The Eve of Halloween
The following weeks were a blur of planning. Someone needed to speak to the house elves, the hall needed to be decorated, the professors needed to be brought up to speed . . . The combined weight of ball planning, homework, and the tiny person inside Hermione was driving her crazy.
She was lingering after the last prefect meeting before the ball, when she noticed Ron shuffling his feet by the door. The boy had been acting so strange lately. It was infuriating, really. Most of the time he was his regular self, but recently he'd been getting flustered around her.
"What's the matter, Ron?"
He jolted, before grinning sheepishly. "Oh, nothing. Nothing much."
Hermione shrugged her shoulders and turned to finish gathering her things. When she turned again, Ron was next to her.
"Ron!” She gasped, stepping back. “You frightened me.”
He chuckled nervously. "Sorry—Listen, Hermione, I wanted to ask you something."
Heart still thudding from her scare, Hermione blinked at him. "Well, what is it?"
"Ummm,” All of a sudden he wouldn't look her in the eye. His ears were scarlet, and it looked like it was spreading to his cheeks. "Well . . . "
"Ronald. Spit it out."
"Alright, alright! D'you—have you got—have you got a date to the ball yet?"
Hermione felt something flutter in her stomach. Was he asking what she thought he was? "No, not at all. Why d'you ask?"
"Well, I was just—I was just wondering if perhaps you'd gowithme?" His last few words slurred together and he turned an even brighter shade of red, if that were possible.
Hermione felt a small smile stretch across her cheeks. "Of course I'll go with you, Ron! We've been friends for seven years! How could I say no?"
He shrugged, grinning.
Hermione sat in her dormitory on October 31st, watching Ginny model her dress in front of the mirror. It wasn't extremely elegant, considering the tight money conditions the Weasley family faced, but it was still very flattering. The younger girl's hair was pulled into a loose bun, and her dress was a nice silver color.
Hermione looked at her own reflection from where she sat, inspecting her appearance. She hadn't felt this pretty since the day of the Masquerade ball—she wasn't sure she liked that.
Her hair had been tamed with anti-frizz charms; it cascaded down over her shoulders in wonderful honey brown curls. A thick black headband kept it from obscuring her face. Hermione wore a sleeveless black dress with a slight v-neck, and a gray shawl draped over her shoulders. The skirt stretched down just above her knee, loose and flowing. To give her more of a halloween-esque look, Ginny had lathered Hermione's lips with scarlet lipstick and rimmed her eyes in the same color.
Ginny, finally pleased with her appearance, spun around and pulled Hermione to her feet.
"Now stop looking so down! You're going to have fun tonight!" Ginny exclaimed, smirking mischievously.
“Ginny, you know I can’t—“ Hermione protested.
"I'm not asking you to drink or anything! Obviously you can't do that," she cast a significant look towards Hermione's stomach, "but you are going to have some fun!"
Fifteen minutes later, the two girls descended the stairs towards the Great Hall. Ginny beamed when she saw Harry, immediately rushing over and throwing her arms around him.
"Oh, wow—Hermione, you look really nice today," Ron said sheepishly, his cheeks glowing a faint pink.
"Thank you, Ron,” Hermione said, smiling at him. "Why don't we go in?"
Ron nodded, before gesturing for her to go first. Rolling her eyes, Hermione tugged his sleeve and dragged him along behind her into the Great Hall.
The hall had a haunting glow to it. Dark green candles had been charmed into floating above their heads, the only source of light in the entire room. Their silver flames shone brightly, casting dancing shadows on the ceiling. Along the walls were leering jack-o-lanterns, mounted atop stone pillars every few feet. Four magically animated skeletons played their instruments wickedly at the head of the hall, their music echoing eerily.
Hermione followed Harry and Ginny over to a table by the edge of the hall, next to a particularly gruesome looking pumpkin. The tables were round, draped in black and gray tablecloths. Six wooden stools surrounded every table.
As the minutes passed, more and more students flooded into the hall. Although most students had opted for plain black or gray, a few—such as Luna Lovegood—had opted for a more unique look.
"Luna!" Ginny exclaimed, ill-disguised shock evident in her voice. "You're looking, er, lovely! What are you?"
"Thank you" Luna said liltingly, gazing around at the hall as she spoke, "So do you." She settled herself into the chair next to Ginny, observing the musical skeletons inquisitively.
"But what are you?" Ginny repeated, shooting her brother a reproachful look as he snickered.
"A banshee. Lovely creatures, aren't they?"
Ron coughed; Hermione stepped on his foot under the table. Luna was wearing an odd looking black wig, and her face and arms were tinged green. Rather than a dress she wore a tattered pair of gray robes, stained in several places.
"Luna?" Hermione said curiously, gazing at the green of the girl's skin, "How did you make your skin green?"
"Oh, this?" She held up her hand, inspecting it, "It's a new spell. You can change certain aspects of your appearance. Just the little things of course, nothing like Polyjuice Potion or anything, but it is quite useful . . ." She turned her eyes toward Hermione, who gasped.
"You used it on your eyes then, too?" The girl's irises were a murky green color rather than their usual off-putting silver.
Luna nodded before sinking back into her contemplative reverie.
"Fascinating,” Hermione said absent-mindedly, before tearing her gaze away from the green Luna. "I'm going to go get some punch," she announced, standing up as she spoke. Ron stood up as well, breaking off his conversation with Harry abruptly.
"I'll come too."
The two weaved to the other side of the hall towards the punch bowl. Its contents were a vibrant blue color. Ron filled two glasses while Hermione surveyed the room. She thanked him quietly when he handed it to her, taking the smallest of sips.
"Ugh!" she gagged before swallowing the burning liquid with a grimace. The night of her patrol with Malfoy sprang back into her mind. The punch had been spiked, yet again.
"What's the matter?" Ron asked, not having drunk his punch yet. He cast a wary glance at the glass in his hand.
"Oh, nothing. It's just not what I expected to taste, is all,” Hermione said, not wanting to have to answer any awkward questions. Gripping the glass tightly beneath her fingers, she led the way back to their table.
She could not believe it. The ball had been going on for half an hour—and already some immature students had spiked the punch! It was ridiculous. She had half a mind to tell the professors, but . . . Hermione just wasn't in the mood to deal with that. It would ruin the ball if a big scene was made over some alcoholic punch. She just wanted to have some fun tonight, like Ginny said. And not remember everything that had happened the last ball.
The time passed quickly. Soon enough they had been there for almost two hours. When Ron or Harry wasn't looking Hermione vanished the punch in her glass, catching Ginny's eye as she did so.
"Hermione," Ron turned abruptly to face the Head Girl, looking uncomfortable. "Would you like to dance?"
Hermione blinked at him, taken off guard. Ron Weasley was asking her to dance? The boy she thought would rather face an army of Arachnids all over again than dance with a girl, was asking her to dance?
"Um, sure, Ron. I'll dance with you."
Grinning, the red haired young man grabbed her hand and hauled her to her feet. On the dance floor he tentatively placed his hands on her waist. Hermione set hers on his shoulders, staying just far away from his body so it wasn’t uncomfortable. The song was a slow, haunting melody, and the pair swayed from side to side to the beat.
It became apparent, very fast, that Ron was a little more than tipsy. He'd gone back to the punch bowl several times, but Hermione hadn't noticed just how much he'd drunk. Even in such a slow dance, the boy was stepping on her feet every few seconds and almost losing his balance. Not to mention the fact that she could smell the firewhiskey on his breath.
"Ron," she said, exasperated, as he trod on her toes yet again. “Ron, you're in no state to dance. How much did you drink?"
"Oh, not much," he said dumbly, paying only half attention to her. "Hey, Hermione, wanna come out into the Entrance Hall for a minute?"
Hermione surveyed him shrewdly. "Sure, Ron. Do you need some fresh air?"
"Yeah, that's it. Fresh air. It's a little, er, 's a little crowded here." With that he stepped to the side, off the dance floor, and pulled Hermione towards the entrance by her elbow.
The entrance hall was completely deserted. Hermione shivered at the memories this place invoked as Ron drew her to the side. It took her a moment to realize he was looking at her strangely.
"Is something the matter?" She asked, fidgeting under his stare.
Ron cleared his throat, taking a step forward. "Hermione, I-Ive . . ." his voice cracked and he winced, casting his gaze at the floor. He took another step forward.
Hermione instinctively backed away, feeling her back bump into the stone wall of the entrance hall.
"Hermione . . ." She could feel his hot breath on her face. Swallowing thickly, she stared up at him, wide-eyed. She stayed stock still as he rested his hands on her waist, all the while lowering his head.
Hermione tensed as his warm lips pressed forcefully onto her own, before relaxing and hesitantly bringing one of her hands up to rest on his shoulder. Ron pressed her into the wall, one of his hands snaking up to dance along her back.
Warmth was spreading through Hermione's stomach. She couldn't believe this was happening. Over the years she'd suspected that she might have feelings for Ron . . . But this was the certainty.
She snaked her hand into his short, tousled locks, smiling as he made an odd sound in his throat.
"Hermione,” he whispered against her lips, causing her heart to race. His hand crept downwards, resting on her bum, before squeezing lightly. Hermione jumped, letting out a squeak of surprise. He seemed not to hear her, for his hand was sinking even lower. His fingertips danced along her thigh.
"Ron—“ she tried to say, her voice lost as he slipped his tongue into her mouth. For a moment she lost all rational thought, throwing herself into the kiss, before she was brought her careening back into the present. Ron's other hand was on her stomach, crawling upwards rapidly.
"Ron!" she tried to tear her mouth away from his, but he pressed her into the wall fiercely. She could smell the firewhiskey rolling off him in waves again. What had she gotten herself into?
Ron tensed as the deep voice rang through the entrance hall. He opened his bloodshot eyes and stared at Hermione for a moment, before turning to face the voice.
"Malfoy,” he snarled, balling his fists. "What do you want?"
Malfoy was leaning against a nearby pillar, his blond hair hanging into his icy blue eyes. He sneered at Ron. "I just thought you were getting a bit carried away, Weasel. The lady's got some rather precious cargo. She didn't look very appreciative of what you were doing."
Hermione gasped, staring at Malfoy in horror from behind Ron's back.
"It was also rather disgusting to watch . . ." Malfoy added as an afterthought, meeting Hermione's wide eyes with a nasty smirk.
"What the bloody hell are you going on about, Malfoy?" Ron said, his confusion only bolstering his anger.
Hermione felt this was her time to leave. Slipping out from behind Ron, she half ran, half scuttled towards the door and into the Great Hall, ignoring Ron's surprised calls from behind her. Her cheeks was were pink and her eyes bright in anger.
"How dare he! How dare he!" she whispered furiously under her breath, shoving past students to get to their table.
"Hermione, what's wrong?" Ginny asked in alarm at Hermione's face. She scanned the room in search of Ron. "Oh, Merlin. What's he done?"
Hermione ignored Ginny’s question, too busy trying to figure out how to avoid both Ron and Malfoy. Looking over her shoulder she saw Ron enter the hall, glancing around clumsily in his drunken stupor.
"Ginny, please, can you go keep him busy for a moment? I want to go back to my Common Room!"
Ginny nodded, her jaw set.
Ron safely distracted for the moment, Hermione fled the hall.
She didn't notice Malfoy, still in the shadows of the Entrance Hall, watching her curiously.