Clutching her Ancient Runes textbook (Deciphering the Truth by Paul Wickleby), Hermione bit back a gasp. She took a deep, calming breath and spoke very slowly. "What?"

"Ron." Lavender supplied, looking devilishy over at the red head, sitting in a corner staring at his homework, bewildered. "He's stark raving mad about you."

"You must be mistaken." Hermione rationalized, feeling herself start to panic. To counteract, she took many more soothing breaths. She pretended not to notice that they were not helping.

Parvati shook her head. "Harry told us."

Falling into an open armchair, Hermione rested her head in her hands, commanding her eyes not to cry. "Oh, Merlin." The tears pushed against the back of her eyelids. It felt like such a silly thing to cry over, but she couldn't help it. It was very distressing news.

Lavender and Parvati, for their part, were shocked. What kind of girl reacted like this when they heard that a boy had a crush on them? The Hermione-type, they supposed, shaking their heads sadly. This hadn't been the expected reaction, but that did not mean the conversation was over.

"Cheer up, Herm." Parvati comforted, patting her shoulder, "If you don't feel the same then no one has to know."

"Yeah, that's right. We'll keep it a secret. Just us girls. …and Harry." Lavender added awkwardly, settling on the arm of the chair, looking down at Hermione with pity.

Suddenly, the tears were a little more easily dammed. "Harry did this. Sent you." She said monotonously, causing the two girls to shrink away. Sensing tension and predicting bad things would happen if she didn't stop her, Parvati piped up.

"He did it for Ron."

That caught Hermione's attention. "More like he did it to get Ron off his back! I know that boy better than either of you and—"

"Why do you always assume the worst in people, Hermione?" Lavender said, exasperated. "I mean, your friend tries to help you and Ron at the same time and you claim he has some ulterior motive. Why can't it be that he is just trying to do something nice for you?"

Lavender's speech not only stunned Hermione, but Parvati. Both of them stared at her blankly. The latter recovered more quickly, however, recognizing Lavender's little outburst to be very helpful to their case. Somehow, her best friend had found a way to make Hermione Granger speechless. And it was just such a moment that the two girls had needed.

"Hermione, level with us. Do you really think you can make us believe that you have never even though of Ron in…well, that way?" She continued before Hermione could gather her wits and actually answer the question, "I mean, come on. Having a boy as sweet and as nice as Ron Weasley as one of your best friends for the past six years, and you've never had one romantic thought including him?"

This seemed to make Hermione uncomfortable. Inwardly, Lavender and Parvati both did a dance of joy. "Well…" their bookish prey murmured, eyes towards the floor.

"See!" shrieked Lavender, rushing forth and seizing the book from Hermione's arms. "You don't need to hide behind textbooks, Hermione. You are going to have a boyfriend!" She dropped Deciphering the Truth onto a nearby chair and took one of the girl's arms. Hermione could only stare at the tome longingly and wonder how, exactly, this whole situation had gotten so wildly out of control.

--

"So those ghosts who are Headless have many options open to them. The Neck-down Knights, the Headless Hunt," there Nick's voice dropped sadly, "oh, and of course the No-Head Nasties, for those who turn poltergeist."

Draco was bored. So bored that if he could have cried, he would have. Unfortunately, all he could was float. And any fascination he'd felt at that had worn off week's ago. "What about the ghosts that are nearly headless?" he asked, knowing that he would probably hit a sensitive chord and not caring a bit. Really, he reasoned, it was the old ghoul's own fault for being so bloody boring!

Nick only glared at his younger counterpart. "Our guild is still in the beginning stages of planning." He answered haughtily.

"Which means that it's never going to happen." Draco shot back. He realized he was being patronizing, but he was thoroughly annoyed with the entire situation. He'd had to learn the great ghosts and where they haunted, how to pick your own haunting area, what to do if another ghost already occupied it or also expressed an interest in haunting it. He had to wonder, were these things really pertinent? He was going to be haunting Hogwarts, not stalking about the earth in hopes of causing some people he didn't know misery.

He had enough misery to give right where he was. He even had a hit list. Starting with Hagrid and with no foreseeable end in sight.

"Really, Mr. Malfoy, if you're going to be rude then these sessions have absolutely no purpose. I did not come here to be insulted." He huffed, turning to float through the door.

Cursing softly to himself, Draco realized he would have to apologize. There was simply no way around it. If he wanted to win Hermione back, he'd simply have to suck it up and get through these boring lessons.

"I apologize, Sir Nicholas. I was out of line." He said, his tone monotonous. Nick noticed, but pretended not to.

"Thank you," he answered, before saying, "Now to continue, the guilds for those poltergeists with heads include…"

Draco tuned him out. It was going to be a long night.

--

Had he been paying attention, Ron Weasley probably would have noticed his Astronomy homework was not going well. Harry had commandered Hermione's book and was hurriedly trying to finish their project solo; Ron had offered to help, but was told that he'd be as much help as a fifty-ton weight. So, instead, he'd decided to start the small assignment they'd received in class that day.

However, instead of completing the problems, he was busily doodling pictures of stars all over his paper. He was doing it without thinking; his mind was elsewhere.

Since Harry had illuminated to him the fact that he had feelings for Hermione, he found that she was all he could think about. It'd barely been but a few hours, and already it was interfering with his homework. He could barely see her from the corner of his eye, talking to Lavender and Parvati. Oh, how he wanted to go over and talk to her, ask her about the past week he'd missed, about what had happened with Malfoy.

More than anything, he wanted to forget about what she'd said about Malfoy. He didn't want to be protective and angry. He didn't want to long to rescue her, or defend her honor. But he did, and horribly so. If only, he lamented, if only I knew what he'd done...

She'd told him she was capable of handling the situation by herself, but it was difficult for him to let her do that. Why should she have to face someone as venomous and two-faced as Malfoy alone? He tapped his quill against the parchment over and over, fighting the urge to meddle.

It's none of my business, he repeated to himself, None of my business whatsoever. No matter how much I wish it was...

--

"You know what we should do, Par?" squealed Lavender, eyes wide in excitement as turned to her partner in crime, "Oh, it's brilliant!"

"What is it, Lav? What should we do?" asked an equally hyperactive Parvati, looking back toward Hermione and nodding, as if encouraging her to be excited, too.

Hermione seemed immune to this very contagious energy. "Really, girls, I don't want you guys to do anything for me..."

"Nonsense!" interrupted Lavender, "I know just what you need!"

A groan escaped Hermione's lips.

"A makeover!"

Another groan escaped Hermione's lips.

It was just a fact; Hermione did not like makeup. And, to be fair, makeup didn't really take to Hermione. She'd never found a combination that really enhanced her features in that special way that makeup was supposed to. Everything she'd tried to apply to her face ended up making her look like a raccoon, or some other equally unflattering comparison. It was an unfortunate fact that Hermione would never be one of those who magically turned pretty once the other girls taught her how to put on cosmetics and straighten her hair. The Hollywood ending just was not for her.

And it was not for lack of trying on either part of Lavender or Parvati, either. The girls had whipped out their supply of eyeshadows, blushes, lipsticks. They'd experimented with shades. They'd flip-flopped between a liquid and a powder. They'd applied it magically and manually. Nothing helped. Of course, Hermione didn't look bad (they could never accept such a defeat!). She just didn't look much different.

After two long, tortuous hours of putting on and taking off different kinds of goop that was probably going to clog her pores (yet another bad thing to add to the list of bad things that had happened to her recently), Hermione managed to escape the two overly-eager girls and slip back into the Common Room. Most people had gone to bed, but a few stragglers were still awake. A handful were reading by the fire, some curled up with a friend and having a late night chat. In the same corner she'd last seen him in, Ron was still adding stars to his Astronomy assignment.

Noting his absent look, Hermione was able to guess how much he'd accomplished since she'd last seen him: nothing. Seeing a way to the mend the wounds between them, she made her way across the room and pulled up a chair. It didn't occur to her until she was sitting down how awkward she felt; the boy across the table had a crush on her. She suddenly regretted her decision to not head straight to bed.

He looked up, dazed, as she sat. Once he snapped out of his reverie, he smiled warmly. "Hey."

She smiled back, but felt strange about doing it. Noticing his star-drenched assignment, she let out a small chuckle. "Finished a lot, I see."

He looked down at his paper as if seeing it for the first time, and then looked back at her, horrified. "Oh, Merlin!" he swore, "This is due tomorrow!"

"I'll help you, if you like." she offered, trying not to feel so uncomfortable. She had helped Ron with assignments plenty of times, so why did this feel so different?

He shifted in his seat, a sign that he, too, was feeling the tension. "Would you? Oh, that would be great." he moved the textbook so that it was in the middle, where they could both read it easily.

"Oh, Ron." she muttered, reading over a passage in the textbook and then glancing back at the questions on the page, "I don't even know if I can save this. You may have mucked it up too much..."

For some reason, Ron suddenly felt as though she was talking about more than his Astronomy homework. He felt like it also applied to their friendship; he'd apologized, they'd made up, and yet it still felt incredibly awkward. It pained him inside to think he may have hurt her badly enough to where they weren't as close as before.

"Hey, Hermione?" he said, covering the parchment with his hand and moving it out of the way. "Did I do something wrong again?"

"N-no..." she stammered, wondering why she felt so nervous.

Ron looked away, rather sadly. "You just seem so...fidgety. Like you don't really want to be around me. If you're still mad, you don't have to talk to me..."

She shook her head enthusiastically, brown hair flying everywhere. "Oh, no! Ron, I'm not mad at all." she stopped, quickly pondering how to approach the next subject, "I...just had a bad night. Lavender and Parvati got their claws in me and wouldn't let me go."

"Those two ninnies." Ron laughed, accepting her explanation without further questioning, "What do they know?"

Somehow, this comforted Hermione. "Yeah, what do they know?"

--

Meanwhile, Draco had just managed to escape the metaphorical grasp of Nearly Headless Nick, and was floating away from their meeting spot outside the Room of Requirement at full speed. Never in his afterlife had he been made to suffer through a more boring night. And he had lived in a broom closet for a week, for Merlin's sake!

He had to admit, however, that a few (a very select few) things he had learned had been genuinely helpful. It was nice to know that he'd be able to join a guild with people of his own sort, though he seriously doubted that there were too many people who'd been eaten by magical giant squids. And Nick had said that they might skip a few lessons ahead and let him start haunting, if he watched his tongue. Next week, he reasoned, he would have to take the initiative to be pleasant with the old fool.

On his way back to his broom closet (he'd really grown quite fond of it), he made sure to float through as many classrooms, empty because of the time of night, as possible. He didn't want to go back to the main staircase, or travel any of the commonly used corridors, for fear that his parents were still lurking about. Once was enough to go through that situation.

He took in the settings of the classrooms as he flew through them, watching as he saw the Transfiguration room, and then Charms...it made him sad, to see his usual seat and know that he'd never attend another class, or graduate, or do anything his other classmates would do. He had a sudden urge to see his old room, to float around the Common Room, to talk to his former house members. Using his new favorite trick, he sank down in the room below him through the floor.

Still not used to this new form of traveling, he felt a be disoriented once he made his way into this new room, but felt much more comfortable when he realized he'd ended up in Potions. This place was somewhere familiar, comforting. He remembered so many wonderful happenings. That time Longbottom had blown up his potion, that time Potter and Weasley had gotten yelled at...that other time Longbottom had blown up his potion. He smiled. Oh the memories...

He lingered for a moment, casting a glance around the dusty old chamber before noticing that he was not quite so alone as he'd previously assumed. In fact, Snape, his former favorite professor and Head of House, was staring at him with quite an astonished look on his face.

Draco smiled as best he could, but managed more of a grimace than anything. "Erm...hello, Professor."

Snape seemed to be a bit taken aback, but recovered quickly. "Mr. Malfoy. I'm glad we ran into each other."

"Yes." stated Draco blankly. He was quite at a loss as to what he ought to say; why was it that everyone he'd once known well now seemed quite uncomfortable around him, and he around them?

Snape motioned for him to come forward and look at a paper that he had in his hands. He turned it so that it faced Draco, who stared at it and then inwardly groaned.

Ghost Lessons with the Bloody Baron at 7 PM on Mondays

"As you'll soon find out, it's imperative to learn the rules, codes, guilds, and techniques of being a proper ghost. I took it upon myself to schedule a time for you to learn them." Snape cleared his throat, "You'll report to see the Bloody Baron at—"

"Question!" intrerrupted Draco, who ignored the ruffled look he received, "How does everyone else know about ghost lessons? I've never heard of such a thing, and I'm the actual ghost, here!"

Snape gave him a look usual reserved for Gryffindors. It made Draco understand their dislike of him. "You were supposed to have learned it in History of Magic in second year. Perhaps if you had paid attention, Mr. Malfoy, this transition would have gone much more smoothly."

"Yes, right then." he stammered, feeling quite out of sorts. He was not used to being treated so rudely by Snape. After all, it's not as though he were Harry bloody Potter! Collecting himself, he went on with what he had to say. "And thank you, Professor, for contacting the Baron for me, but please let him know that I'm already being tutored on those sorts of things and therefore his lessons will be unnecessary."

He cringed as he realized he was on the receiving end of a very harsh glare.

"What?" spat Snape, very offended, "And who, pray tell, are you receiving these lessons from?"

Shame overwhelmed Draco; he wished more than anything that Hermione had had the presence of mind to not elect her own house ghost as teacher, but rather his. Snape was not going to take this very well.

"NearlyheadlessNick." he rushed through the name, somehow thinking it might be less painful if he got it out faster. The look on Snape's face, however, proved him wrong.

"You went to the Gryffindor ghost?" he snapped, "Why in the name of Merlin would you do that?"

Before he could stop himself, the words came out. "Well, I didn't arrange it for myself!"

"Then who, may I ask, did?" the deadly calm of Snape's voice sent shivers down Draco's spine, or rather, would have, had he been alive.

"That's not really important." Draco was desperately trying to cover his mistake, avoid the answer at all costs, "What's important is that...I need to go."

Then, putting his new trick into action once more, he flew straight up and through the ceiling, trying to block out Snape's angry shout as it followed him.

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.

A/N: The first 939 words of this story have been written for over a year. For awhile, I was pretty sure I'd never be able to finish this chapter, and thus the story. I know I've complained about Writers Block, but believe me...I get it bad. However, last night I felt the urge to write, only to find that my dad had taken our laptop (which I usually do all my writing on) with him on business. So I turned to our other computer, opened up a few old files, and found myself typing up a storm.

Will I finish this? I don't know. I really would like to. But I am really lacking in the free-time department. The only time I have to myself is late at night, and I usually prefer to use that for sleeping. I've got two jobs and I'll be a freshmen in college in a month. I am pretty determined to get this done, but I will warn you now: updates will most likely be like this. Sporadic. I won't touch it for awhile and then—poof! A chapter. It's not what I'd prefer, but it's what I can do. Hopefully, that's alright with everyone.

In other news, please always tip your waitress 15 (if you can only afford to give $1.50 on a $45 check, then don't eat out, please!), and my favorite song is "Crocodile Rock" by Elton John. And if you don't feel like reviewing, why don't you tell me your favorite TV show?

Thank you's go to everyone who reviewed and who has patiently waited for this chapter!

See you in Chapter 8—hopefully sooner rather than later!