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Hermione loved the library. Especially the deepest, darkest corners of the cavernous space where the air was redolent of old parchment and worn leather and the shadows played a game of chase with the candlelight. In this place she was utterly alone which was just how she liked it. This was where she felt most comfortable, here, where the scent of books permeated her senses and where she could think in peace and focus on something other than the madness that was quickly taking over the whole school.

It was almost too dark to see in the stacks. The large wooden bookcases rose up on either side of her as she ambled through, Magical Theory text open in one hand, running her fingers along the row of tomes she was interested in with the other.

"Achievements in Charms….not quite," she murmured to herself, squinting to see the titles of the texts before her. "Advanced Potions - no. Advanced Runes Translation…not even."

She was still angry about the confrontation earlier with Blaise Zabini earlier.What a loathsome, conceited, spoiled prat! Hermione ground her teeth together, groaning under her breath.

"Aha!"

She pulled down the book she needed - a dusty, leather bound volume of the Anthology of 18th Century Charms. She'd work on coming up with a better study guide - one that Goyle could understand, if there was such a thing.

At least her night was almost over, she decided. It wasn't much of a consolation, but it was something. In the meantime she could lose herself in the Charms book for an hour or so and avoid any more nasty surprises in the library.

"Well, well, well, Granger. How's the thumb?"

The silky smooth drawl belonged to none other than Hogwarts' second biggest prat.

Looks like I spoke too soon.

Draco Malfoy was framed in the aisle that separated the two stacks. Swallowing her anger, Hermione shrugged.

"As if you care."

She hadn't noticed him before and wondered for a moment how long he had been there.

Did he see my row with Zabini?

Giving it no more thought, Hermione moved to exit the aisle, walking with a nonchalance she didn't feel. He stopped her effectively by blocking her only way out, an infuriating smirk on his lips as she glared down at her as if challenging her to take another step. They were standing too closely now, and Hermione realized with a start exactly how tall he was. She only came up to his shoulder, and out of nowhere, she felt a sudden flood of nervousness.

I'm going mental! It's only Malfoy! I've faced worse things before.

She waited, hesitating, but Malfoy made no move to let her pass.

"Next time, Granger, I suppose you'll be more careful. Any person with half a brain would never stick their fingers into a box full of those hideous, black, fuzzy creatures."

His tone was disdainful, and Hermione rolled her eyes, not liking the way he was looking at her.

"They're not called hideous, black, fuzzy creatures, Malfoy. They're called doxies, and I didn't stick my hand anywhere. That thing jumped up and bit me. Unlike some people, I like to be involved in my education instead of standing towards the back like some scared little boy."

He laughed at her scornfully.

"It's not being scared, it's called being smart."

"Which you're not."

Hermione found that she was both livid and that his stupid sneer was starting to drive her a bit nuts.

"As lovely as this little chat has been Malfoy, I should be going. It's getting late."

The blond Slytherin leaned against one of the stacks, casually making an exaggerated show of studying her, his eyes lingering. She wore heavy black shoes and white socks, a knee length skirt and a white shirt. She had topped the unsightly ensemble with an extremely ugly jumper.

"You look hideous, Granger."

"Shut up, Malfoy."

"Not your best comeback, I'm afraid. What happened to all those witty one-liners? Did that row with Zabini tire you out?"

She turned that same pleasantly pink color and her eyes flashed brilliantly in his direction in spite of the dim lighting.

"Trust me I could outwit him any day of the week. I could outwit him even if I was unconscious -he's an idiot. Unfortunately, I've got more important things to do than to argue about something as pointless as Divination, especially with someone like Blaise Zabini!"

Draco offered another smirk, lifting one blond eyebrow.

"Really? I think you're afraid to admit that if you peel that apple on Samhain night you'll find that there'll be no letter for you at all."

She gasped and bit her lip, flashing him a hateful glare.

"Sod off, Malfoy! What do you know, anyway?"

"I know that no-one wants to date you. Obviously it's upsetting you, Granger. Come on, wouldn't it just be better to come to terms with the fact that no one wants you? Or, were you hoping your true love was the Weasel? If that's the case, sorry to be the bearer of bad news but I hear he's been snogging the daylights out of that blond bint who wears the atrocious bows in her hair."

Hermione glared at him and she looked about as angry as a rabid hippogriff, Draco decided. He found it rather satisfying that she was so easily riled.

"I don't care what Ron Weasley is doing with Lavender Brown!" Hermione snapped, voice tight with repressed anger.

He cocked his head as if in thought, lips twitching with amusement.

"Hmm…I think you protest far too much."

He was smirking confidently in a way that further infuriated Hermione who had thought she couldn't get any angrier.

"And I think you're clearly off your trolley!"

"Ouch, Granger. That really kills," he drawled, his voice dripping with mock hurt.

He watched with interest as the color that had flushed her cheeks deepened to a brilliant crimson as she narrowed her eyes. "Maybe not, but this might," she muttered, pulling out her wand from her school robes and pointing it directly at his nose.

"Get out of my way, Malfoy."

"Or what, you'll hit me with a big, bad curse?"

"Don't tempt me! I've got top marks in Charms and don't think for a second that I don't know enough spells to cause you excruciating pain if you don't get out of my way this instant!"

He let out a snort.

"I never knew you to be so violent, Granger." He took a suggestive step closer, raising one well-groomed eyebrow. "Say, I like that in a woman."

Hermione huffed.

"That's not exactly flattering, is it? Seeing as you're not particularly discriminating. What do you look for in a girl, Malfoy? Besides the fact that she has be able to breathe?"

At her well placed comment, his lips twisted from a smirk into a sneer.

"I'm quite discriminatory, actually. I hate filthy little Mudbloods."

"That's good to hear because I'd shag Voldemort before I got anywhere near you."

Draco found himself growing annoyed at the look on her face. Her expression reminded him of a day last week when that silly cow Bulstrode had realized the house elves had not made enough plum pudding for dessert.

"Well, there's no accounting for taste, I always say. You're a twisted little witch, aren't you?"

"And you're a pathetic little boy! I guess that's why Daphne ran the first chance she got, yeah? I hear she's been shagging Zabini. I don't blame her really - he might be an insufferable arsehole, but anyone's better than you."

Draco stopped, feeling suddenly like he had been hit head on by the blasted Hogwarts Express. Leave it to the Mudblood to somehow feel out his sensitive spot and the one thing that made him see red. Something sparked in the depths of his molten gray eyes and the sneer on his lips faltered, quivering for a moment, as two spots of color appeared high on his pale cheeks.

Hermione felt a wave of satisfaction at having finally gotten to him although if it were anyone else she might have felt bad about it.

It's Draco Malfoy, for Merlin's sake! I don't have to feel sorry for him!

"Daphne is a stupid bitch, and Zabini is a pretentious wanker. I've moved past all that, Granger. It's old news. At least I'm not pining away after someone who clearly doesn't want me. So watch who you're calling pathetic."

Her whole evening having gone completely down the toilet, Hermione wanted nothing more than to hurt Malfoy, to claw his eyes out because he had hit so close to the mark. She knew on the one hand that to give in would only be inviting more of his mockery but on the other hand she couldn't pretend it wasn't the truth, could she?

"Felicitations," she spat. "Pansy Parkinson is quite the catch, even if she is that desperate."

"At least she's not a reclusive loser!"

"I'd rather be reclusive than an embarrassment to my house and my classmates! She even makes her so-called friends cringe when she opens her mouth in Divination and spews that rubbish about apple peel. She actually convinces herself, imagine that!"

Hermione rolled her eyes, her face rigid with disdain and Draco found himself even more angry.

"And how do you know it's not true?" he countered, inwardly shocked at the fact that he was defending a load of dragon dung in the name of saving face.

"Because I use facts and logic. And I'm proud of the fact that I don't buy into the hype, Malfoy. It's for brainless ninnies who have nothing better to do." She glared at him with contempt. "And for stupid, conceited little boys like you and Blaise Zabini who get off on the attention."

Flabbergasted, Draco turned pink.

"You're just jealous!"

"Of what?"

"Of the fact that we're popular and you're…nothing."

"If that's what it takes to be popular I'll pass, thank you."

Sniffing, Hermione finally remembered to move, shoving him out of the way.

"You and Pansy are perfect together. You're both pathetic."

With one last glare she hurried around the tall stack, clutching her book to her chest. Draco stared after her, mouth hanging open.

Tormenting her hadn't been nearly as much fun as he had thought it would be.
 

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