Illusions I Create
The meal had gone by uneventful. Though Hermione could have said more about the sorry sight of Cho being her absolute, most sugary sweetest around Harry, she decided to keep herself composed and to enjoy a conversation with Neville. Neville seemed to have a lot to talk about, and most of what he said didn't very much relate to making mistakes or being part of accidents, collisions, or other misfortunes of that sort. This could have been taken as a sign that Neville was undoubtedly a slight different than Hermione thought, if not for the mildly amusing little leaflet of green spinach that had wedged itself between Neville's front teeth. She didn't know how to tell him, and she realized he'd take her for a lunatic if she made scraping movements at her front teeth with a fork, so she stuck to narrowing the conversation to grim, serious stories. The less he smiles, the better for him.
She heard the brief echo of Harry's laughter reaching her ears. Cho had told a joke, it seemed, or perhaps Harry was laughing at one of his own jokes. Hearing this, Hermione bit her tongue accidentally as she ate a spoonful of ice cream. " Bloody hell." She whispered to herself, wondering if it would be appropriate to stick her tongue out and inspect the damage. I might as well bleed internally to death, though.
Neville's voice rose suddenly as he asked: " You seem so distracted."
Hermione stared blankly at his face. " Huh?"
He sighed. " Never mind." His spoon slid into the half-melted slush of his ice cream. He seemed to be lost in thought for a second. Then, he spoke again: " What are you thinking about?"
Hermione looked at him thoughtfully. " I'm thinking about table manners." Partially true, and it sounds fairly elegant.
Neville looked disappointed but the look melted away into a grin. " Guess what I'm thinking about."
That maybe you should check a mirror about that thing between your teeth?
" What?" She asked, seeing that he expected a verbal answer.
" You." Neville's ears turned reddish, then he added, nervously: " You kind of amaze me, you know? I bet it's really hard for you… I can put two and two together. Harry and Cho, right?" His eyes moved downward to his plate and he seemed lost in thought, before continuing: " It's just amazing that you're so collected, and so strong, after something like that. Not a lot of girls are like that."
Hermione felt herself smiling and she said: " Well, thanks. I have my own ways to release tension." Like nuclear, steaming meltdowns inside my brain, but outside I look unruffled.
" I bet you're peeved inside." Neville said. " I feel that way a lot."
" Oh?" Hermione had to admit that surprised her.
" I can't do anything right. I trip all over myself wherever I go. I try to look like it's no big deal, like I'm used to it, but each time, I just practically hate myself for it." He spoke to her in a low voice. Then, he added, more audibly: " I don't let it get to me that much, though. I mean, after a few years of it, you have to accept yourself, no matter what." He looked saddened again. " My grandmother tells me my father was the clumsy one, but he used to get really stressed about it. She thinks I got the calm genes from my mother's side of the family."
Hermione didn't know how to reply. Thankfully, the deserts suddenly disappeared into thin air and the tables were cleared completely, so the dark black wood with well-done finish was gleaming in the candlelight of the room. A small candleholder appeared on each table, looking immersed in the dark wood. The candles, tall and grim-looking, were gleaming against the table's lacquer finish, but it was a losing battle. The tables were so well-polished it appeared that the candles were trapped inside the black depths of the wood grains, shining from the inside like a beacon in a storm.
Dumbledore's voice rang from the podium on a small pedestal near the dance area: " Students can feel free to dance at any time."
Nobody seemed to get up to go to dance. Cho had enough eagerness in her for the whole room, and her excitement drenched over onto Harry as she grabbed him under the elbow and gestured towards the dance parquet. Hermione knew eavesdropping wasn't polite, but she couldn't help but listen in to their conversation:
" Oh, come on." This was Cho. That impertinent ape! May her fleas eat her alive!
Harry's voice was a bit nervous: " I'm not … I don't really know how to dance."
" Nonsense. People are born to dance." Cho's voice oozed with sweetness. " I bet you're the most amazing dancer here, Harry. Let's show Hermione how dumb she was to take Longbottom instead of you."
This notion invigorated Harry a bit. " Well…"
" She'll be sitting the whole evening out, after all. You can't let her know that you're aching." Cho said to him. " She's really a great girl…" Cho sounded tired of this not-so-convincing speech: "… but sometimes girls like her just aren't the dating type, and we should show her that she didn't hurt you at all. If you look unshaken, she's not going to come worming her way back in again just to drop you like a hot frying pan."
Hermione wanted to stand up and then have a face-off with Cho at this point. She just waited, instead, for Harry's response.
" Cho, I think you've got Hermione all wrong. I mean, maybe she isn't ready for dating, but … I don't think she deliberately would try to hurt me. She's not the type of girl to prey on a guy until he's bent in two." Harry's voice sounded strained, as if he might begin to have second thoughts about his words, even as he spoke.
" Harry, if you're going to be naïve and ignore all the evidence, then fine. But please be naïve on your own time. I feel like dancing. I want to be a good friend for you, one that actually cares to make you happy." Cho's eyes darted to Hermione, silent and sharp daggers into Hermione's back, and then she took Harry and walked him to the dance floor. Though, judging from the slouched, resistant pace he was keeping behind her, she was mostly reeling him in, like an anchor entrapped in coral.
They began to dance and Cho, slinky and cat-like in her sparkling black dress, looked like a goddess from an old wall painting on alabaster stone burial tombs in ancient lands. Her, dancing lone on the parquet with Harry Potter, was the large triumph for her – their first public appearance as a couple, whether Harry knew it yet or not.
Hermione thought she'd throw up. I can't let her have this moment. I can't let her think I'll just sit back and watch her putz around with Harry while I sip fizzy water with Neville Longbottom. I can't let her feel the winner and I the loser, because she's having fun on that dance floor.
'Fun' wasn't the word. Cho's seductive, swaying hips and slender, long legs moved swiftly and expertly across the dance floor as old classical dance music rang clearly through the room, as if a live orchestra was performing. Everyone seemed slightly awed, as if this dance was reserved just for Cho and Harry. Worst of all, Cho's dancing had Harry entrapped – he seemed to look rather delighted as she led him as the leading partner. She twirled and then did fancy step moves and within seconds Harry would catch on and follow in step with her.
What Hermione hated to admit was that Cho was a very good dancer and so was Harry, and that their dancing was fluent and fit together like two pieces of a long-lost synchronized dancing pair. Just as the song slowed and another began to play its first notes, Hermione stood and looked at Neville in a pleading but at the same time demanding way.
" I can't dance, Hermione." Neville said, right off. " I'll just make a fool of myself, and I'll make a fool of you while I'm at it!"
" Don't be silly." She said surely, but she was feeling worried despite her words. " I bet we'll be fine."
" I don't want to embarrass you." He looked so saddened that Hermione nearly gave up.
Then, the sight of Harry and Cho beginning another dance, this time a slow dance, her body being a tad to close to Harry's than Hermione would like, was enough to prompt the devil out of Hermione if it had to. She took Neville's hand and dragged him to the dance floor. He looked puzzled and then slightly upset. " Why are you so insisting?"
Hermione couldn't explain. Now that they were in front of everyone, she was going to try and appear like she was having fun. She had Neville place a hand on her hip, another her shoulder, then she placed her hands accordingly on him, and they began to dance. It was a rather formal way to dance, but it was the only way she knew. One step forwards, two to the left, half-turn…
She wanted to cry, her feet hurt, her stomach hurt, and she was trying hard not to cry. Neville was trying his hardest not to fumble so his movements were very tense and almost robotic. She, meanwhile, was shuffling around rather clumsily, sometimes missing a beat, other times moving off key to the music. Like two monkeys released onto a dance parquet. She caught sight of Cho. Her eyes glinted with a suppressed laughter. She said to her, finally: " Hermione, dear, maybe your feet are just too big for this kind of dance. I think you'd be good for fast dancing. Wouldn't she be, Harry?" Cho, trying to be sweet, took a low and pathetic jab at Hermione's feet.
My feet. I thought they were fine. Okay, so they are size nine and a half, while Cho is a perfect size six, I bet. Small, pretty feet, small pretty body, small pretty face, small pretty everything. Then, as if on cue, she stepped onto the front of her dress's hem and a ripping sound filled the air. Hermione stared down in shock and horror at the front of her dress, just below her stomach. The area where the top of her dress was sewn to the torso-area, and the tunic-like top, was separated from the skirt-like bottom almost entirely. A big, open gash revealed her white slip underneath, and since her slip had ridden down, a rather large portion of her pink-colored underwear. She felt as if she was going to die just then, simply drop dead to the floor, screaming bloody murder. Then, perhaps some godly being in the heavens would pity her and let her melt into a puddle of sulfuric acid.
She stood there, and the room seemed to freeze for a moment. Everyone could see, everyone knew, everyone saw. Then, everything blurred as she ran from the room. As she slammed the doors closed again and then raced down the hall and out the Hogwarts doors, not really heading anywhere, she didn't allow herself to cry.
As she crossed the thickets and ran wildly through the grass, half-tripping over the drooping front of her dress, she couldn't cry. The blades of grass made wet, slice-like marks across her dress. Her shoes squished in the muddied ground under the melting snow, and then her shoes would stamp down on her dress, leaving footprints.
Finally, she reached the lake, the place where she had tried to speak with Harry before. She felt weak and ill and tired, and also jealous and furious and embarrassed, all at the same time, and it was such a horrible, pounding, overwhelming feeling that it all seemed to cancel each other and simply leave a numbness. She glanced at the water, still other then some moving ripples. The moon was high above, casting wayward pathways of light across the water, as if it were the surface of glass.
These white crest tips bobbed up and down, appearing and reappearing in the water. The cat laps up the reflection of the moon from his water bowl, thinking it milk. The old proverb echoed through her mind looking at the calm water. She took a look upwards at the moon. It was ageless, white, glowing, large and full today. It shone in a saddened way across a clear, cloudless sky. Hermione looked down at her dress again and she waded slowly until she was ankle-deep in the freezing-cold water. I'll get sick. The thought popped up in her mind but didn't register. A shiver went through her body. Slowly, she ripped off the rest of the hanging dress part, so she was stuck with a white lacy slip that reached her knees and the top of her dress, almost like a blouse. She took the skirt of the dress and threw it into the water.
The black mass sank slowly and part of it remained floating out on the top, disrupting the moonlight, before it sank down again, taking a last bob to the surface. It was as if it knew it would drown forever and it wanted to see the moonlight again before it was released into the murky depths of the lake.
Clutching at the shredded remains of fabric that had detached itself from the underlining of her dress, she looked down at her feet, submerged in icy water, and only now could she cry.