Hermione Granger took a deep breath before walking through the high arched doors into the crowded ballroom.
Eyes turned her way as she entered the room. She looked down at her feet, unused to the attention.
Even though she was now twenty-one she still didn't see herself as beautiful to anyone but Ron. And she certainly didn't realize that she had blossomed into a stunningly lovely young woman.
A pretty, filmy, rose pink dress showed off her slender figure. It was a bit lower in the front that she was strictly comfortable with but Ginny had insisted that she wear it.
Her sister-in-law-to-be had coaxed her hair into perfect chestnut curls. She had only let the redhead put a little makeup on her… just enough to make her eyes look large and doe-like and her lips plump and kissable.
After Ginny was finished she had hardly recognized herself when she had looked in the mirror.
Now she kind-of wished she hadn't let her doll her up. She didn't like so many people staring at her.
If only Ron were here she would feel so much more at ease, she thought as she looked at the small diamond engagement ring winking on her finger.
Draco Malfoy graced her with a smile as he caught sight of her and she couldn't help smiling back. If someone had told her four years ago that she would be friends with Draco Malfoy she would have laughed in their face.
Yet here she was… at his engagement party.
Astoria Greengrass (soon to be Malfoy) was on his arm in a shimmering emerald-green gown, a radiant smile on her face as she greeted the guests. Though the blonde had a glacial beauty that reminded Hermione of Draco's mother she had a far warmer personality.
The two women had met when they were both doing internships at Saint Mungos and had quickly become friends. When Astoria had started dating Draco Hermione had found to her surprise that he really wasn't so bad. The Dark Lord's harsh treatment of his family had knocked most of the superiority out of him.
Of course neither Ron nor Harry would ever set foot at a party hosted by Malfoy…, which was why she was there on her own.
Suddenly she caught a flash of blonde hair and acid green material.
Over by the bar, sipping a margarita… was a witch who would make a top 5 list of people she least wanted to see. Rita Skeeter.
The reporter looked no different from when she had first met her 7 years ago. The same tight blonde curls… the same porcelain skin… and the same wicked long nails. The same scarlet lips curved in a knowing smirk.
She was wearing a low-cut, acid-green dress that hugged her curves. There were matching stiletto heels on her feet and her large crocodile-skin handbag was sitting on the bar beside her.
Damn it Hermione thought. What is that vulture doing here?
The blonde looked up. Surprise flickered over her face and her blue eyes behind her glasses widened slightly. Then she gave Hermione her usual smirk, turning back to her drink.
The brunette gritted her teeth. Even after so many years this woman still had the ability to irritate her. Ever since her return to writing for the Prophet she had gone out of way to dig up dirt. On Harry… on Ron… and particularly on her.
She had been the subject of many venomous articles, most of which were without any shred of truth. And though she had pretended it didn't bother her, even to her best friends, she had seethed every time Rita wrote something nasty about her.
Hermione pushed her way through the crowded, brightly-lit ballroom, wanting to get as far away from the poisonous blonde as possible.
She saw a restroom and ducked into it, taking a breath of relief. Away from the crowd and that… that woman she could breathe. Her hands gripped the edge of the basin as she leaned against it, taking several deep calming breaths.
When she had managed to get her anger under control she walked back out into the party.
Luckily Rita was nowhere to be seen. The only one sitting at the bar was a young witch with blue eyes and long pale-blonde wavy hair. Hermione smiled as she saw the bright yellow dress Luna was wearing. Clearly she hadn't changed much in the few years since she'd seen her.
She went over to the bar and sat with Luna. Soon they were sipping drinks and catching up. Enjoying reminiscing and starting to feel pleasantly tipsy she realized she was actually enjoying herself.
Particularly as there was still no sign of a certain reporter.
The party got move lively as a few more friends from DA showed up. The next thing she knew she was laughing, joking and dancing with a large group of old Hogwarts friends… including Neville Longbottom, Dean Thomas and Pavati Patil.
Suddenly she realized it was after midnight. Most of the older witches and wizards had left. And to be honest she had drank a few too many glasses of champagne.
She reluctantly said goodbye to her friends and got her purse… not noticing the beetle that had slipped inside it, hiding in one of the pockets.
When she got back to the small but spotless apartment she shared with Ron it was dark. Clearly he had decided to stay over at Harry's tonight.
Hermione tossed her handbag on the bed and ran a brush though her hair, loosening the curls.
A flash of movement in the mirror caught her eye. A large, glittering green beetle had crept out of her handbag and was sitting on her bed. A beetle with markings like glasses around its antennae…
Hermione scowled and whipped around, her hand going to her wand.
The beetle squeaked and took off, flying towards the window.
Hermione was too fast, sending a flash of blue-white light at it that hit it dead on. The beetle fell, growing larger as if in slow motion.
There was another flash of light and a familiar blonde, curvy witch was sprawled on Hermione's carpet.
What the hell are you doing here?" Hermione snapped, glaring at the blonde.
Rita looked up, blue eyes on the wand that was pointing in her face. Her eyes then went up to the girl holding the wand.
"Would you believe me if I said I got the wrong handbag?" she asked sweetly.
"No" scowled the brunette, not lowering the wand. A smirk curved the reporter's brightly painted lips. Hermione's scowl deepened.
"Did you really think I wouldn't recognize you as a bug?" the young witch asked scathingly. "I had you trapped in a jar long enough" she added nastily, a trace of smugness in her tone,
It was Rita's turn to scowl at the memory of being shut in a glass jar. Hermione grinned as she saw the irritation on the blonde's face.
Then the irritated look was replaced by Rita's usual smirk. "You may have stopped me writing for a year... but I soon made up for lost time" she purred.
Hermione gave her a look that made her glad looks couldn't kill. She looked furious. Clearly her little articles had got to 'Miss Perfect' after all.
"What? Didn't you like my writing" Rita said goadingly, blue eyes sparkling with wicked amusement.
The brunette's grip tightened on her wand. "I don't consider that trash writing" she snapped.
Rita chuckled. Usually she would have been pissed off at the attack on her writing, but she knew she had only said that because she had hit a nerve. Besides, the young witch really did look rather cute when she was angry... porcelain skin flushed and chestnut curls in disarray.
Confusion flashed over Hermione's face as she saw how she was looking at her. Her expression was almost predatory. But surely she was imagining it?
"What are you looking at?" she said peevishly, frowning at her. The reporter chuckled lasciviously, looking her up and down. "Nothing..." Rita said sweetly
Hermione gave her a 'I don't buy that for a moment look' and the blonde grinned slyly.
A wicked grin spread slowly over the young witch's face as it occurred to her there was one way she could get her back for all the poisonous things she had written…
"On the bed" she said imperiously.
The blue eyes widened and she raised one arched eyebrow. For once the reporter seemed to be lost for words.
Hermione took a few steps forward, holding the wand so it was inches from the blonde's face.
"I said… on the bed…"