Summary: They meet on the playground. Ron told her that if she doesn't fight for herself no one will ever leave her alone so she's just trying to follow his advice. "Are you crying?" He asks. She musters all the fury in her 7-year-old body and channels it into her voice when she speaks through the tears. "So what? I'll still kick your arse." Tomione. AU. Rated M for future chapters.

Hermione hated school. She hated the children and she hated the teachers and she hated the never-ending, dull, simplicity of the lessons, she hated the fact that most days she was sitting in a classroom before the sun even rose and she hated the fact that she couldn't even enjoy learning because she never learned anything. She hated Draco Malfoy's smug face as he sat across from her in class, she hated Gregory Goyle's 'accidental' bumps into her desk, she hated Pansy Parkinson's snarky comments—she hated everything about school.

She never told her parents. They had been so excited—she had been so excited—when she was accepted into a fairly prestigious Primary school. She thought it would be a magical place where she could read whatever she wanted and the teachers would encourage her to learn and to explore and she would be surrounded by people who loved it all as much as she did. But the truth was it wasn't magical, it was dark and dull like a prison. And the teachers didn't care about her or anyone else, and she was surrounded by people who didn't care about anything but who was playing tag on the playground.

And she didn't like tag. She was always it, and when she wasn't it, she was getting chased all over the playground by whoever was it until they inevitably shoved her to the ground and then she had to chase all of them. So she didn't play.

She thought she might've found a friend in one boy, once. His name was Harry Potter and he was nice and he complemented the book she was reading. His glasses were broken and she helped him tape them together in the middle before school started. He didn't care that much about history or multiplication or science but he was kind to her and she thought finally—finally—she had a friend who understood her, even if he didn't share her passions.

He was nine years old. Two years older than her and he didn't even share recess with her except for on Fridays, so she only saw him for thirty minutes every week unless they happened upon each other on the way into school. And during recess he was always with his horrid friend Ron, but at least when Harry was around Ron wouldn't insult her—at least not outright—so she was just happy to have someone to be with for a while.

"Are you really reading again?" Ron asks her one Friday when his and Harry's class was late to recess. She had sat herself down on the corner of the asphalt away from the other children's games to read her new book. Certain he was going to insult it, she glared up at him and readied herself. "What's this one now? The history of China or some shit?"

"You can't say things like that, Ronald," She lectured, snapping her book shut and hopping to her feet, setting her hands on her hips and somehow managing to look haughty while staring up at the older boy, "That's a naughty word. And for your information, I'm reading about the colonization of—"

"I don't bloody care, Hermione," He cut her off with a laugh, and while she was ready to be upset, his next words tempered her anger, "That rubbish goes over my fuckin' head anyway."

"You really should stop swearing, Ron," She pressed, looking around herself tentatively, "If a teacher heard you, you would be in big trouble—"

"Ron has, like, seventeen older brothers, Hermione," Harry interjected, "It would be a miracle if he didn't swear."

"I'm ten now, you know?" Ron added, "Double-digits means you can swear!"

She pursed her lips in disagreement—just because his older siblings swore like sailors, didn't mean he had to, and his being ten had nothing to do with anything—but she kept quiet. She was just happy to see them, if she was honest. "Why were you late?" She asked.

"Our class got in trouble," Harry answered, "The teacher kept us late as punishment."

"Well, why were you—" She started to ask, but she suddenly felt a firm force push her to the ground. Her book went flying out of her hands so that she could catch herself before she face planted on the ground, scratching up the palms of her hands and the tops of her knees in the process. She turned her head to see Malfoy grinning, laughing.

"Tag, Granger!" He called, "You're it!"

"I'm not playing, Malfoy!" She objected, tears jumping to her eyes as she examined her now bleeding palms. Malfoy laughed again, bouncing on his feet as if ready to flee the moment she got up.

"Too bad, you are now!" He insisted.

"Oi," Harry interrupted, glaring down at Draco, "She said she's not playing, beat it Malfoy,"

The little blonde boy's face fell into a scowl, glaring up at the older boy with disdain, tilting his chin up so he could still look down his nose at the taller boy—at least as best he could—and he sneered, "Fine, Potter, keep your loser girlfriend—"

"Sod off, Ferret!" Ron snapped, taking a step toward him. Malfoy jumped back, glaring at the two of them as he left quickly, giving chase to another child who was actually playing the game of tag.

Hermione reached for her book, clutching it to her chest and pushing back tears as she stood, ignoring the sting of her hands and knees. "Are you alright?" Harry asked.

"Oh, I'm fine," Hermione snapped, glaring at the children playing tag not too far away, "He does that all the time."

"You shouldn't let them walk all over you," Ron told her, setting his hand on her shoulder in what she was certain as supposed to be a comforting gesture but it just felt condescending to her.

"And what am I supposed to do?" She challenged, stepping away from his hand so she could fully face him and glare up at his concerned face, "Mr. Snape loves him and hates me, so I can't tell him. If I tell my parents—"

"I'm not saying tell anyone—" Ron cut in.

"You should tell someone—" Harry tried to interject but Ron continued as if he didn't.

"I'm saying you need to stick up for yourself!" He finished, "Let them know you're not to be messed with."

"I can't fight everyone like you do, Ron," She seethed.

"Why not?" He challenged, "You don't have to fight Malfoy. Just fight someone Malfoy knows—someone Malfoy wouldn't mess with—and then he won't mess with you!"

"Oh, shut up, Ron," She mumbled, clutching her book tighter to her chest and glancing down at her skidded knees.

"I'm tryin' to help!" He defended himself, but Hermione was too upset with everyone at the moment to care. Everyone in her class hated her—she couldn't exactly fight all of them! And her parents had instilled in her that fighting was wrong, you only ever fought to defend yourself and even then if you could avoid it you did. She couldn't just go around punching everyone like he did.

"I'm going to go read." She snapped, forgetting or perhaps not caring that this was the one recess a week they had together, "I don't want to talk to either of you!"

They let her leave. It wasn't the only time she had done this, after all, and they had learned that when they pressed her it only made things worse. She couldn't help her anger. She was surrounded by children who hated her, her own teacher hated her, and the only people who she could call her friends were two grades above her and the only advice the had was to fight everyone.

She sat a few meters away from them and flipped open her book but she didn't read it. She was fuming over Malfoy, distracted by the blood still collecting lightly on her knees and palms, wishing her school could be the haven she thought it would be. She pushed back the tears—because she was such a crybaby all the time, sh had to pick and choose what she would allow herself to cry over—and tried to focus on her new book. But the blood from her palm had soaked into the page she was on, calling the tears back to her eyes—she had ruined her book—so she angrily wiped her hand off on her skirt and stood, marching toward the grassy, back section of the playground usually reserved fro the older children and sat under the big tree to cry.

She hated everything about this stupid school. Except for Harry and Ron, but then they weren't much help when it came to dealing with everything else. Would fighting Malfoy—or, as Ron suggested, fighting someone Malfoy wouldn't have the guts to fight himself—really fix any of this? She supposed that, maybe, it might make him leave her alone, but it could also isolate her. How could she make friends if everyone thought she was going to beat them up?

"You're in my spot." She kept her head down only a moment longer so she could wipe the tears from her cheeks before snapping her chin up to meet the dark, angry glower of an older boy she didn't know. He had a book in his hands, too, but it was written in a language she didn't know. He looked very scary. He was tall for his age, older than her—maybe even older than Harry—and he looked very, very mad at her for some reason.

"Who are you?" She asked.

"Tom," He answered simply, "And I'm in year six—" She supposed that was his way of telling her she had to do what he told her, because he was older, "And you're in my spot. Move."

She didn't at first. If he hadn't been here all recess then she didn't really think he had the right to come yell at her about it now, but then she also knew that the grassy area of the playground was always meant for the older kids. She knew she should move, and this boy was very, very scary, and he looked like he would hurt her if she didn't move—

He looked very, very scary. Very scary. Malfoy would never fight this boy.

She observed him for a moment longer. Maybe she could fight him?

A whistle rang out, and she turned her head to see the teachers gesturing for the children to line up. She looked back at the boy—Tom—to see him roll his eyes and walk away to go line up to go inside. But she hadn't even managed to—

She huffed, deciding that maybe it was for the best. She could sleep on it tonight and decide tomorrow if she wanted to fight Tom from year six or not. She picked up her book and ran to her class's line, waving to Harry and Ron as she went so they would know she wasn't angry at them.

Maybe Tom from year six could be the key to getting Malfoy and his bully friends to leave her alone. No one would fight that scary boy. Maybe if she did, everyone would just leave her alone.

She would sleep on it and decide tomorrow.

She didn't really sleep on it, because she spent half the night practicing punching her pillow. The more she thought about it the more she decided that maybe Ron was right. She wasn't making any friends, and no matter how much she tried to distance herself away from her classmates, she kept seeming to make enemies. So if she could eliminate the enemies—or at least, make them afraid of her a bit—then she could at least enjoy her lessons and play with Harry and Ron when they had recess together.

The scary boy from year six would be perfect. Fighting Malfoy would backfire because Snape would take his side, and any one of Malfoy's friends would garner the same result. She didn't want to fight Harry or Ron, and she didn't want to start a fight with someone who didn't deserve it. But the scary boy was rude, and he seemed to think he owned that tree—which he didn't—so why shouldn't she start a fight with him?

It would be nice if she won, but she probably wouldn't. He was much bigger than her, after all. But as long as she landed a good punch or two—

Her parents would be angry, probably. Definitely. She wasn't sure how she would explain it, but maybe she wouldn't. Maybe she would say he started it, or Ron told her to, or—something. She would think of something.

She spent Saturday and Sunday playing out the scenarios in her head. She would wait until he shared her recess again, and she would sit in his spot and when he started to get nasty—because he probably would, he looked like he would, with his angry face—she would fight him. It would be easy. Simple. And then word would get around that Hermione Granger fought the scary boy and everything would be over—

Monday came and she sat under his tree and waited.

"You're in my spot again," He told her.

She looked up at him, trying to look bored and uninterested in hopes to anger him. "I don't have to do what you say just because you're older than me," She told him.

"Yes you do," He argued.

"No, I—"

"What are you reading?" He asked suddenly. His eyes had trained on the book in her lap—she had almost finished it—and she floundered for a moment.

"It's about the colonization of—what do you care?" She spat. He gave a lazy, one shouldered shrug.

"I don't," He admitted, and then he walked toward her and sat down next to her and said nothing else. He just sat beside her and stretched out his long legs and opened his book and started reading beside her and—no, no this wasn't right, he was supposed to get angry, she was supposed to fight him—

"What language is that?" She asked

"Arabic," He answered shortly.

"You read Arabic?" She asked.

"I read a lot of languages," He answered vaguely, sounding a bit stuck-up about it if she was honest. She wrinkled her nose, looking over the pages, angry that she could make no sense of it. She was a bit confused, if she was honest. Why was the scary boy sitting beside her reading? Wasn't he going to make her move?

"Are you not going to fight me?" She asked.

"Fight you?" He echoed, turning his head to look down upon her, "You're tiny, why would I fight you? I would crush you."

"No you wouldn't!" She cried, snapping her own book shut and turning toward him. He didn't do the same, simply continued to read even as her anger increased. "I could win! Just because you're scary doesn't mean I would lose."

"You think I'm scary?" He asked, a smile playing on his lips and making him look even scarier. He still didn't look back at her, which was probably for the best.

"No." She lied.

"Well I think you're cute," He told her, "Like a bunny. That's why you would lose."

"Shut up, I am not cute!" She snapped, sitting up on her knees so she was as tall as him while they sat. "And for your information," She spat, "Rabbits can be vicious, too"

"Vicious?" He laughed, shutting his book to look at her, and she suddenly wished he wouldn't. "What will you do, bite my ankles?" She scowled. "Besides, I'm like a snake, and snakes eat rabbits."

"You are not a snake," She sneered, "You're like a…a…"

He raised an eyebrow, "A what?" He prompted sarcastically.

"You're like a—a house cat or something!" He was scowling now. "Yeah, you have a sour face but—"

"I'm done talking to you," He snapped, "You can leave."

"You can't tell me what to do," She responded with just as much venom, "Just because you're older doesn't mean—"

"Are you this annoying to everyone you meet?" He sneered, "You must not have any friends."

"I have friends," She spat.

"Doubtful." He smiled ruefully, "As if anyone could stand being around you for more than a minute. Everyone probably hates you."

She grit her teeth as she watched him turn his eyes back to his book, ignoring her as if she was nothing. How could he say such cruel things and then just pretend she wasn't even there? Despite her anger, she felt tears spring to her eyes, mostly because he was right. Everyone did hate her. The only people who didn't were Harry and Ron, but even they got annoyed with her most times. She didn't really have any close friends, but that didn't mean he had any right to comment on it. It didn't look like he had any friends either, so who was he to judge her?

At this point she was already crying, but she still shot to her feet and stood over him, her little hands clenched into fists and her voice strong—fueled by her anger—despite the trembling of her lip. "If you want me to leave you'll have to fight me!" She told him.

He looked up, his expression utterly bored until his eyes caught sight of her face and then his expression changed into something like confusion. "Are you crying?" He asked.

She mustered all the fury in her 7-year-old body and channeled it into her voice when she spoke through the tears, "No," she spat. But when a tear escaped her eye she madly wiped it away with the back of her hand and amended, "Yes." And after another moment, trying to channel her inner Ronald Weasley, she spat, "So what? I'll still kick your arse,"

Both his eyebrows shot up in what she was fairly certain was amusement. So, still crying and feeling like a baby, knowing she needed to prove herself, she said, "Get up! I'll punch you in the face, fight me!"

He stood up. She clenched her jaw and willed herself not to show any fear as he towered over her—he was so tall, what the hell—and she tried to hold back her frustrated tears because this was the moment, this was the moment where everything would change. All she had to do was land a solid punch on his stupid, smug mouth and then let word get back to Malfoy and she would be free of all of his stupid, mean—

He took a step toward her and she swung with all her might, but he ducked. "Stop," He ordered evenly, catching her wrist and setting a hand on her shoulder, "Are you serious? I'm twice your size."

"You're just scared I'll win!" She told him, pulling her wrist back but he held it firm in his grip.

"No," He said, very slowly as if she were mentally deficient, "I could snap you like a twig—"

"Do it then, scary boy!" She egged him on, pulling her arm even though he refused to let go, "Just—fight—me—"

"I know why you're doing this," He suddenly said, and she paused. "You're trying to prove yourself, but this is a reckless way to do it. If I wanted to I could have broken your arm and you would have proven nothing."

She remained silent, glowering at his shoes. "I didn't ask for your advice." She told him.

"No," He agreed, "You asked me to fight you. That was stupid."

"It wasn't stupid," She argued, and echoing his words from before she said, "It was reckless."

He raised an eyebrow, "Reckless and stupid," He corrected. "Who is it?"

"Who is who?" She spat in return.

"Whoever you're trying to scare."

She finally managed to wrench her wrist free and take two large steps back from him, but she couldn't leave because her book was still lying beside the tree behind him and she wasn't about to leave that behind. "What do you care?" She asked.

"I don't," He said simply, giving her that one shouldered shrug again. "But if it'll get you to stop bothering me I can get rid of him for you."

She hesitated, the defensive set of her shoulders slumping for a moment as she regarded the ease he said that with. So many questions sprung to her mind in that moment—what did he mean get rid of him? Was he offering to make her go away or to stop her from being upset? Could he really make Malfoy leave him alone?—but in the end her stubborn pride won out and she told him, "I don't need you to fight my battles for me." And after a moment of him looking at her as if he really didn't believe that, she added, "I'm tough."

He laughed then, outright laughed at her as if she had made a joke. "No, you're not," He said, laughing through his words, "Tell me who he is and I'll deal with him."

"I don't want you to deal with him!" She said, stomping her foot, "I want to deal with him myself!"

He sighed tiredly, and looked as if he was ready to reply but the teacher blew their whistle and the children began lining up. She noticed his jaw clench and he looked down at their books. She made a move to pick hers up but his words stopped her. "Can I borrow your book?"

She hesitated, "But I'm not done."

"I'll give it back. We can trade books." He offered, picking his own book up and holding it out to her.

"I can't read that," She argued.

"Well, I'll bring an english one tomorrow. You can keep this as collateral." He stretched his arm out further to extend the book to her. She eyed it suspiciously.

"Collateral," She echoed quietly.

"It means I give you something that I'll want back so you know I'll do what I'm saying I will." He informed her evenly.

"I know what collateral means," She snapped, but it was a lie, because she hadn't known. He smiled as if he knew.

"Hurry up and make up your mind, we have to line up." He told her, shaking the book.

"When will I get the other book?" She asked.

"Meet me tomorrow morning by the bike rack outside the school before the first bell rings." He told her, "I'll have a new book for you."

She paused, eyeing the book for a moment before nodding, taking it from his extended hand and placing her own book in his open palm. He smiled again.

"Why are we trading books?" She asked, "That's what friends do."

His smile was replaced with a frown. "Don't ask stupid questions," He scolded her, causing her mouth to turn down in a frown that matched his, "Come on, we have to line up."

He turned and jogged toward the other students without another word, leaving her to trudge along after him and join her own class.

She wasn't sure whether to count that interaction as a success or a failure, but when she sat down at her desk inside and Goyle bumped into it so hard that borrowed book tumbled to the floor and he laughed, she figured it was more than likely a failure.

Next time, then. Tomorrow morning.

The next morning she convinced her parents to drop her off an hour earlier than normal, hoping that she could be at the bike racks first, but when they walked her to the front of the school and left, she could see Tom already sitting by the bikes waiting for her. He was reading her book.

"This is a good book," He told her, and she got the distinct feeling that he was somehow praising her, not just the book, as if the very fact that she had it made her somehow worthy in his eyes. "They don't teach this in lessons."

"Not even in year six?" She asked, feeling a bit dejected at the thought.

"No." He said, "They brush over it." He turned to his side to reach into his book bag and pull out a thick book and hand it to her, "Here's your book, do you have mine?"

She nodded quickly, reaching into her bag and pulling out his foreign book and handing it back to him so he could place it in his own bag. She looked over the cover of the worn book he had offered her, titled 'the man who mistook his wife for a hat' and she scowled at him.

"This sounds stupid," She told him, "Like a children's story."

"It's not," He replied, looking offended, "It's about a real man who couldn't tell the difference between his wife and a hat. It's stories about people with psychological disorders."

She hesitated, turning the book over in her hands once or twice before muttering, "I guess I'll read it."

"If you don't like it I can take it back," He told her irritably, reaching for it but—since she was standing-she was able to hold it up out of his reach.

"No!" She objected, "No. I want it." He smiled victoriously before turning back to her book in his hands. She waited for him to say something else but he didn't, just sat there and ignored her. "Is that it?" She asked.

"What did you expect?" He parried quickly, not looking up from the text. She frowned.

"I wanted to talk to you—"

"Why?" He asked, his face scrunching up into something caught between confusion and disgust as he regarded her from where he was sat upon the cement. She huffed, sinking to her knees beside him and laying her new book in her lap.

"Because we're friends now, right? You gave me collateral and now you gave me a book—"

"Why do you keep asking that?" He sneered, snapping his book shut—she counted that as a small victory—so he could pay attention to her fully. "What does it matter if we're friends?"

"You said yourself I don't have friends," She spat, "Maybe I want a friend!"

"I don't want to be your friend." He said simply. She was outrageously hurt, for a moment. Sure, he was still the scary boy from year 6 but he also liked her book and he gave her books in return, and he could speak different languages and he was smart and mature and—why didn't he want to be her friend? Even after she let him borrow her book? She felt furiously angry and furiously upset, so she bounded to her feet again to tower over him.

"Fine!" She snapped, "If you don't want to be my friend then maybe you should just fight me like I asked you to!"

He actually rolled his eyes at that, and all he said was, "You're crying again."

"Shut up!" She stomped her foot, "I'm not crying—"

"I won't let you keep your book if you try to fight me." He told her, looking up at her through his eyelashes in a way that told her he was truly enjoying her anger, enjoying seeing her get upset. Her lower lip trembled and she picked up the book he let her borrow.

"If you want to take it back you have to fight me!"

"How are you going to fight me while you're crying?" He asked.

"I'm not—"

"Hermione," He cut in, and it quieted her because she didn't think she had ever told him her name, "Sit down. No one is going to be afraid of you just because you threaten to fight everyone. You're puny."

He was right, really, and that was the only reason her anger didn't flare when he commented on her size. She sat beside him again, frowning, not crying anymore but feeling like she wanted to. "I didn't tell you my name." She mumbled.

"I heard your parents say it," He admitted, "When they dropped you off."

She was silent.

"Read your book," He told her, gesturing to the book in her lap, before turning back to his own reading. She followed his instructions sullenly, opening her book and reading beside him. The book was extraordinarily difficult to understand, but she didn't want to admit that to him, so she clung to the words she understood and promised herself she would read it later that night with a dictionary. But the book itself was interesting. She still thought it was a bit like children's stories, but at least they were interesting and true.

They read together for a while in silence. It wasn't until the students were starting to flood into the school—signaling that it was almost time for the first bell to ring—that he put his own book away and spoke to her. "Who is it?" He asked.

"Hm?" she responded, shutting her book because he had and picking up her backpack so that she wouldn't be late to class.

"The person you're trying to scare." He clarified.

"What do you care?" She muttered sullenly, "You're not my friend." She started to leave but he grabbed the top handle of her backpack to stop her, pulling her back and nearly making her fall over. He pulled her back until she stood net to him and he towered over her at her side. He was very intimidating this way.

"What's his name?" He pressed. She glowered up at him.

"His name is none-of-your-business, scary-boy." She spat, turning sharply so that his hand slipped from her pack. He glared at her.

"Why do you call me that?" He demanded.

"Because you're scary," She told him, "And you're a boy."

"That's uncreative," He told her, "And it's not even insulting. It borders on complimentary."

"Shut up!" She snapped, turning and marching up the steps without another word. Tom glared at her as she left, gritting his teeth before snatching up his knapsack and bounding up the stairs to his own classroom.

She didn't see him at recess that day, so she counted Mondays and Fridays (thus far) as days that she could see him on the playground. She was a bit disappointed, to be honest, that he wasn't there, but then she was also relieved. She thought that maybe she had enough to scary-Tom for one day.

They didn't necessarily agree to meet again the next morning, but they met nonetheless. Hermione's parents dropped her off and he was there waiting, so she took a seat beside him and he handed her back her book.

"I didn't bring you another," She told him, because she hadn't expected him to be done. He rolled his eyes.

"Of course you didn't," He scoffed, then reached into his book for another foreign-language book to read that instead.

"I'm not done with mine yet," She told him.

"Of course you're not." He muttered. She scowled.

"You are not very polite," She mumbled under her breath, opening her book—which she had reread last night with a dictionary in order to better understand it—and reading at his side. He didn't seem content to just read this time, however.

"Why won't you just tell me his name?" He asked her after a moment, "I can take care of him for you."

"I don't want you to." She told him. "I want to do it myself."

He scowled at her, "By fighting everyone?"

"Ron said—"

"Ron who?" He cut in.

"Ronald is my friend," She clarified, feeling a bit proud when his expression darkened, "And he told me that I have to stand up for myself or they'll never leave me alone."

"That's stupid advice." He told her, "Is that Ronald Weasley?"

She remained stubbornly silent.

"Weasley gets in fights every week. Do you want to start fighting someone every week?"

She still refused to speak.

"You have to make them afraid of you." He told her, "They would be afraid of you if they knew you had me—"

"But I don't," She argued, "You aren't my friend, you told me so yourself."

"No I didn't." He denied. "I said I didn't want to be your friend, I never said we weren't friends."

She threw her hands up, feeling like she was losing her mind, "That doesn't make sense, Tom!"

"Tell me who it is," He pressed, "And I can make it so that he never bothers you again—I can make him pay—"

"If anyone is going to be making Malfoy pay, it'll be me!" She argued.

"Malfoy?" He echoed, and her heart stuttered when she realized she said his name, "Draco Malfoy? That rich little twat?"

"Tom!" She scolded, raising her hand to wave her finger in the way her mother always did when her father swore, "You can't use that kind of language—"

He grabbed her hand, unfurling her fingers so he held them in his. The touch was a bit startling because he hadn't touched her before, she didn't think, except to grab her wrist when she tried to punch him. But holding hands was something friends did, and he didn't want to be her friend, so she wasn't sure why he was holding her hand.

"I'll make him regret it," He swore to her, "He won't bother you again—"

She snatched her hand back, and his expression immediately darkened when she did. "You leave Draco Malfoy alone!" She scolded.

"Why are you defending him?" He demanded.

"Oh, leave me alone, Tom!" She snapped, rising to her feet, "I will handle this myself!"

"Fine!" He snapped, rising to his feet as well, "Then give me my book!"

She hesitated. "What?"

"Give me my book back," He repeated evenly, holding out his palm for her to place the book in.

"I'm not done." She argued.

"I don't care," He hissed, "Give it back."

"No!" She refused, clutching the book to her chest and lifting her bag in order to run away. He chased after her, and he caught up to her when she ran around the side of the school, tackling her to the ground and wrestling the book from her grip. He was much bigger than her, so it was easy for him to take the book back. When he stood with his book in hand, she was already crying again.

"Oh, Tom, you're just a huge bully!" She cried, "Your parents must be ashamed of you!"

"I don't have parents," He snapped back, looking extremely pleased with the response. She thought that maybe she should feel sorry for him—he didn't have any parents, after all, and she wasn't sure what she would do if she didn't have her parents—but she was too angry at him and her elbows were bleeding because of him and how dare he try to make her feel sorry for him when he was being so mean?

"Well, no wonder you're so cruel and horrible!" She snapped back. He seemed surprised by how unaffected she was by his admission to being an orphan, and if she wasn't so angry she may have even taken the time to observe that he seemed pleased, "And you have no manners, and you have no friends, and you're a bully—it's a good thing you don't have parents because you would have disappointed them!"

He stared at her in silence. She wasn't sure what he was feeling but he didn't look angry. She stood and stomped her foot once as hard as she could and said, "Sod off, scary-Tom!" And marched away from him—actually, she ran away from him—and even though it was far too early she went to her classroom and waited outside the locked door for her teacher to arrive.

But before Mr. Snape arrived, Tom walked by and stopped in front of her. He didn't look at her but he did extend the book back to her in silence. She stared at it for a moment. "Take it." He told her.

She did, and he walked away without another word.

Draco Malfoy was a bit worse that day than usual, or maybe she was just more sensitive to it because she was already angry. She tried to ignore it as she always did, but she wasn't sure how long she would be able to ignore him when he was constant.

Part of her wanted to take Tom up on his offer to deal with him, but most of her wanted to handle it herself. She wanted to know that she could handle this herself.

Tom wasn't on the playground again, which meant she couldn't spend Wednesday recess with him either. That was fine, because she definitely didn't want to spend recess with him today, but it also mean that she had to deal with Draco Malfoy even more that day.

"You're it, Granger!" He told her after he had pushed her. She didn't fall to the ground this time, just stumbled and whipped around to glare murderously at him. He laughed, not taking off because he knew she wouldn't chase him.

"I'm not playing, Malfoy," She spat.

"Sure you are," He insisted, shrugging as if her words meant nothing. They probably did mean nothing to him. "I tagged you, that means you're it!"

"No, it doesn't!" She argued, "Because I'm not playing!"

He took a step forward and pushed her again by the shoulders. She nearly fell over but she just barely managed to catch herself. "You never play, Granger," He told her.

"Don't touch me," She snapped. He sneered at her, that ugly curl of his mouth that he got whenever he spoke to her, as if just being around her disgusted him, and he pushed her again, this time hard enough to send her to the ground.

He laughed at her, then, and that might have been what set her off. Because she was suddenly on her feet, punching him square in the nose.

The next few moments were a blur. She thinks she saw blood seeping through his fingers, a teacher took her by both arms and hauled her away as Draco was howling on the ground. She thinks she heard the teacher scolding her but she wasn't sure because she was just thinking about everything that may happen now. She had taken Ron's advice. She fought him.

They brought her to the principal's office and they lectured her for, like, an hour. They called her parents. She tried to tell them that Malfoy started it but she didn't have any bruises or scrapes that she could prove were from him so they all just kept telling her that she was in the wrong, and—

Her parents didn't take her to school early the next day no matter how much she begged. They dropped her off exactly five minutes before the bell would ring and she saw Tom sitting by the bikes, glowering angrily down at her book. She hurried toward him.

"I punched Draco Malfoy in the face and it made everything worse," She told him. His scowl lessened as he stared up at her from his place sitting on the ground. He stood, towering over her again.

He walked away and didn't say anything, which she really didn't think was fair because she was hoping he could give her better advice than Ron had, but apparently he didn't even care.

She was upset all day. Draco Malfoy glared at her with his bandaged, bruised and swollen nose. Goyle threw her water bottle across the classroom and said she did it which made Snape angry at her.

She didn't even try to find Tom at recess, assuming he had no interesting in being around her anyway. She had thought when he gave her that book back that it meant their fight was over, but then she supposed she must've been wrong. He had no interest in being her friend.

So she didn't sit anywhere at recess, because she thought that someone might seek her out and do something mean. She walked around the playground and around the grassy area and tried to think about other things, about the book Tom had lent her which she had almost finished, about the new book about Japanese history that her parents had gotten for her. She let her mind wander and just tried to avoid anyone who didn't like her—so, everyone.

She heard something on the other side of the metal fence that led to the small expanse of bushes and weeds. She thought it might be an animal or something, because it was a strange, high-pitched whimper that she wasn't certain could come from a kid. Still, she paused, looking through the fence at the tall greenery and wondering what it could be when she saw—was that a hole in the fence?

She hesitated, because surely she wasn't allowed through there, but then it was an excellent opportunity to avoid the other children. And she would still be able to hear the whistle when the children needed to line up.

She crawled through the hole.

And on the other side of the weeds she saw Tom pinning Draco Malfoy to the ground, pushing his face into the grass as he said something in the boy's ear. And in his hand was—was that—?

"Tom!" She gasped, and his head jerked to the side the he heard her voice, but he didn't look ashamed or shocked, he mostly just looked annoyed. "What are you doing is that—is that a knife?"

She rushed toward him and noticed that the high pitched noise she had heard before had actually been coming from Malfoy on the ground. Big, fat tears rolled down his cheeks and—she didn't want this. She hated Malfoy of course but she didn't want him to cry. "Get off!" She scolded, tugging on Tom's arm and feeling her anger spike when he rolled his eyes and followed her command, "What is wrong with you, you can't threaten him with a knife—you could go to jail or—"

Malfoy sprung to his feet, still hiccuping with sobs as he sputtered, "Wait until my—my father hears about—about this—"

Hermione was mildly shocked by how viciously protective she felt over Tom in that moment. The thought of all the trouble he could get in for this when Malfoy told his dad absolutely horrified her, made her wonder if he could go to juvenile prison or maybe be expelled—she didn't want to lose her friend, even if he didn't consider himself her friend anymore, she didn't want him to be taken away from her.

She grabbed Malfoy by his uniform tie and pulled him down so his eyes were level with hers. It wasn't difficult because he wasn't really that much taller than her. "You're not going to tell your father anything," She warned him, "Because I have a school directory and I know where you live, and if you say anything to your father then I can tell Tom where you live and send him to your house—how are you going to tell anyone when you're all—"

"Okay, okay!" He whimpered, pulling away from her grip on his tie. "I won't tell him I swear, just leave me alone—" She let him go and he stumbled back toward the fence, still crying. When he was gone she turned and angrily glared at Tom, who was grinning at her.

"I told you I wanted to handle it." She said.

"Yes," He agreed, "And then you asked for my help."

"No I didn't," She denied.

"This morning," He argued, "You said you made it worse, so I helped."

She marched up to him and wrenched his knife from his hands, "You call this helping?" She asked, holding the knife up between them. She noticed the blood that glistened on the blade. "Did you actually cut him?" She asked, horrified.

"Barely," He told her, "I could have done worse, it was just a scare tactic—"

she wiped the blade on her tights where they were hidden under her skirt so no one would see it before closing the switchblade and thrusting it back into his hands, "You're insane, Tom—"

"I was helping you," He insisted, "I scared him, now he'll leave you alone—"

"I don't want you to hurt anyone who hurts me!" She argued. "That isn't right!"

"Of course its right," He scoffed, "It solves your problem, therefore it's right." She gaped at him, feeling a bit horrified, and he took her hand in her silence. "Let's just go, before the teachers notice you're gone—" He started walking toward the fence but she pulled back on his hand, stomping her foot.

"No, Tom, I am angry with you!"

"I won't do it again." He promised her.

"That's a lie!" She objected.

"No, it isn't." He swore.

"Yes, it is!" She insisted, stomping her foot again.

"I won't need to do it again," He told her, "Malfoy will be terrified of you and I, so he'll leave us alone, and by extension the others will, too. He doesn't need to tell anyone anything for them to notice that he's afraid."

She was sullenly silent.

"Did you bring me a new book?" He asked suddenly. She was a bit surprised by the question, especially surprised by the gentle squeeze of her hand, as if he was desperately trying to appease her. She bit her lip and shook her head because she hadn't. "That's ok," He told her, "You can bring it tomorrow."

"You can get in very big trouble for having a knife, Tom, let alone using it on a student." She said quietly.

"Not if no one finds out," He told her, and the way he said it told her that he must've used it quite often before and not been caught, "Are you going to tell?" She shook her head, because of course she wouldn't, "Exactly." He said, "Because we're friends."

She paused. "Well," She said slowly, "Friends listen to their friends."

"Yes." He agreed.

"So I want you to listen to me when I say," She helps his hand as tight as she could, "Don't do that ever again." He frowned. "I mean it," She pressed, "I don't like it. It makes me upset."

That seemed to win him over, because his frown evened out into a straight line and he nodded solemnly, tugging on her hand again and nodding his head in the direction of the fence. She went with him, and he helped her through the small hole in the fence.

When back in her classroom, she noticed Malfoy avoided her gaze at all costs. And when Goyle bumped into her desk and knocked her water bottle to the ground Malfoy hissed a horrified, "Goyle," and the boy hesitated before leaning down and setting her water bottle back on her desk.

She hid a smile.

The next day was Friday. That meant recess with Harry and Ron and Tom, and it also marked the first day Malfoy had not done a single thing to antagonize her all day. She was practically dancing with joy when she met with Harry and Ron on the playground.

"What's got you so happy?" Harry asked as Ron stared at her in obvious confusion.

"Malfoy is finally leaving me alone!" She chirped happily, watching him play with the other kids and stay far away from her.

"I heard you punched him in the face," Ron said, "That was wicked."

She scowled for a moment, "Yeah," She agreed, and was ready to tell them that the punch was not, in fact, what had swayed Malfoy away from her but she realized that if she said that she would need to explain why he had let her alone, so she kept her mouth shut. Instead, after a brief moment, she looked around the playground and said, "Do you want to meet my new friend?"

They were both pretty quiet for a moment. "New friend?" Harry echoed.

"Yes," She smiled, "He's in year six, his name is Tom—he's kind of scary but he's pretty nice when you get to know him—"

"Tom?" Ron echoed, "Tom who?"

She hesitated. She had never learned his last name. "I don't know," She admitted, "He's tall, and he has dark hair, and he's kind of scary, but—"

"Is it Tom Riddle?" Harry asked. Hermione shrugged, because she honestly had no idea. Harry grimaced, "Um…Hermione—"

"Tom Riddle is fuckin' mad, he is!" Ron interjected, "He goes to that orphanage that Billy Stubbs was at before he got adopted—that bloody psycho killed his rabbit, you know—?"

Hermione frowned, "Have you ever spoken to Tom?" She asked, a bit snootily. They were both quiet.

"No," Harry admitted.

"Well then you don't really have any right to judge," She lectured, but she made a mental note to ask Tom about the rabbit later. "You should meet him. He's my friend, now."

They both hesitated. Harry was the first to speak, "Alright," He acquiesced. Hermione beamed, taking them both by the hand and walking toward that grassy part of the playground. Tom sat under the tree again and when he caught sight of her with harry and Ron in tow, he scowled.

"Tom," She greeted with a wide smile, "These are my friends—"

"Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley," He cut her off. "I know of them."

The three boys sort of all glared at each other for a moment, the air tense. Hermione dropped her friends' hands and plopped down next to Tom, and in attempt to ease the tension she said, "I brought you a book!"

It worked momentarily, because Tom turned from her friends to look down at her. "Yeah?"

She nodded, "I can give it to you after school." He nodded, too, before turning a screwed eye back on the boys who were still standing. Hermione rolled her eyes.

"Did you kill Billy Stubbs rabbit?" She suddenly asked, and all three heads snapped to face her. She shrugged innocently, "That's why they're hesitant." She explained. Tom raised an eyebrow. "So, did you kill it?"

"No," He said blankly.

Something in the way he observed her when he said it set her on edge, like he was probably lying to her, but for the sake of peace between her friends, she said, "See? He didn't do it."

Harry tentatively sat down, and Ron followed suit. Tom watched her with a strange expression on his face in silence, and then finally seemed to relax. He picked up her hand where it rested in her lap so he could hold it in his, and the way he stared Ron down while he did it told her that he was purely doing it to annoy the suspicious red-head who still stared at the older boy as if he was the devil incarnate.

Hermione let him hold her hand, because she liked the feeling when he did.

They decided to play hide and seek, in the end, with a few other children they gathered who wanted to play. She could tell Tom didn't want to play it, and if she was honest, she really didn't either. So when he took her by the hand and led her to the hole in the fence at the back of the playground, she let him lead her through it, and they sat there, hidden among the weeds until the teachers called for the students to line up.

"Where the bloody hell were you two hidden?" Ron asked when she passed him to line up. She didn't answer, just grinned, and he rolled his eyes as he went to his own line.

Malfoy still didn't bother her for the rest of the day, and she gave Tom his book after school. He said he would see her Monday when her parents arrived.

She found herself excited for Monday, for once.


I should be updating allure but my mind isn't working on this next chapter so ill get it out as soon as my brain starts working again idk

Let me know what you think of this! This won't be long, I have three installments in mind. This one, one where they're in secondary school, and one where they're in university. Basically best friends falling in love but also to is still fucking weird. I'm sorry I always make Tom really fucked up but I mean I'm not really sorry but even my 10 year old Tom is killing rabbits and pulling knives on those who wrong his precious bb angel hermione

ANYWAY let me know what you think! I love love love to receive your feedback and if you guys are interested I'll post some more? ? ? ? idk? let me know? ?