'A ball?' moaned Ron piteously, burying his fingers through his hair and raking them through almost painfully. 'That's the most terrible idea that Dumbledore has had since setting Fluffy to guard the Philosopher's Stone!'

Hermione rolled her eyes at the redhead's theatrics, tossing her hair irritably. 'Honestly, Ron, it's not that horrible—it might even be quite fun. You never know.'

'Dancing, Hermione, dancing!' Ron groaned loudly, smacking his face into his palms and elbowing Harry neatly in the ribs in the process. 'And asking out girls. Merlin's grey underpants, it's a right nightmare. How am I supposed to ask anyone if all the good ones are being taken by prigs?' he added, glaring meaningfully at Roger Davis waltzing by with a stupid grin as he trailed after Fleur Delacour.

'Well,' said Hermione tartly, 'there isn't actually a rule that says you have to ask girls, you know. You could ask boys if asking out a girl is so hard.'

Ron stared at the bushy-haired girl as if she had grown two extra heads. 'What do you think I should do, then, ask out Crabbe or something?'

'Actually, yeah, I don't think he has a date yet either,' she pointed out wickedly, causing Harry to snort.

'Wait,' he interrupted suddenly, frowning a little thoughtfully, 'there's no rule that you have to ask girls?'

Hermione turned to look at him in surprise. 'Well, it's certainly not a real, existing rule, is it? Most people just assume that it's that way, I suppose. But of course, you're a champion, so you have to have a date no matter what. Don't think you're wriggling out of it,' she warned, sounding eerily like McGonagall in a lecture-mode.

'As if McGonagall would let me,' sighed Harry, his expression quickly morphing to resemble Ron's. 'But it does get me thinking, this whole date thing not having to be a girl...'

Ron eyed him in faint horror. 'You aren't thinking of asking out a boy, are you, Harry? The only bent one in the school is Malfoy, and I'm pretty sure he's going with Parkinson.'

'Malfoy, huh? Wonder what Dumbledore would say—what McGonagall would say—if I turned up to the ball with someone like Malfoy.'

'He hates you, Harry,' frowned Hermione, 'and you hate him, remember? Not,' she added hastily, 'that he's particularly unattractive; quite the opposite actually, in a very good-boy-gone-bad way, but it'd be very unusual to see the two of you getting along.'

'Yeah,' he agreed evasively, ignoring Ron's appalled exclamations at Hermione's admission of Malfoy's attractiveness. 'Anyway, what about that Potions essay, eh? Trust Snape to give out homework even with the Yule Ball coming up.'

'Will you go to the Yule Ball with me, then?'

'Are you sure about this, Potter? Are you really that desperate for attention?'

Harry grinned cheekily. 'Don't tell me that you, of all people, would mind making the first page of the Daily Prophet with this. We probably will, you know. But you like the whole fame thing.'

'Fine, then. But you have to tell me what colour your dress robes are.'

'Er, why?'

'So we can match, of course! You didn't think that I'd be as daft as to agree to go with you without even co-ordinating our wardrobes, did you? If we're really going to make the front page news, then I want to make sure that we look good together for the photo.'

'Green, then. Bottle green, I think Mrs Weasley said.'

'She picked out your dress robes? Are you joking me? I demand that you let me see them in advance, so that I can approve them.'

'Shut up.'

'Why won't you tell me who you're going with, Harry?' demanded Ron curiously, scowling in an attempt to figure out the mystery. 'I can't believe you rejected Parvati. She's one of the fittest girls in our year! Bit chatty, yeah, and not very bright, but her face makes up for it, right?'

'I told you, I can't tell you who I'm going with,' Harry sighed, hitching up his bag impatiently as they hurried off for Charms. 'The person I asked made me promise not to tell. And speed up, will you? Flitwick will kill us if we're any later than this.'

Ron suddenly lost all colour, halting in his tracks. 'You aren't going with Eloise Midgen, are you?'

Harry made a face, feigning absolute horror with ease. 'God, no. Don't worry, Ron, my, er, date will look pretty much heartbreaking. Only the best for the Boy-Who-Lived, eh?' he joked, grinning as he pulled Ron by the elbow to continue their trek.

'I can't believe this,' lamented the redhead pathetically. 'Hermione refuses to tell me who she's going with, and now you as well; my best friends don't trust me!'

'Ron, have you seen Harry?'

Said Weasley glowered darkly up at Hermione. 'Oh, so now you talk to me—two seconds before the ball begins, after beginning a fraternisation with the enemy without telling me?'

Hermione opened her mouth to make a hot retort, but her eyes focussed on something behind Ron, her jaw becoming further unhinged in unrestrained shock. Her lips moved futilely, spelling out soundless words.

'Now what are you looking at?' snapped Ron jerkily.

'Oh my god.'


'Oh my god.'

'Hermione, have you lost your—' he began, but stopped abruptly, his jaw dropping also. 'Merlin's fucking balls! Is that Harry? With Malfoy? Malfoy?'

It was proof of the extent of Hermione's shock that she failed to scold Ron for language, settling instead with: 'Oh my god.'

'Ron! Hermione!' shouted Harry gleefully, dragging along a bored-looking Draco Malfoy dressed in dark green robes lined with silver in a typically Slytherin fashion. 'Here you are! Why are you standing at the doorway? And Hermione, you look gorgeous, by the way.'

'Thanks, Harry,' she squeaked, goggling at Malfoy in incredulity. 'But I can't believe—you actually came with—McGonagall is going to go ballistic—oh my god.'

'So articulate, Granger,' sneered Malfoy elegantly, dusting invisible lint from his sleeves and looping an arm casually through Harry's.

Ron promptly fainted.

'I guess the shock was too much for the Weasel,' Malfoy smirked, looking far too pleased. 'Well, Potter, we'd better make our way through the crowd now, before any more idiots faint at our feet. Did you see Diggory's face on the way in? Priceless.'

'Wait till Snape sees us,' Harry sniggered.

Malfoy looked supremely amused as Hermione took the moment to faint also. 'You know, Potter, that just might be better than making front page news.'