It was late afternoon and the rosy pink hues of the sunset were filtering through the Library windows to light the rows of books with a soft glow. Heedless of this vision, Hermione was searching the potions section frantically. She skimmed a potential book but quickly resorted to banging it against her head in frustration.
"Short on time, Granger?" a familiar voice whispered.
She looked up to see Malfoy leaning against the bookshelf beside her.
"We've got weeks until the potion is due, Malfoy," Hermione responded, shoving the book roughly back into it's place.
"No, you were-"
Hermione spared him an irritated glance.
Malfoy continued, "were you trying to shove knowledge into your head by force?" Malfoy mimed banging a book against his head. "Not enough time to absorb it the normal way?"
"I've got plenty of time!" Hermione said angrily.
"Touchy today," Malfoy eyed her quizzically.
Hermione choose not to reply and pulled down another book to skim it's contents.
"Perhaps you are bull-headed in more ways than one," he said in his baiting tone that made her briefly grip her book's pages too hard.
Suddenly the book was yanked from her hands.
"Bloody-" Hermione exclaimed.
"What's the point of friendly banter if you are just going to ignore me?" he asked, Hermione could see the frustration he was trying to hide in his eyes.
"Friendly banter?" Hermione asked. His hot stare tingled down her back and she shuddered. She wanted her book back to hide her face in.
"Yes, you are supposed to ask me about why I called you a bull."
"But I'm not one, so I don't see why it matters if you think so," Hermione said waspishly.
"You are bull-headed," Malfoy said more seriously, closing some of the space between them.
Hermione avoided looking at his face and considered whether she could retrieve her book from Malfoy's hands.
"Why is insulting me friendly banter?" she asked, unable to help herself.
"What insult?" Malfoy asked. She couldn't trust herself to determine whether there was sarcasm in his voice. "That is called teasing, Granger." He was even closer and she could feel his breath now. "Friends tease each other, right?"
"Friends, yes," Hermione agreed, trying to keep the bitterness from tingeing her voice.
"They did something," Malfoy said it as a statement.
Hermione looked up.
"Ron and Harry, your friends," Malfoy said with distaste. "Something insulting about this holiday I presume." He gestured to the Valentine's Day cheer that decorated even the solemn library.
She shrugged. He might have guessed part of it, but there was no way she was telling him what exactly had happened.
"Granger, difficult as always. The point was, all this red," he pointed at the shiny hearts hanging from the ceiling, "is making you see red, like a bull. Just tell me what about it exactly has you ready to bite everyone's head off."
"I would say the same of you, Malfoy," Hermione used her anger to fuel the courage she needed to finally look him the eye. "Why are you insulting my friends, all of a sudden. I thought you had gotten past that!"
"But now you are hiding in the library again! It's Ron's fault, right? I'll smash his face in for you."
"Malfoy, what's eating you?" Hermione ignored his baseless threat.
Malfoy's face was vulnerable only for a second, and it was only because of her experience from her time with him for Potion class that she even recognized the vulnerability.
"Something is eating you!" she realized. "Was it my friends?" she asked, trying to reason out his behavior.
His deepened scowl seemed to affirm her question.
"What did they do?" she asked.
"What did they do to you?" he countered.
She stiffened and tried not to remember that conversation.
"What did Ron do?" he pressed.
Hermione felt the frustration welling up inside her, why couldn't he just let her live this down?
"Why is it always Ron?" Malfoy sounded resigned and irritated. If she didn't know any better it seemed like Malfoy's version of… jealousy? Malfoy had leaned back, looking away from her.
Hermione took a deep breath, "It isn't about Ron."
Malfoy looked up sharply. "What do you mean?" He asked with a fervor that caused her to back against the bookshelf.
"It was what Ron said but it was what he said about… someone else."
"You got a crush, Granger?"
Hermione couldn't read his face beyond his trademark smirk and cursed herself as she blushed at his accusation. "Why would you ask that?" she tried to cover with bluster.
Malfoy merely looked down at her, now obviously calculating. Hermione couldn't help but worry at that look. Normally it was good. Normally it meant he was going to help her while still looking very Malfoy-ish. Normally it ended with her friends erroneously pitying her and Malfoy sneaking a wink when no one was looking. Now she was sure it was going to be turned against her. She held her breath as he started to move, but he was only putting her book back. She sighed with disappointment.
No, that's daft, she told herself, not disappointment! But then he leaned toward her again, his chest very close as he reached over her head for another book. She gulped, a little dizzy as she held her breath. His robes were open and she tried not to watch how his shirt stretched across his bicep and pectoral muscles. She tried to shut down her brain. Just because a boy is suddenly nice to you, you shouldn't develop a crush, she repeated her mantra of several weeks. Especially, if the boy is Malfoy!
He wasn't moving, she was slightly panicky now. She looked up to see what was keeping him, and was caught right in his stare.
There was that look. Another look she couldn't help but like even though he got it when he thought he had one-upped her in their arguments or when he knew something in potions before she did. It was cute, the half smirk that tried to hide how pleased he was with himself. It lacked the normal arrogance and was unguarded in that sense. It made him look very boyish and adorable, but he was wearing it now. He had tricked her into something!
"Who is it?" he asked, his voice the purr he used when he was 'teasing' her. "Your crush?"
"Malfoy," she started, trying to sound disapproving, but she didn't quite manage it.
"Me?" he asked with a real smirk this time.
Her first instinct was to adamantly refuse, to tell him he wasn't her crush. However, her other instincts told her she would destroy this if she lied. You're a Gryffindor, she told herself, you are brave. The way he made her heart jump to her throat actually made it easier to grab that brave part of her and throw the next words into his face. "So what if it is?"
Her heart beat hard and fast against her chest and she could barely hear anything else as she waited for his response. If she had to escape, it would either be under his arm or right past his face, neither of which would be desirable, considering. She watched his face as it slowly broke into 'that look,' the look of triumph, barely disguised by any resemblance of his smirk. It was disarming to an extent that frightened Hermione. She was falling faster and faster for him.
He moved and Hermione, her adrenaline still pumping, jumped, her back jamming against the bookshelf. He grabbed her hand gently and Hermione allowed it, watching him with anxious anticipation.
He pulled it up to his face and dragged his chapped lips across her knuckles, unhurried, before dropping a kiss on the back of her hand, feather soft. She had no breath and her stomach pricked. He kept her hand near his face and started at her over the top of it, his eyes almost tender. He could just be teasing me, she tried to remind herself, but she hoped that she was reading those grey eyes of his right.
"It was making me see red," he said, his voice rough but casual, as if he was continuing a conversation.
"What?" Hermione searched in her mind for what he was talking about. She felt the disappointment returning.
"All the sappy romance, since I thought my crush was still caught up on someone else."
Hermione continued to look up into his eyes with confusion, although she unconsciously squeezed his hand as what he said started to catch up with her brain.
"You started acting like a prat right after Ron got that love-howler from the Brown girl," he continued.
That had been embarrassing to witness but…
"He joked that I should send one to you," Hermione tried to explain, looking down. "Everybody laughed as if it was a huge, horrible joke."
He dropped her hand and Hermione looked up again, startled. However, his hand was now reaching slowly towards her face and she watched its leisurely progression. He curled his fingers around a piece of her hair and pulled it behind her ear, his hand brushing it's helix.
"I like my howlers in person," he told her softly. "But I wouldn't mind getting one of those from you, Granger."
She swallowed and then smiled, his response fueling her bravado. "It's a little late for that, but we can still do what she proposed in the howler."
Malfoy looked confused now. He must not have processed what the howler said, even though the words had echoed throughout the hall.
"A Hogsmeade date, Malfoy," Hermione laughed a little and the tension started to break.
He grinned and caught another piece of her hair between his fingers carefully. He twisted it, watching in fascination as the bands wrapped around his finger. Hermione permitted it again because it allowed her to openly appreciate his face in a way she had longed to since her crush began. She could finally admit how handsome he was to herself with that sharp jaw line or admire his mouth, which she had forbidden herself to look at. His lips quirked into a smirk, and Hermione watched the 'calculating look' cross his features again. She worriedly tried to guess his thoughts.
"Let's turn the hugely horrid joke on them then, ay Granger?"
His hand found her's again and he entwined their fingers, leading her towards the exit of the Library. The pink sunlight still filtered through its windows and shone onto their faces as they passed it hand-in-hand.
"Malfoy!" Hermione protested, but a huge grin spread across her face.
They wouldn't be the only ones seeing red that Valentine's.
A/N: Quick fluffy break from my main story. Fluff fluff fluff! This isn't beta-ed so all faults are mine- well, they are also mine if it is beta-ed but anyway...
Love it? Hate it? Please let me know! I'm one of those review junkies.
I'll post the second part next week for Valentines!