- Cho Chang/Harry Potter Hermione Granger/Viktor Krum Original Female Witch/Ron Weasley
- Harry Potter
- Action Suspense
- The Harry Potter at Hogwarts Years
- Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire
Published: 02/06/2003Updated: 02/18/2003Words: 264,404Chapters: 34Hits: 87,813
Harry Potter and the Flying Squad
- Story Summary:
- Fifth year in Hogwarts. Even before terms start, Harry is involved in the defence against an evil attack from the Dark Forces, something which ``later will be called 'The Hogwarts Express Accident' ...``In Hogwarts, many things are different - most of all, the joining of all four``Quidditch teams in the 'Flying Squad', for patrol and exploration services.``For Harry, this looks like a path toward Cho Chang, except that - well, ``maybe this should really be left to the story itself ...``At any rate, expect Giants, Goblins, and house-elves to play their roles in ``this fic - as well as some new characters.
Chapter 14 - Social Events
- Chapter Summary:
- Days of preparation for all students in Hogwarts. Christmas is close, and the Christmas Ball is closer. Before that, Harry has to visit the Giant chief, Lleyrin the Fist. It is planned as part of the Giants O.W.L. And then, the day of the Christmas Ball has come ...
- Author's Note:
- If this fic is truly English, then it's thanks to the efforts of two people:
14 - Social Events
The students at Hogwarts started counting the days. Christmas was drawing close, which meant that the end of the term was even closer, and the Christmas Ball was closest.
Fleur was kept busy playing a kind of postillon d'amour between Hogwarts and Beauxbatons, trying to match singles into couples. When she was found standing somewhere, offering photos of the available ball partners, students gathered, pushing each other. When she offered to arrange meetings, the responses were considerably more reluctant.
The Beauxbatons quota of ball guests would be limited, less for the language barrier than for the size of Hogwarts' Great Hall, plus Entrance Hall, plus any adjoining room that could be used for the purpose.
Harry kept counting, too, however the days since, not until. Four days it had taken until he'd found Hedwig back in the Owlery, which meant it was two days since she'd delivered the letter. Then it was three, then four ... a week ... How long did it take to get some Firebolts? Would the implied number exceed the quota in stock? How fast could the manufacturers respond?
The stories in that book had omitted to mention specifically how long those wizards had been waiting for their responses, except for the one who'd waited months. Should he count it as a bad sign, waiting?
Occasionally, Harry doubted very much whether he really should set hope in the Goblins' answer. "They'll love it," McGonagall had said; yeah - but in which sense? Taking the opportunity to teach him a lesson? That Moroney was just a name in a letter, and parchment was patient ... But no, wasn't his client the one who counted? Harry had seen the figure, had used his famous skill in reading leathery Goblin faces. He was too impatient, everybody would tell him that, Lupin in first place.
Dumbledore had sent letters to all parents. With reference to the Hogwarts Express accident, he'd suggested that all students should stay at Hogwarts over Christmas. At the same time, he'd invited all parents who "felt safe enough to travel" to join them.
For Harry, the only difference he expected would be a Hogwarts not as quiet as in previous years, with all the students around. On the other hand, all of them around meant Cho around, like all the other Ravenclaw students. Almyra, for example.
It wasn't as if he had nothing to do, quite the contrary, even aside from regular classes. He needed to arrange Christmas presents, for starters.
The list had grown significantly this year. He manoeuvered with all resources available under the given restrictions, including Fleur, Charlie, help from the Weasleys, and Hedwig.
Owl order worked quite well, definitely better than orders sent to Goblins. Hedwig no longer spent her days in boredom. As a side effect, nobody found it strange when Harry checked incoming owls every morning.
He teamed up with Ron to buy a present for Fleur. They'd taken lessons together, so it seemed only natural to find something nice together. Not having the faintest clue what to look for, they decided to discuss it with Hermione.
"Don't try to compete with anything she can find at home" said Hermione. "Find something very British."
Thoughtful advice, except Fleur detested a lot of very British things.
Then they involved Charlie, because Charlie could look through Hogsmeade. The good news Charlie brought was that yes, he'd found something, the bad news, that it was awfully expensive.
"Sorry," said Ron, "but that's way above my budget."
"And what if I balance it out?" asked Harry.
"It would solve our problem, but then I wouldn't feel like I was giving it, too."
Ron hadn't said no, yet his argument held better than any other and made it impossible for Harry to discuss reasonable methods of managing different financial powers. Still, with Charlie's discovery so enticing, Harry could feel that Ron was searching desperately for loopholes in his own argument.
"What if Hermione takes part?" asked Harry.
"Let's ask her."
Even a split into three wouldn't size it down sufficiently for Ron's financial limits. But Ron's reply told Harry that his friend would happily accept any solution, so long as it allowed him to keep face.
They talked with Hermione. She was more than ready to contribute, as that idea solved one of her own problems. It wasn't the shopping alone; Hermione felt pretty sure that she'd get a Christmas present from Fleur, and found unbearable the thought of being caught empty-handed. So she would join - up to a point, that was; after all, she didn't need to express her thanks for dance lessons.
It wasn't exactly back to square one; even so, simple math still proved a significant gap.
"You found it," said Harry, "that counts for a lot."
Ron grinned wryly. "Charlie found it - after both of us together sent him out."
"But Charlie's your brother. Lupin says you must play to your strengths," argued Harry. "Your strength is your family; mine is just money."
"Nice try, Harry." Ron looked pleased. "But not nice enough."
Luckily, Harry remembered more of what Lupin had said.
"I know. Listen, first we take off Hermione's share; we only have to deal with what's left. Then we take off your budget times two; these are our shares. What's left then is split into four quarters."
Harry's fingers were counting. "First quarter, the Weasley family has found it. Second quarter, I pay to balance out with money. Then I take the rest, and it gives me an ob on you - not a credit, mind, an ob."
"What's an ob?"
Harry explained it to Ron.
"You mean, you can come along any day and say, hey Ron, do that for me?"
"Basically yes," said Harry, "except that an ob is bound by honour. If I asked too much, it would give you an ob in return."
"And how do we agree whether it's too much?"
"Well, that's the trust." Harry made round eyes. "You trust me, don't you?"
For Ron, it still looked like a sophisticated trick to make a quantity of Galleons disappear, but the present was just too beautiful. And the solution didn't stress his tight budget.
They sent Charlie to Hogsmeade before someone else had the idea.
The second challenge in Christmas presents, of course, was Cho's. Harry went for the only help he could think of in this critical matter. Fleur.
She asked him what he had in mind.
"Nothing big," said Harry, "but special. It must be personal - not too intimate ... Something that can't be found around the next corner - "
"Oh, I know," said Fleur, "simple and perfect, that's what you mean."
Fleur was checking her memory. "Could it be a Muggle item?"
"Is it beautiful?"
Fleur told him what she'd seen.
Harry was delighted. Fleur's help in this regard alone would have been worth the difference between his and Ron's budget, provided he could trade the information, if trading was the right term. Anyway, now that those things were settled, Christmas could come.
* * *
The other major task ahead was his visit with Lleyrin the Fist. Dumbledore had agreed to that, although with some precautions. Harry would be escorted by a Squad team both ways. They would take off immediately after the arrival of the after-lunch patrol, assuming the patrol's report didn't mention anything unusual. The pre-supper patrol would send a second team to escort him back. Depending on how long his visit would last, he might find time to chat with Hagrid.
"That's the VIP treat," called Fred after the discussion about the escorts. "V like vulnerable, I like incompetent, P for Potter."
When Harry drew his wand, George jumped to cover Fred. "No, Harry," he shouted, "it's not true, I stands for ill-disposed."
His interview draft was ready. Harry, Ron, and Hermione had worked together to prepare a list of questions. Ron's contribution had offered help in the Weasley way; he'd played 'Ron Skeeter' by finding the most insulting phrases.
After checking with Hagrid what to expect, they realized that some more presents would be required. Giant guests were expected to bring something with them, and of course, the nature of that present would have influence on the atmosphere. Since Harry would represent all three of them, they needed three presents.
"I'll ask the house-elves for help," said Harry. "A large cake can't be wrong."
The others agreed. As good as the idea had looked, Harry found himself quickly outperformed by Ron.
"I'll ask Charlie for" - Ron paused for dramatic effect - "a flask of dragon blood."
"Oh no!" cried Hermione. "And I wanted to brew a potion - one of Snape's tricky recipes."
Ron couldn't see the problem. What was wrong with that?
Hermione insisted that two presents as similar as those weren't acceptable.
Maybe she was right, although Harry couldn't help noticing her irritation about Ron's excellent idea. No question, dragon blood beat everything - especially when coming from a student whose Headmaster was Dumbledore, the world's most famous expert in its proper use.
Hermione fell into a frenzy and went almost hysterical, until Viktor solved the problem.
"Take this," he said, "with greetings from Bulgaria."
It was a sling, the standard weapon of a Bulgarian shepherd.
Hermione beamed at Viktor, confirming that such a present could "stand against dragon blood - even more to a Giant." According to her voice, dragon blood came next to dishwater.
Ron just grinned.
Harry didn't grin. All of a sudden, his cake seemed the last resort of the spiritless guest. He went into the kitchen to talk with his house-elf friend.
"Dobby, I need your help."
He explained the issue. How to make a cake for a Giant chief, when that cake had to compete with dragon blood and a shepherd's weapon?
Dobby wasn't intimidated. "Harry Potter needs not to worry, sir," said the elf, beaming at the thought that his help was needed so desperately. "Dobby will make sure his can present the largest cake ever - "
"Hold it, Dobby," interrupted Harry. "We have to carry that cake on a broomstick!"
The large eyes grew even wider, then started to fill with tears. "He cannot do that, sir - Harry Potter cannot come with a tiny cake to a Giant! ... Ooohh, Dobby is too clumsy to help his great wizard ..."
Dobby was about to start the old habit of banging his head on something, be it a desk or a hot oven plate. The other elves looked horrified, not daring to come close to their unlucky fellow.
Elves and Giants ...
"Dobby!" Harry shook the trembling elf shoulders. "I know what to do!" He looked around for a piece of parchment and a quill, found both on a nearby table, and wrote some lines.
Dobby, still sobbing, watched him.
Having finished writing, Harry held the parchment up.
from Hogwarts inhabitants
and the other house-elves
"If that's written on the cake," explained Harry, "I can come with it - and with greetings from all of you. That's a worthy present for a chief."
Dobby looked stunned. "Harry Potter would do that, sir?"
"Sure. Isn't it great? Giant - Human - Elfl, that's as good as dragon blood."
Excitement filled the kitchen.
Harry escaped before the elves could express their thanks with more than a few shrill shouts. A moment later, and he would have come out looking like a Christmas tree, full of parcels in every size and colour. The presents were settled.
* * *
Now Harry stood at the entrance, waiting for the after-lunch patrol to return. On his back hung a knapsack, borrowed from Viktor and filled with parchments, pen, ink, dragon blood, shepherd sling, plus all the other items that might come in handy when visiting a Giant chief.
A large, disk-shaped parcel contained the cake, hanging in four strings from his left hand. In the air, the arrangement would be easier to handle than on the ground. A broomstick, Harry realized, was poorly equipped for luggage, at least his Firebolt. He remembered advertisements for some family broomsticks which might be better suited to the task, although he'd never seen any, just the ads on the day of the Quidditch World Cup Final.
With the exception of the patrol team that was expected back any minute, Harry had been offered free choice among the other teams when picking his escort. Of course, they'd all volunteered for this adventure ride, although they could as well have saved the effort. Harry's choice was the girls' team, what else?
"Your visit'll be over before it's even started," George had said. "Imagine - coming to a Giant chief with an escort of girls - Ouch!"
It had been Angelina who'd rewarded the comment, simply because she'd been sitting closer to George than either Katie or Alicia had. But the twins and Lee had scheduled themselves for the patrol that would escort Harry back to Hogwarts.
Three dots appeared in the sky over the lake. Within seconds, they grew to broomstick flyers, the triangle formation of the three Slytherin Chasers, doing their best to show off for the watching audience. They touched down in front of the group, the two wings in sync, the tail an instant later.
"Air's clean," reported Adrian Pucey, the port wing, "and the ground too ... Good luck!"
Katie and Alicia jumped up.
Harry followed more carefully; a cake with some words written in icing was no Snitch.
Cho waited until he had reached some height, then followed.
It was an odd flight for him. Anxiousness at the prospect of visiting a Giant mixed with excitement about the air ride, the pleasure of flying close to Cho with the torturing knowledge that this closeness was an exception, not the rule.
He waved Cho closer to ask her about Lleyrin. "You've seen him. What's he like?"
Cho shrugged, the movement hardly visible through her coat. "Well ... he's big."
Armed with this profound description, Harry saved his breath. Alone with Cho, he would have answered with a hard push of his Firebolt, leaving her for moments without a chance to follow. With the triple team around him, the same manoeuver would have looked like the tantrum of a spoiled child. And besides, he had to be careful with the cake: the wind was pressing against the packing; suddenly the strings seemed dangerously thin.
He tried to guess whether his skill and the Firebolt's speed together would be enough to catch the packet if the strings broke now, but couldn't come to an answer. His pride said yes, but his eye told him that their height over ground wasn't sufficient.
The camp appeared.
Katie and Alicia swerved down to Lleyrin's hut, dismounted, and turned, ready to catch the cake before it hit the ground.
"Have fun," shouted Cho, who was tail and therefore had to remain up in the air.
Harry went down, carefully, until the two girls held the cake in their hands. Then he dismounted and took the parcel after shortening the grip at the strings.
"See you," said Katie, and she and Alicia returned to the air.
Harry was alone. He moved to the door and knocked.
Steps could be heard inside, no louder than what would be expected from a human. The door opened.
Harry saw mostly legs, then Lleyrin stepped back. He seemed to know how to move in the presence of creatures as little as humans.
"Harry Potter. My home is honoured with your visit."
"Lleyrin, I feel safe as your guest."
It was the traditional welcome formula of the Giants, learned by heart from Dumbledore's instructions, which had been more accurate than Hagrid's remarks. Good afternoon would have been disgraceful, especially when said before the name.
Giants had it with names. No titles, though. A sentence such as Call me Harry would be an insult: nobody instructed a chief how to call him.
Conversely, no Giant instructed a guest where to sit down. Figuring out the host's preferred place - and not occupying it - was a standard exercise in attentiveness.
Harry stepped in and looked around. Here it was easy, Lleyrin had prepared a seat for him on which he would be able to use the desk for his writing.
Lleyrin's own place was obvious, something like an armchair, built from wood and deerskin. The distance was well chosen; Harry would be able to examine his host from head to feet.
He opened the knapsack to extract the other presents. The Giants' equivalent for small talk was a careful debate of the guest's present, or presents in this case.
He took out Ron's flask.
"Ron - Weasley is a friend of mine and the second student in our study project. He wishes you good health and sends this present through me."
He'd almost forgotten to say Ron's full name! Harry placed the flask carefully on the chair's armrest. He would have preferred the desk, only it was hopelessly beyond his reach.
Lleyrin took the flask and inspected it.
"As you've certainly guessed," said Harry, "it's dragon blood."
"Harry Potter, you select your friends well. This is a precious elixir."
Lleyrin's voice was resonant; the words came without an accent. Giants didn't say 'Thank you,' not in such bloodless words. They didn't say 'You shouldn't have done that', either - anything close to an instruction was considered impolite at the least.
Harry took the sling.
"Hermione Granger is also a friend of mine and the third student in our project. She is Muggle-born, and she sends this present to express her gratitude for your rescue at the Hogwarts Express."
Lleyrin ran the sling through his fingers. The big hands were remarkably dexterous with such small items.
"Hermione Granger has sent me a riddle," he said.
"It's a sling, er, the weapon of a Bulgarian shepherd," explained Harry. "It throws a stone - here, after wheeling it around and then dropping one end at the proper moment."
Lleyrin understood immediately. He seemed fascinated by the concept and gave the empty sling a few tries. Then he held both presents up. "Dragon blood from Ron Weasley, and a shepherd weapon from Hermione Granger - Harry Potter, I would have assumed it the other way around."
"The friends of my friends are the explanation. Charlie Weasley is one of the dragon guards and the brother of Ron - Weasley. Viktor Krum, who's our Squad commander and came from Bulgaria, is the - er, friend of Hermione Granger."
Lleyrin nodded, satisfied with the explanation as well as with the obvious care that had been invested in the presents.
Harry opened the packing around the cake. The chair's armrest wasn't wide enough ... The bottom was out of question ...
He walked forward and held the cake with both hands. "This is my own greeting for you, Lleyrin, and that of Dobby and his fellow house-elves at Hogwarts."
Lleyrin took the cake, read the writing, and started smiling. "Something from those funny little creatures - a good-luck charm you can eat!" He looked pleased. "Harry Potter, you are a messenger between the worlds, from Elves to Giants."
Harry felt pleased, too, except that he didn't know what to answer.
Lleyrin sensed it and stored the presents away. Probably this exchange had been a very short small talk. Maybe that was also the reason why the Giant started on something that sounded very much like the human version of it.
"I haven't seen you passing by, lately," said Lleyrin.
"That's because I was taken off the Squad service, for my own security."
Lleyrin seemed to wait for more.
"It's ... there's another reason," admitted Harry. "I know something, and that knowledge mustn't fall into the hands of our enemy."
Lleyrin watched Harry's face, which left no doubt about his feelings in this matter. Then he asked, "Harry Potter, do you know the Tale of the Careful Giant?"
"No - Lleyrin."
"His name was Bodragh near Waters. But when people knew that he couldn't hear them, they called him Bodragh no Wonders, which might tell you something about his state."
Harry nodded. Nicknames among Giants, that sounded very bad.
"When Bodragh was old enough, he started looking for a wife. He found a girl who was ready to take him ... must have been his personal charm." Lleyrin was chuckling, which surprised Harry quite a bit.
"A young Giant in that situation has to ask the girl's family, that's an important ceremony. So Bodragh was invited. His bad reputation wasn't unknown to himself, so when thinking about his future with the girl, he came to the conclusion that it would be too dishonest for her to marry him. And he decided not to appear for the visit."
Lleyrin's expression made it clear that this was considered the ultimate insult.
"The girl had a brother. The brother declared in public that there was only one way to re-establish the family honour: by killing Bodragh. That would be no easy task, because Bodragh was no weakling, just crazy."
Lleyrin paused, maybe giving Harry time to ask a question.
Harry waited silently.
"When Bodragh heard about the brother's promise, he wasn't frightened. But he was very unhappy because either result would make things worse. He didn't want to die, so he would use all his skill with the quarterstaff. That, of course, would lead to the killing of the girl's brother. So he decided to leave the town. He went into the forest to live as a hermit.
"Bodragh had chosen a place that was well hidden from the town. But the place was territory of the forest people: Unicorns, Centaurs, and more. They were very upset and considered his intrusion a violation of the established balance between them and the Giants. They blamed the town and decided to punish it by causing crop failure, cattle illness, and other damage.
"When Bodragh became aware of it, he realized what he'd done. His own blame had led to a family blamed, which had led to the town blamed. He was very desperate, convinced that his next action would certainly blame the entire Giants' community."
Harry waited for Lleyrin to continue, but the Giant kept silent.
Was it impolite to ask for the end of a story? Harry didn't know. Waiting still a moment, he searched for the proper words.
"Lleyrin, I wonder what Bodragh did."
"What would you have done, Harry Potter?"
Harry felt trapped. Lleyrin's face expressed polite curiosity, with all the time in the world to wait for his guest's answer.
Harry decided to answer what he thought. "The mess he was in, I don't think that I'd have let it come that far. Anyway, in his situation, I would have gone to the family ... Or maybe to the girl first."
Lleyrin nodded. After a moment, he asked, "The girl you were flying with, the cute little one, is she still in the Squad?"
Harry had to grin. What would Cho say to this?
"Yes, Lleyrin. Her name is Cho Chang. She was one of the three girls that escorted me here."
Lleyrin examined him again.
Eventually, he said, "I have asked my questions, Harry Potter. You came to ask yours, and those of your friends."
Harry took the parchments out, prepared quill and ink, and checked his interview list. The story of the Careful Giant was still bothering him. He felt an urge to explain the circumstances of his suspension; only with some effort could he concentrate on their O.W.L. work.
"Lleyrin, you and your men decided to fight with us. What were your reasons?"
"The situation forced us to take side. This side is the better one."
"Is it by accident, Harry Potter, that you are on this side?"
Harry thought of the Sorting Hat, then realized that the Slytherins were not the other side.
"Lleyrin, what did you feel when the wizards came asking for help, after all the years of isolation?"
"Isolation of whom?"
Harry hadn't really expected an interview in newspaper style, with Lleyrin eager to be quoted in some parchment. He hadn't expected to be trapped by his own questions either.
It developed more into a discussion than an interview, with his questions bouncing back, forcing him in the opposite position.
What did they think about the Giants of the other side? What did the wizards think about the Death Eaters? ... Did Lleyrin know what Voldemort had promised them? More than they'd earn, less than they could achieve by themselves ... And Dumbledore, what had he offered? Trouble, that's why they'd believed him ... What did Giants think about people like Hagrid and Madame Maxime? Lleyrin suggested to ask them directly; the habit of expressing other people's thoughts wasn't common among Giants.
Harry decided not to ask Lleyrin personally. With Hagrid's hut close by, the question seemed stupid.
He'd eventually stopped writing down Lleyrin's answers. He would create a summary from memory, not only because writing under Lleyrin's eyes felt so awkward but also because he was giving answers by himself.
The discussion changed into a conversation. Lleyrin explained how Giants learned fighting with quarterstaffs; in response, Harry described Quidditch and team practice. Then he told Lleyrin how they'd started the Giant O.W.L. project and how he, Ron, and Hermione had split the work.
At some point, he'd begun to use their first names only, and became aware of it only when Lleyrin asked, "What is your friend more, Ron or Weasley?"
"Oh ... neither," answered Harry, "because I know the Weasleys, so I can see what's him alone and what's - where he and the other Weasleys are alike."
"And Hermione Granger?"
"That's only Hermione," said Harry, "I saw her parents only once."
"So she's incomplete for you?"
"Hmm ..." He thought about the question, then grinned. "I think you're right, Lleyrin, although I wouldn't say that to Hermione. She's a bit testy."
Lleyrin didn't smile. "Are you complete, Harry Potter?"
"I ..." He paused. "No. Voldemort has ... No, I'm not."
"Then I'll call you Harry," said Lleyrin, still unsmiling. "That's the part I know better."
Checking the time, Harry saw that his escort would arrive soon. He just had time left for a short hello with Hagrid. Suppressing the thank you that wanted to pop out as a reflex, he searched for a proper goodbye, but instead a final question popped up.
"Lleyrin, does the story of Bodragh has an end?"
"Certainly, Harry - didn't you finish it?"
"Did - no, I only said how I would have finished it."
"That's what I said."
"But ..." Harry hesitated, then said, "Lleyrin, I would like to know what happened to the real Bodragh."
The answer came with a smile. "Why? It's of no concern to you. After all, he was Bodragh no Wonders."
Harry had the strong feeling that there was no end, that he'd been told a trick story, used to play games. Lleyrin had used it to tell him something; all he had to do was figure out what exactly it meant in his situation.
* * *
During the next few days, he was busy completing a written report of his visit. His first report had been verbal, given to Ron and Hermione during supper and afterwards. He didn't tell them about the tale of the Careful Giant; first he had to find out what it meant for himself.
On the surface, Lleyrin's message was clear, only it didn't fit. When Harry had talked about his suspension, Lleyrin had started with the tale - the tale of someone who would have been better off accepting the inevitable. What did it mean?
His first interpretation was that Lleyrin thought it wrong to suspend Harry just because he knew something. Then Harry became aware that it worked perfectly well the other way around. Accepting the inevitable ... Did it mean he should live with the suspension?
It could drive him crazy ... Why didn't the Goblins respond? Giants laid mind traps, Goblins laid soul traps, his own kind said unmistakably no ... What a mess.
At least he had the report finished.
When he told Cho about the visit, Lleyrin's remark came back to his memory. Harry asked, "Do you want to know what Lleyrin called you?"
Cho examined his face. "No."
Harry felt disappointed. "But it was funny."
"So you had fun?"
"Yes." He grinned at the memory.
"That's good. Keep it - to yourself."
Harry felt irritated. The scene reminded him very much of the Bodragh story, because its end was missing. Maybe it had to do with himself. After all, he was still incomplete.
* * *
In the last days before the Christmas Ball, the Squad was thrust to the background even in Harry's mind. End of term, Christmas, parents' visits, and - more than anything else - the ball were subjects of conversation at the Gryffindor table and in Gryffindor Tower. Ball partners in particular were good for all kinds of remarks.
Both Fred and George had made use of Fleur's agency; now they speculated about their partners from Beauxbatons, the girls' attributes, and their language skills.
Katie and Alicia - for once - had followed Angelina's example by selecting Slytherins as their partners, of course Squad members. Harry hadn't seen or heard details; still, somehow it felt as if Bob had played a role in the scheme.
Looking around, he suddenly noticed that one particular agreement was still unknown to him. Turning to Ron, he lowered his voice and asked, "Say, do you know who's Ginny's partner?"
It seemed to have slipped Ron's mind, too. When he began to glance around, a diabolical grin appeared on Hermione's face.
"You seem to know," Harry said, surprised.
Hermione nodded, beaming.
"What?" asked Ron incredulously. "She told you?"
Hermione, not even bothering to feel offended, just shook her head.
"Who told you?" asked Harry. "Her partner?"
The beaming turned left, then right.
"Fleur told you," said Ron.
Giggles erupted from Hermione. Another shake of the head.
Which left just one possibility. "Viktor told you," said Harry.
"Yes," admitted Hermione, triumph in her eyes.
"Who is it?"
Normally, the tone of Ron's voice would have been good for cancelling any conversation until the next meal. This time, though, Hermione simply looked at a certain place down the table.
Following her eyes, Harry saw that it had to be one of the two Bulgarian students, what's-his-name, Gregory something.
Ron, the assistant manager, was better than Harry with names. Unfortunately, he was also louder. Ginny, not far away, had shown some reaction. Watching her, Harry saw a lowering head and a slight pinkness.
"I have to talk with Viktor," said Ron.
It was Hermione's turn to gasp. "Don't be ridiculous!"
"I'm not being ridiculous," snapped Ron. "It's my - er, responsibility."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Go and polish your badge."
Ron's eyes narrowed, a deep red climbing his cheeks.
"Sorry - I didn't mean it." Guilt and defiance were fighting in Hermione's face. "But honestly, you never played the older brother before."
Ron didn't answer, but at least he wasn't looking murderous any longer. Still, his early leave was indication enough that he hadn't changed his mind.
At the supper table, Hermione raised the subject again. "So did you talk with Viktor?"
Ron seemed busy with his dish. "Why don't you ask Viktor?"
"Because I'm asking you."
"Yes, I did." Ron was still playing with his knife.
He had made Hermione apologize, something nobody did unharmed. She asked, "Was the information to your satisfaction, Ron dear?"
A sour grin appeared on Ron's face. "I asked him, and yes, dearest of all Hermiones, what I heard was fine."
He turned to Harry. "Guess who questioned me afterwards."
Ron nodded. "She wanted to know everything Viktor had said, probably wouldn't have objected to a written report. And if I find out more, I'm supposed to tell her."
Harry felt relief, sympathy, and envy, in that order. Ginny behaving normally in his presence was a relief. Gathering information through a trusted person didn't sound wrong at all, especially if an older brother was involved. A big family offered a lot of advantages. Harry's closest thing to an older sister was Fleur, worlds better than nothing but still totally different.
Maybe it was that episode which caused him to ask a question he wouldn't have asked otherwise. He had developed the habit of hanging around Ron's office when the girls' team was expected back from a patrol, their schedule as familiar to him as his own timetable. Katie and Alicia would tease him a bit, then he would take a short walk with Cho.
They were on such a walk when he asked, "By the way, who's Almyra's ball partner?"
"Nobody." It sounded irritated.
"How come?" asked Harry in surprise. Almyra didn't strike him as the neurotic type, not as much as -
"Her own fault," said Cho. "First she was busy all the time with that project of hers. Said she had no time, and besides ... she refused several offers."
Cho's disappointment grew deeper. "Then, around the time everybody started talking nothing but Christmas Ball, Christmas Ball, she had second thoughts. But of course, at that time, only the leftovers were hanging around."
"Nothing in Fleur's collection?"
"Might have been," said Cho grimly. "Might still be, but no, not for Almyra, Queen of the West Indies ..."
Harry suppressed a grin. For the first time in his talks with Cho, he could hear something as familiar as the little rows that came and went between him, Ron, and Hermione, in changing arrangements. From his own feelings, he knew that an outsider better not comment on them.
The day before the ball, Ron came to lunch, sat down, and said, "We have a problem."
"What is it?" Harry's mind sprung to full alert.
"Charlie," answered Ron. "He'd planned to be home for Christmas. Now the schedule has been changed - you know, his fellow guard is senior to him. Anyway, Charlie will be here. And that means he'd like to attend the ball - all Weasleys there but him, that's driving him mad."
"And now he's looking for a partner," said Hermione.
"Exactly," replied Ron. "Any suggestions?"
"Done that," said Ron. "Beauxbatons girls rank high in the charts. She's out of supply."
Harry knew a possibility, provided ... He refilled his cup; suddenly the food was so dry. He would go over, and he would ask. No - if he revealed his knowledge, Madam Pomfrey would have to deal with a severe case of injuries, and not from Almyra ...
Chewing mechanically, he thought hard, preparing what to say.
"I might know more in a minute," he said to Ron after the meal, then walked to the Ravenclaw table.
"Hi, Cho, hi, Almyra. We need your help."
Almyra looked surprised when Harry included her in the conversation.
He explained Charlie's dilemma. "I thought you might have an idea," he finished, carefully placing words and intonation.
Cho's eyes started glittering, while Almyra's expression showed first signs of a flight reflex.
"Harry, give us a moment to ... check around," said Cho, gently pushing him away. "Say, in ten minutes' time at Ron's office?"
Harry strolled away, careful not to look back.
He informed Ron, and both of them went to the office. Harry felt it wiser not to spill any details prematurely - not afterwards either, on second thought.
Ten minutes passed, growing to fifteen minutes.
A figure came along the floor, alone: Cho.
Reaching them, she said, "Hi, Ron. I found someone whose schedule has changed, too. Tell Charlie that he can come."
"Who is it?"
"Really? I wouldn't have thought - er, I mean, super, that's a lot better than what Charlie could have expected." Ron looked pleased.
"I'll translate that to the proper words and tell Almyra," said Cho dryly. "Right now, she's in a little frenzy, what with her dress and so. That's why she's sent me."
Ron nodded, accepting the translation offer unflinchingly.
Harry and Cho walked off. Out of earshot, Cho said, "Harry, I'm proud of you. You managed that without compromising anyone."
"Yeah," replied Harry. "One gets used to it."
It brought him a sharp glance from the side. But it was true, wasn't it? After a few minutes, he could drop the thought of the Goblins. Tomorrow evening was the ball.
He had sometehing to finish.
* * *
The preparations for the ball started after breakfast, unusually early for a Saturday. With a little charm, tasks could be performed awfully quickly; however, there was a lot to do. Students up to fourth year were pushed off, whereas the older ones were supposed to lend a helping hand - er, wand, and to get lost otherwise.
Harry did his share in moving tables and chairs, remembering a day when he had to do it with his bare hands. After a while, the difference didn't feel that big.
Lunch was a short and unceremonial affair, still shorter for Ron, who kept pacing through the corridors, parchments in his hands. The Squad was on its own; for him, the assistant manager, the day offered hell broken loose.
Eventually, the halls looked ready for the event. Two gigantic banners hung from the ceiling, one with the Beauxbatons' coat of arms, which showed two crossed golden wands, each of them emitting stars, the other with Hogwarts' emblem, the large 'H' in the centre of the four house signs, underlined by the ribbon-shaped school motto, "Draco dormiens numquam titillandus." There was little risk for that today; Charlie would put them to bed, or whatever his duties at the fall of night were, and would arrive in time to shower and dress.
With the work done, Harry and Ron were in dire need to do the same. Ron walked away to the Prefects' bathroom, which he used regularly and without any intention of sharing the privilege with more mundane students, like Harry.
It didn't matter; today the room's luxury would have been wasted on Harry. He dressed, checking his appearance in the mirror, grateful not to receive any comment. His new robe looked quite dark, and it was only at the reflection of light that flashes of green glittered on the surface. He was reminded of Fleur's suggestion to try cologne, for which she'd been ready to recommend a label, only he hadn't warmed up to it.
Ron was back and began dressing. His robe was a dark grey, shimmering silkily. It looked great; Fleur had done an excellent job for a client as difficult as Ron and his hair.
"Don't forget your badge," said Harry.
Ron's jaws went tense. But the remark hadn't been teasing; the Prefects with their partners would lead the promenade into the Great Hall, followed by the Beauxbatons guests with their partners, followed by common folk.
This procession sounded just fine for Harry; last year's position in the public light hadn't felt like something he was going to miss. He was waiting for Ron; they had the same path to the place at the bottom of the Ravenclaw staircase, where they would await the ladies.
Arriving downstairs, Ron had to check the hall a last time. Badges probably caused this effect.
The band was setting up for their performance, tuning instruments, creating sounds like a choir of moonstruck cats. It wasn't the same band as the previous year. The group of six young men and women called themselves Skyport Convention. From the discussions at the Gryffindor table, Harry knew that they didn't rank as high in the charts as the Weird Sisters, but held a broader range of styles in their repertoire.
The lead singer was a young woman. She looked as unspectacular as her fellow musicians, and definitely lacked the shrill fashion Harry remembered from the other band.
Ron seemed satisfied. They moved to the entrance of Ravenclaw Tower.
Padma arrived first; Prefect partners had five minutes less than the others.
Harry caught a brief glimpse of her light blue robe and her pleased smile at the sight of Ron, then he busied himself until the couple was gone. They would meet again at the table. With Ron as the assistant manager, it hadn't been a problem finding adjacent seats for the mix of Slytherin, Ravenclaw, and Gryffindor. That didn't include the two oldest Weasleys and their partners, who were seated at the teachers' table.
Ron had arranged and arranged until there had no place been left for him at that table - one penalty he could avoid. Harry wondered how Almyra would feel.
A figure came down the staircase.
Cho wore a brilliant red robe, sparkling in the light, adorned with patches of gold at the neck and on the sleeves. She looked very oriental - Chinese, and very breathtaking. Her face also looked different - only after a few seconds, Harry knew why: her eyes appeared more almond-shaped than usual.
He found his tongue. "Cho, you look - wow!"
"Thank you." She beamed, then examined his appearance, eyes shining. "That looks good - I think we can go to the ball."
Harry seized the small parcel he'd prepared. "Before we do that, I have a little surprise ... Might come in handy."
For an instant, Cho looked startled at seeing the parcel. Recognizing its shape, curiosity grew in her face. She unwrapped it quickly.
"Oohh - that's beautiful."
It was a Chinese fan of thin rice paper which, when opened by Cho, displayed a dragon. It was no doubt the final touch to her appearance.
"Please move it," said Harry.
Cho looked at him questioningly but obeyed.
The moment the fan started moving through the air, the dragon disappeared.
Cho stopped, and the dragon came back.
She waved it again, this time a bit longer. The dragon disappeared once more, and suddenly the empty space was covered by another shape - a phoenix.
Cho gasped. "How - "
"Move it faster," said Harry, watching her happily.
Cho waved the fan until the phoenix was back, then quickened. The phoenix faded and made room for a third shape, almost monochromatic, golden - a Centaur.
Cho slowly closed the fan, carefully putting the sheets together. "Where did you find it? And so fitting - I've never seen something like that."
"It wasn't that complicated," explained Harry, as casually as he could muster, "with dancing, and cool air - a fan ... The add-ons - well, it was the spector that made me think of it."
"You made it??"
"With some help, yes."
He felt no intention to tell her the details. Fleur had mentioned a fan during their dance lessons. Dean Thomas had helped with the paintings, George with the revealing charms. The animals were Harry's own idea.
"The dragon and the Centaur are obvious," said Cho, "but what about that bird? It's a phoenix, right?"
"Yes," confirmed Harry. "it's Fawkes."
Cho hadn't seen Fawkes yet. She hadn't heard the story of the Chamber of Secrets either, not in such detail, at least.
This wasn't the time for details, either, since they had to take their positions. Further inside, the first couples had formed a column and the band was playing. All around them, couples were pushing, shuffling, the crowd moving forward, stopping, moving again, the hall full as never before - Harry couldn't imagine where all these people should find seats, thank God they'd reserved their own.
They were passing the administration table ... Look there, Professor Trelawney, seen more often among the teachers since Drilencu arrived ... Why's Hermione sitting there, smiling, looking great? Yes of course, Viktor's a member of the Hogwarts board ... Bill, Fleur, she looks incredible, silvery robe matching silvery hair ... There's Charlie, and Almyra, doesn't look unhappy at all ... Ron and Padma, waiting for them, their own seats across ...
Done. They were sitting.
" ... more word from me is a waste of time with such a music waiting to be heard. I declare the Christmas Ball opened." Dumbledore sat down.
Ron stood up, Padma with him; the first dance was restricted to the upper classes.
Harry felt excitement and growing impatience; in a minute, they'd be dancing, too. He watched the couples, Ron doing well, even smiling ... Unknown faces, which belonged to the Prefects from Beauxbatons: as Fleur had told him, they were called etudiants elitaires.
The music stopped; the dance hadn't been much more than an intro. When the band started again, Harry said to Cho, "Let's dance."
They walked to the parquet. Cho was smaller than Fleur, so Harry had to adjust. Her scent was different, too. Black hair in front of him ... she was different altogether, but the steps were familiar, careful first, getting the rhythm, a first turn, it worked, another one too, amazing. Cho followed his moves, no earphones, the music filling the hall. They danced.
The dance floor filled rapidly. Then it was full - couldn't be, people were still approaching. Their own space narrowed, leaving barely room for the basic steps.
It was impossible now to turn much. Harry realized how different ball-dancing was from a practice room for a single couple. It didn't matter, he was getting used to it, he was dancing with Cho.
He glanced sidewards, downwards, yet her face was almost hidden at his shoulder; then she looked up, their eyes met for an instant, her face - what? Examining, something else ...
The music stopped.
Now she smiled, sparkles in her eyes. "That was fine, Harry. Shall we sit down?"
"What? Why? Didn't you - "
Before his startlement could get worse, she grinned. "Only joking."
"Oh." He still felt shaky.
Cho crossed her arms over her chest and bowed. "I beg you pahdon, Hally."
The music started again. She came to his arms; they moved. At least some other couples had decided to sit, providing slightly more space for the rest.
"What was that?" asked Harry. "The mini version of the Chinese pardon ritual?"
"Hong Kong English," replied Cho.
They turned, Harry's skill in parquet space economy growing.
"It reminded me of something," he said.
"Some - animal?"
Suddenly, he felt her fingers - no, nails - at his upper arm.
"No, no - of someone, I mean."
They moved, turned, moved.
"Of whom?" asked Cho.
Now Harry bade his time answering. "Once I offered you an introduction, but you weren't interested."
He felt the instant when she understood. Glancing again, he saw her smile.
When the music stopped, she said, "I'll come back to that offer, and then - woe you, Harry Potter."
After another dance, they sat down.
Neither the space nor the pace had been enough to get heated up much, but even so, Cho used her fan with a childlike delight. Harry watched with pleasure.
They went through some more dances, then Cho was asked by a Ravenclaw student. Harry took this as the signal to start with what Fleur had called the honneurs - dances with other girls.
Padma first, because she was next to him.
Hermione next. Dancing with her came close to meeting a different person. Hermione beamed, almost flirtatious, and said, "Harry, you didn't look it up in the book, did you?" When their dance finished, she admitted, "Really, Fleur has done a terrific job."
When he asked Ginny for a dance, she accepted, rather pink. Somehow it felt awkward; Harry had been sure that it was over. Midway through the song, Ginny suddenly said, "I watched you dancing with Cho ... You two look great."
Harry stumbled and stepped on Ginny's foot.
"Ouch - sorry, my fault," said Giny. "I shouldn't talk like that while dancing, it's just this is the best opportunity I've had in a while."
These words sounded more like her normal self, Weasley-style, except that Ginny paused again.
"I need to put something straight." she said close to his ear. "You ... you'll always be my hero, for sure, but - you know, I've grown up a bit." The colour of her face didn't go well with the hair.
"It's okay, Ginny. I think I've got the message."
After a moment in which steps and colours steadied, Harry turned his head ostentatiously to another couple which included a student from Durmstrang, and asked, "By the way, was it just the age?"
"Not alone," admitted Ginny, no longer embarrassed. "Anyway, shouldn't we do some dancing?"
Back at his place, Harry had an opportunity to look around while Cho was dancing with Ron. He saw Hermione with Viktor, Bill with Almyra, Charlie with Fleur. The twins certainly had no reason to complain, maybe except for the language skill. On the other hand, who else, if not them, should be able to overcome such barriers?
He watched the band, which played more to his taste than the one from the year before, or was it just the age? Their singer had a remarkably clear and vibrant voice, she didn't jump and twist, she just stood there, the magiphone in her hand, her body moving slightly as she sang.
Cho was guided back to her seat. and Ron went for some drinks.
"Those Weasleys," said Cho, "quite a family ... I'd like to know how it is with so many brothers."
Harry knew nothing more about Cho's family than their Muggle nature and that she was a single child, like him, only that he was half-adopted by the Weasleys.
"And a sister," continued Cho, "who seemed to have a lot to tell you ... Although it looked as if she was suffering from some overheating."
The blows out of nowhere - they never failed to amaze him. This one, however, felt more tickling than hitting.
"Well - I think I can summarize it by quoting the essential part. It was something like, You'll always be my hero, but ..." He grinned. "Honestly, it was the first time I heard Ginny talk to me Weasley style."
The green fire in Cho's eyes calmed down to a sparkle. "Makes two of us, as long as it stops there."
Harry stopped grinning. Then it crossed his mind that this might be an opportunity to explain how unlikely something like that would be, seen from his perspective. Unfortunately, he wasn't used to skating on ice as thin as this.
Before he could find a decent answer, or declaration, the singer announced a "Special Treat" and ordered the audience to stand back and to watch a "Christmas card from Beauxbatons, presented by Miss Fleur Delacour and Mr Bill Weasley!"
They turned and watched as Fleur and Bill went through a remarkable performance of dance figures, as well as through several dance styles - at least that much Harry could distinguish. It told him he had plenty to learn before the surface of a dance floor would be as familiar to him as the air space of a Quidditch match - or a Squad patrol, although he quickly pushed the thought away.
The potpourri came to an end. The two dancers smiled and bowed to all sides, receiving a roaring applause, mixed with whistling and shouts of "More."
The singer appeared again. "After that fantastic intermezzo, it's time for our next event. Ladies, listen, and gentlemen, watch - Ladies' Choice! ... Remember, anybody but your own partner. Our two performers here will start!"
She had barely finished when Fleur went straight to the teachers' table, curtsied in front of Dumbledore, and said something Harry couldn't understand.
Meanwhile, Bill had reached Ginny's table. After a slight bow to Grigorij, he guided his radiant sister to the floor.
Then a rush went through the hall as all other girls hurried to approach some target. Cho was up and off at once.
Harry saw McGonagall move to Hagrid's place. Several girls seemed to have focused on his own place when a firm hand gripped his shoulder, and a familiar voice met his ear.
"Score - and hit. Just in time before those clumsies got you. Get up, Harry, let's dance."
It was Angelina Johnson. As they went to the dance floor, she grinned. "First time I had to beat Alicia and Katie for scoring. Ten points for me."
Her dancing style clearly favoured wild movement over artful steps. Harry was panting. "C'mon, Harry, that's your crash course for free," Angelina said. He felt like he was being confused with a Quaffle. When they returned, he was prickling with sweat.
The band announced a longer break.
Harry listened to Cho as she told him interesting details of Chinese traditions and Hong Kong English. As different as the culture was, it reminded him of his visit to Lleyrin the Fist.
"Lleyrin told me a story," he said suddenly.
He wasn't sure whether he really wanted to tell, the words had just come out. There was no choice, he had to tell her. He mentioned at which point in their conversation Lleyrin had started, and repeated the story up to where the Giant chief had stopped.
"That's what I asked, too," explained Harry. "And Lleyrin said, 'What would you have done?'"
Cho watched him. "What have you done?"
Her question, almost as expected yet totally different, had caught him off balance, stupid spy that he was.
"You're up to something," said Cho, "I can feel it. Sitting around and writing letters while the others are in the air ... Cooking up some scheme with all those friends in strategic positions."
"I'm not cooking up something. It's cooking all by itself."
Realizing his masterpiece of an answer, he added, "And what does that mean, friends in strategic positions?"
Cho opened the fan and moved it. "Look - Fawkes. I can hear him chirping, 'Hello, Harry' when you enter Dumbledore's office."
Harry had to laugh at that. It brought him a short pause in the interrogation.
"All right," said Cho, "I don't think Dumbledore's involved, but I see others, in other places. Ron, for example."
"Ron - pah." Harry felt a rising irritation. "Ron's not in anything with me. He has his job, and with me out of the game, he doesn't object too hard. Know what he said to me? 'Yeah, the trouble of the rich and famous.' So much for Ron."
"Are you rich, Harry? Sounds good."
The sudden change of tack was a relief, but only for a second. He blushed. "No, I'm not. My parents left me some money, I guess it's enough to go through Hogwarts without trouble. And Ron - well, you know, the Weasleys, they have no trouble counting what's left at the end of the month."
Harry told Cho the story with the Leprechaun gold for the Omnioculars, hoping that it would lead her off the track.
Cho smiled sympathetically as Harry described Ron's touchiness with money issues. "My parents are in the trade business," she explained, "and we get along well. But I can remember - I mean, I've seen my share of second-hand stuff."
For a moment, Cho looked much younger, a fierce determination in her face. Then, without warning, the blow.
"When did Ron say that to you?"
When the Goblin letter arrived, thought Harry, feeling trapped. He looked around in the noisy hall. "There are too many people around ... Maybe in a few days, I'm not sure - "
Cho stood up. "Let's get some fresh air." She took Harry's arm.
They went off into the park. Outside, they strode toward a bench, Cho's hand holding his. It was something Harry wasn't used to; still, he had no objections.
Looking at the trees, he remembered the Daily Prophet woman, Rita Skeeter. "Seen any bugs recently?"
"Nothing particular, outside cauldrons, that is." Cho eyed him. "Changing the subject?"
Harry giggled. "No, not at all. Just preparing. I'll explain later - I mean, that's Hermione's story, she should tell."
They sat down on the bench, a fair distance to corners where other couples might be found.
"So you wrote letters?"
"One, actually. I got a letter - by the way, that was when Ron made his remark. And I answered that letter. I had it checked with McGonagall. You see, I'm not playing hide and seek - not with her helping." Using McGonagall as an exoneration witness was a nice move, wasn't it?
"Very convincing," snapped Cho. "Professor McGonagall and Harry Potter in some conspiracy. The last time I saw it happen had to do with Quidditch and the Gryffindor house."
Harry swore inwardly, reminding himself either he would share things with Cho from start, or he had better watch his big mouth. The first option felt more appealing; if only things wouldn't happen so fast.
"Cho, please, don't press me ... You want to fly with the Squad, right? I got a letter, and it - it offered something. I answered to that offer, that's all I can say."
Thinking about his own words, he added, "They didn't offer a job."
"Certainly not," said Cho, "because all you're asking for is to get back into the Squad."
"Yes, of course - that's what I told you. And that letter might be a first step. I don't expect an immediate solution, but I used what Lupin told me about walking toward a target in the mist ... I could foresee one step, and that was the one I took."
"Helped by McGonagall?"
"Yes," said Harry, "to make sure the letter is in good order and so."
Cho's fingers were on his forehead, touched his scar, then ruffled his hair. "You're something," she said.
He sat frozen, although not feeling like ice at all.
Cho stood up, taking his arm. "I can't solve the riddle. Let's take another step back into the hall."
* * *
For Harry, the evening could have lasted forever.
Sitting orders had been rearranged. Hermione and Viktor came over, then Charlie and Almyra.
He danced with Almyra to complete the honneurs. Not knowing what else to say, he asked about her work.
Almyra missed a step, then gave an answer that told him nothing. Clearly she didn't want to talk about it.
This reluctance struck him as quite familiar, so he concentrated on dancing, now that there was really space on the dance floor. Almyra's tenseness hadn't completely vanished when the dance ended.
The conversation at the table was leisurely. Hermione promised to tell Cho the Skeeter story in a less crowded atmosphere. Charlie talked about his dragon-guard job, Harry about his visit to Lleyrin, keeping to the public part and to the more funny details like sitting high in the air and facing a figure twenty feet high.
The Skyport Convention adjusted their songs to the mood, performing a few slow ballads. When they started a new song, Harry recognized it immediately as one of those used during the dance lessons. He glanced over to Fleur and saw her looking at him. He walked to her place.
"I thought you wouldn't ask me at all," she said.
"I'm sorry, I thought you'd prefer more experienced dancers," said Harry apologetically. "After I saw what you and Bill were doing, I didn't expect - "
Fleur shook her head. "Dancing is my passion - yours is Quiddi'ch. But as a teacher, I'm proud of my students, you and Ron."
Cho had watched them dancing. Coming back to the table, Harry found her smiling. "Something special?" he asked.
"No," answered Cho, "just some ordinary people dancing."
The singer announced the last song, a Vienna waltz.
Harry looked at Cho, who nodded. They started to wheel around on the parquet, empty enough at this late hour for this dance, Harry's favourite. It went round and round, down the line, across, back. It was a long one, and after a few minutes, the hall and the tables were spinning around, leaving him and Cho as the only fixed points, unable to stop, not willing to end.
When the music finished, they had trouble steadying, and held each other not to fall.
Harry guided Cho to Ravenclaw Tower, feeling drowsy from more than the last dance, his arm holding her, or supporting her, anyway, quite comfortably so. At the bottom of the staircase, they stopped.
"Harry - thank you for the invitation. It was a wonderful evening."
"Yes ... with you."
Cho held the fan. "And for this. You're right, it's really handy. Look!"
She opened the fan and came closer. Shielding their faces, fan in one hand, she took his head with the other and kissed him. "Good night."
When Harry opened his eyes to say good night, Cho was already hurrying up the stairs.
Tired as he was, it took some time before he could find sleep. Guessing by the lack of snores sounds from Ron's direction, he wasn't the only one.