If she had known how swiftly her day would fall to ruin, Hermione Granger might have, for the first time ever, skived off classes for the entire day. As it were, she had not been blessed with such foresight, as she was so frequently reminded by her former Divination teacher, and was therefore left to deal with the very unsavoury truth before her; one which could be summed up in two seemingly innocuous letters, but that which left her feeling entirely wrong-footed.
Hermione tuned out the buzz of the surrounding voices which chattered away, and focused once more on the lengthy roll of parchment before her. Line after line of her scrupulously neat penmanship greeted her beady gaze; but it was the small marking on the upper right hand corner of the page that arrested her attention.
It read simply, EE. Exceeds Expectations. This might have seemed a wonderful thing were she someone else, someone with little talent, intelligence or application. However, as she had these qualities in abundance, and felt assured that she was not remotely that sort of a person, she instead was overcome not with joy but a conflicting sense of confusion, denial and mild horror.
Hermione Granger did not get that sort of mark on her school work, and could clearly recall the one cringe-worthy moment in the previous year when she had for Defence Against the Dark Arts. It had been a briefly dim moment in her shining school career; one that she knew would never be repeated. Her work was nothing if not outstanding.
It was for precisely this reason that Hermione’s impatience for her third period Arithmancy class to end saw her wilfully staring at the clock on the wall and not at Professor Vector’s neatly written notes upon the board.
It infuriated her to no end that the Professor would go about her business with no concern for what Hermione thought was blatantly shoddy workmanship. However, she did soothe herself with the knowledge that once the class was over she would confront the woman and demand that her homework be reassessed. Everything would be fine, and her teacher would perhaps take a little more care in her work in future – something which would benefit more than just herself, she was sure.
It was the knowledge of this that caused Hermione to relax and peel her gaze from the small brass hands of the wall clock. The remaining fifteen minutes of class flew by immeasurably faster after this.
And so it was that after a few minutes of careful repacking of school books that Hermione approached her previously highly esteemed Arithmancy teacher with what she hoped was a calm and easy demeanour.
Professor Vector was a woman of entirely non-descript features and Hermione often found herself perturbed by the fact that she might never have been able to locate her in any situation that did not involve the woman sitting or standing behind her desk.
The professor offered her a vague sort of smile that Hermione supposed one would ordinarily consider kindly. In her present state of agitation, however, she read only condescension.
‘Miss Granger? What can I do for you, did you have a question about class or…?’
Hermione smiled a benevolent sort of a smile and responded. ‘Actually, Professor, it’s about the mark I received on my last homework.’ She paused to indicate the offending article and supplied enough time for the woman to interrupt with her sincerest apologies at the error. Instead she gave Hermione another bland smile and an encouraging nod.
She was a bit thrown of balance by the strange non-reaction but continued anyway. ‘Right. Er – well, you see it’s an exceeds expectations and I don’t think that’s correct. I–’
Hermione felt something akin to nausea as she saw realisation light in the eyes of the older woman combined not with guilt as would be expected, but that dreaded thing, pity. She finished somewhat lamely and watched as Professor Vector gingerly removed her glasses. Stalling.
‘I’m afraid that mark is indeed correct. But Miss Granger, that is a very impressive result for a NEWT level Arithmancy assignment. Considerably higher than average.’
Nonplussed, Hermione continued valiantly. ‘But… I triple checked all my calculations and my responses were cohesive –’
‘And that resulted in an excellent mark as you see. However in NEWT level a certain affinity with the subject is required to take it to that next level of excellence. Something which isn’t always to be gleaned from books…’
Hermione was utterly flabbergasted. She eyed the woman before her for a long moment, feeling as though she had, for the first time, been stunned silent by a teacher.
‘I… don’t understand.’ She could feel her cheeks flushing as they did when she was anxious. ‘Where would I learn it from if the resources aren’t available?’
She watched with increasing resentment as the women bestowed yet another softly expression, as though she were dealing with someone on their death bed. She paused. Again. It couldn’t possibly be good.
‘Well… in all magical studies an element of intuitiveness with one’s subject does enable you to really understand it more so; in much the same way that some students are naturally excellent at quidditch and others are not.’
Hermione, whose natural affinity with flying was nonexistent, found the woman’s example to be not remotely encouraging. She stared, agog. The hysteria was building and it erupted in her next statement.
‘But that’s not fair!’
It sounded utterly childish but she couldn’t control the outburst. Hermione coughed to hide the momentary feeling of embarrassment at sounding so much like Ron.
Sighing, she tried a new tack. ‘Professor, application is not something I lack. I am willing to go the extra mile to do the best in this subject, but I need to know that there is something I can do. I received an outstanding OWL for this subject, surely that will tell you something!’
She eyed the woman and felt a burgeoning sense of relief when resignation registered in her gaze. Success.
‘OK, Miss Granger, your determination is certainly… admirable.’ Hermione’s gaze narrowed somewhat at the unflattering pause. ‘I shall have a think about what best way to help you with this. In the mean time, however, please try not to rely too heavily on instruction from books. They can be quite mentally restricting with this subject.’
Hermione nodded, ready to leave, but turned back quickly to ask one burning question.
‘Professor? You did say that the assignment was quite difficult… did, er – did anyone get an Outstanding?’
The warm flush that infused the older woman’s cheeks said it all.
‘Yes… there was one.’ Hermione could have sworn she detected a hint of breathlessness.
Stalking out of the classroom, Hermione couldn’t help but reflect that she really should have stayed in bed that morning.
Pansy Parkinson undulating against anyone’s hipbone was disturbing enough. The fact that it was his made the whole ordeal unutterably worse.
Blaise Zabini’s rejection of the offering held a touch more finesse than Malfoy, who had unceremoniously shoved her from his couch, and was apparently so refined and discrete that the girl had entirely missed it.
After another moment of being ignored completely, she seemed to glean a little something of his bored expression and in what he felt sure she believed was a demure and ladylike huff, left the couch and stalked away.
Blaise had never been a huge fan of Pansy, he found her tolerable usually, but her bizarre behaviour of late was truly driving him mad. It was all a result of the increasingly removed demeanour of fellow Slytherin and her favourite, Draco Malfoy, who ordinarily thrived on Pansy’s lavishly bestowed attention.
Nowadays, though, he seemed either oblivious or irritated at the interruption to his thoughts. Though no one would ever suggest that Slytherins were known for confiding in one another, Blaise was quite sure he knew the cause of this colourless, introverted Malfoy.
He glanced up from inspecting his cuticles in what he thought had been a very discrete manner, to watch the pale-haired boy. He was drumming his fingers in fast pace across the heavy brocade covering of the sofa on which he was seated. His posture was rigid and his eyes flittered from one thing to the next without seeming to see anything at all.
In any other situation Blaise might have sympathised with Pansy, but using him as a means to draw her beloved’s attention did not bode so well with him.
He leaned further against the back of the sofa and allowed his legs to stretch across the cold stone floor. An eerie greenish light filtered down across the stone and seemed to ripple as waves do. It was quite ethereal if one stopped to really take it in.
His attention was called once more as Pansy returned to the fold, and Blaise struggled visibly to conceal his disdain before deciding that the girl was so accustomed to it she surely could not be too insulted.
The dark-haired girl sat down and eyed Malfoy once more. Clearly deciding that he was truly a lost cause in that moment, she chose instead to amuse herself with other pleasures, namely the mocking of her least treasured fellow students.
It was a frequent practise of hers that he found little enjoyment in observing and so tuned her out once more. And it was not for some minutes, until he heard her utter the words Granger and tantrum in the same sentence that she had his interest again.
‘– and she positively screeched at them!’
‘At whom?’ Blaise enquired with a bored nonchalance bred of much practise.
Eagerly, she turned to him, her expression rapturous as only gossip could cause it to be. ‘Potter and Weasley of course! Who else would it be?!’
‘They probably touched a book inappropriately. I highly doubt it was anything to get excited about.’ He paused and glanced back at her.
Determined to build this into a saga worth retelling, and hence falling into Blaise’s trap, she continued in greater detail.
‘It was in the hallway after third period. Apparently she was taking all her frustrations out on her little friends and they didn’t like it. Practically in tears, I heard.’ Her tone had turned conspiratorial.
Blaise quirked a brow again. He had third period Arithmancy with the aforementioned harried muggleborn. Despite his best efforts he could not help but wish to know the cause of her irritation, and hence congratulate the instigator of it.
It had been some weeks since their last strange encounter. Blaise had received much enjoyment at being a cause of aggravation to the girl but could not help but notice that she had taken to avoiding him of late. Not that this was particularly unusual, they had only ever had a handful of exchanges, but they were hard to forget. Particularly because he felt he knew her better than she thought he did: the result of his months spent observing the witch.
She had clearly been miffed at his attitude to her; obviously she found the concept of a person not deferring to her intelligence to be a mark of some inherent evil. Yet in spite of the amusement he had received at her expense, Blaise had been quite content to accept this situation. Spending any time conversing with muggleborns in this climate, even if only to exchange insults, was not a wise decision.
Blaise, much in line with his ancestors, was not one to kowtow to a dictatorship. That said he was neither stupid nor noble enough to stand in the way either. The Zabinis craved notoriety and money; their vice was vanity and not ambition. They were certainly not a family to serve a higher cause
Still, despite acknowledging the danger of associating in anyway with someone of Granger’s unsavoury heritage, he found the habit of studying the girl a difficult one to kick. It was for this reason that he had found himself taking the occasional covert glance when he could. But her behaviour of late had been so thoroughly un-entertaining that he had begun to wonder what had piqued his curiosity in the first place.
She appeared now, for all intents and purposes, to lead a thoroughly uninspiring existence in spite of her unique absurdities.
‘Zabini!’ A voice interrupted his introspection and Blaise glanced, without interest, at the offender. Pansy was watching him, yet again, with greedy little eyes. ‘What’s got you so distracted, hmm?’
He imagined she thought her teasing to be coy and enticing. It was, categorically, not.
‘Nothing too thrilling, I assure you.’
She smiled like a cat with the proverbial cream. ‘Well in that case, you might want to accept the scroll from that boy hovering behind you, and tell us all about it.’
So that was the reason for her sudden interest. Pansy Parkinson was nosiness personified.
Blaise lifted his head from its resting place against the back of his chair and glanced over his shoulder at a twitchy looking first year who was holding a scroll in his equally twitchy fingers. He accepted the scroll and with only the slightest of hand gestures, signalled dismissal to the much relieved messenger.
Why teachers insisted on using first year students to pass on messages when they could scarcely locate their thumbs, he would never understand. With a casual flick of the parchment, Blaise scanned its contents with a small measure of interest.
Upon scrunching it up and rising from his seat, he noted the hungry expression upon his odious classmate’s features and knew she was desperate to know the contents of his letter.
He’d let her stew a little longer.
Inclining his head to signal his departure, Blaise left the eerie green light of the common room and walked in the direction of Professor Vector, with whom he had been asked to speak - about what, he could not begin to imagine.
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