Hermione sat at the Gryffindor table at breakfast, feeling unaccountably annoyed. Scratch that, she was accountably annoyed. Harry and Ron were, once again, sitting as far from her as they could possibly sit, and she still hadn't received an owl from Malfo—from Draco. She had spent the entire afternoon yesterday distracted from her classes, thinking excitedly about Post-NEWTs. Then when she had returned to her dorm in Gryffindor tower to do homework, she spent the entire evening glancing nervously up from her studies to the window of the tower, expecting Malf—Draco's large eagle owl to appear.
Now, the owl post having already arrived with no sign of a note from Draco, Hermione poked with increasing fury at the kippers on her plate—honestly, she didn't even like kippers, but she'd served herself without paying attention. Finally, Hermione succumbed to temptation, and whirled in her seat to direct her gaze at the Slytherin table. There he was. Pointedly ignoring her. Hermione glared at the back of his head, willing him to turn around and explain himself. If he really wanted to be her friend, he wasn't making a very good showing of it.
"Oi, Draco!" called Teddy Nott down the table. "Granger's staring at you! Think she has a crush?"
Draco looked up from his kippers—he didn't even like kippers—to see Teddy Nott's laughing face. Leaning back to see past Goyle's bulk on the bench next to him, he saw a reddened feminine face glaring out at him from a mane of brown hair. Bollocks. He had meant to send that owl this morning, he really had, but then he had sat down with the blank piece of parchment and been utterly at a loss for what to write. Then, of course, Blaise and Crabbe had asked him what he was writing, and he'd had to fib and say he was writing his Dad a letter.
Draco turned back to Nott. "Please, not while I'm eating my breakfast," he shot down the table at his housemate.
This earned him a laugh from those in his year, the loudest being Pansy Parkinson. Inwardly, Draco flinched. His stomach felt a bit queasy, so he pushed his kippers toward the center of the table.
"Hey, Millie, be a darling, will you?" called Teddy. "Pass the eggs?" Millicent Bulstrode grasped the bowl of eggs in one beefy hand and sent the bowl down towards Nott, and the chatter at the table resumed.
Sneaking another peek at Hermione at the Gryffindor table, Draco felt his insides twist with guilt. He'd buggered it all up now, like he always did with everything. Ever since he could remember, Draco had been terrible with people. He could gain their attention quickly enough, but he always wound up hurting someone or saying yes to something he didn't want to say yes to, or…well. At least they were partners for Post-NEWTs, that was something—he'd have a chance to make things up to her at least. McGonagall would be giving them notice soon of their first class meeting—he could talk to her then.
Everything would be fine.
By the time the bell rang for first period, Hermione's fury had reached the boiling point. How dare he. He was acting as though she didn't exist. Some friend he was turning out to be.
Struggling to control herself, Hermione tried not to pay attention to the angry twitching of muscles beneath her skin. As she packed her books back in her bag, she darted a quick glance around the table to see if anyone had noticed her behavior. Nothing. No one was casting so much as a second glance at her.
Briefly, she wondered if she would be quite as angry if she'd still had Harry and Ron's friendship on which to rely. Never mind that, though. She might as well call out her newfound 'friend' on his behavior before class, so she could figure out just why his concept of friendship included pretending she didn't exist.
Joining the crush of students exiting the Great Hall, Hermione pinpointed one figure with peroxide-blond hair and made a beeline for him.
Abruptly, Draco felt himself being pulled off course in the Entrance Hall, and found his back pressed against a wall in an alcove. Before him was a vision of terrifying anger, one that was armed with a very heavy bookbag, and a massive copy of Trinkets and Baubles: The Misuse of Muggle Artifacts in the 16th century.
"Erm—" began Draco.
"Why are you ignoring me?" said Hermione.
"Can we discuss this somewhere else?" Draco indicated the crowd of students behind Hermione, some of whom were stopping to stare.
"No, here," she snapped, and brandished Trinkets and Baubles.
"Oh, Merlin," said Draco, and quickly pulled his wand from his pocket, muttering a privacy spell. The echoing voices of students hushed.
"You said you would send an owl." Hermione's voice crackled with suspicion.
"Later, I said, later," Draco said, still feeling nervous. "Could you lower the book, please?"
"Later last night, that meant."
"The book, Granger, civil conversation!" said Draco a bit desperately. How had this gotten so bad so quickly? He reached out and pushed Trinkets and Baubles to a less threatening height.
This gave Hermione pause. "Oh. Right."
"If you'd listen for a moment," said Draco, relieved, "I'd tell you that I couldn't get away last night to send you an owl, and then this morning everyone wanted to know what I was doing, so I told them I was writing a letter to my father." There. Perfectly reasonable explanation.
Hermione looked stricken. "I thought you said you wanted to be my friend."
Confused, Draco began, "What--?"
"I should have known it was all a trick!"
"What? It's not a trick, I just couldn't get away to—"
"You wouldn't be so concerned with keeping it a secret if you really wanted to be friends! I can't believe I fell for it!" Turning, Hermione stalked to the edge of the privacy bubble, shaking her head. "I should have known the instant you started talking about Muggles that you weren't really interested." She turned back to him, and Draco was horrified at the resolution on her face. "It was all just fodder for you to make fun of me, wasn't it?!"
"And now I've gone and volunteered to partner you for Post-NEWTs, URGH, and me supposedly the brightest witch in the school!"
"You've got it all backwards, Granger—!"
"I should have known that all you do is lie, Malfoy," she said coldly, and strode from the bubble back into the Entrance Hall traffic.
Draco took a long moment to consider what had just happened. "Shit." Well, there, he'd gone and buggered something up again. No chance of sending her that owl, now. It wasn't as though he could defend himself, either, even if she had let him get a word in edgewise. After all, he'd been treating her poorly for more than five years, it wasn't as though it would make sense from her side for him to suddenly start behaving like—
Oh, shit, he was late for class. McGonagall would take points!
Draco bounded from the privacy bubble, popping it as he ran.
Neither Hermione Granger nor Draco Malfoy got much out of their first period classes that day.
Draco spent Transfiguration mulling through the situation, rather than learning how to turn bundles of quills into bouquets of flowers. He mispronounced the incantation due to his inattention, and produced a cascade of jellybeans that rolled off his desk and all over the floor. Then Goyle ate one of the jellybeans, prompting McGonagall to turn white with anger, and Goyle to turn quite an attractive cerulean blue. Once McGonagall had turned Goyle the proper color again (and lectured him on the notion that food created from non-edible items, was not, in fact, edible), she informed Draco that he was to stay after class.
Draco managed to turn the situation to his advantage, however, as the distraction had provided him the time he needed to come to a conclusion about the Hermione Granger Issue. Once he had a plan, he felt a good deal better about the whole situation. Slytherins are like that.
What he didn't expect was what McGonagall had to say to him.
"Mr. Malfoy," began a stern Professor McGonagall, seating herself behind her desk. "I am growing concerned about your academic performance. It is a shame to see such a good student fall into misbehavior."
Draco hung his head. It was true, he'd fallen behind in his studies lately. School had stopped mattering as much to him since the events of the previous year, and he'd gotten more and more—he didn't want to travel down that line of thought. "I'm sorry, Professor."
"Well, don't be sorry, Mr. Malfoy!" said McGonagall tightly. Draco looked up at her, startled. She paused, and straightened her back, seeming to regain control over herself. "I honestly don't know what to think. You've always gotten very decent grades, but now you've lost your prefecture, and Professor Snape informs me you've been deliberately skipping classes. That, coupled with your absence from the Post-NEWTs meeting—" Draco made to interrupt, but McGonagall caught herself, "—never mind, Miss Granger explained that, but your behavior this morning…I don't know what to think," she repeated, and Draco was stunned to see real worry in his teacher's eyes.
"Professor, I…" Might as well bite the bullet, then, since he couldn't think of a response. "Would you…?" Spit it out! "Professor, I know it's rather too late in my school career at Hogwarts to be asking this, but—what I mean to say is—would you—that is, can you recommend any good books to me about Muggle Studies?"
McGonagall could not have looked more shocked than if Draco had announced he would like to transfer to Gryffindor.
Not that what he'd asked was that far from it…oh, Merlin, what was he doing…
"I just," he tried to cover, "I recently had a conversation with—that is, my nursemaid when I was younger was Mugglebo—look, I've just developed an interest in—oh, please stop me, Professor," he burst out, and then felt rather ashamed of himself. Wizards of your bloodline do not babble, he could almost hear his mother reprimanding him in his head.
"Professor Burbage would likely be more helpful in answering such inquiries," said Professor McGonagall after a moment, sounding vacant. "Her office is located on the third floor, in the first corridor following the painting of The Sunbathers at Clifton Beach. I believe she has a free period during the last class period of the day today."
Draco considered his schedule—yes, Professor Trelawney had taken ill the previous Tuesday, so he didn't have Divinations that period. "Thank you, Professor," he said.
"Not at all," said Professor McGonagall in the same hollow tone.
"Oh, er, when will our first Post-NEWTs class be, if you don't mind me asking, Professor?"
"You'll receive notice when it has been arranged. The Professor has not yet arrived on the grounds."
"Am I…am I to have detention for what happened in class today?" asked Draco, apprehensive.
That seemed to shake the teacher from her stupor. "Oh." She blinked. "No, Mr. Malfoy, I hardly think a mistake in spell pronunciation merits a detention, although I rather think this incident should come as a sharp shock to you." McGonagall peered over her square glasses at him. "Professor Snape informed me that you were somewhat…lackadaisical when he spoke with you about your studies, but if I find your attention drifting in class again, I will pull you from Post-NEWTs, do you understand me?"
"Yes, Professor," Draco mumbled.
"I know it must be difficult to take this from an instructor who is not your head of house, but as a teacher at this institution, I have a vested interest in your success." Was it just a trick of the light, or were her eyes softening? Hard to tell beyond all the tartan, really. "I daresay, though, I have rarely seen a better application of Switching spells than demonstrated during your OWL examinations. I'm quite pleased you're partners with Miss Granger for your Post-NEWT Preparations Course—you're the only one enrolled that I feel could give her a run for her money."
Draco was shocked. Who knew McGonagall could have such a preference for a student who wasn't one of her precious Gryffindors?
"That is, if you choose to straighten out your behavior and stop behaving such a hooligan," finished the teacher sternly.
Then again, maybe she hadn't such a preference for him…
"Here is a pass to explain your tardiness to your next professor," said McGonagall with finality, jotting something down on a piece of parchment. "Let's not have another incident like today."
Draco reached across the desk to take the note. "Of course not, Professor. And let's face it, it could have been worse."
She raised an eyebrow.
"Instead of jellybeans, I could have covered the floor in beetles." Grinning cheekily, Draco bolted from the room before McGonagall could respond.
The more Hermione thought about it, the more she realized how ridiculous she was being about it. While at the same time, the more Hermione thought about how she'd treated Draco, the less she paid attention to what Professor Binns was saying.
Not that students paying attention was a commonality in History of Magic, thought Hermione with a grim smile, casting her gaze over the classroom. Gryffindor had this class double with the sixth-year Ravenclaws, so Dean Thomas had the opportunity to fall asleep on not just Parvati Patil, but also on Anthony Goldstein. Anthony looked a bit discomfited with Dean's arm draped on his shoulder, but Parvati didn't seem to mind Dean's head against her arm too much.
Hermione grumbled quietly to herself and forced her attention back to her notes. She was probably the only student in her year who was actually interested in History of Magic—though she had to admit, Professor Binns did not have the most enthralling presence in a classroom. Hermione drifted back into her thoughts in the middle of writing a sentence about the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy.
Maybe she'd been a bit hasty about the whole thing. After all, Mal—Draco had offered a rational explanation for why he hadn't owled her. Oh, drat, she'd gone and alienated another friend. At least this time she'd know why he was avoiding her, not like with Harry and Ron…
No, she'd expected too much, really, which was ridiculous. She was used to being friends with boys, and boys her age were really very insensitive and unthinking about their friends. It was the way males were brought up, at least in Muggle society. From what she'd seen of boys brought up in Wizarding society, that was one social convention that transcended the boundaries of magic.
Curses. At this point she had two options: go back to her lonely, friendless existence, or stow away her embarrassment at jumping to conclusions yet again and apologize to—
Oh, God, she couldn't even think it.
Apologize to Malfoy. Urg.
While Professor Binns droned on about events in 1692, Hermione's thoughts focused on events yet to come in the remainder of 1996.
It was the end of a very long day. Draco had just spent the better part of an hour in the Muggle Studies classroom, on the receiving end of a long stream of bubbly chatter from Professor Burbage, an older witch who gave off an aura of loving every creature on the earth, including mosquitoes. She'd shown him 'round the Muggle Studies classroom, and expressed disappointment that it was rather too late to enroll him in her class, but, oh!, you wanted a book list, how silly of me, yes, I'll just jot down a few titles, wonderful for a young man to seek extracurricular studies!
That was what he was doing, wasn't it? No use turning back now, Draco thought, though it meant he'd succumbed to the academia his father had tried to discourage by making him go out for Quidditch, among other things. His father would be proud, he was sure, though, to find his son getting top marks in an extra-credit course like Post-NEWTs. Best not to mention the Muggle Studies reading on the side…
Arriving at the library, Draco made to go to the card catalogue, when he spotted a familiar face at a secluded table. Oh, Merlin, she just had to look up right then, didn't she? Hermione Granger beckoned to him to sit next to her, and with a heavy sense of déjà vu, Draco glanced about for watching classmates and moved to sit beside her.
Oh, good, he was coming to sit down. Hermione felt her spirits lift, and then sink again quickly. Oh, no, he was coming to sit down. She'd gotten so caught up in Ancient Runes after History of Magic, and then in Arithmancy after that, that she'd complete forgotten to think about what to say to him. And now he was sitting next to her, all pointed face and blond hair and Malfoy, and here she was trying to make up for her inattention in History of Magic, and oh God.
"Erm…" Oh, brilliant, Hermione, brilliant! Think of something to say, you shouted at the poor boy this morning! "I…"
Nonono, this was Malfoy, he was due to start sneering and calling her 'Mudblood' any minute, what had she been thinking?!
Cursing inwardly, Hermione turned tensely back to her History of Magic textbook, letting her hair fall over her face.
Bugger, thought Draco, sitting down beside the Gryffindor. There she was, sitting all prim with a stack of books next to her on the table, looking mousy and Gryffindor and Oh Merlin what was he doing sitting next to Hermione Granger in a library?! This was preposterous! And here she was babbling, obviously at a loss for words, and shouldn't he try to defend himself? She was offering an opening, obviously, but—
Reality slammed into Draco like an impedimenta!
This was Hermione bloody Granger he was sitting next to, the sort of person Lucius Malfoy would spit on in the street if that sort of thing weren't frowned upon by the school's Board of Directors. The implications of the situation were obviously hitting her, too, he thought, since she was turning back to her work and pretending he wasn't there. Draco fiddled with the rolled-up parchment in his hand that was Professor Burbage's booklist, casting about for something to say.
"We should be having our first Post-NEWTs meeting soon. McGonagall told me she'd let us know when we'd be having it."
Brilliant, Malfoy, simply brilliant. Dazzle her with your Weasley-like powers of conversation.
"Oh. Good." She was still hidden by her hair. All that bushy, Granger hair that he'd poked fun at thousands upon thousands of times.
Silence descended. Draco felt his stomach churning with the utter wrongness of the situation, until finally, after several minutes of tense quiet, he stood abruptly. Granger jumped, looked up at him, then quickly looked back down at her parchment.
"Books—I have to—I came to get books, excuse me," Draco managed and raced to the card catalogue.
This looked to be the beginning of a very awkward friendship.
If one could call it a friendship, that is.
A/N: Whee! New chapter!