(Author's Note I was "inspired" to write this fic as part of a Hallowe'en Ball challenge. I doubt that a costume dance would actually be held at Hogwarts on Hallowe'en - or in most other parts of Britain for that matter but the fanfic challenge seemed like a fun idea, and this is my interpretation of how Harry and Co. would handle the situation. Many thanks to my most excellent beta reader, Pauline. She does a great job of teaching me.)
It was a Dark and Stormy Night but only above the festivities in the Great Hall at Hogwarts Castle. Decorating for Hallowe'en had included fine-tuning the magical ceiling so that lightning flashed in jagged streaks across the ceiling-sky instead of reflecting the weather outside. The real night sky above the castle was clear and full of bright stars and a fat, luminous moon shining down on the landscape. Autumn had arrived and with it came cold, crisp weather, chilly breezes blowing colorful leaves across the lawn, and the thing that Harry and Ron dreaded most - the First Annual Hallowe'en Costume Dance.
Harry had originally thought that his Invisibility Cloak was a good choice for his costume, but Ron protested that this was extremely unfair unless he was allowed to join him underneath it, seeing as how neither one of them was enthusiastic about going. In Harry's opinion, the time spent in the days before the dance trying to decide what costume to wear could much better have been spent with extra Quidditch practice in the invigorating frosty air. Ron eventually decided to dress up as a Chudley Cannons team member with whatever clothes he could put together, borrowing odds and ends of the team colors from different people. Hermione chose to be a Liberated House-Elf, sewing two oversized pillowcases together, tying a bit of rope around her waist, and wearing a brightly colored wool cap and pair of socks that she had knitted herself. Harry couldn't care less about having a costume, but the thought that he might be the only one there without one was almost as unnerving as the idea that he was going to have to be there at all. The day before the dance, Professor McGonagall threatened Harry and Ron with taking points from Gryffindor if they didn't go, so there was nothing else for it. Where in the Hogwarts curriculum did it state that going to dances was a beneficial part of their education, Harry wanted to know? He decided at the last minute to wear one of the sweaters that Ron's mum had knitted for him for Christmas and go as a member of the Weasley family. He thought that would be taking the path of least resistance, costume-wise. Fred and George had offered to color his hair red with one of their Hair Coloring Cordials, but Harry declined.
Much to everyone's surprise, particularly Ron's, his twin brothers were being allowed to return for one night to help chaperone the dance.
"What are they thinking, letting you two chaperone?" Ron complained. "You were never even Prefects."
"Now, now, Ronald," George said, patronizingly. "McGonagall says we show good leadership potential."
"Yeah," Fred added brightly, "even if we are, and I quote: 'overrun at times with making amazingly poor choices.'" Harry could have sworn he heard Hermione mutter something under her breath that sounded remarkably like, "an amazingly poor choice on Professor McGonagall's part." "You seem to forget, little brother, that we were the best toad exterminators this school ever saw. I guess old McGonagall felt like rewarding us for a job well done. Plus, we thought it would be a prime chance to sell - er, provide some of our Weasleys Wizarding Wheezes products. People could really improve their costumes with some of our stuff."
"McGonagall even said that if we make a go of our shop, maybe some day we could come back and teach a class on 'Successful Entrepreneurial Techniques; or, Marketing Your Mistakes,' or something like that."
"Yeah, Mum seemed pretty pleased about it."
Ron had been horrified at the thought. "You two? On staff at Hogwarts?"
"Face it, little brother," said Fred, "all those years of torturing you are paying off."
"Couldn't have done the shop without you though," George had whispered to Harry with a nudge.
The Great Hall was decked with an impressive display of holiday decorations. Hundreds of candles floated in the air beneath the stormy ceiling. There were carved pumpkins of every shape and size glowing in each corner and grinning on the tabletops. One of the pumpkins on display was Hagrid's pride and joy an enormous, overgrown specimen so big that there were seats for four inside and a small round table in the center. The dining tables had been cleared from the center of the Hall and lined against the walls to make room for dancing. Orange and black tablecloths were draped over them and the kitchen elves had outdone themselves in covering them with a wonderfully appetizing array of festive food and drink. Real spider webs were stretched from here to there along the walls and archways, complete with their eight-legged hairy inhabitants. Ron had a particularly hard time trying to steer clear of them, but inevitably seemed to snag himself in their wispy strands anyway, making him even more jumpy than he already was. The dance music, if you could call it that, was being played by a small ensemble of ghostly musicians, who were attempting to play tunes from the Wizard's Top Forty. The music was rather hollow sounding, due to the hollow nature of the musicians themselves, but they were making an enthusiastic effort of it nonetheless. The House Ghosts stood by, applauding appreciatively, and Peeves flew overhead gleefully bombarding unsuspecting dancers and clusters of students with missiles of Marshmallow Goblins.
By the end of the first number, Harry was sure he had had enough and was ready to leave. He had worn his costume, he had obediently made an appearance and avoided losing points from Gryffindor, so there didn't seem to be much point in staying any longer. That is, until Ron returned with three Butterbeers to where Harry and Hermione were sitting, a look of urgency in his eyes. "Harry, I've got to ask you a huge favor," he began. "I don't do this very often, and I wouldn't ask you if it wasn't important."
"What is it?" Harry asked, taking his Butterbeer as Ron sat next to him.
"I want you to go over there and ask Ginny to dance."
Harry spurted a spray of the swig of Butterbeer he had just taken, almost projecting it through his nose as well. "You want what?" he exclaimed, wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his sweater and reaching for a napkin.
"Oh, thanks Harry," moaned Hermione, wiping the Butterbeer from the front of her pillowcase dress.
"Oh sorry, Hermione, it was an accident " Harry reached for a stack of napkins to hand to her.
"Be right back," she said hurriedly, heading off to find something more substantial to clean herself off with.
Ron leaned in closer to Harry. "Look, Hermione told me that Ginny's had a change of heart since she dumped Michael Corner and she fancies him again, but he's taken up with Cho, and she's been pretty down about it. She's sitting over there now," he said, pointing in her direction behind his cupped hand, "and I just think it would cheer her up if you went and asked her to dance."
"Me?" Harry exclaimed. "Why me? Why not Dean or Seamus, or Neville?"
"Be serious," Ron said. "I thought you could figure that one out for yourself." He hesitated, trying to give Harry a chance to do just that. "She used to have a crush on you, mate, and it would mean a lot more if it was you who asked her."
Harry stared at Ron, dumbfounded. What was even more astonishing was that the next thing he knew, he found himself walking past the staring eyes of a line of anxious girls and gyrating couples on the dance floor towards where Ginny was seated chatting with a group of Ravenclaw girls. The closer Harry got to Ginny, the better he was able to see that she had dressed herself for the occasion as a Veela. She was wearing a shimmering white satin gown with long, open sleeves and a short train that curled around her feet. He hadn't really noticed before how long her hair had grown, and with it parted down the middle the way she was wearing it, how strikingly it framed her face. These thoughts weren't formulating in Harry's mind in so many words, but they were registering in his subconscious. He had forgotten, momentarily, why it was he had approached her in the first place as he finally arrived in front of her.
"Ginny?" His voice sounded strangled. He cleared his throat. She looked up suddenly from her conversation. "Would you like to " She cocked her head slightly as she looked at him, a puzzled expression on her face. He leaned forward a little, thinking maybe she hadn't heard him. "Do you want to " Harry was very aware that the other girls were staring at him, too. He wanted to disappear into his shoes. "Dance " was the only other word he could force out. There was a pause. She stared at him for a moment. "I'm not very good at this," he muttered, barely audible above the final strains of a song. The band had just finished a lively number.
"Neither am I. Come on, then." She grabbed his hand and began walking forcefully towards the center of the dance floor. Harry turned frantically to look at Ron, panic on his face, but Ron gave him a thumbs up and a "Well Done" look of encouragement. Ginny strode forward so intently that her arm pulled Harry's arm taut, whipping him around and dragging him behind her. Ginny positioned them a safe distance from Michael Corner, who was standing with Cho a few feet away, and turned to face Harry.
"Erm," said Harry, feeling totally bewildered as to what to do next. The music began softly. It was a slow song. Ginny placed his right hand on her hip and clasped his other hand, resting her left hand on his shoulder. Harry stared at his feet, thinking they should be moving somewhere.
"Look," she whispered, "I think if you follow me that will at least get us started."
"Right," said Harry. "Some favor to Ron," he thought.
Ginny stepped out and attempted to lead, but Harry's feet were barely leaving the floor. "It's okay to move, Harry, left, right, left, right, that's it." He managed to look up from his feet and cast a glance towards Ron and Hermione, but they had moved from their spot. Harry glared wide-eyed at the empty chairs in disbelief. "Where did Ron go, he got me into this!" he raged to himself. Ginny continued to guide him around very slowly in small circles. Harry turned back to look at her. She seemed to him to be preoccupied, completely unaware of his inner agony.
Harry could feel the blood rising gradually from his stomach up to his neck, spreading up into his face so that his ears felt hot. He would rather be facing a three-headed dog named Fluffy right now than be making a fool of himself on the dance floor. He could feel his hands perspiring. "When will this song end, it feels like an eternity!" he thought, anxiously. Ginny seemed to be moving the two of them across the floor in a deliberate line. Harry continued to follow Ginny, left, right, left, right, and felt he was just getting the rhythm of things when he spotted Michael dancing several feet away with Cho. He looked abruptly at Ginny. She was trying not to turn her head towards them but Harry could tell she was straining to look at them out of the corner of her eye. Harry looked at Michael and back again at Ginny. "What are you doing?" Harry asked pointedly. Ginny snapped her eyes up at Harry. "You're taking us over there, aren't you?"
"Over where?" Ginny countered, innocently.
"Over there." He gestured his head in Michael's direction. "You want him to see you dancing with me."
"I do not," she said, huffily.
"Well, I'm not going there," Harry hissed. He moved out to lead them away and stepped on the edge of Ginny's dress. He tripped and stumbled, bumping the couple nearest them.
"Wait, Harry," Ginny said, grabbing his arm. "Alright, I did want him to see me dancing with somebody else. It was a bad idea and and I'm glad you asked me to dance. I'm sorry." He hesitated for a moment. Reluctantly he took her back in his grasp, if for no other reason than to avoid making a scene, and they began to dance again. He felt miserable as they began to move wordlessly across the floor away from Cho and Michael.
"Harry, I'm really sorry," Ginny said after a few moments of awkward swaying. "It's just that that Michael knows " She closed her mouth abruptly. Harry turned to look at her, but she was looking away.
"That Michael knows what?" he asked.
"Nothing. Nothing, it's just that, he knows I used to " She stopped and looked directly up at him. "He knows I used to have a crush on you."
Harry froze. He had heard Fred and George tease her about it before, and Ron had even told him about it moments ago, but now the words were coming directly from Ginny's lips. Used to? Harry felt even worse than before. They kept dancing, but Harry felt frozen. It didn't help matters now that he was noticing how her satin gown felt smooth next to him, and how she fit comfortably alongside of him, her forehead at level with his chin, her waist at his hip.
Peeves floated overhead, pelting them with Marshmallow Goblins and shrieking, "You're too close to your girlfriend, Potty! WHEEEEEE!" All Harry wanted was for the music to end so that he could move away from Ginny. The final notes of the song played softly. The music was finally over and people were clapping.
"Please don't be angry," she said, feebly.
He wasn't sure what to say. "What, angry? Why should I be angry?" he asked, trying to keep an even tone in his voice as people began leaving the dance floor. "Thanks for the dance," he said as he turned and left. "I'm going to kill Ron," he fumed to himself.
Faces were a blur as he headed for the door. He spotted Ron and Hermione standing in the doorway, each holding a bottle of Butterbeer and trying with some difficulty to have a conversation over the din of the noisy hall. Ron looked up in time to see Harry approaching, a look of impending doom in his eyes. Harry grabbed Ron by the arm as he passed by, shouting an abrupt "S'cuse us!" to Hermione.
Ron turned back to her and yelled a hopeful "Be right back," as he sloshed his Butterbeer on the floor while Harry dragged him outside.
"DON'T EVER ASK ME TO DO ANYTHING LIKE THAT AGAIN!" Harry growled at Ron with his fists clenched.
"What are you talking about?" Ron yelled back, exasperated.
"Did she put you up to that?"
"Ginny, that's who."
"Put me up to WHAT?"
"That. Dancing. It was the most embarrassing most humiliating "
"What happened? What did she do?"
"She didn't need cheering up. Cheering up! She used me to dance over next to them."
"Michael and Cho. I've never understood girls, but your sister is the most - "
"Oh, that." Ron shook his head. "None of us understands Ginny, mate. Join the family."
"She is the most frustrating, most infuriating " Harry stammered angrily.
A light dawned in Ron's eyes as he interrupted Harry's rant. "Whoah, I get it now! She got to you."
"WHAT?" Harry responded, taken aback. "GOT to me?"
Ron began to laugh. "She's really gotten under your skin. My little sister," he said, in an impressed tone. "You've got it bad, mate."
"I DO NOT!" Harry shouted, and then lowered his voice. "I do NOT have it bad for your sister," he hissed between gritted teeth. "She would be the last " Harry sputtered to a stop, at a complete loss for words.
"Suit yourself, Harry," Ron said with a shrug.
They both turned as Hermione approached, looking guardedly curious. "You know, they can hear you two all the way up to the Great Hall. Any louder, and I'd swear you were both going to come to blows." She glanced back and forth from one to the other of them, and then her eyes came to rest on Harry's clenched fists. "Come on back in, it's freezing out here. They're starting a game of Murder up in the common room, want to play?"
"I'll be along," said Ron.
Hermione turned to go back inside, but not before she gave them both a stern look. Harry turned away from Ron and headed across the courtyard. "Coming, then?" Ron called after him, but Harry didn't answer. "Come on, Harry. Look, I didn't mean anything by it. You seemed all in over Ginny, that's all." Harry was too hurt and angry to answer. "Right. I'll see you up there, then?" Ron made one last attempt, but Harry remained silent. The last thing Harry wanted to do right now was to see anyone. Ron turned and walked reluctantly back inside.
Harry stood out in the cold for as long as he could stand it. His head was whirling with a barrage of painful thoughts. So many other things in the world were much more important than going to that stupid dance, he thought to himself. Like figuring out Voldemort's next move, for example. That was way more important than doing humiliating favors for your best friend. Had Sirius ever done anything like that to his father, he asked himself? And organizing Dumbledore's Army was more important than trying to understand girls and why they do the things they do. How had it been for his parents, he wondered? Was it easy for them to talk to each other when they were younger, or did they stumble over their words too, never saying what they really wanted to say? Did they ever have a dance together at Hogwarts? Harry was not at all sure that any of this was worth the humiliation. And it would be way too soon before he ever wanted to see Ginny Weasley again.
Harry began to shiver. He turned and walked back across the lawn towards the stone steps. He climbed them slowly, wishing Sirius was there to talk to. The Great Hall was still crowded and the band was playing, but Harry definitely didn't want to go back in there. He wandered back around the corridor and up the staircase leading to the Fat Lady's portrait. He stood in front of it momentarily, trying to decide whether or not he should keep right on walking, when suddenly the portrait door burst open, much to the surprise of the Fat Lady who let out an operatic shriek. The door flew open so sharply that it banged against the wall, hard. Fred and George appeared and blew out towards Harry like twin tornadoes. "There you are! We were just coming to look for you," George said, over the Fat Lady's muffled shouts of protestation. Each one grabbed Harry by an arm and practically lifted him off his feet, directing him in.
"Come on in, then," said Fred sweetly, but it was obvious this was more of a command than an invitation.
"Do I have a choice?" Harry protested.
"NO!" they both shouted together.
The room was bustling with people still in costume, trying to get settled to start the game. George stepped to the hearth and motioned for everyone to be quiet. "Alright, quiet down then. Quiet down. We're going to play a game of Murder. Let's push the chairs back out of the way to give us more room here." The majority of the students dragged chairs and tables towards the walls, but Fred and George sped the process along impressively by levitating a few bits of furniture across the floor, leaving the center of the common room clear. People hung about in a large, open circle. "For those of you who don't know, here's how we do it. We choose one person to be the Detective and we give him the deck of cards. He passes out a playing card to everyone. Whoever gets the Jack of Spades is the Murderer. Don't let anyone see your card all right Fred, no cheating. After everyone has taken a card and looked at it, they put it back in the deck and the Detective leaves the room. Then we turn out the lights and mingle around in the dark for as long as it takes until the Murderer finds his victim. Then the murderer strangles his victim like this " He placed his hands on Fred's neck, shaking him back and forth vigorously.
"Not so hard," Fred choked, "you just need to let your victim know that they're going to play dead."
"Now then," George continued, "if you're the victim and you've been strangled, you scream, AAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH! Then you fall down, like this " George flung himself to the ground, playing dead with great relish, "and then the Detective comes back into the room and turns the lights back on. He gets to interrogate everybody until he figures out who the Murderer is. If he guesses right, the Murderer then becomes the Detective, and we start a new game. Everybody got that?" People murmured in assent.
"Wait, I have a question," Neville said as he raised his hand. "What if the detective doesn't guess? What if he's wrong?"
"Well then, he's fired, isn't he?" quipped Fred. "Don't worry, he asks everyone where they were at the time the murder was committed, and he can ask for witnesses too. Come on then, who'll be the Detective?"
Harry hung back while everyone lined up to take a card from Dean, who had volunteered to go first as the Detective. Hermione crossed over and stood next to him, holding her card in her hand. She looked at him appraisingly. "I thought that was really good of you to ask Ginny to dance," she said. "You would feel a lot better if you would just be yourself."
Harry groaned. "What does that mean, exactly? What if being myself means I embarrass myself all the time? Why does it have to be so bloody hard?"
Hermione smirked at him. "You think you've got the corner on embarrassing yourself?" Ron walked up holding his card in one hand and a slice of apple pie in the other. A glob of apple filling clung to his chin and piecrust crumbs decorated his shirt. Hermione rolled her eyes at Harry as she walked back towards Dean to return her card.
"What?" exclaimed Ron as she turned her back to him.
"You'd better go get a card, mate. C'mon."
Harry drew his card from Dean's hand and stepped away, glancing at it in his cupped hands so no one else could see. It was the Jack of Spades. Oh right, thought Harry, of all the bloody cards to pick. Maybe I could slip it into Neville's hand no, he already has one. He was the last to put his card back in the deck, after which Dean headed for the stairs leading up to the boy's dormitory. He made a circular wave at the wall lanterns and said a quick extinguishing spell as he reached the stairs which put the lanterns out, leaving the room in total darkness save for the moonlight shining in through the windows. A few girls squealed and people laughed.
"Alright everyone," called George, "start moving around! No, no, don't just stand there, you have to keep moving. Mixes things up better that way." Harry sighed as people began to meander about him in the darkness. He stood there indifferently and didn't move at first. If he wanted to get the game over with, he could just pick the nearest person and pretend to strangle them. But that would be too obvious. But did he care? It seemed to him like a silly game anyway.
The soft scuffing sound of shoes shuffling on the floor and people murmuring surrounded Harry. Here and there people were saying "Ssh!" and there was lots of intermittent giggling. "Keep moving, people," Fred exhorted. "You don't want the murderer to get you."
"Ow! That was my foot!" "Sorry!" "Ssh!" More giggling. "Seamus, where are you?" someone whispered.
"No that's not fair," warned George, "you can't tell anyone where you are. It spoils it for the Murderer."
"Ow! That was my foot again!" Harry began to tire of the whole thing. He thought he might as well start moving around too, if only to get out of everybody's way.
He put out his hand and felt the armrest of a chair against the wall. Resisting the temptation to sit down in it, he began to feel his way around the edge of the room, getting his bearings in the dark. His eyes gradually adjusted and he could begin to see shapes and silhouettes. People continued giggling and shushing and moving cautiously around in the dark. Suddenly he stepped on something familiar. It was the train of Ginny's dress. "Hey," she exclaimed softly. "That's my "
Harry stumbled slightly and felt smooth satin fabric. He froze, still standing on the edge of her hem, not sure which way to step. "Sorry sorry, I didn't see you " there, you did it again! he thought. Try to say something intelligent for once and don't embarrass yourself.
"It's alright, just step back a little," Ginny said. She reached out and grabbed his arm lightly to steady herself as he stepped out of the folds of her skirt. As he backed away, her hand brushed down his forearm and he grabbed it quickly, not sure of what he was doing or why. He held it for an instant and let go, but it was enough time for her to step forward slightly, searching for his face in the darkness. Just be yourself. Just be yourself, he repeated. Just pretend it's a Quidditch match, or you're having a go at Voldemort. He could barely breathe. Maybe he could strangle Ginny, he thought, and the game would be over with. He certainly felt like strangling her.
People were still stumbling and giggling around them, but nobody seemed to notice the two people standing in the center of the room who were barely moving at all. She was standing close enough to him now that Harry easily reached her neck and encircled it with his thumb and fingers, making it obvious to Ginny that he had drawn the Murderer's card. "I did say I was sorry "
Harry could hear the smile in her voice. He tightened his grip around her throat just slightly. He stepped in closer to her, this time not stepping on her dress. "Okay I'll count to three, and then you scream, alright?" Ginny nodded. In a fraction of an instant, he was aware again how comfortable it felt to stand next to her, their faces barely touching. "One," he whispered, "two "
An instant before Harry said Three, he changed his mind. He turned and kissed Ginny square on the mouth. He surprised himself by doing this, and he could tell that Ginny was a little startled as well. However, Harry thought, as she appeared to be kissing him right back, she must not find him too repulsive. In the moment that their lips were pressed together, time seemed to slow considerably and Harry had room to think, his mind fairly swirling with questions. What was he doing? What had he been thinking? This was not at all like how it had been with Cho. What must Ginny think of him now? Could anybody see them? And then Harry thought that he didnt much care if anyone did see them. Maybe there was something left of his parents' love still living inside of him. Maybe this was what love was like. All the longing for a real, loving family of his own seemed to be channeling through him with a jolt as he stood there kissing Ginny. He broke off suddenly, backing away, overwhelmed by the rush of emotion. He realized as he did that he still had his hands around Ginnys neck.
Should I scream now? Ginny whispered, stifling a giggle.
He squeezed her neck and whispered back, Three! She let out a blood-curdling scream and Harry moved away hurriedly. He heard her collapse to the floor softly with a thump. People began talking animatedly as Dean came running down the stairs, shouting a Light Spell as he entered the room. Lanterns on the wall once again illuminated the space brightly. Harry moved back to the outside of the circle of people that was gathering around Ginny. Dean was taking on the role of Detective asking questions, moving around the ring of students.
Harry was still carrying the glow of the moment with him long after the evening had ended, after everyone had gone to bed and Harry lay on his back in the dark staring up at the top of his canopy, his hands folded behind his head. He wondered if Ron would ask him what it had been like, the way he asked him after Cho and Harry had kissed. He seriously doubted that Ron would, seeing as how Ginny was his sister and that would be too terribly weird to discuss. But if Ron were to ask, he knew how he would answer him. The answer was still, Wet, but Harry decided it was something else as well. Soft. But actually saying that to Ron would be wrong, he thought. He would keep that image to himself.