Harry's absence the previous day meant that Mrs. Weasley's party for the new Head Boy, Head Girl, and Prefect (she insisted the Lovegoods come to celebrate with them) was now in full swing just two days before their Hogwarts return.
Harry had walked into breakfast that morning to find everyone's eyes on him with expectant looks on their faces.
"Your Hogwarts letter came yesterday." Ginny offered it to him. It seemed heavier than it should have been. Surely they didn't make him quidditch captain when he specifically told McGonagall….
A shiny gold badge with the letters "HB" fell into his hand. The whole table erupted into cheers. Mrs. Weasley caught him in a tight embrace, sobbing out how proud she was between pecks on the cheek. He felt his cheeks glowing red hot from all the attention.
"Alright mum, give him some air." George waved his wand and they were gently pushed apart. Mrs. Weasley glared at her son, but proceeded to pile Harry's plate with two helpings of everything.
"So who's Head Girl?" he asked as Ginny gave him a hug and kiss of her own. He had asked the entire table but was looking at Hermione. She broke into a bright smile. "Of course. It couldn't have been anyone else. Congratulations Hermione."
She left her seat and flew to him to crush him in a hug, unceremoniously dislodging Ginny. Ron snickered but Ginny looked murderous and cleared her throat rather loudly.
Hermione awkwardly cleared her own throat and returned to her seat, her cheeks a rosy pink.
Mrs. Weasley had pulled out all the stops to decorate the back yard and had even enlisted a shocked George to add his own touch. He of course responded with tiki torches that zapped people's hair into standing on end if they got too close and half his stock of fireworks.
Despite Harry and Hermione's pleas to keep it a simple affair, Mrs. Weasley simply wouldn't have it and it seemed like everyone they had ever met was there. All of the remaining Order members were present including Minister Shacklebolt, most of their teachers had come, the entirety of their remaining Gryffindor class mates as well as most of Ginny's year (now their current classmates) had shown up, Hermione's parents had come via a special floo connection, and even Dudley Dursley had come.
"Dudley?" a shocked Harry had spluttered.
"Yeah, I wanted to come and….er….congratulate you." Dudley looked somewhat frightened and nervous, but resolutely put his hand out to shake Harry's. Harry had returned the gesture and a small smile escaped onto both their faces. Mrs. Weasley then showed a suddenly giddy Dudley over to the food table.
Once he had discovered that wizarding food didn't have any repercussions to eating it, Dudley had looked much more at ease the rest of the evening. He even laughed when a tiki torch sent his hair standing on end, making him look like he had touched a light pole.
But the real surprise had come later.
Harry and Ginny had been deep in conversation about what the Head dorms would look like when a drawling voice behind him made him stand and turn in one fluid motion. Standing in front of him was Draco Malfoy.
"What are you doing here?" Harry didn't even try to hide the dislike in his voice. The party had gone quiet around them as everyone waited to see what was going to happen.
"Granger insisted I come. Sent an owl that wouldn't quit following me around and knocking over everything in sight until I said I would be here."
He looked quite uncomfortable and somehow seemed smaller without the hulking presence of his minions behind him. Hermione came rushing up behind Draco.
"Harry I did invite him."
Ron and Ginny both looked flabbergasted, McGonagall was looking more hawkish by the second and most of the order had discreetly drawn their wands.
"Oh would everyone relax." Hermione flustered. No one moved. "This is exactly why I invited him over. Like it or not, Draco is returning to Hogwarts too and the sooner we can get the animosity out of our systems the better we'll be in the long run."
"You can't seriously expect us to be chummy with this slimy git." Ron gestured at Malfoy who paled and clenched his fist but didn't reach for his wand.
The tension in the air was thick and getting thicker before Hermione spoke again. "Look, Harry said it himself that Narcissa lied to keep him alive. Both he and his parents deserted Voldemort. I don't expect anyone to be "chummy", but we can at least co-exist without drawing wands and hexing each other."
Harry looked into Malfoy's face, the same face that had sneered at him and done everything to make his life miserable for six years. But it was also the same face that had refused to kill, even for his parents' sake, and had shown no desire to see them all killed at Malfoy Manor. He remembered something Sirius had told him once: "the world is not split into good people and Death Eaters." While Draco had never been a good person, he'd never been much of a Death Eater either.
Harry held out his hand to shake. A brief look of genuine surprise flashed across Draco's face before he could stop it. Fixing his face into a more dignified mask, Draco reached out and they briefly shook hands.
Without another word Draco turned and walked away, not stopping until he hit the gate and disapparated.
The party slowly recommenced around the table of honor. Ron was still glaring at where Draco had been standing while Ginny and Hermione were both watching Harry. Harry finally sighed, turning to Ginny and giving her a small smile. The mood at the table instantly lightened and Harry braced himself to ask Ginny something he knew he would have to before the night was over.
"Ginny, care to dance?" he reached his hand out to her. She grinned at him and took his hand, wordlessly leading him onto the dance floor.
It wasn't as bad as he would have thought. He tried to copy what he saw the other people on the dance floor doing and after a song or two he thought he had the hang of it.
"Harry, are you becoming a dancer?" Ginny teased as the music slowed.
"Where's a dark lord distraction when you need it?" Harry mumbled, but couldn't hide his grin. He actually was having a good time. He casually searched the crowd for Hermione and saw her dancing a short ways away with Ron. She was wearing a simple and conservative periwinkle blue dress with her hair pulled back into a ponytail. She had obviously used her Sleekeazy hair potion again. They seemed to be deep in conversation. He felt curiosity peak at what they might be discussing.
He felt a small jolt in his stomach thinking that maybe they were reconciling their differences. For some reason the thought disquieted him, but if they were happy then that was all Harry could really ask for.
"Harry, I'm over here." Ginny gently turned his chin back towards her, inches away from his face.
"So I see." He grinned and gently pressed his lips to hers.
"Care to dance 'Mione?" Hermione briefly shook her head free from the reverie she had been in. Ron was standing in front of her, hand outstretched with a goofy grin on his face. It made her laugh to see it. He looked so at ease and so confidant, so unlike the Ron she had seen for so many years.
"Sure Ron." She took his hand and let him lead her to an open spot on the dance floor. They spent a couple of songs enjoying the moment and just being the young and foolish teenagers they had rarely gotten the chance to be. It was so freeing to be able to cut loose without fear of letting your guard down.
"This is fun." She said between heavy breaths.
"Yeah, much more fun than I had before on the dance floor." Ron was breathing as heavy as she was. The music slowed down and they drew into a close embrace. Hermione was surprised that it didn't bother her at all to dance with Ron like this.
"Easier to enjoy when it's just between friends isn't it?" Ron was smiling at her.
"Much easier." She smiled back. She scanned the crowd and saw Harry dancing with Ginny, grinning from ear to ear and clearly enjoying himself. He was wearing black dress pants with a Gryffindor red button front shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a black tie. She breathed out a small sigh.
"What's different between you two?" Ron broke her gaze by lightly dipping her and bringing her back up.
"Me and Harry? Nothing at all."
Crap. This was not the person to have this conversation with.
"Come on Hermione cut the crap. I've seen the way you look at him, the way your eyes follow him out the room, and that weird thing you do where you ruffle his hair. Something is up."
She felt the heat rising in her cheeks. There really wasn't any way around it. She hadn't been hiding it nearly as well as she would have liked.
"Hermione, you're my friend. I just want to know so I can help. That's all." He said it with such gentleness and sincerity that Hermione couldn't tell him no.
"We…" she wasn't really sure where to begin, "we started becoming much closer, during the war and afterwards, and I guess somewhere along the line I realized…"
"That you love him." He finished for her.
"Yes." Hermione felt like a massive weight was taken off her to finally admit out loud what she had known for some time now.
"Well, if it's any consolation, he just stopped dancing to look around for you." Ron chuckled as he said it. Hermione turned around to where Harry was, but he had already turned back to Ginny and now they were kissing.
"Yeah, and now they're doing that." She couldn't keep the bitterness out of her voice. She sighed, "I'm sorry, she's my best girlfriend and your sister, and I know I'm supposed to be happy for her. I was at first, but…"
They swayed on the spot in silence for a moment. She could see the gears turning in Ron's mind.
"I'm sorry Ron, I really shouldn't be talking to you about this. I shouldn't feel this way at all. I…"
Ron put a finger on her lips. "Hermione, just shush okay. I'm not mad, well…" he shrugged, "at least not as mad as I would have thought I'd be, about any of it."
"She's your sister Ron and he's your best friend."
"I know, and I don't want you to do anything to mess it up for them. Not that I think you would." He added hastily when she sent daggers at him with her eyes. "But I also understand that you can't always control who you fall in love with."
"How long have you known?"
"I could ask you the same thing." Hermione gulped at his words. He may have been her friend and she knew he wanted to help, but their past could really make this awkward. "Look, forget about what happened between us. Just tell the truth, I promise I just want to help."
Somewhere inside her she knew he was telling the truth. "I'm not really sure; it feels like I've loved him all along. Maybe I have. But I didn't realize it until I brought him back from Godric's Hollow." She shuddered; nothing about the memory was pleasant. "When I was sitting over him for hours on end, praying that he would wake up from whatever nightmare he was having….praying that I had done enough to save him…..I was so scared, so scared that he wouldn't wake up."
Ron simply nodded grimly. "When did you know?" she asked again.
"Honestly? That moment on the staircase at Hogwarts."
Hermione felt tears building behind her eyes. "Ron, you know if it had been different…..if it was you instead of him…."
"I know," Ron sighed, "but it's different with him and you know it. I've watched you two for years Hermione. You can't sit here and tell me that you haven't always had a special connection with him. Something that you never had with me."
She didn't bother denying it. It wouldn't have done her any good. He was right and he knew it.
What a mess. She had fallen in love with her best friend who was already in a relationship with someone she thought of as a sister, who was the sister of her other best friend. There were way too many ways this could go wrong.
She let out a long breath. "What am I supposed to do?"
"Well, for starters we're going to cut a rug until I can't feel my legs anymore. We'll worry about the rest later whaddya say to that?" he spun her around as the music shifted again to an up-tempo big band number.
She couldn't help but laugh at that stupid grin on his face and how ridiculous he was being. This was her Ron, making her laugh when all she really wanted to do was cry.
They did indeed dance until the band played their final tune. Most of the party goers had already gone home. Some had come by to wish her congratulations or say goodbye, but most had left her and Ron to their dancing.
They finally collapsed onto either side of the couch in the living room. Both thoroughly exhausted but they had had the time of their lives. Hermione had never felt so young.
"Did you see Luna when that tiki torch got her?"
Ron laughed, "Yeah, she looked absolutely ridiculous." They both dissolved into fits of laughter. Maybe it was because they were so tired or the lingering after effects of the dancing but they both laughed until they were literally rolling on the floor.
When they both recovered they sat on the floor and leaned against the couch next to each other. She looked to see a concerned look on his face and knew it was time to continue the discussion they had tabled during the party.
"There's nothing for it Ron, I'm just going to have to get over it. There's too many ways that too many people can get hurt. He's with Ginny, I have to accept that."
She wasn't sure why she thought things had changed between them enough that he would simply agree with her. She swore he did it sometimes just for the fun of it.
"It's not that simple Hermione. He's your best friend and Head Boy, you really think as much as you see of him that you're going to just drop the way you feel about him and pretend it never happened?"
Why couldn't he ever just let her say her piece and leave it at that? It drove her crazy, especially because she knew he was right.
"If that's what it takes, then I think I'm more than up to the challenge." She huffed, standing up to walk to the room she shared with Ginny.
"You can't do it Hermione." Ron called after her.
"We'll just see about that Ronald Weasley." She snapped back.
"Yeah," he actually had the nerve to chuckle at her, "I suppose we will."
There was no way in hell she would ever admit to him how right he was going to be.