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A/N: I wanted to say a quick thank you to everyone who's read and commented so far! It's so insane that I get to share this with you and you all LIKE IT?! I love looking at all of your comments - keep them up!! They tell me what y'all like and are surprised by - extremely valuable feedback for me :)

 

Betawork done by firstlovelatespring and LeilahMoon. I adore them.

 

Also, if you haven't heard, I plan on adding one more chapter to my short story 'Chills' and expanding it to a two-shot. If you haven't read it, it's a Dramione Hockey AU.... with spice, of course;) I'm hoping it will be up by the end of the month, but classes start on Tuesday (my last semester of college - no thanks!!!) so at the latest, I'm aiming for early February!

 

I'll stop babbling now. Love y'all!

 

xoxo, carmen

 

-

 

Slughorn was truly a great professor and she loved the way he taught, but Hermione was positively dreading this class.

 

It had been almost two weeks since the day Harry and Draco had duelled, and she still wasn’t speaking to him. As much as it pained her, she had avoided sitting next to Harry in classes, bouncing around between different partners. But he needed to realize that she was serious about what she’d said in the corridor that day.

 

Today was different. Today, Malfoy was back in class, finally having recovered enough. Hermione paused in the doorway of the potions classroom, eyes landing on a pale blonde head that was bent over a piece of parchment in the back row. Without stopping to reconsider, she headed back to sit next to him.

 

Malfoy looked up at her, first registering surprise, then flitting quickly to annoyance. “What are you doing Granger?”

 

Hermione, on the other hand, didn’t even bother to look at him as she organized her things across her side of the table. She had decided to act like there was nothing at all out of the ordinary about the fact that she was willingly sitting next to her longtime enemy and one time fuck buddy. “What does it look like? Sitting next to you, obviously,” she said.

 

Honestly, a part of her had foolishly thought something would have changed between them since that day in the hospital wing.


 

Hermione turned on her heel and stormed into the hospital wing to go check on Malfoy. She was still fuming from her fight with Harry, but she did her best to clear her head, planning to give Malfoy her full attention. After all, she still had to yell at him for the little stunt he pulled on her in Defence.

 

Walking quietly towards his bed, she took him in. He looked pale, more so than usual. He was quiet in his unconsciousness - it was to be expected, but for some reason it still took her aback to see him in this way. Seeing him incapacitated and empty and cold made her nervous.

 

For now, the yelling could wait. It wouldn’t be right to yell at anyone when they looked like this.

 

She had never seen Draco Malfoy with his guard this low. He’d never been this relaxed in her presence, and while she knew it wasn’t intentional on his part, it was refreshing to see him at such peace.

 

Hermione knew it was something she wasn’t likely to see again. He was so calm - his eyes were shut, his thick lashes casting a light shadow onto the dark circles beneath his eyes. She wondered what the reason for his sleepless nights was. His breathing was even, and the crease in his brows that constantly plagued his features was gone. He looked so young and at ease. It was a nice change from the surly, angry, firestarter Draco Malfoy she found herself familiar with.

 

She sat and watched his chest stutter up and down, counting his breaths while she thought.

 

Hermione tried not to think about anything too serious, but failed miserably upon reaching breath number thirty-eight. She remembered his behavior during the Defence duel. The things he’d said about her and his list - Hermione couldn’t help but wonder if he’d meant any of it. On the other hand, some of the things he said made her think that he knew something she didn’t, or had the upper hand in some way. She didn’t like the idea that he had information over her, and it made her uneasy. Her teeth worried at her lip, pulling a piece of the delicate skin off unintentionally. It stung.

 

On breath number forty-five, she caught herself trying to rationalize it. She had lured him into that response, practically thrown him into it. Hermione knew that she often had trouble holding herself back and goaded people into things… but it had been all too easy to convince herself that he’d asked for it. Even so, it wasn’t like it was okay. Imagine what she would have done had their roles been reversed. Her fingers found each other, trying to crack her knuckles in a bid to loosen the tension in her hands.

 

On breath number fifty-nine, she realized that in order to really process it, she needed to talk to him. She had made the mistake of assuming things about Malfoy before, and she would continue to drive herself into the ground if she carried on like this. Nothing irked her more than not having answers. She steeled her resolve and vowed to have a valid conversation with him once he was coherent and lucid.

 

On breath number sixty-four, her mind drifted back to her argument with Harry. Seeing Malfoy like this, it was hard to imagine the argument Hary had described - the spellfire, the way Malfoy had been so ready to Crucio Harry in that bathroom, the blood, the sounds Harry had described to her. She reached up and felt the Time-Turner that now rested around her neck and under her shirt. As tempted as she was to go back and fix it all, it would be far too big of a risk to mess with time beyond a few hours. Even using it for classes made her anxious that she would screw things up somehow. 

 

On breath number seventy, her own heart stuttered in her chest as she caught sight of the tip of the new scar on his collarbone. The skin there was pink, puckered, and raised, and it looked like it had been incredibly painful to sustain. Her heart restarted and flipped and she swore to let Harry have it again once her fresh anger had subsided enough to form words she wouldn’t regret.

 

On breath number seventy-seven, she thought back to the battle at the Department of Mysteries the year prior. She’d been prepared mentally for a fight and injury and death, but she hadn’t done enough - though, could anyone ever adequately prepare for something like that? Hermione knew there would be plenty more bloodshed to come. Malfoy’s blood on the bathroom floor would be just another drop in an endless sea of unnecessary grief. 

 

Breath number eighty-nine came out stuttered and uneven. Hermione sucked in a sharp breath of her own, wondering if his eyes would open and he would discover that she was there. She wondered how he would react if he knew. Would he be angry? Would he blame her for him being there in the first place? After all, it wouldn’t have happened if there’d been no duel and Harry hadn’t snapped. A touch of guilt quickly streaked through her, but she pushed it away, not wanting to dwell on it right now.

 

On breath number one hundred and one, she hesitantly started to talk to him. The presence of another warm body at her side had somehow eased her, even though Hermione knew that he wouldn’t know she was there. She told him things about her parents, nearly falling off her broom when Ginny forced her onto one, Harry and Ron, that one time her hair had almost caught fire at the Burrow over the summer.

 

And on breath number one hundred and twenty-five, he whispered, eyes still closed, “A shame it didn’t actually catch on fire. Maybe it would have grown back less bushy the second time around.” His eyes fluttered open and his hand raised to brush aimlessly against the ends of her curls that were dangling next to his bedside. Her breath caught.

 

Hermione stared at him, rattled by his gentle gesture. “How long have you been awake?” she’d asked. 

 

“Long enough,” he’d responded, voice soft, lacking its typical condescending undertone. “Your stories almost put me back to sleep.”

 

She’d scoffed. “It’s a shame they didn’t.”

 

It had almost earned a laugh from him, but it came out as a rattled cough instead. It was a sobering sound and a harsh reminder as to why they were there in the first place.

 

“Good to know that you’re exactly the same whether it’s you or me in this damn bed,” he'd whispered. She was scared to ask what she’d said when she was in his position - her memories of her stay in the Hospital Wing were still fuzzy around the edges. “Not so assertive when we were in bed together, huh Granger?” His eyes remained closed. “Metaphorically speaking, of course.”

 

Her breath caught. That was unexpected, especially in the state he was in. All of his callbacks to that night always stole her breath and gave her heart pause. The fact that he was still bringing it up was proof of one of two things.

 

Number one, she was an idiot for sleeping with him. It had been a slight of judgement on both of their parts, especially hers, and he was going to find ways to subtly poke fun at her for it for as long as he could.

 

Number two—and this was such a far cry from number one that it was unbelievable—was that he wanted to do it again.

 

It scared her that she was amenable to that at all. She didn’t want to consider that option, so she strayed away from it entirely, not wanting to linger on what it meant.

 

“What did I say? The other day,” she’d asked in hopes of distracting him from the current subject, “when I was in your shoes?”

 

“I think that’s a conversation best saved for another time, Granger.” The way his voice faded in and out showed her that he was yet again on the edge of sleep.

 

“If you say so.” And she’d let him go.


 

They hadn’t spoken since then. Hermione hadn’t found it appropriate to approach him once he was past his delirious state, in which she could take advantage of his distant mind. So she had stayed away.

 

Until now.

 

She pulled out her notes and organized them the way she always did, ignoring his very pointed, very irritated stare.

 

“Why,” he started, “are you invading my space yet again, Granger?”

 

Hermione loved that she had the uncanny ability to piss him off so quickly with her very presence. It was fun to play with when it suited her. “I’m doing nothing of the sort. I’m simply sitting next to you in class - that’s hardly a crime.”

 

“It is when it’s you.” Gods, he was so scornful, and for what? “Why aren’t you irritating the Chosen One? Or the Weasel?”

 

“Not that it’s any of your business, but I’m not currently speaking with them.” Her heart was beating in time with the footsteps of the students slowly filling in the classroom. She had no idea why she’d let that one slip, but for whatever reason, it felt important that he knew.

 

That stilled him. 

 

Slughorn started class, effectively ending their conversation. But not before she heard him give a very confused “Why?” under his breath.

 

-

 

Later, Hermione very predictably found herself in the library at her very predictable table. She’d decided to skip dinner in favor of picking up food from the House Elves downstairs so she could procure a quick mental break without being disturbed.

 

Even though she was trying to focus on writing out her study guides and plans, she found her mind wandering. Bits and pieces of her stay in the hospital wing were coming back to her, including Malfoy’s visit.

 

Memories floated in and out of the forefront of her mind like fragments of a lost dream. Hermione vaguely remembered him...apologizing? And while she knew she had asked him why he’d done it - he had a reputation for being very self righteous, so she didn’t expect much of anything - she didn’t know if he had ever answered. 

 

She blamed her inability to focus on her temporary delirium.

 

Books thudded to the table in front of her. She startled and looked up with an insult on the tip of her tongue, ready to unleash it on whoever dared disturb her.

 

The sight of familiar white blonde hair greeted her. 

 

The insult melted away in pure shock. Instead, it was replaced with, “What are you doing here?”

 

He clicked his tongue at her, stretching his arms and bringing them to rest behind his head, kicking his feet up to lie on the beam under the table. He was exuding an air of nonchalance, and it only angered her further. But she suspected that he knew it would.

 

“Now, Granger, that’s no way to greet someone who is here to ask you nicely for your help, is it?” The impassivity of his tone baffled her. He said nothing else, simply quirked up an eyebrow and waited for her reply.

 

“What on Earth are you going on about?” she said. Malfoy was acting very out of character, even for him. Hermione regarded him through narrowed eyes.

 

“I,” he started, “am in need of your assistance, so to speak.” His words left his mouth with a slight twinge of uncertainty mixed with his usual superiority. If she hadn’t been analyzing him to such an extent, she wouldn’t have caught it. 

 

Hermione would have to take everything he said with a grain of salt. He had some kind of an ulterior motive, and until he proved otherwise, she would proceed as if there was one. 

 

“I’ll bite.” She reached for her quill, dipping it into the inkpot and continuing to write out her notes slowly and carefully. Her biggest pet peeve was smearing her ink. “What is it you think you need my help with?” 

 

Malfoy snorted. “As if you don’t already know. Here I thought you were the smartest witch at Hogwarts.” He slowly started to stack up his books from how they’d fallen when he dropped them on the table. “I would have thought it obvious, but evidently not.” 

 

Even though Hermione knew that he was purposely poking her and trying to make her angry, she couldn't help but rise to the challenge. Sometimes, her own predictability really pissed her off. “Let me get this straight,” she seethed through gritted teeth. Her fingers rose up to rub circles into her temples while her eyes shut. “You want my help… with schoolwork?”

 

“Ah, there she is!” he crowed. “Took you long enough. Glad to see she’s still in there.” 

 

“But why?” She was incredulous. Draco Malfoy approaching her for help was simply inconceivable, yet, here he was.

 

His eyes bored into hers, so intense that it startled her to be greeted by them when she reopened her own. “You tell me.” His voice was flat. “I was just laid up in the hospital wing for two weeks. Even though I’m second in our year, there’s no one as.... adequate to catch me up to speed,” he admitted begrudgingly.

 

Hermione pondered his ask. She knew that asking anyone for anything, much less her, was so completely against his nature that it couldn’t be easy. And if he really was doing this to get closer to her or use her for whatever reason, wouldn’t it be in her interest to entertain him until she could figure out what he was up to?

 

“Okay,” she said, her mind made up. Surprise flickered across his features at her easy acceptance, but he quickly regained his mask. “Okay, fine, I’ll help you. But on my terms.” She looked at him, determined. “I have rules, of course.”

 

He nodded along compliantly at what she was saying - at least he had been until she said the word ‘rules.’ “Alright, Granger,” he groaned, “hit me with it.”

 

“We’ll make a study schedule for you and you will follow it. If I’m taking the time to help you with this, I need to know you’re serious and committed.” He rolled his eyes at her but gestured for her to continue. Ignoring his behavior, she pushed on. “And of course we’ll meet five times a week and then if needed, once on the weekend,” she said, while he looked aghast. “But that will depend on how you perform during the week, so if you want your free time, you’ll consider this a priority.”

 

“Granger,” he interrupted, “do you even have a life?”

 

“No,” she answered briskly. “Of course not. I can have a life later, after I’m successful and have accomplished everything I want to.” Hermione waved her hand dismissively. 

 

“No wonder you’re so high-strung,” he muttered. “You really do need a good fuck, don’t you? It’s no wonder you were so responsive that night.” The last part was muttered under his breath, almost too quietly for her to hear. 

 

It was like he couldn’t stop himself from provoking her. For Godric’s sake, he needed to stop with these types of comments before she hexed him again. Her fingers twitched towards her wand, and of course he noticed. He only widened his smile, showing off pearly whites that would impress even her parents. 

 

“That will be the last of comments like that if you want any help from me. Rule number three,” she stated. There could be a hundred rules if she wanted, Hermione was still doing him a significant favor. 

 

He pouted. “But Granger,” he whined. He was acting like a toddler on the verge of a temper tantrum. “That’s half of the fun!” 

 

“Well then, I guess you’ll just have to find another study partner,” she said easily, pulling out a fresh piece of parchment. “Shouldn’t be too hard for you, I’m sure.” She could see out of the corner of her eye that he was warring with himself. His resolution grew on his face, and she knew then he wasn't going anywhere.

 

Hermione began to write out his study plan, comparing it to the class schedule that she had charmed to float in front of her face. He had a block on Wednesdays in between Charms and Ancient Runes, she could squeeze in a good hour for him there…

 

She heard him draw in a breath before asking the question she could sense brewing underneath. 

 

“I have to be honest, Granger, I didn’t think you’d accept so easily. I had a whole list of bribes spelled out, ready to go. I’m almost disappointed all that work went to waste.” He chuckled. “I was prepared to offer you access to my family library in exchange for your services.” His eyes danced as he looked at her.

 

“First of all,” she started, “as tempting as the thought of a generations-old library may be, the fact that it’s in the depths of your lair is a bit of a turn off. You’d have to work a lot harder to get me there than that. Maybe offer me a catalog? Order them by owl?” she suggested. “Also,” she said, switching gears and clearing her throat uncomfortably. “It’s a nice thing to do. Maybe one day you’ll repay me the favor.” The corner of her lip twinged up then fell down again. “Besides, I can’t lie and say it’s not at all due to the fact that I carry some guilt over you missing so much material.” Shame bloomed hot on her face, flushing her cheeks a dark red and forcing her to avert her eyes while her brows furrowed. 

 

Drawing her bottom lip into her mouth, she peeked up at him from the corner of her eye and noticed that his face registered shock. He said, “What? What reason could you possibly have to feel guilty for what Potter did? If I remember correctly - and I do, because I was there - you were fairly incapacitated at the time.” He looked abashed. 

 

“Neither of our injuries would have happened if it weren’t for that day in Defence. I pushed you, you just retaliated. We’re both at fault here.” Her tone was cool and matter of fact. She’d accepted what had happened, and gotten over it. “But it was the charged environment and there was a false sense of security because we were in class. It was almost to be expected that someone would get hurt, I’d say. Whatever the case, it definitely doesn't mean you deserved to be hit with a Sectumsempra by my overprotective best friend.”

 

Whatever Malfoy had hit her with that day had hurt. It was a hex she hadn’t seen or heard of before or since, and honestly, she didn’t care to. It was a nasty one.

 

The recovery had been worse. The hex had drained her energy to the point where doing much of anything exhausted her. It was like she’d run a marathon or lost several pints of blood. It had taken two full days in the Hospital Wing to fully come back to herself. Weeks later she found herself more easily winded than before. But compared to what Malfoy had gone through - it wasn’t so bad. 

 

Malfoy watched her, deadly serious. It was tense in their little corner of the library now, but this was a conversation they needed to have. Potions had given them their first interaction since the hospital wing. She didn’t remember much of that visit; it hardly counted. 

 

“Anyway, I felt it necessary to accept your request in order to even the score between us. It just wouldn’t sit right with me to leave this unresolved.” She bent back over the study schedule, intent on finishing it and pleased with the turn their conversation had taken. 

 

Apparently, she’d thought too soon. Malfoy wasn’t done just yet. 

 

“Granger,” he said. “I know you don’t have a reason to, but I need you to hear me right now.” The edge to his voice gave her pause. Looking up, she met his eyes and she swore they peered into her soul as he said, “You don’t have to listen to anything I say ever again for all I care. But understand this: are you a swotty, bossy, irritating to no end know-it-all? Yes. Without a doubt.” She opened her mouth to protest, but he held up a finger to indicate that he wasn’t yet done. 

 

“But, did you deserve the stunt I pulled in class? No.” His eyes were burning, yelling something at her, and it made her shift uneasily in her seat for reasons she couldn’t quite understand. 

 

It was very vague, and it felt to her like he was leaving a lot of things unsaid. Hermione found she was okay with that, though, since she could see on his face that he was out of his element. Hermione vaguely recalled him saying that ‘Malfoys don’t apologize’ and while he wasn’t directly saying the words, she could hear the implication. At least, she chose to.

 

Wanting to thank him for it, but knowing it would more than likely scare him off, she changed the topic. She had one more thing to get off her chest. “I also want to apologize for what Harry did. It was unacceptable and I’m still very angry with him. We’ve barely spoken since then.” She shook her head. “He tends to have… a bit of a habit of being too rash and too protective.” 

 

Hermione could tell that he was very much surprised by everything she’d said in the last twenty minutes. She sat quietly and waited for him to gather himself enough to respond. 

 

“I don’t understand - why have such a row with Potter over this?” His eyes narrowed in suspicion. “I agree with the fact that he was out of line, but this seems a little extreme, even for you.”

 

Her eyes widened, and they bored into his once more. Eyebrows furrowed and cheeks red, she said, “Malfoy, he almost killed you. Enemies or not, I can’t ignore that.”

 

“So, what, you don’t wish I were dead? How lovely, we’re finally making progress - only took us five and a half years.” She hated how snarky his voice had grown. Hermione had a feeling it was some sort of a defense mechanism - don’t get too close to the Mudblood, right?

 

He ran so hot and cold it was hard for her to keep up, though she suspected that was the point.

 

Suddenly the grain pattern in the wood of the table became very interesting. She traced the lines with her finger. “No, Malfoy. I don't hate you, but I certainly don’t wish you were dead, either. It's leaning more toward… indifference, I suppose.”

 

She realized then that she was being open with him accidentally on purpose. Though she hadn’t meant to, she realized now that if she bared her soul to him under the premise of trying to rectify the situation, then it was highly probable that he would grow to trust her. It felt wrong to expose herself like this for the sake of something she wasn’t so sure she believed in, but she couldn’t bring herself to regret her confession. It had been truthful, and there had been no strategy behind it.

 

Why was she trying so hard to rationalize being kind to him with no underlying motive? She decided she’d think about that one later.

 

Hermione didn’t look up from the table until she heard his chair scrape the floor and her ears followed the sound of his retreating footsteps.

 

A resigned sigh left her lips before she could stop it. Maybe he was a mystery she didn’t really want to solve.

 

Maybe she was scared of what she would find if she looked too closely.

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