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Disclaimer: I think JKR would be ill at the thought of what I do to her fine characters…
A/N: Here it is my dears! I’m still in set-up mode with this and I will probably have a bit more to do in Chapter 3! I hope you enjoy!

Amazing chapter image by the talented Chella!





It was Thursday, five days after Blaise Zabini’s ridiculous proposition, he informed her in Advanced Potions that she had until midnight Saturday. What an ass. She had received a response from her parents, of course they had a college fund for her, of course they had planned for the future, of course they had not planned on her picking the most expensive university this side of the Atlantic, and of course they did not have that much money. Fabulous. Bloody fabulous. Harry had offered her money, dear friend that he was. He had enough too, that much was certain, but there was no way that she could take money from him, even as a loan. Work study it would be.
 

She had contacted Trinity on Tuesday after receiving the letter from her parents—McGonagall even let her use the floo. Apparently work study was incredibly hard to come by and it would not cover her housing, for that she would have to work another job, but not to worry there were plenty of places to work around the school. For work study they would put her on a waiting list, she should have a position by September or October of the following year.

Hermione was beginning to come apart at the seams. Last night she had stayed up until three in the morning trying to work out a budget, so long as she got the work study position by the end of September, moved out to Ireland early and started working immediately she should be fine, if her parents could come up with front money for a flat or if the school would allow her to move in early. That was just a few too many “ifs” in her opinion.

Classes were finished for the day and she had a few hours before dinner, she was not quite up to socializing so she headed to the Heads lounge. She was not sure if the room had never existed before McGonagall became Headmistress or if she just never knew about it, but sure enough there was a quiet study in the hallway down from the Room of Requirement with a fireplace, tables, fully stocked bookshelves, and comfortable couches and chairs. Already she had used it often, it was a nice escape.

She said the password and pushed open the door to find Ernie Macmillan on his way out. “Ernie, what are you doing here?”

Ernie, looked a bit…well, frazzled. “Sorry, Hermione. I know I shouldn’t be here, but Draco was, er, well we were studying.” Hermione looked around the room; Malfoy was sprawled on one of the couches looking as though he had been doing anything but studying. She raised an eyebrow but remained silent, waving Ernie on as he rushed out of the room.

Had she forgotten to add Draco Malfoy being Head Boy to the list her current complaints? Somehow the prat had become Head Boy, above Ron, Ernie, even Anthony. Gods, her life sucked.

“What was Ernie doing in here? I know he’s a prefect, but not even prefects are allowed.”

Malfoy stayed where he was, head cocked to side and just stared.

“Seriously Malfoy, if we are going to have the benefit of this room then we have to abide by the rules.” What was wrong with people recently?

“Are you done?”

She was going to tear him apart, little scrawny limb by little scrawny limb. “Can’t you be serious, just for a moment?”

“No. Not when you are being ridiculous.” He sat up from his previous position and, dear Circe, he zipped up his fly. “Don’t look so scandalized Granger, I’m not asking you to get me off.”

“Malfoy!” She slammed the door behind her. “This room is not for…” she dropped her voice, “…sexual liaisons.”

“Sexual liaisons? Come off it Granger. Just because you aren’t getting any does not mean the rest of us have to suffer.”

“I…I…Who…Who says I’m not?” That was most certainly not her planned response.

With his trademark smirk he looked her up and down. “You do.”

She stood up straighter and looked down at the blond. “I don’t say anything about my personal life, so how could I possibly be saying that?” Why was she in this discussion at all?

“Everything about you says that Granger. You need to let loose, you’re so uptight.” The look of mock concern on his face was enough. She gathered her things and started to leave. “Wait. Don’t leave, I’m leaving. Calm down Granger, it was a fucking joke. Since when did you care what the boys in school think of you, anyway?” With that he was gone.

In the end, Hermione was pretty sure she preferred evil-Malfoy to this apparently homosexual, snarky-Malfoy.

-----------

By dinner Hermione was sick to her stomach. She had had two unsolicited opinions in five days as to what the boys in school thought of her. Was it true? Krum had asked her out, that was nearly three years ago, but he had. He also was not a Hogwarts student and had an admitted weakness for girls who did not care for Quidditch, or who were at least not pursuing him for Quidditch reasons. And there was Ron…but that had not worked. Boys liked her plenty, didn’t they?

She could not talk to Harry. Harry had been her first. Not sex of course. But her first love, if she was painfully honest with herself, she could admit that Harry had been her first choice. That certainly disqualified him from the conversation she wanted to have. Or perhaps it made him the perfect person, but she refused to put herself through that. She had—discretely, or so she thought—deposited enough food into her napkin to justify going up to bed when Ron pulled her aside.

“What’s wrong Hermione? You’ve been strange all day, all week for that matter.”

“It’s nothing.” She tried to push past him towards Gryffindor Tower but he held her back. “Fine. But not here.”

He dragged her to the antechamber and sat her down in a chair. “Talk.” She could hardly remember Ron being so forceful in the past.

This was humiliating, Ron was probably her first choice to talk to, but being forced to do so was a whole other issue entirely. “I’m just stressed out.”

“No, this is something else. I found your parchment, I know you worked out your issues for Trinity, it will be hard, but I’ve never seen you cower from something difficult. So this has to be a different issue.”

She didn’t bother to tell him that her budget included her working about sixty hours a week. Instead she said, “It’s stupid.”

“It can’t be stupid; anything that has you this upset is not stupid.”

With a huff she slumped back in the overstuffed chair. “Do you think I’m attractive?”

He was stunned, completely silent. This was not the reaction she had been hoping for. “What?”

“Never mind.”

“No. Wait. Yes. I do find you to be attractive. What is this about? Is this about us, because I mean, there are reasons it didn’t work, reasons…” He faltered and closed his eyes for a moment. “Reasons that I should probably explain.”

She should have told him that her problem had nothing to do with him, but her curiosity overwhelmed her. Remaining silent, she just looked up at him.

“Look Hermione, I know that you know it wasn’t working. And I’m sure you figured it just fell apart, which it kind of did.” He paused; it looked like he was gathering his strength. “See, I, well it was doomed to fail. I’m…well Hermione. Girls aren’t exactly my thing.”

“Huh?” That woke her up.

“Well, I just…I mean, girls and I…” He was stammering and blushing deeply.

She tried to process what he was saying and reconcile it with the past six years. It was possible, she supposed. “Ron?”

He looked at her desperately.

“Are you saying you’re well…you know…” Gods she was more mature than this, she could say it. “Gay?”

His fair skin completely succumbed to the growing blush and he nodded.

Ron, Ernie, and Malfoy? Maybe this odd rampant homosexuality was why she could not get a date? There had to be more. Just what was going on in these hallowed halls?

“Are you sure?”

He looked at her strangely. “Pretty sure.”

“Since when?” Oh Gods she said stupid things sometimes. “I’m sorry, I meant when did you…how did you…?”

He smiled weakly. “Please don’t take this the wrong way in light of your question. Part of it was you.”

“Me?”

“Yeah. I realized if I didn’t feel right with you then something was seriously wrong, that no girl could possibly be right for me.”

“Really?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Wow. I think that might the best, though most twisted, compliment I’ve ever gotten.”

Ron laughed meekly. “I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s good.”

“So yes Hermione. You are attractive, you are beautiful, and you only get more so as people get to know you.”

She managed a thankful smile.

“But that’s not good enough is it? Tell me.” Ron pulled her face up to his. “And look at me when you tell me.”

“I…it has been intimated to me that boys in this school are not attracted to me.”

“What? That is just dumb.”

“Well, maybe that they think me prude.”

“Oh. That’s different.” She could not help but notice that Ron did not dispute that statement.

“Ron?”

He shook his head. “Sorry.” He paused again. “No. I don’t think so.”

“Ron. Tell me the truth.”

“Well, it’s not that they think you’re prude really, but I do think that some guys think you are kind of uptight.”

“Really?”

“Hermione, you are uptight.”

“Maybe.”

“I understand why, but you are, it’s okay. I think maybe you’re just too mature for the guys here.”

“Mature?”

“Yeah.”

“Is that the least offensive word you could think of?”

He sighed. “See.”

“Fine. So I’m uptight. So what? So is Hannah Abbott, guys love her.”

“Well, she’s kind of flaky too; you see she offsets her uptightness by being a goof sometimes.”

“So I should be goofy.”

“No!” Ron stared at her, eyes narrowed. “Why are you so concerned about this, I thought you couldn’t care less about this kind of thing?” He stopped again and smacked his forehead. “That’s it! That’s why. These blokes don’t know you’re on the market, they assume you could care less, so why even try?”

“Oh…that makes sense.”

“You still didn’t answer my question.”

“I suppose I do care.”

“Of course you do.”

“And I just didn’t understand why no one, well, why no one pursued me.”

He nodded. “That makes sense. But don’t doubt yourself Hermione. Guys are idiots; we basically have to see someone snogging in a hall to know that they are available. Teenage guys don’t want to put themselves out there unless they know they have a reasonable shot. Remember Harry with Cho? That was ridiculous.”

“True. Speaking of Harry…” She tried to give him her most motherly look. Annoyed motherly that is.

“He doesn’t know. I’ll be telling him soon. Please don’t say anything.”

She promised she wouldn’t but encouraged him to have an open conversation with his best friend, she also begged off his invitation to walk to back to the tower together and pulled out her budget to give it another glance. As she walked and read over the figures she ran into a solid figure. It was so hard she thought it was one of the statues dotting the hallways.

“Not even an ‘excuse me’ Granger?” Oh hell, leave it up to Zabini to have a body like a marble statue.

“Sorry. I wasn’t paying attention.”

“Something on your mind?”

It would not hurt to ask the man, strike that, boy, a question. Would it? “How much are we talking about?”

There was that smirking half-grin. “Enough.”

“Forget it.”

“Wait a second.” He had grabbed her elbow, right where Ron had, but something rushed through her body when he touched her. It was probably revulsion. “Tuition. Plus room and board.”

“What?” She knew the kid was rich and his “fathers” had a habit of dying off and leaving everything to his mother, but there was no way he had that much money. “That’s insane. Even for you.”

“Granger, that’s a drop in the bucket. That is the equivalent of you giving me a knut.” He grinned at his own double entendre. “Not that I’m asking.”

“But.” But what. She was looking at free tuition. “All four years?”

“Yes.”

“But.” Seriously, but what? No one had to know, she’d met Zabini before, and it was possible that the most gorgeous boy in school could be her boyfriend. It was for the rest of term, no more, no less. His stance on blood-status was not well known, she only knew because of Harry. It was plausible. “How can I be sure that you will uphold your end of the deal?” She was making a deal with the devil. That much she was sure of.

“Wizards Contract, of course.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Yes. Okay. Let’s do this. Whatever.”

“No Granger, you see if you are going to do this, it has to be believable, and you need to be more enthusiastic. I’m quite desirable you know.”

“Fine.” She smiled or winced, she was not quite sure how it came off. “What do we need to do?”

He flashed his too-white teeth in a brief smile. “Meet me tomorrow in the Heads room at midnight.” And he was gone.






A/N: Thank you so much for the reviews, this one is coming along well so far and your kind reviews only serve to motivate me further! (yes, that was a not-so-subtle attempt to get you fine readers to click the little review button below!) And to my darling readers:  I love you all! Thank you for the support!

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