Hermione yelped in pain. Her hand hurt. Madam Pomfrey frowned and shook her head. The glow from her wand bathed Hermione's cut and bloodied hand. “Just a moment longer, my dear. The last of the slivers are almost gone.”
Hermione grimaced and nodded, trying to take her mind off the stinging sensation. Draco hovered nearby; he looked ill. She couldn't fathom why, as he wasn't the one who'd been pushed over and trampled, nor was he currently having glass extracted from his hand. It was only October, but her seventh year at Hogwarts was already shaping up to be absolutely terrible.
“Draco—ouch—when this is over—ow—I am going to wring your neck,” Hermione said between clenched teeth.
“Me?” He sounded bewildered. “What did I do?”
“You pushed me over and set me on fire!”
“I didn't set you on fire.” Draco ran his hands through his hair. His hair was sticking up in clumps, the result of nearly an hour's worth of similar ravages. His normal air of self-assurance was utterly gone; he looked how Hermione felt, which was odd considering that after the hour they'd had, she was the one who ought to be in hysterics.
“You fell on to the lantern, which broke, and then the oil kind of—” Draco trailed off.
“—kind of seeped into my robes, causing them to set alight?” Hermione gestured downward with her free hand, indicating the ten inches of scorched fabric that had once been the hem of her third-best set of school robes. “And why did I fall on the lantern, Draco? Do you remember that part?”
His mouth opened and closed soundlessly as he glared at her.
“Oh, you're saying that was because you pushed me over? Is that what you're saying?” Hermione asked. Absurdly attractive, clever and quick-witted he may have been, but at the moment Hermione was trying to convince herself that murdering her partner for Advanced Potions was most likely to result in two actions: imprisonment in Azkaban and more importantly, a deleterious effect on her upcoming Potions N.E.W.T..
Draco found his words. “That is completely unfair. We heard the cry of some unnatural creature, and in my surprise, I turned too quickly—”
“—jumped while screaming like a small child—”
“—turned too quickly and caught my foot on a root.” He paused. “And then accidentally fell on top of you.”
“If you'd ever paid attention in Care of Magical Creatures, you would have known that it was the death cry of some poor unfortunate Jobberknoll,” she snapped.
“Exactly. The death cry, Granger. Who knows what could have been out there?” Draco said, waving his arms like an over-excited first year who'd heard too many Forbidden Forest stories.
“We had a greater chance of being devoured by a lethifold than coming to any real harm in the Forbidden Forest,” Hermione scoffed. “We were within areas that the centaurs allow, and we're fully-grown magic users with wands.”
“It was night and we were alone. We could have been devoured alive and no one would have noticed until morning. And then you—you wanted to hang about with a bleeding hand, and I practically had to put you in a Body-Bind to get you onto my broom. And, for your information, we could have got back ten times faster if you'd let me fly my broom more than two feet off the ground!”
“Don't be ridiculous. I only agreed to get on your broom in the first place because you were having a fit. Ow!” she exclaimed, and Draco went even paler. Madam Pomfrey was dabbing at Hermione's hand with some kind of stinging salve, and it hurt. Hermione continued. “I don't even know why you Summoned it. We could have walked back and I would have been perfectly fine.”
“Almost done, my dear,” Madam Pomfrey reassured, drawing Hermione's attention back to her hand and the witch attending to her hurts. Normally Madam Pomfrey threw quarreling students out, but she seemed to be making an exception for the Head Girl and Boy. As Madam Pomfrey wrapped her hand, Hermione tried to clamp down on the confusing roil of emotions inside her. Draco made her so frustrated—she just wanted to—wanted to—
She briefly squeezed her eyes shut. That was not a productive line of thought. She was not supposed to be having those thoughts anymore.
Draco was hovering close enough to almost get in Madam Pomfrey's way, and in lieu of her deeply unproductive thoughts, Hermione continued illustrating all the flaws in his plan. “There was no need to compound my injuries by flying around in the middle of the night. We could have hit a tree, and then where would your brilliant plan be?”
Narrow avoidance of death by tree aside, flying with him had been the only good part of the night. She'd been perched on his broom, sitting in front of him as they'd traversed the path back to Hogwarts. They'd had to go slowly, because she'd refused to fly high, and she'd taken advantage of the situation to lean against Draco and tuck her head against his collar, ostensibly trying to huddle against the chilly night wind. How sad was it that her only chance to be close to him was because she'd smashed her hand through a lantern?
It was so stupid; she felt like a little girl who fancied the boy who teased and disliked her. She just needed to get through this year without doing something humiliating like blurting out a confession during a study session or kissing him in the library. Then they'd be safely done with school and she'd never have to admit to anyone else that she'd secretly fancied Draco Malfoy for almost an entire year.
“I would not have hit a tree,” Draco said bitterly. He looked to be on the verge of pulling his hair out. He was yanking on the ends of his hair and staring at her injured hand. “I know you hate Quidditch, but I'm one of the best flyers in this entire school.” He tore himself away from staring at her injured hand and started pacing. “I'm better than Weasley and Potter, which you'd know if you ever paid attention to anything that I do,” he muttered.
“Just because I don't have to go gallivanting around the school obsessed with every Quidditch match, as though N.E.W.T.s aren't right around the corner, doesn't mean that I ignore everyone around me,” Hermione said stiffly. How could he accuse her of not paying attention, when she knew the exact way that he loosened his tie when he was tired, the precise curve of his jaw when he was looking intently at his books, and the way that his eyelashes brushed against his cheekbones when he took a nap in the library. Paying too much attention to Draco was the problem, not the other way round.
Draco snorted. “If you paid any attention at all, you'd know that I hate the Forbidden Forest. There are creatures in there that have tried to eat me.” He was pacing up and down the narrow strip of floor next to her hospital bed, as if dogged by some invisible creature nipping at his heels.
“Then why did you agree to go?” she said, bewildered.
“Because you wanted to,” he snapped. “My idea of a good way to spend a Friday night is not to go scrambling through some murderous creature-infested forest, trying not to step on anything too venomous while blundering about in the dark for a plant in order for you to practice a potion that may or may not be on our N.E.W.T.s.” He stood there practically shaking, his hands clenched at his sides.
Hermione stared at him. “I don't—I don't understand,” she said.
“I didn't know what else to do, all right! You're so—you're so impossible. You just go through the day, being the perfect Head Girl, and Merlin help any poor mortal fellow who tries to get your attention.” He was talking so fast the words were practically tripping over one another. “I fancy you, all right? I've been trying to ask you out all term, but you haven't seemed to notice anything I've done. At this point, I think I could strip naked and show up for Potions, and all you'd do is ask me to check your notes. I even bribed Slughorn to partner us together for the year, not that it seems to have helped.” He stared at her newly-bandaged hand, looking more than a bit miserable.
Hermione was stunned. “You—you said the only reason you weren't going to petition Slughorn for a new partner was because I had the best marks in the class for six years running, and that you'd put up with me in order to not get stuck with an inferior partner. I thought you wanted to go to the Forbidden Forest to make sure I didn't get ahead of you in class.”
“I was lying. You hate me. I thought it was the only way to get you to spend any time with me at all. To convince you that I'm not a completely terrible person, all right?” His voice quavered on the last few words.
A ringing silence descended upon the room as the two of them stared at each other. Madam Pomfrey quietly rose from Hermione's bedside, having finished her ministrations. “I'll just leave you two to sort out this misunderstanding,” she said, unable to hide her knowing smile.
Hermione and Draco looked away from each other, embarrassed. It wasn't until Madam Pomfrey's footsteps faded away that Hermione spoke.
“You contemplated stripping naked and showing up for Potions?” she asked curiously.
Draco blushed furiously and looked down at his feet. “That was—that was a purely theoretical example.”
They lapsed into another awkward silence. Eventually, Hermione sighed. “Oh, come sit down. I'm tired of looking up at you, and you've been on your feet for the last hour.” She patted the bed with her good hand. Draco eyed the hospital bed dubiously before walking towards her. He gingerly sat down on the bed, which creaked under his weight. He placed his hands on top of his legs, careful not to touch her at all.
Not touching her, of course, wasn't what she wanted, and—oh, there had to be a more subtle way of doing these things, but she was tired. The events of the day were catching up with her, and she could feel exhaustion sneaking up behind her. She leaned against his shoulder. She could feel him tense up and then slowly relax. She reached out and gently placed her uninjured hand on top of his nearest hand.
“I fancy you too,” she said quietly, not looking at him. “Do you think that's why we argue so much?”
Draco laughed quietly, and she could hear the tension leave his voice. “Maybe. I don't know.” He turned his hand over and held hers, intertwining their fingers.
“I still have a couple of points I want to make, but let's argue about this later, all right.” Merlin, she was tired. Maybe if she closed her eyes for a few seconds that would help.
“Right. Argue about it later, but be quiet for now.” He sounded amused, but she was too tired to chide him for making fun of her perfectly logical argument.
As Hermione closed her eyes and curled up against Draco, she felt him brush a kiss against her brow. Maybe this year wouldn't be so bad after all.