by Jennifer-Oksana

Hogsmeade was better if you were Muggle-born, Hermione thought as she, Harry, and Ron made their way to the Three Broomsticks. It reminded her of nothing so much as the movie of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, with Willy Wonka dancing about, explaining things to the adults with mock seriosity.

"Butterscotch? Buttergin? You running something on the side here?" she could almost hear Harry's Uncle Vernon ask a Wonka who looked so much like Dumbledore that Hermione almost got the giggles.

"Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker," Dumbledore-Wonka replied to Uncle Vernon. Meanwhile, Hermione, in the temporary role of Violet Beauregard, imagined Malfoy doing a rendition of "I Want it Now" and couldn't keep herself from laughing.

"What's the joke?" Ron asked. "Come on, Hermione, no fair laughing unless you share."

"You won't get it," Hermione said. "Harry might. Harry? Did you ever see Willy Wonka &the Chocolate Factory?"

"Once or twice," Harry said warily. "Why?"

"Malfoy as Veruca Salt," Hermione replied. Harry did a double-take, then began to chuckle along with Hermione, while Ron looked sour for being left out of the joke. "Oh, Ron, don't be cross! You'll just have to come to my house over holidays and then I'll show you the video."

"I want a party," Harry warbled, apropos of nothing. "I want baboons and a million balloons--"

Ron looked at Harry like he'd gone quite mad. "What are you doing, Harry?"

"Sorry," Harry said with a grin. "I was just imagining Malfoy singing that in a lovely frock and long blonde hair and it had to be sung."

Hermione burst into laughter, caught up in the image of Draco frolicking in a lovely dress. Unfortunately, Malfoy almost immediately stopped frolicking, folded his arms across his chest and gave Hermione a look that reminded her that Malfoy had something on her that was far worse to her than Draco in a frock to him.

A half-imagined thought of herself, half-dressed and pushed up against a school wall, kissing Malfoy passionately came to mind no matter how she tried to repress it, and the laughing stopped.

"Well, as long as Hermione's laughing, I don't care if you picture Malfoy dancing the can-can with Neville's gran while wearing a kilt," Ron said. Hermione looked at him, trying not to feel odd. Ron was a little too interested in her laughing for her comfort.

"I'm fine, Ron," she said. "I've just been studying."

"Yeah, studying somewhere other than the Gryffindor common room," he replied. "Since you've become a prefect, we never see you."

Hermione noticed that Harry was staying quite out of it, which was very sensible and quite infuriating of him. Then again, Harry always got very quiet and self-contained when Ron and Hermione had a row, even if they were only doing it to keep in practice.

"Are you really surprised about that?" she asked.

"Too right I am!" Ron replied sharply. "It's not like you. You don't know anything that's going on these days. Half the time you won't even speak to me--us--in lessons, and afterwards, you're off doing something prefectly--which is awfully suspicious. Even Percy wasn't so busy as you are and he was Head Boy as much as you'll be Head Girl."

Damn and drat and blast. Ron was right and he wasn't about to let the point go to waste. Hermione was going to have to think up a story or it was going to have to come out that she'd been neglecting everything to skiv off with--

"Well, look who it is," Draco drawled. "Harry Potter, the Boy Blunder, and their little pet know-it-all. Nice hair, Granger!"

Did the thrice-cursed boy have a perfect timing charm to be at the wrong place at the right time everywhere he went? It was beginning to be uncanny.

Ron, who never needed an excuse to get angry at Malfoy, had his fighting face on in a split second. But Hermione, to Ron and Harry's surprise (though probably not to Malfoy's), was faster, pushing Draco five feet away and into the wall of the Three Broomsticks before a single spell could be uttered or wand brandished.

"What did you say?" she asked menacingly.

"I said nice hair!" he replied, while Harry and Ron kept looking on, not sure what to make of any of it even before Draco dropped his voice. "What's your problem, Granger? The boys not giving you enough attention?"

"What's your problem?" she hissed at him. "What are you doing, following me about everywhere? Are you mad? You're going to get us in trouble."

"Come on, Hermione, stop giving him what for and just give 'im a good wallop!" Ron yelled.

"I'm not following you anywhere," Draco growled. "Hate to burst your bubble, Granger, but you're not the reason I wake up mornings. This was just an unfortunate incident." Then, for the crowd's benefit, he raised his voice. "Let go of me already, Mudblood."

"I hate you!" Hermione said, loud enough for Harry and Ron's benefit. "You despicable little toady!"

She gave him a nice, hearty smack with a sharp little backhanded companion for good measure, though her heart wasn't in it. Malfoy snorted and pushed past her, the look of someone who wanted to say, "that's not what you said last night" in his overbred, pretty boy face. Hermione looked away, blushing furiously.

"Run fast, Malfoy, or a ferocious girl might beat you up again!" one of the boys hooted after him as he slunk away, leaving Hermione to stare at her shoes and Harry and Ron to put their arms around her companionably, as if she was the champion of the day.

"No one gets to Draco like you do, Hermione," Harry said cheerfully. "Did you see the look on his face when he went off? It was--"

"Classic," Ron said, clouting Hermione lightly on the shoulder. "You showed him. But what were you two talking about?"

"No-nothing," Hermione gasped as the boys steered her into the pub. "Just insults. The usual."

"You both looked a little worried for the usual," Ron replied, not letting up.

"Oh, come off it, Ron," Harry said. "What do you think, Hermione and Draco have a secret alliance with You-Know-Who and all the fighting's just for show?"

Ron laughed and both boys completely missed Hermione's slight squirm in their amusement at the idea. "Oh, yeah, because she's such an obvious choice for a double agent," he said. "Can't resist Malfoy's charms, right?"

"Who knows?" Hermione said almost comfortably, playing the part admirably even though her stomach was churning. "He's quite good-looking, even if you two don't see it. Maybe I prefer blondes."

"And maybe I prefer locking you in your dormitory until you see sense," Ron replied, looking genuinely horrified. "Good-looking? He sneers! And he does that thing with his face--come on, now, you know what I mean. And--and--beauty's skin-deep, anyway!"

"Ron, do be sensible," Hermione said prissily. "He's a slimy, untrustworthy Slytherin. Of course I can resist his charms."

And she could, she told herself sternly. If she were to discover that Draco was spying for You-Know-Who, or was being especially cruel to Ron, or Harry, or Ginny, or the house-elves, she'd be done with game-playing like that. But he hadn't done anything particularly loathsome of late. He'd even managed to slink away like a gentleman...

She shook her head vigorously, trying to snap out of that train of thought.

"Good," Ron said, seemingly loath to let go of Hermione, even as Harry was scurrying off and ordering from Madam Rosmerta. A small, unnerving suspicion was beginning to form in Hermione's stomach. "I didn't want to have to do anything drastic to make sure you were seeing sense."

Hermione nodded, the suspicion feeling more and more confirmed with every sign she checked off. The way he was looking at her. How Ron got both of their butterbeers and handed hers to her like he was giving her a gift. The way he was talking to Hermione more than Harry. Hermione's heart was going to break for Ron if he didn't stop.

"So you'll be at the Quidditch match next week, right?" Harry asked quietly, surprising Hermione yet again.

"Of course," Hermione said. "Who are you playing against?"

"Hufflepuff," Harry said very soberly. "It's been strange, preparing for the match. What with Angelina getting almost as excited as Wood before remembering something about Cedric and all of us getting depressed."

"I can imagine," Hermione replied. "I'm sure you'll do spectacularly. Tremendously, even."

"Of course he is," Ron agreed. "No other team even comes close to Gryffindor this year."

For a while, everything was right as it should be. The three of them, talking about Quidditch, having a little fun, Ron and Hermione bickering, Harry worried about Quidditch. There were no butterflies in Hermione's tummy, warning her over and over again that she was not going to come out all right in the end if she kept ignoring the truth.

"I heard Alicia say that Malfoy's been awful at practice this year," Harry said, breaking the peace in Hermione's world. "He's got a girlfriend, but no one knows who."

"Probably Pansy Parkinson," Ron replied, and Hermione realized that boys' gossip was far, far worse than girls' gossip sometimes. "Who else could stand that git?"

"You never know," Harry said. "Hermione?"

"Not me!" she snapped. "Why do you both think that I'd find Malfoy irresistible? And why are we spending our whole day in Hogsmeade obsessed with that sneaky, vile creature?"

Harry blinked, his eyes looking almost as big as Dobby's behind his glasses. "I meant, do you know who would like Draco?" he said. "Sorry."

"Geez, Hermione--" Ron said.

"Don't," Hermione warned. "Don't say anything. I don't want to hear it."

"All right, then," Ron replied snappishly. "Fine. Don't say anything."

"I won't," Hermione replied. The thing in her stomach had been right. Several things in her stomach had been right, and as much as she wanted to pretend they weren't true, that wasn't an option. "I think I'll go. I've got a bit of a headache and it's making me sensitive and rude. See you back at the common room?"

"Of course," Harry said while Ron looked like Ginny when she was about to cry. Hermione couldn't look at him anymore. She'd behaved like a proper twit, no better than one of those giggling ninnies who adored Professor Trelawney and ignored real magic. She was going to have to apologize to Ron and Harry later.

And to Draco.

In fact, Hermione thought as she trudged toward the castle, if he was a boy in her life, she probably owed him an apology. She'd even been neglecting Crookshanks, the big orange fluffball. All for what? Worry over a few kisses, a few trips to Filch's closet of cleaning supplies?

"I'm being silly," she said aloud, hoping no one was around to hear her. It didn't look like it, but at Hogwarts, you never could tell. "Getting so flustered. It's not like me at all, and I must stop all this nonsense."

Hermione felt a little better. She sounded so resolute about the whole business, not at all like the sneaky little Hermione who wanted to run to her room, cry, and then go find Draco and kiss it all better without any apologies or any serious consideration of what she was doing. She wasn't going to be that Hermione any more. There would be no more secret kissing, and no more avoiding Harry and Ron, and no more extra-long prefect duties that kept her away from Gryffindor.

She was smarter than this. It was the thought she kept in her head all the way through the castle, past three trick staircases, and a near run-in with Mrs. Norris before finding herself in her room, cuddling Crookshanks with almost maniacal remorse.

"I'm sorry, Crookshanks," Hermione said, the apology sounding hollow. "I've been rotten lately. But I'll be more sensible now."

Crookshanks's purr sounded almost believing. Hermione settled down on her bed, absently petting the great ginger beast, conscientiously trying to figure out the best way to make more apologies she didn't really want to make.


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