What are we to make of this next story? It is the most lighthearted of the fragments, but not without surprises. The portrait of the Seer as a mischievous young girl is endearing, perhaps, but certainly startling. Is this how her contemporaries saw her? And what of the story itself? Did the conversations recorded here ever take place? Are they memories? Reconstructions? Pure invention? It is obvious from the manuscript that sentences, entire paragraphs sometimes, have been removed. But why, and by whom? Once again, we can only conjecture.
I am convinced that if the Wizarding World as a whole had put a fraction of the energy and intrigue into defeating Him Who We Do Not Name as the girls of Hogwarts put into securing dates for themselves and each other to the Yule Ball in the year of the Triwizard Tournament, the war would have been over before we were born. Considering how things worked out for us that year, on the other hand, perhaps it’s just as well that they didn’t.
It all began pleasantly enough. There was considerable mirth in the Ravenclaw common room when it was learned that our very own Roger Davies had been anointed the chosen one by none other than Fleur ‘I’m-Veela-and-you’re-not’ Delacour – Roger himself, of course, being the only one who failed to grasp the humour of the situation. I originally was prepared to be indignant on Cho’s behalf, if such were required, but had to admit that there was more than a little poetic justice in the matter. I needn’t have worried; Cho found it hilarious.
For herself, she had other plans. Her fascination with the Boy Who Lived, already waxing the previous year had gone off the charts when he was made a champion. No ‘Support Cedric Diggory’ buttons for Our Girl. She aged a year before my eyes watching him play tag with the dragon during the first task. When we heard news of the Ball, she was sure her time had come.
But how did Harry feel about it? This was the question, and, reasonably enough, she turned to me for an answer. I was, after all, the resident expert on all things Gryffindor, was I not? In this case, unfortunately, I was not. I pinned my hopes on Hermione, but her discretion proved fatal. A few months, maybe even a few days later, she would have told me, but at the time loyalty to her oldest friend still came first, and Harry’s secret was only too safe.
In any case, the proper course of action seemed obvious – to me at least.
“Just get out there and ask him, Cho! You know how boys are, he’ll be thrilled.”
“I can’t … what if he says no?”
“Cho, for heaven’s sake! When was the last time anyone turned you down for anything?”
“But what if he agrees just to be polite – that would be even worse …”
And so it went. Neither cajoling, nor encouragement nor outright exasperation did any good. In the space of two days, Cho turned down Michael Corner, Zacharias Smith, and Terry Boot. She would wait for Harry or not go at all. Stubborn – that, at least, I understood.
What happened next, on the other hand, took me completely by surprise. Susan Bones, with whom I had never exchanged more than a few words of casual greeting, caught up to me on our way out of the Great Hall.
“Padma, can I ask you something?”
She looked at once flustered and annoyed, leaving me to wonder what I could possibly have done to upset her. I soon understood, however, that I was not the problem.
“You’re friends with Cho.”
It wasn’t a question.
She wasted no words. I would learn that she never did.
“Do you know if anyone is taking her to the Ball?”
“Not yet. Susan … why do you ask?”
She sighed, looking more put out than ever.
“It’s Cedric, Cedric Diggory from my House. He wants to ask her, but he thought probably someone else already had.”
What I should have done, of course, was to tell Susan everything there and then. However, at the time, I barely knew her, and Cho’s secrets were as safe with me as Harry’s with Hermione. The more fools we.
In a perfect world, Hermione and I would have compared notes and passed the word to Harry and Cho that each was waiting for the other. Then, with Susan, we could have helped us set up Cedric Diggory on a blind date with my sister – I am convinced they would have got on splendidly – leaving the three of us to retire on the night of the Ball, our duty done, to spend a quiet and enjoyable evening in each other’s company drinking hot cocoa and playing bridge for modest stakes. One of the ghosts is always willing to make up a fourth. It would have been so easy, and spared so much anguish for all concerned. It never occurred to us.
We do not, as I am frequently reminded, inhabit a perfect world.
In the real world I told Susan, truthfully enough, that I had no idea how Cho felt about Cedric – or indeed whether she ever thought of him at all – but that he, like the rest of the male population of Hogwarts, was free to try his luck. Even then, things might have worked out. Cedric was clearly diffident and Harry, although I didn’t know it at the time, was working up his courage. He might just have won their race. As when the two of them had met on the Quidditch pitch, however, a Higher Power intervened. Then it had been Dementors: now it was my sister.
She came to see me in Ravenclaw that same evening. Usually such visits meant that she wanted help with a class (better to die than to ask Hermione Granger), or just needed a private place to study (she had her reputation in Gryffindor to consider, after all – but, honestly, did none of them ever notice that her marks were consistently second in her House only to Hermione’s?) It wasn’t charms or transfiguration that had brought her, however, but what was turning out to be the question of the day.
“Does Cho have a date for the Ball?”
“Why is everyone so fascinated with Cho Chang all of a sudden?”
“That’s supposed to be your job, I know.”
From Parvati, I had no secrets. I didn’t even bother to respond.
“Look, I’ll tell you what I told Susan Bones. She’s not going with anyone that I know of. Now tell me why you want to know.”
She gave me the coy smile that she knew I hated.
“Because I want to go with Harry.”
“You heard me, I want to go with Harry Potter.”
“But how do you know he wants to go with you, and what does this have to do with Cho?”
“He doesn’t want to go with me, … yet, but he will. We just have to make sure someone else doesn’t get him first, and he’s had it bad for your Miss Chang for at least a year now. Didn’t you know? Why did Susan ask?”
I chose to ignore this startling revelation for the moment, and concentrated on the question I could answer.
“Because Cedric Diggory wants to ask Cho.”
As she laid out her plans to me, I was forcibly reminded that, however she tried to hide it beneath a frivolous exterior, my sister was a clever and devious witch. Which didn’t necessarily make her right.
“Parvati, I’m not sure this is such a good idea.”
“Nonsense, it’s a wonderful idea. Look, Harry has to have a date; he’s one of the champions. All you have to do is make sure that by the time he gets the nerve up to ask Cho, she’s already taken.”
This was the time. This was the time to take charge, to keep faith with my older in the best Ravenclaw tradition. This was the moment to stand up to my sister for the first time in our lives and help make Cho’s dreams come true.
I did try. For Cho Chang, I took a deep breath and attempted the impossible task of changing Parvati’s mind.
“Parvati, Cho was hoping to go with Harry. She’s liked him for a long time, and now you say he likes her too…”
“Trust me, it wouldn’t work.”
“How do you know? Shouldn’t we let them try?”
“They can try some other time.”
“Damn it, Parvati! Half the boys at Hogwarts would mortgage their soul to be your date. Why does it have to be this one?”
“Look, Padma, your Cho had her chance. Right now is my turn and I’m going to have him and you’re going to help me.”
“Stop saying that! She’s not my Cho.”
“No, you only wish she were …”
“Shut up, Parvati!”
It was as close to a real quarrel as I had ever come with my sister, and the sudden realisation of it frightened us both. We sat quietly for a moment, and when I finally spoke again it was in a tone that desperately sought, and very nearly attained, a calmer register.
“Why, Parvati? Why do you want this so much?”
The coy smile and the sarcasm were both gone, in their place an expression determined and almost sad.
“Because I can. Look, I’ll never vanquish You Know Who or be Captain of Quidditch or even first in Arithmancy, but everyone will remember that I was Harry Potter’s date to the first Triwizard Ball in three hundred years. This is something I can do.”
Put that way, it seemed like such a small thing to ask. Surely Cho would understand …
“What do you want from me?”
“Just encourage Cho to go with Cedric. I’ll have everything under control over here.”
Everything under control, I was given to understand, involved making sure every other eligible female within reach was firmly tied up. And so Parvati went off happily to spread sweetness and light as Gryffindor’s matchmaker in chief, dispensing advice to the girls and encouragement to the boys. The principal threats, as she saw it, were Hermione and young Ginny Weasley who, as even I knew, had had a painfully obvious crush on Harry ever since arriving at school.
“Funny thing is, he’s the only one not to notice. You can never tell what she might do, though …”
Looking back, we later decided that this statement had been the first manifestation of my sister’s Inner Eye – although, as so often with prophecies, it’s meaning only became clear long after the fact. At the time, she was much more concerned about Hermione. She knew better than to believe the scurrilous rumours being spread that year about the two of them, but she worried that Hermione might take it upon herself to rescue Harry if he seemed too desperate. And so it was that my sister, who for three and a half years had considered Hermione Granger too tedious for words, was suddenly obsessed with finding a date for her. There was Ron Weasley of course, the obvious choice, but his lack of the slightest clue had Parvati in despair.
“Can anyone really be that dense?”
Like all good strategists, however, she had a plan in reserve.
“Neville Longbottom. He doesn’t look like much but he adores Hermione, and she wouldn’t want to hut his feelings by turning him down. If Ron won’t do it, he’s the one.”
Had she but known, she could have put her mind to rest. We were about to receive foreign assistance.
Hermione was still keeping Harry’s secrets, but she no longer minded sharing her own with me. I knew all about her endless frustrations with the charming but clueless Ron. And then one day she showed up in Arithmancy with an expression I had never seen on her. She sat down unmoving and stared straight ahead, as if stunned.
“Hermione, are you all right? … Hermione?”
Silence. And then finally two words.
“… Viktor Krum …”
The problem, of course, was how to deal with Ron.
“What do I do, Padma? I really want to teach him a lesson … but I can’t bear to hurt him. If I go with Viktor, and Harry has to go with someone … we can’t just leave him behind on his own.”
Friendship has its limits; at least ours did at the time. I kept my mouth shut. I did, however, report this development to my sister, after swearing her to secrecy. I expected her to be pleased, but found her instead more than a bit miffed.
“… and to think I just spent a week putting some backbone into that flobberworm Longbottom. All for nothing, who was to know? Maybe I can still use him though.”
“Use him? Getting a bit cynical here, aren’t we?”
“Padma, don’t be cross, you know what I mean. I’m doing him a favour, really. You don’t think he would ever have got up the nerve to ask a girl on his own do you? Maybe I can get him to do it again. There’s still Ginny …”
And so the deed was done, and all that remained was the grand entrance of the Hero of Hufflepuff … who still did nothing.
“What’s with him, anyway?”
Parvati was baffled, and I was dispatched to find out what was going on. This time it was I who sought out Susan. To my surprise, she seemed rather worried.
“Padma, I don’t know what he’s playing at. He seemed so eager, and now he’s holding back, almost like he was afraid of something. This isn’t like him, it’s not as if he’s never asked out a girl before.”
“Yeah, well according to my sister, Harry wants her too. He probably never has asked a girl out in his life, but there’s always a first time. If Cedric wants to get the Snitch, he’d better fly a bit more swiftly.”
“I’ll tell him what you said.”
Whatever Susan said finally did the trick, and Cedric, for his part, managed somehow to avoid the instant dismissal that had met Messrs. Corner, Boot, and Smith. It was my turn now. Cho gazed at me, her eyes full of trust.
“Padma, what should I do? He seems really nice, but I was still hoping … well, you know.”
It was entirely too easy to lie to Cho Chang.
“He does seem nice, doesn’t he? Susan thinks highly of him. Why don’t you go ahead, Cho? It’s only one evening, after all, and I really don’t think waiting for Harry is going to do any good. In any case, he isn’t going anywhere. You can always try for him later if you want.”
Cho nodded, a happy smile lighting her features, and I knew that she was already thinking of how she might have them both.
“Thank you, Padma, you always have the answer. I’ll go tell Cedric.”
“You do that …”
My first punishment came swiftly. Parvati came to find me at breakfast the next morning with an extremely odd look on her face, triumph mixed with what seemed to be apprehension.
“Well, he did it.”
We worked out that Harry had missed his chance with Cho by no more than five minutes. Moments later, my sister caught him neatly on the rebound, exactly as she had planned. In romance as in Quidditch, timing is everything,
“So why aren’t you happier?”
“Padma, I have to ask you something…”
I was filled with a sense of dread.
“I’m not going to like this, am I?”
“Padma, will you please, please, please consider going to the Ball with Ron Weasley?”
I should have seen it coming. Like all good heroes, Harry took care of his best mate. For my own part, I had been looking forward to going home, to a respite from the strains of schoolwork and romantic intrigue. Parvati’s question, however, invoking a ritual from our earliest childhood, left me no choice.
Anything I say three times is true
Anything I ask three times you do
It went deeper than magic, all the way to the core of who we were. It didn’t mean I had to be gracious about it.
“Merlin’s ghost, Parvati! Don’t you think you could have asked me first?”
Swearing by Merlin was a Hogwarts affectation I usually despised. What I really wanted to say, however, was not suitable for the Great Hall at eight in the morning. Parvati took my meaning perfectly, and tried hard to be conciliatory. As usual, when it came to this sort of matter, she was a step ahead of me.
“There wasn’t time, but look, Padma, if what you told me about Hermione is true, you’re actually doing her a favour too.”
“Of course it’s true … I’ll talk to her about it.”
“You’re wonderful, thank you.”
Triumph finally won the battle for control of my sister’s features. With a grin, she reached over to give me a hug. I was having none of it. Holding Parvati at arm’s length, I invoked all of the sternness of which I was capable – never very much in her case.
“You are evil and underhanded and someday it will all catch up with you. And I haven’t said I would do it … and you’re welcome.”
I would do it of course; there was never any question. We both knew that. I sent home an owl announcing my change of plans. The reply came that night, a wry note wishing me well and encouraging me to make Parvati pay through the nose. Our mother was no fool.
The look of relief on Hermione’s face when I told her almost convinced me that we were doing the right thing after all.
“Oh, Padma, that’s perfect! How can I ever thank you?”
“Don’t even try. It’s all down to my wretched scheming sister.”
Under the circumstances, I felt that the least I owed Hermione was a full explanation. I told her of the complex web of intrigue spun by Parvati in pursuit of what I still considered a highly dubious prize. She didn’t seem all that surprised.
“You know, maybe it’s just as well. Harry and Cho … I’m really not sure …”
Betraying Cho Chang for what everyone seemed to agree was her own good was not really betrayal at all. I told myself that rather a lot over the following weeks and months.
Fortunately, there were practical considerations to keep us all busy. Hermione’s thoughtful expression had turned to one of apprehension.
“Padma, since you’re going to be here, can I ask you a favour?”
“The night of the Ball … I’m going to need help getting ready. Could you … could I come see you?”
I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Did you know that Parvati comes to see me because she doesn’t want to ask you for help with classes?”
“… and now I don’t want to ask her for help with clothes and make-up. And the hair, it’s mostly the hair.”
“Padma Patil, secret keeper. That’s me. Of course I’ll help you.”
She was laughing too. It was her last occasion to do so for quite some time.
By far the best part of the Yule Ball was Hermione’s entrance. It had taken two and a half hours of hard work, every grooming charm I knew (and I know many – don’t forget, I grew up with Parvati), a wide assortment of cosmetic products both Muggle and magical, and, in the end, the advice and assistance of every member of the line of Astraï present that evening – including Cho Chang, who found the whole thing very funny. It was all worth it to see the look on my sister’s face. Harry’s expression wasn’t bad either. Ron didn’t seem to care much for it, however, and, unfortunately for all concerned, I was with him.
He was not, at first or even at second glance, a promising prospect. Ten minutes of careful transfiguration would have turned his ancient dress robes into something quite presentable in a vintage sort of way, but that was clearly nine and a half more than he had actually devoted to the project. Then again, I was hardly one to talk. The outfit I wore that night had been acquired by and for my sister. Turquoise is not my favourite colour. At least I made an effort to smile. Ron did not, and the permanent scowl into which his features seemed set did nothing to help his overall appearance. It was not mandatory, however, that I admire either his good looks or his winning personality. My instructions, delivered in virtually identical words by Hermione and Parvati, were clear.
“Just keep him busy and out of everyone’s way. You never have to speak to him again afterwards if you don’t want to.”
It sounded so easy.
I failed totally, utterly, miserably. It was pathetic, really, and the only even remotely humorous note was that for once in her life even my sister didn’t manage to get her man. After the obligatory first dance, Harry paid no more attention to her than Ron did to me. We sat miserably, Ron watching Hermione, and Harry and I watching Cho.
Parvati, at least, tried. She smiled and flirted and looked pretty enough to eat. She danced with other boys, hoping Harry would eventually get the idea. After a while, she dropped the subtle approach and more or less ordered him to get up and do his duty. It was, all of it, a waste of effort; she might as well have tried seducing the giant squid. Finally, her patience snapped. She dragged me off and, having reduced an entire table of French boys to abject servitude before they even knew what hit them, thrust me into the arms of a rather decorative one.
He danced quite well, and was very good at fetching punch.