Aca-demic Arrangements

Chapter 37

"Hermione!"

She heard her name filter through the freshly slammed bedroom door but dutifully ignored it as she tried to focus on getting dressed.

Tom's heavy, rapid footfalls filled the upper floor's halls before coming to a halt only to have him appear after shoving open the door. "Hermione!" he called, "About what—"

"Tom, don't."

He hesitated, brow set to a furrow and mouth in a grim line.

Hermione didn't even spare him a glance before leaning heavily against the dresser she'd inherited from the boys. With her back still facing Tom, she shook her head and started rummaging for clothing. "I really don't want to get into it, if it's all the same to you."

Tom eyed the way her shoulders were drawn up and the entirety of her looked like she wanted to either bolt or curl into the smallest ball in existence. After a minute of quiet deliberation, he cleared his throat and invited himself the rest of the way into her room. Tom settled onto her mattress without ever taking his eyes off of her. "Get into what?" he asked lightly which drew a dark, yet hesitant look from his not-girlfriend. She opened her mouth to—well, to yell at him, and he shrugged. "I've no idea what it is that you don't want to get into, but whatever it is, we're not getting into it. You still can't go to work."

Hermione's eyes narrowed. "Do I want to ask 'why not?'"

"We've got plans."

There was a suspiciously playful lilt to Tom's voice that made Hermione's eyes narrow further until tiny slits were all that were left. "What're you on about?" Tom's bared shoulders heaved in a massive shrug and she watched bits of his inked mural blink back at her with the movement.

"We're going to The Square."

"The Square," Hermione echoed. "As in the mall?" Incredulity morphed her expression. "Shopping?" She shook her head and resolved to peel Tom's borrowed shirt from her body to begin dressing for work. "NO. My only plans are to get paid and shopping is the direct antithesis to this."

Tom dodged the crumpled mess of his button down being flung at him. "I already told you, you don't need t'pay—"

"It's not like you're the only person I owe money to, you know." Hermione dismissed him matter-of-factly and shimmied into fresh knickers and a bra. "Especially, since I botched all my bloody Broadway plans, anyway."

"Thought you didn't want to get into it."

Hermione stopped in the midst of tugging on a pair of black trousers to give Tom a withering look. "And I thought you said you didn't have any idea as to what I didn't want to get into and that's why we weren't getting into it."

Tom scoffed and pushed off the bed back to his feet, his hands reaching for hers when she returned to fiddle with her zip. "Well, that's obviously a bunch of rubbish, innit?" Careful to avoid the recent injury to her hand, he stilled her movements. "I've an idea, but…" he drawled, "you said you didn't want to get into it. So…here we are: not gettin' into it."

Hermione exhaled heavily through her nose, gave Tom a once over, and after a long stretch of deliberation, finally teetered forward in a defeated slump to rest most of her weight on him. Tom's arms came up around her shoulders to catch her mid-flop and she sighed again, pressing her cheek to the warm skin of his neck, allowing her arms to dangle limply between them. "People from my past seem to have a funny way of showing up when I'd really like them to just…bugger off," she murmured.

Gently stroking a hand over her half matted, half frizzed curls, Tom barely missed a beat. "Shall I kill them for you, love?"

Hermione jolted upright immediately. "What?! No!" And she was met with an amused expression as she pulled back to see his face. "You're joking." It was a statement that failed in entirely suppressing her questioning lilt at the end.

Tom smirked at her and reached out to turn her towards the bathroom. "Time for a shower. We've a date for the mall."

She only mildly resisted the physical corralling to freshen up and blinked back over her shoulder. "Tom, you were joking, right?"

"C'mon then, spit spot!"

"Tom!"

. . . . .

"Hoodlum, what about this one?"

Blaise's over excited voice beckoned Hermione over from one large display case of mobile phones to the one he was currently lording over. He was slurping from an oversized coffee drink procured from the food court despite his earlier protests that it was 'terrible' and 'nothing like the concoctions Hermione made' and had gotten him hooked on from home.

Hermione arrived at his side and swatted his hand away from where he had a finger firmly pressed to the glass. "You're getting fingerprints all over!"

Blaise flinched back from her slap for just a second before huffing at her and smacking her back just as hard, eliciting a surprised yelp. "There are already a million fingerprints on the case! One more isn't going to make a difference!"

"Don't be that guy, Blaise."

"Oh, pish."

From several feet away, Tom glowered with arms crossed over his chest as Abraxas and Marcus both scooted in from their own browsing to show Hermione a multitude of shiny things that caught their eyes.

The whole outing had been for Hermione but—unsurprisingly—the whole damned house invited themselves along. Tom wasn't about to cancel his plans, though. The idea of Hermione roaming around the city without any way to ring him in an emergency weighed heavily on his mind since she'd hurt herself. And to think, he'd never even considered it until he'd missed her call and it struck him that he had no way to reach her directly.

Well…that wasn't entirely true.

He'd not missed it, after all. He'd screened, seen it was his uncle's shop, and ignored it, not putting two and two together at the time.

Bloody idiot.

Tom recalled listening to her message, her voice the meekest and most timid he'd ever heard it, seeking him out for help. The waver and tremble in her tone had sent his blood rushing in his ears and when he'd called back, he'd gotten whatever bint it was working the till who couldn't have been more disinterested in telling him where she'd run off to. Truth be told, he couldn't remember what he'd been doing or the transition from whatever it was to arriving at the shop.

His glower deepened, his mind replaying over the events even as eyes tracked his crew around the shop. Marcus pulled some glittery phone case off a wall of accessories and presented it to Hermione like a proud pet hound while Abraxas argued about its color clashing with the body of the phone he was very insistently trying to sell her on.

"Shall I take the men away so you can have a moment?"

Tom was startled from his brooding by the smooth voice of Pansy's shiny leather man-pet, Theodore. He straightened, an attempt at feigning disinterest, and was greeted by Theo's sheepish expression.

"Sorry. I thought I would check on you. You seemed very…" Tom raised a challenging brow at the pause. Theo shrugged. "Peevish."

Tom scoffed at the directness of it. "Sod off." He made to rejoin the others but was stopped short by Theo's hand on his arm.

At the sudden tensing of all of Tom's muscles, Theo quickly released the man from his grip and raised both hands in way of placation. "I just wanted to say that I am sorry. I did not mean to make your girlfriend uncomfortable this morning. I thought maybe you would like some time with her?"

Tom's glower came back in full force.

"We're not together," he responded snappily. "And anyway, she likes them, so…" Tom trailed off when Abraxas made a terrible face and squawking noise at some old model flip phone Hermione was showing him.

Tom didn't notice his own words falling silent nor when his icy demeanor cracked and, instead, his lips curled into a smirk as Hermione huffed and puffed and flailed at his blond friend. With a telltale planting of her hands on her cocked hips, she proceeded to tear apart every piece of his protest and fuss over her preference of practicality while simultaneously drawing awkward stares from the staff and other customers.

Theodore watched Tom's stare go distant, letting out a soft hm before excusing himself from the other man's side.

. . . . .

As resistant as she'd been about going in the first place and as knackered as she was after the full day outing it had become, Hermione found herself in an altogether decent mood come the evening. She'd chased off all the boys after a great deal of fuss over trying to show her all the features and capabilities of her shiny new phone. It was about the time when Blaise was instructing her on how to actually use her phone as a phone that she lost her temper and shooed them all away to the furthest reaches of the house.

It's not as though she'd not seen people use the damned things enough—typically while they were supposed to be working or on the opposite side of the counter staring dully at it instead of her to place their drink orders. She had more than an inkling of their capabilities even if she had never owned one herself and anything she didn't know she could bloody well look up on the school library's computers.

Honestly, she was homeless, not a bloody Neanderthal!

Used to be homeless.

An invasive voice that all too closely resembled Tom's cut into her thoughts.

Hermione dutifully shoved it away and nestled further into the warm weight of far too many blankets and pillows. She curled on her side, appreciating her hard earned silence, and quietly thumbed through the screens of her phone with as little guilt as she could manage. It was difficult to not feel bad over being treated to an exorbitantly expensive device after a long day of toiling over it, especially when she was certain she did nothing to deserve such a thing. Hermione couldn't deny, however, that it was so very much fun to fiddle with and damn it if it didn't feel good to have something nice again.

The device she now cradled with more care than she might a newborn babe had caught her eye the second she'd crossed the threshold of the store. After seeing the pricing on it, though, Hermione stubbornly resisted the pull of its boldly listed features and brightly colored screen. She did very well dissecting the persistent arguments of both Blaise and Abraxas whenever she would point out completely reasonable alternatives in lieu of the unnecessarily fancy technology. She'd almost made it out of there with something solely practical and not at all aesthetically pleasing, too.

Almost.

Hermione's scrolling thumbs paused, recalling how innocent Tom had appeared when he'd finally stepped in to join them in the final stages of her decision making. She burrowed deeper into her blanket fort with a scowl and a tinge of color over her cheeks and nose.

Conniving snake.

He'd nodded at her and picked up the phone that she'd obviously decided she would pass over—since he was going to insist on his silly 'I'm buying you a mobile, blah blah blah' nonsense—and commended her decision on such an impressive piece of equipment. Tom swiped and tapped and browsed through the thing and when Hermione corrected him on her choice, he'd turned the most astonished look on her in question.

"Really?" he'd asked. "You didn't want access to these?" And he'd proceeded to flip the phone screen back in her direction, giving her an extraordinary view of an extensive list containing hundreds upon hundreds of digital versions of novels and audiobooks at his literal fingertips.

The time between then and walking out of the store, new phone in hand, remained a bit…foggy. When it became clear that the digital literature that teased her interest was only accessible via a paid account and Tom "The Sneak" Riddle plucked the device from her fingers to provide access to his, however, Hermione realized exactly how bamboozled she'd been.

Bwoop!

The bubbly alert tone startled her out of her guilty brooding and a small notification of a text message slid into view from sender Cockney Twat.

Found anything you like yet?

Hermione narrowed her eyes at the message and imagined a rather self-satisfied smirk on the man's fool face where he resided on the opposite end of the hall. With that image in mind, she glowered and tapped out her reply: Aren't you supposed to be sleeping?

Another tone interrupted her begrudging browsing through Tom's collection of books.

I'll send some recs, read the reply that blatantly ignored her question.

She huffed and responded back, her nails clacking dully against the vibrant touch screen: Goodnight Rickle

Before she could dismiss the message screen completely a large blocky message bubble filled the screen with several titles that succeeded in catching her interest. She nearly fell prey to the call of the books but managed to shake herself free of their clutches out of sheer spite.

GOODNIGHT, she tapped out harshly and hit send.

Goodnight, Dove

Hermione allowed herself just a few more minutes of browsing and bookmarking titles before truly getting settled in for bed. Just as she was reaching to place her, now silenced, device on the nightstand, it vibrated. Rolling her eyes, Hermione grumbled more fondly than she intended, "What the bloody hell now, Tom?"

Except it wasn't her Cockney Twat this time but a message from some number she didn't recognize.

Furrowing her brow, she tapped it open.

Her heart dropped into her stomach immediately upon reading the two words waiting so innocently there for her.

Hello Bug, the message read; unsigned.

Unsigned, Hermione knew, because only one person from her past ever called her that.


A/N: Hi everyone! Long time no see! I had been so busy with and exhausted from work for so many of these past months that I really hadn't had any quiet time to sit down and dedicate to writing. Things are kind of rough at the moment and I am between jobs once again due to some unfortunate circumstances at my last position so I appreciate everyone's patience and support during my lull in writing, it makes dealing with unpleasant things easier! As always, I hope to get back into the swing of things and I continue to appreciate your support and encouragement towards these efforts. :) Hope to see y'all again soon!