Harry crossed his arms moodily as he stood talking with Draco in the hallway.
“A week. A week ‘til the dance. Really,” he complained. “That’s it, I’m going to talk to her.”
“Harry, are you sure that’s a good idea?” Draco asked, looking a little worried. He trotted to catch up with Harry as he walked. “I could always see if Kerry has a friend...”
Harry shook his head. “No, I’m going to go ask her why she hasn’t given me an answer yet. I mean, she could at least say no!”
“At least Gregor doesn’t have a date yet either,” Draco said as a spot of consolation.
“You want to come?” Harry asked shortly, headed for the library.
“Er, no thanks,” Draco replied, seeming reluctant to become involved in the inevitable argument. “I’ll see you later.”
Harry nodded and continued on his way. He was actually fairly mad at Rhea. She could have at least told him “no” in enough time to find another date. As it was, she simply left him hanging and it certainly wasn’t appreciated. In a foul mood from having been called on for repeated demonstrations and relentlessly criticized by Thornberg, Harry was in no state to let it go another day.
Harry stepped into the library purposefully and headed right for where Rhea would be sitting as usual. He moved around a bookshelf and could hear voices as he approached the table. Harry stopped in his tracks.
“I am not going with you!” Rhea was saying. She was standing, her long hair flipping as she angrily tossed her head.
Gregor grabbed her arm and Rhea winced but covered it quickly enough. “Why? Who are you going to go with then? Huh?” he demanded. Harry saw his hand tighten with each word.
Harry stepped forward. “Me,” he asserted, even though he really had no idea if she was intending to accept his offer. All anger with Rhea gone, he turned it on Gregor. “Let go of her.”
Gregor’s eyes flashed, bright with anger. He didn’t release her. “Or what?”
In lieu of an answer, Harry drew his wand. Gregor sneered. He released her, if only to go for his own wand. Rhea jerked her arm away, rubbing it resentfully.
“Expelliarmus!” Harry said immediately. He caught Gregor’s wand as it flew towards him. Gregor glared at him.
She looked between the two of them, facing off and staring daggers at each other. Harry moved his arm slightly and Rhea interpreted it as an offensive move.
“Harry, no!” Rhea said forcefully. He glanced at her. “Don’t,” she said simply. Harry clenched his jaw and stared at Gregor. With obvious reluctance, he lowered his wand.
Hoping that he could trust Gregor, as foolish as that may seem, Harry tossed him his wand back. Harry raised his own, just in case.
“Leave,” Harry commanded.
With one last seething look between Harry and Rhea, he obeyed. Flipping his heavy cloak over his shoulder, Gregor stormed across the room. When he reached Harry, he stopped.
“You’ll be sorry for this.”
It was not until that moment that Harry realized how much shorter he was than Gregor and how easily he would be beaten in a fight without wands.Gregor swept from the room. Harry suddenly regarded his intervention as foolish.
Moving in a bit of a daze, Harry stepped over to Rhea at the table. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I am fine,” she said with a sigh. “I’m really sorry about that.”
Harry shrugged. “It’s alright. Um, I probably shouldn’t have said that though...”
“What?” Rhea asked.
“About you going to the dance with me.”
“Why not?” she inquired, a wry smile playing at her lips.”You would be correct.”
Harry tilted his head, not expecting that. “I...I would?”
She laughed delicately. “Why do you think I was saying no to him?”
“Oh,” Harry breathed, putting the pieces together. “So he was waiting on you...we were both waiting on you. Goodness.”
“Er, we had a bet going. To see who got a date first,” Harry explained. “But we were both waiting for a reply. I had no idea we had both asked you.”
Rhea bit her lip. “He asked me first but I didn’t want to go with him. He’s been bothering me for a while now. I was just afraid of what he would do if I said no...” Rhea glanced at him, judging his reaction. “I was stupid.”
“No you weren’t,” Harry asserted. “You shouldn’t take him too lightly, I don’t think.”
She looked worried. “Be careful. He’s been into the Dark Arts for a while now, you really need to watch out for him. Rumor is that he has done some horrible things,” Rhea said with an involuntary shiver. “There are certain students that Headmaster Karkaroff takes a liking to. He teaches them things that should not be taught and sometimes they leave the school, no one knows where they go.”
“Who else does he teach?” Harry asked, brow furrowing. He would have to rely this information to Snape but would rather do so in person. Certainly it could wait until Christmas break.
“I know only of Gregor and Krum,” she replied, shaking her head regretfully.
“I’m always being careful,” Harry said, half reassuring and half complaining. “So you’re really going to the Yule Ball with me?”
Rhea looked at him with guarded brown eyes. “That is, if you still want me to...”
“Of course,” Harry replied quickly.
Rhea smiled. “Great. Uh, do you have somewhere to be or do you want to stay a while?”
Harry grinned. “Nowhere important. I think I’ll wait a few days to ask Gregor for the money he owes me now.”
“Good idea,” she said.
Harry pulled out a chair and sat down, feeling immensely pleased and glad to finally be able to tell Severus that he had a date to the Yule Ball.
The following week passed quickly until Harry found himself attempting to fix his hair in the mirror. He wondered at how he had gotten to this point; it seemed like just yesterday that he had confronted Gregor in the library. Now, dressed in the dress robes that he had gotten for Severus’s award ceremony that summer, Harry headed for the door behind Draco.
“You nervous?” Harry asked, feeling that way himself.
Cedric was the only one in the common room as they passed through and he, too, was leaving. Together, the three of them stepped out into the hallway where Sandra was waiting for them, or for Cedric, specifically. With a charming smile, he took her arm and they led the way down to the hall in which the ball was being held.
When they arrived, Harry immediately began scanning the crowd for Rhea. He spotted her and Kerry near the wall and his heart skipped a beat. She looked downright beautiful. Her sleek hair was curled gently and flowed down one shoulder from a complex knot on the side of her head. Rhea’s white and gold dress robes had a hint of Greek influence and complemented her tanned skin nicely. Her long golden earrings accented the smooth curve of her neck, but naturally, Harry noticed none of this. He simply thought she looked pretty and said so.
“You look amazing,” Harry said, stepping up beside her. Rhea gave him a glowing smile.
“And you look amazing also,” Draco complemented his date, joining Harry by the wall.
Kerry smiled nicely but didn’t reply. Harry noticed that, in this light, she looked reminiscent of Hermione. Perhaps it was the hair.
Harry was about to say something more when a tap on his shoulder caused him to turn. Professor Relton, the Charms professor, stood there, looking a little stressed.
“Mr. Potter, you and your date are expected at the Head table,” she said, gesturing to the long table that sat at the front of the room.
“Right,” he said. “Thanks.”
She nodded and hurried off, presumably to fetch the other champions. Harry turned back. He offered his arm gallantly. “Shall we?”
Rhea smiled and took his arm. Together, they walked across the dance floor and stepped up to the Head table. Harry pulled out her chair and offered it to her to sit. Before long, they were joined by the other champions. Cedric and Sandra took the end pair of seats and Fleur Delacour and her date were seated to Rhea’s right. On Harry’s left were Bennet and a girl whom Harry did not recognize.
After the opening remarks, food lined the tables and everyone helped themselves.
“See? Wouldn’t it be great to have this at every meal?” Harry asked Rhea conversationally.
She laughed, seeming to be in bright spirits. “It would. Perhaps I can come visit your Hogwarts sometime.”
Harry brightened. “That’d be great! All my friends would love to meet you, I’m sure. They’re really curious about Durmstrang.”
“I am just as curious about Hogwarts,” she said. “I should have gone there, I’m thinking.”
“Why’s that?” Harry asked.
“It seems... happier?”
Harry nodded, “Definitely. Why’d you end up here?”
“I had no choice,” Rhea said in a resigned tone.
Harry didn’t ask but watched her spoon a small pile of mush onto her plate. “What’s that?” he inquired.
“This? Hummus,” she replied, in a tone of light amusement.
“Hummus?” Harry asked, never having heard of such a thing. It didn’t look appetizing.
“Yes,” Rhea said, on the verge of laughing at his ignorance. “It’s been a favorite of mine since I was little. Try some, it is delicious.”
“Uh, is it?” Harry asked to stall.
She handed him a pita chip. “Yes. Come on,” Rhea coaxed. “I thought your...house was known for courage or bravery?”
“Yeah,” Harry said in a mildly regretful tone. “Alright,” he agreed and took a small dip. As Rhea had just reminded him, he was a Gryffindor and so he ate it. It was slightly spicy but not bad, overall. “Not bad,” he commented.
She smiled at him, looking even prettier when she did so. “See?”
Harry chuckled and continued eating food that he considered “safe”. As he did so, he idly looked around. Harry noticed that Bennet and his date’s conversation was sparse where Cedric and Sandra’s laughter carried down the table. He turned his head and noticed Karkaroff giving him a dark look. Harry stared back for a minute before deciding to ignore it. He glanced around at the lower tables but did not see any sign of Gregor or Dian. Harry supposed that was for the better.
The rest of the meal passed with surprising speed and ease, the conversation flowing as easily as it did amongst Harry and Hermione. Despite his nerves and his doubts about attending a dance, Harry realized he was quite enjoying himself. He was almost annoyed when, again, Professor Relton approached from behind and announced that the champions were to lead the first dance.
When she had gone, Harry leaned over to Rhea in a panic. “I can’t dance!”
“Neither can I,” she replied, biting her lip.
They looked at each other for a moment before starting to laugh. “This should be interesting to see then,” Harry commented to mask his growing nerves.
Professor Relton gave the signal and everyone followed her onto the dance floor. The music began to play softly and the other couples immediately fell into a smooth, almost choreographed number. Meanwhile, Harry and Rhea stood looking at each other.
“So, um,” Harry said awkwardly, putting his hand on her shoulders.
Rhea laughed, either unaware of or uncaring about the number of stares and snickers they were earning. “I am pretty certain that your one hand goes on my waist.”
Harry bit his lip. “Right,” he said, moving it there. She took his other hand in hers and they began to step in a box pattern which seemed the safest. Slowly, Harry’s tension eased as other equally awkward couples joined them on the dance floor. Lane looked the happiest Harry had ever seen her as she twirled along with Krum. Harry and Rhea continued their simple dance until it became almost easy.
“You are not so bad at dancing,” she commented, looking slightly up at Harry.
“Neither are you,” he replied, hoping it was the right thing to say at the moment. Being in such close proximity was throwing off his brain.
They danced for a long time, sometimes silent, sometimes chatting. Eventually, they ran into Draco and Kerry and they switched partners. As Harry danced with Kerry, she chatted on about something factual about the yule tide. Harry zoned out and thought once more how she reminded him of Hermione. Though Hermione at least knew how to have fun. Harry couldn’t imagine that Draco was having a good time; he must have been going solely off looks when he asked her, for Kerry was rather pretty.
Luckily, the song ended quickly and Harry suggested that they stop for some punch. As Harry was grabbing a few crystal cups, Draco came up beside him to do the same.
“Nice dance?” Harry asked Draco casually, nearly shouting over the noise.
He leaned closer to reply without being overheard. “Best one of the night,” Draco said in a long suffering tone. “Honestly, have you heard Kerry talk?”
“Regrettably,” Harry replied with a grin as they returned to their dates. Slowly, the people around began to trickle out and Harry realized how late it had gotten. Rhea seemed to have realized the same.
“Perhaps we ought to say goodnight,” Rhea said, facing Harry as they stood.
“I was thinking the same thing,” he admitted. “I still have to pack.”
“Are you leaving for Christmas, then?” she asked.
“Yes,” Harry said with an excited smile. “I’m going back to Hogwarts and probably home from there.”
Harry had not told her about Severus, nor had he told Severus the specifics about her. Fortunately, Rhea didn’t ask where it was that he called “home”.
“Well, I’ll see you when you get back, then,” Rhea said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “Goodnight.” Rhea bit her lip and looked up at him.
Harry was unsure of what to do. The master of tact, he replied simply, “Goodnight, then.”
Looking amused and perhaps the slightest bit disappointed, she turned and headed off, graceful robes trailing behind her. Harry turned to find Draco shaking his head.
“You’re hopeless,” Draco said wryly.
“What?” Harry demanded.
Draco simply chuckled and continued to shake his head. With a huff, Harry followed him to the dorm after what could have arguably been one of the best nights of his life.