Harry's greatest fear about the ball was that it was going to complicate things again. After all, he'd spent the last few months of his last life dealing with awkwardness and a strained relationship with Hermione, all because of a single moment.
What did she expect of him? Did she think this meant they were dating, or was this really the friendly dance that she was making it out to be. The question plagued him over the next two weeks, even as Hermione was inscrutable.
He couldn't even ask her about it without revealing his own fears. He feared that asking about their relationship becoming awkward would make their relationship become awkward.
There wasn't much he could do other than hope for the best. He chose the same dress robe as he had the last time, and he practiced dancing on the sly; while he remembered the steps he wanted to impress Hermione and dance more naturally than he had before.
Fleur chose Cedric, to no one's surprise. Harry suspected that she had a thing for champions, or it may have been the fact that they bonded over the death of Krum. For whatever reason, every time he saw them together he felt a pang of envy, but it was getting easier over time.
Christmas morning came before he knew it.
As Harry woke, he felt something at his feet. He grabbed his wand and pointed it before he was even awake. He saw a familiar set of ears over the side of the bed.
"Dobby?" he asked, finally remembering.
The house elf had shown up the last time with a gift of socks; Harry hadn't gotten him anything and had felt bad about it. Even though he didn't fully trust the little House elf, knowing that his idea of what was proper wasn't always the same as that of everyone else, he had felt guilty.
One advantage of resetting was that sometimes the things that caused guilt could be undone. Harry had looked for the perfect thing to get Dobby, and eventually he'd found it.
"Dobby is here with your presents, sir," Dobby said. Dobby was carrying a pile of presents as tall as he was; if anything the pile was even larger than before the reset.
"Put them down at the foot of the bed," Harry said. "I've got something for you."
Dobby's eyes grew wide, and he took the small package Harry handed him as though it was made of the finest crystal. He opened it carefully, careful not to tear the paper.
As he opened it, he gasped. Harry had had a small outfit made for Dobby; even though Dobby had had his own Slytherin outfit made, it was still ill fitting. This outfit came with a spell that permanently sized it to the first person who wore it. He'd bought it from a shop in Hogsmeade that mostly specialized in clothing designed for toddlers, but it was custom made with a Slytherin crest. The entire outfit was in Slytherin colors.
Dobby gave a shriek and immediately threw his arms around Harry's knees, something that Harry felt weirdly uncomfortable about. A moment later Dobby began to throw off his clothes and Harry had to turn his head for a moment before he saw something he didn't want to see.
Harry heard a gasp from the doorway. He saw Malfoy standing in the door, presumably looking at Dobby in whatever state of undress he was now in. The expression of horror on his face struck Harry as being unusually funny, even as he heard the pop of Dobby vanishing, along with his clothes.
"Do I have to ask why you have a half dressed house elf in the middle of the room?" Malfoy asked.
"I gave him clothes," Harry said casually.
Apparently Malfoy hadn't recognized Dobby from behind, because he looked impressed.
"I didn't know you even had a house elf; they're hard to get these days. My father was really upset when we lost one of ours."
"I'm sure," Harry murmured. "Can you hold these?"
He shoved his pile of packages into Malfoy's hands and then began to do his usual round of diagnostic checks on them.
"What are you doing?" Malfoy asked from behind the packages.
"Checking for traps and explosives," Harry said. "Poisons, snakes, scorpions...the usual."
Malfoy turned quickly and set the packages on Crabbe's bed. He stepped away, looking a little pale.
"It looks like they're all clean," Harry said. "I've been a lot more careful with my mail since Hermione got bubotuber pus in an envelope."
Harry had actually always been careful with his mail. He simply wanted to remind Malfoy of the danger Malfoy's father had put everyone in. He wasn't sure that Malfoy knew of his father's role with the basilisk during second year, but he knew Malfoy had some knowledge of his father's actions.
Besides...it was possible that he'd spent a little too much time with the twins. He enjoyed teasing Malfoy, who tended to be a little too uptight, even for a Slytherin.
"At least if it leaks Crabbe will barely notice," Malfoy said after a moment.
Harry snickered in spite of himself.
"Let's see what you've got," Malfoy said.
The first package was from Sirius. Harry carefully opened it, and he saw a small mirror inside. He'd gotten this the last time, and he had treasured it.
"Your Godfather gave you a mirror?" Malfoy asked incredulously.
"Sometimes a mirror isn't just a mirror," Harry said, smiling inscrutably.
He hadn't understood the first time around either until he'd tried it; it was a lifeline to a similar mirror possessed by Sirius. No more need to wait on owls; he'd be able to see him face to face, and he'd be able to affect things in the outside world through Sirius much faster.
Despite Malfoy's curiosity, Harry didn't explain the mirror's function. Secrets were only valuable if kept secret.
Harry had a present from Hagrid; it was a muggle jacket with a special pocket hidden inside for his wand. He'd been grateful for it the first time, and he was grateful for it now. In the first place, he didn't have a jacket, and Britain could get cold. It was nicer than most of his muggle clothes, and the wand holder might save his life some day.
Neville had bought him a wizard's chess set. Neville had taught him how to play, although he reportedly wasn't the master player that Ron Weasley of all people was. This set was small and could be folded away to the size of a small book, the figurines inside vanishing into otherspace.
Hermione's box, however was completely different than it had been the last time. The last time she'd bought him a Wizarding book called "A Hairy Heart: The guide to Wizards who won't commit."
It had been a rather pointed commentary on the status of their relationship at the time.
This package wasn't shaped like a book at all. Harry opened it carefully, and inside was another small mirror.
"People think you're really full of yourself, I guess," Malfoy said. He blinked. "Hang on, I've seen those before."
"What is it," Harry asked.
"It's a foe glass. It shows your three greatest enemies in it; the closer they are, the more clearly they appear."
"How much did she spend on this?" Harry asked, checking the mirror for traps with his wand.
He'd bought her Peruvian darkness powder and he planned on teaching her to use a supersensory charm to get around. If this was a whole lot more, then he'd feel guilty as well as wondering what message she was trying to send.
"That's a cheap one, and small," Malfoy said. "She could have bought it used for thirty galleons."
Harry felt somewhat relieved. The darkness powder was worth more than that, although one hundred and fifty pounds was a lot of money for a girl her age to spend.
He picked the mirror up gingerly and looked into it.
The familiar figure of baby Voldemort appeared in the mirror; his figure was misty and vague. The mirror didn't show what he was doing at the moment; something like that would be worth a thousand times thirty galleons, even used. Instead it was a rather generic picture.
"That's your greatest enemy?" Malfoy asked, looking over his shoulder.
"That's what Voldemort looks like right now," Harry said, glancing at him. "He's looking for a new body and so he's not exactly himself at the moment."
The expression of disgust on Malfoy's face wasn't something Harry had expected. He'd thought Malfoy would have seen worse things in his household. Perhaps his father shielded him from the worst of what he did.
"He's barely human," Malfoy said. "And who is that?"
The woman Umbridge appeared in the mirror; her figure was much sharper and closer than Voldemort's had been. She smiled pleasantly, but it didn't reach her eyes.
"A woman in the Ministry...I almost got her sacked."
The third figure was that of a woman he'd never seen before, with wild hair and an insane look in her eye. She was closer than Voldemort, but further away than Umbridge.
"Auntie Bellatrix," Malfoy breathed.
"Your aunt is my third worst enemy?" Harry asked. His fingers strayed toward his wand.
Malfoy lifted his hands. "She's everybody's worst enemy. Besides...we're all related, the purebloods. My great great aunt was Dorea Black, who was your grandmother. I'm probably related to Longbottom and Weasley too, though nobody will ever admit it."
"We're relatives?" Harry asked.
Malfoy scowled. "I looked it up first year. It doesn't mean anything."
"Well, I don't particularly like the rest of my family, so why should you be any different?" Harry said, but he grinned as he said it.
"It's a really nice present from a poor girl," Malfoy said. "It's almost like she's declaring for you."
Harry shook his head.
"She knows what I'm like, and this was just the best thing she could have gotten me," Harry said. "And if I ever look in it and see her face in it, I'll know I'm really in the doghouse."
There was one last present on the bed, one that had no name on it. It was in plain, brown paper, and Harry had an immediate sense of foreboding. All his friends knew better than to send him presents without a name on it. Worse; this present hadn't been there the last time.
"You think Goyle would open it if I gave him a galleon?" Harry asked.
Malfoy had picked up on his sense of unease, because any sense of humor drained out of his face. After a glance at each other, they both took a long step back.
Harry used a small diffendo to make a tiny rip in the paper. Nothing came billowing out, and so he used wingardium to levitate the paper off the front of what turned out to be a book.
Lifting the book magically, Harry rotated it so the title was visible. He ran more tests on the book; everything he could think of, but none of them panned out. Malfoy seemed impressed that he could continue to levitate the book while running the tests.
"Ars moriendi," Harry read the title in some confusion. The book looked very old and worn, almost as though the pages would turn to dust if Harry actually tried to read it.
Draco peered at the book.
"My father has a copy of that book in our library, but our copy is a lot newer," he said. "That looks like it might be an original copy...early fifteenth century. If it is, it's worth as much as a house. Original copies were hand written. It might be a later reproduction; it was one of the first Muggle books that were actually printed. My father's copy was from the seventeen hundreds and this one looks older."
Accepting books from Lucius Malfoy was never a good idea, but Malfoy hadn't even shown up on the foe glass. Harry had a sinking feeling that the book wasn't from him. Malfoy would never send him something that expensive.
Malfoy said, "Even early sixteenth century reproductions are worth six thousand galleons.
As much as Malfoy's bragging about money normally bothered Harry, this time it was actually useful.
"What is it about?" Harry asked.
"The English translation is The Art of Dying. It's something about how to die well," Malfoy said. He looked at Harry and must have seen something in his expression.
There was only one person Harry knew who would spend that kind of money just to make a point. It was a message, one that only Harry would understand.
Voldemort knew, and he was taunting Harry with that fact.
Harry felt a chill go down his spine. The foe glass had been wrong.
Voldemort had never been closer.
"Draco was wrong," Harry said. "After we had Dumbledore check it for traps, he said it was a 1642 version, only worth about 500 galleons."
"That's still a lot of money to spend without leaving a note," Neville said. "Do you have any idea who sent it?"
"No idea," Harry said.
Technically, he didn't know who had sent it. However, his suspicions were chilling. It had colored the rest of his day despite Dumbledore's assurances that there were no poisons, curses or other traps in the book at all.
He hadn't even been able to enjoy the snowball fight in the afternoon because he'd been busy brooding about what kind of message he'd been sent. He could only hope that he didn't brood throughout the dance; he didn't want to ruin Hermione's evening.
They were waiting together for their dates. Neville was taking the Weasley girl, and Harry was waiting on Hermione. He knew she'd look stunning in her periwinkle blue robes, and while he'd have seen it before he'd look suitably impressed. She deserved it after all for having put up with him for all these years.
Even now, when she'd finally realized the danger she was in, she was still by his side. This meant more to Harry than he would have thought.
He hadn't remembered the entrance hall being this packed before; possibly he'd been distracted by worrying about dancing with Fleur. He looked for Hermione, trying not to look anxious.
As casual as he'd kept things between them, Harry suspected that a great deal rode on how the evening went. He hadn't enjoyed months of awkwardness, and he had no intention of going through that again.
Hermione was possibly the most important person in his life. It was important to keep her happy.
How he was going to do it he wasn't sure. It would be a delicate balance between keeping her far enough away to keep her safe without driving her away and damaging their friendship. Harry felt more anxious about this than he should have been.
After all, he'd been to the ball before.
Of course, the lack of Durmstrang students was going to change things. He couldn't afford to assume that everything was going to be the same as it had been last time. Changes tended to ripple outward, like the huge changes that twenty missing Durmstrang students had made in who was dating whom.
When she finally stepped out, he froze. The periwinkle blue robes were gone; in their place were burgundy robes that looked more like a dress than robes. Her hair was still sleek and shiny, but the complicated knot was different. It was somehow even better looking than her hair had been for the first time.
She was looking around the room for him, and when she finally saw him, she smiled.
How had he not seen it? Her face lit up the room when she smiled. He'd always known that she was a pretty girl in a vague sort of sense, but now, feeling the full impact of it, he wondered if she too was part veela.
He smiled, and for once it wasn't something that was forced.
He suddenly found himself looking forward to the evening instead of seeing it as a obligation. He'd enjoyed dancing with Fleur, after all. Surely dancing with his best friend couldn't be anything but better.
As she approached he took her hand and he bowed slightly. Although there was a crowd around him, he felt like they were the only two people in the room.
"I see that you've stolen a little of Fleur's veela magic," Harry said. At her confused expression, he nodded in the direction of the people around them. "Look at them looking at you and tell me what you see."
She looked around. People were staring at them both and whispering. Normally this would have thrown Harry into a fit of suspicious thoughts but not tonight. Tonight he knew exactly why they were whispering, and he felt proud for her.
He'd heard from Neville how she'd been teased about her teeth when she was younger. She'd been bullied almost as much as he had, if in less overt ways. Sometimes Harry thought the more subtle techniques were more emotionally damaging.
After all, it was easy to defend against a punch or even a spell. A whisper, however, or a rumor, a subtle comment...all were almost impossible to fight against.
So he was proud now that she had her day in the sun.
Her smile brightened, if anything, and she linked her arm in his.
"Let's go in," she said.
He nodded, and with that they headed inside for the Great Hall.
As they stepped into the Great Hall, every wall festooned with sparkling silvery frost, Harry could hear gasps from everyone around them. Beside him, Hermione stiffened before relaxing.
McGonagall called for the champions to dance the first dance, and Harry took a half step toward the dance floor before he managed to stop himself.
Hermione gave him a strange look as Fleur and Cedric began to dance.
It should have bothered him, seeing Fleur dancing with someone else, but strangely it didn't. Harry glanced at Hermione beside him and reflected that for tonight at least, he was the one dancing with the most beautiful girl at the ball.
As the dance ended, and the rest of the dancers were allowed to move out onto the dance floor, Harry escorted Hermione. He put his hands around her waist, and as the music began they began to dancer.
It felt nearly effortless, dancing with her. It was much more natural than dancing with Fleur had been, although that might have been because he knew what he was doing now.
She leaned forward and whispered in his ear.
"How did you know?" Hermione asked.
Harry looked at her, unsure of what she was saying. He continued dancing, but he felt a sudden sense of anxiety.
"The Room of Requirement," she said. "You made it look exactly like this. How did you know?"