2: The Night Before the Morning After and the Morning After the Night Before
Harry Potter wandered through the Great Hall of Hogwarts, smiling absently at the assorted Beaters, Seekers, Chasers and Keepers who flaunted varying amounts of cleavage, thigh and general flesh at him.
To Harry, it just wasn't Quidditch.
It was fine for women to try and look attractive. He appreciated attractive women as much as the next (straight) man.
And it was fine for women to wear Quidditch robes, as well. He knew plenty of fine female Quidditch players, including one or two captains who were scarier and far more intense than Oliver Wood had ever been during his time on his house team. He really had no problems with women wearing Quidditch robes.
But for women to try and make Quidditch robes attractive, well, it bordered on sacrilege.
After all, there were rules that stipulated how much flesh a player could show on the Quidditch pitch.
Most of the women were flouting those rules, and it made Harry uncomfortable, for some reason he couldn't explain. Their masks tended to conceal more of their faces than Harry was entirely comfortable with, as well. He'd had some bad experiences with people in masks.
And he rather thought that he had heard one or two girls say that they wouldn't have been caught dead in Quidditch robes if they weren't hiding their faces.
It made Harry feel slightly ill.
Especially as Hagrid had convinced him to wear something other than Quidditch robes.
Harry had to admit that the Muggle tuxedo did look good on him. It was cut nicely to emphasise the firm, tight muscles and pert butt that professional Quidditch had given him. Hagrid had insisted on an emerald-green bow tie and matching cummerbund, "Ter bring out yer eyes, lad."
Harry felt like a Muggle adrift in a sea of witches and wizards, searching for an anchor to hold him firm in the maelstrom sweeping around him.
(Secretly, Harry was rather proud of being able to slip the word 'maelstrom' into conversation, as his schooling in the English language had stopped after he entered Hogwarts. That he had found 'maelstrom' on a roll of Word for the Day toilet paper was completely beside the point. It was a good word, and he was proud of it.)
He was, however, rather regretting the three glasses of Firewhiskey that he'd drunk earlier in the evening, for he was now a very little unsteady on his feet, and not entirely sure that what his brain was reporting was the same as what his eyes were seeing.
The mask didn't help his mood. A simple strip of ribbon, it did nothing to hide his eyes or mess of black hair, and seemed somehow to highlight the famous lightning-bolt scar on his forehead. He was easily identifiable as the famous Harry Potter.
Especially to the two fairy Godparents crouched under an invisibility cloak.
"So that's Harry Potter," Ron muttered. "Short, isn't he?"
"That's who she wants," Hermione said, barely looking up. "He just needs a nudge in the right direction."
"It's my turn," Ron grinned. He waved his wand at Harry. "Locomotor Mortis!"
Harry toppled face first, flinging out his hands to try and counter the fact that his legs hand frozen mid-step.
Ginny, who had been standing just out of Harry's eyeline whilst plucking up the courage to approach him, found herself yanked forward, the front of her dress caught in Harry's grasp.
There was a loud crash.
This was followed by the unmistakable sound of a miraculously undamaged plate rolling away from the impact site before spinning to the ground with a womwomwomwom sound, as is customary when someone falls over at a fancy do in a grand hall with lots of fabulously dressed people.
Even when there're no plates involved in the falling over. It's just one of those things that defy explanation and must just be taken as fact. Like celery.
Harry managed to get the last of Ginny's hair out of his mouth, just as the feeling returned to his legs.
He stood up, automatically extending one hand to Ginny, who was sprawled in a rather unladylike way on the floor that nonetheless managed to hide the excess exposure of her flesh that Harry had tired of from the other women at the ball. The demure, attractively clad redhead who had absorbed part of his landing entranced Harry.
Ginny looked up, meeting Harry's eyes for the first time, and he was smitten.
Hermione waved her wand at the musicians who stood up and reached for their instruments a good twenty minutes earlier than had been intended. One of the cellists managed to spill his beer on his instrument, but as it was generally agreed that he was a poor musician at best, it did little to detract from his performance.
They struck up a tune which Harry had never heard but which he instantly liked.
"Would you, er, would you like to dance?" he asked Ginny, not yet having let go of her hand.
She blushed ferociously, and Harry almost laughed, but he didn't.
It didn't seem like the time to laugh.
So that you know how that feels, here's an exceedingly poor joke: A troll walked into a bar. The bartender looked at him and said, "Why the stony face?"
You see? Poor joke, definitely not time to laugh.
Ginny looked at Harry and felt the blush receding.
She wondered, briefly, why she was embarrassed. It was only someone asking her to dance. Admittedly, it was the most famous someone in the whole of the wizarding world, but that was okay. She could dance. She'd learnt how to when she was small.
Besides, if she said no, then whoever was standing behind her with a wand in the small of her back would probably hex her.
"I'd like that," she said, forcing as much calmness as she could around the trembling words.
They walked through the crowd, which parted before the beautiful couple in a decent imitation of the wall behind the Leaky Cauldron that opens onto Diagon Alley.
Meaning that the women were red-faced as bricks, and the men were as stony as mortar.
Isn't jealousy grand?
Hermione and Ron, meanwhile, were bickering under the cloak.
"You were threatening her, Ron!" Hermione hissed. "You forced her to say yes to him!"
"You were the one who cast the Clear-Headed Charm on her," Ron countered, grinning smugly. "We're onto a winner here. It's half-past-eleven and they're as good as married. It's twue wuv."
"Just so long as Ginny remembers that she only has until twelve o'clock to kiss him, or the spells collapse."
"Well, you told her, didn't you? She won't forget that."
"I told her? Ron, it was your job to tell her that."
"Mine? What do you mean, mine?"
"You were told in the briefing that you had to tell her."
"Since when do I listen in the briefings?"
"Oh, Merlin," Hermione squeaked. "How are we going to tell her? Ron, you'll have to cut in on the dance."
Ron looked out at the dance floor. Ginny and Harry were stood in the centre, swaying gently as they stared into one another's eyes.
"I can't do it," he said. "I'm wearing a dress. I can't just muscle her off the dance floor."
"We're under an Invisibility Cloak. No-one would have to notice."
"Harry Potter would notice, Hermione. Honestly, he spent ten years fighting the Dark Arts with those two mates of his who you never hear about any more. He'd know if there was someone around under an Invisibility Cloak."
"Then what are going to do?"
Ron shrugged. "Let love take its course. There's thirty minutes left. Plenty of time for them to kiss. Come on, I need a drink."
Hermione had no choice but to follow Ron as he headed for the bar to purloin two bottles of Butterbeer. She hoped that he was right.
Of course, it would be nice if Ron was right, but then where would the dramatic conclusion to this story come from?
"Where did you get this Cloak from, anyway? You never did say."
"Oh, when we were at school, that kid we used to hang around with. You know the one I mean?"
"The green-eyed boy with messy black hair and glasses?"
"Yeah, that's him."
"You've had it all this time? Ron!"
"What? He said I could keep it for as long as I needed it."
"It's been years since we saw him. Years!"
"I'm sure he'd have found me if he wanted it back."
"Oh! Erm, sorry."
"Er, yeah. Sorry."
Harry and Ginny danced on, lost in one another's eyes, both thinking that they would make the fist move and kiss the other.
Any second now.
Okay, that didn't work. But really soon.
Okay, now then.
Well, really soon, anyway.
Such gorgeous eyes...
Eventually, and independently for, caught up in the throes of twue wuv, they hadn't said more than a few words to each other - and if you think that's a poor basis for a relationship than you may be right but this is a fairy tale and in fairytales waking someone up from a good century's sleep is enough to make them fall in love with you so let's not judge too soon, okay? - they both decided to kiss the other on the stroke of midnight.
Enter Millicent and Pansy.
For the record, Ginny's stepsisters had already had their tongues down the throats of a few blokes that night already. The combination of potent alcohol, no morals and drunken men had encouraged them to warm them up for the challenge that snogging Harry Potter would be.
So they appeared on the edge of the dancefloor, drunk and - forgive me - up for it, only to find their target in the arms of a rival, and a rival, they were forced to admit, who was a hell of a lot more attractive than they were.
Under such circumstances, there was only one thing for them to do.
Act like tarts.
Without even looking at Ginny - not that they would have recognised her, but still, they were rude - they grabbed Harry under each arm and dragged him away from her.
The clock struck the first chime of twelve o'clock, and Harry had just been dipping his head as Ginny tilted hers.