Ron had at least stopped sighing heavily, but had now begun to jiggle his long legs, which stretched past the edge of his chair and reached Hermione’s, leaving her subject to his restlessness as well.
“Ron, we can just leave.” She didn’t turn to look at him, and tried to keep her face and her voice as free of the irritation she felt as possible.
To his credit, he quickly drew his long legs back towards him and sat up straighter in his chair, his face instantly guilty. “No, ‘Mione, it’s date night and it’s your turn. I’m sorry.”
She shot him a small, grateful smile and turned back to the book she’d brought to read while they waited. She made it through a page and a half before she heard Ron shuffle his feet next to her and draw in breath.
Hermione slowly shut her book and turned to him, lips pressed tightly together, and raised one eyebrow. He looked somewhat cowed, but continued on against what should have been his better judgment.
“It’s just... The night of the Cannons game?”
Hermione thought she heard a snort of laughter from behind them, and whipped around from their spot in the front row, but only saw a handful of other early arrivers behind them, a couple of small groups apparently ensconced in their own conversations and one person with their face obscured by a book they were reading. Her attention re-focused on Ron, she took a deep steadying breath.
“Ron, the Cannons play every week, and we went to their practice last week-”
“But they don’t play a season opener against the Harpies every week-”
“-and this is Professor Twilburg’s first lecture since getting his Muggle Ph.D-”
“-and a bunch of the blokes from work were actually going to go-”
“-and this is the only book release and signing he’ll do, he’s said he’s going back on sabbatical to work on the next one soon-”
“-and with Gin and Alicia still out recovering from World Cup play, they’re saying the Cannons really have a chance this time, and might pull it out-”
While Hermione had a great deal of self-control, she was, much to her great displeasure, not perfect. She snapped.
“Ron, the Cannons are not going to win! They have an eighteen-game losing streak and the Harpies could beat them even if I was their bloody Keeper! It is my turn to choose date night and I have chosen that we are attending this lecture and signing, so that we can enjoy learning about the intersection of magic and Muggle physics, and come away with a greater understanding of the world in which we both live, so you will sit here, learn, and enjoy!”
Hermione was a little out of breath by the end of her rant, but she heard an unmistakeable snicker from behind them, and whipped her head around, ready to turn her frustrations on the interloper. Her fierce gaze dropped instantly as she recognized white-blonde hair and an aquiline nose. Her eyes widened and her heart stopped for a moment when she saw that the wizard she’d noticed with his head in a book was now chuckling and looking up at her, revealing the distinctive features of none other than Lucius Malfoy. She hoped she’d managed to rearrange her features into a coolly impassive mask before he saw the flash of fear across her face.
“Something to add, Mr. Malfoy?” she said in the most imperious tone she could muster.
“It’s nineteen.” His cryptic response was accompanied by a sly smirk that Hermione felt certain must come from some Malfoy-specific gene. Her lips tightened as she tried to keep her cool, noticing Ron’s hands next to her slowly tightening into fists, his knuckles already white.
“Nineteen what?” she said flatly, refraining from rolling her eyes.
“The Cannons’ losing streak. It’s nineteen games, not eighteen.”
Hermione suddenly felt Ron next to her beginning to launch himself over the chairs and clamped one hand on his thigh, giving him a warning look. He dropped back into his seat sullenly, arms crossed as he muttered to himself. Hermione decided that, in this instance, a response was not warranted, and only turned back to shoot Malfoy a withering glare. When she did though, she noticed that he had resumed reading his book, for the first time with his hands in a position in which she could see the cover, and Hermione gasped, quickly turning around before he could look up and catch her wide-eyed stare.
She tried to turn her attention back to her own book, but she kept darting glances surreptitiously over her shoulder, trying to make sure she’d read the title of Malfoy’s book correctly, but every glance confirmed it. Malfoy was reading the book being released after this lecture, the book she’d been waiting to get her hands on for months, the book whose release had been carefully controlled. Twilburg was something of a rock star within his narrow academic specialty, and his turn as a Ph.D student turned star lecturer in the Muggle world had done little to diminish his ego. She pursed her lips, wondering if it was perhaps another book with an enchanted cover, Malfoy’s idea of a joke just to irritate her. She pulled a compact out of her bag, opening it and applying some lipstick rather poorly as she instead looked over her shoulder at Malfoy. She paid attention to her lips long enough to quickly clean up the smudges, and then her eyes darted back to Malfoy. This time, though, he was waiting to meet her gaze with an amused smirk. Hermione jumped, the lipstick and compact she was holding falling to the floor with a clatter. She dove down beneath her seat to pick them up, and heard a drawling voice from behind her.
“Something to add, Miss Granger?”
The mocking bastard, parroting her own words back at her. She stayed down for a moment, taking deep breaths and hoping it would help the flush of shame and anger fade from her face. She couldn’t let Malfoy know how embarrassed she was to have caught her staring. She considered not deigning to respond, but, with the staring, that seemed unaccountably cowardly. She popped back up and turned to him.
“Where did you get that book? It’s not out yet.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You may be aware, since I believe you’re published yourself, but authors do usually get advance copies of their books.”
Hermione glared at him, thinking of several choice (insulting) questions, but thought better of asking them. Ron, always one step behind on the thinking before speaking thing, gave voice to precisely one of them.
“So what author did you steal it from?”
Malfoy’s gaze, which had been til now mildly disdainful but at least amused, now turned cold.
“Charming and insightful as ever, Mr. Weasley. Has it occurred to you that perhaps I was an author?”
Hermione frowned, her brow furrowing as she turned the thought over in her head. “I hadn’t heard that Twilburg had a co-author, and Merlin knows his ego is so large I’d never expect it.” She flushed as she realized what she’d said, but a corner of Malfoy’s mouth was twitching upward.
“I consulted on certain sections and wrote the forward, Miss Granger.”
“I didn’t expect you’d be interested in this topic, given past politics.”
Malfoy met her gaze, his voice cold. “I wasn’t aware you knew me at all, Miss Granger.”
Ron’s heated voice interrupted the conversation. “We know you well enough to know you’re a prejudiced git. C’mon ‘Mione, I’m not going to sit here and get heckled by a bloody war criminal.” With that he stood up and skulked out of the lecture hall, his hands still balled in fists at his sides.
“Ron, wait!” Hermione cried, jumping up and starting after him. She cast one last despairing glance at the lecture stage, thinking for only the briefest moment (or, when she was being honest with herself, several brief moments) of staying to watch her long-awaited lecture.
Instead, she swung back towards Malfoy, leaning forward to whisper scathingly. “Now look what you’ve done. I guess after all these years you still ruin everything.”
She darted out of the lecture hall, tears pricking her eyes, as she resolved herself to placing an owl order for the first shipment that went out to Flourish and Blotts. It wouldn’t be so bad, she comforted herself, only a little delay, maybe a week. She hadn’t really needed the signature in it, of course, just the contents. And she and Ron, their relationship, their dignity, it was all more important than some stupid book.
* * *
The next day, when Hermione was facing the prospect of an empty Saturday without the book she’d expressly cleared her plans to be able to read, she was darkly reconsidering her priorities.
Ron still in bed, Hermione was drinking her coffee and scowling as she re-planned her weekend when she heard a tapping at the window. It was early for the Prophet, though not unheard of, but when she’d unlatched the window the owl that flew in wasn’t one of the usual post owls. It was a great eagle owl, which landed in the center of her kitchen table and surveyed its surroundings royally. She untied the heavy package it was carrying, unwrapping it with brow furrowed.
When it was finally unwrapped from its sturdy brown paper, Hermione could only stare at it for a few moments. It was Twilburg’s new book, the one she’d meant to order from Flourish and Blotts first thing after her coffee. Even in her confusion, Hermione couldn’t help tracing a reverent hand hungrily over its cover before flipping it open. What she saw inside made her sit down promptly, eyes wide. It was signed, right there on the front page. To Miss Hermione Granger, the brightest witch of her age. - Phineas K. Twilburg. Hermione greedily pulled the book a few inches closer to her, which had the unexpected effect of revealing a letter addressed to her underneath the book.
She opened it with shaking hands to find it full of careful, aristocratic lettering, and she leaned back, feeling herself blanche as she recognized that signature.