Dean kept his word. They spent the rest of the evening by the fire in the common room. Hermione was able to finish reading and responding to her letters. She wished Viktor good luck in his match against Madrid and thanked her mother for taking the time to send the package she had requested. They passed the majority of the evening in relative silence. He sat at the other end of the couch next to her feet, sketching. Crookshanks was curled in his lap, clearly still unhappy with Hermione. Meanwhile, she began knitting a new winter hat for Winky.
After they had finished their game of wizard’s chess, Ron had gone to bed and Harry came over from the other end of the common room and sank into the armchair close to the fire.
“He’s going to cost us the Cup,” he said in dismay.
“You’ll just have to work with him over the break. I’m sure he was just having an off day,” she said, not looking up from her work.
“It won’t do any good. His flying is fine when it’s just the two of us.”
“Yeah, I thought he had improved since I first started practicing with you lot. I wonder what has him so agitated.” Dean cast a sidelong glance at Hermione, which she ignored.
Harry groaned and rubbed his face in frustration. “I thought we had fixed him after the first match, too.”
Yes, Harry had tried to fix it by tricking Ron into thinking he had taken an illegal substance before the match. “If Ron is going to get any better he’s going to have to do it on his own,” she said curtly.
“Oh you’re one to talk!” Harry said with a laugh.
Choosing to not dignify that with a response, she resumed her knitting. Dean looked between the two of them but seemed to think it was best to say nothing. She instead decided to switch the subject. “Did you manage to ask Luna to Professor Slughorn’s party tomorrow?”
“Yes, she seems excited to be going as friends.” He sounded relieved.
“Good. I don’t know why you didn’t ask sooner. Always last minute.” He rolled his eyes, ignoring the dig.
“Anyway, I’m off to bed.” As he stood, he gave Dean a significant look before saying, “Don’t stay up too late.”
After he had left them, Dean snorted. “Subtle. Guess he wants to be sure I’m not taking advantage of his best friend.” He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively at her. She wrinkled her nose in response. “Maybe Harry is getting jealous.”
She rolled her eyes at this. He had often teased her about having The Boy Who Lived within her grasp, but falling for Ron instead. “He doesn’t care what I do. He’s just in a mood. It was Ron who was always the overprotective one.”
“You really have never had any interest in Harry? It’s always been Ron? Harry is The Boy Who Lived, the Chosen One, even! Don’t most girls like him?”
She sighed, exasperated with the conversation already. “Most girls aren’t also his best friend. It was only ever Ron.”
They drifted into silence as Hermione put the finishing touches on Winky’s hat. Dean had abandoned his sketch, staring into the dying fire while he scratched behind Crookshanks ears, lost in thought. The dim light from the fire cast a warm glow on his dark skin. They seemed to be the only ones remaining in the common room. Glancing at the clock, Hermione saw it was nearing midnight. The time had passed so quickly. She began to gather her things.
“Is it true then, what everyone says, about him being the Chosen One?” Dean was still sitting next to her but his voice seemed far away. His gaze was transfixed on the crackling log.
She hesitated to answer. Part of her, for some inexplicable reason, wanted to tell him the truth. Maybe then, the invisible weight she had been carrying since the summer would finally lift from her chest. He turned away from the fire to look at her. His coffee colored eyes were serious, searching for the answer in her face.
No, she couldn’t tell him. As comfortable as she felt around him, none of this was real. They weren’t actually friends, much less a couple. And even if any of this was real, this secret was far too dangerous to ever speak of outside the her, Harry, and Ron.
“Even if he was, you know I wouldn’t tell you.”
He studied her for a moment longer before a look of acceptance came over him. He nodded and got up. Before she could stop herself, she reached out and grabbed him. Surprised, he looked down at her hand clasped around his wrist, then to her.
“I, uh — sorry,” she said, dropping his wrist. “I just wanted to say thanks for keeping your promise to sit by the fire with me. I know that sort of thing isn’t really in the contract — well anyway. I appreciate it.”
He laughed a dry laugh, shaking his head in disbelief. “Man, Granger. You sure like bringing up that contract.” He shook his head again, and chuckled to himself. Looking back to her he said, “Goodnight, Hermione. See you in the morning.”
Five minutes later, as she headed up to the girl’s dormitory, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she had upset him in their conversation.You’re just imagining things. You’re not really his girlfriend, he doesn’t care enough to be upset with you. She took a deep breath and pushed open the door to the dormitory, praying sleep would come quickly to put her mind at ease.
It was a disaster. Professor Slughorn’s party invitation had clearly specified “fetching dress.” She had owled her mother weeks ago, asking her to send her usual silver holiday dress to wear underneath her old periwinkle dress robes that she kept packed in her trunk. She should have opened the package sooner.
“What should I do, Crookshanks?”
Crookshanks turned to look at her lazily from her pillow on which he was currently snoozing. Today, he was less put out with her than he had been recently. This, she supposed, was because of the double helping of treats she had given him this morning.
On her bed laid a burgundy velvet dress. That Hermione could tell, it was very fashionable with its sweetheart neckline, fitted sleeves, and circle skirt. There was no doubt her mother had outdone herself, apparently excited with the opportunity to spoil her daughter. The dress was beautiful.
Her cape-sleeved periwinkle dress robes laid next to the dress. There was no way she could wear them in their current state together. It would look ridiculous. Perhaps, she could go without the dress robes. Dean surely wouldn’t care, being Muggle-born himself. But there would be very important wizards in attendance, would it be considered rude to show up in purely Muggle attire?
The door to the dormitory suddenly opened. Hermione turned to see Lavender walk in and flop down on her bed.
“How was Divination?” Hermione asked politely as she looked over the dress again, running her fingers over the velvety material.
Lavender gave a dreamy sigh. “It was wonderful. We worked on our cartomancy today. My card reading was so fascinating. First, Parvati revealed the Ace of Cups, which duh of course. Ron’s and my relationship is still very new, so the meaning was clear. I was a little worried when she flipped to reveal the Fool. Parvati insisted it was in reverse, but Trelawney’s cards are very faded. I’m sure it was upright…are you even listening?”
Hermione wasn’t. She didn’t want to hear about Divination and she certainly didn’t want to hear about the good fortune Parvati predicted for her friend’s budding relationship. She was still contemplating her best dress option.
“Ugh, OK I’ll bite. What is it? Are you having trouble picking out jewelry?” Lavender slid off her bed and walked across the room. “Yikes.”
“I know,” Hermione said sighing. She wasn’t the most fashionable of girls, but she knew this was a mess. “My mum sent a new dress for me to wear. She’s a Muggle and didn’t realize it would need to go with my dress robes.”
She shouldn’t be embarrassed. It wasn’t her mother’s fault that she was a Muggle and didn’t know about these things. Her palms began to sweat a little anyway. She was taking Dean Thomas, arguably one of the most handsome boys at Hogwarts, to a Christmas party, and she was going to look like she got dressed in the dark.
“Let’s not panic. Where’re your shoes?” Hermione pointed to what were once a modest pair of black pumps at the foot of her bed. They were now transfigured to a deep burgundy shade to compliment her dress. She explained to Lavender what she had done. “Well that’s it then! Just transfigure the dress robes.” She looked very proud at having come up with this solution.
“I can’t,” Hermione said. She held up the dress robe, letting her feel the chiffon-like material. “The more delicate or complex the material of an object, the more difficult it is to transfigure. Transfiguring these from a light blue to a deep burgundy is such a drastic change it might ruin them…“ she trailed off and began to think, if only I just had another set to practice on. But duplicating them might compromise the integrity of the fabric.
Lavender let out a sigh, as if she were quite bored. “Then don’t transfigure them into burgundy.”
Hermione mouth dropped slightly. That was it. “Lav! Thank you. Why hadn’t I thought of that?”
She shrugged and then eyed Hermione’s hair, which she had opted to wear out. Hermione had spent the previous evening deep conditioning it, not wanting to take any chance on it frizzing up before the event.
“Do you want to borrow my Sleekeazy’s?” Lavender asked, still eying her curls a little warily. Lavender didn’t need Sleekeazy’s. Her hair did have a kink to it, but hung in a looser pattern. Yet she still slicked her hair down with the stuff overnight from time to time.
Subconsciously, Hermione’s hand moved to her hair to try and smooth down the back. “Erm, no. No thanks, Lavender,” she said, suddenly feeling unsure of herself.
Lavender gave her a look that said clearly said “suit yourself” before heading to the door. “I better go. I told Parvati I’d only be a minute and I promised to meet her for dinner, for a girls night. Good luck tonight!”
Hermione tried to shake the thoughts about her hair. One problem at a time, she told herself, turning her attention away from where Lavender had been standing a moment ago to her dress robes.
Everything had come together quite nicely in the end. Transfiguring the dress robes into something complimentary to her dress was inspired. The now cream-colored robes hung delicately around her frame.
As for her hair, she opted to pull part of it back in a braid, letting the rest hang down rather than wearing her curls out completely like she had planned. Lavender probably would have preferred if she had broken down and brought out the Sleekeazy’s, but she felt more comfortable in her curls styled in what she hoped was a formal take of the basic half-up half-down style.
As she emerged from the girl’s dormitory she could see Dean waiting with his back to her. He was wearing what looked like a new set of dress robes. Upon approaching, she could see that the robes were made of an expensive black jacquard material. Hermione cleared her throat.
He turned around and gaped at her. “Hermione, you look…” He trailed off before finally muttering, “Wow.”
“Erm, thanks, I think.” She realized she was shaking and a little hot. Panicking, she looked for something else to say. She couldn’t sweat off the minimal makeup she had managed to put on. She had never mastered the process of applying the stuff, and no one in her dormitory knew how to apply Muggle makeup even if she had asked for help. She made a mental note to look into wizarding makeup options in future. Maybe they would offer better shade ranges.
“You look amazing. Really.” Dean said, seeming to come back to himself. Giving her a crooked grin he continued, “Should we wait for Harry?”
“No, I think he’s gone to meet Luna.”
He nodded in understanding and held his arm out, motioning to the portrait hole. “Shall we be off, then?”
Wordlessly she nodded, and without thinking about it, took his arm as they headed to Slughorn’s Christmas Party.
The castle was mostly quiet as they walked through it. Most students had retired early to prepare for tomorrow’s train journey back for the break. A few of the festive, candlelit suits of armor inclined their helmets in greeting as they passed. As they approached Professor Slughorn’s office, there was a dull din of noise that grew in volume and pitch. They stopped before entering.
“Hey, relax,” Dean said, grabbing her hand and giving it a squeeze. He was looking kindly at her with those warm brown eyes.
With a faint horror she realized that her palms were, in fact, clammy. Why should she be nervous? It had been upon her insistence that he accompany her to this party. They were just going through the motions. Calm and steady. “Right, yeah. I’m good.”
She led the way into the office and slightly gasped. It was so lovely she couldn’t help but be impressed. The office had been decorated to appear as if they were in a festive party tent with drapings of gold, crimson, and emerald. The faint smell of cinnamon and clove hung in the air and a warm flickering glow filled the room. Hermione’s eyes trailed around the room over the dozens of heads looking for the source. Was it enchanted candles charmed to burn a specific color? Her eyes landed on an antiqued golden chandelier that was hanging in the center of the room. She wrinkled her nose.
“What is it?” Dean asked.
“Fairies,” she said with a tinge of disgust.
“In the chandelier?”
“Yes. Honestly, they may enjoy being on display, but caging them in glass orbs is inhumane.” Before she could finish her rant about how wizards were constantly taking advantage of the predispositions of other magical creatures, she spotted Harry and Luna.
“I’ll go see if I can find us something to drink. See you over there?” he asked. Hermione nodded.
She approached the duo and Hermione stifled a giggle. They were an interesting looking couple. Harry was wearing his bottle green dress robes that brought out his green eyes. They fit very nicely, maybe better than they had in their fourth year. She wondered if he had sent them to Mrs. Weasley for alterations. Next to him stood, Luna. Her robes were still in the style of Luna Lovegood but Hermione had to admit the way the silver spangled robes reflected the light was quite pretty.
“Hermione! You’ve come just in time. Luna was just telling me her interesting theory about the Minister of Magic,” Harry said, looking at her significantly. Then, taking in her appearance he said, “You look really nice.”
“Yes, your eyes have gone quite twinkly in this lighting,” Luna said in her usual lilting voice.
Not sure what to say in response to Luna as she often felt when talking to her, she thanked them both.
“Have you seen? There are a couple of Daily Prophet reporters here.”
“What? Did you speak with them?” Hermione asked, concerned.
“Yeah, but I don’t think the bloke was much interested in uncovering the deep secrets about ‘The Chosen One’.” She swatted at him. They glanced at Luna, who was busy inspecting one of the potted copper-leaved Niffler’s Fancies scattered throughout the tent. “Don’t worry. I don’t think he was much interested in being here at all.”
“You still need to be careful, Harry.”
At that moment Dean returned with two silver goblets full of mead. Hermione took hers gratefully. He shook Harry’s hand before turning to Luna.
“You look very festive!” Hermione could tell by the way the smile met his eyes that he wasn’t making fun of Luna. He actually liked her robes.
“Thank you, Dean!” Luna said with a bright smile. “This is a very nice party. They’ve scattered these plants everywhere. They are very lucky, you know,” she said, indicating the Niffler’s Fancy she had earlier been inspecting.
Hermione’s eyes trailed to Harry who was looking between her and Dean. She wondered if it was working. Did they look like a couple? She took a sip of her mead to appear unaffected. It was spiced, her favorite.
Dean was speaking with Luna about her knowledge on the plant when he trailed off. Something at the entryway had caught his attention. They all turned to look in that direction. Hermione saw Neville’s blond head first. She felt her stomach clench as her eyes landed on Ginny. She was wearing floor-length emerald robes that contrasted with her crimson hair in a way that was dazzling in the glowing light. A slight smile graced her freckled features as her bright blue eyes scanned the crowd.
Both Dean and Harry were staring at her, in awe. A latent thought of Fleur passed through Hermione’s mind. Of course, Ginny was no veela, but she certainly had Harry and Dean under her spell. Glancing at Luna, she felt relieved that she at least didn’t seem to be aware of what was happening. Frustrated with both boys’ rudeness to their dates, she nudged Dean. He looked at her in surprise, as if he had forgotten she was there at all. She looked at him severely, trying to communicate that he still had a date he was being incredibly rude to.
Taking the moment to excuse themselves, Hermione pulled Dean away from Harry. It would be bad if Dean realized Harry’s feelings for Ginny and vice versa.
“It’s rude to come to a party with a date and spend the night staring at someone else’s date!” Hermione said in a terse whisper.
He grimaced, looking chastised. “Sorry, Hermione. It’s just hard. I think I can handle being around her, but then she’ll hit me with these sneak attacks and I just…” he trailed off and took a deep breath. “Don’t worry. I got it. It won’t happen again.”
His grinned at her, trying to look reassuring. She would let it go for now, it wasn’t like she was faring any better with Ron.
The night continued as they made their way around party. They passed an enchanted quartet of string instruments accompanying the witch who was singing what Hermione vaguely recognized as wizarding Christmas carols.
It wasn’t as difficult playing into their roles when they were wandering the party by themselves. Dean was the perfect gentleman. Every now and again, he would place his hand on her hip when they were standing next to each other. Whenever Ginny was looking across the tent in their direction, he would bring her hand up to kiss it as if she were the most lovely person in the room. He would give her a slight wink that she knew he meant as encouragement, but the whole thing made her want to roll her eyes.
She spent spare moments when she was alone, while Dean was off grabbing her another goblet of mead or glass of water, comparing herself with Ginny. She couldn’t help it, after the entrance she had made. It wasn’t just Harry and Dean, many eyes followed Ginny in admiration. Her silky sheet of red hair gleamed in the light and was easy to spot throughout the tent. Hermione moved her hand to her head to make sure the ends of her hair were still behaving and not frizzing up. How could anyone believe that someone would date her over someone like Ginny? How could this plan be working?
They spoke to various members of the Slug Club and Dean surreptitiously avoided the mistletoe planted throughout. Blaise Zabini had even nodded to them in passing at one point. Eventually, they were accosted by Cormac McLaggen. Visibly, he acted like his normal overly-charming self, but it quickly became clear he was only interested in hounding Dean for information on how he got chosen as an alternate for the Quidditch team and how he had managed to woo Hermione Granger. This was all spoken as if she wasn’t standing right there.
They had only just escaped when Professor Slughorn’s booming voice found them.
“Ms. Granger, my dear! I have someone I would like you to meet!”
Glancing at each other, they both shrugged and made their way over to where Professor Slughorn, a tall haggard looking man and — to Hermione’s dismay — Ginny and Neville stood.
“Ciaran, I present to you Hogwarts’ brightest student, Hermione Granger and her date—“
“Dean Thomas, sir,” Dean quipped.
“Yes, Dean Thomas,” Professor Slughorn continued, unfazed, “This is Ciaran Gates. He is the leading Muggle Correspondent and newest editor at the Daily Prophet. While not as hard-hitting of a subject as you might expect from one of my pupils, he is on the fast track to becoming editor-in-chief.”
A few how-do-you-dos followed. Dean shook Gates’ hand before placing it back around Hermione’s waist. Hermione tried to pay no mind to Ginny’s glances in their direction. When Hermione did try to make eye contact with her, her attention was firmly locked on Professor Slughorn. Sighing, she smiled at Neville who grinned back. He looked happy just to be included.
“I thought you two should hit it off, both of you having an interest in Muggle culture,” Professor Slughorn said encouragingly.
Ciaran Gates didn’t seem to be interested at all in talking to a teenage Hogwarts student, or to be there at all. Perhaps, he was here as a favor to Professor Slughorn. To any of this, Professor Slughorn seemed oblivious.
“So, Dean Thomas, you’re a Muggle-born I presume?” Professor Slughorn asked. Everyone’s attention turned to Dean, except for Ciaran Gates, who seemed to be searching for any excuse he could find to leave the conversation.
“Yes, sir. Well, so far as I know. My dad left when I was a baby, so it’s hard to say.”
“Ah yes. Gets more and more common all the time…” Hermione and Dean glanced at each other, incredulous at what he seemed to be insinuating. Professor Slughorn took no notice of this, shaking his head before continuing, “And how have you come to win the heart of the brightest witch Hogwarts has seen in the last decade?”
She winced at his compliment. It was alright when her friends joked about her being the “brightest witch” of whatever, but when people said this in earnest it made her uncomfortable, unsure how to respond.
Everyone was now looking at Dean. Neville was nodding, excited to hear the tale. However, Ginny looked at her with shrewd eyes, testing her. Everything she and Dean had discussed preparing for this moment flew from her mind. Calm and steady, she reminded herself. She looked away from Ginny and politely at Dean.
“Well, I suppose my charms and good looks wouldn’t sell it?” Dean said with a laugh. He seemed wholly nonplussed by Ginny’s presence when just an hour previously he hadn’t been able to hold himself together.
Professor Slughorn also laughed. “No m’boy, Hermione Granger is made of different stuff than most girls your age. Those paltry tricks won’t work on the likes of her. Tell me, Ms. Granger, have you met your intellectual equal, then?”
Hermione laughed nervously, feeling the pressure to respond graciously. “I’m not sure about all of that, Professor.” The questions were not only impertinent but nerve-wracking. Ginny seemed very interested in her answer. Dean was counting on her to lie effectively. “We both are the only Gryffindors in our year taking N.E.W.T.s level Arithmancy, so we began studying together. Most people don’t like my pacing when we study so I generally do it alone. He’s been up to the task, though. We just kind of continued from there,” she finished, lamely.
“Oh delightful! Young love can be so promising. Ms. Granger’s mind is uncanny. She’ll be the Minister of Magic one day if she continues on her path. You are very lucky, Mr. Thomas.” With that, Professor Slughorn threw back his goblet, draining the rest of its contents. “Come along Ciaran, I’m sure Mr. Potter is about here somewhere.”
Dean pulled her closer into him, beaming. She was relieved. She had done a good job, everyone was actually buying it.
“I didn’t realize Arithmancy required so much studying,” Ginny said, finally addressing them. Her eyes flashed. Neville seemed to be oblivious to the danger in her voice, but Hermione could see the slight tinge of red creeping up her neck.
If he had noticed this, Dean didn’t seem perturbed. Rubbing his hand along her side he said, “Yeah these N.E.W.T.s level courses are no joke. Who knows where I’d be without Hermione?”
The tension was cut abruptly by Mr. Filch, who barged loudly into the center of the room, dragging Malfoy behind him. The music stopped. Hermione’s eyes searched the room for Harry. He was standing with Professor Snape and Professor Slughorn as Mr. Filch and Malfoy approached. A feeling of unease over came her. She generally got that sort of feeling when one of the boys was about to do something reckless. She didn’t have time to worry about that, she reminded herself. Seeing their opportunity to escape, she muttered something to Neville, excusing themselves and pulling Dean away.
After Malfoy’s gatecrash, the party began to slowly dwindle. Hermione and Dean decided it was probably time for them to take their leave, as well. They both had to be up in the morning to finish packing and catch the train home for the holidays. They bid Luna goodnight, but didn’t find Harry with her. She now felt sure he was up to something.
“You want to walk back with us?” Dean asked Luna.
“No, I’m alright. I think I’ll wait here for Harry.”
On their way back, Dean inquired as to whether Hermione was hungry because she hadn’t eaten anything at the party. She tried to explain to Dean the importance of house-elf rights. The only food on offer at the party had been on silver platters carried by the Hogwarts house-elves. To her surprise, he listened and seemed to agree with her. Before she could press further and tell him about S.P.E.W., they made it back to the common room.
It was mostly empty, with a few pockets of students huddled around the fire.
“You did really well tonight, Granger,” Dean said in a low tone so that they wouldn’t be overheard.
“Are you sure?” she asked. She wanted to do well at this, not only for Dean, but for herself. If she was going to take the time to do something, she wanted to do it right.
“Absolutely. Did you see how Gin was looking at us?”
“Yes,” she said with a sudden groan. “I don’t know, Dean. Who is going to believe you are actually interested in me? I saw the way you were looking at her, tonight. I mean, Merlin, who didn’t notice her?”
“Are we really going to have this conversation?” he asked exasperatedly. “Do you honestly think you’re not pretty?”
“I’m not searching for compliments! I’m just saying it doesn’t seem believable to me, logically speaking, that you’ve gone from dating Ginny who’s popular, has beautiful hair, and likes sports, to me, who is none of those things.”
He rolled his eyes. “You really are something else. Look, Gin’s gorgeous. But you’ve got more confidence. You don’t put all this effort into it. I told you how amazing you looked tonight, and I meant it.”
She avoided his gaze, feeling her face heat up once again. She really wasn’t looking for his pity or compliments. It wasn’t embarrassment that was making her blush, though. It was the fact that he wasn’t saying it out of pity. He actually was being genuine. She still thought he was off his rocker, though.
“Can we get back to celebrating this victory now?”
She glanced up at him. His eyebrows were raised expectantly. “Alright, yeah.”
He held his hand up for a high-five. “Operation ‘Secret Lovers’ is in full swing!”
“Ew gross, no. We’re not calling it that.” She wrinkled her nose but slapped his hand and laughed anyway.
Hermione was in good spirits as she walked up the stairs to the dormitory. Maybe her being in a relationship with Dean Thomas wasn’t so unbelievable.