Disclaimer: I own no part of the Harry Potter franchise; all characters and ideas belong to J.K.Rowling.

"Up awfully late, aren't you? And all by yourself, too- must be lonely, having your only friends angry at you, isn't it, mudblood?" The smirk that accompanied such words curled his lips naturally, as if he'd been smirking his entire life. Come to think of it, he had. He smirked a little more. The words had formed themselves on his lips the minute he'd seen and recognized her. It was, again, a natural thing for him to insult the girl whenever he saw her. Insult her to her very core. He didn't always mean to pay her any attention but it was as if, the moment he saw her, he simply had to be a nasty git. Not that he didn't enjoy it. Still, she was so far beneath him that paying her any attention at all was the wrong sort of insult. No, he really ought to be ignoring her. It would be so much more…appropriate. Ignoring her would send exactly the right sort of message. Ignoring her would say, "You're so unimportant to me that I can't even be bothered to insult you for trying to be something you shouldn't, you piece of trash." But perhaps the reason the words came again tonight, as so often before, was that he was always just a little surprised whenever he saw her. Surprised at how studious she was, how pristine she kept herself in spite of that rat's nest of hair, how relaxed and happy she was when the Weasel was chatting her up, how her thick black lashes fell against her cheeks when she read…take tonight, for instance.

He had to remind himself that it had taken him more than a few seconds to realize the brown haired, slight form of a girl sitting at the study desk was her. The candlelight from the lantern on the table was glowing softly, casting a soft glow over her face. The shadows from the darkened library made her look much smaller than usual as she sat in the large wooden chair, her black robes squashed up underneath her. He could see her slim legs disappearing into the darkness under the table, making it look like her feet didn't touch the floor. Tucked away in her own little corner of the large, deserted library, she'd looked almost…appealing. If appealing was a word one could use to describe muggleborns. He smirked again, against his better nature. He had a better nature? Well, when looked at from the perspective that muggleborns were foul and loathsome, he did. Fortunately, that was the view he went through life with. Better nature, indeed. At any rate, he supposed even a filthy mudblood could be attractive from time to time. They were still…humans, even if they were impure. He paused in his thoughts and noticed that the slight frame in front of him had tensed and stilled. He smirked again. Got her where it hurts. Excellent. He swung around to the other side of the desk and slid gracefully into the chair across from her. Now I'll have some fun. If I can't force myself to ignore her, the next best thing is making her cry.

Hermione had been up all night for the past two evenings, trying to both get ahead on her schoolwork and ignore the gnawing, the devouring of her insides as she beat back tears again and again. She didn't want to cry over Ron and Harry. She was tired of crying over them. She was sick of crying over them. She was both, she freely admitted, and dampened down the urge to vomit once more. Her insides continued to gnaw. At what, she wasn't sure, but they were certainly finding footing somewhere. It was bad enough, wasn't it, that her best friends hated her, weren't speaking to her, but now half that school knew and everyone was laughing at her. Laughing at her. HER!!! The princess of Gryffindor, the girl who knew everything and was kind and lovely and, well, even if she was a little homely, people liked. Or, at least, they used to. Love her, that is. She clenched her quill in her hands and it snapped in two. She stared at it for a moment and then shook her fists up and down, jumping in her seat in silent frustration. She opened her mouth in a little scream and jumped some more. The desk rocked a bit and she stopped. She felt a little better after that, but not much. Gods, if this was how Harry felt all the time, she didn't blame him for being angsty and a stupid git. Like he was being to her right now. She sighed and plopped her head in her hands, staring down at the report before her. Like Ron was being to her right now. She shook her head and sighed again.

Hermione knew, in her heart, that they would both snap out of it eventually. After all, they needed her and they both knew it. Everyone knew it. She had a sneaking suspicion that knowledge was part of the reason they were being such prats right now. She was about to spend more time pondering this thought when she heard a voice from behind. The slightest of shadows crossed over her study table. She tensed and stilled completely, recognizing the voice. A grimace crossed her face. She suddenly felt very, very tired. Too tired. Far too tired to deal with this…with him. She stayed still, her head still in her hands from a few moments before. She kept her breathing even. Maybe he'd think she was asleep? Or hadn't heard her? Or…or maybe he's suddenly not almost evenly ranked with me and all those good grades he gets are actually the result of good, old-fashioned cheating. That's the only way he'd actually be stupid enough to think I didn't hear him. She didn't hear anything from him for a moment, but the shadow remained so she knew he hadn't left. What was he doing? Getting ready to humiliate her? Rub her current situation in her face? Probably a combination of both. Ah, she knew Malfoy just as well as she knew Harry and Ron, in some ways. She felt a smirk form itself upon her lips just as she heard him move and felt his presence in front of her. Well, that was good, at any rate. She'd rather he be in front of her, facing her, than behind her, poised to strike. Not that he couldn't strike equally well from either position. She imagined him as a snake, as the snakey, slippery, slimy Slytherin he was. She imagined saying that and felt the smirk grow wider until it was a smile. Then she giggled. Almost immediately she pulled her head up and clapped both hands over her mouth, but found she couldn't stop giggling, for some reason. She tried, very hard, to stop but soon discovered that only led to snorting and her eyes grew wide. She looked around her, below her, anywhere but to the boy sitting in front of her.

Draco was quite taken aback by the turn of events at first. He hadn't expected her to start laughing. No, she was supposed to snap back at him with something nasty and mean; he'd return the favor and then she'd cry and run away. Or he'd leave her to cry by her lonesome. Yes, that would be much more fitting. Instead, here she was, smirking to begin with (he could see the telltale corners of her mouth edging up) and then giggling. Not just giggling, but snorting, she was laughing so hard. Or was it she was trying not to laugh? He couldn't tell at first. He decided on the latter, without much conviction. When she didn't stop after the first few giggles, he began to grow annoyed, then angry. He had to say something. Here he was, intending to make the rest of her night perfectly miserable and she was laughing. He placed his hands on the table and leaned forward, noticing that she was looking everywhere except at him. Or perhaps it was anywhere but him. For some reason the thought angered him more. He clenched his hands on the table, noting the way her eyes were still scrunched up at the corners and her hands were clapped so tightly over her mouth her fingers were digging into her cheeks. Her nostrils were flaring slightly just over the top of her hands as she breathed hard, trying to stop her laughter. He slowed his own breathing down some and forced himself to lean back in his seat, consciously relaxing his fingers' grip on the desk top. He stared at her coolly from behind grey eyes and waited. He'd wait all night, if he had too. Why are these chairs so blasted uncomfortable? Well, maybe not all night. He really didn't want to have to wait that long for a little fun with someone so…unworthy, even, of his attentions. The thought struck him and he realized he was being stupid. He ought to get up and leave, right now. He tried to move, but found that his legs wouldn't carry him up and out of his chair. He wanted too badly to humiliate this girl who was sitting here, in front of him, after he'd insulted her, and still had the nerve to laugh. He stayed in his seat and decided he could wait, after all, but that he definitely could not keep his mouth shut. Who knew when she would be done giggling?

"I'm so glad you can enjoy a good insult when you hear one, mudblood." Oh, no. He grimaced inwardly, noting how her eyes finally darted up to meet his. The scrunch lines around her eyes remained, but her breathing began to even out. Why had he said such a thing twice in one night? Not that he needed much prompting to insult her, but twice? Surely he could come up with a few new insults.

Apparently, she was thinking the same thing, because she echoed the sentiment aloud. Well, actually, it came out as more of, "Mrmph mph mmmm mrmph mph mph?"

Hermione heard what she sounded like and suddenly began to giggle again. To her dismay, the boy in front of her leaned forward again, his hands creeping slowly towards her on the table, fingers twitching as if he wanted to strangle something. They looked like arthritic spiders. She laughed harder, her hands flew from her mouth and clasped themselves about her ribs in an effort to control her mounting hysterics.

"Damn it, Granger, what in hell has come over you? Can't you just take my bloody insults and cry already? I'm getting tired!" The words were out of his mouth before he had time to think. The girl in front of him began shrieking with laughter and she pointed at him.

"You!" she barely managed to get out, "y-you…," her voice trailed off into tears as her body continued to shake with silent and, it appeared, painful laughter.

Draco began to feel even more uncomfortable than the seat alone made him. He finally realized she was hysterical and began to debate with himself over his options. He could hit her, of course. That would be the most expedient way to not only get her to shut up but also hurt her feelings. It might possibly make her cry as well, which was his goal. Yes, hitting her was high on his list. He could also get up and walk away. Walking away was always good, too, wasn't it? It would at least get him out of the situation in an expedient manner, but if he simply left he would've already sat here, taking her laughter (her insulting laughter) for about ten minutes. No, he finally decided, ten minutes was too much time to invest in the hunt without a return. He opted for hitting her.

Hermione barely noticed that Malfoy was getting up and walking back around the table to her, towards her, in fact. She thought he was just going to leave. After all, he'd said he was tired. The thought sent her into more peals of laughter so that she only registered the fact that Malfoy was not leaving when he bodily lifted her from her seat and gave her a quick shake. She supposed she ought to be frightened, but tears were running down her cheeks, she was laughing so hard, that the scare lasted only a second before flying from her mind. The next fright, however, stayed with her.

Draco smirked at the state she was in. He wasn't genuinely concerned. After all, she'd probably been under a lot of stress lately. He figured her laughter didn't have so much to do with him than with the fact that her two best friends were shunning her and she was losing sleep. When he lifted her from her chair, the loss of sleep showed. His close up view of her face almost shocked him. It wasn't the pleasant surprise he normally got from seeing her, it was a slight twinge of…pity? No, surely not. She looked awfully…appealing? No, not that word again! Gods, he shook her a bit for confusing him with those great dark circles under her eyes and the way her slight frame looked thinner than usual. Not that he'd spent any great amount of time contemplating her frame. It was only normal, wasn't it, to notice things like that though after nearly six years of insults and aggressive staring contests.

He noticed she went a little quiet at the shaking but kept laughing. Well, time for plan A. Draco had to admit, he was rather excited about hitting her. Especially after that incident a couple of years ago. He knew he'd never forget the feeling of her fist in his face. He found that he was quite eager for her to experience the same from him. Lifting a hand from her arm, he brought it forward and struck her fully round in the face. His hand hit the skin of her cheek with a satisfying smack! He worried for a moment that he heard a slight crunching noise, but ignored his concern instead to watch for the effect of his strike. He was right about his choice and was rewarded with a cessation of laughter and an increase in tears. She struggled against his grip as her sobs grew louder and he shook her a bit more, for good measure.

Hermione hadn't been prepared for the slap. It wasn't the kind of slap her mother gave her when she was hysterical. It was more of a wife-beater, Tennessee Williams backhand to the face and it hurt. Oh, gods, did it hurt. She suspected that if he hadn't had a hold of her when he hit her, it was quite probable she would've gone flying against the nearest bookshelf and slumped to the floor. She kind of wanted to do that now, just for theatrics' sake. A smile tried to curl her lips again and she winced in pain. She felt her mouth stop smiling and instead gape open as the tears that had previously been happy began pouring down her cheeks freely. She suddenly felt as if she could sleep for days and throw up the nothing that was in her stomach and probably twist Ron and Harry's heads right off their necks if they'd let her get that close. The anger she'd felt but tamped down so they'd be more likely to come running back to her sooner exploded out of her as she bawled. She struggled and felt Malfoy shake her more. Oh, it was too much. How could they do this to her? How could Malfoy be so intent on making her life even more miserable than it already was? What a foul, horrific, stupid, stupid, stupid git. She finally looked up and spit in his face and he immediately dropped her from his grasp to wipe away the saliva before it could sully his face any longer.

Draco felt the spit land on the side of his nose and gagged. He hastily thrust Granger away and wiped at the saliva. Hermione watched him from behind teary eyes as she stumbled backwards and landed in her chair once more. She noted the distaste that curled his mouth downward into a frown as he touched his face gingerly with the edge of his sleeve. The sight was almost enough to make her laugh again…she thought better of it and lifted her hand to her cheek. When she brought it away to look at it, there was a mixture of tears, snot and blood on her fingertips. Her crying subsided into a series of quiet sighs at the sight and she bent over to rummage through her book bag. She was certain she had a handkerchief somewhere in its depths.

Draco watched her as she began to dig around through her book pack. He wondered, briefly, what she was looking for when he realized that he'd made her bleed. He smirked as he continued to wipe at his face. Yes, his efforts had paid off. He was finally having some fun. He swept over to the seat he'd vacated a minute before and resumed his previous position: hands on table, nonchalant tilt of the head, smooth curve of his back as he slumped gracefully back into the chair. Instead of watching her closely this time, however, he kept a look of complete disgust and revulsion on his face as he lifted first one hand, then the other, to inspect his fingernails with great show. Let her think he was bored of her. Who knew? Perhaps he could actually succeed in ignoring her for once. Upon remembering how it felt to hit her, it might even be a good thing to ignore her. He thought that perhaps he was lucky he'd been able to stop easily enough. Normally, when he hit people he enjoyed it and found it difficult to stop hitting them. Although, once he considered it, he realized he never had much cause for hitting girls. Granted, Pansy annoyed him often enough…but she was a pureblood, he'd never hit her if he could help it. So why had he stopped with this muggleborn, then? It was an interesting and, for the time being, unanswerable question.

Hermione remained quiet as she found her hanky and pulled it out, dabbing it carefully along her nose to quell the bleeding before wiping her eyes and blowing her nose- again, carefully- to get the snot out. She hated crying. No matter how cathartic it was, she always felt a disgusting mess afterwards. Her eyes were dry and itchy, her cheeks and nose puffy and red and her chin damp and sticky from collected tears and mucus. Yes, she was completely disgusting. No wonder Malfoy was looking at her now like…wait, he wasn't looking at her. But a pained look rested on his face as he inspected his fingernails. Did he feel bad for what he'd done? Surely not. She continued to dab at her nose with the hanky until it was stained a bright pink.

He could feel her shift in her seat under his inattentive watch. For a moment, Draco allowed himself the luxury of looking at her face. She looked a little better. Tearstained and somewhat distraught and the handkerchief in her hands was turning red from the blood, but the evidence of blood on her face was gone and she just looked a little puffy now. He could see her gingerly touching the side of her nose as he gazed at her from beneath heavy lids. He continued to inspect his nails until he heard her start to sniff, as if she wanted his attention: as if she was put out with him that he'd treat her that way and then ignore her. He smirked. Time for the real fun, he thought.

Draco lifted his eyes to hers and they met each other's gaze over the table for a moment. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but she beat him to it.

"What is it now, Malfoy?" Now her eyes were lidded and gazing at him steadily, as though she were bored with the whole affair. He was a little startled at her attitude, but as he remained quiet for some minutes he noted a nervous look skitter behind those dark lashes for the briefest of seconds. Then it was gone. No matter, he nodded inwardly. That was all the confirmation I needed. I've gotten to her and she wants out. He chuckled lightly. Too bad for her.

"I think you owe me an apology, Granger," he smirked and waited for her response.

She looked shocked. "Me? Apologize to you when you're the one who hit me?"

Wonderful, he thought. Not only did she look shocked, she sounded outraged. It dissipated quickly though, even before he managed to snap back with, "Yes, apologize to me for spitting in my face- especially after I'm the one who stopped your completely uncalled for hysteria, you piece of trash!"

Hermione opened her mouth as though to respond, but she slowly shut it again and fell back against her seat, leaning her head back to stare at the ceiling. She brought the hanky up to her nose again. She wasn't sure if she was staunching the blood flow anymore or just trying to hide the tears that were gathering in her eyes once more. Damn it, she was tired! Why didn't he understand that and just leave her alone for once? Oh, of course. He was Malfoy. Why leave someone alone who's sad and hurting already when you can kick her when she's down? She heaved a sigh and coughed a couple of times. She heard him say something else rude and insulting, but it barely registered this time. Instead of paying closer attention to him, she just rolled her eyes and sighed again. She heard the anger in his voice rising.

The words tumbled from her mouth before she could stop to think.

"Gods, Malfoy, not tonight. I'm just not inclined to argue with you right now. You are the one thing not on my list of things to deal with at the moment. Can't you just leave, please, and stop being a git, just this one time? I'll gladly argue with you tomorrow, if you'll just leave me alone, right now." She raised herself upright and looked straight at him.She could see anger boiling away behind his eyes, but all she could do was shrug at him. She didn't want to deal with him right then, it was true. Normally fighting with him gave her some kind of thrill, an adrenaline rush from facing down her enemy, but tonight she was in no shape for fighting. Especially not with Malfoy. He had easily overpowered her in the past and if it hadn't been for her wand and quick thinking, many was the time she could've been injured or killed by the boy. Malfoy was strong and quick and catlike in his movements. She knew that when he hunted, he won. She also knew that if she wanted to live she had to save this fight for another time. Please, let him give up. Please, let him leave. Please… She could hear her heart thumping in her ears as she waited for him to do something.

Draco worried the inside of his cheek with his teeth as he struggled to understand what she's said. She wanted him to leave her alone? How naïve was she? Draco Malfoy never left his prey alone once he'd begun stalking them until he either won the battle or was chased off. And here, after all these years of torment and torture and such an obvious chase, she wanted him to leave her alone on the night she was the most vulnerable, the night when he might actually win the game and break her, once and for all. Not that he had the slightest idea of how he wanted to break her, but he was certain an idea would come to him once she was in his grasp…again, not that he wanted to actually touch her, the filthy mudblood. She may have been his favorite person to fight with, but that didn't mean he liked her, by any stretch of the imagination. He stared at her across the table, fully aware that he was growing visibly angry. He had to do something, and quick. Or did he have to do anything? Draco shook his head. What was that? Was he actually considering leaving her alone for now? His cheek worrying spread to chewing on his bottom lip.

Hermione watched him curiously. What was going on in his head? He was acting…strange. Probably deciding how to punish me or make fun of me for thinking he might actually listen to me for once. She realized it was foolish of her to ask him anything, to expect any nice or sympathetic behavior. Tears welled up in her eyes again, but before she could even bring the hanky up to her eyes once more, Malfoy stood up, his chair clattering away from him. His body was taut with anger and indecision.

Well, now you're up, Malfoy, he thought. What's your next move? Unfortunately for his better judgment, he already knew what he was going to do. He felt compelled, almost, to do the right thing. Not that any act of kindness towards a muggleborn was ever the right thing, but for some reason he didn't care as much tonight as he once might've. To make up for his unusual behavior, he leaned forward and angrily swept his arm across the study desk, knocking all her books and papers and inkpots to the floor with a mighty growl and crash.

Hermione visibly jumped in her seat and he nodded, satisfied that he'd at least scared her a little more.

He bent over her seated figure and spoke into her ear. "This is by no means over, Granger." Then he stalked from the library, cloak swirling behind him in an almost apologetic flurry or green and black. The darkness started swallowing him up almost immediately.

She sighed audibly in relief and slid from her chair to the floor, kneeling to recover her items. Most of the papers were soaked in ink and one of the books looked a little worse for wear, but it wasn't anything she couldn't easily scourge. A smile crept along her lips. She had won this round. She looked up suddenly after his retreating figure, puzzled. Malfoy could have easily taken advantage of her distraught state and had a good laugh, but he'd chosen to leave instead. He'd listened to her. For the first time in her life. The smile grew wider. Not that she was going to let this one lapse fool her. No, she knew the next time she saw him she'd pay for his kind act tonight. If it could be called kind, but she supposed that coming from a Slytherin and a Malfoy, knocking her books awry when he could've cursed her instead was practically a marriage proposal. She smiled once more and continued to pick up the mess he'd left with her.