There were many things at Hogwarts that Hermione could put up with, taken with a spring in her step and a smile on her face. Double potions homework? Easy. A wasted free period going over Harry's transfiguration essay for errors? But of course. An hour spent listening to Ginny talk about the Holyhead Harpies? Why not two? But if she had to spend another day constantly walking in on tedious bouts of tongue wrestling between Ron Weasley and Lavender Brown she would much rather pack her case and be on the first train back to Kings Cross Station.
The moment had yet again occurred as she stood rooted to the spot at the open door to what she expected to be a vacant Muggle Studies classroom. All she had wanted was a nice quiet place to give her Defence homework on Sirens a once over before tomorrow's due date. No random distractions in the shape of Harry's late coursework or Ginny's boyfriend troubles with Dean Thomas but no of course not, here they were back at it again. Was there not one room in the entire classroom that they hadn't coated wall to wall in saliva?
What had at first caused Hermione great agony and bouts of tears was now rather tiresome and it was fast becoming a constant chore having to duck in and out of corridors to avoid another awkward interaction. She'd spent the last two weeks in a perpetual state of unease. Would they be behind the next door? Around the next corner? Glued together in the next shadowy corner of the castle? She could hardly wait for Christmas to arrive as Ron was due to go back to the Burrow with Harry and Hermione would finally have the castle to herself, a chance to be able to spend an uninterrupted evening in her own common room without baring witness to the same old gratuitous sight of public affection. She would quite happily tie Ron up in a bow and personally deliver him to Mrs Weasley in person if it meant he would be gone quicker.
"Hermione I-" Ron peeled his lips away from Lavenders neck long enough to utter a feeble few words before Hermione cut in.
"Oh I'm sorry. I thought this was a classroom not a private snogging booth. Please continue." She drawled sarcastically, rolling her eyes and bowing dramatically out of the room. She slammed the door hard to add to the effect and turned tail heading back down the draughty corridor towards the Gryffindor common room. At least she knew they wouldn't be waiting for her there.
Her footsteps clattered loudly as she stomped off until enough distance had been covered between the two parties to which she finally came to a halt, alone somewhere between her Potions classroom and the vacant girls bathroom. She clenched her fists tightly at her side struggling desperately not to care, to keep up her currently state of bored indifference but it was slowly fading. The same old familiar pang of heartache wrenched itself from deep within her stomach slowly making its way towards her eyes in the form of large tears pushing forcefully against the lids of her eyes. "Stop it!" She demanded of herself herself in a Mrs Weasley like tone. She hated this, she so wanted not to care at all, to just get over it, move on but she couldn't. She furiously wiped at her eyes trying to force the few tears that had made a bid for freedom back into her body. Her throat was stinging and she could feel her legs start to shake. She slammed against the bathroom door and leant on the first sink she saw, tilting her head towards its base and closing her eyes tight, gripping onto the sides of the basin. "He's not worth this." She told herself looking up at herself in the cracked, stained mirror and hating the vision of self pity that she saw.
"Who's there?" Came a familiar voice from one of the broken bathroom stalls. "Hermione?"
She turned her back towards the sink and faced the row of stalls. Harry Potter's head came peering out from the furthest one on the left, his glasses crookedly resting on his nose, his face smudge with some peculiar liquid as if he'd only recently moped his forehead.
"Harry? What are you doing in here?" She asked in a state of thorough confusion. She took a few tentative steps towards the stall when he blocked the door by spreading his arms across the gap.
"Nothing." He was doing a lousy job of not looking guilty as he cast his eyes from the bathroom door to Hermione and back to the door again.
"What do you mean nothing?" She asked throwing him a sceptical look. She took another step towards him when he finally slumped his shoulders and stepped aside.
"Look please don't tell anyone and please no lectures ok?" He looked exhausted as he motioned towards the simmering caldron perched tentatively on top of the disused toilet seat. The scent was unmistakable and brought back a wash of old memories from her second year at Hogwarts.
"Polyjuice?" She wiped her eyes and pushed him aside as she peered into the cauldron. The light grey sludge breaking out into large ugly air bubbles as it cooked over a rusty Bunsen burner.
"Look I know what you're going to say but let me explain first." He pleaded noting her nettled brow.
"It's not quite right. Did you follow the recipe word for word?" She asked noting the incorrect shade of grey the potion was currently simmering at.
"Err... Ok I wasn't expecting you to say that. I followed the Half-Blood Prince's diary, he says this should last longer and not taste like a trolls foot in the process."
She frowned upon mention of the Prince but allowed it to slide unadmonished.
"But Harry why?"
Harry bit his lower lip as he pondered how best to answer her question before finally letting out a defeated sigh. "Look it's no big deal I just want to see if I can get Malfoy to tell me what he's been up to."
"Oh Harry you know Dumbledore doesn't want you worrying about that, you're supposed to be getting that memory from Slughorn. You're wasting time." She dragged a hand frantically through her tangled hair as she continued to survey his concoction with a look of dismay.
"I know Hermione." He groaned leaning against the broken bathroom tiled wall. "But Slughorn will be gone over Christmas anyway and I know Draco's up to something rotten, I'm certain of it."
Hermione didn't argue on this point, Slughorn would indeed be gone over Christmas he had told them so during their last potions class. Visiting one of his many high flying friends no doubt. "Ok Harry I won't deny he's probably up to something, it is Malfoy after all but-" she stirred the potion with the large silver spoon stuck inside. "What are you going to do? I bet he hasn't told Crabbe or Goyle anything. If it was as important as you think it is I doubt he'd trust something like that to those two morons. Especially if it's something to do with Voldemort."
"Yeah I know but..." Harry flushed slightly and let a shudder rattle his spine before continuing. "It's possible he might tell someone if he wanted to impress them. Malfoy has always been all ego. He might tell someone like... Pansy Parkinson perhaps, they are dating after all." He avoided Hermione's gaze as the realisation slowly dawned onto her face.
"Harry you're not- no way- really?" Hermione let out a small snigger in spite of herself but then fixed him with a look of concern as if worried for his sanity. "Harry there is no way you are going to convince Malfoy that you're Pansy no matter how much you look like her."
"Why not?" Harry looked slightly offended which amused Hermione but she didn't let it register on her face. "It's perfect. I happen to know she won't be at Hogwarts for Christmas but Draco will be. It'll be simple to convince him that I - well Pansy's changed her mind. Then all I'll have to do is just you know..." He looked as if he didn't want to actually say it but did so anyway "play to his instincts to show off. A little light pressure and I could have him singing the truth by Christmas Eve."
Hermione had no idea Harry was so set on catching out Malfoy that he would be willing to go to such lengths. "Harry you need to let this go ok? Dumbledore said-"
"I know what Dumbledore said." Harry snapped crossing his arms and pacing the length of the stalls. "Hermione what if- no let me finish. What if I'm right, what if Draco is up to something for Voldemort? I'm not going to miss the chance to catch him in the act. I'm not leaving it until it's too late." Harry looked back at Hermione fully determined and not breaking his eyes from hers.
"Ok, Ok but Harry this isn't going to work. Do you really think you'll be able to convince Malfoy that you're his girlfriend. I mean come on. You forget I've seen you trying to flirt before, with Cho last year. Painful is putting it mildly, I've seen more charm in a sack full of Blast-Ended Skrewts. He'll have you figured out on the first day."
"I don't know what else to do Hermione. If there's even a chance I'm right then it's worth a shot."
Hermione studied her friend for a moment. The dogged look of conviction was painted all over his face. She knew that despite huge waves of dissuasion from numerous third parties this was one bug that Harry was not going to let leave his head. She could not deny that she too had noticed Malfoy sneaking about more often than usual. "You're not going to let this go are you?" She noted as Harry shook his head. She remained quiet for a moment weighing up what she was willing to propose and in truth part of her was already leaving the bathroom and heading back to the common room pretending they had never conversed. The other half the half that had been with Harry through everything, every trial, every tribulation groaned in dissatisfaction as she glared back at the boy she trusted more than anyone. If he was this worried, this concerned then there must be something to it. "What if-" she gave the Polyjuice potion another stir, casting it a look of repulsion. "What if I gave it a go?" She was secretly wishing that Harry would flat out refuse her offer, turn her away with a heroic wave of his hand, declare that he could not live with himself knowing he was putting one of his best friends through such an awkward situation. Her heart sank when his green eyes lit up, the spark of hope igniting a flame in his belly.
"That's perfect. Yeah you would be so much better." He clapped his hands triumphantly returning to pacing the bathroom his mind whizzing as he did so. "You're a girl after all."
"No sorry I just meant you'd find flirting with him much easier wouldn't you?"
"Well ok but I bet you'd still be more convincing than me."
"But Hermione..." A sudden hint of concern returned to Harry's eyes as he let the idea settle. "I can't ask you to-"
"You didn't. I offered." She held up her hand and shook her head. "But promise me this. If I do this and find nothing then you have to finally let it go and get back to getting that memory from Slughorn." She bore her eyes into him not blinking. She needed Harry to get a move on and if this was what it would take to get him to do so then so be it. It was just Draco Malfoy, just a little flirting, a little affection, just- actually could she take it back?
"Are you sure Hermione? It may take a while to get him to talk."
"You'll owe me."
"Of course. If I hang about to talk you through-"
"No you go to the Burrow as planned. I need you thinking about how to get that memory without any distractions."
"Do you trust me?"
"Then go. Spend Christmas with Won-won... And Ginny of course." She smirked in his direction.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well why not take the opportunity to practice those flirting skills you were going to waste on Malfoy. Just don't tell Dean."
"Oh shut up." He couldn't help the wry smile tilt his lips.