A Coven of Prefects

Important Author's Note: This story started out with parallel versions...one Hr/Padma (hosted here and on patronuscharm(dog)net ) and the other H/Hr (hosted on portkey(dot)org ). After careful deliberation, I have decided to pursue only the H/Hr version for now. This chapter is taken from the harmony version, which is now posted on as "A Coven of Prefects - Harmony Version." It should make sense, though, if you ignore the ship stuff.

Future updates will only be made to that story. Since there were signficant changes/additions to the Harmony version, you may want to reread from the start. As I may come back and try to work through some of the issues that made the original version less appealing to me, I'm keeping this posted and "on hiatus."

Disclaimer: Not my characters, no money being made, etc., etc.

Chapter 3: Hermione the Conspirator

Given the late hour, Hermione Granger was worried that the Fat Lady would be asleep, or worse...that she was off wandering through the castle's portraits, making it impossible to enter the Tower. But to Hermione's surprise, the pink dress-wearing portraiture was not only awake, but entertaining.

"Oh, there you are, dear," the Fat Lady said brightly. "You've met my friend Violet, haven't you?"

Hermione glanced towards the woman who was sitting next to the portal guardian and nodded.

"Erm, yes...last year during Yule, I think."

"Ah, what a splendid memory," remarked Violet, who was dressed in a Restoration-Era gown. She then raised the goblet of wine in her hand and said, "We've been waiting to toast the newest female Gryffindor Prefect."

"Erm, thank you," Hermione replied, taking note of the three empty bottles of wine on the table.

The guarding of Gryffindor's portal emptied her wine glass, set it on the table, then leaned forward in her chair. Looking up and down the hallway and noting that Hermione was alone, the Fat Lady beckoned the young witch to put her ear against the painting's canvas.

The muggleborn witch frowned a bit, but turned her head to one side and leaned against the painting.

"We just wanted you to know," the Fat Lady whispered, "that we're with you, Sister."

Hermione's eyes went wide as she jumped back from the canvas and turned back towards the Fat Lady. The portrait giggled and put her finger up against her lips.

"Sssshhhhh!" she said with twinkling eyes. The portrait raised her other hand up from under the table, showing Hermione that it was grasped to the hand of her guest. Bringing her companion's hands to her lips for a kiss, the Fat Lady winked.

"We've had our eye on you for some time, Hermione," she proclaimed. "Should you need help completing your assigned Coven tasks, or want some tips on how to catch the eye of a witch you might fancy..."

Hermione bit her lower lip, trying desperately not to imagine the intimate activities of the portrait-bound witches (much less exactly how and where they'd been watching her).

"Thanks," she finally was able to spit out. "I'll be sure to remember that...Mimbulus mimbletonia."

"Of course sweetheart," the portrait replied, as the doorway swung open. "Sweet dreams."

"Erm...you too."

When the door closed behind her, Hermione put her hands to her head and sighed. She'd see a lot of very strange things within the wizarding world, but a portrait coming out of the closet had to rank high on her list of odd.

The common room was surprisingly empty. Sure, it was almost one in the morning, but Hermione had expected at least one or two students awake, trying desperately to complete their summer assignments before the first day of classes. She was disappointed that Harry hadn't stayed up and waited for her return, but she also understood why he probably hadn't...if their housemate's dinner table whispers and stares had carried over into their Common Room, he would have sought refuge behind the curtains of his bed.

Hermione made her way up the stairs to the girl's dormitories, anxious to reach her own refuge from what was a thought-provoking (and memory-searing) evening. Her school trunk still needed to be unpacked, and her books sorted out...any other year she would have waited until morning, afraid that her activity would wake the others. But given the covert, lust-filled glares that Lavender and Parvati had shared across the Gryffindor table earlier that evening, she fully expected them to be awake and bouncing. Bouncing not off the walls of the dorm, but off of each other.

As she approached the shared Fifth-Year's dorm, Hermione opened the second season of the mental game show that she'd made up the previous year...a take-off of "Let's Make a Deal."

She called it "Let's Guess Where They Squeal".

The object of the game was to determine whether Lavender and Parvati were sharing a bed (and each other) behind Curtain #1, or Curtain #2. The game's challenge came from the fact that they usually used a silencing spell...Hemione would then have to look for secondary clues...like a foot sticking out from the curtains that had the "wrong" skin tone. Or two feet sticking out from the curtains with different skin tones.

The hushed whispers coming from Parvati's bed ended the game almost before Hermione entered the room. She smiled, shook her head, and made her way to her trunk. The muggleborn made no efforts to listen into the conversation...while it was great fun to eavesdrop as Lavender talked dirty to her black-haired lover, Hermione had gotten more than enough titillation during the initiation.

But as she was reaching for a handful of books to transfer to her bookshelf, she thought that she heard the name "Harry" whispered. Hemione froze, and glanced at the curtained bed across the room. The whispering was too soft to make out what was being said. The muggleborn witch would have shrugged it off, until she glanced back down into her trunk and spied her Extendable Ear (that the Weasley Twins had given her in a preemptive effort to soften their new prefect up). Against her better judgment, she grabbed the magical device and goaded the working end to sneak up underneath Parvati's bed curtains.

What she heard made her blood boil.

Taking barely enough time to retrieve the ear and pocket it, a furious Hermione Granger strode across the room and whipped open the bed curtains.

"Lavender Brown, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!"

The brown-haired witch, who had been rolling her own nipples between her fingers as she sat naked upon Parvati's face, looked up at Hermione with a "caught in the headlights" look.

"Eeeep!"

She leapt off of Parvati's face and hid her body behind her lover's, until she could hide both of their sweat-slicked bodies with a drawn bedsheet. Parvati, meanwhile, turned onto her side, rubbed her face with the edge of her blanket, and faced Hermione.

"I thought that you were okay with us," she said. "You...you haven't gotten all Percy-ish now that you're a prefect, have you?"

"No, not at all...that's a separate issue...although how Lavender can be bad mouthing Harry while you're mouthing her bits..."

"Ah, so that's it," Lavender replied, popping her head up to speak. "It's about your boyfriend."

"Harry is not my boyfriend, you bint," Hermione hissed. "Otherwise, yes...this is about Harry. How dare you suggest that he's lying about You-Know-Who's Return, and that his brain has gone as soft as his dick!"

"You know otherwise, Hermione?"

"Yes, of course I do," Hermione replied. "He's telling the truth, no matter what the Daily Prophet writes and you parrot back."

Lavender snorted. "I think you're awfully protective of somebody that you say isn't your boyfriend." She then looked down and asked, "What do you think Parv?"

Padma's twin shot her eyes towards Hermione and frowned.

"I think that it's time Little Miss Prefect shove off," she stated, and reached to close the bed curtains.

But Hermione didn't consider the conversation finished. She blocked the curtains with one hand and drew her wand with the other.

"Petrificus Totalus!"

"What the..."

"Petrificus Totalus!"

With her dormmates silenced and immobilized, Hermione pushed the two rigid bodies away from the edge of the bed so that she could have a seat. As Lavender had been riding "reverse cowgirl", this motion shoved Parvati crotch over Lavender's face, and Hermione hand to make some adjustments so that she could see both sets of eyes.

"Sorry about that, although...it's not like that's a new position for you two," Hermione said with a smile.

"So, Ladies...if you two can trust me not to report you bedtime activities to the Head of House or worse...the Headmaster...then you two damn better trust me when I say that Harry Potter is telling the truth. He isn't lying, the Headmaster isn't senile, and V-V-Voldmort is back."

The eyes within the two naked bodies showed fear. Hermione thought at first it was because she had dared to say the Dark Lord's name, but then considered the possibility that they were worried that she'd out them. The Fifth-Year prefect then started worry to that she was using her power to threaten to do something that the vows she had made earlier wouldn't allow her to do.

"Look, I sorry about getting angry...well, no I'm not. I'm sorry that I jinxed you when you both were clearly wandless. It's just so frustrating to see the reactions towards Harry at the Opening Feast...he's got enough to worry about then to have to deal with that crap."

There was a pause in the one-way conversation, as Hermione pondered what to do. Thinking back to her Coven vows, and what they entailed, an idea struck. She took her wand in hand once more, but this time aimed it at herself.

"On my life and magic, I swear that I have no reason not to believe that Voldemort has returned, or that Harry Potter lied to me about the manner of that return."

Hermione held her breath for a moment, chiding herself for not thinking through the vow more carefully. She then pointed her wand towards her nude dormmates and said, "Finite Incantatum."

To her great relief, the spell was powered.

Lavender's eyes went wide, once the spell cancellation allowed her to moisten them with several blinks.

"Risking your life and magic just to bolster's Harry's reputation? Merlin, Hermione...you do have it bad for him."

"No matter."

"Of course it matters! Tell me...have you two snogged yet?"

"He's not my boyfriend, Lavender," Hermione protested. "We haven't snogged."

"Haven't snogged yet?"

"No."

"Willing to make another magical vow on that?"

Hermione scowled, and slapped her roommate playfully on the bum.

"Of course not...can't get into the habit."

"Into the habit of kissing Harry?"

"No, silly...the habit of making unbreakable vows...magic has a way of twisting your words."

The three witches then engaged in a conversation that bounced back and forth between Hermione's imaginary love life, the other two's real love life, and Harry Potter. The awkward disparity in amount of attire was reduced when Hermione got up to change into her nightgown. That act expanded the conversation farther, as the bushy-haired witch was once again forced to explain her minimal tan lines and Brazilian cut.

It was more of a girly gossip session than Hermione had ever had with her Lavender and Parvati, and she was surprisingly happy about that. Ron and Harry were still her closest friends, and it looked like she might have a new close friend with Padma, but that didn't mean that Hermione didn't want (or yearn for) the occasional opportunity to engage in girl talk within the sanctity of her bedroom.

By the time they finally fell asleep, Hermione was fairly hopeful that she'd been able to bring both Parvati and Lavender around to Harry's side of the story. They were only two of the many who had doubted, but one had to start somewhere. This comforted her enough to push her fears for Harry's mental well-being aside, which allowed her to push her knickers aside so that she could think of Harry's physical side...and what she'd want to eat if only the Coven's Private Dining Room was co-ed.

oo00OO00oo

Not wishing to miss Harry before he left for breakfast, Hermione forced herself to rise early the next morning, despite her lack of sleep. This had the added benefit of getting her to the gang showers before the other girls did...there was enough to do without explaining her nearly all-around tan over and over again.

As the warm water flowed down over her tanned skin, Hermione thought back on the brief conversations with Amelia Bones and Narcissa Malfoy. Cissy's claim that she had reason to believe Hermione had been in contact with Sirius was very disturbing, given the fact that Lucius had been on the station platform when Sirius, in animagus form, had escorted them onto the train. It also gave support to the theory that Draco had used the word "dogging" on purpose, intimating that he knew about their connection to the Azkaban escapee.

Sirius had been much too reckless for his own good. And for Harry's own good as well, she decided. Hermione desperately needed a way to contact him, and to warn him to stay hidden behind Grimmauld's wards. But how was she to do that, given Mad-Eye's warning to assume that every letter sent out by owl would be monitored?

That question was still rolling around her head as Hermione packed her bag full of books, pinned her prefects badge above her left breast, and bounded down the stairs.

The Weasley Twins' advertisement for willing test subjects caught her eye while she waited for Harry. She shook her head as she tore the sign from the board, upset not only at the Twins, but at Ron. He had been in the Tower last night while she was at the Initiation Ceremony...he could have and should have dealt with this sort of thing.

Not that she expected him to.

Hermione loved Ron like a brother, but he really had no business being a Prefect. She decided to raise the issue when she had her private meeting with Minerva...erm, Professor McGonagall, that is (must learn to keep situations straight, she thought to herself). Harry was the obvious choice, although...if she was on patrol and was forced to memory charm the male prefect walking with her, much better that it be Ron. Unless she could convince the Coven to let Harry in on their secret. After all, Amelia Bones had expressed her desire to help Harry the night previous. Except that her offer might have been a personal one, rather than on behalf of the Coven…

The weave of disparate motivations within the game she'd just been thrust into was most vexing.

Harry walked down the stairs and into the Common Room an angry young wizard, and was taking it out on everyone but those who deserved his wrath. Hermione asked what was wrong, and was told that Seamus had set him off. Hermione thought she was just moving the conversation forward when she mentioned that Lavender had also expressed doubts, but Harry took her head off, deciding that it must have meant that she thought that way too. Stung by the rebuke, she pointed out that she had believed him from the start, and in fact made an effort to convince Lavender and Parvati to give Harry the benefit of the doubt...at least until evidence came forward one way or the other.

The raven-haired wizard had just muttered an apology to his best friend when the two Doubting Tomasinas in question walked into the common room giggling. They stopped short when they saw the other three, and swallowed their laughter. Parvati made eye contact with Lavender and nudged her towards the Boy-Who-Lived.

"I'm sorry, Harry," Lavender told him. "I know it's not an excuse, but between Teen Witch Weekly and my mum and dad...they believe whatever the Ministry tells them to believe, and well...I'm supposed to be a Gryffindor, but it's hard to go against your parents...know what I mean?"

Harry shot the witch a hard stare. "No, Lavender, I don't know what you mean."

The brown-haired witch blanched. "Oh, Merlin, I'm so...what a stupid thing for me to say."

"S'okay," Harry said glumly.

"Of course it isn't, Harry," said Lavender, who then leaned forward and kissed Harry on the cheek.

"What was that...?"

"You looked like you could use a hug."

"But you... it wasn't a hug."

"Oh, my goof, then," said Lavender as she pulled him into a hug. "There, that's it."

Parvati looked on with amusement...she would have been hard pressed to say who amongst the Golden Trio looked the most shocked. Giving her friend a three-second count, she stepped up and touched lover's shoulder.

"My turn, Lavender."

Harry pulled out from his awkward hug and stared at Hermione, wondering why she hadn't mentioned Parvati betrayal as well.

"So you believed the lies about me lying too?"

"Not really...hard to with my sister talking back to the newspaper each morning."

"Then why is it your turn?"

"Because I didn't defend you when others were gossiping on the train," Parvati replied, before planting a chaste peck on Harry's opposite cheek.

"Oh, well...that's okay..."

"No it isn't, and I'm going to do my best to stop the gossiping."

"Wow, that's saying something, isn't it?" Ron asked.

"Shut it, you," Harry said. "Look, Parvati...you don't have to...I mean...why would you?"

"Because you're worth it Harry...even if you and Ron were lousy dates last year."

"And I'm going to have an even lousier attitude if I miss breakfast this morning," Ron proclaimed. He pulled Harry away from the girls and said, "Let's go eat, mate."

As they made their way out of the portal, the three witches heard Ron ask, "So do you think you'll get a kiss every time somebody changes their opinion about you?"

Harry shook his head. "If that means that Seamus will eventually try for a snog, I certainly don't."

Hermione waited until the portal closed before she turned on her dormmates.

"I hope, for Harry's sake and your own that you two were sincere."

"Of course we were," Lavender replied.

"And what's with the kisses? And the hug?"

"Jealous, Hermione?" Parvati asked with a smile. "Have to admit, the physical contact did seem to calm him down."

"It did, didn't it?" asked Lavender. "Maybe we should catch up in case there's some stares and whispers along the way?"

"I'll take care of that, thank you very much," said Hermione.

"Well, then go, girl," said Parvati. "Wouldn't do if Ron was the only one within snogging distance of Harry."

"So far as we know," Lavender giggled.

Hermione shook her head and left the room as a catty reply from Parvati caused her lover to giggle even louder.

oo00OO00oo

Breakfast was just as tense as the previous night's feast. If it weren't for the fact that the Firsties needed shepherding, and that McGonagall hadn't yet come around with schedules, Hermione would have suggested that they grab some rashers of bacon and eat out on the front steps. The stares and not-even-close-to-a-whisper comments were so biting and nasty...if her dormmates were correct about physical contact being an effective countermeasure, Hermione would soon need to duck under the table and blow Harry off.

Which was a lovely, if impractical, thought.

When their Head of House finally did come around, Hermione's gaze involuntarily migrated towards the older witch's crotch. It was of course, covered with robes, but that just made Hermione wonder what the tabby cat might be doing while it was out of sight.

"Searching for something, Miss Granger?"

"Erm, not really Min...erm, Professor."

The Transfiguration Professor snorted. "Well, here are your schedules, then."

Hermione nodded as she glanced at her parchment. "Are we..."

"Very busy today?" asked Minerva, as she glanced nervously towards the Head Table. "Yes, I think we all are."

"But last..."

A quick shake of the Professor's head shut down Hermione's question.

"Oh, right then." Hermione looked back down at her schedule and asked, "Why do I have time blocked out for the Infirmary each day after lunch?"

"You have a job interview with the Hogwarts Matron."

"A job interview?"

"That's what I said, Miss Granger...need we make time for a hearing test as well?"

"But...what kind of job?"

"Madame Pomfrey takes on a student each year to serve as a Nurse's Aide," the Gryffindor Head stated. "It is usually given to a sixth-year, but I suggested to the Headmaster..."

Minerva gave Harry a glance and smiled. "Well, given Mr. Potter's talent for finding injurious situations, I suggested that he would benefit from having a friend who was trained in basic methods of healing and hex removals."

"No need to make Hermione's schedule any busier on my account," offered Harry.

Hermione whacked Harry in the arm. "Stop that, you."

"Ouch, what are you trying to do...make me your first patient?"

Shaking her head, the Fifth-Year Prefect looked back towards the Transfiguration Professor.

"I'm not so sure that it's...I mean it is our O.W.L. year... and I have prefect duties..."

"This was discussed during our last staff meeting, Miss Granger. All of your professors expressed confidence in your ability to successfully manage your time."

"All?" asked Ron, glancing towards the Head Table. "Even Umbridge?"

"That's Professor Umbridge, Mr. Weasley...perhaps I should have said all of the teachers in attendance at the meeting."

"So that means Snape, too?" asked Harry.

At Minerva's raised eyebrow, Harry spat out, "I meant Professor Snape."

"Professor Snape's silent response was interpreted as a glowing recommendation," Minerva stated with a wry smile. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to finish distributing schedules."

As soon as the Head of House turned her back on the three, Ron exclaimed, "Bugger!"

"Language, Ron!"

"Well, you look at Harry and my schedules, and see what you say! History, Double Potions with Snape, Divination and DADA? All on the first day?"

"Brutal," Harry muttered.

"Oh, please, you two...it's just as busy for me...I've got that interview while you're wasting time with the fraud...and dare I ask what you'll be doing Wednesday afternoon while I've got Runes and Arithmancy?"

"Flying, I hope," Ron said.

This response brought the conversation back around to Quidditch, and Angelina's announcement a few minutes previous that she'd been made captain of the Gryffindor squad. Rather than feign interest, Hermione got up and moved down the table to have a little chat with the Weasley Twins.

Pulling the folded advertisement from her pocket, she announced, "You know that you two aren't going to be allowed this."

Fred and George looked down at their posting and frowned.

"But how else are we going to test market our products?"

"Test market?" Hermione asked. "You two seriously thinking about starting a business?"

Fred shrugged their shoulders. "Can't see us at the Ministry all our lives...already seen what a few years of that has done to our prat of a brother."

"Not that Percy wasn't that way before he left school," said George.

"Too true, brother, too true."

"So you plan on...doing what this year?"

"Market research and new product development," Fred replied. "Though we've already been set back on that account."

"What do you mean?" Hermione asked.

"McGonagall came 'round this morning and confiscated some of our product line," George whined.

"Oh, well that's too bad."

"You sound so heartbroken, Hermione," Fred snarked. "And here we had such high hopes for our pre-emptive rewards program."

Hermione smiled, thinking of how she'd already put their Extendable Ear to good use. She then thought about Amelia Bones's statements, and how the Twins might help keep Umbridge at bay. And then her smile turned sinister as she lowered her voice.

"Look you two, I'm on your side, really...I'm just saying that you need to be a little more discreet about your testing. And maybe work on testing your products on targeted individuals who might deserve any nasty side effects that come their way."

Hermione lowered her voice even further and then said, "And I might be working in the Infirmary this year...if you did do some clinical trials, wouldn't it be better to do them when I'm there to cover for you two?"

The Weasley Twins absorbed Hermione's statement, then looked at each other with glee.

"Are you thinking what I'm..."

"Don't I usually, brother of mine?"

They turned back towards Hermione and smiled.

"We do hope…"

"That the Headmaster…"

"Didn't know what he was getting…"

"When he selected you to be Prefect."

Hermione returned the smile. "I hope that he didn't either."

oo00OO00oo

The morning's classes ran pretty much true to form from past years.

The History lesson on giants strained even Hermione's ability to pay attention, though her focus would have been better had she not spent so much time scolding her boys for playing hangman in the margins of Harry's parchment notes.

The much more eventful Double Potions revealed Snape in all of his disdainful glory, as he abused the Gryffindors to the delight of their Slytherin counterparts. The potion that they were tasked with brewing was really too complex for the first day...while there was no reason not to read ahead, the practical skills needed to prepare the ingredients were certainly subject to atrophy over the summer hols. Not that Hermione's version of the Draught of Peace was a failure...quite the opposite, actually. But Harry had forgotten to complete one of the steps, resulting in a failed potion that his greasy-haired nemesis had vanished with glee. The Boy-Who-Lived stormed out of the room in a huff, not bothering to clean up his work station.

Once Hermione had decanted a sample of her potion into a flagon and presented it to the Potions Master, she found that there was still quite a bit remaining in her cauldron. Now, standard procedure was to cast a cleaning charm on the dregs, but given the fact that the Draught of Peace was supposed to relieve stress and anxiety...and given the fact that her best friend had both in abundance...she developed an alternative means of disposal. She quietly reached over to Harry's station, nicked his unused flagon, and filled it with the remaining contents of her cauldron.

Hermione's deviance from standard procedures didn't go unnoticed. As she slipped the flagon into her bag, she looked up and noticed Pansy Parkinson staring at her.

Had it been any other year, Hermione could have counted on Pansy ratting her out to her Head of House. But given the night previous, and the new bond she shared with the female Slytherin Prefect, she decided to take a chance.

Acknowledging the fact that she'd been caught out, Hermione stared straight at Pansy and mouthed the word, "Please?"

The Slytherin witch narrowed her eyes, thought for a few moments, and gave quick glances on her side of the room to determine if she was the only one to have noticed. With that assurance in hand, Pansy returned to Hermione's gaze, gave her a barely perceptible head nod, then followed up with the mouthed words, "You owe me."

Hermione acknowledged the debt with a second nod of her head. As soon as Ron had finished clearing up his station, she shouldered her bag and pulled him by the hand out of the door.

"What's the rush, Hermione?" Ron asked.

She turned to her friend and gave what was, for her, a measured response.

"Lunch."

"Oh, yeah," said Ron, as he matched her pace. "Good point."

oo00OO00oo

Ron and Hermione were afraid that they'd find Harry taking out his anger and on those who either didn't deserve it or didn't cause it. They were surprised, therefore, to discover their friend leaning against the end of the Ravenclaw table, talking amicably with Cho Chang.

One look towards the Ravenclaw prefect was enough to send both Ron and Hermione's nerves on end. Ron was upset that Cho was wearing a button supporting the Tornados Quidditch team. Hermione was upset that Cho might be trying to wear Harry's robes, given how close her body was to them.

Harry's back was turned, so that Cho was the one to notice Harry's friends. She ignored Ron's indignant look, and replied to Hermione's glare with a coy smile and hand wave. Ron and Hermione watched as the Ravenclaw pointed them out, and placed a friendly hand on Harry's arm. He replicated the gesture with his hand on her opposite arm, then broke the contact and strode back towards the Gryffindor table with a small grin on his face.

"What's that all about?" Ron asked, as Harry took a seat.

"Cho just wanted to say hi, and asked about hols," Harry replied.

"That's all then?" Hermione asked.

Harry glanced back towards the Ravenclaw table, where Cho was whispering into Marietta Edgecombe's ear. "Erm, yeah...more or less...guess that she did say she thought the Daily Prophet was rubbish, and that she was looking forward to getting back onto the playing field with me."

Hermione internally fumed at the potential for double entendre within that seemingly innocent comment. Despite her anger (or maybe because of it?), she took Cho's side when Ron went off on the button, arguing that the Ravenclaw should be given the benefit of the doubt until Ron could prove that Cho had jumped onto the Tornado's bandwagon.

When Harry asked that his friends stop bickering, Ron shifted his verbal assaults to their Potions Instructor, in terms that ordinarily would have provoked a separate argument. But Hermione failed to take the bait when Ron blamed Dumbledore for keeping a "greasy-haired Dark Lord bootlicker" on staff.

"So, Hermione," Harry asked, "why aren't you sticking up for Dumbledore? You always have before...starting to think he's gone soft in the head, then?"

Hermione sighed. "No, Harry...I'm trying to honor your request. You did ask that Ron and I not bicker, didn't you?"

Harry chewed on his lip, and eventually decided that she had a point (or at least an excuse not to defend the Headmaster).

"Hey, speaking of trusting professors, would you look at that?" said Ron.

Harry and Hermione turned in the direction that Ron had nodded towards, and spied Professor McGonagall taking a seat at the Head Table next to Dolores Umbridge.

"Why'd she choose that seat, when there were still some at the end of the table?" Ron asked speculatively.

Neither Ron or Hermione had a good idea. That, of course, didn't keep Ron from spouting off.

"Maybe she's sucking up," he offered.

"Or maybe she's following the muggle maxim, 'Keep your friends close, and keep your enemies closer'."

"What's a maxim?" Ron asked.

"A wise saying."

"Sounds stupid to me...that'd mean that it'd be best if we ate with the slimy snakes."

"Well, the Sorting Hat did urge the four houses to work together this year..."

"Fine, you go sit on Draco's lap."

Hermione scowled at Ron, then turned to look over at the Slytherin table.

"Too late, looks like Pansy beat me to it."

Harry smiled when he confirmed Hermione's observation. He made an effort to read lips as the two Slytherin prefects talked with each other, but that effort failed when Ron forced his attention back towards the Head Table.

"Hey, have a look, McGonagall's gone and chewed on something that didn't agree with her."

Harry and Hermione watched the Transfiguration Professor's face turn white and clammy.

"Hey Fred!" came a comment from halfway down the table.

"Hey George!"

"Do you see what I'm seeing?"

"I usually do."

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking."

"As I said..."

"Look...there's the smoke from the nostrils, which would mean that it's..."

"Five"

"Four"

"Three"

"Two"

"One"

"Zed!"

The Transfiguration Professor had caught the eye of most of the Great Hall, even without the running commentary. As a result, hardly anyone missed the huge spray of projectile vomit that launched out of Professor McGonagall's mouth, and onto Umbridge's pink cardigan.

"Brilliant!"

"Taking notes, Fred?"

"Got it all down, George."

"What are you two on about?" Ron asked.

"Nothing," his brothers replied in tandem.

By now some of the students were screaming with delight. Those sitting at the staff table not covered with vomit were just as delighted, but far more disciplined at hiding their reactions. The staff also collectively decided to hide their ability to bring a Scourgify spell to bear on the bits of masticated Shepherd's Pie that covered the screaming toad.

The Headmaster also appeared to suffer from some selective hearing, and ignored his DADA professor. Dumbledore instead focussed on his Transfiguration Professor, who was still retching onto the floor.

"Miss Granger?" the Headmaster called out. "Would you please come here?"

Hermione nervously rose from her chair and approached the Head Table.

"Yes, Headmaster Dumbledore?"

"I believe that you were scheduled to meet with Madame Pomfrey right after lunch?"

"Yes, sir."

"If you wouldn't mind arriving a bit early, would you be willing to escort Professor McGonagall to the Infirmary?"

"Yes, of course, Headmaster," she replied. Hermione walked around behind the table, grabbed Minerva's elbow, and slowly walked with her towards the entrance of the Great Hall. The grim expression on the Gryffindor Head's face broke only long enough to allow a wink tossed towards Gryffindor Table.

"Unbelievable," said Fred.

"Unbelievable, but brilliant" echoed George with a wide grin.

"What are you two talking about?" Ron asked.

"Our clinical trials," Fred replied.

"I don't understand," whined Ron.

"I'm not surprised."

oo00OO00oo

"Madame Pomfrey? Are you there?"

"A bit early, aren't you Miss...oh Merlin, what happened?"

The Hogwarts Matron mirrored Hermione's aid and rushed to support the nauseous Transfiguration Professor's other arm.

"Must have eaten something that disagreed with her," Hermione stated.

Poppy glanced down at the vomit-strewn robes and said, "Well it was nice that you brought what she ate with you."

"Should I Scourgify her robes, Madame Pomfrey?" Hermione asked.

"Certainly not, girl...I'll need to run scans to see what set this off, and the soiled robes will save me a trip to the Great Hall." She then turned to Minerva and said, "Let's get you out of those robes, then."

McGonagall nodded weakly as she was led to a bed and made to sit.

"Pull the privacy curtain, would you dear?" Poppy asked Hermione. "Wouldn't do to have a sick wizard walk in and get an eyeful, would it?"

"Certainly not," Hermione replied, as she complied with the request, thinking of what Ron or Harry might say if they caught sight of the tabby cat tattoo.

"Do you know a decent silencing spell as well, dear?" the Nurse asked, as she helped Minerva out of her robes. "If you are to work here, you'll need to understand patient confidentiality requirements, especially when it comes to the treatment of staff."

"Yes, Madame Pomfrey," Hermione replied. She drew her wand and cast a strong silencing spell, taking the time to include the floor and airspace above the drawn curtains. When she turned back to the bed, she spied McGonagall, who was now dressed in a half-slip, trying to fish something out of her soiled robes.

Hermione was a little disappointed...it appeared that her Head of House was searching for her wand, so that she could reinforce the silencing spells. But then Minerva pulled a half-eaten piece of chocolate from a pocket, and tried to pop it into her mouth. Unfortunately, the confection's smell was enough to set her stomach off, and she fell into another round of dry heaves.

"Miss Granger, do you have any idea?"

"Yes, but I'd have to ask Professor McGonagall to confirm..."

"Well she's in no condition to reply, now, is she?"

"No, Ma'am."

"Well?" asked Poppy, as she held the hair of her patient away from her face.

"It may be due to a potion, or potion-laced bit of food, rather than food poisoning."

"Hmmm...worth a try," the Nurse mused. "Miss Granger, if you pull open the drawer to the table by your side, there should be a supply of bezoars within a tin container."

Hermione nodded, and retrieved one of the small shriveled objects.

"Now, I'll get her mouth open, which should allow you to pop it in..."

The young witch waited until the nurse had immobilized her patient's head with her hands, and placed the bezoar within her professor's mouth.

"Cover her mouth with her hand, while I grab my wand, please."

Hermione replied, thinking badly of herself that she was more worried about a dirty hand than Minerva's health. Meanwhile, the Nurse placed the tip of her wand against the patient's throat, and cast a spell that forced her to swallow.

"Right then, you can remove your hand, Miss Granger," Poppy replied.

Hermione complied with the request, and watched as McGonagall's breathing became less labored.

"How long will the bezoar take to work?" she asked.

"Should be seeing more an effect by now," Poppy mused.

With the immediate situation somewhat under control, Hermione remembered something, and went down onto her hands and knees.

"Miss Granger?"

"Think that she dropped it when...here we are, then," Hermione said brightly, as she picked up the bit of candy that had rolled underneath the bed. She held the half-eaten chocolate in front of Minerva and asked, "Still want to try, Professor?"

Minerva nodded, and popped the offered sweet into her mouth.

"Miss Granger, I like to think that I keep a clean Infirmary, but to offer something that's been on the floor..."

The Nurse's admonishment ebbed as she watched the color rapidly return to her patient's face.

"Morgana's milk teeth, what was that?" the Nurse demanded.

The suddenly revitalized patient turned towards Madame Pomfrey and smiled. "That, Poppy, was a necessary bit of subterfuge."

"No, okay, fine... subterfuge...but still, what was it?"

Minerva snorted as she reached back into her robe pockets for her wand. She cast a diagnostic spell towards the curtains, then cleaned her robes of the bits of pie and bile that hadn't had enough momentum to reach their intended target.

"The Weasley boys call them Puking...Puking Pasties...Pasttimes..."

"Puking Pastilles?" asked a gobsmacked Hermione.

Professor McGonagall touched her index finger to her nose, then pointed it towards her protege. "That's it...Puking Pastille."

"You just pranked the new DADA professor, didn't you?" Hermione asked in wonderment.

Minerva shrugged. "As I said, a necessary bit of subterfuge. By the way... excellent privacy charms, Hermione."

"Thank you, Profess..."

"It's Minerva, right now."

Hermione raised an eyebrow at the request. To call her professor by her first name implied that...

"Yes, Hermione," McGonagall said with a grin. "This is a Coven matter, and Poppy is one of your new Sisters."

Hermione's furrowed her eyebrows a bit, and she turned towards the Nurse. "But I didn't see you last night."

"Had a room full of patients...couldn't get away," Poppy replied with a smile. She then turned on Minerva and asked, "So what's this all about then...the nausea, and that chocolate?"

"Needed a bit of privacy to talk with Hermione," McGonagall explained. "But with Umbridge and Albus both marking me closely this morning, I needed a diversion, and a safe place to talk."

"So you used the candy that you confiscated from Fred and George?" Hermione asked with wonder.

Minerva smiled. "By any means necessary, Hermione, by any means...even if they are unpleasant. Not that I didn't enjoy spraying Umbridge's hideous jumper."

"Yes, well I imagine that they were still prototypes fashioned over the summer...I caught them trying to round up test subjects this morning."

"Will one of you please explain what you're talking about?" asked Poppy.

Minerva snorted, and replied. "The Weasley Twins have decided to develop their own line of pranking products."

"Oh Morgana help me," Poppy said, the blood draining from her face.

"Quite," said Minerva. "One of their experiments involves sweets that induce instant illnesses, with the goal of selling them to students who wish to skive out of class."

"So that bit of chocolate you were trying to swallow."

"The antidote half of the nougat," Hermione replied. "Looks like they need to play with the dosages, though...the antidote won't work if you're vomiting too violently to swallow it."

"Agreed," Minerva replied.

"So this was all a ruse, to gain a bit of time to talk behind these charmed curtains?" asked Poppy. She shook her head and sighed. "Whatever...I'm running an infirmary, here." She turned to McGonagall and said, "Were this an actual case of food poisoning, I'd have fixed you up by now...if you don't want to be missed, I'd keep your meeting short." Turning then to Hermione, she said, "Come to my office when you're done here."

And with that order, the Hogwarts Matron turned on her heel, and stepped outside of the curtains.

Minerva offered Hermione a conspiratorial smile. "I think Poppy might be angry at me."

"I agree," said Hermione. "But as to the meeting's purpose?"

"Right...it's about your prefect's badge," the Professor replied. "Did Amelia have the chance to talk about it?"

"She said that it's been charmed as a two-way communications device, but I was to ask you how it operates."

Minerva nodded. "Simply put, it employs a crude means of muggle communication...are you familiar with Morse's code, Hermione?"

The young witch nodded, not bothering to correct the misplaced possessive. "I've read about it...telegraph hasn't been used in the muggle world for ages."

"Look in the Muggle Studies section of the library, then...it will probably be written up there as the latest bit of their technology."

Hermione's mouth flew open at the comment. While it was clear that there was far more to her Transfiguration Professor than she'd imagine, she was still wrapping her mind around the concept of Minerva offering candid critiques, and treating her as a peer.

"So how is communication started?" she asked.

"Tap out the word 'start' on the center of your Prefect's Badge, using your wand tip and Morse's code," McGonagall explained. "You'll then compose your message, and punctuate it with the tapping of the word 'end'."

"And to receive a message?"

"Your message will cause Amelia's Auror badge to vibrate in brief bursts."

"Like a telephone ring?"

"You'd know better than me, Hermione," Minerva replied. "Your badge will do the same when Amelia sends a message. Three wand taps to the badge will allow the message to be relayed. If you want to respond to a message, you follow the same procedure...begin with the word 'start' and finish with the word 'end' in your reply. Any questions?"

"About the badge?" Hermione asked. "No, but I have many other questions about..."

Minerva silenced the young witch with a finger pressed against her lips. "Are they life-threatening?"

"Erm, no..."

"Then they need to wait, Miss Granger," the Professor replied, as she slipped her robes over her head. "I must get to my next lesson."

"Yes, Professor," Hermione replied, recognizing the shift in status by the use of her last name. She cancelled out her own silencing spells and drew open the privacy curtains.

"Thank you for your aid, Miss Granger," Minerva said, as she gave her head a slight jerk towards a painting on the other side of the room. "It is readily apparent that you have the makings of a fine Nurse's Aid."

"Thank you, Professor," Hermione replied, glancing at the magical portrait of a male Healer who watching the exchange with interest. "I will do my best to live up to your expectations."

"You always do, Miss Granger," Minerva replied warmly. "You always do."