A Happy Announcement
Our fourth year at Hogwarts was a good one. There were no monsters hiding around corners, officially or unofficially, and by this stage we had become pretty confident in our studies. Quidditch was cancelled for the year, so Terry and I could practise flying without worrying about whether we were good enough to be selected for the Ravenclaw team. Dumbledore announced that we would be hosting the Triwizard Tournament, and the champion for Durmstrang turned out to be no less a person than Viktor Krum himself.
It was actually the visitors from the other school, Beauxbatons, who attached themselves more to Ravenclaw, and they all seemed to like Padma, who had not forgotten her primary-school French. After one very animated breakfast I asked her:
“So what were you saying to that Taileb Tarzan?”
“‘Tarzan’!” she snorted. “His name is Tahleb Tahseen! I was only asking him to pass the pumpkin juice. Only I didn’t remember the French word for pumpkin.”
“It seemed to take a very long time,” I complained.
“You were just bored because you didn’t understand. Honestly, it wasn’t anything worth translating!”
“The visitors seem to take up a lot of your time with things not worth translating.”
“Well, that’s the point of the tournament, isn’t it? To make friends with our foreign guests?” Padma was irritated. “Tahleb is a really interesting and humorous person, you’d think so too if you bothered to listen to what he says.”
I knew that Padma was right, and that I’d be making a mountain out of a molehill if I said any more, so I kept a disgruntled silence. I didn’t really mind that Padma was friendly to the guests; what annoyed me was that she was so irritated when I asked her about it. I felt that if I said another word we’d have a full-blown argument.
During our first two classes I sat with Terry while Padma sat with Morag. At recess the four of us stamped around the chilly grounds together and discussed our homework, our earlier tiff forgotten. I was about to mention that life seemed rather boring lately, but pulled myself up just in time. Boring? When we had the foreign guests, and the Triwizard Tournament, and Quidditch practice this evening? What did I have to bore me?
Professor McGonagall kept us working hard through the next lesson, even though it was the third-last Transfiguration class of the term. She announced that a five hundred-word essay (“Describe, with examples, the ways in which Transforming Spells must be adapted when performing Cross-Species Switches”) would be due on Monday. It was only when I finally slammed my notebook closed that I realised she had ended the class five minutes early.
“I have an announcement,” she said. “If you would stop doodling, Entwhistle. You may know that a traditional part of the Triwizard Tournament is the Yule Ball. This is an opportunity to do our part towards establishing international goodwill among wizards and socialise with our guests. The ball will be held at eight o’clock on Christmas Day in the Great Hall, and everybody in fourth year and above is invited to attend.”
I noticed that all the girls seemed suddenly interested. McGonagall was explaining how we had to wear dress robes, and must not embarrass Hogwarts with immature behaviour (“She means getting drunk,” hissed Terry), but must do our best to ensure the visitors enjoyed their evening … I only half-listened, because I didn’t see myself as a likely dancer. Would any of the boys want to go?
But as soon as McGonagall had dismissed the class, Padma seized my hands and exclaimed, “That’s the best idea the teachers have had for years. Can you dance, Michael?”
“No,” I said.
“Nor can I,” she said. “At least, only Indian dancing. But Marietta Edgecombe can. We must ask her to organise a practice session. Come on, ballroom can’t be difficult! They wouldn’t expect us to be doing something that we can’t reasonably learn in the two weeks we have left. Can you dance, Morag?”
“I learned some Highland when I was little,” said Morag. “I’m thinking ballroom goes rather like this.” She took Padma’s hands, and whirled her around the Transfiguration classroom. Padma was nothing loath, and they tumbled around together in reasonable synchrony.
“I’ve done some ballet,” admitted Mandy. “I wasn’t any good at it, but they say a start in ballet gives you a start in any kind of dancing.”
“I took jazz and tap lessons for a while,” offered Lisa. And the next minute Mandy and Lisa were jigging around together after Padma and Morag.
“Well,” said Terry, as we made our way down to lunch, “it seems all the women want to follow Professor McGonagall with tambourines and dancing.”
“Are you going to look for a partner?” I asked. The ball might be fun if Terry would take Morag, so that we were a foursome, and only spent about half the time actually dancing.
“Nah, McGonagall said it was okay to come alone. Only students below fourth year need to come with partners.”
“I thought you had to be in fourth year to come at all,” I said.
“Weren’t you listening? All fourth-years can come, with partners or without. And the partner can be in third year – or even younger, I suppose, if we like. But younger students can only come if they have an older partner.”
“I don’t know if I want to go at all,” I said. But I knew Padma would never forgive me if I skived out of a grand social event like this one.
“Oh, it’ll be all right,” said Terry. “There’ll be food, and a band, and even if we don’t find a partner, we can still find someone to dance with once we’re there. Not that you need to worry – you’re lucky enough to be already yoked.”
When we arrived at Greenhouse Three for a rather frosty Herbology class, it was clear that the Slytherins also knew about the ball. Pansy Parkinson’s gang of girls was shrieking about their clothes, hair and make-up.
“Tell me, Mandy!” Pansy yelled across the Bouncing Bulbs. “Do you have a beau yet?”
“That Four-Eyes!” scoffed Daphne Greengrass. “Maybe one of Hagrid’s Blast-Ended Screwts would take her!” And the Slytherin girls dissolved into guffaws.
“Keep the noise down, ladies,” admonished Professor Sprout, but of course they took no notice.
While the girls were cackling loudly, I realised the Slytherin boys were having a quiet conference of their own.
“Any idea for which girl you’ll try, Nott?” asked Malfoy.
“Perhaps,” said Nott. “Haven’t asked anyone yet. What about you, Zabini?”
“Face it, Zabini,” mocked Malfoy, “who’d go with you?”
“Lots of girls,” said Zabini firmly. “Definitely. Why should that surprise you?”
Zabini had a point, I thought. I had no idea what girls considered attractive in a boy, but surely Zabini was the only Slytherin with any claims at all in that direction. I had overheard Padma telling Morag that Malfoy and Nott were weeds and Crabbe and Goyle were trolls, but that Zabini’s eyelashes were almost tempting.
“I could get two dates if I had to,” Zabini boasted.
“Want to bet on it?” asked Malfoy suddenly. “A Galleon for every girl who accepts you?”
“Yes,” said Zabini, “if you’re offering to throw away Galleons. With incentive like that, let’s make it three. I bet you three Galleons that I can have three girls agreeing to be my partner at the Yule Ball.”
“If you’ve cash to spare, you can bet me too,” said Nott.
Malfoy gave a withering frown. “Not you, Nott. We know you can probably find one girl who’ll have you, and almost certainly can’t find as many as three. But, Zabini – we’ll make a binding magical contract tomorrow. I’ll fix it this evening.”
I had no more excuse to linger around the giant cactus, so I made my way back to our table. I was about to tell Terry what I had overheard, but at that point Professor Sprout called for silence so that she could teach us the theory part of the lesson. By the time I had taken three pages of notes I had forgotten all about the Slytherin boasting and betting. I didn’t even remember it on the way to dinner when I overheard a gaggle of girls talking about prospective partners. After all, no-one would take this partners business too seriously, right?
Wrong. All through dinner, girls were giggling about dress robes and dancing steps and partners. Morag and Su said they had robes that reflected their ethnic heritage, but Padma said that Muggle Indian costume would look stupid at a wizarding ball, and Mandy and Lisa wanted to know just what an English witch’s ethnic heritage costume looked like anyway.
Terry tried to clear his throat at this point, but no-one was listening.
Then Padma and Mandy had to attract Marietta Edgecombe’s attention for long enough to beg her to run dancing classes, but Marietta protested that her dancing wasn’t really good enough, and then Sylvia Fawcett interjected that she believed Madam Hooch knew something about it. The Beauxbatons champion, Fleur Delacour, announced that all the Beauxbatons students took dancing classes, just as they learned to ride broomsticks, and she felt it was an ee-sen-si-ell aspect of every witch’s education, given the number of formal parties the Alliance des Sorcières ran each year.
“Accio, salt!” commanded Terry.
The salt flew into his raised hand. “Learned a trick from watching Potter hurling down the great dragon,” he grinned.
“Yes, but why did you use magic, love?” asked Lisa. “One of us could have passed you t’ salt.” And before Terry could reply, she had turned back to the giggling girls.
So the ball was happening. Terry and I would have to get used to the idea. The girls expected us to attend. They expected us to invite them to be our partners. And they expected us to learn to dance with them.
I had a sudden image of Terry and Morag, festooned in dress robes and capering around the Great Hall like grasshoppers. I nearly laughed. Then I remembered that I would be dancing with Padma. At the idea that she might think me a grasshopper, all laughter died.