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the moste lamentable tragedie of prince wyrd and the milkemaide [working title]

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"And now, the year's announcements are as follows," and Harry's eyes went a little glassy.  He'd heard everything about the Forbidden Forest, the Sorting Hat, and Hogsmeade time and time again.  Sirius had signed his permission slip a second year running, he'd already ventured into the Forbidden Forest more times than he could remember, and yet again he'd missed the Sorting by some small but illogical chance of fate, so none of it really mattered.

"--and if all Fifth years will convene in the Charms classroom tomorrow after the morning's lessons," Dumbledore finished.   Harry glanced up.  That mattered.

"Do you know what that last thing was about, Hermione?" he asked as Ron grabbed the platters and poured his plate full of roast potatoes and lamb.   "The meeting, I mean."

Hermione already had a book propped up, and Ron rolled his eyes.  "Are you at it already?"

"Just because some of us like to study, Ron," she started, and Harry's eyes went glassy again.

~

Apparently, Ron had heard some rumor that the meeting was about something better than Quidditch.  "And when Fred and George say that," he added, "you know they mean business."

Privately Harry didn't think Fred and George meant business about anything except avoiding it, but Ron was already tugging him up from his seat in the dining hall.  He was taking Hermione's example, actually reading the first chapter of Transfiguration homework - the year was going to be horrible, what with studying for their O.W.L.S. coming up in June - but Ron was having none of it.

"-because you never know, Harry," Ron was saying as  Harry reluctantly left his half-eaten sandwich on his plate, "it could be  something good, really good. Tremendous. And just think if we miss it."

Harry started to say "but I miss my sandwich," but Ron was still having none of it.  He latched onto Harry's forearm, and started to pull.  "I don't really have time for this sort of--" Harry tried again.

Ron pulled him along the corridor.  "Come on, hurry up," he said.  "You know we're never going to get a good seat unless we show up early.  Do you think that Hermione will even bother coming, or just lock herself in the library as usual?"

"--thing," Harry finished.  He put his palm flat on the door frame to the Charms classroom and locked his elbow, as Ron tried to maneuver him in. Harry frowned.  The classroom was packed full of fifth years from all Houses.  "Besides, what with everything else going on, don't you think all of this is a little--"

Ron took advantage of the fact that Harry's arm relaxed, resulting in Harry banging painfully against the open door as Ron dragged him inside.  "I bet Hermione won't even show up," he continued, as Harry finally recovered both his arms and rubbed his elbow painfully.  "We'll have to tell her all about it, as usual."

Harry stopped short, mumbling, "silly."  Ron grabbed a chair and plopped it down, squeezing between Parvati, who glared at him, and Neville, who was blushing because he was sitting so close to both Parvati and Lavender.  They left Harry to stand awkwardly until Professor McGonagall swept in, when he sidled over to the wall and stood behind a tall Hufflepuff.

"Children," McGonagall said, "as you know, this meeting has been called for members of fifth year only, of all houses."  She straightened her glasses on her nose.  "This is because that, while many other students may wish to participate, Professor Dumbledore has decided that it would be best to limit involvement."

Someone called from the back, "involvement in what?"

"Yes, of course," McGonagall continued.  "Well.  This year is the first in this is the first time in a good many years that Hogwarts' has decided to put on Christmas entertainment in some form or another.  A play, a pantomime, a variety show."  She paused again, to allow the murmuring to settle down.  "You fifth years have O.W.L.S. come summer term, but right now it's time to learn something a lot more important."  All the students glanced around at each other.  A teacher actually saying something was more important than O.W.L.S.?

She noticed the perplexed glances, and actually smiled.  "Don't get the idea that it will be easier than prep," McGonagall added.   She actually looked like she was enjoying herself.  "You will all have to co-operate."

Harry immediately looked over at Malfoy, who was sitting in a small group of Slytherin students over in the corner.  He was not alone.  Seamus tilted his head. "Well, it was a good idea while it lasted."

McGonagall eyed him sternly.  "You will co-operate, Mr. Finnigan," she said, "or you will not be able to participate in any of the privileges allowed fifth years.  Believe me," and she looked around at everyone; Harry started feeling a bit tense, "this may not be a typically graded class, but your efforts in this matter will be closely supervised.   Anyone who does not participate in some way, or hinders the production, will be penalized severely.  Professor Dumbledore is working on those details and will tell you at the end of the week - but this will require all of your cooperation." She glanced at Malfoy.  "Do I make myself clear?"

Harry looked down as Malfoy's gaze suddenly shot up to stare right at him. He snuck a look at Ron, and then snorted.  Ron was beaming widely, and leaning a little against Parvati, who had a displeased look on her face, probably because of Ron's close proximity.  McGonagall looked down at all the students gathered.  "Very well.  I would like to stress your independence in this project, all of you.  We teachers are here to help, however you will be running the show.  I suggest another meeting for tomorrow after supper. Professor Flitwick has agreed to let you use this classroom whenever you require."  She gathered up her robes, and said, "That is all."

As soon as she swept back out of the room, everyone erupted.  Harry leaned against the wall, and tried to shrink.  That little feeling of dread had solidified.  On top of O.W.L.S., the new teacher, an even more grueling Quidditch schedule than Oliver could put together (and he didn't even think that was possible, but Angelina was doing a bang-up job), and everything else--

Ron was facing him, eyes shining.  "S'great, innit?"

Harry sighed.  On top of everything else, he might have to perform.

~

Harry and Ron didn't have any other classes with Hermione, because she was locked in Arithmancy until dinner.  When they got to dinner, she was already there, sitting primly while Fred and George tossed candies at each other from across the table.

Harry and Ron sat down on either side of her.  "You missed the best meeting, Hermione," Ron said.

"We're going to have to put on Christmas Entertainment," Hermione answered. "Right?"

Ron looked annoyed that someone had spilled the news before he had a chance; Fred and George both shrugged, like animated bookends.   "So they say. Charms classroom at half past seven if you want to put your names down to audition."  They scowled at each other.  "Not that we've got a chance."

"I think," Hermione started, "that you're supposed to be studying for your N.E.W.T.S."

Fred and George glanced at each other, and Ron jumped in.  "What do you say?" he said to Harry.  "Feel like a spot of acting?"

Harry envisioned the whole school - maybe even some parents and families coming to watch the production. Hundreds of people staring at them as they performed, clapping and making noise.  Bright lights, maybe cameras.  His name on everyone's tongue, his face behind everyone's eyes.  Him opening his mouth to deliver lines and songs written just for him.   Singing.

Harry gulped.  "Definitely not."

~

"So the rule is," Professor Dumbledore said merrily, "that you must choose your work assignments randomly."

A confused yet slightly alarmed murmur went through the class.  Hermione's hand shot up.  "Please sir," she said, "how is this going to work?"  She glanced over at Draco, who was shooting murderous glances at various people in the room, as if he couldn't decide who precisely he hated more.

"Ah, that's the fun part!" Dumbledore told her.  "You, as a group, will decide on jobs," and he waved his wand, conjuring up a wizard's hat not unlike the ones that constantly came out of their Christmas crackers each holidays, "and things, and then we'll draw names."

"But, Professor--"

"Now then," and he held the hat out to Seamus, "Mr. Finnigan, would you be to kind as to hold this while I find a quill?"

"--how will we be able to decide on anything like that?" Hermione asked, but the determination was gone from her voice.  Harry glanced over at her, and realized that Hermione might actually be accepting this whole thing.

"This whole project," Dumbledore said to them all, "is designed to have as many people from all the houses working together."  He held out his bright purple hat, and waved his wand.  Several pieces of crumpled up paper floated into the bottom.  "This is as good a way as any."

"What if we can't work with who we're assigned to?"  Draco said, without putting his hand up.  Crabbe and Goyle, who were sitting behind him as always, let out grunts.

Dumbledore continued without looking at Draco.  "As such, you are going to have to learn how to cooperate, as Professor McGonagall has already said. Each major project will have wizards of all family backgrounds and houses. Prejudice," Dumbledore finished softly, "is a useless weapon."

"What!" Draco exclaimed loudly.  "I'm not working with any--"

"This exercise," Dumbledore interrupted briskly, "has a direct bearing on both your grades as well as your position within this school."  Draco was fuming, but Dumbledore stared at him, as well as several other students who looked like they'd rather swallow Peeves than work together.  "It may be unwise to consider it optional."

As he left, Draco complained.  "I'm writing my father.   I mean, inter-house cooperation? It goes against every tradition!"

Ron followed Harry and Hermione out of the room. "It is fairly radical," he commented.  "Wonder what Malfoy's dad's going to say?"  He got a dreamy look.  "Maybe he'll take him home, or send him to Durmstrang..."

Draco got an answer at breakfast the next morning, however.  He was furious. Harry found the whole thing quite funny.  "I guess being pulled out of school is more shameful than having to deal with the rest of us," he said.

~

Flitwick was supervising their next meeting, and he still had Dumbledore's hat gripped around the middle. It was nearly as big as he was, and Seamus thoughtfully took it from him as all the fifth years filed into the room. "Excellent!" he squeaked.  "For now, I suggest you pick a producer - so, names, children?"

There was a bunch of shuffling, and people passed up folded pieces of parchment to the front, where Seamus held the upturned hat out.  Flitwick left Seamus in charge - possibly not a great idea, but so far nothing was going wrong - and went to sit quietly in the back of the room.  When everyone had settled down again, Seamus made a huge display of adding another piece of parchment, and then jiggled the hat so violently people ducked away from him.

Harry glanced at Hermione; he was sure she'd passed her name up.  Seamus reached a hand in, and he actually heard Hermione's intake of breath.  He rooted around for a while, read the name, and then said happily, "Well, Dean, looks like you're it."

Dean was mildly surprised.  "But, I didn't put my name in--" he protested.

Seamus hopped off the table.  "Course you didn't, I did."  He shrugged. "Anyway, it's you."

Draco started to kick up a fuss, but since Flitwick was, technically, in the meeting - though one or two students had caught him reading the Daily Prophet behind a stack of books - he couldn't do anything.  Hermione, too, looked most upset.  "But, this doesn't make any sense--"

Dean glanced over at her.  Red splotches were appearing on both her cheeks. Lavender patted her shoulder. "Maybe you could, you know," she said, awkwardly.  "Help Dean?"

"Oh, I."  Hermione tried not to sniff, tried to smile, but--

"Is everyone settled on Dean, then?" Seamus asked cheerily.  "Anyone want to challenge it, a better question?"  He glanced around, and nodded to himself happily when, while there were still a few annoyed looks in amid the other students, the view of Ron, Harry, himself, and Justin Finch-Fletchley standing by Dean shut them up.

"Er," Dean said.  "I don't know as I'm settled," and he looked around, a little wild-eyed. "I was hoping to do some drawings, maybe a line or two, not--"

"You'll be a good producer, Dean," Hermione said, wiping her eyes a little but smiling at him.  "You don't get angry easily, and really, that's--"

"Well," he interrupted her. "If I'm producer, then I have two very important jobs for you, Hermione."

"Me?" she asked, breathlessly, earlier disappointment forgotten.

"One," and he held a finger up, "I need you to hex anyone who starts fighting."  Several people laughed, but Draco and Ron both looked most put out.  Dean grinned, but added, "I mean it.  And you know more hexes than nearly anyone I know."

"I'll look you up some more, some really nasty ones," she said, happily. "I've been looking forward to researching this particular--"

"Two," he continued, "I think you should write the show."

Hermione's face turned white, and she stumbled, sitting down in a chair.  It was a good thing the chair was there, because otherwise it looked as if the legs would have given out anyway and plopped her on the floor.  "Oh," she said, faintly.  "But--"

"You're clever," he said, "and it's going to be a lot of work to do, write a whole show, even if we adapt one that's already written."  Dean shrugged. "Anyone else want to put their name in for that much work so quickly?"

The blank faces of the rest of the fifth years stared back at him.

"Right, Hermione, it's yours if you want it."

"Oh," and she chewed her lip, "yes, I'll do my best, I'm sure I can come up with something, and --"

Dean interrupted her again, as she was still looking rather white.  "We'll find you some help, so you don't have to do it all by yourself."  He looked around again.  "Right, as it's nearly dinner time, let's end this meeting and eat.  Maybe, shall we meet again tomorrow, and sort out the rest of the jobs and things?"

Harry clapped Dean on the back as the whole year tromped off to dinner. "Congratulations, Dean," he said, "you'll be fantastic."

"It's mental," Dean muttered, "Seamus put my name in a hat and drew it out at random."  Shrugged.  "Still, I'll do it.  Bloody shame it'll be so much extra work."

Seamus hopped by them. "You think that was random?"

~

"I said," Dean called out, "maybe before we do anything we should try and pick what we'll be doing."

Several of the fifth years looked up from where they were trying to scribble out Potions homework, or Transfiguration homework.   Dean himself had his Transfiguration textbook propped open.

"Let's do Rent! Rent!" Lee Jordan - who'd snuck in on a technicality and no one was willing to ask him to leave, not while the twins were sitting huddled in a corner and waving sharp implements around - called out, over everyone else's voices.  Almost two-dozen pairs of eyes turned to stare at him in confusion; only Seamus, whose mother quite liked musicals, started snickering.

"Okay," Dean said slowly, "but why don't we hear from actual-"

"Well," Hermione stood up suddenly, and started handing out small packets to each of the fifth years. She threw a pile of ten or so at the group of Slytherins who lounged in the back.  Fred, George and Lee shared one script between them. "This is a rough outline of what I've come up with. I briefly thought it over last night, and you know. Just scribbled something down."

"This has stage directions." Lavender pointed out flatly.

"And the character bios," a Ravenclaw added.

"And we had Transfigurations short answer and a Potions essay to finish last night," Ron finished, flipping though the fifteen or so pages.

Hermione preened and blushed, obviously complimented. "Well, I had a bit of time after homework, and I wanted to make it presentable for you, so.  Oh, but," she hastily added before Ron could open his mouth again, "I didn't attempt the song writing. Well I did, sort of, because I borrowed 'Simple Scores for Single or Simultaneous Singers' from the library, and it's quite a wonderful book, but--"

"All right!" Dean cut in brightly, "So we got a script."

"A Gryffindor script," Draco said loudly, flipping through the pages. "What is this - a dragon? Goblins?  A FAIRY PRINCE??"

"It's a pixie prince," Seamus murmured, engrossed in reading.

Harry stood up and pivoted to face Draco, his fists clenched. "Look, Malfoy you have a problem with it? You take it to Snape, or Dumbledore. Or take it to your dad, since that's apparently the only way you'll listen."

Blood drained from Draco's face and everyone heard Hannah whisper loudly to Susan, "I think it's a rather good script."

Hermione smiled graciously.  Dean shrugged at Draco, unconcerned. "If you want to fail and hang back a year, go right ahead.  I'm planning to get an 'O' and I think Hermione's play is brilliant. All those in favour?"

A forest of hands rose in the air.

"Good. I don't think I even need to count those opposed, because they're greatly outnumbered anyway. So it's official - Hermione's script, er," he glanced quickly at the cover page, and blinked. " 'The Moste Lamentable Trage-- working title?"

"Well I couldn't get everything done in one night, could I?"

~

"Well, we can't draw actors out of a hat at random," Dean said, finally.  They'd called a quick break in the middle of the meeting in order to organize some things - namely, how precisely to handle everyone's disappointment at not to do getting exactly what they wanted.  "It's just not going to work.  Some people just can't act, and it could ruin the play."

"I suppose you're right." Hermione said.  She sat there, frowning.  "Well, we're going to have a pool of actors, right?  People who want to act?" Dean nodded.  "Well, let's have auditions then, we can't really do anything else."

"But Dumbledore said," Dean started, and tore off another section of parchment.

Hermione started drawing up a schedule for the coming week, penciling major parts and times and things, in around their lessons.  The rest of the fifth years appeared to be engaged in a game of "war".  "He can't expect us to rely completely on luck."

Dean shrugged.  "If you say so," and then flipped over another parchment.  "Besides," he said, "the work details are mixed up enough.  We don't need Seamus ending up the fairy godmother or something."

Hermione tried not to snicker.

~

They used the hat again to draw names.  Susan insisted on holding the hat this time, and no one argued with her stern glare. Once the stage manager was selected (Kevin Entwhistle), Hermione, Dean and Kevin decided to randomly pick the crew.

"Everyone has to put their names into the hat," said Kevin, gathering the bits of paper from each student. "If you get selected as crew and you really wanted to be in the play, tough.  You stick with what you get, or we'll have too many mix ups and - oh, sorry. Erm." He coughed and backed away from Fred, who was holding out his own bit of parchment. "Er, fifth years only."

Fred winked. "Oh, it doesn't have my name on it."

Kevin made a hasty retreat back to the front of the classroom.

~

Ron looked up hopefully.  "All right," Kevin said, "effects are going to be done by Harry Potter!"  Ron sighed, tore another strip of parchment off and passed it up to the front.  "Costuming - Blaise Zabini."  Ron scowled, tore another parchment strip.  "Art and design, Susan Bones."

Kevin went down the list of crew jobs as well as major parts - along with the schedule for everyone's audition times - and Ron's name didn't appear anywhere.  "All right," Dean finally said, looking up from Hermione's meticulous notes, "does anyone not have anything to do?"

Ron sighed. And put up his hand.

Hermione went bright red.  "Ron!" she said breathlessly, "how could you - well let's see, we could slot you in for Tuesday night, audition for the chorus, or maybe Wednesday afternoon for the goblin ki--"

"No," he interrupted loudly, "that's fine, I'm--"

"Well, wait," Kevin said.  "We need someone to actually build the stage?"  Dean and Kevin and Hermione all looked at each other; Kevin bit his lip and Dean stroked his chin.  "Well, Weasley," Kevin finally said, "can you build things?"

Fred piped up, "he's bully at it, really! He built our garage last year, all on his own--"

"Right," George added, "simply marvelous with a hammer, our Ron…"

"Fine," and Hermione scribbled down his name. "He'll need helpers -- pull a few names out of the chorus batch, would you?"

Kevin drew two slips of parchment out, and announced, "Padma Patil and Pansy Parkinson."  Padma looked absolutely horrified and Draco snickered; Pansy made a pained face, and then narrowed her eyes at Padma and Ron.  "Well, that's settled then, I think we have everyone?" Kevin looked at Hermione to confirm, and then said, "Ron, you're in charge of the stage; you and Pansy and Padma can get started tomorrow."  

Pansy could clearly be heard to say, "I'm not working with that!--" as everyone filed out.  Harry didn't say anything; there really wasn't anything to say.  Padma swept past them, hurrying to catch up to Lavender and her sister.  Ron looked at Harry, and audibly groaned.

~

It was a fact that nobody really was quite sure why the twins were there.  No one really wanted to find out, either, because the twins seemed to have their hands in everything, and yet did nothing at all.  Three days into the script-writing workshop Hermione and Dean had organized, Kevin finally decided to find out.

Dean shrugged and looked over at the twins, who were gleefully pestering some Hufflepuff with a giant purple feather pouf.  "I s'pose they could help, or something. Didn't they do a pantomime when they were in fifth year, Hermione?"

"Mmm," Hermione responded, her back turned completely from the boys. Her fingers were stained black with ink and she did not look up.

The twins had now cast a 'wingardium leviosa' spell on the Hufflepuff, who was speedily floating up the north tower.

Obviously pleased with Hermione's answer, Dean grinned at Kevin. "Well, there you go.  Advisors, like." He grinned wider and then went back to flipping through the book of fairy tales. "Ooh, oh, Hermione, here's a good idea. A big magical battle!  Of wits. But we'll need a load of goblins."

"Mmm," Hermione said, still not looking up.

Kevin stared at them in disbelief. Gryffindors.

~

"Harry!" Hermione said.  "What are you doing? There's so much to do already, I've looked up a ton of spells that might be useful, and stuck them in the pages of your script--" and she thrust his copy of the play at him - "because we really don't have much time left, so you'd better--"

"I have to go," Harry said abruptly.  "Ron needs me.  Outside."

"Outside?"  Hermione looked blank.

"The, stage," and he shrugged.  "Ron said that we didn't have enough room inside."

"Ahh," and her face cleared.  "That's really quite a clever idea of his, move the real stage outside.  I'm sure he's coming along splendidly with it, and really, that's ever so nice of you to help him out."  She was already flipping through another book.  "Since you're doing effects, it's most important that you're familiar with the stage design as well…." Hermione eventually had to ease herself down onto her knees, because carrying an armload of scripts while flipping through a book was not working well for her. "…I have Susan's design here, just give me a minute--…"

Harry was already looking outside where Ron was standing with the hood of his robe up. He was motioning furiously to Harry.

"Hermione, sorry, but I have to. Err." Hermione was still talking to herself and she didn't look up, so Harry shrugged and went outside.

"I need to sit dowwwwwn," Ron said, as though this was the most important thing in his life. The rain was drizzling lightly and a drop slip down Harry's back. He giggled almost involuntarily, but before Ron could look offended, Harry said--

"I think there's some chairs in the greenhouse, yeah?  We can fetch them. And, um. Put them where, Ron?"

Ron motioned vaguely over to somewhere by the lake, but he had already began squelching his way to the greenhouse. The chairs were less in the greenhouse than stacked outside in a wet mildewy pile around the back, but Ron helped himself anyway without a word.

Two lawn-chairs apiece, they climbed over a low hill (Harry noticed Hermione had long departed from the hallway he abandoned her in), and a rather dirty looking tent rose into view. They sludged in and tossed the chairs down, and Padma looked down at them in mild distaste.

"This tent stinks like dog," she stated helpfully. Ron didn't think this would help dry out or set up the lawn-chairs, so he ignored her.

~

Harry glanced up from the textbook he was reading.  "Oughtn't the stage be started by now?" he commented to Padma. They were in the tent by the lake, and Padma was doing her nails while sitting on a lawn chair Ron had thoughtfully brought out for her.

She didn't bother looking up.  "Shut up."

"I only asked," he added, flipping a page.  Well, it was almost a textbook - Quidditch was an important part of his schooling, after all - "because McGonagall is coming along this afternoon.  I heard her mention it to Snape."

Padma shot up.  "Oh, shite," she said.  "Any idea where Ron is?"

"He was gathering stones outside," Harry said, "last I saw.  Do the three of you do any work at all?" he asked her.  "I mean, granted, no one's needing a dress rehearsal yet, we're the only poor sods stuck outside in this leaky tent while everyone else is rehearsing in that storeroom on the second floor, or sewing in West Tower, but--"

Padma was already galloping outside.  He heard her call out, "Ron!!" and then some excited, anxious chatter.  He flipped a page.  "Right," she said, dragging a damp Ron - it was drizzling outside - in by the scruff of his collar.  "We have to prove we've done something."

Ron looked around.  "Where's Parkinson?"

"I'll get her," Padma said.

Harry stood up.  "You might ask Hermione to come along, as well," he said, "she'll like to know how we're doing."

Ron turned to her, and said darkly, "don't even think about listening to him.  She sees how far along we're not and we're history."

"Yeah, true," Harry said immediately.  "Damn.  Well, at least ask her for that book on magic camping tips she bought last summer."  Harry glanced around. There was water coming in on three sides, and the raised wooden dais in the center of the tent was soggy.  "Maybe we can make it nicer in here."

"And drag Pansy out of the bloody dungeon," Ron called after her.  Padma was already slogging up to the castle.  "Camping tips?"

Harry grinned.  "If we're stuck out here for the whole bloody semester," he told Ron, "the least we can do is be comfortable. It's not like anyone needs to know."

Ron sat on the lawn chair Padma had vacated.  "It's almost nice," he said, "to be able to stay away from everyone."  He scowled.   "I just wish I wasn't working with Pansy and Padma."

Harry said, "It could be worse."

Ron immediately sighed.  "Yes, it could be worse.   Thank you.  Like how next month, it's quite possible it'll be snowing."

"At least no one's come looking for us or checking up on us out here," Harry commented, putting a bookmark in his book.  He stretched.  "I don't think we've had this much unsupervised time in ages.  We could be throwing wild parties out here and as long as none of the teachers saw the lights they wouldn't know."

"We could have a party?" Ron's eyes lit up.  "We could have a party!"

"Not in this weather," Harry started, but then Padma came back, with a very sullen Pansy in tow.  "Your crew has arrived."

Ron sighed again. "All right," he said to the two of them, "Harry says McGonagall is coming to check on our progress this afternoon.  As in about an hour.  And we have to show we've done more than collect some rocks" and he pointed to the pile he'd gathered, "and logs" and then pointed at the few that they'd dragged in, "and built the first part of the stage" and he pointed to the shambly skeleton of a wooden dais.

Pansy said, "oh, shite."

"We don't actually have to have done anything, though," he said, brightly. "Just make it look like we did."

Padma passed the book over to Harry.  "Right," he said, dragging his lawn chair over to one edge of the curtain, "You three do whatever needs doing. I'm going to go about waterproofing this tent."  He retired to the corner, and started to read Hermione's book.

Ron looked around hopelessly.  Pansy finally rolled her eyes.  "Look," she snapped, "if it's one thing Slytherins know how to do, it's get away with doing as little as possible."  She tugged out her wand.  "Weasley," she ordered, "you're the one with a thick cloak on, so go get some more rocks. And some leaves, and twigs and things.  Just grab whatever, we'll stack them up later, pretend we're going to make props or something."

"But--"

"Patil," she said, surveying the stage, "we'll need to figure out what we actually need to do, and then maybe make a list of the most important. Write something up quick - it doesn't have to be accurate, just look good. The longer the better.  Star some items, make some look more important than others."

"Er--"

"And Potter," and she turned to Harry, "can you build us a fire, quickly, since you have the camping book? I know you're busy but it's fucking cold."

Ron pursed his lips.  "What are you going to do?" he asked Pansy.

"I'm going to work on making the stage look more organized.  Nothing says production better than organization."  She nodded to herself, smiling slightly, and started to gather up all of their things - four school bags, several books and quills, various sweets and wrappers, and two packets of Exploding Snap - while Padma and Ron stared.  "What?" she said.  "My mother is an important employee of at Gringotts', and my father works for the Ministry. You think I don't know what busywork is?"

~

"Alright everybody, just clear out, will you?"  Blaise Zabini waved his arms and pins flew out of the shabby pin cushions he was holding.   But Justin still stood there uncertainly, his hand outstretched and Dean continued to lounge. The rest of the children careened unsurely out of the West Tower.

"I still think those frills are too much," Blaise heard that Granger girl mumble as she left. He rolled his eyes.

"This means you too, Flitch-Fetchley," he sneered, and Justin ignored the obvious mispronunciation.

"But my mam," he insisted. "She showed me how to do basting. She owned a robe repair shop, she did. I can baste!"

Dean snorted.

Blaise's face turned red. "Who's the costume designer here?" he bellowed, pacing in circles.  "Who's the one who slaved for three bloody days working on these?" He found what he was looking for and held them up above his head, pages and pages of prettily water-coloured drawings.  Pictures of girls in stiff crinoline and boys in tie-cinched waist coats floated down from Blaise's grasp.  Halfway admiring, Dean caught a picture and stared at it. He suddenly stood up straight, staring hard at the picture. Justin and Blaise were still talking.

"But I was assigned to help you," Justin murmured, making it as obvious as possible that he didn't like it.

"Oh, well in that case. Sure you can help me. See that lake out there," Blaise pointed out the window. "Go drown in it. I have a LOT of sewing to do."

Dean jumped up and grabbed Justin by the arm. "C'mon, Effy." He tugged him out of the dressing room, after taking one last glance at the yards and yards of sweet-smelling tweeds, and tulle.

"You told me to help him, Thomas." Justin said flatly, jerking his arm away once the door slammed behind them.

"Yeah, course I did," Dean shifted his weight. "But Blaise didn't want you to help, Effy. He wanted you to perform." He held up the drawing he was still holding, of a curly-haired blond boy in the most exquisite blue notched collar jacket and woolen slim-fit buckle pants.

Justin rubbed his face and stared at the watercolor.  "Whoa. Uh. I really can't be that pretty."

~

"But this part was written for Harry!" Hannah stressed, nearly whapping the script out of Hermione's hand. Hermione was nodding fiercely in agreement, and she had a strong grip.

"Um, that's called 'type-casting', lass," Terry Boot said dryly.  "I think Malfoy has a pretty decent chance of playing the--" He took hold of Hermione's wrist, twisting the script towards him, "-- soulful lost Princeling. What the hell is a Princeling?"

"It's a Prince. Who's not quite come of age yet."  Hermione sounded clipped. "It's a Bildungsroman play."

Both Hannah and Terry stared at Hermione.

"It's. German. Honestly." She rolled her eyes.  "Fine!  Let Malfoy audition! Fine! Ruin the play!" She threw up her hands and flailed about.  "Let's make it all about politics, shall we?"  Ron, who had been standing a ways off with Padma, elbowed her and they watched, grinning.   "Forget grades! Who need good grades when at least we get the chance to have Malfoy audition for the most prominent role!  Wait a minute. What am I on about? Malfoy won't get the part anyway. There's no way he'd beat out Harry. Oh, I need a cold compress." She stomped into the great hall and scurried up to the dorms.

Harry trotted downstairs from the dorms and joined Ron and Padma, who were still clutching their stomachs and laughing. "Something funny?"

"Oh no, mate, no. It's nothing." Ron waved his hand and shook his head, and Harry shrugged.

"I'm going to talk to Dean about the goblin battle, then." Harry mildly wandered off, ignoring Terry and Hannah still arguing vehemently in the courtyard.

"Why didn't you tell Harry?" Padma asked Ron, once she recovered. She casually tugged some small bushes from the planters, because they looked like they would make good tree tops for the pixie dance scene.  Ron dusted the dirt off the roots and looked at her inquiringly. "Well, he would have gotten a laugh out of it."

"Hermione thinks he's auditioning for the play," Ron stated.

"Yes, and--"

"And what has Harry been doing all this time?"

"Helping us with the special effects…... oh." Padma grinned. "You are not nice."

Ron took this as a compliment. His brothers always did.

But then Pansy strolled over and spoiled their fun. "I just heard from that Entwhistle. We have to set up a mock stage for rehearsals and auditions and the like."

Ron sat down heavily on a bench.  "You're kidding me.  We're already busy building the five million different sets they want! Now they want a mock set?  Tell them to do all that rehearsal nonsense in Flitwick's class!"

"You tell them," Pansy said shortly. "I'm going to tea."  She marched off and Padma, thinking Ron was too busy brooding, slunk off as well.  

"One night, I'd actually like to get some sleep," Ron announced loudly and slumped off in search of an empty room and a charmed hammer.

~

"They're useless!"

"Yes, I mean, no! They just--"

"You honestly believe this is acceptable."

"Well, it's only for rehearsals and things. There'll be a load more of effort on the real one--"

Dean motioned to the mock stage.  Which was, really, just a floor in a large southern hall, the 'stage' area being sectioned off with stones and wood.  Ron stood on the stage, his face an interesting color of red.  Pansy slouched on the wall behind him, and Padma compulsively smoothed her skirt.  "That's not a stage, Hermione, that's a floor.  With rocks and things."

Hermione didn't glance at Ron; she could already tell. She gave an apologetic warbly smile to Dean. "Well--"

"There's doors," Ron blurted out. It made Pansy jump a bit, because his voice was so uncontrolled it echoed slightly.  Ron turned and motioned from one side to the next. "Doors on your right and left and there's sliding doors coming from there, on the side.  And the rocks - here, look." He bent down and Padma leaned forward curiously as he muttered under his breath. The rock began to glow, until it illuminated his face.  "And. And.  Pansy was going to leviosa candles, but they kept blowing out.  And." Ron flailed uselessly. Behind them, Kevin wandered into the room through the left side door and whistled.

"Wow, this place is perfect!" He turned and patted Padma on the back. She tried her best not to bite. "Glowing rocks! I'll bet I could make some floating lanterns for this too. You guys did great."

Dean blinked. "Um. Hm. Yeah, well. Yeah, I guess they did."  

~

"Alright, alright!" Hermione tiredly waved her hand, and Draco hesitantly stopped his lines. It seemed like he had to wrestle with it for a bit, because taking orders from a Gryffindor Mudblood  wasn't exactly his idea of a fun time, but Pansy and the others were really cheering him on. He grinned and looked over at Crabbe on the sidelines, giving him a thumbs up. Crabbe stared unsurely at his own thumbs. Draco sighed.

Hermione, Kevin Entwistle and Dean whispered amongst each other.

"He really was quite good," Dean conceded.

"Knew all the lines and everything. All the lines," Kevin sucked on his bottom lip. "Even the princess's."

Hermione looked from one to the other. "You can't be serious. We can't let that pompous, arrogant twit get the main part! He'd be swaggering for days!  If he gets the spotlight--"

Kevin and Dean shared a brief glance. "Fine," Dean said.  "Let's have Harry try out, then."

Hermione smiled and cleared her throat. "Harry Potter?" she called out, in her most formal tone.  The Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors set to hooting and clapping, cheering on their prospective lead. They clapped until Neville was the only one left clapping, and unsurely at that.  Harry was not on the stage.

"Um. Harry? Harry Potter? To the stage, now, please," Hermione hoped her voice sounded imperious.

After about thirty seconds, Harry meandered out onto the mock stage, blinking under the bright globular lights Kevin had concocted.  Harry was clutching his wand, and little sparklies flickered about his head. "Hermione? Wha...?"

Lavender clapped. No one else did, so she stopped.

"It's time to audition for the lead role, Harry," Hermione said in a crisp manner. "Now, I'll start you off and read the lines of--"

"What? No. No, I'm doing special effects." Harry shaded his eyes with one hand, and waved his wand about. "See? Effects. I can't act. "

"What?" Hermione shrilled. "What? No. No, Harry, I wrote this part--! I mean, you mustn't, you need to audition."

Harry snorted. "Not likely."

Hermione blinked desperately. "But--"

"I GOT THE PART!"  Draco pelted onto the stage, followed by cheering Slytherins and even a couple of Ravenclaws.

Kevin looked at Dean, then Hermione. "Looks like Draco's our new Prince. Good choice, that."

~

Hermione was still a little sore that Harry didn't take the lead role, but they sat together at mealtimes nonetheless. Harry rested his book next to her on the bench.

"The Cannons are playing the Kestrels on Saturday," Ron told Harry as soon as he sat down. He smelled like warm, wet grass and Hermione unconsciously breathed in deeply.  "It's gonna be in Ireland."

"Harry, we need to talk about the way the fairy princess disappears..." Hermione cut in, helping herself to a slice of ciabatta.

Ron ignored her. "Dad's arranged to owl me a play by play. Well, not every play, mind, just the big ones. I already sent Pig out there."

"Harry, I'm not sure her disappearing in a big poof of black smoke is very... fairy-like, y'know?"  Hermione said loudly.

"Of course, I've already placed my bets with Fred.  He thinks the Cannons still aren't good enough this year. He's insane, is what he is.  They've gotten better. They've improved. The Kestrels are going down. "

"Harry.  I think you need an assistant."

Harry and Ron stared at her. "Do what? No way, Harry's working fine, really," Ron said.  "Trust me, we work with him all the time."

Hermione nodded. "Oh yes, and I've seen how you three work, Ron.  Professor McGonagall had a chat with me last evening because of your supposed work.  You and Padma and Pansy. Ethics. Not good." She let that sink in for a bit, and then turned to Harry. "Anyway, Adrian Pucey apparently has an alarming case of stage fright, despite the fact that he's on stage for just one act and he only says two sentences.  So Dean reassigned him to you."

Harry choked. "So it's already been decided? Without even consulting me."

Hermione looked placid, but her tone was still hard.  "Harry. Fairies do NOT disappear in black smoke."

"They could. I've seen it," Ron lied desperately. It was bad enough that he had to work with Pansy, but adding another Slytherin into the mix would only unbalance their whole tenuous teamwork.

"I'm not working with that git," Harry said abruptly.  "He nearly clobbered Angelina in our third year Quidditch match.  If anything, he'll make the fairy disappear in a big explosion of death."

"It's final, Harry," Hermione said sweetly, then turned to chat with Dean.

Fred leaned into Harry, who, along with Ron, was looking completely disgruntled.  "Don't worry, Harry," Fred whispered in his ear. "We'll make sure Pucey doesn't misbehave."

Next to Fred, George nodded and grinned. Harry grinned back, because the twins did make him feel better.  He happily looked at Ron, who seemed distracted by trying to sneak half a dozen empty bowls into his satchel, muttering about ramparts.

~

"Wot's this, then," were the first words Adrian said to Harry, which, all things considered, weren't really bad.  Harry was rereading the script for the fourth time, and making notes in the margins where Hermione wanted effects.

"Hm? Oh," Harry shrugged at the roses on the table, which Adrian was poking at viciously. "I dunno.  Maybe they're props. Are they for anyone?"

Adrian glanced at the tag and his face curled into some form of smirk. "Yeah. They're for you."

"Oh, ha ha," Harry said, because that just seemed so fourth year.  

"No, really," Adrian brought them closer, but when Harry leaned forward to take a look, he got a very prickly face-full of roses. "Doesn't say who they're from, though," he heard Adrian say gleefully. He shoved the roses harder and Harry quickly stumbled back.  Adrian might as well have just said 'I'm here to make your life miserable, Potter, courtesy of Draco Malfoy.'

Harry considered punching him, but a vision of Hermione's sweetly smug face drifted into his mind.  He knew she was just waiting to see him mess it up, or something like that. Maybe she wanted to challenge him. Whatever it was, he knew he did the right thing when he turned and didn't acknowledge Pucey right up until dinnertime.

~

"More! And for Harry again!" Kevin exclaimed, utterly mystified. On the mock stage, Hannah looked put out as she eyed the pretty roses, and Draco looked mildly curious.  Kevin stumbled away with the armload of roses. "Potter! They're yellow this time!" Kevin yelled, until Sinistra stepped out of her class and told him not to shout during lessons.

"What was that all about?" Draco asked.

"Roses," Stephen Cornfoot said flatly. "I think--"

"Potter must have a secret admirer!" Mandy squealed to Hannah, who nodded and 'aw'ed after the contrite Kevin and the roses.

"Potter?" Draco said. Then once again, much loudly, "Potter?! Who, or what would send HIM roses?"

"The younger years always hang about after classes." Stephen said, being more helpful this time.  "Could be any one of them."

"But. But he's not even in the bloody play!" Draco stomped, and pulled his crown a little askew on his head.

"Alright everyone, I know you all love talking about Potter, especially you Malfoy." Dean paused just enough for Draco to make some sort of thin exclamatory remark. He kind of enjoyed pissing Malfoy off. "But we've got to get this scene down. No more interruptions. From the top, everybody."

~

"I have a problem." Harry said and slapped three green apples right onto Hermione's script revisions. She looked from the apples to Harry and back.  "Are you sure the script needs to have these three apples slice apart in perfectly spaced slices and then reform? I mean, will the audience really notice if they're a little uneven?"

Hermione looked stubbornly at the apples. "Yes. It's part of the enchantment over the milkmaid. Get help? That's what Adrian is for."

"Hermione, Adrian couldn't charm his way out of a keyhole," Ron said because it was fun to insult Slytherins.

"I would get your brothers to help," Hermione said as she swiveled her quill between her fingers. Harry nodded enthusiastically.

"Oh," Harry said, "But I think they're in the…" And here he drifted off in a strange mumble.

"They're WHAT?" Ron's eyes bulged. It wasn't a pretty sight.

"Ahh, but of course," Hermione said wisely. "Oh well, we can manage this without them."

Harry nodded as he studiously studied the three apples on the table. "It would be easier if they were here, though. They're good with these food charms."

"Um.  Guys? Maybe I didn't make myself loud and obnoxious enough," Ron pushed his way in-between Harry and Hermione.  "Okay.  THEY'RE WHAT?!?"

Harry blushed. "er. I don't want to say it again. They're your brothers."

"Yes, how could you not know?" Hermione pushed her hair back off her shoulders, her nose rising ever so slightly. "I figured it out since third year."

"Oh, yeah, right, because it's just that obvious, right.  The Basilisk traveled in pipes, Lupin's a werewolf, Fred and George are - Merlin! What else, Hermione, did you figure out in third year?  Crookshanks is really a kneazle?  Snape's Dark Mark is just a tattoo from his punk days? What? This whole thing blows."  Ron stomped off, but he did slow down when he passed the coat closet. It was the noises it was making.

~

Padma liked spending time in the tent, because it smelled rather nice now. She made her way from the yellow bouquet to the red, then the white and finally her favourite, the pink roses. Very nice. Comforting almost, in the dampness of the tent.

"This place is starting to look like a girl's bedroom," Ron sighed as he wandered in.  He was carrying a stack of buttered toast in a napkin.  Harry followed and groaned when he saw the tent.

"It's dead embarrassing, is what it is.  I'm not even in the blasted play. I should just toss them, maybe that would discourage them."

"Don't you dare!" Padma said fiercely.

"Anyway, we got some new designs today," Ron said, and ignored the groans as he pulled a thick wad of parchment from his side satchel.  He carefully unfolded them and silently they all leaned in and stared.

"Um," Padma said, and suddenly the roses didn't seem as comforting anymore.

"It's easy enough to draw a whole bloody mountain on paper!" Ron snarled, waving the parchment around in front of Harry and Padma.  "A mountain! That the goblin army has to circle around, singing!  A three dimensional mountain!!"

Harry tried to study the design that Susan and Millicent had put together. The two of them together weren't quite as artistic as Dean could have been, perhaps, but they did manage to make everything easy to understand - the mountain had to be grey, and there had to be at least  so much room around it, and --

"I hate everyone," Ron said, and scowled.

With a loud groan, Padma sank back into one of the lawn chairs that had become a fixture in their tent.  They'd all sort of  come to consider it their tent, since they were the ones building it,  they were the ones stuck in it like a prison cell, and they were the ones  getting soaking wet each evening to slave over the insanity that other people  were designing.

Harry copied Padma, slouching in his chair.  "Maybe you can ask McGonagall, that's fairly advanced magic if you're going to get the crags and things to look right," and he grimaced.  "Not to mention how on earth I'm going to create black storm clouds."

Ron immediately countered with, "I'm not going to ask anyone. Except maybe Hermione, because she likes to look things up.  We'll figure this out."  He looked at Harry slyly.  "You could always ask Snape for a potion."

Harry narrowed his eyes, but Padma snapped, "shut up, both of you."  She closed her eyes.  "I'm trying to remember something my great aunt told me. She used to work in London on shows, maybe."  Opened her eyes.  "Damnit. I'll owl her."  She sighed.  "Again."

"Thank you," Ron said to her, and it wasn't even a little sarcastic.

Just then, McGonagall came in, tugging a very angry looking Adrian Pucey behind her.  "Mr. Potter?" she said, voice icy.

Immediately, Harry jumped up, as did Padma.  She and Ron disappeared behind some very large blocks of wood.  "Professor?"

"I found Mr. Pucey on the Quidditch pitch," she said, glaring down at Adrian. "Fooling around on his broom.  While the two of you were supposed to be working. Do you know what he was doing?"

Harry glanced at Adrian, and then at McGonagall's very annoyed face.  "He was, er," he started.  "We have a tricky potion to get done," he finally started, "for the goblin army scene?"  Adrian was nodding.  Harry continued, "and it has to do with weather.  And there's this charm, we think, that has to be done before the potion's actually active..."

Fortunately, Adrian immediately spoke up.  "And it has to be a certain kind of weather charm.  We think. And I wanted to get a feel for what it would look like, so I thought maybe the Quidditch pitch would be a good place to try it, since there's a lot of space and if I bunged it up I wouldn't make lightning inside, or anything.  Heh."

McGonagall eyed the two of them suspiciously, but exited the tent.  Only then did Ron and Padma pop their heads up.  "Why'd you do that?" Adrian said, glaring at Harry.  "Cover my arse, that is."

Harry sat down again, feet up on a corner of the stage.  He picked up the book beside him - okay, now it was actually time to work, he'd have to find that lightning storm charm, since he'd lied to McGonagall about testing it - and told Adrian, "because we're supposed  to be working together.  If she thinks we weren't I'm in as much trouble as you are."

Ron and Padma scurried over.  "That was close," Ron added, face bright red. "I was dead afraid she'd notice that none of the tapestries are glowing yet."

Adrian glanced around.  "Do the four of you do anything?"  Ron and Harry glanced at each other, while Padma coughed.  "At all?"

Just then, Pansy came in, ladened with a tray of tarts and a nice hot jug of hot chocolate.  "Back!" and then she saw Adrian, who was beaming in a somewhat predatory way.  "Oh. Damn."

Ron sighed, and said to her, "I think we're going to have to get another lawn chair."

~

It was definitely a face-off. Blaise brandished the pinking shears and Neville stood fast with his seam ripper.

"Just give me one excuse," Blaise growled.

"Oh! Oh! You, uh. You can tryyyyyy...?" Neville attempted, but he didn't back down.

Blaise grinned, or grimaced. "No, I will."   Behind him, Draco hopped up and down, eagerly watching. Harry stared at him incredulously.

"Malfoy, you're clutching your hands. To your heart," he hissed.

Draco, who was about to taunt Neville stopped suddenly short and actually looked abashed. No one else noticed him.

"I'm telling you," Blaise said through gritted teeth. "We can't have fairies dressed in cambric cotton."

"And I'm telling you," Neville retorted, forgetting all about being terrified. "If we go any more delicate, the fairies'll rip right through it, with all the jumping about they do."

"There's fairies in this play now?" Seamus asked Justin in a mild panic. Justin shrugged and continued cheering Blaise on.

"Well what the hell--"

"How about lawn?" Neville dropped the seam ripper and waded through some bolts of cloth, finally heaving out a light pink one. Blaise touched it. "Soft, but durable. And it looks light and pretty, like. I mean."

"Yes," Blaise's eyes lit up, and he couldn't stop stroking the cloth. "Yes."

Neville's grin warbled, his adrenalin dying down. "Er, uh, yeah. And. Uh. The. Little brass rosette buttons?"

"Yes!" Blaise said it so loud the others took a step back. "Let's try it out." He invited Neville into the dressing room.

Neville turned out to be an even worse tyrant than Blaise.

~

"Well Lavender can't be the fairy princess and the milk maid too, not if they're in the same act," Hermione said reasonably.   She had a little crease in her forehead, and was leaning over the table and talking to Dean.  Scraps of parchment were strewn around beside them.

Ron leaned a little closer, pretending not to be eavesdropping whilst lifting four dozen sets of cutlery and all the napkins he could grab.  Dean sighed, picking up another sheet.  He replied to her, "what if we moved the milk maid's chorus to the second act, right after the duel with the goblins?"

"But then the sets will be too hard to change!"  Hermione blew air out of her cheeks, sifting through parchment in anger.  "This is never going to work. Maybe we should recast Lavender--"

Ron's eyes widened, shocked, as Dean clapped his hands together, right in front of her face.  They widened even more when, instead of being annoyed and snapping at him, Hermione suddenly grinned.   "That's right," she said, "we'll sort it out."

"Or it's a pumpkin!" Dean cried, laughing.

Ron turned to Seamus, whom Dean had abandoned for Hermione.  Seamus shrugged.  "They've been acting very oddly ever since this whole thing began."

"You're the fairy prince," Ron told him, but it wasn't as light hearted as he'd hoped.  "Can't we wish upon a star and make them normal?"

"Pixie!!" Seamus snapped.  "I'm the PIXIE prince!"

Ron put his chin in his palm, staring dismally at Hermione and Dean, who were scribbling away.  "Whatever."

~

Lavender pulled Parvati over and together they peeked around the corner and watched.

"See? No boy and girl can be that close and NOT be snogging," Lavender said and then giggled at the word 'snogging'. Parvati was nodding avidly.

"Oh my goodness. It's so true!!!" Parvati bounced. "Look at the way she's laughing. That's totally a clue."

Dean twisted in his chair to look at the two girls, who hurriedly tried to look like they were spying on the fireplace. He rolled his eyes and turned back. "Kevin should really organize his people better."

"Mmm.  Look. The fact is, Dean, I have no idea how to make the milkmaid look sympathetic. The goblins don't come in until later, see."

"Oh, the goblins. They're great characters," Dean picked up the script, reread some goblin dialogue and chuckled to himself. "But you're right.  We need to, like. Have…...ant. Antagonists?  An evil prince, perhaps?"

"Huh.  Malfoy's already got a part," Hermione said sourly. "Something, just. Horrid, like--"

The two spying girls squealed suddenly and skittered up the stairs to their dorm, as Fred and George strolled into the common room and neatly tucked their wands away.  

"We should go into the business of pest control, shouldn't we?" Fred said loudly.

"Indeed we should.  Make a fortune--"

"--forget about selling tricks! Vermin-killing is where the galleons are!"

"Doxies beware!"

"Wood sprites hide your babies!"

"Would you please shut it?"  Hermione stood up and slammed the flat of her palm against the table. Dean jumped. A silence spread briefly in the room.

Fred stared at Hermione, who was about to sit back down, then leaned over to George. "Trouble in directorial paradise?" he said in a mock whisper.

George shook his head and flipped his wand carelessly between his fingers. "Nah. Lover's spat."

"ERG!" Hermione gathered scroll paper and stomped off, mumbling something about horrible step-brothers.

~

Harry stayed up later than even Ron, more because he lost track of time than any sort of determination. He came to the sad and depressing realization that the only way to make an effective amount of black storm-clouds with sparkly fairy people in between was to use a potion with the charm. And as much as he detested having to ask Snape for use of the potions class (never mind crushing five buckets of slippery scarab beetles into fine powder), he found he actually liked mixing and measuring from the little vials Snape set out for the potion.  When it was quiet like this and there wasn't a greasy professor breathing down the back of his neck, it was actually okay.

"Do you think Malfoy is better looking than me?"

Well, except maybe for Adrian Pucey.  Before Harry could look up and say 'what?', Adrian had turned away and muttered a "never mind."  Harry knew the only reason Snape agreed to let Harry into his precious potions class alone was because of Adrian Pucey. He supposed for that he should be grateful. Still--

"Pucey, you're an idiot."

Pucey swore at him, but Harry had learned by now that he was no Blaise Zabini, or even Millicent Bulstrode. He was just, Pucey.  "Shut your trap, Potter."

"Or what?" Harry said, kind of enjoying himself as he carefully added two drops of frog's bile to the cauldron.  "I'm in charge here, remember? You're my assistant."

"Some leader you are," Adrian was still growling, but it took on a distinctly sulky tone.  It was blissfully silent for a while, then: "I think Pansy is a bitch."

Harry sighed and put down the jar of dandelion infusion.  Then he realized he couldn't really argue that point, so he tried a different tactic. "Malfoy doesn't want her as his girlfriend.  Pansy will realize this eventually."

"Yeah? When?" Adrian looked up from poking in Snape's desk drawers. Apparently, the hex Snape placed on his desk only worked on Gryffindor hands.  Interesting.  Harry shrugged.

"Girls are smart like that, Pucey. And they can figure things out like that out. It's, like, the only thing girls think about. Except Hermione." Harry pondered the rumours of Hermione and Dean floating about, and the thick letters she got from Bulgaria and the way she had looked at the Yule Ball last year. "No, actually, all girls."

"I think the only reason you're considered a good Seeker is because you have that broom of yours," Adrian said unreasonably. But, in a way, Harry was glad for the change of subject. He didn't even talk about girls with Ron.  

"You've taking one too many Bludgers to the head. Now help me scrape this sheepskin for oil. Merlin, it's gross." Harry held out the dried skin and the file to Adrian, who took it and began scraping easily.  It made Harry almost understand why Draco liked having goons.  

"Thanks," Adrian said into his chest. And then more loudly: "Bent bugger."

Harry actually caught himself grinning.

~

The common room was full of pink and purple smoke and sparklies, and half the Gryffindors were complaining loudly about their homework dancing around.  Fred and George, sitting in the middle of the room in comfy armchairs, were beaming.

"Oh, honestly," and Hermione flopped down in a corner, charming the smoke away from her, Ron and Harry.  "They have no sense of when to stop.  They're like pixies with wands."

Ron shrugged, putting his feet up and abandoning his examination of the brickwork to see if any were loose.  Harry briefly considered doing his homework, and tossed it aside with glee when Ron pulled out a box of candy they'd grabbed from the kitchen earlier in the week.  "It's their way," Ron said, mouth full.  "It's just Fred and George, you know?"

Across the room, the twins were showing Angelina and a group of third years something in a box that smelled a little like tomatoes.  "They're always, they're."  Hermione put her bag down, and stared at them for a very long time.

Ron looked at Harry, helpless.  "They like a laugh," he tried, "yeah.  It's pretty funny, though."  Hermione kept staring at them, as if she hadn't even heard Ron.  

Seamus and Dean came over to sit in their smoke-free corner, arguing faintly ("I don't see why I have to wear pink--") about the latest costuming decisions ("because you don't want to wake up bright purple--") that Neville had sent them ("I'd rather that than put on those ruffles"--).  They clammed up though, and joined Harry and Ron in watching Hermione.  She didn't even look at them as they sat down.

Seamus carefully waved a hand in front of her face.  "Is she all right?.."

"Fred and George," she said, not moving.  "They're causing mayhem.  Antagonizing people, you might say."

Ron glanced at them, then back at Fred and George, and finally said, "but see, no harm done.  Just a load of fireworks."

"A load of fireworks," Hermione said, but not to Ron. "That's true."

"They like to see the noise," Ron said, "it's just..." and then trailed off when it was apparent that Hermione wasn't listening to him at all.  Seamus grinned.

Hermione had a slightly spaced-out look on her face, something like Hagrid when he talked about something likely to bite your arm off.  "Of course," she mumbled to no one in particular, eyes glazed, "it's technically against the rules."  She ran a hand through her hair, looking for the quill stuck behind her ear.  "But really, it's brilliant, it's just what we need. Plus they'll know everything about--" and then she sat down, pulling her copy of the script over.  "Just a few changes, a scene or two more..." and she bent over, nose nearly touching the parchment, and started to write.

Harry looked at Ron, and winced.  Ron pantomimed choking himself.  They sat down on either side of her, trying to read over Hermione's shoulder.  If they were going to have to re-outfit the stage yet again, it never hurt to be ready.

Seamus tilted his head.  "Do you have ANY idea what she was on about?"

Dean didn't look up.  "She's figured out what to do about the lack of conflict in the play."

Hermione was scribbling fiercely, inserting lines, whole new scenes, with singular intent.  Seamus shook his head, incredulous.  Hermione called out, "Fred, George, you said you'd handled Doxies before, correct?"

Fred said, "Oh, don't like to brag, but of course, we--" and Hermione bent over again.

Seamus turned to Ron.  "Why don't I like the feeling of this?"

~

"But--" Hermione said.

George bent over his textbook, frowning a lot.   "Didn't you hear, Hermione? This is only for fifth years."

Fred chimed, "and we must respect that," and wrote a notation on George's textbook.  George frowned, scribbled half of it out, and rewrote it.  Fred added, "besides, we've all this homework to do."

She snorted.  "You two don't even do homework."

George eyed her.  "What are we doing then?"

"I don't know," Hermione said impatiently.  She brushed hair out of her face, glancing down at her parchment.  "Trying to come up with a new way to grow daffodils on the chesterfield?"

Fred grinned, flipping a few pages.  "Got it in one," he said.

"But--"

George spun around, scrunching his face up horribly and tilting his head. He hunched one shoulder up, and stared at her horridly.   "Dear," he croaked, "there's no way we're going tah be the ugly sisters."

Fred bared his teeth, grimacing and making a nasty face too.  "We just ain't the type," he added, in a raspy thin voice.  "You must have someone else."

Hermione glared at them.  "Oh, piss off," she told them both, and maybe stamped her feet a little as she went away.

~

"That's so weird," Dean said.  He pointed at Draco, who was hopping up and down on one leg, and Harry, standing a little ways off and ignoring him in favor of putting the finishing touches on the floating garden candles.

Seamus munched on some candies.  "What is?"

Dean frowned.  "I don't know," but he continued to stare at Draco thoughtfully.  "Say," he asked Seamus suddenly, "do you know all your lines?"

"Nearly," Seamus told him, breezily.  "I get muggy in the long speeches about the rolling hills and the beauty of the lights or whatever - figure I'll just wing it."

"The first real rehearsal is tomorrow," Dean said, swiveling to face him.  "Draco's known all his lines for ages."

"Yeah, but--"

"Seamus."  Dean pulled out his wand.  "Go learn your lines."

"You wouldn't really--"

"Hermione and I had a nice long chat, yesterday," he told Seamus, "about people who don't know their lines tomorrow.  You're my best friend," and Seamus beamed, "but go learn your bloody lines or I'll curse your insides green."

"It's not fair.  Draco got help."  Seamus eyed the tip of Dean's wand, which was already giving off light blue sparklies.

"Who's helping him?" Dean asked, puzzled; nobody would willingly help Malfoy.

Seamus petulantly nodded over to Harry, who was now vehemently yelling at Draco sprawled on the floor, tripped by his own leg hose. Smashed underneath Draco's thigh were ten little floating candles Harry had been slaving over all afternoon. Draco looked nonplussed and just smiled back up at Harry in the most annoying way.  Harry eventually kicked him and stomped off.

Dean stared at Seamus, incredulous. "Um.  Harry is helping Malfoy with his lines. Harry. Helping Malfoy."

Seamus just nodded enigmatically, and rolled his script up in his palm.

~

"Eeep!"  Hannah jumped back in horror.

Hermione blinked and looked at the script in her hands. "Er, no that's not your line, Hannah, it supposed to be-"

"His hair!!" Hannah screeched and pointed at Seamus, who lay on the hardwood floor pretending to be under an enchanted slumber.  He opened his eyes when Hannah screamed a second time and blinked hair out of his eyes.  Confused, (because he knew he just had a hair cut last week), he put his hand to his head and pulled on dozens of tight little curls of hair.  

"What," Seamus tugged harder, and his head went with it.  Random people snickered. "What? What's going on?"

Hermione had propelled herself off her chair and stared in puzzlement.  She gently patted his head, and his golden curls bounced back against her palm.  "It just grew while you were lying down. That's curious."  Determined, she stared hard at the floor, searching for a clue. In the meantime, Seamus held his head in his hands at the weight of the hair and more people giggled.

"S'not funny!" Seamus yelped.

"Sure it is," Draco drawled, leaning against a wall.  Seamus glowered at him.  "Hands up everyone - who thinks Finnigan would make a prettier fairy godmother than Hannah? Has the fairy wings already and everything."

"Hey!" Hannah protested, but not too loudly. She rather secretly preferred the role of the milkmaid.  Crabbe and Goyle raised their hands after Draco's elbowing, as well as a couple of snarky Ravenclaws and one Hufflepuff, overcome with giggles.  

"Looks like you got the part, Finnigan.  Just hope you know the ballet!" Draco dissolved into mocking laughter, and it only encouraged the others to laugh harder.

Hermione looked exasperated.  "Look, Seamus, go down to the infirmary--"

"Gone off your rocker have you? I'm not going anywhere like this!"

"Aaah!" Hermione almost stomped.  Leaning over to Hannah, she grabbed the bonnet off her head and pushed it onto Seamus', tucking all the curls underneath. "Now go."  Seamus looked mutinous, but Hermione's glare was worse.  

"What are you looking at?" Seamus snapped at a Ravenclaw near the door, who backed away, but didn't stop snickering.

"Good one, Malfoy."

"Thanks! I charmed his comb to..." Draco turned around, and Harry stared back at him.  "Oh. You."

Then Harry broke into a grin.  "Hey! Hermione! With Seamus gone, perhaps we should work on the prince fighting the five-headed dragon scene?  I've got some great effects for when each dragon head attacks. Each one different, really."

Hermione waved her hand excitedly, Seamus forgotten. "Oh yes, alright! I'll go fetch Dean for this."

Harry wandered away from Draco. "Hope you like custard, Malfoy."

"But that's only one head," Draco called after him. "Er, what about the others? Potter?"

Forty minutes and sooted, iced, burned, jellied and custarded later, Draco didn't react half as tactfully as Seamus did.  

~

Neville didn't poke himself with the needle, but Blaise did, and he yelped and swore.  Neville tried not to look at him. Blaise could get highly abusive when he got hurt, especially if Neville didn't.

"These stupid curtains! Why are they so damned important anyway?" Blaise looked like he was going to spit on the velvety cloth.

Neville shrugged and sewed faster. "It's just what Dean told us to make."

Blaise tossed down his side of the curtain and picked up a hat, spinning it around. "And this! I hate this! Stupid vulture! Whose brain-dead idea was it to put a vulture on the Wicked Step Mother's hat anyway?"

Neville thought of Snape and giggled and only sounded a tiny bit nervous.  "Hermione suggested it, I know that.  She thought it would really make the hat look as ugly as the Step Mother." He tied up the thread, but only then realized he had forgotten the frill. Sighing, he started to rip up the stitches.

"And this! This!" Blaise shook the milkmaid's costume in Neville's face.  "A Scottish maid! In gingham?  Where's the play set, Glasgow, Idaho?"

Neville grabbed the two sides of the curtain and pulled, ripping the thread apart. "Y-yes! That, it. Yes. I. Totally agree. Just insane.  But Dean and Hermione decided--"

"Dean and Hermione." Blaise snorted and pulled some lace from the roll, lining it close against Neville's hand. "Dean and Hermione, deciding everything. Dean and Hermione should decide to f--"

Neville sneezed, loudly.  Blaise actually grinned.

~

"Look at how he wiggles his hand about like that! It's moronic."  Hannah did an imitation of Draco, and Seamus and Lavender giggled.  Goyle looked hard-pressed.

Dean cleared his throat. "Er, Abbott?  People? Can you quiet down for a bit please?"

Lavender turned her back on Dean, leaning against a wood beam.  "So, did you hear?  Lisa Turpin was totally trying to get off with Blaise yesterday. Yeah, when we went to the Three Broomsticks for butterbeer. I knew this was going to happen. I have a gift for the Sight, you know."

Hannah batted at Seamus' wings. "Your fairy wings are sliding down again."

"Bugger off will you! They're not fairy wings, they're dragon scale wings, alright!"

"Sorry, Finnigan, I was just trying to help." Hannah huffed.  "Next time you can parade around in crooked fairy wings, for all I care."

Dean's tone was a little more flat. "Oi, mates.  Just hush up a bit more, will you?  I'm trying to work through this part with Malfoy, then we can get on with it. And will someone get me some tea? Hermione?" Hermione rolled her eyes and slid off.

"Anyway," Hannah flipped her hair back. "What would Zabini care for Lisa? Everyone knows she's a total...um."

"Cracking bird?" Seamus said.

"Brainiac?" Lavender added.

"Uh?" Gregory moaned.

Hannah turned red. "Shut up! She's a real headcase, that's what she is!"

Seamus and Lavender grinned at each other. Lavender said conspiratorially, "Someone's got a crush on Blaise, I think."

"What? No!!" Hannah looked horrified as Seamus and Lavender burst out laughing

"That's it!" Dean tossed down the script and bounced out of his chair. "Out!  Get out! I'll call you when I need you. If I need you." Draco eyed them with a remarkably smug expression, one that was even more pronounced that usual. It had a hint of martyr in it. "Honestly, do you guys even care? Seamus?  Lavender? Does the play even matter to you anymore?"

Lavender shrugged. "Of course we care. We're bored, that's all.  After all, we got our lines down just fine." She smoothed out her princess dress prissily and Draco frowned at her.  Lavender tilted her eyes up at Dean. "And wow, someone has been hanging out with Hermione a little too much. Mr. Granger."

Dean chased them out, telling them to go report to Kevin, who would give them some work to do. They eventually did, two and a half hours later. First, Dean called for a lunch break.

~

"What? Why're you looking at me like that." Harry eyed Ron suspiciously as they hauled the half-done swan-boat across the lawn.

Ron breathed deeply. "I dunno. Just feels… good."

Harry hated this game. He prodded grudgingly.  "What feels good, Ron."

"Hermione.  She's actually mad at you, for a change.  Didn't think the day would come when I'd be the one she liked and you'd be the one she was upset at."

"Oh. She is?" Harry felt a little guilty that he had no clue Hermione was mad at him for anything.  He pulled off his gloves when they finally dropped the boat by the tent.  There were slivers of wood caught in the fingers of the gloves.  "Well, er.  Okay, what should I do?"

Ron shrugged.  "Don't ask me. Hermione and I haven't stopped arguing since first year."

~

After dinnertime, Harry dodged Kevin who had yet another armful of roses, this time a very bright blue.  He hurried past the Fat Lady and curled up on the squashy couch next to Hermione in the Gryffindor common room.  She was all sprawled out, staring numbly up at the ceiling.

"Wow, you're actually not working?" Harry teased. Hermione came to with a start and stared at him glassily for a bit.

"Oh! Harry. Oh, sorry, I was sleeping. I think.  How are you? If this is about the goblin battles, I told you already, those oil boulder catapults are essential--"

"Er, no, actually, I just wanted to. Uh." Harry paused, because he still had no idea what she was angry about. He stared at the fireplace for a couple minutes.

"Harry," Hermione finally mumbled into her nightdress as she fiddled with the frill cuffs, "Why didn't you take the lead role?  I know I should have asked you first and not just assumed, but I just thought. Well. I don't know what I thought."

Harry was about to begin with "you have no idea what it's like" but then he rethought. This was Hermione he was talking to, after all. "I don't act, Hermione.  I just don't.  I never have.  I'm not even sure how.  I don't need dozens of people staring at me while I pretend to be someone else, remember lines, and. And act side by side with Malfoy," he added with a wry grin.  

Hermione smiled a little.  "You're watched by hundreds when you play Quidditch."

"Yeah, but that's different," Harry said. "That's with a goal. And a team. And...." He tried to make eye contact with Hermione, in the hopes that she would understand.  "Winning.  And dodging Bludgers. And seeing Malfoy's face crumple when I nick the Snitch from right under his nose."

Hermione was nodding and she flapped her hand about. "Alright, alright, I get it." She paused, and if they wanted to they could have hugged right about them.  But Harry just sat there and smiled at her, relieved. She eyed him.   "But you're still not getting out of making those oil boulder catapults."

Harry shook his head and grinned.  He left the Common Room, Hermione still blathering something about the necessity of fireballs in authentic goblin battles, and went to bed.

~

Ron was nearly clutching his face in desperation the way Hermione did a week before exams.  "They want to make it an outdoor ball," he said to Padma and Pansy.  "A ball. With a dance floor and floating candles and music and--"

"Well, the music is Harry's department, right?" Padma interrupted, reasonably.  "And the floating candles and whatever other touches like that. So all we have to do is figure out."  She trailed off.

"The dance floor," Pansy said.  "Right?"

Ron shook his head, grimly.  "You don't understand," he told them.  "They want a ball, but they want a castle backdrop for it."

"Well Kevin's been supervising the painters for--"

"No," Ron said, nearly moaning.  "A. Real. castle. backdrop," he said. "With stones and glass windows and fake towers and we have to expand the stage for the dancing because it's not big enough yet so there's that too and then we have to figure out how to bring the carriage onto it without breaking anything and--"

Padma clapped a hand over his mouth, and Pansy shook her head.  "Thank you, Padma."  

She took a breath.  "A castle?"  Ron nodded, mutely.   "Okay."

They looked at each other for one hopeless moment, then Padma said, "well, we do have all of those rocks and stones Ron grabbed. They're outside. Maybe we could."  She bit her lip.  "Do. something with them."

Ron looked a little smug, at that, since they'd teased him mercilessly for getting all those rocks and logs together.  He then considered the sheer difficulty of trying to do what the rest of the bloody fifth years wanted them to do, and briefly considered throwing himself in the lake.

~

"Millicent? Be the fairy godmother? Only if milk maid Hannah'd wished for a double-helping of ugly."  Seamus folded his arms and frowned, or grinned.

Hannah and her group of Hufflepuff girls giggled madly.

"That's just it, you--! Finnigan. Hannah is already the milk maid. I think Millicent would work perfectly," Draco said, and looked around for Dean or Kevin or even that Hermione to press his case.

Seamus snorted. "Bulstrode'll be better off as the cow Hannah milks.  She's already built like one."

Draco nodded. "Okay. Alright. I understand. You don't want anyone prettier than you on the stage at the same time."

"That's a lark, considering we're together in three scenes!"

The girls' giggling slowed unsurely, and Draco blinked.

"Wait." Seamus licked his lips, looking about. "Wait, what I meant to say was--"

"Oh just forget it."  Draco whirled on his heel and stalked away, bumping into Goyle who was laden with a bouquet of color-shifting roses. "For me? Oh! Who on earth could they be from!" Draco squealed delightedly and ripped them out of Goyle's grasp.  Millicent forgotten, he promptly headed outside with his armful of roses, because he knew Harry was working out there.

~

Susan Bones did not really know Fred and George Weasley. She was aware of their reputation, and sometimes even vaguely admired their Beater skills.  However, she had never really spoken one word to them in the five years she attended Hogwarts.  She never really intended to, but she did not get along with Millicent Bulstrode.

"That's a stupid design," Millicent had said about her ideas for the faerie realm, and she punched Susan in the arm.  Absolutely flabbergasted, Susan informed Kevin, who told Dean, who talked to Hermione, who mentioned it over dinner to Harry and Ron.  

The next day, two Weasleys flanked Susan Bones on her way to the greenhouse.

"Hello," she said politely.

One of them just grinned, and he looked kind of wolfish, so Susan said nothing more. She ordered Millicent around a lot more, though.  

~

"Okay." Ron said, and Padma looked up from her bracelets.  "Okay, we got the balcony done up, and we made the castle walls look like stone--"

"Look pretty much like stone," Padma said, pleased that Ron was using 'we'.  

"Yeah, well, I think just using some more of that grey mud-clay would do the trick.  Thank goodness Pansy fell into that bog, hmm? Or we would never have found that stuff. Excellent haul. "

Padma nodded enthusiastically, and Ron went back to squinting.

"Alright, so.  Balcony, sturdy enough to hold five people.  Five jumping, hollering people.  I finally fixed the knob in the trick floor, so now Seamus will definitely disappear on cue.  Dean had better be pleased this time."

"Oh yes." Padma even stood up, and came to stand beside Ron as he appraised.

"And we have the cage attached to the back wall with spell-o-tape, I think that should be able to hold the five dove -- lovebird -- birds for the time being. You'll want to double check that and make sure, yeah?"

"Love birds, yeah." Padma said dreamily.  

"Yeah, we need more spell-o-tape. Now the only thing left--"

"Is the entrance way to the castle." Padma turned with Ron, and they stared at the crumbling mess that was supposed to be as beautiful an archway as Dean had sketched out.  The sketch had been pinned to the door (which was really just some flattened bark), in a hopeful incarnation of what it should look like.  "I really, really hate that entranceway. Like, really, Ron."

"I don't understand why the doorframe won't support the door. We've already used, like, five feather-light spells on it." Ron frowned, entirely annoyed at the messy entranceway.

"Never mind the door, what about the moldings!  Pansy said she was good with sculpture, but somehow I think she was lying.  Gargoyles and orgies indeed."

"Er. Orgies?" Ron looked down at Padma, who was too busy shaking her head and pursing her lips to notice.  

"It's simple really," Fred suddenly spoke from behind them.

"Yeah, let us handle it." George added, and he came up behind Ron and scruffed his head. Ron didn't mind. George had to reach up, this year.  

Ron agreed, but only if the twins would let him and Padma help. And Pansy, once they finally located her.  Eventually they did find her, skulking about with Adrian by the lake, under the pretense of running some errand for Harry.  However, to Ron's surprise, Pansy seemed quite content to work with the twins.  She was very willing to co-operate and even vocally admired their tricks and Muggle-influenced solutions to repairing the entranceway.

"Twinlove is universal," Padma stated simply, when Ron curiously mentioned it to her.

~

"Draco Malfoy has two left feet," Parvati informed Kevin and Dean.  Kevin blinked and Dean rubbed his face in response. Parvati put her hands on her hips. "Um. Did you just hear what I said? You can't expect the Princeling to do the dream dance if he keeps trodding on the fairies' wings!"

"Alright, then--"

"And it's not even as though he's sort of out of sync or anything, that would be bearable, that I could work with. But Zabini and Bones and whoever the hell else had to concoct those ridiculous outfits for this sequence, which would work fine if Malfoy could move with some grace."

"But what--"

"He has the finesse of a. Of a…... he's just terrible!"  Parvati had never been good with abstracts, but she was not going to lose her point.

With something bordering on pity, Dean turned to Draco, who had been standing beside Parvati the entire time. "Malfoy? Um.  Do you think you'll be able to get the dance sequence down?"

"Dancing is for poofs! Like that Finnigan!" Draco exclaimed loudly and readily.  Parvati made a sharp jabbing motion to Draco, to emphasize her point to the other boys.  "I am not going to prance around stage like some cheap entertainer and make a complete and utter idiot of myself.  Plus, Patil can't teach. No sense of choreography."

Parvati was so red her skin took on a shade darker. "I WILL have you know I took three types of dance for--"

Dean had had enough. "Fine. Listen you two it's a compromise:  Draco you will dance or you'll kicked off the play and made to build sets for Weasley.  However, you can come up with your own dance steps, as long as it corresponds with Parvati's choreography for the other actors. Got it, no argument, great. Come on Kevin."

Parvati turned furiously to Draco, but Malfoy had hurried over Crabbe, who was giving him another enormous bouquet of multi-colored roses.  Draco made delighted noises and sniffed them, running off to show everyone on stage, and hopefully Potter as well, if he was there.  

Parvati stared after Draco incredulously. "He just, he can't be serious," she muttered to herself and slowly followed.

~

"So is it true?" Ron asked in the Common Room - it was the first time he'd spent his evening in the Common Room, or indeed inside the castle at all, in weeks.  "Are you, and, er, Hermione."

Dean was sucking on a Sugar Quill and desperately revising for a test they had the next morning that he'd been ignoring in favor of trying to help Hermione rewrite the fourth act.  "What?"

"Oh!" Ron cleared his throat.  "Errm. Nothing.  I'd just heard.  That."

Dean glanced up, looking quite frazzled.  "There is that rumor going round, yes."

"Oh."  Ron nodded vigorously.  "Right, okay, thanks for clearing that up." He walked rapidly away, and then Dean called after him,

"how's the stage coming?" and Ron barely turned around to answer in a strange, high-pitched, and quite strained voice,

"oh, just fine! Nearly finished!"

~

It was bound to happen sooner or later.  Everyone was actually surprised it was later, rather than sooner.

Hermione pulled out her wand, pointing it at Draco and Ron calmly.  "Does either of you," she said in a very loud voice, "know what the Conjunctivitis curse is?"  Ron paused, hands around Draco's throat, and Draco looked up from where he was about to knee Ron in the stomach.  "The dragons last year?" she said, annoyed.  "The eye curse.  Where they swelled up, and then--"

They both nodded.

"There's another use for it," and Hermione stepped towards them a few paces, "used with the Jelly legs curse, where it hits your--"

Ron and Draco let go of each other, standing up hastily.  Off in the corner, Justin muttered to Hannah, "she's a little scary."

Hannah nodded emphatically.  "I think that's why Dean is so very in love with her."

~

The first full rehearsal actually went quite well.

The goblins followed the fairy procession and Hermione commented on just how perfectly each goblin limped and staggered. Dean agreed wholeheartedly.  Everyone clapped when the fairies were suddenly able to flap their wings and soar just a bit off the ground.  Harry was practically beaming, his wand extended to keep the spell.

The milkmaid was finally released by Neville, who was anxiously trying to put the finishing touches onto her dress ("How many ribbons does she need, Longbottom," Blaise had grumbled. "She just milks cows." Neville had ignored him.)  She trotted out looking as cute and pretty as ever.

"Now if only the twins had decided to be the evil stepsisters," Hermione sighed. She still kept that part of the script somewhere, just in case they changed their minds. "The dresses Zabini made were so perfect."

Dean stifled his laugh and just nodded.  Seamus was floating higher than the other fairies, doing some sort of lopsided ballet.  The girls were screaming with laughter and clapping.  Harry's concentration looked a little strained.

When the Princeling finally made his entrance, Hermione grudgingly admitted that he really did look like royalty. The even stride, the long flowing cape and the thick fitted boots suited him and made the girls gasp in chorus. Hermione figured, as long as she did not look at his terminally smug pointed face, she might actually come to appreciate his performance.  

Everyone clapped when Blaise and Neville came on to the stage and took their bows.  Dean and Hermione stood up and clapped, followed by Kevin.

"Excellent! Absolutely fantastic costume design," Hermione shouted over the fading applause. "You two have just outdone yourself. How ever did you manage to make all of these costumes in such a short amount of time?"

Dean was nodding, and some girls in the goblin line whispered about just how much Dean and Hermione looked like a king and queen regarding their court. They giggled and snickered until a fairy elbowed them. Blaise was grinning horribly, and Neville looked like he wanted to sink into the ground. "It's true," Dean said brightly. "I only wish the other departments handled their tasks as well."

At that, Padma turned and slunk out of the hall, breaking into a run when she got to the tent. Pansy and Ron looked up at her.

"So?" Ron prompted.

Padma shook her head and waited for Ron to open up a lawn-chair, before slumping into it.  "It's terrible. An absolute mess. No one has any idea what the others are doing."

Ron regarded her darkly for a bit, but he really did want to believe her, so he nodded.

"Good," Pansy said shortly. "As long as everyone is having as terrible time as we are."

"You know," Ron said, "I thought this gig would be easy."  He stared sullenly at the wooden crate that still refused to be Transfigured into a gilded golden coach.  He kicked the crate, half-heartedly though because kicking it much more soundly earlier had only resulted in bruised toes.

Pansy twisted the cap off a butter beer, handing it to him.  She did the same thing and handed it to Padma.  "I hate Gryffindor," she commented, but it was lazy, and had none of the usual sting.

Ron answered just as lazy, "well, I hate Slytherin," and took a long drink.

"I used to hate you both," Padma chimed in, and then stared at their very-much-crate-like carriage.  "But you know what I hate more than we all hate each other?"

Ron stood.  "This bloody wooden box?"

"Got it in one," Padma answered gloomily.

Pansy scowled. "We've got one thing in common, then," she said, and stood beside Ron.  "Maybe if we just transfigured it into something live and then threatened it until it became a carriage?"

Ron snorted. "Yeah, if we got Millicent in here, then maybe. What about. Okay. We break it apart, transfigure each part into a different, smaller thing, then put it all back together?"

Pansy stared at him as if he had just kissed the squid. "Do you know how to assemble a carriage?"

"I--! No."

"Shut up the both of you," Padma said. "I got in touch with my great aunt. She said the best way would be to work from a reference photo. Then you can use more than one person to transfigure it, because we'll all have the same picture in our head.  As it happens--" She patted her robed for a bit and finally pulled out a thin folder. "I was able to find a photo."

"Brilliant!" Ron exclaimed, coming over behind Padma's shoulder. "D'you think it will work?"

Padma sighed as they stared at the picture of the carriage happily rolling along some countryside road. "As I said. She's been on the London stage for ages."

"Alright enough of your gloating, d'you want to give this a try already? We have to make this whole damned place presentable for the Gryffintyrants by tomorrow."

Ron glared at Pansy. "Oooh, that's clever. How many weeks did it take for you to think up that one, Parkinson?"

"Don't make me stuff this wand up your nose, Weasel. Because you'll have to be cleaning it with--"

"Just shut it!"  Padma kicked them both in the shins until they were all able to drink their butterbeers in relative silence. And only remember that they had to transfigure the carriage many, many hours later.  

~

"All right," George said, draping an arm over Hermione's shoulders.  "We'll be the wicked step-sisters."

Hermione jumped. "Oh.  Good."

Fred leaned against her, putting his arm over George's and squeezing gently.  "We wouldn't want to ruin anything, after all."

"Oh."  Hermione looked first to her left, then to her right. On either side of her, the twins were smiling benevolently.  "Good."

"It's settled then," George said.

"Good..."

"And not to worry," Fred added, reassuringly, "we nicked the scripts ages ago. Know all the lines.  We'll be at the last dress rehearsal."

"Why," Hermione said gravely, "am I very, very nervous?"

Said last dress rehearsal was supposed to be on the full stage, that Saturday.  Hermione had nearly asked Ron if he needed any help with anything, but then didn't - she had to trust him or he'd be cross.  And they had all promised that the stage would be ready.  Promised on a picture of the Chudley Cannons.  Promised on his own life.  Promised.

"Ron," Hermione called out, "how is everything on your end?"

Ron jumped a foot in the air.  He was reading something furiously, and appeared to be muttering under his breath about something and measuring the arms of his armchair at the same time.  "Oh! Fine! Splendid!" His voice was a little higher than usual.

~

"Come on mate, I have to, or it'll be my head--"

Harry pulled out the Cloak.  "All right."  Ron took it gratefully.  "I can't stay all night though, I have practice tomorrow morning at six in the morning," Harry finally offered.  Ron ducked under the Cloak gratefully, and followed Harry out the Portrait hole.

They snuck out of the castle, across the lawns, and around Filch - who was doing something dreadful near the greenhouses.  Ron nearly sneezed, ducking under the tent flap, and then froze.  Someone was coming.  Someone with a candle.  He and Harry looked at each other, then tucked themselves out of sight, and huddled under the Cloak.

"-won't be caught," someone said.  "And it's our heads, otherwise."

Pansy and Padma traipsed in.  Ron pulled off the Invisibility Cloak and hid it away, then straightened up, Harry following his example.  Ron said, "What are you two doing here?"

Pansy nearly dropped the candle.  "What are you two doing here?"

"We gave Mrs. Norris a custard tart," Padma said.

Ron stared at them for a minute, then shook his head to clear it.  "Right," and he stared around them hopelessly.  A mound of rocks sat to one side that still needed painting and enlarging for boulders; Harry sat down on the nearest one.  Hanging from the ceiling was the whole of the dragon chorus that still didn't have any heads attached yet.  Pansy was carrying a tray full of custard tarts.  "Hand me one of those, would you?"

Padma gave him a tart solemnly.  "You know what this means," she said finally, as the three of them stared around the tent in despair.

"We're dead tomorrow?" Harry said.

The right side of the Forest backdrop was blowing a little in the harsh wind that was coming from Harry's weather props.  Padma hurried over to cover that cauldron.  "We're going to be the most hated fifth years in the whole school?"

One of the dragons came loose from its ropes, and fluttered down to land on Padma's head.  In theory, it should have hurt quite a bit, but as the dragons were still only paper, she just plucked it off herself and cradled it thoughtfully.

Pansy added, "we're going to be personally eviscerated by Hermione and Dean?"

Ron wanted to cry.  He nodded.

~

When Ron didn't come to breakfast that morning, Hermione expressed concern.  "Oh, don't worry!" Harry told her, heartily.  "I'm sure he's just checking in with something."  Seamus and Dean and Neville all looked at each other.  Harry had returned to the castle around midnight.  Dean and Seamus and Neville didn't even wake up.  That morning, however, it was pretty impossible to hide that Ron's bed was empty, unused.

Harry snuck a fair amount of breakfast food out of the dining hall with him.  He hesitated, and then grabbed enough for three.

~

Professor Snape read the notes three times over, just to make Malfoy and Potter sweat a little bit more.  He knew, in the end, that he had to concede to the blasted little bits of paper, as they both had Dumbledore's flourishing signature.  However, he didn't have to let the children feel like they got the better of him.

"I think…... thirty points from Gryffindor," he tried not to smile as he watched Potter's annoyingly hopeful face turn a very ugly mottled red. "For Weasley's incompetence in organizing his duties properly. Pucey, make sure to tutor Parkinson for this lesson. Here are the notes," he handed over a sheaf of thin scrolls and out of the corner of his eye spotted Granger's hand sneaking up into the air. This time he smiled. This was going to be fun.

"Yes Granger?"

Hermione tried to chose her words carefully, but she was nervous. "Professor, perhaps I could have the notes as well? For R - for Weasley, since he needs to--"

"Quit your rambling, Granger.  This is the least punishment Weasley deserves for slacking off all term and forcing Parkinson and himself to miss class.  Now. To begin the lesson."

~

Hermione threw her arms around Ron's neck, squeezing him and kissing his cheek.  "I can't believe how amazing this all looks, Ron!" she said.  Pulling away, Hermione all but clapped her hands.  Harry tried not to laugh at Ron's incredibly glassy expression.

No one noticed when he, Padma and Pansy dragged three lawn chairs - the only out-of-place props left in the audience section of the tent - under the frame of the stage, along with a couple of blankets and pillows. Pansy looked a little longingly at the pillows, and Padma patted her arm. "Soon there will be time for sleep," she said solemnly, and Pansy nodded in acquiescence.  

Hermione was still gushing. "Oh, look, you got the mountain -- and does that carriage actually move by itself? Marvelous!  And the pixie dance will be perfect and ooooh, that dragon. Jolly good, Ron. I knew you were the best choice for this job."

"Choice?" Ron croaked, but for the rest of the time, he just nodded and smiled at everything Hermione pointed out.

"So this is supposed to be our set? What I am supposed to act on?" Draco said, sliding up next to Harry and folding his arms.  But he couldn't really say anymore, because in a sudden energetic bout of bragging, Pansy made the stage rotate to the castle-with-moat scene, and when Harry eagerly added the dark rolling thunder clouds, everybody applauded.  Draco was overcome with the enormity of it and found himself applauding as well. "Well done, Pansy. Looked like you managed to get this done, despite the Gryffindeterrences."

Harry took some time to kick Draco in the shins, because Hermione was too distracted by Ron's inventiveness to notice. Pansy was secretly glad Harry started kicking him, because she realized that she was almost going to yell at Draco herself.

~

Seamus had a case of stage-fright before the performance in front of the professors. "Look at me, Dean! I'm wearing a skirt! I'm in tights! I still don't think all the curls have gone from my hair. They'll all laugh."

"It's just the professors watching, they already laugh at you. " Dean gave his friend a shove but Seamus held fast.

Neville piped up, "Yes, um. Snape's out there, just…... just remember him in my grandmother's dress!"

Seamus glared at Neville. "That gave me nightmares."  Neville retreated and went to re-sew the lace on the milkmaid's bustier.  Since Hannah was already in the dress, she didn't really appreciate it.

"Alright then," Dean said matter-of-factly and he pulled out his wand.  Before he could even wave it, Seamus pelted out onto the stage, and gave a very convincing performance.  Hermione came bustling over to Dean.

"Wonderful!" she said. "That was quick thinking, Dean."

"Actually, I was going to jinx him with jelly-legs," Dean said. "Then attach him to the harness and haul him out myself. He's a pixie, he's supposed to fly, so."

Hermione gave Dean a very strange look.  Dean coughed.

"I think you should start planning the cast party, Hermione."

~

Although the cast party was supposed to be held after the Christmas performance, the twins nevertheless one-upped Hermione ("As usual," she muttered, before Ron gave her an odd look) and held an impromptu party at the Leaky Cauldron.  At the height of the celebration, the twins stood up on the bar and Lee chased Tom away so that Fred and George could demonstrate their amazing bottle juggle, toss, pour and leviosa skills.   More than a few Slytherins were drunk, and in a dark corner Adrian was earnestly kissing Pansy's cheek as she talked to Padma. Stephen and Terry were deeply involved in figuring out (and making up) words to a rather raunchy drinking song while Parvati, Hannah and Susan giggled and listened with bated breath. Neville and Blaise were somewhere by the window, barely talking, but not really intent on socializing elsewhere.

Harry, Hermione and Ron all arrived together, and blinked for a moment at the strangely organized chaos that was the entire fifth year of Hogwarts crammed into one bar.

"Well." Hermione fluffed, patting some snow out of her hair. "Well." But she couldn't really find anything bad to say. Everyone looked so very happy.  "Well. Let's find somewhere to sit shall we?"  Barely two steps in, Ron heard Dean shout "Cranberries!" and a bottle flew out of nowhere; but Hermione without even looking up, simply lifted her arm  and caught it. She smoothly popped it open and drank, then grinned over at Dean, crossing her eyes in the process. Dean seemed extraordinarily satisfied by this response and turned back to his conversation with Lisa.

Harry and Ron exchanged glances. "Er." Was about all Ron got out before being shoved into by Millicent. "Oi, watch it," he shouted at her, but Millicent wasn't listening.  Instead, she lunged forward again, this time successfully pulling Pansy full away from Adrian.

"You backstabbing wench," Millicent growled at Pansy, who retained her composure nicely. Adrian skulked away when he thought no one would see him, but Harry noticed.

"Oh, go kiss a Weasley, Bulstrode," Pansy said, pushing her hair back behind her ears.  "Pucey came after me. He likes girls, Milli, not bulldogs."  

"That's it!" Millicent roared, looking very much like a mad bulldog.  "I've had enough of your queening it about, you-" She was obviously working up to swing a punch, but Pansy glanced behind Millicent and caught Ron's eye. Her eyes darted to the table and back up at him.  It all happened in the space of a couple seconds, but Ron grinned, nodded and picked up the unfinished mug of butterbeer from the table, depositing some onto the floor.

Harry stared at him in confusion. "Ron, you're making a -" but then Pansy suddenly pushed Millicent hard. Millicent staggered backwards but would have recovered easily, if her heel didn't slip on the soapy butterbeer on the floor. When she fell, the floorboards wobbled. "-mess," Harry finished.

Pansy nodded in satisfaction and Ron clutched his stomach, because it hurt so much from laughing.  

"Where's Padma, she should've-" Pansy started to say at the same time Ron said: "Too bad Padma didn't-"

Thankfully for the both of them, Harry tugged Ron away and Tracey popped up beside Pansy, distracting her.  However, Ron and Pansy were both rather tall, and could see each other over every one else's heads.

~

Harry brought butterbeers to the back of the room for himself and Ron, while they watched Hermione trying to work out some last minute production kinks with Dean, and Dean ignoring her with great cheer.

Beside Harry and Ron, Lavender and Draco had gotten a hold of Seamus, who had somehow managed to still be wearing his wings from the dress rehearsal.  Lavender and Draco were chanting the lines of the milkmaid in tandem, pushing Seamus back and forth between them with every verse. Seamus looked a little more than drunk.  With a wave of Draco's wand, little sparkly stars began shooting out from Seamus' wings.  One landed on Harry's cheek and it prickled slightly.

"Oi," Harry stared to say to Draco, but then he spotted Adrian slumping mindlessly towards a large shower of stars that had just shoot out from Seamus' wings.  Remaining on the stool, Harry leaned over sharply and pulled at Adrian's sleeve, out of the fall of the sparkly stars. Draco had been watching intently, and was more than a little disappointed that the stars didn't land on Adrian's head.

"Hey, I'm not a snitch, you can't just go grabbing me like that Potter," Adrian muttered, leaning heavily against Harry and Ron's table.

Harry surveyed him and then leaned closer to Ron. "He kind of has a thing for Parkinson."

Ron nodded, also looking at the slumped Adrian. "She thinks he's a right souwester.  She makes fun of him with Padma all the time."

"Ah," Harry responded delicately.

"What does she want," Adrian moaned.  Ron turned and peered at Draco who happened to have Seamus in his arms at the moment, so Draco settled to just stick out his tongue at Ron.  Ron turned back and leaned closer to Adrian.

"Give Malfoy a good knockabout, Pucey." He nodded somberly. "Pansy told me.  That's what she wants."

Without another word, Adrian lurched off the table and a few moment later, prickly stars rained down on the entire room for a good five minutes.

"Worked out rather well, didn't?"  Harry said conversationally, scratching at his face. "I mean, in the end, it all turned out rather well. I didn't know Ravenclaws could have fun. "

Ron stared around and gulped half his butterbeer. "Well, it's not over yet, we haven't put it on yet, even, have we? What if the portico collapses? Or the harnesses don't hold? What if the mountain caves in, it's hollow you know, yes, I couldn't find enough tack to fill it properly, so.  Or the carriage loses a wheel and falls off the stage? Or Malfoy gets blinded by the pixie dust and has to be taken to the infirmary mid-scene?"

"Uh-huh," Harry nodded. "It all turned out reeeally well."