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The sky was darkening slowly. Harry glanced at his watch – they have exactly two hours before McGonagall start gathering them all up and head back to Hogwarts.

‘Let’s go to Zap’s,’ Ron suggested. He pulled out seven sickles from his pocket, gazing at them adoringly. ‘Mum gave me this much money just for helping her clean out the rusty old garage. I’ve been dying to start collecting those new Galaxy Stardom cards – Dean bragged about getting one of Egotistic Eagoll from a Chocolate Frog, but everyone reckons he’s lying. Coming, Hermione?’

Hermione didn’t answer, but instead suddenly picked up her pace, followed suit by Harry and Ron. By the time they reached the end of the street, they were all panting.

Hermione turned her heels and changed directions, turning into a street that Harry realized unmistakably lead to the new Madam Malkin’s affiliate (he had heard off through Parvati and Lavender) – Aphrodite’s Dress Robes for All Ocassions. Psychically, somehow Harry could tell the same thoughts were running through Ron’s head. Hermione stopped abruptly and spoke feverishly, as if in a hurry to get rid of Harry and Ron.

‘Listen guys, I’ve got to go get mom and dad something from er… Dervish and Banges, so why don’t you two head off to Zaps without me? I’ll meet you there in half an hour.’

‘Hermione, what are you up to?’ Harry asked suspiciously. ‘Dervish and Banges is on the other side of Hogsmeade.’

‘Oh, I guess I f-forgot where it was. Thanks, Harry, you two go on ahead, I’ll be right with you soon.’

Ron’s right eyebrow went straight up. Harry clearly knew Hermione was definitely not wishing to set foot in Dervish and Banges. Ron shrugged and turned but Harry stood still.

‘Next Yule Balls not coming till our seventh year, and don’t you already have some really nice robes? And why didn’t you get them at Diagon Alley instead?’

Hermione flushed a deep shade of red. Obviously, she had not been expecting Harry to realize where she actually wanted to go. Ron was chewing his last bit of Chocolate Frog and staring at her at the same time. Between a mouthful, he muttered.

‘Hermione, what’s going on?’

‘Viktor’s invited me to Christmas dinner back at his home in Bulgaria,’ she said quietly, not looking at either Ron or Harry but suddenly taken extreme interest in her textbook-crammed bag.

Crookshanks raised its squashed face up to meet Hermione’s, who smiled lightly and started scratching it on the back.

It took a while for the words to sink in for Ron, at least in Harry’s observations. He stopped chewing in a halt as if realizing he’d just eaten a vomit-flavored Bertie bean. Then his eyes went wide, ears went scarlet, the freckles on his face deepened in color so much it looked like it was going to spring away from his now beet-root red face any minute, and Harry wasn’t sure if his wild red hair didn’t stand up on their roots, electrical sparks seizing through it.

Then his mildly surprised expression transformed dramatically into a not-so-heart-warming snarl.

‘Ooh, Vicky’s still sending letters to Hermi-ninny, isn’t he? Starting to miss her, isn’t he? Hoping for this occasion and longing for her to accept so he can possibly even propose a ring asking for her hand in marriage, isn’t he?’

‘RON!’ Hermione shrieked. Now Ron’s hair wasn’t the only one sizzling with electric sparks.

Harry longed to get away from here. He can stand their rows – ranging from Ron’s homework-copying to Hermione’s obsessions with SPEW – but this one concerning the famous seeker for the Bulgarian Quidditch Team, Viktor Krum, is one he’d rather write a two-foot essay for Snape on the properties of the guts of a leech than listen to the two of them spitting furiously at each other.

Ron was looking at Hermione as though she had made a really offensive comment about his family. Hermione’s white-eyed glare wasn’t reassuring either.

‘It’s none of your business to care about my whereabouts during holiday times which are the only times that I will finally get a chance to get away from YOU!’ Hermione said hotly. ‘You and your lousy homework, your outrageous remarks about SPEW, you – you biting my head off at the very mention of Viktor’s name! You make me SICK!’ She was practically screaming her head off now.

Crookshanks opened a mouth full of teeth with wads of mice stuck between them and uttered a loud yawn, distracting nobody nevertheless.

‘Nobody said I ever CARED if you go off and live with that stuck-up spoilt brat of a quidditch player for all everybody cared!’ yelled Ron furiously. ‘All I’m saying is that someone like him doesn’t deserve you!’

Ron’s face, if possible at the time being, went redder and he said no more.

Hermione’s expression softened for a millisecond. Then tears spilt from her bloodshot eyes and she simply took off in the direction of Aphrodite’s without another word.

After Hermione was off a few paces, Harry caught sight of a mane of flaming red hair and in the distance, Ginny was sprinting towards Hermione, clearly unaware of the argument judging by the excited look on her face.

Harry noticed that no sooner, swarms of girls were crowded around the shop, gasping and pointing and the show windows. Hermione and Ginny set off towards the big visible sign in glittering blue and turquoise, ‘Aphrodite’s Dress Robes for All Ocassions’ without a back glance at Harry and Ron.

As for Ron, Harry nervously checked out his friend, he was breathing hard, his hands balled into hard fists. Harry wasn’t sure if he should say anything at all or simply walk off, leaving the decision to follow him or not up to Ron.

He selected the first choice. Harry strode off to the right, leaving behind a fuming but somewhat depressed-looking Ron.

Seconds later Harry heard footsteps behind him and Ron quickly caught up. Harry glanced sideways at his friend.

Ron’s face had stopped looking angry, now somewhat even sorry for what he had said to her, though he never mentioned a thing about this to Harry.

After seconds of silent walking, Ron broke it with an audible smirk. ‘Anyone could tell why she didn’t choose to Madam Malkin’s at the start of the year instead. Aphrodite’s been posting an ad for a special sale on the Daily Prophet for the past month. Ginny’s crazy about the new dresses made from spun unicorn hair.'

'Softer than the finest silk, shinier than the most valuable satin, fit for a queen - a girl’s dream dress robes perfectly ideal for formal occasions,’ Ron mocked Ginny reading from the newspaper with an over-excited look on his face.

‘Pfft! No doubt Hermione’s going to empty all her pocket money for one that’ll make Vicky’s eyes pop out of his head, or at least, that’s what she hopes to do, for not even the whomping willow could shake that insufferable grim expression off the idiot’s face.’

Harry took in ever bitter word flowing out of Ron but said nothing. Ron was in fact rather grateful for Harry’s silence, for at the moment it was the most sympathetic thing Harry could have done for him.

Soon they were standing in front of a shop with large windows and a big sign which read ‘Zap’s Trading Cards Bungalow’ and a big (gulp, alive) marble statue of a wizard dressed in robes decorated with lightning bolts was standing beside the doorway to greet them. A booming voice rang through the statue as Ron was just about to reach for the doorknob. ‘Welcome to Zap’s, a wizard’s most favored source for treating themselves with sweets only second-best to Honeydukes, each and every one accompanied with a trading card. Witches’ Woes, Pirates’ Tea Party, Galaxy Stardom – you name it, only the most popular ones up to date endeavored by young witches and wizards of all ages!’

Ron grinned while Harry stood beside him open-mouthed.

Just then, a black boy whom both Harry and Ron recognized right away as their fellow Gryffindor Dean Thomas came bursting through the door.

‘Help me guys! Lee’s trying to set my Egotistic Eagoll card on fire with his fire-breathing Devil’s Dragon!’

>>lol R&R plz many thanx
much love, Sunny

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