From the gossip Hermione heard in the hallways the rest of the week, going to Hogsmeade with Draco on the upcoming trip was a significantly bigger deal than she had realized it would be.

Firstly, she'd entirely neglected to pay attention to the implications of it being Valentine's Day weekend. Practically speaking, she'd noted that it'd be a perfect opportunity to get the usual obligation chocolates Hogwarts society presumed she would send to her male friends, but the romantic implications of the holiday weekend had mostly slipped from her mind.

So there was that.

Secondly, Draco had defeated Cedric Diggory, her suitor, in a duel for her honor. While that didn't oblige Hermione to begin courting him instead, the fact he was going out with her at the next available opportunity caused the rumor mill to spin itself silly. It wasn't as if Draco were courting her – the very idea was ludicrous to Hermione, as his parents would never go for it – so there wasn't supposed to be the same level of seriousness around the date, but it seemed the rumor mill presumed there was.

Part of that was Hermione's own fault, Daphne had told Hermione. Honor duels over a witch were very rare nowadays, and generally only a thing seen in lurid wizarding romance novels. The fact one had happened over her had been bound to leak out, despite the limited audience to the event. And the fact that the audience had been so small meant that it was even more exciting gossip to pass around, because it seemed so unlikely but was true.

Tracey had told her the rumor mill had the reason for the duel correct – Cedric had implied she was a Dark witch, and Draco took offense – but it hadn't figured out why Cedric had implied such a thing, to Hermione's relief. It seemed the greater population of the school just assumed it was a thing that was presumed about Slytherins from time to time, so it wasn't a point of curiosity, which annoyed Hermione even more. And worse, it wasn't entirely inaccurate – Slytherin definitely had the group of students who looked into Dark magic more than any other House – but it still irritated her that Slytherins were presumed to be Dark at the drop of a hat.

Lastly, Draco himself was doing nothing to tamp down on the rumors. If anything, his smirk and sealed lips fueled the rumors more. And as Hermione didn't dignify herself with gossip – after all, she had Tracey and Blaise to keep her appraised – no one was denying any alleged romance to the date.

Though… it was a date. Some degree of romance was kind of implied.

Hermione sighed, trying to focus on preparing for the imminent trip to Hogsmeade as she put on her robes for the day as the Slytherin girls got dressed to go out to the village.

"What are those?" Pansy wanted to know. "Those are not normal robes."

"So?" Hermione said. "They're comfortable, and they're flattering, and I like them."

"They're gorgeous," Daphne said, looking over. "Where did you get them? France?"

"My mum got them for me," Hermione said, smiling. "But I'm pretty sure she got them at Harrods."

"They're very sleek," Tracey commented. "They really highlight how tall you are."

"Are you sure you should wear them, then?" Pansy said, snide. "You'll shame Draco."

Hermione scoffed. "If Draco is insecure enough over having not hit his growth spurt yet, that sounds like his problem, not mine."

Tracey and Daphne laughed, while Pansy rolled her eyes, annoyed.

"Is Millie not going?" Hermione asked Tracey. "I haven't seen her all day."

Tracey bit her lip. "She's in the Hospital Wing."

"Again?" Hermione said incredulously. "Is she okay?"

"She's been having cramps again, that sort of thing," Tracey said. She shifted uneasily. "I think they're just really bad."

"Oh, the poor dear," Daphne said sympathetically. "To have your chrysalization and cycle hurt you so… it must be terribly trying and disappointing for her."

Tracey and Hermione exchanged a look. 'Poor dear' indeed.

"I just hope she feels better," Hermione said, dismissing the matter.

Tracey soon brought up what sort of cloak went better with her own outfit, leading to opinions from Daphne and Hermione and snarky comments from Pansy, but something about the matter niggled in the back of Hermione's mind.

Millie had started her cycle ages ago, now. Over a year ago.

Why was she suddenly having so much trouble now…?

As they were both in Slytherin, Hermione met Draco in the common room. He was waiting by the giant window into the lake, and his eyes widened as she approached, looking faintly stunned.

"Hermione," Draco said, silver eyes drinking her in. He gave her a dramatic bow, one hand sweeping out to the side. "You look incredible."

Hermione was wearing one of the dresses her mother had bought for her and gotten altered over the holidays. It was made of burned velvet, black with hints of gold in a subtle floral pattern, and it was fitted through the bodice before flaring out and falling to the ground from the hips. The neckline was a small, elegant cowl, and the sleeves were fitted as well. It had been altered to have an extremely hidden opening on the bodice that closed with small, subtle buttons, but only to technically make the dress classify as 'robes'. Realistically, it was a stretch velvet, and Hermione had just pulled the garment on over her head.

It was like nothing she'd seen in the wizarding world, with its stretch fit and style, and Hermione was pleased to see Draco's reaction be so positive despite how foreign it must be to him.

Draco straightened from his bow, still looking at her, and Hermione felt another flash of satisfaction before giving him a smile. "Thank you," she said. "You look rather dashing yourself."

Draco grinned at her, a small, mischievous smile.

"Good," he said slyly. "I daresay we'll make quite the handsome pair."

He offered her his arm with a smirk, and Hermione took it, rolling her eyes with a smile.

They made their way from the Slytherin common room to the Courtyard, where other couples were linking up to go to the carriages. There was a sort of shy ambience to the area this time, with more hesitant smiles and hopeful looks.

"You can tell it's Valentine's Day coming up," Draco remarked, glancing around. "The girls are already all giggly and coy, and they're not even at Hogsmeade yet."

"You're not wrong," Hermione said, looking around. "Is everyone in our year going as a couple?"

"Not everyone, just most," Draco said, shrugging. "All the Slytherins who are going are, at least. Bunch of the Gryffindor boys are just going together as a group." He snickered. "Couldn't get dates, I imagine. The Gryffindor girls had to find dates elsewhere."

Hermione laughed. "Did they really?"

"Wouldn't you?" Draco said, smirking. He gestured to the other side of the courtyard. "If they were your choices?"

Neville, Ron, Dean Thomas, and Seamus Finnegan were waiting for a carriage in a small cluster. Harry was nowhere to be seen – presumably not risking getting caught sneaking into Hogsmeade again, or hidden under his invisibility cloak nearby – and the boys clearly hadn't taken any special care with their appearance. Not that they'd have a reason to, if they didn't have dates, Hermione mused, but in contrast to everyone else in their year, their laziness stood out.

Nearby, the Gryffindor girls were batting their eyelashes and flirting as boys from other Houses approached them to escort them to the carriages. Parvati Patil was going with Zacharias Smith, Hermione noted, and Lavender Brown was simpering at Anthony Goldstein. Lily Moon was going with Justin Finch-Fletchney, and Sally-Anne Perks—

"Is that Blaise?" Hermione said incredulously. "With Sally-Anne Perks?"

Draco laughed.

"You're the one who has all the stupid friends in Gryffindor," he pointed out, "yet now you're judging him for taking a Gryffindor girl out?"

"I'm not judging him!" Hermione protested. "I'm just—"

Her mouth was dry, and Hermione found she couldn't quite find the words as she watched Blaise give Sally-Anne a flashy bow, saying something that made her laugh. Luckily, Draco filled in her silence.

"It caught us off-guard too," he commented, snickering. "I was teasing him about lowering himself to dating a Gryffindor, and Theo was ribbing him for going after a—" Draco broke off, pausing, before carefully continuing "—anyway, we teased him something rotten, but he just grinned and quipped and gave back as good as he got."

Hermione gave Draco the side-eye as they approached the carriages.

"What was Theo teasing him over?" she asked.

Draco looked uncomfortable, looking away. "That's… not really my place to say."

"You overheard it," Hermione said pointedly. "It's not like the Slytherin boys' dorm is a sacred space."

From Draco's expression, it was clear he did sort of regard the boys' dorm as a safe space for secrets.

"It was something crude about Muggleborns," Draco said, avoiding specifics. He looked torn, even as he helped Hermione up into the carriage. "It'd be impolite to repeat in your company."

Hermione felt a flare of indignation as Draco closed the door to the carriage. Was it impolite to repeat in front of her because she was a girl, or because some part of Draco regarded her as Muggleborn? Either option made her upset.

Draco took his seat across from her and the carriage set off, and, frustrated, Hermione found herself sighing loudly and dramatically. Draco's silver eyes lifted to meet hers at the sound.

"Draco," she said, plaintive. "Come on. Tell me – what was Theo saying? Please?"

She offered him a tentative smile, looking up at him through her eyelashes. It was a bit of a trick to pull off, really, because Draco wasn't taller than her, but by tilting her head at the right angle, she thought she managed it rather well. Draco's eyes widened slightly, and she watched him swallow hard for a moment, before he opened his mouth to speak.

"Theo insinuated that because Sally-Anne Perks was a Muggleborn, she'd be easier to mess around with because she wouldn't have any expectations of formal commitment," Draco admitted. "Theo said that Blaise just wanted to 'make the beast with two backs' without actually getting involved with anyone, and Blaise just laughed and said that everyone had to learn to snog sometime."

Hermione's eyes widened, and she had to fight to keep herself from reacting more.

"Do you—" she coughed, trying to keep her tone even "Do you think that's what Blaise is doing?"

Draco looked startled, then contemplative.

"Actually bedding her?" he said. "I—no. I don't. I doubt it. Theo was exaggerating, I think. But I think he's probably going to go for a snog and try to cop a feel."

Draco's eyes refocused on her, as if looking for something, and Hermione wasn't sure what type of reaction he was looking for.

"Good," she said finally.

Draco licked his lips, still watching her.

"Good?" he repeated. "I did good?"

Hermione had actually meant it was good Blaise wasn't going to try and sleep with Sally-Anne Perkins, because Christ, they were only fourteen, but if Draco thought she was praising him, she was fine with that interpretation too. His eyes were oddly intense on hers suddenly, and she didn't want to hurt his feelings by correcting him.

"I mean, you told me what I wanted to know," Hermione said. Her tone lightened to a teasing one, and she smiled at him. "Did you think I wouldn't think that was a good thing? That I wouldn't be happy about it?"

A flush settled on Draco's pale cheeks, and he grinned at her.

"Well, good," he said firmly. "I'm glad."

"You're glad?" Hermione teased.

"Well, of course," Draco said. His eyes looked up to meet hers, glinting. "I'm your date today, am I not?"

"You are…" Hermione trailed off, amused.

"Well, then it's my job to make you happy, isn't it?" Draco said, in tones of satisfaction. He leaned back in his seat and relaxed, giving her a partial smile and smirking. "It's my sworn duty and honor to make you happy today," he quipped. "Can't have you going back to the school telling everyone I'm a terrible date."

Hermione laughed and teased him back, though the intensity of his eyes lingered in her mind.