Disclaimer: The Harry Potter universe does not belong to me. If it did, I would not have to do my laundry at my parent's house. (That statement isn't as random as it seems. It was written back in May when I had come crawling home from my dorm with three bags of laundry because I'd run out of quarters. And food.)

A/N: This will be the first Harry Potter story I've posted. Therefore, please be patient with me if I mess up the technical end of posting chapters. I am terrible with technology, and computers seem to know this about me and prey on my weakness. I promise to do my best.

Chapter 1: Of Potions and Partners

"Hermione? Hermione!" Hermione Granger started, blinking across the table at the exasperated face of Ron Weasley, who was hurriedly shoving his just-completed Potions essay into his bag. Hermione realized that they were among the only remaining occupants of the Great Hall, meaning that she had once again read through breakfast and it was now time to go to class.

"Sorry, Ron. I was just reviewing the chapter on the potion we're going to begin today."

"I know, I know," he groaned as they made their way out of the Great Hall. "That's all you've been doing for two days." He narrowed his eyes at her book bag suspiciously. "How many times have you read that chapter?"

"Just enough to be comfortable with the information," she said evasively. "Where's Harry?" Ron glared at her attempt to change the subject.

"He went back to the common room to get a book he'd left there. How many times have you read it, Hermione?" he repeated. Hermione felt a blush rise in her cheeks.

"Five. It's a difficult chapter, Ron!" she protested when he made an exasperated and disbelieving exclamation.

"Where do you find time to read something that many times? Between all the classes you take, your Head Girl duties, all the bloody N.E.W.T.s preparation the teachers have given us . . ."

"You know I have to do well in Potions if I want to be accepted into a good Healer training program, Ron," she reminded him. They had had this conversation often this year, and it was only halfway through first term. Hermione suspected that Ron was having trouble adjusting to the idea that in less than a year they would have to begin living their adult lives, and he was therefore acting as childish as possible. He shrugged off his prefect responsibilities, procrastinated about his homework worse than ever, and whined endlessly over any show of responsibility or work ethic in others.

"So you've told me," he said sarcastically. "Now, since you've become an expert on the . . . Um . . ."

"Partis Sensus," Hermione supplied with her oft-taxed but (in her opinion) admirable patience.

"Yes, of course, the Partis Sensus potion. Maybe you could briefly review the subject with me. I was unable to clear enough time in my schedule to properly study the material." Ron gave her a winning smile. She rolled her eyes.

"You didn't read the chapter and you want me to tell you what it's about," Hermione translated wryly as they began descending the stairs into the dungeons. Ron's smile became roguish and endearing, and Hermione felt her heart leap ever so slightly. The feelings she had once harbored for Ron had finally begun to fade away, but the occasional lapse was inevitable, especially now that Ron had filled out his gangly frame, allowed his hair to grow long and curl past his ears, and learned to somewhat control his once-volatile temper.

"Can't keep things from you, Hermione. Now, come on, you've got thirty seconds to dazzle me. Go!" She gave a long-suffering sigh, brushed a tawny curl from her eyes, and hid a smile of resigned amusement as she began to recite the properties and uses for the potion they were about to study in Snape's class.

"The Partis Sensus potion is more commonly known as the Empathy Potion. Anyone who drinks from the same batch of potion will temporarily have an empathic link with one another, allowing them to feel what the other feels. It is useful in psychological Healing, allowing trained Healers to understand if patients they are treating are lying, or being evasive, or doing anything that might slow down their healing. It's an incredibly complex potion, requiring minute measurements so difficult to recreate from potion to potion that no two batches are exactly alike, which is why people must drink from the same potion to be connected empathically." They had reached to doorway to Snape's dungeon, and Hermione looked up at Ron with raised eyebrows. "Got it?"

"Sure," he said sarcastically. They walked in and seated themselves, Ron taking a seat beside Seamus Finnigan, and Hermione taking a chair at an empty table. Moments later, Harry rushed through the door, breathing hard, with his hair tousled and his glasses askew. He threw Ron and Hermione a quick, somewhat harassed smile, which was just crooked and endearing enough to make Lavender Brown giggle annoyingly, and sat down beside Neville Longbottom in the nearest seat to the door.

The last few stragglers entered the classroom and seated themselves, and everyone waited rather quietly and, in the Gryffindors' case, apprehensively, for Snape's arrival. Several minutes after the class was actually supposed to begin, Draco Malfoy sauntered in, his cool eyes quickly assessing the room while an arrogant smirk twisted his pale features. Hermione groaned inwardly as she realized the only empty seat in the room was the one beside her. Malfoy calmly and slowly made his way over to her table and seated himself, surprisingly, without feeling the need to insult her. A scant second later, Snape stormed into the classroom and stalked to his desk.

"Today we will begin the Partis Sensus potion. This is complex potion that far exceeds the skill of the Hogwarts student body and most of its faculty," he said scathingly. "To make matters inexpressibly worse, the Headmaster has just informed me that the N.E.W.T. testing date has been moved up, forcing me to alter my lesson plan for the year to accommodate it. This means that we will be unable to thoroughly discuss the theory behind the Partis Sensus potion before making it. I can only hope that you behaved out of character and read the chapter that was assigned to you, because we will be beginning the potion-making process today." A collective groan echoed through the dungeon, and Hermione felt even more pleased with herself than usual. She cast a petulant glance at Malfoy, who unfortunately did not seem to be in the least upset or annoyed by Snape's announcement. If anything, his expression was one of detached amusement.

"To save my valuable time, we will have no more of the ridiculous partner-switching you are so fond of. You will be paired with the person sitting at your table. Begin!" Snape snapped, cutting off further groaning protest. Hermione turned to Malfoy with a scowl on her face that she hoped conveyed even a fraction of her displeasure.

"Well, well, Granger," he drawled, speaking to her for the first time since he'd sauntered so arrogantly into the room. "You do seem to be a foul mood this morning. Neglect to read the chapter, did we?" She opened her mouth in soundless indignation, fuming with the insult.

"I most certainly did not!" she exclaimed. "I suppose it's too much to hope for that you read it as well?"

"Why on earth would I waste my time with such worthless drivel when I could be doing so many more . . ." He smirked almost lewdly, looking over her shoulder at something. " . . . pleasurable things?" Hermione turned around and saw Pansy Parkinson waving back at Malfoy, giggling incessantly. Hermione suppressed a revolted shudder and pushed her chair back from the desk.

"Then just try to stay out of my way, Malfoy. I won't have you messing up my Potions grade because you were too busy snogging your nasty girlfriend to read the damned chapter." She pushed past him to the stock of potion ingredients Snape was setting out at the front of the room.

Malfoy watched silently as she juggled bottles and vials of ingredients in her arms and carted them back to the table, never, she fumed inwardly, offering to help her. She laid them out carefully and turned in her Potions book to the neatly marked page outlining the process. She read through the directions quickly and looked up only to find Malfoy carefully and skillfully measuring out the first ingredient.

"I thought you hadn't read the chapter!" she exclaimed, panic tingeing her voice as she thought of the fate of her Potions grade hanging by a thread in the hands of an ill-informed and apathetic Draco Malfoy.

"I never said that," he said as he carefully weighed his powdered dragon's scales, and, finding the amount to his satisfaction, added it to the caldron in front of him. He glanced up at her with an arrogant smirk. "Sometimes, Granger, I think you underestimate me." Hermione shook her head and reached for the next ingredient.

"Somehow, Malfoy, I don't think that's possible."