Basketcase

By attica

Where: Hermione is finical and So Deathly Frustrating! Draco plays guitar! There's mistletoe! Owls fall in love (for real)! Hogwarts has a newspaper! Dumbledore is a matchmaking sly old fox! Girls cry! Boys fight! There's snogging! There's hexing and snowball fights! And, most importantly, Draco and Hermione fall in love. Sort of.

Disclaimer: All the nonliving and living contents of Hogwarts and the wizarding world all belong to the brilliant J.K. Rowling. And the title of this fic, 'Basketcase,' is a song from the infamous band Green Day, which of whom I am not in any way associated with. (However, the plot of this fic will not follow the lyrics and/or song.)

oooo

For Joanne, who is more awesome than she'll admit.

(Entire fic Re-edited 6/06)

oooo

Bad Day Banshee

Everyone has their own sad little quirks. That being said, from the start of this year, Hermione Granger had taken to getting up in the morning and walking over to her window, pushing aside the obscuring crimson curtains. She didn't know exactly how it began (for how do things truly being in the first place?), or where she had gotten the nonsensical habit from (then again, her parents were dentists, so – pssh), but there was always a bizarre urge to see what the weather was like, where she then dubbed it as the forecast for the day. It was silly, supremely silly for a girl of her mindset, but it was only one of her own harmless quirks and she needn't tell anyone why she did it, so it was really not a problem at all.

Now, living in the real world, there were a countless number of days when heavy storm clouds hovered overhead in the gloomy sky, and she thought of it as a day when nothing special occurred; just a normal day. How could one define a "normal day"? Like this: It would just be one of those days when cheerfulness would be at the stationary level, Malfoy's taunts and rude remarks at their usual biting tone, and the classes uneventful. And most of the time – surprisingly – she was right.

Though she wouldn't let it get to her head as anything special, she came to rely on her foretelling of the days just from a long peek outside her window. But not once had she mentioned such a thing to Harry, Ron, or even Ginny for she could make a sure bet on her life that they would only laugh at her – because, hey, and she wasn't denying it: it was a sad thing to do every day. And after already being labeled as Hogwarts' top bookworm (which was ill-meant more than it wasn't), and an uptight goody two shoes that would grow up to be the spitting image of Professor McGonagall, she didn't think she could stand another name. Or, considering the cruelty of some of her peers, she knew they would even start comparing her to loony Sibyll Trelawney, their odd Divinations professor — that was Hermione's greatest fear that she was afraid would arise if such a thing got out. Sooner or later, she figured, they might as well be asking her how many kids they will have in the future, or if some rich wizard will wed them, to which Hermione would then respond with by spitting in their drink.

But aside all of the possible consequences, being it the real world, there were stunning mornings as well as bad ones, and today was a stunning morning, despite the customary gloom. There was a light snowfall softly raining from the pale overcast sky, and below there were several inches of almost blindingly white snow blanketing the damp ground.

During the summer she had received an owl notifying her that she been appointed Head Girl, therefore being handed a number of responsibilities (and a really cool badge) in addition to her usual studies and schoolwork, not to mention her daily visits to the library. During the first couple of weeks it had been rather hectic and she was almost so close to losing her cool, what with the meetings, activities, planning, studying, and so forth. And though she had been utterly thrilled to be Head Girl, she had only realized what hard work it would be, for at the first meeting on the first day of their return from summer holiday, Dumbledore had announced all sorts of things to them, saying that there would be more dances and fun activities added into the past traditions. And that whole lot and more, of course, had to be planned by the Heads and prefects.

Hermione knew how much Dumbledore and the professors counted on them, so she got sort of maniacal and tried her best to do just as they expected and worked even harder to go beyond. This, of course, took more planning and even more work, and that earned her more than a few scornful looks and death threats from the prefects who had to work with her plans and even had to cancel their own plans on occasion. Oh, and not to forget, her insane determination had also earned more than enough foul and rude comments from the Head Boy, which, surprisingly and not-so-surprisingly at the same time, was the one and only Draco Malfoy, prince of all Pricks (the reigning king was his father, Lucius, but she was sure once he was dead the crown would pass on to him), for which reason she didn't think she could live if there were more than one of him.

One is more than enough, she exasperatedly thought.

It was no lie that the Slytherin, who was not even the least bit amiable when asked, disliked her and her friends a frighteningly vast amount and the whole Gryffindor House along with them. He had spent most of his time here to insult and bark at them, sending a few hexes every now and then when he was feeling special, and to make her feel like the lowest human being in the world. However, though she hated to admit it and would never to anyone's living face, he had succeeded a fair amount of times, but she had also retaliated (which she was sometimes proud of or ashamed, depending on her current moral standing) and wished that he were dead more than a handful amount of times.

Hermione shook her head at her thoughts. That wasn't very nice, she said to herself, mentally. But of course, he deserved more than he got, so she thought that she should be excused for her actions. She called it self-defense. Or uncontrollable – but deserved – acts of aggravation.

But there were times when she would look at him and couldn't help but wonder and ask herself why. She knew his father was nothing less of a bastard, but she didn't know why Draco himself seemed to be living up to the image of his father. She couldn't read minds (although sometimes she wished to) thus she never knew why Draco acted so cruelly to her and Ron, and most especially Harry. But she knew there had to be a reason — there was always a reason. And so, in her curiosity and intrigue, she had analyzed his behavior and replayed the past scenarios in her mind, trying to come up with a conclusion for his certain reason for acting such a git.

Surprisingly, she came up with quite a number. One was that he probably had a bad childhood, which was not so out of the question when his father was Lucius Malfoy, but Hermione got the feeling that there was more than that to the whole picture. She couldn't picture Lucius abusing Draco in anyway, though one would think so right away. After all, Lucius was classy and though he was a Death Eater, if he did abuse Draco, it would not be something daily or of usual manner. Maybe Draco had been hexed or cursed a few times by his father, and knowing that would be surprising, but then maybe she would suddenly understand Draco at least a bit, and then maybe her heart would also soften for him….

A picture of Draco being hexed by his father flashed in her mind, and Hermione, unknowingly, cringed.

Even the foulest human being on earth didn't deserve that sort of treatment.

'Even Malfoy?' a voice inside her head squeaked.

Hermione sighed again, looking out the window and at the snow. 'Yes, regrettably,' she wearily told herself, although there was a small voice in her head that begged to differ.

Thinking of Draco Malfoy was hard on her mind and she knew trying to understand him was going to be even harder… but she had hoped this year – since he was Head Boy – that they'd come to some sort of agreement. She didn't expect anything near a friendship (Oh Merlin, who would ever?) for she was afraid that even if she did expect something as extravagant as that she'd keel over dead with disappointment, but at least something to a term where they acted at least civil towards each other, not shouting insults or fighting their rage to hex the other.

Needless to say, even her hopes had been too great.

oooo

Hermione entered through the vast oak doors, feeling nonchalantly content. She had a great deal of things to be content about, after all. She was having a good hair day, and she could expect a good load of coursework from her professors today (it was a sad thing to get happy about, undoubtedly, but again, Hermione didn't dwell on all of the sad things in her life). She looked around, spotting Harry and Ron at the Gryffindor table, and started walking towards them. She sat down in her usual seat between Harry and Ron with Ginny beaming at her in the seat across from hers.

"Morning, Hermione," Ginny greeted. "I take it you had a good night?" Harry flashed her a smile, and Ron predictably greeted her with his usual mouthful of egg.

"Yeah," Hermione replied, reached over for an apple. Her goblet filled itself with pumpkin juice as she looked up at Ginny. "How about you? Didn't stay up too late with Seamus, did you?" Hermione grinned at the young Weasley as the faint hint of a blush stole across her cheeks.

"No," she said. "We just did the studying bit and talked. Besides," Ginny shot her brother a look. "Ronald was there. It wasn't as if we could do anything before he would drag Seamus away from me."

Ron snorted at this, hearing her comment, and Hermione laughed.

"Ginny, I told you I needed answers for our Potions assignment, and Dean was also in the common room, and God knows he's cleaned his act up and at least pays attention every now and then."

"Whereas," Hermione said to Ron, cutting in and giving him a look, "you don't."

Ron rolled his eyes. "In other matters: Hermione, where were you last night? Not in the library, I hope," he dryly remarked. "Of course, it wouldn't be such a surprise if you were. I swear, sometimes I think you would marry the place if you could."

Hermione glared at him, swallowing as the juicy bits of apple slid down her throat. "I," she said sternly, "was spent last night, so I went to bed early. I told Harry," she said, biting into her apple again. "But I guess he'd have informed you very politely if you'd have asked, which you didn't, because you assumed right away."

Ron sighed. "Bed, library, same difference," he said.

"Hermione," Harry suddenly cut in. "Last night, after you went to bed, Dumbledore was looking for you."

Hermione's brow, as if on automatic, furrowed. "He was?" she asked, trying to remember if she had missed a meeting. She frantically searched her mind, trying to recall if there had been a scheduled meeting or if he had asked to talk with her after her classes. "Are you sure?"

"Well, he came to me, asking for you. I told him that you had already gone up to bed, so he just bid me goodnight and told me that he would just speak with you today."

"Did he say what exactly he had to talk to me about?" she asked, concerned.

Harry shook his head.

Hermione sighed again, biting her lip. 'What if it was important?' she asked herself in worry, slightly panicking. 'What if it was something really important, and he needed me to do something? And I was in bed, sleeping!' Hermione mentally smacked herself on the forehead. But, surely, if it were of significant importance, he would have sent Malfoy in to wake her up. Surely. And Malfoy, being Head Boy and obligated to certain duties, though begrudgingly, had to do it. Hermione felt slightly better at this. She silently let out another breath of air, shaking her head to clear her anxieties. She then absentmindedly bit into her apple, staring into space; unaware of the looks Harry and Ginny were sending her.

She didn't understand why she suddenly became paranoid about her duties. She distantly thought about the last few days and her slight panic attacks, unfocusedly gazing at the glare of her porcelain plate was sending out from the Great Hall's light. 'Maybe Malfoy was right,' she dazedly thought. ' Maybe being Head Girl is finally going to finish me off and send me off to St. Mungo's. By the end of this year, I wouldn't be surprised if I've finally cracked and gotten myself sent off to the loony bin. Of course, no one else would be so surprised, either.'

Hermione frowned at this, biting into her apple again, chewing slowly.

Harry ended her endless stupor by shaking her, announcing that the meal was now over and pointed out that everyone was now filing out of the Great Hall. Hermione thanked Harry, feeling her face heat up from embarrassment, before she stood up and grabbed her book bag. Ginny was talking with her as they were walking in the corridor before Hermione remembered that she had clumsily left her Transfiguration book on the table. She halted and Ginny, suddenly noticing that she was walking alone, turned to look at her, curious as to why she'd suddenly stopped.

"I forgot my Transfiguration book!" she called out to her, as some passerby sent her curious looks.

"All right then. I'm going to go head on. I'll see you later!" the young Weasley yelled over the chatter. Hermione nodded and then turned, but let out a surprised shriek as she crashed into something solid, her face colliding with something warm for a quick second. She fell back, landing on the hard marble floor. Hermione's eyes were shut tightly as she felt agonizing, tinny shoots of pain rocketing up her body.

"Ow," she groaned aloud. Falling down on the exceptionally hard ground was not one of her talents. "Bloody floor," she grumbled, rubbing her bum. She then suddenly heard snickering and her eyes flew open to reveal a tall figure standing over her.

She felt ominous despair to see none other than Draco Malfoy positioned before her, looking down on her like a supercilious giant, for immediately her mind warned her that this could not end well. She was even more alarmed to see that he was alone. . . . She looked around, bewildered, curious to why it had quieted so suddenly.

She moaned inwardly in dreadful, unfortunate luck. She was going to be late. Everyone had already gone to their classes.

"What is your problem?" she snapped, staring up at him with distaste. He had an amused expression on his face, smirking down at her in all his pure-blood superiority. She could swear that expression had been plastered onto his face the moment he had left his mother's womb. Sometimes at random moments of recklessness and awe she even wondered whether he had any other expressions, but no, he had a fairly limited selection for his git face. That much was obvious.

"Aw, Granger," he tsked. "On the floor? Always knew you were meant for scrubbing the filth off of it. Thinking of considering the job? I rather think you were meant for it," he drawled. "You're well-equipped, and you've experience. Why not? Hogwarts is always in need of more janitorial staff."

Hermione scowled at him, her eyes flashing. She had clear view of a place that she could kick and send him into priceless agony. All she had to do, quite simply, was kick. Her foot twitched. "Malfoy, I don't have time for your insults, today, okay? As you can see," she motioned around the empty corridor, "we are late and therefore we will have points deducted from our Houses, and if McGonagall is feeling extra special, she'll give us detention."

Draco snorted, rolling his eyes. "Get up, Granger. As much as I like seeing you on the floor, considering the saying 'filth belongs with filth,' I don't want you staring up at me like that."

Hermione shot him a dangerous look, but did just as he said. She quickly stood, dusting off her robes, giving him a defiant look of daggers. But oddly, as her head spun from the fact that she had stood up far too quickly in an attempt to crush his superiority under her heel, in all of her annoyance, it was only now that she noticed how tall he had grown. With the dizzy diameter of her brain whirling around and trying to mentally steady herself, she realized that she had never noticed his height before, which was certainly strange since she had had her share of her encounters with him since September.

'Has he always been this tall?' she wondered to herself, drifting away from the current situation. 'He's taller than both Harry and Ron….'

"Merlin, stop daydreaming about me and listen. That's disgusting. As if I'd ever give you the time of day," she heard him spit out impatiently. She glowered at him, cursing at Malfoy and their unlucky circumstance.

"I was not daydreaming about you," she hissed, revolted just by the thought. She wanted to gag. "Malfoy, though you insist on trying to convince yourself that every member of the female population in the school is bloody in love with you, I suggest you take a trip back to reality and shrink your ego."

Draco sneered. "Granger, I don't entertain the thought of dirty-bloods, most especially you, in love with me. Of course, it's flattering and I see why, but I only consider pure-bloods. I'd never disgrace myself by allowing a Mudblood in the line," he stated smugly.

Hermione's deep brown eyes glittered maliciously as she gripped her wand tightly in the pocket of her robe. "I'd never be dim-witted or blind or deaf or mentally-impaired enough to fall in love with you, you evil, despicable, rude, loathsome, horrid excuse of a wizard," she hissed between clenched teeth.

Well done, Hermione Granger. Well done.

Draco's eyes darkened noticeably, his silver orbs now turning into a dark, steely gray. He appeared to have taken great offense from her words from her questioning his worth as a wizard. Of course, being that he didn't give a cat's nose about her, he didn't care about the latter. But when one began to insult a man's worth as a wizard… well, that was when trouble started brewing. Big trouble. Like, slap-her-and-tell-her-off kind of trouble, but Draco made it a point not to hit girls (though he didn't really consider Granger as one) because he just wasn't like that, on contrary to popular belief. "That's amusing, Mudblood. But before spitting out insults to me, I suggest you first look in the mirror," he snarled.

Hermione was taken aback, his words full of vindictive venom. Her eyes narrowed thinner and blazed brighter.

Hermione suddenly noticed how close he was now, his face barely an inch from hers. She could feel heat starting to emanate from her body, her anger bubbling and her muscles tensing alongside her bones. Her jaw was clenched tightly and she could feel her nails digging into the skin of her palm, prepared to suddenly draw out her wand if he was to try anything. 'Bring it on, Draco Malfoy,' she thought to herself, seething. 'I'll hex your face off, ferret.' Because, seriously. Bring it.

Just then, in the middle of their glaring contest, trying to see who would intimidate whom and back down, and who could more certainly bring it more than the other, tension crackling between them like electric currents, they heard footsteps and a voice that caused the raging blood pounding through Hermione's veins to suddenly freeze over. And the words "Bring" and "it" ceased to matter.

"Mister Malfoy? Miss Granger? Might I ask what you're doing out here in the hall when the rest of your peers are in class?"

Her eyes widened as she realized who it was who had caught them, recognizing the voice. She instantly broke off her gaze with Draco as she looked behind him and flinched noticeably. Draco raised one pale brow at her, smirking, knowing just how much she hated to taint her perfect reputation.

They heard the footsteps get louder, nearing them, until a powder blue-robed Dumbledore was soon before them, curiously looking at the two. Draco put the usual impassive look on his face, appearing as if he was deathly bored and had done no wrong. It was his best defense, after all. His face.

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow at the sight of both of them alone, in a corridor, where the concept alone seemed terribly suspicious and odd. And as his eyes took in the scene before him, he realized that if he had not come along, the hall would've been bathed in flames and rubble if their wands even had the start to spew out hexes and curses. But he then noticed the close proximity of their bodies, and sent them a look of intrigue, one white brow hitching upwards. Hermione and Draco seemed to notice this and took a big step back at the same time.

Draco cleared his throat.

"I was only notifying her of our meeting after our classes today, Professor," Draco drawled.

Hermione's eyes widened at him, and then narrowed into slits. 'He was attacking me with insults!' she wanted to scream. 'Send him away in a small wooden crate and throw him in the ocean! Make him die and rot there until someone finds him drifting ashore across the world!'

However, she decided to play along. She didn't want to ruin everything when Dumbledore seemed entirely convinced.

"Very well, then," Dumbledore said. Their headmaster looked at Hermione through his half-moon glasses, sending her a knowing look that made her look down to her feet in shame. "You are both late to your classes, but no matter, since it is of Head business. Inform your professor of your reason, and you should be excused of any point deduction or detention. However, Mister Malfoy, might I suggest that if you have to inform Miss Granger of anything in the future, to do it before or immediately after class. Another tardy like this… it seems sort of suspicious if it happens more than once, doesn't it?"

Hermione blushed a furious red and lowered her eyes, wanting to cower away in the darkest corner of the castle and do some sort of voodoo trick on her Slytherin adversary. Maybe amputate him or something. Something horrible and mean.

Very, very horrible and mean.

Draco shot the headmaster a secretive glare, obvious disgust in his eyes.

"Mister Malfoy." Draco wiped the look off of his face the instant Dumbledore turned to him, though his lip still twitched uncomfortably in an unmistakable sneer. "Head to your class, and Miss Granger will be there shortly." Draco simply nodded and brushed past Hermione, but not before she caught the look he shot her. Hermione inwardly swore at him, wanting to grab a nearby torch and throw it at his head.

"Now, Miss Granger," Dumbledore said, turning to her. "I saw that this book was left in the Great Hall after the meal, and I looked over it to see that it was yours. I was aware that you needed this book for your class, so I decided to return it to you."

Hermione raised her eyes and saw that Dumbledore was handing her the Transfiguration book that she had left behind. She took it from him, giving him a polite smile. "Thank you, Professor," she said weakly, still clearly quite embarrassed. "I apologize for… my tardiness, and I assure you that it won't happen again."

Dumbledore smiled merrily. "I have no doubt, Miss Granger. You are clearly very hardworking and an exemplary student here at Hogwarts. I don't think one simple tardy will change any of that, by far. Now, head on to your class. Do as I told Mister Malfoy, and your professor will excuse you from any unfair punishment."

Hermione nodded, and bid him good day before turning and heading down the corridor.

She closed her eyes tightly, cursing at Malfoy for his ego and insufferable behavior. Of course, there was another squeaky thought that told her that he had saved them from possible punishment of serving detention – together – and though that might have been somewhat true, she wasn't going to permit him the gratitude. He had saved them by lying. That didn't serve much credibility. Besides, he was still a git and she could have totally brought it had Dumbledore not come along. So, really, the thanks should go to Dumbledore, who had interfered before Hermione could have melted Draco Malfoy's face off with her super powers – er, wand.

"Making me late to class… I'll show him," Hermione grumbled under her breath, hitching up her book bag. Not to mention her bum still ached.

Hermione entered the classroom and got even angrier at the gasps of surprise for her "late" entrance. Quite clearly, everybody lived for drama. Even McGonagall's brows had hiked up underneath her hat as she came in, but Hermione explained and she simply nodded, excusing her to her seat. She took a seat next to Harry and Ron who were both giving her curious looks that she ignored, due to her mood. She looked like a banshee on a bad day.

Without thinking, she looked over at Draco, who was watching her. He was smirking and seemed to know that would infuriate her more – which it did – as she glowered at him and quickly turned away.

"Bloody Malfoy," she muttered to herself, hastily taking out her parchments and quill, and then opened her book to the assigned page.

oooo

After Transfiguration, as they were heading towards their next class, Charms, Harry and Ron asked Hermione if that really was her reason for being late. In return, Hermione only gave them an evocative scowl and hurried past, purposely giving Ron's foot a good stomp as she did so. Noticing her mood and that it was best for her not to be messed with, they decided not to talk to her until her temper had simmered down and Ron had checked his toes for any bleeding.

When classes had finally ended for the day, Hermione had at last collected her anger and annoyance and composed herself to look unruffled, even though everywhere she went, Draco Malfoy seemed to be there also, smirking at her and forcing her nerves to flare up nastily again.

"Nasty little brute," she muttered through her teeth.

Hermione excused herself from Harry, Ron, and Ginny, explaining that she had to look up a few things in the library. This was not entirely true, for she was simply trying to escape from the tortures of Malfoy and these damned school halls to a room where she could clear her thoughts in the silence and the comforting sight of books, and she would most likely be alone, with the exception of Madam Pince and a few wandering students. But as she slipped past the crowd and walked down the empty corridor towards the library, she wasn't aware of silver eyes following her as he, too, made his way to the library.

Hermione sighed in relief, a smile caressing her lips as she walked through the doors and was met with a refreshing silence. She looked around, feeling her heart slowly becoming unburdened and the knots in her temples begin to slowly rub away. What was it about the library that always seemed to calm her down? She could swear that the place had magical powers. And if it happened to actually have magical powers, then she wouldn't have been surprised at all. What could she say? She was believer.

She headed down the aisles of the books, aware that besides Madam Pince and herself, there was a bewildered-looking first year Hufflepuff boy staring up at a shelf. Poor boy almost looked like the shelf was going to eat him alive. Hermione raised an eyebrow at the scene before her, and then looked around before heading towards the lonely student.

"You look a bit confused," she said gently, and the small boy jumped from surprise. Hermione found herself flinching from his reaction. She hated surprising people. She gave him a soft smile. "Do you need help with finding a book? I certainly would love to help." Because Merlin knows she was perfectly capable to. Had she graduated already she could have rivaled Madam Pomfrey for her position as the Hogwarts librarian. After six and a half years, she knew the library like the back of her hand. (Which was kind of pathetic, if you thought about it really closely, but Hermione made it a point not to do that. Ever.)

The boy looked up at her fearfully, and she looked down at him kindly. "P-P-Potions," he whispered, shakily. "P-P-Professor Snape spoke to me today, d-during class, and told me that he was going to f-fail me if I don't do this assignment. I l-lost my Potions book and I need to borrow one from the library until my mum purchases another one and owls it to me." His voice cracked.

Hermione eyed him inquisitively, noticing the way he had looked down when he told her that he had lost his book. However, she nodded and looked up at the shelf, knowing that she couldn't refuse the chance of helping a fellow student in need. Especially this young boy. Her heart went out to him. It almost even appeared as if he had just suffered from a traumatic experience that would scar him for the rest of his yet unlived life. Of course, this wasn't a surprise. Snape was notorious for joyously handing out harrowing experiences. It was his hobby.

"You're in the right place," she said reassuringly, "and that's saying an awful lot; this library's a bit baffling, and a Potions book is always tough to find." The boy smiled up at her, and she politely smiled back before reaching over at a leather-bound spine that was labeled Potions, Grade 1 in silver lettering. She flipped through it quickly, making sure that it wasn't damaged. She handed it to him, smiling. "Here," she said. "This should get you through those torturous classes for now."

'Torturous' was an understatement. The boy still had five years to go in that class, and she thought it only right that she prayed that the Lord would have mercy on his poor soul. Snape would eat him alive. She knew it. He knew it. It was a mutual understanding sort of thing.

The boy beamed as he took it from her. "Thank you," he said to her, and she smiled in return.

"It's no problem." But as she watched the boy look over the book excitedly, she began to speak again. "You didn't lose your book, did you?" she asked softly. The boy froze, but looked up at her with solemn eyes and shook his head, confirming her thoughts. Hermione nodded, giving him a sympathetic look.

'His resemblance to Neville is just far too uncanny,' she thought to herself. Somehow, that only made her pity him even more.

"Do you remember who stole it from you?" she asked soothingly. "I'm Head Girl… I can get him to give it back to you." She pointed at the badge on her chest, newly polished.

The boy sighed. "Well, he was in Slyther—…." The boy halted his words as his eyes widened, looking past Hermione.

Hermione raised an eyebrow, concerned and worried. "Slytherin?" she asked, her mind shouting quips of intuitive confirmation. Of course it was Slytherin. It was a lowly thing to do, stealing a book. A Potions book, at that. That vicious lot must have loads of mawkish pride in their house to steal one of those. It was also incredibly stupid, which had 'Slytherin' written all over it.

Suddenly, the boy started to frantically shake his head. His eyes bulged out of his head and Hermione blinked in surprise. "No, I must be mistaken," the boy quickly said. "He wasn't in Slytherin at all. Thanks again for the book!" he squeaked, before he hurried past her.

Hermione stared at the place where the boy had stood, baffled.

She furrowed her brows in confusion, trying to figure out the reason as to why the little boy had just lied to her so quickly like that. And how he could have gone from uncannily resembling Neville to uncannily resembling Colin Creevey. Though the two were probably the best pair to compare in Gryffindor House, it was still ways to go. Merlin, what was happening today?

But what she couldn't figure out the most was why he'd seemed so… frightened.

"Oh my, was that the boy Crabbe got the new padding for his owl cage from?"

Hermione jumped, surprised. She turned around and groaned silently at who stood before her, arms folded and leaning against the bookcase.

Draco Malfoy was smirking at her, his loose blond hair covering part of his eyes, his Slytherin class ring winking at her.

Hermione glared at him, cursing his presence and everything associated to him. How dare he stand so proudly like that on the shelf? With his stupid hair and his stupid smirk and his stupid ring? Even with the knowledge that he was a vile little snake didn't disrupt him from his daily terrorism the slightest bit, did it?

"Well, well, Granger…" he sneered. "Helping lost souls in the library? Well, how noble. You know, your gallantry might earn you a few points, despite your filthy blood. No one in their right mind would have handled that ridiculous boy like you choose to." He picked off an invisible piece of lint from his sleeve.

Hermione seethed.

She reminded herself that Draco Malfoy was rubbish. He had to be to be picking invisible lint off of his clothes.

She chose to ignore his remark and looked up at him boldly. "Did you say Crabbe was the one who stole that boy's book?" Hermione asked sternly, narrowing her eyes at him. She was getting awfully tired of his appearances, but maybe she could somehow punish him by shaming him or embarrassing him from the wrongdoings of his "friends." But she doubted it. If Draco Malfoy was not even ashamed of himself, then there was little else he could possibly be ashamed of.

Draco rolled his eyes, and then yawned, raising his hand to his mouth. "Oh, did I? I don't seem to remember."

"Don't toy with me, Malfoy," she said, stepping closer to him, giving the air of a challenge. Oh, she was certainly going to bring it now, he had no idea. "Stealing is wrong, and your fool Crabbe should know better than doing that. And to a first year!" she exclaimed incredulously. "He's got no morals at all, does he? I'm giving him detention for this."

"Granger," he locked eyes with her, "first of all, I don't care if stealing is wrong, or, if it's the bloody righteous thing to do!" He mocked enthusiasm, raising his hands, which tremendously irked Hermione, proving so with her twitching brow. "And I suggest you not bother to explain any of your ridiculous morals to Crabbe, because the only brain cells he has is used to remember his name. Just hand him the bloody detention and get on with your life. Believe me, your lectures aren't going to go anywhere with that elephant, and if you don't, then go ahead and try. You'll only be wasting your time."

Somehow, Draco didn't seem to understand why he was actually giving her advice. Helpful advice, at that. About Crabbe. But it wasn't, really. It was just common sense.

"Well, I thank you for the useful information, Malfoy," she remarked sarcastically and rather spitefully. Really, what was wrong with today? Draco Malfoy's ferret face was popping up wherever she was! It was like a sodding nightmare! Or, like, was it one of those things, like the Muggle game, where moles' heads would pop up out of their holes and she had to whack them with a wooden mallet? That made her smile a little, but then she cleared her throat. Hitting Draco Malfoy on the head with a wooden mallet. Hee hee. "Now, if you excuse me, I've had enough of you for one day, and I still need to head over and find Crabbe." She walked past him, but froze when she suddenly felt something on her arm.

Draco twisted her around, and nothing less than surprise caused her stomach to leap inside her. "Did you not listen to a bloody word I said, out there in the corridor?" he said to her, his temper fouling, an irritated look on his pale face.

She remembered (though she didn't need to) that he was good at that. Sneering, glowering, smirking. And that it was ridiculous how a person could be so good at looking so mean and intimidating because she hadn't even thought it was possible until she'd met him. The bastard of all bastards. He was so good at his "art" that it made Snape look mediocre at passing out philippics to Gryffindors. And that was really saying something.

Hermione felt a knot form in her throat as she looked into his steely eyes; aware of the contact he was now having with her. She felt as if his hand was burning through the fabric of her robe, as she suddenly felt heat radiating on her arm. She swallowed hard, feeling her heart dive in her chest, before she shook herself and gathered her wits.

"I heard you," she said angrily, jerking her arm away. She wanted to rub away all of his germs. She could feel them crawling all over her – her arm tingled. "A job scrubbing the floors! Really, Malfoy! I thought you could come up with something better than that!" Her momentary shock was now dominated by anger as she pushed away the questions of the odd sensations that had flared inside her when he had grabbed her arm.

'Because,' she said to herself, 'they were without a doubt caused by pure hate and revulsion that this monster touched me! Now I've got to burn the only good pair of robes I have left! He truly does live to ruin me!'

"No, Granger, not that, " he drawled. "And I could come up with more insults to throw at you, but then, seeing each other wouldn't be so fun anymore, would it? I'd be all out of things to say to you. And Malfoys don't use clichéd and old name-calling."

"Funny," she snorted. " 'Mudblood' has been overused since second year. In fact, most of your vocabulary has been. Huh," she said cocking her head to the side and tonguing her cheek. "The irony, right?"

"Very amusing," he said. "But for 'Mudblood' there's a very special exception. That is your name, isn't it?" Draco was pleased to see Hermione's eyes suddenly dim dangerously from his simple comment.

"Malfoy," she said warningly, her eyes flickering dangerously, "stay away from me." She stepped away from him, glowering, before she turned on her heel and walked towards the doors. But as she heard him call out to her again, she froze and sighed dejectedly, her shoulders slouching noticeably.

She was going to punch him.

She was.

Honest.

"Didn't you hear, Granger?" Draco called out. "Dumbledore wants to meet with us right after the last of our classes. I'm sure I told you; after all, that's why we were tardy."

Hermione felt her heart fall to the pit of her stomach.

"Bloody hell," she muttered to herself.

oooo

The notion of walking in a desolate hallway with Malfoy and only Malfoy was frightful, and therefore required more than the usual wariness from Hermione. The remainder of the students had already gone up to their common rooms or their dormitories to find some solitude from their hectic studies, and Hermione couldn't help but envy them. She hated feeling as if he was just going to hex her out of nowhere.

She was walking ahead of Draco, and she would try to look in the corner of her eye to see him without turning around, but her attempts proved futile. She felt tense, hearing his clicking footsteps behind her and feeling his eyes on her… it made the hair on the back of her neck rise. She could swear he was going to hex her when she wasn't expecting it. Could almost feel it. And that led her to thinking which hex he would use, where she came up with a terrifying selection that almost made her sick.

She had thought that Malfoy would insist on walking in front of her because of his so-called superiority and "pure" blood, and the fact that he thought he was better than everyone, most especially her, but surprisingly, he hadn't made a move to walk past her at all and lead the way. But she wished he did, even if his intentions were haughty and despicable. Because that way, the situation would be opposite-ways. He would be feeling as if she would hex him, not the other way around. Because she could, she honestly could.

Hermione furrowed her brow, halting her frivolous fantasies of hexing him. 'Hold on a minute. Where are we going?' she thought as she suddenly stopped when she realized they had passed Dumbledore's office.

Just then, she felt him bump into her, as he was obviously not watching her as she thought he had been. She heard him swear under his breath as she stepped back, ignoring his colorful language, and turned to him.

"Aren't we supposed to be heading for Dumbledore's office?" she inquired. "We passed it minutes ago."

"Bloody hell, Granger," he said irritably. "I was informing you of our little trip a moment ago, but it seemed you were more intent on concentrating to remember how to walk with two feet."

Hermione looked at him for a short moment before sighing, though stiffening. She wondered if he could tell from her expression that she'd been imagining horrible misfortunes on him.

"Sorry, Malfoy," she shot at him, absentminded at her words. "I've had a really long day, okay? You've been popping out nearly out of nowhere, and I think everyone's allowed to zone out once in a while."

Realizing the first part of what she had said to him, she froze with a funny look on her face, as if incredulous and mystified.

Draco had an eyebrow raised at her. "What's the matter? Did Pince throw you out of the library and now you're suddenly finding yourself to be homeless?" he commented. "Don't worry, Granger, you can live with the house-elves, since I've heard you love them so much." He smirked at her and she glared at him in return.

"Must you really be such a arsehole?" she asked him. Because, seriously.

"Ooh, watch your language, Miss Granger," he mocked. "Or else that's a point deduction from your house. I honestly cannot believe the language of you Muggles these days," he remarked. "What do you wash your mouths with? Mud?"

Scowling, Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. That was before, however, she let out a heavy sigh. Then she shook her head, her brown locks swinging and whipping across her face gently. Draco was strangely surprised to see the look of weariness and exhaustion show on her face and very noticeably in her usually bright or ablaze fiery brown eyes. Draco felt an unfamiliar squirming feeling in his stomach as he suddenly found himself wanting to look away in discomfort.

Here was the deal: part of him wanted to laugh at her or make some derisive comment, but the other part just wanted to walk away very, very quickly. It felt odd standing in front of her like this. Hermione Granger looking like some downtrodden puppy that had just been drinking gutter water for its whole miserable life had "Bloody-hell-she's-going-to-hex-you" all over it. It was just too… strange. He had never even been aware that Mudblood Granger could get tired. To him, she had always been something like Super Mudblood. That's why she had always been so deathly annoying.

He rolled his eyes, playing it off expertly. So what if she was tired? He was tired as well! Honestly! Walking behind her far closer than he had ever intended to was exhausting – he kept thinking that he was going to catch some venereal disease just by breathing the same air she was breathing. Okay, so not really, as he was not that naïve. But you get the point. He could think of many capital things than spending time with Granger.

"Granger, we don't have time for your Feel-Sorry-For-Me-I'm-a-Poor-Little-Mudblood routine, all right?" he said, waving it off. "I've seen it all before. Believe me."

"We could do without any more insults, thanks," she snapped at him. "I just want to know if we're going to Dumbledore's office, or if we're to head somewhere else to meet him. I wasn't paying attention before."

He firmed the scowl on his face. "To the Great Hall," he said simply. "Dumbledore asked us to meet him there. And pay attention, will you?" he barked. "Or else you're as good as deaf. Which isn't any good at all."

"Well, thanks, I'll keep that in mind," she snapped, before she turned on her heel and huffed, walking away with her nose in the air.

He stared at the place where she had stood, an odd look on his face.

It amazed him how much she could look like some wretched, kicked-all-over-the-bloody-place puppy, especially with those eyes of hers. Dark, solemn and brown. The color of mud. It was rather fitting, wasn't it? Everything about her resembled mud. Her hair. Her eyes. It was even sort of sad when he thought about it, because he found himself smirking at the way fate had played this out. She'd been destined to be a Mudblood. He wondered why he'd never thought of that before.

Finally, he shook himself from his thoughts and realized that she was a good distance away from him. He ran a hand through his hair, looking at the now empty corridor before him, and then headed on.

He easily pushed the thoughts of her out of his mind as he turned and walked faster, knowing that they were already late. He was glad for her absence, for she really did bug him to extraordinary limits. His mind was buzzing with such volume and his stomach felt as if he had just swallowed a ten-ounce cauldron of crawling critters.

Must've been that Mudblood disease his father was always chippering on about.

"Damn," he muttered to himself, and started to jog.

oooo

Draco slowed into a paced walk as he reached the Great Hall's doors. He grasped the handle and opened the door, slipping inside and letting the door slam behind him. He had an unreadable expression on his face as he walked in, silent, and saw that he had come only seconds after Granger had, as she was only beginning to sit down. He took a seat across from her, looking at Dumbledore firmly and trying to avoid any eye contact with his partner.

"Sorry to have kept you waiting, Professor," he heard her say. Dumbledore smiled kindly at her, and Draco rolled his eyes.

"Now, Miss Granger, Mister Malfoy," said Dumbledore, looking at the pair of them with a wild look about him. His spectacles flashed happily in the light. "I was reading the Daily Prophet about three mornings ago, and I came up with an idea." His sapphire eyes danced behind his glasses. "Of course, you two would have to go about setting up the process and making it work, but I think it would bring some much needed excitement to Hogwarts. . . ."

A/N: in singsong Review...