A/N: Alright, everyone, let’s jump right into it. We’re making our way into the last few chapters of this story, and I must admit that it’s bittersweet to think about ending it. Let me just state right now that there will NOT be a sequel, though there will be an epilogue. I kind of wrote the epilogue around the time I was writing chap 11, so you’ll be happy to know that the second the final chapter is validated, the epilogue will be on it’s way. But enough about that, because we’ve still got a few more chapters to go! Coming up: The Ball’s on its way and Christmas right after that, so there’s shopping to be done! Fun, fun, fun! Also, Ginny schemes and Ron makes an interesting decision… Oh, and we finally hear what happened / is going to happen to Zabini. I tried, really, to get it in before this, but it refused to work. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this chapter as much as I enjoyed writing it. It’s more laid-back than the last few have been. Don’t forget to review at the end! …Oh, and there’s a wand joke… sorry, but I really couldn’t help myself…

Chapter 15: Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Ginny woke slowly the next morning. Her first the coherent thought was a fervent wish that last night hadn’t been a dream. She realized that there was what felt like an arm slung around her waist, and that was a good sign that it had been real.

Either that, or she had completely lost her mind and had progressed into full hallucinations. Either way, she reckoned that she felt better than she had in months.

She opened her eyes gradually. After a moment, she could just make out the shape of Harry’s face in the muted glow of the few candles still left burning. She sighed contentedly and smiled. Just as she was about to snuggle in and go back to sleep, Harry’s voice whispered through the darkness. “Are you awake?”

“Just,” she whispered back. “You?”

“A little while,” he answered.

“Watching me sleep, Potter?” she asked with a smile.

“It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to,” Harry admitted with a sheepish grin.

Smiling all over again, she asked, “Any idea what time it is?”

“Not a clue,” he answered comfortably. “Why? Eager to be rid of me?”

“No,” she said with a laugh. “I’m just wondering how long before Hermione comes looking for us.”

“Right,” Harry said, biting his lip. “You know that I didn’t ask her to lock you in, yeah? I’m sorry she –”

“I’m not,” Ginny interrupted in a serious tone. “I mean, I was angry at the time, but… She was right, you know – I never would have stayed otherwise.” She smiled softly and reached up to thread her fingers through his hair. “So I’m glad that she locked us in. Sneaky slag.”

Harry laughed. “Well then.” He just looked at her for a moment before sighing. “We will have to leave eventually, though.”

“Hmm, but not yet,” Ginny answered, snuggling her head into the curve of his shoulder. For a few minutes, there was silence.


“Hmm?” he responded lazily, running his lips over her hair. The faint scent of flowers was like a soothing caress. It was one of the things he had missed the most.

“Why didn’t you get your eye fixed?”

“What? Oh, well… I sort of figured that I had gotten what I deserved,” he answered embarrassedly.

She pulled back to frown at him, then she half-smiled. “Yes, well, I won’t disagree with you there. But you still should have gotten it fixed. Here – I’ll do it for you. Where’s my wand?” she muttered, sitting up and looking around. Surprisingly, both of their wands and his glasses were sitting on a small table next to the bed. She hadn’t noticed that last night… She shrugged; it was the Room of Requirement, after all.

“You don’t have to, Gin.” He sat up.

“You’re not scared, are you, Harry?” she teased as she reached for her wand.

“I have more faith in you than I would in someone else,” he answered truthfully, though he eyed her wand warily. He wasn’t overly fond of healing spells, having endured more than his fair share of them.

“Don’t worry – I giveth, and I shall taketh away,” she said with a smile.


“Just sit still.” She brushed her fingers gently over his lid, sighing when he fidgeted.

“Should I, er, close my eyes, or… something?”

“No. Just sit still,” she repeated quietly. She brought her wand up, brushed it twice over his lid and under his eye while murmuring words that he didn’t recognize. His eye got hot, throbbed once, and then the heat faded into a cool tingle. Ginny eyed her work critically before she spoke. “It looks good. Madam Pomfrey probably could have done it more quickly, but – what?” she said when he just stared at her.

“You’re amazing.”

She blushed and started to shrug. “It’s just a simple –” she began before his mouth fell on hers. They rolled over the sheets together until Harry pulled back with a small yelp.

“What happened?” she asked.

He smiled ruefully. “I think I rolled over your wand.”

“I’ll get it.” She reached down, wrapped her fingers around him, and squeezed lightly, chuckling darkly when his eyes nearly crossed. “Whoops,” she said with mock innocence, trailing her fingers over his stomach. “Wrong one, I guess.” She was still smiling when he pounced again.

By the time Harry and Ginny finally made it back to the Gryffindor Common Room, it was mid-morning. There was hardly anyone there; on Sundays, most students could be found tucked into the library, catching up on the homework they had avoided since the final bell rang on Friday.

Ron was there, though. He was sitting in his favorite chair near the fire, staring impatiently into the flames. It was only incredible self-restraint that was keeping him from pacing the floor – that, and the knowledge that he would look like a complete prat.

When he looked up and saw Harry and Ginny standing together, fingers entwined, he blew his breath out in a huff and stood, not quite sure how to feel about it. It was true that they would be happier together, and he did want them both to be happy. But he was going to have to go to great lengths again to keep the image of his sister and his best mate out of his head. He wasn’t stupid – he knew what had kept them out all night – but it was the last thing he wanted to think about.

“Got your eye fixed,” Ron noted to Harry when he reached them.

“Yeah,” Harry answered with a slightly dopey grin. Ron just barely kept himself from wincing.

“Right,” he said. “You two are just in time; Lupin sent us a letter this morning. Well, it was more for you, really,” he added, looking at Harry. “Tonks and the baby are coming to visit today. He wants us to come ‘round and meet her in just a bit – you are her godfather. Hermione’s going to meet us there. Come on.” He was rambling, he knew, but the way that Harry and Ginny were acting, he doubted that they had heard even half of what he’d said. Ron turned and led the way out of the Portrait Hole. That was another thing – they were one more happy, honeymooning couple that he would have to be around – he wasn’t looking forward to it.

Dean stood at the top of the stairs and watched them go. Ginny’s hand was tucked securely into Harry’s, and though that was the only way they were touching, the link between them was so obvious that they may as well have been twined together. He was surprised, really, by how little it hurt to see them together again. Perhaps it was because he had been expecting it.

Or perhaps it was because he understood now that she had never really been his to lose. She had always belonged to Harry, and Harry had always belonged to her.

It wasn’t as though he was enjoying the feeling, of course. But rather than the throbbing grief he had expected, there was instead a feeling of relief riding side-by-side with the pain. She was happy. And he could, finally, try to move on.

Lily Andromeda Lupin was one of the happiest babies that Hermione had ever seen. Not that she had been around that many babies in her life, but even so, Lily was a joy. A slice of sunshine that they all needed after everything that had happened in the past few weeks. She was constantly smiling and laughing and gurgling at them all in completely nonsensical sounds.

Not to mention that she seemed to have inherited her mother’s special ability. It was quite the experience to watch a three-month-old change her own hair color or drastically enlarge her ears purely for her own amusement.

Aside from the simple pleasure that came from being around the baby, for Hermione there was the very personal pleasure of watching Draco interact with her. He was surprisingly natural with her, bouncing her on his hip and letting her droll all over him. And when he looked up and winked at her from across the room, Hermione’s heart did a pleasant, warm little flip in her chest.

“I’m surprised at you, Hermione,” Ginny said with a smile.

“What?” Hermione asked, abruptly losing her pretty fantasy and completely at a loss as to what the other girl was talking about.

“You know very well what. I know what that sappy smile is for,” she teased. “You see Draco playing with Lily there, and you can’t help but start thinking… maybe one day…”

“Oh, come off it. I did not have a sappy smile on my face.”

Ginny noticed that Hermione didn’t bother to deny her thoughts about Draco. “Yes, you did.”

“Well, even if I did,” she said, relenting a bit, “you can’t blame me for it. He’s absolutely lovely with her. And you can’t tell me that you’re not thinking the same thing about Harry.”

“Yes,” Ginny said after a moment, choosing her words carefully, suddenly sounding very serious. “But that’s different.”

“Gin,” Hermione said with a small laugh, “how is that different?”

Ginny gave her an odd look. “Well, Harry and I are made for each other.”

“Oh, I see. So, I suppose that means that Draco and I aren’t?” Hermione was smiling, sure that Ginny was kidding with her.

“That’s not what I meant,” she answered seriously. “It’s just… how do you know?”

Hermione was completely thrown. From the beginning, Ginny had been happy about Hermione’s relationship with Draco, encouraging even. “Where is this coming from?”

“Just listen to me for a minute.” Ginny glanced around surreptitiously, hoping that none of the boys were within earshot, as she was about to get very personal. “I knew, from the very first second that I saw him, that Harry was it for me.”

“Ginny, you were ten,” Hermione interrupted in an exasperated tone.

“I know that,” she said patiently. “But I saw him and I just felt like, ‘oh, there you are,’ you know? And the first time he kissed me, the first time he held my hand, the first time we were together… every first felt like a kind of remembering, as though it was meant or something. And even with all that, we still managed to hurt each other so much. You and Draco don’t have that…” she moved her hands restlessly, trying to find the right word, “that history. I mean, when you first met, you hated each other on principle, and that lasted for a really long time.”

“He was a different person then, Ginny. And so was I,” Hermione responded quietly.

“I know. Don’t get me wrong, Hermione – I love Draco. He’s a great guy and you guys are great together. But, with everything that’s been going on with Harry lately, it just makes me think about things, and I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“It doesn’t always happen the way it did for you and Harry. And besides, it hasn’t been all rainbows and sunshine for the two of you, has it? As far as Draco and I are concerned, time has nothing to do with it. I love him, Ginny, and he feels the same. I don’t need logic or reasoning to know what that means.”

Reassured, Ginny smiled widely. “Can you believe we’re having a conversation like this? Talking about our boyfriends’ potential parenting ability and happily ever after? We’re still teenagers, for Merlin’s sake.” She shook her head in amusement.

“You know age has nothing to do with maturity, Gin. We’re none of us children, for more reasons than I care to think about at the moment.”

Ginny sighed and nodded. “That’s true enough. Though you would think it would make us want to go a little slower.”

“There’s no point in trying to go backwards.”

Ginny made a small sound of agreement. “Now, if we can just find somebody for my idiot brother, everyone will be happy. Though Merlin knows who we could possibly persuade to take him on.”

“I think I know someone,” Hermione murmured, abruptly wishing that the girl in question was present. She wanted Ron to be happy; there were still times that she felt guilty. And rather than becoming easier with her and Draco’s relationship, Ron only seemed to be having more and more trouble.

“Not Lavender Brown, Hermione. I don’t think I can handle that relationship again. Besides, hasn’t she been seeing Seamus Finnigan?”

Hermione shuddered. “I try not to notice Lavender’s extra-curricular activities, actually. And I wasn’t talking about her anyway.”

“Well, who then?”

Hermione was surprised; Ginny was usually more aware of things like this. The situation with Harry must have affected her more than she had let on. But then again, Ginny had always been good at hiding things like that. “You honestly haven’t noticed the way that Pansy Parkinson looks at him?”

“Pansy Parkinson?” Ginny said incredulously. Hermione only nodded. “Are you sure?” Hermione nodded again with a smile, understanding Ginny’s confusion. Ginny seemed to consider the possibility for a moment, and then, with a feline smile, “Pansy. Hmm, well, I can work with that.”

“What do you mean, you can work with that? I think they can figure it out on their own.”

Ginny looked unbelievingly at Hermione. “The only reason he and Lavender got together is because she jumped him.”

“I don’t need a reminder, thanks,” Hermione said with a grimace. Just because she no longer had feelings for Ron didn’t mean she liked Lavender any better. Those weren’t her most pleasant memories.

Ginny continued as though Hermione hadn’t spoken, but there was a smile tugging at her lips. She was no fonder of Lavender than Hermione was. “And it took him, what, three years to finally kiss you? Yeah, let’s leave them to figure it out on their own. That sounds like an excellent plan,” she finished sarcastically.

Hermione couldn’t deny that she had a point. But still…“Gin, I really don’t think it’s our place to –”

“Oh, fine, I’ll handle it on my own, then. That might work better, actually,” she said contemplatively. “Yes, it would be better on all counts if you stayed out of it. Pansy will likely be in the library around now, wouldn’t you think? Sunday afternoon and all that. Now that I think of it, I have some work to do in the library myself.”

“Ginny, don’t –” she began in a nervous tone.

“Don’t worry about it, Hermione. See you later.” And with that she said a quick goodbye to Tonks and the baby, kissed Harry, and walked out.

“What was that all about?” Draco asked, walking over and slipping an arm around her.

“You don’t want to know.” Draco gave her an odd look, and she elaborated a little. “Ginny’s scheming, and I’m going to pretend that I don’t know anything about it.”

“Ah,” Draco murmured. “Say no more.”

She took a deep breath and leaned into Draco’s side until she noticed Ron glance in their direction and tighten his jaw. She moved away from Draco on the pretense of wanting to hold the baby again. Maybe Ginny’s right, she thought herself as Lily gurgled happily at her. Maybe giving Ron and Pansy a little push would be best for everyone.

“Draco, can I talk to you for a moment?” Professor Lupin said quietly, motioning Draco away from the rest of the group.

“Of course, sir,” he answered, slightly surprised.

“Dumbledore asked me to ask if you and Hermione would stop by his office after you’ve finished your visit here,” he continued. “I assume it has something to do with the incident with Mr. Zabini.”

Draco’s head shot up, an intense look in his eye. “Did he say –?”

“No, he wasn’t specific. But I’m sure if it was serious, he would have come to see you himself.”

Draco nodded. “Thank you, sir. Er, perhaps Hermione and I should…”

“Yes, of course. Go on.”

“Thank you.” He turned and walked away, his mind reeling. The truth of it was, he hadn’t thought much about what was going to happen to Zabini. He had been concentrating so much on Hermione getting better that he hadn’t wasted time dwelling on how she had gotten hurt in the first place. But it rushed back now, and his fingers itched to wrap themselves around Zabini’s neck. He made his way to where Hermione was standing with Harry and Ron, laughing at Lily, who seemed to be having the time of her life changing the color of her toes. “Hermione. Dumbledore wants to meet with us,” he said when he reached her, softly enough that only she heard him.

“Right now?” she asked, looking at him in surprise.

“As soon as possible.”

“Alright. Tonks, we’ll see you at Christmas, yeah? Bye, Lily.”

Ron watched them walk out, heads close and bodies angled towards each other. It was ridiculous, he knew, but… damn it.

“Did Professor Lupin say what it was about?”

“He thinks it might be about Zabini, but he wasn’t sure.”

They had reached the stone gargoyle. Hermione gave him the password and they stepped onto the revolving staircase. “You alright?” Draco asked her.

“Hmm. Yes, I think. You?”

“I’m angry,” he answered simply. He knocked on the door of Dumbledore’s office, waited until he called them in, and opened the door.

“Ah, Mr. Malfoy, Miss Granger. How lovely to see you. Sit down, please,” he said, gesturing to the seats in front of his desk. “How are the plans for the Yule Ball coming along?”

“They’re coming along quite well, Professor. Actually, we –” Hermione began, but Draco cut her off.

“I don’t think the Ball is the reason you asked us to come, sir.”

Dumbledore sighed. “It is one of the reasons, Mr. Malfoy. And we will need to discuss it before you leave. But it is not the most important reason, no.” He took another deep breath and directed his next words to Hermione. “The Ministry has decided on a plan of action for Mr. Zabini.” He watched her body tense, and he watched Draco’s hand close over hers in silent support. “They will hold him in Azkaban for the time being. After the New Year, they will hold a trial. He is being charged with two counts of attempted murder and one count of attempted sexual assault. Both you and Mr. Malfoy will be called as witnesses, along with Madam Pomfrey and myself. And though I am not privy to all the details, I can imagine that they will also call Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley, and Miss Weasley.”

“Sir…” Hermione hesitated, unsure how to phrase her question. “What are the chances that… what I mean is, how long do you think –”

“If he is convicted – and I can assure you that having twice attacked two war heroes, his chances of not being convicted are quite low – that he will be spending at least twenty years in Azkaban. But it will not be a life sentence.”

“Well… that’s –”

“He should rot there for the rest of his life.”

“Draco!” she scolded.

“This is absolute bollocks! You almost died, Hermione. He very nearly killed you. And after what happened in the library… I could kill him myself.”

“That wouldn’t help anything,” she said immediately, lacing her fingers through Draco’s to soothe. “You know that.”

“Maybe not, but I’d sure enjoy it.”

“Though I understand your feelings on the matter, Mr. Malfoy, I have to agree with Miss Granger. And the fact is, none of Mr. Zabini’s threats ever came to fruition – Miss Granger was not assaulted, and neither one of you are dead, thank heavens.”

“His anger won’t lessen in twenty years, sir. In all likelihood, it will grow.”

“That is true, Mr. Malfoy. But hopefully his fear of returning to Azkaban will be great enough to keep him away.”

“I’m sure it will, sir,” Hermione commented before Draco could interrupt again. “If there isn’t anything else to tell us about the trial, would you like to hear how our preparations for the Ball are coming?”

“Miss Granger, at the moment, nothing would please me more.”

Draco stayed mostly silent while Hermione detailed their plans to Dumbledore. They might be right, he mused to himself. Zabini was a coward, after all, and a couple decades in Azkaban would hopefully make him fearful enough to stay away. But Draco refused to take a chance with Hermione’s life, however remote it may be. Perhaps he would pay Zabini a little visit over Christmas… and let him know the exact consequences should he ever consider coming after Hermione again. There were several handy curses that didn’t leave a mark. And given the chance, Draco would relish the chance to use them.

While Hermione and Draco had their meeting with Dumbledore, Pansy was sitting in the Potions section of the library, absorbed in her project. She was making a point of not thinking about Ron Weasley, or their mild flirtation from the day before. Or they way he’d stared at her fingers in a way that was just… She must have imagined it. After all, who would stare at a person’s hands? Maybe she’d have to test it the next –

“Hi, Pansy. Mind if I sit down?”

Pansy looked up in surprise, abruptly pulled from her thoughts. For a moment, she was relieved, because after telling herself quite firmly to not think about Ron, he kept popping into her mind; at least she now had a distraction. But when she saw who it was, only one thought came to mind – damn it. How was she supposed to keep Ron off her mind when his sister was sitting right across from her? But since there was no way she could say no without being unforgivably rude, she motioned silently for the younger girl to sit.

“Thanks,” Ginny said, relieved. For a second there, she had thought that Pansy would say no. “I hope I’m not interrupting you, but I hate sitting by myself when I study. And Draco said that you were pretty good at Transfiguration,” she added, hoping that her lie was close to the truth. She pulled the book out of her bag.

“I’m decent at Transfiguration, but it’s not my –”

“Well, ‘decent’ is far above where I am. I usually ask Hermione, but she and Draco are busy with Heads’ stuff. I won’t bother you too much, but just in case I have a question. Do you mind?”

“Er, no, I mean –”

She opened the book to a random page and looked down as though she was reading. “Great, thanks. I wish my brother was better at Transfiguration. Not that he’s particularly bad at it, but he’s not very good at explaining it, you know?”

“Well –”

“He really is smarter than people give him credit for. He just isn’t obvious about it. Which is sort of funny when you consider how dense he is about other things. He never notices what’s right in front of him until it’s been standing there for a while.”

Pansy felt like giving her self a little shake to clear her head. She’d never heard anyone speak as much as Ginny was speaking, and she had no idea what the girl was talking about, or why she was bringing it up. But before she could think of a way to respond, Ginny continued.

“Subtlety just isn’t his forte, I guess. Little hints don’t really work with him – you have to be kind of obvious about certain things. He really needs a little push in the right direction sometimes. I mean, he doesn’t realize the hints that he’s giving himself half the time –”

“Ginny!” Pansy finally broke in. “I’m sorry, but I’m –”

“You’re working, I’m sorry. I’m interrupting you. I think I’ll just wait until Hermione’s free,” she said, shutting her book with a snap and stuffing it back into her bag. “She’s just got so much going on, what with planning the Ball and everything. Hey, that reminds me, do you have a dress for the Ball yet?”

“Yes, actually, I –”

“Because I don’t, and neither does Hermione, so we’re going shopping next weekend. Do you want to come?”

“Er, sure –”

“Great. We can figure out all the details at dinner tonight. Are you going to the Ball with anyone yet?” she asked as she stood to leave.

“No, not –”

“Neither is Ron. And Merlin knows that he’ll never ask anyone. Unless he really likes them. He can be kind of shy, you know. Anyway, I’ll let you get back to work. See you at dinner!” she said with a wave as she turned and made her way toward the exit.

That should do it for today, Ginny thought happily to herself as she walked out. Just planting a few seeds – now all she had to do was wait and see what grew.

Pansy just stared at the bookshelf across from her for a moment before shutting her book with more force than was necessary and letting out her breath in a huff. She wasn’t sure what Ginny’s real reason had been for coming into the library, because it certainly hadn’t been Transfiguration. But she had definitely given Pansy a few things to consider. And one thing was for sure – she wasn’t going to able to stop herself from thinking about Ron now.

Ginny was fairly proud of herself by the end of the week. So far, she had been able to force Pansy and Ron together at every chance. There wasn’t much she could do during the day, but the evenings were full of opportunity.

Each night at dinner, she made sure that they sat next to each other – and that Draco and Hermione weren’t sitting across from them. She made a point of inviting Pansy with them to the library if they were going. Or if they weren’t, she would suggest they all spend time together in the large “common” Common Room. She was shocked when Pansy almost beat Ron at Wizards’ Chess.

Perhaps she wasn’t being especially subtle – if Hermione’s eye rolling and barely suppressed sighs were any indication. Not to mention, Draco kept shooting her curious glances and Harry even asked her why she was suddenly being extra friendly to Pansy. So if they were noticing that something was off, then maybe she was being a bit obvious. But neither Ron nor Pansy seemed to have noticed anything was amiss, and that was all that mattered, really.

It was pretty clear to anyone that cared to look that Pansy had feelings for Ron. And if she wasn’t misinterpreting her brother’s behavior – and she knew that she wasn’t – he definitely seemed to be interested in Pansy as well.

And that was the first step, wasn’t it? Despite what she said, Ginny’s heart ached for her brother. She knew what it was to be in love with someone that didn’t love you back. And at least she had eventually gotten Harry back. There was no chance of that happening for Ron…

She didn’t think that he realized he was interested in Pansy, or that Pansy realized it either, but Ginny noticed. And as far as she was concerned, as long as one of the three of them as aware, everything could be worked out in a satisfactory way. The Ball was just the first step. All she had to do was get one of them to ask the other…

She figured that it would be best to corner him alone in the Gryffindor common room, because he would be more likely to hear her out. And she thought that she would have to be just a little sneaky. Because there was no way that her dear brother would ask Pansy to the Ball if she just told him to. Knowing him, he would get all annoyed and stubborn, and he’d refuse to do it, even if it was what he wanted.

No, it would definitely be better if he thought it was his idea. And in order to make that work, Ginny had to wait until Harry had disappeared for a while.

The opportunity didn’t present itself until Thursday night. Harry had a Charms essay to finish that, shockingly enough, Ron was already done with. So while Harry was in the library, Ginny closed in.

“Asked anyone to the Ball yet?” she said as casually as possible while they played Exploding Snap.

Unsurprisingly, the tips of his ears turned pink. “Er, no. There isn’t anyone that I’m particularly interested in taking.” A picture of Pansy flashed into his mind, but he dismissed it. Besides, there was only one person that he really wanted to go with… and she was entirely unavailable. “I’ll just go stag.”

“That’ll make two of you,” she said absently, making a show of trying to pick a place for her next turn.

“What do you mean?”

“Hmm? Oh, Pansy mentioned that she didn’t have a date yet, either. Your turn.”

He chose his next card but didn’t place it. “You’re kidding. Why wouldn’t she?” He couldn’t imagine that no one had asked her.

“I don’t know. I suppose she hasn’t gotten any tempting offers yet.” Then she huffed impatiently. “Are you going to put that card somewhere or just stare at it?”

“I’m getting to it,” he muttered, annoyed. He took his time, just to irritate her, and smiled in the condescendingly smug way that only brothers can when she scowled at him.

She waited through a few more turns, but he didn’t say anything else, so she figured she’d give him another push. “It’s a shame, though. She said she might not even go.”

He looked up, surprised. “Why not?”

“Oh, you know all those old pureblood families – they’re so formal. She figures she’s supposed to have an escort or something. Even if it’s just a friend.”

“Well, that seems kind of… ridiculous. Who cares if she’s got an escort?”

“That’s what I told her. But she said she’d be uncomfortable.” She had no idea if Pansy actually felt that way, but since it was unlikely that her brother would repeat any part of their conversation, she wasn’t overly worried about the lie. “She’s sort of old-fashioned, I think. I doubt she’d actually ask anyone herself.”

“Hmm,” Ron answered absently, but Ginny could tell that he was thinking it through.

“Yeah.” She shook her head, and very carefully placed her next card while trying to watch his face. “From everything that Hermione’s told me, it’s going to be a great party. It would be a shame for her to miss it.” She’d let him chew over that.

After a few minutes, he said, “Well, I guess… I mean, if she really isn’t going with anyone else. And since I’m not going with anyone… I could probably, er, escort her, I suppose. As a friend.”

Ginny barely managed to stop herself from hopping up and doing a little victory dance. Instead, she glanced up, trying to look as though she was thinking it over. “Hmm… I suppose…”

“Well, I don’t want her to miss it. That wouldn’t be fair, would it?”

“No, it wouldn’t. Well… it couldn’t hurt to ask her. But make sure you don’t make it sound like you’re doing her a favor or anything.”

“I’m not an idiot,” he muttered, turning back to the game. The whole thing promptly exploded as soon as he placed his card.

“I can see that,” Ginny said sarcastically when the dust had cleared. She just smiled when Ron grimaced at her. “Wanna play again?”

Friday morning came around far too quickly for Ron’s taste. Technically, he wasn’t really asking Pansy out. He was just offering to escort her to the Ball – and who uses the word escort anymore, anyway? he thought to himself with a scowl. It was far too old-fashioned and formal in his mind – anyway, it wasn’t a real date.

However, his heart thumped erratically and his palms started to sweat whenever he thought about it.

But that was probably just because it was an over all awkward situation, he reasoned. It was sort of obvious, wasn’t it? The Ball was less than a week away – if he had intended to ask her all along, why would he have waited until now? Pansy wasn’t stupid. He had to be very careful to phrase it in just the right way… which meant, of course, that he was bound to muck it up somehow.

When he made his way into the Great Hall for breakfast, he didn’t see her. She wasn’t sitting at the Slytherin table (not that he particularly expected her to be – she rarely sat there anymore) and she wasn’t sitting at the Gryffindor table either. He wondered about it, and the strange combination of relief and disappointment that swarmed through him, all through breakfast.

She finally arrived in the last couple of minutes, saying she had been in the library, and he barely had time to smile at her before the bell was ringing and she was headed off the Herbology. He wouldn’t see her again until Potions that afternoon, which was hardly conducive to asking someone out.

Though of course, he reminded himself as his heart thumped, it wasn’t a real date.

Pansy loved Potions class. Even without Professor Snape, there was no subject she loved more.

It was fascinating to her. The entire process, the results, the effects – there were so many possibilities to consider. With other magic, it was all so cut and dried – a spell did one thing and that was it. But with Potions, there was no limit. Belladonna, for instance, could be used fifty different ways in hundreds of different potions. She’d like to know about a spell that could be used in the same way.

She only wished it wasn’t the last class before the holidays. The class was a relaxed review of sorts – or it was supposed to be, at least. Slughorn was currently boring them all with a story about one of his former students that had apparently been a Potions prodigy and now sent Slughorn free samples of everything he created. Pansy was so bored that she was beginning to wish that one of those potions had been poisonous.

There was one interesting thing, though. Unless she was seeing things, Ron Weasley was staring at her. Not just glancing over, not just looking, but staring. In a very deliberate sort of way, too. It was unnerving… in a good way.

When the bell rang (finally, Pansy thought to herself; she wouldn’t have been able to stand much more of Slughorn’s mind-numbing stories), Ron walked out with his friends without looking at her.

She sighed to herself and hefted her bag onto her shoulder before making her way to the door. She was making too much of the situation, as usual. Nothing could ever be simple to her, could it? Her imagination got the better of her every time, she knew. Maybe it would be better to just –

“Hi, Pansy.”

She looked over as she walked through the door, surprised to see Ron standing there. “Hi.”

“Er… would you mind if I, er, walked to dinner with you?” he asked her, clearly nervous. He was running his hand through his hair and his ears were bright pink.

She had been planning to drop off her bag before going to dinner, but… it wouldn’t kill her to carry it, would it? “Um, sure.”

“Great,” he answered, sounding relieved.

They walked for a minute in silence. Ron couldn’t seem to figure out what to do with his hands. He kept sliding them in and out of his pockets, adjusting his bag, and running his fingers through his hair until it was a tousled mess. But she didn’t say anything, not wanting to make him more uncomfortable than he already was.

He didn’t know how to start. He had never asked anyone out before. With Lavender, she had been the one to make the first move. And with Hermione, it had just sort of happened… Though, of course, this was entirely different. He wasn’t really asking her out, he was just… Oh, suck it up, Weasley, he told himself.

“So,” he began, running a hand through his hair. His heart was thumping again. “The Christmas Ball is in a few days.” Well done, he chided himself.

“Yes, it is,” Pansy responded lamely, feeling a fluttering of nerves in her stomach. Reminding herself not to let her imagination run away with her, she continued, “Draco said it’s going to be really great.”

“Yeah, that’s what Hermione said.” Another moment of silence passed as they made their way up the stairs that led from the dungeons. He watched as she reached up to tuck her hair behind her ear with slender, elegant fingers. Just do it, he told himself. “So, I don’t know if, er… The thing is…” He put his hand on her arm to stop her when they were outside the Great Hall and cleared his throat. He was far more nervous than he had expected to be. “The thing is, if you aren’t going with anyone yet, I’d by honored to, er, escort you. If you’d like.” He could feel his ears burning.

“Escort me? Oh.” She felt her cheeks flush, but before she could say anything, Ron rushed on.

“Yeah, I mean, I wasn’t going to ask anybody, but Ginny mentioned that you weren’t going with anyone, and I thought you might like to go with me. And I think we’d have a good time.” The flush on her cheeks and the light in her eyes and the way her bangs kept sliding out from behind her ear and into her eyes… he was really starting to hope she’d say yes. “I can actually dance this time around,” he added with a crooked grin.

Pansy felt her heart flutter pleasantly in her chest. He was so nervous and sweet about it. It was rather endearing. “I’d really like that.”

“Really?” She was smiling at him, really smiling. He felt his own lips curving in response. The knot in his stomach loosened considerably.

“Yes, really,” she said with a gentle laugh, feeling a pleasant nervous tingle in her stomach.

“Great.” He answered brightly as they walked through the double doors into the Great Hall. “I think I’m actually looking forward to this thing now.”

“You weren’t before?” she asked him, furrowing her brow in confusion.

He turned toward her with another crooked grin that made her want to bite her lip… or possibly his. “Well,” he said, “I haven’t a good enough reason until now.”

Pansy was quite certain she had never blushed more.

Ron could think of much better ways to spend his Saturday. Perhaps being boiled in hot oil. Or maybe down in the dungeons, being hung up by his toes. Anything would be preferably to his day so far. To be quite honest, it sucked. Royally. But that wasn’t really unexpected, considering who he was spending the day with.

Harry had shanghaied him into coming Christmas shopping with him and Malfoy. He had really only agreed because Harry had pointed out – several times – that he still needed to get something for his parents and he wouldn’t have another chance before they left for break. But at this point, he would rather have given them nothing at all than spend more time in Malfoy’s presence. Not because Malfoy was being a git, as Ron had expected, but because he wasn’t.

It galled Ron to admit that under different circumstances, he and Malfoy probably would have been friends. Maybe. He understood why Malfoy and Harry had become friends. Now that he wasn’t draped over Hermione, it wasn’t as necessary for Ron to tune him out. And the fact of the matter was, it seemed that Harry, Hermione, and Ginny had been telling the truth – Draco Malfoy was a different person now. He was actually able to make a joke without being insulting – most of the time, anyway. And he had suggested a gift for Ron’s mother that Ron knew she would love.

Apparently, Malfoy did have a soul.

Even so, Ron still sort of hated him. It wasn’t quite as active as before, but it was still there; a smoldering, angry line that Ron refused to let himself cross.

And now Malfoy was making noises about going to a jewelry store for Hermione’s present, and Harry was going with him. Ron opted to stay behind at Quality Quidditch Supplies, saying he wanted to get a new pair of Keeper’s gloves – though in truth, his current pair was barely broken in. Watching Malfoy buy Hermione an undoubtedly expensive piece of jewelry that Ron would never have been able to afford himself was very high on the list of things that he never wanted to do.

He knew, of course, that Hermione didn’t care about how much a gift cost, but rather the thought behind it. But still… it was the principal of the thing. It was just yet another reminder that Malfoy was the one that could give her something romantic, and that he, Ron, was forced to find something that would fall neatly into the category of ‘friend,’ no matter how much he detested having to do so.

While the boys shopped – and Ron sulked – the girls were doing the same – sans sulking. But where the boys were having almost no problem finding what they needed to get, Hermione was getting more frustrated by the minute. Her Christmas shopping had been done weeks ago, of course – she left nothing to the last minute. Her real problem right now was finding the right dress.

“No, it’s too… blue,” she said when Ginny held up a dress for her inspection.

Ginny tried to suppress her sigh without much luck. This was the fourth store, and she had found hers in the first. “You look lovely in blue,” she said as patiently as she could. “And the cut is perfect for you. At least try it on,” Ginny said before Hermione could argue the point. She draped it over her arm. “It couldn’t hurt.”

“I still think you should have gotten that black one from the first shop,” Pansy threw in while she searched through another rack. “It looked fantastic on you.”

“I liked it,” Hermione admitted, dismissing a gown of flowing silver – she wouldn’t have been able to pull it off even if she wanted to. “But it was completely inappropriate for the Yule Ball.”

Pansy raised one brow amusedly. “Who said anything about wearing it to the Ball? You should have gotten it regardless.”

Ginny laughed from the other side of the store and Hermione grinned. When Ginny had told her that she’d invited Pansy along, Hermione had been nervous that the day would be filled with tension and awkward silences. But it was going very well.

“How about this?” Pansy said, holding up a vividly red dress.

Ginny shook her head while Hermione responded, “That color would look better on you than it would on me.”

“Hmm,” Pansy hummed in agreement after walking to the nearest mirror and holding the dress up against herself. “Maybe…”

Ginny turned back to the rack in front of her before adding, in a tone of rather unconvincing nonchalance, “Ron likes red.”

Hermione shook her head. “Real subtle, Gin,” she muttered under her breath.

“Well…” Pansy said slowly, examining the dress with new purpose. “I already have a dress for the Ball, but… it couldn’t hurt to try it on, could it?”

“Nope,” Ginny agreed cheerfully. “Oh, that’s hideous,” she said with a mock shudder, holding up a frumpy looking dress in the color of a fried egg yolk. “Who in their right mind would wear this?” she asked wondrously.

“Well that’s a bad date waiting to happen,” was Pansy’s remark before she headed towards the changing room, red dress in hand.

“You know,” Hermione said with a laugh, “Luna would probably love – oh. Oh oh oh. I’m trying this on,” she said, quickly grabbing the dress in front of her and practically sprinting for the changing room.

“Let me see it! At least take this one with you! Damn it,” she muttered when the door slammed shut. “I should buy this one just to spite her,” she said, patting the blue silk protectively.

“What do you think?” Pansy asked, stepping out of her dressing room and up to the triple mirror.

“Well, from a medical standpoint, I think you’ll cause an unsafe spike of blood pressure in every male within a hundred feet of you,” she said in a serious tone, making Pansy laugh. And, she added to herself, drive my brother slowly insane. “It’s elegant sex.” Then she shook her head wistfully. “I wish I looked that good in a backless dress. It is December, though.”

“I’ll freeze,” Pansy conceded with a grin. “But I’ll look great doing it. And hey, I’m perfectly capable of performing a warming spell if need be.”

“That’s true. Hermione, come see this.”

“Just – a sec –” she said from behind her door, sounding strained.

“Are you okay?”

“It’s – the zipper –”

“Do you need some help?” Pansy offered.

“No. I want to you two to see the end product. There.” She opened the door and took Pansy’s place at the large mirror.

For a moment, there was silence. Then Ginny let out a breath. “Oh, wow… Wow, Hermione.”

“Really?” Hermione asked happily, turning slowly from side to side to see the dress from every possible angle. “I wasn’t sure if the color was right, but… This is it. This is the one. I knew it the second I saw it on the hanger. Do you think Draco will like it?”

“Like it?” Pansy asked sarcastically. “Hermione, if you wear that, you’ll knock him dead.”

A/N: As always, sorry for the wait. I do have a real reason this time, though. My computer crashed, in a really bad way. I’m completely computer inept, so that didn’t help. If not for my wonderful brother’s quick and skillful work, there would be nothing for you all to read. I almost lost all my writing, and I mean EVERYTHING. If that had happened… I admit, I would have been devastated. I honestly don’t know if I would have had it in me to finish writing this story. So you all should thank him! Ha-ha. Of course, it’s my own damn fault for not backing everything up properly. I thought I had been doing it right, but I’ve been informed that I was wrong about that. But it’s been sorted and all is well now! My computer is in fine working order (comparatively, anyway) and all my files are now backed up the right way. Anyway, enough of my rambling. So just FYI, I left the dress details vague on purpose; it wasn’t just absent-mindedness, I swear! And here comes the Ball! Oh, I do love a Ball! A lot of craziness is going to happen in the next chapter, so I hope you’re all ready for the intensity! HAHA! Hem… right, well, don’t forget to leave a review! Let me know what you think! Please, please, please! Come on, people, don’t make me beg. ~Meghan

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