"There has to be some place you'd like to go, Hermione," Ginny prompted, her arm linked with Harry's as the group of four- Ginny, Harry, Hermione and Ron- walked down the cobblestone street of Hogsmeade. The young Weasley girl stepped clumsily with Harry in their attempts to keep as close as possible. Hermione was on Ginny's other side, shoulder bumping against Ron's as they went- not quite the stroll of two happy couples that Hermione knew Ginny hoped for, but not too far from it.
"Not really, no." There was not a thing that she needed. Her stomach was full- they were all stuffed with Honeydukes samples and tea and biscuits from Madame Puddifoots. They had been to Zonko's, on the boys' requests, and Spintwitches, to get Ginny a broom maintenance kit. This was the time, according to their previous school trip to Hogmeade, for Hermione to beg the group to accompany her to Tomes and Scrolls, where she'd peruse the shelves for what seemed like hours until they managed to drag her away. But the library had all the books she needed at the moment- Hermione was discovering new volumes everyday in her week of organizing the endless piles. "I just have to be at the Three Broomsticks in half an hour."
Ron bumped her shoulder once again, playfully- but not the type of play the pair would have attempted before this year. "I thought you wanted to be normal this time around."
Harry grinned, and Hermione pushed Ron back. "And?"
"Planning a giant dance hardly seems normal."
Ron was right, and Hermione was aware, but she figured planning such an event would be normal for someone like her. That's who she always identified with, at school and in those Muggle movies: the students who did more than school work, who started clubs and organized charities and planned events. There were more important things, of course- saving the Wizarding World, for one, and grades of course. But Hermione had balanced these both for six years; she could manage a dance, especially for McGonagall.
"You should be happy, Ron. The dance will take up some of of her free time." Ginny spoke with a wicked smile. "No telling what else- or who else- she'd use it for, with you not around. There was no real malice in Ginny's voice, but she happened upon just the right joke to put a few more inches between Ron and Hermione. The younger witch's own face fell when she realized her teasing was not well received.
"I am a bit excited to get started," Hermione added, changing the subject after a short pause. She was to meet her co-chair today, at the Three Broomsticks. When McGonagall told her this plan, the professor herself was not yet sure if the intended co-chair was 'up to the challenge.'"I don't know who I'm working with yet, but if Professor McGonagall picked them as well, it's sure to be someone decent. Anthony Goldstein, maybe." Ron grumbled, but she continued. "I have dozens of ideas I want to get down on paper."
It wasn't long before the four reached the Three Broomsticks, their place of parting. Hermione hugged her oldest friends- she had missed them more than she thought possible in their week apart. Harry squeezed her tightly and Ron added a kiss on the cheek right as they pulled apart, as if his only hope was to sneak it in. Hermione smiled back warmly, and even hugged Ginny, who she would no doubt see in a few hours, to let her know that her earlier slip of words was nothing. Spending time with these friends, no matter the tension between herself and Ronald, had put her in a good mood.
Hermione Granger was not stupid. The Three Broomsticks was packed, as it usually was on Hogwarts's Hogsmeade days, but as soon as she laid eyes on the back of the blonde Slytherin sitting at a booth by himself, she knew him to be her partner. It was enough to wash away her good mood, and almost enough to send her back through the door and up to McGonagall's office, begging to be let out of her obligation. The witch approached his table quickly, and sat before he could object. "Malfoy."
There were no objections from Draco Malfoy, however; she didn't even see a hint of surprise or confusion. He had apparently figured out their situation just as quickly. It was, after all, a unity ball that needed to be planned. It was not just clever that McGonagall had chosen the Pureblood, Slytherin Prince and the Mudblood, Gryffindor Savior- it was common sense. They should have expected it. "Granger. Figures you'd volunteer for something like this."
"Mm. And you're not here by choice?"
"No," Draco said as if it were obvious. Madame Rosmerta had strutted over to their table, and Malfoy gave her the order without looking up, let alone gawking at her as the other boys of Hogwarts were known to do. Hermione would have attributed this small credit to Malfoy, had she not noticed that the buxom waitress was clearly avoiding looking at the Slytherin. Hermione had forgotten the connection between the two- Malfoy and his Death Eater posse had convinced- Confunded, maybe- the witch to help him smuggle in the cursed necklace in sixth year, the necklace that was meant to kill Dumbledore, and ended up hurting poor little Katie Bell. That wasn't the type of thing Rosmerta was known for- she was a sweet lady. She must be angry, maybe ashamed. If Hermione was in her place, she's have a hard time looking Malfoy in the face, as well.
"Just a Butterbeer, please." Hermione offered the pub's owner a smile, and she returned it gratefully before leaving to get their drinks. There was no sign of the kind smile when Granger turned back to Draco Malfoy. "Why are you here, then?"
"It's a punishment of sorts. I was out past curfew-"
"I told you that you'd-"
"Yes, thank you Granger, but I don't make a habit of listening to you."
"I don't want to spend all my free time fighting with you, Malfoy." I'd rather not spend time with you at all, she thought. She didn't need him to bring this to her attention; Hermione was already discovering that he would not listen, and she could have predicted as much, had she been given the chance. This would be difficult, if it happened at all. "I want to do the job I promised I'd do. So- do you have any ideas to contribute?"
"I'm sure you've already got the whole thing planned." He stopped, and looked at Hermione expectantly. She had been in this position too many times before, however- it was just like when Harry and Ron talked her into doing their homework, or her partner in potions played dumb until she had completed the entire brew. She would not pick up slack from Malfoy, especially not this early in their task. She knew he had good grades and some intelligence- he was capable.
The silence hung for a few seconds, Malfoy just as stubborn as Granger, during which Madame Rosmerta brought over their drinks. Draco pushed back his hair when the lady reached their table, arm conveniently blocking his face from hers. Hermione said thank you.
"No," Draco finally said when Rosmerta retreated. "I hadn't started thinking of anything yet. I'm assuming it will take place in the Great Hall."
"Yes, I had assumed the same." Hermione was not disappointed in his lack of forethought and enthusiasm; she expected that as soon as she realized they were to work together. Anything else would have been out of character. Her disappointment was in the choice of partner. "But we-"
"I did have one idea," Draco interrupted. He wasn't going to contribute his idea, but then he heard the expectant sigh- it was as irritating as all the sighs he had heard from her in History of Magic put together. "I thought it would be hard to pick colors without favoring a house. So maybe the colors could be black and white."
"The theme could be black and white," Hermione corrected, not because he was wrong, but because the wheels in her brain had started turning. "Or- I think all white would be a better idea- a white party. Black is like a funeral- we've all had enough of that."
At her mention of a funeral, Draco felt his cheeks color- hopefully not noticeably. She wasn't referring directly to the one they had both attended, but she might as well have, for what came to his mind. The blush was unseen by Hermione, who had pulled a notebook out of her bag. She began taking notes, and Draco was surprised at how quickly she changed modes. She went from argumentative to industrious. He offered up suggestions every so often, and she processed them wordlessly, copying down the decent ones, and giving her own. In the end, they had a few things settled. The party was to be in December, the last night before break. Guest would dress in white and decorations would be white. They would even do their best to find or enchant white refreshments and food, as beforehand the students who had contributed the most points to their houses would be invited early for a dinner. There were more details- who to ask for what, who's permission needed granting, and when they would next meet- all taken down by Hermione. In no more than an hour, drink forgotten in her brainstorming, Hermione looked up from the notebook, visibly excited. Malfoy, if he was excited, was less visibly so.
"I think that's as much detail as we can manage- without permission, and a committee to help. I'll talk to McGonagall- then we can meet later in the week." The pen and notebook were tucked back into her bag, and she was ready to go, just as quickly as in class earlier that week. Desperate to escape Malfoy once again, though this didn't seem to hinder her excitement in the possibility of accomplishment. Draco was simply pleased she had given herself the job of corresponding with McGonagall. Hermione stood, but the wizard did not.
"I'm staying. We'll talk later this week," he said coolly.
Hermione nodded, sure she would enjoy the walk to the castle better without him, and tossed a few coins on the table- beside her untouched drink- before heading for the door. Outside, as she passed the window, she saw Malfoy rise and cross the pub, walking towards the bar top. The witch stopped for a moment, curious, and watched as he spoke and Rosmerta turned towards him. The woman's face looked surprised, maybe scared. Hermione prepared herself to go back inside and defend her, if necessary- she had been on the receiving end of Malfoy's cruelty before. But after a bit of talking from Malfoy, Rosmerta's frown turned to a smile. Malfoy reached onto the counter and touched the witch's tiny hand, and she nodded. Hermione continued towards the castle, no longer worried the Slytherin was terrorizing the bar maiden. Still, she pondered the interaction on her way back to the castle, thinking that, with Malfoy involved, nothing good could come of it. Then again, she considered, the same could be said for this ball.