"What's the matter Gin?" asked Ron through a mouthful of roasted potatoes "Got something in your eye?"
"Shut up, Ron," answered Ginny amicably. "Just continue to stuff your face like you always do, and everything will be fine. And pass the turkey please?" She reached to take the platter of meat from her brother and looked around the Great Hall. Now that the Sorting Ceremony was over, the first years had relaxed enough to add their voices to the general din that filled the hall. Above her, the enchanted ceiling showed the stars coming out one by one.
"Is everything all right?" Hermione whispered to her.
"Hermione, you love Harry, right?" Ginny whispered back to her. "And you'd do anything to help him, and to protect him, right?"
Hermione looked puzzled, but nodded.
"Then please forgive me for what I'm about to do," she said softly as she stood up and began to yell. "I am so bloody sick and tired of you sticking your stupid nose in where it doesn't belong, Hermione Granger. You may be Head Girl this year, but that does not mean I have to answer to you. I'm beginning to think everyone is right when they call you a know-it-all busy body."
Ginny flung her napkin down on the table and stormed out, apparently oblivious to the shocked silence that filled the Great Hall. At the Gryffindor table, Hermione sat in shock, her face ablaze with color and tears pooling in her eyes. Ron placed his arms around Hermione and held her tightly.
"I have no idea what's wrong with Ginny, but I aim to find out," he said to her.
"Hermione, are you okay?" asked Harry. "Don't mind Ginny, I'm sure she's just nervous about her first day as a prefect."
"Don't make excuses for Ginny," said Hermione. "She knew exactly what she was doing. Ron, just leave her alone, will you. I'll try and talk with her later." She squeezed Ron's hand under the table. "Ron, just leave it, please. Trust me, Ginny's up to something. I don't know what yet, but it will be ok."
Hermione looked up at the head table to find that both Professor McGonagall as well as Albus Dumbledore, the school's headmaster, had left the table. Professor Snape was staring at her with an indecipherable look on his face. She looked across the hall at the Slytherin table and saw that Malfoy was laughing and pointing at her. Hermione stiffened her back, and refused to give him the satisfaction of seeing how upset she was. Dumbledore walked back into the great room and clapped his hands for attention.
"Our feast is drawing to an end. Prefects, please escort the students back to their dormitories." The students rose with a modicum of grumbling, but were soon on their way to their dorms. As Hermione passed Professor Dumbledore, he placed his hand upon her shoulder.
"A word if I may, Miss Granger? I trust that Mr. Weasley will be able to put that Head Boy badge to work and escort the Gryffindors to their rooms?"
"Sure thing Professor," answered Ron. "Hermione you'll be okay?"
"I told you Ron, I'm fine, now go. Harry may be a prefect, but he doesn't need to be left alone with all those first years."
Hermione followed Professor Dumbledore through the halls and up to his office.
"Peppermint Humbugs," he said and the passageway to his office was revealed. He allowed Hermione to enter first, and there, sitting with Fawkes on her lap, was Ginny.
"Oh Hermione, can you ever forgive me?" she cried when she saw her friend.
"I can, if you tell me what's going on."
"It seems our Miss Weasley has come up with a rather ingenious plan to help Mr. Potter," said Professor Dumbledore. "It is not without risks, and you Miss Granger will play a key part in this scheme. It seems as though Miss Weasley wishes to become a Death Eater."