The natives were getting restless. Hermione stood, alongside four hundred or so of her ravenousness classmates, waiting for the doors to the Great Hall to be magically opened for breakfast. She heard Ron’s stomach let out an angry rumble protesting its god-given right to a hot meal at 7:30 am. The students to her right and left were mumbling irritably as they shifted their bags and feet in supreme annoyance. Apparently, someone or some persons decided to take on the challenge of the becoming Hogwarts newest pranksters. The two mammoth oak doors that lead to four long tables laden with hot kips and jars of marmalade were glued shut with some sort of sparkling purple goo. Both Professors McGonagall and Flitwick were muttering incantations and waving their wands in valiant attempts at opening the doors, but after twenty minutes there was no change.
“I ought to write Fred and George about this,” growled Ron, clearly in a mood for want of food, “Either they had a hand in creating this glue or they might want to try and recruit whoever did invent this stuff. They'd make millions.” If his eyes weren’t so dark, Hermione would have laughed. Harry gave a noncommittal nod as he gave his potion’s assignment a once over.
“I’m sure they have just about figured it out, Ron,” Hermione tried to sooth. Ron acknowledged her words with a hard breath out his nose.
“Her-Hermione Granger?”Came a small, meek voice from just behind her. Hermione turned to see a very scared first-year Hufflepuff with straw colored hair and sad brown eyes.
“Yes, that’s me,” she said quietly for fear that her natural volume would cause the boy to faint.
“H-here,” his voice quivered as held out a folded piece of parchment for her with a shaking hand. She took it from him and before she could thank him, he took off into the crowd as if chased by Death Eaters.
She glanced about quickly to see if anyone was watching her, they weren’t, so she proceeded to open it.
Look toward the stairs, above the crowd.
That was all it said. She refolded it and then followed its instructions. When she looked up, she saw Malfoy looking like his usually pressed self about five steps up from the corridor’s floor. As soon as their eyes met, he gave her the smallest of smirks and tilted his head upwards towards the stairs behind him. He then turned and slowly made his way up the steps. Hermione, taking the hint to follow him, stuffed the note in her bag and turned to her friends.
“I, uh, forgot something in the common room,” she lied, “I need to go get it. I’ll be right back.”
Both boys, in their own world of potions essays and possible starvation, said a quick “ok” and then continued with their fixations.
She wound her way toward the stairs. It was tough going as she dodged elbows, bulging bags, and manes of overly sprayed hairs. She walked up two flights of stairs before reaching the second floor corridor lined with suits of armor. She hoped that Malfoy would be on this floor because the next sets of steps were the beginnings of the movie staircases.
Suddenly a pair of strong arms wrapped themselves around her waist and pulled her backwards toward the armor. Instinctively Hermione balled her fist and threw it as hard as she could over her shoulder hitting her assailant’s head. “Ow! Bloody hell, Granger, what is your obsession with physical violence?” She was released and when she turned, she saw Malfoy rubbing his still damp head gingerly and his pale gray eyes glaring at her with mild annoyance. She just raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Is defending oneself against an unknown person who is trying to drag them out of sight in an empty hallway an unusual response in your world?” she said with as much sarcasm as she could muster.
Draco rolled his eyes, “Your always so dramatic, Granger.” He smoothed his rumbled hair back against his head, but it fell back into his eyes.
“And you are overly cryptic and mysterious, Malfoy,” Hermione said, unable to resist a jab at his general refusal to get too personal with her.
“Mysterious? I thought girls like that in a bloke,” he said as the annoyance in his steely eyes became mischievous and a smirk tugged on his lips.
“Perhaps dim, insecure, and pathetic ones like that sort of thing. Shall I ask Pansy about that, or would you rather?” she said now letting her smirk mirror his. Both said nothing for three beats of time and then they laughed in unison.
“So, did you have a reason for luring me up here? Or do just have a secret masochistic side that enjoys ‘physical violence’ inflicted by me?” she question as she dropped her bag and leaned against the cool stone wall.
“Damn, my secret is out. Now you know why I fancy you.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, both blanched and looked wide-eyed at each other. Hermione didn’t know if she heard him right. It did not seem possible that such a statement could be uttered. Apparently she did hear him right because Malfoy never looked more ill-composed. His eyes were pools swimming with anxiety, confusion, and questioning. They looked the way a penseive did when a memory was dropped in.
“Er, I meant, that, um, Merlin. That came out wrong. I meant to say that’s why I fancy spending time with you.” He shifted his weight from side to side looking like he was warring with himself whether to run off or stay put.
“No worries, Malfoy. I get it. I fancy our time together too,” she tried to say this as lightly and reassuringly as possible. What he just said, Freudian slip or not, was extremely telling and a bit unnerving to Hermione. She had often wondered if he honestly liked her as a person, or rather just spending time with someone that was outside his upside down world. Not to mention excellent at potion making. She gave him an encouraging smile and an awkward punch to the arm.
He rubbed the spot where she mock punched him and gave a tentative smile. “Right,” he said coolly, “The reason for dragging you away from your lesser halves. I just wanted to tell you, well, I think showing you would be better.” He swung his book bag behind him and pulled out thick, folded envelope from his left breast pocket and handed it to Hermione. The heavy yellow envelope’s seal had a wand and bone picture on it much like that of St. Mungo’s logo except it was encircled with ten five-point stars. Hermione knew almost immediately what this was.
“Healer’s School? You’re going to apply then?” she said excitingly, barely able to restrain herself from throwing her arms around his neck.
“Well, yes, I think so. I mean, you were right the other day. I do have the talent and the only thing stopping me from doing this is me.” This was too much for Hermione. She dropped any pretense of being collected and disregarded their usual physical parameters. She rushed the two feet that separated them and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, her body flush with his. Instead of simply standing there like she expected of the normally reserve Malfoy to do, she felt his arms snake around her waist and embrace her back. He felt warm and his typically ridged frame was relaxed against hers. He smelt nice too, like the woods after a rain. They stood this way for a few seconds before slowly letting go. Draco’s cheeks were slightly pink as were Hermione’s.
Draco rubbed the back of neck and looked intently into Hermione’s eyes. She couldn’t make out the emotions he was currently feeling. She understood that look because she must have it plastered on her face as well. She had no idea what she felt towards this boy in front of her. It was different. That was all she could say.
“So, let’s have it then. What are the requirements? How long is the process? What do you need to do to get in? When’s the deadline?” Hermione rattled off. While this was Malfoy’s application, the eternal academic inside her could not resist an admission process breakdown.
“I just got the application with last night’s post, so I really haven’t had time to read it,” he said with genuine excitement breaking into his voice, “but it from what I read, they need a copy of my O.W.Ls and N.E.W.Ts, a statement of purpose, and two letters of recommendation – one from a professor and from a peer.”
He looked at her apprehensively. She knew what he wanted to ask her, but he was afraid. She could understand why. They had only just recently gotten along and in many ways it was a lot to ask her after everything they had been through. A letter of recommendation from her was only a few degrees away from having Harry Potter write one. She was a declared war hero that played an integral part in bringing down the Dark Lord. Only Ron a select few others were given such an honor. She knew he knew this, but she could not help but feel that he wanted to ask her for reasons unrelated to that. This would also mean a serious elevation and test in their friendship.
“Oh, really? That doesn’t sound too bad. It actually sounds rather easy. Your marks are only second to mine,” she gave a rueful smile, “And I am sure Professor Snape can’t help but give you a glowing letter with all the work you have been doing on his potion.”
“Yes, I am sure he would be willing write a fantastic letter,” he said quietly. Clearly he was hoping she would breach the subject. She shook her head slightly and thought: A Gryffindor has to do what a Gryffindor has to do.
“So, do you know who you are going to ask to write the peer letter?” she said, he was going to have to meet her half way on this.
“Well, since Crabbe and Goyle can’t string a sentence together on a piece of parchment and Pansy would just write an essay on how good looking I am, I can only ask the one intelligent and objective person that I can call ‘friend’ to write it.” He looked her straight in the eyes as he said this. His silver eyes showed only sincerity and vulnerability in every word he spoke. “Would you be willing to write it for me, Granger?” As soon as he was finished, however, he adverted his eyes to the floor.
Immediately she answered. “Yes, Malfoy, I will do this for you.” How could she say ‘no’?
He whipped his head up with an astonished look on his face. He appeared to have expected her to say the negative.
“Don’t look so surprised, Malfoy. What are friends for if not to write amazing letters of recommendation for each other?” Hermione smiled and shook her head at his dumbfounded expression.
“Thank you. I really appreciate this,” he said as he reached toward her. It appeared that he was about to embrace her, but then a roaring cheer from below them interrupted his movement. It seemed that breakfast was now being served.
“We better go,” Draco said dropping his arms to his side, “Wouldn’t want anyone to notice us missing.”
“Right, wouldn’t want that,” Hermione agreed although she didn’t really want to go. She would prefer staying with Malfoy and going over the healer’s school application than to go watch Ron wolf down a plate of sausage.
She turned to leave, when Draco grabbed her hand. She looked over her should at his face.
“Granger, wait a second,” he said quietly. His hand felt calloused and firm in hers. “Would you want to meet up with me this evening after dinner to go over my application with me? I would value your opinion on it.”
“Of course. I would love to,” Hermione said. He gave her a small smile in reply.
A/N: Well, readers, what do you think? Good, bad, ugly? I know, I know, it all feels like a building up, but I don't want to rush it. Every time I plan on writing what will most definitely be the next chapter, my fingers and the characters take on a mind of their own! I apologize for that. I also apologize for the long waits between updates. I am currently studying for my GMAT (an evil and sadistic test for admissions into business schools in America) and have had limited creativity time. Not to mention a personal life that got amazingly complicated in the last 8 weeks. So, please forgive me.
But, on the bright side, I have already started the next chapter which will hold more bang for your reading buck. I think there will be only 4 or 5 more chapters after this one, too . . . Yes, that feels about right.
So, again thank you all for reading my story and if you decide to grace me with a review, a double thank you for that. Cheers!