I expertly unscrewed the shower head and filled it with the hot chocolate powder that was tucked away in my skirt.
"Hurry, Katie!" Angelina Johnson hissed from the doorway. "I think they're waking up!"
"They're shifting and the snoring is getting louder, anyway," added Alicia Spinnet, her nose upturned at the mess that was the lads' dormitory.
"Coming," I muttered back, quickly screwing the head back into place and jumping out of the shower. "Ready!"
"Okay, let's go!" Ange urged.
"I don't know why I let you talk me into helping," Alicia whimpered miserably as the three of us army-crawled for the door. She nearly screamed at the tarantula which crawled over a pair of Lee Jordan's socks.
"Come now, 'Leesh, you were a great lookout," I praised as we reached the door and sprinted down to the Common Room.
"Mission accomplished," I declared happily as I gave the girls high fives.
"Are you sure that's the shower Fred uses?" Angelina inquired.
"Positive," I returned as the three of us gathered our things and headed down to breakfast. "He always brags about commandeering the stall closest to the bathroom door because it has the hottest water."
"Well he's definitely going to regret it today."
Half the students in the Great Hall turned to look as Fred Weasley, red in the face, strode toward the Gryffindor table. His twin brother George and Lee Jordan followed, both looking slightly amused.
"Morning, Fred," I said casually, as I poured myself a cup of morning tea. My eyes flitted upward to where he was glowering above me. "May I help you?"
"My shower this morning was hot chocolate!"
"I wonder how that happened," I mused delicately, taking a sip of the tea. "Surely it had nothing to do with the Ichben's Indelible Itching Powder I found in my pajama bottoms last night."
"But that was funny," Fred argued. "This has crossed the line into the zone of personal hygiene. You enchanted my shower!"
"I did no such thing," I said truthfully, setting my cup down on its cozy. "You must check with the House Elves. They've been getting a little lackluster with the extra additions from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, I daresay."
"Mr. Weasley, what is going on here?" Professor McGonagall said, flustered. She had stridden down from the Staff Table, her face showing signs of distress. "It's eight o'clock in the morning; must we really begin this now?" She grabbed Fred's elbow to lead him off to her office.
"Katie made my shower turn into hot chocolate!" Fred said accusatorily. I looked up at McGonagall, blank-faced.
She stared between the two of us, sighing. "More of this pranking war, then? Miss Bell, you really ought to know better than to stoop to this level…"
"I've no idea what he's talking about, Professor," I calmly maintained.
"You mean to tell me you didn't do this?" she asked, raising her eyebrows.
"Did I shower Fred with hot chocolate, you mean?" I rephrased the question. She continued looking at me in an obvious way. "Of course not."
At the sound of my words, McGonagall continued pulling Fred out of the Great Hall.
Once they were out of earshot, I added, "He did that to himself."
I grinned wickedly.
"I really must hand it to you, Kates," George said as he and Lee settled themselves on the opposite side of the table. "No one gets under Fred's skin quite like you do."
"It's a gift," I smiled nonchalantly.
"You do know, though, that now that you've crossed the barrier into interrupting his showers, you're as good as dead," George added.
"I know," I said, turning up my nose a little.
I did know. Fred and his showers…Going against everything possible to ascertain, Fred Weasley was incredibly tightly wound and obsessive about his showering time. It happened every morning at 7:30 with exactly the right temperature, and lasted fifteen minutes precisely. I swear we caught him stealing Alicia's shampoo once, too. I had indeed crossed into holy territory.
"And to think," Lee said reflectively. "Instead of harming each other with a series of pranks escalating in their immaturity for the past two months, you could have actually been snogging. But no, not you and Fred—you have to drive one another crazy."
Angelina smirked, and I scowled.
"Fred and I do not fancy each other," I stated. "Twelve year olds flirt by pranking. We're sixteen and just friends."
"Whatever," Lee said dismissively as Angelina rolled her eyes.
"So what do you think this big announcement is that McGonagall's got for us?" Alicia inquired generally. Alicia liked to smooth things over. It was her forte.
"Dunno," George shrugged. "Maybe it has to do with the Tri-Wizard Tournament? Like a surprise task or something?"
Angelina shook her head. "No," she said. "The next task isn't until February. It's ages away. It will have to be something else."
"Well whatever it is, we're finding out today at noon," I said decisively.
"A ball?" Lee burst in disgust as we exited the meeting McGonagall had called for all Gryffindors. "A sodding ball?!"
"What a crummy announcement," I agreed. "I was hoping it would be a reinstatement of at least half a season of quidditch."
"Now I have to start thinking about girl stuff like what color dress will best match my pallet," put in Angelina.
"And stress over finding dates," Alicia moaned.
"You're all being supremely boring," Fred said cheerfully as he walked forward and threw his arms around Alicia and Angelina. He had quite recovered from this morning's incident. He had been extremely cross until the announcement of the ball. "Didn't you hear? This is a party!"
"With food!" supplied George.
"And live music!"
"Come on, Kates," he said, noticing my visible grimace and walking over to slide an arm around my waist. "Don't deny your secret swan. McGonagall informed us it was slumbering inside, just waiting to burst forth. Yours is obviously just…in a coma or something."
"Oh yeah," I scoffed, removing his arm. "And I suppose you're going to admit to being a lordly lion waiting to prance?"
"Or pounce," he said devilishly, wiggling his eyebrows.
"Oh dear God."
We had a break for study hall, and then it was time for Charms. Fred and I usually sat together in this class and I was busy building a fence of quills for defense around my desk area. He may be strangely pleased about the concept of the Yule Ball, but that did not mean he was going to completely forget the incident in the shower that morning.
"Hi Kates," he said pleasantly as he walked through the door and took his place beside me. He observed my wall of quills and then laughed.
"Hi Fred," I said suspiciously, raising one eyebrow. "You're in a fine mood. What have you done, fed my owl to the Giant Squid?"
"No…although that wouldn't be half-bad idea," he said, stroking his chin thoughtfully.
I rolled my eyes.
"No Kates, I've decided to come offer you a truce."
Now I was incredibly suspicious.
"A truce? Fred, we've been at this for two months. And you never truce. And I disturbed your showering time!"
"Exactly," he said easily. "Which is why I must truce. You're far too clever for me, Katie Bell."
I observed him shrewdly. "What's in this for you?" I questioned.
"Why nothing," he answered innocently. "Just the pleasure of your fine company, without worrying about whether I'm going to find hot sauce in my morning pumpkin juice or whether you're going to peck my eyes out after sampling a Canary Cream."
"Sampling," I scoffed. Fred just shrugged and grinned.
"What did McGonagall do to you in her office?" I asked, taking out parchment and ink. Fred promptly took two sheets from me and filled his empty inkwell with half of my own. "Threaten to expel you?"
"You know I don't give a damn about staying in school."
I knew the truth of this too much to argue.
"At least…a break for the holidays. To keep everyone else from being driven crazy. And so we can feel the true magnanimous spirit of Christmas, Katie Kate. And enjoy the Yule Ball."
"You're full of shit," I said promptly. "I don't know what ulterior motives you have in mind, but if you actually promise to cease and desist, I'll agree to the truce. I need to rest and relax this holiday."
"Cross my heart," Fred promised, doing the motions with his hands.
"Now, you have to admit…that hot chocolate in the shower thing was pretty damn good."
"Yeah, yeah," he grumbled, suddenly looking cross again.
The rest of our lot filed in shortly afterward, filling up the seats around us.
"You expecting an invasion of a small army, Katie, or you just trying to prevent anyone from asking you to the Ball?" George smirked, pointing at my wall of quills.
"Oh," I said stupidly, beginning to remove them.
"Why do we even have to have dates?" Alicia whined. "Can't we just all go together…like as friends?"
"What are you so worried about, 'Leesh?" Fred asked. "You'll find somebody."
She shook her head vehemently. "I never get asked to these things."
"Neither do I," Ange moaned. "I'm too tall for half these blokes anyway."
"Oh why are we complaining?" Lee asked as he lounged lazily in his desk chair. "We all know we'll end up going with each other anyway. Look at us—three blokes, three birds."
We all looked at each other, a sudden twinge of embarrassment showing in our faces. Each of us then proceeded to look in an obscure direction as Professor Flitwick began his class.
"You know," Fred whispered to me in the middle of lecture. "I reckon Lee's right."
"Oh yeah?" I asked nonchalantly, attempting to dial down the increase of my pulse at the closeness of Fred's proximity and his breath in my ear.
"Yeah," he continued. "And maybe I'll ask you."
I made a random movement and spilled my inkwell on the floor. Fred grinned, apparently quite pleased with himself.
The level of discomfort my mates and I felt following Lee's statement in Charms did not evaporate over the course of the day. At dinner we were all extraordinarily polite to one another to the point that Professor McGonagall kept casting curious looks toward our section of the table.
Back in the Common Room, we were not much better. Usually we could be found playing Exploding Snap or watching the twins light something on fire but today we were astonishingly quiet. Alicia was on the loveseat with George, silently reading a book. George was sitting upside down and tossing a snitch in the air. Angelina and Lee lounged directly opposite the fire, Angelina piecing through a magazine and Lee staring intently into the flames. Fred and I shared the loveseat across from Angelina and George. I was trying to finish a Potions essay, but finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate as Fred's arm was snaking around my shoulders. I kept batting it away, and he kept replacing it. All of us continued to look up at one another, hoping someone else would be the first to say something.
"Say," Lee said suddenly, a light shining behind his eyes. We all sat up, listening intently. "Wouldn't it be wicked to see McGonagall on acid?!"
We all groaned and relaxed back to our former positions as Alicia tossed her book at him, annoyed.
"Wanker," she said, offhand.
"What?" Lee asked, looking thoroughly confused. Angelina and Alicia both groaned. "Seriously, what?"
"I take it you two aren't fighting anymore," George interrupted, pointing at Fred and me. I shrunk beneath his arm and shoved him away particularly hard this time, blushing slightly.
"Fred has offered me a truce," I said haughtily. "Turns out he couldn't handle Katie Bell. And let that be a lesson to you all," I added, pointing at the rest of the group to dispel the uncomfortable moment.
Angelina rolled her eyes, but George continued to look at Fred suspiciously.
"The point of initiating a truce instead of a surrender, sweet Kates," Fred explained delicately, looking significantly at his twin, "Is because I'm not entirely sure that you could handle the retribution."
I scoffed, and then relented. "Fine, we're just off for the holidays. But just until then, you hear? You try anything and I'll be back with a vengeance."
"I'm shaking in my satin slippers," he assured me, meeting George's gaze and rolling his eyes. George grinned.
Fred simply silenced me by placing his arm more firmly around my shoulders. I scowled at him and ignored everyone else's suspicious looks.
"You're wrong in your seventh paragraph," Fred said casually, extracting a speck of dirt from underneath his thumbnail.
I looked up, annoyed. We were the only two left in the Common Room, everyone else having ambled to bed within the past hour. Fred and I were sharing my textbook as his had come to an untimely end involving me and the Black Lake earlier in the month. I was still attempting to finish my essay but Fred kept pointing out my various factual errors, his own paper finished long ago.
"Can't you go to bed?" I asked, feeling rather surly. "Your essay's done and I've got another four inches."
"I'm looking after your academic future, Kates," he said in mock-earnest. "How could I let you turn into Snape bait? Don't you remember the last time you turned in an essay before letting me proofread it? You were the poster child for work that will eventually land you in remedial Potions."
"And the last time I turned in an essay you did proofread, I got a 'T' because it was covered in 'I love Fred Weasley' doodles." I narrowed my eyes as he grinned at this remembrance.
"You thrust that upon yourself, Kates," he said pleasantly. "You threw my Potions book in the Black Lake."
"Yes, well I thought the merpeople may be curious as to the subtle art of potion making," I said defensively.
He raised his eyebrows.
"And you turned my hair green," I added.
"You're wrong in your seventh paragraph."
I hate the way Fred and George put forth a minimal amount of effort and still manage to know everything. I vanish my seventh paragraph and rewrite it.
"Better?" I asked, my voice dripping with disdain.
"Splendid," he commended. "Now Kates, about this ball…"
In spite of myself, my breath caught in my throat. I looked up into a remote part of the Common Room and tried to casually place my feet on the table in front of us. I missed by about a half a meter.
"What about it?" I asked, repositioning myself and ignoring the smug look on Fred's face at my mishap.
"Well, I wanted to ask you if I could go with—"
He paused, looking at me intently.
"Yeah?" I asked a little higher than I had planned.
"Well, if I could go with like a sapphire hue for my robes, or if I should stick to the traditional royal blue."
I let out a puff of air, irritated.
"What?" Fred asked, grinning. "You didn't think I was going to ask something else, did you?"
"No," I said defensively. "And why don't you ask your arsehole that question? Your head spends most of its time up there anyway."
The redhead just laughed and patted me on the head as I gathered my things and stalked up to my dorm room.
I was still angry with Fred for the incident in the Common Room the previous night and therefore made a big show of avoiding him at breakfast.
"George, will you pass me the butter?" I asked haughtily, markedly avoiding Fred's greeting grin.
"It's next to Fred," George said blankly. "Ask him."
"Lee, will you pass me the butter?" I pointedly asked. He too looked at me.
"Uh…Kates…" he began, unsure of how to answer me. I fixed him with my death glare. "Here you go," he said quickly, bending far over the table to reach it and pass it to me.
"How did you sleep, Katie Kates?" Fred asked obnoxiously, loudly and separated like I was foreign.
I ignored him and instead shoveled my mouth full of eggs.
"Kates is mad because I corrected her Potions essay last night," he explained to George and Lee from his position between them both. "Isn't that right, Katie Kates?"
I scowled and gave him the finger.
"Well, at least she's over ignoring you," Lee pointed out.
Fred just grinned and waggled his fingers back at me in a flirtatious hello. I swallowed my eggs.
"You're an arse," was all I said.
Professor McGonagall had insisted we have afternoon dancing instruction to prepare for the opening dance of the Yule Ball. Each House was practicing separately, and all the Gryffindors lined up inside the Study Hall room which had had its tables and benches magically swept aside for the activity. We were separated into opposite ends of the room by gender.
McGonagall swooped down into the middle of the room, giving her usual boring lectures about upholding the honor of the House of Godric Gryffindor. Angelina, Alicia, and I sat on the back row looking unimpressed. Similarly, Fred, George, and Lee were at the back of the men's side of the room goofing off. Every now and then, Fred would look over and wink at me. I scowled.
"You think Fred will ask you to the Yule Ball?" Alicia asked casually, observing him.
"If he does, I'll say no," I spat angrily, though inwardly disagreeing with myself.
She shrugged. Fred winked again, and this time Ange grinned back, blushing slightly. Alicia and I exchanged confused glances. Fred furrowed his brow for a moment in apparent puzzlement and then grinned it off, blowing a kiss toward her.
I glared intently at the floor, ignoring Alicia's looks.
In temporary alleviation of my bad mood, McGonagall grabbed Ron Weasley by his tie and forced him in center stage with her.
"I want you all to pay very close attention to Mr. Weasley and I as you will all be joining us shortly. Now, Mr. Weasley, hand on my waist."
Where I normally would have groaned in anticipation of having to learn to ballroom dance, the girls and I sniggered. Fred let out a loud whistle as his brother prepared to dance with McGonagall.
"Now, pay attention!" she commanded. "One, two, three; One, two three…"
Fred and George batted their eyelashes and waltzed with the air while Lee sniggered loudly. Little Ron looked as though he wanted to murder his brothers.
"Now another pair," McGonagall said authoritatively, surveying the audience. "Mr. Weasley," she called out, beckoning at Fred. "Since you seem to think to this exercise so amusing, why don't you come be the first to practice?"
Fred laughed and sauntered down the few rows to join her. "Gladly!" he called obnoxiously.
"Then," she mused, looking over the rows of females as Fred continued to smirk in a self-satisfied way. "We need a young lady. Any volunteers?"
I watched in horror as every single Gryffindor female barring Alicia and I leaped to their feet, their hands raised high in the air. Angelina was among them. Alicia and I exchanged looks of complete shock and revulsion.
"Ange," Alicia hissed. "That's Fred."
"So?" she asked, ruffling herself in an I couldn't give a damn attitude.
We both rolled our eyes.
"Oh dear, well let's see," McGonagall fretted, her fingers tapping alongside her lower lip.
"I think Kates raised her hand," Fred volunteered smarmily, pointing me out.
"Ah yes, Miss Bell," McGonagall called, beckoning me to join them. "Come down."
"I didn't raise my hand, Professor," I said stonily, glaring at Fred fixedly. He winked at me yet again. I thought I could feel steam coming out of my ears.
"Come along, Miss Bell, we haven't got all day!" she said impatiently.
I glowered and made my way through the rest of the girls and down to the floor with Fred.
"Come now, Kates, dance with me," he grinned, giving an inordinate amount of superfluous, frilly bows.
"No," I spat, crossing my arms as other couples began to pair up.
"Aw, be a dame," he whined, mimicking a Chicago accent.
"Thanks for the offer, Mugsy," I returned, "But I'd just as soon sit on this bench."
"Miss Bell!" McGonagall reprimanded. "Now, please!"
I groaned and put my arm around Fred's shoulder as he cupped my other hand in his and slid his arm around my waist.
"We're going to have to be closer than this," he smirked, pulling me tighter. I rolled my eyes in an attempt to ward off my faster breathing and increased heart rate.
"Why, Miss Bell, I do believe you're blushing," Fred grinned, a half smile playing on his freckled face.
"I am not," I protested, though I knew full well that my face was on fire.
McGonagall interrupted the exchange yet again as she instructed us on the steps and critiqued our dancing. Fred proved to be well-adept to the movements, while I clumsily followed. Once she moved on, I whispered angrily in Fred's ear:
"What's this all about, huh?"
He shrugged merrily. "Just thought we ought to practice since we're going to be at the Ball together," he breathed into my ear. A shiver involuntarily went up my spine.
"Are you finally asking me to the Ball properly?" I said, masking my feelings.
He pulled back, a look of mock-confusion on his face. "Katie Kates," he said seriously. "Who said anything about asking you? We'll be at the Ball together because we're mates. I didn't say anything about being each other's date."
"Peacefully, Miss Bell. Gentile," McGonagall reprimanded from across the room.
"Sorry," I spat, purposefully stomping down very hard on Fred's feet.
"Oops," I said spitefully, stepping backward and crossing my arms as he grabbed his foot and yelped in pain.
"S'okay, Kates. Let's—er—try again, then."
"Sure thing," I said sweetly, rejoining him and stomping harder on his other foot.
"Geeeeorge!" he wailed to his twin who was waltzing with Angelina beside us. "Want to trade for a bit?"
I rolled my eyes as George looked up in surprise to see Angelina gladly relinquish him in favor of Fred.
"What is up with her?" I asked George as we came together and proceeded to waltz. He was more on my level with the dancing skills and we plodded along ungracefully next to Fred who was now twirling Angelina in a series of escalating complicated dips.
"Dunno," George said, furrowing his brow. "I think the Ball's making everyone a bit nutters. Look."
He pointed out Neville Longbottom who was currently practicing bowing to no one.
"Point taken," I answered.
"Well, well, Mr. Astaire," Ange said loudly a few minutes later as Fred flipped her over him in the air. "I thought I was dancing with another Fred!"
"Disgusting!" I said louder than I meant to. "Come on, George!" And I dragged him to the middle of the stone floor where I twirled perhaps a little too forcefully into his arms. We both fell over.
"Katie!" George muffled out angrily as I looked up at Fred who smirked and snaked his arm around Angelina's waist. I balled my hands into fists.
I remained pouting that night as I retired to my four-poster early and closed the curtains around me. I was not in the mood to talk to the girls—especially Angelina.
"Ange, what was that all about today at dance practice?" Alicia said accusatorily once they both assumed I was asleep.
"What?" she asked naively. I rolled my eyes. I could just see her playing innocent.
"You know," Alicia pointedly said. "With Fred. All the flirting."
I could hear Ange flounce on her bed. "Oh, I don't know. Why not?"
"You don't think Katie's bound to be a little mad?"
"Well, she always swears she doesn't fancy him. Why shouldn't I flirt with him? She'll go with Terry Boot or someone and complain all night like she always does."
I opened my mouth to scoff loudly and then clamped my own hand over it.
"Whatever, Ange. I'm going to bed. Night."
The next day in Transfiguration I kept stealing secret glances at Fred's back. They wouldn't tell me much. Stupid Fred's back. Halfway into class, he caught me staring at him and I could feel myself blush.
He turned around in his chair while McGonagall's back was to the board.
"Hey Kates," he whispered.
"What?" I said testily.
"I was wondering…"
"Well, I don't really know how to say it. Especially since I've been acting like an arse for the past couple of days."
"You're damn right you have," I spit out. "Now what do you want?"
"Well, I was wondering if—"
"Yeah?" I prompted. Fred's brown eyes locked with mine, and then fell.
"Will you pick up my quill? I dropped it and it's under your desk."
"Arrrgh!" I picked up his quill and threw it at him. Fred laughed manically, twirling the writing device between his fingers.
Herbology on Wednesday found the greenhouses leaking from the presence of heavy snow and Fred shoving his way into partnering with me.
"Finally," he beamed happily as he held out the pot for me to place the latest bizarre plant in. "We are alone."
"We're in a greenhouse with thirty other students, Fred," I said dully. I was growing sick of his meaningless flirting.
"Astute observation, Katie Kates," he remarked. "Let me clarify. Finally, it's just you and I without the rest of the dream team to disturb us."
"And why would you want me alone?" I drawled in a very Snape-like manner. "So you can pretend to flirt with me again and drive me up the walls? Is this what this whole 'truce' thing is about? So you can force me into St. Mungo's with a nice little padded room all to myself, because the pranks weren't doing the trick? Huh, Fred?"
"You're barmy," Fred pointed out, pulling a bug off of my robes and flicking it onto George who screamed. "I told you—I called truce so we could enjoy the holidays with one another. You're the one who's not being very enjoyable."
"Well I apologize for not going along with your little game," I snapped.
"What game?" he asked, willfully ignoring my insinuation. "I haven't the foggiest idea what you're talking about."
I nearly broke the pot I was now holding. Fred was trying to get me to admit I continued to think he was going to ask me to the Yule Ball and I would not fall for it. I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of knowing his little diversion was working.
The next thing I knew, Fred was down on one knee. He looked up at me earnestly and everyone turned to stare.
"He's going to ask her!" some girl hissed.
Instead Fred held my gaze for a few seconds, and then turned his attention back down to the ground and tied his shoe. I snarled in disgust as a fat drop of melted snow landed on my forehead.
"The Yule Ball is a week away and no one has asked me!" Alicia groaned, throwing her things down on the loveseat as she joined the rest of us in the Common Room one evening. It was the first time anything about dates had been spoken between the six of us since McGonagall's announcement earlier in the month.
"'Leesh," Lee said, throwing down his copy of the Daily Prophet. "Enough of this. Will you come to the Ball with me?"
Alicia raised her eyebrows. "Really?" she asked, looking around skeptically as if waiting for another girl Lee had been addressing to pop out. "You want to go with me?"
Lee shrugged. "Sure, why not?" he said pleasantly. "What do you say?"
"Well," Alicia shrugged. "Alright, then. Sure."
"Okay," he returned as though closing a business deal. "That's settled."
And he picked up his newspaper again. Alicia stared at him for a few seconds and then picked up her own book and began reading. Angelina and I locked eyes for a second and then shrewdly observed the twins. George looked casually unconcerned and Fred laughed at the looks on our faces.
"Don't worry girls," he said, a look of unabashed amusement on his face. "I hear that teachers are going, and I'm sure no one will be asking Snape, so there's always that fallback plan."
"Gee, wonderful," Angelina spat, swiping up her bag and stalking up to the dorms.
"You won't have to worry about that though, Katie Kates," Fred whispered into my ear. "You'll have a date."
I rolled my eyes, refusing to fall for Fred's hints again. "I know," I said as haughtily as I could muster. "Or else you'll find something far more sinister than hot chocolate in your shower after holiday."
Fred suddenly looked highly scandalized and I congratulated myself privately on the victory.
Four days before the Ball, classes ended and we had our last dance practice. As Fred and I still did not officially have dates, we remained partners much to my dismay. I had learned to keep Fred in check, however, pointedly smashing his feet with my own whenever he said or did something out of line--like letting his hand wander down to my backside, which happened quite frequently.
George and Angelina had not asked anyone either, and I could tell that the air between the two of us was more tense than usual. I'm not sure if George was aware of the situation. He still seemed more concerned with making fun of Ron and wondering what kind of pudding would be served at the event rather than who he could accompany.
As for me, I was tired of Fred being completely worthless. Since the greenhouses, he had made four more fake attempts at asking me to the Ball. Nothing passed between us, however, to acknowledge the fact. I still refused to let him win.
That night in the Common Room, the rest of our friends had gone to bed—indeed, most of Gryffindor Tower had gone to bed—and Fred and I were again on our traditional loveseat lazily tossing a Quaffle back and forth. I was exhausted, both mentally and physically, but had vowed not to let Angelina alone with Fred if I could help it. I didn't trust her. She would have no qualms asking him to the Ball. Not that I entirely wanted Fred to ask me; I just thought it would be highly insensitive of him to lead me on in this way without actually coming through, and I wanted to provide him with the opportunity to make up for his previous actions. Yes, that was it.
Within five minutes, the two of us were entirely alone and Fred purposely lobbed the Quaffle over the top of my head and into the Quidditch Cup which was currently on our mantelpiece. I frowned at him.
"That was mine," I informed him, slightly put off. "Designer, for my birthday."
Fred ignored my statement. "Come sit by me, Kates," he said. "Let's chat."
"I am sitting by you," I rudely said. "Quit being cheeky."
He simply put on a forlorn face and rubbed the cushion immediately next to him, indicating his request that I scoot over.
"Oh, fine," I gave in, mocking resistance. I slid over on the loveseat and into the waiting arms of Fred Weasley which wrapped around me and positioned me carefully between the crook of his elbow and his chest in a style we were used to sitting in before the prank war began two months ago.
"See now, Kates?" he said as I nestled into him. "Isn't this truce business nice?"
"Maybe for you," I said, still somewhat irritated. "You're the one that gets to act like an arse under the guise of flirting."
"I always do that, though," Fred pointed out playfully. I frowned and continued to let my arm snake around his torso as his gripped my waist tighter and pulled me closer into him. He smelled like ginger snaps and gunpowder.
"Who are you going to ask to the Ball, Fred?" I asked in rather quieter tones than I was accustomed to. I stared at my shoelaces while I asked the question, under some guise of finding them extremely fascinating.
"Oh, I think you know by now," he returned, beginning to play with my hair. I couldn't see his face from my position, but I could hear a hint of scheming in his voice. I was unsure of how to interpret this and settled for closing my eyes and enjoying one of our few and far between insincere cuddling sessions.
"Kathryn Daphne Bell!" Fred shouted from across the study hall room the next day. I looked up from my over-the-break Charms essay.
"What?" I said, annoyed. The Prefect overseeing our study hall period looked up, faintly irritated, but said nothing. Most of the Prefects had now become used to ignoring Fred and George's outbursts as they happened so often, and taking away points produced no effect.
"I have a question I've been wanting to ask you!" he shouted, grinning ear to ear. George and Lee sat nearby, exchanging glances. Most of the girls in the study period had turned to look at me, knowing smiles on their faces. Angelina looked especially unnerved. She clutched her books to her chest self-importantly, and looked away.
"Finally," Alicia hissed to me. I said nothing, hardly daring to believe.
"What is it, Fred?" I called out wearily.
"It's about the Ball!"
"Do you think George and I should do the whole 'We're twins and we're wearing matching dress robes' thing, or break off onto our own? Because he thinks he looks better in green and I think I look better in blue, but we still want to—"
"Goodbye, Fred," I interrupted. I gathered my things and stormed out the door, ignoring Angelina who breathed a visible sigh of relief, and George and Lee who were simultaneously cracking up.
That evening found me in the library finishing up the work I had not completed in the study hall period. At half past eight, I saw what appeared to be a small tuft of ginger hair appear out of the corner of my eye, hovering slightly above the table at which I was sitting.
I watched impatiently as Fred progressed to reveal himself, marching slowly upward so as to appear that he was climbing stairs. I stared at him, unamused.
"Whatcha doin' here, Katie Kates?" he asked cheerily once he had straightened to his full height. He flopped down next to me, casually flicking away the shaggy bits of hair that had fallen into his face.
"I could ask you the same thing, but in your case it would be more of an existential question wouldn't it?" I asked dully.
He shook his head, simpering sadly. "Katie Kates, you're growing to sound more and more like Snape every day with those disdaining remarks I never quite fully comprehend."
"You poor creature," I said, unfeelingly.
"Listen," he said seriously. "Tonight in the Common Room—10:30."
"You wanted to know who I was asking to the Yule Ball. And well—I kind of need you there to do it."
I raised one eyebrow. "Fred—" I said warningly.
"Wizard's honor, Katie Kates," he said, doing crossing motions in front of his chest. "I'm asking tonight. 10:30. Be there."
"Alright," I finally answered, blushing slightly as he sauntered off.
At 10:20 I casually sauntered into the Gryffindor Common Room, doing my best not to appear as if I was looking for the Weasley twins. Angelina and Alicia were chatting by the fire, and Lee was sitting over in the corner at a table, appearing to fall asleep over what looked like a star chart for Astronomy. I walked over to where he sat and poked him. He jumped awake.
"Good Godric, Katie!" he shouted, looking around wildly. "You scared the hell out of me."
"Sorry," I apologized without feeling. "Have you seen Fred and George?"
"Not recently," Lee replied. "Why?"
I shrugged. "No reason," I said in a would-be casual voice.
"Are you looking for Fred and George, Fred or George, or just Fred?" Lee said in what he clearly thought was a very clever way.
"Funny," I said, restraining myself from rolling my eyes. "Fred is in every one of those options."
"Well you'd never go looking for just George," he pointed out.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You know what it means."
I scowled at him.
"Oh come on, Katie," he continued. "Like we just haven't noticed that all Fred's pranks are now directed at you, and that you're bitchier to him than anyone else lately."
"And you stare at him during class."
"I do not!"
"Face it, little sister," Lee said, ruffling my hair obnoxiously. "You fancy each other and we know it."
I fiddled with Lee's quill. "Did he tell you he fancied me?" I asked in a small voice.
Lee laughed. "Right, Kates, because we stay up at night and talk about who we fancy."
I glowered at him.
"I can just tell," he said simply.
"Well that's infallible logic, to be sure."
"Do you think the joke reflex you use as a defense mechanism has any bearing with your problems finding a man?"
"So," I asked, determined to change the subject. "Are you excited to go to the Ball with 'Leesh?"
I began harassing him about fancying Alicia (although I was quite sure he did not, despite the color rising in his cheeks) when the twins emerged through the portrait hole following Harry Potter and their little brother Ron. I observed them shrewdly. They appeared to be lecturing the younger boys on something. Lee was still rambling about something, though I had stopped paying attention upon Fred's entrance in the room. He caught my eye and grinned, though he seemed to keep flitting his eyes back and forth to Angelina. I felt my mood darken slightly.
Ron seemed to lash about something and then Fred's expression changed from playful to mischievous.
"Oi! Angelina!" he called out. My stomach dropped to my knees.
"Yes?" she said, looking up from her conversation with Alicia. She was feigning annoyance, and I knew it.
"Do you want to go to the Ball with me?"
In five years of knowing him, I had never seen Fred Weasley look cheekier than he did at that moment.
Angelina took her time answering, looking him up and down. "Alright then," she said.
I had no control over my jaw. In fact, if it wasn't anatomically impossible, I would have wagered it had hit the floor. From where I sat, I saw George's look of astonishment, Alicia's look of indignance, and felt Lee's hand on my shoulder. I closed my mouth, but I was certain that my eyes were still bugging out of my skull. I turned to look at Lee.
"He…asked…her?" I said, barely able to form the words.
Lee looked as though he was walking on eggshells and he knew it. "Er…sorry, Kates," he said. "I—er—didn't see that one coming."
"Set fire to the room. Do it now," I said. My heart still pounding in my chest, I stood up and fled the room, running up the staircase. I wasn't sure whether or not Fred was watching.
That night I had closed myself off from the rest of the room by hiding in my four poster bed, my curtains drawn tightly. I could hear Angelina and Alicia enter the room later, and I screwed my eyes shut in case they decided to check if I was awake. Alicia did, and then closed my curtains again and turned to face Angelina.
"You don't feel—the tiniest bit guilty?" Alicia asked tentatively.
"Why should I?" Ange asked self-importantly. "Fred asked me. I wanted to go. I said yes. Simple."
"So that whole 'Katie loves Fred' thing doesn't bother you?"
"If Katie had wanted him, she should have gone for it. She didn't. And she never admitted to us that she wanted him. I'm not in the wrong here, 'Leesh."
I heard Alicia sigh. "Fine," she said. "But if Katie's—you know—Katie about it and we have to deal with it, I'm blaming you."
I scowled into my pillow. Some friends.
The last day of classes had come and went, and we were left to our own devices during the days before the Yule Ball. After a large snowball fight outside, we ambled into the kitchens, raided them, and returned to the Common Room. We all flopped out on our traditional couches in front of the fireplace to warm up from the cold. I was refusing to speak to both Angelina and Fred, and the awkward dynamic in place was avoided by most of the rest. Fred had earlier pinned me down in a snow bank and demanded an explanation of my behavior, and when I reminded him of his statement that he thought I would be able to figure out who he was going to ask to the Yule Ball, he scrunched his face up in confusion and stated that he had thought it was fairly obvious that he had been flirting with Angelina as of late. Now he was sitting with George across from where I sat with Alicia. Ange and Lee were on the longer couch; she was helping him drip-dry his dreadlocks. I was glaring at her angrily without realizing it when Fred said casually, "So have you girls bought your dresses yet?"
"Mine is on its way from Paris," Angelina said obnoxiously. This was the girl who was moaning a month earlier about having to pick one out in the first place.
"I'll have to get to Hogsmeade tomorrow," Alicia admitted. "I don't have one."
"Kates?" Fred said brightly, looking over at me. I just stared at him.
"I don't have a date yet," I said after a few seconds, looking pointedly at George. He was fiddling with what looked like an enchanted Chinese finger-trap.
"What?" he said blankly, noticing my gaze.
"Ugh!" I shouted, rolling my eyes. "George, when are you going to ask me to the Ball?"
He frowned. "Who said I was going to ask you?" he pouted.
"George! We're the only ones without partners!"
"I don't want to ask you, you're scary," George whined. But upon seeing the glares of our friends, he relented.
"Oh fine," he said in a defeated sort of way. "I guess we can go together."
"That's better," I said angrily. "Now, 'Leesh, I think I'll come with you tomorrow to get that dress."
Fred cast a curious glance between his brother and me.
Christmas Eve found the three of us girls furiously getting ready at our vanity, with Alicia trying to dispel the awkwardness between Angelina and me. I was being stubborn and still refusing to speak to her.
"Katie, will you pass me the curling rod?" she had asked.
I picked up the curling rod, used it for myself, and set it back down.
"What?" I asked coolly, finally handing it to her. "It was a joke."
"You looked serious."
"I'm very dry."
Not caring to spend a lot of money on my dress as I was only going with George, I wore a simple black cocktail dress and curled my dark hair. After slapping on some makeup, I strapped on matching high heels and waited on my bed for the other two to finish getting ready.
After what seemed like hours, we set out to meet the lads downstairs. Fred happily offered his arm to Angelina, though his eyes followed me slightly. I threw up my head haughtily and marched over to where George was waiting for me. The twins had apparently decided to match, because both Fred and George were sporting loud bow ties and vests. Lee had opted for something more traditional and he and Alicia met one another with slightly nervous smiles.
"Hi George," I grinned obnoxiously as I took his arm, ensuring that Fred was watching.
"Er—hi, Kates," he answered. "What's up with you?"
My face instantly darkened. "Fine, come on then, Sparky, let's get this over with."
"What did I do??"
Angelina and Fred were dancing wildly in the middle of the Great Hall turned ballroom, proving that their antics weren't just reserved for dancing practices. A number of people had gathered around to watch them; Fred twirled Angie and threw her up over his shoulder several times as she grinned, laughed, and tossed her skirts. George and I, in typical fashion, stumbled over each other's feet and tried not to get into anyone's way.
"We suck at this," George said pointedly.
"I know," I sighed.
"Want to stop for some punch?"
We made our way over to the refreshments table, loaded plates with dessert samples and punch, and sat down at a nearby table. We ate in silence, each of us staring out at the frenzy that was the ballroom. Alicia and Lee were still slowly rotating in the corner of the floor, arms wrapped around each other, apparently unaware that the previous slow song had ended some time ago.
"Who would have predicted that?" I commented through a pimento loaf, pointing out the couple.
"I know," George agreed heartily, taking a swig of punch. "Or that," he added, looking rather darkly toward his twin and Angelina.
I scowled. We both sat brooding for a few moments.
"George, who did you actually want to go to the Ball with?" I asked abruptly. I suddenly felt guilty for encroaching on his Yule Ball experience with my anger toward his twin brother.
"No really, George, who did you want to go with?"
"Sarah Fawcett," he murmured, glancing at the ground.
"Sarah Fawcett?" I repeated curiously. I looked over to where the brunette Ravenclaw was dancing with her friends. She didn't appear to be with a date. I suddenly felt incredibly guilty.
"So?" George said defensively. "You wanted to go with my twin brother."
I opened my mouth to protest, but realized the pointlessness of disclaiming and shut it again.
"Yeah," I said, defeated.
We sulked for a few more moments, attracting the curious stares of a number of people. Even the professors were dancing. Professor Sinistra waltzed with Mad-Eye Moody, and McGonagall and Dumbledore were elegantly spinning across the floor. Snape was predictably skulking around a corner, a look of disdain making his lip curl. I wondered vaguely how much I resembled him at the moment.
The only other people sitting down were Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, with a pair of twins I vaguely recognized.
"We look like them," I pointed out to George. He observed, frowning.
"You're right," he conceded. "Come on, let's dance."
Halfway through the Ball, I forced George to go talk to Sarah Fawcett as he was spending half his time staring at her anyway. He gladly relinquished me, and I retreated outside to sulk.
It was freezing outside, the ground still covered in a thick layer of snow and frost, but it felt good; the Great Hall was boiling with all of the dancing and tight quarters. A few couples had escaped to the hedges to snog, but I was mostly by myself. I sighed and sat down on the edge of the fountain directly outside the Great Hall and took off my shoes to begin rubbing my feet. I glanced inside for a moment to see Angelina now swing dancing with Cormic McClaggen.
"What the—" I barely had time to intone before Fred Weasley appeared before me. He looked rather winded, but still joyfully upbeat, his bowtie undone and his collar popped up.
"Hi Katie Kates," he said cheerfully, sitting down to join me. "How's Georgio?"
"Ask him yourself, he's in with Sarah Fawcett," I said rather coldly.
"Ah," he said knowingly. "Are you jealous?"
"Shut up," was all I said.
"You look upset, lovie," Fred grinned. "Everything alright?"
"Astute observation, Fred," I answered dryly.
"Ah what's the matter, Katie Kates? You can tell old Fred here. I have very large ears, they're good for listening."
I glared at him. "Do you really have to ask that? Fred, I'm a woman in her prime."
"I'm a prime woman."
"That's a permeating syllogism, to be sure," he answered, smirking.
"And I have wit, I have charm, I've got brains, and I've got legs that go all the way down to the floor, my friend. And believe it or not, I'm not into getting diddled around by blokes like you. If you fancied Angelina, you should have just said so instead of purposely making me believe that you were going to ask me to the Ball so that I had to rope George into going with me, which means he missed out on going with who he really wanted to go with and—"
"Do you need me in this conversation?" he interrupted serenely.
"And you're an ass," I finished simply.
"Ah, Katie Kates," he said contemplatively. "I'm afraid a terrible joke has been played on you."
I raised an eyebrow. "Go on," I said.
"Well…" he began slowly. "You did interrupt my shower time…"
I slowly rose, incredulous. "Fred Weasley," I said in a low, dangerous voice. "Is it possible that you are so addled that you constructed this whole 'pretend to fancy me and ask me to the Yule Ball but actually ask Angelina' thing as an excuse to punish me for the shower prank?!"
"Alas, I cannot take all the credit for myself," Fred said, his freckled face bursting out into a grin. "You'll have to put your hands together for our leading lady."
"Angelina Johnson it is!"
I groaned into my hands, sinking back down to where I had been perched on the edge of the fountain.
"One thing to bear in mind though, Kates," he said.
"What?" I asked through my hands.
"I actually do fancy you. The rest of what you said was true, though."
I looked up at him, nonplussed. "But we had a truce!" I shouted.
Fred simply continued to grin. "Gotcha!" he shouted joyfully before leaning in and kissing me.
With that, he leapt up and bolted off running into the night.
"Fred Weasley!" I shouted after him, doing my best to sound furious. "I am never forgiving you for this!"
But even as I shouted, I blushed, and we both knew that I would. Probably before the night was over, too.