The End of the Beginning

Chapter 33

Hermione was checking her hair in the mirror for the umpteenth time. She was sure in the back of her mind that it was fine, but fidgeting with it kept her mind a little less focused on what she was about to embark upon.

Her experience with a night out with a guy consisted of the Yule Ball, Slughorn's party, and one night at the Opera with Ron. Each one had failed in some way to prepare her for what passed for a "normal" date.

Then again, it's not like Hermione had lived the most "normal" life up until this point anyways.

She felt very nervous. She knew next to nothing about Luke. What would they talk about? What if they didn't have anything in common? What if he thought she was boring?

She was used to dealing with men she knew a little more about. Krum at least had been a celebrity, so she at least had some inkling of what he would be like. Ron she knew all too well. This was new territory for her and while that came with a sense of adventure, it also took her out of her comfort zone.

A soft knock at the door. "Hermione?"

"Just a minute." She spoke to the door, taking one last glance in the mirror and counting silently to ten. She opened the door to a smiling Luke.

"You look great." He gave her a quick eye over which made her blush. He offered his hand which she politely took as they started down the stairs.

All the way to the Three Broomsticks, while she politely conversed with Luke, Harry and Ginny, Hermione was analyzing in the back of her mind. It was a habit she had had her whole life and it had always served her well in the more dangerous situations in life. While she had never quite been able to shut it off when it came to men, it hadn't gotten her into any serious trouble yet.

Ginny seemed well at ease around Luke. Then again Ginny always seemed that way around a cute guy. Still, if something was off about Luke she would expect Ginny to pick up on it.

Harry was clearly uncomfortable. Everything from his stance down to the way he seemed to pause before everything he said told Hermione that Harry was not at ease. While that disquieted her to some degree, after all no one had a better nose for trouble than Harry, it could also be attributed to circumstance.

Harry was a private person and she had been very surprised when it was his idea for a double date. It seemed to run counter to what Harry would typically want, but he had seemed genuine when he had asked. It also had to be at least a little awkward since he was the only one out of the loop since Ginny, Hermione, and Luke were obviously already acquainted. On top of it he was probably being his usual protective self, which was par for the course when it came to Harry.

Luke was calm and at ease. He walked and talked with a confidant air about him. Not in the cocky way of a Malfoy or the unintentional snobbery of Fleur, but simply with the air of someone who was completely at home in their own skin. While Ron had always felt second best and Harry and even Krum had been uncomfortable with celebrity, here was someone at home with who they were. It was new and (if Hermione was honest with herself) somewhat freeing experience.

All in all she was very satisfied so far with how everything was going. As they took their seats at the Three Broomsticks, she immersed herself in conversation with Ginny about her Head Girl duties over butterbeer, to which Luke was appropriately attentive while Harry had that faraway look that told Hermione he was in deep thought.

"I'm not sure how you balance it with all of your schoolwork." Ginny had a hint of awe in her voice."

"It all comes down to time management. I have a schedule and I have to stick to it if I'm going to get everything done. Though, two particular people who shall not be named have done a pretty good job at helping me find ways to take a break now and then."

Hermione had aimed her prodding remark Harry's way, but the boy was so deep in thought that he had been completely oblivious to it.

"Yoo-hoo, Earth to Harry." Ginny was waving her hand in front of his face. "Where have you been the past five minutes?"

Hermione briefly wondered where his mind had gotten off to, but was brought back to the present by Luke taking her hand and leading her out into the street.

"I love the Weasley's shop." They strolled hand in hand towards the violent purple shop, "They always have such neat products. Bloody shame about Fred, always liked him." Luke's face fell and it was then that Hermione caught it: he suddenly looked much older and careworn for the briefest of moments. It was such a brief yet total transformation that Hermione's mouth simply hung open.

"What's wrong?" Luke's face was suddenly back to his confidant, boyish self. The gears in Hermione's mind were whirring but she forced her face into a smile. "Nothing just got lost in my head for a second."

"That's not hard to believe." Luke laughed. "So what's it like being best friends with the most famous wizard in Britain?"

"It has had its moments," Hermione briefly flashed through seven years' worth of harrowing adventures, "but he's never really been any sort of hero or celebrity to me. He's just Harry." She briefly looked over her shoulders to see Harry and Ginny absorbed in conversation.

"You two really care for one another don't you?"

"Yes, but it's nothing like that." Hermione turned back to Luke, "We've just always looked out for one another. You go through things like we have and you form a bond you know?" Hermione wasn't even convincing herself with her line of logic.

"Everyone always you were going to either wind up with Weasley or him. Weasley obviously didn't work out, but how come you and Harry never happened?"

Hermione laughed. "I don't know. We just never really moved in that direction I guess."

"I see." They pushed their way into the crowded joke shop. Hermione had long had to admit herself that despite her distaste for pranks, there was some truly brilliant magic behind the products.

"Think Harry would notice if I switched his broom?" Luke picked up a joke broom that the advertisement said would turn into a rubber chicken when given the "up" command.

"Unfortunately I think he would." Hermione scanned the crowd and spotted a laughing Harry and Ginny holding what looked to be an exploded jack-in-the-box. Harry was coated in a purple powder and looked thoroughly ridiculous, yet Hermione's face fell into a frown.

"Too bad, it might help our chances in the quidditch match."

She turned back to Luke to break her gaze from Harry, but was taken by surprise that Luke too was looking across the room with a weary and faraway look in his eye, completely at odds with his normal boyish charm.

"Easy to get distracted in here isn't it?" Hermione attempted a chuckle, but was again taken aback by the change in Luke. Again it was only a brief moment before his perfect smile came sliding back across his face, almost like a mask being put into place.

"Yeah, want to head to the book shop?"

"Sure, let's grab the others." They managed to shove their way through the crowd to where Harry and Ginny were standing. "Ready to go you two?"

"Sure. Off to Tomes and Scrolls right?" Harry responded.

"Right. Say Ginny, could I have a word?" Hermione looked at Ginny who promptly fell in step behind her as they made their way back into the crowded street.

"So, how is it going?" Ginny whispered excitedly.

"It's….going."

"What's wrong? He seems like the perfect gentleman." Ginny frowned.

"He is its just…." Hermione couldn't get the image of a mask sliding over Luke's face out of her mind. "I don't know. Maybe I'm just nervous."

"Of course you are, but there's nothing wrong with that." Ginny smiled, "You're doing fine. He hasn't even realized yet what a dork you are."

"Hey!" she prodded Ginny with her wand, giving her a small zap, "you take that back!"

"Not on your life Granger." Ginny laughed as they stepped into the bookshop. Hermione's mind slipped back to Luke and she worried her lip.

"Hey, what's the matter?" Ginny prodded her.

"Honestly, I want to know what Harry thinks."

Ginny rolled her eyes, "He's clueless about these things, and you do know that right?" Ginny giggled but Hermione didn't smile back. "Oh alright, you can have your little pow wow with the Chosen One." Ginny proceeded to pick up a pile of books at random from the used section.

"What are you doing?" Hermione watched as Ginny piled her arms high, not even bothering to look at the titles. Ginny smiled, "You just go over there and get Harry's attention. I'll keep Luke busy."

Hermione stood and picked up an interesting looking book about Goblin runes while Ginny continued to pile on books. When the boys caught up and walked through the door, Ginny instantly grabbed Luke to help her to the counter with the books leaving Harry to catch Hermione's worried gaze.

"I take it you wanted to speak with me?" Harry grinned.

"Ginny hasn't really learned the art of subtlety." Hermione smiled weakly, "What do you think?"

"Well a book on Goblin runes wouldn't be my first choice, but…."

"Oh, come off it Harry, you know what I mean."

"Luke?" Harry glanced at Luke as he helped Ginny get Hermione's books paid and bagged, "He seems alright. Not good enough for you, but then that's a given."

Hermione blushed. She wasn't used to getting complemented in this department. "I had a hard time believing at first he was really interested in me and not just playing me or wanting to hear stories about you or something."

Hermione struggled in her mid whether or not she wanted to bring up what was really troubling her about Luke. She didn't want to make a fuss over nothing and Harry, with his usually brilliant instincts, didn't sense anything amiss. Maybe she was just imagining it.

"Come on Hermione, why wouldn't he want to spend time with Hermione Granger? The Brightest Witch of the Age, the woman who helped take down Voldemort, Hogwarts Head Girl, future Minister of Magic?"

Hermione laughed and punched Harry in the arm. "Stop it! I'm being serious!"

"So am I Hermione. You're great, any guy would be lucky to have you."

Just like that, her concerns seemingly vanished in the glow she felt in her chest. She valued Harry's opinion over anyone else's and he thought she was a treasure to have.

Hermione crushed him in a hug. "You're the best Harry. Please play nice alright?"

"I'll do my best." Harry forced a smile.

Hermione couldn't help but smile all the way back to the castle. The sun even seemed to shine a little bit brighter as it set over the lake. Her glowing mood carried her all the way back to the Head dorm when her brain came to a screeching halt.

"Well, I had a great time today." Luke was smiling at her. Hermione's brain went into overdrive. She had forgotten all about this moment. Was he going to kiss her? Was she going to kiss him? When was the last time she cleaned her teeth? She had the wild thought of doing a scourgify charm on her mouth.

"Y-Yeah me too." She stuttered. Luke took a step closer to her and she could feel heat emanating off her body in waves. Her nerves were completely frayed as time seemed to come to a complete halt with Luke just inches away.

Come on Hermione, you faced the darkest wizard of all time.

She tried to gather her courage, but the best she could do was to close her eyes. Luke seemed to take it as a cue and she felt his body touch hers and his lips brush gently against hers.

It was a very gentle and chaste kiss, at least compared to the make out sessions she and Ron used to have. Before she could really react to it, it was over. She opened her eyes while Luke was still standing against her and from this close distance could was looking directly in his eyes. This time, while he had the same easy and boyish smile on his face, she could see the weariness hiding behind it. It seemed like a thin veneer painted over deep well of….something Hermione couldn't quite grasp.

"Good night Hermione." Luke squeezed her hand and slowly walked away towards Ravenclaw tower.

"Good night Luke." She managed to force her mouth to make the words. She was too stunned to move, not because of the kiss she had just had, but because for the life of her she had to know what was hiding beneath that boyishly handsome face.

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