A Reader Revealed
Hermione had been in the Room of Requirement with Ginny for nearly two hours. She had been grouchy, especially after the Quidditch match. Even though there were scheduled times for the Order to practice Hermione suggested that she and Ginny go practice, so that the feisty Gryffindor could get some of her anger out. Ginny was ruthless to the point where she was actually shouting her spells. It concerned Hermione, so she decided to actually say something about it.
"I think maybe you should make yourself talk about it, whatever it is." Hermione concluded aloud. This only irritated Ginny further. She pivoted after casting one other spell, which sent a flaming dummy across the room just to glare at her devilishly. Hermione's effortless diffusion of the situation was enough to thicken the tension in the room to an unbearable peak.
"I really cannot, 'Mione. He asked me not to." Her red hair flew around her face as she started leaving the Room of Requirement. Hermione was left with those finals words. They could be about anyone and about anything. It could be something regarding Ron or Harry; it could be boy troubles (which was unlikely, Ginny was a strong gal). Or it could be about Hermione's reader.
"Oh my Merlin…" She whispered. That had to have been what was bothering Ginny. She frowned excessively as she toddled over to her bag. She knew exactly where she'd stored "Lucky Jim" inside and pulled it out without a second thought. Her Slytherin fifth year reader told her that there were two characters that he likened the pair of them to, and with this new development she felt that there was absolutely no better time to read the book than at that exact moment. She found her way to a tattered settee and cracked open the first page.
Ginny was sitting in the Great Hall chatting away with a boy from Ravenclaw, Connor Williams. He was asking about some assignments in Charms that he didn't fully understand. Ginny had helped him in the past and found him to have a great sense of humor. Unfortunately, she recalled, he had gotten the hang of things after a couple of study sessions. She was taken aback when he joined her at the Gryffindor table to speak with her.
"Well it's on page two-twenty, I think. It is such an obscure piece of information. But I believe it is a one sentence explanation after the bit about annunciation." Nobody had to tell Ginny that she was a great spell caster or duelist, which was why she often used the second-nature ability to build up her allure. Some boys might have been intimidated by her strong-will but others, she actually hoped Connor specifically, were attracted to it. She batted her eyes.
"I think it'd be easier if you just sat down with me outside of class. Do you think you could meet me in the library after lunch on Tuesday?" Connor reached his hand out, palm turned upwards, in a questioning fashion. Ginny had to hide her excitement by glancing away, which ensured he didn't see that she liked him just yet. She would decide when that happened. However, when she glanced away she saw none other than Draco Malfoy sitting with Blaise Zabini. They had placed themselves away from the usual breakfast crowd while also being a safe distance away from the door. Her distraction was cemented when a large package fell from the air right in front of her, where Hermione should have been sitting if she'd come back from the Room of Requirement the night before.
For a split second Malfoy and Zabini seemed to be staring at her while she sneered at them. Since the package had Hermione's name on it Ginny merely took it and stuffed it into her own bag. It would make it to the intended recipient one way or another so nobody should really care. Plus, Draco knew that Ginny knew about him being the reader.
"I am sorry, Conner, that sounds good. I would love to hash out the details here but this is a package that Hermione has been waiting for so I want to get it to her straight away. Please forgive my bad manners." When she stood up she unintentionally curtsied, a habit she'd developed when she use to have pretend tea parties with her mother. She wasn't very girly but this was something that resonated through every boyish feature she sported. It never went away and never ceased to make a boy blush. Ginny had not missed the pink in Connor's cheeks as she rushed away.
Hermione had been pacing the Room of Requirement for at least an hour. Perhaps it had been two hours, maybe even more than that. She would have no idea since her eyes darted everywhere, from dummies to mirrors to shelves back to dummies. She'd finished "Lucky Jim" in a few short hours but did fall asleep towards the end for a while. However, with her clear and rested mind, she read the ending of the novel. Her reader had made a comment about two characters that resembled them in his mind.
Two characters which start the story in two different leagues but somehow through a turn of events end being a couple. This was obviously symbolic in the sense that her reader was romantically interested in her enough to think that they could possibly try dating. She questioned her interpretation but knew there could be no other conclusion to be found.
And that scared Hermione half to death, especially now that she had the Order on her plate. Her classes, the Order, and a boyfriend from the enemy team; that was the recipe for absolute disaster! There was no way that something like that would ever work, not if her boyfriend might also be the son of an enemy. Yet Hermione felt her hormones arguing with her. Nothing had made her feel so alive. Nothing made her feel more confident. Someone who actually liked her for who she was: a dorky book lover obsessed with poetry. Or at least, that was assuming that giving her reader her personal journal didn't push him away.
Nothing about any of this was rational and it only added to all the stress on Hermione's shoulders.
Just as she settled back on the settee next her belongings a door was heard creaking open. Immediately on the alert, Hermione armed herself and had a disarming charm sitting on the tip of her tongue. Fortunately, she didn't have to attack anyone because it was Ginny who had returned.
"I am sorry about yesterday." This had been Hermione's first thought and hoped that it would spark a conversation of apologies. Instead of getting the usual acceptance there was complete and utter silence, other than Ginny's left hand poking around her backpack. As confused as ever Hermione merely waited for whatever was about to happen.
A package was being shoved into her chest that could only be from one person. Hermione opened her mouth to say 'thank you' and, or, ask who the reader was since Ginny had to know who it was. Otherwise she would not have been so hard on Hermione. This was not how friends acted when they knew good news, which meant that it had to be bad news. If it really were bad news then it would become difficult to continue on with her reader, if it was something that she would eventually be displeased to figure out.
She wanted to say more to her best friend but instead she remained as stoic as possible considering the angst-filled mess she'd become over the last two or three weeks. Too many feelings were finding their way into her heart; it was very disabling to a goody-two-shoes type like her. All the time she'd been obsessed with grades and following the rules by the book, no variation; but then she became friends with a boy who would become one of the most well known wizards in all of history. And each year those morals and expectations were challenged, especially so far in her fifth year.
All of that in mind she peeled paper back. There was not a letter anywhere in the notebook. This caused her to believe that there was something subtler, perhaps an entry of some sort. With wide eyes she flipped to the very last page, the last one where she'd written her poem about him. Much to her dismay there had been nothing to be found. Her heart sank in crippling disappointment. Had she done something wrong? Was the journal too forward? A rebellious tear slid down her cheek as she abandoned the Room of Requirement to sleep away the day – since she deserved a break anyway.
Ginny had been able to keep a good face on through the last two days while Hermione spent every free moment staring her hands and rereading her fan letters. Draco had not included a letter with his most recent return and it had been tearing Hermione apart. It didn't even seem to her that her best friend was broken up about the romantic attraction being dead in the water. She was simply hurt because there was no ending. Hermione needed to know everything and since she didn't know who the reader was she couldn't ask what she had done wrong. Ginny suggested the night before that she leave a letter in a blank book where she'd been leaving things before.
Her response was a pathetic grunt while shaking her head. The Weasley daughter was far more patient that her older brothers so she was giving Draco the opportunity to correct things and to offer Hermione an ending. That did not mean, however, that she had not stopped him in the hallway earlier that afternoon to discuss the matter.
"She is miserable. She thinks she made it too personal." Ginny had whispered from the shadows of a column as she dug around her bag. Thankfully Draco had spotted her and knew that the statement was intended for him. He stopped in place and bent down to 'tie' his laces.
"I see it every day, Weasley. But I have a plan. I wrote a date in the book. I am going to talk to her before then anyway. Nudge her in the right direction. Give me a week more. I just need a few more days." Draco then stood up and walked away very naturally. As for Ginny, she pulled out a letter from her mother. She pretended to look for something in the letter, which she needed information on.
After she nodded to herself she went to meet Connor in the library.
So Draco looked down at a piece of parchment he kept in his pocket no matter what he was doing, what he was wearing, or where he was going. It was always there. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Reveal. Sunday through Wednesday were crossed out which meant in just two days he would be revealing himself to Hermione Granger who was almost as removed as he had been before he opened up to Blaise over Sunday morning breakfast. Since he was going to reveal himself to Hermione in hopes of something more coming out the bond through their books. All that in mind he knew he was going to need someone on his side, and Blaise had already offered a helping hand as a confidante. Zabini would support a relationship, if it ever got to that point. Draco grinned at the possibility.
Granger had not come to the classroom yet but that didn't surprise Draco the slightest. He arrived just after Professor Binns opened the doors, which meant that he got there before breakfast was even being served. His plans were to wait for Granger to come in, and then try to engage her once more before Saturday rolled around.
When he caught sight of her bushy brunette hair in his peripheral vision he quickly stuffed the parchment back in his pocket. She shuffled to her seat in the saddest manner, the aching in her heart radiated from the scuffing noise her shoes made on the floor as she moved around the classroom. No sooner was she seated was Draco making it his job to alleviate some of her sorrow.
"I've been thinking about your inquiry the other day." Draco announced, placing his bottom against the table at angle from her place at the desk. Hermione twitched a little at the topic but remained in her seat with unchanged features.
"And I suppose you've concluded that I am not looking hard enough for the answer! Well, thank you, Draco Malfoy! Your help has been thoroughly and unnecessarily pointless!" Hermione had nearly shouted at him as she arranged her belongings on the table, her journal front and center. His hand reached out to touch the journal and open it to the page that she needed to see to calm her nerves but as soon as he got close Hermione swatted him away.
Having felt a bit annoyed with Granger's angry kitten attitude, Draco leaned down so deep that the only thing that either one of them could possibly see clearly was one another. Sleepless nights were apparent not only in her darkened eyes but in her paling skin. She looked as miserable as he had last week when he was trying to read each book in just a single day. If it weren’t too soon, Draco would have simply said that she didn't need to look any further than right in front of her. He had a day scheduled, though, where he would tell her. Revealing him self as the reader must be done somewhere privately - you know, in case she wasn't receptive.
"If you won't let me open it to the right page, then hear me out. Can you manage at least that?" Draco didn't mean to speak so lowly. He liked the way his voice sounded, though. For a moment he wondered how it might have affected Hermione. She looked nervous and confused as they maintained unwavering eye contact. Malfoy hoped that it was a good thing.
"Why didn't he write?" Hermione pleaded pitifully. Draco frowned at his decision not to write a letter now. He considered it when he was at the owlery. He should have just done it, if only to give her more direction. But no, Draco had been too selfish and thought by not including a letter he would get to talk to Hermione one more time before everything changed between. That had been his plan and he expected it to be less disastrous.
"It was a mistake. But let me fix it. Can you let someone help you this once instead of trying to help everyone else around you? Oi, miss know-it-all?" Draco was apologetic when he spoke. It surely revealed too much but Hermione did not seem to notice. It took several minutes but eventually the Gryffindor relaxed her expression and sighed. Draco could smell chocolate frog and fizzy pop on her breath.
"I suppose." She replied lazily, even though her tired eyes betrayed her. Granger was not as disinterested as she sounded. There was still a glint of intrigue in her irises.
"Thank you, but I also need a promise from you." Draco stated plainly for her. The way her brows crinkled in the center of her forehead brought a smile to his face. She was trying to be upset with him for fooling around, but he simply could not have ignored how sweet she looked.
"If I must..." She mumbled with a thick layer of frustration in each syllable. Draco was instigating the situation now, which had not been the idea behind this encounter. That, however, did not make it less enjoyable.
"Go eat a proper breakfast. Sweets will not work with your schedule." A grin planted itself on his face the moment when Hermione glared at him. She must have been surprised to see Draco concerned about her well-being, right? Of course, she failed to connect the dots that only her Slytherin reader would be worried for her health. She really must have been exhausted. "As for your reader, there's a date in there but no place or time. It was probably implied that the meeting is in the library. Sit at your usual table overlooking the shelves where you put the books. Be there around sunset"
Hermione immediately stood upright and left her belongings at the table as she excused herself to the Great Hall. Draco watched her go with a smirk on his face. He had not referred to the reader in the third person. Everything he'd just said was a hint and maybe it would dawn on Hermione in time for their meeting on Saturday. Either way he took his seat once more, stroking the parchment in his pocket, only two more days. She only had two more days. They only had two more days.
Harry and Ron were sitting with her at The Three Broomsticks. Hermione had gotten into an argument with Ginny last night about meeting her reader on today. Ginny said that it was silly of her let herself become so invested in a stranger, which really hurt when less than a week prior she had actually encouraged it. Somehow she must have found out who her reader was and refused to interfere. She did mention that he asked her not to say. Ginny was going to let Hermione figure out the mess on her own and that infuriated her.
"If you still like her then maybe you should try getting her something for Christmas. Maybe a plain necklace or a bracelet?" Hermione made a suggestion for Harry's romance life. Well, it hadn't been so much a romance life as it was a romantic obsession with someone who was basically unattainable. Cho's boyfriend, Cedric Diggory, died last year and she was not exactly over it. Hermione wasn't a social relations expert by any stretch of the imagination but even she could see that detail. It was written all over her face.
"Why should Harry take your advice?" Ron grumbled without a mouthful of food. Hermione had charmed her reader's letters and journal so that neither Harry nor Ron could see what she was actually looking at; she claimed it was just some notes from her classes. They were so used to it that they bought the excuse without a second thought.
Hermione began reviewing the information she had again, racking her brain more vigorously than ever. The meeting was only a couple of hours away. So...
Her reader had a not-girlfriend when this process started but apparently resolved the issue. That could have been anyone.
"Because I am a girl and I know what girls like. In case you've forgotten - again." Hermione responded with as little offense as possible. Ron always suggested that she wasn't capable of romantic advice or girly things of any sort. He thought of Hermione as less than human, she figured, and it always showed when he spoke to her.
Her reader was a fifth year Slytherin boy. That narrowed the pool down quite a bit but not much. Every fifth year Slytherin boy dated girls rapidly and fluidly; many of their relationships blended together as they moved to and fro between one another. It had to be a pureblood thing, a prejudice pureblood practice, it absolutely had to be – nothing else explains such ridiculous behavior.
"If I were you, Harry, I would just take her to Madame Puddifoot's for tea." Hermione shook her head and sighed. Of course Ronald Weasley would want to go on a date that would have food and drinks. The ginger boy never stopped thinking about eating once throughout his day. Hermione didn't necessarily disagree with the suggestion, but Harry could not just go and ask her on a date! That would have been too much too soon.
"That sounds like a date. Cho does not want to date yet." She made it sound so as-a-matter-of-factly that Harry agreed under his breath instantly. The Ravenclaw's feelings were unpredictable most of the time. Ron scoffed very obviously no that he was on his own in the conversation.
Draco was tricky. He must have given her some more information about her reader. He was always in the library when she was seeking out this Slytherin boy of hers. Well, she knew that the reader wasn't hers, but she almost felt like he was sometimes. It was hard to not refer to him as hers. Hermione noted it was unhealthy and moved on.
There was the matter with Ginny. Her sudden shift in attitude definitely was a clue. Hermione tried to recall when Ginny started being grumpy and if there had been a reason. She did have a run in with Draco in the hallway last weekend. He knocked her over on the staircase. That didn't really seem relevant until that moment. Draco might have been with the reader. Ginny might have noticed the package being addressed to her. Plus, she got even worse after the Quidditch game. There a few fifth years on the Slytherin team. That would narrow the pool of boys down significantly. But that alone wouldn't give Hermione much direction, especially if she didn't know who all the alternates were.
So she went back to an almost-reliable source. Draco kept telling her to look, that she wasn't really looking for the answer. What wasn't she seeing? The only thing she really ever noticed about anyone in the Slytherin house as being out of the ordinary was when Draco had been so exhausted and distant from his usual group of friends that he very rarely was seen outside if class, and that's if he even attended. As she thought about it, Pansy wasn't trailing him anymore either. In fact she stuck rather close to Blaise most days. Draco had also been willing speaking to her the last few weeks, as if he knew exactly what was going on. As if he was so close to the reader that he knew exactly when books were returned and what had been said in the letters…
"What would Hermione know about any of this anyway? Does she have a boyfriend? No! Does she even like anyone?"
Then the conversation played in her head from Thursday. She was set to meet her reader in the library when she returned back to the school from their trip to Hogsmeade. Draco had been the one to tell her that. And as she thought on it she remembered how she'd been told. It wasn't that the reader meant to say that she should go to the library. It hadn't been that the reader picked sunset as the time to meet up. No, it hadn't been someone conveying a message, had it? It was just Draco Malfoy telling Hermione what to do. Almost as if…
"Hermione? Do you like someone?" It was Harry's curious voice speaking this time, not Ron's condemning one. Her pause had captured their attention. A breath hitched in her chest as she finally reached a conclusion about her reader. Her body jerked forward while her left hand pushed through her bangs and swept them aside.
"It's Draco Malfoy." She let out a croaky sort of whisper. "Merlin's beard! He is the reader."
Harry and Ron's jaws were hanging off of their face. They must have heard some of what she'd said but they were clueless as to what relevance any of it had to the current discussion. Her heart was racing now as pieces began falling together in her mind. Ginny was right to be so upset about her reader all of the sudden. Hermione grabbed her stuff and shoved it away as she started running out of The Three Broomsticks.
Hermione needed to get to the library more now than she ever had before.