here, Dennis, you’re good at Charms. Can you do something with this?”
There was a tentative knock on the door, and Justin Finch-Fetchley entered, looking rather ill-at-ease. “Sorry for the invasion. I’m taking Lavender to the dance, and thought I should meet her here.”
“What’s this?” Colin grinned, “Hufflepuffs dating Gryffindors? Sit down, Justin. The girls should be down eventually.”
It was only a few minutes before Lavender sailed down the stairs, with Parvati and Ginny right behind her. Two minutes after that, the three couples had left, leaving Hermione in peace and quiet. She closed her book and checked the time – half an hour until her evening’s detention. Time to get ready. She returned to her room and found a note on her bed.
The Headmaster has seen fit to put me on chaperone duty for the evening. Accordingly, your detention for this one night is cancelled. You will not have to make it up. I shall expect you promptly at 7pm tomorrow night.
“Great,” she muttered to herself. “Just great.” She scooped up Crookshanks, who’d been winding around her ankles. “I hate last-minute changes of plan, Crooks, I really do. I was really hoping to get the next stage of experimenting done – I think we’re close to something.” She scratched the cat’s ears and chin. “But Professor Snape will not be pleased if I do any work without him there.” She set the cat down. “Leave it to the Headmaster to ruin my plans. I don’t really want to stay here and run into Harry. I guess I’ll stick my nose in at the dance and play wall-flower. He’s still brooding about Ron, so he’s not likely to show up.”
She didn’t take too much care with her appearance; a simple charm applied to her robes turned them into something sedate yet dressy. That coupled with a bit of attention to her hair and makeup completed her efforts. After all, if one is going to sit on the sidelines, why bother?
The Halloween Ball was just beginning when she got to the doors of the Great Hall. The Headmaster was making a speech, and she stopped to listen.
“Good evening, students and staff of Hogwarts! I know we’re all anxious to begin the celebration, so I shall make only a short speech. It’s been only a few short weeks since Voldemort was finally defeated. His followers are in chaos, and most have been apprehended. Let us have a moment of silence to honor those who died working against him.” The old wizard bowed his head. Behind him, most of the staff did the same. Only Professor Snape held his head high.
Hermione’s eyes filled with tears as she remembered Ron and Seamus. Their combined Expelliarmus! had cost Voldemort his wand and distracted him long enough for Harry to deliver the Killing Curse. But Voldemort’s wand exploded when its master died, and the two young men had been caught in the blast.
There were others – poor Percy Weasley, now serving a term in Azkaban for aiding and abetting. She was pretty sure he was innocent, and that his imprisonment was more of Cornelius Fudge’s political maneuvering.
And Harry – who was one step away from madness. His grades were as erratic as his behavior. She hoped he would stabilize before his NEWTs.
Slytherin House had been decimated, with those who supported the Death Eaters comprising the vast bulk of its losses. Of the seventh years, only Millicent Bulstrode and Theodore Nott had survived. Hufflepuff had lost Ernie MacMillan to the lure of the Dark, which had shocked almost everyone. He and Draco Malfoy had fought side by side until an Auror's lucky shot had taken them both out. Only Ravenclaw had escaped unscathed.
“We should never forget what they sacrificed for us,” Dumbledore continued. “Yet, we should not dwell on the past. Instead, let us look to a brighter future, where we can live without fear. Let us celebrate!” He gestured and the band struck up a lively dance tune. Moments later, the floor filled with couples.
And there, Hermione thought, was Harry’s problem in a nutshell. He was incapable of moving on. But the Headmaster was right. Dwelling on the past did nothing productive. She slowly entered the room, and moved toward the refreshment tables.
The sight of Professor Malfoy dancing literally cheek to cheek with Madame Hooch was an eye-opener. She still didn’t completely trust the elder Malfoy, but she had to admit that he’d never been anything but courteous to her in or out of class since his true loyalties had become known. Even during the last big battle, he’d carefully maintained his charade, except that his “curses” were jets of light that could stun or dazzle, but would not kill.
Curious now, she looked over the other couples. She almost didn’t recognize them at first – a long lanky man dancing a bit awkwardly with a much shorter plump woman. An older couple, judging from their graying hair. Only when the music ended and they halted nearby did she realize that Mr. Filch had danced a set with Professor Sprout.
Shaking her head, she picked up a glass of pumpkin juice. The musicians struck up a waltz, and she turned her attention back to the dancers. Neville was dancing with Hannah Abbott, though not happily if the look on his face was any sign. As she watched, Neville stepped on Hannah’s foot. The blonde Hufflepuff pulled away from him and flounced off, leaving him standing in the middle of the floor.
Loud voices beside her distracted her for a moment, and she turned just in time to see Millicent Bulstrode throw her drink in Theodore Nott’s face and stalk away. Nott wiped the drink off his face, and looked after his erstwhile date. Then he shrugged and refilled his own glass. Catching Hermione looking his way, he gave her an elaborate shrug before strolling off in the opposite direction.
She picked up her glass, drained it, and filled it again. It was warm in the Great Hall, and she felt stifled. Careful not to get in the way of the dancers, she crossed the room and went out into the garden. It was considerably cooler here. Lavender was sitting on a bench with Justin, and they looked quite comfortable together. Sighing, she went back inside.
Professor Snape was standing stiffly near the windows, looking completely uncomfortable. Well, if she couldn’t do her planned experiments tonight, perhaps he would consent to discuss them with her.
“Good evening, Professor.”
“Good evening, Miss Granger,” he replied. His eyes were not on her, though. They were watching something behind her.
“I was wondering if you would like to discuss the experiments we were going to do tonight, since we can’t actually do them.”
He was about to reply when a high-pitched voice cut in, “Oh Severus, you simply must dance with me!” Hermione turned around to see Madame Pince in a skin-tight black dress that was most unflattering. Her stringy hair was done up in a sagging beehive, and her makeup showed complete lack of taste.
Gaping, she wondered how Professor Snape would respond.
“Good evening, Irma.” His voice was stone cold and rigidly formal. “I already have a partner for this dance. Perhaps you should ask Albus.” He turned to Hermione. “Miss Granger?” He held out his hand.
“Thank you, Professor.” She allowed him to lead her out onto the floor, and they fell comfortably into the steps of a foxtrot, leaving Madame Pince staring after them in confusion.
Severus had not intended to change out of his teaching robes for the ball, but when he’d gone back to his room for a moment after dinner, Duster had hacked up a hairball on his lap. Grimacing, he’d opened his wardrobe and found that most of his robes were in the laundry. The only one remaining was the dark green velvet that he only wore on extremely special occasions. He’d worn it the day after expelling Potter from his Potions class.
When he arrived at the transformed Great Hall, he decided to take up a stance near the refreshment tables to prevent any of the more adventurous souls from attempting to liven up the menu with their own additions to the pumpkin juice. This lasted until Albus opened the festivities, and insisted that he come stand with the rest of the staff. As soon as the speech was over, he returned to his chosen position.
Evidently the fact that he was under orders to dance at least once had become general knowledge among his fellows, for Sybil Trelawney followed him around like a harpy, until he’d distracted her with a question about Potter’s future. She’d immediately gone off to her tower where her Inner Eye would be less distracted.
He’d seen Irma searching for him, and managed to avoid her twice by stepping behind Hagrid while the half-giant was dancing with Minerva and Xiamora. But the third time, she’d made for him like a shark drawn to blood in the water. He’d been almost resigned to his fate when Miss Granger had asked if he’d like to discuss their work.
In a desperate gamble, he turned to her and offered his hand as if he’d already asked her to dance. Without missing a beat, she’d followed him onto the floor. It was worth dancing with a student to see the look on Irma’s face.
He cleared his throat softly to get her attention. She was as good a dancer as he; her attention did not need to be fixed on her feet, and she followed his lead gracefully. “I… appreciate your participation in this charade.”
“It’s nothing. I like Madame Pince, but her company can be a bit wearing.” She gave him a sympathetic smile.
“Be grateful you’ve never had to dance with her. She has no sense of rhythm.” He cast about for a change of subject. “I would’ve preferred to spend the evening continuing our work.”
“Likewise. Bloody rotten of the Headmaster to mess with our plans, wasn’t it?”
He quirked an eyebrow. “Quite bloody rotten, and because I agree with you, I shan’t take points from Gryffindor for your language.” He expertly steered her toward the edge of the dance floor as the music wound down. “Thank you again, Miss Granger. It was most appreciated.”
“Thank you, sir. It was quite pleasant.” She gave him another smile, and walked toward the refreshment table. He looked after her for a moment, and then headed into the garden to complete his obligatory penance by freely handing out detentions to any students he caught misbehaving there.
Hermione leaned against the table feeling inexplicably pleased with herself. She’d actually enjoyed a dance for the first time in her life. And the sheer pleasure of rescuing Professor Snape – and it was a rescue – brought a smile to her face.
“G’evening, Granger. Didn’t think you Gryffindors would dance with Slytherins.” She looked up to see Millicent Bulstrode pouring herself a glass of juice. “Otherwise…”
Hermione studied the big girl for a moment. “Most of us have outgrown that by now, Millicent.” She deliberately used her first name. “It never hurts to ask.”
The Slytherin returned her look for an equally long moment. “Call me Millie, Hermione.” She tilted her head down the table. “Is he spoken for?”
Hermione looked. There was only one Gryffindor in sight. “Neville? He had a tiff with his date, so I think he’s available.”
An absolutely predatory grin spread over the other girl’s face. “Thanks.” She strolled off nonchalantly in Neville’s direction, carrying two glasses of juice.
Hermione couldn’t hear what was said, but Neville suddenly looked much happier. He accepted a glass of juice from Millie, and obviously relaxed. Hermione grinned, mentally wished them luck, and turned back to watch the dancing for a moment.
Her eyebrows rose when she saw Justin Finch-Fetchley dancing with Hannah Abbott. Lavender was nowhere in sight. She shrugged. It really wasn’t any of her business. She returned her empty glass to the table and made her way to the exit, meaning to go up to her room and reread her Animagus potion notes.
“Thought you had detention tonight.”
She spun around to see Harry standing against the wall with an odd look on his face. “It was cancelled at the last minute.”
“Uh huh. And you didn’t think of telling me? I saw you dancing with Snape!” His voice was low and venomous. “What’ve you been researching with him? Comparative anatomy?”
“You weren’t going to tell me, were you?” Her silence hung in the air between them. “What the hell’s happened to you, Hermione? You used to be a good friend. Then you take a fancy to Snape – of all people!”
“I do not fancy Professor Snape!”
“Bollocks! I saw the way you looked at him. And it’s not just that. I don’t know you any more! Ever since you started that damned project, you’ve been different.” His voice rose slightly. “I suppose I should be grateful that you picked Snape to screw around with. Better him than Malfoy.”
“Oh really, Mr Potter?” Lucius Malfoy’s smooth voice fell on them like a cold shower. “I’m sorry you think so little of me. Shall we discuss it with the Headmaster?” He gave Hermione a long look. “Miss Granger, I assume there is no truth to this accusation of Mr Potter's?”
“In that case, continue to enjoy your evening. Come along, Mr Potter. I’m sure Professor Dumbledore will be most pleased to have his festivities interrupted.” He took Harry by the arm and marched him off in the direction of the Headmaster’s office.
Hermione looked after them for a moment. “I don’t think this is going to end well,” she murmured to herself.
“Oh what a tangled web we’ve woven,” Crookshanks growled with no little dissatisfaction. “This is what comes of meddling.” An emergency meeting had been called as the Halloween Ball wound down, and all the Familiars were gathered in the same classroom where they’d first met.
“Despite all our practice,” Duster said just as sourly.
“Now, I’m sure we’ll get everything straightened out,” Fawkes chirped brightly, looking around at the disgruntled Familiars. “Would one of you – Shadow, perhaps – please summarize what has happened?”
“I hardly know where to begin, Fawkes,” replied the silver tabby. “It seems like all our planning just suddenly came undone.”
“Not all,” Thunder said smugly. “Lucius is still quite taken with Xia.”
“Don’t be too sure of that,” Macavity snorted. “That Potter human may yet cause trouble there.”
“Please!” the phoenix trilled. “Who can summarize effectively?”
“I don’t think any one of us knows everything that happened,” Swift said. “Better that those who were there tell all they know in turn. With no interruptions.” He looked down his long nose at Thunder as he said the last words.
“Swift is right,” Topper agreed. “I’ll start with what I saw and heard. I was in the garden, because the Great Hall was too warm. Your pet, Shadow, was chatting with Erasmus’ pet. The subject turned to a test about lizards that they would be taking next term. Then suddenly they were angry, and he got up and left.”
“Lizards,” Duster muttered so only Crookshanks could hear him. “Insufferable, overgrown, ignorant parrot!”
“That clumsy Neville stepped all over Hannah’s feet tonight,” Cassandra croaked, with a baleful glare at Trevor. “Of course she wants nothing more to do with him.”
“Neville isn’t clumsy!” the other toad retorted. “He was just nervous. He’s high-strung. If your pet is too stupid to realize that, perhaps she shouldn’t be part of this plan. It might be hereditary.”
“You fish!” Cassandra slapped Trevor hard. “If you think I’m going to countenance a match with your pet after that, think again!”
Fawkes whistled for order as the toads degenerated into fisticuffs. Macavity finally knocked them apart and sat on Trevor while Erasmus did the same to Cassandra. “If you persist in behaving like tadpoles,” the phoenix said sternly once the amphibians had been suitably repressed, “you’ll be treated as such.”
“Interesting,” Chang said into the silence.
“What’s that,” Gambit asked.
“I saw – before I came up here – Neville was dancing with Millie, and Hannah with Justin.”
“What? Impossible! She’s a Slytherin!” Trevor’s shock overrode his ire at Cassandra.
“And what’s wrong with Slytherins?” Macavity almost snarled. “If your pet is happy, isn’t that what’s important?”
“Chang, where does that leave your pet?” Shadow asked.
“Lavender? After Justin left her, she went to the refreshment table and,” he paused for effect, “then she danced with your pet, Mac. In fact, they were still dancing together when I left to come here.”
“My pet danced with a Gryffindor?” Macavity spluttered. “Impossible!”
“If your pet is happy, isn’t that what’s important?” Duster interjected. “Cross-house pairings can be made to work. It just takes a bit of effort.”
“Too much effort,” Cassandra muttered. “Much better for Hannah to stay with another Hufflepuff.”
“We need to decide what to do about the Potter human, Fawkes,” Crookshanks said. “He’s coming close to ruining things for us, and now potentially for Thunder and Thjalfe. All he has to do is spread rumors about Hermione and Lucius, and there will be trouble.”
“I’ll scratch his eyes out if he comes near Lucius,” Thunder growled.
“It’s really too bad he doesn’t have a proper Familiar,” Fawkes allowed. “Still, I can see that something must be done. I’ll see what I can do via Albus.”
“If he causes any more trouble,” Duster said flatly, “I’m going to knock him down the stairs. If the stairs move out from under him, that’s his problem.”
When her month of detention ended two weeks after the Ball, Hermione was more than pleased with the progress she’d made in her potion. She’d decided to tackle the Transfiguration process first, as it would be easiest. Within a week, she thought, she’d be ready to begin actual experiments, though she had yet to discuss the issue of test subjects with Professor Snape.
It didn’t take her more than one evening sans detention to realize that she got much more done when she was in the Potions Lab, or the classroom. She’d grown used to Snape’s continual presence, to being able to ask him a quiet question about interactions, or preparation. Back in her own room, she felt stifled.
“I’m going for a walk, Crookshanks,” she told the big cat who was curled up on her bed. “I’ll be back shortly.” She went down the stairs and through the Common Room, which was bursting with chattering students, and out into the hall. Harry had left her alone after their last confrontation, even changing his seat at meals to the other end of the Gryffindor table. He seemed to be settling down a bit, and she hoped they could remain friends.
She made her way down the corridors, habit taking her toward the dungeons. When she realized what she was doing, she stopped and bit her lip. “Maybe I’ll just go outside for a bit. It’s not curfew yet.”
The night was crisp and clear, and she breathed deeply, relishing the fresh air. “I’ve been inside too much,” she said to herself as she strolled toward the Quidditch pitch. “Maybe I should take my books outside on the weekends.”
Lost in thought, she didn’t hear the light footsteps behind her. There was a flash of movement out of the corner of her eye, and as she turned towards it, a hoarse voice shouted, “Stupefy!”
Duster and Crookshanks are misquoting this immortal couplet:
Oh what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive.
-- Sir Walter Scott
The dance scene between Hermione and Severus was inspired in part by “I Don’t Dance, but Thank You for Asking” by Melisande88.