Chapter One: The Yule Ball
A date. He needed a date. The truth of these words were reverberating around Harry Potter's head with a clarity that had never been so real. First Cho had turned him down and then Ron had basically screamed at Fleur Delacour. Hermione had someone, even Neville had someone.
Why was it so hard? He threw himself huffily into one of the library's rickety chairs, earning himself a reproachful glower from Madam Pince. He'd said to Ron and Hermione he was off preparing for the second task, but his egg was locked safely away in his trunk. The Common Room had just been a bit much. Everyone had dates and was excitedly talking about the ball. He felt like he was back at primary school being picked last for the football team.
Little did he know, as young boys who have no idea about these things do, that there were plenty of girls in the castle who wanted to ask him out. Most of them didn't dare to ask him, assuming that he already had someone, or else they were too terrified to be on the arm of the Boy Who Lived.
"I bet he's not asked anyone," Tracey Davis whispered, glancing over at the young boy before poking the girl in front of her. "Are you even listening?"
"Let me guess, you're going to tell me I should ask Potter to the ball?" Daphne Greengrass sighed, pulling a loose strand of her blonde hair behind her ear as she crossed out the final line of her History of Magic essay. It wasn't due until after the holidays, but she liked to be prepared. Daphne would never have described herself as beautiful, her eyes were too large and her hair too straight, nevermind the fact that she was tempted to use an engorgement charm to make her chest at least slightly eye-catching. But she liked to think she had something going for her. More than Bulstrode anyway. Or Parkinson. Yet both girls had managed to wangle dates, admittedly Millie was being dragged to the ball by Goyle, but it was still something. And her? Nothing. Not one stinking date.
"Well, no-one else has," Tracey's smirk did not leave her freckled face. Where Daphne's face was narrow, Tracey's was slightly rounder, with kinder eyes and effortlessly curled dark hair. "And look at him."
"He does look a little glum," Daphne conceded, trying not to let her sympathy for the boy creep into her words.
"Glum? He looks like he wants to chuck himself into the lake. Go on, why not? It'd annoy the hell out of Draco. And Tori would love it."
"Astoria loves all sources of gossip," Daphne countered, "but I don't even know Potter."
"Hasn't stopped you staring at him for the last year," Tracey teased, "and don't think I haven't noticed."
Blood rushed to her cheeks, but Daphne ignored her best friend, instead pretending to look up the history of Elrick the Unworthy. It was true enough that she had noticed Potter. Once or twice. Okay, more than once. It was kind of impossible not to. Whether he meant to or not, the boy just attracted attention. First all that stuff with the third floor, then Ginny Weasley and nevermind the tournament. Daphne had never understood her sister's fascination with Quidditch players until she'd seen him take on that dragon.
"I'm not asking him."
"Because!" Daphne spluttered, her usually cutting tongue lost to her in the face of Tracey's unyielding nagging.
"Eloquent as ever," Tracey teased, dodging the crumpled piece of parchment Daphne threw at her head. "You clearly fancy the pants off him. Just go over there, ask him and then when he starts spluttering asking who you are just give him a good snog."
Daphne couldn't stop herself from rolling her eyes. "Now who's being eloquent? Blaise still being the gentleman?"
"Like you wouldn't believe," Tracey moaned, pouting as she did so. "But that's not the point. Stop distracting me."
"You distract yourself, I simply allow it to happen."
"What's the worst that could happen?" Tracey asked, snatching Daphne's essay away from her.
"You're not going to give this up, are you? Look, if I talk about this, will you give that back?" Tracey shrugged, ever the troublemaker. To look at them, Daphne often thought that no-one would ever think they were friends. Tracey was all smiles and jokes, while Daphne knew she could be cold. It wasn't her fault she hated morons and there were so many of them around.
"Ugh, fine. The worst, well, the worst is he says no, laughs in my face and everyone finds out and I'm humiliated until something equally ludicrous happens. Which knowing this place will be a few days, not weeks," she admitted. "But even if he says yes, then what? Draco'll lose his mind, they'll try and make my life hell, the Gryffindors will hate me or Potter and then it'll just go wrong anyway."
"Be good fun though," Tracey countered, "besides, all that guff about houses and who hangs out with who is rubbish. Who better to show them than you?"
"Because no-one likes me anyway?"
"Exactly," Tracey grinned and Daphne couldn't exactly fault the logic. Outside of Astoria and Tracey, she barely got on with the rest of Slytherin. She tolerated them, or rather didn't always tell them they were obscene and annoying. Would it really be so bad? Sure, Malfoy would whinge and moan but the rest, would they even care? They only entertained his rants because of his father. Most of them had grown up, like she had, on stories about Harry Potter. She'd heard several of the fifth years going on about him and she knew for a fact that Astoria would jump at the chance.
He'd go with someone, there was no denying it. He was just too him not to. And she'd be stuck on her own, trying not to third wheel with Tracey and Blaise or not hex boys who would no doubt think she would be overjoyed by their existence and be swept off their feet. It was going to be awful. At least if she asked him it might, might, be fun.
So why not?
Damn you, Tracey.
Tracey blinked. "'Fine' what?"
"Fine, I'll ask him." And without another word, Daphne pushed her chair back and strode towards Potter's table. The library was basically empty, given that term had almost ended and most of the professors were too busy enjoying the festivities to set homework. A few seventh years were losing themselves in complicated textbooks, but none of them even noticed her or Potter.
He didn't look up at first, trapped in his own train of thought, his hands running through his already messy hair. More than once, Daphne had wondered what it would be like to run her own hands through it, down his neck… That was not helpful. Her heart was racing like she had just run a mile as it was. Had it always been this hot? Just ask.
"Potter." He nearly jumped out of his skin. Great start, Greengrass.
"Yes?" It wasn't rude, as she'd been expecting, but it was definitely wary. Not even in a second, his eyes had taken in the snake on her chest and the emerald green edges of her school robes. It took all she had not to turn tail and run. Just ask him. She was a Slytherin. Ambitious and cunning. Well, this was exactly cunning, but it was certainly the former.
"I have a question," Daphne started, trying to give herself as much time as she could. Nausea was starting to claim her now. If this was what asking people out was supposed to feel like, she understood why people didn't do it. "More of a proposition, really. For you."
She paused, wondering quite how best to put it and trying to ignore the eyes of her best friend as they burned holes into the back of her skull. Just. Ask. Him.
"Would you like to go to the ball with me?"
"Wait? What?" He all but gaped at her. She was going to die. No, she was going to kill Tracey. Then, shortly after, she was going to die. He must've seen something in her eyes, because he hastily added, "sorry, that was rude. I didn't mean… I just. You're in Slytherin?"
"They always said you were observant." Why? Why say that? What was wrong with her?
"Doesn't that bother you?" Harry ploughed on, either ignoring her rudeness or not upset by it.
"Should it? It's just a house, Potter. You were sorted, so was I. Nothing about them says we can't talk to each other. We aren't all like Malfoy, but if you -"
"That's not what I'm saying, I guess I was just confused. Sorry." He got to his feet, once again running a hand through his hair. Some would say he was trying to be a poser, but you only had to look at Harry to know he was anything but. He was shy. Despite his fame, despite the fact that he could have any girl in the castle he wanted. Any girl. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. "The ball?"
"I thought you might like a partner," she deliberately avoided the word date. "It's traditional for the champions to lead the first dance," Daphne added, as helpfully as she could.
"Do they teach you nothing in Gryffindor?"
He laughed, not a look she'd seen on him much before. It suited him. It suited him a lot. "Apparently not."
"Well, I'd be happy to help with that. Consider it my Yule Ball gift to you."
"That'd be great. It's, erm, Daphne, right?" She nodded, surprised that he even knew her name. "Hermione's mentioned you. You have Runes with her?"
Daphne nodded. She had dabbled in the idea of conversation with Granger. A few 'how are yous' was the extent of it, but Granger was never mean. She wasn't kind either, but to a Slytherin that was basically like giving her a boat load of galleons.
"And, no offence, but why do you want to go with me? Surely you've got loads of people that'd like to ask you." Her heart skipped. Was he just being polite, or did he really mean that? Whatever it was, she tried not to smile at the implied sentiment.
"I could say the same about you, yet here we are. But to answer your question, I would like to get to know you. Merlin only knows why we don't bother extending outside of our houses, so why not now? Isn't that the point of all this, cooperation with people we wouldn't normally connect with?" She smiled, as genuinely as she knew how and before she could stop herself, she added, "besides, I imagine you look pretty good in dress robes."
He blushed, far more openly than she had with Tracey, a goofy grin spreading across his face. It was almost irresistible not to share in it. Despite it all though, Daphne was painfully aware that he hadn't said yes. It was just questions, avoidance, the same thing she did with her mother when she was quizzed about boys.
Now she wanted to smile. She wanted to hug him. To do much more than that. But she settled for a smirk and a small laugh. "I was hoping for a little more than okay, Potter."
His smile was almost electric. Goosebumps flared up her arms, her stomach was doing somersaults. This was actually happening. To her. In reality. "Daphne, yes, I will go to the ball with you."
"Excellent," Daphne heard herself say. It was the most bizarre sensation. As though she was no longer in control of her own body, but rather watching herself have this conversation. "Then I'll let you get back to your evening, Potter."
"You know, if we're going to go to the ball you should probably call me Harry."
"If you play your cards right, Potter." This was so surreal. "See you soon."
"I look forward to it."
There was an awkward pause. Then he smiled again, gave her a ridiculous little wave and disappeared out of the library. It took all of three seconds before Tracey was on her. Their bags in one hand, Daphne's essay in her other.
"I can't believe you just did that! You wait 'til I tell Blaise. And Tori. God, she's going to love this."
They were shepherded out by a belligerent Madam Pince, who was far too unaffected by Christmas cheer to put up with things like laughter and joy in her library. But Daphne didn't care. She didn't care about anything. She'd asked him. She'd actually asked him. And he'd said yes.
Later on questions of what the hell she was going to wear, whether or not he'd actually be able to dance and what on earth they would talk about would all have time to war for time in her mind. But in that moment, right then, with Tracey rattling on excitedly in her ear, she couldn't think of anything that could drag her down.