Blaise Zabini has never sought Lavender Brown out before tonight. Not at Hogwarts, and not in the nine days since the final battle. Yet in some strange twist of fate, he's there for her first transformation.

It's not that Blaise means to be there. Merlin knows, he doesn't want to be – this is a rite with which he's keenly, uncomfortably familiar. Blaise is a Slytherin, after all. A working knowledge of Hogwarts' Restricted Section is practically a prerequisite of Sorting. Plus, when Fenrir Greyback decides to pork your mum during the Second Wizarding War, you get sort of acquainted with these kinds of things. Things like which member of the Malfoy family is feeling squidgy about his alliances today, or which fork the Dark Lord prefers for his salad course, or what a werewolf does on the night of their first full-moon transformation.

So one might say that Blaise is prepared, nine days after the Battle of Hogwarts, to face what comes next.

When that moment comes, he's polishing off his second bottle of firewhisky in a lovely but remote nature-preserve in Scotland, warded for only Wizarding kind to enjoy. It's there, on his sacrosanct park bench, that he hears the sound of frantic voices nearby.

Blaise isn't surprised, per se. Not when the past nine days have unusually – wretchedly – brought a sea of wizards to this preserve, all of them looking to escape their own post-War woes. Thusfar Blaise has seen Mundungus Fletcher, wringing his gold-bedecked hands with regret, George Weasley, drinking himself into a laughing, sobbing stupor, and Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnegan, wildly half-snogging, half-reassuring each other that they're still alive.

Blaise would feel almost generic, sitting in melancholy upon this particular park bench, if that kind of thing were in his genetic makeup. As it is, Blaise doesn't regret much of anything. Hearts, Blaise has learned, aren't really part of the Zabini anatomy.

His family never officially took a side during the War, of course. A decided advantage, when the Wizengamot came calling. Where Greg and Draco now face house-arrest, Blaise is going to go free as a bird. Free to sit on this bench, drink his nights away, and continue telling himself that he doesn't regret one single, goddamned thing. It's a strategy that's working perfectly.

Until tonight, apparently.

Until he hears one of those insufferable Patil twins hiss, Shhh, Lavender, please, from the hedgerow nearest to his Drinking-Bench. Nothing else has stirred his attention, or his interest. Not like that hissed admonishment. That has him intrigued.

One of the Patils – Parvati, he thinks, since Padma always had a much calmer voice – is practically begging by now. "Lavender, please. I've chained you up as best I can. Please, please, stop howling."

Hearing that plea, Blaise just can't help himself. He stows his whisky, shoves off his bench, and pushes into the nearby shrubbery with the imperious ownership of a park ranger on patrol. He's just about to demand, What's this, ladies? Having a little jill-off, then?

The taunt dies on his lips, the moment he sees what's going on under the cover of that bush. There's no humor, after all, in what's happening to Lavender Brown right now.

Behind that shrub, Parvati Patil is wringing her hands like a maiden aunt, too worried to spare him more than an irritated glance. But Lavender Brown...

Lavender is chained to an exposed shrub-root, and she looks like someone has broken every bone in her body. She's as twisted as a circus contortionist, with her knees on the ground and her back arched so much her spine should have snapped. A snout grows out of Lavender's once-pretty face, and pale fawn fur has sprouted across her bare forearms.

Without warning, Lavender's body flies forward and her right thigh makes an audible "snap" as it shifts into a hairy werewolf flank.

"What the fuck?" Blaise manages to gasp.

"Fenrir Greyback bit her during the final battle," Parvati whispers, not even bothering to look at him. "This is the first full moon since then."

"Is…is she…?"

"A werewolf?" Parvati finishes. "We hoped not, but…it appears so. Yes."

Blaise thinks to run. To grab that second bottle of firewhisky and try to erase the memory of this scene from within the shelter of his own home. Instead, he settles next to Parvati on the hard Scottish soil and watches the rest of Lavender Brown's terrifying transformation.

He winces as each bone cracks, as each tuft of hair erupts. He winces as she howls and howls and howls and snaps at their necks from the safety of her short silver chain. He stays until dawn the next day, when Lavender Brown transforms from horrifying beast to the witch he remembers. And – as he helps Parvati wrap a quilt around Lavender's limp but very human body – Blaise wonders whether he might just have lost a bet he didn't even know he'd made.

It's a week later and, inexplicably, Blaise notices her from across the Leaky Cauldron.

He's downing shots with Pansy and Theo, in honor of the official start of Draco's house-arrest, when he locks eyes with her. If last week hadn't happened, he probably never would've noticed her. But now…now he can't seem to look anywhere else.

She's standing in the back corner of the pub. An inconspicuous place to drink, for someone so inherently showy. The Lavender Brown of Sixth Year wouldn't have hidden in some dark alcove; that Lavender would have sat on top of the bar in a tulle skirt and high heels, letting wizard after wizard buy her shots.

But that Lavender hadn't met Fenrir Greyback yet.

She looks like shit tonight, if Blaise is being honest. Like one of those beautiful girls who's just came down with some illness that makes her want to sleep all day without eating, drinking, or seeing the sun.

Which, he realizes with bitter irony, is exactly what's happened.

Lavender catches him staring, and she frowns like it's her fucking job. In answer, Blaise raises his firewhisky to eye-height, bows his head at her, and blows her a kiss. Lavender's gaze whips away, as fast as if he'd made some obscene gesture.

Her reaction would be insulting, really, if it weren't for the lovely pink blush now spreading across her cheekbones; if it weren't for the fact that her eyes keep darting, almost involuntarily, toward him for the rest of the night.

Blaise goes to the park for her second transformation.

He doesn't make a big deal about it, and he doesn't announce himself. But he does bring a basket of sandwiches and a flask of firewhisky for himself and Patil to consume during the whole, horrible spectacle. He also carries a thick wool blanket – one he nicked from his bed at the Villa de Medici, where his mother now sleeps – to wrap around Lavender when she transforms back into a dirty, tattered, human girl.

"I don't like it," she tells him near the Cauldron's loos, shortly after her fourth transformation.

Blaise takes a long gulp of his bottled ale without breaking their eye-contact. "Don't like what?"

"The fact that you…that you watch."

"I don't watch," he says. "Not for that, anyway."

She frowns and twists one finger around a lush, golden curl. He stares, transfixed by that curl. By that finger. Worlds could wrap around that finger. Planets could form on the pout of that plump, bottom lip.

"Well, whatever it's for," she says firmly, "I want you to quit."

He shrugs. "Okay. I'll quit."

Even as he agrees, Blaise's eyes trace the claw-tracks on her bare forearms. His gaze follows the scabbed-over tooth marks on her lower lip.

He's wanted many things in his life. Power; glory; his mother's sole, unconditional love. Right now, all Blaise wants – more than anything in the universe – is to kiss Lavender Brown's lips so softly, those bite marks don't even sting when he does it.

Instead, he repeats, "Okay, Brown. I'll quit."

He makes good on his promise.

He stays away from Lavender and Parvati and the Scottish moors as a whole for almost two years. He visits Pansy, occasionally fucks Tracey Davis when she owls, enables Draco's growing alcohol problem, and hosts Hermione Granger when she comes to the Villa bearing pastries and sympathy. Blaise even attends a bloody reconciliation party at the Leaky Cauldron on the two-year anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts. In the hopes of healing old wounds, and all that.

That's his ostensible reason for attending, anyway. In reality, he's only looking for one particular face.

He doesn't find her until the night has grown quite late, and all of her friends have left her alone at their table. She must be doing well now, if they're willing to leave her unattended. Blaise slides in next to her, and he both relishes and laments the fact that she stiffens at his presence.

"So," he says, by way of a greeting, "I take it you don't intend to rip anyone's throat out tonight?"

Lavender, who looks simultaneously tender and calculating in her pink ribbons and lace, takes a deliberately slow sip of rum.

"Are you offering, Zabini?"

He tries, with great effort, not to snort into his ale. "Are you, Lavender?"

Blaise hears her suck in a sharp breath, and her head turns abruptly toward his.

"You aren't afraid of me?" she asks, but it doesn't really sound like a question.

In a great show of flippancy – which is probably only ninety-percent real – Blaise shrugs. "I've seen worse."

Lavender blinks once, twice, at his bravado. Then a wide grin spreads across her pretty face. That smile is equal parts delicate and devilish. It makes Blaise wonder, absently, whether you can die from being too turned-on. When Lavender bends closer to him, he thinks he might actually explode. But…she doesn't go for his lips. Instead, she leans into the crook between his jawline and shoulder, until she's angled her head toward his neck. Toward his jugular.

For a dizzying second, it seems like she's going to bite him. Like he's going to pay for his lust, his fascination, his heartheartheart, with blood.

It would be fitting, really, since the man who made her this way was fucking Blaise's mother, just one night prior to Lavender's infection. It would be fitting, since Lavender stood for everything Blaise didn't during the War. Since Blaise, in a moment of panicked honesty, can't help but think Lavender is the prettiest, most troubled, most interesting person he's ever met.

Instead of biting him, Lavender Brown – werewolf, and utter delight – takes an enormous sniff of his pulse point. Without moving, she sighs happily.

"Oh," she whispers into the crook of his neck. "You do like me."

Blaise closes his eyes and gulps, just once.

"I do," he rasps. "God, help me, I do."

When he opens his eyes, she's gone.

A few days later, Blaise goes back to the Cauldron with his heart in his hands. He's going to kiss her tonight, he thinks. Or at least talk to her. Whatever she'll allow.

But even though the pub is packed with her best friends, she isn't there. Not knowing what else to do, Blaise tries to set the right scene. In case she actually shows.

He says "hullo" to Neville Longbottom and that utter git, Ron Weasley, without rolling his eyes or snarling. He buys a round of chardonnay for Cho Chang, Padma Patil, and Parvati – who gives him a sly, conspiratorial wink in return. He even shares a few drinks with Harry bloody Potter, that ridiculously hot Weasley girl, and some strange, blonde, fairy-like creature who calls herself Luna and says she went to Hogwarts with him.

Weirdly, Blaise doesn't have a terrible time. The night turns out almost…fun, like Draco warned him it might. But despite all that, he knows the night can't – won't – be perfect. Not without her.

And when he realizes that, Blaise decides then and there to finally, finally, finally do something about it.

On Thursday, May 18th – the first full moon since the night she sniffed his neck – Blaise strolls into that familiar glade on the Scottish moors. He's carrying two blankets, a thermos of hot chocolate, and a cardboard box encased in a warming charm.

Lavender's eyes widen when she sees him. But instead of yelling at him to leave, she simply jerks her gaze away and returns to snapping her silver chains into place.

Blaise smooths one of the blankets onto the grass. "No Patil tonight?"

Lavender still doesn't look at him, but she shakes her head. "Not for almost a year. I can handle the transformation by myself now."

He nods as he opens the cardboard box, removes its contents, and strolls casually over to her. Lavender all but flinches.

"You shouldn't come so close…." Her warning trails off when she sees what he lays front of her, near enough that the wolf should easily reach it. "What is that?"

"A fresh lamb shank," he says. "I've been doing some research, and I have a theory. One that I think might help."

"A theory? Involving raw lamb?"

Blaise shrugs and settles onto his blanket. "Did you know that your wolf always looks angry? Every time you turn?"

She snorts mirthlessly. "Astute observation. What a sleuth you are."

"Funny. But have you actually figured out why the wolf is angry?"

"Um…because it's a fucking wolf?"

He gestures to the shank. "I think it might be hungry. I could eat a horse when I wake up. So let's see if the wolf could eat a lamb."

She blinks down at the meat. "I…I don't…I mean…well. Huh."

"Has the wolf ever eaten before?"

"Once or twice. When a rabbit or fox wandered by."


"And…it hasn't been that bad."

"You didn't get sick?" he prods. "Afterward, I mean? When it's over?"

"Erm…no, actually. After it eats, the wolf usually just goes to sleep instead of howling all night."

Blaise grins, stretches out his long legs on the blanket, and folds his arms behind his head in triumph.

"Well, then," he says smugly. "Willing to test my theory?"

Lavender shrugs, but he doesn't miss the small smile playing at the edges of her lips.

"I suppose," she says.

"Do you like lamb?"

"Not particularly. But I've never liked fox either, so…."

"So," he concludes. "There you go. Now, can I ask you one more thing, Lavender?"

Unexpectedly, her smile widens. It's real and sincere and so fucking radiant, he can't breathe for a second. An unfamiliar wave crashes over him. This strange new emotion, he realizes with a jolt, is uncertainty. Nervousness, even.

"Can I…would you…?" He clears his throat and tries again. "Would you possibly go out with me tomorrow night? On a proper date?"

She cocks her head to one side. "Huh. Well how about that."

"Is...that a yes?"

"It depends. Where would you take me on this proper date?"

"Somewhere they serve cooked food, for starters."

Lavender laughs, and Blaise's pulse stutters happily.

"Oh, Zabini," she says, sniffing the air just a bit. "You do like me."

"I do," he admits. "I really do."

That night, the transformation isn't half as horrible as he remembers. When it's over – when he wraps her in the clean blanket and helps her take delicate, exhausted sips of the hot chocolate – Lavender gives him the tiniest, softest kiss on his cheek.

And Blaise finds that maybe, perhaps, he was born with a heart after all.