The man beside her signaled the bartender, and a drink was set before Hermione. She absently stared into the glass, thoughts still lingering on her miniscule social life. The nights she spent with Harry and Lavender were only ways to release the pressures of work. But Hermione never opened up as much as was good for her. A few beers and a round or two of tenpin bowling and she was heading home. It was just one stressed, meaningless life that she worked monotonously through. She had no purpose in the world other than her column in The Daily Prophet. She lifted the small glass of liquor to her lips, draining it in one gulp. The bartender brought her another full glass, the contents of which disappeared similarly. The young man on the stool next to her was polite and did not interrupt her musings until she had gone through half a dozen shots of whatever he had ordered. "Are you all right?" he asked in a worried tone. She had after all just drunk enough to give anyone a ferocious hangover. She nodded, finally acknowledging him. "You sure?" This was a nice guy. And also very attractive. She felt an immense happiness rush over her, and she smiled broadly. "Yeah." She turned to look at the packed dance floor. The multi-colored lights were entrancing. "You wouldn't want to dance, would you?" He paused a moment before answering, looking her up and down. She was definitely a little drunk. Should she be moving about? Didn't he just hear something about a young woman who was trampled in one such club because she had passed out on the floor? Well, as long as there was someone there to make sure she was fine... "I'd love to," he responded. He paid for her drinks and, taking her hand, helped her off the stool and to the dance floor. Hermione bounced around playfully, ecstatically. This was the most fun she had had in a long while...since Hogwarts, so long ago it now seemed. Hermione looked around, following the flashing lights with her eyes childishly, and noticed Lavender not too far from her. She had also found a male partner to groove with, her moves in the tight pink ensemble very suggestive and enticing. Lavender smiled, seeing her friend enjoying herself. I'm glad she finally broke that boring trend of hers. And there's me to thank for it, she thought cheerily, though overly confident. When she returned to her dance partner, she missed a change in her friend's countenance. Hermione stopped bouncing, now only swaying softly. Her partner halted his dance and put his gentle hands on her shoulders. He leaned forward to look into her eyes: They were a little glazed over. "Are you feeling okay?" "Just a little dizzy," she replied. "Do you want to get some fresh air?" "No, I'll be fine." Still unconvinced, the young man guided her slowly to the outer edge of the moving mass. He was thankful when the song changed to a slower tempo. He wrapped his arms around her waist, holding her more stable. He had felt her weaken under the influences of the liquor. She leaned into him, her head on his tall shoulder. "On the other hand," Hermione said abruptly and broke away from him. One hand flew to her mouth as she stumbled blindly toward the closest exit. Hermione stood hunched over in the alleyway beside the club. She propped herself against the brick wall. The thought never occurred to her that she would get sick. Oh well, too late for precautions now. Why did she let Lavender talk her into coming? Why did she surrender to the gifts of that man at the bar? It didn't matter now. It was then Hermione felt a hand pull back the few strands of hair that had fallen from her bun while she had retched on the alley's pavement. She wiped her mouth on the back of her hand and pulled herself up again. It was the man she had temporarily partied with (of course!). Hermione worded her thanks but no sound came out. Still she thought the man understood. In the light from the nearest streetlamp, she could see a small smile play across his handsome face. She could only return it stupidly. He tucked her stray hair behind her ear and, with a hand around her waist, helped her to stand away from the wall. As he began to walk her out of the alley, she fumbled in Lavender's ridiculous high heels. Hermione would have made a quick and painful acquaintance with the asphalt had it not been for the presence of her new friend. His other arm was under her in a split second, cradling her away from the ground. "Those aren't yours, are they?" he asked with a chuckle when he had her upright again. He was pointing at the shoes. "No," Hermione answered, quite jaded. With much effort, she pulled off the pumps and dropped to the safety of bare-footed balance. Limply carrying her shoes in one hand, Hermione allowed herself to be dazedly led back inside the club. She leaned her head against his shoulder as they walked slowly through the noise, eyes closed to the bright flashing lights. She opened them again when she realized they had stopped walking. They were in front of the ladies washroom. "I thought you might want to clean yourself up a smidge," he said, guiding her to the door. "Be careful, will you?" He took the shoes from her, found a seat at an empty table beside the washrooms, and watched her stumble inside. Hermione sent him a fleeting smile before disappearing behind the door. Once in the normal yet dim white light of the washroom, she crossed ever-so-cautiously to one of the sinks attached to the wall. Hermione leaned close the mirror to see herself more clearly. She didn't look very appealing now. You could see it in her eyes. She was obviously pretty drunk. Her breath was terrible. And she had vomit splattered here and there on her clothes.... Correction: Lavender's clothes. Hermione turned on the faucet and attempted to wash the contents of her stomach from her shirt. When she had done a sloppy job of it, but done it nonetheless, she cupped her hands under the water flow and rinsed out her mouth. "She's been in there quite a while," the young man thought outside the washroom. It was then he heard a crash coming from beyond the door. He leapt to his feet and pushed into the W.C. Hermione lay sprawled on the linoleum floor. The sink was still running freely. He immediately turned off the faucet and ran to her side. She had passed out. But she was decidedly cleaner. He lifted her into his arms and carried her outside. Hailing a taxi, he helped Hermione inside and then climbed in himself. "Number 9 Waterfront, please." When the taxi stopped, the young man paid his fare and then gave him a few more Muggle notes. "Cabbie, when she wakes up, I want you to take her wherever she wants to go." "Hey gov', she's not my problem. I have to get home. You know how late it is?" The driver returned the last few notes and waited while Hermione was grudgingly removed from his car.

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