Author's Note: Greetings, gentle reader! So. Here it is. The much-anticipated, hopefully-worth-the-wait Chapter 17 . I must admit, this is the first chapter of the story not under a beta's influence every step of the way. In short, I'm quite nervous about it. Both my betas have been, understandably, detained by that nuisance known simply as Life. So, I am now beta-less and on the lookout for another 1 or 2...or even 3! I don't have the time to sort through the literally-THOUSANDS of betas out there, and I won't hold you up any longer with details about what I need in a beta, so if you're interested and preferably experienced, feel free to message me!
And now, with only a tiny bit of ado...on with the chapter! Enjoy!
Revelation and Reflection
Hermione sat in Arithmancy, her foot jiggling restlessly as her eyes darted to the clock every few minutes. It was the first class since they'd gotten back from Christmas holidays, and Professor Vector was sure to have read the pairs assignment by now. As soon as the bell rang, she sprang out of her chair and began packing her bag, anxious to be out of the room and away from Malfoy as quickly as possible.
She almost made it, too.
"Ms. Granger, Mr. Malfoy, kindly stay behind for a brief word!" she heard Professor Vector call out over the clatter of chairs being pushed back and students bum-rushing the hall. Cursing to herself under her breath, Hermione closed her eyes and turned slowly, deliberately avoiding Malfoy's eyes.
"Professor, it's potions next, I wouldn't want to be—", Malfoy began.
"I'll be sure Professor Snape knows why you two are late. My office, please," Professor Vector cut in, gesturing to the door at the back of the classroom. They walked back slowly, as though that would stop the berating sure to come next. When they got in, Professor Vector gestured to the two chairs opposite her desk and closed the door. "Have a seat." The two apprehensive students sat obediently.
"Now. The pairs assignment," she began as she settled herself behind her desk and folded her hands upon it. "I assigned it, fully aware that not all essays would be the most, ah…complimentary. However, both of yours stood out from the rest." She paused there, as though to invite either student to defend themselves. When neither did, she continued. Both students braced themselves for the long-winded and pause-heavy monologue that was sure to follow.
"I must admit, I paired you two together as part of...let's call it a social experiment. One would have to be blind or very thick indeed to miss the tremendous amount of animosity that exists between your houses. Being two of my best students, I had hoped that you might rise above such things and write essays that were a bit more above-the-bar. Or, at the very least, civil. Sadly, the experiment was a dismal failure, as both of your papers were extremely biased, and on a very personal level. Mr. Malfoy, I'm not quite sure why you deemed it appropriate to call Ms. Granger a"—here she paused to peer at his paper through her glasses—"'frigid cow', but I assure you it is not." She paused again to let Hermione absorb these words. Hermione slowly turned her head to look at Malfoy, who was suddenly very interested in the arm of his chair.
"As for you, Ms. Granger, whatever your personal feelings about Mr. Malfoy, I had hoped that you, at least, might have striven for objectivity." She rifled through a few papers before plucking one out and reading aloud, "'Draco Malfoy is an arrogant, ignorant, insolent, and haughty excuse for an human being'. Three of those adjectives being completely synonymous aside, this is not at all the sort of thing I'd expect from you." Hermione looked down at her shoes at the sound of the words. They'd been written in anger nearly two weeks ago, and admittedly forgotten about when she'd hastily finished the paper and handed it in the day before holidays.
This is precisely why I shouldn't have involved myself with him in the first place! she thought angrily. Now she would undoubtedly get her first bad grade—ever, thank you very much!—and it was all Malfoy's fault. She sighed unhappily. Well. At least it would force her to spend even more time in the library, and therefore more time avoiding Malfoy. Then, with a small shake of her head, she remembered the professor was still talking, and decided to pity herself later.
"Now, as you've both proven to be excellent students, and because you did complete the assignment, I'll let these papers go." At this, both students' heads jerked up in surprise. "However, I'll be watching both of you and expect the rest of your work this year to be up to your usual quality. Am I understood?"
"Yes, Professor," they mumbled humbly.
"Good," Professor Vector replied, taking out a piece of parchment and scribbling a few lines on it. "Give this to Professor Snape, it should clear you of being tardy. See you next week."
Hermione took the parchment and gave the professor a stiff smile, wondering, yet again, whether to use the Knee-Reversing Jinx or the Tickling Hex...
As soon as they were in the hallway, Granger swatted him on the arm. "Frigid cow?!" she hissed.
"First of all, that didn't hurt. Secondly, I call them like I see them," he replied, rubbing his arm, despite what he'd claimed. "And you weren't exactly complimentary either, Granger."
"At least what I said was true!" she shot back.
"Oh, and having sex with a bloke then going all prude on him the next time isn't frigidity?" he asked.
" No, it's not! More like me coming to my senses before sleeping with a complete git—again! Admittedly, the revelation came at a bit of a bad time and I apologize," she replied, a bit haughtily.
"A bit of a bad time. No, Granger. 'A bit of a bad time' would have been, oh, I dunno, before we had already started. How on earth can the girl with the highest marks in the class be so hopelessly stupid when it comes to this sort of thing? You read enough that you ought to be an expert!"
"I don't tend to waste my time on smut such as that. And I want more out of a relationship than casual sex. Is that so hard to grasp? Excuse me if I'm not quite up to the level of 'tart' that you're used to."
"Well, why in the hell didn't you just say so, then?"
"Would it have made any difference to you if I had?" she asked, her voice raising in volume.
"Maybe!" he all but yelled back. Granger blinked and all traces of anger left her face, surprise and confusion quickly replacing them. Draco's own eyes widened and he quickly backtracked, realizing what he'd just implied. "I mean, uh, maybe...maybe you could have saved us both a lot of time. If I'd known that you wanted...that...maybe I wouldn't have even bothered," he tried, but it sounded weak, even to his own ears. Granger's eyes narrowed a bit, but her face relaxed. Draco cleared his throat. "Shouldn't we be getting to class?"
They fell into an uneasy silence as they started walking again.
"Why were you at the Slug Club party?" she asked suddenly.
He gave a quick shrug. "I don't know. Curiosity, I guess."
"And?" she prodded.
He shrugged again. "It looked like fun," he allowed.
She shrugged, too. "It was okay."
"Oh, I don't know...it looked like you and McLaggen were pretty cozy under the mistletoe," he replied, flashing a grin at her, and knowing full well it hadn't been the case. Somehow, though, he couldn't help himself from bringing it up.
Hermione stopped and stared at Malfoy in disbelief. At first, she was a bit ashamed at him having seen her in that position. Then she got angry. What the hell business of it was his who she snogged, or when and where?
"You think I can't enjoy myself in that way with someone other than you?" she demanded, crossing her arms.
He had the nerve to smirk. Smirk! "Well..."
"And just how do you know that I didn't enjoy it more with him than with you? Hmm?" She knew she was being a bit unreasonable, but it irked her that he was so smug about it.
"I'm pretty certain. You didn't look like you were enjoying it at all, actually."
"And just how in the hell would you know?"
"The hands on his chest trying to push him off of you was a pretty good indicator."
"I seem to remember doing the same thing to a certain smug Slytherin," she replied loftily.
"Would that be the same smug Slytherin that you lost your virginity to not too long after?" he countered.
Dammit, she thought. But she wasn't about to let him get the upper hand. So instead of admitting he was right, she smirked right back. "I suppose that should be a pretty good indicator of what happened later on then, shouldn't it?" She wasn't sure why she said such a blatant lie, but it worked. He hesitated, and she got a small satisfaction at the bothered look that crossed his face. She turned on her heel and started stalking away from him, quite pleased with herself. She heard him start after her a few moments later, and amused herself until then with the mental image of him staring after her, perhaps even a bit longingly. It would serve him right!
Until, of course, he opened his mouth in a very Malfoy-like way.
"I suppose you had to find comfort somewhere after I rejected you."
Granger's lower jaw dropped as she came to an abrupt halt and whirled around. "Excuse me?"
Draco held his hands up in front of himself, palms to her and his fingers spread innocently. "No, no, I get it. Needing someone to lick your wounds is perfectly understandable."
"I...you little...you reject me?" she asked loudly. She stepped up to him and planted a finger on his chest, poking him hard. He backed up a few steps. "It was me that did the rejecting, if I remember correctly! I was the one that stormed out of the room when you tried to...to..." She couldn't seem to finish the sentence.
He did it for her. "To what? To do what we were meeting there to do?" he supplied.
"No!" She turned from him and started storming down the hallway.
He, of course, being a Malfoy, wouldn't have it. "Then what? You changed your mind? Wanted to play the game a bit longer?" he called, following her.
"You practically mauled me the second I set foot in the room!" she cried, spinning to face him once again. "You just...you could have gone a bit slower, that's all!" She took a deep breath and looked at him properly. He just stood there, thunderstruck by this outburst. She met his eyes for a brief moment and he saw confusion there, just as she probably saw it in his own. Thankfully, she looked down at her watch. "We're almost fifteen minutes late for Potions now. We'd better get to class," she said softly, turning again. He caught up a few moments later.
Before he could stop himself, he was catching her arm and stopping her.
"Wha—" she started, before she was pulled to him. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her softly. When she didn't pull away, he pressed his lips a bit harder on hers, nudging her mouth open. She responded almost immediately, not even bothering to pretend she didn't want to. Her bag fell to the floor with a loud clunk as her arms circled his neck and her lips pressed back against his. She lifted herself up onto her toes to reach better. He let go of her with one arm in order to push one hand into her hair, cradling her head gently as her mouth opened willingly under his.
Then, quite suddenly, he pulled away. Hermione heard him whisper something, but her brain wasn't really processing any thoughts just yet. She wavered a bit for a moment, and his arm tightened around her waist. Her eyes floated open a few seconds later.
"Hmm?" she asked.
Draco smirked a bit.
"I said, you mean like that?" he repeated.
She blinked and cleared her throat, all business again. Extracting herself firmly from his grasp, she smoothed her uniform down and straightened her robe. "Yes. Like that," she replied icily, patting her hair down. "But it's a bit late now, isn't it?" With that, she picked up her bag before walking calmly away. Draco watched her, much the same way he'd done that very first night outside the library.
As she turned the corner and walked out of sight, he started walking back the opposite direction. Merlin, how had he managed to forget how soft her lips were? He wasn't sure what it had been about this most recent kiss that made her let go so easily, rather than trying to pull away at first, but he liked it.
Maybe a little too much. Which was why he'd pulled back.
And why he was sporting uncomfortably tight pants as he walked back to the common room. There would be no point in attending a lesson he knew he couldn't concentrate on. And there would be no concentration today, not with Hermione in the same room.
Hmm, he wondered privately. When had he started thinking of her as Hermione instead of Granger?
Another Author's Note: All right...there it is! I hope it was up to your expectations. If not, and you have a beta-type suggestion or comment, please send it in a message rather than a review; it's must easier to wade through messages than reviews! Thanks! -Manda.