All I ask for when I pray,
Steady rollin' woman gonna come my way.
Need a woman gonna hold my hand
Won't tell me no lies, make me a happy man.
--Led Zeppelin, "Black Dog"
Hermione Granger knew what she was getting herself into when she started dating Harry Potter. She prided herself on being well prepared, even over-prepared, for every situation. She had watched girls come and go from Harry's side, and she was aware of every difficulty in dating the famous wizard. She got into the habit of dressing up just a little every time she ventured into Hogsmeade, so that the candid photos that ran in the tabloids wouldn't look quite so bad. The worry over Quidditch games and various other misadventures, of course, were old hat by now; being his girlfriend didn't change that one way or the other. Equally convenient, she didn't have to try to charm her way into his tight-knit group of trusted friends. She was even ready for the casual catty jealousy of some of her female (and male) classmates.
What she hadn't anticipated, however, was the way some girls continued to fling themselves at Harry, even after they had been dating some months. For his part, Harry was fairly oblivious (unless things got very obvious indeed, whereupon a gentle word from him generally put a stop to things). Hermione was not naturally a jealous person, and was secure in Harry's feelings for her, so none of these girls upset her in the least.
None of them, that is, save Mandy Brocklehurst.
Hermione thought Mandy was everything Hermione was and everything she wasn't. She was a quick thinker, with nearly as many facts at her fingertips. She was second only to Hermione in charms, and was close behind in Arithmancy. She wasn't a natural beauty like Padma, but she was reasonably attractive. She followed professional Quidditch religiously. But more than anything else, she was funny.
Hermione had a healthy sense of humor, but she was rarely funny, or at least that's what she thought. Ron was the funny one; she was serious. She thought it was a good balance, and hadn't really worried about it until the midterm change of partners in Care of Magical Creatures. Hermione would look over from where she worked with Terry Boot to see Harry cackling away at some remark of Mandy's, and it would nearly drive her mad. Harry needs all the laughter he can get, she thought, and I can't do that for him.
"Nin, that is the most ridiculous thought you have ever had," responded Seamus Finnigan when Hermione told him this. The two friends were sitting out on the green, taking advantage of one of the first truly warm days of spring. "You make him happy—-you know that. So he smiles with you instead of laughing. Is this really such a crisis?"
Hermione flopped backwards onto the grass with a sigh. "Well, it certainly sounds silly when you say it."
"That's because it is silly."
Hermione scowled. "You aren't helping me!"
"Help you what? See that this girl is no threat to you?"
"Oh, it isn't that." Hermione played idly with the grass, then said, "I just look at her, and I look at me, and I don't know what I can actually do for him that she can't."
Seamus rolled his eyes. "I dunno, Nin. Give him unswerving loyalty? The closeness that comes from six years of friendship? What are you asking me here, really?"
"I don't know," she said. "You're right, of course. There is no comparison."
"Of course there's not." Seamus lay down on his side next to Hermione. "So, what are your plans for Easter?"
Hermione smiled. "Harry has invited me to Chez Chien. It's much closer than my parent's house, and they're going to be away anyway. The godparents are picking us up here on Wednesday and we're traveling out on the motorbikes."
"Motorbikes?" Seamus asked.
"Yes, Sirius' and Harry's. Harry isn't ready to drive alone, of course, but Sirius has worked up some spell that keeps the bikes in tandem and-—why are you grinning at me like that?"
Seamus looked like the cat that ate the cream. "I know something you can do, that no other girl in this school can do."
Hermione raised one eyebrow. "Seamus Finnigan, what are you up to?"
He sat up. "There is only one witch of my acquaintance who is perfectly at home on a motorbike because she has been riding on her mum's since she was eight. All we need to do is make you look the part."
Hermione sat up as well. "Miss Pommery? I don't know, Seamus. Sirius and Remus will be coming to get us right after class so we'll be able to get back before dark; I'll barely have time to change. Besides, I've never been her in front of everyone, not really."
"Nin, how many times do I have to tell you this? You are Miss Pommery; Miss Pommery is you. It made you less nervous at first to think of her as someone separate, but she isn't, not really."
Hermione was silent for a moment, looking out across the lawn at the lake. "You know, Seamus, you have to wear trousers when you ride a motorbike. Those little dresses won't do. But those brown boots of mine should work." She turned to him and smiled. "Well, we have two weeks; we should be able to figure out something."
Seamus laughed. "That's my girl!"
As Harry walked out of Hogwarts castle, he was surprised not to see his girlfriend waiting for him. The way she had run out of Care of Magical Creatures he had figured she would have been changed out of her school uniform and robes and ready to go, particularly as he had been waylaid, first by Mandy and then, briefly, by Dean. But he had had time to don jeans, t-shirt, boots and a jacket, grab his bag, and come back downstairs before Hermione.
Harry found Dean still sitting on the front steps with Mandy, as several other students lingered nearby. He knew that Dean was eager to see the motorbikes, but why Mandy had lingered was puzzling. "Shouldn't you be getting ready to catch the Hogwarts Express?" he asked.
"We have an hour," Dean replied, "and Seamus has already gone up to get my things. You have to board the train in uniform, anyway."
"Padma insisted on bringing down my bag," Mandy said. "Though I'm sure she'll make Ron actually carry it."
Dean nodded. "I don't think she's lifted a finger since they started dating."
"A finger?" Mandy said. "She's barely lifted an eyebrow! He'd carry her back and forth to class if she'd let him."
Harry gave a small laugh but made no reply, hearing the sound of engines nearing. "Here they come," he said, pointing out at the two bikes coming down the long drive toward the castle entrance.
Dean and Mandy stood and watched as the bikes neared. Sirius, always one to make an entrance, was riding without a helmet, his hair flying in the wind. In his black leather jacket, black jeans and boots, he looked nearly as dangerous as the papers had always said he was. Remus, for his part, wore the most conservative clothes one could and still ride a motorcycle—old Quidditch corduroys and a barn jacket, with a vintage helmet atop his head.
"Wow," Mandy said breathlessly.
Dean glanced at her, amused to see the usual first reaction to Sirius Black, but he was more interested in the bikes. He and Harry both walked onto the drive to greet the men and look at the machines. Soon after they introduced Sirius to a star-struck Mandy they were chattering away, mostly about Sirius' vintage Triumph and Harry's brand-new one. Several other students had approached the group to greet their former professor and admire the machines.
Then Sirius, who was facing the castle, said, "Looks like someone else is dressed to ride."
Harry turned to look, and promptly lost his ability to speak.
Hermione was walking out of the front door of the castle with Seamus just behind her. Like Harry, she wore a t-shirt, jeans and boots, a jacket slung over one shoulder. The jeans, however, were old ones, worn and faded, that fit her hips snugly before flaring out over her brown leather boots. The t-shirt, stolen from her mother, was emblazoned with a faux-runic logo from an old classic rock LP, but as Hermione's mother was even smaller than she, the t-shirt was rather tight, and the logo stretched across her breasts. Between the t-shirt and the jeans, a flash of skin showed when she moved. Her hair hung loose across her shoulders and looked just a little bit wilder than usual. She walked up to Harry and handed him her bag but said nothing. As she walked past him to greet Sirius and Remus, he looked down to see that the jeans fit her derriere as snugly as her hips, and he swallowed hard, though his mouth was completely dry.
Hermione gave Harry's godparents each a big hug, then turned to face Harry. Dean had stepped back slightly to stand next to Seamus, but Mandy stood stock still, staring, as did some of the other girls.
Remus cleared his throat. "Well, I think we should get going, shouldn't we? Hermione, put your jacket on; I think you're getting cold." He made eye contact with her, then dropped his eyes slightly.
Hermione bit her lip to keep from laughing as she pulled on her leather jacket. "So, am I riding with you, Sirius?"
But before he could answer, Harry said, "Please, Sirius, can't Hermione ride with me? We'll be in tandem, so she's as safe with me as with you."
Sirius looked at Hermione, then at Remus, who shrugged, then back at Harry. "I don't see why not. But you'll have to be extra careful."
"Brilliant!" Harry exclaimed, putting their bags into the side compartments of the bikes.
"Hermione, I know you're used to being on a bike, but don't hang on too tight—he's just learning," Remus warned.
"Oh, I won't," she replied as she slung her leg over the back of the bike.
Harry got on in front of her and felt her hands on his hips. "You don't have to worry about her, Remus," he said. "She never holds on too tight."
Remus got onto Sirius' bike and muttered, "That one is full of surprises."
Sirius laughed. "I hope he can handle it," he whispered back. Then, louder, "Ready to go?" At Harry and Hermione's nods, Sirius started up the engines. The two bikes roared down the long drive to the front gate, then sped out of sight on the road beyond. The group of students broke up, wandering into the castle, except for Dean and Seamus who had stood waving goodbye to their friends, and Mandy, who hadn't moved since Hermione had emerged from the castle.
"Well, I never!" Mandy said at last, and stormed off into the castle.
"I'll just bet you haven't," Seamus muttered under his breath, a remark that was rewarded by a cuff to the head from his boyfriend.