A/N: I know we're moving kind of fast through the years here, but this was never meant to be a long in-depth story. Just, small scenes to give an overview of the Hufflepuffs' time at Hogwarts. Thanks to all who have read and reviewed!

Chapter II. The Yule Ball.

Hannah had always known that something about her and him had been different. Ernie never listened to anyone else, but occasionally, he listened to her.

He was their leader, and both she and Justin had always been grateful for that. Justin admired Ernie. Hannah needed him, needed the role in her life that he filled – someone to guide, help, comfort. With her mother miles and miles away and Basilisks, Dementors and escaped convicts running around the castle, she depended on him.

The others were a little less content with his self-pronounced leadership. Wayne and Megan mostly stuck to themselves. Sometimes, they went along with Ernie's word, Hannah suspected, because it was easier. But the two of them were best friends, and really only listened to each other.

Susan followed his lead, most of the time, but even if she never said it to his face, she got sick of him sometimes; how he never listened, how things just had to be done his way. And Hannah knew that this frustrated Susan all the more when she saw Ernie actually considering something Hannah had said, no matter that he might have completely disregarded it when it was Susan who expressed the same view a few minutes earlier.

So, Ernie was her friend and her comforter and she knew that something about her and him was different than between him and Susan. She'd never really thought about him in that way, though. The way she'd secretly (which meant only Susan knew) admired Anthony Goldstein in first year (that time, Susan had joined her in the mild stalking and thorough analysis of his body language), Dean Thomas in second (by then Susan had moved on to Justin) and Cedric Diggory all through the third year and even more since he'd become a Champion and still was so nice that he'd even taken the time to thank her when she joined the congratulation line after he'd been chosen.

But when Ernie had stuttered out an invitation to the Yule Ball, his neck reddening, something had clicked to place. Of course. This was right. He was her protector. She was the one he always looked out for even more than Justin. She couldn't believe she hadn't considered it before.

Now, she felt herself smiling more broadly than she could remember, catching his eye over the common room and seeing his awkward face light up as he took in her form in the light pink dress that showed every aspiring curve.

"You look – wow," he breathed, and she found herself blushing.

"You suit up pretty nicely yourself," she grinned, gesturing to his classic, black dress robes.

For the first time in their relationship, their roles were reversed. He was speechless, and she was chuckling at him, asking him if they shouldn't be going.

As they reached the Great Hall, however, he seemed to have regained some confidence as he gracefully offered her his hand. As they walked inside, together, it felt right.

As they ate, everything was almost back to normal. They chatted on, both of them, quite comfortably. Yet, something was a little bit new, a little bit more exciting, and Hannah enjoyed every second of it.

As they danced, his strong arms wrapped around her, she felt safe. She felt like he'd protect her from everything, and a tingle of forever awoke in her chest. Leaning her head against his shoulder, she grinned. So, this was how it felt like to not only dream at a distance, but to actually be close to a guy. Except that this time, she knew the guy in question, not just his appearance or a few random facts like that Dean detested pudding or that Anthony's best subject was Transfiguration. She knew Ernie. And he knew her. And that just made it even better, didn't it?

As he walked her back to the common room, millions of butterflies invaded her stomach. Would he, really? He hadn't, when they went out for a breath of fresh air. There had been a moment when it had seemed like he might, but he hadn't.

"So..." she said as they reached the girls' staircase. "I had a great time tonight. Thanks for asking me."

"My pleasure." Ernie's smile meant it, but his eyes were darting all over the place.

"Well, goodnight then." Still, he was just standing there.

"Um, yeah, right. Goodnight," he said, a bit too quickly.

There was a moment when she waited, allowing a few seconds to go by, just to give him the chance to do it. And then, he did. He leaned forward, and, awkwardly bending his head to the right so as not to let their noses collide, he placed his lips on top of hers, letting them stay there for about three seconds. Then he pulled away, his neck red again.

"So... goodnight then," he said, not quite looking at her.

"Goodnight," she replied, grinning, making sure to catch his eye before she flung herself up the girls' staircase to share every detail with Susan and to hear all about her supposedly just-friends date with Justin.


It wasn't fair. Hannah hadn't even known herself that she liked Ernie (even if it had been fairly obvious to anyone who'd watched the pair of them), daydreaming about Cedric only weeks before. Susan, on the other hand, had been fancying Justin for two whole years. Her wishes had come true when he'd asked her to the Ball. She'd been able to overlook the fact that he did it too casually, simply asking her if she'd like to go with him, not acting nervous at all, as Hannah said Ernie had. She'd been looking forward to tonight, so filled with nervous hopes she couldn't stop giggling as she and Hannah did each other's hair and make-up.

Yet, when Justin asked her to dance, it was only to the fast songs, when they stood far apart, jumping around together. When he asked her if she needed a break, it wasn't with the considerate tone she'd heard Ernie use with Hannah earlier. He just asked. As if she was anyone. Just his friend. Like always. When they went outside, he didn't kiss her. He didn't even offer her his jacket, despite her visible shiver. Instead he suggested that they should go back inside.

"Well, goodnight then. See you tomorrow." There had been nothing hesitant in his manner of saying goodnight, no hints, no almosts, no long touches. No touches at all. He'd simply said goodnight and walked away.

Susan had suspected all evening that her night was going all wrong. Hearing Hannah's excited squeaks as she described her night, she felt her throat close up. That was how it should have been.

However, she swallowed hard, made up a few lies about her own successful date and saved her tears for when Hannah was asleep (Megan never made it upstairs). Hannah had had that night, the dream night. Susan wasn't about to spoil it for her.


Ernie hardly slept the night after the Ball. Justin had been knocked out within seconds, but he could tell that Wayne too was lying awake, pondering. They didn't speak, though. Not that Ernie wasn't a bit curious about what exactly had happened between Wayne and Megan, and he usually didn't shy away from personal questions. But this time was different. If he admitted to being awake, Wayne might ask him questions back. And this time was different. While Ernie normally thoroughly enjoyed talking about himself, this night had been something else. The memory of his lips against Hannah's. Her tiny body propped up against his, his to protect, his to hold. It didn't feel like something you could speak of. Not yet. Not until he was certain that she wanted this, too, for more than one night. He would do nothing to jeopardize what they might have, now. He had waited a long time to have it.

It wasn't like him to lie awake, fretting, nervous, questioning his own judgement (because she had kissed him back, right? At least she hadn't pulled away, and that must mean – unless she was just being polite? But she had agreed to come with him. But maybe she thought just as friends...?). It wasn't like him to feel like something was too big for words. Ernie loved words. That was what he did. He talked, discussed, told people what to do, told them the right answers whether they wanted to hear them or not. This time, he had no right answers. It scared the hell out of him. It was why he'd taken so long, waiting for the perfect moment. A ball was the perfect moment. Except that it wasn't. Because what would otherwise have been unmistakable signs of a successful date might now have been something in the moment, never to be repeated outside the glow of the ballroom.

The next morning, Ernie sneaked out of bed early, leaving Justin still snoring. (Wayne had already left his bed. Ernie had pretended to be asleep.) He waited anxiously in the common room, jumping every time he heard steps on the girls' staircase.

His heart skipped a beat as Susan appeared. That must mean she was coming, too, right? His panic faded, though, as he realized she came alone. She gave a soft grin as she spotted him, walking over to him.

"I hear you had quite the night." Her smile looked forced, he noted, and frowned.

"You okay?"

She nodded, a bit too fast. He raised his eyebrows. "I am. Really. I'm fine."

"Justin didn't notice yet, huh?" She almost choked in shock, looking panicked. "Relax. I won't tell him I know you fancy him. And I'm sorry he's still being so thick."

After a few moments of hesitation, she gave a tired smile. "Thanks, Ernie. But enough about me. You and Hannah – it was about time, don't you think?"

"Yeah, definitely. But, does that mean – she, um, she didn't have a bad time, last night?"

Susan looked at him incredulously. "You're kidding, right? She was practically squealing when she got upstairs." She gave an amused chuckle at his obvious relief. "You really were worried, weren't you?"

He hesitated, but found himself admitting the truth to her. "Hell yeah. I didn't get any sleep at all." He stopped himself, spotting Hannah making her way yawningly down the stairs. His gaze fixed on her, he could feel his neck heating up. He caught her eye as she was halfway down, and her cheeks turned pink as she grinned back at him.

"Well, you have nothing to worry about, as you can see," Susan said, rising. "I'll see you guys at breakfast." She left with a wink at him. He gave her a short nod to show his gratitude to her for the privacy.

"Hi," Hannah said as she reached him, meeting his gaze for a second, then bowing her head, blushing furiously.

He took a bit too long to reply, simply staring at her, but caught himself. "Hi. So... last night – it was, um, nice."

"Yes, it was." She looked up, still pink, but looking amused.

He had no idea what to say. He couldn't ask her to be his girlfriend, not yet, not after one date (except that it wasn't one date, it was three and a half years of build-up to that date, but still, it was early, and they had time).

"Er, you wanna go get some breakfast? Susan said she'd meet us there."

"All right." Hannah looked a little bit disappointed, as if she had been hoping for something more to come out of this conversation. He cursed himself, in desperation trying to come up with something to say as they now walked side by side, in silence.

Then, at an impulse, he did it. He grabbed her hand, that was dangling right there, close to his. And the moment he did, his heart stopped. What if he had gone too far?

The look of surprise she gave him was torture and he considered just letting go again and running in the opposite direction. Then she turned straight ahead, and kept walking, the corners of her lips tugging upwards, her cheeks reddening again. She didn't let go of his hand.


It was for times like these that you were supposed to have girlfriends. Or at least friends that weren't the guy you'd been fancying for at least two years, probably more. Probably since you were five and he by accidental magic made the doll's hair black like yours when you wouldn't stop crying because she shouldn't be blond, because then she couldn't be your baby.

Megan had probably always felt something for Wayne. It was just that she hadn't realized it until second year, when she'd heard him, Ernie and Justin discussing if they preferred the more refined beauty of the Patil twins, or the blond general goodlookingness of Lavender Brown with her early curves. Megan, still flat as ever, had found herself crying that night. That was when she realized. She didn't want him looking at anyone else.

And yet, somehow, even though the two years since then had been awful, hiding something this huge from her best and only real friend, it had been easier than she'd imagined at first. They had their routines, their comfortable friendship, so deeply ingrained in both of them that it was almost easy to just go on, as usual, even if it killed her. That was, until tonight.

The night of the Yule Ball. The perfect occasion for a first kiss. And it had all been so talked about, so much fretting. Megan had told herself she didn't care, she'd go alone, or just stay in the dormitory, reading a book or something. When Wayne had asked her, however, every repressed hope had been awoken. This was it. He had finally seen what she'd been waiting for him to see, that they were perfect for each other, and now, it would be no more waiting, no more tears when no one saw because she couldn't confide in anyone about this. Now, she wouldn't need to confide in anyone else. She'd have him.

And then, he hadn't kissed her goodnight. There had been a moment, fleeting, when she'd imagined he might. Then he'd turned away, walking up the stairs, as if nothing had just almost happened. Because, obviously, it hadn't. She'd imagined it, wishing so hard for a fairytale ending to the night. The night that hadn't lived up to any of her expectations, even before that. Sure, they'd chatted on nicely enough, danced a bit, laughed. Which would have been considered a fair success with someone else, someone new. But Wayne wasn't anyone. Wayne was her best friend, and laughing with him was something she did on a daily basis. It meant nothing.

Or, really, it meant everything. It meant that he had considered it a date as friends. And it hadn't even crossed his mind that she might feel differently. Why? Because he obviously didn't. He had probably spent the whole night wishing he was dancing with someone like Lavender Brown, pretty and giggly and girly and everything Megan was not. Except that, deep down, no matter how much she despised herself for it, she wished for the fairytale, just like girls like Lavender. And she had spent the night bawling her eyes out in the common room just because the boy she fancied hadn't kissed her. So, in reality, she was just like those girls. Except that she wasn't nearly as pretty. (Really, who could blame Wayne for not choosing her?)


Wayne didn't sleep. He knew that Ernie was lying awake, too, and cursed him for that. If only he'd been sound asleep, Wayne would have been able to sneak out, undetected. Now, he was stuck where he was if he wanted to avoid questions.

He hadn't kissed her. He had wanted to, had planned to. But then he had been standing there, looking at her friendly smile, seeing nothing nervous or even (he despised himself for thinking it) a little hopeful. She'd been just like she always was. Perfect. His friend. And he hadn't been able to do it.

He had been so scared to ask her to the Ball, had hesitated, driving himself crazy. But he'd managed, and she'd said yes, and he'd been thrilled. And he hadn't even considered that she might not think of it as a date.

But then they were there and she wasn't leaning against him when they danced and she was chatting on just as she always did and he used to love to listen to her, but now – something was supposed to have changed. But it hadn't. He even thought he caught her glancing over at Michael Corner one too many times, and hated himself, realizing she'd probably rather have went with some other guy, someone she was actually interested in, but that she had been too nice to say no to him and leave him pathetic and dateless.

Wayne didn't sleep that night. This was exactly why you weren't supposed to fall in love with your best friend.