Title: True Love Is Overrated
Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to J K Rowling. No profit is being made.
Rating: PG
Warnings: None. Pretty light stuff.
Notes: Thanks to lilithboadicea for beta-ing my fic at the very last minute. Written for irisri for "Brew a Love Potion with Draco and Hermione" at dmhgficexchange at LJ. This story is kind of like a series of "missing scenes" from HBP, and I tried to stick as close to canon as possible.
Summary: Draco and Hermione come together unexpectedly during their Sixth Year. HBP-compatible.

True Love Is Overrated

"I swear, Hermione, Malfoy's up to something!" said Harry Potter for the umpteenth time as his best friend continued to look on skeptically.

"Harry…" Hermione began, choosing her subsequent words meticulously. "I know how you feel about Malfoy, and you know I feel the same, but… you can't let your… less-than-friendly sentiments… compromise your judgment."

Harry opened his mouth indignantly to argue, but Hermione hastily added, "Don't get me wrong. Malfoy is a bastard, but I doubt he's important or even old enough to be admitted as a Death Eater."

"Then how would you explain Madam Malkin's— "

"There could be a lot of reasons!" said Hermione, irritated. "Harry, just drop it. We need to finish Professor McGonagall's essay."

He ignored her. "What about all those times when Malfoy just completely disappears from the Marauder's Map? How do you explain that?"

"I don't know, Harry! I don't know," she said very impatiently. "Honestly! It's not as if I'm keeping track of his personal activities. And why have you suddenly developed an obsession with Malfoy?"

"He's been acting very suspiciously, that's why!" he replied. "You'll see, Hermione! You'll see that I'm right."

"Fine, Harry," the brunette said in resignation. "Can we continue with the essay now?"

Harry hesitated but grudgingly bent over his parchment, the furious scratching of his quill nearly poking holes through the thick paper. Once in a while, she could feel him glaring at her resentfully.

The remainder of the late November evening was passed relatively quietly in the Gryffindor common room as snow pelted down from the black skies and the wind howled despondently.

Hermione had just finished her essay and was looking over Harry's when Ron and Lavender unexpectedly entered through the portrait hole, hand in hand and covered in snow. With lips set in a hard line, Hermione rose from her seat so rapidly her chair was toppled over, and she proceeded to forcefully shove her books, parchment, and quill in her backpack as Ron and Lavender settled in a corner and began kissing again.

"I'm going to bed," she muttered to Harry, determined to prevent her eyes from straying over to the couple by the fireplace.

She stomped up the stairs leading to the girl's dormitories and disappeared from view.

It was eight o'clock in the evening.

It was half past two, but Hermione still could not sleep, once again suffering miserably from one of her frequent bouts of insomnia. She had risen from her bed, which was currently in disarray, and had found her usual seat on the windowsill. With one leg tucked beneath her body and another swinging freely from her perch, she fixed her gaze outside into the starry night and the silent grounds.

The snow had ceased, temporarily contented with the thick blanket it was able to lay, but the wind continued to rage, swaying the trees back and forth. Hermione could see the Whomping Willow distinctly, with its furiously swinging branches viciously attacking the wind but apparently fighting a losing battle.

Hermione sighed.

Ron was impossibly infuriating. Was he truly oblivious or was he trying to prove something? Either way, the extent of Ron's insensitivity to others' feelings would never cease to amaze her. Besides, she thought that she had made her feelings very clear! He and Lavender barely knew each other, and it was unfathomable why the two could have gotten together in the first place. Was Ron trying to prove his "manliness"? After all, Hermione knew that Ginny had mentioned something about an Aunt Muriel…

The more she thought, the more she became convinced that the second possibility was Ron's inherent motivation for his actions, but Hermione would not stand for it. Something had to be done for Ron to realize how much he had hurt her. But what would hurt him?

The solution turned out to be obvious and relatively effortless to accomplish because Ron succumbed easily to jealousy. Now she only needed to think of a person, someone he detested with a passion.

Immediately, Malfoy came to mind, but Hermione was very quick to realize the complications and impracticality of this because in order for her plan to work, both parties must consent to the relationship, either real or fabricated. That would obviously not work. Then, she thought of the irritating Hufflepuff, Zacharias Smith. Truth be told, she did not like him any more than Ron did, and it would be enormously difficult to compel him to pretend to be going out with her. And finally, there was Cormac McLaggen… This option swiftly gained appeal. Slughorn's Christmas party was coming up soon, and since both were members of the Slug Club, they would be required to attend, but in any case, it was doubtful that McLaggen would pass up such an opportunity to vaunt his extensive connections. Moreover, though it could not be said that McLaggen fancied her, he might have been intrigued. Therefore, it would be quite easy to persuade him to accompany her to the gathering.

She smirked in spite of herself, anticipating the look on Ron's face when she would deliver him the news. That would be a priceless sight indeed.

Satisfied, she padded her way to her bed quietly, careful not to wake her dormmates. When she collapsed on her bed, she promptly fell asleep.

She needed a walk to clear her head. That much was certain.

Her hands were shaking, for Merlin's sake! She inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly, in and out, hoping to steady her breathing and calm the blood boiling in her veins.

Ron was impossible! It seemed that he was snogging Lavender with a vengeance now after that "incident" at Slughorn's party. She had not expected her plan to backfire!

Hermione pushed the portrait hole open with a bang and the Fat Lady screeched behind her, but she walked on, ignoring the portrait. She could feel her eyesight clouding from moisture. Ron had taken his insensitivity to a whole new level!

The seventh floor corridor was deserted. She wiped the tears that had fallen on her cheeks, refusing to cry for him. It wasn't worth it, she told herself.

She turned a corner and abruptly stopped in her tracks. A door had materialized on what appeared to be a stretch of blank wall. Who was in the Room of Requirement? Retracing her footsteps back around the corner, she curiously peeked around it, hoping to catch a glimpse of the person who was bound to emerge. No student should be out of his or her dormitory past curfew.

The door opened, and from the darkness, a tall figure in black school robes came into view. He glanced around surreptitiously, and quickly slipped out, immediately closing the door behind him before Hermione could see inside. The door disappeared, and the boy was swiftly making his way toward her! She quickly wiped the last traces of tears from her cheeks and the corners of her eyes and pretended to be returning to Gryffindor Tower.

"Get out of my way, Mudblood," he said as he rounded the corner and nearly ran into her.

Oddly, his voice sounded weary and his insult held none of its usual sting. Hermione wondered why. Was Harry really on to something?

"Watch where you're going, ferret," she said, forcing a dark glare, though her thoughts were elsewhere.

She noticed that his pale skin had an unhealthy grayish tinge, and dark shadows sagged under his eyes, which were somewhat red-rimmed and bloodshot. The gray of his eyes was dull, quite different from the beginning of the year.

"Are you all right?" she asked before she could stop herself.

"Mind you own business," he snapped.

It was barely perceptible, but his fingers twitched, and Hermione suddenly had the irrational fear that he might strangle her. Before she could react, however, he shoved her away and walked past her somewhat dejectedly and without his usual pompous swagger but nevertheless without a second look.

When Hermione returned to Gryffindor Tower, she was grateful that Ron had gone up to bed. Only Harry and a few seventh years remained in the common room.

"Hermione!" said Harry, visibly relieved. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Harry," she answered with a weary smile.

"Did something happen?" he asked, a little concerned perhaps by her expression.

She considered telling him about Malfoy and the Room of Requirement, and how he was indeed acting suspiciously as Harry had indefatigably insisted, and how he seemed oddly distracted. Then, she remembered the unhealthy pallor of his skin, the bags under his eyes, and the look of deep-seated anxiety and even a twinge of sheer fear in his tired gaze.

"No, nothing happened."

Hermione still refused to talk to Ron, and he, in turn, did not feel compelled to speak to her either, which was all very well and dandy, she resolved defiantly. Today marked the first day of Christmas break, and everyone had already packed his or her bags and was rushing to the entrance hall, ready to go home at the first whistle of the Hogwarts Express. She, however, could be found in the nearly deserted library, with an enormous tome before her. This year, she would not be going home and had not been invited to the Burrow, which was not much of a surprise to be honest, so it was settled that she would remain at Hogwarts for the winter holidays. It was only this morning that she had received an owl from her parents, who had planned a spontaneous second honeymoon in Nassau, and with profuse apologies, urged her to stay at school instead of going home as was planned.

Harry and Ron had not noticed that she was remaining at school and had probably assumed that she had already gone ahead of them on the Hogwarts Express and had chosen to sit with others. Therefore, no questions were asked, and she had found no reason to correct their presumptions.

Hermione sighed. She really was quite alone, now that Harry, Ron, Ginny, and even Neville and Luna were all gone. Now, there was nothing to keep her occupied beside schoolwork, she realized.

When she had finished reading the chapter on the Unforgivable Curses, she slammed the old book shut, sending a cloud of dust in her face. She coughed, dissipating the dust, and rose from her seat. She returned her book to the shelves and exited the library, deciding to head back to her common room. The empty corridors were devoid of their usual hustle and bustle, and the noise of her shoes clinked loudly on the floor. The faint and melancholic echo this sound produced sent another pang of loneliness through her heart.

Without warning, the unmistakable sound of something shattering was heard, followed by a dull thud.

"That's seven years of bad luck!" cried a girl's voice in alarm through the doors to the restrooms.

Hermione quickly made her way to the bathroom and wrenched the door open, utterly undaunted that it was the boys' room. A breath hitched in her throat as the sight met her eyes.

The mirror above the sink had indeed been shattered, and sitting on the glass-strewn floor was Draco Malfoy, who clutched a bloody fist in his free hand. He looked in pain, but at the sight of her, his watery gaze hardened, and he growled, it seemed, in protest and irritation. Moaning Myrtle was floating a little above them both, looking scared and quite concerned.

"Oooh!" she wailed. "I tried to stop him; I really did, but he wouldn't listen!"

"Thank you, Myrtle," said Hermione calmly, and she withdrew her wand. "Reparo!"

The mirror pieced itself together, and Hermione turned her attention to the blond boy in pain and crouched down.

"Here, hold out your hand," she said more gently than she had expected.

Before she could touch him, he scurried several inches away, his face contorted grotesquely.

"Don't touch me, Mudblood!" he hissed the insult venomously, glaring at her in what appeared to be revulsion.

Hermione clenched her jaws, trying to suppress her anger, while Myrtle gasped, taken offense, and furiously shot her ghostly body down a toilet with a loud splash and disappeared.

"I'm trying to help you," said Hermione as evenly as she could.

"I don't need your help, you filthy little Mudblood," he spat.

For a moment, they glowered at each other darkly in tense silence.

"Fine," snapped Hermione finally. "You can stay here and bleed to death, or I'll take you to the hospital wing. It's your choice."

Malfoy did not utter a sound for a long moment, but she could see his jaws working. Apparently, he was fighting some kind of inner battle. She waited for his answer for a few more seconds, but obtaining none, she stood up to leave.

"I'm not going to the hospital wing," he forced out at last.

Once again, she considered helping him, but said instead as coldly as she could, "Then bleed to death."

She was already turning the doorknob when he groaned in frustration. She pivoted on her heel.

"Just say it, Malfoy!" she nearly shouted. "Just ask!"

Again, his jaws worked furiously, but he finally blurted out nastily, "Can you help me?" His cheeks were now tinged vividly with red.

She resisted the urge to smirk. "And what do you say?" she asked sweetly.

"Damn it, Granger!" he said angrily. "Please!"

"Now, that wasn't too hard, was it?" she asked, triumphant, as she crouched down again.

He looked ready to throttle her but said nothing. She reached for his hand, and this time, he did not attempt to resist.

"Episkey!" she said confidently. The wounds immediately stopped bleeding. "Scourgify!" The blood was cleaned from his hand.

They stood up and stared at each other, one with conflicted resentment and the other with a hint of smugness.

"Next time, bring your own wand with you," said Hermione, breaking the silence. "You're lucky I found you in time. Why were you hitting the mirror anyway?"

His eyes quickly darted away from her questioning gaze and were now fixed on a point above her shoulder. He shrugged.

"What's wrong?" she asked, remembering their encounter several nights ago.

"For the last time, Granger, mind your own business," he snapped, suddenly angry again.

With that and a swish of his black robes, he left the room and disappeared through the door, leaving Hermione alone in the boys' bathroom, her thoughts racing.

With the impending war right at the doorstep, few students had decided to remain at Hogwarts. Hermione now found herself frequently eating her meals alone with a book propped open before her. It really was a lonely existence, but she had never been quite as productive. She was glad that, at least, she was able to catch up on a lot of sleep that she had missed during the first half of the year.

She brought a forkful of chicken distractedly to her mouth and turned to the last page of the chapter. Soon, she closed the book and she finished her dinner, deciding to skip dessert. Once she raised her gaze, her eyes met none other than Malfoy's cool, calculating gray ones. Realizing that he was caught, he sneered at her and diverted his attention back to his plate. Hermione frowned. The boy was truly an enigma.

Hermione had observed that Malfoy's presence at mealtimes was relatively rare, and of the few times that he came, he always ate alone. He never had a book in front of him, like she did, but she often caught him deep in contemplation, his brow lightly furrowed. She couldn't help but wonder what he could be thinking. But first, however, she could not fathom why a spoiled brat like him would not go home for the holidays, where he would undoubtedly be showered with gifts.

She saw him scribble something on a piece of parchment, and her mind immediately began to work feverishly. What was he doing? Was he writing a letter to his mother, blaming her for forcing him to stay with a "Mudblood"? Worse, was he planning something? Was he plotting against Harry, Dumbledore, and everyone else?

Abruptly, he grabbed a first-year Hufflepuff who was passing by and said something inaudible. The terrified first year took the proffered folded piece of parchment and nodded. Malfoy let go, but Hermione looked on with outrage, debating whether or not to report him for manhandling a fellow student.

To Hermione's surprise, the Hufflepuff made his way toward her. The boy gave her the parchment with a shaking hand and left the Great Hall without waiting for her thanks. She glared at Malfoy, but he seemed engrossed in his food. Once she unfolded the parchment and read its contents, she realized to what extent her paranoia reached.

"Quit staring."

Blood rushed into her cheeks, and she crumpled the paper tightly in her fist. Hermione stuffed her books back into her bag and promptly left the Great Hall without a second look, utterly humiliated.

In the safety of the empty hallways, she realized her knuckles were white from her rigid hold on the paper. She took out her wand from her pocket and incinerated the parchment with a quick Incendio, and finally allowed herself to breathe freely, but the feeling did not last long.

Someone had just bumped into her rather forcefully from the back, and she stumbled a couple steps forward, ready to lash out, but her words died at the tip of her tongue as the identity of the person was revealed. She felt herself flush to the roots of her hair.

Before he rounded the corner and disappeared from her sight, she distinctly saw that trademark smirk on his face, though a little tired, and she felt her blush deepen. At last, her feet uprooted themselves from the spot, and she hastened to the common rooms, cursing that vile git of a Malfoy.

She was late. She had spent the last hour practicing spells in the common room and had unsurprisingly lost track of time. It was Christmas, and there was a feast to celebrate the occasion, if only she could get back to the castle before it was over. She burst through the doors to the Great Hall in the middle of Flitwick's blessings for the Christmas season, and every head turned her way. She reddened and muttered a quick apology, bowing her head and making her way to the single empty seat left, as the usual four House tables gave way to a single one. It was too late when she saw that the seat was next to Malfoy.

Reluctantly, she sat down, and the feast soon begun after Flitwick's final words. A fifth-year Ravenclaw immediately began to talk to anyone in the vicinity who cared, or at least, pretended to.

"…So my mother didn't really want me to stay at Hogwarts," she said, spewing forth words so rapidly they were difficult to follow. "As you know, You-Know-Who's back and in full power, so my mother thought it wouldn't be safe here at Hogwarts, but my father assured her that with Dumbledore here, there was no reason to worry. But really, do you know where Dumbledore is? I haven't seen him at all since the start of the winter holidays… But anyway, my friend Gina reckons that the youngest of the Weird Sisters is now engaged…"

Hermione tuned her out, realizing that the girl's first concern was legitimate. Where was Dumbledore? Was he on dangerous Order business? It was odd to find him always absent for long stretches of time.

Her gaze turned to Malfoy, who had not spoken since she had arrived and was religiously ignoring the friendly advances a fifth-year Hufflepuff was making. He looked as if there was somewhere else he'd much rather be and was bored out of his mind. Hermione concluded dismissively that perhaps he missed spending his Christmas holidays in luxury with his mother and house-elves, who were enslaved and exploited and… She forcefully suppressed her thoughts on the matter. Now was not the time.

A fourth-year Hufflepuff on Malfoy's other side suddenly squealed gleefully to her friend, pointing to a handsome Quidditch player who had apparently winked at her from the glossy pages of Witch Weekly.

"A little indigestion, Malfoy?" asked Hermione, unable to keep the smile off her face as she saw Malfoy's reaction to the girls.

"Why? Would you like to exchange seats?" he asked, glaring.

"No, it's all right," she said, grinning. "I think you're handling it excellently."

He continued to glare but said nothing.

The remainder of dinner passed in silence for both of them, though it was increasingly awkward that their arms constantly brushed against each other's whenever one reached for something. Dinner was over, and everyone was making their way out of the Great Hall, Hermione included.

"I need a walk," she muttered to no one in particular and proceeded to the Entrance Hall and the grounds beyond.

Snow was falling outside from the dark, impenetrable sky, and the wind was blowing with a vengeance, and Hermione looked up at the castle a little ruefully. The soft, yellow glow of candlelight emanating from various windows in the castle was beginning to look much more inviting. Nevertheless, she made her way down the steps, hugging the cloak tighter against her body. At the bottom of the steps, she heard the doors to the castle open and close while a tall dark form emerged.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, puzzled, as Malfoy descended the stairs as well.

"You're not the only one who's allowed to take a walk," he spat, obviously offended.

"There's no need to get defensive!" said Hermione, brows furrowed. "It was only a question."

He didn't respond, so Hermione turned around and walked toward the lake again. She had the distinct feeling that he was following her, but she could not understand why. Suddenly, his voice rang out above the howling of the wind, and his motives were made painfully clear.

"Where are Potter and the Weasel?" he shouted.

"Mind your own business!" she shouted back, scowling darkly at the recollection of Ron and Lavender.

"There's no need to get defensive!" he echoed her words mockingly. "It was only a question!"

"Shut up, Malfoy!" she shouted but turned around to face him. "Tell me, where have you been sneaking off to since the beginning of the year?"

A smirk emerged. He was mocking her, she observed with anger.

"Wouldn't you like to know?" he asked, his tone taunting.

An annoyed sigh escaped her lips, and she marched resolutely to the frozen lake, refusing to further acknowledge his presence, but the damage had already been done.

"So tell me, Mudblood"—her hands clenched into fists—"how does it feel like to be bested in Potions by Potter every class?"

The wind carried to her ears the infuriating sound of his derisive chuckle. As if Malfoy is feeling any better about that, she thought with a scoff but said nothing in response.

"How does it feel that the Weasel's dating that silly bint?" he asked provocatively. "What was her name again? Lavender Brown?"

Ignore him. Ignore him. Ignore him.

Her lips pressed tightly together, stifling her biting retort. He was only trying to vent his own frustrations by provoking her, and Hermione was determined to not give him the satisfaction. After all, what were the chances that his own secret project was working well?

Ignore him! Don't talk to him!

"Hey, Mudblood," he yelled, a little irritated. "I'm talking to you!"

Immature prick, she thought furiously but continued to walk forward, her back to his ceaseless taunts.

"When I'm talking to you, you answer me!" he shouted, now fully angry.

Suddenly, something cold and wet hit the back of her head and slid down her hair, under her clothes, and down her spine. She shivered uncontrollably, turning slowly to face her frustrated assailant. Her features were twisted into an almost unrecognizable grimace of rage.

She bent down and scooped up a large handful of snow, packing it tightly into a ball, and threw it with all her might at the blond bastard. At the last second, he dodged, and the snowball landed benignly on the ground where he had stood only moments ago. Hermione was undeterred as she retrieved more snow, pelting one snowball after another at the blond who was forced to perform a strange and awkward dance in order to avoid the onslaught of snowballs until one finally hit him face full.

At that, Hermione laughed cruelly, watching him wipe the snow from his eyes. But her contemptuous smile was wiped off her face as his snowball flew toward her in retaliation. She screamed and ducked, narrowly avoiding it. Fire seemed to engulf her as she simmered with rage, bending down to retrieve more snow.

"This"—she pulled her hand back, laden with snow, like a catapult—"is for Harry!" The snowball flew and hit him on his outstretched arm.

"This one," she said, taking a step closer to him, "is for Ron!"

It hit him on the leg.

"This is for years of torment!"

It caught him squarely in the chest, sending him back a few spaces.

"This is for me because Merlin knows how tired I am of your insults!"

It smacked right into the side of his white-blond head.

"And this, is for you and your inability to come up with better, more original insults!"

He finally received another face full.

"I pity you, Malfoy!" she screeched, nearly in hysterics. "Yes, I pity you because you're pathetic. You're the most pathetic person I have ever met! You're the most immature, insecure, cowardly—"

"SHUT UP!" he roared and suddenly pounced, sending her into the heap of fresh snow on the ground. "Shut up!"

Both were seething as they stared stubbornly and unwaveringly into each other's eyes, but neither spoke. His body was pressed against hers, and she could feel the heat emanating from him. His breath, in wispy mists, brushed against her flushed cheeks, but she continued to stare intensely into his icy gray eyes. They were so close their noses were nearly touching.

For a moment, neither of the two moved from their precarious position. Her anger dissipated, and her mind felt oddly blank, but their gazes remained locked. Suddenly, he realized how close they were and jumped up hastily, his face ashen. He was already heading back to the castle without another word as she pulled herself up from the snow-covered ground.

It was the last day of the winter vacations, and students would return the following day. Meanwhile, Hermione was making her way towards the library for some light reading, but she stopped abruptly in her tracks when she saw that her favorite table in the library was already occupied and by none other than Malfoy. They had not spoken since Christmas night, and she wondered whether the animosity was still there or whether it had changed into something else, for better or for worse.

She stepped forward resolutely toward the towering bookshelves, her nose defiantly in the air, determined that whatever he thought didn't affect her at all. She couldn't help but cast a quick peek in his direction, but her heart sank inexplicably when she saw that he was immersed in his work and had not even bothered to look up. Nevertheless, she grabbed a book from the shelves and settled down at a nearby table to begin to read, but she could not concentrate no matter how hard she tried, and her thoughts continuously drifted to the quiet blond at the adjacent table.

The memory of that night seemed to have been engraved into her mind. She could never forget how her heart raced when he pressed her down on the ground. The silver fire in his eyes haunted her dreams every night, so frequent were they that she had become afraid of falling asleep. Granted, she had been very angry at him that night, but she could not explain the faint blush that would creep up her face whenever she thought about him. In fact, she could already feel the burning in her cheeks.

It was wrong! She didn't care a bit for Malfoy! Not one bit. Besides, she was in love with Ron, wasn't she?

And she was filth in his eyes, a Mudblood. Malfoy could not possibly feel anything but disgust and hatred toward her. Wasn't he somehow involved with Parkinson anyway? Well, actually, no one knew for sure. He was very distracted all year, so he was a lot more tolerable than usual. Was this evidence that there was still hope for him?

Suddenly, he looked up and their gazes locked.

There was no malice in his eyes, though the corners of his lips tugged into the semblance of a smirk, and she felt blood rushing to her face, coloring it a vivid crimson. She looked away, but she could still feel his gaze boring into her very soul.

"Enjoying yourself, Granger?" he mocked, smirking fully now in satisfaction.

"Don't flatter yourself, Malfoy," she spat back defiantly, but her cheeks burned. She was amazed that they had not caught fire yet. Nevertheless, she kept her eyes fixed on the pages of her book.

He scoffed derisively. "Am I supposed to be hurt by that?" he asked. "What happened to the 'I-pity-you' and the 'you're pathetic'? That was a lot more entertaining."

She found the courage to meet his eyes again and snorted. "As I recall," she began matter-of-factly, "you didn't seem to have been enjoying yourself out there when I said those things. Did you?" She smiled sweetly.

His smirk faded slightly, but the tone of his voice did not change. "Oh, actually, I found our little snowball fight quite enjoyable. I was surprised to find that your aim is more accurate than that of the entire Gryffindor Quidditch team put together."

She opened her mouth and closed it, gaping like a fish, but unable to respond. Trust Malfoy to combine a compliment and an insult in one breath.

"No need to thank me," he said smugly.

"Malfoy, you are the most despicable and conceited—"she began but was interrupted.

"Now there's the Granger we all love," he commented, snickering.

Hermione quickly clamped her mouth shut as she glared on.

"What do you want Malfoy?" she asked, trying vainly to calm her temper.

"I could ask the same for you," he said.

She eyed him suspiciously. "So what are you reading?" she asked innocently.

His smirk had disappeared entirely and his arm moved quickly to cover his book. "None of your business," he answered curtly.

Realizing that she had just gained the upper hand, she rose from her seat and walked over to him, plopping down into the seat in front of him. His own smirk was now mirrored on her face. He glared darkly, whatever air of playfulness completely gone from his features.

"What are you hiding from me, Draco?" His given name was drawled out in the most irritating way possible.

"Nothing," he said, protectively pulling his book closer to him. "Leave, Granger."

"You've had your fun," she said. "Now, it's my turn."

"Granger, leave," he snarled irritably.

Her eyes darted surreptitiously to his book, and he snapped it shut rapidly, pulling it under the table, but it was already too late.

"Haven't mastered your Vanishing Charms yet?" she asked, grinning widely.

His eyes widened in shock and what appeared to be panic, but he recovered rapidly. Even for a moment, he seemed to be pleased about something.

"Yes, but don't tell anyone," he said, his face now rearranged into a look of worry and humiliation. "I'm having some trouble understanding the theoretical implications of the Vanishing Charm. For instance, where do the objects go after being vanished?"

A spark of excitement had settled in her eyes as she recognized the academic nature of his question. As she launched into her explanation, she missed entirely the look of relief that crossed his face.

"In fact," she concluded, "a complex web of spells, including Vanishing Charms, can produce teleportation capabilities in ordinary objects."

"Really?" he asked, genuinely interested. "And how exactly does this work?"

"It's fascinating, actually," she said. "I think I've read this in a book somewhere."

She proceeded to tell him about the magical theory of teleportation and was surprised to find him riveted, clinging to her every word. Suspicion began to darken her enthusiastic mood.

"And are there any practical applications to this? I mean to ask, how does one create a large-scale teleportation device like that?" He quickly bit his lip, perhaps realizing that he had been too eager.

Hermione hesitated, her suspicion intensifying. "Why do you want to know?" she asked, eying him warily.

He hastily took on a nonchalant façade and shrugged for effect. "It just seems fascinating, as you've said. I'm just curious. I never knew that Vanishing Charms could do all that."

Although she was unconvinced, she told him anyway. "Well," she began, "it is rather like a Portkey, but there are some key differences."

Once again, he listened closely to her words, but this time, his interest was masked and much less pronounced. He appeared to be keeping himself in check.

When she had finished telling him, he beamed at her his most charming smile, greatly alleviating his exhausted appearance, and though her heart fluttered, she felt the first twinges of regret. However, before she could act on her remorse, he leaned forward and pecked her on the cheek.

She stood, stunned, while she watched his pale face flush lightly.

He turned and promptly disappeared from the library while she was still paralyzed. Her cheek still tingled at the memory of his lips brushing against the smooth skin.

When February had rolled around, Hermione's situation with Ron had not improved, although she had taken a cruel pleasure in calling him "Won-Won". She was, however, contented to see that he and Lavender had become more distant, and Ron was trying increasingly harder to avoid his girlfriend.

Malfoy, on the other hand, was more indecipherable as ever. Now that school was in full session, they had very few interactions outside of their prefect duties, and even then, they tended to ignore each other as best they could. Thankfully, no one had noticed any odd behavior between them, though she, herself, thought that the awkwardness and tension was thick enough to be cut with a knife.

What was truly shocking, though, was the owl she had received that morning, Valentine's Day. She had never remotely liked Valentine's Day and could honestly believe that the owl she had received was really a trick. "Meet me by the lake at eight tonight," the letter had simply stated, almost like a command. The handwriting was vaguely familiar, but she was unable to discern whose it was exactly.

She had originally resolved to ignore it, but the push of her curiosity and the pull of the mystery had been too strong for her to resist. So she found herself running down the steps leading to the grounds at two minutes until eight with her wand clutched tightly in her hand and her heart hammering painfully in anticipation.

Her footsteps were muffled on the snow-covered ground as she made her way toward the tall, dark figure by the lake, his appearance only illuminated slightly by the cool moonlight. His hood was pulled over his head and his back was turned toward her, and Hermione suddenly began to feel the smallest hints of fear as her eyes bore holes through his back. This could very well be a trap, she knew, clutching her wand tighter in her hand until her knuckles turned white.

They were now within feet of each other, but he had not moved. A breeze fluttered by softly, sending his black robes billowing behind him languidly. Still, he was frozen in his spot.

Hermione coughed lightly to get his attention.

As expected, he spun around, and though the hood cast a shadow over half of his face, she could feel the intensity of his gaze on her.

However, his telltale pointed chin stamped out all doubt that crossed her mind concerning his identity.

"Malfoy?" she asked softly, her voice surprisingly even despite the dryness of her mouth and throat.

Honestly, she would be lying to herself if she said that it was truly a shock. What did come as a shock, however, was that she was feeling safe around him.

He lowered his hood, and the moonlight reflected off his shining platinum blond hair. For a moment, neither spoke, but he bore an unmistakable scowl, as if he had been expecting to see someone else.

"You're the one who sent me this, aren't you?" she finally asked, withdrawing the parchment from the pocket of her robes.

"Well I'm here waiting for you, aren't I?" he asked, his voice icy, and she became conscious of the stupidity of her question.

"So…" Her voice trailed off, and she waited for him to complete the sentence. When he didn't, she asked awkwardly, "Is there—is there anything that… er… you'd like to t—talk about?"

His hard, steely eyes gazed at hers for a moment before his eyelids clamped shut over them, and he released a long sigh.

"What have you done to me?" Though his words were accusatory, his tone was resigned and defeated. He suddenly looked more exhausted than she had seen him all year.

"What? What do you mean?" she asked, genuinely confused, but her heart, oh her treacherous heart, pounded wildly inside her chest. She shouldn't dare to even dream about it.

"I… Damn, Granger! I can't do this anymore! You—you're… I—I can't…"

He was visibly flustered, and his cheeks were tinged pink, but Hermione waited patiently.

"I think I… I think I actually… need you," he finally burst out, and his delicate features were contorted in anguish. "And I can't—I can't stop thinking about you. I'm not supposed to… Merlin, this is so wrong."

She grasped his hand in hers.

"I can help you," she said firmly, but he was averting his eyes.

"I'm not supposed to…" he protested, sounding decidedly childish.

"Malfoy, shut up," said Hermione, now gripping him by his shoulders and giving him a slight shake.

For a few seconds, Malfoy was immobile, and it seemed that there was a battle that raged within him, but the next moment, Malfoy's lips had descended and captured hers in a kiss.

And the kiss was a lot of things, but it certainly was not magical.

Their teeth bumped against each other almost painfully, and both their lips were wet and slobbery. They accidentally bit each other most unintentionally and unpleasantly, nearly drawing blood. Their first kiss was a mess, and it was useless to deny the fact, but both flushed profusely after they broke apart at last.

"Wow," she said sheepishly. "That was…"

"Terrible, I know," he muttered irately, his blush deepening.

Nevertheless, a ridiculous grin spread onto her face, and she stifled bubbling laughter that appeared to rise uncontrollably from the pit of her stomach.

"Thanks," he spat sarcastically, uncomprehending the source of her laughter. "I appreciate your ridicule."

Her laughter finally burst through, and the night air was filled with its melody.

"Malfoy, you're so overdramatic!" said Hermione through her laughter. "Besides, you'd deserve the ridicule after what you've put me and my friends through for the past six years!"

He scowled darkly and did not respond.

"Malfoy—Draco," she said, and the only remnants of her laughter were her smile and shining eyes.

He stared at her.

"Practice makes perfect," she whispered.

She reached again for his hand and grasped it firmly in a gesture of comfort before pulling his head down to meet with hers with her free hand. Their lips met in a searing kiss. When they finally broke apart, breathless, they stared at each other for a short moment.

"This won't change anything, you know," he said, utterly and tactlessly slaughtering the mood.

"I can see that," she retorted with a smile. "You'll always be a twitchy little ferret to me. Now… where were we?"


A/N: Please review!