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Sunday graciously proffered ambition that Hermione had not known in weeks. Determined to lessen her time with Malfoy, she ate a hardy breakfast of beans and toast and marched to the library to begin her studies. There was nothing that Malfoy could teach her that she could not learn on her own. That much, she was sure of.

 

There were three supplemental texts that the author recommended: Vials of Questions, Potions for Home and Field Use, and A Potioneer's Guide: The Essentials. The comforting aroma of aged parchment tickled Hermione's nose and for a moment, she almost forgot about her search. Constant worry had robbed her of her purest strain of happiness, and finally, she had found it again.

 

Perusing the shelves felt so natural. Fairytales, biographies, and spellbooks were calling her name, but they would have to wait. After promising herself that she would return to them, she turned the corner to begin looking for the three texts that she needed. According to the book, two were by Boris Yattle and the other was by Maeby Blacktree.

 

"Yattle, Blacktree, Yattle, Blacktree," Hermione repeated to herself. "They've got to be around here somewhere."

 

The dusty tomes before her were certainly potion books, yet none of them were the titles that she needed. Once she finished skimming the spines for the fourth time, she tried summoning the books instead. Unfortunately, nothing came to her.

 

"Looking for anything in particular, Miss Granger?"

 

Madam Pince was standing at the end of the aisle, her lips pressed together and her hair pulled tautly under her pointed hat. The librarian highly disapproved of students enchanting the books in her library, and she had told Hermione as much many, many times.

 

"Yes, actually," Hermione replied, her cheeks growing hot. "Do you have A Potioneer's Guide: The Essentials, Vials of Questions, or Potions for Home and Field Use? I need them for Slughorn's class."

 

"A bit behind in our studies, are we?" Madam Pince almost seemed titillated. "Someone checked out all three of those books just yesterday afternoon."

 

How curious it was that all three ancillary texts were gone. There were not many students that were willing to bother with any extra reading, let alone three books of it.

 

"All three of them? I need those books."

 

"Well, if you need them today, you'll have to find your classmate, Mr. Malfoy. He has them all until next week." Madam Pince laced her fingers together. "Is there anything else I can do to be of help to you, Miss Granger?"

 

"No," Hermione grumbled, crestfallen. "Thank you."

 

Somehow, Malfoy was making her life even more difficult than usual, and she was going to put an end to it.

 

 

***

 

 

Finding Malfoy proved to be a greater challenge than Hermione had prepared for it to be. After scouring the castle and the grounds, she came to the conclusion that he had to be in the dungeon dormitory, where she was, obviously, not allowed. Suddenly, she missed Harry and his Invisibility Cloak more than usual.

 

Loneliness was starting to wrap its gnarled fingers around her ankles to pull her back under its spell. Even though she was downtrodden with defeat, she decided to visit the Gryffindor Common Room. She had avoided it all year, hoping to avert the ceaseless questions and prying demands of younger students. However, her need for human contact had finally become greater than her need for solitude. How long it would last, she did not know.

 

The brisk walk to Gryffindor Tower was quite similar to the route that she would take to her private dormitory. In fact, she passed Ulysse Moreau on the way, who was muttering to himself in French between sips of red wine.

 

Hermione was breathless by the time that she reached her destination, but the familiarity of it was enough to make her forget that she was terribly out of shape. The large woman that leered down at her was a welcome sight, yet somehow, it made Hermione a bit sad. After the year was over, she would never see the portrait again.

 

"Password?" the Fat Lady hummed.

 

"Brioche," Hermione replied. She clasped her hand to her mouth. "Oh, I'm sorry. That's the password to my dormitory. Erif you wouldn't mind waiting a moment, I'm sure I have it written down here somewhere..."

 

She rifled through her satchel. The password was on a small leaflet of parchment, given to her by one of the seventh-year prefects. What the boy's name was, she could not remember, but it was not his name that mattered; it was the password that she needed.

 

Luck was not on Hermione's side that day, because she could not find the paper anywhere. It was not in any of her books, it had not settled at the bottom of her bag, and it was certainly not in the pocket where she kept her quills and ink. Emptyhanded, she gave the Fat Lady a sheepish smile.

 

"Surely you know me. H-Hermione Granger? I was in school here for six yearsbecame a prefect even. Last year I was too busy with the war but I'm back to finish my N.E.W.T.s and I know I haven't come by here yet, but I really would like to get into the common room," she rambled, peeking in her satchel again. "I justI can't seem to find the password... I know that I had it..."

 

"Celebrities don't impress me, Miss Granger. No password, no entry."

 

"Please? I promise I'm not here to cause any trouble," Hermione begged. "I know you know who I am."

 

"I know who Hermione Granger is, but Hermione Granger would have the password, and because you do not, I can't confirm that you aren't an impostor," the Fat Lady said, flatly.

 

"She's not an impostor," a voice mumbled from behind. "Jobberknoll."

 

The portrait swung open, though she did not seem very happy about it. According to her mutterings, Hermione was a "troublemaker" and "more self-important than Sir Cadogan".

 

"Thanks for that," Hermione said, following the girl through the portrait hole. "You're a fifth-year, right?"

 

"Sure am," the blonde replied, stiffly. "Lydia Clappord. Prefect. Not that you'd know that."

 

"Ermno, I'm sorry, I've been"

 

"In that private dorm of yours," Lydia finished for her as she plopped onto the rug beside a dark-haired boy and a tabby cat that he was stroking. "Yes, McGonagall made it very clear to us prefects that we aren't to bother you unless it's an emergency. Must be nice to have all that room to yourself when you couldn't even be bothered to show up for school last year."

 

"I'm a Muggle-born," Hermione explained, taken aback. "I wasn't allowed"

 

"You don't need to explain yourself," the boy drawled. The cat rolled onto its back and stretched so he could scratch its armpits. "Lydia here is just rather touchy about having to share a room with Orabelle Wood."

 

"I am not!"

 

"Oh, save it, Clappord." Ginny stepped down from the staircase that led to the girls' dormitory. Her long lashes were thick with black mascara, her bag was slung over her shoulder, and the pink robes she wore were those that Hermione helped her find at Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions. Like usual, Ginny Weasley was a sight to behold. "Good to see you, Hermione."

 

"Afternoon, Gin."

 

Ginny settled onto the sofa, slouching in a way that reminded Hermione very much of Ron. "Fancy seeing you here. Headed to lunch or are you here to stay?"

 

"Here to stay for a bit, I suppose," Hermione said, slowly. She sat down beside her friend and combed through her curls with her fingers. Though she would never admit it aloud, she had always been a bit jealous of Ginny's stark straight hair. "I'm honestly just wasting time until I can find Malfoy."

 

Lydia turned to glare at her, but after a glance at Ginny, she quickly turned back around and whispered something inaudible to the boy beside her. Whatever it was, the cat must not have liked it, because it hissed and scurried away.

 

"Did you get started with your Potions studies then? Maybe you can get away with meeting with him just the once and then you'll be good enough for Slughorn to let you off the hook."

 

"Well, there's a problem. Malfoy has all the books I need."

 

"He has all of them?" Ginny asked, incredulously. "He must really want to get you tutored up and be rid of you."

 

"Yeah, I suppose." Inexplicably, Hermione felt sullen.

 

"As sorry as I am, I have to admit, you showing up here does work out for me." Ginny reached into her bag. "You remember those ugly Limax things we had to feed in Care of Magical Creatures last week?"

 

Hermione nodded, still feeling a bit melancholy, though she was unsure why.

 

"Mine never took to the mealworms, so I didn't exactly get to watch it eat," the redhead confessed. She retrieved a green-tipped quill and a scroll of parchment. "Do you think you could help me with the description we're supposed to write? I looked in the book but I couldn't find it anywhere... Actually, I couldn't even find the damn things on the syllabus."

 

"That's because they're not on the syllabus," Hermione said, peering over Ginny's shoulder. "So basically, with the mealworms, they'll take them in their hands and bite them off in chunks. Mine ripped it apart a bit, but Lisa Turpin claimed hers sort of crushed it up and then stuck its hands in its mouth..."

 

Hermione had not taken Care of Magical Creatures in her sixth year, and neither had Lisa Turpin, but Hagrid had kindly allowed them to rejoin him to finish their N.E.W.T. The only stipulation was that they had to learn the Year Six curriculum on their own time. Hermione was on track to be caught up before Halloween.

 

"Thank you." Ginny scribbled down the answer. "I know Hagrid won't even be there so we probably won't turn it in, but I'd rather have it done now so I don't have to think about it."

 

"What do you mean? Where is Hagrid going?"

 

"He didn't tell you?" Ginny asked. She blew on the slow-drying ink. "He's spending the day in the Forbidden Forest. Mercury's aligning with the Sun or something so he was going to go help set up some sort of ritual circle for the centaurs. He made a pretty big deal about it."

 

"Ginny!" Hermione exclaimed. "Centaurs! You're brilliant!"

 

"Hardly," Lydia Clappord grumbled from her spot on the floor.

 

Ginny ignored the blonde girl and replied, "I mean, yes, I am pretty brilliant, but what is it about centaurs? Do you know one that can help you with Potions or something?"

 

Hermione, however, had already rushed towards the portrait hole, and she had no time to answer questions. "I'll tell you later! II have to go!"

 

 

***

 

 

The ugly centaur statue loomed overhead. How she had not thought of it before, Hermione did not know, as she had seen Malfoy disappear before her eyes in that very spot. Alas, with Ginny's accidental assistance, she was finally there. She stamped behind the beast that was, apparently, supposed to be a centaur, and grabbed at the seemingly empty air.

 

"Ow! Watch your filthy hands, Granger!"

 

The Disillusionment Charm faded and Draco Malfoy glowered at her from his place in the corner. Incidentally, Hermione had grabbed a fistful of his hair, as several static-laced strands of platinum were clinging to her fingertips. After wiping her hands of all traces of him, she asked, "What did you do with them?"

 

"Do with what, you lunatic?" Malfoy asked.

 

"The recommended books from our Potions textbook," Hermione said, as though it were the most obvious statement in the world. She pointed at the tome in his lap. "Is that one of them?"

 

"It might be." Malfoy slammed the book shut, a scowl on his face. "Since you're so bloody stupid nowadays, I had to check out every book I could to see if I could actually teach you something."

 

"I'll have you know that I was going to check those books out so I could learn it all on my own!" Hermione jabbed a finger in his face. "Then I wouldn't have to look at your smirking, spoiled, foul face any more than I already have to in class!"

 

"Oh, please! You take notes all day in class and don't learn a damn thing! Bloody good a bunch of books were going to do you if you can't even understand your own notes!"

 

"Those aren't notes! They're" Hermione's face fell. Fuming, she said, "Fine. Meet me tomorrow after dinnerin the library. And after that, you will give me those books."

 

"Oh I will, will I?"

 

"Yes, you will," she said, angrily, "and if you don't, I'll make you."

 

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