The End of the Beginning

By Andrew Crawford

Drama / Romance

Chapter 45

"How do I look?" Ron turned from the mirror in the dragon skin dress robes his brother had given him.

"Great." Harry fiddled with his bow tie. His insides were churning. He never did like being the center of attention, but the Head Boy and Girl traditionally christened the Winter Ball with its first dance. He was less than enthusiastic.

Still, he'd be with Hermione. That was something.

"What do you reckon is taking the women so long?" Ron whined.

Harry shrugged. Neville appeared from behind his bed. "S'ppose they're getting ready yeah? They'll look great, trust me." Neville looked over at Harry and winked, leaving Harry perplexed.

Just then there was a soft knock and three beautiful women walked in, but Harry only had eyes for the one in the middle. Hermione was wearing an elegant dress that was a deep Gryffindor red that matched Harry's robes. Her hair was shorter and fell in delicate curls.

All three boys stood in silence, taking in the sight. "I think we've made an impression." Aubrey giggled, reaching forward to straighten Harry's tie. Hermione faked a cough, "Don't worry 'Mione he's all yours. Just helping the poor lad out is all."

"What do you think Neville?" Hannah spun on the spot.

"Smashing." Neville smiled. He took her by the arm and they made their way out the door. "See you guys downstairs." Hannah waved as the door shut behind her.

"It's not fair that Neville got to cheat." Aubrey said over her shoulder, now retying Ron's tie.

"What's she mean by that?" Harry asked Hermione.

"Oh, we had this agreement that the boys wouldn't see us in our dresses ahead of time." Hermione answered.

"But she let Neville cheat." Aubrey said, "Neville got to see her when they did their last practice."

"I just thought he should practice with the longer dress in play is all." Hermione sighed. "It's not like Harry saw me or anything."

Aubrey tutted, "I wonder sometimes how you got your straight laced reputation Granger. Come on Ron let's get downstairs." She pulled Ron by the hand who gave Harry and Hermione a wink before he followed her out the door.

"You ready?" Harry looked down at Hermione, his insides loosening a bit as he grabbed her hand.

"Yeah." She answered back.

"You look great."

"Thanks." Hermione blushed. "Let's go."

They made their way leisurely down the staircase, until they reached the door to the Great Hall which was shut. A din of chatter could be heard on the other side of the door. McGonagall was waiting in her conservative black dress robes.

"Are you ready to begin?" She asked, a rare smile spreading across her hawkish features.

Harry and Hermione both nodded their heads. McGonagall pushed open the door as Hermione took Harry's arm.

"Introducing, your Hogwarts Head Boy and Head Girl. Mr. Harry Potter and Ms. Hermione Granger." McGonagall's voice rang over the now hushed crowd, which split to make a pathway of sorts leading to the large dance floor at the front of the room.

Harry kept his eyes straight ahead and he felt Hermione's grip tighten on his arm. There were hushed whispers on either side of them. After what seemed to be the longest walk of his life they finally reached the center of the dance floor. A classical ballad floated across the hall. Harry turned and offered his hand to Hermione. He noticed how she was worrying her bottom lip and her brow had tightened. He pulled her close to himself, getting her to look up at him.

He gave her a reassuring smile. Her face relaxed and she gave him a soft smile in return. They began to dance, Harry trying hard not to look anywhere but Hermione's brown eyes. Her soft warm hands effortlessly followed his movements and her body seemed to fit with his like a glove whenever they drew close together. He saw in her eyes complete confidence whenever he dipped her, she trusted him completely.

He was crazy about her. It came across him like the gentle waves of the lake. He was madly in love with the woman in his arms and he didn't give a damn who knew it. In fact, he felt rather like shouting it from the top of the Astronomy tower.

The song reached its final notes and Harry pulled her very close, he could almost feel her nose brushing against his and he could feel her breath on his lips. The crowd began to clap awkwardly.

He grinned at Hermione. She arched an eyebrow, "Harry, what.."

But she never got to finish. Harry put his hand on her cheek and put his lips against hers. He felt her freeze up for the briefest of moments, before she relented and returned his kiss in kind. He could vaguely hear someone wolf whistling beyond his heart pounding in his ears.

By the time he returned to his senses and they broke apart, the lights had gone down and the student body had joined them on the dance floor for a lively jazz number.

"Well, they'll be talking about that one for a while." Ron appeared behind Harry, clapping him on the back. "Real smooth Harry."

"Shut up and dance Ronald." Aubrey tugged his arm, pulling him back into the crowd.

"So, care for another dance?" Harry turned back to Hermione.

She had a funny expression on her face, one Harry had never seen before. "There will be all night to dance, I have something else in mind."

Hermione pulled Harry through the crowd towards the open doors.

Ron spun Aubrey around, her laughing barely audible over the music and the people around them.

"Ron what are you doing?" she giggled.

"Improvising." He grinned, spinning her around again, before pulling her back and dipping her.

"This isn't how the dance goes."

"Your point being?" He brought her face to face with him.

She pushed her hair back out of her face. "My point being that you're crazy." She laughed.

"Yeah, but you love me for it."

"Confidant one aren't you?" Aubrey smiled before taking a look around, "Say, where's Ginny? I haven't seen her."

"Good question." Ron scanned the crowd. "Why don't you go find us a table and see if maybe she's there I'll look around."

"Okay."

Aubrey disappeared behind a couple of Ravenclaws. Ron skirted the edges of the dance floor, looking for his sisters' red hair. He was just finishing up one complete lap when he caught sight of her at the edge of the room against the wall, talking with a tall blonde haired boy.

Ron sighed, his sister really was more popular with boys than he cared for. He took a few steps towards them before his frown deepened, he recognized now who she was talking to.

"There a problem here?" He took the last few steps in giant strides.

"No," Ginny answered airily, "No problem here."

"Weasley." Malfoy's brow furrowed, but it wasn't the usual sneer Ron had heard for so many years.

"Why don't you come with me and we'll go find Aubrey, she's getting us a table." He took Ginny's arm.

"Okay, why don't you join us Draco?" She turned back to Malfoy, who hesitated.

Ron leaned in to whisper in Ginny's ear. "Why are you inviting him?"

"Because he's a friend."

"Friend? Him? But it's Malfoy." Ron wasn't whispering anymore.

"Yes, Ron, a friend." Ginny yanked her arm away from him. "And so what if it's him? I can make friends with whoever I want."

"Haven't you forgotten who we're talking about here?" Ron gestured to Malfoy.

"Look, I'll just go." Draco turned to leave.

"No Draco, you're not going anywhere." Ginny glared at Ron, "Why can't you give him a chance Ron? You saved his life, but you can't at least try to look past what he did before?"

"What's going on here?" Aubrey appeared.

"Ginny's trying to convince us that Malfoy here has turned a new leaf." Ron answered.

Aubrey looked from Ron, to Ginny, then to Malfoy. She frowned, "Ginny, what's this all about?"

"Oh don't take his side. You weren't even around for any of this." Ginny waved dismissively at Aubrey. "Don't walk away Draco."

"Weasley isn't going to change his mind." Draco glared at Ron. "And neither will his little girlfriend."

Aubrey reached for her wand. "I won't be so little when I turn you into sniveling rat that you are."

"Stop it!" Ginny drew her own wand.

"Whoa, slow down everyone." Neville suddenly burst through the crowd to Ron's left. He waved his wand and both Ginny and Aubrey's wand flew into his other hand. "Calm down. You're ruining the ball." None of them had realized that the crowd around them had stopped dancing and talking to watch the show. Ron was suddenly grateful a teacher hadn't caught on yet.

"Show's over folks." Ron turned behind him. People turned back to their tables or returned to the dance floor.

"Now what is the meaning of all this?" Neville looked around at everyone.

"Ronald here was being an ass just because I invited Draco here to our table." Ginny fumed.

"Is that true Ron?" Neville turned calmly to Ron.

"Oh come on Neville, its Malfoy! He made your life hell too, would you want him around us?"

"I think," Neville gave Ginny and Aubrey their wands back, "that if Malfoy wants to prove that he's turned over a new leaf, that we should afford him that opportunity."

"Not you too!" Ron couldn't believe what he was hearing. Aubrey's mouth was agape. "Neville,"

"Harry invited him to the after party." Neville cut across them. "I don't know about you, but I'll follow Harry's lead." Neville looked over at Malfoy and nodded. "Now let's try and enjoy the ball."

Neville disappeared back into the crowd, leaving an awkward silence behind him.

"What the bloody hell has gotten into him?" Ron said weakly, "One battle and all of the sudden he's Godric Gryffindor…"

"Let's head to a table shall we?" Ginny grabbed Malfoy by the arm and headed passed Ron towards an open table.

Ron stared at Aubrey who looked just as bewildered as he felt. "Lost her mind she has." He gestured towards Ginny. "Where's Harry? Surely he invited Malfoy to spike his drink with a puking pastille or something."

"I saw him and Hermione leave a few minutes ago." Aubrey actually smiled.

"Leave? What the hell for?"

"Oh Ron, my beautiful Ron, don't ever change." Aubrey giggled and walked towards the table.

"Mad. The whole world has gone mad." Ron took a deep breath and prepared for an awkward evening in the company of Malfoy.

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