A/N: I can't say sorry enough for the long wait. Thanks for sticking with me, guys!


Chapter 17 - Invitations and Liquid Luck

It became chillier as they entered November, the castle grounds covered in a thick mist as the wind rippled the fallen leaves that scattered against the stone steps and brittle grass. Hermione found herself curled next to the fireplace more often than usual, studying and reading various school books, with an emphasis on Advanced Potion Making. She was determined to beat Harry and his new book in Potions. The fact that he was top of the class was almost unbearable for her. Had it been his own skill that had gotten him to the top spot, she wouldn't be quite so bothered; as it was, reading side notes from an unknown user was both foolish and cheating.

It must have been a combination of Hermione's essays, verbal answers in class, and Harry's successful brewed potions that landed the pair of them invites for Slughorn's big party before the Christmas Holidays.

Slughorn had sent a fancy invitation by owl to Hermione, requesting her presence the night before the students departed home for the holidays. She was permitted to bring a guest, and even now she was in crucial debate, though the party was a month away.

She had not been very excited about the invite until she realized she could potentially get a row out of Ron.

Her first thought was Zacharias Smith, knowing he'd surely irritate Ron, but the more she thought about it, the more she realized it was not worth it. Surviving a night with Zacharias would be unlawful punishment to herself that she did not deserve. Naturally, Malfoy would be a prime candidate, but seeing as they hadn't spoken a word since the ball, that wasn't going to happen. There was one more person she could think of; someone that would no doubt push Ron to the limits. But could she really handle him for a night? Could she swallow her pride and invite him?

But then Hermione remembered the way she felt when she watched Ron with Lavender. As childish as it sounded—and she knew it did—she wanted to hurt him as much as he hurt her. Harry would not approve, but he simply did not understand, and she wouldn't tell him anyway.

Dipping her quill into a bottle of ink, she scribbled a quick note on a piece of parchment before departing for Herbology.

Cormac,

We didn't get a chance to meet back in the Three Broomsticks, so I was wondering: Would you like to go to Slughorn's party with me? You know, to catch up and have some fun.

Hermione

The note was somewhat dull and lame in Hermione's opinion, but what else could she say? Oh hi Cormac, I'm trying to get back at Ron Weasley and want to see him suffer the way I do when I see him with Lavender, so how about going to Slughorn's party with me?

Yeah, surely that would do the trick, with such an appealing offer and all.

Hermione sealed the note and with a tiny flick of her wand, it zoomed out of her dormitory toward its recipient.

To her sinister enjoyment, Ron had not received an invitation to the party, which seemed to put him in a really foul mood. He seemed to know she was upset about something, but could not figure out what it was. Whenever he asked Harry, Harry would shake his head and act like he didn't know. Hermione suspected he did, but Harry didn't like being caught in the middle.

Once, he shouted at in the middle of Potions, in front of everyone, demanding to know what her problem was. She had been so angry and embarrassed with him that she hadn't spoken to him since. She sat with Harry or Ginny during meal times and spent most of her free time in the library or her common room, avoiding him at all costs.

As if the stress of Potions wasn't enough, Runes was beginning to be a struggle, seeing as she was still Malfoy's partner. They were pretending their odd conversation in the Astronomy Tower had never happened and there was suddenly an awkward wall between them. Hermione had no idea why he was so closed off, so distant. He wasn't even mean to her. He just didn't seem to care about…well, anything. Not even jumping in to tease her when Crabbe or Goyle made a remark.

Something was definitely going on with him. Hermione just did not know what it was.

Later in the day, she walked with Harry to Transfiguration after leaving Herbology, folding a piece of parchment into her bag with a smile on her face. She rubbed her hands together, using the friction to warm them; the wind had been quite chilly in the greenhouse.

"Secret admirer?" Harry asked playfully. "I saw that note zoom in during Sprout's lesson."

"Oh, not really an admirer," said Hermione, trying her best to sound nonchalant. She was beyond relived with Cormac's answer, and wanted to surprise both Harry and Ron at the party. "Just a friend."

Harry seemed distracted when he said, "So have you talked to Ron yet?"

"No."

"Why don't you ju—"

"Just talk to him? Forget it, Harry. He's been acting like a prat and his outburst was beyond humiliating. I have nothing to say to him." She did not want to admit most of her anger toward him surrounded the girl he often had attached to his hip.

Harry opened his mouth, and closed it. He said nothing.

This is the best part about his company, Hermione thought. He didn't pry or push a subject. Harry would always listen, but he never tried to fix her problems. Ginny had reacted a bit differently: she had accidently spilled a bowl of pumpkin juice all over Lavender and Ron during breakfast. Lavender shrieked and ran from the Great Hall, mortified, while Ron's ears blazed scarlet.

It had been an excellent breakfast.

Hermione took a seat next to Harry when they arrived in Transfiguration. Quiet chatter and a cool breeze from a cracked window filled the room. Ron came in shortly after, pulling Lavender along by the hand. To Hermione's surprise, they did not sit next to each other like usual; instead, Lavender sat next to Parvati, a couple seats away. Ron sat directly behind Hermione, causing a shiver to run down her spin.

Soon after Crabbe stumbled his way in—how on earth did he manage to scrape an Acceptable?—Professor McGonagall came bustling from her office, carrying a large stack of parchment and The Guide to Transfiguration, Level 6. She turned her attention to the class after setting the parchment and book on her desk, adjusting her glasses as she spoke, "Good afternoon. From now until the holidays we shall be learning how to transfigure different parts of the human body."

The class broke out into quiet excitement and Hermione sat up a little straighter. She had been waiting for this lesson for weeks.

"Before we begin, I wish for you to read Chapter Eleven," said McGonagall. "It is crucial you understand the basic principles behind the incantation."

Hermione opened her book quickly and began re-reading the chapter before Harry had even pulled out his book.

The transfiguration of a human being is an extensive and complicated task only strong witches and wizards may perform. The art of such work is—

Hermione's thoughts were interrupted by a sharp poke in her back. She peered up at McGonagall, who seemed preoccupied with the papers on her desk, before turning around.

"What?"

"I wanted to say sorry," whispered Ron.

"You should be. Apology not accepted." Out of the corner of her eye, Hermione saw Harry fidget in his seat slightly, like he was trying not to listen but couldn't help it.

"I shouldn't have shouted at you. I just…I don't get why you're so mad at me."

"Hmm."

Ron hesitated and then dropped his voice even lower. "I thought maybe I could go with you to Slughorn's party since Harry said you were invited and you know, we could catch up or something."

"Did you? I'm sorry to inform you but I already have a date," snapped Hermione.

"Who?" asked Harry and Ron simultaneously, loud enough to cause other's to look at them.

"Cormac of course," she answered, as if they should have known that. She flipped the page of her book absentmindedly.

Harry gaped at her and Ron jumped nearly out of his seat. "What?" he half shouted.

The class turned to stare at Ron, as did Professor McGonagall. Her hand stilled on her quill and her eyes flicked up in that intense way of hers, causing Ron to shrink back into his seat at the weight of her stare. Lavender looked as shocked as if he had sprouted five heads. The silence seemed to stretch forever and Hermione felt her own face starting to flush.

"Is there a problem, Mr. Weasley?" McGonagall's voice was flat as stone.

Hermione did not dare look behind her; she could only imagine his mortified and embarrassed expression.

"N-no, Professor," said Ron quietly.

"Good," said McGonagall briskly. She gave him one final stern look before going back to her parchment.

Hermione sighed and dropped her gaze back to the textbook.

To begin the transfiguration, one must clear the mind completely and concentrate on th—

She was nudged in the back once again by Ron.

"What now, Ronald?" she hissed over her shoulder.

"Cormac McLaggen? You can't be serious, Hermione! He's a prat! He's snogged almost every girl in school!"

Hermione's eyes shot up quickly, but McGonagall was too absorbed in whatever it was she was writing.

"Not every girl. Obviously he hasn't snogged Lavender yet," said Hermione, "as you two are too busy thrashing around like a pair of eels."

Neville coughed uncomfortably and she felt Harry twitch in his chair, no doubt her words carrying over to the both of them. Ron was silent for the rest of class.


Saturday came in the blur, the first match of the Quidditch season hanging in the air as Gryffindor would face Slytherin. The air was chilly and foggy, and not entirely ideal riding conditions, but it was 'doable' according to Harry.

Hermione wrapped her crimson and gold scarf around her neck and made her way down to breakfast alone, wishing more than ever that Harry had been a Prefect instead of Ron. Honestly, what was Dumbledore playing at? How could Ron be more deserving than Harry?

The Great Hall was filled with chatter, louder than usual at this hour, the excitement for the first Quidditch match of the season hanging in the air. Harry was sitting at the Gryffindor table with the rest of his team, their heads bent together.

Dean was to play Chaser in place of Katie, as she still remained in St. Mungo's. Ginny and Demelza Robbins were the other Chasers. Two younger boys named Jimmy Peakes and Michael Coote were the beaters, leaving Ron for Keeper and Harry for Seeker. Ginny had told Hermione about Ron's horrendous practices. He had caused Demelza to cry on several occasions and had accidently hit a bludger towards Coote, giving him a bloody nose.

Hermione was in a tight bind, unable to decide who she wanted to win more…Malfoy or Ron. Although she didn't want to admit it, part of her would rather Gryffindor suffer if it caused Ron to lose in the end. She felt just that selfish that she was embarrassed at the thought.

Ginny waved her over as the team broke apart. Ignoring Ron, Hermione took a seat and aimed her question to Ginny and Harry.

"Are you ready for the big game?"

"Yeah, I think we're going to win actually," said Harry, spooning eggs onto his plate." Dean has done fairly well with the adjustment and so has everyone else."

Hermione poured a glass of pumpkin juice and glanced at Ron reluctantly; he looked slightly green. Harry seemed to notice this as well. He clapped a hand to Ron's back.

"Cheer up mate. You need to eat something."

"Can't eat," Ron mumbled miserably.

"At least have some pumpkin juice," said Harry, sliding a glass towards Ron. If Hermione hadn't been paying attention, she would have missed Harry slip something into Ron's drink. Her eyes widened, flooded with shock.

"Stop!" she yelled, looking exasperatedly at Harry, forgetting she was mad at Ron. "You put something in his drink. I just saw you do it!"

"I have no idea what you're talking about Hermione," answered Harry flatly.

She pointed at the goblet frantically. "Ron, don't drink that! He probably spiked it with lucky—"

"Don't tell me what to do," Ron interrupted. "Why don't you go over and talk to McLaggen about the match or something?" He put the glass to his mouth and swallowed the juice down in one gulp. Then he slammed the goblet down, stood, and sulked out of the Great Hall. Hermione watched him go with wide, gaping eyes. She turned to Harry, suddenly furious.

"I saw you put something in his drink, Harry," she said quietly so Ginny did not overhear. "You know that potion is illegal to use during a Quidditch match!"

"Hark whose talking? How's your Confundus Charm lately?"

Hermione glared at him and stormed out of the Great Hall, not bothering to wish Harry good luck.

When she reached Vladimir's portrait—still fuming and angry—she shouted "immortal" at him so loudly that he almost wouldn't let her in. He swung open reluctantly and she marched across the common room towards her dormitory; however, before she could touch her wand to the Hogwarts Crest, the portrait swung open. Malfoy stepped out, looking white in the face and gaunt. He was so distracted that he almost ran right into her.

Hermione took a step back, suddenly finding the room to be very small. It was the first time she had been alone with him since the Astronomy Tower. His face was unnaturally hollow, his platinum hair ruffled, like he had spent hours running his hands through it. But his clothes, a solid black suit, surprised her more than anything. Not because of the style or color, but because of what today was.

Malfoy seemed to notice her then, his grey eyes snapping to hers. They were so empty all she managed to do was stare at him. He looked at her only a moment, expressionless, before continuing through the common room.

"Shouldn't you be at the pitch?" she asked suspiciously.

"As if it concerns you, Granger," he muttered, not bothering to look back at her. "No, I'm not flying today."

"Why not?" It wasn't like him to miss a Quidditch match. Especially against Gryffindor and he was the Captain.

"I don't feel well."

"But you're the—"

He came to an abrupt halt at Vladimir's portrait and whirled around. "Don't tell me how to run my team, Granger. And if you must know because you're incapable of keeping your nose out of other peoples' business, I left Urquhart in charge. You should be celebrating. Potter might catch the snitch after all." With that he shoved open the door and vanished out of sight.

Hermione stared after him in shock. If Malfoy really was sick, where would he be going? Hospital Wing, maybe? Yes, that was probably it. As much as she didn't want to admit it, he was right. It really wasn't any of her business. With a sigh, she decided she better hurry down to the pitch if she didn't want to be late.


She took her seat in the Gryffindor stands next to Neville. She scanned the crowd, half hoping to find Cormac and sit with him. Let Ron take that in, she thought spitefully, but Cormac was nowhere to be found.

The wind was biting, so she slid on a pair of gloves and twisted her scarf higher around her neck and face. She was relieved when Madam Hooch threw the Quaffle up ten minutes early.

"Well, here we go. It's the first match of the season everyone and I say Gryffindor is surprisingly at an advantage today, as two key Slytherin players are out: Malfoy and Zabini," said a familiar, arrogant voice Hermione recognized as Zacharias Smith, a Hufflepuff player. "Looks like Potter might catch a break, seeing as the team he's put together. Many thought perhaps a new Keeper would surface, after Weasley's performance last year, but no matter. Being the best friend of the Captain sure does come with advantages…"

There were several boos from the Gryffindor stands. Hermione shot a glare toward the commentator's podium. Who on earth would let him commentate? she thought bitterly. I'm so glad I asked Cormac and not him.

"And Urquhart has the Quaffle. He's racing towards Weasley…"

Hermione sucked in a breath and covered her eyes slightly, prepared for the worst. To everyone's surprise, including his own, Ron caught the Quaffle.

"Well, looks like Weasley had a stroke of luck that time…" said Smith through the magical microphone.

Ron tossed the Quaffle to Ginny, who soared across the pitch and sent the ball flying straight through the top post with perfect ease.

"And there's a Weasley who knows how to play. Oh, sorry Professor. Gryffindor scores the first goal. Ten to zero."

About a half hour later, Gryffindor was leading one hundred points to twenty. Ginny had scored most of the points but Demelza scored her share. Hermione only remembered Dean scoring twice, but he seemed to play well with Ginny and Demelza. Ron had made some truly miraculous saves, though Hermione blamed that on luck. There was still no sign of the snitch. Harry was carefully circling the top of the pitch like a vulture waiting for its prey. But suddenly Blaine Harper, Malfoy's replacement Seeker, pointed his broom and dove straight toward Harry. With shocking speed, Harper bumped into Harry roughly, nearly knocking him of his broom.

Hermione shouted, as did the other Gryffindors, but Madam Hooch had missed the collision, being too busy reprimanding another Slytherin.

"Did you see that?" Hermione asked Neville exasperatedly, furious at the fifth year replacement.

"Yeah, and Madam Hooch didn't even blow her whistle!" said Neville angrily.

"Bloody hell!" roared Seamus, placing his hands over his face. "Call somethin' Hooch!"

"We're still winning you know," said Parvati, who was standing next to Seamus. Lavender stood on the other side of Parvati, clutching her scarf as if her life depended on it, her eyes trained on Ron with nothing but pure admiration. Hermione wanted to vomit.

"Looks like a little problem with Potter and Harper? Seems Harper has taken care of it and—Oh! I think Harper found the snitch!" shouted Smith, as Harper shot towards the bottom of the pitch.

The crowd gasped as Harry darted closely after him. Harper was closer and Slytherin would win if he caught the snitch first. He chanced a glance behind at Harry, but Hermione knew that was his mistake. It was only a millisecond but it was all Harry needed. He was too fast with his Firebolt and flew past Harper. He snatched the snitch, holding the tiny golden ball high in the air.

The Gryffindors howled with applause. Hermione heard a loud roar and turned to see Luna Lovegood, wearing a large, golden lion on her head. Seamus was hugging Neville and Parvati and Lavender were screaming in excitement.

Hermione waited until the crowd died down to make her way to the changing rooms. As pleased as she was about Gryffindor winning—and she was pleased—she still needed to talk to Harry. When he emerged from the changing rooms, she grabbed him by the arm and pulled him off to the side.

"I need to talk to you," she said in a determined voice. "I already told you: Slughorn said that potion was illegal to use during Quidditch matches."

Despite her tone and the seriousness of the situation, Harry was smiling. "Hermione, I didn't do anything," he said.

"I saw you do it Harry!" shouted Hermione, now becoming angry. It didn't matter how important Quidditch was to him. He had broken the rules. And she saw him do it. She saw it with her very own eyes!

"No, you didn't." His grin was infuriating. He reached into his robes and pulled out a tiny bottle full of shimmering gold. "I wanted Ron to think I did it. I knew you were watching and would say something."

Hermione was thunderstruck.

"You mean Ron actually saved everything without luck?" she said in a half whisper.

"What's that supposed to mean?" said a furious voice from behind them. Ron was staring angrily at them both, red and sweaty in the face.

"I didn't mean…" Hermione started, feeling a flush on her own face. "You thought Harry gave it to you too, Ron!"

"Yeah, well, that doesn't really matter now does it?"

"How about we go to the Gryffindor Common Room? I heard Dean and Seamus are throwing a party…" said Harry desperately, trying to blow the heated moment over.

But Hermione was too angry now, too tired of fighting with Ron. "You both can go! Have a lovely time!" she said heatedly, and stormed back to the castle.

She got about halfway there when she decided this afternoon seemed to be a good time to visit Hagrid, having no interest in entering the castle for a couple of hours. She walked alone towards Hagrid's hut, passing the vegetable patch and smelling the sweet air filled with fall leaves.

When she reached the hut, Hermione knocked twice. Hagrid opened the door a second later, beaming at the sight of her.

"Hello Hermione! S'nice to see yeh," he said, moving back so she could come in.

"Hi Hagrid," she greeted happily. "I'm sorry I haven't visited in a while. I've been so busy you know."

"So'kay. I know how busy yer schedule is, and Prefect duties o'course," said Hagrid reproachfully.

"Yes, I would have thought Dumbledore might have been a bit kinder," she said bitterly, thinking, suddenly, about her living arrangements.

Hagrid seemed to interpret her words correctly. His dark eyes softened and he said, "Dumbledore'll have his reasons for puttin' yeh with Malfoy."

She laughed. "I would like to know those reasons."

"Where's Harry an Ron?" asked Hagrid suddenly, looking around as if expecting them to jump out at any moment.

"Oh…they're at Gryffindor Tower, celebrating the match," said Hermione, trying to sound neutral.

If he noticed her detached tone, he did not show it. "O'course. Here, have sum tea."

Hermione smiled as he poured scalding tea into a giant blue mug. She took a sip, allowing the warm cinnamon flavored liquid to heat her insides pleasantly. It was surprisingly tasty, unlike most of his cooking disasters.

She spent the afternoon talking with Hagrid. They talked about school, her parents, the Order, and other miscellaneous things. It felt nice to talk with Hagrid, someone she felt comfortable with and didn't have to censor her thoughts. Hermione had missed him very much since their first visit.

When the sun started to lower in the sky, she bade Hagrid goodbye and set off towards the castle, promising to return soon. It would be close to dinner time and Hermione's stomach had been growling for over an hour.

As she entered the Great Hall, her eyes moved on their own accord and fell toward the Slytherin table. No Malfoy. Maybe he really is sick. Or maybe he's up to no good. With a shake of her head, Hermione put the thought out of her mind and made her way towards Ginny.


A/N: Thank you for reading and thank you so much for waiting. I know my updates have been slow, but I really do appreciate your patience. Even though this story is written, I still have to re-read and fix every chapter to make it the best I can for you guys. Takes a while sometimes! lol We will get to the end though. I promise!

Review responses:

Suzy58: "I think the changes you had made, suited to this chapter perfectly. However you should be careful not to make progression in their realtionship seem too slow. So it wouldn't be like they fall in love in the last chapter or two all of sudden, without any previous real connection between them." - Thank you! Oh no, I wouldn't do that, no worries! This story is very long actually, and there are plenty of upcoming moments that bring them closer. I just didn't want them to fall too soon. :)

oiue90999: "WHAT HAPPENED TO CF?! Draco talked differently, Hermione thought it was Harry who gave her the mask, Hermione didn't "snap" at Astoria" - Haha let me explain those changes. As I was re-reading, I realized Draco would not have bought that mask for Hermione that early in the story. That was OOC. It made more sense that he'd loan her one of his mother's. It's still a small kindness, but it makes more sense for his character, I think. Hermione does snap at Astoria at the ball when she insulted Cedric. Her encounter at the dress shop was a bit more civil in the editted version because well, Hermione isn't a bitch, which a lot of authors paint her out to be. If it's one thing I hate in fanfiction, it's bitchy fits and "mean girls." Hermione gets jealous easily, but in the books I think she deals with that in a silent treatment. Which is why she's ignoring Ron quite a bit now.

asfd: "There was a particular scene that was originally in this chapter, where Ron rudely asks Hermione "Where have you been?" Something happens between them. But more importantly, Draco stood up for Hermione." - I liked that scene too, but I think it was too OOC for both Ron and Draco. In the scene, Ron grabs Hermione roughly and I don't think that would happen in canon. And at this stage, I don't think Draco is quite ready to stand up for her. But what's more important to me, and what I changed in the chapter, is that Hermione stands up for herself. I think that's more appealing to her character, standing up for herself instead of a man doing it for her. [And it was appealing to Draco, as he gave her a proud look.] Hermione is a very strong, independent woman, and that's something I don't want to ignore with her character.

I've seen many dramione stories tend to fall into the pattern of making Ron out to be a monster that he isn't, and making Draco a knight in shining armor. Both are not true, and I'm trying to avoid doing that, lol. Draco isn't bad, but he doesn't turn into a hero over night. And Ron isn't a monster. He has jealous tendencies, but he's not a bad guy either. :P