I heard it, of course. Everyone heard it, a fact that Hermione bemoaned at regular intervals afterwards. We'd be sitting in the library, or common room, talking or not talking, and she'd just suddenly say, out of nowhere, "I can't believe I said 'ask me next time' loud enough for all of Gryffindor to hear!" She said this in the same tone that she'd said everything that night, afterwards when we talked—a bit desperate, despairing. And I'd try to reassure her. But I knew I'd never forget the sound of her voice, angry and echoing loud and clear through the common room.
I hate to admit it, but part of me was the teensiest bit irritated with Hermione for having a row with Ron. Which was actually completely and totally his fault, so really I ought to have been irritated at him. But I was having such a glorious evening, mostly, and having to do damage control certainly put a damper on the end of it.
After the ball, after I'd said goodnight to Michael, Neville and I came straight back and said goodnight. I think he'd had an all right time. I mean, I didn't completely ignore him, as some people did their dates, but he doesn't like dancing (and he's not very good at it) so I think he was actually relieved when Michael asked me to dance… and danced with me all evening.
He was so handsome in his dress robes and didn't step on my toes once and seemed very interested in how I used to steal my brothers' broomsticks to practice flying and Colin's latest Herbology disaster and what it's like to be a Gryffindor. He almost made me forget that Harry didn't look at me once all evening.
I'd seen him around, of course, and he had seen me, (who could miss the Weasley hair?) but we'd never talked before. He knew all about my older brothers (good lord).
I was telling all of this to my roommates when we heard the shouting.
"What is wrong with you?"
Hermione could compete with my mother, if she set her mind to it.
We snuck out of the room and hid in the stairwell, only to find a good portion of the rest of the Gryffindor girls, arriving in various stages of disrobe from their Ball attire, had had the same idea.
"Me? What is wrong with me?? I can't believe you can even ask that—you spent all night with that—that—"
The only ones missing were the stragglers from the Ball—competing for broom cupboards, I imagine—and the first and second years. How they managed to sleep through the fight, I have no idea.
"Finish that sentence, Ronald Weasley, and you'll regret it for a month," whispered Katie.
Ron muttered something, I couldn't hear, followed immediately by a shrill scream from Hermione.
He is so utterly stupid, I thought.
"For your information, Ronald, Viktor is a gentlemen. Unlike some, he respects my intelligence and is interested in what I have to say—"
"I can't believe he's related to you," Alicia hissed in a whisper to me.
"You had lots to say about Harry, then? Lots of hints for the second task?"
Mum must have been saving all the smarts for me.
"We never discussed the tournament. Why is it so difficult for you to believe that someone might be interested in me for my own sake?"
Her voice sounded like it was about to break. Come on, Hermione, I silently encouraged her. Stay strong. He's not worth crying over—at least not in front of him.
"Merlin, Hermione. I never said that—"
The stairwell crowd murmured, but I was speechless with shock. Was he actually going to say something reasonable?
"—I only meant, you know, to go with someone suitable."
"Suitable? Oh, and who might that be?"
Ron began to mutter again. As one, all the girls on the stairwell leaned sideways, ears strained. Alicia lost her footing and stumbled onto the landing for a second, snickering quietly.
"Well, if you don't like it, you know what the solution is, don't you?"
"Oh yeah? What's that?" Angry voices are not attractive, Ron. Not attractive at all.
"Take your 'someone suitable' and shove him up your arse," Katie muttered, causing Alicia to snicker even harder.
"Next time there's a ball, ask me before someone else does, and not as a last resort!"
Alicia stopped laughing, and we were all silent for a moment, Hermione's voice ringing in my ears like a horribly embarrassing echo. I cannot believe she just said that.
The rest of the girls were gaping wordlessly too; I could almost hear them thinking my same thoughts. It was just as well, because in our shocked silence we could easily hear Hermione's footsteps as she stomped towards the girls' stairwell.
We scrambled, tripping over each other in a mad rush to get behind the doors of our respective dormitories before Hermione caught us eavesdropping. Although I don't know why we bothered—we probably would have been able to hear everything from our rooms.
Ahead of me I saw the sixth and seventh years disappear behind the fifth years' door with Katie as my own year mates and I rushed into our room. My friends dove into their beds and tried to look innocent, but I had barely enough time to catch my breath before I turned to face Hermione as she stormed in. I arched my eyebrow.
She burst into tears.
"Did you hear?" she demanded, and without waiting for an answer—"You heard!" She threw herself onto my bed and sobbed. I sat down gingerly beside her and patted her back in what I hoped was a comforting manner, exchanging a guilty look with my roommates.
"I bet all of Hogwarts heard," she hiccupped.
"Oh, no, there's no way anyone outside of Gryffindor could have," I assured her. Which, apparently, was not the right thing to say, because Hermione sobbed even harder.
"He's such a prat!"
"Yes…yes…" We all nodded sympathetically, even though she couldn't see us.
Hermione suddenly sat up, revealing her red, tear-stained face.
"Can you believe…" she sniffed, and I hugged her.
"No, he's so… honestly Hermione, don't worry about it."
"Why?" she wailed, as if she hadn't even heard me. I patted her hair, causing the knot to come out completely and leaving her with a lopsided ponytail, but she didn't notice. "He said…he said—"
"Wait, Hermione. Let's go back to your dorm and talk there." She blanched. "Look, how many times do you want to go through this?"
Evidently seeing my point, she resigned herself to being pulled off me bed.
"Besides," I said wisely as I tugged her hand, leading her towards the door and nodding to my roommates to follow, "maybe if we put enough heads together, we'll be able to figure out the idiocy that is my brother."
"I wouldn't count on it," Hermione laughed weakly.
When I opened the door to the fourth years' dorm, Lavender, Parvati, Katie, Alicia and all the rest turned to face us with guilty looks. Angelina was there too, obviously having returned from her exploits with Fred. Ugh.
A final tug and Hermione followed me into the room, my roommates closing the door behind them.
"Hermione!" Lavender stood up from her bed. "You looked so beautiful at the Ball," she said diplomatically. Hermione's red eyes glared at her balefully. "Well, you did," she added weakly.
With a series of tuts—reminding me strongly of my mother—Angelina and Alicia led Hermione to her bed. Angelina pulled Hermione's hair back and did a series of charms for puffy eyes and red cheeks—spells she had used on me enough times for me to recognize. Though why she bothered I have no idea; in my estimation, the tears for the evening weren't nearly finished.
I sat down on Lavender's bed as my roommates made themselves comfortable on the floor.
"She did look unbelievably great," Parvati whispered, wide-eyed. "Did you help her get ready?"
"A bit," I whispered. "They did most of it," I nodded towards Angelina and Alicia. Katie grinned at me, and I grinned back. At least the evening hadn't been boring.
"Go on then," said Angelina, patting Hermione's slightly calmed ponytail. "Tell us what happened."
Hermione looked a little stricken to have such a captive audience, but she spoke nonetheless.
"Well…" Sniff. "The first part was worst, when he walked by. He didn't even look at me! Then all evening he glared at me, and when I went to talk to them, Harry and Ron that is—"
I made a coughing noise—something was in my throat—and Hermione looked at me oddly.
"Go on," Alicia nudged her.
"Er, yes," Hermione continued. "Well, he couldn't seem to get it through his abnormally thick head that someone would go to the Ball with me because they enjoy my company. He accused me of fraternizing with the enemy—" She paused for a moment, waiting for the loud scoffing that momentarily filled the room to subside. "And he said that Viktor had only asked me because he wanted information on Harry so he could beat him in the tournament."
After a series of even louder scoffs, she continued. "He was incredibly demeaning about the whole thing, saying hadn't Viktor asked me to call him 'Vicky' yet, and when I asked him what on earth his problem was, he said—exactly this: 'If you don't know, I'm not going to tell you.' What a girly thing to say!"
Everyone else nodded in agreement; I doubled over in laughter. Hermione exploded.
"I mean, how the hell am I supposed to know what his problem is?"
I stopped laughing suddenly, making a weird, unattractive choking noise that echoed in my ear over the loud silence that suddenly pervaded the room, not unlike what had happened on the stairwell. It was the first time I had ever heard Hermione curse.
We sat for a moment before Katie said timidly, "He's just jealous, obviously."
This time it was Hermione who scoffed. "Right."
And I do love her. Truly. She's like the sister I never had the good fortune to have. But sometimes she can be almost as thick as Ron.
Sensing Hermione's need to have the attention focused on someone else for a while, I graciously changed the subject and was rewarded with a rapt audience as I told of my romantic encounter with Mr. Corner.
"He really does sound like a gentlemen," sighed Lavender.
"Yes, well." I giggled. "I don't think I'm ready to jump into anything yet. We'll see what happens."
The other girls began to tell their Ball experiences, and I tried very hard not to be glad that Parvati had been miserable with Harry. He's almost as much of a prat as Ron is, honestly. And Parvati had an all right enough time with the Beauxbatons boys she and her sister met, and she got her piece of the spotlight she wanted so badly, so I suppose it's okay to be relieved that Harry was insufferable, not charming.
Angelina, however, seemed to think that I was interested in details of her extra-curricular adventures with Fred.
"But, Ginny," she said, launching across the room with a panther-like speed, pouncing on the bed and prying Lavender's pillow from over my ears. "He does the most amazing thing with his tongue—"
"Please!" I shrieked. "This is my brother we are talking about here! I do not want to know!" I escaped her clutches and ran to the defense of Hermione's bed. Lavender asked Angelina for advice and fortunately Angelina found giving it more gratifying than further torturing me.
"Sounds like you met quite the boy," Hermione smiled at me.
"Yes…" Suddenly I was more concerned with making sure she was all right than gloating about my catch of the evening. "What are you thinking about all of this?"
Hermione closed her eyes, a picture of quiet, noble suffering. "I don't know… I… I just—" She leaned her head against my stomach, lying down, and I used my best soothing pat on her hair. She sighed tragically. "I don't think there's anything I can do. Maybe he'll grow up eventually."
"Until then I'll just have to…carry on I guess. There's nothing else I can do."
"Right," I said, and then was silent.
"I mean, there are more important things, right?"
"Of course," I agreed. I couldn't think of anything else to say—but I didn't feel like I needed to. Everything to say had already been said, and if there's one thing I knew about Hermione, it's that I knew how she felt—and she me.
We laid there for a while, keeping each other company and not really thinking, but sharing thoughts, it seemed, all the same. Suddenly I realized it was very quiet—the other girls must have drifted off to sleep or gone back to their own rooms—and that I was quite tired myself.
"Good night," I muttered, and Hermione gave a muffled reply, rolling over sleepily. I tiptoed back to my own room.
I heard the other girls stir when I came in, but I climbed into bed without a greeting, not in the mood for more conversation.
I groaned inwardly when a wistful voice came from my right. "Don't you think it's so romantic?"
"Ron and Hermione. They have such a dramatic relationship—"
"You got that right," I muttered.
"—and there's all this tension, but of course they like each other and—"
"It's not romantic, it's annoying. It will be romantic if Ron ever grows a clue, but I'm not holding my breath."
"Ginny, you're so cynical."
"I'm not cynical, I'm tired." Cynical? Honestly. Wait 'til one of them gets their heart trampled on, then we'll see who's cynical.
But I wasn't going to think about him—about that, and I'd had to remind myself surprisingly few times that evening. Instead, I thought about the way Michael had looked at me when we danced as I drifted off to sleep.