It was Thursday evening by the time Hermione decided she was tired of playing games with Draco Malfoy. Apparently they were in first year again because they were having staring contests. She would look up in Potions and catch him staring, sidelong, from his table adjacent to her and her Ravenclaw partner. She would stare back until she was called on from Snape to answer a question. Luckily, by always reading the material the night before, she always answered correctly. Unfortunately, she once had to ask Snape to repeat the question about the variable properties of moonstones because she was so transfixed in their game. This not only shocked Professor Snape who asked her again is a taunting way an adult would talk to a toddler, but caused her to receive perplexed looks from Harry and Ron. Hermione caught Malfoy laughing quietly to himself as he juiced an African Spitting Beetle into his caldron.
He would catch her staring as well. Sometimes she would stare at him in the Great Hall during meal time. This was the least conspicuous place to stare at anyone she soon found out. There was always so many people chatting and joking that no one notice her as she looked two tables away at Draco. Or she would chance a look in the library as she tried to finish assignments or just to find a new book to memorize. His platinum eyes flickered with interest when he caught her. He always seemed to be examining her like a piece of art. It intrigued her. They were always surrounded by people in these places. The times she would see him in the corridors he would slip between people like a ghost. It never seemed to Hermione like a good time to strike up a conversation. Officially, they were still enemies.
Later that evening Hermione found herself needing a book from the restricted section of the library. She volunteered to assist Professor McGonagall in an independent project in Transfiguration since she was so far ahead of the class. She showed her signed note to Madam Pince, who checked it twice for authenticity, and gingerly walked through the stacks. She only had twenty minutes, but she could not resist the beauty that was before her. The scent of oiled, leather book covers and aging parchment filled her nose giving her a wonderful feeling of peace. She let her fingertips graze the satiny, rippled spines, worn smooth with hundreds of years of use. She thought about all the great scholars and wizards that walked down these aisles and hoped desperately to be included in their ranks one day. Before she could let her day dreaming get the better of her, she came upon the titles she was looking for. She pulled out a dusty volume entitled Transfiguring the Impossible and blew off a thick layer of dust. The dust flew back into her face suddenly and she let out a loud sneeze.
“Bless you,” a low voice said quietly from the other side of the stack.
Hermione jumped, dropping her new found treasure in the process. She looked up to see a pair of sliver eyes glinting though the shelves. “You!”
“The usual response is ‘thank you,’ you know. Where are your manners, Granger?” A crooked smile played on right corner of his month as he turned and walked toward the end of the stack. She followed him. Maybe now they could talk. Get some answers.
She rounded the corner and found him knelt down fingering through a large and withered looking book. One side was written in Standard English and the other side was written in ancient runes. Hermione made a mental note to come back for that book at a more convenient time.
“What are you doing here?” she whispered. Standing there staring at him did not seem to get much of a response from him.
“You are not the only one who is allowed access to the restricted section,” he retorted still fingering through his book. “The last time I checked, I didn’t need a note from you to enter this part of the library. But, if it makes you feel better, I will ask your permission the next time I need a book.”
“I didn’t mean it like that. I mean, what are you looking at?” Hermione asked, now letting her curiosity over the contents of an unknown book get the better of her.
Draco shook his head as he turned a page. “It’s a book about potions and plants. Professor Snape’s doing some experiments with the medicinal uses of belladonna. He asked me if I wanted to help, so here I am.” Draco snapped the book shut and looked up at her. His face was once again void of any type of emotion and his gray eyes looked determined not to show any.
“That sounds very interesting,” she answered. They were actually having a conversation. Did wonders ever cease?
“Vaguely. It’s something to occupy my time with at least. Speaking of which, it’s time for me to go,” he got up then, dusted off his robes and book, and began to walk away.
“Hey, wait up a moment!” she said in the loudest whisper she could use, hurrying after him. She was in the library after all.
He stopped and turned around to face her. His right eyebrow was slightly raised and his head was cocked as if silently asking her what she wanted.
“I, um, was just wondering, er, your research,” Hermione had no idea what she was saying. She just felt the need to continue the conversation. Perhaps if she continued to talk, she might be able to ask some more important questions. She bit her lower lip as her mind cycled through different things to say. She didn’t usually have this much trouble talking to anyone, including Malfoy. However, to her credit, she didn’t usual have civil conversations with him either. This was proving more difficult than maneuvering in devil’s snare.
“What about my ‘er’ research?” Draco replied, looking a little confused at Hermione.
“Would you like some help with it? I mean it sounds interesting after all and I am quite capable at fact finding and potion making,” she rambled.
“And why would you want to help me with my research, if I may ask?” Draco asked, shifting his book to his other hand. He was getting that half amused expression on his face again, his pewter eyes looking a bit incredulous.
“Well, I thought we were going to be friends and friends help each other out. It’s not rocket science, Malfoy,” Hermione mirrored Draco’s book shifting as she stood a little straighter. Something about being around him made her want to have excellent posture, it seemed.
“Rocket, what? What are you talking about?” Draco asked, looking perplexed.
“It’s a muggle branch of science that deals with aeronautical engineering and space. . .never mind. It’s not important and it would take too long to explain properly.” She said with some edge to her voice. She was a bit exacerbated now. Why did he have to be so bloody dense all of the sudden. It was like trying to explain to Ron Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration. “So, would like my help or not?”
“I still don’t get why you are offering me your help.”
“If you would clean out your ears from time to time, you would have heard me say that I thought we were going to be friends.” Hermione was annoyed now and starting to get angry at this point.
“You were serious about that bit by the tree, weren’t you?” Draco said. He coughed then, but seemed to be trying to stifle a laugh more than anything else. “I thought you were joking.”
“No, I wasn’t. Why would I joke about something like that?” Hermione questioned.
“I have no idea. Personally, I thought you’ve gone a bit mad these last few weeks. I mean, you have been quite suicidal lately,” He sniggered as he said this. “Traipsing down to the Slytherin dungeons, without Potter and Weasley, and almost getting hexed. Very un-Granger like, if you ask me.”
Hermione ignored the jab. It was perfectly logical to her why she went down there, but she was not about to argue with him. She still wanted to find out why his personality did a one-eighty. Maybe if she could help with the research, he would trust her and be willing to tell her why. She wasn’t called clever for nothing.
“Anyway, you agreed to try and be friends, and I am holding you to it,” she said with finality.
“What makes you think I will keep my promise? Maybe I was just trying to get out being held hostage by a ill-tempered witch who often resorts to crude muggle combat techniques when angered? I am a Slytherin, after all.” He smirked as he said this. He knew this would get a rise out of her, which by the narrowing of her eyes and the red flush to her cheeks, he had succeeded.
“Fine, don’t accept my offer. Maybe I was wrong about you. There is a first for everything,” she gripped her book to her chest and flipped her mess of brown hair as she walked passed him. She wasn’t going to force him to be her friend. Maybe this puzzle wasn’t worth solving.
“Wait,” He called to her. She stopped but did not turn around. “If you really want to help me, meet me at the north end of the lake at 7:00 am, Saturday. I am going to collect some wild samples for Professor Snape.”
She nodded, still not turning around. She did not want to let him see the triumphant grin that was plastered on her face. Unfortunately for her, she did not get the see the small smile that played on his lips and in his silvery eyes.
After checking her book out of the library and listening to Madam Pince’s usual speech about the dignity to which these books should be treated and the not-so-subtle death treats about book’s returning with dog-eared pages, Hermione hurried back to her common room. Her mind was reeling over her upcoming meeting with Malfoy. She took the moving staircases two steps at a time and rushed around the corners. Besides having an adrenaline rush from her and Malfoy’s conversation, she had precisely three minutes to get through the Gryffindor’s portrait or break curfew. Rounding the last corner she ran head first into a very solid person.
“Omph,” Hermione let out a hard breath as she landed on the floor with a thud. The book she still had against her chest was quite heavy.
“Sorry, Hermione, didn’t see you come around the corner. What’s the rush?” Ron said as he offered her his hand.
“What are you doing out of the common room at this time, Ron? You remember what happened the last time you got caught out without a proper excuse. Ten points from Gryffindor.” Hermione said as she grabbed his hand and let herself be pulled off the cold stone ground.
“I was coming to look for you. You said you would be back by nine and I, um, was getting worried,” he said, looking down at his feet. His ears were beginning to match his hair. “I , er, thought you might be in trouble or something.”
“Oh, Ron, I am fine. I was just in the library getting a book for my project with Professor McGonagall,” she lifted the book up to show proof of her whereabouts. “You know how I get when I am in the library.”
“Still, you haven’t been yourself lately. Harry and I have noticed,” he said again, still not making eye contact. Hermione bit her lower lip. She hadn’t realized she’d been so obvious.
“Don’t be silly. It’s just the pressure of – ”
“The N.E.W.Ts, I know.” His brow furrowed as if he was deciding what she was saying was true or not.
“Really, if there was something wrong, you would be the first person I would tell.” Hermione reach out and grabbed her friend’s hand. He looked up at her when she did this and smiled. He squeezed it and held on to it for a long moment. She smiled warmly back at him. She wasn’t lying to him. Nothing was wrong and she would of course tell him if there was something wrong. She and Ron had been become closer than she and Harry over the past year. He seemed to be considerate than he used to be. Sure, he still was horribly sarcastic and rude, especially to Luna, and shot his mouth off in class sometimes, but he had been very sweet to her lately. They were even arguing less.
Hermione let go of his hand first as they turned to make their way into the common room. They were greeted by Harry and Ginny who were chatting quietly in the corner. As she sat down next to the hearth of the fire, she settled into her book, Transfiguring the Impossible and wondered if this new venture with Malfoy would prove possible or not.