Chapter 20 : Determination
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Professor Slughorn answered the door with a surprised look on his face. “Miss Granger, I wasn’t expecting you. Is everything all right?”
“Yes, Professor, I mean no…no, actually it’s not. May I talk to you?”
“Certainly. Please come inside.”
Hermione entered the office and sat in the chair that she had occupied the last time she and Malfoy were there. Merlin, I am becoming familiar with teachers’ offices! Hermione thought. This can’t be a good sign. Slughorn sat down in a large armchair directly across from her.
“Professor Slughorn, I need your help,” Hermione began.
“Well, of course, Miss Granger, if there’s anything I can do…”
“There is. He would be furious with me if he knew I was here…especially if he knew what I was about to tell you…” She wrung her hands for dramatic effect.
Slughorn was intrigued. He leaned forward in his chair. “Who is this ‘he’ that you’re referring to?”
“Draco Malfoy. You know how he idolizes you, Professor,” Hermione watched his chest puff up with pride. “The last thing he wants you to know is how much he’s struggling with Potions. He’s afraid to ask for help, being a Prefect and all, but as Head Girl I feel it’s my duty to make sure that he gets the help he needs.” Ironically, Malfoy had given her the idea. She had watched the way he had played Slughorn and turned a detention into a potential tutoring session with some simple flattery. Surely, she could accomplish as much.
“Absolutely. But I had no idea Mr. Malfoy was having such a difficult time.” His brow furrowed in consternation.
“He hasn’t been himself since the War, I suppose. His ability to concentrate just isn’t there.” Slughorn nodded, as if to say, of course. She continued, “I know that the last thing he wants if for everyone to find out what a tough time he’s having. I thought that surely you would know what to do…” She looked at Slughorn with a wide-eyed, helpless expression. She hoped she wasn’t overdoing it.
Apparently she wasn’t. “Miss Granger, perhaps we should make sure that you are partners with Mr. Malfoy in Potions for a while. Not only are you the best student in your year, you are also the only student who is informed of his situation. This will keep others from finding out, and working with you should hopefully boost his class performance.”
This was working out exactly as Hermione had planned. “Professor, I do feel compelled to warn you, Malfoy probably won’t be very enthusiastic about being partnered with me...he’s very self-conscious about his...problem.” Hermione hoped she wasn’t about to get hit by a bolt of lightning after that whopper of a lie.
Slughorn leaned forward and patted her hand. “Don’t worry, Miss Granger. Leave everything up to me.”
The next morning Hermione, sluggish after another restless night, made it to Potions just before Professor Slughorn entered the classroom. She had barely settled into her seat in the front row when the Professor emerged and informed the class that today they would be beginning a long-term Potions project. “This work is going to be excruciatingly detailed and precise; therefore, I think it best that I assign you partners in order for all of you to work in the most efficient manner possible.” Slughorn was saying.
Hermione sat up straight in her seat. This was her chance—she would have Malfoy as a captive audience! Thank you, thank you, Professor Slughorn, she thought gratefully.
Slughorn began to read off the names of the partners he had assigned and naturally, he had partnered Hermione with Malfoy. Trembling slightly with anticipation, she quickly gathered up her things and headed towards the back of the room where Malfoy sat at his usual table, alone.
He was leaning back in his seat, one arm carelessly thrown over the back of his chair and one foot arrogantly propped up onto the table. His eyes were on her as she made her way towards his table and dropped her bookbag on top of it, but his expression was unreadable. Without a word, she pulled out a chair and sat down next to him.
They worked in silence for a while; Hermione dicing up the roots and leaves of several ingredients that Slughorn had listed on the blackboard, while Malfoy added them one by one to the cauldron and diligently stirred the potion. Eventually, the silent treatment became too much for Hermione, and she decided to end it.
“Why won’t you talk to me?” she began, under her breath.
“Look Granger, I might have made a slip outside The Three Broomsticks, but that doesn’t change the fact that you and the Weasel King were getting mighty chummy when I came by,” he muttered back.
Why don’t you trust me?” she countered softly.
“I don’t trust anybody,” he said as he continued to stir.
“Yes, but I’m not anybody,” she pressed, her voice starting to rise.
“Miss Granger, is anything wrong back there?” Slughorn was anxiously watching them at the back of the room. Apparently, he was still a bit nervous about them being paired together, being as they had been the source of several mishaps already.
Hermione immediately felt guilty about distressing Slughorn—after all, he was unwittingly helping her with her Plan—so she immediately began to efficiently sort through the list of ingredients and divide them up neatly into subcategories. For a while, she and Malfoy continued to work together in silence. Then, when Hermione thought it was safe, she tried again.
“Ron and I are just friends,” she began again in a low tone as she was neatly chopping up some juniper leaves.
“That’s not what it looked like,” he mumbled as he added another ingredient to the steaming concoction.
Hermione was becoming frustrated. “Honestly!” she huffed, “For your information, I had just broken the news to him and we were coming to terms about it.”
“Was that before or after you declared your undying love for him?”
Hermione laid down her knife. She figured it wasn’t a good idea for her to be holding one while Malfoy was being so vexing. “Listen here, Malfoy, I’m allowed to love my friends, whether you like it or not. That’s not going to change.”
“That’s your problem, Granger,” Malfoy said as he thoroughly stirred the ingredient that he had added into the potion. “You don’t want anything to change. You want to stay in your safe little world with your safe little friends and your safe little rules…”
“Is that what you think?” Hermione was so incensed she had a hard time keeping her voice low, but somehow, she managed to do it.
“Am I speaking Gobbledegook or something? Yeah, that’s exactly what I think.” he shot back, just low enough to not be overheard.
“Safe, am I? We’ll see about that.” To hell with the plan, Hermione thought. I'll show him. Angered beyond reason, she stood up and went directly over to the storage cabinet, under the ruse that they needed more supplies for their potion. She determinedly searched through the cabinet until she saw what she needed, tucked it into her pocket and headed back towards their table.
Malfoy was ignoring her as he continued to stir the potion. Hermione pulled the herb that she had gotten out of the storage cabinet out of her pocket and held it over the cauldron. “You can stop stirring. I have one more thing I need to add.”
His eyes narrowed as he saw the ingredient she held in her hand, threateningly suspended over the cauldron. “You wouldn’t dare,” he challenged in a low tone.
“Watch me,” she said recklessly, and dropped it into the cauldron.
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