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The Bargain by Dixi_

Format: Novel
Chapters: 9
Word Count: 37,252
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Mild Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Contains Slash (Same-Sex Pairing), Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Humor, Romance
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Draco, Pansy, Blaise (M), OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Hermione/OC, OC/OC, Other Pairing

First Published: 06/11/2007
Last Chapter: 06/24/2008
Last Updated: 06/24/2008

Summary:
*New* Stunningly Gorgeous Banner By MajiKat







Hermione makes a deal with the devil...
“Look, I’m not going to go over it again. It’s a simple offer, are you going to take it or not?”
That devil is Blaise Zabini.
“Look at him...”
 Will she be able to live up to her end of the bargain?
“One week Granger."


Chapter 1: An Offer
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Disclaimer: Everything you recognize belongs to JKR, I'm just playing

Awsome chapter image by the beautiful Hushabye_Mountain
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Hermione stared through the thick eyelashes to eyes that at first glance were black, though upon further examination she could see that his eyes were actually the darkest midnight blue. She could hardly make out the words coming out his full lips.

“What?” She knew what he was saying, understood the words, but it had to be some kind of sick, twisted, demented, vile, reprehensible, crude, joke.

“Look, I’m not going to go over it again. It’s a simple offer, are you going to take it or not?”

She continued to stare; she could feel her eyebrows knit in complete disbelief. He, of course, looked completely unruffled, as if he propositioned women in this way every day. In fact he looked bored, sensuously bored. Wait, not sensuous, she should not be thinking like that. She tried to mimic his look, appear completely impassive.

“What’s wrong Granger, are you nauseous?”

Apparently she was not so good at the bored look. “Zabini, fine. Let me get this straight. You want me to pretend to be your girlfriend.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying for the past ten minutes. I thought you were smart.”

She brushed off his comment. “Because your mother advised you that in the wake of the war it would be best to appear as if you are not a manically insane blood-purist.”

Something between a smirk and a pout crossed his lips. “Basically.”

“And this would be good for me because it would ‘raise my stock’ in school?”

“Yes.”

“Because I’m some sort of loser?”

He let out an exaggerated sigh. “Socially, Granger, socially.” He gestured around the hall. “You aren’t exactly a hot commodity amongst the male population…” He paused and eyed her. “You are into men right?”

She just rolled her eyes. He was so infuriating.

“I will take that as a yes. So you see, it is your seventh year, it’s time to move beyond that sad, semblance of a relationship you had with Weasley, and let other men know they stand a chance. You see Granger, you are intimidating to these simpletons, but something tells me that you would like to date them, so how best to show them that you aren’t the uppity-prude they think than dating someone with a lot of visibility.”

“No.”

“No?”

“Let me reiterate, hell no. No.”

“I see.”

“Good.”

“Of course I’d compensate you for your services.”

He had to be kidding. “You’re talking about paying me?”

“Of course.”

“I’m not a bloody prostitute.”

He sighed, his first outward sign of his growing frustration. “Do you really think that I'd want to get with a Mudblood?”

She let the infernal word roll off her back; she’d heard it enough over the years it hardly meant anything anymore. “But you’ll pretend to date one?”

“To advance my career, to open opportunities, absolutely.”

“Absolutely not Zabini. Find another Muggleborn.”

“Okay then.” He started to make his way towards the dungeons. “I will give you a week to think about it.” He turned fully above the staircase. “Oh, Granger. Good luck paying for Trinity, I understand you only got a partial scholarship, seems your dear university spent an awful lot of money funding the War effort. Too bad, hopefully your dentist parents have been saving.” With that he descended the staircase and disappeared.

She was so angry, so frustrated, she could cry. After all her work this summer, after the amazing, unbelievable defeat of Voldemort, she had to deal with shit like this. Only a week. She had been back in school for only a week, like that wasn’t strange enough, to be back among her peers, socializing, serving as Head Girl, doing her homework, and to get hit with this. Like she cared what the boys in school thought of her. So what if they thought she was prude, uppity, and unattainable. How would dating an asshole Slytherin help that? Not that she cared. That kind of thing could until college.

Where the hell was she going? Her conversation with reputed Sex-God Zabini had flustered her to the point of completely losing track of where she was in her day. What had she been doing? She had her bag dangling from her shoulder, but that told her almost nothing. What bloody day was it? Sounds began to echo through the halls, students were appearing from stairwells and hallways, it was lunchtime. She joined the droves and made her way to the Gryffindor table, most of the teachers were missing. It was Saturday. How could she have forgotten that, did that prat really mess up her mind that much? Maybe he confounded her? She would not put it past him. The prick.

Ron, Harry and Ginny took their usual seats around her. They were engaged in a Quidditch discussion and only stopped to say a quick hello. With a sigh she tucked into her food. She was not very hungry; she kept thinking about Trinity, the most respected Wizarding University in the world. Surely there was some kind of financial assistance, loans or something. That could not just be a Muggle thing, could it? Ron might know, but would that be an offensive question? To presume that he would know about financial aid for college? Trapped in thoughts of earning extra money she felt someone grab her elbow.

“Hermione, what’s wrong?” Ron was at her left side, staring at her with a look of concern etched across his usually smiling face.

“Oh. I’m sorry. I was just thinking about Trinity.”

His eyes narrowed in doubt. At some point over the last year he had gotten quite perceptive, she had noticed the change after they broke up; he seemed more adult, more mature, more aware. “Uh-huh. And…?”

“Just how I’m going to pay for it.” She glanced at Harry and Ginny but they were still absorbed in one another, Hermione could hardly register what they were talking about.

“I thought you got a scholarship.” He spoke through a bit of food still in his mouth, she said matured, not mature.

“It’s partial, it’s the most they gave out, but it still only covers less than half the tuition and that’s not even counting room and board.”

“Wow. I didn’t realize that.” He took another bite of his lunch, chewed and swallowed. Hermione had to keep herself from applauding his manners. “I got lucky; kids with parents who work for the government go for free.”

“Ron…” She paused, she was not quite sure how best to say what she needed to say. “Trinity is in Ireland. Your father works for the Ministry here.”

He nodded. “I know. It’s a reci…recipe…reci-something-or-another, sort of thing.”

“Reciprocity?”

“Yeah. Apparently all the governments have it; it’s an arrangement to encourage unity or something. I could go to Brazil if I wanted to.” He stopped, probably imagining gorgeous exotic women all around.

“It’s hot there Ron. And sunny. You would go broke on sunscreen.”

“Fair point.”

She sighed again. “Do you think you could ask your father about financial aid possibilities?”

“Sure.”

Giving up on her sandwich she pulled out her Advanced Potions materials. Snape had never come back, even after he was basically “cleared” publicly. There were so many changes, but in the end it seemed that little had changed. It was surprisingly easy to go back to her routine despite the changes; Slughorn was a permanent staff member now, Lupin was back, there was a new Transfiguration professor, and McGonagall was Headmistress. Perhaps it was the nature of the changes that made them palatable; if she were forced to make the decisions made by the Governors she probably would have done the same thing.

It was hard to concentrate. She wanted answers now; she wanted to take control of the situation. As lunch broke up she remained at the large oak table and composed a letter to her parents, surely they had some sort of college fund for her. It was times like this that she missed the basics of Muggle life, telephones, computers, email. She would get a response soon enough she supposed, and she would pressure Ron to write a letter tonight. At least she would know by Wednesday or so. A shock of inspiration hit her. Of course, why had she not thought of it before? Gathering her things she made her way to the stone gargoyle.

She stood before it for several minutes. What was McGonagall’s password? Dumbledore had always been fairly easy to figure out, just keep guessing sweets for as long as possible and eventually something would work.

“Scotland.” Nothing happened.

“Transfiguration.” Nothing again.

“Tartan?” This was just ridiculous.

Finally a thought occurred to her. “Sir William Wallace.” The staircase revealed itself, inviting her in. McGonagall was always a bit off.

Hermione realized that she had not set foot in the office ever. Harry had been up a few times already and he may as well have had a frequent visitor card when Dumbledore was alive. The thought made her cringe; it was easier to just imagine that he retired. Though had he not told Harry something a long time ago about death being the next great adventure? Tentatively she walked through the entryway and found herself in the round office. She had never felt so intimidated by her surroundings, even first year.

McGonagall walked out from a side door, she did not seem surprised to see Hermione standing there looking entirely lost. Perhaps omniscience came with the room?

“Hello Miss Granger.”

“Hi Profess….sorry, Headmistress.”

“Quite alright. What is on your mind?” McGonagall was taller than Hermione remembered, maybe that too came with the room? The Headmistress took a seat and gestured for Hermione to take another.

“Well, I was, as I think you know, accepted to Trinity on partial scholarship.”

McGonagall nodded and offered a tin of biscuits.

“No thank you ma’am. I was hoping you could answer a question for me.” She paused and noted the paperwork on McGonagall’s desk. “Oh, I’m so sorry to barge in on you. I can come back.”

“Sit Miss Granger. Don’t be so apologetic, I invited you to sit, now ask your question.”

“I was curious to know if there are any financial assistance programs for university students.”

“Oh.” The Headmistress frowned in consideration. She leaned back in her chair a bit; it seemed that she was trying to reach dark recesses of information trapped in the back of her mind. Hermione stayed silent, not wanting to interfere in any sort of deep thinking process. After a minute McGonagall stood and made her way to a small cabinet, she opened it carefully and with her wand prodded something Hermione could not see. A few moments later she retook her seat and looked at Hermione. Disappointment was etched across the older woman’s face. “There are a few options Miss Granger. Work-study is one I am sure you heard of.” Hermione nodded.

“There is also the possibility that you could find a sponsor, which given who you are should not be too difficult.” She let out a soft breath. “I am sorry to say that we, in the Wizarding World, do not have the sort of financial assistance programs as in the Muggle World. Perhaps Trinity, being part Muggle, will give you this “financial aid”?”

Hermione smiled a weak smile. “I’ve already checked, for some reason the finances of the institution are handled separately, if I were admitted into the Muggle program it would not be a problem, unfortunately it is not true of the Wizarding program.”

She left the office more disappointed than she anticipated, making her way to the owlry, she considered her options. Everyone knew that obtaining a sponsor for college was incredibly difficult and to be frank, could be a pain in the ass. Generally a student owed their sponsor an ongoing obligation for any number of years, some of the few students she knew who had done it, had compared it to indentured servitude. What a mess. And she knew somewhere in her gut that her parents did not have the money for Trinity. They were dentists sure, but they ran there own practice, they were not oral surgeons, just regular cavity filling dentists. There had to be another option. Disheartened she sat on the ledge of the owlry watching students enjoy their day off.

Some boys were swimming at the lake when she made out a deeply tanned figure just below the owlry. “One week Granger. One week.”

She threw an old quill at him and smiled to herself when she heard a distinct cry. “Bitch!”

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Chapter 2: Succumbing
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Disclaimer: I think JKR would be ill at the thought of what I do to her fine characters…
A/N: Here it is my dears! I’m still in set-up mode with this and I will probably have a bit more to do in Chapter 3! I hope you enjoy!

Amazing chapter image by the talented Chella!





It was Thursday, five days after Blaise Zabini’s ridiculous proposition, he informed her in Advanced Potions that she had until midnight Saturday. What an ass. She had received a response from her parents, of course they had a college fund for her, of course they had planned for the future, of course they had not planned on her picking the most expensive university this side of the Atlantic, and of course they did not have that much money. Fabulous. Bloody fabulous. Harry had offered her money, dear friend that he was. He had enough too, that much was certain, but there was no way that she could take money from him, even as a loan. Work study it would be.
 

She had contacted Trinity on Tuesday after receiving the letter from her parents—McGonagall even let her use the floo. Apparently work study was incredibly hard to come by and it would not cover her housing, for that she would have to work another job, but not to worry there were plenty of places to work around the school. For work study they would put her on a waiting list, she should have a position by September or October of the following year.

Hermione was beginning to come apart at the seams. Last night she had stayed up until three in the morning trying to work out a budget, so long as she got the work study position by the end of September, moved out to Ireland early and started working immediately she should be fine, if her parents could come up with front money for a flat or if the school would allow her to move in early. That was just a few too many “ifs” in her opinion.

Classes were finished for the day and she had a few hours before dinner, she was not quite up to socializing so she headed to the Heads lounge. She was not sure if the room had never existed before McGonagall became Headmistress or if she just never knew about it, but sure enough there was a quiet study in the hallway down from the Room of Requirement with a fireplace, tables, fully stocked bookshelves, and comfortable couches and chairs. Already she had used it often, it was a nice escape.

She said the password and pushed open the door to find Ernie Macmillan on his way out. “Ernie, what are you doing here?”

Ernie, looked a bit…well, frazzled. “Sorry, Hermione. I know I shouldn’t be here, but Draco was, er, well we were studying.” Hermione looked around the room; Malfoy was sprawled on one of the couches looking as though he had been doing anything but studying. She raised an eyebrow but remained silent, waving Ernie on as he rushed out of the room.

Had she forgotten to add Draco Malfoy being Head Boy to the list her current complaints? Somehow the prat had become Head Boy, above Ron, Ernie, even Anthony. Gods, her life sucked.

“What was Ernie doing in here? I know he’s a prefect, but not even prefects are allowed.”

Malfoy stayed where he was, head cocked to side and just stared.

“Seriously Malfoy, if we are going to have the benefit of this room then we have to abide by the rules.” What was wrong with people recently?

“Are you done?”

She was going to tear him apart, little scrawny limb by little scrawny limb. “Can’t you be serious, just for a moment?”

“No. Not when you are being ridiculous.” He sat up from his previous position and, dear Circe, he zipped up his fly. “Don’t look so scandalized Granger, I’m not asking you to get me off.”

“Malfoy!” She slammed the door behind her. “This room is not for…” she dropped her voice, “…sexual liaisons.”

“Sexual liaisons? Come off it Granger. Just because you aren’t getting any does not mean the rest of us have to suffer.”

“I…I…Who…Who says I’m not?” That was most certainly not her planned response.

With his trademark smirk he looked her up and down. “You do.”

She stood up straighter and looked down at the blond. “I don’t say anything about my personal life, so how could I possibly be saying that?” Why was she in this discussion at all?

“Everything about you says that Granger. You need to let loose, you’re so uptight.” The look of mock concern on his face was enough. She gathered her things and started to leave. “Wait. Don’t leave, I’m leaving. Calm down Granger, it was a fucking joke. Since when did you care what the boys in school think of you, anyway?” With that he was gone.

In the end, Hermione was pretty sure she preferred evil-Malfoy to this apparently homosexual, snarky-Malfoy.

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By dinner Hermione was sick to her stomach. She had had two unsolicited opinions in five days as to what the boys in school thought of her. Was it true? Krum had asked her out, that was nearly three years ago, but he had. He also was not a Hogwarts student and had an admitted weakness for girls who did not care for Quidditch, or who were at least not pursuing him for Quidditch reasons. And there was Ron…but that had not worked. Boys liked her plenty, didn’t they?

She could not talk to Harry. Harry had been her first. Not sex of course. But her first love, if she was painfully honest with herself, she could admit that Harry had been her first choice. That certainly disqualified him from the conversation she wanted to have. Or perhaps it made him the perfect person, but she refused to put herself through that. She had—discretely, or so she thought—deposited enough food into her napkin to justify going up to bed when Ron pulled her aside.

“What’s wrong Hermione? You’ve been strange all day, all week for that matter.”

“It’s nothing.” She tried to push past him towards Gryffindor Tower but he held her back. “Fine. But not here.”

He dragged her to the antechamber and sat her down in a chair. “Talk.” She could hardly remember Ron being so forceful in the past.

This was humiliating, Ron was probably her first choice to talk to, but being forced to do so was a whole other issue entirely. “I’m just stressed out.”

“No, this is something else. I found your parchment, I know you worked out your issues for Trinity, it will be hard, but I’ve never seen you cower from something difficult. So this has to be a different issue.”

She didn’t bother to tell him that her budget included her working about sixty hours a week. Instead she said, “It’s stupid.”

“It can’t be stupid; anything that has you this upset is not stupid.”

With a huff she slumped back in the overstuffed chair. “Do you think I’m attractive?”

He was stunned, completely silent. This was not the reaction she had been hoping for. “What?”

“Never mind.”

“No. Wait. Yes. I do find you to be attractive. What is this about? Is this about us, because I mean, there are reasons it didn’t work, reasons…” He faltered and closed his eyes for a moment. “Reasons that I should probably explain.”

She should have told him that her problem had nothing to do with him, but her curiosity overwhelmed her. Remaining silent, she just looked up at him.

“Look Hermione, I know that you know it wasn’t working. And I’m sure you figured it just fell apart, which it kind of did.” He paused; it looked like he was gathering his strength. “See, I, well it was doomed to fail. I’m…well Hermione. Girls aren’t exactly my thing.”

“Huh?” That woke her up.

“Well, I just…I mean, girls and I…” He was stammering and blushing deeply.

She tried to process what he was saying and reconcile it with the past six years. It was possible, she supposed. “Ron?”

He looked at her desperately.

“Are you saying you’re well…you know…” Gods she was more mature than this, she could say it. “Gay?”

His fair skin completely succumbed to the growing blush and he nodded.

Ron, Ernie, and Malfoy? Maybe this odd rampant homosexuality was why she could not get a date? There had to be more. Just what was going on in these hallowed halls?

“Are you sure?”

He looked at her strangely. “Pretty sure.”

“Since when?” Oh Gods she said stupid things sometimes. “I’m sorry, I meant when did you…how did you…?”

He smiled weakly. “Please don’t take this the wrong way in light of your question. Part of it was you.”

“Me?”

“Yeah. I realized if I didn’t feel right with you then something was seriously wrong, that no girl could possibly be right for me.”

“Really?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Wow. I think that might the best, though most twisted, compliment I’ve ever gotten.”

Ron laughed meekly. “I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s good.”

“So yes Hermione. You are attractive, you are beautiful, and you only get more so as people get to know you.”

She managed a thankful smile.

“But that’s not good enough is it? Tell me.” Ron pulled her face up to his. “And look at me when you tell me.”

“I…it has been intimated to me that boys in this school are not attracted to me.”

“What? That is just dumb.”

“Well, maybe that they think me prude.”

“Oh. That’s different.” She could not help but notice that Ron did not dispute that statement.

“Ron?”

He shook his head. “Sorry.” He paused again. “No. I don’t think so.”

“Ron. Tell me the truth.”

“Well, it’s not that they think you’re prude really, but I do think that some guys think you are kind of uptight.”

“Really?”

“Hermione, you are uptight.”

“Maybe.”

“I understand why, but you are, it’s okay. I think maybe you’re just too mature for the guys here.”

“Mature?”

“Yeah.”

“Is that the least offensive word you could think of?”

He sighed. “See.”

“Fine. So I’m uptight. So what? So is Hannah Abbott, guys love her.”

“Well, she’s kind of flaky too; you see she offsets her uptightness by being a goof sometimes.”

“So I should be goofy.”

“No!” Ron stared at her, eyes narrowed. “Why are you so concerned about this, I thought you couldn’t care less about this kind of thing?” He stopped again and smacked his forehead. “That’s it! That’s why. These blokes don’t know you’re on the market, they assume you could care less, so why even try?”

“Oh…that makes sense.”

“You still didn’t answer my question.”

“I suppose I do care.”

“Of course you do.”

“And I just didn’t understand why no one, well, why no one pursued me.”

He nodded. “That makes sense. But don’t doubt yourself Hermione. Guys are idiots; we basically have to see someone snogging in a hall to know that they are available. Teenage guys don’t want to put themselves out there unless they know they have a reasonable shot. Remember Harry with Cho? That was ridiculous.”

“True. Speaking of Harry…” She tried to give him her most motherly look. Annoyed motherly that is.

“He doesn’t know. I’ll be telling him soon. Please don’t say anything.”

She promised she wouldn’t but encouraged him to have an open conversation with his best friend, she also begged off his invitation to walk to back to the tower together and pulled out her budget to give it another glance. As she walked and read over the figures she ran into a solid figure. It was so hard she thought it was one of the statues dotting the hallways.

“Not even an ‘excuse me’ Granger?” Oh hell, leave it up to Zabini to have a body like a marble statue.

“Sorry. I wasn’t paying attention.”

“Something on your mind?”

It would not hurt to ask the man, strike that, boy, a question. Would it? “How much are we talking about?”

There was that smirking half-grin. “Enough.”

“Forget it.”

“Wait a second.” He had grabbed her elbow, right where Ron had, but something rushed through her body when he touched her. It was probably revulsion. “Tuition. Plus room and board.”

“What?” She knew the kid was rich and his “fathers” had a habit of dying off and leaving everything to his mother, but there was no way he had that much money. “That’s insane. Even for you.”

“Granger, that’s a drop in the bucket. That is the equivalent of you giving me a knut.” He grinned at his own double entendre. “Not that I’m asking.”

“But.” But what. She was looking at free tuition. “All four years?”

“Yes.”

“But.” Seriously, but what? No one had to know, she’d met Zabini before, and it was possible that the most gorgeous boy in school could be her boyfriend. It was for the rest of term, no more, no less. His stance on blood-status was not well known, she only knew because of Harry. It was plausible. “How can I be sure that you will uphold your end of the deal?” She was making a deal with the devil. That much she was sure of.

“Wizards Contract, of course.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Yes. Okay. Let’s do this. Whatever.”

“No Granger, you see if you are going to do this, it has to be believable, and you need to be more enthusiastic. I’m quite desirable you know.”

“Fine.” She smiled or winced, she was not quite sure how it came off. “What do we need to do?”

He flashed his too-white teeth in a brief smile. “Meet me tomorrow in the Heads room at midnight.” And he was gone.






A/N: Thank you so much for the reviews, this one is coming along well so far and your kind reviews only serve to motivate me further! (yes, that was a not-so-subtle attempt to get you fine readers to click the little review button below!) And to my darling readers:  I love you all! Thank you for the support!


Chapter 3: A Faustian Accord
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Disclaimer: Anything you recognize is something I don’t own…I’d like to, but sadly for me I do not.

Awsome chapter image by Chella!




The halls were dark, ever-dwindling candles flickered at her sides, beckoning her forward. It was a rare thing, Hermione Granger breaking rules alone. She realized that it was a misapprehension on behalf of most of the population of Hogwarts that she was uppity and too uptight, it was not that she was a goody-goody, it was that she was good at what she did. Rarely was she actually caught breaking a rule and when she had been she was rarely punished, what with most of her rule-breaking emanating from efforts to help save the Wizarding World. She nearly smirked in the shadow light, everyone was so entirely wrong about her; she almost looked forward to shocking the entire school. Almost.

She was just a few steps from the door to Heads room when she realized that Malfoy must have passed on the password to Zabini, he had clearly said to meet him in the room. With a deep gulp of air she murmured the password and pushed open the door. Malfoy was there. Big bloody surprise, she supposed.

“Malfoy, what are you doing here?”

He sneered in her general direction and took a seat on one of the couches. Zabini was standing before a row of bookshelves. For the first time she really looked at him. He was certainly taller than average, probably taller than any Weasley or even Malfoy—who was quite tall. His skin was a warm shade of brown, more caramel than coffee, his jet black hair hung in loose tousled curls…though something about his appearance told her that it was quite carefully tousled. He was dressed in Muggle clothes, which many students, even the Slytherins, had taken to doing in off hours. His jeans fit him like they were charmed to adhere perfectly to his body—which they probably were and the loose black jumper was just tight enough to show off the definition underneath. What was she doing? Had he not just called her a Mudblood days before?

“Granger, would you stop staring at my arse.”

“Shut it, Zabini.” Malfoy snickered from the couch and she whirled around to face him. “And you, you don’t belong here.”

“But we’re not supposed to have guests in here Granger, are we? And this one…” he pointed to Zabini, “…is certainly not my midnight guest—trust me I’ve tried.”

“Malfoy!”

“No need to yell young lady. I’m here because I have to be here. Trust me I had to break good plans to be here for you two idiots. So let’s get this thing going.”

Hermione looked over the blond. “Wait, you’ve known about this the whole time, haven’t you? That’s why you said what you said to me? You were goading me into accepting his offer!” With each word her voice grew louder, by the end she was practically screaming. Zabini turned and had a hand clasped over her mouth in a matter of seconds.

“Now is not the time to start getting caught Miss Granger.” His lips nearly touched her ear, his breath tickled her sensitive skin, she swallowed and nodded. He released her and went back to the bookshelves.

With that the room quieted to complete silence. Hermione flung herself into one of the overstuffed chairs and trembled from anticipation, she was not quite sure how she felt about this Faustian deal. Malfoy blatantly stared at Zabini’s bum as Zabini perused the bookshelves, occasionally pulling out random books and flipping through them. For a few more moments everything was silent, Hermione could hear her heart thumping, it had to be up near her throat by now. Any more silence and she was going to bolt out of the room, and then everything broke loose at once.

Blaise turned address them both. “Are we ready to get this thing started?”

Draco stood up from the couch. “If you bitches aren’t going to do this I’m leaving.”

Hermione nearly pitched herself out of the chair in her last fleeting thought of escaping this hell. All three collided and each staggered back a few steps. Hermione rubbed her elbow which had connected with Malfoy’s hip, Blaise had a hand on his forehead where he had bumped Malfoy and Malfoy was generally whining in pained distress.

“You idiots, I’m going to bruise.” Malfoy squatted and rooted through his black leather messenger bag in growing frustration. “Damn it! Granger, do you have a mirror?” He paused and studied her. “Never mind.” He strode across the room to glass cabinet and tried to study his reflection. “Granger. Heal me.”

She wanted to beat him about the head with her wand, but it seemed easier to fix his head…well, the slightly raised pink bump on his head, the rest of him required far more than her wand could handle.

“Here.” Blaise gestured to an aged maple table near the corner of the room. He stood at the side of the table and pointed Malfoy to the front and Hermione to the side across from him. Hermione ambled over slowly while Malfoy scurried over to his spot. The prospect of being in charge—or at least at the head of the table—seemed to distract him from his ‘injuries.’

Malfoy pulled out a roll of parchment from his bag and spread it across the table, when it kept curling Hermione pulled two small books off the shelves and placed them at either end of the parchment. As she did so she managed to get a glance at the words on the parchment.

Wizard’s Contract

Made this thirteenth day of September 1997, by and between Blaise Padon Zabini and Hermione Jane Granger, both current residents of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This agreement shall be attested to by one signatory witness and will take effect immediately upon the signatures of both named parties and the signatory witness.

Oh hell. What was she getting herself into? The contract went on and on for nearly the length of the table. She caught Blaise’s eye as she looked up from the words, he had a dangerous smirk plastered across his lips. His almond eyes stared unblinking at her, just waiting for her to break down, to turn tail and run. She would not give him the satisfaction, she matched his gaze and refused to blink until her eyes burned and tears threatened to form.

“Come on you two. This is just a friendly arrangement between…” Malfoy paused searching for the correct words. “…people.” He scanned the document and looked at both of them. “You both have to read it in front of me, so that I can swear that you two know what you are getting yourselves into.” Malfoy stepped back and allowed the two to read the parchment. Blaise was done much faster than Hermione, but then again, he had written a lot of it.

“Wait.” Hermione was pointing at Article 4 Section B “Touching.” Her finger hovered above the paper, as if she were afraid to actually come in contact with the words. “Why do we even need a section on touching? There will be none.”

Zabini let out an exaggerated sigh. “Did you read it Granger? It says no unconsented touching, there has to be some. Otherwise no one will believe that we are quite the happy couple.”

“We don’t need to physically touch to be a couple.” Her voice was taking on the screechy quality it was prone to do in times of great stress.

Zabini actually laughed, a haughty, mocking laugh, but still a laugh. “No wonder you’re single.”

She gritted her teeth and went back to reading. If she was not about tosign her dignity away then she might have been impressed with the amount of thought put into the contract. Yes, it was quite long but each Article and Section was concise and straight to the point, there was no extraneous material, and should not cause any interpretation issues. Zabini was apparently smarter than she thought.

Another pause came over the Article titled “Remuneration.” She read over it three times to ensure that there was no way Zabini could wriggle out of his monetary obligations. There was not, as far a she could tell. She reached the end when she realized something was missing.

“Hold on boys.” She looked from one to the other. “There is nothing about cheating.”

Zabini raised one elegant brow. “You don’t actually expect me not to get laid for the next…” he glanced at his watch “…nine months.”

She steeled herself for the argument. “Yes, as a matter of fact I do. Otherwise no one will believe that 'we are quite the happy couple.'” She paused. “Sound familiar?”

“It does, but this is different Granger. We aren’t actually going to be a couple; we are going to appear as a couple.”

“No way. I’m not going to appear as some simpering idiot that lets her boyfriend cheat on her. Absolutely not. I will maintain some modicum of self-respect in this deal.” She practically hissed the last word.

Malfoy watched them as if it were a tennis match, enjoying their bickering. The next nine months would surely be interesting.

“And what am I supposed to do for pleasure, exactly?”

Hermione looked from his hand to him. “You figure it out.”

“Hell no. Women expect me to be available.”

“Well they won’t anymore, will they?”

“You’re bloody insane.”

“Fine then, go clear up your prejudiced reputation with a girl who will happily be your lap dog. I don’t need this.”

She was halfway to the door when Malfoy grabbed her around the waist and drug her back to the table. “She’s right Blaise. Trust me, it pains me to admit it, but she’s right.”

For the first time Blaise’s emotionless veneer cracked, he looked betrayed and appalled. “You have got to be kidding me.”

Malfoy shook his head lightly. “I wish I was mate, but she’s got a point. People will never take you two seriously if you’re jumping in the sack with every bird who offers.” He locked eyes with his friend. “You know it’s true. We talked about this; she…” he pointed to Hermione “…is the best route to take. Credibility is what you’re looking for; she can give it to you.”

Hermione wanted to jump in and point out that she was still in the room but as Malfoy’s words seemed to be having an effect she let him continue.

“I told you that you would have to make some sacrifices too.”

Blaise nodded. “Fine.”

Malfoy withdrew his wand and held it to the last section of the contract, fresh words bled out the tip of his wand. He then pointed his wand from Blaise to Hermione. “Read it. We’re almost done.”

Hermione read it and nodded her assent, Zabini did the same.

“Good. Now if you will both sign here at the bottom.” They both did. And Malfoy signed below them.

“Now I need a magical signature underneath those signatures.” Both withdrew their wands and left their mark on the page. Malfoy then did the same.

“Finally, take these.” He held out a small sewing needle to each of them and kept one for himself. “Please prick the index finger on your wand hand.”

“What?” Hermione and Blaise both turned to the blond.

“Sorry, this is the only binding contract I know how to make, just do it, I’m doing it.”

“I’m not putting my blood on some Dark magic contract.” Hermione shrieked as she glared at them.

“Yes you are.” Malfoy shot her a withering glance. “You’re obligated to now; you already left your mark.” He pointed to were she had touched her wand to the contract; her initials shimmered in the light. “You have to.” He turned to Blaise. “You too.”

They each pricked their fingers and awaited further instruction. Malfoy directed them to smear the droplet of blood in a small circular seal at the very bottom of the parchment. Blaise started to go first.

“No. You have to do it together.”

Blaise looked completely disgusted and Hermione felt ill, she was sure that the idea of her blood mixing with his was going to make him retch, it was almost enough to make her smile. Almost. She watched as they put smeared the bit of blood within the tight circle. Malfoy then did the same over theirs. It was somewhat amazing really, two pure-blood fanatics—well, Malfoy was not such a fanatic anymore—mixing their blood with a Muggleborn. She supposed it was some sort of progress, though probably not what the Wizarding World at large had in mind.

When Malfoy removed his finger the words on the parchment lit up with an ethereal glow and quickly went back to the normal black.

“It is done.”

She could swear from somewhere she heard the ringing of a bell.

For the next few hours the three lounged on the couches and chairs debating how best to introduce this “relationship.” Hermione was surprised that Malfoy stayed behind, but not surprised to hear his continuous bitching about how his plans for the evening were ruined. In the end she was pleased to have him there; he was an effective mediator, which was surprising enough in and of itself. Malfoy, it seemed, was a bevy of subtle and not-so-subtle tactics to introduce the beginning and end of a relationship. He and Pansy Parkinson had been working this out for years, apparently. Though, he made it quite clearthat she had taken things a bit too far with her simpering routine of years past.

In the end, it was Malfoy who really worked out the mechanics of the plan and Hermione who was the idea person. Zabini sat around and looked bored for the most part. Hermione tried to hide her frustration with the gorgeous Slytherin, instead she found herself fascinated with the contrast that he and Malfoy created sitting on the same plushy couch. Both were tall and slender, lithe rather than lanky, but the similarities ended there. Zabini was more heavily muscled, though hardly bulky, whereas Malfoy looked almost wiry in his strength. Malfoy had that odd silvery blond hair whereas Zabini’s was black as night, much like she had seen throughout Spain as a child. Straight, silken, and ridiculously shiny. She found herself wondering if his hair—that was undoubtedly feminine—bothered him. Malfoy’s eyes shone brilliant silver in the weakening fire light whereas Zabini’s dimmed to the darkest obsidian, any previous indication of blue swallowed away by the shadows.

They were entertaining to watch together. The two boys had obviously spent a great deal of time together since childhood, they finished each other sentences, argued like brothers, and seemed to know what the other was thinking with only a glance. But that was how it was with Ron and Harry right? Perhaps not that close, but near that. They did not have the benefit of time that these two did, but their relationship was comparable. Hers and Ron was, that was for sure, over the years they had developed a closeness that could not quite be matched by Harry, probably because Harry’s main priority for so long was saving the world. She could not really blame him, as taking time to save the world did not quite make him a selfish git. As opposed to the selfish git who was speaking at the moment, and surprisingly she was not talking about Malfoy.

“…you see, I have a reputation to protect in addition to the one I am trying to change.” Apparently she missed the first part of his speech. “It should not be too much trouble, should it Granger?”

Oh hell, what had he said? She looked at him; his eyes were shining with a wicked merriment. “What won’t be trouble?”

He half smirked at her ignorance, revealing an innocent looking dimple on his left cheek. “What I was talking about.”

She cut her eyes to Malfoy, seeking any indication as to the nature of Zabini’s previous speech. He was curled up on the couch, his knees pulled up to his chest with his eyes half open. He was going to be of absolutely no assistance, hadn’t he just been chatting animatedly with Zabini moments before?

“Fine Zabini, I wasn’t listening. What did you say?”

He flashed a triumphant smile. “Just a simple makeover.”

“Huh?”

“Very eloquent, Miss Head Girl.” He ran his long pianist’s fingers through his hair. “Nothing drastic.”

“Absolutely not. I might ask you to stop being a git, but I’m not. So I would appreciate itif you did not ask me to change anything either.” Gods, she did sound a bit uppity didn’t she?

“Not a change per se, just a bit more effort. I saw you at the Yule Ball, I know it’s possible.”

She rolled her eyes. “No, it took me hours to get my hair like that. Hell no Zabini, I will be getting up at four in the morning every day.”

He looked a bit confused. “Actually I didn’t mean your hair Granger.” His eyes were fixed on her unruly curls. “To be quite honest, I don’t mind your hair, it suits you. I meant just a bit more attention to your overall appearance. Make-up. Clothes. That kind of thing.”

Hermione could not decide if she was offended or not. Her hair was her biggest sensitivity. But makeup and clothes, what a pain in the arse. He watched her considering and let out an impressive yawn.

“Look Zabini, I’ll take it into consideration. And you can consider being a bit friendlier. Let’s stop for tonight. I’m exhausted.” She looked over to Malfoy. “And he’s dead to the world.”

He nodded and yawned again while pointing to Malfoy. “I’ll leave him here, he’ll be fine.”

“Yeah.” She narrowed her eyes. “I’m pretty sure he’s slept here before.” She did not mention that she was fairly sure he had never slept there alone.

“He has.”

Zabini followed her as she gathered her things and started to make her way out. The contract was nestled in her bag; she had changed its appearance immediately so that anyone nosy in the dorm room would thing it was simply a rough draft of a Potions paper.

They walked down the hallway in silence, the halls were deserted, seemingly it was too late for even the strictest professors. When they reached the staircase to get down to the sixth floor, Zabini did not pause, he just continued walking behind her to the Fat Lady portrait.

“Don’t you want to get back to the dungeons?”

“Granger, I’m walking you to your door.”

“Why?”

He looked affronted. “It’s proper.”

“No one knows about our pseudo-relationship yet Zabini. Besides no one is awake to witness your gallantry.”

“It’s called chivalry Granger, as a Gryffindor I would hope that you would be familiar with the concept, besides…” He broke his sentence with another yawn. “…I’m not trying to impress anyone, I’m being polite. You are a young woman and it is the middle of the night, I was raised well, you know.”

She tried to suppress an eye roll. “Alright then.”

“You might be surprised Granger, I’m actually not so bad.”

“Right.”

The Fat Lady had woken from her slumber and was eyeing them both impatiently.

Hermione turned towards him. “Well thank you then.”

He did not move.

“I’m not saying the password in front of you.”

“Fine. Good night.” With that he turned down the hall back towards the stairs and disappeared into the shadows.





A/N: Wow. All I can say is wow. You guys are wonderful, thank you so much for taking the time read and review, it means the world to me and makes all the difference in the world!


Chapter 4: Brawling
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Somehow Hermione had managed to have her busiest schedule since third year—sans time turner, she had quite enough of that—and still have a nice two-hour break between Potions and Transfiguration. She was currently making great use of this break working ahead in Arithmancy and a Potions essay due the following week. Harry sat across the table from her working out Quidditch maneuvers, it was not exactly homework, but at least he was doing something which did not involve his face being attached to Ginny’s. Ron had disappeared after Potions and Hermione had to assume she would see him again in Transfiguration.
 

She was diagramming number charts when Harry abruptly pushed his chair back. “I’ve got to run; Ron and I are supposed to meet Lupin for that Defense Against the Dark Arts thing.”

With a smile she waved him along, pleased that he and Ron were helping Lupin out with something that should benefit the school. Lupin—upon being reappointed—had immediately requested a number of students to assist him in creating additional class material which could benefit students in the future. Ron and Harry had eagerly agreed, Hermione was reluctant, much of the work would be rehashing the summer’s events and she was quite happy to leave those events in the past. She justified her decision by admitting to herself that DADA was not something she would likely pursue further, she was an academic and she knew it. With her busy schedule it would also be difficult and unfair to commit herself to something she may not have time for. Besides, Ron and Harry probably had more input for Lupin and anything she had to offer would likely be duplicitous.

Working quietly she sensed a figure approaching, with a glance at her watch she realized that the figure should be Blaise Zabini. He was supposed to meet her for her second hour of studying. They had been at it for a little over a week already. It started subtly—to make it more believable. Basically they stopped being priggish to one another, it was now time to move into Phase Two…or Phase One-and-a-Half as it might be better put. Casual conversation, sharing a table, that sort of thing. Today was a good day to start, the library was surprisingly full and free tables were hard to come by. His presence would be noticed but could also be excused.

“Granger.”

There he was. Standing stoically above her. His skin was the color of caramel; all of him was warm-shade brown. His eyes were back to their disturbingly dark blue shade. Appearance wise he was a complete enigma.

“Zabini.”

He cocked his head. “You’ve taken every book ever written on Changeling Potions.” She glanced at her stack, that was actually true.

“I have.”

“Do you think you can spare a few of the…oh, twenty you have here?”

Currently she was using four of them; she fought the urge to tell him to shove off. With a tight smile she gestured to chair across from her. “Of course. Have a seat, but the books aren’t going anywhere.”

“Right.” He sat elegantly, which she had never realized a person could do. As he pulled things out of his messenger bag he shot her a look and dropped his voice. “Next time I approach you, don’t stare at me like a piece of meat, Granger. It’s just bloody rude.”

“I did no such thing!” She hissed her words in an urgent whisper. Looking at a person was not the same thing as ogling them.

“Of course.”

“I was looking at you Zabini…every time a female looks at you it does not mean that she wants to devour you.”

He shot her that cocky grin and raised an eyebrow. “See, in my experience that is exactly what it means.”

Hermione let out a sigh. “Something tells me that your experiences are deeply tainted by your ego.”

“Touché.” There was something in his look, something akin to respect.

With a short smile she went back to her work. They worked for some time, occasionally exchanging materials and thoughts on the topic. It was an efficient hour they spent together, most of their abbreviated conversations actually benefited her work. She would like to say that she was not surprised by his intelligence but she was. Intellectually, she knew he was smart, but she had never quite let herself realize it. They separated after studying, the “relationship” was not quite ready for a full-on walking of the halls together, but it was progressing nicely.

As she was making her to way to Transfiguration she heard her name emanating from behind. Ginny was approaching with Luna Lovegood in tow.

“Where have you been?” Ginny had a way of commanding answers, more like she was starting an investigation rather than asking a simple question. Luna stopped when Ginny did, but other than a vague wave in Hermione’s direction, seemed occupied in that other world in which she so frequently resided.

“I was in the library.” Hermione nodded upwards with her head.

“Yes, I know this.” Ginny had that look. That look that said ‘you know what I’m really trying to ask you without actually saying it, now answer the real question.’ Ginny could always convey a lot with her looks.

Luna looked at Hermione mysteriously, her watery blue eyes magnified to disturbing proportion by her glasses. “We saw you with that beautiful Slytherin boy.” Her lips curled into an ethereal smile.

Ginny shot Luna a look. This one was the ‘shut-up about any good qualities belonging to Slytherin House’ look. “Right. What were you doing with that poser?”

“He just shared my table. It was crowded.” Hermione tried to sound casual, but her heart was racing, she was not quite sure why. Was this the first real thread in the web?

“It was not that crowded Hermione. He thinks I’m a blood-traitor and to him you are nothing but a Mudblood that doesn’t deserve to stand in his shadow. He thinks we are tainted. Do I really need to remind you of this?”

Hermione’s heart was in her throat, she was sure Ginny could hear it pounding away. She was positive that Ginny could see the lie in her eyes. “He’s not really that bad. I think he’s coming around, besides we’ve spoken before. He’s never been outwardly rude.” That much was actually true, Zabini—in six years—had never engaged in the public name-calling and baiting that was so popular with the green-clad house.

Ginny’s pink lips were pursed in her most doubtful and disapproving manner. “I don’t believe you; something is going on. And I just hope that as one of your few female friends you will come to me with the truth at some point.” Ah, the Weasley guilt-trip, a trait Ginny had no doubt inherited from her mother.

“Nothing is going on Ginny. Zabini and I are acquaintances, that is all.”

With a shake of her flaming hair Ginny had bid her good-bye with a lagging Luna.

Hermione let out a deep breath and made her way into the classroom. Lying to her friends was not quite as hard as she feared it would be. Of course she had lied to them before, though she considered those lies of omission—Lupin’s lycanthropy, the Time-Turner, Viktor—all were just a matter of not saying anything, rather than asserting an actual falsehood. Perhaps this would be the same, she could basically be honest and just leave out the infernal contract.

Ron and Harry pulled up seats on either side of her; they had been doing this all year, sitting on either side of her rather than both sitting to her left or right. She had not yet questioned the random change, but assumed that it was some paternal instinct developed after the War.

The new Transfiguration professor was a fairly young man, younger than Lupin she surmised. He was from the States originally, but had spent the past few years in Rome. Anthony Fiorelli was, according to her research, a notable wizard in the US, but encountered some problems with bureaucracy and administration which caused him to leave the country. It was a move she would have expected from Dumbledore, not McGonagall—she always appeared to prefer the more straight-laced individuals. He had a harsh accent with nasal “a” sounds; he sounded much different from the Americans she had met throughout her life. So far she liked him; he was plain-spoken and straight forward, but not rude. She actually had him for two classes, he taught the regular Transfiguration class for Seventh years as well as a Seminar for advanced students. The seminar met once a week and emphasized self-transfiguration. To attend the class students had suffered through a rigorous demonstration of their abilities and he hand-picked each student for the ten person class. Not many made the cut, she was the only Gryffindor in the group and there were no Hufflepuffs. It was a class very heavy in Ravenclaws and Slytherins. She did not mind the change, it was nice to get the opportunity to interact with students from the other houses so closely. The class also gave her a good reason to talk to Zabini, he and a quiet boy called Theodore Nott were both in the class.

Class rushed by, right now they were working on the theories behind large-animal transfiguration. Professor Fiorelli, or Tony, as he swore they could call him without punishment, had the sort of teaching style that could appeal to all students, he discussed the theories and practices before ever having them try out the actual spells. While it made for some mundane book work it helped students who learned one way or another. Ron seemed especially frustrated with the theoretical element of the class but on a good day Hermione thought he might admit that it was a helpful learning method.

As she, Ron, and Harrytraversed the halls they were nearly swallowed by a swath of Slytherins. Hermione was nearly knocked over byCrabbe who refused to yield in his path down the corridor, or perhaps was so large at this point that he could not simply change directions so easily. She stumbled and nearly fell to her knees when she felt a strong arm encircle her waist and steady her. A feeling of dread welled in her stomach, looking back she caught Zabini’s eyes, who dropped a wink in her direction.

She was so distracted by his touch that she failed to register that Harry was tapping her quite annoyingly on the shoulder. Finally she turned to him. “What?”

“Where did Ron go?”

Hermionestood in the hall andturned in a complete circle. “I don’t know. He was just here.”

Harry looked at the passel of Slytherins, most of whom had stopped in their tracks. Hermione distinctly heard a Parkinson screech radiate from the crowd. “Where in the bloody hell did he go?” Parkinson whirled around and faced Harry and Hermione.

“What did you do with him?”

“We did not do a damned thing with him Parkinson. Where’s Ron?”

With a scoff she sneered at Harry. “I didn’t do anything with your precious love Potter. Can’t the Boy-Who-Lived-Too-Long keep track of his lapdogs anymore?”

Harry took a step forward and fingered his wand but Hermione grabbed his sleeve. “No Harry.”

Pansy closed the distance between them and stood, glaring, centimeters from Harry’s face. “What Potter, the Dark Lord wasn’t enough for you? You want to take on a girl to prove your manhood?”

Hermione watched as Harry closed his eyes for a moment, she knew he was fighting an internal battle. “Parkinson, a Death Eater is a Death Eater, I’ll take you down regardless of your gender.”

A cheer broke out from behind Hermione, standing in a formidable huddle behind them was Seamus, Dean, Neville, Anthony Goldstein, and other various members of the DA.

“You are all a bunch of lemmings! Whatever he says you will do, won’t you? You’re pathetic! All of you.” Pansy was screaming now, anyone not aware of the brewing fight would know soon.

The next few moments passed in hazy slow motion. Harry went for his wand, Hermione tried to yank him backwards. Someone—a large Slytherin, stepped forward and punched Harry in the face. There was a scramble as the former DA members rushed forwards to be met by the Slytherins. Hermione felt her grip on Harry slip when a searing pain erupted on the right side of her skull, then she felt someone scoop her up. The next thing she remembered was being dumped onto a table in the Transfiguration room—she knew it was the Transfiguration room because her eyes rested on one of Professor Fiorelli’s texts right before the world went black.

She wanted to open her eyes, in fact she thought she had, but the world was dark…and moist. Strange. Hermione could tell by the crisp sheets under her hands and the over-fluffed pillow beneath her aching head that she was in the hospital wing. Aching head. She remembered a rush of hot pain to her head, which was still throbbing. Everything had gone black, but not before someone had moved her. A big someone. Well at least a bigger than her someone. As she mulled over the events which precipitated her blackout she managed to discover the source of moisture around her eyes. Madame Pomfrey, she guessed, had put a damp cloth over her eyes. She yanked it off and even the dim light of the infirmary sent spasms of pain through her skull.

A deep distant voice announced that she had awakened. With her eyes somewhat adjusted to the lights she sat up slowly in the bed and turned so that her legs hung over the edge of the bed. A drum roll echoed in her head with every movement, but since second year, Hermione had a particular sensitivity to being laid out in one of the infirmary cots. After that she refused to lay in those damned beds for anything, she did not mind being in the wing, or even on the bed, but laying down was another matter entirely. She sat quietly trying to process the blurry images in the infirmary. There was Madame Pomfrey rushing towards her, a dark figure seated in a tall chair. Where was Harry? And Ron? Hadn’t he disappeared?

Madame Pomfrey immediately started in on her. “Miss Granger, you must lie back. How are you feeling? Are you having blurry vision, headaches, shooting pains?” The woman was bustling about between Hermione’s bed, a nearby table, and the medicine cabinets. She pulled out three potions and her wand. After a series of enchantments and a few swallows of dreadful tasting syrup, the pain in her head had muted to a dull pulsing and her vision had cleared, offering a clear sight of Blaise Zabini sitting in the high-backed chair to the left of her bed. He was reading through an aged text and occasionally glancing upwards at her. Of course he appeared completely indifferent but still, he was there, that had to say something about his personality. Didn’t it?

Pomfrey announced her well enough to return to her dorm in the morning. Hermione did her best to argue the merits of returning to her dorm now, but Madame Pomfrey pronounced her ‘concussed’ and commanded that she remain in the infirmary for the remainder of the evening. The nurse also suggested that Hermione try to stay awake as long as possible. Hermione sat back in the bed, propped up on pillows and fixed her line of sight on Zabini.

“Your friends went to bed.” He spoke before she could even open her mouth.

She glanced around for a clock, but he answered her question before she could ask. “It’s about half past one. She…” he jerked his head towards Pomfrey’s office, “…gave you a dreamless sleep potion.”

Had the woman not just said that Hermione was ‘concussed?’

“Don’t ask me, I thought a person with a concussion was supposed to stay awake, apparently not in this joint.”

Hermione nodded tentatively and surprised to find herself able to do so. “Did she add anything to it?”

“I don’t know Granger, I wasn’t standing over her as she prepared your remedies.” Zabini stopped and looked around. “Why? Would it make a difference?”

Hermione nodded again. “If she adds a bit of hellebore root then the potion does not induce actual sleep, it’s a level of consciousness between sleep and wakefulness.”

Zabini just raised an eyebrow. “And where, pray tell, did you learn this?”

“Around.” There was no need to be evasive, it was no secret that she had decided after the War to become a Healer, but Zabini seemed to know so much already it was nice to keep something from him.

“Whatever.” He seemed just a bit sullen. Hermione was quite sure he was used to getting his way.

“So everyone left?” She tried not to be hurt that her friends had left her for the comfort of their beds.

“Your entourage got thrown out after dinner. Started quite a ruckus when they saw that I was still here.”

Hermione looked him over carefully. “Wait, you’ve been here the entire time, got in a fight with my friends, and you got them thrown out?”

“No. Well, sort of. I have been here the entire time, seeing as I brought you in. Your friends and I did not fight, they yelled and screamed like a bunch of mating manticores and they got themselves thrown out.”

She could see that. “But what happened? I mean before.”

“You remember the whole Potter and Pansy debacle right?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, Vince punched Potter. Who fell into you and you started to fall, which from what I could see, caused you to collide with a punch Greg was throwing at that Irish Gryffindor, and at the same time you were hit with a curse aimed at Greg by Thomas.” He stopped and looked at his hands. “That’s about it.”

“You remember all that?”

“It’s hard not to. Then Fiorelli came out and put everyone in full-body binds, summoned McGonagall and she hauled basically everyone off to her office. You and I were spared. And of course Draco and Weasley…senior, not the girl, she got into it at some point too.”

“I understand why I didn’t get punished but what about you?”

He rolled his eyes. “Granger, I was taking care of you for Merlin’s sake. What did you want the woman to do, punish the only person who bothered to look after someone else. Especially given our Houses?”

You took me to the Transfiguration classroom, didn’t you?”

He nodded.

“And then you took me here?”

“And Professor Fiorelli, I think he was a bit disturbed to see me standing over you while you were sprawled all over his desk, but he figured out what happened. Decent bloke, that one.”

“So you caught me as well?”

“Shit Granger, enough questions all right. Yes. I helped you, from start to finish.”

“Wow. Well, thank you.” She was surprised that Zabini would do such an honorable thing, particularly in front of his friends.

He stood up abruptly and she was reminded again of just how tall he was. “Don’t feel too important Granger, I did not choose to help you. I had to.”

“Why?”

“Did you not read the contract?”

“Of course I did.”

“Then you must have read the part which states that we are, and I quote, ‘duty-bound’ to assist one another in times of peril?”

“Oh.” She remembered the contract just fine, but she didn’t quite agree with Zabini’s interpretation. Normally she would have voiced her opinion, but tonight was not the night. “Well, thank you.”

He said nothing just stood stoically halfway between her bed and the door watching her. With a quick turn of his heel he was out the door.

Hermione sat silently staring at the area he had just departed, feeling as if he were still there watching her with his intense gaze. The contract did call for them to protect one another, but she was doubtful that a normal school brawl between Houses qualified as ‘peril.’ Pleased with her revelation she curled up in the bed and fell asleep easily despite her surroundings.






A/N: Holy shit ladies! You are fabulous, I adore you, you rock my world. Do you get the idea! 30 reviews? I’m a squeeing freak, you have no idea how happy you make me! And a special note for someone who I believe is lurking about (at least I hope you still are darling) I do hope you are enjoying and just the thought of you reading makes me a very happy girl!


Chapter 5: A Meeting And Some 'Tea'
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Very pretty chapter image by Hushabye_Mountain! Thanks a bunch Kate :D
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Hermione suffered only from a minor headache for the few days following the “incident.” Though she and Zabini had become the object of much conjecture and discussion. Most of the Gryffindor and Slytherins were in detention for at least a month. Each spectator of the fight had their own interpretation of the events, largely colored by their affiliations. Ginny was, surprisingly, pissed at Harry. She explained, loudly, at lunch the day after that Harry had exhibited a complete lack of control with Parkinson that could only be brought on by unresolved sexual tension. This did not make much sense to Hermione, but Harry’s blush left her considering otherwise. What was most interesting about the whole affair was that everyone seemed to have forgotten that Malfoy and Ron had disappeared before the fight started. Even Harry did not remember the catalyst for the rumble. Ron was completely silent on the subject; Hermione supposed the other students might catch on when they noticed that neither Ron nor Malfoy were serving detention.

The Gryffindors and former DA members had grasped onto Harry’s accusations and were treating Parkinson as if she were going to be the next Queen of Darkness. Parkinson was staying fairly quiet considering the accusations. Though Hermione suspected that something was brewing. She and Zabini had upped their public appearances together, occasionally walking each other to class and sharing a table in the library more frequently.

McGonagall had sent owls to both Malfoy and her requesting their attendance in her office for a meeting. The meeting had been moved once and was scheduled for after dinner this evening. Hermione had no doubts in her mind as to the subject matter of this meeting. She just hoped it would get over with quickly.

Each class seemed rushed; Hermione was not sure if it was just her perspective or if the professors were speeding through the day. Before she knew it dinner was served. Ginny gave Harry a wide berth and shot questioning glances at Hermione throughout the meal. Ron was sullen and quiet. The meal probably progressed slowly for everyone but Hermione. In short order she was trudging up the stairs with Malfoy, who bitched the entire way. Apparently, according to him, he had quite the social calendar and his duties were really starting to compromise his personal life. Hermione studiously ignored him all the way there. It was a long haul but she suspected that had something to do with Malfoy’s constant whining in her ear. By the time they were seated in McGonagall’s office she had the beginnings of a migraine headache.

McGonagall instructed them to sit and wait, she was waiting for two more individuals to arrive. Hermione sincerely hoped that they were not waiting for Zabini or Ron, though surely Ron would have said something at dinner. Wouldn’t they have all walked up together? As she sat speculating Malfoy handed her a cup of tea, she took it without thinking.

“What’s this?” She held the cup out to him.

He jerked his head over to McGonagall who was proffering biscuits. “Oh, thank you.” She passed on the biscuits but Malfoy took a few, claiming that his dessert was hardly satisfactory. Hermione was halfway through her tea when she finally heard approaching voices. Bursting in with a roar of laughter Slughorn navigated his way to a small loveseat, Lupin stood to the Potions professor’s right.

McGonagall served more tea—though Hermione suspected that the adults got a few extra ingredients in theirs—and called everyone to order.

The Headmistress started with Hermione and Malfoy. “I suspect that you both know why you are here and why I have asked the Heads of your Houses to attend this meeting.”

They both nodded, Malfoy looked tempted to say something snide but was distracted by the tin of biscuits McGonagall had left open on her desk. As he helped himself to more McGonagall continued.

“You two are not in trouble per se.” That was never good. “Though I have to say that part of the incentive of having you serve as Head Boy and Girl this year was the fact that you come from rivaling Houses.” Malfoy looked scandalized; surely the thought that his winning personality had not earned him the position was new to him. “I hoped that students—particularly your respective groups of friends—would see you interacting and would follow your lead. Quite clearly this has not happened. In fact, I would venture to say that inter-House relationships are even worse.” She paused her rant, removed her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose. Hermione vacantly wondered if the action was for effect or if McGonagall was truly that stressed.

“Additionally, I understand that the catalyst for this fight was your disappearance Mr. Malfoy.” At least someone remembered. McGonagall turned her sharp gaze on the Head Boy who was currently pilfering biscuits and hiding them in his pockets. He quickly withdrew his hand from his pocket, folded his hands in his lap and offered the Headmistress the most wide-eyed look Hermione had ever witnessed.

“Me?”

“Indeed.” McGonagall’s nostrils flared slightly.

“You see ma’am, I was not there to witness the events, so I could hardly speculate with any authority as to the nature of the altercation.”

McGonagall’s nostrils flared more visibly and Hermione could swear she heard a chuckle emanate from Lupin.

“Miss Granger?”

Hermione locked eyes with McGonagall. “Yes ma’am, he and Ron both disappeared. Then Park…er, Pansy and Harry started in on each other.”

“Thank you.” She looked back to Malfoy. “And where you and Mr. Weasley?”

He did not blush; he did not even have the good grace to appear mildly embarrassed. He just shot her a winning grin. “We were snogging.” Hermione tried to suppress her horror, Ron being gay was one thing, Malfoy being gay was another, them being gay together was just too much.

This did not appear to be answer which the Headmistress was hoping for. “Excuse me?”

He continued to smile. “There is that tapestry of Emeric Switch down the hall from the classroom, you are familiar?" He paused, awaiting a response, when he clearly was not going to get one, he continued. "Well there is a small alcove behind it. We were snogging in there, don’t worry we weren’t shagging or anything.” He stopped and watched McGonagall’s face turn a light shade of puce. “Not yet, anyway.” He said with a wink.

This time Hermione was sure she heard a masked laugh out of Lupin. McGonagall heard it too. “Professor, do you find something amusing?”

Hermione chanced a glance at Lupin who blushing slightly. “I apologize Minerva, please continue.”

McGonagall could not quite look Malfoy in the eye and instead spoke to a spot in the middle of his forehead. “Thank you, Mr. Malfoy. I might remind you that Hogwarts is not the proper place to conduct your sexual liaisons. Additionally, I hope you understand the importance of safe sex, any questions you have please address to Madame Pomfrey.” She rushed through the last bit, stringing her words together at an almost unintelligible pace and continued to shoot warning glances to Lupin.

Draco just grinned and took a sip of his tea.

“Back to the issue at hand.” McGonagall stood suddenly and made her way to the corner cabinet and withdrew a small bottle, she uncapped it and poured almost the entire contents into her tea before taking her seat again. “We are having a problem with inter-House unity, particularly between Gryffindor and Slytherin. I will not have this kind of petty rivalry. The War is over; it is time to come together.”

Hermione was sitting expectantly in her seat when she heard a light humming coming from Malfoy. The melody of “Come Together” by The Beatles was emanating from his lips, he was not even humming, she was singing. McGonagall turned her gaze on him.

“Do you have something to share Mr. Malfoy?” It seemed she was fighting the urge to pull her hair out, slowly and tortuously.

He stopped singing but looked disappointed. “It’s a great song, isn’t it? I must say, the Muggles do have some decent music.”

McGonagall did not say a word. She took a deep drink of her ‘tea’ and turned addressed the entire group. “I have asked you all here today because we need to think of something, some sort of motivation to encourage inter-House unity. I have brought you two…” she gestured to Hermione and then to Malfoy, who still seemed to be mouthing the words of the song, “…not only as Head Boy and Girl but also as representatives of your Houses and of course your Heads of House. Together I hope that we can come up with something.”

Hermione remained silent and counted in her head. She knew it was coming. One, two, three, four…. With a large breath, Slughorn heaved out his response. “What we need is a party.”

She knew it. The man could not think past his mulled mead.

Draco perked up at this. “A costume party…no, a costume ball. Not everyone gets to go to the Leaving Ball, that’s only graduates and their dates. We need one for everyone.” He was excited, rather than sitting back lackadaisically in his chair; he was on the edge of his seat partially turned towards Slughorn. “Everyone really enjoyed the Yule Ball back in Fourth Year; even she got all dressed up.” He gestured to Hermione.

Eyes narrowed, she fixed her gaze on Malfoy. “A costume ball? Why costumes?”

“Why costumes? Are you serious? Come on Granger. If everyone is disguised then people will be forced to interact with people they don’t know.”

Slughorn indicated his agreement by nodding enthusiastically. Lupin looked doubtful.

Hermione looked to the Headmistress who also looked doubtful and addressed her words to Malfoy. “That’s just insane Malfoy. I mean, seriously, you think that people are going to spend one night not focused on House alliances, forced to talk to basically strangers, and what then…realize how much they have in common and throw away lifetimes of prejudices? That’s just stupid.”

“I don’t know that I would have said it that way, but I basically agree.” Lupin piped up. “One night of social interaction is not enough. And I sincerely doubt that students would be unable to discern one another in costumes.”

Slughorn was shaking his head. “Oh, my boy, you don’t know how powerful a little socialization can be.”

Lupin just shook his head.

When no one else spoke the Headmistress finally broke the silence. “That’s all you have? A costume ball? No other ideas? Surely Miss Granger, you have something to share.”

This was not exactly her area. She had her group of friends and her new “boyfriend,” she was not exactly one to know how to get out and meet people, unless it was by Dark Magic Contract. “Perhaps something a bit more school related. Inter-House tutoring, more academic clubs, things that would naturally stem from our education.”

Even Lupin looked disappointed.

Draco laughed. “You mock the idea of a costume ball, yet you want everyone to get together and bond by complete and utter boredom? Great idea. I know, we can get Binns to supplement our History education by having a lecture series. The students can come together in a revolt by trying to find a way to kill the man again. Fabulous Granger, just bloody fabulous.”

“Language, Malfoy!”

McGonagall looked thoroughly disturbed as she drained her cup.

Malfoy, surprisingly, actually appeared to be wracking his brain for ideas. Meanwhile Hermione sat back in her chair, defeated. There was no way to make people forget their allegiances.

Lupin was silent, perhaps thinking or perhaps lulled into semi-sleep by his spiked tea. Slughorn was also concentrating heavily; he had taken to pacing about the oval shaped room.

Malfoy broke the silence again. “I know. We need something longer term, with more forced interaction. Don’t you Muggles…” He was looking at Hermione now. “Have some sort of Christmas gift exchange?”

“Secret Santa?” Hermione was repulsed by the idea. What a pain in the arse.

“Yes! That.”

McGonagall broke in. “I’m familiar with the concept Mr. Malfoy, and I’m going to quash that idea before there is any further discussion. It would be a logistics nightmare.”

Now Malfoy was hunched in his seat, defeat etched across his forehead.

Something about the quietude brought Lupin to life. “How about this. I think Miss Granger and Mr. Malfoy made some fine points. No one thing is going to appeal to everyone, we need multiple activities that are both social and academic, perhaps some mandatory, some not. Also, we need the students’ input. Why not have the prefects come up with a list of say…ten things, five purely social, five more academic and have the participating student body vote on them.”

McGonagall looked as though she could have kissed him. “What a fine idea Remus.”

Malfoy looked placated, which Hermione guessed was part of Lupin’s motivation. Slughorn appeared pleased and she had to admit, it was better than anything they had come up with as yet.

They made plans to have a prefects meeting the following week and the meeting broke up. As Hermione made her way out she heard McGonagall reiterating her advice to Malfoy and then having a few words with Lupin, which Hermione could swear included something about Sirius and a broom closet. Slughorn was ambling out with Hermione right behind him when McGonagall called her back.

Gods she hoped she wasn’t supposed to relay some message to Ron about the importance of safe sex.

“Miss Granger, I could not help but notice that you filed your acceptance to Trinity.” Oh that. She had finally filed it a few days after they signed the contract.

“Yes, I did.”

“I also saw that you filed a request for a work study position.”

Hermione nodded.

“I just wanted to say that I am proud of you Miss Granger. I know it will be difficult financially for you, but it will be well worth it in the end. Your dedication and hard work is admirable, I must say I’m very impressed by you.”

Oh Gods. She managed to mutter a humble thank you.

“Also…”

No. No more.

“I heard that it was Mr. Zabini who cared for you after your injury.”

“Yes ma’am.” Where was she going with this?

“I have seen you two in the hallways a bit myself.”

Please no safe sex talk. Please dear Merlin.

“He seems like an intelligent young man and above such petty fighting that we discussed today.”

She was not exactly making statements, but she also was not exactly asking questions.

“Yes.”

“He has quite a reputation…”

This conversation would be easier with her mother, nay, her grandmother. She was going to die of embarrassment.

“…for his stances on blood-status.”

Oh, that reputation.

“I am aware of it ma’am.”

“I’m glad to see you not judging a book by its cover, Miss Granger. The students who grace these halls have many secrets and will often surprise you.”

What? “Yes.”

“One more thing. Please talk to Poppy if there is anything you…require.”

There it was. “Thank you. I can assure you that won’t be necessary.” This was the most embarrassing conversation ever.

“You never know Miss Granger.”

Hermione virtually ran back to Gryffindor Tower.

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The next morning Hermione awoke with the remains of a headache and vaguely wondered if McGonagall had spiked her tea as well. McGonagall. Tea. That damned meeting. Malfoy and Ron snogging? Lupin and Sirius in a broom closet? She had far too many visuals to accompany that bit of conversation. Glancing at her wall calendar she breathed a sigh of relief realizing it was Saturday. She made her way to the Prefect’s bathroom and decided to grab a quick bite to eat from the kitchens when she finished getting ready. There was a lot to do, though the prefects would come up with ideas for the Inter-house unity promotion she had to do some basic work first. Not to mention she had quite a bit of work to do on her Advanced Transfiguration Seminar.

As she combed out her hair in the steamy mirror she considered Zabini’s original request that she pay a bit more attention to her appearance. She was not an unattractive girl, perhaps a bit plain, but not unattractive. Her skin was clear, her lips pink, and her cheeks fairly rosy. She hardly wore make-up, she did more often when she was back home, when she went out with her parents or her cousin. But this was school. Who did she need to dress up for? Standing there silently she did not notice when Ginny walked in.

“What are you staring at?” Ginny walked behind her and gazed into the mirror, apparently looking for whatever Hermione was staring at.

“Nothing.” Hermione caught herself staring at Ginny in the mirror. There was no doubt that the redhead was absolutely gorgeous. She had transcended cute somewhere between Fourth and Fifth year. Her long flaming hair, a spattering of freckles, full lips and wide green eyes, what guy could resist that?

“Well, now you’re staring at me. What’s up?”

They were watching each other through the mirror. Vibrant green eyes locked on Hermione’s hazel ones.

“It’s nothing Ginny. Really.”

Ginny took a seat on a nearby tile bench and gestured for Hermione to take a seat. With a sigh Hermione took a seat on the bench, she put her back up against the wall and stretched her legs out, Ginny mimicked her pose and for a few moments they sat there quietly saying nothing.

“I’ll start with the easy question. Why were you staring in the mirror like some Wicked Witch from faery tales?”

Hermione felt a grin crack across her face. “So I looked like a Wicked Witch?”

Ginny giggled lightly. “You know what I mean.”

Hermione sighed again. “It’s stupid.”

Instead of responding Ginny took a swipe at Hermione’s foot with her own and gave her that ‘spare me’ look of hers.

“Fine. Do you think I should spend more time on my appearance?”

With a roll of her eyes and a swift movement Ginny had kicked her again. “That is stupid.”

“I told you.”

“It’s stupid because only you can answer that question Hermione.”

“What do you mean?”

Ginny collected her hair and pulled it over her shoulder examining the ends while she put her words together. “What I mean is, that is a question for only you, whether or not you are happy with your appearance. Who is anyone else to say?”

“But if you were me…” Hermione was not sure why she was pushing so hard.

With a growl of frustration Ginny abandoned her hair. “Stop pushing me Hermione, I think what you want is for me to tell you that you should, so that you can feel like you have a reason to do a few a charms in the morning. I’m not going to do that though, you are beautiful, maybe some people miss it when they see you, but here’s a clue, no matter who you are, where you are, there will be people who find you attractive just as you are and others who want more and other people who will never be attracted to you.”

When had Ginny gotten so smart? “Yeah.”

“Yeah what?” She was a pushy broad that Ginny Weasley.

“Yeah maybe I wanted you to tell me what to do.”

“That’s stupid. Who am I to tell you how to do your make-up, wear your hair or pick out your clothes?”

“You’re my friend.”

“So that makes me your fashion coordinator?”

“No. I just wanted advice.”

“No. You wanted me to tell you what to do.”

There was something to be said for being as plain-spoken as Ginny. “I suppose.”

“And it all comes back to Zabini doesn’t it?”

That came out of nowhere. “No. Why?”

“Don’t lie to me. It does because you didn’t start acting weird until you started hanging out with him more.”

She could not dispute that. “Maybe it does. I guess I want people to notice me for something other than my intelligence, or my friendship with Harry.”

Instantly Ginny’s face changed. All hard edges were gone, she cocked her head to the side. She pulled herself up from her position and scooted near Hermione. “Now that I understand. But Hermione, don’t change for Blaise Zabini. If that is all that matters to him…how tight your jeans are, whether or not you do your make-up, why would you want to be around that? If he doesn’t see how much you have to offer on the inside and out then he’s not worth it.”

Ginny was right, as she so often was. Besides Hermione was under no obligation to change herself for Zabini and she’d never really cared before. It was just a pretend relationship. “You’re right.”

“I know.” Ginny grinned. “On a related note, I think your new friendship with that ass has earned you some attention.”

Hermione perked up. “Really?”

“I heard Zacharias Smith asking around the other day to find out if you and Zabini were just friends or if you two were actually dating.”

“Really?” Smith was no one that Hermione would ever consider dating, but it was nice to know that word was getting out.

“Yup.” Ginny stopped and considered her for a moment. “And now you can tell me Hermione. What is the answer to that question?”








A/N: I’m evil. I know. I’m sorry. :evil cackle: There is an upside though, I should have Chapter 6 up soon since I had to write half of it to get this up! You guys are fabulous, ya’ll make my day every day! You're reviews are fabulous and I really appreciate you taking the time to say something back to me about how you feel, what you thought, and all that stuff!


Chapter 6: Snogging, Nearly
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A/N: This chapter is for two very special women…To Sarah, who dances with me and I adore with all my heart! And for my darling Bella, who I love and who loves some UST…I do hope you enjoy!




Hermione stared wordlessly at Ginny. What was the proper answer? “Er.” Probably not that. “We’re not dating; we’ve just become friends I suppose.”
 
“How?” Ginny was, if nothing else, consistently blunt.

“Well, we’ve known each other for a while and starting chatting a bit last year in Slughorn’s parties. This year we have more classes together, including Fiorelli’s seminar, so you know, we talk more.”

Ginny said nothing just made a noise from the back of her throat.

“It’s just normal interaction Gin.”

With a shake of her head Ginny brushed off the comment. “No. It’s not. You like him don’t you?”

It was now or never. “I suppose I do.” For some reason, that statement did not feel quite like the lie that it should have.

“I don’t get it.”

Hermione surprised herself by being honest. “Neither do I really.” She leaned back against the tile and fiddled with her sweater. “Obviously he’s handsome…” Ginny rolled her eyes, “…but there is more. There is something about him, something under the surface. I don’t know, I find him intriguing.”

“Something really deep under the surface.”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so.” Thoughts were rushing into Hermione’s head, she had let her mind wander this way before, but never before had she really dedicated any time to truly thinking about it, much less voicing her thoughts. “I think it’s not so deep under the surface, I just don’t think anyone looks.”

Ginny sat forward and rested her elbows on her knees. “Maybe. Don’t get me wrong, I trust you and I have faith in you, I don’t think you would do anything incredibly stupid. I’m just worried; I don’t want you to get hurt by some bloke who you get attached to because he’s handsome and ‘intriguing.’”

“I know, Gin. Just give him a chance. Give me a chance.”

Ginny patted her on the knee. “I will keep as open a mind as I can, just promise me that you will be careful.”

Hermione nodded. Ginny left to shower while Hermione checked her reflection a final time. Ginny was right again, her appearance was entirely her own call. In the end she knew she was happy with who she was, at least she always had been. Maybe these thoughts were an unintended fallout from the War being over, she’d always had such a purpose before it was hardly necessary to concern herself with her appearance, she really did have bigger things to worry about a year ago. She swallowed deeply and withdrew her wand. With a light flick she spoke the incantation softly. “Mitisa Decoro.”

She had closed her eyes and for a moment stared into the redness of her eyelids before cautiously opening one eye and then the other. For a minute she thought that nothing had changed, but upon further inspection she noticed her eyelashes were just a bit darker, a tad longer, her eyes stood out more, their imperceptible hue more obvious. Her cheekbones stood out, her lips gleamed under the lights. The look reminded her of what she looked like immediately following a long, hot shower, with a light flush and highlighted features. With a smile she realized how much she looked like herself and whispered a second incantation before she set out for some breakfast.

After swiping a few croissants from the kitchens, greeting Dobby and checking on Winky, Hermione moved through the halls with a light step. She was not sure what made her so relieved, perhaps it was the talk with Ginny, or maybe it was realizing that a simple make-up charm hardly changed her looks at all. Whatever it was, she was happy and looking forward to a few hours of work. Gone were her reservations about the contract, Ron, Draco, even the upcoming Prefects meeting, all she really wanted to do was study.

Her bag was loaded with multiple tomes and weighted her down on one side. She paused to readjust her bag when she heard voices coming from an empty classroom, she was about to start walking again when she heard her name.

“Hermione Granger? I just don’t get it.” The voice was familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it.

“I know.” Another voice hissed in response.

“And Blaise Zabini?”

“Yes.” The second voice was frustrated, the first incredulous.

“But she’s so…”

“Exactly.” The second voice was familiar as well but spoke so little that it was impossible to discern the speaker.

She had heard enough, repositioning her bag she started off down the hallway when the first voice echoed clearly. “I personally think it’s a farce, who would want her?”

That was it. Hermione turned back towards the voices when an arm shot out from a dark corner she had not previously noticed and grabbed her. With a light shriek she looked up into the shadows. It was Zabini. He pulled her out into the light and pushed her up against the stone wall.

“Shhh…” He whispered in her ear, as he had done before. She felt her pulse quicken, one of his hands was gripping her pelvis, thumb perfectly planted on the jutting bone. The other he placed on the wall next to her head. “They don’t believe us Granger.” His lips were not even an inch from her ear, his cheek nearly touching hers. A scant bit of space separated their bodies. “Looks like we need to up the ante.”

Hermione ignored his words, instead remained focused on seeking out the source of the voices. She was able to peek out under his raised arm to see Hannah Abbott and Parvati Patil walk out of the empty classroom. Zabini pushed himself against her. “Moan.” He whispered in her ear.

“No.” She hissed back.

“Now.” His tongue just barely brushed her earlobe, sending shivers down her spine.

She managed a breathy “no.”

He trapped her earlobe between his teeth. “You’re not cooperating.” With those words he abandoned her ear and moved lower to the sensitive skin of her neck. He grazed his too-white teeth over the soft tissue, she felt his tongue dart out and trace a path near her jugular vein. Hermione’s heart pounded against his chest. His thumb began to move against her pelvic bone mimicking the rhythm he set while nipping and sucking at her neck. Her eyes were closed in unadulterated pleasure; she could not see Hannah and Parvati turn as they sensed a presence behind them. She would not witness the initial shock on their faces as they watched Blaise Zabini openly grope the Head Girl in a nearly abandoned corridor. There was no way to hear their sharp intakes of breath because just as the two girls gasped, Zabini bit down on the flesh she had unwittingly bared to his teeth, eliciting a groan of pure desire. With that the girls scurried through the hall and down the nearby staircase, surely to spread the word.

She did manage to hear their footfalls fading away as Zabini continued his work on her soft skin. A pooling heat filled her, she felt herself pressed against him, moving against him, head turned completely to the side allowing him unfettered access to her neck…to her collarbone where his full lips were, where that tongue was…licking, biting, lingering. Surely he knew they were gone. She knew. Still he did not stop. She could feel him. All of him. Against her. Then he stopped. And she ached.

“They’re gone.” He pulled back from her and she immediately felt a void.

Between abbreviated pants she allowed herself to scan the hall before looking at him. His blue-black eyes were glassy, his cheeks flushed. He ran his long fingers through his already tousled hair. “I think it worked.”

Hermione just nodded her response.

He managed a version of his cocky grin. “I told you to moan Granger.”

She felt something new welling in her belly. Rage. Thick, hot rage. “Damn it Zabini, you didn’t have to snog me in the hall.”

“We didn’t snog Granger.”

“You couldn’t have just hugged me? Or held my hand? Or faked it? Or stayed hidden in your shadowy corner?” She narrowed her eyes. “What were you doing there anyway?”

“Firstly Granger. Don’t lecture me on what I should have done. We needed to prove a point; I sure as hell didn’t see you come up with anything better. You were about to stomp in there and tell them off. Second, I was listening. Just the same as you. Except I wasn’t about to make an ass out of myself to the biggest gossips in the school.”

“Instead you felt me up!”

He shook his head; a wavy lock fell down past his brow. With another quick shake it was back in place. “I didn’t feel you up Granger. Shit, don’t you know what the difference is?”

She felt the flush before he saw it. “Of course I know. I’m just saying, instead you did whatever it was you did.”

“Yes. And you should be thanking me. It worked. I guarantee for the remainder of the weekend all anyone will be talking about is the scene we made in the hall. Perhaps you find my methods gratuitous, but I assure you they are effective.”

It was not just the way he said but they way he looked her up and down while he said it that sent tremors through her body. Tremors that she did not particularly want. “Whatever.”

He didn’t say a word. Instead he ran his hand through his hair again. She was beginning to wonder if this gesture wasn’t just to keep his hair perfectly mussed or if it might actually be an underlying sign of emotion. With a graceful move he had his wand out and pointed at her neck.

“What in the bloody hell are you doing Zabini?” She pushed the wand down to his side.

“I was going to heal you Granger. But if you’d rather look like a two-pence hooker then that’s fine by me. At least people will know I’m getting something.”

“I’ll do it myself, thank you very much.” As she went for her own wand she realized what was incongruous about his last statement. “Didn’t you mean two-knut?”

“Excuse me?”

“You said two-pence.”

“I’m not an idiot Granger. I’m well aware of Muggle sayings.”

“Enough to use them colloquially?”

He scowled at her. “Who actually uses the term ‘colloquially’?”

“I do. And don’t avoid the question.”

“Fine. Yes. How is that?”

She wanted to kick him. Slap him. Anything. “Whatever.”

“Very eloquent.”

They might have gone on like this for the remainder of the day. But a House Elf interrupted their bickering. “Miss Hermione Granger? Mister Blaise Zabini?”

Both turned abruptly to the elf, Blaise sneered and Hermione just stared questioningly. The elf was not in the traditional Hogwarts uniform; in fact its uniform was emblazoned with three letters. “M.O.M”

The elf unrolled a scroll of parchment. “You are heretofore notified that you are to serve as witnesses before the Wizengamot in the matter of Miss Pansy Parkinson versus Mister Harry Potter, et. al.” The elf handed each of them a scroll and disappeared before either could ask questions.

Each of them wordlessly opened the summons. It seemed to be a traditional court summons, the date set in late November for a civil case of slander. Parkinson was taking Harry’s accusations seriously, no wonder she had been so quiet. The document went on to name multiple other parties to the lawsuit; it included a number of Gryffindors whom Hermione knew had latched onto Harry’s initial declaration.

Blaise let out a low whistle. “This is bad.”

Hermione nodded her agreement. “Very bad.”

With their fight interrupted and largely forgotten, the two continued on to the library discussing their role as witnesses and whether or not Pansy would actually go through with the suit.

---------------

Draco was heckling the prefects. He was in a fine mood harassing and haranguing the prefects for their ideas. Hermione sat back and watched as the prefects became increasingly animated trying to rile the Head Boy, the ideas were growing in absurdity. So far she had written exactly three ideas on the board behind her. One was Ron’s. He had suggested early in the meeting that students be able to sit at different tables for breakfast and lunch. It was an astoundingly simple idea but quite good. The other two came from Padma. She thought that a series of ‘socials’ on Friday nights or once a month might be helpful. Surprisingly her other idea, which Hermione immediately seconded, was tutoring based only on academic skill rather than House affiliation.

A sixth-year Hufflepuff, who Hermione could not for the life of her remember the name of, called out the most preposterous idea yet. “Why don’t we just make people trade houses sometimes?”

Ginny shot him a withering glance. “You dolt. That’s not the point of this. We’re trying to keep the Houses and get people to socialize.” She withheld the ‘duh,’ but Hermione knew it was more than implied. Ginny looked around to the group. “Come on people. What would you like to do, that’s all they are asking.”

Malcom Baddock, a fifth-year Slytherin piped up from the back of the room. “Halloween is just around the corner, we should have a costume party.”

Hermione immediately whirled on Malfoy. “You told him to say that!”

Malfoy just grinned. “No, for your information I did not.”

Ernie Macmillan seconded the idea. “I think a costume party is a really good idea. It could be the whole school at first but after dinner we could send the younger kids to bed.”

Hermione sighed audibly. “You all just want excuses to have parties and dances.”

The entire room looked shocked when Parkinson finally spoke up. “Well, yeah. What did you expect Granger?”

“Fine.” She added it to the list, soon after she added another Yule Ball and a New Year’s party. This was not what she had in mind. At all.

The group was chatting about other excuses for parties when Ginny broke in. “I have an idea.”

There was something about the way Ginny spoke, whether it was her words or her intonation Hermione could not be sure, but everyone quieted down and looked at the redhead. She rose as she spoke. “Quite a few of us have been summoned to court in the coming months whether as a named party or as witnesses.” Her eyes would not leave Parkinson, who was sitting silently in the corner with Malcom. “I think we should consider having a student tribunal for conflicts which take place in the school.”

Hermione stared at her agog. Talk about a lot of work. She was about to break in when Ginny continued. “Each House can elect a person or two to sit as judges and the jury can be comprised students. The judges can rotate and the jury can be made up of the other students, with an overseeing faculty member.”

Parkinson stood up. “That hardly seems fair Weasley. You know everyone will just vote against the Slytherins.”

“Well maybe it if you didn’t just start suing people because they say something you don’t like!”

“It’s not that I didn’t like it you stupid twat. It’s not true. Did you not read your summons? Slander is for when people spread lies.”

“How do we know it’s a lie Parkinson?”

The brunette just glared at Ginny. “You know it is. I didn’t fight against you this summer. None of us did.” She gestured to the corner of Slytherins.

“Not openly.” Ginny held her ground, her voice menacing in its calmness. “I personally look forward to you proving that you are not a Death Eater.” With a cruel smile she continued. “It’s awful hard to prove a negative, isn’t it?”

Hermione was glued to her seat watching the exchange. She knew she should do something, say something, but she was silent. It had not elevated yet.

“What are you so mad about Weasley, I’m not suing you. Just your precious Potter and some of his lackeys. You’re jealous aren’t you?”

“Jealous because you’re suing my ex-boyfriend?” A collective gasp could be heard. Everyone knew Ginny and Harry were fighting, but no one had heard something so damning as ‘ex.’

“Jealous because you’re not enough for him.”

“Please, Parkinson. Spare me. If you want him, you run along and see how that works for you.”

Ron was staring open mouthed at his sister. Apparently he didn’t know of the break-up either.

“Maybe I will.”

“Well, you’ve found a simply marvelous way to get his attention. I always find that when I want a man to notice me it’s best to haul them into court. Great job.” Ginny was apparently done because she sat back down.

Parkinson continued glaring but finally sat. As soon as her bum hit the floor Ginny was speaking again. “I would like to move for the introduction of a student run tribunal. And just so no one feels persecuted, the jury must consist of an equal number of students from each House.”

Malfoy, who had been watching the debate while shooting surreptitious glances at Ron, finally acknowledged the request. “I like it Weasley.”

Parkinson looked horror-struck. “You only like it because you’re sha…” Before she could finish her sentence someone had struck her with a well placed and timed silencing spell. Hermione’s eyes immediately cut to Ron who was sitting back placidly. Who had hexed her? Then Hermione saw it. Ernie had shoved his wand in his back pocket but had a satisfied grin on his face. Hermione removed the spell while Pansy glared around the room.

Malfoy stood at the head of the room. “I like Weasley’s idea. And Pansy, I like it because it’s a good idea.” With a jerk of his wand the idea was added to the growing list on the board. “And no more allegations, you of all people know of the danger of making false accusations.”

She nodded and leaned back against the wall as she chewed her lower lip.

Hermione’s head was spinning, she glanced at the list on the board, they would have enough ideas to submit to the student body. Thankfully, she and Malfoy could end this meeting soon before a real fight broke out.

A few more suggestions came from the weary group of prefects but for the most part all of the ingenuity had been sucked out of the air by the fight. Malfoy dismissed everyone and started to pack his things. Ron lagged behind everyone while Ginny walked up to Hermione and Malfoy.

Her jaw was set as she approached Malfoy. “Malfoy. Thank you for supporting my idea.”

Hermione slowed her pace at transferring the list of ideas to another sheet of paper and raised her eyes to the pair.

Malfoy looked up at her through his silvery hair. “It was a good idea Weasley. I’m going to vote for it.” Hermione had never heard him sound so genuine.

Ginny cocked her head to the side, her eyes moving between Ron and Malfoy. “And I also know you’re shagging my brother.” Hermione dropped all pretense that she was working and stared openly at the pair.

A grin spread across Malfoy’s lips. “We’re not shagging.”

“Whatever. All I want you to know is that if you hurt him, I will kill you. Slowly and painfully.”

Ron was watching her in horror.

Malfoy’s grin grew exponentially. “He really likes me doesn’t he?”

Ron blushed.

Ginny nodded. “Yes he does.”

Ron’s jaw dropped.

“I thought so.”

“You thought correctly. I don’t mind if you two have a relationship. But know that I will tear you apart, if you fuck him up. You will be begging to die long before I let you.”

Ron stared aghast at the pair and finally spoke. “I’m right here!”

Neither looked at him. Malfoy leaned forward close to Ginny. “I’ll tell you a secret. I like your brother quite a bit myself.”

Ron’s flush covered his entire face.

It was Ginny’s turn to grin. “I know that. I just wanted to hear you say it.” With a wave she was out the door.

Ron just looked at Hermione helplessly. She shrugged for want of the proper words.

Malfoy finished loading his bag and came around the table at the front of the room. He paused in front of Hermione. “Do you want me to draw up the ballots tonight?” She just nodded, still stunned by the confrontation. “See you tomorrow Granger.”

He stopped again in front of Ron. Hermione was surprised to see that Malfoy was just a hair taller than Ron. Ron just stared open mouthed at the blond who took the opportunity to kiss him fully. Hermione could not stop herself from watching the intimate moment. Ron wrapped a long arm around Malfoy who had a pale hand buried in Ron’s masses of auburn hair. They just kept snogging, oblivious to the outside world, to her. Malfoy gripped Ron’s chin and pulled back from their kiss. “That sister of yours isn’t so bad.” Ron just grinned and they walked off together. Hermione sat alone staring vacantly at the door.

Harry’s presence pulled her from her reverie. “Hey. You okay?”

Hermione just looked at him. “It was an odd meeting.”

“Yeah. I just saw Ron with Malfoy.”

“Oh.”

“Like, with Malfoy.”

“Oh.”

“I take it this is not a surprise for you?” Harry came around the tables and took a seat next to her.

“No. I’m sorry Harry. I knew, but I couldn’t tell you.”

Harry just nodded.

“It was his place to tell you that he’s gay.”

Harry looked surprised. “I knew that.”

“Really?” It was Hermione’s turn to be surprised.

“Well yeah.”

“Oh.”

Harry attempted a smile. “I was just surprised by his choice…”

“Wait. Are you…, er, I mean, you too?”

Harry laughed, that rich almost sensual laugh that used to fill her so and still made her heart twinge. “Merlin no. I just didn’t think he’d hook up with Malfoy. I mean, it’s Malfoy.”

Hermione breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness.”

“Thought we were all going gay on you?”

She just smiled in return.

“No, you don’t need to worry about me.” His emerald eyes were sparkling in the candlelight. It was only then that she realized how close he was sitting to her. Not that it was strange for him to be in such close proximity, but she was admittedly a bit raw at the moment. A bit vulnerable to lofty notions.

“Good.”

Harry reached over and took her hand. “Look Hermione, about that fight with Parkinson. I’m sorry. I should have been the one to take care of you. I was just so…”

Hermione held up a hand to stop him. “Don’t worry about it. It happens. I was fine.”

“I know, but I feel bad.” He gave her hand a squeeze before letting go. “So, what’s this with Zabini? I heard you two were nearly shagging in a corridor by the library.”

“Nearly shagging?”

He nodded. “Yeah, but that did come from Lavender.”

“We definitely were not nearly shagging. Not even close.”

Harry cocked an eyebrow. “But you were together?”

“Yeah.”

He huffed a bit through his nose. “I guess you heard about me and Ginny?”

“Uh-huh.” Did he sound disappointed when she admitted she was with Blaise? Or was that just her imagination? “What happened?”

“She thinks I’ve got it for Parkinson.”

“Do you?”

He thought about it for a moment. “I find her attractive yeah, and she’s interesting, but I don’t really know her.”

She felt her heart fall just a bit. “And now she’s suing you.”

“Yeah. I’m not too worried though. She’s just trying to prove a point.”

Hermione studied him carefully. “Do you really think she’s a Death Eater?”

Harry shook his head. “No. Not really, not now. I think she’s prejudiced and angry but I don’t think she’s like them.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

Harry looked her over. “You sure, you’re alright?”

“Mmm-hmm. Just tired”

He looked into her eyes. “I don’t believe you, but let’s go ahead and get out of here; I’ll walk you back to the Tower.” As she stood he linked his arm through hers and hefted his bag on his other shoulder. They walked silently; Hermione took advantage of the silence to try to discern exactly what was going on in her head. She had always loved Harry, though she liked to think that those feelings were wholly platonic now. And what was going on with Blaise? Zabini. Since when could evoke that sort of feeling in her? The logical side of her brain told her that it had a lot to do with whatever it was he was doing to her neck. It had been a rough day; it was probably just that she was on edge.

“Hermione?”

She looked to her friend. “Yeah?”

“I asked if you came up with any good ideas at the meeting?”

“Oh. Yeah, a few I think. You’ll see them in a few days when we post them.” She was not normally so dismissive of Harry’s questions but there was something about his expectant look, his wide eyes, his glasses that were slightly askew, something about that way he kept licking his lips that grated on her nerves.

“That’s good.”

“Uh-huh.”

He pulled her a bit closer as they walked. “Hermione?”

“Yeah?” She didn’t need whatever this was right now.

“Be careful, alright.”

“What?”

“With Zabini. Just be careful.”

“Alright.”




A/N cont.: You may notice that the chapters are getting longer…I’ve noticed, I don’t know why but they are. Thank you so much for all your kind words. Oh, and I wanted to clarify, I mean no offense to costume ball stories in my last chapter (I personally love them) but I thought Hermione would find them trite. For those of you gave suggestions, thank you so much!


Chapter 7: A Snog And Some Tears
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Hermione knew that she should not have left the duty of posting ballots to Malfoy, particularly when he had gone off with Ron. It had been nearly two weeks since that meeting and McGonagall was demanding that the ballots be distributed at breakfast. It was also only a week and half away from Halloween. As one of the possible event listed on the ballots revolved around the holiday, Hermione was doing her best to get everything together. She had finally convinced Blaise to steal the ballots from Malfoy so she could make copies. He was surprisingly amenable to the idea and produced them the next day. There had been no repeats of his hallway behavior as yet, it was probably not necessary. Parvati and Hannah had done their job, everyone in school was well aware of their ‘relationship.’ Everything seemed to be going fairly well, she had managed to quell the uprising of emotions she had felt that evening with Harry, though he did seem to be giving her more lingering glances. Surely this was her imagination.

So now it was six in the morning and she had finally written up a final copy of the ballots, one for each student, she had spelled them to connect with a final tally sheet and was ready to bring them down to the Great Hall. As she gathered her things for the day she made her way quietly through the Common Room. It was completely vacant, all of the students were still trying to squeeze out a few extra hours of sleep. As she crossed an old oriental rug she ran into something solid.

“Oy. Hermione.” It was Ron’s voice, but she could not see him.

“Ron?”

He appeared out of nowhere clinging Harry’s Invisibility Cloak. “I’m sorry. Are you okay?”

She brushed herself off. “I’m fine. What are you doing sneaking out of the Common Room at six in the morning?” As she asked the question she looked him over and realized that he was in the same clothes he had been wearing the day before.

“I wasn’t sneaking out.”

“You were sneaking in.”

He nodded his affirmation.

“I assume you’re coming from the dungeons?”

“Yeah, I fell asleep at Draco’s last night.”

She just shook her head. “Harry let you borrow his cloak to go rendezvous with Malfoy?”

“Actually, he did. He’s been pretty cool about it. Especially after I told him that I prefer blonds.”

Hermione grinned. “So, you and Malfoy?”

“Weird, huh?”

“A little bit.” She admitted.

“No weirder than you and Zabini, I suppose.”

“Are you going to tell me to be careful too?”

He studied her for a moment. “Should I?”

She felt herself smile. “I don’t think it’s necessary.”

“Good.” He let out an impressive yawn. “Now I think I’m going to try to get a bit more sleep.”

“I’ll see you at breakfast.”

He gave her another look before he headed to the boys room. “Hey, are we voting today?”

She nodded.

“Cool.” He was nearly to the stairs when he turned back. “Hey Hermione.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Be careful okay.” A wry grin revealed his dimples.

“Sure thing.”

With that she trekked down to the nearly abandoned Great Hall. A few House Elves were scurrying about getting things prepared for breakfast. She noted a few Ravenclaws seated towards the end of a table studying. Even she did not study this early…well, not usually. The other tables were completely vacant, except for one singular dark figure at the Slytherin table. He was in his school uniform, which somehow looked entirely different on him than everyone else. Even Malfoy’s uniform did not manage to took as tailored as Zabini’s. Though, his uniform was the only thing that looked tailored this particular morning. She made her way over to him and noted his bloodshot eyes, mussed hair dangling down in his eyes, and overall poor appearance.

“Zabini? What’s wrong with you?”

He raised his head. “Bad. Bad. Things.”

She took a seat across from him. “What happened?” It was surprising to her that the concern in her voice was real.

“All night long.”

“What, all night long?”

Them.” He was pouting. His full lower lip sticking out slightly, his red-veined eyes wide.

“Oh. Them.”

Blaise nodded solemnly. “I’m so tired.” He was whining now. She suspected that he was spending far too much time with Malfoy, in all the years she’d known him he’d never once whined. And as far as she knew he found it to be reprehensible behavior.

Hermione could not help it, a light burst of laughter escaped her lips.

He shot her a glare and quickly resumed his prior pouting. “You weren’t there, it’s not funny.”

“You’re whining and pouting like a little boy who wants candy Blaise, you’re right it isn’t funny, it’s hilarious.” She realized about when she hit the word ‘funny’ what she had said. Her words, or word, was not lost on him. A devilish grin immediately crossed his lips, his eyes narrowed in brief appraisal.

“Blaise, is it?”

She mimicked his look. “Don’t get all excited. I just thought it was about time to try it out, since half the school would swear that they saw us snogging in the halls.” Somehow she kept her voice even while her heart was racing. What she said was true, it would be hard to sell their relationship if they called each other by surname, but she had always assumed they would talk about it first.

“Fair point.” His expression belied his words, he knew she slipped. “Hermione.”

Hermione Granger was not a girl that was easily swayed, she was also a girl who for most of her life had hated her name. Would it have been so hard for her parents to give a nice, normal, simple name, ratherthan an homage toShakespeare? But then, she had never heard her name spoken by Blaise Zabini, who at the moment had a half-shagged look about him. She tried to compose herself and banish the weak-kneed feeling that had just enveloped her. “Why don’t you go on to bed? I saw Ron, he’s back in the Tower.”

Blaise offered a sly grin. “Care to join me?”

“Ugh. Please. No.”

He just smiled like some incredibly gorgeous personification of the Cheshire Cat. “I heard a ‘please’ and a ‘no.’ Elucidate further, if you will?”

“No.”

“No to the latter?”

“No to the former.”

“That was fast.” The incorrigible git had the gall to wink at her with his bed-head and all together far-too-primal-for-six-in-the-morning appearance.

She tried to convey her disgust, but judging by his amused expression the disgust might not have come across so well.

“So what’s the Head Girl doing down here at the crack of dawn? Rumor has it that you sit in the Gryffindor Common Room and knit hats for the House Elves from five to seven.”

She had not heard that one before. “Really?”

He just nodded.

“Hmm…I usually do that at night.”

He was considering her, looking for the joke, and failing to find it continued with a sigh. “Okay then…what are you doing?”

Hermione waved her stack of ballots. “We vote today.”

“Vote?” The confusion in his eyes was genuine.

“Malfoy didn’t tell you?”

He shook his head.

Not that Malfoy not sharing was all that surprising. “Parkinson didn’t say anything?”

“Nope.”

“Oh. Well, after the, er…debacle…” She paused to see if he was following. He was. Intently. “McGonagall wanted everyone to come up with some activities or ideas that would help promote Inter-House unity.”

He exhaled. “That sounds exceedingly lame.”

She could not really argue with that.

“Let’s see one.” His fine, piano player’s fingers extended outwards.

Hermione hugged them to her chest anticipating an argument. “I’m just distributing them now. No one is really supposed to see them yet.”

Blaise held his hands up in surrender. “Alright then.”

She scowled at him. “Alright?”

“Mm-hmmm” He did not even open his mouth, from what she could see. She could just hear the delicious sound escape from his full lips. Where were the tantrums, the glares, the ‘I want my way and I want it now’ childish conduct.

“Oh.”

“Hey, Hermione.” She melted. Just a little.

“Yes?” This was it, she knew it was coming.

“How would one get a cup of coffee this early in the morning?” He looked forlornly at the empty space before him on the large slab table.

“You don’t know?”

“Why do you think I’m asking?” He was so frustrating, did he have to answer questions with more questions?

“I just assumed…”

“Nah. I’ve never been up here this early before.”

“Oh. Er, ask one of the House Elves?” She had no idea, she’d been getting her coffee directly from Dobby for years.

“So says the champion of House Elf rights and founder of S.P.E.W?”

Hermione was torn between the surprise at Blaise remembering that she founded S.P.E.W and her surprise that he actually called it by it’s proper name rather than saying ‘spew’ like everyone else. “You remembered….”

He cut her off. “Everyone does.”

“Oh.” It was a rare occasion for Hermione not to be able to come up with something to say, but Blaise had that effect on her.

“Well. I’m going to set these out.”

“Mm-hmmm”

She had really thought that he would fight to see them. With an audible sigh she turned her back and made her way to the Gryffindor table. She’d gotten about six laid out perfectly when Blaise’s baritone voice rang out.

“Honey? Why don’t you just use magic?”

Did he just say—nay, yell—‘honey?’ “What?”

She turned to scan the Slytherin table, but could not find him. Spinning around again to survey the Hall she still did not see him. She was about to turn around again when she felt his arms. Strong, smooth, toffee hued arms wrapped around her waist. He clasped his hands just below her naval. She felt him step forward. Felt taut thighs against her hamstrings, her bum. His chest against her back, by leaning her head back ever so slightly she could easily rest against him. He unclasped his hands and encircled her waist completely.

Never had she felt so small, so possessed, never did she think she’d like the feeling. An internal battled waged in her mind. She actually liked it—being completely enveloped by him. But it was him.

There were his lips again, just against her ear. “Relax dear.”

Something molten erupted in her gut, tingles ran through her body. Against her better judgment she relaxed into his arms.

He leaned his head on top of hers and freed one of his hands. With it, he grabbed her hanging arm and placed it over his. She allowed her fingers to linger over his flesh. Her ivory skin against his maple. He grabbed her hand in his. “Feels pretty good, doesn’t it?”

He was at her ear again. The moisture from his breath heated her neck—spreading a fever over her skin. Her legs broke out in goose bumps and she quivered against him.

“Watch it now young lady.”

“Hmm?” She could not fight the blissful feeling possessing her body, a strong shudder ran through her.

“That. Watch that.” His hands were massaging hers, his legs slightly bent into hers.

“Why…?” And then she felt it. Another involuntary tremor ran through her, provoking a deep chuckle from the lips so painfully close to her neck. Something scary, something primal, something she had never felt before rushed through her. Power. She could possess him as easily as he possessed her. Yes, he could make her shake and tremor with anticipation, but the power was not his alone. Making the smallest of movements she wriggled slightly in his arms, eliciting a primitive growl from his throat. She had never known it was so easy. It was nearly intoxicating. There was a disconnect between her body and her brain, whatever was rushing through her, consuming her, was not something she was familiar with.

She trailed her fingernails lightly over his arm and watched with awe as the hair on his arms stood, grinned inwardly when he let of a soft moan and she felt him quake against her back. He groaned out her name.

It was not that he said her name, it was how he said it, his lips brushing lightly against her neck with the one word. It was the growing pit in her stomach, the heat pooling in her middle, something took over her. She spun and pressed herself against him. There it was again, it was all it took. With bruising force she pressed her lips to his. He responded immediately, his lips working against hers, his arms pulling her against him fully, lifting her, pressing her into him. His tongue traced trails against hers, seeking out more, his mouth possessed her. Her hands in his hair, at his neck, against his chest. His hands holding her, pulling her, feeling her. And then he just stopped. Gently he placed her back down, her heart was racing, her body quaking with desire. She couldn’t think, she could hardly breathe.

His eyes were nearly black, his lips swollen. He was breathless when he spoke. “Don’t start what you can’t finish, Granger.” With a flick of his wand the ballots scattered across the hall, each landing precisely at a student’s seat. His voice was ice cold. “Go back to bed, little girl.”

He was gone. She was still shaking. What had she done? The disconnect was gone. She was completely and fully aware of what had just transpired. What happened? Taking a seat at the Gryffindor table she laid her head in her hands. She tried to stop it, she tried not to let them fall. But one hot tear cascaded down her cheek, soon followed by another and another. Before she knew it she was weeping into her hands.

----------

She had no idea how long she sat there, how long she cried into her hands, she could not even articulate why if given the chance. That chance came sooner than she hoped. Someone was standing behind her, she could sense the quiet hesitation of a looming shadow. A weight dropped down next her on the bench. For a moment there was nothing. Then a hand lightly touched her arm. It wrapped itself around her shoulders. Finally she pulled her tear-stained face up to meet the eyes of her comforter. Bespectacled emerald eyes locked on hers.

“Hermione, what happened?”

Instead of responding she allowed Harry to pull her into a hug. She cried into his woolen robes and shook against him. He rubbed her back and held her tightly. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

Shaking her head against him he pulled her tighter. It was the second time in an hour that she had been held so close by a man. The disparity between the circumstances nearly made her laugh. She pulled back and looked at Harry, concern was etched across his brow. “Talk to me.” His callused fingers found their way through her hair, brushing locks off her teary and sweaty face.

“It was Zabini, wasn’t it.” Harry’s concern quickly morphed into a bitter rage. “I’ll kill him, I swear to God Hermione. I will kill him. What did he do to you?”

She shook her head. “No, Harry. He didn’t do anything.”

He clearly did not believe her. “He did something.”

“No. He really didn’t.” He didn’t, did he? “He was just…well, upset I guess.”

“And he took it out on you?”

“No, it wasn’t like that.” She paused. “Things just got out of hand.”

Palpable fury came off him in waves. “Where is the bastard? Where the fuck is he?” Hermione had seen Harry angry many times in the past—bearing sole responsibility for saving the world will do that to a person—but this was a different kind of anger, it was almost possessive. Given her realizations earlier in the morning, witnessing that particular emotion from the one boy she’d ever loved probably left her a bit raw. “No. Harry. Really. It was just….” What was it exactly?

She wiped her ebbing tears away. “I don’t know. I just…we, well, we were talking and everything was fine. And then…” How did she describe it, when he held her she felt something animalistic take over her body? Probably not the best way to put it. “Well, one thing led to another and then he just got mad…” That was not really true, he was not angry, just incredibly cold.

Harry’s anger mixed with confusion. “He just got angry, in the…” Harry flushed. “In the middle….”

“Yeah.” Hermione tried to envision the events in her mind. “Well, I guess I kind of accelerated it.”

A deeper blush spread across Harry’s cheeks. “And he was angry about it?”

She just nodded.

Harry’s anger seemed to be waning. “That just does not make sense.”

Another nod.

“What did he say to you?”

Hermione felt her eyes widen and a crimson heat spread over her face. “Oh Harry. I don’t know, it’s kind of personal.”

“I’m one of your best friends Hermione. Tell me.”

She hesitated. This would be humiliating and painful. She took a few deep breaths and tried to quell any tears. “He said that I shouldn’t….that I shouldn’t start what I can’t finish.”

Harry’s eyes widened, the rage was back. His voice was almost inaudible, he spoke in a near-hiss. “That bastard.”

“And…”

“And? There’s more?”

“Mmm-hmmm. And, he called me a little girl and said that I should go back to bed.”

This time Harry did hiss. Literally. She looked at him surprised, her thoughts about Blaise momentarily forgotten. “Did you just speak in Parseltongue?”

“Did I?”

“I think so.”

“Hmm. I think it happens sometimes when I’m angry.”

“Weird.” She thought about it for a moment. “I guess it makes sense.”

“Yeah?”

“Well, you know how if someone is fluent in another language and they get passionate about something, they unconsciously switch back to that language?” Harry nodded. “It’s probably like that. Parseltongue is like a native, innate language for you, so it’s kind of understandable.”

Harry smiled. “That does make sense. See, Hermione, that’s part of what is great about you, you can explain away the kind of creepy things about me.”

She smiled back and let out a light laugh. “At least I’m good for something.”

He pulled her into another tight hug. “You’re good for a lot more than that.” He said before lightly kissing the top of her head and holding her against his chest. They stayed like that for a while before Hermione excused herself to wash her face before everyone showed up for breakfast. She felt better, though she could not quite explain why. The Parseltongue discussion served to distract her temporarily, for which she was thankful. She was a bit ashamed of herself for getting so worked up—with Blaise and afterward. As she made her way through the Hall to cut through to the closest girl’s bathroom she missed the shadowy figure in a recessed corner, she could not see the scowl or the flash of anger.

------------

It was a long day for Hermione, students kept coming up to her asking what events would be chosen, asking when they would happen, asking questions about details that she could not possibly know. A few people asked if she had fought with Blaise, she blew these questions off and hoped that there would not be any further fallout from that particular happening. So long as she kept herself distracted she could momentarily forget the feeling of complete ecstasy and release which she experienced before breakfast, try as she might she could not forget the coldness which had captured Blaise so easily. And what had happened with Harry? Rarely was he so tactile. Thankfully, in a moment of mercy Malfoy had agreed to do all the speaking at breakfast and explained the ballots quite well. She stood, largely silent, at his side while he spoke. He had worked a few charms on her before the made the announcement, he reduced the puffiness of her eyes and lightened her swollen lips. She had expressed her undying thanks but he brushed her off, claiming that there was hardly any way he could stand so close to her ‘in that state’ and be taken seriously. While he spoke she studiously avoided the Slytherin table and it’s occupants, had she looked she might have noticed the not-so-subtle glare directed her way.

Finally the day was done, her friends had bought her excuse that her distraction emanated from stress over the voting. Harry, thankfully, said nothing to anyone about her crying episode earlier in the day. The only problem she encountered was in her Transfiguration Seminar with Fiorelli, when she was assigned to work in a group of three and one of the other two was Blaise. For a moment she panicked, but Blaise acted as if their ‘episode’ never happened. He was as flirty and friendly as usual. His display of normalcy eased her for the class and she was almost able to forget the happenings of the morning.

She had stopped by the dormitory to change into jeans and gather some of her things before she headed off to the Heads room. Malfoy had agreed to meet with her after dinner to go over the preliminary tallies of the votes. The students had two days to vote, but Hermione and Malfoy both suspected that the majority of students would vote early. Her bag was slung over her shoulders, her hair pulled back in a harsh bun and her penny loafers clicked with each step. She was determined not to let the entire day be a loss.

As she approached the door, Hermione checked her watch. She was early, as she hoped she would be, she really just wanted a few minutes to decompress. With a whisper the door opened. She tossed her bag onto the sofa and stretched. A few minutes alone would do her wonders.

“Hello Granger.” The deep voice dripped with disdain and cold contempt.

She fought the urge to whirl around and face the voice. He must have been sitting in the chair just behind the door. “Hello, Zabini.”

“You can’t even face me?”

She kept her voice even. “Of course I can, I just don’t want to see your face.” She took a deep breath. “Get out. You don’t belong here.”

“I will. In a minute.” She heard him stand and make his way over to her. Then he was there, in front of her, clasping her chin and forcing her eyes up to his. “We need to talk. Now.”

“I’m not ‘talking’ with you until I get an apology.”

He let out a cruel chuckle. “Funny you should mention that.”

She could not help it, she looked up at him. What she saw was the most calloused expression she’d seen since a duel with Lucius Malfoy. But there was something behind it, something residing in his eyes, something wounded. “Why?”

“Sit.”

“No, I think I’ll stand. Thanks.”

“Whatever.” He did sit, in a high backed leather armchair. His hands were on his knees, he was leaning forward, just staring at her. Something about his words, his demeanor made her feel like she was on trial, like she did something wrong. For a minute he just sat there staring at her. “I saw you.”

“Saw me what?”

“I came back to apologize to you Granger. I actually felt bad about what I said.” That was a surprise. “And then I see you clinging onto Potter, practically snogging him.” He spat out Harry’s surname like it was a vile disease.

“We weren’t practically snogging! He was being a friend. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with concept?”

“No, I’m perfectly aware what friendship is. And it’s not that.”

“Well it is for me. So get used to it.”

“No. It’s not. Not anymore. Need I remind you that we have a contract. One in which you insisted on creating a clause about cheating. I will not sit here and resist every temptation while you flit about with Potter.”

“Oh yes you will. He’s my friend. We’ve been this way for years and I’m not changing my behavior for you. I’m not doing anything wrong.”

He smiled that cruel smile again, she’d walked into whatever trap he had set. “Ah. But see you are doing something wrong. According to our agreement you are my girlfriend Hermione, my girlfriend should not be in love with another bloke, now should she?”

She felt like he just punched her in the gut. “I’m not in love with him.”

He cocked an eyebrow.

“I’m not in love with him!”

“Are you trying to convince me or yourself?”

“Fuck you!”

“There’s my answer.”

She was seething. She was so close to bursting into tears from her frustration. Her hands were balled into fists at her side. “No. It is not. I love him, of course. But I am not in love with him.”

“Look. I don’t care if you are in deep unrequited love with him. Doesn’t make a bit of difference to me, but for the duration of our term you will not appear to be in love with him. You will not make me look like an idiot.”

The rage exploded. “No Blaise, you do that just fine by yourself.”

A look of shock cracked his cool façade. “What was that?”

“You heard me.”

“You little bitch.”

She matched his cruel smile. “And don’t you forget it.”

Everything erupted at once, he was yelling, she was screaming, they were pointing fingers, shouting above each other. He was standing, drawn up to his full height. Hermione was advancing on him when the door slammed.

“What the hell is wrong with you two?” Malfoy’s voice rang out over theirs. For a moment they were both silent and then they both started in again.

“Shut-up!” Malfoy looked at them with uncontrolled contempt. “Sit down. Both of you.”

Blaise returned to his armchair and Hermione took a seat on the sofa. Malfoy set his things on the table and took a seat on it. “Blaise tell me what happened.” Hermione shot him a look, but what did she expect, Blaise was one of his best friends.

When he started with “she was trying to ravish me this morning” Hermione broke in.

“I was not trying to ravish you.”

Draco held up a hand. “You’ll get your chance.”

Blaise continued his story, which Hermione had to admit was nearly correct, except for the ‘ravishing’ and his thoughts that she was in love with Harry.

Draco nodded. “Okay, you’re turn.”

Hermione gave her version of the events while trying to gauge Malfoy’s response. Exactly when had she given him so much control?

The blond leaned back on his hands. “So the problem is that you love The Boy Who Lived To Lust After Pansy and he’s jealous.”

“That is most certainly not the problem.” That was Blaise.

Hermione just glared at both of them.

“Yes, it is.” He shot Blaise a look. “You’re the jealous type and you know it. Why do you think that you’re never in a relationship? You couldn’t handle it.” He shook his head like it was the most obvious concept in the world. “And you.” He gestured to Hermione. “Anyone with a brain knows how you feel about Harry.”

“I am not in love him.”

“Right.” This was Malfoy again.

“I was. I admit that I’m confused about how I feel about him, but I don’t want to be with him. I don’t love him, not like that.”

Malfoy considered her. “I believe that you want to think that.”

“It’s true. I was. I did. But I don’t anymore, I don’t have that capacity anymore.” The words were tumbling out of her mouth completely uncontrolled. Saying it, she realized it was true. She was no longer in love with the Chosen One, though sometimes her heart did still ache for him. “He’s like scar tissue, you can still feel it and see it, but it’s gone.”

Malfoy actually nodded while Blaise stared at her agog. “What?”

Malfoy sat up from his position and shook out his wrists. “I understand. Look Blaise, just because you have the emotional capacity of a teacup doesn’t mean other people don’t feel things on different levels. I believe her. You should too, I’m smarter than you.”

Blaise looked affronted. But before he could speak Malfoy turned back to Hermione. “But, you shouldn’t behave like that with Potter, it undermines the contract.”

“He was hugging me!”

“Look Granger, it just looks bad. You two can’t stare adoringly at each other in the middle of the Great Hall.”

“Fine.” She was tired and worn down from her long day. “But he still owes me an apology.”

“Yes he does.”

Blaise looked at her. He’d been staring off into space since the ‘emotional capacity of a teacup’ comment. “Look Hermione. I apologize for what I said, it was cruel and may have been proper for another girl, but not you.”

Draco got up from his position and settled into a chair while he pulled biscuits out of his bag. When they both looked at him he spoke. “What? Like you two don’t keep snacks around?”

Hermione looked at Blaise. “Why would it be proper to say to another girl?”

“Can’t you just accept an apology?”

“No, not when you qualify it. I want to know why.”

“Look Hermione, you don’t get it. You haven’t been there before, some behavior is proper, some isn’t. You lost control, I get that. That same behavior from another girl would just make them a tease.”

“I’m not a tease.”

Malfoy nearly spit out his mouthful of pilfered biscuits and Blaise let out a low laugh.

“Yeah, actually you are in a way, at leastyou behaved that way this morning.”

“Kissing you makes me a tease?”

“No. Doing what you did makes you a tease." He gave her a look that made her blush. "But I’m forgiving you because I think it’s probably the first time you’ve ever been in that situation.”

Hermione was still a bit confused, but she did not really want to get into the fine details of the morning in front of Malfoy. “Okay. Fine. Apology accepted.”

“Good. Are we okay?”

She nodded.

Malfoy grinned through another mouthful. “Great, lets get to work. The Costume Ball is in the lead and we have a tie for some of the others.”




A/N:
You all are bloody brilliant. I adore you. I’m really not trying to butter you all up, I just truly adore you! 129 reviews! That’s insane. Crazy beautiful insanity.

Chapter 8: Dancing
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Halloween was officially underway. Hermione would never be able to explain how she and Draco—watching him snog her best friend for the fifth time convinced her that it was time to drop the surnames—pulled it off. There was an early dinner and festivities which included the whole school, then a break that would allow the younger students to continue celebrating in their respective Common Rooms and give the older students time to get dressed. It was a planning nightmare—in their enthusiasm to have a proper costume ball they had decided to make it completely anonymous, no student could know of another’s costume. They had not thought out the repercussions of that particular decision very well. Somehow they managed it though. Draco had wanted to put specialized memory charms on everyone so that they would no get any inclination as to who each other was. Thankfully, McGonagall nixed that idea immediately. Still it was a shock that they were able to get everything completed when they did.
Due to their positions as Heads and organizers Hermione and Draco were the only two people who would know one another’s costumes. For that reason they were meeting in the Heads lounge to get ready.

Hermione hardly got to enjoy the feast because she was busy rushing around trying to get everything organized for the younger students. She had managed to nick some food, bid a proper good-bye to her friends and get off to the lounge with just enough time to get ready.

The first thing she did upon arriving was get dressed—she hardly wanted Malfoy bursting in on her when she was half-naked. She was not overly confident about her costume, she'd had a costume all planned out, but a few days before had come across a catalogue which she suspected belonged to Ginny. It contained much sexier costumes than she would normally buy, but she decided that this was a Costume Ball and constituted a fine opportunity to be a little different and do something unexpected. She’d ordered a “Fallen Angel” costume and did some modifications to it when it arrived. She had just pulled on her dress when there was a knock at the door.

“Hey. Are you decent?”

A light laugh escaped her lips; she was actually starting to like the little bugger. “Yes.”

He pushed through the door and froze. “Bloody hell woman, I thought you said you were decent!” Draco covered his eyes and dramatically turned away. “I guarantee that Lady Macbeth never wore anything like that.”

Her original choice for costumes was to dress as Lady Macbeth, largely because she wanted to walk around all night wringing her hands and saying ‘out damn spot.’

“Yeah. I decided to take a different approach.”

“No shit.” “What in the hell are you supposed to be, a Spellstripper?” Perhaps she had jumped the gun on saying that she was starting to like him.

“Would you turn around already? You make me feel like I’m standing here in my knickers.”

“You are!”

“You’re obnoxious.”

“You’re bloody naked.”

“I’m wearing a dress.”

“More like a strap! Just what are you supposed to be?”

“I’m a Fallen Angel—but I don’t have all the accoutrements on yet.”

He finally turned around. “Do the accoutrements include the rest of your dress?”

“Oh, shut up.”

“It’s not even…well, even.” He pointed to the sharp bias him of her dress. The shortest side hit her high on one thigh while the other reached down to other her knee.

She rolled her eyes. “It’s cut on the bias, besides didn’t you say that we should try to explore different parts of ourselves?”

“Yes. Yes, I did. I just didn’t know that you would be getting in touch with your inner Spellstripper.”

She would have slapped him if it was not for the toothy grin. “Draco!”

“I’m kidding, mainly. Actually, I’m kind of impressed; I didn’t know you had it in you.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

She finally noticed that he was wearing an oversized trench coat and had not yet removed it. “I told you—you can’t dress as a flasher.”

Without saying a word he pulled off the trench coat and she promptly squeezed her eyes shut.

“Hermione, I’m not naked. Trust me; I’m far more clothed than you are.”

She chanced a glance at him and let out a giggle. “You’re a pirate.” She said through her laughter.

He glowered at her. “I’m a Buccaneer.”

“Aren’t they the same thing?”

“No. Pirates stay to the seas, buccaneers will plunder on land as well.”

“Only you would care about that distinction.”

“But it’s an important one.”

They both set out to finish modifying their costumes. Hermione fluffed her skirt, attached her wings—after engorging them a few times, and charmed a broken halo above her head. In the meantime she completed her mask and ensured that it covered her well enough to hide her identity. Her mask was simple but elegant; it was made up of the same black feathers that constituted her wings.

Meanwhile Draco was finishing his costume, it was quite impressive, though he did make the poofiest pirate, or buccaneer, she had ever witnessed. He had a long white poet’s shirt with dragonhide pants and boots, a large hat with a feather—she was fairly sure that buccaneers did not wear those—and a sword. He was tying his white blonde hair back under his hat and trying to affix his mask while she finished up her make-up and charmed her eyes. Halloween seemed like a good excuse to change her eye-color for the evening. She’d opted on a very dark amethyst. The look complemented her costume well. As she finished she saw Draco turn nearly translucent in the background of the mirror.

“What the…”

“See, I’m dead.” He said significantly before offering a proud grin.

“That’s amazing spell work.”

“I keep saying I’m good at Charms.”

Draco went down to the Ball first, glistening like a freshly polished phantasm. Hermione checked her reflection one more time before putting her mask on for the evening. Her hair reached nearly to her waist—straightening it seemed like a wise choice, it was her biggest giveaway. With a final charm to keep her lips shimmering she was out the door. They had staggered arrival times for the students so that they would not be able to identify one another. Draco was one of the first to arrive and she was one of the last. As she descended the last staircase she heard the music from the band that Draco had booked. At the moment she could not even remember their name, then again she had never actually heard of them before, but Draco insisted that they were quite good. From what she could hear, he was correct.

The sight behind the huge oak doors was disappointing, but admittedly, not far from what she expected. A few students were mingling but for the most part they were just standing around silently. She happened to walk in the band was starting a new number, so the silence was deafening and the padding of her feet caught everyone’s attention. Almost every face turned to her, she noted a few scornful looks from the girls…at least they appeared scornful through the masks and costume make-up. The boys on the other hand gave her quite a few double takes. No on knew who she was, for a brief moment she relished the anonymity—no one would expect anything special from her tonight, no one knew she was Harry Potter’s sidekick, Blaise Zabini’s ‘girlfriend,’ or the smartest witch to grace the halls in decades. Tonight she just was.

She edged her way towards the beverage table, teachers dotted the entrances and were generally milling about, they seemed as lost as the students. McGonagall had freed Draco and her of responsibility for the evening so that they too could enjoy in the festivities. A moment of panic washed over her when she realized that this Ball had to go over well, their other ideas would likely be scrapped if the Ball was not a success. And as much as she did not want to admit it, she was actually beginning to look forward to some of the upcoming events.

The band upped the tempo of the song—probably in a desperate attempt to get people to interact. Hermione grabbed a bottle of Butterbeer from the table and took a long drink. This could be a very slow night. A few people made it out to the dance floor but it was a pretty pathetic showing. Before the band could start another song a familiar voice rang out from the stage—who was that?

Hermione whipped around and saw a young man in a Cowardly Lion costume standing on the stage, microphone in hand. “Excuse me!” The voice called. “Look, I know we all feel a little lost here, but let’s give it a fair shot people. We’ve got a great band and plenty of Butterbeer—trust me, I know—I was assigned to get ready in the kitchens.” Quite a few people laughed at that. “So let’s do this properly, alright?” The Cowardly Lion turned the mic back to the band who immediately started in a new song. He hopped off the stage and grabbed the nearest girl, who happened to be dressed as Dorothy. Dorothy looked slightly affronted but started dancing with him anyway; their dancing was met with a round of cheers by the students. Emboldened, others began to pair off and by the next songa respectable numberof the students were dancing and most of them were chatting.

A student approached her from the right. “Hello.”

Hermione turned to the cloaked figure and gasped. At first she thought the figure was a Death Eater, but judging by the scythe in his hand, he was more likely supposed to be the Grim Reaper.

“This is pretty cool.” The Grim Reaper said, gesturing around the Hall with his scythe.

She smiled at him. “Yeah, it is. It looks like it is coming off well.”

The Reaper looked a little lost and suddenly Hermione realized why everyone had been standing around looking confused. Just what were they supposed to talk about?

“So…” They both started at the same time.

She let out an awkward giggle.

He gestured for her to start first.

“No. You.”

“Okay. Er…would you like to dance?”

“Yeah. I would.” He set his scythe aside and escorted her to the dance floor.

A couple hours into the dance and Hermione felt like she had danced with every boy there. She had danced with the Grim Reaper, Dracula, Frankenstein—who clodded all over her feet, a cowboy—who she was fairly sure was Seamus Finnegan—it was hard to hide that heavy Cockney accent, a mummy who kept her laughing so hard she was sure Butterbeer would come out her nose and even Draco. He had broken up her dance with Frankenstein, to her great relief. Immediately he asked what Ron was dressed as and displayed complete shock when she said she did not know.

“But you’re best friends.”

“I know. But that is not the point of this.”

“Merlin, you are revoltingly pure of heart, aren’t you? Tell you what, I may like you well enough but sometimes your goodness is absolutely nauseating.”

“Shut-up.” She smacked him playfully. Then she realized that if he was asking what her best friend was dressed as then he must know what his friends were dressed as, it was worth a shot. “So…what’s Blaise dressed as?”

“Hypocrite.”

“Possibly.”

“I don’t know.”

She glared at him through her mask. “Yes, you do.”

He grinned and offered his wide-eyed innocent look which somehow carried through his mask. “No. I really don’t. Just do me and yourself a favor and stay away from Frankenstein and Quasimodo.”

She nodded. “Crabbe and Goyle?”

Another shimmering grin. “Not telling.” And with that he was gone.

As she watched him saunter off—probably in a search for Ron, she noticed Quasimodo advancing on her. He was getting close when Cowardly Lion intercepted him. She was surprised to see that he had abandoned Dorothy—the two had been dancing all night.

“Mind if I have this round?” The voice was so familiar.

“Not at all.” She watched Quasimodo stalk off.

She looked up into brown eyes that were oddly familiar; vaguely she wondered if other students had thought to do a simple color change charm on their eyes. Ron had, she knew because he had asked her how to do a few days before the dance.

“I do hope that your Cowardly Lion get-up is not a comment on Inter-House relations.”

He laughed out loud and she immediately knew who she was dancing with. “More like irony…and a childhood love of L. Frank Baum.” The latter was certainly news to her.

They danced well together, she anticipated his moves before he made them and felt comfortable in his arms.

“So, you’ve lost your Dorothy.” Hermione was sure he had no idea who the dark angel he was dancing with was, but she could not help teasing him a bit.

“Well, I had to get in a dance with the best looking girl at the Ball.”

She let out an ungraceful laugh. Was that his idea of a line?

“Hey, you’re laughing at me!”

“I’m sorry.” She bit back her laughter. “But, you have to admit, it was kind of lame.”

“What?” He was indignant now, but bordering on joining in her laughter. “It was good.”

His insistence only made her laugh more. “I’m…no…it really wasn’t.”

Falsely brown eyes widened. “Hermione?” He spoke in a whisper.

More laughter. “Oh, Harry!”

“You knew it was me?”

She nodded.

“Since when?” He looked a little disturbed.

“When you laughed.”

She could sense the grin. “Oh.”

“I do hope that you’re not using lines like that on Dorothy.” Under his mask she was sure that he was blushing. “Where did she go, anyway?”

He gestured across the dance floor. “That ghostly pirate cut in.”

“Buccaneer."

Harry looked confused. "What?"

She rolled her eyes. "He's a buccaneer, not a pirate, he told me when were dancing." She lied easily.

"I thought they were the same thing..."

"Apparently pirates stick to the seas, buccaneers pillage on both land and water."

“Nice. Sounds like a great guy, you danced with him too, didn't you?” She nodded and Harry looked around. “In fact I think you danced with about half the blokes here.”

“I know. It’s crazy, suddenly I’m just a regular girl…” She broke off when she realized he was not wearing glasses. “Where are your glasses?”

“I found a charm to correct my vision temporarily; I figured the glasses were kind of a dead giveaway.”

She nodded her agreement and when the song ended he bid her adieu to rejoin Dorothy.

Hermione had been dancing all night and was grateful for the opportunity to grab another Butterbeer.

Relieved, she guzzled about half of it with her back to the crowd. Upon turning around she was faced with a grotesque incarnation of the Phantom of the Opera. He looked more like Lon Chaney’s variety than the modern interpretations. His identity was completely indiscernible, even with just half a mask.

“Nice wings.”

It was hard to look at him directly—someone had done a fabulous bit of work on his face.

“Thank you.” He was familiar as well; it was infuriating and exciting trying to discern each student under their costumes and masks.

“Shall we dance?” There was something arrogant and expectant about his tone. He held out a white-gloved hand, which she took.

The band slowed it down somewhatwith a new song as they made their way across the dance floor. He was an elegant dancer, tall and lithe. It had been some time ago, but when Hermione was young, she took quite a few dance classes—at the behest of her mother, who wished her to be “more well-rounded.” She was holding her own, but her partner was far more skilled than she.

The Phantom must have sensed her thoughts. “Don’t worry, you’re doing quite well.”

A blush crept over her face. “Not really, you’re a marvelous dancer.”

He smiled, revealing straight white teeth. “My mother insisted on it.”

“Really?”

He nodded and spun her before pulling her back in.

“So did mine, but I think you ended up with a much better instructor.”

“Well, my little Fallen Angel, you look much better doing it.”

Another blush spread across her masked cheeks. “Thank you.”

“I’m apparently not the only one who thinks so—these hooligans have been conspiring to be your next dance partner all night.” He smiled again; the effect of his smile was gruesome on his disfigured skin. She could not withhold her wince.

“Pretty gory, aren’t I?” His voice was so smooth, like pure silk washing over her.

“Well…yes, actually.” The perennial student in her could not help it. “Did you do it with charms or make-up?”

He spun her again as the band started an even slower number. “Charms, a lot of them.”

“You did an amazing job.” As if functioning on it’s on accord, her hand went to his scarred face; with a delicate touch she traced her fingers over his malformed cheek. “Wow.”

The Phantom let out an involuntary shiver. “Yeah, an unexpected byproduct of the charms is that my skin is incredibly sensitive.”

She pulled back her hand. “Oh. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking.” She glanced accusatorily at her offending hand.

“No, no. It’s okay, just strange. It felt good.” His eyes flashed momentarily, she could not discern their color in the dim light. “I mean most of the people here won’t look at me—much less touch me.”

There was something about the sentiment, or perhaps it was his delivery that told her he was not used to going unnoticed. “Is that a change for you, Phantom?”

A ghastly smirk was his response. “You don’t miss anything, do you?”

The band moved into a fast number and he danced her across the Hall. Students were shifting and moving out of their way to allow them space as the Phantom twirled her to the increasingly faster music. If she were not preoccupied keeping up with the Phantom’s steps she might have noticed one of their observers smiling a ghostly smile.

She finished out the night with the Phantom; they danced several more times and managed to clear the floor a few times. In between they went to the refreshment table and chatted while rehydrating on Butterbeer. By the end of the night she was feeling a little light headed from the dancing, drinks, and probably her lack of a proper dinner. She and the Phantom were discussing the rotation of DADA professors when McGonagall took the stage.

“Everyone. I’d like your attention.” McGonagall did not compel attention in the same way as Dumbledore but she still managed to get everyone’s eyes on her with those few words. “I am sorry to say, but this will be the last song of the evening, after which I have a few words for you, so please remain where you are.”

The Phantom took her hand. “Let’s close the evening properly.” She allowed him to lead her back out on the dance floor and enjoyed being in his arms as they swayed to a familiar song. As the song faded into the night, he dropped a light kiss on her forehead. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time together this evening.”

Hermione inhaled sharply. She had too. “Me too.”

McGonagall was back onstage, where she seemed oddly comfortable standing next to the lead singer of the band. “I would like a round of applause for the marvelous music…” Everyone clapped and cheered loudly. “And another for your Head Boy and Girl, who I think we can all agree, did a fantastic job with this Ball.” The cheering was even louder; Hermione felt herself blushing as she caught Draco’s eyes across the dance floor. He gave her a thumbs-up before turning to say something to the masked Quidditch player at his side—Ron, she realized.

“Finally, I declare this Costume Ball at its end.” Hermione looked up to the Phantom who was wearing a mild smirk. “Please unmask yourselves.”

There were many gasps, a few screams, more than a few “I knew its,” and some laughter. Hermione reached up to the corner of her mask when the Phantom’s hand reached out to stop her. “Wait.” She stopped. “I’m fairly sure that if we search our minds we know exactly who each other is. Why don’t we just enjoy the anonymity right now?” With that he placed a feather light kiss on her lips. Her hand found his charmed cheek and stroked the sensitive skin lightly. He never deepened the kiss, just held his lips lightly to hers before pulling back and smiling. “I should be going; I wouldn’t want your boyfriend to beat my arse.”

Wait. Wasn’t he her boyfriend? She stood in stunned silence for a moment before realizing that he was gone. Sadly, she pulled her mask off and looked around at the other students. She did not see Blaise anywhere; many of the students were already on their way back to their dorms. Many had rejoined their friends and were sharing stories of the evening. Walking back to the Common Room she was joined by the mummy that had made her laugh so hard.

“Hermione?”

The mummy had unwrapped the bandages around his face, it was Neville Longbottom. “Neville!”

He grinned. “You and Malfoy did a great job, that was a lot of fun.”

“Neville. Oh my God.”

Neville continued to grin. “Surprised you, huh?”

“Uh-huh.” Finally she collected her thoughts. “So, you had a good time?”

He nodded vigorously. “Oh yeah. It was really nice to be someone else for a night.”

She agreed. “It was. I’m kind of sad it’s over.”

“All good things must come to an end, right?”

“I suppose.”

She tried to shake away her newfound melancholy. “Did you talk to some new people?”

“A lot actually. Susan Bones and I danced all night; we didn’t even know we were dancing with each other.” Hermione noted the pinkish stain on Neville’s cheeks.

“That’s great Neville.”

They were almost to the portrait when Hermione noticed a figure clad in school robes leaning against the wall. It was Blaise. Neville bid her a quick good-bye and practically leapt into the portrait.

“So I hear your Ball was a resounding success.”

“What?”

“No? Well. you look positively sinful either way.” He pulled her towards him by her waist but she fought him off.

“You didn’t go?”

“I told you how I felt about those kinds of things Hermione.” He had admitted earlier in the week, that for fairly obvious reasons he did not feel comfortable wearing a mask all night as part of the festivities. Not to mention the fact he found the idea of a Costume Ball as ridiculous as she had initially.

“You didn’t go?”

“We talked about it. I thought.” He looked frustrated.

“My own boyfriend can’t be bothered to attend a Ball wholly organized by his best friend and his girlfriend?”

“Hermione…” Blaise reached out again and caught her by the hand. “Don’t be so angry.”

“Then don’t be such an ass! I can’t believe you. You make me sick. You are without a doubt the most repulsive, selfish, prick I’ve ever had the good grace of knowing. Excuse me.” She yanked her hand away from his grasp and headed through the portrait.

The Common Room was deserted despite the sounds of noisy chatter emanating from the dormitory rooms. With a dramatic sigh she flung herself into her favorite chair and stared into the fire. She had really wanted to believe that Blaise was the Phantom. There were times when she believed what McGonagall had intimated to her, that there was more under the surface, and then there were times that he was truly the most empty headed person imaginable. She wanted there to be more to their relationship than the physical aspect of late. Whoever the Phantom was she had felt a connection with him, and as much as it pained her to admit, she wanted it to be Blaise…not because it made their ruse easier, but because she just wanted it.

The portrait door opened and closed a few more times while she stared into the flames. Finally everyone was gone and the sounds of raucous laughter had died down. She tried to locate her mask before she went off to bed but realized she must have dropped it in her anger out in the hallway. With another sigh she stood and turned to go retrieve it. Standing immediately in front of the door was the Phantom; he was holding a single red rose in his gloved hand.

Her first thought was to throw something at him, but she’d lost her mask and didn’t have anything else available, she’d already banished her conjured halo. Her second thought was that the Phantom was a Gryffindor, how else would he have gotten in. She noticed that he had one hand behind his back; he was standing there like a masked, deformed waiter. His presence infuriated her more with every passing second.

Finally he spoke. “You must have dropped this.” He pulled her mask from behind his back. She would not take the few steps to be close enough to retrieve it; he set it on a nearby table. “I’ll leave it here for you.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I wanted one last dance.”

“Why did you run off?”

He made an attempt at a smile. “You know why I left.”

“Wait, what are you doing here, how’d you know I was a Gryffindor...you knew all along didn’t you? How? Why?”

This time the smile was real. “Which question first?”

“Did you know who I was the entire night?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

“You don’t realize it, and maybe they don’t either, but you have an incredibly distinctive way of carrying yourself.”

“I…I do?”

He nodded. “Please share another dance with me.”

She was angry and hurt but the thought of staying in the fantasy for just a few more minutes was enough for her. “Okay.”

With a quick swish of his wand soft music was radiating from something he had set down with her mask. He handed the rose to her, she chanced a glance at it before taking it, he or someone, had removed all the thorns. One of her hands was clasped in his and her other was clutching the rose at his back. They danced slowly, without all the flash they displayed at the ball; instead they swayed silently to the soft music.

She sensed the song was nearly over. “Hermione. Against all my better judgment and all my preconceived notions I find that I like you, each day I discover something new, something challenging, and inevitably I like it.”

Chancing a look at him she was pulled into a sapphire gaze, the color that she could not quite make out in the Hall was a nearly black blue. It was him.

“Why did you do that? Make me believe…”

“I wanted to see your reaction. I wanted to know.”

“Know what?”

“If you felt the same way.”

She should have been livid, she should have smacked him, she should have done anything but let him kiss her. But she didn’t. Some part of her understood that the Slytherin in her arms was expressing himself the only way he knew how.

--------------

Hermione did not know what time he left or how long she sat back in her chair staring at the fire, absentmindedly twirling the rose between her fingers. Her relationship with Blaise was completely bipolar. Hate. Lust. Rage. Weakness. How could a person she hardly knew anything about make her feel this way? Tonight she had gotten more of a glimpse into him than ever before, and still what did she really have to cling to? What did she really know? At some point her thoughts melted into dreams.

She stood straight as a rail before the ocean, the water was cold—she could not feel it, but she knew it was cold—and it lapped dangerously at her bare feet. Her teeth were chattering even though the gale force winds were warm, the chattering hurt, and she was terrified that her teeth would break, but still she could not stop the chattering. She knew she was alone on the beach, but she did not feel alone, something was with her, something that she could feel rather than see. As she stared out at the ever darkening, churning water she realized that a pale light was buried under the water. Curious, she stepped closer until the cold water covered her toes. To her surprise the water warmed as soon as it came in contact with her body. She was setting out to investigate the mysterious light further when she heard her name being called.

“Hermione?” She blinked a few times. Where was she? Looking around she realized that she was still in the Common Room sprawled out in her chair. Harry was standing over her. “You okay?”

She shook herself out of her dream and looked at him; he was still in his costume too. “Yeah, I’m fine. I guess I fell asleep.”

He smiled. “Guess so.”

“Where have you been?” She noted that he looked exhausted, dark circles framed his eyes. He had put his glasses back on at some point and changed his eyes back to their normal green.

“Took a walk.”

She glanced at her watch. “Long walk.”

“Yeah. Hey, where’d you go after the dance? I didn’t see you.”

Hermione did not feel like getting into the details. “Oh, I must have missed you, I walked back with Neville.”

“You missed it then.”

“Missed what?”

“Dorothy.”

Hermione nodded. “Parkinson?”

“How’d you know?”

“You said she danced with the ‘dead pirate,’ that was Draco. I wondered then.”

“Why didn’t you say anything? You saw that we were together all night.” He seemed frustrated.

“Harry, I wasn’t going to ruin whatever was going on between you two.”

“But you knew it was not going to end up good.”

She shook her head. “No. I didn’t know that. Maybe it was a good thing, or it could have been. What happened exactly?”

He sighed and put his head in his hands, muffling his words. “She screamed. And hit me. Asked me just what the hell I was trying to do.”

“She hit you?”

“Just on the arm.” He looked at her between his fingers. “I yelled back. Told her that I had no idea it was her. That I didn’t make a habit of dancing with people who were suing me.”

“And?”

“She told me that she didn’t make a practice of dancing with people who called her Death Eaters and turned the whole school against her. So I said that she’d turned the whole school against her a long time ago.” He stopped and pulled his hands down to his lap. “Then some bloke broke us apart and drug her away.”

“So, you’ve been walking the grounds since then?”

“Basically. I went to the Room of Requirement for a while. I didn’t feel like running into anyone.”

“But you like her.” Hermione stated it matter-of-factly.

“No. Yes. I told you before. There’s something about her, something different. I don’t know. When she was Dorothy we got on so well. It was fun. And that’s her too I suppose. But then there is this other thing.”

“Like the past six years?”

“Yes. Exactly.” He lounged back in his chair and held her gaze. “It’s just so bloody complicated.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Is that how it is with Blaise?”

Hermione thought about it. “Yes and no. Blaise and I don’t have the history that you and Pansy do, he was never part of that group that instigated and pushed us, so I don’t think it’s quite so bad.”

He nodded. “Yeah. That’s true.”

“It’ll be alright Harry.”

“So you say.”

“It’s just more complex than you are used to.”

“You can say that again. It would just be so much easier if…” He stopped; a look of sadness crossed his face. “Never mind.”

Hermione did not prompt him further. She was not quite sure that she wanted to hear what would be easier. They talked for a few more minutes before parting. Harry hugged her and thanked her, but said no more before entering the boy’s dormitory. With another long glance at the flickering fireplace Hermione trudged up to her bed for some much needed sleep.




A/N:
I truly appreciate every word of your reviews, you take something I already love doing and make it even more fun and rewarding for me!

Chapter 9: A Karmic Comeuppance
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I'd lie to apologise to everyone for not updating sooner but I had a death in the family, please forgive me (:.

Disclaimer:
Not mine, still. Oh, and the whole meditation, thought process, Animagus stuff comes from Silvernatasha’s The Importance of Ancient Runes, I was not smart enough to come up with that all by myself. Indulge me a bit with Fiorelli’s explanation, we really don’t know much about self-transfiguration so I’m making it up as I go, I hope you all like it.



November passed largely without incident. Students and staff alike were settling in for an exceptionally snowy winter, Quidditch season was well underway and the students had enjoyed a couple trips to Hogsmeade. Hermione had fallen into a comfortable routine—efficiently balancing her coursework, Head Girl duties, planning of upcoming events with Draco, her friends, and her boyfriend. Ron and Draco had developed a rather domestic relationship. Harry and Pansy were still alternating between unfettered hate and unadulterated lust, though Hermione still had a general sense of unease when he was around, sometimes his words and looks conveyed a little more than their comfortable friendship. As yet, Hermione had dealt with this by completely ignoring it, but she was not sure exactly how long that would last. The relationship with Blaise had offered her closure on one thing, that recurring need for more from Harry had waned. Its time—if it ever had one—had come and gone.
The one surprise was that the Wizengamot had pushed Pansy’s claim back to spring, claiming that they were busy with lingering prosecutions from the War. There was rumor that she would drop the suit if she could get a public apology by all involved parties, but so far, that was just an unsubstantiated rumor. Hermione hoped that it would work out. The students had overwhelmingly supported Ginny’s idea of a student tribunal and Draco and Hermione were nearly done working out the kinks on it. It was their hope that Pansy would be willing to submit her grievance to the school, McGonagall had hinted at her support of that idea, largely because she did not want to have to grant traveling passes to so many of the students at the same time. By the New Year, the tribunal would likely be ready and underway.

The push for Inter-House unity was going better than Hermione expected. The Costume Ball had opened a few doors—the following morning McGonagall announced that seating no longer needed to be by House affiliation at breakfast and lunch. It took a few weeks for students to move about comfortably, but finally they were. The first few days McGonagall made reminder announcements at each meal to no effect, the students just sat in their usual spots looking a bit intimidated. Hermione was worrying that Ron’s idea would never come into fruition when at the start of breakfast on Day 5 of McGonagall’s campaign, Neville abruptly stood and walked determinably, though nervously, to the Hufflepuff table and invited Susan Bones to join him for breakfast.

Since then more and more students were moving about for the first two meals of the day. The workload had also increased with the impending NEWTs, Hermione had even convinced Ron and Harry to start preparing early—though she was pretty sure that Ron’s newfound inclination towards studying resulted from Draco’s insistence that NEWTs be taken seriously. In the afternoons and evenings it was not unusual to find her in the library sharing a large table with Ron, Draco, Harry and Blaise. Occasionally, Pansy would come by, though it seemed that the purpose of this was largely to antagonize Harry. This only served to increase a growing tension which always accompanied Harry’s presence. His anger with Blaise had not ebbed, though Harry did manage to keep it under wraps well enough.

There had been no repeats of the fireworks between Hermione and Blaise, nor had there been a repeat of the Halloween incident. Blaise seemed perfectly happy to let his confession fall by the wayside. While peace was nice, Hermione felt more distant from the enigmatic boy than she had in the beginning. All passion had drained from their relationship, both good and bad. Physically they did what was necessary to keep up the façade—hand holding, quick hello and goodbye kisses—but that was it. Emotionally, she felt a void between them. Blaise was quick to point out that their arrangement was working quite well. They had become an accepted couple to the students and even the faculty. Hermione suspected that once people realized that she was the Fallen Angel at Halloween, the female population of Hogwarts were able to more readily accept the very handsome boy’s attraction to her, as if she were some kind of cow before she showed a little leg. Ironically, it was Blaise’s actions at Halloween that precipitated the gulf between them. But they appeared content to outsiders—and that was all that mattered, was it not?

She as on her way to her Seminar, Blaise dutifully in tow, clasping her hand as they made small talk about Fiorelli’s warning that this would be the class that changed their lives permanently.

Hermione took her seat next to Blaise and pulled out her class materials. Fiorelli was already perched on his desk looking tired. As the remaining few students filtered in, he shut the door and looked at them gravely.

“I cannot possibly, overemphasize the importance of today and the rest of our time together. We are embarking on a dangerous and exciting journey. Today we begin the practical aspects of our—dare I say—previously quite boring, theoretical studies.”

A muted buzz filled the classroom. Hermione exchanged glances with Blaise.

“As you all know, I hand picked each one of you—in each of you I saw the potential to continue your magical evolution in a way that few can master. Not all of you will succeed, do not be disappointed, what we are beginning is for a very select few. In some of you I saw the beginnings of a Metamorphagus and in others an Animagus.” He paused and looked around the room, the anticipation was palpable. “You have each learned basically all we know about these kinds of self-transfiguration and today I will meet with each of you individually to discuss how we will progress further in this journey. Some of you will not be rejoining the class next term. Again, please let me reemphasize the fact that this is through no fault of your own, you should be proud of how far you have come.” Again he paused, scanning the classroom. “While I meet with each of you please work quietly at your table, of course you may talk, I just ask you to keep it down. Thank you.” With that he called the first student and they disappeared into his office.

What did he mean that not everyone would be able to finish the class? How would he know? How would he decide? She looked to Blaise but he was leaning across the table chatting with Theodore Nott. Had Fiorelli not chosen each of them for their potential, what was he saying, that he was wrong? Panic was starting to set in. It was not that she needed to self-transfigure to be a Medi-Witch, but she wanted to. For a horrific moment she wondered if being a Muggleborn would prevent her from continuing, what if it was an inheritable gene of some type. Blaise must have sensed a change in her, and to her surprise he stopped chatting with Theo and leaned over to her.

“Are you okay?”

She nodded. “Yeah.”

He gave her a doubtful look. “I’m not certain I believe that, are you nervous that you won’t be able to continue?”

She gave an almost imperceptible nod.

“Hermione, you know you’ll be fine. You’ve got—much to my personal chagrin—the highest grade in the class.”

“I know.” It would not have been difficult to explain her fears, but she could not bring herself to admit to Blaise that she was worried that being a Muggleborn might hurt her. She wished that Ron or Harry were in class with her, even Draco would be more reassuring. How could she explain to such a vehement blood-purist that this was not about grades? What if her genes kept her out of the class, kept her from achieving such a high form of magic? Would that not just cater to his already prejudiced views? With a glance around the room she realized that she was the only Muggleborn in the class. This did not serve to reassure her further.

“Come on, tell me. What are you suddenly so worried about?” He knew she was hiding something, she could hear it in his tone even more than his words. In fact it was the first time in weeks that he actually acknowledged that she might be feeling something.

“Nothing, Blaise. I’m just being silly.”

He looked at her skeptically but did not say anything else on the matter. “So…”

She waited for more but nothing came, he really did have the emotional depth of a small puddle. Draco was right. “So…what?” She snapped.

“I was just wondering if you and Draco have anything planned for Christmas.” It was obvious that this was an entirely new thought that had just popped in his head, in lieu of trying to get her to discuss her ‘problem’ any more.

“You mean for Inter-House unity?”

“Yeah.”

“We’ve mulled over a couple of things. The votes were pretty inconclusive, so we’re pretty open.”

“I hope it’s not another Ball.”

She tried to swallow her frustration. “Nope. Not another Ball. Thank God for that.” So much for the swallowing.

“I didn’t mean anything. Just that it would get old.”

“Mmm-hmmm.”

“Really though, aren’t you already working on a New Years party?”

He was trying to be nice or at least congenial. “Yes, we are. But it’s not a Ball really.”

“I just meant two big parties right in a row would be a lot.”

“Don’t worry about it. You’re right, it would be.”

Hermione was wondering how long this strained conversation would have to continue when Professor Fiorelli called her name from his office. With a wave to Blaise she walked through the class and up to his office.

“Miss Granger, have a seat.” The professor gestured to a chair across from his desk.

She sat nervously, crossing and uncrossing her legs until she found a comfortable position. Her hands found each other in her lap, her fingers twisting the hem of her jumper.

“Don’t worry Miss Granger; you are not one of the students who won’t be staying with us.”

An audible sigh of relief escaped her mouth, to which she blushed lightly. “I’m sorry Professor.”

He leaned over on his elbows. “You were concerned?”

She nodded.

“Why is that?” He was watching her with his washed-out brown gaze. His eyes looked much older than he did, like they had lived through more than the rest of him.

“I…I was thinking that maybe because I’m a Muggleborn…”

He nodded. “What would make you think this Miss Granger? Surely the propaganda machine has not wheedled its way into your fine mind?”

Another light blush. “No. Not that, it’s just that we still don’t know why some witches and wizards can do it and others can’t, and it had never occurred to me to research the issue further. All the Animagi and the one Metamorphagus I know aren’t Muggleborns.”

“I will admit, it is rare…but then again so are Muggleborns. You feared it was genetic, I’m guessing?

She nodded again.

“There are many schools of thought on it, which you might find to make interesting study when you go on to Trinity.” He paused. Apparently all the Professors knew where she was going upon graduation. “The theory I was studying when I left the States was that it is directly related to magical typology. You’re familiar with the concept?”

“Yes, that each witch and wizard has a unique construct of magical potential within themselves, giving us our predilections towards certain subjects.”

“Precisely. It is my theory that there are some people who are predestined towards self-transfiguration, due to their innate skill level. And that there are reciprocal abilities in other disciplines, though I must say that I find myself much more entranced by the different levels of Transfiguration. The individuals that can achieve this level of magic are quite special and very rare, of course there are exceptions to the rule, some seemingly untalented wizards which achieve this, but I personally suspect that Dark magic is at play in those situations.”

Hermione thought back to the Marauders—specifically Wormtail, hadn’t everyone said that he was nowhere near as talented as James and Sirius.

“I also believe that they type of animal an Animagus can turn to, or how far a Metamorphagus can go in changing themselves has everything to do with that innate skill level.”

“Really? So like the bigger the animal the bigger the skill?” She was thinking of Wormtail again.

“Actually no. Some people can change into non-mammal formations, a difference lost on most individuals educated only in magic, but—for example—to be able to change into something cold-blooded, or a flying mammal, or even a water-bound mammal, is truly remarkable. It is these witches and wizards who are truly the most fascinating to me.”

“Oh, wow. I didn’t even realize that. You mean some people can turn into lizards or dolphins?”

“Yes, as well as birds.”

“Wow.”

“Indeed.” He offered her a smile. “Tell me Miss Granger, do you have any thoughts on what you are?”

“Well, I don’t think I’m a Metamorphagus. Tonks…er, my friend, well, she’d always been able to make small changes in herself without training. I don’t think I have that.”

“That’s very astute and correct. Most people who are capable of metamorphosis have early indicators. You are correct in your self-evaluation as well. Surely you remember the rigorous testing I put you all through?”

“Yes sir.”

“Some of us can see the potential in others, I happen to have this ability, most of you probably blew off the interview section of the testing, thinking I was just curious as to your personality and resolve, which is somewhat true. But more than that I was using a variety of Leglimancy to discern your potential.”

“Oh. Really?”

He smiled again. “I must say Miss Granger, none of my other students seem so interested in my methods, they just want to know what I see in them.”

She grinned. “I’ve always been like this.”

“So I hear. You will be pleased to know that I have perceived a very strong magical inclination towards very complex self-transfiguration in you. One matched only by another student who happens to be in this class. You two will face the most difficulty transfiguring, if my senses are correct, but that which you will be able to achieve will far surpass your colleagues.”

“What is that?” She could not help her curiosity.

“I hate to seem coy, but I’m not actually going to tell you what I sense, I do not want to taint your vision when you get it, I am only warning you.”

“Who is the other person?”

“I will tell you after class Miss Granger. And unless you have any questions I must get to the next student.”

She had a million questions, but none that she could actually form into a sentence. She bid him thanks and exited as he called for the next student.

Blaise was the last student to be called and he returned with a shit-eating grin on his face, probably one much like her own.

“Good news?”

“Yeah.” He was beaming and she doubted that he was aware of it. He did not elaborate further because Fiorelli reappeared.

“Thank you all for your patience today. As I alluded to at the beginning of the semester, there will be no final. The work we have done is far too advanced to require such a thing from you. The students who will not be rejoining us, please do not be concerned, you’re grades will not suffer.” He stopped and scanned the room. “For the rest of you, I’m ending the term a week early. Though I will want to set up individual appointments with over the next week.” He waved his wands and small guidebooks appeared before each of them. “This book is essential, and I want you to read it before our meetings, this book will detail the proper meditation procedures to first find your Animagus form—for those of you who are Animagi—and to later being the process. Admittedly those few of you who are Metamorphagi do not have quite the battle initially that the Animagus students do, but I do not want you to use this as an excuse to slack off. I will be owling each of you to set up a time for our meeting. You are dismissed.” As some students began packing others rushed out of the room looking morose. Hermione thought she spotted about four students who she guessed would not be returning.

Fiorelli’s voice rang out again. “Miss Granger and Mr. Zabini, please stay after a few minutes if you don’t mind.”

Shocked, Hermione turned to Blaise, who looked just as shocked as he was.

Fiorelli laughed when he saw them. “I thought for sure you two would have figured it out by now.”

Hermione was embarrassed that she and her boyfriend had not exchanged their exciting news. What did that say about them?

“I told you both that I sense something very special in you, something that will be quite difficult to handle, but together I think you will both do quite well. The reason that I wanted to talk to you separately is that—as you will read in your books—the recommended process for the meditations and practice work is to do it alone, so as to concentrate better. For you two I am going to make my own recommendation, given what I see in each of you I think it would be to work together on this. You will need one another’s support more so than the other students.”

Hermione and Blaise exchanged glances and then looked back to Fiorelli.

“I realize that you two are in a relationship of sorts…” He gave them an appraising look. “I am willing to secure a place for you two to work together uninterrupted, but you can not take advantage of this privilege.”

Hermione spoke first. “We would not dream of it Professor.”

He let out a laugh. “I don’t know that I’d go that far Miss Granger, your assurances that you will use the time working on your Animagus forms is enough for me.”

She blushed furiously and Blaise let a small smirk cross his lips before he spoke. “Of course Professor.”

“Also, for the meetings I requested, I would like you two to meet with me together, so please look at your schedules and get back to me with some times that would be convenient.”

--

Hermione was distracted for the remainder of the week. She and Blaise got back to Fiorelli with a few times for meetings the following week. She and Draco finished their planning for Christmas and New Year related events. And it was her job to make the announcement, Draco declared that she owed him that much since he had done the job before when she was busy with her emotional break down. After arguing with his categorization of her previous emotional state she started planning her announcement. McGonagall advised her to make the announcement before dinner.

Everyone was seated for dinner and chatting animatedly with their table mates when McGonagall announced that the Head Girl and Boy had an announcement to make. Hermione crossed the Hall and stood at the front of the room with Draco at her side. Draco appeared to be dropping winks to Ron while Hermione tried to compose herself.

“Hello, everyone. After the success of the Costume Ball Draco and I are instituting a few more activities to take place over the holiday break.” The Hall quieted immediately. She felt a pair of blue eyes staring at her from the Slytherin table; she glanced over at Blaise who gave her an encouraging smile. With a deep breath she continued. “We will be having a series of events to get everyone in the holiday spirit. We will have a number of friendly competitions—not all between Houses, that will be announced daily, just check your message boards in your Common Rooms. Also, we will be having our traditional Christmas Tea on Christmas Day. In addition to this, immediately following the Tea we will have a holiday concert organized by Professor Flitwick, if you are interested please stop by his office or drop him an owl.” She paused again and Flitwick gave a hearty wave to the students. “Finally, on New Years Eve we will be having a lock-in. The lock-in is mandatory. And all students staying behind for the holidays will have to participate.” Draco warned her that she would probably have to explain the concept of a lock-in and judging from the students looks he was correct. “A lock-in is basically a big party.” She heard a few cheers erupt from the Gryffindor table. “You will have to sign into the Great Hall after dinner and we will have essentially a huge slumber party to ring in the New Year. There will be music, food, drinks and dancing.” She stopped and turned to Draco.

Draco took step towards the tables. “As you all know, you voted overwhelmingly to institute a Student Tribunal. I am pleased to announce…” He was pacing before the students now, prowling, looking at them significantly. “…that this tribunal will be effective as of the new year. A panel of judges has been selected and jury selection will occur as needed. Keeping with tradition these trials will be open to the public at the judge’s discretion…basically don’t cause problems and you can watch. You can begin submitting your grievances this weekend. Forms will be available in your Common Rooms. Thank you and good night.” They both went back to their tables and Hermione watched as Draco immediately started a conversation with Pansy Parkinson. She took her seat between Harry and Ron and began talking about the lock-in with them and Ginny.

Ginny and Harry seemed to have reached a peaceable separation. The biggest problem facing them was that most people just assumed they would end up back together. It was clear that their relationship was one that could only exist during the War. Hermione thought that Ginny would probably find someone appropriate when she went off to college. Ginny seemed to demand a higher level of maturity than most of the Hogwarts boys had to offer. For now Ginny seemed happy to just enjoy her last two years at Hogwarts, for which Hermione was grateful, she would have hated to see their group ruined by the breakup.

“So tell us Hermione, what are these ‘friendly competitions’?” Ginny was feasting on the homemade rolls which Hermione knew that Dobby had been working on for about two years, before attaining what he called ‘perfection, Miss.’

“Gin, you know I can’t tell you the details.”

Ron looked scandalized. “You and Draco give nothing up. Seriously just what is the benefit of having you two around?”

“Ron!” That was Ginny.

“It’s okay. I know he’s kidding…at least he better be kidding.”

“Of course I am….sort of.” He said around his mouthful of food.

“I’ll tell you this. Some are just fun silly things, but we have one that I think will be pretty interesting. It’s something we tried once before.”

Harry perked up. “Like when before?”

She just smiled at him. “Before.”

“The DA?” Ron asked after swallowing.

Harry and Ginny both shot him looks.

“Okay maybe not.”

Ginny sat in quiet thought. “The Dueling Club from first year?”

“I can’t say, I was just giving you a hint.”

Ron let out an exaggerated sigh. “Now that is just cruel. You can’t tease us and not give something up.”

“Yes I can. Welcome to the perks of being Head Girl. Besides you two will find out at the next Prefect’s meeting, which is only two days away. Draco and I can’t plan all this alone.”

Harry grinned. “So I’m the only one stuck in the dark.”

“Yup.” The three of them said together.

“You know, in some circles I’m considered fairly important, and might even get special treatment.”

Ron laughed and Ginny busied her mouth with another roll. Hermione just giggled. “But Harry, that’s why you love us, we don’t care who you are.”

“I suppose.” He said melodramatically though a grin was tugging at the corners of his mouth.

--

When dinner was over Hermione lagged behind the group to discuss the upcoming meeting with Blaise. They were walking back through the hall together chatting animatedly about their research. Each of them had agreed to read the guidebook through and through as soon as possible, to her surprise Blaise had finished it before her. They were hoping to start their first round of meditation later in the evening; both figured it would be best to go to their first meeting with the Professor with something to discuss. It was the first time she felt genuinely excited around him, she could sense that he felt the same way. Something was sparkling in his eyes, something that she had not glimpsed since Halloween. She had been right when she told Ginny that something was below the surface, it was just that she did not yet know what it was.

Their conversation came to an abrupt halt when familiar voices rang out from a nearby staircase. Hermione recognized Harry’s voice and Blaise recognized something too because he clasped her hand more tightly and took off down the hall with her trailing behind.

Pansy and Harry were having another row near the stairs which led to the dungeons. Hermione had no idea what Harry was doing over there, but there he was. Red faced and angry, he was glaring at an equally vengeful Pansy. There words trailed off when they realized they had an audience.

Harry shot Blaise a glower that could level a whole circle of Death Eaters—nope, no residual anger there. Pansy looked on the verge of spontaneously combusting. All it took was one word from Blaise, a single ‘hey’ and Harry exploded.

“You stay the hell out of this Zabini. It’s none of your damn business.”

Blaise let go of Hermione’s hand. “Stay here.” He grabbed her chin and looked into her eyes. “Don’t move. I mean it.”

Blaise looked at Harry. “It is my business, she is my friend…” He said, gesturing to Pansy. “And you two are screaming like crazed animals in the middle of an open hall. Just what is the problem?” He directed the last statement to Pansy, who opened her mouth to begin speaking when Harry cut in.

“You know Zabini, I really appreciate your attempts at counseling here, but it’s not necessary. Why don’t you mind your own business and get her out of here.” He pointed to Hermione.

She stepped forward. “Hey, I can take care of myself Harry; no one needs to remove me.”

Blaise threw out an arm catching her before she advanced further and looked down at her. “Hermione, really, remember last time. Just wait one minute.” Hermione took a few steps back to Harry’s astonishment.

“You listen to him, but not me? Bloody hell Hermione, what has gotten into you?”

Pansy was watching the continuing interaction, probably wondering what had happened to her and Harry’s row.

“Nothing’s gotten into me.”

Harry raised his eyes maliciously. “You sure about that?”

Pansy’s mouth dropped open and hung there for a moment before she slapped him. Blaise and Hermione both watched her stunned. “You don’t ever…and I mean ever, talk to a woman like that Potter.”

Hermione just stood silently watching as Harry flushed and brought his hand to cover the fast growing welt on his right cheek. Normally Hermione would have broke in, said something, exclaimed over not needing someone else to defend her, yelled at Pansy for striking Harry, instead she just stood there blankly. Blaise was staring at Pansy, the look of shock permanently plastered on his face.

It was Pansy who spoke again. “I know what you’ve done for the world Potter, and I’m just as appreciative as the next person, but you need to learn to watch your mouth. Being a hero doesn’t give you a free pass to berate, insult, and defame others.”

Harry finally snapped out of it. His words to Hermione momentarily forgotten. “What are you going to do Parkinson, sue me again?”

She laughed at him as she swept her black hair away from her face. “I can’t sue you for insulting her. For Merlin’s sake, think before you speak, I know you’re smarter than that.”

This time Harry, wisely, stayed quiet. Blaise was glaring at him, his eyes sparkling with fury, but he remained quiet. Hermione turned to Pansy. “Thank you, but that was not necessary. Really.”

Pansy actually smiled at her, it was the first time she’d ever seen the girl smile. “Yeah, you’re pretty good with your hands too aren’t you Granger? He deserved it, just like Draco deserved it. We’re even I’d say.”

Hermione wondered if she were witnessing some sort of strange Slytherin bonding ritual. You slap each others best friends and are inextricably linked forever, or something like that. “I suppose. It was a horrible thing to say.” She glared at Harry.

Pansy nodded. “He’s got a bad habit of that. I may not have been raised like you Gryffindors, but where I’m from you never question a woman’s chastity. Ever.”

Hermione tried to smile. This was just all too strange. Blaise had, at some point, grabbed her hand again, and it seemed to be functioning as the outlet for his anger, as he was crushing her fingers with his grip. “Sounds like a good rule, but I can handle him later.” She shot Harry a look indicating that she would, indeed, finish this later.

Pansy smiled again, the effect was quite pretty. “I don’t doubt it.” With a brief goodbye she was gone.

“Blaise, I’m going to talk to Harry now. Why don’t you go talk to Pansy and we’ll meet up later. Okay?”

His features softened when he looked down at her. “But…”

“No buts, just go. I’ll take care of it.”

He looked like he wanted to do anything but leave her alone with Harry, but he did. He placed a chaste kiss on her lips and descended the stairs. She watched him leave and turned back to her friend.

“What is wrong with you Harry? Why would you say something like that to me?”

Harry took a deep breath and sagged against the wall. “I was angry.”

“Yeah, you’ve been doing a lot of that recently. It’s starting to get a bit old.”

“I know. I just….” He fixed his green stare on her. “….I was so mad at her, and then you and Zabini show up, looking all happy together and concerned, then he tells you to stay back and what do you do? You listen to him! What happened to you, you never used to be like that.”

“He asked me to stand back Harry, that’s all. I did. You two looked like you wanted to kill each other, it was a good idea, given what happened last time.”

“But then, when I said it you got mad.”

“You weren’t speaking to me, you told Blaise to keep me away. He at least said it to me. You didn’t even have the good grace to do that. You just ordered my boyfriend to ‘get me out of there.’”

Harry winced when she said ‘boyfriend.’ “Is that what it is Harry, you don’t like me having a boyfriend? Don’t like that I took my boyfriend’s advice?” Every time she said the word, Harry grimaced.

“Stop.”

“Stop what? Stop talking about Blaise, stop calling him my boyfriend? Why? He is. You have to get used to it.”

“But why him Hermione?”

“Because we like each other.”

He sighed heavily. “But I don’t understand, what is there to like?”

Hermione shook her head. “I thought you were okay with this. What’s happened?”

“He’s just so possessive of you; you’re like some kind of a trophy to him or something.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“I just don’t think he really cares about you, Hermione. I think he just wants in your knickers, so he can have something to brag about to his friends.”

The words stung. His words were not exactly true, but they were not exactly untrue either.

“See, I hit a nerve there. What is going on with you two?”

“He’s my boyfriend and you did not hit a nerve. What you said was hurtful and cruel, that’s the only nerve you hit.”

He sighed again. “Look, I’m sorry. I apologize for what I said before, and what I said now. I don’t know what’s going on with me. When I see you with him, something flares up inside of me, I want to…I want to hurt him, I want to wipe that fucking grin off his face.”

She looked over her friend. “Harry, I care about him. I’m happy with him.”

“You say that, but you don’t always look like that. Sometimes I see something, something in you…a sadness, or a regret. You can’t deny it, it’s there. He can’t see through you like I can. I know something is going on.”

“Nothing is going on. It’s a normal relationship, we fight sometimes, we go through down periods. That is all.”

He shook his head but said nothing.

“Why does is matter? What about Pansy? You like her. I know you do. So, who cares about me and Blaise?”

“I do.” He rubbed his face again and grinned a little. “Even though she’s hit me twice now. I don’t know, I just always thought that you and I would…eventually, you know.”

“Get together?”

He just nodded.

She joined him and leaned against the stone wall next to him. “Look, Harry, I did too, for a long time. But it’s not going to happen. At least not here.” She gestured around the halls. “It’s not our time; it might never be our time. And I don’t think that is what you really want anyway; you were fine when I was with Ron.”

Harry turned his body towards her. “That was different.”

“Because it was Ron?”

He shook his head. “Because I knew it wouldn’t last.”

“Huh?”

“I knew about Ron, I mean I didn’t know, but somehow I knew something wasn’t right…not that it’s wrong to be, well, gay, but I just knew it wasn’t going to work.”

She was trying to follow his words. “So you were okay with my relationship with Ron because you didn’t think it would last?” He nodded. “And you aren’t okay with my relationship with Blaise because…you think it will?”

He nodded again.

“But you said all that, about him using me and just wanting to prove something.”

“I know. And I don’t necessarily disbelieve that, but there is something else there, I can see the way he looks at you sometimes and the way you look at him. I don’t necessarily believe that his intentions are honorable, or were honorable, but maybe they are becoming honorable. I don’t know. It’s so confusing; I just know that there is something there, something different.”

“Hmmm.” She did not really have anything to say to that, it was a fairly astute assessment and Harry would probably be shocked to hear the absolute truth.

“Look, I’m sorry Hermione. I’ve been an arse, to you, to Pansy, to Ginny, basically to all women in or out of my life.”

“And…”

“And to Zabini. But I’m fairly sure that he wants to kill me, so I don’t feel so bad about it.” A grin was crossing his lips.

“He doesn’t want to kill you.”

Harry gave her that look. “Okay, maybe he wouldn’t mind if you disappeared forever, but it’s just because of the way you’ve been acting recently.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I think you should apologize.”

He looked incredulous. “To Zabini?”

She smiled. “No. To Pansy. You’re going to blow it, and you know it.”

“Yeah.”



A/N:
Thank you so much for the reviews, I can’t believe how good you all are to me! I appreciate all of your reviews and I take them to heart, so thank you so very much for taking the time to share what you think. And once again I'd like to apologise for not updating soner.

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