It had been over a month since the incident with the dragon’s blood and Hermione and Theo were still on edge. It was nearing the end of October and with classes, Heads’ duties, and the ever-present concern of the imminent war, Hermione’s mind was overflowing.
“I’m telling you. It was Malfoy,” Theo said for what had to be the thousandth time.
Hermione sighed and turned the page in her book.
“I agree that he was suspicious," she conceded in a monotone, "but he hasn’t done anything in several weeks, and we can hardly suspect him without any proof.”
“Hermione,” Theo sighed, “you accused the guy and he did nothing to deny it! If anything, he admitted his guilt by saying ‘you don’t know anything’ or whatever it was that he was babbling about.”
Hermione groaned and looked up from her book, shielding her eyes from the light of the fire. The October wind was blowing icily outside the window and the sun was setting earlier and earlier.
“What time is it?” she asked, changing the subject.
“A quarter to seven,” Theo replied after a moment, looking disappointed that Hermione didn’t want to speculate anymore on the prank from weeks before.
“We should go to the headmistress’s office, Theo. Our meeting starts soon.”
Theo nodded and stood, reaching a hand down to pull Hermione to her feet. She slid her small palm into his and stood swiftly, holding his hand for a moment longer than necessary and smiling at his gesture.
You’re flirting, a voice sang in Hermione’s mind, but she ignored it. She had admitted to herself that she liked Theo weeks before and had been doing her best not to act on it. She had discussed it with Ginny and they had decided that it was for the best since Hermione did live with Theo and if anything went wrong, the breakup would make things very awkward in the Heads’ Dormitory.
Theo led the way out of the dormitory and down the hallway, Hermione trailing after him. They walked in companionable silence until they reached the gargoyles guarding the headmistress’s office.
“Strength,” Theo stated clearly, and the gargoyle leapt aside to admit them to the spiral staircase.
“Hey Theo?” Hermione murmured as they ascended the stairs.
“Yeah, Ace?” Theo asked, turning around to smile down at her and using the nickname he’d made up a few weeks earlier.
“Did you know Professor Dumbledore?” Hermione asked, her eyes sad.
Theo’s eyebrows knitted together.
“Not very well…” he murmured. “You did though, didn’t you?”
“Yeah…well, being best friends with Harry, you know…”
Theo nodded and then squeezed her shoulder.
“It’ll be okay, I promise. It’s going to take time, but it will be all right.”
They had reached the door to the office, and Theo knocked sharply. Hermione was still reeling from Theo's hand being on her shoulder. They rarely touched, and Hermione would never admit it, but she got lightheaded and giddy whenever they did.
“Come in,” Professor McGonagall called. They did as they were told and took seats before the headmistress’s desk. Hermione smiled, still thinking about Theo as she began a polite conversation with her professor.
“How have you been, ma’am?” she asked politely. Professor McGonagall smiled tightly.
“Things outside the school are escalating,” she admitted, pushing her square-rimmed glasses up her nose a bit. “I have been…stressed.”
Theo stiffened and sighed as they lapsed into silence. Finally, Hermione spoke again.
“So, why did you need us, Professor?”
Nodding as she concentrated on the conversation again, Professor McGonagall explained.
“Do you remember at the beginning of term when I mentioned that this year we would be implementing certain social gatherings?”
The Heads nodded.
“Well, I think that the coming Halloween holiday would be a good time to start this practice.”
Hermione began to smile.
“What type of event could we organize?” she asked excitedly.
“A ball? Or a party maybe?” Theo asked.
Professor McGonagall looked skeptical.
“I want this event to be something that all of the students can participate in. I also want it to be something that everyone will be…interested in and safe while doing.”
Hermione nodded and smiled wider.
“Of course. Perhaps…a carnival of sorts? With food and games and the like?”
Professor McGonagall nodded in response, a look of satisfaction on her face.
“That sounds very possible, Miss Granger.”
Theo looked pleased as well.
“When do we start organizing this, Professor? Halloween is in barely over a week.”
“I’ll announce the carnival Friday night at dinner, and you should meet with the prefects and work out the details.”
“We’ll do that tomorrow,” he grinned. “We have our weekly meeting planned anyways since tomorrow’s Thursday.”
Professor McGonagall smiled across the desk at them and nodded once.
“Off you go.”
“I’m excited,” Hermione said, smiling happily as she and Theo sat in the common room late that night.
“I know, Ace. Me too.”
“Why do you call me that?” Hermione asked, laughing.
“I’ve explained this already,” Theo grinned.
“Explain it again, I still don’t get it,” she urged.
“It’s self-explanatory," the Head Boy replied, rolling his eyes. "You’re just…the top, the best of the best, you know?” he laughed. “It’s harder to explain than I thought, I guess. Just accept the nickname.”
Hermione rolled her eyes.
“I’m not that fond of nicknames…”
“Get over it,” Theo laughed, moving to sit beside her on the couch.
Hermione hesitated and then leaned her head back so that it was rested just beside Theo’s shoulder.
“This argument isn’t over,” she murmured, closing her eyes.
“Oh, I know,” Theo replied quietly. He glanced down at his partner. As she drifted to sleep, her head slid down to rest on his shoulder. Theo smiled and closed his own eyes, perfectly fine with waiting for a few minutes to wake Hermione up.
The next day was Thursday, and with it came the stress of classes and a Potions assessment that Hermione had been studying for all week.
“We’ll be fine,” Ron kept saying under his breath, trying to convince himself of its truth as the trio headed towards the dungeons. “We’ll be fine; we’ll be fine; we’ll be fine…”
Harry grinned and patted his best friend on the back encouragingly.
“Yes, we will.”
Hermione didn’t think that Harry looked overly confident either, but she was glad that he was making an effort in trying to cheer Ron up.
“We talked about this at lunch, guys,” Hermione piped in, her hands wringing together nervously as they opened the door to Professor Slughorn’s classroom. “We studied the ingredients over and over again…everything will be fine.”
Harry and Ron exchanged smiles as they took their seats. As they did so, Professor Slughorn entered the dingy classroom and waved his wand at the blackboard.
“There are your instructions. This potion will count as one fourth of your grade for the term. Good luck.” He took a seat behind his desk, and the scrambling began.
The nine students in the NEWT level class were hurriedly taking out ingredients and starting fires under their cauldrons.
“Be efficient, focus, pay attention to absolutely everything…” Hermione muttered to herself.
As her hair began to frizz from the heat and humidity in the room, Hermione’s nerves started humming.
It’s fine, the potion looks exactly how it’s supposed to, everything is fine… she tried thinking, but the previous year had made her nervous about her abilities with the subject. The Half-Blood Prince’s book had made her feel terribly inadequate in her potion’s prowess. Sighing, Hermione concentrated on the task and ignored her nerves. And then, finally…
“Time’s up,” Slughorn called almost an hour later.
The air was heavy with lavender fumes and the students were leaning on desks, exhaustion written across their faces.
“How did we all do?” Slughorn asked cheerfully as they turned in their flasks. “Hopefully well!”
Hermione grunted and didn’t answer as she passed the professor. Turning, she followed Harry and Ron out of the dungeons as she used one hand to try to flatten the frizzy halo she’d acquired in the last hour.
“That was terrible…” Ron groaned as they trudged up the dungeon stairs and into the light of the Entrance Hall.
Hermione just sighed.
“I’m going to take a shower before dinner and the prefects’ meeting, I’ll see you guys later,” she said.
Harry pulled her into a one-armed hug and smiled.
“I’m sure you did great, Hermione. Don’t worry.”
Managing a half-hearted smile for Harry, Hermione hugged Ron as well and left for the Heads’ Dormitory.
“Come on, guys, listen up!” Theo called over the chatter in the classroom that the prefects now occupied for their weekly meeting. Dinner was over, but apparently the socializing was not.
The talking slowly died down to silence and Theo smiled at the assembly.
“Good news,” he said, pausing for suspenseful effect. “We’re planning a party,” he finally added.
The chatter immediately erupted again.
“What will we do?”
Certain voices rose above the din to ask the questions that Theo was already trying to answer.
“Okay, okay,” he said good-naturedly, his green eyes sparkling with excitement. “We’re planning a sort of…Halloween carnival.”
Hermione took over, looking at the excited faces of her peers.
“The headmistress wants us to plan this get-together to…promote house unity and the like, and to take everyone's minds off of what's going on outside the castle...”
Surprisingly, no one laughed, so Hermione continued.
“We need to come up with things to do at this carnival,” she explained. “Safe, fun things that we can manage easily. And we’re going to need volunteers to run the games and activities that we come up with.”
Justin Finch-Fletchley was the first to speak up.
“I’m voting we mix Muggle and wizard games and things. That way we appeal to everyone.”
Hermione nodded, impressed.
“We need ideas for games or things to do then,” she continued.
Someone laughed loudly, then had a quiet dispute with the person nearest them about whether or not to say their idea.
“Just say it!” someone urged.
“I’m voting on a haunted house,” the original speaker said jokingly.
A few more people laughed. Theo rolled his eyes.
“We’ll see,” he conceded, before looking to see if any more ideas were brought up.
“Eating contests,” Justin said, grinning. “Guys will love those.”
Hannah Abbot pulled out a roll of parchment to take notes and the ideas started pouring in. Several ideas, some from Ron, were eliminated the moment they were proposed, but most things coming in sounded reasonable. Largely, they were small-scale, but the excitement in the room was infectious.
“Well,” Mary Thomson, a sixth year Hufflepuff prefect chimed in as the list grew with things like bobbing for apples and pass the exploding parcel, “I think we should have something that the younger students will like. Maybe a petting zoo or something?”
Hermione nodded and smiled widely.
“Would you talk to Professor McGonagall about all of these tomorrow afternoon, Hannah? We need to get them approved.”
Hannah nodded and scratched down the petting zoo idea. Finally, no one else had any more ideas and Theo brought up the rest of the topics on the list of organization.
“Okay, well…I’m thinking that the four Hufflepuff prefects can be in charge of organizing the activities, okay? Then Ravenclaw covers talking to the house elves about the menu, Gryffindor is in charge of decoration, and that leaves Slytherin to handle the music that will be played in the different areas of the Great Hall and around the grounds. We’ll all set up together next Friday.”
“No, the headmistress already requested that we leave costumes out. There are just too many things that can go wrong with that. Thank you for asking, Pansy.”
“We’ll all meet again next Thursday, the day before the carnival to finalize absolutely everything. Then Friday’s Halloween and our big day.” Hermione smiled widely. “Professor McGonagall is going to announce this tomorrow at dinner, so please keep it a secret until then.”
The prefects filed out quickly, but Ron hung back.
“Are you coming to do homework with me and Harry?” he asked Hermione as she fell back to help Theo rearrange the desks to their proper spots.
“Oh, no, I’m sorry, Ron. Tell Harry I’ll have to take a rain check.”
Ron looked confused at the “rain check” expression, but nodded.
“All right then, I’ll see you around.” He smiled and left her and Theo alone.
After a few moments of silence, Hermione spoke again.
“That went well.”
“I agree,” Theo said as he turned to face her. “It’s exciting…”
Hermione smiled and crossed the room to the door, putting her hand on the knob and turning back.
“Are you coming?”
Theo nodded and walked quickly to where she was so they could leave together, extinguishing the candles as they closed the door.
The walk to their common room was almost silent, but as they reached Sam’s portrait, Theo spoke up.
“I hope the carnival goes well…” he murmured as they climbed through the portrait-hole.
“Me too,” Hermione said, smiling at the Head Boy.
“It’s going to be busy but…I was wondering…”
Hermione stopped on her way to her room and look back at Theo when he trailed off.
“You look nervous,” she laughed. “What’s going on?”
Theo ran a hand through his brown hair and took a few deep breaths.
“Would you like to…” he trailed off again and Hermione walked back to him. She looked up into his eyes and smiled a bit, her eyes concerned.
“You’re worrying me…what’s wrong?” she murmured, her eyebrows knitted together.
Theo smiled and reached out to brush Hermione's hair off her forehead.
“Don’t worry. I just wondered if you’d like to spend some time with me at the carnival…if Harry and Ron don’t have claim the entire night.” He grinned again.
“Of course!” Hermione smiled back. “I’d love to.”
They stood smiling at each other for a while before Theo cleared his throat and left for his room with only a few words of goodnight. Hermione didn’t know it, but she went to sleep that night with a smile on her lips.
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