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DISCLAIMER: I do NOT own Harry Potter!

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Chapter 9

And they're all starving like the rest of us

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Sunday morning during breakfast a strange barn owl landed in Hermione's porridge. When she managed to get it out of her bowl and scourgified the mess, it stuck its little leg out. She untied the letter from its leg and fed it a few bits of toast before it spread its wings and flew off.

"Hate when they do that," the fifth year sitting next to her mumbled.

She nodded. "They aren't the most skilled at landing."

The boy chuckled and Hermione turned to her letter, the handwriting unfamiliar to her. She broke the seal and unfolded the piece of parchment. It had a peculiarly sweet scent to it. She scanned the letter to the bottom and her heart skipped a beat.

The signature read Callum W.

No longer hungry she grabbed her bag and hurried out of the Great Hall. She headed for the grounds. There was a certain tree near the lake that was great for days like this one, when the sun was shining brightly, the sky was filled with fluffy clouds, and she had a letter from a boy she actually liked.

The tree in sight, she quickened her pace and dropped her bag by its trunk. She settled on the grass facing the sparkling Great Lake and pulled out the letter. Her heart beating fast she unfolded it and read:

Dear Hermione,

I hope your first week at Hogwarts was welcoming and full of excitement. I haven't stopped thinking about you since our evening together in Meadowlark. I am nervous to think that you might forget about me, whilst amongst your peers. To remedy this I am hoping you will accept my invitation to meet during your Hogsmeade visits. I don't intend to let this year pass without seeing you again.

Take care of yourself and study hard!

With all my heart,

Callum W.

Hermione read it over five times and still her heart would not stop pounding against her chest. She felt her cheeks flaming at the choice of words Callum used. He 'hasn't stopped thinking' about her? He wants to meet in Hogsmeade? And the way he ended it with 'all my heart'. She pressed her fingers against her cheeks feeling their warmth. Was this really happening? Was this a dream? Something this miraculous couldn't be happening to her!

This single letter lifted her spirits so high she wasn't sure anything could bring her back down.

She was staring at the sweet-smelling parchment so intently, her mind filling with potential scenarios of when she would see Callum again, that she didn't hear the crunching of grass. Seconds later a huge dog was breathing down her neck, licking her face, and leaving slobber in her hair.

"Fang! C'mere yeh big- Oh Hermione, is tha' yeh?"

Hermione managed to push Fang off of her enough to look up and see the hulking figure of Hagrid standing over her. "Hi Hagrid. It's been a while." She grinned up at him as he yanked Fang away.

"I bin wonderin' when yeh were gonna visit." His accusation of her not visiting him yet was softened by the crinkling of his eyes and the movement of his bushy beard indicating he was smiling. "Wha' yeh readin'?"

She returned the smile. "Just a letter from a friend," she replied as she folded the letter quickly and shoved it into her bag before standing.

When Fang caught sight of a pair of geese paddling in the lake Hagrid let him go and watched as the furry beast charged after them, barking happily as he splashed into the shallows of the murky water. Then the half-giant turned back towards Hermione.

"Yeh 'ave time fer tea?"

"Of course, Hagrid," she said.

They walked to his cabin which was further on the grounds at the edge of the Forbidden Forest.

"The pumpkins are getting huge," she commented as the pumpkin patch came into view.

Hagrid nodded. "Attractin' those bloomin' crows. Fang doesn' chase 'em much since one wen after 'im."

She noticed a few of the crows were perched on the scarecrow cawing loudly as they approached. She gave them a wary look and Fang almost knocked her to the ground as he rushed towards the front door of the cabin with Hagrid hollering after him. Hagrid opened the door and Fang hustled in straight to his bed near the fireplace. Hagrid held the door for Hermione.

"How was yer summer? I didn' see yeh much durin' the celebrations," Hagrid said as he put his huge kettle to boil over the fireplace.

Hermione took a seat at the large wooden table while dropping her bag on the floor. "I went to France with my parents," she muttered as she dug her fingernail into a crack on the table. A silence passed between them.

"Yeh sound like yeh 'ave more ter say." Hagrid was clinking around in his kitchen, his back to her so she couldn't see his face.

"I...don't know what you mean."

He turned around with two huge teacups in his hands. He walked towards her and placed them on the table, his eyes never leaving hers. "Hermione, yeh always was one never ter say what yeh felt. Yeh know yeh 'ave friends here, don' yeh?"

She felt her eyes begin to burn. She shook her head. "No I don't."

At that Hagrid bristled in surprise. "Wha' do yeh mean? I'm 'ere aren' I?" he hollered.

She met his eyes and felt her heart swell at his words just as the kettle started to scream. Mumbling to himself, Hagrid grabbed the kettle with a thick hand towel and poured it into his prepared teapot. He then filled both of their teacups and clanked a plate of his infamous rock cakes onto the table.

Taking a sip of tea she waited until Hagrid said something but he just sat down and watched her. After a moment of silence she opened her mouth to say something but he beat her to it.

"I know somethin' fishy is goin' on with yeh and Harry and Ron." He took a swig of tea, the brew sloshing onto his beard, before continuing, "They came ter visit yesterday. I asked 'bout yeh and they mumbled some hogwash abou' yeh bein' too busy."

Hermione swallowed past the lump in her throat. She didn't know what to say.

"Hermione, yeh can tell me anythin'."

Nodding, she looked down into her teacup and then made the decision to confide in Hagrid. "We haven't been speaking to each other much," she muttered hesitantly.

"Wha' happened?"

Meeting his eyes she told him about their lack of correspondence over the summer and how they treated her the past week. How Ginny and Lavender seemed to fill in her vacancy and even how they didn't take her feelings or friendship seriously. Hagrid looked angry by the end of it.

"After all yeh've bin through together." He shook his head then he noticed the glassy look to her eyes and cleared his throat. "Hermione, don' worry 'bout this. They'll come around, yeh jus' wait and see. Yeh three have bin together since the firs' year. Yeh faced You-Know-Who together. They'll be back, just wait and see. It sounded like Hagrid was trying to convince himself more than her. Smiling through her oncoming tears she swallowed hard, forcing herself not to cry.

"I'm sure too, Hagrid." She patted his huge hand and she was sure he sniffled although it sounded rather rough on the ears.

"Now, let's forget abou' this fer now. Why aren' yeh in my class?" His eyes were crinkling and she knew he was teasing but she still felt a pang of guilt.

"I'm sorry, Hagrid."

"I'm jus' yankin' yer chain, Hermione. I know how yeh are with yeh classes. Jus' enjoy yer las' year and Head Girl no less. Yeh mus' be busy." He took another swig of tea and bit into a rock cake.

She swore she heard something crack, Hagrid's tooth no doubt. He seemed unperturbed as always and she remained quite content with just her tea. The rest of her visit was spent discussing what new creatures Hagrid managed to get his hands on for the year making Hermione very thankful she had opted for Alchemy instead. She left with a few hours to spare before lunch. Hagrid had insisted she take some rock cakes with her which she obliged with great reluctance. She decided to head for the library to start on her Alchemy assignment.

When she arrived at the library, Madam Pince nodding at her in acknowledgement, she was surprised to find Zabini and Malfoy sitting at her favorite table in the back near the most windows. She stood there for a minute, completely put out that they were intruding on her sacred time by taking her table, when Zabini spotted her and motioned for her to come over.

Hesitant, and watching Malfoy warily, she approached slowly. Malfoy had looked up, seen her walking towards them, scoffed, and then bent his head again as he scribbled notes from a dusty book.

"Hey Granger."

"Zabini."

"Want to continue from yesterday?"

Glancing at Malfoy again, she was just about to refuse when Malfoy looked up again.

"Just sit, Granger. Pretend I'm not here," he drawled.

Hermione glared but didn't say a word. She dropped her bag on the desk and sat on the chair closest to Zabini. Malfoy had his head bent again, probably taking his own advice and pretending she wasn't there. Intending to do just the same she pulled her Alchemy book from her bag and glanced at the books around Zabini. "What have you been working on so far?" she said.

Zabini shrugged. "Not much. We got here about fifteen minutes ago. We've only just begun researching, actually. It seems that a lot of the Alchemy books have been checked out already." He grinned before adding, "I's no wonder. Everyone's probably going mad about Lucar's assignment."

Hermione returned the grin with a smile, nodding her head in agreement. Then she noticed Malfoy observing her and her smile slid off her face leaving behind a guarded frown. She flipped her own Alchemy book open to a page she had been rereading earlier and delved in, ignoring Malfoy altogether. Hours passed by and soon it was time for lunch. The students that were gathered at the various tables around them were packing up and leaving.

"You heading to the Great Hall?" Zabini said as he stood up and stretched.

"I think I'll stay and work some more. You can leave the books," she said.

Zabini nodded. "I'll bring something back for you then."

She smiled at him and he returned it but both smiles disappeared when Malfoy scoffed.

"What?" Hermione bit out.

"Nothing to worry your frizzy little head about," Malfoy smirked.

"You better watch it, Malfoy. I'm surrounded by books if you hadn't noticed. Plenty of heavy ones too," she mocked.

Malfoy's smirk turned into a sneer at her reference to her penchant for throwing books at his head. "I think you had better watch it, Granger. Don't think that just because you've got Blaise here eating out of your palms that I'd be too."

"Oi," Zabini objected but both of them ignored him.

"What are you even saying? We're partners working on a project together like we're supposed to. Unlike someone else we know," Hermione said bossily.

Malfoy rolled his eyes, slamming a book shut as he slung his bag over his shoulder. "Oh please, Granger, not your pointless lecture again about 'getting to know your peers'. I held it in before but I swear if you continue I'll gag."

Gritting her teeth, she slammed her palms against the table and stood up. "You're such an insufferable git I can't stand it! I don't know how Blaise is friends with you, honestly!"

"Oh it's Blaise now, is it? Hear that Blaise? Looks like you got yourself a little credit here with Granger, first name basis and all that."

Her fingers were itching to grab a book and just lug it right at his face. He seemed to read her mind because in a split-second his hand was on his wand.

"If you even think about it, Granger, I swear I will hex you until even your own parents won't recognize you," he threatened in a low voice.

At the mention of her parents Hermione paused, unsure of how to react as she felt a lump form in her throat, indicating that tears were not far behind.

"Oi, Draco, you've gone far enough. Let's go," Zabini interrupted before Hermione could think of something to say.

Malfoy stared at Hermione and watched as the fight suddenly left her and her eyes became glassy. His mind immediately made the connection between the mention of her parents and her mood suddenly plummeting. Not wanting to think on it more than he should he allowed Blaise to drag him away and out of the library. Madam Pince hissed at them as they left, muttering about rowdy boys in her library but they paid her no mind.

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"What the hell was that about?" Blaise said, amusement lacing his tone.

Draco didn't answer.

"Is that how it always ends up between you two?" He paused, "Well, I guess it's better than last time when she physically attacked you." Blaise chuckled into his hand at the memory.

"Just shut it."

"How can I? I'm thinking of camping out in your Common Room just to enjoy the show." He laughed again.

Draco had to try his hardest not to grab the other boy and shake him until his laughter died in his throat. "Well I'm glad I could be here for Blaise Zabini's amusement."

Blaise patted him on the shoulder. "Oi, I'm here for you mate. Whenever you need a witness, I'm here for you." He grinned. "But damn, did you see that fire in Granger's eyes?"

Draco glanced at his friend. "What are you talking about?"

"Granger, her eyes were flaming when she stood up. You really bring out the worst in her, don't you, mate?" Blaise looked thoughtful for a moment. "Then again, she seems to bring out the worst in you as well. I haven't seen you this fired up this often since fourth year."

"What can I say? We're sworn enemies."

"That was true once for Potter and Weasley, wasn't it? Now you're rather good friends with them, aren't you?" Blaise mused.

"What are you getting at, Zabini?"

"Things can change, mate."

Draco sighed loudly. "You sound like my mother."

"Why do I sound like your mother?" Blaise said, puzzled.

Draco's heart skipped a beat. Blaise didn't know Hermione's true heritage meaning he didn't know Narcissa Malfoy was trying to persuade her son to pursue Hermione. And Draco wanted to keep it that way. "Nothing, mate. Just a random thought," he muttered, hoping Blaise would just drop it.

Blaise stared at Draco for a moment before opening his mouth to pry further when someone called out to Draco, swiftly interrupting. Both Slytherins turned towards the voice to see Potter and Weasley walking towards them. Having lost his chance to prod Draco, Blaise pocketed the other boy's strange reaction for a later conversation.

"Oi Malfoy," Weasley greeted as the pair of Gryffindors came to a stop in front of the pair of Slytherins.

"What are you on about Weasley?" Draco responded but instead of responding red-faced and angry, Ron grinned.

"Did you forget?" Ron asked, taking a second to bite into a half-eaten chocolate frog.

"Forget what?"

"The Quidditch pitch," Harry supplied as he adjusted his bag on his shoulder.

Draco looked confused for a moment until realization dawned on him. He grinned and nodded, nudging Blaise in the side with his elbow.

"What?" Blaise asked as he elbowed Draco back while rubbing his own ribs.

"The meet, remember? I told you yesterday." Draco stared at Blaise expectantly.

Blaise blinked blankly. "Yeah, but you said it was just the teams."

"You can come too, Zabini, we've invited a lot of people not on the teams," Harry interjected.

"Yeah, you won't believe-" Ron started but Harry cut him off just as the library door opened down the hall. Both Harry and Ron turned white and Draco turned to see Hermione standing in the doorway, the color draining from her face as she stared at her fellow Gryffindors.

A thick tension immediately settled around them and without a word Hermione heaved her heavy bag further up her shoulder and hurried the opposite way down the hall. The sound of her footsteps grew distant and Draco turned to see Harry and Ron exchange an uncomfortable look.

"You still haven't spoken with her?" Draco said, cutting the tension and lightening the air.

The four boys began walking up the hall in the other direction from Hermione's departure.

Harry sighed heavily. "Hermione's a difficult person to speak to when she's angry." Ron nodded his head in agreement and Draco couldn't help but silently concur.

"So you're saying you're scared to speak to her?"

Draco glanced at Blaise, curious about his interest in the subject. He rarely spoke to Harry and Ron. It wasn't that he didn't like them or get along with them, he was just very neutral about them. It was as simple as he just didn't "click" with them and Blaise is the type to refrain from any type of conversation with people he has no interest in.

"Well, no," Ron answered hesitantly, the tips of his ears turning red.

Harry glanced down before muttering, "Not scared, but-"

Blaise interrupted, "No, Potter, I think scared is exactly the word I want to use."

Draco coughed into his hand to hide his laugh. Both Gryffindors looked red and Ron's face was scrunching up, readying itself to blow.

"Blaise, I don't think it's any of our business," Draco interjected lazily just in time to prevent a full-blown Weasley outburst.

Blaise shrugged but didn't say anymore.

Thankfully, they had already reached a crossroads in the hallway. With promises to meet in the evening at the Quidditch pitch, the Gryffindors turned to one hallway towards their Common Room while Blaise went another way towards the dungeons. Draco headed up the nearby stairs to the Heads Common Room.

In the alcove outside the Heads' rooms Ondine the mermaid batted her lashes at his approach. "Draco, you left so early this morning," she gurgled, a hint of seduction lacing her words. Draco always felt amusement at the mermaid's consistent attempts to flirt with him and today was no different.

"Ondine," he smiled charmingly, watching as her mouth formed a surprised 'O' as air bubbles floated from her lips, clearly pleased with his attention, "Amortentia," he finished. A fleeting look of disappointment crossed her features before her portrait swung forward to reveal the opening that led to the Heads Common Room.

Draco climbed through and his eyes immediately went to the couches inadvertently searching for the frizzy headed Gryffindor but the room was blessedly empty. Even Granger's ugly cat was nowhere to be seen. He headed straight for his room to work on his Alchemy essay until it was time to go to the Quidditch pitch.

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Hermione read her neat handwriting for what felt like the hundredth time.

Dear Callum,

Thank you for your letter. You can't imagine how pleased I am to hear from you. My first week has been busy with mounds of homework; just how I like it. I am very much looking forward to the first Hogsmeade weekend where I would be delighted to see you again, and how could you ever think I would forget about you after such a lovely evening in Meadowlark?

Looking forward to your next letter.

Hermione

She had a pile of crumpled up parchment strewn about her room. She couldn't believe how much harder it was to write a letter to her crush than it was to complete one of Snape's unreasonably long (even in her opinion) essays.

She reread what she had written again. She felt it was a bit short or maybe a bit cryptic? 'Looking forward to your next letter' seemed a bit desperate, didn't it? Or was she expecting too much? What if he had no intention of writing her again? She paused and shook her head, feeling silly. Why would he have written her in the first place if he had no intention of writing her again. She was overthinking things as usual.

Taking a deep breath she rolled up the parchment and stuck it into her robe's pocket before grabbing her bag. She shoved an Ancient Runes book into it (just in case she passed one of her favorite spots to relax) and then headed for the door. Crookshanks scurried past her feet and down the stairs to settle on the armchair near the window. Hermione paid him no mind as she ducked out of the exit and into the alcove, the portrait of Ondine thudding closed behind her. She heard the mermaid humming happily to herself as Hermione descended the spiral stairs.

Lost in her thoughts, Hermione made her way through the castle heading for the courtyard. Various groups of students were scattered about the yard enjoying the pleasant weather. Although her heated arguments with Malfoy got under her skin and her run-ins with Harry and Ron usually left her feeling helplessly lost and alone, her heart felt light for the first time since she had returned to Hogwarts. She owed this all to Callum's letter. Thinking about Callum set her into such a good mood that she was practically floating by the time she arrived at the Owlery. She was just skipping up the stone steps, avoiding a few spots of fresh owl droppings, when she nearly bumped into someone at the door.

"Oh! Luna! How nice it is to see you," Hermione exclaimed.

Luna blinked at her from behind her Spectrespecs before smiling. "Hello Hermione. You look exceptionally happy today."

"Well, yes, I am, actually."

"How nice. Are you here to see it too?"

Used to Luna's eccentricities Hermione hesitated; she never knew where a conversation with the Ravenclaw might lead. "Here to see what, exactly?"

Luna gestured at the owls. "Why, the Nocturos Voltauks of course. Although you'll need a pair of The Quibbler's new Spectrespecs to see them."

Always unsure of how to react to Luna, Hermione smiled blankly while looking from the blonde to the room full of hooting owls. Feeling utterly confused Hermione indulged the other girl. "What are Nocturos Voltauks?" she said politely.

Luna pushed the colorful, googly paper glasses up to her forehead to better look at Hermione. "Nocturos Voltauks are little fanged fairies that feed off owls while they're not looking. Although, they only appear at night and can only be seen wearing specially treated glasses such as these new Spectrespecs my father developed."

Hermione nodded appropriately and waited for the other girl to stop talking before she interrupted but Luna fell into one of her rambling sessions of the intricacies of this new fabled creature. Clearing her throat, Hermione shuffled from one foot to the other.

Luna, observant as always, smiled faintly. "I apologize, Hermione. I tend to forget that not everyone is interested in what I have to say."

"No, no, Luna, I was only confused," Hermione scrambled for an excuse, "by the fact that if what you say is true, why are you searching for these, ah-"

"Nocturos Voltauks," Luna supplied.

"Yes, precisely. Why are you searching for them during the day if they only appear at night?"

"I appreciate you trying to be interested, Hermione, but you don't have to pretend. I'm quite content to just have someone to talk to for a little while."

Hermione felt her cheeks burning at Luna's uncomfortable honesty. "I-I am happy to talk to you, Luna."

Luna smiled again. "You're very kind. I hope we can run into each other like this again. This start of the year has been exceptionally lonely."

For the first time Hermione felt like she could relate to Luna, knowing exactly how the other girl felt. Nodding, Hermione stopped Luna from wandering past her down the stairs. "Please, stay for a second while I send this off." She pulled out the letter to Callum.

"Oh, how delightful. You're here to send a letter. Sometimes I write to father but it takes a rather long time to get a reply since he's usually off discovering new creatures to write about."

Hermione nodded vacantly until Luna assured her she would wait. The brunette found a pleasant barn owl that was bright-eyed and friendly. It belonged to the school and was much more tamed than many of the personal pets she had interacted with. She fed it an owl treat and it stuck its leg out, allowing her to attach the letter to it. With a friendly hoot it spread its wings and took off through one of the windows. Hermione returned to the entrance of the Owlery and the two girls made their way down the stone steps and back to the castle.

"They can sometimes appear during the day, if the sky is overcast enough. Though today is rather sunny I decided to try and spot them in the Owlery, it being so dim in there. I was able to spot some small figures but I couldn't quite focus on any of them."

Hermione was at a lost. "What…?"

"The Nocturos Voltauks. You asked why I was searching for them during the day since they appear only at night," Luna replied dreamily.

"Oh, yes, yes. I did ask that, didn't I?"

They walked in silence for a while but Hermione felt good to have someone to talk to, no matter how ridiculous the conversations could get.

"Oh, look! It's Neville." Luna pointed to the older boy who was waving at them from the arched hallway leading out to the courtyard. Both girls waved back. Neville was always a welcome sight to Hermione and she felt that if she were given enough time she could get used to Luna and her refreshing honesty.

Neville met them near the middle of the courtyard. "Hi Hermione. Hi Luna!"

"Hello Neville. It's always good to see you," Luna greeted, causing Neville to blush slightly.

Hermione grinned. "Hi Neville. What are you up to?"

Neville fell into step beside them as they made their way to a spot of grass in the corner. The courtyard had emptied out a bit but there were still groups of students lazing about here and there. "I just finished the DADA essay due tomorrow." Neville fidgeted with a stray thread on the hem of his shirt, clearly nervous at the mention of Professor Snape's impossibly difficult assignments.

Hermione smiled sympathetically. "I can take a look at it if you'd like. I finished mine during the week so I have the time."

Neville looked up in surprise and then smiled gratefully. "I'd really appreciate that, Hermione. Although, you don't have to-"

"Nonsense, Neville. I'd be glad to. Really! Bring it to me during dinner. I'll have it back to you tomorrow before class."

Neville thanked her over and over again.

"Neville, you really must stop thanking me. It's no trouble at all."

"Your friendship is a very inspiring thing," Luna remarked. The other two stopped to look at her. Neville was blushing again as the Ravenclaw continued, "I sometimes wish I had a friend to share my homework with. It would make it a lot more fun, I'd think."

"You could always come study with me in the library, Luna. I would love the company," Hermione said.

"Oh, how nice of you to offer but I tend to avoid the library as much as I can."

Hermione was still battling with the decision to ask her 'why' when Neville beat her to it.

"What do you mean, Luna?"

"Well, Neville, I take it you never spotted a Quivering Lidsnicker amongst the library's books, have you?"

Neville looked both confused and scared at the same time as he stammered, trying to ask Luna what she meant.

Hermione couldn't help it; she burst into a fit of laughter. Both Luna and Neville looked at her in surprise but she couldn't stop. At Luna's look of absolute delight Hermione laughed harder. It was a good kind of laugh, the kind that came from deep in the belly rousing tears in your eyes. It seemed like forever before she could gain control again. By then Luna and Neville had joined her. Luna was laughing quite freely and Neville was giggling into his hand, still looking a bit confused but unable to resist the contagiousness of the Head Girl's laughter.

"That felt so good," Hermione sighed, wiping tears from her eyes.

Luna smiled brightly and for the first time since Hermione met her the blonde looked clear-eyed and genuinely present.

"Mother used to say laughter heals the soul."

"Your mother was right. I feel my soul soaring." Hermione grinned.

"Oh, well that could be a side effect of too much exposure to Wrackspurts," Luna said seriously.

Hermione chuckled but then she saw a flash of red in the corner of her eye. The sight of Ginny Weasley entering the courtyard sobered Hermione instantly. Luna caught the change in the older girl's demeanor and turned to look. She saw Ginny at the same time the redhead saw her. Both girls waved at each other and Ginny changed direction and headed straight for them.

"Hi Ginny," Luna greeted.

"Hi Luna, Neville." Ginny smiled at them both.

Neville looked uncomfortable as he greeted her, glancing between Hermione and the redhead, quite aware of their past tension.

Ginny then turned to Hermione. "Hi, Hermione. Haven't seen you around much."

Hermione smiled thinly. "I assure you I've been quite present."

Ginny's cheeks flushed but she just smiled back, obviously trying to keep the peace in front of the others. "Well, I must have missed you, then."

"Whether on purpose or by chance is something of a wonder, wouldn't you think?" Hermione replied calmly, causing a strained silence to develop.

Without knowing how to reply Ginny turned to the others, her face bright red. "Are you both coming later?"

Neville, now clearly uncomfortable, nodded quickly but didn't say anything.

Luna looked between them and blinked slowly. "I'm coming. It's not often I get a chance to go to a party." She noticed Ginny's quick glance at Hermione who stared back unblinkingly. "Are you coming as well Hermione?" Luna said.

"I wasn't invited, Luna," Hermione said, still staring at Ginny.

An awkward silence ensued in which Luna looked quite unaffected. "That's strange. It's usually me who isn't invited."

At Luna's thoughtful admission Hermione smiled. "It's alright. I wasn't much for parties anyway."

Neville furrowed his brows and, reaching into his rarely tapped Gryffindor courage, he looked up at Ginny with a flare of determination in his eyes. "It's going to be a big party, isn't it, Ginny? I'm sure Hermione could come."

Ginny shifted uncomfortably. "Of course she can, Neville. I had assumed one of the others had invited her."

Hermione nearly rolled her eyes at Ginny's transparent lie. "It's really alright, Neville. I'd rather not-"

"Don't be silly, Hermione. It would be a lot of fun if you were there," Neville insisted, his cheeks red again.

"I agree. It would be a lot more fun. I feel like if you went I'd have someone to talk to," Luna added.

Hermione felt her heart melting. She had to give it to them, for being so introverted and sometimes overlooked, these two were great at innocent manipulations. She could have enjoyed another good laugh right there but Ginny was still shuffling her feet in front of them.

"Alright, I'll go for a little while," Hermione declared and the other two beamed at her. Ginny nodded, her face guarded but Hermione could swear she looked a little relieved.

"Great. Then I'll see you three at the pitch," Ginny said.

"The pitch? You mean the Quidditch pitch?" Hermione said in surprise.

"The one and only," Ginny quipped.

"Why there of all places?"

Ginny grinned and Hermione almost felt nostalgic for the days when the two of them were friends.

"You'll see."

And with that the redhead took her departure as she caught sight of another Quidditch player from the Hufflepuff team and hurried to catch up to her.

Hermione spent the rest of the evening in Luna and Neville's company until it was time for dinner. They walked to the Great Hall together and Hermione was almost back to her usual self by the end of dessert. Luna had unabashedly joined them at the Gryffindor table but no one had protested against it. After dinner they went their separate ways to their respective Common Rooms to change, agreeing to meet in the Entrance Hall to walk together to the Quidditch pitch.

Hermione found the Heads Common Room deserted, not even Crookshanks was anywhere to be seen. She went to her room and spent the next few hours reviewing Neville's essay. When it was time, Hermione went and freshened up in the bathroom before delving into the bothersome task of figuring out what to wear. She didn't know what kind of party it would be but from her past experiences the other girls from her year seemed to dress all out with the intention to snag any guy that would dare to look their way.

It worked for Lavender, Hermione thought snidely. Although, now that she thought about it, the other girl didn't wait for Ron to look at her, she just pounced and commenced the snogging from the start.

Shuddering at the thought, Hermione decided on jeans and a dark, slightly shimmery sweater due to the slight chill she felt on her way back from dinner. It was a modest fit, although it hugged her chest and hips just enough to not be too casual. She messed around with a few of her favorite spells to tame the frizziness out of her curls. She also magically applied some light makeup to highlight her features so she didn't look like she had just woken up. Standing in front of the mirror in her room she thought she looked at least halfway decent. She slipped on a pair of ballet flats and then threw a casual witch's robe over her outfit. It was a French design she had bought early in the summer when she was living on the Lamoureux estate. Although casual, it was impeccably made and looked expensive with silver thread weaving intricate designs. It had a subtle beauty which was Hermione's favorite kind.

She stuck her wand into a pocket inside the robe's inner lining and deemed herself ready to go. As she left her room she heard the sound of the portrait at the entrance thudding closed. She assumed Malfoy had just left and so she slowly descended the stairs hoping to give him some time to get further down the hall. By the time she had climbed through the portrait hole and descended the spiral stairs there was no sight of the Slytherin. As the sky outside the hall's window began to darken, the painting in the hallway of the field of fireflies began to emit a soft glow and Hermione paused to admire it, as she always did, before heading down to the Entrance Hall.

Neville and Luna were already there. Neville was wearing a nicely tailored wizard's robe that she was sure his grandmother had picked out for him. Luna was wearing a dazzling spangled robe that was a bit subdued from the other robes she had worn in the past but it was still very much Luna.

They greeted and complimented each other before the trio headed out onto the grounds. Although it was still early and curfew hadn't kicked in yet, Neville seemed a bit jumpy, especially when the sound of footsteps was heard coming up behind them. It turned out to be Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan hurrying to catch up to them. The group had now become five as the Quidditch hoops came into view.

"Where exactly is this party taking place?" Hermione said skeptically, "It can't be on the pitch itself. We'd be caught in an instant."

"All we heard was that it would be at the pitch," Dean said unhelpfully.

"Yeah, they were a bit sketchy on the details when we kept asking," Seamus added.

Hermione assumed 'they' were Harry and Ron and so she didn't push for clarification. When the Quidditch pitch finally came into view there wasn't anything out of the ordinary that Hermione could see. Then Dean gasped and Seamus muttered, "This is gonna be good," and Hermione squinted her eyes to see the darkening field but still there was nothing. Hermione looked at them in confusion and even Neville looked excited at something she could not see. She felt a tug on her sleeve and turned to see Luna pointing near the closest hoop at the foot of the pole.

She felt a smile creeping onto her lips at the sight of a tall redhead. She didn't know how she didn't see him before but she felt like laughing in delight now that she did.

The group's steps sped up quickly.

"Hermione! What a surprise. I didn't think the Head Girl attended such highly illegal festivities and so close to curfew, no less."

Hermione grinned and lightly punched Fred Weasley on the arm.

"Oh shut it, Fred. Even Head Girls can have fun from time to time."

"I don't doubt it, Hermione, not one bit." Fred was grinning from ear to ear as he gave her a brief hug before greeting the others amicably. He was wearing a glittering purple suit that she was sure would clash with his red hair but she couldn't quite confirm due to the dimming of the sky. But that wasn't what had caught Hermione's attention: Fred was standing near a door that had been conjured next to the pole and the frame of it was glowing from some interior source of light.

Hermione stared at it curiously as Seamus voiced her thoughts.

"What's this door, Fred?"

"That, my dear boy, is the entrance to the party," Fred said in a mock dignified voice.

"How did you get it there?" Seamus said.

Fred looked around in confusion. "I'm sorry but wasn't this a school for magic?"

Dean laughed as Seamus spluttered and stammered, "I know it's magic! How did you go about conjuring it without Dumbledore finding out?"

Fred grinned again. "It's a new piece George and I have been working on. We wanted to try it out and thought the party would be a perfect opportunity."

"What work?" Hermione said, trying her hardest to hide her curiosity but failing.

Fred slung his arm around her shoulders and leaned in close. "You really want to know?"

Hermione shrugged his arm off her and glared playfully gaining her an abrupt laugh from the older wizard.

"Alright alright, it's a Pop-A-Door." At their blank stares Fred continued, "It kind of works like a Portkey only it's door-specific. See, it basically traps a door into this device we developed," he held up a tiny black square box with a rounded brass knob on it, "and then you can just release the door anywhere you want and be able to enter its room no matter where you are."

The group exclaimed in excitement and awe but Hermione was just dumbstruck by their scale of magic. She knew she was considered the brightest witch of her age but the Weasley twins were geniuses when it came to inventing new magic. They approached things in such a way that she could never even dream up.

Fred grinned at their reactions. "An original brought to you by Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes."

The boys cheered and clapped Fred on the shoulder as they gushed about the Pop-A-Door.

"So you have to stay out here all night to guard the door?" Seamus said.

"What? And miss all the fun? No, no, for now I'm playing bouncer but I'll be dealing cards later. The door will remain but it can only be seen from the inside. Once I enter it with this Pop-A-Door knob," he held up the square box again, "it will be invisible to any newcomers."

"So where is this party really located then?" Hermione said as she tried to wrap her mind around what Fred was saying.

"Back in Diagon Alley at Lee's pub."

"Lee? Lee Jordan has a pub?" Hermione said in surprise.

Fred grinned again. "My my, curious as always, aren't we Hermione?"

Hermione gave him a look which caused the redhead to laugh again before continuing, "The Stoned Dragon."

Dean and Seamus were impressed but Hermione looked skeptical. "Why is it called The Stoned Dragon?"

"Well if you must know a lot of our drinks can leave one imitating the behaviors of one who is, what Muggles call, stoned."

Hermione didn't know how to respond to that until she was laughing into her hand.

"What do you mean 'your' drinks? If you and George have a hand in that then I can't wait to get inside," Seamus declared excitedly.

"You guessed right, Finnigan. All the original drinks offered at The Stoned Dragon were invented and tested by George and I." Fred looked quite pleased with himself at the reaction he was getting from Dean and Seamus and even Neville to some extent.

All Hermione could think was 'stick to the butterbeer.'

"Now," Fred said as he put his hand on the doorknob and paused dramatically, "ready to go in?"

Seamus and Dean were practically hopping with excitement and even Luna's eyes were glittering with expectation. When Fred opened the door a flood of orange light spilled forth and the deep thrumming of music beat against the night. As Hermione passed the redhead, last in line, Fred grinned down at her causing her to pause as the others continued down a flight of stairs.

"George is at the bar most likely trying out the latest concoctions we've come up with. I'd advise against anything the shade of green." Fred winked and then Hermione was descending the short flight of narrow stairs.

Down the rabbit hole, she thought quite appropriately.

The pub was very large but cozy. A circular bar took up most of the center with plenty of booths, comfy seating, and thick wooden tables lining the walls. George could be seen behind the bar exuberantly mixing drinks for a group of girls Hermione didn't recognize. He was wearing a purple suit that matched Fred's and Hermione confirmed that it did clash quite violently with the red of his hair. A couple of steps led up from the bar to a set of plush couches, a couple of armchairs, and low tables arranged in a circle close together. A few people she recognized from her year or from the Quidditch teams were already lounging there.

Hermione was interrupted from her observations when someone poked her on her arm. She turned to find Luna watching her expectantly with Neville eyeing the room excitedly. Dean and Seamus were nowhere to be seen.

"What are we supposed to do now?" Luna said.

Hermione nearly laughed. "Get a drink, I suppose?"

The other two agreed and headed for the bar. When George saw them he abruptly excused himself from the group of giggling girls in order to greet the newcomers. Hermione now saw that a pair of the girls were from the Ravenclaw Quidditch team. She assumed the others were from the same House but didn't care at the moment since they were giving her dark looks for taking the attention of George from them.

"Do my eyes deceive me? Is that Miss Head Girl, I see?" George squinted his eyes and made a dramatic display of pinching himself.

Hermione rolled her eyes but couldn't help but smile. "George, don't make me punch you like I did Fred."

George held his hands up in surrender. "Head duties have turned you violent, I see. I get it, the same happened to Percy." He nodded wisely before grinning. He greeted Luna and Neville much the same in his playful way. "What can I get you three to drink? Might I suggest the Puggish Draught? An original concoction brought to you by the Weasleys' Wizard Brewery. " He was sloshing a bottle of green liquid from side to side.

"The Weasleys' Wizard Brewery?" Luna repeated curiously.

"Why yes, a new business venture Fred and I are attempting in order to complement Lee's grand opening of The Stoned Dragon." George was obviously expecting a more thrilled reaction from the trio but all he received were nods and expectant looks. He visibly deflated, "Fred told you already, did he?"

"Not the name of the brewery," Neville said, hoping this tidbit would perk the redhead up.

George nodded glumly for a moment before he cleared his throat and returned his attentions to Luna. "Well, how 'bout it, Lovegood? Wanna give it a try?"

Luna stared at him blankly. "Well, I've never really thought about opening a brewery."

Hermione snorted and George looked puzzled for a moment before snickering.

"No, no, Lovegood, the Puggish Draught."

"Oh!" Luna looked as if she were hearing it for the first time. "Sure, I've never tried anything with the name 'puggish' before and I truly wonder what it would taste like," she said dreamily.

George nodded intently but Hermione was certain he didn't hear a word she said past 'sure'. He was already vigorously mixing the drink.

"Luna, I'd suggest something a bit more familiar," Hermione tried to warn the other girl.

"It's quite alright, Hermione. I appreciate your concern but I'm quite used to eating unfamiliar things."

Feeling conflicted about whether or not she should be more concerned about Luna, Hermione didn't know how to respond but she caught Neville's eye and he seemed to silently agree with her that the twins' original concoctions were not to be tried. When George thrust a glass of his freshly mixed Puggish Draught at the other boy, Neville quickly shook his head 'no' even before Luna took her first sip. She immediately scrunched up her face in what looked like disgust but then she took another swig of it.

Both Gryffindors hesitated before asking for Butterbeer. George made a big show of disappointment but neither of them would change their mind so he poured them their drinks and left them to their adventureless 'children's tonic'.

"How's the drink?" Hermione asked Luna after a little while.

The Ravenclaw swallowed hard and looked at Hermione, her eyes unfocused. Hermione didn't know if that was due to the drink or because Luna nearly always looked unfocused.

"It's alright although I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be seeing the little flying pugs. Can you see them? I thought they were Nocturos Vol…Vol..."

"Voltauks?" Hermione couldn't believe she remembered.

"Yes, Voltauks. But they're pugs no doubt. Little flying pugs…with green pixie dust..." she trailed off, her eyes following something Hermione could not see.

Hermione peered into Luna's glass to see that the girl had already consumed nearly half of the green liquid. "It sure works fast, doesn't it? I think you've had enough Luna." The other girl didn't protest when Hermione took her glass from her and set it out of reach.

Hermione and Neville kept to Luna's side but she didn't seem to get any worse although she kept referring to the flying pugs throughout the night. In spite of Luna's obvious drunken state Hermione was thoroughly enjoying herself.

Just then Fred appeared and gave a hand signal to George before disappearing through a door Hermione hadn't noticed was next to the circle of couches. George nodded and then turned to a slender man with slicked back hair sitting at the end of the bar.

"Rodney, you're up for the night," George called, motioning for the man to come behind the bar. Rodney gave a curt nod and took George's place as bartender. As George was passing he caught sight of Hermione and paused. "Oi, Hermione, fancy a game of cards?"

Hermione glanced at Luna who was still staring into space. "I don't think so, George. Luna's a bit out of it. What was in that drink anyway?"

"Trade secret." George tapped his nose before nudging Neville. "How 'bout it, Longbottom? Fancy a round of Exploding Snap?"

Luna perked up at that and as Neville was expressing his interest she turned, wobbling on her stool. "I love Exploding Snap," she exclaimed a bit dreamier than usual.

George grinned before putting his arm around her shoulders. "Wonderful." He helped her off her stool as Hermione watched warily, torn between following to keep an eye on the drunk Luna and staying where she knew she wouldn't have to interact with a certain group of individuals she was hoping to avoid.

Neville slid off his stool to follow the pair, glancing at Hermione, "Coming, Hermione?"

Sighing in defeat, she nodded and followed her friends into the back room. Just as she feared the room was full of all the people she didn't want to see. There was a large round table situated in the middle of the room and Fred was dealing out cards. She immediately spotted Harry and Ron also at the table and felt her entire body tense up. They didn't see her as they were checking their freshly dealt cards.

Unfortunately, she didn't go unnoticed for long.

"Who invited her?"

Hermione cringed at the annoying voice of Lavender Brown. She was seated on a plush couch against the wall behind Ron.

Everyone stopped what they were doing as all eyes turned towards Hermione.

"I did, Lavender."

Everyone's eyes shifted and Hermione was surprised to see Ginny staring fiercely at the older Gryffindor girl.

"Why'd you do that for?" Lavender shrilled as she uncrossed her legs and stood up.

"Well, why wouldn't she? Hermione's practically family," Fred interrupted. He gave Lavender a very uncharacteristic look of annoyance before exchanging a heavy look with his twin.

George shared the look. It was quite obvious the twins were not fond of their little brother's girlfriend to which Hermione's heart swelled with a feeling of great fondness towards them.

Ron's face was bright red in embarrassment and as Lavender continued to object, he felt the pressure of his older brothers weighing down on him. He stood from the table, tossing his cards down. "Start this round without me," he muttered before grabbing Lavender's wrist and leading her outside. The door swung shut behind them cutting off her high-pitched voice.

"'Bout time he grew a pair," George grumbled as he led Luna to an empty spot on the couch. A few chuckles reverberated around the room at George's remark.

"Want in on this round you two?" Fred asked Neville and Hermione as George took a seat next to his twin.

Neville nodded and took Ron's seat.

"I'll pass for now," Hermione said. She resisted Fred and George's insistence that she play and took a seat next to Luna who had already fallen asleep with her head leaning back on the couch.

Much of the tension left the room as the game started and everyone's concentration was focused on the cards. Hermione was relieved she had declined to play because it quickly became obvious that they were playing the gambling version of Exploding Snap. She should have known; the twins were always looking for a fun way to make money.

It was at this moment Hermione finally noticed who else was in the room. The couch she was seated on was against the wall behind the twins. This gave her a perfect view of Draco Malfoy who sat opposite them.

Great, she thought. She just couldn't go a day without having to run into the pompous Slytherin. And of course he was here to witness all of her awkward interactions with her old friends.

Resisting the urge to groan into her hands, she continued her observation of the card players. Dean and Seamus were at the table as well, sitting on Malfoy's left and next to Lee Jordan who was beside Neville. To Malfoy's right sat none other than Blaise Zabini. To her surprise, Zabini was already looking at her and their eyes met briefly before a smile curled his lips. He nodded in quiet acknowledgement before focusing on the game.

"You know Zabini?"

Hermione jumped in her seat at Ginny's voice. Unbeknownst to Hermione the redhead had taken a seat on the armchair next to the couch.

"What?"

Ginny motioned towards Zabini. "You two seem to know each other."

Hermione cleared her throat and nodded. "Yes, we're both taking Alchemy."

Ginny seemed to be waiting expectantly for her to continue but she didn't offer any more information. A strained silence developed until the redhead looked up with a flare of determination.

"Hermione, we need to talk."

The Head Girl was expecting this at some point but not at that exact moment, when the room was full of the sound of cards exploding and the respective reactions of winners and losers.

"Right...now?" Hermione said.

"Well, why not?" Ginny said, unconcerned with the rest of the room. "No one's paying us any mind."

"Alright, let's talk."

Both girls sat in silence until Hermione, feeling the silence start to shift towards awkwardness, said "Shall I start then?"

Ginny grinned sheepishly as she shook her head. "No, no, I'll begin." She cleared her throat and took a sip of her drink. "I want to start first with an apology for how I've been behaving towards you these past few days." When Hermione didn't respond, Ginny continued, "I know the lack of correspondence between you and Harry and Ron had nothing to do with me, but I should have been a better friend to you and said something to them. Also, the train ride here, I was-"

"You don't have to mention it," Hermione interrupted but Ginny shook her head as she continued.

"No, I will, I was a bit of a bitch." Hermione felt the urge to laugh at Ginny's bluntness but controlled herself as the redhead went on. "Hermione, I want us to be friends again. We've treated you like dirt and you are the last person to deserve such treatment. You've saved all of our lives at one point or another, for Merlin's sake! We've been complete gits."

Hermione was silent for a moment. "I'm just curious," she began, her head leaning back on the couch as Ginny watched her nervously.

"About why we did what we did?" Ginny finished for her.

"Yes, why?"

Ginny looked down in contemplation, "I think it all went to our heads."

"The fame?" Hermione said in surprise.

Ginny shrugged, "I think all of it. You disappeared halfway through it to go to France and we all sort of got closer without you. We were together nearly every day and during all the events we stuck together as each other's support and entertainment. So much was happening, and Harry and Ron were the heroes of it all. Yes, you were the third member of that heroic trio but you weren't there. They were engulfed by it all and that's all I can say on their part. For me, I think I got caught up in it and was around girls like Lavender too much," she paused, "I think I lost myself for a while."

She nodded to herself as if she were realizing it for the first time.

Hermione mulled over what she said but remained silent. She leaned her head back again and closed her eyes. Was such hurt really possible from something so simple? They wrapped themselves in fame and glory and forgot all about her? What could she say to that? That they were superficial fools? That they would be dead without her? She would be dead without them too. Sighing deeply Hermione opened her eyes and raised her head to look at Ginny who had been watching her guardedly.

Hermione smiled and the tension cleared. "Ginny, let's finally put this behind us."

The other girl nodded vigorously, looking relieved.

By the end of it a few of the card players were starting to look over and Harry was craning his neck to see what was transpiring between the two girls. Then Hermione engulfed the younger girl in a hug.

"Oi, what's going on over there?" George hollered from the table causing both girls to giggle as they pulled apart.

"Shut it, Fred and mind your own business," Ginny said, a huge smile on her face as she took another sip from her drink.

"What's Fred got to do with it?" George blurted, feigning insult at the mix up with his twin.

Ginny looked at her brother and then waved her hand at him. "Oh you know what I mean. Who could ever tell you apart anyway? Makes no difference."

The twins got a thrill out of that.

"You hear that Fred? Children these days have no respect! No respect at all!"

"I hear ya, George. And Ginny," Fred turned serious all of a sudden," who gave you that drink? You're not allowed to drink the test samples," Fred exclaimed as he pointed to the glowing purplish blue drink in Ginny's glass.

"This is Harry's drink," Ginny replied unconcerned.

Both twins turned on Harry who held his hands up in defense. "I was letting her try it! She asked me!"

As the twins switched into protective older brothers, Hermione noticed Malfoy leaning back in exasperation as he exchanged a look with Zabini.

He said something to his fellow Slytherin in which Hermione read from his lips, 'This happens all the bloody time,' then he caught her looking at him. She quickly looked away which made it even more obvious. When she braved another glance Malfoy was standing, telling Lee something, then he and Zabini left. The twins were still having a go at Harry so Ginny got up to defend her boyfriend.

Hermione felt a shift next to her and looked to see Luna was awake and standing.

"Luna! How do you feel?" Hermione said, amused by everything that was happening.

"The pugs have all gone but I have to go to the loo," Luna answered groggily.

Hermione chuckled, wondering how she never thought Luna was funny before. "I'll go with you."

Both girls slipped out of the room and headed for the hallway Hermione assumed the lavatory was located in. It was a dark hall and magically quieter than the main room of the pub. The only source of light were the doors to the loo which had blinking blue and pink lights all around it making it easy to find.

Just as she was about to enter through the flashing pink door she heard a familiar voice further down the hall. She paused for a moment as she recognized Blaise's voice, causing Luna to walk into her.

"Sorry-" Luna began.

"Shhh, listen," Hermione whispered as she nodded down the hall.

Luna then heard Zabini too.

"Granger seems to have made up with the Weasley girl."

Both girls looked at each other.

"And is that supposed to mean something to me?" That was unmistakably the drawling voice of Draco Malfoy.

Rolling her eyes, Hermione was about to leave them to it, mouthing to Luna that it was Malfoy when again she paused at what was said next.

"Well, seeing as how you're both to be married-"

"What the hell, Blaise! Would you shut it already? You said you'd never speak of it!"

Hermione felt her blood run cold. Luna was staring at her in confusion.

What the hell, indeed! Hermione thought angrily. She made her way down the hall and peered around the corner with Luna, quiet as a mouse, next to her.

There they stood, Blaise and Malfoy, in the open door frame leading out to an alleyway probably at the back of the pub. They were smoking something foul with curling green smoke.

"I couldn't help it," Blaise laughed.

"I don't know why I told you," Malfoy muttered.

"Oh come on." Blaise slapped Malfoy's shoulder causing the other boy to splutter as he choked on the smoke he had just inhaled. "It's not like your mother can force you into anything you don't want."

Malfoy glared. "That's not the point. It's the fact that she's going to shove me into situations where I'll have to suffer the presence of that infuriating know-it-all-"

"Alright, alright. I get it. Granger's not that bad, mate. I think you're just judging on past misconceptions."

"No, I don't think you do get it, mate. Just being around her grates my nerves and my mother will ignore every protest I make. She'll turn it into something about puppy love or some other such shit," Malfoy groaned, "and it's going to be all year long! Every bloody Hogsmeade trip she wants me to escort the little-"

Blaise cut off his rant again, "Well just tell her you don't want to."

Malfoy gave a harsh laugh. "You've met my mother haven't you?"

"Right. Not one to back down until she's had her way. Kind of reminds me of my mother." Blaise took another puff and blew out a long trail of smoke. It curled into the air, a light from somewhere in the alley shining hazily through it. "Well, what can I say, mate? Just play it out until you graduate. No big deal once you're out of here and doing your own thing. It's not like your father wants it to happen, right?"

Malfoy was now taking a puff and exhaling into the cool night air. "Yeah, you're right," he laughed softly, "I mean, it's rather preposterous, isn't it?"

"What is?" Blaise said lazily.

"Well, me and Granger. How could my mother even think for one second such a dowdy little prude could ever tempt me?" Malfoy laughed again.

"What are you on about? Granger's actually kind of attractive," Blaise started but Malfoy burst into another fit of laughter, cutting his friend off.

"Attractive? She's barely tolerable! Can you even see anything past that frizzy disaster on her head? She's-"

Hermione left before she could hear more. She felt a sinking feeling in her stomach as she banged open the lavatory door and escaped into a toilet stall. After a short while she recognized Luna's shoes on the other side of the stall's door.

"Hermione, are you alright?" Luna said after knocking and receiving no answer.

Hermione opened the door and gave Luna a watery smile. She did not cry but she felt a deep rumbling humiliation that left her wanting to bury her head in the ground and never emerge. "I feel like a fool," Hermione admitted quietly.

"I guess it's better to feel like a fool than to actually be one," Luna said.

Hermione puzzled over that for a second before smiling weakly. She waited for Luna to ask her what the Slytherins were talking about but she didn't. Luna was becoming one of Hermione's favorite people in the world. Even if the girl did ask, Hermione would have no idea how to answer. She didn't even know what they were talking about. She had speculated that Narcissa Malfoy was interested in pairing her son with the Lamoureux heiress but she didn't think the woman would actively pressure her son into it. And the fact that he was sharing this information with his friends was the most embarrassing part of it!

Luna then wandered into a stall to do her business and Hermione exited the stall and moved to stand in front of the mirror. She stared at herself and wondered if she really did look 'barely tolerable'. Sure, when she didn't care to do her hair it was a little too wild and frizzy. She never wore makeup except for certain occasions but who had time for such things every day? Besides, she was fine with her face without makeup. Her skin was blemish free and when she got enough sleep she thought she looked rather nice. She looked down at her clothes. Her body was hidden by her layers of clothes but she had kept herself in shape for the war. She wasn't a gorgeous model or anything close but she was fit and she was strong enough to hold her own in a fight.

Hermione turned away from the mirror and crossed her arms as she leaned against the counter. So what if Malfoy didn't think she was attractive? It's not like she was trying to attract the conceited jerk anyway. He could think what he liked, it made no difference to her.

Blaise seemed to think she was attractive.

That piece of knowledge didn't make her feel any better and she refused to think on why, despite the fact that someone as handsome as Blaise thought she was attractive, she still felt horrible because the biggest git on the planet didn't.

Luna flushed the loo and came out of her stall to wash her hands. She didn't say anything besides commenting on the bathroom stall graffiti. When they left the lavatory they heard no voices as they made their way back to the main room. As they passed the hallway's sound barrier a flood of noise engulfed them. The girls, instead of returning to the card room, decided to sit on one of the plush couches in the raised lounge area. There were a few people there but they paid them no mind as the girls took the empty couch on the right.

"Boys say the strangest things when they're together, don't they?" Luna mused all of a sudden.

Hermione looked at her, not knowing how to respond due to the fact that she really didn't want to be reminded of what they had said. She shrugged, trying to focus on something else. "It could be what they were smoking."

Luna looked thoughtful for a moment before shaking her head. "I don't believe Poppygreen has such an effect as strange ramblings."

"Poppygreen?" Hermione said, not familiar with the word but recognizing it as a wonderful distraction.

Luna sat up, nodding. "Yes, it's the result of mixing Poppy with a rare kind of mint found in the deep forests. It has hallucinogenic properties but I've never heard of someone rambling silliness."

"How do you know so much about it?" Hermione was curious to know if too much Poppygreen was the result of Luna's peculiar character.

"My father wrote an article about it a few years ago for The Quibbler. It's rather interesting, wouldn't you say?"

"I guess so. How do you know they were smoking it?"

"I recognized the green smoke. It's illegal in parts of Europe though so I'd assume that's why they were smoking in secrecy."

Hermione was impressed. Luna was just chock-full of all sorts of surprises.

"Although that doesn't make much sense seeing as how this entire party is rather illegal as well," Luna continued earning an honest laugh from Hermione.

They spent the next few hours talking about Luna's father's research and recent articles of The Quibbler and Hermione was glad for the change of topic. She was almost convinced that she should subscribe to The Quibbler as a sort of thank you. After a while Hermione's eyes started to drift closed and she noticed the pub was thinning out as the night got later.

"What time is it?" Hermione wondered aloud.

"Nearly one," a half-drunk Romilda Vane answered from her couch nearby where she was cuddled next to a handsome boy presumably from her year.

Hermione's eyes widened. "Nearly one?" she exclaimed as she shot to her feet.

Romilda jumped at the Head Girl's reaction but didn't say anything more. Luna blinked up at her sleepily. Hermione looked around the pub. The card room's door was still closed. They were probably all still playing since she hadn't noticed anyone coming out.

"How are we supposed to get back into the castle without getting caught?" Hermione muttered in annoyance as a feeling of panic started to take hold. She hadn't planned on staying out this late and what if she missed her morning class tomorrow? She couldn't bear it!

She eyed the bartender from earlier, Rodney, handing a small item to a pair of students before they headed for the stairs that led back to the Pop-A-Door.

"Come on, Luna." She grabbed Luna's wrist and headed for Rodney.

The bartender looked up at them as they approached, "You two ready to leave?"

"Yes, we are, what were those-" Hermione was cut off when he held up a small silver bell with a deep rounded dish on top.

"This is a Dawdle Bell, another original-"

"-invention brought to you by the Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes," Hermione interrupted impatiently.

Unperturbed, Rodney grinned. "Precisely. It's a stealth device that, once turned on, will mask your footsteps and alert you to anyone nearby with malicious intent. Meaning anyone aiming to catch you out of bed, as Fred had put it."

Hermione couldn't help but feel impressed despite her rising panic. She took one bell and Luna another.

"And the twins are just giving these out?" Hermione said incredulously. "For free?" She thought it strange that they were just passing these out when they continuously refused to give any discount to their own little brother.

Rodney shrugged, "They thought it'd be a nice gift to celebrate their new ventures into drink-making."

Slightly suspicious and wary of the Dawdle Bell, Hermione thanked him and headed up the stairs with Luna. The door at the top had a crescent moon window set in it that Hermione hadn't noticed earlier. Peeking through she saw the Hogwarts grounds overcast with moonlight. Deeming it safe she turned the doorknob and stepped onto grass with Luna following close behind.

The door closed shut behind them and Hermione watched it faded away until only a thin outline remained in case she wanted to re-enter.

"Well," Hermione began as she turned towards Luna, "that was just full of fun wasn't it?"

"I guess that would depend on your take on what fun is," Luna replied seriously.

"I guess so." Hermione nodded, smiling as they both made their way across the expansive grounds towards the lit Hogwarts castle. "How are you feeling after that Puggish Draught?"

Luna looked thoughtful for a moment. "I feel quite normal."

Wondering what 'normal' was for Luna, Hermione didn't say anything more. When they reached the stone steps leading up to the Entrance Hall doors, both girls activated the Dawdle Bell by twisting the rounded dish. To their delight a pair of legs popped out of each bell and waddled a few feet in front of its respective owner. Hermione was expecting it to make some sort of noise seeing as it was a bell but it was completely silent. Exchanging a look with Luna, Hermione approached the Entrance Hall doors and pulled it open slightly.

Her bell whizzed past her and into the hall. Hermione followed it with Luna and her own bell following behind.

"I guess I'll see you tomorrow," Hermione whispered.

"Yes, have a good night," Luna said as if they weren't sneaking around the castle after curfew. She went down a hall to the right and Hermione took the staircase towards the back.

Hermione's little Dawdle Bell hopped along with her and when she reached the next floor the faint sound of tinkling bells filled the air and Hermione realized it was her Dawdle Bell warning her. Feeling a rush of panic she practically dove behind a suit of armor. The bell waddled next to her feet and the tinkling stopped just as Filch rounded the corner. Mrs Norris's yellow eyes glowed as they passed Hermione's hiding spot but the cat didn't come to inspect.

"Quite uneventful tonight, isn't it, Mrs Norris," Filch commented with a hint of boredom. The only response received was a 'meow' as they descended the staircase Hermione had just come up.

Sighing, Hermione crept out from behind the armor and continued down the hall to the next staircase. She was deterred a half an hour when the Dawdle Bell alerted her to Peeves who was throwing exploding dung bombs on the fourth floor. She had to wait until the staircases changed again before she found one that would take her to the fifth floor.

Ondine the mermaid was sleeping in her portrait and was incredibly irritated when Hermione woke her up to open.

"It's not like I need any sleep myself, oh no, not me, come any time at all hours of the night, it's no bother at all," Ondine ranted as she swished her tail causing bubbles to appear in waves.

"Alright, alright, sorry, Amortentia," Hermione snapped.

With a withering glare Ondine's portrait swung forward. Hermione rolled her eyes as she scooped up her Dawdle Bell and entered the Heads Common Room. The fireplace was dim with a few glowing ashes but other than that the room was dark and blessedly empty.

Relieved that she would suffer no more confrontations for the night Hermione hurried up to her room to get ready for bed. She wouldn't hit her pillow until nearly two in the morning but she felt content as she floated off into a dreamless slumber.

.,.,.,.

Well, that was a lot of happy reunions for Hermione. She hasn't been this happy since...well, I don't think she's been happy yet in this fic hahah. Sorry for the lack of Dramione interaction but I did manage to add in a bit of Draco savagery.

Also, ohmygod Luna is so much fun to write! No wonder she was one of J.K. Rowling's faves. I really do think Luna and Hermione would make much better friends than Hermione and Ginny. Luna is Hermione's exact opposite and I feel like there is some checks and balances going on between those two. Luna brings a bit of wacky to Hermione's no-nonsense character and Hermione brings a bit of sanity to Luna's strangeness. I love those two!

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Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Chapter title is from the song "Gone" by The Head and the Heart, my favorite band.