A/N: So, Christmas just happened, and I almost didn't realize it was Friday. Sorry, everyone!
The weeks leading up to the Yule Ball were awkward. Now that it was widely known that Harry was taking a third-year Gryffindor to the ball, it was open season on teasing Harry in the Slytherin common room. Draco was especially enthusiastic, and he pulled no punches when it came to taking the mickey. Harry was able to handle it with aplomb—he had earned so much social cache in the Tri-Wizard Tournament that his popularity literally couldn't be diminished, no matter who he had chosen as his date. True, Harry might have improved his social standing if he had asked one of the pureblood Slytherin girls, especially if it was a fifth or sixth year student… but Harry was comfortable with his choice. And it was nice to know that he would be able to relax with Ginny, instead of constantly asking himself whether he was being manipulated for his date's personal gain.
Professor McGonagall pulled Harry aside at the end of the last Transfiguration lesson before winter holidays began. Harry had never spent much time with his Transfiguration teacher; McGonagall was stern and distant, and the only emotion she ever showed was in support of Gryffindor.
"Mr. Potter, are you suitably prepared for the Yule Ball?" McGonagall asked.
"Yes, Professor," Harry replied. "I've ordered my dress robes already, as well as a corsage for Miss Weasley."
McGonagall nodded approvingly. "Very good. And are you prepared for the dance?"
"Oh, dear. I was afraid of this." McGonagall seemed genuinely concerned. "This is precisely the sort of thing that Severus would neglect…"
"What thing, Professor?"
"The Tri-Wizard Champions are traditionally required to open the dance by performing the Solstice Waltz at the commencement of the Yule Ball. It is an ancient formal dance of the sort that you would already know, had you been raised among wizards."
Harry frowned. The prospect of performing a choreographed dance in front of the entire school was nearly as scary as facing a dragon.
"I suggest, Mr. Potter, that you enlist the help of your friends in Slytherin. One of the young ladies should be able to teach you adequately before Christmas night." McGonagall pursed her lips. "I will not allow young Miss Weasley to be embarrassed in front of the entire school. Have I made myself clear?"
"Yes, ma'am," Harry said. Although nobody would ever call Snape and McGonagall similar, they could both be incredibly frightening.
"Good," she said. "Enjoy your holiday, then. I look forward to seeing your dance."
As Harry left the room, he thought through the list of Slytherin girls that he would trust to teach him to dance. Tracey was right out—Harry didn't need to send her any more mixed messages about whether or not he liked her, and dance lessons would be confusing to them both. Asking Daphne to teach him to dance would be tantamount to asking Daphne to the ball; Tracey would be devastated, and Daphne would never go along with it. Millicent Bullistrode had all the grace of a large anvil. Which left… Pansy.
Harry asked Pansy that night, and she quickly agreed to help. In fact, it was all Harry could do to prevent Pansy from dragging him out of the common room to start lessons immediately. Harry was able to calm Pansy and arranged to meet her every night after dinner in an empty potions classroom. Pansy assured Harry that she would provide the music.
When Harry arrived at the classroom the next evening, Pansy was already present with a wizard's wireless.
"I thought that just played wireless stations," Harry said.
"This one is enchanted to play specific music upon request," Pansy assured him. "It was a gift from my mother and father…"
"…when I was seven."
"And it was very expensive," Pansy said, in case Harry had missed the point.
Pansy tapped the wireless with her wand, and it began to play a lilting tune. Harry didn't particularly know his instruments, but it sounded like something with strings. There were definitely bells in the background.
"First, we have to break you of any bad habits," Pansy said. "Have you ever been to a dance before?"
"No," Harry said.
"A wedding reception?"
Pansy frowned. "Have you ever danced with a girl before?"
"Stop being difficult, Harry." Pansy's mouth was pursed with displeasure.
"I'm not. I lived in a cupboard under the stairs at my aunt and uncle's house until I was eleven. There wasn't a lot of room to do the tango."
"Hmm. This might be more difficult than I thought. Nothing I can't handle, though." Pansy thought for a moment. "Have you ever played an instrument before?"
"Yes, I'm a member of the London Orchestra."
"Don't be sassy," Pansy said. "I guess we have to start at the very beginning. First, you have to listen to the music. But not the actual music. You need to listen to the rhythm. The beats."
Harry furrowed his eyes together. This wasn't making a lot of sense.
"Usually that's the drums," Pansy suggested. "Or one of the really low-sounding string instruments, like the cello."
Harry shrugged. "This is like a foreign language to me."
"Rhythm, Harry!" Pansy began to tap her hand on a desk in even beats. "Do you hear that, down below the rest of the music?"
"Er… yes, actually." Now that Pansy was tapping along, Harry could hear it. He began to move his foot up and down with the beat. "Got it."
"Brilliant," Pansy said. "You're a prodigy."
"Hey! I'm trying my best!"
Pansy smiled sweetly. "I know, dear. But you look more lost than Neville Longbottom in Potions class."
"Enough with the insults," Harry said. Pansy stuck out her tongue, but resumed the lesson.
"All your movements have to follow the beat," Pansy said. "If not, you'll just look like you're being struck with the Cruciatus in the middle of the dance floor. Start moving your head."
Harry started bobbing his head and tapping his foot. This didn't seem so hard. "Okay. What's next?"
"Next… we see if you can find the beat to another song." Pansy tapped the wireless with her wand, and the song changed. Harry lost the rhythm, and stopped moving.
"That's not fair," Harry said.
"They're going to play more than one song at the Yule Ball, Harry, and we don't have any idea which version of the Solstice Waltz they'll choose to play for the first dance. You have to be prepared!"
"This is rubbish." Harry folded his arms. "I don't even want to dance."
"Yes, you do. You just don't know it, yet. Trust me." Pansy batted her eyes. "Give me a week, and I'll have you dancing."
Harry shook his head. "One more lesson. That's it."
"Two more," Pansy said, bargaining hard. "If you don't want to keep dancing two days from now, we'll be done."
Harry grimaced. "Fine."
"Great. Now, find the beat."
Harry tried tapping his hand, but it was clear that he was nowhere near finding the song's rhythm.
"Merlin, save us now," Pansy sighed.
Two grueling days later, Harry was regularly able to find the beat of a song… and not much else. Pansy had managed to get Harry to move his body parts at different rates—tapping his hand twice for every one time he tapped his foot, for example. But, as the end of their third lesson approached, it was clear that Harry's patience had reached its limits.
"Why do I even have to learn this?" Harry said.
"It's worth it," Pansy insisted.
"You keep saying that, but I'm not convinced."
"Fine." Pansy's voice was firm. She tapped the wireless, and a slow, simple song began to play. "You want to be convinced? Come over here."
"I'm sick of dancing."
Harry leapt to his feet and walked over to Pansy. She grabbed Harry's hands and placed them on her waist, then placed her own hands on Harry's shoulders. Pansy began to shift her weight left and right, moving from foot to foot without ever really taking a step. Harry mirrored her.
"What are you doing?" Harry asked.
"Dancing," Pansy said. "This is the worst of all possible dances. It's so simple that it is actually offensive to me. If a wizard ever tried to dance like this with me, I would laugh in his face and walk away. I mean that literally. Laugh, then walk away."
"Then why are we doing this?"
"To show you why dancing is important," Pansy said.
"And this is how you convince me?"
"No," Pansy said softly. "This is how." Pansy shifted her feet, and she was suddenly half a step closer to Harry. It was small distance, but an enormous difference. Instead of touching Harry with just her hands, Pansy's body was suddenly pressed up against Harry's. Her arms moved from Harry's shoulders to the back of his neck, where she crossed her wrists. Pansy leaned her head against Harry's chest.
"Put your hands on my back," Pansy murmured. Harry complied, and Pansy somehow moved even closer. They rocked back and forth for a few seconds, saying nothing.
"Why didn't you…" Pansy's voice trailed off, and she left her question unfinished.
"Why didn't I what?"
"Nothing," Pansy said, and then fell silent for a moment. Harry and Pansy continued to sway back and forth. "Now do you see why dancing is important?" Pasny asked. "You'll come back tomorrow night, won't you?"
"Yes," Harry said. His voice squeaked slightly as he spoke.
"FINALLY!" Pansy stepped back and pushed Harry away with her hands. Harry stumbled and almost fell, catching his balance at the last second. "Now, get ready to learn how to WALTZ."
Harry was simultaneously sad and relieved. Sad, because dancing that close to Pansy was quite nice. Quite nice. But Harry was relieved, because if they had stayed that close, Pansy might have noticed exactly how nice Harry thought dancing was… even through his robes.
Pansy tapped the wireless, and the song changed again. It was the same lilting tune that had been playing on the night of Harry's first lesson. "Do you hear anything different about the beat of this song?" Pansy asked.
Harry started bobbing back and forth, moving his head and his feet. Something felt wrong almost immediately, even though he was sure that he was on the beat.
"Yes?" Harry said. "I don't know what it is."
"It's in threes," Pansy said. "That's the difference between a waltz and a normal dance. All the other songs we've been dancing to have had four beats per measure."
"I don't get it," Harry said. "All the beats are the same distance apart. How can it matter?"
"LISTEN." Pansy began to count. "One-two-three one-two-three one-two-three…" As Pansy counted the beats, Harry noticed that the rest of the music was, indeed, changing on every third beat.
"Now listen to this." Pansy tapped the radio, and the slow song began to play again. "One, two, three, four. One, two, three four."
Again, Harry could hear the difference. He moved back and forth on his feet, bobbing his head, and found that he was keeping perfect time.
"Okay," Harry said. "I hear it."
"Thank Merlin!" Pansy changed the music back to the waltz. "Now, when you're waltzing, you have to keep in mind that you're moving on the threes. It's fine if you count in your head. One-two-three, one-two-three…"
Pansy drilled Harry on counting beats for the rest of the night. When they returned the next evening, she informed Harry that it was time to waltz. For real.
"Come over here," Pansy said. "Grab my right hand with your left, and hold them out." Harry complied. Pansy adjusted Harry's grip, and moved his hand slightly lower. "I'm not raising my hand in class. Keep it at my shoulder. Put your other hand on my waist."
Once Harry's hands were properly positioned, Pansy waved her wand at the wireless. A slow version of the Solstice Waltz began to play.
"We're going to start with a box waltz," Pansy said. "We'll add turns later."
"I have to turn?"
"If you want to avoid complete embarrassment, then yes, you have to turn." Pansy looked down at their feet, and Harry's gaze followed. "Start by moving your left foot forward. That's one. Bring up your right foot, and that's two. Slide your right foot over. That's three."
"You can learn five hundred stupid formations for quidditch, Harry. You can certainly learn one dance." Pansy squeezed his hand. "Let's go."
It took several tries, but Harry finally got the hang of the box waltz. It wasn't that hard, actually. The real trick was counting in threes. Once Harry had that down, all the sliding and foot tapping was easy. On the fourth time through the song, Harry was moving with confidence.
"Now, stop looking at your feet," Pansy ordered.
Harry started to look up, but got distracted halfway.
"Eyes up here, Potter." Pansy took her hand off Harry's shoulder and gently pushed his chin upward, until he was looking her in the eye.
Pansy winked. "Let's waltz. And… one two three!"
Harry stutter-stepped, then tried to look down at his feet. Pansy swatted him on the side of the head.
"Eyes up, Harry!"
By the end of the night, Harry was able to perform a simple box waltz without looking at his feet. Three days later, Harry was twirling around the classroom with Pansy in his arms and a smile on his face. The Solstice Waltz was rather simple—it was a dance taught to wizarding children, after all—and Harry had taken to it easily, once he had mastered waltzing basics. It was evident that the athleticism that allowed Harry to succeed at quidditch also translated to dance.
"You're a natural," Pansy said, as she and Harry spun to a stop. "Is there anything you aren't terrific at?"
"Golf," Harry replied.
"What's a 'golf?'" Pansy asked.
Harry laughed. "Don't worry about it."
Pansy glanced at the room's clock. "Do you fancy another spin?"
"We should probably get back to the common room," Harry said. "Curfew isn't that far off."
Pansy's smile fell just a little. She shrugged her shoulders, and began to pack up her wireless. Harry hadn't realized that Pansy was enjoying the dance lessons so much; she spent a lot of her time ordering Harry around, and Harry had been worried that he was being an awful imposition.
Harry resolved to cheer Pansy up, and started acting silly and cracking jokes. By the time they returned to the common room, Pansy was laughing hysterically. Harry was doing his best impression of his original dance moves, which was to say that Harry was doing his worst impression of good dancing.
"Harry, stop! My side hurts!" Pansy bent over just inside the common room door, trying to regain her composure.
"You mean this does not entice you?" Harry said, flapping his elbows up and down while hopping from one foot to the other.
Pansy was overcome by laughter and unable to reply. She collapsed to the floor and held her hand over her mouth, trying to stifle her overloud laughs.
Harry grinned and glanced around the common room. It was the usual mix of his housemates—a few people playing cards, a chess game, several people reading books, and a few groups just chatting. Near the fireplace, Tracey and Daphne were talking to Blaise and Theo. All four had all turned to watch the ruckus that Pansy was raising at the common room door. Blaise began to glare at Harry almost immediately. Harry waved, and Blaise turned away without acknowledging the gesture.
That was rather uncalled for; there was nothing for Blaise to be angry about. Harry and Pansy were friends, and Harry needed to learn how to dance. It wasn't like Harry was trying to steal Blaise's date or anything. McGonagall had fairly ordered him to ask Pansy for lessons.
Harry looked at Tracey for support, inclining his head toward Blaise and raising a quizzical eyebrow. Surely Tracey would acknowledge that Blaise was being a bit of a jerk. But Tracey wasn't looking at Harry any longer. She had already turned back to her conversation with Theo. And Daphne looked away from Harry as soon as they made eye contact.
That was… odd. In fact, now that Harry thought about it, Tracey hadn't been talking to Harry very much ever since she agreed to go to the dance with Theo. Well, other than to yell at him about the Skeeter article, of course, but Harry had patched things up with Tracey at their shared detention. Hadn't he? Of course he had. But if that was true, why was it so hard for Harry to think of the last time that he and Tracey had passed more than a few words with one another? Was it possible that Tracey was actually avoiding him?
"Help me up," Pansy said from the ground. She was still giggling slightly, but she had regained most of her composure.
Harry reached down and pulled Pansy to her feet.
"Well, we're back," Pansy said, brushing off her robes. "What were you planning on doing before bed?"
"Actually, nothing," Harry said. "I'm dead tired already."
"Oh." Pansy turned her mouth to one side. "I guess I could go to bed early. I can always use my beauty sleep."
"Pansy, what good is beauty sleep going to do you? You can't add water to a cauldron that's already full."
Pansy smiled and patted Harry on the cheek. "You're sweet." Pansy stretched her arms above her head and yawned. Her jumper pulled tight and crept upward, exposing a strip of skin at her hips for the briefest moment. "Same time tomorrow night?"
"Oh, I hadn't thought about it," Harry said. He had been distracted, and didn't know how to respond. "I mean, I know the steps to the dance now, right?"
"I guess you do," Pansy said. Something in her voice had changed. Harry had definitely said the wrong thing—if only he knew what it was, or why.
"Why don't we meet up one more time, on Christmas Eve, before the ball?" Harry suggested, desperately trying to salvage the situation. "One last practice to make sure I have it right?"
"Sure, Harry. Whatever you say." Pansy turned quickly, hiding her face from Harry. She began to walk toward the girls' dormitory.
"Goodnight, Pansy," Harry called.
Pansy raised her hand and waved, but did not turn back. "Goodnight."
Harry shook his head and looked down at his shoes. What had he done?