Next to You

Study sessions

Chapter 2 - Study sessions

It was late afternoon, and Hermione was about to have her first class as a mentor. She and Malfoy were standing in their classroom, spared by the Battle of Hogwarts, waiting for the students. They hadn't missed any of their own classes, since Mandy and Lisa had taken the earlier mentor class.

"So, are you prepared?" Hermione's nervousness made her long for small talk.

"Yes."He kept staring out the window.

"Are you nervous?"

"No."

"Do you know what to say?"

"No."

Annoyance aside, the girl couldn't help smiling a bit. "You know, if you're going to help the students, you might have to find out how to talk."

He turned away from the window and faced her. "I can assure you that I possess the ability to talk. I'm just aware that talking gives you attention. And all attention, good or bad, is bad attention if you are me, so I prefer not to talk." His eyes were serious but tired, and he put all focus on her.

"I... I didn't think about it that way." Oh no, there came the stuttering again. Those eyes made her very unsure and confused. "So, you're going to help me with the introduction?"

"No, I think it's better if you do the talking. We are here to help after all, and I believe most students wouldn't listen to a word I say." He turned to the window again, and silence fell.

A couple of minutes later the first students started to enter the room, finding places to sit. When it seemed like most had arrived, Hermione welcomed them and presented herself and Malfoy. She could hear sounds of displeasure and contempt when she said his name, as well as a few glares, but she decided not to give it any attention. She explained how the mentor system worked, that the both of them would help with any answers or demonstrations needed.

The students started to work, but she soon realised something strange. All students who wanted help pulled back their arms when Malfoy came close, and raised them again when he had walked past. With the exception for a small Slytherin boy he hadn't helped anyone, she was doing all the work. Then she heard some of the older students whisper to each other, and what she heard was not flattering for Malfoy. Suddenly the slowly building irritation flipped over and turned to flaming anger instead.

She walked up to the front of the class."Excuse me, can I have your attention for a bit?" Taking a deep breath, she tried to stay calm and not let the anger out. "I can't help but notice that we're not using our resources optimally here. You are just using half of the help you're entitled to. I can assure you that Malfoy here knows just as much as I do, and it is a good idea to ask him for help." She held out an arm in a gesture to make him come over to her.

"And what if we don't want to accept help from someone like him?" One of the boys who was whispering earlier crossed his arms in front of him.

"That would be an unwise attitude. You are here to get through school, we are here to help." She noticed that Malfoy had walked over to her, and was standing a bit away. His face was empty, and his eyes were hard.

"But he's disgusting. He should have been killed with the other Death Eaters." The boy let his balled up fists fall down on the desk.

"That's quite enough!" She could feel her anger surface. "I don't want to hear anything else like that. In this school we are students, in Azkaban there are criminals. Please note the difference. You can be sure that the ones in charge made the right decisions about who should be where. Now we're going to go back to our books, and you're going to show some maturity and stop this stupid behaviour. This class is led by two mentors, we'll do the same amount of work, and you just have to accept it." The students were all staring at her, sitting perfectly still. "Honestly, he's not going to bite. Give him a chance."

It took a short while after she left the front before the students started to unfreeze, and for a long time there were no one asking for help at all, but eventually the arms came back. And Hermione could with some satisfaction notice that some of the students actually asked Malfoy for help.

When the class was over, and the students had left they put the classroom back in order. Neither of them spoke until they were ready to go.

"Granger," his face was closed and serious, but his eyes curious, "Why did you do it?"

"Why did I do what?" Hermione stopped and turned to him.

"Stand up for me."

"Maybe I just didn't want to do it all on my own?"

"No, I don't believe that. You could just have gone to McGonagall and told her that I was useless and you wanted another partner." He shook his head.

"I don't know. I don't like it when people are treated unfairly." Her lips became a thin line. "Ironic when it comes to you and me. That I am the one defending you. How does it feel to be on the other side of the bullying fence?"

"I have no idea how to answer that." He looked down on the book in his arms.

"No, I don't know why I said the things I did." The Gryffindor girl went to the door, but with the hand on the doorknob, she turned around. Torn, confused and a little irritated at herself she realised something. "But I did mean them."

o O o

A golden autumn Saturday morning was glowing outside the windows. The sky was blue, and the sun glittered with droplets everywhere, which told that it had been frost during the night. It was a perfect day to be outside and enjoy your free time. Hermione had been up early and could now be found huddled up in one of the big armchairs in the common room with a big book in her lap. She had planned to finish this chapter before the boys came down for breakfast, but kept looking outside instead. Too bad the day was filled with studies.

With a sigh, she returned to her book, and read for ten more minutes before her thoughts shattered again. More students were entering the common room, but she didn't seem to notice. When Harry and Ron came down the stairs, her mind was far away, and she was staring out the window with a small smile on her face.

"Good morning, Hermione." Harry looked like he had just woken up, but a warm smile spread across his face. "The rest of us do this thing called sleeping every now and then, you haven't thought about trying that?"

"Very funny." She smiled back. "I actually measure that I get exactly the right amount of sleep. As little I can get not to waste any time, but enough to optimise my learning." The book was placed on the table when she stood up. "Actually, I've read that if you sleep too much-"

"Please, no lessons this early." If Harry looked like he just woke up, Ron was looking like he was more or less still asleep. "We all know you're a teacher, let us please have some breakfast before you have to prove it."

"Sorry." Hermione looked more irritated than sorry. "I don't understand why you're up at all, you look like you need to sleep for a couple of hours more."

"I always need to sleep for a couple of hours more, but Harry insisted that we should get up in time. Now I'm up though, so what about breakfast?" A glimmer of energy could be seen in his eyes.

She sighed. "Well, I'm here and not in the mentor's room because I thought I should have breakfast with you. I know that I've been eating there most mornings lately, so now when it's a free day I felt like spending some quality time with you two."

"That would be nice." Ron managed to present a sleepy smile. "Honestly Hermione, we hardly ever see you nowadays. We have classes together, but apart from that you're always busy. You don't even do your homework with us any more."

Hermione felt irritation rising again, but also a sting of guilt. She hadn't spent much time together with her best friends lately, and she knew it. But how could she tell them that doing their homework together held her back? That she spent a lot of her valuable time on explaining basic things to them and never could get answers to her own questions. On the other hand, how did they do on their homework when she wasn't there to help? Suddenly she felt slightly ashamed, maybe she was selfish? But with the all-important N.E.W.T.s coming up and all the teaching she had to do... There just wasn't enough time.

She looked at her boys. Her boyfriend, always there for her. Loving her. She was lucky to have him. Harry had lost his smile and was now staring out the window, that haunted look back in his eyes. But she knew he could smile. That smile that made her relax and know that somehow everything would be all right. What was more important, her N.E.W.T.s or her friends? Knowing she was supposed to pick the later, without even a little hesitation, she felt a little annoyance. Couldn't they understand her situation, and give her some support?

"Oh." Harry turned back into the room. "Do you mind if we wait for Ginny too? Or do you want it to be just the three of us?"

"Of course we can wait for her. She's my friend too, you know." Picking up her book, she started off to her dormitory. "I'm just going to leave this, I'll check if Ginny is awake."

Walking to her dormitory, she thought about her friends. Ron was so tiresome nowadays. As his girlfriend she should have a little more patience with him, but whatever he said or did it seemed to wake that irritation in her all the time. She loved him, he loved her, shouldn't it be some implicit understanding between them then? Sighing, she put her book on the bedside table. Harry didn't seem to get irritated at Ron like she did.

Yeah, Harry... He was always difficult, you never knew what mood he would be in. Sometimes it was good, and sometimes the world was broken and evil and bent on making life miserable for him. But she never got irritated at him. Maybe because he had reasons to be depressed after what he had been put through, and she was going to do everything to show him her support. After all, he was there for her all the time. Harry was a wonderful person. A wonderful friend.

Her line of thought was interrupted when she found Ginny, dressed and ready for breakfast. They met the boys in the Common Room, and the four of them headed for the Great Hall together.

They sat down at the table and Ginny looked around at the others. "So, what are your plans for today?"

"I was planning to-" Hermione was interrupted by her boyfriend

"Study." He looked resigned and served himself some tea. "None of us have any problems guessing your favourite free time activities."

"I was thinking," Harry inserted quickly. "That today is a wonderful day for flying."

"Yes!" The red-haired girl looked enthusiastic. "We can borrow some of the school's brooms. Oh, let's be quick with breakfast, that's a wonderful idea! I haven't flown for ages."

"Yeah, that's a good idea." Ron nodded. "What do you say, Hermione?"

"Oh, you know, flying is not for me. But don't worry about me, I have loads to do. I'll just go to the mentors' office, get some stuff down there, hopefully, before lunch."

"Well, I'm filled with good ideas today." Harry nodded. "And I suggest you take your books with you to the Quidditch pitch. That way you still be almost with us, you will get some sun and fresh air, and you can study."

"That's actually a good idea, I can use some air. She smiled. "I'll be getting my books directly after breakfast. I agree with Ginny, let's be quick with this!"

o O o

When they reached the Quidditch pitch, the sun had risen and was shining on the western stands. Hermione parted from the others and went for the sunlit benches. She sat there and enjoyed the sun, listening to the shouts and laughter as her friends kicked off the ground and spiralled up in the crisp autumn air. After looking at them soaring around for some time, she sighed and smiled to herself, lifting the first of the books she brought. She could just as well get some reading done. She had managed to perform a good transfiguration yesterday, but she wanted to read up on a bit of background material to refine her skills. Soon she was immersed in her book, checking on the other Gryffindors every now and then.

After a while, she was done with her Transfiguration. When she looked up to change books, she realised that she wasn't alone in the stands any more. A well-known blond boy was sitting a couple of bench rows below and to the right of her. She opened the Potions book with a frown and started to read up on the Wednesday's lesson. It was hopeless to concentrate though, she kept looking up at the vexation in front of her. They had had a lot of classes together now, and even if they never talked much, there was some fragile ceasefire between them, some delicate type of trust.

The students eventually got used to having him there, and now most of them asked him for help just as much as Hermione. She definitely didn't like him, but they were colleagues after all. Finally, she shut her book and gave up. She stared at the brooms still swooping high in the sky for a couple of minutes, trying not to look. Soon, the itch got too strong, and she followed a reasonless impulse and climbed down the benches.

"Can I sit here?" She indicated at the seat next to Malfoy. The boy looked at her in surprise, his eyes filled with guarded emotion.

"I guess." He observed her carefully.

"Watching the flyers too?" When there was no answer, she went on. "Don't you like to fly? Why don't you take a broom and fly too? It's a wonderful air today."

"Why aren't you up there with your friends yourself?"

"Oh, I'm rubbish at flying. And honestly, I don't really like it. I prefer to have my feet on the ground." She shaded her eyes with a hand and looked up at her friends. The sun had climbed up a bit and was now mostly right behind them. There was some silence while she watched them fly, and he was glancing at her with an incredulous face.

"I don't know, I guess I haven't even thought about it. Just to take a broom and fly. It seems like it's something from another lifetime." A line appeared between his brows, and he turned his attention to the flyers instead. "It feels like a game for kids." There was a short pause, and when he spoke again some bitterness had crept into his voice. " We aren't kids any more."

Hermione tilted her head and looked at him. "No," she agreed, leaving a beat of silence, "then again, no one can claim that Harry is a kid any more, but he's still up there flying. Enjoying it." She shook her head. "There is no reason why you shouldn't be out there too."

"Maybe there is, maybe there isn't."

"What do you mean?"

He sighed. "I told you I don't want any attention. And, well, I feel..." His voice died.

"Yes?"

Slowly he turned his head and looked at her, estimating. Then he turned away again and stared at the bench below. "I feel like I don't deserve to have fun."

There was silence for long time, none of them said anything, not even looked at each other.

Hermione spoke up hesitantly. "I must admit that a lot of people agree with you in that statement. But I've talked to Harry a lot about the war, and more precisely about how to go on and get yourself a new life. Because that's what we need to do, our old ones are over and in the past, and they will never come back. I believe that you might need to create a new life for yourself too, and honestly, clinging to those kind of thoughts will not make it a good life." Malfoy turned and looked at her intently, but did not say anything. After some time they both turned their attention to the laughing Gryffindors in the air.

"This is kind of absurd." Hermione shook her head and looked at the Slytherin. "Do you think anyone would ever believe us if we told?"

"Told what?"

"You and me, sitting here and having a civilised discussion. People will think we have gone insane." She couldn't help smiling.

"Maybe we have." And then, slowly and hesitantly, he smiled back.

o O o

It was soon one of the late afternoon classes for the mentors again, and Hermione was worried. She had missed a class in Arithmancy, and after trying to catch it up she had to admit that she didn't fully follow. She didn't want to mentor a class of tired students, she wanted to sit down with her books until she understood the part that eluded her. For a moment she played with the thought of asking Malfoy to take care of the class on his own, and she sent him a long, questioning look.

"What?" He looked back at her. They hadn't really talked since they met at the Quidditch pitch, just a few words regarding their classes.

"No, nothing."

There was a pause, and then he spoke hesitantly. "You look upset."

"It's just school work. I missed my Arithmancy class, and now I can't understand the textbook. It's nothing important, just me being stupid."

"Oh, I see." Silence fell between them again, until he started to talk uncertainty. "You know..."

She looked up at him, questioning.

"I could help you if you like. Since I take Arithmancy too." An almost surprised face met her as if he just heard the words coming out of his mouth.

"Yes... I suppose that would be good." Hermione stared at him. Something inside her forcibly objected to accepting any help from Malfoy, but it was overridden by the fear of missing some part of her education.

"After this class? Or it maybe will be too late..." He still looked like he didn't believe what he was hearing himself say.

"No, it will be fine. I will just get my books after class, and then we can meet in the office?"

The first students started to arrive, and he nodded once at her, then turning his attention to the students.

Hermione went through the class with an indescribable feeling in her stomach. Draco Malfoy was going to help her with her studies. It was just crazy. She didn't even like him. But maybe it was worth it, she had to admit that she needed the help. And even if she could have asked someone else, she would most definitely get better help from someone like Malfoy. The doubt was swirling inside her, and when she met his eyes, she could see the same uncertainty in them. The minutes went so slowly, but finally class was over. She turned to him, a bit nervous. What if she had misunderstood it all?

"So, I just get my books then?" She watched him carefully.

"Yes, do that. I'll wait in the office."

"I'll be right back." With a forced smile, she hurried out through the door and headed for Gryffindor Tower. She managed to sneak in without detection, but on the way out she got spotted by Ron.

"Hey, Hermione, come over and sit here." There was a group of their friends gathered around a small table. "You don't have to study any more today, do you know what time it is?"

"Yes, I have to." She snapped at him, irritated over being caught and the fact that he believed that he could make those decisions for her. "Some of us actually care about our N.E.W.T.'s." Seeing his hurt face she regretted her words at once, cursing herself for being so easily provoked. She smiled to try and take the edge out of her words. "I missed Arithmancy today, and I want to catch up as soon as possible."

"But Ginny takes Arithmancy too, she can help you." He turned to his sister. "You can, can't you?"

"Of course I can, we can do it at once if you like." Ginny started to stand up.

"No. No, it's not... you don't..." She really didn't want to admit that she had planned a study session with Malfoy. Maybe it would be better to accept Ginny's offer, but... he was down there, waiting for her. She couldn't just not show up, Malfoy or not. "I prefer to do it on my own." The lie slipped off her tongue easily enough. "Maybe another day?"

"Sure, just let me know." She sat back down next to Harry who put an arm around her. Hermione stared at their backs for a second. Ginny never seemed to get irritated at Harry, at least not as often as Hermione at Ron. What was wrong with her? Then she remembered Malfoy, and without a word, she turned and went for the door.

Back in the empty classroom, she slowed down. What was she doing? Heading for a study session with the boy who called her Mudblood? But thinking about Malfoy's behaviour lately, she didn't find it likely that there would be any name-calling.

She opened the door to the office and stepped inside. Malfoy was sitting at a table, reading a big book. When she entered he put a bookmark in the book and closed it. He pushed it away and gestured for her to have the chair next to him. Without a word she sat down and put her Arithmancy book on the table.

"You've read the part in the book?" He stared at the book as if waiting for it to give the answer, not her.

"Yes. I know what I'm supposed to understand, I just... don't." Pressing her lips to a tight line she seriously doubted if this was a good idea. Was she sitting here admitting her shortcomings to the one she hated most in the school?

"Good. Then we have two alternatives. Either I explain it all from the beginning, giving you the whole picture, or you tell me of the specific places where you have troubles, and we'll try to solve it there." He seemed composed, as if teaching calmed him down.

Hermione looked at him, thinking. "I think we should focus on the specific problems I have." Did she actually hate him? It was hard to admit, but somewhere between mentor's business and the Quidditch pitch, the hate seemed to have been lost. He wouldn't be her best buddy any time soon, but this new, quiet Malfoy... no. She didn't hate him.

"Okay, let's get going then. Where is the first part where you got stuck?"

They bowed their heads over her book, and soon they had started to straighten out the mysteries of Arithmancy. Malfoy's explaining soon turned into discussions. How to use the hypothesis in another context, questions about the background, and theories of similar applications. Somewhere in the middle of an intense discussion, Hermione realised that she hadn't had this much fun in a very long time, and she had totally forgotten who she was talking to. She smiled and dived back into the arguments again. After a good amount of time the discussion faded, and they were sitting turned to each other next to the table. Hermione was playing with a quill, and Malfoy thumbed through the Arithmancy book.

"What will you do after your year here is done?" She put down the quill and looked at him.

"I'm not sure. But I do know that I don't want to be the Malfoy heir and just live off the family fortune." The book was shut with a bang, and there was clear bitterness in his face. "I'd like to get a job in the ministry, but I'm not sure that it will be that easy."

"Why not? You are really smart and I believe you will get good marks. Not to talk about the certification we will get for our job with the students." Distractedly she took up the quill and started to play with it again.

"Obviously you have forgotten who I am. Marks won't take you far in this country when you're a Malfoy."

"No, maybe not." There was an uncertain note in her voice. "I have to admit, your family..." She bit her lip. "I guess we're back at the concept of starting a new life again. To leave the past behind and start all over, the way you want it."

He snorted. "And who do you believe would think I deserved a new life?"

"You just have to use this year to prove that you do."

"No." A bitter laugh escaped him. "I don't think that it would be that easy. Do you think I deserve a new life, that all I did should just be forgiven and forgotten?"

"Oh." Now, this was an uncomfortable question.

"Yeah, I thought so." His smile was bitter and as sharp as a blade.

The thoughts swirled in her head. "I will be honest with you. We have a lot of bad blood between us, and not only the war, even if that's the important part here. I've been thinking about it, and I believe that I understand your reasons for acting the way you did during the war. And let's not forget you did some good things too. But all the bad things you did, it's hard to forget. I'd like to think I am the kind of person who can forgive though."

He looked at her in incredulity. "I believe that is more than most of the people would say. And I sure didn't expect it from you."

"Blame it on my fixed idea about a new life. If I'm supposed to start over, I can't cling to old disagreements." She tilted her head. "And I have to admit, you have been much nicer lately than earlier years. In my opinion, of course."

"I don't know if I should take that as a compliment or not. When actively not doing anything makes you a better person in others eyes..."

"I didn't mean it like that..." The room fell quiet until Hermione broke the silence. "You'll have to see it as halfway there."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well, we both know, excuse me for saying it, that you have done a lot of bad things over the years. Now you seem to have stopped doing bad things, at least as far as I see. All that is left is that start doing good things."

Malfoy snorted again. "Things are that black and white in your world, are they? Some actions are bad and some are good, nothing in between? I'm still a Slytherin, does that make me bad by default? Because you can't say being Slytherin is a good thing. Not nowadays at least."

"No, of course, there are shades in between. But there's not much you can do about being Slytherin, even if you probably would be more popular as Gryffindor."

"I don't think I should set my goals on being popular. I'm pretty satisfied with being accepted. Merlin knows even that would be hard." The sigh was equally hopeless and bitter

"But that's not a bad goal. Maybe you won't be accepted by everyone, but the more, the better." She put the quill down on the table. "I don't think it's impossible. Look how far you've come already."

The look he gave her was sceptical. "You believe I've gotten somewhere?"

"Yes. Honestly, open your eyes. You and me, sitting together late at night, having a serious discussion after finishing a rewarding study session. Would you ever have believed that when you sat on the Hogwarts Express at the start of term?"

He stared at her. "No. Actually I still don't believe it. Why in Merlin's name are you nice to me after all I've done to you?"

"I don't know. Maybe because you're not that bad when you get rid of that disdainful attitude. I didn't expect that. And maybe because you started it. You were nice to me and offered me your help. I sure didn't see that coming when I sat on the Hogwarts Express."

"When good deeds have instant rewards, right?" His dispirited face broke up in an ironic smile.

"Yeah, something like that." She smiled back at him, actually feeling some compassion. It was not really expected. "There is something else I think you should do."

"Oh?" His expression was watchful.

"I think you should fly. Both because you like it, which is a good way to start a new life, but also to show others, and most importantly, yourself that you deserve it." This was very strange. Was she sitting here and giving Draco Malfoy moral support? Parts of her still screamed that this was very, very wrong, but she decided not to listen. There was something with his open honesty that appealed to her, and something about his fragile hopelessness that woke her sympathy.

"No. I can't do that. It will be... I don't fly any more." His face closed.

"And I think you should. Why not enter in the seventh years' Quidditch competition first week in November? I'm sure your house would like it if you entered, you've been a good player here in school."

"I don't know..." He seemed to get lost in thoughts.

Before her inner voice had time to react she reached out and took Malfoy's hand. "Yes. Do it."

Malfoy stared at her hand, and she hurried to take it away. Slowly he looked up at her with narrowed eyes. "You realise that I most likely will be flying against Potter then?"

"That's true. Is that a problem?"

"Well, it will be just like in old times. I don't know if it's wise to stir those memories again." There's another deep sigh. "Right now I can admit that I wasn't maybe the optimal school-mate. I guess I was behaving badly..." There's a small, impish grin. "But it was fun." The grin disappeared. "Sorry."

"As long as you don't fall into old habits I believe it will be alright. It's just a game, for fun."

"If I'm going to be truthful, it would be nice to fly again. I wish-" Suddenly he jumped up from the chair and stared angrily at her. "What is it, a spell? Did you slip me a potion?"

"Wh...what? What did I do?" There was confusion written all over her.

"I mean, you have a reputation for being uncannily clever. So how did you do it?"

"I have no idea what you are talking about."

"How come I'm suddenly all honest with you? Hermione Granger, the girl who hates me more than any other girl in the castle. It doesn't make sense." His anger started to subside and gave place to bewilderment.

"No, it doesn't. I've been worrying that you're trying to set me up in some way, you have been too nice. On the other hand, I've been far too nice too. As you said, it doesn't make sense."

Hesitantly he sat down again. "Do you think someone is setting us up? This is not natural."

"I think..." She started playing with the quill again. "That maybe that's just what it is. Natural. We both needed someone to talk to, and we ended up in the same place. I still have very mixed feelings about you, but I don't think I hate you any more. But you've always detested me. Do you still?"

He looked intently at her for some time. "No... I don't know how I should put it. I mean, you're still not pure-blood, not even half-blood, that can't be denied. But it just doesn't feel like it's as important any more, after all of it."

"That's good, I guess."

"I don't know you. I've never been interested in knowing you. And I'm not saying that I am. Just... I had no idea how it would be to have a serious discussion with you. I never imagined that we would have something in common." A hand covered his face for a second. "This suddenly got very complicated."

"Let's make it simple then. We work together as mentors, we studied a night together, we added some talking to that. It doesn't have to be more than that." She tilted her head. "What do you say?"

"When you say it like that it seems less complicated. I'll buy it." A good part of his sigh was relife. "I guess we're done here for tonight?"

"Yeah, I guess we are." The quill was placed on top of the book. "At least we've done what we came here for." She picked up the book and stood up.

"Yes." His face had turned a tiny bit curious when he looked at her.

"Well, good night then." When she reached the door, she turned around. "I've learned a lot. Thank you."

"Good night, Granger."