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As Patricia Elliot ducked to dodge an incoming bludger, the Slytherin girl wondered where all the time went with Quidditch season just right around the corner. She, along with Pansy Parkinson and Karla Haughton, are watching the Slytherin practice that’s been going on since five that afternoon and they are not tired in the least bit.

As she smiles at one of the cute Beaters, who winks at her while zooming past, she glances at the amber sky and guesses that it must be a quarter before seven. She swallows and realizes her throat is parched from all the cheering they've been doing for the last hour or so. Already subdued from, perhaps, thirst levels as well, Karla is just making suggestive looks at Blaise Zabini; Pansy, on the other hand, is relentless.

"He is SO hot!" she gushes, as Draco zips past their group, avoiding the same bludger that was just flying past Patricia a few seconds ago.

"Yeah," nods Karla, eyes still on Blaise, "WAY cuter Seeker than Potter."

"I am SO lucky I got him as my date in the Yule Ball," Pansy says proudly, "Remember that I was the only one he danced with ALL night?"

Karla coos at her enviously. Patricia only rolls her eyes. 'Oh someone PLEASE kill me now.' Never a day goes by when Pansy won't Draco-fy the conversation. At this rate, she's already memorized three Draco vignettes: Who’s his Potions partner? Who’s his family friend? And the current favourite, who was his Yule Ball date?

‘Someone should tell her it's never going to happen,’ Patricia thinks, a pleased look on her face. After all, if Pansy's been this lucky, shouldn't they be, at the very least, be dating by now? She tucks a lock of her black hair behind her ear, and looks at the blond Seeker. "Oh look," she says morosely, "he's on his way here."

Her two friends hush as Draco flies up and lands on the bleachers two rows in front of them. He smiles, his grey eyes looking bright, "Hey!"

"Hey," Pansy says in her best impression of someone uninterested.

He wipes his forehead with the back of his hand and sits down. Pansy grins at her friends before standing up to approach him. She takes out her wand and conjures a bottle of cold soda.

"Hard day?" she asks, smiling as seductively as she could. She hands him the soda. Patricia rolls her eyes again, thinking that Pansy should make up her mind if she'll play the dog or the shrew.

"Oh thanks! Day's okay, I guess," he shrugs, taking the bottle. He looks at Patricia and Karla and motions to the soda. "You guys want one?" He motions towards Pansy. "You should make her get you one, she makes them real cold."

"I'll have one, Pansy!" grins Karla.

"Me too!" pipes in Patricia, relieved. She can never ask Pansy to get her anything. Thank goodness for Draco, who, apparently, still believes in chivalry.

Pansy waves her wand and sends the bottles straight into their hands, eager to get them off her back for more quality time with Malfoy. 'Typical,' Patricia thinks as she takes a sip from the bottle of orange soda in her hand. She looks at it, impressed. It is deliciously cold and conveniently, in orange, which is Draco's favourite.

As Patricia begins to open her mouth to compliment her friend, she notices that Pansy's elation is replaced with something else. A frown glowers where her smile was just a moment ago. Patricia looks at Draco and sees the problem.

Even with his eyes on the team, the Slytherin Seeker's mind seems to be elsewhere. Pansy coughs lightly to get his attention, a move Patricia knows all too well. She knows her friend got it from Dolores Umbridge a few years ago and has been using it ever since to get attention, supposedly subtly. Patricia smiles. Apparently, elsewhere, wherever that is, is getting on Pansy's nerves.

Patricia can see that Draco's obviously having another one of his moments. He's been so distracted as of late that even Karla agrees that he's not as fun and desirable as he was before. While it didn't really do any damage to his studies (he's even been topping all his classes) or his Quidditch training (he's getting the Snitch in much less time than before), his recent actions hasn't been living up to his bad boy status. For example, he hasn't bullied anyone lately like Harry Potter and his friends. "Especially them," Patricia says quietly.

"What?" Karla asks distractedly. She's still busy exchanging body language messages to the Zabini boy. "You said something?"

"Oh, no," Patricia quickly replies, eager to hear the conversation in front of her unfold.

"Quid for your thoughts?" Pansy asks Draco, sidling up to him.

Draco looks at her and grins, "Is that all they’re worth?" He leans back and shakes his head. "It’s nothing." At this, he averts his eyes from the field and looks at the school.

Patricia follows his gaze towards Hogwarts which stands ominously against the darkening sky. Stars are beginning to appear and it looks as if it's going to be a clear night. She peers at the school's towering facade, curious as ever.

"What time is it?" Draco suddenly asks, bolting upright.

Pansy checks the silver Belinda Bauble watch hanging around her neck. "Half past 7--"

Draco curses and immediately gets on his broom, "I gotta go."

"What?" Pansy asks, grasping his arm. She immediately lets go when she sees the desperation linked with such a small action. "Training isn't even finished yet, Draco," she says, forcing a calm smile. "You haven't got the Snitch."

Draco grins, hovering over the bleachers on his broom. He stretches out his left arm and opens his fist to release a glittering gold ball with small fluttering wings. "I got it twenty minutes into practice."

Karla and Patricia clap their hands excitedly. Pansy scowls.

Draco winks at her and zooms away, tossing the now empty bottle of soda in a nearby bin. "I'll catch you girls later!" he shouts. He then swerves towards Blaise who is hovering pointedly by the goals. He tosses him the Snitch which he catches, alarmed.

"What-- is this the Snitch?" Blaise calls out to Draco who is already fifty feet away. "Blinking git's got it all this time!" he calls out to the rest of the team.

"What's he got us running around for?" one of them yells back.

Patricia watches Draco make a couple of figure eights above the field before heading on back to the school. "You gotta admit Pansy, that was pretty cool," she remarks admirably.

Of course, Pansy could care less about a caught Snitch. She crosses her arms as she walks back to her seat in between her friends. "Late? What could he possibly be late for?"

"Detention, what else?" Karla answers nonchalantly, taking another sip of orange soda. Patricia hides a grin.

Pansy frowns at Karla, and turns her head back to Draco’s departing figure. Before completely disappearing into the castle, he swoops down one of the flowerbeds beside the line of greenhouses. A small rain of white petals trails after him.

"Wow," Patricia says, amused and surprised at this unexpected scene, "He looks mighty excited."

"Well, that sorts it out," Karla shrugs. "Can't imagine him being excited about detention, can you? Must be getting a call from his father."

"And he's bringing him flowers?" Pansy snaps. She stands up and leaves in a huff, storming straight into the field and almost running the entire Slytherin team over. She continues to stomp across the field and Patricia thought she saw fumes come out of her ears a little.

“Just said it was probable, didn’t I?” Karla calls out to her defensively. She sighs and looks at Patricia. "What's gotten into her?"

Her friend shrugs, masking her giggle by having another swig of soda. Karla sticks her tongue out at the departing Pansy and stands up. "Come on, let's go. I'm hungry."

Patricia smiles, "Yeah, let's go." On their way down the bleachers, the two girls chuck their soda bottles in the nearby bin.

“Hold on, I want to say hi to Blaise,” Karla smiles. Patricia nods absentmindedly, looking at Hogwarts again. As her friend skipped towards the field, something catches Patricia’s eye.

She steps off the bleachers and leans over the bin. It was empty, save for two empty bottles of orange soda… and one lemon.

"Hello, anytime this year?" Karla calls out, already arm-locked with Blaise on the field.

"Coming!" Patricia answers back. She gives the bottle one last look, shrugs and skips to join Karla and Blaise in their walk back to school.

--------

Harry Potter looks up from his dinner of mashed potatoes and seared rib eye just in time to see a bushy-haired girl walk in the Great Hall. For a minute, he is puzzled. He seems to know her but not recognize her.

“Is it me or does Hermione look different?” Ron Weasley, from beside him, asks. He squints at the approaching figure obviously headed for the Gryffindor table.

Harry’s face lights up. Of course. “Yeah,” he replies, watching their friend continue down the aisle in her cheerful gait. “She looks odd.” He pauses and takes a sip of water. “Is she smiling?”

“Hey, you’re right,” Ron says in surprise. “Haven’t seen that in a while. Hey Hermione!”

"Good evening!" Hermione Granger greets her fellow Gryffindors as she reaches the table. She plunks herself on the space between Seamus and Neville, across her best friends.

"Someone’s in a good mood," Seamus comments with his mouth full of chips. He swallows them down with a hearty swig of pumpkin juice. "Finished all your homework before five?"

"Maybe earlier," Ron points out as he helps himself to another serving of salmon casserole. "Which reminds me. Can I copy some stuff off your Transfiguration journal, Hermione?"

"Sure!" she answers in a tone that is close to a squeal. Ron and Harry jump in their seats while Seamus almost chokes on his fish. Hermione only laughs. She takes a slice of the spotted dick which just appeared in front of her and spoons a blob of cream on it.

"I think you ARE in a strangely good mood," Ron comments, nodding at her plate. "Aren't you going to have some real dinner first?"

"Oh, I'm good!" she answers in the same excited, half-squeal. This time Neville jumped along with Harry and Ron in their seats.

"Hermione, you might want to turn it down a bit," squirms Neville, "You’re worse than a blooming Howler."

She giggles and pats Neville’s shoulder, "Sorry. Got a bit carried away." She goes back to tending her dessert, this time garnishing it with a healthy dollop of honey.

Harry looks on, his mouth half-open. "Hermione, won't that be too sweet?"

"What? Oh!" Hermione laughs again and tosses her hair, "Au contraire, Harry. Honey, although sweeter than table sugar, won't give you as many cavities." She winks at him and picks up her fork and starts eating her dessert.

Harry nods and shrugs. "Okay, I guess. Good to learn something new everyday."

"Oh, which reminds me," Seamus starts. "I was on my way to Charms today and guess--"

"What, you're done?!" Ron suddenly exclaims. Everyone turns to him who then turns to Hermione who was dabbing at her mouth delicately with her napkin. In front of her is the plate where the spotted dick sat not a few minutes ago. It is empty.

Seamus and Neville are dumbfounded, knives and forks in frozen in midair. Ron and Harry look like they were going to be sick over their mashed potatoes.

"What?" she says defensively. "I was hungry!"

"So am I and I'm still going through this slice of sea bass," Seamus states dryly.

Hermione rolls her eyes. “You lot don’t think it’s strange when Ron does the same thing,” she points out.

“Because it’s Ron!” Harry exclaims. “He’s always eaten like that. You know better.”

“Hey,” Ron pouts. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Hermione shakes her head and waves her hand dismissively. “Well, if you must know, I’m in a bit of a rush because I want to get some homework done before detention.”

“Oh,” Neville says. “Your detention’s still busy? I thought you said the baby’s getting better.”

For a moment, Harry thought he saw Hermione turn slightly pink. He looks at her closely and notices her wand stuffed carelessly inside her robe. He suddenly gets an odd feeling.

“She is,” Hermione quickly replies. “But her health’s still a bit dodgy. You know, better safe than sorry.” She starts gathering her things and stands up.

“I guess we’ll see you later then,” Seamus shrugs.

“Yeah,” she nods. Already a few feet away from them, she turns around and goes back. Except for Seamus and Neville who are already lost in a conversation about Wizard’s Chess, Harry and Ron look at her quizzically.

She just grins nervously at them and turns around again and jogs out of the Great Hall.

“She’s been so weird lately,” Ron remarks as he chews on a cupcake.

Harry nods. He knows that look. Hermione wants to tell them something but can’t. Usually because the timing’s off or she doesn’t really know how to say it—‘But she eventually does,’ Harry tells himself. He crosses his fingers. He hopes that whatever it is, it’s not trouble involving Dark wizards again.

--------

He’s been standing quietly in the shadows for quite some time now. He saw Draco on the Quidditch field hurriedly get on his broom and fly to the school’s main grounds. And he nearly ran into Hermione in the hallway, seemingly to be in a hurry to have dinner. Fortunately, he blended in with the shadows and managed to go by unnoticed.

Now, from his place above the staircase and tucked underneath the great drapes by a nearby window, he sees the Granger girl emerge from the Great Hall. As soon as she steps through the doors, she gets knocked off by Malfoy who is still flying his broom.

“Bul—Hermione! I’m sorry!” Draco apologizes. He dismounts his broom and offers her his hand.

Hermione looks up at him and around them reluctantly. Positive that no one is around, she takes his hand and smiles back at him. “It’s okay. I wasn’t looking anyway.”

The man in the shadows raises an eyebrow. He starts to think back on the past months. Clearly a lot has changed about the situation between the two students.

“You had dinner?” Draco asks, glancing behind her. “But, I—“

Hermione looks around again and pulls him to the staircase, urging him to start walking. “Pretended. Just so nobody misses me,” she says. She grins at him. “I still have room for your famous mincemeat pies.”

He smiles back and puts one arm around her shoulders, “I am willing to swear it’s nothing like you’ve ever had.”

“Oh really?” she giggles.

From the sparkle in their eyes and the shy smiles they exchanged in animated conversation, he knows there is nothing to fear. Unmistakably besotted with each other, it is safe to say that the two baby sitters suspect nothing. Of course, this newfound friendship is certainly worthy of note, but it’s not the reason why he is keeping tabs on them.

As soon as the two students disappear around the corner, he steps out from behind the drapes. He looks out the window and up at the crescent-shaped moon that eerily lit the cloudless atmosphere. Tomorrow makes a week of clear sky. Pre-holiday examinations and practicals made the teachers forgetful. But he has been very careful not to let such a thing pass.

What the Granger girl told Madame Pomfrey is much to be worried about. The baby is obviously not a Muggle and definitely not a witch. As of the moment, she does not belong anywhere that can be explained.

That is why he believes that the Identifying Spell needs to be done right away. Contrary to what the rest of the faculty thinks, he is certain that the child is no longer weak to take such powerful spell. In fact, she may be stronger than they perceive her to be.

Already four months old, her crying is strong and clear, her body well-formed. ‘And her eyes,’ he recalls. When he visited the Infirmary a few weeks back, he noticed how extraordinarily bright her grey eyes were.

He nods at the empty hallway before him. “Tomorrow night,” he whispers to himself. “There is no time to lose.”

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