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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!

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