The Sugar Quill
Author: Ellyse (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Great Partner Swap  Chapter: Part I
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The Great Partner Swap

The Great Partner Swap

 

Part I

 

 

The whole thing started during a Herbology lesson. The Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs were content at work in Greenhouse Two, wrestling with Crescendo Cacti that sung shrilly if they were not treated with the utmost respect. Professor Sprout had just reprimanded Seamus and Dean for stamping accidentally on an enormous plant with dustbin lid-sized bright orange flowers.

 

“Boys!” she barked. “It took a great deal of work to grow those Autumn Torches! They were supposed to be the decoration for the dance!”

 

As soon as the words tumbled from her mouth she realised her slip. She clapped a hand to her head muttering “brainless fool.” Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown’s heads snapped up from their flower bed. Hannah Abbott gasped delightedly. Dean Thomas groaned. Ron looked distinctly pale.

 

“What did you say, Professor?” Lavender asked, breathless with excitement.

 

Professor Sprout savagely thrust a trowel into the earth. “There is to be a Halloween Dance this term,” she said resignedly. “It was supposed to be a secret, revealed next week, but now…” she trailed off crossly.

 

Instantly, a flurry of questions was thrown in her direction.

 

“When will it be?”

 

“What years will be able to attend?”

 

“Is there a theme?”

 

“Who’s going to be playing?”

 

“How can we get out of it?”

 

(“Ron!” said Hermione.)

 

“It’s on Halloween, all fourth years and above may attend, there is no theme unless you wish to dress up as a pumpkin, a band called the Giddy Goblins will be playing and no, Mr. Weasley, I believe that the dance is compulsory due to a surprise Professor Dumbledore has arranged that I have not been silly enough to reveal yet.”

 

“What surprise?” Parvati asked instantly.

 

Professor Sprout turned a grubby face towards her. “I’m not that silly Miss Patil,” she said patting down her wild hair. “But I think it’s to encourage integration between Houses. Stop Gryffindors and Slytherins getting so high and mighty on the rest of us.” She winked fondly at her beloved Hufflepuffs.

 

“Can’t you give us a clue, Profesor?” wheedled Hannah Abbott.

 

“No, no, you’ll find out soon enough,” Professor Sprout said. “Now get back to your cacti, in silence please!”

 

Grumbling, the class returned to their prickly charges, whispering rapidly when Professor Sprout turned away and tried to rectify the damage done to the Autumn Torches.

 

*      *      *

 

“Wonder what the surprise is,” said Justin Finch-Fletchley, as the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs walked back up to the castle after the lesson.

 

“Who cares?” Ron said grumpily, swinging his bag further onto his back.

 

“Ah you’re just miffed because Fleur’s not here to ask this year,” Seamus said, his lip twitching.

 

“Oh be quiet,” Ron snapped.

 

Hermione caught up with them, putting her Herbology books in her bag.

 

“You don’t wait do you?” she said crossly to Harry and Ron who slowed their pace.

 

“You were talking to the teacher,” Ron said.

 

“It’s exciting isn’t it?” Hermione said eagerly.

 

“What? Double Transfiguration?” Ron said.

 

“No. Well, yes,” Hermione struggled. “But I meant this surprise.”

 

“Yeah,” Harry said thoughtfully. “I wonder what it will be.”

 

To encourage integration between the Houses,” Hermione quoted, “could be anything.”

 

“Yeah well as long as I don’t have to spend all evening sitting next to Malfoy at the dinner, then I don’t care,” Ron said. 

 

They had reached the castle steps. The Hufflepuffs had left to endure double Potions, while Seamus, Dean and Neville waited for them in the Entrance Hall. As Harry, Ron and Hermione entered the castle, waving to Nearly Headless Nick as they passed; Parvati and Lavender joined the group too, giggling furiously, between hurried conversations about what colour dresses they were going to wear. Seamus turned round, raising his eyebrows to the heavens.

 

“I don’t think we’re going to ever hear the end of this,” he said.

 

*      *      *

 

Seamus was right. Within a couple of hours, news of the impending dance had spread through the school like a fire; urgently consuming everyone in its path. Everybody suddenly seemed to know. The corridors were full of giggling girls once more, the teachers looked haggard as they tried to run lessons amidst the excitement, and boys loitered in corners, muttering darkly.

 

But most thrilling was the mystery of the surprise that Dumbledore had lined up for the evening. Professor Sprout had been quoted and misquoted numerous times in numerous states of hysteria. Rumours leaked around the school like one of Professor Snape’s particularly runny potions. Some said that you would be forced into dancing with someone from another House. Others maintained that everyone would have to dress in another House’s uniform for the night. A Slytherin seventh year spent a whole day grumbling that they would have to spend the evening in a Hufflepuff common room while allowing the Gryffindors in theirs, before Fred Weasley stamped on that theory pointing out it did not encourage integration between the Houses.

 

“Wonder what it is though?” Harry said suddenly, as he, Ron and Hermione struggled with their Transfiguration homework that evening.

 

“Hermione, can I look at your parchment?” Ron asked.

 

“No,” Hermione snapped. “You should have started earlier Ron. And I really don’t know what Dumbledore’s planning. I looked back through Hogwarts, a History which says that there have been dances and balls at Hogwarts, other than the one that traditionally accompanies the Triwizard Tournament period”. Her eyes flicked down to her work, avoiding Harry’s expression. “But none of them have been in any way extraordinary. And there’s no mention of Integration between the Houses.”

 

“It would be good if Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw could band together and chuck out Slytherin,” Ron said dreamily. “That would encourage me to integrate with other Houses.”

 

“Except Slytherin,” Hermione pointed out.

 

Ron looked thoughtful. “Well, I might talk to them a bit, before I chucked them out,” he said.

 

“I doubt it’s what Dumbledore has in mind,” Harry said, blotting his essay by accident.

 

Hermione scrawled the last few words onto her parchment, finishing with a flourish.

 

“Now can I…?” Ron began, but Hermione silenced him with a glare and tucked her essay neatly into her bag and out of sight. Ron threw down his quill angrily.

 

“I just can’t do this,” he snapped. “I don’t know what McGonagall’s playing at, giving us homework this hard.”

 

“It’s our O.W.L year Ron,” Hermione chided. “We have to work really hard for these you know.”

 

“Of course I know, you keep reminding me all the time.”

 

“I’m only trying to help you Ron,” Hermione said crossly.

 

“Oh well thank you very much,” Ron said sarcastically. “It’s a great help you nagging Harry and I night and day.”

 

“I do help,” Hermione said, “don’t I Harry?”

 

“Don’t bring me into this,” Harry said quickly, bending over his essay.

 

As he wrote, Harry let their argument wash over him. Ron and Hermione had been fighting a lot lately, he thought. They always had fought, they probably always would, but this year their bickering was reaching new levels of ferocity. They argued over what breakfast the other was having, they argued about which lesson they had first, they argued about whose bag was heavier and they argued about their homework. Perhaps he was imagining it, Harry thought, but they seemed especially edgy following the news of the impending dance. His thoughts and their bickering were interrupted by the arrival of the three other Weasleys currently residing in Hogwarts, Fred, George and Ginny.

 

“Come on Gin,” Fred was saying. “You can tell us.”

 

“Honest,” George said, his arm round a very red-faced Ginny, “you can trust Gred and Forge.”

 

“Tell you what?” Harry asked, curiously.

 

“Who I want to go to the dance with,” Ginny said, blushing.

 

“Yes don’t you wonder Harry? Who our little sis would want to go with Harry? Who she would want to dress up for Harry? Who she’d want to dance with Harry?” George said, grinning wickedly. Harry stared very hard at his parchment. 

 

“I see they are they're getting noisier in their arguing,” Fred observed, looking at Ron and Hermione who had now begun to shout about weekend work. “We’re going to have to get them a special room soon; they’re beginning to scare the first years.”

 

“I suggest an empty classroom,” George said innocently.

 

“Or a broom closet.”

 

They cackled. Ron and Hermione, seeming to finally notice their presence, stopped shouting and looked at them.

 

“We’re not arguing,” Hermione said, unclenching her knuckles, “we’re discussing.”

 

“Oh it’s so nice of you to join us,” Fred said, feigning delight. “We were just having a very interesting conversation about who Ginny wants to go to the dance with while you were both hollering at one another back there.”

 

“Who are you going with?” Ron asked, his voice slightly croaky from yelling.

 

“Don’t know,” the twins said and shrugged in unison.

 

“So why are you bugging us?” Ron growled.

 

“Everybody’s getting partners already,” Fred said. “That big fat Slytherin with the short bony Slytherin, Ernie McMillan has asked some girl in the third year…” he trailed off, appealing to his twin.

 

“Our point is,” George said, clasping Ginny to him, “is that you lot should get a move on.”

 

“I don’t think we should do anything until Dumbledore tells us what he is planning,” Hermione said pointedly. “It might change things.”

 

“Yeah right,” Fred said, leaning against the table, “he’s just sitting all the Houses on one big table or something.”

 

Harry seriously suspected that Dumbledore had something much more interesting planned, but didn’t see any point in saying so.

 

“So we think that finding partners for Ickle Ronnikins shouldn’t be that difficult and…”

 

“I’m working,” Ron said, taking up his quill savagely. Hermione beamed.

 

“But Ron, why bother looking for a girl when there’s one right…”

 

“Leave it,” Harry said quietly. The twins looked disappointed. George let his arms drop and Ginny sidled away. “Just wait for Dumbledore okay?” Harry said.

 

“Come Fred,” George said mournfully, “our help is not wanted here.”

 

And the twins left with only one backwards glance at Ron and Hermione who were seemingly completely engrossed in their homework.

 

Only the tips of Ron’s ears gave him away. 

 

*     *      *

 

That night at dinner, Dumbledore was sat at the teachers table, chatting happily to McGonagall. It occurred to Harry that Dumbledore was rarely seen at dinner with the rest of the teachers. Harry supposed he must always be busy, answering the hundreds of owls he received from Fudge and the other Ministry officials. Harry was just about to ask Ron what he thought when Dumbledore stood up, beaming at the students. There was an instant hush.

 

“Good evening,” Dumbledore said calmly. “I gather there has been a great deal of excitement in the school today, thanks to a little secret that Professor Sprout let slip.”

 

He smiled at Professor Sprout who was attempting to hide her large bushy head behind her goblet.

 

“I was going to leave you all to your rumours,” Dumbledore admitted, “but I believe some of you are very excited and have started asking prospective partners already.”

 

Parvati, over the table from Harry took a sharp intake of breath; hanging off Dumbledore’s every word.

 

“I’m afraid I cannot allow you to do this,” said Dumbledore calmly, “as I want to do things a little bit differently for this dance.”

 

“What’s he talking about?” Parvati hissed loudly to Lavender.

 

“So as not to keep Miss Patil any longer,” Dumbledore said kindly, displaying remarkable hearing for a man of his age, “I will get straight to the point. On October the thirty-first there is to be a Halloween Dance as a mid-term treat for you all. It will be open to fourth years and above, similar to the Yule Ball of last year. But there is one difference.” Dumbledore cleared his throat. “We choose your partners for you.”

 

There was a silence in the Great Hall as everyone looked at each other uncertainly.

 

What?!” shouted Pansy Parkinson indignantly. Lavender Brown was gripping her napkin very hard.

 

Dumbledore chuckled to himself. “When I say we I actually mean them.”

 

Again, uncertain glances were exchanged between students. Dumbledore beamed over at Hagrid who sidled forward with a big grin, two wizards hats swinging from his huge hands. He placed them onto the teacher’s table clumsily and winked at the student body. Dumbledore set them upright, so the brims rested on the polished table, and addressed the silent school once more.

 

“This hat,” he said, resting a hand on the top of the dark brown hat to his left, “contains the names of every boy above fourth year in the school. This hat,” he placed his other hand on the paler brown hat on his right, “contains the names of every girl above fourth year in the school.”

 

An outburst of whispers erupted like hissing gas, trapped underground for a long time. Dumbledore held up a hand against the noise.

 

“In order to encourage friendships and alliances between members of different Houses, the hat will pick partners for you. You may receive a partner in your own House, you may not. Your partner may be one of your very best friends, or you may never have never even met them. The point of this exercise is not to embarrass you terribly, but to try and form new friendships.” He smiled at the mutinous faces around him. “I’m hoping it will be a bit of fun as well.”

 

Harry had a sudden image of dancing with an enormous Slytherin girl and his insides seemed to melt to an unpleasant mush.

 

“It could be anyone,” Hermione said, next to Harry.

 

Ron looked rather pale. “Absolutely anyone,” he said. “It’s like,” he swallowed. “It’s like a great… big… partner swap.”

 

“After considerable discussion,” Dumbledore continued, “we have decided that you and your partner, whoever they may be, must enter the ball together, dance the first two dances together, have dinner together and dance the last dance together. The rest of the evening is yours. I think that’s fair.”

 

From the look of a few of the faces in the hall, some people certainly didn’t think it was very fair, but no one would contradict Dumbledore. Professor McGonagall whispered something in Dumbledore’s ear and Dumbledore nodded happily.

 

“And as Professor McGonagall has so rightly reminded me, there has been a spell cast on the hats so that brothers and sisters are not put together.” He winked at Ginny. “So you needn’t worry Miss Weasley.”

 

A few people laughed as Ginny blushed at being directly addressed. The atmosphere lightened slightly.

 

“And now,” Dumbledore clapped his hands together happily, “let’s begin.”

 

Professor Snape stood up, glaring sourly at the students, and snatched up the darker brown hat. Professor McGonagall took the paler one. They held them upside down, the brims gaping like indignant mouths at Dumbledore, not dissimilar to the faces of the students. Dumbledore plunged his hand into McGonagall’s hat and Harry was suddenly reminded of a man he had once seen shopping with Aunt Petunia and Dudley, dressed in purple wizards’ robes, who had drawn a white rabbit out of a top hat. Unfortunately he had not got a good look because Aunt Petunia had hurried him and Dudley along nervously. Instead of a rabbit, Dumbledore drew out a little piece of red paper from the hat.

 

“It’s a Gryffindor,” he said excitedly over the noise. He unfolded it, almost trembling with excitement. “Angelina Johnson!” he called out.

 

Angelina, a few seats up from Harry looked nervously around the hall. Her hands were writhing in her lap and her normal cheerful, encouraging smile was wavering. Dumbledore plunged his hand into the boys’ hat, drawing out a piece of blue paper.

 

“Angelina will be going to the ball with… Roger Davies!”

 

There was an instant flurry of talk, and Roger Davies of the Ravenclaw table had gone very red. He managed to catch Angelina’s eye and grin at her, awkwardly. Both Captains of their respective Quidditch teams, there was an obvious friendly rivalry between them.

 

“Excellent,” Dumbledore said, “quite excellent. What a choice, how wonderful you share the same interests.”

 

“Yeah,” Fred Weasley said, leaning down the Gryffindor table to Angelina, “and you can get this year’s Ravenclaw positions off him, Angelina.”

 

Dumbledore raised his voice above the chatter. He pulled out a piece of paper from the girls' hat. It was green.

 

“Pansy Parkinson,” he called. Pansy sat bolt upright, glaring at the boys’ hat that would decide the fate of her Halloween night. Next to Harry, Ron had his eyes closed and seemed to be muttering “please don’t be me, please don’t be me, please don’t be me,” to himself over and over again. From the look of most boys in the hall, Harry highly suspected they were thinking along the same lines.

 

The piece of paper Dumbledore drew from the boys’ hat was also green. An unmistakeable sigh of relief echoed around the Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables. Pansy looked suddenly interested; Harry saw her eyes wander down the table to Draco Malfoy, who looked bored.

 

“Pansy will be going with… Gregory Goyle!” Dumbledore called.

 

There was laughter. Goyle looked confused. Pansy looked furious and sat with her arms folded, her lips tight, muttering to her Slytherin friends.

 

Dumbledore had already pulled another red piece of paper out of the girls' hat. The Gryffindor table stirred.

 

Parvati Patil,” Dumbledore said. Parvati looked desperately hopeful. With a twinge of guilt Harry remembered last year’s ball. He hoped Parvati got a better partner this year than he had been.

 

“… Will accompany…,” he unfolded a yellow slip, “Justin Finch-Fletchley.”

 

Parvati looked thoughtful, and then sank back into her seat, seemingly satisfied with fate’s choice. The Hufflepuff table were all trying to get a look at an embarrassed Justin, the first from their House to be chosen.

 

And so it continued. The whole hall became much more relaxed, laughing cheerfully at each choice.

 

“Hermione Granger!” Dumbledore said.

 

“Oh no,” Hermione breathed next to Harry, her head in her hands.

 

“And… oh, another Gryffindor… Seamus Finnigan!”

 

Hermione later insisted that she had been desperate to integrate with the other Houses and most disappointed to be put with a Gryffindor, however Harry maintained that her expression when Seamus’s name had been called was definitely, unmistakeable relief. 

 

Seamus himself grinned. “Thank Merlin,” he said loudly. “I thought I’d be ending up with a Slytherin.”

 

Hermione opened her mouth, probably to tell him that the whole point of the ceremony was to encourage that, but closed it again quickly as Harry nudged her.

 

“Just be grateful,” he whispered.

 

Harry was feeling distinctly nervous by now. The pairings of some of the people were absurd, a paper white Colin Creevy had been paired with Millicent Bullstrode. Colin looked terrified at the prospect of going near her, let alone dancing and talking with her. Perhaps he would be put with Cho, Harry thought wildly. Perhaps he could have the ball that he should have had last year. But then, like a heavy stone clunking to the depths of his stomach, he remembered Cedric. It would be awkward. It would be strange. He shook his head and listened to Dumbledore’s voice.

 

“Katie Bell,” Dumbledore said, “and… Ernie McMillan.”

 

“Lee Jordan and… oh, another Gryffindor… Alicia Spinnet.”

 

Alicia and Lee grinned at each other. They were becoming rather well known for the time they spent with each other. Parvati tutted. “How come they get each other?” she asked sulkily.

 

“Fred Weasley,” Dumbledore said, “and… Cho Chang.”

 

Harry’s hopes faded.

 

“Brilliant,” Fred said, while he was congratulated by his friends. Harry saw Cho on the Ravenclaw table manage a weak smile.

 

“It’s what she needs Harry,” Hermione said under her breath, “someone to make her laugh right now.”

 

Harry knew she was right.

 

Dumbledore picked out a piece of red paper from the boys’ hat.

 

“Dean Thomas,” Dumbledore said, “and… Padma Patil.”

 

Parvati looked cross. Dean seemed to curse under his breath. Harry could have sworn he muttered “wrong bloody sister,” to himself.

 

Another piece of red paper.

 

“Harry Potter.”

 

There was the normal hush that accompanied Harry’s name. Harry didn’t notice it, but some of the girls looked rather excited. Many heads were turned his way. Ron nudged him painfully hard in the ribs.

 

“And… Hannah Abbott.”

 

Harry grinned, relieved. He liked Hannah. Having sometimes worked with her in Herbology, Harry knew she was kind and very hardworking. He remembered back to his second year when she had been so shocked at Ernie McMillan’s assumption that Harry was the heir of Slytherin. On the Hufflepuff table, the blonde, pig-tailed Hannah seemed to be getting a lot of attention. George clapped Harry on the back.

 

“Cute,” he said, approvingly.

 

And it continued. Neville was paired with Eloise Midgeon, a Ravenclaw with a pretty smile despite her nose being a little squint. Ron was paired with…

 

“… Lavender Brown.”

 

Lavender tossed her head in his direction, seeming to look Ron up and down. Ron just relaxed, stretching out in his seat.

 

“Only one pair left now,” Dumbledore said, with the same amount of energy as he had had at the beginning, although Snape and McGonagall were starting to look rather irritable by now; the entire process having lasted about an hour. Harry had lost count of who had been put together, and could not even attempt to guess who had been left over. He watched in interest at the mystery boy’s piece of paper.

 

Draco Malfoy,” Dumbledore announced, smiling at the Slytherin table.

 

Harry was just thinking what a pity it was that some poor girl had to go with Malfoy to the dance, he didn’t notice the look that one girl in the hall wore, because she knew it was her. He was so busy thinking perhaps there was one more girl in the school than boys, and Malfoy would be stuck with no one, that he didn’t even see the colour of the paper that was brought out of the girls’ hat. But he saw Dumbledore’s face pale slightly, and his voice sounding less enthusiastic when he read out the name.

 

“And… Ginny Weasley.”

 

 

//
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