Hermione pulled her cloak further around her and wrapped her scarf around an extra time. It was cold but it was also lovely and sunny with a crisp frost on the grass. She made her way down the slope towards the Greenhouses but turned right and came out by the big open field at the back of the Castle.
It was already full of pupils, teachers, competitors, some of the elderly wizards who had been in charge of the competition and some other visitors who Hermione recognized from The Ministry. Over in one corner, the five mentors were standing together. She gave Pansy a glare, not caring that she was too far away for her to notice. There were several large obstacles and contraptions at one end. At this end there was a large marquee and inside she could see desks, chairs and more people.
"Seating to the left, Professor Granger," one of the 6th year prefects said as she walked past him.
"Thank you, Matthew."
Hermione did as instructed and approached the seats that were arranged to one side of the field and were already quite full. She saw some familiar faces half way along, including Harry, Ginny and Neville and started to walk towards them. On the row behind them was Draco who was looking straight at her. She wanted to be angry with him but somehow she just couldn't bring herself to be. She took the seat next to him and he looked at her, biting his lip.
"I thought you might not be speaking to me," he said.
"I thought I might not be speaking to you, as well," Hermione answered.
"I wouldn't blame you."
"Have you persuaded her to agree to mark the children properly?"
"I think so - but it came at a price." Draco sighed.
"What price?" Hermione didn't like the sound of this.
Draco sighed. "You have to promise not to go crazy."
"I don't have to promise anything - just tell me."
"I've agreed that, after the competition is over, I'll take her out to dinner."
Hermione looked at Draco, her eyes wide. "Are you joking?"
"No - I just needed her to be pacified so that she scored fairly. She thinks that the date will be the first of many but she's wrong, of course." Draco looked intently at Hermione. "Thank you for not asking."
Hermione didn't need to question what he meant. He was thanking her for not asking what it was that Pansy was threatening him with. "Whatever it is, you shouldn't let Pansy blackmail you," she pointed out.
Draco sighed. "I know I shouldn't but it isn't about me."
"The children?" Draco looked at her and nodded.
"I don't like it," Hermione said.
"I'm sorry," Draco answered her, quietly.
Hermione decided to let the subject drop for now. Draco had to chose to tell her himself and she hoped her would. Harry turned around from the row in front, ending their conversation.
"I wondered where you were. We've been here ages," he said.
"I know - I was sorting out some 3rd years who were fighting as they left class," Hermione explained. "Has anything happened yet?"
"No - nothing," Neville answered. As he spoke, Hermione saw Renee moving along the row to take the only empty seat left, right next to Neville.
"How is Renee?" Hermione asked, in a whisper and Neville opened his eyes innocently.
"She'll be here in a minute, why don't you ask her?" he said.
"What Hermione means by - how is she," Draco leant forward to speak to Neville, "is - are the two of you getting it on yet?"
"Draco!" Hermione slapped his arm but Neville just laughed.
"Well, my answer to your question, Hermione," Neville said, also in a whisper, "is not yet, but I'm hoping that'll change soon."
Hermione gave a little sound of delight and Neville laughed again. Hermione waited until Neville had turned to greet Renee before she shot Draco a glare.
"You need to say what you mean instead of beating around the bush," Draco said, defensively.
"I was being diplomatic."
"No, you were beating around the bush." Draco repeated so she huffed at him. "Who are you going to follow around the tests?" Draco asked and then paused, obviously wondering if she was going to let him change the subject so swiftly.
"Ella and Scorpius."
Draco looked at her intently. "You don't have to do that - I understand that you might want to follow some of the others."
"I want to follow Ella and Scorpius," Hermione repeated. She didn't look at him but she knew he was trying not to smile. Irritating git!
The mini tests were enjoyable to watch and the judges and mentors were all making notes. Draco and Hermione followed firstly Scorpius, who faired very well except in the test where you had to mount and dismount your broom while it was moving. Ella, who they followed next, appeared to be doing well but it was difficult to tell in the mental tests without seeing the results, and they couldn't ask her how she thought she was doing.
As Ella approached one of the tests that Pansy was stood by, Hermione held her breath. She tried not to look at Pansy because she knew if she did it would be a glare and she couldn't jeopardize Ella's chances. The test involved a moving puzzle with the pieces suspended magically - having to be rearranged into a different shape to pass. Ella seemed to solve it easily and with a large grin on her face - this was her sort of puzzle as her quick mind could work it out easily. She then had to take a seat by Pansy, who spoke to her quietly.
Hermione watched, still holding her breath, but amazingly, Pansy was seemingly being nice to Ella and at one point Ella actually smiled. Hermione hoped that it wasn't all an act and that she was standing by her promise to score fairly. Hermione felt resentment rise in her throat at the thought of Draco going out to dinner with Pansy. How could the woman degrade herself by forcing him to go with her, when he quite obviously didn't want to? What was the purpose of it? Hermione couldn't believe that even Pansy might think she could make Draco be attracted to her over just one night? It worried Hermione that she might have something else up her sleeve.
Finally, the tests were all over and there was to be an interval while the final results were decided. Hermione couldn't believe that soon it would all be over and they would know the winner. She was talking with Harry and Ginny about how well Albus had done, when she felt a tap on her shoulder.
Hermione turned to find Pansy standing behind her. She tried to keep her face neutral. "Yes?"
"Has he told you?"
Hermione glanced at Harry and Ginny who were still close enough to hear. "Has he told me what?"
"About tonight?" Pansy grinned but it was ugly. "I just want everything to be clear to everyone before I...we decide the winner."
Hermione tried to stop her anger bubbling over, at the thinly veiled threat. How dare this woman behave like this? Hermione couldn't keep the sarcastic tone from her voice. "Yes - it's all clear. You're dragging Draco out with you and I have to bite my tongue and let you do it."
Ginny had stepped closer and Hermione could see her listening intently.
"Not going to kick up a fuss are you, Granger? Because I have to have everyone's cooperation for this to be deal," Pansy's unattractive face was too close and Hermione took a step backwards. "You should understand that different bloods can't mix and step aside gracefully."
"I'll never understand why you would want to force someone to go out with you!" Hermione shook her head. "So, have your moment of glory because it'll be the only one."
"I wouldn't bet on that," Pansy's voice was menacing again.
"Being your usual obnoxious self, Parkinson?" Ginny intervened.
"Get lost, Weaslette."
"No - I won't. I don't know what you're up to but why don't you bugger off and leave Hermione alone?" Ginny stepped forward, her eyes flashing.
"Leave it, Ginny," Hermione said.
"Good - that's good," Pansy nodded approvingly at Hermione. "Glad you're being sensible."
"I can ignore you for one night more," Hermione said. "You're pathetic, so I should feel sorry for you really."
Pansy stepped forward again, right up close to Hermione. "It won't be one night."
"You think?" Hermione sounded sceptical. "You're disillusioned - I pity you."
"What's going on?" Ginny asked.
Pansy completely ignored her and spoke to Hermione again. "No - see, I'm not. Tonight is my first date with Draco but not my last." She looked around for him. "I know I can remind him how great we were together..."
"For Merlin's sake!" Hermione interrupted.
Pansy sneered at her. "And if he has trouble remembering, then I have some other persuasive techniques I can use." She laughed. "I don't care if you don't believe me, because I can prove you wrong and I will." Pansy sniffed. "You keep out of my way - do you understand?"
"Don't worry, in about 2 hours time, when this is all over, I hope I never see you again!"
"That suits me," Pansy smirked. "Glad to hear you agreeing to this so easily - although I am surprised you're not putting up more of a fight for him." Pansy's face showed her amusement. She knew that Hermione hadn't meant she was stepping aside but she was enjoying gloating over it.
"A fight! Are you kidding me?" Hermione's voice raised and a few people turned to look at her. "Draco doesn't like you - he hates you! He'll always hate you - it doesn't matter what you do!"
"Where as he's totally besotted with you is he, Mudblood?"
Ginny stepped forward and pushed Pansy away from Hermione. "Shut up, Parkinson before I make you," she said, her eyes flashing.
Pansy withdrew her wand and pointed it at Ginny. "I'm not scared of a Weasley. You wouldn't know good breeding if it came and hit you full in the face! I'm ashamed you're even classed as wizards!"
"Blood? Who cares about blood? Stop living in the past!" Ginny pushed Pansy's wand away. "Have you actually taken a look at Malfoy lately?"
"He's handsome, charming and sophisticated...what the hell would he see in a troll like you?" Ginny's famous temper had snapped and Hermione knew it was a lost battle to try and stop this argument accelerating. If circumstances had been different, she would have immediately questioned Ginny's description of Draco, surprised by her flattering words, but now wasn't the time.
"One more word, Weasley and I'll hex you," Pansy had her wand pointed again.
"Stop it!" Hermione intervened. This couldn't happen right now, with the competition not even over. Some more people had stopped to look and Hermione knew she had to stop it. "We can't spoil the competition - put your wand away!" She said to Pansy.
"Tell her to apologize and promise to leave Draco and me alone, and I'll do that," Pansy said. She glared at Hermione, her narrow eyes challenging.
"Hermione..." Ginny started to say but Pansy put her wand to Ginny's throat.
"Let her answer me," Pansy instructed, threateningly.
Hermione saw Ginny's eyes flash again and stepped towards her friend but it was too late. Ginny, in one swift movement, pushed Pansy's wand away whilst getting her own out. Impressively, and without Hermione actually seeing the movement, Ginny reversed their position, her own wand now against Pansy's throat.
"Ginny..." Hermione warned trying to tried to step in between them "Ginny - you can't attack her," Hermione insisted, but Ginny wasn't listening. She was raising her wand, about to cast a spell and Hermione again tried to step in between them.
Now, Pansy actually pushed Hermione out of the way, her push so forceful, that it nearly knocked Hermione over. Out of the corner of her eye, Hermione could see Harry approaching and she got her own wand out, knowing she could probably beat both of the other women at casting a spell. That was when she saw Ginny stop in mid-air - her mouth open to say the spell. She seemed to freeze and then her wand dropped and she fell backwards to the floor.
Hermione looked around to see Draco a few feet away with his own wand in the air. It took a few seconds for it to sink in that he had actually frozen Ginny. She stared at him, a feeling of panic hitting her as she realised he'd chosen to hit Ginny with the spell, rather than Pansy. Her panic quickly changed to anger and then fury as she let what had happened sink in.
Harry was now fussing over Ginny and Pansy was standing watching Hermione, a gloating look on her face but all of Hermione's emotions were aimed at the man who had just hexed her friend instead of the vicious, spiteful and awful woman who had been threatening her.
"Is she okay?" Draco was next to them, asking Harry the question of Ginny, who was sitting up holding her head. A small crowd were now watching, albeit discreetly.
Hermione didn't let Draco hardly finish his sentence before she stepped in front of him. "Is she okay?" she said, her voice bubbling with anger. "How can she bloody well be okay as you just blasted her with a spell!?"
"It was just a stunning spell - I had to stop her..."
"No! No, you didn't!" Hermione's voice was loud but she didn't care. She pointed a trembling finger at Pansy who was still watching smugly. "It was her you should have been stopping!"
"No, Hermione...I couldn't..." Draco answered.
"Yes you could! I don't care what she has over you - I don't care who it might upset. My friend," she pointed at Ginny, "was defending me," she now pointed at herself, "because this stupid, ignorant, pig faced..."
"Shut up!" Hermione actually shouted at Draco now, who looked totally shocked. "She's a bitch and she was attacking my friend who was simply defending me...me," she pointed at herself, "who incidentally you're supposed to care about!"
"How dare you call me that you low life..." Pansy's voice came to her but Hermione was too angry to care.
"I do care about you..." Draco insisted but Hermione cut him off.
"Not enough! How dare you hex Ginny? How dare you? It should be her," Hermione pointed at Pansy again, "her on the ground! Not my friend who was helping me!" Hermione pushed Draco's chest hard. "So, I tell you what - you go out with her tonight. I hope you enjoy it and don't worry about the future because you're free to go out with her as much as you like." Draco tried to grasp Hermione's shoulders but she shook him off. " If I never see her miserable, ugly face again it'll be too soon and it's beginning to sound like a good idea if I never see yours again either!" Hermione ignored the terrible, pale look on Draco's face and finished with a flourish. "How's that for speaking my mind? Bet you wish I was still beating around the bush!" She spun round abruptly away from him, her whole body shaking.
It wasn't until she'd turned that she noticed Ella and Scorpius both standing watching them. Scorpius had tears on his face, the sight of which made Hermione's heart contract. Ella's face was cold and almost white, her eyes hollow and Hermione felt tears forming as she practically ran off towards the Castle.
Now - the thing you all have to remember is that the best thing about an argument is the making up again...