Disclaimer: The plot's mine, as are a few obvious things. The characters and setting are not.

A/N: Since George's date to the Triwizard Yule Ball is never mentioned in canon, I'm going to take that to mean he didn't have one. Stephen Cornfoot was created by JKR, but has not yet appeared in canon. According to her, he's a Ravenclaw in Harry's year, so he's one year older than Luna.

The Dateless Wonders

When they had told Harry and Ron to get dates to the Yule Ball before all the good ones were taken, George hadn't really thought it was possible. He was George Weasley, wasn't he? If he could take aim at a bludger during the worst hailstorm Hogwarts had ever seen, and hit said bludger directly at Slytherin's seeker right when he was about to grab the Snitch from under Charlie's nose (what a match that had been), finding a date to the Ball would be a piece of cake in comparison.

But apparently, he was wrong.

He'd approached Katie Bell first, right after Fred asked Angelina, as they were sitting down in Transfiguration. "Oi Katie," he said, confident of his success, "go to the Yule Ball with me?"

"Sorry George," she said, smiling sadly. "I'm going with Lee Jordan."

"Right," he said, nodding, wondering if death by dungbombs would be too kind a fate for Lee.

"You could try Alicia," she said, right as McGonagall strode into the classroom. "I don't think anyone's asked her yet."

Wrong again. "Oh, sorry George," Alicia said during supper that evening. "I'm spending Christmas at home with my family. Pass the treacle tart?"

George scratched his ginger head, frowning up and down the Gryffindor table as everyone else chatted and giggled about the upcoming Ball. His life had been occupied completely by Quidditch and playing pranks, and the girls on the house team were the only ones he really had a chance with; charming the toilets in the fifth floor girls' bathroom to fountain water and obscenities did not exactly win one party dates. Who on earth could he ask that would accept?

"I think the only girl left in Gryffindor is Eloise Midgen," Fred teased him a week before the Ball, as they sneaked down to the kitchens for a midnight snack. George was, unfortunately, still without a date. "You waited too long, brother mine. Even ickle Ronniekins got a date, Harry told me the two of them're taking the Patil twins."

"You mean he still hasn't got the stones to ask Hermione?" George chuckled, his own predicament forgotten. "If he was any less obvious --"

"We wouldn't be able to get on his wick about it," Fred finished. An eager house elf jumped to attention the moment they stepped into the kitchens, and the two of them asked for the chocolate cake that had been served for dessert earlier at supper. "But evidently she got a date with someone else. So that means you're the only Gryffindor besides the lovely Eloise without a date."

"I wouldn't be caught dead with her, my uglier half," George said grumpily.

"Then you're pretty well screwed, aren't you?" Fred ducked and laughed when George took an angry swipe at him.

When the day of the Ball had dawned and he still had not asked anyone to go with him, George had announced to Fred that he would tag along with him and Angelina.

"Oh no you won't, little brother," Fred said, turning to face him. They stopped in a corridor on the third floor on their way to the Great Hall for breakfast. Peeves was at the other end, swinging from a chandelier and singing a rather raunchy song. "Me and Angelina've got plans, you see."

"Like?"

"Like dancing and stuff. And maybe sneaking off later to --"

"Right, right, no need to go further." Peeves flew by and blew a raspberry at him.

"You'll just have to sit and watch, mate. It's your own fault you didn't get a date."

"Gosh, Fred. What would I do without you to keep my spirits up?"

Fred rolled his eyes and punched him playfully on the shoulder, but he gave George a sympathetic look as they continued down to breakfast. "Fill your pockets with things to do, then," he said. "The professors will all be tipsy and hardly paying attention. It's Christmas, after all."

"Dungbombs," George said, already imaging the potential chaos in his head. "And maybe some Puking Pastilles --"

"Don't forget the Fainting Fancies," Fred said with a wink. "What's a Ball without the guests dropping left and right?"

And that's how he had wound up here, outfitted in a set of Charlie's old dress robes, bending back the tines of his dinner fork as he watched Fred and Angelina do something out on the dance floor that some might have called having a hysterical fit. The other students were giving them a wide berth, afraid for their limbs, and some were laughing uproariously, but George only muttered something not all that nice under his breath and went back to twisting his fork out of shape.

Fred had been as good as his word and proceeded to spend the entire evening with Angelina, shoving his face full of food and talking with his mouth full and doing that strange dance of theirs and ignoring George. Not even the temptation of the Canary Creams in George's pocket could lure him from Angelina's side. And what was the point of doing a prank if his twin wasn't there to enjoy the result with him? So George sat at the tables where they had eaten supper, destroying his fork and thinking self-pitying things about his singleton status. "I'm the dateless wonder," he muttered under his breath.

"No you're not, George," someone said behind him.

George started at the unexpected voice, and turned to see a rather dazed-looking blonde girl seated at the table immediately behind his, dressed in pale blue robes. Like him, she too was alone.

"I -- I'm sorry?" he said, frowning, not sure he had heard her right. What was she doing eavesdropping on him anyway?

"I said you're not the dateless wonder." Her voice had a dreamy quality, as though she was thinking about something else entirely while she spoke. "The Dateless Wonder is Gregory Kettleburn, on the Wizarding Wireless. He has a dating help program every Saturday morning."

"Oh, er, right." He gave her an awkward smile and was about to return to his black study when something occurred to him. He looked back at her and found her still staring at him with her unnerving, protuberant eyes. "How did you know which one I was? Which twin, I mean? Lucky guess?"

"Oh no," she said pleasantly. "It was easy, really. You have a little scar under your left ear, and Fred doesn't. And there's a group of freckles on the back of your neck that look like the Phoenix. Fred's freckles look like Sagittarius."

George's fingers flew to the spot under his left ear. He had forgotten about that scar, a memento from an experiment gone wrong. "How did you notice that?" he said.

"I notice all kinds of things," she said. "But I have to admit, I also knew it was you because Ginny is my friend, and she told me that you hadn't asked anyone to the Yule Ball."

The mention of Ginny sent his mind into action, and he struggled to remember all the friends his sister had talked about at home when she wasn't drooling over Harry. A blonde girl, one not in their house or he would have recognized her right off... "Luna?" George said uncertainly. "Are you Luna Lovegood?"

"Yes, I am," she said, sounding pleased. "Ginny is my best friend, and she talks about her brothers a lot. She's my only friend, really."

He squirmed a little at that. Now he could also remember Ginny saying something about Luna's uncanny habit of saying the most uncomfortably truthful things. "Oh, er..."

"You don't have to say anything," she said. "I don't mind not having a lot of friends, and I don't want you to say something you don't really mean."

"Right," he said, still stifled by her unrelenting honesty. Nevertheless, he pushed on with their conversation, even getting up and turning his chair around to face her. It wasn't as though he had anything better to do. "But -- hey, why are you even here? I thought only fourth years and up were allowed to come to the Yule Ball. Did somebody ask you?"

"Yes," she said. "Stephen Cornfoot asked me last week if I would go to the Ball with him. He's a fourth year, and all the girls in Ravenclaw act like they've been struck with the Pixie Pox every time he walks past them."

"Er...Pixie Pox?"

"Oh yes, it's a terrible disease," she said, shaking her head. "Luckily I seem to be immune to it. Anyway, he asked me if I would go to the Ball with him. I thought he was just playing a trick on me -- it's been known to happen." She said it with such resignation and acceptance that, for the first time, George was ashamed of the pranking devices stuffed in his pockets. He twitched his robes over his knees, hoping she wouldn't notice any telltale lumps.

"But he told me he really wanted to go with me," Luna was saying, "so I said yes. He said to meet him at the doors to the Great Hall just before supper, and we'd go in together and get seats."

"So...where is he?" George looked towards the refreshment table, though he thought it had been rather too long for Stephen to be gone, even if he went to get them drinks or food.

"He came down with Hannah Abbott," she said, and George had a sinking feeling in his chest. "She was his date. I was confused for a minute, and wondered how he could have forgotten about asking me, but now I know. I should really warn you, stay away from Stephen tonight. I don't want the Gippyslink to affect you too. I tried to warn Hannah, but I didn't want to get too close without having earmuffs handy."

George's mind went blank for a moment, and he wondered if what she had just said was in English. "The -- I beg your pardon?"

"Gippyslink," she said, very seriously. "Daddy just published an article about them in the last issue of the Quibbler. They're invisible little bugs that crawl in your ears and eat your memory. If you don't get them removed immediately they can cause permanent brain damage."

George released a breath, feeling something oddly like relief. This strange girl had just had the cruelest of pranks played on her, in a place that would have guaranteed maximum public embarrassment, and she had passed it off as the work of some probably nonexistent creature. He could only shake his head in admiration.

"Why are you still here then?" George asked. "I mean, you can't be having that much fun without a date."

"Well, I went to the trouble of writing Daddy for dress robes, so I reckoned I should wear them." She looked down at her robes, and he then fully appreciated how strongly the color complimented her eyes. "I've never had dress robes before. It seemed an awful waste."

"I'll tell you what's a waste," George spat, "Stephen Cornfoot. A waste of space."

"It's not his fault he's got a Gippyslink in his brain," Luna said. "I really don't blame him at all."

He looked at her again, knowing that if he had been in her position he would have done some shouting and ranting and then cast one of his best hexes on the Ravenclaw git. He didn't stop to think why he was feeling so protective of a girl he barely knew. But Luna was the picture of serenity, humming to herself along with the song, which he recognized as "Toil and Trouble," one of his favorites.

"You like the Weird Sisters too?" George ventured, after they had sat in companionable silence for a few minutes.

"Oh yes," she said excitedly, and for the first time that evening her eyes sparkled. He liked the way they looked like that -- not quite so disturbing. "Daddy's interviewed them a few times for the Quibbler, and each time he does he takes me with him. They autographed one of my records for me last time."

"Really? Wow," he said, truly impressed. He and Fred had bought all of their Weird Sisters records secondhand, which usually meant that the casing was ripped up or nonexistent. That wasn't the kind of thing you would want to show your favorite band.

"You don't seem like you would like them," she said, after another pause.

"I don't? Why not?"

"They're really loud, aren't they? And their songs are about getting into trouble and being depressed and things like that."

He chuckled. "I get into trouble plenty."

She laughed loudly, in a strange, high pitch that had a few of the closest dancers turning to look at her peculiarly. "I know that, George," she said, still smiling. "I mean you seem like you would listen to mellower music. Like Icarius and the Wings, or something."

He frowned. He'd heard of Icarius and the Wings before, of course, but he had never heard any of their music. "Why mellower?"

"Because that's the way you are most of the time," she said, tilting her head to one side. Now that one of her ears was uncovered, he could see that she was wearing what looked like tiny snow globe earrings. They dangled an inch or two from golden studs, and as he watched the snow settled to reveal a brightly-lit miniature Christmas tree. "Fred is the leader, and the louder one. You follow him. And you say less than he does."

"How do you know all of that?" George said, suddenly feeling a bit hot. He barely knew this girl, other than hearing her name once or twice from Ginny, and yet she seemed to know him intimately. He scratched the back of his neck, where the Phoenix freckles were.

"I told you, I notice things." She straightened her head again and the snow globe earrings were once more hidden by her stringy hair. "I don't have any friends to talk to besides Ginny, so I spend most of my time studying people. I know that Neville Longbottom has a cowlick on the back of his head that won't flatten even when the rest of his hair does. I know Pansy Parkinson picks her nose when she thinks no one's looking. I know --"

"Okay, I believe you," George said quickly, trying to get the mental picture of Pansy with a finger up her pug nose out of his head. "Did you ever think of becoming an investigator? You'd probably be good at it, you know."

She gazed at him a long time, unblinkingly, through the end of one song and halfway through another. Just when George was going to ask if she was all right (hell, maybe there were such things as Hippyfinks, or whatever those things were), she said, very calmly, "Are you making fun of me?"

There was a strange tightening in his gut, and George pitied this poor girl who had been so ill-treated by her own house and others. "I would never make fun of you," he said, and he was astonished to find that he really meant it. "I was serious."

"All right then," she said, as though nothing had happened. "Daddy wants me to take over the Quibbler when he retires, and I really don't know how he'd react if I said no."

"An investigative reporter, then," he said. "They need to be very attentive to details, like you are."

"That's a good point," she said, nodding slowly. "I must tell Daddy next time I write home."

"So your dad's the editor-in-chief of the Quibbler?" he said.

"Yes. Do you read it?"

"Er -- sometimes." The last time he had read something in the Quibbler had been with Fred and Lee, and they were howling with laughter about an article outlining how Fudge had been involved in an illegal operation that was smuggling crumple-horned snorkacks into England. Wisely, he neglected to mention to Luna that he thought her father's magazine was a joke. Instead, he asked, "What's your mum do?"

"Oh, my mother died when I was little," she said, in that same dreamy, somehow singsong voice he had come to like.

George blinked, and leaned forward on his knees. "I'm sorry."

"Thank you." She looked out at the dance floor, and George followed her eyes to see that she was looking at Ron. His youngest brother was seated at another table across the Great Hall, with Harry and Parvati to his right and Padma to his left. He in turn was darkly watching the rather beautiful witch dancing with Viktor Krum, who seconds later George realized was Hermione.

"You know my brother Ron?"

"No, not really," Luna said, still looking at him. "Ginny's never introduced us. I hope she will, though."

That strange tightening returned to his stomach, and George wondered why he felt a brief prick of jealousy. Why should he be jealous? And of ickle Ronniekins, no less? Ron was so wrapped up in ogling Hermione that he barely even noticed there were other specimens of the female sex in his presence. And this girl is only thirteen, fourteen at most, you pedophile, he told himself. Wait, why am I thinking of her like that? You're disgusting, George Weasley.

He was interrupted in his very confused train of thought by the approach of a pinched-looking Professor McGonagall. "Miss Lovegood, I thought it was well known that no students under fourth year were allowed to come to the Ball this evening," she said, giving the girl a prize-winning glare. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave. Professor Flitwick will contact you once classes recommence about serving a detention."

"It's all right Professor," George blurted out, not sure what he was saying until the words were already out of his mouth. "I invited her. She's my date."

McGonagall's eyebrows nearly disappeared under the brim of her hat, and he peripherally saw Luna turning her wide eyes on him. "Very well, Mr. Weasley," the older witch said, giving him a head to toe look that would have made a lesser student shake in his shoes. "Forget about that detention, Miss Lovegood. Enjoy the rest of your evening." With a wide sweep of her black formal robes, McGonagall had left them, gone to separate two Hufflepuffs that were dancing rather closely out on the dance floor.

George felt his face and tips of his ears heat in embarrassment, and he had no idea what he'd say to Luna now he'd gone and claimed her as his date without asking. Luna saved him from speaking.

"George?"

"Yeah?" He finally forced himself to meet her eyes.

She smiled, showing off even white teeth. "I think that's the nicest thing anyone's done for me."

George's face went even redder. "Oh, well..." He leaned back in his seat, legs akimbo, struggling to maintain an air of nonchalance. "I just didn't want you to get in trouble, is all. Ginny really likes you, so I reckoned you're all right."

"You didn't even have to say I was your date," she went on. "You could have said we came as friends. I've never gone anywhere with a boy just as friends before."

"Er..."

"It's okay George," she said, and she reached over and patted his arm. His arm felt all tingly afterwards -- but then he realized that was a bad thing. "We can just be friends. I'm used to boys not wanting to be my date."

"Right. Friends." As he said this the lead singer of the Weird Sisters announced that the next song would be the last of the evening, and he thanked all the students on the floor for being such a great audience. George looked at his watch. It was nearly midnight already, and he absently wondered where the evening had gone.

"It's late, isn't it?" Luna said, anticipating what he was about to say. "I suppose I should go to bed now. I had a lovely time talking to you, George."

"Yeah," he said, "me too." He grinned at her and she grinned back. "Can I walk you back to Ravenclaw's dormitories?"

"Certainly." She rose gracefully from her seat, followed by George, and together they walked out of the Great Hall. She started heading down a corridor near the kitchens, with him falling into step beside her.

"Do you know where the Ravenclaw common room is?" Luna asked.

"I know this castle like the back of my hand," he boasted.

"Then you know the quickest way to get to Professor Flitwick's class?"

"Easy. Staircase by the boys' bathroom on the fifth floor."

She stopped suddenly and grabbed his hand. George, taken by surprise, felt his heart shoot up to somewhere near his throat at the contact. "What are you doing?"

"Testing you." She held his hand up in front of her face and peered at it intently. "How many freckles are there going across your knuckles?"

"Huh?"

Luna lowered his hand enough to meet his eyes. "You said you knew the castle like the back of your hand."

"Oh." He chuckled, but made no move to extract his hand from hers. "It's an expression, Luna. I have no idea how many freckles I have on my knuckles."

"Twenty-seven," she said. "Although that last one looks like a liquefied toad's liver stain."

He blinked. "How can you tell?"

"My mother worked for an apothecary," she said. "I'm very good in Potions."

"Could've used your help last year, then," he said, grinning. "Me and Fred got pretty poor marks in Potions when we took the O.W.L.'s."

"Really?" Luna said, frowning. She tilted her head and there were her snow globe earrings again. "I thought you must be good at it. Especially since some of your pranks involve highly intricate Potions knowledge."

He felt his ears turn red once more, this time from her praise. "Well...thanks."

"Do you want me to kiss you?"

Her change in topic was so abrupt it took several seconds for George's brain to catch up, and when it did... "What?"

"I was going to give Stephen Cornfoot a kiss after we left the Ball," she explained. She slowly released his hand, and he was sorry she let go. "To thank him for being my date. But you ended up being my date instead, so I thought maybe I should kiss you. What do you think?"

"Luna," he said, swallowing, "I'm a sixth year, I'm almost seventeen. You're a third year. I really don't think --"

"On the cheek, I meant," she said, and for the first time ever he saw a pretty blush on her cheeks. "I didn't mean... but George, did you forget? We said we'd be friends." The blush faded and she looked concerned. "Oh no. The Gippyslink didn't get you, did it?"

"I wouldn't be all that surprised if it had," George said, floundering. "What didyou mean?"

"I meant a kiss on the cheek. I've never kissed a boy on the mouth, and I would only kiss a boy on the mouth if he was my boyfriend. Do you want to be my boyfriend, George?"

Maybe when you're actually of age, and it feels less like cradle robbing, he thought. "Er..."

"You don't have to answer that. But do you want me to kiss you on the cheek?"

"Sure," he said, before he could think about it too much. She stood on tiptoe and planted a dignified kiss on his cheek, that left a burning feeling on his skin. "I hope you had fun, even though that Stephen Cornfoot git was rotten to you," he said.

"Stephen who?" Luna said, smiling. "Good night, George."

"Night, Luna. But I have a confession to make. I'm actually Fred."

She laughed, that too-loud, raucous laugh of hers. "Good one, George." They grinned at each other one last time and she muttered a password at the painting closest to them. It swung inward and he had a brief glance of the Ravenclaw common room before the painting had swung shut behind her.

He turned back, shoving his hands in his pockets, and started for Gryffindor Tower. His head was a mess of tangled thoughts, most of them centered on Luna, and he couldn't make head or tail of any of them. The Ball must have officially ended by then, for there were Ravenclaws walking past him in couples and clumps, interrupting his solitude, singing the songs the Weird Sisters had played and talking about how much fun they had had.

One group of students in particular caught his eye. He had only a vague idea of what Hannah Abbott looked like, since she was in Ron's year, but he thought that the girl approaching him had to be her. There was no doubt who the boy holding her hand was.

"I've told you, Stephen," another Ravenclaw boy said to Hannah's date, "it's impossible to faze her at all."

"No, didn't you hear?" Stephen said. "She was convinced that I got attacked by one of those made-up creatures of hers, and it was affecting my memory. She tried to warn Hannah about it. Can you believe some people?" They all laughed.

George spun on his heel just as the group went by. "Are you Stephen Cornfoot?" he called back to them.

Hannah's date, a handsome boy with curly dark hair and cornflower blue eyes, turned and raised his eyebrows. "What do you want, Gryffindor?" he said lazily.

George punched him in the face.

"Muggle fight!" one of the other boys screeched as Stephen was knocked to the ground. "Muggle fight in the corridor!"

George stood over the fallen boy as students crowded around them and buzzed with anticipation. "Listen carefully," he said, narrowing his eyes. "If I ever hear of you giving Luna trouble again, I might accidentally slip something nasty into your food at supper. Got it?"

"Yeah," Stephen said thickly, blood trickling from his mouth. George glared at all the Ravenclaws around him and they quickly parted to let him pass. He had to get away from the scene of the crime before a professor showed up, but for once the idea of serving a detention wasn't loathsome to him. Not when it had been for a just cause. Nor did he think of how quickly the gossip would spread through the school the next day, and even more so when all the students were back for winter term. Soon everyone would know that one of the Weasley twins had defended Luna Lovegood's honor. And George didn't care.

The sixth year boys' dorm was almost empty when he arrived in Gryffindor Tower, and he had a good idea that there were probably some deserted classrooms around the school that weren't so deserted right then. George removed his dress robes and pulled on some pajama bottoms printed with the yellow-and-brown South London Sphinxes logo (Ron would have killed him if he saw them), and slid between the sheets of his bed.

Only then did he realize that he could still feel Luna's kiss on his cheek. He smiled up at the canopy above his bed and soon was fast asleep.