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Very pretty chapter image by Hushabye_Mountain! Thanks a bunch Kate :D
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Hermione suffered only from a minor headache for the few days following the “incident.” Though she and Zabini had become the object of much conjecture and discussion. Most of the Gryffindor and Slytherins were in detention for at least a month. Each spectator of the fight had their own interpretation of the events, largely colored by their affiliations. Ginny was, surprisingly, pissed at Harry. She explained, loudly, at lunch the day after that Harry had exhibited a complete lack of control with Parkinson that could only be brought on by unresolved sexual tension. This did not make much sense to Hermione, but Harry’s blush left her considering otherwise. What was most interesting about the whole affair was that everyone seemed to have forgotten that Malfoy and Ron had disappeared before the fight started. Even Harry did not remember the catalyst for the rumble. Ron was completely silent on the subject; Hermione supposed the other students might catch on when they noticed that neither Ron nor Malfoy were serving detention.

The Gryffindors and former DA members had grasped onto Harry’s accusations and were treating Parkinson as if she were going to be the next Queen of Darkness. Parkinson was staying fairly quiet considering the accusations. Though Hermione suspected that something was brewing. She and Zabini had upped their public appearances together, occasionally walking each other to class and sharing a table in the library more frequently.

McGonagall had sent owls to both Malfoy and her requesting their attendance in her office for a meeting. The meeting had been moved once and was scheduled for after dinner this evening. Hermione had no doubts in her mind as to the subject matter of this meeting. She just hoped it would get over with quickly.

Each class seemed rushed; Hermione was not sure if it was just her perspective or if the professors were speeding through the day. Before she knew it dinner was served. Ginny gave Harry a wide berth and shot questioning glances at Hermione throughout the meal. Ron was sullen and quiet. The meal probably progressed slowly for everyone but Hermione. In short order she was trudging up the stairs with Malfoy, who bitched the entire way. Apparently, according to him, he had quite the social calendar and his duties were really starting to compromise his personal life. Hermione studiously ignored him all the way there. It was a long haul but she suspected that had something to do with Malfoy’s constant whining in her ear. By the time they were seated in McGonagall’s office she had the beginnings of a migraine headache.

McGonagall instructed them to sit and wait, she was waiting for two more individuals to arrive. Hermione sincerely hoped that they were not waiting for Zabini or Ron, though surely Ron would have said something at dinner. Wouldn’t they have all walked up together? As she sat speculating Malfoy handed her a cup of tea, she took it without thinking.

“What’s this?” She held the cup out to him.

He jerked his head over to McGonagall who was proffering biscuits. “Oh, thank you.” She passed on the biscuits but Malfoy took a few, claiming that his dessert was hardly satisfactory. Hermione was halfway through her tea when she finally heard approaching voices. Bursting in with a roar of laughter Slughorn navigated his way to a small loveseat, Lupin stood to the Potions professor’s right.

McGonagall served more tea—though Hermione suspected that the adults got a few extra ingredients in theirs—and called everyone to order.

The Headmistress started with Hermione and Malfoy. “I suspect that you both know why you are here and why I have asked the Heads of your Houses to attend this meeting.”

They both nodded, Malfoy looked tempted to say something snide but was distracted by the tin of biscuits McGonagall had left open on her desk. As he helped himself to more McGonagall continued.

“You two are not in trouble per se.” That was never good. “Though I have to say that part of the incentive of having you serve as Head Boy and Girl this year was the fact that you come from rivaling Houses.” Malfoy looked scandalized; surely the thought that his winning personality had not earned him the position was new to him. “I hoped that students—particularly your respective groups of friends—would see you interacting and would follow your lead. Quite clearly this has not happened. In fact, I would venture to say that inter-House relationships are even worse.” She paused her rant, removed her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose. Hermione vacantly wondered if the action was for effect or if McGonagall was truly that stressed.

“Additionally, I understand that the catalyst for this fight was your disappearance Mr. Malfoy.” At least someone remembered. McGonagall turned her sharp gaze on the Head Boy who was currently pilfering biscuits and hiding them in his pockets. He quickly withdrew his hand from his pocket, folded his hands in his lap and offered the Headmistress the most wide-eyed look Hermione had ever witnessed.

“Me?”

“Indeed.” McGonagall’s nostrils flared slightly.

“You see ma’am, I was not there to witness the events, so I could hardly speculate with any authority as to the nature of the altercation.”

McGonagall’s nostrils flared more visibly and Hermione could swear she heard a chuckle emanate from Lupin.

“Miss Granger?”

Hermione locked eyes with McGonagall. “Yes ma’am, he and Ron both disappeared. Then Park…er, Pansy and Harry started in on each other.”

“Thank you.” She looked back to Malfoy. “And where you and Mr. Weasley?”

He did not blush; he did not even have the good grace to appear mildly embarrassed. He just shot her a winning grin. “We were snogging.” Hermione tried to suppress her horror, Ron being gay was one thing, Malfoy being gay was another, them being gay together was just too much.

This did not appear to be answer which the Headmistress was hoping for. “Excuse me?”

He continued to smile. “There is that tapestry of Emeric Switch down the hall from the classroom, you are familiar?" He paused, awaiting a response, when he clearly was not going to get one, he continued. "Well there is a small alcove behind it. We were snogging in there, don’t worry we weren’t shagging or anything.” He stopped and watched McGonagall’s face turn a light shade of puce. “Not yet, anyway.” He said with a wink.

This time Hermione was sure she heard a masked laugh out of Lupin. McGonagall heard it too. “Professor, do you find something amusing?”

Hermione chanced a glance at Lupin who blushing slightly. “I apologize Minerva, please continue.”

McGonagall could not quite look Malfoy in the eye and instead spoke to a spot in the middle of his forehead. “Thank you, Mr. Malfoy. I might remind you that Hogwarts is not the proper place to conduct your sexual liaisons. Additionally, I hope you understand the importance of safe sex, any questions you have please address to Madame Pomfrey.” She rushed through the last bit, stringing her words together at an almost unintelligible pace and continued to shoot warning glances to Lupin.

Draco just grinned and took a sip of his tea.

“Back to the issue at hand.” McGonagall stood suddenly and made her way to the corner cabinet and withdrew a small bottle, she uncapped it and poured almost the entire contents into her tea before taking her seat again. “We are having a problem with inter-House unity, particularly between Gryffindor and Slytherin. I will not have this kind of petty rivalry. The War is over; it is time to come together.”

Hermione was sitting expectantly in her seat when she heard a light humming coming from Malfoy. The melody of “Come Together” by The Beatles was emanating from his lips, he was not even humming, she was singing. McGonagall turned her gaze on him.

“Do you have something to share Mr. Malfoy?” It seemed she was fighting the urge to pull her hair out, slowly and tortuously.

He stopped singing but looked disappointed. “It’s a great song, isn’t it? I must say, the Muggles do have some decent music.”

McGonagall did not say a word. She took a deep drink of her ‘tea’ and turned addressed the entire group. “I have asked you all here today because we need to think of something, some sort of motivation to encourage inter-House unity. I have brought you two…” she gestured to Hermione and then to Malfoy, who still seemed to be mouthing the words of the song, “…not only as Head Boy and Girl but also as representatives of your Houses and of course your Heads of House. Together I hope that we can come up with something.”

Hermione remained silent and counted in her head. She knew it was coming. One, two, three, four…. With a large breath, Slughorn heaved out his response. “What we need is a party.”

She knew it. The man could not think past his mulled mead.

Draco perked up at this. “A costume party…no, a costume ball. Not everyone gets to go to the Leaving Ball, that’s only graduates and their dates. We need one for everyone.” He was excited, rather than sitting back lackadaisically in his chair; he was on the edge of his seat partially turned towards Slughorn. “Everyone really enjoyed the Yule Ball back in Fourth Year; even she got all dressed up.” He gestured to Hermione.

Eyes narrowed, she fixed her gaze on Malfoy. “A costume ball? Why costumes?”

“Why costumes? Are you serious? Come on Granger. If everyone is disguised then people will be forced to interact with people they don’t know.”

Slughorn indicated his agreement by nodding enthusiastically. Lupin looked doubtful.

Hermione looked to the Headmistress who also looked doubtful and addressed her words to Malfoy. “That’s just insane Malfoy. I mean, seriously, you think that people are going to spend one night not focused on House alliances, forced to talk to basically strangers, and what then…realize how much they have in common and throw away lifetimes of prejudices? That’s just stupid.”

“I don’t know that I would have said it that way, but I basically agree.” Lupin piped up. “One night of social interaction is not enough. And I sincerely doubt that students would be unable to discern one another in costumes.”

Slughorn was shaking his head. “Oh, my boy, you don’t know how powerful a little socialization can be.”

Lupin just shook his head.

When no one else spoke the Headmistress finally broke the silence. “That’s all you have? A costume ball? No other ideas? Surely Miss Granger, you have something to share.”

This was not exactly her area. She had her group of friends and her new “boyfriend,” she was not exactly one to know how to get out and meet people, unless it was by Dark Magic Contract. “Perhaps something a bit more school related. Inter-House tutoring, more academic clubs, things that would naturally stem from our education.”

Even Lupin looked disappointed.

Draco laughed. “You mock the idea of a costume ball, yet you want everyone to get together and bond by complete and utter boredom? Great idea. I know, we can get Binns to supplement our History education by having a lecture series. The students can come together in a revolt by trying to find a way to kill the man again. Fabulous Granger, just bloody fabulous.”

“Language, Malfoy!”

McGonagall looked thoroughly disturbed as she drained her cup.

Malfoy, surprisingly, actually appeared to be wracking his brain for ideas. Meanwhile Hermione sat back in her chair, defeated. There was no way to make people forget their allegiances.

Lupin was silent, perhaps thinking or perhaps lulled into semi-sleep by his spiked tea. Slughorn was also concentrating heavily; he had taken to pacing about the oval shaped room.

Malfoy broke the silence again. “I know. We need something longer term, with more forced interaction. Don’t you Muggles…” He was looking at Hermione now. “Have some sort of Christmas gift exchange?”

“Secret Santa?” Hermione was repulsed by the idea. What a pain in the arse.

“Yes! That.”

McGonagall broke in. “I’m familiar with the concept Mr. Malfoy, and I’m going to quash that idea before there is any further discussion. It would be a logistics nightmare.”

Now Malfoy was hunched in his seat, defeat etched across his forehead.

Something about the quietude brought Lupin to life. “How about this. I think Miss Granger and Mr. Malfoy made some fine points. No one thing is going to appeal to everyone, we need multiple activities that are both social and academic, perhaps some mandatory, some not. Also, we need the students’ input. Why not have the prefects come up with a list of say…ten things, five purely social, five more academic and have the participating student body vote on them.”

McGonagall looked as though she could have kissed him. “What a fine idea Remus.”

Malfoy looked placated, which Hermione guessed was part of Lupin’s motivation. Slughorn appeared pleased and she had to admit, it was better than anything they had come up with as yet.

They made plans to have a prefects meeting the following week and the meeting broke up. As Hermione made her way out she heard McGonagall reiterating her advice to Malfoy and then having a few words with Lupin, which Hermione could swear included something about Sirius and a broom closet. Slughorn was ambling out with Hermione right behind him when McGonagall called her back.

Gods she hoped she wasn’t supposed to relay some message to Ron about the importance of safe sex.

“Miss Granger, I could not help but notice that you filed your acceptance to Trinity.” Oh that. She had finally filed it a few days after they signed the contract.

“Yes, I did.”

“I also saw that you filed a request for a work study position.”

Hermione nodded.

“I just wanted to say that I am proud of you Miss Granger. I know it will be difficult financially for you, but it will be well worth it in the end. Your dedication and hard work is admirable, I must say I’m very impressed by you.”

Oh Gods. She managed to mutter a humble thank you.

“Also…”

No. No more.

“I heard that it was Mr. Zabini who cared for you after your injury.”

“Yes ma’am.” Where was she going with this?

“I have seen you two in the hallways a bit myself.”

Please no safe sex talk. Please dear Merlin.

“He seems like an intelligent young man and above such petty fighting that we discussed today.”

She was not exactly making statements, but she also was not exactly asking questions.

“Yes.”

“He has quite a reputation…”

This conversation would be easier with her mother, nay, her grandmother. She was going to die of embarrassment.

“…for his stances on blood-status.”

Oh, that reputation.

“I am aware of it ma’am.”

“I’m glad to see you not judging a book by its cover, Miss Granger. The students who grace these halls have many secrets and will often surprise you.”

What? “Yes.”

“One more thing. Please talk to Poppy if there is anything you…require.”

There it was. “Thank you. I can assure you that won’t be necessary.” This was the most embarrassing conversation ever.

“You never know Miss Granger.”

Hermione virtually ran back to Gryffindor Tower.

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The next morning Hermione awoke with the remains of a headache and vaguely wondered if McGonagall had spiked her tea as well. McGonagall. Tea. That damned meeting. Malfoy and Ron snogging? Lupin and Sirius in a broom closet? She had far too many visuals to accompany that bit of conversation. Glancing at her wall calendar she breathed a sigh of relief realizing it was Saturday. She made her way to the Prefect’s bathroom and decided to grab a quick bite to eat from the kitchens when she finished getting ready. There was a lot to do, though the prefects would come up with ideas for the Inter-house unity promotion she had to do some basic work first. Not to mention she had quite a bit of work to do on her Advanced Transfiguration Seminar.

As she combed out her hair in the steamy mirror she considered Zabini’s original request that she pay a bit more attention to her appearance. She was not an unattractive girl, perhaps a bit plain, but not unattractive. Her skin was clear, her lips pink, and her cheeks fairly rosy. She hardly wore make-up, she did more often when she was back home, when she went out with her parents or her cousin. But this was school. Who did she need to dress up for? Standing there silently she did not notice when Ginny walked in.

“What are you staring at?” Ginny walked behind her and gazed into the mirror, apparently looking for whatever Hermione was staring at.

“Nothing.” Hermione caught herself staring at Ginny in the mirror. There was no doubt that the redhead was absolutely gorgeous. She had transcended cute somewhere between Fourth and Fifth year. Her long flaming hair, a spattering of freckles, full lips and wide green eyes, what guy could resist that?

“Well, now you’re staring at me. What’s up?”

They were watching each other through the mirror. Vibrant green eyes locked on Hermione’s hazel ones.

“It’s nothing Ginny. Really.”

Ginny took a seat on a nearby tile bench and gestured for Hermione to take a seat. With a sigh Hermione took a seat on the bench, she put her back up against the wall and stretched her legs out, Ginny mimicked her pose and for a few moments they sat there quietly saying nothing.

“I’ll start with the easy question. Why were you staring in the mirror like some Wicked Witch from faery tales?”

Hermione felt a grin crack across her face. “So I looked like a Wicked Witch?”

Ginny giggled lightly. “You know what I mean.”

Hermione sighed again. “It’s stupid.”

Instead of responding Ginny took a swipe at Hermione’s foot with her own and gave her that ‘spare me’ look of hers.

“Fine. Do you think I should spend more time on my appearance?”

With a roll of her eyes and a swift movement Ginny had kicked her again. “That is stupid.”

“I told you.”

“It’s stupid because only you can answer that question Hermione.”

“What do you mean?”

Ginny collected her hair and pulled it over her shoulder examining the ends while she put her words together. “What I mean is, that is a question for only you, whether or not you are happy with your appearance. Who is anyone else to say?”

“But if you were me…” Hermione was not sure why she was pushing so hard.

With a growl of frustration Ginny abandoned her hair. “Stop pushing me Hermione, I think what you want is for me to tell you that you should, so that you can feel like you have a reason to do a few a charms in the morning. I’m not going to do that though, you are beautiful, maybe some people miss it when they see you, but here’s a clue, no matter who you are, where you are, there will be people who find you attractive just as you are and others who want more and other people who will never be attracted to you.”

When had Ginny gotten so smart? “Yeah.”

“Yeah what?” She was a pushy broad that Ginny Weasley.

“Yeah maybe I wanted you to tell me what to do.”

“That’s stupid. Who am I to tell you how to do your make-up, wear your hair or pick out your clothes?”

“You’re my friend.”

“So that makes me your fashion coordinator?”

“No. I just wanted advice.”

“No. You wanted me to tell you what to do.”

There was something to be said for being as plain-spoken as Ginny. “I suppose.”

“And it all comes back to Zabini doesn’t it?”

That came out of nowhere. “No. Why?”

“Don’t lie to me. It does because you didn’t start acting weird until you started hanging out with him more.”

She could not dispute that. “Maybe it does. I guess I want people to notice me for something other than my intelligence, or my friendship with Harry.”

Instantly Ginny’s face changed. All hard edges were gone, she cocked her head to the side. She pulled herself up from her position and scooted near Hermione. “Now that I understand. But Hermione, don’t change for Blaise Zabini. If that is all that matters to him…how tight your jeans are, whether or not you do your make-up, why would you want to be around that? If he doesn’t see how much you have to offer on the inside and out then he’s not worth it.”

Ginny was right, as she so often was. Besides Hermione was under no obligation to change herself for Zabini and she’d never really cared before. It was just a pretend relationship. “You’re right.”

“I know.” Ginny grinned. “On a related note, I think your new friendship with that ass has earned you some attention.”

Hermione perked up. “Really?”

“I heard Zacharias Smith asking around the other day to find out if you and Zabini were just friends or if you two were actually dating.”

“Really?” Smith was no one that Hermione would ever consider dating, but it was nice to know that word was getting out.

“Yup.” Ginny stopped and considered her for a moment. “And now you can tell me Hermione. What is the answer to that question?”








A/N: I’m evil. I know. I’m sorry. :evil cackle: There is an upside though, I should have Chapter 6 up soon since I had to write half of it to get this up! You guys are fabulous, ya’ll make my day every day! You're reviews are fabulous and I really appreciate you taking the time to say something back to me about how you feel, what you thought, and all that stuff!

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