Next to You

Diagon Alley

Chapter 4 – Diagon Alley

There wasn't as many visitors as it was the first few days before school started, but there was still a good amount of wizards and witches doing their daily shopping, meeting a friend for a cup of tea, or just having a day in wizard London. Hermione stood perfectly still for a moment, feeling expectations rising. Some shopping, look at people, something to eat in one of the cafés and then some more shopping and just walking around. It could be a great day. For a second she wished she had someone to share it with, but then she pushed that thought away and focused on having some free time, really free time.

It was closing in on Halloween, which could be seen in the newly orange-and-black windows, but Hermione planned to take this opportunity to start looking for Christmas gifts. She would have a much bigger supply to choose from here, and maybe this was the last occasion when she was close to shops. She had some ideas already, but otherwise she planned just to stroll around and look at what she could find. She also wanted to find some small gifts to her boyfriend and friends. A bit silly maybe, they could just as well buy things in Hogsmeade, but she still felt it like she was on a big trip away from school. If she couldn't find anything else she could just buy some candy or something; just for the heck of it.

She headed for the towering white building, Gringotts. After making some calculations she decided to withdraw a sum covering Christmas gifts, food and a good amount for personal shopping. She deserved to spoil herself a bit after this crazy autumn. Usually she was not the shopping kind, but today she felt almost giddy at the thought. When she reached the stairs she hesitated. Entering this building always felt bad now, even though all the… friction had been solved. She could feel the goblins look at her, and honestly they scared her a bit. But all went well, they gave her the money without further comments, and soon she was back at the top of the stairs.

Diagon Alley laid before her, and she shook off the bad feeling from Gringotts. Now her day could begin, but where to start? When she left the study session in Gryffindor common room the other night she had pushed her things into her bag so violently that she managed to break the tip of her favourite quill, and maybe replacing it was a good place to start. She slowly walked towards Scribbulus Writing Implements, looking in the shop windows as she passed them. Upon entering the shop she saw the back of a well-known head in the back. Malfoy was choosing between the vast amount of inks. She went over to the quills and started to check the supply. There were all kinds, fluffy and slick, white and black, curled and straight. One classy, dark brown instantly got her attention, but she put it down, sighed and decided to go for a more ordinary one. She found a nice white one, and was just picking it up when a voice appeared behind her shoulder.

"Finding anything?"

She jumped and turned, finding herself face to face with Malfoy. "You startled me."

"Sorry, I didn't know you were so focused on the quills." There was a hint of a smile on his face.

"Didn't you know, quills are serious business." With a distracted hand she pushed the hair out of her face. "What are you shopping?"

"Ink. Call me childish if you like, but I prefer to write letters in green ink. They have a really nice dark green ink here that I usually use." He made her company when she headed for the counter to pay. "Are you not satisfied with your present quill?"

"I broke my quill when I had the fight with Ron the other night, I pushed it in the bottom of the bag and I'm afraid I wasn't that careful. You know, the night when I came slamming the door to the office." A half embarrassed smile could be seen on her face. The fight with Ron. She didn't have to specify Ron in the situation. Why did she tell that, to Malfoy of all people? Maybe because he didn't have any personal bond to Ron, maybe because he seemed prepared to listen. Maybe because they, it could not be denied, had created some kind of fragile bond between each other. It was insane, but doubtlessly true.

"Ah, I remember. You were a bit upset."

"You can say that." With a shake of the head she put her quill on the counter. "Where are you headed now?"

"I was planning to go to Flourish and Blotts, and then Lee Bries' Books." There was a moment's pause. "Want to join me?"

"Sure, it sounds like good places to start the day." It would be nice to be in those shops in the company of someone else who liked books, even if it happened to be Malfoy. With a small smile she paid for her quill and put it carefully in her bag.

They had stepped outside the door when Malfoy stopped. "I forgot, I need one more thing. I'll be right back." He turned and disappeared into the shop.

Hermione stood next to the steps, satisfied with just looking at the passing people. The sun shone but the air was chilly, and she was happy for her scarf, even if it was on the thinner side. A plump little witch shoot a quick glance at her when she passed, just to look back again with slightly bigger eyes and finally an appreciating smile. Obviously it was not only the goblins who remembered her deeds. An ironical voice inside her asked though if she was recognized as 'the girl who fought in the war to save us all', or as the friend of Harry Potter. She couldn't help a smile. It was a wonderful day, it didn't matter.

"Do you want to share your happy thoughts?" Malfoy came back out of the shop.

"Oh, I was just thinking about what people think when they recognize me on the street."

His face got unreadable. "I see that you're expecting great things." He hurried to add "Which you should, of course."

"Honestly I was wondering if the passing witch saw Hermione Granger or Harry Potter's friend." Her smile turned amused.

"Ah, the downside with famous friends." They started to walk. "I wonder if this really is a good idea though."

"What?"

"For you to make me company. I also used to have famous friends, you know." The face turned hard and cold.

"But... The war is over and you are considered innocent."

There was a hard laugh. "Never believe that I'm innocent, Granger. Everyone knows what I've done, and it's not much I can say to defend myself."

"Except that you didn't do it out of free will, right?" She gave him a sharp look.

A flash of pain flew over his face, but was soon replaced with tiredness. "You have no idea how it was to stand in front of the Dark Lord. You just didn't say no. You had so much more than your life to lose." He looked down on his hands, obviously remembering things, and just as obviously didn't like it. "Let's talk about something else. This day is too nice for that kind of stories."

Hermione thought deeply. This was a discussion she never could have imagined herself having. She pictured Malfoy in her mind, scared to death and trapped in serving a master he didn't want to have. At least it was the picture he gave her, of course he could be feeding her a sob story to evade taking responsibility for his actions. But she didn't believe that. She had seen him during the war, and she had heard what Harry told her about him. He had been scared insane the last year or two, that was a fact. And those years had obviously changed him, he was not the same as the third year brat. It would be strange if they didn't. She looked up at him. "I don't mind your company." It was true.

"We'll see."

Silence fell between them, and Hermione didn't really know what to say. She wanted to say something comforting, he had showed her a lot of vulnerability and it felt as if she needed to say something. On the other hand he had said that he didn't want to talk about it any more. While she was thinking they met a couple, arm in arm. When they came closer the man let go of the woman and walked over to them. With a face filled of contempt he spit on the ground in front of Malfoy, stared him in the face for a moment, before returning to his companion and continuing down the street.

"I have a feeling that I know what you meant now." She looked at him with a half upset, half thoughtful face.

"That was really quite cheerful, considering who I am. At least he didn't spit on me." The ironic smile was held in place with apparent force.

"People do that? That's so uncivilized." A frown accompanied her words.

"Sometimes they tend to yell or threaten me too, but usually they don't turn to violence. Except from the woman who 'accidentally' hit me with her handbag earlier. But in the bigger picture I don't think that counts." His voice was jesting, but there was a seriousness beneath.

"I wonder what happens when we meet someone who recognize us both." The frown evened out and turned into an amused smile.

"That's when people start to walk into things in pure shock." He winked at her, and she laughed.

"Are you looking for any special books?"

"No, I just want to have a look. Bookshops are nice places."

"I couldn't agree with you more." The smile was warm and a bit pleased. "But honestly, I never saw you as a book guy."

He tied his scarf a bit closer. "Books are nice. They can entertain you, and you can learn things without getting exposed to the disdain."

The picture of her eleven-year-old self came back. "You know, once upon a time it could have been me saying that."

"You?"

"Is it so hard to believe that the little girl who just loved to read more than anything else got kept outside the circle of friends?" She sighed. "And even though I met Harry and Ron it still took some time for me to be accepted by others. Bookworms are usually met with scepticism."

"I see." The look he gave her was estimative. "At least you're some kind of hero now."

"I don't know about hero, but the tables have definitely turned." She tilted her head and smiled slightly. "But at least you have your friends. Not all people despise you."

"True, Pansy and Theo have been faithful through it all. I'm really happy to have them. Even if I might not deserve it all the time."

"I know what you mean. I don't feel like I deserve Ron all the time either. I just have no patience with him nowadays." Now she was talking about her and Ron again. But Harry was his best friend and Ginny was his sister, there was no one she could talk to. And for some reason it was so easy to talk to Malfoy. It surprised her.

They reached Flourish and Blotts, and entered the shop. Focused as bloodhounds, they went to different shelves, and soon they were immersed in the books. Half an hour later Malfoy came looking for her, a couple of books in his arms.

"Did you find anything?" He watched her put a book back on the shelves.

"Yes. An expansion in advanced Ancient Runes and this one." A book titled 'Times and names in the history of the Ministry of Magic' was on the top of her small pile. "What about you?" She looked on the spines of his books. "But... 'Murder on the Orient Express', Malfoy, this is a-"

"Shh! I know." There was a pink tint on his cheeks. "Not a word, or I dispose of it at once. Now, can you do me a favour?"

"I guess so, what is it?"

"Can you put this book in your pile and pay for it? You get the money from me of course. I just can't... If someone sees me buying that kind of literature..."

"Maybe it would be good for you if they did? I for one am impressed." She reached out and put the offensive book in her pile.

"I have some dignity, thank you very much." The posture was the one from old times, but the face was a tiny bit ambivalent.

"If you say so. Let's pay."

They went over to the counter and Hermione paid for her books and the despicable piece of muggle literature. Malfoy paid for his book, and then they left the shop. Outside she handed the mystery book to the pure-blood with an amused smile.

"Here you are. I think it's very nice to see that you're trying to broaden your horizon a bit."

He picked out the money and handed her. "Thank you. And... Honestly it is because of you."

"Because of me?"

"Yes." There was a pause. "Seeing that it turned out that a... muggle-born could be both interesting and nice, I got curious when I saw the shelf. But don't tell anyone, this stays between us, please."

"I won't say anything, I promise. I haven't read that author though, you have to tell me if it's any good." Her smile faltered and she became serious. "And I'm very happy to hear that you find me interesting and nice. Even if it is a bit unexpected."

"Yes, it is. I surely didn't see that coming." He fidgeted with his scarf, eyes filled with uncertainty. "I hope you don't mind me saying it. Maybe I shouldn't have."

"As I said, I'm happy to hear it, I just didn't anticipate... well..." Her face filled with confusion. "Maybe I should have. You've been so... I don't know, I just feel so at ease in your company. And no, I didn't see that coming either."

With a frown he stopped in the street, looking at her. "I never believed that I would put myself in a situation where I risked to start a friendship with a Mud… Muggle-born."

"Is that what we are doing?" She ignored his slip on her heritage, it was most likely out of habit and not to hurt her.

"I don't know, I'm the pariah here, you'll have to be the one making the call." His voice was bitter and his eyes filled with self-loathing. "I wouldn't be as presumptive to make any advances like that."

"I am most likely totally insane, but I think that sounds like an appealing risk to take." A soft smile accompanied the humour in her eyes.

He looked at her intensely, with narrowed eyes carrying some doubt. "You are a very strange girl, do you know that?"

At this moment two men was about to pass them, but stopped and looked at Malfoy with poorly hidden animosity.

"Leave that girl alone." The tallest of them showed a grim face.

His friend turned to Hermione. "Did he hurt you?"

"No, don't worry, it's OK." The situation made her a bit confused.

"I told you to back up. Leave her alone!"

Malfoy looked totally expressionless and stared straight in front of him. When he started to back away from her she reached out a hand and grabbed his arm.

"Don't be silly." She turned to the angry men. "There is no problem here, we were just talking."

The tall one looked at her in disbelief. "I know who you are, I've seen you with Harry Potter. Don't you know who this is?"

"Yes, I do." This was getting uncomfortable. She let go of his arm. "We were just talking for a bit." In the same moment she saw the dead look in Malfoy's eyes, the hopeless one which registered her tries to make excuses to why she was seen together with him. A sudden wave of compassion rose in her. "I'm here, with him, because I chose to. Because I like to."

The men stared at her as if she had stated her undying love for Blast-Ended Skrewts.

"I enjoy his company." Hastily she took his arm again. "And now, if you excuse us, we have a book shop to visit." With that she turned and steered Malfoy towards Lee Bries' Books.

When they were out of sight from the men Hermione let go of him, and he looked at her with a grave face.

"You know what will happen now?"

"No... What do you mean?"

"We will get our shopping interrupted by a flight of aurors, coming to take me away for use of the Imperius curse on you." He tried to keep a straight face, but the laughter could be seen shining through.

"Hmpf. If anyone needed an Imperio it was those two men. Barge in like that." With a haughty air she tossed her head. "No manners." She glanced at him, and when their eyes met they both started to laugh.

Here she was, standing on a cold but sunny October street, laughing together with Draco Malfoy. These were things it was hard to come to terms with. They had been enemies since they were children, all the bad blood between them... How could she just ignore that? She didn't know. She just knew that she appreciated the company of this man. The war was over, time to get a new life. Maybe it was so, that in her old life this would have been impossible, but in their new lives there was a potential for friendship here. She believed she would like that.

"Let's get inside." Malfoy pointed at the shop down the street.

They walked over to the shop and entered. The shop was light and clean, and every book was in its place. It almost felt artificial. They split up and started to wander down the shelves. After some time they met up in the middle again, none of them carrying any books.

"You couldn't find anything either?" Hermione looked at his empty arms.

"No, nothing that I felt the need to bring back home." He made a gesture towards the door, and they exited the shop. "There's another book shop I want to visit."

"I'm always in for book shops," she laughed. "As long as you're not taking me to Knockturn Alley," she hasted to add.

"Don't be stupid." His face darkened. "Do you think I would go to that place now, really? With my reputation to fight against?"

"No, I guess not." Biting her lip she reached out for his arm. "I didn't think that far. Sorry."

"If nothing else, McGonagall forbid us to go there. I for one am not going to disobey her orders."

"Of course not. Let's go to this other shop. Is there any place I know about?" Internally she cursed herself for being so clumsy, trying to smooth it over.

"It's a second hand shop called d'Arc Books, I don't know if you've been there?"

"Yes I have. Not likely that I miss a bookshop." She smiled at him.

"I must say that it sounds like something you would find in Knockturn Alley though. But I promise there's nothing fishy about it."

"I know, don't worry. I've been there." While walking she was glancing at him. He seemed to have composed himself after her stupid comment about Knockturn Alley. Why did her slip upset her so much? He must anticipate having people associate him with that part of wizarding London, being the one he was. It was not strange that she said something like that, was it? But getting to the bottom line, he was a nice person and he deserved better. That insight made her wanting to laugh slightly hysterical, but she just shook her head to try to forget it for now. He once was the enemy, remember?

"You don't want to go there?" His voice woke her up.

"Yes I do, why?"

"You were shaking your head. What were you thinking about?" Suddenly he seemed to remember who he was. "If I might ask."

"No, nothing." She laughed a little breathlessly. "I was just thinking."

"Hm. Usually people shakes their head when it comes to me. But it might be a bit self-centred to assume that you are thinking about me, doesn't it?" The look in his eyes was probing, but also carried a bit self-irony.

She decided not to bite on that one, but looked straight forward and started speaking about the first thing that came to mind. "How long do you think it will take until they publish a book about the war?"

"Oh, it wouldn't surprise me if there is one already. It's hot stuff, you know. Everyone wants to know the details, what really happened."

"And then it will be another book, and another, and all of them will be different and tell their side of it."

"Now, wouldn't it be fun to see one written by a Death Eater?" His face was filled with irony.

"What, you feel like being a writer?" She could have sunken through the ground the instant the words were out of her mouth. Didn't she just decide not to hurt him? "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I just..."

He shrugged. "What, most people know what I were. It's not as if I'm ever to forget it." Suddenly his eyes turned dark and he pressed his lips together. "But I heatedly wish that somehow people would realize that I didn't want to be one."

Hermione felt worse than bad. That was probably the best way of telling him that he was trapped in the past, and that nothing he could ever do would erase it. Everything that she didn't believe in. She needed to find something good to say, and do it fast. "I'm sorry, it was a mean joke, not really funny at all. Don't you think I understand that you want to change? Do you think that I would be here right now if I didn't believe that you had left your past behind you?"

"No, maybe you wouldn't." He looked tired but with a tiny sparkle of hope. "We're good at finding bad topics today. Let's talk books instead."

They continued down the street, headed for the last book shop. The topic of the discussion was held light; books they had read, extra studies outside the curriculum, books they were supposed to finish this year. Finally they reached d'Arc Books and entered the shop. This one was the opposite of the earlier. It was dark, books laid everywhere in piles on chairs and desks, and it smelled like old books and parchment, a sweet and musky.. They split up and started to look around as before, but a short while later Malfoy came up to Hermione.

"Look what I found." In his hand was a cheap looking copy of 'Second Wizarding War – a resume'. "I told you there would be at least one of them."

"Let me see." She reached out for it and started to flip the pages to get an overview. "Do you think I can find myself in here?" There was a laughter in her eyes.

"Maybe. Do you think you can find me in there?" His face was unreadable.

"Does it matter?" With a soft smile she gave him back the book. "We know what really happened, regardless of what these upcoming authors will say."

"Well... Whatever they might write about you it will most certainly make your association with other people easier and more positive. What they might write about me on the other hand..." His posture was slightly blasé, but there was something hard in his voice.

She sighed and picked up another book without really looking at it. "A lot of people are so stupid. I'm afraid there isn't much we can do about that."

"True." An impish smile woke on his lips. "Maybe I just have to write that book after all." He winked at her.

Hermione laughed a small laugh, and then gave him an estimative look. "You do know that it actually isn't a totally bad idea?"

"You're kidding, right?"

"No, I believe that a lot of people would be curious about what happened behind enemy lines. And you would get to tell your story." She tilted her head and looked at him.

"You are supposed to be clever girl, come on. Firstly, no one would ever believe me. They would just say that I made it up to save my own skin. Secondly, people will just see as far as 'Death Eater' and turn their backs. And thirdly... Those things that happened 'behind enemy lines' does not really need to be retold."

"Maybe you're right. Maybe it's too early. Those things might not be needed to be retold now, but one day they will, to make sure that they never get forgotten."

"Who will ever forget something like that?" His face was filled with disbelief.

"A society forgets sooner than you think. I'll come back in sixty years and we can have this discussion again."

He shook his head and looked at her. "You're a strange girl. Let's give up on this book shop."

"Sure." She put down the unknown book again. "Where are we going now?"

"We?" There was a small smile, and it was definitely amused.

"Yes." A small blush crept up her cheeks. "I just thought that... If you have other plans so of course not. Just, it's been nice. Except from the rude men. But I can take more of that if needed," she added hastily.

"I have no plans more than spending time away from school. It will be nice to follow you on your errands."

"Then it's settled." She gave him a bright smile. "I have a lot of errands, and none of them are important. If we just saunter around all day I can live with that. I do need something to eat some time, but that's about that."

"Sounds good to me. What do we start to look for?"

"I have two things I do know that I want. A new scarf for me and a perfume for Christmas for Ginny."

"We could check out Twilfitt and Tatting's for the scarf, and then I know of a small shop that's close Twil and Tat's that amongst other things deals in perfumes." Making a sweeping gesture he pointed up the street.

"I've never been there, it could be fun." Her eyes glittered, well aware what kind of shop it was and what clientele usually frequented it. Good thing she brought that extra money.

Hermione didn't believe she would find anything in the leisure class shop, but to her surprise they found a warm, fluffy, brown and red scarf that suited her perfectly. When the came out on the street again she put on the new scarf and put the old one in her bag.

She looked at Malfoy with a half-sided smile. "Do you think they still would have letting me buy this scarf if they knew both my parents are muggles?"

"As long as you were in my company they would never had gotten the idea to ask." A self-ironic smile could be seen. "But if they did know... Well, I don't think you would have gotten very good service."

"You see, there are places where it's a good thing to be in your company." She winked.

He just looked at her with an unreadable face.

They went into the next shop and had a good time sniffing themselves through the supply of women's perfumes. Finally they agreed on a flowery one with a woody base, and after paying for it it went into the bag with her other purchases. Soon they were out on the street again. They went for a relaxed stroll, laughing as they window-shopped. Hermione knew that maybe she should be inside the stores looking for gifts, but it was so extremely nice just to do nothing for once.

After some time they passed a small café, and they decided to get something to eat. The lunch wasn't like at Hogwarts, but it was nice. The waiter looked first at Malfoy with a frown, and then at Hermione with surprised even bigger frown, but then he agreed to serve them and was nice enough.

When he left them Malfoy bitterly shook his head. "As usual it is good to be in your company though. Don't you get fed up with it?"

"No, not really. I get irritated at people, yes, but I can also understand them. Sorry, but it's true. They don't know what I know."

He sighed. "Maybe it's better in the school after all."

"You want to go back?"

"No, I guess not." The tiredness in the smile gradually disappeared. "I'm having a good time actually."

"If I should be honest I had pictured myself spending this day blissfully alone - wait, let me finish - but I found out this was better. As usual I'm very relaxed in your company. Strange, isn't it?"

At that moment their food arrived, and the topic was forgotten. Instead they got into an entertaining discussion about owls; the pros and cons of having one, if Hermione needed one or not, and in that case, which was the one best suited for her. Malfoy thought that she should get one at once and bring back to Hogwarts, but she reminded him that she already had a cat and they weren't allowed to have more than one animal. He tried to persuade her, but wasn't really that successful.

After lunch they went back out on the street again, and it was cold outside after sitting inside the warm café. Hermione was thankful for her new scarf, and muttered something about how it cold it was for still being October.

"We'll have to stop for tea later." There was an amused shade in his voice.

"Yes! Or better, coffee."

"If you say so." He gestured down the street. "Let's move, it'll feel warmer." The amused shade was back, and he gave her a quizzical look. "So, let's see if I get this correct. You are out looking for Christmas gifts for your friends?"

"I like to have plenty of time. With my study schedule, who knows when I will have time for shopping again?"

"You have a point. And I have, if I may, a suggestion."

A couple with a little child came towards them on the street. When they came closer the young girl tugged at her mother's clothes and pointed at Malfoy. He stared back with an expressionless face. The father took a couple of quick steps and lifted up his daughter, sent a look filled of contempt but also fear at Malfoy, and with an arm around his wife he went on up the street with fast steps. The little girl stuck out her tongue at him over her father's shoulder.

"You had a suggestion." Hermione's voice was soft when she talked to Malfoy, who had stopped and just stood staring in front of him. "Care to elaborate?"

"They believe that I'm a monster."

"If that's your suggestion I'm a bit confused." She smiled softly and put a hand on his arm. "I know it's hard, but try to ignore it. They don't know. They don't understand. How could they, really? They haven't heard your side, yet."

With a shallow sigh he turned to her. "Every time you're nice to me I can hear this voice inside me screaming that it's wrong, wrong, wrong."

"I know exactly what you mean. Your suggestion?"

He looked at her in silence for some time, then he sighed a deep sigh and a shadow of a smile could be seen. "If you don't think I'm inappropriate, I have a suggestion for what you could give Harry. I don't know if it's any good, but..."

"Oh, that's good!" Her face lit up.

"You don't even know what it is yet."

She smiled expectantly. "So please tell me?"

"Well..." There was some hesitation. "When I was in Scribbulus Writing Implements and checked for ink I saw that they had some nice inkwells. Especially one in the form of a snitch. I mean, for Harry that might be. If you don't think it's hopelessly boring."

"No, it's a really good idea. Let's go there at once. Or maybe we could stop at Sugarplum's on the way?"

"As you like, I have no plans. But Sugarplum's sounds good." A discreet impish smile could be seen. "Any special reason to go there?"

"I'm going to buy gifts for my friends. I first planned to buy them something... real, but I realize that I won't find anything. Not with the pace I have today." She laughed. "It's so nice not being stressed."

"I totally agree." The tiny impish smile turned genuine. "What is your favourite candy?"

"Chocolate. I'm a chocolate only girl. I accept fillings and stuff, but it need to be chocolate in some form. You?"

"Liquorice. But that's a new one, I didn't like it as a kid. My favourite back then was sugar quills. But I guess I've changed a bit since then."

"Yeah, you can say that again." She smiled a half-sided smile at him.

A short while later they entered the sweets shop, and started to wander around. Hermione found a couple of boxes with Assorted Month Confect ('Taste the flavour of – and experience – every month.') to give Harry and Ron, but chose a big bar of chocolate with cherry filling for Ginny. They met up at the counter, Malfoy carrying a couple of boxes too.

"Are you also giving gifts, or is it all for you?" Hermione looked amused.

"It's for me, but I plan to share with my friends." He glared at her, but with a twinkle in his eyes. "What, I like sweets, it was not a crime last time I looked."

"Of course not, let's pay."

Hermione paid for her gifts, and when it was Malfoy's turn he added a chocolate frog to the pile before paying him too. When they exited the shop he picked up the chocolate frog and handed it to her.

"I counted your purchases, and realized that you didn't get anything for yourself." Something further down the street seemed interesting at once. "You said that you preferred chocolate."

"Oh, but... thank you!" Her smile was surprised but happy.

"It's just a chocolate frog." He glanced at her. "You can give the card to your boyfriend, he's probably still collecting them."

With a huff Hermione prepared to tell him off for being mean to Ron like that, but to her own surprise, thinking about it twice made her start to laugh instead. "It wouldn't surprise me, no." A part of her felt bad from laughing and talking about Ron like that, but the laughter came so easy and spontaneous. And it was a little bit funny, right? It wasn't like he ever would get to know.

Malfoy gave her a piercing look before he smiled too, his eyes unreadable. "What do you say, should we go and look for that inkwell?"

They went back to Scribbulus Writing Implements and found the snitch. Hermione was very happy with her purchase, one Christmas gift less to worry about. Now it was only Ron left, and that might be harder. It must be something thoughtful, something that showed her feelings, at the same time as it was something he really wanted. The irritation rose again. Did he have to be so difficult?

After some more window-shopping they found themselves at a small café where they could get the agreed hot drinks. Malfoy went for tea, but Hermione got herself a much longed for coffee. They sat at a table in the back of the room, happy to take a pause from the cold streets. Malfoy turned his cup around three times, then he looked at her.

"Granger, there's one thing I've done, and I hope you won't disapprove." Wiggling his tea-cup he shot her a slightly nervous glance.

She stared at him for a second, then covered her face with her hand. "It's very hard not to point out that I know a lot of things you have done, and that I honestly disapprove of the most of them."

A weak laughter started to tug at the corner of his mouth. "No, don't worry." The smile got more pronounced. "It's nothing like that."

With a feeling of relief she started to smile too. "So, what is it?"

"Here." He put a package wrapped in tissue paper on the table. "I wanted you to have this."

"What is it?" She looked surprised.

"If you open you'll find out." The nervousness was back.

"A gift for me? Why?" With a confused look she started to unwrap it. When the paper was gone she was holding the beautiful brown quill from the morning.

"You seemed to like it, so I thought you should have it." He looked intently at his tea. "If you think it's inappropriate you don't have to accept it of course."

"No, it's gorgeous, of course I accept it." Her smile was a bit taken aback, but happy. "You saw me looking at it?"

"Yes, and I thought it suited you."

"I considered it a bit too classy for Hogwarts, that's why I took a more nondescript one."

He shook his head. "You're not a child any more, and you are after all a mentor. Of course you're entitled to having classy equipment."

"Maybe you're right." Her smile turned warm. "Thank you, it was very thoughtful of you."

"You're welcome." Malfoy looked relieved and a bit satisfied.

"It was actually a very good idea." Turning the quill over she smiled fondly at it. "Now it will be twice as fun to do the homework." The smile changed into a more thoughtful one. "So... have you done your Potions yet?"

"No, I was planning to do it tonight."

"Oh, I see." She looked disappointed. "I thought I should have this day off, totally free of studies, and I was about to ask you if you wanted to do the Potions tomorrow. But maybe that will upset your schedule."

"No, it's no problem. Maybe I should try to take a night off too. Have some candy and spend some time with my friends. Pansy would like that."

"I think that's a good idea. We can use a night off, and maybe it will get our friends off our backs for some time." An amused wink followed her words.

He laughed. "Good thinking." With a smile he emptied his cup. "Tomorrow after breakfast in the office then?"

"I'll be there."

Hermione felt like she was mentally in a hot bath. Relaxed, warm and satisfied. This had been a very good day, and they still had some time left. Some time in peace and quiet, talking and walking in the crisp afternoon. Then back to Hogwarts for dinner, and after that spending some time inside in the warmth together with the people she loved. If this day went on as good as it had been so far, it was promising to be almost perfect.