Harry tried desperately to fend off the waves of panic suffusing him as Professor McGonagall rode right over his admittedly feeble protests that he didn't know how to dance. She had announced the upcoming Yule Ball to the entire class, and then held him back afterwards to let him know that as a champion, he'd be expected to open the ball and so he had jolly well better have a date.
"'It is traditional,' said Professor McGonagall firmly. 'You are a Hogwarts champion, and you will do what is expected of you as a representative of the school. So make sure you get yourself a partner, Potter.'
'But – I don't –'
'You heard me, Potter,' said Professor McGonagall, in a very final sort of way." (from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)
Harry didn't protest further. Why should he? Head of House or not, McGonagall had never given him any real help on the few occasions he'd asked. Leaving the transfiguration classroom, he automatically turned his steps towards the library. Hermione would be there, he knew, and he trusted her advice. He passed a cluster of girls in Ravenclaw robes and blushed as they all seemed to turn as one to gaze disconcertingly at him and whisper. That was another problem. His steps slowed as he considered what he needed to ask Hermione. He hadn't really thought about girls as – dare he think it – potential girlfriends. Not that the idea was unpleasant, but between the annual threats to his life here at Hogwarts and his relatives' treatment of him in the summers, it didn't leave much time to consider things like girlfriends and dating.
Really, the only girls he'd had any interaction with outside of class were Hermione, the Gryffindor chasers and Ginny Weasley. He wasn't sure but he thought Angelina and Alicia might be dating Fred and George anyway. Maybe he could ask Katie, if she didn't already have a boyfriend and if she didn't mind going with a younger boy. As teammates, they would at least have something to talk about during the feast and in between dancing. Ginny Weasley just plain gave him the creeps, the way she always stared and blushed whenever he was around. She was like a female version of Colin Creevy, who always wanted to be around the Boy-Who-Lived, but who couldn't be arsed to get to know Harry at all.
He supposed he shouldn't be surprised; Ron showed some of those traits as well, but Harry had been too overwhelmed at making a friend of his own age when they'd first met to have realised it back then. Well, he'd accepted Ron's apology after the first task, mostly because they'd been mates for so long, but he didn't trust the redhead anymore. He'd started to notice how Ron always managed to have some excuse to keep the two of them away from anyone else, as though Harry were his exclusive property or something, and he was getting tired of it. Especially now, when he still had two more tasks to survive, and Ron kept whining that he wanted to play chess instead of study, unlike Hermione, who happily helped him learn more advanced spells that might be useful in the tournament. Hermione definitely held the position of his best friend all to herself these days. He decided to ask her to the Yule Ball, knowing he'd enjoy spending some non-studying time with his best friend.
Voices interrupted his musing as he turned into the library; specifically, Hermione's voice along with a heavily accented male voice. Viktor Krum sat beside Hermione, who was… blushing? Harry stopped, not wanting to interrupt whatever was going on over there, despite the little pang in his chest that he felt as she smiled up at the Bulgarian seeker.
"…honored to accept. I just don't understand, though, why me? When there are so many prettier girls in Hogwarts."
Viktor shook his head. "Ne, you are chust as pretty as anyvon, Miss Grancher. You haf prekrasni ochi… ah, luffly eyes. Also, you look at me, see Viktor, not youngest professional seeker, da?"
Hermione chuckled. "Well, I have practice at that. You know I've been friends with Harry for years, and he also hates that people look at him as the Boy-Who-Lived rather than just Harry."
Viktor nodded. "Also, I make promise to not speak of tournament vith you. Your friend is fine competitor, and I haf honor. I vill not ask vat he might be planning for next task, nor vill I tell you vat I may do."
"Agreed," Hermione said with a smile. "I believe we will get along splendidly, Mr. Krum."
"Call me Viktor."
"Only if you call me Hermione."
The Bulgarian laughed. "Vell, I vill try to, Hermy-own-ninny. Ve meet in entrance to Great Hall before Ball?"
"That sounds wonderful."
"Da. I haf class now, but I see you here later, I hope?"
"Yes, I'll be here. Professor Snape, at least, isn't going to ease off on his homework assignments just because the holidays are approaching. See you later, Viktor."
"Dovizhdane, Hermy-own-ninny." Viktor got up and left the library, giving his usual curt nod of greeting to Harry as he passed.
Harry returned the nod and made his way over to his still-blushing best friend. "Well, congratulations, even if it does leave me with a bit of a dilemma," he said. "When Professor McGonagall held me back after class, it was to tell me that I have to open the Ball, as one of the champions. I was thinking about the girls I know as I walked down here, and I'd decided to ask you."
"Oh, Harry, I'm sorry." Still flattered by Viktor's words, Hermione didn't notice the odd note of disappointment in Harry's voice. "I, well, it never occurred to me you might want to take me as friends, and Viktor is quite nice, if a little shy. He reminds me of you, in a way, with his fame getting in the way of people knowing him."
"Eh, you're brilliant, but you can't read minds. I just thought it would be nice to go with someone I can talk to, since I'm sure I'll be pants at dancing. I don't suppose you know how? It isn't anything I've ever learned, and now I'm going to have to do so in front of everyone." He threw himself into a chair and snorted softly. "I can just imagine what Malfoy will do to those stupid badges afterwards. He'll probably tweak them to say Potter Stinks at Dancing."
Hermione let out a snicker at that. "Well, I can give you some dancing lessons if you'd like. The basic waltz isn't that difficult. And you know, I think it's good that you want to take a friend to the Ball, instead of taking someone for her looks. Ron was on about that as we left class, you know, saying that he couldn't possibly ask anyone as ugly as Eloise Midgen or Millicent Bulstrode." She shook her head. "With that attitude, he'll be lucky if anyone will go with him. So who else do you have on your list of possible dates?"
"Honestly?" Harry said. "Katie Bell is the only other person I can think of that I know well enough to consider. I mean, really, I don't talk to anyone but you and Ron and the quidditch team, and I'm pretty sure Angelina and Alicia will be going to the Ball with Fred and George."
"Katie's been dating Oliver Wood. What about Ginny Weasley?"
"No way. She's, well, I get the feeling she's stuck on the Boy-Who-Lived and doesn't really see me, especially after I saved her from the diary. I mean, she's always staring, but if I look at her, much less talk to her, she blushes and runs away."
"Hmm." Hermione put her mind to the problem. "Okay, well, Slytherin girls are out, mainly because the couple who might be willing would be harassed to death by their dorm-mates if they did go with you. Diggory's got the 'Puffs to behave in public since you told him about the dragons, but I doubt any of them would go with you for fear of being labeled a traitor. Since you want someone you can talk to, I'm guessing you want to stick with girls in our year? That way you'll at least have one or two classes in common, if nothing else."
Harry nodded. "Yeah, I guess. Not Lavender Brown, though, she's so… so…"
"Giggly? Gossipy? Shallow? All of the above?" Hermione suggested, trying not to laugh.
"Yeah. Anyway, not her, and I'd rather not Parvati, either," Harry said. "They're both pretty, and I suppose nice enough, but they're both way too into Divination and hanging on Trelawny's every word."
"Which leaves the 'Claws, plus Fay Dunbar and Sally-Anne Perks. Fay likes quidditch, you know. Sleeps with her broom and her beater bat next to her bed."
"No, not Fay. She reminds me of a combination of Ron and Katie's yearmate Cormac McClaggen… all talk and no action. Okay, I'll grant no one is likely to bump the twins from the beater spots on the Gryffindor team, but I never see her out there during the pickup games that happen most Sundays during decent weather. If she likes quidditch so much, I'd expect her to be out there for those, to keep in practice against the day the twins are done with school."
Hermione nodded. "All right, I see your point. Sally-Anne's probably out, too. She's muggleborn and rumor is that she plans to leave Hogwarts once she has her OWLS, because she wants to be a ballerina and that's not something she can do in the Wizarding world. On the one hand, she'd be graceful enough to open the ball with, but on the other hand, I don't know how much you could find to talk about with her."
"Well, I can keep her in mind if none of the 'Claws work out," Harry said. "The whole lot of them were looking at me and whispering when I passed by them on my way here."
"Which means at least one of them hopes you'll ask her," Hermione said. "I know you don't know any of them well, since we've only had Charms and Astronomy with them, but are there any you think you might like to know better?"
Harry thought about the Ravenclaw girls for a moment. "Umm… not Brocklehurst, her voice reminds me too much of my aunt's. And not Turpin either. You're about the only non-'Claw student she doesn't seem to look down on, plus she wore one of the badges. Padma Patil seems nice enough, but I can't help but think Parvati would feel snubbed if I asked her Ravenclaw sister instead of her Gryffindor self, you know? So that leaves Su Li and Morag MacDougal. I've seen them both playing in pickup games; they're not very good, but they have fun, so we would have quidditch in common as well as Charms and Astronomy." He grinned wryly and added, "Plus both of them are short enough that even with fancy shoes on, I think I'll still be taller, so we won't look too funny, dancing."
Hermione chuckled at that. "Well, I guess I can't blame you for adding looks into the mix this far into the process of choosing a possible date! At least you're trying to pick someone based on how well you think you can get along with her, instead of based on the size of her chest."
Harry blew a soft raspberry at his friend. "If that was my only concern, I'd ask Lavender or maybe Susan Bones. No, if I can't go with you, I at least want to try to make a new friend out of this whole thing. Which reminds me, I definitely want those dance lessons so that I don't completely disappoint my prospective date. Is there anything else I should know about?
"You know, I'm not entirely sure," Hermione admitted. "I know what's customary at muggle proms and such, but you might want to check with Neville to see what's the done thing in the Wizarding world. I mean, I would think you ought to get your date some sort of token Christmas or Yule gift, but you don't want to find out the hard way that your gift either insulted her somehow, or worse yet, declared serious intentions toward her. Given Neville's grandmother, I'm sure he'd know what's proper." She tilted her head with a smile. "So, which of the two are you going to ask, Su or Morag?"
Harry shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe I'll flip a coin… or maybe I'll just ask whichever of them I see first, so long as she's not surrounded by the other four!"
Hermione laughed and turned back to her homework assignments. Harry opened his books as well, figuring he might as well get at least one assignment done before heading out to find Neville.
A quick check in the dorm informed him that Neville was in the greenhouses as usual for this time of day, so Harry dropped off his books and grabbed his cloak before setting out. He sighed as he saw Viktor Krum heading towards the library. Still wondering why he was having trouble being happy for Hermione, he walked head-on into the entry door as someone thrust it open from the other side. "Ow!"
"Oh, Merlin… are ye okay?" asked a feminine voice with more than a hint of a Highlands accent.
Harry ran a hand lightly over his face. "I don't think I damaged anything more than my dignity," he said. He straightened his glasses and blinked; his accidental assailant was none other than Morag MacDougal. "Actually, I'm glad you're here, and not with a mob. D'you, erm, would you care to come to the Yule Ball with me?"
Morag blinked. While she and her dorm-mates had been gossiping earlier, wondering who Harry might take, she'd never expected him to invite her, or any of them, really. "Aye, if ye dinna mind tellin' me why ye asked me," she said bluntly. "I mean – yer the Boy-Who-Lived. Ye could hae any lass ye wanted."
Harry wrinkled his nose at the title. "First of all, Miss MacDougal, I'm just Harry. I don't want a girl who only sees the stupid Boy-Who-Lived. Unfortunately, I think the only girls who see Harry are the Gryffindor chasers and Hermione. I had decided to ask her, after McGonagall held me after class to let me know I'm expected to open the Ball with the other champions, but I got to the library just in time to overhear her agreeing to go with someone else. So I asked her for some advice instead. I want to go to the Ball with someone I can get along with, maybe even make friends with. Maybe we haven't spoken much, as we're only in Charms and Astronomy together, but I've seen you playing in the pickup quidditch games, and you looked like you were having fun. Even better, you've never acted star-struck towards me like some of the girls have. I don't know if you believed me that I didn't enter myself in the tournament, but at least you didn't wear one of those stupid badges. So, you seem nice, and I thought maybe we could have fun – if you're willing to forgive me for any clumsiness on the dance floor, that is. I've never danced in my life. Hermione said she'd give me a few lessons, though, so I hope I won't be too awful."
Morag smiled at that. "Weel, I canna say I'm the world's best dancer either, and I appreciate yer honesty in sayin' ye'd like ta make friends. Aye, I'll coome ta the Ball wi' ye. And call me Morag." Everything he said pointed to his desire to have a pleasant evening with a friend as opposed to romance, so she didn't mind being his second choice after Granger. At least she wouldn't have to worry about him getting handsy the way some boys tried to.
Harry smiled back. "Is there anything I need to do? I've never been on a date before, but I've seen how my aunt makes sure my uncle's accessories match her dress when they're going somewhere formal." He grinned. "And I need new dress robes anyway; Mrs. Weasley bought me a set over the summer, but I checked them a little while ago and they're already too short."
She brightened. "Would ye be willin' ta wear a bit o' MacDougal tartan, then? I dinna mean a kilt, yer a Sassenach afther all, but a vest and bow tie or summat. I'm nae Professor McGonagall to wear full tartan robes, but I hae the shoulder drape and 'twould be a fine thing if we matched."
"Sure," Harry said agreeably. He hadn't especially cared for the robes Mrs. Weasley had picked out for him, even if they were a huge improvement over the secondhand set she'd gotten for Ron. "Maybe we can meet up in Hogsmeade over the weekend, so you can help me pick something that works? I'll be the first to admit, I don't know wizarding fashion all that well. And while Mrs. Weasley means well – she did the school shopping for me and Hermione as well as for her own kids while we were at the Quidditch World Cup – she's too used to keeping a strict budget to have gone for anything higher end. Mine didn't even come with standard resizing charms on them, let alone the extra-strength ones Hermione told me about, that are especially good for teens in growth spurts."
"Och, 'tis a shame ye've wasted the gold on robes ye canna use, but a fine thing ye'll get ta choose yer own instead," Morag said. "And a meeting in Hogsmeade works. I'll bring the shoulder drape and a swatch of my robes so we can get ye sorted. Say, eleven? I promised Orla Quirke I'd be back by half-two so I could tutor her in Transfiguration. She's a firstie, the first of her family ta coome ta Hogwarts from the Orkneys, ye ken. Smart as a whip, she is, but nae used to modern wizardry. Her family still lives as many did before the Burning Times – schooled at hame, lots of practical work but hardly any o' the theory. They even make their own wands! The puir lass dinna hae the foggiest clue how ta write an essay when she started here."
"Wow." Harry shook his head, unable to even picture the culture shock the little witch must have felt upon arrival at the school. "She's got a good friend in you, Morag. And while it might be presumptuous of me to offer help to a Ravenclaw, if she has any questions regarding Defense, I'd be glad to give her a hand." He grinned a bit, adding, "When Ron decided I was a cheat and a liar and stopped talking to me, it occurred to me that he spent an awful lot of time trying to keep me from talking to other people. I'm trying to get over that, not let him hog my time anymore."
"Guid fer ye! I dinna like how Weasley skives off his work and then pesters Granger ta copy hers. And aye, I've heard her grumbling aboot it."
"I think half the reason he decided to start talking to me again was to get back her help with his homework."
Morag snorted inelegantly. "Aye, 'tis nae surprise. Ah, weel, I'd best be off. See ye in Charms class!"
"See you in Charms," Harry agreed as they parted ways.
He proceeded to the greenhouses, where a consultation with Neville taught him what flowers would be appropriate to give to a friendly date as opposed to a potentially romantic one. He also learned that candy, quills, or colourful hair ties were appropriate Yule or Christmas gifts to girls with whom one had a friendly relationship but didn't know overly well. He was happy to know he'd gotten that one right via guesswork, as he'd gotten cauldron cakes for all of his quidditch teammates in previous years. He also checked on what would be appropriate for a girl to give to a male friend – quills, candy, or joke products – so that he could tell Hermione what Viktor might expect from her. Neville also agreed to have his grandmother send a book of floriography from home, as Harry wanted to know what flowers might be appropriate for other occasions before he ran into them.
The next couple weeks passed peacefully, aside from a few tiffs with Ron, who couldn't seem to get it through his head that Harry had started taking his studies more seriously, and also took it personally that Harry hadn't already secured a date on his friend's behalf and refused to help him find a date for the ball. But Harry had enough on his mind, between his regular classwork, studying with Morag, trying to puzzle out the clue in the egg and researching spells that might help with that, his meeting with Morag to coordinate their dress robes, holiday shopping, plus learning to dance.
At least that task had become a little easier. He'd gone back and confronted Professor McGonagall, pointing out that he was probably not the only boy in Gryffindor who didn't know how to dance, and that he had been trying to tell her just that earlier only she made the assumption that he didn't want to dance rather than that he didn't know how. That Hermione had offered to teach him to waltz, but it occurred to him that wizarding dances might be different from what she was familiar with and that would still leave him at a disadvantage.
That meeting resulted in dance lessons for all of Gryffindor House, led by Professor McGonagall herself. Harry noticed that he and Neville were the only two boys who seemed to take the lessons seriously, although all of the girls did. He invited Morag to a couple of the lessons, which were being held in an empty classroom near Gryffindor Tower and was grateful when she accepted. For her part, she was pleased that Harry was making the effort both to get to know her a little better, and to make sure they'd be comfortable dancing together since they'd have to be somewhat on display to open the Ball.
Harry noticed during the lessons that some girls were much easier to dance with than others. He felt horribly stiff whenever he got paired up with Lavender, Parvati, Ginny, or a flirtatious second year named Romilda Vane. He enjoyed dancing with Morag as well as with Alicia, Angelina, and Katie even though all three of the chasers were taller than him in their dancing shoes. Most of the other girls were somewhere in between; not as awkward as the first group but not as comfortable to dance with as the second. And then there was Hermione, who simply felt… right… in his arms. Harry decided that was because she was shorter than the chasers which made it easier to keep his eyes where they belonged, but also because he knew her so much better than Morag.
The night before the Ball, Harry hung his new dress robes to make sure they wouldn't be wrinkled before he put them on, admiring the soft colours of what the muggles would call the MacDougall Ancient tartan on the vest and bow tie. Ron looked at them and frowned. "Those aren't the robes Mum bought for you."
"No," Harry said. "The ones she bought couldn't be resized, and I outgrew them. Since I had to get new ones, I made sure I'd coordinate with my date."
"Oh… I don't know what Herms plans to wear, but I suppose it doesn't matter. She'll be glad I didn't ask anyone else after all, so I can escort her so she won't look stupid showing up at the Ball without a date," Ron said.
"She has a date," Harry said quietly.
"Pfft. Did she tell you that? Probably just to save face rather than admit no one asked her. I mean, it's Hermione! Who'd want to take her to the Ball?" Ron scoffed.
Harry shook his head. Hermione had asked him to keep her date's identity quiet, not wanting trouble with quidditch groupies who might resent her for being Viktor's date. "She really does have a date, Ron."
"You keep telling yourself that, mate. Anyway, it's not like you're much better off, seeing as you're escorting McGonagall just so you'd have a date."
Harry shook his head in confusion. "What makes you think that, for Merlin's sake?"
"Who else but McGonagall would make you get something with that ugly plaid on it?" Ron sniggered. "Maybe you should have considered Eloise Midgen after all."
"Professor McGonagall isn't the only Scotswoman in Hogwarts, you know." Harry debated if the satisfaction from punching Ron would be worth the punishment but decided probably not. "I'm going with Morag MacDougal, which I've told you more than once. Anyway, I'm for bed, tomorrow is going to be a long day." He shut his curtains and put up a few spells for privacy and quiet, not wanting to put up with the redhead any further.
Immediately after lunch on the day of the Ball, the Diagon Alley florist whose owl-order catalogue had done the rounds amongst the boys over the previous three weeks arrived with piles of boxes filled with bouquets, hairpieces, and corsages. Harry found himself between Viktor Krum and Cedric Diggory in the queue to collect their orders. He felt a slight easing of some undefined tension when he saw that the wrist corsage Viktor had gotten for Hermione was almost identical to the one he'd chosen for Morag – a white camellia surrounded with viscaria. Meanwhile Cedric picked up a corsage of delicate pink and white orchids along with a larger single white orchid affixed to a small hair comb for his date, Cho Chang.
Cedric smiled at the other two. "Friendly dates tonight, I see," he commented. "Wish me luck for something not at all related to the tournament? If everything goes well at the Ball, I'm planning to ask Cho to enter into an informal understanding with the plan of getting engaged when she turns seventeen and married once she graduates."
"Goot luck," Viktor said with a nod.
"Yes, good luck with that," Harry echoed.
As he left the Great Hall, Harry spotted Hermione making her way upstairs and hurried to catch up to her. "Would you care for an escort down to your date?" he asked. "Morag's meeting me in the entry as well. She said she'd come down with Roger Davies and Cho Chang, since he's taking Fleur Delacour and she's going with Cedric Diggory."
Hermione smiled. "I'd like that, Harry, thanks. I might be able to dance in heels, but when it comes to navigating the stairs, well, let's just say I'll appreciate having a strong arm to cling to." She pretended to swoon as she said that, causing them both to laugh.
"I'll meet you in the common room when you're ready, then," Harry said. "Neville promised to help me try to do something with my hair, but I don't know if anything's strong enough to tame it."
"Did you know that Sleekeazy's was created by a Potter?" Hermione asked. "Probably trying to tame his own birds' nest! Even if it won't ever lie flat, I'm sure you'll manage to get something other than your everyday 'been strolling in hurricane-force winds' look."
He grinned as they scrambled in the portrait hole. "Well, thanks for the vote of confidence, I think. Wish me luck!"
"Good luck," she said as they parted at the staircases up to their respective dorms.
Two hours later, Harry returned to the common room. A light application of Sleekeazy's plus an hour of work, topped with a spell learned from Neville that held the hair in place much like muggle hairspray only without the stiff and sticky-feeling result, he had actually achieved the 'artfully tousled' look for his hair. Wanting to keep his dress robes neat, he chatted with Neville rather than joining Ron, Dean, and Seamus in exploding snap.
"I don't remember those from the book," Harry said, indicating the corsage of yellow flowers Neville held as he waited for his date, Ginny Weasley. "What do they mean?"
"Always cheerful," Neville replied. "They're coreopsis. Acceptable for a friendship date, and I thought the yellow would better suit Ginny than the viscaria you got for Morag. The purplish blue you got wouldn't look good with the green of Ginny's dress robes, and the pinker variety would look awful with her hair."
Harry nodded. "And the yellow will look nice with her hair, I see that." He smiled. "I'm glad we've gotten to know one another better this year, Nev. You're a good friend."
"Thanks, Harry," Neville replied. He started to say something else when Ginny appeared, looking excited and happy in her deep green dress robes. He stood up to greet her with a bow and slid the corsage onto her wrist. "You look very nice."
She smiled and took his arm. "So do you, Neville. Thanks again for inviting me." She threw Harry an arch look over her shoulder, as if to say, 'You could have been with me, but blew your chance.' Harry rolled his eyes and was glad Neville didn't notice her action as they departed the common room together.
Harry idly flipped through a quidditch magazine after Neville left, when Hermione's voice caught his attention.
"Wow, you do clean up nicely, Harry. I might have to be jealous of Morag," she teased.
He looked up and stared. Hermione's hair was up in a complex-looking twist, with a few soft curls framing her face. Her periwinkle blue dress robes, of some floaty material, highlighted her fair complexion beautifully, and a light application of makeup added a hint of rose to her cheeks and lips. Clambering to his feet, he bowed low before offering her his arm. "My Lady," he said softly. "You look amazing."
As they left the common room, they heard a loud bang from the direction of the trio playing exploding snap, followed immediately by Ron's voice. "Bloody hell! That was Hermione? She actually looks like a girl!"
Harry waited for the Fat Lady to close behind them before he said, "I think I am jealous of Viktor." He meant it; he never would have guessed that seeing her all prettied up would clarify his feelings for her, but he tried to keep his tone light and Hermione chuckled.
"Flattery will get you nowhere," she chided lightly. "Oh, there's Morag with Roger Davies and Fleur Delacour. And there's Viktor with Cedric and Cho."
They moved over to the other champions, where Harry smoothly handed Hermione off to Viktor before approaching Morag. "You look lovely," he told her as he bowed and slid the corsage onto her wrist. Her dress robes perfectly matched the soft shade of green in her clan tartan, while the reds and narrow blue and white stripes of the shoulder drape provided a bright splash of colour. Her dark hair was held back from her face with a matching tartan bow.
Harry gave Morag his arm as McGonagall fussed with getting the champions lines up for their grand entrance. She gave him a quick smile, much like the smile Hermione directed at Viktor, while Cho looked doe-eyed up at Cedric. Fleur Delacour, on the other hand, seemed less than impressed with Roger Davies. He seemed to lose track of his thoughts every time he glanced at her; while he wasn't outright drooling, he didn't appear far from it. The group paraded in while being formally announced and took their seats at the head table. To his private dismay, Harry found Percy Weasley to his left, filling in for the absent Mr. Crouch. He glanced down the table to see Viktor looking less than happy at being next to Ludo Bagman, and wondered who had set the seating arrangements. He mostly directed his conversation to Morag, discussing classes and quidditch while making an occasional remark to Percy.
When the meal was over, he offered Morag his hand and led her onto the dance floor along with Viktor and Hermione, Cho and Cedric, and a visibly annoyed Fleur tugging Roger with her. As he took his position with Morag, he noticed Hermione smiling at him over Viktor's shoulder, smiling and mouthing the words, "You'll be fine."
He took a deep breath and relaxed as the music started, and successfully guided Morag around the floor. A few songs later, Cedric and Cho suggested the champions swap partners for a dance each. Morag and Cedric whisked away together as Harry carefully steered Cho through the now crowded floor. Viktor danced with Fleur while Roger partnered Hermione. Harry approached Fleur next; the French girl seemed relieved to have some respite from her date's besotted behavior and offered him an embarrassed apology for her 'leetle boy' remark on the night of the Goblet's drawing, which he accepted. Cedric and Hermione danced together this time, as did Roger and Morag, and Viktor and Cho.
Finally, as Viktor moved to Morag, Roger to Cho, and Cedric to Fleur, he offered his hand to Hermione. She was flushed with the dancing, smiling happily as he pulled her into his arms. "Are you having fun tonight?" he asked.
"I am," she replied. "Viktor is being quite the gentleman. He Did you and he collaborate on the flowers? I saw that my corsage and the one you gave Morag almost match."
"We didn't, but I'm not surprised. Do you know the meanings of the flowers?" he asked.
"No," she said, looking intrigued. "You mean, actual meanings like the Victorians used?" She laughed. "I might have known, everything else about the wizarding world is Victorian or earlier."
Harry smiled. "The white camellia means 'you're adorable,' while the viscaria means 'will you dance with me?' They're flowers intended for friendship dates."
"As opposed to…?"
"Well, Cedric plans to ask Cho for an informal understanding to lead to a formal engagement when she turns seventeen. I was more concerned about what to get for Morag when I spoke with Neville, but I vaguely recall orchids indicating love and something about feminine grace and beauty. Pretty close to what roses mean even today, only more subtle or something."
"I'm impressed. You know something I don't," Hermione teased.
"I had reasons to learn it," Harry countered. "I didn't want to accidentally give Morag flowers that would lead her to believe I wanted more than friendship from her, after all. She's a nice girl and all, I'm having fun tonight, but I don't want to date her. I'm glad I got to know her, though, and some of the other 'Claws through her. They've got this whole system set up for the older ones to tutor the younger students. Morag's main project is a firstie from the Orkneys who's a pureblood but from a family that's never been to Hogwarts, just because of the remoteness of where and how they live. The way she described it, if you and I think the wizarding world as a whole lives in Victorian times, we'd probably think Orla's family is still living in the time of Robert the Bruce."
Hermione blinked. "The poor girl… just the sheer number of people must have been overwhelming at first."
Harry nodded. "Yeah. She's a quick study, though. Only took me a minute or so to teach her disarming. Her main problem was pronouncing expelliarmus correctly because of her accent."
"Her accent? Huh… I wonder if that's why Seamus keeps blowing things up in class," Hermione mused.
Harry chuckled. "Nah, Seamus just likes explosions. I asked him once."
"Boys!" Hermione huffed, but she was smiling.
As the song came to an end, Harry escorted Hermione back to Viktor and Morag. The two couples decided to sit out a dance or two and have some punch. Viktor spoke of Bulgaria, his village, and his girlfriend there, "…you haf same luffly eyes as my Kalina, Hermy-own-ninny, and like her, you see Viktor and not famous seeker. Perhaps someday you all come to Bulgaria, so I may introduce her to friends I make while here?"
"It could be fun," Hermione said, "and we do have six months to work out the details. What do you think, Morag, Harry?"
"I think we're about to have unpleasant company," Harry said with a frown.
Ron Weasley was having a miserable time. His dress robes were awful, outdated, and maroon besides. He didn't have a date, no thanks to Harry. He'd assumed Harry would find a pair of hot girls for the two of them to take to the Ball, but Harry went and invited some swotty Ravenclaw without even asking her about a friend for him. So then he figured he'd escort Hermione so that she wouldn't have to own up to pretending she had a date, except she really did have a date. And with Viktor Krum, no less! Harry's competition! And there was Harry, chatting with them like nothing was wrong!
His temper stoked by the firewhiskey Seamus had smuggled in, Ron stalked over to the little group. "You traitorous little… scarlet woman!" he shouted at Hermione. "Krum might be the world's best seeker, but he's the enemy! He's probably using you to find out Harry's plans for the next task! And you're letting it happen!" he added, turning to Harry.
"MISTER Weasley!" Professor McGonagall's strident tone cut the redhead off before he could get further into his rant. "This is NOT how we conduct ourselves at a ball. Fifty points from Gryffindor for the disruption."
"But, Professor, Hermione shouldn't be here as Krum's date," Ron protested. "She shouldn't date Harry's comet-cometishin." He punctuated this statement with a loud belch, giving his head of house the full benefit of the firewhiskey on his breath.
"The evening is over for you, Mister Weasley," she stated firmly. "And you will have detention with me every night this week due to your consumption of alcohol. Will you return to your dorm quietly, or do I need to levitate you there?"
"But… but…" Ron looked wildly at his friends but only saw anger on their faces. "Fine! I'll go!" He stomped out of the Great Hall, followed by Professor McGonagall with her lips pressed into a thin line.
Morag looked between the other three. "Ye were right aboot unpleasant company," she said. "I ken ye believe he's yer friend, but I dinna think he's a verra guid one."
"He's not, and I'm about done with him," Harry muttered. Hermione looked ready to cry.
Viktor looked at Harry. "I hope I haf not make trouble," he said. "I make promise to Hermy-own-ninny ven I ask her to Ball, that ve not speak of Tournament, or of vat you or I vill do. I ask her because as I say, she sees Viktor and not famous seeker, and because my Kalina vas not able to come for Ball as she is not Durmstrang student."
"Hermione is my friend, has been for years. If I have the slightest objection to her attending the Ball as your date, Viktor, it's only because you asked her before I had the chance to do the same. I'm just grateful that Morag was willing to forgo romance to accompany me as friends," Harry said quietly.
Morag watched Hermione's expression change from upset to startled and made a quick decision. "Viktor, would ye care ta dance?" She tugged him back towards the dance floor, leaving Harry and Hermione together. "Dinna fash," she said softly. "I'm nae trying ta poach ye away from yer Kalina. But I'm thinking Harry's realised he wants Hermione ta be his Kalina, and they'll need ta talk."
"Da," Viktor agreed. "I think you are right."
Hermione looked at Harry in confusion as Morag tugged Viktor away. "Harry, I… you really did want to ask me to the Ball? As a date, not just as friends?
Harry rubbed the back of his neck. "I'm not sure? You know I'm clueless about these things, Hermione. I just know that I walked into the library that day intending to ask you to the Ball and got there in time to hear you accepting Viktor's offer. And that no matter how much I wanted to be pleased for you, it was hard. During the dance lessons, you felt… right. Holding you, I mean. I had fun dancing with the chasers, Morag, and a few others, while a few of the girls made me really uncomfortable. But when I danced with you, it just felt perfect and I didn't know why. Same thing when I saw the flowers Viktor got for you, I felt relieved that he wasn't giving you roses or orchids or anything else that meant he was serious about you. And when you came down into the common room tonight… you look so beautiful in that dress and those shoes… I almost couldn't breathe. I realised I was jealous of Viktor, that he got to be your escort tonight, even if you are here with him just as friends."
"I… I don't know what to say," Hermione stammered. "It… it never occurred to me that you would ever see me as anything but your research assistant. When Viktor asked me, I knew it was more to protect himself from the quidditch groupies, but it was still flattering, you know? If I had known you wanted to go with me, though, even as friends, I would have said no to him."
"You're brilliant as well as beautiful, but you can't read my mind. Especially since I'm an idiot boy who didn't understand what I was feeling for you," Harry said. "But I'll say it now that I've figured it out. You've been my best friend for years, but now I'd like to change that if you're willing to be my girlfriend as well."
He smiled and pulled her out onto the dance floor, seeking out Morag and Viktor. "Wonderful! But until the Ball is over, we've got to be properly behaved to our dates."
"Agreed," Hermione laughed.
They swapped partners again when the song ended. Viktor smiled at Hermione. "And so, you haf found your own man, and vill leaf poor Viktor alone?" he teased.
"Not until after the Ball is over," she teased back. "You asked me, so you're stuck with me."
Meanwhile Harry smiled at Morag. "Thanks for letting us talk," he said. "I feel like an awful cad, but…"
"Dinna fash yerself," Morag interrupted. "Ye were honest in asking me ta coome ta the Ball as friends, an' ye said yerself ye'd hae asked Hermione but Viktor beat ye to it. Ye dinna leave wi' yer lass now ye claimed her yers, provin' yer the gentleman I took ye fer. What more could I want from ye? Except maybe a wee bit more defense tutorin' now and again."
"I can do that, sure," Harry said agreeably.
When the Ball drew to an end, Viktor offered to escort Morag up to the Ravenclaw tower, allowing Harry and Hermione to walk to Gryffindor tower together. The couple strolled slowly, holding hands along the way. Just before they reached the Fat Lady's portrait, though, Harry pulled Hermione into an alcove.
"Remember what I said about the flowers?" he asked.
"Yes," she nodded.
"Good. Because I have a message for you." He pulled his wand and concentrated for a long moment before transfiguring the camellia into a full red rose and the surrounding viscaria into lily-of-the-valley.
Hermione's eyes widened. "The rose…"
"The rose means I love you, of course. The lily-of-the-valley means you make my life complete. Which you do, Hermione, and you always have."
"Oh, Harry…" Hermione choked up for a moment. Then she drew her own wand and conjured a sprig of mistletoe just above their heads. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she pulled him into a sweet and lingering kiss. "I love you, too."