The next three weeks passed with several test potions and oddly casual meetings between Hermione and Draco. At first they always met up under the pretenses of the potion project. The creation of the belladonna draught was coming along at a moderate pace. Some nights they would spend several hours in the dungeon measuring different amounts of different ingredients and scribbling down variations of the potions to present to Snape. During this time they spoke very little. However, even when they did not speak, they were always in a comfortable silence. Other nights they would go down to the lakeside and sit when the belladonna concoction was not going as planned. They would first sit a while and complain about how impossible the potion was and discuss the merits of it actually coming to fruition. Once they were done questioning Snape’s questionable sanity, they would move toward more common topics.
It turned out that they had several things in common. To Hermione’s astonishment, Draco actually was aware of muggle classical literature and had read quite a few of them. He was partial to Dickens, especially Great Expectations. Hermione herself had read that particular book twice. She found out that Malfoy’s mother was more like her sister Andromeda than like Bellatrix. She had a hidden interest in muggle culture that she had secretly passed on to her son. Both of them liked the same sweets from Honeydukes, sugar quills and levitating lemon bars, and were self-proclaimed morning people.
They discussed classes and wizarding politics. Draco always bit his tongue when Hermione would discuss magical creature rights. He found her ramblings both informative and more than a little odd. He enjoyed how passionate she got with the subject and always nodded or furrowed his brow in the right place of her speeches. He rationalized to himself that because she was muggle-born that she would never truly understand a house elf’s place. Not to mention that too strong of a disagreement could end in violence toward his face. She liked that he didn’t interrupt her or try to sway her beliefs, even though she knew that did probably didn’t agree with them. Overall Draco was much more conservative in reform than Hermione, but both agreed to disagree for the sake of not spending all their time debating.
Another place they were able to spend time together without any real curiosity was in the library. Hermione had stopped trying to get Harry and Ron to study with her and decided that they were both grown boys and able to pass their N.E.W.Ts on their own. She did not actually believe the latter reasoning of her decision, but for the sake of beating a dead horse, she let them do what they wanted. She and Draco would sit in the back of the library, near the restricted section, and study or make quiet chit-chat. He would sit in a dusty old wing chair and she would be sprawled out over a nearby table. Occasionally they would pass each other books that they thought the other would find interesting. They would dash a note on a piece of parchment with a comment about the text and stick it in the book before nonchalantly sliding it to other person. Sometimes the commentary was insightful. Other times it was humorous that would make Hermione giggle or Draco half snort, half scoff. Madam Pince would often have to shoe them out at closing.
Hermoine was beginning to enjoy the companionship that was Draco Malfoy. He was not as insufferable as she thought he was going to be. His guard was still up much of the time, but he was getting more and more comfortable around her. When they weren’t talking he let his body relax from his characteristic posture. Hermione silently joked with herself that maybe having a rod stuffed down his shirt wasn’t a “breed” pureblood thing after all. He would say “please” and “thank you” and occasionally even ask her for suggestions. He was getting less moody. When Hermione would go on about her causes and how she was going to change wizarding law one magical creature at a time, she noticed that he would have a reluctant smile on his face that reached his eyes. She realized that she enjoyed making him smile. A smile turned his iron colored eyes into ones that resembled the sky after a much needed rain. He was sarcastic and witty and extremely intelligent. He made her think. She liked that. No one besides a select few of her professors did that to her.
Time was ticking ever closer to final exams, graduation, and, of course, the all important quidditch final between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw. The game was only a week away and another activity that delightfully distracted Harry and Ron from her frequent absences. Hermione would feign interest at meal time or in the common room about the sport as her friends discussed strategies. She sincerely hoped that they would do well, but wished they put half as much energy into their school work.
“I don’t know, Harry,” Ron said as the three made their way to potions, “Don’t get me wrong, mate, you are fantastic seeker and far superior to that turtle of a seeker Gavins, but maybe you should learn the Wronski Feint just to be sure. It couldn’t hurt.”
“Yes, Ron, it could hurt,” Hermione interrupted irritably. She had, for the sake of her friendships with Ron, Harry, and Viktor Krum, learned some quidditch terms. “That dangerous maneuver would take months to learn properly, if not years. Not to mention that either Harry or Gavins could end up with their head two feet in the ground and a long stay in the hospital.”
Both Harry and Ron looked at Hermione in disbelief. Hermione raised an eyebrow in return. “What?”
“Since when do you know anything about quidditch, Hermione?” Ron said tactlessly. She rolled her eyes in response.
“Oh, I don’t know, Ronald, maybe I have had to listen to you and Harry go on and on about quidditch for the past six or so years and I actually learned a few things. Could that be probable?” She suddenly realized that she sounded remarkably like Malfoy saying this. She internally kicked herself.
“No, I mean, it’s just,” Ron trailed off looking imploringly at Harry.
“What Ron means, Hermione, is that we just thought you put up with our quidditch talk and didn’t care too much about it. Ron’s actually very impressed at the moment. Aren’t you, Ron?” Harry said as he jabbed a sharp elbow into his friend’s ribs.
“Yeah, that’s what I meant,” he said nodding as he turned pink around the collar. “Of course you know what that it. You know everything. You are brilliant after all.”
Hermione sighed, shaking her head to the ceiling as they continued to make their way towards the dungeons.
When they reached the dungeon’s entrance, Hermione heard a loud ripping sound followed by a clattering of books and supplies at her ankles. Her book bag had gave way. Harry and Ron turned around and looked at her and the mess. Both boys made movements to help her, but she shook her head at them.
“Don’t bother, guys,” she said as she kneeled down, “Go on. You don’t want to be late to potions. It would only give Snape an excuse to give both of you detentions right before the quidditch final.” She saw the reluctance in their eyes, but they also knew the logic in her words.
“No, it’s OK, Hermione,” Harry said looking torn.
“Honestly, it’s fine. Hurry up. It will only take me a minute to fix this thing and put my things back in order.” She waved her hand at them and they left.
She looked at the bottom of her bag and sighed. “This is a new bag too. Why would it split all of sudden?” she mumbled to herself.
“I really have excellent aim, if I do say so myself.” A drawling voice came from behind the ugly wizard statue that Hermione had recently hid behind. “Although, it was a bit of a gamble whether or not those two Gryffindor poster boys would risk detention to help you. I guess they are not as chivalrous as you thought.” Draco stepped out of the shadows and casually leaned against the statue. He lazily spun his wand his fingers before turning his head toward Hermione. The statue’s hideousness was an extreme juxtaposition against his general attractiveness. He had a slight smirk to his face and a mischievous glint in his eyes that Hermione had not seen in a very long time.
“So, I take it I have you to thank for destroying my bag and a week’s worth of detention?” she said briskly as she got up off her knees. She straightened her skirt and gave him an annoyed look. This caused his smirk to widen.
“Oh, don’t get so melodramatic, Granger,” Draco said pushing himself off the statue and walking toward her. “A first year could repair your bag in about five seconds and you are in absolutely no danger of getting a single detention. Let alone a week’s worth.”
He reached down and grabbed her bag from the ground. With a wave of his wand the bag began to mend itself. He then knelt down and quickly shuffled in all of Hermione’s books and things. “Do you always bring the contents of your trunk where ever you go?”
“Ha ha, Malfoy. While I thank you for fixing my bag, even though you are the one that tore it to begin with. May I ask how it is that I am going to avoid pickling toads for a week?” she said as he handed her the resembled bag. His silver eyes looked playfully into hers. His pale hair fell across his forehead and his smirk turned itself into a crooked smile. It was funny how comfortable and natural this kind of close proximity had become for them. It was as if they had been on agreeable terms for years.
“Well, Granger, in my vast and immeasurable talent of persuasion, I have convinced Professor Snape to give both you and I the class off to work on our potion project,” he said with an air that only a Slytherin could possess. “Being the over achieving know-it-all that you are and the fact that I am one of his favorite students, he naturally agreed. Of course I explained that we were on verge of a breakthrough and that these two extra hours could do the trick.”
“But, Malfoy, we are not on any sort of verge with that potion. Why would you lie to Snape like that?” She sounded like she did when she was scolding Ron or Harry.
“One, a ‘verge’ merely means that we are close to something. We don’t have to be necessary a clockwise turn away from it. Plus, I did some extra work on it last night. Two, it’s the only way I knew I could get you to skive off class and enjoy the lovely spring day with me.”
Hermione opened her mouth to retort, but fell short in speaking because he was technically right on both accounts. They had been making progress on the potion and she would never or had ever missed a class unless she was unconscious in the hospital wing or conspicuous fluffy tail. It was also something new to have him initiate them spending time together. Seeing victory in his argument, Draco smiled ruefully at her waved his arm toward the front entrance of the school.
“And they call me the cleverest of my age,” she said as they made their way to the castle grounds, “They should really say that about you.”
“No, they shouldn’t. I rather my astonishing cunning remain unknown. It makes it easier to use it to my advantage,” he said giving her an uncharacteristic wink. Hermione tried hard to suppress a grin that was creeping on her face.
They wandered unthinkingly to the tree by the lake. This had become their customary spot to spend any time they were not in the dungeon. It was far enough away from the castle so no one could make out who was there without binoculars. It was near the woods, so they could hide out there if they ever needed to. Also, it was a beautiful spot. The lake was no more than ten meters from the tree and wildflowers grew around the edges of the forest. The tree provided a wonderful shadiness and its huge and upturned roots provided great places to lean against.
Draco pulled himself up to a low hanging bough of tree. Hermione dropped her bag and followed suit. The branch was wide and formed a kind of bench that allowed to both to sit comfortably. At first Hermione would sit on the ground while Draco would sit above her. After several rude comments about her hair, however, she started climbing up with him. It was like having a hideout that only they knew about.
“I will give it to you, Malfoy, it is a beautiful day outside,” she said as she admired the glistening lake and watched a couple of brown birds skim their wings across the water, “but why did you concoct such an elaborate plan just to spend an afternoon with me?” This was a bold statement for her to make, but it slipped from her lips before she could think about how it sounded.
“Hey. It got me out of class, too, you know,” he said airily, looking at the lake, “I figured Snape would believe the story more if you were a part of it. I also figured it would be an improvement over dungeons, libraries, or the cloak of darkness.” He shifted his weight on the branch and sent a hand through his messy hair. Hermione could tell that he was now uncomfortable. She decided to change the subject.
“So, graduation. It’s only a month way now. Can you believe it?” she said quickly. They hadn’t really talked about this subject that much. She had a couple of times mentioned the speech she was going to make. At the start of second term Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall had informed her that she would be the valedictorian as long as she got at least all Es on her final exams. In other words, it was a sure thing.
“I suppose so. I haven’t really given it much thought. Are you done with your speech yet? Or are you revising it for the fiftieth time?” he joked.
“Actually, I have finished it. Thank you very much,” she said sticking her tongue out at him.
“Mature, Granger,” he said with a shake of his head.
“Anyway, have you given much thought to after graduation?” she inquired. She had just received her packet for the Ministry’s entrance exams.
“No, I haven’t,” he said, but something in his voice sounded like a lie. “I figure it will just work itself out. No point to worry.”
“Well, what about healing?” she asked, “I remember you mentioning to me that you wanted to go into that and I know that they have deadlines for applications,” He had to of thought about what he was going to do after graduation, even Ron talked about whether or not be take the Auror exam with Harry or apply for the Department of Magical Games and Sports.
“Yeah, well,” he started irritably, “There are a lot of things I might want to do, but that doesn’t mean that I will do any of it.”
“Why not? It’s not like you are lacking talent by any means,” she retorted a little perplexed by his attitude. “And, with this project that we are doing and a letter of recommendation from Snape, I am sure you would easily get accepted to the healing program at St. Mungos.”
“That’s not the problem. I just don’t think that I am cut out for that sort of thing.” He flashed her a look like heated steel.
“I don’t understand, Malfoy. What do you mean ‘not cut out for that sort of thing,’” she pushed, refusing to recognize his reluctant and agitated tone. “That sounds like bullocks to me.”
“Just drop it, Granger,” he said frowning deeply, “For the sake of this nice afternoon and my sanity, choose another topic to prattle on about.”
Hermione huffed, crossed her arms, and looked away from Draco. He was always so stubborn and touchy on anything related to the future or his family. Granted, she did not want to know the minutest details for the Malfoy family tree, but his family helped create him and by knowing more about them, she would know him more and thus be closer to figuring out this new version of Malfoy. His aversion to the future made no sense to her whatsoever.
“Stop being so childish, Granger,” Draco said coaxingly, “I thought we were having a nice time until you decided to interrogate me.”
“Interrogate you?” she said, “I was just trying to make conversation. You’re the one that got all defensive.”
“Fine, how about we agree to disagree? We are excellent on doing that,” he said with a smirk.
“Very well, Malfoy. You know, regardless of your cryptic nature, it is nice having someone to talk to who has interests outside the worlds of quidditch and wizarding chess,” Hermione said offering him a verbal olive branch.
“I agree Granger. It’s nice to have someone intelligible to talk to in general,” Draco said relaxing himself into a crook of the tree’s branches. “Just don’t remind me that I ever said that.”
A/N: Not Shakespeare, I know, but not too bad I hope. What do you think? R&R if you please. It pleases me, that's for sure.
The next chapter should be more dramatic, in case you were wondering, unless my fingers decide to lead somewhere else. They have a mind of their own!