The month of September flew by and before Hermione knew it, it was the second week of October. A Hogsmeade trip was planned for the third years and up and she was looking forward to exploring the town just outside of Hogwarts. She loved Hogwarts—she really did—but the walls seemed to close in on her the first few weeks of her stay there. The only thing that kept her sane was her improving social skills with Harry, Ginny, Ron, and surprisingly, Luna. Although she still found the bubbly blonde to be a close contender to the eighth wonder of the world, she was an interesting person to talk to when she found herself overloaded with coursework, which proved to be quite often.
She woke up early on Saturday with an odd feeling in her lower stomach, not unlike the ones she used to get when a bad thing was about to happen. Hermione hadn't had these pains in years; the last time she remembered having them was when she was eleven during the summer. She was convinced that she was having a touch of the Wizard Flu, but it never amounted to anything but that queasy feeling in her stomach. That same day, the Malfoy's had a fire that originated in their overly large fireplace. They never told her how or why the fire was started; only that she had to stay in her room for a few days while the repairs were being done. Being the young, na�ve girl she was, she went along with it without question. Their house elf, Dobby, brought up her food every meal, and he became the first person she could talk to beside Draco. It was odd, considering an elf an equal, but Dobby's kind nature stuck with her even after he was dismissed when she was thirteen. She really missed him.
Rubbing her tired eyes, she got out of the comforts of her bed and prepared herself for the day ahead of her, but instead of her uniform she dressed in jeans and a sweater thinking of the chill winds outside. Her roommates, again, were not up at this hour, even though they would be if it was a weekday. Sleeping in was vastly overrated, in her opinion. What did dreams hold that was better than real life? Hermione rarely dreamed, if at all, so she did not see the logic in taking extra time out of your day to sleep if all it did was make you lazy and cranky. Honestly, where was the sense in that?
Ginny was waiting for her in the common room, as was their newly-formed routine. Ginny suggested it after a few weeks of noticing that both she and Hermione arrived in the Great Hall for breakfast within minutes of the other. Hermione was resistant at first, as she always was with these people, but gave in eventually after Ginny tried to pull the “puppy dog pout” she had heard so much about. She had to admit, it stirred something within her seeing her lower lip jutted out like that, but it was most likely due to annoyance than anything else.
“Good morning Herms!” The red-head chimed brightly. Yet another new addition to her life here at Hogwarts, nicknames that made her want to pull out a steak knife and stab whoever called her it repeatedly in the chest. Most of the time it was Ginny, whose sugar sweet voice didn't help matters when the name oozed out of her mouth. The only person who was allowed to call her anything other than her birth name was Draco, and even then she got exasperated once in a while.
Pretending that the current state of Ginny's health wasn't at risk, Hermione responded in what she hoped was a cheerful voice, “`Morning Ginny.”
Ginny smiled at her and she knew she was safe. The two girls made their way out of the tower and sat down at the Gryffindor table when they arrived at the virtually empty hall. There was already food set before them and they wasted no time piling it onto their plates and devouring it. Hermione had acquired an addiction to the cooking that Hogwarts provided them, and wished there was some way that she could have it at her fingertips. But alas, she asked Ginny after her first taste of treacle tarts with no avail. The location of the kitchen was another secret that Hermione had yet to discover.
“So” Ginny asked with a half-mouthful of eggs, “looking forward to your first Hogsmeade visit?”
Ignoring Ginny's lack of table manners for the time being, she answered with a grin, “Of course! I mean, I love this place to pieces but a change of scenery would be a welcome relief.”
Ginny nodded, “I felt that way when I was old enough to go. Ron and Harry were always bragging about how incredible it was and I couldn't wait to see for myself. Any place you're looking forward to seeing?”
“The Three Broomsticks sounds interesting, and so does Honeydukes.” Hermione said with interest, remembering the few stores she had read and heard about.
“Both well worth the visit, I assure you. I'm sure Harry, Ron, and I would love to accompany you your first visit to the coveted village.” Ginny said.
Hermione couldn't help but smile at the faux formality, “Well I thank you for your kind offer and will do well to remember it.”
Both girls laughed and continued to pick at their food. Harry and Ron both came in within the next few minutes, the weekend sleep clear on their smiling faces. One of the many benefits of the weekend: Harry and Ron weren't easily mistaken for Inferi and their eating habits were back to a normal, garbage-disposal pace.
“Morning ladies” Ron called happily before shoving what looked to be a pound of flapjacks onto his plate. Ginny and Hermione nodded to him and Harry and continued eating.
Hermione had been getting this weird feeling every time she looked at Harry lately. It could only be described as her stomach muscles contracting and feeling as though they were lifting it into her throat. It wasn't a pleasant feeling, and certainly not one that she had been accustomed to. This foreign experience was something new altogether and it befuddled her to an extensive degree. Did everyone feel like this when they looked at him? Did Ron—did Ginny?
But, she had been semi-successfully avoiding his eyes for a good few weeks now without him questioning her. And she didn't feel guilty about it one bit because she knew who was to blame—Luna! What she said after the first D.A. meeting had been plaguing her ever since she thought about what it could have meant. Hermione didn't even want to think about it… she just did. Stupid Luna and her stupid riddles…
“So when do the carriages leave?” Hermione asked, distracting herself from her inner thoughts.
“In about ten minutes” Harry answered, glancing at his watch.
Hermione nodded in understanding and finished up her food. They had small talk as the excitement for the trip mounded with each passing minute. After what seemed to be forever, the announcement that the carriages had arrived was made and students bustled to the exits of the hall and tried to get the best spot. Hermione followed behind Ginny to one of the carriages towards the back and ended up sitting right next to Harry. Great, she thought, that's just what I need right now. The guy who is making me experience physical as well as mental pain sitting next to me in a confined carriage. Fan-bloody-tastic.
Harry smiled over at her and her stomach did that weird contraction again, making her grimace. On top of her other feeling in her lower stomach, it was rather painful. “Are you alright?” He asked in concern.
“Yeah” she lied smoothly, “I'm fine.”
He gave her a look that said that he didn't believe her, but didn't press it, and for that she was thankful. As she had got to know Harry, she had been getting the distinct feeling that he just knew what was going on in her head, but when she lied about it, he didn't want to make her uncomfortable. Hermione thought it was due to his… situation. Luna had said that he didn't used to be as open as he was now. Maybe that was the reason? She knew that she hated people who wanted to know every detail of everything that she did. Ginny was the kind of person who put off that vibe sometimes, but she pressed back when Hermione gave her one of her infamous “if you ask me again I swear to Merlin I will kill you” looks.
The ride to Hogsmeade was short, as she expected. The town was only a few miles away from the school and what felt like ten minutes later, they arrived. Hermione was the first to push herself out of the carriage, practically shoving an equally eager Ron out of the way. Ginny giggled behind her and Hermione could picture the incredulous look Ron was giving her behind her back. But before she could turn around and laugh at him and his childish reactions, she was hit with the beauty that was Hogsmeade Village.
The tall buildings reminded her of a more homely version of Diagon Ally. She could see older students running to their favorite stores and third years staring in wonder at the village much like the way she was. Most of the stores seemed to be along one long road with a few others off on other paths. They were all very close to each other, forming dark alleys between them where she assumed the trash and vermin laid. She had never seen a place like this before, oozing magic and happiness. Surprisingly, she was not at all disturbed by it, but rather the opposite. She felt as though she belonged in places like this, places where laughter could be heard around every corner and where she could imagine herself living in her later years.
“Beautiful, isn't it?” A feminine voice said from behind her. She knew it was Ginny and didn't bother to turn around. “So, where do you want to head off to first?”
“I'll just follow your lead” she said passively. In truth, she wanted to go everywhere, but knew that she had to keep herself in check, as they didn't have the entire day. Her homework was sitting in a pile on her bedside table, waiting to be completed.
Ginny nodded and grabbed Harry's hand, intertwining their fingers together. They lead the way to a building with a sign that read “The Three Broomsticks” and Hermione smiled, as this was one of the places she wanted to visit.
When she walked through the door she was hit with a waft of what seemed to be butterscotch. She recognized the scent as butterbeer and a wide grin spread on her face. It was by far one of her favorite drinks and she only seldom got to taste it. They had a limited supply when she lived at Malfoy Manor, claiming it would ruin their health and make them soft. It was nowhere to be found at the Riddle Mansion, as the Dark Lord never acquired a taste for it. She used to sneak some when she went out on raids, making it her goal to have some by the end of their time spent there. Sometimes, it was the only thing she looked forward to on those days.
They found a table near the back and a curvy sort of woman came up to ask for their orders. Hermione noticed that she was also very pretty and when she approached them, Ron's face seemed to get a few shades redder. Hermione giggled under her breath and made a note to herself to point that out later.
“What'll it be today dears?” she asked while looking them over.
“I think we'll all be content with some butterbeers.” Harry said on behalf of the table. He turned to Hermione for a short moment after what looked to be a second of thought, “Do you like butterbeer, Hermione?”
Hermione answered bluntly, “Oh yes!”
Harry gave her another smile and she had to put a hand over her stomach to settle it. The woman nodded at them and turned back towards a bar to get their orders. Hermione turned to Ron, whose face seemed to be slowly returning to its normal pale shade. “So Ron, you seemed a bit choked up back there.”
Ron turned his head down towards the table and mumbled something that Hermione didn't catch. Ginny, who was sitting beside him, looked down and patted his head teasingly. “Ronny here and Madame Rosmerta have what I like to call a `fawn and flop' relationship.”
Hermione and Harry both laughed as they saw Ron's shoulders slump. He gathered the strength to pull his head upwards and was glaring at the lot of them, causing them to laugh even harder. “Just you wait, we'll be married someday and you lot will be kissing the ground her beautiful feet walk on!”
Harry elbowed Hermione gently in the side to get her attention and said softly, “That's what he said about Fleur Delacour, but she ended up marrying Bill.”
Hermione remembered the name of one of Ron's many older brothers and laughed at the pathetic vibe she got from it. Ginny felt the need to chime into this particular situation as well and Hermione was all too willing to listen to what she had to say. “Good `ol Phlegm was part Veela, so Ronny didn't stand a chance. Even Harry wasn't prone to her looks—but when it came to her personality, it was a total turn off. Although, I'm sure if you put him under Veritaserum he'd still say he'd want to shag her.”
“Not true!” Ron said, affronted.
“Oh really, so if I said that I had a vile of Veritaserum in my pocket right now, you'd drink it and tell us that again.” Harry said, very amused.
“Of course” Ron said, crossing his arms over his chest. After a moment, he gave a wary look at Harry and asked in a hushed tone, “You don't really have any, do you?”
He seemed to be serious and they all, save Ron, burst out in laughter. Madame Rosmerta came up a few seconds later with their drinks and they all thanked her in turn. Ron chose to avoid her gaze, a move that Hermione found to be hilarious. All thoughts of a nasty comment were ceased, however, when she took her first sip of butterbeer in over a year. The warm liquid filled her taste buds and awakened them as though there had been a drought and this was the sweet nectar they needed to recover. Hermione held back a moan, not wanting to catch the attention of her tablemates. But, apparently, her expression gave it away.
"Are you sure you've had butterbeer before, Herms?” Ginny asked with a raised eyebrow.
Hermione nodded, taking another sip of the delicious elixir, “Yeah, it's just been ages since I've had it.”
They all nodded in agreement and went back to their drinks. They spent a good half hour talking about school and the latest gossip that was filtering through Hogwarts. Harry seemed to get bored quickly with the stories having to do with him, for he was completely slouched in his seat and staring at his empty butterbeer bottle with a glazed expression. Ginny and Ron seemed to be ignoring him and kept on chatting. Hermione, however, found herself looking at him and observing the way he was twirling the bottle on its bottom and leaving a wet pile of excess water underneath it.
“Are you two alright?” The voice of Ron broke her from where she seemed to be lost in numb thought. Harry seemed to be brought back from wherever his mind was at the same time she was and was looking at Ron with an odd expression. “You guys seemed to be off in another world for a minute, there.”
“I was just thinking” Harry responded quickly.
“Met too” Hermione said.
Ron seemed to buy it and lifted up his sleeve to look at his watch. “We should get going if we still want to hit Zonkos and Honeydukes.”
They all agreed and paid for their drinks quickly, heading down the road past a few stores until they arrived at Honeydukes. The outside of the store in itself looked appetizing, the display window filled with succulent-looking sweets and moving objects that seemed to be put up simply to lure people into the store. Hermione entered behind Ron and stopped in her tracks, floored by the number of candies atop the ceiling-high shelves. Her mouth was watering with anticipation as she approached a display of heavenly fudges towards the middle of the crowded store, all packaged in brightly colored boxes. She thanked Merlin that she had brought a decent amount of galleons with her as she picked out a few of the ones she thought to look the most appetizing and continued her scouting of the rest of the store.
By the time she considered herself to be finished, she had found a basket and piled the candy and fudge into it with vigor, making her way to the check-out counter quickly, intent on devouring each piece of her treats as soon as humanly possible. Hermione ended up waiting behind Ginny in the line and she turned to look at her with a smile, which then turned to doe-like eyes as she let her eyes fixate to what was in Hermione's hands. Hermione immediately pulled the candy back slowly out of reflex as Ginny stared at her.
“Are you seriously going to buy all of that?” She asked in awe.
Hermione nodded and she laughed a little to herself, “I keep on forgetting it's your first time here.”
Hermione smiled at her and continued to wait for her time to pay for the items. Ginny was saved from being a distraction, as she was up next and paid for her handful of sweets. Hermione stepped up after her and placed the basket atop the counter and pretended not to notice the clerk's look of astonishment at her large number of sweets. She quickly paid for her purchase and turned to walk towards where Harry, Ron, and Ginny were waiting for her towards the exit. But when she turned to look out the window for a brief moment, she saw Draco tapping lightly on the glass and pointing to a secluded alley between two shops across from where they were. She turned towards the three people she was supposed to meet up with quickly and nodded. He made his way to the alley after her confirmation, dodging the traffic of people along the street.
Hermione came up to them and they all turned to smile at her. She returned their smile with a false air of confidence and quickly made up a lie to ditch them, “I have to go run a letter to my parents really quick, so do you guys mind going to Zonkos without me and I'll meet you there in a few minutes?”
They turned to look at each other and Ginny spoke on behalf of them, “Sure, no problem. We'll see you in a few minutes.”
Hermione smiled gratefully at them and thought to herself, Well that was easier than I thought. These people are truly becoming more and more gullible with the coming weeks.
She let them walk out of the store in front of her and waited for them to be far away enough for her to sprint over to where Draco was hiding without being noticed. She arrived in the dark alley quickly and looked for the head of platinum hair that was always so potent in darker areas. She found him well towards the back, where there was a high fence and a few piled up boxes filled with trash and used magical items that seemed to be faulty. Draco turned around to face her and she dropped her bags along the wall. He swiftly backed her up against the hard wall and kissed her vigorously, catching her slightly off guard. It had been a while since they had done this and she had forgotten how spontaneous he was. She allowed him to probe the entrance of her mouth and trace the length of his tongue with hers. She moaned when he touched the small of her back and lifted the hem of her sweater to tough the bare of her skin. He really was a fantastic kisser.
But she had made a promise to herself that she would have no romantic (if you could call it that) entanglements while on her mission. So with a sudden burst of strength, she pushed him off of her and caused him to stumble into the wall opposite her with a bemused expression on his face. “Hey, what was that for?!” He asked, while brushing the small bit of dirt he had gathered on his jacket from his collision off of his shoulder.
“You know full well what that was for, you dolt!” she said with slight humor in her voice, “I already told you that we can't do that while I'm on mission here.”
“But I needed some action, Mia, I'm dying!” He said, throwing his hands up in exasperation.
“Just get Pansy, I'm sure she'd be more than willing to fulfill your needs.” She said with a slight smirk.
He returned her look, “You and I both know that she's not as good as you are in the sack.”
Hermione shrugged her shoulders in a noncommittal way, “Not my problem.” He knew that there was no reasoning with her after that point, so his face dropped to the ground in disappointment. “Now why did you drag me all the way over here? Surely it was more than your randy hormones itching their way out of your pants.”
“Ha ha” he laughed dryly. He stepped closer to her and his expression turned serious abruptly. She was immediately thrown out of her calm demeanor and looked into his grey eyes with intensity. “He wants to speak with you.”
Her heart dropped. “Now?”
He nodded and stepped back towards the fence. Hermione followed him to see a basin filled with a glowing liquid that looked similar to a pensive lying atop one of the stacks of boxes. Draco stepped aside and allowed Hermione to get closer to it. She leaned down to look into the swirling liquid and saw the Dark Lord's face appear in the substance slowly. Hermione had to hold back a sharp intake of breath as she became face-to-face with her master. He seemed to see her surprise, however, and smiled.
“Hello Hermione, I see Malfoy was true to his word in getting you to the basin.” His deep voiced echoed. She only nodded in response, not knowing what else to say. “It has come to my knowledge that you were sorted into Gryffindor, correct?”
Hermione's stomach lurched in fear. He would surely scorn her for it and demand answers that she did not have. She resorted to a one word answer, trying to save herself from giving him any other reason to heighten his sure displeasure at the situation, “Yes.”
He nodded in confirmation, “I have to say that I'm impressed.”
Hermione's brow furrowed. That was definitely not what she had been expecting. Where was the anger, the hostility, the questions? “Impressed?” she asked in a breathy voice.
“Why yes” he said simply, “It takes a truly gifted wizard to fool the Sorting Hat into placing you into a house opposite of the one you were destined for. Even I must say that it must have taken much strength and will-power in order to accomplish that, making your mission all the more easier for you to accomplish.”
She was floored. He thought that she had tricked the hat! The urge to correct him was brief, she knew that she had to take advantage of this and not make him question her ability for this job. “Thank you, master.”
“How are you classes coming along? Anything you are having trouble with?” he asked.
She shook her head, “Not at the moment. All of my classes are fairly easy and most are with H—Potter.” She had to correct herself quickly. She had almost said Harry!
He nodded in approval, “Making it far less difficult into befriending him and easing your way into his group of Muggle-loving cronies, I presume.”
“Yes, sir, most definitely.” She said.
“Excellent. Any news you have for me concerning Potter?” he asked.
Hermione knew to what he was referring to. Things like the D.A. and if he was training for the final battle. She had promised herself that she wouldn't tell him about the club, so she had to resort to lying. “No, master, nothing at the moment”
“Well it is early in the term, so you still have time to get closer to him and find those things out. I want you to become one of his closest alumni, I hope you realize this. It may be revolting, but sometimes one must resort to drastic measures to get to their goal.” He said with a cool expression.
Hermione nodded, “I understand, sir.”
“Good. That's all I needed to speak with you about. Expect another visit from me soon; Malfoy will fetch you when you are needed. Nice job so far, Hermione, keep up the good work.” And with that, he faded from the confines of the basin. Hermione exhaled a deep breath and looked up to see Draco tossing a rock up and down in the air lazily. He noticed the silence and looked up to meet her eyes.
“You know, you're lucky that I didn't tell him the look on your face when you were sorted into Gryffindor.” He said with a cocked eyebrow. Hermione clenched her jaw and he smirked at her, “Slow your roll, Mia, I'm not going too. I want to help you, remember.” He walked up to her and put his hands on her shoulders in what he thought was a comforting manner, “Just remember to keep your feelings in check around Potter, eh? It's getting quite sickening seeing you blush that way when he smiles at you.”
When he bent down to try and kiss her again, she shoved his hands off of her shoulders, picked up her bags, and stormed out of the alley, leaving him staring after her. She walked down the street towards Zonkos in time to see Harry and Ron paying for their things. Hermione entered and saw the many colorful, alluring objects begging for attention. She ignored them, however, and walked up to tap Ginny on the shoulder. She turned around slowly and frowned at her, “You were gone an awfully long time. What held you up?”
“Oh, long line.” Hermione answered flatly.
Ginny seemed to accept her excuse and they both turned to wait for Harry and Ron to finish buying their things. They were along shortly and both asked similar questions to Ginny's, to which she replied with the same pathetic excuse she had used before.
They all made their way to the carriages, deciding they were finished for the day. Piling into the small transport, they found themselves in the same order they had been in on the way to the village. Harry had recounted something Hermione had missed when she was “sending a letter to her parents” and she could see that he was trying to keep a straight face.
“And then, Ron asked the attendant if it was real chocolate. He said, yes, of course, and he ate it. A few seconds later, his teeth were green and he was singing a horrid rendition of the Wicked Sisters in an Irish accent! It took five minutes for him to get back to normal, and by that time he was yelling at the guy who convinced him it was real, asking for an apology, still sounding like drunken Irishman!” By the time he was finished, Harry was laughing and clutching his side, causing the whole lot of them to erupt in laughter. Even Ron had to admit that it was funny.
After they all recovered, Harry turned to Hermione and asked in a low voice, “Do you think that tops the boxer incident?”
Hermione chuckled and shook her head, “Not by a long shot.”
Harry smiled at her, “Well then we'll just have to keep on waiting.”
She felt her face get warm when he smiled at her. Hermione immediately turned away and tried to cool down her face with her hands. Draco was right, the little blighter! She actually blushed! She mentally scolded herself, using a fair few curse words she forgot were in her vocabulary, and as they arrived at Hogwarts, she found herself in a much sourer mood than she was when boarding the carriages that morning.
A/N: Thanks so much for all of your positive feedback! It means a lot that you take the time to write a review just for me. I hope that you're enjoying reading the fic at least half as much as I enjoy writing it. Seriously, this is the most fun I've had writing a fanfic ever. It's safe to say that this story is my favorite :]
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