She was re-reading her father's letter to her when Malfoy dumped his satchel across the table from her. "You know, Granger, if you had any sense of timing, you'd have scheduled this study meeting at a time other than the Slytherin Quidditch Practice!"
"If you had any sense, Malfoy, you'd realise that I don't care," she told him.
Hermione didn't look up from the letter she was reading. He didn't deserve that consideration from her. Her father was writing about some convocation her parents had attended, and the letter was full of anecdotes that she'd wanted to concentrate on. Unfortunately, she was stuck tutoring Draco Malfoy in Arithmancy, a class in which he claimed to require tutoring. Hermione hadn't yet found him to have any real difficulty in their homework, but she persisted because Professor Vector put it to her in rather blunt terms.
"You're a good student, Hermione. One of the best – and that's something you already know." Professor Vector folded her hands on her desk. "But not everyone studies as hard as you do, or has your understanding of Arithmancy. Besides which, I feel you could do with a little practice in helping others – particularly others who aren't in your house." One hand came up as Hermione opened her mouth to protest at having to tutor Malfoy. "Draco Malfoy wants to do better in Arithmancy – and there is no doubting you're one of my best students. Besides," the Professor regarded Hermione mildly, "Weren't you bemoaning the lack of good inter-house relations just the other day?"
Hermione couldn't deny it, because she had.
She'd just never thought that 'good inter-house relations' involved being forced into the company of someone who thought you had 'dirty blood' and told you to your face.
Slowly, because she knew it irritated him, she folded the letter away. "Did you do the exercises I set you?"
"Yes," he said, shortly. He didn't like these study sessions any better than she, and Hermione took some small vicious pleasure out of his irritation with her choice of time.
Yes, she'd scheduled this study for a time which seemed most likely for the Slytherin Quidditch practise, but it was also the only time she had free this morning; and he was the one in need of tutoring through sixth-year Arithmancy, so he was the one who had to make way for her schedule. After all, Hermione could always just leave him to rot. It wasn't as though her marks were in any way dependant on his. She did get some nice house points out of it, though.
"So?" She asked, folding her hands on the table and looking at him expectantly, waiting for him to hand the exercises over.
The pale face darkened in anger at her deliberate baiting of him. She was mocking him and he knew it; but they were also both aware that he couldn't call her on it - certainly not to Vector, who was scrupulously fair between students, at least, to the intelligent ones.
He tossed the scroll her way, carelessly, and she read through the neat, precise writing - much more legible than either Ron's messy scribble or Harry's jerky scrawl. The numbers sprang out at her, their meanings and significance automatically attaching themselves to her thoughts as she read through his calculations.
Well, it looks like he's been reading up on the Chinese numerology, anyway, she thought, not a little surprised that he seemed to have answered everything correctly. Then she frowned. "The final calculation is wrong," she told him, "And you forgot to use the geographic variable in the calculation."
He smiled narrowly. "That's what you think," he said, oozing smug superiority that gave her the urge to reach for her wand; or maybe just ball her hand into a fist and punch him. "Cheoh Yan's book on the Tang Dynasty astrologers said that the order of the constellation numbers had to be exchanged with the date numbers because of the counter-energy present in the Middle Kingdom, reflecting up from the ninth level of hell."
Hermione arched a brow, "And I suppose you think that Professor Vector will accept that explanation?"
"The theory cannot be proven-" he began.
"Which is exactly why you shouldn't be using it-"
"Do you mind, Granger?" He glared at her. "I wasn't finished."
Hermione fumed inwardly, but waited for his explanation. Of course, she fully planned to tear it to shreds once he had it out; there was no way he could justify using such a flimsy excuse for an incorrect answer.
"The theory can't be proven in the way the Tang Dynasty astrologers believed it; namely, that a ninth level of hell - or indeed any level at all - exists." The cloud-grey eyes stared across at her, disconcertingly intense. "However, it has been repeatedly noticed - not just in Cheoh Yan's book, but in most of the others I referenced - that something interferes with the results when you don't swap the constellation with the dates in the calculation."
Vaguely, Hermione recalled a reference to such a discrepancy in one of the textbooks she'd studied. She'd dismissed it since she didn't agree with the writer in other areas of the text. Damn.
Malfoy lifted his eyebrows in challenge at her, "The results without the swap are very similar to the result with the swap, but they're out by just enough to make a reading, at best, incomplete. I think you'll find that the geographic variable was to make up for the error in calculation, but it doesn't fit the theory we were given in our texts."
"Maybe the texts were wrong."
Malfoy's snort made heads turn across the library. "Please. You don't believe that, Granger, any more than I do. Besides," he added, smirking, "Isn't it against your philosophy to believe that anything said in a book is wrong?"
True, she'd been playing Devil's Advocate, but that was no reason to believe that Malfoy might be right in this matter.
Except that, half an hour and assorted texts later, she realised that he was.
"I thought you were supposed to be tutoring me, Granger," he said, loud enough to be overheard at the nearby tables. "Not relying on me to get your homework right."
She knew she was flushing red. He didn't know that the hand in her lap was closing very slowly into a fist.
"Mr. Malfoy," Madam Pince said, appearing at their table as though from beneath an Invisibility Cloak, "Regardless of who is tutoring whom, I suggest you keep your voice down, or there will be no tutoring done here at all!" Although her voice was soft, as befitted a library, there was still a significant bite to it, and she peered over her glasses at him with all the steely calm of which the Professor was capable before sweeping away.
Malfoy still looked smug, although at least it wasn't insufferably so. Hermione grimaced as she glanced over her work. She wouldn't have time to change it before the study group convened. And, damn Malfoy's eyes, he knew it.
He was watching her over the book she'd set for reading, his chair leaning back at an angle, blond hair tumbling into his eyes. She glanced up and met the direct gaze. Surprisingly, he didn't look as smug as she'd expected him.
"What?" The snap was unnecessary, but she hated being wrong. And she'd been looking through her essay again, trying to find a place from which she could start writing again, and couldn't find one.
"Nothing," he said, pushing his fringe back. Hermione was reminded of Harry, always trying to get the lock of hair out of his eyes. Of course, the gesture that was quite unselfconscious in Harry (and not a little bit sweet), looked quite deliberate in Malfoy.
Her thoughts otherwise occupied, she was startled when he set his chair back down on all fours and addressed her. "Feel free to...paraphrase my work if you have to keep your high marks, Granger." One corner of his mouth pulled upwards as his eyes narrowed at her, mockingly.
The smirk was expected; the offer was not. One of the first things Malfoy had said to her when she began tutoring him was, 'I expect you to do your own homework.' The sheer arrogance of the statement, coming from a boy who'd asked for tutoring to the person who'd been assigned to tutor him, had nearly gotten him hexed into next week. Only the reminder of the slug-like, tentacled thing he'd been as he lay on the floor of the Hogwarts Express last year stayed her wand hand.
Probably the enjoyment of having Hermione Granger at a disadvantage outweighed even the sanctity of his oh-so-perfect work.
"Thanks, Malfoy," she said with all the sarcasm she could muster. "But I think I'll be able to do this one without your help."
He shrugged and leaned back again, resuming his pose and his reading. "It's your marks, Granger."
Marks or not, there was no way she was going to copy his work - or even paraphrase it. Hermione pulled out her quill and began scratching away at the revisions.
A few minutes later, he interrupted her again. This time, he was drumming his fingers on the table. And he was watching her again. She put down her quill and regarded him, "What now?"
"Nothing," he repeated, flipping his hair out of his eyes again. What was it with boys this age and their hair? She wondered. Lately, Ron had begun raking his hand through his hair, messing up the otherwise fairly neat arrangement of it. Of course, Hermione mused, Ron did look rather nice with his hair mussed. Unlike Harry, who just looked...well, normal.
And since when had she started noticing what her friends did with their hair? Ugh. Lavender and Parvati would never let her hear the end of it!
Then she realised that she'd been staring at Malfoy, and he'd been saying something to her. She jerked up and flushed. "Sorry, what was that?"
He rolled his eyes as though he had to deal with glaze-eyed Gryffindors every day, "I said, that if you're finished admiring me, then we can go to the study group."
Hermione didn't think she could go much redder. Somehow, she did, and cursed her complexion and her lack of control over it. "I wasn't admiring..." His expression was insufferable now, and she figured she could take him down a peg - or a dozen. "I was comparing you to Ron and Harry," she said, at her best sugary-sweet. "Unfavourably."
That wiped the grin from his face, and he closed the books with something like a snap.
Out in the corridor, Hermione set off at her usual pace, only to be jerked back when Malfoy grabbed a loop of her backpack. "Slow down, Granger. It's not as though we're going to get detention if we don't get to the study group on time."
Hermione glowered at him, but slowed her pace to the amble he seemed to want to walk at and said nothing all the way to the group.
The study group met weekly in one of the empty classrooms; a group of sixth and seventh-year students who met up in order to iron out their homework. There were maybe eight or nine students who turned up regularly, with the rest coming and going as they pleased.
Hermione had yet to see either Ron or Harry at the group - no surprise there. In her friends' minds, Saturday afternoons were for playing Quidditch or mucking about.
Lately, Hermione had started to reassess her position among her friends. It wasn't that they took her for granted, it was just...they took her for granted. She was just 'Hermione, walking encyclopaedia of wizarding knowledge' and all they had to do was leave their work until the last minute and 'good old Hermione' would help them out.
She was getting tired of being 'the responsible one' of the trio.
The group was already assembled: mostly Ravenclaws, although there were a few members from other houses.
Neville blinked, wide-eyed from his seat over in the corner beside Ernie MacMillan and some seventh-year Hufflepuffs. Blaise Zabini arched a brow, presumably at her entrance with Malfoy, and a fifth-year Slytherin boy narrowed his eyes and made a softly sneering comment to her.
It was the first time they'd come to the study group directly from a tutoring session. More usually, they were scrupulous about avoiding each other, so their entrance together - and the way Malfoy 'ushered' them to a table that was inhabited by neither Gryffindor, nor Slytherin - occasioned some surprise.
Hermione fought down a flush as she caught Katie Bell's 'O' of astonishment. The older girl swiftly cleared her expression, but her astonishment remained. Hermione made a mental note to sit down with Katie and explain the situation - although it surprised her a little that Katie was here and not out on the Quidditch pitch. Unlike Oliver and Angelina, it seemed that the new Gryffindor Quidditch Captain wasn't out to make Quidditch a religion.
"Granger, can you tell me one thing?" Malfoy said as they sat down at the table. He spoke loud enough to be heard by the whole room.
She didn't have a lot of options at this stage. It was shut up and be humiliated, or speak and be humiliated. At least if she answered him, she'd have some measure of control when he flung whatever barb he was planning.
"What, Malfoy?" Hermione asked shortly, turning narrowed eyes on him as he leaned over to her in a conspiratorial manner.
"Are my horns on crooked or something? Because I think people are staring at us."
His words were not anything she'd expected at all. Hermione stared at him, seeing the mischief and malice in his eyes, and her eyes flickered beyond him, where Padma Patil was gaping at them, open-mouthed.
Hermione stifled a smile, and then made a show of inspecting Malfoy's head. "I think they're on straight, Malfoy. You must be imagining things."
Over Malfoy's shoulder, Padma snapped her teeth shut with an audible click as she met Hermione's eyes and returned her gaze to her books.
Hermione looked back at Malfoy. His eyes gleamed at her, surprisingly mischievous, before the expression shuttered, and he opened his satchel and began pulling out parchment, quill and texts.
For a moment, she sat, dismayed. Had she just been complicit in making a joke with Malfoy? The prospect was discomforting, all the more because she could feel the stares of the other students in the group upon her.
She'd definitely talk with Katie about it - and Neville, too. Neville looked as though she'd sold them all out to Voldemort; understandably so, especially after the events at the Department of Mysteries at the end of last year. As Professor Vector walked into the room, glancing over the students with a cool hazel eye, Hermione supposed that if she'd lost as much to Voldemort and his followers as Neville had, she might be a little slower to forgive and forget, too.
And is that what you're doing?
No, she was tutoring Malfoy.
Everything else was just...extra. Maybe.
A line from her father's letter stuck in her mind. "In a way, I miss having you here, watching my little Hermione grow up into a young woman. Asking questions of her old Dad about everything from history to boys..." She could even hear the slightly embarrassed pause in his writing, before he said, "Your mother would say I was getting maudlin in my old age."
Her mother would, too
There were moments over the summer when Hermione had felt so distant from her parents, as though she were a stranger and not their daughter. It pained her to see just how much she'd changed from the girl she'd been when she received the letter announcing her acceptance to Hogwarts. It seemed as though she'd lived a lifetime in the last five years. She'd learned so much, seen so much, done so much, and she could never go back. In a way, she'd left her family behind the day she'd stepped onto Platform 9¾ at Kings Cross Station.
That didn't mean she couldn't use their advice right now, especially her dad's advoce. He'd hedged around the question of boys during the weeks she was home, and she'd finally told him that he had nothing to worry about on that front. Harry wasn't a prospect, Ron wasn't interested, and any other boy at the school... Well, there were some nice ones that she could have a reasonable conversation with, but romantically? No. Definitely no.
The study session was mostly a loss for her – at least, compared to her usual focus when it came to study. She did get through a length and a half of parchment on Grindelwald for Defence Against the Dark Arts, but usually she'd have managed two. Hermione sighed and shook herself as she collected up her books at the end of the hour, carefully ignoring Malfoy's sharp-eyed glances at her.
She headed up to Gryffindor tower to drop off her bag and books, catching up with Katie Bell on the way down to the Great Hall for lunch. Katie seemed more amused than disgusted by Hermione's association with Malfoy. "You're sure it's just tutoring?"
Hermione rolled her eyes as they descended the stairs. "Yes," she insisted. "It's just tutoring."
"You're really sure?" Katie asked as they reached the ground floor. She leaned in towards Hermione and whispered. "Because 'just tutoring' doesn't explain why Draco Malfoy is standing over there, apparently unable to take his eyes off you." The blonde Gryffindor smirked as Hermione paused at the bottom. Sure enough, Malfoy was waiting for her at the entrance to the Great Hall, pointed features set in a faint smirk.
She stopped just short of him. "What do you want?"
His eyes narrowed, but he only asked, "Same time next week?"
"For tutoring? Yes. Although I don't know why you need it," she said, acidly. "You seem to have it all down pat."
There were a lot of other things she wanted to ask him, like why he'd waited here to ask her something he could have asked earlier. Or what his problem was. Actually, Hermione realised, she didn't need to ask what his problem was. His problem was that he was an arrogant boy from a family with more money than anyone needed and fewer manners than anyone should be allowed to get away with - particularly those with money.
He smirked, "Maybe I just wanted the chance to spend time with you, Granger."
Certain that she was being mocked, she let her glare do the talking before she pushed past him and stalked into the Great Hall. Let Malfoy play his little games. She was going to have lunch.
Inter-House unity or not, this was absolutely the last time she was going to tutor a Slytherin. Especially Malfoy.
As she sat down next to Ron and received a mumbled greeting through a mouthful of chicken, then turned to Harry and got an absent wave of the fork before he turned back to Dean's diatribe against some football team, she felt her irritation with the whole gender grow substantially.
Across the room, by the Slytherin table, she caught the glint of white-blond hair, and looked quickly away.
Why was growing up so complicated?
She wished she had her Dad around.