Time Ticks Ever Slowly
There were sections of the library that did not glow with the warming light of gas-lit lamps in the hours beyond twilight; instead they relied on the narrow and dull shafts of light that filtered down the aisles. These sections were in the very back of the extensive space, and were the ones most infrequently occupied.
But not tonight. Tonight someone stood amongst their towering shelves, perusing the forgotten treasures found there. The boy did not light his wand in this case, as most others would have done, but peered closely at the titles. He did not wish to draw attention to his presence there.
It would have mattered little, for he was a faded beacon in the darkness. His skin, pale as it was, and his hair which shone silver, were ghostly in their hue.
Draco Malfoy was not a boy so easily unseen.
His fingers tapped the aged spines, smoothing dust from their titles as he made his selections. The bag slung casually over his shoulder bulged with the added weight of his finds, as he slinked out of the narrow aisle.
His first objective thus achieved, he headed into the main part of the library, and did a quick scan of the students scantly spread in the open space.
She was not there. He had time.
Rather than finding a seat amongst the many study desks located there, he turned instead toward the colossal maze of aisles which made up the main catalogue of books accessible to students. Light favoured this space.
He strolled through the towering shelves, inhaling the musky scent of books; the dusty residue of which clogged his nose. Somehow, he didn't seem to mind it.
It was silent in the vast space; excepting the hum of avid students muttering to themselves, and the sound of quills scratching across parchment, of thumbs turning pages. It was a steady and comforting harmony.
Draco glanced up at the shelves, and tapped his fingers across them just as he had the others. Only this time he was counting.
He slid the heavy volume from its snug position and snorted aloud as he glanced at the title: Pacton's Approach to Bean Sprouting.
Merlin, he thought, would she actually read this? He wondered whether she had ever actually cheated and skipped over the boring titles. He doubted it. She seemed far too honourable even for that.
It was a thought that irked him simply because he knew that he was not.
He tucked the volume under one arm, and used his fingers to push back the books that sat on either side of the now empty space. He wanted her to know the book was missing.
This done, he sauntered through the lengthy aisle, and wove his way through the desks at the front of the library where the perpetually harried Madame Pince was quelling errant students into submission with a well mastered glare.
Draco wondered, not for the first time, why she had ever taken a job which required such close a proximity to students, given her clear disdain for children.
He stopped at her work station and slid his book across the freshly polished dark-wood counter. One finger smoothed circles over the scarcely textured wood. It was the only mark of the anticipation he wished to conceal.
The older woman's pinched expression tightened further as she turned her beady gaze upon him.
"Herbology." He said succinctly. It wasn't enough to cause her suspicion at his choice of reading material to subside. He couldn't even begin to ponder at the damage she envisioned him causing with such an aid.
As he carried his materials to an empty study desk near the entrance, he wished, not for the first time, that he were above suspicion.
It grew wearisome quickly, and he was beyond weary.
Stretching his legs beneath the desk, he ran a hand through the hair that brushed the nape of his neck. Knots bunched beneath the clear skin. Signs of his constant agitation were there, if people chose to look for them,
They never did though, and sometimes he wished that someone would.
The desk he had chosen, although not the ideal place to be perusing the materials he presently had hidden in his bag, afforded him the most advantageous view of the library, one not shared in the darkest corners of the room.
Draco glanced about the room as he pulled two small books from his shoulder-bag and placed them on the desk before him, but opened instead the large volume acquired for ‘herbology'.
The scarcity of people there on a Friday night was not of much surprise. Most would be lounging around their commonroom fires, playing games of Wizard Chess or staring vacantly into its burning embers. Or perhaps that was just him.
He glanced at the large antique clock which took precedence over one of the archways. Instantly he wished he hadn't. Dinner had finished an hour prior, and still she had not come.
He shouldn't have been thinking about that. He should have been reading up on strong repairing charms like he had intended. Like he was supposed to.
He carded fingers through the length of his white-blond hair before pulling out a few sheets of parchment, a quill and a pot of ink. Though he had come here with the prospect of amusement at her expense, he still had much more important things to worry about.
Yet he could not help but note that she was later than usual, though he knew that she would come. She always did, and she was nothing if not a creature of habit.
It was more than likely that she had been held back in conversation with Potter and Weasley. One could not but help to be enthralled by their undoubtedly witty repartee, he mused.
He looked at the clock again, and could have sworn the brass hands had not moved. He willed them to tick over faster. They didn't though. Time moved slowly just to taunt him, he was sure.
And no matter his efforts, he could not hope to immerse himself in the wonder that was bean-planting. Giving up all futile attempts, he closed the book and focused instead on one of the others.
He had made a full sheet of notes by the time he heard the creak of aged doors pushing open. It was her, sweeping into the room with a hurried sort of purposefulness bred of someone knowing where they were headed.
By the time she had passed his desk her gait had slowed and calmed, he could see the way this place soothed her just by being in it. And he couldn't help but wonder if he was the only one who noticed. He hoped fervently that he was.
Everything about Hermione Granger reeked of a desperate urge to prove her worth to others, to prove her right to be amongst these learned writings.
He knew this because he watched her more frequently than he should. He saw the softening of her expression when she thought she was alone, the relief, and the joy at being here. Most others didn't share that feeling, muggleborn or otherwise, and he had attributed it to her strange character.
Her hair was pulled back from her face in a long and shiny plait that rendered her almost unrecognisable. But not completely. He thought he would know the sharp intelligence of her eyes anywhere.
She looked remarkably pleased with herself over something, and it soothed him immensely to know how that would soon change.
Some might have called his games juvenile, and he supposed they were, but they were merely a distraction in the face of the very real truth of his situation.
It scared him sometimes to think how easily he became unfocused on his task. The weight of the possible repercussions would nestle upon his shoulders and stain his very being the moment he left this vast removed space.
He supposed he needed her in some small way, not in the literal sense, but in the diversion she provided. It was the only time when he felt himself again. And he yearned for those moments with every part of his being.
Granger didn't as much as glance at him as she passed though. Not that he minded. He would have her attention soon enough.
Mere moments later, she hurried back toward the front of the room, halting at Madam Pince's desk, a frazzled expression alighting her features.
She spoke in hushed tones that he could not discern, but he understood perfectly the direction of their conversation when both heads turned to face him. He almost grinned in triumph as her gaze fell steady and unwavering upon him.
It did strange things to his insides to feel her so intently watching him. It shouldn't though. He should not care in the slightest, he should feel only disgust. And quite without knowing how or why or when, he found he did. Entirely too much.
Draco lowered his gaze from hers to skim across the mind-numbing lines of prose upon the page before him. He did not look up again until he was certain she had looked away.
He craved to see her reaction, to know what she would do. Any normal person would have simply moved on to the next book along. But she was in no way normal, which was precisely what fascinated him in the first place.
His attention was suddenly called away from the parchment before him when a heavy thud resounded in the near empty space. She had dropped a large tome on a desk two up from his own. He knew it was to catch his attention, and though he relished being the cause of such aggravation to her, he could not help but wonder at her directness.
The title of the book was obscured from his vision though. It did not matter in any case as she was not reading it. She was staring at him instead. It was a deeply inquisitive expression, one that plainly showed the disturbance of her thoughts across her face.
In fact so absorbed was she that she appeared to be wholly unaware that he was staring back. When she did notice, her cheeks flushed as he had never seen them do, and he glanced away quickly.
Choosing to ignore her now, he returned to his notes, allowing his quill to dance quickly across the page. Draco had almost managed to forget about her sitting there when he heard a cough sound to his left.
He glanced up to see her standing by his desk, her face reflected her feelings: a mixture of discomfort, irritation, and her usual streak of gritty determination. And he knew instantly that she had braced herself for a confrontation of some sort.
He didn't know whether to be pleased or oddly disappointed.
Instead he raised a brow in question. He could see that she was itching to fight with him, most likely still running off the remnants of a disagreement with her friends from earlier.
And she just assumed that he was in the wrong enough for her to tell him off. He would admit that in many cases this was true, but not in this. And he would not give her the satisfaction of rising to her bait as easily as his 13 year old self would have done.
He had gained enough circumspection in the last year to have mastered that at the very least.
She almost looked disconcerted at his not having addressed her in his usual insulting manner. Perhaps she hadn't stopped to think that he had not addressed her in any respect, insulting or otherwise, in a very long time.
"I need that book," she said rather baldly.
He feigned ignorance and glanced down. "I'm reading it," he said blandly and went back to his writing. He could almost feel the air being sucked out of the room as she huffed in silent indignation.
"I meant this one," she muttered in exasperation as her hand reached for the book in question. More quickly than hers, his hand snapped over the pile and slid it out of her reach.
"But you aren't even using it!"
"I will be." He sneered at her for a long moment before she stalked out of the library, pausing only to give him one last disconcerted glance.
Though not nearly as he had anticipated, he found the exchange oddly thrilling.
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