The Sugar Quill
Author: ivy & Gracie (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A Very Harry Cliche  Chapter: The Beginning
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Disclaimer: Why are you reading the disclaimer? Don't you already know what it's going to say? Well, since you're so interested, everything belongs to J. K. Rowling (literally, everything. She has more money than the Queen.) and Carolyn Keene. Except the new DADA teacher. She belongs to Snape. There. You've satisfied your compulsion to read the disclaimer. Now you can read the story.

A/N: This little farce, with all its meandering POV, was inspired by those of you who participated in the Pensieve forum thread, 'fan fiction cliches.' If you haven't read that thread, stop now and go do so. Do not pass 'Go,' do not collect $200. We dedicate Chapter 1 to Suburban House Elf and A.L. de Sauveterre, who, despite our objections, defend fandom's right to use the word 'snog;' to the Murderous Hussies, for their peerless portrayal of cliche!Ginny, and to R.J. Anderson, whose romantic!Snape really did make us sob and tear our corsets.

Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger were about to enter the Great Hall for breakfast, one bright, Saturday morning in October, when they were stopped by the voice of Professor McGonagall calling to them across the Entrance Hall.

"Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley, Miss Granger, a word if you don't mind. This will only take a moment." They looked around; the Deputy Headmistress was beckoning to them from the doorway of a small, empty chamber off the Hall. Automatically, Harry and Ron looked at Hermione for an explanation, but she just shrugged. They hurried over.

It was the same chamber in which they had huddled, dripping and terrified, while they had waited for their own Sorting Ceremony, five years before. Now, they could see they were not the only ones there. Ginny was waiting for them, as was Draco Malfoy and, of all people, Professor Snape. There was another person as well, a stunningly beautiful girl, whom Harry had never seen before. He felt sure he would have remembered the thick, waist-length titian hair, the strangely piercing violet eyes, and the deep dimple that appeared in one cheek when she flashed a confident smile at him. Ron was openly staring at her, his mouth slack. Hermione jabbed her elbow in his ribs and his mouth snapped shut, but he continued to stare.

Harry looked around the room a bit nervously. Did this meeting have anything to do with the Order? He wondered. If so, why was Malfoy here? And who was the girl? He did not have long to wait, however, because Professor McGonagall was speaking.

"Now that I have you all here," she began, "I have something I’d like to read to you. First though, let me introduce to you Mary Sue Drew." The strawberry-blonde girl acknowledged this introduction with a small wave, and a deepening of her dimple. "Mary Sue is an American witch who will be our guest at Hogwarts for the weekend."

Mary Sue stepped forward, her trim, athletic figure apparent beneath the stylish, tasteful robes she wore. "Hello gang," her warm smile included them all. "I’ve heard so much about you all! I’m honored to be here. Perhaps you’ve heard of me as well. My father is a famous attorney in the United States, and I often help him solve baffling cases, when all his combined education, intelligence and political connections just aren’t enough to get the job done. I’m looking forward to an exciting visit, and I’m sure we’ll all be the best of friends." Having said this, she stepped back again, folding her graceful, well-manicured hands, and nodded for Professor McGonagall to continue.

"Yes. Well. I’m sure you’ll all do your best to make Miss Drew’s visit with us as pleasant as possible." McGonagall’s voice sounded oddly strangled. She unrolled a length of parchment, and consulted it before continuing.

"I have here a petition from the International Confederacy of FanFiction Writers. No doubt you are all familiar with the Confederacy?" Harry drew a blank on that one. He looked around. Hermione was the only one nodding. The rest of them, including Snape, looked as clueless as he felt. McGonagall sighed and lowered the parchment. "I was afraid of that," she said. "I see I shall have to explain it all to you. You'd better sit down, then." She waved her wand, and backless, wooden benches appeared around the walls of the room. She hesitated a moment, then gave another, almost grudging flick of her wand, and the benches were covered with thin, embroidered cushions that smelt strongly of balsam and mothballs. They all sat.

"Miss Granger, perhaps you would like to tell the rest of us what you know about the subject of fanfiction?"

"Fanfiction," began Hermione, in a practised sort of tone, "is a branch of writing in which authors write stories, or outtakes, on fiction which already exists. They create new plot lines, sometimes new characters, using the existing characters and settings of a published work as a springboard."

McGonagall nodded. "Very good. And have you read much fanfiction, Miss Granger?"

Hermione forgot to be academic. "Ooh, I love fanfiction! And you know, some of the best I've read is about us."

Ron interrupted. "Excuse you--'us'? What are you on about?"

Hermione nodded. "Oh yes, we're quite famous you know. Of course, I don't get to keep up with it when I'm here, as obviously, Hogwarts doesn't have computers, or even electricity. But during the summer holidays, I read it all the time. We are--all of us--some of the most popular subjects for budding authors to write about."

"Hermione, you're nutters! We're not famous! Well, except for The Boy Who Lived, here. And the only person who's ever written stories about us is Rita Skeeter. How can you think that people who don't even know us would write stories about us?"

"People know us through canon, Ron; you know, the novels about us."

"Novels?"

"Ron," Hermione said gently, "you don't actually think we're...real people do you?"

Ron gaped at her.

Professor McGonagall held up her parchment again. "Miss Granger is quite right, we are famous." She ignored the shocked confusion on the faces around her and continued crisply. "And as I started to say, The International Confederation of FanFiction Writers--yes, there is such a thing, Mr. Weasley. Kindly close your mouth while you listen-- has petitioned us to give some of their work more--er--playing time.

"It would appear from this letter, that there are certain, er, behaviors, certain character traits and so forth that these authors are fond of writing into their stories. They are complaining that these behaviors--cliches, if you will-- are not actually happening enough in your real lives. They have asked you all to give them this one weekend of your time, and agree to behave in the manners of your fanfiction counterparts."

"But professor," Harry protested, "I thought Hermione just said we weren't real. Do you mean we're supposed to act like we would if we were real?" He was not sure, himself, exactly what he meant by that.

"Good question, Mr. Potter. The answer is, no. You already 'act like you would if you were real.' That's the trouble. The Confederation would like you to act more as you would if you were fanfiction, instead of simply fiction."

"No way," said Ron. "No bloody way. I'm having nothing to do with it. That's crackers, that is."

"I think it sounds intriguing," interjected Mary Sue.

McGonagall ignored her. "Mr. Weasley," she said sternly, "and the rest of you too: before you protest too loudly, listen to me, and listen well. Much as I would love to do so, this is not a request I can simply ignore. Let us not forget on which side our bread is buttered. We are here for our readers, and we must keep them happy. In fact, were it not for our fans, please understand that we would not even exist." She let this sentence hang in the air, though it must be observed that its weight was lost on the room (mostly) full of people who were still grappling with the idea that they weren't real.

Harry and Ron only stared at her, but the others began to nod their heads as comprehension dawned, and Hermione was looking downright exhilarated.

"Oh, I've always wanted the chance to try something like this!" she squealed. "Have they sent you a list of guidelines, Professor? May I see it?"

Professor McGonagall handed her the parchment. "You may do better than see it, Miss Granger. You may oversee the project for the weekend yourself. You appear to know more on the subject than I do, and frankly, I'll be glad to wash my hands of it. See that you're thorough. The rest of you--you too, Severus--are to take your instructions from Miss Granger from now until Sunday night. At that time, Miss Drew will catch the next plane home for River Heights, and the rest of you will be free to resume your normal way of going about things.

"Have you brought the potion, Severus?" she asked, giving him an approving look as he nodded. "Good." From the folds of his robes, Snape handed her a large, military canteen that smoked when she removed the cap. "This is a Personality Facilitating Potion. The Confederacy supplied the recipe, and Professor Snape has been so good as to brew enough for you all. On drinking it, you will find it easier to assume the character traits your fans are requesting. It differs from the Confundus Charm, and the Imperius Curse in that you will retain the ability to think for yourselves. You may resist the effects of the potion at any time you choose." She added with a small smile, " I think, however, that you may find you will not want to resist it. Its effects will set in within thirty minutes and will last approximately 36 hours."

She passed the flask to Ginny, who was nearest her. Ginny hesitated, looking alarmed. "Oh don't be silly, girl!" McGonagall exclaimed. "Do you think I would give you something that would harm you? Drink up now!" And, as Professor McGonagall was one of those people whom others just naturally obeyed, the canteen was passed around the group until everyone had drunk from it, though for a moment, they were all pretty sure Snape was going to refuse and resign his post, rather than submit. In the end though, he drank too, though some people observed that his left eye began, at that point, to twitch alarmingly, and didn't really stop for a good month afterward.

McGonagall recapped the flask and Vanished the benches and cushions. "Any questions?" she asked, looking round at them. "Good. I'll leave you to it, then." And she was gone, leaving seven people who had not asked her any questions, not because they had none, but simply because they were all too dumbfounded to do so.

**********************************

After Professor McGonagall had left the room, the others looked to Hermione hoping, no doubt, that she was going to tell them all it was only a bad joke. She said no such thing. Instead, she looked around brightly at the circle of apprehensive faces.

"What?" she asked, "You all look so gloomy. Come on, this is going to be fun!" She stared at them, trying to guage their reactions, but when no one said anything, she stood up. "Well, let's get to it, shall we? The best news first, then. Tonight, we're having another Yule Ball!"

Harry regarded her dubiously. "Hermione, it's October."

"Yes," put in Ginny, "and don't they only have a Yule Ball every 3,000 years, or something like that?"

Hermione waved away their protests. "Dumbledore has caved to the demands of the Hogwarts students, and he's made theYule Ball an annual affair." She ignored the horrified faces before her - only Mary Sue looked thrilled, - and continued.

"Malfoy, you join Crabbe and Goyle at breakfast, and say something friendly as Harry enters the Great Hall."

Malfoy smirked. "If you think I'm going to take orders from a Mudblood all bloody weekend, you can think again, Granger."

"Oh, that's not the spirit at all, Malfoy!" Hermione objected. "This is a new beginning for Harry and you. You're going to be bosom friends from now on!" Malfoy's smirk faltered ever so slightly. "And," Hermione continued, in the tone of someone who was about to bestow a great treat, "I'll add that, at some point this weekend, you may find yourself strangely attracted to a certain young lady in this room, someone you normally wouldn't fall for. If that happens, you should just go with it." She winked broadly at Ginny, who blanched.

Malfoy caught the direction of her look and sneered. "Good lord, Granger! If you imagine for one minute, that I'm going to fawn all over Weasel Girl, for the sake of some Muggle writers I've never even met, you're stupider than I gave you credit for." He turned and stalked from the room.

Hermione sighed. "He'll come around, don't worry. Especially after you use this." She handed a small envelope to Ginny. "It's a hair rinse."

Ginny took it between her thumb and forefinger. "A hair rinse?"

"It's to turn your hair The Color of a Thousand Sunsets."

"Oh," was all Ginny could think to say.

Hermione looked around again. "Let's see...Harry and Ron and I will go into breakfast as usual, and Ginny, you come too. In fact, you should go everywhere we do for the weekend. In fan fiction, you're the fourth best friend!" She put her arm around Ginny's shoulder and gave it a companionable squeeze, ignoring Ginny's slight wince.

"Professor Snape, I suppose you should carry on with whatever you usually do on Saturdays, but it says here you're not to leave the castle grounds." Her eyes widened as she read down the parchment, and she blushed. "And, it appears you can expect to meet--ah--a new friend this morning. I won't say anything more just now, but I think this is one surprise you're going to lurve." She made a ghastly attempt at a roguish grin, which Snape met with a baleful glare of his own before making his escape.

"And you..." Hermione looked at the only other person left in the room, as if seeing her for the first time, and gasped. "Of course! You're Mary Sue! Now I know where you fit in! Oh, I've always wanted to meet you. You're the most famous person in fan fiction! I don't suppose you'd autograph my notebook? And--would you--could you tell us your real name?"

The strawberry-blonde gave a throaty laugh, which caused Ron's jaw to drop again, and shook out her glossy tresses. "Of course," she murmured. "My real name is ivy & Gracie, but you're right, in fan fiction, I do go by Mary Sue."

Ron began to pant slightly.

Hermione consulted her parchment once again. "Of course," she said regretfully, "we won't be able to be friends as, strictly speaking, I don't approve of Beautiful Girls Who are Also Smarter Than I, and Who Might Pose a Threat to my Social Well-Being, Especially as it Relates to Harry and Ron--oops!" She flushed a little. "Anyway, I hope we can still be nice to each other!" She smiled round at the little group. "Shall we go in to brekkie now?"

Ron frowned. "'Brekkie?' You never call it that. Does she, Harry?" Harry shook his head.

"Well, it's a British-ism, isn't it? Fan fiction lingo, and all that..." Hermione gave her bushy hair a toss that Harry was sure was meant to be confident, and marched toward the Great Hall without another glance behind her.

******************************

At 'brekkie,' Ron consulted Harry, over his toast and eggs. "Fancy doing a bit of flying this morning?"

Harry's answer was lost as the Great Hall was filled with swooping owls, delivering the morning post. He didn't bother to look for Hedwig, as Hagrid was still away, searching for giants, and it really wasn't safe for Sirius to write him. No one else ever sent a letter, so he turned his attention to the barn owl that had landed on the toast rack in front of Hermione, and, having delivered her issue of The Daily Prophet, was holding out its leg, waiting for payment.

He fished a feather out of his goblet of pumpkin juice. "Who poured me pumpkin juice?" he asked. "I wanted orange juice this morning."

Hermione's answer was abstracted, as she glanced over her newspaper. "There’s no orange juice, Harry. This is fan fiction now, remember? In fan fiction, we never drink anything but pumpkin juice. Or maybe Butterbeer," she added as an afterthought, "but that wouldn’t do for brekkie. And at lunch, we're having shepherd's pie. And at supper, and all weekend. Get used to it."

Harry snorted. "That's stupid. In real life we drink orange juice."

"Harry," she answered him, patiently, "this isn't real life, remember? Not until Sunday night. Just drink the pumpkin juice, OK?"

"Yes Harry, just think of all the starving people in the world who don't have any pumpkin juice," put in Mary Sue, and her amethyst eyes brimmed over with tears of compassion.

Ron whimpered audibly.

Harry was saved from thinking of an answer to this absurd remark, by the arrival of Hedwig, who landed in the butter dish, and bit him soundly on the side of the head.

"Ouch!" he cried, rubbing the sore spot. "What'd you do that for?"

"That's an Affectionate Nip on the Ear, " explained Hermione, as Harry glared at the snowy owl.

"Here, Harry, let me apply Emergency First Aid." Mary Sue dashed a glass of cold water into Harry's face, and briskly massaged his wrists. "Ooh!" she exclaimed, massaging his forearm, "What's that your darling owl's brought you?"

Harry relieved Hedwig of the large parcel she was carrying, and his owl flew off. He turned the parcel over in his hands, which was rather a difficult thing to do, with Mary Sue massaging his bicep. The return address, in his Aunt Petunia's handwriting, was #4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey. Wondering what in the world it could be, he opened it. Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Mary Sue watched, Mary Sue from her vantage point above his left shoulder, over which she was draped while her hands massaged his chest. Ron shot Harry a poisonous look. Ginny shot an equally poisonous one at the American girl.

The parcel contained a large tin of fudge, cakes and other sweets, a crisp, 20-pound note, and a brand-new pair of silk socks. There was also a letter.

Gingerly, Harry unfolded the letter. He wouldn't have put it past his relatives to booby-trap the package, just to get rid of him.

Dear Harry (he read)

I suppose I should start by telling you how sorry I am for the years of misery I have given you. I loved your dear mother as if she were my own sister--all right, she was my own sister--oh, how much she meant to me! Please believe that the previous, 15 years have meant nothing. My behavior toward you has been abominable, and I can only attribute it to what might be considered a protracted period of grief and confusion, following dear Lily's death. That's all over now, however, and I must beg your forgiveness and ask you to believe that I have always loved you as I would love my own son.

I hope you will accept this parcel of sweets as a token of how very much I miss you, and regret the years I have wasted.

Fondly,

Aunt Petunia

Harry stared at the letter, at a loss for words.

"Well, what does it say?" demanded Ron.

"My aunt is sending me sweets," he mumbled. "And nice socks. She's never done anything like that before."

Hermione sighed. "What a lovely, sympathetic woman."

"She is?"

"Well...just for the weekend," Hermione admitted. "I imagine that Monday she'll be back to feeling the way she's always felt about you. It is kind of nice though, if it is only temporary, don't you think?"

Harry looked dazed. "So, she's telling the truth then?"

"For the weekend, yes. You should buy into it." And when Harry still looked unconvinced, she added, "Try it! It really could change your relationship forever."

"Forever?"

"Oh, right. Well, maybe for a few days?"

"At least she's sending sweets, eh mate?" chortled Ron, his irritation forgotten, and helped himself to a chocolate frog.

Ginny stood up. "Well, I'm off to try that hair rinse. What's next on the agenda?"

Hermione answered her; "Since it's not a Hogsmeade weekend, and since we're not in the midst of any angsty, fluffy or humorous adventures, I suggest we all meet in the Gryffindor common room at half ten, to do some studying."

"Can't do it," said Ron. "Quidditch practice, remember?"

Hermione looked annoyed. "All right then. Perhaps Ginny and I can show Mary Sue around a bit without you. I think I can do that without getting too chummy with her." Then as an afterthought, she added brightly, "Maybe she'll be interested in S.P.E.W!"

"Herms, you can count on me to champion the cause of the underdog!" Mary Sue proclaimed. "Perhaps my cousin, the Queen of England would find your cause interesting. I'd be happy to speak to her for you."

Hermione glanced at her watch. "Twenty-five minutes since we took the potion. Anybody feeling any different yet?"

Ron raised his hand. "I'd like to discuss how I'm feeling. And what my emotional needs are. Harry--"

But Harry was on his feet, yanking Ron by the arm. "This is no time to start being 'needs-n-feelings!Ron,'" he declared. "We have flying to do."

He pulled Ron toward the door, while Ron protested, "Harry, I need a hug! Can't we just do a group hug before we go?"

Hermione positively beamed.

********************************

Severus Snape strode the length of the corridor like a man possessed. Never--never had he been subjected to such humiliation. To be ordered to take instructions from a student, and her a friend of Harry Potter! It didn't bear thinking about. He would hide out in his chambers until this miserable weekend was over. And if there was an antidote to be found to the potion he had just been forced to swallow, by Merlin, he'd find it!

Barely pausing in his stride, he threw open the door to the Potions Dungeon. Before his eyes had fully adjusted to the gloom, he was stopped in mid-stride by a cool, firm voice that spoke from the shadows.

"Professor Severus Snape, I presume?"

Snape whirled around. To the left of the door he had just entered, stood someone robed in shadows. He could not make out the face. Then, the person stepped forward. It was a woman.

Snape stared. The woman was petite, with silvery hair that cascaded down her back in a riotous tumble of curls. Her blue eyes pierced him with the look of someone who had known him intimately in another life. He was mesmerized.

She moved toward him, her hips swaying, her lips pouting, until she was right under his chin. With a languid finger, she toyed with a lock of his hair, and Snape was suddenly conscious of the Greasifying Spell he always used on it, to fool people into thinking he was an evil, Dark Wizard. The woman didn't seem to mind. She moved closer.

"You smell wonderful," she murmured, inhaling the spicy, woodsy, mossy, musky, soapy and yet slightly sweaty scent of him. "I always knew we'd meet again, Severus."

Snape was bewildered. "Do I know you?" he asked, trying to speak without moving his lips. He somehow knew he did not want this vision of loveliness to see his yellowed teeth. How was she to know they had a Tartar Charm on them that was intended to distract people from his natural, smoldering good looks?

"Oh Severus," she moved back from him, reproach written on her delicate features. "How could you forget me?"

A glimmer of recognition was growing in Snape’s mind; hair like moonlight and eyes that penetrated his every defence… Even as he thought it, the woman was lifting her wand to his head. Snape stood, powerless for once, as she tapped him gently on the temple. "Finite…" she murmured, her voice low and tremulous, "Incantatem."

Snape felt the Greasifying Spell lift and the heavy waves of his thick, dark hair tumbled freely to his shoulders. He ran his tongue over his teeth and knew that they were their true, dazzling white once again, his breath as fresh and sweet as a summer's day. Damn her!

This could be no one but Ariel Love. The Ariel of his schooldays had been plain and awkward, it was true. But no one else had ever seen through him as Ariel had. They had been friends, after a fashion, although Severus had always maintained a careful distance, not truly understanding what Friendship was.

He looked her over, enchanted, in the figurative sense of the word. Yes, he saw the resemblance now. Some ghost of the girl she had been peered out of eyes that were very blue. They were, Snape noticed, the exact shade of blue in the picture on the Wizard Wheats Breakfast Cereal box ("A Bang in Every Bite!"). Not, he reflected, the pale blue of the sky in the background, but the darker blue of the robes the wizard on the box was wearing. Oh yes, he remembered those eyes. In their schooldays she had been forgettable; now she was arresting. Therefore…

"Wait," Snape said, his voice weary. "Don’t tell me. You must be the new Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher."

The lovely face beamed. "Right in one! How did you guess?"

Snape gave a wave of resignation. "Just a lucky guess. Welcome to fanfiction Hogwarts."

"Pardon me?"

"Oh, never mind." Then a thought occurred to him. "Wait - we already have a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher for the year. Dolores Umbridge has filled the position."

Ariel pushed her lips into a pout. "Severus! Are you telling me you want to spend a fanfiction weekend with that old toad in your arms? She'd hardly help you along on your journey to Greater Self-Actualization. No, I'm the Emergency Backup DADA Professor, called in just for the weekend."

Snape spent exactly fifteen seconds trying to assimilate this information, and then decided he really didn't want to understand. With a mighty effort he gathered his composure, and tried to remember that he was a brooding, acerbic Potions Master, and as such, it was unseemly for him to be exchanging pleasantries with anyone - least of all the stunning new DADA teacher, who, it appeared, had come to Hogwarts for the sole purpose of capturing his heart. However, it had been nearly a half hour since he had drunk the potion, and he could feel his defences crumbling.

With an effort, he drew himself up to his full height and looked contemptuously at the woman in front of him. She had, he remembered with disdain, been one of Lily Evans’s best friends, and consequently, had been head over heels for the roguish young Sirius Black. (Lily’s other best friend had, of course, carried a torch for the tragic, but always kind, Remus Lupin, but she had been a forgettable Half-Blood, and her name escaped him.) He would have to put her in her place, and quickly.

"Ms. Love, kindly do me the favor of never again presuming to put a wand to my head." His words dripped with scorn, and he was pleased to see that she looked hurt.

Ariel swallowed hard and tried not to show how his words had cut her. She knew that deep inside he was a man of latent passions and tender heart, who was always kind to woodland creatures and small children. She peered into the depths of his black, black eyes. Yes - there it was: the pain that she knew he was keeping inside. Pain that came from the regret of Wasted Years As a Death Eater, or very possibly from his Shockingly Abusive Childhood, or maybe even, she recalled, from his Doomed and Secret Love For Lily Evans.

"Don’t push me away, Severus…" She took a step toward him, and he was helpless to resist.

*****************************************

Hermione settled herself on a sofa in the Gryffindor common room, a box of S.P.E.W. badges on the table in front of her. She didn't seem to be making much progress getting Mary Sue interested in S.P.E.W. Ginny had gone to use the hair rinse a half hour before, and Mary Sue had spent the entire half hour wandering around the perimeter of the room, knocking on the walls, and listening intently at the sound her knuckles made.

"Are you ready to hear about S.P.E.W. yet?" Hermione asked her, for the dozenth time.

Mary Sue stamped her well-shod foot. "Excuse me! I am doing an important bit of sleuthing here, and I don't think it's very chummy of you to keep interrupting me! If you're not going to jump up and be at my beck and call, the way I am accustomed to my friends being, then at least shut your trap so I can hear!"

Though taken aback, Hermione was nevertheless interested. "What are you listening for?"

"Oh, you know," said Mary Sue, "sliding panels, hidden rooms, hollow spots where old wills or trunks full of treasure might be hidden. That kind of thing. I really do need you to be quiet." She resumed her tapping.

"Of course," murmured Hermione.

Just then, Ginny bounded down the stairs. "Well, what do you think?" She squealed, pirouetting so that the length of her hair flew in a silken, shimmering curtain around her.

"Oh, Ginny, you look wonderful! It's just what the package promised: the Color of a Thousand Sunsets, with Underlying Food Shades! And it's grown at least eighteen inches!"

"Yes, and it's also made me lose ten pounds!" giggled Ginny.

Hermione seized her friend's hands, and they pranced around the room together in mutual delight. "It’s perfect! It’s just ROXIN’!" Hermione crowed.

"I think it’s PUXIN,’" muttered Mary Sue under her breath. "In fact, I think it SUX."

"Don't be so quilly, Mary Sue," chided Hermione.

"Will it ROX Harry’s SOX?" Ginny asked, laughing.

The two girls collapsed on the sofa, gasping for breath.

"Oh Gin," gasped Hermione, "You're my very Third-Best Friend!"

"And you're mine too!" agreed Ginny.

"You know," continued Hermione, when she'd got her breath back, "with that hair, Harry won't be able to take his eyes off you." In their enthusiasm, neither girl noticed the slight stiffening of Mary Sue's shoulders, or the narrowing of her eyes, when she heard this.

"How about a game of Exploding Snap?" the American girl interrupted smoothly.

"Oh, I couldn't," said Hermione, "I have loads and loads of studying to do, which is all due next month, and since it's a bright and sunny Saturday, what better time to do it?"

"Good, Ginny and I will play then," Mary Sue said, and Hermione was surprised by the predatory expression that flashed, for just a moment, in her lovely, lavender eyes.

By the time Hermione was on her fourth essay, Ginny's eyebrows and russet locks were looking rather singed around the edges. "Why do you keep throwing the cards at me, just before the deck explodes?" she cried.

Mary Sue gave her a feral smile. "I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about."

Just then, the portrait hole opened, and Ron and Harry came in, tired and sweaty, but exhilarated. They had each grown three or four inches since breakfast, and the Qudditch practice had packed an extra fifteen pounds of solid muscle onto each of them. All three girls sat up a bit straighter. Ginny shook out her lovely mane.

Harry stared. "Ginny, your hair...Did you do something different?"

"Like it?" Ginny murmured.

"It makes me feel..." Harry seemed to be searching for the right word. "It makes me feel so..."

"Romantic?" Hermione offered, helpfully.

"...Hungry," Harry finished.

Ginny sighed. "That would be the shades of Creamsicle and Cantaloupe. Another game of Exploding Snap, Mary Sue?"

"She wants to play chess with me, don't you?" Ron interrupted, knocking Ginny off the sofa, and sitting in her place.

"Ron!" Ginny protested, but he didn't hear her. The only person in Ron's world at that moment, was the beautiful young sleuth across the table from him.

"Mary Sue," he said earnestly, "what is your Myers-Briggs Personality Type? Because, I really think we could be compatible. I, myself, am an extrovert, which means I need people. And I like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain..." His voice faded to a gentle drone.

"Harry?" Ginny tried again. "Help me up?" But Harry was staring, transfixed, at the table where Hermione sat, bent over her rolls of parchment, her suddenly sleek and glossy waves of chestnut hair tumbled around her shoulders. Since breakfast, she had somehow become the most beautiful girl in the whole wizarding world. Well, except for Ginny, who just might have tied her for first place, but was really more of a close second. He had a bemused expression on his face, and Ginny had the feeling he hadn't even heard her.

She jumped to her feet, and snapped, in a spunky manner, "Well fine! If you're all just going to ignore me, then I'm leaving!" When no one answered her, Ginny burst into tears and ran to the portrait hole, her hair a ribbon of flame behind her. (Literally, as the Ace of Diamonds, entangled in her tresses, was still smoldering.)

************************************************

In the hallway, Ginny ran without seeing anything, blinded by her tears, until she collided with a broad, spicy-smelling chest, and two arms came around her and held her like bands of steel.

"Well, well," drawled a sardonic voice, "if it isn't Weasel Girl, running like a bat out of hell. What happened--have you heard they're giving out Knuts somewhere, and you're running to get your hands on some?"

"Malfoy!" she hissed. "Get your ferret paws off me!" She struggled vainly, but she was no match for the virile specimen of raw masculinity who held her. Defeated, she sagged against him, and let the tears flow.

"What's the matter, little Weasel?" Draco whispered tenderly, into her cinnamon-scented hair.

"H-H-Harry doesn't love me! This is fan fiction, and we're supposed to be on board the same ship, if you know what I mean. Instead, he's eyeing the HMS H/H, if you get my drift. Oh, I hope their ship runs aground, or sinks in the middle of a stormy sea!"

If Draco was confused by this fanfic-speak, he didn't show it. Instead, he stroked her back like the sensitive male he secretly was inside, and waited for her to calm down. When her sobs had subsided, he tipped her chin up until he could look down into her delicate, heart-shaped face. Her eyes were puffed slits from crying. Her nose was red, and moist around the edges, her delicately freckled skin was blotched pink and white. She was the most breathtakingly beautiful creature he had ever beheld.

When he lowered his lips to hers, Ginny forgot to breathe.

"Draco!" She gasped, just before she turned blue. "We can't--this isn't right! I don't love you, and you don't love me; in fact, you're a bigoted, cruel, future Death Eater, whilst I will someday work for the Ministry of Magic. What would your father say?"

Malfoy pinned her between the wall and his body. "You know you find me secretly attractive, Ginny, in spite of my cold, cruel cynicism. You're such a sweet, innocent girl who is younger and poorer than I. I am a richer, more powerful, impossibly handsome man, with a drawling voice and a sardonic eye, who is supposed to be hopelessly out of your reach. We, Ginny, are the stuff Mills & Boon built a publishing empire on! There are millions of women around the world who would gladly slap down $4.95, (or its equivalent in pounds or euros) to read about us, so don't tell me we can't do this." He kissed her again. And again, and again. They came dangerously close to snogging, but fortunately, the authors faded out the scene before they were forced to write that word into it. Instead, the authors choose to tell you that Draco kissed Ginny "in a passionate, yet respectful manner." For a very, very long time.

A/N: A blue coupe convertible, and a date with Ned Nickerson to anyone who recognizes our favorite, perennially 18-year-old girl detective. We pay her homage. She is the real Mary Sue.

//
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