(Just reposting what I have so far (1-7) for some spelling/grammar/etc. mistakes. Nothing major, but feel free to read it again ;> )

Disclaimer: I own nothing except the plot (and any characters not from the book of course). The characters and setting are, of course, J.K. Rowling's. I just take a bit of artistic license with them...

Spoilers: up to and including OOTP. Since the Half Blood Prince was not yet out when Flight of the Thestrals was created, it is not taken into account for this fic either. (In fact, to be honest, I haven't even read it yet...)

Rated M for good reason. This story contains adult language & sexual situations (straight and some slash). Since implied abuse, suicidal thoughts and disturbing imagery were present in Flight, they may show up in this as well, I don't know yet. Don't read if you can't handle all of these things.

A/N - this is a prequel for Flight of the Thestrals. This story obviously gives a lot more focus to Hermione, but as with Flight, I will be utilizing the 'drifting focus' method of writing, which just means I tend to move from the point of view of one character to the next as the spirit moves me to give a more rounded view of the story. For those of you who have already read Flight, this has very little to do with the Draco/Ginny relationship, and this story will end before Flight takes up, so don't expect that relationship to start up yet in this one, though there may be hints... but I have no doubt you've been able to easily guess what back story I am covering with this. This is the same 'universe', though I will have to be slightly modifying Flight to tie this one in better, so expect those changes when I update Flight to clean up some of the little technical mistakes made in the haste with which my muse pulled me through that one. If you haven't read Flight, I'm afraid you're probably going to be left wondering about why certain characters act the way they do and such, as it won't be explained yet in this. Sorry. If you want to clear it up, just read Flight of the Thestrals! ;) Oh, and until then, I wouldn't suggest you read any of the reviews as fans of Flight may very well let spoilers slip!

(And just so you know, no this isn't a dreaded 'Hermione gets a makeover' fic, even though I realize the intro might give you that initial impression)

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A/N - brief adult content near end.
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Chapter 1
A Bumpy Start

Hermione looked at her watch and sighed. Late again. Why were they always running late? They knew full well when the train was to leave. Well, no sense dawdling about on the platform any longer. A lot of the students were still saying goodbye to their families and with luck she'd be able to find an empty compartment for them before they were all taken.

She hauled her heavy trunk up onto the train and down the aisle, having to shift Crookshanks several times to keep him from escaping to investigate something or another. Her new shoes weren't the most comfortable, but they were pretty and went well with her outfit. She hadn't seen the boys all summer and she was secretly hoping they would notice how much she had been maturing lately. She'd spent the latter part of the summer at her Aunt and Uncle's, and her cousin had taken pity on her obviously fashion challenged relation and taken her shopping. She doubted she'd get much of a chance to wear the new clothes once she got to Hogwarts, so this seemed like a good opportunity to try them out.

The outfit she had on was a bit more revealing than she was usually comfortable with, but her cousin had assured her she looked great in it. The undersized shirt showed a healthy amount of her midriff and a bit of cleavage as well. Actually, she'd never really had much in the way of cleavage to show off until somewhat recently, but the bra she had on really accentuated her newly acquired 'assets'. The skirt she was wearing only went down to mid-thigh, but she'd been told it was very fashionable. She'd also been sure to have her mum french braid her hair after her morning bath so it wouldn't frizz up. Overall, she'd barely recognized herself when she looked in the mirror that morning. She couldn't wait to see the boys' reactions!

She finally found a free compartment and hauled her trunk in, then dropped it thankfully, setting Crookshanks on the seat. She went over to the window, looking out and trying to spot them. She looked at her watch again and bit her lip worriedly. They only had two minutes left. With Voldemort out in the open, now was no time to be trying to get them to Hogwarts without the protection of the Hogwarts Express! What she'd been seeing in the Daily Prophet that summer had been very worrisome. There hadn't been anything truly horrific yet, but there had been small incursions that were obviously tests of the readiness of the Ministry forces that hinted that untold horrors could ensue at any moment. She was almost glad she'd been with her Muggle relatives all summer. She would have dearly loved to be with Ron and Harry, but she was sure it would have only compounded her stress and worry... her family had been blissfully ignorant of what was happening in her world.

She sighed and decided to get settled in. She tried to haul her trunk up to put it on the rack above the seat, but found the task much more difficult than expected. She'd gotten a bit carried away in Flourish and Blotts and had nearly a dozen books on top of her sixth year texts, supplies, clothes and such. It had been so much easier when she'd just been dragging it.

She managed to get it up to the seat, then braced herself and hauled it up. She wobbled a bit, but managed to heave it up until it was almost high enough, the top edge resting against the rack. She glanced over to the door as she heard a little amused sound. She nearly dropped the trunk. Goyle was standing there, his huge frame leaning casually against the doorframe, gnawing on the end of a licorice wand while watching her struggles with obvious interest.

She tried not to wobble too much. "What are you staring at?" She grumbled between clenched teeth. She'd hoped Slytherin house would have been largely cleared out this year, but it appeared she'd have no such luck.

"The floor show apparently." He said with a wicked smirk.

"Bugger off!" She growled, teetering dangerously as the edge of her trunk caught on the rack.

He took the licorice wand out of his mouth again, still smirking wickedly, his eyes nowhere near her face. "You know, that's why we have these..." He said, producing his wand and twirling it between his thumb and forefinger.

Her eyes shot wide. There was no way she could get at her wand right now. Was he threatening her? She'd been so worried about the boys missing the train and had gotten so used to doing things the Muggle way over the summer she hadn't even realized that now that she was on the Express she was allowed to do magic once again.

Her eyes widened further as she saw Draco passing by. He paused to see what had captured Goyle's attention. His eyes traveled down her slow enough to make her blush, but then he just smacked Goyle's arm with the back of his hand.

"Quit ogling at the Mudblood and let's find a compartment." he said, continuing on down the corridor.

Normally that vile name stirred anger and resentment in her... but for some reason Draco's flat, emotionless tone and complete lack of enthusiasm only made her curious. He sounded almost depressed. He hadn't even bothered to tease her properly.

A dark haired boy she vaguely remembered being another Slytherin was following behind him. He paused in the doorway, his dark eyes peering at Hermione in an openly suggestive way, smirking and wriggling his eyebrows at her.

"Keep up, Zabini." Draco's slightly irritated voice called back and the dark haired boy continued on, Crabbe and Pansy Parkinson following along behind him.

The train whistle blew and she let out a cry of surprise as the train gave a jerk. The trunk's weight in combination with the sudden lurch were too much for her and she went down.

"Locomotor Trunk."

She looked up, staring in horror at her trunk dangling in midair less than a foot over her, one of the steel reinforced corners aimed directly at her chest. She watched in amazement as it righted itself and floated up, neatly docking on the rack.

She looked over at Goyle uncomprehendingly. He was tucking away his wand and smirking. "Why did you do that?" She asked before she could stop herself.

He chuckled as he stared down at her. "I'd say it was worth it. Bold choice by the way. I quite fancy red..."

She followed his eyes and went nearly as scarlet as her knickers as she quickly clamped her legs together, realizing at this angle the little skirt wasn't exactly doing its job of covering her. She took a deep breath and let it out. Slytherin or not, no matter how embarrassing the situation, he'd just kept her from having a very painful little accident. "Thanks." She managed, though her voice didn't get much above a whisper.

"Don't mention it." Goyle said with a smile, then his expression sobered a bit. "Seriously."

He pushed off from the doorframe and started after Draco, but Crookshanks chose that moment to make a break for the wide open compartment door. Goyle snatched him up one handedly, lifting him up and looking him over. "Now where are you off to, Mister?"

Crookshanks sniffed him cautiously, then, much to Hermione's surprise, rubbed up against his chin. Goyle smiled at him, his large hand making Crookshanks look like a kitten in comparison.

"What the bloody Hell are you playing at?" Growled an angry voice.

Goyle stiffened, setting his jaw. "Bugger off, Potter."

"That's Hermione's cat! Let go of it!" Harry said, coming into view.

"Gladly." Goyle growled, shoving Crookshanks into Harry's arms.

"Now get lost!" Harry snapped.

Crookshanks' ears were pressed back, a low growl starting up in his throat. Without warning, his paw darted up, putting a neat set of scratches across Harry's cheek. Harry let out a hiss of pain and dropped him. Crookshanks scampered over behind Hermione, still growling as it glowered at him from its hiding place.

Harry glared after the cat, then his eyes alighted on Hermione. She was still sitting on the floor, having been too startled by the turn of events to think to rise. His eyes flashed and he shoved Goyle with both hands. He looked to be putting quite a bit of effort into it, though Goyle barely budged. "What were you doing to Hermione you bastard?"

"Mind your own bloody business!" Goyle growled. His arm darted out, hitting Harry squarely in the chest with an open palm. Though it was an apparently effortless gesture, it shoved Harry so hard he went sprawling backwards, tripping over his trunk and from the sound of it, falling into Ron. "Watch your step, Potter." Goyle said in a low, dangerous voice, then he turned his back on Harry contemptuously, sticking the licorice wand back in his mouth and continuing on down the aisle in the direction Draco had gone.

Hermione scrambled to her feet as she heard the boys cursing and struggling. She hurried out to see how they were. Harry and Ron were a bit jumbled together, having a hard time getting back up in the narrow aisle. Ginny was standing a ways back, holding Hedwig's cage. When their eyes met she gave her a commiserating smirk and rolled her eyes. Pigwidgeon was twittering and screeching wildly, fluttering around in his cage that lay on its side. Ginny set aside her trunk and picked the cage up, though the tiny owl remained riled. Hermione sighed, "He wasn't doing anything, Harry. I just tripped and fell when the train took off. Besides, I can take care of myself." She said exasperatedly as she took ahold of Harry's arm, pulling him to his feet.

He grumbled irritably, pulling Ron up and then snatching up the end of his trunk, hauling it into the compartment. "Bloody Slytherins!" He grumbled as he heaved his trunk up onto the overhead rack. "I had hoped they would have wizened up and barred the whole house. Bunch of bloody future Death Eaters, the lot of them. Why should Hogwarts train them up? It'll just make them harder to kill off later!"

"Harry!" Hermione said, taken aback by his hateful tone. "How could you say such a thing? They can't all be completely devoid of redeeming qualities."

Harry looked over at her, obviously irritated as he grabbed up the cage Ginny had been holding for him, quickly securing it away as Hedwig hooted at him reproachfully for the rough handling. He flopped down in the seat near the window, "Don't tell me you're not upset to see them! I mean Goyle's father was publicly outted as a Death Eater! He should at least have the decency not to show his face in public!"

Hermione just sighed and rolled her eyes, sitting down and folding her arms over her chest irritably. She just sat there, staring out the window as Ron used his wand to start patching up the scratches on Harry's cheek.

"Hermione?"

Hermione looked over at Ginny's soft voice.

"I just wanted to say you look really nice." She said, keeping her voice down as the boys went on muttering to eachother about what should be done with the Slytherins.

Hermione glanced over at the boys, but if they heard, they didn't even spare her a glance. "Thanks, Gin." She sighed, "You're probably the only one who's ever going to notice." she added in a dark mutter.

Ginny smirked.

Crookshanks hopped up on the seat next to Hermione and kneaded her leg for a few moments before deeming it suitable and curling up on her lap. He seemed to have forgotten all about Harry.

Harry, on the other hand, glared irritably over at the cat as Ron very carefully used the healing spell that he'd seen his mother perform countless times growing up. Hermione could have had him back to rights in seconds, but she was too upset at him at the moment to bother. Did he really think she was some kind of helpless child that needed constant looking after? Despite his natural brute force she could most likely best him in a fair fight, magical or otherwise, and he well knew it!

"I think that's got it." Ron said, inspecting the wounds closely. "There's a bit of blood. Let me clean you up so I can make sure..."

Harry quickly ducked away and rose from his seat as Ron tried to bring his wand to bear again. "You're not blasting me straight in the face with a Scourgify spell! I'd rather not have to look like a goit while waiting for my eyebrows to grow back! I'll just use the lavatory, thanks!"

Ron rolled his eyes, getting up and following him out of the compartment. "Oh come on, mate! You know I wouldn't hurt you!" He said, a bit exasperated.

"You never mean to, Ron." Harry's voice drifted back as they made their way to the back of the car where the facilities were located.

Ginny reached over and slid the door shut.

Hermione let out a sigh that was half exasperated, half almost petulant. "Why am I so bloody invisible? I mean they never even said hi to me! Honestly! We haven't seen eachother all summer and I don't even get so much as a hello out of either of them? They didn't even hardly look at me. I could be wearing a lime green leotard with a florescent pink tutu and they wouldn't have noticed!" She sighed, a little stinging starting up in her eyes. She hadn't expected miracles, but she never thought they'd completely blank her like that!

Ginny reached over and patted her shoulder. "Don't take it personally. Harry had to stay with those Muggles the entire summer. He refused to return to Sirius' old home, and we didn't have anywhere else safe to send him. He's been in a right snit since we picked him up. I don't think they exactly greeted him with open arms."

Hermione sighed. She knew how very much Harry hated his Muggle family, and after that incident with the Dementor and their son the summer before Dumbledore had probably had to force them to take him back at wandpoint. "So how do you explain Ron then? I truly doubt he can blame it on Muggles."

Ginny rolled her eyes. "Please! Ron's a bit of a follower with things like that. If Harry had greeted you, he would have too, but he's not likely to think about it overmuch on his own. If you hadn't noticed yet, he doesn't give much bother to 'girly things' like politeness. I truly doubt it even crossed his mind that you expected him to pay attention to you. If you want common courtesy out of him, you're going to have to hold his hand and walk him through it. He's completely handicapped in that particular subject. Most males are, really. We just have to pick one and take it upon ourselves to train them up proper so they don't embarrass us too much." She said loftily.

Hermione couldn't fight the little grin that slipped over her lips.

Ginny giggled. "So, how was your summer?"

"It was ok I guess. Just hanging out with my Muggle relations really. It was nice to see my cousin again at least, though she's gone a bit boy crazed if you ask me. Got to watch her and her boyfriend snogging through most of the visit. We got to talk and get caught up some in the evenings after her parents gave him the boot at least. Overall it was pretty boring." Her eyes brightened as she remembered something, "Oh, I got to take my Apparation test last week!"

Ginny's eye lit up, "Really? How'd you manage that?"

"A lot of finagling by Dumbledore. Really wasn't much point for me to have to wait for my birthday and interrupt my schooling or making me wait forever. He wouldn't let it go until they agreed. I think the Wizengamot finally caved just so they could move on to the next subject." She said with a mischievous grin. "Of course they won't be owling me my license for a couple weeks until I actually turn seventeen. I can't wait! Not that I'll actually have any chances to Apparate any time soon, but still..."

"That's brilliant! We just spent all summer hanging around creepy old Grimmauld Place. I tell you, I don't think we're ever going to get rid of all of those nasty little things that creep around in the shadows there! Not to mention that the whole place reminds me of Sirius." She said, her eyes and voice dropping. "I think Harry was actually better off with the Muggles. I even found myself crying about it a couple times... like when I saw a piece of tinsel hanging from one of those wretched stuffed house elf heads... Still, we couldn't risk going to the Burrow. It's never really had much in the way of wards since we've never really had any cause to guard it. Such protections have just never been needed or wanted. Then again, now it's pretty well known that most of the Weasleys are firmly on Dumbledore's side despite being a very old pure-blood family, so we're prime targets."

"That's terrible! I hope they don't try to go after any of you!" Hermione said, horrified. She'd never even thought about it, but she could see how it would make a rather impressive statement if they were able to get ahold of members of the Weasley clan. From the 'most of the Weasleys' comment she assumed the break with Percy still held, but she chose not to verify it. Even without Arthur or Molly around, it wasn't a good subject.

"We're being very careful." Ginny said seriously.

They both fell silent as the boys returned. Harry's face was now back to normal, though it still wore a dark expression. His surly manner and the way they continued to ignore her quickly darkened Hermione's mood once again.

An irritable silence reigned for quite some time after that. Harry just stared fixedly out the window. Ron quickly got annoyed with Pigwidgeon's continuing twittering and dug in his trunk, getting one of his robes and tossing it over the cage. Then he actually grabbed up a book and settled back with it. It was a Quidditch book of course. Even excruciating boredom would be unlikely to drive Ron to studying if he wasn't absolutely required to.

Ginny eventually fished some knitting out of her trunk and set to doing that. Hermione stared out the window, too irritated to even read. Usually it helped soothe her, but she just wasn't in the mood. This tense silence drew out for nearly two whole hours. Crookshanks even got fed up with the atmosphere, slipping off Hermione's lap and curling up under her seat. Eventually, Hermione found it too tiring to keep her legs clenched together, so she shifted around a bit and crossed them to ease the pressure on her thigh muscles that had started to cramp up a bit from the tension in her.

The movement obviously caught Ron's attention. As they passed by some dense trees that cut off the outside light some she could vaguely see his reflection. He appeared to be looking her outfit over. Hermione's cheeks colored ever so slightly. Might he actually be noticing?

Ron cleared his throat a bit uneasily. She kept looking out the window, assuming the noise had been unintentional and afraid he'd bury his nose back in the book again if she looked over.

"Um... Hermione?" He asked tentatively.

She looked over at him, wondering what he wanted to say. Ron was the last person she would think would comment. "Hmm?" She asked curiously.

Ron looked decidedly uncomfortable. "Um... you really think you should be wearing that?"

She blinked at him, stunned. "What?"

His ears colored a bit. "I just mean... aren't you a bit ponced up for the Hogwarts Express? You go parading around like that and people are gonna talk..."

Her cheeks colored, her jaw dropping slightly in indignation. He sounded as if he felt he was being helpful, but it was insulting nonetheless.

"Ronald Weasley!" Ginny hissed warningly, sounding very much like her mother when angered. Ron just looked at her with a baffled expression.

Harry, who's attention had been drawn by the conversation, was looking Hermione over now. Her attire genuinely seemed to have been entirely missed when he'd looked at her before. "He's right..." He said contemplatively, "Any of those Slytherin girls catch sight of you and you'll be hearing about it all year. Besides, you're gonna catch your death if you don't put some proper clothing on."

Hermione turned beet red with indignation. She glared at them venomously, rising stiffly and getting up on her seat, pulling her trunk open.

"Hermione..." Ginny said in a worried tone.

Hermione just ignored her, snatching up the school clothes and shoes she'd set on top out, then stormed out of the compartment without a word. She had never had such a strong desire to beat the boys senseless before. Of all the nerve! How could they be so bloody rude and inconsiderate? This was a whole new level, even for them! She went into one of the lavatories and changed, muttering to herself furiously the whole time. When she was done, she wadded up her clothes and the irritating shoes and tossed them in the waste bin.

She took a deep, calming breath, then slid the door open, making her way back to the compartment. She paused before reaching it, hearing Ginny's angry voice floating back to her. She had left the compartment door wide open when she left and they hadn't bothered to close it.

"She was trying to look nice, you sodding idiots! Not that either of you two would bother taking your heads out of your arses long enough to notice!" Ginny growled angrily.

"Oh come off it, Ginny! What would she want to look nice for? I mean who's she trying to impress here?" Ron asked, obviously completely oblivious as to why his sister was mad at them.

"He's right. She looked ridiculous." Harry said testily, his words cutting straight through Hermione, "All done up like a dog's dinner. No wonder the Slytherins were staring. She looked a right Tracy in that getup."

Hermione's jaw dropped and tears stung her eyes. She turned, hurrying back down the thin aisle quickly as Ginny's reprimanding voice faded behind her. She managed to make it to the Prefect's cabin before the tears broke free. She dropped herself into one of the seats, grateful that this year's new prefects had already cleared out. The cabin was usually empty except for the initial meeting to pass on what was expected of them and their duties and such. There was only one girl and one boy from each house for each year selected for Prefect, so they rarely had any other Prefect friends to hang out with there, so most returned to their own compartments as soon as the meeting concluded.

She leaned her head against the window as the initial wracking sobs worked their way out of her system. As her tears finally started receding, she sniffled some, mentally chided herself for letting the boys' complete lack of manners get to her. Ginny was right. They were just boys. In her experience, few boys would know manners if they reared up and bit them on the arse.

"You quite done blubbering yet?" A weary voice asked from behind her.

Her eyes shot wide and she spun around, looking over the back of her seat into the next section of seats. Draco was draped carelessly across the bench reading a book mere inches away from her!

He spared a glance up at her and let out a derisive snort. "Thought it'd be you, mudblood. I see the idiot twins were their usual uncouth selves." He flicked his wrist up, checking his watch. "Two hours, seventeen minutes. That took a lot longer than I thought it would. Bloody Hell. Now I owe Zabini ten galleons." He dropped his hand and settled back a bit more, his eyes once more trained on his book, "Wonder if they're finally wizening up a bit or just getting slower on the uptake?"

"What are you talking about, Malfoy?" Hermione growled, stiffening up as he insulted her friends.

"From your appearance and the excessive waterworks I assume they finally noticed your attire and commented."

She shut her mouth. Try as she might, she couldn't come up with a rebuke for that. He seemed to know exactly what had happened. "Get out, Malfoy!" Was all she could manage. The time it took her to come up with even that much grated on her.

"No, I don't think I will." Draco replied, his eyes still trained on the book. "If you'll recall, I'm a Prefect as well, and as such I have every right to be in here." He reached into his robe and pulled out a neatly folded, pristine white handkerchief, tossing it at her without even looking. "Now wipe your nose. It's disgusting. And you can keep that. I'd hardly want it back covered in Mudblood bogeys."

She glared at him, wanting nothing more than to throw it back in his face... but her nose was running and she hadn't a handkerchief of her own. She unfolded it, taking a bit of pleasure blowing her nose directly on the meticulously embroidered Slytherin symbol. When she was done, she stuffed it into the pocket of her robe. She'd toss it (or burn it!) later, but she knew she may well still need it. Now that she was a bit more cleaned up, she felt more confident. "Why don't you go back to your little Slytherin posse? I'm sure they've all missed their Great Leader terribly." She hissed irritably.

"Yes. As a matter of fact, they did." He replied guilelessly.

"Then why are you in here?" she asked acridly. He usually seemed to thrive on the mindless devotion of his fellow Slytherins.

Draco sighed in exasperation, "I thought I might actually get a bit of peace and quiet. Only Prefects are allowed in here, so none of them can follow me in. I assume that's why you're here as well."

Hermione didn't reply. That was exactly why she had chosen the Prefect's compartment. Only Ron would have been able to get in, and she truly doubted he'd even think about coming after her.

He spared her another glance. "You know, it's really pathetic how you let those two determine everything you do... even what you wear. It's pretty obvious you're nothing but a brain to them. They use you to pass their subjects and get them out of jams, and you just grin and think they actually give a shite about you. They take advantage of you and expect that you'll always be there for them to use whenever they please and drop when your value has fled. You do everything you're supposed to, being the picture perfect little Gryffindor. What a doormat! You'll probably graduate, become a big brave Auror, marry that prat Potter... if he ever grows a hampton and notices you're female that is... then you'll belt out a dozen or so kids and spend the rest of your life being their little servant. Sad part is, you probably even think that's what you want, probably been what you've wanted ever since you met him, but I'll let you in on a little secret... what we truly want rarely ends up being what we thought it was when we were younger. If we had all the dreams of our youth granted, we would end up living in a Hell of our own creation. You're going to have to stop letting expectations run your life, otherwise you might as well hop in a coffin and call it quits now. It will save you a long, miserable and ultimately pointless existence followed by an unlamented death."

"You know nothing about us and you sure as Hell know nothing about me, so stop acting like you're omniscient, Malfoy." Hermione hissed angrily.

"I know when someone's being led through life by a leash of expectations and preconceptions. That's a life not worth living, trust me. Now toddle off and find somewhere else to hide if you're so afraid of 'snake germs'."

Hermione folded her arms stubbornly over her chest. "I'm not leaving." She said resolutely.

"Well, neither am I. If you insist on staying, would you mind moving over there? You're tainting my air supply."

"Bugger off, Malfoy!" Hermione growled angrily. She went over, plunking down on the seat opposite the one she'd been sitting in, "Like I want to be anywhere near a little bloody Death Eater anyway!"

There was nothing but silence from where Draco lay, hidden from her view once again. After a few minutes she began to think she had actually shut him up.

Draco shifted up suddenly, looking over the seat, his cold gray eyes glaring at her with pure hatred. "I will tell you this once, and only once, so do yourself a favor and listen up." He said in a soft, but deadly serious voice, "If you ever call me that again, I will kill you."

Hermione just stared as he once again disappeared from sight. The look in his eyes... she had no doubt he really would kill her. In all the years she, Harry and Ron had fought with him, she'd never seen him look so furious. What she couldn't figure out is why that name had angered him so... after all, his father was a Death Eater... and they had all pretty much assumed he would be following in those dark footsteps. In fact, she'd already heard about several bets that were going that he already had the Mark.

Silence reigned after that. All she heard was the rhythmic sounds of the train and the occasional soft sound of a page being turned. She was completely stunned that Draco was really just laying there reading. He had never yet missed an opportunity to tease and degrade her... and yet here they were... he had the perfect opportunity to have a go at her, and she knew full well he was quite steamed at her at the moment... and yet nothing. Did he just tease her to get at Harry and Ron? That she could remember, one or the other of them had always been around when Draco had had a go at her in the past... but then they were always around her it seemed when they were at Hogwarts, so that might not be a pattern at all.

She spent the rest of the train ride sitting there, staring out the window and musing in silence. The sound and feel of the train soothed her, her mind slipping into an almost meditative state as the world rushing past her window began to slowly darken.

She started as Malfoy snapped his book shut and rose. It had been so peaceful she had all but forgotten he was even there. He paused as his hand came to rest on the door handle, looking over at her. "Good luck with the whole leash thing, Granger." he said with a sarcastic smirk and a slight nod, and then he was gone.

She glared after him. What the bloody Hell was up with him? She waited a few minutes to insure she wouldn't run into him in the corridor, then got up, slowly making her way back to the compartment... and the boys...

She braced herself, at a complete loss as to what to say when they would undoubtedly ask her where she'd gone and why. She wasn't eager to tell them she had overheard Harry's disparaging comments. She knew them and knew that would lead to nothing but a big awkward mess. Maybe it was just best to drop the whole thing. She kind of hoped they would have gotten at least an inkling that they'd upset her and therefore avoid the subject like they usually did when they knew they were in the wrong.

When she opened the door to the compartment, they were sitting there in silence, already in their school robes as well. She entered tentatively and took a seat. Something had definitely happened in there after she left. The boys were very pointedly not meeting her eyes, and Ginny was sitting there with her arms folded across her chest. Hermione studied the boys, trying to deduce what had occurred. As her eyes shifted to Harry he shifted his head away a bit more, looking out the window. As the sparse light fell on the side of his face, she noticed a couple of tiny red dots. She squinted at them. Once she'd spotted the first ones, she started noticing more of them. They all appeared to come in evenly spaced sets of two. She was completely baffled as to how he would have gotten such odd markings. She looked back over at Ron. Knowing what to look for, she quickly spotted similar markings on him as well. They were harder to see considering his proliferation of freckles, but they were definitely there.

Ginny cleared her throat loudly, glaring at the boys pointedly. They both shifted uneasily.

"Um..." Ron said, angling his head towards Hermione but still not meeting her eyes. "Sorry." He said a bit lamely.

"Ya. Sorry, Hermione." Harry said, just as enthusiastically.

Ginny's eyes narrowed a bit more and her arms shifted a bit. It wasn't until then that Hermione noticed that one of Ginny's hands was tucked in her robe right about where she kept her wand.

The boys straightened a bit.

"Um... we were being inconsiderate, boorish prats and we hope you can forgive us." Ron quickly added sounding decidedly as if he'd been coached, his eyes now trained apprehensively on his sister's wand hand.

Harry tried to pull his eyes off of Ginny as he saw that Hermione had noted the direction of their gaze. He quickly nodded, "Boorish and inconsiderate." She didn't miss the way his eyes darted over to Ginny for a split second before adding, "You looked very nice."

Hermione rolled her eyes and settled back without comment, looking out the window once again. She was relieved to see Hogsmeade station coming into view. In moments they were all bustling about to get their things packed back away in their trunks and prepare for departure, earlier transgressions apparently forgotten.

Hermione, being towards the window, waited until Ginny and Ron had made their way out before getting her own trunk down (with magic this time!) so as not to crowd everyone. She then crouched down, looking for Crookshanks. She spotted him under the bench on the other side.

"Um... Hermione?"

She looked up in surprise. Harry was still standing there. "Ya?"

"Did we really... upset you?" he asked, sounding genuinely curious.

She rolled her eyes again, straightening up. "Not like it matters." She muttered, moving around her trunk to get to her cat. Harry's hand on her elbow stopped her.

"It does to me."

She blinked in surprise. He actually looked concerned. "A bit." She conceded.

He sighed and hung his head. "I really am sorry. I just... haven't felt myself since..." His throat tightened and his eyes averted, looking a bit watery. "All summer. I don't know what's gotten into me."

She sighed, going over and crouching down to get Crookshanks. "It's alright, Harry. I've known you and Ron since first year. It was daft of me not to realize how you'd react. Don't worry, I'll tell Ginny you apologized." She added a bit sarcastically.

"Ginny didn't make me..." He trailed off, his cheeks blushing as Hermione stood, holding Crookshanks out where he could see him.

The cat had something in its mouth. The tiny bat-like wings made it easily identifiable. Harry cleared his throat in embarrassment as she set Crookshanks on the bench and folded her arms over her chest with a little knowing smirk as the cat dropped the little bat bogey and began batting it around again.

"Ok..." Harry admitted, unconsciously scratching a couple of the tiny bite marks along his jaw line, "She may have subtly brought it to our attention that we'd been... less than gentlemen..."

Hermione let out a little snort of amusement. There was nothing subtle about Ginny's bat-bogey hex. She'd seen even Ginny's oldest brothers flinch and back down when threatened with it. She had only been five years old when she'd gotten so furious at Ron that she actually managed to first cast it, wandless no less. It had only been three rather small bat-bogeys that first time, but all things considered it was truly impressive nonetheless. Percy (who had taught it to her) was so proud.

Harry sighed again, then wrapped his arms around her, taking her completely by surprise. "I'm truly sorry." He whispered softly, giving her a slight squeeze, then releasing her. She just watched, stunned, as he gathered up Hedwig's cage and his trunk and left.

She snapped out of it after a moment, grabbing up Crookshanks and her trunk and hurrying after him. She couldn't seem to wrap her mind around what had just happened. Harry wasn't one for spontaneous displays of affection. He'd only hugged her in rather extreme circumstances before... like after she'd been petrified and when they had thought they were witnessing Buckbeak's execution.

Her ponderings were completely forgotten as she stepped off the train. She stared around her in shock. There were Aurors scattered everywhere around the platform... dozens of them. They appeared to be conducting some sort of systematic search of some of the students. They had little checkpoints set up beside almost every car of the train. Each checkpoint consisted of several Aurors waiting and watching who was coming out of the cars, then going over and directing selected students into the groups to be checked, then there were two aurors doing the checks, and a number of other Aurors standing around the gathered group of students, obvious containing the group so none could slip past. Several even had their wands out in plain sight. She spotted Dumbledore amongst a group of Aurors talking to someone. He looked a bit displeased. Even that much showing on his face was cause for alarm in her book. The man usually was extremely adept at hiding his personal feelings. As one of the Aurors shifted aside she could see that it was Cornelius Fudge himself standing there beside him.

As she looked around, she spotted Harry, Ginny and Ron standing a ways away. She hurried over to them. "What's going on?"

"They're checking for the Dark Mark. They claim it's a 'random' search." Ginny said, making it plain how true she thought that was.

Hermione looked around and noted that they appeared to be detaining only those with green trim on their robes. The Slytherins looked a bit peeved at this to say the least. Ron and Harry were smirking.

"Let's stay and watch for a bit, shall we?" Ron asked mirthfully.

Crookshanks suddenly squirmed out of Hermione's grasp and sprinted off. She let out a huff but didn't give chase. They were close enough to Hogwarts that he could find his way on his own if necessary. Besides, he was already weaving through the carriages. He'd most likely hitch a ride on one of them and beat her to the castle anyway. She didn't blame him for not wanting to hang around all of this. Even being a witness to it somehow made Hermione feel unclean. It was like something out of one of those old movies they sometimes showed in the Muggle schools as a kind of warning... the ones that epitomized the injustices that had been carried out in the past because of ignorance.

Ginny let out an exasperated hiss of breath. "This is just wrong." She muttered, shaking her head at the injustice of it. "Not even Slytherins deserve this."

Harry let out a snort. "Please. Every witch or wizard that has ever gone bad came out of that accursed House. I'd say it's common sense. I'm glad they're actually finally taking this seriously."

Hermione held her tongue, looking over at the nearest 'checkpoint'. The air practically crackled with the anger of the gathered Slytherins. She watched as an Auror pulled up Goyle's sleeves, checking his arms carefully for several long moments even though it was immediately obvious he didn't have a mark. Another Auror was looking through his trunk. Goyle just stood there and took it, though his jaw was tense and set with barely contained anger and indignation.

"Move along then." The Auror said callously as he finished. "Next!"

Goyle moved past him as the Auror who had been digging through his trunk shoved it aside with his boot, making some of the now heaped up clothing spill out onto the dusty ground. Goyle grumbled, picking up his things and trying to shove the disorganized mess back in so he could close the lid.

Whether he had done it for amusement or not, Goyle had helped her mere hours before, and she found the treatment he was receiving shockingly upsetting.

Harry and Ron spotted Dean, Seamus and Neville standing a ways away and went over, enjoying the scene with them as they whispered mirthfully to eachother. Neville drifted away from the group after a moment, then meandered over to the carriages. Hermione was glad to see at least one of the boy not getting morbid pleasure from this.

"You ladies should move along." A soft voice said behind them.

Hermione and Ginny looked around in surprise. There was a young Auror standing there.

"There's no reason for you to have to witness this." He added, looking past them to the checkpoint with obvious disapproval.

Ginny rolled her eyes. "Are they trying to cut down on witnesses now?" She asked sarcastically.

His eyes darted over to her and widened as a smile slipped over his lips. "Ginny?"

Ginny looked back over at him in surprise. "Um... yes... do I know you?"

His smile broadened, "Thomas Warner. I went to Durmstrang... Triwizard Tournament?" When he didn't see immediate recognition his cheeks reddened a bit and his eyes dropped to the ground, "I... um... asked you to the Yule Ball..."

"Oh... Oh!" Ginny said, blushing as well. She couldn't believe she didn't recall him. "Your hair is longer..." She said a bit lamely by way of excuse for her lapse.

He nodded, his grin still in place. "Finally got away from my dad, so at last I can grow it out a bit... It was so wretched having to cut it every month or so..." He said, fingering the shoulder length black hair self-consciously.

She furrowed her brow, looking him over. "You're an Auror already?"

He chuckled softly, "Not quite..." He pointed to a little emblem on his lapel. "In training. I only have a little over a year of Auror training in so far, but with the way things are they need even the recruits... After the six months we can alternate weeks for our studies and 'street time'. It's brilliant. Well... most of the time..." He said, finishing with a slight scowl at proceedings. "I got to meet a number of the Slytherins when I was here... they don't deserve this." He said, shaking his head. "Ack! Gotta run." He said, spotting a superior eyeing him, "It's been lovely seeing you again! Stop by if you're ever at the Ministry. I have a desk and everything!" He said with one more brilliant smile and a little wave before hurrying off.

Hermione watched the young man go, then looked over at Ginny. "He asked you out?"

"I was already going to the ball with Neville." Ginny said dismissingly, looking back over at the checkpoint.

"Still..." She said, casting another glance after him. He was absolutely gorgeous! Dark hair and eyes with a slight brooding quality that was more endearing than off-putting. His voice had been rather nice as well. Not near the thick accent that Viktor Krum had, it was more just enough of a soft hint to make his voice all the more pleasant. "Certainly didn't sound like he came from Durmstrang..."

"His mother was French. He lived with her most of his life. His parents were separated when he was very young. He went to Beauxbatons until his fourth year. She died and he had to go live with his father, and I guess his father had a position at Durmstrang, so he kind of had to go there."

Hermione smirked. "So you do remember him..."

Ginny rolled her eyes. "So?" She said a bit huffily, not even looking over.

Hermione furrowed her brow, "Something wrong with him?"

Ginny shrugged. "Just not interested. He's not really my type. Besides, what kind of seventh year asks a third year to a Ball? He could have been some kind of pervert for all I know."

Hermione watched her silently for a moment, something occurring to her. "So... it has nothing to do with the fact that he has dark hair, and the standard nickname for Thomas is..."

Ginny's icy glare cut her off quite completely. "He's just not my type. Leave it at that." She said slowly, the chill in the air almost palpable.

"Ok ok..." Hermione said placatingly. She decided it would be best to shut up now. She looked back over as Harry and the others broke into laughter at something Ron had whispered.

Draco looked over as he heard snickers. Harry and Ron were standing there with their other little Gryffindor mates, all looking extremely amused as they watched their plight. Hermione and Ginny were watching as well of course... but surprisingly, neither of them appeared to be taking any pleasure in seeing the indignities being inflicted upon him and his Housemates.

He spotted Snape wandering the platform, observing the checks with obvious anger. It was a relief that none of the Aurors looked inclined to try to check the Potions Master. He wondered if they already knew what they'd find, or if they'd been forbidden to search the staff. He'd known pretty much his whole life that Snape bore the mark, just as his own father did... and the fathers of a good number of his Housemates. "This is bloody ridiculous." He muttered angrily.

"Tell me about it!" Blaise growled, watching the other students gawking. "They aren't checking a single student that isn't wearing green. This is complete and utter bullshit."

They looked forward as the Aurors finished with Crabbe, the tall one calling out "Next!" in that same bored tone.

Blaise sighed, "I'll go first. Might as well get this farce over with." He said, stepping forward.

"Bloody waste of time, this." The Auror muttered to his mate as he started manhandling Blaise. He examined Blaise's arm while acting like the Slytherins couldn't even hear him, though he did nothing to lower his rather booming voice. "Bastard's probably wizened up and started sticking his brand somewhere else on 'em. We should take the whole bloody lot down and have 'em searched proper. Wager we'd find marks on at least half of the little bastards."

The other Auror chuckled, nodding, "Reckon if they don't have 'em yet, they're just gonna get 'em sooner or later. Probably save ourselves a heap of headache later if we just tossed 'em in a cell now."

Blaise jerked away as the Auror tried to check his other arm, his eye burning with barely contained rage.

The Auror's eyes narrowed. "Cooperate or you'll feel the business end of my wand you little punk."

"You want me to cooperate?" Blaise hissed, his voice quickly rising and drawing attention. "Fine! I'll cooperate! Not satisfied looking at my arms? Fine! Fuck it!" He said, stripping off his robe.

"What the bloody Hell you think you're doing?" The Auror growled as Blaise tossed down his tie and started unbuttoning his vest.

"You wanted to search me, right? Well I wouldn't want you to miss anything!" He said, the volume of his voice making more and more people stop and stare as he tossed down the vest.

"Blaise!" Draco whispered urgently, seeing the anger on the Auror's face.

Blaise jerked his shoulder away as Draco tried to lay a placating hand on it. "No!" He said, yanking his shirt off and tossing it down, "These arseholes want to give me a full search, so be it!" He said, unbuckling his belt and letting his pants pool around his ankles.

Draco put his hand over his face in mortification as Blaise's skivvies joined them.

"How's this? See any bloody marks? You wanted to see my body so bloody bad, so take a good look you great nonce!" Blaise yelled, standing there in the chill air without a stitch.

"Why you little bastard!" The Auror growled, snatching out his wand furiously.

In a sudden blur of movement, the Auror went down. He blinked his eyes to clear them and saw his superior standing over him looking furious. He scrambled to his feet, rubbing his bruised jaw.

"If I EVER see you draw on a child who is quite obviously unarmed again I'll have you in Azkaban before you can blink!" The older man snarled.

"What's the fuss here?" Fudge asked, bustling over, noting the way the Aurors were glaring at eachother dangerously as Blaise stood there naked and obviously furious, making no move to cover himself whatsoever. Pansy hurried over and wrapped herself around him, trying to cover him with her own robe as best she could.

"I must once again voice my misgivings about this ill-conceived endeavor." The older Auror ground out, his eyes never leaving the other Auror's face. "It is obvious that this is not nearly the 'discrete operation' that you envisioned. It is also quite apparent that it is causing excessive disruption to the students and creating a blatantly hostile environment for them."

"Yes, Senior Auror Christian, I am well aware of your objections, but this is a necessary measure to insure the safety of the other students."

Christian pulled his eyes off of the man before him and looked over at Fudge. "The Aurors are too embroiled in this war and far too agitated by our lack of success in other areas to be objective in this, as I predicted they would be. Do you call this insuring student safety? This man just drew his wand on an unarmed child! Not to mention that the blatant profiling that is being displayed here is appalling. What have these children done to deserve such treatment? You are actively encouraging the other students to follow your lead and ostracize them! If anything, this travesty of 'justice' might actually incline them towards going over to the other side!"

"I hardly think being thorough is cause for..." Fudge began haughtily.

"Being thorough?" Auror Christian asked with an incredulous shake of his head, "I have yet to see a single student from any other house but Slytherin checked, and I've seen how our own men are treating these children... and quite frankly, I find it very disturbing. I must once more put forth the request that Heads of Houses be allowed to check their own students in the privacy of their own House in a more dignified manner."

"As if they could really be trusted to..." Fudge began a bit disdainfully.

"Are you questioning the integrity of my faculty?" Dumbledore asked. His voice was soft, but with an edge that didn't pass Fudge's attention.

"Of course not..." Fudge quickly replied, though he was quite obviously lying. "I was just suggesting that it would be a rather arduous task for a single Professor to check an entire House..."

"We'll manage." Snape hissed, making Fudge start slightly as he noticed him standing there for the first time. He looked over at his students. "That'll be enough of this mockery. Gather your things and get to the carriages... and Zabini, for Merlin's sake put on some clothes." Snape said brusquely.

Fudge sputtered as all of the Slytherins grabbed up their belongings and immediately started off. "Now hold on! You haven't been cleared!" he sputtered, but the Slytherins didn't pay him a speck of attention. The Aurors where looking to Fudge for instructions. It would take a great deal of intimidation and possibly even the use of their wands at this point to round the students back up, and that could get messy. Especially politically!

"Cornelius, I believe that will be enough." Dumbledore replied. "I'm afraid I cannot tolerate further disruption of the student body. We will go with Auror Christian's suggestion. I will inform you of the results in the morning." He said, then turned and walked away.

"I am the Minister of Magic!" Fudge howled indignantly, seeing his control of this situation fluttering away.

Dumbledore stopped, but did not turn. Fudge paled slightly as he felt the air around him grow thick and begin to crackle with power, even though Dumbledore was already several meters away. After a moment, he cleared his throat. "As such, I... I expect that report on my desk first thing in the morning! No later!" He said, trying to recover and act like that was what he was going to say all along.

"Of course, Cornelius." Dumbledore replied, his soft voice belying the obvious aura of anger that flowed around him.

Fudge let out a little sigh of relief as Dumbledore continued on his way, then he turned angrily on Christian. "I'm going to need a word with you when we return to the Ministry." He said softly, but with an obviously furious undertone.

"I look forward to it." Christian replied evenly with a little nod.

It obviously irritated Fudge to see that the man wasn't intimidated in the least. He turned and stormed off.

"You shouldn't have done that." Blaise said softly, his eyes downcast as he fastened up his pants.

Christian smirked over at him. "I believe that's my line."

Blaise sighed. "You're going to get in trouble, you know that, right?"

Christian smirked and walked over to him, clapping him on the shoulder, "Don't you think on it, Blaise. That's my problem."

Blaise sighed as Pansy worked his shirt back on him and began buttoning it up. "Sorry."

Christian smirked. "No problem. Just keep an eye on that temper of yours. You're so much like your mother... calm as can be one minute, then..." He chuckled, reaching out and ruffling Blaise's hair. His face sobered a bit. "How's she doing?" He asked softly.

"She's fine. Great in fact. You should go see her. I think she gets a bit lonely when I'm not around. I'm sure she'd appreciate the company."

Christian shifted uneasily. "Wasn't sure she'd want me around... after..."

Blaise smirked. "Please! You did us a favor. Go see her. I know she's missed you."

Christian flashed him a little smile and nodded, "I might do that. Take care and be good!"

"You know me." Blaise said dismissingly with a wide grin.

"Thus why I felt it necessary to say it." Christian said with a little chuckle, plucking up the dusty green tie and giving it a snap to shake loose some of the dirt, then draping it around Blaise's neck before patting his shoulder affectionately and wandering away.

"Friend of yours?" Pansy asked with a smirk.

Blaise took a deep breath and sighed it out, casting an affectionate glance towards the retreating back of the aged Auror. "More like family..." He said softly, then snatched up his robe and pulled it on.

Pansy grabbed ahold of the front of his robe and pulled him close. "Next time I see you strip, we had better be in private! It's bad enough that half the students over fifteen have already gotten their hands on that bloody brilliant body of yours... don't be tempting the few that haven't yet tasted the pleasures of your bed or I'll never get any time with you!"

He chuckled, drawing her close. "Don't fret, my sweet... there's always room in my bed for you..." he murmured as he nipped at her ear, making her giggle and cuddle closer.

"Shift your arse, Zabini!" Draco called over from where he stood beside the last remaining carriage, "Or I make you two walk!"

Blaise rolled his eyes and they grabbed up their belongings, hurrying off.

Hermione stood by a bit irritably as Harry, Ron and several of their other mates laughed over the little scene on the platform. Ginny had already gone off in disgust, pretending to want to talk to some of her fifth year 'friends' that she'd spotted. Hermione knew better, however. Ginny had never cared for any of the other Gryffindor girls in her year and had more than once confided her disgust in their juvenile behavior to Hermione. Their partialness for childish pranks had gotten carried away on a number of occasions, and though Ginny pretended to enjoy the jokes (that had been at her own expense) along with the others, she'd pretty much despised each and every one of them since first year. Of course since they didn't know that, they still had no clue why they occasionally found themselves afflicted with little things like mysterious nose bleeds, rashes, sudden, uncontrollable flatulence and the like. Ginny received regular 'care packages' from Fred and George...

Hermione looked over as the boys started snickering. The last group of Slytherins was arriving, Draco and his cronies along with the boy who had stripped (she gathered from the talk that his name was Blaise). They dare not scoff openly at them, as they were still a quite powerful and vindictive lot, but they were enjoying the glares the Slytherins gave them at the moment.

The Slytherins glared them into looking away once again for fear of retaliation as they continued on their way. Hermione, who was leaning back against the wall out of the way, continued watching them. They seemed to have recovered well from the little 'preventative measures' Fudge had put them through, but still looked ready to take their anger out on anyone who presented the opportunity.

Blaise and Pansy broke off from the group, casually strolling down the stairs towards the dungeons. Draco spared them a glance, then just smirked and rolled his eyes, as did a number of others in the group though none so much as slowed their pace.

Hermione watched as the main group disappeared into the Great Hall. The boys were still chatting away, oblivious to her. The first years weren't even completely across the lake yet, so they had a good ten minutes or so before they would be expected to be in their seats for the feast. Well, she was fed up with their derisive banter... and she had to admit she was curious as to where Pansy and Blaise had gone... Perhaps Blaise was simply too embarrassed about his momentary (very public) loss of control? Maybe, but somehow she doubted it. He didn't strike her as the bashful type. Well, she was still a Prefect after all, and it was her job to make sure students weren't wandering the halls when they weren't supposed to be, right? It sounded more interesting than hanging around the entrance hall at any rate.

She glanced around, making sure no one was watching her, then casually strolled across to the stairs. After another glance, she hurried down them, trying to make her footfalls as silent as possible. She didn't want Harry and Ron to hear and drag her back into their wretched conversation.

When she got to the bottom of the stairs, she started towards Slytherin dungeon. Within a couple of steps she came to a halt, turning her head. She could have sworn she heard something from the other direction. She started back in that direction, listening intently. More sounds came, though she couldn't define what they might be with the way the stone corridors distorted sound.

As she rounded the corner, she picked up her pace. It sounded like there was some sort of struggle up ahead. She came to a stop as she passed one of the doors, realizing the sounds were coming from within. There was a bit of dark cloth, from the looks of it a discarded robe, on the floor wedging the door open a crack. She reached out, giving the door a light shove and it drifted open a few inches.

Hermione's eyes went round. Pansy was laying on an old desk, her skirt bunched around her waist and her shirt wide open, the desk beneath her protesting creakily as Blaise shagged her hard, naked but for the pants and skivvies pooled around his ankles once again. Hermione just stared, so shocked it felt like she was in a trance as she watched the rhythmic clashing of their bodies. She'd never seen anyone having sex before. Well, not really having sex. TV and movies didn't really count.

Blaise groaned, shifted down so he was laying more on top of Pansy as he picked up the pace. He started snogging her passionately as his hands caressed her. Pansy wrapped her arms around him, her nails lightly grazing his back as she tried to urge him to go faster still.

His hands seemed to know her body as if it were a mere extension of himself, knowing exactly where and how to touch her to illicit pleasured moans. It was obvious this was no where near their first time together...

His head dropped down, nipping at her neck as her moans filled the room, the sound of it obviously exciting him even more. Within a couple of moments he started pounding into her, his movements becoming a bit frantic. Suddenly she arched up, yelling his name so loud it echoed around the room. He tensed and slammed himself into her with a deep grunt that sent a hard twinge through Hermione's loins. She just watched, her cheeks flush, as he spent himself in Pansy, a look of exquisite pleasure on his face.

Slowly the tension drained out of them, though Pansy kept her legs wrapped tightly around his hips. They started kissing in a slow, deeply passionate way. After a moment, Blaise sighed contentedly. "Gods I missed you..." He said lovingly, "I hope you don't have any plans for tonight..." He added playfully, his hips pressing against her a bit.

She shivered and giggled, her breath still coming in pants. "Goyle mentioned that he might drop by later..."

"Brilliant!" Blaise said with genuine enthusiasm, much to Hermione's shock.

"I think something on the train really gave him the horn." Pansy said mischievously.

"Hmmm..." Blaise said, reaching up and caressing her breast, his thumb rubbing her nipple, "I wonder what could have done that...?" He said, laying his head down on her shoulder and looking over, staring Hermione straight in the eyes as a wicked smirk slid across his lips.

Hermione started, realizing he had known full well she was there. She quickly turned and dashed towards the stairs... and almost immediately collided with something... or rather someone...

Hermione looked up in horror, seeing the very last person she would want to find her here standing before her.

"Miss Granger... you're a bit out of your territory, are you not?" Snape asked with a slight smirk.

She quickly stumbled back a step, but then stopped. She didn't want to be near Snape, but she didn't want to be where Pansy could see her either! "I... um... they..." She felt like she was going to faint, her cheeks blazing so hotly she was sure they must glow in the dim light. Why was she so embarrassed? She hadn't done anything wrong!

"Yes yes, I'm sure you have an excellent explanation as to why you are down here, but it is time for the feast, and this is no place for an errant Gryffindor."

"I'm not an 'errant'..." Hermione started indignantly.

"I was trying to phrase it politely, but if you'd prefer the term 'peeping tom' better, so be it. I hardly think that voyeur is a suitable past time for a Prefect."

Her jaw dropped. "I was not..."

"Standing there for the last several minutes or so staring most rudely at what was quite obviously a very private and intimate matter?" He asked, his smirk widening.

She opened and closed her mouth several times, but could muster no response.

"I see. Very informative. Thank you so much for clearing that up. Now shall we get to the feast before the food is cold?" Snape asked, obviously highly amused by her silence.

"Wha... what about them?" She sputtered as he turned to leave.

He looked back. "Quite right." He said with a nod. "Mr. Zabini, Miss Parkinson." He called out, "Finish it up in there. I expect to see you both upstairs, fully clothed, in five minutes. No more!"

"Yes, Professor Snape!" their voices called from the open door with obvious amusement as she heard them start to move around.

"There. Taken care of." Snape said as if the matter were closed, "I'll not make a report about what you were up to this time, but if I find you sticking that nose of yours where it doesn't belong again I'm afraid I'm going to have to have a discussion about issues of propriety with the Headmaster."

"What I was up to? But... but... what about them? They were just... aren't you going to do anything?" She asked incredulously.

"Don't worry, I'll have a word with them." He said gravely, then raised his voice once more, "How many times must I remind you lot to use a Silencing spell? And for Merlin's sake, learn to close the bloody door properly!" With that, he turned on his heel and strolled away.

There were giggles from the still partially open door.

Hermione stared at Snape's retreating back in shock. She quickly snapped out of it and hurried after him... not fast enough to catch up with him, but not lingering. She definitely didn't want to face Blaise and Pansy! She had never been so mortified in her entire life. This one she planned to take to the grave... unfortunately she very much doubted she would be able to...

She certainly hoped this wasn't foreshadowing for the year to come...

A/N - For my Flight of the Thestrals fans: check out my profile for additional explanations of why certain things are happening and such. I am trying to start up one of those Forum things, but as I'm a complete newbie to it and there is like NO info on what and how and such I'm testing the waters before shifting the explanations over to it entirely.

If you haven't read Flight yet, but are wanting updates on what's happening with the story (like what might be holding up the posts, etc.) check my profile... just don't go below the well marked divider or you may be subjected to spoilers:)