Chapter Three: Se7en
After a second late night in a row, Hermione isn't too pleased when Ginny wrenches the curtains open at nine in the morning and unceremoniously rips back the bedclothes.
"Why do you hate me?" Hermione moans plaintively, trying to turn her face into the comforting darkness of the pillow.
"This is for your own good," Ginny assures her, her voice far too buoyant for someone who didn't go to bed until 3am. When Hermione opens her eyes it is to find Ginny's face entirely too close to her own, brown eyes wide and brimming with almost manic energy.
Hermione jumps and scrambles backwards, nearly falling off the bed. She knows that Ginny is an irrepressible morning person, but she finds herself both glad that she's never been subjected to this side of her personality with quite such singular fervour before, and rueful that it's happening now.
"We're going for a walk in the grounds," Ginny says, tossing a pair of jeans and a thick jumper at Hermione before turning back to rummage further in her drawer, producing a pair of thick socks. "Fresh air!" she crows. "You spend too long with your nose in your books!"
As Hermione dresses obediently, Ginny stands by the door, tapping her foot impatiently and humming something so thoroughly out of tune that it takes Hermione a while to realise that it's a Celestina Warbeck ballad that has always been a favourite of Molly's. When she tugs the jumper over her head Ginny gives an exaggerated sigh. "Finally." Hermione barely has time to shove her feet into boots before she's being pulled out of the door and down the stairs to the common room.
"Why the hurry?" she asks, barely stifling a yawn, but Ginny just shrugs and chivvies her through the portrait hole. They both ignore the Fat Lady's demand to know where they were until three in the morning - "I won't stand for you leading that nice Potter boy astray!" - and Hermione follows Ginny all the way down to the Entrance Hall, where she is permitted, after some wheedling, to duck into the Great Hall and grab a croissant and some coffee from the laden breakfast platters that are set out, buffet-style, on one side of the room.
Though it's only a quick foray, it isn't difficult to spot Nott sat in a corner with Malfoy, Daphne Greengrass and Pansy Parkinson. Hermione's only defence for what happens next is that she's sleep-deprived, because she can think of no other reason as to why she would be so stupid as to raise her hand and wave cheerfully at Nott.
Malfoy stares at her as though she's just grown a second head, before whipping around to look at Nott, who for his part looks as though he's just swallowed his tongue. On his other side Daphne's face creases into a pained expression before she glances away, and Pansy sets her jaw and levels a glare at Hermione.
If looks could kill, she'd be on the floor.
"Hermione?" Ginny comes bounding in behind her. "What's taking so - oh."
She seems to have taken in the situation at a brief glance, eyes flicking back and forth between Hermione, who is stood there like an lemon with her hand still upheld, frozen in the idiotic act of waving, and the little huddle of Slytherins. "Bugger," Ginny says quietly, before she snatches Hermione's hand from the air and starts to pull her out of the room. Hermione looks back just in time to see Nott flushing dark red before she's being pulled out of the main doors, nearly tripping over her feet as Ginny hustles them down the steps.
Once they're outside Ginny slows her pace to more of a mooch, accepting the croissant Hermione passes her with a nod of thanks. She doesn't say anything about what just happened, and suddenly Hermione isn't tempted to break the silence. She hasn't been outside since Christmas morning, when she, Harry, and a few younger Gryffindors had spent a couple of hours playing in the fresh snow before Christmas lunch.
More snow has fallen in the intervening two days, and now you can barely see where they dug out freezing handfuls to make snowballs. The low sun turns the frosted surface to a buttery-yellow glitter, and by wordless agreement the pair of them walk in the direction of the lake, breath turning to steam on the frigid air.
Ginny's humming again, and for a while Hermione is happy to listen to it as they slowly walk along the frozen shoreline. Eventually, though, she knows she has to say something.
"Do you think Nott will ever forgive me?"
Ginny gives one of her little snorts of laughter, and kicks at the snow so that it plumes up in front of her. "I somehow don't think that Nott's the one you need to worry about."
Hermione chews her lip. "I don't think Malfoy would risk -"
"Oh no," Ginny grins. "I'm not talking about Malfoy. Did you not see the look that Parkinson gave you?"
The memory of the almost visceral sting of Pansy's glare is enough to make Hermione shudder. "I don't see what she's got to be so cross about though, it isn't as though I've -"
As though summoned up like a malevolent spirit, Pansy appears behind them. She's dressed in an elegant coat of rich emerald green that brings out the faintly golden undertone in her pale skin, but her face is twisted into an expression of such deep loathing that any flattering effect is entirely ruined.
"Fuck off, Weasley," Pansy says dismissively once she draws level with the pair of them. "This doesn't concern you."
"Actually I think I might -"
"Stop being a stubborn cunt and let me talk to Granger."
Ginny bridles at the insult, delivered so flatly that it seems to have acquired an extra sting. "Fine," she spits. "I'll be right over there," she says to Hermione in an undertone, squeezing her arm before she strides away in the direction of the Quidditch pitch.
Hermione turns to glare at Pansy. "Was that actually necessary or do you just -"
"Spare me the self-righteous bitching," Pansy says. Her hands are in her pockets and Hermione can't help feeling a prickle of trepidation as she realises how easy it would be for the other woman to draw a wand on her. "I want to know what the fuck is going on between you and my best friend's boyfriend."
For a moment Hermione is so surprised that she just gapes stupidly at Pansy, until the other girl gestures impatiently and she swallows her shock. "Nott and Daphne are a couple?"
"Obviously." Pansy rolls her eyes before resuming her death-glare. "I take it that it's you he's been sneaking off to see the past few -"
"Harry too," Hermione says, before wondering whether it might just be better for everyone if she were simply to stun herself there and then.
Pansy seems momentarily nonplussed by this new revelation, before sketching a vague triangular gesture in the air. "The three of you…" she says slowly.
"Not like that!" Hermione squeaks. "Ginny was there too yesterday, only we said we wouldn't - I don't - it wouldn't be -"
"What, is your depraved little Gryffindor sex club sworn to secrecy?"
"It's not a sex thing!" Hermione hisses. "Look, I'm guessing you're asking me because Nott wouldn't tell you, so just - just come along with him to the Room of Requirement at midnight tonight, alright?"
Pansy hesitates for a moment, her lip curling, then turns smartly on her heel to flounce back towards the school. "Fine!" she calls back. "Midnight it is!"
"Oh my god," Hermione says faintly to herself. She hears the crunch of footsteps behind her, and turns to meet Ginny's look of total disbelief.
"Have you been confunded? Did you just invite Pansy Park-"
"Don't say it," Hermione whispers. "Maybe if you don't say it, it didn't happen."
"Too late for that," Ginny says, eyeing Pansy's retreating figure. Unexpectedly, her face breaks into a wide smile.
"What?" Hermione asks, her stomach plummeting with dread.
"You're going to have to tell Harry," Ginny smirks.
"Would it have been so difficult to Obliviate her?" Harry is still asking as they climb the stairs to the seventh floor. "I mean, really, could you not have just -"
"Oh Harry, you know I couldn't," Hermione sighs. "For one thing it's not that easy to just Obliviate someone, and anyway," she says, struck by sudden inspiration, "don't you think it only fair that Nott should be able to bring some of his friends along?"
"Why would I think that when his friends include Pansy fucking -"
"Hello to you too, Potter." Pansy's tone is acid. She's stood in the middle of the corridor, arms tightly folded, her face pinched and disapproving. Hovering just behind her shoulder, Nott's face is inscrutable, half-hidden in shadow.
"Parkinson." Harry's voice is practically a snarl, his tone serving Hermione with an uncomfortable reminder of the vile mood he had been in for pretty much the entirety of the summer before fifth year. "How fucking delightful to have you join us."
"Trust me," Pansy sneers, "I'm just as thrilled as you are." Her gaze flicks down to Harry's hand. "What's in the box?"
Harry's answering grin is savage as he moves his hand to reveal Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman's faces glowering out at all of them. "Funny you should ask."
A/N: So not so much of the film in this one, but they will discuss it in the next chapter. I might start adding more characters at once. Or I might not. Can't decide. Who do you think will be the next to join?
I should also point out (because I completely forgot to do so) that the quote from 'It's a Wonderful Life' ("Merry Christmas you wonderful old Building & Loan!") used in chapter one was suggested by gaeleria. Thank you!