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Chapter 10: The Hypocrite The trek back to school occurred on a gray and cloudy day. But the students were in high spirits, and chatted excitedly about their holiday adventures en route to their common rooms. Draco distanced himself from the other Slytherins in the hall and even ignored a fellow housemate’s inquires about his new leather shoes, as he watched Hermione from the corner of his eye. She, of course, was standing near her two ever-present friends. When Hermione’s gaze finally met his, Draco tilted his head to the right and then looked away. “Did you get those for Christmas?” the second year Slytherin asked again. “They look very expensive—“ “Listen, I can’t talk right now,” Draco said. Glancing over the other boy’s shoulder, Draco could see the other Slytherins waiting for him near the entrance to the dungeons. “Tell everyone I’ll join them in the common room later.” After the youngster darted away, Draco veered into another hall. There, he found a dark enclave and waited. When he finally heard her familiar footsteps, he closed his eyes. Soon, he could detect the scent of her perfume. Within moments, her fingertips touched the side of his face and traced along his cheek. They remained there for several minutes, before Hermione began to pull away from his embrace. Draco’s fingers remained curled in her hair when he whispered, “We’ll meet later. I’ll send you an owl with the time.” But he could not let her go and stole one last kiss so he could have something to soothe him until their next meeting. ~*~*~ Sitting in his favorite chair in the common room, Terry was holding court in front of an audience of first and second years. Some of them were sitting crossed-legged, while others lay on their stomachs, gazing up at him with awe. “You wouldn’t believe the wild fun we had that night,” Terry stated. “The women alone were worth going.” Pansy was engrossed in her own conversation with a group of Slytherin girls, when Terry’s comment caught her attention. “Stop lying. There were no hired women there. You’re making it sound as though it was a bordello.” Terry stopped talking in mid-sentence and threw her an aggrieved look for intruding on his show. “Of course, you wouldn’t know anything about that,” he shouted over his shoulder. “We gentlemen had our own celebration the night before the party.” He smiled to himself when an astonished expression developed on Pansy’s face. Draco climbed through the portrait hole then, and was immediately bombarded with questions. “Weren’t there tons of women at your party?” Terry called out to him. “Tell everyone about the entertainment we had because Pansy doesn’t believe me.” Standing in the middle of the room, Draco said nothing and began to scratch his neck. He looked from Terry to Pansy, before deciding to let them settle the argument on their own. “There were women there,” Terry proclaimed. “They were so beautiful. And if my memory serves me right, several of them took a liking to Draco.” He turned his head and winked at Pansy. “I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two of them came to visit him when we all left.” A second year got up from his seat on the floor and approached Draco. He placed his hand on Draco’s shoulder and asked, “Is it true there were women there? What did you do with them?” Draco folded his robes and draped them over his arm. He turned around and stared at the youngster; it was the same boy from the hall. Draco continued to look down at him, until that hand was quickly removed from his shoulder. “The place was filled with women,” Crabbe shouted from the other end of the room. “And he did plenty with them, too. We could hear one girl screaming from the master bedroom.” The statement caused the lucky few who were there that evening to hoot and holler. But even they had to scratch their head and mull over the events of that night. The alcohol flowed freely that evening, and many still had trouble recalling what they participated in, let alone Draco’s activities. “He wore her out,” Terry stated confidently. The other boys began to smile. Yes he did, they all said to themselves. Draco said nothing to counter that belief and continued to the stairs. But he paused long enough to glance in Pansy’s direction. Her back was now turned to him. He then surveyed Pansy’s group of girlfriends. They, on the other hand, were not timid about expressing their disdain and glared at him. He flashed them his biggest smile. ~*~*~ Draco stood in that shower stall with his eyes shut. Sleep had eluded him once again that evening; but unlike other nights, he did not try to force it. He actually enjoyed lying awake with his thoughts. Drowsiness had eventually caught up with him though, allowing him three hours of sleep. But he was mentally awake and bright as he readied himself for the start of the second term. When he entered his dorm to put his toiletries away, he was surprised to see that the other boys were awake. They, including the boys from the sixth year, were gathered near Blaise’s bed. Some were still in their pajamas. They stopped whispering when he passed them. “Discussing another conquest?” Draco asked, as he walked to the mirror. “We were discussing your conquest,” stated a sixth year. After squeezing a few drops of gel onto his fingers, Draco combed the product through his hair. “I thought I made it clear last time that I don’t like talking about my—“ “Why didn’t you tell us about Granger?” asked Blaise. “If I made a conquest like that, I’d pass out buttons.” Draco stopped smoothing back his hair and glanced at their reflections in the mirror; they were staring back at him. He placed the comb on the dresser and asked in an even voice, “Who said I was with Granger?” No one replied. He turned around and crossed one leg over the other. “I asked you guys a question. Who said I was with Granger?” Terry got to his feet. “It was the portrait who told me. Last night, I was returning from the Astronomy Tower when he said he wanted to share a secret with me. He said he and Vincent caught you guys kissing. They even overheard you inviting her to the manor. He said Granger was to come over on the day after the party.” He stopped talking and gazed at the other boys; they all gestured for him to continue. “And earlier last night, I remember Prudence telling me how Pansy was upset because you were entertaining another girl in your guesthouse. At first, I just assumed it was one of the hired women. But after hearing what the portrait had to say, I knew it had to be Granger.” Draco picked up his comb and tapped it against the dresser. He then flung it towards his trunk. The other boys ducked their heads when the comb ricocheted off the trunk and bounced off the wall, before landing somewhere in the corner of the room. Draco sat down on his bed. Terry took a seat beside him. “What you’ve done is amazing. You got the mother of all Gryffindors.” He then turned to Brandon and said, “I’m sorry, but getting hand release from Parvati is not much. Plus, we all know that she and her sister are attracted to us.” Brandon shrugged his shoulders. “Not only,” continued Terry, “is Granger betraying her allegiance to Potter by sleeping with you…” He lowered his voice then and whispered, “She’s muggle-born.” The statement caused the other eight boys in the room to murmur to one another. Although sleeping with a muggle-born was a very taboo subject – one that is only discussed amongst trusted friends – it was the secret fantasy of many young Slytherins. “Was it good?” asked Blaise. Keeping tightlipped as usual, Draco only stared at him. The expression on his face was that of a man who was confident and self-assured; a man that did not have to brag about his accomplishments. But he said more through his silence than words could actually express, and thus caused the other boys’ minds to run wild with thoughts of what occurred between him and Hermione. The pats on the back soon started. And those who were too timid to touch him, or had been reprimanded for doing so in the past, nodded in his direction. Draco turned away from the others, and focused his attention down on his hands. I have to go to the owlery, he thought. To explain. But not now. Later. ~*~*~ “Hey you,” Arthur the Plunderer bellowed. He was staring directly at a boy who was roughhousing with anyone who would participate. “That is no way to behave.” The boy stood motionless and lowered his head. Arthur smiled to himself; the present crop of first years was easier to intimidate than the previous years’ group of students. But his grandest smile, which revealed several missing teeth and gave his appearance a devilish quality, was reserved for Draco. He looked into the crowd of students now gathered in the hall, as they prepared to head to breakfast together, and called out, “Malfoy, may I have a word with you?” Draco ignored him for a moment, but eventually sauntered to the portrait. “I believe congratulations are in order,” Arthur said. “I think I underestimated your abilities.” Unlike other times, when Arthur had a hidden agenda, this statement was a sincere compliment from a man who, above all, valued manliness in his male students. And one significant trait of being a man was the ability to handle the opposite sex, both authoritatively and amorously. “None of these other riffraff,” he added, as his gaze fell upon several boys in the crowd, “have the finesse that I’ve seen you demonstrate. Brandon perhaps, but even he has years to go before he could catch up to you.” “What business was it of yours to tell everyone?” asked Draco. “Now, don’t be angry. I know you wanted the privilege of breaking the news. But I couldn’t help myself. Getting a Gryffindor is not an everyday occurrence for one of us. You’re one of the few young men who’ve been successful at such as task.” He then whispered, “I’ve been told the seduction occurred at your guesthouse. Which is a lovely touch. I’ve heard many stories of your family’s estate.” Pansy stood a few feet away, listening to the conversation. The news had already reached her ears hours ago. Millicent found it amusing to wake her at dawn to tell her the shocking revelation. She closed her eyes. A hired woman was something she could easily forgive; seeking the services of a professional was a rite of passage for many young men in her social standing. But a fellow student… “She will soon be forgotten,” she repeated in her head. But even those words no longer had the calming effect they once possessed. And observing the way other boys patted Draco’s back and whispered jokingly into his ear only added to her frustrations. “I don’t think this reckless behavior should be congratulated,” she said to Arthur. “It’s disgusting.” Arthur stopped talking to Draco and slowly turned his head in Pansy’s direction. “Just because your sex is not allowed the freedoms that we enjoy does not mean you have to cheapen his accomplishment. And let me remind you, young lady, that those of the feminine persuasion should mind their place and not intrude on the conversation of men.” ~*~*~ Many times during the night, Hermione’s hand had run along her pillow, assuming it was Draco. But she was jolted out of sleep when her fingers were unable to find his warm skin. She stayed awake most of the night, as she stared into the moonlit room, periodically watching Parvati toss in her sleep. She now faced a yearning she once rolled her eyes at when witnessed in other lovesick girls. It was queer, she thought, how one person could affect her entire being. Even those close to her saw a difference in her appearance and demeanor. Comments had been made in the common room about her skin; it exuded a glow. But this new situation also brought crippling anxieties. That he had not yet owled her with a meeting time was troubling. He was usually very timely with his communications. “But he’ll do it tomorrow morning,” she said to herself. It was this reassurance that allowed her to go back to sleep. Thoughts of owl posts, however, were not on her mind that morning when she raced to the Great Hall. Ron and Harry were still in the dorms searching for the redhead’s lost schoolbooks. After ten minutes of combing the common room for these items, she had given up. And now she hurried down the hall to get something to eat. But just as she reached the doors, someone caught hold of her robes. “I need to talk to you,” said Mandy. “I can’t right now. I’m already running late as it is. Perhaps later.” Hermione took another step towards the doors, but found she could not move. She glanced down; Mandy’s fingers remained tightly curled around her robes. She deeply inhaled the delectable smell of bacon and eggs, before allowing herself to be led away. The location Mandy chose to make her declaration brought a smile to Hermione’s face. She stood in the same spot Draco had waited for her, and reminisced about their last encounter. However, daydreaming was a luxury she would have to indulge in on another day. Mandy was tapping her foot on the floor, waiting for her full attention. “I need to warn you about something,” said Mandy. “Warn me about what?” “I overheard several Slytherins talking about you during breakfast.” “I wouldn’t be concerned about them,” Hermione said flippantly. “They’re always talking about me. Or giving me dirty looks.” She placed her hand on Mandy’s shoulder. “Listen, I appreciate your concern, but it’s really nothing. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get something to eat before class begins.” “They were talking about you and Draco.” Hermione’s arm slowly dropped back to her side. “What about me and Draco?” Mandy didn’t answer immediately, and lowered her gaze. “It’s a bit embarrassing for me to say this,” she muttered. She remained quiet again, longer this time, before finally saying, “They were talking about you sleeping with Draco.” Hermione leaned against the wall and fixed her eyes on her hands. She reached behind her to grab hold of something; but there was nothing there for her to grasp. The hunger she once felt was taken over by a nauseating sensation in her stomach. She remained in this slouching position until the adjoining hall suddenly became noisy with students. She had missed breakfast. After watching the other students with a blank expression on her face, Hermione cleared her throat. “That’s a lie.” Her voice was unwavering and possessed the conviction she wanted to convey. “Of course, they would make up something like that. Everyone has been gossiping about us ever since we started working together.” “I know the Slytherins like to talk,” said Mandy, “and make up rumors about people’s sex lives. But this goes beyond being a rumor.” Bracing herself for the worst, Hermione clenched her jaw and kept her face rigid. She wanted to maintain an appearance of calm when Mandy revealed to her that she had been witnessed at Malfoy Manor. She focused her attention on a small hole in the wall, just as Mandy uttered, “They claim that one of the school ghosts caught you guys together.” Hermione’s gaze flew quickly back to Mandy. She knew of one character in the school that possessed a great love for producing and dispersing gossip. And this particular spirit found her and Draco’s project match-up to be a great subject for his latest jokes. Slowly, Hermione’s body relaxed and her breathing became less forced. “Are you sure it wasn’t a poltergeist who told them this?” “No, I specifically remember them saying it was a ghost,” said Mandy. “They didn’t say the ghost’s name, but it witnessed you guys in the library. In the study room. And last night, Draco told everyone that you guys had indeed been intimate in there.” “Draco?” Mandy nodded. “He made an announcement to the boys in his dorm. They didn’t go into detail about what he said, but he confirmed everything the ghost had seen.” Although they were safe from view, Mandy lowered her voice and said, “I don’t think the Slytherins will keep something like this to themselves. So just be prepared if someone says something to you about it.” She tried to make eye contact with Hermione, but the other girl had turned her head to the side. “Listen, I’ve been in the same situation. So, if you ever need to talk…” She reached over and touched Hermione’s arm. “There’s nothing to talk,” said Hermione. “Because nothing happened. They just made it up to spite me.” “But Hermione—“ “Why would you trust anything they’d say? They’re repeating some bogus story Peeves told them. And as for Draco…” Hermione paused. A smile, which always formed when she thought of Draco, was beginning to curve onto her lips. She lowered her head and pressed her lips tightly together. “Draco’s still mad he had to do this project with me. He only confirmed Peeves’ story to save face in front of his friends.” “Are you sure about that?” asked Mandy. Her voice softened as she uttered, “I know it can be something that’s hard to accept. It took a long time for it to sink in when everyone started talking about me. So, I definitely know how you feel.” “Listen, no offense, but you and I are not in the same boat. Okay? These are just rumors. I am not sleeping with Draco. I definitely feel sorry for what you had to go through, but…” She stopped talking when she saw the expression on Mandy’s face. Hermione looked away; she didn’t mean for her tone to sound as harsh as it did, nor was it her intention to wound the other girl. “I’m sorry,” Hermione finally said. “It’s very kind of you to give me a head’s up on what’s going on. But it’s nothing for me or you to be concerned about.” She touched Mandy’s arm and gave her a grateful smile, before heading down the hall for her class. ~*~*~ Hermione scanned the faces of all those standing outside of Potions class; she could not find Ron or Harry. She walked to the small group of Gryffindor boys gathered nearest to the door and asked, “Have any of you seen Ron or Harry this morning?” Seamus and Dean stopped talking and stared at her. Neither one said a word. Hermione’s gaze flickered to either boy, as a puzzled look came over her face. “It’s not a hard question,” she added. She finally turned to Neville and asked, “Did you see them?” Neville glanced away. He looked down at the floor while he spoke, and said in a soft voice, “Last I remember, they were still looking for Ron’s things. So I think they might still be in the common room.” “Well, they better not be late. Snape’s already warned them about that.” Hermione gazed at the end of the hall, hoping to see Ron and Harry race around the corner at any given moment. But after several minutes, she gave up hope. When Hermione turned her attention back to the three boys, she saw that they had moved away from her. They were now huddled together, as they resumed whispering to one another. That they would not talk in her presence did not bother her; after all, they could have been discussing a private matter. But the manner in which Neville glanced at her every so often did cause her to raise an eyebrow. Seeing that she was excluded from their group, Hermione opened her bag and searched for her Potions notes. She was surveying her roll of parchment, when she glanced up to see Pansy and some of the other Slytherin girls standing in front of her. Her eyes briefly flittered to each girl. She then went back to her reading. “Did you have a pleasant winter break, Granger?” Pansy asked. After continuing to read for another moment, Hermione mumbled, “Yes, I did.” “And did you receive lots of gifts?” Hermione finally lifted her head. “Parkinson, what are you on about? Because I can’t believe that you’re being nice to me.” “I was just asking about your gifts,” Pansy remarked in an innocent tone. She then looked around at the other Slytherin girls. “I mean, is it such a horrible thing to ask someone about their holidays? Geesh, some people can be so combative.” Pansy faced Hermione once more. “I asked about your gifts because I wanted to show you what I got for Christmas.” She then proceeded to stick out her left arm. “That’s a very nice ring,” Hermione said half-heartedly. “Yes, it is nice. And you can just imagine my surprise when Draco gave it to me.” She paused and watched as the bored look on Hermione’s face disappeared. And for the first time during their interaction, Hermione did not seem preoccupied with her roll of parchment. A smile formed on Pansy’s lips. “I guess he’s decided to make our relationship official.” “Why are you telling me this?” “No particular reason. Just wanted to share the good news with as many people as possible.” Feeling satisfied with herself, Pansy held her head in the air and slowly walked away. Hermione huffed loudly. She turned towards Parvati, who had been watching the exchange, and proclaimed, “Can you believe her? Some people are so full of themselves.” Parvati did not respond and gave her a sideways glance. After a prolonged silence, she finally muttered, “It seems to me that you’re the one who’s full of herself.” “What?” “You heard me,” Parvati said. Lavender reached over and touched her friend’s arm, but Parvati pushed her away. Parvati faced Hermione and looked her up and down. “You are so full of,” she lowered her voice, “shit. It just makes me so mad when I think of all the times you’ve rolled your eyes at me when you’ve overheard me talking about him. You’ve always said he was vile and disgusting, and how you didn’t understand why my sister and I threw ourselves at him.” “Please Parvati, not here,” said Lavender. “You’re causing a scene.” “I don’t care.” Parvati placed her hands on her hip as she glared at Hermione. “You once said I must have been desperate for liking him. But you were the one who was desperate. Desperate to have him all to yourself.” Hermione’s eyes traveled to the other Gryffindors, who were now watching her. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. How can I? I don’t even know who you’re referring to.” “Malfoy.” When the expression on Hermione’s face began to change, Parvati added, “Oh, now you understand, don’t you? We all know about your little escapades with him. We know you two have been sneaking around the castle together.” Hermione crossed her arms against her chest. “Here we go again with the dumb rumors. Let me guess, Peeves told you he saw us doing it in the library. Am I right?” “No. It was two portraits that saw you guys together. One of them was Arthur the Plunderer. He guards the Slytherin dorms. And the other one…I don’t know his name, but he resides on the seventh floor. They saw you and Draco kissing.” “Sure,” Hermione said. “They did. And even Malfoy confirmed that you guys had been together. You can go and ask any one of the Slytherins. They were all talking about it just before you arrived. He told them everything this morning.” The glare in Hermione’s eyes intensified, matching that of Pansy’s. “And what exactly did he say?” “He said you came over his house during the break. It was on the twenty-sixth.” Parvati turned around to confirm the date with Lavender, who nodded. “Yes, you came over on the twenty-sixth and you guys had sex in his guesthouse.” Thinking that Hermione was going to deny the incident, Parvati added, “Go and ask Zabini. He was at Malfoy’s Christmas party and he said everyone was instructed to leave the house by noon on the twenty-sixth. I guess Malfoy wanted you guys to have some privacy.” “You went to Malfoy’s house?” asked Dean. Hermione attempted to shake her head, but had suddenly lost control of her body, and stood motionless. Her gaze flittered to Seamus, who was staring at her open mouthed; then to Neville, who would not look at her. “These are all just vicious lies,” she said. Parvati snorted loudly and whispered something into Lavender’s ear. Both girls laughed. Seeing that she now had an audience, Parvati pushed back the sleeves of her robes and continued to talk. “Lavender and I only talked about Malfoy,” Parvati stated. “We never actually thought of doing anything with him. Being with him would betray all the principles of our house.” She then placed her hand over her heart to show she had no devious intentions in her body. She got a much needed ego boost from those around her, who were now nodding in approval at her honorability. With her confidence soaring, Parvati held her stare level with that of Hermione’s, and allowed a barrage of accusations to pour from her lips. Lavender held onto her friend’s arm, tightening her grasp when ever Parvati made a particularly strong attack on Hermione’s character. Hermione, however, did not hear these words. She began to retrace the events of the past couple of weeks, thinking of incidences where she and Draco were careless about their indiscretions. Her mind narrowed on the tryst following their Hogsmeade excursion. They had made sure that no one was around, she thought. And they had not seen any portraits… The drumming of her heart quickened. She opened her eyes. Parvati was still talking, loud enough to rouse even the Slytherins. Hermione glanced past Parvati’s shoulder and searched the crowd. Parvati paused long enough to trace her gaze. “He’s not here,” she said. “Your knight in shining armor is not here to rescue you.” When Hermione made eye contact with her, she added, “Malfoy’s running an errand for Snape and can’t get you out of this now.” The smile took a long time to form on her lips, but when it finally did develop, it was full of venom. Everyone continued to stare at Hermione, waiting for her response. But she said nothing as she stared at Parvati. For a quick moment, many anticipated a physical altercation to ensue; but the boys’ fantasy of watching the two girls shred one another’s garments while they rolled on the floor never materialized. Hermione stood defiant at first, holding up her chin and daring them to judge her. However, that stance became too exhausting to maintain, and she soon found herself searching for reassurance. She eyed Sally, a sweet natured girl she had counseled in the past, but the look in the other girl’s eyes was harsh. After several minutes of enduring accusatory glares, Hermione turned on her heels and walked away. Her footsteps were quick, but very controlled. But once she was out of sight, she began to run. ~*~*~ “Why are you always misplacing things?” Harry asked. He trotted alongside Ron, as they both hurried to make their class. “You made me miss breakfast. And now we’re going to get in trouble with Snape.” Ron did not respond and ran ahead of his friend. He came to a sudden stop when he reached the students still gathered in the hall. When an out of breath Harry had finally reached his side, he remarked, “I guess we’re not in trouble after all. And if you’re hungry, I have some chocolate frogs in my bag you can have.” He opened his book bag and began a search for the candy. Harry leaned against the wall and took the chocolate confection from Ron. “Where’s Hermione?” he asked as he bit into the leg. “Probably had to rush to the library to do more research. You know how everything has to be perf—” Ron stopped talking. Parvati, who was now chatting loudly in the corner, suddenly caught his attention. He nudged Harry’s shoulder and then pointed in Parvati’s direction. Both boys soon moved closer to her. “She’s so hypocritical,” Parvati said to the crowd gathered around her. “She used to walk around the dorms acting so high and mighty and looking down at us. Always telling us how we should conduct ourselves. ‘I would never do that’ she always said. ‘I would never degrade myself like that.’ But I guess she just couldn’t live up to the high standards she set for everyone else.” “That wasn’t very nice to embarrass her like that,” said Neville. “Anyway, I don’t believe the rumors. I don’t think she would do such a thing.” “And since when did we start believing the Slytherins?” interjected Dean. “They could just be making this up.” Some in the Gryffindor crowd began to mutter to themselves, while others stood with vacant expressions on their faces, unable to form a definite opinion. Ron draped his arm around Dean’s shoulder and whispered, “What are we talking about? What have the Slytherins done this time?” Dean remained quiet. After throwing Ron a few fleeting glances from the corner of his eye, he finally moved away from the other boy. And soon, those who had once been adamant about being heard stood silent. The most vocal of them all, Parvati, had suddenly lost her voice, and stared at her fingers. “It’s just a stupid rumor,” Neville finally said. “You shouldn’t believe what’s being said.” Harry was about to bring the chocolate frog to his mouth, but stopped just before it reached his lips. “What rumor are you talking about?” “The one about Hermione. Everyone was talking about it over breakfast—I forgot, you guys weren’t at breakfast. Anyway, the rumor is that…” He looked around to see if any of his fellow housemates were going to help break the news to Ron and Harry. But everyone had their back turned to him, as they feigned interest in something else. Neville pulled Ron and Harry aside. “The rumor is that Hermione slept with Malfoy.” His voice was so low it caused Ron to ask him to repeat himself. Neville turned his head away momentarily. Soon, the redness flooded to his plump cheeks, the only bit of baby fat he had left. Not raising his voice any louder, he said, “There’s a rumor that Hermione and Malfoy had sex.” “What?” Harry asked, although he had clearly heard the other boy. After staring at Ron, who looked at him with a dumbfounded expression on his face, Harry muttered, “Does this have anything to do with her report?” “Yeah,” Ron added. “Ever since she started that stupid report with him, there’s been all sorts of rumors flying around. Harry, remember that time in Hogsmeade when that Slytherin said something to me about seeing Hermione and Malfoy snogging at the Three Broomsticks? I wanted to punch him in the face. But you had to stop me.” “That’s because there were four of them. They would have killed you.” “I’ve heard all the talk, too,” said Neville. “But this time, they’re saying that Malfy admitted they actually did it. He apparently made a big announcement to his dorm last night.” Ron turned his head and stared at where the Slytherins were gathered. “Where is he?” he asked. “Malfoy isn’t here. He’s helping,” Neville’s suddenly lowered his voice and mumbled, “Professor Snape. They had to fetch something for today’s lesson. And we can’t go inside until they come back.” Harry crumpled the chocolate frog wrapper in his hand and shoved the debris in his pocket. “What exactly did Malfoy tell everyone?” “I don’t know word for word what he said,” Neville began, “because I heard all the information second-hand. But from what everyone has been saying, he and Hermione had arranged to meet at his house over the break. His parents were going out of town, so he would have the house all to himself. And it was in his guesthouse that they,” he paused and proceeded to scratch the back of his neck, “had sex.” “What day was this suppose to take place?” asked Harry. “The day after Christmas.” “That little rat is making it up,” Ron declared. “Hermione owled me that same morning. Now, how could she do that if she was at his house? I really doubt she would bring her owl to Malfoy Manor.” “Well, she was supposed to be there in the afternoon,” Neville muttered. “Malfoy had some sort of party at his home the night before, so I guess he wanted time to clean up.” A crinkling noise escaped from Harry’s pocket, as he fiddled with the candy wrapper. He stared at Neville for a moment, causing the other boy to look down guiltily for having to be the bearer of bad news. He then looked at Ron. “But didn’t her letter say she couldn’t come over to your house because she had too much work to do?” Before Ron could answer, he stated, “She was probably still working on her report. And I bet you she went over to his house to finish it.” Ron contorted his face and shook his head at the idea. “Hermione wouldn’t do something like that. She knows better.” Harry glanced at Neville; the other boy was following their conversation with great interest. He took hold of Ron’s shoulder and pulled him a few feet away. Lowering his voice, he said, “Hermione was determined to find out as much about Malfoy as she could. So, I think going to his house is something she would do. She probably told her parents she was coming to your place, and instead went to his house. And with his parents gone, she could do a lot of snooping around.” Slowly, Harry’s words began to ring true, causing Ron to finally accept that the scenario at Malfoy Manor could have taken place –without the sexual interactions, of course. “That scoundrel,” Ron blurted. “Hermione came over there to study, and he used the situation to his advantage by painting her as some Slytherin groupie.” His voice rose significantly when he muttered these last words. He looked directly at Parvati. “Which she’s not. Unlike some other people.” “Is there something you’d like to say to me, Ron?” asked Parvati. She flipped her hair over her shoulder and glared at him from the corner of her eye. A deep breath escaped Neville’s mouth. “Must we watch another fight? Didn’t you get your fix from yelling at Hermione?” “When did this happen?” asked Harry. “About five minutes ago. Hermione left and went down the same way that you guys just came from. Didn’t you see—” Ron and Harry didn’t wait around to hear the rest of the statement and darted down the hall.

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