The girl's leg was swinging, back and forth, back and forth, within an inch of kicking Hermione's ankle. It was distracting her from the calculations she was trying to copy. She would have been seriously considering putting her books and boxes back on the cart and moving to a different table had she not been in the best seat in the Beinecke Library reading room. It was hers, as well, had been since she'd arrived in January to study the Yale holdings of Babylonian magical tablets, and she wasn't going to move just because some skinny teenager couldn't keep all her body parts under control while she read... while she read a fifteenth century study of Etruscan demonology. Hm.
An interest in demonology was no excuse for poor behavior in the library, Hermione decided. "Do you mind?" she whispered. The girl tapped the end of her pencil against her lip, turned the page, and made another note. "Excuse me," Hermione said, a little louder this time. The little man with a big bushy beard scowled at her across the table. Hermione scowled back. "Excuse me," she whispered again. "If you keep that up, you're going to kick me."
The girl lifted her head. "Hunh?"
At least her leg had stopped moving. "Never mind," Hermione said, and turned her attention back to her tablet.
It was the best seat in the reading room because she was right by the glass wall and the sunken marble courtyard, with the wall at her back; she could see the whole reading room and the reference area beyong the glass wall. Unfortunately, the instincts that led her to select the seat also made her intensely aware that the girl next to her was now sneaking glances at her work. She double-checked a number and realized that she's done the last calculation in base-12 when it should have been base-60. It was a sign, she conceded, and started to stack her dictionaries on the cart with the boxes of tablets.
The girl was doing the same, and made it to the reading room door just in time to hold it open for Hermione. "Do you want to get something to eat?" she asked as they walked to the circulation desk.
"Have we met?" Hermione asked.
The girl kept talking as she filled out a request card to hold the volume she'd been reading. "You're working on Babylonian numerology, aren't you? I'm Dawn, Dawn Summers."
"Don?" Hermione said blankly.
"Dawn," the girl repeated, stretching the vowel. "Dawn. Like, sunrise. Aren't you hungry? We worked through lunch."
Dawn had the kind of long straight hair and long straight legs that Hermione had always longed for, and it seemed the metabolism as well. She'd ordered a cheeseburger and a chocolate milkshake, and insisted that Hermione order a milkshake as well, no matter how strange it would seem with her Greek salad. "Clark's makes the best milkshakes in New Haven," she'd confided. "I love this place. Sometimes I stay at the Beinecke through lunch on purpose, just to have the excuse to come here instead."
"Instead of your college?" It was the standard conversation opener here, and Hermione was a little ashamed to have to fall back on it.
"Silliman," Dawn answered the implicit question. "You?"
"I'm in the States doing research. I'm staying at the Divinity School."
"Yes." And then, with some surprise, she added, "You can read Babylonian?"
Dawn shrugged. "A little. My... uh... a guy I know had Nieberger's edition of the Sin-temple texts from Borsippa, and I learned from them."
Perfect hair, perfect teeth, and a talent for dead languages. Really, it wasn't fair at all.
She kept coming up with reasons not to see any more of Dawn Summers: too young, too talkative, too tall. They hid the real reason: a Muggle with the kind of interests Dawn possessed would only be a danger to Hermione and to herself. She ought to refuse to go for the lunch and coffee breaks Dawn suggested. She ought to find something else to work on. She certainly ought never to find herself smiling at Dawn over ice-cream late at night, up in the bedsit she had in the Divinity School.
Dawn didn't ask many questions, which meant that Hermione didn't have to tell very many lies. And she didn't ask many questions either, even when she noticed the way Dawn didn't flinch one night when they were out a little too late and two men started following them down State Street, the way she didn't tuck her head down and walk a little faster. Hermione's pulse was racing as her fingers fumbled to get her wand from its compartment in her sleeve, and damn the need for explanations; then they turned the corner and the men kept going, and that was that.
Later she thought that she'd been so surprised by her own fear that she forgot to wonder about Dawn's lack of it.
"You didn't like the play," Dawn said.
She'd loathed the play, to tell the truth, but one of Dawn's roommates had written it. "It was... I suppose it was..."
Dawn shoved her hands into the pockets of her spring coat. "There were a lot of speeches."
They were crossing the marble wasteland of Beinecke Plaza, up the stairs and into the Rotunda. "I'm sure Diane will learn to write characters who speak to each other someday." She held the heavy door open for Dawn and paused, as she always did, to run her fingers over the names carved in the marble walls, row after row of them. There should have been one of these at Hogwarts, or perhaps the Ministry. "I thought it was shallow. I thought the soldiers were made to look foolish."
She looked away from the names to find Dawn watching her, head tilted to one side. "Like they were going to die for nothing. Yeah." Dawn took her hand and tucked it around her arm. "Come on," she said. "Let's go back to your place."
Hermione stood where she was. "Do you ever wonder about all these men? What it was like for them?" Dawn didn't say anything. "They were just boys, really."
Dawn kissed her cheek so gently that Hermione barely felt it, just the brush of dry lips and the orange smell of her shampoo. "I wonder about them," she said. "You know, would they be happy? What would they be doing? What would they think of..." When Hermione looked at her, she smiled quickly. "Of whatever. Do you want to get some pizza?"
What would they think of us. Hermione didn't say it aloud: she wasn't ready for that. "If you'd like," she said instead. "I have ice cream in my room, as well."
"Ice cream would be perfect," Dawn answered.
Whedon own their characters and fictional universes, in conjunction
with a number of media conglomorates. I make no claim to ownership, and
no profit from my use of their property.
Thanks are owed to Malograntim Vitiorum and Angryhamster for their beta.