Starcrossed

Chapter The First: The Beginning

“Draco! Draco! What happened? Are you okay? Draco!”

No sooner had Crabbe and Goyle half-dragged Malfoy into the nearly empty Slytherin common room than had Pansy been at the boy’s side, practically interrogating the blond as he wrestled out of the other boys’ grips and moseyed over to a black leather chair. He pretended not to notice her, even as she hung onto him. He sat down without giving her more than a glance, and stared off into space. After another moment without a response from Draco, Pansy turned to the other two boys.

“Greg?”

“Granger punched him,” Goyle answered promptly.

“Square in the nose!” added Crabbe with the slightest lift in his voice. Pansy fixed angry eyes onto him, but was unable to act any further when Blaise joined them a few seconds later. Although, to be specific, he joined Draco. He pulled a chair similar to the one Draco was sitting in next to the other boy and tried to break Draco’s gaze. It was obvious that whatever was going on inside his head had him transfixed. After a couple of minutes, Blaise slapped Draco upside his head.

“Hey! My face has been hurt quite enough for one day, Zabini!” Draco snapped.

“Well if you weren’t off in bloody Ireland – or wherever your head’s off to – I wouldn’t have had to hit you to get your attention!” Blaise sneered. Draco rolled his eyes, but didn’t argue.

“What’s in Ireland?” he inquired teasingly.

“You tell me; you’re the one daydreamin’ about it,” Blaise responded.

“I am not daydreaming!”

“You totally are. What, thinking about Granger?” Blaise scoffed. “No wonder your head hurts.”

With a smirk, and a laugh which earned him an intense glare from Pansy, he stood up, turned and walked away from the others.

“Do you think that’s even possible?” Draco asked admonishingly, praying that he kept his composure as his heart raced.

“Hey, opposites attract, right?” Blaise retorted. “You might not like her, but even you’ve got to admit, Granger’s smart, and she’s got guts. You, on the other hand…”

“Zip it, Zabini,” Draco groaned as he pushed his way back out into the corridor. He ran past a crowd of leering faces, up the stairs, out onto the grounds, and over to the lakeside, then leaned up against a tree and sat down. After making sure he was alone, he sighed heavily and wiped a lone tear off his cheek.

Out of every girl I could have fallen for, it just had to be her.


Chapter The Second: Twitchy Little Ferret

“I’m terribly sorry, Viktor,” Hermione attested. “We just – we just…don’t have that much in common, and-”

“I get it,” Viktor consented. “I vill see you around, vill I not?”

“Yes, yes, of course you will,” Hermione said, smiling. She gave him a grateful hug, and he walked away silently. She chuckled to herself then headed back to the Great Hall, pleased to be able to study without being watched – by Viktor, that is. [Ron had been on her back constantly, trying to figure out with whom she was going to the Yule Ball.

“Hermione – who are you going to the ball with?” said Ron. He kept springing this question on her, hoping to startle her into a response when she least expected it. However, Hermione merely frowned and said, “I’m not telling you, you’ll just make fun of me.”

“You’re joking, Weasley,” said Malfoy, behind them. “You’re telling me someone’s asked that to the ball? Not the long-molared Mudblood?”

Harry and Ron both whipped around, but Hermione said loudly, waving to somebody over Malfoy’s shoulders, “Hello, Professor Moody!” Malfoy went pale and jumped backwards, looking wildly around for Moody, but he was still up at the staff table, finishing his stew.

“Twitchy little ferret, aren’t you, Malfoy?” said Hermione scathingly, and she, Harry, and Ron went up the marble staircase, laughing heartily.] Their laughter was interrupted by Malfoy bellowing after them.

“Well, Granger, we all know how much you like rodents,” he retorted. Neither of the boys heard exactly what he said, only that he was yelling, but all of the trio turned on their heels to face him again. Harry, who was farthest up the steps and trying not to get pulled into another argument, stood watching; Ron simply sent Malfoy an icy glare. Hermione, however, swiftly retraced her steps until she was standing a couple meters from Malfoy.

“What’s that supposed to mean!” she barked. Malfoy smirked, pretending to be surprised.

“Granger! Tsk-tsk! Do you mean to say you actually don’t know something?” he chided teasingly. She crossed her arms tightly across her chest, scoffing.

“Congratulations. Weaselby might actually be worthy of someone so astute,” he playfully admonished.

“Oh, because you’re so much better, isn’t that right?” she sneered.

Malfoy smiled coyly.

“And I take that back. You might actually be half as smart as you like to think you are.”

Hermione’s mouth fell open.

“You are such an arse, Malfoy!”

“Language, Granger! Wouldn’t want to be gettin’ in any trouble now, do you? Or maybe you’ve secretly got a penchant for it? Certainly would explain why you’re still talking to me,” Draco continued, stepping closer to Hermione so they were standing rather closely to one another.

“In case you haven’t noticed, you’ve been doing most of the talking, Malfoy,” she recounted, desperately searching for words, pleading with herself to stay as calm as possible. She couldn’t decide whether she was intensely angry or infatuated. She always prayed it was the former, but she’d noticed the latter kept creeping up on her more and more, especially at the worst times.

They’re all the worst times, she reminded herself.

“Why’d ya have to ruin my fun?” he said teasingly, though his face fell.

“It’s my job, Malfoy. I’d think you’d have noticed by now!” she taunted him back.

“That makes it so much better,” he replied sarcastically, chuckling.

“Maybe you’ll get me back someday. If you ever find something you’re better at, that is,” she added.

“Well, I’ve got an idea,” he suggested after a moment, his voice suddenly much softer.

“Which is?”

“Go to the ball with me.”

“Come again?” she stammered, shocked.

“You aren’t deaf too, are you, Granger?”

“Sod off, Malfoy,” she said threateningly, then turned her back to him, taking care to avoid Ron and Harry as she raced up the stairs.

Note: The text within the brackets is an excerpt from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (US Edition) and was written by J.K. Rowling, not by me.


Chapter The Third: Brilliant

“He what?” Ginny exclaimed.

“Slow down, slow down! Malfoy. Asked. You. To. The. Ball.”

“I feel like we’ve established that, Ginny,” Hermione responded frustratedly as she paced back and forth in her dormitory.

“I know, it’s just…it’s Malfoy! I mean, Draco bloody Malfoy!”

“I feel like we’ve established that as well,” Hermione shrieked.

” ‘Mione,” Ginny scolded. “Can you just relax? Maybe we can put the pieces together.”

“I don’t know,” Hermione groaned, sitting down on her bed, next to Ginny.

“I don’t know what to think of this.”

Ginny sighed, putting her arm around Hermione.

“Then I suppose I can’t be much help, can I?”

“No, no, it’s much better having you here. I’d much rather talk to you about it then sit here thinking about it around Parvati and Lavender.” Ginny winced at the mention of Hermione’s roommates. Neither were girls that Ginny was fond of herself.

“I don’t know how you survive with them. I’d bet you can’t talk about anything with them.” Hermione giggled.

“That’s generally how it works. Thank goodness for you, Ron and Harry, right? I’d have gone insane if I didn’t have anyone to talk to.”

Ginny’s eyes widened and she sat up straighter.

“They don’t know, do they? Ron and Harry?”

“What? About Malfoy? Of course not. I’m not crazy enough, Gin. Could you even imagine the look on Ron’s face?”

Ginny’s heart sped up as her thoughts raced.

” ‘Mione. Oh my gosh, ‘Mione! I’ve got it. I’ve got it, ‘Mione. Hermione, it’s perfect! I don’t know why we didn’t see this earlier!” She jumped up from the bed, holding her head in her hands and smiling. Hermione reluctantly stood up after her, confused.

“Yes, yes, absolutely wonderful. Care to explain, Ginny?”

“Originally you were going to go with Krum, right? And why was that?” Ginny urged.

“Because…” Hermione looked at Ginny, hoping the other girl would fill the blank so she didn’t have to admit it aloud, but to no success. “Because Ron wouldn’t ask me, and I was going to try to make him jealous.”

“Exactly! Krum is a professional Quidditch player, and Harry’s opponent, and all that, but they’ve hated Malfoy forever! I mean, we have too, but it’s just one night, right? What better way to get to Ron than to go with his and Harry’s nemesis? He’s Malfoy; he’ll play it up, taunt Ron. You won’t even have to do anything other than show up and look pretty and Ron’ll go completely insane! Not to say he isn’t already, but you know what I mean, don’t you, ‘Mione?”

“Yeah, yeah, I know what you mean. My goodness, Ginny, that’s brilliant! You’re brilliant!”

“Why is Ginny brilliant?” called Lavender from the door of the room. She and Parvati had just gotten to their dormitory, and were looking at Hermione expectantly. Hermione quickly sobered.

“No particular reason. She just…is,” Hermione replied calmly, though her heart was jumping.

“Great,” Lavender yawned. “Mind if we come in?”

“No, not at all,” Hermione lied, discretely grabbing her bag. Ginny grabbed Hermione’s arm and pulled her out of the room, sprinting into the common room.

“Ginny?” Neville whimpered, sitting in a leather chair, an open Prophet on his lap. The girls stopped when they heard him, and he stood up and walked over to them, blushing when he realised Hermione was with her.

“Yes, Neville?” Ginny politely inquired, both she and Hermione predicting what he was about to say.

“Oh, nothing,” he muttered. “I…I was…I was just…just wondering if…if you might want to, um, go to the, um, ball with m-me?”

“I’d love to go with you, Neville,” Ginny replied, starting to walk off again. “I’ll see you around, okay?”

“Yeah,” Neville mumbled, then cleared his throat. “See you around.” He went back to his chair, and Ginny and Hermione dashed out of the common room.

“Wait!” Hermione cried as they reached the Great Hall, and Ginny stopped promptly in her tracks.

“Yeah?”

“Where are we going, exactly?”

Ginny looked around as though searching for an answer in the tapestry.

“I don’t know.” The pair stood aimlessly at the doors for a short moment, their eyes darting around as they tried to figure out where they should go.

“Hey, Ginny!” exclaimed Fred and George in unison from their seats at their house table. “Hey, Hermione!”

“Hey!” the girls responded together, then ran over and sat across from the twins.

“Whatcha doin’?” the boys inquired. Ginny and Hermione looked at each other awkwardly.

“Girl stuff, Freddie, I bet,” George remarked quickly.

“You know, Georgie, I’ll bet you’re right,” continued Fred.

“Girl stuff,” repeated Ginny.

“You could say that,” Hermione finished.

“Then we don’t wanna know,” Fred and George simultaneously replied, as they stood up and gathered their things. “Say hey for us if you see Angelina or Oliver, okay? We’ve got to go,” Fred added.

“What are you doing?” Ginny pressed. Fred and George immediately locked eyes. Ginny and Hermione did the same.

“Guy stuff,” they contested together, grinning as they looked back at the boys.

“You could say that,” Fred and George quoted, then bounced out of the Hall. Hermione and Ginny laughed, quieting with the echoes of all too familiar voices behind them.

“Your dad’s just wonderful, isn’t he? The best robes in Diagon Alley…” Pansy said, fawning over a letter in her hands.

“He’s Lucius Malfoy. Nothing but the best, Pansy,” Draco grumbled, grabbing the letter, refolding it, and slipping it into a pocket. “Not exactly a secret.” He dropped his last word, noticing the two girls sitting at the Gryffindor table. Pansy pursed her lips, oblivious to Draco’s drifting gaze, but not to his tone of voice.

“I think most everyone knows that by now. Everyone with a working brain, at least,” added Blaise, trying to get Pansy to leave, a difficult task whenever Malfoy was around. The boys broke into laughter, though Draco’s was forced, his attention fixed somewhere else. Pansy’s eyes danced nervously between Draco, Blaise, and the silent Crabbe and Goyle beside them. Draco had been out of sorts for a while, and Blaise needed to know why. Trying to get Draco to talk about anything personal was almost always futile, but if you played your cards right, sometimes you could glean something from a conversation. It pleased Blaise to know he was probably the only person Draco had ever trusted with anything remotely personal before. It meant he might be able to figure out what was going on.

“Probably,” Draco stated unenthusiastically, sliding into a seat at the table without so much as a glance towards the others. Pansy finally took the cue, saying a flirty goodbye to Draco then running off unhappily. Draco pretended to engross himself in an large unlabelled book, staring towards the next table over. Crabbe and Goyle followed Pansy soon after, but Blaise seated himself next to Draco when they left. He slid a hand around the book, plopped a bookmark in it, and moved it out of Draco’s reach.

“Okay, what gives?” he demanded.

“Come again?” Draco replied.

“What’s gotten into you?” Blaise clarified. “You haven’t seemed like yourself in far too long, Dray.”

“Maybe I am myself, but who I am has changed.”

“How deep,” Blaise chided sarcastically.

“Now what’s actually going on?”

“Who said it’s any of your business?” Draco fumed.

“Who said I care?” Blaise retorted.

“Nothing is going on, for your information,” Draco insisted.

“Really? Then let’s change the subject, shall we? Let’s see…oh! Who are you going to the ball with?”

A fearful expression filled Draco’s eyes. They wandered back to Hermione, then Blaise continued.

“And I just caught ya red handed, Malfoy. Now spill.”


Chapter 4: Chapter 4


Chapter The Fourth: We Need To Talk

“Not here,” Draco groaned.

“Where?” Blaise looked at Draco expectantly. “Surely not the common room?”

Draco sighed angrily.

“What’s the weather like?”

“Horrid.”

“Perfect. Let’s go outside.” Draco shoved his things into a bag, violently yanking his book from Blaise, and stood up.

“You’re mental,” Blaise told him.

“Just noticed?” Draco scoffed. “And I’m the pathetic one!”

Blaise rolled his eyes. “Where to, Malfoy?”

“I’m thinking the lake. Does that work for you, Zabini?”

“Sure.”

The weather, while not quite horrid, wasn’t great either: the ground was soggy and covered in leaves, and the sky was grey. A light drizzle fell in intervals, stopping and starting every few minutes. The chilly November air nipped at them. They reached the lake, and Draco rustled a large green and black towel from his bag, laid it down, then sat down at the edge of the water. Blaise sat down next to him.

“So…Granger. I’m going to assume you’ve been, erm, rejected.”

“It was stupid, okay? I mean, it was more of a dare than a legitimate request…but I shouldn’t have done it, regardless. It’s not like she was actually going to say yes. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“I have an idea…”

“Shut it.”

“Well, she was definitely right about ya being a twitchy little ferret.”

“Seriously, shut it.”

“Got a plan, then?”

“Plan for what?”

“What else, ya twit? Getting Granger to go with you.”

“And how on earth do you propose I go about that?”

“Well, the first step’s got to be actually talking to her.”

“And again, how on earth do you propose I do that? I mean, without Weaselby or the Chosen One around? I can’t say I’ve ever seen her without them when she’s in a mood to be talked to.”

“They aren’t with her right now.”

“How, may I ask, do you know that?”

Blaise pointed back towards the castle; he’d seen Ginny and Hermione were arguing by the castle walls. He observed that Hermione kept trying to go back inside, but Ginny wouldn’t let her.

“Hermione, come on. You have to actually talk to him.”

“No, Ginny, I don’t.”

“Yeah, you do.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, ‘Mione, you do.”

“And what exactly do I say, Gin? I know we hate each other and I told you to sod off but I’d like to go to the bloody ball with you?”

“Sounds good to me.”

Hermione glared at Ginny, her quivering arms crossed and her lips pursed.

“Okay, so maybe you can be a bit more tactful than that. But you can’t exactly have a conversation in front of the rest of the school, so this is your best chance at actually being able to unless you want Malfoy in the hospital wing before the ball even happens, courtesy of one Harry Potter and his loyal sidekick Ronald Weasley.”

“Do you really think they’d…?”

“This is Malfoy we’re talking about, ‘Mione. Do you really think they wouldn’t?”

“Good point.” Hermione glanced back at Draco and Blaise, locking eyes with Draco almost immediately, and her stomach turned.

“I can’t do this,” she said, and marched past Ginny, towards the castle doors, only to be stopped by an unnecessarily firm hand on her upper arm.

“Rubbish!” Ginny shouted, loudly enough that Draco and Blaise could distinguish the anger in her voice from the rushing waters of the lake, which formed a small waterfall each time a block of ice melted.

“Go get the girl, mate,” Blaise encouraged Draco, jerking the towel out from under them and eliciting a cold glare from Draco.

“Go,” Blaise ordered, gesturing furiously towards Hermione, who was now pacing back by Ginny.

“Umm…” Draco pointed at Ginny and looked inquisitively at Blaise while he stood up. If he was going to talk to her, he didn’t want a Weasley within earshot of the conversation.

“I got it,” Blaise said as he rolled his eyes and sighed loudly.

“Hey! Weaslette! Git down ‘ere!” he yelled, startling both of the girls. Ginny snapped her head up, taking a second to realise who’d called her. She grabbed Hermione’s sleeve, pulling the other girl closer to the lake and standing her up in the middle of the hill – when Hermione was nervous, her body always reacted more strongly than her mind, and sometimes it seemed as though she would fall flat on her face if she tried to move even a centimeter – then ran excitedly past Draco, who was walking up the hill with his hands tucked in his front pant pockets, and over to Blaise. The dark-skinned boy had started skipping rocks, and he wasn’t very good at it, which made him very amusing to watch.

Hermione stood on the hillside, nervously recrossing her arms. Draco sauntered up to meet her, doing his best to muster his usual arrogance.

“So, Granger, I assume you’ve taken my suggestion into consideration,” he said.

“That’s possible,” she barked.

“Well, it’s got to be a little more than possible, now, doesn’t it?”

“What would make you think that?”

“For starters, you’re out here. There aren’t exactly other people around, have you noticed? Or are Saint Potter and your would-be boyfriend waiting for you over by Hagrid’s hut?” he said teasingly, pained to notice that his voice came out far harsher than he’d intended it to in his head.

“Bloody hell,” Hermione murmured, her jaw dropping as anger began to reflect in her eyes. “Malfoy, you are such an arse!”

“Hope you didn’t expect anything less. I’d hate to disappoint you.”

Hermione rolled her eyes and took a deep breath.

“Well,” she scoffed. “Then you’d better not,” she said quickly, then she turned back around, walking briskly up the hill.

“So let me get this straight, Granger…that’s a yes?”

Hermione stopped walking and grimaced, then turned to face Draco again.

“Yes, Malfoy, that’s a yes,” she affirmed, running her fingers anxiously through her hair before crossing her arms over her chest another time.

“You’ll go with me?” he questioned, surprised.

“And I’m the one who’s deaf!” she reprimanded. She could feel her ears turning pink, and had reason to believe it had less to do with the frigid air and more to do with the childlike smile that for a second lit up Draco’s face.

“I just wanted to make sure. It would be really nice not to get punched again,” he replied sardonically.

“I make no guarantees,” Hermione sneered, angling the front of her body towards the castle.

“Ginny!”

“Coming, ‘Mione!” Ginny called. She ran up to Hermione, taking her hand in her own, and together they started back up to the castle. Blaise strode over to Draco, a smug grin on his lips.

“Told ya,” he chided Draco.

“Oh, shut it,” Draco responded, trying in vain to hide his growing smile. When they reached the castle, Hermione stopped hesitantly in her tracks, and looked back at Draco, returning his smile with a small smile of her own, then hastily dragged Ginny back into the castle.


Chapter The Fifth: Honestly, Ronald

“Somehow I still can’t believe you agreed to that.”

“It was your idea!”

“I’m aware of that.”

Hermione and Ginny strode into the red- and gold-decorated common room, flushed and bantering, too busy talking to notice that the only other people in the room were Ron and Harry, who had turned in their seats on the couch and were looking at the girls inquisitively.

“Hey, Ginny. Hey, Hermione,” Harry said slowly. Ron sat next to him, looking longingly at Hermione.

“Hey, Harry,” they responded in unison, shooting miniscule glances nervously at one another.

“So…um…I figure you’ve been together all day, since we haven’t seen either of you since breakfast. What have you two been doing?” he asked cautiously.

“Oh, nothing much, really,” Ginny lied, smiling sweetly and blushing a bit pinker than she had been.

“Girl stuff,” came two familiar voices from behind Harry. Fred and George were standing by the hearth, each holding an oddly-shaped package.

“Or in other words,” George continued.

“We’re not going to tell you,” finished Fred.

Ginny quickly replied.

“Does that translate to your language? Because if it does-”

“You don’t want to tell us what you’ve been doing either,” finished Hermione.

“Well done, girls, well done. But now we’re off to bed,” the twins concluded, then ran up the stairs to their dormitory.

“Well then,” scoffed Ginny when the twins’ red hair was out of sight.

“They’ve got a point. You two have been inseparable and secretive all this week,” grumbled Ron.

“Honestly, Ronald, we’re allowed to have separate lives,” Hermione groaned, glaring intensely at Ron.

“You and Harry don’t have to know everything. For example, with whom we’re going to the ball.”

“We? Ginny? You’re going? But you aren’t allowed! Harry, tell Ginny she’s not allowed!” Ron exclaimed. Harry looked at him apologetically.

“Actually, Ron, if someone in our year or older takes her, she is allowed to go,” Harry told him. Ron’s eyes darted around anxiously.

“Don’t get your wand in a knot, Ron. I’m not going with someone older than you,” Ginny assured him, then turned to Hermione, raising her eyebrows. “At least, I don’t think he’s older than Ron; Hermione, is he older than Ron?”

“I don’t know, Ginny, but he is in our year, so there can’t be much of a difference either way,” Hermione answered. “Honestly, Ronald, it can’t be that big a deal that she goes with someone in our year. I mean, if it were Harry, you wouldn’t be freaking out, would you?” she scolded. Ron glared at Hermione, then looked desperately at Harry, who was staring at the floor, trying to avoid his friends’ argument. Harry’s head jerked up when he realised Ron was staring at him.

“I’m insulted, Ron. Do you really think I wouldn’t tell you if I were going with your sister?”

“I’d hope he wouldn’t,” Ginny whispered to Hermione, and they both giggled, quietly enough that neither of the boys noticed.

“Besides, if I were going with Ginny, I wouldn’t be looking for a date. It’d be sort of pointless, don’t you think?” Harry added bitterly. Ron sighed, then looked again at Ginny, but she went through the motions of zipping her lips and throwing away the key. His eyes moved back to Hermione, who was still glaring at him.

“What did I do this time, ‘Mione?” he whimpered, throwing his arms up at his sides.

“Nothing,” she growled. She grabbed Ginny’s hand and started up the stairs towards the girls’ dormitories.

“If I didn’t do anything, why are you still mad at me?”

She declared, “I’m always mad at you, Ronald,” then she and Ginny disappeared up the staircase.

“Good point,” he mumbled to Harry, who nodded.

“Who do you think Ginny’s going with?” Harry asked.

“Haven’t the foggiest, mate. Haven’t the foggiest,” Ron replied with a sigh, and sat back down. After a minute his eyes widened, and he turned back to Harry.

“Why do you care who Ginny goes with?” he questioned. Harry paled, but Ron told himself it was just the light.

“No…particular…reason,” Harry stammered, and he wasn’t lying. He didn’t know why he cared. He just knew that he did. He couldn’t…? No, this was Ron’s sisterthey were talking about. Plus, he liked Cho. Didn’t he?

“Oh,” Ron said sharply. “Are you sure?”

Harry looked at him angrily.

“Why do you care so much about why I care?”

“Ginny’s my little sister. I’m required to care. You might be my best mate, but in terms of Ginny, you’re just another guy.”

“Just another guy? Thanks, Ron.” Harry stood up to leave. He didn’t want to talk about Ginny anymore. He could only imagine what would happen if he reacted to Ginny in a way that suggested anything. He’d thought Ron wouldn’t pay it any notice since they were best friends, but if he would…

Why am I even thinking about this? I don’t need to worry about that…I don’t like Ginny. Not like that.

“You know what I mean, mate. Come on, Harry!” Ron urged, but Harry went up to the dormitory, leaving Ron sitting alone in the common room, even more confused than usual. About an hour later, Neville came from their dormitory into the common room, then promptly left, as though he’d forgotten something, but didn’t return to the common room.

Even my little sister can get a date easier than I can…What in the name of Merlin is going on here?


Chapter 6: Chapter 6


Chapter The Sixth: Not Yet

“Ron! Ron! Ron, wake up! Wake up, Ron!” Harry yelled, shaking the boy so hard that the couch Ron had fallen asleep on shook under him. Ron slowly woke up, wiping his eyes and yawning before uttering even a single word.

“Harry…hey…what’s going on?”

“Oh, nothing much,” Harry spat. “It’s one o’clock in the afternoon on a Sunday, and I woke up to find you’d slept in the common room, and then I got us dates.”

“Sorry, mate,” Ron slurred, sitting up properly on the couch. “Wait – you got us dates? You mean, to the ball?”

“No, Ron, to the circus,” Harry sarcastically answered, glaring at Ron. “Yes, to the ball!”

“Okay, okay, you don’t have to yell,” Ron said, then paused, glancing around the empty room. “Where’s everyone else?”

“Hogsmeade, probably, or some part of the castle that’s remotely interesting.”

“Right. One o’clock.”

“In the afternoon!”

“I hadn’t forgotten that part, strangely enough.”

Ron pulled – dragged – himself off the couch, stretching his arms as he stood to his full height.

“How’d you get us dates, by the way?”

“I asked the Patil twins about half an hour ago. Neither of them was going with anyone, so they agreed to go with us.”

Ron winced. “That makes us sound so desperate.”

“But we are, Ron.”

“I know, I know,” Ron groaned, his mind wandering back to Hermione.

“You should’ve asked her,” Harry reprimanded Ron, as though he read Ron’s mind.

“How, exactly? Half the time I don’t know if she’s about to kill me!”

“Are you a Gryffindor or not?”

“I’m a ruddy horrible Gryffindor, haven’t you ever noticed?”

“I might have,” Harry murmured softly.

“Pretty sure most everyone has, mate!” added a familiar voice from the staircase to the dormitories.

“Unfortunately for you, that is,” chimed another. Ron and Harry quickly turned around, facing Fred and George.

“Why are you still here?” Harry asked them.

“Might ask you the same, Potter!” George said quickly.

“I asked you first,” Harry retorted.

“I got a date first,” Fred teased.

“Yeah, by hitting her in the head with a piece of balled-up paper!” Ron exclaimed.

“Pshh…like that changes anything,” George said.

“Besides, you should be trying to figure out whose arm your girlfriend’s goin’ on, eh, Ronniekins,” Fred added chidingly, darting past Harry and Ron out of the common room, holding the portrait door for his twin who followed closely behind him.

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Ron moaned to Harry.

“I know,” Harry responded. “Trust me, I know.”

That definitely came out wrong. I need to remember to tread more carefully! Harry scolded himself.

“Not yet, at least,” he added, putting his hand reassuringly on Ron’s back.

“Not yet,” Ron repeated under his breath. He remembered he wanted to talk to Harry about Ginny, but at that moment, the painting swung away, and she and Hermione came through the entrance to their common room, laughing.

“Oh, Ronald, you’ve gotten up!” Hermione observed, quickly stopping their conversation.

“Yeah, just a few minutes ago…Harry just woke me,” Ron said.

“Did I miss anything?” he asked, wide-eyed.

“Nothing in particular…it’s just…not good for you to be sleeping so late. Do you think you might be ill? Maybe you should talk to Madam Pomfrey,” she answered. She approached him, trying to put her hand to his forehead to tell whether he had a temperature, but he swatted her hand away before she touched him.

“I’m fine, Hermione,” he grumbled. “Really.”

“You’re sure of it?”

“Positive,” he assured her.

“All right, then,” she relented, unconvinced.

“Well, if you won’t be needing us, we’ll be going, then,” Ginny interjected, grabbing the sleeve of Hermione’s tee shirt and pulling her up the stairs and back to her own dormitory.

“Best to avoid Lavender and Miss Patil,” she jested as she opened the door for Hermione, crudely enunciating both of the other girls’ names. Both she and Hermione giggled as they entered the room and sat down on Ginny’s bed. Hermione took a couple of minutes to look around at the way Ginny and her roommates had decorated their room, within seconds determining it was much more interesting than the one she shared with Lavender and Parvati. Ginny’s part of the room was plastered in Quidditch-related posters and other memorabilia, and pictures of her family were tacked up onto the wall, including a photograph of the entire family when they went on holiday to Egypt.

“It’s not much, smaller than a lot of the others, you’ll notice, but we’ve done our best,” Ginny told her, noticing that Hermione was looking around the dormitory.

“I think it’s lovely, Gin,” Hermione contested.

“Really?” Ginny smiled. “That’s a first,” she added, glancing around at the walls, then standing up as though she were addressing a crowd instead of just Hermione.

“So,” she began. “You, Miss Granger, are going to a ball. And, Miss Granger, you need to steal the show. And I, Miss Weasley, am going to help you do that.”

“How, exactly?”

“I haven’t the foggiest.” Ginny looked at Hermione apologetically. “Well, for starters, of course, we need to figure out what we’re going to wear. That’s the best place to start, isn’t it? Now, of course you can’t wear anything typical, you need to stand out, to catch people’s eyes!”

“That might be a bit of a problem, considering Fleur…”

Ginny grimaced. “Ech…let’s not say her name, shall we? Let’s call her something else…”

“We could just not call her anything and avoid mentioning her at all costs.”

“Okay, okay…Okay, that works.”

They spent nearly the rest of the evening working out even the smallest details about the ball, trying to decide what colour earrings they each should wear, and how they’d do their hair for the occasion. After many hours of discussion, their grumbling stomachs reminded them that it was time for supper, and they headed to the Great Hall hand in hand, whispering to each other along the way, and spent the entire meal doing the same. They sat as far as possible from the other Weasleys, which was especially convenient as neither Draco nor Hermione were able to keep their eyes on their own tables, glancing often at each other. Ginny slapped Hermione gently multiple times throughout the meal because her attention kept drifting, but her own attention was diverted as well, and eventually she gave up.

He’s falling for her – And she’s falling for him – wow, I’m stupid – I should have thought something like this would happen – all the tension – I should’ve expected it – this is crazy – how didn’t I see it before? – of course they’ll fall for each other – I’m so stupid – when Ron finds out I convinced her to go with him he’s going to kill me – good grief, Hermione, stop looking at the Slytherin table! – yep, she’s falling for him – maybe I should talk to Harry – no, no, that’s a horrible idea! – what can I do then? – can I do anything at all? – I don’t think so – why was Harry so weird yesterday? – he kept going on about not going with me – bloody hell, Hermione, if someone sees you two making eyes at each other you’ll be in for it – Harry’s never seemed that nervous – maybe I haven’t paid enough attention – could he actually like me? – no, of course not – bloody hell, Hermione!

“Draco, if someone catches you looking over there, you’re dead meat well before your time,” Blaise whispered.

“What, you think I don’t know that?” Draco sneered defencively.

“I’m just saying, you should wait until the ball to piss them off. It won’t do any good now. You’ll just end up with a lot of angry Gryffindors and a hell of a lot of explaining to do. Not that you won’t anyway – think of your parents! – but one way, you get to dance with Granger, and the other you don’t. Take your pick now,” Blaise cautioned, then pushed himself up from his seat at the table.

“I’m going back to the dungeons, mate. You know where to find me when you need to,” he added, then strode off, leaving Draco sitting at the Slytherin house table, morosely staring at his empty plate and twirling a fork around.

Bloody hell! How am I going to explain all this to my parents? I obviously can’t tell them that I like her – I don’t like her, by the way – but I’m still going with her…I really need to figure out what to say…

He imagined himself pleading, his furious aunt ready to wave her wand at the slightest hint that her sister would allow her to hurt Draco, to punish him for his foolishness. He winced at the idea, remembering everything he’d heard about the things his aunt had done. He reminded himself that the idea was absurd; she was shut up in Azkaban for the rest of her life. Then again, Sirius Black had escaped the year before. His eyes absentmindedly wandered from Hermione to Neville.

I wonder if he knows. I wonder if his gran’s told him the truth about them. I wonder if he knows what my aunt did…he’d hate me anyway, of course, even if she hadn’t done that…but it’d be helpful for at least one other Gryffindor to not want me dead…but I don’t think he’d ever hurt Hermione, anyway – oh no – did I really just? – oh no – oh no – oh no – I just thought of her as Hermione – I didn’t call her Granger – oh no – I can’t actually like her – it’s not possible – really, Draco, stop worrying yourself over nothing – you don’t like her…

His eyes moved back to Hermione, and in thought he mindlessly stared at her. After a couple of minutes he realised she’d looked back at him, and their eyes met. He smiled and then felt himself blushing, and immediately he twirled out of his seat and walked briskly out of the Hall, not even slowing down when he reached the dungeons. He stopped only when he collapsed onto his bed. He glanced at a photograph of his parents whose frame sat on his bedside table. It was a photograph from a time when they seemed to be a happy couple, much happier than they’d ever seemed to him. He flipped himself over, staring at the ceiling, and thought about his parents, the rest of his family, the O.W.L.S. he’d be taking next year, about Pansy, and his friends, and about Voldemort, and Quidditch, thoughts of Hermione invading his other thoughts as he pondered every aspect he could of his fourteen years.

This cannot be happening…I cannot believe this is happening…I…like…Hermione…Granger…I like Hermione Granger.


Chapter The Seventh: It’s Complicated

Ginny sat at a table in the library, legs crossed, tapping the feather end of her quill to her pursed lips, a piece of parchment in front of her, blank except for the date. She stared at the parchment for an entire hour, but was interrupted when a person sat across the table from her, out of breath and panting. She hastily slid the parchment into her bag, dropping her quill in afterwards. When she looked up to find out who had joined her, she saw that it was Harry.

“You’re out of breath. Are you okay?” she whispered.

“Yeah, yeah, just fine,” he replied.

“Somehow-” Ginny began.

“You don’t believe it,” Harry finished. “Why did I even try? I can’t fool you,” he continued, mostly talking to himself.

“Not too badly, anyway,” he joked to her with a sparkle in his eye, and they both laughed quietly. “So, I get that you don’t want to tell Ron, I get that entirely, but…you…and Hermione…and the ball…”

“Harry…” she said pleadingly. “I can’t tell you, you know that.”

“Please, Ginny? I promise I won’t tell Ron, okay? Please? I’d just really like to know. I’m not going to hurt anyone,” he protested. “Unless they hurt you – or Hermione – then I definitely will, and you can’t do anything about that.”

“Bloody hell, Harry! I’ve already got six older brothers! I don’t need another one!” Ginny reached for her bag and got out of her seat, but before she was able to leave, Harry had leapt up from his chair and gently grabbed her wrist.

“No, Ginny! Don’t leave – we can talk about something else!”

“What else is there to talk about, really?” she retorted.

“We can find something, I’m sure,” Harry said nervously. “I mean, there’s the tournament, Quidditch, the colour of the sky – there’s a lot of things to talk about.” Ginny giggled then rolled her eyes before sitting down again.

“Is it blue today?”

“I think it is. I haven’t been outside, though, so don’t quote me on that.”

Both Harry and Ginny began to laugh, but as they did a bright flash stopped them. They looked towards it to see a piece of parchment floating in mid-air, being written on by a lone quill. A few meters away, their eyes stumbled upon a lavishly dressed woman, with curly blonde hair, bejewelled lavender spectacles and a puffy fur coat that made Ginny’s skin crawl just looking at it.

Rita Skeeter…not again! Harry thought. She’s already published that article about Hermione and me!

“You really are such a ladies’ man, Mister Potter! How lovely!” the woman proclaimed, causing Madam Pince to loudly shush her. Ginny and Rita Skeeter looked each other up and down, each woman obviously analysing the other. Ginny’s arms were crossed angrily over her gold v-neck sweater, and Harry was increasingly frightened by her blaring red hair and her eyes, both of which all but screamed her displeasure. Ginny’s hair always turns a brighter red when she gets angry, Harry realised. Rita Skeeter extended her hand towards Ginny. Trying her best to be polite, Ginny firmly shook her hand, tearing herself away as soon as possible.

“The Daily Prophet’s Rita Skeeter, miss, though I’m sure you’ll know that already,” she cooed. “And just who is this pretty little witch?” she asked, turning to Harry. Having no idea what he should say, he looked awkwardly back at Ginny.

“Ginevra Weasley, Miss Skeeter,” Ginny conceded tersely.

“Pleasure,” Rita Skeeter responded, continuing to study the redhead. Suddenly she seemed to realise she’d interrupted their conversation. “Oh! You two weren’t…busy, were you?” she asked Harry, feigning concern.

“Yes, actually. We were studying. We’ve got exams approaching, you see-” Ginny sneered, remembering what Hermione had told her about Rita Skeeter; she’d taken a picture of Harry and Hermione hugging and wrote an article with so little truth in it that Ginny half expected it to pop up in the fiction section of the library. Harry quickly pushed himself between the two women, hoping to stop Ginny from hurting someone or throwing a sort of fit – both of which seemed to be likely possibilities, judging from her painfully clear body language.

“And we’ve been studying together. Miss Weasley is in the year below me, so I find I’m sometimes able to be helpful,” he asserted. “My best friend is an older brother of hers. Family helps family, you know?”

“Fascinating,” Rita Skeeter said disinterestedly, apparently taking the hint that there wasn’t much more she’d be able to glean from the pair. She motioned for her photographer to leave, and then followed him away from Harry and Ginny, leaving them standing against the table, angry and confused.

“She really is as bad as Hermione said she was,” Ginny moaned. Harry chuckled.

“What, has Hermione ever lied to you?” he said teasingly.

“Not to me,” Ginny replied. Harry looked at her with a confused expression.

“Come again?”

“Well, those bints she shares a room with certainly don’t know anything about her…”

“That doesn’t count; they don’t know anything about anything to begin with.”

Ginny giggled.

“Okay, you’ve got a point there.”

“But…what do you mean? Do you mean the ball?” Harry asked.

“You have to promise not to tell!”

“I promise.”

“Okay…so, I’m going with Neville-”

“Gods, I hope Ron doesn’t try anything-”

“And Hermione…Hermione’s going with…she’s going with Malfoy,” Ginny finished slowly, a guilty look now adorning her face. She’d leaned closer to Harry to whisper it to him, and he noticed how her eyes were sparkling. She smells really nice today, he thought, but made sure to snap himself out of it before he let himself go further. He sank into a large leather chair, and Ginny sat in the one across from his and inched it closer so they could speak more quietly.

“What?” he exclaimed, but in a hushed tone.

“It’s complicated,” Ginny said apologetically.

“Is there anything that isn’t anymore?” Harry sighed, resting one hand on each of his knees and leaning all the way back in his chair, and his brain jumped into a montage of memories, spanning his time at Hogwarts, from seeing his parents in the Mirror of Erised and sneaking past Fluffy with Ron and Hermione, to fighting Salazar Slytherin’s basilisk and saving Ginny from Voldemort, to meeting Sirius Black and then rescuing both he and Buckbeak from their Ministry-manipulated fates, to the Quidditch World Cup earlier that year and his name flying out of the Goblet of Fire. He leaned against the table for a few minutes, deep in thought. He couldn’t help but notice that he seemed to be concentrating on memories that involved Ginny, and especially on the pain and terror he’d felt when he thought she was going to die in the Chamber of Secrets.

“I’ll let you know when I find something,” she said comfortingly, and gently rested her hand on his. Harry flipped his hand so that his palm was facing upwards and linked their fingers. He spent a few minutes staring down at their hands, then looked up at her. She smiled sweetly to help comfort him, knowing that he was being put through more than was reasonable – the tasks in the Tournament were designed to be difficult for young adults who were talented beyond their age level, and Harry was barely fourteen. It definitely didn’t help that everyone expected him to do beautifully because he was the Boy Who Lived. Harry smiled back, but the butterflies in his stomach reminded him that he wasn’t supposed to like her, and almost immediately he stood up to leave, letting go of her hand.

“I should go,” he stammered.

“What?” she replied as she stood up as well, her arms again crossed against her chest.

“It’s complicated,” he said, and walked briskly out of the library.


Chapter the Eighth: Just Friends?

The five boys sat awkwardly in their room, each taking refuge in his own bed. Rita Skeeter had successfully added Ginny to the list of girls Harry was flirting with, and Ron was refusing to talk to him civilly, even though Harry assured him it was nothing, so they weren’t talking to each other. Dean and Seamus worked distractedly on homework. Neville was jumping out of his skin at the thought of Ron lashing out at him when he found out that he was taking Ginny to the dance, but knew that Ron was also bitter that Hermione had gotten a date – one that wasn’t him, anyway.

It really is strange, he thought. The four of us have shared a room with the Boy Who Lived for more than three years. Hell, Harry actually is the Boy Who Lived! And still none of us get dates until the week before the dance. Seamus and Dean aren’t even going with anyone. Well, they joked that they were going together as a last resort, which I guess is better than going alone. At least Ginny’s a good person to go with. I mean, she’s nice, and smart, and funny. She’s pretty, too, though I’d never tell Ron that. I wonder if we can all hang out at the ball. Ginny and Hermione are always together now, so maybe her date wouldn’t mind. I doubt I’ll be able to talk to Ron or Harry while we’re there. Harry says he doesn’t like her, but he does seem oddly protective of her nonetheless. Maybe it’s because she’s like…the little sister he never had, or something.

Neville looked over at Harry, who he saw was reading the article about Ginny – for the thousandth time – and glancing sideways at Ron and even at him.

She probably told him. That’s what they were talking about. She and Hermione were being so secretive about it all; that’s probably why they were in the library. It’d give them more privacy.

While Neville didn’t believe that Harry would openly lie to Ron, Neville also wasn’t sure he’d ever seen Harry look so unhappy, and Harry seemed to be unhappy with him as well as with Ron, and he was starting to think that there was more to talking with Ginny than Harry was letting on.

“It’s past midnight, guys, we really should get to bed,” Harry said sleepily. Neville waited as Dean and Seamus shoved their books and parchment onto the floor next to their beds and then put out the lantern. All the others watched carefully. They’d already forbid Seamus from touching it.

Even if I do like her, it’s just a crush. It’s got to be. I mean, I’m a fourteen year old boy, aren’t our hormones supposed to be going haywire right about now? I’ll be fine. I’ll get over it soon enough, Harry told himself and laid the article on his bedside table. He set his glasses on top of it and pulled his covers up. He couldn’t help noticing that the voice in his head seemed far more confident of his feelings than he did.


Chapter the Ninth: You-Know-What

Draco stared at the ceiling, unable to sleep with the worry of the next day. Eventually he grabbed his bag and headed into the common room, where he began to write a letter to his mother.

Dear Mother,

In a few days I expect you’ll hear that I took Granger to the Yule Ball. I know that will likely seem far-fetched, but that Father won’t be happy about it. I’m writing just to clarify, so that you all hear it from me first, instead of Rita Skeeter or someone just as in love with gossip. (Have you SEEN the articles she’s written about my classmates? She probably should have aspired to write novels, because she’s a bloody horrid journalist, if she can even be called one!) I AM taking her to the ball, but I’m doing it just to set Potter off. They seem to have some chemistry, but he and Weasley are going with some pair of twins that I don’t know. I figure that her going with someone else, especially someone who is his competition in other respects, would really upset him, and probably all three of them in the long run. I think that’ll help Krum win the Tournament, and Father in his dealings with You-Know-What. Potter’s best defence has always been the two of them. If they aren’t getting along, it should follow that things become a bit more difficult for him, no?

That’s really all I wrote to tell you. Please thank Father for the dress robes. Pansy and my roommates seem to be very impressed. I’ll hope it adds some insult to injury for the Wonder Trio.

Love,

Draco

He sighed and read through the letter a few times. He finally decided that it was in fact good enough, and grabbed an envelope from his bag, folding the letter in thirds and sliding it in. He scripted Narcissa Malfoy on the front of the envelope and put the letter, along with his ink, quill, and parchment, into his bag, planning to deliver the letter to the Owlery later in the morning.


Chapter the Tenth: Ready or Not

“Okay, so I’m going to write it down, just so that we all remember,” whispered Angelina to Alicia, Ginny and Hermione as they huddled at their house table during lunch. They were too nervous and too excited to eat, so they decided to use their time wisely.

“So, the green dress, the pearls, those are mine, so I’ll write that here,” she said as she scribbled on the top of a piece of parchment. She tore off the piece and stuffed it into one of the pockets of her robes.

“And Alicia, you’ve got all the purple, right?” Alicia nodded.

“And Ginny is going to be the prettiest little mermaid Hogwarts has ever seen,” Angelina continued, and they all started to giggle.

“Hey! What’s going on down there?” said George loudly from farther down the table.

“Nothing we should be worried about, I hope,” added Fred.

“I don’t know, Fred, all of those girls together, we should probably be worried no matter what they’re doing!” The two boys began to chuckle, and Angelina chucked a piece of bread at Fred’s face.

“Okay, I deserved that,” Fred conceded as he stuffed it into his mouth.

“Yeah you did!” laughed Alicia as Angelina finished writing down Ginny’s outfit and handed her the slip of parchment. Angelina then did the same for Hermione’s and ran off with Alicia, Fred and George. Hermione was glad that she remembered perfectly what she’d planned to wear, because in trying to keep it secret Angelina had written hers in very small, and illegible, handwriting.

As she and Ginny passed them on their way out of the Hall, Hermione noticed that Harry, Ron, and Neville were not speaking to one another, even though they and their other roommates Dean and Seamus were sitting together. Dean and Seamus carried on as though nothing was wrong.

What on earth is going on here? she thought as she and Ginny walked through the double doors. They raced up to Gryffindor Tower, where Hermione grabbed her things from her room and went back to Ginny’s dormitory to get dressed.

“Gods, you look so gorgeous! I bet you’ll even show Fleur up!” Ginny exclaimed three hours later, beaming.

“Hey! We were avoiding mentioning her at all costs, remember?” Hermione teased.

“Miss Delacour at your service,” Angelina said in the best Fleur impression she could, an almost unintelligible, annoying, French accent. She, Alicia, and Katie slid into Ginny’s room and marvelled at how wonderful they all looked, especially Hermione.

“Nervous?” Angelina asked Hermione as she moulded Hermione’s hair into a fancy bun.

“Of course,” Hermione replied, taking a deep breath as she tried to get used to how differently she looked. She looked a bit like the girls she saw in the magazines that her Muggle friends read back home. She certainly didn’t look like the Hermione Granger anyone knew. She barely recognised herself, and started to worry that there was a chance others wouldn’t either, but the other girls told her that it was more of a good thing than a bad thing.

“Children, you may now proceed to the Great Hall. The Yule Ball will begin shortly,” roared Professor McGonagall’s voice. The girls looked around at each other in excitement, and startled when another voice came from the door.

“Ladies, it’s time,” said Fred. Angelina walked over to the door and pointed at him.

“You’re not allowed here,” she said sharply, but with a bit of a smile. “Go.”

“I feel so unloved,” George added.

“But…” He and Fred sighed exaggeratedly.

“I suppose we’ll leave.”

“Your wish is my command,” added Fred to Angelina as he pulled his brother away from the door.

“You know, boys and girls used to have separate dormitories, once upon a time,” said Angelina as she walked back to the other girls.

“Aren’t they still?” asked Ginny.

“Exactly,” Alicia responded, grinning at Ginny.


Chapter the Eleventh: One Night Only

Harry and Ron walked nervously down the steps by the doors to the Great Hall. Harry was extremely happy that Ron had decided to forget about Rita Skeeter’s article for the night. The massive double doors were still shut, so they searched around for Parvati and Padma. They came over to the boys, though, when Ron and Harry had reached the bottom of the staircase, because they were running about with Lavender, and she’d seen them. Lavender came over with her friends, then awkwardly ducked away to go find her own date.

“Poor thing. I’ll bet she’s in her room crying her eyes out right now,” said Ron of Hermione, and the girls nodded, holding each other’s hands and refusing to let go.

“How are you so sure?” asked Harry, raising his eyebrows as he turned to look directly at Ron.

“Well, she wouldn’t tell us who she was going with, so that has to mean she hadn’t gotten a date, right? She just didn’t want anyone teasing her about it, so she said she did. So she won’t show up, and give everyone some sad excuse about falling ill or something of the sort.”

“I don’t know…I mean, she went over to Ginny’s dorm to get ready with her and some older girls,” interjected Parvati.

“She was carrying a dress and shoes,” added Padma.

“And she definitely didn’t seem ill this morning,” Parvati continued.

“Wouldn’t she want to convince Lavender and me if she were going to pretend that she’d fallen ill?”

“No, Pansy! I told this you already!” they heard Draco say from the other side of the corridor. Pansy looked especially pale, and her black dress didn’t help much.

“I don’t get why can’t all dance together! I mean, you aren’t going to go dance with her filthy friends, are you?” she barked at Draco, and he glared at her.

“No, I’m not, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to dance with you lot, either.”

“What’s wrong with this lot?” said Blaise sarcastically, sauntering over to Draco. The other two thirds of the Wonder Trio are here, he whispered into Draco’s ear. Draco’s face fell.

“She’s coming, right?” he asked Blaise, louder than he’d planned to.

Hermione nervously peeked into the corridor, hiding behind a wall. Angelina, Alicia, Katie, and Ginny traipsed down the stairs, waved to Harry and Ron, and met up with their own dates. The knot in Hermione’s stomach only grew bigger when she saw that Harry and Ron were standing near where Draco was, and Draco’s friends still crowded around him. She managed a slight smile at the miserable expression on Pansy’s face, then she saw the professors open the doors and begin to usher students into the Hall. Soon, Blaise and Draco were part of the small number of students – most of whom were snogging like there was no tomorrow – who remained. Hermione saw Professor McGonagall gather the TriWizard Champions and their dates together, preparing them to walk into the Hall, and she decided it was safe. She pushed herself around the corner, and after making she wouldn’t step on her dress, began to walk – very carefully and rather slowly – down the staircase.

“Oh, she’s coming, all right,” Blaise responded, gesturing to the staircase.

Hermione smiled at meeting Draco’s gaze, noticing he seemed to be blushing.

Oh gods… they both thought as she advanced.

“She looks beautiful,” Parvati exclaimed, tugging on Harry’s sleeve to redirect his attention. Harry noticed that a lot of both jealousy and shock showed in her voice. He couldn’t blame Parvati; he was shocked himself, and Hermione was his best friend. Ron is going to be so incredibly angry…

Hermione finally reached the end of the stairs. Blaise nudged Draco and turned to go into the Great Hall, following the Champions as the procession began, and Draco walked nervously over to the stairs.

“Hey,” he mumbled, still somewhat in shock.

“Hey,” she replied, but he put a finger up to quiet her.

“That was terrible. I’ll be back in a minute,” he said more confidently. He turned on his heels a few feet away and strode back over to her, dramatically bowing as he reached her, putting his hand out in front of him, and she giggled. His heart jumped as she laid her palm on top of his and stepped off the stairs and onto the floor. They snuck into the Great Hall unnoticed by their friends, and Draco led Hermione away from the throng of students watching as the Champions danced the first dance.

“I was starting to think you weren’t coming,” Draco said.

“I was starting to wonder myself, actually,” Hermione responded with a giggle, “but there wasn’t any way I was doing that in front of Ron.”

“Somehow I think that wouldn’t work very well for me,” Draco confessed.

“Somehow I think you’re right about that,” affirmed Hermione.

“Granger! Tsk-tsk!” Draco teased, and Hermione slapped him.

“Ouch! Bloody hell, Granger!”

“I’ve hit you before! You should’ve seen it coming!”

“Well you’ve been shattering my expectations recently, so I hoped that might come with it.” She glared at him.

“I’m joking!” he exclaimed.

“About the second part,” he added softly.

Both unsure what to say, they stood around and gaped at the decoration. The Great Hall was almost completely unrecognisable, now adorned with Christmas trees, pointsettias and gold ribbon. Professor Flitwick was directing an orchestra on one side of the massive room as thousands of people twirled to the classical music. At one point, the orchestra began to play Christmas music, and Hermione recognised some of the songs from holidays spent in the Muggle world. Draco didn’t know them, so she spent an hour or so teaching him the words to some of her favourites after they danced to a few songs. After a couple hours, Professor McGonagall stopped the dancing to announce that they had a band there to perform as well – noise that you children seem to enjoy, she described the music – and the entire room cheered when they saw that it was The Weird Sisters. Within minutes, the students were screaming as Myron Wagtail belted out “Magic Works”.

Draco decided to ask Hermione to dance again, and she agreed, spending the next two hours singing, dancing and jumping. Both of them managed to forget rather quickly that there were other people around, and therefore forgot to worry about how good a time they were having. Their smiles reached their eyes, and they barely let go of one another the entire time they danced, growing increasingly close as the minutes raced by.

Out of breath, they left the rest of the envigorated crowd in order to get refreshments. Hermione wanted to find Ginny, so Draco offered to get their drinks, and asked her what she wanted. Before she had time to be surprised that he’d even asked, he leaned down and kissed her hand before turning around to go to the refreshments table. Feeling on top of the world and as though her heart was about to beat right out of her chest, she twirled herself around gleefully.

“Oh, she’s right there!” Neville shouted, pointing Hermione out to Ginny, her shimmering lilac dress distinguishing her from her surroundings. They wormed their way out of the cluster of people and over to her and Hermione and Ginny began talking. Draco came back moments later, but they’d gotten absorbed in their conversation and seemed not to notice the boys. Neville jumped when Draco asked him if he wanted a drink.

“I’m not doing anything else, Longbottom, I might as well,” Draco replied, and brought Neville a cup of ice water. The four chatted amongst themselves for a while, then Hermione and Ginny arbitrarily decided that they would start dancing again, and parted ways. Things weren’t going as well for their friends, though. Pansy had stomped away from Goyle after the first dance, running back to the Slytherin common room. Harry, Ron, Padma, and Parvati sat resting and moping on one of the many circular benches set up on the outskirts of the room; Ron’s eyes scanned the room for Hermione, and Harry’s for Cho. Angelina and Katie ditched their dates – Fred and Justin – after only an hour. Alicia and George, and Ginny and Neville were the only other pairs still dancing after half the dance had passed. Eventually Ron saw someone that he thought looked like Hermione, but he convinced himself that it couldn’t be her.

She wouldn’t wear a dress like that. Besides, the guy she’s dancing with looks a lot like Malfoy, he assured himself, and then he thought of what Pansy had said earlier.“You aren’t going to dance with her filthy little friends, are you?” she had asked him. Malfoy had been waiting for his date for a while, and Hermione hadn’t come by the time we went in… Ron stood up and stomped over to Ginny, ripping her away from Neville without so much as a word.

“The guy that Hermione’s here with, who is it? Please tell me it’s not Malfoy,” he groaned.

“Okay, then…it’s not Malfoy. Happy?”

“Oh my gods, she’s here with Malfoy!” he exclaimed, seeing through his sister’s gentle sarcasm, and started to briskly walk away.

“Ron, please don’t do anything stupid! Ron!” Ginny yelled after him. She gave up and ran after him instead. Unfortunately, even she wasn’t quick enough to catch up to him before he caught up with Hermione. Ron yanked Hermione’s arm away from Draco’s and began to argue with him.

“What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?” Ron screamed, and to no one’s surprise, Draco responded defencively, launching the two of them into an altercation that neither girl dared to intervene in. Hermione and Ginny searched around for Harry, but they were unable to find him, and resolved that the fight would somehow have to dissipate on its own. The music was so loud that it drowned the boys out as they hurled various insults at one another.

“I don’t get why your wand’s in such a knot, Weaselby! Do you honestly think I’m out to steal your little Mudblood girlfriend? I didn’t think even you were that dense! I guess you learn something new every day, huh?” Draco bellowed as he stormed out of the Great Hall. Ron turned to look angrily at Hermione, who had started crying and was being comforted by Ginny.

“How could you do that?” he yelled.

“I might ask you the same, Ronald!” Hermione slid Ginny’s arm off of her own shoulder.

“Get back over to Neville. I’m sure he’ll be getting worried,” Hermione told her. They hugged and then Ginny ran off. Ron shook his head angrily at Hermione and began to walk away. She caught up with him, and they argued all the way to the stairs.

“Ronald! Bilius! Weasley! Why did you do that?”

“He’s using you!”

“How dare you! Besides, I can take care of myself!”

“Doubt it! This is Malfoy we’re talking about, not Frankie First-Year!”

“And no matter what, Malfoys are too evil even to dance with? That’s what you think?”

“Yeah, that’s what I think!”

“Well, I think that’s disgusting!”

“And I think he brainwashed you!”

“You know the solution, then, don’t you?”

“Go on!”

“Next time there’s a ball,” Hermione cried, stopping Ron at the foot of the stairs. “Pluck up the courage and ask me before someone else does! And not as a last resort!”

“Well…that…that’s got nothing to do with this…” Ron stammered as red began to tinge his cheeks. The two of them stood in place for a moment, speechless. Hermione continued to wipe tears off her face as they raced down from her eyes, and Ron looked at her angrily, pursing his lips.

“How could you do that, Ron?” Hermione eventually choked.

“I might ask you the same!” Ron continued up the steps, stopping in his tracks when a confused Harry walked up to Hermione.

“Where have you been?” she demanded.

“No, never mind! Off to bed, both of you!” Harry was too baffled to argue, and so went to join Ron on the stairs, and they began to head up again.

“You think you know ’em, but they get scarier when they get older!” Ron exclaimed to Harry, and Hermione chased them halfway up the staircase.

“Ron, you’ve spoiled everything!” she screamed, and collapsed, bawling, on the staircase. Her dress was soaked by the time Ginny and Neville came towards her, having decided to go to bed. Ginny ran towards her and embraced her, though Neville looked even more confused than Harry had.

“I’ll explain later,” Ginny whispered to him, and the three of them walked silently back to the common room.


Chapter the Twelfth: Deal or No Deal

Ron and Hermione didn’t talk to each other for the next few months. They didn’t stay in contact over the holidays. Ron and Draco could do nothing but scowl at each other, and Hermione avoided both of them at nearly all costs, which included cutting off almost all communication with Harry. She remained very distraught for a long time, and talked to almost no one but Ginny and her professors. She’d stopped answering many questions in their classes, and had taken to doing homework in the library instead of the common room. Despite his estrangement from Hermione, Ron was still upset with Harry. Harry didn’t help his case in that he continued to socialise with Ginny, and Hermione, when she actually wanted to socialise, which had become very rare. Ginny thought that she seemed to be sleeping less. Only Blaise and Ginny seemed to notice that Draco looked no better.

Ginny walked into the Great Hall, laughing with a few of her friends about their previous lesson. Before she was able to sit down, a balled-up piece of parchment hit her in the head. She caught it as it fell, and smoothed out its wrinkles.

Weaslette: Lake. Alone. ASAP.

My ferret friend needs help. You know what I mean.

Zabini

“Actually, I’m not very hungry. I think I’ll just go study,” she said to Fred and George, whom she’d been planning to sit with.

“Have fun!” they called after her.

“You are so incredibly lucky this hit me instead of someone else, Zabini!” Ginny yelled at him as she approached the lake.

“It hit you, though, didn’t it?” Blaise snickered.

“And…why, may I ask, am I here?”

“Someone needs to figure out how to get them together. Considering we’re the only ones who know, I believe that means it falls on us.”

“Try to get them together? How exactly would be go about that?”

“I was hoping you’d have some ideas, actually.”

“Slytherin, cunning. Gryffindor, brave. Think about it for a minute, Zabini.”

“See? You’re the smart one here!”

“Yes, but your friend’s the one who has to make his move first. He called her Mudblood, Zabini. That’s not okay, and if he realises that, then she needs to know that he does. And if he doesn’t, then he’s screwed, because this won’t work. I don’t care about whatever else he says. If he continues to call her that, I refuse to let him even get near her. She deserves so much better than that. Get him to honestly do that, and I’ll do my best. But if I find out he doesn’t mean it, you get to take the blame for it, too. I am not a good person to piss off. Remember that, because you won’t like to learn it the hard way.”

Blaise gulped, but held his hand out to her.

“Deal?” he asked.

She slid her hand in his.

“Deal.”


Chapter the Thirteenth: The Apology

Hermione stood on the balcony of the Astronomy Tower, gazing out at the Hogwarts grounds as the sun was about to set.

And to think only four years ago I was just an ordinary Muggle girl…I was going to an ordinary Muggle school…in an ordinary Muggle neighbourhood…with ordinary Muggle parents…and friends…at least everything was easier back then…

As she thought of her parents and of her friends back home, the word Mudblood echoed through her head. Tears began to stream down her face.

He wouldn’t have said that if it weren’t for Ron…Ron can be so selfish sometimes! I was actually enjoying myself, and he had to go and ruin it. Maybe Malfoy really isn’t as bad as we’ve always made him out to be. His father’s pretty despicable. The way he treats the Weasleys is terrible, and all because they’re an accepting family! They’re practically my own family, now. Maybe Mrs. Weasley would have some idea what to do…she could send Ron a Howler again! No, that’s just cruel…

“Pretty, huh?” said Draco from behind her, stepping off the top of the spiral staircase and onto the platform.

“Yeah. The pinks really make it feel like spring’s here already, don’t you think?”

“Oh, I wasn’t talking about the sunset.”

Rendered speechless, Hermione felt her cheeks go just as red as the sunset outside. Draco walked over to the edge of the balcony and stood there for over an hour, and they both watched as the reds of the sun faded into the blues of the nighttime.

“I shouldn’t have done that, Granger,” Draco eventually said.

“I mean, asking you in the first place was idiotic enough…To think that I’d get through the entire night without fighting with either Potter or Weaselby is far beyond any normal idiocy. I guess I just hoped it would’ve worked better.”

“Well…I was the one who said yes,” Hermione said, an apologetic tone in her voice.

“You weren’t the one who asked. You wouldn’t have gone with me if I hadn’t asked, right, Granger?”

“No, I – I don’t think it would have occurred to me to even consider it.”

Draco put his head in his hands, mentally kicking himself as he tried to think of something to say. He knew he wouldn’t be able to rightly apologise, but he needed to get the point across that he was sorry nonetheless. Before he got a chance to put a sentence together, Professor McGonagall called up the staircase for him.

I shouldn’t have told Blaise where I was going…that’s got to be how she knows I’m up here. Draco groaned internally.

“I’ll…talk to you…later…is that okay, Granger?” he asked.

“Sure. Yeah, that’s…that’s okay,” Hermione choked.

Draco ran back down the staircase to McGonagall.

“Yes, Professor?”

“Mr. Malfoy, I’d like to ask you some things about your father,” she responded, walking briskly towards her office as soon as he reached the bottom of the stairs.

“Okay…” he mumbled, following close behind her through the corridors and all the way to her desk. She motioned for him to sit down, and he sat in the chair nearest to her desk as she paced around the front of her classroom.


Chapter the Fourteenth: The First Wizarding War

“Mr. Malfoy, are you aware of your father’s role during the last Wizarding War?” asked Professor McGonagall.

“The last Wizarding War? I thought it was the only Wizarding War!” Draco responded.

“So far, Mr. Malfoy. So far. But that is certainly not an answer to my question. Do you have one?”

“Umm…well…I know about some things, but they haven’t really told me much. Between you and I, Professor, my father did support You-Know-Who. Saying he’d been Imperiused-”

“Was an excuse, yes, and a common one at that. Many people escaped Azkaban with that excuse, and it’s a load of rubbish in nearly every case, your father’s included.”

“If you know all of this, why did you want to talk to me?”

“Because if you do not know already, you have a right to know before you need to know.”

“You think we’ll have another war?”

McGonagall paused. She sat at her desk and clasped her hands together.

“Yes, Draco. I believe that we are going to have another war in the Wizarding World.” She spoke calmly but Draco heard her voice shake.

“Do you think…?” he began, and then stopped himself.

“Yes, Draco?”

“Do you think that You-Know-Who will come back?”

She paused for another moment and took a few deep breaths. A moment later, she raced out of her classroom – in tabby cat form – then returned with Professor Dumbledore. Dumbledore sat himself at the head of the desk, and McGonagall jumped onto the desk itself.

“I am terribly sorry, Draco, that you are one of the many children who will remember their youth in such a negative light. Now, what I am about to tell you, you must share with no one. Can you promise me that, Draco?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Last year, our world was in shambles at the escape of Sirius Black. Do you know why Sirius Black was put in Azkaban?”

“He murdered a ton of people…That’s all I heard.”

“Mr. Black was believed to be the Secret-Keeper of two members of an organisation that I created to oppose Lord Voldemort.”

Draco shuddered at Dumbledore’s fearless use of Voldemort’s full name.

“He was believed to have divulged their location to Lord Voldemort, allowing Him to track them down and murder them, in search of their son.”

“The Potters?” Draco realised.

“Yes, Draco, The Potters. Last year everyone was especially worried because he is also Harry’s Godfather, and feared he would try to contact Harry. My colleagues and I, we were extremely worried as well. However, by the year’s end, we discovered that Sirius Black had been framed for the crimes of another of the Potters’ friends, who had in fact been their Secret-Keeper, and had in fact revealed to Lord Voldemort their location. This man, Peter Pettigrew, had been part of a sort of posse that James Potter, Harry’s father, had while in school, one of which your former professor Remus Lupin was a part, actually. Now, in this group, composed of Harry’s father along with his friends Sirius, Remus, and Peter, were three very talented wizards.”

“I’m guessing Pettigrew’s the other one.”

“Yes, that he is. Despite his challenges, however, he was able to learn to perform the Animagus transformation along with two of his friends. Do you have any guess as to what his Animagus form may be, Draco?”

“Are they supposed to correlate to a person’s personality?” he asked Dumbledore. “Because I’ve never met a cat like Professor McGonagall before. Except for, well, Professor McGonagall.”

“No offence, Professor. You’re a wonderful cat. And Professor. Although I don’t think you would teach quite as well as a cat,” he added to McGonagall.

“They are supposed to,” Dumbledore replied with a chuckle. “But I will not make you guess. Pettigrew’s Animagus is a rat. Inside their group, his nickname was Wormtail.”

Draco’s hand flew to his gaping mouth.

“Wormtail?”

“Yes, Wormtail. Have you…heard this name before?”

“At the Quidditch Cup…we were in a box with a bunch of other people…I heard them mention a Wormtail a few times…I remember someone saying that he’d taken over for Quirinius…I didn’t understand what any of it meant so I just kept reading…”

Professor Dumbledore took a very deep breath, grabbing both arms of the chair as though to brace himself.

“Minerva,” he said softly. She jumped back off the desk, becoming human again in mid-air.

“Albus,” she replied at a near whisper.

“I’m missing something, Professor.”

“Yes, Draco, I believe you are,” Dumbledore said immediately. “Do you remember from your first year, what you heard about Professor Quirrell and Harry?”

“Professor Quirrell attacked Harry and then he had to leave the school. That’s all I really remember.”

“Very well. You remember Professor Quirrell’s turban, I presume?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Underneath that turban was something which no one should ever see. Underneath that turban was where Lord Voldemort hid after losing his powers that night in Godric’s Hollow. He was unable to retain his own physical form, however, what was left of whatever supposed soul of his…lives on, as long as there is a physical being who wishes to submit themselves to it. Professor Quirrell’s given name is Quirinius. If Pettigrew has replaced him, we can assume…”

“that You-Know-Who is living inside Pettigrew?”

“A horrid half-life, yes.”

“Is there any way for him to…you know…get another body?”

“Yes, there is. However, it is extremely graphic and you have heard quite enough, at least for a single evening,” interjected Professor McGonagall. She grabbed the back of his jacket and yanked him up from the chair, looking sternly at Dumbledore.

“Should I get Severus or shall I take him myself?”

“Get yourself a good night’s sleep, Minerva. A restful cat nap at the least,” Dumbledore replied, winking at her in an attempt to get her to relax. “I will escort Mr. Malfoy to the dungeons.”

Dumbledore motioned for Draco to walk beside him as they left McGonagall’s classroom and walked down the staircases to the dungeon floor.

“Professor?” Draco asked weakly as they neared his common room.

“Yes, Draco?”

“If…well, when, I guess…You-Know-Who comes back, do you think he’ll want my father to work for him again? What about me?”

“I think he will want the loyalty of both your father and your aunt, Draco. I do not know what he will expect of you, and I will not pretend to. But I may say that should he expect much of you, the animosity between you and Mr. Potter, Misters and Miss Weasley, and Miss Granger…will become far, far deeper than the common rooms you sleep in.”


Chapter the Fifteenth: Muggle Studies vs Malfoy Studies

Draco sat in the library for hours each day of the next three weeks, paging through book after book to try to find information about the First Wizarding War.

They all say the same things, and none of it is anything I haven’t heard already! he said to himself over and over again, but he was determined to find something that would help him.

Potter is so bloody famous, and in the thirteen years since his parents’ deaths, not one person’s put him or his parents in a book? he thought as he buried his head in his arms and laid them on the table in a silent rage.

“At least you’re being productive,” called a sarcastic voice from behind him. Draco snapped his head up.

“At least you’re being funny,” he retorted as Blaise pulled up a seat next to him.

“I’ve noticed that the Granger situation isn’t much better. You told me you talked to her a couple weeks ago.”

“Three, actually. To the day, even.”

“Could you quit being a smartass long enough to tell me what is going on?”

“I could, but I won’t,” Draco sneered.

“Have it your way,” Blaise snapped, and shuffled out of the library. Draco closed his eyes and pressed them together.

If only this could all just go away…

He opened his eyes to find that Hermione was rifling through books on a shelf near him, in the Muggle Studies section.

Does she seriously think she needs to study to learn about Muggles? I guess she studies for anything and everything, doesn’t she?

She grabbed a few books off the shelves, laid them near her, opened each one and took extensive notes.

Many residents of Wizarding Britain migrated to Wizarding Ireland and Wizarding Scotland during the American Revolutionary War, supposedly because they believed that the war was fated to come overseas instead of remaining on what would become U.S. soil, Hermione read in the first, “Muggles and the Magical: Can We or Can’t We Coexist?”

Most of the other books said nearly the same thing as the first, but she felt the need to busy herself, and as she was still not talking to Ron, Harry was busy – doing what, she didn’t know – and Ginny was busy – she’d started seeing a boy she’d met at the ball – studying was her automatic response. She rewrote each of the essays she’d written and not yet handed in, making sure that each line looked near perfect in her eyes, and then headed to the library. She was disappointed to that Draco was there yet again; he’d come to talk to her three weeks ago, and had avoided her like the plague ever since. After a couple hours of rigorous study, she let herself look over at him. He was bent over the table and seemed to be sleeping on top of one of the books he’d pulled out. She copied down the names of the books she’d taken off of the shelves onto a piece of parchment and slid the books back into their places.

Hermione walked over to Draco to find that he was, in fact, sleeping, and had some curious reading material: everything from “Recent and Notable Witches and Wizards” to “The Truth About Werewolves”. After she’d browsed a few minutes, he awoke with a start.

“What are you even looking for?” she asked him.

“It’s none of your business,” Draco declared harshly, scooping up his regular schoolbooks and his writing necessities and quickly walking away from her. Her eyes followed him in intense confusion, pain, and anger. She saw that he turned towards the outdoors corridor, and impulsively grabbed her bag and raced after him.


Chapter the Sixteenth: I’m Scared of You

“Malfoy!” she shouted. “Malfoy!”

Yeah, definitely the wrong girl to fall for, he chided himself as he ran into the empty corridor.

I avoid her for months and she catches me in minutes…

“What in Merlin’s name has gotten into you?”

“Nothing,” he lied. Hermione forced a laugh.

“Ha! That’s rubbish and you know it!”

“So what?”

“So…I want to know what’s going on! You came to talk to me after avoiding me for months, and then started avoiding me again! Maybe I’m being naive in believing that you actually aren’t using me, but I don’t think you are. Something stopped you from finishing the conversation you started that night. You told me you would talk to me later, and I’ve been waiting, and waiting, and all you’ve done is run away.”

Draco shoved his hands into his pants’ pockets as he paced.

“They hate me, Granger. You know it. You hate me, Potter hates me, the Weaselbys hate me.”

“I don’t hate you, and I don’t think they hate you, either. I just…I just think they’re all scared of you. And not so much of you as of your family.”

“My family?”

“Most of the Malfoy family, most of the Black family, they’ve done horrible, dreadful, evil things. And my family – well, the Weasleys, but they really have become family to me – can’t separate you from that. But you’re different now. I mean, you’ve got to be. Right?”

“What makes you think that? I called you Mudblood not six months ago,” he snickered, turning to lean through a window.

“Because Ron provoked you! You were enjoying yourself up until then, Malfoy. Or…at least I thought you were.” Her arms crossed nervously across her chest. She felt more vulnerable than she remembered ever having felt before.

“You apologised for it, Malfoy,” she continued, going over to stand next to him.

“You didn’t explicitly say it, but I know that’s what you meant. If you didn’t want me to forgive you, you wouldn’t have tried to begin with. If you’d really only wanted to get on Harry’s nerves, you would have focused on doing that. But you didn’t even go near him the entire time. You danced with me, Malfoy. You asked me to the ball, and you danced with me, and you liked it. And that’s how I know you’re different.”

“Asking you in the first place was stupid of me, but to try to…I’m not supposed to do this, Granger. You know well enough what my family’s done.”

“Exactly! I have some idea what I’m dealing with. I know what they’ve done. I can hold my own. I’m not scared of them, and I’m not scared of you.”

“But after the way my family’s reacted, I know that we can’t be seen in public together, on good terms. I can’t just…date you like it’s a normal thing. I’d get hurt – and badly, even just for holding hands again…It’s overkill, but it’s what they do, Granger.”

“And that’s reason enough to run away? To mess everything up, then come back only to run away once I forgive you? Because they’d hurt you?”

“No. I ran away…because I’m scared.”

“Scared of what?” she exclaimed in shock.

“It’s nothing,” Draco muttered, starting to walk away. Hermione’s hand on his forearm prevented him from going very far, though.

“What are you scared of?” she asked softly. “Ma-” she began, but stopped herself.

“Draco, what are you scared of?”

He sighed deeply.

“I’m scared of you.”

“Me? You’re scared of – of me?”

Not so much of you as of me…with you, he thought. My whole life I’ve been told exactly who to be. At the ball, I just forgot about everything else. I wasn’t even thinking about what anyone could think. For that one night, it was like no one else existed, just you and me. And then it stopped, and I realised that it’s too good to be true. I’m scared of having that feeling again, because I know that I’ll have to give it up. I have a role in this society that everyone expects me to fulfill. And no matter how I hard I might try, you can’t fit into that. And that’s why I ran away. I have to push you away now, because if I don’t, I’ll have to do it later, and it’ll be even worse.

But he couldn’t admit any of that, and he simply said, “Yes.”

Hermione nodded silently at his answer. She’d imagined many possible outcomes of this conversation, but this hadn’t been one of them.

“Oh,” she replied, pursing her lips. After a couple of minutes she resolved that she wasn’t going to find any words, and she ducked her head down and walked past him and into Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom, where she cried herself dry. Three hours later, she used some make-up that her mother had sent her to use for the ball to hide the sadness that remained in her face before hurrying off to the Great Hall for lunch. The next few days, she tried her best to keep it of out her head, but Draco seemed to become even more self-destructive, and she kept to herself as much as possible as others finally began to ponder what had gotten into him.


Chapter the Seventeenth: Skeeter Strikes Again

“Hey, Hermione,” said Harry unenthusiastically, sliding into a seat across from her in the library. She pushed aside the mammoth book in front of her and said hello back to him.

“I wonder if anyone else has noticed that you’re a wreck, too,” Harry whispered, slightly sarcastically. Hermione scrunched her eyebrows, implying that she didn’t know what he meant by that.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she replied, more harshly than she’d meant to.

“I’ve been thinking…and I think that you two had a falling out or something, and that’s why Malfoy’s been even more…un-Malfoyish recently.”

“We did no such thing!” she exclaimed. She knew Harry well enough to know what he was getting at, and it was too close to the truth for comfort. Madam Pince shushed Hermione, a disappointed look on her face as she brought her index finger to her lips.

“Sorry,” Hermione whispered apologetically. She leaned in closer to Harry.

“Okay, so we did, but what’s that got to do with anything?”

“Everything, Hermione, everything.”

“And why is that?”

Harry sighed. “It’s taking Ron absolutely forever to get over the whole Ginny thing…and I was wondering if maybe you’d be willing to help me…”

“Of course I’m willing to help you, Harry! Why wouldn’t I be?” she said, then she realised the less obvious meaning of his words.

“And you think that would work? I mean, wouldn’t that just make him more angry, since you know he likes me? It doesn’t sound like the best idea to me…I mean, what are you hoping to achieve here?”

“I just need Ron convinced that I’m not interested in Ginny. That’s all. But I don’t want to ask someone I don’t know pretty well to help, you know? Otherwise I’m just using someone, and I don’t want to do that…but I really need to him to get over this. We’ve got barely three months left of school and we haven’t had a real conversation since before the ball. I just need to make him forget about all of it. Like it never happened. Except I can’t use memory spells, and I’m pretty sure they’re illegal for minors to do, anyway.”

Hermione gasped. “Oh my gosh! Harry!”

“What?” he replied defencively.

She leaned in even closer.

“You like her, don’t you?”

He winced, but knew that trying to hide almost anything from Hermione was hopeless.

“Yeah….” Harry groaned.

Hermione was about to ask how long ago he’d realised his feelings – she seemed to be more than just his best friend’s little sister to him even when they were twelve – when her thoughts were interrupted by an incandescent glare at her left. Both Harry and Hermione jumped at the bright light, but knew who they were turning towards.

“Miss Skeeter,” Hermione scowled. The bespectacled woman completely ignored her tone.

“Miss Granger! How nice to see you together again! After those little…roadbumps, would you call them? Hmm?”

“Excuse me?”

“What, you think I wasn’t at the ball?” Skeeter laughed. “Maybe you were too busy with your other little plaything to notice, darling! Oh, how I envy you children! I suppose that after the Chosen One, you can flit around with whomever you want to, hmm?” she continued, examining her fingernails.

“I don’t have to deal with this,” Hermione barked. She slung her bag over her shoulder and grabbed Harry’s hand. “Harry, we’re leaving,” she said, and marched out of the library with him in tow so quickly that he had to run a little to keep up.

“Gods! I hate her!” Hermione screamed ten minutes later as she threw her bag onto the floor of their common room.

“Who is it now, ‘Mione?” Ginny asked, walking over to Hermione and putting a reassuring arm on her shoulder.

“Take a wild guess, Gin,” scoffed Harry.

“Oh, no,” Ginny said, her voice dropping as she groaned.

“You even call her by her nickname! Gods, Harry!” bellowed Ron from behind them, and the three of them watched as he raced up the staircase. When he was gone, Ginny and Hermione started to laugh. Harry didn’t seem to think it was funny, though, and he rolled his eyes at them.

“Oh, come on, Harry. Lighten up,” Ginny said, tapping him gently on his knee.

“So what happened?” she inquired, turning to Hermione. “Don’t tell me you were in the library this time, too?”

“Yup,” Harry said. “Next thing we know, she’ll be deeming it ‘the hottest hookup spot in Hogwarts.’ Gods, Madam Pince is going to kill me.”

“Hey, Skeeter’s the one charting your every move. It’s not your fault.”

“Yeah, but I’m the one who ends up not talking to my best friend for months because there’s an article of hers that implies that I had a relationship with his little sister, okay? Not her. She has fun with it, and I take the blame.”

“Harry, that’s how news works,” chimed Hermione in a very matter-of-fact tone.

“Okay, you’ve got a point there. But that doesn’t give her the excuse.”

“Oh,” Hermione added to Ginny. “She was there, at the ball.”

“She said that Hermione was flitting,” Harry interjected, chuckling.

“I do not flit!” Hermione contested.

“Sure you don’t,” said Harry teasingly. Hermione glared at him, then turned back to Ginny.

“She called Malfoy my plaything. Well, she specifically said other little plaything, so she’s including Harry and Viktor, too, but I mean…she was there! If that gets in the papers…”

“Then both of you are dead,” finished Ginny. “Especially Malfoy.”

“Can’t wait,” groaned Hermione.

“You know, there’s one funny thing about this, though,” Ginny said.

“Yeah?”

“Ginny isn’t my full name. It’s a nickname to begin with.”

“Oh, Ronald,” sighed Hermione and Ginny together, and then the three of them began to laugh.


Chapter the Eighteenth: Hopeless Romantic

My Dearest Draco,

Your father saw this earlier this morning. Please try your best to have a good time these last few weeks of school, because I doubt you will be enjoying much of your summer holiday. I’m sorry.

Love,

Mother

Draco nervously took the other piece of paper out of the envelope. A newspaper clipping? What on – oh gods.

“You okay, mate?” Crabbe asked from across the table, stuffing a chicken leg into his mouth.

“Yeah, yeah,” Draco replied, and he heard Blaise scoff.

“I will hurt you, Zabini.”

“Of course you will,” Blaise said, and stood up from the table. He gently slapped Draco on the back of his head.

“Come on. We’re going You-Know-Where at You-Know-Now. Giddup.”

Draco reluctantly stood up and went outside with Blaise. He could feel the colour leaving his face, even in the pleasant spring air.

“They know, huh?” Blaise asked as they got to the lake.

“Oh, no,” Draco growled. “The entire Wizarding World knows.” He held the clipping out to Blaise, who immediately grabbed it.

“This woman’s a freak!” Blaise exclaimed as he neared the end of the article.

“Hey!”

“I mean the writer, ya twit!”

“Harry Potter and his mystery girlfriend overlook each others’ mistakes for another shot at love,” Blaise recited sarcastically. “What is this rubbish?”

“I don’t know, but I’m a little less focused on that than the middle of the article.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything else, seeing as that part’s a little about you, but it’s still all rubbish,” Blaise asserted.

“I know that. You know that. Granger, Potter, Weaslette, they know that. Everyone else, not so much.”

“So what are you going to do? I mean, you told them it was just to get to Potter, right?”

“Yeah, and they seemed to be all right with it until now.”

“Well, maybe because they know you lied to them.”

“How would they know that from a photograph?”

“Draco…oh, Draco…”

“I’m waiting!”

“I’ve known you your entire life, and only once have I seen you that…happy. You really enjoyed yourself, Dray. And I think they can see that here. I mean, you kissed her, Dray! That’s crossing the line between pissing off her friends and having a death wish, okay?”

“I didn’t actually kiss her!”

“Oh, let me guess, because you so obviously didn’t want to? You really, truly hate her guts, Draco, don’t you?”

“Why are you being such an arse, Blaise?”

“Because you have the choice, Draco. I know you don’t think you do, but you do. You want to be with her, and between the two of you there’s a hell of a lot of brainpower. You could figure it out if you tried. And it kills me that you won’t try. You were happy that night, mate. And you can have that, again and again and again, if you try to. Why can’t you just try? I know you’re scared of her, and of who you become when you’re with her, and of your family, and all that…but do you really have to let that get in the way?”

“Remind me why you’re a Slytherin, mate, you’re a sap.”

“Those cunning folk use any means to achieve their ends, sound familiar? Oh, and hopeless romantic is the preferred term.”

Draco rolled his eyes at Blaise, and they took a moment’s pause.

“You don’t think I’ve messed it up too much?” Draco eventually asked, in a meek voice.

“Even Granger’s got to have a breaking point, right?”


Chapter the Nineteenth: A Bit Much

“Ginny! Over here!” shouted Harry, waving his arm above his head to grab her attention. Soon she burst through the throng of other students in The Three Broomsticks, her boyfriend Michael close behind.

“Hermione, Harry, this is Michael,” she introduced them. They waved cordially – Hermione more so than Harry – and gestured the pair onto the seat across from them.

“So, Michael, how’d you meet Ginny?” Harry asked.

“Oh, we met at the dance,” the boy responded sharply. They engaged him in awkward conversation for the next half hour, then Hermione, who was the only one who could see the front door, kicked Ginny under the table.

“What was that for?”

“Brother alert,” Hermione said, and pointed at Fred, who had just walked in along with Oliver Wood. They didn’t think it was odd that Oliver was there; although he had graduated the year before, Oliver often dropped in, and had tagged along with his friends in the year below him on most of their Hogsmeade visits.

“Thanks,” Ginny said, and pulled Michael away, planning to head to Honeydukes.

Intrigued, Hermione and Harry watched Fred and Oliver drink their butterbeers and talk. They were surprised to see that although the pair were still there an hour and a half later, none of their friends had joined them.

“You don’t think they’re….” Harry began to ask Hermione.

“I’ve had my suspicions,” she responded confidently.

“Come again?” Harry exclaimed, his eyes bulging.

“Long story,” Hermione said. Harry turned his watch around to see the time.

“It’s nearly seven. We’ve got time.”

“Okay, then,” Hermione said, feigning annoyance, and told him about seeing the twins before the ball. They went on to talk about all sorts of other things, even about their lives in the Muggle world. Before they knew it, McGonagall had come into the pub and ordered all the students to return to Hogwarts. As they walked back to the castle, they heard Fred and Oliver speaking excitedly about Quidditch.

“Ah Quidditch how I miss thee,” Harry lamented, but with a joking tone. Hermione rolled her eyes at him.

“This year will be over soon enough, and then you’ll have all the time in the world to play Quidditch,” she said.

“Well, not really, but you know what I mean by that,” she quickly added.

“Yeah, I do know what you mean by that,” Harry replied, gently reaching over to her and grasping her hand. Smiling at him, Hermione slid her fingers into the gaps between his, and they continued almost wordlessly to the Gryffindor common room.

When they stepped inside, Ron was sitting on a couch, playing Wizard’s Chess with Ginny. Ginny saw them come in and she waved, but Ron barely even looked at them before storming back to his room.

“Want to pick up where he left off?” she asked Harry after hearing Ron slam the door of the boys’ dormitory.

“Gladly,” Harry replied distractedly, staring up the stairs after Ron, then he let go of Hermione’s hand and sat across from Ginny. Ginny immediately won the game she’d started with Ron, then Harry played four full games of chess with Ginny before McGonagall sent them all to bed. They’d each won two, and resolved to settle the score the next day before they all went on another double date. Neither Harry nor Hermione was particularly keen on spending more time with Michael, but the only times he seemed not to be around Ginny was when they were required to be in their houses, since he was a Ravenclaw.

“Ha!” Ginny screamed after beating Harry at their final game. “Wait – we didn’t have a wager or anything,” she added.

“How about I just pay for all of us tonight?” Harry offered.

“That’s so nice of you! Are you sure?”

“Yeah, yeah. It’s no big deal.”

It took Hermione a good bit of energy to keep from scoffing or laughing before Ginny skipped up to her dormitory. Hermione knew that if anything described such a situation as theirs, it was the term “big deal”.

“Why’d you do that?” she asked him.

“I’m being nice, okay? I mean, there’s got to be something good about him, right?”

“I suppose…but offering to pay for four people’s dinner? That seems a bit much to me,” Hermione said.

At first it seemed to be much, but eventually they all got used to it; the two couples began to spend more and more time together. After a couple weeks, Harry and Michael simply started alternating as to who paid each time they all went out. Michael turned out to be a nice person to talk to once they got to know him, and Harry was both delighted and disheartened to learn that Michael was adept in Quidditch strategy, even though, as Michael himself told Harry, he “couldn’t play for his life.”


Chapter the Twentieth: Oliver Twist

An exhausted Harry sat a table in the library, flipping through a manila folder full of newspaper clippings. He’d gotten copies of every article Rita Skeeter had written since the school year had started, and began reading through them. After a couple hours, he’d collected the few that pertained to him, and started to study them more closely. Luckily – sort of – there were only four.

‘Harry Potter’s Secret Sweetheart’ read the headline of the first article. The remainder of the text was creatively arranged into a heart around a photograph of he and Hermione hugging.

‘Potter Has Competition’ read the second article’s headline, and next to the article sat a photograph of Viktor Krum flirting with Hermione.

The third article ‘Potter’s Payback’ contained the picture of he and Ginny. He still wasn’t sure what about it had ticked Ron off so much, even though they had been standing rather close to each other, and he’d just grabbed her to stop her from leaving. Just because they were touching didn’t automatically mean that he’d been flirting with her.

And just because she’s Ron’s younger sister doesn’t mean I wasn’t… Harry unsuccessfully tried to stop himself from thinking.

The fourth article was the worst: ‘Another Shot at Love: Will It Work This Time?’ It had the pictures from the previous articles, as well as three others, two of which were from the ball: one of Harry and Parvati dancing, and another of Hermione dancing with Draco. The final picture was even more invasive: a picture of the first time he and Hermione kissed. Skeeter had been far enough away – or they’d been so distracted – that they didn’t notice the flash, which added insult to injury when they saw the article. Try as he might, Harry didn’t think he’d ever forget it. Not the way she’d smelled, or tasted, or anything. It had been practically perfect, save for the aftermath: Ron was officially not talking to either Harry or Hermione, and had started returning things Harry had gotten him, even a couple Christmas presents.

Upon seeing that it was nearly dinnertime, Harry gathered up his things and went back up to Gryffindor Tower to leave the folder on his bedside table, then ran down the stairs and into the Great Hall. Ron noticed Harry first, but only glared at him as the rest of their roommates looked awkwardly at their plates. The entire dorm had been so very unsettled this year; Ron and Harry had always been the best of friends, but when they were fighting it seemed like they were always about to blow each other up – or ask me to, joked Seamus, though he and Dean were the only ones who laughed – or land each other in the hospital wing all the way through the following term.

Eventually Harry spotted Hermione, who had saved him a seat at her left, and he went over to her and slid onto the bench. Harry saw that Hermione sat facing Ginny, and Angelina and Alicia sat next to them in the opposite direction, and he was sitting across from George. All of them were perfectly civil – they were above Harry and Ron’s squabbles, Angelina assured Ginny and Hermione – and seemed to be their normal selves – except that the spot to George’s right was occupied by his friend Lee Jordan, and Fred was nowhere to be found.

“Oh, guys! I got a letter from Oliver earlier; he says he’s coming in again. He wrote that he got permission from McGonagall to start training me to be captain next year, but I think he might be just teasing about that,” stated Angelina, and Hermione and Harry exchanged glances with one another.

“Did he say when he’ll be here?” George asked her.

“He says he’ll send an owl to the Tower when he gets a chance,” she told him, and the group nodded pensively. So little planning was extremely unlike Oliver, and they all knew it; when he was captain, and with the Quidditch Cup in mind, he’d started the Gryffindor team’s practises before classes had even picked up.

Suddenly, an identical face popped up next to George, startling all six of them.

“Hey, guys! You’ll never guess who’s here!”

“Ooh, ooh! Can I try?” shouted Alicia.

“Shoot.”

“Oliver!”

Fred’s excitement was joined by confusion. “How did you know that?”

Angelina held the letter up to him. “He told us he was coming,” she pointed out.

Fred skimmed over the letter. “I feel less special now,” he teased.

“Well, you shouldn’t,” came a rough accent from behind Hermione and Harry. No one needed to turn around to know who it was; everyone immediately jumped to their feet to greet and hug him.

“I was here just a few weeks ago, my goodness,” Oliver groaned, pretending to be annoyed.

“You play with Puddlemere now; you’ve gone pro,” said Fred.

“And professional Quidditch players are celebrities in this part of town!” finished George.

“Eh, I’ll take what I can get,” Oliver replied, with a blaringly obvious mutual gaze towards Fred, which everyone else pretended not to notice.

“Hey, you wanted to show him what we’ve been working on, right, Freddie?” asked George.

“Yeah, do you want to do that now?”

“Well, that’s why I’m asking.”

“Okay, sure,” Fred agreed.

“Jordan, Spinnet, Johnson, care for an adventure?” George asked them theatrically as his reply. The three looked at each other and shrugged as though to say “Why not?”, and then ran along with Fred, George, and Oliver to Gryffindor Tower. Harry and Hermione stood awkwardly for a moment, then slowly sat back down. Hermione decided that – as usual – Harry’s hair was a mess, and started trying to fix it, which became harder to do each time he purposely shook his head. They started laughing, and they moved closer and closer as the meal went on.

Harry’s eyes strayed only once, but he instantly regretted it: At the Slytherin table, with a melancholy shine in his eyes and a piercing, livid expression directed solely at Harry, sat Draco Malfoy.


Chapter the Twenty-first: Green for Jealousy

Draco pushed away the plate that Blaise placed in front of him. He’d never been more confused in his life.

She gets mad at me for apologising to her and then running away, and then she runs away. I guess it is my own fault either way. I mean, I could have managed to say something more. At least…I should have. But no, I didn’t, and I completely screwed up.

The same thoughts ran through his head for weeks, started to devour him from the inside out. He had trouble eating, sleeping, and studying. Everything had gone nowhere but downhill and he knew it was all his fault. But the worst part was that Harry and Hermione were public. He couldn’t go anywhere anymore except the Slytherin common room. It was no longer just voices echoing in his head, it was voices echoing around him as well. It almost seemed as though they had become incapable of not flirting with each other, and it disgusted him more than anything. His nightmares – and class periods – became montages of travelling hands, inside jokes, and not-so-furtive glances. He’d always hated Harry’s now-ex-best-friend, Ron Weasley, but Draco legitimately considered trying to befriend him. They were in the same boat now, after all. Almost.

He stared blankly ahead of him, towards the Gryffindor table, and then he heard a laugh. Her laugh. He snapped to attention, scanning the table and finding her almost immediately. She and Harry sat next to each other, massive, genuine grins on their faces. After what seemed like a lifetime to Draco, Harry leaned forward and gently kissed Hermione, in a manner which suggested he had a considerable amount of practise doing so. Another lifetime passed, and Harry pulled back, leaving Hermione to twist her lips into a coy smile as her skin became a deeper shade of pink.

Draco started to have trouble breathing, his throat closed up, and as his heart raced faster and faster he lost control of his body. After a couple of minutes, Harry nonchalantly scanned the Great Hall, and for a few seconds his eyes settled on Draco. As soon as Harry averted his gaze, Draco managed to regain control, and stormed out of the Hall.


Chapter the Twenty-second: Red for Rage

Harry and Hermione made their way over to a booth, flirting overtly until Ginny and Michael joined them. This time, a girl in a rather tight Ravenclaw sweater was with them.

“Oh, guys, this is my friend, Cho,” Michael said after realising that he hadn’t introduced them.

“Thank you, Michael, but we’ve met,” Cho said in a sweet voice that made Hermione a bit sick to her stomach. Cho was the girl that Harry had supposedly been smitten with for more than half the term, and Hermione cursed the fact that she was a polite person. She wanted to grab Cho by her long black ponytail and drag her out of the pub, and the feeling only grew as the night went on. When she couldn’t stand it any longer, she motioned for Ginny to leave with her, and much to Michael’s – and Harry’s – chagrin, she agreed immediately.

“What is she doing here?”

“I’m not totally sure, actually. Michael said that she and Cedric had a fight and broke up, and she’s all fragile, but everyone’s saying it was her fault, so as her friend it’s his duty to comfort her or something.”

“She looks fine to me.”

“Fine as in emotionally stable, you mean.”

“Yeah. What was the fight about?”

Ginny grabbed Hermione and they moved farther away from the building.

“Cedric thinks that she cheated on him…”

“I’ll bet she did!”

“…with Harry.”

Hermione’s heart seemed to stop for a moment. She ran across the street to the window of the pub and glanced inside. Harry, Michael, and Cho were sitting at the same table. Cho – who had been sitting next to Michael – was on Harry’s side of the table now, and Michael seemed to have reverted to his third-wheel-mode. When Hermione finally was able to see Harry’s face, she saw that his expression was very much like the one he had in the photograph Rita Skeeter had taken of he and Ginny in the library. Hermione’s emotions instantly flipped from frustration to fury.

“What?” she shrieked, almost at the top of her lungs, and Ginny clapped her own hand on Hermione’s mouth to quiet her. She looked sternly at Hermione until Hermione’s breathing slowed and then let go. In a matter of seconds after she did, though, Hermione started to cry. Ginny walked back with her to Hogwarts, and took her to Madam Pomfrey, who agreed to let them stay the night, since she had no overnight patients. Madam Pomfrey gave both girls Calming Droughts, and soon after they were able to fall asleep, not caring that it was a good three hours before lights out.


Chapter the Twenty-third: I’m Oliver Wood.

“Hey, I know you’ve been busy shagging or whatever, but do you have any idea where Hermione is?” Ron said teasingly to Fred and Oliver, who were sitting – alone – in the Gryffindor common room.

“No, why?” Fred responded.

“Well, she went out with Harry earlier, and Ginny and Michael, too, but Michael’s been comforting a certain “friend” of his all day, and I don’t think that Hermione would be too pleased with her getting within twenty kilometers of Harry anytime soon.”

“Come again?”

“Harry cheated. On Hermione! Can you believe that?” Ron yelled.

“I sure hope that’s a rhetorical question, mate,” Oliver replied.

“It is,” said Ron.

“Okay, then.”

Ron stood at the bottom of the stairs that led up to the boys’ dormitories, looking around at the common room.

“So…where’s everyone else?”

“They left. For our date, you know,” Fred said, entirely seriously.

“Really?” Ron exclaimed, a smile brought to his face as he realised that indeed the common room seemed to be set up for an indoor picnic.

“Wait…so you can kick all of Gryffindor House out of their own common room…to have a date?” he continued. Oliver turned to Ron.

“I’m Oliver Wood. I can do whatever I want.”

“Well!” Ron scoffed, feigning offence. “Glad someone’s got a working relationship around here,” he added before turning around and going back into his dormitory. Not a second passed between the shutting of Ron’s door and Oliver’s lips pushing against Fred’s.


Chapter the Twenty-fourth: Sugar and Spice

“Ugh!” Harry grunted, landing facefirst on his bed. Even his other roommates had been avoiding him. In fact, all of Gryffindor House and then some was still avoiding him. He heard the door creak open, and turned his head on its side to see Neville in the doorway.

“Uhh…hi, Harry…” Neville stuttered.

“Hey, Neville.”

“Harry?” Neville asked weakly.

“Yeah?” Harry responded, sitting up on his bed, trying in vain to straighten up his shirt.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Haven’t given me much choice, mate.”

“Oh, sorry. Is – is that a yes?”

“Yeah, go ahead. It can’t be worse than what everyone else is saying to me.”

“Why did you do it? Kiss Cho, I mean. Hermione’s been your best friend for forever…I guess everyone’s so angry because it’s really, really shocking.”

“To tell you the truth, Neville, I don’t even know.” Harry sighed, staring at the photograph of he, Ron, and Hermione as first-years which sat in a frame on his bedside table.

“But – can I tell you something else?”

Neville nodded enthusiastically, and sat down on his own bed.

“The worst part is that I wasn’t even dating Hermione. A few months ago, I asked her to help me by pretending to go out with me, because I wanted Ron to forget about the article Rita Skeeter wrote about Ginny and me. We started hanging out more, and it all just sort of happened, but it wasn’t…it wasn’t real. Not to me, anyway. I didn’t think it was to Hermione, either, but maybe I was wrong.”

“Maybe you just caught her at a bad time,” Neville suggested, and Harry looked at him quizzically.

“She was a wreck when you asked her, right? Maybe she got her heart broken, and then you came along, and just sort of filled that place. I mean, no offence, Harry, but I don’t think Hermione likes you like that.”

“No, neither do I. And I don’t like her like that. That’s why it was supposed to work! We would act like we were dating, and then the Ginny thing would fade into the background, and we could just part ways without getting our feelings hurt.”

“Is there anything I could do? I mean, I could try to talk to her. She doesn’t really talk to anyone but Ginny, but maybe I could talk to her, or at least get Ginny’s opinion.”

“If you can get them to talk to you, that would be just great of you, Neville. I mean, I totally get it if you don’t like me right now either; it’s not like anybody else does except for Cho, and especially considering-”

Harry teared as Cedric’s death echoed in his head. He felt his scar burn for a few seconds.

“She’s even worse off right now with the boy situation,” Neville finished for him, though he used kinder words than the words Harry had thought of. Harry nodded. “I was going to hang out with some friends, Harry…other friends, that is…I’m not saying you aren’t a friend…you are…but I’ve got to leave now to go meet up with them, so I’ll…I’ll talk to you later, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, sure,” Harry replied distractedly, and Neville disappeared down the stairs.

“Hey, Neville!” called Fred and George in unison as he entered the common room.

“Hey, guys!” Neville responded.

“Oh, Oliver, you’re still here? I thought you needed to go back for training this week…” he added in surprise.

“I’ve got a couple of days left, actually,” Oliver responded, one hand resting on Fred’s knee. “Then I’ll have to scram.”

“Oh, cool!” Neville said, walking closer to the painting door and nearly knocking into Ginny.

“Oh, hi, Ginny,” he said. “Sorry about that…”

“You didn’t actually bump into me, Neville,” Ginny said sweetly. “No harm done.” After a glance over at Fred and Oliver, she disappeared up the girls’ staircase. Neville exited the portrait moments after. He was surprised to hear an unfamiliar voice near the end of the corridor. First he thought he should just go down to the Great Hall to meet up with his other roommates, but when he thought he heard Cho’s voice he decided to investigate instead, and found that two female voices were drifting from a dip in the wall by the stairway up to the Ravenclaw common room. For most of their floor, the wall was even, but there was one part where the corridor became much wider, because there were two different walls put together and one was a few meters farther from the opposite wall than the other. He hid as near to the voices as he could and listened.

“Thank you so much, Cho. Really,” said one of the voices, and while it seemed very familiar Neville was unable to remember whose it was.

“Oh, you’re welcome! He’s actually a really good kisser, by the way! If he were pureblood I’d certainly recommend him to you!”

“Yes, it’s such a shame, isn’t it, when the gorgeous ones aren’t?”

“I’ll say, but I’m the one who’ll stoop! Lucky me!”

The girls began to laugh – it seemed more like cackling to Neville, but he figured it was just his imagination – and then the girl whose voice he couldn’t place started speaking again.

“It really is wonderful to see Granger such a wreck!” She sighed.

“Some people just have to learn the hard way. No one tries to take my Dragon from me. No one. Especially not some smartass Mudblood!” She said goodbye to Cho – even kissing on the cheeks the way the Beaubaton girls did – and then left the seventh floor.

Neville stepped out from his hiding spot, and started to walk down to the Great Hall, trying to figure out who the other girl had been. He knew people thought he wasn’t very smart, but he was smart enough not to ask Cho.

Mudblood…Dragon…Dragon obviously is a pet name…

He turned into the Great Hall and hurried over to his friends.

“What happened?” Ron asked Neville as he took a seat in between Ron and George.

“We almost started to think you’d gotten lost or something,” Seamus teased.

Neville’s eyes widened as he had a realisation.

“Oh my goodness!”

“What?” the four other boys exclaimed nervously.

“In the school motto, Draco translates to Dragon, right?”

“Yeah, why?” George replied.

“I heard Cho talking with another girl; that’s why I took so long. I recognised the voice but I couldn’t place it…guys, I think Pansy paid Cho to kiss Harry.”

“What?” they exclaimed again, and Neville recounted the girls’ conversation.

“That sure sounds like the Pansy Parkinson we all know and love, doesn’t it?” Dean said sarcastically when Neville finished, and they all agreed.


Chapter the Twenty-fifth: Busted

After a lot of candy, coffee and discussion – and Oliver’s input – Ron decided to forgive Harry for kissing Cho, and they all sat together at lunch.

“Sorry about that, mate,” were the first words Ron managed to say to Harry.

“Oh, it’s fine. She broke up with me anyway,” Harry responded with an abrupt tone.

“She what?” Ron, Neville, Dean, Seamus and George loudly said.

“Cho broke up with me after breakfast. I couldn’t really hear everything she said – she was mumbling, and really quickly – but said she’s sorry, and she didn’t mean it, and it wasn’t supposed to go this far, and she’s sorry for all the trouble it’s caused.”

Harry’s roommates exchanged suspicious glances.

“What am I missing?” Harry asked worriedly.

“Last night,” Neville began. “I heard Cho talking with another girl. The other girl thanked her, and they talked about you a bit. Then they started talking about Hermione, sort of. After thinking about it, I think the other girl was Pansy. She said…well…it’s really crude…but…”

“I think I can handle it,” Harry said.

“Well okay…she said it was wonderful to see Hermione such a wreck. Well, she called her Granger. And then…this is as close to her exact words as I can remember: “Some people just have to learn the hard way. No one tries to take my Dragon from me. No one. Especially not some smartass Mudblood…”

“That’s what she said?” Harry exclaimed, and Neville nodded.

“Well that certainly sounds like Pansy,” Harry continued. “Have you told Ginny and Hermione yet?”

“Told us what?” Ginny exclaimed from behind him. The boys looked around at each other awkwardly. Ginny cleared her throat.

“We think that Harry was used,” Dean finally said. Hermione became very tense. “What – what do you mean by used?”

“Last night Neville heard a girl thanking Cho for kissing Harry,” Dean said calmly, and both girls’ eyes widened.

“She called you a smartass Mudblood, and said basically that you needed to learn the hard way not to try to take her Dragon from her.”

“Pansy?” Hermione shouted. Most of the other students ignored her, but Millicent Bulstrode and Pansy Parkinson could be seen sprinting out of the Great Hall less than a minute later.

“I take that as a yes,” Ginny sneered.

“That bint!” Hermione scowled, and the entire group smiled and nodded, trying to determine what they should do, only to find that Pansy walked straight into her own punishment.

Rather distraught, and not feeling quite up to eating lunch, Cho sat and read on a bench in the courtyard. After a few minutes, she was joined by her friend Marietta, who asked why Cho had decided to skip lunch.

“But…you like Harry! Why would you break up with him?” Marietta cried after Cho had recounted to her the events of the morning.

“I just feel so horrible, Marietta! I messed up everything for him! I mean, the point was to get to Granger, but…now that I look back on it, there are a lot of things she could have done that would have hurt the Granger girl without hurting Harry as well.”

“I suppose you’re right about that.”

“I’m almost always right. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“How the bloody hell did they figure it out?” Pansy shrieked as she ran up to Cho and Marietta, both of whom stood as she approached them.

“I don’t know. I didn’t tell anyone,” Cho replied, confused.

“Well, someone did! Granger knows! The Weaselbys, Potter’s roommates, they all know!”

“Well, we don’t know how they found out!” Marietta asserted, wedging herself in between Pansy and Cho.

At least we’re better at magic…Millicent can do some damage. It’s not as though Pansy could; she’d be more concerned with her hair. So desperate to keep Malfoy interested…as though he is at all! He barely even looks at her, and somehow she thinks they’re actually dating…I always thought she was daft, and I’ll be damned if that doesn’t confirm it!

“Oh, don’t give me that! Of course you know! Who else knew to begin with, hmm?” Pansy cried. Cho and Marietta glanced nervously at each other, unsure how to respond.

“A battle can only be truly won…if it is fairly won. Miss Parkinson, will you please join me for some tea?” rang Professor Dumbledore’s voice from the other end of the courtyard. Pansy grimaced, but didn’t protest, following him until they turned into a classroom.


Chapter the Twenty-sixth: Train Ticket

“I do hope you realise, Miss Parkinson, that such behaviour as yours is absolutely disgraceful,” Professor McGongall exclaimed to the girl seated in front of her desk.

“Bribing another student to do your dirty work! Especially with the intent – and result – of hurting a classmate! Multiple classmates! That is absolutely unacceptable!” she admonished Pansy, causing the girl to slink back in her chair.

“Minerva,” Dumbledore said gently, and McGonagall leaned back in her chair and tried to relax.

“Certainly you do not approve, Albus?”

“No, Minerva, of course I do not approve of Miss Parkinson’s behaviour. However, we must remember that it is Severus’ decision what her punishment shall be.”

“Is he on his way?” McGonagall asked harshly.

“To my knowledge, Minerva, he is leaving the dungeons as we speak.”

He doesn’t seem angry at all, Pansy thought of Dumbledore, shocked by his steady, kind tone. It made her feel almost victorious that Snape was in control; he tended to prefer his own house’s students, and he agreed that Granger was a know-it-all who didn’t know when to shut up. I’ll bet Snape doesn’t make me do anything. He’s more likely to give me house points than detention.

Her confidence mounted at Snape’s entrance to the classroom. He swung the heavy door open and regally walked towards McGonagall’s desk, moving to stand next to her. He folded his arms over his chest as he stopped. McGonagall stood up and left the room along with Dumbledore.

“Miss…Parkinson…” he said softly and slowly but with enough anger to make Pansy’s confidence almost completely disappear. She gulped, and her voice shook as she spoke.

“Yes, Professor?”

“Would you care to explain yourself?”

She bowed her head guiltily.

“Not particularly, sir.”

“That’s too bad,” he went on. “Start talking. NOW.”

Pansy spent the next two hours wanting nothing but to escape from Professor Snape. He didn’t raise his voice more than once, or move any more than a couple meters from where he originally stood, but she was bawling after just half an hour. She cried of relief when Snape eventually led her to the door of the room to let her leave.

“I will determine your punishment and tell you within the next couple days, Miss Parkinson,” he said, as blankly as he did all his other statements.

“Minerva, please escort her back to the Great Hall. However, she may need a moment to compose herself before dinner begins,” he said, then turned and sauntered back down the stairs. Pansy looked around, puzzled, then an authoritative meow came from a tabby cat sitting a few meters away from Pansy’s feet. Pansy forced a small smile at the cat and then followed it down the corridor.

“Thank you, Professor,” she said to the tabby cat as they reached the Great Hall. The cat meowed as its response, then ran off. Pansy rolled her eyes.

That woman is such a freak… she thought as she ran to the bathroom to redo her make-up. She then walked back into the Great Hall to find many more glaring eyes on her than she’d expected. She pressed her books to her chest and walked briskly towards her usual seat at the Slytherin table, in between Millicent and Draco, and across from Daphne. Surprisingly, Draco wasn’t in his seat, even though at first glance everyone else was. After a closer look, she realised that Blaise was also missing from the table.

I’d bet anything they’re off somewhere together.

“What do you have to do?” Millicent asked her as she sat down.

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“Snape wouldn’t tell me.”

“Snape?”

“Yes, Snape! Apparently he has to decide my punishment, since he’s head of Slytherin.”

“In other words, you’re totally off the hook!”

“Not exactly,” Pansy said hesitantly.

“Pardon?” Daphne said, leaving the conversation she’d been having with her sister.

“I think he might actually punish me. He practically interrogated me! All the teachers kept going on about how what I did is such a horrid thing to do and all that,” Pansy replied, leaving over the table to talk with her girl friends more quietly so the boys couldn’t hear what they were saying. The story that the rest of the school believed was that she wanted to mar Potter’s reputation, and Pansy was determined to make certain that no one found out her actual reasoning.

“Draco finding out would be like hopping on a one-way train to Break-Up Central,” was how Daphne had phrased it when Pansy had originally told her friends about her idea, a few days after she’d finally gotten Draco to ask her out.

“I don’t know what they’re going to make me do, but if it’s something horrid, I am so going to murder Cho.”

“Why is that?” Daphne asked.

“The only reasonable explanation for anyone else finding out is that Cho’s the one who spilt,” Millicent said. “When she broke it off with Potter.”


Chapter the Twenty-seventh: The Deep End

“I cannot believe how horribly I screwed everything up!”

“They’ve been broken up for weeks, Draco! Pansy’s the one who spurred it! Do you really want to be dating the girl who hurt the-”

“The what? The one I want, who doesn’t want me? If she ever had feelings for me they’re long gone by now. I mean, look at her, she’s still not back to her usual Granger self after her falling out with Wonder Boy. And not that she’s made much use of it, but she’s a wanted woman, Blaise.”

“And you are not a taken man,” Blaise asserted. Draco glared at him.

“You’re in a relationship with her at the moment, but you do not like Pansy. Come to think of it, neither does Granger.”

“What are you insinuating?”

“You aren’t able to tell her how you feel, so you’re using Pansy as a means to her affection. You think that if Granger gets jealous enough, she’ll stop her little taste testing charade and come running to you. And you know that she and Pansy have a rivalry that may only be rivaled by yours and Potter’s.”

Blaise winced.

“No, no, I take that back. They’re worse.”

Draco chuckled at Blaise’s pained expression.

“Why is that?”

“You and Potter might land each other in the hospital wing, but it’s not as though you’re going to destroy each other. But girls…girls fight with their feelings, not their fists. They push the boundaries of actually destroying each other. Emotionally, yes, but emotional pain’s nearly always worse than physical, isn’t it? They toy with each other’s insecurities, get in each other’s heads.”

Draco chuckled again.

“But here’s the kicker: do you really believe that Pansy knows enough about Granger to really ruin her?” Blaise continued.

“Sure, getting Potter with Chang did a bit of the job, but it wasn’t as though Granger was just a whiny prat about it. She was completely withdrawn, but nothing other than her social life really faltered. That’s what Pansy wants, though. She wants to entirely ruin Granger: socially, academically, physically. Pansy wants to outdo her, but she knows she can’t measure up, so she aims to bring Granger down instead.”

“And that’s why you want me to dump Pansy,” Draco said.

“Well, there are plenty of other reasons, but that’s a pretty big one. Being the key to Granger’s downfall would hurt you too badly.”

“What are you getting at?”

Blaise stopped pacing around, sitting himself down on the bench.

“I was talking with Weaslette earlier-”

“I didn’t know you were “talking” with the Weaslette!”

“Just listen, would ya?”

Draco shrugged.

“Longbottom overheard Pansy talking with Chang…”

“And?”

“The whole thing’s about you, mate.”

The words took a moment to sink in.

“Pansy is attacking Hermione because I took her to the bloody ball?”

Blaise found himself only able to nod.

“What?” Draco sneered.

“You called her by her given name. You’re off the deep end now.”

“Yeah? And what are we going to do about it?”

“We’re sort of out of options, mate,” Blaise sighed apologetically as he went to stand next to Draco, leaning on the railing of the balcony.

“Even if you did break up with Pansy – which you should, by the way – Granger probably wouldn’t forgive you. She’s got more submissive guys to be with. Weasley’s as smitten as ever, she had her little thing with Potter, and even Krum’s back to flirting with her. You had your chance to tell her and you didn’t take it. She’s stubborn, mate. It’ll take a lot more than your looks and charm and whatever else girls seem to like about you to win her over. Unless you can muster a full-fledged apology and more, I…I don’t think you stand a chance.”

“That’s reassuring,” Draco groaned.

“I’m going to go lie on my bed and bask in my failure, okay?” he jeered, though he couldn’t hide the sadness in his voice from Blaise.

“Get some sleep while you’re at it, would ya?” Blaise called after Draco as he rushed down the spiral staircase. Blaise nearly lost himself in thought as he went back to the balcony and stared out into the sunset. He glanced anxiously down at his watch a few times.

Where is she?


Chapter the Twenty-eighth: Choices

The Great Hall buzzed with students’ voices, speaking enthusiastically about everything from the food to the Tournament to the recent gossip about Pansy’s involvement in Harry Potter’s love life. Ginny scowled as she watched Pansy walk over to her seat at the Slytherin table.

“I swear, if she smiles one more bloody time I’m going to walk over and slap it off her,” she growled to Hermione, Harry, George, Neville, Dean and Seamus.

“McGonagall’s probably thinking the same thing. She was a cat when she brought Pansy back. Plus, dinner is about to start and she hasn’t come in. She probably needs to cool down,” Hermione offered.

“Probably to keep herself from talking about it,” Harry agreed.

“The girl’s a menace,” Seamus added. “I wonder what she’s got to do.”

Everyone nodded in accord, silently beginning to eat after Dumbledore announced that the meal had started.

“Snape hasn’t come back in, either,” Neville stated after a few awkward moments.

“He’s probably the one who picks the poison, though,” Dean responded. “Remember when Harry and Ron flew that car into the Whomping Willow?” Harry and Ron grimaced, but the entire group laughed and nodded as well.

“Snape wanted to expel them, but because he’s head of Slytherin, he wasn’t able to, because McGonagall, as head of Gryffindor, had to decide what to do about it. It’s got to be the same the other way ’round, doesn’t it?”

“And Pansy wins,” Hermione and Ginny sighed.

“I don’t think so,” George said, gesturing towards the Slytherin table. “She seems worried, and the army of she-snakes seems to be a bit…agitated.”

“She does, doesn’t she?” Ginny replied. “But I thought Snape always preferred his own students.”

“He does,” Hermione affirmed. “But he prefers Malfoy over the rest of them. If Snape thinks this involves him-”

“then he’ll give Pansy the punishment she deserves,” Harry finished.

“Supposedly…Now can we stop talking about it?”

The group fell to silence. After a few moments, Ron piped up.

“So…” he began awkwardly, still stuffing food into his mouth as he turned towards George.

“This, uh, this thing…with Fred…and Oliver…what’s, uh, what’s going on there? I mean, were they serious…about the whole dating thing? I though they were joking…but they seem a lot…a lot closer than I’d thought they were.”

George chuckled as his friends waited curiously for the answer.

“Yeah. They’re very much together. It’s not a very public thing, though. Mostly they’re protecting Oliver’s job. Maybe you’ve noticed, but the Wizarding World isn’t the most tolerant place.”

“You don’t say…” Hermione responded, her eyes scanning the Slytherin table unsuccessfully. Suddenly, Ginny jumped up from her seat, startling the group.

“I completely forgot! I was supposed to meet up with a friend tonight! You’ll tell me if I miss anything, won’t you, ‘Mione?”

“Oh, of course! Have fun!” Hermione said with a smirk.

“You aren’t meeting up with Michael, are you?” Ron exclaimed, knowing that when someone said they were meeting up, they usually meant snogging in a secluded corner somewhere. Ginny rolled her eyes before walking away.

“I’ll take that as a no,” Harry concluded, earning him an inquisitive glance from Ron. George and Hermione swept them up in conversation to keep them from getting into any sort of fight, and the voices of the whole group eventually joined those of their classmates in the meal’s nearly monotonous soundtrack.

The sound of a glass being struck rang through the hall. Everyone looked to the staff table to see McGonagall and Dumbledore standing at their seats, McGonagall lowering a wine glass as the students redirected their attention.

“How’d she get in here?” Seamus whispered between the group.

“She’s a cat, remember? She can slide under and through the tables if she wants to,” Hermione quickly answered.

“And look, Snape’s back, too!” Dean added. “What’s his excuse?”

“He’s Snape, he doesn’t need one,” George replied.

“That sounds about right,” Harry finished, then they all turned to look towards the front of the Hall as Dumbledore’s voice began to fill the Hall.

“Another term is drawing to a close. This year, we at Hogwarts have had the great fortune of welcoming our fellow witches and wizards from Beaubatons and Durmstrang. As a traditional part of the TriWizard Tournament, we had a good bit of celebration, especially with the Yule Ball. But to honour the rest of all of us, to commemorate Cedric Diggory, and to congratulate others for their wonderful, wonderful achievements this year and those to come, Professor McGonagall and I have decided that we will also host a ball at the end of term. Most of the rules remain the same; however, there is no age limit in regard to attendance,” Dumbledore spoke, and with his following pregnant pause all the students began to cheer.

“Consumption of alcohol, though, remains only for those who are legally allowed.”

A great number of students groaned.

“The ball will take place the Saturday before the end of term. And before any of you dare ask, you are still going to take your exams. You might take care to utilise your study breaks as opportunities to plan your attire and whatnot for the event. I’d hate for anyone to do poorly on their exams because of a silly dance!” McGonagall added.

The cheering began to subside, though Hermione smiled even more widely at that news, causing Harry to roll his eyes at her.

“I would very much like for none of you to end up beneath the feet of your peers, but you are now dismissed,” Dumbledore finished, and he and McGonagall took their seats again.

The chatter was even louder than before, even with over half the students evacuating the Great Hall almost immediately.

“So…who are we all going with?” Harry asked the group.

“I don’t suppose Malfoy’s going to ask you again,” he continued, turning to Hermione and looking at Ron.

“I’ve got choices, don’t worry,” Hermione quipped, then stood up from the table and walked out of the room, maneuvering herself in between people and making her way to the library. Two hours later, she left with three manuals which she believed would help her prepare for the upcoming ball tucked deep in her bag. She was deep in thought as she started down the corridor to head to the Gryffindor common room, and forgot to pay attention to her surroundings. She suddenly felt her head hit something – or someone – and she fell to the ground, though she was not in pain, just blushing.

“Hermione! I am so sorry!” Viktor exclaimed, extending his hand to help her up. Hermione took his hand and he pulled her up from the floor, grabbing her bag before she was able to herself.

“Viktor! How have you been? I haven’t seen you since…well, two days ago, but no matter! How are you?” she said excitedly, running her fingers through her hair nervously.

“I have been vell, and you? You have had some troubles zis year, no?”

“I’m sorry to say I have, but I’m working to put them behind me. Harry meant no harm nor did Cho, and that’s what matters most to me.”

“Zat is a very good attitude tovards zis. Zat Pansy girl certainly does not like you. She vanted to hurt you badly.”

“She did, she did, but enough about me! You are looking forward to being able to play full-time, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am very much looking forvard to zat, but may I ask about zomezing else?”

“Sure, what is it?”

“Zis ball, zat zey just announced…I know ve aren’t together or anyzing, but I’d really like for you to go vith me, if you vould like zat, too.”

Hermione clutched her bag closer to her chest.

“I’d love to go with you, Viktor, thank you for asking!”

“No, no, Hermione, thank you! I have to join zome of my friends now – ve are going to play vizard’s chess before ve have to go to bed – but I vill talk to you later, zat sound okay?”

“That sounds great!” Hermione exclaimed, watching with a smirk as Viktor headed down towards the dungeons.

Take that, Pansy…


Chapter the Twenty-ninth: A Challenge or An Obstacle?

Ginny sprinted up to the seventh floor, sneaking stealthily through the corridors and slipping unnoticed up the spiral staircase.

“You’re late, Ginny,” Blaise said in a singsong voice. He stood on the balcony, his dark skin highlighted by the setting sun.

“I know, I know,” she apologised, laying her bag on the floor by the bench. “I got a little carried away with things, sorry.”

“You don’t need to apologise that much, really,” he teased, going over to sit on the bench next to her. They sat in silence for a moment, Ginny’s head resting on Blaise’s shoulder and his hand on her knee. It reminded her of Harry, which made her feel a bit guilty, but she’d learned to expect that. No matter what other guy there was, Harry was always there too, in the back of her mind. She’d logically accepted that they weren’t going to get together, but recently she’d been thinking about how even though it would be scandal-worthy – to Ron and Rita Skeeter, if no one else – she’d grown from the little girl she’d been earlier in the year. Sure, one of her brothers was his best friend, but that couldn’t be any worse than dating one guy you don’t really connect with, and then secretly making out with the best friend of one of that same brother’s enemies, could it? Of course, their meetings had started out with the sole focus of getting Draco and Hermione together, but as that became harder and harder, their conversation changed, and soon there was almost none at all. Blaise and Ginny still gave each other updates, but they weren’t scheming anymore.

“How’s he doing?” she asked out of habit, even though the answer was predictable.

“He’s a complete wreck…can’t say I’m helping much. About twenty minutes ago I told him he didn’t stand a chance.”

“He could take that as a challenge instead of an obstacle,” she offered optimistically.

“He could, but I seriously doubt he will.”

They spent a few minutes discussing the social lives of their various friends, then Blaise slid his hand around her neck, leaning in to kiss her. Suddenly they heard someone clear their throat behind them, turning to see Professor Sinistra standing on the staircase, looking at them with raised eyebrows. Wordlessly, she gestured for them to follow her, and they promptly went down the staircase, walking anxiously behind her down to the dungeons.

We aren’t both Slytherins…but we’re both dead… Ginny thought angrily as they approached the Potions classroom.

“Come in,” Snape’s voice crawled through the heavy door, which Sinistra quietly opened for them. She followed them into the damp, dimly lit room, and Snape went to greet her.

“Sit,” he directed them both, pointing towards the chairs in front of his desk, and they immediately obeyed. He spoke quietly for a moment to the other professor before sending her off. After she left he sauntered back to his desk and sat down, but read silently from an open book laid out on his desk for a few minutes, completely ignoring the students’ presence.

“Zabini,” he eventually said, “Ten points. You too, Weasley.” He spoke without looking up from his book, and then he finished whatever he’d wanted to read and slid a bookmark into his place.

“Yes, what you did is against school rules,” he continued, responding to their confused expressions. “However, social politics has ruined enough of this year, most of it being between your friend groups, am I correct?” They both nodded.

“As long as you tell no one, which, assuming, as I am, that your meeting was secret to begin with, you will decline to do, you have no other punishment. I have enough students bothering me in my free time because they’ve been assigned detentions, anyway.”

“Thank you, sir,” Ginny piped up first.

“Miss Weasley, you are dismissed,” he responded flatly. She stood, grabbed her bag and walked out, and Snape looked to Blaise.

“Back to the dungeons,” Snape said, gesturing Blaise towards the door. “No more girlfriend for you today, Zabini.”

“She’s not my-” Blaise protested, then stopped. “Never mind. Thank you, Professor.”

Blaise walked awkwardly back to his dormitory, not surprised to find that Draco had indeed went to lie on his bed. Blaise sighed loudly as he collapsed onto his own bed.

“Lemme guess: someone found out you were “talking” to the Weaslette,” Draco teased.

“Did you tell anyone?” Blaise cried defencively.

“I was just teasing you…are you saying someone actually did find out?”

Blaise nodded with a grimace.

“Professor Sinistra sort of…saw us…” he struggled to find words which would say what he wanted.

“Talking?” Draco finished, making quotation marks with his fingers to further emphasise his sarcasm.

“Yeah…” Blaise groaned.

“You weren’t talking,” Draco grinned. “You were snogging, weren’t you?”

“No, for the record, we were not,” Blaise sniggered, and Draco looked at him inquisitively.

“But we were about to,” Blaise added after a moment.


Chapter The Thirtieth: Opposites Attract ( Or Something Like That)

The Gryffindor common room was packed with people, most of whom were groaning about their exam scores. Only a few people were happy how they had done; Harry, Ron, Neville and Ginny were a bit surprised that Hermione was still one of them. How she’d managed to absorb nearly all of the information she’d been supposed to learn when she’d spent much of the year crying and arguing, Ginny figured she might never know.

I suppose that’s just who Hermione is…she probably knew half of it before the start of term, anyway, and she does tend to study when she gets distraught, and when she’s happy, and angry, and tired, and every time else…

“At least we all passed everything,” Neville contested to his roommates as they left the girls and ran up to their dormitory.

“He’s got a point,” Dean chimed after shutting the door. “So now we focus on tonight.”

“We only just got our scores and we’re already going to worry about the ball?” Ron groaned.

“We’ve been worrying about the ball since it was announced, mate,” Dean replied, and they all shrugged in agreement.

“Yeah, I’m a bit concerned about how the Cho thing will go over with people. I mean, the last ball, she went with Cedric, and well, you know about everything that happened after that,” Harry said, opening his trunk and looking for his robes.

“IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT!” the other four yelled as he finished speaking. Harry blamed himself for everything that went wrong, even for Ron’s explosion at the Yule Ball – “If I’d only paid more attention…” he’d start – and they all knew it was one of his biggest faults.

“Sorry for mentioning it….” Harry muttered, blushing furiously.

“Don’t be sorry, just…relax a little, okay, mate? We aren’t letting Slytherin win, remember?” Neville interjected.

“Neville’s right. You enjoy spending time with each other, so why shouldn’t you?” Seamus continued, and he, Neville, Dean and Ron took turns making encouraging comments until Harry got annoyed enough to yell at them to shut up. They spent the next couple hours laughing and getting dressed, eventually circling back to talking about their dates. Ginny was going with Michael, so Neville had thought he wouldn’t have a date, but instead he was going with Parvati, since despite their breakup, Harry had convinced Cho to go with him. Ron was going with Padma again, and Dean and Seamus had again elected not to ask anyone. Most people’s dates were static as well, as was the case for George and Lee, but Fred was going with Oliver this time. Most people just thought that Fred wasn’t going with anyone and Oliver was coming to socialise with everyone, but their friends knew a bit better.

Harry, by this time, was practically an expert in cover stories; he constantly had to pretend that he was doing one thing when he was doing the opposite. He snapped himself out of the plethora of thoughts that were suddenly engulfing him, reminding himself that Fudge had nothing to do with the ball tonight. He had to be as alert as he could; he’d surely lose his mind if Ron and Hermione started fighting again, and he had suspicions that Hermione and Ginny had been planning a way to get back at Pansy. The she-snake had already already served her three weeks of detention, being forced to do everything from polishing trophies to tending to students in the hospital wing for four hours each day. Harry laughed just thinking about her facial expressions; Pansy hadn’t looked quite as smug for the past month as she had before.

If only Malfoy knew just why she did it; I bet he’d flip out.

Harry chuckled internally, then, as he was trying to tie his tie for the fifth time, his expression turned to something more like shock.

That’s got to be what they’re going to do. They’re going to expose her.

Harry felt a little bit scared. There was no telling what could happen if they did. War Breaks Out Last Night of Term, he imagined a Daily Prophet headline. The thought made him cringe. He wished that he could believe Hermione and Ginny were above that, but the past year shattered most of any childhood innocence Hermione might have had, and Ginny was close behind, nearly as witty and as formidable as Hermione was.

“I know you all got tired of me asking already, but who do you think Hermione will show up with this time?” Ron asked.

“Probably just as surprising as Malfoy,” said Neville.

“Probably an upperclassman,” Seamus added, with emphasis on his last word.

“Someone who can show up Malfoy up, right? He’s going with Pansy, so to show Pansy up, she’s got to aim higher in the social structure,” Dean continued.

“Can’t get much higher than a Malfoy. ‘Specially ’round here,” Ron mused, and they all thought on their criteria for a minute.

“I guess we’ll have to wait and see, then.”

The other boys nodded in agreement as Professor McGonagall’s voice flooded the dormitory, announcing that students were allowed into the Great Hall.

“Ready or not, here the chaos comes,” Neville joked as they all hastily finished tying their ties and running their fingers through their hair. The common room was nearly empty when they dashed through it ten minutes later. To their surprise, among the last few were Fred, George, Oliver, and Lee.

“Don’t you all have…dates…or something?” Ron asked them teasingly.

“They’re still getting ready…or something,” Lee replied.

“Didn’t they leave after us, though? They spent some time in the common room, I thought. And since they take longer than us to get ready…” Dean began.

“We started getting ready a couple hours ago. I think we gave them a run for their galleons this time,” Ron interjected.

“Well, I hope they found a way to give Pansy a run for hers,” Harry added before continuing to walk towards the portrait-door. He kept walking although his roommates stayed to chat with the others, thinking it would be better to greet Cho by himself. As he swung the door shut, he nearly bumped into Michael, who was leaning on the wall next to the door. Suddenly tongue-tied, Harry was grateful that Michael spoke to him first.

“Ginny’s still in there,” he explained, gesturing behind him. Harry nodded awkwardly and hurried away after a minute of small talk, leaving Michael leaning against the wall and twiddling his thumbs.

Harry practised different ways of saying hello that seemed less awkward than he was, but he couldn’t manage any of them when he actually met up with Cho in front of the Great Hall’s massive double doors, and he settled for a simple hello and a compliment on her dress. It looked nearly the same as the one she’d worn to the Yule Ball, but its sleeves cut off at her shoulder, and there were hints of black and red interwoven with the sandy colour of the silky fabric.

After a few minutes, Fleur came over with her date, a tall, skinny boy in fancy robes whose name was unintelligible to Harry as Fleur cheerily introduced him, and said that Viktor would join them as soon as he met up with his own date. The TriWizard Champions were again going to have a procession, as well as the first dance, and Harry knew it would be the hardest part of the evening for him. Cho had gone with Cedric to the Yule Ball, and this other love triangle he’d found himself a part of had been drastically worsened by Cedric’s death.

“I wonder who Viktor’s mystery date is,” said Fleur’s anonymous date.

“Most of the Slytherins have been talking about it nonstop for a while now. It’s strange that she’s not a Slytherin, though. Slytherin house is the one which is most similar to Durmstrang.”

“Zere was some saying, zo, opposites attract, or somezing like zat, no?” Fleur replied, more to Harry and Cho than her date. Cho responded enthusiastically, picking up their dry conversation and making it exuberant as Harry stood by, looking for his friends. He saw most of them; Ginny and Michael were the last of the pairs to come in before the students were ushered inside the Hall. He was wondering whether Hermione would come, but remembered that she had also come late to the Yule Ball. McGonagall told the group that they had about five minutes before they would proceed into the Hall. The end of McGonagall’s sentence was cut off by a sharp shriek by the staircase.

Pansy… Harry reasoned before he could see what was going on. McGonagall admonishingly guided most of the gathering of students towards the doors of the Hall, and then he could see: Viktor’s date had arrived.

The first word that came to Harry’s mind was gorgeous. A small frame was accentuated by a dark green sleeveless dress, the hem of which reached to a few centimeters above her knees. The dress seemed to be draped over her rather than being worn, snugly outlining her gentle curves, and a mass of curly, light brown hair cascaded down past her shoulders, drawing attention to an ornate silver locket, a low neckline and pink lips. He knew that it was her, but he could hardly believe that it was Hermione. She looked so different, and it took him a moment to realise that her plan hadn’t been to expose Pansy, but rather to humiliate her. Pansy’s tight black dress and delicately wrapped bun of black hair, while pretty, made her look more like a little girl dressing up in her mother’s clothing than a young woman, whereas Hermione pulled her own outfit off perfectly. If Harry hadn’t known her, he’d have guessed she was in her mid-twenties.

Harry resisted the urge to chuckle at the scene: Pansy’s face contorted in horror, like those of her friends Millicent and Daphne, Malfoy staring off in the opposite direction, Zabini laughing, and Crabbe and Goyle standing idly around them. Hermione simply twisted her smile into a smirk, looking directly at Pansy, laid her arm on top of Viktor’s and walked over to Harry and the others.

McGonagall gestured the Champions and their dates to the doors, told them their cue, and went to join her colleagues.

Being a cat must be really helpful… Harry thought as she sprinted through the students. He and Cho walked in between the other two pairs. Harry smiled inwardly at everyone’s gasps as they realised that it was Hermione who was Viktor’s date.

The rest of the night was a blur, dancing and talking and drinking and eating and laughing and flirting all slurred together into a confusing but unforgettable event. When his watch read around nine in the evening, Pansy began throwing a fit – something about “inattentive” and “cheating” and “she’s prettier than me, that’s it, isn’t it?”. She wasn’t completely wrong: her supposed boyfriend ran off once Millicent and Daphne had gotten involved. Not to mention that he – like most everyone else – had spent a good bit of his evening looking at Hermione. For the majority of the girls, their gazes were filled with jealousy, though Ginny, Angelina, Alicia and Katie beamed with pride. Most of the guys looked at her like some other fancy thing which was priced far too high for nearly everyone to buy, which made Harry cringe, since he cared for her a good bit.

Harry noticed, though, that Malfoy’s expression in regard to Hermione was much like Ron’s, like the realisation of a battle lost or a chance escaped had hit them at full speed. Harry tried unsuccessfully to shake the word broken out of his head. The image of Malfoy glaring at him danced through his thoughts, even after the dance had ended, now joined with that of Malfoy glancing at Hermione and Viktor before he ascended the stairs.


Chapter the Thirty-first: Gin and Tonic

Note: As this chapter’s title implies, there is alcohol consumption in this chapter. This is also slightly more sexual than the previous chapters, but there is neither any explicit content nor actually implied sexual acts. They snog, nothing more, and no, they are not drunk. One sip does not intoxication induce. While they are still thirteen and fourteen, the idea is that maturity is correlated with experience, not with age.

Professor McGonagall’s voice echoed through Ginny’s dormitory, just as she and Hermione were getting to the final touches of their wardrobes. Ginny stared at her reflection in her mirror, running her hands over the fabric of the lilac dress. Hermione had lent her the dress from the Yule Ball, and Ginny was pleasantly surprised to find she didn’t look like a little girl. The dress her mother had gotten her was pretty, but definitely had emphasised the fact that she was younger than basically everyone else there. Of course, that same problem didn’t exist this time, since there was no age limit, but she still wanted to look older. Her best friends were older, her boyfriend – and secret boyfriend – were both older, she was the youngest in her family, and the list went on and on about how she was younger than the others. But this year, she at least mostly closed the gap. She thought it may have just been her matured mentality, but she thought she even looked older physically. She was definitely taller than she’d been at the start of the term, and her hair was a good bit longer. She thought her freckles stood out a bit more, but reasoned that it was because Blaise had pointed them out.

The only thing I’m dreading…she thought. As her public boyfriend, Michael was automatically Ginny’s date, and Blaise was going with Daphne, one of Pansy’s annoying little friends. The thought of them touching made her sick to her stomach. Between Harry with Cho, Blaise with Daphne, herself with Michael, and Pansy with Malfoy, Ginny knew it wasn’t going to be a very good night. The only exciting part, she reckoned, would be Pansy laying eyes on Hermione. After that, it would probably be more monotonous and painful than anything else. Ginny smiled at Hermione, who stood next to her, so nervous she was practically shaking. The giggles of the older girls travelled into the room from right outside the door, where they were joking around with some of the guys.

“You’ll be fine,” Ginny said reassuringly in Hermione’s ear, stroking Hermione’s hair back so that it fell behind her shoulders.

“I sure hope so,” Hermione replied, “but it’s not me I’m mostly worried about.”
Ginny hugged Hermione gently, taking caution not to mess up their dresses, or Hermione’s make-up. She was immensely impressed by Hermione’s transformation this time. It was like the princess in one of the Muggle faery tales Hermione had told her, who started out as the maid. If Ginny could pass for being fifteen, Hermione could pass for twenty-five. She was mature enough, too.
Too bad we’re at school, Ginny thought. Hermione could use a little alcohol. Not that she necessarily won’t have any, though, especially since Viktor is old enough…
As though on cue, the other girls ran into Ginny’s room, quickly dividing the various articles of clothing on the spare bed between themselves. Hermione sighed, grabbing her wand and announcing to Ginny that she was ready, and the pair walked hand-in-hand through the common room.
As Ginny stepped away from Hermione, descending down the stairs to the Great Hall with her hand in Michael’s, spotting Cho and Fleur chatting as though they’d always been the best of friends, she couldn’t help thinking that she could use a little alcohol herself. Unfortunately for her, Filch was guarding the beverage table, at least trying to prevent anyone from drinking anything they weren’t supposed to. She lost focus in Michael’s comments as they made their way through the sea of students, trying to find some friends to stand with. They eventually agreed to make small talk with Neville and Parvati, and they’d just begun talking when they all jumped at the sound of a high-pitched scream. Ginny smiled, causing the other three to look at her with confused expressions.

Hermione has arrived…she said victoriously to herself.

“Just wait a minute. You’ll see,” she said to them, noting the pride in her voice. And indeed they did: Parvati gasped loudly in shock when she saw Hermione walking into the Hall, though she restrained herself from shrieking, which Ginny knew was most likely her default response. Hermione waved at them as she passed, and Ginny and Neville instinctively waved back. The first dance – the Champions’ – passed by slowly and awkwardly, marked by near silence throughout the massive room. Ginny lost focus again as the party continued, paying far more attention to the facial expressions of two certain male Slytherins than to anything Michael was saying. He didn’t seem to mind; he demanded no answers from her, and she was increasingly convinced that he was mostly talking either to hear himself talk or to diffuse a little of the tension between them. A few hours later than Ginny could have hoped, Pansy began to scream again, though with the blaring music her screeches weren’t nearly as disruptive. Ginny repressed a series of giggles as she deciphered Pansy’s words; she was distraught because of Hermione. Specifically, and how Ginny preferred to see it, Pansy was distraught because Hermione had won.

After a moment, Millicent and Daphne seemed to realise that she and Draco were fighting, and pushed their way over to them, dragging their dates limply behind them and joining forces with their crying friend. Almost immediately, Draco said something inaudible to Ginny that shocked all of them, and ran off, leaving Pansy practically bawling and need of extensive comfort from the other girls. As he reached the foot of the staircase, Ginny followed his eyes to one end of the dance floor, where Hermione was still managing to feign enthusiasm about her time with Viktor. The blond turned and raced up the stairs, and Ginny watched him curiously.

For such an arrogant prick, he doesn’t have any backbone, she said to herself, less of an observation than a restatement of what Blaise had been telling her for months.

Speaking of the devil…

She scanned the throng of students for Blaise, and her failure to discern him from the rest of the crowd left an almost bitter taste in her mouth. Harry could be seen twirling Cho around as his eyes glazed over, and Ron was skulking again as Padma danced – again – with a boy from Beaubatons. Ginny saw the night almost as a testament to how much they all had changed through the year. It was supposed to be such a happy night, but none of them were really able to make it into one. She faked a few convincing yawns, then excused herself from Michael using the excuse of sleep. Instead of Gryffindor Tower, though, she headed to the Astronomy Tower, where she collapsed onto the stairs, leaning against the wall and losing herself in thought. She snapped out of her own mind after a few minutes, when her thoughts were penetrated by the sound of a familiar voice. It took her a moment to place it, but it sounded like Blaise, and she pushed herself up from the step she was sitting on and peered onto the top of the tower.

Blaise turned around quickly at the sound of someone’s footsteps joining his own, but the light streaming from the corridor downstairs illuminated the distinctive combination of red-tinged hair and a sparkling dress which brought a smile to his face.

“Hey, Gin,” he greeted softly, walking to the top of the stairs and extending his hand, which she slipped hers into as she came towards him.

“Hey,” she replied, pulling him away from the stairs. She flinched at the cold stone as they sat down wordlessly on the bench. Blaise grabbed something from behind him, and Ginny saw that it was a flask, with the Slytherin crest, to no surprise. He gestured towards it, and she rolled her eyes, but flicked the canister open nonetheless, slipping it out of his hand and bringing the small opening to her lips.

Cider, she observed at the first taste, handing it back to him after a moment, wondering whether they should try to talk about the dance. If it was futile, then their time would be better spent “doing other things”, as they sometimes called their undercover snogging sessions. She didn’t need to ask, seeing that as he took a drag from the flask he glanced cautiously down the staircase. She laid it on the bench behind him once he finished, coaxing him from his seat. His deep brown eyes showed that he was both confused and enticed as she grasped his right hand in her left hand, but the confusion began to melt away as her right hand gripped his tie.
Where did this attitude come from? Gods… she chided herself nervously.

Oh, chill out, Ginny, remember that whole not-being-a-little-girl-any-more thing we talked about earlier? Stop trying to be one, she reprimanded herself, pushing away thoughts of her increasingly apparent metamorphosis at the touch of Blaise’s fingertips on the small of her back.

It’s the last night of this term at Hogwarts. It’s not as though I’ll see him over summer holiday, so I should at least enjoy time with him while I’ve got it.

Ginny shivered as she leaned back against the cold brick wall, using its rough surface to support herself as she wrapped her arms around Blaise’s neck and his hands travelled gently to her hips.


Chapter the Thirty-second: Here We Go Again

Draco stared out of the window, sighing at the beautiful landscape and trying not to cry.

I cannot believe I lost to Weaselby…Harry Potter, Viktor Krum, that was bad enough, but Weaselby? I mean, they’ve been friends forever, but it’s not like he ever made a move or anything, and she still likes him… Draco berated himself. He used to get everything he wanted, but now Ron Weasley was three compartments away from he and Blaise, and mere centimeters from Hermione, who had fallen for him. It had been clear when they had walked by; her flirty smile, flushed cheeks, and obviously intentional proximity said it all. Draco nearly gagged, but forced himself to look away and walked speedily past them instead.

“Weaselby finally got his little Mudblood girlfriend, huh?” Blaise had asked Draco in a whisper, not bothering to look into the compartment, knowing that Ginny and Michael were in it with Harry, Hermione, Neville and Ron. Draco and Blaise were the only people in their compartment, since a lot of the Slytherins had sided with Pansy after the events of the previous night. Draco had suggested that Ginny come sit with them, since she and Blaise probably weren’t going to get a chance to jump each other’s bones over the holiday, but Blaise had said that was a bad idea, especially considering that her parents were picking her – and her three brothers – up from King’s Cross, and she had been sitting with her friends by the time they’d gotten on the Hogwarts Express. Draco thought Blaise was being a bit ridiculous, since the train ride was so long, but he didn’t protest too much. He simply didn’t have the energy, plus his relationship issues would probably not be helped by his best mate snogging someone a few meters away from him. Draco had originally thought to point out that it would ease his bitterness about his failure with Hermione if Blaise worked to have a moderately functional relationship, but remembered that Blaise had given him very similar advice a few months ago, which Draco had failed to follow.

Ironic, isn’t it? I ignore his advice, and then he gets a girlfriend. A secret one, nonetheless, whom he actually manages to date for a while. I guess it helps that his ego isn’t so big, and his family isn’t active in terms of Voldemort.

Draco shuddered at the name, even though it was only the sound of it inside his own head.

I fear that He’ll rely on your family this time around,” Dumbledore had warned him the night before. “His main target is, of course, Harry, and you are the most solid link they could have to Harry – and his friends. You must be strong, Draco, to pull yourself, your family through this. Malfoy Manor may well become home to more than your parents and yourself, my boy, but you must pay it as little attention as possible. You have been taught not to show fear, and it will aid you more and more as time progresses. But I must ask you to remember that it will also hurt you, possibly more than it will help you.”

The thought of having more Death Eaters, let alone Voldemort himself, taking refuge in Malfoy Manor, made Draco’s skin crawl. He’d gotten absolutely no sleep the night before, his thoughts jumping back and forth between the War and his still-non-existent relationship with Hermione. After a while he had come to the realisation that they weren’t different categories, but interrelated, inseparable. His father’s racism was the reason he had always been so horrible to Hermione and her friends. It was the reason he’d lied to his parents about going to the ball with her, the reason he’d ran away from his chances of being with her, the reason he was afraid to run back. Even if he got her to forgive him, the rest of his life wasn’t going to change. His father wouldn’t suddenly decide to no longer hate Muggleborns and invite Hermione over for supper or anything like that, Voldemort would still keep trying to rise to power, Hermione’s parents would still be Muggles, and he couldn’t change any of that. Heneeded to change, and that was the hardest part. Partly, that was because he knew that he already had changed. It had been so difficult for him to admit even that he liked her a little bit, and knowing that it wasn’t anywhere near enough exhausted him with just the thought of such an effort. It had been building before she punched him, but the day when the words first became concrete in his head was that day, a sickening metaphor brought to life. He’d realised, in the moments that followed, that he liked her. It had hit him harder than she had.

Almost everything he’d known of her were things he was supposed to hate, things he’d been raised to scorn, just like his pureblood peers had. Not only was she Muggleborn, but she was smart. Each year she came to Hogwarts and blew everyone away. She got far better marks than people who had lived with magic around them every single bloody day of their lives. People like her were hated the most by the supremacist families, because people like her proved them wrong. People like her defeated the lies that the supremacists had been telling about Muggleborns for ages and ages, like that they would never be as competent in magic, and hated all the purebloods. People like her spent every waking moment doing things that made people like the Malfoys hate them.

Once upon a time, he’d blindly subscribed to his father’s beliefs. Draco had been a spoiled, arrogant, obnoxious little boy all the way into his teens. And for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out what had changed. All he knew was that he’d changed. He didn’t want to be like that anymore, and he simultaneously hated and loved that he didn’t. Everything was easier before he’d “seen the error of his ways,” as Blaise quoted Ginny as saying.

I wonder if he ever has problems with it…he never talks about it, but that could just be because he focuses on me…isn’t that one way people avoid their own issues, focusing on their friends’? I mean, he can’t tell anyone, and it’s not as though they have classes together or anything since she’s in the year behind us? What if he feels bad about that, like he’s corrupting her or something? I mean, she’s younger and a Weasley to boot, and from what he tells me, they get pretty physical…

He shifted his peripheral vision to Blaise, who was sitting on the other bench, reading some Muggle book Ginny had recommended, indubitably recommended to her by Hermione. Draco wished that he had even one more positive memory of her, but all he had were a few hours. They had ended horribly and he had never made up for it, and now he had no chance. His bastard father had gotten in the way once again. Draco had to give him some credit; his father was holding him back without even knowing that Draco was trying to get away.

Everything was so…perfect…when the outside world didn’t exist, he thought, wiping away the tears that formed at the corners of his eyes.

You danced with me, Malfoy. You asked me to the ball, and you danced with me, and you liked it. And that’s how I know you’re different.”

“You could always write to her, you know,” Blaise offered, looking over the top of his book to the other side of the compartment.

“You can do things without letting your father hear about them, Dray. You just need to be careful.”

Draco sighed, pushing his hands through his white-blond hair.

“And what? She’ll write back? Not much chance of that! But what if she does! What am I supposed to tell my parents when the mail comes, ‘She’s helping me with homework’?”

“This is Granger we’re talking about, remember? It makes sense!” Blaise continued, summoning his bookmark and sliding it into his book, which he shoved back in his satchel.

“Somehow I don’t think my father will see it that way.”

“Here we go again with the bloody Father thing,” Blaise groaned.

“I just told you not to…never mind…But it might help you to remember that he’s just one man, and a cruel, cowardly, and idiotic one at that. You’re already more of a man than he is, and you haven’t even had your first kiss.”

Draco looked at Blaise in a scolding manner, almost glaring, and Blaise automatically answered the unposed questions.

“Those do not count. Two kisses with Pansy which meant absolutely nothing except that she hounded you even more, and Granger’s hand: they don’t count.”

“Just because you’ve snogged the Weaslette to the point where neither of you can’t breathe doesn’t mean-”

“Keep it down, will you? She’s got brothers!”

Draco grinned tauntingly at Blaise, as though to say “I told you so.”

“Here we go again with the bloody brother thing,” he sniggered, his slightly feigned smile widening as Blaise exaggeratedly rolled his eyes.


Chapter the Thirty-third: Houses and Homes

“That’s terrible, sweetheart!” exclaimed Mrs. Granger to her daughter. “That boy had no right!”

“But dear, isn’t this the same boy from before? The one whose father fought with Arthur?” her husband asked, turning to look at Hermione, whose nods confirmed his suspicions.

“See, we can’t have expected anything different! Besides, Ronald has got quite the temper.”

Hermione continued to sip her tea, searching through her memories of the past year and weeding out the ones she couldn’t tell her parents about. It had been three hours since they’d gotten back to their home, and Hermione hadn’t even gotten to the winter holiday yet even though she’d been updating them since then. She hadn’t even taken her bags up to her room yet. They wanted to know everything, and they wanted to know it immediately. They had always been curious, but this year had been special, so their interest was intensified.

Finally, she thought hours later around eight o’clock, when she was able to return to her bedroom. It had taken eight hours, but she’d eventually given her parents enough information to hold them for the night. She’d rushed through the second half of the year, instead focusing on her relationship with Harry and on Ginny. Her mother was ecstatic that Hermione had found a female friend, since she’d never had many of them, so Hermione was careful not to remind them that Ginny was Ron’s sister. She omitted almost everything about Draco, and a good bit of her relationship with Harry, especially its beginning and its end. Her mother’s opinion on the matter made her a bit angry. Her mother loved that she’d gotten with Harry but didn’t approve of either Ron or Draco, and they were the two she’d actually liked. She’d only liked Harry for a little while, but there wasn’t much to it, just that they were very close. Viktor was just an attractive placeholder. There wasn’t much need to talk about him.

She heaved her trunk onto her bed and started to unpack. She filtered through different outfits, many of which now had connotations to her, the dresses especially, but other garments too, like the sweater she’d been wearing when she had her first kiss (another fact she’d eliminated for her parents.) It took longer than usual to unpack, as she filtered through her memories simultaneously with her clothing and other things. She had trouble fitting all of her books onto her bookshelf, settling for leaving some of them on her desk.

A blank piece of parchment still lay on the wooden desktop, a quill in the inkwell centimeters away. When she’d finished unpacking, she sat down and started a letter to Ginny, thoughts interrupted when her mother came to tell her good night a few moments later. It was short, but she reasoned that it had to be, since she’d last seen Ginny only a few hours ago. She resolved to add to it the following days until she deemed it worth sending, and slid out of her tee shirt and jeans and into a pair of red and gold pyjamas. They weren’t specifically Gryffindor, purchased by her parents at a trendy Muggle store during Hermione’s third year, but the colours were close enough to pass. Her mother had embroidered an ornate lion into the right thigh of the pants, and had made the top almost like a jersey, with a large G on the front and Granger between the shoulder blades. Hermione liked it very much, but she knew that her mother had made it mostly out of jealousy; after spending time with Molly, she’d started thinking she wasn’t good enough of a mother. Hermione had never thought so, just that her mother and Mrs. Weasley were quite different, but apparently her complimentary regard of the other woman had triggered something in her own mother that compelled her to try to be more like her. She’d started baking and sewing, things she’d never done before, to Hermione’s knowledge. She’d even knitted a scarf or two, and taught Hermione to knit as well, though Hermione was better at it.

So my family is a bit blander than many, what’s the problem? Hermione thought whenever she heard of another new project of her mother’s. Her parents were dentists, so they weren’t expected to be particularly interesting, at least not in the Muggle world. Besides, Molly could do everything by magic, whereas Hermione’s mother obviously could not, since she didn’t have magic with which to do things in the first place.

She stood in front of the tall mirror, running her fingers over her collarbones and noticing that they’d become more prominent than they had been. The hair potion she’d used for the balls seemed to helping, too, as her hair had begun losing its frizz. She knew that it had done so after the Yule Ball, but she hadn’t paid much attention to it then, distracted by her tiff with Ron.

I’m so happy that’s over now…

She’d finally gotten him to forgive her – how exactly, she didn’t know – and now things were starting to pick up where they’d left off, flirting awkwardly and hoping the other person did something first. She was trying to be as obvious as possible, but she knew that his ego depended on him actually making the first move, so she was going to try her best to be patient. She was frustrated that now she had to go most of the summer without seeing the Weasleys – plus Ron was unlikely to write, and Harry as well, and certainly Draco wouldn’t, though she was sure Ginny would – and almost angry that she had to spend in the Muggle world, too. Not only could she not use magic, but she couldn’t be around it, either, just her family and her detached Muggle friends. They weren’t exactly chaffed that she never wrote to them from school, telling her to call them or e-mail them, but she’d only explained to a couple people that she didn’t have access to those sorts of communication when she was at school. The rest, she was sure, would flip out at receiving a handwritten letter – not to mention the owl delivering it. And how would they reply? She had no address to give them. Harry had let her use Hedwig to deliver letters to her parents and the friends who knew a few times. Her – former – best friend, Angelique, thought that Hedwig was the cutest thing she’d ever seen, and even asked Hermione to get her some owl treats so that she could reward the owl when she brought things. The request had gotten forgotten in between everything else happening through the year, but Hermione smiled at the memory. It was nice to know that even while there were wizards like the Malfoys and Muggles like the Dursleys, there really were people who were genuinely accepting.

As she fell asleep under her covers later that night, the moonlight of her hometown streaming through the windows, she couldn’t help but think of how she no longer felt at home here, in this house, the one she’d grown up in, the neighbourhood she’d grown up in, where her parents and old friends lived. Hogwarts was her home now. But thinking of Voldemort’s reincarnation as she nearly always did, she wondered if it would become unsafe – more so than usual – for her to go back. She resolved to look for a book on defencive and offensive spells next time she went to Flourish & Blotts. If there was a next time.

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