"Hermione! Hey, Hermione! Are you listening to me?"
She reluctantly turned to face Ron, taking in the annoyed expression on his freckled face and the roll of blank parchment he was thrusting at her.
"What is it now?" she asked, eyeing the parchment apprehensively. She knew what was coming.
"Hermione, you know that History of Magic essay-"
"No. Leave me alone." She turned back to the book she was reading, but he pretended not to hear and dumped the parchment on her before giving her a thumbs-up and running off to play with Harry. She sighed, shutting her book and getting up out of her chair. As she walked out of the Common Room, without the parchment, she heard the sound of someone running, trying to catch up with her. Great. She didn't need that backwards glance to tell her who it was. Ron slowed down as he neared her, eventually stopping to puff and pant, clutching the parchment in his hand, and looked up to say something before realising she'd carried on walking and not waited for him.
"Hermione! I need this essay done by Wednesday or I'll get detention!"
"It won't do you any harm to do your own essays for once," she said icily, walking up the stairs to the girls' dormitories. Ron ran over and was about to follow her, but then remembered the last time that he'd tried that and simply looked up helplessly at her with what he obviously thought was an innocent expression that actually bore a striking resemblance to the expression one might wear while suffering from acute indigestion. Hermione tried not to snort with laughter, and turned away. Stupid boy, why can't he just leave her alone. She isn't a living encyclopaedia, for heaven's sake! She sat down on her bed and opened her book again. Never mind Ron, she was behind on her OWN essay! Everywhere she'd gone to study, Malfoy'd been loitering in the corner, and in the Gryffindor Common Room, there'd been Ron. Never mind, she'll do it tonight.
She woke up early, as usual, and got dressed quickly. She needed to send that letter to her parents, and after breakfast the Owlery was always packed out with first-years eager to receive their daily letters from home. It was a strange feeling, she thought, as she slipped through the portrait hole, being up while the castle was asleep. The corridors were empty, and she could hear the dawn chorus outside. She caught a glimpse through a window, of the lake shrouded in mist, and the mountains in the distance. Beautiful. As she climbed the steps to the Owlery, she heard footsteps in the corridor behind her and instinctively hid in a niche. It's not as if I'm doing anything wrong, she reminded herself. It's morning now, I'm allowed to be out of my bed. It's Harry and Ron's fault, getting me sneaking around at night so often is making me paranoid. But she still stayed hidden, curious as to who could possibly be up so early in the morning. As the footsteps came nearer, she squeezed further into the corner of the niche, as if nobody would notice her if they came past. She risked a quick peek, and frowned. Malfoy? Out of bed so early? Why? She took a second look. He was looking tired, dark bags under his eyes, and he slumped down, his back against the wall, less than three meters away from where she was hiding. He shut his eyes, and Hermione shifted slightly in her little alcove, wondering how long he would stay there. She had taken care not to make a sound, but Malfoy's eyes suddenly opened, his head snapping round, and her heart started beating faster. What if he found her there? What if he thought she was spying on him? She gripped her letter tightly, until her knuckles turned white. He got up slowly, cautiously, looking about him like a bird of prey, but he had not seen her yet. She shut her eyes. Please don't let him find me, please don't let him! He was less than a meter away now, and she could hear his heavy breathing, and the rustle of his robes as he stepped closer. She kept her eyes tight shut, as if she could become invisible by sheer willpower. She heard him take a step forward, and then stop with a sharp intake of breath. She knew he had seen her. Her wand was still by the side of her bed, and she had no way to protect herself. She gritted her teeth and braced herself for the inevitable pain as he hit her, but it never came. Instead, she felt his hot breath on her face as he whispered in her ear. "So you've been following me, Granger."
She was shaking now. What was he doing? She felt his hand brush against her cheek, and her heart beat faster. Then, there were more footsteps. She heard a familiar voice joking around, and then two gasps. Her eyes fluttered open and she saw Ron and Harry standing on the steps, expressions of shock on their faces. Malfoy moved away and Ron drew his wand. "What... What are you doing to Hermione?!?"
Malfoy sneered and Ron's face went a delicate shade of purple. Harry grabbed Ron by the back of his robes and pulled him back. She heard him muttering, "Pick your fights, Ron."
Hermione stumbled out onto the stairway, going to join Ron and Harry, and they stood between her and Malfoy, eyeing him nervously, but he simply turned and carried on his way. Ron turned indignantly to Hermione as soon as Malfoy was out of earshot. "What happened, did he hurt you?"
She shook her head, and slowly followed them into the Great Hall. Even though the Gryffindor table was piled high with food, she couldn't eat anything. She glanced over at the Slytherin table. Malfoy was quietly eating, but then he looked straight at her, with a look in his eyes that scared her and she looked away. She was vaguely conscious of Ron sitting next to her, confidently putting his hand on her shoulder, but she firmly removed it and he gave her a 'What?' look. She ignored him again and left the Great Hall. She still had that essay to finish. But, when she sat down and picked up her quill, she couldn't concentrate. Her mind was racing. What did Malfoy want with her? She put the quill down again and checked the time. She had Divination in twenty minutes. She scribbled down some facts about the Goblin Rebellion of 1266 and then shoved it into her satchel. That would have to do, for now.
"I sense... DANGER!" Professor Trelawney drifted around the stuffy room, occasionally stopping to inspect various students' teacups. She was currently staring in horror into Harry's cup, and Hermione sighed. "You know that this is useless rubbish, Harry," she muttered. "You don't have to take her seriously."
Professor Trelawney's head swivelled round to more conveniently stare at Hermione in a rather ridiculous fashion, but Hermione shrugged and resolutely ignored her teacup.
"Aha, let us then see what the tea leaves hold for YOU, Miss Granger!" Trelawney said, swooping down on Hermione's cup and peering into it. A satisfied expression came over her face.
"Ah, the heart, symbolising love, a bird, symbolising peace, but also a cat, referring to great unrest-"
"Not to the fact that she owns a cat, then?" Ron sniggered. Trelawney ignored him.
"Ah, and the sword also. I foresee danger for you and those near you."
No surprises there. Hermione looked into the cup at the soggy mush in the bottom, but couldn't make out any hearts or swords. What rubbish.
As the students streamed out into the corridor, Hermione spotted Malfoy again. He was leaning casually against a wall, almost as if he was waiting for her. She shivered and moved closer to Harry and Ron. Why was she being so jumpy? He wouldn't dare to attack her in front of the whole of Gryffindor house. Ron noticed him too and put his hand on Hermione's shoulder, protectively, giving Malfoy a fierce look. As they walked past, she looked away, trying not to concentrate on him. But it seemed that wherever she went, he'd be there, calmly sitting down at a desk, reading a book, practicing a spell. That's it, she thought, I'm going to the Common Room. I can't stand this. As she muttered the password, she saw him again, out of the corner of her eye, leaning against the wall. She stepped through the portrait hole and absent-mindedly stunned Fred Weasley, who had been about to drop a cupful of Itching Powder onto her from behind the door. Ron was there, of course. She walked quickly across the Common Room. She was having a hard enough time, with Malfoy popping up everywhere like a jack-in-a-box, and she couldn't care less about Ron's stupid essay.
That night, she couldn't sleep. Her brain was working away, trying to make sense if it all, and failing miserably. She couldn't avoid them both forever. The bed springs creaked noisily as she got up, and walked across to the door. She was going to do something about it.