Disclaimer: I do not own, nor make any profit from, Harry Potter. It belongs to J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., etc. (Note: I will not repeat this in future chapters.)

A/N: This was partially inspired by the McGonagall/Ron dance lesson in the movie.

The part in bold at the beginning is quoted from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, with a couple of edits.

Preface: In Your Hands

The bell rang, and there was the usual scuffle of activity as everyone packed their bags and swung them onto their shoulders.

Professor McGonagall called above the noise, "Potter – a word, if you please."

Assuming this had something to do with his headless rubber haddock, Harry proceeded gloomily to the teacher's desk. Professor McGonagall waited until rest of the class had gone, and then said, "Potter, the champions and their partners –"

"What partners?" said Harry.

Professor McGonagall looked suspiciously at him, as though she thought he was trying to be funny.

"Your partners for the Yule Ball, Potter," she said coldly, "Your dance partners."

Harry's insides seemed to curl up and shrivel.

"Dance partners?" He felt himself going red. "I don't dance," he said quickly.

"Oh, yes, you do," said Professor McGonagall irritably. "That's what I'm telling you. Traditionally, the champions and their partners open the ball."

Harry had a sudden mental image of himself in a top hat and tails, accompanied by a girl in the sort of frilly dress Aunt Petunia always wore to Uncle Vernon's work parties.

"I can't dance," he said.

Again, Professor McGonagall looked at him as if he were playing a very big prank on her, dark gray eyes narrowed almost to slits. After a moment of deliberation over Harry's slightly panicked expression, she lost the cold face of before and seemed to literally melt before his eyes. Stunned by this change in attitude, Harry could not imagine what went through her mind to make such a drastic alteration.

"Potter, be in this classroom directly after dinner tonight," she suddenly announced in a very final way, warmth fading into sternness once more. "I want to talk to you."

Heading back to Gryffindor tower more confused and nervous than ever, Harry could find no reason why he needed to meet his Head of House at the transfiguration classroom that evening. Was he in trouble for arguing with her? It seemed a little absurd, but what other reason was there?

When Harry arrived back in the common room, he settled down in a corner with Ron and Hermione to explain about his meeting. Hermione was quite adamant that McGonagall had to have a very important reason for arranging the meeting that night. Ron, on the other hand, was fairly certain Harry was in a great deal of trouble for talking back to the stern witch.

"Detention, mate," the redhead intoned with a solemn face, sounding as though he had just spouted the meaning of life. "You wait."

Harry continued to worry over the arrangement for a while, staring into the fire with pretty much no concentration to spare for the new argument that soon sprung up between his two best friends. As the argument reared its ugly head, everyone else irritably cleared out of the common room. No one liked to sit and have their eardrums throb because of the volume of Ron and Hermione's voices. Even Fred and George headed upstairs, and that was saying something considering the kind of noise their pranks usually made.

"What's she getting him in trouble for, anyway?" Ron huffed, proceeding to label Professor McGonagall something rather rude, to which it appeared Hermione simply could not help responding.

"Ron, don't call her that! You weren't exactly paying attention to the lesson, were you?" she said heatedly, fists curling over the top of her half-revised history of magic essay. "Professor McGonagall is only doing what's right. After all, you shouldn't have been messing around with those fake wands during class!"

To say Ron became angry at Hermione's snappish reply was a severe understatement. Ironically, the look on the redhead's face made Harry think of Mrs. Weasley's tiger-like fury two summers previous, when Ron, Fred, and George had flown the Weasley's enchanted car to rescue Harry from Privet Drive.

"All right, then!" Ron half-yelled across the table, ears turning red. "Take her side over Harry's! You always do, don't you! He's got enough on his plate without her doling out detentions! Least you could is give a little support!"

While Hermione seemed to have forgotten that it was Harry – not Ron – who was in trouble with McGonagall, Ron ostensibly had forgotten that McGonagall said nothing specifically about a detention. Harry might have reminded the both of them of their misconceptions, but he didn't have the energy or the focus to do so. Besides, Ron and Hermione may have been arguing on the pretense of deciding why McGonagall wanted to meet Harry that evening, but the truth was obvious. The two of them were just too proud; Ron and Hermione both strongly disliked being wrong and they would argue anything under the sun because of it.

Harry had to admit, although he didn't necessarily like it, that Hermione was probably in the right concerning his behavior in class and McGonagall's probable reaction. And the remark about giving Harry 'a little support' was a bit rich, coming from Ron. Considering the earlier rift between them because of Ron's jealousy, Harry was amazed that his renewed best friend had the courage to say something like that to Hermione, who had stuck by Harry's side the entire time. Even having forgiven Ron as he did, Harry was beginning to feel slightly incensed by his best friend's negligent words.

It looked like Hermione caught upon precisely that point, by the way she swelled in anger and her face turned a bright, furious red. Before she could retort, however, Ron tromped up to the boys' dorms without speaking or waiting for Harry.

"Impossible!" Hermione muttered mutinously under her breath, bushy hair appearing rather electrified as she turned a hard eye back onto her essay. "Complete prat... Doesn't care... Selfish... Argh!"

With that she threw down her quill once more, slammed her body against the back of the armchair she sat upon, and crossed her arms with a wildly ill-tempered expression aimed at the hapless parchment.

"And I suppose you agree with him!" she suddenly snapped, making Harry jump. The look on his friend's face was not encouraging.

Registering her comment after a confused moment full of owlish blinking, Harry at last answered coldly, "Did I say that?"

Hermione was the one who jumped this time, rapidly comprehending Harry's tone of voice as a danger signal. "Oh, but... Harry, I..."

"That happens a lot, you know?" Harry glared at her, remembering a few other times that Hermione had assumed Harry was with Ron, merely on principle. "When that stupid fight happened over Crookshanks and the bloody rat, you immediately lumped me in with Ron as being against you. Forget whatever I might have had to say, just jump to conclusions without hearing my side of it."

"Now wait, I–" Hermione tried to interrupt, face getting mad again.

"Hagrid did it, too, come to think of it," Harry cut her off, not caring to have her yell at him. "Ron was mad at you about Crookshanks, so Hagrid dropped me into the same category as Ron. He just assumed that I was ignoring you the same as Ron was."

"Well, you were, weren't you?" said Hermione sharply, glaring equally as fiercely now. "Always off with Ron during that time, visiting Hagrid with Ron, sitting with Ron when eating breakfast and lunch and dinner, playing Quidditch with Ron when you could have been studying... Did you ever talk to me in the common room, or try studying with me, or try to understand my point of–"

"Do let me know," Harry interceded through gritted teeth, his face turning deadly and silencing Hermione momentarily, "when you remember the number of times I actually did sit and talk with you in the common room, and you snapped at me for not reading a study question properly or quoting your notes a tiny bit differently. And let's not forget all the times you ran off crying and wouldn't talk to anyone at all. Even when I tried to see if you were okay, you told me to go away. Remember that? Oh, and when we were in the library, but you didn't even talk to me because you were taking more classes than you needed to and were starting to break down from the pressure, but were too bloody stubborn to admit it!"

"I am not stubborn!" Hermione hissed back, otherwise at a loss for words from what Harry could tell.

"Yeah, you keep telling yourself that!" he bit out and stood up sharply. He'd had enough for one night. Possibly for a whole month of nights, if he thought about it. Promptly ignoring Hermione's spluttering, Harry grabbed his school bag from beside the sofa and hurried up to the boys' dormitory, glaring at anyone who so much as glanced at him wrong on the way there.

Ron was sitting on his four-poster with a half-grim, half-angry face as Harry stormed in and threw his bag roughly onto his own bed. It was only the two of them and this was fortunate, seeing as Harry wasn't entirely sure that he could keep himself from blowing up on Ron as well after the redheaded boy's stupid comment earlier.

"Where are you going?" Ron asked glumly, watching Harry pull out the map and the cloak from their spots in his trunk.

"Out," Harry replied shortly, not feeling particularly willing to share with either of his best friends at the moment.

"Out where?" Ron questioned more curiously than before, his freckled features transforming from their upset into a much more palatable expression of caution.

"I don't know, all right? Just out."

"Then I'll come with you," Ron insisted, caution expanding steadily into full-blown suspicion.

"Not now," Harry countered, ready to hit Ron if it made him nose out for even a second.

"I think I get it," said Ron with a look of dawning comprehension and growing ire. "She's got you mad at me, too, doesn't she!"

"Oh, don't start!" Harry snarled abruptly, spinning on his heel to rush back out and down the stairs, swirling the cloak about his body in complete concealment. Hermione was standing at the foot of the stairs to the boys' dormitories, wringing her hands and contemplating whether she should go up or not. Forgoing any outbursts, Harry went straight past her and over to the portrait. By the time Hermione registered the opening and closing of the portrait hole, Harry was halfway down the corridor towards heaven-only-knew-where.

He wandered for a while to let his temper cool before dinner, but it never seemed to really calm. Frustrated, but knowing McGonagall would have his head on a platter that evening if he missed dinner, Harry forced his legs to lead him down to the Great Hall. Ron was sitting with Seamus and Dean, while Hermione talked quietly and worriedly with Ginny and Neville. Feeling mad all over again at both of his supposed best friends, Harry randomly settled down near to Fred and George, Lee Jordan, and Angelina, Alicia, and Katie. If any of them were startled by this choice, they hid it well. Or perhaps Fred and George had said something to the others when Harry made his way over. Whatever the reason, Harry was just glad for a meal with people who didn't bicker every five seconds and force Harry to take sides between them when they both acted like perfect idiots.

No one, save Fred and George, really knew what to say to Harry. The twins were full of their usual humor, even throwing in a few good remarks about old married couples and love-hate relationships that would have made Harry laugh any other time.

"Weird without Quidditch this year," Angelina took a brave stab at conversation after some time of awkward quietness.

"Yeah, it's not the same," sighed Katie. Every one of them nodded fervently in agreement. That was one thing Harry missed this year.

"It feels like the spirit of the game took flight with Oliver, you know?" Alicia sighed also. (As far as Harry was concerned, Alicia's features were far more wistful than should be legal about the former Gryffindor captain, whose maniacal training schedules and madcap Quidditch pride were a source of utter annoyance to the entire team and then some.)

At this, George snorted into his pudding, Lee nearly spit out his pumpkin juice, and Harry and Fred both choked on their pieces of treacle tart. Katie and Angelina were giggling a bit behind their hands, eyes trained on a red-faced Alicia, who looked ready to dig a hole for herself and remain there for a year or two.

"Oliver 'took flight,' that's for sure." Lee retorted cheekily, paying no attention to Alicia's accompanying glare. Instead he focused on Fred, George, and Harry's laughter.

"Potter," came Professor McGonagall's voice from behind Harry just as Angelina gave a warning look to the twins. Turning around to face his head of house so fast he got a crick in his neck, Harry belatedly realized it was probably about their meeting.

"Professor?" he asked hesitantly, more certain than ever that he was going to be serving a detention soon.

"I need to have a word with you, Potter," she said quietly, but firmly, peering thoughtfully at him through her spectacles. "Whenever you're finished."

"I'm done," Harry agreed reluctantly with his stomach sinking to his knees, receiving sympathetic looks from the three girls and Lee, and excitedly curious ones from Fred and George.

"Are you quite sure?" inquired Professor McGonagall with some concern, "I merely wished to remind you in case it slipped your mind."

"Really, I'm finished, Professor," he shrugged and stood from the table.

"Very well, come along then," she said, businesslike once again, and swept down the Gryffindor table with Harry in tow. On the way out of the hall, Harry avoided the concerned looks from Hermione, Ginny, and Neville. And Ron's wary expression was ignored completely.

It was a bit difficult to keep up with Professor McGonagall's long, quick strides, despite how fast Harry was on his feet. She clearly noticed after the second turn, where she slowed to a more manageable pace for him to match. Having far less trouble following now, Harry could now see they were heading, not to the transfiguration classroom, but towards McGonagall's office. With a sinking feeling, Harry stepped inside the room and took the proffered seat without question. To his surprise, the professor settled into the chair directly beside his, rather than her own behind the desk.

"Potter, I explained to you that it is required of the champions to open the ball with a dance," said Professor McGonagall in a very businesslike way, to which Harry nodded warily. "And to that, you informed me that you don't dance. After which you also informed me that you can't dance. Would you consider those two statements to be synonymous?"

"What–?" Harry tried to decipher that question, but felt confused.

Heaving a sigh, the professor clarified, "Do you know how to dance, Potter?"

Turning red as an apple, Harry stammered out incoherent mutterings in his embarassment. "Well, I... You see... It's hard to say... I just – just never..."

"I'll take that as a no, then," McGonagall interrupted the rambling nonsense with a vaguely amused expression overtaking her. Defeated by his own stumbling, Harry merely nodded dejectedly. "Well, then we shall have to teach you, won't we?"

"T–teach me?" Harry stuttered awkwardly. "What do you... how did... and who's we?"

"Yes, Potter, teach you to dance," the professor confirmed with an uncharacteristic roll of her eyes. "And by 'we,' I mean myself."

Lengthy silence stretched out between them until Harry could not stop himself from bursting with surprise. "You teaching me to dance?" he all but yelped in his shock.

"Unless you would prefer to stumble and trip your way through the first dance on the evening of December the twenty-fifth?" Professor McGonagall asked with a raised brow. Harry almost protested, but she overrode him. "No, Potter, don't argue. You will be dancing. How well you do so is a matter solely in your hands."

Thinking of just what his dorm mates would say if they knew Harry was dancing with McGonagall made him turn twice as red. No way. He would just have to ask someone else. Hermione would know, probably. But then Harry thought of how Hermione had acted earlier and immediately banished the idea from his mind. It was the knowledge of Hermione's stubborn refusal to admit she was wrong that drove Harry to become incredibly irritated. It then made him agitated with whatever potential comments his dorm mates might make; it made him downright stubborn.

Well, Harry was not going to make a fool of himself just because Hermione couldn't teach him. He wasn't going to look stupid just to make Ron think he wasn't a teacher's pet or something.

"All right then," Harry accepted the offer out of nowhere, startling McGonagall. "I want to learn."

"I never knew it would be that easy," the professor baldly confessed, features a tad bit stunned. Shaking herself out of it, Professor McGonagall stood from her seat and gestured for Harry to do the same. "We'll be practicing in a disused classroom. Follow me."

"Now?" Harry questioned in a slightly strangled voice, courage dropping minutely. "R-right now?"

"Yes, of course now," she sighed exasperatedly, reaching down to partially lift him from his seat, only slightly aided by Harry's own means of movement. Silent and feeling somewhat green, Harry followed as commanded. He had just agreed to learn and the ball wasn't that far way; he had to start somewhere, after all.

The two of them finally reached a classroom several floors up, nowhere near the usual locations that their lessons took place. Peeves was, to Harry's great relief, absent from the area. That would spread word around faster than anything, something Harry was still keen to avoid. Publicity was enough of a pain already. God knew what Rita Skeeter would make of this situation for the Daily Prophet.

When he actually looked around the room, Harry was surprised to find it already set up with a wizarding radio and a phonograph, shelves full of records on the whole length of the right wall, and what looked like sheets of dance step instructions setting on a table in the left corner. Professor McGonagall was just as amazed, peering about in curiosity before turning back to Harry.

"Fortuitous," she remarked dryly, "Oddly well-timed... but fortuitous nonetheless."

"Professor?" asked Harry in bewilderment. Did she know something he didn't?

"I believe a rather prominent figurehead here at the school has been... eavesdropping."

If she meant Dumbledore, then Harry wasn't exactly surprised that the Headmaster knew. The man seemed to know everything sometimes.

"Nevermind that," Professor McGonagall waved away the idea carelessly. "How would you learn best, Potter? Written instructions, diagrams and pictures, or by example?"

"Er..." Harry didn't know really what would be best for him. It all sounded very complicated no matter how he tried it. Sighing for the umpteenth time, the professor moved over to the table in the corner and rifled through he various sheets there.

"Glance over these, first," she instructed abruptly, waving several sheets of paper in the air. "If they confuse you, we shall move on to something else."

"Okay," he agreed, tentatively taking the papers from her outstretched hand and settling onto one of the chairs the professor conjured out of thin air.

Harry had to do a double take to even understand where to begin reading on the papers. By the fourth time perusing the instructions and diagrams, the boy was beyond confused. Nothing made any sense on those ruddy papers. "This is..." he tried to explain, but came up short of vocabulary.

"Ah, then we shall move on," the professor nodded once, extending a hand to take the sheets from him. Harry gladly handed them over, only too pleased to see them thrown into a newly-conjured folder and shoved into the farthest corner of the table.

"Come then, Potter," McGonagall demanded firmly, but kindly all the same, extending her hands in invitation to rise. Groaning inside at what he was sure would be an embarrassing evening, Harry awkwardly grasped her thin fingers and stood to begin learning to dance.

"No need to be so anxious, Potter," the professor rolled her eyes for the second time that night, "It is really not as difficult as young men make it out to be."

Which was all well and good for the professor, who apparently already understood how to dance, but Harry's knees seemed to wobble wildly after McGonagall's attempt at reassurance.

"Why don't you take off your school robes," she suggested mildly. "It may be easier if all that fabric is not hindering your movements during the beginning lessons."

Gazing as surreptitiously as he could at the far more voluminous green robes his professor wore, Harry might have snorted if he felt any less nervous. McGonagall was not to be fooled by his would-be casual glance. One eyebrow nearly touched the professor's hairline when she commented, "As it happens, Potter, I have experience dancing in layers of skirts. You, however, I hope do not."

Turning apple red in the face thanks to the intended sarcasm, Harry just nodded his understanding and slipped off the black robes he had worn all day, laying them across the back of the chair he had occupied moments prior.

"Hopefully," McGonagall lifted both eyebrows as if to say 'or else,' "your rhythm on the Quidditch pitch carries over to the dance floor."

Having never thought of it quite those terms, Harry blinked for a full minute before a tiny amount of hope infused him. If there was any chance of his Quidditch skills transferring some slight skill into his dancing, he was all for it.

A/N: I so enjoy the snarkiness of McGonagall. :)

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