Hermione halted before the door to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. Aside from her dread of Professor Snape during her earlier years, she'd never been quite so unsure about setting foot inside a class before, but now . . . . Knowing Professor Kincaid would be standing at the head of the room, watching the students as they filed in, or even with his back to the room as he prepared the lesson. Oddly, that was just as nerve-rattling a thought, as it would only remind her of the flush-inducing breadth of his shoulders.
Oh, this was ridiculous! She'd tried to push last night's feast out of her mind, when she couldn't escape those strangely familiar blue eyes of his. Ginny's reasoning had almost set her mind at ease over finding his attention on her so often last night, but the conversation that had taken place in the girl's dormitory afterward kept playing through her head.
"I can't shake this odd impression, like I know him from somewhere," she said, swallowing a yawn as she climbed into bed.
The ginger-haired witch nodded. The returning so-called eighth years were so few, they'd been lumped into the seventh years residences, for the first time giving Hermione a dorm-mate with whom she truly felt comfortable.
"Now that you mention it, I sort of feel the same way." Ginny tapped her finger against her chin. "He does look familiar . . . . Maybe he's been featured in Wizard Weekly or something. He's got the looks for a magazine cover!"
Hermione laughed in spite of herself, feeling a blush in her cheeks. "All right, this is silly, now. We need to get some sleep."
Shaking her head with a snicker, Ginny spoke as she lay down and pulled up her covers. "Yes, Ma'am."
As Hermione rested her head against her pillow and closed her eyes, she tried to let something so frivolous make sense. After all, they knew nothing of the new professor's life before—or perhaps simply outside of—his profession. Maybe she had simply glimpsed a photograph of him somewhere.
Though she wasn't one to bother with looking at silly magazines—or to fuss over the models featured therein—she let Ginny's explanation make sense. If she didn't, she'd never be able to put out of her mind the way her cheeks had warmed, or how she'd become so acutely aware of the beat of her pulse against her skin, when she'd met his gaze.
But all that effort seemed wasted as she stood there staring at the open door.
Oh, Hermione, you really are being ridiculous! Giving herself a shake, she started toward the entryway . . . . Only to be barreled over by a too-tall fourth year rushing toward his own class.
She hit the floor hard, scraping her knee against the stone. Wincing, she looked toward the running student. "Oy!"
"Sorry," the young man hollered over his shoulder as he kept going.
Her frame drooping, she pushed up to stand. The movement delicate, she dusted herself off, avoiding the knee that she could feel was bleeding beneath her robe.
Bloody hell. She'd survived a war, she was not about to miss a class to hide out in the school hospital over a skinned knee. Damn, and just when it seemed like she'd been handed a perfect excuse to avoid walking in there . . . .
She tried to hide a slight limp, her leg throbbing a bit, as she finally stepped through the door.
As she entered, she found most everyone else already in their seats. Professor Kincaid had his head down, his gaze on some scrolls open before him upon the teacher's desk. Just as she relaxed, however, he glanced up.
Feeling frozen where she stood, Hermione forced a gulp down her throat. He flashed a quick, but utterly dazzling grin, and then returned his attention to the scrolls before him.
Nearly jumping out of her skin, she pivoted to look toward the voice. Pansy was waving her toward the empty seat beside her.
Nodding, Hermione forced a smile unto her lips. "Right, friends and all that," she said under her breath.
As she took the offered seat, she realized it was a mistake. Not because this was Pansy Parkinson, or anything to do with their long-standing rivalry prior to the War's end. Oh, if only.
It was because the first thing Pansy did was lean over and start cooing in her ear about how delicious the professor was. Wincing, Hermione could only nod. There was no denying it, even if she didn't want to think on the matter . . . especially with the man in question only meters away from them.
She wasn't certain how she managed, but she avoided looking directly at him the entirety of the class. She focused on the board, and the lesson, perhaps more than she'd ever focused on a single lesson in her life. Of course, she ignored the issue of how nice his voice was.
Dear Lord, where the hell had this man with his perfect hair, gorgeous eyes, and velvety voice come from? She'd imagine nowhere good.
As the class was dismissed, she heard words the lodged her heart in her throat.
"Miss Granger, stay behind a few moments, would you?"
Swallowing hard, she felt her eyes shoot wide. She refrained from glancing at Pansy, as she could already picture the wicked grin that curved the other witch's lips.
Forcing herself to meet Professor Kincaid's expectant gaze, she nodded. "Certainly, Professor."
Sooner than seemed possible, all the fuss and rustle of the other student packing away their things and rushing for the door died away. Hermione found herself alone with him and she had nothing else to fix her attention on.
It was with a strange mix of dread and unfortunate giddiness that she watched as him as he locked his gaze on hers. Watched while he stood and rounded his desk, his eyes on hers the entire time as he crossed the classroom.
With every step he took toward her, Hermione could swear she felt more warmth rush to her face. Bollocks. There was no way there wasn't an evident blush in her cheeks by the time he drew to a stop directly in front of her.
She tried to speak—to ask why he requested her to stay behind—but the words got stuck in her throat. He tipped his head to one side as he held her gaze, and she didn't know if it was out of curiosity about what she was trying to say, or amusement at her flustered state.
"I wanted to speak with you about a special project, Miss Granger." Regardless of what he actually felt in that moment, he kept his expression neutral as he folded his arms across his chest and leaned his hip against her desk.
She tried not to think anything on his lazy and relaxed demeanor around her at the moment—as though she was already someone around whom he felt comfortable. He could simply be someone who was carefree that way.
Hermione managed to force out a simple, "Oh?" that didn't sound too terribly shaky. Good girl!
Tom nodded. "Yes, I understand you've quite a . . . storied war record, shall we say?"
Ah, yes. Ginny was right, after all. He'd clearly read of her exploits when preparing to come here from Durmstrang. "Yes, I suppose you could say that, Sir." She ignored a little thrill that rippled through her at the way one of his eyebrows flicked upward for a split-second as she'd said the word sir.
He nodded. "As it turns out, I may be in need of an assistant. Should that become the case, I was considering that you might be an ideal fit for such a task. However, I would need to know what you're truly capable of, Miss Granger."
She furrowed her brow. "Meaning what, exactly?"
The professor grinned. "I would like a paper from you, detailing the your efforts last year."
He let out a soft little chuckle at that and she pretended she didn't feel as though the breathy sound tickled along her skin. "Not every moment of every day, Miss Granger. I'm asking for an account of the magics employed by, and against, you. I'd like to familiarize myself with your grasp on the mechanics of Dark Magic and the ways which one can defend themselves against it."
Her posture relaxed a bit. That seemed a perfectly logical request from the DADA professor. "Then I suppose you're not interested in how I liberated the dragon at Gringott's and flew away on its back?"
His shoulder shook in a silent laugh. "So that's true, too? You really have had some adventures."
"When, um, when would this assignment be due, Sir?" This time, she had to ignore the way a corner of his mouth twitched, like he was trying to hold back a smirk.
"Depends on how long you think you'll need, of course. This isn't exactly a class assignment, after all. And, again, it is only if you want to be my assistant."
The words were tumbling from Hermione lips before she could stop them. "Oh, I think being a teacher's assistant could be quite gratifying."
A full-blown, devastatingly charming grin spread across his lips at how eager she sounded. There was an appeal to the spark of excitement in her chestnut eyes. "And as for how long you think this assignment might take?"
"Oh, not more than a few days, so perhaps I could have it to you next week?"
Tom nodded, taking a deep breath. "Yes, I think that should do nicely. Good day, Miss Granger."
With a nod of her own in response, she stood from her seat . . . . Only to wince and brace her palm against the desk. She'd forgotten entirely about her skinned knee until she had to move her leg again. Now the throbbing sting reminded her of her spill just outside the classroom door.
A troubled expression flickered across his features at her obvious distress. "Miss Granger, are you all right?"
Letting out a hissing breath, she shook her head. Sitting right back down, she spoke as she pulled up the hem of her school robes—she'd not even gotten a look at the injury, herself, yet. "I had a run-in with another student on my way to class."
"Looks a bit more like you had a run-in with the floor," he said, pushing away from the desk, finally.
"Well, yes, I suppose . . . ." The witch's voice trailed off as Tom lowered himself to his knees before her.
He tipped his head side to side as he looked at her bloodied leg. With delicate fingertips, he traced the edge of the rather nasty scrape, seemingly unaware of the shivering breath she let out at his touch.
Before she realized what he was doing, Professor Kincaid slid his hand around the back of her knee and leaned close. He pressed his lips to the wound, the contact lasting a few heart-rattling seconds.
When he pulled back to look up at her, those blue eyes of his widened in surprise at the look of shock on her face.
"You've . . . ." She didn't know how, but she managed to get the words out. "You've got some of my blood on your lip." Hermione wasn't sure why, but she didn't think twice about lifting her hand to wipe the blood from his mouth with the tips of her fingers.
She pretended she wasn't acutely aware of the way he watched her face as she brushed away the crimson.
"Why do you seem surprised?" he asked when her hand fell away. "I was given to understand the kissing of injuries was a common Muggle custom."
"It is." She nodded, swallowing hard. "But, um, that's usually something adults do to comfort children."
His brows shot up in a mildly embarrassed look. "I see." He finally did smirk, then, nodding as his attention dropped to her mouth for the quickest moment—so fast she almost thought she'd imagined it—as he said, "Well, that's certainly a misconception I wouldn't want to exist between us."
As she grappled with his meaning, he climbed to his feet. Slipping a hand around hers, he pulled her to stand and then nodded toward the door. "I do believe I've kept you long enough, Miss Granger. Good day."
She tried to marshal her thoughts, telling herself he couldn't have meant what it sounded like he did. "Good day, Professor Kincaid."
Hermione had to force herself to pull her hand from his. As she turned from him and walked out of the room, she was certain she felt the man watching her the entire way.
No matter how she thought on it as she made her way to Gryffindor Tower, there was only one thing he could possibly have meant by those words.
He didn't consider his other students adults, yet, but he didn't include her in that thinking. He didn't see her as a child . . . .
And he was making sure she knew that.