"Where are we?" Hermione asked as she followed Ginny, weaving in and out of side streets, the busyness of Diagon Alley falling into a quiet hum behind them. Though she'd visited Diagon Alley several times she'd never seen fit to search the smaller streets that lead off it. Harry had told both her and Ron about his unfortunate adventure to Knockturn Alley and that had seen fit to put Hermione off the idea of exploration.
"Midnight Alley, I've bumped into Professor Trelawney down here a couple of times," Ginny stated, nodding towards a store painted a deep rich blue. The red light emanating from within glowed in the depths of the different sized crystal balls that were on sale. Next to it was Mademoiselle Ophianias huge bay window, every inch of it covered with butterflies.
"She sells potion bottles." Ginny commented when she noticed that Hermione had stopped to stare open mouthed.
"What?" Hermione turned to look at Ginny quickly, sputtering slightly when her hair was blown into her mouth.
"Potion bottles," Ginny clarified, "The butterflies are her friends, apparently they tell her secrets." Ginny twirled her finger next to her ear, suggesting that Mademoiselle Ophiania was not the full ticket.
"Still they're nice to look at." Ginny began to walk away and Hermione took one last look before following her.
"I still can't believe your mom just let us go," Hermione commented and was surprised when Ginny let out a small chuckle.
"Mom knows I wander off anyway," Ginny shrugged, "besides she was trying to keep an eye on Fred and George." Hermione nodded, the twins had seemed somewhat shiftier than normal when they'd arrived at Diagon Alley.
"So you just told her…?"
"I just told her that we needed to chat away from prying ears. Specifically away from extendable prying ears."
Hermione shifted uncomfortably, acutely aware that she would have to explain things in far more detail to Ginny, the very idea of it made her want to turn on her heel and run. She stared at the back of her friends head wondering how she would react. Hermione was pretty certain there'd be shouting, possible denial, most likely anger and not a whole lot of acceptance. Hermione cringed, she had a feeling that their 'girl chat' was not going to go well.
"You think that Ron will be okay?" Hermione asked, stepping gingerly around a puddle, which was slightly suspicious considering the lack of rain. She felt a little guilty for leaving Ron out of the conversation but she still wasn't sure how to be completely honest with Ginny and, as far as Hermione was concerned, between Ron and Ginny, she was by far the most laid back.
"He's fine, he was too busy worrying about what the twins were doing. It wouldn't really have been a good idea for him to have joined us anyway." Hermione flushed bright red when Ginny practically read her thoughts. She noticed that Ginny had a habit of knowing exactly what it was that she wasn't saying and voicing it.
"Ah, here we are." Ginny stopped, peering up at the decrepit sign swinging above their heads. Hermione looked up squinting against the sunlight peering just over the rooftops. The sign was seriously faded, so much so that almost all of the letters were practically indecipherable; all that remained was the image of, what looked like, a scaly worm wriggling about.
"What's that supposed to...oh," Hermione muttered, noticing the brand new gold lettering, shimmering on the side of the building. "The Newts Tail."
Hermione didn't like judging books by their cover, in fact some of the best books had turned out to be the ones that looked worse for wear, but she couldn't help but feeling that the roof, which was sinking precariously in the middle, looked as though it were about to fall in at any moment and she was in no rush to enter.
"Are you sure it looks a bit…"
"Crap," Ginny stated matter of fact, not even trying to defend the establishment. "I know but it's always quiet and Jade, she's the girl that works here, she's pretty awesome."
"You've...you've been here, before?" Ginny grinned at Hermione's disbelief.
"Once or twice," Ginny shrugged, "Fred and George showed me where it was, apparently they have met a few suppliers here."
"Suppliers?" she had to admit that 'The Newts Tail' looked like the type of place Fred and George would meet their 'suppliers' especially if Mundungus Fletcher was among them.
Hermione considered it rather strange that she, Harry and Ron had done all number of weird and wonderful, not to mention dangerous things and yet, they had not managed to explore Diagon Alley in its entirety. Hermione was vaguely aware that there was probably a whole number of beautifully normal things she'd missed out on and the thought made her a little sad.
As soon as they entered Ginny waved at a short, pretty Redhead serving behind the bar. The redhead smiled, her long plait falling off her shoulder as she turned from the boy she'd been talking to and waved at Ginny. Hermione froze when she noticed that the boy was, in fact, Theodore Knott.
"Ah well if it isn't the Weaselette, haven't seen you here for some time." He commented, though not unkindly which made Hermione's eyes widen even further.
"Didn't want to run into you, did I." Ginny bit back, a good-natured smile plastered across her face.
Though the conversation was beyond strange, Hermione didn't hear the rest because her heart was beating too loudly in her chest and blood was roaring in her ears. If Theodore Knott was there then it stood a chance tha...she stopped, her legs almost buckling beneath her when her eyes met a familiar grey stare.
He looked good, better than good and that thought almost made Hermione stumble back in disgust. Had she ever really thought that Draco was handsome? It didn't seem like something that would usually enter her mind, yet it felt so natural as she looked at him. The strange longing that had been niggling at her all summer grew exponentially and she wrestled fiercely with the want to cross the room. She couldn't believe that she wanted to talk to him, to storm across the room and demand an explanation. She desperately wanted to tell him about Durie and her strange home and say that she'd actually missed him.
Hermione almost gagged at the last thought, never, in any way, shape or form had she ever believed it possible that she would miss Malfoy. Celebrate his absence? Certainly, but never miss him.
Hermione blinked several times when Draco turned away, his attention caught by a tall girl stepping towards him, offering him a cup. Hermione would have recognised the perfectly straight, golden hair anywhere.
Daphne Greengrass; even amongst the Gryffindor boys, she was classed as one of the prettiest girls in the school. Hermione had to agree, there was something incredibly stunning about the Slytherin, but she wasn't exactly bright.
Hermione's head tipped in curiosity, wondering why Malfoy had decided to spend time with her now. Sure Daphne was a fellow Slytherin, but Hermione was pretty sure that she'd never seen them spend time together before. Her stomach clenched uncomfortably as Daphne slipped into the booth beside Draco, seeming awfully close, glued to his side close. She shook her head, trying to shrug off the feeling and followed Ginny as she gestured towards a booth, two cups filled with pink liquid clutched in her hands.
"They're here?" Hermione hissed, leaning forward and gesturing quickly to the table where Draco, Pansy, Blaise and Daphne sat, Theo had apparently decided to stay at the bar chatting to Jade.
"They're always here, think it's some sort of tradition," Ginny said, shrugging her shoulders noncommittally.
"And they don't..they don't bother you?" Hermione asked, dumbfounded, she had never known a Slytherin pass up the chance to be an arse to Gryffindor.
"Not really, they mostly keep to themselves, if you can believe it. Knott's the only one that really talks to me" Ginny snorted.
"Yeah about that, he wasn't exactly charming, but…"
"I know, he wasn't exactly a dick either. I don't know, I think he likes Jade too much." Ginny nodded towards the bar where Jade was giggling at something Theodore had said and the brown haired boy had a smug smile on his face.
Ginny turned back to Hermione expectantly.
Hermione couldn't really hear what Ginny was saying, didn't really want to hear it because her chest was hurting and her stomach was knotting itself uncomfortably. She'd made the mistake of looking back towards Malfoy and he was kissing Daphne Greengrass. Hermione struggled for breath when he tipped his head and deepened the kiss, his eyes opening for a fraction of second to look at her before they fluttered closed.
She couldn't understand it, but more to the point, she couldn't understand her reaction. It definitely shouldn't matter to her who Draco Malfoy kissed, it was Draco Malfoy. But it did, she could feel the tears prickling her eyes, her heart aching in her chest. She'd been certain that Draco kissing her had just been a joke or a reaction to the Sensieve's magic, but when faced with the reality of it, she couldn't help but feel disappointed. She wanted to scold herself almost immediately, because what exactly had she been expecting?
"Hermione?" Ginny asked wondering what was up with her friend, given the paleness of her skin and the wideness of her eyes, Ginny was inclined to believe that Hermione had seen a ghost.
Daphne had looped her arms around his neck, her leg creeping up his lap and that's when Draco's eyes opened again and he was looking at her. Hermione quickly jumped to her feet, rushing from the booth and heading for the only safe haven she could think of, the girl's toilets.
Ginny sat very still for a moment, staring at the empty space that Hermione had just vacated. She knew that getting her to open up wouldn't be easy, but she hadn't even asked any questions before she'd practically had a meltdown.
Shouting behind her made her turn in her seat, her eyes widening as Draco Malfoy stalked across the room towards the girl's toilets, care and concern glimmering in his grey eyes. The sight of it was so foreign that Ginny was sure that she'd imagined it.
"Draco." Pansy was up on her feet calling his name, arm outstretched to grab hold of his sleeve. The blonde jerked away, turning to growl at the brown-haired girl. Ginny was rather impressed when Pansy didn't even flinch, standing her ground.
"Stay out of this Parkinson." Pansy chose to ignore him, grabbing his sleeve and this time managing to hang on.
"You asked me not to, remember?" Pansy hissed it quietly, but Ginny just about caught it, her face contorting in confusion as she watched the spectacle.
"What's going on?" Theo had turned around on his bar stool, his elbows leaning on the bar as he appraised his friends with a bemused smile.
"Draco just wanted to buy me and Blaise a drink and I...I was going to get it." Pansy said quickly, her grip on Draco's sleeve as ironclad as ever. Draco glared at Pansy, but after a moment his shoulders slumped and he slowly nodded in affirmation. Theodore didn't seem to buy the excuse, snorting at Pansy in disbelief before turning back to Jade.
"Aw isn't that sweet." Ginny heard Daphne purr as she made her way to the girl's toilets.
"Yeah, it's precious," Blaise growled back, sounding rather unimpressed.
Ginny quickly turned away, pushing the door to the toilets open, it closed behind her with a loud thud cutting off the rest of the exchange.
Hermione was leaning against the sink, both hands grasping on the porcelain with such ferocity that her knuckles turned white. She was staring at her reflection in the mirror as if she didn't recognise it, tracing the tears down her cheeks as if she hadn't expected them to be there. Ginny felt uncomfortable when she recognised the look from her first year, so many times she'd stared at her reflection and was sure that there was a stranger staring back at her.
"Hermione?" Ginny said quietly, approaching her as though she were a deer and could be spooked at any moment.
Hermione turned slowly, tears still glimmering in her eyes.
"Hermione, what's the matter?" Still, Hermione said nothing, burying her head in her hands.
"You're going to think I'm crazy." Hermione moaned, sniffing forlornly and wiping her eyes with her sleeve.
"I already know that you are," Ginny said with a grin, feeling a little happier when Hermione offered her a small smile in return.
"What's going on Hermione?" Ginny stood in front of her friend trying to meet her gaze, but Hermione managed to avoid her attempts, instead staring at her lap.
"You wouldn't understand." Ginny gritted her teeth in annoyance. She knew that Hermione didn't mean it, but she couldn't help but feel a little hurt by the statement. Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, she managed to push the feeling down.
Hermione's shoulders lifted as she took a deep breath of her own, summoning all the Gryffindor courage that she could, trying her best not to think about what Draco Malfoy would say if he knew what predicament she was in.
"You know how I told you about...about someone I was spending more time with?" Hermione asked, fiddling with the bottom of her t-shirt uncomfortably. Ginny nodded, having a feeling that she knew where Hermione was going, just not sure she wanted to quite believe it.
"And that we didn't exactly get along before?" Ginny nodded again.
"Well…" She sighed and met her friends stare for the first time, looking somewhat dejected. ''It's Malfoy."
Ginny didn't move for quite some time, struggling to process the information that Hermione had just given her.
"Malfoy...Malfoy is the er...the person I was talking about." Hermione was blushing a deep red, her head lowered in shame.
"You mean the..the guy that's been on your mind, the guy tha-that kissed you, is him?" Ginny whispered, pointing towards the door she'd just come through. Hermione winced, her face crumpling as more tears threatened to spill from her eyes. The sight made Ginny sober somewhat and she rushed forward to hug her friend.
Ginny couldn't believe it had taken her so long to figure it out, all the evidence had been there. Someone that Hermione didn't get on with, the fact that she'd been staring at a tapestry with his name on, her reluctance to tell Ginny who it was and then added to all of that was the fact that Malfoy himself had reacted so strangely only moments before.
"What happened with you two?" Ginny asked tentatively, stepping back when Hermione had stopped sniffing. Hermione's eyes were puffy but Ginny was glad to see that she had stopped crying.
"Argh, this is pathetic. How can I be crying over him." Hermione said in frustration, crossing her arms in anger and glaring at the white tiles behind Ginny.
"I wouldn't beat yourself up too much, I'm pretty sure I've cried over worse things." Ginny consoled, smiling to herself as Hermione gave her a look of disbelief.
"I'm serious when it's the right time of the month I can cry about the fact that my tea's gone cold." Hermione laughed quietly, relaxing a little. It was moments like this that she forgot that Ginny was younger than her.
"I'm so glad you didn't hex me." Hermione sighed and laughed as Ginny's eyes widened in horror.
"Hex you? Who do you think I am?" Ginny paused, tapping her foot absentmindedly on the floor. "Might have considered taking you to St Mungo's to get your head looked at, but only for a second." She added, quickly defending herself.
Hermione's bottom lip wobbled as she let out a small noise somewhere between a sob and a laugh. Now that Ginny had mentioned it, Hermione didn't think that going to St Mungo's was such a bad idea, maybe there was something wrong with her.
"Look," Ginny leant on the sink next to Hermione's, " I know that it can't be easy, what with all this being Malfoy related, but-but you can talk to me. It's not like I can judge, I fancied Blaise Zabini in second year." Ginny shrugged.
"You didn't?" Hermione gasped in shock, ignoring the insinuation that she fancied Malfoy, she was almost definitely sure that was not the case.
"I did, but then he told me to bugger off because my hair was melting his eyes." Hermione shook her head, understanding why Malfoy and Blaise were such close friends.
"That's terrible." She mumbled.
"Yeah, well my point is, whatever you say, it's fine. I mean we can't exactly help the way we feel about people."
Hermione felt like screaming. That was her exact problem, it wasn't that she couldn't help the way she felt about Malfoy, it was that she didn't know.
"Honestly there's nothing more to really tell, he kissed me and said it was to do with the Sensieve's magic or other such nonsense and now I see hi…"
"I'm sorry what now?" Ginny interrupted. Hermione's mouth formed an o shape when she realised that she hadn't actually told Ginny that bit.
"Well I suppose...there were some bits I might have left out."
"Okay-okay, I'll tell you everything, it might take a while though." Ginny shrugged, knowing that her mother had planned to buy Diagon Alley pretty much out of stock, so shopping for their essentials just before school would take half the time.
"I don't care how long it takes, Mione, you are telling me every single tiny, little detail." Ginny admonished, walking towards the door and opening it, gesturing for Hermione to walk through.
Hermione didn't know whether she was relieved or saddened when she noticed that the Slytherins had gone, making their escape while she'd been taking refuge in the bathroom.
Once they were sat down Hermione slowly picked her way through the story, sipping her drink (which she found out was called bewitching summer) every so often. It took a while, but eventually, Ginny was filled in on everything.
"Wow." Ginny breathed. It was just like Hermione to find something as crazy as a magical bowl that sucked people in and made them experience memories. She was slightly surprised that she hadn't found it with Ron and Harry as that was the usual turn of events, wherever there was something mysterious going on, the three of them were always present. She might have found it annoying if she wasn't desperate to keep her nose out of such trouble, first year had been more than enough excitement for her.
"I know." Hermione nodded, feeling as though a massive weight had been lifted off her shoulders.
"And, and Malfoy blamed this-this magical bowl…"
"He said that was why he kissed you?"
"Pretty much." Hermione took another sip of her drink, relishing the taste of berries.
Ginny didn't buy that excuse for one minute, his reaction when Hermione had run off was strange, really strange, he'd seemed genuinely concerned about her.
"And you don't think he's lying about it?" Hermione blushed, shrugging one shoulder as she placed her glass back on the table.
"Well he's with Greengrass now, so I guess he must have been telling the truth."
"Does that bother you?"
"Does what bother me?" Hermione asked, glancing up in confusion.
"You know, him being with Daphne?" Hermione scoffed, but her cheeks turned a bright red.
She knew that she didn't want to be bothered, realised that she shouldn't be. Yes, she and Malfoy had somehow become tentative friends, but that's all they were. The uncomfortable feeling in her stomach still hadn't shifted though and it grew worse every time they were brought up in conversation.
"I don't-I don't know. I mean, it shouldn't should it?" She looked up uncertainly at Ginny.
"Maybe..maybe all the confusing things you feel for Malfoy are-are just reactions to the magic." Ginny's suggested, though she didn't entirely believe it herself, still Hermione seemed eager to latch onto the idea, a spark of hope flashing in her brown eyes.
"I suppose that's a possibility. The book I found on the Sensieve did say it was extremely powerful." Hermione had perked up, excited by the prospect that the answer to all her problems was probably sitting inside a book in Hogwarts Library.
"I have a suggestion." Ginny placed her hands flat on the table and met Hermione's eyes levelly.
"Okay." Hermione sounded uncertain.
"I think you should talk to Malfoy and try to persuade him to carry on visiting the Sensieve."
"WHAT?!" Hermione screeched, quieting slightly when several of the regulars turned to look at her. "What?"
"Hear me out okay?" She said, putting her hands up in defence. "We suspect these feelings are to do with the magical bowl."
"Sensieve, yes." Hermione nodded.
"And the only person you can visit this bowl with is, Malfoy, right?."
"I guess." Hermione nibbled her bottom lip, suddenly realising where her friend was going with her trail of thought.
"So there you have it, you need to keep going to the..the Sensieve to see if the feelings are just to do with the magic, surely once you've found out everything there is to know they'll just disappear." Ginny made it sound as if it was the easiest thing in the world.
"But what if it's gets worse," Hermione mumbled, uncertain whether she could take much more of Malfoy's mood swings and the overall mess of feelings she got when she was around him.
"I'll help you. At least you've got me to talk to, right?" Hermione nodded and finished off her drink, staring at a small knot in the oak of the table.
Hermione mulled over how she would feel if the feeling were just the magic of the Sensieve. All she had learnt about old magic told her that it was extremely powerful and volatile at the best of times, it seemed to make sense that it would affect her emotions. A tiny part of her, deep, deep down where she could almost ignore its existence, didn't want it to be magic. Whatever was happening with her and Malfoy, she sort of wanted it to be real.