The Next Dance


Story Summary:
Harry Potter and Parvati Patil have beaten back an attack by Voldemort early in their fifth year and are now a couple. Lucius Malfoy is on the run and Draco is penniless. But will an injured Voldemort lash back? Or will an angry and embittered Draco strike first? And will Harry's romance survive Parvati's legendary temper, especially with Hermione there for him? And what of the brooding character that makes this fic decidedly A/U? Sequel to Dance With Me Harry.

Chapter 23

Chapter Summary:
Fifth Year A/U: Harry Potter and Parvati Patil have beaten back an attack by Voldemort early in their fifth year and are now a couple. But can their realtionship, and their lives, survive a fugitive Lucius Malfoy, a penniless, embittered Draco, an injured and angry Voldemort, and Parvati’s legendary temper, especially with Hermione there for Harry? And what of the brooding character that makes this fic decidedly A/U? Sequel to Dance With Me Harry. This chapter: What is love? Voldemort and Fudge plot; Hermione's adventures in Wizarding life and snogging; and Harry gets unexpected lessons.
Author's Note:
This is a sequel to my earlier novel, Dance With Me Harry. Reading the first part of this series is highly recommended. Also, this is an A/U fic, taking place in Harry’s fifth year. However, there will be elements from OotP that may surface from time to time, so be aware of the potential spoiler effect for all five books. Thank you for all your wonderful reviews. Please continue to read and review.





* * *

Hermione sighed audibly.

She and Ron were walking back from the library. It was surprisingly early for Hermione, but Ron had been unusually restless, even for him, in the presence of so many books. Hermione was bound and determined to pay more attention and be a better girlfriend to Ron. So she packed up before completing her Arithmancy homework to give Ron a break.

As they walked down the long hallway from the library's main entrance to the Grand Staircases, Hermione sensed Ron take a deep breath. She frowned, wondering what that was about when she felt an arm snake around her waist.

She flinched.

Then she realized it was just Ron trying to put his arm around her as they walked along.

"Sorry," he mumbled and withdrew his arm.

Hermione bit her lip. "It's all right," she said in a quiet, shaky voice.

"It's okay," Ron said quietly as he continued to walk by her side.

Hermione carefully reached out and grabbed Ron's hand. She wasn't sure if this was what he wanted or liked. It just seemed to be the right thing to do.

* * *

Dear Tony and Mae,

How are you? My week has been real weird. School still is tough, but I am studying hard like I promised. Parvati is okay. She has been out of sorts but I guess things are fine now. I guess I've been kind of out of sorts too, so I guess everything evens out.

But I've been thinking a lot these past few days. I can't explain it real well. But I've been thinking a lot about things.

I was just kind of wondering about things like love. I am not sure what it's all about. I don't know if I can explain it. Like, what is love?

People keep saying they love me. But I don't know. Like Professor Dumbledore says he always loved me. But why did he send me away when my mum and dad were killed and never come to see me? Why did I have to grow up with the Dursleys who hated me if there were people out there who loved me?

Sirius loves me. But now he's gone away to Portsmouth. I do get to see him sometimes in Hogsmeade, but sometimes he can't make it. There's lots of stuff I'd like to talk to him about, but I don't know until the last minute whether he's going to be around to talk to. And sometimes, Parvati's sister Lakshmi is there, so I really can't talk to him about stuff the way I want to.

I thought I loved Hermione for the longest time. Then, when I tried to tell her, she didn't say anything and hurt my feelings. Then, when I started to like Parvati, Hermione got all upset and wouldn't talk to me for the longest time.

Ron is cool. But sometimes we fight over the stupidest things. Is that part of loving someone? Ron complains that he fights a lot with his brothers but he still says he loves them. I guess Ron is like my brother. I don't know. I never had a brother, just a cousin, and I don't love him, that's for sure.

And Parvati and I have fights sometimes. But she always seems to come back and we make up. But sometimes it scares me when she gets mad. And sometimes I get mad at her for stupid things, like sometimes she says rude things about people I know. She always says nasty things about this one girl, Pansy, but she's a real disgusting girl who tried to get me to go snogging with her when she knew I was Parvati's boyfriend. I would rather snog the toilets than kiss Pansy. She also says some stuff about this other girl, Hannah Abbott, who is her friend. Hannah's like the prettiest girl in Hogwarts, the only one who could give Parvati competition. And she always seems really nice to people. But Hannah stopped dating boys after her old boyfriend cheated on her and her next boyfriend was a real toad. Parvati keeps saying Hannah should stop sulking and get a life, or at least a boyfriend.

And sometimes Parvati gets mad when she sees Hermione and me talking together without her and makes comments that I don't like.

And sometimes things happen that make us both scared. I really like her as a girlfriend, but I don't know if I'm in love with her. I think I am. All I know is that when she is around me, I feel good. I feel comfortable. And when she gets mad about something, it scares me that she won't be there to lean against when we study or I won't have someone to hold my hand when I feel depressed or tired. Is that love? Even if she makes me mad sometimes?

And what happens when you get married? I know my aunt and uncle never seemed to be like Parvati and me. They would talk about Uncle Vernon's work sometimes and Aunt Petunia's garden or what goes on with the neighbors, but they never seemed to talk about other stuff. I never saw them hold hands or lean against each other. I remember seeing Aunt Petunia take my uncle's arm when they were coming into church at Christmas, but that's it. Does that mean if Parvati and I get married, we'll end up boring and ignoring each other all the time? I know you talk to each other all the time and laugh about things, but I don't know if that's because you're like the vicar and the vicar's wife and are supposed to act that way because you do so much stuff together, helping people all the time.

Sometimes I just don't know.

Well, I've got to go to supper now.

I hope you write me soon again.



* * *


Thanks for your owl. And might I add, it's about time! I know you are busy, but so is Padma, and she seems to find time to write much more often.

First of all, I am a little taken aback by your question about Harry's finances. That is not something a lady in love should be concerning herself with, at least until the question of marriage arises. And you are much too young for that, young lady. Furthermore, it should be left as a matter between you and Harry. Only if there are questions about a suitor's ability to support his intended should the family become involved.

That being said, let me assure you that Harry's currently accessible resources, as much as we can we can determine, are nearly on par with what you have now in your trust fund. We have been conducting, with Harry's permission of course, discrete inquiries about the rest of the Potter estate as it was known to be quite large before his parents' untimely deaths. Our solicitor, Mr. Arbuthnot says that there is some mystery about the administration of the trust, but that should not concern you. So please do not let it worry you.

Now, on to more pleasant matters. I am pleased to hear about your second-term grades. Being in the top quarter of your class shows what you can do when you apply yourself. Please be kind to your sister. She was so proud to be No. 1 in your class last term that I am sure she is very disappointed to drop down to No. 2 this term. So please, try to go out of your way to be nice to her, and give her all the support you can.

Everyone here is fine. Daddy is pleased that business is doing a little better recently. Gani is still sulking over not being allowed to try out for the Indian National Quidditch Team. Now, don't roll your eyes. I know how silly it is, but it was important to him. Monkey is still up to his old tricks. Hari is livid at him for setting him up on a blind date last week with what turned out to be a 67-year-old witch. Janine is due any day now, and Shane is frantic. You'd think it was their first child, not their third, judging by the way he is acting.

Finally, Lakshmi has been acting distracted lately. Something is going on between her and Sirius. She is by turns elated and moody, so I am not sure what to think. Sirius has been abnormally quiet, himself, lately. I am not sure what is going on, but I have an idea. Whatever it is, at least Shi-Shi hasn't been as withdrawn as she's been in the past, so that's good. I think Sirius is good for her.

Nothing more for now, so I'll close here.

All my love,


Parvati closed the letter and frowned. Her false pregnancy last week had scared her and Harry both badly. For the first time, she had started to think seriously, beyond her occasional dream-like fantasies, about their long-term relationship. She had tried to be as grown-up as possible. But she realized that trying to 'act' grown up, and facing real life grown-up realities, were two different things. She frowned about whether she was really as grown up as she thought.

She slowly brought her hand up to her chest and felt the fidelity necklace with the charmed intertwined hearts that Harry had given her at Christmas. She bit her lip as she brought it up to look at it. She noticed that, for the first time, the ruby heart was a little off-center. She frowned at this. She knew in her soul that the ruby heart was hers and the heart with the green gem, the peridot, was Harry's. The peridot heart was often a little off center, which was usually when Harry did something that got her annoyed. But she always knew his attempts at making things right between them were sincere as the green heart always recentered itself.

But Parvati was worried now. Why was the ruby heart a little off center and the peridot heart fully centered? Was there something in her heart that made her doubt her love for Harry? She shook her head. Maybe she still had doubts about Harry's friendship with Hermione. Parvati knew her grumblings and complaints about Hermione annoyed Harry no end. That could be it. Maybe if she was extra nice to Hermione, that would show she didn't have any doubts about her own love for Harry. She nodded to herself. Maybe that would do it.

* * *

It was no end of wonder to Harry how short the Scottish days were in winter and how long they were in Summer. He had been running the stairs of the Grand Staircases for four months during the winter when suddenly it struck him that it was already light when he started his run. And now, the fierce Scottish winter had given way to a milder, if still brisk, early spring.

He shook his head. At least there wouldn't be any debate about running in the cold outdoors. Mike Gillespie, who had run the staircases with him, had found other stimina-building exercises that were more conducive to sleeping in, and Ernie Macmillan, who had joined Harry and Mike for a while, had found he really couldn't keep up and followed Mike's lead.

So this late March morning, Harry donned his sweatshirt, trainers and running shorts and made his way out the main entryway and went through a brief set of warm-up stretches against the side of the castle nearest the greenhouses and the side entrance to Hufflepuff house.

He looked up when he heard a distant rumble. It was unseasonably mild. But off in the distance, he could see a line of dark clouds. 'Storm's coming,' he thought.

Harry was quickly through his stretches and then started on his way past the Hufflepuff greenhouse and on around the main Herbology greenhouses and out of sight.

He didn't notice the pretty young woman with the blond hair tied back under a bandana suddenly pause in her early morning gardening among her orchids to watch him intently.

Hannah Abbott sighed and gave a small, guilty smile. Harry was back.

* * *

Harry found he was tired but wasn't winded as he neared the halfway point on his third circuit around the castle. He was still brooding about what happened with Parvati last week, when she thought she was pregnant. He wished Sirius was around just to talk to. Sirius would know what to tell him. Then he saw something out of the corner of his eye that interrupted his tedious self-absorption. He slackened his pace and smiled as he saw Hagrid walking casually with his dog Fang. Harry smiled to himself and veered off his course and headed toward the half-giant.

"Hagrid!" he called out across the stretch of Great Lawn.

He could see even at a distance Hagrid's face split into a grin through his massive beard. In moments, Harry had caught up with his friend.

"So, Harry, still running around like you got a banshee on yer tail?" Hagrid said with a broad smile.

Harry nodded. "Never know when a banshee might show up, so I thought it best to be prepared," he said with a grin. Then his face became anxious. "We're not going to be studying them this year, are we?"

Hagrid snorted, then chuckled as Fang suddenly returned from a side trip and nearly toppled Harry with an enthusiastic greeting. "Here, Fang. Don't you be smothering poor Harry at this hour of the morning." He then turned to Harry. "No, no banshees comin' here to Hogwarts. You want to know about that lot, you got to go to Auror Academy or become an unspeakable. Too dangerous, they be."

Harry nodded and continued walking side-by-side with his first friend in the Wizarding world--perhaps his first real friend ever.

After a companionable few minutes, Hagrid cleared his throat. "So, Harry, how's things with yer girl, that twin of yers."

Harry nodded, then shrugged.

Hagrid frowned. "Come now. She's a pretty thing, she is. You should be jumping up and down whenever you think of her."

Harry shrugged again with a half smile. "She's great, Hagrid." He continued to walk beside his huge friend when finally he spoke again. "Hagrid, I'm just wondering about ... well, being in love and stuff. Like I don't know what I'm supposed to feel or supposed to do if I'm in love."

Hagrid frowned as they continued to walk in the cold morning mist. "Harry, I'm not the best 'un to talk about such things," he said thoughtfully. "I loved my mum...what I can remember. An' my one was a greater man than him, at least to my eyes. I loved him like anything." The half giant sighed. "But I been here at Hogwarts for nigh on 50 years now. Never had much a chance ta be romancin'." Hagrid sighed. "But I know the Headmaster loves me. And some of the professors care about me. And my creatures. I always got my friends in the forest."

Harry sighed and looked up at his friend. "What about Madame Maxim?"

Hagrid nodded and seemed to blush under this shaggy beard. "Olympe's sumpin' special, ain't she?" he said in a faraway voice. "Don't know if she and I will get together..." He seemed to drift off in thought.

Harry continued to pace his friend. For once he didn't have to scurry to keep up with his giant friend's ambling pace.

Finally, Harry and Hagrid reached Hagrid's hut. Fang bounded past the two friends and raced into the hut. Hagrid slowly turned. "Listen to me, Harry. You find sumpin' ... someone that makes ya happy, hang ta her. I know how holdin' Olympe's hand makes me feel. An' I know how it feels at not have her here, or ta be stuck seein' her only once ever' four or five months or so, and be missin' her. So don't go thinkin' yerself outta what makes ya happy, Harry. Just enjoy it."

* * *

Hermione was distinctly annoyed when she entered the Gryffindor Common room. First she and Ron seemed about as awkward as strangers around each other. And then she noticed Ron wistfully eyeing Parvati. She couldn't understand that at all. Now this.

Ron and Harry looked up from their History of Magic texts, startled. "What's wrong?" Harry ventured.

"I can't believe it," Hermione exclaimed in exasperation. "I'm trying to put together an extra credit assignment for Professor Snape and the potions' supply room is fresh out of half the supplies I need. They told me to try again next week, or that maybe I can beg some off of Professor Sprout on Monday." She shook her head and walked up to her dorm room.

Harry turned to Ron, who simply shrugged. "Must be an April Fools joke, a couple days late," Harry said with a smile. "Come on, let's go outside. It's too nice a day to be hanging around, studying."

Ron shrugged again. "Sounds good to me. I don't look forward to scrubbing down, anyway." He then looked at Harry with a grin. "Bet half the guys who play Quidditch will be down at the pitch today. None of the girls, though."

Harry gave Ron a quizzical look, the paused. Then he remembered. Potions Day. He smiled guiltily as they went upstairs to grab their brooms to do a few Quidditch moves together out above the Great Lawn.

* * *

Hermione burst into her dorm room and was met by a foul smell. She looked around the room and saw Lavender and Parvati in outfits she rarely, if ever saw them in. Lavender was in old, faded jeans, a gray sweatshirt and old pink deck shoes. Her hair was pinned up and stuffed under a kerchief. She was also wearing dragon hide gloves. Parvati was wearing a pair of her old riding breeches that were now a little too short for her and an old, long-sleeve flannel shirt that Hermione realized darkly had once belonged to Harry. She was wearing boots and had her braid pinned up on top of her head under a wool winter hat that had seen better days.

Neither girl was wearing makeup, for a change. Both were wearing old towels wrapped around their knees. And both were sweating.

Hermione gasped and went to the windows, but saw that they were already wide open. "What in Merlin's name is that smell?"

Lavender, who had been scrubbing the floor on her hands and knees, looked up. "Well, look who's here. Don't tell me the queen has decided to come help."

Hermione looked at Lavender in annoyance and confusion. "What are you talking about?"

Lavender wiped her brow with the sleeve of her sweatshirt. "You didn't see Seamus down in the common room, did you?"

Hermione shook her head, still confused.

Lavender shook her head. "Of course not," she muttered darkly.

"What do you mean?" Hermione said with a puzzled expression.

Lavender just shrugged, wearily. "Well, I thought if Seamus and Harry were down there, they could come up and help. And now that you're here, you could bring Ron up to provide what little help he'd be. We could turn it into sort of a party," she said with a tired smile.

Hermione gasped at the thought of allowing boys up in the girls' dorms.

Parvati gave a sharp laugh. "Thank God they're not down there, Lav. Do you really think they'd be any help? And then they'd expect us to go over to their side and do the same for them. Merlin only knows what we'd find over there. Three-week-old sandwiches, a complete collection of Gentleman Wizard magazines, cockroaches who committed suicide rather than live in such conditions...who knows."

Hermione was now wide-eyed. "What on Earth are you two talking about?"

Parvati and Lavender looked up at Hermione in puzzlement. "It's Potions' Day, Herm. What's wrong with you?" Lavender said.

Hermione shifted uncomfortably. She was familiar with the Wizarding World's holidays: New Years' Day, the seasonal change days, Valentine's Day, May Day, Ancestor's Day in July, New Beginnings Day on September 1st, Halloween and All Saints Day, and Christmas. But she'd never heard of Potions' Day. Or maybe she had in passing, but she'd assumed that it had to do with potions class.

She felt embarrassed. "What's...what's Potions' Day?" she asked, her face turning red.

Lavender stared at her, open-mouthed. "What...?"

Parvati looked at Hermione closely. "Oh, my God! You really don't know, do you? And all these years we thought you disappeared into the library on Potions Day just to avoid your share of the work," she said laughing.

Lavender turned and gave Parvati a dirty look. "I don't see what's so funny. We've been doing all the work all along and the Queen of the May here has never done her share. It's about time she pitched in," she said acidly.

Parvati was still laughing. "Lav. Hermione's a muggle. She doesn't know," she said through her laughter.

Lavender looked back at Hermione and saw her confusion mirrored on Hermione's face. "But everybody knows about Potions' Day...don't they?"

Hermione was blushing crimson now. She shook her head. "No, I don't," she said in a small, pleading voice. "I never read anything about that."

Parvati, who was kneeling in front of a basin full of soaking bed sheets and blankets, stood up, arching her back to ease the kinks out, and smiled. "Oh, Hermione," she said, shaking her head. "It's not something you read in a book. It's just ... our way of life." She gave a theatrical sigh. "You would make some poor wizard a great husband. But I don't know about being a great wife," she said, shaking her head.

Hermione was now swaying in confusion and embarrassment. "What's this all about? Will one of you please explain this to me?"

Parvati gave her an indulgent smile. "Hermione. The first Saturday after April 1st when the weather is nice, every household in the wizarding world breaks out their potions ingredients and cleans out the house thoroughly. We put down potions for cleansing, for hygiene, for pests, against various types of weather and wear damage, all sorts of things. Even if you have house elves, everyone takes part in Potions Day. Don't tell me they don't have anything like that in the muggle world."

Hermione, who continued to blush, gave a small shrug. "Well, there's what we call spring cleaning..."

Parvati nodded. "Well, that's what we're doing. I mean, what do you think we've been learning about in Potions class all these years. About half the things we've learned you use on Potions' Day," she said, beginning to laugh again.

Hermione now looked thoroughly disconcerted. "But why didn't anyone tell me?"

Lavender gave her an annoyed look and shook her head. "Every year, we'd tell you it's Potions' Day, but you never listened. You were in too big a rush to get to the library and avoid all the real work," she said bitterly.

Parvati shook her head in resignation. "Hermione, you are always in such a rush to do school work that you never listen. Like I say, the stuff we learn in class isn't just a bunch of school subjects to be memorized. It's all about the way life is...I don't know what you would call it..."

Hermione gasped. She remembered when Harry had a confrontation with Snape after a particularly brutal potions class. She and Ron worried that he was going to say or do something that would get him expelled. Instead, he had come back from that meeting chastened. He had told them that he realized that, in Snape's words, he was 'in the wizarding world, but not of the wizarding world.' Harry had become a much more attentive student after that, even to the point where Snape, although not abandoning his sarcastic ways, had been less threatening to Harry.

Now she understood. Hogwarts didn't just teach academic subjects. It was teaching young people a way of life. Suddenly, much of what Hermione was learning now had a context. She was not just a student. She was a witch. And when she left Hogwarts, she would be expected to act like a witch not just in the classroom, but in life. Hermione swayed a little and moved to her bed to sit down.

Parvati, walked over to her with concern showing on her face. "Are you all right, Herm?" she asked softly.

Hermione shook her head slowly and then looked up at her dark-haired roommate who she secretly still resented for stealing Harry. "I guess...I guess I just didn't understand..." she said in a small voice.

"Well now you do," Lavender snapped. "This would be bad enough if we had a full complement of five to do all the work, but with just Parvati and me, it's damn near impossible. Now, unless you have a hot date with Ron, I suggest you get into some old clothes and give us a hand."

"I feel...a little dizzy...a little overwhelmed..." Hermione managed to squeak out.

Lavender was about to say something else, but Parvati turned and gave her a small shake of her head. She turned back to Hermione. "Look, it's almost time for lunch. Normally, we'd eat up here in the dorm, but today I think we should all take lunch down in the Great Hall. It might be a little quiet down there today, but I wouldn't want anyone to see me like this," she said, turning to Lavender. "What do you say, Lav? Want to freshen up and go downstairs for lunch? Maybe we can snag the boys after all and drag them up here to help."

Lavender's face broke into a mischievous grin. "Sure, why not?"

Hermione looked back and forth between her two roommates. "But I don't know what to do?"

Parvati smiled at her. "Don't worry. We'll show you. And if the boys decide to try dragging us up to their dorm to help them afterwards, we'll go and you'll get a crash course in Potions' Day." And then Parvati's face took on a sly grin. "And if we do go up there, you never know what kind of incriminating material we might find. It may end up being worth the effort."

Lavender stood up, now smiling broadly. "You know, Potions' Day is supposed to be a fun, friendly day where everyone works together. If we can get the boys involved, it may end up even friendlier and more fun than usual," she said with a laugh.

Parvati shared the laugh and looked down at Hermione. "We're going to wash up. Don't you go wandering off to the library now," she said with a smile, squeezing Hermione's shoulder.

Hermione watched as the two grabbed some clean clothes and raced off to the girls' bathroom. She flopped back on the bed with mixed feelings. What else did she not know about the wizarding world? she thought ruefully. And what had she been too proud or too afraid to ask about in the past?

Maybe ... just maybe, it was time to start asking stupid questions about the world she now lived in. Hermione sighed and went to her trunk to find her oldest, most ratty clothes. Maybe it's time to become 'of the Wizarding World.'

* * *

Lucius heard the scream of anguish and fury from all the way to the ground floor of the Riddle mansion. He froze in fear, knowing that, if he suddenly appeared in the Dark Lord's study, he was liable to be cursed insensible, but if he failed to respond, an even worse punishment could be in store for failing to come to his master's aid. He quickly made his way up the stairs and, taking a deep breath, entered Voldemort's presence.

Voldemort had been severely shaken by his encounter with Harry and Parvati in the Forbidden Forest better than six months ago. He had not only failed to vanquish his nemesis, but had lost several of his top aides and had been severely injured in the process, suffering second and third degree burns on his chest, neck, and face from Parvati's Incendio curse as he and Harry had battled to a standstill in a test of power.

From that point, Voldemort had become withdrawn. He had undergone months of treatments and taken countless potions, first from that idiot med wizard Lucius had kidnapped from St. Mungo's, then from Lucius and Severus, after Dr. Bradbury was no longer needed and was disposed of.

This had given the Dark Lord time to think. Or more to the point, it had given him time to obsess. He realized, having come perilously close to death at the hands of an under-aged wizard and witch, that he was perilously mortal. This realization led to a deepening of his one driving obsession: Immortality.

Voldemort had noticed the elder Malfoy's growing discomfort at the lack of action and at the casual way he had spent Lucius's money on mercenary deadbeats from Knockturn Alley and other dark corners of Wizarding Britain. But that was of no matter. Lucius was a servant, and his concerns were of no consequence.

But now Voldemort stared at the moldering page of the ancient tome before him and raged. Here was the answer he was looking for. Here was the key to immortality. Here was everything he had aimed his life toward. And it was for naught. All for a cup of dragon's bile.

Voldemort slowly closed his glowing red eyes and regained his composure, ignoring the sudden intrusion of his chief servant, Lucius Malfoy.

All for a cup of dragon's bile. But not just the bile of any dragon. Not for a cup of Chinese Red. Not for a Norwegian Ridgeback. Not for a Hungarian Horntail.

No. Those would be fatal.

No. It had to be a cup of bile from an Imperial Golden Dragon.

And Imperial Golden Dragons were extinct.

Voldemort remembered the tedious classes with an uncertain, and virtually useless, Professor Binns. The man had been a mere clerk in the Ministry of Magic for decades who had, by dint of longevity and inconspicuousness, managed to rise to the level of assistant minister for Pureblood Affairs before being shunted aside by a more ambitious and politically astute rival. But that fool of a Headmaster Armando Dippet had remembered his old housemate from decades before when they were children and offered Binns the History of Magic teaching job. Riddle snorted at the sheer incompetence of the man. Both men.

But he also remembered Binn's story of the last Golden Imperial Dragons.

Golden Imperial Dragons were found only in the Ural Mountains and had been hunted down through the centuries. By 1800, there were only a dozen left, and they were kept by the chief sorcerer of the Czars.

Then, Napoleon happened. Just prior to the Little Colonel's invasion of Russia, a small group of French wizards in Napoleon's employ crossed the border and managed to slay what many in the Beauxbatons element of the French military wizarding world believed to be the only barrier to Napoleon's success--the last Golden Imperial Dragons in the world.

The last of the Golden Imperial Dragons were dead. And with their death came the death of Voldemort's dream of an easy route to immortality, for a cup of bile from an Imperial Golden Dragon was the key ingredient to the immortality potion.

Voldemort peered down from his throne at the form of his chief servant. Lucius tensed as he noticed the Dark Lord's hand grip his wand. "Lucius," he hissed softly. "Why do you bring me these books that take me to the brink of my dreams, then so rudely close me off from them?"

Lucius was now visibly struggling with his composure as he tried desperately to keep his dignity before the creature that held his life in his hands. "My Lord?" he mumbled.

Voldemort slowly closed his eyes. "I need a cup of Imperial Golden Dragon bile."

Lucius shivered. He knew that no such ingredient existed. He braced for Voldemort's fury. As moments passed, Lucius finally looked up. Voldemort seemed to be deep in thought. Finally, the Dark Lord looked back at Lucius. "You are a valuable servant. Perhaps we have waited too long to act in a decisive way. It is time to move. Prepare for Azkaban."

Lucius blinked. Perhaps he was not to be tortured or killed. He merely nodded and backed out of the room. As he was nearly through the doorway, Voldemort spoke again.

"Send me one of the useless ones," the Dark Lord hissed. "I need to exercise my powers."

Lucius was halfway down the stairs when he heard the screaming of one of the Knockturn Alley recruits begin. The screaming continued for a long, long time.

* * *

Sejanus Cross, the senior special assistant to the Minister of Magic, looked across the broad desk at Cornelius Fudge. "I'm concerned," Cross said quietly.

Fudge leaned back and eyed his special assistant. "Why?"

Cross pursed his lips. "You know inquiries are being made."

Fudge nodded. "So?"

"Junius Arbuthnot has been making those inquiries."

Fudge frowned. Arbuthnot and Greaves was the top law firm in the wizarding world. And to have them looking into a legal matter was a matter of some concern. But to have one of the named partners was a very serious matter.

Fudge frowned. "Which one? Junior or the third?"

Cross lowered his head. "The old man."

Fudge's eyes widened. Junius Arbuthnot Sr. had been practicing law for over 100 years. He had been retired for twenty years, but came out of retirement on very special occasions for important clients to the firm. "What has he found?" Fudge croaked out.

Cross shook his head. "Nothing, so far." Cross then looked up at his boss, his eyebrows raised. "He's looking into both Potter's and Black's estates."

Fudge exhaled loudly. "Our friends are all in place? All steadfast?"

Cross nodded.

Fudge looked down, his face a mask of concern. "Anything we can do to make this go way?"

Cross shrugged. "Junius is absolutely incorruptible. So are his son and grandson. But we are safe as long as everyone stays the course."

Fudge nodded.

Cross took a deep breath. "But only that long. If anyone wavers, we are in trouble."

Fudge borrowed his eyes. "Our friend at Gringotts. Any problem?"

Cross shook his head. "He knows the consequences if any irregularities in the vaults are discovered. Head, heart and hands, and all that. It's our people who we have to worry about."

"Peggoty?" Fudge asked of the Minister of Pureblood Affairs.

"He's in it up to his neck. He'd never talk," Cross replied.

Fudge looked across his office, deep in thought. "Any options?"

Cross frowned again. "Restore Potter's and Black's vaults and estates?"

Fudge shook his head vigorously. "Potter's is too big. And we don't even control most of the estate anymore. What about Black's?"

Cross shrugged his shoulders. "Not much there. Not much left. Most of it has been dissipated over the past couple hundred years. They had maybe 65,000 Galleons in the vaults. A small homestead up in Lincolnshire. There was supposed to be some great Black mansion somewhere ... I don't know where it was supposed to be. No one seems to be able to remember where it was. I even talked to that senile old fool in the property registrar's office ... what was his name? Elpias Doge. He says that it was disposed of long ago to cover living expenses. No records of it, of course. Doge probably filed it under 'M' for Manor rather than 'B' for Black, the old fool" Cross said with contempt.

Fudge templed his fingers and pressed them to his lips as he leaned forward. "Only 65,000 left? The Black fortune was one of the biggest in Britain at one time."

Cross snorted. "Maybe a few hundred years ago. But you know how the Blacks were. All airs and no substance. In another generation, they would have been penniless. Pureblood arrogance at its worst."

Fudge nodded distractedly. "Only 65,000 Galleons?"

Cross nodded.

Fudge sighed. "Have our 'friend' over at Gringotts put it back in the family vault. Tell Judge Wormer to dismiss the challenges and let it go to Black."

Cross chuckled. "Sirius Black, you mean?"

Fudge nodded.

"And Potter?" Cross asked.

Fudge's face clouded. "No!" he said firmly. "It's too much. And we'd never be able to restore the estates. What, we've sold some of those same properties to the Rookwoods, then to Malfoy, now to the Camerons. And you know how the Camerons are. We'd never get it back from them without a row."

Cross took a deep breath. "There's still the east quadrant. We haven't resold that yet."

Fudge shook his head. "It's the most valuable of all. It's worth nearly a million. And the Adairs are bidding for it."

Cross nodded reluctantly. He slowly raised his eyes to Fudge's. "Have you thought that maybe it might be a good time to stop?"

Fudge raised his eyebrows. "Stop?"

Cross took a deep breath. "We've made millions. More than enough," he said quietly.

Fudge leaned back in this thick leather chair and shook his head sadly. "It's not enough," he stated.

Cross pursed his lips nervously. "But what more..."

Fudge leaned forward. "Listen Cross. You're supposed to be the smart one. What can you tell me about the highlights of wizarding history over the past fifty years?"

Cross gave Fudge a puzzled look. Then he shrugged. "The defeat of Grindelwald. A period of calm for twenty years. The Pretium Jones impeachment and bribery scandals of the 1960s. Again a period of calm for about ten years. Then the rise of Voldemort. Voldemort's defeat in 1981 and more calm under your leadership. That's it, I guess."

Fudge templed his fingers and leaned further forward, his elbows on his massive, ornate desk. "Lots of lessons to be learned just in those cursory facts."

Cross frowned, his puzzlement apparent.

Fudge sighed. "We've had three major wars in the past fifty years."

Cross looked startled. "Three?"

Fudge nodded. "Grindelwald. Voldemort's first war. And right now."

Cross blinked. "Now?"

Fudge nodded again. "Of course! Voldemort's back. Of course, he's weak and should pose little threat in the long run. Potter made that evident with his little stunt in the Forbidden Forest. But he can wreak havoc for a while before we contain him, if we're lucky."

Cross shook his head in confusion.

Fudge now leaned forward again in seeming exasperation, as if he were lecturing a particularly thick student. "Listen, when Grindelwald was at large, he caused widespread disruption among the clans and the moneyed purebloods. Whole clans and families were wiped out or were left with few survivors. Then Voldemort came along and did the same."

Cross nodded, still puzzled.

Fudge took a deep breath. "The Woodward clan was wiped out by Voldemort. So was the Roque clan. And the Phillips and Chesney families."

Cross now frowned in concentration, a new level of understanding crossing his features.

Fudge nodded. "And who administered the sizable estates of those now nonexistent clans and families with no claimants?"

Cross gave a wintry smile. "The ministry."

Fudge nodded. "And you've made your share off of them, now, haven't you."

Cross nodded.

Fudge continued. "And look at the pureblood world right now. The McKinnons were among the richest of the families. And who among the McKinnons are left? Some kid in Hogwarts. The Longbottoms? Only old lady Prunella who is a step away from the grave and that squib of a grandson of hers. I don't think Frank and Alice Longbottom are going to come waltzing out of St. Mungo's any time soon to claim their inheritance. The Prewitts? Again, a single boy in Hogwarts and a ... hmmm ... a distant relation--Molly, a middle-aged woman who was never close to the family. Married Arthur Weasley. There are on two members of the Bones family left, that overreaching bitch Amelia and her niece. The Crouches ... well they're gone now. We are close to taking care of their attorney and grabbing their estate. The Rookwoods? I don't know that there's anyone of importance left. There's only the one Rosier boy left, and he's disappeared. Potter's the last of his line. And the Potter estate is a big one. But the really big one is Malfoy."

Cross stared in wide-eyed amazement at Fudge. "You mean ... ?"

Fudge leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. "That's right. There's another war going on that no one seems to know about. Well, except maybe that meddler Dumbledore. And all these people are in the middle of it. And we shall keep everyone else from knowing about it for as long as possible. A few attacks, a good bit of combat and we may find a few more of the big families wiped out, leaving their estates for us to ... 'administer,' as we have all the others from the first Voldemort war. Especially Potter's and Malfoy's."

Cross looked at Fudge in amazement. "But ... but what if You-Know-Who comes after us?"

Fudge opened his eyes. "He won't. Lucius will see to that."

Cross's eyes fluttered. "But what if You-Know-Who wins?"

Fudge snorted. "He won't. If things start going bad, we unleash everything we've got, including our special friends among the unspeakables, against him. And give Dumbledore a free hand. That should take care of any problem. Including Lucius, if it comes down to that."

Cross was now breathing heavily. "But ... don't we have enough already? I mean ... millions."

Fudge suddenly leaned forward, his eyes intense. He pointed his finger at Cross's chest. "What was the other lesson we learned in the past fifty years?" he growled.

Cross leaned back and gave a nervous shrug.

Fudge's eyes were burning now. "Pretium Jones embezzled nearly two million Galleons. But when he was caught, it wasn't enough. His impeachment vote passed by a twenty-vote margin and he ended his days in Azkaban. Why? Because two million for bribes was not quite enough. I'm not a small-time fool like Jones. I intend to have more than enough insurance to take care of my friends in the Wizangamut by a wide margin if anything goes wrong, plus enough left over to live the good life afterward. A very good life. Understand?"

Cross nodded.

Fudge leaned back and interlaced his fingers across his chest. "Our big concern is Potter. We may have acted prematurely when he went missing all those years ago after Voldemort's first defeat," Fudge said pensively. Then he sighed. "Well, it was just too much not to take." Then he shifted his gaze to Cross. "Well, what's done is done. We'll just have to hope the someone takes out our little problem before he comes of age. Or we may have to take care of matters ourselves. How long?"

Cross did some quick mental arithmetic. "Potter comes of age in another fifteen and a half months."

Fudge nodded. "Plenty of time."

* * *

Harry sighed and turned to Moody and Flitwick. "I can't pronounce it," he said quietly.

Flitwick passed a surreptitious glance to Moody. Moody's reply was simply an evil grin.

Moody had been giving Harry private tutoring on dueling and combat all year. But lately, Filius Flitwick, prompted by Harry's surprisingly astute questions about the uses of Charms in dueling after class, had begun to show up at Moody's tutoring sessions more frequently. Even McGonagall had come down for a few sessions.

Moody and Flitwick had know each other for years. But they had developed a friendship over the past few months based on mutual respect, dedication to the light side, and the astonishing fact that they both had an interesting sense of humor.

"Here, Harry. Maybe trying the same spell with the incantation in a different language with an easier pronunciation would work," Flitwick said with a characteristic smile

Harry frowned. "Don't all wizards use the same incantations?"

Flitwick and Moody shook their heads. "In Western Europe and America, they mostly use Latin incantations," said Flitwick. "Same generally with Eastern Europe and Russia, but with some variations. In Durmstrang, they teach Latin and German incantations. In the Far East, it's generally Chinese or Japanese. In the Middle East, they use Arabic. The Persians used Farsi, from what we know, although all that was lost hundreds of years ago. In Africa and South America, they use a mix of Latin and local languages."

Harry gave the two professors a skeptical look.

Flitwick gave Moody a knowing glance before turning back to Harry. "Here, try this in Japanese," said Flitwick. "It's simply their version of our Accio, our summoning charm. Here, watch this wand movement."

Flitwick raised his wand and gave a gentle downward sweep, then up again in a semicircle, then repeated the motion.

Harry tried the motion.

"No, Harry. It's a connected motion. Half a loop followed by another half a loop," said Flitwick.

Harry noticed what might be a grimace from Moody, but what also may be a smile. He frowned in concentration. He recalled trying to draw waves around a boat in art class when he was just starting out in Muggle school the same way. Just a half-loop followed by another.

He noticed Flitwick nodding and smiled back at the tiny professor. "Okay?"

Flitwick nodded vigorously from the magically elevated high chair he was sitting in.

Harry gave a curt nod. "So, what's the incantation," he asked, now growing in enthusiasm about learning foreign charms. His mind flashed to the exotic spells he had read about in Sir Richard Burton's notebooks. This could help him master those spells.

Flitwick glanced over to Moody and nodded. "Kuchi-hige. Just repeat it a few times to get your mind and magic around it. Remember, it's a simple Accio charm. Just in another language with a different wand movement."

Harry nodded and began repeating the incantation several times. It was longer than the Latin Accio he had been taught. But it was, well, fun to learn something in an exotic new language.

Finally, he turned again to Flitwick, who nodded enthusiastically. "Go on then, give it a try."

Harry nodded in return and glanced around the room. He saw a copy of Moody's third-year Defense text on a desk about 10 feet away. "Kuchi-hige book," he stated and made the wand movement Flitwick taught him. The book drifted off the desk and into his hand.

Flitwick was bouncing in his seat and clapping in delight, while Moody was nodding and giving what Harry now knew was a growling chuckle of approval.

"Excellent, Mr. Potter," Flitwick squeaked.

Moody cleared his throat. "Let's see if the lad can handle German," he growled. "Here's the wand movement." Moody made a movement of what looked like a rounded crescent. After watching Moody repeat the motion, Harry smiled. It looked like the old Auror was tracing the outline of a sausage in the air.

"Go on, laddie. Give it a go," Moody said.

Harry followed suit. Moody nodded without making adjustments. "Think you got it there, laddie."

Harry smiled and gave an inward chuckle at his perfect 'sausage' wand movement. He looked up at Moody. "What's the incantation?"

Moody grinned. "Essiggurke."

Harry frowned. "That's a lot harder to pronounce than Accio."

Moody scowled. "Just an example, lad. Give it a go."

Harry tried it and after a few tweaks by Moody, got the pronunciation right. Moody then flicked the book back to its original perch. "Go ahead," he said.

Harry nodded again. "Essiggurke book" he proclaimed, making the wand movement, and the book flew off the table and back into his hands. He looked up at the two professors and smiled broadly.

"Again, Potter," Moody exclaimed, sending the book back to the table. "Kuchi-hige book," Harry exclaimed, making Flitwick's loop-de-loop wand motion, and the book again flew into his left hand. "Essiggurke chair," he exclaimed again, making the sausage wand movement, and the chair next to the table came to him. He grinned broadly at the two eccentric professors.

Flitwick and Moody glanced at eat other and nodded. "Okay, Potter. Care to try another?"

Harry smiled and nodded vigorously.

Flitwick was now grinning ear to ear as Moody swished the book back to the table where it came from. Moody turned to Harry. "Point your wand at the book."

Harry complied.

"Now think of how much you want it in your hand."

Harry frowned and waited. When Moody said no more, he glanced up at the old Auror. "What's the wand movement and incantation?"

Moody's normal eye widened. "There ain't none. Just summon the book, Potter."

Harry looked at the book, then back at Moody in confusion. "But I need the incantation and the wand movement."

Moody continued to stare at Harry, his magic eye now focusing on the boy. "No you don't," he said firmly.

Harry was confused. "But the Japanese use Kuchi-hige and the Germans use Essiggurke."

Flitwick was now laughing delightedly. "Harry, what do you think Kuchi-hige means in English?"

Harry blinked in puzzlement. "I don't know. I figured it meant 'to summon' or something like that."

Flitwick was rocking back and forth and shaking his head. "It means 'mustache.' And the wand movement I invented merely had you drawing a mustache on your intended target."

Harry stared at the tiny professor. "You mean you invented a whole new charm?"

Flitwick gave a high-pitched squeak of mirth. "I didn't invent it. I made it up."

Harry then turned to Moody, who was wearing a broad, evil smirk. "What does Essiggurke mean? Frankfurter?"

Moody snorted. "Nae, laddie. It means 'pickle.'"

At this point, Moody and Flitwick exploded into their own brands of bizarre laughter.

Harry, on the other hand, became furious. "I don't think it's funny. I didn't come down here to be made fun of," he complained.

Moody reached out and grabbed Harry's arm. "Settle down, young 'un. We just showed you that you don't need fancy wand movements or strange incantations to do magic. Not with your power and focus."

Harry blinked in surprise.

Flitwick nodded vigorously. "Mr. Potter, you just summoned a rather weighty book some ten feet by drawing a 'mustache' in the air and then shouting a nonsense word in a foreign language. How do you think that happened?"

Harry shrugged sullenly. "I don't know. I just followed your instructions."

Flitwick sighed, still smiling. "Harry, you know how to summon something. But you've been taught that you need to use a specific incantation and a specific wand movement. Do you know why?"

Harry shook his head.

Flitwick seemed to stare off into space. "First, we show you the expected results from each charm," he began. "Then we give you a specific incantation to fix the action you have to perform in your mind. Then we give you a specific wand movement to act as a trigger to indicate you want that action to be performed now."

Harry shook his head, puzzled.

Flitwick sighed. "In order to fully understand something, we have to fix the idea in our minds. The best way to do that is to put a label, a specific word, that cements the idea in our mind."

Harry give the tiny professor a puzzled look.

Flitwick smiled back. "Let's try something. Imagine a pale, slimy animal with eleven legs."

Harry frowned. It sounded like something out of a Muggle horror movie that his cousin Dudley was so fond of.

Flitwick cleared his throat. "Do you have it clearly pictured in your mind?"

Harry blinked. "Well, I guess ... no, not really," he said with a frown.

Flitwick sighed. "Come on. That was an easy one. Now tell me what I'm referring to."

Harry frowned. Then he shook his head in embarrassment.

Flitwick smiled. "Blast-Ended Skrewt?"

Harry started. "They have eleven legs? I never counted."

Moody grunted. "Shoulda read it in yer text, lad."

Harry frowned. He enjoyed Hagrid's classes and thought many of the creatures were interesting. But he was never one for intensive book learning.

Flitwick smiled. "See, a general description of something usually isn't enough to convey the idea of something. But once you put a label on the idea, it solidifies the concept in your mind. It's the same thing with spells. We use Latin labels to solidify the concept of the spell. We don't have to use Latin. But if we were to use English as a trigger to activate a spell, think to the chaos that would result if you were to use the word 'summon' in everyday conversation. You might trigger the spell at whatever you were looking at, summoning random objects at inopportune times."

Harry frowned. "But what about the wand movements?"

Flitwick smiled. "Well, the incantation identifies for students the action you want performed. The wand movement signals that you want that action to be performed now."

Harry, lost in thought, gave a vague nod.

Moody coughed. "Look laddie, you want the book, so you say Accio. You wave the wand to indicate you want it now. But it ain't necessary. Tell me, Potter. When you use the wand movement on an Accio charm, do you always have the wand pointed at the book you want?"

Harry looked at the old Auror in confusion.

Moody gave him an intense stare. "Say you wanted to summon that inkpot on the desk. What wand movement would you use?"

Harry demonstrated the wand movement.

Moody nodded. "So summon the inkpot. But just say Accio. Not Accio Inkpot."

Harry frowned. "Accio," he commanded, and the inkpot flew into his hand. He grimaced as he noticed that the inkpot, while stoppered, had leaked a small smudge onto his hand.

Moody chuckled. "Harry, yer wand movement swept over the entire surface of the desk. So why didn't the quill, the blotter and the pile of parchment come flying at you?"

Harry shrugged. "I wanted the inkpot."

Moody nodded. "That's because you know the spell well enough that you can focus on what you want without summoning everything in sight."

Flitwick nodded enthusiastically. "That's what spells are all about, Harry. Knowing the concept, focusing on the action, and triggering the result."

Harry was still a little out of his depth.

Flitwick sighed. "All right, Harry. I want you to summon the quill without any incantation and without any wand movement. Just focus on the spell, imagine the action you want to accomplish--an Accio spell--and trigger the spell in your mind."

Harry stared at the quill. 'I'm going to do an Accio spell on the quill,' he thought. He slowly raised his wand and pointed at the quill. 'Accio quill,' he thought without making a sound.

The quill jumped off the desk and floated to him. He grabbed it and then looked at it in amazement, then turned to stare in astonishment at his two professors.

Moody slapped him on the back as Flitwick again began bouncing on his raised chair in excitement.

Harry blinked and began to smile broadly. "Does that mean I don't need to learn the incantations and wand movements for new charms?"

Moody grumbled and shook his head. "Ye got to learn the spells fully first. Once you got it mastered, you should be able to do 'em silently without the big wand movements with a little practice."

Flitwick smiled at Harry. "That's right. Once you've mastered the spell, you should be able to adapt it to almost anything in your imagination, given enough power and focus. And the more you practice a spell, the less power and focus is required to do the spell."

Moody nodded. "And soon, you won't need even to use the words or wand movements. Just flick the wand while concentrating on what you want. Comes in handy in combat situations."

Harry looked up, startled. "You can use this in dueling?"

Moody frowned. "Takes lots o' practice. Lots! But it's good for disguising what yer casting at yer enemy. Never let someone know what you got unless you have to. Silent curses are tough to defend cause yer enemy don't know what yer throwin' at 'im."

Flitwick gave Moody a sly glance and a wink. "Let's see what your limits are, shall we Mister Potter," the tiny professor exclaimed.

Harry gave a vague shrug. "Sure."

Flitwick stared at Harry. "Levitation charm."

"Wingardium Leviosa," Harry said, and the inkpot rose.

Flitwick nodded. "Now silently without the wand movement."

Harry complied, successfully. Suddenly, he started top get excited by the notion of wordless spells without wand movement.

"Locking charm."

"Colloportus," Harry said, then did it silently, now smiling.







And so it went. Between Moody and Flitwick, they had Harry try 287 separate charms learned over the past five years over the next three hours. Harry failed to do only 12 charms the normal way, and was only unable to do 17 silently without a wand movement. Flitwick marked each failed charm in Harry's text and asked him to practice them until he could do them silently without visible wand movements.

Harry left Moody's dungeon office, exhausted but exhilarated that he was mastering such a new and wonderful area of magic.

After he left, Moody gave Flitwick a frightening grin. "That'd be the quickest, most effective OWL preparation lesson I've ever seen," he said with a rasping chuckle.

Flitwick tittered himself. "He was at a high 'Exceeds expectation' level. I suppose that, with a little more work, he should get an 'Outstanding' on his OWL practical." The little man raised one bushy eyebrow, and touched the side of his nose. "Provided, of course, no one tells him that we were actually studying, rather than passing on to him secret wizarding lore." At that point, Flitwick laughed so hard, he fell off the tower of books he was sitting on.

* * *

A week later, Harry showed up at Moody's dungeon, confident that he had mastered all of the charms Flitwick challenged him with the week before, and was prepared to show off.

Instead, he was met by a stern Minerva McGonagall. "Mr. Potter," she said with an arched eyebrow. "I hear you can do silent charms. I'm here to see if you can match that in transfiguration."

Harry sighed. Then he gave a resigned nod. Silent transfiguration could be as much fun, and as much use, as silent charms. "Fire away," he said with a slowly broadening, if devious, grin.

* * *

Hermione was on the verge of a panic attack. She was a prefect. She just simply was not supposed to be here. The fact that Ron seemed to be as nervous as she was didn't help calm her. She took a deep breath and opened the door.

The Astronomy Tower was ideal for snoggers. Like the other three main towers, it was wide and circular. But unlike the other towers, it was like a hollowed out cylinder. In the center was the magical planetarium, where projections of the stars and the planets could be shown to students.

But on the perimeter was a series of twenty small booths on five levels. Each booth was designed for two students with room for an instructor, There was space for a tripod to hold a telescope, a main chair with drop-leaf arms for note taking for the person using the telescope, and a soft couch for the viewers partner and, presumably, the instructor, to wait for the viewer's observation to end. Each booth sealed so no light could get in to disturb the observation. And, of course, the booths had locks for the same purpose.

Clearly, an ideal set-up for snogging.

It was a Saturday night, so Ron and Hermione looked carefully as they passed each booth for the little tell-tales to indicate a booth was in use. A thumbtack above the door handle. A small piece of paper wedged in the door. A small bottle leaning next to a door.

Hermione's heart was pounding. She had never been up here for this purpose before. Ron had casually assured her that he knew the routine, but seemed on the verge of panic once they got there.

'Maybe there won't be any booths open,' Hermione thought hopefully.

Then they reached the third level. There were no tell-tales to be seen. Hermione nervously reached for a door knob and the door magically swung open. It was empty, she saw with chagrin.

She could hear Ron gulp, then drop a small roll of spell-o-tape. He fumbled around, then recovered it. After placing a bit of the tape on the door handle, he took one last look around and hurriedly ducked into the booth.

Hermione glanced at Ron and looked away, her face flushing. It wasn't that she didn't trust Ron. They were only going to do a little snogging. After all, she'd kissed him on three or four occasions before. But each time, it had been a quick kiss when he wasn't expecting it. And it always someplace where she could easily and tactfully escape.

Here, there was no escape. If she got upset or made a fool of herself, there would be no easy exit.

They sat down on opposite sides of the soft couch, not quite knowing what to do. She could tell in the soft moonlight that Ron was blushing at least as brightly as she was. "Well," she said to break the ice.

Ron shifted uncomfortably. "Well," he responded.

Hermione took a deep breath and edged a little closer to him.

Ron fidgeted for a moment, then edged up next to her. They glanced furtively at each other until Hermione closed her eyes for a moment to steel her courage, and turned to face him.

Ron stopped fidgeting and cautiously turned to face her. Slowly, he began to lean toward her. She closed her eyes and leaned towards him. Then she felt his nose bump into her eye and they both jumped back in a panic.

Hermione took another deep breath. "Well, I guess we're both going to have to keep our eyes open for this," she said.

Ron gave a tentative nod.

Again, they both leaned forward. After a strained moment of trying to position their heads so they didn't bump noses, they leaned in and their lips met in a chaste kiss.

It was a nice kiss, Hermione thought. A sweet kiss. But there was no spark. She leaned back and looked at Ron.

He was fidgeting again. He slowly reached his arm out and put it gently around her shoulder. Again, they leaned in and kissed.

Still no spark.

Hermione frowned. 'I must be doing this wrong,' she thought fretfully.

She carefully reached out with one hand to place it on his shoulder. But somehow, that didn't seem right. Ron tried to reposition his arm around her shoulder, but nothing seemed comfortable and he still didn't know what to do with his other hand.

Hermione took another deep breath and leaned in and tried kissing him again, when she felt his lips tugging at her bottom lip. "Ron," she said in dismay, backing off. "What are you doing?"

Ron lowered his head. "I don't know. Harry said you're supposed to do something like that when you're kissing."

Suddenly, Hermione was struck by a fit of the giggles. "Harry said that?" she cried.

Ron stared at her, at first upset. Then he got caught up in her giggling. "Well ... yes," he said, suddenly snorting in amusement.

Hermione shook her head. "Harry Potter, the cannibal kisser," she said through her laughter.

Ron, paused, then burst out laughing. Soon, he was rolling on the couch, clutching his sides mirth.

It took them almost a minute to calm down. Finally, Hermione sighed and leaned up against Ron. For the first time, he put his arm around her with real affection. He leaned over and kissed the top of her head.

Hermione sighed again. 'This was nice, just being held,' she thought. 'No pressure. No tension.' Then she bit her lip sadly. 'And no spark.'

Ron sighed as well. He really cared about Hermione. But he missed their playful arguments as he was trying to be on his best behavior, trying to be a good boyfriend. He gave a silent snort. 'Being a boyfriend is a lot of work,' he thought ruefully. And somehow, he missed just being Hermione's friend.

Author notes: Again, a thousand apologies for the delay. I was really blocked on this chapter. The next chapter is virtually fully written and needs only some polishing, so it should be up in a week or so. Thanks for all your reviews.