"What do you mean, you have a date?" demanded Sirius.

Narcissa tossed her thick blonde curls over her shoulder and glared at her cousin. "I mean," she replied evenly, "I have a date. Lucius Malfoy asked me to go to the Graduation Ball with him and I said yes. Is this a problem?"

"Yes, it's a problem!" said Sirius. "You said you were going to wait for James to ask you!"

"I did," Narcissa replied. "And he never asked me."

"But..." Sirius pushed his hands into his long black hair. "What about Andy and Bella?"

Narcissa rolled her eyes. "Well, you couldn't very well expect them to just wait around after I'd already accepted somebody, could you? Bella is going with Rudy LeStrange, and Andy - Merlin knows why, but she is - is going with Ted Tonks." She put her hands on her hips. "What are you going to do about it?"

The only thing Sirius could do was groan. Everybody knew that the Black triplets - blonde Narcissa, red-headed Andromeda, and brunette Bellatrix - were the most popular and most desirable girls in Hogwarts. Which was why Sirius had made sure to reserve them for himself and his friends months in advance. "Why didn't you tell Lucius you already had a date?"

"Because I didn't have one," said Narcissa.

"Yes, you did," Sirius insisted. "You were supposed to go with James, Andy was supposed to go with me, and Bella was supposed to go with Remus."

"But they never asked us," Narcissa repeated, enunciating each syllable as if talking to an idiot. "You can't ask girls to balls by proxy, Sirius. If James wanted to go with me, he should have asked me himself."

"But Narse..."

"No buts," she snapped. "Tell your friends to learn how to be gentlemen. Then maybe they'll be able to get dates."

Sirius sighed. "What am I supposed to tell James and Remus, huh?" he asked.

"That's your problem, not mine," Narcissa informed him. "And now, if you'll excuse me, some of us want to get to Divination on time." And with that, she turned around and stalked off downthe hallway, blonde curls bouncing up and down her back.

Left behind, Sirius leaned on the wall and shut his eyes, rubbing his temples as if the situation were a real, rather than metaphorical, headache. He probably should have seen it coming. Everybody knew that Narcissa had a crush on Lucius Malfoy, although what she saw in the rat-faced bastard was utterly beyond Sirius' ken. But when he'd asked his three cousins, way back at Christmas time, to go to the Ball with himself and his friends, he'd thought it was a done deal. Who knew they were waiting for James and Remus to actually ASK them? It wasn't as if this was some big gooey-gooey romantic thing... it was just a matter of status. Hogwarts' most popular and handsome boys - as the Marauders modestly knew themselves to be - ought to go to the Graduation Ball with the most popular and beautiful girls.

But though that might make perfect sense to Sirius, it apparently hadn't looked the same to Andy, Bella, and Narse. And here it was with only two weeks until the Ball, and suddenly, Sirius and his friends no longer had dates.

What alternatives were there? He bit his lip and thought hard. Helene LeVerrier was going with Donald Parkinson. Diana Brown was going withThomas Lovegood. IantheCraddock was going with Marcus Zabini... and those three, together with the triplets, representedone hundred percentof all the girls in Hogwarts whom the Marauders considered worth a second look. Take them away, and all you had left were dogs, freaks, and she-nerds.

"Oh, Merlin," he said. "They're gonna kill me."

"What do you mean she has a date?" demanded James.

"I mean," said Sirius, "she has a date. Lucius Malfoy asked her to go to the Graduation Ball with him, and she said yes. What do you expect me to do about it?"

James sat down heavily in one of the Gryffindor common room's overstuffed chairs and sighed. "So why did she say yes to me way back in December if she was just going to change her mind?"

"Well, that's the thing," Sirius explained. "She never actually said yes to you. She toldme she would say yes to you when you asked her, and you never asked her."

"Did I have to?" asked James.

"Apparently," said Sirius. "Don't ask me why, it doesn't make any sense to me, either."

Remus was slumped in another chair with a book in his lap. "What about the other two?" he asked.

"Narse said they couldn't keep holding out after she already had a date," said Sirius. "So they're going with Theodore Tonks and Rudolphus LeStrange. Don't blame me," he added. "This was not my fault. I had no idea they were going to decide we had to go all mooshy and ask. And don't ask me what we do now, because I have no ideas. Diana, Helene, and Ianthe are all taken, too."

"You could go stag," suggested Peter.

Sirius and James both turned their heads and looked at him in a way that would have served quite nicely to shoot down that idea all on its own. "Are you insane?" James asked, exaggeratedly polite. "Malfoy would never let us hear the end of it."

"Well, we're only going to be here another couple of months," said Peter.

"That doesn't mean anything," sighed Remus.

"Trust me," said James. "Malfoy will think of nice, unsubtle ways to remind us of it, again and again, for the rest of our natural lives." He sat up straight and steepled his fingers, thinking hard. "Okay, guys, this is an emergency. We are not going dateless to that ball, and we are not going with ugly girls, fat girls, or loser girls. So what are we going to do? I'm open to suggestions."

Remus closed his book and looked at the ceiling a moment. "I think..." he began.

"Yes?" James prompted.

But Remus shook his head. "Forget it. It's a dumb idea."

"Dumb ideas are better than no ideas," said James.

"That's right," agreed Sirius, who'd learned that Remus' ideas, no matter how odd they might sound on the surface, were almost always worth listening to. "Come on, Reme."

"Well, I was thinking," Remus said, "what about the Room of Requirement? It's supposed to provide you with whatever you need, right? Although it's probably stretching it to think it can get us dates." He shrugged.

The Room of Requirement was something the boys had discovered while working on their map of Hogwarts. It was an indispensible hiding place, and had also made an excellent spot to practice their animagus transformations... but it didn't seem like a very likely dating service. Still, Sirius found himself wondering what he'd find there if he looked with that in mind.

James nodded slowly. "You're right," he said. "It's a dumb idea."

"I warned you," said Remus.

"James," said Peter. "Why don't you ask Lily Evans?"

"Because she'll just laugh at me again." James slumped back in the chair and folded his arms across his chest. "Besides, Kotone Kobayashi told me she already said she'd go with Snivellus Snape. Now back to the point, please - does anybody have any good ideas?"

"Nope," sighed Sirius.

"That's all I've got," said Remus.

Peter shook his head.

"Well, we've got two weeks," said James. "We'll think of SOMETHING. If Malfoy thinks he can get the better of us, we've got another think for him. Right, guys?"

"Right," Remus and Sirius agreed in unison.