Next to You

Quidditch

Chapter 5 - Quidditch

If Saturday had been close to perfect, today was the opposite. Hermione had decided to have breakfast in the Great Hall, and gotten into a futile discussion with Ron, making her irritated and mean. By the time she had left for class she regretted what she had said, but by then Ron was in another part of the castle. And then it was time for mentor class, and she missed Arithmancy again. When she met up with Harry and Ron for next class, the latter was still sulky, and she never got an opening to apologise. In the common room after classes, Ron had locked himself up in their dormitory, and Hermione had given up on him, taken her books and fled to the mentors' office.

So here she was, back in the mentors' office, struggling with Arithmancy, still not understanding it totally. There wasn't even a Malfoy around to ask, and her mood was quickly reaching bottom. They had been studying together almost every day after their free Saturday, but tonight he was nowhere to be seen. She fought down an impulse to throw something. No, this day was not good at all. Not even a hint of the happiness from the Saturday.

She thought about her day in Diagon Alley. The feeling of having a totally new and fresh day in front of her, a day when anything or nothing could be allowed to happen. And then how she ran into Malfoy and how they ended up spending the day together. Walking, shopping, talking, laughing... It had been a really nice day.

Then she came back to Hogwarts and had dinner with her best friends. After dinner they gathered in front of the fire in the common room, and she was sitting close to her boyfriend. He seemed to be in a great mood, and kept joking and smiling at her all the time. They had been sitting there talking until it was late, no one felt like leaving, and Hermione wasn't even the first to break up.

The door opened and Hermione quickly lifted her head. But no, it was Lisa and Mandy, who looked a bit dissatisfied when seeing her.

"Evening, Hermione." Lisa gave her a smile.

"Evening. Have you been fleeing the common room too?" Hermione smiled back.

"Yeah. It's usually no problem studying there, but tonight some second years played a game with a whole lot of jumping and shouting." The look Mandy gave her was slightly searching. "But you're here as usual, have you moved in here?" She laughed a silly little laugh.

"Sometimes I wish I could. It's nice and quiet, and no distractions."

"Yeah..." The fleeting look of dissatisfaction came back. "Well, we better get started." The two girls sat down next to each other at a desk a bit away. They were talking quietly while opening their books.

Hermione stared at her Arithmancy, but it didn't get any more understandable. She played with her dark brown quill and waited for the other girls to fall quiet. As so often lately, her thoughts flew back to Ron. He was so childish, refusing to talk with her like that. Harry did say that he just was tired, but she didn't buy that. Maybe... she would be better off without him? She recoiled from that thought, and stared at her books again.

After a while she gave up, and decided to ask Malfoy for help tomorrow instead. If he was there tomorrow. She looked at the Ravenclaws, and played with the thought of asking them for help. But they seemed so busy, and above all busy together. Like a unity confined to each other. With a sigh she closed the Arithmancy and pulled her Potions' book towards her. At least this she was most likely to understand. It hurt that it was something she didn't understand, and it scared her that it wasn't the first time. Determinedly she focused on the book in front of her, and soon she was immersed in it.

A muffled giggle woke her up from her reading. The hushed voices of the Ravenclaws was annoyingly distracting. She picked up quill and parchment, but soon realised that she only was doodling Her thought caught up on their earlier path. Ron. Being without him... No. If she was to... then she would be alone. They were one, splitting up would be just wrong. She would be breaking something that was supposed to be. And yes, she would be ice-chillingly alone. But above all, she loved him. Why was she even thinking these thoughts? Trying to ignore the other girls she started to write on her Potions homework.

The voices and laughter of the other two mentors grew louder, and she started to get irritated. She was here because she wanted to study, and they were supposed to too. She couldn't focus, and that made her mind free to wander, and it was hopelessly going back to her boyfriend. Those thoughts were only rubbish. She loved her boyfriend. And she didn't want to be alone. No more thinking, period.

o O o

The Saturday of the seventh year's Quidditch game dawned with a blue sky and a bite of frost in the air. Hermione and Ginny sat in the common room and waited for the boys to come down. The former had a book in her lap, but she didn't read much.

"It's too bad that you don't play Quidditch too. It would have been fun if we could do it together." Ginny smiled at her friend.

"No, you know me. Flying is not my thing." She closed the book.

"I know. But it would have been fun." She tugged at her Quidditch robes, frowning. "I wonder where the boys are though. I'd like to have breakfast without being in a hurry."

"If you like you can go ahead, and I'll stay here and wait for Harry and Ron."

"Hm. I'll give them ten more minutes, then we go down to the Great Hall without them." The red-headed girl looked annoyed.

They didn't have to wait that long, a couple of minutes later they both came down. Both of them were in Quidditch robes, chatting animatedly, Ron waving his arms and both laughing. They headed for the girls with big smiles.

"There you are. I thought you would never be ready." Ginny walked over and kissed Harry on the cheek.

"Well, here we are now. Want to go down for breakfast?" He fastened an escaped strand of hair behind Ginny's ear.

"Definitely." With a smile she took Harry's arm, and the four of them headed for the Great Hall.

At the breakfast table the noise level was a bit higher than usual, even if it was only the seventh years that played it was still a big event. The four friends found seats a bit down Gryffindor table, and begun their breakfast. Hermione started with pouring a cup of coffee, as she did every morning now. But it was so nice to start the day with some coffee, and after half a cup it was time for breakfast.

She watched Ginny walk over to the Hufflepuff table, probably to talk with the players from that house. The boy Ginny were talking to was the other chaser, and it looked like he had something interesting to tell. And yes, Ginny came back with a face filled of excitement.

"You're not going to believe what I just heard!" She slipped down in her seat and pinched another toast. With gleaming eyes she looked around at the others.

"Let's hear." Her boyfriend lifted an eyebrow.

"I know..." Pause. "...who is going to be Ravenclaw and Slytherin's seeker."

"Well, tell us already!" Ron waved an urging hand at her.

"Draco Malfoy."

"What?" Ron stared at her. "That can't be."

"You're kidding?" Looking totally perplexed Harry put down his goblet on the table.

Hermione's eyes widened, and a giddy feeling started somewhere in her stomach. He had done it. He listened to her and went up flying, even though he knew he would fly against Harry. She was so happy for him, so proud. This was the best news today.

"So much for a relaxed game just for fun. And why do you look so happy Hermione?" Her boyfriend turned to her with a testy look.

"There's no reason why you can't have a relaxed game still. Nothing really changes just because Draco... Malfoy is flying too."

"No? Where have you been the latest seven years? Do you realise what pressure there is on Harry now? Now he has to catch the snitch, there's no having a light game for him any more." Ron seemed to be more and more heated for every word.

"It seems to me that it is you who are putting the pressure on him, no one else." Her smile disappeared and she sighed. "Harry, please don't tell me that you still are bearing this grudge against him."

"Well, I don't think it's fun, can't say I do." He made a displeased face.

"Oh. But..." This was not the way she pictured it. She never realised that getting Draco back flying would affect her friends badly. "Try not to let it get to you. Pretend he's just anyone, don't let this game be about him. You've all been looking forward to this."

"That's easy for you to say." Her boyfriend still looked grumpy.

"No, I think Hermione has a point." Harry seemed slightly thoughtful. "We've been preparing for this for a long time, looking forward to having big fun. We should not let some stupid git destroy this for us. Come on you guys, we'll still have a good time up there." He smiled calmly at them. "And let me take care of Malfoy. I don't mind, honestly. You just focus on the rest of the game."

You could count on Harry to sort things out to the better. He knew just what to say to get discouraged people back on track. Not to mention that he came to her aid again, taking her side when Ron started to act childish.

"Maybe you're right." Ginny's toast was forgotten on her plate. "But I still think it's kind of preposterous that he should be allowed to play with the rest of us."

"He has the same right to fly as everybody else." Hermione fell silent, she didn't mean to say that out loud.

"I'm sorry, what did you say?" Ron stared at her. "You're taking his side in this?"

Harry just looked at her with a pensive face, but his girlfriend looked just as surprised as her brother.

"No, I didn't take anyone's side. Just saying that... Well, he's a student at this school, why shouldn't he fly?"

"Because he is an evil bastard who doesn't deserve to have the same rules as the rest of us?" Her boyfriend still seemed upset, to say the least.

She started to lose patience. "You're sounding pretty close-minded. Can't you accept that he's a human being who is trying to create a new life, just like us?"

"Not to add fuel to the fire, but you do sound like you're defending him." Ginny looked at her with a bewildered expression.

Hermione sighed. Yes, she wanted to defend Draco, but she did not want a disagreement with her friends. "Can't we all just listen to Harry? I believe he had a pretty good grip on the situation. Don't let this day be destroyed over something silly."

"Sure he's silly, all right," Ron mumbled.

"Operation 'Ignore Malfoy' can start then." Ginny swallowed the last of her bread and looked around. "Are you ready to go?"

They finished their breakfasts and headed for the doors. Hermione fell behind a bit, and looked at the Slytherin table. When she found him he was already looking for her with an ironic smile on his lips. She wished she could have walked over to him, but she knew what kind of commotion that would cause, and she didn't dare to do it. At least not now. Instead she smiled at him, as big and warm as she could, and hoped that he understood that she knew.

On the way down to the pitch Harry slowed down until he was next to her. He looked at her with an inquisitive face.

"You know, you are making me curious."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you were actually defending Malfoy earlier. And I saw that you smiled at him before we left the Great Hall. Do you mind sharing?"

Hermione moved uncomfortably. "It's not much to share."

He gave her a long look.

"Well, we've got to know each other a little. Or not really know each other, but we've talked a bit. Now and then."

"Talked a bit. Hermione, I told you to be careful around him. What does 'talked a bit' mean?"

"Mm... We... might have spent the day in Diagon Alley together." To her irritation she felt a slight blush creep up her cheeks. "But please don't tell the others," she added hastily.

Harry heaved a deep sigh. "No, I won't. But honestly... Merlin, what are you thinking?"

The all so well-known irritation rose again. "I'm thinking that he is a human being with the need for a new life, just as us. That he is intelligent and stimulating to spend time with. That he has a fun kind of humour, and that when he drops that disdainful 'I'm better than everybody else' attitude he's actually nice." Suddenly she felt a desperate need to explain this to Harry, make him understand. She definitely didn't want him to leave and be mad at her, and she realised that his opinion actually meant a scary amount to her.

With a dumbfounded expression he stared at her. "I... Oh damn, I don't like this. Hermione... That doesn't sound like 'talked a bit', that sounds more like friendship. Have you befriended Draco sodding Malfoy?"

"No! It's just..." She looked helplessly at him. "I don't know, maybe I have. I have no idea how that happened."

Harry leaned his head back and heaved another deep sigh before looking at her again. "You. Are. Insane. What do you want from me, do you want me to just accept this, pretend that nothing has changed?"

The feeling of wanting to please him came back, wanting to make him understand, and yes, for him to accept. "I wish I could make you see the same Draco that I see. For you to realise that he has changed. And no, I haven't forgotten, but I have forgiven."

"You must understand that I'm worried about you. That he will hurt you. He's not the most trustworthy of the lot." He shook his head. "But I guess that you're grown up now, and that you're old enough to make your own mistakes." Starting to turn away he stopped for a moment. "No, you won't get me to just accept it like this. But I want you to know that you can always come to me. I won't even say 'I told you so'."

She stood still and watched his back for a couple of seconds in something close to panic, before running after him. "Harry! Wait. Does this really have to come between us?"

With an amused smile he looked at her. "No, definitely not. But I need to get down to the pitch before they start without me." He put an arm around her. "Don't be silly, girl. It takes more than a pathetic Malfoy to come between us. Now get up those stands and cheer us to victory."

They split up, and Hermione saw him walk with a light feeling inside. She could still feel the warmth from his arm around her, maybe it wasn't so bad after all. Yes, she felt protective of Draco, but not enough to split her up from her friends.

She climbed up and started to look for a seat. Finally she found one next to some excited young students from one of the lower years. The game had started while she was looking for somewhere to sit, and now it was up to full speed. The Huffelpuff chaser scored a goal, but she didn't really care, she was only interested in the seekers. They seemed to use different tactics, Harry was hovering high up above the pitch while Draco was circling around the edges. Ten and some minutes in the game Harry started a dive towards one of the stands, but pulled out of it before Draco had time to get up to speed. The crowd moaned in disappointment. Hermione wondered if he really had seen anything, or if he only was playing Draco.

Staring at the seekers got pretty boring after some time, and she watched Ron save two goals and Ginny score one behind the back of the Ravenclaw keeper. But after that the Slytherin chasers scored two goals at a rapid pace, and she could feel Ron's mood sink. It was an even game, and it became obvious that the victory would depend on which of the seekers caught the snitch. Looking for the seekers again she realised that she didn't know who she hoped for to catch the snitch. Of course she was supporting Harry, but... it would be so good for Draco to- She stopped dead in her thoughts. Draco? Since when did he become Draco and not Malfoy to her? She thought back to the morning, she did call him Malfoy when she was talking, right?

Suddenly the sound around her became much louder, and when she looked up she saw Draco in full speed upward, at the same time as Harry went into a steep dive. She kept her fingers crossed, but she still didn't know for whom. The seconds felt incomprehensibly long, but there were actually just a few of them before Harry came out of the dive with the snitch in a firm grip. The roar from the spectators was deafening and Hermione was standing up and cheered with the others around her. She had to admit that deep down she had been supporting Harry, no matter how good it would have been for Draco to win it.

She hurried down the stairs to congratulate her friends, but when she came down she ended up in the middle of the Slytherin/Ravenclaw team. The others were nowhere to be seen, so she took the risk to stop and talk with Draco when he passed.

"Congratulations!" She waved at him to make him come over.

"We didn't win, if you missed that." There were some dejection in his posture, but also some happiness.

"I know that, but it still feels right to congratulate you to being up on a broom again. I was very happy to hear that you were on the team." A lot of people were filtering past her, so she moved a bit to the side to let them through.

"I believe people would have been happier with me if I had caught that stupid ball though."

"They don't blame you for the loss, do they?" She looked worried.

"No, no one believed I would have a chance against Potter anyway. So, there's no problem really. The rest of the team is cool."

"But not everyone is." It was not a question.

"I've heard a comment or five about Death Eaters in the game and if it should be allowed." There was a grim expression on his face.

Hermione sighed and looked around. "I've heard those too I'm afraid." She showed a tired face. "But the important thing is that you did fly. Was it fun?"

His face broke into a smile. "Yes. It was more than that, it was fantastic. I can't believe I haven't done it before."

"Next thing will be you flying with the Gryffindors."

"I dearly hope that was a joke." He looked at her in alarm.

"Yes, I'm afraid it was. I don't believe they're ready for you just yet." Her smile was a bit amused.

"I don't believe I'm ready for them." A line formed between his eyebrows. "What are you looking for?"

"Oh, Harry, Ron and Ginny. They should be here soon I think."

"And you don't want them to see you with me." His face grew grim.

"No, not at all." The blush on her cheeks betrayed her. "It's just..."

"...that you will be in trouble if they believe you have something to do with the hated Death Eater."

"You see, we already had this disagreement over you at breakfast, and I don't want to remind them. It's not that I wouldn't like to be seen with you it's just that..." She broke off, looking unhappy.

"It doesn't matter. You don't have to explain. I know who I am." The bitterness in his voice was evident. "I can see Pansy heading for the castle, I'll just catch up with her." His face turned uncertain. "Talk to you some other time?"

She smiled. "Arithmancy tonight at the office as usual?"

"I'll be there." There was a small, relieved smile, and then he was gone.

o O o

None of her friends saw her talking to Draco, and she was ashamed to admit that she was glad. She knew how much it would mean to Draco if she stood up to her friends for him, but she believed it would be better to take it small steps at a time. And maybe she was a bit afraid of the confrontation. Harry would most likely be cool about it, after all, he knew most of it. But Ginny was another case, and Ron... She didn't even want to think about how Ron would take it. If Ron only could be a bit more like Harry. Thinking about it, a lot more like Harry. Sometimes she was very jealous of Ginny.

They had left the pitch together, and now the others were tidying themselves up after the game. Hermione was laying on the bed with a book in front of her, the one she bought in Diagon Alley about Ancient Runes. She hadn't been able to look in it yet, but she stole some time now when the others were busy and she wasn't really scheduled to study. The book was interesting, but she still had problems focusing, she kept coming back to her closest friends.

Ron. Although he hadn't been as irritating as usual lately, she still could feel that it was something that wasn't really like it was supposed to be. It wasn't like it was the intense weeks after the end of the war, and not really like that carefree time together they had during their school years. Something had happened to them, and she didn't know what. It was like he wasn't that special any more. She still cared for him, she did, it was just that something was missing. With a sigh, she realised that it might take some active work to get things back on track. If she only didn't have that nagging feeling that something was wrong, that she shouldn't keep trying.

She left the thoughts about her boyfriend and moved her focus to Ginny, the first girl to be a close friend to Hermione. She was smart, funny and loyal. You could count on her whatever happened, she would be there. Or would she? Thinking about her face at breakfast when she thought that Hermione was defending Draco, she wasn't that sure any more. Would Ginny be able to accept their friendship? Or would she just see a bully, a Death Eater, the son of Lucius Malfoy and a thoroughly unsympathetic person? She couldn't blame her, she had seen the same at the beginning of the school year, and it was hard to change that if you haven't had the same accustoming as she had. A shade of anxiety came over her, she didn't want to let go of this new friendship, but neither did she want to lose Ginny. She heatedly wished that it wouldn't come to a time when she had to choose.

Closing her eyes she chased those thoughts away, and turned her attention to the thoughts about Harry instead, who always know what to say to comfort or cheer her up. Who always were there to defend her. Who had accepted her confidence in him, listened to her involvement with Draco and still stood by her side. What would she do without Harry in her life? He really had it all. The small confused boy had turned to a handsome, energetic young man, and nowhere along the way had he renounced the care and love that had always been a part of him. Except from that stupid story with the broom he had always been at her side, whatever happened. She thought about their time together on the run last year. Yeah, a year ago... Suddenly a cold feeling woke in pit of her stomach. Now just wait a minute, what was she thinking? Loyal, caring, handsome... This started to sound less and less like friendship and... She wasn't in love with Harry, was she? The doubt started to tear her inside apart, and she put her head face down on the pillow. There she laid until Ginny entered the room.

"Hey, Hermione, it's celebration in the common room, wake up!"

"I... I don't know." Facing Harry now would be uncomfortable at best.

"But I do. Forget about the book and join us. This isn't an ordinary day." She laughed.

Well, she needed to meet Harry sooner or later, and hopefully she would get an answer to her question then. "Sure, I'll come."

"Good." Ginny took her arm and together they walked down to the common room.

When they entered Hermione looked around for Harry, and soon found him in the centre of attention. She examined his face, but there were no sudden understanding feelings. He was still Harry, the one she had loved like a brother for a long time now. If there was anything else she couldn't tell it now. Thinking about it for a moment she decided that the best she could do now was to go on like she always had, and if it was something there it would reveal itself sooner or later, by its own.

"Come on, if you go down to Harry and Ron, I'll get us some butterbeer." Ginny gave her a push in the right direction, and she slowly walked over to the boys, who both smiled at her. She had to admit, if she needed to pick just one of them who was her best friend it would be Harry, not Ron. But that didn't matter, none of it matters, because it was Ron who was her boyfriend, she still loved him and she was willing to fight for it. This thing, if any, with Harry would have to go away, it just had to.

"Hermione, there you are." Ron held out an arm for her, and when she came closer he put it around her. "What happened to Ginny?"

"She went for some butterbeer."

"Ah, good thinking." He held out a plate for her. "You have to try these pastries, they are delicious."

With a sudden giggle she accepted the sweet, and thoroughly enjoyed it until Ginny came back with the drinks. The four of them initiated a toast, and soon the common room was echoing of "To Gryffindor!" Hermione smiled in satisfaction, she was happy she had followed Ginny down here. Standing close to Ron it felt like everything was as it should, and maybe it was right now. Seeing Harry didn't freak her out like she was afraid of, and she was standing with a butterbeer in one hand in a room full of friends and snacks. Right now everything was pretty good.

A while later Ron got challenged to a game of chess, and Hermione ended up next to one of the windows.

"Do you have a minute?" Harry came up behind her.

"For you, of course." She smiled and gestured for the place next to her in front of the window.

"I wanted to talk about Malfoy. If you don't mind."

A slight jolt inside her made her bit her lip. "I don't mind." Please don't let him have changed his mind.

"To be honest, I am worried. I know it's not my business, but... well maybe it is, you're one of my best friends, and I really don't want you to get hurt by that lowlife."

"I don't believe you have to be worried. As I said, he's changed. Do you really think he would like to be spending time with a muggle-born otherwise?" Her finger traced the windowsill. "And he's nice. Studying with him is very gratifying, and he makes me laugh."

He shook his head. "The leopard doesn't change its spots."

"I don't think he even is a leopard any more. And he has friends, he wouldn't have if he was as callous as you think, right?"

"As far as I know, he still has a very certain spot left. You can't deny that."

"But that's not fair. You know how scared he was, that he wasn't really on their side by choice. Don't you think he would like to have it erased if that was possible?" There was an urging tone in her voice.

With a sigh he leaned against the windowsill. "Oh my, you really do defend him. This isn't a fleeting acquaintance of yours, this really is your friend." He shook his head again. "I guess it's down to two things then."

"What things?"

"Either I'm right, and he is up to something, like so many times before. You are going to get hurt, and I'm going to get angry."

"Or?"

"Or you're right, and has really changed. In that case I owe you an apology for doubting your judgement." With a worried frown he run a hand through his hair. "But I'm afraid it will take a lot of time before I accept alternative two."

"I wish I knew a way to speed it up. But it's true, I can't do more than ask you to trust my judgement in the matter. And you have a lot to get past to be able to do that. I understand." Her smile was a tad sad but mostly sympathetic.

"So, when do you think you'll see him again?" Harry looked a bit resigned.

"Tonight, actually. I'm going to meet him as soon as the two of us are done here."

"Then I'll better have to make sure that we don't finish this discussion." He smiled a bit but then turned despondent. "Does it have to be him?"

"Yes, I'm afraid so." The hug she gave him was big and warm. "I'll be going now. If someone asks for me I've gone studying. Don't tell them with who."

"I don't like your secrets, Hermione." He sighed deeply. "But I won't tell on you."

After sending a thankful smile at him she went to get her books. She wondered about it all, this secrecy was so stupid. Why shouldn't she just admit who she was working with? There was a simple answer to that. She was afraid of the confrontations, of what a disturbance it would cause. It wasn't fun to admit, but in some ways she was a coward.

o O o

When she came to the office Draco was already there. He was reading his Arithmancy book, looked up when she entered, nodded once, then went back to the book. She sat down beside him, took out her book and started to read too. After a while she became aware that she had read the same lines three times, and gave up.

"Do your friends know that you are here? Studying with me, that is."

"Yes."

"What do they think about it?"

Draco put a bookmark in his book and turned to her. "They believe that I'm insane. That I've lost my mind. That I'm heading for a fall."

"They believe I'm setting you up?" A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth.

"Yes, they can't see why you would like to stick with me. Is that so hard to believe? We haven't really been on best terms."

"No, I'm smiling because Harry is saying the same thing about you."

There was a hint of panic in Draco's eyes. "Harry knows that we're spending time together? And he hasn't even hexed me once? I believed he would."

"It's honestly more than that. I've admitted that you are my friend, and that I'm going to defend you if I can. Like when I'm talking to him."

There was a long silence. After some time Hermione spoke up with a small voice.

"Because we are? Friends? Right?"

"Right..." The weak smile slowly turned brighter. "Yes, I believe we are. My friend the muggle-born." There was a small laughter. "My father would disinherit me if he could."

"Not that I say that he should, but why can't he?"

"You don't know the after-effects of the war, I see. Why should you?" He shrugged. "When my father was placed in Azkaban on lifetime, he was automatically regarded as unfit as the head of the Malfoy family. He lost the title, the manor, the money, everything."

"So who's head of the Malfoys now? Your mother?"

He gave her a wry smile. "I am."

"Oh." There was a short silence. "Won't the other pure-pure-blood families look down on you if they found out that you involve yourself with dirt like me?"

"Maybe. I don't care." Another shrug. "I'm done following the old rules and traditions, they brought me nothing but pain and misery. When I got to know that I wouldn't go to prison after all, I decided to live after my own head." He looked at her with an intense gaze. "You do realise that I keep quiet about our friendship to spare you, not because I'm ashamed?"

She sighed. "It feels pretty bad. That we keep this a secret just because of me."

"But which of your friends know?" Discreetly he changed subject a bit. "Is it only Harry or the others too?"

"No, it's only Harry. I don't want to think about how the others would react. Sorry, but they... aren't big fans of yours."

"I know. I'm just surprised that Harry is OK with this. I mean, I haven't even got the usual threats." His voice was serious but his face amused. "What about your parents? What would they say if they knew we are sitting here together?"

"Oh... Well, since they don't know anything about your involvement in the war, just our school years, they would mostly be surprised, I think. My mother would probably be happy that our tale got a happy ending." She rolled her eyes.

With a small laugh he pushed the book away, placed his elbow on the desk and leaned his cheek on his hand. "So you're not afraid that I'm luring you into a trap of some kind?"

"No. Call me stupid if you like, but... I believe I can trust you."

"Yes, you are probably stupid. Trusting the least trustworthy person in this castle." He shook his head. "But if it makes any difference I can assure you that in this matter I can be trusted."

They sat in silence. Draco held her gaze for a couple of seconds, and then he pulled his book back towards him. "What do you say, should we start with our assignment?"

For some time they worked diligently, and the only sounds were the turning of pages and scratching of quills.

"There was something else I was thinking about." Hermione tentatively broke the silence after a while.

"Just one second." Draco held up a finger and finished the sentence he was writing. "Yes, what did you say?"

"I realised something earlier today. And I just wanted to check with you."

"OK, what was it?"

"It just felt weird to call you Malfoy, so I started to call you Draco. To myself at least. Do you mind?" She looked slightly nervous.

"No, not at all, Hermione. I like it." His face was calm and his voice matter-of-fact.

"So do I." With a smile she picked up her quill again.

They were soon done with their homework, and after a short discussion about some of the details they picked up their quills and books and prepared to leave. Out in the corridor they stopped and turned to each other.

"Will you be studying anything here tomorrow?" Draco traced the edges of his book.

"I'm not sure yet, but probably for some time during the day."

"We'll see if we meet then, I haven't really planned my day either. Otherwise we'll meet at mentors class on Monday." His posture was calm and relaxed.

"We'll do. Good night then." She smiled and started heading towards Gryffindor Tower.

"Sweet dreams, Hermione," he called after her.